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Nathan Hecht

Precinct analysis: Congress, part 2

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
State House districts 2020, part 1
State House districts 2020, part 2
Median districts
State House district changes by demography
State House district changes by county
SBOE
Congress, part 1

I didn’t want to leave the Congressional district analysis without looking at some downballot races, since I mentioned them in the first part. To keep this simple, I’m just going to compare 2020 to 2012, to give a bookends look at things. I’ve got the Senate race (there was no Senate race in 2016, another reason to skip that year), the Railroad Commissioner race, and the Supreme Court race with Nathan Hecht.


Dist   Hegar   Cornyn  Hegar% Cornyn%
=====================================
01    79,626  217,942  26.30%  71.90%
02   157,925  180,504  45.50%  52.00%
03   188,092  224,921  44.50%  53.20%
04    79,672  256,262  23.20%  74.70%
05   101,483  173,929  36.00%  61.70%
06   155,022  178,305  45.30%  52.10%
07   154,670  152,741  49.20%  48.60%
08   100,868  275,150  26.20%  71.50%
09   168,796   54,801  73.50%  23.90%
10   191,097  215,665  45.90%  51.80%
11    54,619  232,946  18.60%  79.20%
12   129,679  228,676  35.20%  62.00%
13    50,271  217,949  18.30%  79.40%
14   117,954  185,119  38.00%  59.60%
15   110,141  111,211  48.10%  48.60%
16   148,484   73,923  63.10%  31.40%
17   127,560  174,677  41.00%  56.20%
18   178,680   60,111  72.60%  24.40%
19    65,163  194,783  24.40%  73.00%
20   163,219   99,791  60.10%  36.80%
21   203,090  242,567  44.50%  53.10%
22   188,906  214,386  45.80%  52.00%
23   135,518  150,254  46.10%  51.10%
24   165,218  171,828  47.80%  49.70%
25   165,657  222,422  41.70%  56.00%
26   168,527  256,618  38.60%  58.70%
27    98,760  169,539  35.90%  61.70%
28   118,063  107,547  50.60%  46.10%
29    99,415   51,044  64.00%  32.80%
30   203,821   53,551  77.00%  20.20%
31   178,949  206,577  45.20%  52.20%
32   170,654  165,157  49.60%  48.00%
33   111,620   41,936  70.40%  26.50%
34   101,691   93,313  50.60%  46.50%
35   175,861   87,121  64.50%  32.00%
36    78,544  218,377  25.90%  71.90%


Dist   Casta   Wright  Casta% Wright%
=====================================
01    75,893  217,287  25.20%  72.20%
02   153,630  176,484  44.90%  51.60%
03   181,303  220,004  43.70%  53.00%
04    76,281  254,688  22.50%  75.00%
05   100,275  171,307  35.80%  61.20%
06   151,372  176,517  44.60%  52.00%
07   149,853  149,114  48.50%  48.20%
08    97,062  271,212  25.60%  71.40%
09   168,747   51,862  74.10%  22.80%
10   184,189  211,020  44.90%  51.40%
11    53,303  230,719  18.30%  79.10%
12   123,767  227,786  33.90%  62.50%
13    47,748  215,948  17.60%  79.50%
14   114,873  182,101  37.40%  59.40%
15   113,540  103,715  50.50%  46.10%
16   144,436   75,345  62.30%  32.50%
17   121,338  171,677  39.70%  56.20%
18   177,020   57,783  72.60%  23.70%
19    62,123  192,844  23.60%  73.20%
20   165,617   93,296  61.40%  34.60%
21   197,266  234,785  43.90%  52.30%
22   184,521  209,495  45.50%  51.60%
23   136,789  144,156  47.10%  49.60%
24   160,511  167,885  47.10%  49.20%
25   157,323  218,711  40.30%  56.00%
26   160,007  251,763  37.30%  58.70%
27    97,797  165,135  36.00%  60.80%
28   121,898  100,306  52.90%  43.60%
29   102,354   46,954  66.30%  30.40%
30   204,615   50,268  77.60%  19.10%
31   169,256  203,981  43.40%  52.30%
32   168,807  160,201  49.60%  47.10%
33   111,727   40,264  71.10%  25.60%
34   105,427   86,391  53.30%  43.70%
35   173,994   82,414  64.70%  30.60%
36    76,511  216,585  25.40%  72.00%


