Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

James Talarico

The proposed State House map is out

The last of the bunch.

Texas House members on Thursday released the first proposal for a new map redrawing the chamber’s 150-member districts. The initial draft would both increase Republicans’ strength across the state and the number of districts in which white residents make up a majority of eligible voters.

House Bill 1, authored by Corpus Christi Rep. Todd Hunter, the GOP chair of the House Redistricting Committee, is just the first draft, and it will likely change as it makes its way through the legislative process before it’s signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The Texas Legislature is in the midst of its third special session. This one is dedicated to redrawing political maps based on the latest census data that showed people of color fueled 95% of Texas’ population growth over the past decade. The percent of Hispanics is now nearly equal to white people in Texas.

But, the new map creates fewer districts where Black and Hispanic people make up a majority of eligible voters. Black and Hispanic Texans make up two racial groups that along with Asian Texans outpaced the growth of white residents in the state over the last decade.

Currently 83 of the chamber’s 150 districts are areas in which white residents make up a majority of eligible voters; 33 are districts where Hispanic voters make up the majority, while Black residents are the majority of eligible voters in seven districts.

Under the new proposal, the map adds six more districts where white residents make up the majority of eligible voters while the number of Hispanic and Black districts would each drop by three.

The proposed map would also change the partisan breakdown among the 150 districts, tilting the scale toward Republicans.

Currently, there are 76 districts that went to former President Donald Trump during the 2020 general election while 74 went to President Joe Biden. Among those, 50 districts voted 60% or more for Trump, — indicating the district is safely Republican — while 40 districts had more than 60% support for Biden — indicating strong Democratic support. Under the proposed new map, 86 districts would have gone for Trump, while 64 would have went for Biden. The number of districts that voted 60% or more for Trump or Biden would be tied at 46.

All the data for this plan is here, and the current State House map is here. I wrote about the other maps here: SBOE, State Senate (updated), Congress. For a good initial look at the partisan breakdowns and who is getting paired with whom, see Patrick Svitek and Derek Ryan. Note that Ryan uses a different formula to calculate the partisan strength of a district; by hit metric, Dems would be favored in 65, not 64 of them.

Couple of thoughts and observations:

– Harris County remains with 24 districts, not 25 as it had in 2001-2011. El Paso goes from having five full districts to four full districts plus a piece of HD74. Fort Bend gains a district, Travis gains a piece of the very Republican HD19; that district number used to be in east Texas, held by Rep. James White who is going for a promotion, and is now split into multiple other districts. Denton goes from four full districts to four plus a partial, while Collin goes from four plus a partial to five plus a partial; HD57 moves from east Texas to Denton, HD60 moves from west-ish Texas to Collin. HD76 moves from El Paso to Fort Bend.

– Rep. Erin Zwiener, whose HD45 had been Hays plus Blanco counties, is now shown in the very Republican HD73, which is Comal plus a piece of Hays; the new HD45, shown as having no incumbent at this time, is the rest of Hays. It’s also pretty Democratic, and I’d guess Rep. Zwiener will be househunting soon, if there are no changes to this piece of the map.

– Rep. Ryan Guillen’s HD31 was already the most Trumpy Dem-held district, and it’s the most Republican district held by a Dem, followed by Rep. James Talarico’s HD52. There’s one Republican-held district that now shows as clearly blue, and that’s Rep. Jeff Cason’s HD92 in Tarrant County. Not sure what he did to anger the redistricting gods.

– On a personal note, the Heights has been reunited in one district, HD145, after a decade of being split between HDs 145 and 148. I need to check this for the Senate map as well, to see if the SD06/SD15 dichotomy is still there.

– I’m sure there will be changes to this map, and as the story notes there are some unhappy Republicans; it’s nearly impossible to satisfy everyone, and the needs of the many etc etc etc. For what it’s worth, using Derek Ryan’s metrics, there are 18 districts where the Republican vote is between 40 and 50 percent, and 31 districts with the Republican vote between 50 and 60 percent. Nearly all of the latter are in the places that have been trending Democratic – Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Collin, Denton, etc. A few of the former include South Texas districts that went the other way in 2020, but most of the rest are like the first group. I’ve said many times that the Republicans had to decide what their risk appetite was, and they have. If the current trends don’t at least slow down for them, this could really blow up on them.

I’m sure they’re aware of that, and they have a plan, or at least a hope, to hold on to enough of what they have to stave off disaster. All of this is without addressing the obvious racial inequities in the map, of which I’m sure we’ll hear plenty as the lawsuits begin to get filed. It’s never boring at this time of the decade, that’s for sure.

Is it really a quorum?

It is if no one is counting too closely.

Texas House Republicans finally got their long-sought quorum Thursday — by the skin of their teeth.

There were 99 members registered as present Thursday evening, the exact number needed to end the 38-day Democratic quorum break over the GOP’s priority elections bill. But it quickly became clear that some of the 99 members were not physically on the floor and instead marked present by their colleagues.

That means that the House could be operating with a tenuous quorum in the coming days, even if more Democrats start returning — though none were giving any indication of that Friday.

While some Democrats conceded Thursday night that the quorum bust was over, others were less willing to admit defeat.

“Based on numerous media reports, it seems evident there was not a true quorum present today — ironic, given this entire session is premised around Republicans preaching about so-called voter integrity,” Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement.

A group of 34 House Democrats released a statement Friday that called it a “questionable quorum” and warned that Republicans “will lie about the number of legislators present at the Capitol to establish quorum, keep Texans in the dark, and bend the rules to get their way.”

In a follow-up interview, Turner said the apparent lack of a real quorum was “of grave concern.” He declined to speculate on whether the Democratic presence on the floor would grow when the House next meets on Monday.

[…]

If the quorum margin continues to remain on the razor’s edge, Republicans cannot afford to have any absences and would have to continue showing up unanimously or close to it. They proved they were willing to go to those lengths Thursday with the attendance of Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio, who recently tested positive for COVID-19 and registered as present while isolating in an adjacent room.

Allison tested negative Thursday and plans to be on the floor Monday and the following days that lawmakers are in session, according to his chief of staff, Rocky Gage.

The House can’t do business without a quorum, which is two-thirds of the chamber, a threshold that stands at 100 when all 150 seats are filled. With two vacant seats pending special elections to replace former state Reps. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, who is now in Congress, and Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, who resigned effective Thursday to work for San Antonio College, quorum threshold is currently 99.

The special election for Ellzey’s seat is Aug. 31, though it could go to a runoff at a later date. And the special election for Pacheco’s seat has not been scheduled yet.

The 99 members that effectively make up the current quorum include all 82 Republicans; 14 Democrats who, before Thursday, had never broken quorum or had already chosen to return to the floor; and three new Democratic defectors who announced their arrival shortly before quorum was met Thursday evening: Houston Reps. Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez and Garnet Coleman.

Without a mass return of the remaining Democrats, reaching a quorum in the coming days could still be a dicey proposition.

That is, of course, if House leadership actually counts how many members are physically present — something they have no incentive to do as they seek to put the quorum break in the past. Any member present can request “strict enforcement” of a vote, which would force a more accurate attendance count, but that did not happen Thursday.

“Who is asking for strict enforcement?” one of the Democrats still breaking quorum, Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, tweeted shortly before the House met and quorum was established.

It is unclear what incentive the members who are showing up have to call for strict enforcement — they are mostly Republicans who are eager to get back to work and move past the quorum break. The same could arguably be said of the Democrats who have been present.

See here for the previous entry. Monday is a hearing day for the voter suppression bill, so if there is going to be a quorum challenge, that would be the day to do it. It’s also possible – likely, perhaps – that more Dems will be there on Monday on the grounds that once the session has begun and business will be conducted, there’s little value in continuing to stay away. At that point, you may as well fight it out in person as best you can. It’s a fight you’ll lose, of course, but the alternative is losing by forfeit. There is definitely a big conversation to be had about why some members decided now was the time to return, but that’s for another day. This is the task at hand. Stace, who focuses on the latest voting rights bill in DC – it is very much not too late to pass that bill, and as an extra added bonus it would defang the Supreme Court and its ability to rubber stamp voter suppression – has more.

We have a quorum

Welp.

For the first time in nearly six weeks, enough lawmakers were present in the Texas House on Thursday for the chamber to conduct business — opening the door for the passage of the GOP priority elections bill that prompted Democrats to flee the state in July in an effort to shut down the legislation.

[…]

Although the House reached the minimum number of lawmakers to conduct official business Thursday, it’s unclear whether the chamber will be able to maintain those numbers for the duration of the second special session, which ends Sept. 5.

The House’s return to regular order was boosted by the return of several Democrats who had opted to stay away during the first special session. Democrats like Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock; Joe Moody, Art Fierro and Mary Gonzáles of El Paso; and Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville had boosted the chamber’s numbers after holding out during the first special session.

On Wednesday night, Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman told The Dallas Morning News that he would be returning to the chamber, bringing the House one lawmaker closer to the 100 lawmakers it needed to conduct business. When San Antonio Democrat Leo Pacheco’s resignation went into effect Thursday, the quorum requirement dropped to 99 lawmakers. (Pacheco is reportedly resigning to teach public administration at San Antonio College).

