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Attorney General

On the importance of the Democratic AG runoff

We have two good choices in this race. Whoever wins, we need to fully support them in November.

Rochelle Garza

Rochelle Garza locked hands with her mother and marched through Dallas at a reproductive rights rally this month to let voters know she could lead the fight for abortion care.

“Our mothers fought before and won. Now, it’s our turn to continue the fight and win for OUR daughters and everyone’s access to abortion care,” Garza wrote to her base on Twitter after the rally.

Reproductive care has always been central to Garza’s campaign as she vies to be the Democratic nominee for the Texas attorney general race in November. But with the recent leak of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion suggesting that the constitutional protection on abortion established in Roe v. Wade might soon come to an end, both Garza and Joe Jaworski, her opponent for the Democratic nomination in a May 24 primary runoff, are pitching themselves as the last line of defense for access to reproductive care in Texas.

“Really the last stand for reproductive rights are the attorney general of each state,” Garza told The Texas Tribune in an interview. “So now more than ever, having an attorney general in the state of Texas is going to be critical to protecting reproductive rights.”

Garza is a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer from Brownsville. Jaworski is the former mayor of Galveston. Early voting began Monday and ends Friday.

The winner will face the victor of the Republican primary runoff in the general election — either Ken Paxton, the incumbent attorney general, or Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Paxton is the frontrunner in that race, clinching twice as many votes as Bush in the primaries and the support of former President Donald Trump.

[…]

Joe Jaworski

Although they have never faced off in the ballot, Garza and Paxton have been on opposite sides of an abortion case. Garza made a name for herself in 2017 when she sued the Trump administration, seeking access to an abortion for an undocumented teenager held in detention. After a federal appeals court ruled in Garza’s favor, Paxton filed a brief in response, arguing that immigrants have no constitutional right to abortion. Garza also testified in 2018 against the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who ruled against the case as an appellate court judge.

The teen was able to obtain an abortion while the case was being litigated. The case was later dismissed after the federal government adopted a new policy under which it would not interfere with immigrant minors’ access to abortion.

“Having this nuanced understanding of what it takes to build a case like that and to fight for someone who the government believes is not powerful — that’s what I bring to this race and bring to this position,” Garza said.

Garza was nine weeks pregnant when the state’s controversial ban on abortions after about six weeks into a pregnancy went into effect in September. She was worried at the time about her limited reproductive health care options.

Garza, who balanced her newborn daughter in her arms as she spoke to the Tribune, is now arguing she’s the right choice to defend reproductive rights in the state.

She also stands a clear favorite among national and state abortion rights advocacy groups, garnering endorsements from EMILY’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes and Avow.

Both Jaworski and Garza have stated they would defend reproductive rights as Texas’ next attorney general, who can play a major role in the fight over abortion law in courts. The state’s top lawyer also determines how an abortion ban can be regulated and enforced.

But Jaworski has presented himself as the most experienced candidate. While Garza’s run for attorney general will be her first political race, Jaworski is an established local politician. He served three terms on the Galveston City Council and one term as mayor.

And while Garza’s reproductive rights bona fides stand on her well-known 2017 case, Jaworski points to his experience as a trial attorney for over 31 years. Jaworski has said he would use federal and state court channels to initiate litigation to preserve reproductive rights under both the U.S. and the Texas constitutions.

We can’t go wrong with either of these two, so make your best choice and then support the winner. I will let Paxton’s own runoff opponent remind you of what’s at stake here:

Who am I to disagree with that assessment? Someone be sure to grab a screenshot of that tweet for future reference.

DMN/UT-Tyler: Abbott 46, Beto 39

Here’s the story, which I currently can’t access. A very brief summary of it is in this Current article. The data is here and I’m going to riff on that, with references to the February version of this poll, for which the data can be found here. I will note that there are some primary runoff results in this sample, and I am ignoring all of them – that kind of polling is too tricky to be worth worrying about.

“In a race for Governor would you vote for Governor Abbott, Beto O’Rourke, or someone else?” I’ll generally be quoting the poll questions, which thankfully are the same in each sample. In May, as noted in the post title, it’s 46-39 for Abbott, basically identical to the 45-38 Abbott result from February. The shape of those numbers are a bit different. In February, possibly because both Beto and Abbott were in contested primaries, there was a considerable amount of crossover support for each, Dems were only 76-16 for Beto, while Rs were just 76-11 for Abbott. In May, those numbers were 82-9 among Dems for Beto and 85-7 for Abbott among Rs. Independents were 36-29 for Abbott in February and show as 16-6 for Abbott now, with 29% going to the Libertarian (there is a Green candidate named as well, who also gets 6%) and an astonishing 38% for “someone else”. This has to be a mangling of the data – among other things, given the size of the Indy subsample, it would have put the Libertarian candidate at nearly 10% overall, but the topline result gives him just 3%. Most likely, the 38 is for Abbott and the 29 is for Beto, or possibly all of these numbers are just wrong. I will shrug and move on at this point.

For approval numbers, President Biden checks in with 39-58 approval, which is obviously not good. Greg Abbott is also underwater at 46-50, while Beto has a 42-44 approval rating, which is the only one of the three to improve since last time. It was 39-57 for Biden, 50-46 for Abbott, and 40-46 for Beto in February.

Weirdly, Dan Patrick has 50-41 approval, and Ken Paxton has 42-41. Usually, Abbott does better in approvals than any other Republican, in part because fewer people have opinions about the rest of them. A separate question about Paxton asks “do you agree or disagree that he (Paxton) has the integrity to serve as attorney general?”, and it’s 30 for agree, 37 disagree, and 33 unsure. He was at 34-33-33 in February, so a bit of a dip there.

For some other questions of interest, the numbers are not bad for the Dems, and usually a little better than they were in February.

“If the general election was today, would you vote for a Republican candidate or Democratic candidate for the Texas House?” That was 49-48 for Republicans in May, 52-45 for Republicans in February.

“On orders from Governor Abbott, Texas Child Protective Services recently began investigating families who provide gender-affirming care to transgender children. Was this action” needed or unnecessary, with various reasons for each? There were three sub-options for each of those choices, and if you add them up it comes to 52-48 combined for “unnecessary”. Honestly, that’s better than I expected. There was no February comparison for this one, as that order had not yet been given at that time.

“Should the Supreme Court overturn its Roe v. Wade decision and allow states to decide abortion policy?” This was 53-46 for “no it should not be overturned” in May, and 50-47 in February. Again, a little better than I might have thought, and a tick up from before, which is to say before the draft opinion got leaked. Put those numbers in your back pocket for the next time someone claims that Texas is a “pro-life” state.

“Do you agree or disagree that K-12 teachers should be permitted to discuss how historical examples of discrimination in our laws apply to inequalities today?” Here, 61-24 strongly or somewhat agreed in May, and it was 59-22 for Agree in February. That means that for abortion, trans kids, and book banning, the Republican position is the minority one. Obviously, one poll and all that, but there’s nothing to suggest Dems should be running scared on any of this. Quite the reverse, in fact.

Now as we’ve said a zillion times, it’s one poll, opinions on issues often don’t drive voting behavior, and we’re still months away from an election where many other factors will affect the outcome. I’m quite scared of another COVID wave, especially if Congress doesn’t get some more funding for vaccines and treatments and whatever else passed in the very near future. But for now, and bearing in mind that it’s still a 7-point lead for Abbott, the numbers ain’t that bad. We’ll see what other polls have to say.

Ken Paxton totally lied about gender affirming care

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton relied on false claims, exaggerations and errors to conclude that gender-affirming medical care constitutes child abuse, a report by university-level medical experts has concluded.

Paxton’s legal opinion on transgender care, issued in February, formed the basis of Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive requiring Child Protective Services to investigate all reports of families with children who are receiving gender-affirming care.

But the report published Monday by medical and legal experts at Yale University and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center said Paxton’s opinion was so full of errors and false claims that it appeared to have been “motivated by bias” and crafted to reach a predetermined goal: denying medical care to transgender youths.

“The repeated errors and omissions in the AG Opinion are so consistent and so extensive that it is difficult to believe that the opinion represents a good-faith effort to draw legal conclusions based on the best scientific evidence,” the report’s executive summary said.

“These are not close calls or areas of reasonable disagreement,” the report added. “The AG Opinion … ignores established medical authorities and repeats discredited, outdated, and poor-quality information.”

[…]

Monday’s report focused on puncturing a central premise behind Paxton’s legal analysis: that the surgical removal of genitals and reproductive organs is standard medical care offered to transgender pediatric patients.

“In fact, the authoritative protocols for medical care for transgender children and adolescents, which define what we term ‘gender-affirming care,’ specifically state that individuals must be over the age of majority before they can undergo such surgery,” the study said.

In Texas, the age of majority is 18.

Paxton also falsely implied that puberty blockers — medication meant to delay physical changes to give transgender youths time to consider more permanent options — and hormones are given to young children, the report said.

“In fact, the standard medical protocols recommend drug treatments only for adolescents — and not prepubertal children,” the study said.

The authors — three medical doctors and three doctors of psychology — all treat transgender children and adolescents in daily clinical practice and hold positions at major medical schools, the report said. A law professor rounded out the study’s team.

Their report criticized Paxton for presenting a “warped picture of the scientific evidence” by exaggerating potential risks and ignoring evidence of the benefit that such care provides in the treatment of gender dysphoria, the distress caused when a person’s body does not match their gender identity.

“The standard medical protocols were crafted by bodies of international experts based on a solid scientific foundation and have been in use for decades. Thus, treating gender dysphoria is considered not only ethical but also the clinically and medically recommended standard of care,” the report said.

You can read the report if you want. It will surely be helpful if you need to have a conversation with someone for whom facts and science and expertise still matter. The thing to remember here is not that Ken Paxton was unable to understand this, or didn’t have access to people who could explain it to him. This was about affirming a worldview and appealing to an identity, for the purposes of maintaining and enhancing political power. As such, while it’s always good to have the facts at hand, this isn’t about the facts. It’s not going to be for as long as the Republican Party is like this. All we can do is try to win elections, and then once we have done that use the power we’ve gained from them to do good things. Easier said than done, I know, but here we are.

Abbott and Patrick ask SCOTx to take up Paxton’s whistleblower appeal

They sort of have a point, but they should still butt out.

Best mugshot ever

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Monday urged the Supreme Court of Texas to take up Attorney General Ken Paxton’s appeal to throw out a whistleblower lawsuit against him.

The appeal is Paxton’s latest attempt to avoid a trial after eight of his former top deputies accused him of bribery and abuse of office in late 2020. Within seven weeks of their complaint to authorities, all eight had either been fired or driven to leave the agency. Four of the fired employees later filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Paxton saying they were fired in retaliation for their complaint and have asked to be reinstated to their jobs. Paxton denies wrongdoing.

Paxton, a Republican, has fought that lawsuit, claiming that the state’s whistleblower law — which covers public employees, appointed officials and governmental entities — does not apply to him because he is an elected official. A district court and an appeals court have ruled against Paxton’s lawyers and said the lawsuit could move forward. But in January, Paxton’s lawyers asked the Texas Supreme Court to reconsider the matter and throw out the case.

Paxton’s lawyers argue that allowing whistleblowers to sue the attorney general for firing them could hamper the executive power that the state constitution gives him. It is the same argument two lower courts have already rejected after hearing from the whistleblowers’ lawyers, who argue that siding with Paxton would take away whistleblower protections for employees trying to report the misconduct of an elected official.

Lawyers for the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s offices did not indicate whether they agree with Paxton’s argument. The two Republican state officials filed friend of the court briefs asking that the high court take up the case because it is relevant to statewide governance and to the powers of an executive office under the Texas Constitution. Because of that, lawyers for the offices argued the case should be considered by a statewide court and not by the local courts that have already rejected Paxton’s argument.

The two lower courts were filled by Democrats. The Texas Supreme Court is made up of nine Republicans.

See here for the background. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to argue that the state’s high court should weigh in on this question. They could, I suppose, simply issue an order denying the appeal request on the grounds that they’re fine with the lower courts’ rulings. Most cases never get close to the Supreme Court. Indeed, one of the themes I saw in the judicial Q&A responses I got from 1st and 14th Court of Appeals candidates in 2018 and 2020 was precisely that those courts are often the last word on a lot of consequential cases. SCOTx has no obligation to take this up. It’s easy to see why they might want to, but in the end it would be unremarkable if they didn’t.

It’s also easy to see that what Abbott and Patrick want is for a court full of Republicans to have the final word, since I’m sure they don’t consider the lower courts to be valid in the same way. One could perversely assert that only a rejection from the all-Republican Supreme Court will settle this matter in a way that might shut up Paxton and his sycophants, though perhaps the Court of Criminal Appeals would beg to differ.

One more thing:

An attorney whose firm represented Paul, the friend and campaign donor to Paxton, also urged the Supreme Court Monday to weigh in on the case, saying it “presents far reaching consequences for our state government.”

Statewide officials like Paxton need to be able to fire or retain employees based on whether they help advance their goals, wrote Kent Hance, founding partner of the Austin-based law firm Hance Scarborough.

“Inferior officers are carefully chosen by an elected official to provide competent policymaking advice in line with the policymaking goals as defined by the elected official,” Hance wrote. “This works well when the goals are in line with the advice, but what happens when they are at odds?”

A political action committee for Hance’s firm — the HS Law PAC — donated $25,000 to Paxton in June 2020, after he intervened in litigation involving Paul, as Hearst Newspapers reported.

Lawyers for one of the whistleblowers pointed to the donation this week.

“Only somebody as shameless as Ken Paxton would get a lobbyist whose firm donated $25,000 to Paxton while it was representing Nate Paul companies to ask the Texas Supreme Court to re-write the Texas Whistleblower Act,” lawyers TJ Turner and Tom Nesbitt said in a statement. They declined to comment on the briefs by Abbott and Patrick.

Hance did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but managing partner Jay Stewart, who is trustee of the PAC, has told Hearst it operates independent of the firm’s litigation section and that the donation had nothing to do with any cases.

Yeah, that’s a pretty good summary of Texas politics. Political donations never have anything to do with getting the political outcome we prefer. Who would ever think such a thing?

Where are the endorsements?

As you know, early voting has begun for the May 7 election, which includes two Constitutional amendments and the special election for HCC District 2. As of last night when I drafted this, I see no endorsements in any of these elections on the Chron’s opinion page. Are these elections not worth it to them, or have they just not gotten around to them yet? I sure hope it’s the latter, and that they will rectify that quickly. I don’t know what they’re waiting for.

Seventeen days after that election will be the primary runoffs. A quick check of the Erik Manning spreadsheet confirms for me that in all of the Democratic primary runoffs for which the Chron issued a March endorsement, their preferred candidate is still running. In ballot order:

CD38 – Duncan Klussman
Lt. Governor – Mike Collier
Attorney General – Joe Jaworski
Comptroller – Janet Dudding
Land Commissioner – Jay Kleberg
SBOE4 – Staci Childs
HD147 – Danielle Bess
185th Criminal Court – Judge Jason Luong
208th Criminal Court – Kim McTorry
Commissioners Court Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones

You may or may not agree with these, but those are who the Chron picked. They have no races to revisit among them. They do, however, have three more races to consider, which were among those they skipped in Round One:

312th Family Court – Judge Chip Wells vs Teresa Waldrop
County Civil Court at Law #4 – MK Singh vs Treasea Treviño
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2 – Steve Duble vs Sonia Lopez

The links are to my judicial Q&As for those who submitted responses. You can find all the Q&A and interview links from the primary here. More recently I interviewed Staci Childs and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot in SBOE4; I will have an interview with Janet Dudding on Monday. There’s no need to rush if the Chron wants to circle back to these races they ignored originally – they can wait till after the May 7 election, but not too long since early voting there will begin on May 16. It’s only three runoff races (*), plus those two Constitutional amendments and that one HCC race. C’mon, Chron editorial board, you can do this.

