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Briscoe Cain

House passes its omnibus voter suppression bill

But don’t bother asking what’s in the bill, because it’s going to change and we won’t know what’s in the real bill until it’s time for a final vote in both chambers.

As opposition to Texas Republicans’ proposed voting restrictions continues to intensify, state lawmakers’ deliberations over the GOP priority legislation could soon go behind closed doors.

The House early Friday voted 81-64 to advance a pared down version of Senate Bill 7, leaving out various far-reaching voting restrictions that have prompted widespread outcry from voting rights advocates, advocates for people with disabilities, and local officials in the state’s biggest counties. The legislation still contains some provisions opposed by those groups — including a prohibition on counties sending unsolicited applications to vote by mail.

Facing more than 130 proposed amendments from Democrats late Thursday — and a procedural challenge that could have delayed the entire bill’s consideration — lawmakers huddled off the chamber’s floor throughout the night to cut a deal and rework SB 7 through a flurry of amendments passed without objection from either party.

But the final contours of the bill remain uncertain.

The bill will need a second House vote, expected later Friday, before it can head back to the Senate. It will then likely go to a conference committee made up of members of both chambers who will be able to pull from both iterations of the legislation in crafting the final version largely outside public view.

SB 7 has emerged as the main legislative vehicle for changing the state’s voting rules, though the versions passed in each chamber differ significantly.

As passed in the Senate, the legislation restricted early voting rules and schedules to do away with extended hours and ban drive-thru voting. It also required large counties to redistribute polling places under a formula that could move sites away from areas with more Hispanic and Black residents.

Those and other provisions fell off when it was reconstituted in the House Elections Committee, with little notice and without a public hearing, to match the House’s priorities contained in House Bill 6.

Republicans amended the bill in the early hours of Friday to nix a provision that would’ve required people assisting voters to disclose the reason a voter might need help — even if for medical reasons. That measure raised concerns among advocates for people with disabilities that it could violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Lawmakers also amended the bill to slim down provisions that broadly enhanced protections for partisan poll watchers and provisions that boosted penalties for voting related offenses.

In keeping the ban on distributing applications for mail-in ballots, the House upheld its response to Harris County’s attempt to proactively send applications to all 2.4 million registered voters last year with instructions on how to determine if they were eligible. Other Texas counties sent unsolicited applications to voters 65 and older without much scrutiny. Those voters automatically qualify to vote by mail, but sending them unsolicited applications would also be blocked under the bill.

Under the deal House members cut to keep the bill on the floor, Democrats were able to tack on several amendments to the legislation. Most notably, they added language to the legislation in response to the controversial illegal voting conviction of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman facing a five-year prison sentence for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election. Mason was on supervised release for a federal conviction at the time and said she didn’t know that made her ineligible to vote. SB 7 was amended early Friday to require judges to inform someone if a conviction will prohibit them from voting and require that people know why they are ineligible for an attempt to vote to count as a crime.

See here for the most recent update. The Chron had a story over the weekend that went into detail about the two bills (before HB6 was rewritten in committee) and how much of them was an effort to punish Harris County for its “sins” in 2020. That’s mostly useful now as a reminder for when the conference committee version emerges. I have little hope that the Democratic amendments will make it into that version, but at least they tried. The one thing we can be sure about is that much like with Florida, there will be lawsuits over this. And we damn well better make it an issue in the 2022 election. Reform Austin has more.

Businesses finally offer some real resistance to voter suppression

About time.

With less than a month left in the legislative session — and Texas Republicans split on which package of proposals might cross the finish line — Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Unilever, Patagonia and two dozen other companies are urging state lawmakers not to pass new restrictions on voting.

In the biggest pushback so far by business against the GOP’s legislative bid to ratchet up the state’s already restrictive voting rules, national companies joined in a statement voicing their opposition Tuesday with local businesses and several local chambers of commerce representing LGBTQ, Hispanic and Black members of the business community.

“We stand together, as a nonpartisan coalition, calling on all elected leaders in Texas to support reforms that make democracy more accessible and oppose any changes that would restrict eligible voters’ access to the ballot,” the businesses wrote in their letter. “We urge business and civic leaders to join us as we call upon lawmakers to uphold our ever elusive core democratic principle: equality. By supporting a stronger trustworthy democracy, we will elevate our economy.”

The statement does not address specific legislation, but comes as Texas Republicans press forward with bills in the name of “election integrity” despite little to no evidence of widespread fraud and warnings from voting rights advocates and lawyers that many of them would be disproportionately harmful to voters of color.

Following the recent passage of new restrictions in Georgia, major corporations began responding to criticism about staying out of that fight by largely coalescing around joint statements that generally stated their opposition to election changes that make it harder to vote.

[…]

As the fight over new restrictions moved from Georgia to Texas, the state’s Republican leadership moved to quickly condemn businesses scrutinizing the proposals under consideration during the 2021 legislative session.

Gov. Greg Abbott — who declared “election integrity” a legislative priority — backed out of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opening game and said he would boycott any other Major League Baseball events over its decision to pull the All-Star Game from Georgia in response to new voting restrictions there. Calling it “absolutely ridiculous” for the MLB to take a position on the Georgia law, Abbott in a Fox News television interview indicated he was sending a message to Texas-based companies and others eyeing a move to the state — and the financial incentives that are often used to lure them.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick angrily targeted American Airlines during a press conference in which he described those raising concerns of voter suppression a “nest of liars.”

“Texans are fed up with corporations that don’t share our values trying to dictate public policy,” Patrick said in a separate statement responding to American Airlines’ opposition to SB 7.

In the Texas House, the possible retribution for companies that have come out against the bills has been mostly symbolic so far. Republicans sought to inject the dispute into the chamber’s consideration of the state’s massive budget bill last month, offering amendments to withhold state funds from businesses that publicly opposed legislation “related to election integrity.” Those proposals were ultimately kept off the budget.

Those threats — coupled with Republican demands for corporations to stay out of policy disputes outside of their business realm — did not deter the companies that signed onto the letter. Patagonia has even been sharing its own analysis of “voter suppression legislation,” which includes SB 7, HB 6 and several other bills, with other companies considering opposing proposed restrictions.

“Companies need to do more than solely focus on profit … and empowering their communities can be really good for business and thats something we’re seeing that’s a good trend,” said Corley Kenna, a spokesperson for Patagonia. “I hope more companies speak out on these issues, mostly because I think its important to have companies step up where government seems to be falling short.”

I certainly approve of that. See here for the previous update, here for a copy of the letter, and here for the Fair Elections Texas website, which is pretty bare-bones for now. I very much appreciate their stance, and I hope that they get a lot of reinforcements soon.

Case in point

A group of 175 business leaders sent a letter to House Speaker Dade Phelan on Tuesday morning opposing several key provisions of the voting bills being debated in the Texas Legislature, which they said would add unacceptable barriers for Houston residents to cast a ballot.

They included 10 members of the Greater Houston Partnership board, whose efforts to push the region’s largest chamber of commerce to condemn the bills were rebuffed by the group’s president. With the partnership silent on legislation Harris County leaders say will make voting more difficult for everyone and discriminate against people of color, the members said they could not stomach sitting on the sidelines.

“When you have an organization that is supposed to reflect the diversity and inclusion, and has taken steps on its website to discuss racial equality but does not have the spine to bring forth to a vote an issue that is as important as this, we felt we had no choice but to bring it in a public forum,” said Gerald Smith, who also sits on the partnership’s executive committee.

The letter takes Phelan up on the speaker’s invitation last month for business leaders to flag provisions in the bills, including House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7, that could add obstacles to voting.

It raises alarm over provisions that would move polling sites away from Houston’s urban core, limit voting hours, ban drive-thru voting, remove restrictions on poll watchers, streamline voter roll purges and add a host of criminal penalties for poll workers and local election officials found in violation of the Texas Election Code.

“These provisions, among others, will inevitably damage our competitiveness in attracting businesses and workers to Houston,” the letter states. “Especially as we aim to attract major conferences and sporting events, including the FIFA World Cup, voter suppression is a stain on our reputation that could cost our region millions of dollars.”

[…]

The influential Greater Houston Partnership, founded in 1840, seeks to speak for the 12-county region’s business community. It regularly lobbies the Legislature on policy issues, and in the past has bucked state leaders on controversial issues, including the group’s opposition to the so-called bathroom bill in 2017 that helped torpedo a priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The partnership also made a commitment last summer to opposing racial injustice, issuing a statement recognizing its members “have an opportunity as Houstonians to lead the way in reforming broken systems, building up communities, offering support and removing barriers.”

For some GHP members, the organization’s inaction on SB 7 and HB 6 calls into question how serious that commitment was. A proposal that would require a roughly equal number of polling sites per state House district, the Harris County election administrator estimates, would result in fewer sites in urban areas with higher Black and Latino populations and more in suburban communities with a higher share of white voters.

As the bills began to take shape in Austin, several board members wished to revise the partnership’s April 1 broad statement on voting rights, which called on the Legislature to balance election security with ensuring equal ballot access.

GHP President Bob Harvey allotted 15 minutes to the topic at the group’s April 21 regular meeting, though the discussion ran much longer, said board member Gerald Smith. He said Harvey pledged to schedule a special board meeting to resolve the issue.

See here for some background on that, and Zach Despart’s Twitter thread for a copy of the letter. These GHP members think the organization is dragging its feet, which at this point seems self-evident. In the end, I still think that at least one of SB7 or HB6 passes, or some combination of them. These are Greg Abbott “emergency” bills, and the seething hordes of the Republican primary electorate will not tolerate anything they perceive to be failure. (Which is one of the reasons we’re in this spot to begin with.) At the very least, time is running out to get on the right side of this issue while it still matters. Do the right thing here, GHP. NBC News and the Texas Signal have more.

UPDATE: I drafted this on Tuesday, didn’t run it on Wednesday, then Mayor Turner and Judge Hidalgo announced they would no longer hold events at the GHP in response to that organization’s pusillanimous response. I’ll have a separate post on that tomorrow. Too much news, y’all.

Briscoe Cain’s latest follies

This guy, I swear.

After an early misfire, House Republicans on Thursday succeeded in pushing their proposed restrictions on voting to the legislative forefront as the Texas Legislature’s 2021 session enters its final sprint.

The House Elections Committee’s Republican majority voted to gut Senate Bill 7, the priority voting bill that has already passed the Senate, and replace the bill’s language with that of House Bill 6, a significantly different voting bill favored by House leadership. That maneuvering will put the Senate on the defensive to resurrect its legislation and likely tee up end-of-session tension between the two chambers over competing visions for which proposed restrictions ultimately make it to the governor’s desk.

As passed in the Senate, SB 7 clamps down on early voting rules and hours, restricts how voters can receive applications to vote by mail and regulates the distribution of polling places in diverse urban counties, among several other provisions in the expansive bill. The legislation passed the Senate with support from the chamber’s Republican majority and was awaiting action in the House.

HB 6, approved by the committee’s Republican majority earlier this month, would restrict the distribution of applications to vote by mail, require people assisting voters to disclose the reason a voter might need help in casting their ballot — even if for medical reasons — and enhance protections for partisan poll watchers, including criminal liability for election workers for their treatment of watchers.

On first try, a morning committee meeting descended into chaos when state Rep. Briscoe Cain, the committee’s chair, blindsided his colleagues with a motion to substitute SB 7 with HB 6, which he authored. That effort failed when another GOP lawmaker didn’t vote to follow along after Cain pressed forward, saying there were no objections to adopting the substitute language even as Democrats, shouting at times, continued to object.

The committee reconvened Thursday evening and advanced SB 7 on a 5-4 vote, after rejecting several proposed Democratic amendments.

As things stand now, SB 7 is a duplicate version of HB 6. The Senate can still revive its priorities if the full House approves the rewritten SB 7 and lawmakers from both chambers convene to cut a deal.

[…]

Caught off guard earlier in the day, Democrats on the committee said they were handed the replacement language minutes before they were asked to vote, and repeatedly objected to the move, which would preempt any public hearing by the House on SB 7’s provisions that differ substantially from Cain’s substitute.

“I feel that SB 7 is a significant piece of legislation that we should hold a hearing on it,” said state Rep. John Bucy, D-Austin.

“I agree, but we are doing a committee substitute to match it to House Bill 6, and we’ve already heard a complete hearing on that exact language,” Cain responded. He argued that the committee’s lengthy hearing on HB 6 was “sufficient.”

“These two bills are substantially different — you have said that time and time again in committee. Many times you have said these bills are totally different when somebody compared it to SB 7,” said state Rep. Jessica González, a Dallas Democrat who serves as vice chair of the committee. “I have to object. This is wrong. We deserve to have a public hearing on this.”

The meeting erupted into chaos as lawmakers spoke over each other and Democrats pushed back on Cain. After adopting the substituted language, Cain then quickly called for a vote so the rewritten bill could head to the House Calendars Committee, which determines whether bills make it to the full Texas House for a vote. But he was forced to withdraw his proposal after state Rep. Travis Clardy said he would “pass” and refused to cast a vote. Without the Nacogdoches Republican’s vote — and Democrats on the committee voting against the bill — there weren’t enough votes for it to make it out of the committee.

When lawmakers returned to the committee later Thursday, Clardy fell in line with his Republican colleagues.

The push to replace the Senate’s priority election bill with Cain’s proposals likely serves as an indication of how far apart the House and the Senate are on what changes the Legislature should make to voting this session. Instead of uniting behind identical, or even substantially similar bills, each chamber has moved forward with different measures.

See here and here for some background. I recommend reading Emily Eby’s Twitter thread for the inside look and feel of the chaos that reigned. Briscoe Cain is an idiot, but let’s be clear, the Republicans are not going to let him fail. A voter suppression bill is going to pass, one way or another, because that’s what the Republicans want and they have the numbers to do it. If one of the adults in the room has to hold Briscoe Cain’s hand to make it happen, they will. I don’t quite understand the pissing contest between the House and the Senate – there are differences between SB7 and HB6, but in the end they’re both big voter suppression bills and they both suck – but that’s not my lane. I wish I could envision a scenario where the wheels all fall off and they eventually give up, but I can’t. Some form of one of these bills will pass. The rest is just cosplay.

