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Luke Warford

Precinct analysis: Inside and out of the city

Most years we don’t get the data to differentiate between votes cast by residents of Houston and votes cast by Harris County non-Houston residents. There needs to be a citywide referendum of the ballot in order to get at this data. Fortunately, we had that this year, so we can take a look at how the races of interest shaped up. The usual caveat applies here, which is that this data is not exact. There are multiple precincts that are partially in Houston and partially not in Houston. Many of them have a tiny number of Houston-specific votes in them, with a much larger contingent of non-Houston votes. Counting these as Houston precincts means you wind up with a lot more total votes in Houston than were cast in the referenda elections, and gives you a distorted picture of the candidate percentages. I filter out precincts with ten or fewer votes cast in the Houston proposition elections, which is arbitrary and still yields more total votes than in the prop races themselves, but it’s close enough for these purposes. So with all that preamble, here’s the data:


Candidates    Houston   Not Hou    Hou%    Not%
===============================================
Beto          317,736   277,917  63.43%  46.22%
Abbott        175,533   314,728  35.04%  52.34%

Collier       312,803   273,337  62.81%  45.64%
Patrick       171,319   312,803  34.40%  51.84%

Garza         312,022   272,513  62.83%  45.61%
Paxton        170,642   309,499  34.36%  51.80%

Dudding       294,958   255,993  59.69%  43.03%
Hegar         185,671   324,329  37.58%  54.52%

Kleberg       296,878   257,563  60.34%  43.45%
Buckingham    184,006   323,967  37.41%  54.65%

Hays          308,304   269,169  62.61%  45.36%
Miller        184,139   324,228  37.39%  54.64%

Warford       290,364   251,323  59.02%  42.41%
Christian     181,355   319,465  36.86%  53.91%

To be clear about what this data shows, Beto won the city of Houston by a margin of 317,736 to 175,533, or 63.43% to 35.04%, while Greg Abbott carried the non-Houston parts of the county 314,728 to 277,917. This is about 493K ballots cast for those two candidates, which doesn’t count third party and write-in candidates or undervotes; I didn’t tally them all up but we’d be at around 510K total ballots defined as being “Houston”. In actuality, there were 486K total ballots cast, including undervotes, in the city prop races. Like I said, this is plenty good enough for these purposes.

As noted, I don’t have a whole lot of data for this from previous elections, but what I do have can be found in these posts:

2008
2012
2018

There were city propositions in 2010, for red light cameras and ReNew Houston, but I didn’t do the same city-versus-not-city comparisons that year, almost certainly because 2010 was such a miserable year and I just didn’t want to spend any more time thinking about it than I had to.

Looking back at those earlier years, Beto fell short of the top performers in Houston, which in 2008 and 2012 was Adrian Garcia and which in 2018 was himself, but he did better in non-Houston Harris County. That’s consistent with what I’ve said before about how Democrats have overall grown their vote in the former strong Republican areas, while falling short on turnout – this year, at least – in the strong Democratic areas. Note how even the lowest scorers this year exceeded Obama’s performance in non-Houston by three or four points in 2008 and four or five points in 2012, while doing about as well in Houston. As I’ve said, Harris County is more Democratic now. This is another way of illustrating that.

Here’s the same breakdown for the countywide races:


Candidates    Houston   Not Hou    Hou%    Not%
===============================================
Hidalgo       294,968   257,935  59.79%  43.39%
Mealer        198,286   336,434  40.19%  56.59%

Burgess       290,267   255,860  60.14%  43.81%
Daniel        192,368   328,119  39.86%  56.19%

Hudspeth      293,030   256,624  60.84%  44.00%
Stanart       188,573   326,633  39.16%  56.00%

Wyatt         293,352   256,862  60.86%  44.00%
Scott         188,623   326,849  39.14%  56.00%

No third party candidates here, just a write-in who got a handful of votes for County Judge, so the percentages mostly add up to 100. More or less the same story here, with the distinction between Houston and not-Houston being smaller than in prior years. There won’t be any citywide propositions in 2024, not if we have them this coming November, but I’ll try to use the precinct data I have here to analyze that election. In what should be a stronger Democratic year, I’ll be very interested to see how things change. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Precinct analysis: The not-as-good statewide races

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer
Better statewide races

The difference between these statewide races and the ones we have already looked at, including the Governor’s race, is very simple: These Republican candidates did better than the ones we have seen, and the Democrats did less well. The Dems in the first four races we analyzed all topped 53% of the vote in Harris County. The high score with these three is Jay Kleberg’s 51.11%. Luke Warford, who had a Green opponent as well as a Libertarian opponent, fell short of a majority in Harris County, getting 49.95% for a plurality. Let’s see how this breaks down.

Comptroller


Dist    Hegar  Dudding     Lib
==============================
HD126  36,931   21,555   1,269
HD127  40,053   24,746   1,441
HD128  32,350   12,795   1,014
HD129  38,119   24,936   1,559
HD130  46,320   18,701   1,229
HD131   6,114   24,275     906
HD132  36,340   23,387   1,259
HD133  35,123   24,187   1,043
HD134  32,915   46,611   1,330
HD135  17,107   22,475   1,135
HD137   8,263   12,428     646
HD138  32,580   23,012   1,269
HD139  12,325   30,301   1,174
HD140   5,761   12,183   1,066
HD141   4,586   20,094     815
HD142   8,957   24,548     997
HD143   8,538   14,611   1,218
HD144  11,734   13,368   1,167
HD145  13,855   29,642   1,839
HD146   9,031   32,118     953
HD147   9,676   35,412   1,338
HD148  16,203   19,567   1,251
HD149  12,278   18,681     882
HD150  34,841   21,318   1,294
							
CC1    72,584  195,779   6,893
CC2    97,146   99,729   7,605
CC3   225,304  134,394   7,641
CC4   114,966  121,049   5,955
							
JP1    65,832  117,292   5,140
JP2    22,125   28,127   2,055
JP3    35,715   40,576   2,117
JP4   173,366  120,182   6,806
JP5   146,733  136,478   6,730
JP6     5,130   16,223   1,342
JP7    12,325   64,437   1,904
JP8    48,774   27,636   2,000

Dist   Hegar% Dudding%    Lib%
==============================
HD126  61.80%   36.07%   2.12%
HD127  60.47%   37.36%   2.18%
HD128  70.08%   27.72%   2.20%
HD129  58.99%   38.59%   2.41%
HD130  69.92%   28.23%   1.86%
HD131  19.54%   77.57%   2.90%
HD132  59.59%   38.35%   2.06%
HD133  58.20%   40.08%   1.73%
HD134  40.71%   57.65%   1.64%
HD135  42.01%   55.20%   2.79%
HD137  38.73%   58.25%   3.03%
HD138  57.30%   40.47%   2.23%
HD139  28.14%   69.18%   2.68%
HD140  30.31%   64.09%   5.61%
HD141  17.99%   78.82%   3.20%
HD142  25.96%   71.15%   2.89%
HD143  35.04%   59.96%   5.00%
HD144  44.67%   50.89%   4.44%
HD145  30.56%   65.38%   4.06%
HD146  21.45%   76.29%   2.26%
HD147  20.84%   76.28%   2.88%
HD148  43.77%   52.85%   3.38%
HD149  38.56%   58.67%   2.77%
HD150  60.64%   37.11%   2.25%
			