(*) There may be some Republican runoffs for them to revisit as well. I didn’t check and am obviously not as interested. I doubt most Republican runoff voters are either, so whatever. The HD147 special election is between the same two candidates as in the primary runoff, so we can assume the endorsement for one carries over to the other.

Paxton threatens HISD over its COVID sick leave policy

We live in such stupid times.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton and Republicans in the Legislature are taking aim at Houston ISD, arguing that the district’s COVID sick day policy violates state law.

This academic year, Houston ISD is offering 10 additional days of paid sick leave to employees who are vaccinated against the coronavirus but test positive during the school year. Unvaccinated staff, however, must use personal leave time if they are infected.

In a nonbinding opinion last week, Paxton said the policy likely constitutes a “vaccine passport,” the documentation certifying a person’s vaccination status shown in exchange for “entry or services.” The GOP-led Texas Legislature last year outlawed such requirements for both private businesses and public agencies, and Gov. Greg Abbott issued a similar executive order banning the practice last summer.

“A court would likely conclude that, by offering additional paid leave only to those employees showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a medical exemption, the Houston Independent School District’s COVID-19 paid leave policy violates” the executive order, Paxton wrote.

Tejal Patel, a spokesperson for Houston ISD, said Paxton’s opinion “does not change the implementation” of the district’s paid leave policy. The last day of classes is just about seven weeks away.

“No court has ruled that the district’s policy of awarding additional leave days to vaccinated employees violates” the executive order, Patel said. “The district continues to evaluate its COVID protocols in our efforts to maintain a safe learning and working environment.”

The point of this was that since HISD couldn’t mandate that employees get vaccinated, they took the approach of incentivizing it by offering a reward to those who did. And it worked pretty well, as the story notes – over 20,000 of the district’s 24,000 employees have been vaccinated. In practice, this is no different than a million corporate wellness programs out there. The one I’m most familiar with offered a discount on your health insurance premium if you jumped through certain hoops, which ranged from things like taking a dumb survey to getting a blood test. If you participated – it was completely voluntary – you got a couple hundred bucks off the cost of your insurance for the year. This made sense for the insurer as well, as it (supposedly, at least) led people towards healthier lifestyles, which meant they’d pay out fewer claims.

So I struggle to see how one differs from the other. Except of course that we’re dealing with the extremely whiny snowflakes who refuse to get a COVID shot and who therefore must be catered to at every turn by politicians like Ken Paxton and Paul Bettencourt, who requested the opinion. God knows, we cannot deprive these special delicate flowers of anything. I approve of HISD’s response. So far, the school districts have done pretty well for themselves ignoring Paxton and Abbott. No guarantees here, and of course the Lege can deal with this next year if the Republicans remain in control, but for now I’d say keep on keeping on and hope for the best.

Feds warn about lawsuits to come over anti-trans legislation

Bring it.

The Department of Justice is warning states like Texas that policies meant to block transgender children from receiving gender-affirming care violate their constitutional rights.

“Intentionally erecting discriminatory barriers to prevent individuals from receiving gender-affirming care implicates a number of federal legal guarantees,” DOJ officials wrote in a letter sent Thursday to state attorney generals.

The letter comes after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton authored a nonbinding legal opinion that some gender-affirming care may constitute child abuse and Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s child welfare agency to investigate parents who get such care for their children.

[…]

The DOJ says additional lawsuits may follow.

“State laws and policies that prevent parents or guardians from following the advice of a health care professional regarding what may be medically necessary or otherwise appropriate care for transgender minors may infringe on rights protected by both the equal protection and the due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment,” said the DOJ letter, which was sent on Trans Day of Visibility.

Not much to add here. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the courts, but I also don’t know what else there is to be done right now. A better Senate is really what’s needed to move the ball forward, and the odds of that happening in this election aren’t great. But again, what else is there to be done? The 19th has more.

Hispanic Policy Foundation: Abbott 50, Beto 42

More poll data.

In the November 2022 gubernatorial election, Greg Abbott leads Beto O’Rourke by 8% (50% to 42%) among likely voters and by 12% (53% to 41%) among the most likely (almost certain) voters. Among both groups, Libertarian Mark Tippetts registers 2% and the Green Party’s Delilah Barrios 1%, with 5% and 3% undecided.

Abbott enjoys a two to one advantage over O’Rourke among white voters (65% to 29%) and O’Rourke an 88% to 11% advantage among Black voters. Support is more
equal among Hispanic voters, 53% intend to vote for O’Rourke and 39% for Abbott.

Abbott bests O’Rourke among men by a substantial 61% to 34% margin, while O’Rourke narrowly edges out Abbott among women by a 47% to 45% margin.

Abbott (96%) and O’Rourke (93%) are the preferred candidates among their fellow Republicans and Democrats, while 4% of Democrats intend to vote for Abbott and
1% of Republicans for O’Rourke. Independents favor Abbott 51% to 19%.

[…]

In the November lieutenant governor election, Dan Patrick leads [Mike] Collier by 6% (49% to 43%) and [Michelle] Beckley by 8% (50% to 42%) among likely voters and leads Collier by 10% (52% to 42%) and Beckley by 13% (53% to 40%) among the most likely voters.

[…]

In the November attorney general election, [Ken] Paxton leads [Rochelle] Garza and [Joe] Jaworski by 6% (48% to 42%) and 7% (48% to 41%) respectively among likely voters and by 10% (50% to 40%) and 12% (51% to 39%) among the most likely voters.

In the November attorney general election, [George P.] Bush is in statistical dead heat with both Garza and Jaworski both among likely voters (39% to 39% against Garza and 38% to 39% against Jaworski) and among the most likely voters (39% to 38% against Garza and 38% to 38% against Jaworski).

In a general election against Garza and Jaworski, Paxton’s vote intention among Texans whose partisan ID is Republican is 91% and 92%. In a general election against these same two Democrats, Bush’s GOP vote intention is 68% in both cases. The vote intention for Libertarian candidate Mark Ash is 3% when Paxton is the GOP attorney general candidate, but rises to 7% and 8% when Bush is the nominee.

In a November generic U.S. House ballot, the Republican candidate leads the Democratic candidate by a 7% margin (49% to 42%) among likely voters and by a 12% margin (52% to 40%) among the most likely voters.

In November, the HPF had Abbott up over Beto by a 44-43 margin. I’d account for the increase in Abbott’s support as one part being past the primaries – as we’ve seen before, sometimes supporters of a primary opponent will be a “don’t know/no answer” response in a poll, which gets converted later to supporting the party’s nominee – and one part the general enthusiasm gap that exists now. Beto’s level of support was largely the same, so at least we have that going for us. The other races are similar, which is a little odd as there’s usually a larger “don’t know/no answer” contingent in them. Not sure if that’s a result of the HPF’s likely voter screen or just an unusual level of engagement among the respondents. Oh, and I consider that “Most Likely Voters” bit to be meaningless.

The poll also suggests that Mike Collier, Rochelle Garza, and Ken Paxton are all well-positioned to win their runoffs. Primary polling, especially primary runoff polling, is a dicey proposition, but they’re projecting the March leaders in each case, so it’s not a crazy idea. This poll result is obviously less favorable than the recent Lyceum poll result, which has been prominently touted in multiple fundraising emails lately, but that’s why we don’t put too much emphasis on any one poll. You have to track them all as best you can, and to that end let me cite the Reform Austin poll tracker, which showed me a couple of results I hadn’t seen before. Feels like we’re entering another polling cycle, so let’s see what we get.

The dark side of redistricting litigation

The state of Texas is taking a big swing in defense of its gerrymanders, and if they connect it’s going to be devastating.

Beyond the immediate legal fight over whether Texas lawmakers again discriminated against voters of color when drawing new political districts, a quieter war is being waged that could dramatically constrict voting rights protections nationwide for years to come.

For decades, redistricting in Texas has tracked a familiar rhythm — new maps are followed by claims of discrimination and lawsuits asking federal courts to step in. Over the years, Texas lawmakers have repeatedly been ordered to correct gerrymandering that suppressed the political power of Black and Hispanic voters.

The pathway to federal court has been through the Voting Rights Act. Key portions of the landmark law have been weakened in the last decade, but Texans of color still find a way to file lawsuits under its Section 2, which prohibits discriminatory voting procedures and practices that deny voters of color an equal opportunity to participate in elections.

Those protections are the vehicle being used by voters and various civil rights groups to challenge political maps for Congress and the state legislature drawn by Texas Republicans in 2021 to account for population growth. In what promises to be a protracted court fight, Texas will defend itself against accusations that it discriminated — in some cases intentionally — against voters of color.

But tucked into the legal briefs the state has filed with a three-judge panel considering the redistricting lawsuits are two arguments that reach far beyond the validity of the specific maps being challenged.

First, the Texas attorney general’s office is arguing that private individuals — like the average voters and civil rights groups now suing the state — don’t have standing to bring lawsuits under Section 2. That would leave only the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue alleged violations of the act, putting enforcement in the hands of the political party in power.

Second, the state argues that Section 2 does not apply to redistricting issues at all.

Should either argument prevail — which would almost certainly require it to be embraced by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court that has already struck down other portions of the law — the courthouse door will be slammed shut on many future lawsuits over discriminatory map-drawing and voting practices.

“Fundamentally, this Supreme Court thinks we are past the time in which we need the Voting Rights Act, so of course if you’re a state like Texas, you’re going to bring every argument that’s ever been made to challenge the constitutionality of the rest of it,” said Franita Tolson, a vice dean and law professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.

[…]

The turnover at the Supreme Court has cracked the door for “audacious attacks on Section 2,” that would have “never had a chance” under previous iterations of the court, said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine who specializes in voting law. Texas is trying to push the door wide open.

In legal briefs, Texas’ argument that Section 2 does not apply to redistricting relies almost exclusively on a series of comments in opinions by Justice Clarence Thomas, who has plainly endorsed the idea in cases dating back to 1994. Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee who joined the court in 2017, echoed the view in one of Thomas’ recent opinions.

In a recent case over Arizona voting laws, Thomas and Gorsuch also joined an opinion indicating they agreed with the argument Texas is offering now that private individuals cannot sue to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The fallout if the Supreme Court agreed with the state on either argument would be radical, upending long established procedures for litigating claims of discrimination in voting and redistricting, and making it harder to enforce what has endured as the chief federal protection for voters of color in a post-preclearance world.

Covering its bets, the state is also pressing a backup argument — that even if individual voters are allowed to sue under Section 2, organizations that serve voters of color cannot bring claims on their behalf. That could knock out of the box groups like the NAACP and LULAC who may have more resources and membership across the state to prop up the complex challenges.

If affirmed by the court, that prospect would put even more pressure on private individuals to protect themselves from alleged discrimination by the state, said Noor Taj, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who is representing various civil rights and community groups that serve Texans of color, particularly Asian Texans, in a lawsuit against the maps.

“It’s either taking their rights altogether or increasing the burden,” Taj said. “Both ends of that are problematic and incorrect.”

If the high court ultimately decides redistricting lawsuits simply aren’t allowed under Section 2, the recourse left for Texans of color to challenge political maps would be litigation under the U.S. Constitution’s broader promise of equal protection.

That would require challengers to show lawmakers intentionally discriminated against them — “which is the hardest case to win, particularly before a Supreme Court,” said Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The state’s efforts to overturn protections for voters of color is ironic given its long history of violating the same law it is now looking to gut, said Perales, who is suing the state over its latest maps on behalf of a group of individual voters and organizations that represent Latinos.

“Since the beginning of the modern era of decennial redistricting, Texas has been found liable for violating the voting rights of Latinos in every single cycle,” Perales said.

The more “aggressive attacks” on Section 2 have come as it’s getting harder for Republicans to comply with the law while preserving their power, Hasen said.

If you can’t comply with the law but you have the power to change it so that you don’t have to, well, it’s obvious what you’ll do. The state’s arguments have not gained any purchase with the three-judge panel at the district court level, but we know where it goes from there. The Democrats would like to do something at the national level about this, but as long as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are deciding votes, they don’t actually have the power. (Beating Ken Paxton this fall would also help, but this argument is going to get before SCOTUS one way or another eventually regardless.) And so we get to watch this play out like a slow-motion train wreck, and we’re all standing close enough to it to be collateral damage. Isn’t that nice?

Paxton accused of creating a hostile workplace for LGBTQ employees at the AG’s office

I doubt anyone would be surprised by this accusation, but just because Ken Paxton is a terrible human being doesn’t mean he gets to be a terrible boss as well. And while our entire state government has taken a swan dive into the deep end lately, I’d bet that even this office wasn’t that bad a place for an LGBTQ person to work as of a few years ago. If you’re wondering why any LGBTQ person would want to work at the Attorney General’s office, remember that it’s a big place that does a lot of non-political work, with child support enforcement being one of their main tasks.

The article is paywalled, but Ed Sills included this bit in his daily AFL-CIO newsletter on Friday:

Speaking of justice or the lack thereof, Attorney General Ken Paxton stands accused of creating a “hostile work environment” for LGBTQ employees in the Criminal Prosecutions division of his agency, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

A departing lawyer made the accusation in a letter to the human resources department, reporter Chuck Lindell writes. The letter, redacted in part by the agency, mentions Paxton’s legal opinion concerning gender-affirming health care for transgender children. It also states that Paxton’s office has generally become more politicized (not that it ever wasn’t).

The Texas AFL-CIO COPE has endorsed Joe Jaworski in the May 24 Democratic runoff for Attorney General. Paxton himself is locked in a runoff as more and more Republicans are on to him:

The letter from lawyer Jason Scully-Clemmons, sent March 3 on his last day as an assistant attorney general, said the departure of two top supervisors appeared to leave employees of the Criminal Prosecutions Division vulnerable to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s “personal anti-LGBTQIA+ ideology.”

The letter also complained that the Criminal Prosecutions Division had become overly political after the departures of Mark Penley — who was fired as deputy attorney general for criminal justice in November 2020 after joining several other high-ranking agency officials in accusing Paxton of bribery and official misconduct — and Lisa Tanner, the division chief who left the agency Aug. 31.

The last two paragraphs are from the story. That’s all I know right now, but this sort of thing could well be the first shot in a lawsuit, so we’ll keep an eye on it. And remember to vote in the Democratic primary runoff, where either Rochelle Garza or Joe Jaworski would be a billion times better as AG than the human stain we have in there now.

Paxton “investigating” pharmaceuticals over puberty blockers

Also from last week, I don’t know if this is something to worry about or just blowing smoke.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is investigating two pharmaceutical companies — Endo Pharmaceuticals and AbbVie Inc. — for allegedly advertising puberty blockers to children and their parents to treat gender dysphoria rather than the other medical conditions they are approved to treat.

Paxton opened the investigation in December and filed civil investigative demands with the two companies on Thursday.

This is the latest move in an ongoing effort by Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott to limit access to gender-affirming medical care for transgender teens in Texas.

[…]

In December, Paxton announced investigations under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act into Endo Pharmaceuticals and AbbVie Inc., the two companies that sell puberty blockers. He claimed in a press release that the drugs are approved to treat precocious puberty and forms of prostate cancer but were being marketed and prescribed off-label to treat gender dysphoria.

“These drugs were approved for very different purposes and can have detrimental and even irreversible side effects,” Paxton said. “I will not allow pharmaceutical companies to take advantage of Texas children.”

On Thursday, Paxton issued letters to the companies, demanding certain documents related to the sale and advertisement of the drugs.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Endo said the company does not promote its medications for off-label uses and is cooperating with the investigation. AbbVie did not immediately respond to comment.

