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Endorsement watch: Wrapping it up

The Chron counsels a Yes vote on Prop 2.

For 30 years, the Texas Constitution has allowed the Legislature to authorize cities to issue bonds to raise needed funds to more quickly build roads, bridges and other vital infrastructure. On Nov. 2, and in early voting that begins Monday, voters can give counties that same authority.

We recommend that they do so by voting yes on Prop 2.

Counties, just like cities, need all the tools available to keep up with the basic needs of residents. In places such as Harris County, with more than 2 million residents living in unincorporated areas, this is not just a good idea but an urgent necessity.

Issuing bonds means taking out large loans secured by promises to use a portion of future property tax revenues to repay them — usually at low interest rates and over decades. Doing so means residents’ daily lives are improved right away rather than years later.

This is especially important here. By 2050, the population of the Houston area is expected to double. Just imagine how much more time you will spend staring at the rear fender of the car in front of you on the 610 Loop in 30 years if the county doesn’t continue investing in mobility solutions, from mass transit to smarter highways, better roads and safer and more plentiful bike lanes.

Harris County has dozens of infrastructure projects on its wishlist, from highway to transit to bike trails. Building those projects would increase nearby property values and add new properties to the tax rolls as well. That new revenue would repay the bonds and ease pressure to raise tax rates.

The Chron had earlier recommended a No vote on Prop 3, and unless they have some late endorsements sitting around, that’s all we’ll get from them on the Constitutional amendments. As noted before, the guidance from Progress Texas is a No on 3, 4, and 5, and a Yes on the others. The H-Town Progressive podcast differs slightly, recommending a slightly qualified Yes on 4 but concurring with the rest. I’m leaning in that direction but could still be persuaded otherwise on Prop 4. The Austin Chronicle is a Yes only on 1, 2, 6, and a No on the rest.

Finally, for those of you in The Woodlands, the Chron says incorporate yourselves by other means than the proposition on your ballot.

Nearly 50 years after George Mitchell charted the master-planned community that is The Woodlands, an inevitable fight has broken out beneath the tall trees 28 miles north of Houston over how to best protect the founder’s vision of suburban utopia.

In a 5-2 vote Aug.13, the board of Texas’ only “township” decided to put incorporation on this fall’s ballot. If passed, The Woodlands — beloved by residents for low taxes, low crime, green parks and good schools — would become an incorporated city.

Supporters say it’s time for The Woodlands’ residents to fully govern themselves, electing a mayor and a city council who can draft a charter, pass noise ordinances and zoning rules, and establish a dedicated police force so the community doesn’t have to depend on Harris and Montgomery counties for law enforcement.

Township board chair Gordy Bunch told us The Woodlands, because it’s not a city, is missing out on as much as $30 million in COVID relief funds — and that Montgomery County hasn’t properly shared.

Opponents ask “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” The unusual governance system is central to what makes The Woodlands appealing to families and businesses.

[…]

It’s unclear to residents we talked to, and to us, how daily life in The Woodlands would really change with incorporation — and more importantly, if it would improve. The township — whose board is elected, albeit at-large, without distinct districts — already uses local tax revenue to provide some services and contracts out others, such as trash pickup.

But running a full-fledged city — including having a direct role in roads and other infrastructure and establishing a police department from scratch — is different. The question isn’t whether costs will go up for residents but how much.

No one we talked to could say for sure. And that’s a problem. Township board members say they have a plan to keep the tax rate consistent over the first few years but their critics say they’ve seriously underestimated the startup costs of incorporation.

Eventually, incorporation may well be the best option for this growing community whose need for autonomy, efficiency, transparency and influence over its own destiny will only increase.

But the current effort feels hasty. While incorporation has been the topic of conversations and public meetings and research for years, the decision isn’t something that should be rushed through in a low-turnout election in a year where distractions, including the pandemic, abound.

I have no skin in this game. Mostly, I hope the Woodlands does whatever will make them the biggest possible pain in the ass for Montgomery County’s government, because that would be hilarious. Whether this would be the best way to go about doing that or not, I have no idea.

Endorsement watch: Incumbents go one for three

In HISD District VII, the Chron goes with a challenger, in this case Mac Walker.

Mac Walker

In unruly classrooms and school boards alike, you’ve got good kids, you’ve got troublemakers, and then you’ve got the good kids who, for some reason, follow the troublemakers down a path to mischief.

That was Anne Sung in 2018. Amid the HISD board’s dysfunction, this Harvard-educated, former award-winning HISD physics teacher and strong advocate for special education whom we had enthusiastically endorsed for District VII trustee joined colleagues who met secretly with former Superintendent Abe Saavedra, which state officials say violated Texas’ open meetings law. Three days later she voted to swap Saavedra for interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

Sung apologized and said she only wanted Saavedra’s advice on state oversight issues and didn’t know of plans to hire him until moments before she voted for it.

“I didn’t understand what was happening,” she told us. We don’t know what’s worse — premeditating a school board coup or hastily voting for it, without public input, after two minutes’ deliberation.

Incumbents only lose our endorsement when there’s a qualified replacement and luckily there’s Mac Walker.

Listed on ballots as “Lee Walker” due to a district error, he’s a first-time candidate whose motivation truly seems to be raising up the district that raised him.

My interview with Mac Walker is here, with Anne Sung is here, with Bridget Wade is here, and with Dwight Jefferson is here. Clearly, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca got luckier with her opposition than either Anne Sung or Elizabeth Santos did. The editorial also touches on the ballot name situation, so hopefully as many people as possible will be properly informed about that.

Over in the HCC races, the Chron stays with one incumbent, Adriana Tamez in District 3.

Adriana Tamez

In 2013, when the editorial board endorsed Dr. Adriana Tamez for an unexpired term on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, she represented a breath of fresh air on a board mired with longstanding issues of cronyism and dereliction.

Two years later, when we endorsed her again — for a full term this time — it was because she impressed us with her stalwart commitment to workforce development and unabashed calls for financial accountability in her first term. Today, she’s campaigning on the same platform.

Despite some clear blemishes on her record these past six years, her steady demeanor, deep well of educational, financial and managerial knowledge and focused grasp of the remaining gaps in HCC’s system leads us to recommend District III voters give Adriana Tamez, 57, another term representing southeast Houston.

Tamez can point to concrete achievements she’s helped usher in for HCC. From cementing partnerships with Apple and the PepsiCo Foundation to help students access career opportunities, to expanding dual-credit programs in high schools and working on investing COVID funds in resilient online infrastructure, she has put her nearly three decades of educational experience — as a bilingual teacher, principal, HISD central region superintendent, president and CEO of a charter school — to good use.

My interview with Adriana Tamez is here; I did not interview her opponent. I personally think she’s one of the better board members, and we’re going to need all the help we can get with sigh Dave Wilson coming back.

Over in HCC District 8, it’s another challenger as the Chron goes with Jharrett Bryantt.

Jharrett Bryantt

Since 2009, Eva Loredo has been a stalwart on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, a former board chair who has provided stability and leadership through a storm of scandals.

There comes a time, though, when a bold challenger with fresh ideas can bring new vision to an entity sorely in need of it.

As such, we recommend Jharett Bryantt to represent this diverse district that stretches from southwest Houston to the Port of Houston.

Bryantt, 32, an assistant superintendent for HISD, is considered something of a rising star in education circles. Earlier this year, he was a finalist for superintendent for a mid-sized Utah school district.

His ambitions may go far beyond the borders of District VIII. Yet one of his areas of expertise — college readiness — dovetails nicely with HCC’s mission, and Bryantt impressed the editorial board with his ideas for improving HCC’s subpar 30 percent graduation rate. His proposal to tie graduation rates to the evaluation of HCC’s chancellor would bring much-needed accountability.

This kind of problem-solving was missing from Loredo’s pitch. Loredo, 69, talks about how she puts students first, but didn’t present a single idea on how to improve HCC’s declining enrollment — a 17 percent drop from 2019 to 2020. Loredo waved it off as part of a nationwide trend, which is true, but trustees should still act urgently to address it.

My interview with Jharrett Bryantt is here and with Eva Loredo is here. This is a legitimately tough choice – I have a lot of respect for Loredo, but Bryantt is an impressive and well-qualified candidate. Listen to the interviews and make up your own mind.

Endorsement watch: Vote No on Prop 3

Yes, there are Constitutional amendments on the ballot this fall. Most of them are pretty innocuous, but one of them is not, and you should vote No on it.

Proposition 3, on this year’s ballot, would enact a constitutional amendment barring any Texas jurisdiction from adopting any limits on religious services. The Texas Freedom to Worship Act, passed this year in the regular legislative session, after lawmakers, including all but three senators and all Republicans in the House and nearly half its Democrats, voted to forbid government officials from requiring churches to cancel or limit services when disaster strikes.

The idea was a bad one as a statute, and even worse as an amendment to the Texas Constitution, which would mean not even lawmakers could act to limit public worship in the face of a health emergency.

It could have severe “unintended consequences,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones told us.

If state or local officials needed to close a church even temporarily due to fire damage or a nearby chemical spill, the congregation could simply refuse.

The amendment is also unnecessary. For decades, courts have recognized religious freedom, especially when it comes to freedom to worship as one chooses, as one of the U.S. Constitution’s most powerful protections. The Supreme Court ruled in November, for instance, that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order limiting congregations to 10 or 25 worshippers in areas of New York City with high infection rates violated the First Amendment. As of April, the high court had ruled five consecutive times that California’s pandemic-related limits on religious services were illegal.

But even so, the court has never gone so far as saying that no state interests can ever justify limiting religious services in public. Some dangers are just too large, and restrictions sufficiently reasonable, for such a blanket approach to make sense. Many faith leaders agree, and spoke out last spring against the legislation.

I’ve got a longer look at the Constitutional amendments here, and this one just stands out as being a Bad Idea. (No, I don’t know why it attracted so much Democratic support. Ask your Rep and your Senator how they voted on this and why.) I expect this will pass – these things usually do – but that doesn’t mean you should help it. The Chron doesn’t address the other seven propositions, all of which I’m fine with, in this piece. They may do so later, but if not take a look at my other post and see the links there for more guidance.

Endorsement watch: Garza Lindner and Vilaseca

The Chron goes against an incumbent in HISD District I.

Janette Garza Lindner

Trustee Elizabeth Santos, 39, is asking voters to keep her on the board representing Houston ISD District I. They shouldn’t.

Santos’ connection to the district is deep. She grew up attending its schools and taught English there. Her dedication to students shines through when she speaks. As a board member, she helped get raises for teachers and staff as a vocal champion for better pay in the district, whose teachers remain among the region’s lowest paid.

That record speaks in her favor, but it does not overcome her weaknesses as a board member.

An early strike against Santos came in late 2018, when she joined four other trustees to oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan in a surprise vote that came after the five had met with a former superintendent whom they then named to replace Lathan. The Texas Education Agency cited that apparent violation of the state’s open meetings law as partial grounds for replacing the whole board.

Santos defends her actions, and claimed in our meeting with her she hadn’t known in advance that Lathan would be fired. But the episode was deeply disruptive and showed poor judgment.

That was an early mistake, but unfortunately Santos has not provided the steady influence and smooth leadership that the school board, with all its recent acrimony, so badly needs. In interviews with us and other outlets recently, she has also struggled to share a cogent vision for how she’ll use a second term to steer the district to further success.

On the other hand, Janette Garza Lindner, 45, is a strong candidate. The mother of two HISD students, she grew up in Brownsville, bilingual in Spanish and English, as an adopted daughter of a widow who left school in the second grade and never learned to read. She graduated from the University of Texas and is an energy industry consultant and project manager. In 2019, she received training as a board fellow of Latinos for Education and serves on the leadership committee of Arts Connect Houston.

My interview with Elizabeth Santos is here, with Janette Garza Lindner is here, and with Matias Kopinsky is here. I noted the issue about the Lathan/Saavedra mess when the Chron endorsed Sue Deigaard, noting that she was not involved in the non-compliant meeting, but I totally forgot to mention that Santos was one of the trustees they might have opposed as a result. I don’t know how much this hurts Santos – she was not the Chron-endorsed candidate in 2017, either – but in a low-turnout affair it may boost Garza Lindner a bit. I figure this is going to a runoff anyway, so we’ll see then if Santos may be in some trouble.

Over in District VI, the Chron did endorse incumbent Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca despite her involvement in that meeting.

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Overseeing the nation’s seventh-largest public school system does not accommodate learning curves. After Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca was appointed to the board in January 2017, the editorial board endorsed her for a full term , reasoning that nine months is hardly enough time to garner a first impression, let alone demonstrate the breadth of knowledge.

Through five years, three superintendents, an attempted state takeover of the district, Flynn Vilaseca has acquitted herself well on the board as a steady voice and an open mind with a deep fluency on education policy. We recommend District VI voters give her another term representing West Houston.

Flynn Vilaseca, 40, a bilingual former early childhood teacher, wants to bolster the district’s investments in special education and better train campus principals on managing finances to avoid wasteful spending. Her support for wraparound services for special education students is admirable and desperately needed in a district still routinely failing students with learning differences.

Flynn Vilaseca’s role in one of the more shameful chapters in the district’s history is a vulnerability. She was among five trustees who allegedly met in secret with former HISD superintendent Aberlardo Saavedra to coordinate replacing the interim superintendent with him. TEA officials alleged the “walking quorum” violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and led the agency to recommend replacing the entire board.

Flynn Vilaseca claims Saavedra was a long-time mentor and that she arranged the meeting so trustees could discuss “concerns on the board,” but never talked about hiring him. Why, then, did she hand Saavedra a copy of another former superintendent’s contract? According to her 2019 affidavit: “Because he had previously asked for it.”

Even if true, it doesn’t excuse how she was willing to vote days later, ostensibly with only a few minutes notice, without public input, to hire Saavedra.

