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Election 2022

The Biden marijuana pardons

A pretty big deal.

Calling the criminalization of marijuana a “failed approach,” President Joe Biden announced a pardon of all federal marijuana possession charges Thursday — and urged governors to follow suit with state-level convictions for marijuana possession.

The federal pardon will affect about 6,500 people, The New York Times reported, but the vast majority of marijuana possession crimes are charged on the state level, not in a federal case.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday about Biden’s announcement.

Abbott’s gubernatorial opponent, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, was quick to announce his support for the president’s action.

“When I’m governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

According to the Texas law, the governor can issue pardons only if a majority of Board of Pardons and Paroles members make such a recommendation in writing.

[…]

This year through August, Texas prosecutors filed more than 14,000 misdemeanor pot possession charges, so far leading to more than 5,000 convictions, according to statewide court data. Pot possession is a misdemeanor for up to 4 ounces, and a felony for quantities beyond that.

Marijuana prosecutions dropped dramatically after 2019, when Texas lawmakers legalized hemp and as a result complicated how law enforcement can determine if something is illegal cannabis. In 2018, for example, nearly 50,000 misdemeanor marijuana charges were filed.

I assume that a relatively large portion of the 6,500 people who will receive the federal pardon are in Texas; we’re a big state with a significant non-white population, so just on the numbers we’ll be home to a lot of the beneficiaries of this. I haven’t seen what that number might be, nor do I know how many people could be pardoned for state offenses, if Greg Abbott were so moved. We know that loosening marijuana laws polls well in Texas, though it’s not clear to me if these pardons would be as popular; my guess is they’d have significant support but maybe not as much as expanding medical marijuana access or decriminalizing pot for recreational use. This announcement may help charge up the youth vote, but again it’s hard to say by how much or what the net effect might be. We’re unlikely to get any insight from polling at this point.

The President’s actions were right on the merits and I daresay good on the politics. They were sufficiently long-awaited that I’d say some people had expected them to never happen. As is usually the case with federal action, Texas will get the smallest possible benefit from it because our state leaders won’t allow for any more than that. I assume I don’t need to tell you what we could do to affect that.

Our big mail ballot test is now underway

Sure hope we do better this time.

Harris County officials on Monday urged residents to follow the correct mail voting guidance as the end-of-the-month deadline to apply for mail-in ballots for the 2022 midterm elections nears.

This year’s primary elections in March experienced a surge in mail ballot rejections due to voter confusion over new requirements passed under Senate Bill 1. The new law requires residents to provide their Texas drivers license number or Social Security number when applying for a mail ballot and on the envelope containing their completed ballot. The number must match the number associated with their voter registration.

The Texas Secretary of State earlier this year said voters could put both numbers on their ballots and applications to avoid having them rejected.

Across the state, more than 12 percent of all mail ballots – nearly 25,000 – were rejected during the primaries. The rate was six times what it was in the 2018 midterm election. In Harris County, the rejection rate reached 40 percent initially before falling to 19 percent.

Areas with sizable Black populations were 44 percent more likely to see their ballots rejected than heavily white areas, according to a New York Times analysis based on data by the Harris County election administrator’s office.

Ballot rejection numbers were driven down by the time of the primary runoffs after election officials in some counties included additional instructions about identification requirements with voters’ mail ballots.

[…]

Since the primaries, the Elections Administration Office has implemented new measures to ensure a smoother voter experience for the midterms, according to Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum. That includes the addition of customer support specialists to assist mail-in voters and dozens of community events to raise awareness of proper voting procedures, Tatum said.

As you know, I’ve blogged about this a lot – see here for the most recent entry. I was encouraged by the improvements in the two May elections, but there are still a lot of people who will be voting for the first time under the new law, and the potential for a lot of rejections remains. My older daughter, now attending college out of state, will get to experience it herself. I hope these efforts have the desired effect. If you or someone you know will be voting by mail for the first time this fall, follow the instructions and use both the drivers license number and the SSN unless you know for sure which number you used on your voter registration. Don’t let your ballot get tossed out. KUHF has more.

Telemundo and Asian Texans For Justice polls

Saw this on Twitter:

In the comments I found this link to the data. This was a live phone poll of 625 Hispanic registered voters in Texas, who said they were “likely” to vote. There isn’t a representative-sample poll of the state, this was specifically a poll of Hispanic voters, so that’s what you get. Of interest was the breakdown of the numbers by geographic region – read these as the totals for Beto, Abbott, “other”, and “undecided” left to right:


Dallas/Fort Worth      57% 27% 3% 13%
Houston Metro          57% 30% 2% 11%
San Antonio            54% 29% 3% 14%
Brownsville/McAllen    48% 37% 5% 10%
Corpus/Laredo/El Paso  54% 32% 2% 12%

I don’t know what the 2020 numbers would have been in this formulation. Assume there’s a fairly high margin of error for each, and proceed with caution if you want to draw any conclusions.

I was curious as to how this topline 54-31 number compared to the Hispanic subsamples from other polls, which would also have much larger margins of error as they would be considerably smaller in number. Going through my archives for September, I got this:

Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation: Beto 53, Abbott 39
Spectrum News/Siena College: Beto 58, Abbott 36
DMN/UT-Tyler: Beto 41, Abbott 37 (the two third party candidates combine for 13%, and I will very much bet the under on that)
UT/Texas Politics Project: Beto 52, Abbott 33
UH-TSU Texas Trends: Beto 53, Abbott 38

This result is a bit better for Beto than these others, but not so much so that you’d raise an eyebrow at it.

Telemundo also did a national poll of Hispanic voters in conjunction with NBC News, and I would say that the Texas numbers are more or less in line with the national ones. That’s maybe a bit of a shift from recent years, where Dems generally did a bit better outside Texas with Hispanic voters, but not a huge shift. It’s also consistent with the claim that Republicans have gained some ground in recent years, certainly in comparison with 2012, which looks like a high water mark for Dems right now.

Moving on, I got this in my inbox last week:

Asian Texans for Justice (ATJ) today released a statewide report, “The Deciding Margin: How AAPI Voters Will Shape the Future of Texas,” which found that four out of five Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in Texas feel Asian American interests are not well represented in government now. The organization commissioned the poll to demystify an often misunderstood and misrepresented major voting bloc in the state.

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in Texas have been sidelined on the margins of Texas policy and politics for far too long,” said Lily Trieu, interim-executive director of Asian Texans for Justice. “But the data are clear: AAPI voters are not a silent minority on the margins of Texas politics. They have the potential to be the deciding margin for the future of Texas.”

The fastest growing ethnic group in Texas and nationwide, AAPIs now make up 6.3% of the Texas population. Not only does Texas have the third largest AAPI population, but it is outpacing AAPI growth nationally. According to the 2020 census, Texas’ Asian American population grew by 66.5% and the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population grew by 62% – compared to the national Asian American increase of just 38.6%.

Key Findings:

  1. The majority (64%) of AAPI in Texas are highly motivated to vote in the November 2022 midterm elections. 

  2. The most important policy issues to AAPI voters in Texas are economic recovery, inflation and cost of living, education, and voting rights. 

  3. The overwhelming majority of AAPI Texans are in favor of legalizing abortion (77%), gun safety legislation (83%), and making voting more convenient (85%).

  4. AAPI Texans have more in common with other communities of color (Black and Hispanic) than white Texans when it comes to policy issues, such as Medicare expansion, abortion rights, gun reform, voting rights, and the banning of Critical Race Theory. 

  5. Compared to Texans overall, AAPIs are more likely to identify as Democrats (42% of AAPIs vs 31% of the general population). An equal 29% identify as both Republicans and Independents. AAPI Republicans lean to the left of all Republicans statewide on a variety of issues polled.

  6. Only 20% of AAPI Texans believe AAPIs’ interests are well represented in government now. Almost two-thirds (64%) of AAPI Texans say it’s important to have elected officials who look like you and share the same background.

“Asian Texans are often mistakenly viewed as apathetic about politics,” said Ashley Cheng, founding president of Asian Texans for Justice. “Politicians have just been apathetic about us for far too long, but that is changing.”

The landing page is here and the report is here. No horse-race numbers, but the revelation that AAPI voters are to the left of the state overall was of interest. Read it and see what you think.

Endorsement watch: You have to want it first

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

Duncan Klussman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Luke Warford

Luke Warford

The Texas Railroad Commission is that office where you always have to explain to normal people that it has nothing to do with its name. No trains, just energy, especially oil and gas leasing and inspections and other things. Including oversight and enforcement, such as requiring weatherization for gas wells that supply the power grid, a thing that would have been especially useful last February had they taken it seriously. They didn’t, and now is our chance to hold incumbent Wayne Christian, one of the more corrupt members of that commission, accountable. Luke Warford was one of the earliest statewide Democrats on the campaign trail, and he’s been there ever since. A former energy consultant, Warford has been the Chief Strategy Officer for the Texas Democratic Party and got his start in politics in 2012 with the Obama campaign. He was recently endorsed by Sarah Stogner, who challenged Christian in the Republican primary. Here’s the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Susan Hays – Ag Commissioner
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Cam Campbell – HD132
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08
Teneshia Hudspeth – Harris County Clerk
Amy Hinojosa – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 2
Andrea Duhon – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 4

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

Judicial Q&A: Ted Wood

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Ted Wood

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Ted Wood. I am an Independent candidate for Chief Justice of the First Court of Appeals.

This is probably the most intriguing judicial race in the Houston area because there are three candidates on the ballot (instead of just two). Here’s the lineup:

Julie Countiss is the Democratic nominee. She is currently a judge on Court. She does not have to give up her current spot to run for Chief. She will remain on the Court whether she wins or loses.

Terry Adams is the Republican nominee. He served on the Court for about six months in 2020. He is trying to regain a spot on the Court.