CC1    26.37%   71.13%   2.50%
CC2    47.51%   48.77%   3.72%
CC3    61.33%   36.59%   2.08%
CC4    47.51%   50.03%   2.46%
			
JP1    34.97%   62.30%   2.73%
JP2    42.30%   53.77%   3.93%
JP3    45.55%   51.75%   2.70%
JP4    57.72%   40.01%   2.27%
JP5    50.61%   47.07%   2.32%
JP6    22.60%   71.48%   5.91%
JP7    15.67%   81.91%   2.42%
JP8    62.20%   35.25%   2.55%

Land Commissioner


Dist     Buck  Kleberg     Grn   W-I
====================================
HD126  36,849   21,629   1,070     1
HD127  40,131   24,789   1,092     0
HD128  32,446   12,873     706     9
HD129  38,169   25,015   1,149     3
HD130  46,145   18,886     963     5
HD131   6,081   24,219     829     1
HD132  36,155   23,542   1,053     2
HD133  34,565   24,654     915     2
HD134  31,902   47,475   1,190     6
HD135  17,116   22,492     963     1
HD137   8,141   12,532     562     2
HD138  32,324   23,310     968     2
HD139  12,258   30,317   1,025     1
HD140   5,859   12,433     613     3
HD141   4,635   20,039     691     3
HD142   8,984   24,532     839     4
HD143   8,646   14,845     732     5
HD144  11,869   13,567     682     4
HD145  13,820   30,044   1,276     3
HD146   8,914   32,076     990     0
HD147   9,684   35,282   1,243     1
HD148  16,142   19,762     959     2
HD149  12,314   18,717     714     0
HD150  34,884   21,411   1,016     3
								
CC1    71,640  196,243   6,241    17
CC2    97,762  100,816   4,930    24
CC3   224,673  135,288   6,151    14
CC4   113,958  122,094   4,918     8
								
JP1    64,874  118,648   3,973    11
JP2    22,268   28,432   1,306     7
JP3    35,847   40,620   1,612     8
JP4   173,174  120,696   5,428    13
JP5   145,487  137,664   5,652    10
JP6     5,253   16,428     881     4
JP7    12,214   64,137   2,011     2
JP8    48,916   27,816   1,377     8

Dist    Buck% Kleberg%    Grn%  W-I%
====================================
HD126  61.88%   36.32%   1.80% 0.00%
HD127  60.79%   37.55%   1.65% 0.00%
HD128  70.48%   27.96%   1.53% 0.02%
HD129  59.33%   38.88%   1.79% 0.00%
HD130  69.92%   28.62%   1.46% 0.01%
HD131  19.53%   77.80%   2.66% 0.00%
HD132  59.51%   38.75%   1.73% 0.00%
HD133  57.48%   41.00%   1.52% 0.00%
HD134  39.59%   58.92%   1.48% 0.01%
HD135  42.19%   55.44%   2.37% 0.00%
HD137  38.33%   59.01%   2.65% 0.01%
HD138  57.11%   41.18%   1.71% 0.00%
HD139  28.11%   69.53%   2.35% 0.00%
HD140  30.99%   65.76%   3.24% 0.02%
HD141  18.27%   78.99%   2.72% 0.01%
HD142  26.15%   71.40%   2.44% 0.01%
HD143  35.69%   61.27%   3.02% 0.02%
HD144  45.44%   51.94%   2.61% 0.02%
HD145  30.61%   66.55%   2.83% 0.01%
HD146  21.23%   76.41%   2.36% 0.00%
HD147  20.96%   76.35%   2.69% 0.00%
HD148  43.79%   53.61%   2.60% 0.01%
HD149  38.79%   58.96%   2.25% 0.00%
HD150  60.86%   37.36%   1.77% 0.01%
				
CC1    26.13%   71.58%   2.28% 0.01%
CC2    48.03%   49.53%   2.42% 0.01%
CC3    61.36%   36.95%   1.68% 0.00%
CC4    47.29%   50.67%   2.04% 0.00%
				
JP1    34.60%   63.28%   2.12% 0.01%
JP2    42.81%   54.66%   2.51% 0.01%
JP3    45.91%   52.02%   2.06% 0.01%
JP4    57.86%   40.32%   1.81% 0.00%
JP5    50.37%   47.67%   1.96% 0.00%
JP6    23.28%   72.80%   3.90% 0.02%
JP7    15.59%   81.84%   2.57% 0.00%
JP8    62.62%   35.61%   1.76% 0.01%

Railroad Commissioner


Dist    Chris  Warford     Lib     Grn
======================================
HD126  36,287   21,192   1,384     648
HD127  39,533   24,297   1,535     651
HD128  32,057   12,551     995     399
HD129  37,473   24,455   1,607     766
HD130  45,640   18,396   1,369     597
HD131   5,986   23,853     942     400
HD132  35,684   22,981   1,395     627
HD133  34,391   23,900   1,215     616
HD134  31,677   46,420   1,533     844
HD135  16,804   21,988   1,227     559
HD137   8,017   12,261     612     350
HD138  31,928   22,708   1,350     641
HD139  12,044   29,784   1,169     555
HD140   5,685   11,976     991     277
HD141   4,527   19,765     784     332
HD142   8,851   24,073   1,025     411
HD143   8,457   14,290   1,159     373
HD144  11,679   13,015   1,125     328
HD145  13,535   29,065   1,855     677
HD146   8,716   31,720     927     581
HD147   9,406   34,678   1,363     730
HD148  15,938   19,168   1,217     514
HD149  12,101   18,269     925     429
HD150  34,404   20,882   1,366     623
								
CC1   70,449   192,875   7,107   3,563
CC2   95,951    97,604   7,402   2,627
CC3  221,887   132,181   8,202   3,726
CC4  112,533   119,027   6,359   3,012
								
JP1   63,938   115,819   5,264   2,359
JP2   21,846    27,531   2,021     648
JP3   35,348    39,739   2,132     865
JP4  170,806   118,025   7,219   3,145
JP5  143,838   134,221   7,231   3,484
JP6    5,019    15,850   1,277     447
JP7   11,907    63,400   1,926   1,109
JP8   48,118    27,102   2,000     871

Dist   Chris% Warford%    Lib%    Grn%
======================================
HD126  60.98%   35.61%   2.33%   1.09%
HD127  59.88%   36.80%   2.33%   0.99%
HD128  69.69%   27.28%   2.16%   0.87%
HD129  58.28%   38.03%   2.50%   1.19%
HD130  69.15%   27.87%   2.07%   0.90%
HD131  19.20%   76.50%   3.02%   1.28%
HD132  58.80%   37.87%   2.30%   1.03%
HD133  57.20%   39.75%   2.02%   1.02%
HD134  39.36%   57.68%   1.90%   1.05%
HD135  41.41%   54.19%   3.02%   1.38%
HD137  37.74%   57.73%   2.88%   1.65%
HD138  56.38%   40.10%   2.38%   1.13%
HD139  27.65%   68.39%   2.68%   1.27%
HD140  30.03%   63.27%   5.24%   1.46%
HD141  17.82%   77.79%   3.09%   1.31%
HD142  25.76%   70.06%   2.98%   1.20%
HD143  34.83%   58.86%   4.77%   1.54%
HD144  44.67%   49.78%   4.30%   1.25%
HD145  29.99%   64.40%   4.11%   1.50%
HD146  20.78%   75.62%   2.21%   1.39%
HD147  20.37%   75.10%   2.95%   1.58%
HD148  43.27%   52.03%   3.30%   1.40%
HD149  38.14%   57.59%   2.92%   1.35%
HD150  60.07%   36.46%   2.38%   1.09%
				
