Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Congress

So is Henry Cuellar still being investigated by the FBI?

It’s been a year since his home was raided. Is there another shoe to drop?

Rep. Henry Cuellar

Last January, FBI agents raided U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s home and office in Laredo, emerging with a computer and plastic bins and bags containing personal items in a stunning spectacle that occurred just weeks before a tough primary election.

The raid cast a shadow over a competitive election year for the longtime Democratic congressman who defended his seat from a progressive in the March primary and then a well-funded and coordinated effort to flip his seat by Republicans in November. Cuellar emerged largely unscathed — soundly winning his November reelection for a 10th term in office.

One year later, there have been no arrests or charges filed related to the case. Cuellar maintains that he was never the target of the investigation and will ultimately be cleared of wrongdoing. And the public remains largely in the dark about what set off the investigation.

“There has been no wrongdoing on my part,” Cuellar said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “My focus remains the same from my very first day in office: delivering results for Texans across my district.”

Cuellar declined to be interviewed. The FBI declined comment for this story.

Legal experts say the lack of answers or information a year later by federal authorities shouldn’t be construed as either an exoneration or a reflection of guilt of anyone associated in the case.

Experts cited myriad reasons for the continued silence around the case: The FBI search may have yielded no evidence, indictments could be sealed, the case could still be developing or there may have been delays because law enforcement did not want to interfere with the recent November elections.

“The government moved forward at that point, but it’s not necessarily surprising that we haven’t seen any other announcements or any other information that’s gone public,” said Edward Loya Jr., a Dallas-based attorney and former federal prosecutor.

“It’s too early to draw any firm conclusions one way or another,” Loya said. “What we can glean from this is that the investigation appears to be ongoing, and the government hasn’t reached a resolution one way or another as to how it plans to proceed.”

John Bash, a defense attorney who previously worked at the U.S. Department of Justice and served as a U.S. attorney in Texas, said that the DOJ is under no obligation to publicly announce that a case is closed or that a subject related to the case is not a target.

“If they got new information that caused them to reopen the investigation, they wouldn’t want to convey to anybody that ‘No, we will never look at this again,’” Bash said. “But oftentimes, they’ll tell the defense they’ve been communicating with, ‘Hey, this is over.’”

I didn’t blog about the raid at the time, mostly because I prefer not to think too much about Henry Cuellar. Be that as it may, however one may choose to interpret the lack of news about this situation, I feel compelled to note that the FBI has been investigating Ken Paxton since November of 2020, and served subpoeanas to his office in December that year. A lot has happened since then, all related to the ongoing whistleblower lawsuit, but if we were expecting to see Paxton get frog-marched by the FBI one fine day, we’re still waiting. Make of that what you will.

Lawsuit filed to keep The Former Guy off the 2024 ballot

Good luck with that.

Former president Donald Trump is facing a legal challenge to his 2024 bid for the presidency from a fellow Republican.

John Anthony Castro, an attorney from Texas and long-shot candidate for president in 2024, filed the lawsuit in federal court on Friday arguing that Trump was constitutionally ineligible to hold office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

Known as the “Disqualification Clause,” the section prohibits anyone who engaged in “insurrection or rebellion” against the United States from holding “any office, civil or military, under the United States.” Castro is arguing that Trump’s involvement in the January 6th insurrection should disqualify him from holding public office again.

“The framers of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment intended the constitutional provision to be both self-executing and to provide a cause of action,” Castro, who’s representing himself, wrote in the complaint. “More specifically, the Union sought to punish the insurrectionary Confederacy by making their ability to hold public office unconstitutional.”

The Disqualification Clause mostly sat dormant since 1869 until last fall, when a New Mexico judge ousted Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin from his position on the Otero County Commission for breaching the Capitol complex on Jan. 6.

Several advocacy groups, including Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), have vowed to pursue similar legal action against Trump during his 2024 run.

“The evidence that Trump engaged in insurrection is overwhelming,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder wrote in a letter to the former president on Nov. 3, before he declared his candidacy. “We are ready, willing and able to take action to make sure the Constitution is upheld and Trump is prevented from holding office.”

Castro was among the giant herd of candidates who ran in the CD06 special election in 2021. He won 5.51% of the vote, which was probably in the top half of performers. I saw another story about this that described him as a “long shot candidate”, and I’d say that’s accurate. He filed this lawsuit in Florida, and ironically drew the Trump-toadiest judge out there, Aileen Cannon; he says he plans to disqualify her from hearing the case, which checks out. He also noted that the advocacy groups that intend to file their own lawsuits will do so later in the year, and he wanted to get out ahead of things. I don’t expect anything to happen with this lawsuit, but it ought to be fun to watch regardless. Bloomberg has more.

A walk through four districts, part 3: Try this at home!

In Part One I described my weird idea to take a stroll into four Congressional districts, something I decided I could do after taking a close look at the new map in Houston. In Part 2, I took you on that walk with me. Now I’m going to show how this could be done elsewhere and with different types of districts.

We do redistricting every ten years, so you might wonder why I picked Congressional districts as the object of this little obsession. Congressional redistricting had national implications, of course. As this recent DMN story points out, Texas Republicans squeezed out four more districts than the overall electoral numbers suggest they were entitled to, giving them nearly all of the seats needed to achieve a majority in the House. I wasn’t thinking of that a year ago, of course, but I definitely spent more time thinking about the Congressional map than about the others. It was that new Congressional map that I had zoomed in on, to see what things looked like in my immediate area, that gave me the inspiration.

But what about those other maps? How about in the State House, where the districts are smaller and there are 24 of them in Harris County? (There ought to be 25, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) In the previous map, my neighborhood was sliced in half for no particular reason, which meant that I’d travel between HDs 145 and 148 every day walking my dog. Our neighborhood has been reunited under the new map, so I would need to travel a little farther to cross State House boundaries. That made me think, which State House districts did I pass through as I did Wednesday’s walk? Let’s take a look!

I started in HD145, entered HD147 when I turned south on Heights after walking along the boundary once I passed Studewood, and then reached the boundary with HD134 at Washington. I was fully in HD134 once I was west of Shepherd.

But look closer! With a slight modification, I could have started in HD142, on Jensen south of Lorraine, walked north to Quitman, then followed the same route to eventually get to HD134, with a terminus at the HEB just south of Washington. I didn’t fool around with Google Maps for this, but that looks like a roughly equivalent distance. I’m not surprised that this was doable in such close proximity, but I would not have guessed that these would be the four districts involved. This is why it’s fun to play with maps, kids.

That wasn’t where I had picked for what may be the shortest walk needed to be in four State House districts. Take a look at this:

Just start on Yorktown and walk till you’re past Fayette. Google Maps shows this as 1.6 miles because it won’t let you cross San Felipe or Westheimer at Yorktown – it insists on making you hike all the way to Sage, then doubling back on Westheimer to return to Yorktown – so as the crow flies it’s probably not much more than a mile. Someone who knows that area better than I do will have to tell me why you can’t just walk all the way down Yorktown. Be that as it may, even with the detours, it’s a pretty short walk.

By the way, why is that tiny rectangle south of Westheimer and east of Chimney Rock in HD137 and not HD134? I have no idea. Either it’s a super-optimization of whatever evil redistricting software the Republicans used, or someone asked for that specific change for some reason. I’ll throw the question out to you if you think you know the answer.

There are a couple of other possibilities in Harris County. Zooming out a bit, south of I-10 and east of US59 you could get from HD142 to HD147 via HDs 142 and 145, and north of 610 you could get from HD141 to HD145 via HDs 140 and 142, though you’d have to cross US59 to do it, which might be dicey on foot.

Looking elsewhere in the state, I see possibilities in San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas, where I even see a possible five-district walk:

Start in that weird southern finger of HD108 and head south-ish to wind up in HD104, passing through HDs 114, 100, and 103 along the way. You have to cross the junction of I-30 and I-35, which sounds like a nightmare, but maybe it’s doable. Point is, these districts are all right up against each other.

You might think that State Senate districts would be too large for this, as there are eight fewer of them than there are Congressional districts. Challenge accepted:

Start on Piney Point Road near San Felipe and head south as it becomes Fondren, and go a few blocks south of Richmond, to have visited SDs 07, 17, 15, and 13. There may be other possibilities elsewhere, but I was happy enough with that to quit looking.

Going back to Congress for a minute, I see opportunities again in San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas as before. That DMN story highlights a couple of places where the distance between one district and another, with a third in between, is ridiculously thin, like less than a quarter mile in the Dallas case. But just to finish this post, let me show you what my original walk route looked like under the old map:

Starting a bit farther east on Quitman in CD29, I could have headed on Quitman to White Oak to either Studewood or Yale, then gone south to Allen Parkway and east to Shepherd to visit CDs 18, 02, and 07 along the way. That might even have been a slightly shorter walk. Just a reminder that this was a thing before I ever decided to try it out, and will likely continue to be a thing ten years from now when we do this all again. Now go play with those maps and plan your own walk.

PS: I should have noted sooner that John Nova Lomax did a great series of articles some years ago when he wrote for the Houston Press in which he walked the entire length of a well-known Houston thoroughfare – Richmond and Shepherd are the two I remember from the series – and wrote about the experience. Some of the walks he took were in excess of ten miles and took him all day; he had planned meal and bathroom stops along the way, out of necessity. I don’t have that on my itinerary any time soon, but I was thinking about it as I did this walk.

A walk through four districts, part 1

As you know, I draft stuff before I publish it. Sometimes, things I draft that aren’t particularly time-sensitive can get lost in the shuffle when there’s a lot of news of interest. Those things may get taken from the pile during slower times, like the holidays. Sometimes I start something then don’t finish it. Once in awhile, a newer story comes along that directly relates to such a post and I go back to it. Sometimes, I finally get around to finishing what I started.

This is one of those times. After the Lege finally finished off redistricting in late 2021, I was taking a close look at the Congressional map – specifically, I had zoomed in on Houston near where I lived, and I realized that I could probably take a walk that would have me passing through four different districts. This Chron story was the inspiration for that.

The Texas Legislature on Monday put the finishing touches on a redistricting proposal that has major implications for millions of people who live in and around Houston. Here is a summary of how Harris County’s nine Congressional districts are changing for 2022.

You can go back and read the story, I’m not that interested in the details at this point. What I was interested in was seeing how easy it is to pass from one district to another, which all of us are likely doing any day we get out of the house, without realizing it. Let me start by showing the area I had zoomed in on:

From there, I used Google maps to sketch out a route for my walk:

According to Google maps, I’d get from the beginning in CD29 to the end in CD38 in one hour and 34 minutes, which would be a bit more than four miles. I walk about seven miles a day on average, and thus the idea took shape.

The thing about doing something like this, though, is that you can’t do it alone. I knew I could walk from point A to point B easily enough, but I had to get to point A and then get home from point B. Doing that all by myself would mean a heck of a lot more walking, and a lot more time. My plan was to get my elder daughter to drop me off at point A, basically at the Leonel Castillo Community Center, and then pick me up later near the traffic circle on Washington at Westcott. We would have done this over Christmas break last year. But for one reason or another it didn’t happen, and once school and work started up there was never a good time for it. So the idea, and the post that I began that included that Chron link and those pictures, got put on the shelf.

And then this Christmas rolled around, and I saw the old entry in my drafts, and I said hey, what about this year? Elder daughter was game, the weather was great for walking, and the plan came together. Wednesday, January 4 was a gloriously sunny day with morning temperatures in the 60s. I reviewed my route, coordinated the dropoff and pickup, told my ever-patient wife about the shenanigans I was about to get up to, and set out. I took some pictures along the way. I will tell you all about it and show you the pics of interest tomorrow.

