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Joe Jaworski

The Republican AG primary just got bigger

The more, the more miserable.

Rep. Matt Krause

Attorney General Ken Paxton just got another Republican primary challenger, but this time it is someone who has been close to him for years: state Rep. Matt Krause.

The Fort Worth lawmaker and founding member of the House Freedom Caucus says he is running as the “faithful conservative fighter,” hoping to bring a similar conservative ideology to the position that Paxton is known for — but without the legal troubles that have dogged him for most of his time in office.

“I think Texas needs — and wants — an attorney general who can give his or her full focus to the job,” Krause said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

[…]

Krause is the third serious primary opponent to announce against Paxton. The field already includes Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Eva Guzman, the former justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

Krause said he is “not sure either one of them could win a primary.”

But the most remarkable aspect of his candidacy may be that unlike Bush and Guzman, Krause has been a friend of Paxton and political ally. They served in the Legislature together from 2013-15, and Krause endorsed Paxton early in the 2014 primary for attorney general.

Whatever. Krause is the most Paxton-like of the other candidates, but as a State Rep he will have the least name recognition among them, and if you don’t think that matters in a statewide primary, you haven’t been paying attention to recent primaries. Krause doesn’t have much money – the Trib story says he had about $100K on hand in his July filing – and that’s the fastest route to getting voters to know who you are. He’s giving up a seat he won by nine points in 2020 – it was eight points in 2018, and 20 points in 2020, before Tarrant County took its big step towards Democrats – which makes me wonder if he’s not confident about his future post-redistricting. He may also just think he’s the only one that can beat Paxton, and that in turn may be a reflection of the belief that Paxton is a weak link for the Republicans.

Along those lines, and coincidentally just before Krause’s announcement, the Chron profiles the two Dems who seek to oust Paxton, or whoever does that in the Republican primary.

Two candidates are so far vying for the Democratic nomination: Joe Jaworski, 59, a mediator and former Galveston mayor, and Lee Merritt, 38, a nationally recognized civil rights attorney.

Both of the Democrats have emphasized the need to bring integrity back to the attorney general’s office. It’s a line of attack that Paxton’s Republicans challengers are putting front and center, as well.

“Of course, I was saying that before George Bush was, but I welcome his perspective,” Jaworski said. “I mean, of all offices, for Christ’s sake, the attorney general’s office needs to be above reproach.”

[…]

If elected, Jaworski said he plans to push for policies that increase voter access to the polls, support the Affordable Care Act, expand Medicaid and legalize cannabis. Jaworski, like Merritt, says the attorney general’s office is wasting tax dollars on investigating rare voter fraud cases.

“We don’t have a voter fraud problem; we have a Ken Paxton problem,” he said. “He is using this as an ideological pivot for his base and to justify whatever few prosecutions he can muster.” Jaworski said Paxton should instead be doing more to address gun violence, adding “people are actually dying in those instances.”

Both Merritt and Jaworski have said they would create a civil rights division within the office.

Merritt, though he entered the race this summer, almost a full year later than Jaworski, has wasted no time fundraising. In the last reporting period that spanned July 7 to Aug. 6, Merritt raised more than $285,000, more than any Republican in the race, including Paxton.

Over the same period, Jaworski raised about $30,000, while Bush raised about $158,000 and Guzman raised $193,000. Paxton raised about $39,000, but the incumbent maintained the most cash-on-hand by millions at last count.

Merritt rose to prominence in recent years for taking on high-profile police accountability cases and representing families of Black Americans killed by police, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson and Botham Jean. If elected, he would be the state’s first Black attorney general.

In 2017, online magazine The Root named Merritt the eighth-most-influential African-American between ages 18 and 45 in the U.S, three spots ahead of Beyoncé.

Having worked on criminal justice reform issues with attorneys general in other states, even Republicans such as Chris Carr of Georgia, Merritt said he could see a stark contrast between the work they were doing and what little Paxton has done.

For instance, Carr in May signed a law repealing the “citizen’s arrest” that was used as a defense in the fatal shooting of Arbery. Meanwhile, Merritt said, he sees Paxton’s office regularly allowing law enforcement to keep video evidence of police abuse of force outside of public view.

“It was that frustration of: The most basic responsibility of the attorney general is to uphold the constitution and protect life, liberty and property,” he said about his decision to jump in the race. “And we have an attorney general who has been completely asleep at the wheel, and people are dying.”

There’s more in the story about Jaworski, but he’s familiar to me, so I included more about Merritt. Both would be a vast improvement, and not just over Paxton. Who I still think is the favorite to emerge on the GOP side, almost certainly in a runoff. We’ll see what the next campaign finance reports look like.

P Bush slightly outraises Paxton

Meh.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush kicked off his attorney general campaign by outraising the incumbent, fellow Republican Ken Paxton, and another primary challenger, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. But Paxton has more money saved up for the battle than both of his opponents.

According to campaign finance reports released Friday, Bush raised $2.3 million over the last 10 days of June, while Paxton took in $1.8 million and Guzman collected $1.1 million. The campaigns had announced those figures earlier in the week, making clear Bush would be the fundraising leader for the period.

The filings that came out Friday, though, showed Paxton with a clear cash-on-hand advantage — $6.8 million in reserves. Bush reported $2.7 million in cash on hand, while Guzman disclosed $611,000.

[…]

In the GOP primary for attorney general, Paxton’s top donors included the Republican Attorneys General Association and Midland oilman Douglas Scharbauer. Each donated $250,000.

Bush got some of his biggest contributions in installments of $100,000 each from Dallas oil mogul Trevor Rees-Jones, Woodlands lawyer Arnulfo Eduardo Treviño Garza and H.H. ‘Tripp’ Wommack Ill, the CEO of a Midland oilfield services company.

Guzman’s donor list was led by Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the tort reform group that backed her quickly after she launched her bid. She got $200,000 from TLR, as well as $100,000 from its founder, Dick Weekley.

On the Democratic side of the race, the candidates include Joe Jaworski, a Galveston lawyer and former mayor of the city, and Lee Merritt, the well-known civil rights attorney from North Texas.

Jaworski raised $452,000 during the first half of the year, according to his latest TEC filing, and ended the period with a balance of $525,000. Merritt did not officially announce his campaign until Tuesday — after the period covered by the latest reports — though he has had a TEC account open since early June and reported $100,000 in donations from Real Justice PAC, a national group that mainly works to elect progressive prosecutors at the local level.

See here for some background. It’s better to outraise than to be outraised, but 1) the difference isn’t that much, 2) as noted, Paxton still has a lot more cash, and 3) nobody has nearly enough to make a big splash in our super expensive state. Bush and Paxton each held their own, no one landed a heavy blow, and Guzman still has to prove she can bring it. As for the Dems, as long as Paxton is in the race they get the benefit of being Not Ken Paxton. It will be nice for them to bring in more, but as with Presidential years it’s the top of the ticket that drives most of the action.

Eva Guzman raises a few bucks

It’s not bad, but she’s gonna need a lot more than this.

Eva Guzman, one of the 2022 Republican primary challengers to Attorney General Ken Paxton, raised more than $1 million in her first 10 days as an announced candidate— and has garnered the support of some of the state’s top GOP donors, according to her campaign.

