Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Beto O’Rourke

Please don’t ever talk to me about “a good guy with a gun” or “hardening the schools” again

The police were there but did nothing.

A gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at a South Texas elementary school walked unopposed onto school grounds, state law enforcement officials said Thursday — and once he was inside, it took police an hour to stop him.

In the days after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety said the shooter encountered a police officer employed by the school district before charging through a back door — and gave conflicting accounts about whether the officer fired at the gunman.

Agency officials now say there was no police officer on campus when the shooter first arrived — but did not explain why they first believed there was.

The gunman crashed a truck in a ditch near the school at 11:28 a.m., fired at two passersby on the street, then entered the school 12 minutes later through a back door before police arrived, DPS officials said Thursday.

“He was not confronted by anybody,” Victor Escalon, a DPS official, said during a press conference Thursday. The agency is leading the investigation into the shooting along with Uvalde police.

The law enforcement response to the active shooter call has drawn mounting scrutiny in the days since the massacre. State law enforcement officials have given vague and conflicting answers on what exactly happened after the gunman arrived at the school, and parents have criticized police for not acting quickly enough to stop the shooter.

At a Wednesday press conference in Uvalde, DPS Director Steve McCraw said that a school police officer “engaged” with the gunman before he entered the school but did not exchange gunfire with the gunman. Other DPS officials were quoted in media reports saying there was an exchange of gunfire at that moment.

That was Wednesday. By Friday, they had gotten the story straight, and the local PD screwed it all up.

The head of the Texas Department of Public Safety criticized the police chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District on Friday, saying he acted too slowly in responding to the elementary school gunman who killed 21 people, including 19 children.

Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the incident commander — identified by the San Antonio Express-News as Uvalde CISD police chief Pete Arredondo — believed the situation was no longer an active shooter, but that of a barricaded suspect.

But 911 calls, reviewed by Texas Rangers, reveal that at least two people inside the Robb Elementary School classroom called police and reported that there were children inside who were alive.

Meanwhile, the shooting continued periodically.

“With the benefit of hindsight, of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was the wrong decision.”

He said once the shooting continued, the incident commander — who he did not identify directly — should have switched back to an active shooter response.

“We believe should have been an entry at that as soon as they (could),” McCraw added. “When there’s an active shooter, the rules change.”

Meanwhile, inside the classroom, children made terrified calls to 911, whispering and asking for help.

All of this has made Greg Abbott mad because he had been out there praising the Uvalde PD’s response before being clued in about how inept they were. He should maybe be mad that all of his party’s “solutions” for stopping mass shootings at schools just don’t work.

Four years after an armed 17-year-old opened fire inside a Texas high school, killing 10, Gov. Greg Abbott tried to tell another shell-shocked community that lost 19 children and two teachers to a teen gunman about his wins in what is now an ongoing effort against mass shootings.

“We consider what we did in 2019 to be one of the most profound legislative sessions not just in Texas but in any state to address school shootings,” Abbott said inside a Uvalde auditorium Wednesday as he sat flanked by state and local officials. “But to be clear, we understand our work is not done, our work must continue.”

Throughout the 60-minute news conference, he and other Republican leaders said a 2019 law allowed districts to “harden” schools from external threats after a deadly shooting inside an art classroom at Santa Fe High School near Houston the year before. After the Uvalde gunman was reportedly able to enter Robb Elementary School through a back door this week, their calls to secure buildings resurfaced yet again.

But a deeper dive into the 2019 law revealed many of its “hardening” elements have fallen short.

Schools didn’t receive enough state money to make the types of physical improvements lawmakers are touting publicly. Few school employees signed up to bring guns to work. And many school districts either don’t have an active shooting plan or produced insufficient ones.

In January 2020, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District received $69,000 from a one-time, $100 million state grant to enhance physical security in Texas public schools, according to a dataset detailing the Texas Education Agency grants. The funds were comparable to what similarly sized districts received.

Even with more funds and better enforcement of policies, experts have said there is no indication that beefing up security in schools has prevented any violence. Plus, they said, it can be detrimental to children, especially children of color.

“This concept of hardening, the more it has been done, it’s not shown the results,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, a public health professor at New Mexico State University who studies school security practices and their effectiveness.

Khubchandani said the majority of public schools in the United States already implement the security measures most often promoted by public officials, including locked doors to the outside and in classrooms, active-shooter plans and security cameras.

After a review of 18 years of school security measures, Khubchandani and James Price from the University of Toledo did not find any evidence that such tactics or more armed teachers reduced gun violence in schools.

“It’s not just guns. It’s not just security,” Khubchandani said. “It’s a combination of issues, and if you have a piecemeal approach, then you’ll never succeed. You need a comprehensive approach.”

I was on the board of our elementary school’s PTA in 2012, when the Sandy Hook murders happened. Our school adopted the “only one entrance” idea then, so even though there were other entrances to the school, you had to go through this one, and be buzzed in, if you wanted to visit. That could easily be defeated by an attacker, of course, but it’s in line with the official Republican response. The other ideas, you know, about limiting access to extremely deadly automatic weapons that can fire dozens of rounds in a few seconds, we’re still waiting on that.

Again, there’s plenty of reporting and analysis out there. You don’t need me to regurgitate it all. What we need, all of us, is a change in political leadership in this state, plus at least two more Democratic Senators, to maybe have a chance to move this forward. (We’ll also have to deal with the radical Supreme Court, but with those two more Democratic Senators, bigger things are on the table.) We’re not going to get anything from the Greg Abbotts and Dan Patricks. We have to get them out of power to have a chance.

UPDATE: Here’s two more things for you to read if you haven’t had enough yet.

Uvalde

I don’t have anything clever or original to say about the horrible tragedy in Uvalde. There’s a vast amount of stories and heartbreaking photos out there, so go and look to the extent that your heart and mental health can endure. I’ll simply note a couple of stories that I think say more about Greg Abbott than any insult I could hurl at him, and the contrast with Beto O’Rourke speaks for itself. I will also co-sign this sentiment, which should serve as a reminder that no matter how little you think of Ted Cruz, he’s worse than that.

There are many things you can do in response to Tuesday’s massacre, and all of them involve getting enough people who have had enough to the polls to throw out the callous nihilists who just don’t care about children being murdered on the regular. There’s also one thing you can do right now that may yield a more immediate effect:

I should note that it’s not clear to me that the city can cancel this convention. There’s a contract that was signed and it spells out the conditions under which one party or the other can back out – I’m not sure what grounds the city would cite. I do know there would be a lawsuit; as you may recall there was one filed in 2020 over the Republican convention in Houston, which the city canceled due to COVID; in the end a federal judge allowed it to happen for sketchy reasons. The city prevailed initially in the state lawsuit but that ruling was vacated earlier this year by the 14th Court of Appeals and the Texas GOP has re-filed its suit. They still may lose, but they’re not done yet, and if the city loses it could be quite costly.

Which doesn’t mean you can’t demand the city find a way to do this anyway. And for sure, you can make sure every one of the ghouls that shows up for that atrocity feels unwelcome while they’re here. I’m just compelled to point this stuff out, it’s what I do. The Chron has more on the planned protest activity. Now go take action and make some good trouble.

UPDATE: Mayor Turner has specifically mentioned the possibility of lawsuits if the city were to cancel the contract with the NRA for its convention. There’s still plenty we can do to make their time here as unpleasant as possible.

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.

How much is Greg Abbott sweating right now?

I hope it’s a lot. It should be a lot.

With temperatures soaring statewide, Gov. Greg Abbott is scrambling to reassure Texans he’s closely monitoring the state’s shaky electric grid as other GOP officials vow to get back to work fixing a system many, including Abbott, declared they had repaired after deadly outages during last year’s winter storms.

An hour after high-level meetings with Abbott, the state’s electricity monitor warned the public that six power plants had failed, forcing the state to call on Texans to reduce air conditioning usage and watch their energy consumption through the weekend. Electric Reliability Council of Texas did not disclose which units had gone offline or when they’d be back up.

ERCOT data showed demand for power in Texas was projected to be within 2,000 megawatts of the total supply by mid-afternoon on Saturday, triggering the conservation alert. Typically the state has a much bigger cushion. When operating reserves drop below 1,750 megawatts for more than 30 minutes, ERCOT can interrupt power for large industrial customers and can call for rotating blackouts if reserves drop to 1,000 megawatts. A megawatt is about enough electricity to power 200 homes on a hot day.

Peak demand on the grid was expected between 5 and 6 p.m on Saturday.

Abbott, who said last June that lawmakers did “everything that needed to be done” for the grid, released a photo of himself on Friday, meeting with officials from ERCOT and the Public Utilities Commission in his office just over an hour before the conservation warning was sent out.

“We continue to work closely to ensure Texas’ power grid remains reliable & meets the needs of Texans,” Abbott said.

[…]

Democrat Beto O’Rourke has been blistering at rallies, reminding voters that more than 700 Texans died, by some estimates, when the grid failed in 2021 during the winter storms. Lawmakers had been repeatedly warned that the power grid needed reforms, but those warnings had largely been unheeded until millions of Texans were left without power during the record freezing temperatures last winter.

O’Rourke has been campaigning on forcing more weatherization requirements on energy providers and connecting the Texas grid to the national grid to ensure the state can tap into national emergency supplies when needed, something Republicans who control the Legislature have declined to do.

On Friday, he blasted Abbott for waiting until after 5 p.m. on Friday to make ERCOT put out their conservation alert, even though he had been meeting with them well before that.

“He doesn’t want Texans to know that he STILL can’t keep the power running in the energy capital of the world,” O’Rourke said on Friday after the ERCOT alert went out.

By the time you read this, the worst is likely to be over, and maybe there haven’t been any power outages resulting from the extra demand on the grid. But you know, it’s not even halfway through May yet. There will be more opportunities for us to be told to turn the A/C down as the temperatures creep up towards 100. Maybe if Greg Abbott had spent some of that federal COVID relief money on fixing the grid instead of having the National Guard write jaywalking tickets we’d be better off now.

Here are some tweets to sum it up:

The classics always have something to say to us.

How will the evisceration of abortion rights affect the election in Texas?

I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows.

Less than two hours after Politico reported Monday evening that the U.S. Supreme Court appeared ready to overturn Roe v. Wade, Beto O’Rourke leaped into action.

“It’s never been more urgent to elect a governor who will always protect a woman’s right to abortion,” the Democratic gubernatorial candidate tweeted.

The next morning, he hosted an Instagram Live with Cecile Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood and the newest member of his campaign. By noon, he emailed supporters asking for a donation to help him fight for reproductive rights. He quickly scheduled abortion rights events in Austin and Houston through the end of the week.

O’Rourke, who is polling 11 points down from Gov. Greg Abbott, is seizing on a moment that Democrats have long feared was coming — the end of a constitutional protection for the right to have an abortion. But many Democrats said they’re hopeful that the looming threat of such a stunning political sea change could provide the strongest opportunity yet to energize their voters heading into an election year in which Republicans have been expected to dominate in Texas and beyond.

“Everyone’s got to pull their oar in the same direction, and we’ve got to do it with a common purpose,” said Wendy Davis, a former Democratic state senator who rose to prominence in 2013 for a 13-hour filibuster of a bill to restrict abortion access in Texas. “I know I intend to really lean into that message as we go into November — that we have a real opportunity to break through and elect Democrats at the statewide level from Beto O’Rourke down in a way that we haven’t before.”

