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Morgan Meyer

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.

Precinct analysis: State House districts 2020, part 1

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.

The Republicans are not going to expand Medicaid

Maybe there was a brief moment, when the budget situation looked dire, when the forbidden topic could have been quietly whispered about. But come on, we know the score.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texas Republicans have long resisted expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, unswayed by the promise of billions in new federal aid for a state perennially ranked last in health coverage. But last fall, with their state House majority on the line and the uninsured rate climbing again amid the pandemic, conservative support seemed to be building.

On the campaign trail, Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, said she was newly open to expanding the public insurance program under limited conditions. Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, expressed support for a broader expansion than he had previously. Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, tweeted that lawmakers should “seriously consider accessing federal Medicaid funding” in the next legislative session.

“This is money we’re sending to the federal government and not getting back,” he wrote.

With the session now underway, the party is facing a reckoning on the issue. All but a dozen states including Texas have expanded Medicaid since President Barack Obama’s signature health care law passed in 2010. It is broadly popular in Texas, according to polls. And Republicans in swing districts have come under increasing pressure from voters to address the state’s ballooning uninsured rate, which was at 18.4 percent before the pandemic, or about 5.2 million people.

House Republicans have yet to file any bills, though lawmakers said work is happening behind the scenes on a measure that could satisfy the GOP majority. Staffers for Button, Meyer and Larson either did not respond to messages or said they were unavailable to comment.

Finding widespread approval will be tough, and proponents lost a key leverage point this month when the outgoing Trump administration extended part of a waiver that helps Texas hospitals cover uncompensated care. While the move does not expand health coverage, it does ensure that emergency care is reimbursed for struggling hospital systems that treat low-income patients.

“The 1115 waiver was never meant to be a permanent fix,” said Sarah Davis, a former Republican state representative who favors expansion. “It was really supposed to be kind of like a bridge, because we were assuming — or the government was assuming — that the state would be expanding Medicaid.”

In the Senate, Republicans are likely to oppose any expansion bills. The upper chamber has blocked past attempts and killed legislation last session that sought even a narrow expansion, for new moms. A Senate committee omitted the option entirely in a report last year on ways to lower the state’s uninsured rate.

See here for more on the 1115 waiver. As the story notes, Greg Abbott has no interest in expanding Medicaid, either. I can believe there are some Republican State Reps, especially in tight-margin urban/suburban districts, who’d vote for some form of Medicaid expansion if a bill came up, but that’s a long way away from convincing Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. You want to expand Medicaid, you need to vote for the candidates from the party that wants to expand Medicaid. It ain’t happening otherwise. This is our sixth regular session post-Obamacare, the track record should be perfectly clear by now.

Here’s the official budget forecast

“Could be worse” remains the watchword.

Texas lawmakers will enter the legislative session this week with an estimated $112.5 billion available to allocate for general purpose spending in the next two-year state budget, a number that’s down slightly from the current budget but is significantly higher than what was estimated this summer when the coronavirus began to devastate the economy.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Monday announced that number in his biennial revenue estimate, which sets the amount lawmakers can commit to spending when they write a new budget this year. But he acknowledged that Texas’ economic future remains “clouded in uncertainty” and that numbers could change in the coming months.

Hegar also announced a nearly $1 billion deficit for the current state budget that lawmakers must make up, a significantly smaller shortfall than Hegar expected over the summer. That number, however, doesn’t account for 5% cuts to state agencies’ budgets that Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ordered this summer or any supplemental changes to the budget lawmakers will have to make.

Hegar’s estimates portend a difficult budget-writing session for lawmakers. But Hegar acknowledged that things could have been a lot worse. The $112.5 billion available is down from $112.96 billion for the current budget.

See here for the previous update. I continue to hope that Congress will throw a boatload of state and local aid our way in the coming months, which will also help, but at least we’re not in truly dire territory. And bizarrely enough, there may be a silver lining in all this.

But advocates hope the pandemic, combined with the revenue crunch, could lead to an unlikely bipartisan agreement. Before the pandemic hit, Democrats saw a takeover of the Texas House as key for advancing the prospects of Medicaid expansion in the state. But as COVID-19 has ravaged the state economy and thrown even more Texans into the ranks of the uninsured, Democrats are guardedly optimistic this could persuade enough Republicans to put aside their political hangups and support expansion—even as Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton leads a national lawsuit to eliminate the entire Affordable Care Act.

Texas is one of 12 remaining states that have refused the federally subsidized Medicaid expansion, despite having the highest rate and largest population of uninsured residents in the country. Expanding Medicaid would cover 1 million uninsured Texans and bring in as much as $5.4 billion to the state, according to a September report by researchers at Texas A&M University.

State Representative Lyle Larson, a moderate Republican, voiced his support for expanding Medicaid soon after the election, pointing to six GOP-led states that have done so in the past three years. “It is a business decision,” Larson wrote on Twitter, noting that the move would help with the revenue shortfall and COVID-19 response, address rural hospital closures, and expand access to care. Dallas County Representatives Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button, both Republicans, pulled out razor-thin victories to keep their House seats after voicing support for some type of Medicaid expansion in their campaigns.

Even conservative state Senator Paul Bettencourt acknowledged that the fiscal crunch will force consideration of Medicaid expansion. “My back-of-the-napkin analysis shows that’s a $1.6 billion item, like that—boom!” he told the Dallas Morning News in September. “I’m pretty sure we don’t have that falling out of trees,” he said. “You can put Medicaid expansion up at the top of the list. There will be a debate.”

But there’s still plenty of staunch opposition. “For those that promote [expansion], I haven’t heard what they’re willing to cut,” state Senator Kelly Hancock, a Republican who chairs the Business and Commerce Committee, said in November. “It’s easy to talk about it until you have to pay for it, especially going into this budget cycle.”

As with casinos and marijuana, the smart money is always to bet against Medicaid expansion happening. But this is a bigger opening than I’ve seen in a long time, and while that’s still not saying much, it’s not nothing.

Please stop with the straight ticket voting anecdotes

Either bring me some real data or leave these just so stories alone.

Rep. Sarah Davis

Judging from Donald Trump’s unpopularity in Dallas County, Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button should have been doomed this November.

Meyer and Button are the only two remaining Republican state House members in the state’s second-most-populous county, where former Vice President Joe Biden’s margin over Trump was nearly 32 percentage points.

The margins were slimmer in Button’s and Meyer’s districts: Biden won Button’s district by 9 percentage points and Meyer’s by 14.

Still, the two Republicans will be returning to the Texas House next year. According to unofficial vote counts as of Friday, Button eked out a win by 223 votes. (Her Democratic opponent, Brandy K. Chambers, conceded last week, saying she won’t call for a recount.) Meyer won by a larger, but still narrow, margin of 1,634 votes.

What appears to have been their lifeline was a willingness of some Texas voters to split their tickets, rejecting Trump but nonetheless pulling the levers for the Republican Party’s other candidates. And it may have been aided by lawmakers’ decision to eliminate straight-ticket voting in the state, starting with this year’s election.

“Republicans are probably breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t invite people to take the easy way out” and do straight-ticket voting, said Sam Martin, an associate professor at Southern Methodist University. “The decision to end straight-ticket voting came at exactly the right moment for them.”