Ike Dike authorization officially passed

Took a roundabout route to get there, but here we are.

With the stroke of a pen, President Joe Biden authorized a $34 billion proposal to build a massive storm surge protection system on the Texas coast and around Galveston Bay.

Biden on Friday signed the National Defense Authorization Act, a $858 billion spending package that includes raises for troops and aid to Ukraine.

Buried deep in the bill was a single line that opens the door for one of the largest public infrastructure projects in U.S. history to be built in Texas. The defense act authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Texas Coastal Protection and Restoration project, which has locally become better known as the Ike Dike.

The $34 billion plan is a proposal to build a system of seagate, levees and dunes in an around Galveston Bay to block storm surge from rushing in from the Gulf of Mexico and into the bay and Houston Ship Channel.

[…]

Once fully constructed, the Army Corps estimates the project will save $2.2 billion in storm damages every year, though how useful the gates will be when they are complete — or over the half-century or more that the structure is expected to operate — remains to be seen. Like any other levees or dams, the barrier could fall short or fail to hold back the biggest storm surges. The project doesn’t address the kind of the rain-caused flooding that happened during Hurricane Harvey.

The defense bill doesn’t authorize funding of the project. Congress will need to separately authorize $21.4 billion for the project sometime in the future, while a new state-created taxing entity, the Gulf Coast Protection District, will have to contribute about $13 billion to the project, according to estimates published in the defense act.

“Federal authorization of the Coastal Texas Program represents a momentous step forward for this critical effort, over a decade in the making, to protect the communities, economy, and vital ecosystems of the Texas coast from the devastating effects of coastal storm surge,” said Michel Bechtel, president of the protection district’s board of directors.

As noted in an earlier story, a standalone version of the Ike Dike bill had passed both the House and the Senate earlier in the year, but there were differences between the two that were not reconciled in time for that bill to pass. So this is what we get, basically the same thing just done in a weird way. I feel confident that funding will follow – the state has already created one funding mechanism, but federal dollars will be needed – and from there it’s just a matter of how long it takes to actually build something. Which, to be clear, is probably on a 20-year timeline even if everything goes more or less as planned. So while one door is finally closed, there’s still a long way to go.

Electoral Count Act included in must-pass budget bill

It’s not nearly enough to shore up voting rights, but it’s still vitally necessary and clearly the best we could do.

After months of negotiations, it now appears to be official: The Electoral Count Reform Act has hitched a ride on the much-anticipated 2023 omnibus funding package that was released Monday night, setting up a path for the legislation to pass the Senate.

“My two-word reaction is thank God,” said Matthew Seligman, a lawyer and fellow at Stanford Law School’s Constitutional Law Center who has tracked the reform effort closely. “I think this means that it’s virtually certain that it will be included in the final bill and the Electoral Count Reform Act will become law.”

Democrats and a handful of Republicans have been negotiating over how to reform the outdated 1887 law — which lays out how presidential electors are counted in Congress — for the past year. The effort to do so was prompted by vagaries in the text that former President Donald Trump and lawyer John Eastman sought to exploit to subvert the 2020 election.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced they’d come to an agreement this summer, but it has been unclear for some time whether the legislation would garner the 60 Republican votes needed to clear a filibuster, and whether it would pass before Republicans take over control of the House next year.

But the end game is coming into focus: The Friday government funding deadline is coming up, lawmakers are aiming to pass the massive $1.66 trillion spending bill — and the ECA reform included in it — before then.

“We must finish passing this omnibus before the deadline on Friday when government funding runs out, but we hope to do it much sooner than that,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on Tuesday morning. He added the first procedural votes in the Senate could happen as soon as today.

The ECA reform bill would clarify that the vice president’s role in certifying a presidential election is purely ceremonial and make it clear that they do not have the sole power to address disputes over electors. It would also raise the threshold for Congress to invalidate legitimate electors and for state legislatures to override the popular vote in their states.

This reform is “​​a critical step to strengthen the guardrails for our democracy and ensure that the will of the voters is upheld following a presidential election,” said Holly Idelson, a counsel with Protect Democracy.

It really is a shame that a much more robust reform package that included a renewed Voting Rights Act, redistricting restrictions, requirements for early voting, voting by mail, same-day voter registration, and more was not able to pass. I’ve ranted about that before, and all I can do at this point is hope that another opportunity comes up in the foreseeable future. At least this will make it harder for a bad actor to try to steal the next Presidential election. You take the wins where you can.

Abbott is now attacking immigration-focused non-profits

Always be finding a new enemy, that’s the motto.

Gov. Greg Abbott called Wednesday for the state to investigate whether nonprofit organizations have helped people enter the country illegally, adding another talking point to his border hawk arsenal and another headache to humanitarian relief groups that help migrants in Texas.

Abbott made his request in a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton in which he cited the increased number of migrants expected at the border once Title 42 — a federal public health order issued near the start of the pandemic that officials have used to turn away migrants at the border — comes to an end in a few days at a time of record migrant crossings. Earlier this week, 1,500 people waded across the low waters in the Rio Grande and into El Paso in one crossing, stressing the city’s limited resources to deal with migrants.

Without citing any evidence, Abbott said he had received reports that nongovernmental organizations — a term that generally refers to nonprofit, humanitarian groups — “may be engaged in unlawfully orchestrating other border crossings through activities on both sides of the border, including in sectors other than El Paso.”

“In light of these reports, I am calling on the Texas Attorney General’s Office to initiate an investigation into the role of NGOs in planning and facilitating the illegal transportation of illegal immigrants across our borders,” Abbott wrote, adding that he is ready to “craft any sensible legislative solutions [Paxton’s] office may propose that are aimed at solving the ongoing border crisis and the role that NGOs may play in encouraging it.”

Abbott’s office did not respond to a question asking what reports his office was citing. Fox News reported Monday that Mexican police had escorted 20 buses from other parts of Mexico to nongovernmental organizations at Mexican border cities. The outlet reported that the migrants then walked from the nongovernmental organizations and crossed illegally into El Paso.

Texas does not have jurisdiction over Mexican nongovernmental organizations, and the reporting did not allege any improper action by a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization.

Still, nonprofit groups working to help migrants on the border say Abbott’s call for investigations could make their jobs harder. The move drew an immediate rebuke from Democratic lawmakers and local officials.

“Governor Abbott’s decision to investigate NGOs that are providing humanitarian care for migrants is shameful and intended to intimidate and instill fear in non-profit and faith-based organizations that exemplify the values we should all aspire to,” U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said in a statement. “Most border NGOs that work tirelessly on the border help provide temporary shelter, food and hospitality to migrants, most of whom will be awaiting adjudication of their asylum claims with sponsors they have in different parts of the country. They have been doing this work for decades and deserve our praise, not persecution.”

Dylan Corbett, executive director of the El Paso-based Hope Border Institute, said in a statement that Abbott’s language was “alarming and an unequivocal attempt to intimidate humanitarian organizations working on the front lines.”

“This is a moment for border communities to come together to meet a humanitarian challenge. We need the support and collaboration of the government at all levels, not political grandstanding that dangerously approaches criminalizing Good Samaritans,” Corbett said.

In Texas, nonprofits that aid migrants play a crucial role. Once migrants are released by federal officials into border cities, which frequently do not have the resources to deal with the large number of people crossing the border, these groups help temporarily house the migrants and help them find transportation to other parts of the country. In many areas, immigration officials bring migrants to nonprofit groups once they have already been processed by the federal government and are free to be released.

[…]

But without the nonprofits’ work, border cities would likely have more migrants roaming the streets without any way to move on if they’re trying to reach a different destination where they may have family members or a support group to help them until their immigration process is finalized. Abbott has even partnered with some nonprofit groups to carry out his policy of busing migrants to Democrat-led cities like Washington, D.C.New YorkChicago and Philadelphia.

Nothing quite captures the zeitgeist of the modern “conservative” movement like an old white guy wildly overreacting to some bullshit story he just saw on Fox News. I bet Abbott was a top-notch chain email forwarder back in the day.

I make dumb jokes about stuff like this because honestly I’m not sure what else I can do right now. I’d love to hear some good strategic ideas because I’m fresh out, and the next election is obviously too far away to be of any importance right now. Maybe there was hope for some kind of action at the federal level in the lame duck section, but that’s not looking great right now either.

The immigration framework proposed by two bipartisan lawmakers that would have passed permanent relief for young undocumented immigrants in exchange for harsh border measures has reportedly failed.

Thom Tillis and Kyrsten Sinema “did not strike a deal that would have been able to secure the necessary 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate during the lame-duck session,” congressional officials told CBS News. John Cornyn “and other members of GOP leadership said there was scant Republican support for the plan,” CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez tweeted Wednesday.

The termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program through right-wing courts is not a matter of if, its a matter of when, and passage of a deal during the lame duck represented the last chance to pass some sort of relief before an anti-immigrant Texas judge issues his decision. Kevin McCarthy has already promised he’ll pass no humane relief, as part of his campaigning to become speaker. That includes a corrupt bargain targeting Department of Homeland Security Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas for impeachment.

The immigration proposal came as young immigrants (as well as the farmworkers who feed America) rallied for legislative action before the current congressional term ends in January, and was a sweet-and-sour deal attempting to garner the 10 Republicans needed to overcome the Jim Crow filibuster.

The sweet: Relief for DACA recipients, who for five years have been watching the program be attacked by Republicans, both at the federal government level and in the courts. The sour: Harsh border enforcement measures, including an extension of Stephen Miller’s anti-asylum Title 42 policy for at least another year. CNN had also reported increased border security funding, anywhere from $25 billion to $40 billion, on top of the billions that border agencies already get. But apparently, none of that was enough to convince 10 members of the GOP caucus, according to Cornyn.

Cornyn, since we’re already discussing him, once made a laughable claim in a campaign ad that he’s supported legalization for undocumented immigrant youth, and that he’s actually been fighting for them behind the scenes. But given a real, high-stakes chance to do something about, like right now during the lame duck session and as an end to the DACA program is inevitable, he’s done nothing but throw cold water on the proposal.

It’s not hard to boil all this down to Republicans just not wanting to do anything about DACA recipients—even when presented with the kind of border measures they love—because they want to keep using immigrants as a political tool.

I guess nothing is truly dead until they all adjourn, but this is where we are right now. And as long as the Republicans feel like they’re doing better with the system remaining broken, why should they do anything different? The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

Please don’t threaten to kill your political opponents

We really shouldn’t have to say these things, except that nowadays we really do.

Rep. Randy Weber

A former candidate for U.S. representative has been accused of threatening to kill his political opponent, U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, TX-14, according to federal court filings.

Keith Douglas Casey has been charged in connection with making a threat against a U.S. official, according to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Casey has run several times to unseat Weber from office. For instance, in 2022, he received some 5,178 votes, or 7.9%, compared to Weber’s 89%, or 58,439 votes, in the Republican primary.

Weber also handily defeated Casey in the 2018 Republican primary, with Casey finishing in third place with about 5% of the vote.

And in 2016, the Galveston County Daily News reported Weber had defeated challenger Casey in the primary race for the U.S. House of Representatives District 14, garnering about 84% of the vote compared to Casey’s 16%.

But the politics then reportedly gave way to something more sinister. In March 2022 Casey allegedly began telling people he’d defeated Weber in the race for the spot — and that he was going to kill him, according to the complaint.

