# Joe Biden

## Precinct analysis: The median districts

This is a straightforward post, with a simple answer to an important question. We know that Joe Biden carried 74 State House districts and 15 State Senate districts. How much better did he need to do to get a majority in each chamber? Daily Kos calls this the “median district”. In this context, that means the data for the 76th-most Democratic House district, and the 16th-most Democratic Senate district. The idea is to see how far off the Dems were from being able to win those districts and thus claim a majority in each chamber.

We’ll start with the State House. The table below gives the data for the median district in each of the last three Presidential elections for the Presidential race, the Senate race (2012 and 2020 only), and the Railroad Commissioner race:

```
Year    Dist      Dem      GOP   Tot D
======================================
2012   HD138   39.29%   59.16%      54
2016    HD54   43.58%   50.50%      65
2020    HD54   48.85%   48.98%      74

2012    HD97   38.35%   58.88%      54
2020    HD92   46.04%   51.12%      68

2012    HD97   36.16%   59.58%      54
2016    HD66   37.77%   54.46%      56
2020    HD31   46.52%   50.55%      68
```

In 2012, the 76th-most Democratic district was HD138, in which Barack Obama received 39.29% of the vote to Mitt Romney’s 59.16%. This is a polite way of saying that the 2011 gerrymander was super effective, and the Democrats weren’t within hailing distance of winning half the chamber. The last column shows the total number of districts carried by the Democratic Presidential candidate. In 2012, this closely mirrored the total number of seats that the Dems actually won, which was 55. One Democratic-held seat was carried by Romney – HD23, the Galveston-based district won that year (and for the final time, as he declined to run again) by Craig Eiland. As you may recall from previous analyses, that district has trended away from the Dems ever since – in 2016, it was won 56-41 by Trump, and in 2020 it was 57-41 for Trump. Obama carried zero Republican-won seats – the closest he came was a 52-47 loss in HD43, another district that has moved farther away from Dems over the decade. He came within six points in three Dallas districts that Democrats now hold – HDs 113, 107, and 105. Like I said, an extremely effective gerrymander. Also a consistent one, as Paul Sadler and Dale Henry won the same districts Obama did, no more and no less.

Until it wasn’t, of course. The cracks began to show in 2016, when Hillary Clinton carried 65 districts, though Dems still only won 55 of them overall. HD23 fell to the Republicans in 2014, but Dems earned their first flip of the decade (*) by taking HD107, which as noted above was one of the closer misses in 2012. The nine GOP-won districts that Hillary Clinton carried were HDs 113, 105, 115, 102, 112, 114, 138, 134, and 108. Seven of those are now Democratic districts, with six flipping in 2018 and one (HD134) flipping in 2020.

Note how Clinton ran ahead of other Dems as well. Perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough picked up only HD105, and that by a 45.9 to 44.6 margin (there was a lot of third-party voting in that extremely unappealing race), and it was the same at the judicial level. You may recall this is why I was more guarded in my optimism about 2018 initially – I had some doubts about what the Clinton/GOP voters would do their next time out.

We know how that turned out, and we know how Biden did, as well as how MJ Hegar and Chrysta Castaneda did in 2020. Look at how the median district shifted over time. In 2012, the 76th district was more Republican than the Presidential race was, at each level. In 2016, the median district looked a lot like the Presidential race, and to be honest a lot like the RRC race as well; Wayne Christian defeated Grady Yarbrough 53.1 to 38.4, a bit closer than the median but not far off. In 2020, at all levels, the median district was closer than the statewide race was. Republicans outperformed their baseline in the House, and they needed to because by this point their vaunted gerrymander had completely failed them. I have to think this is something they’re giving serious thought to for this time around.

Here’s the same data for the State Senate districts:

```
Year    Dist      Dem      GOP   Tot D
======================================
2012    SD08   36.60%   61.67%      11
2016    SD09   41.75%   53.09%      12
2020    SD09   48.30%   50.00%      15

2012    SD08   35.94%   61.05%      11
2020    SD09   45.40%   51.70%      13

2012    SD08   33.34%   62.19%      11
2016    SD08   36.19%   55.94%      11
2020    SD09   44.60%   51.60%      13
```

It’s a similar pattern as above. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried SD10, which Wendy Davis won in a hard-fought race. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried SD16 by a 49.9 to 45.3 margin, and just missed in SD10, losing it 47.9 to 47.3; she also came within a point of SD17. The median district was a little friendlier to the GOP in 2016, but in 2020 as with the House it was closer than the corresponding statewide race. Again, the once-solid gerrymander buckled at the knees, aided in large part by the suburban shift. Dems also managed to hold onto all of the red-shifting Latino districts, while Biden dropped two of them in the House.

What does any of this mean going forward? I have no idea. I’m seeing map proposals for Congress that are pretty brutal, but who knows what we’ll get in 2022, and who knows how population growth and the shifts in suburban and (mostly rural) Latino areas will affect things. Texas is a more challenging state than the likes of Wisconsin or Michigan to control over an entire decade precisely because it changes so much in that time. Republicans will have some opportunities for gain in 2022, but they also have a lot of vulnerabilities, and their best defense may be to just try to shore up everything they now have. The choices they make, based to some degree on their level of risk tolerance, will be fascinating to see.

## Betsy Price to run for Tarrant County Judge

I don’t usually pay much attention to county races outside the Houston area, but there are some points of interest to discuss about this.

Betsy Price

Outgoing Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price is running for Tarrant County judge in 2022, attempting a swift return to power in one of the state’s most politically important areas.

Price revealed the decision in interviews with North Texas TV stations that published Thursday morning, telling WFAA that she would make a formal announcement later.

“I promised my family I’d take a month or two off,” Price told WFAA. “I’m just getting this out there softly.”

The news of Price’s decision comes two days after the current county judge, Republican Glen Whitley, announced he would not run for reelection. He has since 2007 been at the helm of the county, the third most populous in the state and a historically Republican place where Democrats have been making inroads recently.

[…]

Price will not be unopposed in the March primary for county judge. Before Whitley made his retirement official, Tim O’Hare, former chairman of the county Republican Party, announced he was running for county judge. He launched with a list of GOP endorsements including current county GOP Chairman Rick Barnes, county Sheriff Bill Waybourn, and five state representatives from the area. O’Hare has since rolled out endorsements from U.S. Reps. Beth Van Duyne of Irving and Michael Burgess of Lewisville.

While Democrats do not have any known candidates for county judge yet, they can be expected to seriously contest the race after the county went their way at the top of the ticket in the last two statewide elections. The Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2018, Beto O’Rourke, won the county, while President Joe Biden carried it two years later.

Here are the Tarrant County election results for 2018 and 2020. It’s widely noted that Beto O’Rourke carried Tarrant in 2018 (by a 49.93% to 49.24% margin) and Joe Biden carried it in 2020 (49.31% to 49.09%), becoming the first Dems in however long to do so. They were also the only Dems to do so. The other statewide candidates in 2018 lost by a range from one point (Justin Nelson) to ten points (Lupe Valdez), while the handful of countywide candidates all lost by about five points. This includes Lawrence Meyers (I assume the former Court of Criminal Appeals justice), who lost to now-outgoing County Judge Whitley by six points.

In 2020, the statewide Dems trailed in Tarrant by four to six points, with countywide candidates losing by six or seven points. One difference between 2018 and 2020 is that in 2018 there were literally no Democrats running for district court positions, while in 2020 there was a Dem in all but two of those races. My assumption is that the Dems will have a full slate of judicial candidates as in 2020 – there’s nothing like the hope of winning to generate that kind of interest.

We used to talk about Tarrant County as a proxy for Texas as a whole electorally. I’ve posted before about how the Presidential results in Tarrant almost eerily echoed the statewide results. That was true from 2004 through 2016, but the Beto breakthrough in 2018 was a sign that things were changing, and indeed Tarrant’s Presidential result in 2020 was several points to the left of the state’s. The county that most closely mirrored the statewide Presidential result in 2020 was Zapata, carried by Trump 52.5% to 47.1%. The closest big counties were Collin, slightly to the left at 51.4% to 47.1%, and Denton, slightly to the right at 53.2% to 45.2%.

Tarrant may have been too Democratic at the top level to be a statewide predictor, but at the District Court level they were much closer to the mark, with results ranging from 52.9% to 47.1% on one end to 53.9% to 46.1% on the other. What this reminds me of is Harris County in 2004, where District Court challengers got between 45.8% and 47.9% of the vote. That doesn’t mean anything for the path Tarrant County is on – Harris did shift a little towards Dems in 2006 before the 2008 breakthrough, in conditions that were very different from what we have now – it’s just an observation.

Finally, I don’t know anything about the other contenders for the GOP nomination for County Judge, but it’s plausible to me that someone like Betsy Price, a known quantity with a low-key style, might perform better against the partisan average than a more Trumpified Republican. Again, I don’t know the players and don’t know how that primary might shape up, but it seems highly unlikely to me that there won’t be a significant pro-Trump presence in that race. Trump is one of the two Republicans to lose Tarrant County since 2018. Make of that what you will.

## Abbott’s border wall

I have many questions about this, but for this post I will limit myself to three.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that Texas will build a border wall along the state’s boundary with Mexico — but provided no details on where or when.

Abbott declared his plans during a press conference in Del Rio. He said he would discuss the plans next week. The Biden administration issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office.

Abbott announced the news while discussing a slew of border initiatives, such as a \$1 billion allocation for border security in the state budget lawmakers just passed and a plan to establish a Governor’s Task Force on Border and Homeland Security with public safety and state government officials.

“It will help all of us to work on ways to stem the flow of unlawful immigration and to stem the flow of illegal contraband,” Abbott said, while seated next to officials from the National Guard, Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Division of Emergency Management.

At the conference, Abbott also announced plans to increase arrests along the border — and increase space inside local jails.

“They don’t want to come to across the state of Texas anymore because it’s not what they were expecting,” Abbott said before being met with applause from those at the conference. “It’s not the red carpet that the federal administration rolled out to them.”

He also announced an interstate compact with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to resolve the border “crisis,” and called on other states to do the same.

1. How exactly is any of this going to be paid for? I know Abbott has promised more details next week, but we just had an entire legislative session, with a budget being passed, and I don’t remember “building a border wall” being part of it. Also, arresting however many people and putting them in jail – who will be paying for that? Even if one can claim that there is a line item in the budget for this, does anyone believe it’s enough?

2. How many lawsuits do you think this will generate? There’s federal-state issues, such as whether states can arrest migrants for trespassing, likely questions about how various funds may be spent on this ill-conceived idea, and who knows what else. Some number of lawyers are going to make a lot of bank on this.

3. We’re totally going to start seeing “Abbott for President 2024” speculation because of this, aren’t we? Time to find a nice Internet-free cabin in the woods, I suppose. More from the Trib here.

## Another data point on Biden and Latino support

Hispanic voters were one of President Joe Biden’s biggest weaknesses in the 2020 election. Although sources differ on his exact margin, Biden’s advantage with Hispanics was the worst for a Democratic presidential nominee since 2004 — even as he had the strongest performance overall for a Democrat since 2008.

A look at recent history and polling reveals, however, that Biden may be primed for a comeback among Hispanics for a simple reason: He’s now the incumbent.

Take a look at Gallup polling during the Biden presidency. Aggregating all the polls it has conducted so far (in order to get a large sample size), Biden’s approval rating with Hispanics stands at 72% compared to a 55% overall approval rating.

That 72% is a clear improvement from how Biden did in the election with Hispanics. Biden won 65% of Hispanics, according to the network exit polls. An estimate from the Democratic firm Catalist (which lines up well with what we saw in pre-election polls) had Biden taking 61% of Hispanics. So this Gallup data suggests Biden’s support may be up anywhere from 7 to 11 points from the election.

Biden is doing better overall now than he did in the election. His approval rating is at 55% in the Gallup data we’re using here. Even controlling for a higher approval rating overall, Biden has had a disproportionate rise in support from Hispanics. He’s now doing 17 points better with Hispanics than overall, while he was doing 10 to 14 points better with them in the 2020 election.

Keep in mind, too, that unlike in an election, there are undecideds allowed in a poll. If we allocate undecideds equally between approval and disapproval for both Hispanics and overall, Biden’s approval rating is about 20 points higher with Hispanics than overall in Gallup polling.

(An average of recent CNN/SSRSFox NewsMarist College and Quinnipiac University polls compared to their pre-election equivalent finds that Biden has had a similar disproportionate rise with Hispanics.)

This 20-point gap between how Hispanics and adults overall feel about Biden is wider than the last Democratic president saw in his first months on the job.

In aggregated Gallup data with undecideds allocated, Barack Obama’s approval rating was 17 points higher with Hispanics than overall in the first four months of his presidency. In the 2008 election, Obama did 14 points better in the exit polls with Hispanics than overall.

Obama saw an improvement with Hispanics relative to his overall performance, but not to the same extent that Biden may be getting.

We’ve discussed the incumbency effect before – David Beard was the first to call it to my attention, and I noted it my State Senate district analysis. As author Harry Enten points out, this effect for Presidents persists for winning and losing incumbents – George H.W. Bush also saw a rise in Latino support from 1988 to 1992, even as his overall vote share dropped tremendously. Obviously things can change, 2024 is a looooooooooong way off, and we don’t know if this effect is more or less uniform geographically and across different nationalities (i.e., Mexicans versus Puerto Ricans versus Cubans versus Dominicans, etc) or if it might be greater in places like California and Colorado versus Texas and Florida, but this is a thing to keep an eye on. It could make a difference in some key states next time around.

It may also have an effect in 2022, to the extent that approval of the President has an effect on the fortunes of the party in power for the off year. Specifically in Texas, where the Trump shift in Latino areas has been talked to death, this could mean that 2020 was an outlier, or at least it could mean that a trend in favor of Republicans for at least some Latino voters will be smaller in magnitude this next election. As noted in my first post about the State House districts, there really is a difference between the level of support Trump got in Latino areas and the level of support other Republicans got. Things did move in the GOP’s direction from 2016 to 2020, but not by nearly as much once you got past the Presidential race. I’ll have those numbers for you soon. One could argue that if the initial shift towards Trump was about jobs and keeping the economy open, that might actually benefit Greg Abbott more than any Democrat, since Abbott was singing from Trump’s playbook. Abbott’s favorability has taken some hits in recent months as we know, but the farther we get from the legislative session the more likely in my opinion that may fade. While this may be a leading indicator of good things for 2024, we just don’t know what effect if any it may have next year. It’s something to consider, but don’t put too much weight on it.

## State Bar investigating Paxton

Best mugshot ever

The Texas bar association is investigating whether state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on bogus claims of fraud amounted to professional misconduct.

The State Bar of Texas initially declined to take up a Democratic Party activist’s complaint that Paxton’s petitioning of the U.S. Supreme Court to block Joe Biden’s victory was frivolous and unethical. But a tribunal that oversees grievances against lawyers overturned that decision late last month and ordered the bar to look into the accusations against the Republican official.

The investigation is yet another liability for the embattled attorney general, who is facing a years-old criminal case, a separate, newer FBI investigation, and a Republican primary opponent who is seeking to make electoral hay of the various controversies. It also makes Paxton one of the highest profile lawyers to face professional blowback over their roles in Donald Trump’s effort to delegitimize his defeat.

[…]

Kevin Moran, the 71-year-old president of the Galveston Island Democrats, shared his complaint with The Associated Press along with letters from the State Bar of Texas and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals that confirm the investigation. He said Paxton’s efforts to dismiss other states’ election results was a wasteful embarrassment for which the attorney general should lose his law license.

“He wanted to disenfranchise the voters in four other states,” said Moran. “It’s just crazy.”

Texas’ top appeals lawyer, who would usually argue the state’s cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, notably did not join Paxton in bringing the election suit. The high court threw it out.

Paxton has less than a month to reply to Moran’s claim that the lawsuit to overturn the results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin was misleading and brought in bad faith, according to a June 3 letter from the bar. All four of the battleground states voted for Biden in November.

From there, bar staff will take up the case in a proceeding that resembles the grand jury stage of a criminal investigation. Bar investigators are empowered to question witnesses, hold hearings and issue subpoenas to determine whether a lawyer likely committed misconduct. That finding then launches a disciplinary process that could ultimately result in disbarment, suspension or a lesser punishments. A lawyer also could be found to have done nothing wrong.

The bar dismisses thousands of grievances each year and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals, 12 independent lawyers appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, overwhelmingly uphold those decisions. Reversals like that of Moran’s complaint happened less than 7% of the time last year, according to the bar’s annual report.

See here, here, here, and here for the background on Paxton’s lawsuit, which you may recall was an effort by Texas and several other states to get SCOTUS to overturn the election result in four Biden-won states because the plaintiffs didn’t approve of their election laws. One reason why we can credibly claim that this lawsuit was not only without merit but that the lawyers who were filing it knew that it was without merit was that they would scream bloody murder if another state tried to meddle in their own jurisdictions. Following these (dangerous and seditious) legal shenanigans, one national group called for state bars to take action against the instigators. I don’t know if this filing was related to that, but it’s not hard to connect the dots.

Now whether anything comes of this, we don’t know. As the story notes, the odds against the complainants prevailing are slim. Still, it’s another front on which Paxton must battle to save his sorry ass, and I have no doubt that his response brief will provide some content of interest. I fervently hope that one witness who gets called is former Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, who notably declined to argue Paxton’s filing before SCOTUS, which is what someone in his role would normally do. We deserve to know what he thought of all this. A ruling is likely months away, which may be just in time for the 2022 elections to be getting into full swing. Reform Austin has more.