Houston Democrats Armando Walle and Ana Hernandez joined Coleman in his return Thursday evening, with Walle pushing a wheelchair for Coleman who’d recently undergone surgery on his leg.

In a joint statement, the three Democrats said they were “proud of the heroic work and commitment” their caucus had shown in breaking quorum.

“We took the fight for voting rights to Washington, D.C. and brought national attention to the partisan push in our state to weaken ballot access. Our efforts were successful and served as the primary catalyst to push Congress to take action on federal voter protection legislation,” the statement read. “Now, we continue the fight on the House Floor.”

The lawmakers pointed to the surge in COVID-19 cases in the state, an overwhelmed hospital system and the return of children to school as efforts that the Legislature needed to work on.

“It is time to move past these partisan legislative calls, and to come together to help our state mitigate the effects of the current COVID-19 surge by allowing public health officials to do their jobs, provide critical resources for school districts to conduct virtual learning when necessary, while also ensuring schools are a safe place for in-person instruction, and will not become a series of daily super-spreader events,” the statement said.

Suffice it to say that the reaction I’ve seen from folks on Twitter is not particularly positive to this. I have nothing but respect for Rep. Garnet Coleman, but I don’t understand the thinking here. Maybe it will make more sense in the coming days, but right now you can count me among the puzzled and disbelieving. The Senate has already passed all of Abbott’s bills, so at any time the House will be able to finish the job, and that will more or less be that.

This was going to have to happen sooner or later, it was just a matter of how. I would have preferred it to be a consensus decision, but here we are. There is another voting rights bill queued up in Congress, with our friend Sen. Manchin as a co-sponsor, and while it will get an August vote there’s still no indication that it will get a waiver on the filibuster. Maybe that does pass, and the Texas Dems are cited as an inspiration, and I’ll feel differently. Right now, I’m not sure what was accomplished. The Chron has more.

Dissension in the ranks

sigh

Some of the Texas House Democrats who are still in Washington, D.C., did not hold back Monday as they watched more of their colleagues return to Austin and bring the chamber within single digits of a quorum.

“You all threw us under the bus today! Why?” Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos of Dallas said in a tweet addressed to three of her Democratic colleagues who came back to Austin.

The House had as many as 95 members on hand at one point Monday afternoon, five members short of quorum but the nearest the chamber has gotten to being able to start business since most Democrats fled last month over the Republican elections bill. It was the third day of the second special session, and the GOP-led House again issued a “call of the House,” procedural move to lock the doors of the chamber and prevent members from leaving without permission.

The 95 members who were present included at least four new Democrats: El Paso-area Reps. Art Fierro, Mary González and Joe Moody, as well as Rep. James Talarico of Round Rock. Moody is the former speaker pro tem, a title that House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, stripped from Moody in retaliation for the quorum break during the first special session.

Talarico was the most open about his return, announcing it on Twitter and issuing a statement explaining his decision, saying he was coming back to work on “real issues Texans face” after a productive time in Washington.

[…]

While the quorum-busting Democrats were able to maintain a largely united front during the first special session, which ended Friday, it was clear they reached a fork in the road when the second special session began a day later. A group of them released a statement saying that 26 House Democrats would be staying behind in Washington to keep up their fight to pass federal voting rights legislation in Congress.

Another House Democrat still in D.C., Rep. Gina Hinojosa of Austin, also scrutinized the Democrats who returned Monday afternoon on Twitter, calling out Fierro, González, Moody and Talarico as the House was waiting to see if it could still reach quorum for the day.

“Quorum is still not met,” Hinojosa tweeted. “Praying no other Democrats willingly go to Floor.”

I’d prefer not to throw any lighter fluid on this fire, so I’m going to keep this short and simple. Sticking together and not having people wander back to Austin was a key to not losing the political and PR battle in the first special session. With that behind us, members will once again have to make their own decisions about what to do, but only to a point because restoring the quorum or not needs to be a strategic decision, made with everyone’s buy-in. I don’t know what happened here, but this obviously ain’t a great look. There’s still no quorum, though the more Dems that make like these colleagues, and the more Republicans who come off the COVID quarantine list, that may not be the case for much longer. Pick a plan and stick with it, that’s all I’m asking, And iron this stuff out behind closed doors, none of us needs to see this.

Lawsuit filed over veto of legislative budget

Good. And necessary.

A group of Texas House Democrats and legislative staffers is asking the Texas Supreme Court to override Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent veto of a portion of the state budget that funds the Legislature, staffers there and legislative agencies.

More than 50 Democrats, a number of state employees and the Texas AFL-CIO have signed on to a petition for a writ of mandamus, which was filed Friday morning.

“The state is in a constitutional crisis at this moment,” said Chad Dunn, an attorney involved with the petition, during a briefing with reporters Thursday.

[…]

The petition argues that Abbott exceeded his executive authority and violated the state’s separation of powers doctrine. The parties involved with the petition are asking the all-Republican court to find Abbott’s veto unconstitutional, which would allow Article X of the state budget, the section at issue, to become law later this year.

State Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs his party’s caucus in the lower chamber, told reporters Thursday there are roughly 2,000 employees in the state’s legislative branch that would be affected by Abbott’s veto if it stands.

Lawmakers receive $600 a month in addition to a per diem of $221 every day the Legislature is in session for both regular and session sessions.

“This isn’t about [lawmakers’] paychecks,” Turner said during the briefing. “What he’s doing is hurting our staff and hurting our constituents.”

See here for the background, and here for a Twitter thread from Rep. James Talarico explaining the reasons behind the petition. Rep. Talarico notes that the effect of the veto “also includes nonpolitical staff like the custodians, cafeteria workers, landscapers, and parking attendants…[who] will also lose their pay and their health insurance on September 1”, which is the end of the fiscal year. The special session for July will almost certainly include action to restore this funding, but only if Abbott puts it on the agenda, which gives him quite a bit of leverage. Way too much, if you believe what the state constitution says.

The plaintiffs have asked the Supreme Court for a ruling before September 1. I have no idea what they will do, but consider this for a moment. Beto beats Abbott in November 2022. After taking office, he issues an executive order of some kind, maybe to kill the Abbott border wall. Doesn’t really matter, whatever it is he gets sued by Jared Woodfill, who gets a writ of mandamus from SCOTX blocking the order. And then, a few months later after the Lege passes its budget, Governor Beto uses his line item veto authority to defund the Supreme Court, which he says is payback for their dumb and disrespectful ruling against him.

You may say that’s ridiculous. I would agree, but the real question is what (other than a respect for norms and not being a petty tyrant like Greg Abbott) would stop Governor Beto if it came to that? If the Supreme Court says there are no limits on what a Governor can do to exert influence over another branch of government, then surely this too is fair game.

Those of you with memories that extend past last week may remember the precursor to all this, when Rick Perry threatened to veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County DA’s office if then-DA Rosemary Lehmberg didn’t resign following a drunk driving arrest. Lehmberg, whatever her faults, was an elected official who did not answer to the Governor, but Perry felt it was within his power to attempt to force her out and to use the threat of cutting off funding for a division of her office as the stick. Perry was subsequently indicted by a grand jury for an abuse of office charge, but the Court of Criminal Appeals came to his rescue and tossed the indictment, buying his argument that he was being arrested for exercising veto power. But it wasn’t that – indeed, he never did veto any PUI funding – it was the threat and the coercion. Abbott’s veto, done as retaliation against a legitimate legislative action that he just didn’t like, is the next step of this progression. It’s autocratic, it’s a huge abuse of power, it’s dangerous, and it must be stopped by the one branch of government that can stop it. If SCOTX doesn’t recognize the need to do this, they will have truly failed us all.

UPDATE: A statement from Abbott about the lawsuit can be found here.

Ground Game Texas

This is good, too.

Julie Oliver

Some of Democrats’ biggest regrets about the 2020 election in Texas had to do with organizing. It was not consistent throughout the cycle — and usually isn’t in any cycle. It was supplanted by TV ads at the end. And it was hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, with the backing of the state’s most prominent Democrats, two former congressional candidates are trying to turn those regrets into action.

The candidates, Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel, are launching a new nonprofit called Ground Game Texas that will focus on year-round organizing on progressive issues, aiming to fill what they see as a statewide void for their party. The group starts off with a $1 million investment from Register2Vote, a national nonprofit that the two already help lead.

“There’s no off years and there’s no off cycles, and folks need to stay engaged year-round,” Siegel said in an interview, adding there is “kind of a tendency among Democratic activists” to get involved only in presidential-election years or high-profile down-ballot contests like the 2018 U.S. Senate race. “The Republican Party doesn’t do that. They never stop.”

Ground Game Texas will organize Texans around issues rather than candidates, with a focus on what Siegel and Oliver are calling “workers, wages and weed” — issues like raising the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana that poll well but are not reflected by Republican policymakers in the state. A February University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that 60% of registered voters in Texas support legalizing some amount of marijuana for any use. A similar number in April expressed support for increasing the federal minimum wage.

The group expects to throw its weight behind local ballot initiatives, which often involve a lot of ground work such as collecting signatures for petitions to put the issues on a ballot. Siegel said he has already had conversations about proposals in 10 cities — places like Mission, Bedford and Elgin. The leading ideas there, he said, are decriminalizing marijuana and creating funding for climate jobs.