I am the third candidate – the first Independent candidate for a court of appeals in Texas in over 25 years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Primarily appeals – in both civil and criminal cases.

In the typical court case, one side wins and the other side loses. The losing party often wants to appeal the case. Generally, any such appeal will be heard by a court of appeals.

A court of appeals does not try the case again. An appeal is not a “do-over.” Rather, a court of appeals considers written arguments by lawyers. Sometimes the lawyers also make oral arguments.

One lawyer will argue that mistakes were made in the trial court. The other lawyer will argue that everything was just fine.

Courts of appeals carefully consider these arguments and then decide which one is right. A court of appeals must explain its decision in a written opinion. While further appeals are sometimes possible, the court of appeals typically has the last say in the case.

Ideally, the judges on a court of appeals are very good at weighing legal arguments and then explaining their conclusions in writing. The end product of an appeal is a written opinion explaining why one side wins and the other side loses.

The First Court of Appeals handles appeals from ten counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Our Texas judicial system is pretty much broken. The general population doesn’t believe cases are decided on the basis of the law. There are two reasons for this.

First, candidates for judge almost always run as Republicans and Democrats. This creates a perception that judicial decisions are based on politics. This is especially the case in the courts of appeals.

Second, nearly all judicial candidates accept money to fund their campaigns. This creates a perception that money affects judicial decisions.

Even if individual judges do not let party affiliation affect their decisions, people perceive that court decisions are politically based. And even if individual judges do not let campaign contributions affect their decisions, the perception is that money makes a difference. Again, the problem is one of perception.

I am really chagrined that people have such a lack of faith in our judicial system. I want to change this and that is why I am running for Chief Justice. My platform has two planks that work toward restoring confidence in our courts.

First, I am running as an Independent to avoid any impression that I am somehow trying to advance a political agenda.

Second, I am accepting no money from anyone. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that money affects my decisions.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I currently work for the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. I handle legislative matters for the office and I also do appeals. In six years at the office, I have handled 57 separate appeals. I have made oral arguments at the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals and at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

My first job after law school was as a briefing attorney for the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo. I worked for Justice H. Bryan Poff, Jr for over three-and-a-half years. In this role, I evaluated legal briefs in both civil and criminal cases and drafted documents for use by Justice Poff in formulating opinions.

I served over 7 years as the constitutional county judge in Randall County (which takes in half of the City of Amarillo). This is the same position as that currently held by Lina Hidalgo in Harris County. Besides dealing with budgets, taxes, and county administration, I also served as the judge over certain individual cases. Those cases included juvenile cases, mental commitments, guardianships, probate cases, and appeals from justice and municipal courts. So I have plenty of judicial experience. And the experience I gained as Randall County’s chief administrative officer will help me in handling the administrative matters inherent in the position of Chief Justice.

At Baylor Law School, I won a writing competition and became a member of the Baylor Law Review. I eventually served as a Notes and Comments Editor on the Baylor Law Review. I have always enjoyed legal research and writing and I am fairly good at it. This is the main skill necessary for success as a judge on a court of appeals.

Finally, I spent 13 years as an assistant general counsel at the Texas Office of Court Administration in Austin. This experience gave me a close-up view of the Texas court system as a whole and inspired my interest in improving the system itself.

5. Why is this race important?

There are two courts of appeals in Houston. One is the First Court of Appeals. The other is the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. Each of the courts has a chief justice and eight other justices. The two chief-justice positions are the top judicial positions in the Texas court system in the Houston area.

A chief justice has the opportunity to set the tone for the Texas judicial system in this area. And that is exactly what I want to do. I want to set a tone showing that the First Courts of Appeals can be trusted to make decisions based solely on the law. Politics should never enter into judicial decisions. Neither should campaign contributions.

We have a rare opportunity to move in a new direction in 2022. This is an open seat. The current Chief Justice, Sherry Radack, is retiring after 18 years in the position. Voters now have a choice to move toward instilling confidence in our courts and repairing our broken judicial system.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Let’s turn this question around. Why should people not vote for me?

If you believe the purpose of the courts of appeals is to advance some sort of partisan political agenda, then I am not your candidate. My view is that it is not the role of a judge to advance any kind of a political agenda. Rather, the role of a judge is to decide cases solely on the basis of the law. Let the chips fall where they may.

If you have no problem with judges accepting money from lawyers and others with interests in the Court’s decisions, then I am not your candidate. The whole idea of judges taking money is inimical to the idea of impartial and unbiased judicial decision-making. It’s unseemly, to say the least.

But, if you agree with me that judges shouldn’t be Republicans or Democrats, then you really ought to vote for me.

And if you agree with me that judges taking money is a bad look, then you ought to seriously consider voting for me for this reason as well.

Thank you for your consideration.

The professional vote-deniers are out there

They’re probing the systems for weaknesses, a line that reminds me of the velociraptors in the original Jurassic Park. Except that the ‘raptors were sleek and efficient predators, while these guys are basically Pennywise with canned scripts and a huge wingnut-funded budget. The malice is still there, though.

Two of Donald Trump’s most prominent allies in his fight to overturn the 2020 election are leading a coordinated, multi-state effort to probe local election officials in battlegrounds such as Michigan, Arizona, and Texas ahead of the November election.

The America Project, an organization founded by Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general and former national security adviser, and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, has so far interviewed or attempted to interview officials in nearly 200 counties across eight swing states, according to copies of notes, recordings of the interviews, and other documents Votebeat found on web pages associated with the organization. The survey questions reflect the same debunked conspiracies and misleading information about elections that Flynn and Byrne have been propagating for years.

The survey questions appear intended to detect potential weaknesses in local election systems and gather detailed information about how elections are run. Election experts say the information could easily be used to fuel misinformation campaigns, disrupt voting, or challenge results.

“It seems consistent with their efforts to really understand how to manipulate the machinery of election administration in this country,” said Ben Berwick, counsel at national nonprofit Protect Democracy, a research and advocacy group.

In 2020, Byrne and Flynn were among the Trump loyalists who devised a plan to seize voting machines across the country and dig up enough evidence of fraud to persuade state lawmakers, Congress, or the vice president to overturn the election results. Now, they are focusing their efforts on the midterm election, with new strategies. A group backed by The America Project, for example, is attempting to purge voter rolls in Georgia ahead of the election.

The surveys are part of The America Project’s latest mission, dubbed “Operation Eagles Wings,” which is organized on foramericafirst.com, with web pages for each of the swing states the group is focused on. Key to the effort is building relationships with local election officials, according to two manuals for local volunteers on the organization’s websites. The officials are asked their opinions on debunked conspiracy theories, perhaps to determine whether they are like-minded individuals. Interviewers are also marking down which clerks are particularly helpful.

Berwick points out that it’s the mission of prominent Trump supporters to fill positions of power — from governors down to local clerks — with people who believe their allegations of election fraud and improprieties. Noting who does and does not support the cause, he said, may be the group’s way of determining “who will be sympathetic to their efforts in the future.”

Election officials have generally been friendly to their interviewers, but have also repeatedly assured them that their elections are fair, voting machines are secure, and voter rolls are accurate.

[…]

A key goal of Operation Eagles Wings is to create small volunteer teams across the country who observe the entirety of the election process, starting in part with the surveys, according to the manuals Votebeat found.

It’s the expansion of what they have dubbed “the Virginia model,” which refers to the work of Cleta Mitchell’s Election Integrity Network in Virginia to create a network for the state’s 2021 election, according to the manuals.* The America Project provided funding to that effort.

The larger Operation Eagles Wings initiative is aimed at educating “election reform activists on everything from grassroots training to election canvassing and fundraising,” according to The America Project’s website. The site claims the group provides training “for Americans who want to make sure there are no repeats of the errors that happened in the 2020 election.”

“We need to do everything in our power to protect the voting process from election meddlers who care only about serving crooked special interest groups that neither respect nor value the rule of law,” the homepage says.

Along with the surveys, the initiative encourages election skeptics to serve as poll workers and observers, perform in-person “voter registration audits,” and to visit “large farms, factories, businesses and especially care homes,” and ask residents whether anyone is forcing them to vote, according to the manuals.

It’s a long story and Votebeat does its typically thorough job of documenting the atrocities. I don’t know what the best way to respond to this is, but I do know that if we don’t figure it out, and find a way to fund it, we’re going to be screwed.

Judicial Q&A: Justice Julie Countiss

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Justice Julie Countiss

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Justice Julie Countiss. I am a judge on the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas and I’m running for Chief Justice of this court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

We hear appeals from every trial court in our ten-county district. Our cases cover almost every area of Texas law. We hear criminal, civil, family, juvenile and probate cases. We interpret and apply Texas law and write our decisions as legal “opinions” that determine the outcome of the case. It could be a divorce, a custody battle, a lawsuit between two businesses, a family dispute over a will, a personal injury case or a murder conviction–just to name a few types.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I’m now in my fourth year serving as a judge on the First Court of Appeals. Our Chief Justice is retiring and her seat is up in November 2022.

I would like to succeed her as chief justice to ensure our court continues to run smoothly, efficiently and effectively.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I’m the only person running for chief justice who serves on this court now. As such, I have the most experience and am most familiar with the way our court runs. I have worked closely with all my colleagues and our staff since I took the bench. We navigated a ransomware attack in May of 2020 that paralyzed our computer system for over 6-weeks while also dealing with the impact of the pandemic. Through that experience, I learned a lot about leadership from our retiring chief justice. But most importantly, I am deeply committed to my work and to my First Court of Appeals family here and will work tirelessly to ensure we deliver justice and fairness for all.

