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Fallon fallout

Of interest.

Sen. Pat Fallon

After Sen. Pat Fallon’s impressive though not unexpected victory this weekend in the insider’s race to be the GOP nominee for Congressional District 4 – being vacated by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe – rumors are flying and announcements are expected quickly in the coming race to succeed him in the Texas Senate.

If the early buzz is any indication, it’ll perhaps be more of a rural versus suburban fight than a “conservative versus moderate” one.

But there are other fault lines developing and there’s some chatter about whether House members considering a promotion could put the GOP House majority at risk when it comes time to vote for a new speaker.

This is a Quorum Report story, so the rest is behind their paywall, but what I quoted is what you need to know. Fallon, who became the Republican nominee for CD04 over the weekend and is sure to win in November in this deep red district, has not yet said when he plans to resign from the Senate. There could be a special election in SD30 in November if he steps down in the next week or two, but after that it will be post-November. As you may recall from 2018, the SD06 special election was held on December 11th following now-Rep. Sylvia Garcia’s resignation from the Senate, which came after she was officially elected in CD29. That’s one path Fallon could follow, but the complications set in if the winner of the SD30 special election is a sitting member of the State House, because then there would have to be a special election for that seat. Again, going back to 2018, the special election in HD145 that was necessitated after now-Sen. Carol Alvarado won that race was held on January 29, with a runoff on March 5.

So what? Well, as the QR story suggests, we could have a very closely divided House this session. Indeed, it could wind up being 75-75, which would surely make for an entertaining Speaker’s race. But then remember the SD30 special election, in which an elected State House member moved up to that chamber. Now all of a sudden it’s 75-74 in favor of the Dems, and you have a whole new ballgame. And remember, it’s quite common for a newly-elected veteran member of the House to resign following the November election. That also happened in 2018, when Joe Pickett resigned, citing health concerns. It’s not out of the question that a 76-74 GOP majority turns into a 74-74 tie with the SD30 election and some unexpected retirement throwing a spanner into the works. Crazy things do happen.

Another potential chaos factor: Carol Alvarado won the SD06 special in 2018 in the first round, which allowed the HD145 special to take place when it did. If there had needed to be a runoff, it would have happened in late January instead of the HD145 special. But if that had been the case, Alvarado would have still been in her House seat. What that means is that if there’s a runoff in SD30, the Republicans might not actually be down a seat at the time that a Speaker is chosen, but would be later on, possibly stretching into April. They’d have a Speaker but they might not have a functional House majority, especially if the Speaker continues the tradition of not voting on most bills. (And of course, on any given day, some number of members will be absent.) Again, the potential for Weird Shit to happen is non-trivial.

This is ultimately why Rep. Eddie Rodriguez made the decision to withdraw from the SD14 special election runoff, to ensure that his seat was occupied in January. Would every State House member whose district overlaps with SD30 make the same selfless decision if the GOP doesn’t have a clear majority in the lower chamber? That’s the $64,000 question. Of course, there would need to be a non-legislative candidate to rally around. There are many variables, is what I’m saying.

Anyway. This is super inside baseball, but this is also the kind of year where these esoteric considerations need to be taken seriously. I will of course be keeping an eye on this.

Once again with female Congressional candidates

This is another post that was drafted in the Before Times, specifically right after the March primary. I went through the runoffs and assessed all of the races that could or would contain a female candidate or incumbent against a male opponent or open seat with a retiring male incumbent, mixed in the likelihood of said female candidate winning, and presented a range of possibilities for the number of female members of Congress in Texas in 2021, a number that now stands at six. That’s six female members of Congress out of 36 total – five Democrats (out of 13 total) and one Republican (out of 23). With the lineups for November settled, let’s do a quick review, then you can click on to see what I had written originally.

First of all, the next member of Congress in CD24 will be a woman, either Democrat Candace Valenzuela or Republican Beth Van Duyne. It would be nice to say that this means the number of women in Congress from Texas will go up, but Rep. Lizzie Fletcher could lose her race to Wesley Hunt, which would leave us at six as before. I think as things stand right now Fletcher is a clear favorite to win, but we have to allow for the possibility.

Other than Van Duyne, the only Republican running in a competitive district is Genevieve Collins in CD32 against Rep. Colin Allred, who like his fellow freshman Fletcher is the favorite to win but could lose if things go poorly from here. CD24 is one of the more Dem-leaning seats that are currently held by Republicans, but since it’s Republican-held I’d say it has slightly better odds of staying red than CD07 or CD32 have of flipping to red. Republicans can add up to two women to their caucus, and they can subtract one from the Democratic caucus, but I think the single most likely outcome is that Rep. Kay Granger remains the only Republican woman in Congress, and Rep. Lizzie Fletcher gets another term.

If that’s the case, then Dems will add at least one woman to their caucus, but given the bigger picture it’s nearly impossible to imagine that it would be one and only one. I can’t envision a scenario in which Candace Valenzuela wins but Gina Ortiz Jones does not. Wendy Davis is a notch behind those two, and then a little further behind we have Sima Ladjevardian, Lulu Seikaly, Julie Oliver, and Donna Imam. A gain of two Democratic women feels like the single most likely possibility, followed very closely by a gain of three. Four or more is more remote, but not at all out of the question.

That’s the nickel summary. More recently, The 19th wrote about this from a national perspective, with a focus on Republican efforts to recruit more and better female candidates for Congress. They all pretty neatly avoid the Donald Trump-shaped elephant in the room, but that’s their problem. Read on for my original post, which included all of the candidates who are now out of the race or who are running for seats that are not competitive.

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CD24 poll: Valenzuela 47, Van Duyne 41

From the Twitters:

You can see the poll info here. The 48-41 and 49-45 numbers are with leaners included – I just used the topline numbers. I would note that Trump carried CD24 by six points in 2016, while Beto won it by 3.5 points in 2018; I will say again, CD24 was the one that got away in 2018. Anyway, Biden leading by four points suggests a ten point shift overall from 2016, which is consistent with Biden leading the state by about a point. You can add your own caveats, I’m just adding this as another data point.

It’s like we don’t want any extra Congresspeople

As someone once said, where’s the outrage?

For months, as Texans have been asked to stay home to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus, Jennifer Edwards has been doing the rounds at gas stations in a trio of counties near the Texas-Louisiana border.

Volunteering as a census community organizer, the Tarleton State University professor reasoned that gas stations, like grocery stores, would continue to see foot traffic during the pandemic. Setting up a booth just outside the front doors offered her face time with essential workers to deliver an essential message — please fill out the census.

“When we’re meeting with people in front of the tractor supply or the dollar store or the gas station … the communication is focused on ‘Well when does it end, what’s the deadline?’” said Edwards, who had been sharing the pandemic-induced October deadline for counting every person living in the U.S. for the once-a-decade census.

But on Monday evening, the U.S. Census Bureau upended the timeline Edwards and hundreds of other organizers, volunteers and local officials had been working under. After previously stating the census would run through Oct. 31, the bureau announced it was cutting the count short by a month, moving up the deadline for responding to Sept. 30.

The October cutoff had offered organizers crucial overtime for the count after the coronavirus pandemic derailed a ground game for canvassing and outreach efforts that in some regions of the state had been in the works for years. Now, the earlier deadline is heightening risks that Texas will be undercounted and that some Texans, particularly those who are low-income or Hispanic, will be missed in the count as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage their communities.

The schedule change comes at a key point in the count. The bureau has started its door-to-door campaign to follow up with households that have not yet filled out the census online, by phone or by mail, but census workers won’t reach some communities in Texas, like the Rio Grande Valley, that are at the highest risk of being missed until next week.

“It seems like not only are they cutting back the time they’re giving themselves to do this nonresponse follow up, but they’re also allocating the least amount of time in the hardest-to-count places in the state,” said Lila Valencia, a senior demographer at the Texas Demographic Center.

This follows Donald Trump’s efforts to exclude certain people from the Census data for redistricting purposes, as well as the state’s refusal to pay for any effort to do a thorough Census count. It’s like there’s a conspiracy to keep Texas from getting the up to three additional members of Congress that it would be due if everything went as it should. And also, you know, billions and billions of federal money that our taxes contribute to that will instead flow to other states because the Census says we have a lot fewer people than we actually do. I get what Trump’s motivations are here. I have a much harder time understanding why this isn’t a problem for Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and every Republican running for Congress. Why do they all want to hurt Texas like this? It’s a question that should get asked, a lot.

Rental assistance

We’re going to need a lot more like this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston on Wednesday added another $20 million to its rent relief program, aimed at helping thousands of tenants catch up on late rent payments.

City council voted unanimously to add the money Wednesday, more than doubling the initial program the city launched in May. Private donors, including Texans owner Janice McNair, gave $5 million toward the effort, and the city devoted another $15 million from the federal money it received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The program requires concessions from landlords for them to receive the funds. They must forego eviction proceedings through September for all of their residents, even if only one of them is set to receive assistance. They also must waive late fees and interest on late payments, and agree to a payment plan for residents that are behind.

“The concern was, you took the money, and then a month later, you’re still trying to get them out,” said District F Councilmember Tiffany Thomas, who chairs the council’s housing committee.

The application window will open first for landlords, and then their tenants will be able to apply. Thomas said that will open some time in the next two weeks.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, who has rejected calls for a grace period ordinance that would give residents more time to catch up before getting evicted, said the assistance and resulting concessions provide for a more fruitful approach. He said a grace period worsens the financial liability those tenants will have to cover later down the road.

“When their grace period comes to an end, they are facing a tsunami of a situation where the financial obligation has not been eliminated,” Turner said of cities that have implemented similar policies. “What will happen is that at the end, the hole is so much bigger.”

Advocates have said a grace period would provide blanket coverage to residents who will not get access to the city’s relief funds, which Turner and others have acknowledged cannot meet the overwhelming demand.

See here for the city’s press release. I’m not sure why the city preferred this approach, but I do know that it’s in everyone’s interests to keep people in their apartments if at all possible. Losing their homes, especially at a time like this, will have devastating and long-term consequences, and not just for the newly homeless people – there will be more strain on the city’s social services, and it’s not like there will be a long line of other folks waiting to take the now-vacant apartment. We really need the Senate to act on the bill that the House passed months ago, because there are millions of lives at stake. If nothing else, surely we can all agree that putting a bunch of people out on the street is not going to help the economy. Keeping folks in their homes is the right answer no matter how you ask the question. All levels of government need to do their part.

Recount requested in CD23 Republican runoff

This race is still unsettled.

Raul Reyes announced Friday night that he will seek a recount in the razor-thin Republican primary runoff to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, in his national battleground district.

Reyes’ announcement came after the Texas GOP certified the results of his July 14 runoff against Tony Gonzales. The campaigns said the final margin was Gonzales by 45 votes, though the party had not confirmed that as of late Friday night.

“We worked too hard, for too long, not to ensure every legal vote was counted properly,” Reyes said in a statement.

Reyes’ move all but ensures another chapter in the dramatic runoff, particularly when it comes to endorsements. President Donald Trump supported Gonzales, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz backed Reyes.

Reyes came out of Election Night down seven votes and did not concede, wanting to see the counting of final mail-in, provisional and military-overseas ballots. As those came in over the past few weeks, Gonzales repeatedly claimed victory and increasingly urged the party to unify for November. But Reyes held firm against conceding and began fundraising for a potential recount while waiting for the state party canvass.

Take all the time you need, fellas. Gina Ortiz Jones will be over here, doing actual campaigning and figuring out all the ways she’s gonna kick whoever’s butt it is that comes out of this.

Congressional Dems winning the money race in Texas

The times, they have definitely changed.

Early this election cycle, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn publicly worried about complacency within the Texas Republican political class — even after Democratic gains made in 2018.

So in early 2019, the state’s senior senator encouraged Texas Republicans in the U.S. House to bolster their fundraising and think twice about sending money out of the state.

“There’s an attempt by the leadership to extract as much money as possible out of the state as they can and use that wherever they need it, and I understand that,” he told The Texas Tribune in June 2019. “But we need to make sure our Texas races — from the president and all the way down to the courthouse — are adequately financed and resourced. And that’s going to require us to raise a significant amount of money.”

More than a year later, a Texas Tribune analysis of recent campaign finance reports shows that Cornyn’s fears of a funding problem have come to life. Democratic U.S. House candidates in Texas have millions more aggregate cash on hand than their Republican counterparts. It marks an extraordinary six-year shift within the Texas delegation.

In 2016, U.S. House Republican candidates in Texas had $32.3 million on hand in July of that year. Their Democratic counterparts reported $11.4 million.

The next cycle, boosted by a backlash to President Donald Trump, Democrats saw a jump in fundraising. In 2018, Texas Republican U.S. House candidates had $34.8 million in cash on hand, compared with $21.8 million on the Democratic side.

Newly filed campaign finance reports show a complete shift this year. Republicans running for the U.S. House in Texas reported $19.2 million. Democrats had $26.7 million.

[…]

And the money affects more than just the seven or so competitive U.S. House races on the ballot.

Take the state’s 3rd Congressional District. Situated entirely in North Texas’ Collin County, it has been a longtime undisputed GOP stronghold. Mitt Romney won the district in 2012 with 64% of the vote to Barack Obama’s 34%. But in 2018, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, carried the county by only six percentage points, and U.S. Rep. Van Taylor of Plano saw the district’s margin narrow from 27 points in 2016 to 10 points during his first run for the seat in 2018.

Taylor took that race seriously, advertising on broadcast television, and he has over $1 million in cash on hand this year. His opponent, attorney Lulu Seikaly, only had about $40,000 on her last financial report, but the way she is spending that money is noteworthy. That same report revealed she had hired a national direct mail consultant. Additionally, her campaign said in a news release that it had raised $100,000 since the mid-July runoff and has had a well-regarded polling firm conduct an internal poll of the race.

Should a Democratic wave hit the state in the fall, Seikaly will already have poll-tested messaging and located vendors to potentially take advantage of the environment. If not, her efforts to bring Democrats in her district to the polls could still help others in her party above and below her on ballot. Taylor’s district overlaps considerably with that of state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who is one of more than a dozen GOP incumbents Democrats are targeting in an effort to flip the state House.