That said, Flynn Vilaseca seemed sincere in her apology, and pledged to rebuild the public’s trust through transparency. We’re taking another chance on her because her collaborative, moderate voice is needed and because her challengers came up short.

My interview with Flynn Vilaseca is here and with Greg Degeyter is here. Maybe the difference in the Chron’s eyes between Santos and Flynn Vilaseca was the quality of the apology. We’ll see how Anne Sung fares when it’s her turn.

Endorsement watch: Deigaard and Guidry

We are in the last week before early voting begins for the 2021 election, and that means it’s time for Chronicle endorsements. This would be waaaaaaaay late in a more normal year, but as we know there aren’t that many races on the ballot, so now is fine. Two endorsements today, both for incumbents, beginning with Sue Deigaard in District V.

Sue Deigaard

In District V, we recommend voters keep incumbent Sue Deigaard, 52, in the seat representing southwest Houston that she’s held since 2017.

Deigaard, a longtime public education advocate, contends House needs an experienced board to continue addressing massive challenges: according to state accountability ratings, 48 of HISD’s 276 campuses are categorized by state accountability ratings as D or F schools, and more than 95 percent of the students at those schools are children of color.

We believe Deigaard’s deep knowledge of finance and education governance will help implement the district’s forthcoming strategic plan to help schools improve. She wants in a second term to continue improving HISD’s education of students with special needs, and better fund not only the district’s worst-performing schools but also schools that are performing “fine” yet are still under-resourced.

Deigaard, who served a one-year stint in 2020 as board president, supported a performance audit to assess district spending and counts among her accomplishments an expansion of high-quality pre-K and helping the board increase teacher salaries this summer.

Unlike some other trustees seeking re-election, Deigaard didn’t take part in a sloppy spectacle in 2018 in which state regulators contend several trustees violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by surreptitiously meeting with a former HISD superintendent and then days later, voting without public debate to install him as superintendent and oust the interim leader.

My interview with Sue Deigaard is here. I also interviewed Maria Benzon, about whom the Chron said some nice things. That last paragraph above makes me think that Anne Sung and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca may have something to worry about. We’ll know soon enough.

The Chron also recommended Myrna Guidry.

Myrna Guidry

Last December, HISD trustees unanimously appointed Myrna Guidry, an attorney, to replace Wanda Adams, who resigned after being elected as a justice of the peace. Guidry, 56, has proven a steadying influence on a board that’s been plagued by dysfunction and has earned our support for a full term.

Guidry’s argument for reelection is that her first 10 months as a trustee have been devoted to selecting a superintendent and stabilizing after a rough patch. She contends the district, under new leadership of Millard House II, is finally on the right path.

We appreciated her straightforward explanation of why she supported a mask mandate in HISD schools. Guidry explained that she listened to the medical experts and also her constituents who “overwhelmingly” supported mask use. Guidry, like the rest of the board, has more to do to earn the full trust of the community she represents. We believe she can. She is engaged in a range of civic organizations and displays a solid grasp of the inequities facing many in District IX and throughout HISD.

My interview with Myrna Guidry is here. I did eventually hear back from her opponent Joshua Rosales, and will run his interview on Friday. I’m a little surprised that the HISD mask mandate wasn’t a bigger part of these endorsement pieces so far – it’s my understanding that at least Caroline Walter in District V is anti-mask – but I suppose there are plenty of other issues to focus on.

I assume we’ll be getting these throughout the week, plus recommendations for the constitutional amendments (yes, we have those on the ballot as well) and perhaps some other area races that may be on your ballot but are not on mine. Get yourself in that voting frame of mind, because ready or not here it comes.

Paxton “wins” Trump endorsement

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Sure to be a collectors item

Former President Donald Trump has backed Attorney General Ken Paxton for reelection, passing over primary challenger George P. Bush in bestowing the highly sought-after endorsement.

“It is going to take a PATRIOT like Ken Paxton to advance America First policies in order to Make America Great Again,” Trump said in a statement Monday evening. “Ken has my Complete and Total Endorsement for another term as Attorney General of Texas. He is a true Texan who will keep Texas safe—and will never let you down!”

Trump has teased an endorsement in the primary ever since the days before Bush, the land commissioner, announced he was challenging Paxton. Eva Guzman, the former state Supreme Court justice, has since launched a primary bid against Paxton as well.

But the hunt for Trump’s endorsement had centered intensely on Paxton and Bush, who was the only prominent member of his famous political family to support Trump in the 2016 election. Paxton had expressed confidence that Trump’s endorsement would eventually come through for him, while Bush talked multiple times with Trump about the race and met with him earlier this month at his Bedminster club in New Jersey.

[…]

Bush made little secret that he badly wanted Trump’s endorsement. His campaign played up 2019 comments in which Trump said the land commissioner was “the only Bush that got it right.”

Minutes after Trump released his Paxton endorsement, Bush appeared to respond on Twitter by reiterating the incumbent’s legal troubles.

See here for some background. I think we know what the “P” stands for now. The Chron has more.

Sid Miller running for re-election

The Governor’s race will have one fewer malicious jokers in it.

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced Monday he would seek reelection, putting to rest speculation that he could challenge Gov. Greg Abbott for the top elected position in the state.

“I really have the best and most rewarding job in the world,” Miller said in a statement. “That’s why, after listening to the advice of supporters, friends and my team, I have decided that I can best serve Texas by continuing this important work.”

“Today I am announcing my campaign for reelection as your Texas Agriculture Commissioner,” he said.

[…]

In May, the Conservative Republicans of Texas political action committee had cut a video ad to recruit Miller to run against Abbott, declaring: “He was right on Trump, he’ll be right for Texas.” Miller appeared to be pondering the decision, announcing weeks later that he was running for statewide office but not saying for which position.

“I’m convinced that our current governor cannot get reelected in the general election,” he said on a podcast with Sery Kim, a former congressional Republican candidate.

Earlier this month, Trump endorsed Abbott.

[…]

That backlash from the right wing of the Republican Party has led former Dallas State Sen. Don Huffines to challenge Abbott. Allen West, the chair of the Republican Party of Texas, is also expected to run for statewide office after his resignation as party chairman becomes official next month. West has not said what office he will seek.

Miller did not name Abbott in his reelection announcement but said that he felt a special obligation to use his bully pulpit to “hold other elected officials accountable.”

Whatever. Miller’s assertion about Abbott’s re-election chances are interesting and wishful, but they can’t be trusted because he’s not a reliable source. It would have been interesting, in the way that a freight train derailing and crashing into a warehouse filled with manure would be interesting, for Miller to have challenged Abbott, but that was not to be. We’ll need to beat him ourselves.

In news from that other primary that we have to pay attention to:

Eva Guzman, the Republican former justice on the Texas Supreme Court, officially began her campaign against embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday, pledging to bring “honor and integrity” to the office as well as an extensive legal background that could set her apart from another primary candidate, George P. Bush.

“I’m just what Texas needs because I have the experience, the proven integrity, the conservative values,” Guzman said in an interview, adding that she has shown she can “put together winning teams” — a reference to her distinction as the highest vote-getter in Texas history at the time of her last statewide race.

[…]

Guzman made her bid official in a roughly two-minute video during which she talks about growing up in Houston’s East End, going from “humble beginnings to the Texas Supreme Court” and working to secure justice for families like hers. She says she is running for attorney general “to protect our border, to ensure elections are fair, to fight the overreach of the federal government and to alway support the police who keep us all safe.”

She quickly picked up a major endorsement from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the powerful tort reform group that supported Paxton for attorney general in the 2014 and 2018 general elections. The chairman of the group’s PAC, Richard J. Trabulsi Jr., said in a statement that Guzman “has the breadth of legal experience and the personal and professional integrity that we must require of our state’s highest legal officer.”

[…]

Guzman said her experience also extends to her ability to fight the White House in court. She said she “will be ready to sue the Biden administration on Day 1 to protect Texans, and I’ve actually been in a courtroom and I’ve actually argued cases … on the very issues” that could come up in pushing against the White House.

Former President Donald Trump has promised to make an endorsement in the primary, though it remains to be seen if Guzman’s candidacy alters his plans. Before Bush started his campaign against Paxton, Trump released a statement saying he likes “them both very much” and that he would make an endorsement “in the not-so-distant future.”

“I’m in a three-way primary,” Guzman said. “I welcome all the support I could get, including from former President Trump.”

See here for the background. I continue to believe that Guzman will have a hard time winning over the kind of slavering nihilists that populate a Republican primary, but the endorsement from TLR probably came as an unpleasant surprise to Paxton. Please observe that while Guzman would be a more competent and less criminal Attorney General than Paxton, that in no way means that she would be a good Attorney General. No one should feel any reason to vote for her.

We need to talk about Sid

I know, I don’t want to and you don’t want to talk about it, but Sid Miller might run for Governor, so we’re gonna have to talk about it.

Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller doesn’t believe Texas Governor Greg Abbott can win a general election battle against Beto O’Rourke or any other Democrat for that matter. And that is why Miller is still considering a run for Texas Governor in the Republican Primary.

Miller joined The Chad Hasty Show on Wednesday to address his political future and accusations that he told Rep. Dustin Burrows to sit on the gender modification bill in Calendars Committee. Miller said he was lied to about Burrows sitting on the bill initially and told Burrows told “hold on” as he tried to get radio ads pulled accusing Burrows of sitting on the legislation. Miller said he was unsuccessful at trying to get the ads removed, but ultimately he does blame Burrows for killing the body modification bill.

After discussing the modification bill, the discussion focused on Miller’s future. Miller told Hasty that, “We need a new Governor for sure. I don’t think there is any way he (Abbott) can win a general election”. Miller said that in the “next couple of weeks” he would decide on whether or not to run for Governor or to run for reelection as Texas Agriculture Commissioner. When asked his thoughts on former President Trump’s endorsement of Abbott, Miller said the endorsement was “odd” and said, “I don’t know what that’s about. It was real, real strange”. Miller said that while the former President’s endorsement of Abbott has some “weight to it”, it wouldn’t stop him from running if he felt that he was called to run.

Miller would join former one-term Senator Don Huffines in trying to outflank Abbott from the right. I have no doubt that most of what we have seen this session, and now with the Great Wall of Abbott, was done with an eye towards the Republican primary. I find it fascinating that Miller thinks he would be more appealing to the 2022 general electorate than Abbott – as a reminder, Miller got 400K fewer votes than Abbott in 2018, and won by five points while Abbott was winning by 13 – but then many politicians have made successful careers being delusional in this way. I don’t know if Miller’s invocation of Beto is based on a belief that Beto is running or just hyping a bogeyman, but I’d be happy to see Beto pitted against any of them. I certainly believe that Miller is the weaker candidate of the two, but there’s only one way to find out.

P Bush officially challenges Paxton

The primary no one asked for.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced Wednesday that he is running for attorney general, challenging fellow Republican Ken Paxton with a sharp focus on Paxton’s legal troubles.

“Enough is enough, Ken,” Bush said during a campaign kickoff at a downtown Austin bar. “You’ve brought way too much scandal and too little integrity to this office. And as a career politician for 20 years, it’s time for you to go.”

The 2022 matchup could be the marquee statewide primary of this election cycle, and former President Donald Trump already looms large. He said in a statement last week that he would issue an endorsement in the race — and do so “in the not-so-distant future.” Bush told reporters after his announcement that he has asked Trump for his endorsement.

Both Bush and Paxton have histories with Trump. Bush — son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — was the only prominent member of his famous political family to support Trump in 2016, and Trump has praised him as the only Bush “that got it right.” Paxton has positioned himself as one of the most pro-Trump attorneys general — especially after the November election, when Paxton led an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging Trump’s reelection loss in four battleground states.

Paxton’s campaign responded to Bush’s launch by touting the attorney general as the “tip of the spear in protecting President Trump’s America First principles.”

[…]

During his speech to supporters, Bush warned that Democrats are eager to face Paxton in November because they see him as “our weak link.”

“They know that if he is our nominee again, they will have their first statewide elected office in close to 30 years,” Bush said.

At least one Democrat, Joe Jaworski, has already launched a campaign for attorney general. Jaworski is a Galveston attorney and former mayor of the city. Lee Merritt, the nationally recognized civil rights lawyer from North Texas, has said he plans to challenge Paxton but has not specified which primary he would run in.

Despite the long-running indictment, Paxton faced no primary opposition for a second term 2018. He ended up having a closer-than-expected race in the general election, when the Democratic nominee, Justin Nelson, campaigned heavily on Paxton’s legal troubles and finished within 4 percentage points of him.

See here/a>, here, and here for the background. Bush is right about one thing – I’d rather we get to run against Paxton, for all the obvious reasons. No guarantees, of course, but come on. Between the criminal charges that may finally see the inside of a courtroom and the whistleblower lawsuit, the potential for bad news for Paxton is high.

As for who Trump endorses, let’s just say that’s of niche appeal, and if the guy he picks loses in the primary he’ll likely endorse the other guy anyway. None of this is for my interest, after all. It’s moderately interesting that Trump endorsed Greg Abbott in his race, much to Don Huffines’ annoyance and without waiting to see if Sid Miller will wallow into the contest. Try to avoid watching any live TV during primary season next year, the ads are going to be brutal.

On the Dem side, Joe Jaworski is a friend, very well qualified, and actively campaigning right now. I have no idea what to make of Lee Merritt, but I hope he at least clarifies his intentions soon. We need to be ready to focus on this race, whoever the opponent ends up being.

Dragging Dutton

Richly deserved.

Rep. Harold Dutton

Houston area political action groups, activists, and unions gathered outside the office of Democratic state Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. on Tuesday to call for his resignation.

“It’s better if he goes now than in the next election,” said Alexis Melvin, president of the Houston-based nonprofit Transgender Foundation of America.

“We the Houston community are here to call for the resignation of Harold Dutton for his attacks on education but more specifically his attacks on transgender kids,” said Brandon Mack, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Houston.