On the one hand, Paxton has a documented history of lying about what he does and what the courts do in response to what he does for the purpose of puffing himself up in front of the rubes. It is entirely plausible that this is little more than a letter and a press release and that it will have no followup or further effect. On the other hand, as we have also seen, threats and bullying tactics by the likes of Ken Paxton and Greg Abbott have been sufficient to achieve political goals where medical care for transgender kids are concerned, even when the law is not on their side. So I think it’s fair to be skeptical but not dismissive, and keep an eye on this.

When a divorce helps to define a marriage

Interesting case.

A gay San Antonio man has filed for a divorce in which he seeks to prove a common law marriage existed with his former partner of 25 years when federal law prohibited same sex marriage. The law has since then been ruled unconstitutional by Obergefell vs. Hodges in 2015.

If he is successful in his divorce petition, Christopher Hoffman would be eligible for alimony and other benefits from his former partner Moises Ortiz. It would also mark the first time in Texas that a common law [informal] divorce would be granted to a same sex couple who were together prior to Obergefell.

The Texas Family Code provides two methods for establishing a common law [informal] marriage. The first is to “file a declaration of informal marriage with the county clerk. Tex. Fam. Code 2.40l(a)(l).” The second is by showing that “I) the parties ‘agreed to be married’; 2) that the parties lived together as spouses; and 3) that they ‘represented to others that they were married.’ Tex. Fam. Code 2.401 (a)(2).” Additionally, the partner seeking to establish the existence of a common law marriage “bears the burden of demonstrating the three elements by a preponderance of the evidence.”

According to court documents, Hoffman and Ortiz lived together for 25 years beginning in 1994. Hoffman filed for the common law divorce on July 19, 2019 citing adultery and mistreatment among other reasons. In responding to Hoffman’s assertion, Ortiz denies that a common law marriage existed, saying that he and Hoffman had only been roommates.

On July 30, 2019, Judge Mary Lou Alvarez of the 45th District Court of Bexar County found that Ortiz’s claim that he and Hoffman “were simply roommates that acted as partners to be incredulous testimony.” The judge went on to issue a temporary order requiring Ortiz to pay Hoffman $1,200 monthly for interim spousal support until a final jury trial’s verdict.

On January 22, 2021, Ortiz’s attorney filed a motion for a Declaratory Judgment which would have made a final, legally binding declaration that Hoffman’s petition was not valid.

Ortiz contended that there was no precedent in Texas state law to show that Obergefell applies retroactively to same sex couples. Hoffman’s attorney countered that there had been two incidents (Ford v. Freemen 2020 and Hinojosa v. LaFredo 2012) of courts in Texas recognizing “a pre-Obergefell same sex common law marriage. However no Texas appellate court has issued any binding authority on the issue.”

(Lambda Legal Senior Staff Attorney Shelly Skeen authored a brief in the Hinojosa v. LaFredo case.)

There are a couple of precedents I could cite for pre-Obergefell marriages later getting legally dissolved in Texas. Way back in 2010, a Travis County district court judge granted a divorce to two women who had been married in Massachusetts. Then-Attorney General Greg Abbott sued to undo the divorce ruling on the grounds that their marriage was not recognized by the state of Texas. That case went all the way to the State Supreme Court, which ruled against Abbott, upholding a Third Court of Appeals decision that Abbott didn’t have standing because he waited to intervene until after the original district court ruling. That ruling happened a few months before Obergefell, and SCOTx was emphatic that it was not saying anything about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, just about the AG’s standing to intervene in that case.

In 2014, there was a divorce and child custody filing in Bexar County, also between two women who in this case had been married in Washington,. That one had been filed eight days before a federal judge ruled that Texas’s law against same-sex marriage was unconstitutional; this was the original Texas case filed by Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman, and Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss. The judge in that Bexar County case later also ruled that Texas’s law against same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, basing her opinion on the federal case while specifying sections of the state’s Family Code as being illegal. She also cordially invited Greg Abbott to butt the hell out, which kind of makes her my hero. I don’t have any further updates on that case, so it’s my best guess that it eventually proceeded to a normal resolution in the courts.

Finally (yes, I went deep on this one; it’s a topic that fascinates me), there was a post-Obergefell divorce granted in Tarrant County, the culmination of a proceeding that had been filed in 2013. It appears that it was the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage that spurred the case resolution for this one.

So with all that said, and with the usual proviso that I Am Not A Lawyer, I like plaintiff Hoffman’s chances, on the grounds that this is in every other way a pretty normal, boring divorce case that will ultimately be decided on the merits. It’s certainly possible that some bad actors might try to get involved in an effort to pursue a ruling that might draw a distinction between “traditional” marriage and same-sex marriage. I don’t know how that might happen, and I don’t know if it can happen if defendant Ortiz objects to their intervention, I just know that the there are definitely people who would like to intervene in this fashion and for this purpose, and I wouldn’t put it past them. Anyway, I’ll try to keep an eye on this one, just to see how it goes. The trial begins today, so we may know more soon.

Not just Beto for marijuana legalization

The two Democrats in the runoff for Attorney General are also on board.

As the May 24 runoff approaches, both Democrats in the runoff for Texas Attorney General have doubled down on their promises to legalize cannabis in the state.

Rochelle Garza and Joe Jaworski made it clear in the runup to the primary that they’re in favor of legalization, and in the past few days both have taken to Twitter make sure voters know where they stand.

Garza, a Brownsville lawyer and former staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas, finished first in the primary, but didn’t secure the majority needed to avoid a runoff with Jaworski, a former Galveston mayor and grandson of Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski.

“It’s time to legalize the sale and use of recreational cannabis in Texas,” Garza tweeted Saturday. “Nearly 70% of Texans support legalization, and they deserve an Attorney General who will work with them to advance our priorities.”

On Tuesday, Jaworksi tweeted that legalizing cannabis is an important element of criminal justice reform, throwing in the hashtag #legalizecannabis to leave no doubt where he stands.

“How many young lives, principally lives of color, are we going to put in private prisons so ppl can make a profit from their incarceration?” he asked. “We can’t have that — that is a sick society.”

See here for some background. The AG doesn’t play a direct role in the legislation process, so while their positions are appreciated they’re not necessarily needed. That said, Ken Paxton is another big opponent of marijuana – you know, because he’s such an upstanding and law-abiding citizen himself – and even in the absence of legalization I’m sure there are things that the state’s top law enforcement officer could do from an executive policy position to improve things. There’s only one way to find out, and while pot legalization has got to be pretty far down on the list of good reasons to vote Paxton’s sorry ass out of office, it is on there, and we should be sure to point it out.

A trifecta of crap from the Fifth Circuit

It’s what they do.

A federal appeals court has ruled for Texas in three lawsuits challenging the state’s voting laws, including mail-in ballot provisions and the elimination of straight-ticket voting.

In a series of 2-1 rulings Wednesday evening, a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lawsuits by civil rights groups, political organizations and voters targeted the wrong state agency — the Texas secretary of state’s office — when they sought to overturn a string of voting laws and practices.

Because the secretary of state is not in charge of enforcing the challenged laws, the agency is protected by sovereign immunity in all three lawsuits, said the opinions written by Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan and joined by Judge Don Willett.

Judge Patrick Higginbotham dissented in all three cases, writing that he believed the majority was splitting hairs by narrowly interpreting which state officers enforce election laws.

The secretary of state is the chief election officer of Texas who is charged by law with protecting the voting rights of Texans “from abuse by the authorities administering the state’s electoral processes,” Higginbotham wrote.

“The allegation in these cases is that the Secretary is failing in that duty. This charge should satisfy our … inquiry,” he said.

Reporter Chuck Lindell first posted about this on Twitter, so if for some reason the Statesman link doesn’t work or gets paywalled, you can see the basics there. Let’s break down the three cases:

A challenge by the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans and two national Democratic organizations sought to overturn a 2017 law that ended straight-ticket voting, also known as one-punch voting because it lets voters select all candidates of a particular political party in one step.

A state district judge barred enforcement of the law, ruling in September 2020 that the change unconstitutionally burdened the right to vote.

See here and here for the background. This one confused me at first, because there had been a basically identical challenge filed earlier in the same court by a different set of plaintiffs that was later dismissed by that judge. I don’t know why the subsequent challenge, which fell under the Democracy Docket umbrella, was more successful, but there you have it. You may recall I was skeptical of this one, and of the three it’s the one I’m the least upset about. The Fifth Circuit’s ruling is here.

A lawsuit by the NAACP and Texas Alliance for Retired Americans sought to block mail-in ballot regulations that require voters to pay for postage and mandate that ballots be postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day and received by 5 p.m. on the next day.

The lawsuit also challenged signature-matching requirements and a law that makes it a crime to possess another voter’s mail ballot.

See here and here for the background. I thought this was an interesting suit that made a reasoned case and that in a fair world would have gotten a more thoughtful review by the Fifth Circuit, but that ain’t the world we live in. I don’t know if this subject was addressed in one of the many voting rights bills that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema personally strangled (with the help of all 50 Republicans, of course), but if there’s ever another opportunity to address voting rights at a federal level, this should be an item on the to do list. The Fifth Circuit opinion is here.

A lawsuit by groups including the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities challenged the process of verifying mail-in ballots by ensuring that the voter’s signature on the outside envelope matches the signature on the vote-by-mail application.

A trial judge granted a detailed injunction limiting the practice in September 2020, but again the 5th Circuit Court stepped in to halt the injunction until the appeal was decided. Wednesday’s ruling vacated the injunction.

See here, here, and here for the background. Remember when signature matching was our biggest concern about mail ballots? Boy, those were the days. Anyway, even though this suit was filed in 2019, that injunction was halted by a different Fifth Circuit panel because it was too close to the election. There’s always, always an excuse. The opinion for this one is here.

The first and third cases were reversed and remanded to the district court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion”, while the second was reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss. I’m not quite sure what further proceedings there may be, and it may be that the bigger problems caused by SB1 may make the third case not particularly relevant at this time, I dunno. I assume that since the issue cited by the Fifth Circuit was that the SOS was not the proper defendant, the cases could be refiled with some number of county election administrators as defendants instead. I don’t know how practical that would be, and I also don’t know if this is just a prelude to the Fifth Circuit (or later SCOTUS) ruling that actually you can’t sue those people either, because the whole idea that you can pursue redress in a federal court is just an illusion anyway or whatever. We’ll see if anything does get refiled, but I would not feel particularly optimistic about any of it.

UPDATE: And when I checked Twitter on Thursday, I saw that Prof. Vladeck had addressed my questions.

Always expect the worst from the Fifth Circuit. You’ll almost never be wrong.

Texas sues to keep federal funds that would be denied for bullying trans kids

The utter gall, it’s breathtaking.

Texas is worried it could lose over a billion dollars in federal funding over Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive requiring medical professionals to report transgender children receiving gender-affirming health care as potential child abuse.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton amended an existing lawsuit suing the Biden administration Wednesday, attempting to void guidance issued by the U.S. Health and Human Services on March 2 that said restricting someone’s ability to receive medical care solely on the basis of their sex assigned at birth or gender identity is likely a violation of the Affordable Care Act for federally funded entities. That federal guidance came in response to Abbott’s directive issued late last month to treat certain medical treatments for trans children as possible crimes to be investigated by the Department of Family and Protective Services.

The federal guidance stated that health care providers do not need to disclose private patient information regarding gender-affirming care and that it is illegal to deny health care based on gender identity.

Paxton, in the lawsuit, said that guidance is based on “erroneous interpretation of sex discrimination.” The lawsuit says Texas does not aim to deny health care based on gender identity. Instead, the state argues its investigations disregard gender entirely, barring all children from “unnecessary medical interventions.”

In 2020, $1.36 billion in federal funds went to Texas’ Department of State Health Services, Paxton said in the lawsuit. More than $26 billion went to the State’s Health and Human Services Commission.

I noted the federal guidance in this post. The main thing you need to know at this point is this:

It’s not a guarantee that Paxton will get what he wants from his hand-picked judge. But there’s a reason he picked him, you know? Daily Kos has more.

More on Tina Linn and Harold Clouse

Very moving stuff.

Donna Casasanta picked through the brush in an overgrown patch of woods in northeast Harris County, looking.

The 80-year-old mother had spent 40 years wondering. She had traveled 980 miles, driven with her grown children for three days from her home in Florida, to be here.

Casasanta is not as sturdy as she once was. Navigating through the brush and brambles wouldn’t have been difficult 40 years ago, but now she walks with a cane.

But she needed to reach the spot where police finally found her son’s body, a small piece of land next to Wallisville Road in northeast Harris County. The spot was sprinkled with palmettos, fallen trees, and a bed of leaves that crunched and rustled at every step.

She needed to see it.

Forty-two years ago, her son, Harold “Dean” Clouse and his young wife, Tina Gail Linn, moved to Texas from New Smyrna, Fla.

He’d been promised a job building houses, a job that would help him provide for Tina and their infant daughter, Hollie Marie.

They exchanged letters all throughout 1980, but that October, Dean stopped writing.

As the months passed, Casasanta became more and more worried. What had happened to her son?

As we now know, her son and his wife had been murdered. Their bodies were found in 1981, but weren’t identified until last year, thanks to DNA, geneaolgy, and a couple of amateur sleuths. It’s a fascinating story, and you should go back and read the first one if you haven’t already. But there was another mystery to go along with what happened to Tina and Harold. What happened to their baby daughter Holly?

Weeks after those IDs, more questions have emerged: Who will investigate the 1981 murder of Dean and Tina Clouse? Did the Jesus Freaks have something to do with it? And what became of Holly? Was her tiny body carried away by predators or overlooked?

With help from relatives, Peacock, who no longer works with Identigene, has already begun exploring another possibility: Was Holly kidnapped by her parents’ killers? If so, she’d be a woman of about 42 with no memory of them at all.

The Clouse homicide case is considered active in Harris County, according to Deputy Thomas Gilliland, a Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. But recently, that department, which has jurisdiction over a county of 4 million—a population larger than most states—essentially defunded their cold case unit. The two detectives who once oversaw unsolved murder cases like this one have been reassigned, leaving the unit with only one part-time investigator. Gilliland told the Observer via email that the department has “no active suspects or any information on the missing daughter. This case may be transferred to the Texas Attorney General’s Missing Person & Cold Case Unit so that they can utilize more manpower/resources than we can.”

Unfortunately, the cold case task force formed last year by the Texas Attorney General’s office has only just begun to take its first cases. The group’s blue-ribbon advisory board has met, but its progress has been frustratingly slow, members say. Potential leads in the 1981 murder of Tina and Dean Clouse—and the disappearance of their baby Holly—are scarce. It’s unclear if any of the physical evidence from the murder scene is still around.

And it’s not the only high-profile cold murder case in Texas that seems to need urgent attention. Most genetic genealogy groups, like Identigene, rely on small grants or even crowdfunding to work cold cases. But even with limited funding, relatives of several other Texas homicide victims have already been identified through genetic genealogy.

In April 2019, genetic genealogists had identified two out of four women murdered and dumped at different times in a lonely patch of woods in League City, Texas. But the serial murder case called “the Killing Fields” remains unsolved more than 30 years later.

Then, in August 2019, other genealogists working with the non-profit DNA Doe Project helped identify Debra Jackson, a teen found on Halloween 1979 off I-35 north of Austin. Jackson’s murder was initially blamed on Henry Lee Lucas, Texas’ notorious lying “Confession Killer.” But Lucas’ death sentence was commuted after his lies were exposed, and Jackson’s murder also remains unsolved.