You can see the July finance reports for Democratic Congressional candidates here. As this story notes, much of the difference comes from the two freshman Dems who knocked off Republican incumbents in 2018, Reps. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07 and Colin Allred in CD32, plus the challengers in CDs 21, 22, and 23. Sri Kulkarni in CD22 is the laggard of the bunch, with $2.5 million raised and $1.2 million on hand; the others all have at least $3.8 million raised and $2.9 million on hand. Wendy Davis has practically lapped Rep. Chip Roy in CD21. Mike Siegel in CD10 and Candace Valenzuela have less cash on hand after having to compete in the primary runoffs, but both had raised a lot as of the Q2 report and I expect they will keep it up. Sima Ladjevardian may not be able to keep up with the moneybags Dan Crenshaw, but she’s still hauled in $1.6 million.

It’s not just about what the candidates themselves have raised. Republican Congressional incumbents have been asked to kick in a bunch of money to the RNC, but their on requests to get a little help coming back have fallen on deaf ears. Usual suspects like the Club for Growth will spend big to protect their own, but the list that needs defending keeps getting longer. If there are three takeaways from all this, they’re 1) Dems should have all the resources they need to make a maximum push this November; 2) expect to be bombarded with ads like you’ve never been before – seriously, live sports is going to be a wasteland of political ads, if there are live sports this fall; and 3) Dems have no excuse for not raising a ton of money to win statewide elections in 2022.

A slightly less rosy view of Democratic prospects

Here’s the latest race ratings from Texas Elects:

Texas Election Source has updated 27 race ratings based on the latest polling, July campaign finance reports and primary runoff results. Twenty of those races moved one column toward the Democrats’ advantage. Our complete ratings are located here. Thirteen Republican-held seats in the legislature or congressional delegation are rated Toss-up or Lean Democratic. No Democrat-held seat is rated below Lean Democratic after several seats formerly in the Toss-up column were shifted into the Lean Democratic column.

The most significant impact of the new ratings on our projections is in the Texas House. Democrats need a net of nine seats to retake a majority in the chamber. We project they will get six, up three from our April ratings, which would cut the Republicans’ advantage to 77-73 entering the 2021 legislative session. Seven more Republican-held seats are projected to be within 1.5 percentage points of the range we consider a toss-up race. Only two Democrat-held seats are projected to be within 1.5 percentage points of a toss-up.

Four Republican-held seats are rated Lean Democratic, listed from greatest to least lean:

  • HD134 – Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) vs. Ann Johnson (D)
  • HD138 open – Lacey Hull (R) vs. Akilah Bacy (D)
  • HD108 – Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) vs. Joanna Cattanach (D); and
  • HD66 – Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) vs. Sharon Hirsch (D).

Since 2010, the four House seats on the list have drifted an average of 7.3 percentage points bluer, relative to the state as a whole. Two seats in other chambers – CD23 and SD19 – are also rated Lean Democratic. They have gotten relatively redder but remained 3.9 and 9.1 percentage points bluer than the state as a whole in 2018. We are projecting SD19 to get another 1.4 percentage points redder, but even that keeps it just .07% from being labeled as Likely Democratic.

Incidentally, HD134 would rate as Likely Democratic but for Davis’s consistent over-performance of other Republicans in the district. In 2018, the average Democrat received 55% of the vote in her district measured head-to-head against the Republican, but Davis survived thanks to ticket-splitting voters. Longtime political observers will remember former Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) who held onto his district by finishing as much as 19 points better than the rest of the Democratic slate. He was overwhelmed by rising Republican leanings in 2010 but still over-performed the rest of the ticket by 12 points. We project Davis’s ability to win over ticket-splitting voters will not be enough this year.

Dallas Co. was the epicenter of the Democratic surge in 2018. Only two Republicans represent the county in the state House currently, and we project that number will be zero after November. Tarrant Co., home to five races rated Toss-up or Lean Republican, and Fort Bend Co., with three seats in the Lean and Likely Republican columns, are expected to be the chief battleground counties in the House this year.

There’s more, so go read the rest. Texas Elects has a lot of premium content, but the free stuff is worth checking regularly.

Unlike the exuberant Capitol Inside projections, Texas Elects has the Dems falling short of a majority in the House, though it does expect three Congressional seats and SD19 to flip, and it has all of the statewide races as “Lean Republican”. You might be wondering about the inclusion of some Dem-held seats on the table, but as noted before, HDs 31, 34, and 74 are three of the four most purple districts out there that were held by Dems prior to 2018. They could be vulnerable in a bad year for Dems, though I don’t think this is that kind of year. As for HD41 and HD144, I can’t say I’m worried about them.

As that Capitol Inside projection was ebullient for Dems, this one is more sober. It sounds a little crazy to say when you think of the decade in total, but a six-seat pickup by Dems in the Lege would feel disappointing. It’s well within the range of possibility, and if all we ever think about is the best case scenario we’re not being honest with ourselves. All projections are art as well as science, in that you have to decide which factors are the most important and by how much. Individual candidates and fundraising prowess mean a lot, but so does the national environment, and so do demographic trends.

As far as candidates mattering goes, read that analysis of the HD134 race carefully. I come back to this a lot, but the key thing that happened in HD134, and in CD07 (which includes almost all of HD134) is exactly that the Democratic shift from 2016 to 2018 went much deeper than the top of the ticket. The average Republican judicial candidate won CD07 by thirteen points in 2016, and won HD134 by eight. In 2018, the average Republican judicial candidate barely won CD07. I didn’t do the exact same analysis for the State House districts, because I spent so much time talking about straight tickets and undervoting, but in service of that analysis I did this sample of judicial races, and as you can see each Dem was over fifty percent in HD134, by varying amounts. The point is, the fundamental nature of HD134 has shifted from “a Republican district that will sometimes support specific Democrats” to “a Democratic district that has – at least till now – supported Sarah Davis”. That’s what she’s up against this year, not just her November opponent but the baggage of the entire Republican Party and the prospect of a Democratic Speaker. She could hang on, and for sure she should not be underestimated, but this year, for the first time, she’s the underdog.

Anyway. I love this kind of analysis because it makes me think about my own assumptions and expectations for the year. Go take a look and see what you think.

Gohmert’s gonna Gohmert

On brand, possibly to the end.

Louie Gohmert

Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, a mask skeptic who tested positive for the coronavirus Wedneday as he was pre-screened to join President Donald Trump on a visit to Midland, told Fox News that he plans to take the controversial anti-malaria drug that medical experts have warned against for its health risks.

“My doctor and I are all in,” Gohmert told Fox News host Sean Hannity. “That will start in a day or two.”

Trump and other Republicans like Gohmert have touted the drug, though evidence continues to accumulate of its serious side effects and ineffectiveness treating the new coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration has cautioned against using the drug and last month revoked its emergency use authorization for it, saying the potential, unproven benefit isn’t worth the risk.

Gohmert told Hannity that he has a friend who is a doctor who is taking the drug to treat his own coronavirus. He said his own regimen would consist of the hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin and zinc.

See here for the background. I mean, I don’t know why anyone would expect Gohmert to do something normal or rational or conventional now. I’m reminded of something my buddy’s mom said to him when we were kids and were about to do something crazy, “Well, if you break your leg, don’t come running to me”. You do you, Louie, but if it goes south please don’t expect any sympathy for your dumb decisions.

Matt Glazer: A way to end surprise medical bills

(Note: The following is a guest post that was submitted to me. I occasionally solicit guest posts, and also occasionally accept them from people I trust.)

At a young age, I had to deal with medical issue after medical issue. It started with trips to M.D. Anderson and ended with an emergency appendectomy. Three major illnesses in 2 years was hard, but we were fortunate enough not to be financially destroyed by these unexpected medical expenses.

Fast forward to now and I am constantly nervous to go see a doctor. Yes, I have insurance now (something that was impossible before the Affordable Care Act), but I am also a pawn in a subterranean fight between health care providers and insurance companies. Basic treatments that should be covered sometimes aren’t and with no rhyme or reason. Then I am hit with unexpected bill that sends me back to eating ramen or cutting expenses again.

There is a real, bi-partisan opportunity to do something about this and protect consumers.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt life in Texas throughout the country, health care access has never been more important. Now more than ever, people need to see a doctor when they’re sick – not just for their own health, but (given the contagiousness of the disease) for the health of those around them.

Yet some in Washington, D.C. are putting that access at risk in a ham-fisted attempt to stop surprise medical bills.

Most of us have dealt with the shock of a surprise medical bill in recent years – those charges you get billed for after getting medical care, when your insurance company refuses to foot the bill for an out-of-network health provider. Congress has been debating this issue for over a year, and two main camps have emerged. One group wants to end these disputes by creating an independent dispute resolution (IDR) system, where providers and insurance companies are pushed toward a negotiating table to figure out their differences, and patients are left out of the process. The other group wants pre-determined reimbursement rates for services based on insurance companies’ in-network rates.

The first option, IDR, is similar to what we passed last year for insurance plans regulated by the state of Texas – one of the country’s most patient-friendly surprise medical bill laws which won bipartisan support. Other states, such as New York, have instituted a similar system with successful results. (Unfortunately, these state fixes only apply to plans regulated by the state, which is why Congress needs to act. For example, in Texas only 16% of health plans are covered by the state surprise billing law.)

The problems with the second option become obvious quickly: If insurance companies are setting rates, they have all the negotiating leverage. Surprise bills go from being a dispute over how much to charge for a medical procedure to a take-it-or-leave it edict to hospitals, doctors, and other care providers. The rate-setting option would artificially drive insurance payouts down and create dire financial situations for doctors and hospitals – particularly in rural areas, where hospitals function as major hubs for local health care services. It would pad the bottom line for health insurance companies, though – not like they need it, since they have been among the few companies making more money during the pandemic.

Worst of all: Rate-setting would allow insurance companies to further enrich themselves on the backs of the doctors, nurses, and other health care providers who have been serving on the front lines of the pandemic, shouldering more risk than any of us in fighting COVID-19.

(Last month, the Trump administration proposed a third option: an outright ban on surprise medical bills with no outline for resolving the underlying dispute. That figures to throw any disputed bill into the court system, with costly lawsuits driving up the costs of both health care and insurance premiums. Everyone except the lawyers would lose in that scenario.)

Thankfully, surprise medical billing is one of the few truly bipartisan issues on Congress’s agenda, outside the drama of November’s elections. And there is bipartisan support for an IDR-based solution, which means that we can have some hope that Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Ted Cruz, and the rest of our Congressional delegation will step up and do the right thing. And there are legislative options, put forward by members of Congress who are actual doctors: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) has more than 30 bipartisan co-sponsors for his “STOP Surprise Medical Bills Act,” and more than 110 House members have similarly signed on to the “Protecting People from Surprise Medical Bills Act,” sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Ca.). Both of these bills solve surprise medical bills using IDR and keep the patients out of it.

We still have a long way to go in facing COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, and the time to come after, one thing should be crystal clear: We cannot make it harder for people to get health care when they need it. Access to health care will be essential as the economy struggles to recover in fits and starts, we need workers and customers who don’t have to worry about finding care if they get sick.

Forcing doctors out of business and pushing hospitals to the brink of financial collapse is no way to fight a pandemic – or to help patients.

This is a necessary solution for millions. A generation later, I am still terrified to go see a doctor because of the uncertainty surrounding every trip. I am still affected by the bad luck I was afflicted with before I could drive a car, vote, or serve our country. A generation later, I still feel the effects of being a pawn in a game I don’t want to play. There is a real opportunity to do something about this now. All it takes is for our elected officials to do it.

Matt Glazer is the past Executive Director of Progress Texas and co-founder of Blue Sky Partners.

CD25 poll: Roger Williams 45, Julie Oliver 43

This is genuinely astonishing.

Julie Oliver

To showcase just how extensively Trump’s decline has shifted the playing field, the DCCC shared with the Washington Post details of an in-house poll it conducted of Texas’ deep-red 25th Congressional District that finds Joe Biden edging Donald Trump 47-46 and puts Republican Rep. Roger Williams up just 45-43 on his Democratic challenger, attorney Julie Oliver.

That’s a huge shift from 2016, when Williams’ district went for Trump by a wide 55-40 margin. And that’s exactly what Republicans intended: The 25th is part of a careful gerrymander that cracked the Austin area six ways and allowed the GOP to win five of those seats. One of those is Williams’ district, which stretches far to the north toward Dallas-Forth Worth, combining a slice of the state capital with rural regions well outside of it.

As a result, the 25th is more rural (and whiter) than most of the suburban seats in Texas that are at the top of Democrats’ target list. As DCCC executive director Lucinda Guinn put it, the district had only been “maybe on the outer edges of our battlefield,” but that may now change. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz only carried this seat 52-47 over Beto O’Rourke, so it’s plausible that the leftward march here is continuing.

Here’s the WaPo story that originated this, which goes a lot broader but doesn’t add anything to the CD25 story. What’s most remarkable about this is that of the nine Congressional districts that Dems have some hope to be competitive in, this one is probably last in line. It’s the only one not projected to be won by Biden in the event of a Biden win in Texas. In terms of 2018 performance, CD25 was one of the two weakest for Dems overall, closely aligned with CD03 but without the rapid growth and suburban characteristic of that district. It’s been generally seen as a “likely GOP” seat, with only Rachel Bitecofer being more bullish than that.

So yeah, if Biden is truly leading in CD25, then 1) he’s also truly leading statewide, by more than just a hair, and 2) by enough that he’s also leading in eight other Republican-held Congressional districts. He’s probably leading by enough that the entire statewide Democratic slate is in position to win in November. He’s probably leading by enough that it’s not a question of whether the Dems would take the State House, but by how much. Like I said, astonishing.

Now again we have to trot out the caveats: It’s one poll, it was commissioned by the DCCC, which doesn’t make it suspect in and of itself but does mean that they could have put the result in a desk drawer if they hadn’t found it useful, and Congressional polling is always more variable than statewide polling. That said, it’s not really out of line when districts like CD03 are also polling as even for Biden. At this point, you can only wish there were more competitive districts available.

