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October, 2021:

Weekend link dump for October 31

“There’s one less frequently discussed way in which Substack actually might be endangering democracy: It’s become a conduit for public disinformation during a historic pandemic.”

“In six out of seven countries — all but Germany — Tweets posted by accounts from the political right receive more algorithmic amplification than the political left when studied as a group.”

“I have (God help me) read a huge amount of this coverage and the thing that strikes me, over and over again, is the sheer sameness of it. Thousands upon thousands of words dedicated to the same arguments, the same low-stakes anecdotes, the same tortured historical analogies. Other than slight tweaks to the headlines, few of these stories even attempt to offer any original reporting or perspective.”

What Facebook knew about how it radicalized users”.

“Pregnant women and new mothers face a barrage of anti-vaccine fearmongering that would be very much worth a look. Black people have generations of reasons to distrust health care providers, and those reasons continue today. There’s the pernicious influence of Fox News and Facebook. If people are so fearful, where is that coming from? But reporters don’t seem to be asking that, or reporting it if they do.”

“We all have things we don’t like about law enforcement in this country. That crimes often don’t get investigated for budgetary reasons is a big one of mine.”

“The US has more jobs than it can fill. Fixing the immigration system could boost the economy.” There are plenty of other reasons to fix the immigration system, but for those of you that are fixated on the economy and the Great Resignation and all that, this is for you.

“Kellogg’s faces $5 million lawsuit for not having enough strawberries in its Pop-Tarts”.

I’m struggling to match my values to my employment here. I came here hoping to effect change and improve society, but all I’ve seen is atrophy and abdication of responsibility.”

How is it possible that in the year of our damn Lord 2021, electric shock devices are still being used as a means to discipline school children? Children with disabilities, in this case, mostly children of color. What the actual fuck?

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee’s process for approving the COVID vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds but were afraid to ask.

RIP, Mort Sahl, groundbreaking comedian who pioneered the style of topical humor in standup.

Mandates work.

Any article that contains a reference to “an arcane feature of Senate tradition” is almost certainly guaranteed to make you want to bang your head against a wall.

“Based on the lowest and highest point estimates, cities that used lead pipes had between 14 and 36 percent higher homicide rates than cities that did not.”

Let’s do right by Claudette Colvin.

“A roller derby team that has called itself the Cleveland Guardians since 2013 sued the city’s Major League Baseball team in federal court in Cleveland on Wednesday alleging that the switch from Indians to Guardians infringes on its trademark.”

Facebook is now Meta. Because “Hellscape” didn’t focus group too well, I guess. And no, I don’t want to know what the Metaverse is.

“Former President Donald Trump’s new TRUTH social network is in violation of the software license it’s built on and must get in compliance, the holder of the license demanded this week.”

RIP, Arnold Hano, baseball journalist and author, best known for the book “A Day in the Bleachers”.

A brief update on the Gutierrez/Eckhardt redistricting lawsuit

First news we’ve had in awhile.

Plaintiff: Democratic state Sens. Roland Gutierrez and Sarah Eckhardt

What the lawsuit argues: Ahead of lawmakers’ third special session, two Democratic state senators sued to block the Legislature from redistricting in a special session this year. The senators argued the Texas Constitution requires that redistricting be done in a regular session that won’t happen until 2023.

If successful, the federal lawsuit by Sens. Eckhardt of Austin and Gutierrez of San Antonio, with political organization Tejano Democrats, would require judges to create interim redistricting plans for the Legislature to use in the 2022 election cycle.

What’s next: The case, filed Sept. 1 in federal court in Austin, has been assigned to a three-judge panel of Reagan appointee Jerry Smith, Obama appointee Robert Pitman and Trump appointee Jeffrey Brown.

State lawyers have asked the court to consolidate the LULAC case with the senators’ case, and asked the court to abstain from a state matter. The officials also argued the plaintiffs misinterpreted the state constitution and cannot challenge the old maps.

On Tuesday, both sides indicated that the plaintiffs intend to pursue similar claims in state court. The three-judge panel then ordered the parties to file a joint status report “when they have determined the impact of the litigation in state court on this case.”

See here for the background on this lawsuit. The LULAC case is the one filed in mid-October after the maps were passed but before they were signed into law, with LULAC and several other groups as plaintiffs, and with MALDEF doing the filing. That lawsuit challenged all of the maps, including the Congressional map – the Gutierrez/Eckhardt lawsuit only challenged the legislative maps, as they are the ones that are covered by the state constitution.

What this sounds like to me is that the two Senators will file a new lawsuit in a state court, and action on the federal side will be put on pause until there is some kind of ruling there, at which point the three-judge panel will consider what its next steps are. I’ll keep an eye out for any news about that filing.

On a side note, this story also had a brief update about the Voto Latino lawsuit. That one was also assigned to a three-judge panel, and it too had an Obama appointee, a Trump appointee…and Jerry Smith. Who was involved in (I believe) the consolidated redistricting cases from the last decade. Do they keep him on ice just for these situations, or is is the luck of the draw? I am mystified. Reform Austin has more.

Is there no way to fully close the flood bond funding gap?

Not looking great right now.

For three years, Harris County Commissioners Court members have bickered, haggled and negotiated over the $2.5 billion flood bond program voters passed after Hurricane Harvey.

Throughout all the discord over how projects should be prioritized and the order in which they should start, the group has stuck to one promise: All projects on the original list presented to voters would be completed, one way or another.

That guarantee may no longer be true, court members conceded Tuesday after Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia proposed taking funding for seven planned projects in the Cedar Bayou watershed and reallocating it elsewhere.

While Garcia postponed seeking approval of the idea after County Judge Lina Hidalgo warned it effectively would kill the Cedar Bayou projects, the Democratic majority on the court said the county should consider re-vetting planned projects to see if better alternatives are available.

Court members are in a conundrum. The list contains about $5 billion worth of flood protection projects. The bond, however, provides only half that sum. The county planned for the rest to be covered through matching federal dollars that have failed to materialize, largely due to a distribution formula used by the state General Land Office that discriminated against populous areas.

“We only have $2.5 billion, so decisions have to be made,” Garcia said.

Through June, however, the county had received $1.2 billion in matching federal funds and diverted an additional $230 million in toll road revenue for the program, bringing the total available to $4 billion. The county budget office estimates the roughly decade-long program, currently 16 percent complete, is fully funded for the next five years.

Nonetheless, while no projects have been delayed or canceled to date, that day could soon arrive. Garcia’s proposal would shift $191 million planned for detention basins and channel improvements along Cedar Bayou, in northeast Harris County, to 17 projects in the Carpenters, Vince, Jackson, Greens, Armand, San Jacinto and Galveston Bay watersheds.

See here, here, and here for more on the attempts to fill the gap, and here and here for the reminder that the mess we are in is George P. Bush’s fault. According to Commissioner Garcia, his proposal to prioritize one project over another would protect more houses, score better on the county’s rubric for the projects, and get finished faster. I’m not sure why the order hadn’t been flipped before now, but that sure sounds like a worthy idea even without the funding issues. If nothing else, it may buy some time. But in the end, assuming we continue to be screwed by the GLO, it’s as Commissioner Ellis said: The Commissioners can find a way to come up with the rest of the money, or they can admit that not all of the projects will get done and explain their actions to the public. Those are the choices.

November 2021 final early voting totals

A busy final day, and a significant uptick in early votes over 2017.

Friday was the last day to vote early in the 2021 school board and state constitutional amendment elections with early numbers showing an uptick in turnout in Harris County compared with four years ago.

County election data shows the estimated total of those voting early in person as of Friday night to be 63,358 compared with the 46,224 in-person ballots cast in 2017, a 37 percent increase. Mail-in ballots also jumped in this early election period with tentative numbers showing 47,243 ballots cast compared with the 12,205 counted in 2017, almost a four-fold jump. .

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said extended hours of operation, drive-thru voting and five 24-hour polling places helped boost election access for voters. On Thursday, polls that were open until 10 p.m. also saw increased activity.

“Voting until 10 p.m., we see from the stats last night, worked. People still came out to vote,” Longoria said of voters taking advantage of the longer hours. “We’re seeing that we just surpassed the 2017 in-person voting, which is amazing. When you help people remove those barriers — even something as small as having to print a form online — people go and vote, even in these ‘off-year’ elections.”

The final early voting report is here, and you can compare to the final 2017 EV report here. Overall, 110,601 people have voted in this election. That’s nearly double the total for the same period in 2017, with mail ballots being the biggest difference maker. It was only on the last day, when nearly 18K people voted in person, that the in person total surpassed the mail ballot total. Of those 63,258 in person voters, 3,100 used drive-through voting. Six hundred and eleven voted during the extended hours, including overnight voting.

How is that likely to affect final turnout? Compared to 2017, when 150,174 people voted in total. Based on past history, we’d expect turnout of over 200K, given that in the past most people voted on Election Day in even-numbered years. I strongly suspect that a much larger fraction of the voters have already shown up, thanks in part to the surge in mail voting, and in part to the increase in early voting from 2020. I’m betting that just as elections that came after 2008, the first time we ever had more than half the votes cast early, we’ll see a bump in early voting for other elections as well. By the way, that surge in mail ballots is due in part to the Elections office sending a mail ballot application to every eligible voter. Which they’ll not be able to do again because of the voter suppression bill that was passed by the Lege. I’m sure we all feel so much safer now. Anyway, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that about 2/3 of the vote has already been cast, which means I figure final turnout will be in the 160-170K range. That’s a notch up from 2017, but we also have more registered voters. The number to look for is turnout as a percentage of registered voters, which was 6.72% in 2017. My guess is we’ll still be pretty close to that. But we’ll see! Have you voted yet?

Wait, what Astrodome mural project?

How is it we hadn’t known about this before now?

Ready and waiting

A proposal to repaint the Astrodome with a series of murals expressing opposition to human trafficking was rejected Friday by the Texas Historical Commission out of concern for the 56-year-old building.

Commission members said they were worried about acrylic latex paint being applied directly to the structure, a state antiquities landmark that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Under the proposal, submitted by the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., which owns the 1965 dome, street artists would paint the building’s exterior circumference with murals measuring 75 feet high and 150 feet wide, under the coordination of a group called Street Art for Mankind. An eighth artist would paint an image on the roof of an astronaut in space. The art installations would remain in place for 10 years.

No one representing the county or the art group was present as commission staff presented the request for a historic buildings and structures permit.