## How about we sue you for a change?

The state of Texas has sued the federal government more times than I can count in recent years. There may be examples of the reverse happening, but offhand I can’t think of any. As such, this may be a first.

The Biden administration is threatening to sue Texas over its plans to stop state-licensed facilities that are contracted with the federal government from housing migrant children, with a federal attorney calling the state’s move a “direct attack” on federal refugee resettlement efforts.

The federal response comes after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered last week that Texas child care regulators revoke the licenses of state-licensed facilities that house migrant children. The move, the latest by the Republican governor as he spars with President Joe Biden over immigration policies, would force the facilities to stop serving unaccompanied minors or lose their license to serve any children.

Texas officials have already begun instructing the 52 state-licensed facilities serving migrant children to wind down operations by Aug. 30, following Abbott’s order, according to a notice sent to shelters by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

In a letter sent Monday to Abbott and other Texas officials, Paul Rodriguez, a top attorney for the federal Department of Health and Human Services, said Texas’ move violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which says federal law supersedes state laws. He asked the recipients to clarify whether they intended that the order be applied to those shelters, which are overseen by HHS and its refugee resettlement branch, the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

He wrote that the federally contracted shelters “comprise a significant portion of ORR’s total operational footprint, and represent an indispensable component of the Federal immigration system.”

If Abbott’s May 31 order includes those ORR facilities, it “would be a direct attack on this system,” Rodriguez said in the letter. He gave the state until Friday to clarify whether the order will affect those facilities.

If so, he said legal action could follow.

[…]

The governor’s office did not respond to questions about the potential relocation of children who are housed in the state-licensed shelters or whether the state was considering backing down on its order in light of the HHS letter.

Abbott pointed to the state’s foster care capacity woes as one of the reasons for his order. Hundreds of foster children have spent nights in hotels, community organizations or Child Protective Services offices because there weren’t enough suitable placements as dozens of foster care providers relinquished their contracts with the state due largely to higher scrutiny on the system.

“The unabated influx of individuals resulting from federal government policies threatens to negatively impact state-licensed residential facilities, including those that serve Texas children in foster care,” Abbott wrote in the order.

Only 134 migrant children were housed in federally contracted Texas facilities that also serve foster children as of May 10, according to the data gathered by the Associated Press.

Patrick Crimmins, a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesperson, said unaccompanied immigrant children don’t enter the state’s foster care system directly. They would only be in the system if they had to be removed from family members with whom federal employees placed them.

“There are no children in foster care simply because they are an unaccompanied minor. Children are only in foster care because of abuse or neglect that is reported to us and investigated by us,” Crimmins said.

Asked how Abbott’s order might affect the foster system’s placement shortages, Crimmins replied, “We don’t know that yet.”

Abbott’s claim is that the feds have foisted an unfunded mandate on Texas, which strikes me as a perennial complaint that is made whenever it’s convenient. It’s also a little rich given the recent “certain cities can never spend less money on the police” legislation. This is a political squabble more than anything, though with the higher stakes of having a direct effect on some number of children. Putting those very real effects aside for a moment, the political fight will turn on the question of who gets blamed for any harm that results to these children. (Yes, I know exactly how awful that sounds.) We have one possible data point from this Chron story:

Texans back President Joe Biden’s approach to immigration over Gov. Greg Abbott’s by nearly 10 percentage points, according to a new poll released as the clash between the governor and Biden administration over border policy continues to escalate.

The poll, conducted at the end of May, found 44 percent of Texans approve of Biden’s handling of immigration compared to 35 percent who approve of Abbott’s. The online poll of 506 Texas residents was conducted by Spectrum News and Ipsos and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.

The poll link appears to be broken. I’d be dubious of it even if I could inspect it, as Biden has generally polled worse on immigration and the border than he has overall. It’s also one poll result, with all the usual caveats. That said, if this comes down to video images of possibly crying children being relocated, even if it’s just from one shelter to another, “Abbott gave the order to close the shelters” will outweigh “Abbott blames Biden for not giving the state enough money for the children in the shelters”. I could be wrong about that, of course, and if it turns into litigation I suspect a judge would step in and halt any closures for the time being, until the legal questions can get sorted out. I suspect Abbott knows that part as well, so again this comes back to being a partisan fight. Abbott doesn’t generally back down from those when he’s opposite the feds. Expect this to take awhile to come to a resolution. Daily Kos has more.

## Precinct analysis: State House districts 2020, part 2

Today’s post is going to be an analysis of the State House districts from the perspective of the US Senate and Railroad Commissioner races. We have already observed in other contexts how Joe Biden outran the rest of the Democratic ticket, and we will see that here as well. But it’s a little more nuanced than that, because of the Latino vote and the Trump shift, which we have characterized as being mostly about Trump. The Texas Signal boiled down one piece of research on that as follows:

In an interview with Texas Signal, the Executive Director of Cambio Texas, Abel Prado, walked us through some of the big takeaways from their post-election report. One of his first points from the report was that many of the voters who came out in the Rio Grande Valley were specifically Donald Trump voters, and not necessarily Republican voters.

Many of Trump’s traits, including his brashness, a self-styled Hollywood pedigree, his experience as a businessman, and his billionaire status, resonated with many voters in the Rio Grande Valley. “The increase in Republican vote share were Donald Trump votes, not conservative votes, and there’s a difference,” said Prado.

Hold that thought, we’ll get to it in a bit. I’m going to present the data here in the same order as I did in the previous post, with the results from the Senate race (MJ Hegar versus John Cornyn) and the RRC race (Chrysta Castaneda versus Jim Wright) grouped together. We will start with the Republican districts that Biden carried:

```
Dist    Hegar   Cornyn   Hegar%  Cornyn%
========================================
026    40,478   43,650    47.1%    50.8%
066    42,688   42,768    48.9%    49.0%
067    47,484   46,775    49.2%    48.5%
096    42,210   44,471    47.5%    50.0%
108    50,639   49,689    49.4%    48.5%
112    34,800   32,591    50.2%    47.0%
121    44,062   49,365    46.0%    51.2%
132    48,460   50,865    47.5%    49.8%
134    61,018   48,629    54.7%    43.6%
138    31,508   31,993    48.3%    49.1%

Dist    Casta   Wright   Casta%  Wright%
========================================
026    39,238   42,818    46.5%    50.8%
066    41,139   41,650    48.1%    48.7%
067    45,970   45,494    48.6%    48.1%
096    41,135   44,103    46.7%    50.1%
108    49,347   48,118    48.8%    47.6%
112    34,635   31,768    50.3%    46.2%
121    43,992   46,975    46.6%    49.8%
132    47,483   49,947    47.0%    49.4%
134    57,940   47,504    53.2%    43.6%
138    30,796   31,201    47.9%    48.6%
```

You don’t need to review the previous post to see that Hegar and Castaneda fell short of the standard Biden set. Still, they carried 70 House districts, three more than were won by the Dems, and came within a point of two more. What we see here is the same thing we saw when we looked at these races in Harris County, which is not only that Joe Biden got more votes than these two Democrats, but John Cornyn and Jim Wright outperformed Donald Trump. These are your crossover voters, and the big question going into 2022 is what potential exists to swing them again, and in which races. Dems still fell short statewide in 2020 even with all those voters, but the hill is less steep with them than without them.

UPDATE: Correction – Hegar and Castaneda carried 68 House districts, one more than the total won by Dems. They carried GOP-won HDs 67, 108, and 112 and lost Dem-won HDs 31 and 74, for a net increase of one. I managed to confuse myself with the math by basing the calculation on that table above. They were still within a point of two other districts as shown above.

Here are the near-miss and reach districts for Biden:

```
Dist    Hegar   Cornyn   Hegar%  Cornyn%
========================================
014    27,435   35,269    42.2%    54.3%
028    54,571   65,387    44.6%    53.4%
029    43,327   52,292    44.2%    53.4%
054    34,462   36,551    47.1%    49.9%
064    39,350   47,395    43.8%    52.8%
092    36,564   40,601    46.0%    51.1%
093    37,934   44,925    44.4%    52.6%
094    34,826   39,970    45.3%    52.0%
097    42,210   44,471    47.4%    50.0%
122    51,835   72,452    40.9%    57.1%
126    33,618   39,298    44.9%    52.5%
133    38,149   51,111    41.9%    56.2%

032    29,613   38,322    43.5%    53.4%
070    48,246   77,306    37.5%    60.1%
084    22,626   35,019    37.8%    58.5%
085    32,212   43,653    41.5%    56.3%
089    40,761   57,531    40.5%    57.1%
106    53,674   73,313    41.2%    56.3%
129    35,924   48,318    41.5%    55.8%
150    39,872   56,019    40.5%    56.9%

Dist    Casta   Wright   Casta%  Wright%
========================================
014    25,863   34,522    40.7%    54.3%
028    53,363   64,123    44.3%    53.2%
029    42,256   51,097    43.7%    52.9%
054    33,036   36,749    45.4%    50.5%
064    37,396   46,264    42.5%    52.6%
092    35,180   40,269    44.8%    51.3%
093    36,501   44,700    43.2%    52.9%
094    33,630   39,603    44.3%    52.1%
097    35,954   44,647    43.0%    53.4%
122    51,488   69,624    41.2%    55.7%
126    32,979   38,409    44.6%    52.0%
133    36,456   50,069    40.9%    56.2%

032    28,939   36,856    42.2%    53.7%
070    46,349   75,914    36.6%    60.0%
084    21,625   34,530    36.8%    58.8%
085    31,967   42,990    41.6%    55.9%
089    39,378   56,345    39.8%    56.9%
106    50,925   71,782    39.9%    56.3%
129    35,326   46,707    41.5%    54.8%
150    38,995   55,111    40.0%    56.6%
```

Not a whole lot to say here. The near-misses look farther away, and the reaches look out of reach. It’s important to remember that a lot of these districts weren’t on anyone’s radar going into 2016, and that the trend has been heavily favorable to the Democrats. We certainly hope those trends continue, but even if they do that doesn’t mean the district in question is on the verge of being competitive.

Here are the districts that Trump won or came close it. For this, I’m going to reprint the Biden/Trump numbers, to make it easier to illustrate the point I want to make.

```
Dist    Hegar   Cornyn   Hegar%  Cornyn%
========================================
031    23,609   28,980    43.5%    53.4%
074    22,397   25,232    45.5%    51.2%

034    27,567   26,236    49.8%    47.4%
035    22,735   18,926    52.7%    43.8%
080    25,339   19,960    54.1%    42.6%

038    28,050   20,464    56.2%    41.0%
041    29,594   24,797    52.8%    44.3%
117    49,759   40,386    53.6%    43.5%
118    31,726   25,841    53.5%    43.6%
144    16,246   14,108    51.8%    45.0%

Dist    Casta   Wright   Casta%  Wright%
========================================
031    24,700   26,837    46.5%    50.5%
074    22,942   23,836    47.4%    49.2%

034    27,816   24,985    51.0%    45.8%
035    23,684   17,094    56.2%    40.5%
080    25,945   18,750    56.2%    40.6%

038    29,097   18,502    59.2%    37.7%
041    30,611   22,881    55.5%    41.5%
117    49,871   38,567    54.2%    41.9%
118    32,568   24,454    55.2%    41.5%
144    16,851   13,251    54.1%    42.6%

Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
031    25,315   33,101    42.9%    56.1%
074    23,478   27,319    45.6%    53.1%

034    29,226   26,606    51.7%    47.0%
035    24,991   21,049    53.8%    45.3%
080    26,251   22,543    53.3%    45.8%

038    29,116   21,573    56.8%    42.1%
041    31,956   25,187    55.5%    43.7%
117    53,983   39,495    56.8%    41.6%
118    34,228   25,848    56.2%    42.4%
144    17,365   14,599    53.6%    45.0%
```

We don’t see the same pattern here that we did before. In these districts, Trump is outrunning Cornyn and Wright. Biden is still outperforming Hegar and Castaneda, but not by as much. That makes HDs 31 and 74 closer, especially for Castaneda. This suggests two things to me. One is that as was claimed in that Texas Signal story, there really was more of a Trump effect than a Republican shift. It also appears that Castaneda benefitted from her Latina surname; one could also argue that Cornyn got some incumbent benefit as well. The main point is that the story of these districts is a little more nuanced than some of the discourse would have you believe. Doesn’t mean there aren’t issues for Dems to confront, just that it’s not a one-dimensional situation.

Finally, here are the districts that the Dems picked up in the 2016 and 2018 cycles.

```
Dist    Hegar   Cornyn   Hegar%  Cornyn%
========================================
045    57,413   54,996    49.5%    47.4%
047    69,906   66,452    50.2%    47.7%
052    51,448   45,369    51.6%    45.5%
065    40,789   38,039    50.3%    46.7%
102    37,879   29,970    54.5%    43.1%
105    31,769   24,477    54.8%    42.2%
107    34,360   26,248    55.1%    42.1%
113    36,185   31,239    52.2%    45.0%
114    42,291   36,918    52.3%    45.6%
115    39,307   31,859    53.8%    43.6%
135    37,050   36,728    48.9%    48.4%
136    55,420   44,710    53.8%    43.4%

Dist    Casta   Wright   Casta%  Wright%
========================================
045    54,943   53,725    48.2%    47.1%
047    66,419   64,426    48.7%    47.3%
052    48,688   44,402    49.7%    45.3%
065    39,040   36,949    49.2%    46.6%
102    37,549   28,844    54.5%    41.9%
105    31,723   23,639    55.2%    41.1%
107    34,364   25,234    55.5%    40.8%
113    36,116   30,540    52.4%    44.3%
114    42,043   35,411    52.6%    44.3%
115    38,704   30,803    53.5%    42.6%
135    36,487   35,845    48.6%    47.8%
136    52,576   43,535    52.0%    43.0%
```

Even with the erosion of support from the top of the ticket, Dems still held these districts at the Senate and RRC level. The gain were maintained. I know what the narrative for 2020 was, but it’s hard for me to see that as anything but a rousing success.

## The non-high speed rail option

Amtrak is all aboard the Texas Triangle, but there is a long way to go before more trains roll into Houston, headed for San Antonio and Dallas.

The national rail system’s new plan for expanding service, released Thursday, identifies potential routes to create or expand nationwide by 2035. The Texas Triangle, involving Houston, Dallas and San Antonio — and including Austin and Fort Worth — receives significant attention. Three daily round-trip trains are planned between Houston and Dallas, in addition to three between Houston and San Antonio.

For Houston travelers, Austin would be accessible via San Antonio.

Amtrak also identified potential stops along the routes where new passenger stations could be added, including Rosenberg on the way to San Antonio and College Station on the way to Dallas.

[…]

Amtrak trains along the Sunset Limited roll into Houston three days a week. As a result, use of the Houston Amtrak station — often mocked for being a single platform for the nation’s fifth-largest metro area — is low. In 2017, fewer than 20,000 people boarded Amtrak in Houston, a yearly total that is less than hopped aboard Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Red Line light rail on the typical workday.

The last time the Houston Amtrak station saw a large crowd, it was to welcome the world’s largest steam train, during a 2019 stop by Union Pacific.

Many argue that is because Amtrak trains to and from Houston only come every other day and often not on time. The Northeast corridor, where Amtrak is a common way to move between cities, offers more than 100 weekday trains.

That is in part because of the dominance of Amtrak in owning railroad tracks in the Northeast, compared with the rest of the nation, where most major lines are controlled by freight railroads. In many cases, including Texas, adding the service is likely to come with federal investment in projects aimed at improving reliability or speed of service.

Even then, with various stops, the trains would lag behind air travel or most car trips. Both Houston-to-Dallas and Houston-to-San Antonio would take more than 4½ hours.

The appeal is a more predictable trip than driving, with fewer hassles than air travel, said James Llamas, a principal planner at Houston-based Traffic Engineers Inc. Llamas, who recreationally and professionally travels by train often, said that where Amtrak or officials have invested in frequent train service, riders have embraced it. He noted investments in California, which historically suffered from a lack of passenger rail options until the state opted to develop them, have increased ridership to where it is the most-used lines in Amtrak outside the Northeast.

Though Amtrak can seek federal funding to start service, it is likely Texas would have to support the service or agree to some funding to continue it beyond the first few years. Texas has supported rail lines in the Dallas area but has not made any commitments to Houston services.

Increased train service also is likely to change if a planned high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas happens. Texas Central Railroad continues development of its proposed 220-mile line between the metro areas, though the plan continues to face stiff opposition.

This has come up before, as part of the Infrastructure Not-Yet-A-Bill discussion. You can see the national rail line map Amtrak proposed at that time, which includes the Houston/Dallas/San Antonio triangle. I’m all in favor of more passenger rail service in Texas, but I don’t know how competitive this would be versus Texas Central and its high speed option, which if things go as they have planned would be up and running well before a Houston-Dallas Amtrak train would be. There have also been other high speed rail lines proposed, which would cover more of Texas than what is currently planned for Texas Central, but at this point I think we can consider them to be vaporware, at least until and unless something tangible gets put forward.

If Amtrak can get up and running in between Austin and San Antonio, that would serve as a version of the long-song Lone Star Rail line. Note that the issue there has long been availability of the existing freight rail tracks – without being able to share them, new track would have to be built, which is far more expensive and time-consuming and runs into the same kind of eminent domain issues that Texas Central has had to deal with (though one presumes that no one would get any traction claiming that Amtrak is not really a railroad). All of this is to say that while the idea is sound, there are many obstacles. I would sadly bet against anything like this being fully operational by 2035, assuming we’re all still here to see for ourselves.