[…]

Ground Game Texas is launching with the support of three of the best-known Texas Democrats: Julián Castro, Wendy Davis and Beto O’Rourke, who said in a statement that the new group “is going to meet Texans where they are at to listen to them about the issues that matter most.” And it starts with an advisory board that includes Davis; rising-star state Reps. James Talarico of Round Rock and Jasmine Crockett of Dallas; and longtime party stalwarts such as former Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower and Texas AFL-CIO president Rick Levy.

The advisory board additionally features Democrats who ran in nationally targeted districts last year and suffered some of the toughest losses, like Candace Valenzuela, who narrowly lost to now-U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Irving.

Both Oliver and Siegel have firsthand experience with the challenges Democrats faced last election cycle. They both performed surprisingly well when they ran against Republican incumbents in 2018 — Oliver against U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Austin and Siegel against Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin. In 2020, both ran again, only to lose by larger margins.

In 2020, both gained the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which named them to its Red to Blue program for promising challengers. But they remain skeptical of the committee’s priorities.

“[The DCCC] doesn’t really invest in this sort of infrastructure building that Mike and I did in our campaigns,” Oliver said. “That strategy is so different between the DC strategy and the Texas strategy. … The DC strategy doesn’t really work here in Texas, so we want to do year-round organizing.”

The DCCC announced Monday that it was including Texas in an initial seven-figure investment nationally in on-the-ground organizing, calling it the “earliest ever organizing investment of this scale and scope in DCCC’s history.” The committee said it would target areas in Texas such as Dallas, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley, where Democrats notably underperformed last year.

As I’m sure you can guess, I approve of the issues they are focusing on. I very much think there’s ground to be gained by pushing real marijuana reform, and by “reform” I mean decriminalization, if not legalization. People across the board want it, and the single biggest impediment to it is Dan Patrick. I’m more skeptical of raising the minimum wage as a winning issue – note that the polling question is about whether one supports raising the federal minimum wage, not whether one supports raising the minimum wage in Texas – but am happy to push the idea. I trust that the focus on local ballot initiatives is a starting point, because that’s not going to get very far and any success they have is certain to wind up in court, if not in legislative pushback.

Putting emphasis on organizing when three’s not an actual election going on is a good and long-needed idea as well. Lots of people complain that no one talks to them about issues and what’s important to them outside of a “please vote for me” context, so this addresses that gap. We may find out that a lot of these people prefer being left alone most of the time, but there’s no way to know until you try. The bigger point here is that by having this kind of campaign infrastructure be year-round, you’re not having to rebuild from scratch every other year.

We’ve certainly seen various initiatives, promising various kinds of new engagement, come and go over the years. I’m sure that no matter what happens in 2022, in two years’ time I’ll be reading about yet another new effort to organize and engage and register. That’s fine, and it doesn’t mean that what came (and possibly went) before now was wasted or useless. We’ve had to try a lot of things, and to see what works and what doesn’t, we’ve learned from past experiences, and we have made a lot of progress even if the statewide breakthrough hasn’t happened yet. It would be much more concerning to me if we weren’t seeing new efforts like this, spearheaded in part by new additions to the political team, popping up and making news. We all have options for how we want to get involved now. Find the one that works best for you and get into it.

A closer look at county races, Part 1

In this series of entries, I’m going to take a trip through the local election results pages on some counties of interest, to get a closer look at how they went this year and how that compares to 2016. We know Dems didn’t make the kind of gains they hoped for in Congress or the Lege, but there are other races on the ballot. How did things look there?

Harris County: We know the basic story of Harris County, where Republicans have claimed to get their mojo back. I’m not going to re-litigate that, but I will note that while things were mostly at stasis at the countywide and legislative levels, Dems flipped JP Precinct 5, long held by Republicans, though Constable Precinct 5 remained Republican. Beto carried all eight JP/Constable precincts in 2018, and while Biden only carried six in 2020, there still remain opportunities for Dems to win offices currently held by Republicans in Harris County.

Tarrant County: At a macro level, Dems were far more competitive in judicial races in 2020 than they were in 2016. None of the statewide judicial candidates got as much as 41% of the vote in 2016, while the range for statewide judicials in 2020 was 46.13% to 47.91%. In 2016, Dems fielded only one candidate for a district court bench; he lost by 15 points. In 2020, Dems challenged in 9 of 11 district court plus one county court race, with all candidates getting between 46 and 48 percent. This is basically where Harris County Democrats were in 2004, with more candidates in these races.

A little farther down the ballot, and Democrats flipped two Constable offices, in Precincts 2 and 7. Neither Republican incumbent had been challenged in 2016.

Fort Bend County: We know the topline, that Hillary Clinton won Fort Bend County in 2016, by a 51-45 margin. But there was no downballot effect – none of the statewide Democratic candidates won a plurality (all statewide candidates were below fifty percent). None of the Courts of Appeals candidates won, and none of the countywide candidates won, though most were around 48 or 49 percent. State Rep. Phil Stephenson won the Fort Bend part of HD85 by six points. Republicans won back County Commissioner Precinct 1 by finally running an untainted candidate against two-term incumbent Richard Morrison. Fort Bend was on the precipice, but it seemed like it had been there before.

As we know, Democrats broke through in a big way in 2018, and 2020 was more of the same. It’s not just that Biden carried Fort Bend by over ten points. It’s that every statewide Dem took a majority in Fort Bend, as did every Courts of Appeals candidates and every countywide candidate. Dems did not win back CC1, though challenger Jennifer Cantu did a smidge better than Morrison had done, but they did win the Constable race in Precinct 4; this was an open seat, as previous incumbent Trever Nehls ran unsuccessfully for Sheriff. Nehls had been unopposed in 2016.

Bexar County: Bexar is reliably blue at this point, and Biden’s 58-40 win is almost exactly in line with the October countywide poll we got. The big difference I see between Bexar 2020 and Bexar 2016 is in the legislative races. Phillip Cortez won HD117 back in 2016 by two and half points after having been swept out in the 2014 debacle. He won in 2020 by over 13 points. Tomas Uresti won HD118 in 2016 by ten points; Leo Pacheco won it in 2020 by seventeen. Rebecca Bell-Metereau lost the Bexar portion of SBOE5 in 2016 by 42K votes; she lost it by 24K votes in 2020, which is to say by 18K fewer votes. She won the district by 17K total votes, mostly boosted by Travis County, but she needed it to be closer in Bexar and it was. By the same token, Sen. Carlos Uresti won the Bexar portion of SD19 over challenger Pete Flores in 2016 by 34K votes. Incumbent Pete Flores lost the Bexar portion of SD19 to Roland Gutierrez by 33K votes, and he needed that margin to be as good as it was considering how the rest of the district went for Flores by 23K; Uresti had won the rest of the district by 3K in 2016. However you feel about the 2020 election in Texas, you would feel much worse about it if Rebecca Bell-Metereau had lost and Pete Flores had hung on. So thank you, Bexar County.

Williamson County: WilCo made news in 2018 when Beto carried the county, with MJ Hegar doing the same in CD31. I’ll get to the 2020 results in a minute, but first let’s remind ourselves where things were in 2016. Trump won WilCo by nine points over Hillary Clinton, John Carter beat Mike Clark in CD31 by 19 points, other statewide Republicans led by 16 to 19 points, and Tom Maynard led in SBOE10 by 16 points. State Rep. Larry Gonzalez had only a Libertarian opponent in HD52, Rep. Tony Dale won HD136 by eleven points. Republicans running for countywide office were all unopposed. The one Democratic victory was for County Commissioner, Precinct 1, which Terry Cook took with 51%.

Fast forward to 2020. Biden won Williamson County by about a point and a half – more than ten points better than Clinton in 2016. As with Tarrant County, his win was a solo at the county level, but the Democratic tide was much higher. Hegar lost to John Cornyn by three points, Donna Imam by five in CD31, and the other statewide Dems trailed by three to seven points. Tom Maynard carried WilCo in SBOE10 again, but only by four points. Dems had flipped HDs 52 and 136 in the 2018 wave, and both freshmen Reps were easily re-elected, James Talarico by three points in HD52, and John Bucy by 10 in HD136. Dems lost the two District Court races they challenged, and they lost for County Attorney, but they did oust the scandal-tainted Sheriff, by a massive 12 points. Terry Cook was re-elected as County Commissioner in Precinct 1 with over 57%, and Dems won Constable Precinct 1, while coming close in Precincts 3 (losing by five) and 4 (losing by two). It’s not at all hard to see Williamson as the next Fort Bend.

The point of all this is twofold. One is a reminder that there are more races than just the state races, and there’s more ways to measure partisan strength than just wins and losses. The other is that these much less visible races that Dems are winning is exactly what Republicans were doing in the 80s and 90s and into the aughts. Every election it seemed like I was reading about this or that traditionally Democratic county that had gone all Republican. There is a trend here, and we’d be foolish to ignore it. To be sure, this is happening in fewer counties than with the Republican march of the previous decades, but there’s a lot more people in these counties. I’ll take population over land mass any day.