The poll cited is one by the Texas Politics Project; It was from mid-April, so well before the draft opinion leaked. It was also the first poll result we’ve seen since mid-March, and looking at the Reform Austin poll tracker, it’s on the high end of results for Abbott. I suppose it made sense to cite the most recent polling data, but a little more context might have helped.

Beyond that, who knows? Maybe there will be a polling effect – the first national poll since the opinion leaked didn’t show much of an effect, but it’s very early days. It’s also important to remember that the words and actions, or lack of actions, by the various political actors will have their own effect, either to amplify or dampen people’s initial reactions. We also don’t know how long any of this may last, or if the official release of the opinion, whether toned down a bit or not, will stir everything up again or just get an echo of the current reaction since it will be in a sense old news. There’s a 100% chance that numerous red states will use the Dobbs ruling as a springboard for all kinds of crazy things, and who knows how that will go. Right now, there are big crowds attending protest rallies and Beto events that are doubling as protest rallies; Beto’s been drawing good crowds for months now, but the protest part of it is new. How long will that last? What will Greg Abbott and his team of dark artists do with the millions he’s been hoarding in response? What might come along to take attention away from what is happening now? Like I said, I don’t know. Neither do you, and neither does anyone else. We’ll all learn about it in real time.

Beto calls for expanded gambling

It’s fine. Good politics, given the polling.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

Democrat Beto O’Rourke said if he’s elected governor he’s “inclined to support” expanding casino gambling and legal sports betting in Texas, the first time he’s publicly addressed the issue on the trail.

During a press conference in Dallas, O’Rourke said Texans are already going across state lines for casino gambling and sports betting and Texas is losing out on billions of dollars in revenues that are going to other states.

“From listening to Texans across the state, it’s one, a very popular proposal, and two, it would also help us address some of the challenges we have in reducing inflation and property taxes in the state,” O’Rourke said. “So I think that warrants a very close look and it’s something I’m inclined to support.”

O’Rourke’s has also talked about legalizing marijuana to produce more revenues for the state budget. The combination of additional money from gambling and marijuana would allow the state to reduce reliance on property taxes to fund the government.

But getting it done is no easy feat in Texas where the Republican-held legislature hasn’t given the issue much serious consideration at all.

We’ve talked about this subject plenty, and I won’t bore you with a recap of it all. Suffice it to say that this is something that polls well and allows Beto to go on the offense, but has little to no chance of passing the Senate even if Dan Patrick loses. But it’s worth talking about, especially if paired with a promise of property tax cuts, and it may move a few votes. Go for it.

Abbott ends his border hostage-taking

I cannot get over how stupid and cynical this was, and yet it may be politically successful.

Gov. Greg Abbott reached a fourth and final deal — this one with Tamaulipas’ governor on Friday — to end state troopers’ increased inspections of commercial vehicles at international bridges that gridlocked commercial traffic throughout the Texas-Mexico border for more than a week.

The latest deal should bring trade back to normal after Abbott-ordered enhanced inspections at key commercial bridges caused over a week of backups that left truckers waiting for hours and sometimes days to get loads of produce, auto parts and other goods into the U.S.

At a press conference with Abbott in Weslaco, Tamaulipas Gov. Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca said his state will continue its five-part security plan, launched in 2016, that includes stationing police every 31 miles on state highways, personality and polygraph tests for officers in the state police department, increasing salaries for police officers and offering scholarships for the children of state police officers.

Abbott said the deals with Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas were “historic,” calling them an example of how border states can work together on immigration. But three of the four Mexican governors said they will simply continue security measures they put in place before Abbott ordered the state inspections.

[…]

When he announced the initiative last week, Abbott said the goal was to stop illegal drugs and migrants from being smuggled into the state. As of Friday, the Department of Public Safety had not reported any drugs seized or migrants apprehended as a result of the state inspections.

Emphasis mine. Keep that in mind, that in the end basically nothing has changed and nothing was accomplished. Sound and fury, all the way down.

Abbott’s critics say the Texas governor’s order was a political ploy to raise his profile in his reelection campaign which has disrupted the economies of Texas and the four Mexican border states.

“A lot of our members are absolutely flabbergasted that this was allowed to happen and that it happened for so long for the sake of border security,” said Dante Galeazzi, president of the Texas International Produce Association. “We feel like we were used as bargaining chips.”

Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the November election, said Abbott is doing a victory lap for a problem he created.

“Abbott is the arsonist who torched the Texas economy by shutting down trade with Mexico to score cheap political points,” he said. “Now he wants credit for putting out the fire by announcing these ridiculous ‘security agreements.’ Texans aren’t buying it and we’ll never forget the chaos Abbott has caused to our economy and our border communities.”

Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group for human rights in the Americas, said Abbott may have made a political miscalculation with the inspections.

“This seems like it’s not working out for him. His base is pro-business and anti-immigrant and he has just antagonized business while giving voluntary free rides to immigrants,” he said, referring to another Abbott order that has provided bus rides to Washington, D.C., to transport asylum-seekers who have been processed and released by federal authorities — if they volunteered to go.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political science professor at George Mason University who studies U.S.-Mexico relations, said she struggled to understand why Abbott would issue a border directive that would inflict so much damage on his own state’s economy.

“Why shoot himself in the foot? Well, he’s not. He’s calculating,” she said. “This is part of a political spectacle because we are in midterm elections and the economy is bad.”

Abbott can take action that would negatively impact the state economy and not have to pay a price for it because voters are already blaming the Biden administration for inflation, Correa-Cabrera said.

“He’ll probably blame Washington for the unrest and anger that this crisis is going to cause voters,” she said. “You have the perfect excuse to run in an electoral year and to support your party in an electoral year but [you generate] the sense that the other party is to blame for the situation.”

See here, here, and here for the background. We have noted the strategy behind Abbott’s otherwise empty and meaningless actions, and there is certainly a logic and appeal to them. We like to think that reality is a good defense against this kind of concentrated bullshit, but in the year of our Lord 2022 we should know better. Talking about why it’s bullshit is the main hope. Stories like this are good for that effort.

Eladio Cordero, a produce worker at Trinidad Fresh Produce in the McAllen Produce Terminal Market, sorted through jalapeños Thursday — about one in three had orange spots. A few feet away from him, dozens of flies buzzed around a pile of browning onions.

Every day at the terminal, where hundreds of trucks pass through to drop off tons of Mexican-grown goods, the fruits and vegetables that have gone bad are picked out and thrown away.

“The merchandise comes from Mexico and by the time it crosses it can go bad, and those are losses,” said Gustavo Garcia, a floor manager for Trinidad Fresh Produce, a distributor at the terminal.

After Gov. Greg Abbott ordered state inspections on commercial vehicles entering from Mexico last week, the stack of garbage-bound onions grew taller. The jalapeños that didn’t survive the long journey into the U.S. were discarded. Garcia said he doesn’t know if retailers will still want to buy the aging produce he keeps, but if they do, the price will be marked down at least 30%.

[…]

Felix, a 60-year-old Mexican trucker who was transporting tomatoes, onions and avocados, waited about 13 hours in line at the bridge. He asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of retribution and targeted inspections from CBP officials.

Hearing of the delays at the border, he packed water and food for a few days. But other truckers didn’t come as prepared and were sitting in standstill traffic without anything to eat or drink. Felix said he was told by a CBP official that the agency would put portable bathrooms along the bridge for the gridlocked truckers, but he never saw them.

Once Felix made it to the state troopers’ inspection point around 9 p.m., he said they didn’t even peer into his truck, which had been sealed since Mexican authorities inspected it about 600 miles away in the state of Sinaloa.

“There’s no possibility of bringing illegal immigrants in the merchandise or in the cabin,” he said, referencing one of Abbott’s explanations for the inspections. “I can’t bring an illegal immigrant here for money because I know [inspectors] are going to discover them. It’s not a thing here. I don’t know what the politicians’ ideas are. I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

[…]

The delays caused by the state’s inspections are the latest blow to farmers and produce businesses in the Rio Grande Valley since 2020. Last year’s winter freeze damaged millions of pounds of product. The pandemic forced companies to size down their workforce and implement virus mitigation strategies. And inflation is sending costs for business needs like fertilizer, diesel and packaging materials soaring.

But Bret Erickson, former president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association and a current executive with Little Bear Produce, a Texas produce grower and distributor, said this latest setback is different.

“There’s nothing you can do about Mother Nature; that’s just part of the farming business,” Erickson said. “But when you’ve got a politician go out and make a decision like Gov. Abbott did, it’s like a slap in the face.”

“Anytime that we are losing a day of business, there’s always a lasting impact,” he added. “Every day that goes by that we haven’t been able to receive these loads, those are sales dollars that we will not get back. Those are dollars that are not going to be returned to our employees’ paychecks, because they didn’t work.”

Seems like that could put a bit of a dent into the Republicans’ much-vaunted strategy to main gains in South Texas. But for that to happen, we’ve got to talk about it, and by “we” I mean Democrats at every level, from the President on down. And more importantly, we’ve got to talk to the people who were on the short end of this stick, to hear their concerns and make sure they know whose fault this was. And not for nothing, but there’s a ton of material for political ads in this. The Chron has another example of people who were directly affected speaking up, in this case some folks who are otherwise aligned with Abbott.

“Governor Abbott is directly responsible for applying these new senseless inspections on our industry as well as the adverse impact they are having on the economy and hardworking Americans, including truckers,” said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear. “We ask that the Governor scrap his misguided scheme immediately.”

[…]

When Abbott ordered the inspections earlier this month, he told DPS officials it was because drug cartels “do not care about the condition of the vehicles.” On Friday he said through the inspections DPS has taken hundreds of trucks off the road that could have injured Texans on the roads and highways.

But as the inspections snarled commerce at the border, Abbott was getting increasing blowback from businesses and other Republicans who worried he was blocking legal transportation across the border and not really slowing illegal immigration.

The American Trucking Association said the impact of Abbott’s inspection program was too much for their workers.

“Additional layers of new screening for motor carriers – who are already subject to significant screening and have a strong record of compliance – provides little safety benefit, while the congestion and impact on our already stressed supply chain will cause the price of goods to rise,” Spear said.

The ads write themselves, but someone has to make them and run them. What are we waiting for?

One more thing, in regard to how much safer these dumb inspections supposedly made Texas highways:

If we’re not talking about it then nobody is.

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.

Texas Lyceum: Abbott 42, Beto 40

Not bad.

On Friday Texas Lyceum released its annual statewide poll, a major survey on the top issues facing Texans and their opinion on Texas leaders.

The biggest attention-grabbing news from the poll is just how close things are at the top of the ticket in the 2022 gubernatorial race.

Gov. Greg Abbott leads Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke by only two percentage points, 42 to 40, according to the poll.

(The poll of registered voters also shows 14 percent haven’t thought about it or are voting for someone else.)

It’s the tightest polling released on the race yet. On average, polling on the race since January shows Abbott leading O’Rourke by 8 percentage points according to RealClearPolitics.

Toplines are here, the Lyceum polling page is here, and crosstabs are here. They have President Biden’s approval at 43-54, which is actually pretty good in comparison to other recent results – this could be any number of things including random chance and a Dem-leaning sample, or it could be reflective of things like the response to Russia/Ukraine and the receding (for now at least) of COVID – which is better than Trump’s outgoing approval in 2021 of 41-56. They also have Greg Abbott’s approval at 47-47, way down from the 59-38 they had him at in 2021. Like I said, this could be any number of things – all the other poll data we have is from February or so, which is a long way back at this point – but for sure the closeness of the race, and the low 42% number Abbott gets in the head to head matchup with Beto is likely correlated with these other figures. As always, the best thing to do is wait and see if other polls are similar or if this one stands out.