The state’s huge backlog of unidentified murder victims should not exist at all, argues Kristen Mittelman, whose husband and business partner David is a member of the AG Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit Advisory Committee. She and David Mittelman, who together run a genetics lab in Houston called Othram, both told the Observer that the state should move more quickly. “We’re super excited with the task force. But unfortunately, we haven’t worked any cases,” she said. “What’s going to change the world is creating a way to solve these cases at scale—and to be able to clear 1,000 of cases at a time and be able to clear these backlogs.”

More money is the obvious answer to that. I can see a bill to make it happen getting through the Legislature – it’s the kind of thing that would have little to no opposition, and would be an easy cause to champion – but someone has to do it. It might take more than one try, as these things often do. But it can be done, if someone makes the effort.

It’s officially Garza and Jaworski in the AG runoff

Glad that’s settled.

Rochelle Garza

Civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Texas attorney general on Thursday, clearing the way for top vote-getter Rochelle Garza to face Joe Jaworski in a May runoff election.

More than a week after election day, Merritt, who was less than 4,000 votes behind Jaworski for second place, conceded that he had failed to garner enough votes to make the runoff and endorsed Garza.

“She has demonstrated that she can run a campaign that can energize our base, that reflects the diversity of our party,” Merritt said in a press conference in Houston. “She and I had a conversation yesterday about my plans to join her on the campaign trail to encourage young progressive voters to get engaged in the process.”

Merritt said he was still within a “razor thin margin” of Jaworski but wanted to help consolidate support for Garza so she could focus on winning the general election in November.

“When I got into the race, Rochelle Garza wasn’t in it,” he said. “She represents a young, progressive, forward-thinking advocate that I wouldn’t have joined the race if I thought she was in it. So even if we were to come out ahead, I would encourage the parties to get behind Rochelle Garza and focus on actually flipping that office.”

[…]

In a statement on Thursday, Jaworski said he enjoyed a cordial relationship with Merritt on the campaign trail and wished him well in his law practice.

“I’m looking forward to a robust runoff campaign with Ms. Garza, so that Texas voters can choose the best candidate to defeat Ken Paxton in November,” he said.

In a statement after Merritt’s concession, Garza touted the endorsements from two of her primary opponents — last week, fourth-place finisher Mike Fields also asked his fellow candidates to forgo a runoff and allow Garza to focus on the general election — and made a pitch to Merritt’s supporters.

“To Mr. Merritt’s supporters, I am committed to continuing to fight for our civil rights and to earn your support in this runoff election,” she said. “People of color are the majority of the population of our state, and I look forward to working together with Mr. Merritt to ensure we have representation at the state level and do the hard work of turning out the vote in Texas.”

See here for the background. Both Garza and Jaworski are terrific candidates and either would deserve to be elected in a landslide this fall. As I said before, the advantage to their being a runoff instead of a concession from Jaworski is that this race and these candidates will continue to be in the news, rather than it being all Paxton-Bush. Jaworski has been an okay fundraiser so far, now it’s Garza’s turn to show she can do that, too. Vote for who you like in May, and then support the hell out of the winner.

The story of course notes the absentee ballot tabulation screwup in Harris County and the fact that it left this race in a bit of limbo. The gap between Jaworski and Merritt was indeed thin, but Jaworski’s drew far more support than Merritt in the initial count of absentee ballots in Harris County, and anyone could have surmised that the odds greatly favored him maintaining his overall lead as the other ballots were added into the count. And yet

Prior to the revelation about the missing ballots, Jaworski and civil rights attorney Lee Merritt had been separated by about 1,400 votes. But with the new Harris County totals, Jaworski picked up about 2,600 votes, and Merritt gained just under 1,000 — not enough to close the gap.

Yes, well it would be difficult for Merritt to close the gap when Jaworski was increasing his lead due to getting way more votes from these ballots. I know math is hard, but it’s pretty simple to just say “the gap grew larger” or “Merritt fell further behind” or some other thing that expressed this basic fact. Good grief.

Longoria to resign as Election Administrator

Ultimately for the best.

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria submitted her resignation Tuesday, about an hour and half after Judge Lina Hidalgo announced she intended to replace her following last week’s bungled primary contests.

Longoria said her resignation would take effect July 1.

“I think this date ensures that there’s a presiding officer during the May and June elections, and allows the election commission the time they need to find a replacement,” Longoria said.

She said she took responsibility for last Tuesday’s miscues, including the discovery Saturday of more than 10,000 ballots that had not been included in the final, unofficial count. Her office also had been faulted for a slow count that took 30 hours to tally.

Hidalgo said some mistakes were due to new rules under SB1, the voting law the Legislature passed last year, while others were simply unforced errors by Longoria and her staff.

[…]

Election judges who spoke at Commissioners Court on Tuesday described numerous problems during the primary voting period, including inadequate supplies, malfunctioning machines and a lack of support from elections office staff.

Art Pronin, president of Meyerland Area Democrats, was not at Tuesday’s meeting, but applauded Longoria’s resignation, saying he has been inundated with texts and calls from demoralized and angry precinct chairs and election workers since last week.

“This feeling comes from a lack of support on Election Day,” he said. “They told me of issues from their training session, lacking enough paper at the polling sites and being left on hold up to an hour when calling in for help with machines.”

He added, “I urge the hiring of a highly qualified individual who has a history running elections with the machines we now use here, along with robust voter education on machine and mail ballot usage, and more support for our precinct chairs and judges.”

See here and here for some background. I feel bad about this – I like Isabel, I thought she was a perfectly fine choice for the job when she was appointed, but it just didn’t work out. I’ve seen some similar comments to those made by Art Pronin among activist Dems on Facebook, and it’s just not possible to continue in a job like that when you’ve lost people’s confidence. I wish Isabel all the best, I hope we can learn from this experience to make the May and especially November elections run more smoothly, and I absolutely hope we make a solid choice for the next administrator.

Also last night a bit after I wrote this, the updated primary totals were posted. As I expected and wrote about, none of the races were changed by the additional mail ballots. I’ve been annoyed by some of the coverage of the uncounted absentee ballots, mostly because the mention that some races “could” be affected completely fails to address the fact that the leaders in the closest races were almost always also the leaders (often by a lot) of the counted mail ballots. Indeed, Joe Jaworski went from having a 4,129 to 1,658 advantage in mail ballots over Lee Merritt to a 6,572 to 2,643 lead, a net gain of 1,458 votes. Harold Dutton netted 80 votes as well. It’s not that these or other races couldn’t have been affected – theoretically, it was possible – but leaving out that context was really misleading. It could have happened, but it was very unlikely based on the information we had, that’s all I’m saying. I’ll keep my eye on the results and will post when they appear to be finalized. The Trib has more.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, final turnout for the Dems was 165,983, or about a thousand less than 2018. For Republicans it was 187,651, a gain of about 30K.

UPDATE: Stace has more.

How about a new Ken Paxton scandal?

Funny how these things keep cropping up. It’s almost as if it were habitual or something.

Best mugshot ever

In late 2018, Conduent Business Services, the giant information company formerly part of Xerox, was on the edge of a financial cliff.

For more than four years, the Texas attorney general’s office had aggressively pursued the company for what it asserted was Conduent’s massive fraud overseeing a government program to fix poor children’s teeth. Instead of evaluating treatment requests as it had been hired to do, Conduent simply rubber-stamped them while taxpayer dollars streamed out the door. The company tried to blame the dentists, but in June 2018 the Texas Supreme Court said Conduent alone was responsible.

A trial that could cost the company billions of dollars was rapidly approaching. Texas had indicated it would settle, but Conduent had a money problem: Its liability insurance policy refused to pay legal costs involving fraud.

So with the help of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, Conduent hatched a plan to trick the insurer into paying up to tens of millions of the legal settlement, according to documents the insurer, AIG, filed in Delaware state court. Two weeks ago, a jury found the deal defrauded AIG.

The jury’s verdict did not implicate Texas, Paxton or his lawyers in the scheme to deceive the insurer. Yet trial documents also show the attorney general’s staff knew Conduent was asking the agency to manipulate its case against the company to help with insurance claims, and that they agreed to the plan.

[…]

Problems in the State of Texas’s Medicaid dental program first became public in 2011, when a Dallas television station reported some clinics were billing more for children’s orthodontic care than entire states. Although the practitioners were first to be blamed, court documents later revealed Xerox had hired workers with little or no knowledge of dental procedures to process the applications for treatment as quickly as possible, with scant review.

About 90 percent were approved, often in a matter of seconds. Evidence such as molds and X-rays that dentists submitted with the applications often were never even looked at. Xerox had only a single dentist to review hundreds of daily requests.

The company said Texas officials were aware of how it was handling the Medicaid work and did nothing, but the state removed Xerox from the dental program in 2012 and fired it two years later. Since then the case has spawned a thicket of legal disputes as the various parties have tried to pin blame and costs on the others.

Texas has re-paid the federal government $133 million, the amount the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calculated it was due for the state allowing Xerox to approve unnecessary dental payments. Texas regulators, in turn, have tried with limited success to recover money from dentists they say abused the program.

But the state’s main target has been Xerox, which in 2016 spun off its business services division into Conduent. Launched in 2014, the state’s Medicaid fraud lawsuit against the company meandered through the court system for years. By late 2018 a trial was scheduled.

Texas was seeking $2 billion. Conduent denied it committed fraud, but it had reason to avoid risking a bad verdict at trial. The federal government prohibits companies convicted of fraud from contract work; a jury finding against it would jeopardize Conduent’s business in other states.

The company entered a round of intensive negotiations with the attorney general’s office in late 2018, legal documents from the Delaware case show. With AIG already having denied its liability insurance claims, Conduent needed the foundation of the case against it to fundamentally change if it wanted to collect.

And for that it required an assist from Paxton’s office.

[…]

But in early January 2019, Conduent asked the attorney general’s office to file a new petition, court documents filed by AIG said. Typically, defendants try to convince prosecutors to drop crimes they’ve been accused of. In this case, Conduent asked Paxton’s office to add two new charges against it: breach of contract and negligence.

The reason, according to the Delaware lawsuit: If Texas prosecutors officially declared they were pursuing Conduent for those violations, AIG’s liability insurance policy would kick in, allowing the company to collect tens of millions of dollars.

Paxton announced a $236 million settlement with Conduent in January of 2019, shortly after the new charges were filed. AIG’s attorney argued that the state never intended to pursue those charges, they were just included to get Conduent to settle because then they could recover the funds from their insurer. The jury agreed with AIG and called what Conduent did “insurance fraud”. For which they got an assist from the Texas Attorney General’s office.

There’s a lot we don’t know yet. Maybe Conduent blatantly misrepresented their intentions to the AG’s office, and is solely responsible for all fraudulent actions. Maybe the AG’s office just erred in adding those extra charges, and didn’t pursue them because they were never going to get anywhere. Maybe all of the fault for the AG office’s activities belongs to the attorneys on the case, while Paxton himself wasn’t involved. I hope that now that we have this story, we’ll find out more. It’s obviously easy to believe that Paxton did something shady – it’s his brand, after all – but we need more information before we can conclude anything like that. Let’s see what else gets dug up. Reform Austin has more.

The Dem runoff for AG is not fully settled

First place in the Democratic primary for Attorney General went to Rochelle Garza. Second place is still somewhat of a question.

Rochelle Garza

Two days after election day in the March primary, the Democratic race for attorney general is still not settled.

By Tuesday night, it was clear that Rochelle Garza, a former American Civil Liberties Union lawyer from Brownsville, was the clear front-runner in the race, but she did not garner enough support to avoid a May runoff. Joe Jaworski, an attorney and former Galveston mayor, was in a tight battle with civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt for second place, with Jaworski in the lead but only a few thousand votes separating the two.

Early Wednesday morning, Garza celebrated her showing, thanking voters for their support. She did not mention the runoff and instead turned her sights to Republican incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is headed into his own runoff against Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

“I got in this race to fight for Texas families, protect voting & reproductive rights and hold corporations and bad actors to account when they take advantage of Texans,” Garza said in a statement. “Indicted Ken Paxton is the most corrupt Attorney General in the country and our campaign is ready to defeat him this November.”

Merritt said Wednesday afternoon that the “race is not over” and was waiting for all the votes to be counted. He said the delayed results showed “flaws in our election system” that led to mistrust, confusion and people being discouraged from voting.

“Our campaign is eagerly watching and waiting along with the rest of the state and the country to see the results of this election,” he said in a statement.

By Thursday, the secretary of state’s website said all polling locations in the state had reported. But some mail-in ballots and provisional ballots can still be tabulated. Jaworski still held a slim lead over Merritt.

On Thursday, Jaworski tweeted cheerily that he was still in second place and was “exhibiting Olympian patience” in waiting for final results.

“Let’s get another cup of coffee while we wait,” he said. “Onward!”

Meanwhile, Mike Fields, who placed a distant fourth, congratulated Garza and said she was “the preferred choice of the majority of Democratic primary voters,” garnering more than twice the votes of her nearest competitor. He then asked Jaworski and Merritt to forgo a runoff and allow Garza to focus her attention on winning the general election in November.

First, Garza received 432,212 votes out of just over one million cast. Jaworski is second with 196,463, while Merritt has 195,045. That’s a difference of 1,418 votes, and 0.14 percentage points. It’s a small margin, but I think it’s highly unlikely that any combination of provisional ballots, overseas ballots, and mail ballots that can still be corrected for incorrect voter ID information could put Merritt ahead. There may not be enough votes left in play for it to be mathematically possible, and even if there is he’d have to win such an overwhelming number of them that it’s virtually impossible. This is why so few elections are truly in doubt once the Election Day votes are counted. There just isn’t enough slack for the difference to be made up.

As for Fields’ suggestion that Jaworski and Merritt drop out so Garza can begin her general election campaign, there is an argument for that. She needs to raise a bunch of money, and it would be better to have most of it for November. Of course, money spent on organizing and voter outreach now, for the runoff, is still a good investment. One could also argue that she’ll get more attention over the next two months as the frontrunner in the runoff than she would as the nominee, especially with Paxton himself in a runoff. I’m agnostic on the question, but it doesn’t really matter since neither Jaworski nor Merritt seems inclined to take that advice.

But as noted, one can make a reasonable case for Garza’s path to be cleared. This is much more of a stretch.

State Rep. Michelle Beckley forced a runoff in the Democratic race for lieutenant governor — and now she’s calling on her opponent, Houston accountant Mike Collier, to end his campaign.

“He doesn’t inspire the base,” Beckley, of Carrollton, said in an interview Thursday. “He should drop out.”

Collier was the 2018 Democratic nominee for the post and came within 5 points of unseating Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that year. He earned about 42 percent of the vote in Tuesday night’s election, followed by Beckley at 30 percent.

A third candidate, Houston educator Carla Brailey, came in just behind at 28 percent, according to unofficial results. Patrick, who is seeking his third term in Texas’ No. 2 spot, sailed to victory in the Republican primary.

Collier says he has no intention of dropping out, and the two will face off in a May runoff election.

“Our campaign is building a diverse coalition around the issues that matter to Texans — protecting our individual rights, fully funding our public education system, fixing the damn grid, expanding Medicaid — and working together to defeat Dan Patrick,” Collier said.

[…]

Collier has two statewide elections under his belt: the lieutenant governor’s race four years ago and a bid for state comptroller before that. His campaign has a massive funding advantage, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the lead-up to the primary.

As of Feb. 22, his campaign had about $120,000 on hand to Beckley’s $9,000. Collier has raised nearly $2 million since announcing his run last year, though his campaign is bogged down by about $450,000 in outstanding loans — a holdover from the 2018 race that he’d given to himself.