I’ll be back with a look at more counties next time. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: While I was drafting this, I received a press release from the TDP congratulating three Democratic Sheriffs-elect, all of whom had won offices previously held by Republicans: Eric Fagan in Fort Bend, Mike Gleason in Williamson – both of which were mentioned in this post – and Joe Lopez of Falls County, which is adjacent to McLennan and Coryell counties to the east; basically, it’s east of Waco. Falls was Republican at the Presidential level, with Trump carrying it 4,177 to 1,899, so I assume there was some reason particular to that race that assisted Lopez in his victory.

30 Day 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 4

Last but not least, here are the 30-day finance reports from the 10 non-Houston-area seats that Dems flipped in 2018, plus four others of interest. Part One of my stroll through the 30-day finance reports, for statewide, SBOE, and State Senate candidates, is here. Part Two, with State House races from the Houston area, is here. Part Three, for the other House races of interest, is here. The July reports for these candidates can be found here. Let’s do this.

Ryan Guillen, HD31
Marian Knowlton, HD31

Abel Herrero, HD34
James Hernandez, HD34

Erin Zwiener, HD45
Carrie Isaac, HD45

Vikki Goodwin, HD47
Justin Berry, HD47

James Talarico, HD52
Lucio Valdez, HD52

Michelle Beckley, HD65
Kronda Thimesch, HD65

Eddie Morales, HD74
Ruben Falcon, HD74

Ana-Maria Ramos, HD102
Linda Koop, HD102

Terry Meza, HD105
Gerson Hernandez, HD105

Victoria Neave, HD107
Samuel Smith, HD107

Rhetta Bowers, HD113
Will Douglas, HD113

John Turner, HD114
Luisa Del Rosal, HD114

Julie Johnson, HD115
Karyn Brownlee, HD115

John Bucy, HD136
Mike Guevara, HD136


Dist   Candidate       Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD31   Guillen         70,625    24,066          0     493,094
HD31   Knowlton        14,390    11,515          0      13,391

HD34   Herrero         95,325    80,201          0     240,175
HD34   Hernandez       19,546    12,865          0      23,441

HD45   Zwiener        417,524   154,920          0     169,357
HD45   Isaac          227,503   104,256          0     155,094

HD47   Goodwin        134,569    66,855     13,000     201,970
HD47   Berry          446,275   106,578          0      75,601

HD52   Talarico       147,900    73,299          0     191,497
HD52   Valdez         157,845     4,683          0      18,519

HD65   Beckley        201,301    70,787          0     108,005
HD65   Thimesch       269,935    38,322     10,000     130,222

HD74   Morales         44,078     7,697    215,000      42,890
HD74   Falcon           2,300     2,224      5,000          75

HD102  Ramos          139,061    39,314        310      98,053
HD102  Koop           261,349    91,189          0      58,993

HD105  Meza            75,860    31,737          0      85,926
HD105  Hernandez       37,115    20,425      8,500      16,690

HD107  Neave           50,432    53,321          0      78,451
HD107  Smith           44,729    31,426      2,400      23,914

HD113  Bowers         180,175   114,854          0      74,693
HD113  Douglas        450,556   135,201          0     401,426

HD114  Turner         165,163   143,114      7,000     457,498
HD114  Del Rosal      398,601   183,323     10,000     268,392

HD115  Johnson        163,755    52,629          0     330,655
HD115  Brownlee        47,434     9,916     11,000      61,613

HD136  Bucy           109,468    87,022     46,375     109,579
HD136  Guevara         31,460    10,724      2,000       8,709

As before, we can confidently say that while all these districts are competitive on paper, some of these races are a lot more competitive than others, at least judging by the way candidates are raising (or not raising) money. A quick bullet-point recap:

– It’s not a surprise that none of HD31, HD34, nor HD74 are being seriously challenged. Republicans just have not made much effort in South Texas and the Valley, at least not at the State House level. I wouldn’t expect any of these races to be all that competitive, but HD74 is an open seat. If I were a Republican, I’d be annoyed by this.

Jennifer Fleck, who had a SPAC report as well as her personal report as of July, did not have a report for either that I could find as of yesterday. She didn’t have much to report in July, but she was in the primary runoff, so she had a reason to be starting at a lower point. This was the one Republican district in Travis County, and it had been won by a Republican every election except for 2006 and 2008 going all the way back to at least 1992 before Vikki Goodwin took it in the blue wave of 2018. I know that the Travis County Republican Party in particular is a dumpster fire, but still. It’s a bit mind-boggling that they’re not putting up much of a fight here.

UPDATE: I managed to have the wrong candidate here – Justin Berry defeated Jennifer Fleck in the primary runoff, and I just goofed on it. Berry has an impressive amount raised, but as you might guess, it’s mostly in kind – indeed, $294K of it is in kind. Still, this is real money being spent on him, so I take back everything I said about this district not being contested. My apologies for the error.

– My mind is also boggled at the thought of a freshman Democrat in Williamson County drawing such un-spirited opposition, but that’s where Rep. John Bucy is. Not a complaint, mind you, just a head-scratcher.

– Some day, when we can be together in person again, I hope to corral a Dallas political type and ply them with beer so they can explain to me why HD115 is essentially being ceded. To be fair, Julie Johnson won by thirteen points in 2018, but then John Turner won by eleven. I mean, I don’t expect Rep. Johnson to have been in any trouble, but again – freshman Rep, longtime Republican seat, and you have to have some belief in yourself. What I’m taking away from all this is that the Republicans for the most part just aren’t on offense all that much. It’s defense, defense, defense, with a few energetic challengers and the Associated Republicans of Texas PAC doing a lot of heavy lifting. And again, to be fair, they just need to limit their losses to stay in the Speaker’s seat and have redistricting all to themselves again. You’d just have thought – or at least, I clearly did – that they’d have had bigger ambitions than that.

– The rest are being challenged in a way one might expect, though as we have discussed before, some of those fundraising totals are misleading due to in kind contributions, which in this case is ART PAC money for the most part. Lucio Valdez only raised about $15K himself, and Linda Koop only raised $77K. Neither Carrie Isaac ($48K in kind) nor Kronda Thimesch ($166K in kind) had much cash on hand in July but have acquitted themselves well since then. The candidates themselves may not have raised all that much overall, but the money being spent on them is still money being spent on them. I feel generally confident about the Dem freshlings holding their seats, but there are definitely some races I’ll be keeping a closer eye on.

That wraps up my stroll through the state 30 day reports. I’ll have the Q3 Congressional reports next week – they’re only just now in the system. Let me know what you think.

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 4

So yeah, after my previous entry I went and talked myself into checking on the finance reports from the 10 non-Houston-area seats that Dems flipped in 2018, plus four others of interest. It’s a sickness, I admit it, but here we are. Part One of my look at the July reports for state races (statewide, State Senate, and SBOE) is here, Part 2 (the Houston-area State Rep districts) is here, and Part 3 (the other seats Dems are challenging) is here.

Ryan Guillen, HD31
Marian Knowlton, HD31

Abel Herrero, HD34
James Hernandez, HD34

Erin Zwiener, HD45
Carrie Isaac, HD45

Vikki Goodwin, HD47
Jennifer Fleck, HD47
Jennifer Fleck SPAC, HD47

James Talarico, HD52
Lucio Valdez, HD52

Michelle Beckley, HD65
Kronda Thimesch, HD65

Eddie Morales, HD74
Ruben Falcon, HD74

Ana-Maria Ramos, HD102
Linda Koop, HD102

Terry Meza, HD105
Gerson Hernandez, HD105

Victoria Neave, HD107
Samuel Smith, HD107

Rhetta Bowers, HD113
Will Douglas, HD113

John Turner, HD114
Luisa Del Rosal, HD114

Julie Johnson, HD115
Karyn Brownlee, HD115

John Bucy, HD136
Mike Guevara, HD136


Dist   Candidate       Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD31   Guillen         41,395    22,139          0     439,602
HD31   Knowlton        11,329     7,239          0      10,678

HD34   Herrero         41,245    32,142          0     252,892
HD34   Hernandez       42,546    10,857          0      29,863

HD45   Zwiener        131,664   101,551          0     101,387
HD45   Isaac           98,202    83,016          0      24,129

HD47   Goodwin        137,230    63,990     19,000     170,429
HD47   Fleck           19,064    32,948     19,188       4,342

HD52   Talarico       148,975    70,941          0     130,711
HD52   Valdez          13,671     6,398          0       6,901

HD65   Beckley         64,004    44,016          0      48,569
HD65   Thimesch        88,416    63,987     10,000      63,885

HD74   Morales         15,950    13,593    215,000      13,000
HD74   Falcon           1,600     2,419      5,000           0

HD102  Ramos           72,737    36,654        310      51,422
HD102  Koop            88,745    77,489          0      48,630

HD105  Meza            42,266    11,670          0      78,310
HD105  Hernandez        9,794     9,549      8,500       9,789

HD107  Neave           64,849    22,869          0      61,931
HD107  Smith            9,107     4,693      2,400       7,044

HD113  Bowers          96,329    59,424          0      68,221
HD113  Douglas        240,579    71,091          0     266,347

HD114  Turner         157,316   145,704      7,000     425,567
HD114  Del Rosal      120,708   151,281     10,000     255,201

HD115  Johnson        108,452    72,228          0     236,842
HD115  Brownlee        13,970     6,597     11,000      28,698

HD136  Bucy            79,511    45,209     46,375     103,770
HD136  Guevara         13,500    11,275          0       2,588

HD74 is an open seat. HDs 31 and 34 are the two purplest seats held by Dems from a year before 2018, with HD74 being the third-purplest. All three are on the Texas Elects watch list. HD107 was flipped by Rep. Neave in 2016, and she withstood a drunk driving arrest to win re-election easily in 2018. All of the other seats were flipped by Dems in 2018.