House committee passes its voter suppression bill

I remain pessimistic about this, but we have no choice but to fight.

A Texas House committee on Thursday advanced an elections bill that would make it a state jail felony for local election officials to distribute an application to vote by mail to a voter who didn’t request one.

House Bill 6 is part of a broader Republican effort this year to enact wide-ranging changes to elections in Texas that would ratchet up the state’s already restrictive election rules in the name of “election integrity” despite little to no evidence of widespread fraud. The legislation was approved by the House Elections Committee on a party line vote with only Republicans voting in favor of it.

Like other Republican proposals, the measure would target Harris County’s initiatives from the 2020 general election, including a shift to proactively send out vote-by-mail applications. Various counties sent unsolicited applications to voters who were 65 years and older, who automatically qualify to vote by mail in Texas. But Republicans’ ire fell on Harris County officials when they attempted to send applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county with specific instructions on how to determine if they were eligible. The Texas Supreme Court ultimately blocked that effort.

HB 6, by Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain, would also set up new rules for people assisting voters — like those with disabilities or those who speak languages other than English — in casting their ballots. Voters can select anyone to help them through the voting process as long as they’re not an employer or a union leader. But the bill would require those helping voters to disclose the reason they need help.

The bill now heads to the House Calendars Committee, which determines whether bills make it to the full Texas House for a vote.

[…]

The bill also picked up opposition from civil rights groups who raised the prospect that the legislation violates federal safeguards for voters of color who would be treated differently for being more likely to need assistance and concerns about the punitive nature of the bill against election workers. Advocates for people with disabilities worried it could violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and cautioned against complicating the voting process for voters with disabilities by creating new requirements for the individuals they select to help them.

“You can’t any longer help an elderly constituent by providing them with a mail in ballot application — this is truly incredible,” said Gary Bledsoe, president of Texas NAACP. “There’s only one reason to create criminal laws and that is to dissuade minority voters and [minority] voting officials.”

See here for the previous update. I’m going to spare myself a little work by pointing you to some other people who have done the work of highlighting how and why HB6 is just as dangerous as SB7. For example, the latest defensive maneuver by Dan Patrick and now Speaker Dade Phelan is to claim that the critics of these bills just haven’t read them, and to double-dog-dare them to point out any restictionist provisions they allegedly contain. Well, challenge accepted:

I presume she’ll follow with a thread for HB6, but give her a little time. Also, as a historical note, Jamelle Bouie reminds us that the Jim Crow laws of the old South never actually said they were intended to keep Black Americans from voting. They were just restrictions on voting that technically affected everyone but which the lawmakers knew and intended would have a much greater effect on Black voters (and which they could ensure via enforcement). Ignorance of history (real or feigned) is no excuse for trying to repeat it.

The real danger in these bills has to do with their elevating poll watchers into some kind of protected group. Why is that a problem? Because poll watchers are unvetted partisans, and in Texas their main role is making voters of color feel harassed:

What could possibly go wrong? This video has already generated some national coverage. One hopes that’s just the beginning.

Finally, while HB6 and SB7 are the big headliner voter-suppression bills, there are a lot of smaller, more targeted voter-suppression bills to watch out for as well:

So now you know. The Texas Signal and Popular Information, which goes deep on Dan Patrick, have more.

The Briscoe Cain follies

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

The Texas House Elections Committee abruptly ended its meeting [Thursday] before about 200 people who traveled to the Capitol could testify on a controversial anti-voter fraud bill.

Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, who chairs the committee and authored House Bill 6, had recessed briefly as he argued with the committee’s vice chair, Democrat Jessica González.

González wanted to hear from Rep. Nicole Collier, a fellow Democrat and chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

“Vice Chair González, at this moment, you are not chairing this committee,” Cain said as he overrode González’s attempts to allow Collier to speak. “I’m not recognizing anyone but a member of this committee at this time.”

The meeting’s undoing came to pass for a procedural reason: Cain had not specified when the committee would reconvene, meaning the meeting would have to be rescheduled for a later date. He apologized to the hundreds who had made the trip to Austin to share their feedback on the bill.

“Even though I wish very much to continue today’s hearing, the rules prevent me from doing so,” he said. “Please forgive me for my error.”

This is the third-term GOP member’s first time chairing a committee during a legislative session.

[…]

Civil rights and voting advocacy groups slammed Cain, who had said it was committee practice not to allow non-members to ask questions, for blocking Collier’s testimony. There are no Black members of the elections committee.

“Today was further evidence of the GOP efforts to silence our voices. We can no longer stand by and allow them to shut us down,” Collier said at an informal, livestreamed “citizen’s hearing” in the Capitol rotunda. “We must speak up. Today shows why it’s important we have a seat at the table.”

Common Cause Texas executive director Anthony Gutierrez said non-members participate in committee hearings “all the time.”

“This deviation from standard practice to prevent a Black woman from engaging in debate on a bill that would impact Black communities disproportionately is appalling,” Gutierrez said. “There is truly nothing more absurd than Briscoe Cain having to adjourn his committee hearing on his bill that would criminalize procedural mistakes people might make while voting because he made a procedural mistake.”

Those who had planned to speak Thursday immediately expressed their deep frustration.

“(Cain) has promised a future hearing on the bill, date yet to be determined,” Texas Civil Rights Project, a voting-focused advocacy group, said in a tweet. “But this is still deeply unfair to all the Texans who took time off of work and school to be there today. And it’s troubling that no effort was made to accommodate and listen to these Texans.”

Or to put it another way, give power and responsibility to malevolent incompetents, get malevolent incompetent results. Imagine being someone who took time off from work, drove however many hours to be in Austin to wait even more hours to be given three minutes to testify against this travesty, only to be told that because the committee chair screwed up you have to come back again at some then-unknown date. (Per the Trib, it’s been rescheduled for April 1, which seems a little on the nose.) You’d have Briscoe Cain to thank for that.

R.G. Ratcliffe thinks Cain (who calls himself a “parliamentary guru”, by the way) may have inadvertently done the opponents of his malicious legislation a favor. I say that remains to be seen, because if there are two things we know about the Republicans’ push to change the rules in their favor, it’s that they can always extend the clock and that they don’t much care about the niceties along the way. What do they care if a few rabblerousers didn’t get a chance to vent at them? They will not be deterred.

Also not to be deterred is the Senate, which had its own voter suppression bill hearings.

The 31-page Senate Bill 7 includes provisions that would limit early voting opportunities, such as drive-thru and overnight polls, and stop counties from mass-mailing unsolicited ballot-by-mail applications — all methods that Harris County officials debuted in 2020.

It would also require Texas counties to have ballots with paper trails and maintain online systems tracking the status of voters’ mail ballot applications and ballots.

The bill was scheduled to be heard on Monday, but Senate Democrats delayed the hearing with a procedural move. It contains many similarities to a bill that passed the Senate but died in the House when the paper-trail system requirement, which had bipartisan support, was removed at the last minute.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, raised several potential legal issues with the bill as she questioned Keith Ingram, director of elections with the secretary of state’s office.

Texas is one of 16 states that does not have universal, no-excuse-needed voting by mail. Mail voting is only allowed for people who are 65 years or older; traveling out of the county during the election period; in jail; or have a disability or illness.

SB 7 would require voters to show proof of a purported disability, such as a doctor’s note. Zaffirini asked and Ingram confirmed that no other group allowed to vote by mail would be required to provide backup documentation.

Making a visit to see a doctor costs money, Zaffirini pointed out. Unless the state would provide voters with financial help, she asked, “could that constitute a poll tax?”

“I don’t know,” Ingram said. “That’s a question for a court.”

Seems to me that’s a pretty big can of worms, and could run into issues with privacy laws relating to medical information. Anyone out there want to comment on the possibility that this could run afoul of HIPAA in some way? The lawyers will be busy, that much is for sure. The Texas Signal has more.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, Chris Hollins wrote an op-ed calling on the business community (especially Texas businesses and those that relocated here) to get involved in this fight as they recently have for other social justice issues. He specifically singled out HEB, AT&T, CenterPoint, and Pizza Hut.

We have a poll that says people oppose more voting restrictions

A good sign, just remember our mantra about polls.

As state Republicans push to restrict voting, a new poll shows a majority of Texans want more time to vote early and do not approve of threatening voters or those who assist them with felony charges for violations.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have highlighted combating voter fraud as a top priority this session, but the poll found 66 percent said they don’t believe significant fraud occurred in the 2020 presidential election. Republican officeholders largely held their own in Texas last year even as Joe Biden fared better than any Democratic presidential candidate in decades.

“Overwhelmingly, 97 percent of Texans said they had a good experience with the election, so it’s really a little confusing about why we’re looking at restricting ballot access … and moreover in a time when Republicans overperformed what many people thought they would in Texas,” said Sarah Walker, executive director of Secure Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit that solicited the Ragnar Research poll.

Walker’s organization found that fewer than 1 in 5 Texas Republicans voted on Election Day, and 64 percent of all Republican votes were cast early and nearly one-quarter by mail.

[…]

The Ragnar poll found 73 percent of respondents approved of an extra week of early voting, including 58 percent of Republicans, 91 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of independents.

Early voting on weekends was even more popular, with 89 percent in support.

Eighty-four percent also said they supported increasing the number of polling locations, but SB 7 would require all countywide polling places to have the same number of voting machines, which could make it difficult for election officials to open new sites.

Some Republican-crafted legislation this session also seeks to increase the criminal penalty for voting mistakes, including by those assisting disabled voters who fail to fill out and mail ballots correctly.

SB 7 would change the standard for prosecuting voter fraud from clear and certain to a preponderance of evidence, a lower standard of proof.

[…]

Eighty-one percent of respondents said they supported voters having the necessary assistance to submit their ballots, and 62 percent said assistants should not be threatened with the possibility of a felony.

House Bill 330, which was introduced by Elections Committee Chair and Republican Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, would make it a state jail felony to list the wrong address on a voter registration application; to provide assistance to a voter who has not requested help; and for a voter to receive assistance if he or she does not have a disability that renders them unable to see or write.

Some measures contained in SB 7 and other bills received bipartisan support in the Ragnar poll. The requirement for an electronic mail ballot tracking system was favored by 83 percent of respondents, and the requirement that electronic voting machines provide an auditable paper trail was favored by 88 percent.

The Secure Democracy webpage is here and their Twitter feed is here. They have a tweet announcing the poll, which was conducted by Republican pollster Chris Perkins and which was of 1,002 “likely” voters, but so far I am unable to find the poll data itself. This matters because we don’t have a whole lot of polling data on these questions, and the wording is sure to matter to some extent. That’s always a factor in issue polling versus candidate polling, so it’s important to be aware of that.

The polling data we do have is as follows:

The UT/Trib poll from February had one question of interest:

Do you think that the rules for voting in Texas should be made more strict, less strict, or left as they are now?

More strict – 27%
Less strict – 25%
Left as they are – 40%

(Source – Question 34)

The DMN/UT-Tyler poll also had one question:

Do you agree or disagree that requirements beyond signature verification of absentee ballots are necessary to increase election integrity?

Strongly support – 41%
Support – 22%
Neutral – 20%
Oppose – 9%
Strongly oppose – 8%

(Source – page 6)

The UH/Hobby School poll had multiple questions and was generally favorable towards voting rights, though as noted in that post they surveyed adults, not registered voters. I’ll leave it to you to go back and re-read that post.

So, without seeing the actual data, this is the best poll so far for keeping things as they are or making it easier to vote. It supports my opinions, which I always like but have learned to be hesitant about for obvious reasons. I don’t believe it will cause zealots like Paul Bettencourt or Briscoe Cain think twice, but maybe some of the reps in closer districts will feel some heat. If you’re in one of those districts, you should definitely be calling your rep and letting them know they should not be pushing to make our elections harder and less accessible. I’m not ready to express hope about this, but at least we have some opinion on our side. It’s a start.

Republicans roll out their big voter suppression bill

They can’t do anything about blackouts or floods or COVID vaccinations, but they sure can do this.

Joining a nationwide movement by Republicans to enact new restrictions on voting, Gov. Greg Abbott indicated Monday he will back legislation to outlaw election measures like those used in Harris County during the 2020 election aimed at expanding safe access to the ballot box during the coronavirus pandemic.

At a press conference in Houston, Abbott served up the opening salvo in the Texas GOP’s legislative response to the 2020 election and its push to further restrict voting by taking aim at local election officials in the state’s most populous and Democratically controlled county. The governor specifically criticized officials in Harris County for attempting to send applications to vote by mail to every registered voter and their bid to set up widespread drive-thru voting, teeing up his support for legislation that would prohibit both initiatives in future elections.

“Whether it’s the unauthorized expansion of mail-in ballots or the unauthorized expansion of drive-thru voting, we must pass laws to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process,” Abbott said on Monday. Harris County planned to send out applications to request a mail-in ballot, not the actual ballots.

Harris County officials quickly fired back at Republicans’ proposals in their own press conference.

“These kinds of attempts to confuse, to intimidate, to suppress are a continuation of policies we’ve seen in this state since Reconstruction,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. “It is a continuation as well of the big lie that’s being peddled by some far-right elements that the election in 2020 was somehow not true and should be overturned.”

Texas already has some of the strictest voting rules in the country. Some restrictions being proposed in other states are aimed at voting rules that aren’t allowed in Texas, including no excuse voting by mail and automatic voter registration.

But Texas lawmakers are looking to further tighten the state’s rules with a particular focus on measures put in place by local officials to widen access for voters. Restrictions proposed by Texas Republicans this year include prohibiting counties from sending out mail-in applications unless they’re requested by a voter, barring drive-thru voting that allows more voters to cast ballots from their cars and halting extended early voting hours.

See here and here for the background. This is all pure unadulterated bullshit and they know it, but before we delve into that there’s one other aspect to this that should not be overlooked.

Texas’ Republican leaders are preparing for another purge of suspected non-citizen voters, vowing to be more careful and avoid the mistakes from two years ago when the state threatened to knock nearly 60,000 legal voters off of election rolls.

“It must be done with extreme attention to detail,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, of the proposal he filed to launch a new round of voter purges using state driver’s license information to flag potential illegal voting.