For Collier, the lead-up to the May runoff will focus on digital campaigns and travel across the state, starting with a visit to North Texas on Monday. His campaign also announced a number of new endorsements on Thursday, including three members of Congress — Reps. Veronica Escobar, Lizzie Fletcher and Lloyd Doggett — and a slate of Houston-area politicians who had previously endorsed Brailey.

Seems a bit presumptuous to me. Collier is reasonably well known among Dems, he did quite respectably well in 2018, he’s done decently in fundraising, and well, he got the most votes this past Tuesday. Maybe he’s not “inspiring”, whatever that may mean, but if so I’d say it’s on Beckley to demonstrate that she’s more so than he is. That’s what the runoff is for.

A roundup of runoffs

I was going to just do a basic recap of all the primary races that will require runoffs, and then this happened, and I had to do some redesign.

Rep. Van Taylor

U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has decided to end his reelection campaign after he was forced into a primary runoff amid 11th-hour allegations of infidelity.

Taylor made the stunning announcement Wednesday, hours after he finished his five-way primary with 49% of the vote, just missing the cutoff for winning the primary outright. The runner-up was former Collin County Judge Keith Self, who is now likely to become the next congressman for the 3rd District.

“About a year ago, I made a horrible mistake that has caused deep hurt and pain among those I love most in this world,” Taylor wrote in an email to supporters. “I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the greatest failure of my life. I want to apologize for the pain I have caused with my indiscretion, most of all to my wife Anne and our three daughters.”

The day before the primary, the conservative outlet Breitbart News posted a story that Taylor had had a monthslong affair with a Plano woman, Tania Joya, who he had paid $5,000 to keep quiet. The publication reported that she provided it a phone screen shot purporting to be communications with Taylor and a bank record showing that she deposited $5,000 into her account. The Texas Tribune has not been able to independently verify the report.

[…]

Taylor has until March 16 to remove his name from the runoff ballot, which he plans to do, according to a spokesperson. After he does that, Self is automatically the Republican nominee for the district. There is a Democratic nominee for the seat, Sandeep Srivastava, but they face long odds after the district was redrawn last year to favor Republicans.

Holy shit. There’s a link to that article in the Trib story, which I refuse to include. It’s one of the less important aspects of this story, but the timing is curious. Why not publish this earlier, if that’s what you’re going to do, and not take the chance that he could win without a runoff? It gets a whole lot more complicated for the Republicans if he withdraws after winning the primary, and he came quite close to doing just that. I don’t understand any of this.

Anyway, this is where I was originally going to start this post. Here’s a list of the races that have gone into overtime. You can also read the Decision Desk wrapup for some more details.

Statewide Dem

Lite Guv – Mike Collier vs Michelle Beckley.

AG – Rochelle Garza vs Joe Jaworski. As of Wednesday afternoon Jaworski had less than a 2K vote lead over Lee Merritt. When I first looked at this, it was a 3K lead, with all of the remaining ballots in Harris County, where Jaworski started the day with a 6K vote lead over Merritt. That had shrunk to a bit less than 5K votes by the afternoon, which almost made my logic that Jaworski would easily hold his lead look idiotic, but the gap appears to have been too large for Merritt to overcome. But who knows, there may be a bunch of late-fixed mail ballots out there, so let’s put a pin in this one.

Comptroller – Janet Dudding vs Angel Vega.

Land Commissioner – Sandragrace Martinez vs Jay Kleberg.

Congressional Dem

CD01 – JJ Jefferson vs Victor Dunn.

CD15 – Ruben Ramirez vs Michelle Vallejo, who has a 300-vote lead over John Rigney.

CD21 – Claudia Zapata vs Ricardo Villarreal.

CD24 – Jan McDowell vs Derrik Gay, who rebounded after my initial bout of pessimism to finish in second place.

CD28 – Rep. Henry Cuellar vs Jessica Cisneros. Cisneros had a big early lead that was mostly a function of the order in which the counties reported their results. Cisneros crushed it in Bexar County, then watched as Starr, Webb, and Zapata erased her lead. In the end, if what I’m seeing is the actual final tally, it was Cuellar who missed winning outright by nine (!) votes. This one could change to a Cuellar win as the overseas and provisional votes are tallied, and then of course there may be a recount. Hold onto your hats.

CD30 – Jasmine Crockett vs Jane Hope Hamilton.

CD38 – Diana Martinez Alexander vs. Duncan Klussman. This is the only Congressional runoff in Harris County for Dems.

SBOE Dem

SBOE1 – Melissa Ortega vs Laura Marquez. The third-place finisher had big charter school backing, so this race can go back to being one you don’t need to know about.

SBOE2 – Victor Perez vs Pete Garcia.

SBOE4 – Coretta Mallet-Fontenot vs Staci Childs. This is in Harris County, it’s the seat Lawrence Allen vacated in his unsuccessful run for HD26. I’ll put this one on my to do list for runoff interviews.

SBOE11 – Luis Sifuentes vs James Whitfield. Double-timer DC Caldwell finished third, while also losing in the Republican primary for this same seat to incumbent Pat Hardy. Let us never speak of this again.

State Senate Dem

SD27 – Morgan LaMantia vs Sara Stapleton-Barrera.

State House Dems

HD22 – Joseph Trahan vs Christian Hayes.

HD37 – Ruben Cortez vs Luis Villarreal

HD70 – Cassandra Hernandez vs Mihaela Plesa. This one was an almost even split among three candidates, with third place finisher Lorenzo Sanchez 29 votes behind Plesa and 102 votes behind Hernandez. Another overseas/provisional vote count to watch and another recount possibility.

HD76 – Suleman Lalani vs Vanesia Johnson. This is the new Dem-likely seat in Fort Bend.

HD100 – Sandra Crenshaw vs Venton Jones.

HD114 – Alexandra Guio vs John Bryant. Bryant was a Dem Congressman in the 90’s, in the old CD05. After winning a squeaker against Pete Sessions in 1994, Bryant tried his luck in the primary for Senate in 1996, eventually losing in a runoff to Victor Morales. Bryant just turned 75 (why anyone would want to get back into the Lege at that age boggles my mind, but maybe that’s just me), while Guio is quite a bit younger. Should be an interesting matchup. This was a five-way race with everyone getting between 17 and 25 percent, so endorsements from the ousted candidates may make a difference.

HD147 – Jolanda Jones vs Danielle Bess.

Harris County Dems

185th Criminal District Court – Andrea Beall vs Judge Jason Luong.

208th Criminal District Court – Beverly Armstrong vs Kim McTorry. Judge Greg Glass finished third.

312th Family District Court – Teresa Waldrop vs Judge Chip Wells.

County Civil Court at Law #4 – Manpreet Monica Singh vs Treasea Treviño. David Patronella was in second place after early voting, but fell behind as the Tuesday votes came in.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones vs Ben Chou.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 2 – Sonia Lopez vs Steve Duble.

Republicans

Not really interested in a complete rundown, but it’s Paxton versus P Bush for AG, Dawn Buckingham versus Tim Westley for Land Commissioner, and Wayne Christian versus Sarah Stogner for Railroad Commissioner. At least that last one will be interesting.

As noted yesterday, it will be Alexandra Mealer versus Vidal Martinez for the nomination for County Judge. I have no feelings about this.

I will put some other primary news and notes in a separate post. Let me know if I missed a race.

2022 primary results: Statewide

That didn’t take long:

Literally one minute after polls would have closed in El Paso. You can’t report any earlier than that. With the first very early batch of results posted on the SOS website, Beto was at 92.82% of the vote, so even though maybe ten percent of the votes had been counted, this seems like a pretty safe call.

Greg Abbott was cruising as well, with just under 70% in very early returns. The Trib says his race was called at the same time; I didn’t see anything on Twitter, but you know how that can go. At least one of his opponents was preparing to concede right out of the gate. Both Huffines and West were in the 10-12% range early on, which makes their attention-to-performance ratio pretty much a “division by zero” error.

Susan Hays was headed for a decisive win for Ag Commissioner on the Dem side, starting out with about 85% of the vote. All of the other Dem statewides look like they’re headed for runoffs. Mike Collier, Rochelle Garza, and Janet Dudding were the clear early leaders for Lite Guv, AG, and Comptroller. The Land Commissioner race was more jumbled, with Sandragrace Martinez and Jay Kleberg the initial frontrunners.

On the Republican side, Dan Patrick and Glenn Hegar easily turned away nominal opposition, while the crook Sid Miller was close to 60% against more substantial opposition. Ken Paxton and Wayne Christian were leading for AG and Railroad Commissioner, but both were in the low-to-mid 40s early on. Dawn Buckingham was at about 45% with three opponents who might be the one to face her in a runoff in the 12-15 percent range. Two Supreme Court incumbents, Evan Young (appointed to replace Eva Guzman) and Scott Walker, were in the mid-to-upper 50s against single opponents.

I found the Trib‘s results page to be faster than the SOS, and it had both Dems and GOP on one page. The only other matter of interest here for now is total turnout. I’m not going to get a handle on that before I go to bed, so let’s put that in the to-be-followed-up file.

Final 2022 primary early voting totals

It’s been a strange two weeks for early voting, so let’s get to the wrapup. Here are your final early voting totals. The table for comparison:


Election    Mail   Early   Total
================================
2018 D    22,695  70,152  92,847
2018 R    24,500  61,425  85,925

2020 D    22,785 116,748 139,533
2020 R    22,801  82,108 104,909

2022 D    13,713  82,342  96,055
2022 R     9,684  96,439 106,123

As a reminder, 2018 final totals are here, and 2020 final totals are here. Please note that the “2018 final totals” file I have is actually from the penultimate day of early voting. I either never got the last day’s totals, or I forgot to save the file to my Google Drive. The numbers in the table above are from the Election Day report for 2018, which means that the mail ballots include those that came in between the Friday and Tuesday. It would have been a smaller number if I had that day-of EV report.

Clearly, mail ballots were down. I had thought that the good number of mail ballots returned on Tuesday heralded an upswing for them, perhaps because of corrected ones getting in, but that wasn’t to be. Indeed, the combined total for Dems over the remaining three days was just a bit higher than the Tuesday total. The mail ballot total for Dems this year so far is 60% of what it was four years ago, though that will tick up a bit as the last batch rolls in. The number for Republicans dropped even more, though that is undoubtedly due in part to Republicans swallowing the former guy’s propaganda about mail ballots. Both Dems and Republicans saw more in person voters, and I’d say for sure some of that is connected, more on the R side than the D side.

How many people were actually unable to vote as a result of the new and needless voter ID requirements for mail ballots is hard to say. If I have the time, I’ll try to compare the vote rosters for the two years, to see what the mail voters of both parties from 2018 did this year. I’m sure some number of them voted (or will vote on Tuesday) in person. For those that voted by mail in 2018 but fail to vote this year, it will still be hard to say why. Primaries always have low turnout, so a no-show this year may just mean lack of interest or opportunity, for whatever the reason. I hope someone with a better view of the data comes up with a more holistic and analytic report. I fear it will mostly be all anecdotal otherwise. For sure, any suggestion that Republicans may regret their new voting restrictions are extremely premature. I’ve not doubt that some Republican consultants would prefer not to have to do new things, but they’re not representative of the party as a whole. Believe me, if they ever do come to regret this change, they will make that clear.

The Republicans had more voters this year than the Dems did, after the Dems outvoted them in 2018 and 2020. Does this worry me? Not really. Like I said, primaries are low turnout. That means people don’t participate for a lot of reasons. I think the main reason normal people do – by “normal” I mean the non-activist and news junkie portions of the population – is when there’s a headline race that grabs their attention. There wasn’t one in the 2018 primary – Beto didn’t have to run a serious primary campaign because he didn’t have a serious primary opponent, and indeed he faced questions afterward when Dems barely broke 1 million total voters statewide (compared to 1.5 million for the GOP even though they didn’t really have a headline primary race that year either) and he got “only” 62% of the vote. He’s in the same position this year – the entire story of the race so far is about Beto versus Abbott, not Beto versus Joy Diaz. On the other hand, at least as much of the story on the Republican side is Abbott versus West and Huffines, and that’s before you factor in the clusterfuck of an AG primary. Those are the kind of races that draw people to the polls.

Look at it this way: In 2016, nearly 330K people voted in the GOP primary in Harris County, compared to 227K for Dems. The November vote went pretty well for Dems in Harris County that year.

As for final turnout, it’s a little hard to say because samples are small and context changes greatly from Presidential to non-Presidential years. A little more than 40% of the Democratic vote was cast on Election Day in 2018 and 2014, while more than half was cast in 2010 and 2006. More than half was cast on Election Day in 2020, 2016, and 2008, while slightly less than half was cast in 2012. Going just by 2018, we’d probably approach 170K for final turnout. Republicans in 2018 had about 45% of their vote on Election Day, which projects them to 185-190K overall. Take all of that with a huge grain of salt – I just don’t know how to factor in the mail ballot changes, the recent aggressively revanchist policy moves by Greg Abbott et al, and just the overall state of the world. All I can say is we’ll see.

I’ll have a look at the statewide numbers tomorrow. Let me know what you think.

A handful of stories about statewide primaries

Let’s talk about Sarah.

Sarah Stogner

One November evening in far West Texas, Sarah Stogner decided to strip down to pasties and her underwear, plus boots and a cowboy hat, and climb onto an oil pumpjack while a small film crew watched.

The crew, in town to film a documentary about an unplugged oil well spewing contaminated fluids, was sharing beers with Stogner when one of the videographers said they always wanted to do an artistic photo shoot on a pumpjack, Stogner recalled.

“And I thought, oh my God, yes, what if I got naked or almost naked on top of it?” Stogner said. “This will be hilarious. Just for our own fun. I didn’t have any grand schemes with it. But fuck it, this will be fun.”

In February, the video turned into a now-viral campaign ad for the 37-year-old oil and gas attorney from Monahans, who is running for a seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas, the regulatory agency in charge of the state’s massive oil and gas sector. Stogner released the five-second video on Super Bowl Sunday in a tweet with the caption: “They said I needed money. I have other assets.”

“I need to get people’s attention, right?” Stogner said in an interview, adding that she didn’t want to do that in a “pornographic” way.

“And here we are, it’s working,” she said, listing various news stories about her campaign since the video went public.

Stogner’s seminude stunt is only the latest twist in what has become the strangest Republican primary campaign for Railroad Commission in decades. The incumbent, Railroad Commission Chair Wayne Christian, is facing corruption allegations after he voted — against the recommendation of Railroad Commission staff — to approve a permit for an oil field waste dump facility, then days later accepted a $100,000 campaign donation from the company that received the permit.

Another candidate, Marvin “Sarge” Summers, died earlier this month on the campaign trail after crashing into a tanker truck in Midland.

Despite the agency’s power over Texas’ largest industry — including the natural gas system, a crucial element of the Texas power grid that failed last year during a powerful winter storm, leaving millions of people without power for days — elections for the three-member board that oversees it typically don’t generate much attention from voters.

“They might know about it now because of Sarah Stogner,” said Tom Slocum Jr., a 38-year-old engineering consultant from the Houston area who is one of the four surviving candidates in the Republican primary.

The Chron was all over Stogner’s attention-grabbing ad last week, which one must admit achieved its purpose. Stogner makes some good points, which is not something I’m accustomed to saying about Republican politicians in their primaries these days. It’s easy enough to look good in comparison to the extreme sleaze of incumbent Wayne Christian, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into coherent policymaking or campaigning; one of her opponents is running on “building the border wall and protecting gun ownership”, two things that the Railroad Commission does not do. That said, Stogner also voted for Allen West and Louie Gohmert, so don’t go holding her up as some kind of exemplar. Democrat Luke Warford, who is unopposed and therefore not mentioned in that Trib story, is still by far your best bet.

For Land Commissioner, you have some good choices, and then you have the Republicans.