“We have concerns about turning the Astrodome into a big billboard. It doesn’t really seem like an appropriate treatment for a historic building that is a state antiquities landmark,” Mark Wolfe, the commission’s executive director, told commissioners and members of the agency’s Antiquities Advisory Board.

Commissioners said they would support an artificial “wrap” around the dome. But they objected to paint being applied directly onto the building’s concrete surfaces and glass windows.

I did not make it through all 295 pages of the Texas Historical Commission’s agenda, so I don’t know anything more about where this came from or who would do it. It’s a noble idea, but I share the THC’s reluctance to make such a fundamental alteration to the Dome. There will one day be a true redevelopment effort, and I’d rather they start with the Dome more or less as is, rather than have to scrape off a bunch of latex paint. I would also support the “wrap” idea, which seems ideally suited for this kind of project. And I’d still like to know more about the origin of this idea.

8 day campaign finance reports: HISD

I don’t often go to the 8-day finance reports, mostly because there’s too little time to squeeze everything in, but HISD is the main story this year, so let’s have a look. The 30-day report summaries can be found here, and the July reports are here.

Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I

Sue Deigaard, District V
Maria Benzon, District V
Caroline Walter, District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI
Kendall Baker, District VI
Greg Degeyter, District VI

Anne Sung, District VII
Bridget Wade, District VII
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII

Myrna Guidry, District IX
Gerry Monroe, District IX
Joshua Rosales, District IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos        16,677     25,640        0       6,565
I     Lindner       29,530     46,115        0      44,217
I     Kopinsky       4,225      6,087        0       2,523
V     Deigaard      20,560     14,077        0      47,097
V     Benzon         3,161      2,587        0       5,344
V     Walter         2,050      9,953        0         633
VI    Vilaseca      13,345     40,716        0      39,403
VI    Baker          5,150      1,553        0       1,765
VI    Degeyter       1,616      5,688    5,781         212
VII   Sung          21,872     58,920        0       3,358
VII   Wade          36,256    110,643    7,000      89,071
VII   Jefferson      9,200      9,080        0         119
VII   Walker        
IX    Guidry         5,555      5,550    7,500       5,000
IX    Monroe        11,406      1,247        0      10,159
IX    Rosales        6,150      7,975    2,177         352

All of the finance reports for each candidate can be found here. There was not an 8-day report listed for Mac Walker, so the link for him is to his 30-day report.

The 8-day is generally where you start to see more money being spent than raised. There’s less time to raise it – barely three weeks since the previous report – and now is the time to send mail, do robocalls, run ads, pay canvassers if that’s your thing, and so forth.

I’m not surprised that Bridget Wade is the top spender here, given that she was the big fundraiser from the jump. She has TV ads running – I saw one during “Monday Night Football” this week. Not necessarily the best use of campaign money, given that plenty of people who are not in District VII (such as myself) will see the ad, and not all of those who are in District VII will make the connection, but the first job of any campaign is to make sure people know there’s an election and that this candidate is running in it. A TV ad checks those boxes, and as a bonus you may get other people to talk about it. Mission accomplished. Her report shows $50K for a cable TV buy, plus another $10K for radio. Anne Sung has put the bulk of her spending – over $46K – into mail, plus $3K for digital ads.

Here in District I, I’ve gotten a ton of mail from both the Santos and Garza Lindner campaigns; I’ve also been stalked on the web by Santos online ads. The Santos campaign has had canvassers out in the neighborhood – we got door-knocked on Wednesday – which led Campos (who consults for the Garza Lindner campaign) to grouse about PAC money being spent, in this race and in others, with little disclosure about how the funds are being spent and who it is that is doing the spending. This is the report he’s talking about – the PAC in question is Patriot Majority Texas, funded by the American Federation of Teachers, and in support of trustees Santos, Vilseca, and Sung. Indeed, it does not tell you much. Sung is getting more than Santos – given her opponent, Sung needs all the help she can get – with Vilaseca getting considerably less. Make of it what you will.

Both Gerry Monroe ($10K) and Dwight Jefferson ($17K) had outstanding loan totals listed for their 30 day reports. Neither reported any such total on the 8 day report, and I don’t see how either of them could have been paid off. The omission is probably an oversight on their part. Finance reports are weird, man.

Not much else to say. What campaign activity have you observed in your district?

There is no reason to trust John Scott

He deserves zero benefit of the doubt.

Texas’ new secretary of state says he wants to “restore confidence” in the state’s elections, despite a background that includes helping former President Donald Trump challenge the 2020 presidential election results in Pennsylvania.

In an interview Thursday, John Scott said there’s no question that Joe Biden is the president and he has “not seen anything” to suggest the election was stolen, as Trump has falsely claimed. There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud last year in Texas or nationwide.

But Scott stopped short of agreeing with a deputy under his predecessor who called the 2020 election in Texas “smooth and secure.” He did not want to get ahead of an election audit of four of Texas’ largest counties, which he called his top priority.

Scott said he got involved in the Trump election lawsuit because it centered on an “intriguing” legal issue — and that he bowed out days later because a federal appeals court ruling “killed” the case.

As for why Texans should trust him, Scott said he hopes they will give him a chance.

“I think proof’s in the pudding ultimately,” Scott said, speaking inside the secretary of state’s office at the Texas Capitol in Austin. “I think [Texans] should hope for somebody that only follows evidence and that is able to restore confidence amongst all voters.”

[…]

In declining to label the Texas election as “smooth and secure,” Scott said he was withholding judgment due to the audit.

“I don’t want to color our audit or the folks who are doing the audit, and make them think, ‘Well, the new secretary thinks we’ve gotta go find some fraud’ or ‘The new secretary thinks we can’t find fraud,’” Scott said. “I want them to look at the evidence or the facts and determine whether there was any evidence of that, and that’s really it.”

See here for the background, and read the rest because there’s a lot to it. To be as fair as I can be to someone who hasn’t earned any goodwill, he didn’t come off too badly, but he missed several easy opportunities to build a bridge and try to establish some level of rapport. He’s also a total novice at the elections management business, as he admits in the story, yet another reason to not have any faith in his selection. I don’t have any better way of putting it: He deserves no benefit of the doubt. The impetus is entirely on him to prove that he’s not a partisan hack who will gladly carry out Greg Abbott’s fondest wishes to put a thumb on the scale for Republicans going forward. The fact that he wasn’t actively twirling his mustache while tying Nell Fenwick to a railroad track as he was doing the interview is the lowest possible bar he could clear. He has a million miles to go from there.

Fort Bend Commissioners Court redistricting update

Was supposed to be done this week, but has been delayed.

Fort Bend County Judge KP George has thrown a wrench in the Commissioners Court’s posted agenda to hold public hearings and adopt a final redistricting map on Oct. 26.

On Friday, George posted a letter on his Facebook page and later posted a video message suggesting that due to public demand for more time to consider the maps, he would recommend to commissioners court to postpone the adoption of the map until Nov. 2.

In “The letter to the Community Regarding Community Input in the redistricting process,” George said “I have received numerous communications from the public about the timeline the Commissioners Court has adopted to receive feedback on proposed maps and to allow the public to submit maps for consideration. While the timeline for when our maps must be adopted was unclear when the Commissioners Court originally adopted a timeline, we now have a clearer idea and are elated to learn that we have more rime than originally anticipated.

“I am confident that my colleagues on the Court share my belief that the most important voices in this decision, that will have an impact on the future of our county for the next decade, are the voices of our residents. As a result, I have instructed our Information Technology Department to continue to receive map options from the public and will ask the Commissioners Court to ratify this amended time line for public feedback.

“To allow every member of the Commissioners Court to analyze and continue to receive feedback from residents. I will also recommend that Commissioner’s Court members take no action to adopt commissioner precinct maps until at least Tuesday November 2, during the regularly scheduled Commissioners Court meeting.

“Feedback from the public is an important part of the redistricting process and the time is now for every resident to make their voices heard about what they expect the future of our county to look like. I commit to you to do everything that I can to ensure you have the opportunity to participate and meaningfully engage in this historic process.”

[…]

Precinct 1 is now 49 percent Republican and 49 percent Democrat. The future maps can keep the same percentage, or increase the Republican numbers slightly.

In Precinct 2, the Democrats are 74 percent to 24 percent Republicans. Here the Democrats can be slightly reduced, keeping the Democrats margin still high, in double digits.

Similar will be the status of Precinct 3, where Republicans are 57 percent to 41 percent Democrats. Voters can be moved to Pct. 1 and Pct. 4, still keeping it a Republican dominant precinct.

Precinct 4, now 53 percent Democrat and 45 percent Republican is likely to increase its Democratic voters’ margin.

Fort Bend County’s total population per 2020 census is 29.60 percent White, 24.1 percent Hispanic, 23.60 percent Asian and 22.30 percent Black.

See here for the background, and here for the seemingly out of date county redistricting page. The business will be done next week, assuming there is a consensus about what map to adopt.

Fort Bend County Commissioners Court will meet in a special session on Nov. 4 at 10 a.m. to adopt a new redistricting map, but there is no consensus on which map will be adopted.

The county judge and four commissioners have proposed their own redistricting map. A few maps from the public have also been submitted.

[…]

Fort Bend County Democratic Party Chair Cynthia Ginyard made a honest and pertinent demand that three of the four new precincts should be having a Democratic majority.

County Judge KP George has already accomplished that in his map by making three precincts with Democrat majority. His map converts Commissioner Andy Meyers’ precinct from Republican majority to Democratic majority, by moving all Republicans to Commissioner Vincent Morales’ precinct.

George’s map may be a non-starter because none of the commissioners in their respective maps make three precincts with a Democratic majority. All of them maintain the status quo, namely two Republican precincts and two Democratic precincts. They have managed to move the population within this parameter.

I don’t know what any of the maps look like right now. The author suggests that Commissioner Grady Prestage’s map, or a variation of it, is most likely to be adopted. Based on the numbers that I was able to find for the previous post, that map may not be 3-1 Dem right away, but it would be headed in that direction. I don’t know enough to say what the outcome may be, but if you have some knowledge of the situation, please leave a comment.

Buc-ee’s keeps on with the logo lawsuits

Almost as on brand for them as the beaver logo itself.

Texas mega-chain Buc-ee’s is suing a Sugar Land man over claims that his “Buky’s” gas station and convenience stores are “confusingly similar” to the brand’s famous logo.