In 2019, the Texas secretary of state sent a list based on state driver’s license data to county election officials showing the names of drivers whom state officials believed might be non-citizens who were voting in Texas. But a further review revealed that tens of thousands of legal citizens were incorrectly included on that list. Then-Secretary of State David Whitley eventually apologized to state lawmakers, saying the lists should have been reviewed more carefully. The Texas Senate ultimately forced Whitley out of office.

Officials in Harris and several other counties refused to send notices that could have knocked voters off the rolls ahead of the 2020 election, and voter rights advocacy groups decried the state’s efforts, which they said unfairly targeted people who may have been non-citizens when they got a driver’s license but had since been naturalized.

[…]

Bettencourt said the Legislature is going to set up a better process for the Texas Department of Public Safety and the secretary of state to follow in comparing databases and developing lists of possible non-citizen voters.

“They didn’t understand the data,” Bettencourt said of officials who oversaw the first mass purge attempt.

We are familiar with that debacle. Voter rolls do need to be cleaned up periodically, but there’s no reason to trust any directive from the state on this. They have not shown any evidence to indicate that they take this with the care and seriousness it requires and deserves.

On the broader matter of new voting restrictions, let’s be clear about a few things:

1. I’ve made this observation many times, but literally no one in the state has been more fanatical about looking for cases of voter fraud than Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton, and they have bupkus to show for it. Either these guys are really bad at finding what they swear is all over the place, or they’re big fat liars.

2. As with every other Republican-led effort around the country to restrict voting, this is all the fruit of the poisoned tree that is Donald Trump and his never-ending lies about the 2020 election (and the 2016 election, if you were paying attention). Texas Republicans are in a somewhat awkward position in that they can’t actually admit that the election here was somehow tainted, especially since they were just told by the Secretary of State that everything ran smoothly in 2020, so they resort to making the same false and malicious claims about Pennsylvania and Michigan and Georgia and Arizona. “States rights” ain’t what they used to be.

3. It doesn’t matter to them that everything they propose here will also hurt their own voters. It doesn’t matter than the national boost in voting by mail did not favor either party in 2020. It doesn’t matter that their efforts to suppress Democratic votes, most notably voter ID laws, have acted as catalysts for Democrats to vote. Facts and logic are of no interest to them.

4. What does matter is that they have the votes to pass this. Congress can do largely negate their efforts via the two big voting rights bills that have passed the House and need to get through the Senate, but in the end the only way for Democrats in Texas to really stop this is to win more elections. Until there’s a price to be paid for passing bills like SB7, they’re going to keep doing in.

5. Actually, there may be one other thing that could be done. As before, we turn to Georgia, where even more nasty voter suppression bills are being put forth, for some inspiration:

We’re not going to change any Republican legislator’s mind on this. But we might get some Texas-based companies on our side, and that would at least up the pressure on them. I don’t know who’s taking the organizational lead here, but this is a path to consider. CNN, NBC News, and the Texas Signal have more.

How Greg Abbott wants to restrict voting

More from that Trib story following the State of the State address.

As part of his State of the State speech, Abbott designated five emergency items, or items that lawmakers can vote on within the first 60 days of session. One of them is “election integrity,” though Abbott did not provide any details in his address. He elaborated in the interview, saying a “starting point” would be wide-ranging legislation from last session that would have made over two dozen changes to election practices, including making it a felony for Texans to vote when they’re ineligible or provide false information on a voter application, even if they do those things unknowingly.

Senate Bill 9, which passed the Senate but never made it to Abbott’s desk in 2019, faced stiff opposition from voting rights groups and some county elections officials, who called it voter suppression masked as a security measure and worried that it would carry stiff criminal penalties for common, innocent mistakes.

When it came to elections, Abbott also said there is a “keen focus on mail-in ballots” and how elections were conducted last year in Harris County. Ahead of the November election, Abbott and other state GOP leaders clashed with the county’s clerk at the time, Chris Hollins, over his plan to send a mail-in ballot application to every registered voters in the county, among other proposals.

In recent months, many Republicans have called for “election integrity” measures after former President Donald Trump and many of his allies falsely alleged that the 2020 election was stolen from him and that widespread fraud occurred, culminating with Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to stop the certification of the election’s results. There is no credible evidence of fraud on a level that would have affected the presidential election results.

Election security is the No. 1 legislative priority of the Republican Party of Texas, whose chairman, Allen West, plans to be an aggressive voice at the Capitol this session when it comes to the party’s eight priorities. He has also been a critic of some of Abbott’s pandemic decisions, fueling speculation that he could challenge the governor in the 2022 primary.

See here for the discussion of emergency powers. I just want to remind everybody that back in 2011 when the Republicans passed the existing voter ID bill, which remains one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, they specifically exempted absentee ballots from voter ID requirements. Why did they do that? The simple answer to that question is that voting by mail used to be an area of Republican dominance, and the Republican legislators did not want to make it any harder for their preferred voters to cast a ballot. But now that Democrats have started voting by mail in larger numbers, all bets are off. That is the reason they’re doing this, all claims of “election integrity” aside, and it annoys me that I never see any mention of that in news stories about this. Voting by mail used to advantage Republicans. Now it doesn’t, and so Republicans want to make it harder. It’s as simple as that, and the same crap is happening all across the country. All of us, the media very much included, need to be clear-eyed about that.

In case that doesn’t set your teeth on edge enough, there’s this.

With Texas’ Republican leadership cataloguing “election integrity” as a top priority this legislative session, House Speaker Dade Phelan on Thursday named state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, as the chair of the House Elections Committee. The panel, which has a Republican majority, typically considers legislation related to voting rules and election law.

Cain, who previously served on the committee, traveled to Pennsylvania in the days after Election Day to work with the Trump campaign. The campaign eventually filed a lawsuit alleging widespread issues with mail-in ballots in the state; a federal judge threw out the lawsuit, finding the president’s team provided “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations” that were not supported by evidence.

Republican claims of election fraud in swing states have been discredited by the federal courts, and election officials and former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr have said there was no evidence of widespread fraud that could have swayed the results of the presidential election.

[…]

“I’m looking forward to getting input from Texans, members, and policy experts in order to better gauge what needs to be done,” Cain said on Thursday when asked about his priorities for the committee. “I believe SB 9 is great starting point though and I’m glad the Governor made election integrity an emergency item.”

Voting rights advocates on Thursday decried Cain’s appointment given his involvement with the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the election and the role it played in fueling the Jan. 6 deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“Cain was so invested in undermining our free and fair elections that he took his conspiracy theories on the road to fight against the will of Pennsylvania voters,” said H. Drew Galloway, the executive director of the MOVE Texas Action Fund, a nonprofit organization that advocates for young voters. “This appointment is a slap in the face to every Texas voter who braved a pandemic to make their voices heard last November and the generations of Black and Brown activists who have fought for the right to vote.”

Democrats are not going to be able to stop any of this on their own, and the courts are hardly allies in this fight. Either Congress acts to pass that massive voting rights bill and we get some relief, or we better get used to ever-ratcheting restrictions on who can vote and how. There’s no time to waste. The DMN has more.

House adopts its rules

Here you go.

Rep. Todd Hunter

The Texas House unanimously adopted rules Thursday that will require members to wear masks in the chamber and during committee hearings and allow them to cast votes on legislation from outside the House floor.

But the chamber opted to not require testing for lawmakers as they meet during the coronavirus pandemic and did not expand its virtual testimony options to allow members of the public who have not been invited to testify to comment at committee hearings remotely.

“We’re new to this pandemic, and the whole point about these rules — the key is respect, the key is courtesy,” said state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, while introducing the rules proposal earlier Thursday. “What’s the rules? It’s 150 people, that’s what the rules are.”

The coronavirus requirements were part of a broad resolution setting rules for the House during the Legislature’s 2021 session. Members debated amendments on the resolution for hours. In addition to voting on health protocols, the chamber overwhelmingly shot down proposals that would have kept Democrats from serving as committee chairs in the Republican-controlled House.

House members, staff and the public will be required to wear face masks while inside the chamber or a committee hearing room, though witnesses and lawmakers may remove them while speaking from a microphone. Members may also remove masks during a committee hearing if protected by a barrier and socially distanced from others.

The House’s decision to not require testing for people entering the chamber or attending a committee hearing differs from protocols the Senate passed Wednesday. Every senator will be required to test negative for the virus before entering the upper chamber or attending a committee hearing. Senate staff must be tested the first day of the week they enter the Capitol and before accessing a hearing or the chamber.

Addressing the House’s testing approach, Hunter told members that the chamber could not mandate testing until it’s “available in our courthouses and … schoolhouses,” saying it “would be wrong” for members to prioritize their health and safety above others.

“That is the people’s House,” said Hunter, one of the House members spearheading the rules proposal. “And for us to prioritize our own health and safety above others would be wrong.”

The House rules also authorized members to cast votes for legislation “from a secure portable device” if they are inside the chamber, in the gallery, or “in an adjacent room or hallway on the same level as the House floor or gallery,” such as the speaker’s committee room or member lounge. That expansion could help space out the chamber’s 150 members should a lawmaker wish to do so.

See here for some background. The rules are codified in HR4, and you can see a long Twitter thread about the housekeeping rules that were the preliminaries for all this here; note that some of the proposed amendments were later withdrawn. One of the two House members who got up to some mischief but was roundly rejected by the rest of the chamber. I mean, when Briscoe Cain is speaking eloquently for tradition and bipartisanship, you know you’ve gone off the rails somewhere.

Of interest is also the rules relating to redistricting:

Suit up, y’all. It’s on.

The Lege will start out with masks

We’ll see how it goes from there.

Rep. Charlie Geren

People attending the opening day of the 2021 legislative session will be required to wear a mask and asked to take a coronavirus test ahead of the event, the chair of the House Administration Committee wrote in a memo to lawmakers Monday.

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said there may be additional screenings or temperature checks upon entering the building for the festivities, which typically see the Texas Capitol packed with members, guests and family. If a House member tests positive for the virus, he wrote, “arrangements will be made … to allow them to take the oath of office.”

“The duration of the ceremony will be shortened,” he wrote, “and there will be a significant reduction in the number of people admitted to the House floor and gallery.”

Access to the House floor will be restricted to lawmakers, essential staff, ceremony participants, temporary officers and approved guests, according to Geren. Members of the media, the public and additional guests who have been approved to attend the ceremony will be seated in the House gallery.

Each lawmaker or incoming member will have two guest seats for family or friends either on the chamber floor or in the gallery. Guest seats will be spaced approximately three and a half feet from each other side-to-side and staggered front to back, Geren wrote. That spacing, coupled with the requirement of a face mask, “is acceptable to medical professionals consulted by the House,” he wrote.

Geren also wrote that hand sanitation stations will be located outside the chamber and on members’ desks and that ultraviolet light disinfecting units will be used on the floor and in the gallery.

See here for the background. The Senate has not settled on its protocol yet, so this could theoretically be a one-chamber rule. The bigger question remains what if anything the House plans to do with anti-mask jackwads like Briscoe Cain, because I fully expect that those types will be present, and they will kick up a huge fuss if they’re not given the special treatment they believe they are entitled to. We could be getting things off to quite the inauspicious start. Not my problem, but I hope they have a plan.

How is the Lege going to operate?

It’s going to be an interesting session.

Rep. Charlie Geren

In the most detailed public glimpse yet at how the 2021 legislative session might play out during a pandemic, the chair of the committee that handles administrative operations in the Texas House told a group of lobbyists Tuesday that masks may be required in all public parts of the Texas Capitol and that a limit could be placed on the number of people allowed inside the building.

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, listed a number of details during a presentation to the Professional Advocacy Association of Texas, a lobbyist and government affairs group. He also said that the House was looking at remote voting options for the chamber’s 150 members, which would allow lawmakers to vote on bills from elsewhere inside the building if they decide to not be present on the floor.

Geren said people entering the Capitol during the session will likely be tested and that lawmakers might require visitors to schedule appointments before arriving. They can limit the risks, he said, but can’t expect to completely prevent COVID-19 cases.

“We’re going to plan for an outbreak in the Capitol,” he said. “I think we have to.”

The Senate, he said, is having its own chamber-specific conversations over what protocols should be in place. Spokespeople for Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Later Tuesday, Geren told The Texas Tribune that details he shared at the event are not set in stone — and emphasized that “there’s nothing in concrete yet, and there won’t be for a while.”

Geren is a member of a workgroup tapped by state Rep. Dade Phelan, the next likely House speaker, to make recommendations on legislative operations during the coronavirus pandemic. He said the ideas were being shared with a separate group Phelan recently created to solicit input on potential changes to the lower chamber’s rules.

“We won’t know until we adopt the rules,” Geren said, “and the rules are being talked about now.”

There’s more, and you should read the rest. What the Lege can do may be constrained by the state constitution, which among other things mandates that the session be open to the public. You can already watch the legislature online, as each day’s events are streamed live, but would that pass muster if it’s the only option? I’m sure there are lawyers pondering that now. You can expect mask wearing to be a tiresome flashpoint, as professional jackasses like Briscoe Cain have already stated their intention (repeated in this story) to not wear masks or require any visitors to their office to wear them. We’ll see how contentious the rule-setting process is.

(I should note, by the way, that Charlie Geren’s bio page says that he is 71 years old. Preparing for a COVID outbreak at the Capitol is going to be a bigger deal for some folks than for others. And let us not forget the staffers, the security guards, the maintenance and cafeteria and groundskeeping and other workers who will also be affected by the rules the Lege adopts, and the shameful indifference of the likes of Briscoe Cain.)

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol:

Nine months before the November election, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made headlines by suggesting that if Republicans lost their supermajority in the Senate, he would pursue a bold procedural move: further lowering the threshold that is required to bring legislation to the floor.

Now that the election has come and gone — and the GOP indeed lost its supermajority — it remains to be seen how serious Patrick is about the idea, which would strip Senate Democrats of the one tool they have to block legislation they unanimously oppose.

The lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, has not made any known public comments since the election about the potential rule change, and senators are being tight-lipped or saying they have not heard anything. The uncertainty comes less than a month and a half before the Legislature gavels in for the 2021 session — and each chamber takes up its rules as one of the first orders of business.