Staff members in Weber’s office first reported the matter to federal law enforcement as early as March 29.

In reading the rest of the story, it seems that Casey was acting erratically, and there may be some underlying issues that I am in no way qualified to guess at. It also appears that he was in the thrall of election denialism, and I hope we can all agree that that leads nowhere good. I hope that in the end this all winds up being much ado about nothing. But whatever does happen, we have to take this sort of thing very seriously.

Look to the state legislatures for the next frontiers in forced birtherism

The state of Texas will of course be on the forefront of this, but it will surely follow examples from other states as well.

As statehouses across the country prepare for next year’s legislative sessions — most for the first time since Roe v. Wade was overturned — Republican lawmakers are pushing for further restrictions on reproductive health, even in states where abortion is already banned.

But fissures are already emerging. Now, anti-abortion lawmakers must decide if they will push new abortion bans — a subject of debate among some abortion opponents — if they will amend existing bans to allow for abortions in cases of rape of incest, or if they will move to other reproductive health issues such as contraception. Abortion opponents have struggled to agree on all of them, especially with total abortion bans proving unpopular among voters.

“We will see this split in the Republican Party around following essentially their base, which wants to ban abortion without any exceptions, and the larger public,” said Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state policy for the Guttmacher Institute.

Near-total abortion bans are in effect in 13 states, and others have limited access: In Georgia, the procedure is banned for people later than six weeks of pregnancy, and in Florida and Arizona, it is banned after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Bans in seven other states have been temporarily blocked but could take effect pending state court rulings.

With Republicans controlling the U.S. House, federal abortion legislation — whether a ban or national protection — is unlikely to pass. State legislatures are the likeliest source of new abortion policy, and most work only part-time, meeting to consider bills for a few months either every year or every other year. The legislative year typically starts in January, but lawmakers are starting to prefile bills, offering a first glimpse into what they hope to accomplish next year.

Two bills in Texas, one of the few states that has bills prefiled, show how legislation could prevent people from leaving the state to access abortion.

Republican lawmakers have put forth a bill that would prohibit government entities from giving someone money that might be used to travel out of state for an abortion. Another bill would eliminate state tax breaks for businesses in the state that help cover their employees’ travel costs associated with getting an abortion outside of the state.

Though no other states have similar bills yet, those could, if passed, offer a model for other states seeking to restrict abortion access further without directly banning interstate travel. Texas has already banned abortion completely, and it was the first state to eliminate access to abortions after six weeks, even before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

In Missouri — which, prior to Roe’s overturn had some of the most restrictive abortion policies in the country — lawmakers have begun to pre-file bills intended to keep people from accessing abortion. The procedure is already banned there, but no state law prevents people from getting medication abortion pills from another state, or from traveling out of state for an abortion.

If passed, these bills could change that. One would make it a felony to transport drugs that are intended to be used to induce an abortion, though the bill would not criminalize pregnant people. (Similar legislation last year did not pass.) Another bill would treat a fetus as a person — legislation that could effectively equate abortion with murder. Both could pass this session, Nash said, though it’s hard to tell what abortion bills lawmakers will prioritize until they come back to the capitol.

There’s more, so read the rest. We are well aware of the split between public opinion and Republican action on abortion, but as yet that has not caused the Texas GOP any electoral problems, so there’s no reason to believe they will be held back in any meaningful way. We also know that actual legislation is not required if threats and bullying do the heavy lifting for you. I haven’t spent a lot of time reading through legislative previews and stories of pre-filed bills because I know it’s going to be a massive shitshow and I’m trying to stay sane during the holidays. Just know that what happens in one Republican-dominated legislature will be copied by another, and it will work its way to the federal stage as well.

The environmental attack on abortion

It’s ridiculous.

Abortion opponents and their allies in elected office are seizing on an unusual strategy after suffering a wave of election defeats — using environmental laws to try to block the distribution of abortion pills.

The new approach comes as the pills mifepristone and misoprostol, which people can take at home during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, have become the most common method of abortion in the U.S. and virtually the only option for millions of people in states with laws that have forced clinics to close since the fall of Roe v. Wade.

The first salvo started last week with a petition asking the Food and Drug Administration to require any doctor who prescribes the pills to be responsible for disposing of the fetal tissue — which anti-abortion advocates want to be bagged and treated as medical waste rather than flushed down the toilet and into the wastewater.

If the FDA ignores or rejects the petition, as is expected, the group Students for Life of America plans to sue.

The new push is the culmination of years of brainstorming around how to restrict access to the pills — particularly since their use surged following the outbreak of Covid-19 and the FDA’s ruling in 2021 that they are safe to take at home without a doctor present.

[…]

With Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society president who has been influential in putting more conservative judges on the bench, co-chairing its board and the conservative legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom, whose attorneys helped draft and defend the Mississippi anti-abortion law that eventually toppled Roe v. Wade, advising them on the campaign, Students for Life is also pushing conservative state attorneys general to bring enforcement actions against doctors and abortion pill manufacturers, and is planning a tour of college campuses to advocate on the issue.

Should they prevail in any jurisdiction, the rules would be so burdensome that use of the drugs could be effectively cut off, several groups representing abortion providers told POLITICO. And even if they are unsuccessful in court, the effort aims to sway public opinion at a time voters have become increasingly accepting of abortions early in pregnancy.

“It’s hard for me to imagine even a Trump-friendly judge going for an argument about wastewater regulation, but you never know. Anytime you deal with abortion, judges get weird,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis and author of “Abortion and the Law in America.” “And we know that the more the anti-abortion movement can get people to think about fetal remains and other concrete details about what abortion entails, the more uncomfortable Americans become. So, it could be helpful for them even if it doesn’t go anywhere legally.”

The group’s FDA petition argues that the high number of people using pills to terminate pregnancies at home and flushing fetal remains down the toilet — which has increased in part due to the same group’s efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade and restrict access to surgical abortions — poses risks to the environment.

It claims without direct evidence that trace amounts of the drug in wastewater could threaten livestock and wildlife as well as humans, citing some studies in which the drug was given directly to animals rather than ingested from groundwater, and others where drugs flushed directly down the toilet contaminated the water supply.

“Pharmaceutical contamination of water is a serious issue that can have serious impacts on the environment, but trying to say that one drug out of thousands is having an outsized effect is based on ideology not evidence,” said Nathan Donley, the Environmental Health Science director for the Center for Biological Diversity, who has written citizen petitions to the FDA. “Of all the drugs and synthetic chemicals we shed that can potentially contaminate water, abortifacients are a fraction of a fraction of a percent. It’s nothing.”

Also referenced repeatedly in the petition are studies about the environmental impact of hormonal contraception, leading some experts to ask whether conservative groups will apply the strategy to other drugs in the future.

“It seems like they’re laying the groundwork for considering contraception itself as medical waste,” said Susan Wood, the former FDA assistant commissioner for Women’s Health and a professor of health policy at George Washington University.

The bad faith here is thick enough to blot out the sun, but shame has never been a limiting factor for this crowd. Use of abortion pills is already pretty restricted in Texas so I’m not sure if a bill to impose this kind of requirement is likely in the forthcoming legislative session, but it wouldn’t surprise me. There will be a bill for this in the Republican-controlled US House, which at least should make the campaign case for flipping that chamber back that much easier. This is the world that SCOTUS has forced us to live in. The bad guys are going to keep coming. We can’t let up.

New rules for hot air balloon operators

This caught my eye.

More than six years after 16 people died in a hot air balloon crash in Central Texas, the Federal Aviation Administration has started enforcing new rules on commercial balloon pilots that were devised because of tragedy.

The new FAA rules require hot air balloon pilots to hold medical certificates while they are flying with paying passengers. That means pilots would need to submit to medical exams.

The new rule was proposed by Texas lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, after the July 30, 2016, balloon crash in Lockhart. Sixteen people were killed after a balloon crashed into a high-voltage power line. It was the deadliest crash involving a commercial hot air balloon in U.S. history An investigation after the crash found that the pilot, Alfred “Skip” Nichols was under the influence of prescription drugs and suffered from medical ailments that should have raised red flags at the FAA.

Before the new rule, balloon pilots weren’t required to undergo medical screenings.

The new rule was approved by Congress in 2018, as part of legislation that funds the FAA. However it took more more four years for the aviation regulator to implement the rules. In a statement, Doggett said the FAA “inexcusably delayed and delayed for years” before finalizing the rules.

“For the many who prayed and mourned the loss resulting from this unnecessary tragedy, know that you have been heard,” Doggett said. “We cannot bring these precious lives back. But, now that this is finally implemented, we hope no more families will be exposed to the horror of a crash from an impaired pilot.

I remember this incident but didn’t blog about it at the time. Apparently, the FAA just started on the rulemaking process in November of 2021, which is why this is just happening now, six-plus years after the incident and four years after the law was passed. Whether the delay was at least partly about Trump-era dysfunction or something else is not explained in the story. All I can say is that I for one would like to know that my hot air balloon pilot is in good health and capable of doing the job that day, in the unlikely event I ever take a hot air balloon ride. The fact that we shouldn’t have taken that as a given before that tragedy is the real problem. We’ve addressed this instance of it, but I worry there are more out there. But at least you can go up in that balloon now with more safety than before.

Omnibus 2022 election results post

It’s already midnight as I start writing this. I’m just going to do the highlights with the best information I have at this time.

– Nationally, Dems are doing pretty well, all things considered. As of this writing, Dems had picked up the Pennsylvania Senate seat and they were leading in Georgia and Arizona. They held on in a bunch of close House races. The GOP is still expected to have a majority in the House, but not by much. The Senate remains very close.

– Some tweets to sum up the national scene:

– On that score, Republicans appear to have picked up CD15, which they drew to be slightly red, while the Dems took back CD34. Henry Cuellar is still with us, holding onto CD28.

– Statewide, well. It just wasn’t to be. The running tallies on the SOS Election Result site are a bit skewed as many smaller red counties have their full results in while the big urban counties have mostly just the early votes counted. Heck, they didn’t even have Harris County early results there until after 10:30 PM (the point at which I went and snoozed on the couch for an hour because I was driving myself crazy). It will be a ten-point or more win for Abbott, I just can’t say yet what. A survey of some county results early on suggested Beto was around where he’d been percentage-wise in most of the big counties (Tarrant, where he was a few points behind, being an exception) but was going to need some decent Election Day numbers to approach his raw vote margins. He didn’t do as well as he had done in 2018 in some of the larger suburban counties like Collin and Denton and didn’t do as well in South Texas.

– He also didn’t do as well in Harris, which made for some close races and a few Republican judicial candidates with early leads. A couple of those had eroded by the 11:30 addition of more Election Day and mail ballots, but we might see a few Republican judges on the bench next year. As of that 11:30 PM vote dump, Beto was leading Harris County by nine points, well short of where he had been in 2018.

– But as of this time, and with the proviso that I don’t know which voting centers have reported and which are still out, the Harris County Democratic delegation was all ahead, though not be a lot. This includes Lesley Briones for County Commissioner, which if it all holds would give Dems the 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court that they sought. There are still a lot of votes to be counted as I type this.

– Going back to the state races, Republicans may pick up a seat or two in the Lege. HD37 was leaning their way, and they may hold onto HD118. Dems were leading in HDs 70 (by a little) and 92 (by a more comfortable amount), two seats that had been drawn to siphon off Dem voters in formerly red areas. As of this writing, the open SD27 (Eddie Lucio’s former fiefdom) was super close but all of the remaining votes were from Hidalgo County, where Dem Morgan LaMantia had a good lead in early voting. That one will likely be a hold for Dems. On the other hand, SBOE2 was leaning Republican, so Dems may be back to only five members on the SBOE.