The fury stems from a bill Dutton revived and voted in favor of last week, Senate Bill 29. The legislation would prohibit trans youth from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

[…]

The Tuesday press conference and protest was organized and attended by major political groups in the Houston area, including the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Houston Federation of Teachers, Black Lives Matter Houston, Indivisible Houston, Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, and others.

“In the labor movement, we say an injury to one is an injury to all,” said Ashira Adwoa an organizer with the Houston Federation of Teachers. “When your civil rights are under attack, we will speak out with you.”

Adwoa said Dutton should instead focus on making housing more affordable in his district, and pull funding from charter schools to finance smaller class sizes and more wraparound services in public schools.

“This school year has been traumatizing to students, and we need to help them recover from this pandemic,” Adwoa said.

Hany Khalil, executive director of Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, described Dutton’s behavior as shameful.

“Dutton didn’t vote for SB 29 when it first came up in committee because he knew it was a terrible, hateful bill,” Khalil said. “He knew it would hurt vulnerable kids. And so he used it as a cudgel to go after legislators who stood up to him and his attempt to strip democratic power from our schools.”

“Trans kids deserve to be safe and loved, just like all of our kids,” Khalil continued. “And they’re not pawns — they’re not pawns to be sacrificed in a disgusting game of legislative chess.”

See here for the background. Rep. Dutton has served for a long time, and while we have seen our share of Houston-area Democratic State Reps get bounced in primaries, mostly during the Speaker Craddick era, it’s not an easy thing to do. None of the groups present were Dutton supporters before – certainly not in 2020, when Dutton had to win in a runoff against Jerry Davis – so the work of building a sufficiently large coalition to oust him still needs to be done. The starting energy is good, and the cause is just. There remains a long way to go.

One more thing:

“I am hopeful that he doesn’t just get one primary challenger but a whole team of them,” [Houston GLBT Political Caucus President Jovon Alfon B.] Tyler said.

With all due respect, I don’t think that’s the best path to beating Dutton. Find one strong candidate that everyone at that demonstration can line up behind, and go from there. The problem with a stampede is that you’ll have too many people expending effort and resources in competing directions. There’s a real risk the same energy wouldn’t carry over into a runoff, as one would likely be needed in such a scenario. Join forces and unite behind one champion, that’s my advice.

Are you now, or have you ever been, a supporter of Greg Abbott?

Ken Paxton will get back to you on that.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a New York Times story published Tuesday that he does not support Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Republican, as Abbott runs for reelection, the latest — and most revealing — sign that some state GOP leaders are on a collision course ahead of the 2022 election.

“The way this typically works in a primary, is it’s kind of everybody running their own race,” Paxton told the Times. “I don’t think he supports me; I don’t support him.”

Within hours of the story’s publication, Paxton bashed it as “fake news” and insisted he supports Abbott. “He’s a great Governor and a Great Texan,” Paxton tweeted.

Abbott is up for a third term in 2022, and for months he has faced heat from some on his right, most notably over his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Paxton told the Times that he wished Abbott had reopened the state “a little bit earlier.”

[…]

Abbott, a former attorney general, has dealt cautiously with Paxton and his legal woes over the years. Abbott declined to say whether he voted to reelect Paxton in the 2018 primary — Paxton was unopposed — though Abbott went on to voice support for Paxton in the general election.

Abbott said the latest allegations against Paxton “raise serious concerns” but declined further comment until any probe is complete.

Paxton was a top ally of former President Donald Trump among attorneys general, and especially so during Trump’s final weeks in office, when Paxton launched a lawsuit challenging Trump’s reelection loss in four battleground states. Abbott expressed support for the lawsuit, which the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up.

But will Ken Paxton let Greg Abbott sit at his table in the cafeteria at lunchtime? That’s what I really need to know. Or will he let that b*tch Sid Miller sit there instead? The drama, I just can’t stand the drama.

A Paxton spokesperson, Ian Prior, said in a statement that the Times took Paxton’s comments out of context.

“What the Attorney General said was that typically, when running primary campaigns, candidates run their own races and do not get involved in other races,” Prior said. “This is not a unique concept.”

True enough, but right now we’re talking about whether he supports the two-term Governor, who at this point has no known opponent, or if he’s keeping his options open in case something sexier comes along. The “don’t get involved in other races” stricture is usually for contested primaries or open-seat races, and only if you’re not already in the middle of it for other reasons. It’s fair to say that a political reporter should understand that concept, but it’s also fair to say that “he’s my Governor and I support him” in this context is a pretty anodyne statement, one that a veteran officeholder shouldn’t have had any reason not to make. Sometimes it takes two to upgrade a molehill into a mountain.

One more CD06 update

Some dude made an endorsement in the race.

Rep. Ron Wright

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed fellow Republican Susan Wright in the crowded Saturday special election to replace her late husband, U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington.

The endorsement is a massive development in a race that features 11 Republicans, including at least two former Trump administration officials. A number of the GOP contenders have been closely aligning themselves with the former president.

[…]

Wright’s Republican rivals include Brian Harrison, the chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Trump, and Sery Kim, who worked at the Small Business Administration under the former president. There is also Dan Rodimer, the former pro wrestler who moved to Texas after an unsuccessful congressional campaign last year in Nevada that had Trump’s support.

The candidates’ efforts to show their loyalty to Trump has gotten so intense that a Trump spokesperson had to issue a statement last week clarifying that he had not yet gotten involved in the race.

See here and here for recent updates. Susan Wright is widely considered the frontrunner, though she hasn’t raised as much money as some other candidates. Maybe this is to cement her position, maybe it’s out of concern that she’s not in as strong a position as one might have thought, who knows. What I do know is that the endorsement announcement wasn’t made on Twitter.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Republican divide:

When House Republicans gather in Florida this week for their annual policy retreat, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., will be a thousand miles away in Texas, campaigning for Michael Wood in the upcoming special election in Texas’ 6th Congressional District.

Wood, a Marine Reserve major, is one of 23 candidates running in the May 1 election to succeed Rep. Ron Wright, R-Texas, who died in February from COVID-19 and complications from cancer. The crowded field includes Wright’s widow, a former wrestler, and several Republicans who served in the Trump administration.

But Wood is the only openly anti-Trump candidate in the race — and hopes voters in the sprawling district that includes diversifying swaths of the Dallas-Forth Worth suburbs — where Trump won by three percentage points in 2020 after winning by 12 in 2016 — will help push him through the field and into a runoff should no candidate receive a majority of votes.

“The Republican Party has lost its way and now is the time to fight for its renewal,” Wood says on his campaign website. “We were once a party of ideas, but we have devolved into a cult of personality. This must end, and Texas must lead the way.”

Wood’s long shot bid is also an early test for Kinzinger, one of ten Republicans in the House who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and his efforts to overturn the election results.

[…]

In Texas, Wood told ABC News he views his special election as the “first battle for the soul of the Republican Party” since the 2020 election cycle.

“It’s just going to be one data point in what’s going to have to be a very long fight,” he said.

I appreciate their efforts to try and rehabilitate a degenerate and depraved Republican Party. Let’s just say I don’t share their optimism about their chances.

Some polling data:

The progressive firm Data for Progress has released a survey of the May 1 all-party primary that shows Republican party activist Susan Wright, the wife of the late Rep. Ron Wright, in first with 22%.

2018 Democratic nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez leads Republican state Rep. Jake Ellzey by a small 16-13 margin in the contest for the second spot in an all-but-assured runoff, with a few other candidates from each party also in striking distance. Former Trump administration official Brian Harrison and Democrat Shawn Lassiter, who works as an education advocate, are both at 10%, while 2020 Democratic state House nominee Lydia Bean is at 9%.

The only other poll we’ve seen all month was a Meeting Street Research survey for the conservative blog the Washington Free Beacon from mid-April that showed a very tight four-way race. Those numbers had Sanchez and Wright at 16% and 15%, respectively, with Ellzey at 14% and Harrison taking 12%.

Data for Progress also polled a hypothetical runoff between Wright and Sanchez and found the Republican up 53-43. This seat, which includes part of Arlington and rural areas south of Dallas, supported Trump only 51-48 in 2020 after backing him 54-42 four years before, but Republicans have done better downballot.

Poll data is here. My advice is to take it with a grain of salt – multi-candidate special elections are ridiculously hard to poll, and this one has a cast of characters to rival “Game of Thrones”. The runoff result is interesting, but even if we get the Wright/Sanchez matchup, the dynamics of this runoff will likely be very different, with much more money involved.

Turnout in early voting has been brisk in Tarrant County, which is the Dem-friendlier part of the district and where there is also an open seat Mayoral race in Fort Worth. Election Day is Saturday, I’ll have the result on Sunday.

Springer defeats Luther in SD30

Congratulations.

Rep. Drew Springer

State Rep. Drew Springer of Muenster prevailed over fellow Republican Shelley Luther in a special election runoff for a state Senate seat that was animated by Gov. Greg Abbott and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Luther is the Dallas salon owner who was jailed earlier this year over her refusal to close her business due to coronavirus restrictions. Throughout the race, she was an outspoken critic of Abbott, who endorsed Springer in the runoff and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own campaign funds to beat back Luther in the race to succeed outgoing state Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper.

[…]

Springer declared victory on social media, posting statements on Twitter and Facebook that said he would “continue advancing the conservative priorities of our district like reducing property taxes, securing the border, and standing up for our law enforcement and first responders who keep our communities safe.”

“I will fight to ensure Texas remains the premier place in the nation to do business, so we can unleash the private sector to create jobs and move us out of this recession,” he wrote.

Luther ran as a political outsider, attacking Springer as a tool of the “Austin swamp” who would go along to get along in the upper chamber. Springer campaigned as a proven conservative, arguing Luther could not be trusted.

When it came to the pandemic, Luther leaned heavily on her experience being sent to jail, labeling Abbott a “tyrant” over the business shutdowns he initiated and calling for a 2022 primary challenge to the governor. While not as bombastic, Springer also expressed disagreement with some of the governor’s coronavirus handling, even after earning Abbott’s endorsement.

See here for the background. Like I said, there were no good choices in this race, but but at least we’ve been spared the hot takes and national attention that a Luther win would have meant. Maybe now Shelley Luther will go back to being an obscure small business owner that none of us had to pay attention to or care about. We can hope for that much.

Springer’s win will also trigger another special election, to fill his seat in HD68. I presume Abbott will call that pretty quickly after Springer gets sworn in, since the session is about to begin. I’d expect it in late January, and any subsequent runoff would be in early March or so. Like SD30, this is a deep red district 83.3% for Ted Cruz in 2018), so the partisan balance is not in doubt. The only question is whether Springer’s replacement will be more like him, or more like Shelley Luther.

It’s runoff day in SD30

Truly the final election of 2020.

Rep. Drew Springer

Gov. Greg Abbott stayed out of the September special election for a Texas state Senate seat in rural North Texas, content to let his coronavirus response become a flashpoint between two members of his own party.

But now that the race is down to a Saturday runoff, Abbott has gone all in.

The race pits state Rep. Drew Springer of Muenster against fellow Republican Shelley Luther, the Dallas salon owner who went to jail after defying Abbott’s pandemic orders earlier this year. Ahead of the 2021 legislative session — and the 2022 primary season — Abbott is determined to make an example out of Luther, who has become an avatar of his intraparty detractors.

Abbott endorsed Springer earlier this month, making official a preference that many had suspected after Luther spent months lacerating Abbott’s pandemic management. The governor’s campaign has since made over a quarter-million dollars worth of in-kind contributions to Springer. And in the runoff’s final week, his campaign is airing a TV spot attacking Luther, the first time it has spent serious ad dollars against a member of his own party since he sought to defeat a trio of state House Republicans in the 2018 primary.

“What are they so afraid of?” Luther asked during a debate Wednesday, leaning in to the proxy war that was apparent before the September election but has become far more explicit since then.

As Abbott has poured his campaign resources into the runoff, Luther has received even more funding from Tim Dunn, the hard-right megadonor and board chair of the advocacy group Empower Texans who has overwhelmingly bankrolled her campaign. After loaning Luther $1 million during the first round, he has donated $700,000 to her in the runoff, including $200,000 on Monday.

Springer said during the debate that Luther has taken “$1.7 million from a billionaire in West Texas who is trying to buy this seat.”

“He knows he will control Shelley Luther,” Springer said, “and that is why he is willing to spend that kind of money.”

[…]

While at least a couple of new issues have cropped up in the runoff, the race remains animated by Abbott’s coronavirus handling and conservative angst over it. There was a fresh reminder of the state’s restrictions earlier this month when a large part of North Texas had to roll back business reopenings because its hospital region saw coronavirus patients make up more than 15% of its capacity for seven straight days.

When Abbott endorsed Springer, Luther issued a response that reminded supporters that it was the governor’s “unconstitutional orders that put me in jail for opening my business.” (Abbott later updated an order to remove the threat of jail time.) And at the end of the response, Luther attached an illustration depicting the runoff as a choice between Abbott and Springer, both wearing masks, and her and President Donald Trump, both unmasked.

Let’s be clear that neither of these candidates are any good from our perspective. Springer at least has some amount of “normal legislator” about him – the Texas ParentPAC sent out an email on Thursday announcing their support for Springer, so he’s got that going for him – while Luther is both a complete vanity candidate – as in, entirely motivated by her own self interest – and the preferred candidate of the Empower Texans evil empire. The only positive she brings is the poke in Abbott’s eye she would bring. I may get five seconds of grim enjoyment out of that if she wins today, but that’s about it.

Now we wait on SCOTUS

The state of Texas filed its reply to the defendants’ responses to its democracykilling lawsuit, and, well, it’s something.

Best mugshot ever

This brings us the Texas AG Ken Paxton’s reply–or, rather, replies, as there are multiple filings, including a motion to enlarge the word-count limit, a supplemental declaration dated today from Charles Cicchetti, and a new affidavit prepared yesterday from one Lisa Gage.

