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John Turner

Final passage of the voter suppression bill

That’s all for now, we’ll see you in court for what will likely be a frustrating and unsatisfying denouement.

A wave of changes to Texas elections, including new voting restrictions, are headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Three months after House Democrats first broke quorum to stymie a previous iteration of the legislation, Republicans in the House and Senate Tuesday signed off on the final version of Senate Bill 1 to further tighten the state’s voting rules and rein in local efforts to widen voting access. Abbott, a Republican, is expected to sign it into law.

The bill was delayed one more time as its Republican author, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, disapproved of language added by the House to address the controversial conviction of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman facing a five-year sentence for a ballot she has said she did not know she was ineligible to cast. Hughes’ objection triggered backroom talks to strip the Mason amendment before the bill could come up for a final vote.

[…]

On Tuesday, Democrats decried the Senate’s objection to the Mason amendment, with state Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, stating he hoped it was “not because they believe that more people in situations like that of Crystal Mason should be prosecuted or imprisoned.”

[Rep. Garnet] Coleman and Turner were part of the panel that worked out the final version of the bill in backroom talks. Despite their support for the amendment, House Republicans on that panel also signed off on removing it.

The amendment — offered by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, but worked on as a bipartisan effort — was meant to prevent voter mistakes from being prosecuted as fraud.

“We’re just ensuring that people who do innocent things are not harmed from their past mistakes,” Cain said before it was quickly adopted by the House last Thursday.

Mason was convicted of illegal voting for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while she was on supervised release for a federal tax fraud conviction. Her vote was never counted, and Mason has said she had no idea she was ineligible to vote under Texas law and wouldn’t have knowingly risked her freedom.

Tarrant County prosecutors pressed forward to land the conviction, which was upheld by a state appeals court that ruled that the fact Mason did not know she was ineligible was “irrelevant to her prosecution.” Her case is currently under review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s court of last resort for criminal matters.

Cain’s amendment would have clarified existing law that currently defines illegal voting as an instance in which a person “votes or attempts to vote in an election in which the person knows the person is not eligible to vote” by emphasizing that a person must be aware of the “particular circumstances that make the person not eligible” and also that “those circumstances make the the person not eligible” to vote.

Mason’s case has played out as Republicans’ baseless claims of rampant illegal voting have intensified. But with lack of widespread evidence, her case has landed among the handful of high-profile prosecutions of people of color.

Mason, who is Black, is appealing her case as the Texas attorney general’s office prosecutes Hervis Rogers, who is also Black, after he was featured in news coverage of the March 2020 primaries for being the last person to vote at Texas Southern University in Houston at 1 a.m. His registration was active even though he was a few months away from completing his parole as part of a 25-year prison sentence for burglary and intent to commit theft in 1995.

Hughes on Thursday said the amendment raised concerns for “people in the building” and “outside the building” that the language could go farther than intended, and noted he believed non-citizens who vote in elections should be prosecuted even if they were not aware they were ineligible. Notably, the Mason amendment could have also affected the state’s prosecution of Rogers, who was charged with two counts of illegal voting.

Hughes also noted the bill still includes language that would require proof beyond a provisional ballot for an attempt to cast an illegal vote to count as a crime.

See here and here for some background. Credit to Briscoe Cain (a phrase I am unlikely to type again anytime soon) but in the end it was more important for the Republicans to keep going after the likes of Hervis Rogers and Crystal Mason because there aren’t any real voter fraud cases for them to tout. Look, either we get the John Lewis Act through the US Senate, or this is our reality until Democrats have full control of state government and sufficient awareness that even the watered down two thirds rule is a trap that (like the filibuster) will not allow them to pass anything of substance. I don’t care to speculate when that might be.

A legislator’s view of the mask-ban mandate

State Rep. John Turner pens an op-ed that sums up the arguments for defying Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates.

Rep. John Turner

The governor’s attempted ban on local decision-making is set out in his most recent executive order of July 29. That document not only purports to prohibit requiring masks in schools, but also to suspend any existing laws that would allow any local entity or official to make this decision. The governor ostensibly relies on the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which gives a governor the ability to declare a state of disaster and then assume certain extraordinary powers to respond to that disaster.

But is prohibiting local action on masking in schools within the governor’s powers, even under the Disaster Act?

The text and structure of the Disaster Act strongly suggest that the special powers the governor has during a disaster declaration must be exercised to actually respond to the declared disaster. The act allows a governor to suspend certain statutes, for example, only if compliance with the statute “would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with” the disaster.

Here, the declared disaster is the COVID-19 pandemic. At least in this legislator’s view, it is hard to see how a law or rule that allows masking mandates by local entities is preventing or hindering necessary action in coping with that disaster. In fact, the opposite is true: the scientific consensus is that mask requirements help control the spread of this deadly virus. At a minimum, statewide prohibition of mask requirements is not “necessary action” to counter COVID-19.

It is true that, earlier in the pandemic, courts held that certain statewide COVID-19 measures ordered by the governor could override conflicting local rules adopted by cities or counties. But even if those cases were correctly decided, they came at a time when the governor himself was ordering meaningful measures in response to the crisis, such as occupancy limits for businesses and restrictions on gatherings. Schools were also requiring masks.

Then, the governor was arguably attempting to standardize a statewide response to the pandemic. Today, that is no longer the case — unless one considers preventing others from responding to be a response.