Dist Meachum    HechtMeachum%  Hecht%
=====================================
01    79,995  215,240  26.60%  71.50%
02   154,787  179,887  45.20%  52.50%
03   185,076  220,662  44.60%  53.10%
04    79,667  253,119  23.50%  74.50%
05   101,813  172,186  36.40%  61.50%
06   155,372  175,793  45.80%  51.80%
07   149,348  154,058  48.20%  49.70%
08    99,434  272,277  26.20%  71.60%
09   170,611   52,213  75.00%  22.90%
10   188,253  212,284  45.80%  51.60%
11    56,146  228,708  19.30%  78.50%
12   129,478  225,206  35.50%  61.80%
13    51,303  214,434  18.90%  78.90%
14   118,324  181,521  38.50%  59.10%
15   115,046  103,787  51.20%  46.20%
16   149,828   73,267  64.20%  31.40%
17   126,952  170,378  41.50%  55.70%
18   179,178   58,684  73.50%  24.10%
19    66,333  190,784  25.20%  72.30%
20   166,733   93,546  62.00%  34.80%
21   200,216  237,189  44.50%  52.80%
22   188,187  210,138  46.30%  51.70%
23   138,391  143,522  47.70%  49.50%
24   164,386  168,747  48.10%  49.40%
25   162,591  218,370  41.60%  55.80%
26   168,621  251,426  39.10%  58.30%
27   100,675  164,273  37.10%  60.50%
28   122,263   99,666  53.50%  43.60%
29   101,662   48,349  66.00%  31.40%
30   207,327   50,760  78.50%  19.20%
31   172,531  198,717  45.00%  51.80%
32   169,325  163,993  49.60%  48.10%
33   112,876   40,077  71.80%  25.50%
34   104,142   84,361  53.80%  43.50%
35   177,097   82,098  66.00%  30.60%
36    78,170  216,153  26.00%  71.90%

	
Dist  Sadler     Cruz Sadler%   Cruz%
=====================================
01    76,441  169,490  30.55%  67.74%
02    84,949  155,605  34.35%  62.92%
03    88,929  168,511  33.52%  63.52%
04    69,154  174,833  27.60%  69.79%
05    73,712  130,916  35.14%  62.41%
06   100,573  143,297  40.12%  57.16%
07    89,471  141,393  37.73%  59.63%
08    55,146  190,627  21.88%  75.64%
09   140,231   40,235  76.35%  21.91%
10   103,526  154,293  38.76%  57.76%
11    45,258  175,607  19.93%  77.32%
12    77,255  162,670  31.22%  65.74%
13    43,022  175,896  19.12%  78.17%
14    97,493  142,172  39.77%  58.00%
15    79,486   62,277  54.55%  42.74%
16    91,289   56,636  59.66%  37.02%
17    82,118  130,507  37.31%  59.30%
18   145,099   45,871  74.37%  23.51%
19    52,070  155,195  24.37%  72.65%
20   106,970   73,209  57.47%  39.33%
21   115,768  181,094  37.32%  58.38%
22    90,475  157,006  35.74%  62.02%
23    86,229   98,379  45.28%  51.66%
24    90,672  147,419  36.88%  59.97%
25   101,059  155,304  37.79%  58.07%
26    77,304  173,933  29.66%  66.74%
27    81,169  125,913  38.11%  59.12%
28    90,481   68,096  55.14%  41.50%
29    71,504   38,959  63.27%  34.47%
30   168,805   44,782  77.58%  20.58%
31    89,486  138,886  37.46%  58.13%
32   103,610  141,469  41.03%  56.03%
33    81,568   33,956  68.96%  28.71%
34    79,622   60,126  55.23%  41.71%
35   101,470   56,450  61.37%  34.14%
36    63,070  168,072  26.66%  71.04%