## Here comes our boring budget

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A few months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Sylvester Turner painted a dire picture of the city’s finances as he laid out his plan to balance last year’s \$5 billion city budget.

Like other cities across the country, Houston’s sales tax revenue had plunged as the public stayed home, and Turner was proposing to make up the loss by furloughing 3,000 municipal workers, deferring police cadet classes, cutting the library budget and draining the city’s emergency reserves.

“These are financially difficult times, and it’s simply unavoidable,” Turner said of the cuts.

One year later, the city is emerging from the worst of the pandemic with its finances largely unscathed. Thanks to a payout of more than \$1 billion in federal aid, Turner and city finance officials avoided the projected furloughs, reinstated the police cadet classes and are heading into the next fiscal year with replenished emergency reserves and a rare budget surplus.

Still, as City Council prepares to consider Turner’s \$5.1 billion annual spending plan Wednesday, not everyone agrees on how the city should use its newfound wealth. Since prior mayoral administrations, city officials have passed annual budgets that spend more than the city takes in through recurring revenue, such as taxes. They have made up the difference by selling city-owned land, deferring hundreds of millions of dollars in maintenance on city buildings, dipping into cash reserves and using other one-time fixes. Turner has attributed much of the budgetary struggles to the city’s revenue cap, which limits annual growth in property tax revenue to 4.5 percent or the combined rates of inflation and population, whichever is lower.

City Controller Chris Brown and a number of council members have urged the mayor to use the relief money to address the long-standing budget issues, warning that added costs will leave the city in a precarious position when the federal money runs out. Eventually, the thinking goes, the city will run out of land to sell, while city infrastructure will continue to deteriorate and demand for city services will keep rising faster than the revenue used to fund them.

“The challenge is when that money runs out, if we add too many of the wrong things, i.e. recurring expenditures, it’s only going to exacerbate this structural imbalance in the future and make it that much worse,” Brown said.

Houston received a \$304 million haul this year from the federal stimulus package approved by Congress in March, and it is set to receive the same amount in 2022, on top of a \$400 million allotment it received last year from the first round of COVID aid. Turner is asking city council on Wednesday to approve a spending plan that uses \$188 million of the aid to close most of the city’s projected budget deficit, and a chunk of the remaining funds to increase pay for Houston firefighters by 6 percent when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

See here for the previous entry. I tend to lean towards what Controller Brown is saying, but we’ll see what the details of this budget are, and go from there. I know that my calls to trim the police budget while we still can went unheeded, but I’d welcome an amendment to that effect from one or more Council members. We have two years to make good use of these federal funds. Let’s do what we can to get the most out of them and put the city on a stronger financial footing going forward.

## Precinct analysis: State House districts 2020, part 1

Joe Biden carried 74 State House districts in 2020. That’s seven more than were won by Democratic candidates, but two fewer than Beto in 2018. Eight districts won by Biden were held by Republican incumbents, and there were two that were flipped one way or the other:

```
Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
026    45,192   42,349    50.9%    47.7%
066    47,844   39,729    53.7%    44.6%
067    52,872   43,876    53.6%    44.5%
096    44,828   43,538    50.0%    48.6%
108    57,513   43,250    56.2%    42.3%
112    37,369   31,167    53.6%    44.7%
121    49,034   46,430    50.6%    47.9%
132    51,737   50,223    50.0%    48.5%
134    67,814   42,523    60.6%    38.0%
138    34,079   31,171    51.5%    47.1%
```

For comparison, here’s the analysis from 2018. The one Republican-held district that Beto won but Biden didn’t is HD64, which I’ll get to next. Biden won HD96, which Beto did not win. I have no idea how Morgan Meyer held on in HD108 with that strong a wind blowing against him, but you have to tip your cap. You also have to wonder how much longer he can do this – yes, I know, redistricting is coming, but Dallas is getting close to being Travis County at this point, and you just have to wonder how many seats winnable by Republicans there are if current trends continue. Note that Sarah Davis faced nearly the same conditions in 2020 as she had in 2018, except for having a stronger opponent. Meyer had the same opponent (Joanna Cattanach) as in 2018, and she raised good money, but he managed to win anyway.

I still don’t feel like we have a good understanding of why there were so many Biden/Republican voters. There’s been a lot done to try to explain why Republicans did better with Latino voters in 2020, while everyone is more or less taking it for granted that the stampede of former Republicans who are now voting Democratic is just part of the landscape. I look at these numbers and I am reminded of the same kind of splits we saw in 2016, when there were tons of people who voted for Hillary Clinton but then mostly voted Republican otherwise. I was skeptical of the optimism we had (at least initially) for CDs 07 and 32 and other districts because of those gaps, and then 2018 came along and erased those concerns. So what do we make of this? A last gasp of anti-Trump energy from people who still think of themselves (and vote like) Republicans, or a leading indicator of more to come in 2022? I wish I knew, and I wish there were people actively trying to find out. Note that doesn’t necessarily bring us closer to winning statewide, as Beto had a smaller margin than Biden did, but it does meant that the battle for the Legislature and Congress will continue to be heated, even with new maps.

Next up are the near misses, and the farther-out-but-still-within-sight districts that I had been keeping an eye on following 2018. Most of these are familiar:

```
Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
014    30,188   33,690    45.9%    51.3%
028    60,101   63,906    47.8%    50.8%
029    45,951   51,494    46.5%    52.1%
054    35,995   36,093    48.9%    49.0%
064    42,908   46,093    47.2%    50.7%
092    39,262   39,386    49.0%    49.2%
093    40,679   43,897    47.3%    51.0%
094    37,375   38,724    48.3%    50.1%
097    41,007   42,494    48.2%    50.0%
122    57,972   68,621    45.2%    53.5%
126    36,031   38,651    47.6%    51.1%
133    43,263   47,038    47.3%    51.4%

032    31,699   38,011    44.7%    53.6%
070    53,870   75,198    40.9%    57.1%
084    24,928   34,575    41.1%    57.1%
085    34,743   43,818    43.6%    55.0%
089    45,410   55,914    44.0%    54.1%
106    59,024   70,752    44.8%    53.7%
129    38,941   47,389    44.4%    54.0%
150    42,933   55,261    43.1%    55.5%
```

Generally speaking, Beto did better in these districts than Biden did, which is consistent with Beto scoring higher overall, but not everywhere. Biden outpaced him in some more urban areas, like HDs 133, 122, and the aforementioned HD96. Usually where Beto did better it wasn’t by much, less than a point or so, but with bigger differences in less urban areas like HDs 14, 32, and 84. It may be that there was less-than-expected Republican turnout in 2018, so it’s hard to extrapolate to 2022, but it’s important to remember that the trend from 2016 is strongly Democratic in all of these places. And it’s happening in places you haven’t been paying attention to as well. HD70 may not look competitive, and I didn’t include it in the 2018 analysis (Beto got 40.4% there compared to 58.8% for Cruz), but in 2016 it was carried by Trump by a 61.6 to 32.2 margin. This district in northern Collin County used to be a landslide for Republicans, and now it’s on the long-range sensors for Democrats, in the same way that HDs 126 and 133 and 150 are.

Not everything is rainbows and puppies. There were two districts that Beto won and Biden lost. You can probably guess what kind of districts they were. Here they are, along with the other close and longer-term-something-to-think-about districts.

```
Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
031    25,315   33,101    42.9%    56.1%
074    23,478   27,319    45.6%    53.1%

034    29,226   26,606    51.7%    47.0%
035    24,991   21,049    53.8%    45.3%
080    26,251   22,543    53.3%    45.8%

038    29,116   21,573    56.8%    42.1%
041    31,956   25,187    55.5%    43.7%
117    53,983   39,495    56.8%    41.6%
118    34,228   25,848    56.2%    42.4%
144    17,365   14,599    53.6%    45.0%
```

If you’ve been wondering why Reps like Ryan Guillen and Eddie Morales were voting for permitless carry and the bills to restrict cities’ ability to reduce police funding, that right there is the likely answer. Guillen has been around forever and likely was pretty safe even with that Trump surge, but Morales was defending an open seat. I don’t want to think about how much more obnoxious the media narrative of the 2020 election in Texas would have been had the Republicans flipped this one.

The three “near miss” districts, HDs 34, 35, and 80, look worrisome and will no doubt give the Republicans some ideas about what the 2022 map should look like, but keep two things in mind: One, as you will see in the next post, this was more of a Trump thing than anything else. Republicans did not do nearly as well farther down on the ballot. And two, nine of the Democratic “near miss” districts were closer than the 4.7 point margin in HD34. If the current map were to stay in place, we’d have more targets than they would.

The five longer-range districts don’t concern me much, especially the two Bexar County districts, where Biden had a higher percentage than Clinton in each and a bigger margin in HD117 (Clinton carried HD118 by a 55.1-40.0 margin). They were both closer than they were in 2018, but the overall trend in Bexar County is bluer.

Finally, here are the seats that the Democrats picked up in either 2016 (HD107) or 1028:

```
Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
045    61,435   53,123    52.6%    45.5%
047    76,336   61,983    54.1%    43.9%
052    55,056   44,664    53.9%    43.7%
065    44,884   36,126    54.5%    43.9%
102    41,123   27,279    59.1%    39.2%
105    33,634   23,879    57.6%    40.9%
107    36,691   24,880    58.6%    39.8%
113    38,175   30,600    54.8%    43.9%
114    47,215   32,340    58.5%    40.1%
115    42,618   29,510    58.1%    40.3%
135    39,657   36,114    51.6%    47.0%
136    59,654   43,190    56.6%    40.9%
```

As we know, the narrative from the 2020 election is that Democrats went big trying to take over the State House and win a bunch of Congressional seats, but failed to do any of that and so the year was a big success for the Republicans. I don’t dispute the basic premise, but I feel like it’s only part of the story. Democrats did regain that State Senate seat they lost in the 2019 special election debacle, they won a State Board of Education seat for the first time in my memory, they won more appellate court benches, and they completed the flip of Fort Bend County. None of that gained much notice. More to the point, the Republicans had big plans to win back what they had lost in 2018, the year that they claimed was a huge fluke driven by Betomania and anti-Trump fervor. Yet they failed to retake CDs 07 and 32, and they only took back one of the 12 State House seats they had lost, which was balanced out by their loss of HD134, but somehow that’s never mentioned. They spent a ton of money on these races, Dave Carney was predicting they would gains seats overall, and they had expressed confidence in their ability to hold SD19. They not only failed broadly on all this, but Biden did better overall in the seats Beto carried in 2018, as the new Dem incumbents mostly cruised. Sometimes I wonder what the story would have been if Dems had won only six or seven seats in 2018, then picked up the others last year. Would we still think of 2020 as a failure that way? I have no idea.

So this is how things looked from a Presidential perspective. As we know, Biden ran ahead of the other Democrats on the statewide ballot, so you may be wondering how this looked from that viewpoint. The next entry in this series will be the State House districts for the Senate and Railroad Commissioner races. Tune in next time for the exciting followup to this very special episode.

## Two arguments against Abbott’s rollback of extended unemployment insurance

“I’m still nervous that we’re bowing out of this program before the labor market is fully healed,” said Dietrich Vollrath, an economics professor at the University of Houston. “The bad consequences of doing too much is limited,” he said, “but the bad consequences of doing too little can really be detrimental.”

About 800,000 Texans were receiving federal jobless assistance at the end of April, according to the most recent data. Nearly half of them — the self-employed or other gig economy workers — will lose all of their benefits at the end of June, when the governor is ending the additional aid. The rest will see a steep drop in their weekly checks.

[…]

While the Texas economy has largely rebounded from the height of the pandemic, when the unemployment rate topped 12 percent, companies across the state are still firing employees at two to three times the normal rate, according to Vollrath. He said that’s a sign the recovery remains fragile.

Labor experts already have some preliminary findings on the impacts of increased benefits during the pandemic. Economists at Yale University found that the \$600 unemployment checks approved early on under the Trump administration did not significantly deter unemployed people from reentering the workforce.

Belinda Román, an assistant economics professor at St. Mary’s University, said ending the payments could backfire and instead drive people further into poverty. If it does work, she said, it may force at least some people into underpaid jobs that they have decided are no longer worth the time or health risk.

“My perspective is, pay better and that probably incentivizes a lot of people to come to work,” she said.

See here for the background. Those \$600 checks also largely kept the economy from cratering a year ago. Taking away this benefit now, when the economy is still in recovery and lots of people are still not vaccinated and being cautious about going out, will mostly have the effect of making people who are already on the economic margins even poorer.

Also, too, there are other reasons why some businesses are having problems hiring.

Britt Philyaw, executive director of the Heard That Foundation, a Dallas non-profit that provides support for hospitality workers, said she doesn’t know of anyone who has turned down restaurant jobs to stay on unemployment.

“I find it really disturbing some of the things that I’ve seen on social media. I don’t like that the labor shortage is being politicized and how it is being said that people are lazy or they’re making more money on unemployment. I don’t think it’s the truth. The people we’ve worked with throughout the pandemic who were on unemployment and got their stimulus checks were not making ends meet,” she said.

What the pandemic did, in her opinion, was highlight the instability of restaurant jobs. The quirks of service industry work like tips and irregular schedules are often draws for many people in the industry, but they were cast in a different light when the pandemic hit, Philyaw said. Suddenly the things that were once perks of the business were no longer worth sacrificing health insurance, predictable pay and stability for.

“Something that is desperately lacking from the conversation is the fact that 70% of the population that works in the industry are women, some of them single with kids. I think that should be a huge part of the conversation,” Philyaw said.

The service industry labor market was already tight before the pandemic, and with even more jobs than there are workers, Philyaw said employees have the ability to be choosy about who they do go work for, which is making it even harder for employers, some of whom are offering sign-on bonuses and raising wages to attract new hires.

“People in front-of-house and back-of-house [of restaurants] are shopping around,” she said. “And they’re looking for things they value like, ‘Am I going to work in a safe environment? Am I going to work in an environment where I’m not going to be harassed or bullied or forced to work for free?’ So there’s just a lot of things at play, but I really don’t think it’s as simple as the stories that grab the most attention.”

For Andrea Winn, a long-time restaurant industry professional who’s held server, sommelier and wine director positions at Dallas restaurants like Bolsa and Abacus, the decision to leave the restaurant industry came when the downtown Dallas restaurant she was working at reopened over the summer and management did not adhere to capacity limits, mask mandates and other safety protocols.

She took a full-time job as a wine and beer buyer for Whole Foods, stepping away from the industry she loved and had worked in since completing her degree in history and getting out of a desk job she loathed. It wasn’t easy to leave the dining room — she was saying goodbye to higher pay, flexible hours and the ability to travel when she wanted — but the benefits outweighed the cons, she said.

“I have a job now [at Whole Foods] where I am guaranteed a certain amount of hours every week, I know how much I’m going to get paid, and I have health insurance and sick time. The sick time was a really big thing because working in restaurants, unless you are really sick, you are expected to work sick. You’re looked down upon, and your schedule will be threatened if you don’t [work],” Winn said.

There is a common perception that restaurant workers are young, uneducated and in the industry out of necessity, Winn said, and such thinking makes it easy to believe that the shortage of workers is due to an unwillingness to work. But the reality is the industry is made up of seasoned professionals like her who sought out restaurant and bar careers and are now choosing to pursue careers that offer a better quality of life, she said.

Some jobs are better than others. People who have kids at home and no child care available don’t have a lot of options right now. Making them desperate doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.

## Precinct analysis: State Senate district comparisons

There’s more to the thread, but those are the bits I wanted to highlight. It’s true, as noted in the previous post, that Dems lost some ground in the Latino districts in 2020. You’ll see that here in a minute. But it’s also very much true that they gained a lot of votes elsewhere, in the more white districts. Some of those are the ones that flipped in 2018 or might have flipped in 2020 had they been on the ballot. Some were in places where Dems were already strong. Some were in districts that actually look to be competitive now, having not been so even four years ago. Why don’t I just show you the data?

```
Dist   1216R   1216D    1620R   1620D   1220R     1220D	Dem net
===============================================================
14    -9,951  56,887   26,677  97,954   16,726  154,841  138,115
08    -7,593  38,270   32,030  82,158   24,437  120,428   95,991
16   -22,137  35,202   21,611  58,302     -526   93,504   94,030
17   -19,619  38,114   34,892  56,566   15,273   94,680   79,407
25     3,422  37,037   65,613  95,402   69,035  132,439   63,404
07    -6,676  33,604   42,494  60,489   35,818   94,093   58,275
15    -6,708  27,545   28,163  48,882   21,455   76,427   54,972
10    -8,347  13,076   23,099  54,113   14,752   67,189   52,437
26    -2,174  20,179   20,009  44,154   17,835   64,333   46,498
09       -60  17,910   24,193  48,973   24,133   66,883   42,750
12    13,859  30,860   59,095  84,527   72,954  115,387   42,433
23    -3,003   3,751   13,010  43,679   10,007   47,430   37,423
29    -1,674  34,889   29,559  30,398   27,885   65,287   37,402
05    14,069  25,990   54,548  74,087   68,617  100,077   31,460
11     1,957  20,541   46,098  46,384   48,055   66,925   18,870
06    -4,554  20,223   21,712  13,637   17,158   33,860   16,702
13    -2,928      72   16,907  30,419   13,979   30,491   16,512
19    10,638  16,958   45,127  42,821   55,765   59,779    4,014
02    11,532  10,026   35,894  38,391   47,426   48,417      991
```

As discussed before, the columns represent the difference in vote total for the given period and party, so “1216” means 2012 to 2016, “1620” means 2016 to 2020, and “1220” means 2012 to 2020. Each column has a D or an R in it, so “1216R” means the difference between 2016 Donald Trump and 2012 Mitt Romney for the Presidential table, and so forth. In each case, I subtract the earlier year’s total from the later year’s total, so the “-9,951” for SD114 in the “1216R” column means that Donald Trump got 9,951 fewer votes in 2016 in SD14 than Mitt Romney got, and the “56,887” for SD14 in the “1216D” column means that Hillary Clinton got 56,887 more votes than Barack Obama got. “Dem net” at the end just subtracts the “1220R” total from the “1220D” total, which is the total number of votes that Biden netted over Obama. Clear? I hope so.