The first reply brief focuses on rebutting the factual and legal claims made by the four defendant states. The brief starts with the facts, and AG Paxton’s choice of emphasis here is quite interesting, as the brief leads with an extended defense of statistical stupidity contained in the initial filing and the Cicchetti declaration (hence the newly drafted supplemental declaration which is attached). Here, the Paxton brief argues “Dr. Cicchetti did take into account the possibility that votes were not randomly drawn in the later time period but, as stated in his original Declaration, he is not aware of any data that would support such an assertion.” In other words, because he does not know anything about the two sets of voters, it was okay to assume they were identical for purposes of assessing the statistical likelihood that they would vote differently. That this is the lead argument in the reply tells you most of what you need to know. (Well, perhaps not, as other parts of the factual discussion misrepresent claims made by defendant states or repeat claims that were considered and rejected in other suits over the past month.)

On the law, the Texas reply essentially argues that the handful of attorneys in the Texas AG’s office who were willing to sign on to the brief know more about the election laws of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania than do the Attorneys General and Secretaries of State of those various states. It further argues that although state legislatures have “plenary” authority to set the manner in which states select electors, this somehow does not include the authority to authorize the involvement of courts and election agencies, and that the U.S. Supreme Court, not the supreme courts of the respective states, should be the final authority on the meaning of relevant state laws and constitutional provisions. (Yay federalism!)

The other Texas filing, styled as a reply in support of Texas’s plea for emergency injunctive relief, is not much better. It does, however, deploy a powerful use of capitalization in the Table of Contents (“Texas IS likely to prevail”). Note that Texas does not have to worry about any of the defendant states responding in kind (“Texas IS NOT likely to prevail”) because this is the last brief to be filed.

In this brief, Texas argues that it is not seeking to disenfranchise voters. Rather, Texas argues, “Defendant States’ maladministration of the 2020 election makes it impossible to know which candidate garnered the majority of lawful votes.” Of course, to the extent this were true, Supreme Court intervention would not be necessary. If the relevant state legislatures concluded that the results of the elections within their states were indeterminate–that the voters had failed to select electors on election day–they could act, but they have not. Here Texas repeats its arguments that federalism requires the Supreme Court ordering state legislatures to act and possibly even hold new elections because Texas does not like how other states have run their elections.

It’s already time for some tweets.

One possible way to avoid that outcome is for SCOTUS to shut this shit down hard.

The easy thing for the Supreme Court to do is simply deny Texas permission to file the complaint (and deny the motions to intervene as moot) and be done with it. No fuss, no muss.

But the court should do more. It is perfectly ordinary and appropriate for the justices to write an opinion explaining the various reasons why they are rejecting Texas’ request. Indeed, the minority of justices who think that the court is required to accept original actions like Texas’ may well write short opinions of their own or note that they think the case was properly filed. So there is nothing overreaching if a majority of the court explains why the case is meritless.

The justices’ decision whether to do that needs to account for this extraordinary, dangerous moment for our democracy. President Donald Trump, other supportive Republicans, and aligned commentators have firmly convinced many tens of millions of people that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. If that view continues to take hold, it threatens not only our national politics for the next four years but the public’s basic faith in elections of all types that are the foundations of our society.

A simple five-page per curiam opinion genuinely could end up in the pantheon of all-time most significant rulings in American history. Every once in a long while, the court needs to invest some of its accumulated capital in issuing judgments that are not only legally right but also respond to imminent, tangible threats to the nation. That is particularly appropriate when, as here, the court finds itself being used as a tool to actively undermine faith in our democratic institutions — including by the members of the court’s bar on whom the justices depend to act much more responsibly.

In a time that is so very deeply polarized, I cannot think of a person, group or institution other than the Supreme Court that could do better for the country right now. Supporters of the president who have been gaslighted into believing that there has been a multi-state conspiracy to steal the election recognize that the court is not a liberal institution. If the court will tell the truth, the country will listen.

I’m not so sure I share the optimism, but I agree it would be the best thing that SCOTUS could do.

More Republicans have lined up to join Paxton on his lemming suicide bomber dive, including some who are seemingly claiming their own elections are also tainted.

Maybe the most ridiculous thing about this ridiculous moment, is that among the 126 Republican House members who have signed on to a document that they know to be not just false in its content, but malicious in its intent, are 19 from states that are the subject of the suit.

So Representatives like Doug Collins and Barry Loudermilk in Georgia are arguing that their own elections were fraudulent. Except, of course, they’re not making that argument. They’re not making any argument. They’re just hoping to gain “street cred” from adding their signatures to a list of people who support Trump rather than America.

You know who else is on Team Dictatorship? Dan Crenshaw, that’s who. This Dan Crenshaw.

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw told Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie that a woman who reported sexual assault at a VA hospital had filed frivolous complaints when she and Crenshaw served in the same Navy command, according to testimony by several senior officials in a report by the agency’s watchdog.

Investigators said they were troubled by the way Wilkie and his agency handled the outcry of the woman, who is now a Democratic aide in the House of Representatives.

The Houston Republican’s link to matter, first reported by Newsweek magazine, was included in a report released by the agency’s inspector general on Thursday. The report details a number of apparent problems with the agency’s handling of complaints filed by the veteran, Andrea Goldstein, who alleged a VA hospital contractor “bumped his entire body against mine and told me I looked like I needed a smile and a good time.”

[…]

Senior VA officials told investigators that Crenshaw passed along information about Goldstein to Wilkie, the report says, which both Crenshaw and Wilkie have denied.

The report points to an email Wilkie sent Chief of Staff Pamela Powers and Brooks Tucker, assistant secretary congressional and legislative affairs, after a fundraiser that he and Crenshaw both attended. It said: “Ask me in the morning what Congressman Crenshaw said about the Takano staffer whose glamor (sic) shot was in the New York Times.”

While Wilkie told investigators that Crenshaw approached him at the December 2019 fundraiser and brought up the veteran, he claimed that Crenshaw merely told him they served together. When investigators asked Wilkie why that information was enough to merit the email he sent after the fundraiser, he responded, “Well, I don’t remember. I have no idea.”

Both Powers and Tucker, however, told investigators they recalled Wilkie making comments about the veteran’s reputation “based on information they understood he received from Congressman Crenshaw.”

The report also says Deputy VA Secretary Jim Byrne told investigators that Wilkie had “verified with Congressman Dan Crenshaw that the veteran had previously filed frivolous complaints when the two were serving in the same command in the Navy.”

Crenshaw and his staff refused to answer VA investigators’ questions about the matter, the report says. Crenshaw’s office did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

The Newsweek story is here. Remember Crenshaw’s craven refusal to answer questions about this the next time he tweets some garbage about how “all cases should be heard, all investigations should be thorough”. As a reminder, the Chron endorsed Crenshaw for re-election. The Orlando Sentinel has apologized for endorsing Rep. Michael Waltz, one of Crenshaw’s fellow members of the Sedition Caucus. I await the Chron taking similar action; merely excoriating Ken Paxton and Ted Cruz, without even mentioning Crenshaw for his role in this debacle, is insufficient.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock has observed, as part of his own amicus filing against the Paxton mess, that Texas did not include his state as a defendant even though Montana made the same kind of changes that Georgia et al did that Paxton finds so objectionable. Of course, Trump carried Montana, so it’s totally different. Governor Bullock also knows how to bring the snark:

SCOTUS may act on the Texas case even before I finish drafting this post, so let me wrap up while the outcome is still unknown. First, a few words from Adam Serwer about why Trump has so many rats following behind his rancid Pied Piper act:

To Trump’s strongest supporters, Biden’s win is a fraud because his voters should not count to begin with, and because the Democratic Party is not a legitimate political institution that should be allowed to wield power even if they did.

This is why the authoritarian remedies festering in the Trump fever swamps—martial law, the usurpation of state electors, Supreme Court fiat—are so openly contemplated. Because the true will of the people is that Trump remain president, forcing that outcome, even in the face of defeat, is a fulfillment of democracy rather than its betrayal.

The Republican base’s fundamental belief, the one that Trump used to win them over in the first place, the one that ties the election conspiracy theory to birtherism and to Trump’s sneering attack on the Squad’s citizenship, is that Democratic victories do not count, because Democratic voters are not truly American. It’s no accident that the Trump campaign’s claims have focused almost entirely on jurisdictions with high Black populations.

From Elizabeth Dye at Above the Law:

But perhaps we shouldn’t get waylaid in Constitutional and procedural niceties, lest we distract ourselves from the point that THIS IS BATSHIT. The state of Texas has filed a facially nonsensical suit purporting to vindicate the rights of the Defendant states’ legislatures from unconstitutional usurpation by overweening governors and state courts, a usurpation which supposedly violates the Elections Clause. And the proposed solution is for the Supreme Court itself to violate the Elections Clause by postponing the electoral college vote, thus usurping Congress’s power to “determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

And instead of saying, “Slow your roll, Ken Paxton! We’ve been banging the drum about states’ rights for two hundred years now. It’s kind of our thing, you know?” the intervenor states are all in on this Frankenstein hybrid of vote dilution and anti-federalism. Rather than acknowledging the reality of Trump’s loss, these attorneys general would rather attach their names to a complaint which claims that it’s just mathematically impossible for Biden to have won those four Defendant states because, ummm, Clinton lost them. Don’t ask how Trump was able to flip Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan after Obama won them in 2012 and 2008 — that formula is still being calculated.

Never mind that Texas’s governor Greg Abbott extended early voting by a week, the same dastardly usurpation of legislative prerogative which supposedly voids the election in the Defendant states. Pay no attention to the fact that Mississippi also allows votes to be counted if they arrive within three days of the election, which Paxton argues is patently illegal. Or that Utah conducted this election entirely by mail, which is, according to the complaint anyway, prima facie evidence of intent to allow vote fraud. IOKYAR.

The Trump motion to intervene is little more than a cleaned up version of the president’s Twitter feed, drafted by John Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University who is nonetheless confused about birthright citizenship and recently penned a racist Newsweek editorial wondering if Kamala Harris was eligible to run for president.

Mentioning this John Eastman character brings us to the final tweets, because all good blog posts about election theft end with tweets. These two are embedded in that ATL article:

As noted before, Lawrence Joseph is the outside counsel Ken Paxton hired for his lawsuit, since the Solicitor General declined to come on board. Wheels within wheels, y’all.

And finally, nothing could sum up this entire experience better than this:

From the neighborhood of New Heights in the city of New Houston and the state of New Texas, I wish you all a happy weekend. CNN has more.

UPDATE: Didn’t have to wait long, as it turns out.

The US Supreme Court on Friday rejected Texas’s unprecedented last-ditch effort to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Wisconsin by suing those four states in the high court.

At least a majority of the justices concluded that Texas lacked standing to bring the case at all, a threshold the state had to clear before the case could go any further.

“Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections,” the court wrote in the brief order.

No justice noted that they had dissented from the decision to knock out Texas’s case from the start. It would have taken at least five justices to agree to hear the case, but the justices don’t have to individually indicate how they voted, so there’s no way to know the vote breakdown for certain. Justice Samuel Alito Jr., joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote that they believed the court had to allow Texas to file its lawsuit, but they wouldn’t have granted any other relief that the state requested.

It was a significant loss not only for Texas, but for President Donald Trump, who had asked to intervene in the case and spent the the past two days tweeting about why the justices should effectively hand him an election that Biden won. The court denied all of the other motions filed in the case as moot once it decided Texas couldn’t bring the case at all, which ended Trump’s bid to get before the justices.

There’s plenty more stories out there – go to Google News or Trending on Twitter if you haven’t come across any others. The Electoral College meets on Monday, and after that it really is over, though one presumes the delusions will continue. I’m going to finish with some more tweets. You should go outside and enjoy the day.

Not sure how I feel about this. It’s right there in the Constitution, but it’s also overturning the will of the voters, which is what the Sedition Caucus was trying to do. I am happy to have a discussion about this, however. Let these bastards explain why they haven’t violated the Constitution.

Speaking of bastards and being in opposition to the Constitution:

Yeah, I don’t even know what to say to that. But I would very much like to know what every elected Republican thinks about it. Let’s get them all on record, shall we? Rick Hasen has more.

Endorsement watch: Judicial races

The Chron endorses two Dem challengers and one Republican incumbent for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Judge Tina Clinton

A court’s legitimacy derives in part from its capacity to inspire trust in the minds of those who live by its rulings. “There cannot be a trust among the African American community that the system is fair when the judges dispensing that justice are all represented by just one group,” Judge Tina Yoo Clinton, a Dallas County district court judge whom we recommend for Place 4, said last month at a virtual forum organized by the Innocence Project of Texas. She was noting that there are currently no Black justices on the court, and just one of nine members is Latino.

It’s a valid point, but it’s also true that in the context of the Court of Criminal Appeals, diversity must also include a broader range of ideological perspective and of life experience. That’s because how a judge sees the law — and how he or she applies it to a particular case — is far more complex than sound bites about “activist judges” or labels such as conservative and liberal.

[…]

Place 4, Tina Yoo Clinton (D)
Tina Yoo Clinton, 50, has more than 14 years experience as a judge and 10 more as a prosecutor. She brings a combination of a veteran judge’s experience and the enthusiasm and fresh perspective of a newcomer. It’s exactly the mix the court needs.

For that reason, we recommend her over Justice Kevin Yeary, who has been on the court since 2014.

“Clearly when you look at what is going on in the United States within the criminal justice system, we have to recognize that even though we want justice to be colorblind, it is not colorblind,” Clinton said during last month’s candidate forum.

That’s a starting point that will help shape the discussions among the nine justices in ways that keep fairness at the center of the debate. Matched with her long experience and commitment to follow the law, we believe she will help render justice in which all Texans can have faith.

Place 9, Brandon Birmingham (D)
We recommend voters elect Dallas County criminal district court Judge Brandon Birmingham, 43, in Place 9, even at the high cost of losing Justice David Newell, whose voice on questions of actual innocence has been reasoned and refreshing.