“It gives conservatives the opportunity to vote against Trump, but stick with their team,” Martin said.

Republicans weren’t the only beneficiaries of split tickets, however: State Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Eddie Morales Jr., who will replace state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, won their Democrat-held seats near the Texas-Mexico border after Trump carried each district by more than 50% of the vote share.

You know who wasn’t a beneficiary of the removal of the straight ticket option? Sarah Davis, who was ousted this year after winning in 2018, in a district that Beto O’Rourke carried with 60% of the vote, with the straight ticket option still available. This year she had a better opponent, and enough voters decided it was time for a change.

The issue is not the straight ticket option. People always had the ability to hit the straight ticket button and then change whatever votes they want to. They also had the option of not using it. People who wanted to vote a straight ticket, whether that meant pushing one button or 54 buttons (as was the case in Harris County this year), did so. It just took them longer. As the story notes later on, there are just fewer people who see value in splitting their tickets these days. If you want to lament that, I say place your blame on Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell. In the meantime, this horse is dead. Please stop hitting it.

Omnibus Election Day post

I was up really late last night, and there’s still a lot of votes to be counted. The SOS website was mostly trash, but a lot of county election sites took their sweet, sweet time even reporting any Election Day results. So here’s what I know right now, and I’ll have more tomorrow.

– The Presidential race is still unsettled as a lot of votes are to be counted. That may take a few days, but indications are decent for Biden at this point.

– Not in Texas, though. Biden was approaching five million votes as I write this, but he was trailing by six percent. The other Dems running statewide were losing by nine or ten. Still a fair number of Republicans who didn’t vote for Trump, and that made things redder downballot than you might have expected from the topline result. In a sense, 2020 was like 2018, in that the top Dem outperformed the others running statewide, but the gap at the top was wider.

– As of this writing, Dems appear to be on track to picking up one SBOE seat (SBOE5), reclaiming SD19, and likely sweeping the Appeals Court races that are anchored in Harris County; I have not checked the other Appeals Court races. Ann Johnson has knocked off Sarah Davis in HD134, and Gina Calanni is losing in HD132. Jon Rosenthal has a slim lead in HD135, while the two remaining Dallas County Republicans (Morgan Meyer in HD108 and Angie Chen Button in HD112) are hanging in, though Button’s lead is slimmer than Rosenthal’s. All other State House incumbents are winning, and all of the open seats are being held by the same party, which means that if all these races remain as they are…the composition of the Lege will be exactly as it is now, 83-67. Not what we were expecting, to say the least.

– Also not what we were expecting: As I write this, no Congressional seats appear poised to flip. Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred were re-elected, and Republicans have held onto all of their imperiled districts. Chalk that up to Trump and the rest of the statewide Rs doing better than the polls had suggested. One unexpectedly close race is in CD15, where Rep. Vicente Gonzalez was only leading by 6K votes as I write this. That said, none of the Election Day results from Hidalgo County were in for that race – all other counties except tiny Wilson were fully reported – so I would expect Gonzalez to win by a larger margin in the end.

(I should note that there’s a dispute in CD23, because of course there is.)

– Which leads to the uncomfortable fact that Trump did a lot better in the predominantly Latino counties in the Valley. I’m not going to get into that at this time – I guarantee, there are already a thousand thinkpieces about it – but the pollsters that showed him doing better and Biden lagging Clinton from 2016 were the winners of that argument. There will be many questions to be answered about that.

– Nothing terribly interesting in Harris County. Dems won all the countywide seats, but as noted lost in HD132 and HD138, and also lost in County Commissioners Court Precinct 3, so the Court remains 3-2 Dem. Note that Commissioners Court does its own redistricting, and after the 2010 election the Republican majority made CC2 a bit redder. I fully expect CC3 to shift in the Dem direction in the next map – it too was made redder after 2010 – but we’ll see how much of a difference it makes. Tom Ramsey has his work cut out for him. One change way downballot was Democrat Israel Garcia winning in the Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 race, knocking off longtime incumbent Russ Ridgway. Precinct 5 Constable Ted Heap managed to hang on.

– With 683 of 797 voting centers reporting, there were 1,595,065 votes cast in the Presidential race. Way down at the bottom of the ballot, in the two HCDE Trustee At Large races, there were 1,516,025 and 1,513,125 votes cast, a dropoff of about five percent. I think that should settle the straight-ticket voting question, at least for now.

– Fort Bend County completed its transition to Democratic. All Democratic countywide candidates won, with Eric Fagan becoming the first Black Sheriff in that county. Congratulations to all the winners.

I’ll have much more to say soon, but this is where we are very early on Wednesday morning. Good night and try to remain calm.

30 Day 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 3

Moving on to the 30-day campaign finance reports for the hot State Rep races outside the Houston area. As noted, a lot of candidates have been reporting big hauls, as has the HDCC, the fundraising committee for State House Democrats. As you know, I have split these into four parts. Part one, with statewide, SBOE, and State Senate, is here. Part two, with State House races from the Houston area, is here. Part three is this post, and part four will be for Democratic incumbents that may be targeted. I’m not going to be doing every race of course, just the ones of interest. I did not do the January reports for these races as there were just too damn many of them, but the July reports for these candidates are here.

Janet Dudding, HD14
John Raney, HD14

Eric Holguin, HD32
Todd Hunter, HD32

Keke Williams, HD54
Brad Buckley, HD54

Angela Brewer, HD64
Lynn Stucky, HD64

Sharon Hirsch, HD66
Matt Shaheen, HD66

Lorenzo Sanchez, HD67
Jeff Leach, HD67

John Gibson, HD84
John Frullo, HD84

Ray Ash, HD89
Candy Noble, HD89

Jeff Whitfield, HD92
Jeff Cason, HD92

Lydia Bean, HD93
Matt Krause, HD93

Alisa Simmons, HD94
Tony Tinderholt, HD94

Joe Drago, HD96
David Cook, HD96

Elizabeth Beck, HD97
Craig Goldman, HD97

Jennifer Skidonenko, HD106
Jared Patterson, HD106

Joanna Cattanach, HD108
Morgan Meyer, HD108

Brandy Chambers, HD112
Angie Chen Button, HD112

Celina Montoya, HD121
Steve Allison, HD121


Dist  Candidate        Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD14   Dudding         42,842    32,648        782      26,806
HD14   Raney           97,966    54,748          0     151,707

HD32   Holguin         55,568    41,276          0      14,292
HD32   Hunter         121,555   367,428          0   1,889,407

HD54   Williams       336,235   132,484          0     164,094
HD54   Buckley        435,989    20,313     30,300     303,905

HD64   Brewer         361,767    46,208          0     274,953
HD64   Stucky         323,609    79,398          0     255,623

HD66   Hirsch         419,159   150,523          0     324,489
HD66   Shaheen        253,546    41,857    122,000     302,131

HD67   Sanchez        692,854   206,865          0     233,734
HD67   Leach          531,541   111,167          0     485,813

HD84   Gibson          12,339     8,486          0       8,419
HD84   Frullo          34,525    11,045          0     352,123

HD89   Ash              4,763     3,112     10,419       1,375
HD89   Noble           41,690     9,648    130,000     151,748

HD92   Whitfield      362,947   222,294     19,700     236,445
HD92   Cason          219,158   241,377      5,000       1,305