– There were of course some technical issues.

Tight races in Harris County, where around 1 million votes will be tallied, could hinge on whether ballots cast after 7 p.m. will be included in the count, after an Election Day filled with glitches and uncertainty for voters and poll workers alike.

Harris County District Court Judge Dawn Rogers signed an order keeping all county voting sites open until 8 p.m., only to have the Texas Supreme Court stay her order just in time to create confusion at voting locations letting voters arrive late.

In a three-sentence order, the court said voting “should occur only as permitted by Texas Election Code.” The high court also ruled that votes cast in the final hour should be segregated. That means those votes can’t be counted until the court issues a final ruling.

That ruling could be critical in the event that certain county races, including the hard-fought battle for county judge between Democratic incumbent Lina Hidalgo and Republican challenger Alexandra del Moral Mealer, are close enough to be decided by those set-aside votes.

“Every single vote counts,” said Laila Khalili, a director at the voter engagement group Houston in Action. “Some elections can be won by just a couple of votes.”

Khalili watched a handful of voters file provisional ballots at the Moody Park voting location.

The request to keep the polling sites open late was made by the Texas Organizing Project, Texas Civil Rights Project and ACLU of Texas, citing what they said were late election location openings and poor planning that disenfranchised some voters.

“These delays have forced countless voters to leave polling places without being able to vote,” the groups said.

Harris County was unable to estimate or confirm how many votes were cast after the typical 7 p.m. cutoff that allows for anyone in line by that time to cast a ballot.

Voters who arrived between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. cast a provisional ballot, according to the county attorney’s office. Some voters, later in the evening, complained that election workers even denied them that option, as the Supreme Court stay was broadcast to the 782 polling locations.

There were some issues with temporarily running out of paper at some locations and some long lines at others. We’ll just have to see how many provisional votes there are.

– Finally, for now, all of the county and city bond issues were passing. The closest ones as of this time were city of Houston prop E, up by eight points, and Harris County prop A, up by 11.

I’m going to hit Publish on this now and go to bed. I’ll make updates in the morning, either here or in a new post.

UPDATE: It’s 2:30 and I never actually got to sleep. With 334 of 782 voting centers reporting, Dems have gained some more ground in Harris County. Beto leads by nine points, while Judge Hidalgo is up by almost two full points and over 15K votes. She has led each aspect of voting. A couple of Dem judges who trailed early on are now leading, with a couple more in striking distance. There will be some Republican judges next year barring something very unexpected, but the losses are modest. All things considered, and again while acknowledging there are still a lot of votes out there, not too bad.

UPDATE:

An email with the summary file hit my inbox at 4:51 AM. Democrats officially have a 4-1 majority on Harris County Commissioners Court. By my count, Republicans won five judicial races in Harris County.

Endorsement watch: A smattering

The Chron endorses Stephanie Morales, the Democratic challenger in HD138.

Stephanie Morales

Stephanie Morales began her interview with the editorial board with a story about children who wind up in the care of Child Protective Services, fleeing harsh conditions at home only to find themselves sleeping in somebody’s office because the agency is so strapped for resources. Such are the heartbreaking realities that motivated her to run for the Texas House.

“I knew that there was a need,” she told us. “This is the perfect place for me to run where I can actually make a difference, because we need someone who has been boots-on-the-ground, actually representing kids and parents to truly change the system.”

Morales is a Texas A&M and South Texas College of Law-educated criminal defense lawyer whose cases often involve parents and juveniles in the CPS system. In her meeting with us, she talked at length about the “unintended consequences” of recent legislation meant to improve how the agency works. She displayed an expertise that would benefit the Legislature, and her constituents. She wants to add funding for more trauma-informed courts like the ones in use in Harris County, and to build and fund a halfway-house program for people who age out of the foster care system.

Morales, 33, is running for House District 138, which covers Jersey Village, Spring Branch and other parts of west Harris County. She argues that she’ll be more civically engaged, particularly with supporting children’s needs, than Republican incumbent Lacey Hull. “This district needs someone who will really advocate for them and wrangle resources that we need here,” she said.

She told us that her legislative priorities also would include bolstering protections against flooding, passing whatever “commonsense” gun-safety laws might be possible, improving the credit-recapture system in Texas schools and increasing teacher pay.

Hull was another Republican who didn’t bother to screen with them, and the Chron rightly dings her for her anti-trans activism. This is as noted one of the few competitive State House districts in the area, likely the only one in Harris County that has a chance of flipping. I’ll be very interested to see how it performs in comparison to 2020. You can listen to my interview with Stephanie Morales, who is indeed a strong candidate and would make a fine legislator, here.

Elsewhere, the Chron endorses three Republican Supreme Court incumbents, two Republican CCA incumbents, the Libertarian candidate in CD22, as the Republican incumbent is an insurrection-loving MAGA-head and the Democratic candidate appears to be an apparition, State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, now in a much bluer district, US Rep. Sylvia Garcia, and a bunch of Criminal District Court nominees, slightly more than half of whom are Dem incumbents. They still have a ton of races to get to, and as has been the case in a number of elections they will have to do many of them after voting has begun.

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Collier

The Chron writes one of the longest and most effusive endorsements I’ve ever seen for Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Mike Collier.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier won’t just promise to lower your property tax bill, he’ll tell you how he’s going to do it. And if you don’t quite understand all the math and jargony tax code talk, the affable certified public accountant and longtime consultant for investors in the energy industry will make it real simple with a few water bottles or any other props within his grasp.

That’s what he did during his screening with the editorial board last week. When our furrowed brows apparently belied some confusion about the particular loophole he claims is the holy grail to Texas tax relief, the candidate for lieutenant governor grabbed one water bottle that represented a skyscraper in a thriving, highly developed part of town that’s worth $500 million, and another bottle that represented a skyscraper in a run-down, lower-end part of town a few miles away that’s worth $200 million.

“This is full of people paying high rents and is very valuable property,” he says lifting one water bottle. “This is very different,” he says lifting the other, “It’s in a part of town where the values are not nearly as high, it’s only half full and it’s less valuable.”

You’d think the corporate owners of the more expensive property would have to pay more taxes, as homeowners do when our houses are appraised higher. But no. The owner just gets his lawyers to go down to the appraisal district and argue that both skyscrapers should be taxed at a similar level.

Astonishingly, they’ll likely get away with it, just like many other owners of large commercial and industrial properties across the state who each year deprive the state coffers of billions — Collier estimates it’s at least $7.5 billion. Homeowners have to make that up in our tax bills. Why? Because of a simple loophole that lawmakers could fix if they wanted but won’t: the state of Texas doesn’t define what a “comparable” property is.

So the rich guys get to claim it’s whatever they say it is and the apraisal districts often don’t have the time or high-power lawyers to fight them. Collier says he first started studying the problem around 2011 when he saw lawmakers cutting public education by $5 billion and yet his property taxes kept going up.

“I smelled a rat,” he told us.

Collier says he’d pass a few simple tweaks to close the loophole: define “comparable” by such things as location, age, utility. Pass a mandatory sales price disclosure, like most states have. And require everybody to pay their own legal fees in litigation rather than only losers paying.

That isn’t the only way Collier plans to get ordinary Texans some tax relief, but it’s one his favorite ways and one of our favorite reasons for endorsing the Democrat perhaps more enthusiastically than any other candidate on the ballot.

It goes on from there and you should read it. What’s amazing is how much of this very long endorsement is about Collier and his ideas and plans, and how relatively little is about Dan Patrick, despite how easy it would be to write a couple thousand words about why no decent person should think about voting for Dan Patrick. Being good enough and exciting enough to overcome the urge to trash Dan Patrick – that’s really saying something. Let’s hope enough people are listening.

In other endorsements, the Chron recommended Democrat Jon Haire in CD36, partly because Haire is a mensch and partly because incumbent Rep. Brian Babin is an insurrectionist. They also endorse State Rep. Christina Morales for re-election in HD145. As a constituent of hers, I concur.

Endorsement watch: I had totally forgotten who her opponent is

The Chron endorses Teneshia Hudspeth for a full term as Harris County Clerk.

Teneshia Hudspeth

As the parent of a young child, Teneshia Hudspeth is familiar with the back-to-school rush for documents, including birth certificates. For families without reliable internet access, that might be more of a challenge than usual. And a trip to the county clerk’s office often means taking off work. So, as Harris County Clerk, Hudspeth helped launch an event in 2021 that let parents and guardians come in on a Saturday to get birth certificates at select offices.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of families who needed this service,” she told the editorial board.

She’s continued the event this year, partnering with local organizations that helped cover the costs of the documents for families that needed it and supplied backpacks. Her office added a service that allows people to order a birth certificate online.

These are the small things that a county clerk’s office can do to improve life and ensure that people are getting their needs met by an office that few residents likely understand well.

[…]

With a full term, Hudspeth will be able to seamlessly continue her efforts to make the office more responsive and accessible to all of Harris County.

Under her watch, the office has digitized thousands of marriage license records, prepared an estate-planning virtual series launching this month, added digital monitors in the courts with information in Spanish and English and overseen upgrades to the annex offices, some of which were begun before her tenure.

Among future plans: an e-certification program, an update to marriage license that will allow couples to add their photographs, and more outreach efforts.

In between is a discussion of the former role that the County Clerk played in running elections. That includes a mention of Stan Stanart, the deservedly former Clerk who is running for his old job and wants to do the election-running thing again. However you judge Stanart as the elected official in charge of elections, know that it was Teneshia Hudspeth doing the real work behind the scenes while he was spending a bunch of money on iPads he never deployed. As the headline indicates, the fact that Stanart is on the ballot just doesn’t stick in my mind – I confront that fact when I do campaign finance roundups, and now as I read this endorsement piece, and in an hour or so it will have flitted right back out of my memory again. This is a happy place for me to be. Please don’t ruin it. Vote for Teneshia Hudspeth, for the betterment of the Clerk’s office and my peace of mind.

You can listen to my interview with Teneshia Hudspeth and hear all the reasons why she is a very fine County Clerk here. On the B-side, the Chron endorsed their first Republican of the cycle, giving the nod to Morgan Luttrell in CD08, a district that unlike some others can reasonably be described as “bright red”. As noted, it is somewhat less crimson now than it was before redistricting, but the voters to shore up Dan Crenshaw and Mike McCaul have to come from somewhere and it’s those “bright red” districts like CD08 that are the obvious source. If you’d prefer an alternative to hoping that Luttrell will “bring more substance with him” when he gets to Congress as the Chron does, you can listen to my interview with his Democratic opponent Laura Jones.

Endorsement watch: You have to want it first

The Chron endorses Duncan Klussman in CD38, partly by default.

Duncan Klussman

When we gave Wesley Hunt our endorsement in the Republican primary, he made it clear he’d rather go without it. Now, in the general election, we are more than happy to oblige him.

Democratic challenger Duncan Klussmann faces an uphill-both-ways battle, but his years of public service and deep understanding of his district make him our pick for the race.

By all measures, U.S. House District 38 seems tailor-made for Hunt, a West Point graduate endorsed by former President Donald Trump. One of Texas’ two new congressional districts, this one is ultra-red, including bits of River Oaks, the Energy Corridor and western Harris County. Voters there went for Trump by 18.2 percentage points in 2020, a fair indication that Hunt would’ve fared much better there than he did in congressional District 7, where he lost to Democrat Lizzie Fletcher by a few percentage points.