But he adheres to the court’s overall emphasis on textualism, and approaches each case within a narrower view of what justice requires than would his opponent. The court’s nine members urgently need new perspectives, new sets of life experiences, and new vantage points from which to see the law and the facts in order to render decisions that have credibility with an increasingly skeptical public.

Birmingham would stretch the boundaries of that debate — and would do so using experience as a judge, a prosecutor and a change agent.

They also endorsed Justice Bert Richardson, who I will agree is a good judge, over challenger Elizabeth Frizell. At least here, the Chron did more than just nod in the direction of increasing the diversity of this court, as they did with the Supreme Court.

In the other judicial races, the Chron endorsed all four Republican incumbents on the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, and five Dems and five Republicans (plus one abstention) for the district courts. I’m just going to say this: If there’s one thing we should take away from the Merrick Garland/Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett experiences, it’s that the judiciary is to Republicans (with a huge push from the professional conservative movement) nothing but an expression of political power. Gorsuch was given, and Barrett almost certainly will be given, a lifetime tenure on the US Supreme Court, where they will consistently rule in favor of Republican and conservative positions, because the Republican-held Senate had the power to block Garland and install the other two.

Here in Texas, where we elect judges as part of the regular electoral process, there has been a call to move away from partisan elections of judges and towards some other, as yet undefined system, which may involve appointments or bipartisan panels or who knows what else. This push has emerged and grown as Democrats have begun to assert more political power in Texas – I’ve been documenting it since 2008, when we elected Democratic judges for the first time since the early nineties. What the voters want is more Democratic judges, and so it has become Very Important for the Republicans that still retain full power in this state to make sure they don’t get them.

As a matter of abstract principle, I would agree that we could do a better job picking judges than the current system we have, where judges are voted on by people who mostly have no idea who they are and what they do. I’m sure if we put a few sober and learned types in a room for a few hours, they would emerge with a perfectly fine system for selecting judges on pure merit. But we’ve had this imperfect system for a long time, and when it benefitted the Republicans it was just fine. It certainly benefits them right now, when questions about voting rights are being litigated. If more Democratic judges get elected this cycle, I consider that just to be some balance on the scales. When we get to a point of having solid Democratic majorities on the Supreme Court and the CCA, and there’s a Democratic Governor and Lt. Governor and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, then come back with a fully-formed plan for non-partisan meritocratic judicial selections, and we can talk. Until then, I say elect more Democrats, including and especially Democratic judges. Politics has been a key part of this process from the beginning. The fact that the politics are slowly starting to favor the Democrats is not a compelling reason to change that. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Endorsement watch: For Biden

Duh.

Character, without question, is the starkest divide between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. For all his faults — and there are a few — the latter possesses a rare ability in these polarized times to see the humanity in those who cross his path, even from the opposing side.

At 77, Biden is a politician who Washington, for all its trying, has been unable to break. Even his political foes preface criticisms with caveats of grace or shrewdly aim their arrows askew — at his gaffe-prone speech, at his younger son, and at his tenuous affiliation with the “radical left,” conveniently forgetting that Biden, a lifelong moderate, already fought the fringe and won.

Biden’s humble roots in Scranton, Penn., the personal hardship he endured after a car crash killed his wife and daughter, the 120-mile commutes back and forth to Washington so he could tuck his sons in bed each night — these are experiences Americans can relate to and they help Biden relate to us.

Still, many who plan to vote for Trump, some with pinched nose, act as though character itself were a luxury — nice if you can get it, but not essential.

We disagree. Character, in this election, is everything.

You know, I’m old enough to remember when the people who now dismiss concerns about Donald Trump’s character were the ones who loudly and repeatedly insisted that character was The Most Important Thing for a President and every other elected official. Funny how that works. Anyway, this is a long editorial and there’s much that they have to say about the depraved and destructive individual who now occupies the White House, and you can read it if you wish. I doubt anyone reading this blog needs to be given reasons to vote for Joe Biden to oust Donald Trump, but they’re there if you need them for someone else. For the rest of us, early voting in person starts tomorrow. You know what to do.

Endorsement watch: For MJ

The Chron changes its course in the US Senate race.

MJ Hegar

For 18 years, John Cornyn has represented Texas in the U.S. Senate with dignity, decorum and a legislative work ethic that has made him one of the more productive, and often bipartisan, lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

He’s championed criminal justice reform, stood up for trade with Mexico, stood against President Trump’s child-separation policy and passed major bills tackling sex trafficking and other complex threats to American welfare. Most recently he worked with Texas’ full delegation to send billions in aid following Hurricane Harvey and, when that money got snagged by bureaucracy, he helped to get it flowing.

“I work with people on a daily basis to pass legislation who I know get up in the morning trying to figure out how they can defeat me in my next election,” he told the editorial board in an hour-long interview last week. “… But you do what you can where you can.”

In an ordinary year, that might have been enough to endorse him for a fourth term, as we did for a third in 2014.

But in this year, in these deadly and divisive times, it is not enough. Not nearly. As a result, we heartily endorse Democrat MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran who flew medical evacuation missions in Afghanistan where she earned a Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device, to become Texas’ next senator.

We find Hegar’s mix of energy, moral clarity, and assertive pragmatism invigorating.

“I just want our country to live up to the ideals for which it stands,” Hegar, 44, told us in an interview last week, vowing to put some “function” back into the Senate.

[…]

What weighed most heavily in our decision to urge voters to embrace Hegar is our veteran senator’s failure to lead.

From 2013 to 2019, he was the second-ranking Republican leader in the Senate and yet has been almost uniformly silent as the party he represents has been steered off course by the tea party insurgency beginning in 2010, and more recently has been completely unmoored by Trump.

Cornyn told us he distinguishes between Trump the man — with his divisive and dishonest rhetoric — and Trump the president, whose policies Cornyn said he appreciates. We’ll grant that conservatives cheered Trump’s success in cutting taxes, even if primarily on businesses and wealthy individuals, and the remarkable pace with which he’s pushed the federal judiciary farther to the right.

But on issue after issue, Trump has conducted himself in ways that Cornyn surely agrees are damaging to the presidency, to our nation’s standing in the world, and to the institutions that safeguard our democracy, including Congress itself.

[…]

Texas needs a leader who would make that speech, rally allies, and press for legislation that is morally right, even if it means having to irritate the party bosses.

In response, Cornyn points to former Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who clashed with Trump only to see his career derailed. What good for Texas, he asks, could a senator do once sidelined by the president or the party?

But preserving one’s clout is only sound strategy if that clout is eventually used. We see very little evidence Cornyn has used it. After 18 years, Texans are entitled to ask — if not now, then when?

In between those last two segments is a long airing of grievances against Trump, and Cornyn’s lily-livered response to them, culminating in his stated willingness to bring up a stand-alone bill to help the Dreamers but not actually doing it because Mitch McConnell would ignore him. You can compare this to their endorsement of Dan Crenshaw and mumble something about different standards for different folks, but at least here there’s asking the right questions. I’ll take it.

The Chron also endorsed a bunch of legislative incumbents, the most interesting of which being Rep. Gina Calanni.

Rep. Gina Calanni

Voters in Texas House District 132 have a luxury that residents in most other districts don’t: A choice between two experienced legislators on the Nov. 3 ballot.

State Rep. Gina Calanni, 42, has served with distinction in her first term, which she won narrowly two years ago. And her opponent, Republican Mike Schofield, is the lawmaker she drove out of office after two terms.

He’s back for a rematch and at stake is how the district, which includes much of Katy and unincorporated areas of Harris County, will be represented in Austin, where Republican control of the House is no longer assured.

We believe voters got it right in 2018, and recommend they retain Calanni this year.

It’s been a mostly incumbent-friendly endorsement season, Hegar over Cornyn notwithstanding. Calanni’s been a hard worker who did all the things she said she’d do when she ran, as she noted in the interview with the ed board. She’s got the toughest road to re-election, having won by a tiny margin in 2018, but she’s done the job, and this is at least as favorable an environment as 2018 was. I like her chances.

Endorsement watch: Well, he does have a big Twitter following

I’m honestly not surprised that the Chron endorsed Dan Crenshaw for re-election. I just wonder if the editorial board ever reads what they write when they come up with this stuff.

Sima Ladjevardian

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw has 1 million Twitter followers. His fundraising power puts him within shouting distance of high-ranking members such as Steve Scalise, R-La., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. A former Navy SEAL, he has managed to appear both loyal and critical of President Trump, and was the only Texan elected official with a major speaking role at the Republican National Convention.

There’s no question of Crenshaw’s outsized national standing as a freshman congressman, but now his fate is in the hands of Houstonians in the 2nd Congressional District, which makes a wiggly westward arc from Kingwood to neighborhoods near Rice University.

Turn the stage lights off, though, and his race against Democrat Sima Ladjevardian, 54, looks rather conventional.

First, let’s consider what is unusual. Crenshaw, 36, has shown a penchant for standing up to party and president. He wrote a letter of support for the inclusion of Log Cabin Republicans, who represent LGBT conservatives, at the Republican Party of Texas’s state convention. He’s called for Republicans to take climate change seriously. When Trump criticized Sen. John McCain months after his death and when Trump told the liberal congresswomen in “the Squad” to “go back,” Crenshaw tweeted at the president to quit. When Trump withdrew troops from Syria, Crenshaw released a nearly 12-minute video that respectfully but emphatically rejects the president’s rationale.

We applaud Crenshaw for using his platform to take these stands. At other times, he has left us both troubled and disappointed. Like many others early in the pandemic, Crenshaw argued that masks weren’t effective against the coronavirus. While he changed his mind as evidence showed otherwise — even purchasing and then donating 50,000 masks — he continued to push misrepresentations, as he did in his more recent videos defending Trump’s coronavirus response. He was wrong to call Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s mask order “draconian” and was wrong to remove his mask for long enough while at a crowded fundraising party to be photographed without it.

We’re also concerned that his positions on key issues for Houston, including how to confront climate change, aren’t far-seeing enough. He’s called renewable energy “silly” and has not embraced a carbon tax, something even many major oil companies are willing to accept. His positions on the border and on prescription drugs also disappoint.

[…]

And yet, it’s impossible to ignore Crenshaw’s star power and his potential to shape the future of the Republican Party around respect, ideas and principles.

In addition, if he retains his seat, Crenshaw is likely to wield the kind of power that matters on delivering funding for dredging, roads and floodgates. We believe voters should return him to Congress.

There are two obvious problems with this. One is that in every way that the Chron cites to support the notion that Crenshaw is some kind of independent-thinking maverick it’s all talk and no action on Crenshaw’s part. Can the Chron name one bill of significance where Crenshaw is teaming up with a Democrat, or one vote he has taken where he opposed the party line? To be fair, even tweeting a mild rebuke at Trump makes him stand apart from the Louie Gohmerts, but surely the bar can be set a little higher than that. To put this another way, what exactly has he done for the greater Houston area and its residents that a replacement level member of Congress couldn’t have done?

Which gets to the second point, the belief that Crenshaw will someday be a force for getting big things for Houston. Which, sure, could happen, but for at least the foreseeable future he’s going to be in the minority, where there’s much less power to be wielded. Compare Crenshaw’s record of accomplishment to Lizzie Fletcher’s to see what I mean. Yes, Congressional majorities are fleeting, and the whole idea of getting anything done is meaningless as long as the Republicans control the Senate, but this puts an awful lot of faith into a guy who’s so far been a total show horse. Remember when the Chron endorsed Ted Cruz in 2012 with the hope that some day he’d grow up to be like Kay Bailey Hutchison? This gives me a similar vibe.

I agree that Crenshaw is a rising star in the GOP, and that the exodus of experienced (mostly Republican) members of Congress from Texas has left the state with less clout than it once had. If one believes that Crenshaw is going places, then there’s reason to hitch a wagon to him and hope that he’ll eventually use his powers for good. Alternately, you could sign on with the candidate who actually agrees with the things you say you value. Maybe Sima Ladjevardian doesn’t quite have Crenshaw’s star power, but I’d put more money on her actually doing the work to get stuff done.

In other Congressional endorsements, the Chron also recommended Rep. Al Green, and Rep. Brian Babin. They also endorsed in the other two countywide races of note. For Tax Assessor, they went with Chrin Daniel, former District Clerk, over incumbent Ann Harris Bennett. I don’t have any issues with Chris Daniel. He was perfectly competent as District Clerk. I also think Ann Harris Bennett has been fine as Tax Assessor, and think she will continue to be fine. (I’ve had this overview story of the Tax Assessor’s race on one of my tabs for a couple of weeks now because I haven’t been able to think of anything more original than that to say.) But look, in the year 2020 if you are on the same ballot as Donald Trump as a Republican, that’s an indelible mark against you. There may come a time when that isn’t the case, but that time is not today. Also, until we get some Democratic power at the statewide level and in the Legislature, we really need a unified county government, because the Republicans who wield power in this state are coming for us, and we need everyone pulling in the same direction to protect our interests as a county. and an independent entity of government As someone once said, it is what it is.

Finally, they endorsed Teneshia Hudspeth for County Clerk.

Teneshia Hudspeth

Hudspeth, 39, is the Democratic candidate running against Republican Stan Stanart, who was the clerk until 2018, when he was unseated by Diane Trautman. With Trautman resigning over health concerns earlier this year, the winner will fulfill the remainder of her term.

Usually, Stanart’s experience would give him the edge, but Hudspeth is no stranger to the clerk’s office, having worked her way up over a 15-year career from an administrative assistant in public affairs to the chief deputy position. Her climb through the ranks has given her a ground-level view of many of the office’s responsibilities, she said, from voter outreach to records preservation and archiving.

That will come in handy as she continues the office’s modernization by upgrading technology and enhancing online services to reduce wait times and improve efficiency. She also wants to make some of the clerk’s services more widely available outside the office by partnering with community centers.

