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August 22nd, 2022:

Let’s name a few legislative battlegrounds

It’s getting to be that time of the election cycle.

Mihaela Plesa

Two years ago, Democrats were gearing up for a rare opportunity in modern times: capturing the Texas House majority.

But after they came up woefully short — and Republican-led redistricting reduced the number of competitive races — the battlefield heading into November is notably smaller.

Still, both sides see important stakes in the state House races this time around. While the majority is not on the line, the hottest races are unfolding in key areas that each party understands is critical to their growth for the next decade.

Look no further than the three districts that both Democrats and Republicans see as their highest priorities. Two of them are in South Texas, where Republicans are working to make inroads with Hispanic voters, while the other is in North Texas’ Collin County, a place emblematic of the fast-growing suburbs where Democrats have gained ground over the last few election cycles.

The GOP is especially serious about the two seats in South Texas — House District 37, a new open seat in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, and House District 118, a San Antonio-based seat that Republican John Lujan flipped last year in a special election. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that works to elect Republicans to state legislatures, are announcing Monday that they are funding $360,000 in TV ads aimed at the two districts, a substantial opening salvo on the battlefield.

[…]

Millions of dollars are expected to pour in to HD-37 and HD-118 — the two South Texas seats — and then HD-70, the one in Collin County. President Joe Biden would have carried each of the three seats over Donald Trump in 2020, but only by margins of 2 to 11 points, which gives them battleground status in the current environment, according to operatives. HD-37, which Republicans rammed into the map overnight during redistricting, is the closest on paper, with a Biden margin of only 2 percentage points.

Lujan is easily the most endangered Republican incumbent, but a few others can be expected to have competitive races, including Reps. Steve Allison of San Antonio, Morgan Meyer of Dallas and Angie Chen Button of Richardson. However, all three have had tough general elections before — especially Meyer and Button — and Republicans have faith in their ability to defend themselves.

There are also some additional open seats that the GOP will have to monitor, like the Houston seat where Republican state Rep. Jim Murphy is retiring.

On the Democratic side, the most endangered incumbent may be Rep. Eddie Morales of Eagle Pass, who represents a massive district covering most of the Texas-Mexico border.

As for the issues, the GOP messaging is set to take on a national tone, seeking to tap into Biden’s deep unpopularity in Texas, especially on border security and inflation. The House Democratic Campaign Committee said its candidates are focusing on “good jobs, strong public schools and access to affordable health care.”

“In contrast, Republicans are obsessed with banning abortion with no exceptions and making sure anyone can carry a gun with no training or license,” an HDCC spokesperson, Stella Deshotel, said in a statement.

With the primaries over, candidates across the races are sounding notes of independence and bipartisanship. Mihaela Plesa, the Democratic nominee for HD-70, said in an interview it was important for representatives to go to Austin and “not just be another vote for the party line.” Her Republican opponent, Jamee Jolly, said she was optimistic she would appeal to the Biden voters in the district, which he would have carried by 11 percentage points.

“I think a lot of people chose Biden because they didn’t like the Republican option. I know that for a fact because I have friends who have said that,” Jolly said, adding that her friends found Trump “divisive” and that she would legislate as “much more of a convener, a solutions-seeker,” reaching across the aisle.

Plesa said the No. 1 issue she hears about is public school finance, along with concerns about the “social wars” that are erupting in the classroom. But she said she is also hearing a lot about abortion after the Roe v. Wade decision, which triggered a ban without exceptions in Texas. Jolly said that her focus is now on “how we continue to support maternal health care.”

First and foremost: San Antonio is not South Texas, and I will die on that hill. I am begging you to be more precise in your geographical descriptors.

Second, just to provide some perspective, here are the 2020 Biden/Trump numbers for all of the districts name-checked in this story:


Dist  Biden   Trump Biden% Trump%
=================================
037  27,740  26,576  50.6%  48.4%
070  45,111  35,989  54.7%  43.6%
074  31,415  28,538  51.7%  46.9%
108  54,481  55,364  48.9%  49.7%
112  44,881  45,370  48.9%  49.4%
118  36,578  34,584  50.6%  47.9%
121  50,133  52,533  48.1%  50.4%
133  40,475  42,076  48.4%  50.3%

Most of these districts got more Democratic between 2012 and 2020, often much more Democratic. HDs 37 and 74 are the exceptions in that list. You can go read that earlier post for all the context. HD70 is a current Republican district that was redrawn to be Democratic, whose incumbent is not running for re-election, and should be the most likely of the bunch to flip. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say that if Dems don’t pick up HD70, it will have been a disappointing Election Day. It’s impossible to imagine a good overall result if the Republicans can hold that one. Republicans flipped HD118 in a low-turnout special election, which is a thing they had done before as well. Dems won it back that November, but HD118 was a more Democratic district in the previous map. Bexar County moved strongly Democratic overall last decade, though (Pre-redistricting) HD118 was at the bottom of the progress list. I also feel confident saying that Dems will be disappointed if they don’t take this one back.