These are the districts where Dems gained over the course of these three elections. Lots of Republican turf in there, including the two D flips from 2018 and the two districts that both Biden and Beto carried but didn’t flip in 2018 (SDs 08 and 17), but the big gainer is that Democratic stronghold of SD14, where demography plus population growth plus a heavy duty turnout game led to a vast gain. Really, we Dems don’t appreciate Travis County enough. SD15, my district, has a nice showing as well, while SD26 is there to remind us that not all Latino districts went the way of the Valley.

We have the two 2018 flip districts, SDs 16, now practically a D powerhouse, and 10, which didn’t shift quite as much but was the most Dem-leaning Romney district from 2012 – you may recall, Wendy Davis won re-election there despite it going only 45% for Obama – and we have the two Biden-won Republican in 08 – who knew this one would shift so radically left – and 17. We’ve discussed SD07 before, and how it’s now teetering on swing status and won’t be of much use to the Republicans when they try to shore themselves up, but look at SD25, a district that has moved strongly left despite encompassing Comal County, the I-35 version of Montgomery. Look at the shifts in SD12, which is still not competitive but also not as big a GOP stronghold, and SD05, which has moved along with Williamson County. The key takeaway here is that more of the Senate is going to have to be centered on the Houston-San Antonio-D/FW triangle, and that part of the state is much more Democratic than it was a decade ago. This is the big problem Republicans have to solve.

Dems have some room to improve as well. I discussed SD13 in the Harris County reviews, and I believe there’s untapped potential in this district. It’s 80% Democratic to begin with, so improvements in turnout and voter registration are going to pay off in a big way. SD23 was more like 13 in 2016, but acquitted itself nicely in 2020. I suspect there are a lot of voters here who will need more contact and engagement in 2022. I know there were votes left on the table in 2018, and we need to be conscious of that.

Finally, there are three other Latino districts besides SD26 in this list. We’ve discussed SD06 before, which had a big uptick in Democrats while seeing fewer Republicans in 2016, then saw more Republicans turn out in 2020. In the end, the Dem percentage was basically the same in 2020 as in 2012, with a larger net margin, but the trend needs watching. SD19, which Dems took back in 2020 after that embarrassing special election loss, had a similar pattern as with SD06 except with a smaller net Republican gain in 2020. This district has a lot of border turf, which trended red in 2020, but it also has a good chunk of Bexar County, which got bluer and likely mitigated the overall shift. I feel like this district is more likely to drift in a Republican direction than SD06 is, but that will depend to some extent on how it’s redrawn. SD29, anchored in El Paso, had the same big Dem shift in 2016, then saw roughly equivalent gains by both parties in 2020. I think it’s more likely to get bluer over time, and there’s always room for Dem growth in El Paso, though as with SDs 13 and 23, it will require engagement.

Overall, these 19 districts represent a net gain of over 900K votes for Dems. Joe Biden collected about 600K more votes than 2012 Obama did, so there’s votes going the other way as well. Here are those districts:

```
Dist   1216R   1216D    1620R   1620D   1220R     1220D	Dem net
===============================================================
18    15,109  19,337   58,614  49,787   73,723   69,124  -4,599
04    10,564  14,667   54,680  39,023   65,244   53,690 -11,554
24    11,125   7,102   51,143  42,472   62,268   49,574 -12,694
21     9,828  13,573   43,738  26,297   53,566   39,870 -13,696
20     7,675  17,839   42,214  18,130   49,889   35,969 -13,920
22    17,969   6,092   48,183  37,910   66,152   44,002 -22,150
27     7,486  15,779   37,504   6,942   44,990   22,721 -22,269
28     6,727  -2,691   33,163  17,453   39,890   14,762 -25,128
31     6,956   3,954   36,050  10,696   43,006   14,650 -28,356
01    11,123  -6,966   34,452  17,623   45,575   10,657 -34,918
30    30,275   7,133   75,839  47,839  106,114   54,972 -51,142
03    20,610  -6,936   48,423  14,385   69,033    7,449 -61,584
```

Here’s the current Senate map, to remind you of where these districts are. SDs 22 and 24 have the most turf inside the big population triangle, while SD04 has most of its people there. SD22 currently includes Johnson and Ellis Counties, and it’s not too hard to imagine them beginning to trend blue over the next decade, while SD24 includes Bell and Coryell, which also have that potential.

I’m actually a little surprised to see that SDs 04 and 18 got a little bluer in 2016, before snapping back in 2020. I’ll have to take a closer look at them, on a county by county basis, to see what the big factors were. Fort Bend is going our way, and I have hope that we can make progress in Montgomery, and that’s going to be a big key to this decade.

The big Republican gainers, as noted in the last post, are mostly in East Texas and West Texas/the Panhandle, with SD03 including the north part of Montgomery. The main question will be how much of these districts will have to include the faster-growing parts of the state. That’s a calculation that won’t be very friendly to the incumbents, one way or another.

Finally, there are the three Latino districts, SDs 20, 21, and 27. All three followed the same pattern of a Dem gain in 2016 followed by a bigger Republican gain in 2020. SD27 remained solidly Democratic, while 20 and 21 are much closer to swing status though as noted in the previous post the incumbents all ran comfortably ahead of the pack. Republicans could certainly try to make a district more amenable to them out of this part of the state. How that would affect their other priorities, and how much of what we saw in 2020 continues past that year are the big questions. All other Dems carried these three districts as well, more or less at the same level as Biden. The good news for the Republicans then is that the new voters that Trump brought in were there for more than just him.

As you can see, there are fewer districts in which Dems lost ground, and the total number of votes they ceded is about a third of what they picked up elsewhere. You can see how G. Elliott Morris’ tweet thread applies here. As was the case with the State House and Congress, the Republican gerrymander of the State Senate in 2011 was very effective, until it wasn’t. It’s the same story here as it is for the other chambers, which is how do they assess the risk of a strategy that aims to gain them seats versus one that just aims to hold on to what they’ve got.

Next up will be a look at the State House district results from 2020. When the 2020 data for Congress and the SBOE finally show up, I’ll do the same for them as well. Let me know what you think.

## The 2022 primary target list

We’re likely to see a significant number of primary challenges in 2022, in all districted offices. That’s partly because 2022 is a post-redistricting year, and with boundaries being shuffled there are always new opportunities for people who find themselves in newly-redrawn districts, partly because party activists have less patience with members who they believe aren’t working in their interests, and partly because some members of the Lege make themselves a target by their actions in the session. To that latter group, let us welcome Rep. Leo Pacheco of San Antonio.

Rep. Leo Pacheco

The Bexar County Democratic Party has censured State Rep. Leo Pacheco, who once served as its chairman, for voting to approve a controversial bill nixing the requirement for Texans to obtain permits to carry handguns.

Pacheco was one of just seven Democrats in the Texas House to vote in favor of the GOP-backed legislation, which is likely to be signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. Democrats largely opposed the measure, as did gun control groups and some members of law enforcement.

A letter of censure posted Wednesday by the Bexar Democrats points out that the party’s state platform calls for preserving gun rights while “implementing prudent safeguards” to avoid firearm deaths. The platform also calls for prohibiting “open carry of all firearms and repealing ‘campus carry’ policies.”

In an emailed statement, Pacheco’s office declined comment on the letter.

“The representative is waiting until after the end of session to issue any response because his priority is focusing on passing substantive legislation,” the statement said.

Ironically, Rep. Pacheco had previously served as the Bexar County Democratic Party Chair. He was elected in 2018 following the retirement of Rep. Joe Farias. I don’t know a whole lot about his legislative career to this point, which is another way of saying he hadn’t rocked the boat before now. There’s always been a diversity of opinion within the state Democratic Party, more so when there were more Anglo members in rural areas (i.e., prior to 2010, when they were all wiped out in the Republican wave), though the party is more cohesive on a number of issues now. One of those issues is gun control, especially for things like background checks and restrictions on automatic weapons. As we’ve discussed before, public polling data suggests that voters as a whole do not approve of permitless carry, and Democrats really really don’t approve of it. This is what happens when you get out of step with the people you represent.

I will note for the record that while some Democratic reps may have been considering the current political trends when casting their vote on permitless carry, Rep. Pacheco doesn’t really have the same concern. His district voted 55.1 to 40.0 for Hillary Clinton, and 56.2 to 42.4 for Joe Biden. Clinton carried HD118 by 7,233 votes, Biden by 8,380. No shift here.

That doesn’t mean you should start drafting Rep. Pacheco’s political obituary. It doesn’t even guarantee that he’ll face a strong challenger in May or whenever we do get to have our primaries. It does mean he’s on notice, and he’ll either have to do something to make up for this or fight his way through it. We’ll see how it goes for him.

By the way, of the seven Dems who voted for the House permitless carry bill, five were from South Texas/Rio Grande valley districts, which are more rural and shifted towards Trump in 2020, and probably aren’t as out of step on this as Pacheco. The seventh Dem was none other than Harold Dutton, who is on quite a streak here. When the time comes to support a challenger to Dutton, remember that throwing trans kids under the bus isn’t the only reason you have to be mad at him.

## Of course business groups want Abbott to cut off unemployment payments

The Texas Association of Business and more than three dozen other business groups are pushing Gov. Greg Abbott to cut the additional \$300 in federal benefits currently going to unemployed Texans.

Nearly 1 million Texans remained unemployed and dependent upon benefit payments for income in March.

In GOP-led states, rescinding the extra pay is considered a way to force workers back into the job market to address labor shortages as the economy recovers from the COIVD-19 pandemic.

GOP governors in at least 16 states have announced plans to cut benefits: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Montana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.

“Employers believe that supplemental [unemployment] benefit payments from Washington is disincentivizing work and resulting in many good Texas jobs going unfilled,” the Texas business association and 38 chambers of commerce and business associations wrote in a letter to the governor and the Texas Workforce Commission, the agency that oversees jobless benefits.

“With COVID-19 on the decline and job openings on the rise, we believe it is time for Texas leaders and the Texas Workforce Commission to re-examine unemployment benefits, unemployment insurance work-search requirements and Texas’s role in federal supplemental unemployment benefits,” the letter said.

[…]

Critics of the decision to cut the additional unemployment pay argue it would hurt people who can’t work because they’re sick, caring for a person with COVID-19 or can’t find adequate childcare.

In response to Montana’s decision to rescind the benefit, worker advocacy group National Employment Law Project’s executive director Rebecca Dixon said return-to-work bonuses “can become a tool to coerce workers to accept substandard jobs, rather than enabling workers to pursue quality jobs that provide financial security.”

This is a lousy idea for the reasons stated above, and also because the states that have jumped on this bandwagon are among the worst at getting people vaccinated. Texas fits comfortably in that group, and yes there is a strong correlation to Republican-ness, since Republicans are less likely to want to get vaccinated, and as the people in charge are less likely to expend much effort to get vaccines to the lower-income, mostly people of color, that they’re now demanding go back to crappy jobs. As it is practically our state’s motto that the interests of bidness come first, I’m sure this will happen in short order. You already know what I’m going to say about that, so let’s just stipulate and move on.

UPDATE: Even faster than I expected.

Governor Greg Abbott said Monday that Texas will end federal pandemic-related unemployment assistance, effective June 26. This includes the \$300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.

“The Texas economy is thriving and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Abbott wrote in a letter to the Department of Labor. “In fact, the amount of job openings in Texas is far greater than the number of Texans looking for employment, making these unemployment benefits no longer necessary.”

These guys sure got their money’s worth, didn’t they? The Trib has more.

## Precinct analysis: State Senate districts 2020

Hey, look, we now have some 2020 district data. I found it all on the new Texas Legislative Council redistricting landing page. As of last week, when I went digging, only the State Senate and State House have 2020 data, so I’m going to spend a little time with them.

The 2020 State Senate election results by district are here. The first thing you need to know is that Joe Biden carried 15 of the 31 Senate districts. Here they are, in descending order of Biden’s percentage:

```
Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
23    237,533   52,415    80.9%    17.8%
13    208,895   46,896    80.8%    18.1%
14    347,953  132,727    70.8%    27.0%
29    180,899   87,022    66.5%    32.0%
26    191,570   92,307    66.4%    32.0%
06    123,709   61,089    66.1%    32.6%
15    208,552  110,485    64.5%    34.1%
27    125,040   90,758    57.3%    41.6%
16    210,107  159,233    56.0%    42.5%
19    176,256  149,924    53.3%    45.3%
21    155,987  132,733    53.2%    45.3%
10    199,896  170,688    53.1%    45.4%
20    143,598  128,363    52.2%    46.6%
17    212,242  193,514    51.6%    47.0%
08    231,252  211,190    51.3%    46.9%
```

For the record, Beto carried the same fifteen districts in 2018. I’ll do a separate post on comparisons with other years, but I figured that was a thought many of you might have, so let’s address it here.

Only Biden carried the two Republican districts, SD08 and SD17. The range for other Democrats in SD08 was 46.4% (Chrysta Castaneda) to 48.1% (Elizabeth Frizell), and in SD17 from 46.5% (Gisela Triana) to 49.0% (Tina Clinton). Every Democrat got over 50% in each of the 13 Dem-held districts. This is consistent with what we’ve seen in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, where Biden outperformed the rest of the ticket by three or four points. For what it’s worth, we saw a very similar pattern in 2016, when Hillary Clinton ran ahead of other Dems, in some cases by quite a bit more. I’m thinking specifically of CDs 07 and 32, but there are other examples. My big question all throughout the 2018 cycle was whether those voters who voted for Clinton but otherwise generally voted Republican downballot would be inclined to vote for more Democrats that year, and judging by the results I’d say the answer was mostly Yes. We’ll have to see what happens this time around.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the lower-than-expected percentages in the Latino districts. SD20 is Chuy Hinojosa, and he won re-election by a 58.5% to 48.5% margin. SD21 is Judith Zaffirini, and she cruised 60.1% to 39.9%, while our old friend Eddie Lucio took SD27 64.8% to 35.2%. You may recall that in an earlier post on the Latino vote in 2020, one factor put forward for Trump’s better-than-expected performance was incumbency. As you can see, these incumbent Dems all ran comfortably ahead of Joe Biden. Now take a look at SD19, where Roland Gutierrez knocked out incumbent Pete Flores with a seemingly unimpressive 49.9% to 46.7% score. However much stock you put in the overall hypothesis, I’d say Flores’ incumbency helped him here. Not enough, thankfully. As for the two urban districts, SDs 06, 26, and 29, I’ve discussed SD06 before, so I’ll skip it. SD26 is basically on par with 2016, while SD29 slipped a bit from then but improved by a little bit over 2012. Again, I’ll get into more detail in a subsequent post.

Where Democrats really improved is in the whiter urban and suburban districts. SD14 was always a Democratic stronghold, but it really punched above its weight in 2020. No Republican district generated as many votes for Trump as SD14 did for Biden, and only one Republican district had a wider margin for Trump. We Dems maybe don’t appreciate Travis County as much as we should. I’ve discussed SD15 and how it went from a solid Dem district to a powerhouse in 2020. Look at SD16, which was a Dem takeover in 2018, and marvel at how Mitt Romney won it in 2012 with 57% of the vote. This is the kind of voting behavior shift that should have Republicans worried, and as you’ll see there’s more where that came from. Similar story at a lesser scale in SD10, which Trump carried in 2016 by a fraction of a point.

And then we have the two Republican districts that Biden carried. Both were battlegrounds in 2018, and I think the closeness of the race in SD08 was a genuine surprise to a lot of people, myself included. That’s a district that has shifted enormously, but it’s got more company than you might think. To understand that better, let’s look at the districts that Trump won, as above sorted by the percentage that Biden got.

```
Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
09    161,000  166,632    48.3%    50.0%
25    256,178  302,919    45.1%    53.3%
07    188,150  232,201    44.1%    54.5%
05    199,253  250,002    43.4%    54.5%
12    211,292  270,287    43.2%    55.2%
11    161,818  232,156    40.4%    58.0%
02    138,917  208,774    39.4%    59.2%
18    161,933  271,898    36.8%    61.9%
22    128,415  253,102    33.2%    65.4%
04    142,522  281,331    33.2%    65.5%
24    126,340  257,861    32.3%    65.9%
30    121,646  329,601    26.5%    71.9%
01     92,593  265,715    25.5%    73.3%
28     76,925  222,872    25.3%    73.3%
03     77,364  294,559    20.6%    78.4%
31     59,684  229,768    20.3%    78.2%
```

Biden came within less than six thousand votes of taking a 16th Senate district, which would have been a majority. SD09 was Beto’s nearest miss for a sixteenth as well, though he came a little closer. The top five here for Biden are the same for Beto, with SDs 05 and 07 flipped; indeed, all of these districts are more or less sorted in the same way for both years.

I will have more numbers in the next post to show just how much movement there’s been, but in the meantime feel free to look at the 2012 district results and see for yourself just how uncompetitive these district used to be. The 2011 Senate map gerrymander was extremely effective, until all of a sudden it wasn’t. The Republicans will have some challenges ahead of them this fall.