5. Why is this race important?

In the Houston area, the First Court of Appeals is the last opportunity for justice to be served. In the vast majority of cases, our court has the last word. The courts above us (Texas Supreme Court and
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) have discretion to choose which cases they hear. They only hear a small number of cases depending on how important they deem the case. But our court hears every properly filed appeal. So we are almost always the last word for those parties. We are interpreting and applying Texas law, in very important ways, every single day. Our decisions impact your life, your liberty and your property.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

This race is especially important because of the upheaval we’re seeing in Texas law lately. The future of Texas–especially women and children–is at stake in this election.

At least one local voter purge effort has been thwarted

For now, at least. Like flies to garbage, though, you know they’ll be back for more.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office received a flood of affidavits this summer challenging the eligibility of thousands of registered voters throughout the county, accusing them of not living at the addresses listed on registration records.

None of the affidavits led to county elections officials removing any names from the voter rolls.

The affidavits are linked to efforts by a conservative grass-roots organization called the Texas Election Network, which earlier this year attempted to get Sunnyside residents to sign forms verifying the identities of registered voters living at their addresses.

Each affidavit alleges that numerous registered voters in Harris County “do not reside at the addresses listed on their voter registration records,” as required by state election law. Upon receiving a sworn statement challenging a voter’s residence, election officials must send a “Notice of Address Confirmation” to the voter in question.

The challenges were first reported by The New York Times, which found the affidavits disputed the eligibility of more than 6,000 voters.

In all, the Elections Administrator’s Office received 115 affidavits, according to Leah Shah, a spokesperson for the elections office.

Of those, Shah said, 66 were rejected because they “did not meet statutory requirements and contained incomplete information.”

Another 49 challenges came in after Aug. 10, the 90th day before the election. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the “motor voter act,” bars election officials from performing most voter roll maintenance activities within 90 days of a federal election. The restriction applies to any program intended to “systematically remove the names of ineligible voters from the official list of eligible voters,” including “general mailings and door to door canvasses,” according to the Justice Department.

Each of the forms submitted by various Harris County residents cited voter registration data retrieved by the Texas Election Network, along with the residents’ own canvassing efforts.

“I have personally been told by persons actually residing at these addresses that the challenged voter does not reside at that address and is not only temporarily absent from that address with an intent to return,” the affidavits read. “I am requesting that the Harris County Elections Administrator take the actions required by the Texas Election Code.”

Shah said the office “will work in coordination with the county attorney’s office to review and determine the validity of all challenges on a case-by-case basis” after the midterm election.

When the Texas Election Network’s canvassing efforts in Sunnyside came to light in early July, County Attorney Christian Menefee’s office said it was “investigating this issue and exploring legal options to protect residents and prevent this from happening again.”

Asked about the status of the investigation this week, county attorney spokesperson Roxanne Werner said, “Although we have not found any further activity by this group, we are continuing to monitor the situation and will take action if appropriate. We won’t allow any group to engage in illegal conduct to try and remove registered voters off the rolls.”

See here (scroll down) for the background. I do hope the County Attorney’s Office keeps an eye on this activity, because we know it’s ill-intentioned bullshit and it deserves to be closely scrutinized. Don’t ever give them an inch.

Endorsement watch: Starting out with Susan

The Chron kicks off endorsement season with a fulsome recommendation of Susan Hays for Ag Commissioner.

Susan Hays

Hays, 53, lives in Alpine, where she and her husband purchased land several years ago to grow hemp and hops. Her background is as an attorney and lobbyist, including her 2019 work helping craft the Texas law allowing any hemp product with less than 0.3 percent THC.

Like the Republican incumbent, Sid Miller, she has made medical marijuana legalization central to her campaign.

Hays said she’s taken a close look at other states’ cannabis policies and determined that the successful ones have a well-balanced “three-legged stool” of medicinal access, decriminalization and legalization, all working together to curb the black market and ensure people remain safe.

“You have to think of cannabis regulation holistically,” she told the editorial board, speaking of her frustration with Texas’ piecemeal approach and widely-varying regulations.

[…]

Hays promises to lead the department with integrity, and we think she presents Texans with a better shot at competent leadership than we ever had under Miller. If elected, she told us, her constituents “won’t have to worry if I’m off seeking pseudo medical treatment in another state or directing a staffer to commit unsavory acts for a quick buck.”

She vows to govern pragmatically, not politically, sticking to her duties as agriculture commissioner rather than partisan talking points: “That’s not just abortion and guns — it’s the freeze, it’s seeing the elected officials spend taxpayer dollars and money and media space on often made-up issues, issues based in fear, instead of actually governing,” Hays said.

She seeks to revitalize the State Office of Rural Health, a rural hospital program, and commit the department’s resources to improving rural health care, sorely needed in Texas. The agriculture department oversees the state’s school lunch program, and Hays seeks to make sure students — rural, suburban and urban — are getting healthy Texas food rather than processed food from elsewhere.

If you like a circus act that sucks up oxygen and taxpayer money, vote for Miller. If you want a serious candidate well qualified to run the Texas agriculture department fairly, efficiently, and honestly, we can’t recommend Hays highly enough.

If reading the words isn’t enough for you, listen to my interview with Susan Hays and hear her say these things herself. She’ll make a believer out of you. The Chron editorial necessarily gets into the case against Sid Miller, but they only have so much space for that. It’s so abundantly clear that Hays is the best choice, I don’t know what else to tell you.

On a side note, Beto O’Rourke had himself a pretty good weekend for endorsements, picking them up from the likes of Harry Styles, Willie Nelson, and thirty-five members of Uvalde shooting victims’ families. The ad now running that features the mother of one of the victims is just devastating. I saw it during a football game over the weekend, and it took my breath away. I’m not normally moved by ads, especially political ads – they’re just background noise to me, including the ones for candidates I like. This one was different. Wow.

Interview with Susan Hays

Susan Hays

It’s time for some interviews with statewide candidates. It’s hard to say which of the Republican statewide incumbents is the worst and most in need of being unelected – they all have strong cases, and there’s always something worse to discover about them. Current Ag Commissioner Sid Miller has to be on anyone’s short list, as the case against him is as clear as it is long and detailed. What makes the race to oust him even more compelling is that there’s such a good choice to vote for in his place. Susan Hays is a rancher and cannabis expert who would be able to step right in and start cleaning up the mess in this office while also working to help Texas start to catch up to its neighbors with this crop. Hays is also a co-founder of Jane’s Due Process, an attorney with experience in civil and voting rights, and a former Chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party. We had a lot to talk about, and you should give it a listen:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Cam Campbell – HD132
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08
Teneshia Hudspeth – Harris County Clerk
Amy Hinojosa – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 2
Andrea Duhon – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 4

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

Judicial Q&A: Judge Toria Finch

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Toria Finch

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I am Judge Toria J. Finch, Presiding Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 9.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Class A & B misdemeanor criminal cases with a jurisdictional range of punishment of a fine of no more than $4,000 and/or up to 1 year in the Harris County jail.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

I consider it an accomplishment to have been a two-time Presiding Judge and a three-time Co-Presiding Judge of all Harris County Criminal Courts at Law during my first term. More significantly, and with the remarkable collaboration of my county criminal courts at law judicial colleagues, the groundwork for criminal justice reform has been laid with the successful implementation of Misdemeanor Bail Reform. Additionally, creating the Managed Assigned Counsel Program; Open Hours Court; Cite and Release Court; Emergency Response Docket; B.A.Y.O.U. (“Bringing Assistance to You with Outreach and Understanding”) Community Court; and so much more even despite not having a consistent place to have jury trials, a courthouse, and in the middle of one of the most catastrophic pandemics of our lifetime. I am without question proud of the work that not only I have done, but my Judicial Colleagues, our Office of Court Management, our Court Team Members, and the Bar/Attorneys/ Litigants. Together we have accomplished so much, and I believe that the best is still yet to come.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

Going forward, it is my continued goal to reduce the case backlog in Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 9 (“Court #9). Although Court #9 consistently has one of the lowest dockets and jail populations, it is important to continue focusing on both effective and efficient court management by reducing docket size and length of case disposition. Additionally, I desire for Court #9 to continue to be a place that seeks Truth, Justice, and Fairness for everyone that appears before the court regardless of one’s socio-economic status; race; gender; political affiliation; sexual orientation, etc. I, along with my amazing Court #9 Team seek to ensure that people are treated with compassion and integrity.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because it will decide how the County Criminal Courts at Law move forward collectively and individually. Criminal Justice Reform, Experience, and Community Engagement are on the ballot in this race. Respectfully, the candidates in this race are glaringly different from the relevant legal work experiences and platforms. I am and have always been an attorney that has focused my legal practice primarily in the areas of criminal and juvenile law. The breath of my overall relevant experience is reflected in my years of practice, board certification and trainings, legal work experience as both a former defense attorney and prosecutor, current member of the criminal law judiciary, past and present memberships in various criminal law associations and sections within the State Bar of Texas, and my service as an Adjunct Professor at Thurgood Marshall School of Law and Alvin Community College’s Paralegal Program. There is no question that experience and commitment matter in this race.

Harris County deserves to continue having a Judge that has a proven track record of substantial legal work experience and involvement in the area in which she seeks to continue serving, a sincere interest in implementing necessary criminal justice reforms, and who is invested in the community and willing to continue serving both on and off the bench. The above stated is what makes this race important.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am seeking re-election to finish/improve the reforms that we have started, to expand the services provided by the programs previously stated, and to protect the progress that has been achieved. We can’t afford to go back!

You can add “incompetent” to “corrupt” when describing Ken Paxton

I can’t say this is a surprise, but it is shocking.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s staff this month quietly dropped a series of human trafficking and child sexual assault cases after losing track of one of the victims, a stumble in open court emblematic of broader dysfunction inside one of America’s most prominent law offices.