CC1    25.71%   70.39%   2.59%   1.30%
CC2    47.13%   47.94%   3.64%   1.29%
CC3    60.63%   36.12%   2.24%   1.02%
CC4    46.71%   49.40%   2.64%   1.25%
				
JP1    34.12%   61.81%   2.81%   1.26%
JP2    41.97%   52.90%   3.88%   1.25%
JP3    45.27%   50.89%   2.73%   1.11%
JP4    57.09%   39.45%   2.41%   1.05%
JP5    49.81%   46.48%   2.50%   1.21%
JP6    22.21%   70.15%   5.65%   1.98%
JP7    15.20%   80.93%   2.46%   1.42%
JP8    61.62%   34.71%   2.56%   1.12%

Not too surprisingly, what we see in all three of these races is…more votes for the Republican candidate and fewer votes for the Democrat across the precincts, with a couple of exceptions here and there. The effect was generally stronger in the Republican districts than in the Democratic ones, with HDs 133 and 134 being the most notable.

The total number of votes in these elections is comparable – the number declines gently as you go down the ballot, but more undervoting does not explain the shifts in percentages. In a few cases you can see a greater number of third-party votes, which can explain a part of a Democratic vote decline, but again the overall effect is too small to be generally explanatory. The only logical conclusion is that across the board, some number of people who votes for Beto and Collier and Garza and Hays also voted for Glenn Hegar and Dawn Buckingham and Wayne Christian.

The question then is why. To me, the most likely explanation is that the most visible Republicans, the ones most likely to loudly and visibly stake out unpopular and divisive positions – and yes, this means “unpopular”, or at least “less popular” with Republicans, with opposing marijuana reform and expanded gambling and rape/incest exceptions for abortion – are losing votes that their lower profile/less visibly extreme colleagues are not losing.

This makes sense to me, but as it agrees with my priors, I’d like to check it. I’m pretty sure I’ve expressed this sentiment before, but if I had the power and the funds I’d order a study, to try to identify these voters and ask them why they did what they did. Not out of disbelief or derision but curiosity, to get a better understanding. Maybe other Democratic candidates could get them with the right message, and if they were the right candidates. Maybe they just didn’t know enough about the Dems in these races to be in a position to consider them. Maybe a strategy that attempts to maximize Democratic turnout overall – we have already discussed how Dems fell short in this election on that front – would make them less likely to cross over, even for Republicans they don’t approve of. We can speculate all week, but there’s only one way to find out. I really wish I could make that happen.

One more thing to note is that despite the lesser Democratic performance, these candidates all still carried the three Commissioner Court precincts that are now Democratic. I’ll be paying closer attention to these precincts, because this isn’t always the case going forward. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

Endorsement watch: Dudding and Warford

The Chron endorses Janet Dudding for Comptroller.

Janet Dudding

In 2005, Janet Dudding found herself mucking out her home in Bay St. Louis-Waveland, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina sent a 32-foot storm surge across the town.

“The first time I cried was when the Red Cross truck came around,” she told the editorial board. “I’m supposed to be the one giving help. There I was going to get a hot meal because there is no electricity, no streetlights, no water.”

That experience — and the city’s struggle to get back on its feet financially — had a profound impact on Dudding and is among the reasons she is running for Texas comptroller as a Democrat against the Republican incumbent, Glenn Hegar.

Trained as a lawyer and formerly a state legislator known for pursuing abortion restrictions, Hegar was first elected as comptroller in 2014. In his 2018 re-election bid, this board endorsed Hegar, 51, for keeping “his head down and focused on his job” instead of pandering to primary voters. Sadly, we can’t say the same four years later. Now he appears more interested in attracting national headlines and preparing for the next stage of his political career.

We urge voters to elect Dudding, 63, an actual certified public accountant running to be the state’s accountant. She says her main objective would be holding government accountable to people, not special interests. That’s the job we want done, and she has 35 years experience running audits, administering teams and leading investigations to show she can do it.

I was thinking about that earlier endorsement as I read this. The 2018 version of Glenn Hegar had a good argument that he was a down-the-middle public servant doing his job in a normal way. The 2022 version of Hegar isn’t in the same ZIP code as that argument, and it’s not just for the more recent aggressions against Harris County, either. The Chron has some more examples of things I’d forgotten about or not been aware of in the editorial. Based on his behavior in the Legislature, none of this is surprising, but compared to Hegar’s first term as Comptroller, it really stands out. This is what happens when “doing a good job” is not an asset in your primary.

You can listen to my interview with Janet Dudding here. If you like the idea of a Comptroller who’s focused on the day-to-day Comptroller stuff and not looking for extracurricular activities to make their application for the next job more sparkly, Janet Dudding is your candidate.

The Chron also endorses Luke Warford for Railroad Commissioner.

Luke Warford

In a perfect world, the Railroad Commission’s mission statement of protecting Texas’ natural resources and promoting the oil and gas industry would not be contradictory. There’s an alternate reality in which the commission could be at the nexus of the global energy transition, laying the groundwork for emerging technologies such as hydrogen and geothermal energy while helping oil and gas producers become cleaner and safer.

That’s the vision that Democrat Luke Warford has for an agency that long has treated “regulation” of the state’s oil and gas sector as an afterthought. Warford, 33, a former Texas Democratic Party operative and energy consultant, is not running just to be another watchdog bureaucrat; he wants to fundamentally modernize an agency that is becoming as anachronistic as its name.

Warford isn’t your central-casting roughneck or wildcatter. He studied at the London School of Economics and worked at the World Bank before transitioning to consulting, where he worked with oil and gas majors as well as wind and solar clients seeking access to global energy markets. His knack for helping businesses adapt to a changing economy could be an asset on the commission. His solutions range from simple — he mentioned modernizing the agency’s antiquated website to make it more transparent and accessible to the public — to cutting edge, such as using methane leak detection technology pioneered by the Southwest Research Institute.

His desire to be an agent of change is rooted in watching his father, who owned a CD store, struggle to make ends meet once the internet changed the way we listened to music.

Warford told the editorial board that this personal experience has helped him forge connections with oil and gas workers who fear global decarbonization will render their jobs useless.

“Out in Midland, a couple of weeks ago, a geologist said to me, ‘Hey, you know, I’ve made my career in this industry, I’m sending my kids to college from work I do in this industry, but I’m sick of coming home and having my kid, my neighbors, think that I’m poisoning their air and their water,’” Warford said. “He was worried about what his job prospects are gonna look like in 10 and 20 years, even if oil and gas production continues, as automation happens. To be able to understand that on a personal level, I think, is effective.”

By contrast, the current commissioners, led by Chairman Wayne Christian, 72, the Republican incumbent, are more interested in raking in campaign cash from oil and gas producers and letting the industry police itself.