Reps. Erin Zwiener and Michelle Beckley had primary opponents, while everyone else had a free pass in March. Zwiener had a more expensive primary than Beckley, but she raised more and has more on hand, so no worries there. John Turner is the only other Dem to have spent a significant amount in the first six months of the year, and it was fairly normal stuff – staff, contract, and consulting salaries and fees, and monthly rental for an office were the bulk of it. An $18K charge for polling was the single biggest (and most interesting) expense.

Turner, son of former Congressman Jim Turner, is one of two Dem incumbents whose opponent raised at least $100K in this period. Turner’s opponent Luisa Del Rosal, who actually spent more than she raised over the past six months, has an impressive $255K on hand, in part because she’s been running and raising money since early 2019 – she has a July 2019 finance report, so she’s been fundraising for well over a year now, as long as Turner has been an incumbent. He maintains a significant cash advantage, but she’s got the resources to put up a fight.

Also impressive on the Republican side is Will Douglas in HD113, who raised double what Del Rosas did in the first six months of 2020, and now has a big cash advantage on first term Rep. Rhetta Bowers. Bowers’ $96K raised wasn’t bad, but she started out with a lot less on hand and is almost $200K behind Douglas. Rep. Michelle Beckley, who was outraised by challenger Kronda Thimesch and has less cash on hand, is the only other Dem incumbent in that position. Ana Ramos was slightly outraised by Linda Koop, the former incumbent in HD102, but she holds a modest cash on hand lead, thanks in part to Koop having to spend more (Koop had a primary opponent).

I should note that both Bowers, who won in 2018 by seven points, and Turner, who won by 11, are in districts that performed pretty strongly for Dems in 2018. Beckley had a closer win, but her district has been trending rapidly Democratic. They have challenges, but none of them are in a weak position to begin with.

Beyond that, Dem incumbents look to be in pretty solid shape. We should also acknowledge that there will be plenty of money spent by third party groups, and that everyone here is likely to raise a bunch more money in the interim. As I’ve said elsewhere, the 30 day reports will tell a better story. I’m mildly concerned about HDs 65 and 113, and I’m not going to rest easy until after November, but I see no red flags. That’s not a bad place to be.

Javier Ambler

Remember his name.

Javier Ambler

Javier Ambler was driving home from playing poker on March 28, 2019, when he failed to dim the headlights of his SUV to oncoming traffic.

A Williamson County sheriff’s deputy initiated a stop and began chasing him for the minor traffic violation. After Ambler apparently refused to pull over, a pursuit that lasted 22 minutes and ended when Ambler’s Honda Pilot crashed north of Downtown Austin.

Minutes later, Ambler, a 40-year-old father of two, was dying on a neighborhood street.

Records obtained by the KVUE Defenders and the Austin American-Statesman reveal that deputies used Taser stun guns on him at least three times, even as he told them multiple times that he had a heart condition and could not breathe.

The circumstances of Ambler’s March 28, 2019, death have never been revealed. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office tried to shield information from release since receiving its first request in February.

Ambler’s death was ruled a homicide, which officials said include “justifiable homicide.” Medical examiners listed his cause of death as congestive heart failure and hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with morbid obesity “in combination with forcible restraint,” according to an in-custody report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s office. The report included no other details about Ambler’s autopsy, which hasn’t been released, but noted that he did not appear to be intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

[…]

Plohetski and the KVUE Defenders learned about Ambler’s death in February from frustrated investigators who felt stymied in their quest to understand what happened.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office sought to keep confidential internal affairs records in the case after a request for information in late February.

On May 18, however, the Texas Attorney General ruled that the agency had no legal grounds to withhold information and ordered that at least some materials be released. Ten days later, the sheriff’s office provided a three-page internal affairs investigative report that found no wrongdoing by deputies.

Plohetski and the KVUE Defenders learned about Ambler’s death in February from frustrated investigators who felt stymied in their quest to understand what happened.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office sought to keep confidential internal affairs records in the case after a request for information in late February.

On May 18, however, the Texas Attorney General ruled that the agency had no legal grounds to withhold information and ordered that at least some materials be released. Ten days later, the sheriff’s office provided a three-page internal affairs investigative report that found no wrongdoing by deputies.

The deputy chased him for 22 minutes because Javier Ambler had his high beams on. When was the last time you were pulled over for that offense? What possible public safety goal would have been achieved by pursuing and then forcibly subduing Javier Ambler?

More from the Statesman:

The deputies’ decisions to chase and repeatedly use their Tasers on a man who simply failed to dim his lights prompts questions about the agency’s practice of pursuing drivers for minor crimes.

“It is of very serious concern to any of us who are in law enforcement that the decision to engage in that chase was driven by more of a need to provide entertainment than to keep Williamson County citizens safe,” said Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore.

Some 15 months after Ambler’s death, Moore’s civil rights division is still investigating the incident. After questioning from an American-Statesman reporter, she said her office plans to present the case to a grand jury.

[…]

As Deputy J.J. Johnson, who is regularly featured on “Live PD,” patrolled the quiet suburban roads just north of Austin last March, a film crew rode along with him.

When Ambler passed with his brights on at 1:23 a.m., the deputy turned his car around and flipped on the flashing lights.

Ambler didn’t stop. Johnson gave chase.

For the next 22 minutes, the two vehicles sped across highways and onto neighborhood streets. As he drove, Johnson narrated for the TV crew, telling them what he thought was going on in Ambler’s mind.

As they crossed into Travis County, Austin officers were instructed not to get involved in the pursuit because they are allowed only to chase dangerous criminals.

There’s a long, detailed account of what happened after that. Ambler was tasered four times, and told the deputies that he had congestive heart failure, was unable to breathe, and was trying but unable to comply with the orders they shouted at him, while sitting on top of him. They handcuffed him when he fell unconscious, and only realized a few minutes later that Ambler was not breathing.

You may be wondering, why was there a TV crew with Deputy Johnson?

Investigators say they are disturbed about what happened to Ambler and how the Williamson sheriff’s officials have responded to his death.

They are troubled that deputies went to such extraordinary lengths to capture Ambler for a minor offense. They also have grave concerns about the consequences of having “Live PD” camera crews at the scene.

“Live PD” did not respond to requests for comment on Monday. The footage shot that night has not aired.

In the past three years, more than half of the nearly 100 pursuits initiated by Williamson County deputies were for traffic violations, according to department records.

Chody said Monday that he does not believe the department’s current, more restrictive, pursuit policy was in place during the chase that led to Ambler’s death.

[…]

The case also adds fuel to a yearlong fight between Chody and Williamson County commissioners about his department’s participation in “Live PD.” Chody has said the show offers viewers a first-hand experience of policing, has raised the profile of his agency and is a valuable recruiting tool.

But Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick has said he’s concerned that “Live PD” refuses to provide prosecutors with video footage it collects while on patrol with deputies.

“It is getting very difficult for my prosecutors to uphold their statutory and Constitutional obligations to disclose evidence when prosecuting sheriff’s department cases,” Dick said.

Days after Dick raised those concerns in 2019, Williamson County commissioners ended a contract with the show.

In March of this year, however, filming resumed when Chody signed his own agreement with producers, prompting commissioners to issue a “cease and desist” order to the sheriff’s office.

Chody refused to comply, and in May, the county sued him.

“Sheriff Chody can perform the core duties of sheriff without the live TV show,” the lawsuit said. “But he doesn’t want to. Instead, Sheriff Chody seeks social media and TV exposure like a moth to a light bulb — and he’s flown out of his job description to get back on TV.”

I don’t even know what to say about that. But if you’re thinking that at least there’s video of the whole thing, well

Video filmed by a “Live PD” crew of an in-custody death of a black man last year has been destroyed and can no longer be turned over to Austin investigators, representatives of the reality TV show said Tuesday.

The disclosure by A&E Networks came a day after the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV first reported details of the March 2019 death of Javier Ambler while being arrested by Williamson County sheriff’s deputies in connection with a traffic violation. The Austin American-Statesman is part of the USA TODAY Network.

A&E confirmed Tuesday that “video of the tragic death of Javier Ambler was captured by body cams worn on the officers involved as well by the producers of Live PD who were riding with certain officers involved.”

It said that the incident did not occur while the show was airing live and that the video was not broadcast later.

A&E’s statement said that Austin investigators had not asked for the video or to interview show producers. “As is the case with all footage taken by Live PD producers, we no longer retained the unaired footage after learning that the investigation had concluded,” the network said in a statement.

[…]

Three of four Williamson County commissioners Tuesday called for Sheriff Robert Chody to resign after learning of Ambler’s death and charges that Chody’s department had failed to provide evidence to Travis County investigators.