The trademark lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, alleges Buky’s owner Saarim Damani, of Sugar Land, has unlawfully capitalized on the Texas chain’s success by using a similar name and lettering on his stores in El Campo and Rosenberg.

[…]

Damani is accused of trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition, among other claims. The suit claims that the similar logo potentially deceives customers into thinking Damani’s products or services “are in some manner connected with, sponsored by, affiliated with or related to Buc-ee’s.”

Damani told the Chronicle he chose the name Buky’s for his stores because it was a childhood nickname given to him by friends. He denies trying to replicate the Buc-ee’s business model and declined to comment further.

The suit asks for injunctive relief, in addition to recovering damages, profits and attorney fees. It is also seeking a jury trial.

Buc-ee’s declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

This is not the first time the mega-chain has sued to protect its famous logo. In 2018, Buc-ee’s won a suit against San Antonio-based Choke Canyon after claiming its travel stop alligator logo was too similar to the Buc-ee’s beaver.

In 2017, Buc-ee’s sued Nebraska-based convenience store chain Bucky’s after it announced plans to expand into Texas. The trademark feud between the two dates back to 2006 when both filed for trademarks months apart to protect their brands.

See here and here for more about those two previous disputes. I would also add the 2014 lawsuit against Frio River Grocery and its board shorts-wearing beaver logo to the list. While some of those earlier instances struck me as being a bit of a stretch, this one looks like a slam dunk. I mean, even a stylistic idiot such as myself can see how similar those fonts are, and the name “Buky’s” is almost insultingly close to the bigger brand. The childhood nickname story may be true, but five minutes with an intellectual property lawyer would surely have set Mr. Damani on a different design path. I feel pretty confident we’ll see another story in a few months of Buc-ee’s victory in this action.

Commissioners Court passes its new map

It differs from the first map in a few ways, which I will get to in a minute, but it checks all the boxes I wanted it to check.

For Democratic Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, it boiled down to this: Do I trust my Republican colleagues to set tax rates that will fund critical services like health care and childhood development as the population continues to grow?

The answer? A firm no, which convinced Hidalgo to support a commissioner precinct redistricting plan that will likely lead to a 4-1 Democratic supermajority on Commissioners Court in 2023.

“I am concerned that your party is in a race to the bottom, to literally not pay for lifesaving services,” Hidalgo told Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, referencing his proposal in September to cut the county hospital district budget by $17 million. “I haven’t forgotten that.”

Court Thursday afternoon adopted the new map, which will debut in next year’s elections, on a 3-2 party line vote. The group adopted the third proposal offered by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, which he said keeps communities with similar interests together and reflects the leftward shift of the county over the past decade.

“I keep Katy ISD and Alief ISD together, the Energy Corridor together,” Ellis said. “It unites Sharpstown and Gulfton and combines watersheds in those areas.”

Cagle objected to the proposal, since it largely switches the current areas covered by precincts 3 and 4, which he said would leave those commissioners in charge of different road crews, parks and community centers for no reason.

“To be candid, I thought (this map) was a joke,” Cagle said. “It’s the stranger map. Your people of service are all going to be served by strangers, in terms of flipping all the resources.”

[…]

The current map, drawn by a Republican-controlled court in 2011, packs Democrats into Precinct 1, increasing the chance that Republicans would win elections in precincts 2, 3 and 4. Commissioners Cagle and Precinct 3’s Tom Ramsey proposed maps that would preserve that edge, even though Republicans have not won a countywide election since 2014 and President Joe Biden won here by 13 points last year.

The adopted Ellis map gives Democrats a decisive edge. According to analysis of election results from 2016 to 2020, Democrats will have an advantage of 50 percentage points in Precinct 1, 12 points in Precinct 2 and 12 points in Precinct 4. Republican voters are disproportionately crammed into Precinct 3, giving the party a 20-point advantage there.

If those trends hold, Democrats are likely to defeat Cagle in Precinct 4 next year to secure a 4-1 Commissioners Court majority. This is critical because setting tax rates requires a quorum of four members instead of the typical three, which gave Republicans tremendous influence in negotiations despite being in the minority.

See here, here, and here for the background. The current map can be seen here, the original Ellis proposal is here, and the final Ellis map, the one that was adopted, is here.

By switching the targeted precinct from 4 to 3, not only does this mean that it’s Jack Cagle and not Tom Ramsey who will get the boot (fine by me either way), it also moves up the date to do the booting from 2024 to 2022. That’s because Ramsey was elected in 2020 and would not be on the ballot again until 2024, while Cagle is on the ballot next year. Why wait? That makes the most sense.

I presume this will also have an effect on the HCDE, and in turn on Trustees Eric Dick in Precinct 4 and Andrea Duhon in Precinct 3; Amy Hinojosa in Precinct 2 will benefit in the same way that Commissioner Garcia will. Dick and Hinojosa are up for election next year, Duhon in 2024. Assuming Harris County stays blue overall, this will eventually result in the same 6-1 Dem split on the HCDE board, but with a two-year period between 2022 and 2024 in which everyone will be Democratic.

So there we have it. I’m fine with this, and I look forward to seeing who files to be the one to un-elect Jack Cagle. A statement from Commissioner Ellis is here and from Commissioner Garcia is here.

A brief meditation on the Deshaun Watson situation

Let us pause for a moment and contemplate this John McClain column about the likely football fate for the Texans’ soon-to-be-former star quarterback.

Deadlines have a way of initiating action, and if the Texans are going to ship quarterback Deshaun Watson to Miami or another team, they better do it by the NFL’s trade deadline on Nov. 2 at 3 p.m.

If Watson is still on the roster after the deadline passes, the Texans will have to wait until the start of the new league year in March to reopen negotiations on a trade that probably wouldn’t happen until close to the draft that begins April 28.

[…]

Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross has approved a Watson trade, but he wants his legal issues resolved. The only way for Watson to do that before the trade deadline would be to settle the 22 civil suits. League sources say Watson doesn’t want to settle his cases because he believes it would be an admission of guilt.

Before a deal can be completed, Ross would have to find out from commissioner Roger Goodell if Watson would be suspended under the personal conduct policy, and if so, how many games he would miss.

[…]

At the league meetings on Tuesday, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, Troy Vincent, told reporters that, in the event of a trade, it would be up to Goodell to decide if Watson would be available to play for his new team right away.

“We don’t think we have the necessary information to place him on the exempt list,” Goodell said. “We don’t have all the access to that information and (we) pride ourselves on not interfering with it. That process is ongoing.”

Watson could be suspended, or he could be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. Watson is being paid his $10.54 million base salary to report to the Texans each day and be inactive on game days. The exempt list is a paid vacation for the player, who can’t be part of the team and has to work out on his own.

If Goodell didn’t place Watson on the exempt list at the start of the Texans’ training camp, it’s unlikely he would do it after a trade.

Emphasis mine. The main takeaway here, for those who don’t care about the football angle, is that we may get a sudden and almost certainly confidential resolution to this whole sordid mess. There are some criminal complaints and an FBI investigation as well, but the former at least could be dropped as part of a settlement agreement. There will be some loud protest in Miami or Charlotte or wherever Watson gets traded, if that does happen, and it will fade away over time as we get distracted by more pressing matters. And then that will probably be that. I don’t know exactly how I feel about all this, but it’s not a good feeling. The Ringer and Rivers McCown have more.

(The fact that the Texans will undoubtedly screw up the draft picks they’ll get in the trade because they’re a terrible organization with a shitheel owner is a side matter.)

Exempt yourself

Is it really a regulation if you can just say nope, sorry, no can do?

The Public Utility Commission of Texas approved weatherization standards for electricity generators on Thursday, requiring them to be ready for winter cold by by Dec. 1 but allowing them to seek exemptions if they fail to comply.

Among the new requirements, generators will be required to shelter systems from wind, protect sensors for components vital to cold-weather operations, inspect insulation, establish schedules for testing systems that guard against freezing and improve installation of systems to monitor components vital to cold-weather operations. They’ll also be required to train workers on cold-weather protocols and file winter weather readiness reports.

Power producers can seek exemptions if they fail to comply with any of the measures, even if they never plan to implement some of the requirements. Exemptions would require approval of the PUC, which regulates the state’s utilities, and ERCOT, which manages the state’s power grid.

ERCOT, which is overseen by the PUC, will be required to inspect power generators this winter. Any generator that experiences multiple forced outages will have to hire an engineer to assess weatherization efforts.

PUC Chairman Peter Lake said Thursday that the weatherization rules were the first wave of other, more permanent standards that will be developed and implemented by ERCOT at a later day. The rules approved Thursday will ensure that the grid is ready for the coming winter.

“We’ve got to make sure this is in place by winter,” Lake said. “This makes sure the reliability of grid will be vastly improved this year compared to last year.”

[…]

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, said the weatherization mandates mirror those recommended — but never enacted — after the 2011 freeze and subsequent power outages. He said they’re also similar to rules set up in the federally regulated grids, which have had more success staying online during severe weather. He cautioned, however, that could take a couple of years before generators across Texas finish weatherization efforts, and some may skip making changes by applying for the so-called good-cause exemption.

“Generation companies are concerned about these mandates and not having the revenue stream to fund it,” Hirs said. “If there’s no progress in that direction, and I don’t think there is, we may see a bunch of them say ‘Hey, we’re not ready, please grant us an exemption.’ ”

Alison Silverstein, an Austin-based energy consultant who worked for the PUC from 1995 to 2001 and with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from 2001 to 2004, said she doesn’t think the PUC or ERCOT will rubber stamp exemption requests.

That remains to be seen. Like with many other things involving our state government, there’s no benefit of the doubt given the track record and the insistence from Greg Abbott that everything is just fine now. I’d very much like to see some followup reporting in a few months, to see how many exemptions were granted and for what reasons. Maybe this will lead to real improvements, but you’re going to have to show me the facts first.

Redistricting lawsuit #2 filed

This one focuses on just the Congressional map.

An organization affiliated with Eric Holder, who was attorney general in the Obama administration, has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s GOP-drawn redistricting map for Congress on behalf of a Latino rights group and 13 Texas voters.

Filed Monday in an Austin federal court, the lawsuit claims mapmakers in the Texas Legislature improperly drew political districts in Senate Bill 6 that increased the power of white voters even though 95% of the state’s growth last decade was fueled by people of color.

That population growth made Texas the only state to gain two congressional seats after the 2020 census.