My interview with Warford is here. Christian was a lousy legislator, and unlike Hegar didn’t do anything in his first term in statewide office to try to change that narrative. He’s a toady and a waste of space, and Luke Warford would be a vast improvement even if he’s a lone voice for sanity on that Commission. That’s a question he addresses directly in the interview, by the way. Go give it a listen, and then vote for Luke Warford.

Interview with Luke Warford

Luke Warford

The Texas Railroad Commission is that office where you always have to explain to normal people that it has nothing to do with its name. No trains, just energy, especially oil and gas leasing and inspections and other things. Including oversight and enforcement, such as requiring weatherization for gas wells that supply the power grid, a thing that would have been especially useful last February had they taken it seriously. They didn’t, and now is our chance to hold incumbent Wayne Christian, one of the more corrupt members of that commission, accountable. Luke Warford was one of the earliest statewide Democrats on the campaign trail, and he’s been there ever since. A former energy consultant, Warford has been the Chief Strategy Officer for the Texas Democratic Party and got his start in politics in 2012 with the Obama campaign. He was recently endorsed by Sarah Stogner, who challenged Christian in the Republican primary. Here’s the interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Susan Hays – Ag Commissioner
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Cam Campbell – HD132
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08
Teneshia Hudspeth – Harris County Clerk
Amy Hinojosa – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 2
Andrea Duhon – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 4

As always, everything you could want to know about the Democratic candidates can be found at the Erik Manning spreadsheet.

Hispanic Policy Foundation: Abbott 51, Beto 44

One more poll to look at.

There’s an old adage that says the more things change, the more they stay the same. And according to our new poll, that applies to politics in Texas as well, as support for Republicans remains strong across the board heading into the November elections.

“Texas Decides” is a joint effort between the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation (THPF) and TEGNA Texas stations WFAA, KHOU, KENS and KVUE. It draws on a survey of 1,172 likely Texas voters that was taken between September 6, 2022, and September 15, 2022. It has a confidence interval of +/- 2.9%. The report reviewed the vote intention for the November 2022 Texas elections.

The election will be held November 8. Early voting starts October 24.

Part 1 of this poll, released here, takes a look at the major statewide races across Texas in the coming election. Parts 2 and 3, which will be released later this week, will respectively focus on the Hispanic population’s opinions of the candidates and on culture war issues.

The poll found that Republican incumbent Greg Abbott leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke by seven points (51% to 44%) among likely voters. Among most likely (almost certain) voters, the lead grows to 10 points (53% to 43%). Just 1% of voters in both categories (likely/most likely) says they’ll vote for Libertarian Mark Tippetts and Green Party candidate Delilah Barrios.

“Gov. Abbott’s strength among rural and Anglo voters continues to bolster his intransigent structural support in the 2022 race for Texas Governor,” THPF CEO Jason Villalba says of the poll’s results. “While O’Rourke has shown himself to be a worthy and hard-working adversary, unless there is a marked shift in the composition of the November electorate, Governor Abbott will remain the political and thought leader of Texas politics. Only new voters will be able to shift the tide.”

Perhaps the poll’s most significant finding in the gubernatorial race is the fact that voters seem hardened in their choices, with little room for movement come November. In fact, 95% of all likely voters who say they’ll vote for Abbott tell us they are “certain” about their vote choice. On the other side, 94% of all likely voters who will back O’Rourke say they are “certain” about that choice.

And when you break down support among race, Abbott holds a nearly two-to-one advantage over O’Rourke among white voters, with the incumbent being a 63% choice to his challenger’s 33%. O’Rourke has a strong advantage with Black voters, however, up 79% to Abbott’s 16%. The support margin is closer among Hispanic voters, with 53% intending to vote for O’Rourke and 39% for Abbott.

Poll data is here. In April, this pollster had the race at 50-42 for Abbott. Since I made such a big deal about it the last time I blogged about a poll, this one has a partisan split of 43 GOP, 41 Dem, 14 Indie, 2 “other”. Other results from this poll:

Dan Patrick 48, Mike Collier 42
Ken Paxton 47, Rochelle Garza 42
Dawn Buckingham 46, Jay Kleberg 38
Sid Miller 48, Susan Hays 41
Wayne Christian 44, Luke Warford 37

No love for the Comptroller’s race, I guess. As I have said before, I don’t care for the distinction between “likely” voters and “super duper extra likely” voters, but you do you. This poll shows very little change between April and now, which is to say pre-Dobbs and post-Dobbs, so either not much has changed in the Texas landscape since then, or something has changed but pollsters other than the UT/Texas Politics Project aren’t picking it up. I’m just going to leave it there.

Endorsement watch: Stogner for Warford

Nice.

Luke Warford

Sarah Stogner, the former Republican candidate for railroad commissioner who forced incumbent Wayne Christian to a runoff and made waves for riding a pumpjack almost naked in a memorable campaign ad, is backing the Democratic nominee for the seat.

Stogner on Monday endorsed Luke Warford over Christian, a former state representative who was first elected to the Railroad Commission in 2016. She said in an interview that Texas’ energy industry is “too important to let corrupt career politicians stay in office, and I’m taking a stand against it.”

Stogner, an oil and gas attorney, lost to Christian by double digits in the runoff. Her campaign turned heads not only for the racy ad but also $2 million in funding she got from a West Texas rancher and friend who had been battling the Railroad Commission over abandoned oil wells on her property.

Stogner said she was supporting Warford, a former state Democratic Party staffer running on fixing the power grid, because she simply believed he would do the job better. She also said in a statement that he is not “your typical Democrat,” calling him “pragmatic and pro-business.”

Christian’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Stogner’s endorsement comes as another Democratic statewide candidate, Mike Collier, has also been picking up Republican endorsements, most recently from former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff on Thursday.

A bit of background in case you need to be reminded about Sarah Stogner. Here’s more from the Chron.

Stogner announced the support Monday and appears in a new video for Warford. Stogner lost in the runoff to Wayne Christian, who is the incumbent and chairs the oil and gas regulatory agency.

“My thinking was, if my endorsement can help him bring some Republican voters to vote for him, it’s the right thing for Texas,” she said.

[…]

Stogner has been an outspoken critic of Christian, pointing to campaign contributions he receives from the oil and gas industry, and to his unwillingness to acknowledge climate change. In recent days, she has also offered support for Christian’s libertarian opponent, Jaime Andres Diez.

“I don’t think that this should be politicized,” Stogner said of the race. “And unfortunately, the incumbent is talking about the (border) wall and pro-life and things that he has absolutely no jurisdiction over.”

The three-member Railroad Commission regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. Christian, a former state legislator and financial planner, opposes new regulations and alternative energy such as wind and solar.

“I’m tired of career politicians mining their pocketbooks and ignoring what needs to be done,” Stogner said.

Here’s the new video:

Whatever one might say about Sarah Stogner, she likely has a lot more name recognition than your typical primary-losing candidate in a downballot race. She is good at getting earned media, which is nice. I’ve said before that I don’t think endorsements like this move a lot of votes, but they probably move a few. And for real, I’ve never seen this many prominent Republican endorsements of Texas Democrats. I don’t know how much that means, but it’s not nothing.