The Republican has elevated his national profile in recent years, energizing the right by rushing into contentious court battles that have affected people far beyond Texas. He has fought access to abortion, Democratic immigration policy and the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

But as Paxton seeks to fend off legal troubles and win a third term as Texas’ top law enforcement official, his agency has come unmoored by disarray behind the scenes, with seasoned lawyers quitting over practices they say aim to slant legal work, reward loyalists and drum out dissent.

An Associated Press investigation found Paxton and his deputies have sought to turn cases to political advantage or push a broader political agenda, including staff screenings of a debunked film questioning the 2020 election. Adding to the unrest was the secretive firing of a Paxton supporter less than two months into his job as an agency advisor after he tried to make a point by displaying child pornography in a meeting.

The AP’s account is based on hundreds of pages of records and interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation or because they were not authorized to talk publicly.

In the small town of Gatesville, the fallout was felt this month with the collapse of cases dubbed “Operation Fallen Angel.” Six of the people indicted last year on allegations that they were involved in a scheme to force teenage girls to “exchange sexual contact for crystal methamphetamine” are now free. One is being held in the central Texas community on other charges. An eighth died in jail.

“It’s absolutely broken. It’s just broken. You don’t do it this way,” Republican District Attorney Dusty Boyd said of the attorney general’s office, which took over the cases from his five-lawyer team. “I made the mistake of trusting them that they would come in and do a good job.”

[…]

After the dramatic exit of Paxton’s top staff in 2020, those brought into senior roles included a California attorney who donated $10,000 to help Paxton fight his 2015 securities fraud indictment and Tom Kelly Gleason, a former ice cream company owner whose father gave $50,000 to the attorney general’s legal defense fund.

Gleason was fired less than two months into his new job as a law enforcement adviser. Paxton’s office has not disclosed why, but three people with knowledge of the matter said Gleason included child pornography in a work presentation at the agency’s Austin headquarters.

The people said Gleason displayed the video — which one of them described as showing a man raping a small child — in a misguided effort to underscore agency investigators difficult work. It was met with outrage and caused the meeting to quickly dissolve.

Afterward, Paxton’s top deputy, Brent Webster, told staff not to talk about what happened, according to one of the people.

Gleason, who began his career as a police officer in the late 1970s, did not respond to voicemails, text messages, emails and letters left at this home and business. A lawyer who has represented him also did not respond to an email seeking comment.

As of August, payroll data show the number of assistant attorneys general — the line lawyers who handle daily case and litigation work — in the criminal prosecutions division was down more than 25% from two years ago. The data, which was obtained under public records law, show the group that handles financial and white-collar cases was cut by more than half and merged with another division.

“This is scary to me for the people of Texas,” said Linda Eads, who served as a deputy attorney general in the early 2000s, when she said it was rare for any division to have more than two or three vacancies.

Boyd said staff turnover in Paxton’s human trafficking unit contributed to the collapse of the cases in Gatesville. In the last two years, Republican lawmakers have doubled the division’s budget to $3 million, but Boyd questioned whether it was well spent.

On Sept. 13, the attorney general’s staff wrote in court papers that they were dismissing three trafficking cases because a witness had recanted and dropping the other four because they were “unable to locate victim.”

“For Pete’s sake, you’re the AG’s office. You can’t find the victim?” Boyd said. “The culture is broken.”

There’s more so read the rest, but honestly, how much more do you need? Screwing up a human trafficking case – which they took away from the locals in Coryell County – because they lost track of a victim, and hiring a failson of a big donor who thought it was a good idea to include actual video of a violent sex crime against a child in a presentation…this is an office for which the word “dysfunctional” is not nearly strong enough. This story needs to get a lot more attention. And for crying out loud, vote for Rochelle Garza in November. This is what you’re supporting if you don’t.

The Paxton subpoena-fleeing saga gets more ridiculous

Because of course it does.

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers in an abortion lawsuit tried for days to subpoena Attorney General Ken Paxton before sending a process server to his home Monday, and notified his office that their server was there before Paxton fled in a truck driven by his wife, according to court records detailing the communication.

Paxton said he left his house in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, because a “strange man” made him fear for his safety; his attorneys say they didn’t know he’d be served the subpoena at his home.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman quashed the subpoena on Tuesday, but attorneys for the plaintiffs have asked him to reconsider and require Paxton to testify. Pitman has not yet ruled on that motion, or the merits of the case, which concerns whether nonprofit groups, known as abortion funds, can help Texans pay to get abortions out of state.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in August, names Paxton as one of the defendants, and the plaintiffs sought to call him to testify at the preliminary injunction hearing Tuesday.

Four days before the hearing, on the morning of Friday, Sept. 23, Austin attorney Elizabeth Myers emailed assistant attorney general Amy Hilton, saying that since it was not clear whether Paxton intended to be at the hearing, they were going to issue a subpoena out of “an abundance of caution.”

“I assume you’d like for us to serve that through you, but will you please confirm by noon today that you will accept service,” Myers wrote. “Otherwise, we’ll start the personal service process. I’d really prefer not to have to do that, of course.”

Hilton did not confirm whether they could accept the subpoena on Paxton’s behalf, so the lawyers had a process server deliver the subpoena to Paxton’s office Friday afternoon, emails indicate.

But on Sunday, attorneys from the Texas attorney general’s office told Myers that the subpoena was invalid because it was served through Paxton’s office but sought to depose him in his individual capacity, according to the plaintiffs’ motion before Pitman.

Attorneys for the state said that Paxton would be represented in his official capacity at the hearing by assistant attorneys general, and “declined to clearly indicate whether they would accept a revised subpoena,” according to that motion.

“Myers then indicated that this meant General Paxton needed to be served personally, and Ms. Myers asked if General Paxton’s counsel knew where General Paxton was so that he could be located and served,” the filing reads.

The representatives from Paxton’s office declined to provide that information but said they would determine whether they could accept a subpoena on his behalf, the filing says. By Sunday evening, though, Hilton said they did not yet have an answer for the plaintiffs’ legal team.

“Please let me know ASAP if you are authorized to accept service so I can adjust our process server instructions,” Myers wrote in an email sent Sunday at 6:50 p.m.

The attorney general’s office acknowledged in a motion filed Tuesday that they were aware that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were going to attempt to serve Paxton with a subpoena. But they did not know that that meant they “intended to attempt personal service on Ken Paxton at his private residence.”

See here and here for the background. The story goes on from there, with the plaintiffs trying to get an answer from the AG’s office about how best they can do this totally normal procedural thing and getting stonewalled, then a flunky from the AG’s office whining about the plaintiffs doing what they said they would do if they couldn’t get an answer from them. It’s a level of clownishness from the AG’s office that even I hadn’t expected from them, which probably means I need to recalibrate my cynicism again. There was a time when I would have wondered if the people who keep defending Ken Paxton might be feeling even a little bit of shame at these displays, and then I remember that those people haven’t felt any shame since at least 2015, so there you have it. I don’t know what else there is to say.

Interview with Amy Hinojosa

Amy Hinojosa

We wrap up with my second Harris County Department of Education trustee interview. HCDE races are at the bottom of the ballot, the office and its trustees are usually not in the public limelight, and many people don’t know much about what the HCDE does. But it’s races like these that I consider part of my core mission with this blog, and I’m always happy to do interviews with HCDE candidates. Today we talk to Amy Hinojosa, who is serving as the trustee in Precinct 2. Hinojosa was appointed as the Precinct 2 trustee in December 2019, at the same time as Andrea Duhon, following the resignation of trustee George Moore. She is a project manager in technology development at Chevron and the founder of a community youth athletic program which allows students to explore their college futures by visiting local universities called Community Leaders Encouraging Academia Through Sports, Inc. or CLEATS. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Cam Campbell – HD132
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08
Teneshia Hudspeth – Harris County Clerk
Andrea Duhon – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 4

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

Judicial Q&A: Judge Gloria Lopez

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Gloria Lopez

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

My name is Gloria López and I am the 308th Family District Court Judge in Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 308th Family District Court is one or ten Family District Courts in Harris County, Texas. It hears family law matters — divorces, child custody disputes, child support cases, child visitation determination, marital property divisions, parental terminations and adoption cases. This Court also handles issues involving Children’s Protective Services (CPS) cases, enforcements, modifications, and paternity cases.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

When I was elected, I restored integrity to the 308th Family District Court. Bias and impropriety were eliminated. Parties finally have an opportunity to have their case heard in a fair and just manner. Additionally, during this time, cases run smoother, the docket was streamlined and people get their day in court in a dependable and fair fashion. This was not the case prior to me taking this bench. I have restored efficiency, fairness, kindness, and energy to this court. I am running for re-election because public service is my passion and the issues handled in our overcrowded family courts are of prime importance to our community and our families.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I hope to maintain the level of transparency that I have brought to the 308th Family District Court and continue to improve participation rates from families is CPS cases. During Covid, the 308th Family District Court used technology to improve the experience of litigants, especially people who do not have attorneys. We leveraged technology not only to stay open, but also to improve participation rates and help users resolve disputes more efficiently. The boost in court appearances that followed the shift to virtual hearings is consistent with pre-pandemic assertions that reducing the day-to-day costs of coming to court—such as transportation, childcare, lost wages, and travel time—would increase people’s ability to meaningfully engage in court cases. Currently, the 308th Family District Court lives streams all hearings and trials. The increased transparency has restored trust in the judicial system and helped students, lawyers, and families learn about family law.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important to note that the family courts in Harris County are extremely busy. The cases must be presided over by a judge who understands the law and the complexities of the family issues faced in these courts each day. A family law judge must conduct herself honorably and be efficient. Justice is best served when it is handled efficiently and by a family law judge who is compassionate within the bounds of the law. These cases must be handled by someone who is going to work hard each and every day. These cases must be handled by someone dedicated to being a public servant to the constituents of Harris County and not a politician.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Representation matters. It is important for Harris County constituents to see people like themselves on the bench. People from marginalized communities tend to be discouraged by the judicial process. Seeing a person with experience and a similar background (as their own) helps restore faith and trust in the judicial system. Additionally, I am Board Certified in Family Law. I exclusively practiced family law prior to being elected in 2018. I have presented and published articles on family law issues/topics for the Texas Center for the Judiciary, the State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association, the State Bar Office of Minority Affairs, the Houston Bar Association, the Mexican American Bar Association, the Muslim Bar Association, the South Asian Bar Association, and local organizations. I am experienced and dedicated to the practice of family law. I am also compassionate, measured, consistent, and fair. I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United State of America and Texas. I do not take this oath lightly and will continue to execute my oath faithfully. I am seeking re-election to ensure that the constituents of Harris County have a Family Law Judge that executes the duties of this position with integrity and compassion. It is important to keep a Judge in the 308th that understands the law and uses her discretion in a way that helps all people feel safe and heard.