“Yet Senate Bill 6 appropriates those additional districts — and more — for white Texans,” the lawsuit argued. “Senate Bill 6 does so by packing and cracking communities of color along racial lines to ensure that those groups’ growing populations will not translate to increased political influence.”

Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said the congressional districts drawn by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott violate the Voting Rights Act.

[…]

The new lawsuit, filed Monday on behalf of Voto Latino and 13 voters, asks U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman to overturn the congressional districts and order a new map to be drawn that:

• Adds two majority Latino districts in South and West Texas, from the border region north to Bexar County and south to the Gulf of Mexico.

• Improves the voting strength of Latinos in Congressional District 23, which stretches along the border with Mexico from San Antonio to just east of El Paso.

• Adds a majority Latino or majority Black-Latino district in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

• Creates another majority Latino or majority Black-Latino district in the Houston area.

The lawsuit also complained that Congressional District 35, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio along a narrow strip of Interstate 35, improperly combines far-flung Latino communities into a district with a Latino voting-age population of just under 48%.

A statement from Voto Latino is here, and a copy of the lawsuit is here. The National Redistricting Action Fund, a non-profit affiliate of the NDRC, did the filing. As noted, there is a separate lawsuit filed by MALDEF that challenges the legislative and SBOE maps in addition to the Congressional map. I assume that the NRDC and NRAF focused on the Congressional map because the NDRC’s mission is more of a national one. You know the drill here – the plaintiffs will have tons of evidence on their side, but unless there’s a new federal law to address this, SCOTUS ain’t gonna care. There’s also a chance this could delay the 2022 primaries, though again I would not bet on it. We’ll see what happens. Spectrum News has more.

CM Travis resigns to run for HD133

Did not see that coming.

Greg Travis

City Councilmember Greg Travis on Wednesday announced he is running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, effectively resigning his District G post at City Hall.

Travis told supporters at a River Oaks fundraiser and in an email Wednesday evening that he would seek the Republican nomination for House District 133 in west Houston.

The Texas Constitution forbids council members serving four-year terms from actively campaigning for another office while they hold their seats, and Travis’ announcement automatically triggers his resignation.

“I am torn between representing you at Council or representing you at the State House in Austin,” Travis wrote to his constituents. “I have chosen the latter as I feel I can do more for our families, this District, and Houston in general as a State Representative.”

At the fundraiser, Travis told his supporters he would have continued in his council seat if the law allowed.

The city will have to call a special election to replace Travis on City Council within 120 daysaccording to the Texas Constitution.

[…]

One of Travis’ District G predecessors, Bert Keller, also has announced a campaign for the seat. Keller served on City Council from 1999 to 2003. Republican attorneys Mano DeAyala and Shelley Barineau are running as well. It does not appear any Democrats have joined the race yet. The primary elections are March 1, and the general election will be Nov. 8, 2022.

HD-133 has been solidly red, but this year’s redistricting process might have made it slightly more competitive. Former President Trump carried the previous boundaries of the district by 4.1 percentage points. He would have won the newly-drawn district by less than 1 percentage point. Sen. Ted Cruz, though, carried the new district by 7 percentage points in 2018.

You can see the State House electoral data for 2020 here. That actually shows Trump winning it by two points, 50.3 to 48.4, but that’s a bit misleading, as Republicans did a lot better downballot. John Cornyn won it by almost 12 points, for example, and some of the statewide judicial candidates did better than that. That said, the district as constituted shifted pretty strongly over the decade, as Mitt Romney won it by 35 points in 2012. It should be Republican in 2022, but they won’t be able to take it for granted. (The same was true for the old version of HD133.)

I fully expect Dems to have a decent candidate for this district – the lines on the new maps are barely dry, so we’re still very much in the exploratory phase. They’ll be the underdog, but they should be able to get the support they need. With the Democratic boosts given to HDs 134 and 135, and with HD132 a bit more remote, HDs 133 and 138 are the closest House districts on the menu. We should start seeing candidacy announcements (including, one hopes, from a certain former member of Congress from El Paso) soon.

As for the special election in District G, while the city has to call it within 120 days, I would expect it will still fall on a uniform election date. That means next May, barring anything unforeseen, with a June runoff. Those of you in that district, get ready for that.

Here comes the library police

Hide your children, and your copies of forbidden books.

Warning: This book may warp tiny, fragile minds

A Republican state lawmaker has launched an investigation into Texas school districts over the type of books they have, particularly if they pertain to race or sexuality or “make students feel discomfort.”

State Rep. Matt Krause, in his role as chair of the House Committee on General Investigating, notified the Texas Education Agency that he is “initiating an inquiry into Texas school district content,” according to an Oct. 25 letter obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Krause’s letter provides a 16-page list of about 850 book titles and asks the districts if they have these books, how many copies they have and how much money they spent on the books.

His list of titles includes bestsellers and award winners alike, from the 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron and “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates to last year’s book club favorites: “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall and Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”

But race is not the only thing on the committee chair’s list. Other listed books Krause wants school districts to account for are about teen pregnancy, abortion and homosexuality, including “LGBT Families” by Leanne K. Currie-McGhee, “The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to their Younger Selves” edited by Sarah Moon, and Michael J. Basso’s “The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality: An Essential Handbook for Today’s Teens and Parents.”

Krause, a Fort Worth lawmaker and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, is running for state attorney general against Ken Paxton. Krause declined to comment and no explanation was given as to how these books were chosen.

Krause sent notice of the investigation to Lily Laux, the Texas Education Agency deputy commissioner of school programs, as well as some Texas school superintendents. His letter did not specify which school districts Krause was investigating.

[…]

School officials have until Nov. 12 to respond. It is unclear what will happen to the districts that have such books.

The letter did not give a specific reason that Krause was launching the investigation, only that “the committee may initiate inquiries concerning any ‘matter the committee considers necessary for the information of the legislature or for the welfare and protection of state citizens.’”

State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, who is vice chair of the committee, said she had no idea Krause was launching the investigation but believes it’s a campaign tactic. She found out about the letter after a school in her district notified her.

“His letter is reflective of the Republican Party’s attempt to dilute the voice of people of color,” she said.

Neave said she doesn’t know what Krause is trying to do but will investigate the motive and next steps.

I mean, this is obviously one part “critical race theory” bullshit, and one part Matt Krause jumping up and down and shouting “Look at me! I’m some guy you’ve never heard of but I’m running for Attorney General so please please please pay attention to me!” I’m sure that the seething masses of the Republican primary electorate, the most delicate and catered-group group of snowflakes that ever demanded special treatment, will be glad to hear it, if they ever do hear of it. In the meantime, school officials can add one more task to their ever-growing list of Shit I Don’t Need To Be Doing Right Now. God bless Texas.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 25

The Texas Progressive Alliance notes a freshness to the air now that the Lege is adjourned. That’s it, that’s the intro, now here’s the weekly roundup.

(more…)

Rep. Vicente Gonzalez to switch to CD34

And in doing so, he’s probably going to make it harder to hold onto CD15, the swingiest district in the state (as far as we can tell from 2020 data).

Rep. Vicente Gonzalez

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, announced Tuesday he is running for reelection in the 34th Congressional District rather than his current 15th District.

Gonzalez had been considering the move due to redistricting, which made the 15th District more competitive for Republicans — and the 34th District safer for Democrats. U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, is retiring in the 34th District, and he has voiced support for Gonzalez’s switch.

Gonzalez’s decision was made more likely by the final version of the congressional map that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Monday. The map redraws the 34th District to include Gonzalez’s residence.

[…]

Gonzalez was staring down a tough race in the 15th District, where he won reelection last year by a surprisingly close margin and his 2020 challenger, Monica De La Cruz, is running again with the support of national Republicans. She reiterated Monday she remains committed to the 15th District.

Under the map that Abbott signed Monday, the 15th District shifts from one that President Joe Biden won by 2 percentage points to one that Donald Trump would have carried by 3 points. The 34th District, meanwhile, goes from a district where Biden had a 4-point margin of victory to one that he would have swept by 16 points.

In the new map, both the 15th and 34th districts remain anchored in the Rio Grande Valley, with the 15th ending in Hidalgo County and the 34th ending in Cameron County. But the 34th District was revised to be more concentrated in the Valley, which is predominantly Democratic, and the 15th District was reconfigured to include fewer blue areas outside the Valley.

Gonzalez’s decision sets off a scramble to fill the Democratic primary in the 15th District. The primary has attracted at least two candidates in recent days: Ruben Ramirez, who ran for the seat in 2016, and Eliza Alvarado, an education advocate.

See here, here, and here for some background. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to be in an easier district, or for not wanting to move, but I imagine there are some teeth being gnashed at the DCCC right now. Rep. Gonzalez has two million bucks in the bank, and now none of that is going to be used to try to hold onto a close district. The Republicans are celebrating this news, and they should. It was exactly what they wanted.

All that said, CD15 is hardly a lost cause. Multiple Democrats carried it in 2020, specifically Chrysta Castaneda, Amy Clark Meachum, Gisela Triana, and Elizabeth Davis Frizell. Nearly every Dem carried CD15 by 10-12 points in 2018, with Lupe Valdez the main exception though she still did carry it. Dems had even broader margins in 2016.

Now, we’ve studied this stuff to death, and we know that Latino districts in many places took a hard turn away from Dems in 2020, with CD15 being high on that list. There’s lots of reasons to think this is part of a larger trend, the same trend that is pushing suburbs and more college-educated voters towards the Dems even as some Latinos move away from them. But so far it’s one election, and without Donald Trump on the ballot in 2022 who knows what the many lower-propensity voters who supported Trump last year will do. The main beneficiary here may be the Democrat who wins this primary.

Or maybe not. Maybe even if one of them wins in 2022, it will be super close and they’ll get wiped out in 2024, or they’ll spend however much time they have in Congress doing nothing but fundraising because they’ll always be a top national target. Again, I don’t blame anyone for not welcoming that fate, but it is what it is. It sure would have been nice to take one for the team.

One more thing:

State Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, had been considered a potential candidate for the 34th District, but with Gonzalez switching races, Dominguez may run for something else. His team confirmed Friday that he was instead exploring a primary challenge to state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville.

Fine by me!

More on Harris County Commissioners Court redistricting

Tune up that tiny violin.

Republican Harris County Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey want to keep the decennial process of redistricting precinct boundaries simple. The maps they have proposed would add new zigs and zags to ensure each precinct has the same population but largely would leave the current lines intact.