Hunt, 40, was a clear frontrunner in this year’s primaries. Compared with many of his challengers, “steeped in conspiracy theories and fear-mongering,” as we wrote in February, Hunt stayed focused on more substantive conservative priorities, “namely border security, reining in federal spending and funding flood infrastructure projects.” He also boasts an impressive 20-year military record.

It was an easy pick then. This time around, it’s easy to pass.

Klussmann, 59, has a lengthy resume of public service and involvement in the district. His 11 years of experience as a school district superintendent in Spring Branch and his time serving as a Jersey Village city council member give him a distinct grounding in the district itself.

His experience serving local constituents is unmatched and he shows a willingness to work across the aisle to get things done.

As I often seem to do in stories that like to overstate the redness of a given district, going 58% for Trump is not “ultra-red”. It’s just red. There are districts in which Trump got over 75%. If you’re describing a 58% district as “ultra-red”, what can you say about the latter? There’s no description that wouldn’t sound ridiculous. I consider this yet another way in which people fail to understand numbers. Be more measured in your quantitative adjectives, y’all.

Anyway. You can listen to my interview with Duncan Klussman from the primary here. The Chron also issued some endorsements in non-competitive races, giving their nod to Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07, a district that Joe Biden won by thirty points in 2020 and yet whose blueness went unremarked upon; State Rep. Ann Johnson in HD134; and State Rep. Alma Allen in HD131. Don’t bother looking for a pattern in the order of their endorsements. I’ve tried, and all I have to show for it is a minor facial tic. Whatever the race is you’re looking for, they’ll get to it when they get to it, unless they decide they’re not doing endorsements in that race, in which case they won’t.

The SPURS bills

I admit that I tipped my cap to this one.

What if it took an act of Congress to keep the Spurs in San Antonio?

With the team playing two games in Austin this season and Austin billionaire Michael Dell buying a 10 percent share of the team last year, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales worries it might, even as the Spurs’ owners have sought to reassure fans and local officials that they have no plans to move.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — and there’s absolutely smoke,” the San Antonio Republican said.

“Look what happened to the Seattle SuperSonics,” Gonzales said of the now-Oklahoma City Thunder; or the San Diego Chargers or St. Louis Rams, both of which now call Los Angeles home.

“No one would ever imagine the Spurs would leave San Antonio, but what if they do?” Gonzales said. “Sometimes when we say it takes an act of Congress, sometimes we have to take that seriously.”

So Gonzales is filing legislation to stop any possible move up Interstate 35 for the Spurs, and to prevent other small market teams from ditching communities that have invested time, tears — and a whole lot of cash — in them.

His bill, The Strengthening Public Undertakings for Retaining Sports Act — or SPURS Act for short — would set up strict requirements for teams to relocate. A franchise would have to lose money for five years in a row, plus prove that its stadium is inadequate or that local governments are flouting its agreements with the team.

The legislation would require teams to give a year’s notice if they want to relocate, and it would allow local governments to veto the move. It would also force teams that do move to reimburse whatever financial assistance or incentives were provided to them, such as special tax incentives or arena financing. Local governments could sue teams for damages, as well.

[…]

The legislation comes after Spurs managing partner Peter J. Holt in May wrote an open letter to fans seeking to ease months of suspicion that the team might be eyeing a move. The Spurs are under a non-relocation agreement with Bexar County that runs through 2032, but county commissioners have agreed to a one-year pilot program allowing the team to play “home” games in Austin and Mexico City.

The team has said it’s all part of an effort to broaden the fan base as attendance has plummeted amid a franchise record three-year playoff drought.

“We will keep making memories, together, inside of Bexar County,” Holt wrote.

Gonzales said he believes Holt, but worries about future owners. Dell buying a share of the team could be the first step toward building an ownership more open to a move, he said.

Some background reading on this if it’s all new to you. I don’t know if this bill makes any sense legally or economically, but if you want to find a non-partisan issue to support that might draw you some crossover voters, it would be hard to top a pro-Spurs-in-San-Antonio bill for a guy who represents a lot of their fanbase. Whatever happens to this – I will bet you $1 right now that it doesn’t get a committee hearing in this Congress – it’s a brilliant piece of politics.

Voting has already started for 2022

Military voters are getting their ballots now.

Voting in the Texas governor’s race is officially underway.

While in-person early voting is still four weeks away, Texans on military bases around the U.S. and overseas are getting their ballots as part of a nationwide push to help give service members more time to get their ballots returned and counted.

About 8,000 ballots already have been sent out statewide, with up to 30,000 potentially going out over the next few weeks if it follows the trends of past election cycles.

Nationwide, federal officials have been pushing states to move more quickly to get ballots out for deployed soldiers and overseas voters. Historically, those ballots get rejected at a much higher rate than other vote-by-mail ballots largely because many of them just don’t make it back to Texas in time.

The Department of Defense has put more effort into outreach to soldiers through voter assistance offices set up at military bases across the nation. Even ships at sea have a designated voting assistance officer onboard to help get ballots filled and sent back in time to count.

That’s a big change from decades ago. In 2006, nationwide, 1 million ballots were sent out to people in the military and overseas, but just one-third of those ended up being counted.

Congress responded in 2009 with new laws requiring all local election officials to get requested military ballots out to soldiers domestically and overseas 45 days before an election. This year, that meant ballots had to be out by Saturday.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a fairly small number of votes. But every vote matters, and I hope we all agree that we should make some effort to accommodate active military personnel. And if you’re out there casting doubt on the legitimacy of mail ballots, these are among them. So show some respect, and show it to all voters.

Interview with Laura Jones

Laura Jones

For my second Congressional interview this week we stay up north for a visit with Laura Jones, the Democratic candidate un CD08, which is open this year following the retirement announcement of Rep. Kevin Brady. Jones is a small business owner who grew up in Houston before moving with her husband to Cold Spring, on the north end of the Sam Houston National Forest, four years ago. She got involved in local politics and has served as Chair for the San Jacinto County Democratic Party and as the Field Director for Texas Senate District 3 under the Non-Urban Rural Caucus of the TDP. She ran for CD08 in 2020 but lost in the primary, and is back for another run. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02

As always, everything you could want to know about the Democratic candidates can be found at the Erik Manning spreadsheet.

Interview with Robin Fulford

Robin Fulford

This week I have interviews with two Congressional candidates. First up is a very familiar name to local Democrats, Robin Fulford. Fulford is an activist, organizer, and founding member of the Democratic Club of The Woodlands. Fulford comes from a working-class and union background and has been a highly visible presence in the red northern suburbs of Houston. She also has a deep personal understanding of what is at stake in the fight for reproductive rights. For her first candidacy, she has the challenge of taking on the money-raising machine known as Dan Crenshaw. We talked about that and many other things in the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Stephanie Morales – HD138

As always, everything you could want to know about the Democratic candidates can be found at the Erik Manning spreadsheet.

In which I indulge in a bit of schadenfreude

A base instinct, I admit, but I’m going to do it anyway.

The district director for Texas’ newest congresswoman, Mayra Flores, R-Los Indios, recently resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.

The far-right website Current Revolt first reported a series of long-running allegations against Aron Peña in a story published last week. The website, which is associated with the far right in Texas politics, said it was told Peña is ​​“accused of multiple instances of harassment of teenage staffers,” including “unwanted touching, inappropriate sexual comments, and forcing himself on staffers.”

The Texas Tribune found that Peña’s previous employer, the state Republican Party, had investigated allegations of harassment against him. And when he was then Flores’ district director, he was accused of touching and kissing an intern without her consent. He denies any wrongdoing.

“The accusations are serious and not a reflection of our values,” Flores spokesperson Daniel Bucheli said in a statement. “We addressed the allegations as soon as we were made aware, and Mr. Peña resigned.”

Bucheli’s statement referred to the allegations in the Current Revolt piece. Flores’ office declined any additional comment and would not discuss the specific allegations related to the intern. The office also would not answer questions about when Peña resigned and whether it was before or after the Current Revolt article was published.

“I emphatically deny the allegations,” Peña said in a statement to the Tribune, calling them politically motivated.

“After losing several campaigns in the primary a handful of Republicans in the losing camp motivated by revenge have engaged in a long-standing effort to discredit the good work of the Hidalgo County Republican Party,” he said. “Attacks have been made against anyone who disagrees with their efforts.”

He said he left the Flores campaign due to “serious health issues (blood clots in the legs and lungs)” and so he would not be a “distraction in the closing days of an election.”

The allegation against Peña was that he assaulted an intern while driving her and a second intern home at the end of a workday, according to two people familiar with the situation. Peña was said to have dropped off the second intern first, even though it was out of the way, the people said. Once he was alone with the first intern in the car, he was reported to take longer routes to her house and began touching her and kissing her, despite her telling him to stop, according to the people.

Peña did not deny the incident took place but told the Tribune that the intern started it and that it was consensual.

Peña is a member of a prominent family in Republican politics in South Texas. His sister, Adrienne Peña-Garza, is the chairperson of the Hidalgo County GOP. His father is Aaron Peña, a former state representative who is running for a state appeals court seat.

There’s more, and you should also read these two stories from Texas Public Radio that add a lot more detail about the many allegations against this guy. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that he is at the least a serious creep – hell, just note the nickname he was given, as per that first TPR story. I have a strong urge to go wash my hands right now.

Normally, I wouldn’t devote a post to a story like this. There’s a flood of news about things I want and need to follow, and sadly a shitty dude in politics is common and mundane and let’s be honest far too bipartisan these days. The reason I’m picking up this one is because of the connection to former State Rep. Aaron Peña, who was a Democrat until he switched parties in the most obsequious and ladder-climbing way after the 2010 election. Just two years before that he’d been cheerfully hobnobbing with a bunch of us progressive bloggers (there were a lot more bloggers back then) at the 2008 TDP convention in Austin. There are plenty of pictures documenting it. Peña himself had been a blogger and had gotten a lot of attention from us as a result. All of it was casually discarded when he saw an opportunity to sidle up to victors in a wipeout election year. His new buddies couldn’t find a way to draw him a district he could win in 2012, so that was the end of the line for him, at least as far as the Legislature went. I hadn’t given him any thought since then. Seeing his name in this story now, well, I got a good bitter laugh out of it. The elder Peña got plenty of attention when he made that switch over a decade ago. He’s getting some more now thanks to his sons ugly behavior. Hope you enjoy this return visit to the spotlight, dude.

UT/Texas Politics Project poll: Abbott 45, Beto 40

Feels kind of familiar.

Gov. Greg Abbott leads his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 5 percentage points, according to a new poll from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

The survey found that Abbott received 45% of support among registered voters, while 40% supported O’Rourke and 4% supported third-party candidates. Three percent of respondents named “Someone else” as their choice, and 8% said they have not thought about the race enough to have an opinion.

The result is almost identical to the margin from when the pollsters last surveyed the race in June, finding Abbott ahead of O’Rourke 45% to 39%.

The latest survey also gave Republican incumbents single-digit leads in two other statewide races. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led Democrat Mike Collier by 7 points, and Attorney General Ken Paxton registered a 5-point advantage over Democrat Rochelle Garza. More voters remain undecided in those contests than in the gubernatorial election — 20% in the lieutenant governor’s race and 21% in the attorney general one.