Most Republicans seeking the GOP nomination list the Alamo project as a top priority, though one also wants to use the office to decrease immigration at the Texas-Mexico border. The top focuses of Democrats running include prioritizing public school funding, limiting how the agency contributes to climate change and improving natural disaster responses.

[…]

The Democratic nominating contest is also wide open. Sandragrace Martinez, a licensed professional mental health counselor from San Antonio, led her opponents in the Hobby School of Public Affairs poll, with 17% of primary voters saying they would support her.

She did not respond to a request for comment.

Other Democrats in the race are focusing on public education funding and how the agency can mitigate climate change.

The land commissioner also heads the School Land Board, which manages a portfolio that financially supports public schools. In 2018, the School Land Board declined to pass money to the State Board of Education and instead opted to give $600 million directly to schools.

Democratic candidate Jay Kleberg of Austin, director of the nonpartisan civic engagement group Texas Lyceum, disagrees with the School Land Board’s decision. And he wants to remove a cap on how much money the School Land Board can give the SBOE.

The General Land Office is authorized to undertake land leases to develop solar, wind or other renewable energy. Kleberg, the former associate director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, also wants to capture and store carbon emissions beneath acres of state lands. He said doing this will reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

“We can start to reverse again that No.1 ranking as a [carbon dioxide] emitter in the nation by burying that in the ground, by operating more responsibly on General Land Office lands and by diversifying our portfolio into lower emission, cleaner energy production,” Kleberg said.

Candidate Jinny Suh of Austin, founder of Immunize Texas, a statewide pro-vaccine advocacy group, similarly wants to adopt renewable energy sources and maximize protocols for oil and gas companies the General Land Office leases with.

“Things like capping their methane emissions, things like making sure that they take care of cleaning up whatever water that they use in their processes, so that they don’t damage the environment. These are all things that will help reduce our carbon footprint and also help prepare us for the future,” Suh said.

Michael Lange, an investment and operational risk director from Houston, said his background in corporate America will allow him to support students and teachers who need more assistance. Lange acknowledges climate change as a factor for natural disasters happening in Texas. The General Land Office has the authority to administer funds in the event of natural disasters like hurricanes. Lange said the office should also help with relief long after an event, since disasters can displace people for months.

“If you had after the event disaster plan that didn’t last just for six weeks, but it lasted until it was done and included things like working in partnerships along the coast, like to use an area women’s center and say, ‘Look, we have to have these facilities available to help people,’ so the planning is not just the preparatory for the hurricane, but after it finishes, that’s the responsibility of the Texas land commissioner,” Lange said.

You can still listen to my interviews with Jinny Suh and Jay Kleberg. The Meyerland Area Dems had a statewide candidate forum on Monday night, the video for which is here – scroll to the 47:00 mark to see the Land Commissioner part of it, which included Suh, Kleberg, and Lange. Martinez has been the least visible candidate so far, and I fear she’ll make it into the runoff anyway. These things happen in lower-profile races.

The Trib doesn’t have a recent story about the Ag Commissioner race, but the Chron does.

The three Republicans running for Texas agriculture commissioner sat next to each other behind a wooden table, all wearing white cowboy hats, none of them speaking.

In the middle, state Rep. James White stared straight ahead at the crowd that had gathered for the candidate forum at Sirloin Stockade, hosted by the Williamson County Republican Women. His arms were crossed.

For weeks, White has attacked Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller for his history of run-ins with the Texas Ethics Commission and the Texas Rangers, saying it is evidence of a lack of personal integrity and a culture of misconduct within his office. White also has attacked Miller’s political record, describing him as a “fake conservative” and accusing him of jacking up fees on farmers to fund his pet projects at the department.

The other challenger, rancher and economics professor Carey Counsil of Brenham, has blasted Miller as “just not an ethical person.” Counsil launched his candidacy after Miller’s top political adviser was arrested on theft and bribery charges last year.

“I told you it was going to get sporty,” one spectator near the back whispered as Counsil attacked Miller as dishonest.

Sid Miller could give Ken Paxton a run for his blood money in the “sleaziest person currently in Texas politics” race. Not that any of his primary opponents are good, mind you, they just have less baggage. If you go back to that Meyerland Dems candidate forum video and either scroll to the 56-minute mark, or just keep watching after the Land Commissioner candidates finish up, you can hear from Susan Hays and Ed Ireson, both of whom would be an infinite improvement.

Did I just mention Ken Paxton? Sigh…

Attorney General Ken Paxton and his three Republican primary challengers are firing in all directions in the final days before the closely watched election.

Paxton is airing TV ads attacking U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler over his attendance record in Congress, while Gohmert is countering with his own commercial accusing Paxton of desperation. Meanwhile, Land Commissioner George P. Bush is running TV ads targeting Eva Guzman, the former state Supreme Court justice, who says Bush’s claims are “ludicrous.”

It is all making for a hectic end to the hotly contested primary, which recent polls suggest could go to a runoff. The polls have been less clear, though, on who Paxton could face in an overtime round. The election is March 1.

Blah blah blah…look, there are three truly terrible candidates in that race, plus one candidate who would be a more polished and presentable version of terrible. Don’t be fooled.

Finally, there’s this story about Lee Merritt, one of the Dem candidates for AG.

Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney who has made a name for himself nationally by representing the families of police brutality victims, is taking heat ahead of his race to be Texas’ top lawyer because he’s not licensed to practice in the state.

He has represented the families of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who was shot and killed in his apartment by a Dallas police officer; George Floyd, a 46-year-old man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes; and Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old man who was chased through a Georgia neighborhood by three white men and then shot to death.

In his bid for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, Merritt has lined up an impressive list of endorsements including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Dallas state Sen. Royce West and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But as Merritt’s star has risen, so have questions about his legal record in Texas.

The state constitution does not require the attorney general to be licensed to practice law. But that question isn’t the only shadow hanging over his practice. Merritt has also experienced notable blunders, like when he represented a woman in 2018 who falsely accused a Department of Public Safety trooper of sexually assaulting her. Merritt brought national attention to the incident, but police camera footage disproved it just days later, forcing him to apologize for the misstep.

During a Democratic primary debate hosted by the AFL-CIO labor union in January, candidate Joe Jaworski brought up Merritt’s lack of a Texas license and said his ability to practice law in the state was a “big difference” between the two candidates.

“I have a Texas law license and I’ve had it for 31 years,” said Jaworski, the former Galveston mayor, during the debate. “Lee, I have great respect for his civil rights practice — I think he is truly an awesome agent of social change — [but] that is a big difference between us. He needs to be able to show that he can go into Texas state court, like an attorney general should.”

Merritt, in an interview with The Texas Tribune, said he’s in the process of getting licensed. “I am working on it,” he said. “I’m doing that because it helps minimize confusion, but I don’t see it as a necessity of the office.”

Jaworski declined to comment for this story, as did Rochelle Garza, one of the other candidates in the race. The primary is March 1.

Mike Fields, another candidate in the race, said it could create a “weird situation” if the employees under the attorney general had met a requirement that the elected official had not, but he gave Merritt the benefit of the doubt.

“It shouldn’t impede his ability to do the job, but I understand the concern,” Fields said. “Based on what I’ve heard from him and looking at his history, certainly he’s up to the task, and I think he’s rectifying that situation. But that’s gonna be between him and the state bar.”

I don’t really have anything to add to that. Merritt is a highly accomplished attorney, I have no doubt he can easily be licensed, and I’m also sure his current status will be made an issue if he is the nominee. It is what it is. One more time, I will direct you to the Meyerland Dems candidate forum video, where at the 22-minute mark you can hear from Merritt, Jaworski, Garza, and Fields. You can also start from the beginning and hear from Mike Collier and Carla Brailey for Lite Guv, and in between the AGs and the Land Commishes there are Comptroller candidates Janet Dudding and Tim Mahoney. If you’re still figuring out who to vote for, that will help.

DMN/UT-Tyler: Abbott 45, Beto 38

From the DMN, via another source that I can get to.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is leading former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (R-Texas) by 7 points in a new poll tracking November’s gubernatorial race.

The survey, conducted by The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler, found that in a race between Abbott and O’Rourke, 45 percent of registered voters polled would support the incumbent governor, while 38 percent would vote for the former congressman.

Sixteen percent of respondents said they would vote for someone else, and 1 percent said they remain unsure.

Abbott received a greater share of support among independents at 36 percent to 29 percent.

The survey, conducted between Feb. 8 and Feb. 15, comes roughly nine months before Texans will head to the polls to vote for the next chief executive of the Lone Star State.

[…]

Sixty percent of registered voters polled said they plan to support Abbott in the GOP primary. No other candidate polled double digits. Former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) came in second with seven percent support.

Fifteen percent of respondents, however, said they do not know who they plan to vote for.

A similar situation emerged on the Democratic side. O’Rourke is dominating the field with 68 percent support among primary candidates in the new poll, with no other candidate securing more than five percent. Former Austin public-radio journalist Joy Diaz polled second with four percent support.

Fourteen percent of respondents, however, do not yet know who they will vote for in the primary.

Poll data is here. They have Dan Patrick at 54% in his primary, with 31% “don’t know” and all of the no-names in low single digits. They also have Ken Paxton at only 39%, with P Bush trailing at 25%, but you know my mantra – don’t put much stock in primary polling. That said, for what it’s worth, only 16% of respondents in the GOP AG primary poll said they didn’t know who they were voting for. The polls for Dem Lite Guv showed everyone with low totals and no clear advantage, while Rochelle Garza was ever so slightly ahead for the Dem AG race, though “ahead” at 22%, with Joe Jaworski at 13%, doesn’t really mean much.

One month ago, the DMN/UT-Tyler poll ad the race at 47-36 for Abbott, and before that at 45-39. This is kind of a goofy polling outfit, but so far at least they’ve been pretty consistent. As noted in that post, there was also a UH Hobby School poll that was mostly about the primaries but also had the Abbott-Beto general election matchup at 45-40. The February UT-Trib poll had Abbott up 47-37.

I saw this on Friday and now have no idea where the link came from, but a group called Climate Nexus did a poll that was mostly about climate change and green energy, but it also included a question about Biden’s approval rating (40-56, very much in line with others) and an Abbott-Beto question (45-40 for Abbott). You can see the poll data here – that link should take you to the last page, where the general election question was. I really need to start tracking these things on the sidebar. Put it on my to-do list for this week, I guess.

I regret to inform you that Ken Paxton may not be an honest broker

You should maybe be sitting down for this.

Best mugshot ever

The whistleblowers who sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after he fired them for accusing him of bribery and abuse of office are speaking out against him publicly for the first time since filing their lawsuit, in response to what they say are Paxton’s “numerous false and misleading public statements” on the campaign trail.

The four whistleblowers – former deputy attorneys general James Blake Brickman, Mark Penley, and Ryan Vassar, as well as the office’s former director of law enforcement David Maxwell – said they previously intended to stay silent about their case while it played out in the judicial system.

“Our preference was to remain silent while the wheels of justice turned, and our civil case progressed in the courts,” they said in a joint statement Monday. “However, in recent weeks, Paxton has made numerous false and misleading public statements that we feel obligated to correct.”

The whistleblowers also said they had remained quiet to respect the “ongoing FBI investigation,” indicating that a federal criminal probe into Paxton continues. The FBI has declined to comment on the matter in the past.

“The most basic qualifications of an attorney general are respect for truth and respect for the law. Ken Paxton has neither,” the whistleblowers said in their statement. “The day will come when Ken Paxton must testify under oath about his and his agency’s actions. Until then, we call on Ken Paxton to start telling the truth to the people of Texas.”

[…]

Many of what the whistleblowers call Paxton’s “misleading public statements” came during a Jan. 31 interview with conservative radio host Mark Davis about the attorney general’s race. In the interview, Paxton claimed the whistleblowers “didn’t come to him” and “didn’t explain” the issues they had with the behavior that led to their complaints. In a separate interview with conservative outlet Texas Scorecard this month, Paxton claimed the FBI had “infiltrated” his office to investigate him before the whistleblowers made their complaint.

But the whistleblowers said in their statement they approached Paxton multiple times about their concerns with his push to get involved in Paul’s affairs before reporting him to the FBI. Their whistleblower lawsuit details specific dates when the whistleblowers individually and as a group warned Paxton that his actions in legal matters related to Paul were unlawful.

They said they first reported their concerns to the FBI on Sept. 30, 2020 after they could not convince Paxton to follow the law.

“We had no previous contact with the FBI before that date and believe this was the first time the FBI became involved with the investigation of Paxton and his office,” they wrote in their statement released Monday.

The whistleblowers also took issue with Paxton’s comment on Davis’ show that “no one has ever disputed” an unsigned 374-page report generated by his office in August that exonerated him of the whistleblower’s allegations.

“This is false. Paxton’s self-exonerating report is directly disputed by the detailed allegations in the whistleblower lawsuit,” the statement read. “Unsurprisingly, Paxton’s report selectively ignored some of the most troubling allegations we reported to the FBI, like Paxton providing blatant political favors to a campaign donor – the same campaign donor who has admitted in sworn testimony to hiring a woman at Paxton’s behest, a woman with whom media reports reveal Paxton had an extramarital affair.”

The whistleblowers also blasted Paxton for accusing them of committing crimes in the Davis interview, calling his accusations “ridiculous.”

“We confronted Ken Paxton about his and his agency’s corrupt and criminal conduct, and, when he would not abide by the law, we reported him to the FBI,” they said in their statement. “Paxton is under criminal investigation, not the whistleblowers.”

Paxton also told Texas Scorecard that he still does not know the specific allegations against him. The whistleblowers said the allegations against him are clearly spelled out in their lawsuit and include: bribery, tampering with government records, obstruction of justice, harassment and abuse of office.

See here for the latest installation of the Paxton whistleblower lawsuit saga, in which he tries to get the Supreme Court to wipe the slate clean, and here and here for the incredible self-exoneration report. If only the world worked this way for all of us! (“I conducted a thorough investigation into the allegations against me, honey, and I can confirm that I did in fact take the garbage out last night.”) I realize that I am a bitter, shriveled husk of a man, but nothing on this earth will give me more joy right now than seeing the FBI perp-walk Paxton out of his office. We all do what we need to do to get through the day. The Chron has more.

Hey, remember when disability rights advocates were worried about the voter suppression bill?

They were right to be worried. Because of course they were.

As polls opened up for early voting this week, disability advocates say they still do not have adequate guidance from the state about new voter assistance rules and worry that the lack of clarity on what constitutes a violation might dissuade people who provide assistance services from helping voters with disabilities.

Republicans enacted restrictions last year on the state’s voting process, including rules on how Texans can assist voters when casting ballots. Texans assisting other voters must now fill out paperwork disclosing their relationship, indicate whether compensation was provided and recite an expanded oath, now under the penalty of perjury, stating that they did not “pressure or coerce” the voter into choosing them for assistance.

Texans who offer or accept compensation for providing voter assistance would be in violation of the new rules, creating anxiety among those who assist people with disabilities as part of their job.

“There are voters with disabilities who use their personal aides or personal attendants to assist them in completing daily tasks, and voting is a daily task,” said Molly Broadway, a voting rights training specialist at Disability Rights Texas, adding that she has already received calls from assistants afraid of incurring criminal charges for activities that are usually part of their duties. “It’s a very present, very real need that exists.”

Texans who drive at least seven voters to the polls are also considered assistants and must comply with new rules on compensation. Broadway said she has heard concerns from nursing home employees who provide transportation to polling places.

The new legislation also limits any kind of voter assistance to “reading the ballot to the voter, directing the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter’s ballot, or directing the voter to mark the ballot.” But voters with intellectual and developmental disabilities might need additional help, such as gestures or reminders about how they had intended to vote, to get through the process, Broadway said.