The pair say their proposals would protect residents from disruptions to county services, though they also would protect something else: the political power of conservatives with an electorate that has shifted away from them.

Republicans have lost every countywide election since 2014, and President Joe Biden won here by 13 percentage points last year. Yet the proposal from Cagle and Ramsey, which packs Democratic voters disproportionately into one precinct, would leave Republicans well-positioned to regain control of the Commissioners Court next year.

“We’ve seen in the state Legislature where Republicans, instead of creating huge inroads in districts in which they lost, opt to protect themselves and protect the current status quo,” University of Houston political science professor Jeronimo Cortina said. “Republicans in Harris County are attempting to do a very similar thing.”

The difference, Cortina said, is that Cagle and Ramsey lack the power to do so. Democrats hold a 3-2 majority on the court and thus control redistricting.

Democratic Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis has proposed his own map, which likely would produce three precincts controlled by Democrats and one held by a Republican. He noted the redistricting criteria the Commissioners Court developed included “a desire to have precincts that will allow … representation to reflect the philosophical and partisan makeup of the county.”

“The so-called map that Commissioner Cagle has that I think I saw described as the status quo creates three solid Republican precincts,” Ellis said at a public hearing Thursday. “That was by design, that all of those folks of the philosophical persuasion that happened to tend for Democrats were stuck in Precinct 1.”

Cagle said he prioritized shifting as few residents between precincts as possible in drafting his map; Ramsey said he did not take politics into consideration.

“You can call me the naïve one, but I approached this from the standpoint of serving constituents,” Ramsey said.

[…]

The current map was drawn in 2011 by a Republican-majority Commissioners Court. It disproportionately pushed Democrats into Precinct 1, leaving Precincts 2, 3, and 4 with a majority of Republican voters. Notably, it shifted parts of heavily conservative Kingwood into Precinct 2, which had just been flipped by Republican Jack Morman, to boost his chances of reelection.

The county has shifted leftward in the decade since. Harris County voters have chosen the Democratic presidential nominee in every contest since 2008 and by 2018 had taken control of every countywide elected office. Democrat Adrian Garcia beat Morman in Precinct 2 in 2018, and now his party is keen to protect the seat.

See here and here for the background. I cannot emphasize enough how much I do not care about what Cagle and Ramsey want. Their constituents will be fine – they can commiserate with the many, many people who have been shuffled into various Congressional and legislative districts over the past couple of decades. But what they want, as far as their own political futures are concerned, that’s just not on the list of priorities. I’d say I’m sorry but we both know I’m not. The Texas Signal has more.

The new maps are now official

Expect further lawsuits to follow.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday approved Texas’ new political maps for the state’s congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts, according to Texas Legislature Online.

The maps were drawn to keep Texas Republicans in power for the next decade. They simultaneously diminish the power of voters of color — despite new census numbers pointing to Texans of color as the main force behind the state’s population growth.

The new districts will be used for the first time in next year’s primary and general elections, barring any court interventions.

The redistricting process, which happens every 10 years after new census data is released, is complicated and contentious. Legal battles have already begun, with one early lawsuit raising various claims that the new districts unfairly and illegally discriminate against voters of color. More legal challenges are expected to pop up in the near future.

That’s the main story; what follows is a listing of the stories for each milestone in the process during the last special session. The main points to take away here are that we’re going to have a regular March primary because there’s no reason not to, and there’s still time for a federal voting rights law to be passed. It would likely not have any immediate action, unless a plaintiff in the current or a future lawsuit could get a restraining order based on it, but it would make it easier to eventually get a map or maps thrown out in court. Would have been better in every conceivable way to have had such legislation in place two months ago, but here we are. There will be more lawsuits regardless, and we’ll see where they go and how long they take to get there. Reform Austin has more.

Caught between a mandate and a madman

I have sympathy for the schools.

Many Texas universities — which collectively hold billions of dollars in federal contracts — are wrestling with how to navigate the Biden administration’s mandate that all federal contractors be vaccinated by Dec. 8 in a state that bans vaccine mandates.

While more public universities across the country are announcing that all employees must be vaccinated to comply with the federal requirement, several Texas public universities — all managed by Gov. Greg Abbott appointees — told The Texas Tribune they are still evaluating the executive order, which applies to new federal contracts of $250,000 or greater and awarded as of Nov. 14 or existing contracts that have been renewed as of Oct. 15.

“This is unprecedented,” said Michael LeRoy, a labor law expert at the University of Illinois College of Law. “There have been conflicts between the state and federal government, but not at this magnitude with this kind of money on the line.”

LeRoy believes the issue will be resolved in the courts because of the two conflicting issues at the center. State universities receive funding from the state and federal level but they are run by a board of regents appointed by the Texas governor.

While LeRoy said it’s unlikely the federal government will immediately terminate a grant if universities don’t comply, he said a university’s actions could impact future bids for federal grants. The federal government could begin to give notice to rescind a grant, he speculated, but that is a lengthy process. For now, universities are awaiting guidance from their own lawyers.

“… [T]he White House has been clear that noncompliance will not be excused, even in situations where state law contradicts the federal directive,” University of Houston spokesperson Shawn Lindsey told the Tribune in a statement. “It’s an extremely complicated situation that requires further analysis.”

Texas Tech University is working with its lawyers to determine if there are contracts that would trigger the vaccination requirement, school officials said in a statement. Texas Tech is also requesting guidance from the Texas attorney general’s office.

A Texas A&M University System spokesperson said they are also still evaluating the order. The A&M system has about 500 contracts with the federal government worth $2 billion, most of which are tied to the flagship university in College Station.

A statement from the University of Texas System revealed how universities are trying to appease both federal and state leaders.

“We will endeavor to comply with federal vaccine requirements for specific, covered individuals to protect these investments in our state,” spokesperson Karen Adler said in a statement. She then went on to say the system would provide exemptions for those with religious beliefs and “we will make every effort to accommodate employees’ personal situations.”

I think we can all guess what the AG’s office will say to Texas Tech, but the ritual must be observed. We’re all awaiting final guidance from OSHA, which is writing the rule that will implement that executive order. After that is when the lawsuits will fly. Not much else to say at this point, other than I do not envy any of these university officials the task they have before them.

October 2021 campaign finance reports: Congress

Another three months have passed, and so we review the Congressional finance reports again. I fear these reports are about to get a lot more boring post-redistricting, but for now we will plow onward. The July 2021 reports are here, and you can get the links to the previous cycle’s reports from there.

Dan Crenshaw – CD02
Van Taylor – CD03
Keith Self – CD03
Lance Gooden – CD05
Kathleen Bailey – CD05
Charles Gearing – CD05
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Morgan Luttrell – CD08
Mike McCaul – CD10
Vicente Gonzalez – CD15
Monica de la Cruz – CD15
Chip Roy – CD21
Troy Nehls – CD22
Matthew Berg – CD22
Tony Gonzales – CD23
John Lira – CD23
Beth Van Duyne – CD24
Derrik Gay – CD24
John Carter – CD31
Donna Imam – CD31
Colin Allred – CD32
Rochelle Garza – CD34
Lloyd Doggett – CD37
Wesley Hunt – CD38


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Crenshaw      8,166,421  5,789,903        0  4,229,232
03    Taylor        1,440,084    348,042  518,792  1,114,539
03    Self                  0          0        0          0
03    Srivastava       25,770     23,560   25,000     27,210
05    Gooden          323,801    340,897        0    435,438
05    Bailey          191,055     41,210  175,000    149,844
05    Gearing         204,350     49,993        0    154,356
07    Fletcher      2,036,541    300,422        0  1,797,215
08    Luttrell        737,201     72,489        0    664,712
10    McCaul        1,064,632    378,327        0    694,038
15    Gonzalez      1,323,008    553,704        0  2,139,796
15    De la Cruz      980,432    565,849   13,000    422,088
21    Roy             970,732    506,014        0    928,301
22    Nehls           472,116    200,570    8,700    290,751
22    Berg            125,028    107,807    5,100     17,221
23    Gonzales      1,672,722    545,202        0  1,158,878
23    Lira            209,147    138,544        0     70,602
24    Van Duyne     1,542,073    519,647   20,000  1,090,836
24    Gay             146,454     68,596        0     77,857
31    Carter          607,121    320,931        0    486,595
31    Imam            113,582     17,346        0     96,186
32    Allred        1,885,946    453,968        0  1,591,400
34    Garza           200,134     55,741        0    144,393
37    Doggett         400,081    252,958        0  5,352,597
38    Hunt          1,026,844    203,946        0  1,046,839

Some new names on the list this quarter, Sandeep Srivastava in CD03, Kathleen Bailey in CD05, and Rochelle Garza in CD34. Charlie Gearing had originally announced as a candidate in CD05 but has since switched to HD114 after the final Congressional map drew him out of CD05. Other now-former candidates for Congress include State Rep. Michelle Beckley and Manor mayor Larry Wallace, who suspended their campaigns in CDs 24 and 10 respectively after concluding those districts were too inhospitable to a challenge.

That’s why I said that these reports may be pretty boring from here on. These districts were not drawn to foster competition. A quick look at the 2018 and 2020 electoral data, which is now available, tells the story. Only CD15, in which Democratic incumbent Vicente Gonzalez may run for CD34 instead, and the ever-popular CD23 are reasonably close to even. The Republicans intended to make the last two cycles the exceptions, and at least at first glance they appear to have succeeded. We’ll get some new map optimism in 2022, and we may see that the dynamism of the state’s population plus the continued effects of the Trump debacle will change the perception of some districts, but all that remains to be seen.

In the meantime, we’re mostly looking at primary races. Rep. Van Taylor in CD03 is lousy, but because he voted for the January 6 commission, he’s drawn a pro-insurrection opponent. Keith Self is the former Collin County Judge and a longtime crony of Ken Paxton – indeed, the ongoing effort to screw the Paxton special prosecutors out of their pay was initiated by Keith Self. If Rep. Gonzalez does shift to CD34, we’ll need someone to try to hold onto CD15, which I tend to think may not be that big a deal, but will likely be uphill. Rep. Lloyd Doggett is the big dog in CD37, but former CD25 candidate Julie Oliver has filed there, and could make things interesting. There are now multiple Dems looking at CD35, and I’ll be very interested in seeing their reports in January. We still don’t know if Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson will run again in CD30. I’m sure a few more incumbents on both sides will draw a challenger or two.