Guzman, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, raised $1,051,723 between when she declared her campaign on June 21 and the end of the fundraising period on June 30. Perhaps more notably, though, are the donors who fueled the haul and are backing her against the incumbent, who also faces a primary challenge from Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

According to a list provided by the Guzman campaign, she has gotten support from top Texas GOP contributors including Dallas real estate developer Harlan Crow, Dallas billionaire businessman Robert Rowling, Dallas investor Tom Hicks Sr. and El Paso developers Woody Hunt and Paul Foster. Other names include Drayton McLane, Jan Duncan and Dick Weekley, whose influential tort-reform group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, quickly endorsed Guzman after she announced her campaign.

The list of supporters also includes Harriet Miers, the White House counsel under former President George W. Bush, George P. Bush’s uncle.

[…]

But Paxton still maintains support among major Texas GOP donors. The host committee for a recent Paxton fundraiser in Dallas included heavyweight names such as textiles mogul Arun Agarwal, hotelier Monty Bennett and biotechnology entrepreneur Darwin Deason.

And Guzman starts the primary as the underdog, at least according to one recent survey. In the Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler Poll from late June, Guzman registered a distant third in the primary, getting 4% of the vote to 34% for Bush and 42% for Paxton.

Raising a million bucks over ten days is definitely better than raising less than a million bucks over ten days. It’s a nice, round number, which gives it some cachet. But look, Paxton had over $5.5 million on hand as of his January report (neither he nor P Bush have pre-announced their June totals yet); Guzman had $133K in her Supreme Court SPAC treasury in January. He won’t be out-fundraised, and as we have discussed before, both he and Bush have a large name recognition advantage on Guzman. You may not be aware of this, but Texas is a big state, with a lot of media markets, and it costs a lot of money to advertise successfully statewide. In that context, a million bucks ain’t much. Also, a million bucks from a handful of moneybag donors is not the same as a million bucks in thousands of small donations from a broad range of actual voters. Guzman has done well generating earned media, and I’m sure some number of Republicans are looking for an alternative to their scandal machine of an AG. She’s got a long road ahead of her, that’s all I’m saying.

Lee Merritt officially joins the AG race

We now have a contested Democratic primary for Attorney General.

Lee Merritt

Lee Merritt, the nationally known civil rights attorney, is officially running for Texas attorney general as a Democrat.

Merritt is set to launch his campaign at a 9 a.m. news conference outside the Texas Capitol in Austin, with an emphasis on the voting rights battle that prompted state House Democrats to flee the state Monday.

“Texas Republicans have launched an all-out assault on voter rights and civil liberties,” Merritt said in a statement, adding that incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton and other GOP leaders are “blatantly attempting to turn back progress in the Lone Star State using the familiar tactics of voter suppression, divisive rhetoric and corporate money.”

“This campaign is a response from the people of Texas,” Merritt said.

[…]

In addition to voting rights, Merritt’s camapign said it would focus on “fixing Texas’ failing power grid, reigning in soaring property taxes, ending mass incarceration and challenging gubernatorial overreach.”

Merritt joins Joe Jaworski, a Galveston lawyer and former mayor of the city, in the Democratic primary against Paxton. The incumbent has his own competitive primary, featuring challenges from Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Eva Guzman, a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

Merritt announced his intent to run in March, with a promise to make a formal announcement later. Joe Jaworski has been in the race for awhile, and of course there’s the Republican side of things. It will be interesting to see how Democratic interest groups line up for this one. I know Jaworski, I have not yet met Merritt, but he’s got a great resume and I’m eager to hear what he has to say. It’s good to have some contested primaries among good candidates on the Democratic side, as that will generate some much-needed attention. Good luck to Lee Merritt and Joe Jaworski, and may the best candidate win.

P Bush officially challenges Paxton

The primary no one asked for.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George P. Bush again talks about running for AG

It would be entertaining, in the way that videos of people getting whacked in the nuts is entertaining.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said Thursday he is “seriously considering” running for attorney general in 2022 — and detailed how he would challenge the incumbent, embattled fellow Republican Ken Paxton.

“There have been some serious allegations levied against the current attorney general,” Bush said in an interview with Dallas radio host Mark Davis. “Personally I think that the top law enforcement official in Texas needs to be above reproach.”

Bush, the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush and nephew for President George W. Bush, went on to say a Paxton challenge would not be centered on “conservative credentials” but how the incumbent has run his office. “I think character matters and integrity matters,” Bush said.

The land commissioner, currently in his second term, has for months kept open the possibility of running for another statewide office in 2022 — including attorney general — but his remarks Thursday offered the starkest indication yet that he is focused on Paxton. Bush did not give a timeline for a decision on the race beyond saying he is currently focused on the legislation session and will visit with voters afterward. The session ends May 31.

See here for the background. I don’t have a whole lot to add to what I said before, but I do wonder what P Bush thinks his winning coalition looks like in the primary. I mean sure, Paxton is up to his left nostril in scandal, but what evidence is there that the typical Republican primary voter cares about that? Paxton has repeatedly shown his bona fides to Donald Trump. I welcome the avalanche of mud that would be flung between the two of them, but if Vegas ever puts out a betting line on this one, my ten-spot will be on Paxton to win and cover the spread. Maybe if he actually gets arrested by the FBI by then I’ll reconsider, but for now, I don’t see how P beats him. Please feel free to try to convince me otherwise.

(Since someone asked in the comments to the last post, P Bush does have a law degree, according to Wikipedia. The state of Texas does not require the AG to be an attorney, however. It’s not the AG’s job to argue cases – that’s what the Solicitor General and the various deputy AGs do. He’s the manager, no law license required.)

Lee Merritt

We have a new contender for Attorney General.

Lee Merritt

Civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt has announced he’s running for Texas Attorney General in 2022 via his social media pages Saturday.

“Texas deserves an attorney general that will fight for the constitutional rights of all citizens,” tweeted Merritt.

In a video posted Saturday evening, Merritt said he didn’t plan to announce his run for the position this soon.

He expressed how his concerns for a lack of inaction and the lack of resources available for people in mental health crisis in Texas led to his decision on the heels of the death of Marvin Scott III.

Scott died at the Collin County jail after seven guards tried to restrain him in a cell on Sunday, March 14. Those employees have been placed on leave while the Texas Rangers conduct an investigation into the circumstances of his death.

Merritt is the attorney for the Scott family. He told WFAA that Scott’s mental health crisis was not appropriately addressed by police and detention officers.

You can see Merritt’s announcement here. He joins Joe Jaworski, and maybe George P Bush on the Republican side in challenging our official state felon, Ken Paxton, for the AG’s job. I don’t know much about Lee Merritt, but he sounds like he’s perfectly well qualified and won’t be afraid to mix it up. If he can raise some money, so much the better. Welcome to the race, Lee Merritt.

Beto for Governor?

He says he’s thinking about it.

Beto O’Rourke

Democrat Beto O’Rourke has left no doubt that he’s weighing a run for governor next year.

“You know what, it’s something I’m going to think about,” O’Rourke said in an exclusive interview on an El Paso radio station earlier this week.

And in case anyone missed the interview, a political action committee O’Rourke started called Powered By People is circulating it on social media.

The former congressman from El Paso who lost a close race for U.S. Senate in 2018 told KLAQ host Buzz Adams that Texas has “suffered perhaps more than any other” state during the pandemic and criticized Gov. Greg Abbott for a “complete indifference” to helping local leaders try to save lives.

“I want to make sure we have someone in the highest office in our state who’s going to make sure that all of us are OK,” the 48-year-old O’Rourke said. “And especially those communities that so often don’t get the resources or attention or the help, like El Paso.”