Broadway has instructed those providing assistance to sign the expanded oath, inform poll workers about the help they’re providing to the voter and reach out to county election offices and request additional accommodations when necessary.

If an assistant appears to be breaching the new rules, poll watchers have been instructed to inform their county’s election administration office. Upon reviewing the case, election administrators may reach out to authorities to investigate the case.

If there’s evidence that an assistant was paid for their services, Potter County elections administrator Melynn Huntley said she would need to refer the case to the attorney general.

“We gather screenshots or copies of the actual papers that may have been signed or not signed, and then we submit them to the appropriate enforcement authority,” Huntley explained.

Brazoria County election director Lisa Mujica said her office has trained clerks around the new regulations for voter assistance. If an assistant appears to be violating the rules, clerks are instructed to step in and educate them about the limitations of their role.

But Chase Bearden, the deputy executive director at the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said that’s part of the problem: Inadequate state guidance has created confusion among voters and leaves the responsibility of determining what may constitute a violation to election workers.

“At the end of the day, we aren’t sure how this is going to play out,” Bearden said. “We’re kind of in the dark and are hoping that most election workers will be fair and want to make sure that people get the assistance they need.”

The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, Disability Rights Texas and other disability rights groups have said they have received little guidance from the secretary of state, which oversees elections, about the steps voters with disabilities should take if they need assistance that conflicts with the regulations established in the new rules.

See here for the background; don’t be confused by the bill number in that post, it became SB1 in the subsequent special session where it ultimately passed. There is of course a lawsuit filed by disability rights activists (among others) against this law, but it has not advanced to the point where action could be taken. (More on that lawsuit here.) Of course these issues were raised at the time, and of course bill authors Briscoe Cain and Bryan Hughes ignored them, because why would they care? And now, if a confused or poorly trained election worker decides that someone’s health assistant is violating the law, the matter may wind up in Ken Paxton’s hands, and we know how fairly and compassionately he handles these matters. So yeah, this is all a giant bag of suck. And that was the point.

Republican incumbents are probably going to win their primaries

Take all primary polls with a grain of salt because polling in primaries is especially tricky. That said, here’s the most recent UT/Texas Tribune polling on the primaries, which also includes a general election gubernatorial matchup.

Republican incumbents in statewide office have significant leads in their upcoming primary races enroute to reelection, and Democrats are still struggling to boost public recognition of their candidates beyond the top of the ticket, according to a poll released Monday by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Politics Project.

The poll of 1,200 registered voters illustrates the significant advantage that Republican incumbents hold within their party after leaning further to the right during the state legislative sessions last year. Additionally, the poll found that surveyed voters were divided on GOP-touted issues like removing books from public school libraries, parental influence in education and restrictive laws on abortion.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton are head and shoulders above their competition in the Republican primaries, according to the responses from the 41% of surveyed voters who said they would vote in the Republican primary. Paxton, who is the most likely of the three to be pulled into a runoff, faces the most significant competition in his race.

On the Democratic side, former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke was the choice for governor of 93% of the polled voters who said they would vote in the Democratic primary. But below O’Rourke on the ticket, a majority of voters said they had not thought enough about the down-ballot Democratic primaries to make an immediate choice between candidates, a sign that the party still has significant work to do to introduce its candidates to voters and disrupt the longtime Republican hold on the state.

In a hypothetical matchup right now between O’Rourke and Abbott — the leading primary candidates in their respective parties — the poll found that Abbott would win the race for the governor’s mansion 47%-37%. The 10-point predicted victory nearly matches the result of a 9-point win for Abbott when the same question was asked in a UT/Texas Tribune poll from November.

Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at UT, said that it’s unlikely that either Abbott or O’Rourke will be able to mobilize partisans on the other side to vote for them in the current political environment. But given recent election results in Texas that have seen Democrats lose by margins smaller than 10 points, Blank said there is still potential for a shift in public opinion — either toward Abbott and O’Rourke — over the next couple of months leading into the general election.

“Looking at previous election cycles and knowing about O’Rourke’s ability to fundraise and generate earned media, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that he’s not likely to chip away at that 10-point deficit,” Blank said. “The question just becomes: How much can he chip away at it?”

O’Rourke has an overwhelming lead in the Democratic primary with the support of 93% of polled voters. No other candidate received more than 2%.

Abbott is up against two challengers from his right — former state Sen. Don Huffines and former Texas Republican Party Chair Allen West. In the poll, Abbott received the support of 60% of the respondents who said they’ll participate in the Republican primary, while West and Huffines received 15% and 14%, respectively.

[…]

Forty-seven percent of likely voters said they would pick Paxton, 21% picked Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, 16% picked former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and 15% picked U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler. The hotly contested battle has spotlighted both ethics and commitment to conservatism, with many of the challengers criticizing Paxton’s legal expertise in their bid to become the state government’s top lawyer.

Blank said that while Paxton has a slimmer poll lead than Abbott or Patrick, the conservative base that he has cultivated during his time in office has made him popular among the Republican primary electorate, which tends to lean further to the right than the broader conservative electorate.

“The fact that, despite all the troubles [Paxton is] facing legally and the presence of three high-quality challengers, he still finds himself close to the 50% threshold is a testament to his strength amongst the Republican primary electorate,” Blank said. “Bush and Guzman are explicitly in the race because of concerns about Paxton’s electability in the general election should he face further legal troubles. They see Paxton as wounded.”

Dan Patrick got 82% of the vote in the poll for the Republican Lt. Governor primary, against opponents I’m pretty sure you can’t name without looking them up – I know I can’t. On the Democratic side, Mike Collier and Rochelle Garza led for Lt. Governor and AG, respectively, but both totals include a significant number of people whose initial response was that they didn’t think they knew enough to say. Like I said, take it with a grain of salt.

The poll data is here, and it has some questions about school library books, abortion, and voting access that add to the pile of data that says recent laws are farther to the right than the electorate at large, but as long as Republicans keep winning statewide there’s no reason to think that will change. As for the GOP primaries, I think Paxton may slip by without a runoff, but even if he doesn’t I’d expect him to win in overtime. And if there’s a higher power out there, he’ll be hearing from the FBI shortly thereafter. That’s my birthday wish, anyway.

Endorsement watch: Jaworski and more

The Chron finishes off the statewide races by endorsing Joe Jaworski in the primary for Attorney General.

Joe Jaworski

No question, Joe Jaworski would be a compelling candidate for Texas attorney general even if he weren’t the grandson of Texas legendary lawyer Leon Jaworski, best known for being Richard Nixon’s handpicked Watergate prosecutor who ended up arguing successfully for the release of damning tapes that outed Nixon’s involvement in the scandal and led to his resignation as president.

But it sure is poetic to have the grandson of a man famed for his conscience, for being the “chief defender of the nation’s scruples,” as Texas Monthly put it in 1977, running against Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican infamous for his lack of scruples, perpetual scandals and never-ending indictments.

“That’s not enough to vote for me,” Jaworski, 59, a mediator, former Galveston mayor and three-term city councilman, said about his grandfather’s legacy. “But it’s a damn good reason to consider me, because his integrity is in my DNA.”

And consider him we did, along with the rest of the impressive candidates on the Democratic slate, which includes Harris County criminal court-at-law judge Mike Fields, Brownsville attorney Rochelle Garza and Lee Merritt, a nationally known civil rights lawyer.

All of them say they can beat Attorney General Ken Paxton and restore integrity to an office that hasn’t seen it in seven years. They share many priorities, including protecting voting rights and women’s right to choose. Several vowed to use the office both legally and as a bully pulpit to advocate for legislative reforms including expansion of Medicaid.

[…]

Jaworski says he’d waste no time turning “Paxton’s voter fraud” division into “Jaworski’s voter access division,” because, as he told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, “you ought to be able to call the government when your voting rights are being impeded or damaged.” He’d also take small but important steps to champion the voting franchise, including sending letters to all Texas high schools reminding them of the Texas law that requires access for eligible seniors to register to vote.

He’d create a civil rights division at an agency that shamefully lacks one. On border security, rather than targeting individual immigrants and families, he’d go after the cartels that operate exploitative human smuggling operations, in part by funding special assistant U.S. attorneys across the border — a tactic he says was last used by then-AG John Cornyn.

Jaworski also plans to advocate for legalization of cannabis for recreational use in Texas, a priority that might seem minor, all things considered, but that carries weightier significance: Removing “wasteful, petty prosecution from the books,” he says, would “usher in long-overdue social and criminal justice reform.” We agree.

I’ve known Jaworski for a few years, going back to his time as Galveston Mayor and his 2008 run for State Senate. He’s terrific, and it’s not possible to overstate how much better he’d be in the job than the piece of crap felon who’s there now. The other candidates merit consideration as well, with Rochelle Garza being the standout among them. It’s a legitimately tough choice.

They go on to endorse in four more judicial races, and if their intent was only to do the criminal courts, then I believe they’re done. We’ll see about tomorrow. Three of these races were challenges to incumbents, the other is for the new 482nd bench. In order:

Judge Chris Morton in the 230th.

Morton, 49, was elected in 2018 and has presided over high-profile cases in his first term. When the man accused of murdering Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal appeared before him in October 2019, he ordered him held without bond. Last August, he issued an order shielding Texas House Democrats — very briefly, it turned out — from civil arrest by the House sergeant at arms, following the lawmakers’ quorum-busing walkout. And when prosecutors charged a Cy-Fair ISD mother for child endangerment, after she was seen letting her 13-year-old out of her locked trunk at school, he resisted the easy call and told prosecutors they hadn’t made their case.

Agree with them or not, those rulings suggest to us an independence that suits a judge well. And while [challenger Joseph] Sanchez is right to urge more focus on reducing the backlog in Morton’s court, the count there is below the average number in Harris County courts. We recommend Morton in the primary.

My Q&A with Judge Morton is here. I did not get responses from challenger Sanchez.

Judge Hilary Unger in the 248th.

Harris County criminal district court judges are increasingly under scrutiny for bond decisions in cases where the defendant, once out of custody, commits a new crime, including murder. Judge Hilary Unger of the 248th District Court is one of them, given a string of incidents where defendants in her court bonded out and went on to commit serious crimes.

Some would argue that such cases make Unger, 59, unworthy of re-election. We disagree. She is the best choice for Democrats in the March 1 primary for two reasons: Her overall record on the bench is a strong one, and because we do not believe her challenger would do better.

Unger supports the bail reform movement, and insists that nearly every defendant deserves a hearing to consider his or her terms for pre-trial release. But her court has the 10th-highest (out of 23 courts) pre-trial detention number, which suggests she weighs those decisions carefully. She would have fewer defendants in detention if she indiscriminately gave personal recognizance or low bonds. She’s also improving her clearance rate, which in the past three months has been 101 percent.

My Q&A with Judge Unger is here. Her opponent is Linda Mazzagatti, who works in the district attorney’s general litigation office, and has not sent me Q&A responses.

Judge Amy Martin in the 263rd.

Judge Amy Martin has earned Democrats’ support in the March 1 primary after one term on the bench in this criminal district court. Martin, 45, was a defense attorney representing mostly impoverished clients, and with experience in death penalty cases, before she was elected in 2018. We endorsed her then, believing that background would serve her well on the bench.

It turned out to be a solid bet. She’s accessible, big on pre-trial diversion programs for people with mental health or substance abuse cases and has ideas for how to expand those efforts to include people on bond.

Despite those progressive ideas, Martin also has sounded warnings that the “spirit of bail reform” that was behind mostly ending cash bail for misdemeanors has bled over into the way felony judges approach bail. In our conversation with her about her approach to setting bonds, we found her thoughtful, balanced and, well, judicious.

I did not get Q&A responses from either Judge Martin or her opponent Melissa Morris, about whom the Chron also said nice things.

Veronica Nelson in the 482nd.

Democrats are choosing among three candidates with the winner set to face Republican Maritza Antu, the current judge in the 482nd who was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to preside over the new court and is unopposed in her party’s primary.

Of the three Democrats seeking the seat, we were impressed with two, Veronica Nelson and Alycia Harvey. We urge voters to choose Nelson, 40, a staff attorney for the county criminal and civil court judges.

She is a former Harris County prosecutor who, over 10 years, gained valuable trial experience as chief prosecutor in the misdemeanor and felony divisions.

As a staff attorney for the judges, she said she spends a lot of time “teaching judges how to be judges.”

She said prosecutors should more often ask for bond hearings, and that judges can be blamed unfairly. Bond is far higher for murder charges than it used to be, she says, and no matter how high judges set it in some cases, defendants are making bail.

My Q&A with Nelson is here and with Harvey is here. I did not get responses from the third candidate, Sherlene Cruz.

The full list of Chron endorsements is here. I’m hoping they will still do the Family court races, but I’m not expecting it. The Erik Manning spreadsheet tracks a gazillion endorsements, so maybe that will help some. Good luck sorting it all out.

Endorsement watch: Almost all of the big ones

The Sunday Chron was full of endorsements, which given the timing and the edition is what you’d expect. Most of them are not particularly remarkable, and I’m not going to spend any time on their recommendations for Beto and Mike Collier on the Democratic side, or Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, or Eva Guzman on the Republican side. Everyone except Collier is obvious, and Collier is both a good choice and the familiar one. Read them as you see fit, but I don’t expect you’ll take much away from them.

There were some other races with more interest, starting with the CD38 primary in which they tapped Duncan Klussman.

Duncan Klussman

Two years ago, Diana Martinez Alexander emerged as top vote-getter in a raucous six-member Democratic primary for a seat on the Harris County Commissioners Court. Now she’s asking party voters to entrust her with their hopes for picking up a seat in Congress, representing the new district Texas lawmakers created following the 2020 Census.

Alexander’s command of the issues facing the next Congress impressed us. So did her background as a teacher in HISD and fighter for causes near to the hearts of Democratic primary voters, as when she told us she’d make voting rights a top priority. “We have to make some progress in protecting our voting rights,” she said. “So that would be the number one priority, because we can’t have anything else if we don’t have a right to vote.”

But we believe it’s another candidate — former Spring Branch ISD superintendent Duncan Klussmann — who will give Democrats the best chance of winning in the fall.

When Texas lawmakers drew the new 38th Congressional District last year, they did so intending to give a Republican candidate the advantage, and the GOP primary field includes well-known and well-financed contenders. Democrats will need their strongest candidate to compete. Despite Alexander’s impressive showing in the March 3, 2020 primary, she lost the subsequent runoff to Michael Moore.

We believe Democrats stand the best chance in November with Klussmann, 58, on the ticket. His priorities are kitchen-table issues all voters worry about. He’d stress getting the supply chain moving, ensuring the Houston area gets federal support for flood mitigation and tackling rising inflation. “Some of us who were around in the 1970s remember when, when my parents were paying 12 percent, 14 percent interest on their mortgages,” he told us. “So we know how that can impact people’s lives.”

Coupled with his experience as superintendent for 18 years, Klussmann’s priorities could help him build broad consensus, something there is far too little of in Congress these days. But he knows fighting for the home team is important, too. He said he’d work to expand Medicaid for Texas and push universal pre-K.

My interview with Duncan Klussman is here and with Diana Martinez Alexander is here; as noted before, Centrell Reed declined the opportunity to be interviewed. Klussman is fine, well-qualified and knowledgeable, and can speak to the experience of being a former Republican, which can certainly be an asset. Lord knows, we’re going to need more people like that. If this election were in 1996, or even 2006, he’d be the strongest candidate on paper. I don’t know how much of an advantage his profile is now, given the shrinking number of crossover voters and potential for some Dem voters to be less enamored with that kind of centrism. I know and trust Diana Alexander and would be inclined to vote for her if I lived in CD38, but you have good options however you look at it.