More on the oligarch suing Beto

From the Observer; I’m picking it up after the initial statements by Beto that got Kelcy Warren’s undies in such a wad:

Free-speech advocates and many legal scholars have long decried these sort frivolous lawsuits—known as SLAPPs, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation—as a blatant abuse of the country’s legal system by powerful and wealthy people and corporations in an attempt to silence outspoken activists, critical reporters, and rivals alike.

“Kelcy Warren is far from the first billionaire to file a lawsuit against someone who says something they don’t like. … And even though they’re highly unlikely to succeed on the merits, they file them anyway,” Evan Mascagni, policy director for the anti-SLAPP advocacy group Public Participation Project, told the Observer.

“SLAPP-filers don’t go to court to seek justice. Rather, they file these meritless lawsuits to silence, harass, and intimate their critics. Defending against a meritless lawsuit can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and clog up the court system for years while at the same time having a chilling effect on the writer or speaker.”

With one of Abbott’s top donors going directly after his political ally’s opponent, Warren’s lawsuit marks an unprecedented incursion into Texas politics—one that is likely to only further elevate the mega-donor’s role in the most high-profile election this year. It seem to be an unwelcome move for Abbott, whose campaign promptly issued a statement saying that it had no involvement with the suit. O’Rourke, meanwhile, is spoiling for the fight—and has doubled-down in his rhetoric in the wake of the lawsuit. Earlier this month, O’Rourke compared Abbott to Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him an “authoritarian” and a “thug,” and said, “he’s got his own oligarch here in the state of Texas”—an apparent reference to Warren.

The law firm—Kasowitz Benson Torres—that Warren hired to take on O’Rourke is notorious for aggressively litigating these types of suits on behalf of its powerful clients, including his company, Energy Transfer Partners. The firm’s founder, Marc Kasowitz, was also the longtime attorney for the infamously litigious former President Donald Trump.

[…]

While it’s not clear if O’Rourke will ultimately file a motion to get the suit tossed, experts say the state’s anti-SLAPP law was created for cases like these.

“My general impression of the lawsuit is that it’s very much subject to dismissal under the TCPA,” Lane Haygood, an Odessa-based lawyer who has worked on free-speech cases in the state, told the Observer.

“The statements that could survive [an anti-SLAPP dismissal] are the ones that get closest to accusing Mr. Warren of committing a specific crime,” Haygood added. “There are a couple of times that O’Rourke uses words like extortion or bribery, which are defined crimes under the Texas Penal Code. But they are also rhetorical shorthand and hyperbolic, and so in context, Texas courts are generally likely to hold that such language is not specific enough to be actionable defamation. It is the difference between saying ‘John Smith assaulted me on September 4, 2021,’ and ‘John Smith is a bully who beat me up.’ ”

O’Rourke has dismissed Warren’s claims as blatantly frivolous, saying that everything he’s said is based on publicly available facts and media reports. So far, he’s indicated that he wants to let the case play out—paying for any legal costs with campaign funds. This week, his attorneys filed motions to change the venue of the lawsuit to a court in his home of El Paso County and called for a trial by jury.

Under the state’s anti-SLAPP law, O’Rourke has 60 days from the date he was served—February 28—to file a motion to dismiss. It’s not uncommon for attorneys to wait until the deadline to do so in case the defendant files an amended petition, Haygood said.

Or O’Rourke may see the public spectacle of this lawsuit as a political gift that’s well worth going to court over—especially since his ample campaign funds should easily cover the legal costs of a drawn-out legal battle.

See here and here for the background. Beto has basically until the end of April to file a motion for dismissal, which is still the legally sound strategy. Politically, though, it likely makes more sense to say “bring it”, and start filing tons of motions for discovery. I have no idea what Beto will do, but I’d love to sit in on his next call with the lawyers.

Beto responds to oligarch’s lawsuit

Game on.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke is blasting a pipeline company executive and top donor to Greg Abbott’s re-election campaign for filing a defamation lawsuit against him as he tries to unseat the two-term Republican governor.

O’Rourke’s attorney filed a legal response to the suit in San Saba County on Monday saying it lacked any factual or legal grounds and that O’Rourke denies all the allegations made by Kelcy Warren, a major Abbott donor.

O’Rourke is also asking for a trial by jury. He calls Warren’s lawsuit an attempt to stop him from talking about the role pipeline companies like Warren’s played in causing power outages during the February 2021 freeze that killed over 200 Texans, by the state’s count.

“But no matter how much money they have, or how hard they try to silence me in the courts, I will never back down from standing up for the people of Texas,” O’Rourke said.

[…]

Since 2019, Warren has given Abbott $1.25 million, making him one of Abbott’s top four financial backers for his re-election campaign.

Warren, from Dallas, is chairman of the board at the gas pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners and its former CEO. Abbott over the years has appointed Warren to high-profile boards and commissions — Warren is a member of the University of Texas Board of Regents and was previously a member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

Warren’s lawsuit alleges that O’Rourke is trying to “publicly humiliate Warren and discourage others from contributing to Gov. Abbott’s campaign.”

“What Mr. Warren is interested in stopping are the irresponsible, defamatory and highly offensive statements by Mr. O’Rourke related to his donation to Gov. Abbott’s campaign,” says a statement from Energy Transfer Partners.

See here for the background, and look deep in your heart for all the sympathy you can muster for this poor, maligned, misunderstood billionaire who only wanted to get an exorbitant return on his investment. Is that so much to ask?

Some details, for the lawyers:

From that first document:

The Plaintiff sued O’Rourke for defamation, and claims venue is proper (indeed, mandatory) in San Saba County because he resided here when the allegedly defamatory statements were made. Original Petition, ¶ 10 (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §15.017).

This claim is untrue. Although the Plaintiff does effectively control some real property in San Saba County, most of it is: (1) undeveloped; and (2) held in the name of an entity that the Plaintiff controls, not the name of the Plaintiff. The evidence shows the Plaintiff in fact lives in Dallas County, Texas, where his homestead is located, where he is registered to vote and where he actually, physically resides. Because the Plaintiff has Filed suit in a county other than a county of mandatory venue, the Court must grant this Motion to Transfer Venue and order the suit to be transferred to El Paso County, Texas, the county of O’Rourke’s residence.

And from the second:

Without waiving the right to plead further, Defendant specially excepts to the remainder of Plaintiff’s claims because Plaintiff has failed to assert factual and legal grounds for recovery against the Defendant under Texas law, or any other applicable law, for the remainder of his purported causes of action. The Defendant requests that Plaintiff be ordered to replead to state a legally actionable cause of action within a specified reasonable time and, upon Plaintiff’s failure to do so, that Plaintiff’s claims against the Defendant be dismissed.

I Am Not A Lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that’s fancy lawyer-speak for “This whole thing is bullshit”. You love to see it. I hope this is giving Greg Abbott indigestion. The Daily Beast has more.

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.

Precinct analysis: Abbott’s weak spots

Is this a thing?

As dominating as Gov. Greg Abbott’s GOP primary victory on Tuesday looked at first blush, a closer look at the results shows a nagging problem within his own party that could ultimately cost him in his race against Democratic nominee Beto O’Rourke.

Although two-thirds of the Republican Party voters statewide backed Abbott for a record-tying third term as governor, some of the most important GOP counties in Texas signaled the continuation of a mini-revolt against him.

In fast-growing Montgomery County, Abbott won 56 percent of the vote. That’s a strong number in most counties, but in rock-solid red Montgomery it’s eyebrow raising. No county was more important for former President Donald Trump in Texas in 2020 than Montgomery. He won 71 percent of the vote there — the biggest win of any county with at least 100,000 voters in Texas.

And in Collin County, a GOP suburban stronghold north of Dallas with a strong tea party contingent, Abbott hit 60 percent. Again good, but well behind the 70 to 80 percent he won in places like Bexar, Cameron on the border and Potter County in the Panhandle.

The results hint at a problem other Republicans have been talking about for months. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said there is a contingent of voters within the Republican Party who are very angry with Abbott over the way he handled the pandemic and who might just skip the race.

“There’s no way they’ll ever vote for Beto, but they aren’t going to vote for Abbott,” Miller said.

[…]

But in past races, Abbott, an attorney and former judge originally from Wichita Falls, hasn’t had any trouble with the Republican base. In his races for attorney general and governor since 2002, Abbott never had serious primary opponents. This year he drew two of them in Huffines and former Texas Republican Party chairman Allen West. Huffines spent more than $15 million and West $2 million in their bids to challenge Abbott.

Both got in the race last year, citing Abbott’s handling of the pandemic. Abbott easily weathered the attacks, winning 66 percent of the Republican Primary vote.

Still, public polling shows the problem Abbott has with the GOP base. In the latest Texas Politics Project poll from the University of Texas, 74 percent of Republicans approved of the job Abbott has done as governor. While high, it is more than 10 percentage points lower than where Abbott was two years ago just before the pandemic hit. At times, Abbott had an 89 percent job approval rating from Republicans before the pandemic, according to past University of Texas polls.

As with the Beto comparison post, here are the counties with at least a thousand votes being cast where Abbott, who got over 66% of the vote overall, got less than sixty percent.


County       Abbott Huffines    West   Abbt%   Huff%   West%
============================================================
Ochiltree       502      169     261  47.18%  15.88%  24.62%
Caldwell      2,384      312     174  50.74%   6.64%   8.00%
Brewster        678       54     446  50.75%   4.04%  33.38%
Mitchell        594      103     190  53.13%   9.21%  16.99%
Montgomery   40,112   16,057   9,185  56.14%  22.47%  12.85%
Kerr          5,368    1,294   1,928  56.90%  13.72%  20.44%
Gillespie     3,758      547   1,486  58.33%   8.49%  23.06%
Brazoria     17,922    4,984   4,076  58.68%  16.32%  13.35%
Wise          5,857    1,304   1,696  58.73%  13.08%  17.01%
Waller        2,803      822     591  58.94%  17.28%  12.43%
Hansford        727       84     218  59.15%   6.83%  17.74%
Collin       47,434   13,088  11,616  59.72%  16.48%  14.62%

In Caldwell County, The Other Rick Perry got 1,400 votes, good for a mind-boggling 29.80% of the total. He also got 12.12% of the vote in Starr County, though that represented only 132 votes cast. Nowhere else did he come anywhere close to that. If anyone can come up with a good guess as to what the heck was going on in Caldwell County, please let me know.

There’s not a whole lot these counties have in common. They’re all around the state. Most are indeed quite red, but Brewster (a border county on the western end of the state, home of Alpine where longtime Democratic State Rep. Pete Gallego was from) was carried by Beto in 2018 with 52.5% of the vote; Trump carried it in 2020 with 51.0%. Collin and Brazoria are suburban counties that are red today but trending Democratic, Caldwell is smaller and more exurban than suburban – east of Hays and Comal, south of Travis – but it too has moved slightly left over the past decade. Montgomery is of course the red king of Texas, in terms of size and growth and Republican share of the vote, while Kerr is a western hill country place about a third of the size of Montgomery’s little brother Comal and just as red. The rest are a deep shade of crimson.