There is of course some spare capacity for the Republicans to use, but it’s not as simple as it looks. Here’s the current map, to illustrate. None of SDs 01, 28, or 31 is anywhere near a Democratic stronghold. SDs 03 and 30 do border on Dem areas, and of course those other three districts can be sliced and diced to siphon off some Dem support, but it’s not quite that simple. For one thing, shifting the center of gravity in these districts from their rural centers towards the urban and suburban parts of the state means that their rural constituents – the Republican base – get less attention and power. They also increase the risk of a primary challenge from an opponent in a higher population area. I think playing defense will be a more urgent priority for the Republicans – they may try to carve out a more amenable South Texas district to capitalize on the Latino shift, but it’s not clear how persistent that will be, and there are still Voting Rights Act protections in place to guard against that, however tenuously – but maybe they could take a shot at Sen. Powell in SD10. As with the Congressional map, it’s a question of their risk tolerance as well as their appetite for gain. We’ll know in a few months.

## Paxton sues over revocation of Medicaid 1115 waiver

Someone please explain to me if this has any merit.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration Friday to reinstate an eight-year extension to a federal health care funding agreement, worth billions of dollars annually and set to expire next year, that the state uses to help pay for health care for uninsured Texans.

Last month, federal health officials rescinded the Trump-era extension to the 1115 waiver agreement — which Texas has had with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services since 2011 and is up for review every few years — and ordered Texas to collect public input, as the agreement requires, while it renegotiates a new extension beyond its current October 2022 expiration date.

The decision did not stop the funding in the current waiver, which will continue to provide \$3.87 billion in annual funding for 2021 and 2022 to partly offset free care provided by Texas hospitals to the uninsured, and to pay for innovative health care projects that serve low-income Texans, often for mental health services.

The extension, granted in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency, would have continued hospital reimbursements until September 2030 but allowed the innovation fund to expire.

In his lawsuit filed Friday, Paxton said the decision was a political move by President Joe Biden that was meant to force Texas to expand its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Forcing Texas back to the drawing board on negotiations over the extension, which Paxton said would have amounted to \$30 billion in federal funding through 2030, threatens to “destabilize” the programs the state funds through the waiver, he said.

[…]

The 1115 waiver was originally granted to Texas as a temporary funding bridge while the state developed its plan to expand its Medicaid program, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the ACA could not require states to do so — and Texas has since leaned on the 1115 waiver to help pay for care for the uninsured.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion have said that the state should utilize both 1115 waiver funding and expanded Medicaid eligibility, and have expressed confidence that the state would be able to negotiate the extension — with the required public input — before it expires.

“We have an attorney general and other state leaders who have made crystal clear the last few months and last few years that they have little interest in health care for working Texans — although they do have an obsession with filing lawsuits against the White House,” said Patrick Bresette, executive director of Children’s Defense Fund-Texas. “This misguided lawsuit is the cherry on top of a legislative session in which state leaders shot down all attempts to give an affordable health insurance option to janitors, cooks, grocery store clerks, and other Texans.”

“This would be a disaster for our state, and yet President Biden seems intent on thrusting his bloated model of government on everyone — including Texas,” he said in a statement Friday.

See here and here for some background, and here for a reminder that the Republicans have once again passed on the opportunity to fully expand Medicaid and make this issue moot. Let’s put aside the irony of a guy who is the lead attorney on a still-active case that would entirely kill the Affordable Care Act if he wins suing to keep federal funds flowing into Texas and ask the key question: This is a federal program, which requires federal approval. Doesn’t that mean that the federal government has some discretion here? If one accepts the premise that this move by the feds was purely capricious and driven by partisan motives, then sure, a lawsuit would be an appropriate remedy. On the other hand, if the feds reasonably believe that the extension, granted in the waning days of a President that gave little care to details and openly favored Republican states, was done in error, well, don’t they have the authority to correct that? I’m asking because I have no idea what the fine points of the law are here, and I have no reason to believe anything Ken Paxton says. That by itself doesn’t mean that the law couldn’t be on his side, though. I welcome any informed feedback on this. The Chron has more.

## More than one way to fund the Ike Dike

As long as it gets funded, that’s what matters.

When President Joe Biden proposed a nearly \$2 trillion infrastructure bill, some Texas officials had high hopes that it might include funding for the long-awaited “Ike Dike” project to protect the Houston-Galveston region from catastrophic storm surge.

However, the Army Corps of Engineers is pursuing another funding route for the \$26 billion project.

Col. Timothy Vail, commander for the Corps’ Galveston district, said the agency is adhering to a methodical federal process as it works toward completing the chief engineer’s report on the massive coastal barrier, siloed from Washington’s political headwinds.

The goal, Vail said, is for that report to be ready for funding through the 2022 Water Resources Development Act, a biennial, typically bipartisan bill that helps pay for flood mitigation infrastructure across the country.

“Congress would have a substantial amount of time to review this report, potentially have hearings on this report, ask questions on their report, both formally and informally before the Water Resource Development Act (of 2022)” was drafted, Vail said in an interview at the Corps’ Galveston headquarters.

Members of Texas’ congressional delegation are exploring whether the infrastructure bill could at least partially fund the project, but time is a factor with Biden aiming to get a bill passed by this summer. The Corps is still months away from officially putting the project on the table for congressional funding.

Corps officials said they are sorting through a final round of public comments as they target late August or early September for release of the final report. The agency will first submit the project for review to the governor’s office and federal and state officials. Then it goes to Congress for consideration.

[…]

Vail did not dismiss the possibility that Congress could choose to fund the barrier through other forms of legislation, but he said “largely, Congress needs a (chief engineer’s) report to authorize” funding.

“The important thing is the due process,” Vail said. “It’s not for me to tell Congress what they can or can’t do. Clearly, it’s within their authority to authorize (funding for the coastal barrier) outside of a Water Resource Development Act.”

Rocio Cruz, a spokeswoman for [Rep. Lizzie] Fletcher, clarified that she is pushing to create a funding stream for coastal resiliency projects such as the Ike Dike.

“She’s aware that the (Ike Dike) final report isn’t going to be ready for the American Jobs Plan, but we wanted to make sure that there’s a federal funding mechanism in place for when that is available,” Cruz said.

See here for some background. The reference to Rep. Fletcher is about her statement that she will push for Ike Dike funding in the infrastructure bill. I will admit, I did not know about the Water Resource Development Act, and I do not know why there was no action to leverage that before now. Maybe the plan just wasn’t ready yet, I don’t know. Whatever the case, it makes sense to pursue both options. We’ve come this far, let’s not leave anything on the table.

Which reminds me, there’s also a third option:

SB1660 is noted in that first link above. Like I said, pursue every option.

## Houston gets to have a boring budget

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to use an influx of federal cash to give firefighters a “raise the city can afford,” expand the Houston Police Department and replace lost revenue from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the mayor’s \$5.1 billion annual spending plan.

Turner’s budget proposal relies on roughly \$304 million in federal relief money that was set to be deposited into the city’s coffers this week. The administration would use \$188 million of that money to close most of the city’s projected \$201 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, while fully replenishing the \$20 million rainy day fund ahead of hurricane season.

“Without this flexibility, the city would be facing catastrophic cuts across all services,” Turner said, a nod to the city’s estimated \$178 million in lost revenue during the pandemic, mostly driven by sales tax.

The proposed spending plan largely would leave the city’s \$214 million in reserves, which officials have relied on in recent years to help balance the annual budget, untouched. Turner also did not account for \$112 million of the city’s stimulus funds in his initial spending plan, leaving the door open for other initiatives that he declined to detail Tuesday.

A portion of the extra federal aid likely will cover the firefighter raises, which Turner did not include in the budget as proposed Tuesday. The mayor declined to reveal the size of the firefighter pay increase, saying only that he plans to implement raises over three years, starting July 1, when the 2022 fiscal year begins.

[…]

Without the firefighter raises, Turner’s spending plan represents a 4.7 percent increase from last year’s budget. The tax- and fee-supported general fund, which pays for core city services, would total \$2.58 billion next year, up 3.9 percent. The largest increase would come from the police department, which would see its budget rise to \$984 million, about \$33 million more than city officials expect to spend this year.

The additional police spending would fund six cadet classes instead of the usual five, and cover a 2 percent raise for officers. The city’s contract with police officers has expired and the two sides have not agreed on a new one, but an evergreen clause in that deal secured the raise. The raise accounts for \$11.7 million of the added funds.

The Houston Fire Department also would see a modest budget increase, with funding for four cadet classes. The initial \$515 million HFD budget includes funding for 3,648 classified firefighters, according to city finance officials, about 76 fewer than the current budget.

For now, the two public safety departments account for roughly a quarter of the mayor’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year and half the general fund costs.

Controller Chris Brown said the federal stimulus money bailed the city out of a truly dire scenario — Houston’s worst-ever deficit, which could have resulted in as many as 2,500 layoffs.

“I’d breath a sigh of relief and look at the fact that the city really dodged a bullet this budget cycle,” Brown said, adding that his biggest concern is the city’s continuing structural imbalance. Its recurring expenditures outweigh revenues, meaning the city usually has to employ stop-gap measures such as land sales and deferrals to balance its books.

See here and here for the background. It’s hard to remember now, but a year ago things were looking really bad. The CARES Act helped, but the American Rescue Plan provided more money with fewer strings attached. It also provided money for the next fiscal year, by which time hopefully the city’s sales tax revenue will have bounced back. Not having this money would have made the next budget so much worse than it was in 2010. We still have challenges ahead, but at least the hole didn’t get exponentially bigger.

(As for the increase to the police budget, well, I didn’t expect anything different. Here’s hoping the Lege fails to carry that ball across the goal line.

## Trib polling roundup, part 3

President Joe Biden

Texas Democrats think Joe Biden is doing a good job as president, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Texas Republicans don’t.

Overall, the president gets good grades from 44% of Texas voters and bad grades from 46% — numbers that are better or roughly the same as the state’s most popular Republican leaders. Underneath Biden’s overall numbers, as with other officeholders in Texas, are starker partisan grades: 88% of Democrats said Biden is doing a good job, and 86% of Republicans disapprove of the work he’s doing.

Biden does a little better — but still poorly — with Republicans on how he’s handled the response to the pandemic; 14% approve, and 67% disapprove. But 92% of Democrats approve. And overall, 49% of Texas voters give Biden good grades on the pandemic, while 35% think he’s done a bad job.

Overall, 38% approve of Biden’s handling of the economy and 46% disapprove. Only 23% of voters approve of his response to immigration and border security, while 59% disapprove.

See here for Part 1 and here for Part 2. I had noted that 49-35 rating in Part 1 and was surprised by how positive it was. This makes more sense. It’s still good, and likely has boosted his overall rating, and it may make it harder for Greg Abbott et al to claim all the credit as COVID (hopefully) continues to retreat in Texas. Hard to know if it will have any effect on how people will vote – we know that Trump overperformed his approval rating in 2020 in part because people had a higher approval of him on economic matters. Biden lags a bit there, but that question is now mostly a proxy for partisan identification. We’ll see if that changes as the economy continues to recover.

As for the rest of the politicians polled, let’s make a table:

```
Name     App  Dis  None
=======================
Biden      44   46   11
Cruz       43   48    9
Cornyn     31   43   25
Abbott     43   45   13
Patrick    35   39   26
Paxton     32   36   31
Phelan     20   22   57
```

Congratulations to Ted Cruz for being the politician most people have an opinion about. I’m not sure he has anything further to aspire to. Maybe this is why John Cornyn is tweeting so much now, so he can close that gap.

The gaudy approval levels Greg Abbott had last year during the Summer of COVID are officially over. As noted before, his high approvals were mostly a function of him doing OK with Democratic respondents, who did not have the visceral dislike that others generated. Not any more. What this tentatively suggests to me is that there will be less separation in 2022 between Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, who along with Sid Miller ran several points behind Abbott in the 2018 election. If this holds, and all else being equal, I’d still expect Abbott to outperform Patrick and Paxton, but not by much, maybe a point or two.

It’s interesting to me that everyone has a net negative rating. Even before his COVID boost, Abbott was usually in the black on this. I looked in the crosstabs for the three Republicans that are up for re-election next year, and they tell the story of why they’re under water:

```
Name       Dem     Rep     Ind
==============================
Abbott    7-83   77-13   34-37
Patrick   5-75   63-10   24-33
Paxton    5-68   59-11   23-26
```

I’d have to do some more research, but I feel confident saying that Abbott was received less negatively by Dems in the past. Again, this might change as we move away from the legislative session – Rick Perry always seemed to be in worse shape at this point in the cycle than he was headed into an election – but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

## Sheriff Gonzalez nominated to lead ICE

Wow.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he will nominate Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, a vocal skeptic of cooperating with federal immigration authorities in certain circumstances, to serve as director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As head of ICE, Gonzalez would help oversee one of the most contentious parts of Biden’s agenda: enforcing U.S. immigration law. Biden has promised to unwind much of predecessor Donald Trump’s hardline border policies.

Gonzalez is a former Houston police officer who served on the City Council before first getting elected sheriff in 2016. He won a second four-year term in 2020. During his first term, he was a vocal critic of Trump’s approach to immigration.

In 2019, when Trump tweeted that his administration would be deporting “millions of illegal aliens,” Gonzalez posted on Facebook that the “vast majority” of undocumented immigrants do not proposed a threat to the U.S. and should not be deported.

“The focus should always be on clear & immediate safety threats,” he said.

And soon after taking office, Gonzalez ended a Harris County partnership with ICE that trained 10 deputies to specifically screen jailed individuals for immigration status and hold any selected for deportation. According to the Houston Chronicle, cutting the program still meant Harris County would hold inmates for deportation regardless of their charge, but only if ICE officials themselves made the request. According to a 2020 report by Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, ICE responded to the program’s cancelation by stationing nine ICE officers in the jail, who continued to screen and detain Harris County residents.

The program ended in late February of 2017, but between Jan. 20 and May 4 of that year, the number of people transferred into ICE custody from Harris County was 60% higher than it was for the same period in 2016. TRAC, a federal agency research center run by Syracuse University, found that Harris County received the most ICE immigration holds in both fiscal year 2018 and 2019, but it’s unclear how many resulted in deportations. The HILSC report estimated that ICE physically deported 6,612 Harris County residents in 2018.

Syracuse University found that Harris County had the third most immigrants transferred to ICE from local law enforcement in fiscal year 2018, in large part due to fingerprint records shared under the Secure Communities program. Harris County is the third most populous county in the United States.

Gonzalez also vocally opposed 2017 legislation that would prevent cities from banning local law enforcement from asking about immigration status and would push civil fines and a misdemeanor offense on law enforcement who don’t comply with federal immigration enforcement.

In a letter to the Senate Committee on State Affairs, Gonzales opposed what supporters dubbed “anti-sanctuary city” legislation, saying it would take public safety resources away from addressing other local safety issues, such as human trafficking and murder.

“I am also concerned about the risk of an unintended consequence: creating a climate of fear and suspicion that could damage our efforts to reinforce trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” he wrote.

Let’s just say that ICE is an institution in need of some big, big reforms. I have a ton of faith in Sheriff Gonzalez, and I believe he is up to the challenge. He’s going to have his work cut out for him.

More from the Chron.

Lina Hidalgo, Harris County Judge, lauded the nomination and called Gonzalez her friend.

“I’ll be sad for him to leave us, but President Biden will gain a compassionate, thoughtful and courageous leader,” Hidalgo said in a tweet. 

Under state law, Harris County Commissioners Court, which Hidalgo leads, is tasked with appointing Gonzalez’s replacement, who would then serve until the winning candidate from the November 2022 election is sworn in.

Gonzalez took office after defeating Republican Ron Hickman, his predecessor and a Commissioners Court appointee, in 2015 after former sheriff Adrian Garcia resigned to run unsuccessfully for Houston mayor.

Garcia, now a Commissioners Court member, would be among the county leaders to pick Gonzalez’s replacement.

“He brings with him such a wealth of experience — the wealth of experience coming from the fact that he is a long-time law enforcement leader,” Garcia said.

Past immigration enforcement leaders, Garcia said, have not brought that experience to the table.

Garcia pointed to Gonzalez’s decision to end a contested ICE partnership — known as 287G — in which some Harris County sheriff’s deputies were trained to perform the functions of federal immigration officers. Under the program, deputies were trained to determine the immigration status of jailed suspects and hold those selected for deportation.

Gonzalez said the sheriff’s office saved at least \$675,000 by redeploying deputies to other law enforcement duties.

“I supported him in abolishing that policy,” Garcia said.

[…]

Immigrant advocates expressed guarded optimism to the Biden administration’s ICE choice, with FIEL Houston officials calling him a listener.

“We can attest to is the fact that he has been and continues to be a man who listens to and takes input from the community,” Cesar Espinosa, FIEL executive director, said in a statement. “We understand that the role he is about to undertake is a huge and controversial role and we wish him well in this endeavor.”

Regardless of who leads the law enforcement agency, Espinosa said he would like for ICE leadership to end immigration raids, the use of the 287G program elsewhere and stop forcing ankle monitors on those “who do not pose a flight risk.”

Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum, called Gonzalez a humane choice for ICE leadership.

“His proven track record of pushing for smarter immigration enforcement, as well as advocating for Dreamers in his community, is an encouraging sign that he would run ICE with both practicality and compassion,” she said.

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a law professor at the University of Denver focused on immigration, noted Gonzalez’s “complicated history” with ICE, given his decision to end the controversial 287(g) agreement with the agency.