Fundraising numbers are also a factor, and likely a reason some other relatively even districts were not mentioned in this Trib story. HD70 Dem candidate Mihaela Plesa has done pretty well, while HD118 candidate Frank Ramirez, who fell short in the runoff of that earlier special election, has done less so. I’ll want to take a look at the 30-day numbers in some of these races to see what other signals there may be.

I don’t want to get too deep into all this, as I don’t know much about these races beyond the numbers. I do believe that we will see a different, perhaps broader, class of contested races in 2024, partly because a lot of Republican seats were drawn with relatively tight margins, and partly because this year may tell us something new about the trends we have been seeing in the past three elections. There are always some districts that over- or under-perform their expected numbers, and this time should be no exception.

Yes, let’s build more bike trail bridges

It’s all about connectivity.

Stopping for a water break on the normal blistering-hot Houston day, bicyclist Reagan Smithers, 33, can see the tops of the trees along her street from the White Oak Bayou Trail.

As the grackle flies – this is Houston, so there’s more of them than crows — she’s maybe four blocks from home, and a circuitous 1.1-mile bike ride.

“You get used to it, but it is a pain,” Smithers said.

Cycling advocates, supported by local developers and with some initial encouragement from city and state officials, however, might just have the cure: Two crossings of the bayou that could bridge a small distance that’s always existed between the Heights and Rice Military.

“It really shows what we could have but don’t,” said Emmanuel Nunez, one of the leaders of the push for two bridges at Patterson and Rutland.

The proposal cobbles together an open space the Texas Department of Transportation acquired for stormwater detention north of Interstate 10 and White Oak Bayou, current plans for a bridge where Rutland dead ends north of the bayou, and apartment and commercial development on both sides of the bayou at Patterson. Nunez and other supporters of the proposal, called a Tale of Two Bridges, argue that a complete plan to use the detention area for wetland trails and a little parking – combined with the spans – eases access for cyclists and runners and makes natural connections that will be critical as nearby changes to transit and bike lanes occur.

“We want to make sure we have connectivity from every angle,” Nunez said.

TxDOT, with federal money doled out by the Houston-Galveston Area Council, has a $2.4 million plan to build the Rutland bridge, set to start construction in fiscal 2024. Advocates behind the two bridges project are hoping another entity or entities – Houston, Harris County, Houston Parks Board, Metropolitan Transit Authority, area management districts, developers and practically anyone with the money and political muscle – will step in and support a Patterson span at the same time under the same construction contract.

“We want two for the price of one,” said Kevin Strickland, another organizer of the effort and members of CURBS Houston, an advocacy group in the Heights that has supported bicycling amenities in the area.

This makes a lot of sense to me. The image on the ATOTB page shows how much bang for the buck having both bridges would mean. Farther down in the Chron story is a listing of other projects in the area that would further enhance the effect. There’s a lot of apartments and a lot of destinations that would be easily reachable by bike from them in the area. Enabling that connectivity means fewer people resorting to cars for these short trips. That’s a big win for everyone, all for a very reasonable price tag. We should all want this to happen.

DeLorean reboot company hit with intellectual property lawsuit

Here’s a plot twist I didn’t see coming.

Mere months after the city and county coughed up nearly $1.1 million in incentives to attract the revamped DeLorean Motor Co., the venture has been hit with a lawsuit alleging its founders engaged in intellectual property theft.

A suit filed in federal court in Houston accuses four former employees of California-based electric car maker Karma Automotive of stealing design and engineering information to launch their venture resurrecting the ’80s-era DeLorean sports car as an electric vehicle.

In its petition, Karma Automotive maintains that four of its employees were assigned to an initiative dubbed “Project 88,” which aimed to electrify the original DeLorean DMC-12 popularized by the Back to the Future film franchise.

The suit names current DeLorean CEO Joost de Vries, Chief Operating Officer Alan Yuan, Chief Marketing Officer Troy Beetz and Vice President Brand and Creative Neilo Harris as those employees and asks the court to stop their use of Karma’s technology. The pleading also seeks monetary damages.

While DeLorean officials didn’t respond to the Current’s request for comment, de Vries did offer the following comment to the San Antonio Express-News, which first reported on the suit: “This car has a very specific, unique DeLorean lineage that has no relation to Karma Automotive from a design, engineering, supply chain or manufacturing perspective. We remain committed to the future of our company.”

The suit accuses de Vries and the three other former Karma employees of hiding information on their plans for the DeLorean from executives while they were still on staff.

“They actively concealed information from Karma to keep Karma from pursing the project or from finding out what [the] individual defendants were doing,” the legal filing reads. “Then, one by one, they left Karma.”

According to the suit, the defendants conspired to quit Karma Automotive after executives began questioning the viability of the project due to the lack of details provided by the former employees working on the vehicle.

“Within Karma, concerns were raised among Karma’s executives that [the] individual defendants’ proposals for Project 88 were not sufficiently detailed and raised open questions,” the petition reads. “[The] individual defendants repeatedly promised to provide additional details and information, but failed to do so.”

See here for the background. That Express News story is paywalled, so this is the best I can do. I blogged about the origin of the San Antonio-based DeLorean reboot because who doesn’t love a good homage to a classic 80s movie. I don’t know how closely I’ll follow this part of it, but I’m sure there will be an update or two at some point in the future. Texas Public Radio has more.