Is any of this a real threat to Abbott? I feel like this is a funhouse mirror reflection of the “Beto in Latino counties” discourse from four years ago. It’s enough to inspire some questions, but unless the likes of Allen West and Don Huffines are actively campaigning against Abbott this fall, I don’t think it will matter much, if at all. Maybe some of the truly deplorable contingent stays home, or skips the Governor’s race out of spite. I’ll be delighted if that happens, but I won’t be holding my breath. If Beto’s going to win, it’s going to be one part generating the kind of wave we got in 2018, one part getting some crossovers because of an issue like marijuana legalization or the freeze, and maybe one part some Republican fatigue or frustration with Abbott. Like I said, I’ll be more than happy to see Abbott underperform in any or all of these counties. I’m just not betting the election on it.

Can Beto legalize pot?

He’s gonna try. It’s not entirely up to him, though.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke is making Texans a promise: If they elect him as governor, he’ll legalize marijuana.

Shortly after his resounding victory in Tuesday night’s primary, O’Rourke asked a crowd of supporters in Fort Worth: “Don’t you think it’s time we legalize marijuana in the state of Texas? I do too. We can get that done.”

He reiterated his position again on Twitter in the days following.

The issue could come up often on the campaign trail later this year, as O’Rourke prepares for a face-off against Gov. Greg Abbott in November. Abbott, a Republican, has only gone as far as to suggest the drug should be decriminalized.

[…]

The November general election is widely expected to benefit Republicans, and Abbott is the favorite in the gubernatorial contest. But if O’Rourke pulled off an upset, he’d still have to work with the conservative state Legislature — including [Lt. Gov. Dan] Patrick, potentially — on any proposals.

A June 2021 poll by the University of Texas at Austin found that 60 percent of Texans believe possession of small or large amounts of marijuana for any purpose should be legal.

Another 27 percent said the drug should only be allowed for medical purposes, and 13 percent said it should be outlawed entirely.

The story correctly notes that Dan Patrick is the main obstacle to any pot decriminalization/legalization bills passing, though in a world where Beto gets elected Governor, it seems likely to me that Patrick would also lose. (Pause for a moment to enjoy the thought.) He’d still definitely face a Republican Senate and very likely a Republican House, and it would be up to them to pass a bill that he could sign. Beto is correct to note that Republicans like weed too, but that is not the same as saying that a Republican legislature will be willing to give the first Democratic governor in almost 30 years a signature win on an item he campaigned on. I mean, I’m old enough to remember when Republicans liked the idea of a market-based private-insurance national health care law, and we know how that went.

I think if we get to that point Beto can certainly use the pot issue as a means of applying pressure on the Republicans, and it might serve as leverage for cutting a deal. I wouldn’t rule anything out now, but in the absence of a Dem trifecta, which we emphatically will not get, everything will be deeply politicized, and whatever people (especially Republicans) are for or against now doesn’t matter once Governor Beto makes an issue of it. Let’s hope we get to have that fight, but do keep some perspective about it. Reform Austin has more.

Precinct analysis: Beto’s range in the 2022 primaries

When you get 91.34% of the vote in an election, as Beto did in the Democratic primary for Governor, there’s usually not a whole lot of interesting data beneath the surface. But you never know until you look, so I went and got the numbers for the Dem gubernatorial primary by county and sorted them by Beto’s percentage. Here are some highlights from that:


County      Diaz%  Cooper%   Beto%   Voters
===========================================
Maverick   16.40%   10.48%  60.71%    6,653
Frio        8.14%    6.87%  71.72%    2,518
Dimmit     10.41%    7.97%  71.98%    1,845
Duval       8.18%    6.73%  75.62%    1,858
Webb        8.55%    5.29%  77.02%   17,675
Jim Wells   8.23%    6.57%  78.71%    3,866
Cameron     6.99%    4.71%  81.46%   19,705
Hidalgo     6.44%    3.87%  81.68%   37,309
Jefferson   2.35%   12.72%  83.33%   12,637
El Paso     2.93%    2.14%  91.61%   37,017
Fort Bend   2.64%    3.69%  92.02%   39,613
Harris      2.10%    3.22%  92.83%  157,880
Nueces      2.63%    2.52%  93.17%   13,426
Dallas      1.98%    3.14%  93.53%  126,203
Tarrant     2.18%    3.03%  93.77%   73,413
Bexar       2.30%    1.38%  94.13%   94,334
Montgomery  2.25%    1.87%  94.13%   10,585
Travis      2.98%    0.85%  95.00%  108,831
Denton      1.85%    2.01%  95.09%   27,340
Collin      1.77%    1.36%  95.48%   36,368

I limited myself to counties where at least a thousand votes had been cast, though obviously I didn’t include all of them. Maverick was easily Joy Diaz’s best county, while Jefferson (where he’s from) was Michael Cooper’s best. I didn’t include the other two candidates in this table because they weren’t interesting, but Inno Barrientez had his best showing in Frio County, with 8.02% of the vote.

You might look at some of these places and think that this is a sign of weakness on Beto’s part, since the low-scoring places are mostly heavily Latino. I would invite you to consider how he did in these counties in 2018 before you arrive at such a conclusion.


County    Beto 18  Beto 22
==========================
Maverick   22.13%   61.71%
Frio       23.84%   71.72%
Dimmit     29.07%   71.98%
Duval      41.58%   75.62%
Webb       41.65%   77.02%
Jim Wells  40.24%   78.71%
Cameron    46.77%   81.46%
Hidalgo    50.50%   81.68%

Sema Hernandez got over 60% in Maverick, almost 60% in Frio, and over 50% in Dimmit. She won a plurality in Duval, Webb, and Jim Wells, and had over 40% in Cameron and Hidalgo. I largely pooh-poohed the “Beto underperformed in the Latino counties!” hot takes in March of 2018 and I stand by that, but however you felt about those numbers then, it’s very different now.

He really crushed it in the big counties, with Collin the winner as Most Beto-est County Of Them All. You could do this same sort of comparison with 2018 as well if you wanted – Beto got 65.5% in Collin in 2018, 57.7% in Dallas, and 59.1% in Harris – but all we’re really saying is he got a lot more votes from basically the same size electorate. However you slice it, that much remains.

One of Abbott’s billionaire patrons just sued Beto

OMG, this is amazing.

The former CEO of one of the nation’s biggest pipeline companies and a major donor to Gov. Greg Abbott is suing Democrat Beto O’Rourke for defamation, slander, and libel for talking about his company’s role in the 2021 Texas winter storm and referring to the executive’s subsequent donations to Abbott’s re-election as “pretty close to a bribe.”

Kelcy Warren, who was a top executive at the gas pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners, filed suit against O’Rourke in San Saba County, seeking more than $1 million in damages from O’Rourke, claiming he is trying to “publicly humiliate Warren and discourage others from contributing to Gov. Abbott’s campaign.”

O’Rourke on Monday responded with a press conference just 5 miles from Energy Transfer Partners’ headquarters in Dallas calling the lawsuit “frivolous” and aimed at trying to stop him from telling the truth about what happened before and after the deadly storms on Abbott’s watch.

“He is trying to stop me from fighting for the people of Texas,” O’Rourke said. “And just as we did before, we are not backing down right now.”

For months, O’Rourke has been blasting Abbott for accepting a $1 million contribution from Warren after the Texas power grid failure during the storm. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Energy Transfer Partners made an additional $2.4 billion last year when the state’s grid manager pushed power prices sky-high to end rolling blackouts. The freeze killed more than 200 people by the state’s estimate and resulted in billions in property damages.

O’Rourke said all he’s done is “connect the dots” for people so they see how Abbott received generous donations from companies that profited on the winter storms.

During a campaign stop in San Antonio last month, O’Rourke said energy companies have essentially paid off Abbott for not being more aggressive and holding them accountable.

“That’s pretty close to a bribe by any definition that I’m familiar with,” O’Rourke said in San Antonio, though he did not call out Warren by name.

Warren also took issue with O’Rourke retweeting a story from Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA in January which details how another energy company, Luminant Corp., had filed a complaint against Energy Transfer Partners with the Texas Railroad Commission. Luminant says in the complaint that Energy Transfer Partners threatened to shut off gas supply to the company unless it paid $22 million in fees connected to the 2021 storms. O’Rourke retweeted the story, with a comment: “That’s extortion.”

In the court filing, Warren’s attorneys argue that O’Rourke’s heated rhetoric has been damaging to “Warren’s reputation and exposed him to public hatred, animus, contempt or ridicule, or financial injury.”

See here and here for some background. A copy of the complaint is here. I almost don’t know where to begin with this. Well, okay, how about what an absolute whiny crybaby snowflake? Did that mean ol’ Beto hurt your widdle fee-fees? Poor, poor, obscenely wealthy baby.

I Am Not A Lawyer, so I’m not going to pretend I know what the likelihood of success for poor downtrodden Kelcy Warren is. I do know that it’s likely months before this ever sees the inside of a courtroom, and if it somehow manages to survive a motion to dismiss it could be a couple of years before we get to the deposition and pretrial hearing stages. But suppose we were to have the lawyers on each side begin the discovery process right now. Who do you think would be more nervous about it, Beto or Abbott? I kind of don’t think Beto will have much to hide. How many emails and texts between Abbott and Warren do you think they might find?

I mean, has anyone introduced ragtag man of the people Kelcy Warren to the Streisand Effect? What better way to make sure that Beto’s main campaign theme is a topic for every local news station to cover on a regular basis? I’ve already seen tweets to this effect, but my first reaction was that Beto is going to have to list this lawsuit as an in-kind donation to his campaign on the July finance report. You literally can’t buy this kind of publicity.

I guess most of us will never understand the pain and suffering and angst and ennui of common folk like Kelcy Warren. We should be grateful to him for performing this service for us. May we come to know him and his inner turmoil much more intimately now. The Trib, who so insensitively refers to Warren as an “oil tycoon”, has more.

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.

Some thoughts on Primary Day

Will we learn more about the mail ballot debacle?

Mail ballot usage during early voting has dropped precipitously since 2018, with tens of thousands of voters — especially Republicans — ditching the forms after two years of the GOP’s baseless claims that absentee voting facilitates fraud.

By the end of early voting on Friday, roughly 77,000 mail ballots had been processed in Texas’ 15 most populous counties, representing .7 percent of registered voters there. Four years ago, the total was 126,000 — about 1.3 percent of voters in those counties. (The Secretary of State does not provide statewide early voting totals for the 2018 election.)

The dropoff is most dramatic among Republicans, whose party has repeatedly alleged, without evidence, that state-approved expansions of mail ballots during the pandemic led to widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

During the last midterm primary election in 2018, more than 67,000 Republicans in the state’s most populous counties filled out a mail ballot by the close of early voting. This year, the total hasn’t cracked 27,000.

The number dropped slightly for Democrats, too. More than 50,000 Democratic voters in those counties have cast an absentee ballot this year, compared to 59,000 in 2018.

[…]

By the time the application deadline passed on Feb. 18, Dallas County had rejected about 15.7 percent of all forms, the majority of them for a missing or incorrect ID. In Travis County, the rejection rate was 9 percent.

Now, county officials are dealing with the same problem for the actual ballots, which must be submitted by Tuesday. As of Friday, 30 percent of mail ballots were rejected over the new ID law in Harris County. In Dallas, it was 27 percent.