While the clerk will no longer be a direct elections administrator, the position comes with a seat on the county election commission, a role where Hudspeth’s experience will also be important.

“I will be able to sit on that commission and hold the elections administrator accountable,” she said.

While Stanart is as affable as ever, it was time for new blood in the clerk’s office when we endorsed his opponent in 2018 — his pledge to “stop socialist Democrats” didn’t boost our confidence in his judgment — and that need for change continues.

At least this time, they understood who the candidates were. Good call.

Endorsement watch: For (just a little) more diversity

The Chron says a few words about the need to diversify the Supreme Court, then mostly endorses the status quo.

Judge Staci Williams

When talk turns to Texas’ highest civil court — as it must, given voters’ opportunity to select four of the nine justices in the upcoming election — the old frames of left versus right take on entirely new and even hazy meanings.

As an editorial board, we’ve grappled with the consequences of one-party rule in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in 26 years. But those concerns are even more relevant when the topic is the Texas Supreme Court, and its criminal law counterpart, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

All 18 justices on these two courts are Republican, and we believe that lack of ideological diversity would do damage to any state, but especially one as big and diverse as Texas. That concern weighed heavy on our minds but still was only one factor in deliberations over which candidates to recommend.

We’re delighted to report that not one of the candidates was unqualified. We faced tough choices in selecting only one for each race. In addition to experience, judicial record, temperament and aptitudes for research, writing and analysis that form the heart of appellate law, we also gave thoughtful consideration to candidates’ ideological and personal backgrounds, including gender, race, ethnicity and life experiences.

What follows is our best advice in each of these four, consequential races. Endorsements in the Court of Criminal Appeals will be published soon.

And then they endorse three of the four Republican incumbents – Chief Justice Nathan Hecht over Judge Amy Clark Meachum, Justice Jane Bland over Kathy Cheng, Justice Brett Busby over Justice Gisela Triana; Judge Staci Williams over Justice Jeff Boyd was the lone exception – with nods to experience and temperament over the other factors. It’s fine to prefer those three incumbents and to value their experience, though I at least would argue that Triana has at least as much experience as the Abbott-appointed Busby, but the expressed concern over “lack of ideological diversity” sounds hollow given the result. The Justices in question may well be sober and experienced and learned, but I doubt anyone would claim they differ in any significant way on their philosophy and jurisprudence. Endorsing more of the same is not a great way to get something different. We’ll see what happens when they review the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Endorsement watch: Menefee and more

The Chron endorses Christian Menefee for Harris County Attorney.

Christian Menefee

Christian Menefee was still celebrating his victory in the Democratic primary over longtime incumbent Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan when the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. Lockdowns and social distancing left the 32-year-old civil litigation attorney with a lot of time on his hands.

He used those spare hours well. During the last several months, Menefee told the editorial board, he has researched the inner workings of the department he hopes to run. He studied the office’s organizational charts. He talked to more than 30 current employees. He reached out to the Dallas County district attorney and the Travis County attorney.

That helped give him a solid understanding of the office he seeks and what improvements need to be made, Menefee said.

“You can’t just come in with ideas,” said Menefee, a Houston native who is a litigator with Kirkland & Ellis. “You need to come in with stuff that you know is going to work.”

That kind of energy, attention to detail and determination to make the county attorney office as effective as possible earn Menefee our endorsement. We also recommended him in the primary, noting his commitment to expanding the office’s environmental law section, which currently has four full-time lawyers.

In addition to the bread-and-butter work of representing elected officials, local entities and county employees, Menefee said he wants the office to bring more impact litigation to “hold polluters accountable.”

Menefee also wants the office to be a strong advocate for local control — no small feat, given the control officials in Austin have sought in recent years, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s recent challenges to the county on vote-by-mail applications and eviction policies.

If you listen to the interview I did with Menefee for the primary, you will definitely hear all of these themes from him. He’s got a lot of potential, and I expect big things.

Next, the Chron heads a bit north to endorse Hank Gilbert in CD01 over the hottest of messes that is Louie Gohmert.

Hank Gilbert

Ever since voters in Texas’ 1st Congressional District sent U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert to Congress in 2004 by a landslide, it’s been an open question as to how extreme, how divisive and how — there’s no other way to put it — how batty their congressman can get before he’s recalled.

If his electoral successes are any guide, Gohmert is in no danger of being held accountable for his antics, which include most recently refusing to wear a mask unless he got COVID-19 — which he promptly did. His positive diagnosis drew a worried rebuke from his own daughter on Twitter: “My father ignored medical expertise and now he has Covid,” she wrote.

Still, as congressman, Gohmert has never polled less than 68 percent. Time and again, despite a mountain of cringe-worthy examples, Gohmert has emerged stronger after Election Day.

This year, his opponent swears it will be different. “He’s never had a real challenger,” says Democrat Hank Gilbert, 60, a former rancher, high school ag teacher and two-time candidate for Texas agriculture commissioner.

We hope he’s right. The district deserves better than what it’s had these past 16 years. Heck, Congress deserves better.

Here’s my interview with Hank, who is a mensch through and through. No question, Congress and the country would be a much better place with Hank subbing in for Gohmert, but that’s on the voters, and this is a tough district. If you know someone who lives in that district, make sure they know about Hank.

Finally, the Chron endorses incumbent Rep. Mike McCaul for re-election, and while the have good things to say about Mike Siegel, they argue that “trading an accomplished and pragmatic congressman would not serve the district well”. Whatevs.

Endorsement watch: A Congressional four-pack

Going once again in numerical order…

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, CD07.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Two years after her first-ever run for public office resulted in the defeat of a nine-term Republican incumbent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher faces re-election with a solid record of accomplishment and a reputation for working across the aisle and serving constituents.

She has kept her promises.

We recommend that voters in Texas’ 7th Congressional District let her continue the job she has started.

[…]

Although a political novice, Fletcher, 45, hit the ground running in her first term, authoring a bill to cut federal red tape and speed disaster recovery funding that was much needed in the Houston area.

The measure passed the House with just seven votes against as Fletcher teamed with Fort Bend Republican Rep. Pete Olson and even pulled in conservative North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows as a co-sponsor. Meadows is now President Donald Trump’s chief of staff.

Fletcher also smartly sought spots on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, where she is chair of the energy subcommittee. Other panels might be more glamorous or attention-grabbing but they are not as crucial to the interests of the region NASA calls home and where the oil and gas industry and the Houston Ship Channel mean jobs, commerce and development.

Rep. Fletcher has been exactly the member of Congress I expected she would be. Smart, hard-working, very present in the district, getting stuff done. I feel good about her re-election, and I will be very interested to see what happens with CD07 in redistricting. In a world where John Culberson was still in that seat, I had figured it would continue to be moved west, to shed the blue urban-core precincts and chase red areas out in Fort Bend and Waller and wherever else. Now maybe it absorbs more blue precincts in an effort to shore up or win back any or all of CDs 02, 10, and 22. It’s going to be an exciting time. I have an interview with Rep. Fletcher coming up that will run on Monday, so look for that.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, CD18.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Even her opponents acknowledge that U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has earned every bit of her reputation as “a fighter.”

In the 25 years that she has represented central Houston’s 18th Congressional District, Jackson Lee, 70, has never been shy about expressing her opinion or battling for her causes.

Whether it’s bringing billions of dollars to the region for high-speed rail, pushing for disaster relief, financing a state-of-the-art automotive training center at the Houston Community College North Forest Campus, championing the placement of COVID-19 testing sites in her district, or intervening in deportation cases, Jackson Lee has a record of getting things done.

“I take advantage of the opportunities of power,” she told the editorial board. “Not to use for myself but to use for others. That is what a congressperson does.”

That’s why district residents have sent her to Washington for 13 terms with never less than 70 percent of the vote.

And it’s a major reason we recommend Jackson Lee be returned to Congress to use her experience, seniority and determination to continue delivering for her district and the state of Texas.

Well, the fact that this is a deep blue district is a good reason why voters re-elect her every two years by fifty points or so. The fact that she has rarely faced a serious primary challenger and easily bats aside the challenges she has had is due to her hard work and good results. I’ve been her constituent for nearly all of those 25 years, and I’m happy to vote for her each time. And by the way, her Republican opponent is one of the plaintiffs in the attempted assault on Harris County early voting and mail ballot dropoff locations. I’m sure the Chron would have noted that in their endorsement editorial if they had known about it in time.

Sri Kulkarni, CD22.

Sri Kulkarni

Changing demographics and a narrow escape in the 2018 elections helped persuade longtime Republican Congressman Pete Olson not to run for reelection in U.S. House District 22 this year.

The six-term incumbent’s departure sets up a showdown that mirrors the presidential race with Sri Preston Kulkarni representing the moderate approach of Democrat Joe Biden and Fort Bend County sheriff Troy Nehls aligned with the positions of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

The ballot also includes Libertarian Joseph LeBlanc who is running on the party’s platform of protecting individual rights and limiting government overreach.

Kulkarni, 41, a former foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State, made his mark two years ago by running within 5 points of Olson and establishing himself as a candidate with the intelligence and cooperative attitude necessary to build coalitions and bring people together for common goals.

That makes Kulkarni our choice in this racially diverse district, which includes most of Fort Bend County, a section of Harris County and the cities of Friendswood, Missouri City, Needville, Rosenberg, and Sugar Land.

Kulkarni is one of several repeat candidates from 2018, and like the others he’s exceeded his strong fundraising from last time. He put this district on the national map in 2018, and it was there from the beginning this cycle. He’ll make a terrific member of Congress.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia, CD29.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia

Long before Sylvia Garcia was thrust into the national spotlight as a manager in President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings, the first-term congresswoman had carved out a big name in Houston politics.

The former social worker and legal aid lawyer served five terms as director and presiding judge of the Houston Municipal System, as Houston city controller and on Harris County Commissioner’s Court before being elected to represent District 6 in the Texas Senate.

That experience gave Garcia, 70, an understanding of how government can help people — something she carried with her to Washington D.C. when in 2018 she became one of the first two Texas Latinas elected to Congress.

Her first term has been busy, and included Garcia being tapped by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve as a manager in Trump’s Senate impeachment hearing. That a freshman representative was recruited to fill such a visible and critical role speaks to Garcia’s knack for forming alliances and maneuvering the halls of politics.

Those skills earn Garcia our recommendation in the 29th Congressional District race. They also help her serve her district, a mostly working class swath of Harris County that includes Pasadena, Jacinto City, Baytown, Galena Park and South Houston and is home to the Houston Ship Channel and one of the nation’s largest petrochemical complexes.

I will say the same thing about Rep. Garcia as I said about her fellow first-term colleague Rep. Fletcher: She’s exactly the member of Congress I expected her to be, and basically for the same reasons. Long may she serve.

Still to be addressed by the Chron: CDs 02, 08, 09, 10, and 36. Obviously, 02 and 10 are the ones of greatest interest.

Endorsement watch: Carol and Borris

This is another easy call.

Sen, Carol Alvarado

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

This one is a bit more nuanced.

Sen. Borris Miles

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Ed and Kim

This is an easy call.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Anyone who has been led by personal experience or the events of the past year to conclude that cops are callous and jaded hasn’t meant Ed Gonzalez.

The compassionate approach of this 51-year-old homicide detective-turned-city councilman-turned-sheriff might even win over some in the “defund the police” crowd.

Gonzalez doesn’t just give lip service to criminal justice reform or decriminalizing mental illness health, drug addiction and homelessness. He is enacting policies within the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

“The word defund is not effective,” he says. “We need right-sized policing.”

To him, that means more focus on fighting violent crime and forming a regional task force to reduce drunken-driving deaths.

Elected in 2016, the Democrat brought the long-troubled Harris County Jail into state compliance and later made it the first in the state to address the opioid crisis by offering a drug that helps curb cravings and prevent relapses. He was among the first local officials to support reform of a misdemeanor bail system a federal court deemed unconstitutional.

The sheriff led the way in implementing cite-and-release, a program seeking to reduce the jail population by treating some misdemeanor charges like speeding tickets — that is, with citations rather than arrests.

Gonzalez says conversations are underway about how health providers could respond first to lower-risk calls that don’t require armed deputies. Other programs connect domestic violence survivors with social services and another improves interactions with people with autism.

Basically, Sheriff Gonzalez is doing it right. He’s as clear a choice as there is.

This could have been a more difficult choice.

Kim Ogg

To determine if Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is doing a good job, consider the claims of the opposition she has drawn this election year.

In the Democratic primary, she faced a challenge from the left, with opponents who believed her support for bail and other reforms has been too tepid. In the general election, her Republican opponent complains she’s too soft on law and order.

Neither claim hits the mark. For Ogg, 60, has approached the job of district attorney as she should: making it her priority to ensure a fair process that engenders trust in the system, supporting both reform and law enforcement with eyes open to their potential flaws and pushing back accordingly.

“I believe reform and public safety can mutually exist,” Ogg told the editorial board. “I believe Harris County is safer today because they have an independent district attorney.”

We agree.

There’s certainly room to criticize Ogg on criminal justice reform – Audia Jones and Carvana Cloud tried but didn’t succeed. A similar criticism from the right, based on cost savings and prioritizing violent crime over nonviolent crime – something Ogg herself highlighted in 2016 – would surely have been received favorably by the Chron editorial board. It might even be a general election winner. That’s not the argument that Ogg’s opponent was making, and the board wasn’t buying what she was selling. We’ve seen plenty of crossover votes in the DA race in previous elections – for Ogg in 2016, for Mike Anderson in 2012 – but I don’t expect much of it this year.

Endorsement watch: Three more for the Lege

In numerical order…

Rep. Jon Rosenthal, HD135:

Rep. Jon Rosenthal

As a political novice Jon E. Rosenthal pulled off one of the biggest upsets of 2018 when he knocked off 12-term Republican Rep. Gary Elkins to win the state House District 135 seat in what turned out to be a big year for Democrats.