Right now, Senate rules require 19 members, or three-fifths of the body, to vote to bring legislation to the floor. With the reelection loss of Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, this November, Republicans are set to begin the session with 18 members.

Patrick already led the charge to decrease that threshold from 21 members — two-thirds — during his first session as lieutenant governor five years ago.

Since the election, Patrick’s office has not responded to requests for comment on whether he plans to push a rule change that would lower that threshold so Republicans can keep steamrolling Democrats. Such a change would happen at the beginning of the legislative session and only require the support of a simple majority in the chamber, or 16 members.

Four GOP senators’ offices said Tuesday they were unavailable to discuss the topic of Senate rules going into the session.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt of Houston, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, said Tuesday he is completing his term as chairman and cannot comment “in advance of the caucus taking a position or not” on a rule change. The caucus is holding a retreat this week.

I am on record as being in support of ditching anti-majoritarian traditions like the two-thirds rule, which is now the three-fifths rule. I wasn’t always this way – when the two-thirds rule was first threatened, I stood in defense of it, because I knew it was the only real tool Democrats had at their disposal to stop bills they hated. I’ve since abandoned that thinking, because we’ve seen far too much minority rule in our federal government, and when the blessed day comes that Democrats have control in Austin, I want them to be able to use it. If that means giving up our best tool for obstruction now, then so be it. I know that puts me at odds with current Senate Democrats, several of whom are quoted in that story. I totally get where they’re coming from, and I have no doubt that an unfettered Dan Patrick is a fearful thing. But I can’t defend that practice any more, and I won’t. Majority rule is the better way, and the day is coming when that will be in our favor. Hold tight until then.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson files for Speaker

One hat in the ring, who knows how many to go.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, filed Friday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making her the first to enter what’s been a quiet race so far to replace retiring Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Thompson, a Houston Democrat, has filed ahead of a November general election in which Democrats are confident they will regain control of the House for the first time in nearly two decades. If elected, she would be the first Black woman to serve as speaker.

Thompson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thompson is not the only candidate expected to enter the race, which has had a different tempo and tone from the last one in 2018. The uncertainty surrounding which party will be in control of the lower chamber in 2021 has kept the race relatively quiet; by this time two years ago, several candidates had already declared that they were seeking the gavel.

[…]

Thompson, known better as “Ms. T” to colleagues and other Capitol goers, has served in the chamber since 1973, making her the second longest-serving member in the House. She has been mentioned repeatedly among both Republicans and Democrats as a potential candidate, with members pointing to her legislative experience and inroads with colleagues as perhaps her best case for a House that has a challenging agenda heading into the 2021 legislative session.

There are many potential Speaker candidates, but as I said in that post, if Rep. Thompson wants this, it’s hard to imagine other Dems opposing her. I’m sure she will be talking to those other potential candidates over the next few days, if she hasn’t been already. It won’t surprise me if they line up behind her.

There are of course a bunch of important things the next Legislature will have to tackle, from COVID response to a crap-ton of election and voting issues to redistricting to the budget to executive authority and the role of the Lege in dealing with crises. But even before we get to any of that, there’s a big question about how the Lege will operate. I mean, maybe you haven’t heard, but the COVID situation isn’t getting any better right now. I don’t have a whole lot of faith in Greg Abbott to impose restrictions again, so I’m not expecting it to be all that different come January. How exactly is the Lege going to conduct its business if it’s not safe for them all to be clustered in a stuffy room for hours at a time? What are they going to do if twerps like Briscoe Cain ignore a rule mandating masks in the Capitol? I don’t mean to be indelicate, but Rep. Thompson is 81. Rep. Alma Allen is 81, Tom Craddick is 77, Doc Anderson is 75, Harold Dutton is 75, and Phil Stephenson is 75. More than a few others are north of 60; not all of them have their age listed when I look them up on the Trib directory of State House members, but you get the point. The health and safety of every Member, as well as their staff and everyone who works at the Capitol is on the line, and as of today we have no idea what they plan to do about it. The next Speaker has some big things to do before a single vote is taken.

Endorsement watch: Carol and Borris

This is another easy call.

Sen, Carol Alvarado

When Carol Alvarado was elected to represent state Senate District 6 in a special election in 2018, she already had an impressive record under her belt.

After serving on Houston City Council and as the city’s mayor pro tem, she was elected in 2008 to the Texas House of Representatives to represent District 145. She was appointed chair of the Urban Affairs Committee and worked with Republican colleagues to get bills passed, including a 2015 grand jury reform bill that became law.

In her freshman term as a state senator, Alvarado has continued that run.

She co-sponsored 32 bills, 29 of which became law. The legislation ranged from a bill requiring insurance companies to cover diagnostic mammograms to one that gives every student the option of having an ECG heart screening as part of his or her athletic physical exam.

[…]

Alvarado, 52, whose opponent in the race is Libertarian Timothy Duffield, told the editorial board Medicaid expansion will be her top goal in the 2021 Legislature.

That’s an especially worthy goal during the current economic downturn as thousands lose employer-sponsored insurance. We strongly recommend Alvarado for State Senate District 6.

I think in a year where there are a lot of races to endorse in, it’s all right to skip the ones like this where there’s no major party opponent. But even if you do that, Sen. Alvarado would be an obvious choice. She’s done everything you’d want her to do as your Senator.

This one is a bit more nuanced.

Sen. Borris Miles

Outside the Legislature, state Sen. Borris Miles can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble.

The list of scandals include his indictment (and acquittal) over charges of deadly conduct after he allegedly pulled a gun and threatened the host of a holiday party in 2007, his threatening to “beat up” a plainclothes DPS trooper who was protecting Attorney General Ken Paxton in 2015, reports by the Chronicle in 2016 that he repeatedly failed to disclose his business interests in three companies as state law requires, and a 2017 Daily Beast piece that detailed sexual harassment accusations.

His constituents, first in House District 146 and now in Senate District 13, have found none of these allegations disqualifying, sending Miles back to Austin year after year. They have been rewarded with a solid Democratic lawmaker who represents the interests of a region that cuts across Harris County and includes neighborhoods such as Sunnyside, East End, Greater Fifth Ward and International District.

[…]

His opponent, Republican Milinda Morris, is a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist and U.S. Air Force veteran. She opposes abortion rights, and supports unrestricted gun carry and school vouchers. In recommending her in the GOP primary last March, we praised her support for public health and openness to expanding Medicaid.

Based on his troubling pattern of behavior, we believe voters can do better than Miles and have twice endorsed his primary opponents. But in this race, his track record in the Legislature and the fact that his positions are far more in sync with his district than his opponent’s make him the best choice on Election Day.

For what it’s worth, the most recent allegation the Chron cites is from 2017, so perhaps Sen. Miles has been keeping himself out of trouble lately. But maybe it’s just not making the news right now.

One could draw a parallel, in terms of unbecoming behavior, from Sen. Miles to Rep. Briscoe Cain, whom the Chron declined to endorse. Cain is also in sync with his district, as I noted. I would argue that Sen. Miles has an actual record of accomplishment, in the House as well as the Senate, while Rep. Cain is basically a whoopie cushion with a Twitter account (when it hasn’t been suspended for making threats, anyway). Again, though, one might claim that he’s just doing what the people in his district voted for him to do. If one is sympathetic to Rep. Cain’s viewpoint, I can understand how one might conclude that the main difference is that the Chron mostly agrees with Sen. Miles on the issues, and as that is the case that’s why the Chron is mostly endorsing Democrats (these days, anyway). I doubt I could persuade you otherwise.

The HCDE makeover

One more world to conquer in Harris County.

David Brown

The future looked bleak for Texas’ last remaining county education department in early 2019.

After years of state-level efforts to abolish the Harris County Department of Education, a new majority of trustees signaled they would take a more critical look at the agency’s inner workings and whether it still served the core function of supporting local school districts.

Less than a year later, the entire makeup of the board has changed. Now a 5-2 majority of HCDE supporters oversee the department and its $128 million annual budget, a majority that could grow after the November election.

The two board seats on this year’s ballot — two of the three at-large positions — are held by Republicans Don Sumners and Michael Wolfe, the remaining trustees who have been critical of the department in the past. Sumners is seeking re-election, and although Wolfe is not running for his old seat, his father, Bob Wolfe, is.

Sumners’ Democratic opponent is David Brown, an educator who works for Change Happens, a Third Ward-based nonprofit that provides mentoring, drug prevention and other services to low-income youth. Democrat Erica Davis, chief of staff for Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, is running against Wolfe. If Brown and Davis capture the two at-large positions, board president Eric Dick — who has opposed efforts to shut down the department — would be the lone remaining Republican trustee.

[…]

Erica Davis

In recent decades, the department has been the subject of frequent criticism of some state and local conservatives who call it an unnecessary bureaucracy that would better serve districts if it were dissolved and its assets were given to local schools.

Republicans who shared that belief gained control of the board after the 2018 midterm elections and were quick to exercise their new role. Former trustee Josh Flynn was named board president during his first meeting in January 2019. Minutes later, the board voted to scrap a contract with a lobbying firm that represented HCDE interests in Austin.

They voted the following month to change the composition of an ancillary board that issues bonds and oversees construction contracts. They asked the board attorney to investigate the department’s Education Foundation, then put an item on two meeting agendas to replace the same attorney with a representative from Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain’s law firm, an ally of the Republican trustees. The board ultimately kept its original lawyer after the item to remove her was tabled.

Tempers flared between the new majority and those who supported the agency. Trustee Eric Dick, the sole Republican on the board who supported HCDE, frequently exchanged terse words with the new majority, especially former President Flynn and Trustee Michael Wolfe. The tension came to a head after Dick reported that Wolfe had made sexual advances on a woman who had applied to become the board’s secretary, and allegedly attempted to blacklist her among Houston Republican groups after she turned down his advances.

After reviewing a third-party report on the allegations commissioned by the board, trustees voted to censure Wolfe in April 2019, and Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan launched an investigation into the allegations. Wolfe has denied the allegations, and the county attorney has yet to release any findings.

Ultimately, the board’s Republican majority was short-lived. Former Trustee George Moore resigned after moving out of Harris County in May 2019, and the board later appointed Democrat Amy Hinojosa to replace him. Flynn resigned in December that same year after his eligibility to run for the Texas House was questioned due to his position on the board. The board appointed Democrat Andrea Duhon to take Flynn’s place, firmly shifting the board majority.

“I have to tell you, it seems like it’s working like a well-oiled machine,” Duhon said. “It’s been fabulous not having to worry about someone coming in and trying to tear it all apart.”

Sumners, Bettencourt and other Republicans have blamed Flynn for the shift in power. Though Republicans outnumbered Democrats for most of 2019, Dick sided with the Democrats amid an ongoing feud with the Republican trustees, resulting in a 3-3 deadlock that left the board unable to appoint Moore’s replacement. Moore was barred from voting.

In December, however, Flynn skipped a meeting where trustees were set to appoint his and Moore’s replacements. That allowed Dick and the two Democrats to appoint Hinojosa and Duhon.

See here for some background. I had wondered how it was that a board with a Republican majority managed to appoint two Democrats as replacement for departing Republicans, thus turning a 5-2 GOP majority into a 4-3 Dem majority. Pretty hilarious, if you ask me. It’s only the second time in my memory that the Dems have had a majority on the HCDE Board. A brief history:

2006: All seven members are Republicans, after Dems failed to field a candidate in the Precinct 1 position (the incumbent, who had not drawn a primary challenger, withdrew at the last minute).

2008: 5-2 Republicans after Jim Henley and Debra Kerner win the two At Large positions that were on the ballot, as part of the initial Democratic breakthrough in Harris County. Kerner’s opponent in that election, by the way, was none other than Stan Stanart.

2012: Erica Lee wins the Precinct 1 position, and Diane Trautman wins the third At Large spot, thus giving the Dems a 4-3 advantage.

2014: Republicans take back the two At Large positions they lost in 2008 and go back up by a 5-2 margin on the Board. Michael Wolfe, who had lost in 2012, and Don Sumners are elected.

2016: No change in composition, but Sherrie Matula loses the Precinct 2 race by a whisker. Eric Dick is elected in Precinct 4.

2018: Still no change in composition. Danny Norris succeeds Erica Lee in Precinct 1, Richard Cantu succeeds Diane Trautman in the At Large position, and Josh Flynn defeats Andrea Duhon by less than 2,000 votes for the Precinct 3 spot. While Republicans maintain a 5-2 majority on the Board, they now have a majority of Board members who want to undermine what the Board is doing.

Late 2019, after the filing period for 2020 closes: George Moore (who had defeated Matula by less than 500 votes in 2016) resigns for personal reasons, and Josh Flynn resigns (after a bit of a kerfuffle with the county GOP) to pursue the nomination in HD138 (he would lose the primary). As described above, Amy Hinojosa and Andrea Duhon are appointed, giving the Dems a 4-3 majority again. With the Dems favored to win the two At Large seats back, they would have a 6-1 majority for next year. Hinojosa will be up for election in 2022, and Duhon in 2024.

So there you have it. There have been some attempts in the Lege to curtail the HCDE , and it won’t surprise me if there are bills to that effect filed in this session. Having a Dem House majority would block that. In the meantime, I don’t know what has gotten into Eric Dick, but I approve. Remember to vote in these races, they will be way down at the bottom of the ballot. Any chance you get to vote against Don Sumners, you owe it to yourself to take it.

Endorsement watch: No Briscoe

The Chron follows the basic principle that bad acts should not be rewarded, and bad actors do not belong in positions of trust and power.

Mary Williams

In his two terms representing House District 128, Rep. Briscoe Cain has quickly acquired a reputation well beyond being the most conservative lawmaker in the House. He’s an elected official whose offensive posts earned him a suspension on Twitter. He was Texas Monthly’s Worst Legislator of 2017.

As a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, Cain has tweeted a threat to former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke with the warning “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis.” He trolled Stephen Hawking shortly after news of the acclaimed physicist’s death.

He introduced legislation to defund a state council that promotes palliative care for the terminally ill, conflating the specialized end-of-life services for dying patients with so-called “death panels.” He wastes his colleagues’ time on the House floor pushing severe abortion restrictions he knows won’t pass constitutional muster. He posed for the cameras while getting an illegal haircut as a stunt to pressure Gov. Greg Abbott to reopen hair salons and barbershops.