You can listen to the interview here. As you know, I am on Team Julian, but at this point I am willing to listen to anyone who is willing to say out loud the actual words that they are thinking about running. (As opposed to just saying they’re not ruling it out, which more or less applies to all of us.) That doesn’t commit anyone to anything of course, but it at least lets us know that the thought has crossed their mind. More likely than not, even expressing that mild sentiment is a sign that there’s some activity behind it, even if it’s just chatting with some folks.

Abbott, 63, might have more to worry about than just the general election as he runs for his third term.

Abbott has been under siege from some in the Republican Party of Texas for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including party chairman Allen West, a former Florida congressman who now lives in Garland. West has opposed Abbott’s mask requirement, called for a special session to curb Abbott’s executive powers during the pandemic and was part of a lawsuit seeking to overturn Abbott’s expansion of early voting last November. Some county GOP executive committees have even gone so far as to publicly censure Abbott for his handling of the pandemic.

There are other potential primary challengers, including Texas State Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas. During a rally near the steps of the Capitol in early January, Huffines tore into Abbott, calling him “King Greg” and saying he hasn’t done anything on big GOP priorities like election security.

It’s always hard to know how seriously to take the inchoate bloviations of an irrational dishonest person like Don Huffines, or Allen West. There is some discontent with Abbott among the frothing-maniac wing of the GOP, but that doesn’t mean they’d be able to do him any damage in a primary, or that they would continue to hold a grudge in the general against someone they consider far worse, which is to say any Democrat. It could happen, but I’m going to need to see it happen in order to believe it.

On the Democratic side, 2018 lieutenant governor candidate Mike Collier has been sounding like he’s ready for a rematch. Earlier this week he said in a tweet that Texans want Patrick out of the office and “my phone is ringing off the hook.”

Also up for re-election in 2022 will be Attorney General Ken Paxton, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Land Commissioner George P. Bush. All are Republicans.

Mike Collier is terrific, and he came pretty close to winning in 2018 as well. As we know, former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski is in for Attorney General, likely with some company in that primary. That’s one reason why I’m not going to jump on the Beto train at this point – it’s fair to say that having three white guys at the top of the ticket is not an accurate representation of the Democratic base, nor is it a great look in general. Obviously, it’s very early, and who knows who will actually run, and who might win in a contested primary. Let’s get some more good people raising their hands and saying they’re looking at it, that’s all I’m saying. The Trib has more.

PAC to boot Paxton formed

No time like the present to start the fight against America’s worst AG.

Thursday, the Boot Texas Republicans Political Action Committee launched a campaign that is dead set on kicking Paxton out of office. Treasurer Zack Malitz said the PAC is raising money to aid Democratic efforts against the attorney general when he’s up for reelection in 2022.

“Someone who is corrupt and criminal should not be the top law enforcement official in Texas — at a basic level,” said Malitz, who also served as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s statewide field director during the 2018 U.S. Senate race.

[…]

The Boot Texas Republicans PAC will set up sturdy campaign infrastructure for future candidates running statewide, Malitz said. It will be a data-driven operation aiming to create small-dollar fundraising and volunteer bases for whoever Paxton’s Democratic opponent will be.

On top of Paxton’s legal woes, the attorney general failed his constituents when he tried to block local public health regulations in El Paso during the COVID-19 crisis, Malitz said.

Paxton isn’t focused on his basic duty of serving his Texas constituents, he added.

“Of course, [Paxton] is unfit to serve, given the legal problems that he’s facing,” Malitz said.

The Boot Paxton campaign won’t be taking a position in terms of backing a particular candidate during the primaries, Malitz said. Rather, the PAC is focused on a general election effort and will put all its support behind whoever the eventual nominee is.

Malitz is also the founder of the Beat Abbott PAC that was set up in July. The basic idea is to do some fundraising now, to help the future candidate later. As we know, Joe Jaworski is in for AG, and I feel confident he’ll have some company in the primary. It’s hard to know right now what the 2022 environment is going to look like, but there’s no reason not to prepare for 2022 as if we can win. This is a good start. The Current has more.

The life and times of Ken Paxton

This long Trib story is basically a biography of Ken Paxton, with a focus on his ethical and legal travails since 2014. Most of what’s in here you already know, but if you need a refresher or you know someone who wants to get up to speed on the saga, this would be an excellent starting point. I’m going to highlight a couple of bits, mostly from the end, to illustrate where we are now.

Best mugshot ever

Although Democrats continue to make major hay of the [2015 securities fraud] charges, Paxton maintained enough support from conservatives to stay in office. Supporters compared his case to that of former Gov. Rick Perry, whose team spun the former governor’s indictment for abuse of power as a political hit job, and whose case was eventually dismissed.

With the securities fraud accusations, conservatives didn’t necessarily think Paxton was blameless — but he looked “sloppy” more than anything else, conservative political consultant Luke Macias said.

“The past accusations were more like Democrats trying to impeach Trump,” Macias said. This time is different, he said: The allegations are more serious, and they’re coming from attorneys respected on the right for their legal abilities and their conservative credentials.

[…]

Federal authorities have declined to say whether they are investigating Paxton, and the Texas Rangers said they referred complaints against Paxton to the FBI. But legal experts say it’s all but certain federal authorities are vetting the accusations against Paxton.

It would be “highly unusual” for federal authorities not to investigate, given the seriousness of the allegations and the presumed credibility of the accusers, said Edward Loya, a Dallas attorney and former prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice who handled public corruption investigations.

“That is a serious claim made by law enforcement professionals who, we expect, understand the gravity of such an accusation,” Loya said. He added that it’s unlikely any major developments would become public about the investigation for several months.

We may grind our teeth at Luke Macias’ words, but we must recognize that having a Jeff Mateer call Ken Paxton a crook is going to be taken more seriously by Republicans than having any Democrat call Paxton a crook. And yes, I know, it was a grand jury in Collin County that returned the indictments, but don’t let the facts get in the way of the story. Also, we need to be patient, because it will be a long time before we know for sure if this is a real thing that is going somewhere or just a lot of smoke that was never a fire.

Now, Paxton sits at the head of an agency that is hemorrhaging senior staff even as its workload — a slew of election-related lawsuits, thousands of child support cases, an argument at the U.S. Supreme Court — remains heavy and urgent.

In addition to the eight whistleblowers, Paxton has lost Ben Williams, who had worked with the attorney general since his days in the Legislature and ran Paxton’s campaign for House speaker and state Senate. Williams resigned just days after the allegations were made public. Katherine Cary, the agency’s chief of staff, was already set to retire this fall. Marc Rylander, a longtime Paxton ally and the agency’s former communications director, left in September. And Simpson, who headed the agency’s human resources department during the debacle, retired at the end of October.

At a senior staff meeting last month, before the whistleblowers had left or been fired, Darren McCarty, a former senior aide, asked Paxton whether the agency would stop bashing them in statements to the media. There was no response.

In an Oct. 16 letter to the Legislature, Paxton insisted that the agency was forging ahead full bore — a characterization some current and former agency staff members consider far rosier than the truth.

Some attorneys in litigation-heavy divisions of the agency fear his reputation will hurt their credibility in court.

“Any action taken by the AG’s office under General Paxton is suspect,” said Shane Phelps, who was a senior deputy at the agency under former attorneys general Cornyn and Dan Morales. The agency has to keep litigating its thousands of cases, on everything from child support to the death penalty, but now judges will “be on the lookout for any indication that it’s being handled irregularly, in any way that is coming from the top and for all the wrong reasons.”

“It has damaged the credibility and the ability of the AG’s office to further the interest of the state of Texas in court,” Phelps said, and “given all sorts of ammunition for anybody opposing the AG’s office in court to start talking about these things.”