It might be reasonable for a governor to seek to impose some uniformity on disaster measures. But the Disaster Act shouldn’t be read to allow a governor to declare a disaster, only to focus his newly acquired powers on preventing local governments from dealing with that disaster.

This is basically the argument that have been made so far in the various lawsuits filed so far challenging the mandate ban in the executive order, as well as my own intuition. Some form of “the governor doesn’t actually have the authority to do that”, based in turn on “the law he’s using to justify his actions doesn’t say what he claims it says” is what you’d expect. Turner also notes that school districts across the state impose all kinds of requirements on students for what they can and cannot wear, generally without controversy, so why would including a face mask in those requirements be any different?

All this sounds sensible, but it will come down to what the courts do and don’t accept. That could hinge on a specific word or phrase in the law, or the omission of a specific word or phrase, or it could just be what the courts say that the law says. Really, I just mean one court, the Supreme Court, because that’s ultimately where all this is going. At least we have some idea of what they’ll be fighting over.

Day 13 quorum busting post: Just a reminder, the voter suppression bill still sucks

I’ll get to that in a minute, but first there’s this bit of business.

Rep. Philip Cortez

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, signed a civil warrant for the arrest of state Rep. Philip Cortez, a San Antonio Democrat who rejoined his colleagues in Washington, D.C., on Sunday to help prevent the passage of a GOP-backed election bill.

The warrant is not likely to have impact since Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction outside the state. It is the first one signed by the speaker since more than 50 House Democrats left the state to block Republicans from having the quorum needed to pass legislation during the special legislative session that began earlier this month.

Last week, Cortez returned to Austin from Washington in what he said was an attempt to engage in “good faith dialogue” about House Bill 3, the election legislation. Other Democrats criticized Cortez’s move, saying the lawmaker did not first consult with them before returning to Austin.

By Sunday though, Cortez was back in Washington, saying in a statement that talks with lawmakers in Austin on negotiating the legislation “have not produced progress.”

In a statement Monday, Phelan said that Cortez “has irrevocably broken my trust and the trust of this chamber” after the lawmaker “represented to me and his fellow members that he wanted to work on policy and find solutions to bring his colleagues back to Texas.”

“As a condition of being granted permission to temporarily leave the House floor, Rep. Cortez promised his House colleagues that he would return,” the speaker said. “Instead, he fled the state.”

Cortez, who chairs the House Urban Affairs Committee, did not directly address the warrant in a statement Monday that said he owes “a duty to my constituents to do everything I can to stop this harmful legislation.”

I didn’t blog about the Cortez situation at the time. There were conflicting reactions from different House Dems, with some being quite pointed in their criticism of his actions, saying he was not representing them. It seems clear from the Chron story that some but not all of that has been cleared up.

Cortez said in a Monday morning interview that he decided to rejoin his Democratic colleagues in the nation’s capital after three unsuccessful meetings last week with state Rep. Andrew Murr of Junction, the GOP sponsor of the elections measure.

He and Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, one of the few Democrats who decided not to flee the state, had gone into negotiations with “six or seven pressure points” that they’d hoped to address — mostly concerning provisions in the bill that deal with the role of partisan poll watchers. But Cortez said Murr wouldn’t budge until Democrats came back to Texas.

“There was not any positive progress in terms of being able to move forward and improve the bill or improve the language of the bill, and upon seeing that, I decided to return back to D.C. and join my colleagues,” he said.

[…]

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie and the head of the Texas Democratic Caucus, issued a statement Sunday night lauding Cortez as a “valued member of our caucus” who colleagues welcomed back to D.C. “with open arms.”

It was a de-escalation of a bitter back-and-forth that at times played out over social media last week as Democrats expressed frustration over Cortez’s departure, which he did not discuss with the delegation beforehand. Abhi Rahman, a Democratic aide, called Cortez a “gutless coward who has earned himself a primary challenge.”

Rahman said in an interview Monday that public pressure likely pushed Cortez to return.

“This isn’t the time for negotiations on voting,” Rahman said.

No one ever said this was for the faint of heart.

I don’t know enough about what Cortez thought he was doing, or whether he had sufficient buy-in to do what he did, but I do know that this bill continues to suck, and while it will never be worthwhile from our perspective, it could be made to be less actively harmful.

Amid all the fighting, most lawmakers have apparently overlooked a provision that would force counties to automatically reject some mail-in ballot applications. Here’s why: The Republican-authored legislation would require voters to submit either their driver’s license number or a partial Social Security number when applying to vote by mail. That number would then be cross-checked with the state’s voter-registration database. Most applicants would be fine, because almost 90 percent of all registered Texas voters have both their Social Security number and driver’s license number in the database. However, 1.9 million voters—about 11 percent of the total—have only one of the two numbers on file with the state.

During late-night testimony to a committee of the Texas House on July 10, Chris Davis, the elections administrator for Williamson County, explained that most of the voters with only one number on file wouldn’t remember which number they filed, often many years earlier, and would have to guess. “You have a 50 percent chance of the voter guessing wrong,” said Davis. Guess wrong and your application would be rejected, even if it’s been twenty years since you used your Social Security or driver’s license number to register to vote. “I challenge any person on the committee: do you remember what you filled out when you got your voter registration? I certainly don’t. And I’m in the business of this. And if [the numbers] don’t match, we’re rejecting.”