HD93   Bean           219,347    63,322          0     198,808
HD93   Krause         194,110   244,470          0     516,077

HD94   Simmons        184,169   103,134          0      76,662
HD94   Tinderholt     304,348   251,650          0      48,878

HD96   Drago          321,421   146,177          0     201,787
HD96   Cook           409,945   100,664          0     370,913

HD97   Beck           501,011   280,456          0     263,172
HD97   Goldman        196,361   424,645          0     636,186

HD106  Skidonenko      53,210    50,246      1,635      15,862
HD106  Patterson       47,529    23,342          0     118,921

HD108  Cattanach      463,416   174,579          0     334,465
HD108  Meyer          565,760   183,019          0     647,878

HD112  Chambers       533,343   319,804          0     216,982
HD112  Button         512,117    83,976          0     953,840

HD121  Montoya        442,962   120,219          0     325,985
HD121  Allison        494,527   123,631    235,000     222,336

The difference between the races that are being seriously contested as a part of the State House takeover effort and those than are not is pretty clear. I would have liked to see more of an investment in Janet Dudding and Eric Holguin and Jennifer Skidonenko, but that’s not the direction that was taken. I admit they’re longer shots than the others, and they’ve done all right by themselves. We’ll see if we look at any of them as missed opportunities. As for John Gibson and Ray Ash, I’m probably the only person outside their immediate circle that has tracked them this closely. I see those districts, or at least those parts of the state, as future opportunities. May as well place the marker now.

As noted before, there’s a lot of in kind contributions on these reports, which tend to be campaign activity financed by the respective parties’ legislative PACs, Associated Republicans of Texas and the House Democratic Campaign Committee (HDCC). In some cases, like with Brad Buckley in HD54, this activity is most if not all of what is happening. One presumes Buckley would have spent more than $20K on his own re-election if that hadn’t been covered by the ART. You really have to look at the individual reports to get a feel for who’s being bolstered the most and who’s mostly pulling their own weight.

On that latter point, some of the decisions that I presume the committees are making are fascinating. Craig Goldman and Matt Krause were both sitting on a bunch of cash in July, so it makes sense that they were mostly doing their own spending. Morgan Meyer and Angie Chen Button were also loaded as of July, and yet both had over $200K spent on them. Maybe that represents a desire to keep at least one Republican State Rep in Dallas County, I don’t know. Like I said, these decisions are fascinating, and as someone viewing them from the outside, all I can do is speculate.

On the other side of that coin, Tony Tinderholt (running for re-election) and Jeff Cason (defending an open seat) had to spend themselves down to paltry levels, for reasons not fully clear to me. I get that even for state Republicans, the money isn’t infinite, but you’d think that you wouldn’t want to leave guys like that so exposed as we’re getting down to the wire. I’m open to suggestions as to what’s up with that.

Kudos to Lorenzo Sanchez, Elizabeth Beck, and Brandy Chambers for really hitting it out of the park, with Celina Montoya, Joanna Cattanach, and Sharon Hirsch right behind them. All of the Dem challengers are at least within parity of the Republicans, and that’s about all you can ask.

I don’t know how seriously to take this, but there was some polling of competitive districts, reported by Reform Austin, which includes a number of these candidates. Make of it as you will.

One more of these to come, looking at the targeted Dem legislators. I’ll have the Congressional finance reports next week. Let me know what you think.

Now we’re getting favorable State House polls

From the inbox:

Natali Hurtado

A recent poll of Texas House District 126, conducted for Democratic challenger Natali Hurtado’s campaign shows her essentially tied with Republican incumbent Sam Harless.

The poll of 401 likely voters, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, showed Hurtado trailing Harless by just a few points on the initial ballot test, within the poll’s 4.9% margin of error. After hearing balanced positive and negative messages about both candidates, Hurtado pulls to a dead heat, 47-47 percent.

The poll shows Donald Trump leading Joe Biden by just one point, 48-47 percent, in a district he won by 10 points in 2016.

“I am very encouraged by the results of this poll,” Hurtado said. “It shows that less than three months out from the election, we are surging and well positioned for victory on November 3rd.”

You can see a copy of the press release here. I have no further information about the poll, so make of it what you will. I do have a point to add, but first, have a look at this:

Click over to see further data on how the districts have shifted since 2012. The source for this tweet was these three tweets from Trib reporter Patrick Svitek. In those polls, Celina Montoya leads 49-42 in HD121, Brandy Chambers leads in HD112 48-46, and Joanna Cattanach leads in HD108 48-43.

Beto won all three districts in 2018, HD108 by 15, HD112 by ten, and HD121 by less than one. He lost HD126 by six points, while Trump carried it by ten. Other Republicans were winning it by twenty. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if Joe Biden is trailing him by one point there, that’s yet another clear sign we have a statewide tossup.

Later on, after I first drafted this post, we got this in the inbox as well:

Ann Johnson, the Democratic nominee for Texas House District 134 is already posting a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Sarah Davis, according to a new poll released today by the Johnson campaign.

The poll of likely voters was conducted by nationally acclaimed pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. A memo by Lake Research Partners can be downloaded here: www.AnnJohnson.com/poll.

It shows Johnson with 44 percent of votes and Davis with 42 percent of votes, with 13 percent of votes undecided. The margin of error is +/- 4.9 percent. Only 27 percent of voters say they plan to re-elect Davis, “one of the lowest ‘hard re-elect’ ratings we have seen this cycle,” according to Lake Research.

There is of course a Patrick Svitek tweet for this as well. The Biden number is 57-39 over Trump; it was 55-40 for Clinton over Trump in 2016, and 60-39 for Beto over Cruz in 2018. Facing an opponent with money and a real campaign with that backdrop, it’s hard to see how Sarah Davis survives.

You know the drill with internal polls, and with polls where the questions and detailed data are not made public. You also know that the Republicans are free to release their own polls, if they have any worth releasing. I’m happy to keep reporting these as long as they keep coming in.

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 3

Here I continue with a look at the State Rep races outside the Houston area where Dems are competing to flip seats. I did not look at the districts the Dems are defending, but I may return to that at a later date. Part One of my look at the July reports for state races is here, and Part 2 (the Houston-area State Rep districts) is here.