Republican Commissioners abscond again

Cowards.

Republicans Tom Ramsey of Precinct 3 and Jack Cagle of Precinct 4 skipped Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting as part of an ongoing battle of political wills that could extend until the deadline for approving a tax rate passes at the end of October.

The decision prompted the three Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court to go into an executive session to discuss with the county attorney’s office whether they have legal options to compel the two missing commissioners to attend. County Judge Lina Hidalgo had little to report after the session but said the county attorney’s office is researching options.

The court will consider the tax rate again at its next meeting on Oct. 11, potentially forcing the two Republican commissioners to make a similar decision next month if they have not reached a compromise by then.

Hidalgo opened the meeting alternately lambasting Ramsey and Cagle’s absence and lamenting the potential impacts of the county’s inability to approve its proposed tax rate.

“Our hospital system will operate at a $45 million deficit,” Hidalgo said. “A cadet class will be at risk.”

State law requires four members of the court be present to set the property tax rate.

See here and here for the background. There’s apparently some talk of a compromise, which would need to happen soon, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Giving this much power to a governing minority is the problem here. I don’t know what legal options the majority has, but I do know that the Speaker of the House has the authority to call upon the Texas Rangers to round up legislative quorum-busters, which is why they always flee the state. Maybe Judge Hidalgo can call on the Sheriff to pick up the wayward Commissioners and haul them into the meeting room so that the legal requirement of at least four members being present can be met? I suppose if this happens the next thing we’ll hear about is Angela Paxton driving them away, probably as they hunch down in the back seat of her SUV, for the safety of the suburbs. Just for the comedy value, I’d like to see this scenario play out. I won’t hold my breath for it.

Interview with Andrea Duhon

Andrea Duhon

There are two incumbent trustees on the Harris County Board of Education on the ballot this November. Both were appointed to their current positions, and one is running for a different position than the one she currently holds. Andrea Duhon is the latter, having been appointed in 2019 to fill the Precinct 3 position that she very narrowly lost in 2018 after the incumbent stepped down to run for the Legislature in 2020. That occurred after she had filed to run for an At Large position in that same election, which had me tied up in knots for a little while, though in the end all was fine. Putting all of that aside, Duhon is currently serving as the First Vice President of the Board. She is a small business owner and has been an education advocate and active force with the HCDE even before her first campaign. While she serves as the representative for Precinct 3 now, she is running for the same position in Precinct 4, as HCDE precincts are defined by Commissioners Court precincts and thus affected by last year’s redistricting. You can listen to the interview I did with her for her 2018 campaign here, and you can listen to my interview with her for this campaign, which attempts to recap all of that history, here:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Cam Campbell – HD132
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08
Teneshia Hudspeth – Harris County Clerk

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

Judicial Q&A: Judge Genesis Draper

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Genesis Draper

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

My name is Genesis Draper, and I am the judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 12. Additionally, as of July 1, 2022, I also serve as the presiding judge for all 16 County Criminal Courts at Law, a role that provides administrative support to all of the county criminal courts.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I preside over misdemeanor cases, which are cases that are punishable by up to one year in the Harris County Jail, and/or up to a $4000 fine.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

One of the major accomplishments from my term as judge of County Court 12, includes settling a landmark bail reform lawsuit that ended the practice of jailing people in Harris County for misdemeanors solely because they couldn’t afford to buy their freedom through the process of paying a bail bond company. By settling the lawsuit, my colleagues and I ended the practice of wealth-based detention in misdemeanor cases, and created a model for other jurisdictions to follow. Another major accomplishment of my tenure as judge, is the creation of the Harris County Office of Managed Assigned Counsel, which is an independent county agency tasked with supporting the indigent defense bar practicing in Harris County misdemeanor courts. The office now appoints the attorney, provides support to the attorney, and manages the payment of vouchers to the attorney. With the creation of this office, attorneys appointed to represent indigent individuals accused of misdemeanors, can have the independence from the judiciary and the support necessary to provide zealous representation for their clients.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I hope to establish a scheduling order in County Criminal Court 12 that will put all parties on notice regarding the deadlines in cases. Currently, there are no uniform expectations for when evidence is due, when motions should be filed, or when cases should be ready for dispositions. Clearer expectations from the court should put the parties on proper notice for when things are due in a case, and assist in shortening the length of time it takes to reach a conclusion in a case.

5. Why is this race important?

County Criminal Courts at Law are important races, because whether you are accused of a crime or the victim of a crime, it will be important to you that the case is handled competently and efficiently.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am asking for people’s vote in November because I have worked hard as the judge of this court for over three years to ensure that every person who encounters the court has access to justice, even in the midst of post-hurricane space limitations and a global pandemic that brought most systems to a grinding hault. My 13+ years of criminal litigation experience at the state and federal level has uniquely prepared me to continue providing a high level of service to the people of Harris County as the judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 12

Hispanic Policy Foundation: Abbott 51, Beto 44

One more poll to look at.

There’s an old adage that says the more things change, the more they stay the same. And according to our new poll, that applies to politics in Texas as well, as support for Republicans remains strong across the board heading into the November elections.

“Texas Decides” is a joint effort between the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation (THPF) and TEGNA Texas stations WFAA, KHOU, KENS and KVUE. It draws on a survey of 1,172 likely Texas voters that was taken between September 6, 2022, and September 15, 2022. It has a confidence interval of +/- 2.9%. The report reviewed the vote intention for the November 2022 Texas elections.

The election will be held November 8. Early voting starts October 24.

Part 1 of this poll, released here, takes a look at the major statewide races across Texas in the coming election. Parts 2 and 3, which will be released later this week, will respectively focus on the Hispanic population’s opinions of the candidates and on culture war issues.

The poll found that Republican incumbent Greg Abbott leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke by seven points (51% to 44%) among likely voters. Among most likely (almost certain) voters, the lead grows to 10 points (53% to 43%). Just 1% of voters in both categories (likely/most likely) says they’ll vote for Libertarian Mark Tippetts and Green Party candidate Delilah Barrios.

“Gov. Abbott’s strength among rural and Anglo voters continues to bolster his intransigent structural support in the 2022 race for Texas Governor,” THPF CEO Jason Villalba says of the poll’s results. “While O’Rourke has shown himself to be a worthy and hard-working adversary, unless there is a marked shift in the composition of the November electorate, Governor Abbott will remain the political and thought leader of Texas politics. Only new voters will be able to shift the tide.”

Perhaps the poll’s most significant finding in the gubernatorial race is the fact that voters seem hardened in their choices, with little room for movement come November. In fact, 95% of all likely voters who say they’ll vote for Abbott tell us they are “certain” about their vote choice. On the other side, 94% of all likely voters who will back O’Rourke say they are “certain” about that choice.

And when you break down support among race, Abbott holds a nearly two-to-one advantage over O’Rourke among white voters, with the incumbent being a 63% choice to his challenger’s 33%. O’Rourke has a strong advantage with Black voters, however, up 79% to Abbott’s 16%. The support margin is closer among Hispanic voters, with 53% intending to vote for O’Rourke and 39% for Abbott.

Poll data is here. In April, this pollster had the race at 50-42 for Abbott. Since I made such a big deal about it the last time I blogged about a poll, this one has a partisan split of 43 GOP, 41 Dem, 14 Indie, 2 “other”. Other results from this poll:

Dan Patrick 48, Mike Collier 42
Ken Paxton 47, Rochelle Garza 42
Dawn Buckingham 46, Jay Kleberg 38
Sid Miller 48, Susan Hays 41
Wayne Christian 44, Luke Warford 37

No love for the Comptroller’s race, I guess. As I have said before, I don’t care for the distinction between “likely” voters and “super duper extra likely” voters, but you do you. This poll shows very little change between April and now, which is to say pre-Dobbs and post-Dobbs, so either not much has changed in the Texas landscape since then, or something has changed but pollsters other than the UT/Texas Politics Project aren’t picking it up. I’m just going to leave it there.

Run, Kenny, run!

Peak Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his home in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, to avoid being served a subpoena Monday, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, was attempting to serve the state’s top attorney with a subpoena for a federal court hearing Tuesday in a lawsuit from nonprofits that want to help Texans pay for abortions out of state.

When Herrera arrived at Paxton’s home in McKinney on Monday morning, he told a woman who identified herself as Angela that he was trying to deliver legal documents to the attorney general. She told him that Paxton was on the phone and unable to come to the door. Herrera said he would wait.

Nearly an hour later, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, Ken Paxton exited the house.

“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name. As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage,” Herrera wrote in the sworn affidavit.

Angela Paxton then exited the house, got inside a Chevrolet truck in the driveway, started it and opened the doors.

“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him. Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck.”

Herrera eventually placed the subpoenas on the ground near the truck and told him he was serving him with a subpoena. Both cars drove away, leaving the documents on the ground.