And that’s where we are today. Filing season is almost upon us, and I expect we’ll see some interesting names pop up here and there. Someone in Houston is going to file for CD38 as a Democrat, if only because it’s now the shiniest prize out there for a Dem. I’m hoping we’ll find that the 2020 numbers in these districts overstate Republican strength and thus make the 2024 elections more attractive, but that’s wishing and hoping right now. We’re not going to see the kind of money raised for Congressional races in Texas that we have seen these past four years. My advice would be to spend your political donation dollars on our statewide candidates, especially for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. We’ve more than proven we can raise money for Democratic candidates in Texas. We just need to be strategic about it.

Last chance to make a good FIFA impression

Coming to the end of this very long process.

Houston’s diversity is being played up in the city’s recent push to host the 2026 men’s World Cup. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner joined forces with prominent business people and community leaders to highlight the benefits of featuring such a rich multicultural community on the biggest stage for the global pastime.

Houston is one of 17 U.S. candidates that will be whittled down to 11 host slots for the 2026 games, hosted jointly between the United States, Canada and Mexico, which will provide another five host cities. With FIFA officials set to make a site visit to Houston Oct. 26 to prepare for their final decision later this year, local stakeholders are hammering the point harder than ever.

“Soccer is the world’s game, and as one of the most diverse cities in North America, bringing the World Cup here is a perfect match,” said Chris Canetti, former president of the Houston Dynamo and Dash and president of the Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee.

If chosen, Houston would host six games that would likely bring tens of thousands of fans to the city. Some would watch the game at the 70,000-plus seat NRG Stadium and more would simply soak up the atmosphere at bars, restaurants and gathering spots around the city.

Host cities could net between $90 million and $480 million beyond taxpayer contributions, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group. Previous World Cups, including the 1994 U.S. tournament, have burdened public funds, but North American stakeholders say host cities can avoid unnecessary expenditures in 2026 by utilizing preexisting infrastructure, such as the Houston Texans’ home.

Officials said that 2026 is still working through the cost estimates with FIFA and expect to have more details after the Oct. 26 site visits.

[…]

While many media rankings give Dallas the slight edge over Houston due to the city’s larger AT&T Stadium, the Bayou City’s bid committee is touting Houston’s diversity and pointing to the city’s successful track record of hosting major sporting events, including the Super Bowl and Final Four.

See here for the last update. I’ll skip my usual nattering about the uselessness of these sports-related economic projections and just admit up front that it would be cool to host some World Cup games. The linked article at the end tries to suss out which 11 cities from the 17 contenders will get to host those games. I don’t see why Houston and Dallas have to be in competition with each other any more than they are with the other 15 wannabes, but we’ll know soon enough. I’m ready for this to be settled.

2021 Day Seven EV report: After the weekend

Let’s get right to it: These are the early voting totals for the 2021 election after Sunday:

Mail ballots: 36,517
In person: 19,901

You can see the full Day Seven report here. The “voters by type” breakdown on the last page only goes through Saturday, so I don’t have the most up to date numbers on drive through voting, but it’s a pretty small fraction of the total.

The thing that I noticed when I looked at the numbers was that Saturday was not the biggest day of in person voting, as I had expected it to be. My first thought was that this was an outlier, and that there had to be some reason for it that I would need to speculate on. Turns out, this is the new normal, at least for odd-numbered years. Look at the EV daily totals for 2019, 2017, 2015, and a few elections before then, and you’ll see that Saturday is a good day for turnout, but generally only the second best day. It’s the Friday that leads the pack, and that has been true for odd-numbered years going all the way back to 2009, the last year in which Saturday led the first week’s totals.

Odd years continue to be unlike the even-numbered years in that early voting is a much smaller piece of the pie. I consider the year 2008 to be an inflection point in voter behavior, in that it was the first year of any in which more than half of the total vote was cast before Election Day. That very much persists in even-year races, with nearly 88% of the vote in 2020 being cast early. Looking at previous Presidential years, 2016 followed this year’s pattern of Saturday not being the biggest day of the first week, but in 2012 and 2008 Saturday led the way. 2020 was a different kind of outlier because of the extra week of early voting and the supercharged early energy, but there you can see that there was a significant dropoff on Saturday after that frenzied first week.

So what has happened? Two things, I would guess. One is just that we are all used to voting early, even those of us who persist in waiting until Election Day. And two, because early voting is such a part of the fabric now, it’s more common for people to do it as part of their workday routine. I have voted during my lunch hour most years, and I think that’s pretty common. Whatever the reason, Saturday is not the huge narrative-setting day that it used to be in the EV process.

The rest of this week, if previous patterns hold, will wind up exceeding the first five days. I kind of think that won’t be the case, because of the large number of mail ballots, but we’ll see. In any event, the norm is for the first two to four days of this week to be similar to last week, with Friday being the biggest day of the whole period. I don’t know if that’s what we’ll get this time, but we’ll see. Have you voted yet?

Harris County Commissioners Court begins the process of approving its new maps today

From the inbox, an email from Commissioner Rodney Ellis:

Every decade, after each U.S. census, states, cities and counties engage in a process called redistricting, where they adjust the boundaries of their governing districts to reflect changes in population growth and other factors.

For the last six weeks, Harris County has held public meetings across the county to hear your thoughts.

Based on what we learned, and in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, we’re proposing new boundaries for county commissioner districts that are reflected in the map posted here. Our plan seeks to keep communities of interest together and brings together areas that have been split apart for years.

For too long this county has been intentionally divided by precinct boundaries that deny people the opportunity to elect representation that accurately reflects the views of the majority of our communities. The boundaries proposed cease that continued suppression, and allows the voices and views of the people to be reflected by those who represent them.

In Harris County, we’re committed to a fair and transparent process. That’s why we held public meetings across the county and why we are taking public comment now on the proposed maps.

You will hear some of my colleagues complain – and complain loudly. Sadly, they are more concerned about preserving their political power and getting headlines than they are about getting better representation for you.

You can provide YOUR feedback on the proposed maps in person or virtually. Public hearings on the adoption of a redistricting map in Harris County will be held on Tuesday, October 26 and Thursday, October 28. You MUST complete this form in order to testify.

  • For questions or assistance with the Appearance Request Form, please contact [email protected] or 713-274-1111.
  • If you cannot attend, you can still let your voice be heard by submitting your written comments to [email protected]

Redistricting will impact the direction of this county for years to come. We will continue to fight for you to have the fair representation that everyone in Harris County deserves.

For more information on the Harris County redistricting process, you can visit the Harris County Attorney Office’s redistricting page.

See here for the background. You can expect the wailing and gnashing of teeth among Republicans who just want a nice, fair, inclusive, mapmaking process – you know, like the one we just had – to be turned up to eleven. I can only imagine the lawsuits they may file afterwards. The HCDP has put out its support of the Ellis map along with a tout sheet about what the new map will do, and undo. This is going to be messy but exciting.

Chron overview of the HISD Trustee elections

There is an election, with candidates, and they all deserve a paragraph and maybe a quote if they’re lucky so you can sort it all out and know how to vote.

Five seats on the Houston ISD Board of Education will be decided Nov. 2, potentially altering the shape of the nine-member board as the district finds a sense of stability with its first permanent superintendent in years but remains under threat of a state takeover.

Sixteen individuals, including the incumbents, are vying for the seats representing Districts 1, 5, 6, 7 and 9.

Several candidates pointed to the potential state takeover and previous board dysfunction as reasons that prompted them to seek office. Meanwhile, several incumbents noted recent progress and momentum with Superintendent Millard House II, who started in July and is working on a strategic plan for the district, as reason they wished to remain in their roles.

The board has changed in the two years since its infighting was laid bare by a video of a meeting for training on how to govern. Within the last five months, for instance, current trustees have unanimously hired House, expressed support for his decision to implement a mask mandate in defiance of a gubernatorial executive order, and approved a bigger-than-expected pay raise for teachers.

You can read the rest, or you can listen to my interviews with the candidates (you can see a full list of them in this post), or go back and read all the Chron endorsements, which give more than one paragraph to at least one of the candidates in each. And with all that, I do hope they have a similar piece about the HCC Trustee races. Even one paragraph is better than nothing.

Another look at I-35 expansion

From Slate:

Built on top of tree-lined East Avenue, the road opened in 1962, cutting off Black and Mexican-American East Austin from Downtown. Like urban renewal projects in other American cities, the road’s destructive legacy has recently been reconsidered in racial terms.

But unlike with similar projects in Syracuse and New Haven, the question in Austin is not how to tear down the highway but how to expand it. Those cities are not growing; Austin is. Just as the Texas capital embarks on its generational transit investment, the state is planning to spend almost $5 billion to expand eight miles of I-35 through Downtown to a whopping 20 lanes wide. Four new “managed lanes” (for high-occupancy vehicles or other restricted uses) will join the mainlanes and frontage roads, stretching the highway’s width to nearly 600 feet in places, and erasing almost 150 properties.

With their latticework of ramps, bypass lanes, and flyovers, the blueprints have the look of one of those historical timelines that shows warring empires dividing and combining in endless permutations. It’s a testament to America’s highway designers that this tangle, hard to follow with one finger, will one day be navigable at 70 miles per hour.

[…]

Last month, the mayor and nearly the entirety of the Austin City Council signed a letter addressed to the I-35 team at the Department of Transportation with some requests: Change the design to narrow the right-of-way. Build more crossings. Make frontage roads into pleasant local streets. Design, fund, and build highway decks—suspended parks over the road—to knit together neighborhoods that were severed in 1962. And delay the project until Austin can complete its transit lines.

“It’s something we have to do something about. It’s deadly, it’s dirty, it divides our community,” said Natasha Harper-Madison, a City Council member who has denounced the plan. “I-35 is the poster child for our car-choked congestion problems, and their solution is just to make it bigger. They tell us the life span is 75 years. That means 2100. When I think about 2100, I don’t see a sprawling Houston, but a city that helps people move around without cars.”

There are alternate proposals, such as the one drawn up by the Urban Land Institute at the behest of Downtown interests. That design proposes a narrower right-of-way, cantilevered frontage roads, highway decks to support green space, and new housing alongside it all. A similar highway cap, Klyde Warren Park, opened in Dallas to much fanfare in 2012.