We’ve discussed this before. We need to know more about what happened with mail ballots. Remember, there were two parts to this, one for the application for the mail ballot, and one for the ballot itself. How many applications, from each party, were initially rejected for not using the right form or not being filled out correctly, with the right voter ID information? How many of those were subsequently fixed, and how many were never resolved? Of the mail ballots that were then sent out and returned, how many from each party were initially rejected for (again) not having the right voter ID information included? How many of those were then fixed and successfully submitted? Of the people who didn’t get their mail ballots fixed and returned, how many then voted in person? How many people who voted by mail in the 2020 and/or 2018 primaries and who are still on the voter rolls did not vote at all this year? More data, please!

What do you think the Expectations Line is for the gubernatorial primaries?

What will likely be the biggest heavyweight battle for governor of Texas in nearly 30 years is just days away from getting underway in Texas.

While Gov. Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke have been sizing each other up and jabbing at one another in nearly every corner of the state, both have unfinished business on Tuesday. But first they need to finish off a collection of underfunded primary challengers.

What little public polling there has been suggests neither Abbott nor O’Rourke has much to worry about on Tuesday, but that hasn’t stopped an urgency from slipping into the stump speeches as they plead with supporters to go vote.

“We’ve got to get everyone turned out,” O’Rourke told a crowd of supporters in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley last weekend despite a recent University of Texas poll showing him winning the primary with 90 percent of the vote. “We’ve got to make sure we reach out to everybody.”

The same poll had Abbott avoiding a runoff by holding on to 60 percent of the vote in his primary. Yet in El Paso earlier this week at a get-out-the-vote rally, Abbott warned his supporters that “freedom itself is on the ballot.”

The article is mostly about the forthcoming general election battle between the two, but I’m curious what number the pundits will have in mind for their percentage of the vote in the primaries. Remember, when Beto got 61.8% in the three-way 2018 primary, it was seen as underperforming, even to the point of speculation from some corners that the overall Beto experience was overhyped. I think we know how that turned out. I also think we all expect Beto to do a lot better than 61.8% this time around, even though he has a bigger field and one opponent who managed to draw some attention, even though she’s basically been invisible since then. Beto is much better known this time and he’s been at least as active as he was in 2018, so maybe 75% for him? There are always some people who do their own thing. The only number that really matters is 50%+1, and after that it’s all in the interpretation. I’m not going to worry about it.

As for Abbott, I fully expect him to win without a runoff. (I still think Ken Paxton will, too, but I won’t be surprised to be wrong about that.) Abbott got 90% against two no-names in 2018 (I will give you $1 right now if you can tell me who they were without looking it up), but he ain’t getting that much this time around. Being forced into a runoff will be seen (correctly) as a disaster for Abbott, but if he clears the fifty percent line, I think he’ll be seen as the winner regardless of by how much. Remember, Rick Perry in 2010 got only 51% of the vote in his primary, but because he led KBH by 20 points (because no one took Debra Medina seriously) it was seen as a resounding victory for him. I think Abbott wins in round one, Huffines and West split the super-crazy vote so that he has a sizeable margin against each of them, and nobody talks much about the primary afterwards. Anyone disagree with that?

Of course, your vote in the Republican primary for Governor is really a vote for your favorite jackboot billionaire. Also mostly true in the Republican legislative primaries. Maybe we should talk a little more about that?

Here’s the Derek Ryan email for the end of early voting:

Good afternoon! Early voting wrapped up on Friday and the final totalsare that just over one million people voted early (or by mail) in the 2022 Republican Primary and 620,000 people voted early (or by mail) in the 2022 Democratic Primary. That means roughly 6% turnout on the Republican side and 3.6% turnout on the Democratic side.

In the 2020 Republican Primary, 54.5% of votes were cast by mail or during early voting. If those percentages hold up this year, that would equate to around 1.85 million votes being cast in the Republican Primary. (In the 2018 Republican Primary, there were 1.5 million votes cast.)

In the 2020 Democratic Primary, 49% of votes were cast by mail or during early voting. If those percentages hold up this year, that would equate to around 1.3 million votes being cast in the Democratic Primary. (In the 2018 Democratic Primary, there were one million votes cast.)

The average age of voters in the Republican Primary is 62.6 years old while the average age of voters in the Democratic Primary is 58.5 years old.

14.1% of votes cast in the Republican Primary are voters who did not vote in any party’s primary between 2014 and 2020. On the Democratic side, that percentage is 13.8%. These are individuals who have been general election-only voters, but it also includes voters who have moved to the state, just become eligible to vote, and individuals who have been registered to vote but haven’t participated in an election over the last eight years.

Only half of voters who voted in all four of their party’s last four primary elections ended up voting early. Over 85% of these individuals typically end up voting in a midterm primary election and there are 248,000 of these on the Republican side and 107,000 on the Democratic side who have not voted early.

I’ve based most of my comparisons on 2018, as it’s a non-Presidential year, but there’s no reason not to take 2020 into account. Ryan will have two more reports after Election Day.

Finally, a bit of final turnout data from Hector DeLeon:

I’ve made my guesses, now we’ll see what the reality is. The 19th has more.

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.

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: 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.

How the grid held up

Basically, this cold front wasn’t anything like last year’s cold front.

Texas’s power grid passed its biggest test since last year’s deadly blackouts, keeping most lights on during a wintry blast. This storm, however, was far less severe than last year’s monstrous one, leaving questions whether the state is really ready for another deep freeze.

While reforms politicians enacted in the past year did help keep power plants running, analysts and power-market experts say the biggest reason things went so smoothly was it simply wasn’t as cold for as long. That meant natural gas kept flowing and wind turbines worked far better, helping the grid meet the increased power demand as millions of Texans cranked up electric heaters.

“The grid held up fine for a couple of reasons: the weather wasn’t as bad as we thought, and wind overperformed,” said Michael Webber, an energy professor at the University of Texas. “The demand wasn’t as high, and the supply wasn’t as low.”

[…]

Gas flowed freely during this week’s storm, but that’s largely because it didn’t get cold enough.

“The state still remains vulnerable because we have not set requirements for winterization of the gas system,” said Webber, who’s also chief technology officer at venture fund Energy Impact Partners. “As such, the reliability of gas production is still flimsy.”

In Dallas, last year’s temperatures fell as low as -2 Fahrenheit (-19 Celsius), and there were 11 straight days with highs below 40 degrees. This year, forecast lows are around 10 degrees, and meteorologists expect just three consecutive days with highs below 40.

In Midland, the hub of the oil- and natural gas-rich Permian Basin, last year saw eight consecutive days when temperatures never rose above freezing, which crippled the flow of gas and starved power plants of fuel. This time, Midland didn’t have back-to-back days when the mercury stayed below 32 degrees.

“The last one was both longer and more extreme,” said Marc Chenard, a meteorologist at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.

While Ercot didn’t ask consumers to conserve, widespread closures of schools and businesses helped cut down on consumption. Peak demand for electricity was significantly lower and a bit later than anticipated Friday morning, with consumption hitting 69 gigawatts when Ercot previously projected record demand of 75.6 gigawatts. A gigawatt is enough to power about 200,000 Texan homes.

And don’t forget the coin miners. Like Slytherin in the Battle of Hogwarts, the coin miners did their part.

In the short run at least, this is good for Greg Abbott, whose bet paid off. By the same token, though, we’ve spent the last few weeks talking about the freeze, reliving our experiences from it, and expressing a big lack of confidence in the grid, even if it did stay up this time. We still have the actual one-year anniversary of the freeze coming up in about a week, so we’re not done yet with the trauma of it all. That can’t be great for Abbott. He won his bet, which meant he didn’t get absolutely pummeled by circumstances that he had some control over but did nothing to affect, but the payoff was mostly that he broke even. That’s probably good enough for him since he’s leading in the polls, but winter isn’t over yet, and I doubt too many people are feeling better about it. The DMN has more.

Two new polls of the Governor’s race

One is in the news.

Beto O’Rourke

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is running 11 percentage points ahead of Democrat Beto O’Rourke in this year’s race for Texas governor, according to a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll released Sunday.

Buoyed by 2-to-1 support among whites and a growing number of voters who identify as Republican, Abbott leads O’Rourke in a hypothetical matchup, 47%-36%. He even holds a narrow lead over O’Rourke among Hispanics, 40%-39%.

Registered voters are not in a great mood about Texas’ current direction: 50% say things are on the wrong track, compared with 49% who say the state is headed in the right direction.

Still, Abbott dodges much of the blame. His job rating has held at a respectable net approval, 50%-45%. While he’s still underwater with independent voters, with only 37% of them approving of how he’s performing, he draws unfavorable views from just 38% of all voters.

President Joe Biden is viewed unfavorably by 57% of Texans. That may be one factor weighing down O’Rourke, who in November was only six percentage points behind the incumbent. Abbott also has been linking the former El Paso congressman and presidential candidate to Biden, saying in ads that O’Rourke is too liberal and untrustworthy to lead Texas.

The poll, conducted Jan. 18-25, surveyed 1,082 adults who are registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Abbott increased his lead over O’Rourke, which in November stood at just 45%-39%, with modest, “single-digit shifts” among various constituencies, said UT-Tyler political scientist Mark Owens, the poll’s director.

You can see the poll data here and the previous DMN/UT-Tyler poll here. That result was from late November, and it was followed by terrible Quinnipiac result a couple of weeks later. This polling outfit has been eccentric at times, and definitely wasted a lot of energy on ridiculous McConaughey hypotheticals, but it’s a data point and we haven’t had one of those in awhile. They also polled the various primaries, and I would not pay much attention to any of it. Not because of them, but because polling primaries is extremely random, especially given how few people really pay attention to them. Look at the individual race numbers yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.

The results that are of greater interest, as others have noted, are on the issues that voters say are of interest to them:

As a public policy issue for this year, should it be a higher priority to strengthen of the electricity grid or secure the Texas-Mexico border?


Strengthen The Electricity Grid 50%
Secure the Texas-Mexico border  41%
I am not concerned about either  8%

Should it be a higher priority to enforce regulations to stop the spread of the coronavirus or secure the Texas-Mexico border?


Reduce coronavirus infections   52%
Secure the Texas-Mexico border  42%
I am not concerned about either  6% 

Are you more likely or less likely to support an elected official if they supported a mask mandate during the pandemic or do you not care?


More likely     45%
Less likely     22%
Absolutely not  10%

Some school districts have mandated masks be worn in school and others have not. Should masks be required in all K-12 classrooms, allow school districts to decide, or no mandates at all?


Required                41%
Allow schools to decide 28%
No Mandate              25%

Do you support or oppose local governments requiring people to wear masks or face coverings in most public places?


Support  57%
Oppose   35%

Do you support or oppose employers requiring vaccination or weekly testing from their employees?


Support 52%
Oppose  39%

In terms of the issues, this is not a bad place for Beto to be. We’ve talked a lot about how what people say they want in polls and what they actually vote for often diverges, and this may be another example of that. But the driving factor in the polls we’ve seen before is that the numbers are the result of Dems and Republicans being polar opposites, while independents modestly favor the Dem position. Here, while Republicans all fall more on the Abbott side of things, they are fairly evenly divided on the mask questions. Indies are less passionate about most of these than the Dems, and are just barely in favor of employer vaccine mandates, but they are strongly in favor of the other things, with majority support for most. Again, maybe this doesn’t do much to move votes, but these are things Beto is talking about, and it’s way more fun to be on the majority side of questions like these.