Data For Progress: Christian 44, Warford 40 (RRC)

From the inbox:

Luke Warford

The race for Texas Railroad Commission is up for grabs this November, with voters looking for change and Democratic nominee Luke Warford in a statistical tie with incumbent Wayne Christian.

A new poll from Data for Progress shows Democratic challenger Luke Warford with just a 4-point deficit to Republican incumbent Wayne Christian:

  • Once positive and negative messaging are applied, that gap narrows to just 2 points.

  • Notably, after positive bios of both candidates, Warford has a significant favorability lead: +44 compared to just +3 for Christian.

  • The 4-point margin shows a considerable tightening in the race from the last public poll, conducted in March, which showed an 11-point gap. The most recent poll was conducted from August 17-22 of 676 likely Texas voters.

“The race for the Texas Railroad Commission is ridiculously winnable,” said Luke Warford, Democratic Nominee for Texas Railroad Commission. “Texans are rightfully enraged at last February’s grid failure and the failures of the Texas Railroad Commissioners in preventing it. Time and time again, we see Commissioner Wayne Christian enriching his billionaire oil and gas executive donors at the expense of Texas consumers and Texans have had enough. As I’ve traveled across the state, folks have told me that they are fed up with the failed leadership at the Texas Railroad Commission and plan to hold Wayne Christian accountable this November.”

For obvious reasons, a poll featuring two low-profile candidates – in the details for each survey, you can see that very few people know who “Wayne Christian” or “Luke Warford” are – should be taken very lightly. But what the people who took these polls do know, because they were told, is that Christian is the Republican incumbent and Warford is the Democratic challenger. As such, I don’t think it’s a stretch to take these as proxies for basic partisan preference. On that score, the initial question in the March poll, in which respondents were only given names and parties, Christian led 46-35; in the August poll it was 44-40. For the followup question, asked after the respondents were given a brief biography of each, it was 48-40 in March and 45-43 in August, which is where that “statistical tie” claim comes from.

These are different polls, they both have “don’t know” or third party responses totaling over ten points, and there’s going to be a lot of money spent boosting multiple other candidates in the coming weeks. With all that, it seems clear that Dems are in a better position now than they were in March, which given everything we’ve seen nationally is perfectly reasonable. Where we go from here remains an open question, but this is the data we have today. Make of it what you will.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: State races

I don’t often follow the campaign finance reports in state races, mostly because they’re usually not that interesting and there’s too many races to look at if I was interested. I didn’t review these in January for the contested primaries, but I decided there are enough races that are worth checking on to have a peek at some July reports. I’ve noted the big Beto numbers, so I’ll skip that here.

Mike Collier, Lt Gov
Rochelle Garza, Attorney General
Janet Dudding, Comptroller
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner
Susan Hays, Ag Commissioner
Luke Warford, Railroad Commissioner

Morgan LaMantia, SD27

Daniel Lee, HD26
Luis Echagaray, HD52
Sheena King, HD61
Brittney Verdell, HD65
Jesse Ringness, HD66
Kevin Morris, HD67
Mihaela Plesa, HD70
Suleiman Lalani, HD76
Salman Bhojani, HD92
Elizabeth Ginsberg, HD108
Elva Curl, HD112
Frank Ramirez, HD118
Rebecca Moyer DeFelice, HD121
Angela Aramburu, HD122
Stephanie Morales, HD138


Candidate     Raised      Spent       Loan     On Hand
======================================================
Collier      693,806    226,315    450,500     534,242
Garza        518,054    107,134          0     445,817
Dudding       37,956     52,378     45,884      16,908
Kleberg      586,296    433,030    100,000     439,854
Hays          96,085     94,777          0      53,310
Warford      296,516    271,506     23,561     110,066

LaMantia     183,859    427,090  2,980,000      58,024

Lee            2,580        904      1,000      11,345
Echegaray      9,343      9,123          0       9,081
King          20,999     14,635          0           0
Verdell       16,711      4,252          0      16,669
Ringness       2,635      3,212          0       2,635
Morris        20,124     11,589          0       9,266
Plesa         80,030     45,215     59,000      45,793
Lalani        10,742     26,925    145,000      10,617
Bhojani       84,346     77,688    100,000      24,682
Ginsberg     105,297     22,587          0      83,152
Curl          27,622      7,455     10,000      35,274
Ramirez       43,423     32,299          0       6,962
DeFelice      64,110     40,476      5,000      35,460
Aramburu      38,353      8,289          0       5,063
Morales        6,131      3,252          0       8,583

I’m looking at the non-Beto and non-judicial statewide races, the one open State Senate seat that could be interesting, and a handful of State House races based partly on 2020 election data and my own idiosyncrasies. There were a few State House races that might be intriguing on paper, I couldn’t find a finance report for the candidate in question. If there’s a race that I’ve skipped that offends you, let me know in the comments.

Remember that these reports may cover different time spans, depending on the candidate’s primary status. Candidates who had no primary opponent, such as Luis Echagaray in HD52, have reports that include all activity since January 1. Candidates who won their March primary, such as Daniel Lee in HD26, have reports that include all activity since February 21. And candidates who had to win a primary runoff, such as Suleimon Lalani in HD76, have reports that include all activity since May 16. Check the report itself if you’re not sure for a given candidate – the information is there on the first page.

Mike Collier is one of those who had to endure a runoff, so that $693K is since mid-May. That in itself is not too bad – it’s not particularly eye-catching, but it’s a decent pace and will add up over time. To that extent, here are the totals Collier has posted over other periods since last year:

Feb 20 – May 14 – $487,963
Jan 21 – Feb 19 – $124,329
Jan 01 – Jan 20 – $55,989
Jul 01 – Dec 31 – $826,861
Jan 01 – Jun 30 – $757,109

That’s nearly $3 million raised since the beginning of 2021. It’s not a huge amount – you may not be aware of this, but Texas is a big state with a lot of media markets and it costs a crapton of money to effectively advertise statewide as a result – but it’s not nothing. If Collier can continue at the pace from his last report, he’ll collect a couple million dollars by November. Maybe that’s another reason why Republicans are now attacking him.

Rochelle Garza and Jay Kleberg, who were also in the May runoffs, posted their own $500K-plus totals for the six weeks of their periods. I won’t do the same listing as I did for Collier, but I can tell you that Garza has raised about $1.1 million and Kleberg about $2 million since last November. The same caveats as with Collier apply, but I can’t think of any election since maybe 2002 where multiple statewide Dems posted similar numbers. As I’ve said elsewhere, whatever you’ve budgeted to give to Beto, leave a little room for Collier and Garza and Kleberg and the others.

SD27 is the Senate seat that Eddie Lucio is finally vacating. Morgan LaMantia won the nomination in the runoff, so her totals are from May 15. SD27 was moderately Democratic in 2020 after having been much more Democratic in 2016, so it’s one to watch for signs of either a rebound or further decay. There was a recent Trib story that I don’t feel like looking for with a headline that says Republicans are mulling whether to pour money into this one. I don’t know why they wouldn’t, but I guess even they don’t have infinite resources and have to choose their priorities.