A local group called Reconnect Austin wants to bury the highway entirely and build a surface-level boulevard, in the style of Boston’s Big Dig. Divert intercity traffic to State Highway 130, a road built east of Austin two decades ago for just this purpose. Give the city’s transit network a chance to make its mark, they argue, before you undermine its offerings with a brand new (free) highway.

See here for the background. I wanted to highlight this article for two reasons. One was because it referenced an Austin Politics report that showed how TxDOT’s predictions for future traffic on I-35 are basically the same as they were 20 years ago, and that the levels of traffic they were predicting then have not come close to being accurate. Makes me wonder what a bit of similar investigation into claims about traffic on I-45 would yield.

The other is for this diagram, taken from TxDOT’s renderings for the proposed expansion, and included in the piece:

I’d say I’ve never seen anything more ridiculous than that, but then I have seen TxDOT’s plans for I-45, so. Anyway, check it out.

A loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, a few Bitcoins

Not on my shopping list, sorry.

Be sure to add Bitcoin to your grocery list.

Coin Cloud, a Las-Vegas based digital currency machine company, is making it convenient to access some of the most popular cryptocurrencies by placing a number of its kiosks in some Houston H-E-B stores.

The machines work similarly to an ATM, except rather than withdrawing cash, customers deposit cash to buy and sell more than 30 cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, Litecoin, several US dollar stablecoins and numerous DeFi tokens. Customers can also utilize Coin Cloud’s free mobile wallet to manage, store, buy or sell from anywhere in the world.

The company has kiosks in 47 U.S. states and Brazil, and now H-E-B marks its 2,000th kiosk location. The move is part of Coin Cloud’s expansion strategy to stay ahead of the growing popularity of digital currencies, which are often called tokens.

These are not the first Bitcoin ATMs to be found in Houston. Perhaps the difference here is that these allow you to deal in other cryptocurrencies. Lord knows I was dying for a place to cash in my Dogecoins. Anyway, there’s an interactive map you can use to find one of these things near you, if for some reason you need it.

(Note: this story was from a couple of months ago. I pulled it out of the drafts because why not. Has anyone seen one of these?)

Weekend link dump for October 24

“Christchurch, New Zealand has just made a terrible mistake. It has fired its official city wizard, a man named Ian Brackenbury Channell, and now finds itself undefended against attacks by mystical armies of dragons, goblins, and, most dangerous of all, outraged bands of rogue magicians led by Brackenbury Channell himself.”

“According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 228 officers have been killed by COVID-19 in 2021, and 47 have been killed by gunfire. In 2020, the numbers were 245 and 45.”

RIP, Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and first Black chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell died of COVID despite being fully vaccinated, and that is because as a person with a blood cancer, he was especially vulnerable to the disease.

A thread about breakthrough infections.

RIP, Betty Lynn, actor best known for The Andy Griffith Show. Mark Evanier was a friend and former neighbor of hers, and he has two items about her if you want to know more.

“What would religious leaders do if aliens showed up?”

“While the overlap of left-wing, magazine-friendly wellness and far-right conspiracy theories might initially sound surprising, the similarities in cultures, in ways of thinking – the questioning of authority, of alternative medicines, the distrust of institutions– are clear. But something is happening, accelerated by the pandemic – the former is becoming a mainstream entry point into the latter. An entry point that can be found everywhere from a community garden to the beauty aisle at a big Tesco. Part of what makes a successful influencer is the ability to compel their followers to trust them, and they do that by sharing their lives, their homes, their diets, their concerns. It’s become clear, both by the products they buy and the choices they make, that many people trust their influencers more than their own doctor.”

“In July 2021, according to the latest Air Travel Consumer Report, there were 834 incidents of “mishandled” wheelchairs and scooters of passengers transported by US airlines. An average of 28 a day. But the major airlines have adopted very few policies for the carrying of wheelchairs”.

“Have you signed up for Netflix, Disney Plus or HBO Max just to watch one new show or movie — then canceled for a few months until the next must-see thing comes out?” It’s called “churn and burn”, and it’s mostly done by younger people.

“Facebook said on Wednesday it will start banning […] profiles, pages, groups and events that sexualize public figures — which includes celebrities, journalists, politicians and content creators. The content covers photoshopped images, degrading images or drawings and any otherwise degrading content “depicting individuals in the process of bodily functions””.

“For a certain kind of person, Rolovich will become an avatar for personal choice and fighting back against government overreach. Stupid as his decision to fritter away a $3 million salary and a Power Five coaching job is, it will look to some like principle. But Rolovich is not even a good standard-bearer for the anti-vaccine movement, if such a thing can exist, nor has he asked to be made one. Rolovich is something a lot simpler: He is the coaching profession’s most high-profile failure of the entire pandemic, in ways that go beyond not getting the shot. He is also a selfish coward, in ways that exceed any health risks he poses by not getting vaccinated.”

“Survey finds 22% of scientists who do media interviews about COVID get violent threats“.

“Pet Cloning Is Way More Advanced Than You Thought”.

From the If You Snooze, You Lose department.

“TMTG isn’t a social media platform. It’s a scam. Trump does not need another social media platform. He needs suckers willing to buy stock. And Trump has always been very, very good at locating suckers.”

“‘Prayer in schools’ is almost never about prayer in schools”.

RIP, Peter Scolari, versatile Emmy-winning actor known for Bosom Buddies, Newhart, and a whole lot more.

Lock him up.

“Here’s How a Prop Gun Using Blanks Can Still Fire a Fatal Shot”.

“It seems that [Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG)] lifted the code for TRUTH Media without properly crediting the code’s author. And the author is already making noises about taking Trump to court.”

“Trolling is a way of trying to take back a piece of what misogynists feel women owe them, which is attention. If they can’t force you to be a subservient housewife, they can at least force you to be annoyed, upset, even afraid. It makes shitty men feel powerful.”

“Trolling is a way of trying to take back a piece of what misogynists feel women owe them, which is attention. If they can’t force you to be a subservient housewife, they can at least force you to be annoyed, upset, even afraid. It makes shitty men feel powerful.”

I think we are going to have a regular March primary

This happened in the second special session, after the Dems came back from Washington DC.

Senate Bill 13, from Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), has been sent to Governor Greg Abbott after being approved by the House and Senate this week.

The bill gives the Secretary of State the authority to change the dates of the primary election and any runoff election, along with related dates for candidate filings, depending on when a redistricting plan is finalized.

If the bill is signed into law, it would keep all current primary election and associated administrative dates the same, as long as a redistricting plan is completed by November 15th. This would set a primary date of March 1, 2022 and a runoff of May 24, 2022, with candidate filing taking place between November 29th and December 13th.

However, if a redistricting plan is not finished by November 15th, but is completed before December 28th, the primary election would be delayed to April 5, 2022 and the runoff would shift to June 21, 2022. Candidate filing would occur from January 10-24, 2022.

If the redistricting plan is not completed until after December 28th but before February 7, 2022, the primary would move to May 24, 2022, while the runoff would be pushed back to July 26, 2022. Candidates would be able to file between February 21 and March 7, 2022.

There was a bill to do this in the regular session that passed the Senate but did not come up for a vote in the House. As you may have noticed, all of the redistricting bills have been passed, and they await Greg Abbott’s signature, which I assume will happen shortly. Given that it’s not even November yet, we’re in plenty of time for that deadline. So, barring a court ruling that puts those maps on hold, I assume that the filing season will begin on November 15 as usual, with the primaries to follow in March. I haven’t seen any news stories to confirm this, perhaps because everyone had been assuming this all along, but we very much could have had delayed primaries, so I wanted to make note of this. If you have some reason to think otherwise, let us know in the comments.

Fort Bend County Commissioners Court redistricting

From last week.

Fort Bend County commissioners has formally called for the redistricting process to begin this week.

The Commissioners Court will have to prepare maps of new precincts, following the 2020 census, to ensure that the boundaries retain “one-person-one-vote” balance.

Following this, new maps have to be offered for public hearing, before finally adopting a plan.

On Tuesday, Commissioners Court set public hearing on redistricting to be held on Oct. 26, at 1 p.m. and at 6 p.m. in the Commissioners Court.

The maps will be available for the public to view on Oct. 19 by 5 p.m. on the county website.

The primary task of reapportionment of voters will concentrate on the issue of numerical balance and minority representation in the formation of commissioners’ court precincts, according to the Fort Bend County’s redistricting consultant, ALLISON, BASS & MAGEE who gave an evaluation of the census numbers to commissioners court last week.

Fort Bend County has a total population of 822,799, so the ideal precinct size would be 205,695, i.e. divide the total population by four (4), the number of single member districts, i.e. Commissioner’s Court Precincts.

[…]

Currently, the political configuration yields two Republican precincts and two Democratic precincts.

It is likely that the status quo will be maintained, and the ratio of Democratic voters in Democratic precincts may be increased.

In another scenario of gerrymandering, one Republican precinct may be overloaded with more Republican voters, diluting the other Republican precinct, resulting in three Democrat and one Republican precinct.

Currently, Commissioner Grady Prestage and Commissioner Andy Meyers appear to be preparing their own maps.

As with Harris County, Dems in Fort Bend have a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court after capturing a Commissioner’s seat plus the County Judge slot in 2018. The County’s redistricting page is here and it currently shows three proposed maps, with statistical information about them. There are other maps that have been drawn, however, and they produce a range of outcomes:

Commissioner Prestage’s map would likely keep things at 3-2 but with Precinct 1 more competitive and potentially flippable by Dems. The map proposed by County Judge KP George would make the Court 3-1 Dems, much as Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ proposed map would do in Harris County. The County’s redistricting page doesn’t say which map was proposed by whom, so I have no idea what to look for, but hopefully we’ll learn more soon. This is very much worth keeping an eye on.

The Hollywood (mostly non-) response to SB8

Of interest.

In May 2021, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed into law SB8, also known as the Texas Heartbeat Act. It’s the latest, and most contested, challenge to the 1973 Supreme Court decision made in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States. Since Abbott’s adoption of the law, which allows any private citizen to sue someone who performs or aids and abets an abortion once “cardiac activity” can be detected, the current Supreme Court has denied a motion to block the act from going into effect; the White House is reportedly preparing to sue Texas; Abbott has signed a Senate bill that requires physicians providing abortion-inducing drugs up to seven weeks into a pregnancy to report such doings at the risk of possible jail time; and everyone from HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver to The Satanic Temple has argued against the law.