There is one other poll we can talk about:

I can’t find anything on the UH Hobby School page, but after looking all weekend I finally found a tweet that pointed me to their polling data. As noted, Beto does better with Latinos in this sample, and the partisan numbers (91-5 for Beto among Dems, 89-3 for Abbott among Rs) make more sense to me than what DMN/UT-Tyler has (72-14 among Dems for Beto, 74-10 for Abbott among Rs). But as always, it’s one result and we shouldn’t read too much into it. They have numbers for each primary race as well – it’s the main focus of the poll – which should be taken with the same large grain of salt. I suspect we’ll start seeing more general election polling going forward.

Beto starts strong on fundraising

Good start, needs more of same.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke raised $7.2 million in the first 46 days of his campaign, while Republican incumbent Greg Abbott raked in $18.9 million over the last six months as his war chest topped $65 million.

Both campaigns announced their latest fundraising figures Tuesday morning, hours ahead of the deadline to report them to the Texas Ethics Commission. O’Rourke’s campaign went first, touting his opening haul — which covers Nov. 15 through Dec. 31 — as unmatched by any Democratic campaign in state history.

Abbott said in a statement his contributions “show just how excited Texans are for this campaign.”

The figures confirm what has long been considered the case: O’Rourke is a strong fundraiser, but he is up against a juggernaut in Abbott, at least when it comes to the money the governor has saved up. O’Rourke did not release his cash-on-hand number, but he was effectively starting from scratch when he launched his campaign in November, and his $7.2 million period means his cash on hand remains a fraction of Abbott’s reserves. Abbott had $55 million saved up for his reelection campaign at the end of June.

O’Rourke’s campaign said he got over 115,600 contributions over the 46-day period, while Abbott’s team said it received nearly 159,000 donations from July through December. Abbott’s campaign said it had an average contribution of “just over $119,” while O’Rourke’s team did not volunteer that number.

O’Rourke’s latest fundraising number includes $2 million that his campaign said he collected within 24 hours of announcing his run. Expectations have been high for O’Rourke’s fundraising after he proved a fundraising phenom during his 2018 run against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, when he raised more than $80 million. O’Rourke was subject to federal campaign donation caps in that race; Texas has no such restrictions.

Abbott’s haul was not entirely surprising. His campaign already reported raising $9.5 million on a series of reports that were due around the three, roughly monthlong special legislative sessions that occurred during the half-year period.

If you want to look at it on a rate basis, Beto’s $7.2 million in 46 days would equate to almost $29 million over six months. Easy to say, of course, harder to do. And yes, Abbott is currently sitting on a mountain of money, some of which he’s spending now on ads during the NFL playoffs. (When I am named dictator for life, I will ban all political ads on live TV events that I personally want to watch.) Beto doesn’t need to equal Abbott in fundraising – that would be nearly impossible in any event – he just needs to raise enough to run the campaign he wants to run. I wish he’d gotten started sooner, but he’s on the right track now. Don’t let up on the gas.

I’ll be posting summaries of campaign finance reports over the next couple of weeks as they come in and I have the time. I’m very interested to see what some certain Harris County candidates have done.

Austin aims for pot decriminalization

We’ll see how this goes. I suspect the measure will pass, but I’m not sure it will be allowed to take effect.

As greater numbers of Texas voters sour on harsh punishment for marijuana offenses, Austin voters will likely decide in May whether to effectively decriminalize the drug.

The ballot measure, pushed by the group Ground Game Texas, would forbid Austin police officers in most cases from ticketing or arresting people on low-level pot charges like possessing small amounts of the drug or related paraphernalia — unless the offenses are tied to more severe crimes. The city also would not pay to test substances suspected to be marijuana — a key step in substantiating drug charges.

Both practices have already been informally adopted in Austin, but advocates want to solidify them at the May ballot box.

“The primary effect is that it would make the decriminalization that exists in Austin today actually long term and would put the force of law behind it,” said Chris Harris, policy director at Austin Justice Coalition.

[…]

But the measure faces one big obstacle: Although marijuana laws in Texas have loosened somewhat in recent years, the drug remains illegal at the state level.

Public support for harsh marijuana laws and prosecutors’ willingness to bring charges for minor offenses has waned in recent years.

The number of new charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession fell by 59% from 2016 to 2020, according to figures from the Texas Office of Court Administration, as prosecutors in the state’s major urban areas have increasingly deprioritized marijuana prosecutions.

Most Texas voters support decriminalizing marijuana in some form. Three-fifths of Texas voters say at least a small amount of marijuana should be legal, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll last year.

That support cuts across partisan lines. Nearly three-fourths of Democrats and independents think marijuana should be legal. So do 43% of Republicans, a plurality of that group.

It’s against that backdrop that Ground Game Texas — a progressive group focused on issues of “workers, wages and weed” — plans to mount decriminalization campaigns in Killeen and Harker Heights.

As the story notes, there’s an effort by Ground Game Texas to put a similar measure on the ballot in San Marcos. The City Council in Denton recently voted down an ordinance to do the same there, a move that perhaps validates this approach. The Austin police union, which has been resistant to the earlier efforts to decriminalize pot, is staying out of this election, but who knows what they might do afterward.

So what happens if this passes, as I expect it will? One obvious possibility is legal action to require the enforcement of the state laws. I’m sure there’s someone who’d be willing to be the plaintiff in such a filing, and no one has to encourage Ken Paxton to swing a bat in Austin’s direction. Legislative action is also possible – again, there’s nothing a Republican likes more these days than filing a bill to stop a city from doing something that legislator doesn’t approve of. A complicating factor in all this is that Greg Abbott is mumbling a few words in favor of being less harsh about pot, likely in recognition of the polling on this issue and Beto’s stronger pro-pot stance. I don’t know how much that complicates things for the keep-pot-criminal crowd, but it’s another dimension. I don’t know which way this will go, but it all starts with the measure being passed, and I feel pretty confident about that.

On the campaign trail again

It’s good to be back.

In the 2020 election cycle, many campaigns in Texas went fully virtual as the coronavirus pandemic, then a new and uncertain threat, bore down on the state. They held virtual rallies, phone banks and fundraisers, trading in clipboards and walking shoes for webcams and microphones.

As the weeks went on, though, Republicans resumed in-person campaigning and managed to stave off a massive Democratic offensive in November. Democrats later admitted that their decision to suspend door-knocking and other in-person activities hurt them.

Now, nearly two years later and with a new COVID-19 variant surging across the state, Democrats appear set on avoiding the same mistake. Few, if any, Democratic campaigns have gone fully virtual, and many are pressing forward with in-person campaigning while taking some precautions.

“Like everyone else across the globe, we are keeping a close eye on the Covid-19 Omicron Variant and assessing the risks associated with this surge,” Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Angelica Luna Kaufman said in a statement. “However, there is a lot at stake this midterm election and in-person campaigning will be a critical component to engaging voters and winning these races.”

She emphasized the country is “not in the same situation as we were in 2020.” Vaccines are widely available, and people are well-practiced in how to stay safe in public.

Still, the omicron variant looms large, and the campaign trail has not been immune to it. Some forums are still being held virtually, and candidates, staffers and volunteers are having to deal with the logistical challenges that come when one of them tests positive amid the fast-spreading variant.

[…]

Democrats’ most celebrated candidate this cycle, gubernatorial contender Beto O’Rourke, has been regularly campaigning in person since launching his bid in November. He has been holding larger events outside, and his campaign asks attendees to wear masks and encourages them to be vaccinated. The campaign has made rapid testing available to attendees at some events.

“Speaking with Texans one-on-one is at the heart of our campaign,” O’Rourke’s campaign manager, Nick Rathod, said in a statement. “After holding 70 events in 30 cities during the first weeks of our campaign, we remain committed to meeting Texans where they are and will continue to closely follow” public health guidelines.

O’Rourke’s first campaign event since omicron began surging in Texas was Saturday in El Paso. Attendees were told “masks are strongly encouraged regardless of vaccination status” and that they would be provided for those who need them. On event sign-up pages, attendees were also told that by attending, “you understand and accept the risks associated with COVID-19.”

O’Rourke’s campaign is already block walking, though those who volunteer to do so have to sign a “COVID-19 Block Walk Safety Agreement Form.” Among other things, the form requires volunteers to wear masks when not eating or drinking and maintain their distance from voters “at all times possible.”

O’Rourke was among the Democrats who lamented the party’s refusal to campaign in person ahead of the 2020 election. He had been deeply involved in the fight for the Texas House majority through his Powered by People group, which shifted virtually all its activities online because of the pandemic. Writing to supporters days after Republicans swept Texas in the election, O’Rourke said one of the lessons was “nothing beats” talking to voters “eyeball to eyeball” and that “there is a safe way to do this, even in a pandemic.”

Not much to add here. To whatever extent the virtual campaigning of 2020 led to lesser outcomes than we might have had otherwise, no one wants to do that again. Most in-person events right now are being done virtually, but that is temporary. I’m certainly ready to see a bunch of my political friends in person again, in our natural environment. To that, here’s a little song you might know:

Happy trails, y’all.

Beto for legalizing weed

I do think this is a winning campaign theme.

Beto O’Rourke

At a crowded rally in downtown Austin, Beto O’Rourke ticked off his usual laundry list of campaign promises: stabilizing the power grid, rolling back the state’s new permitless carry law and expanding health care access.

But the El Paso Democrat got some of the loudest cheers of the night when he promised to legalize marijuana in Texas, something he said “most of us, regardless of party, actually agree on.”

“I’ve been warned that this may or may not be a popular thing to say in Austin, Texas,” O’Rourke said to the crowd gathered in Republic Square Park in December. “But when I am governor, we are going to legalize marijuana.”

The support is nothing new for the gubernatorial candidate. O’Rourke has championed legalization efforts throughout his political career, ever since his time as a member of the El Paso city council. He also nodded at the policy throughout his failed campaigns for U.S. Senate and for president.

But in his early run for governor, O’Rourke, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has repeatedly mentioned legalizing marijuana on the campaign trail across Texas. Advocates hope the increased attention will give momentum to legalization efforts in a state with some of the harshest penalties and highest arrest rates for marijuana possession.

[…]

If O’Rourke becomes governor, his plans to legalize marijuana would face another set of hurdles in the form of the Texas Legislature, particularly Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the state Senate.

After the House in April 2019 gave preliminary approval to a bill that would have reduced criminal penalties for Texans possessing small amounts of marijuana, Patrick declared the measure dead in the Senate.

There’s been some momentum for more progressive marijuana policies within Patrick’s party in recent sessions. In 2019, state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, and state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, filed bills that would relax laws restricting medical cannabis access. Both of those reforms failed to become law. But Gov. Greg Abbott in May did sign a watered-down expansion of Texas’ medical marijuana program to include people with cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Patrick did not comment for this story. In a previous statement to The Texas Tribune, a Patrick spokesperson said the lieutenant governor is “strongly opposed to weakening any laws against marijuana [and] remains wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.”

Abbott didn’t answer questions on his position regarding marijuana legalization.

Legalization advocates hope O’Rourke’s candidacy can move opinions among state leaders on relaxing marijuana restrictions.

“Hopefully with Beto O’Rourke presumably being the Democratic nominee, we can push the other candidates in the race to talk about this issue more, to come to the table and have a conversation about how these policies are having negative impacts on our state,” said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.

Marijuana legalization draws some broad support across the state. According to a June 2021 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, 60% of Texas voters say at least a small amount of marijuana should be legal. That figure includes 73% of Democrats, 74% of independents and 43% of Republicans.