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to most of these State House races, many of which were uncontested in March. I didn’t even recognize a few of the names before I went looking for their reports. HDs 70 (Collin County) and 92 (Tarrant) are new Democratic districts drawn to shore of neighboring Republican districts. HD76 had been a Democratic district in El Paso, and is now a Democratic district in Fort Bend. The rest for the most part are districts Trump won by less than ten points, with HD118 being a slight Biden seat that the Republicans won in a special election last year. Frank Ramirez is back for a second shot at it, and I’d certainly like to see a bigger cash on hand number in that one. Otherwise, not much here to grab your attention, with the possible exceptions of Elizabeth Ginsburg, who hopes to flip one of the last two red districts in Dallas County, and Rebecca Moyer DeFelice, running in HD121, the Bexar County equivalent of HD134 (and HD108, for that matter).

This concludes my tour of the July finance reports. I expect to look at the 30-day reports for Harris County, and maybe the 8-day reports for it as well. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

A handful of stories about statewide primaries

Let’s talk about Sarah.

Sarah Stogner

One November evening in far West Texas, Sarah Stogner decided to strip down to pasties and her underwear, plus boots and a cowboy hat, and climb onto an oil pumpjack while a small film crew watched.

The crew, in town to film a documentary about an unplugged oil well spewing contaminated fluids, was sharing beers with Stogner when one of the videographers said they always wanted to do an artistic photo shoot on a pumpjack, Stogner recalled.

“And I thought, oh my God, yes, what if I got naked or almost naked on top of it?” Stogner said. “This will be hilarious. Just for our own fun. I didn’t have any grand schemes with it. But fuck it, this will be fun.”

In February, the video turned into a now-viral campaign ad for the 37-year-old oil and gas attorney from Monahans, who is running for a seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas, the regulatory agency in charge of the state’s massive oil and gas sector. Stogner released the five-second video on Super Bowl Sunday in a tweet with the caption: “They said I needed money. I have other assets.”

“I need to get people’s attention, right?” Stogner said in an interview, adding that she didn’t want to do that in a “pornographic” way.

“And here we are, it’s working,” she said, listing various news stories about her campaign since the video went public.

Stogner’s seminude stunt is only the latest twist in what has become the strangest Republican primary campaign for Railroad Commission in decades. The incumbent, Railroad Commission Chair Wayne Christian, is facing corruption allegations after he voted — against the recommendation of Railroad Commission staff — to approve a permit for an oil field waste dump facility, then days later accepted a $100,000 campaign donation from the company that received the permit.

Another candidate, Marvin “Sarge” Summers, died earlier this month on the campaign trail after crashing into a tanker truck in Midland.

Despite the agency’s power over Texas’ largest industry — including the natural gas system, a crucial element of the Texas power grid that failed last year during a powerful winter storm, leaving millions of people without power for days — elections for the three-member board that oversees it typically don’t generate much attention from voters.

“They might know about it now because of Sarah Stogner,” said Tom Slocum Jr., a 38-year-old engineering consultant from the Houston area who is one of the four surviving candidates in the Republican primary.

The Chron was all over Stogner’s attention-grabbing ad last week, which one must admit achieved its purpose. Stogner makes some good points, which is not something I’m accustomed to saying about Republican politicians in their primaries these days. It’s easy enough to look good in comparison to the extreme sleaze of incumbent Wayne Christian, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into coherent policymaking or campaigning; one of her opponents is running on “building the border wall and protecting gun ownership”, two things that the Railroad Commission does not do. That said, Stogner also voted for Allen West and Louie Gohmert, so don’t go holding her up as some kind of exemplar. Democrat Luke Warford, who is unopposed and therefore not mentioned in that Trib story, is still by far your best bet.

For Land Commissioner, you have some good choices, and then you have the Republicans.

Most Republicans seeking the GOP nomination list the Alamo project as a top priority, though one also wants to use the office to decrease immigration at the Texas-Mexico border. The top focuses of Democrats running include prioritizing public school funding, limiting how the agency contributes to climate change and improving natural disaster responses.

[…]

The Democratic nominating contest is also wide open. Sandragrace Martinez, a licensed professional mental health counselor from San Antonio, led her opponents in the Hobby School of Public Affairs poll, with 17% of primary voters saying they would support her.

She did not respond to a request for comment.

Other Democrats in the race are focusing on public education funding and how the agency can mitigate climate change.

The land commissioner also heads the School Land Board, which manages a portfolio that financially supports public schools. In 2018, the School Land Board declined to pass money to the State Board of Education and instead opted to give $600 million directly to schools.

Democratic candidate Jay Kleberg of Austin, director of the nonpartisan civic engagement group Texas Lyceum, disagrees with the School Land Board’s decision. And he wants to remove a cap on how much money the School Land Board can give the SBOE.

The General Land Office is authorized to undertake land leases to develop solar, wind or other renewable energy. Kleberg, the former associate director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, also wants to capture and store carbon emissions beneath acres of state lands. He said doing this will reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

“We can start to reverse again that No.1 ranking as a [carbon dioxide] emitter in the nation by burying that in the ground, by operating more responsibly on General Land Office lands and by diversifying our portfolio into lower emission, cleaner energy production,” Kleberg said.

Candidate Jinny Suh of Austin, founder of Immunize Texas, a statewide pro-vaccine advocacy group, similarly wants to adopt renewable energy sources and maximize protocols for oil and gas companies the General Land Office leases with.

“Things like capping their methane emissions, things like making sure that they take care of cleaning up whatever water that they use in their processes, so that they don’t damage the environment. These are all things that will help reduce our carbon footprint and also help prepare us for the future,” Suh said.

Michael Lange, an investment and operational risk director from Houston, said his background in corporate America will allow him to support students and teachers who need more assistance. Lange acknowledges climate change as a factor for natural disasters happening in Texas. The General Land Office has the authority to administer funds in the event of natural disasters like hurricanes. Lange said the office should also help with relief long after an event, since disasters can displace people for months.

“If you had after the event disaster plan that didn’t last just for six weeks, but it lasted until it was done and included things like working in partnerships along the coast, like to use an area women’s center and say, ‘Look, we have to have these facilities available to help people,’ so the planning is not just the preparatory for the hurricane, but after it finishes, that’s the responsibility of the Texas land commissioner,” Lange said.

You can still listen to my interviews with Jinny Suh and Jay Kleberg. The Meyerland Area Dems had a statewide candidate forum on Monday night, the video for which is here – scroll to the 47:00 mark to see the Land Commissioner part of it, which included Suh, Kleberg, and Lange. Martinez has been the least visible candidate so far, and I fear she’ll make it into the runoff anyway. These things happen in lower-profile races.

The Trib doesn’t have a recent story about the Ag Commissioner race, but the Chron does.

The three Republicans running for Texas agriculture commissioner sat next to each other behind a wooden table, all wearing white cowboy hats, none of them speaking.

In the middle, state Rep. James White stared straight ahead at the crowd that had gathered for the candidate forum at Sirloin Stockade, hosted by the Williamson County Republican Women. His arms were crossed.

For weeks, White has attacked Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller for his history of run-ins with the Texas Ethics Commission and the Texas Rangers, saying it is evidence of a lack of personal integrity and a culture of misconduct within his office. White also has attacked Miller’s political record, describing him as a “fake conservative” and accusing him of jacking up fees on farmers to fund his pet projects at the department.

The other challenger, rancher and economics professor Carey Counsil of Brenham, has blasted Miller as “just not an ethical person.” Counsil launched his candidacy after Miller’s top political adviser was arrested on theft and bribery charges last year.