“Something needs to happen,” Phelps said. “It sounds like he’s getting pretty brazen.”

I’d say Ken Paxton been pretty brazen for some time now, but I take his point. As for the current functional capacity of the AG’s office, on the one hand I’m happy to have our eventual Democratic candidate beat Paxton over the head about how his own actions have severely shackled the agency. But on the other hand, given that this AG’s office almost never does something I approve of, I’m not exactly heartbroken by this turn of events. May he stay limited in his ability to cause damage until such time as he is ejected from that office. Reform Austin has more.

(Note: This story came out one day before the four whistleblowers filed their lawsuit against Paxton. I had figured I could wait to publish this till the weekend, since it wasn’t breaking news or anything. Life comes at you fast.)

George P Bush sees an opportunity

He’s not shy, I’ll give him that.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush will “keep all options open” about a potential bid for attorney general in 2022 as current Attorney General Ken Paxton grapples with a mutiny from his senior staff and the spectre of a criminal investigation, a senior adviser for Bush said Monday.

“Several donors have asked Commissioner Bush to consider running for Attorney General in 2022 in light of the recent allegations about that office,” Ash Wright, a senior political adviser for Bush, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “Commissioner Bush has always said he will ‘keep all options open’ and that remains his policy. Like many conservative leaders around the state, he is very concerned about the allegations regarding Paxton.”

Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, is the only member of the well-known Republican family to currently hold office, though a cousin, Pierce Bush, ran unsuccessfully this year for the GOP nomination in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District. He was elected in 2014 to oversee the Texas General Land Office, a statewide position.

Ian Prior, a political spokesman for Paxton, said the attorney general — who has called the aides’ allegations false — “is absolutely planning on running again, is looking forward to winning a third term and is never going to stop fighting for the people of Texas.”

Look, you can’t expect George P Bush to just be Land Commissioner forever. He was meant for bigger things. Attorney General sounds nice, and that Paxton fellow has gotten himself into a spot of trouble, so why shouldn’t he try this on for size?

It’s not clear at this time that conditions will be favorable to a Paxton primary challenge. He hasn’t committed any acts of heresy or betrayal, just maybe a few silly little felonies, the sort of thing that could happen to anyone. So far, other than Chip Roy, who has his own election to worry about, no Republicans have done anything more than express a bit of mild concern. If Paxton does get himself into a situation that he can’t weasel his way out of, there’s no way that George P Bush will have the anti-Paxton field to himself. He’s been in a prolonged pissing contest with Dan Patrick about the Alamo (it’s too dumb for me to keep close track of, so go google it yourself), so one assumes there would be a Patrick-approved contestant in that race. But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves, as Paxton is still there and as yet is not fatally wounded. George P Bush is doing what he does best, which is getting his name out there and making sure people know he’s ready for his next big thing, whatever that may be.

(Note: This story was from before the election. Too much news, remember? I doubt anything has happened since then to change our boy’s trajectory. Also, as a reminder, former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski has announced his Democratic candidacy for AG.)

PPP/TDP: Trump 48, Biden 48

More polls.

A new poll of likely voters found that President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden are tied in Texas. The poll, commissioned by the Texas Democratic Party through Public Policy Polling, is the latest reflecting a dead heat race in the state.

Trump and Biden both received 48% support with 4% of respondents undecided.

Trump has led six of the last seven statewide polls in Texas, according to a tracker of 2020 presidential polls compiled by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. Before that, Biden had led five of seven polls.

[…]

The poll also found an underwater approval rating for Trump in Texas, 47-to-48. Trump and Biden will participate in the first 2020 presidential debate on Tuesday.

Polling data is here. They did not include a question about the Senate race, unfortunately. Biden wins 2016 Clinton voters 93-3 and the “Other/Did not vote” contingent 66-25, while Trump carries his voters from 2016 by an 89-8 margin. (The sample reported voting for Trump in 2016 by 50-41.) Biden wins Democrats 88-7, Trump wins Republicans 87-11, and Biden wins independents 54-41. Biden wins Black voters 88-7, Latinos 63-32, and “Other” voters 68-19, while Trump takes white voters 66-32. Voters 18 to 45 go for Biden 56-41, voters 46 to 65 go for Trump 49-47, and voters older than 65 back Trump by a 58-37 margin. None of those data points stand out as being out of whack with other polling.

I should note that the aforementioned poll tracker shows an August 22 PPP poll done for the TDP that had Biden up 48-47. I either missed that one or didn’t get around to it. I have a June 5 PPP/TDP poll that also had a 48-48 tie, which the tracker does not include. For whatever the reason, some polls get Chron/DMN/Trib coverage, while others do not. There is a lot of news out there, I get it.

Along those lines there was a Data for Progress poll from last week that was interesting in a couple of ways.

For this November’s election, Biden trails Trump by 1 point in Texas. Senator John Cornyn maintains a 2-point lead over his Democratic challenger, MJ Hegar. In the Senate race, it is notable, however, that a significant block of voters (22 percent) say they’re not yet sure for whom they will vote. In the GCB, Democrats trail by five-points.

In 2022, Texas will hold elections for governor and attorney general. These positions are held by Republicans Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton, respectively. Currently, Abbot enjoys a 12-point lead over a generic Democratic challenger. In the 2018 race for attorney general, Democrat Justin Nelson ran against Republican incumbent Ken Paxton, and when we retested this race, we found that Paxton leads Nelson by 4 points. Like with our other 2022 polling, about one in five voters remains unsure for whom they will be voting.

The numbers, which they are only showing in graphical form, are 46-45 for Trump, 40-38 for Cornyn, and 46-41 for the Generic Congressional Ballot (GCB). There was a Data for Progress poll done in early September for the HDCC that had Biden up 48-45, so this isn’t a terrific result when put next to that, but it’s in line with most other polls. DfP also polled Florida (three point lead for Biden) and Arizona (one point lead for Trump, which is better for Trump than other polls).

The 2022 polling is interesting but not worth taking too seriously. Greg Abbott may be leading a generic Democrat 46-34, but he’s very likely not going to have a generic Dem running against him, at least not if all the candles I’ve been lighting for Julian Castro have any effect. Ken Paxton’s 41-37 lead over Justin Nelson makes some sense, but as of today Paxton’s opposition comes in the form of Joe Jaworski, though as that post notes Jaworski is sure to have company in the primary, and it would shock no one if that company includes Justin Nelson. Take this all for pure entertainment value and check with me again in a year or so.

The 2022 election has officially started

And Joe Jaworski is the first candidate out of the box.

Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski, a mediator and former Galveston mayor, is not a fan of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican first elected to statewide office in 2014.

“I have always thought the attorney general should be the attorney for the people, not a particular political party or ideology,” he told me Tuesday.

That may sound naive to Texans who’ve followed state politics in recent years. But Jaworski, a Democrat, has a unique vantage point as the grandson of the late Leon Jaworski, the Houston lawyer and one-time Nuremberg prosecutor who gained fame as the second special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal.

Jaworski said his grandfather — “the Colonel,” to family members — put country over party. A Democrat, he became disillusioned with the party after Lyndon Johnson’s administration and voted for Richard Nixon twice. His legal clash with Nixon over Oval Office audio recordings culminated in Nixon’s resignation in 1974.

“Leon Jaworski was always on the right side of history, and that is a meaning that I feel very strongly about,” Joe Jaworski said of his grandfather.

Joe Jaworski announced his own bid for attorney general last week, getting an early start in a bid to unseat Paxton, a Republican, in 2022. Jaworski doesn’t expect to be the only Democrat vying for the job.