“It will be interesting to see how much that decision is reflected in his work as head of ICE assuming he confirmed by the senate,” he said.

He also noted that while Gonzalez, if confirmed, would take over a significantly larger agency, but would be accepting a role where he would no longer be the top decision maker or policy setter — and instead accept direction from the Biden White House or Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

True, but Sheriff Gonzalez was also a City Council member, so he has experience in not being the top person in the organization. He’ll do fine, as long as he has the resources and the mandate to do what needs to be done.

As for the local political implications, we may get a current Constable elevated to the Sheriff’s job, or we may get one of Gonzalez’s top assistants. I’m sure we’ll start hearing some names soon, and I expect Commissioners Court to fill the spot within a month or so of his departure. Which will not be until after he’s confirmed, so we’ll see how long that takes. Whatever the case, all the best wishes to Sheriff Gonzalez. We’ll miss you, but the country as a whole will be better off.

(The same press release also announced that former CD23 candidate Gina Ortiz Jones was nominated to be under secretary of the Air Force. She is highly qualified for that job, and I wish her all the best as well.)

## Rep. Fletcher will push for Ike Dike in the infrastructure plan

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

As congressional Democrats hash out a plan to spend more than \$2 trillion on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, it’s unclear how much — if any — of that money would go toward a long-sought barrier to protect the Texas Gulf Coast from catastrophic storm surge.

But at least one Houston Democrat is making it her mission to ensure the package includes funding for the latest version of the so-called Ike Dike, a proposed \$26 billion project that would fundamentally alter the southeast Texas coastline.

“This is the time to make the case,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher.

Fletcher is telling the Biden administration and Democrats on key committees drafting the infrastructure bill that the Ike Dike isn’t just a project to protect Texas. If storm surge were to head north into the Houston Ship Channel and shut down the Port of Houston — the busiest port in the country and home to much of the nation’s petrochemical industry — it would have “dire” economic consequences for the entire nation, Fletcher recently testified to a House committee.

“The potential environmental and human catastrophe that would come from that storm surge … it’s beyond anything I think our country has ever seen,” Fletcher said in an interview with Hearst Newspapers. “People need to know and understand that.”

However, Fletcher may be facing an uphill battle even with a fellow Democrat in the White House.

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan doesn’t include specific projects, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says it’s too early to say whether even some of the \$50 billion that the plan earmarks to gird against storms would help fund the Ike Dike.

Meanwhile, delegations from other states are revving up efforts to secure funding for their own projects, though the White House has said it doesn’t want specific projects written into the plan and would rather set up competitive grants to dole out the funding.

“Obviously every member is going to have something in their district or state they’re going to want to bring home and show they’re doing something,” said Bill Stahlman, a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Committee on America’s Infrastructure. “Whether it’s a small, local, rural bridge that needs to be rebuilt or on the magnitude of the Ike Dike…they all have value to that community.”

See here, here, and here for some background. While the Lege is taking up a bill to establish a funding source for coastal flood mitigation, that would be a long-term project and it’s not at all clear to me that it wouldn’t require federal supplement anyway. The Ike Dike is exactly the type of project that should be tackled as a big federal investment, and Rep. Fletcher makes a good case for it. Having a champion for this project in Congress is better than just having interest groups push for it, and having a champion who’s in the legislative majority with a President of the same party that wants to have a big infrastructure bill is even better. There are still no guarantees, of course, but this is the best shot we’ve had.

As the story notes, Rep. Fletcher is now working on her colleagues to get their support as well – Rep. Al Green has already signed on, and I expect most if not all of the Dem caucus will join. Getting Republicans on board is a different challenge, and it may not mean anything if they’re just going to vote against the final bill anyway, as they all did with the COVID relief bill. I’m sure Sen. Cornyn might come out in favor of a standalone Ike Dike bill, but such a thing is a much longer way away from passage, and it would need at least ten Republican Senators on board to defeat the filibuster. I wouldn’t bet a dollar on Ted Cruz being on board with this, so you can imagine the likelihood of Cornyn putting together a winning coalition to make such a separate bill worthwhile. This is the reality of it, and it’s a challenge. In the absence of any viable alternatives, you’re either with Rep. Fletcher or you’re against the Ike Dike. NBC News has more.

## Checking in on CD06

Rep. Ron Wright

State Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, is suddenly under intense fire from his right flank as he has emerged as a leading candidate in the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington.

The Club for Growth, the national anti-tax group, is spending six figures trying to stop him ahead of the May 1 contest, and on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz voiced opposition to Ellzey, one of 11 Republicans running.

“Texans in CD-6 deserve a strong conservative voice in Congress,” Cruz said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “Jake Ellzey’s financial support from never-Trumpers, openness to amnesty, and opposition to school choice should concern Texans looking for a conservative leader.”

Cruz’s team provided the statement after the Tribune asked for the senator’s position on the race, a lingering point of interest after another GOP candidate, Dan Rodimer, began his campaign last month while reportedly claiming Cruz’s encouragement to run. Cruz has not endorsed a candidate in the race.

Early voting began Monday for the special election to fill the seat of Wright, who died in February after being hospitalized with COVID-19. There are 23 candidates total, and other top GOP contenders include Wright’s widow, Susan Wright, as well as Brian Harrison, the former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Donald Trump. There are 10 Democrats running, and they are hoping to advance to an all-but-guaranteed runoff and then flip the Republican-leaning seat.

But for now, Ellzey is the center of attention, at least on the GOP side. Ellzey has been building momentum in recent days, and campaign finance reports released Monday showed that he was not only the top fundraiser from either party but that he also had more money in the bank for the homestretch than any other candidate. Ellzey raised \$504,000 in under two months and had \$400,000 cash on hand as of April 11.

That reminds me that I need to look at the Q1 finance reports, to see how other candidates did, and how much money there is overall. Whatever there was for the first round, you can bet there will be much more for the runoff, especially if it’s D versus R. Towards that end, generally ignore the polls.

The jungle primary for the Texas 6th special election is just under 2 weeks away, and we have a poll, so everyone is freaking out. The source of the trouble is that the lead Democrat is perilously close to the 2nd Republican, raising fears that the GOP could get two candidates ahead of the lead Democrat, and guarantee a victory before the runoff. This is a theoretical possibility, but not actually a real problem, because that poll should not be taken seriously.

This is a district that is 52% white by population – remember, this is an Arlington And Other Shit district, as I referred to it the first time I wrote about it – which has sizable Black (20%) and Hispanic (22%) populations. This district was Cruz +3 and Trump +3, but while the Tarrant portion of the district barely moved, from Beto +11.5% to Biden +11.9%, that elides a lot of the shift under the hood, with Beto doing better in the urban Arlington areas while Biden did better in the white suburbs, a fact that should surprise nobody. None of this is a shock.

The district contains a bit of the DFW quad – the bottom right corner of Tarrant, and this map from Jackson Bryman shows how the very minimal topline swing is actually two counterbalancing swings, as it is in the whole of the DFW Quad.

Now, I know what you’ll be saying – a district that’s 52% white by population will be more white than that when you apply a voter screen on it, and I don’t disagree. Echelon Insights released some electorate composition projections before 2020 in a handful of Congressional Districts, and their screen moved the (similarly ethnically diverse) Texas 22nd about 10% points whiter when comparing populations to electorates, which would make the 6th about 62% white, give or take. Seems reasonable enough to me, maybe a bit high if you think that Trumpian low-propensity whites and Hispanic don’t turn out, maybe a bit low if Black turnout sags. But yeah, something like a 60-65% white electorate would be reasonable.

This poll was 75% white.

[…]

So, what’s the actual state of play in the Texas 6th? Democrats will presumably make the runoff with Jana Lynne Sanchez, the GOP will get one of their potential nominees through, and Democrats are still the underdogs to actually flip the seat, but not out of the game by any means. This poll was R+10 when they asked just a generic D/R ballot test, which would represent a 2% swing to the GOP, but this is an overly white sample from a GOP pollster, so my prior – a swing to the Democrats from the 2020 Congressional result and a better result for the GOP as compared to the Presidential – is still the likeliest outcome.

I’ve seen references to this poll, which was sponsored by a right-wing publication. It’s not worth worrying about, even if it were a better poll sponsored by a better organization. Special elections are chaotic enough, and with so many candidates in the race the range of outputs is immense. Not many votes could easily be the difference between second place and third or fourth or fifth. I also believe that a two-party runoff is the most likely outcome, but two Rs and even two Ds could happen, if there’s sufficiently even distribution among the top contenders. Who knows?

## Today is not the day we expand Medicaid

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Texas House on Thursday rejected an attempt to direct the governor and state health officials to use billions in federal dollars to expand health care coverage for uninsured Texans, including working poor who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford their own health insurance.

On a vote of 80-68, lawmakers voted down the proposal, which was floated as a two-page amendment to the state budget on Thursday.

The debate, which was highly anticipated by advocates of expanding coverage for uninsured Texans, was expected to be heated and drawn out. It lasted less than 20 minutes.

[…]

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat who sponsored the amendment, said it wouldn’t force the state to expand traditional Medicaid but would direct Abbott and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to negotiate a federal funding agreement, known as a 1115 demonstration waiver, to create a plan that would cover more uninsured Texans, including those who would qualify for coverage under a traditional Medicaid expansion plan.

The resulting plan could have been a traditional expansion of Medicaid to cover adults who earn up to a certain amount, or a “look-alike” that combines state and federal funds to create a state program that accomplishes a similar goal, Coleman said.

Such state-crafted plans have been passed in several states, mainly conservative states like Indiana and Ohio.

“I would like for us to expand traditional Medicaid in the optional way that the ACA says you can do it,” Coleman said on the House floor. “But we can’t do that. And we know that … That is not what this amendment does.”

Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, said the idea “puts Texas in the driver’s seat, and really Gov. Abbott in the driver’s seat” instead of forcing their hand or pushing through a program unpopular with conservatives.

But Republican state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, the only House member to speak against the bill during Thursday’s debate, said that creating a new health care program — Medicaid or otherwise — is far too complicated an endeavor to tackle in a two-page amendment and cautioned that it in fact looked like a way to expand Medicaid without a public hearing or extended floor debate.

“This topic is incredibly important, it’s complex, and frankly, it’s not appropriately handled in this amendment,” Capriglione said.

House Democrats, a handful of Republicans, and health care advocates, as well as nearly 200 groups and community leaders across Texas, still have some hope for House Bill 3871 by state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton. That bill creates the “Live Well Texas” plan that uses a 1115 waiver to capture the federal dollars and expand Medicaid eligibility, and it includes incentives for people to continue working as well as increases in Medicaid reimbursements to attract more doctors to the program.

The bill has 76 House sponsors, nine of whom are Republicans, giving it enough support to pass the House. But it has been stuck in the GOP-led House Human Services Committee since March, waiting on a hearing that becomes increasingly less likely as the Texas Legislature barrels toward its final days at the end of May.

Only one of the Republican sponsors of HB 3871 voted for the Coleman amendment.

See here and here for the background. In a vacuum, I can accept Rep. Capriglione’s explanation for why this was the wrong vehicle to handle a complex health care topic, but given that the Lege has refused to consider Medicaid expansion for a decade, and as Rep. Coleman notes we’re only trying to do this the hard way because Republicans refuse to do it the easy way, I’m less sympathetic. Even if this amendment had been adopted, there would be no guarantee it would be in the final budget – as Scott Braddock notes, what matters is the conference committee. In theory, that means this could be revived there, but let’s just say one should not bet on that outcome. All respect to Reps. Coleman and Johnson, but we’ve seen this movie before, and I don’t expect it to end any differently this time around.

## Medicaid expansion by any means necessary

Whatever it takes. But I’ll believe it when I see it, and I have a very hard time believing that the current cast of characters will do anything to make it happen.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texas Republicans have been swift to condemn the Biden administration for rescinding early approval of a multibillion dollar Medicaid program that would help fund emergency care for the state’s booming uninsured population through 2030.

Gov. Greg Abbott said the federal government was “deliberately betraying Texans.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to “use every legal tool available to regain the assistance Texans need.”

But the decision federal health officials announced Friday could end up being one of the biggest steps yet to extend government health coverage to low-income people in Texas since the Affordable Care Act, according to health advocates and political observers. That’s true even if it doesn’t spur immediate change.

“The Biden administration has all the cards here,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, who teaches political science at the University of Houston. “They aren’t playing nice anymore with health care expansion. They’ve got the money, so they have the leverage.”

Pressure is also coming from inside the state. On Tuesday, a group of more than 150 organizations, including chambers of commerce, trade associations and local officials signed a letter calling on lawmakers to “support increased health coverage for Texans.”

“We specifically support a coverage initiative that is bipartisan, funded through available federal dollars, structured to be neutral for the state’s budget, and designed to meet Texas’ specific needs, values and circumstances,” it said.

The letter notably did not include the Texas Hospital Association, which criticized Friday’s decision. It has supported expanded coverage in the past.

[…]

Health care advocates have been quick to downplay Friday’s announcement, saying there is still plenty of time for the state to apply again for the waiver before next year. Texas was originally approved for the extension as part of a flurry of eleventh-hour orders by Trump health officials. In doing so, it allowed the state to forgo the normal comment period.

“I think of it in terms of, Texas didn’t follow the rules, and now it’s being told to follow the rules,” said Elena Marks, president of Episcopal Health Foundation in Houston. “It’s not being told, ‘you can’t have an uncompensated care pool.’ In fact, we need an uncompensated care pool, we ought to have one. But we have to follow the rules.”

See here for the background. Rescinding the 1115 waiver extension and making Texas follow the process to re-apply for it is a shot across the bow, but a limited one. If Texas does re-apply correctly, that extension will almost certainly be granted, though perhaps for a shorter period of time or with more strings attached. The current position of the Texas Hospital Association, which is on the sharp end of the stick right now, gives Abbott et al some cover. And as the story notes, Abbott has a primary election coming up, and the very last thing he will want to do before he wins that is anything that will make it look like he capitulated to Joe Biden and the Democrats. Maybe something happens after that, but politically speaking the incentives are all wrong.

This Trib story from Wednesday afternoon appears to offer a bit of hope, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s more than that.

Among several bills filed in the conservative Texas Legislature is a Medicaid expansion plan with bipartisan support that is similar to those adopted in some Republican-led states.

Nine House Republicans and all 67 House Democrats have publicly signed on to House Bill 3871, which would give it enough votes to pass the 150-member chamber. Although none of the proposals have gotten a hearing this session, Medicaid expansion is expected to be introduced in some form as a floor amendment Thursday when the House debates the state budget.

[…]

“The time to do this is now,” said state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, the author of House Bill 3871. “The deal on the table that the [federal] government offered to us is, in my opinion, irresponsible not to accept.”

Conservative lawmakers are weighing their historic opposition to Medicaid expansion against the potential of billions in federal incentives coming to Texas during a tight budget cycle.

“There is a bipartisan desire to see the cost of health care decrease. The unsustainable increase in prices, whether at the hospital, the doctor, or in health insurance premiums hits all Texans,” GOP state Rep. James Frank, chair of the House Human Services Committee, said in emailed comments to the Tribune. “But there is also concern that when Medicaid expands, that adds pressure to the private insurance market to make up the difference in reimbursements. Hence, expansion is a hidden tax on those who have private insurance, driving up the cost of care for everyone.”

[…]

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s and Gov. Greg Abbott’s offices did not respond to requests for comment, but both have opposed expanding Medicaid in the past. In January, House Speaker Dade Phelan expressed doubt that Medicaid expansion would happen this session.

Among other arguments, opponents say it would crowd out current Medicaid patients who are already getting a low quality of care due to the limited number of physicians who accept Medicaid patients because of low reimbursements.

It’s nice that there are 76 votes for a bill that hasn’t gotten a hearing and would still have to get through the Senate and be signed by Greg Abbott, but it’s still vaporware for now. (Rep. Frank, the House Human Services Committee Chair, is not among the nine Republican co-authors.) The same old tired arguments against Medicaid expansion, by people who don’t like Medicaid but claim to want to “protect” it, continue to have sway. Honestly, about 95% of this story could have been written in 2019, or 2017, or 2015, or 2013. It’s a tale as old as time at this point. The urge among Republicans to stick it to Obamacare at all costs has not abated. I don’t see anything to suggest to me that something has changed in this dynamic. I will be delighted to be wrong, but until I am proven wrong I say it ain’t gonna happen until we elect enough Democrats to make it happen.

## More interesting questions from that Matthew McConaughey poll

By 58% to 26%, Texans oppose a bill the House approved — and sent to the Senate Friday — that would allow people to carry handguns without a permit. Last month, opposition was greater — 64% to 23%.

[…]

In two polls by The News and UT-Tyler early last year, a majority of Texas registered voters endorsed a national ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons. This month, that slipped to support by a plurality, 48% for and 33% against.

[…]

At the same time, confidence that elected officials are doing enough to prevent mass shootings has ebbed. In early 2020, not long after Trump, Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick mused publicly about possible gun law changes in the wake of the August 2019 slaughters in El Paso and Odessa-Midland, up to 47% of Texans agreed that elected officials were doing enough to avoid repetition of the tragedies.

This month, 38% agreed and 59% disagreed — including 86% of Black people, 65% of Hispanics and 46% of Republicans.