As noted by the dKos post, Julie Oliver’s main flaw is that she has little cash on hand, despite raising $681K so far, a greater sum than she raised in the entire last cycle. I don’t know what she’s been spending her cash on, but she’s going to need to make it stretch a bit more. Or maybe the DCCC will decide to come in and play, which at this point seems hard to argue against. If this is where the numbers are, maybe we should believe them.

Louie Gohmert gets COVID-19

The universe works in mysterious ways.

Louie Gohmert

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, has tested positive for the new coronavirus, he said in an interview with East Texas Now where he speculated that he may have caught the virus from wearing his mask.

Gohmert, who spends ample time on the U.S. House floor without a mask, was one of several Texas officials scheduled to fly to West Texas this afternoon with President Donald Trump. He took one test, which tested positive, then took a second test during a pre-screen at the White House which also tested positive.

“I can’t help but wonder … if I injected the virus into my mask when I was moving,” he said in an interview.

[…]

Gohmert said he received guidance from the doctors at the White House and the attending physician at the Capitol that he only needed to self-quarantine for 10 days. He said he will drive back to his East Texas home and that his staff is all getting tested for the virus.

“Like Dorothy said, there’s no place like home,” Gohmert said.

The Republican lawmaker has been known for speaking at length with Capitol colleagues while not adhering to social distancing guidelines. Last month, he told CNN that he was not wearing a mask because he was getting tested regularly for the virus.

“I don’t have the coronavirus, turns out as of yesterday I’ve never had it,” he said in June. “But if I get it, you’ll never see me without a mask.”

We’ll see about that. Gohmert is truly one of the worst people in Congress, and one of the worst in Texas. He has spent his long, miserable career in Congress working to make his district, the state, and the country a worse, poorer, meaner, dumber, unhealthier, less safe, and more violent place. According to Slate, Gohmert “returned to his congressional office after his positive test to personally inform his staff of the result”, which is to say he knowingly put his entire staff at risk for no good reason. I have one wish for Louie Gohmert, and that’s that he gain some small measure of empathy for everyone who has suffered from this pandemic. I don’t have much hope for that wish, but it’s what I’ve got. The Chron and Mother Jones have more.

Checking in on CD21

Thar’s the race where Wendy Davis is trying to unseat the mini-Ted Cruz known as Chip Roy, and the pundits are thinking she can do it.

Wendy Davis

All signs are pointing toward a competitive race between incumbent conservative firebrand U.S. Rep. Chip Roy and Democratic mainstay Wendy Davis in Texas’ 21st Congressional District.

The district, which stretches from northern San Antonio to Austin and includes a swath of the Hill Country, has long been viewed as a GOP stronghold. Roy’s predecessor, Republican Lamar Smith, held the seat for more than 30 years. But in 2018, Roy won it with a margin of less than 3 percent.

With $4.4 million raised, Davis has pulled in 75 percent more in campaign donations than Roy — a rare feat for a candidate facing a Republican incumbent.

The politically polar-opposite candidates have already begun casting each other as extremists of their parties. Roy’s campaign has sent a barrage of emails to supporters saying Davis “would be one of the most extreme liberal members of Congress, right there with AOC, Ilhan Omar, Pelosi and the rest of the socialist Democrats.”

Davis, a former state Senator best-known for her 2013 filibuster against an anti-abortion law, has seized on Roy’s response to the pandemic, criticizing his rejection of coronavirus relief funding for businesses. Roy was one of 40 GOP House members who voted against the bill and said he did so because he did not have enough time to review the legislation before voting.

She called Roy, who once served as chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz, “an extreme voice who has spent his time in Washington looking out for corporate drugmakers and wealthy special interests.”

Roy-Davis is one of four congressional races in Texas where Republicans have been favored but are seeing their opponents gain momentum, according to the Cook Political Report, a prominent nonpartisan political ratings group. The publication on Friday switched the 21st District from “Lean Republican” to “Toss Up.” It was welcome news for the Davis campaign and other national Democrats.

We’re seeing a lot of Congressional ratings updates now, mostly I think because the Q2 finance reports are out, but also because of the seismic changes in Donald Trump’s approval and re-elect numbers. CD21 is to me in the second tier of pickup opportunities for Dems – CDs 23 and 24 are on top, and at this point I’d consider it very disappointing if Dems didn’t take them both. CD21 is in the next tier, along with CDs 10 and 22, and I’d consider it an upset at this point if Dems didn’t win at least one of them. After that comes all of the longer-shot districts, namely CDs 02, 03, 06, 25, and 31. The fact that we are seeing favorable internal polls getting released by the Democratic challengers in these races, including now a poll from CD21, says something about where we are now in the campaign. Granted, the poll numbers have been more favorable to Joe Biden than to the Dem challengers, but especially in districts with incumbents running for re-election, I think it’s likely that Biden will have to top 50% in most if not all of them for the Dems to have a strong chance. There’s likely more slack in the open seat races, but I’d expect even the more-ardent Trump-humpers to outperform the rest of the ticket on their turf, so a boost from Biden would be very nice.

Davis should also get a boost from the relentless voter registration efforts, which have been especially fruitful for Dems along the I-35 corridor, which overlaps quite a bit with CD21. (And CD23, and CD24, and CD31, and to a lesser extend CDs 03, 06, 10, and 25.) Davis has vastly outraised Roy, and while putting some of that towards tying him to Trump is needed, I’d hope she spends a lot of it on more voter registration and a ton of GOTV. (She will have to spend some of it countering the gobs of PAC money being spent to defend Chip Roy.) The opportunity here is about as good as it gets, and the more Democrats that get elected this year, the harder it’s going to be for Republicans to draw themselves a maximalist Congressional map in the 2021 redistricting process.

What a Democratic House means for redistricting

Rick Casey makes a point about what a Democratic-majority State House will and won’t be able to do in 2021, in particular with redistricting.

I would put the Democrats’ chances of taking back the State House of Representatives as better than the fulfillment of either of their two other dreams — beating President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — though recent polls show Trump and Democrat Joe Biden running even and a large “undecided” cohort in the Senate race.

But what if the Democrats win the Texas House? How much difference would it make?

One of the points I’ve seen made in the national media is that it would prevent the Republicans from gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts in the wake of the 2020 census. But that is wrong.

The Texas Constitution includes a provision, passed in 1951, for what happens if the Senate and House of Representatives can’t agree on lines for legislative seats. The lines are then drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board which includes the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the attorney general, the comptroller, and the commissioner of the General Land Office. Since the only office in play this November is the speaker, he or she would have little impact on the likes of Republicans Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, Glenn Hegar, and George P. Bush.

[State Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer, however, thinks it may be possible for the Legislature to agree on lines.

“Lawmakers are probably not as trusting for a third party to draw their districts,” he said, suggesting that a Democratic House and a Republican Senate might compromise by agreeing to the plans each came up for their own members.

I’m skeptical. I think there would be a strong temptation for Republican leaders to try to take back the House through creative redistricting.

And no matter what plan the Legislature or the redistricting board come up with it will almost certainly end up in federal court. There, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, severe gerrymandering for political (as distinct from racial) purposes is perfectly acceptable. Martinez Fischer suggests, however, that a Democratic House could, through witnesses at hearings and floor debate, build a record that would make lawsuits more feasible.

The Constitutional provision Casey references is here. Note, though, that it only applies to the legislature itself, the House and the Senate. It does not apply to the apportionment of Congressional districts. That job, if the 2021 Lege is unable to draw a map that passes both chambers, will fall to the federal courts. That’s exactly what happened in 2001. The fact that a court had drawn the Congressional map in 2001 was cited by Tom DeLay as a justification for his 2003 re-redistricting effort – he insisted that the Congressional map needed to be drawn by the Lege, and if that couldn’t happen in 2001 it could happen in 2003. (The fact that both chambers were now Republican-controlled was a happy coincidence, of course.)

My point here is that while Republicans would have a backstop for legislative redistricting, they would have much less control over Congressional redistricting in this scenario. I don’t know what court would get this assignment – maybe they’ll get a panel with a majority of Trump-appointed judges, who knows – but it’s a roll of the dice. The members themselves would likely prefer to avoid that outcome,. In addition, if Democrats do pick up a boatload of Congressional seats – or, you know, if Joe Biden carries Texas – the argument that the Congressional map should strongly favor Republicans kind of falls apart. Doesn’t mean Republicans couldn’t take a crack at it again in 2023 if they take back the State House in 2022, but that’s a lot of uncertainty. It’s not crazy to think that some kind of compromise, in which each side gets a few concessions in all of the maps, could be reached. No guarantee, of course, and again the Republicans would very much want to maximize their chances of having full control in 2023 to clean up anything they don’t like, but having that lever of control is worth something. Not as much as the national media might portray, I agree, but not nothing. Just having a seat at the table means something.

(Also, too, Democratic control of the House means things like the budget can’t get passed without Democratic input and assent. Redistricting would be done in a special session thanks to the later completion date for the Census, but this is still influence for the Dems. Even if it’s not directly influential on redistricting, it’s a pretty big deal in its own right, especially in a session where revenue is scarce and cuts will be on the table. Anyone who remembers the bloodbath of 2011 knows what that would mean.)

So yes, while taking the State House isn’t the be-all and end-all, it’s a mighty fine goal with lots of ways to pay off. Twitter user Kafka provides an intro to the Democratic candidates in most of the districts of interest, and you can learn more at FLIP The Texas House. If you’re wondering how best to spend your campaign donation dollars this cycle, find a State House candidate or three and toss a few bucks in their direction. This is a great opportunity, and we need to maximize it.

How to lose a Congressional seat

As things stand right now, Texas will gain three Congressional seats in the 2021 reapportionment, as Texas continues to be the fastest-growing state in the country. There is one thing that can stop that, however: Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump opened a new front Tuesday in his effort to keep undocumented immigrants from being counted when lawmakers redraw congressional districts next year, a move that could cost Texas several seats in Congress if it succeeds.

Trump attempted last year to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, but was shot down by the courts. On Tuesday, he signed a memorandum directing Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to exclude undocumented immigrants who might be included in the census count from the “apportionment base,” or the base population that’s used to divide up seats in Congress.

The order, which will surely be challenged in court, is Trump’s latest effort to differentiate between citizens and noncitizens when states redraw the boundaries of political districts each decade to account for growth. Recent estimates indicate the size of the undocumented population in Texas has reached nearly 1.8 million. Excluding those residents from population counts to draw up congressional districts would likely lead to a drastic realignment of representation and power throughout the state.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that representation in Congress be divided among states based on a count every 10 years of every person residing in the country. But the Constitution, Trump wrote, does not define “which persons must be included in the apportionment base.”

“Excluding these illegal aliens from the apportionment base is more consonant with the principles of representative democracy underpinning our system of Government,” the memo reads. “Affording congressional representation, and therefore formal political influence, to States on account of the presence within their borders of aliens who have not followed the steps to secure a lawful immigration status under our laws undermines those principles.”

[…]

“The Constitution requires that everyone in the U.S. be counted in the census,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “President Trump can’t pick and choose. He tried to add a citizenship question to the census and lost in the Supreme Court. His latest attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities will be found unconstitutional. We’ll see him in court, and win, again.”

Litigation has indeed been filed, in multiple lawsuits and venues at this point. My interest in pointing this out was the very narrow one of showing what this would mean to Texas.

If unauthorized immigrants were excluded from the apportionment count, California, Florida and Texas would each end up with one less congressional seat than they would have been awarded based on population change alone. California would lose two seats instead of one, Florida would gain one instead of two, and Texas would gain two instead of three, according to analysis based on projections of Census Bureau 2019 population estimates and the Center’s estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population.

Alabama, Minnesota and Ohio would each hold onto a seat that they would have lost if apportionment were based only on total population change. Alabama filed a lawsuit in 2018 seeking to block the Census Bureau from including unauthorized immigrants in its population count.

[…]

The Census Bureau does not regularly publish counts or estimates of unauthorized immigrants, although the Department of Homeland Security has done so. Last year, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against including a question about citizenship on the 2020 census, the president ordered the Census Bureau to assemble a separate database, using other government records, on the citizenship status of every U.S. resident. This has also been challenged in court.

The Center’s analysis relies on assumptions about populations to be counted in the 2020 census and estimates of unauthorized immigrants. The actual figures used for apportionment will be different from these, and so the actual apportionment could differ regardless of whether unauthorized immigrants are excluded from the apportionment totals.

You might think that Texas’ political leaders would be up in arms about this. That Congressional seat belongs to Texas! State’s rights! You know the drill. And sadly, you also know that our Trump-hugging Attorney General would never, ever say or do anything that would contradict his Dear Leader. What’s a Congressional seat (or two, or even three, if our dismal failure to support a complete Census effort causes the official count to be unexpectedly low) compared to a favorable tweet from Donald Trump? That’s a question we should all be asking, loudly and often, in 2022, when they are up for re-election.

One more thing:

Texas House leaders have previously indicated to The Texas Tribune they have no plans to alter the way Texas redraws political districts even if the Legislature obtained more detailed data on citizenship.

“Bottom line, the law for the Texas House and the Senate — and frankly the courts and the State Board of Education — requires it be done by total population, as does the U.S. Constitution with regard to congressional seats,” said state Rep. Phil King, a Republican from Weatherford who chairs the House Redistricting Committee.

That’s good to hear, but my understanding is that while the State House is explicitly mandated to use total population in redistricting, the State Senate is not. That’s why it was the Senate map that was targeted in the Evenwel case. So, while I hope Rep. King means what he says here, the possibility very much exists that the Lege will try a different tack. (Also, it’s usually the House that draws the House map, and the Senate that draws the Senate map. I’d like to know what the relevant Senate committee chair has to say about this.)

UPDATE: From Ross Ramsey at the Trib:

In a letter urging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to take legal action to stop the proposal, state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, framed the idea as an attack on Texas.

“Filing suit to block the Presidential Memorandum to the Secretary of Commerce dated July 21 would be wholly consistent with your official biography that explains as Attorney General, you are ‘focused on protecting Texans and upholding Texas laws and the Constitution’ and ‘fighting federal overreach.’ Indeed, if unchallenged, the President’s actions would likely hurt Texas more than any other state.”