But Paxton might as well be on the ballot this cycle, Jaworski argued. Some of Paxton’s peers in statewide office have laid low this election cycle, or focused their efforts on fundraising for downballot GOP candidates. But the attorney general, who continues to fight his own five-year-old indictment for felony securities fraud, has vigorously inserted himself into the political fray.

We are familiar with Paxton’s actions. I met Joe some years ago and did an interview with him for his 2008 race for State Senate in SD11. He’ll be an energetic campaigner and I suspect a decent fundraiser. I’m not surprised that he expects company in the primary – I can imagine 2018 AG candidate Justin Nelson giving it another shot, and there will likely be others out there – but it’s exciting to think about a compelling lineup of primary contests. Lord knows, there will be no shortage of issues to highlight in a race against Ken Paxton, even if he still hasn’t seen the inside of a courtroom for his alleged misdeeds by then.

Jaworski’s got a campaign Facebook page up, which I had come across a couple of days ago, before Erica Greider wrote that column. Obviously, what’s happening this November is the top priority, and the legislative session that follows will be next in line. But the 2022 election has a chance to be truly transformative in Texas, and even if you think that’s an overbid, there will surely be a hotly contested effort to take or maintain control of the House, plus all 31 Senate seats will be up. The sooner we can get some quality folks out there for the statewide positions, the better.

Eiland will not seek re-election

This is a tough break for the Democrats.

Rep. Craig Eiland

Rep. Craig Eiland

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, will not seek re-election, he announced in a tearful personal privilege speech on the House floor Wednesday night.

Eiland, who has served in the Legislature for two decades, said it has been hard being away from his wife and children, but that he would deeply miss being a member of the Texas House.

Eiland said he even liked serving in a session with an exceedingly large number of freshmen legislators, though he joked that “some of them are crazy.”

The Galveston legislator and attorney was first elected to the Legislature in 1993. He won a sometimes tough campaign for re-election last year in which his work on windstorm insurance became an issue along with his residence in Austin. Eiland has a $3 million home in Austin. An early ad from his Republican opponent attacked Eiland as someone who got wealthy “as a trial lawyer suing Texas businesses” and for living in a city well outside the district.

Rep. Eiland is a veteran member with a lot of expertise and experience, and he won in a district that has been trending away from the Democrats for a long time. I identified him as potentially vulnerable way back in 2011, and indeed HD23 was Republican overall – Eiland was the only member of the House to win in a district that was carried by the Presidential candidate of the opposing party. While it’s not clear to me that his district would have been any less hospitable in a non-Presidential year, it is certain that he’d have had another tough race ahead of him. With the seat being open, it automatically moves it from being Lean Dem, on the strength of Eiland’s experience, abilities, and campaign bank account, to at best a tossup for the Dems, if there’s a decent candidate waiting in the wings. The good news is that according to QR, there are several good potential candidates – former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, District Judge Susan Criss, and former Galveston County Commissioner Pat Doyle. I’ve already heard a rumor that Criss plans to run. Like I said, this will be a tough race, but having a good candidate at least gives us a fighting chance.

Rep. Eiland joins Rep. Mark Strama in calling it quits; there’s already a hot primary for the open HD50. One thing Eiland’s retirement has in common with Strama’s is that it will surely mean fewer Anglo Dems in the Lege in 2015. Regardless, I wish both outgoing Reps all the best with whatever comes next for them. Thank you for your service, gentlemen.

Who wants to live in Galveston?

Galveston would like to know.

Although the city is still rebuilding with new private investment and hundreds of millions in federal disaster money, Galveston finds itself at a crossroads and confronting fundamental questions: Will its population continue to shrink until it becomes nothing more than a husk of tourist attractions? Will the city attract new industry?

The city’s population was declining for decades before Ike reduced it from 57,000 to about 48,000. Restoring the city’s population is crucial to establishing a stable tax base, especially as the University of Texas Medical Branch and Texas A&M-Galveston pay no property taxes on the large tracts they occupy.

“The biggest problem is not the creation of industry, it’s getting people who work here to come back to live here,” said Harris “Shrub” Kempner, head of Kempner Capital Management and a member of the city finance advisory committee.

Although the Island’s 8.1 percent unemployment rate mirrors the nation’s, it’s higher than Houston’s at 6.5 percent and masks an unusually high ratio of population to jobs because so many people who work in Galveston live off the island, Kempner said.

[…]

The city needs a population of at least 50,000 to continue getting the level of federal aid it received before the storm. Restoring the population is a priority for both of the mayoral candidates preparing for a June 23 runoff, incumbent Joe Jaworski and challenger Lewis Rosen. Both say they want the population eventually to grow to 70,000.

A perception of low-performing schools once contributed to flight from the island, but that perception has changed, said Galveston school district Superintendent Larry Nichols. Discipline and test scores have improved, he said, and affluent residents like [UTMB president Dr. David] Callender are sending their children to public schools despite the availability of two charter academies and a Catholic school.

To entice people to live on the island, the city must overcome significant hurdles.

The scattered lots available for building don’t lend themselves to the same cost efficiencies developers can realize on the mainland, where large tracts are available. The potential for hurricanes is frightening to some. High insurance costs and stricter building codes on the coast make housing more expensive. Galveston lacks large retail outlets, forcing residents to leave the island to shop.

And the island, despite its natural attractions of sun, sand and surf, has a reputation for shabbiness.

Barton Smith, a University of Houston economics professor emeritus, said efforts to attract population and new business won’t be successful until Galveston overcomes the blight that motorists see coming in on Broadway Boulevard, and the industrial ambience of Harborside Drive that greets cruise ship passengers.

Really, this is a marketing question. What is it about Galveston that would make someone want to live there? That’s what they need to figure out. Is there an Island version of ttweak that can come up with a snappy catch phrase and a campaign to back it up? I know what draws people to a city like Houston, and I know what draws people to the various suburbs, and I know what draws people to small towns and the country. What is it about Galveston that makes people want to live there? Not everyone, of course, just that subset of people who would live there if given a reason that made sense to them. I wish them the best in figuring it out.

Lampson says he’s looking at CD14

Some potential good news from the Chron story about Ron Paul’s announcement that he will not seek re-election in CD14:

One with a definite interest in the race is Nick Lampson, a Beaumont Democrat who represented Texas’ 9th Congressional District from 1997 to 2005 before falling victim to the controversial mid-decade redistricting effort engineered by then-House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

Lampson lost in 2004 to U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, regained a seat in 2006 when he defeated DeLay and lost again in 2008 to U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land.

“I certainly have an interest in taking a look at being back in Congress,” Lampson said. “I don’t want to go back and get caught up in all the divisiveness that’s going on now, but I would really look at an opportunity to explore serving Texas.”

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray, a redistricting expert, noted that the newly drawn 14th district is very similar to the district Lampson represented before DeLay took it apart. “A strong Democrat deeply rooted in Jefferson County would have a chance,” he said.

Yes, I thought so, too. Lampson is a known commodity and a strong fundraiser, both of which are big advantages. If he can get the Republican-inclined folks who used to vote for him back in the day to do so again, he can win. He’s not the only possible option – Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski would be a good candidate as well, though so far he has not said anything publicly about this – but the fact that at least one credible candidate is expressing interest is a good sign.

Ron Paul not running for re-election in CD14

Looks like we won’t need to challenge him after all.

Late Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, sent out the following message to his Twitter followers: “I have decided not to seek re-election to Congress.”