That kind of grandstanding in the chamber or social media chatter does nothing to benefit the people of House District 128, which straddles the Houston Ship Channel and includes Pasadena, Deer Park, Baytown and Crosby.

They deserve better. They deserve a state representative who cares about the issues important to the district — air quality, chemical plant safety, education.

That is why we are recommending his challenger, Democrat Mary Williams, in the House District 128 race.

I mean, look, HD128 is the most Republican House district in Harris County, and the people of HD128 are represented by Briscoe Cain because they voted for Briscoe Cain. It’s free and fair to call him out on his bullshit – he has a level of entitlement that would put any trust fund boarding school scion to shame – but he’s not in office because of some anti-democratic shenanigans. The world is always a better place when the likes of Briscoe Cain are sitting on the sidelines, but let’s not fool ourselves about why he’s not.

The Chron also takes a stance against bad ethics.

Sandra Moore

Voters in state House District 133 returned Rep. Jim Murphy for a sixth term in the Legislature in 2018, even after news broke about a business arrangement that raised serious questions about possible conflicts of interest.

Murphy was paid a yearly salary for more than $312,000 as the general manager of the Westchase Management District, which is also within the boundaries of HD 133. He also served as chairman of the House Committee on Special Purpose Districts.

The situation got even murkier when reporters revealed that Murphy’s contracts included incentive payments for delivering state funds from the Legislature. For example, Murphy would receive a $6,000 bonus if he secured “$1 million or more in new TxDOT funding for highway projects” for Westchase.

Murphy has not been accused of a crime or cited for an ethics violation, but this is a violation of public trust in an issue involving taxpayers’ money.

Still, Murphy won re-election with 58 percent of the vote in 2018 and can expect a similar margin this fall in the solidly Republican district.

But if you believe Murphy’s arrangement to be disqualifying, and we do, there are two other candidates on the ballot for consideration: Democrat Sandra Moore and Libertarian James Harren.

The Chron endorsed Moore, who ran for HD133 in 2018 but lost in the primary runoff. I find Briscoe Cain to be by far the more egregious of the two – Murphy has redeeming qualities as a legislator who can do productive work – but oddly enough this sort of sin seems like the more probable cause for a voter to turn on him. Briscoe Cain can do what he does because enough people in his district like him for what he does. Murphy may find that his actions may cost him friends, or at least the support of some voters. That has something to do with the district in question as well, but self-dealing drawing a stink eye is more universal. (Unless your name is Donald Trump, of course.) Also, this district is like a more Republican version of HD134, and as such I’d bet the under on that 58% mark for Murphy. He had no opponent in 2016, but HD133 performed as a 62-63% Republican district that year. It won’t surprise me to see a couple more points shaved off of that this year.

GOP sues over cancelled convention

As the night follows the day.

The Texas Republican Party on Thursday sued Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston First Corp. for canceling the party’s in-person convention that was scheduled for next week in downtown Houston.

The lawsuit, filed in Harris County state district court, alleges that Turner erred when he invoked a “force majeure” clause of the contract between the Texas GOP and Houston First, the city’s public nonprofit that operates the George R. Brown Convention Center. The Republican Party also is suing Houston First President Brenda Bazan and the city of Houston.

Turner, who ordered Houston First to cancel the convention on Wednesday, said the clause allows one side to cancel over something that is out of its control, including “epidemics in the City of Houston.” In its petition filed Thursday, the GOP said Turner simply does not want to hold the convention, thus failing to meet the force majeure standard.

“Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s use of the force majeure clause is just a pretext to his intent to treat the Republican Party of Texas differently than other groups, such as those we have seen from recent protests in the city of Houston,” the party said in a statement Thursday. “It should go without saying that a political viewpoint cannot be the basis for unequal treatment.”

Turner said he called off the convention based on concerns about Houston’s recent COVID-19 surge and input from various medical professionals. A spokeswoman for the mayor said he would address the lawsuit at a 3 p.m. news conference.

In the lawsuit, Texas Republican Party officials are seeking a temporary restraining order that would allow the convention to continue as planned and damages due to Turner’s “anticipatory breach of contract,” including the cost of all losses and the “increased costs of handling the Convention elsewhere.”

The party argued that Turner and Houston First violated the “equal rights clause” of the Texas Constitution, and that Gov. Greg Abbott stripped Turner’s power to cancel the convention in one of his COVID-19 executive orders.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. I’d love to hear from any of the attorneys out there about the merits of this one. I can’t remember where I saw this now – probably Twitter, my brain is mush – but Jared Woodfill (who is of course the plaintiffs’ attorney for this, along with fellow genius Briscoe Cain) said he was going to try to get a hearing today and secure a temporary block on the cancellation. I can imagine that happening, at least long enough for a judge to make a preliminary ruling. (UPDATE: Per a press release from the Texas GOP received at 7:30, they were indeed denied a motion to block the cancellation. They will appeal directly to the Supreme Court. Stay tuned.) Beyond that, who knows? Insert giant shrug emoji here. Texas Lawyer and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: Jasper Scherer tweets about the TRO denial. Apparently, there’s a second lawsuit as well, by Steven Hotze, because of course there is. Both motions were denied.

UPDATE: An updated Chron story, with more details on the TRO denials. Also, too, this:

The mayor also encouraged party officials to move their convention to Montgomery County, where County Judge Mark Keough offered to host the event and vowed “there will be no last-minute changes.”

“I think Judge Keough in Montgomery County is more than happy to host the 6,000 delegates (there),” Turner said. “I think they should go to Montgomery County.”

Seems like a match made in heaven to me.

More reopening

It’s going great so far, right?

“Grandpa, what did you do during the COVID crisis?” “I got a haircut – for FREEDOM.”

Gov. Greg Abbott will allow hair salons in Texas to reopen Friday and gyms on May 18, moving more quickly than expected to further restart the Texas economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

The businesses will be required to follow certain rules, however, as the state continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus. For example, hair stylists will only be able to work with one customer at a time, while gyms can only reopen at 25% capacity, and their showers and locker rooms should remain closed for now.

Abbott announced the upcoming reopenings during a news conference Tuesday at the state Capitol in Austin, four days after he let stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls reopen at 25% capacity. He had initially eyed May 18 as the next date to announce further reopenings, but in recent days he has faced growing pressure from some in his own party to move quicker.

Even as Abbott rolled out the additional reopenings, he braced Texans for “flare-ups in certain regions” and said the state has assembled “surge response teams” to dispatch to such problem areas.

After discussing barbershops and gyms, Abbott said state officials also want to reopen another type of business — bars — but are still figuring out how to do so safely. He said he wants feedback from bar owners, given that “not all bars are the same,” particularly when it comes to size.

The Friday reopenings, Abbott said, apply to “cosmetology salons, barbershops, hair salons, nail salons and tanning salons.” In addition to limiting stylists to one customer at a time, Abbott recommended salons use an appointment system only, and if they accept walk-ins, those customers should only wait inside if they can practice social distancing. Stylist stations should also be 6 feet apart, and Abbott said he “strongly” recommends stylists and customers wear masks.

When it comes to gyms, in addition to limiting capacity and keeping locker rooms closed, Abbott said all equipment must be disinfected after each use. Customers should wear gloves that cover their entire hands, including the fingers. Customers should maintain social distancing. And if customers bring their own equipment into the gym, such as a yoga mat, it must be disinfected before and after each use.

[…]

After the news conference, Democrats said Abbott was moving too quickly to further open up the economy, especially so soon after the initial reopenings.

“I thought we were waiting to see if the first round of re-opening caused COVID-19 spikes before making decisions on additional openings?” tweeted state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “It’s been four days.”

Look, Steve Toth and Briscoe Cain’s hairs weren’t going to cut themselves. Desperate times call for desperate measures, you know.

Look, I need a haircut, too. I’m sure my beloved stylist (the girls and I go to Venus Hair in the Heights; Miss Venus has cut their hair since they were little) has been hurting and will be delighted to see me, and I feel reasonably sure she’ll do what she can to sanitize the place. I’m still not sure I’m quite ready for it, though. As for gyms, I don’t go to those but I have done a twice-weekly pilates class at a small home-based studio in the neighborhood, and I’m sure they will be eager to get up and running again, too. We already wiped down the equipment after use, now we’ll do it before as well and will be even more thorough about it. We’ll also be in a small space (a converted garage), and I don’t know how I feel about that. I hate that this is hurting small business owners like these folks. I also had pneumonia in 2007 and have no desire to put myself at risk for a nasty respiratory virus.

If we had a functional federal government that had used the lead time we had to get a scaled-up test and trace regimen in place, we wouldn’t be in this position now. If we didn’t have public officials and society page dilettantes and various armed lunatics out there denying reality and putting everyone’s health and safety at risk, maybe we could have a more honest conversation about balancing risk with people’s ability to earn a living. If we weren’t coming off the worst week for infections and deaths in the state, maybe we could feel a bit more secure. I mean, seriously:

The number of new reported COVID-19 cases and deaths last week was the largest since the pandemic began, suggesting that infections remain pervasive and much is still unknown about the size and scale of the Texas outbreak.

The state reported more than 7,000 new cases and 221 deaths, an increase of 24 percent and 33 percent over the previous week, respectively, a Hearst Newspapers analysis shows.

At the same time, as testing expands, the percentage of Texans who test positive for the disease has fallen to its lowest levels in over a month — a point that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has turned to recently as a sign of progress.

The data tracks closely with national trends, and has some health experts worried as states including Texas move to reopen their economies.

“We’re opening against a backdrop of a lot of spread,” Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President Donald Trump, tweeted Monday. “Unless there’s a strong seasonal effect and summer slows transmission more than expected, we should expect cases to grow.”

You know who else expects cases to grow? Greg Abbott, that’s who. Please tell me again why we couldn’t have waited at least until we actually got the number of daily tests being administered up to the goal level he set before we did this? You can send a strike force to Amarillo if you want – you should also be prepared to send one to Palestine, too – but what exactly are they going to do to make this better?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

January 2020 campaign finance reports: State House, part 1

I’m going to take a two-part look at the finance reports in State House districts. Part One will be from Harris County, looking at both contested primaries and contested November races. Part Two will focus on races in the counties around Harris. Previous entries in this series include Harris County offices, and statewide races.

Undrai Fizer, HD126
Natali Hurtado, HD126

Sam Harless, HD126

Josh Markle, HD128
Mary Williams, HD128

Briscoe Cain, HD128
Robert Hoskins, HD128

Kayla Alix, HD129

Dennis Paul, HD129
Ryan Lee, HD129

Bryan Henry, HD130

Tom Oliverson (PAC), HD130

Alma Allen, HD131
Carey Lashley, HD131
Deondre Moore, HD131
Elvonte Patton, HD131

Gina Calanni, HD132

Angelica Garcia, HD132
Mike Schofield, HD132

Sandra Moore, HD133

Jim Murphy (PAC), HD133

Lanny Bose, HD134
Ann Johnson, HD134
Ruby Powers, HD134

Sarah Davis, HD134

Jon Rosenthal, HD135

Merrilee Beazley, HD135
Justin Ray, HD135

Akilah Bacy, HD138
Jenifer Pool, HD138
Josh Wallenstein, HD138

Josh Flynn, HD138
Lacey Hull, HD138
Claver Kamau-Imani, HD138

Jarvis Johnson, HD139
Angeanette Thibodeaux, HD139

Senfronia Thompson, HD141
Willie Franklyn, HD141

Harold Dutton, HD142
Richard Bonton, HD142
Jerry Davis, HD142
Natasha Ruiz, HD142

Shawn Thierry, HD146
Ashton Woods, HD146

Garnet Coleman, HD147
Colin Ross, HD147
Aurelia Wagner, HD147

Anna Eastman, HD148
Adrian P. Garcia, HD148
Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, HD148
Penny Shaw, HD148
Emily Wolf, HD148

Lui La Rotta, HD148

Michael Walsh, HD150

Valoree Swanson, HD150


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Fizer            800       319        0         500
Hurtado       25,091     9,588        0      11,752

Harless       73,265    11,022   20,000     103,669

Markle        78,906    12,426        0      68,081
Williams

Cain         125,891    39,462        0     133,616
Hoskins        4,575    26,033        0       3,804

Alix           2,141     1,343        0         898

Paul          85,621    38,444  156,000     116,486
Lee           10,720     4,779        0       5,879

Henry          3,385     2,901        0       3,385

Oliverson     56,555    62,895   60,000     101,693

Allen         11,100    13,251        0      32,798
Lashley
Moore
Patton        43,075     1,100        0      10,000

Calanni       82,002    24,571        0      70,770

Garcia        28,045    20,076        0      21,309
Schofield     27,400    24,152        0     152,549

Moore          2,000     2,539        0       1,502

Murphy       120,076   132,583        0     487,913

Bose          54,573    13,702        0      40,871
Johnson       58,287    31,075        0     148,054
Powers        43,015    40,852        0      18,299

Davis         89,750    76,040        0     230,958

Rosenthal     70,841    42,143        0      41,320

Beazley            0       465        0           0
Ray           52,666    24,644        0      47,082

Bacy          28,066     6,799        0      14,455
Pool
Wallenstein   42,137    35,766   10,000      51,786

Flynn         12,080    20,761        0       9,166
Hull          50,068     4,551        0      45,516
Kamau-Imani   18,800     2,229        0      16,570

Johnson        8,775     3,619    2,500      26,946
Thibodeaux     7,000     2,069        0       4,931

Thompson     104,216   136,801        0     889,738
Franklyn           0     1,873        0       1,336

Dutton        26,876    16,676        0      79,263
Bonton
Davis        139,565     9,787        0     129,928
Ruiz

Thierry       13,710    11,825        0      13,446
Woods          1,485     1,263        0       1,690

Coleman       97,990   129,532        0     110,589
Ross
Wagner

Eastman       75,378    57,861        0      33,967
Garcia        12,100     2,500        0       4,000
Reyes-Revilla  3,547         0    8,000       3,547
Shaw          11,635    15,531   34,000      15,454
Wolf               0         0      200         235

La Rotta      11,280    10,602        0       4,095

Walsh              0        33        0          33

Swanson       10,201    27,643   34,040      34,657

You may also want to refer to this Trib story and this Reform Austin post about the finance reports in the top tier House races. I don’t have the bandwidth to look at all of them, so check them out for their reporting on it.