One race I didn’t have a chance to get to was the SBOE4 race, which is an open seat as incumbent Lawrence Allen is running for HD26. The primary winner will be elected in November, and the Chron recommends Staci Childs.

Staci Childs

Voters have five options in the Democratic primary for the District 4 seat, but two candidates stood out to us as especially impressive.

Marvin Johnson, a former high school math teacher and chemical engineer who is a lecturer at North American University in Houston, had good ideas for how to improve schools, but he struggled with the narrow scope of authority granted to the state school board.

“What I see right now is not working,” he told us, adding that he was “disappointed” to learn how little say the SBOE has over how schools operate when he first filed to run. He’ll try to convince lawmakers and others to join his call to expand its responsibilities, should he be elected.

We’d rather see Democrats choose a candidate who promises to work full-time to improve school curriculum. We believe Staci Childs, a former teacher in Georgia, is that candidate. Though now a practicing attorney, she’s the founder of an education-related nonprofit called Girl Talk University.

We especially liked her ideas about how Texas’ use of TEKS standards — short for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills — is failing some kids and their schools. Often, she said, all that stands between a student and knowing what’s required is a specific gap in their knowledge left unfilled from a previous grade. A quick effort to identify and bridge that gap can quickly allow them to come up to grade level and pass, without the stigma of being held back.

“I don’t want to say remedial, because that has a negative connotation,” Childs told us. “But we need a serious plan to address the TEKS, since … they do not address these learning gaps.”

I will come back to this race for the very likely runoff, as there are five candidates.

Finally, two judicial endorsements. One is for a challenger, Kim McTorry.

Kim McTorrey

Judge Greg Glass has decades of experience as a criminal lawyer in Harris County, but he’s fallen short of expectations on the 208th Criminal District Court bench. We recommend voters give his challenger, Kimberly McTorry, a defense attorney and former prosecutor, a chance to win the seat in the general election.

While we recognize how difficult bond decisions can be for judges, particularly when the right to bail is enshrined in the Texas Constitution, in the case of Deon Ledet, a twice-convicted ex-felon, it is clear Glass made an egregious mistake.

Prosecutors initially sought to have Ledet held without bail even though he hadn’t been charged with a capital crime, arguing he’d twice previously been convicted of a felony. A magistrate judge set bail at $40,000 initially; Glass subsequently agreed to a request from Ledet’s lawyers to reduce his bail to $20,000. Ledet immediately violated the terms of his pre-trial release, and when two Houston police officers showed up at Ledet’s home to serve an arrest warrant, he allegedly shot and killed Officer William Jeffrey.

Glass, 73, told the editorial board his decision to reduce Ledet’s bond was a mistake. “I really feel sorry for Officer Jeffrey’s family, it’s a horrible thing what happened,” Glass said. “If I could change it, I would.”

[…]

McTorry, 34, would bring a balanced perspective to the courtroom, having practiced on both sides of the docket. While she has only recently begun handling second-degree felonies as a defense attorney, we believe her trial experience as a Harris County prosecutor, where she handled thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases, makes up for that relative lack of experience.

“I believe in restorative justice, I believe in criminal justice reform, but I also believe that a judge should be equally as compassionate about the victims of crimes as they are about those who are accused of crimes,” McTorry told us.

My Q&A with Judge Glass is here. I have one in the queue for McTorry that will run tomorrow.

The Chron also went with an incumbent, Judge Frank Aguilar in the 228th Criminal District Court.

There are those who believe Judge Frank Aguilar of the 228th District Court in Harris County is too quick to side with prosecutors’ arguments in court. But in a county whose criminal court judiciary turned over en masse four years ago, and where concerns about rising crime and lax bond decisions are widespread, we aren’t persuaded that Democrats would be wise to part company with a judge in their party with a tough approach to crime. Whether Aguilar wins or his opponent criminal defense lawyer Sam Milledge II does, the party’s nominee can expect that question of how judges handle bond in violent cases to be central to the November general election.

Those considerations aside, however, we believe Democrats should vote for Aguilar, 64, because he’s spent his first term on the bench learning to be a better judge — training the voters have paid for. His docket clearance rate has been 99 percent for cases in the previous 90 days, about average for all judges, and 86 percent for the previous year, a little better than average. He has about 10 percent fewer cases pending than average.

My Q&A with Aguilar’s opponent Sam Milledge is here; I never got a response from Judge Aguilar. I find this endorsement a bit amusing, since they considered Aguilar the poster boy for why electing judges is bad, a sentiment they extended to after the election. Maybe all that gnashing of teeth was a bit over the top, eh? I know they have an all new crew doing these screenings now, but it still raises my eyebrows a bit that they didn’t come close to acknowledging their previous reservations about the incumbent.

So, as of the start of early voting, the Chron has managed to do nearly all of the endorsements they set their sights on. I haven’t tracked the Republican side closely, but on the Dem side the main omissions I see are Attorney General and five Criminal District Courts. I know they’re not doing county courts and JP races, I’m not sure if they’re doing civil/family/juvenile district court – if they are, add all of those to the tab. I’ve got judicial Q&As queued up through Friday; I don’t expect to receive any more responses at this point, but if I do I’ll add them in. Now go out there and vote.

Paxton files corrected finance report

I feel duty-bound to note this.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is in a hotly contested primary, has filed a corrected campaign finance report after he did not disclose a large portion of his donors from the last six months of 2021.

The corrected report was filed Monday, 13 days after it was due to the Texas Ethics Commission. On the original report, Paxton left $2.1 million of his $2.8 million fundraising haul unitemized, meaning he did not include donor information for those who helped give the $2.1 million and who were required by law to be identified. His campaign cited technical issues and promised to file an amended report.

On the amended report, Paxton’s campaign said it has now “itemize[d] all contributions” and dealt with duplicate records.

“The [campaign] continues to resolve some of the issues, and we are happy to provide additional information to the TEC regarding the issue,” the campaign said.

With the corrected report, Paxton revealed 3,846 donations that had not been disclosed on the initial filing, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. The first report included 2,092 contributions, and the latest one shows 5,938.

Some of the top donors who were newly disclosed include the Republican Attorneys General Association, which gave $250,000 to Paxton on the last day of the reporting period, Dec. 31. Paxton also newly disclosed a $100,000 contribution from Holly Frost, a leading Texas GOP donor from Houston, and two $50,000 donations from Dan and Farris Wilks, the West Texas fracking billionaires.

See here for the background. Some people you might shrug and accept a lame excuse about software trouble when they finally submit their corrected finance report almost two weeks late. Here, I have to assume that the utterly amoral and ethics-free Ken Paxton, knowing full well that there’s no mechanism to make him do the right thing, felt pressure from somewhere to fix this. It’s a good outcome, no matter how ridiculous the path we had to take to get to it. How much better it would be to have the state’s top lawyer be someone who respects and follows the law, voluntarily and willingly and in a timely fashion.

We’ll probably never know who Ken Paxton’s big campaign donors are

He has no interest in telling us, and there’s basically no mechanism to make him.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton recently announced a hefty $2.8 million campaign haul, showing the competition he can still raise big bucks while under FBI scrutiny.

But where most of the money came from is a mystery.

Paxton has yet to name all his campaign donors, despite a deadline last week that required disclosure.

Among the missing are those who paid up to $50,000 to rub elbows with Paxton and former President Donald Trump at a fundraiser in December. Entry to the private reception, held at Trump’s swanky Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, started at $1,000.

Paxton’s campaign blamed technical issues for the delay and promised to file an update once fixed. But the campaign has not said when and a spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Lax state ethics laws give Paxton little incentive to move quickly, open government advocates said. The fine for turning in his campaign finance report late is a flat $500, no matter whether it is tardy by a day or a month.

“Texas has the weakest, most corruption-prone campaign finance system in the country,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas. “It is striking that our top law enforcement official can’t manage to meet our extremely low disclosure requirements.”

All statewide candidates had to file reports by midnight Jan. 18 that detailed their fundraising and spending in the second half of 2021. The accounts offer a glimpse at campaigns’ financial health heading into the final stretch before the March 1 primary.

Three Republicans are vying to oust Paxton in what many see as the marquee GOP primary race. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert all posted seven-figure fundraising hauls last week.

Paxton did too. But his report came a day late and named the donors who gave just $652,000 of his $2.77 million total. Details dropped off for contributions made after mid-October.

The report is notable because Paxton’s fundraising was dwindling in late 2020 after several top staffers accused him of abusing the office to help a campaign donor and the FBI began investigating. Paxton has denied wrongdoing, but his GOP challengers say the scandal makes Paxton unfit for office and leaves the post vulnerable to Democratic flip.

Paxton’s fundraising fortunes seem to have shifted last summer when Trump endorsed his bid for a third term as attorney general. The fundraiser at Trump’s club on Dec. 9 reportedly netted Paxton’s campaign a whopping $750,000 – more than he reported raising in the months of July, August and September combined.

Those donors should be disclosed in Paxton’s campaign finance report. Only people who write checks or give cash worth less than about $90 don’t have to be named.

Staff for the Texas Ethics Commission, which oversees campaign finance reporting, have been in touch with Paxton’s campaign, general counsel J.R. Johnson said in a statement. But Johnson said he is “unaware of any planned date for an updated filing.”

Not really much to add here. Paxton doesn’t care about not following the rules, he knows there’s nothing anyone can do to make him follow the rules or enforce any consequences, and he figures that basically no one will care. He’s shown us who he is at every opportunity, and then goes looking for more. John Coby has more.

Can the CCA withstand political pressure?

Sure hope so.

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Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges’ phone lines and email inboxes have been flooded for more than a week by callers angry about a ruling last month that stripped Attorney General Ken Paxton of the authority to prosecute election fraud cases without cooperation of the local district attorney or county attorney.

At least some of the calls were spurred by an automated phone message from Houston activist Dr. Steven Hotze that were sent to tens of thousands of Republicans statewide by his political action committee, Conservative Republicans of Texas. The pre-recorded message, a copy of which was obtained by Hearst Newspapers, included the phone number to the all-Republican court and urged them to call the judges.

“Leave a message that you want the court to restore Paxton’s right to prosecute voter fraud in Texas,” Hotze said. “If this decision isn’t reversed, then the Democrats will steal the elections in November and turn Texas blue.”

The group is also funding radio and TV ads on the subject, said Jared Woodfill, a spokesman and attorney for Hotze.

“It’s Dr. Hotze’s position that the electorate should be able to reach out to the officials they elect,” Woodfill said.

The court’s general counsel Sian Schilhab on Monday said the unusual flood of communications included one email was referred to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which investigates threats against state employees.

Paxton has requested a rehearing of the case, and Hotze and more than two dozen Texas Republican Congressmen, state senators and representatives are supporting him in friend-of-the-court briefs.

[…]

Paxton has publicly blasted the court’s Republican judges for the decision. He and other Republicans have also suggested Democratic district attorneys will not be vigilant against election fraud.

“Now, thanks to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, Soros-funded district attorneys will have sole power to decide whether election fraud has occurred in Texas,” Paxton wrote on Twitter at the time of the decision, referring to the Democratic mega-donor. “This ruling could be devastating for future elections in Texas.”

Other Republicans statewide have made similar comments in pushing for reconsideration.

“The Attorney General’s Office must be able to defend election integrity in our great state,” wrote Sen. Paul Bettencourt, one of 14 state senators who signed onto a friend-of-the-court briefin a statement last week. “We cannot allow our elections to be manipulated.”

See here and here for the background. The Statesman story about this has the most precious sentence I think I’ve ever read, which is that Paxton’s urging people to call the justices’ office and demand that they change their ruling puts him “in an ethical gray area, if not in outright violation of the state’s rules of conduct for lawyers.” Oh heavens to Betsy, not an “ethical gray area”! Not our dear, super-upright Ken Paxton!

I guess I appreciate the fact that no one here is trying to hide their motives, that this is all very clearly about politics and giving Ken Paxton the unfettered power to attack political opponents (primarily Democrats, though you never-Trump Republicans better not sleep too easily either) in whatever fashion he sees fit. They do this by attacking the political motives of district attorneys, because accusing enemies of doing the things you want to do is how it’s done. There’s no way to remove the politics from the process of investigating and prosecuting politicians for alleged crimes, but one can at least be as professional and dispassionate about it as possible. If we had an Attorney General who could be trusted to act in such a fashion, then the likes of Sen. Bettencourt might be able to shepherd a constitutional amendment through the Lege to clarify that point of law that the CCA cited. He’d need to get some Democrats on board to clear the 2/3 majority requirement in each chamber for this, which will never and could never happen as long as the AG is Ken Paxton, or anyone who wants to emulate Ken Paxton. There is a way forward if we really want the AG to have this power, but you sure can’t get there from here.

As for the big question I asked in the title of this post, there’s this.

Randall Kelso, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said courts like the Court of Criminal Appeals tend to be reluctant to reverse to their decisions unless at least one of three conditions are met: There is a change in the facts at the core of the case, the ruling proves to be “unworkable in practice” or judges are persuaded that the decision was “substantially wrong.” Kelso said he did not see how the first two conditions apply to the current situation, and as for proving that the ruling was “substantially wrong,” he added, there is usually a “pretty high burden.”

“Just because the various Texas lawmakers are petitioning, I wouldn’t predict they’d just cave to them and say, ‘We’ve gotta change our minds,'” Kelso said. “It’d be unusual to do it unless” any of those conditions are met.

I sure hope so. If nothing else, I hope their ego kicks in to the point of them muttering “Those idiots don’t get to tell me how to do my job” for however long it takes. It may be our best hope.

Paxton thumbs his nose at open records demand

Water is wet. The sun rises in the east. Ken Paxton DGAF about government, ethics, accountability or any of that other namby-pamby stuff.

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Attorney General Ken Paxton said the Travis County district attorney’s determination that Paxton violated open records laws by withholding information related to his trip to Washington D.C. on the day of the Capitol insurrection was “meritless” and that his office had fulfilled its obligation under the law.

Last week, the district attorney’s office gave Paxton four days to turn over communications requested by the state’s leading newspapers relating to his trip or face a lawsuit.

On Friday, Austin Kinghorn, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, dismissed the district attorney’s findings, saying the office had provided no provisions under the state’s open records law that had been violated and implied that the newspapers had made the requests to publish stories about them.

“In each instance, complainant’ allegations rely on unsupported assumptions and fundamental misunderstandings of the PIA and its requirements,” Kinghorn wrote. “Frustrated that they have failed to uncover anything worth reporting following ‘numerous open records requests to AG Paxton office for various documents,’ complainant newspaper editors have sought to leverage your office’s authority to further their fishing expedition, or worse, manufacture a conflict between our respective offices that will give rise to publishable content for the complainants’ media outlets.”

[…]

In the letter, the attorney general’s office said the newspaper editors base their complaint on an “awareness of a small number of inconsequential documents they believe should have been produced” in public records requests and “baselessly speculate” that Paxton is failing to comply with the open records law.

Kinghorn said the “inconsequential documents” include a text message sent to Paxton’s personal cell phone by a Dallas Morning News reporter and two “spam” emails and an internal email that announced the temporary closure of an office parking garage.

See here for the background and here for a copy of Paxton’s response. This was of course the most predictable event imaginable, and basically serves as the pregame warmup for whatever comes next. Which will be a lawsuit filed in Travis County district court, and after that a million legal maneuvers by Paxton to delay, obstruct, and as feasible ignore the whole process. It will end with a final ruling from the Supreme Court sometime between now and the heat death of the universe. If somehow Ken Paxton is still in office when this is ultimately resolved, it will be incontrovertible proof that we are indeed in the darkest timeline. Adjust your expectations, is what I’m trying to say here. The Chron has more.