The partisan politics here are clear enough. Turner is the chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. Paxton, a Republican, is the newly branded co-chair of the national Lawyers for Trump.

But not all that is political is partisan, even in an election year. Does anyone in elected office here think Texas should have less influence in Washington, D.C.?

Good question. Someone should ask Ken Paxton, and Greg Abbott, and Dan Patrick, and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and all of the Republican members of Congress.

Abandon ship!

LOL.

During Troy Nehls’ recent bid for the Republican nomination in one of Texas’ battleground congressional districts, the Fort Bend County sheriff prominently displayed his support for President Trump across his campaign website.

“In Congress, I will stand with President Trump to defeat the socialist Democrats, build the wall, drain the swamp, and deliver on pro-economy and pro-America policies,” Nehls said under the top section of his issues page, titled “Standing with President Trump.”

Within two days of Nehls’ lopsided runoff victory, that section had been removed, along with a paragraph from Nehls’ bio page that stated he “supports President Trump” and wants to “deliver President Trump’s agenda.” Fresh language now focuses on his record as sheriff during Hurricane Harvey and managing the agency’s budget.

Nehls’ abrupt shift in tone captures the challenge facing Republican candidates in suburban battleground districts up and down the ballot, including Nehls’ district and two neighboring ones, where polling suggests Trump’s coronavirus response has alienated voters and, for now, created strong headwinds for his party’s congressional hopefuls.

In those contested districts, which even Republicans acknowledge Trump may lose, GOP candidates are navigating the choppy political waters by emphasizing their personal backgrounds and portraying their Democratic foes as too extreme. Most have dropped the enthusiastic pro-Trump rhetoric they employed during the primaries.

It is not uncommon for candidates to tailor their messages to the far ends of their party bases during the primaries before tacking back toward the center for the general election.

Still, it remains a unique challenge for Republicans in competitive races to distance themselves from the president and his lagging poll numbers without angering their supporters, said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

“I think how you do that is still not quite clear, but I also think the ground is really shifting,” Henson said. “(Trump’s) overall favorable-unfavorable numbers are going down, he’s losing ground among independents, and we see glimmers — but just glimmers — of doubt among some Republicans in some suburban areas.”

Hilarious. The story also notes the Republican challenger in CD07, who was endorsed by Trump in the primary but would prefer that you not talk about that, and the CD10 race where Democratic challenger Mike Siegel is working to tie Trump to longtime incumbent Mike McCaul. We’ve seen this movie before, though in years past it had always been Democrats attempting this tightrope act, either by emphasizing their close personal friendship with Dubya Bush or their many points of disagreement with Barack Obama. It worked better in the former case than the latter, as anyone who remembers 2010 can attest.

The main advantage the Republicans running now have is that the districts they’re in are (for the most part, CD07 being an exception) still Republican, at least as of 2018. Those Democrats of yore had been running in districts that were often 60% or more red, and they depended heavily on folks who were willing to split the ticket for them – until they didn’t, of course, which is what happened en masse in 2010. The challenge today is holding onto the folks who had been fairly reliable Republican voters before 2016. Donald Trump (and to a lesser extent his acolytes like Dan Patrick) are the reason these voters are turning away, which is why the strategy of pretending that Trump doesn’t exist is so compelling. The problem with that is that Donald Trump is the Republican Party these days, and the Republican Party is Donald Trump. That presents a bit of a conundrum for the likes of Troy Nehls, himself a longtime Republican officeholder. He may yet win – maybe the district won’t have shifted enough, or maybe enough people will vote for him because they liked him as Sheriff regardless of other factors, or whatever. But I’m pretty sure this isn’t the campaign he thought he’d be running when he first entered the race.

CD03 poll: Taylor 43, Seikaly 37

I expect we’ll see a fair amount of Congressional district polling this cycle.

Lulu Seikaly

There is a single-digit race underway for Texas’ traditionally red 3rd Congressional District, according to a new poll from the new Democratic nominee’s campaign.

The nominee, Lulu Seikaly, starts the general election trailing incumbent Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, by 6 percentage points among likely voters, according to the survey. Forty-three percent of respondents said they’d vote for Taylor, 37% backed Seikaly and 5% supported Libertarian Christopher Claytor.

Furthermore, the poll found a tight presidential race in the district, with presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leading President Donald Trump by 2 points. Trump carried the district by 14 points four years ago.

In a memo, the pollster said the data showed the district is “very much in play” this November, noting that Seikaly is “within striking distance” of Taylor despite being known to only 18% of voters. The memo highlighted how her Taylor’s lead shrinks to 2 points among voters who described themselves “very motivated” to turn out.

The district is not among the seven that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has identified as pickup opportunities this fall in Texas. But Seikaly and some other Democrats see opportunity after Beto O’Rourke lost it by just 3 points in 2018

Taylor won the district by 10 points in 2018, ran unopposed in his March primary and remains far better-funded than Seikaly. The Plano attorney won her party’s primary runoff last week, getting 61% of the vote to 39% for Sean McCaffity.

See the aforementioned polling memo for more details. Here’s a good visual representation of how the district has shifted since 2016.

This is the second recent poll I’ve seen of a competitive Texas Congressional district. There was a poll in CD06 a little while ago, which also showed Joe Biden tied with Donald Trump, while the lesser-known Democratic Congressional challenger was a few points back. Both were internal polls, which require a higher level of skepticism, not because the poll is likely to be crap but because the candidate who commissioned the poll would not have released it if it had not been a result they wanted to tout. That said, keep two things in mind. One is that both sides can release internal polls, and there have been studies to show that a partisan difference in who releases internal Congressional polls is a correlated with that party doing well overall in that election. In other words, if we do wind up seeing a bunch of Democratic candidate polls, and few Republican internal polls, that does tell you something.

The other thing is something I discussed in 2018, when we saw numerous polls in hot districts like CD07 and CD32, which is that there is a correlation between how a top-of-ticket candidate (Beto in 2018, Biden in 2020) is doing in a particular district and how that candidate is doing statewide. In 2018, Beto was doing better in these Congressional polls than he was doing in statewide polls, for the most part. One of the points I made at the time was that it wasn’t possible for Beto to be (for example) tied in CD07 but trailing statewide by nine or ten points. What we have here – tentatively, with a very limited data set in this early going – is a bit of confirmation that Biden really is running close to, maybe even ahead of, Trump in Texas, because Biden winning Texas is correlated with Biden running even or ahead in a bunch of Congressional districts, including CDs 03 and 06.

Again, none of this is to say that either of these polls represent God’s honest truth. It is to say that you can’t have Biden running even with Trump in those districts without also having Biden running even with or ahead of Trump in Texas, and vice versa. Maybe those propositions turn out to be false, and we see that Biden is to fall short in both places. Even if Biden is in the position suggested by these polls, the challengers like Lulu Seikaly and Stephen Daniel may not be there with him – Beto ran ahead of nearly everybody wherever you looked, and candidates with weaker fundraising tended to lag several points behind him. Fundamentals still matter. The point is that right now, the data is telling us a consistent story. We should acknowledge that.

UPDATE: Another internal poll, from CD21, which shows Biden up three in the district (50-47) and challenger Wendy Davis trailing incumbent Chip Roy by one, 46-45. This too is consistent with the overall thesis.

July 2020 campaign finance reports: Congress

Congratulations, everyone. Not only have we made it to the other side of another quarterly reporting period, we have also successfully navigated the primary runoffs. My next quarterly finance report post for Congress will thus be shorter, as this is the last time the folks who did not win their runoffs will be listed. So let’s get on with it already. The January 2019 roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle, the April 2019 report is here, the July 2019 report is here, the October 2019 report is here, the January 2020 report is here, and the April 2020 report is here. For comparison, the January 2018 report is here, the April 2018 report is here, and the July 2018 report is here. The FEC summary page for Congress is here and for the Senate is here.

MJ Hegar – Senate
Royce West – Senate

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Hank Gilbert – CD01
Sima Ladjevardian – CD02
Lulu Seikaly – CD03
Sean McCaffity – CD03
Stephen Daniel – CD06
Elizabeth Hernandez – CD08
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Adrienne Bell – CD14
Rick Kennedy – CD17
David Jaramillo – CD17
Wendy Davis – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Candace Valenzuela – CD24
Kim Olson – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26
Donna Imam – CD31
Christine Eady Mann – CD31


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Sen   Hegar         6,605,966  5,751,355        0    902,092
Sen   West          1,867,804  1,689,538  258,103    178,265

07    Fletcher      4,384,162    978,573        0  3,453,656
32    Allred        3,801,649    924,378        0  2,980,715  

01    Gilbert         245,146     96,526   50,000    148,619
02    Ladjevardian  1,674,680  1,129,634   50,000    545,046
03    Seikaly         409,531    370,312    3,000     39,219
03    McCaffity       507,661    441,938        0     65,723
06    Daniel          328,097    243,191        0     84,906
08    Hernandez
10    Siegel          917,771    756,306        0    164,956
10    Gandhi        1,276,854  1,200,742        0     76,112
14    Bell            103,734     81,576        0     11,247
17    Kennedy          97,859     87,125   11,953     12,161
17    Jaramillo        21,246     17,942        0      3,303
21    Davis         4,467,270  1,536,995        0  2,930,275
22    Kulkarni      2,530,971  1,352,948        0  1,205,791
23    Jones         4,133,598  1,215,227        0  3,009,888
24    Valenzuela    1,119,403  1,008,739        0    110,664
24    Olson         1,667,400  1,417,247   20,000    250,153
25    Oliver          681,850    591,851    2,644     89,999
26    Ianuzzi          84,645     66,691   46,050     17,954
31    Mann            372,445    353,802   44,500     20,080
31    Imam            449,274    407,175        0     42,099

First things first, any worries about fundraising capacity in these brutally awful times have been assuaged. The totals speak for themselves, but let’s go into some detail anyway. Basically, the candidate in nearly every race of interest is ahead of their 2018 pace, often by a lot. Let me put this in another table to quantify:


Dist  Year     Candidate     Raised       Cash
==============================================
02    2018        Litton    843,045    407,674
02    2020  Ladjevardian  1,674,680    545,046

03    2018         Burch    153,559     19,109
03    2020       Seikaly    409,531     39,219

06    2018       Sanchez    358,960     67,772
06    2020        Daniel    328,097     84,906

10    2018        Siegel    171,955     46,852
10    2020        Siegel    917,771    164,956

21    2018        Kopser  1,594,724    364,365
21    2020         Davis  4,467,270  2,930,275

22    2018      Kulkarni    405,169     89,434
22    2020      Kulkarni  2,530,971  1,205,791

23    2018   Ortiz Jones  2,256,366  1,150,851
23    2020   Ortiz Jones  4,133,598  3,009,888

24    2018      McDowell     61,324     28,091
24    2020    Valenzuela  1,119,403    110,664

25    2018        Oliver    199,047     78,145
25    2020        Oliver    681,850     89,999

31    2020         Hegar  1,618,359    867,266
31    2020          Imam    449,274     42,099

With the exception of CD31, where no one has come close to MJ Hegar (who as the US Senate nominee may help boost turnout in this district anyway), and CD06, where Stephen Daniel is a pinch behind Jana Sanchez in fundraising (but also a pinch ahead in cash on hand), each nominee is substantially better off this time around. Todd Litton, Joe Kopser, and the original version of Gina Ortiz Jones were all strong fundraisers, and they’ve all been blown out of the water this year. Mike Siegel, Sri Kulkarni, and Julie Oliver have all greatly outpaced themselves. I will maintain that we might have won CD24 in 2018 if we’d had a candidate who could raise money; that’s very much not a problem this year. Lulu Seikaly is well ahead of Lori Burch, who was herself quite a pleasant surprise in CD03.

There are still things to address. Seikaly, Siegel, and Valenzuela all needed to spend a bunch of money in the extended runoffs, and thus need to build up cash with less time to do it. Given their records so far, I’m not too worried about it. Both Jana Sanchez and 2018 Julie Oliver had May runoffs to win, so their modest cash on hand totals were understandable, but Stephen Daniel and 2020 Julie Oliver were both March winners, so I don’t understand why they’ve been spending as much as they have at this point. I hope that isn’t a problem. Donna Imam is not going to approach Hegar’s fundraising prowess, but she alone among the crowd in CD31 seemed to have some capacity for the task, so maybe she’ll at least make up some ground.

The big difference is that there isn’t a juggernaut Senate campaign, which was a boost to downballot candidates in 2018, this time around. On the other hand, we do have a Presidential campaign, which is already airing ads, and we have the DNC airing ads, and we have the DCCC, which has added CD02 to its already-long target list (though they may have dropped CD31 by now). Point being, there will be plenty of other money invested that will help with these races, directly or indirectly.

So overall, a pretty rosy picture, and the financial resources to support the notion that a whole lot of seats are actually in play. Remember how I spent much of the 2018 cycle talking about how there never used to be any Congressional money raised in Texas, outside of CD23? The world is in flames, but that one small part of the Before Times, I don’t miss.

Last but not least, a brief shoutout to Hank Gilbert, playing the part of Dayna Steele in this cycle – a great candidate and a swell human being in an absolute no-hope district against a terrible incumbent who is raising a surprising amount of money. If doing good and being good were all it took, Hank would be in the top tier of next year’s freshman class. Maybe someday we’ll live in that world. Godspeed, Hank.

The cities still need COVID relief

Just a reminder, in case you’d forgotten.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

As Congress resumes work on a new coronavirus financial relief package, nearly 100 Texas mayors are pressing the state’s congressional delegation for more funding to address revenue losses incurred due to the economic downturn brought by COVID-19.

Texas received $11 billion in funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which were distributed among the state, counties and cities. Some Texas mayors said these have to be spent before the end of the year and for expenditures related to the pandemic response — and don’t address government entities’ losses in anticipated revenues related to decreased economic activity. Others said there’s been conflicting information about how the money can be spent.

Since March, the economic slowdown has directly hit cities’ revenues. According to the state comptroller, local sales tax allocations for cities in June dropped by 11.1% compared with the same month last year.