There are several contested Democratic primaries, including five challenges to incumbents in safe D districts. This was a popular pastime in the 2000s, during the Craddick era – Alma Allen beat Ron Wilson, Armando Walle beat Kevin Bailey, Borris Miles took three out of four against Al Edwards. The latter of those occurred in 2012, and while there have been primary opponents to incumbents over the past few cycles, none have come close to succeeding; Edward Pollard in HD137 and Demetria Smith in HD149, both of whom got about 35% in their races in 2016, came closest. The one this year that has the greatest potential to upset the status quo is in HD142, where longtime State Rep. Harold Dutton faces unrest over his role in passing the TEA takeover bill as well as the tumult in City Council District B. Still-current District B incumbent Jerry Davis, who transferred all of his city campaign funds into his State Rep campaign treasury, is the main threat to Dutton. I can’t wait to see how the endorsements play out – Davis has already gotten the nod from the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation (TGCALF), AFL-CIO, the only challenger to an incumbent in Harris County to do so. Elvonte Patton, who was a candidate for HCDE in the 2018 primary, has a nice fundraising total, but most of that is in kind, and Alma Allen has vanquished previous challengers with 85% or more of the vote in the past.

On the Republican, there’s not much action outside of an attempt to install a grownup in HD128. As I understand it, Robert Hoskins has some establishment support in his effort to knock out Briscoe Cain, but as you can see not a lot of money. We both know which speaks louder.

The four most hotly contested seats, one of which is open, is where the bulk of the action is. All three contenders in HD134 raised similar sums, but Ann Johnson has a commanding lead in cash on hand thanks to a big first half of the year. Akilah Bacy and Josh Wallenstein both raised a few bucks in HD138, with Wallenstein doing a bit better, while Lacey Hull led the pack on the Republican side. I have to assume now that his spot on the ballot is assured, Josh Flynn will ramp it up. Freshman Reps Gina Calanni and Jon Rosenthal both outpaced the totals of their potential opponents. The HD132 GOP race will be interesting, as Angelica Garcia has Greg Abbott’s endorsement but former Rep. Mike Schofield still has cash left over from his 2018 loss. To some extent, none of these totals matter that much because there will be a ton of PAC money on both sides in all of the competitive districts. Still, a candidate or incumbent who can raise cash on their own is stronger than one who relies mostly on others doing that work.

In HD148, where there’s both a contested primary and a special election runoff (happening now!), the main thing to note is that these totals are all from October 27 through the end of the year, as all of the candidates save Emily Wolf had eight-day finance reports from their November 2019 races. Penny Shaw has gotten a couple of early endorsements, so the 30-day report in early February will tell a more detailed picture for this race. As for the special election runoff, there’s nothing to suggest anything unusual, Erica Greider’s weekend daydreams aside.

Beyond that, not a whole lot else to discuss. Jim Murphy’s cash on hand total is one reason why I speculated he might consider a run for Mayor in 2023 if the Lege is no longer amenable to him. Sarah Davis would probably have more cash on hand right now if she hadn’t had to fend off primary challengers in the past. As above, I’m pretty sure she’ll have the funds she needs to run that race. The Dems have some longer shots out there, with HD126 being the most competitive of them, so keep an eye on Natali Hurtado. I’ll be back next time with the State House races from elsewhere in the region.

Where the primary action is

It’s on the Democratic side in Harris County. This should come as a surprise to no one.

The crowded Harris County Democratic primary field reflects a new reality in Houston politics: With the county turning an even darker shade of blue in 2018, many consider the real battle for countywide seats to be the Democratic primaries, leading more candidates to take on incumbent officeholders.

“This is the new political landscape of Harris County. Countywide offices are won and lost in the Democratic Primary,” said Ogg campaign spokesperson Jaime Mercado, who argued that Ogg’s 2016 win “signaled a monumental shift in county politics” and created renewed emphasis on criminal justice reform now championed by other Democratic officials and Ogg’s opponents.

In the March 3 primaries, Ogg, Bennett, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and County Attorney Vince Ryan — all Democrats — face at least two intra-party opponents each, while Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis has a primary challenger in former state district judge Maria Jackson.

Excluding state district and county courts, 10 of 14 Harris County Democratic incumbents have at least one primary foe. In comparison, three of the seven county GOP incumbents — Justice of the Peace Russ Ridgway, Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman and education department trustee Don Sumners — have drawn primary challengers.

At the state level, Republicans from the Harris County delegation largely have evaded primary opponents better than Democrats. All but three GOP state representatives — Dan Huberty, Briscoe Cain and Dennis Paul — are unopposed.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Borris Miles and state Reps. Alma Allen, Jarvis Johnson, Senfronia Thompson, Harold Dutton, Shawn Thierry and Garnet Coleman each have primary opponents.

Overall, the 34 Democratic incumbents seeking re-election to federal, state and county seats that cover at least a portion of Harris County — not including state district and county courts — face 43 primary opponents. The 22 Republican incumbents have 10 intra-party challengers.

It should be noted that a few of these races always draw a crowd. Constable Precincts 1, 2, 3, and 6 combined for 22 candidates in 2012, 21 candidates in 2016, and 17 this year. Three of the four countywide incumbents – DA Kim Ogg, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett – are in their first term, as is County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. There are fewer Republican incumbents to target, so Dem incumbents get to feel the heat. The bigger tell to me is that Republicans didn’t field candidates in nine District Court races. As I’ve said ad nauseum, it’s the judicial races that are the best indicator of partisan strength in a given locale.

The story also notes that the usual ideological holy war in HD134 is on hold this year – Greg Abbott has endorsed Sarah Davis instead of trying to primary her out, and there’s no Joe Straus to kick around. Republicans do have some big races of their own – CD07, CD22, HD26, HD132, HD138, County Commissioner Precinct 3 – but at the countywide level it’s kind of a snoozefest. Honestly, I’d have to look up who most of their candidates are, their names just haven’t registered with me. I can’t wait to see what the finance reports have to say. The basic point here is that we’re in a new normal. I think that’s right, and I think we’ll see more of the same in 2022. Get used to it.

Filing period preview: SBOE, Senate, House

Previously: Congress, and Statewide. As before, I am using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet as my primary reference.

Buckle up, there’s a lot to talk about here. I’m going to limit my discussion of State House races to the greater Houston area.

SBOE: There are three SBOE seats on the ballot that were carried by Beto in 2018. Winning all three would give Democrats am 8-7 majority on this famously flaky board. One of these seats in within Harris County, and that’s SBOE6, where Michelle Palmer and Debra Kerner have been in for some time.

State Senate: Unlike 2018, there’s really only one competitive district on the ballot, and that’s SD19, the seat Dems fumbled away in the special election. State Rep. Roland Gutierrez and Xochil Peña Rodriguez, daughter of former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, are in. Despite the self-own in 2018, the district is basically 55-45 Dem, with a bit of variance on either end. Beto took it by 15 points, but even Lupe Valdez cleared fifty percent. A return to normal partisan behavior should make Pete Flores a temporary Senator.

Democratic incumbents Carol Alvarado (SD06) and Borris Miles (SD13) do not have primary opponents as yet. I tend to think someone will run against Miles after those harassment allegations against him were reported, but if so it will likely be a newcomer. One other Dem who both needs and has primary opponents is Eddie Lucio; I discussed Ruben Cortez and Sara Stapleton-Barrera, his known opponents, here. SD29 in El Paso is open following the retirement of Jose Rodriguez, with State Rep. Cesar Blanco the only contender to succeed him so far.

The two Republican-held seats in the Houston area have Dem challengers. For SD04, mostly in Montgomery County, there’s Jay Stittleburg, who ran for Montgomery County Judge in 2018. Griffin Winkworth is listed in the spreadsheet as having filed a designation of Treasurer. SD11 has two contenders: Margarita Ruiz Johnson, who was a candidate for CD22 in 2018 but did not advance to the runoff, and Susan Criss, former District Court judge in Galveston County and candidate for HD23 in 2014. Neither district is particularly competitive – Beto got 41.5% in SD11, but most Republicans carried it by 20 or more.

State House: Let’s start with the districts that don’t have Dem challengers yet. As noted, this is limited to the greater Houston area. You can peruse the spreadsheet at your leisure for other districts.

HD03 (Montgomery/Waller)
HD15 (Montgomery)
HD16 (Montgomery)
HD18 (Liberty)
HD23 (Galveston)
HD24 (Galveston)
HD29 (Brazoria)
HD85 (Fort Bend/Wharton/Jackson)
HD127 (Harris)
HD129 (Harris)
HD133 (Harris)
HD150 (Harris)

HDs 29 (which originally had a Dem who later withdrew) and 127 were the only ones in 2018 that went unchallenged. HD29 in particular is a district of interest, as it was a 47% Beto district in 2018.

Now for Republican-held districts that do have Dem challengers, at least according to the spreadsheet.

HD25 (Brazoria, the now-open Dennis Bonnen seat) – Someone named J. Patrick Henry, whom I cannot conclusively identify.
HD26 (Fort Bend) – Sarah DeMerchant, the 2018 candidate; Rish Oberoi; Suleman Lalani.
HD28 (Fort Bend) – We all know about Eliz Markowitz, right?
HD126 (Harris) – Natali Hurtado, the 2018 candidate.
HD128 (Harris) – Josh Markle, who got a nice fundraising boost from Beto after his little tiff with incumbent Briscoe Cain over automatic weapons.
HD130 (Harris) – Bryan Henry.
HD134 (Harris) – Ann Johnson, the 2012 candidate; Ruby Powers; Lanny Bose, the most recent entrant.
HD138 (Harris) – Akilah Bacy; Josh Wallenstein, who was a candidate in the primary for HCDE at large in 2018.

Two Democratic incumbents so far have primary opponents, Alma Allen in HD131 (Carey Lashley) and Garnet Coleman in HD147 (Aurelia Wagner). Both always seem to draw primary opponents, for whatever the reason. Ron Reynolds in HD26 usually draws one as well, for reasons that are more clear. I note that the spreadsheet lists Richard Bonton as a Republican opponent for Harold Dutton in HD142. Bonton ran against Dutton in the Dem primary in 2018.

We can’t end this conversation without bringing up HD148. I fully expect Anna Eastman to win the special election runoff, which is most likely be on December 14, the same day as the city of Houston runoffs. It doesn’t have to be on the 14th – Greg Abbott sets the runoff date, and he has some discretion. The last time we had a special election for a State Rep seat in an odd year was 2005 with the election in HD143, and that runoff was held on the same date as the city runoffs. Not a guarantee, but a data point. In any event, whatever happens in that race, there’s no reason to believe that some other candidates won’t file for the primary in HD148 as well. Any of the runners up may conclude that this was a wonky election, and that maybe they lost some votes to not-that-Adrian-Garcia. For sure, the primary will have a very different electorate, and Anna Eastman will not be very well known to them. I will be a little surprised if Eastman has the primary to herself.

Last but not least in this series: county races. I don’t get to lean on the spreadsheet for that one.

Beto v Briscoe

I approve of this, with some small reservations.

Beto O’Rourke

Presidential contender Beto O’Rourke is helping a fellow Democrat raise money to unseat the Texas Rep. Briscoe Cain, after the Republican lawmaker tweeted last week that his AR-15 is “ready” for O’Rourke.

An email over the weekend from O’Rourke — still basking in the spotlight from his debate-stage vow that “Hell yes” he’ll confiscate assault-style weapons if elected — led to more than 3,600 donations for the campaign of Cain’s challenger, Josh Markle, of Deer Park.

Cain, a Baytown Republican, went viral after last week’s Democratic debate in Houston, when he tweeted at O’Rourke, “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis.” O’Rourke’s campaign reported the tweet to the FBI as a threat, then turned to its followers to raise money for Markle.

“Last year, Briscoe Cain ran completely unopposed,” the fundraising note, which vowed to split all money raised with Markle’s campaign, said. “This time, the Texas House Democratic caucus is running a campaign with Josh Markle to defeat him. The more money we can raise for them today, the stronger and clearer our message to Cain becomes. So please, make your best donation right now.”

O’Rourke’s supporters apparently did just that.

Markle — whose first foray into politics was block-walking and making calls for O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate run — told the Chronicle that his campaign received more than $43,000 in donations from that email alone. He says his campaign has brought in nearly 4,800 donations, totaling more than $68,000, since Cain posted the viral tweet that put the race for the solid-red district on the map.

I assume you heard about Briscoe Cain’s stupid and threatening statement towards Beto; I didn’t bother with it because there wasn’t much to say beyond demonstrating Cain’s profound amorality and utter unfitness to own any weapon, let alone one whose purpose it is to murder many people quickly and efficiently. Beto’s response here – he had other things to say, of course – is the normal political response, which is to make the elected official who said the stupid and offensive thing pay a price for it. The only problem is that Briscoe Cain is largely insulated from such effects, as one can observe in the 2018 numbers:


Dist    Beto
============
HD128  32.6%
HD130  33.2%
HD127  39.8%
HD150  42.3%
HD133  45.0%
HD129  45.2%
HD126  47.8%

Cain’s HD128 is the most Republican district in Harris County. I don’t see that trend reversing itself any time soon. It’s great to bring money and attention to Cain’s Democratic rival, and all hail Josh Markle for taking on the thankless task of running against Cain. It’s just that Beto could have raised ten times as much for Markle without it having any significant effect. I believe in running everywhere, I believe in supporting worthwhile candidates, and I believe that there’s always a chance. I just hope that the people who gave to Josh Markle did so with their eyes open, and didn’t blow their entire giving-to-local-Dems-in-2020 budget on that race.

(Beto was also busy in recent days boosting Eliz Markowitz’s campaign in HD28. That one comes with no reservations attached.)

There’s only one solution to the anti-vax crisis

They have to be beaten at the ballot box. There’s no other way.

On the South steps of the Texas Capitol, state Rep. Briscoe Cain prayed that the children standing beside him would not be mocked for their parents’ decision not to vaccinate them.