Janet Dudding, HD14
John Raney, HD14

Eric Holguin, HD32
Todd Hunter, HD32

Keke Williams, HD54
Brad Buckley, HD54

Angela Brewer, HD64
Lynn Stucky, HD64

Sharon Hirsch, HD66
Matt Shaheen, HD66

Lorenzo Sanchez, HD67
Jeff Leach, HD67

John Gibson, HD84
John Frullo, HD84

Ray Ash, HD89
Candy Noble, HD89

Jeff Whitfield, HD92
Jeff Cason, HD92

Lydia Bean, HD93
Matt Krause, HD93

Alisa Simmons, HD94
Tony Tinderholt, HD94

Joe Drago, HD96
David Cook, HD96

Elizabeth Beck, HD97
Craig Goldman, HD97

Jennifer Skidonenko, HD106
Jared Patterson, HD106

Joanna Cattanach, HD108
Morgan Meyer, HD108

Brandy Chambers, HD112
Angie Chen Button, HD112

Celina Montoya, HD121
Steve Allison, HD121


Dist  Candidate        Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD14   Dudding         30,064     5,975        782      24,482
HD14   Raney           40,550    13,736          0     123,179

HD32   Holguin         51,216    26,981          0      18,942
HD32   Hunter          43,750   293,821          0   2,125,012

HD54   Williams        66,107    16,840          0      26,165
HD54   Buckley         33,045    30,313     30,300      77,729

HD64   Brewer          55,651    14,009          0      40,548
HD64   Stucky          66,575    42,411          0     199,065

HD66   Hirsch         218,639    27,130          0     171,691
HD66   Shaheen         45,965    48,563    122,000     204,862

HD67   Sanchez         71,556    52,034     28,610       3,008
HD67   Leach          141,823   137,712          0     412,306

HD84   Gibson           4,310     2,738          0       4,533
HD84   Frullo          16,500    40,925          0     331,505

HD89   Ash                790       137     10,376         411
HD89   Noble           17,720     5,260    130,000     116,812

HD92   Whitfield      201,313    73,782     19,700     187,824
HD92   Cason           81,255    65,061      5,000      50,591

HD93   Bean           118,475    57,827          0     107,277
HD93   Krause         127,704    41,027          0     589,727

HD94   Simmons         62,265    28,203      1,090      38,466
HD94   Tinderholt      15,850    25,503          0      71,180

HD96   Drago          132,090    21,992          0     109,105
HD96   Cook            54,550    84,214          0     288,908

HD97   Beck           163,004    44,177          0     162,996
HD97   Goldman        292,777    85,870          0     866,662

HD106  Skidonenko      51,268    21,076      5,000      31,675
HD106  Patterson       79,575   125,850          0      91,055

HD108  Cattanach      181,290    65,495          0     122,179
HD108  Meyer          247,710   107,924          0     517,790

HD112  Chambers       168,585    61,104          0     157,394
HD112  Button          77,555    76,281          0     756,758

HD121  Montoya         90,861    13,313          0      61,233
HD121  Allison         73,190    94,274    235,000     113,077

As before, remember that those who were unopposed in March are reporting for the entire six month period of January 1 through June 30, those who won a contested March primary are reporting from February 23 through June 30, and those who had to win a primary runoff are reporting from February 23 through July 6. Check the individual reports if you’re not sure, and bear in mind that the presence or absence of a competitive race in this timeframe may have an effect on the numbers here.

While we saw a couple of Houston-area challengers raising serous money, we see quite a few more here. Several of them – Sharon Hirsch, Lydia Bean, Joanna Cattanach, Brandy Chambers, and Celina Montoya – are all repeat candidates, with Hirsch (who lost 50.3 to 49.7), Cattanach (50.1 to 49.9) and Chambers (51.0 to 49.0) being among the closest losses from 2018. The cash-on-hand situation is against them, though less so for Hirsch and Montoya than the others, but they will all have the resources they will need to compete. Overall, you really have to hand it to the Metroplex contenders, in Dallas and Tarrant and Collin and Denton, who really showed up in the first half of this year. If we do take back the House, this is where the bulk of it will happen.

We talked about the incumbency advantage in the last post, and wow does that vary from incumbent to incumbent. You have Todd Hunter, in a class by himself, with more typical results from the likes of Craig Goldman, Angie Chen Button, Morgan Meyer, Matt Krause, and Jeff Leach. Jared Patterson and Brad Buckley are first-termers, so you can cut them some slack; Candy Noble and Steve Allison are also first-termers, who have perhaps been a bit more diligent about the homework. Jeff Cason is defending an open seat. David Cook, also defending an open seat, is the honor roll recipient among the non-incumbent Republicans. These folks are all within the range of what one might expect, though I’d also expect Cason to step it up a notch if I were on that team.

And then there are the incumbents that make you go “Hmmm”. John Raney isn’t used to having competitive elections, but he’s been in the House since a 2011 special election, and you’d think he’d have a few bucks lying around just because. Tony Tinderholt has been targeted in November before, and as such his $15K raised in the period is just baffling. (Yes, I know, he is recovering from coronavirus, but as far as I can tell that was all in July, after this reporting period.) Now I feel like I really do need to check the targeted Dem incumbents, just to see if there are any equivalents to these guys in there.

As before, I suspect the 30-day reports will tell a much more revealing story. If you think there’s anything I’ve missed, let me know.

A slightly less rosy view of Democratic prospects

Here’s the latest race ratings from Texas Elects:

Texas Election Source has updated 27 race ratings based on the latest polling, July campaign finance reports and primary runoff results. Twenty of those races moved one column toward the Democrats’ advantage. Our complete ratings are located here. Thirteen Republican-held seats in the legislature or congressional delegation are rated Toss-up or Lean Democratic. No Democrat-held seat is rated below Lean Democratic after several seats formerly in the Toss-up column were shifted into the Lean Democratic column.

The most significant impact of the new ratings on our projections is in the Texas House. Democrats need a net of nine seats to retake a majority in the chamber. We project they will get six, up three from our April ratings, which would cut the Republicans’ advantage to 77-73 entering the 2021 legislative session. Seven more Republican-held seats are projected to be within 1.5 percentage points of the range we consider a toss-up race. Only two Democrat-held seats are projected to be within 1.5 percentage points of a toss-up.

Four Republican-held seats are rated Lean Democratic, listed from greatest to least lean:

  • HD134 – Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) vs. Ann Johnson (D)
  • HD138 open – Lacey Hull (R) vs. Akilah Bacy (D)
  • HD108 – Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) vs. Joanna Cattanach (D); and
  • HD66 – Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) vs. Sharon Hirsch (D).

Since 2010, the four House seats on the list have drifted an average of 7.3 percentage points bluer, relative to the state as a whole. Two seats in other chambers – CD23 and SD19 – are also rated Lean Democratic. They have gotten relatively redder but remained 3.9 and 9.1 percentage points bluer than the state as a whole in 2018. We are projecting SD19 to get another 1.4 percentage points redder, but even that keeps it just .07% from being labeled as Likely Democratic.

Incidentally, HD134 would rate as Likely Democratic but for Davis’s consistent over-performance of other Republicans in the district. In 2018, the average Democrat received 55% of the vote in her district measured head-to-head against the Republican, but Davis survived thanks to ticket-splitting voters. Longtime political observers will remember former Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) who held onto his district by finishing as much as 19 points better than the rest of the Democratic slate. He was overwhelmed by rising Republican leanings in 2010 but still over-performed the rest of the ticket by 12 points. We project Davis’s ability to win over ticket-splitting voters will not be enough this year.

Dallas Co. was the epicenter of the Democratic surge in 2018. Only two Republicans represent the county in the state House currently, and we project that number will be zero after November. Tarrant Co., home to five races rated Toss-up or Lean Republican, and Fort Bend Co., with three seats in the Lean and Likely Republican columns, are expected to be the chief battleground counties in the House this year.

There’s more, so go read the rest. Texas Elects has a lot of premium content, but the free stuff is worth checking regularly.