“The budget calamity looming over local governments is real and it requires extraordinary measures,” said a letter signed by 97 Texas mayors and directed to members of Congress. “We therefore fear that state and local revenue is going to take time to rebound. We also fear that if we do not stabilize our economy, we could see a drop in property tax revenue next year.”

In the letter, which included signatures of leaders from urban, suburban and rural areas, the mayors asked for “direct and flexible fiscal assistance to all cities.”

“What we’re asking [is] for direct assistance for state and local governments. Not for things like pension measures, none of that, but as a result of lost revenue as a result of coronavirus itself,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Monday. “We are the infrastructure that supports the public and private sector, and at this point in time, we are needing direct assistance.”

We’ve known this for awhile, and the need is still there even if the city of Houston was able to kick the can down the road with this year’s budget and existing CARES funds. The simple fact is that cities – and counties, and the state, and to a lesser extend school districts – didn’t do anything to cause the problems they’re facing now. The analogy that some have made to a natural disaster is apt, and the effect will long outlive the original cause of the problem if it isn’t addressed. The US House passed a large bill a couple of months ago that would address these needs, but of course it has to get through the Senate, and you know what that means. If we had a functional state government, it would be advocating on behalf of the cities as well, because the loss of many thousands of municipal jobs will not do anything to help the state’s economic recovery. Our state leaders don’t see it that way, unfortunately, so the cities are on their own. It doesn’t have to be this way.

On a tangential note, the Slate podcast “What Next: TBD” did a segment on this very topic last Friday, and spoke to City Controller Chris Brown as part of their reporting. Check it out.

What Ted Cruz is scared of

Let’s give him a reason for it.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz delivered a dire message to Texas Republican activists on Saturday about the danger President Donald Trump faces in November here.

“This is a real race,” Cruz told the Republican Party’s convention audience, pointing to five consecutive polls that show Trump and Democrat Joe Biden neck-and-neck in the state.

And Cruz would know. In 2018, Cruz survived the fight of his political life, narrowly defeating El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke by less than 3 percentage points in what was the closest a Democrat has come to winning a U.S. Senate seat in Texas since Sen. Lloyd Bentsen carried the state in 1988. Cruz told the audience that what happened to him is a “warning sign” of the tough road that lays ahead.

“Let me tell you right now, every one of those crazed leftists that showed up in 2018 are showing up in 2020,” Cruz said. “And they are even angrier.”

[…]

Trump has dismissed polling that shows he’s only up one point in Texas, saying they are just wrong.

“I’m not one point up in Texas,” Trump said on Monday. “We’re many points up.”

But on Saturday, Cruz had a very different message — warning that Texas is in jeopardy of going blue if Texas Republicans aren’t ready for one of the toughest presidential battles the state has ever seen.

“If the Democrats win Texas, it’s all over,” Cruz warned.

I mean, he’s not wrong. Republicans are facing a downballot disaster, and that’s before even considering the possibility of Joe Biden winning the state’s electoral votes. He doesn’t have any understanding of why he and hid fellow Republicans are in that position, but that’s not surprising. He just knows that things are tough and he’s not afraid to let you know it, too. Now let’s prove him right to be afraid.

More pressure on Biden to really compete in Texas

Fine by me.

With President Donald Trump’s poll numbers sliding in traditional battlegrounds as well as conservative-leaning states, and money pouring into Democratic campaigns, Joe Biden is facing rising pressure to expand his ambitions, compete aggressively in more states and press his party’s advantage down the ballot.

In a series of phone calls, Democratic lawmakers and party officials have lobbied Biden and his top aides to seize what they believe could be a singular opportunity not only to defeat Trump but also to rout him and discredit what they believe is his dangerous style of racial demagogy.

This election, the officials argue, offers the provocative possibility of a new path to the presidency through fast-changing states like Georgia and Texas, and a chance to install a generation of lawmakers who can cement Democratic control of Congress and help redraw legislative maps following this year’s census.

Biden’s campaign, though, is so far hewing to a more conservative path. It is focused mostly on a handful of traditional battlegrounds, where it is only now scaling up and naming top aides despite having claimed the nomination in April.

At the moment, Biden is airing TV ads in just six states, all of which Trump won four years ago: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida. The campaign included perennially close Florida only after some deliberations about whether it was worth the hefty price tag, and when Trump’s struggles with older populations made it clearly competitive, according to Democrats familiar with their discussions.

The campaign’s reluctance to pursue a more expansive strategy owes in part to the calendar: Biden’s aides want to see where the race stands closer to November before they broaden their focus and commit to multimillion-dollar investments, aware that no swing states, let alone Republican-leaning states, have actually been locked up.

Yet they are increasingly bumping up against a party emboldened by an extraordinary convergence of events. Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic, his self-defeating rhetorical eruptions and the soaring liberal enthusiasm — reflected in the sprawling social justice protests and Democrats’ unprecedented Senate fundraising — have many officeholders convinced they must act boldly.

Public and private polling shows Trump not only trailing badly in swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin but also running closely with Biden in traditionally conservative bastions like Kansas and Montana.

“Trump’s abominable presidency, especially in the context of the total failure to confront coronavirus, makes Texas very winnable,” said Rep. Filemon Vela, an early Biden supporter. He said he is “getting bombarded” with pleas from Texas Democrats who are similarly convinced the state could turn blue with a substantial commitment.

[…]

While the campaign has made a flurry of hires in recent weeks, its pace of building out regional desks and state teams has prompted some private grumbling from party operatives. They worry the Biden camp isn’t yet positioned to capitalize on this year’s opportunities — or adequately prepared for the organizational demands of a massive vote-by-mail push made necessary by the pandemic.

Long-tenured Democrats, however, say there are more profound reasons to contest a broad array of states.

“An Electoral College landslide gives Biden the ability to move on major issues,” Brown said. “Second, it’ll give him a stronger majority in the Senate and give the party more state legislators.”

More broadly, Brown posited, a resounding repudiation of Trump would make it more likely that Republicans will discard his politics.

“They’ve got to reject their plays to race if they’re going to be a national party that can compete in the future,” he said.

Paul Begala, the veteran Democratic strategist, was even blunter about the need for a convincing win.

“It used to be that anything past 270 electoral votes was useless because it doesn’t matter how far you run past the goal line in football,” Begala said. “But for the first time in American history there’s a legitimate concern that the incumbent president will not surrender power.”

I don’t have a whole lot to add to what I’ve already said on this subject. Resources are finite, and decisions have to be made about how best to deploy them. But I do think the “we need a landslide” argument has a lot of merit, and with recent polls showing Biden even or slightly ahead in Texas, it’s hard for me to understand the case for just letting things play out as they would. I understand that if Texas is truly winnable, then Biden has already won, and it thus makes more sense to ensure that he has indeed locked up those other states first. I’m not advocating an abandonment of the states Biden is currently contesting. I am saying that unless the resources just aren’t there, it makes more sense to me to add in some contingency states than it does to double down on the existing battlefields, because surely there’s a point of diminishing returns there. The Senate seat in Texas plus the multiple Congressional seats and the chance to win the State House all add weight to that position. I admit I’m biased, but I will not concede that it doesn’t add up to compete in Texas. It doesn’t add up to not compete.

UPDATE: So, this happened.

Joe Biden is launching his first general-election TV ads in Texas as a growing number of polls show a close presidential race here.

As part of a four-state ad buy that Biden’s campaign is announcing Tuesday, the presumptive Democratic nominee is going up with a 60-second spot in Texas that addresses the increasingly dire coronavirus situation here.

“I’m thinking all of you today across Texas,” Biden says in the ad, which opens with a shot of Marfa. “I know the rise in case numbers is causing fear and apprehension.”

“The virus is tough, but Texas is tougher,” Biden later says, telling Americans to follow guidelines to slow the spread of the virus — and that he wants them to know: “I will not abandon you. We’re all in this together.”

The buy, which also features digital ads, is across Texas, Arizona, Florida and North Carolina — and it marks the campaign’s first TV and digital ad spending in Texas since Biden secured the nomination. A Biden campaign official described the size of the four-state buy as “mid-six figures.”

It’s a start. A “mid-six figures” buy is not a whole lot, but it did generate some earned media, which is always a plus. As others have noted, Trump has been running ads here; my younger daughter loves procedurals, of which NCIS is one of her favorites, and I’ve seen a few Trump ads when she has streamed episodes from the most recent seasons on CBS All Access. If Trump thinks it’s necessary to run a few ads in Texas, it’s got to be worth it for Biden to do so as well.

Dems could possibly win a lot of Congressional races in Texas

It started with this:

You might think wow, that’s a really optimistic take, but after the Tuesday primary runoff, we also got this:

I’d quibble with the categorization of those 2018 contests as “not serious” – all of the candidates raised a decent amount of money that year, and prognosticators had CD10 on their radar by the end of the cycle – but I take his point. And in the replies to that tweet, we got this:

A second Blue Wave in the suburbs?

Well-educated suburban districts, particularly ones that also were diverse, were a major part of the Democrats’ victory in the House in 2018. Democrats captured many formerly Republican districts where Donald Trump performed significantly worse in 2016 than Mitt Romney had in 2012. Democratic victories in and around places like Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, the Twin Cities, Atlanta, Orange County, CA, parts of New Jersey, and elsewhere came in seats that meet this broad definition.

And then there’s Texas. Democrats picked up two districts there, one in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex (TX-32) and another in suburban Houston (TX-7). But Democrats put scares into several other Republican incumbents, and the closeness of presidential polling in Texas could lead to unexpected opportunities for Democrats there this November.

Trump has generally led polls of Texas, but many have been close and Biden has on occasion led, like in a Fox News poll released last week that gave him a nominal lead of a single point.

Tellingly, of 18 Texas polls in the RealClearPolitics database matching Biden against Trump dating back to early last year, Trump has never led by more than seven points — in a state he won by nine in 2016. It seems reasonable to assume that Trump is going to do worse in Texas than four years ago, particularly if his currently gloomy numbers in national surveys and state-level polls elsewhere do not improve.

In an average of the most recent polls, Trump leads by two points in Texas. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) won reelection over then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D, TX-16) by 2.6 points. If Trump were to win Texas by a similar margin this November, the congressional district-level results probably would look a lot like the Cruz-O’Rourke race. Those results are shown in Map 1, courtesy of my colleague J. Miles Coleman.

Map 1: 2018 Texas Senate results by congressional district

Cruz carried 18 districts to O’Rourke’s 16. That includes the 11 districts the Democrats already held in Texas going into the 2018 election, as well as the two additional ones where they beat GOP incumbents (TX-7 and TX-32) and three additional districts that Republicans still hold. Those are TX-23, an open swing seat stretching from San Antonio to El Paso; Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R, TX-10) Austin-to-Houston seat; and TX-24, another open seat in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

TX-23 is competitive primarily because it’s two-thirds Hispanic, and it already leans to the Democrats in our ratings. TX-10 and TX-24 better fit the suburban mold: Both have significantly higher levels of four-year college attainment than the national average (particularly TX-24), and Republican incumbents in both seats nearly lost to unheralded Democratic challengers in 2018.

Cruz won the remaining districts, but several of them were close: TX-2, TX-3, TX-6, TX-21, TX-22, TX-25, and TX-31 all voted for Cruz by margins ranging from 0.1 points (TX-21) to 5.1 (TX-25). These districts all have at least average and often significantly higher-than-average levels of four-year college attainment, and they all are racially diverse.

In other words, these districts share some characteristics of those that have moved toward the Democrats recently, even though they remain right of center.

This is all a long preamble to an alarming possibility for Republicans: If Biden were to actually carry Texas, he might carry many or even all of these districts in the process. In a time when ticket-splitting is less common than in previous eras of American politics (though hardly extinct), that could exert some real pressure on Republicans in these districts.

Ted Cruz carried 20 districts to Beto’s 16, a minor quibble. Remember this post in which Mike Hailey of Capitol Inside predicted Dems would flip eight Congressional seats? Not so out there any more.

Look at it this way: Since the start of June, Trump has had exactly one poll, out of eight total, in which he has led Joe Biden by more than two points. The four-point lead he had in that poll is smaller than the five-point lead Biden had in a subsequent poll. In those eight polls, Trump has led in three, Biden has led in three, and the other two were tied. The average of those eight polls is Biden 45.9, Trump 45.6, another data point to suggest that Biden has gotten stronger as we have progressed.

Insert all the usual caveats here: Polls are snapshots in time. It’s still more than 100 days to Election Day. Things can change a lot. No Texas Democrat has won a statewide race since 1994, a losing streak to rival Rice football versus UT. (As it happens, the last time Rice beat UT in football was…1994. Coincidence? I think not.) The polls all said Hillary was gonna win in 2016 and we know how that went, smartass. Fill in your own rationalization as well.

The point here is simply this: If Joe Biden actually wins Texas, it could be really, really ugly for Republicans downballot. Even if Biden falls short, it’s likely going to leave a mark on them as well.

I’ll leave where we started:

Karma, man.

Some brief runoff thoughts

You know the drill here…

– The Election Night Results page at the SOS shows 955,735 votes total in the Democratic Senate runoff. That number is likely to increase a bit over the next few days, as we’ll see shortly. It means about 300K votes were cast on Tuesday, a bit more than thirty percent of the overall total. This turnout is the highest of any Democratic primary runoff since 1990, back when Dems were the dominant party.

– That turnout was fueled in part by the Senate runoff, and in part by a burning anger at the botched pandemic response and zealous attempts by the Republicans to curtail mail voting. Some national folks commented on this, and how it maybe lends credence to the whole “Texas is in play” narrative, and not just at the Presidential level. We’ll keep checking on the polls going forward to see how far that carries us.

– As there were no statewide Republican runoffs, a direct turnout comparison is tricky. The early voting total for Republicans was 421K, not too shabby all things considered. So maybe they got to 600K or a bit higher.

– Let’s talk mail ballots for a minute. Texas Elects has a terrific overview, but let’s focus on this:

Absentee ballots are counted by a subset of election officials known as the Early Voting Ballot Board (EVBB). Well, in many counties, there are two EVBBs for primary and runoff elections. County political party chairs are the presiding judges, and there are at least two other members. A separate Signature Verification Committee with as many as 12 members may also be created, and larger committees are possible. If you’re interested in the minutiae of all this, the Secretary of State’s 2020 EVBB handbook (pdf) has it in spades.