See here for the previous UT/TPP poll, and here for the pollsters’ report. The Lite Guv and AG numbers are 39-32 for Patrick and 38-33 for Paxton, and I just don’t give much weight to results that have such high numbers of non-responses. Joe Biden clocks in with a 40-52 approval rating, up from 35-55 in June. Abbott was at 46-44, up from 43-46 in June.

You may look at this and conclude that there’s been no noticeable boost in Democratic fortunes since the Dobbs ruling. Based just on post-Dobbs polls (minus that Echelon poll) that may be correct. I will note, however, that Abbott has slowly been losing ground to Beto in this particular poll over time:

February: Abbott 47-37
April: Abbott 48-37
June: Abbott 45-39
August: Abbott 45-40

I will also note that this poll, like previous ones, has generic US House/Texas House questions. If you look in the crosstabs for this poll (questions 21 and 22), those numbers are 47-43 and 46-43 in favor of Republicans, respectively. It was 46-41 GOP for both in June, and 48-39 (Congress) and 47-39 (The Lege) for the GOP in April. So while maybe not a sharp turn, there has been a gradual bend all along.

Echelon Insights: Abbott 48, Beto 46

Make of this what you will. It’s a national poll plus samples of likely voters in a variety of states, some red and some blue and some purple, including Texas. The numbers of interest for us:

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of Joe Biden?

Very favorable = 20%
Somewhat favorable = 21%
Somewhat unfavorable = 13%
Very unfavorable = 44%
Other/Unsure = 0%

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of Donald Trump?

Very favorable = 26%
Somewhat favorable = 20%
Somewhat unfavorable = 9%
Very unfavorable = 44%
Other/Unsure = 2%

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of Greg Abbott?

Very favorable = 27%
Somewhat favorable = 22%
Somewhat unfavorable = 10%
Very unfavorable = 36%
Other/Unsure = 5%

Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of Beto O’Rourke?

Very favorable = 28%
Somewhat favorable = 18%
Somewhat unfavorable = 10%
Very unfavorable = 38%
Other/Unsure = 6%

If the election for Governor were held today, would you vote for

Abbott = 48%
Beto = 46%

If the 2024 presidential election were being held today, would you vote for

Trump = 48%
Biden = 43%

If the election for U.S. House of Representatives in your district were held today, would you vote for

The Republican = 50%
The Democrat = 43%

I’m not familiar with this pollster. In the states like Arizona and Pennsylvania, they have pretty enthusiastic leads for Democratic candidates, but in the states where you’d expect Republicans to win they have them up by expectedly large margins. The Abbott/Beto race is the closest we’ve seen in any poll so far, but it’s not really an outlier. Abbott’s level of support is pretty consistently around 47-49 – he rarely if ever tops 50% in the polls – while Beto is usually around 42 or 43. It’s plausible to get this result just by the “don’t know” respondents leaning towards Beto. Note that this poll did not name either of the third party candidates, as some other polls have, so that could have a boosting effect for both Abbott and Beto as well. This is an optimistic result, and I’d like to see more like it before I fully bought in, but it’s not a bolt out of the blue. The Trump approval and 2024 numbers, the generic Congressional numbers, the Biden approval numbers, they’re all in line with other polls or in the case of the Congressional one leaning a bit Republican. Like I said, make of this what you will. See Lakshya Jain’s Twitter thread for more.

All interviews and judicial Q&As with nominees so far

Back in February, right before the primary, I posted a list of all of the candidate interviews and judicial Q&As I had done. A couple more Q&A responses came in after that, and I did some further interviews for the primary runoffs, so that post is out of date and also now contains people who will not be on the November ballot. So with that in mind, here’s a full updated list as I prepare to bring you more of these for November. Enjoy!

Interviews

Duncan Klussman, CD38

Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner
Janet Dudding, Comptroller

Staci Childs, SBOE4

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15

Jolanda Jones, HD147

Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)

Judicial Q&As

Cheri Thomas, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Gemayel Haynes, 183rd Criminal District Court
Katherine Thomas, 184th Criminal District Court
Andrea Beall, 185th Criminal District Court
Beverly Armstrong, 208th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Dedra Davis, 270th Civil District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Judge Leah Shapiro, 313th Family District Court
Veronica Monique Nelson, 482nd Criminal District Court

Manpreet Monica Singh, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8

Steve Duble, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Dolores Lozano, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

As before, you can see a full list of my interviews and a whole lot more info about the Democratic candidates on the Erik Manning spreadsheet. Look for many more to come starting tomorrow.

Of course the redistricting lawsuit trial will be delayed

All we ever get is delays.

The legal fight over the shape of Texas political representation for the next decade won’t be decided until next year after a federal panel agreed Tuesday to delay a trial over new political maps.

The federal three-judge panel hearing the case pushed the start of the trial, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 28, following a flurry of disputes over discovery that left both the state and the various plaintiff groups questioning whether they’d have enough time to prepare to make their cases in a federal court in El Paso.

The court said it would announce a new trial at a later time.

The maps passed by the Legislature in 2021 have already gone into effect and are being used for the first time in this year’s elections, but the litigation could decide whether those maps need to be changed to ensure that voters of color have a fair say in choosing their representatives in elections for years to come.

The state faces a broad catalog of challenges to its four political maps, including its congressional and statehouse maps, that could affect a litany of districts. The legal claims, stemming from nearly a dozen consolidated lawsuits, include allegations of intentional discrimination, vote dilution and racial gerrymandering. The Republican-drawn maps largely serve to bolster the party’s dominance, giving white voters greater control of political districts throughout the state.

At issue in the delay were ongoing fights to compel Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general’s office and other Republican elected officials to turn over thousands of documents that the state has been fighting to keep concealed. With less than a month until the scheduled start of the trial, the state and the plaintiffs groups were also jostling over various depositions in which state lawmakers relied on asserting legislative privilege to avoid divulging information on how the maps were drafted.

Redistricting cases are complex, with plaintiffs carrying the burden of proving wrongdoing by the state. The release of the disputed documents, the plaintiffs argued, could reveal new facts that could require additional depositions.

“Were the September 28 trial setting to hold, the Court could rule in advance of the upcoming legislative session. This would have been a clear benefit to all parties. But a ruling on only partial evidence does justice for none,” some of the plaintiffs wrote in a joint advisory filed with the court last week.

But the delay is not without risk.

This is the joint lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs; the Justice Department lawsuit, which survived a motion to dismiss in June, is being heard separately. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit scored a couple of wins recently relating to documents that must be disclosed to them. Those rulings obviously weren’t the end of the dispute, and so we have delays. The risk mentioned is that a final ruling would not be made in time for the Lege to make any required adjustments to the maps for the 2024 election. Remember, unless the primaries get moved back, which would affect the Presidential races, we need maps by October or so, to accommodate filing season and any updates that county election officials need to make. That’s not a lot of time. We’ll see when the new trial date is scheduled, but keep that time frame in mind. Unless we want to wait until 2026 – which, as we know from previous decades’ experience, is hardly out of the norm – the clock is very much ticking.

What do we expect from CD23?

It was the perennial razor-close high-dollar swing district all last decade. Will Hurd won it three times, but never reached 50% in any of the three elections. It moved a few points towards the GOP in 2020 when Tony Gonzales won it, and redistricting made it a bit redder still, but it remains the closest Republican-held seat and may never fade as a perennial battleground. But that may depend on this year, when Gonzalez will have an easier time of it at least financially. I don’t know yet what I expect from that race.

Gonzales remains the favorite for a second term — given the new political makeup of the district and his stark financial advantage — but he said he is taking the race “extremely seriously” and treating it like he was still running under the famously competitive boundaries that were in effect before redistricting.

“The [elected officials] that don’t have to fight, that are just there as long as they want it — they’re like declawed indoor cats that get fancy meals when the bell rings out,” Gonzales said in an interview. “I think Texas [District] 23 — you’re like an alleycat that has to scrape and claw and fight for everything, and I think that just makes you just different. Like, you’re fighting for your life.”

This cycle, Gonzales said, he wants to “run up the score” and “take this seat off the table completely.”

A former Navy cryptologist, Gonzales won the seat in 2020 by 4 percentage points, a wide margin by the razor-thin standards of the 23rd District. He was the successor backed by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, a moderate who had built his own reputation for breaking with his party, perhaps most notably opposing former President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall.

Trump carried the 23rd District by 2 points in 2020. But redistricting morphed it into a district that Trump would have won by 7 points, and in March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officially removed the seat from its list of targeted races.

[Democratic candidate John] Lira argued redistricting “didn’t do Gonzales that many favors,” noting the Cook Political Report, an election forecaster, only increased the Republican advantage of the district by 3 percentage points. And he said he is encouraged by the cracks in Gonzales’ Republican support, the political fallout from the Uvalde shooting and the strength of Beto O’Rourke’s gubernatorial campaign at the top of the ticket.

As for the case against Gonzales, Lira said, “he’s got Will Hurd’s playbook in his back pocket and he’s trying to see how he can play both sides.”

While national attention has faded from the race, Lira recently got the backing of O’Rourke, who rarely issues formal down-ballot endorsements. Lira also has the support of the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which endorsed him after the district was redrawn.

[…]

“I do think the district is going to be a little more competitive than most people anticipated — now how competitive, I don’t know,” said Jeff McManus, chair of the Bexar County GOP. “We sort of have a three-way race going,” with the independent challenger from the right.

McManus said he wishes Gonzales “were a stronger conservative.” The two were on opposite sides of the county party chair election in May, when Gonzales backed the incumbent, John Austin, that McManus defeated.

The independent candidate is Frank Lopez Jr., a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who had to give up his position as chair of the Val Verde County GOP to run. He and Gonzales are very familiar with one another: Lopez was the campaign manager for Raul Reyes, Gonzales’ bitter rival in the 2020 Republican primary runoff for the 23rd District.

Lopez said he ran as an independent, not in the GOP primary, after seeing “the way Raul lost” at the hands of the party’s establishment, which had coalesced behind Gonzales.

“Texans are tired of these dangerous Democrat policies,” Lopez said in an interview, “but they’re also tired of the pandering and games from the RINOs, establishment and globalists in the Republican Party. I had to give Texans a true choice.”

Lopez added that he sees a “perfect storm” for his candidacy, citing the recent intraparty blowback Gonzales has faced and Democrats he meets who say they are looking for a new political home.

Gonzales jokingly asked “Who?” when asked about Lopez in an interview. More seriously, he said the 23rd District has always had a third candidate in November who gets 3% to 5% of the vote and that he expected Lopez would be no different. Still, he said he is not taking Lopez for granted and that it “helps me stay sharp.”

Most of the rest of the story is about Gonzales’ votes in favor of the Cornyn gun control bill and the House bill to protect same-sex marriage, both of which has drawn him some criticism and two censure votes from aggrieved county GOPs (a third, in Bexar County, failed to pass). Good for him and all, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here for the numbers.

For what it’s worth, Trump carried CD23 by seven points in 2020. The next two closest districts are both Dem-held (CD15, Trump +3; CD28, Biden +7), and after that it’s all double digits, with CDs 24 (Trump +12), 03 (Trump +14), 22 (Trump +16), 26 (Trump +18), and 38 (Trump +18) next in line. The main difference between CD23 and these other districts is that the latter all moved strongly towards Dems since 2012, with Mitt Romney carrying them by 38 to 44 points. It would not shock me if Beto does about as well in CDs 03 and 24 as he does in CD23. I don’t think Gonzales is going to achieve his goal of taking CD23 off the table, but I could easily see him winning by 10-12 points and discouraging any serious competition in the near term future. I could also see him winning by about the seven points that Trump won it by and remaining in the same position. He has some big advantages, but this is officially a Very Weird Year, and I’m not making any predictions about it. Long term I think this district remains on the radar, but maybe not at the front of the pack. We’ll see.