“We ask that you strengthen these children … we ask that you shield them,” said Cain, R-Deer Park. “May government leaders never forget that parents know what is best for their children.”

On Thursday, more than 300 anti-vaccination advocates and their children rallied with Texans for Vaccine Choice to support bills filed by a handful of state lawmakers that would require doctors to provide families with both the “benefits and risks of immunization,” and make it easier to opt out.

“I walk these halls and I see … the fun they are poking at our children and our families, and it angers me,” said the group’s president, Jackie Schlegel, who said her daughter is disabled due to complications from a vaccine. “The time is now to stand up, to be here for your families, to be here for your children, the ones who do not have a voice.”

Statewide data shows a steady rise in children whose parents have claimed conscientious exemptions from vaccine requirements. In 2018, 76,665 individuals requested affidavits for the exemption, an 18.8-percent increase over 2017, and a 63.8-percent increase since 2014, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

As the movement grows, Texas has seen a series of outbreaks of infectious diseases that were thought to have been virtually eliminated in the U.S.

You can see what we’re up against. Measles are back, someone was walking around the Capitol with whooping cough, idiots are deliberately exposing their own children to chicken pox, it goes on and on. Reason, civic duty, compassion for the immunocompromised, nothing moves these people. The one thing we can do is throw the legislators who coddle them out of office. Diminish their power, and the rest takes care of itself. So, just as a reminder:

Jonathan Stickland, HD92, won in 2018 by a 49.8% to 47.4% margin, in a district where Beto O’Rourke got 48.3% of the vote.

Matt Krause, HD93, won in 2018 by a 53.9% to 46.1% margin, in a district where Beto O’Rourke got 48.2% of the vote.

Bill Zedler, HD96, won in 2018 by a 50.8% to 47.2% margin, in a district where Beto O’Rourke got 49.5% of the vote.

I wish I could make a case for Briscoe Cain’s vulnerability, but alas, he’s in one of the two most Republican districts in Harris County. Still, take those three out and you’ve really weakened the anti-vax core. You want to see fewer kids get easily preventable diseases in Texas? There’s your starting point.

Things the Rainy Day Fund was not intended for

This, for one.

A pair of conservative lawmakers want Texans to help pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall and plan to ask lawmakers to take $2.5 billion out of its rainy day fund to cover the costs.

Reps. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, and Kyle Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg, told Breitbart, a conservative news publication, they plan to file legislation that would cover costs to “design, test, construct, and install physical barriers, roads, and technology along the international land border between the State of Texas and Mexico to prevent illegal crossings in all areas.”

Texans and Texas-owned companies would be given preference on all bids and contracts, the publication reported.

“If Congress refuses to keep Americans safe, then Texas will answer the call,” Cain said in a statement. “Our office is receiving many calls in support of this effort. We’ve even received calls from citizens of other states offering to help fund the wall.”

[…]

Texas now spends about $400 million a year on border security. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott suggested that lawmakers will renew that commitment over the next two years. The proposal from Cain and Biedermann would spend $2.5 billion by Aug. 31, according to Breitbart.

You know, I’m old enough to remember when this was known as the Economic Stabilization Fund. I’m also old enough to remember what its original intent was:

Texans approved a constitutional amendment creating the ESF in 1988, following an oil price plunge and economic recession that forced lawmakers to raise taxes to keep state government in the black. The Legislature structured the fund to automatically set aside some tax revenues in boom years to help the state during downturns.

It actually worked that way for awhile, too. Then Rick Perry came along and used the cover of the 2011 budget deficit to declare that the ESF was actually a fund for helping the state cope with natural disasters, and not to be used to avoid the deep and damaging cuts to things like public education and Medicaid that happened during that session. That change by executive fiat, along with the popular moniker of “The Rainy Day Fund” led to many people demanding its use in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which Greg Abbott refused. It’s still not clear what the state will do to help further the recovery from Harvey, but tapping into the ESF in a time of need for one-time expenditures is at least within hailing distance of its original purpose. The Cain/Biederman exercise in pants-wetting and xenophobia, on the other hand, is not. I’m glad we had the chance to have this little conversation. The Observer has more.

The Harris County slates

Let’s talk about the filings for Harris County. The SOS filings page is still the best source of information, but they don’t provide shareable links, so in the name of ease and convenience I copied the Democratic filing information for Harris County to this spreadsheet. I took out the statewide candidates, and I didn’t include Republicans because they have not updated the SOS office with their slate. Their primary filing site is still the best source for that. So review those and then come back so we can discuss.

Ready? Here we go.

– If there was an announcement I missed it, but HCDE Trustee Erica Lee, in Position 6, Precinct 1, did not file for re-election. Three candidates did file, Danyahel Norris, an attorney and associate director at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law; John F. Miller, who was a candidate for HCDE Chair earlier this year; and Prince Bryant.

– While there are contested races up and down the ballot, there’s one race that is no longer contested. Mike Nichols withdrew his filing for Harris County Judge, leaving Lina Hidalgo as the sole candidate to oppose Judge Ed Emmett next fall.

– The SOS page also shows that Sammy Casados withdrew his filing for County Commissioner. However, his campaign Facebook page makes no such announcement, and there’s no evidence I can find to confirm that. It’s possible this is a mistake on the SOS page. We’ll know soon enough, when the HCDP publishes its official final list. Anyway, the cast for Commissioner in Precinct 2 also includes Adrian Garcia, Daniel Box, Roger Garcia, and Ken Melancon, who was previously a candidate for Constable in Precinct 3 (note that Constable precincts, like Justice of the Peace precincts, do not correspond to Commissioner precincts). Also, there are now two candidates for Commissioner in Precinct 4, Penny Shaw and Jeff Stauber, who was a candidate for Sheriff in 2016.

– All other county races save one are contested. Diane Trautman has two opponents for County Clerk: Gayle Mitchell, who ran for the same office in 2014, losing to Ann Harris Bennett in the primary, and Nat West, who is the SDEC Chair for Senate District 13 and who ran for County Commissioner in Precinct 1 in that weird precinct chair-run election. Two candidates joined Marilyn Burgess and Kevin Howard for District Clerk, Michael Jordan and former Council candidate Rozzy Shorter. Dylan Osborne, Cosme Garcia, and Nile Copeland, who ran for judge as a Dem in 2010, are in for County Treasurer. HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large has Josh Wallenstein, Elvonte Patton, and Richard Cantu, who may be the same Richard Cantu that ran for HISD Trustee in District I in 2005. Only Andrea Duhon, the candidate for HCDE Trustee for Position 4 in Precinct 3, has a free pass to November.

– I will go through the late filings for legislative offices in a minute, but first you need to know that Lloyd Oliver filed in HD134. Whatever you do, do not vote for Lloyd Oliver. Make sure everyone you know who lives in HD134 knows to vote for Alison Sawyer and not Lloyd Oliver. That is all.

– Now then. SBOE member Lawrence Allen drew an opponent, Steven Chambers, who is a senior manager at HISD. That’s a race worth watching.

– Sen. John Whitmire has two primary opponents, Damien LaCroix, who ran against him in 2014, and Hank Segelke, about whom I know nothing. Rita Lucido, who ran for SD17, threw her hat in the ring to join Fran Watson and Ahmad Hassan.

– Carlos Pena (my google fu fails me on him) joins Gina Calanni for HD132. Ricardo Soliz made HD146 a three-candidate race, against Rep. Shawn Thierry and Roy Owens. There are also three candidates in HD133: Marty Schexnayder, Sandra Moore, and someone you should not vote for under any circumstances. He’s another perennial candidate with lousy views, just like Lloyd Oliver. Wh you should also not vote for under any circumstances.

– The Republican side is boring. Stan Stanart has a primary opponent. Rep. Briscoe Cain no longer does. There’s some drama at the JP level, where Precinct 5 incumbent Jeff Williams faces two challengers. Williams continued to perform weddings after the Obergefell decision, meaning he did (or at least was willing to do) same sex weddings as well. You do the math. Unfortunately, there’s no Democrat in this race – it’s one of the few that went unfilled. There was a Dem who filed, but for reasons unknown to me the filing was rejected. Alas.

I’ll have more in subsequent posts. Here’s a Chron story from Monday, and Campos has more.

UPDATE: Two people have confirmed to me that Sammy Casados has withdrawn from the Commissioners Court race.

Filing news: The “not much to add but I’ll add it anyway” edition

One more week to go till the filing deadline. There’s already been a lot of activity, but there should be plenty more to come. A few highlights as we head into the last week for filing:

An old familiar face wants back in.

Trey Martinez-Fischer

Former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Saturday that he is running for his old Texas House seat, setting up a primary battle with fellow San Antonio Democrat Diana Arévalo.

Addressing supporters in San Antonio, Fischer said he could not think of a more compelling reason to run than the election of President Donald Trump — and the forthcoming retirement of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a moderate Republican.

“We can hide and get out of the way, or we can stand and fight,” Fischer said. “I’m not very good at hiding, and I’m not very good at retiring.”

Fischer represented House District 116 from 2001 until he gave it up to run for Texas Senate in 2016.

TMF was a very good representative, who knew the House rulebook well and wielded it with considerable success. I don’t know much about Rep. Arevalo – it’s hard for a freshman to stand out, especially a Democratic freshman in this environment. I’ll be honest, if we could rewind the tape back a few months, I’d be pleading with TMF to run for Lite Guv. No disrespect to Mike Collier, but TMF is the opponent Dan Patrick deserves. We’ll see if the voters in HD116 want to bring him back.

– Like basically everyone, I expect Sen. Sylvia Garcia to be the next member of Congress from CD29, but some are not willing to concede.

Tahir Javed, CEO of Riceland Health Care in Winnie, late Friday released a statement saying he had officially filed papers with the Harris County Democratic Party to get into the growing Democratic primary.

“The American people are demanding change – at the federal, state and local level,” Javed, who is from Beaumont and who hosted a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in January 2016, said in a statement. “We need a real fighter in Congress, which is why I have filed to run.”

You know as much about Tahir Javed, who does not appear to have a campaign we presence yet, as I do. I’ve got the over/under for Sylvia at around 65% right now, but as they say, this is why we play the game on the field.

– There are now five candidates for Governor in the Democratic primary, according to the SOS candidate filings page. None of them a yet are named Jeffrey Payne, Andrew White, or Lupe Valdez. Of those five, one has won an election before, Cedric Davis, the former Mayor of Balch Springs; his campaign Facebook page is here. And now you know as much about Cedric Davis as I do.

– On the Republican side it’s pretty much dullsville, especially in Harris County. Other than the pissing contest in HD134, the most interesting race on that side is in HD128, where Baytown City Council Member Terry Sain is challenging first-term Rep. Briscoe Cain. Sain, whose entry in the race has been expected for months, is an old school Reagan Republican with a long record of public service, while Cain is an obsequious little twerp. You can probably tell which way my rooting interests lie, but this is something we should all care about. I don’t expect Terry Sain to vote with my interests more than a small percentage of the time, but I do expect him to take the job seriously, and to not act like an ignorant fool on the House floor. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Like I said, I expect there to be a lot more action this week. I’ll do my best to stay on top of it.

House passes its budget

Mostly shenanigan-free, with a nice little side order of shade for a few people who deserve it.

After 15 and a half hours of debate on hundreds of amendments to the Texas House budget, lawmakers in the lower chamber passed the two-year, $218 billion document, with 131 votes in favor and 16 votes against.

The House vote included using $2.5 billion from the state’s savings account, colloquially known as the Rainy Day Fund. State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, thanked lawmakers for exhibiting “true leadership” with their willingness to tap the fund, “instead of electing to use an unconstitutional transfer from the transportation funding.”

That was a jab at the Senate, which last week approved its version of the two-year budget using a $2.5 billion accounting trick to free up funds dedicated to highway spending. The House must now work with the Senate, which is under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who vehemently opposes using the Rainy Day Fund, to reconcile their budget differences.

House lawmakers, debating the budget late into Thursday night, took several jabs at Patrick and other statewide elected officials throughout the evening.

Included in the fray were Gov. Greg Abbott, who saw one of his prized economic development programs defunded; Patrick, who heard a resounding “no” when his favored proposal to subsidize private school tuition with public funds was put to a vote; and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who lost more than $20 million from his agency’s budget for lawsuits.

On the winning side of the House budget debate were child welfare advocates, who saw funding for foster care and Child Protective Services tentatively boosted; social conservatives, who scored $20 million for the Alternatives to Abortion program; and the lieutenants of House Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team who, in a display of unity, easily brushed aside most challenges from far-right Republicans.

Statewide GOP leaders took some of the heftiest blows in the House chamber. Lawmakers there voted to strip $43 million from the governor’s Texas Enterprise Fund, the “deal-closing” fund the state uses to lure businesses from elsewhere, and divide it into two equal pots: one for Child Protective Services and foster care funding, the other for a program that pays for disabled children’s physical, occupational and speech therapy services. Both are hot-button issues that have dominated the House’s budget negotiations during this legislative session.

[…]

Private school subsidies, a pet issue of Patrick and his Senate, also suffered a perhaps fatal wound on Thursday. House lawmakers voted 103-44 to prevent state money from being spent to subsidize private school tuition in the form of vouchers, education savings accounts or tuition scholarships. The proposal’s author, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said it was “in support of our public schools and our neighborhood schools.”

[…]

Paxton’s attorney general’s office also saw funding gutted by House lawmakers who opted to instead fund programs that serve vulnerable children. Foster care funding would receive $21.5 million that was previously intended to pay for Paxton’s legal services budget under a proposal by state Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, that passed 82 to 61.

See here for more on the Enterprise Fund de-funding, which made me smile. Despite promises of shenanigans and roughly a gazillion amendments filed, there was more good done to the budget than bad. Which is not to say it’s a good budget, but it’s far from the worst we’ve ever seen. Take your positives where you can.

Especially when they involve Dan Patrick getting pwned.

In late March, lobbying group Texans for Education Opportunity used an online campaign to generate thousands of letters to 29 state representatives lobbying them to back education savings accounts, one of the subsidy programs in SB 3. Though the group claimed the letters were credible, the letters stirred up suspicion after no representative could find a constituent who remembered adding their name to that correspondence.

