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December 7th, 2022:

Abbott to nominate Jane Nelson as next SOS

That was quick.

Jane Nelson

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he will nominate retiring state Sen. Jane Nelson to be secretary of state. The announcement comes one day after John Scott said he would step down from the role at the end of the year.

Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is retiring from the Senate this year after 30 years in the Legislature. Her nomination to be the state’s top elections official will give Abbott a strong candidate for Senate approval after his last three nominees dating to 2018 have failed to be confirmed.

“I look forward to this new chapter of public service and appreciate the confidence Governor Abbott has placed in me to serve as Secretary of State,” Nelson said in a statement. “Voters expect fair elections with accurate, timely results, and I am committed to making that happen. Texans with all political views should have faith in our election system.”

[…]

Nelson’s nomination brings a longtime veteran of state politics to the role. She is the longest-serving Republican in the Texas Senate and has passed bills on changes to medical liability, property taxes, the state’s long-troubled foster care system, mental health care, domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. She also was the first woman to lead the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which writes the state budget, and passed legislation to create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

In recent years, Nelson’s time at the Legislature has been focused on the state budget, and she has not been as involved in elections legislation. Like the rest of her Senate Republican colleagues, she voted in favor of a sweeping elections bill last session that tightened election laws in the state and that Democrats decried as voter suppression. The legislation banned programs that expanded access to voting like 24-hour voting and drive-thru voting and put limits on the number of hours counties could keep polls open.

Her office did not immediately respond to an interview request about her nomination.

Nelson’s nomination is a strategic political move by Abbott, who has seen a revolving door of elections officials who were unable to get through the confirmation process.

Scott did not have to undergo the Senate’s confirmation process because he is resigning before the Legislature’s biennial session to return to private practice. But Abbott’s last two nominees before him, David Whitley and Ruth Ruggero Hughs, held out for most of their respective legislative sessions waiting for confirmations that did not come.

Whitley was derailed by Democrats’ opposition to him because of his supervision of an attempt to purge the voter rolls of 100,000 voters, many of whom had Hispanic surnames and had previously not been U.S. citizens but subsequently became naturalized. Hughs’ confirmation process flew under the radar, but activists who have cast doubt on the integrity of elections without evidence opposed her confirmation because her office had claimed the 2020 elections were “smooth and secure.” She resigned before ever facing a hearing.

Nelson’s status in the Senate’s Republican Caucus and her proximity to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the chamber, make her confirmation more likely. And because Scott has pledged to release the results of the audit under his tenure, any lingering issues with that review will not fall on Nelson.

See here for the background. Whatever else one might say about Jane Nelson, she’s a serious policy person and has always struck me as an institutionalist. She’s certainly conservative, but I don’t associate her with the modern wingnut faction, in part because she’s been there for so long and in part because I’m just not aware of her saying crazy or radical things. There’s no one that Greg Abbott would nominate that I would prefer to be Secretary of State, but a serious policy person who has no track record of wanting to burn shit down is about as good as we can hope for. I wish her the best and hope she doesn’t make a fool out of me.

I regret to inform you that “tripledemic” is a word

The good news is that we may avoid it here in Houston.

A collision of three respiratory viruses — COVID-19, influenza and RSV — may not hit Houston as severely as other parts of the country, experts say, but pediatric hospitals are still preparing for a busy winter season with at least some virus overlap.

Texas Medical Center data published Tuesday shows early signs of another COVID wave, with an uptick in hospitalizations and the positivity rate, which jumped from 3.2 percent to 5 percent last week. COVID wastewater surveillance also offers a grim outlook, as the viral load rose for the fifth straight week, to 196 percent of the baseline set in July 2020. Newer variants make it difficult to predict the size and severity of the next wave of infections, experts say.

Meanwhile, RSV and flu, two respiratory viruses that commonly infect children, continue to circulate at high levels, weeks after patients began filling beds and prolonging wait times in Houston pediatric hospitals. Despite the ongoing strain, infectious disease experts believe Houston can avoid a so-called “tripledemic,” in which three simultaneous virus surges overwhelm hospital systems.