See here for yesterday’s post, here for my blogging on the March poll (I didn’t comment on the gun control aspects of it), here for the April poll data, and here for the March poll data. I cut out a couple of quotes from people about the gun question because I didn’t care about them. I don’t know if the change in the numbers from March are just normal float or perhaps the result of recent Republican messaging, but in either case that’s still a solid majority against the permitless carry bill. Maybe that should be a bigger campaign issue in 2022 than it has been in the past. Lots of other issues to talk about as well, to be sure, but there sure looks to be a lot of upside here.

Nearly half a century after the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade established a woman’s right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy, a majority of Texans — and Republicans, if barely — said the court should not overturn Roe.

Among all Texas registered voters, 61% said Roe should not be overturned, while 37% said it should be. Republicans split 51%-49% against overturning, as did women, 63%-35%. White evangelicals favored voiding the controversial ruling, 56%-43%

Both GOP-controlled chambers of the Legislature are advancing a half dozen measures to restrict abortion.

In The News and UT-Tyler’s poll, a plurality of Texas registered voters (42%-37%) supported a Senate-passed bill that would ban virtually all abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually about six weeks into pregnancy, except in medical emergencies. Texas law currently bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — or up to 22 weeks from the last menstrual period.

Though about two-thirds of Republicans and white evangelicals support the so-called “heartbeat” bill, women narrowly oppose it, 40%-38%, as do Democrats, 47%-31%.

The problem here of course is that heartbeat bills, which have been passed in other states and blocked by the courts, are a direct challenge to Roe. The main point to take away from all this is that voters are often confused on this issue because there’s a lot of jargon and misdirection involved in bills like these.

While a plurality of Texans approve of the overall job Biden is doing as president (48%-41%), a slight majority — 52% — disapprove of his performance at handling immigration at the border. Just 30% approve.

Abbott enjoys a higher job-approval rating among Texans than does Biden: 50% approve, 36% disapprove. But it’s Abbott’s lowest showing in eight tests by The News/UT-Tyler poll since January 2020 — and down from a high of 61% in April 2020. That’s when, near the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Texans appeared to rally around his shutdown orders.

Asked if they trusted the leaders to keep their communities healthy and safe during the public health crisis, Texans narrowly said they trust Biden, 51%-44%.

However, a narrow plurality now distrusts Abbott to protect their communities from COVID-19: 46% trust the Republican governor, 47% do not. It’s the first time in six polls that Abbott has sunk underwater on the question. In this month’s poll, he’s especially lost ground among independents (30% trust him, 59% distrust him) and Black people (20% trust, 71% distrust).

You can look at the baseline approve/disapprove numbers in the poll data, they’re on page 2 in each case. Not much has changed since March. The polls included the same questions for Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, but so many people answered “Neither” to the approve/disapprove question for those two (37% for Patrick, 36% for Paxton), which I interpreted as mostly “don’t know”, that I don’t think there’s much value in those numbers. The main point here is that Biden continues to be above water in approval polling, and as long as that remains the case I believe Dems will have a more favorable climate in 2022 than they had in 2010 or 2014. Whether it’s as favorable as it was in 2018 is a different matter.

As for activities during the pandemic, Texans are more comfortable gathering with friends now: 44% are extremely comfortable, while only 23% felt that way in April 2020.

Texans are not as comfortable, though, being in crowds: 16% are extremely comfortable now, very close to the 15% who said they were extremely comfortable last April.

Sixty percent of Texans say they have been or definitely will be vaccinated against COVID-19, up from 57% last month. An additional 14% say they probably will get immunized. If they all do, as many as 74% could be inoculated, approaching the level many experts say is needed to achieve “herd immunity.” If all the state were Democrats, combining the three responses would produce an 89% acceptance rate, compared with 69% among Republicans and 66% among independents.

Could be worse. Given the data from some national polling, could be much worse. In the end, I think we’ll just have to see where we end up. If we get to over 70% in Texas, I’ll be pretty happy.

## What is the point of this Matthew McConaughey poll?

Matthew McConaughey commands more support to be Texas’ next governor than incumbent Greg Abbott, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler.

However, the film actor and political newcomer could hit potholes in either major party’s primary if he enters next year’s governor’s race, the poll found.

For months, McConaughey has teased political pundits and TV talk show hosts with musings that he might enter politics in his home state.

If he were to take the plunge and run for governor, the poll found, 45% of Texas registered voters would vote for McConaughey, 33% would vote for Abbott and 22% would vote for someone else.

McConaughey’s double-digit lead over the two-term Republican incumbent is significant. The poll, conducted April 6-13, surveyed 1,126 registered voters and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.92 percentage points.

But 56% of Republican voters said they’d vote for Abbott, compared with only 30% for McConaughey.

While Democrats broke 66% to 8% for McConaughey, and independents 44% to 28%, more than twice as many Democratic primary voters — 51% — said they wanted a progressive candidate for governor than wanted a centrist — 25%.

That could pose a problem. McConaughey, who has criticized both major parties, has suggested he’s more of a moderate.

And in the GOP gubernatorial primary, that’s also not obviously a ticket to success. Solid majorities of poll respondents who described themselves as conservative, evangelical or retirement-age Republican primary voters said they’d vote for Abbott.

[…]

Jason Stanford, who managed the campaign of second-place finisher and Democrat Chris Bell in the 2006 gubernatorial race, said McConaughey poses no threat to Abbott.

“There doesn’t appear to be a huge groundswell of discontent for Abbott,” Stanford said. Once McConaughey declares as a Democrat or Republican, reality will set in with Texas voters, he added.

“If you ID as a Democrat or a Republican, you’re going to get different answers about him in polls,” Stanford said. “He’s fun, but once you put him in a political context, things will change.”

Poll details can be found here. There’s some issues and approval polling that I’ll get to in a separate post and which is actually kind of interesting, but as for the Abbott/McConaughey question, the only thing you need to read is what Jason Sanford said, because he’s 100% correct.

The first problem with this poll question is in the question itself, which is worded as follows: “Matthew McConaughey has been talked about as a potential candidate for Governor of Texas. If he ran, would you be likely to support him more than Governor Abbott?” Do you see what’s missing in that question? It’s any mention of what (if any) party McConaughey would be claiming. If he’s running as a Democrat against Abbott, then there’s no way in hell he gets 30% of Republicans to support him. Even getting ten percent would be seismic and likely enough to win, but we can’t tell what kind of actual crossover appeal he might have because the question is asked without that piece of information, leaving the respondent to assume that this is some theoretical, non-partisan race. You know, the kind that we don’t have for state elections.

If McConaughey were to run as an independent, then this would need to be polled as a three-way race, because the Democrats would surely have a candidate as well. One could possibly imagine a scenario in which McConaughey mounted an independent campaign and the Texas Democratic Party decided as a tactical matter to support him, the way Dems have supported independent candidates for Senate or Governor in Maine and Kansas and Alaska in recent years. The problem with that scenario is that while McConaughey could announce his independent candidacy now and start staffing up for it, he can’t begin the petition process to get on the ballot until after the primary election, or after the primary runoff if there was one for Governor, and there’s nothing to stop someone from filing to run as a Democrat in the primary in the meantime. Any Democratic nominee, whether a candidate who might be viable against Abbott on their own or a more marginal type who still has appeal to some part of the Democratic base, will draw enough support to make an independent far less competitive in the general. To put it another way, it’s extremely unlikely Matthew McConaughey gets 66% of the Democratic vote in a three-way race.

Maybe I’m wrong about these assertions. You could ask again and name McConaughey as the Democratic nominee, and see how much Republican support he gets. You could also ask about a three-way race that features Abbott and McConaughey and an actual, named Democrat. And if you’re going to do that, why not also ask the horse-race question about just Abbott and that same Dem? Why not ask the Abbott-versus-Beto and/or Abbott-versus-Julian question, which would allow a comparison to McConaughey as a Dem, then ask again with McConaughey in there as an independent? We all understand that at this point in the calendar all these questions are mostly for funsies, but with some useful information in there if you know how to look for it. At least the Abbott/Beto or Abbott/Julian questions would give a data point about whether Dems have any cause to feel optimistic or not, and the three-way race question might tell us something about how much Republican support for Abbott is softer than it looks. Any of it would tell us more than the actual question did.

And of course, if McConaughey were to run against Abbott in a Republican primary, then asking this question in a sample that includes more non-Republicans than Republicans is going to give you a nonsense answer. Point being, if I haven’t beaten it to a sufficiently bloody pulp yet, identifying McConaughey’s partisan affiliation in this question matters. Not including it makes this whole exercise useless for anything that blog fodder and Twitter posts. Which they got, so mission accomplished.

One more thing, before I end this post and write the other one about approvals and issues polling: For some reason, the sample – which as before is partly phone and partly web panel, and all made up of registered voters – voted in the 2020 Presidential election as follows:

Trump – 36%
Biden – 32%
Other – 1%
Did not vote – 30%
Refused to say – 1%

If you’re thinking that’s an awfully large “did not vote” percentage, consider how the sample from their March poll answered the same question:

Trump – 43%
Biden – 38%
Other – 4%
Did not vote – 11%
Refused to say – 4%

Why so different? I have no idea. Why do we think we can draw reasonable conclusions from a poll sample that includes such a large number of people who didn’t vote in the highest turnout election in Texas history? Again, I have no idea. To be sure, the 2022 election will have smaller turnout, and an RV sample is all that makes sense at this time. But maybe weighting the sample a bit more towards actual voters might make any projections about the next election more accurate.

## Now it really is time for Texas to expand Medicaid

Good for the Biden administration putting the pressure on.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Biden administration on Friday rescinded changes to a federal funding agreement, known as a 1115 waiver, that would have extended for 10 years Texas’ health care safety net for uninsured residents — teeing up a new round of negotiations before the existing waiver expires in 2022.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a statement that it erred in exempting the state from the normal public notice process before granting an extension to the waiver in the waning days of the Trump administration.

The agency “has rescinded the extension approval, which corrects this oversight with as little impact as possible to the people of Texas, since the original demonstration remains intact through September 30, 2022,” it said in a statement.

The Washington Post, citing two federal health officials, said the decision was a bid to push Texas toward expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, a move the state and eleven others have resisted.

The 1115 waiver reimburses hospitals for the “uncompensated care” they provide to patients without health insurance and pays for innovative health care projects that serve low-income Texans, often for mental health services. The extension — worth billions of dollars a year — would have continued hospital reimbursements until September 2030, but allowed the innovation fund to expire this year.

The earlier waiver is still in effect, and federal authorities “stand ready to work with the state” if it wishes to extend it beyond next year, according to a Friday letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The state’s rationale to get out of the normal public notice process was that health care providers needed financial stability during the coronavirus pandemic, the letter said. But the state’s request did not “meaningfully explain why the extension request addressed the COVID-19 public health emergency or any other sudden emergency threat to human lives,” it said, in part.

See here for some background, and be sure to click on the NBC News link in that post. The 1115 waivers were used during the Trump years to approve the skinniest and stingiest Medicaid expansions possible, and in typical Trump fashion were done with zero regard for existing law or protocol. The Chron has some more details.

While the state’s current 1115 waiver won’t expire until September of next year, the reversal has immediate political impacts because the state Legislature has only weeks left in its session and won’t meet again until 2023. Without certainty over how much the federal government will contribute going forward, lawmakers risk leaving huge funding gaps for counties and hospitals.

Texas Republicans, who control the state government, have long campaigned against the Affordable Care Act and have declined to expand Medicaid under the act’s provisions as they seek to overturn the law in court. The state has depended on the waiver system as a cheaper alternative that nonetheless leaves millions of Texans uncovered.

Today, Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country, with nearly 1 in 5 people lacking coverage. That results in staggering amounts of uncompensated emergency room visits each year, some of which is reimbursed by the 1115 waivers.

[…]

Earlier this year, a group of national health associations including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association called out the Trump administration’s expedited approval, saying there was plenty of time to hold a public comment period before the existing waiver expires next year.

“The waiver application was hundreds of pages, I don’t think it even mentioned COVID,” said Joan Alker, a Medicaid expert at Georgetown University who had signed on to the letter. “So it was a blatant disregard of what the exemption was supposed to be for.”

The Texas Hospital Association said it was disappointed with the decision.

“This action undermines the safety net and hospitals’ ability to protect people,” president Ted Shaw said in a statement. “It puts the state’s health at serious risk and creates unprecedented levels of uncertainty for an industry that is charged with saving lives.”

Others noted that the waiver was never meant to be a permanent solution.

“The waiver was always intended to serve as a temporary bridge until the state implemented an insurance option — with federal Medicaid expansion funds — for low-wage workers whose jobs don’t provide health coverage,” said Patrick Bressette, who directs the Children’s Defense Fund Texas. “Now would be a good time to have a real conversation about Medicaid expansion.”

Texas Sen. Nathan Johnson, a Democrat from Dallas who authored an expansion bill that has some Republican support, said the state should immediately reapply for the waiver while also taking up the expansion question.

“The story being told on the Republican side is Biden’s taking away resources from vulnerable people. False,” he said. “There’s still time left under the old waiver protections to do this the right way.”

I can understand why the Texas Hospital Association is unhappy with the decision, but the root of that is the failure to expand Medicaid, which has cost Texas hospitals tons of money. The waiver lets them get a few of those dollars back, but why settle for pennies when the dollars are available? Do the expansion, like we should have done a decade ago, and everyone is better off. It may be late in this session but there will need to be at least one special session for redistricting anyway, so the legislative calendar isn’t actually a problem. The choice and the benefits are clear, and the only reason not to is sheer partisan obstinance. Quit whining and get it done already.

## The infrastructure bill and Texas flooding

President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan includes \$50 billion to fortify states against future extreme weather events such as the droughts, floods and hurricanes that caused up to \$200 billion in damage in Texas over the past decade — a tally that includes six droughts, five hurricane landfalls and five floods that each left at least \$1 billion in damage behind.

Texas was hammered by 67 major weather disasters from 2010 to 2020, more than any other state in the nation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Fifty-nine of those were billion-dollar disasters — more than double the 25 costly storms the state saw in the decade prior as major weather events have become increasingly common.

The NOAA data does not include the deadly winter storm that killed nearly 200 Texans and caused billions in damage. The state was bracing for more severe weather on Monday with Gov. Greg Abbott ordering rescue boats, helicopters and other resources to stand at the ready for spring storms expected to bring heavy winds and hail.

The storm damage figures are a key piece of the White House’s efforts to sell Biden’s \$2 trillion infrastructure proposal, which administration officials stepped up on Monday as they released breakdowns of needs in each state.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pointed to the winter storms that left millions of Texans without power for days as an example of the need to make infrastructure more resilient to increasingly severe weather.

“We saw what happened in Texas — and that’s an example of a resilience problem,” Buttigieg said. “It’s not a fundamental technology problem. Natural gas plants were part of what failed not because they couldn’t conceivably work, but because there wasn’t weatherization … Things like wind power can operate in sub-zero conditions — I’ve seen it myself in Iowa — but only if you build it in a resilient way, which was not necessarily the case in Texas.”

[…]

In Texas, the Biden administration says the plan could help fix more than 800 bridges and over 19,400 miles of highway in poor condition, expand broadband to the estimated 12 percent of Texans who live in areas without access to it and increase affordable housing options for more than 1.7 million renters in Texas are who spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, among other things.

It’s the most detail the administration has offered so far on what Biden’s proposal could send to Texas — and could be as much detail as the White House will offer until the plan becomes law. The administration has said its goal is to establish competitive grant programs to dole out much of the funding, meaning Texas and its cities and counties would have to make their case for projects.

No explicit discussion of the Ike Dike yet, but one has to assume it’s in scope. Preventing a hurricane from wiping out a bunch of refineries is a matter of national security (not to mention environmental protection), and it has always needed to be treated as such. We’re in the middle of a dumb debate about what counts as “infrastructure”, and of course the Republicans, led by Ted “Just get yourself on a plane to Cancun” Cruz, will reject every last penny of this because, well, I have no idea why. Doesn’t really matter anyway. Go back and look at that dollar amount for the past few years’ worth of emergencies in Texas and ask yourself why we wouldn’t want to do something about it right now. I’m sure you can think of a better reason for action than Ted Cruz can for sitting on his thumbs.

## When the vaccine problem becomes more about demand than supply

Or to put it another way, what are we gonna do with the people who refuse to get vaccinated?

Low vaccination rates in counties that are whiter and more conservative could be impairing Texas’ ability to quickly reach herd immunity for COVID-19.

Texas counties that are poorer, whiter, less-educated and where former President Donald Trump won a larger than average share of the vote have vaccinated a smaller share of their population than the state average, a Houston Chronicle analysis found.

In the 144 Texas counties that meet these criteria, about 28.7 percent of people aged 16 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Statewide, the average is 32.2 percent.

In Liberty County, fewer than 20 percent of residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, one of the lowest rates in the state. What’s more, as Harris County residents have begun flocking to rural counties for easier access to vaccines, state data shows that providers in Liberty County — a rural patch between Houston and Beaumont — have put 27 percent more shots in the arms of Harris County residents than they have in residents of their own county

Meanwhile, in the 22 counties where Joe Biden won a majority of the vote — places that tend to be both more diverse and educated — an average of about 44 percent of eligible Texans have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The vaccination gap between whiter, more conservative counties and the state average may not be cause for concern for the state’s vaccination efforts yet, said Rice University health economist Vivian Ho, but there is a potential for it to widen over the next two to three months.

“As more vaccines become available, that gap is going to widen, because there’s still excess demand for vaccines in our cities, where the majority of the population lives,” she said. “If, for instance, only 50 percent of people in these outlier counties are vaccinated, they will continually be subject to superspreader events that will overwhelm the weakest components of the state’s healthcare infrastructure.”