“The citizens have lost faith in him,” Williamson County Commissioner Russ Boles said.

The TDP and State Rep. James Talarico have also called for Sheriff Chody’s resignation; I’m sure others will follow. The point here is the same point that so many other people have been making, some for a very long time and others in recent weeks, which is that the death of black Americans at the hands of police officers happens all the damn time, in every state, and that fundamental, root-and-branch change is needed to stop it. It’s not a matter of “bad apples”, it’s the system. CBS News and the Texas Signal have more.

Texas GOP accidentally releases its 2020 strategy

Oops.

In a bizarre political blunder, a document laying out the Republican Party of Texas’s election strategy for the 2020 elections has ended up in the hands of Texas Democrats. Attacking Democratic candidates through websites and mitigating “the polarizing nature” of President Donald Trump are part of the plan.

The document — called a draft for initial discussion by the Texas GOP Party chair — was titled “Primary/General Election 2020 [Draft]” and began showing up in Democratic emails Monday evening.

It includes a target list of 12 statehouse districts, including six in North Texas, that Republicans are aiming to take back in next year’s elections. Negative attacks through websites, and highlighting diverse Republicans to counter a “narrative driven by Democrats” about the GOP’s lack of diversity are also part of the strategy.

Republican targets in North Texas are Dallas County Democratic Reps. Ana-Maria Ramos, Terry Meza, Rhetta Bowers, John Turner and Julie Johnson, as well as Denton County Rep. Michelle Beckley.

“Starting after the Primary, the RPT will generate microsites for negative hits against the Democrat candidates in our twelve target race—we expect each microsite to be roughly $500,” the document reads. “We will then begin rolling out these websites, prioritizing the races that were within 4% in the 2018 election.”

[…]

Many of the strategies in the plan, like identifying targets and setting up negative attack websites, are not uncommon in politics. But their public disclosure — especially if that disclosure is unwanted or embarrassing — and the level of detail that became public is unusual.

The document lays out a plan to purchase online domain names affiliated with the names of Democratic candidates so that Republicans can reroute them to the negative attack websites.

“For example, we will purchase ZwienerforTexas.com, ZwienerforTX.com, and so on,” the document reads.

Democratic Rep. Erin Zwiener of Driftwood is among the other six House members on the list. The others are Reps. Vikki Goodwin and John Bucy of Austin, James Talarico of Round Rock, Gina Calanni of Katy and Jon Rosenthal of Houston.

The document says Republicans will audit search engine optimization results to make sure that the negative attack websites are on the front pages of various search engines and work with other stakeholders — such as Texans for Greg Abbott, the governor’s campaign arm — “to get any more insight on issues that matter to these districts.”

The target list isn’t a surprise, and the online strategies are fairly common. Every serious candidate, and for sure every elected official, should buy up all the variants of their name as domains to keep them out of enemy hands. This isn’t new – I mean, David Dewhurst was the victim of a domain squatter way back when he first ran for Lite Guv in 2002. At least now Democrats are on notice they need to do this if they hadn’t already. The good news is that there should be more than enough resources to anticipate and address these needs. And putting my professional hat on for a minute, for crying out loud please please please make sure there are cybersecurity specialists on the payroll. You don’t need to be Fort Knox, but you very much do need to use multi-factor authentication and make sure your patches are current.

We could go on, but you get the point. The real value in all this is the reminder that the Internet is dark and full of terrors, and forewarned is forearmed. No excuses, y’all.

One more thing:

“Given the polarizing nature of the President, I suspect some Republicans will refuse to turnout during the General Election because they don’t want to vote for him – though I don’t know that we will know what this universe would look like without us or a stakeholder creating a model,” the document reads. “Regardless, I suggest we set up a contingency budget to target these folks with mailers, digital ads, and texts to encourage them to turnout for U.S. Senate, State Senate, State House, and so on.”

It is unclear who the “I” in the document refers to.

The plan also identifies the Republican-led elimination of straight ticket voting as “one of the biggest challenges ahead of the 2020 cycle.” To address that, the plan details an effort to convince Republican voters to vote for GOP candidates all the way down the ballot manually through a tagline. Some of the potential taglines include: “Vote Right All the Way Down!” “Vote Right To The Bottom!” and “Vote RIGHT Down the Ballot!”

I’ve written way too much about straight ticket voting and how ridiculous it has always been for the pundit class to assume that the lack of straight ticket voting in the future would spell doom for Democrats. No less an authority than the Republican Party of Texas agrees with me on that. If I had a mike, it would be hitting the floor right now. The Chron, the Texas Signal, the Current, and Political Animal have more.

How many Congressional seats are really in play for Texas Dems?

By one measure, more than you probably think. From Jonathan Tilove of the Statesman:

Last weekend, I read an interview in Salon with Rachel Bitecofer, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.

She is also an election analyst whose forecast of big Democratic gains in the 2018 midterm election was uncannily, uniquely accurate. She is now using the same model to forecast that any Democratic presidential candidate will win a minimum of 278 electoral votes in 2020 against President Donald Trump, eight more than the 270 needed to win.

But even more interesting to me, she is predicting that, if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the D-trip, as she and others commonly call it — applies resources generously and wisely, it could flip nine Texas House seats in 2020, half again as many as the six seats the DCCC is now targeting.

In addition to what will be open seats now held by Republicans in the 23rd Congressional District, where Will Hurd is not seeking reelection; the 22nd, where Pete Olson is retiring; and the 24th, where Kenny Marchant joined the Texodus; the DCCC is also setting its sights on the 21st, held by freshman Rep. Chip Roy; the 31st, held by veteran John Carter; and the 10th, which now belongs to Austin’s Michael McCaul.

But Bitecofer also includes three U.S. House districts on her list that are not now on the DCCC target list — the 25th Congressional District, where Democrat Julie Oliver is making a second run at incumbent Roger Williams, also of Austin; the 2nd, held by freshman Dan Crenshaw; and the 3rd, held by another freshman, Van Taylor, who I’ve never before heard mentioned as potential Democratic target of opportunity.

In fact, according to Bitecofer, nine of the Democrats’ 18 best chances for pickups in 2020 congressional races nationally are in Texas, which makes it, in her estimation, Ground Zero next year.

I interviewed Bitecofer on Monday and realized that it’s not so much that her analysis flies in the face of conventional wisdom about Texas politics, as it flies above it.

[…]

Under Bitecofer’s model, it doesn’t really matter if the Democratic congressional candidate is a fire-breathing progressive or a milquetoast moderate, as long as they remind voters that the election is all about Trump.

Bitecofer exudes confidence in her forecast.

Of McCaul, she said: “He’s a dead man walking if the DCCC drops money in that race, and then it doesn’t really matter who the Democrats nominate. Other handicappers will have it as `lean red’ when they do their races, and I will have it as ‘will flip’ if the DCCC has put it on its list.”

Bitecofer’s model is based on the number of college-educated voters in a given district, and it happens that Texas, being a mostly urban and suburban state, has a lot of them. You can read Tilove’s interview with her, or that Salon article, or listen to this interview she did on The Gist with Mike Pesca, but that’s the basic idea behind it.

Bitecofer’s model is alluring, but note the assumption of the DCCC targeting the district. That means pouring money into it, which also means that the Democratic nominee is already doing well in the fundraising department. By that reckoning, we need to dial back the enthusiasm a bit. CD03 has no candidate at this time now that Lorie Burch has ended her candidacy. CD31, which is on the DCCC list, doesn’t have a proven candidate yet. The two who filed Q2 finance reports have raised a few bucks, but the fact that freshman State Rep. James Talerico had been encouraged to run tells me this one is not at all settled. Elisa Cardnell in CD02 has raised some money and has been campaigning for months now, but Crenshaw has a national profile and a sheen from his Saturday Night Live appearance that he’s doing his best to tarnish but is still there. Julie Oliver is off to a nice start in CD25, but that’s the district of the nine with the weakest overall Dem performance from 2018. I’m still enough of a skeptic to think those numbers matter, too.

(Note also that Bitecofer does not include CD06 in her list. Beto did slightly better there than in CDs 03 and 25, and I personally would be inclined to think it’s a bit more reachable, but as of the Q2 reporting period there wasn’t a candidate yet. Minor details and all that.)

Anyway, I’d say that Dems are in a strong position in CDs 10, 21, 22, 23, and 24, and we’ll see what happens after that. For what it’s worth, just flipping those five seats – and can we take a moment to acknowledge how amazing it is that one can write such a thing and not feel ridiculous about it? – would make the Congressional caucus from Texas 18 Dems and 18 GOPers. That’s not too shabby.

Initial thoughts: The Lege

Live by the gerrymander, die by the gerrymander.

At the end of the 2011 legislative session, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, sat down to dinner with a Republican colleague from the Texas House. Anchia was exhausted and incensed.

It had been a brutal six months for House Democrats, who were down to 48 seats in the 150-seat chamber. After riding a red wave in the 2010 election, Republicans used their new House supermajority to redraw Texas’ political maps following the once-a-decade census in a way that would help them hold onto their gains. They all but assured GOP control of the House for the next decade and secured almost 60 percent of the seats in Dallas County, even though the county was already reliably blue.