Dist   Henry    Cradd  Henry%  Cradd%
=====================================
01    67,992  170,189  27.73%  69.41%	
02    78,359  155,155  32.30%  63.95%	
03    80,078  167,247  31.02%  64.80%	
04    64,908  170,969  26.53%  69.87%	
05    69,401  129,245  33.75%  62.86%	
06    96,386  141,220  39.03%  57.18%	
07    80,266  143,409  34.60%  61.81%	
08    51,716  188,005  20.83%  75.74%	
09   138,893   39,120  76.19%  21.46%	
10    94,282  153,321  36.00%  58.54%	
11    44,310  171,250  19.77%  76.42%	
12    72,582  160,255  29.85%  65.90%	
13    42,402  171,310  19.15%  77.36%	
14    96,221  137,169  39.91%  56.89%	
15    81,120   56,697  56.51%  39.50%	
16    90,256   49,563  60.67%  33.31%	
17    77,899  126,329  36.20%  58.70%	
18   142,749   44,416  73.97%  23.01%	
19    50,735  150,643  24.17%  71.76%	
20   102,998   72,019  56.19%  39.29%	
21   103,442  181,345  34.03%  59.66%	
22    85,869  155,271  34.42%  62.24%	
23    85,204   92,976  45.63%  49.79%	
24    83,119  146,534  34.52%  60.85%	
25    92,074  153,051  35.16%  58.44%	
26    71,177  172,026  27.82%  67.24%	
27    79,313  120,235  38.16%  57.84%	
28    94,545   59,311  58.53%  36.72%	
29    72,681   35,059  65.14%  31.42%	
30   166,852   43,206  77.43%  20.05%	
31    82,045  136,810  35.10%  58.52%	
32    92,896  143,313  37.69%  58.15%	
33    81,885   30,941  69.96%  26.43%	
34    82,924   50,769  58.78%  35.99%	
35    97,431   55,398  59.79%  34.00%	
36    62,309  161,751  26.88%  69.79%


Dist   Petty    Hecht  Petty%  Hecht%
=====================================
01    71,467  163,306  29.37%  67.11%
02    84,472  147,576  35.05%  61.23%
03    85,368  161,072  33.16%  62.56%
04    68,551  163,313  28.26%  67.31%
05    72,559  123,012  35.59%  60.34%
06   101,437  133,905  41.29%  54.51%
07    86,596  135,562  37.63%  58.90%
08    55,495  181,582  22.47%  73.53%
09   141,509   36,555  77.91%  20.13%
10   100,998  146,370  38.76%  56.17%
11    47,657  163,669  21.49%  73.81%
12    76,959  153,820  31.79%  63.53%
13    46,099  162,448  21.01%  74.02%
14   100,566  131,348  41.86%  54.67%
15    83,009   53,962  58.27%  37.88%
16    93,997   46,517  63.26%  31.31%
17    82,692  120,206  38.64%  56.16%
18   145,329   41,564  75.56%  21.61%
19    54,458  143,426  26.12%  68.80%
20   109,712   66,441  59.93%  36.29%
21   112,633  172,657  37.12%  56.90%
22    91,252  149,320  36.71%  60.06%
23    90,554   87,003  48.74%  46.83%
24    89,019  139,910  37.09%  58.29%
25    98,663  145,549  37.88%  55.87%
26    76,953  165,377  30.12%  64.73%
27    83,222  114,299  40.30%  55.36%
28    97,850   55,633  60.91%  34.63%
29    74,382   33,124  66.97%  29.82%
30   169,799   39,877  78.96%  18.54%
31    89,084  128,420  38.24%  55.13%
32    97,997  137,060  39.92%  55.84%
33    84,095   28,859  72.01%  24.71%
34    85,950   47,645  61.27%  33.96%
35   102,646   51,225  63.03%  31.46%
36    66,497  154,956  28.85%  67.24%