Counties with a population of 100,000 were able to convene their Early Voting Ballot Boards as early as July 4 (likely July 6 because of the holiday) to begin the process of qualifying and scanning mail ballots. Counties with populations under 100,000 were able to convene their EVBBs as early as last Friday.

An absentee ballot may only be accepted if:

  • The carrier envelope was “properly executed”
  • The voter’s signatures on the ballot application and carrier envelope were not signed by someone else, unless it was a lawful witness
  • The ballot application states a legal ground for voting by mail (In other words, one of the pre-printed boxes is checked or otherwise marked and the voter hasn’t hand-written some other reason, like coronavirus)
  • The voter is registered to vote
  • The ballot was sent to the applicable address; and
  • If required, a statement of residence was included and properly completed.
  • It also has to be received by the county election official by no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day, with exceptions for certain overseas civilians and military voters.

When the EVBB accepts the ballot, the voter’s name is entered on the poll list and the ballot is separated from the envelope. The ballots cannot be counted until polls closed on Friday, the end of the early voting period, in counties with 100K or more residents, and until polls open tomorrow (Tuesday) in all other counties.

This is an easily overwhelmed process. All of this requires human intervention. Absentee ballots arriving by 7 p.m. on Election Day are supposed to be counted and included in election night results. There is reason to believe that a significant number of absentee ballots will arrive very late in the process. For example, as of Friday, Harris Co. had received more than 70K absentee ballots, and another 74K had not yet been returned.

Mail ballots received on Election Day are still treated as “early voting” and will be included within the early vote canvass. In close races, we will be noting who is ahead among absentee ballots, as that may provide an advantage as more votes are counted. Or not.

All of this is to put perspective on why we may not have definitive results on Election night. All of this may be magnified in November, and not just in Texas.

That’s why the final vote totals may creep up a bit, and also something to think about for the fall. You may want to ask your local elections administrator what you can do to help.

More along those same lines.

As dress rehearsals go, Tuesday’s Texas primary runoff elections weren’t bad, but for some voters and poll workers, they revealed problems that need to be fixed before November’s big show.

With much lower turnout than primary or general elections, the first in-person election day during the coronavirus pandemic saw voters reporting heavily sanitized polling places, an ample supply of gloves, finger cots or pencils to mark up their ballots, and socially distanced lines. With a tiny ballot in many places, some were in and out of polling places in minutes.

But some Texans who sought to vote by mail — and submitted their applications on time — indicated they never received their ballots. Some opted instead to vote in person. Others went uncounted. It’s unknown how many were affected.

Other voters sent in their mail-in ballots only to have them returned unopened. Some of those reached county elections offices after a second attempt, while others still appeared lost on election night. It’s also unknown how many were affected.

In some counties, previously advertised polling places were shuttered at the last minute for lack of workers, some fearing the pandemic or reluctant to risk exposure to voters who were not required to wear masks. Others walked off the job Tuesday morning after discovering some of their fellow poll workers wouldn’t be donning masks.

And throughout the night, the Texas secretary of state’s portal for reporting election night returns was either broken or incorrect, first displaying garbled numbers in various races on the ballot and later showing discrepancies with county reports.

“I would say a number of the problems we saw in this election are red flags that, left unaddressed, could result in massive problems in November,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, in a statement.

At least the SOS website got fixed in relatively short order. The rest of it, yeah. No one should have to do this to cast a ballot.

– Looks like there will be a fight over the CD23 Republican result. Good luck sorting that one out, fellas.

– The SD14 special election runoff needs to be scheduled. I expect it to be in the end of August or so. My condolences to everyone in that district who will have to see two perfectly good Democrats rip each other up for the next six weeks or so.

– Beyond that, I don’t have any deep insights at this time. We’ve got a good slate of candidates, and as of Wednesday we’ll start seeing June finance reports for everyone. Eyes on the prize in November, y’all.

2020 primary runoff results: Congress

I’m going to bullet point these just for simplicity. There will be news stories to look at later.

CD03 Dem: Lulu Seikaly cruised to an easy win here. She was just over 60% at around 10 PM, with some Election Day precincts in.

CD10 Dem: Looking good for Mike Siegel, who is leading in Harris and Travis counties, where most of the votes are.

CD24 Dem: This was surprisingly not close, as Candace Valenzuela led early thanks to a big lead in Dallas County, but as of 10 PM she was also leading in Tarrant and Denton. A really hard-fought battle, with Valenzuela gaining a ton of momentum and stepping up her fundraising as the election neared. This is one of those where you might wonder if things would have been different with the runoff in May as originally scheduled.

CD31 Dem: Donna Imam takes it in both Williamson and Bell counties for the win.

On the Republican side, Ronny Jackson in CD13, Pete Sessions (yeah, that guy again) in CD17, Troy Nehls in CD22 (say goodbye to another $8 million, Kathaleen Wall) are all winners. I’m not prepared to all CD23 between Raul Reyes (endorsed by Ted Cruz) and Tony Gonzales (endorsed by Donald Trump). There were other runoffs, but all involving candidates with no hope to win in November, so I’m not too worried about them. The Texas Tribune has a good result tracker for both parties if you want to be a completist.

UPDATE: Tony Gonzales has slipped ahead of Raul Reyes in CD23, but the contest has not been called yet, and Reyes has not conceded.

The progressives and the runoffs

May as well check in on this.

Sara Stapleton Barrera

Judging from March, the ideological left wing of the Democratic Party in Texas should be inconsolable.

After months of high hopes, the faction ran into a centrist buzz saw in the March 3 primary. Joe Biden practically locked up the Democratic presidential nomination, and progressive candidates experienced electoral drubbings.

Among the fallen: presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros, U.S. Senate hopeful Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, and Audia Jones, a candidate for Harris County District attorney endorsed by Sanders.

But rather than licking their political wounds, leading progressive candidates still in the fight say they’re invigorated — and eager to use the coronavirus pandemic, fights over voting by mail and calls for police reform to score some late victories in the July runoffs.

“Every time we have a progressive run, we get a little bit closer,” said Sara Stapleton-Barrera, who is in a runoff against state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville. “I feel like we’re slowly winning the war, but we have to get through some of these battles first.”

Perhaps the most energy is coming from Austin, where two runoffs have the attention of progressives. José Garza is competing in the nationally watched Democratic primary runoff for Travis County district attorney. Mike Siegel is vying for his party’s nomination in the 10th Congressional District’s Democratic primary runoff.

Garza’s race is where the focus on police reform is arguably the clearest. Even before the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police prompted protests nationwide, Garza was challenging incumbent Margaret Moore from the left, arguing she was too harsh in her prosecution of nonviolent offenders. He earned the most votes in March and has promised to bring all police shootings and more police misconduct cases before a grand jury. He has also pledged not to accept campaign contributions from police unions.

Moore, meanwhile, has accused him of being inexperienced with the local criminal justice system and running a campaign focused on national issues instead of local ones.

In the 10th Congressional District, Siegel is running on a platform that includes supporting “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal. Siegel will face Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, who has cited his medical experience while pitching Medicare Extra, a proposal that does not go as far as Medicare for All and leaves some private insurance in place.

“I think this is the exact moment in history when progressives are in a place to lead, and it’s because the times have caught up the policies we’re fighting for,” Siegel said. “This is the time to run as a progressive. I feel really good not just about my chances, but the movement overall.”

[…]

Another runoff that has drawn the attention of some national progressives is the one for the 24th Congressional District, where Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela are competing to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell. The seat is a national Democratic target.

Valenzuela has endorsements like the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Warren, but the runoff has not as sharply split along ideological lines as much as it has on issues of experience and racial identity. Valenzuela, a former Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member, and her allies are hammering Olson over her time as human resources director for the Dallas Independent School District. Valenzuela and her supporters are also touting that she would be the first Afro-Latina to serve in Congress. Olson is white.

But the divide might be clearest in South Texas, where the winner of the state Senate runoff between Lucio and Barrera will be the overwhelming favorite to win the seat in November.

I’ve said repeatedly that beating Eddie Lucio in SD27 will do more for progressives than beating Henry Cuellar in CD28 ever could have done, because of the relative sizes of the two legislative bodies and the outsized influence Lucio has in the 12-member (for now) Dem Senate caucus. Lucio is terrible, and I’m delighted that that particular race has finally gotten the attention it needs. I think one reason why maybe it didn’t get as much attention earlier is because Sara Stapleton Barrera isn’t necessarily “the” progressive candidate in that race. If Ruben Cortez had finished second, people would be rallying behind him now. This race is much more about Eddie Lucio, and I’d say it’s only now that we’re down to one candidate against him that the race has been viewed through that lens.

As for CD10, I mostly shrug my shoulders. I think Medicare For All is a fine goal to work towards, but Medicare For Those Who Want To Buy Into It is much more easily achieved in the short term, with far less disruption to the existing system and far less resistance from people whose employer-based (possibly collectively-bargained) plan is just fine for them. If we’re lucky enough to have a Democratic Senate in 2021, I think what can get passed by that Senate is what we’re going to get. Will having more pro-Medicare For All members of Congress affect that outcome? Maybe. It’s hard to say. I like Mike Siegel and would vote to give him a second chance to topple Mike McCaul if I lived in CD10, but I think either Siegel or Pritesh Gandhi will be a fine addition to Congress and a major upgrade over the incumbent. Same in CD24, with Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela, each a good candidate with different strengths and appeals but no major differences on policy.

The race that definitely has the potential to have a big effect is the Travis County DA race, where the ideological lines are clear and the ability for the upstart to make a difference if they win is great, though not unbound. Please feel free to set a good example for the rest of us, Travis County.

As for whether this is another step in a long march towards more liberal candidates and officeholders, I’d say yes, and that we’ve already been on that march for a long time. Ideological sorting is a thing that has been happening for a few decades now. You can see the effect just in recent years – the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008 included a lot of candidates whose politics included “fiscal responsibility”, support from the NRA, opposition to same-sex marriage, immigration restrictionism, and a host of other views that were very much not shared with the class of 2018. The Democratic Party is a big tent, which means there will always be room for vicious family fights over various issues. Having some number of Never Trumpers inside that tent will just make it all more exciting. It’s fine, and I’d rather be dynamic than stagnant. And every primary and primary runoff, the main emotion many of us will feel will be “thank prime that’s over, now let’s please get on to the general election”. Same as it ever was.

A new homelessness initiative

Good.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted unanimously on Tuesday to authorize $18 million for a two-year program serving the homeless as advocates project a rise in homelessness with the novel coronavirus.

The program is the county’s most ambitious partnership with the City of Houston for people experiencing homelessness, with $29 million to be pledged by the city and an additional $9 million or more from private donors. The city and county’s dollars come from federal money allocated through the CARES Act.

While the city and county have collaborated on homeless initiatives in the past, this is their biggest joint investment yet.

“With the current COVID-19 crisis putting so many people’s living situations at an increased risk, having access to stable housing options is vital for the entire community,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said in a press release. Garcia brought the funding request to the county court. In commissioners court, Garica said, “This will have the most significant impact on the camps we see.”

Not only are people experiencing homelessness more vulnerable to coronavirus because of preexisting chronic conditions and a lack of even basic hygiene options, they are at higher risk of spreading it to others because people living on the streets have nowhere to self-quarantine.

“Housing is healthier for people experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus,” said Catherine Villarreal, communications director for the Coalition for the Homeless. The Coalition will be administering the programs. “People experiencing homelessness are uniquely vulnerable to coronavirus because of chronic conditions.”

The Coalition hopes that the programs can begin by mid-August and will roll out in stages pending city and county funding and contract approvals, said Ana Rausch, vice president of operations for the Coalition for the Homeless.

The initiative will provide rental assistance for about 1,700 newly homeless people who don’t need much case management, house about 1,000 people experiencing homelessness, support about 200 people at risk of homelessness, provide more mental-health case management and begin a homelessness diversion program. The Coalition projects the program will help about 5,000 people.

The best evidence we have now says that the most effective way to ameliorate homelessness is to provide housing or housing assistance to the people who need it. Other services may be needed for people with addition or mental health issues (by the way, expanding Medicaid would help a lot with those, too), and it turns out that having a stable place to sleep and eat and keep clothes and other possessions makes addressing those issues a lot easier, too. It seems to me that the main objection to providing this kind of direct aid is that it’s some kind of moral hazard, as in “well, if we help SOME people then we have to help EVERYONE, and if we do that then who’s ever gonna want to do for themselves” or some such. Putting aside the fact that such sentiments are facially untrue, if there’s one thing we should be learning from the coronavirus pandemic it’s that everyone does in fact deserve help. Hard times can come for any of us, at any time, without warning and without it being anyone’s “fault”. I want to live in a society that recognizes this truth, because the next person who needs it could be me or someone I love. Imagine how much more progress we could make on controlling this pandemic if everyone whose business or employment is threatened by it knew they would be tided over until it passed. Maybe now that we’re starting to take this kind of action, we’ll recognize the need to continue it after the current crisis has passed. Houston Public Media has more.

A bullish take on the State House

From Mike Hailey of Capitol Inside:

The wildly unpredictable coronavirus appears to be fueling a massive blue wave that sweeps the Democrats back into power in the Texas House of Representatives with President Donald Trump as their all-time greatest ally.

With the president blowing up a submissive GOP in Texas and beyond, the Democrats are poised to take the Legislature’s lower chamber back as long they stay out of the way of the runaway train called the Trump campaign between now and November.

The Capitol Inside crystal ball foresees a cataclysmic November shaping up for the Republicans who could be on the verge of fumbling away the 38 Texas electoral votes and a U.S. Senate seat as well if Trump doesn’t pull off the biggest comeback in modern American history.

Barring a miraculous economy recovery that’s Trump’s only hope for a successful re-election bid, the tentative forecast here has the Democrats running up the score on the critical state House battlefield this fall with a net gain of at least 15 seats with the potential for more at the rate the Republicans are going now.