Unlike the exuberant Capitol Inside projections, Texas Elects has the Dems falling short of a majority in the House, though it does expect three Congressional seats and SD19 to flip, and it has all of the statewide races as “Lean Republican”. You might be wondering about the inclusion of some Dem-held seats on the table, but as noted before, HDs 31, 34, and 74 are three of the four most purple districts out there that were held by Dems prior to 2018. They could be vulnerable in a bad year for Dems, though I don’t think this is that kind of year. As for HD41 and HD144, I can’t say I’m worried about them.

As that Capitol Inside projection was ebullient for Dems, this one is more sober. It sounds a little crazy to say when you think of the decade in total, but a six-seat pickup by Dems in the Lege would feel disappointing. It’s well within the range of possibility, and if all we ever think about is the best case scenario we’re not being honest with ourselves. All projections are art as well as science, in that you have to decide which factors are the most important and by how much. Individual candidates and fundraising prowess mean a lot, but so does the national environment, and so do demographic trends.

As far as candidates mattering goes, read that analysis of the HD134 race carefully. I come back to this a lot, but the key thing that happened in HD134, and in CD07 (which includes almost all of HD134) is exactly that the Democratic shift from 2016 to 2018 went much deeper than the top of the ticket. The average Republican judicial candidate won CD07 by thirteen points in 2016, and won HD134 by eight. In 2018, the average Republican judicial candidate barely won CD07. I didn’t do the exact same analysis for the State House districts, because I spent so much time talking about straight tickets and undervoting, but in service of that analysis I did this sample of judicial races, and as you can see each Dem was over fifty percent in HD134, by varying amounts. The point is, the fundamental nature of HD134 has shifted from “a Republican district that will sometimes support specific Democrats” to “a Democratic district that has – at least till now – supported Sarah Davis”. That’s what she’s up against this year, not just her November opponent but the baggage of the entire Republican Party and the prospect of a Democratic Speaker. She could hang on, and for sure she should not be underestimated, but this year, for the first time, she’s the underdog.

Anyway. I love this kind of analysis because it makes me think about my own assumptions and expectations for the year. Go take a look and see what you think.

Bonnen “likely violated” the law

Well, isn’t that special?

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The House General Investigating Committee on Friday unanimously adopted a report from its legal advisers that said House Speaker Dennis Bonnen “likely violated” state law during a June meeting with a fellow member and a hardline conservative activist — though members didn’t raise the idea of any possible action against Bonnen and said the investigation was closed.

“Today’s action concludes the committee’s investigation,” said state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the committee, after members met behind closed doors for over an hour.

Meyer, who left the hearing room at the Texas Capitol without taking questions from reporters, said the full report from the three legal advisers retained in October by the committee would be “promptly transmitted” to House members. The committee did not immediately release the report to the public, though a copy was later obtained by The Texas Tribune.

The report concluded by saying the information produced “militates against criminal prosecution” against either Bonnen or state Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican considered one of the speaker’s top lieutenants who involved in the political fallout — a line that the speaker’s office reiterated in a statement after the news.

“The committee has confirmed what we have known for months and the conclusion of their report speaks for itself,” Cait Meisenheimer, a spokesperson for Bonnen, said in a statement.

Bonnen “likely violated” section 572.051(a) of the Texas Government Code, according to Meyer, who was reading from the report during the committee hearing — but advisers in the report said the law provided no “independent statutory consequences” for a state official who breaches it.

[…]

Democrats, for their part, said that Friday’s news reiterated the need for the Texas Legislature to pass “substantial ethics reforms.”

“It is unfortunate that Chairman Meyer scheduled today’s hearing to be part of a Friday news dump right before the holidays,” state Rep. Chris Turner, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement. “If the committee has found that there is no consequence for transacting campaign business in the state capitol building or exchanging House media credentials for political favors, then we need to pass new laws. House Democrats will be ready to lead that effort when the Legislature convenes in 2021.”

Further action is now up to the full 150-member House. The General Investigating Committee, according to House rules, can propose articles of impeachment — but did not do so during Friday’s hearing.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the report. It’s a little frustrating to see the committee acknowledge that there was likely a violation of the law, then state that there’s basically nothing to be done about it. Not that I think Dennis Bonnen needs to be thrown in jail, just that it’s always annoying to see powerful people get away with abusing their power. Then again, at least Bonnen will be out of power soon enough, and not by his preference. It’s something, if not wholly adequate. Read the report and see what you think. And very much yes, this is a thing Democrats should make a priority out of, on the trail and in the Lege next session.

After-deadline filing review: The Lege

Now we come to the State House, which is where most of the action will be in 2020. In 2018, much of the energy and focus was on Congressional races, to the point where some hand-wringing articles were written about the lack of focus and resources on the legislative races. Dems managed to win 12 seats anyway, and by now we all know of the goal of winning nine more to take the majority. Both parties, and a lot of big-money groups, are locked in on this. That’s where we are as we enter the primary season.

So with all that, see here, here, and here for previous entries. The top target list, or at least my version of it, is here. As before, I will skip over the Houston-area races and focus on the ones I haven’t been talking about. Finally, one correction to that post on Houston-area races: I have been informed, and a look at the SOS candidate info page confirms, the two would-be primary challengers to Rep. Hubert Vo in HD149 have been disqualified.

The top targets: I will start with the districts that Beto carried, then move to the next tier.

HD64Angela Brewer, adjunct professor of communication studies at UNT and Collin College. You can see a short video of her talking to a local journo here. This district is in Denton County, where HD65 flipped in 2018.

HD66Sharon Hirsch, a retired Plano ISD employee who came agonizingly close to winning in 2018 (she lost by less than 400 votes, 0.6 percentage points), will try again. Physician Aimee Garza Lopez is also running to take on lousy incumbent Matt Shaheen.

HD67 – Four candidates are running (a fifth withdrew) in a Collin County district that Beto carried by five and a half points (incumbent Jeff Leach held on by 2.2 points). Attorney Tom Adair, attorney and El Salvador native who fled its civil war in the 80s Rocio Gosewehr Hernandez, former teacher and legislative director Anthony Lo, and real estate agent Lorenzo Sanchez are your options.

HD108 – Another heartbreaking loss, as 2018 candidate Joanna Cattanach fell short by 220 votes, 0.2 percentage points. This was the most Republican district in Dallas County – in some sense, still one of the two most Republican districts, since there are only two left held by Republicans – and yet Beto took 57.2% here in 2018. Cattanach, a teacher, is running again, and she has company, from Tom Ervin and Shawn Terry, both businessmen.

HD121 – I feel like this district, which used to be held by Joe Straus, is a bit of an illusion. It looks less red than it is. Beto won it, but only with 49.7%, while new Rep. Steve Allison (who beat a wingnut in the 2018 GOP primary) took it by eight and a half points. I feel confident the Democratic Presidential candidate will carry it, and it may be Dem in some county races downballot, but much like HD134 has done I expect it to stick with its moderate Republican State Rep. Yeah, I know, I’m a buzzkill. Anyway, 2018 candidate Celina Montoya, founder of an educational non-profit, is back, and she’s joined by consultant and Moms Demand Action state leader Becca DeFelice and Jack Guerra, listed on the SOS page as a “small business owner”.

HD96 – We’re now in the districts Beto didn’t carry, though he only missed this one by 91 votes. I’ll be doing these in decreasing order of Beto’s performance. HD96 is one of five – count ’em five – target districts in Tarrant County, mostly thanks to Beto’s performance in 2018. This is now an open seat thanks to a last-minute decision not to file by Bill Zedler, one of the main anti-vaxxers in the Lege. Attorney Joe Drago has the task of flipping this one.