Of the 29 representatives targeted in the campaign, 26 voted Thursday to block money from funding “private school choice” programs.

RG Ratcliffe called it a “mugging”. As former Houston Rockets radio announcer Gene Peterson used to say, how sweet it is. Also, too, going back to the first story, there’s this:

Stickland had filed an amendment defund a state program for the abatement of feral hogs, which he’s become known for championing at the Legislature each session. Stickland railed predictably against the program, calling it “ridiculous” and a waste of money.

“It has not worked, and it never will work,” Stickland said, his voice rising.

That apparently offended rural lawmakers, notably state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. In response, Springer attached an amendment to Stickland’s proposal that would cut the same amount of funding for the Texas Department of Transportation, but only for roads and highways in Stickland’s hometown of Bedford.

Stickland took to the back microphone to cry foul.

“Someone else has chosen to make a mockery of this system and play gotcha politics,” he said before being interrupted. Laughter had erupted in the gallery.

“It’s funny until it happens to you,” he continued.

Springer and Stickland then confronted each other on the middle of the House floor and had to be separated by colleagues. Springer’s amendment ultimately passed, 99 to 26, forcing Stickland to withdraw his own proposal to which it had been attached.

What is best in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of Jonathan Stickland. And Briscoe Cain, too, the Chester to Stickland’s Spike, except without the victorious denouement for Chester. Look, just because the House passed a budget doesn’t mean this is the budget we’ll get. The Senate passed a budget, too, and there are lots of differences to be worked out between the two. The final version will be different, and some of the things we are cheering now may be undone in that. But that’s no reason not to cheer for the things that deserve it now. The Observer and the Press have more.

Cain retains lead in HD128 after recount

It’s all over.

Rep. Wayne Smith

After a recount, Briscoe Cain remains the winner in his Republican primary challenge to state Rep. Wayne Smith of Baytown.

Cain, an attorney from Deer Park, edged out Smith, a longtime incumbent, by 23 votes last month in House District 128. After initially conceding defeat in the May 24 primary runoff, Smith requested a recount.

The Texas Republican Party said Friday afternoon that Cain has won the recount. It was not immediately clear whether he prevailed by the same margin.

[…]

The deadline for requesting a recount of last month’s primary runoffs is 5 p.m. Monday.

See here for the background. We had previously been told that Thursday, June 2, was the deadline for requesting recounts. Not that it really matters at this point. In any event, as there is no Democrat running in HD128, Cain is the newest member of the legislative caucus from Harris County, so congratulations to him on his election.

Two runoff recounts in the works

It’s not over yet in HD128.

Rep. Wayne Smith

In a reversal, state Rep. Wayne Smith is now pursuing a recount in his narrow loss in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff.

Deer Park attorney Briscoe Cain beat Smith, a longtime incumbent from Baytown, by 23 votes in the runoff. As soon as the outcome became clear in House District 128, Smith conceded the race, and his campaign confirmed the next morning that he was not interested in a recount.

But in a statement issued Thursday night, Smith indicated he had changed his mind.

“After much thought and careful consideration, I have decided to move forward with a recount,” Smith said. “Whenever a race is this close, the option for a recount must be considered. In the past two days, I have been overwhelmed by friends and supporters who have encouraged this option.”

Smith lost in the closest race of the runoffs, though not the closest race of the cycle. I was surprised when he initially declined to ask for a recount, so I’m not surprised he changed his mind.

The other recount was announced immediately in the aftermath of Tuesday’s runoffs.

Tuesday’s Republican primary runoffs may not be over yet for at least one candidate.

The contests produced a number of narrow margins — including in House District 54, where Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper won by just 43 votes. His opponent, Killeen optometrist Austin Ruiz, said late Tuesday night he has “decided to pursue filing for a recount.”

[…]

A losing candidate can ask for a recount if the number of votes by which he or she lost is less than 10 percent of the total number of votes his or her opponent received, according to the secretary of state’s office. The deadline to apply for a recount is by the end of the fifth day after the election or the second day after the vote totals are canvassed.

That deadline is Thursday, June 2, at 5 PM, according to the Secretary of State. I can’t imagine there will be any other requests, as the only other runoffs for which the races were close have had the losing candidates concede. But if Wayne Smith can change his mind then someone else could, too.

Republican primary runoff results

vote-button

Harris County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Your new State Senators are Bryan Hughes, who defeated his former House colleague David Simpson, and Dawn Buckingham, who defeated former Rep. Susan King. Hughes is a Dan Patrick buddy, who will fit right in to the awfulness of the upper chamber. Buckingham is a first-time officeholder who needs only to be less terrible than Troy Fraser, but I don’t know if she’s capable of that. She has a Democratic opponent in November, but that’s not a competitive district.

The single best result in any race on either side is Keven Ellis defeating certifiable loon Mary Lou Bruner in SBOE9. Whether Bruner finally shot herself in the foot or it was divine intervention I couldn’t say, but either way we should all be grateful. State government has more than enough fools in it already. Here’s TFN’s statement celebrating the result.

Jodey Arrington will be the next Congressman from CD19. There were also runoffs in a couple of Democratic districts, but I don’t really care about those.

Scott Walker easily won his Court of Criminal Appeals runoff. Mary Lou Keel had a two-point lead, representing about 6,000 votes, with three-quarters of precincts reporting, while Wayne Christian had a 7,000 vote lead for Railroad Commissioner. Those results could still change, but that seems unlikely.

Two incumbent House members appear to have fallen. Rep. Doug Miller in HD73 lost to Kyle Biedermann after a nasty race. Miller is the third incumbent to be ousted in a primary since 2006. They sure are easily dissatisfied in the Hill Country. Here in Harris County, Rep. Wayne Smith has been nipped by 22 votes by Briscoe Cain. That race was nasty, too. You have to figure there’ll be a recount in that one, with such a small margin, but we’ll see. For other House runoffs, see the Trib for details.

Last but not least, in another fit of sanity Harris County Republicans chose to keep their party chair, Paul Simpson. Better luck next time, dead-enders. Final turnout was 38,276 with 927 of 1,012 precincts reporting, so well below the Stanart pre-voting estimate of 50,000. Dems were clocking in at just under 30K with about the same number or precincts out. That’s actually a tad higher than I was expecting, more or less in line with 2012 when there was a Senate runoff.

Final runoff early voting numbers

EarlyVoting

Here are your final early voting numbers for the Republican and Democratic primary runoffs in Harris County. Note that in both cases, mail ballots have accounted for the majority of the total so far: On the Dem side, there have been 10,913 mail ballots to 10,364 in-person votes, and for the Rs it’s 15,297 to 12,742. For that reason, I don’t expect Tuesday’s results to provide a big boost to turnout, though there are still plenty of people who could vote if they wanted to. We’ll see how good a job the campaigns do at getting their people out.

There are two legislative runoffs in Harris County. In the increasingly nasty HD128 runoff between Republican incumbent Wayne Smith and challenger Briscoe Cain, the effect can be seen in the daily totals from the County Clerk. There were 1,858 in person votes in HD128, nearly double the amount of the next busiest district. It’s more muted on the Democratic side, where 932 people have shown up to pick between Jarvis Johnson and Kimberly Willis. That total trails HDs 146 (984) and 142 (949), not to mention the 1,012 votes cast at the West Gray Multi-Service Center. Of course, the dailies from the Clerk are for in person votes only. We won’t know how many absentee ballots have been cast in each district until Tuesday night.

Speaking of Jarvis Johnson, I could swear I saw a story late last week saying he had been sworn into office after his win in the May 7 special election to fill the remainder of now-Mayor Sylvester Turner’s term, but if so now neither Google nor I can find it. Johnson did pick up Mayor Turner’s endorsement for the primary runoff last week, and he has been endorsed by the Texas AFL-CIO COPE as well. Kimberly Willis has the support of the Texas Parent PAC, but not as far as I can tell Annie’s List. The Houston GLBT Political Caucus did not make an endorsement in this runoff.

Outside of Harris County, you know about the HD27 runoff. The other legislative runoff of interest is in HD120, where candidate Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (who is endorsed by Annie’s List) kicked up a bit of a fuss with labor by appearing to give support to “right to work” laws at a candidate forum. That cost her one endorsement she’s previously received; you can read Express News columnist Gilbert Garcia for the details. By the way, the basically useless special election to fill the unexpired term in HD120, which involved four people who are not in the primary runoff, will have its runoff election on August 2. Lord help us all.

Finally, in the Republican runoff for State Board of Education, District 9, Mary Lou Bruner, this cycle’s winner of the Biggest Idiot Who May Actually Get Elected To Something award, may have inadvertently demonstrated that even in a Republican primary runoff for SBOE in East Texas, there are some limits on stupidity. Maybe. That’s not a proposition I’d want to bet my own money on, but we’ll see. SBOE 9 did elect Thomas Ratliff once, so there is hope and precedent. Ask me again on Wednesday.

Runoff watch: Legislative races

I’m going to spend a few posts looking at the runoff elections that will be on the ballot this May. Primary runoffs are completely different than regular primaries, mostly because the races involved are low profile and only the hardest of hardcore voters come out for them. Remember how much time we spent this primary cycle talking about the 2008 Democratic primary and how off-the-charts high the turnout was? Well, turnout for the 2008 Democratic primary runoff in Harris County, which decided one District Judge nomination and one Justice of the Peace nomination, as well as voting on the nomination for Railroad Commissioner, drew all of 9,670 votes. Republican primary runoff turnout that year was 40,457, considerably higher but still quite paltry. The exception to this rule is when there is an actual high-profile race on the ballot, such as in 2012 when Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst went into overtime for the US Senate nomination. That year, in a runoff that happened in July, over 135,000 people came out to vote. The Democratic runoff, which also included a Senate race, drew 30,000 votes. Point being: Don’t expect much this year.

The bottom line is that there are two types of primary runoff voters: Those who are super plugged into the process and who turn out any time there’s an election, and those who are brought out by a campaign. In the absence of a high-profile campaign, the kind that draws news coverage and maybe TV advertising, the main kind of campaign that will draw out voters is one with a ground game. Legislative races are the best for that. There are three legislative runoffs of interest, two in Harris County and one in Fort Bend.

HD128 – Republican runoff

Rep. Wayne Smith

I don’t pay that much attention to most Republican primary races, and even if I did I doubt I’d have given this one much thought. Rep. Wayne Smith in HD128 is a low-key guy, serving as the Chair of the Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee and generally not doing much to attract my attention. He hadn’t had a competitive primary since he was first elected in 2002, and hadn’t had a non-third party opponent since 2004. Yet there he was on Election Day, trailing some guy named Brisco Cain by four points and coming close to losing outright in a three-candidate field. What happened?

I’ll leave you to read this Big Jolly post to get an idea. Basically, it’s one part Smith not being “conservative” enough – Cain drew a ton of support from the “grassroots” organizations – and one part this being yet another proxy fight over Speaker Joe Straus. That’s likely to be how the runoff plays out, though so far it’s been as under the radar from the perspective of an interested outsider like myself as the March race was. Smith’s best chance, it seems to me, is for Straus’ money to buy him some voter outreach, and get as many people who think he’s been good for Baytown to the polls. Cain, who ran for HD129 in 2014 but finished fourth in the seven-candidate primary, needs to harness the same seething anger that propels candidacies like his. He had a 500-vote lead on March 1, and the kind of people that vote for the kind of candidate that he is tend to be highly motivated to turn out, so I see this as Cain’s race to lose. I predict there will be at least one controversy over a mailer or online ad attacking Smith, because that’s the way these things tend to go and also because groups like Empower Texans are backing Cain. If you’re a Republican, how do you see this race?

HD139 – Democratic runoff

This is the race for Mayor Turner’s open seat, with the winner of the primary runoff the winner of the office, since there is no Republican running. (The same is true for the HD128 runoff.) Candidate Randy Bates collected the most institutional support, and he led the field when the initial results, from early and absentee voting, were published. He then collected only 20% of the vote on Election Day, and slid into third place behind Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. I’m not sure what happened there, but if I had to guess I’d posit that 1) Willis had a better ground game, and 2) Johnson benefited from the high turnout on Election Day, as perhaps it featured a higher percentage of voters who were voting for a familiar name. Like I said, that’s just a guess.

I could see this runoff going either way. I have not yet seen updated endorsements from the groups that had backed Bates in March, but I’ll be surprised if it isn’t the case that Willis cleans up among them. She has been by far the more active campaigner of the two, and Johnson’s legacy as Council member isn’t the best. I think Willis will be able to turn out some voters for this race, and that gives her the edge, but Johnson’s name recognition can’t be denied. Willis’ model needs to be Erica Lee’s runoff win for HCDE in 2012, which she accomplished despite Johnson nearly taking a majority in the first round. If she can reach enough voters, she can win.

On a side note, there is a complicating factor for this race, and that’s the special election to fill out the remainder of Turner’s term, which will be held on May 7, a mere 17 days before the primary runoff. I don’t know when the filing deadline is for this, and I don’t know who all will be in that race, but surely Willis and Johnson will file for it. If nothing else, it’s another opportunity to get out there before the voters. As long as they understand that their obligation doesn’t end with that race and they come out again on May 24, that is.

HD27 – Democratic runoff

The one non-Harris County race of interest, and the one with the highest profile so far. You know the story – three-term Rep. Ron Reynolds and his tsuris, with Annie’s List-backed Angelique Bartholomew the last candidate standing against him. Reynolds, like Briscoe Cain in HD128, was above 50% for most of the night on March 1. In fact, I went to bed around midnight having stated that Reynolds had pulled it out. Not so fast, as it happened.

What Reynolds has going for him is that a lot of people still genuinely like him – for all his self-inflicted wounds, even his opponents have compassion for him – and he hasn’t lost the support of elected officials and many establishment groups. What he has going against him, besides his conviction for barratry, is at least one establishment group that is sure to spend money to try to defeat him, money that he doesn’t have and probably won’t be able to raise. There’s also ammunition to use against him that goes beyond the barratry issue. I think he’s buoyant enough that this is still his race to lose – again, he came very close to winning outright in the first place – but he’s not invulnerable. If there are any further cracks in his support, it could shatter on him.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results