Brazoria County newspaper, The Facts, has more details. The 24-year veteran of the U.S. House of Representatives told them he planned on devoting more time to his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “I felt it was better that I concentrate on one election,” he said. “It’s about that time when I should change tactics.”

This is a change from 2008 when Paul was in both races; he drew 4.87% of the vote in the Texas primary, which was basically a non-event as John McCain had already wrapped up the nomination, finishing third behind McCain and Mike Huckabee. Either he seriously thinks he’ll still be in contention as of next March, or maybe he’s just had enough of Congress. I don’t much care one way or the other, I’m just happy to see him go.

As I said, this means we don’t need to challenge him, we now just need to find someone to take a crack at an open seat. As BOR notes, that’s a potentially long list, though everyone they name with the exception of Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski would have to give up their own seat to do so, as they will all be on the ballot in their own primary otherwise. (Also, at least one name on that list is looking at CD36.) It’s possible Paul’s decision could have quite the ripple effect. As for the odds of a Democratic win, I will point you to Greg’s numbers and note that despite my moderate pessimism, CD14 is quite reasonably competitive and now deserves even more than before to be vigorously contested. A moderate Dem with crossover appeal, especially in Jefferson and Galveston Counties, would make a race of it. Anyone know what Nick Lampson is up to these days? Because if you’d just woken me up out of a ten-year coma and showed me this map, I’d say this CD14 is a district drawn for him. Texas Politics has more.

UPDATE: One GOP hopeful steps forward.

Galveston’s comeback

I wish the city of Galveston all the best with this.

Community leaders here, concerned that 50 years of steady population loss could transform what was once one of Texas’ great cities into a hollowed-out tourist resort, are scrambling to reverse the decline.

Hurricane Ike bit into the island city’s population in 2008, knocking it from 57,000 to about 48,000.

“Our population is going to recover from a bottomed-out low point,” Mayor Joe Jaworski said. He wants to restore the population to 50,000 in one to two years. “My sweet spot is to get it up to 75,000,” he said.

The idea, echoed by others in the community, is to capitalize on the layout of the historic neighborhoods, historic downtown and seashore by making the city greener and pedestrian- and bike-friendly.

Jaworski says people are leaving the island for three reasons: a misperception that the schools are poor, the shortage of affordable, attractive housing, and a sense that the city lacks cleanliness and safety.

I don’t know how much fear of hurricanes plays into that, but as there’s not much to be done about it they may as well concentrate on the things they can control. It won’t be easy, but a great city like Galveston deserves the effort. I hope they succeed.

On a side note, apparently some people are circulating a petition to recall Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski. I don’t know anything more about this.

The gambling industry keeps trying

I’m not sure how successful an approach this will be, but I guess it’s better than nothing.

Expanding gaming requires a vote of two-thirds of the legislature, with voters getting the final say. A new poll done for the Chronicle and the state’s other major newspapers found 60 percent favored an expansion of gaming.

Expanding gaming may be a last-ditch attempt at saving racing. Without slots, Texas track operators say, they won’t have the additional revenue to increase purses and attract quality horses .

“You will likely see the fall of several players,” predicted Andrea Young, president and chief operating officer of Sam Houston Race Park . She wouldn’t say whether Sam Houston would be one of them.

Bryan Brown, chief executive of Retama Park in Selma, had an even more fatalistic view if lawmakers can’t be persuaded.

“Our industry, over a period of years, will just disappear,” Brown said. Retama hasn’t turned a profit since opening in 1995.

I blogged about the poll in question the other day. I have to say, this is not an approach I’d take if I were the horse racing industry. There were plenty of Republicans who were perfectly content to let the US auto manufacturers die back during the early days of the economic crisis. If this is the pitch, I have no trouble imagining it being recast as a “bailout” in the 2012 primaries. Stick with your projections of economic benefit for the state and hope for the best, I say. The gloomier the budget picture and the harder it gets to make cuts, the better it’ll sound to them.

To be fair, the racetracks did also talk up the economic benefits they say allowing them to have slot machines would bring:

Under the racing industry’s proposed legislation, the state would get 30 percent of the slots revenue. The tracks would keep 58 percent, and the remaining 12 percent would be earmarked for purses and other items for the horse and greyhounds industries, Hooper said.

If slots pass, Sam Houston’s Young said it will spend $350 million for new facilities, gaming terminals and other amenities. Retama expects to spend $200 million.

Young pointed to Parx Casino in Philadelphia as a venue she’d like to emulate, raving about how well it has integrated slots (and table games) with horse racing.

“It feels like you’re walking into a Vegas-style casino,” she said, referring to the layout and finishes.

I still don’t think much of their odds of success, but this is as sensible an approach as you could expect.

I nearly did a spit take when I read this:

The Texas Gaming Association, which represents casino operators, is proposing four to eight casinos. Three would be in the largest counties – Harris, Bexar and Dallas – and at least one other would be in a coastal town, said spokesman Scott Dunaway.

Whoa! I’ve been following this issue for awhile now, and this is the first time I can recall seeing any specific location mentioned for a casino, especially Harris County. In the past, the talk has always been that there would be local elections to determine whether or not a given city would allow a casino to be built there. (Go take a listen to my interview with Joe Jaworski, now Galveston’s Mayor, in which we discussed this issue, for an example.) I was sufficiently surprised by this that I contacted Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, to see what his position was. Judge Emmett told me that it was the first he had heard of it as well. As such, I don’t know if this is something new, something that’s always been there but is just now coming out, or if the story got it wrong.

Whatever the case, the casino interests say they will be releasing their financial projections next week. I can hardly wait to see it, and I’ll be sure to write about it when I do.

Galveston commuter rail project off track

Bummer.

A depressed economy and a budget-cutting political climate have indefinitely delayed a proposed Houston-Galveston passenger rail line, a project that could have been under construction by now according to earlier predictions.

Despite strong support from governments in Galveston County, federal dollars are harder to come by than when the idea gained favor in 2007, and local money is too scarce to finance the $650 million project, said Barry Goodman, whose Goodman Corp. consulting firm spearheaded the effort to win federal money for the project.

“The reasons for that are the economic downturn the last two years has impacted local political subdivisions very dramatically,” Goodman said.

The dearth of local and federal money has turned the project from something over the horizon into a more distant goal, he said.

But Goodman says he’s not giving up and will continue to lobby for the money. Neither is Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, whose city has led the fight for the commuter rail line.

“I’m certainly not letting it go,” said Jaworski, who vowed to seek support for the project at the regional, state and federal levels.

More here, here, here, and here. I wish Mayor Jaworski the best of luck with that, but I’m not terribly optimistic about his prospects at this time.

State Supreme Court asked to reconsider open beaches verdict

Good luck with that.

Galveston has joined key state agencies in pleading with the court to reconsider a ruling that favors private property rights over public access to Texas shores.

“I think the Supreme Court really needs to understand the impact of its ruling. It’s not just a theoretical question — they just changed Galveston Island’s ability to nourish its beaches,” Mayor Joe Jaworski said.

“These are Texas’ beaches,” he said. “It’s ironic that the Supreme Court has essentially said it’s every man for himself.”

Jerry Patterson, the Texas land commissioner, said he canceled the beach project because the court ruling removed the guarantee of public access to the area, which extends west of Galveston’s seawall to 13 Mile Road . The Texas Constitution forbids spending public money to benefit private property.

“Our hands are tied now,” Patterson said at the time.

[…]

Late last week, Galveston County joined a motion by Patterson and Attorney General Greg Abbott that asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling as unwise, unsound and unworkable.