“I told you it was going to get sporty,” one spectator near the back whispered as Counsil attacked Miller as dishonest.

Sid Miller could give Ken Paxton a run for his blood money in the “sleaziest person currently in Texas politics” race. Not that any of his primary opponents are good, mind you, they just have less baggage. If you go back to that Meyerland Dems candidate forum video and either scroll to the 56-minute mark, or just keep watching after the Land Commissioner candidates finish up, you can hear from Susan Hays and Ed Ireson, both of whom would be an infinite improvement.

Did I just mention Ken Paxton? Sigh…

Attorney General Ken Paxton and his three Republican primary challengers are firing in all directions in the final days before the closely watched election.

Paxton is airing TV ads attacking U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler over his attendance record in Congress, while Gohmert is countering with his own commercial accusing Paxton of desperation. Meanwhile, Land Commissioner George P. Bush is running TV ads targeting Eva Guzman, the former state Supreme Court justice, who says Bush’s claims are “ludicrous.”

It is all making for a hectic end to the hotly contested primary, which recent polls suggest could go to a runoff. The polls have been less clear, though, on who Paxton could face in an overtime round. The election is March 1.

Blah blah blah…look, there are three truly terrible candidates in that race, plus one candidate who would be a more polished and presentable version of terrible. Don’t be fooled.

Finally, there’s this story about Lee Merritt, one of the Dem candidates for AG.

Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney who has made a name for himself nationally by representing the families of police brutality victims, is taking heat ahead of his race to be Texas’ top lawyer because he’s not licensed to practice in the state.

He has represented the families of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who was shot and killed in his apartment by a Dallas police officer; George Floyd, a 46-year-old man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes; and Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old man who was chased through a Georgia neighborhood by three white men and then shot to death.

In his bid for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, Merritt has lined up an impressive list of endorsements including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Dallas state Sen. Royce West and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But as Merritt’s star has risen, so have questions about his legal record in Texas.

The state constitution does not require the attorney general to be licensed to practice law. But that question isn’t the only shadow hanging over his practice. Merritt has also experienced notable blunders, like when he represented a woman in 2018 who falsely accused a Department of Public Safety trooper of sexually assaulting her. Merritt brought national attention to the incident, but police camera footage disproved it just days later, forcing him to apologize for the misstep.

During a Democratic primary debate hosted by the AFL-CIO labor union in January, candidate Joe Jaworski brought up Merritt’s lack of a Texas license and said his ability to practice law in the state was a “big difference” between the two candidates.

“I have a Texas law license and I’ve had it for 31 years,” said Jaworski, the former Galveston mayor, during the debate. “Lee, I have great respect for his civil rights practice — I think he is truly an awesome agent of social change — [but] that is a big difference between us. He needs to be able to show that he can go into Texas state court, like an attorney general should.”

Merritt, in an interview with The Texas Tribune, said he’s in the process of getting licensed. “I am working on it,” he said. “I’m doing that because it helps minimize confusion, but I don’t see it as a necessity of the office.”

Jaworski declined to comment for this story, as did Rochelle Garza, one of the other candidates in the race. The primary is March 1.

Mike Fields, another candidate in the race, said it could create a “weird situation” if the employees under the attorney general had met a requirement that the elected official had not, but he gave Merritt the benefit of the doubt.

“It shouldn’t impede his ability to do the job, but I understand the concern,” Fields said. “Based on what I’ve heard from him and looking at his history, certainly he’s up to the task, and I think he’s rectifying that situation. But that’s gonna be between him and the state bar.”

I don’t really have anything to add to that. Merritt is a highly accomplished attorney, I have no doubt he can easily be licensed, and I’m also sure his current status will be made an issue if he is the nominee. It is what it is. One more time, I will direct you to the Meyerland Dems candidate forum video, where at the 22-minute mark you can hear from Merritt, Jaworski, Garza, and Fields. You can also start from the beginning and hear from Mike Collier and Carla Brailey for Lite Guv, and in between the AGs and the Land Commishes there are Comptroller candidates Janet Dudding and Tim Mahoney. If you’re still figuring out who to vote for, that will help.

It’s the power grid, stupid

It’s also a campaign theme.

Texas Democrats want to talk about the power grid.

Specifically, they want to talk about how it failed in February, how they don’t think enough has been done to fix it and why they believe Republicans in statewide leadership positions are the ones to blame.

Democratic candidates and strategists see the power grid as the Republican party’s biggest vulnerability — and they see highlighting it as their best shot at winning crossover voters in the state’s 2022 election cycle, which is expected to be an uphill battle for the minority party.

In stump speeches and messages to supporters, Democrats say that GOP leaders failed at fixing the shortcomings of the state’s energy infrastructure that led to millions of Texans losing power for multiple days during a winter storm in February, which resulted in a death toll that has been calculated as ranging from 210 to more than 700 people.

Beto O’Rourke, the frontrunner to challenge Republican Greg Abbott for governor, has said the two-term incumbent did “absolutely nothing” to heed warnings despite a previous electricity blackout in 2011. Mike Collier, who is running for lieutenant governor, coined the slogan “fix the damn grid” as one of his campaign’s top priorities. And Luke Warford, who is running for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and natural gas industry, has made “Let’s keep the lights on!” his campaign slogan.

“It makes sense for Democrats to want to channel those doubts and put them front and center,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “About the only good thing for Democrats about the extended Republican monopoly [in state politics] and their demonstrated inability to break that monopoly is that there’s only one political party that can be blamed.”

Republicans, not surprisingly, disagree. It’s not much of a campaign slogan if there’s no conflict. The story notes that 1) the public largely agrees with the position that Abbott and the Lege didn’t do enough, according to the polling data we have; 2) the state’s own studies say we’re still vulnerable to blackouts under the right (or wrong, depending on how you want to look at it) set of circumstances; and 3) numerous Republicans, from Dan Patrick to the pack of jackals running against Abbott in the Republican primary, think that Abbott and the Lege didn’t do enough to fix the problem. As I said, this is Greg Abbott’s bet, that things will be sufficiently OK through the next winter and summer, and if so he’ll claim the credit for it. Only time will tell.

Those pesky high utility rates

Still a problem.

Those of us who lived through Winter Storm Uri have hardly forgotten the experience, of course. But we’ll have a little reminder of it on our gas bills. Every month. For the next decade. At least.

And should we face a similar winter weather disaster soon, as we may, well, that’s all right — any costs incurred then can simply be added to the tab, too.

“There’s a huge moral hazard here,” says Doug Lewin, an energy consultant based in Austin who, like many Texans, sustained serious property damage in February, thanks to a busted pipe.

The Railroad Commission of Texas on Wednesday approved a plan under which the Texas Public Finance Authority will issue $3.4 billion in state-backed bonds to pay back the natural gas suppliers that remained in operation during the February storm.

The move has been in the works for a while. During the crisis, as you no doubt recall, the price of gas soared to historic heights, as utilities scrambled over limited supplies. A Bloomberg analysis found that gas producers reaped $11 billion in profits as a result.

Those costs would have been passed on to consumers directly, but legislators this year passed a measure, House Bill 1520, allowing for the bill to be spread out via the securitization process. As ratepayers, we’re still on the hook for the $3.4 billion, but we’ll pay it back in smaller increments, over a longer period of time; utilities expect the costs for each customer to be roughly $5 a month.