There are two things that jump out at me when I look over these numbers. The first actually has to do with the statewide totals. Joe Biden cut the deficit at the Presidential level nearly in half from 2012 – where Barack Obama trailed Mitt Romney by 1.26 million votes, Biden trailed Trump by 631K. The gains were not as dramatic in the Senate and RRC races, but there was progress. Ted Cruz beat Paul Sadler by 1.246 million votes, while John Cornyn beat MJ Hegar by 1.074 million; for RRC, Christi Craddock topped Dale Henry by 1.279 million and Jim Wright bested Chrysta Castaneda by 1.039 million. Not nearly as much progress, but we’re going in the right direction. At the judicial level, however, that progress wasn’t there. Nathan Hecht, then running for Supreme Court Place 6, won in 2012 by 908K votes, and he won in 2020 by 934K. That’s a little misleading, because in the only other contested statewide judicial race in 2012, Sharon Keller beat Keith Hampton for CCA by 1.094 million votes, and five out of the seven Dems running in 2020 did better than that. Still, the point remains, the judicial races were our weakest spot. If we really want to turn Texas blue, we will need more of an investment in these races as well.

One explanation for this is that Dem statewide judicial candidates didn’t do as well in at least some of the trending-blue places. Hegar and Castaneda both carried CD07, but only two of the Dem judicial candidates did, Staci Williams and Tina Clinton. All of them carried CD32, but none of them by more than two points, while Biden took it by ten; to be fair, Hegar won it by less than two, and Castaneda had the best performance with a 2.6 point margin. Maybe these folks were motivated by Trump more than anything else, and they didn’t see the judicial races in those terms. I have noted before that Dem judicial candidates did better in CD07 in 2018 than in 2020, so maybe the higher turnout included more less-likely Republicans than one might have expected. Or maybe these folks are in the process of becoming Democratic, but aren’t all the way there yet. Just something to think about.

On the flip side of that, while Hegar underperformed in the three closer-than-expected Latino Democratic districts CD15, CD28, and CD34 – Cornyn actually carried CD15 by a smidge – everyone else did better, and indeed outperformed Biden in those districts. The judicial candidates all carried CDs 28 and 34 by at least six points, with most in the 8-9 range and a couple topping ten, and all but two carried CD15 by a wider margin that Biden’s 1.9 points, with them in the three-to-five range. Still a disconcerting step back from 2012 and 2016, but at least for CDs 28 and 34 it’s still a reasonably comfortable margin. Maye this is the mirror image of the results in CDs 07 and 32, where the Presidential race was the main motivator and people were more likely to fall back on old patterns elsewhere. As with CDs 07 and 32, we’ll have to see where those trends go from here.

After however many entries in this series, I don’t have a whole lot more to say. We’ll be getting new maps soon, and we’ll have a better idea of what the immediate future looks like. I think the last two decades has shown us that there’s only so far out in the future that redistricting will be predictive in such a dynamic and growing state as Texas, but we have seen the winds shift more than once, so let’s not get too comfortable with any one idea. Whatever we get in this session is not etched in stone, and we still have some hope for federal legislation. For now, this is what we’re up against.

Precinct analysis: Statewide judicial

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016

We’re going to take a look at the seven statewide judicial races in this post, with all of the districts considered so far grouped together. You’re about to have a lot of numbers thrown at you, is what I’m saying. I’m ordering these races in a particular way, which is to put the contests that included a Libertarian candidate first (there were no Green candidates for any statewide judicial position, or indeed any judicial position on the Harris County ballot), and then the contests that were straight up D versus R next. There were three of the former and four of the latter, and we’ll see what we can determine about the effect that a Libertarian may have had on these races as we go.


Dist    Hecht  Meachum    Lib  Hecht% Meachum%   Lib%
=====================================================
CD02  179,887  154,785  7,979  52.50%   45.17%  2.33%
CD07  154,058  149,348  6,725  49.68%   48.16%  2.17%
CD08   25,686   15,145  1,014  61.38%   36.19%  2.42%
CD09   37,479  119,471  3,516  23.36%   74.45%  2.19%
CD10  101,965   60,290  3,917  61.36%   36.28%  2.36%
CD18   58,684  179,178  5,906  24.07%   73.50%  2.42%
CD22   21,575   20,271  1,140  50.19%   47.16%  2.65%
CD29   48,349  101,662  4,049  31.38%   65.99%  2.63%
CD36   82,593   48,435  3,259  61.50%   36.07%  2.43%
						