HD54 – Most of the pickup opportunities for Dems are in the urban and big suburban counties, where you would expect them to be. HD54 is one of three that are not. It’s in Central Texas, split between Bell (blue) and Lampasas (red) counties, it’s been a low-key swing district for some time, and Beto got 49.0% there in 2018. Likeithia “Keke” Williams is listed as the candidate – SD24 candidate Clayton Tucker had originally filed for HD54 but switched to the Senate race following her filing. I can’t find any online presence for her – Tucker mentions she’s a veteran, so we know that much – but I sure hope she gets the support she needs to run a serious campaign, because this is a winnable seat.

HD97 – Get ready for a lot of Tarrant County, with one of the other non-traditional targets thrown in. HD97 (Beto 48.6%) was blue for five minutes in 2008, after Dan Barrett won a special election to fill out Anna Mowrey’s term, then lost that November when Republican turnout returned to normal levels. It’s not been on the radar since, and incumbent Craig Goldman won by nine points last year. No one ever said this would be easy. Attorney and veteran Elizabeth Beck and Dan Willis, listed on the SOS page as an eye doctor, fight it out in March to take their shot in November.

HD14 – The second on the three “wait, where is that district again?” seats (it’s in Brazos County, for the record), HD14 put itself on the list by having Beto (48.4%) improve on Hillary Clinton’s performance (38.1%) by over ten points. Was that a fluke, either in 2016 or in 2018? I have no idea, but any district where Beto can get 48.4% is a district where we need to compete. Certified public accountant Janet Dudding and Raza Rahman, a senior at Texas A&M, have the honors of trying to do that competing.

HD92 – This is – or, thankfully and more accurately, was – Jonathan Stickland’s district. Need I say more? The air is fresher already. Steve Riddell, who lost by less than two points to Stickland in this 48.3% Beto district, and attorney and Air Force veteran Jeff Whitfield, are in it.

HD93 – Staying in Tarrant County, we have yet another anti-vaxxer’s district, this one belonging to Matt Krause. What’s in the water out there, y’all? It’s Beto at 48.2%, and Lydia Bean, sociology professor and non-profit founder and 2018 Dem candidate in the district, is back.

HD94 – Tarrant County has punched way above its weight in the Idiot Legislators department lately, thanks to a cluster of loudmouth anti-vaxxers. That group contains HD94 incumbent Tony Tinderholt, who entered the Lege by knocking out a leading pro-public education Republican incumbent, and who is a dangerous lunatic for other reasons. Tarrant County will be less toxic next session with Jonathan Stickland and Bill Zedler retiring, and taking out Tony Tinderholt would also help. Alisa Simmons, who does not have a campaign presence yet, has that task.

HD32 is a weird district. Located in Nueces County, it was a swing seat in the previous decade, finally flipped by then-rising star Juan Garcia in 2008, when Dems held a total of 74 seats. Todd Hunter, who had represented it in earlier years, won it back in 2010 and hasn’t faced a Democratic opponent since. With Beto taking 47.0% there, it’s again in the mix. Eric Holguin, the Democratic candidate in CD27 in 2018, is running in HD32 this cycle.

HD106 – We’re now very much into “stretch” territory, as the last four districts are all under 45% for Beto; this one, which was rehomed from Dallas to Denton County in the 2011 redistricting, scored at 44.2% for Beto and was won by first-term incumbent Jared Patterson with 58.3%. But if 2018 taught us anything, it’s that things can move in a hurry, so I don’t want to overlook potential possibilities, even if they’re more likely to be of interest in the longer term. Jennifer Skidonenko, who identifies herself as a mother and grassroots activist and who is clearly motivated by gun violence, is the candidate.

HD89 – This is the district that used to be held by Jodie Laubenberg. Remember Jodie Laubenberg? She was the author of HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that Wendy Davis filibustered and the Supreme Court eventually rejected. Have I elevated your blood pressure just a little? Good. Laubenberg went off to do whatever horrible things people like her do after they leave the Lege, and Candy Noble is her replacement in this Beto 43.5% district. Sugar Ray Ash, the 2018 Dem nominee who is a veteran, former postal worker, tax attorney, DMN endorsed, and all around interesting guy, is back for another shot, and he has company in the person of Jon Cocks, whose website is from a prior race for Mayor of Fairview.

HD122 – The most Republican district in Bexar County, held by Greg Abbott frenemy Lyle Larson, Beto got 43.4% here, while Larson himself was getting almost 62 percent. Claire Barnett is a consultant for adult education programs and was the Democratic nominee here in 2018. She’s making another run in 2020.

HD84 – Last but not least, this is in some ways my favorite district on the list because it’s where you might least expect it – HD84 is in Lubbock County. Calling it a swing district is certainly a stretch – Beto got 43.1% in 2018, a big improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 34.8% in 2016, and incumbent John Frullo won by 20 points. But the direction is encouraging, and we’ve known since the 2011 redistricting cycle that one could build a Dem-leaning district in Lubbock if one were so inclined. If nothing else, keep that in mind as a thing to work for in the 2021 session. John Gibson, attorney and the Chair of the Lubbock County Democratic Party, announced his candidacy on Monday, deadline day, which made me happy because I’d been afraid we were skipping that race. I’m so glad we’re not.

I’ve still got judicial candidates and maybe a look at Fort Bend County candidates to look at. Stay tuned.

Here come the Rangers

I don’t know where this is going to go, but it sure will be fun getting there.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The Texas House General Investigating Committee voted Monday to request that the Texas Rangers look into allegations against House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants in the lower chamber.

The committee vote, which was unanimous, followed roughly an hour of closed-door deliberations among the five House members who serve on the panel. At issue is whether Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, offered hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan media credentials for his organization in exchange for politically targeting a list of fellow GOP members in the 2020 primaries.

[…]

State Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House committee, said Monday that the Texas Ranger’s Public Integrity Unit “will conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding” that meeting between Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows. Meyer also requested that the Texas Rangers provide a copy of its final investigative report to the committee at the end of its investigation.

See here for the background. What might happen next could get complicated.

Aside from the quid pro quo aspect of the scandal, exchanging money in the Capitol or directing expenditures from a Capitol office has been a Class A misdemeanor ever since the Legislature reacted to a 1989 public outcry over the late chicken producer Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim handing out $10,000 checks to nine senators in the Senate chamber during a hearing on workers compensation reform.

Besides the issue of whether there was bribery involved, there are also potential election law crimes, including not disclosing the source of campaign contributions directed by Bonnen. The Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against Sullivan on Thursday, alleging nine different potential criminal violations of the Texas Election Code, each a Class A misdemeanor. The lawsuit seeks to preserve evidence and damages of $100,000.

Given the potential for criminal wrongdoing, what happens next?

First, consider the dramatic changes that the Texas Legislature made to how public corruption cases are handled in Texas. Under a state law passed in 2015, the Travis County public integrity unit no longer has jurisdiction over elected officials at the Capitol. Potential criminal cases must be investigated first by the Texas Rangers. As of Thursday, the Rangers had not been asked to investigate the Bonnen/Sullivan controversy, nor had they initiated an investigation on their own, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson.