[…]

First during the regular session and then again in the ongoing special session, the authors of the “election integrity” legislation increasingly weakened crucial guardrails protecting the security of mail ballots. In addition to the new ID-matching requirements, it now contains a flawed way for voters to “cure,” or fix, a rejected mail-in ballot.

Enrique Marquez, spokesperson for House Speaker Dade Phelan, declined to answer questions about why the House moved the bill forward without addressing the ID-matching and curing issues, nor would he say whether there was any specific plan for addressing these issues if the House Democrats return to Austin. “There are no bills that can be considered on the floor until Democrats return home,” Marquez wrote in an email. “However, House Bill 3 author Andrew Murr has repeatedly stated he will work with all his colleagues to make the best bill possible.” (Murr’s chief of staff said Murr was aware of the problem and “looked forward to working with colleagues about remedying concerns about how differing numbers could result in a ballot not being counted.”)

Davis said many Republicans have failed to listen to the complaints of election officials, ignoring suggestions for improvements to nonpartisan, process-related issues. “It’s just like ‘Who is steering this bus?’” Davis told me. “They are following the pattern of only listening to their ‘the steal is real’ base and not consulting with any county elections officers.”

Davis said that while he decided to testify before the House, he chose not to give testimony before the Senate because Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican who chairs the State Affairs Committee, had brushed him off so many times before. Davis said he reached out to Hughes’s office about the ID-matching problem multiple times, but never received confirmation that a fix was in the works. Two legislative staffers, one working for a Republican and one for a Democrat, confirmed that the Texas secretary of state’s office had also advised legislators that the ID-matching provision needed to contain a failsafe for voters who do not have both numbers in the registration system, but the changes were never made. The staffers requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about negotiations. “Why are [election administrators] going to waste our time testifying?” asked Davis, who was appointed to his nonpartisan job by the Williamson County Commissioners’ Court. “They don’t care what we have to say. They haven’t from the beginning.”

County election administrators say the ID-matching provision imposes significant burdens on their offices, and they are unclear how to enforce it. Under the new language, the ID number—either a partial Social Security number or a driver’s license number—would have to be written on the envelope, forcing counties to spend thousands of dollars redesigning envelopes in order to accommodate a privacy flap that poll workers would peek under to check the number. “We’ve joked about whether it should be a scratch-off,” Davis said. If poll workers make an error or if voters, for example, transpose two numbers by accident, the application would be rejected with little opportunity for the voter to address the problem. “We don’t have time for that,” Davis said. “We’re getting down to registration deadlines by the time we receive a lot of these. There’s no time for the voter to mail another one.”

You should read the rest to learn more about the “curing” issue, in which untrained partisans get to review mail ballots and determine whether the signature on the (unopened) envelope matches the signature that’s on file from when you registered to vote. As the bill stands now, there’s no way to appeal if your ballot is rejected, and no opportunity to fix it, even though this kind of “curing” is standard and easily done in many states. This would also be redundant if the driver’s license or Social Security number matches, since the point of that is to verify identity. There are simple fixes, and the Republicans in the Lege have been aware of them for months, yet here we still are. There might be room to get the Dems back if dumb stuff like this were taken out or fixed, but the Republicans say they can’t or won’t do any of that until the Dems return on their own. That ain’t gonna happen, at least not in this session.

One thing that will happen:

Texas House Democrats who left the state to block GOP-backed efforts to enact new voting restrictions will testify on those proposals before a U.S. House subcommittee this week.

State Reps. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, Nicole Collier of Fort Worth and Diego Bernal of San Antonio are expected to make appearances on Thursday before the civil rights and civil liberties subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a specially called hearing on contentious Texas legislation that would rewrite state election laws. The hearing will come in the middle of Texas Democrats’ third week in Washington, D.C., offering them a more formal stage on which to make their case against the legislation that prompted them to decamp to the U.S. capital.

“America is facing the most sweeping assault on the voting rights of the people since passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965,” U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who chairs the subcommittee, said in a statement. “Texas is now Ground Zero in this battle, and we are honored to have these Texas lawmakers come to testify before our subcommittee about the struggle to defend basic democracy in their state.”

Again, the House isn’t really the problem, the Senate is, and it’s the ridiculous fidelity to the filibuster that’s at the heart of it. I refuse to give up hope, but time is not on our side. But at least our people in DC will get to be heard.

Day 2 quorum busting omnibus post

Gonna round up a few stories here. Don’t know how often I’ll be this energetic, or how often there will be this many stories that I see that are worth commenting on, but it is Day Two. We’re just getting started, and there’s lots of people still paying attention.

The cops are almost certainly not coming for the wayward Dems. I mean, come on.

A showdown in the Texas House was locked into place Tuesday after the chamber voted overwhelmingly to send law enforcement after Democrats who left the state a day earlier in protest of a GOP priority elections legislation.

More than 50 House Democrats left Monday for Washington, D.C., to deny the chamber a quorum — the minimum number of lawmakers needed to conduct business — as it takes up voting restrictions and other Republican priorities in a special session.

That agenda, set by Gov. Greg Abbott, includes House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1, the election legislation at hand that would make a number of changes to Texas’ voting system, such as banning drive-thru and 24 hour voting options and further restricting the state’s voting-by-mail rules. Over the weekend, both House and Senate committees advanced the election bills.