Statewide surveillance shows both RSV and flu have either peaked or declined.

“At least for us, here in Houston, the story that’s being written is we had this very early peak of flu and RSV and they’re starting to come down,” said Dr. Wesley Long, the medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist. “But then we’re probably going to see a winter speed bump of COVID.”

Dr. Melanie Kitagawa, medical director of the Texas Children’s Hospital pediatric ICU, said there are roughly 50 children admitted to Texas Children’s with RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, which usually causes mild cold-like symptoms but can be severe for infants and older adults. That number has remained steady for at least a month, but flu admissions have been decreasing across the hospital system, she said.

Flu and RSV admissions have stayed at consistently high levels at Children’s Memorial Hermann for weeks, said Dr. Michael Chang, an infectious disease pediatrician at the hospital who is affiliated with UTHealth Houston.

Chang expects RSV to become more manageable before COVID ramps up. The percentage of positive RSV tests has dropped across the state since early October, from roughly 25 percent to less than 15 percent, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

For him, flu rates are more of a concern. Texas’ flu infection rate of 29 percent is among the highest in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“For flu, what I really worry about is that people have returned to normal behaviors, and vaccine uptake doesn’t seem to be really good,” he said. “From what I’ve seen of the new COVID numbers, we may see an unfortunate confluence of (COVID) and significant flu cases. But luckily I think we will avoid a full ‘tripledemic.’”

There are recent signs that the flu is waning as well.

See here for some background. We have milder winters here, so because we can still do stuff outside we can have a smaller winter effect from COVID. But the bottom line is the same as it always has been for minimizing the spread of these viruses. Get your COVID boosters, especially the bivalent booster. Get your flu shot. Keep wearing your facemask in crowded indoor spaces, and avoid such spaces where possible. You have the power and the choice to minimize your risk.

Fred McGriff elected to the Hall of Fame

Congratulations to him.

“The Crime Dog” finally had his day.

In Fred McGriff’s first second chance at the National Baseball Hall of Fame voting process, the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee did what the Baseball Writers’ Association did not. McGriff was the committee’s lone Hall of Fame selection among the eight candidates considered during a vote held Sunday at baseball’s Winter Meetings in San Diego.

McGriff received unanimous support, appearing on all 16 ballots cast. He will be inducted alongside any BBWAA selections on July 23 in Cooperstown, N.Y. The BBWAA results will be announced Jan. 24 on MLB Network.

“I’ve been totally blessed over the years,” McGriff said. “[This selection] is just icing on the cake. And for it to be unanimous, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Though McGriff went 16-for-16, none of the other men on the Contemporary Baseball Era ballot — a ballot comprised of players whose greatest contributions to the game came from 1980 to the present — received the 12 votes (or 75%) necessary for selection. The results revealed by the Hall were as follows:

McGriff: 16 votes, 100%
Don Mattingly, 8, 50%
Curt Schilling, 7, 43.8%
Dale Murphy, 6, 37.5%
Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro: Fewer than 4 votes

And so once again, three prominent players linked to performance-enhancing drug use — Bonds, Clemens and Palmeiro — were left on the outside looking in. The earliest they could be considered again is three years from now.

I’m happy for McGriff, who has a better traditional-stats case for the Hall than an advanced-stats case and whose candidacy is not as compelling as some players not on the ballot but who is by all accounts a good guy and as scandal-free as they come. Indeed, as Jay Jaffee has pointed out, the deck was kind of stacked for him. Which, fine, he’s a decent fit for the Hall even if he shouldn’t have been first in line. It’s just weird to see and a little too reminiscent of the days when Frankie Frisch got all his buddies elected via the Veterans Committee for my liking. None of which is McGriff’s responsibility, so congratulations to him. We’ll see who if anyone gets elected from the writers’ ballot in January.