The motion for rehearing argued that the ruling disregarded the state’s long-valued tradition of public beach access. The court also ignored its own precedents and the policies of “every other branch of Texas government” when it declared that the public beach easement lasts only until the next devastating storm, the brief said.

The motion also warned that the ruling threatens other beach-restoration projects, not just the canceled Galveston effort.

“In the absence of a clear public easement, the state also lacks any clear authority for pursuing the kind of essential beach-renourishment projects on which the local economies of our coastal communities depend,” the brief said.

See here for more. I don’t have a whole lot of faith that the court will take any action, but it’s worth a shot to ask them. You’d also think, if Abbott and Patterson are on board with this, that it ought to be possible to get a constitutional amendment to correct the court’s erroneous ruling through the Lege. I hope someone is thinking about that.

Galveston’s housing issue

Got the following email from Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski:

Kuff – here’s what I just posted on my facebook pages: “Catch Mayor Joe Jaworski on Houston PBS Channel 8 discussing Galveston’s need for affordable housing and how he intends positively to deal with it so we don’t recreate intergenerational poverty. Featuring host Ernie Manousse and guests Mayor Joe Jaworski, Galveston Housing Authority Chair Paula Neff and Galveston Open Government Project’s David Stanowski (he opposes return of public housing). THIS SHOW WILL AIR Sunday Nov. 14 at 5:30 pm and Wed. Nov. 17 at 11 pm. Thanks!! Give us a plug for tomorrow night’s airing? The 26 minute interview/discussion should be on Channel 8’s website starting Monday. Thanks!

Looks like you can watch it now on the KUHT webpage if you don’t want to wait. Check it out.

Tar balls in Galveston

Let’s hope this is not the start of something bigger.

About a dozen tar balls that washed ashore on Crystal Beach were identified Monday as oil from the BP well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the first evidence that oil from the spill has reached the Texas coastline.

But it was unclear whether the oil from the blowout dropped off a passing ship or drifted nearly 400 miles.

[…]

An onslaught of tar balls on Galveston’s beaches would be disastrous for the island city’s tourism economy. Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski hoped the tar balls were a one-time occurrence.

“It is such a small amount that I’m waiting to see whether more comes or not the next few days before getting really upset,” Jaworski said.

Like I said, let’s hope this is all there is to it. Hair Balls and In the Pink have more.

House committee hearings on emergency preparedness in Houston on Friday

The House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness will be holding some hearings in Houston on Friday at the George R. Brown Convention Center. From the email I got about this:

Those testifying at the hearing include Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, representatives of the GLO, RRC, TCEQ, the Harris County Sherriff’s Office, Houston Office of Emergency Management and Rice University.

The committee will be talking about evacuation plans, terrorist attacks on petrochemical plants, the possibility of an Ike Dike sea wall, the possibility of a deepwater horizon type event, and using social media to warn people about impending disaster.

Here’s a rough run down of proceedings.

9am-11am approx.
HSCEP s/c Hurricanes, Flooding and Evacuations – Hamilton (Chair), Taylor, Frost Focusing on hurricane preparedness – specifically evacuations, early warning systems and storm surge mitigation

11am-1:30pm approx.
House Select committee on Emergency Preparedness (full committee) Focusing on how infrastructure, law enforcement and emergency planners prepare for major industrial accidents and homeland security threats relating to transnational criminal activity

1:30pm-3pm approx.
HSCEP s/c Continuity of Government, Communication and Infrastructure Dutton (Chair), Strama, Lewis Focusing on judicial continuity in the aftermath of a hurricane, government communication during emergencies, and the recovery of critical infrastructure after disasters

All events will be in room 351. The official notices are posted here. These hearings will not be streamed but a recording will be made available at a later date. My thanks to committee clerk Benjamin Wright for the heads up.

Meet Joe Jaworski

The Chron had a profile of newly-elected Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski over the weekend.

Jaworski said he will focus on improving the life of existing residents rather than encouraging construction on the west end.

[…]

Jaworski said he wants to lure businesses to the city by making it a better place to live. Part of that solution, he says, is changing Galveston’s image. “Now the hit is that it’s dirty and the schools are poor,” he said.

He doesn’t believe that Galveston schools deserve their poor reputation, and he wants to talk with the school board about how to change it.

Jaworski wants a report from city staff at every council meeting on what is being done to spruce up the city. He wants zoning regulations enforced to rid Galveston of shoddy buildings. And he wants to entice development on the thousands of empty lots that dot the city’s east end.

He also embraces a report by the Urban Land Institute that says Seawall Boulevard could be converted into one the nation’s great boulevards.

Galveston works on a city manager system, so Jaworski can’t do these things on his own, but I have faith in his ability to get stuff done. You can listen to the interview I did with him before the election here.

Election results

Congratulations to Galveston Mayor-Elect Joe Jaworski, who won a majority of the vote in a five-candidate race.

“I think our message was one of energy and it was one of progress in Galveston,” Jaworski said. “I think people are tired of thinking of Galveston as a wounded city, and I think, in our campaign, they saw something that showed a clean, powerful, connected Galveston for the future.”

Jaworski beat four challengers, including one who dropped out midrace, according to complete but unofficial results.

Jaworski’s closest competitor, Betty Massey, earned just less than 25 percent. Massey on Saturday night congratulated Jaworski and promised to remain involved in shaping the island’s policy and recovery.

Mayor Pro Tem Danny Weber earned 20 percent; Bill Quiroga earned 2 percent, and Greg Roof, who stopped campaigning in March, had 1 percent.

Jaworski said his first acts as mayor would be to clamp down on the pettiness and hostility that bubbled up among sitting city council members.

“I expect a first meeting that puts away the rancor, a first meeting that follows an agenda, and a first meeting that prioritizes our city’s appearance and infrastructure and economic well-being … before any personality contests, before any petty disputes,” he said. “And, every minute of every city meeting, we’re going to be spreading hope and optimism.”

I’m delighted by this. Jaworski’s an ace, and I think he’s exactly what Galveston needs now. My best wishes to Mayor-Elect Joe Jaworski. Other Galveston County results are here; there will be several runoffs for City Council there. In the other race I was following, Chula Ross-Sanchez fell short in her race for City Council in District 6, losing to Diana Puccetti by a 51-49 margin. The Chron and Martha have more, while Stace reports on results in his area.

There will be a runoff for the open SD22 seat.

Republicans David Sibley and Brian Birdwell will meet in a runoff — date to be set by Gov. Rick Perry — for the open state Senate seat in Central Texas.

Sibley led in the special election voting with 45 percent of the vote, followed by Birdwell, with 36.5 percent, Democrat Gayle Avant, with 13.3 percent, and Republican Darren Yancy, with 5.2 percent.

[…]

The election pitted Sibley, a former Waco mayor and state senator who’s been lobbying in Austin for the last decade, against Birdwell, a survivor of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon who is now a conservative Christian motivational speaker living in Granbury. Avant will retire after the end of the current school year after a career as a political science professor at Baylor. And Yancy, a salesman who lives in Burleson, has now lost two shots at the seat. He was on the ballot against Averitt in the March primary, coming up far behind even though Averitt didn’t campaign.

The winner of the special election runoff will serve until January. The winner of the general election — Averitt or a person to be named later — will run for the chance to serve starting then.

Sibley won in all but three of the district’s ten counties, but two of those — Hood and Johnson — turned out relatively big votes. The former senator got walloped in Hood, where Birdwell got 3,625 votes to Sibley’s 819 (in percentages, that’s 68 to 15, in Birdwell’s favor, with the rest of the votes going to the other two candidates).