The impact of the House move is unclear since Texas law enforcement lacks jurisdiction in the nation’s capital.

Meeting shortly after 10 a.m., the House quickly established that it lacked the two-thirds quorum required to do business, with only 80 of 150 members participating in a test vote.

Then Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, chair of the House Administration Committee, moved to issue what is known as a “call of the House” to try to regain quorum. That motion passed 76-4. Metcalf offered another motion, asking that “the sergeant at arms, or officers appointed by him, send for all absentees … under warrant of arrest if necessary.” That motion also passed 76-4.

Metcalf’s motions were opposed by four Democrats who were present on the House floor Tuesday morning: Reps. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Tracy King of Batesville, Eddie Morales Jr. of Eagle Pass and John Turner of Dallas.

Axios noted Greg Abbott on Fox News shaking his fist and threatening arrest as well. It’s noise – remember, a big part of this is about the PR for both sides – and in all honesty, it’s what I’d do in the Republicans’ position. Let’s just say I will be extremely surprised if anyone is met at the airport by police on the way back.

If 58 Dems went to DC, then there were nine who did not. We know four of them, at least, and they make sense – Guillen and Morales represent districts carried by Trump in 2020, King’s district trended redder in both 2016 and 2020, and Turner is not running for re-election. I’ll be interested to see who the others are. Everyone will have their reasons for their choices, and bear in mind that family responsibilities may well be among those reasons.

The Chron adds a few tidbits.

Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, asked [Speaker Dade] Phelan on the floor Tuesday whether Democrats could be removed from committee chair positions for breaking quorum. The speaker said they could not.

Morales, whose gargantuan district spans an area from Eagle Pass nearly to El Paso, said he chose to stay in Texas because he believes it was what his constituents, who tend lean more conservative even among Democrats, wanted from him.

“I felt, and I think what my constituents expected, was for me to be in the Capitol, to make sure that I’m fighting for their rights, and that I fight in opposition to this voter suppression,” he said. “Everyone can fight and they can fight differently. My way of fighting is being here because that’s what my constituents expect.”

Morales said it is clear Democrats would be “steamrolled” when the Republican majority did not give them 24 hours after a House committee hearing this weekend to offer amendments based on the testimony they heard.

“It was just fanfare. They had no intention of actually working and actually coming to play and actually making those modifications necessary to the bill,” he said. “ That is why Democratic leadership decided to take the actions that they did.”

Morales said he expects that Phelan will allow members who ask permission to be excused to leave the chamber on an individual basis. He’ll need to do so to be at work at his day job as a city attorney on Tuesday night.

The process of asking for permission to leave the chamber will likely be repeated every day.

Troopers will now go to the missing members’ homes in their districts and in Austin, and places of work and family and friends’ houses, Morales said.

The Texas Senate, meanwhile, had a quorum of 22 members and was expected to debate its version of the voting bill later Tuesday.

The home visits were a part of the 2003 walkouts as well. You never know, someone might try to sneak home for some reason.

The bit about the Senate having a quorum feels a little surprising even though it obviously isn’t. I don’t know how much incentive Senate Dems have to do anything other than screw around and try to make trouble as they can. As for the likely death of other bills, well, that was priced into the decision to break quorum.

Bills to restrict pretrial release from jail, ban critical race theory in schools and prohibit transgender public school students from competing on teams that correspond with their gender identity were up in the air after dozens of Democratic lawmakers chartered flights to Washington, D.C. But their departure also left in jeopardy more widely-supported measures, like giving more money to retired teachers and restoring vetoed funding for more than 2,100 legislative employees who could potentially go without paychecks starting in September.

[…]

Beside bills on voting and bail, other Republican priorities that are now in danger during Abbott’s 30-day session include efforts to stop social media companies from blocking users for their viewpoints, limiting pill-induced abortions and adding money for policing efforts at the Texas-Mexico border. But the governor also tagged lawmakers to tackle less partisan issues — like adding funds for foster care, property-tax relief and retired teachers. On Monday, he slammed Democrats for leaving those on the table.

One piece of legislation would provide what is known as a “13th check” to retired teachers across Texas. The bills would direct the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to distribute a one-time supplemental payment of up to $2,400 by January of next year.

Committees in the House and Senate unanimously advanced the legislation Friday in some of the earliest committee votes of the special session.

Tim Lee, executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association, said its members “desperately need help,” especially after the economic stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think there are mixed feelings,” Lee said of the potential demise of the 13th check proposal due to Democrats leaving the state. “I think that educators care about voting rights, educators care about the truth, they care about working together and compromising and listening — so that’s what they hope both sides of this policy spectrum will ultimately yield, that people will work together.”

As far as legislative employees — who earn a median salary of $52,000 per year — some staffers and a legal representative said there may be other ways to pay the employees of elected officials and those who help all lawmakers write bill drafts and provide cost estimates for legislation.

Lawmakers could potentially roll over money from the current fiscal year, if they have any, to pay their staffers. Or the Texas Supreme Court may rule in favor of the employees and House Democrats in a lawsuit arguing Abbott’s veto was a gubernatorial overreach. And Abbott has used his emergency power to move money around before, as he did by directing the transfer of $250 million from Texas prisons to a border wall down payment.