The 57-year-old mechanical engineer has since proved to be an able legislator, willing to work across party lines to get things done for his district and the state. He also appears refreshingly free of the conflicts of interest that plagued his predecessor’s time in the state house.

We recommend that voters in this west Harris County district give Rosenthal another term.

[…]

Rosenthal was named Freshman of the Year by the Legislative Study Group, a nonpartisan caucus that “focuses on developing mainstream solutions and advancing sound public policy that benefits all Texans.”

He was a co-author of the bipartisan House Bill 2195, which was signed into law and mandates Texas schools to have refined emergency plans.

Rosenthal said he was especially proud of helping open access roads surrounding the construction of the Texas 6 bridge over U.S. 290 in response to businesses worried about losing customers.

Voters were smart to entrust the seat to Rosenthal and they’d be smart to do it again.

Rep. Rosenthal has some serious Scott Hochberg energy around him, by which I mean he’s really smart, understands complicated technical subjects, and is just a genuine, down-to-earth guy. Swapping him in for Gary Elkins was one of the biggest upgrades the Lege has had in awhile.

Rep. Gene Wu, HD137:

Rep. Gene Wu

State Rep. Gene Wu’s understanding that “budget is policy” will come in handy next year as the pandemic’s strain on the economy will demand creative thinking from lawmakers in finding new sources of revenue and to ensure vital services are protected.

“Education cuts are off limits — period,” Wu told the editorial board. “It took us twenty-something years to even get to this point where we can say education is at least somewhat well-funded. We don’t want to go backward.”

The Democrat’s experience last session as a member of the powerful House appropriations committee is just one more reason why voters in Texas House District 137 should send Wu back to Austin for another term.

“I believe in Texas, I believe in this country and I believe the people deserve to be represented by someone who is both knowledgeable and passionate about making people’s lives better,” Wu says.

[…]

Elected in 2012, the 42-year-old former prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office hit the ground running. He has introduced and fought for a variety of bills, many of them focused on battling human trafficking, juvenile and adult criminal justice reform, and protecting children from abuse, including an overhaul of Child Protective Services that received widespread bipartisan support.

Rep. Wu, whom you should be following on Twitter if you’re not already, is going to be a force to be reckoned with when the Dems have a majority in the House, and even more so when they have more than that. I also get the sense that he will run for something bigger at some point. I could picture him as a candidate for District Attorney, Mayor of Houston, a Congressional district if there’s a clear opportunity after redistricting, or even something statewide, as the tide in Texas continues to turn. And if I’m wrong and he’s still in the House ten years from now, he’ll either be Speaker or a senior member of the Speaker’s leadership team. If I’m still writing this thing ten years from now, you can fact-check me on this.

Akilah Bacy, HD138:

Akilah Bacy

Investing in education, making affordable health care available to more Texans and ensuring big businesses pay their fair share are some of the top priorities for Democrat Akilah Bacy, our choice in the race for Texas House District 138.

The district, which includes Spring Branch and Cypress-Fairbanks, has been represented by Republican Dwayne Bohac since 2003, but changing demographics have turned it into a battleground. Bohac, who kept his seat in 2018 by just 47 votes, is not running again.

Bacy, 35, is a graduate of Texas Tech law school and was an assistant district attorney for Harris County before opening her own firm. She grew up in northwest Houston and understands her community’s strengths and its challenges. Although she is a “solid blue Democrat,” Bacy stressed, if elected, she would legislate for all Texans.

“I am running to make sure that I am a representative who speaks for our district, not just the Democrats, not just the independents, not just the Republicans,” she told the editorial board.

Her opponent, Republican Lacey Hull, testified in Austin for parents who opt out their children from mandatory vaccines and a “parental rights” group she co-founded wants to dismantle Child Protective Services. Despite repeated invitations, she did not meet with the editorial board.

My interview with Akilah Bacy from the primary is here. I think she’ll make a fine State Rep. I get that some Republicans think that the Chron isn’t fair to them in the interview/endorsement process, and if you do think that then there’s no point in talking to them. But I have to say, if you’re anti-vaxx and pro-dismantling CPS, you should feel like a pariah.

Endorsement watch: The Susan Collins of Texas

Three things in life are certain: Death, taxes, and certain Chron endorsements.

Rep. Sarah Davis

The voters in state House District 134 — a swing district that covers all or parts of River Oaks, Bellaire and Meyerland and includes the Texas Medical Center — face a tough choice in the Nov. 3 election.

Five-term Republican incumbent Rep. Sarah Davis and Democratic challenger Ann Johnson are both well-qualified, skilled communicators whose many talents would serve them well in the Legislature.

We recommend Davis, 44, based on her experience, growth in office and independence.

A rare Texas Republican who supports abortion rights, she has moved from the tea party positions of her first 2010 victory to embrace the Affordable Care Act provisions of Medicaid expansion and coverage of pre-existing conditions as well as bucking her party on other issues.

[…]

Johnson has stressed her policy differences with Davis on immigration and gun control, where the incumbent is more in line with the GOP. Johnson has criticized Davis’ vote to let school districts arm teachers and to require universities to permit guns in campus parking lots and her sponsorship of a “show me your papers” bill to allow local law enforcement officials to ask about immigration status.

Those are not measures supported by the editorial board.

And yet. In the same way that the Chron endorsed Orlando Sanchez for Treasurer in four straight elections, so have they endorsed Sarah Davis consistently since 2012. Look, if you want to believe that Sarah Davis is a force for good for reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality and even expanding Medicaid, I can’t stop you. I happen to think that campus carry and “sanctuary cities” legislation are indelible stains on her record, but you do you. My opinion is that it’s better to maximize the odds of a Democratic House than to depend on a singular Republican savior. Your mileage may vary.

(Where the post title came from.)

Endorsement watch: No Briscoe

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

Mary Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chron also takes a stance against bad ethics.

Sandra Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Three to get started

But first, why do endorsements, anyway?

If newspapers are objective, why do you recommend candidates?
Newspapers don’t endorse candidates. Editorial boards do. The editorial board is separate from the newsroom. It is made up of opinion journalists with wide-ranging expertise whose consensus opinions and recommendations represent the voice of the institution — defined as the board members, their editor and the publisher. We do it as a service to our readers and to our democracy, which cannot flourish without an informed citizenry. For many busy people, researching each candidate isn’t possible. Rather than turn to partisan slates, some with pay-to-play motivations, we offer an alternative: informed candidate recommendations from nonpartisan journalists informed by facts, borne of careful analysis.

[…]

What’s our process?
General elections always involve hundreds of hours of screening, writing and editing to ensure trustworthy recommendations that readers can access readily and even take to the polls. The pandemic has forced a few changes. For congressional and local top races, we’re conducting Zoom interviews with all who accept our invitations. For many other races, we’ve conducted one-on-one interviews. In most races, lead writers for each research, conduct outside interviews and background candidates before making recommendations to the full board, which reaches a consensus.

Consensus isn’t always easy, especially when parties have failed to draw qualified candidates. Still, voters must vote, so we feel we must decide. When recommending someone we have reservations about, we’ll explain why to readers, same as we do when there are multiple excellent candidates.

Sometimes, an extra level of focus and expertise is needed to make the right call. As in past years, we’ve enlisted the help of retired longtime journalists in the 20 local judicial races. Mary Flood and Jeff Franks research and background candidates and then make recommendations for the board to consider.

Do we only endorse candidates who agree with us?
No. While we look favorably upon candidates whose values mirror our basic commitments to responsible spending, economic growth, strong public schools, improving health and protecting the environment, we often endorse candidates who don’t share our opinions on more contentious issues. To better serve voters in a diverse array of districts, we prioritize broader expectations of elected leaders: experience, willingness to work across the aisle, knowledge of issues, strong sense of ethics, fit with the district and general viability of the candidacy. For judges, fairness, competence and temperament are also strong considerations and, at times, the ideological diversity of the court as a whole. We give weight to incumbency, especially if it means seniority benefiting constituents, but we also scrutinize incumbents’ records on effectiveness, leadership, constituent services and ability to keep promises to voters.

Whether readers agree with our ultimate choices or not, we hope the facts, observations and analysis in each written editorial recommendation serves as a helpful tool in voters’ own research and decision-making.

I appreciate the Chron’s efforts and I find their process to be useful and valuable, even though I (sometimes very strenuously) disagree with some of their selections. Honestly, this is more of an academic exercise for me in an election where there’s no doubt about who’s getting my votes, but it is of great value to me in other contexts. It is good to have some reasonably objective and process-oriented sources for the races where the decision is truly hard.

Anyway, on to the endorsements. We start statewide with the Railroad Commissioner’s race and an endorsement for Chrysta Castaneda.

Chrysta Castañeda

Texas and Houston depend mightily on a thriving oil and gas industry, and that’s why it’s so important that the Railroad Commission of Texas be led by experienced, capable commissioners.

Fortunately, as an engineer and a lawyer, Democrat Chrysta Castañeda has the combination of knowledge and experience to help the RRC shepherd the crucial industry through one of the most challenging economies in decades.

As the founding law partner of the Castañeda Firm, which focuses on oil and gas litigation, she also understands the importance of crafting and enforcing regulations to protect the state’s environment.

That is why we recommend Castañeda, 57, in the statewide Railroad Commission race in the Nov. 3 election. If elected, she would join two Republican commissioners who, like her opponent, can be counted on to give the industry’s needs top billing over environmental concerns. What’s really needed is a balance between helping the industry thrive and minimizing its harmful impacts.

[…]

While [Republican candidate Jim] Wright also would bring experience to the job, it would be solely from the industry side. Texas needs at least one member of the Railroad Commission who takes to heart both the mandate that the commission promote the oil and gas industry and its charge to safeguard the water and air Texans drink or breathe.

Wright has some other issues, which the Chron does not delve into. With Presidential-level polling showing a very tight race, the other statewides are being seen as tossups this year. Castaneda may draw some crossover support if she can get enough of a message out. You can listen to my interview with her here if you haven’t yet.

Next, Michelle Palmer for SBOE.

Michelle Palmer

Long-time history teacher Michelle Palmer was troubled when the Texas State Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that describes Moses as an influence on the Founding Fathers.

The Aldine ISD teacher saw the 2018 decision as a particularly egregious example of the board incorporating historical inaccuracies into textbooks and curricula used to teach 5.4 million Texas public school students.

“Moses was not much of an influence on Thomas Jefferson. He was not much of an influence on many of the Founding Fathers,” Palmer told the editorial board. “I find it very troubling that they have that as a standard that is supposed to be taught to our 13- and 14-year-old eighth graders.”

Even more troubling: It was part of a pattern for the 15-member state board of education, which is more often guided by conservative ideology than by good curriculum design.

That history motivated Palmer, 50, to run for the position currently held by Chair Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, who is not seeking re-election.

“As a board member, I would listen to the experts,” said Palmer, a Democrat.

That sounds basic, and it should be. But too many on the current board have refused to do so. That is why we are recommending Palmer for SBOE Position 6. The state board of education has responsibilities critical for the education of Texas children: setting curriculum standards, adopting textbooks and other instructional materials for public schools, overseeing the Texas Permanent School Fund and reviewing charter school applications.

We’re all familiar with the clown show that has been the SBOE. To be fair, it has gotten somewhat less bad in recent years, thanks in large part to the eviction of Don McLeroy from its ranks. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, and adding Michelle Palmer would be a step in that direction. My primary interview with Palmer is here.

Finally, there’s Natali Hurtado for HD126.

Natali Hurtado

In a repeat of the 2018 race for state House District 126, Democrat Natali Hurtado is facing off against Republican Sam Harless.

Two years ago, we recommended Harless for this seat based in large part on the Republican’s wise and politically brave support for expanding Medicaid and his contempt for the unscrupulous far-right activist group Empower Texans.

Unfortunately, Harless has backed away from Medicaid expansion at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has made access to health care more important than ever. In a recent screening with the editorial board, he said he looked forward to a debate about expansion and expected it would happen someday. But he would not express support outright.

He also voted against a 2019 amendment that would have directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to seek a federal waiver to expand Medicaid in the state. That vote just happened to earn a green check mark from Empower Texans.

As our state battles COVID-19, Harless has appeared at campaign events without a mask and taken issue with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s mask order. Those actions show a troubling tendency to ignore science and turn a public health crisis into a partisan issue.

All this led us to take a fresh look at Hurtado. We like what we see.

You can read the rest for the affirmative case for Hurtado. She’s got a compelling biography, and actually means it when she says she supports Medicaid expansion in Texas. HD126 is on the target list for Dems this year, though not as high up as HDs 134 and 138. It’s looking like a competitive race, and an Election Day that includes a Dem win in HD126 almost certainly means a Democratic House.

The Chron also endorsed Republican Rep. Dan Huberty in a non-competitive race for HD127. More to come as they run ’em.

Early voting for primary runoffs starts tomorrow

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

Who can vote in the runoffs?

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

What’s different this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runoff reminder: State House

Previously: Statewide, Congress, SBOE and State Senate.

There are seven Democratic primary runoffs for State House districts. Let’s have a look at what we’ve got.

HD26

Located in Fort Bend County, HD26 is an open seat now held by Rep. Rick Miller, who dropped out of his contested primary after some racist remarks he’d made were publicized. Sarah DeMerchant, the Dem candidate in 2016 (42.1% of the vote) and 2018 (47.6%) faces off against first-time candidate Dr. Suleman Lalani. Lalani led in March 31.7%, DeMerchant had 29.6%. I do not know if either of the other two candidates from March have endorsed in the runoff. HD26 is a prime target for Dems, one of the nine districts carried by Beto won by Republicans last time around. My primary interview with Sarah DeMerchant is here, and my primary interview with Lalani is here. A brief Q&A with all of the primary candidates from a local paper is here.

(UPDATE: Since I first drafted this, Rish Oberoi has endorsed Suleman Lalani.)