Anchia recalled telling the Republican colleague, who he declined to name, that Dallas Democrats were “getting screwed.” But the colleague offered a puzzling piece of solace: “There’s not going to be one [Dallas] Republican left by the end of this decade.”

Seven years later, that political forecast almost became reality. Amid their zeal for control, Republicans in 2011 opted for keeping their numbers up in the county and dismissed the possibility of creating a district with a black and Hispanic majority that could’ve made their seats safer in a Democratic wave election. Going into Election Day, Republicans held seven of the 14 House seats in Dallas County. But a collapse of the Republican-leaning redistricting scheme has left them with just two seats — and even those were won by narrow margins.

“The lesson is you can get too clever in gerrymandering,” said Michael Li, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

[…]

As far as Democrats and redistricting experts are concerned, Republicans could have opted to create a new “opportunity district” for the county’s growing population of color. That would’ve reduced the number of voters of color in Republican districts, giving the GOP more of a cushion through the decade, but it would have also likely added another seat to the Democrats’ column.

Opting instead for more power, the Democrats alleged, the Republicans packed and cracked Latino voters across the county to diminish their voting strength overall and ensure a GOP majority.

But Republicans “shaved those things off a little too close because they got greedy,” said Jose Garza, a voting rights lawyer who helped challenge the GOP’s mapmaking. And in a wave election like this, the vulnerable Republican majority loses its edge, he added.

Here’s my precinct analysis from 2016 for Dallas County. I had some thoughts about how this year might go based on what happened in 2016, so let me quote myself from that second post:

“So the best case for the Republicans is a clear win in six districts, with two tossups. Democrats can reasonably hope to have an advantage in eight districts, and in a really good year could mount a decent challenge in 11. These are Presidential year conditions, of course, though as we’ve discussed several times, there’s every reason to believe that 2018 will not be like 2010 or 2014. It still could be bad – Dems will definitely have to protect HD107 – but if the off-year cycle has been broken, there are a lot of opportunities in Dallas to make gains.”

In actuality, Dems won twelve of fourteen races, with a recount possible in one of the two losses. Clearly, I did not see that coming. The supercharged performance in Dallas County overall contributed not only to these results, but also the wins in SD16 and CD32. If this is the new normal in Dallas County, Republicans are going to have some very hard choices to make in 2021 when it’s time to redraw the lines.

And by the way, this lesson about not being too greedy is one they should have learned in the last decade. In 2001, they drew the six legislative districts in Travis County to be three Ds and three Rs. By 2008, all six districts were in Democratic hands. The Republicans won HD47 back in the 2010 wave, and the map they drew this time around left it at 5-1 for the Dems. Of course, they lost HD47 last week too, so maybe the lesson is that the big urban areas are just unrelentingly hostile to them. Not a very useful lesson, I suppose, but not my problem.

Anyway. Here were the top legislative targets for 2018 that I identified last cycle. Let’s do an update on that:


Dist  Clinton% Burns%  Dem18%  Rep18%
=====================================
105     52.1%   49.0%   54.7%   45.3%
113     49.1%   46.4%   53.5%   46.5%
115     51.5%   45.8%   56.7%   43.3%
134     54.7%   45.4%   46.8%   53.2%
102     52.3%   45.3%   52.8%   47.2%
043     43.6%   44.3%   38.9%   61.1%
112     48.3%   43.9%   48.9%   51.1%
135     46.6%   43.7%   50.8%   47.7%
138     47.6%   43.6%   49.9%   50.1%
114     52.1%   43.3%   55.6%   44.4%
132     45.5%   42.7%   49.2%   49.1%
136     46.7%   42.7%   53.3%   43.8%
065     46.1%   42.4%   51.1%   48.9%
052     45.3%   42.2%   51.7%   48.3%
054     43.6%   42.0%   46.2%   53.8%
045     44.2%   41.7%   51.6%   48.4%
026     45.5%   41.0%   47.5%   52.5%
047     46.5%   40.5%   52.3%   47.7%
126     42.7%   39.8%   45.2%   54.8%
108     50.3%   39.6%   49.7%   50.3%
066     45.5%   39.5%   49.7%   50.3%
067     43.9%   38.9%   48.9%   51.1%
097     42.1%   38.5%   47.2%   50.9%
121     42.7%   38.0%   44.7%   53.2%

“Clinton%” is the share of the vote Hillary Clinton got in the district in 2016, while “Burns%” is the same for Court of Criminal Appeals candidate Robert Burns. I used the latter as my proxy for the partisan ratio in a district, as Clinton had picked up crossover votes and thus in my mind made things look better for Dems than perhaps they really were. As you can see from the “Dem18% and “Rep18%” values, which are the percentages the State Rep candidates got this year, I was overly pessimistic. I figured the potential was there for growth, and hoped that people who avoided Trump could be persuaded, but I did not expect this much success. Obviously Beto was a factor as well, but it’s not like Republicans didn’t vote. They just had nowhere near the cushion they were accustomed to having, and it showed in the results.

All 12 pickups came from this group, and there remain a few key opportunities for 2020, starting with HDs 138, 54, 26, 66, and 67. I’d remove HD43, which is moving in the wrong direction, and HD134 continues to be in a class by itself, but there are other places to look. What’s more, we can consider a few districts that weren’t on the radar this year to be in play for 2020:


Dist  Clinton% Burns%  Dem18%  Rep18%
=====================================
014     38.1%   34.7%   43.6%   56.4%
023     40.7%   40.5%   41.1%   56.8%
028     42.7%   38.9%   45.8%   54.2%
029     41.0%   38.9%   
032     41.9%   39.5%
064     39.5%   37.4%   44.5%   52.8%
070     32.2%   28.8%   38.2%   61.8%
084     34.8%   32.1%   39.8%   60.2%
085     40.9%   39.7%   43.5%   46.5%
089     35.4%   32.1%   40.4%   59.6%
092     40.2%   37.9%   47.4%   49.8%
093     40.0%   37.5%   46.1%   53.9%
094     40.5%   37.7%   43.9%   52.5%
096     42.3%   40.6%   47.2%   50.9%
129     39.8%   36.3%   41.8%   56.5%
150     36.3%   33.5%   42.2%   57.8%

Dems did not field a candidate in HD32 (Nueces County), and while we had a candidate run and win in the primary in HD29 (Brazoria County), he must have withdrawn because there’s no Dem listed on the SOS results page. Obviously, some of these are reaches, but given how much some of the districts above shifted in a Dem direction, I’d want to see it be a priority to get good candidates in all of them, and find the funds to help them run robust campaigns.

Two other points to note. One is that the number of LGBTQ members of the House went from two (Reps. Mary Gonzalez and Celia Israel) to five in this election, as Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Jessica Gonzalez, and Julie Johnson join them. We just missed adding one to the Senate as Mark Phariss lost by two points to Angela Paxton. Other LGBTQ candidates won other races around the state, and that list at the bottom of the article omits at least one I know of, my friend and former blogging colleague KT Musselman in Williamson County.

And on a related note, the number of Anglo Democrats, a subject that gets discussed from time to time, has more than tripled, going from six to seventeen. We began with Sens. Kirk Watson and John Whitmire, and Reps. Donna Howard, Joe Pickett, Tracy King, and Chris Turner, and to them we add Sens-elect Beverly Powell and Nathan Johnson, and Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Vikki Goodwin, James Talarico, Michelle Beckley, John Turner, Julie Johnson, Gina Calanni, Jon Rosenthal, and John Bucy. You can make of that what you want, I’m just noting it for the record.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, added Rep. Tracy King to the list of Anglo Dems.

Omnibus election report

It’s after midnight, I’ve mostly posted stuff on my long-dormant Twitter account (@kuff), and I will have many, many thoughts in the coming days. For now, a brief recap.

– As you know, neither Beto nor any other Dem won statewide, thus continuing the shutout that began in 1996. However, as of this writing and 6,998 of 7,939 precincts counted, O’Rourke had 3,824,780 votes, good for 47.86% of the total. In 2016, Hillary Clinton collected 3,877,868 votes. It seems very likely that by the time all is said and done, Beto O’Rourke will be the biggest vote-getter in history for a Texas Democrat. He will have built on Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. That’s pretty goddamn amazing, and if you’re not truly impressed by it you’re not seeing the whole picture. We’re in a different state now.

– Beto may not have won, but boy howdy did he have coattails. Colin Allred won in CD32, and Lizzie Fletcher won in CD07. Will Hurd is hanging on to a shrinking lead in CD23, up by less than 1,200 votes with about 14% of the precincts yet to report. He was leading by 6,000 votes in early voting, and it may still be possible for Gina Ortiz Jones to catch him. Todd Litton (45.30% in CD02), Lorie Burch (44.21% in CD03), Jana Lynne Sanchez (45.25% in CD06), Mike Siegel (46.71% in CD10), Joseph Kopser (47.26% in CD21), Sri Kulkarni (46.38% in CD22), Jan McDowell (46.91% in CD24), Julie Oliver (44.43% in CD25), and MJ Hegar (47.54% in CD31) all came within ten points.