If the Rangers do investigate and decide further action is warranted, the case is referred to the home county of the public official. That means any corruption charges against Bonnen would have to be brought by the Brazoria County DA. For Burrows, it would be the Lubbock County DA. Travis County would retain jurisdiction only over Sullivan. In cases of multiple jurisdiction, the Texas attorney general’s office can take charge.

Funnily enough, Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment on securities fraud charges in his home territory of Collin County. Paxton is accused of failing to register as a securities agent as part of his private law practice. He claims he is innocent and that the case is politically motivated. Paxton counts among his allies the funders of Empower Texans. (The plot always seems to thicken in this scandal.)

You know what this would mean: Special prosecutors would be needed. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that approach. It’s almost as if abolishing the prosecutorial power of the Public Integrity Unit was a bad idea with all kinds of potentially unwanted consequences. We are getting way ahead of ourselves here, so let’s reel it in a bit and say we can’t wait to see what happens next. Ross Ramsey has more.

Time to investigate

So, hey, that conversation we now know Dennis Bonnen had with MQS? The subject of that conversation, which involved a quid-pro-quo access-for-political-activity proposal, may be a violation of house rules. So, the relevant committee will have a look-see to check that out.

Found on the Twitters

The powerful Texas House General Investigating Committee is set to launch an investigation into allegations that Speaker Dennis Bonnen offered a hardline conservative organization media credentials if it politically targeted certain Republican members in the lower chamber.

“Last night, I initiated internal discussion with General Investigating staff about procedure with the intention of launching an investigation. Our committee will be posting notice today of a public hearing which will take place on Monday, August 12,” state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the committee, said in a letter dated Wednesday.

He was writing to state Rep. Nicole Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat who serves as vice chair. Earlier Wednesday, Collier wrote to Meyer requesting he “launch an immediate full investigation” into “whether not there has been a violation of any policy or rules that the committee is charged with overseeing.”

Collier specifically asked for an investigation into “the allegations relating to media credentials, as well as the circumstances and events surrounding a June 12, 2019 meeting, including any and all correspondence, statements and/or recordings related thereto.”

[…]

The General Investigating Committee, comprised of five House members, has sweeping jurisdiction and holds subpoena power. A person who disobeys a subpoena by the committee may be cited for contempt or prosecuted for contempt, according to House rules, which were adopted at the beginning of the 86th legislative session in January. The committee can also meet at any time or place and has the jurisdiction to enter into a closed-door meeting if deemed necessary.

Since Sullivan revealed he had recorded the meeting, Bonnen, along with a number of Republicans and Democrats, have called for the audio to be released. Sullivan hasn’t yet indicated when — or if — he will.

State Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs his party’s caucus, said in a statement Wednesday that Collier “is right to make this call and has my full support in this effort.” He added that the committee should take up the allegations because “there are simply too many rumors about what was said or not said in this meeting for anyone who has not heard the recording to have confidence they have the truth.”

Earlier Wednesday, a member of the committee, state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said on Facebook that, since there was a chance the allegations could come before the panel, it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment. He did, though, offer general thoughts on how he thinks the process should play out.

“We should not rush to judgment but we should not drag our feet either,” Krause said. “We should not condemn anyone arbitrarily but also must not be scared to move forward if we find evidence of wrongdoing.”

On Wednesday evening, as news of the House committee investigation spread, more people were listening to Sullivan’s recording and went public with details about it.

See here for the background. It looks like everyone agrees that the actual recording should be released, which sure seems like the logical thing to do. Whether MQS and his ego will go along with it, that’s another question. I won’t be surprised if he comes up with some weird legal pretext to decline to cooperate, in which case we’ll likely wind up in court. But maybe I’m wrong, and he thinks it’s to his advantage to play along. We’ll start to get some answers on Monday. Trail Blazers has more.

Cattanach concedes in HD108

Thus endeth the recount.

Joanna Cattanach

Democrat Joanna Cattanach conceded Thursday afternoon to Republican state Rep. Morgan Meyer of Dallas, closing out the last recount requested by a candidate after this year’s midterm election.

“After several days of continued counting and a formal recount, we have ended our campaign still just 220 votes short of our opponent,” Cattanach said in a statement. “I have called Mr. Meyer and congratulated him because our district deserves leaders who respect the will of the electorate and the democratic process.”

Cattanach’s statement comes almost one month after the 2018 midterms. She had trailed Meyer by roughly 200 votes and requested a recount nearly a week after the election. The outcome of the House District 108 race runs counter to the pattern this year in other Dallas-area districts, where nearly all state House seats once held by Republicans flipped in Democrats’ favor.

“I am so very proud of the work we did to move a long considered unwinnable district where no Democrat even ran in 2016, and no challenger has come close to victory, to a district that will now be considered among the most competitive in 2020,” Cattanach said.

See here for the background. HD108 was, at least on paper, the reddest of the Dallas County districts, so it’s still a little amazing to me that Cattanach came so close to winning it. It and HD112, the only other Dallas district now held by a Republican, will surely be high on the target list for 2020. Thanks to Joanna Cattanach for running a strong race, and congratulations to Rep. Meyer on his re-election. The DMN has more.

HD108 recount begins

I believe this is the last un-conceded race.

Joanna Cattanach

The recount for an extremely tight Dallas County race between incumbent Republican Morgan Meyer and Democratic challenger Joanna Cattanach will begin Tuesday.

“We appreciate all of the notes of support and emails, the volunteers who’ve stepped up to serve as poll watchers, and thank you to those who’ve donated to help our effort to ensure every vote counts and every vote matters in House District 108,” Cattanach, who requested the recount, said in an email to supporters Monday afternoon.

[…]

On Tuesday at 9 a.m., county officials will begin a by-hand recount which could take several days. Election Day ballots will be counted first and mail ballots will be counted after that. These two ballots will be counted first because they are a mix of electronic and by-hand ballots.

Early voting in-person ballots, which were done electronically, will be counted last. Those electronic records will be counted by hand and are expected to total more than 67,000 pages to print, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

But if the victory gap doesn’t shrink after the Election Day and mail ballots are counted, Cattanach could choose to end the recount then, since the electronic ballots are not expected to change. Cattanach, who has already put down a deposit of $7,000, would have to pay more money if she decided to go forward with the full recount.

If the election results changed, however, Cattanach would be refunded her deposit and the county would pay for the recount.

See here, here, and here for the background. Cattanach trails by 440 votes out of over 78K cast. You know I never expect recounts to change anything, but it’s a candidate’s right in a close election, and this is a close election. There were some others that were even closer, and I’m a bit surprised this is the only recount on the table, but here we are. I’ll keep my eye on it.

An update on the close races

Good news from Harris County.

Gina Calanni

Fresh tallies of absentee and provisional ballots narrowed state Rep. Dwayne Bohac’s margin over Democrat Adam Milasincic to 47 votes, while incumbent Republican Mike Schofield of Katy trailed Democratic challenger Gina Calanni by 113 votes.

Harris County Commissioners Court will make the results official Friday, according to the county clerk’s office. Candidates may request a recount if they trail by less than 10 percent of the total number of votes received by the leading candidate, meaning both races are well within the requisite margin.