[…]

Across the state, health officials are searching for ways to reach and vaccinate people who are reluctant to do so.

State health officials are trying to think through the “last mile”, said Dr. David Lakey, a member of the Texas COVID-19 Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel. People who are hesitant to get vaccinated may not go to mass vaccination sites or hubs, but may go to providers they trust.

In Public Health Region 4/5 North — a group of counties in the northeastern part of the state, around Tyler — officials are working with faith-based communities and hosting vaccine fairs to vaccinate more people in the region with the state’s lowest average rate. They have also been conducting home visits as part of these efforts to bring vaccines to homebound people.

Ron Nichols, emergency coordinator for Chambers County, said having well known, local paramedics dole out doses has helped assuage some residents’ concerns. Nichols said demand for vaccines was initially high, but has begun to plateau in recent months because people are either waiting on the single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, or because of distrust rooted in misinformation.

“There are a lot of people who just don’t understand, don’t know or don’t trust the process,” he said. “The Facebook misinformation machine has been running rampant.”

I suppose there may be fewer Houstonians taking vaccination road trips now that there’s more doses available. Be that as it may, the approach being outlined here makes sense. It’s largely the same strategy that has been advocated and used for communities of color and immigrants, and for the same reason – people trust people they know. It’s more arduous, but it has to be done. It would be nice if more of the state and federal elected officials who represent these areas stepped up and took some of the responsibility for convincing their constituents to get vaxxed, but I’m not holding out much hope for that.

(I am going to attempt to exercise some grace about the hesitancy in these parts of the state, even as we know that lies and propaganda are the main reasons for the fears that many of these folks have, and the risk that their hesitancy may help give rise to a stronger and more vax-resistant strain of the virus. For now, at least. We’ll see where the numbers are in a few months.)

## It was worse in Harris County during the freeze

Harris County residents were far more likely to have lost electricity and water during February’s winter storm and blackout crisis than residents of other Texas counties, a survey by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs found.

The findings may help explain why Harris County residents account for a third of the almost 200 deaths so far attributed to the storm, while only accounting for 16 percent of the state’s population. Most froze to death in their homes or while exposed to the elements, succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning or died when medical devices failed without electricity.

“During the week of the winter storm, Harris County residents were significantly more likely than other Texans to lose electrical power, lose internet service, lose access to drinkable water, be without running water, lose cell phone service, have food spoil, suffer economic damages, and experience difficulty finding a plumber,” the survey authors wrote.

Ninety-one percent of Harris County survey respondents said they lost power during the blackouts, compared to 64 percent of respondents from the other 212 counties on the state’s main power grid. Asked if they had lost water, 65 percent of Harris County residents said yes, compared to 44 percent of those in other counties. Thirty-eight percent of local respondents said they suffered burst pipes.

On average, Harris County respondents were without electricity for 49 total hours and 39 consecutive hours, confirming that the outages were not rotating as the grid operator, ERCOT, had hoped. CenterPoint Energy, the Houston area’s electricity distributor, said during the crisis it could not rotate blackouts because the drop in available power to distribute was so severe.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 72 percent of Harris County respondents said they somewhat or strongly disagreed that the power outages were distributed in an equitable manner.

[…]

The survey also measured how Harris County respondents rated the performance of government officials and entities during the storm. President Joe Biden and County Judge Lina Hidalgo scored the highest, with more than 45 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly approving of their handling of the crisis.

Gov. Greg Abbott and state government as a whole were rated poorly, with about 21 percent somewhat or strongly approving of their performance. ERCOT polled the worst, with 78 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly disapproving of the power grid operator’s performance.

The survey found broad support among Harris County residents who identify as Republicans, Democrats and independents for a series of reforms. More than 70 percent of these respondents said they supported requiring the electric grid and natural gas pipelines to fully winterize and giving the Public Utilities Commission greater oversight over the electric grid.

Fifty-three percent of respondents, however, said they were unwilling to have higher utility bills to ensure the grid is better-prepared for severe weather.

The landing page for this poll is here. The data for Harris County is here and for the state as a whole is here. The poll was done via a webpanel, with a sample of 1500 adults in total, and an oversample of 513 adults in Harris County. Note that as before, the partisan makeup of the sample is more Democratic than it would be if we were talking about registered voters. In Harris County, it was 38% Democrats, 36% Independents, and 18% Republicans, and statewide it was 32% Dem, 30% Independent, and 25% Republican. I sent an inquiry about that, and was told that among those who reported voting in the 2020 election, Trump won by a 51-47 margin, not far off from the actual 52-46 spread. In other words, if there’s a Democratic skew it’s among the non-voters.

I say all that up front because there were approval ratings in the polls, at least for how the freeze was handled. For the statewide sample:

Governor Greg Abbott: Strong approve 15%, somewhat approve 13%, neutral 15%, somewhat disapprove 10%, strong disapprove 38%
Your County Judge: Strong approve 14%, somewhat approve 11%, neutral 26%, somewhat disapprove 7%, strong disapprove 16%
Your Mayor: Strong approve 14%, somewhat approve 14%, neutral 27%, somewhat disapprove 8%, strong disapprove 17%
President Joe Biden: Strong approve 21%, somewhat approve 11%, neutral 21%, somewhat disapprove 5%, strong disapprove 32%

And for Harris County:

Governor Greg Abbott: Strong approve 12%, somewhat approve 9%, neutral 17%, somewhat disapprove 9%, strong disapprove 47%
County Judge Lina Hidalgo: Strong approve 35%, somewhat approve 13%, neutral 19%, somewhat disapprove 6%, strong disapprove 18%
Your Mayor: Strong approve 27%, somewhat approve 19%, neutral 19%, somewhat disapprove 6%, strong disapprove 19%
President Joe Biden: Strong approve 36%, somewhat approve 13%, neutral 20%, somewhat disapprove 5%, strong disapprove 19%

Again, bear in mind the partisan breakdown of the sample. There’s a lot more to the polls, and a separate set of questions about lifting COVID-19 restrictions that I’ll write about separately, so go check it out.

## DCCC starts with two targets in Texas

Consider this to be written in chalk on the pavement, pending the new Congressional maps.

Rep. Beth Van Duyne

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Tuesday that it will target two Republican-held districts in Texas — the ones currently held by Reps. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio and Beth Van Duyne of Irving. They were one of 22 districts nationwide that the committee included on its 2022 target list, which it emphasized as preliminary due to redistricting.

Last election cycle, the DCCC sought to make Texas the centerpiece of its strategy to grow its House majority — and came up woefully short. They initially targeted six seats here and later expanded the list to 10 — and picked up none of them.

Van Duyne’s and Gonzales’ races ended up being the closest. Van Duyne won by 1 percentage point to replace retiring Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, while Gonzales notched a 4-point margin to succeed Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, who was also retiring.

The shape of those races remains very much in question more than a year and a half out from Election Day, most notably because Texas lawmakers are expected to redraw congressional district lines in a special session of the state Legislature later this year. Texas is on track to gain multiple congressional seats due to population growth. Republicans control the redistricting process and may be be able to make Gonzales’ and Van Duyne’s seats more secure.

On paper, Van Duyne’s 24th District looks to be the most competitive in 2022. It was the only GOP-held district in Texas that Democratic President Joe Biden won — and he carried it by a healthy margin of 5 points. The DCCC has already run TV ads against Van Duyne this year.

Biden, meanwhile, lost Gonzales’ 23rd District by 2 points. The 23rd District is a perennial swing seat that stretches from San Antonio to near El Paso and includes a large portion of the Texas-Mexico border.

As noted, the Republicans have their target list as well, which will also be affected by whatever the final maps look like as well as any retirements. CD24 is an obvious target, but if the map were to remain exactly as it is now I’d have several CDs higher on my list than CD23 at this point based on 2020 results and demographic direction. I’d make CDs 03, 21, 22, and 31 my top targets, with CDs 02, 06 (modulo the special election), and 10 a rung below. I’d put CD23 in with that second group, but with less conviction because I don’t like the trend lines. Again, this is all playing with Monopoly money until we get new maps.

Just to state my priors up front: I believe there will be electoral opportunities in Texas for Congressional candidates, though they will almost certainly evolve over the course of the decade. I believe that if the economy and President Biden’s approval ratings are solid, the 2022 midterms could be decent to good, and that we are in a different moment than we were in back in 2009-10. I also know fully well that the 2022 election is a long way off and there are many things that can affect the national atmosphere, many of them not great for the incumbent party. I was full of dumb optimism at this time in 2009, that’s for sure. I also had extremely modest expectations for 2018 at this point in that election cycle, too. Nobody knows nothing right now, is what I’m saying.

## The infrastructure bill and the Hobby Airport light rail extension

More good thing we could get from the eventual Infrastructure Bill.

Houston was made and marketed by the slogan “where 17 railroads meet the sea.” Local elected officials now think its short-term future, and the local success of a proposed \$2 trillion infrastructure package, is getting light rail to Hobby Airport.

“Yes, there will be some repaired bridges, that’s very important,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said Thursday along a stubbed section of rail south of MacGregor Park. “But in an urban center like this, I hope everybody can see we will get a route to Hobby Airport and other routes that have been waiting to enhance the quality of life for our citizens.”

The national debate over infrastructure places one of the most expensive and controversial projects in Metro’s long-range transit plan front and center locally as officials juggle dozens of smaller bus-focused projects, as well as expansion of bus rapid transit across the region.

Lee, joined by elected officials, Metropolitan Transit Authority leadership and community groups, said new train service to the airport — through struggling areas ripe for investment — could be a primary local benefit of a proposed infrastructure package by the Biden Administration.

“This will be life-changing for them,” community advocate Cesar Espinosa said of the students and elderly residents in southeast Houston who need improved transit options that connect them to major locations, such as downtown and Hobby Airport.

[…]

That allowance for planning and prioritizing projects that have local support and ready planning is what officials argue makes light rail appealing. Metro in 2019 won voter approval of a \$7.5 billion long-range plan that included a \$2.1 billion for light rail expansion, the bulk of that aimed at Hobby rail expansion.

Years of study and planning are needed to finalize the proposed light rail extensions, but Metro officials have suggested a route that extends the Purple Line from the Palm Center Transit Center along Griggs and Long, where it would connect to the Green Line and both would operate along shared tracks into the airport.

Getting the Green Line to Telephone Road or somewhere close remains undecided. Various officials prefer different routes and there has yet to be consensus in the community over whether to use Telephone or Broadway.

Wherever the line eventually is located, officials said they expect it to be a major boost, not only for jobs during construction, but for development in the future.

“If the president’s plan is implemented it will absolutely transform our community,” said Carrin Patman, chairwoman of the Metro board.

The original idea (click to expand MetroRail LRT) was to extend the Green and Purple lines separately, and have them both go to Hobby. That was expensive and there were questions about the routes, so in the end the plan was one extension to Hobby, route to be determined as noted above. Funding for that would come later, but could be greatly accelerated if the Infrastructure Plan That Is Not Yet A Bill develops as hoped. The intent is to boost local transit, and this would certainly do that. Maybe we could even get that extension to Washington Avenue on the other end of the line. A boy can hope, can’t he?

## Mike Collier gearing up again

Mike Collier

Mike Collier, the 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor who lost to Dan Patrick by 5 percentage points, is gearing up for another run.

Collier is launching an exploratory committee to challenge Patrick again next year, though he said it is more of a “confirmatory” committee and that he is “intent on doing this.”

“This is a rematch, and it’s all about holding Dan Patrick accountable,” Collier said in an interview, arguing that two major recent events — the winter weather emergency and coronavirus pandemic — have shown “what poor leadership does in the state of Texas.”

Collier, a Houston-area accountant, said he plans to pitch himself much like he did in 2018, playing the mild-mannered policy wonk to Patrick’s conservative firebrand. But he said he believes he has additional factors working in his favor this time, and not just the recent crises that have put a harsh spotlight on Texas Republican leaders. He has assembled a top-flight campaign team, is better-known statewide than ever and believes President Joe Biden will be an asset, not a liability, next year in Texas.

“Biden, I believe, is going to be a very popular president because his policies make sense, and then we have COVID, and then we have an insurrection, and then we have a power crisis, and all sorts of reasons for people to pay attention,” Collier said. “So you roll all that together, and I think it’s a very winnable race.”

Collier remained politically active after his 2018 run, continuing to criticize Patrick and endorsing Biden early in the 2020 primary. Collier went on to serve as a senior adviser to Biden’s Texas campaign in the general election.

Collier’s campaign-in-waiting includes alumni of Biden’s campaign both nationally and in Texas. Collier is working with ALG Research, Biden’s pollster, as well as Crystal Perkins, the former Texas Democratic Party executive director who was Biden’s finance director for a region that included Texas.

Collier acknowledged he needs to raise more money than he did in 2018, when he collected \$1.3 million over the two-year election cycle, a fraction of Patrick’s fundraising. However, Collier said his team has “already been in communication with the donors [for 2022] and we feel very bullish about that.”

I’m a longtime fan of Mike Collier, and I think he’s an asset on the ticket. He’s correctly identified his main weakness from 2018, and appears to be working on it. The thing about running against Dan Patrick is that you can let him grab most of the attention – it’s not like you can prevent him from doing that – but you do need to be able to remind everyone that they have another choice. Collier was a top performer in 2018 because he was an acceptable choice to voters who were sick of Patrick. If he can build on that – and if he’s right about the national atmosphere and President Biden’s relative popularity – he can win. The Chron has more.

## Why North Texas?

The Trib reprints a WaPo story about a cluster of Capitol insurrectionists in the Dallas suburbs, and it’s something.

Hope for Trump’s return is fervent in Frisco and across the northern Dallas suburbs, an area of rapid growth and rapidly increasing diversity. Nineteen local residents have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to federal authorities, one of the largest numbers in any place in the country.

Many of the rioters came from the “mainstream of society,” according to the FBI’s Dallas field office, including three real estate agents, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, an oilman and an actor who once appeared on the popular television show “Friday Night Lights.” They were driven by a “salad bowl of grievances,” the FBI said, including anger over the presidential election, white-supremacist ideology and the discredited extremist ideology QAnon, which holds that Trump will save the world from a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

Their groundless claims are being fed by conservative politicians and from the pulpits of large, powerful evangelical churches with teachings that verge on white nationalism, both motivated by fear that they are losing a largely white, conservative enclave that views these changes with suspicion.

More arrests are coming, and North Texas remains a focus for investigators who expect to charge as many as 400 people from across the country in the attack on the Capitol.

[…]

Over the past two decades, Collin County, north of Dallas, more than doubled its population to 1 million, according to census data, with newcomers drawn by the mild weather, good schools, low taxes and the arrival of several big employers and new corporate headquarters, including Toyota, Liberty Mutual and the Dallas Cowboys. The rapid expansion created an air of Disney World built on the clay soil of the Texas plains, one Frisco consultant noted, where everything is new and planned. The median household income is \$97,000, well above the U.S. median of \$69,000.

But this utopia on the Dallas North Tollway has its fissures, which have deepened in the last year, with debate over pandemic restrictions, the country’s racial reckoning and the divisive 2020 presidential election that pitted neighbor against neighbor and continues to divide. Unlike many other suburban counties in the country that helped sway the election for Biden, Collin County stayed red, with 51% voting for Trump and 46% for Biden.

The county’s rapid growth has increased its diversity — with the Latino and Asian American populations growing, and the white population in decline — causing tensions, some residents say. In 2017, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere was challenged by an opponent who promised to “keep Plano suburban,” which LaRosiliere, who is Black, said was a “dog whistle” for residents wanting to keep the town white and affluent. LaRosiliere won the four-way nonpartisan race with 52% of the votes, but his “keep Plano suburban” opponent won 42%. This year, Plano City Coucil member Shelby Williams came under fire when he said in a post-riot blog post that “things could be much worse . . . People in many parts of the Muslim world are still slaughtering one another today.”

Frisco Realtor Hava Johnston said some residents feel the area has become “too diverse.”

“They created this perfect little bubble of the way they wanted things … now we’ve got true diversity, and those Christian nationalists are afraid of losing their power,” said Johnston, a Democratic activist and one of the internet sleuths who helped unmask local residents who participated in the Capitol riots. “These are the very people who would do things like have Trump parades every weekend and take a private jet to a riot.”

There’s a lot here, and I’ll get to one specific criticism in a moment, but I personally object to the “Collin County stayed red” line, not because it’s untrue but because it really misstate what has happened in Collin County this past decade. I mean:

2012 – Romney 65.0%, Obama 33.5%
2016 – Trump 55.6%, Clinton 38.9%
2020 – Trump 51.4%, Biden 47.0%

You can say “Collin County stayed red”, as if it were some act of defiance against the prevailing political winds, but come on. Collin County shifted a net 27 points in the Democrats’ direction, at least at the Presidential level, since 2012. That’s a seismic change, and very much in line with what was happening nationally. Collin County didn’t quite make it to blue county status in 2020, but boy howdy has it come a long way.

D Magazine had other complaints, starting with the charge that non-Texan authors who parachute in for this kind of analysis often fail to understand what’s actually happening and miss details that make locals scratch their heads. I have some sympathy with this, though I do think there’s some value in getting an outside perspective sometimes. Honestly, my main beef with this article was more along the lines of “oh God, are we still doing entire stories on the feelings of Trump voters? Make it stop already.” I guess the question of why there were so many insurrectionists from this part of the world is an interesting one, but please give me many more articles about the newly activated and energized Democrats of Collin County to balance it out, thanks. In the meantime, please feel free to blow a raspberry at that blonde realtor from Frisco who may well be the poster child for this whole story.