For Odus Evbagharu, chief of staff to state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, the onus to restore his and his colleagues’ wages is on Abbott.

“I don’t believe it’s on the House Democratic Caucus to answer for that. I think that’s going to be an answer that Governor Abbott’s gonna have to answer himself,” Evbagharu said. “My best guess is you hope he doesn’t further punish staff for decisions that lawmakers are making.”

Most of these bills are garbage, and their death (however fleeting) is a bonus as far as Dems are concerned. The legislative funding issue is entirely on Abbott for his temper-tantrum veto, and I hadn’t even thought about him using emergency powers to override himself. That’s if the Supreme Court doesn’t settle this, AS THEY SHOULD. The extra paycheck for teachers is a genuine shame, but it could be handled in any subsequent special session.

Again I want to emphasize, Greg Abbott has the primary responsibility here. He pushed these divisive, red meat issues, he called the special session to try again on the ones that failed, and he broke all precedent by vetoing the legislative funding. This is his mess.

One thing, though, seems clear: this comes at a very bad time for Governor Greg Abbott, who was already having a pretty bad week. Abbott is facing, so far, three challengers to his right in the Republican primary for governor. The charge from his Republican opponents is that he’s feckless and weak. The quorum break, which is designed to deny passage of one of his priority pieces of legislation, fits neatly into a narrative that he is getting outfoxed by an ostensibly powerless Democratic opposition. That the narrative is largely untrue—Democrats certainly believe they got the shaft this session—doesn’t matter much.

If the crisis resolves by offering concessions to the exiled Democrats, or otherwise weakening the bill, Abbott will catch hell. The best case for him is to “break” the Democrats and win the fight, but taking a hard line could also prolong the crisis. At first, messaging from his camp was uncharacteristically soft, perhaps because it’s not clear what he could say. In a statement Monday, Abbott said Democratic absences were standing in the way of “property tax relief” and other issues, a sign that the governor’s office was uncomfortable centering the election bill that’s the problem here. On Tuesday, he started talking tough, threatening them with arrest and “cabining” in the Capitol if they return to Texas, but both those threats reflect his underlying powerlessness. The main talking point so far, at least on social media, is that the Democrats brought beer with them.

[…]

Abbott’s predicament is one he seems uniquely unfit to solve. Unlike his predecessor, Rick Perry, he has never had much in the way of personal relationships with lawmakers. He has no credibility with Democrats to coax them back. But even Republican legislators don’t trust him very much. Abbott did not help the situation with his decision after Democrats walked out on the last day of the regular session to veto funding for the Legislature in retribution. He is holding Republican staffers and state employees hostage in order to coerce Democrats back to the chamber. That may make Abbott look “tough,” but hurting your allies to spite your enemies isn’t sensible politics.

The one thing Abbott does have going for him here is that the Dems will eventually come back, one way or another, and he will always have to call at least one more special session to deal with redistricting. He could just decide to wait and let the Dems figure out what they’re doing and mostly ignore them until they return. I don’t think he’ll do that, but he does do best when he mostly stays out of sight.

Whatever Abbott does or doesn’t do, things are happening in the Senate.

As Democrats fled the state to avoid voting on a GOP priority elections bill that would restrict voting rights in the state, the Texas Senate approved the bill Tuesday with a party-line vote of 18-4.

[…]

[Bill author Sen. Bryan] Hughes amended the bill to drop requirements for curbside voting that troubled advocates for people with disabilities. The original version of the bill required any person other than the voter using curbside voting to leave the car while the voter was casting their ballot.

Hughes removed that provision to “avoid confusion and not create hardship for anyone with a disability.”

Another amendment by Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, was intended to bring the bill into compliance with federal laws on voter assistance. It removed provisions from the bill that required people assisting voters to specify under oath how they were providing assistance to a voter and that they were doing so because the voter had a disability.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, also amended the bill to allow for tents to be used as temporary polling places if a regular polling place sustained physical damage that rendered it unusable. The permission would only grant the temporary permission for one election and would have to be approved by a county commissioners court.

Another amendment by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, required poll watchers to be provided training manuals to educate them about their duties.

Note that eight Senate Democrats are also in DC, with a ninth on the way. That’s not enough to break quorum in the Senate, so on they go with that wretched business.

Meanwhile, what are the Dems trying to accomplish? I’ll give you a hint, it has to do with that other Senate.

At a press conference Tuesday in Washington, DC, the group of Democrats specifically called on Biden and Congress to demonstrate “the same courage” they had shown by traveling to the nation’s capital during a special legislative session that had been called by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has since threatened to arrest the more than 50 Democrats who fled. As they did in a statement confirming their plans to boycott the session before hopping aboard two private planes on Monday, the group once again hailed both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act as examples of model legislation for protecting voting rights at the federal level and implored Congress to pass them.

“We were quite literally forced to move and leave the state of Texas,” Texas Rep. Rhetta Bowers said in a press conference flanked by some of her fellow state Democrats. “We also know that we are living right now on borrowed time in Texas. And we can’t stay here indefinitely, to run out the clock, to stop Republican anti-voter bills.” Bowers said that although Texas Democrats would use “everything in our power to fight back,” they ultimately needed Congress to act with the same urgency.