– Those coattails extended further down the ballot. Dems picked up two State Senate seats, as Beverly Powell defeated Konni Burton in SD10 (Wendy Davis’ old seat) and Nathan Johnson trounced Don Huffines in SD16. Rita Lucido was at 46.69% in SD17, but she wasn’t the next-closest competitor – Mark Phariss came within three points of defeating Angela Paxton in SD08, a race that wasn’t really on the radar. Oh, and in an even less-visible race Gwenn Burud scored 45.45% in SD09, while Meg Walsh got to 41.60% against Sen. Charles Schwertner in SD05 (he was just over 55% in that race). We could make things very, very interesting in 2022.

– And down in the State House, Dems have picked up 11 seats:

HD45, Erin Zwiener
HD47, Vikki Goodwin
HD52, James Talarico
HD65, Michelle Beckley
HD102, Ana-Marie Ramos
HD105, Terry Meza
HD113, Rhetta Bowers
HD114, John Turner
HD115, Julie Johnson
HD135, Jon Rosenthal
HD136, John Bucy

Note that of those seven wins, a total of four came from Denton, Hays, and Williamson Counties. The Dems have officially gained a foothold in the suburbs. They also lost some heartbreakingly close races in the House – I’ll save that for tomorrow – and now hold 12 of 14 seats in Dallas County after starting the decade with only six seats. This is the risk of doing too precise a gerrymander – the Republicans there had no room for error in a strong Democratic year.

– Here in Harris County, it was another sweep, as Dems won all the judicial races and in the end all the countywide races. Ed Emmett lost by a point after leading most of the evening, while the other Republicans lost by wide margins. Also late in the evening, Adrian Garcia squeaked ahead of Commissioner Jack Morman in Precinct 2, leading by a 112,356 to 111,226 score. Seems fitting that Morman would lose a close race in a wave year, as that was how he won in the first place. That means Dems now have a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court. Did I say we now live in a different state? We now live in a very different county.

– With 999 of 1,013 precincts in, Harris County turnout was 1,194,379, with about 346K votes happening on Election Day. That puts turnout above what we had in 2008 (in terms of total votes, not percentage of registered voters) but a hair behind 2012. It also means that about 71% of the vote was cast early, a bit less than in 2016.

– Oh, and the Dems swept Fort Bend, too, winning District Attorney, County Judge, District Clerk, all contests judicial races, and County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Maybe someone can explain to me now why they didn’t run candidates for County Clerk and County Treasurer, but whatever.

– Possibly the biggest bloodbath of the night was in the Courts of Appeals, where the Dems won every single contested race in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 13th, and 14th Courts. I count 16 incumbent Republican judges losing, with several more open Republican-held seats flipping. That is utterly amazing, and will have an impact far greater than we can imagine right now.

– Last but not least, both Houston propositions passed. Expect there to be a lawsuit over Prop B.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: State House

We’e seen a lot of very good campaign finance reports, all of which speak to the enthusiasm and engagement of Democrats this cycle. This batch of reports is not as good. These are July reports from State House candidates, take from the most competitive districts based on 2016 results. Let’s see what we’ve got and then we’ll talk about it.

Amanda Jamrok – HD23
Meghan Scoggins – HD28
Dee Ann Torres Miller – HD43
Erin Zwiener – HD45
Vikki Goodwin – HD47
James Talarico – HD52
Michelle Beckley – HD65
Sharon Hirsch – HD66
Beth McLaughlin – HD97
Ana-Maria Ramos – HD102
Terry Meza – HD105
Rep. Victoria Neave – HD107
Joanna Cattanach – HD108
Brandy Chambers – HD112
Rhetta Bowers – HD113
John Turner – HD114
Julie Johnson – HD115
Natali Hurtado – HD126
Alex Karjeker – HD129
Gina Calanni – HD132
Allison Sawyer – HD134
Jon Rosenthal – HD135
John Bucy – HD136
Adam Milasincic – HD138


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
023   Jamrok            3,914    4,244      323       191
028   Scoggins         15,545    8,516    3,000     6,499
043   Torres Miller    10,043    9,109   10,000    10,934
045   Zwiener          42,493   30,608    3,100     5,341
047   Goodwin          97,681  112,871   55,000    46,515
052   Talarico        118,017  120,938   25,000    71,428
065   Beckley          20,609   18,785   10,000     5,143
066   Hirsch           28,597    7,042        0    35,387
097   McLaughlin       19,154   14,713        0    12,314
102   Ramos            28,157   19,562      650    18,205
105   Meza             19,439   10,899        0    10,179
107   Neave           133,759   68,017        0    95,765
108   Cattanach        71,919   17,855        0    53,234
112   Chambers         51,220   22,778        0    23,000
113   Bowers           11,541   14,055        0       216
114   Turner          205,862  103,338    7,000   259,765
115   Johnson         204,965  143,261        0   201,005
126   Hurtado           2,989       90        0     1,906
129   Karjeker         59,746   24,474        0    34,527
132   Calanni           3,939      634      750     3,305
134   Sawyer           22,510   16,559        0    20,973
135   Rosenthal        11,143    2,830    1,750     7,312
136   Bucy             90,301   66,723   46,375    69,680
138   Milasincic       35,762   23,553        0    42,009

As with the State Senate candidates, some of these candidates’ reports reflect the full January through June time frame, some begin eight days before the March primary (for those who had a contested primary), and the reports for Erin Zwiener and Vikki Goodwin begin eight days before the May runoff, as they had to win those races to get this far. Some of the candidates for districts you saw in that earlier posts are not here because they didn’t raise anything worth mentioning. Victoria Neave in HD107 is an incumbent, having flipped that district in 2016; everyone else is a challenger. What’s here is what we’ve got to work with.

The numbers speak for themselves, and I’m not going to review them district by district. Candidates in Dallas County have done pretty well overall, though we could sure stand to do better in HDs 105 and 113, which are two of the best pickup opportunities out there. James Talarico and John Bucy in Williamson County are both hauling it in, but I wonder what they’re spending all that dough on, as neither of them had primary opponents. Alex Karjeker in HD129 is off to a strong start, but he’s not exactly in the most competitive district in Harris County. The good news here is that Annie’s List recently announced their endorsements of Gina Calanni and Allison Lami Sawyer, which ought to boost their numbers. *They also endorsed Lina Hidalgo for County Judge, which is great for her but outside the scope of this post.) Prior to that, the only challengers among the Annie’s List candidates were Julie Johnson in HD115 and Senate candidate Beverly Powell. I very much hope they will ramp up their support of legislative contenders, because we can clearly use all the help we can get.

Now to be sure, there’s a lot of money out there going to turn out Democratic voters. It’s likely that money going to the campaigns for Congressional candidates and Beto O’Rourke will bring them out for the other races as well. But this is an all-hands-on-deck situation, and State Rep campaigns are very well suited for door-knocking and other close-to-the-ground efforts. If you’ve already made donations to Beto or a Congressional candidate, that’s great! But if you haven’t given yet or you’re looking to give again, consider dropping a few coins on a State Rep candidate or two. That looks to me to be your best bang for the buck.

Special election set for HD52

Another one in November.

Rep. Larry Gonzales

The special election to replace former state Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, will take place on Nov. 6, the same day voters were already set to head to the polls to select his 2019 replacement, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday.

Gonzales, who served in the Texas House since 2011 and worked in the Capitol for years before that as a staffer, had already said he wouldn’t seek another term, but he announced June 6 that he’d retire early, saying “it’s time to get on with the next phase of my life.” That set up a special election to fill the remainder of his two-year term.

Candidates have until Aug. 23 to file to run for the seat, the governor’s announcement said. Two candidates, Republican Cynthia Flores and Democrat James Talarico, have already announced they’re running to serve the central Texas district for the full term.

See here for the background. Not sure why it took longer to schedule this special election than the one in SD19, but whatever. This is what I expected to happen, with this election happening on the same day as the HD62 special election. And now I will sigh wistfully and imagine a November that also includes a special election in SD06, to succeed Sen. Sylvia Garcia. If only.

State Rep. Larry Gonzales steps down

One more legislative special election coming.

Rep. Larry Gonzales

State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, is resigning early, saying “it’s time to get on with the next phase of my life.”

Gonzales, a member since 2011 and a Capitol staffer before that, had already decided this would be his last term and didn’t file for re-election this year. His resignation, effective on Thursday, sets up a special election for the remainder of his term.

That might take place on the same day as the November general elections. There’s a precedent: State Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, quit earlier this year and was appointed to a judicial position; the special election for what’s left of his term will take place in November.

[…]

Republican Cynthia Flores and Democrat James Talarico will be on the ballot for a full term in House District 52 in November; candidates can file for the stub term as soon as Gov. Greg Abbott calls a special election and sets a date.

Now-former Rep. Gonzales announced his intent to not run this November back in September. A November special election isn’t particularly interesting – had he resigned in time for there to have been a May special, that would have been – but his HD52 is a seat to watch, as Trump won it by a mere 46.7 to 45.3 margin; it was basically a ten-point Republican district downballot. And as with the HD62 special election, this is another opportunity for me to implore Sen. Sylvia Garcia to follow this path and let there be a special election in November to succeed her as well, so that SD06 can be properly represented for the 2019 term. Please don’t make me beg, Sen. Garcia.