Here was Burka’s preview of that race. It’s highly likely that Averitt will withdraw from the ballot after the runoff, and that the winner of that runoff will be selected as his replacement for the November election. The Democrats will then get to pick someone as well, as they had no one file for the March primary.

BOR has some Austin-area results, including the good news that Tom Musselman, father of BOR’s Karl-Thomas Musselman, was elected Mayor of Fredericksburg.

Finally, on a personal note, congratulations to my cousin-in-law Bill Metzger for his election as Dallas County Community College District trustee. Way to go, Bill!

Interview with Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski

Joe Jaworski

Today is the start of early voting for the May 8 uniform election date in Texas. There’s not a whole lot happening in Harris County, but down in Galveston they will be electing a new Mayor to succeed the term-limited Lida Ann Thomas. One of the candidates running, the one I would be voting for if I lived in Galveston, is Joe Jaworski, who served three terms on Galveston’s City Council from 2000 to 2006 and made a spirited but unsuccessful run against State Sen. Mike Jackson in 2008. I’m obviously not following Galveston’s elections very closely, but I wanted to interview Jaworski about his candidacy, and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do so:

Download the MP3 file

I have one more Galveston election interview lined up and will present it later this week. Early voting runs through next Tuesday. You can find early voting locations and hours here.

Joe for Galveston

From my inbox, some good news from Joe Jaworski:

Galveston matters, and the Island’s next Mayor must ensure this message is clearly understood: Galveston is more than a storm ravaged Island with a history; it is an iconic Texas coastal community with a future!

It’s time to make it official: I announce my candidacy to become Galveston’s next Mayor. The election is one year away on May 8, 2010, and I’m looking forward to leading a robust, positive campaign for Galveston’s future.

The Joe Jaworski for Galveston Mayor Campaign believes that Galveston matters, and it’s our intention to broadcast that message positively and often. We begin by announcing the launch of our campaign website www.JoeForGalveston.com. Please visit our website, review the issues, email me your views, sign up to volunteer, add your name to our list of supporters and help us raise the money we need to reach every voter by making a secure contribution online via credit card. The www.JoeForGalveston.com website will be our primary communication tool, and we’ll maximize our campaign’s presence on social networking sites such as Facebook, Youtube and the like, so stay tuned.

Our campaign proudly acknowledges support from both on and off the Island; that’s one of our strengths. Galveston is coming back, and whatever your zipcode – especially after Ike – we are all Galvestonians! So join our campaign to show your support for Galveston’s brightest future.

Ultimately, this campaign is about Galveston’s future and the Galveston voters who will step up and make this campaign something we can all be proud of. Here’s my pledge to you: We’ll campaign the same way we’ll lead: expect a clear, positive and thoughtful campaign where we will adress issues, determine priorities and draft an action plan. The election is a year away, but Galveston’s future begins now.

I’m asking for your vote and your support. I’m running to be Galveston’s next Mayor because I’m ready to work for you every day to show the world that Galveston’s best days are ahead.

Jaworski is a heck of a guy who ran a strong campaign for SD11 under some tough circumstances last year and who recently helped force a settlement with UTMB over the faculty and staff it laid off after Hurricane Ike. He’ll make an excellent Mayor for Galveston, and I heartily support his candidacy.

Settlement in UTMB lawsuit

Hot off the presses.

University of Texas regents today settled an open records lawsuit, agreeing to give hiring priority to 2,400 employees laid off at UTMB in December, one of the plaintiffs said.

In return for dropping the lawsuit, the regents also agreed to allow a Harris County judge to act as an arbitrator in disputes over rehiring, said Tom Johnson, Texas Faculty Association executive director.

The association and three Galveston residents filed the lawsuit last month saying that the firings were illegal because they were done in violation of the open meetings act. The suit accused the regents of convening four closed meetings, three by conference calls.

Barry Burgdorf, UT system vice chancellor and general counsel, said that the agreement to give fired employees priority was already policy at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

I’m sure there will be a longer version of this story in the morning. Given that this lawsuit was only filed in December, I have to think that the quickness of this settlement is indicative of UTMB deciding that its position was not tenable. The first ruling, over venue, went for the plaintiffs. Given that UTMB was going to be staying in Galveston and was already rehiring laid-off workers, you have to wonder what there was left for them to go to the mat over. Be that as it may, kudos to the winners for forcing the issue. I’ve got a press release from the Texas Faculty Association, which has some related news on its blog, beneath the fold.

(more…)

UTMB rehiring

This is good news, though it does make you wonder what the point of all the initial layoffs was.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which laid off more than 2,400 employees last fall because of damage caused by Hurricane Ike, has begun rehiring in earnest.

School officials said Monday they’ve rehired about 500 people since January and will continue hiring in large numbers in coming months, action that has caused some to question whether last November’s cuts were rash.

“It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback, but in October and November there was no crystal ball available to tell us what our fate was going to be,” said Karen Sexton, executive vice president and CEO of the medical branch’s health systems. “We didn’t know how quickly we could get clinical facilities up and running and whether we’d be getting legislative support.”

Sexton added that the expenses reduced by fall’s workforce reduction enabled UTMB to get through the period during which it had no clinical revenue and be in a position to start hiring again this year.

[…]

Joe Jaworski, a lawyer in an ongoing lawsuit challenging the layoffs, cited the rehirings as evidence that many of last fall’s “pink slips were premature.”

“I think it’s reasonable to ask whether UTMB had to let employees go in such huge numbers if it was able to turn around and rehire them months later,” said Jaworski. “But I’m happy to see many coming back and hope the rehiring continues.”

Jaworski added that the rehires and the regents’ decision to remain in Galveston seem to be “an effort to recapture what was lost.”

Recent news about that lawsuit is here. I’m glad UTMB is rehiring, too, I just can’t help but feel that much of this could have been avoided. There should have been a stronger commitment from Governor Perry and the Legislature from the beginning, and a stronger push for such a commitment from UTMB.

UTMB layoff lawsuit update

Missed this last week.

A lawsuit challenging the layoffs of nearly 3,000 employees at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston will be fought on home turf, a state district judge ruled Wednesday.

The courtroom audience applauded as Galveston County District Judge Wayne Mallia rejected an attempt by attorneys for the University of Texas Board of Regents to move the lawsuit to El Paso.

Alistair Dawson, an attorney for the regents, had argued that El Paso was neutral ground.

The lawsuit was filed in December and it alleges that the regents violated state open records laws in making the decision to lay off these employees.

Galveston attorney Joe Jaworski, interviewed after the ruling, said a move to El Paso would have stripped the plaintiffs of the advantage of trying the case in the area most affected by the layoffs.

“The fact that UT would as a matter of first action try to get the case out of the city shows how important it is,” Jaworski said.

[…]

Both sides were given 30 minutes to convince Mallia where the proper venue should be. Dawson argued that the law required the case be tried where the meetings were held, in Austin or El Paso. He acknowledged that Austin would be favorable to the regents, but said El Paso was neutral.

But Mallia sided with Jaworski, ruling that the lawsuit sought to reverse the layoff of UTMB employees and therefore Galveston was the proper venue.

The next hearing is scheduled for October 19. In the meantime, regents will be meeting today to discuss the suit and the future of UTMB clinical enterprise, which is to say whether or not to accept the report by Kurt Salmon Associates that recommends moving those operations to League City. The Texas Faculty Association has more – if you really want to get into detail, start here and work your way through.