“We are not going to buckle to the ‘big lie’ in the state of Texas—the ‘big lie’ that has resulted in anti-democratic legislation throughout the United States,” Rep. Rafael Anchia added.

[…]

Tuesday’s press conference came hours ahead of President Biden’s much-anticipated speech on voting rights in Philadelphia, where he’ll make a forceful condemnation of Republican efforts to enact voter suppression laws. His message, however, is not expected to include support for ending the Senate’s filibuster rules, which advocates say stand in the way of passing meaningful protections for voting rights.

They did get to meet with numerous key Senators, though not yet the two that hold this legislation in their hands. As Slate’s Christina Cauterucci puts it for when and if they do, what the Dems have is an emotional appeal.

The emotional appeal may be the only route left for [Rep. Senfronia] Thompson, her colleagues, and other Democrats who see this moment as a turning point for U.S. democracy. Manchin and Sinema already have all the facts. They’ve shown no willingness to budge. Now, they’ll have to tell a crowd of fugitive Texan legislators singing a civil-rights protest song that their extreme measures to protect the franchise will be for naught.

Like I said yesterday, that is the ultimate grand prize. I hope it has better odds than a Powerball ticket.

Finally, Houston Matters spoke to State Reps. Penny Morales Shaw, who is in DC, and Garnet Coleman, who is not because of health issues, though he is not in Austin. They also spoke to US Rep. Lizzie Fletcher about the subject, for which a YouTube clip is here. And here is the note I think we can all agree it would be best to end on:

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

We do agree that “Greg Abbott” and “disaster” go together well

I just have one question about this.

Over the past year, Gov. Greg Abbott has issued disaster declarations across the state for a number of tragedies: the coronavirus pandemic that killed more than 50,000 Texans, a winter storm that left millions of people in freezing temperatures without power for days, hurricanes and floods that wiped out homes and local infrastructure.

The disaster declarations give the governor broad power to suspend state laws and regulations that hinder a jurisdiction’s recovery from a disaster and to allow the use of available resources to respond to the disaster.

Then, on May 31 the two-term Republican governor who is seeking reelection next year took the unprecedented step of declaring a disaster for 34 counties based on an increase of illegal immigration at the Texas-Mexico border. The declaration allowed Abbott to request the reallocation of $250 million of legislatively appropriated funds toward a border wall construction project pushed by his office.

“It’s extraordinarily unusual,” said Jon Taylor, professor of political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Traditionally, it’s used for natural disasters,” he added, though state law does allow for its use for some man-made disasters.

Abbott’s move raises questions about the executive branch’s emergency powers, rekindling concerns raised during the early days of COVID-19 last year when Abbott used his broad emergency powers to enact restrictions shutting down businesses to curb the pandemic. In response, the Legislature tried without success to rein in Abbott’s authority this session.

But now, critics are questioning whether an increase in illegal immigration constitutes a disaster that merits emergency action by the governor.

State Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, said Abbott’s use of a disaster declaration to reallocate legislatively appropriated funds to a project from his office stretches the concept of emergency authority “to its breaking point.”

“A governor should not be able to circumvent the legislative process by declaring such matters to be emergencies and then implementing whatever measures he wishes,” Turner said in a statement. “If a governor can commence such a long-term, multi-hundred-million-dollar public works project under the cover of emergency powers, it is difficult to know what the limits of those powers are.”

“I hope the Legislature will reassert its authority and resist this ill-considered action by the Governor,” he added.

See here and here for the background. My question is this: Who’s going to sue, and when will they do it? The Lege is not going to rein in Abbott – he’s not going to put that on the special session agenda, and even if he did the same Republicans who grumbled about his COVID actions are just fine with this. Filing a lawsuit is all that’s left. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t – my advice is to hire a better attorney than Jared Woodfill if you want a chance – but that’s the only avenue available at this point. It’s fine by me if there are multiple lawsuits, in both state and federal court. Just, start filing. The longer this charade goes on, the worse it’s going to get.

Trying to make the sausage less bad

RG Ratcliffe walsk us through some bipartisan negotiations on HB6, the House version of the big Senate voter suppression bill, as three Democrats who want to make this bad bill slightly less bad work with a couple of Republicans who want to avoid an all-nighter and make defending this sucker in court a little easier.

[Rep. Joe] Moody says he went into the meeting feeling haunted by a similarly contentious fight over a bill in 2017. That year, Republicans had drafted SB 4, which was set to outlaw sanctuary cities, which decline to cooperate with federal immigration authorities who seek to deport undocumented immigrants who are held in county jails. Democrats had prepared more than 150 amendments and planned to spend the night of debate shaming Republicans on the floor, even if they knew they didn’t have the votes to pass the amendments. In retribution, Republicans filed an amendment of their own, to add a provision giving police the power to demand proof of legal residency from suspected undocumented immigrants. It was a provision many believed would lead to racial profiling. The “show me your papers” amendment promptly passed, as did the bill at large. Democrats couldn’t even claim a moral victory. “I was in all those rooms on SB 4, and I remember the feeling when it fell apart,” Moody recalled for me. “You got to learn the lessons from mistakes like that.”

Moody saw the same potential debacle approaching in the voting-restriction bill this year. Even though the House version was less onerous than its counterpart in the Senate, the bill still would have enhanced jail penalties for voting crimes that are most often committed through ignorance of the rules. And it would have made it a state jail felony for any local election official to distribute a vote-by-mail application to a voter who did not request it, as Chris Hollins, then the Harris County clerk, tried to do last year. It wasn’t legislation Democrats could support.