While the 2020 election is harder to predict than votes in the past, the current outlook for the Legislature’s lower chamber is a solid blue with a minimum of 82 Democrats and 68 Republicans or less taking the oath in January. The Democrats have a good chance to flip more than a half-dozen congressional districts in Texas with a toxic president leading the charge for the GOP. The minority party will oust GOP State Senator Pete Flores of Pleasanton in a district where he was lucky to win in the first place in a special election in 2018.

After predicting that Democrats would pick up 11 Texas House seats in 2018 when they wrestled a dozen away from the GOP, the crystal ball here sees Republican incumbents and open race candidates with cause for concern in any district where Trump failed to win less than two-thirds of the vote four years ago.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn would have won a new term in a November blowout if he hadn’t wrapped himself in a president who’d sought to portray the worst public health crisis in more than a century as a partisan hoax before ordering the military to attack peaceful protesters for the sake of a campaign photo op.

Cornyn might still have a 50-50 chance of surviving Trump in a development that could help minimize the down-ballot devastation that appears to be on the horizon for the Republicans here.

[…]

Texas Republicans have tried to dismiss the blue wave in 2018 as an offshoot of Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s strong showing as the minority party ticket leader in a battle that he almost won against U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But the truth is that Trump had dramatically accelerated the conversion of Texas from red to blue with the results at the polls in 2016 and 2018 as obvious evidence of the unprecedented drain that he’s had on the Republicans here.

The Democrats would reclaim the state House with a net gain of nine seats. They could accomplish that simply by winning in every GOP-controlled district that O’Rourke carried two years ago.

Republicans will be running as underdogs in most of 17 House districts where Trump garnered less than 55 percent of the vote in his first White House race. Some of seven GOP candidates in House districts where the president claimed between 55 percent and 60 percent of the 2016 vote are probably going to lose as well.

At the top of the page, there’s a summary that predicts 15 seats picked up by Dems in the House, one seat picked up in the Senate, eight (!) Congressional seats flipped by Dems, and it also rates the US Senate and Railroad Commissioner races as tossups. Heady stuff, to say the least. The Dems are officially targeting something like 22 State House seats, so a net of plus fifteen is conceivable, if quite aggressive. Picking up eight Congressional seats means not only taking all of CDs 10, 21, 22, 23, and 24, but also three out of 02, 03, 06, 25, and 31. That’s way on the high end of my imagination – though I will note it’s right in line with the Rachel Bitecofer model – and I confess I have a hard time wrapping my brain around it. That said, you see bits like this excerpt from the Daily Kos Elections digest, and you wonder:

TX-06: The DCCC’s Targeting and Analytics Department has conducted an in-house poll that gives freshman Republican Rep. Ron Wright a small 45-41 lead over Democrat Stephen Daniel in a race that hasn’t attracted much outside attention. The survey also shows Joe Biden and Donald Trump deadlocked 46-46 here. This seat, which includes Arlington and rural areas south of Dallasbacked Trump 54-42, but last cycle, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz carried it just 51-48. Wright won his first term 53-45 in a contest that featured very little outside spending.

It’s an internal poll, so take it with an appropriate level of salt. But if it’s accurate, if CD06 really is a tossup for Biden, then at the very least those first five seats would all be leaning Dem to some degree, and the other four would be very tight as well. It’s way optimistic, but that doesn’t mean it’s unrealistic. The Texas Signal has more.

Here’s a Census data preview

Guess what? The same trends we saw ten years ago are still trending.

Texas’ Hispanic population has grown by more than 2 million since 2010, according to new population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, and the state’s demographer now predicts that Hispanics will be the state’s largest population group by mid-2021.

An annual gain of 201,675 between July 2018 and July 2019 pushed the count of Hispanic residents to more than 11.5 million, the census estimates show. Although annual growth has slowed slightly in recent years, the new figures put a sharp point on how quickly the Hispanic population continues to climb. The annual growth in Hispanic residents has outpaced the combined growth among white, Black and Asian residents every year since 2010.

Texas still has a bigger white population — up to 11.95 million last year — but it grew by just 36,440 last year and by about half a million since 2010. White population growth has been so sluggish this decade that the increase in the number of Asian Texans, who make up a small share of the total population, has almost caught up with the increase in white Texans.

The latest estimates could be the last to come in before lawmakers embark on redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative maps in 2021 to account for population growth — a fraught exercise that has previously led to drawn-out litigation over claims that new maps discriminate against voters of color who are behind the state’s growth. During the last redistricting cycle, Hispanics accounted for about 65% of that growth. With a year of growth left to be accounted for, their share of Texas’ population increase since 2010 is at nearly 54%.

The story included this table of population growth figures:


Race       2010 pop    2019 est   Increase
==========================================
Hispanic  9,460,921  11,525,578  2,064,657
Black     2,899,884   3,501,610    601,726
White    11,428,638  11,950,774    522,136
Asian       960,543   1,457,549    497,006

There must be a collection of people who don’t fall into any of these categories, because if I do the math on the Increase totals, “Hispanic” represents 56% of it, not 54%. White population growth is all of 14% of the total. This is very much in line with where we were in 2010. Now of course, these numbers are estimates, and the collection of the official Census data has been greatly hampered by the pandemic as well as the Trump administration’s relentless hostility towards immigrants, which included the now-defunct effort to put a citizenship question on the form. If the data we get next year differs radically from these figures, we’ll know why.

The headline reason for Census data is of course redistricting. Texas expects to get another three seats in Congress in 2021, though that could be affected by an undercount. Be that as it may, this is a good place to remind you to listen to my interview with Michael Li about the redistricting lawsuits from the past decade. I will have a new interview for you on the topic of redistricting for Monday, with Rep. Marc Veasey, who was one of the plaintiffs in that litigation.

Three runoff stories

Just a sample from three high-profile and highly-contested Democratic primary runoff races.

TX-SEN: MJ Hegar versus Royce West

MJ Hegar

No two issues have impacted the Texas primary runoffs like the coronavirus pandemic and the protests surrounding George Floyd’s death, but as early voting begins Monday, the latter is looming especially large at the top of the ticket.

In the Democratic runoff to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas is hoping to harness the energy of the moment to pull past MJ Hegar on her seemingly well-paved road to the nomination. The former Air Force helicopter pilot has the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but West is increasingly seeking to train his party’s attention on the opportunity his candidacy represents, especially now.

“Democrats have got to decide whether they want to continue to be a victim of history or make history,” West said in an interview. With his election as Texas’ first Black senator, he added, Democrats can go the latter route.

Sen. Royce West

West said the “stars have aligned” for him in the runoff, playing to his profile as not only a Black man but also a seasoned legislator who has focused on criminal justice reform, authoring a 2015 state law that aimed to expand the use of body cameras by police in Texas, for example. And he has taken heart in recent primaries elsewhere, most notably in Kentucky, in which candidates of color have ridden the momentum of growing calls for racial justice.

To be sure, Hegar, who is white, has also increased her focus on issues of race and policing, and on Monday, she is holding a virtual news conference with the family of Javier Ambler, a Black man who died last year in the custody of Williamson County sheriff’s deputes. West and then Hegar called for the resignation of the sheriff, Robert Chody, after the circumstances of Ambler’s death came to light earlier this month.

Asked in an interview how she stacks up against West when it comes to meeting the moment, Hegar reiterated her tight focus on the general election.

“I think that you know me well enough to know that I’m running against John Cornyn,” she said, reciting her contrasts with Cornyn. She did argue her November-focused bid means she is already running a “coordinated campaign that is lifting up” down-ballot candidates, including candidates of color.

It should be noted that since this story was written, Amy McGrath has pulled ahead of Charles Booker in that Kentucky Senate primary. You can make whatever you want of the parallels, but the state of that race has changed since original publication. I’m mostly interested at this point in the candidates’ finance reports. Hegar has consistently been the better fundraiser – and I continue to be a little perplexed how a 26-year incumbent like Royce West has had such a hard time raising money (*) – though she’s not exactly performing at Beto levels. Still, with a Presidential race at the top of the ticket, just having enough to get her name out there is probably enough. Hegar is closer to achieving that level of resources than West is, and there’s more promise of national money for her at this time.

(*) – Yes, I’m aware of the claims made that the DSCC has pressured donors to avoid West. This story notes that the person who made those claims has not provided the names of any such donors, so color me a bit skeptical. Certainly not out of the question that this could have happened, but right now the evidence is thin.

CD24: Kim Olson versus Candace Valenzuela

Democratic voters in North Texas’ 24th Congressional District next month will select the candidate — retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson or former school board member Candace Valenzuela — they want to challenge Republican Beth Van Duyne in one of the fall’s most highly anticipated congressional contests.

The decision between Olson and Valenzuela is punishing for many Democrats who see both women as capable of beating Van Duyne, the former Irving mayor endorsed by President Donald Trump. The ultimate goal, Democrats sandwiched between Dallas and Fort Worth have said all year, is flipping the seat that has been occupied by Rep. Kenny Marchant for eight terms.

Marchant is one of several Texas Republicans retiring from Congress this year as the state becomes more competitive for Democrats. Marchant easily won his seat 16 years ago but beat his Democratic opponent in 2018 by just three percentage points. Local and national Democrats see the seat as theirs for the taking and a key component of keeping their majority in the U.S. House.

“We all feel like we’ve been in a holding pattern and we’re waiting for the choice to be made,” said Angie Hetisimer, a Tarrant County precinct chair and member of Indivisible Grapevine, which works to help elect progressive candidates. “I think for me and most of the people I talk to, we just want 24 to flip. Luckily we have two fantastic candidates.”

Given there is little light between Olson and Valenzuela on policy — both fluctuate between moderate and progressive on different questions but would be reliable votes for the Democratic agenda in Washington — the election is largely framed as a decision between Olson’s extensive résumé and Valenzuela’s biography. Olson was one of America’s first female fighter pilots. If elected, Valenzuela would be the first Afro-Latina member of Congress.

Olson was the first prominent candidate in this race and has been the bigger fundraiser, but Valenzuela has also done well in that department and has run a strong campaign. This is a top target for the DCCC, and in my view is the second-most flippable seat in Texas, following only CD23. If we can’t win this one, especially against a xenophobe like Van Duyne, it’s a big miss. I’m fine with either candidate, I just hope everyone involved is able to move on and keep their eye on the prize after July 14.

CD10: Mike Siegel versus Pritesh Gandhi

Democrats in one of Texas’ most expansive battleground congressional districts are choosing between a civil rights attorney embracing the party’s most liberal proposals and a doctor who argues those policies are too radical.

Mike Siegel, the 2018 nominee in Texas’ 10th Congressional District, finished first in this year’s March Democratic primary — about 11 percentage points ahead of Pritesh Gandhi, a primary care physician making his first run for office. Siegel came about 6 points short of winning the primary outright, pitting him against Gandhi in a runoff.

The winner will face U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who has represented the district since 2005. His political territory stretches from Austin to the Houston suburbs, covering all of five counties and parts of four others.

Beyond the ideological skirmish, the primary is also serving as a case study in whether the coronavirus pandemic will boost political candidates who work in the medical field. The virus has supercharged the public’s interest in health care and led to national TV appearances for Gandhi, but also stripped him of valuable campaign time as he works a grueling schedule that includes swabbing patients for COVID-19 and caring for those who exhibit symptoms.

It also has reinforced Gandhi’s pitch for sending more people to Congress who work in the health care field.

“People, I think, understand the importance of having a diversity of professional experience in Washington. And if that wasn’t clear before, it’s increasingly clear now,” Gandhi said. “I think that people, when they get to the voting booth, are going to want a leader who has experience and a track record in science and in health.”

Siegel was the 2018 candidate and he ran a good campaign, though he fell a bit short in a district that Beto carried by a whisker. Gandhi has been the stronger fundraiser – indeed, both Gandhi and third-place finisher Candace Hutchison outraised Siegel through April – but as with CD24, I expect whoever the nominee is to do just fine in this department. I know more people who are supporting Siegel in this one, and I do tend to lean towards giving a competent candidate who did a good job the first time around another shot at it, but as with the other races here I’m fine with either choice. I’m ready to get to the November part of this campaign.

What should Joe Biden do in Texas?

“Win” would be my preferred answer, but it’s more complicated than that.

No matter how frequently it happens, it’s always a bit startling.

Ever since February 2019, polls have been coming out indicating that former Vice President Joe Biden is competitive with — sometimes even leading — President Donald Trump in Texas. A June 3 poll by Quinnipiac University gave Trump a 1-percentage-point lead in the state. A recent FiveThirtyEight roundup of “key battleground state” polls taken since May 1 shows Trump up by an average of 1.5 points here.

And every time a survey is released, the same questions arise: Is 2020 the year deep red Texas flips to the Democrats? Is Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in trouble as well?

But for many in politics, the consideration is slightly different: The state is clearly more competitive. But even if Biden can compete here, how seriously will he choose to?

The answer to that question is more complicated. For Biden and his allied groups, making a run for Texas is no simple task and there are strategic considerations beyond looking at the polls. The most immediate objectives for national Democrats in 2020 are to recapture the White House and Senate majority. And Texas is far from necessary for either.

Recent polls have suggested Biden might hold an even stronger position in other states that Trump won in 2016 — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and even Georgia. And because of its vast size, numerous media markets and massive population, Texas is more expensive to compete in. The paths to victory for Biden are so great in number, it’s hard for many political operatives to imagine a scenario where Texas would flip where it would be anything other than icing on the cake in a much broader national victory.

In other words, the cost of seriously trying to win Texas would almost certainly be high, while there’s a decent chance that the reward would ultimately prove inconsequential.

Below the surface, however, the presidential race in Texas still matters — an underperformance by Trump compared to recent history has the potential to reset Texas politics for the next decade. The central question in the political class every time one of these polls is released five months out from Election Day is: What kind of down-ballot damage could Republicans potentially suffer if Biden has coattails?