As it stood Thursday, Bohac’s lead amounted to less than one tenth of a percent, out of 48,417 votes. Calanni led by a more comfortable .17 percent, among 66,675 votes. Election night returns had showed Bohac leading by 72 votes and Calanni up by 97 votes.

Either way, the results mark a dramatic shift from 2014, when Schofield and Bohac, R-Houston, last faced Democratic foes. That year, the two Republicans won by more than 30 percentage points, each roughly doubling their opponents’ vote totals.

[…]

In the 108th House District, Democrat Joanna Cattanach requested a recount Wednesday, the Dallas Morning News reported. She trailed incumbent state Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, by 221 votes, according to Dallas County elections results updated Wednesday.

In Collin County, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, led Democrat Sharon Hirsch by 391 votes in the 66th House District, according to the county’s elections site. Hirsch had not conceded as of Thursday morning.

Cattanach is the first candidate to request a recount, but she won’t be the last. Expect her to have some company after the results around the state are certified Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in CD23:

The political roller coaster in Congressional District 23 continued Thursday when Gina Ortiz Jones’ campaign turned its attention to election officials in Medina County.

Commissioners in Medina declined to certify the county’s results, temporarily raising the possibility of a recount in the Republican stronghold. The commissioners were given two different figures for the number of absentee voters — 1,034 and 1,010.

Jones trails incumbent Republican Will Hurd by around 1,000 votes in the race, which remains too close to call.

There’s no other choice but for this department to have a recount,” Republican Commissioner Tim Neuman said after finding the variation.

But a couple hours later, Medina Elections Administrator Lupe Torres said they were able to identify the discrepancy and would reschedule the canvassing for Monday, a plan Neuman said he agreed with.

[…]

On Thursday, the [Jones] campaign accused Medina County of breaching protocol after counting 981 mail ballots on election night. Early voting ballot boards are the small, bipartisan groups charged with reviewing and qualifying those ballots, along with provisional votes.

At the end of the night, the ballot board usually turns off the machine it used to count the ballots, as is protocol, according to affidavits from the two Democratic-appointed board members, which the campaign provided.

Instead, Torres told them to leave the machine running. Torres told them he needed to run 29 “limited” ballots through the machine, bringing the number to 1,010.

Limited ballots are cast by people who have recently moved from another county but have not switched their registration.

Torres initially denied those claims, but he later said he would “correct himself” and admitted it happened. When asked why about the denials, he said: “That’s what I thought had happened.

I don’t even know what to make of that. Just add it to the weirdness pile for this election. We’ll know more soon.

CD23 update

Today is the last day to cure a provisional ballot. In the meantime, the counting goes on in the closest Texas Congressional race.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Election officials in 29 Texas counties are furiously counting outstanding votes in the Congressional District 23 election, in which Republican Rep. Will Hurd holds a narrow lead with at least 859 ballots outstanding.

Hurd, a two-term incumbent, thought he had a comfortable win Tuesday night, when the Associated Press called the race for him around 11 p.m.

But the contest tightened in the early morning hours Wednesday, and it appeared — for a half-hour — that Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones had pulled off an upset.

Then the lead changed hands again, and the state’s unofficial results showed Hurd winning by 689 votes. Later Wednesday, a tabulation error in Jones’ favor was discovered in Culberson County. Once the error was corrected, Hurd’s margin had increased to 1,150 votes — out of more than 200,000 cast.

[…]

On Friday, Bexar County — which accounts for more than half the votes in the district — updated its tally to reflect 446 ballots counted since election night. Hurd received 183, Jones 253 and Libertarian candidate Ruben Corvalan 10.

Jones gained a net 70 votes, reducing Hurd’s overall margin to 1,080.

Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said there’s been a steady stream of lawyers and campaign workers at the county’s Elections Department asking questions about the uncounted ballots.

“We haven’t seen so many lawyers in here since forever,” she said.

At least 859 ballots are still outstanding, according to county elections officials across the district, but it’s unclear how many will ultimately be included in the final count.

See here for some background. The SOS still shows Hurd with a 1,150 vote lead, but as you can see the Bexar County elections page shows more votes counted, so the SOS page is a bit out of date. Ortiz Jones is pushing for more information about the provisional voters, though Bexar County officials say they’re just following the rules about what can and cannot be disclosed at this time. I still don’t expect there the be enough uncounted votes to make it likely that she could catch up, but we’ll know soon enough.

In the meantime, the HD138 and HD108 races remain in contention, while Gina Calanni’s lead in HD132 has increased to 97 votes. Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan put out a statement yesterday about the HD108 race that included this curious bit:

One of the hold-ups is caused by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Though Texas law allows people to register to vote when renewing their drivers license, the DMV is notorious for sitting on these registrations and failing to turn them in to the election department of the counties in which they operate. Without this documentation, the local election departments are unable to determine if certain provisional ballots should be counted. In Dallas County, it is estimated that approximately 1,000 provisional ballots are being held, pending the documentation from the DMV. This number is significantly higher than the number of votes that separate the candidates in House District 108.

Not really sure what to make of that, but as I said, we should at least get some official numbers by the end of the day today. Stay tuned.

How many recounts might there be?

More than one, is my guess.

Rep. Morgan Meyer

On Wednesday, Dallas state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Republican, tweeted that he was “honored and grateful” voters had decided to send him back to the Texas Legislature for another term in office.

But his Democratic opponent in the race, Joanna Cattanach, isn’t ready to concede in House District 108, which includes Park Cities, Uptown Dallas, parts of downtown and Old East Dallas.

[…]

In Houston, Republican state Rep. Dwayne Bohac inched ahead of Democratic challenger Adam Milasincic on election night with 137 votes. Milasincic, too, is waiting on all votes to come in.

“I want to see the final numbers before we make any determination one way or another,” Milasincic said, adding that he hadn’t expected the count to draw out this long.

In Houston, Republican state Rep. Dwayne Bohac inched ahead of Democratic challenger Adam Milasincic on election night with 137 votes. Milasincic, too, is waiting on all votes to come in.

“I want to see the final numbers before we make any determination one way or another,” Milasincic said, adding that he hadn’t expected the count to draw out this long.

“I wish it had been over on election night,” he said.

In Collin County, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, with 378 more votes in unofficial returns, declared victory over Democrat Sharon Hirsch.

But Hirsch posted a message on her website noting the close margin and adding that she is “waiting until this process concludes before making any final remarks.”

[…]

State Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Houston, who trailed Democrat Gina Calanni by 49 votes, told his supporters on social media Thursday morning that “Tuesday’s results are not final yet.”

“The Harris County Clerk advises me that there are many votes yet to be counted — more absentee ballots and provisional ballots. We will continue to wait for a final vote count.”

And of course there’s the still-unsettled CD23 race. Meyer leads Cattanach by 440 votes, which is the widest margin of the it-ain’t-over-till-it’s-over State Rep races. I can’t think of an example of a race that was materially affected by overseas and provisional ballots – my impression is that such votes tend to be countable on one’s fingers – but I suppose there has to be a first time at some point. The last successful recount that I can think of was the 2004 Dem primary between Henry Cuellar and Ciro Rodriguez, in which a bunch of ballots were found after Election Day. This is all part of the process and people are entitled to ask for recounts. I just don’t ever expect them to change anything.