Mike Siegel, the co-founder of Ground Game Texas, a nonprofit focused on supporting progressive policies around “workers, wages, and weed,” said the issue is an opportunity for O’Rourke to reach independent or nonaligned voters.

“[Marijuana policy] is a major opportunity for [O’Rourke] to reach out to middle of the road, independent or nonaligned voters and even some Republican voters,” Siegel said. “A governor’s race that’s high-profile like the one that is coming up, where it could be Beto O’Rourke versus Greg Abbott, that’s the best opportunity to push these populist wedge issues.”

But Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin, said marijuana legalization isn’t a “terribly important issue” for voters on its own. Its political salience depends on the issues tied to the policy, he said, whether that is the economy, criminal justice system or health care.

As the story notes, this is a longstanding issue for Beto, going back to his days on El Paso City Council more than a decade ago as well as his time in Congress. I do think this is an issue that can move votes and motivate less reliable voters, though of course it has to be part of a bigger structure. I could see the overall message as being basically that Abbott is out of touch with what typical Texans want, with “not freezing to death because of massive power grid failures” being the first item on that list. Basically, how effective this will be as a campaign issue is largely what Beto can make of it. For now, I’m happy to see stories like this one.

Three comments about three vaccine mandate news stories

Item one:

A U.S. district judge in North Texas has blocked a mask mandate and vaccine requirement for staff and students in the Head Start program that was issued by President Joe Biden.

Head Start is a federal school readiness program for young kids in low-income families that is administered nationally by the federal Health and Human Services department, but run locally by nonprofits or schools. Biden previously ordered that staff running Head Start programs must be vaccinated and all students over the age of 2 had to wear masks. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lubbock ISD sued the Biden administration to stop enforcement of that order.

U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix, a 2019 appointee of Republican President Donald Trump, ruled Friday that the Biden administration could not enforce its mask and vaccine mandates for the Head Start program in Texas, although the mandates would continue in other states.

Hendrix wrote that the process by which the Biden administration implemented the mask and vaccine rules was in violation of federal law because such rules could only be put in place through a detailed process or with the authorization of Congress. The order applies until the judge holds a trial and issues a final decision on the full merits of the case, or if it is lifted by a higher court.

Item two:

In the state’s latest push against federal vaccine mandates, Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced plans to sue the Biden administration for requiring Texas National Guard members to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The suit would be the latest in what has been a slew of litigation against federal vaccine mandates that Texas has either brought forth or taken part in during the pandemic.

In a letter issued Tuesday to Maj. Gen. Tracy R. Norris, the adjutant general of the Texas National Guard, Abbott claimed authority to exempt Texas guard members from receiving the vaccine.

Item three:

A federal judge in Fort Worth granted an injunction Monday against the Department of Defense and the Biden Administration that temporarily halted the U.S. Navy’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The mandate is challenged by a group of U.S. Navy SEALs and other Naval special warfare personnel who say the mandate violates their religious freedom and they have been denied religious exemptions from receiving the vaccine.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas signed the injunction order after hearing testimony from several Navy SEALs in December as part of the group’s lawsuit. The suit is against President Joe Biden, the Department of Defense, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro.

My comments:

1. It is impossible to overstate how much Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton are on the side of the COVID virus. They themselves are vaccinated, because they are not stupid and want to stay alive, but they absolutely do not care how many people die as a result of COVID. They see only political advantage in making the pandemic worse.

2. They will always be able to find Trumpy judges to plead their cases to, and will generally get favorable rulings from them as a result.

3. The only way to stop the state of Texas from filing these lawsuits is to elect a Democrat as Attorney General. Electing Beto O’Rourke as Governor would also help, as he would be less likely to impose pro-COVID executive orders.

Any questions?

Nobody bullshits like Greg Abbott

Some stories I blog about require subtle thought and detailed analysis. Others pretty much speak for themselves.

The two most powerful people overseeing Texas’ electric grid sat next to each other in a quickly arranged Austin news conference in early December to try to assure Texans that the state’s electricity supply was prepared for winter.

“The lights are going to stay on this winter,” said Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, echoing recent public remarks by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Two weeks earlier, Abbott had told Austin’s Fox 7 News that he “can guarantee the lights will stay on.” The press conference that followed from Lake and the chief of the state’s independent grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, came at the governor’s request, according to two state officials and one other person familiar with the planning, who were not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“It was 150% Abbott’s idea,” said one of the people familiar with the communication from Abbott’s team. “The governor wanted a press conference to give people confidence in the grid.”

A source close to Lake said the idea for the press conference was Lake’s, and the governor supported it when Lake brought up the idea during a meeting.

Abbott has for months been heavily involved in the public messaging surrounding the power grid’s winter readiness. In addition to the press conference, he has asked a major electric industry trade group to put out a “positive” public statement about the grid and has taken control of public messaging from ERCOT, according to interviews with current and former power grid officials, energy industry trade group representatives and energy company directors and executives.

But the messaging has projected a level of confidence about the grid that isn’t reflected in data released by ERCOT or echoed by some power company executives and energy experts who say they’re worried that another massive winter storm could trigger widespread grid failures like those that left millions of Texans without power in February, when hundreds of people died.

Abbott has also met one-on-one with energy industry CEOs to ask about their winter readiness — but those meetings happened weeks after Abbott made his public guarantee about the grid.

“You’d think he would have asked to meet with us before saying that,” one person involved in the energy company meetings, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said of Abbott’s guarantee.

Ten months after the power grid failures caused hundreds of deaths and became national news, an election year is approaching and Abbott’s two top primary challengers and his top Democratic challenger have already been harshly criticizing the governor over his handling of the power grid.

“It might be a good political move, but it’s just a political move,” Peter Cramton, an energy markets expert and former ERCOT board member who resigned after the storm, said of Abbott’s promise. “It’s not surprising. His fate is on the line. So this is a sensitive political issue now.”

The details may be news, but the basics have been known for some time. Abbott has bet the 2022 election on there not being a freeze big enough to cause another massive blackout. When we make it through the winter without anything bad happening – and let’s be honest, the odds of another freeze like this past February are pretty small, though perhaps the odds of any kind of freeze are higher – he will claim full credit for “fixing” the problem, even though he has done nothing of the sort. But who are you gonna believe, your own uninterrupted power supply or those yappy liberals?

I, being more risk averse and being the type of person who wants to actually, you know, do things, would not take this approach. But given that he was never going to advocate for something that would make a difference anyway, why not double down? The odds are in his favor, if not ever in his favor. Just remember that no matter what happens over the next three months or so, it was all bullshit. Every last bit of it.

Joy Diaz joins the Governor’s race

I wish her luck, but I don’t think she’s going to get very far.

Joy Diaz

After 16 years on the airwaves in Austin as a journalist at KUT and the public affairs show, “Texas Standard,” Joy Diaz announced Wednesday that she’s running for governor.

Diaz, who left her journalism job in early November, said at the time that she was inspired to run for office after she and her elementary school-aged son both contracted COVID-19 earlier this year, an experience that she said ignited her passion for public service.

“I recently left journalism to fulfill a mission — an unshakeable dream, a fire in my soul — to serve you as the next governor of the great state of Texas,” Diaz, 45, said in a video posted online ahead of her Wednesday campaign launch at Scholz Garten in downtown Austin.

[…]

Before launching her campaign, Diaz completed a six-month course at the LBJ Women’s Campaign School at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, which offers training to would-be candidates for office. Through the program, Diaz was paired with a mentor: state Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin.

Goodwin, who is not endorsing Diaz’s campaign, said she always supports more candidates entering primary contests, because it helps drive more voters to the polls.

Diaz said in her announcement video that she decided to run for governor to focus on three key issues: the border, public education and state preparedness for the pandemic.

Diaz grew up in Mexico City, the child of an American missionary. During her time as a reporter, she said she has spoken with people across the state and gained a deeper understanding of how state policies affect their lives.

“The most valuable information comes from the people who live these policies day in and day out, everyday Texans like you and me,” Diaz said in the video. “When I hear men in power describe the border as a crisis, it just reinforces one thing, that they haven’t done their jobs.”

Diaz said her perspective as a former educator, her career before she turned to journalism, would serve her well as governor and could “help improve our schools dramatically.”

She used her announcement as an opportunity to knock Abbott and other state leaders for their response to the coronavirus pandemic, highlighting her own experience after testing positive for COVID-19.

See here for some background. We first heard Diaz’s name as a potential candidate before Beto’s official announcement. Which means I have to bring this up:

In an interview with the Statesman, Diaz said that she’s not interested in challenging other Democrats like O’Rourke. Instead, she told the newspaper, she’s interested in defeating one person: Gov. Abbott.

“Our current leadership has forgotten that their mission is to serve us,” Diaz continued in her video. “And yes, conventional wisdom may say that it’s unlikely for an average person, even a qualified one, even one with expertise, even one with a huge heart. Texans don’t solely rely on conventional wisdom, we believe in miracles.”

Austonia quotes her as follows: “I am running against Greg Abbott. That is my goal. That is my focus. I am ushering Greg Abbott out of office.” Here’s the thing – that’s a lovely sentiment, and a fine mission statement. But the truth is, right now she is running against Beto O’Rourke, and any other Dems who may file for the race (more on that in a minute). That’s fine – she has as much right to be there as anyone, and may the best candidate win. The point is, the only way she gets to run against Greg Abbott is if she beats Beto first. I appreciate that she doesn’t want to go on the attack as an opening move, but there’s no avoiding that reality. Either she wins and opposes Abbott in November, or Beto does.

Anyway. I think Joy Diaz has the makings of an appealing candidate, and I’m happy for there to be a reason for everyone to campaign more actively between now and March. Let there be more attention on Democratic candidates, especially attention that is outside the usual framing of them versus Greg Abbott. Contested primaries can certainly be ugly, but better to have more interest in them than to just snooze through them.

As far as “other candidates” go, the Statesman reports that Diedre Gilbert is still in the Dem primary for Governor. However, KXAN reported that on Wednesday Gilbert announced she will drop out of the Dem primary and will run as an independent. The Patrick Svitek spreadsheet agrees with KXAN, so we’ll see. As we all know, it’s a high bar to clear to get on the ballot as an indy in Texas. We’ll know for sure about the first part of that equation on Monday.

ERCOT and PUC swear there will be no blackouts this winter

Do you believe them?

The Public Utility Commission and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas on Wednesday pledged that the “lights will stay on” this winter as it inspects power generators and enforces other requirements to avoid a deadly power outage that crippled Texas during a February storm.

Peter Lake, chairman of the PUC, which regulates utilities in the state, said at a press conference that his agency and ERCOT, the state’s grid manager, have moved at “lightning speed” to change the requirements for power producers and natural gas supplies to operate during winter months. The PUC oversees ERCOT.

“Our grid is safer and stronger than ever,” he said. “Because of all these efforts, the lights will stay on. No other grid has made so many changes in such a short amount of time as we have.”

The promise to keep power flowing comes about 10 months after massive outages caused by a winter storm that plunged millions of Texans into freezing darkness, leading to the deaths of hundreds. All commissioners who served the PUC resigned or were fired, as was the CEO of ERCOT. State legislators and new commissioners on the PUC have passed laws and rules requiring power generators and affiliated companies to better prepare for frigid weather.