The House Research Organization, in its bill analysis, summarized the argument from supporters: “State policies have been cited as contributing factors that led to the widespread power outages experienced by millions of Texans. Therefore, it would be appropriate for the state to play a role in minimizing the impact of the storm to ratepayers and utilities, including through securitization of certain costs.”

[…]

Industry executives and trade associations have suggested that stronger state action is not necessary because power producers themselves have an incentive to winterize. If they weren’t able to produce during Uri, they missed out on an unusually profitable week. During the course of the storm, natural gas spot prices soared across the country. And the Electric Reliability Council of Texas set prices at $9,000 per megawatt-hour — the highest allowable rate and several hundred times higher than the typical rate — in a desperate effort to get more power on the grid.

But that logic doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. If every producer had adequately winterized, none of them would have been able to make hay over the situation. From a coldly calculating perspective — if we’re just looking at the heartless logic of economic incentives — the optimal move would be to partially weatherize; that way, in the event of another storm, you would have less product to sell, but at comically higher prices.

“I’m not one of these people who thinks the oil and gas industry is evil or something like that, but they need a clear, strong regulatory signal of what they need to do,” said Lewin. “They are for-profit businesses. If they don’t have a clear regulatory signal, they will follow price signals — and the price signal tells them these kind of events are great for the bottom line.”

“What industry doesn’t like making 11 billion in one week?” he added.

Executives themselves seem content with the current regime. In June, for example, oilman Kelcy Warren donated $1 million to Gov. Greg Abbott’s reelection campaign. His company, Energy Transfer Partners, had its best quarter ever during the storm, raking in an additional $2.4 billion as a result.

We’ve discussed this before. Author Erica Greider notes that this will be an issue in the race for Railroad Commissioner. I hope she’s right, and that it’s more than just in that race. The more we talk about it, the better those chances are.

And it’s not just your heating bills.

Have you looked at retail electricity prices lately?

On the suggestion of readers, I pulled up the state-sponsored marketing site — PowerToChoose.org (beware of imitators) — and it was like I stuck my finger in a wall socket. I was shocked.

For as long as The Watchdog can remember, the opening pages usually highlighted kilowatt hour rates of around 6 to 9 cents.

Now the opening pages show double-digit pricing of 10 cents or more.

Prices of the two dominant players in the market — TXU Energy and Reliant Energy — offer an added jolt.

TXU shows one-year plans for 1,000 kWh around 12 cents. Another listed plan offers a 15.9 cents rate.

On the TXU website, I saw different plans that varied from those presented on the state website. A reminder that with all companies, always remember to check both PowerToChoose and that company’s website.

Reliant shows plans on the state site from 13.4 cents to 15.2 cents for various kWh usage.

[…]

What do Texas experts say about these price jumps?

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, says the banning of Griddy, which sold power at wholesale prices, removed a major incentive for retailers to keep their prices down to compete.

He says the increase in natural gas prices we’re seeing is another cause because many Texas power plants run on gas. He blames hurricanes which struck the Gulf of Mexico.

He also blames the Texas government’s bailout allowing companies to recoup billions of lost dollars during the horrific February freezeout through the purchase of $6.5 billion in bonds. Those costs will be passed on to consumers.

When the Texas Legislature sided with companies over consumers, he said, “You know the game is fixed.”

Beth Garza, who served until 2019 as the independent monitor of grid operator ERCOT, said companies selling one-year contracts must anticipate higher prices expected to increase during the length of those contracts.

James Boyle, who once led Texas’ Office of Public Utility Counsel, said: “We all know that what happened in the legislative session is that everybody was taken care of except the home folks. And the consumer pays for everybody else’s mistakes. I think that’s reflected in those prices.”

Kelso King, who runs King Energy Consulting and monitors all Public Utility Commission meetings, warns that still to come is the pass-through to consumers of the multi-billion-dollar bailout for energy companies. That was the solution approved by lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott.

King added, “For decades, policymakers kept saying that the great thing about a competitive market was that all of the risks would be borne by generators instead of ratepayers. But when it came down to it, unsurprisingly, end use customers were left holding the bag.”

More fruit of the same tree. I agree that the original appeal to our “free market” in electricity was that providers would bear the risk of price fluctuations, but other than the late and not-really-lamented Griddy that hasn’t been the case. Of course, given the massive effect that big donors have on the system, how can you even call it a free market?

Luke Warford announces for Railroad Commissioner

He’s got the right idea about what to run on.

Luke Warford

A 32-year-old former top staffer for the Texas Democratic Party is running for a spot on the three-person commission regulating the state’s oil and gas industry, hoping to unseat Republican incumbent Wayne Christian with a chief focus on the power grid failure earlier this year.

Luke Warford, the party’s former chief strategy officer, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune that he is running for the Texas Railroad Commission “because I genuinely think this is one of the most important elected offices in the state and because the current people serving on the commission are only looking out for their interests and the interests of their friends, not the interests of Texans.”

“No time was that clearer than during the winter storm,” Warford said, faulting the commission for not doing enough to ensure natural gas companies “weatherize” their facilities, or prepare them for extreme weather.

Christian announced months ago that he would seek a second term in 2022, and Warford is an underdog. The 2020 Democratic nominee for railroad commissioner, Chrysta Castañeda, lost by 9 percentage points, despite getting national money and facing a little-known Republican, Jim Wright, who had unseated an incumbent in the primary.

Warford is undeterred, saying he believes the grid failure “fundamentally changes the calculus” for the race. The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that voters are very dissatisfied with how lawmakers responded to the crisis, with 18% approving and 60% disapproving.

Warford may or may not have the primary to himself – filing season still hasn’t begun, so we just don’t know yet. He may be a great candidate on paper, but we’ve all seen good candidates struggle to make themselves known to primary voters because they don’t have any money, and we know what kind of random results we can get because of it. So while I’m glad to see him in the race and I’m especially glad to see the issues he wants to prioritize, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

All that said, Warford has the right idea for how to position this campaign. The freeze and the blackout are necessarily going to be big issues, and the Railroad Commission is uniquely placed to do something about what happened. I fully expect there will be similar messaging from the top of the ticket, which will help. I mean, probably 90% of the state has no idea who or what the Railroad Commission is, but thanks to that deeply scarring incident from earlier this year, more people have likely at least seen a mention of it, and should be receptive to hearing about what they have (not) done and what they can do to make sure another disastrous freeze-induced blackout doesn’t happen again.

Both incumbent Wayne Christian, a former backbencher in the Lege, and Democrat Grady Yarbrough, an annoying perennial candidate, were bigtime underperformers in the 2016 election. Both got the fewest votes for their party on the statewide ballot. Nearly 750K voters, a bit more than 8.5% of the total, picked one of the third-part candidates instead. Some of that is because voters’ attention tends to wander a bit in those lower-profile races, and some of that was because those two were and are unqualified chuckleheads. We can at least take care of our side of that equation this year. Beyond that, raising enough money to make sure the voters know who’s who on this ballot is going to be critical. I welcome Luke Warford to the race and hope he can pull his weight and get the support he’s going to need if he’s the nominee. The Chron has more.