HD67

Moving up to Collin County, this is one of two near-misses for Dems from 2018, where Sarah Depew took 48.8%. (Sarah Hirsch, who got 49.7% in 2018, is back for another crack at HD66.) Four new candidates lined up for this race, with Tom Adair (32.9%) and Lorenzo Sanchez (27.0%) ending as the top two. Adair was endorsed by the DMN in March, and is quoted in this story from the Plano Against Police Brutality march in early June. Sanchez has been endorsed by Latino Victory Fund and also by former Senate candidate Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez. Both appear to have been quite active at recent protests and rallies, going by their respective Facebook pages.

HD100

This is an open Democratic seat, vacated by Eric Johnson, who is now the Mayor of Dallas. Lorraine Birabil won the special election to fill out the remainder of Johnson’s term, so she is the incumbent, though she has not participated in a legislative session yet. (There’s another race like this later, as you may know.) She led the field of six with 29.3%, followed by Jasmine Crockett at 25.9%. The Lone Star Project recently sent out an email touting Rep. Birabil’s accomplishments in her short time in office – she has called for a special session to address police violence and has vowed to file legislation on the topic. Crockett for her part has been representing protesters and co-filing lawsuits on behalf of people injured by rubber bullets. Rep. Birabil is an Annie’s List-endorsed candidate.

HD119

Also an open Democratic seat, now held by Rep. Roland Gutierrez, who as we know is running for SD19 and is in a primary runoff there. Elizabeth “Liz” Campos (whose website was offline when I drafted this) and Jennifer Ramos were the top two contenders, with 46.1% and 43.8% in March, respectively. Ramos was endorsed by the Express-News in March, and was also endorsed by Latino Victory Fund. I don’t have much else to tell you about this race.

HD138

Our last three races are all in Harris County. HD138 is the only one currently held by a Republican, and it is another Beto-carried top target, which fell short of flipping in 2018 by a handful of votes. Akilah Bacy led the way in the primary with 46.8%, followed by Jenifer Rene Pool with 29.2%. (Google still does not show a campaign webpage for Pool when I search for her.) Bacy was endorsed by the Chronicle in March, by 2018 candidate Adam Milasincic before that, and is on the Annie’s List slate. My interview with Akilah Bacy is here, and with Jenifer Pool is here.

HD142

Remember this one? Longtime Rep. Harold Dutton, forced into a runoff against still-serving-on-City-Council-in-District-B-because-we-can’t-get-a-damned-runoff-scheduled-there Jerry Davis? The race with the mystery candidate that other State Reps want investigated? That investigation is ongoing, I’ve not heard anything since then. Yeah, I don’t know what I can add to this.

HD148

Last but not least, the other district in which a special election winner is trying to be the official November candidate. Anna Eastman won the special election and runoff to fill out the remainder of Jessica Farrar’s term. She took 41.6% in the field of five in March. Penny Shaw, who was a 2018 candidate for County Commissioner in Precinct 4 and who finished sixth in the 13-candidate special election, took 22.1% in March. Eastman was endorsed by the Chron in both the special election and the primary. She has been touting vote by mail for the runoff, and along with Rep. Jarvis Johnson and Sen. John Whitmire has promised to introduce legislation making it easier for homeowners associations to change deed restrictions to easily allow old racist language to be removed. Shaw was endorsed by Farrar for the primary, and has the larger share of organizational endorsements. I interviewed both for the special election – my conversation with Rep. Eastman is here, and with Shaw is here. Both also participated in a forum held by the 2020 Democratic Candidates Debates group on Facebook, and you can see that here.

That covers most of the races of interest. I will do an update on the Commissioners Court Precinct 3 runoff, and I will remind everyone who’s running in the judicial races. Let me know what you think.

Runoff reminder: Statewide

As I said in the interview posts for SD14, I’m going to revisit the runoff races of interest ahead of early voting. It’s been awhile since we’ve really paid attention to a lot of these folks, what limited news there has been for them has likely fallen under your radar, and it’s time to get back into thinking about who we want to vote for. So with that, I’ll kick things off with the two statewide runoffs and go from there. This will be a mostly freestyle kind of thing, with whatever I can find, on an as-I-can-do-it schedule. Enjoy!

Senate

MJ Hegar

The Senate runoff features MJ Hegar and State Sen. Royce West, who led the field of about a million candidates in March. The Texas Signal had a nice brief overview of what has been happening since then. Hegar has been the much stronger fundraiser of the two, though it will be interesting to see how everyone has been doing in Q2 given the pandemic and the economy. She has a lead in one runoff poll – polling overall has been scant in this race – though neither Hegar nor West has gained enough traction to differentiate themselves in head-to-head matchups with Big John Cornyn.

All of the top candidates that have endorsed in the runoff have endorsed West, citing policy differences and Hegar’s less reliable attendance at primary candidate forums. Hegar has a lot of national backing, from the DSCC and EMILY’s List to former Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren. There is an online debate scheduled for this Saturday, June 6, in case you haven’t had the opportunity to hear from the candidates before now.

Sen. Royce West

The November race has been on the fringes of the national radar. Nationally, Democrats have four strong pickup opportunities, in Colorado, Nevada, Maine, and North Carolina, with a second tier that includes the two Georgia races and Iowa. (There’s also the Doug Jones-held seat in Alabama, which is widely considered a lost cause for Dems.) The Texas race is usually lumped in with longer-shot races like the ones in Kansas and South Carolina, though Presidential-level polling in Texas shows a fairly tight race. It’s not clear to me how Cornyn will run compared to Trump statewide, but the better Biden does the better either Hegar or West will do. If polling between Biden and Trump remains tight, that increases the odds that the eventual nominee will raise more money and get support from national groups. Assume this same dynamic will play out, with less money, in other statewide contests.

Railroad Commissioner

Chrysta Castañeda

There’s not much news out there about the Railroad Commissioner race. That’s just the nature of the beast here – the RRC is fairly low profile and little understood by normal people, and just doesn’t have the opportunity to make much news. I couldn’t find any recent stories featuring candidates Chrysta Castañeda or Roberto Alonzo, but I did find this Star-Telegram profile of the four primary candidates, for which Alonzo and Castañeda were the first two. Neither candidate had raised much money as of the January finance report, but perhaps that will change for the July and 30-day-runoff reports.

The one relevant news item I found in searching for these two candidates was this KVUE story about the RRC meeting to suspend some operating rules, which drew a critical response from Castañeda. Both candidates participated in an online debate hosted by 2020 Democratic Candidate Debates. I’m not aware of any other similar events at this time. I did an interview with Castañeda for the primary – I didn’t reach out to Alonzo because he didn’t have any campaign presence at the time I was doing interviews.

Roberto Alonzo

As with the Senate race, I see this one to be about as competitive as the Presidential race is. There are two points of interest to note here. One is that the Republican incumbent, Ryan Sitton, was ousted in the GOP primary by some dude who raised no money. Sitton himself had about $2 million cash on hand, which isn’t a huge amount for a statewide race but ain’t nothing, either. The other is that low-profile statewide races like the RRC tend to draw a higher third-part vote – the Libertarian and Green candidates in 2016 combined for over 8.5% of the vote, though that was a stranger than usual race, with Libertarian Mark Miller receiving some newspaper endorsements. Undervotes are also an issue – the RRC race in 2018 drew about 150K fewer votes than the Senate race, and in 2016 it drew 200K fewer votes than the Presidential race. My point here is that Dems may be leaving some votes on the table, which a strong candidate and/or a strong coordinated campaign may mitigate. Let’s not lose a winnable race because we didn’t vote all the way down.

I’ll have a look at Congressional runoffs next. Let me know what you think.

Hegar and West to debate

I know it hasn’t gotten much attention lately, but the primary runoffs are coming up, and the biggest choice you’ll have to make is in the Senate race. You’ll get to hear from the candidates in an online debate on June 2.

MJ Hegar

The Democrats in the runoff race to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn are set to face off in a debate next month, the Texas Democratic party announced on Monday.

The first debate in the runoff between former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar and longtime state Sen. Royce West is set for June 2 at 7 p.m. The debate will air on Nexstar stations across the state, including Houston’s KIAH and San Antonio’s KSAT, and will be streamed online.

“To take back our state, Democrats must get our vision for the future to as many Texans as possible and showcase our candidates on as many platforms as possible,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “There is no Texas race bigger than the U.S. Senate race. MJ Hegar and Royce West represent the best of what Texas has to offer. This debate presents an opportunity for them to discuss our ideas and solutions to the challenges Texans face every single day.”

[…]

The runoff election, which was initially set for later this month, was pushed back until July 14 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Texas Signal adds a bit more:

Sen. Royce West

Texas Democrats announced today that they will be hosting a virtual Senate primary debate featuring candidates MJ Hegar and Royce West. This is the only debate scheduled, thus far, ahead of the July 14 runoff election.

In a Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler poll from April, Hegar holds a double-digit lead over West. More than 40 percent of potential Democratic Primary voters still remain undecided.

[…]

According to KXAN, the host of the June debate, the event will consist of questions from moderators, other state journalists, and viewers. Viewers can submit questions using the hashtag #txsendebate on social media and email at [email protected]

The debate will be held on June 2, at 7 p.m. CST.

Here’s that KXAN story, which among other things shows where you can watch. In Houston, it will be on KIAH, the CW station, and also on their website. Click over to see where you can watch.

On a side note, I’m not paying a whole lot of attention to who is endorsing whom in the runoff. Both candidates are fine by me, but if this matters to you, then go check that out. Early voting now begins in June 29, so let’s start getting back in the zone.

Judges have to do their part

Some could be doing better.

Harris County’s largest association of criminal defense attorneys on Monday called on local judges to halt in-person court appearances to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

As the virus has swept across the nation, it has shut down wide swaths of everyday life. But in Harris County — where judges last month halted jury trials and many other court functions — some criminal judges have continued to require in-person court hearings and in-person reporting to pre-trial services.

Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association President Neal A. Davis wrote that such policies present a “threat to public safety and the impartial administration of justice.”

In the four-page letter — which was sent to the county’s 22 state district judges and 16 misdemeanor judges, Davis noted that video appearances are “easy and routine now,” and that local prosecutors are expressly forbidden from appearing in courtrooms, except in “the rarest of occasions.”

“For a Harris County Judge to require one party to physically appear and risk exposure to a deadly pathogen, and allow the other party to appear remotely, violates a judge’s appearance of impartiality, at a minimum,” Davis wrote.

[…]

Local defense attorney Patrick McCann said that while many misdemeanor judges were taking measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, some district judges “have not thought through the implications of everything they’ve been asking the defense bar to do.”

“I’m glad the HCCLA is finally standing up for the average solo (attorney) that’s trying to keep safe, keep their family safe and still do a good job for their clients,” he said.

This is one of those things that should have gone without saying, but clearly we need to say it. It’s clearly unfair to have different rules for each side, and when those different rules put some people’s lives at risk, there’s really no excuse. The story does not indicate which judges are the offenders here, but I’m sure the names are known. All I can say is that the next time these judges come up for election, I would very much like to know who was doing the right thing and who was not. I hope that the various endorsing organizations will take that into account, and more to the point be as transparent as they can about it. I know that most people who vote in judicial elections don’t know a whole lot about the candidates in question. That doesn’t mean the information that is relevant to us shouldn’t be available. Please make sure that it is.

Chron overview of the CD02 primary

Gonna be an interesting one.

Elisa Cardnell

Near the end of a recent forum for the three Democrats looking to unseat U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a seemingly innocuous moment hinted at some friction between candidates Elisa Cardnell and Sima Ladjevardian.

“At the end of the day, you’ve seen that all three of us are united here behind one goal: defeating Dan Crenshaw in November,” Cardnell said in her closing remarks. “And no matter who the nominee is, we have DCCC backing. … Whoever wins this primary will have the resources and the support to take on Dan Crenshaw.”

Cardnell’s reference to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — House Democrats’ campaign arm, which added the district to its battlefield map in January — drew a smirk and head shake from Ladjevardian. The reaction suggested that Ladjevardian, who declined comment on the matter, may be skeptical the DCCC would deploy resources to Texas’ 2nd Congressional District if Cardnell wins the nomination.

The DCCC has not indicated its involvement is tied to a particular candidate, though the group announced it was targeting Crenshaw and several other Republicans a day after Ladjevardian said she had raised more than $400,000 in the first three weeks of her campaign.

Sima Ladjevardian

Democrats will need all the help they can get in this Houston-area district, where Crenshaw won by more than 7 percentage points in 2018, but Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz beat Democrat Beto O’Rourke by just one point. The three candidates — Cardnell, Ladjevardian and former Department of Homeland Security employee Travis Olsen — align ideologically, rejecting policies such as Medicare for All while preaching the importance of winning moderate voters.

Where they differ is on style and their distinct backgrounds, which they are using to fashion their electability arguments.

“It’s going to take a veteran who can reach across the aisle and bring back independent voters,” Cardnell, a Navy veteran, said at the forum. “This district, Beto lost by 3,000 votes. But (Republican Gov. Greg) Abbott won by 13 percent. That means we have swing voters in this district and we have to be able to talk to them.”

Ladjevardian’s supporters say her fundraising ability, ties to O’Rourke as his former campaign adviser, and background as an Iranian immigrant and cancer survivor make her the most formidable threat to Crenshaw. She also has garnered the most support from local elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia and Sheila Jackson Lee, Mayor Sylvester Turner, eight members of the Legislature and the district’s 2018 Democratic nominee, Todd Litton.

We know the basics here. The Chron endorsed Sima largely on the basis of her fundraising strength, which they argue gives her the best chance to win. Cardnell, who has been a decent but not spectacular fundraiser, argues her status as a veteran is more important to winning, noting that Crenshaw outperformed Ted Cruz in the district. I don’t live in this district, I like all of the candidates, and I still hope to interview Sima if she makes it to the runoff.