Texas will get a lot from the Inflation Reduction Act

Thanks, Biden!

Texas’s clean energy sector is expected to be one of the largest beneficiaries of the climate and health care legislation President Joe Biden has signed into law, according to estimates released by the White House Wednesday.

Over the next eight years, Texas is expected to see $66.5 billion in investment through the legislation, expanding wind and solar energy, advanced batteries and other sources of clean electricity — more than CaliforniaNew York or Florida.

Named the Inflation Reduction Act, the bill provides almost $370 billion in federal funding for the clean energy sector, with government officials hoping to spur far larger investment from the private sector.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan described the legislation in a press conference Wednesday as, “the linchpin to putting us on path to reach net zero (greenhouse gas emissions) no later than 2050.”

“It invests in American workers, the back bone of this country, by spurring supply chains for clean energy,” he said.

Texas has long led the nation in clean energy, with three times as many wind turbines as the next closest state. And while California still has the most solar energy capacity, Texas is beginning to catch up, with more installations last year than any other state, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Here’s a quote of interest from Bloomberg: “Of the top 10 congressional districts in the country for operating and planned wind, solar and battery capacity, four are in Texas, more than in any other state and including the No. 1 district, Texas’ 19th.” So of course every Republican voted against it. Which won’t stop them from claiming credit for the good things that will happen. It’s the circle of life.

Fortunately, at least some of the goodness should go places that can honestly claim credit.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee wants environmental justice funds in the Inflation Reduction Act to flow into northeast Houston as freely as the concrete batch facilities that have come to plague the predominantly Black area.

Legislation passed Friday includes $60 billion for environmental justice programs that can help communities such as Trinity and Houston Gardens fight polluters and reduce emissions, the congresswoman said during a Sunday event at Trinity Gardens Church of Christ attended by around 25 community advocates and concerned residents.

Issues such as the illegal dumping of industrial trash, cancer clusters stemming from creosote used by rail companies and air and water contamination from a growing number of industrial sites make the city’s northeast corner “a fitting example” of communities the legislation aims to help, Jackson Lee said.

The bill also earmarks $3 billion for community centers that can “address disproportionate environmental and public health harms related to pollution.” Northeast Houston should have one such center, she said, describing the area as the new “concrete batch Mecca.”

The bill offers a hand to advocates in communities across Texas, where restraints on polluters are lax. Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it was investigating state environmental regulators accused of violating residents’ civil rights when Texas updated its standard permit for concrete batch plants.

The plants have become infamous in the community for billowing dust clouds and concrete-laced water seeping into neighboring properties. There are three schools within a half-mile of the plants, said Keith Downey, super neighborhood president representing Kashmere Gardens.

Jackson Lee told advocates the new federal funds can offer relief for a community fighting these fights largely by themselves.

That would be great. Rooting for this to happen.

Vote No and take the credit anyway

It’s a tale as old as time.

Not Ted Cruz

Republicans in Texas are proud to stand and announce local grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The problem is they all voted against it. All of them.

For the second time in two weeks, Houston scored a big grant from the Department of Transportation, and for the second time in two weeks, Republicans were quick to show up for the ribbon cutting. The back-to-back $21 million announcements, first for the Telephone Road Main Street Redevelopment project and then for 20 new electric buses, were celebrated by local Houston officials, even Republicans who opposed the projects.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, both of whom proudly supported the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act back in 2021, talked about how these funds make needed investment in often overlooked communities. Both programs will serve low to moderate income communities by providing cleaner and more efficient public transportation as well as safer streets.

The announcement also attracted representatives of the “C” team – Cornyn, Cruz, and Crenshaw – who lined up to show support. Staffers from all stood with METRO Chairman Sanjay Ramabhadran and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to make Monday’s announcement.

Earlier this year, Texas Republican Representative Ronny Jackson claimed an “instrumental” role in securing funding for a water purification project in his district despite vocal opposition to the infrastructure bill, which is funding the project. Jackson voted against the measure and mocked it as “bloated,” but apparently not too bloated for his pet project.

Newly-elected Congresswoman Mayra Flores of Brownsville also opposed the infrastructure bill, but is now touting the federal largesse pouring into South Texas without revealing that she vehemently opposed the enabling legislation as “wasteful” and smearing Republicans who voted for the bill “the RINO Bunch.”

She joins a long list of Republicans who have recently “voted no and taken the dough,” in refusing to support investments in their communities to please their far-right base, but then being the first in line to take credit.

See here for the background. The “C” team (great name, btw) also voted against the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Sometimes, all you can really do is laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. But if you’re going to laugh, it’s best to point fingers at the objects of your laughter as well.

Election officials and workers need our help

We’ve identified the problem. That’s good. Now let’s do something to fix it.

Misinformation about elections has led to violent threats against election workers in Texas and other states — including one who was told “we should end your bloodline” — according to a new report released by a House panel Thursday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard from one county election official in Texas that he received death threats after being singled out by out-of-state candidates who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Those threats quickly escalated and eventually included his family and staff.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia received social media messages including, “hunt him down,” “needs to leave Texas and U.S. as soon as possible,” and “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.”

The report said Garcia had to call law enforcement when his home address was leaked and calls for physical violence against himself and his family increased — eventually leading to threats against his children that included “I think we should end your bloodline.” Law enforcement determined that none of the threats broke the law, but they did provide coordination and additional patrol around his neighborhood.

The findings are the latest evidence of how former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him have taken root as they have been echoed by his supporters, including Texas Republicans who passed new voting restrictions last year.

The report comes as polling released this week indicates two-thirds of Texans who identify as Republicans still do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The June survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found 66 percent of Texas Republicans said they don’t believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That was unchanged from February when they were asked the same question.

The report is part of a longrunning effort by congressional Democrats to push back on Trump’s claims and new voting restrictions in states, including Texas.

“Election officials are under siege,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel. “They face growing campaigns of harassment and threats, all driven by false accusations of fraud.”

[…]

Garcia wrote that Sidney Powell, Trump’s former lawyer who sought to overturn the 2020 election, appeared on Fox News pushing bunk claims about voting machines turning Tarrant County blue. Garcia was also targeted by Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator on Newsmax, and far-right website The Gateway Pundit.

Their attacks on Garcia came when Biden won the typically red county by 0.2 percentage points after Trump had led the initial count on election night, before late absentees and provisional ballots were included.

“What followed in the next 4 to 6 weeks was a terrible time of threats and concerns for the safety of my family, my staff and myself,” Garcia wrote.

The House panel in April sent letters to elections administrators in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Ohio asking how misinformation had impacted their work. The report’s findings are based, in part, on responses by Remy Garza, a Cameron County election official who is president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators.

Garza told the committee that during debates in the legislature over proposed changes to voting laws, public testimony frequently included “broad generalizations of alleged fraud” and “repeated misleading information about actions taken by the Harris County clerk responsible for the November 2020 election.”

Garza said the bills Texas Republicans passed were inspired by “false information” and were also sometimes impossible for elections administrators to implement. For instance, the state Legislature enacted a requirement for voting machines to produce a paper record without providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of converting existing equipment to comply, as well as other requirements that are not possible in counties that don’t have certain elections systems.

I have a hard time understanding how those threats against Heider Garcia’s family would not be considered violations of the law. If that’s the case, then the law needs to be updated, because we just can’t have that in a world where we also want free and fair elections run by competent people. Various provisions to offer protection to election officials were included in the voting rights bills that passed the House but were doomed by the filibuster in the Senate. I’m hopeful we’ll get an update to the Electoral Count Act of 1877 to shore up the weaknesses that Trump tried to exploit in 2020, but I seriously doubt that an amendment to include those election official protections could be added, for the same filibuster-related reasons. We’re going to need the same “hold the House and expand the Dem majority in the Senate” parlay to have some hope for this next year. I hope we can wait that long. The Trib has more.

The independents

Recently I got an email from a gentleman named Ted Wood, who wrote to inform me that he had successfully completed the requirements to be an independent candidate for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals on the November 2022 ballot. The basic requirements to be an independent candidate for non-statewide office are filing a declaration of intent to run as an indy – this is to be done at the filing deadline – and then collecting 500 signatures from people who didn’t vote in the primaries.

Wood told me his candidacy is the first Independent run for an appellate bench in Texas since 1996. I hadn’t checked that at the time he told me, but I believed it. In my experience, most of the independent candidates run for Congress or the Legislature. I’ll get to some past numbers in a minute, but did you know that there’s no public listing of independent candidates for the 2022 election right now? Obviously there will be one in about a month when the ballots are finalized and printed to be sent to overseas voters, but if you want to know right now who besides Ted Wood is an independent candidate running for state or federal office in Texas, you have to make a Public Information Act request to the Secretary of State. Seems crazy to me, but here we are.

Anyway, Wood did this and shared the list with me, which you can see here. It’s six candidates for Congress, two for the State House, and him. Two of the Congressional candidates are repeat customers – Vince Duncan has been an indy for Cd18 in 2020, 2018, and 2014, while Chris Royal ran as an indy for CD34 in 2020. The current cycle and the last two have been relatively busy ones for independent candidates for Congress – six this year, seven in 2020 and 2018, though in 2018 there were two in CD09, so indy candidates were only in six races – but for whatever the reason it wasn’t like that at all before 2018. I found no independent candidates for Congress in 2016, two in 2014, and one in 2012. I have no explanation for that – if you have one, let me know. I found one independent candidate for State House in each of 2014, 2016, and 2018; I didn’t search 2020 because the new format on the SOS website is a pain in the ass for that sort of thing. I found no independent candidates for any other offices since 2012, which was as far back as I checked for state elections.

Wood also inquired with Harris County about any independent candidates running for county offices. He was informed by Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office that there were no independent candidates for county office on the ballot in Harris County in 2022. This didn’t surprise me, as I couldn’t think of any recent examples of such a candidacy offhand. I went back through Harris County election results all the way to 1996, and found two non-legislative indies in that time. One was a candidate for the 245th Civil District Court in 2002, an Angelina Goodman, who got 3.69% of the vote. That’s not a county office, though – it’s a state office. I finally found a genuine indy for a county office in 1996. In the race that year for Constable in Precinct 7, a fellow named Andy Williams was the sole opponent to Democrat A. B. Chambers, and he got 6.39% of the vote. You learn something new every day.

Anyway. Wood as noted is running for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals, a seat that is being vacated by Sherry Radack. Democrat Julie Countiss, who is currently a Justice on this court but for another bench (she can run for Chief Justice without giving up her current seat), and Republican Terry Adams, who had been appointed to the First Court for Place 5 in 2020 then lost to Amparo Guerra that November, are his opponents. He’s working now in the Harris County Public Defender’s office. Before that, he worked for the General Counsel at the Texas Office of Court Administration (OCA) in Austin, and served two terms as County Judge in Randall County. As a Democratic precinct chair I am supporting Julie Countiss, who is also someone I know in real life and who I voted for the First Court in 2018. But I enjoyed having the chance to talk to Ted Wood, and I definitely appreciate the opportunity to get a nerdy blog post out of it. Hope you enjoyed this little excursion into electoral miscellania as well.

Redistricting plaintiffs get a win on discovery

Every little bit helps.

A federal judge on Monday issued a wide-ranging discovery order requiring Texas state lawmakers to turn over documents related to the state’s congressional redistricting plans.