On Twitter, the attorney general said his sudden departure was motivated by concerns for his family’s safety.

“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he wrote in a tweet.

You can see the affidavit here. I mean, seriously. If this had been a story in The Onion, I’d have rolled my eyes at it for being too on the nose. All this because Paxton was too much of a weenie to give a deposition in a lawsuit that had little to do with him. Other people have righteously mocked Paxton for his Brave Sir Robin impression, and now I will as well.

I think I’m done now. What a miserable, sniveling coward Ken Paxton is. The kindest thing we can all do for him now is to vote for Rochelle Garza, so that he and his family can go back home.

Judicial Q&A: Je’Rell Rogers

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Je’Rell Rogers

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Je’Rell Rogers and I am running for judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law #14. I have been practicing law since 2013. For the last 3+ years, I have served as chief prosecutor of the 180 th District Court where I am responsible for the murders and capital murders pending in that court. I am a 2008 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, a Teach for America alumni corps member (Sharpstown Middle School), and an LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center 2013 graduate.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Class B and Class A misdemeanors. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to 180 days Harris County Jail and a fine not to exceed $2,000.00. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in the Harris County Jail and a fine not to exceed $4,000.00. Common class B misdemeanors may include DWI (first offender), criminal trespass, and some thefts—just to name a few. Class A misdemeanors include DWI (second offender), Assault, and Burglary of a Motor Vehicle—just to name a few.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this particular bench because there was a lack of community involvement and focus from this particular seat. Many of the other county criminal court judges have been involved with specialized courts/programs that are focused at bettering the members of our community through services targeting specific needs. SOBER Court and Veterans’ court are examples of such specialized courts and my predecessor had next to no involvement. Everyday, judges make decisions that impact our community and so programs like these and the Fresh Start program introduced by the county criminal courts are essential for the bettering of and safety of our community. Thus, judges need to have not just the legal experience but the actual community involvement in order to have proper perspective when making these decisions. I’m running for this bench because I am the candidate that can best bring these qualifications to the position.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My qualifications for this job include courtroom experience and community experience. From the courtroom side of things, I have handled the most serious criminal offenses in the state of Texas, from the filing of charges to seeing them through jury verdict. Additionally, I have supervised a number of junior attorneys and support staff, while handling my own case load which demonstrates my ability to lead while getting work done. From the community side of things, my years as a teacher in HISD and my years as a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Houston have brought to my face the issues that plague our community. I’ve witnessed first hand the impacts of drugs on communities and the impact of domestic violence in homes and the role that homelessness and mental health and substance abuse plays in our criminal justice system. By serving as an usher at my church, I’ve had real, genuine conversations with other community members about their concerns and their family concerns. By serving as a course instructor with HPD, I’ve had conversations with new and veteran police officers about the issues they face. In other words, I am best qualified for this position because I recognize the problems our community faces, I’ve faced them head on, and I recognize there is no ”one size fits” all solution as opposed to a case by case approach.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because our county has the chance to continue to build on the strides we’ve made in the last 4 years. Misdemeanor bail reform is not finished and there is still work to be done to get to where we need to be. In order for this work to happen, the judge for this bench needs to bring the perfect combination of legal experience and community experience to the conversation while showing an ability to work with the other judges. This race is important because it directly impacts every person who lives in or works in or raises their family in Harris County.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me because I am the candidate that this position calls for in 2023 and moving forward. As an attorney, I have experience handling the lowest level of cases to the most serious criminal offenses. Well before I decided to run for office, I got involved with the community when I decided to teach 8th grade students in a low-income area of Houston. Well before I decided to run for office, I decided to become an usher at my church because I have a heart for people and wanted to share with people the love that I had for my church. Well before I decided to run for office, I recognized that I had a responsibility to give back to members of our community who didn’t grow up with the opportunities I had and so I joined Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Houston as a Big Brother. Well before I ran for office, I recognized that I had certain experiences and knowledge that I could share with police officers to better them and our community as a whole and so I started teaching a class on Racial Profiling and a class on Search and Seizure at the Houston Police Academy. People should vote for me in November because my whole life is a personification of me serving my community for the betterment of my community.

Voting has already started for 2022

Military voters are getting their ballots now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Stogner for Warford

Nice.

Luke Warford

Sarah Stogner, the former Republican candidate for railroad commissioner who forced incumbent Wayne Christian to a runoff and made waves for riding a pumpjack almost naked in a memorable campaign ad, is backing the Democratic nominee for the seat.

Stogner on Monday endorsed Luke Warford over Christian, a former state representative who was first elected to the Railroad Commission in 2016. She said in an interview that Texas’ energy industry is “too important to let corrupt career politicians stay in office, and I’m taking a stand against it.”

Stogner, an oil and gas attorney, lost to Christian by double digits in the runoff. Her campaign turned heads not only for the racy ad but also $2 million in funding she got from a West Texas rancher and friend who had been battling the Railroad Commission over abandoned oil wells on her property.

Stogner said she was supporting Warford, a former state Democratic Party staffer running on fixing the power grid, because she simply believed he would do the job better. She also said in a statement that he is not “your typical Democrat,” calling him “pragmatic and pro-business.”

Christian’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Stogner’s endorsement comes as another Democratic statewide candidate, Mike Collier, has also been picking up Republican endorsements, most recently from former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff on Thursday.

A bit of background in case you need to be reminded about Sarah Stogner. Here’s more from the Chron.

Stogner announced the support Monday and appears in a new video for Warford. Stogner lost in the runoff to Wayne Christian, who is the incumbent and chairs the oil and gas regulatory agency.

“My thinking was, if my endorsement can help him bring some Republican voters to vote for him, it’s the right thing for Texas,” she said.

[…]

Stogner has been an outspoken critic of Christian, pointing to campaign contributions he receives from the oil and gas industry, and to his unwillingness to acknowledge climate change. In recent days, she has also offered support for Christian’s libertarian opponent, Jaime Andres Diez.

“I don’t think that this should be politicized,” Stogner said of the race. “And unfortunately, the incumbent is talking about the (border) wall and pro-life and things that he has absolutely no jurisdiction over.”

The three-member Railroad Commission regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. Christian, a former state legislator and financial planner, opposes new regulations and alternative energy such as wind and solar.

“I’m tired of career politicians mining their pocketbooks and ignoring what needs to be done,” Stogner said.

Here’s the new video:

Whatever one might say about Sarah Stogner, she likely has a lot more name recognition than your typical primary-losing candidate in a downballot race. She is good at getting earned media, which is nice. I’ve said before that I don’t think endorsements like this move a lot of votes, but they probably move a few. And for real, I’ve never seen this many prominent Republican endorsements of Texas Democrats. I don’t know how much that means, but it’s not nothing.

Interview with Teneshia Hudspeth

Teneshia Hudspeth

We are moving the focus back to local offices this week, with three interviews of incumbents running for re-election. Teneshia Hudspeth is seeking her first full term as Harris County Clerk. A longtime employee of the Clerk’s office before winning a special election in 2020 to finish out the term after Diane Trautman stepped down, Hudspeth is now one of five members of the Harris County Elections Commission, with oversight over the office of the Elections Administrator. We obviously talked about that, and about all of the things she is doing with the non-elections parts of the Clerk’s office, which is a quite a lot. You can listen to the interview I did with her in 2020 here, and you can listen to this year’s interview here:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Cam Campbell – HD132
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08

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

Judicial Q&A: Judge Michelle Moore

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge Michelle Moore

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

Michelle Moore Presiding Judge of the 314th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Juvenile Delinquency and Child Welfare

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

I have removed ankle restraints from juveniles who appear in court. The youth are no longer coming to court in a jail jumpsuit. Instead, they wear a grey or burgundy shirt
and black khaki style pants.

Regarding Child Welfare, same sex couples and single persons are permitted to adopt a child(ren) in the 314th.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

For court operations, I hope for the 314th courtroom to be completely paperless. Regarding juveniles, I will continue to use community rehabilitation programs. For child welfare, I will become a trauma informed court.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because children and parents’ lives are directly impacted. Our youth are vulnerable and impressionable and oftentimes when youthful offenders come to court, they are at a crossroads.

The Court is in the unique position to motivate the youth to change their life for the better. Conversely, if the youth’s interaction with the court is negative, it may push him/her participate in more illegal activities. Understanding the magnitude and reach of this position, is integral to being an effective judge.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am an experienced judge and I practiced Child Welfare Law before taking the bench. I have a breadth of knowledge and experience in the area of law for which I am seeking reelection. The youth in my court have experienced positive outcomes and I have achieved a reputation of being fair and efficient judge, which is exactly what Harris County deserves. There is no reason to change.

There are many variables affecting what might happen with abortion law in Texas

Another way to put this: What can Beto do as Governor with a Republican legislature to make abortion laws less bad in Texas?

Toward the end of a virtual campaign event last month, one of Beto O’Rourke’s supporters asked how he would fulfill a key pledge: overturning the Texas ban on abortion.

The Legislature is virtually certain to remain under Republican control next year, leaving O’Rourke with no clear path to restore abortion access if he were to defeat Gov. Greg Abbott in November. But the Democratic nominee insisted he could bring lawmakers around.

“The shockwaves that it will send through this state to have a proudly, boldly pro-choice Democrat win for the first time in 32 years … will give us the political capital, the leverage we need to make sure that we can restore protections for every single woman in Texas to make her own decisions about her own body,” O’Rourke said.

He would also use “the power of the governor’s veto to stop bad ideas that are coming down the pike already,” he said.

But the proposals that most animate O’Rourke’s base — abortion rights, gun restrictions, expanded voting access — would likely face stiff resistance from Republican lawmakers, many of whom will return to Austin with no desire to rescind laws they passed as recently as last year.