You know the polling situation; as of the most recent poll, where Biden led Trump by one point, Trump led in Texas by an average of 2.0 points. That’s a smidge less than the Ted Cruz margin of victory over Beto in 2018, and as disappointed as we all were with that result, we saw the effect downballot. I for one would not mind an encore of that kind of performance. What it all comes down to is two competing factors from Biden’s perspective. One is that he doesn’t need to win Texas to take the Presidency. If Texas is truly winnable for him, then he’s pretty much assured to have enough electoral votes to have won. I mean, if Texas is flipping, then surely Arizona and Florida and North Carolina and maybe even Georgia have gone blue, and the rout is on. Texas is an insanely expensive state to compete in, with something like 27 media markets for ad buys. The bang for your buck is much bigger in the old faithfuls like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Boring, but no one wants to take anything for granted.

On the other hand, that same downballot effect is a real thing for Biden to consider. There’s a Senate race here, which is likely going to be roughly as competitive as the Presidential race is. It sure would be nice to have another Dem in the Senate, and that makes Texas a twofer for Biden, which isn’t true for Florida or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. (North Carolina and Arizona and Georgia and Iowa, on the other hand…) Plus, there are multiple Congressional seats available for pickup, one of which offers the chance to defenestrate Ted Cruz minion Chip Roy. Even the battle for the Texas State House is important, as that would give the Dems some leverage in drawing the next Congressional map. One would hope that Joe Biden learned the lesson of 2010 well enough to consider the advantage of flipping the State House here.

So of course I want Biden to compete here, as seriously as possible. I want Dems to win as many races as possible, and I can’t think of anything that would be a bigger psychological blow to the Republicans, both nationally and here, than seeing Texas go Democratic in a Presidential election. It would sure be a hell of a momentum boost headed into 2022, which for us is an even bigger election. (Another advantage for Biden: The possibility of throwing out the single biggest cause of ridiculous anti-Democratic lawsuits, AG Ken Paxton.) If he has to raise more money to afford it, then get on that. I understand the cost/benefit analysis, but I’m not going to claim to be impartial here. You have a real shot here, Joe Biden. Don’t throw it away.

Hey, how about trying that local control thing again?

Seems like it might be worth a shot to led Mayors and County Judges lead on coronavirus response again, since they’ve done so much better a job of leading than Greg Abbott has.

As Texas grapples with soaring coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, local elected officials in some of the state’s most populous counties are asking Gov. Greg Abbott to roll back business reopenings and allow them to reinstate stay-at-home orders for their communities in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.

Officials in Harris, Bexar, Dallas and Travis counties have either called on or reached out to the governor in recent days, expressing a desire to implement local restrictions for their regions and, in some cases, stressing concerns over hospital capacity.

Stay-at-home orders, which generally direct businesses deemed nonessential to shut down, were implemented to varying degrees by local governments across the state in March before the governor issued a statewide directive at the beginning of April. Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired at the end of April, when he began announcing phased reopenings to the state and forcing local governments to follow his lead. Since then, a number of local officials, many of whom have been critical of Abbott’s reopening timeline, have argued that the jurisdiction to reinstate such directives is no longer in their hands.

“If you are not willing to take these actions on behalf of the state, please roll back your restriction on local leaders being able to take these swift actions to safeguard the health of our communities,” Sam Biscoe, interim Travis County judge, wrote in a letter to Abbott on Monday.

Biscoe asked Abbott “to roll all the way back to Stay Home orders based on worsening circumstances,” further cap business occupancy, mandate masks and ban gatherings of 10 or more people.

Officials in Bexar County also wrote a similar letter to the governor Monday, writing that “the ability to tailor a response and recovery that fits the San Antonio region’s need is vital as we look forward to a healthier future.”

“Our region’s hospital capacity issues and economic circumstances require stronger protocols to contain the spread of this disease,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wrote. The two asked Abbott to “restore the ability for the City of San Antonio to take additional local preventative measures, including potential Stay Home/Work Safe restrictions.” They also asked the governor to mandate face coverings when outside a household and “clearer language that strictly limits social gatherings,” among other things.

[…]

Meanwhile, counties and cities across the state have implemented face mask requirements for businesses after Wolff, the Bexar County judge, moved to do so without facing opposition from Abbott. The governor had previously issued an executive order banning local governments from imposing fines or penalties on people who chose not to wear a face mask in public.

Local leaders have also voiced concerns about the testing capacity of large cities. In Travis County, Biscoe explained that because of the “rapidly increasing demand,” they are rationing testing only for people with symptoms. The stress on the system is also making contact tracing efforts more difficult.

“In summary, the rapid increase in cases has outstripped our ability to track, measure, and mitigate the spread of the disease,” Biscoe wrote.

Here’s the Chron story; Mayor Turner has joined the call for this as well. I seriously doubt Abbott will do any of this, because it will serve as an even more stark reminder of his abject failure to lead. But if the worst is still ahead of us, then it’s a choice between taking action now and making it end sooner, or denying reality and letting more people get sick and die. Abbott’s going to have to live with the consequences of his poor decision-making regardless, he may as well choose to do the right thing this time.

Of course, there may be other complications this time around.

The Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance said it plans to sue the state of Texas over Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order once again shutting bars across the state.

“Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance (TBNA) is taking the necessary steps to protect the rights of our members and their employees across the state, who have been unjustly singled out by Governor Abbott,” TBNA president Michael E. Klein said in a statement.

[…]

TBNA said its members want to be allowed to reopen and have the same capacity allowances as restaurants, grocery stores and big-box retailers. It will sue in both state and federal court seeking to override Abbott’s order.

The majority of Texas bars had been adhering to strict guidelines restricting occupancy and ensuring safe serving practices for both customers and employees, TBNA’s Klein said. His take: if restaurants with bar rooms can operate at limited capacity, why can’t actual bars?

“To suggest the public welfare is protected by singling out one specific type of alcoholic beverage license over another is without logic and does not further the aim of protecting the public from COVID,” he added.

Well, one way to cure that disparity would be to order that all of them be closed for all except to go service. We’d also need to extend that waiver that allow restaurants to sell mixed drinks to go, which I’d be fine with. While I understand where the TBNA is coming from, this is Not Helping at a bad time. But then, given how Abbott folded on enforcing his own executive order in the Shelley Luther saga, I get why they thought taking an aggressive stance might work. Eater Austin has more.

UPDATE: Looks like the TBNA has been beaten to the punch:

Hoping to block Gov. Greg Abbott’s Friday decision ordering Texas bars to close due to a rise in coronavirus cases, more than 30 bar owners filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Abbott’s emergency order.

The lawsuit, first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, was filed in Travis County District Court by Jared Woodfill, a Houston attorney who has led previous legal efforts opposing Abbott’s other shutdown orders during the pandemic.

“Why does he continue unilaterally acting like a king?” Woodfill, former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, said of Abbott in an interview. “He’s sentencing bar owners to bankruptcy.”

[…]

In the lawsuit, the bar owners argue that their rights have been “trampled” by Abbott, while “thousands of businesses are on the brink of bankruptcy.”

Abbott on Friday said it “is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars.”

Tee Allen Parker said she is confused. As a bar owner in East Texas, she’s allowed to walk into church or a Walmart but not permitted to host patrons at Machine Shed Bar & Grill.

“I don’t think it’s right that he’s violating our constitutional rights,” Allen Parker, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said Monday in an interview. “The reason I’m speaking up is I don’t like that he can’t be consistent. You lead by example. Everything he’s said he’s walked back. And I’m disappointed in him because I was a big fan of his.”

A copy of this lawsuit is here. I’ll say again, as with all of the other COVID-related lawsuits that Jared Woodfill has had his slimy little hands in, we deserve to have serious questions asked by better people than this. As for Tee Allen Parker, I swear I am sympathetic, but no one actually has a constitutional right to operate a bar. I would suggest that the solution here that prioritizes public health while not punishing businesses like hers that would otherwise bear the cost of that priority is to get another stimulus package passed in Washington. Such a bill has already passed the House, though of course more could be done for the Tee Allen Parkers of the world if we wanted to amend it. Maybe call your Senators and urge them to ask Mitch McConnell to do something that would help? Just a thought.

Interview with Rep. Marc Veasey

Rep. Marc Veasey

When I came up with the idea to do a series of interviews about redistricting, Rep. Marc Veasey was among the first people I wanted to talk to. He was a State Rep in 2011 when the original maps were passed, and then he got elected as the first member of Congress in CD33, one of the new districts created in that 2011 session. He was one of the litigants in the consolidated case that made it to the Supreme Court (he was also one of the main litigants in the voter ID lawsuit; the 2010s were a busy decade for Rep. Veasey), and I wanted to get the insight from someone who was in this fight from the beginning. As a member of the now-Democratic majority US House, he’s also got a role to play in making the landscape better in the 2020’s, with legislation to make redistricting fairer that will also generally expand voting rights. Here’s what we talked about:

Here’s my interview with redistricting expert Michael Li if you haven’t listened to it yet. I hope to have more of these in the coming weeks.

Early voting for primary runoffs starts tomorrow

Remember the runoffs? It’s time we settle who our nominees are.

Who can vote in the runoffs?

Texas has open primaries, meaning you don’t have to be a registered member of either party to cast a ballot in a primary runoff. You can check your voter registration status here. But you can only vote in one party’s primary, and which one might depend on how you voted in the first round of the primaries in March. People who voted in the March 3 primary are only able to vote in that same party’s runoff election, as they have affiliated themselves with that given party for that calendar year. Those who did not participate in the March primary are able to vote in either primary runoff election.

What’s different this year?

The primaries were originally scheduled for May, but Abbott delayed them until July because of the coronavirus. Abbott also doubled the length of the early voting period for the July primary runoff elections in a move to aimed at easing crowds at the polls during the pandemic. Early voting runs from Monday through July 10.

“It is necessary to increase the number of days in which polling locations will be open during the early voting period, such that election officials can implement appropriate social distancing and safe hygiene practices,” Abbott wrote in a May proclamation.

For Harris County, the early voting map of locations with wait times is here. Please take advantage of a less-busy location if you can. The traditional PDF with the map and hours is here. Please note the new and changed locations. Please also note that there is no voting on Friday, July 3 and Saturday, July 4, due to the holiday. Voting hours are extended on Sunday, July 5 (10 to 7, instead of the usual 1 to 6) and on the last day, Friday, July 10 (7 AM to 10 PM). All other days are 7 AM to 7 PM. We should be able to get in and out safely, and you will need to bring a mask. See here for the Harris County Clerk’s SAFE principles.

My Runoff Reminder series will remind you who’s running: Statewide, Congress, SBOE and State Senate, State House, select county races, and select judicial races. Links to interviews and Q&As are in there as well.

The Chron re-ran a bunch of its endorsements on Friday:

Mike Siegel, CD10
Chrysta Castañeda, Railroad Commissioner
Michelle Palmer, SBOE6
Akilah Bacy, HD138
Rep. Harold Dutton, HD142
Rep. Anna Eastman, HD148

They had endorsed Royce West for Senate in March, and they reran that endorsement on Saturday. (UPDATE: They reran their endorsement of Michael Moore for Commissioners Court, Precinct 3, this morning.)

Also on the ballot for this election: the special election in SD14 to succeed Kirk Watson. I have interviews with the two candidates of interest, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. Please give them a listen if you live in this district. I expect this will go to a runoff, which I hope will not need to endure a delay like the May elections did.

All the elections for July 14 are important, but just as important is that this will serve in many ways as a dry run for November, both in terms of handling a higher volume of mail ballots and also in terms of making the in person voting process as safe as it can be in this pandemic. I was on a conference call a week or so ago with a national group, the Voter Protection Corps, which presented a report for policymakers with concrete steps to protect in-person voting and meet the equal access to voting requirements enshrined in federal law and the U.S. Constitution. Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins was one of the presenters in that call. You can see a summary of the call with highlights from the report here. I will be voting in person for this election, but however you do it please take the steps you need to in order to be safe.

We need to understand what we did wrong

So yeah, we need this.

Two of the nation’s most influential experts on the coronavirus pandemic, both based in Texas, are calling for an independent, nonpartisan investigation of the U.S. response to the novel coronavirus.

“We must prevent this from happening again,” said Gerald Parker, who directs the pandemic and biosecurity program at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Public Service. “This is not going to be our last pandemic.”

Peter Hotez, a Houston-based vaccine researcher and frequent commentator on cable news, noted that the current virus, SARS-CoV-2, is the third coronavirus to pose a major health threat in the last 20 years. And given that outbreaks had already wreaked havoc in China and Europe, U.S. public health systems were notably slow to respond.

“What hurt Wuhan was what hurt New York City,” said Hotez, “which is that virus transmission went on for six weeks before there was any public health intervention.”

In a videotaped interview with John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, Parker suggested an investigation modeled on the nonpartisan 9/11 Commission.

[…]

Hotez, who also participated in the interview with Sharp, said later that he feared a congressional panel would become “a political circus.” Instead he proposed a review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Among the questions Hotez wants answered: How, for the whole month of February, did the U.S. miss evidence that the virus was already here? Given the crowding and high number of underlying conditions in low-income neighborhoods, what was done to prepare African-American and Hispanic communities in the early days? Why didn’t the CDC have a centralized epidemiological model, including models of cities and metropolitan areas? And how can the U.S. prepare for future epidemics?

For those who are fans of comparing government to business, this is a very standard business thing to do. Call it an after-action review, or a root cause analysis, or just a plain old audit, it really is vital to learn from experiences, good and bad, so that you can understand what happened and why it happened, and what you can do better next time. I think we can all agree that there is plenty to be learned from this saga, and we all owe it to ourselves to do that. I would hope that much is non-controversial.

But let’s be real, there’s no way to do this that won’t involve politics. You can put together the bluest of blue ribbon panels, staff it with the bona fidiest of experts, and stick entirely to a just-the-facts narrative, it’s still going to be political. That’s because the single biggest actor in this drama was Donald Trump, and his influence on the decisions made at the state and local level was entirely political. Any review that doesn’t do a thorough accounting of this isn’t worth the effort. If Republicans haven’t figured out that Trump’s mishandling of this is what’s killing them in the polls right now, I can’t help them, but I would think they’d want to help themselves. If we manage to get an all-Democratic government next year (please, please), I won’t really expect Republicans to like anything such a report would say. That’s shouldn’t be the point, or anyone’s concern. Do a thorough review, get all the facts out into the open, learn everything there is to be learned, and let the chips fall where they may.