Among the changes are new penalties and requirements, and a reduction in the maximum price for one megawatt hour of power to $5,000 from $9,000 beginning Jan. 1. Alison Silverstein, an Austin-based energy consultant who worked for the PUC from 1995 to 2001 and with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from 2001 to 2004, said the previous pricing scheme allowed generators to make the bulk of their money during tight grid conditions.

“This is intended to redistribute revenues so instead of making all your money only during extreme scarcity events, you’re getting more money from a flatter curve,” she said. ” You’re still getting $5,000 per megawatt hour in a tight time, which is still a whole lot of cash, but more of your revenue will come from normal days.”

[…]

Silverstein said that the violation reports and other rules changes are a good start, but that more needs to be done. The PUC, she said, should commission an analysis of the current condition of the grid, determine what needs to be done to improve reliability and estimate the cost to consumers, she said. Power generators, she said, should be able to show they can restart the entire grid in the event it collapses. And, she said, the PUC should address Texas’ nation-leading energy demand instead of solely focusing on adding new generation.

“I think they are right to say they have made a meaningful dent in preventing some of the problems that Winter Storm Uri revealed,” Silverstein said. “But that doesn’t mean the job is done yet.”

It is plausible to me that some beneficial changes have been made. Whether any of that makes a material difference or not, who knows. If we do make it through the winter with no problems, the odds are it’s due to a more normal winter and a bit of luck rather than anything transformative, but in the end it is the result that matters. For sure, whether by luck or by better oversight and regulation, Greg Abbott will win his bet and claim credit for it. The Texas Signal and the Trib, which reminds us that the Railroad Commission has not yet drafted any new weatherization rules for gas producers, have more.

Quinnipiac: Abbott 52, Beto 37

Brutal, but remember what we say about every poll result, whether good, bad, or indifferent: It’s one data point.

Gov. Greg Abbott has a commanding lead over Democrat Beto O’Rourke in a new public poll released on Wednesday.

Abbott, a Republican, leads O’Rourke 52 percent to 37 percent according to the Quinnipiac University poll of 1,224 registered voters.

A big problem for O’Rourke lies in the poll findings, in which 54 percent of respondents say the former El Paso congressman is too liberal.

The poll also shows that Abbott’s approval rating has rebounded since the summer, when Quinnipiac last surveyed the state. The new poll shows 53 percent of Texas approve of the job Abbott has done as governor, up from 49 percent in June. Conducted December 2 through December 6, the survey has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

The Quinnipiac release and poll data is here; most of the story is a recapitulation of what’s there, so go to the source. Of the three other polls we’ve seen so far, this one is similar for the level of support for Beto (37, 39, and 43) but much higher for Abbott (44, 45, and 46).

That Abbott’s approval ratings may have bounced back somewhat isn’t terribly surprising, as the Lege is no longer in session (Rick Perry always polled worse during sessions), but whether he’s back to being ten points in the black is something I’ll want to see in other polls before I buy it. He was at 49-41 approval in the DMN/UT-Tyler poll, 43-48 in UT/Trib, and 49-47 in the Hispanic Policy Forum poll – again, better than he had been in August and September, but not this good. Similarly, the approval for President Biden was easily the worst in this poll – 32-64 for Biden, versus 42-53 in DMN/UT-Tyler and 35-55 in UT/Trib (no data from the other poll).

Basically, this is about as good a result as Abbott could reasonably expect. Is it an outlier or in line with the next batch of polls to come? That remains to be seen. There’s no good spin for this poll, but there’s also no reason to panic.

It’s the power grid, stupid

It’s also a campaign theme.

Texas Democrats want to talk about the power grid.

Specifically, they want to talk about how it failed in February, how they don’t think enough has been done to fix it and why they believe Republicans in statewide leadership positions are the ones to blame.

Democratic candidates and strategists see the power grid as the Republican party’s biggest vulnerability — and they see highlighting it as their best shot at winning crossover voters in the state’s 2022 election cycle, which is expected to be an uphill battle for the minority party.

In stump speeches and messages to supporters, Democrats say that GOP leaders failed at fixing the shortcomings of the state’s energy infrastructure that led to millions of Texans losing power for multiple days during a winter storm in February, which resulted in a death toll that has been calculated as ranging from 210 to more than 700 people.

Beto O’Rourke, the frontrunner to challenge Republican Greg Abbott for governor, has said the two-term incumbent did “absolutely nothing” to heed warnings despite a previous electricity blackout in 2011. Mike Collier, who is running for lieutenant governor, coined the slogan “fix the damn grid” as one of his campaign’s top priorities. And Luke Warford, who is running for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and natural gas industry, has made “Let’s keep the lights on!” his campaign slogan.

“It makes sense for Democrats to want to channel those doubts and put them front and center,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “About the only good thing for Democrats about the extended Republican monopoly [in state politics] and their demonstrated inability to break that monopoly is that there’s only one political party that can be blamed.”

Republicans, not surprisingly, disagree. It’s not much of a campaign slogan if there’s no conflict. The story notes that 1) the public largely agrees with the position that Abbott and the Lege didn’t do enough, according to the polling data we have; 2) the state’s own studies say we’re still vulnerable to blackouts under the right (or wrong, depending on how you want to look at it) set of circumstances; and 3) numerous Republicans, from Dan Patrick to the pack of jackals running against Abbott in the Republican primary, think that Abbott and the Lege didn’t do enough to fix the problem. As I said, this is Greg Abbott’s bet, that things will be sufficiently OK through the next winter and summer, and if so he’ll claim the credit for it. Only time will tell.

Beto and South Texas

Brace yourself for a lot of stories like this in the coming months.

Beto O’Rourke

In the first days of his campaign for governor, Beto O’Rourke made a beeline to this southernmost corner of the state, saying it was no mistake he was choosing to start his run in a part of Texas where Democrats have their work cut out for them after the 2020 election.

His supporters know it, too.

“We are being attacked at all ends,” Amanda Elise Salas said as she introduced him here Wednesday night. “This is a Democratic area, and there is no way we are gonna let Republicans come in here and take over.”

“They’re knocking at our door,” Mario Saenz, a Democratic precinct chair from Brownsville, said afterward. “We cannot let them in.”

A lot of Democratic hopes are riding on O’Rourke this election cycle, but few may be more consequential to the party’s future in Texas than his ability to stave off a strong GOP offensive in South Texas. Emboldened by President Joe Biden’s underwhelming performance throughout the predominantly Hispanic region last year, Republicans have been pushing hard to make new inroads there, and O’Rourke faces an incumbent in Gov. Greg Abbott who has been working for years to win Hispanic voters.

But it is not just about halting the GOP’s post-2020 march in South Texas. O’Rourke, who is facing an uphill battle in the governor’s race, has ground to make up after his own less-than-stellar performance with voters there in 2018 when he ran for U.S. Senate — and turning out more Latino voters has long been key to Democratic hopes statewide.

O’Rourke has been candid about the problem. Days after the 2020 election, which cemented Republican dominance across Texas, he told supporters that the fact that the border region “has been ignored for years by the national party, and even many statewide Democratic candidates, hurt us badly.” Last week, he began his campaign for governor with a swing through the region, calling the early itinerary “very intentional” and vowing to return frequently.

“If the great sin committed by Republicans historically has been to disenfranchise voters, including those in the Rio Grande Valley, then that committed by Democrats has been to take those same voters for granted in the past,” O’Rourke told reporters in San Antonio, before heading south to Laredo and the Valley.

O’Rourke got a wake-up call in South Texas during the 2018 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, losing many counties in the region to a little-known and little-funded opponent, Sema Hernandez. While it was not the first time a candidate with a Hispanic surname beat expectations in a statewide Democratic primary, O’Rourke acknowledged afterward that he needed to do more outreach.

Months later, in the general election, O’Rourke failed to make significant gains in South Texas compared to his party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, which would have been key to defeating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. In the largest South Texas county outside San Antonio — Hidalgo — O’Rourke barely improved on Clinton’s vote share there, getting 68.8% after she got 68.5%.

Then came 2020, when Biden carried South Texas — and the Rio Grande Valley in particular — by a much narrower margin than Clinton did. He outright lost Zapata County, a longtime Democratic stronghold just north of the Valley.

[…]

Beyond any issue, though, South Texas Democrats say O’Rourke needs to show up, especially after a presidential election that left them wanting. Biden never visited Texas, let alone anywhere in South Texas, during the general election, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, visited McAllen only in the final days of the race.

To that end, South Texas Democrats are not particularly concerned about O’Rourke, who is known for his relentless campaigning. He toured all 254 counties during his 2018 race, which included a bus tour specifically focused on the border.

“We’re the poorest region of Texas, maybe one of the poorest regions in the nation, and you know, it was a huge letdown that Kamala and Biden didn’t make a prolonged appearance here in the Valley, but Beto, you know, he’s been recurringly focusing his presence here, especially in his past campaigns,” said Sebastian Bonilla, a 25-year-old from the Valley who came to see O’Rourke speak in McAllen.

Abbott has put an emphasis on South Texas since his first gubernatorial campaign in 2014, and he has been increasingly traveling there in recent months, both in his official capacity and for political appearances.

You get the idea. This kind of story is going to be the “Trump voters in diners” lodestar of 2022.

Because I tend to zero in on any actual numbers that show up in this kind of “collect a bunch of quotes and anecdotes” piece, I wondered about that Hidalgo County comparison. Just for grins, I went back and checked to see what was the best Democratic performance in Hidalgo in recent years:

2004 – JR Molina, 64.08%. For comparison, John Kerry got 54.86% against George W. Bush.

2006 – Bill Moody, 62.54%.

2008 – Linda Yanez, 73.63%.

2010 – Hector Uribe, 67.14%. That sure correlated with good Democratic performance elsewhere, eh?

2012 – Michelle Petty, 70.69%. Barack Obama got 70.40%, an improvement over the 69.02% he got in 2008.

2014 – Leticia van de Putte, 67.57%.

2016 – Dori Garza, 70.98%. Hillary Clinton got 68.50%, as noted in the story.

2018 – Steve Kirkland, 69.34%, with Beto’s 68.81% right behind. Kirkland was in a two-candidate race, while Beto and Ted Cruz also had a Libertarian in their race. Cruz’s 30.64% was actually a tiny bit behind Jimmy Blacklock’s 30.66%, though several other Republicans failed to get to 30% in their three-way races.

Latino Dems, and candidates for statewide judicial positions, were generally the high scorers. Looking at the numbers, I agree with the basic premise that Beto could have done better in South Texas than he did in 2018, and he will need to do better than Joe Biden did in 2020. The new SOS elections result website is trash and doesn’t give you a county-by-county view like it did before, so I went and found the Hidalgo County Elections page, which informed me that Biden got 58.04% in 2020, with Elizabeth Frizell being the high scorer at 61.51%; yes, another judicial candidate.

One could also point out, of course, that Biden came closer to winning Texas than Clinton did, despite doing worse in South Texas. Beto himself came as close as he did mostly by making huge gains in urban and suburban counties – to pick one example, he got 46.53% in Collin County, losing it by 22K votes, after Clinton got 38.91% and lost if by 61K votes. Beto did net 12K fewer votes in Hidalgo than Clinton did (Biden netted 32K fewer than Clinton), and he lost another 10K in Cameron County – that does add up in such a close race, though it wouldn’t have been enough to fully close the gap he still had. Ideally, he’d do better in South Texas and in the big urban and suburban counties. At least we all feel confident he’ll do the work.