But Hollywood has been relatively quiet on the matter. While the Texas law inspired some outcry from names like The Wire’s David Simon, Boyhood’s Patricia Arquette, and her sister, Ratched’s Rosanna Arquette, as well as scattered refusals to film in the state, the response hasn’t been nearly as urgent as it was in 2019, when Georgia had its own “fetal heartbeat” bill.

Back then, Disney CEO Bob Iger told Reuters that if that bill became law, it would be “very difficult” to produce films and TV series there. “I rather doubt we will,” he added. When asked about it during that summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, Mark Pedowitz—president of the CW, a channel that’s a subsidiary of WarnerMedia and CBS Entertainment Group and that has a history of airing shows filmed in Georgia—was similarly responsive. “Anybody who interferes with people’s right to make medical choices, I am solely against,” he said. “If the law is passed, I am certain we’ll have discussions with both studios about what to do and what not to do in terms of where Georgia sits.”

Why, then, has the Texas bill not catalyzed the same level of fervor? Simple: “Texas is not a production hub on par with Georgia,” television producer and writer Amy Berg says via email.

Berg, who was interviewed by Vanity Fair in 2019 about her decision to call for a boycott then—and, judging from her Twitter feed, is no fan of the Texas law either—continues that “even Louisiana and New Mexico have traditionally been more film-friendly. Perhaps that’s why boycotting Texas isn’t something that comes to mind immediately as a vehicle for expressing outrage or inducing meaningful change.”

There’s more to it than that, and as with Stacey Abrams’ plea for businesses to not boycott Georgia following the passage of its recent voter suppression law, there are concerns that any such action would just hurt small businesses and people without power, while being welcomed by the state’s Republican leaders who’d be happy to be in opposition to Hollywood types. You can feel however you want to about this, but I think we can all agree that this is a complex question and that people can approach it in good faith from different angles.

2021 Day Five EV report: A one week checkin

One work week, anyway. Here are the vote totals after five days of early voting. The first thing to notice is that about 70% of the votes cast so far have been by mail:

Mail ballots = 36,517
Early in person = 14,635
Drive-thru = 755

I note that the graphical breakdown of votes by type has one less vote by mail that the table totals do, no doubt an editing error. Whatever the case, there were nearly 52K votes cast through Friday, in an election with no major headliner to bring the people out. In 2017, there were 58,429 total votes cast as of the end of early voting. We’ll likely surpass than by Tuesday. That doesn’t mean we will have wildly higher turnout this year than we did in 2017. In 2017, about 59% of all votes were cast on Election Day. I suspect we will have a higher percentage of early votes this time, quite possibly because of the sharp increase in voting by mail. There are also more registered voters now that there were in 2017 – 2,233,533 in 2017, 2,431,457 in 2020, I don’t know exactly how many now but surely no less than that. More total voters may still be lower turnout as a percentage of RVs.

So that’s where we are now. I’ll do another update either Monday or Tuesday with the weekend numbers, and then again on Sunday with the final EV totals. We can make our guesses about where things will end up then. Have you voted yet? I did, and I like the new machines – the touch interface was simple and easy to use, and the paper receipt was cool, though perhaps it will be a bit of a bottleneck when we have a higher turnout election. What did you think?

SCOTUS will hear SB8 appeals

Both of them, on November 1. The law remains annoyingly in effect until then.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to fast-track two Texas cases involving the state’s near-total ban on abortion, but refused to halt the law from being enforced.

The high court has scheduled oral arguments for Nov. 1.

The court will take up the cases brought forward by abortion providers and the U.S. Department of Justice against the ban, according to a court opinion from Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Friday. It will review the procedural merits of both cases, rather than the constitutionality of abortion, while enforcement of Senate Bill 8 remains in effect.

In her opinion, Sotomayor offered a partial dissent of the Supreme Court’s decision to keep the law in place while the court deliberates over the two cases.

“By delaying any remedy, the Court enables continued and irreparable harm to women seeking abortion care and providers of such care in Texas—exactly as S. B. 8’s architects intended,” Sotomayor wrote.

The court’s decision to expedite its involvement was a rare move, brought upon by a law that has garnered national attention because of its extensive limits on abortions and its particular mechanisms of enforcement: not by state officials but by private citizens who are empowered to sue those who may help someone receive an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected.

“The last time [the Supreme Court] moved this quickly was Bush v. Gore,” said Josh Blackman, a law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston whose expertise includes constitutional law.

[…]

Normally, the Supreme Court considers getting involved in a case only after an appeals court has had a chance to make a decision on it. But abortion providers filed a request called a “certiorari before judgment,” a rarely used procedure in which the high court immediately reviews a district court’s ruling without waiting on an appellate court to take action.

One of the abortion providers included in the challenge is Whole Woman’s Health, a provider with four clinics in Texas. Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, said Friday’s decision will mean Texans will continue to be denied safe and accessible abortion care.

“The legal limbo is excruciating for both patients and our clinic staff,” Miller said in a statement. “Lack of access to safe abortion care is harming our families and communities and will have lasting effects on Texas for decades to come.”

See here. here, here, and here for some background. The 19th adds some details.

The court will not specifically examine the constitutionality of a six-week ban. Rather, the justices will be looking at the legality of Texas’ private enforcement setup, as well as whether the Justice Department has the right to challenge the law. But regardless of the specific questions at play, a decision in favor of Texas could still signal to other anti-abortion lawmakers that a ban like Texas’ is a viable path to pursue.

The law has virtually eliminated access to the procedure in Texas. Many clinics have stopped providing abortions altogether. Those who can afford the journey and are past six weeks of pregnancy are seeking abortions in surrounding states, including Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Kansas. But many others — particularly those without the time off, financial resources or child care to travel out of state — may end up carrying unwanted pregnancies to term.

Abortions are now virtually unavailable for minors in Texas, who are required to either get parental consent or go through a special judicial approval process that makes it very difficult to meet the six-week deadline. Undocumented teens who are seeking abortions have been sent to immigration facilities in other states, because most of them already past six weeks when they discover they are pregnant.

And Slate tries to read some tea leaves.

The plaintiffs got half a loaf on Friday, or maybe less. SCOTUS will hear both cases, holding oral arguments in just 10 days. (With these orders, the court acted at breakneck speed, which is nearly unprecedented in modern times; the closest analogue is Bush v. Gore.) But SCOTUS restricted the scope of its review in a curious and confusing way. The court will not consider the Justice Department’s request to rule on the merits of S.B. 8. Instead, it will ask only whether the United States may sue the state of Texas, as well as all “state officials” and “private parties,” to “prohibit S.B. 8 from being enforced.” The abortion providers’ application likewise focuses on procedural issues, asking the court to decide “whether a state can insulate from federal-court review a law that prohibits the exercise of a constitutional right” by delegating enforcement to the public.

Neither of these questions squarely presents the constitutionality of a six-week abortion ban to the Supreme Court. The justices could interpret the abortion providers’ request as an invitation to consider the merits by declaring that the court must decide whether abortion is “a constitutional right” before determining “whether a state can insulate” S.B. 8 from review. (If there’s no right to abortion, there’s no clear constitutional flaw in S.B. 8.) But that seems unlikely; after all, the justices took pains to avoid confronting this question in the Justice Department’s case, where it is directly presented. They also ignored Texas’ request to recast these cases as a direct challenge to Roe. It appears, rather, that the court is committed to deciding only whether private plaintiffs or the federal government can sue a state when it makes an end run around the Constitution, as Texas did with S.B. 8.

Several aspects of the court’s orders suggest that at least one justice has not made up their mind about this question. If a majority believed Texas’ scheme is permissible and federal courts cannot stop it, why would it rush to hear these cases? It could have let them languish on the shadow docket, or decline to intervene at this early stage, just as it did last time around. Conversely, if a majority believed Texas’ scheme is impermissible and federal courts can stop it, why would it let S.B. 8 remain in effect? Why not halt the law while the court prepares a formal ruling?

Friday’s orders thus read like a compromise. But for whom? Chief Justice John Roberts and the three liberals have already said they want to pause the law. No one seriously argues that the overtly anti-Roe justices—Clarence Thomas, Sam Alito, or Neil Gorsuch—would lift a finger to stop S.B. 8. That leaves Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, who probably want to overturn Roe but may want to move slower than their hard-right colleagues. It appears either Kavanaugh, Barrett, or both aren’t yet sure which way they’ll vote in the Texas litigation. Now they’ve preserved every option.

I don’t have anything to add to that. Hold your breath and hope for the best.

Third Court rejects Paxton attempt to kill whistleblower lawsuit

Good.

Best mugshot ever

A state appeals court found Thursday that former deputies of Attorney General Ken Paxton who were fired after accusing the Republican official of abusing his office are protected under the state’s whistleblower law, allowing their lawsuit against Paxton to proceed.

Paxton’s lawyers had argued in court that he’s exempt from the Texas Whistleblower Act because he’s an elected official, not a public employee. But the court upheld a previous lower court decision that denied Paxton’s attempt to dismiss the case.

In its opinion, Texas’ 3rd Court of Appeals rejected the attorney general’s interpretation of the Texas Whistleblower Act, “which would have the effect of stripping whistleblower protections from employees who might report misconduct by the thousands of elected officials throughout the State — particularly by those who direct and lead the agencies of this State.”

[…]

In its opinion, the court wrote that the former employees “sufficiently alleged illegal conduct by their employing governmental entity as contemplated by the Act” and disagreed with Paxton’s characterization of the whistleblower law, writing that while “Texas is an employment-at-will state,” the act “provides an exception to that general rule.”

“Although loyalty and confident are important considerations in employment matters,” it wrote, “the Act provides that a State employer cannot fire an employee because he reports illegal conduct by the employer, even when it is that act of reporting that causes the employer to lose confidence or feel the employee lacks loyalty.”

See here for the previous update, and here for a copy of the ruling. The justices seemed pretty skeptical of Paxton’s argument at the hearing, so this is no surprise. Paxton could ask for an en banc hearing or he could appeal to the Supreme Court. The former means another couple of months that the lawsuit is on ice, but the odds of success are low. The latter is more likely to get a favorable ruling for Paxton, but if he loses he’s out of options and we move on to the next phase. I’m guessing he would rather avoid discovery, because it seems very likely that a weasel like Paxton has stuff to hide, so we’ll see if he decides to draw it out or not. Maybe, if we’re very lucky, we’re a step closer to Ken Paxton facing a bit of accountability for once in his life. The Chron has more.