[…]

The Republicans wanted to avoid a divisive floor fight, and a demonstration of cooperation could work to their advantage in court. (There are already at least six challenges to the election bill Georgia passed in March, and the Harris County commissioners voted last week to file a lawsuit over any restrictive legislation the Lege passes.) The GOP representatives were joined by an attorney, Elizabeth Alvarez Bingham, the former vice chair of the Dallas County Republican Party. Bingham sits on the board of the American Civil Rights Project (formerly known as the Equal Voting Rights Institute), which unsuccessfully sued Dallas county commissioners in 2015, alleging that they discriminated against white voters by gerrymandering municipal districts to favor minorities. But Bingham, an election law litigator, was instrumental in urging the Republican negotiators to accept most of the proposed changes to the bill, Democratic negotiators told me.

The negotiations had made progress by a quarter past eight, but the leaders needed time to continue without the bill actually being debated further on the floor. Under guidance from his caucus, freshman Dallas Democrat John Turner called a point of order, arguing that the bill violated an obscure House rule. Members in the meeting knew the legislative maneuver was unlikely to kill the bill, but it would provide the needed delay for negotiations to keep going.

Over the course of the negotiation, which lasted well past midnight, Democrats earned concessions on about three quarters of their requests to water down the bill. They ensured that the mere act of violating a voting rule would not be regarded as a crime unless the person who committed the infraction knew he or she was breaking the law. (This could retroactively cover the case of Crystal Mason, a Fort Worth woman sentenced to five years in prison for casting a ballot while on supervised release on a tax fraud charge, even though she didn’t know she was not eligible to vote.) Democrats also negotiated the inclusion of a clause allowing election judges to remove poll watchers who violate state law by intimidating voters. And they added language barring poll watchers from obstructing a voter, while also making it a criminal offense for someone to give a voter false information with the intent of preventing them from casting a ballot.

I appreciate the behind-the-scenes view, and I appreciate the efforts of Reps. Moody, Canales, and Bucy to try to do harm reduction. There’s only so much you can do when you’re outnumbered, and the experience from 2017 certainly colored their perspective. This may all wind up being for naught, as the bill has now gone to a conference committee, but at least they can say they did the best they could have done under the circumstances.

In the meantime, the House passed SB155 yesterday, which is not specifically an elections bill but will almost certainly have an effect on the elections process. The caption reads simply, “relating to the use of information from the lists of noncitizens and nonresidents excused or disqualified from jury service.” The point of the bill is to have registered voters removed from the rolls if they are excused or disqualified from jury duty for lack of residence in the county. That may sound sensible, but there are a couple of glaring issues. One is that you have a 30 day deadline to update your address on your driver’s license, but have until the next registration deadline (which may be more than a year away) to update your voter registration. If you get called to jury duty in the interim, and you tell them you can’t serve because you’ve moved out of county, you could wind up getting prosecuted for having an invalid voter registration, because all of this information will be sent to the Attorney General’s office on a quarterly basis. What could possibly go wrong from there? Dems made multiple attempts to amend this bill to make it more of an administrative fix – which is what it should be – and less of a potential criminal liability, but they were all shot down, on partisan votes. See here for the discussion and record votes on the amendments. This is the kind of thing that gets a lot less attention than the big headline bills, but could have a real negative effect on people down the line. And it’s on its way to the Governor’s desk.

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

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

Ryan Guillen, HD31
Marian Knowlton, HD31

Abel Herrero, HD34
James Hernandez, HD34

Erin Zwiener, HD45
Carrie Isaac, HD45

Vikki Goodwin, HD47
Justin Berry, HD47

James Talarico, HD52
Lucio Valdez, HD52

Michelle Beckley, HD65
Kronda Thimesch, HD65

Eddie Morales, HD74
Ruben Falcon, HD74

Ana-Maria Ramos, HD102
Linda Koop, HD102

Terry Meza, HD105
Gerson Hernandez, HD105

Victoria Neave, HD107
Samuel Smith, HD107

Rhetta Bowers, HD113
Will Douglas, HD113

John Turner, HD114
Luisa Del Rosal, HD114

Julie Johnson, HD115
Karyn Brownlee, HD115

John Bucy, HD136
Mike Guevara, HD136


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 4

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

Ryan Guillen, HD31
Marian Knowlton, HD31

Abel Herrero, HD34
James Hernandez, HD34

Erin Zwiener, HD45
Carrie Isaac, HD45

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

James Talarico, HD52
Lucio Valdez, HD52

Michelle Beckley, HD65
Kronda Thimesch, HD65

Eddie Morales, HD74
Ruben Falcon, HD74

Ana-Maria Ramos, HD102
Linda Koop, HD102

Terry Meza, HD105
Gerson Hernandez, HD105

Victoria Neave, HD107
Samuel Smith, HD107

Rhetta Bowers, HD113
Will Douglas, HD113

John Turner, HD114
Luisa Del Rosal, HD114

Julie Johnson, HD115
Karyn Brownlee, HD115

John Bucy, HD136
Mike Guevara, HD136


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas GOP accidentally releases its 2020 strategy

Oops.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more thing:

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

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

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

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

Initial thoughts: The Lege

Live by the gerrymander, die by the gerrymander.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Omnibus election report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dallas County House battleground

Lot of seats in play here.