Under those conditions, O’Rourke’s ability to enact core parts of his agenda would require a near-impossible level of legislative savvy, and unsparing use of the governor’s limited tools to influence the lawmaking process, such as vetoing bills and budget line items, veterans of Texas politics say.

[…]

On paper, Texas governors have limited power to shape public policy, with no cabinet and less control over state agencies than most of their counterparts around the country.

In recent years, though, Abbott and his predecessor, Rick Perry, have expanded their sway through sheer longevity — each staying in office long enough to stock boards and commissions with allies. Abbott has also used disaster orders to bypass the Legislature and steer policy on border security, the state’s COVID response, Texas National Guard deployments, and more.

Governors can also influence how laws are interpreted and enforced, through their appointments to state boards and commissions and directives to state agencies via executive order.

But governors cannot fire even their own appointees, let alone those of former governors, meaning O’Rourke would be stuck with thousands of Abbott appointees until their terms expire.

He could appoint their replacements between legislative sessions without immediate oversight, though each appointee would eventually require approval from the Republican-majority Senate once the Legislature is in session.

O’Rourke’s most potent tool to influence the lawmaking process would likely be his power to veto laws and spending he opposes, which governors have historically wielded as a powerful bargaining chip. O’Rourke said he would use that power, if necessary, to nix policies like private school vouchers, which Abbott has supported.

“Being able to stop that is incredibly important,” O’Rourke said. “But it also affords the governor leverage, in a broader sense, to bring people to the table and to make sure that we find that common ground, we get to that consensus, and we make some progress.”

The veto argument is one I was making about Wendy Davis back in 2014, before some of the worst anti-abortion legislation was passed. It’s still salient today, though the context is now very different. At the very least, it would be a hard stop against the vengeance fantasies of sociopaths like Briscoe Cain.

I think we can safely put aside any ideas about Beto reaching across the aisle for bipartisan compromise legislation on almost anything. Not that he wouldn’t sincerely try, and he could lead with things that under other circumstances might have genuine bipartisan appeal, like improving broadband access or drought mitigation. I just don’t believe that Republicans will move an inch even on things they have championed in the past to give him a legislative victory – their primary voters will not stand for it. I’d love to be too cynical about this, but it’s very much a prove-me-wrong situation. There may be some opportunities in the budget, where he will have line item veto power and where a lot of sausage making goes on behind closed doors, but don’t look for anything bigger than that. At least one chamber will need to be Democratic-majority before anything like that could realistically happen.

The use of executive power is an interesting possibility, and one where recent history is of much better use than past history. Abbott and Perry have absolutely pushed the bounds on what a Texas Governor can do, though to be fair they have had a docile and largely submissive legislature and a mostly compliant Supreme Court abetting them, neither of which Beto would have. All of the contradictions and hypocrisies that will result when those institutions suddenly decide that maybe there should be some limits on executive power won’t mean much given how little that kind of thing engages the public. All that said, Beto should look for every opportunity to push the envelope. He has little to lose by doing so.

Now, to complicate my earlier assertions about bipartisan legislation and compromise, we do have one slim possible avenue for such a thing.

Republican state Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville said Friday that he’d support a change to Texas’ abortion laws to allow victims of rape to legally obtain the procedure.

“If I get a chance to vote for an exception to rape, I will vote yes,” the East Texas senator said during a panel of Republican lawmakers at the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival. “I think instead of us telling women what to do, we should show our support for women of this state.”

Nichols is one of the first anti-abortion lawmakers to say he would support loosening the abortion laws when lawmakers meet in January.

[…]

Texas is competing against private companies who are willing to bus their employees out of state for “pregnancy care,” said Nichols. “And what are we doing?”

At the least, Nichols said, the state should provide a minimum of four weeks of paid maternity leave for state employees.

Nichols self-identifies as “pro-life” and has voted in favor of the state’s abortion laws, including the “fetal heartbeat” law that went into effect last September. The law prohibited most abortions after an ultrasound could detect cardiac activity in a embryo, about six weeks into a pregnancy. Nichols’ office did not immediately respond to questions about whether the senator would support any other exceptions to the abortion law, such as for incest.

I would point out that as an actual Senator, Nichols could author such a bill himself and perhaps even try to persuade his fellow Republicans to vote for it, including in the House, rather than wait for such a bill to magically appear before him. Crazy talk, I know, but it’s what I do. The question here, as above, is whether Nichols would still support such a bill even if it would then be sent to Governor O’Rourke for a signature, or whether that would be out of bounds as per the same politics I discussed above. My guess is the latter is more likely, but we’ll see. For what it’s worth, signing a bill that merely allowed for a rape exception to the current ban, without at least clarifying the “life and health of the mother” exception that is causing so much chaos and mayhem in the hospitals now would not be a clear win for Beto in my estimation. I believe it would garner at best grudging support from reproductive rights advocates, even if it was clearly the best we could get under the circumstances, just because it’s so incremental and would give some form of approval to that strict a legal regime. I could be wrong about that, I’m just saying that this stuff is more complicated than it looks and there are way too many variables to support making any kind of prediction. We’ll know a bit more after the election, but for now almost anything could happen. We need to do what we can to put ourselves in the best possible position to affect the outcome.

Voter registration update

However you look at it, we have a lot of registered voters now.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

With three weeks before the Oct. 11 deadline for the November elections, nearly 80% of the state’s voting age population is registered to vote, putting the number of people eligible to cast ballots to more than 17.5 million and counting, according to the Austin American-Statesman. 

Records maintained by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, show that the new-registration numbers are higher than they were during the midterm cycles of 2014 and 2018, however, the percentage of people of voting age registered has increased only marginally.

This means the addition of new voters is offset by the number of people who have left the registration rolls. Democrats believe the sudden surge of new voter registration is largely due to the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade’s landmark abortion ruling.

“It’s not just that younger voters are surging in TX since Dobbs,” tweeted Tom Bonier, CEO of the firm, TargetSmart, in reference to the high court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. “It’s clear that those younger voters who are registering now (men and women) are far more Democratic.”

Apart from being motivated by the loss of abortion rights, new voters might have been inspired by the inaction of Texas Republican leaders on gun safety issues in the wake of the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

On the other hand, Republicans are skeptical about that conclusion. Derek Ryan, a Texas Republican researcher, and consultant, examined data from the three most recent midterm cycles and said the demographic characteristics of new registrants are remarkably consistent, as reported by Austin American-Statesman.

We’ve discussed the voter registration figures and the reasons to maintain some perspective before. I will say that if we get the same turnout percentage in 2022 that we got in 2018, we’ll get about 9.3 million voters in this election, or about 900K more than we got four years ago. That’s also almost exactly double what we got in 2014, when registration was considerably lower and the turnout percentage was almost comically small. The last couple of elections have shown that higher turnout elections are not inherently favorable to one party or the other, but I would still claim that low turnout elections are generally bad for Democrats, at least in Texas.

I wish I knew how to turn the heat down

But I do know that I’m not the responsible party for this crap.

About a dozen activists demanding responses to conspiracy theories about election integrity this week disrupted what is typically an uneventful public testing of voting machines ahead of an election in Hays County.

The activists shouted at the county election administrator and Texas’s secretary of state, who was present for the testing. County officials said they’d never previously encountered such intense hostility at the routine event.

The crowd surrounded members of the election test board — which consisted of political party representatives, county officials and election workers — who were assigned to test the machines, pressing in and looking over their shoulders. Many filed into the election department’s large conference room at county headquarters holding notebooks and pens, ready to take notes.

As soon as the testing began, the activists began to raise familiar questions.

“Are the machines all connected?” one asked Jennifer Doinoff, the county’s elections administrator. “How many Bluetooth devices are there?”

No, the machines are not connected, Doinoff responded, nor were there any Bluetooth devices. The questioning continued, sparking side conversations and repeatedly drowning out the voices of those doing the testing. Doinoff, over and over, had to ask the crowd to lower their voices.

“Can we go back to focusing on the testing please?” Doinoff told the crowd. Attendees said they were at the public event — versions of which were held this week by many county election offices across the state — as “concerned citizens” and were not affiliated with any particular group or political party.

Texas law requires public testing of the voting machines be done before and after every election to ensure the machines are counting votes correctly. Half-a-dozen Hart Intercivic voting machines were spaced out on a large table inside the room, ready to be tested by the handful of county officials present to help.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott was on hand in Hays County, home to Texas State University, to observe the testing and film an educational video about Texas’s voting systems.

As testing of the machines continued in the background, the activists turned their attention away from the process, surrounding Scott and peppering him with complaints and prepared questions. Scott, a Republican, spent around 20 minutes listening and answering granular questions.

“We’re following state law,” Scott told them.

“No you’re not,” the activists responded, nearly in unison.

Gosh, John, why do you suppose these “just plain folks” are seething with such hostility? Where do you think they could have gotten those ideas into their heads? It’s a mystery, I tell you.

The Hays County activists also told Scott they believe voting machines are not trustworthy; they want hand-counting ballots of ballots and same-day election results; and emphasized the need for consecutively numbered ballots and to go back to precinct polling places rather than vote centers.

Because people never make mistakes and are faster at counting than computers. Apparently this is a French thing, and never have I been more surprised to hear of a particular obsession with an aspect of French culture.

Doinoff and her staff told Votebeat they weren’t discouraged by the rancor. Instead, the disruption and the questioning highlighted the importance of testing voting systems, also known as logic and accuracy tests, ahead of an election. That process has been standard practice for decades.

“I am still glad that people came,” Doinoff said. “We want them to see it and ask us.”

You are a better person than I am. You also deserve to have all the security you need, and I hope you already have it.

The imminent Latino plurality

It may already be here, but it’s not quite officially official just yet.