The underlying lawsuit, filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens and several other civil rights groups, is part of a broad effort to correct what critics say is voter intimidation and discrimination in Texas heading into the 2022 midterm elections.

[…]

Like the separate lawsuit over Texas election laws, this redistricting case has continued to swell since its initial filing, with six other lawsuits consolidated into the legal fight. Days after the case was filed, the Fifth Circuit appointed a three-judge panel to oversee the increasingly complex case.

In November, the Justice Department also joined those suing state officials. It was doing so, the federal government said, because Texas redistricting plans had raised “important questions” about possible violations of the Voting Rights Act.

Since then, the case has largely hinged on issues of discovery. Texas lawmakers have battled against subpoenas, arguing that much of their work on redistricting was privileged information. They filed hundreds of pages of court documents detailing information they do not think they should have to turn over, including what they’ve described as “confidential communications” reflecting “thoughts, opinions and mental impressions.”

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, has continued its efforts to enforce subpoenas. The feds argue Texas officials have “inappropriately” claimed attorney-client privilege, refused to turn over documents from decades ago and “advanced an overbroad conception” of legislative privilege that has withheld “even communications with members of the public.” As a result, they say, lawmakers have disclosed “merely one-third” of the documents requested in subpoenas.

In his order on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge David Guaderrama, an Obama appointee, agreed with arguments from the DOJ and the civil rights groups. He found that Texas lawmakers were using overly broad theories of legislative privilege and could not “cloak conversations with executive-branch officials, lobbyists, and other interested outsiders.”

Guaderrama ruled the factors in this case weighed in favor of granting discovery requests. He cited the “seriousness of the litigation and the issues involved,” including allegations of lawbreaking and “intentional discrimination” against minority voters.

While Texas lawmakers asserted attorney-client privilege, the judge ruled they could not simply decline to release any documents referencing legal analysis, including scheduling calendars and communications with outside firms involved in redistricting. These documents are not “categorically privileged,” he wrote.

In the end, Guaderrama ordered Texas lawmakers to turn over a wide array of documents relating to redistricting, including “talking points” defending the maps. For any documents that contained “bona fide legal advice” or “privileged material,” Guaderrama ordered lawmakers to produce redacted versions.

About two months ago, the plaintiffs scored a different win in that three Republican legislators who had tried to avoid having to sit for depositions failed to get a lower court ruling against them overturned. If this ruling stands – always a dicey proposal when the Fifth Circuit is involved – then what the plaintiffs will gain is a lot of insight into what the legislators and their staff and advisors were saying to each other at the time. The experience from previous rounds of redistricting litigation is that there will be some good stuff there for the plaintiffs. Which still might not matter in the end, since SCOTUS has made its preferences very clear, but as I said in that last post, you have to start somewhere. Link via Reform Austin.

Texas is sooooooooo gerrymandered…

How gerrymandered are we? By this measure, we’re literally as gerrymandered as we could possibly be.

But just how biased have modern-day maps become in the state of Texas? The map that was approved last October is so highly biased, it is quite literally off the charts, according to the SMU findings.

The open-source software that the SMU researchers use helps them generate millions of maps that follow state guidelines for drawing districts.

The software allowed the researchers to answer a simple question: “If you didn’t try to design [maps] to maximize Democratic seats or Republican seats, if you just pick them randomly to satisfy the law — what would you get?” said Andrea Barreiro, associate professor of mathematics at SMU.

Using this large set of randomly generated maps, the group established a baseline for what a typical map that follows state guidelines looks like. With this baseline, the researchers were then able to measure how far from the baseline a proposed map was — and, therefore, how biased it was.

“If you have something that’s way outside of [the baseline], then there must have been some design goal that pushed it away from all these randomly generated maps, and that’s what we would call a biased map,” said Scott Norris, SMU associate professor of mathematics.

As soon as Texas’ first proposed congressional maps were made available on the Capitol Data Portal in late September, the SMU team got to work analyzing how the maps fared.

As different maps were proposed, the team generated over a million maps to create an unbiased baseline, offering key measures that are commonly used by political scientists to assess gerrymandering.

They completed this analysis for 59 proposed congressional maps. (The SMU team also shared their analysis for proposed Texas House, Senate and city council maps.)

Of the 1.5 million maps that the team generated and analyzed to compare with the final proposed Texas congressional district map, not a single baseline map showed levels of bias as high.

The proposed map was more biased than every single map their software had generated, the SMU researchers showed.

With their findings in hand, the SMU team reached out to all members of the Texas subcommittees involved in redistricting, as well as the researchers’ own local legislators.

They sent emails and posted to the comment portals provided by the legislature. Several of them testified at an open community hearing, explaining how this software works and advocating for its use to create less biased maps.

But they only heard back from a few offices. “The only people that we have actually spoken to are Democrats. … As you might expect, we haven’t had any interest from Republican members of the committees and, you know, that makes sense from their perspective,” said Norris.

[…]

The SMU group’s software revealed that the approved Texas map reduced the competitiveness of almost 50% of congressional districts in the state. This means that Republicans can win 50% of the state’s congressional seats, with only 42.2% of the state’s votes, the researchers showed.

In addition to dampening the need for officials to earn votes, gerrymandering can also leave large numbers of voters in a district with a representative who is out of touch with their community, said SMU researchers.

“When we testified to the House about this, I was struck [by] how many rural Republican voters were basically pleading with legislators not to break up their districts,” said Matthew Lockard, SMU associate professor of philosophy.

Farmers worried that their lives are so different from those of the city voters they might be in a district with that it just didn’t make sense.

You can see all the data here. I will confess, I don’t really understand the numbers they have in the tables there, but you don’t need a deep understanding of their methods to grok that the Republican-drawn ones were more gerrymandered than all 1.5 million randomly-drawn legal maps done by the team. We saw last decade that in a rapidly growing and diversifying state like Texas big changes can happen in a short time. That doesn’t mean it’ll happen again, just that the future isn’t set in stone. But that’s not for lack of trying on the Republicans’ part.

House passes assault weapon ban

Another bill that won’t pass the Senate, but nonetheless shows the gap in values and priorities between the two parties.

As the House passed legislation to ban assault weapons for the first time in nearly two decades Friday, Democrats pointed to a string of mass shootings in Texas where such weapons were used to kill dozens of people: Nineteen children and two teachers in Uvalde in May; 23 shoppers in an El Paso Walmart almost exactly three years ago; 26 congregants in a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017.

“We’ve turned our churches, our schools, our shopping centers, our entertainment venues — almost any place — into a battleground, with one massacre after another,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat, said some of her constituents who survived the mass shooting there in 2019 are still recovering from their injuries.

“The domestic terrorist who attacked my community was able to do so with a legally purchased assault weapon,” Escobar said. “What was once an unthinkable tragedy — the mass carnage we saw in El Paso — is now commonplace across America.”

[…]

The bill narrowly passed the House on a 217-213 vote as five Democrats joined all but two Republicans in opposing the legislation.

U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen — two Democrats whom Republicans have targeted in competitive South Texas midterm races — voted against the ban.

Gonzalez said in a statement that he “strongly supports” expanded background checks, waiting periods, red flag laws and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

“But there are tens of millions of assault rifles already in circulation across America, many of them are used by responsible gun owners for hunting in South Texas,” he said. “And a ban on some of those models will do nothing to reduce overall risks.”

The vote comes at the urging of gun safety advocates and survivors and family members of victims of recent mass shootings. Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed at Robb Elementary School, asked lawmakers to ban the weapons during testimony before the House Oversight Committee last month.

“Somewhere out there, there’s a mom listening to our testimony, thinking, ‘I can’t even imagine their pain.’ Not knowing that our reality one day will be hers,” Rubio said. “Unless we act now.”

The bill would ban new sales of assault-style rifles and create a voluntary buyback program. It would add new safe storage requirements for existing assault weapons.

Three points of interest here. One, while I would have preferred for Reps. Cuellar and Gonzalez to have voted with the majority, I’m less concerned by such votes when the bill passes anyway. As long as you’re not preventing it from passing, like some Senators I could name, it doesn’t bother me that much. Your mileage may vary on that.

Two, I’m not interested in litigating what the definition of an “assault weapon” is. We’ve had such a ban on the books before, and if this bill is modeled after that law, it’s good enough for me. Including buyback and safe storage provisions are bonuses. I don’t need this law to be perfect, I just need it to have a positive effect.

Which leads to the final point, that Rep. Gonzalez’s complaint that this bill won’t reduce the overall risk is wrong on its face and is wrong in the way that the more sweeping critique of any gun control law that it won’t stop every gun death ever is wrong. I’m not going to make the cyberdefense analogy here again, but that’s the basic idea. It’s fine for each law to focus on one or two specific aspects of the issue. Do that enough and the sum total will be a robust attack on the overall risk level. You can never get the risk to zero, in cybersecurity or public health or climate change or gun safety or national defense or any number of other large multi-faceted threats. But you can significantly lower your risk and improve your ability to respond effectively when something unwanted happens. We do this all the time in many other fields, and making the “we shouldn’t do this thing because it won’t solve all of our problems” argument in those contexts would mark you as ignoramus. It’s way past time we stopped giving those arguments against basic gun safety laws any credibility. The Trib has more.

Senate passes Ike Dike bill

This thing is actually gonna pass.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would authorize federal agencies to plan for an estimated $31 billion project intended to protect the Texas coast from hurricanes.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have already gone into studying the idea to build a system of concrete gate barriers at the mouth of Galveston Bay. Nicknamed for the destructive hurricane that hit Galveston Island in 2008, the so-called Ike Dike could be the largest civil engineering project in U.S. history.

The project is included the Water Resources Development Act, which contains various federal water, coast and flooding projects that require congressional approval to move forward, but does not allocate funds. The bill passed with 93 yes votes in the Senate on Thursday; only Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, voted no.

The U.S. House passed its version of the act in June. The legislation will go back to the House for the two chambers to iron out differences before sending it to President Joe Biden for approval. But the Texas coastal spine project is authorized in both versions.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn said the project brings Texas “one step closer” to ensuring the state’s coast will be as “prepared as possible” for future hurricanes.

“Protecting the Texas coast from devastating hurricanes is a top priority when it comes to preserving the livelihoods of Texans and ensuring the massive amount of international trade that relies on our state can resume after a storm,” Cornyn said in a statement.

The Ike Dike is part of the larger Texas Coastal Project, which was proposed to protect the state’s shoreline against hurricane storm surge and rising sea levels. It includes a series of other coastal infrastructure and environmental projects, from artificial barriers to beach and dune restoration.

The Ike Dike gate project alone would account for at least $16 billion and require 18 years to build, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates. The gates would span a nearly 2-mile gap from the island to Bolivar Peninsula.

The act doesn’t include funding for the Ike Dike and the rest of the Texas coast projects, which will require a separate request to Congress from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Congress is expected to fund the project in smaller appropriations rather than all at once.

If — or when — Congress does appropriate money, the state and local governments will be on the hook for a local match, which could total at least $10 billion, but inflation and changes in building costs mean estimates vary widely. Typically, such projects require a 65%-35% split in federal and nonfederal funding.

See here, here, and here for the background. Honestly, I’m a little surprised when anything passes the Senate. I guess there’s still the reconciliation to go through, but at this point that seems like small potatoes. (If I just jinxed the entire thing, I apologize.) It will take years as noted for this to be built, but better to start now than to still be waiting on it. The Chron has more.