Julie Johnson

[Julie] Johnson is among several Democratic candidates in Dallas hoping national and statewide talk of a blue wave will trickle down to several local state House races. A mix of Democratic enthusiasm this cycle, along with a litany of well-funded candidates, has created a hotbed of competitive state House races around Texas’ third largest city. While some of these districts have drawn contentious matchups before, the fact that most handily went to Hillary Clinton in 2016 has only heightened the stakes.

State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, a hardline conservative from Irving, has had perhaps the biggest target on his back since last year, when protesters descended on the Texas Capitol over the state’s new “sanctuary cities” law.” Rinaldi said he called federal immigration authorities on the protesters, which angered some Hispanic House members. An argument on the House floor escalated to accusations of death threats and shoving, some of which was captured on a video that drew national attention.

[…]

While immigration is an unavoidable issue in Rinaldi’s race, there are other things on the minds of voters around North Texas. Candidates in several competitive state House races in the region said they are hearing the most about rising property taxes, health care coverage and education.

Along with Rinaldi, other state House Republicans in Dallas facing notable challenges from Democrats include Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, Angie Chen Button of Richardson and Linda Koop and Morgan Meyer, both of Dallas.

But former Dallas County GOP Chair Wade Emmert said Democrats may be overestimating the impact bad headlines out of Washington will have on these races lower on the ballot.

“People understand that Trump is not running to be a House representative,” he said. “They want to trust the person that’s running. And I don’t know if voters are going to vote for a Democrat to carry the mantle in previously Republican districts.”

[…]

Aside from impressive fundraising hauls and a surge of Dallas-area candidates, Democrats argue that the blue wave they expect this election cycle gives them a competitive advantage they didn’t have two years ago. But in Gov. Greg Abbott, Republicans have a popular incumbent at the top of their ticket with a $40 million war chest that could be employed to boost Republican turnout statewide.

Dallas Republicans, though, say they’re not taking anything for granted. After all, the region has gotten tougher for the party politically since the once reliably Republican Dallas County flipped blue in 2006. “We understand that there is a challenge,” Karen Watson, the vice chair of the Dallas County Republican Party, said. “We were comfortable in Texas just being red. Now we’re like, ‘Okay — if you wanna fight, bring it, and we will match you.’”

Dallas Democrats, meanwhile, are hopeful that excitement around two races in particular — U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Colin Allred’s campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas — may help candidates in these local races. Frustration with the current occupant of the Oval Office, party leaders say, is also expected to boost Democratic turnout.

“Mr. Trump has done the Democrats a huge favor,” said Carol Donovan, chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party. She also mentioned a couple of candidates that she said have an advantage this cycle because they’ve run for the seat before — including Democrat Terry Meza, who’s again challenging Anderson, the Grand Prairie Republican, in House District 105.

[…]

In House District 114, Lisa Luby Ryan faces Democrat John Turner. Ryan, who has support from hardline conservative groups such as Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life, ousted Republican incumbent Jason Villalba of Dallas in the March primaries. Villalba, who has represented the district since 2013, aligns with the more centrist faction of the party and has been critical of Ryan since she defeated him in March. Villalba said he thinks the district’s changing demographics, along with Ryan’s more conservative politics, could cause HD-114 to flip in Democrats’ favor this year.

“The district is clearly a centrist, chamber-of-commerce district,” he said. “Ryan does not represent that wing of the Republican Party. And I think she is at a disadvantage going into the election against someone like Turner.”

Turner, the son of former U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, has picked up support from the influential Texas Association of Realtors. And, in August, he released a letter of support from the Dallas business community — which included some Republicans. Villalba said earlier this month he doesn’t plan to endorse in the race.

In nearby House District 113, Democrat Rhetta Bowers and Republican Jonathan Boos are vying for the seat state Rep. Cindy Burkett represents. (Burkett, a Sunnyvale Republican, didn’t seek re-election and instead had an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate). Both Bowers and Boos ran previously for the seat in 2016; Bowers, who has support from groups such as Planned Parenthood and Moms Demand Action, which advocates for stricter gun control laws, says her campaign has drawn in some of the district’s disgruntled Republicans. Boos, meanwhile, has endorsements from the same conservative groups that endorsed Ryan in HD-114.

I did a thorough review of the precinct data from Dallas County after the election. I’ll sum this up by quoting myself from that last post: “Dallas is a solid blue county (57-42 for Obama over Romney in 2012) drawn to give the Republicans an 8-6 majority of their legislative caucus. There’s no margin for error here.” It won’t take much to tip the three most competitive districts, which are HDs 105, 113, and 115. (And sweet fancy Moses do I want to see Matt Rinaldi lose.) We talk a lot about the Beto effect, but Lupe Valdez should be an asset for Dems here, as she has consistently been a big vote-getter in the county. And if things head south for Republicans – if the recent spate of generic Congressional polls hold, and Trump’s approval rating moves consistently below 40 – you could see four, five, even six seats flip here. It’s the downside to a brutally efficient gerrymander – there’s an inflection point at which a whole bunch of seats become vulnerable. Dallas County Republicans may find that point this year.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: State House

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

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


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

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

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

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