A closely watched estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday indicates that Texas may have passed a long-awaited milestone: the point where Hispanic residents make up more of the state’s population than white residents.

The new population figures, derived from the bureau’s American Community Survey, showed Hispanic Texans made up 40.2% of the state’s population in 2021 while non-Hispanic white Texans made up 39.4%. The estimates — based on comprehensive data collected over the 2021 calendar year — are not considered official.

The bureau’s official population estimates as of July 2021 showed the Hispanic and white populations virtually even in size. But in designating Hispanics as the state’s largest population group, the new estimates are the first to reflect the foreseeable culmination of decades of demographic shifts steadily transforming the state.

The incremental trend demographers have been tracking for years reflects the state’s profound cultural and demographic evolution. The state lost its white majority in 2004. However, the Hispanic population’s relative growth, through both migration and births, has not been reflected in many facets of the state’s economic and political landscape.

The 2020 census captured how close the state’s Hispanic and white populations had come, with just half a percentage point separating them at the time. By then, Texas had gained nearly 11 Hispanic residents for every additional white resident over the previous decade. And Hispanics had powered nearly half of the state’s overall growth of roughly 4 million residents since 2010.

Hispanic Texans are expected to make up a flat-out majority of the state’s population in the decades to come, but they are already on the precipice of a majority among children. The latest census estimates showed that 49.3% of Texans under the age of 18 are Hispanic.

Without corresponding political and economic gains, Hispanic residents’ economic and political reality is captured in the persistent disparities also reflected in the latest census data. Hispanic people living in Texas are disproportionately poor. They are also less likely to have reached the higher levels of education that often serve as pathways to social mobility and greater economic prosperity.

It was sometime during my first decade of blogging, maybe 2004 or 2005, when Anglos ceased to be the majority in Texas. The trends have kept on trending since then. As far as political representation goes, maybe we’ll get a shot at that in 2031 redistricting cycle – it ain’t happening this time around, not with this SCOTUS. But as Campos notes, we can at least do something about that locally this year. The Chron has more.

Interview with Cam Campbell

Cam Cameron

I have spoken to many candidates for office over the years, from all walks of life. I don’t believe I had spoken to one who is called “Coach” before, but that ends today with Cameron “Coach Cam” Campbell, the Democratic nominee for HD132. Campbell is a University of Houston graduate and public speaker/entrepreneur. He has been a basketball coach and athletic director at KIPP Houston High School and now serves as a Play Safe Coach for the Houston Texans. He won a close primary this March and now faces a tougher challenge in a district that went from swing to more Republican after redistricting. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08

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

Spectrum News/Siena College: Abbott 50, Beto 43

A new pollster enters the chat.

Less than two months from Election Day, Republican Governor Greg Abbott has a seven-point, 50-43%, lead over Democratic challenger, former Congressman, Beto O’Rourke. In the race for Lieutenant Governor, incumbent Republican Dan Patrick is up by nine points, 49-40%, over Democratic challenger Mike Collier. In the race for state Attorney General, incumbent Republican Ken Paxton has a five-point advantage, 47-42%, over Democratic challenger Rochelle Garza according to a new Spectrum News/Siena College (SCRI) poll of likely Texas voters released today.

Abbott has a 47-46% favorability rating, while O’Rourke has a negative 39-52% favorability rating. Patrick has a negative 33-36% favorability rating, compared to Collier’s 13-12% favorability rating. Paxton has a negative 29-41% favorability rating while Garza, like Collier is unknown to about threequarters of Texas likely voters, and has a 13-12% favorability rating.

“Governor Abbott, who won a landslide thirteen-point race against Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez four years ago, has a seven-point lead with over six weeks until Election Day. Abbott has the support of 95% of Republicans and O’Rourke has the support of 93% of Democrats, while independents tilt toward Abbott by one point,” said Don Levy, SCRI’s Director. “White voters favor Abbott by over two-to-one, 64-31%, while Black voters prefer O’Rourke 79-10% and a majority of Latinos, 58-36%, plan to vote for O’Rourke.”

The crosstabs are here. The headline on the Chron story for this refers to Abbott’s lead “widening”, which I object to on the grounds that there’s no earlier Spectrum/Siena poll to compare this one to. I don’t like comparing one pollster’s poll to another’s because they all do slightly different things. Nobody asks me these about these things, so here we are.

Now, if we want to do comparisons to other polls, I will note that this one actually has solid numbers for Beto in terms of support from Dems, as well as from Black and Latino voters. Compare to the DMN/UT-Tyler poll from earlier this week that had Beto only winning Dems by a 77-12 margin, and multiple polls saying that Abbott is getting upward of 15% of Black voters. Why is the overall result not so great if these subsamples are so good? My guess would be that this sample’s partisan distribution is a bit weird – 27% Dem, 34% GOP, 32% Indie/Other (the remaining 8% are a mystery). The DMN/UT-Tyler poll had those distributed as 33-40-27, and in general I expect the Dem share to be higher than the Indie share.

Having written that, I decided I had to go back through earlier poll results to do a comparison. With one exception, my expectation matched the data:

UT-TPP: Dem 42, GOP 48, Indie 10

Echelon: Dem 35, GOP 43, Indie 20

UH/Hobby Center: Dem 41, GOP 46, Indie/unsure 13

Quinnipiac: Dem 24, GOP 30, Indie 36, Other 10

I went back as far as June. Not all of the recent results I’ve blogged about included partisan breakdown data that I could find. Color me surprised at some of the ranges here. You can make of all this what you will, it’s what I noticed.

Judicial Q&A: Judge LaShawn Williams

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. This year it’s mostly incumbents running for re-election, so it’s an opportunity to hear that talk about what they have accomplished. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. For more information about these and other Democratic candidates, including links to interviews and Q&As from the primary and runoff, see the Erik Manning spreadsheet.)

Judge LaShawn Williams

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

Judge LaShawn A. Williams, Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 3

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

These courts share jurisdiction with the district courts up to $250,000. Also, a county civil court at law in Harris County has jurisdiction over all civil matters and causes, original and appellate, prescribed by law for county courts, but does not have the jurisdiction of a probate court.

A county civil court at law has jurisdiction in appeals of civil cases from justice courts in Harris County. A county civil court at law also-regardless of the amount in controversy-has jurisdiction in statutory eminent domain proceedings and exclusive jurisdiction over inverse condemnation suits.

In addition to other jurisdiction provided by law, a county civil court at law has jurisdiction to:

1. decide the issue of title to real or personal property;
2. hear a suit to recover damages for slander or defamation of character;
3. hear a suit for the enforcement of a lien on real property;
4. hear a suit for the forfeiture of a corporate charter;
5. hear a suit for the trial of the right to property valued at $200 or more that has been levied on under a writ of execution, sequestration, or attachment; and
6. hear a suit for the recovery of real property.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

We are protecting seniors and others from losing their homes after years of investment and sacrifice. We’ve helped and continue to help those who are burdened by collections and who just need a hand up. And for renters on the threshold of eviction, we’ve engaged volunteer lawyers and rent relief programs to help them keep the roof over their heads, while helping landlords stay in business. And along with all of those kept promises I am proud to say that we helped taxpayers save lots of money and made our positive mark on the climate by going paperless.

During this pandemic, our court has worked hard to successfully move the dockets avoiding backlog. We collaborated with Houston Volunteer lawyers and the law schools to provide legal representation to folks facing eviction. We provide oral hearings in proceedings for self represented litigants providing them opportunity to conference with the opposition in a fair and safe manner. When it was safe to do so, we opened the court back to in person trials enforcing CDC and local guidelines. We did this because I believe fair and equal access to the courts requires engagement and confrontation without the impediments of technology in a remote proceeding. Certain evidence, particular demeanor and credibility evidence, require testing, objection and consideration without internet interruption or other interferences.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I intend to continue using this platform to educate the public, bring more young lawyers into the judicial pipeline, and support groups that do the same. This Court will continue to advance and ensure equal access to justice. We intend to further advance our technological advances by making it easier for parties to receive notices about the status of their case via email. We went paperless in 2019 and then Covid hit. While this interrupted much of our work, we are excited to get back to things like providing improved forms and templates online for self-represented litigants and others.

We will continue working on making legal representation available in eviction cases as a matter of law, rather than just in the face of Covid. When the pandemic is gone, we plan to move forward with what we’ve learned and gained – like legal representation for tenants in eviction cases. We will also move forward in keeping some remote dockets, like bench trials and motions hearings.

I am really excited about being able to further engage and educate the community on equal access to justice and the Rule of Law by holding community events and safe places for real conversations with the judiciary.

5. Why is this race important?

It seems our democracy is moving at the speed of light. Now more than ever it is important that we all understand how our democracy works…that we have three branches of government, and each are equally important. Each affect our lives daily. Who we put into office in these three branches of government has serious implications. How safe we are, whether our children return home safe; our health care; women’s healthcare; gun safety; our elections and our right to vote. It seems all those things most important to us hang in the balance. This race is important because citizens should be confident in and trust our courts now like never before. We see how decisions, creating precedent, resound for decades. It matters today how a court decides, whether the Rule of Law if followed, whether justice is equal.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have run the court successfully over the past 3.5 years and intend to continue improving upon the administration of equal justice and access to the courts. I am tuned into the heart of the people of this diverse county. Each day I see their need and concerns in court – what’s important to them and how they are hurting; and how they are prospering! I take my seat on this bench as a call to service. I enjoy it and find it an honor to serve in this way. I am committed to ensuring the Rule of Law applies equally to everyone and that the administration of justice is fair. This county needs judges that are relatable, competent and who understand what is at stake. I have proven that I am qualified and can do the job. I want to continue serving this great county and our communities.

Interview with Laura Jones

Laura Jones

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

PREVIOUSLY:

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

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