HD126  38,883   33,427  1,726  52.52%   45.15%  2.33%
HD127  53,978   35,464  2,040  59.00%   38.77%  2.23%
HD128  48,000   22,103  1,606  66.94%   30.82%  2.24%
HD129  47,867   35,292  2,208  56.07%   41.34%  2.59%
HD130  69,884   32,443  2,440  66.70%   30.97%  2.33%
HD131   9,887   44,240  1,236  17.86%   79.91%  2.23%
HD132  50,149   48,527  2,544  49.54%   47.94%  2.51%
HD133  51,732   35,958  1,730  57.85%   40.21%  1.93%
HD134  50,646   56,804  2,018  46.27%   51.89%  1.84%
HD135  36,285   36,987  1,891  48.28%   49.21%  2.52%
HD137  10,333   20,930    827  32.20%   65.22%  2.58%
HD138  31,730   30,982  1,548  49.38%   48.21%  2.41%
HD139  15,475   44,630  1,365  25.17%   72.60%  2.22%
HD140   9,151   21,719    840  28.86%   68.49%  2.65%
HD141   6,824   35,967    981  15.59%   82.17%  2.24%
HD142  13,637   41,662  1,238  24.12%   73.69%  2.19%
HD143  11,821   24,338    938  31.87%   65.61%  2.53%
HD144  13,535   16,631    867  43.61%   53.59%  2.79%
HD145  14,758   26,918  1,255  34.38%   62.70%  2.92%
HD146  11,363   43,152  1,235  20.38%   77.40%  2.22%
HD147  14,973   53,050  1,799  21.44%   75.98%  2.58%
HD148  22,163   36,851  1,701  36.50%   60.70%  2.80%
HD149  21,616   30,814  1,133  40.36%   57.53%  2.12%
HD150  55,585   39,695  2,339  56.94%   40.66%  2.40%
					
CC1    92,529  278,828  8,580  24.35%   73.39%  2.26%
CC2   149,483  145,171  7,746  49.43%   48.01%  2.56%
CC3   228,402  210,197 10,006  50.91%   46.86%  2.23%
CC4   239,862  214,392 11,173  51.54%   46.06%  2.40%
						
JP1    93,898  163,620  6,237  35.60%   62.03%  2.36%
JP2    33,762   49,003  2,174  39.75%   57.69%  2.56%
JP3    51,276   68,138  2,733  41.98%   55.78%  2.24%
JP4   233,213  185,525  9,970  54.40%   43.28%  2.33%
JP5   204,389  214,695  9,945  47.64%   50.04%  2.32%
JP6     7,834   27,042  1,074  21.79%   75.22%  2.99%
JP7    18,495   99,632  2,600  15.32%   82.53%  2.15%
JP8    67,409   40,933  2,772  60.67%   36.84%  2.49%

Dist     Boyd Williams    Lib   Boyd%Williams%   Lib%
=====================================================
CD02  177,810  155,876  7,349  52.14%   45.71%  2.15%
CD07  149,700  152,887  5,923  48.52%   49.56%  1.92%
CD08   25,674   15,116    894  61.59%   36.26%  2.14%
CD09   37,235  120,311  2,810  23.22%   75.03%  1.75%
CD10  101,850   60,145  3,613  61.50%   36.32%  2.18%
CD18   57,552  180,778  5,054  23.65%   74.28%  2.08%
CD22   21,529   20,300  1,030  50.23%   47.36%  2.40%
CD29   48,900  101,209  3,423  31.85%   65.92%  2.23%
CD36   82,368   48,573  2,879  61.55%   36.30%  2.15% 

HD126  38,664   33,525  1,557  52.43%   45.46%  2.11%
HD127  53,700   35,556  1,891  58.92%   39.01%  2.07%
HD128  48,078   22,019  1,431  67.22%   30.78%  2.00%
HD129  47,371   35,620  2,000  55.74%   41.91%  2.35%
HD130  69,697   32,424  2,234  66.79%   31.07%  2.14%
HD131   9,814   44,580    937  17.74%   80.57%  1.69%
HD132  50,168   48,466  2,311  49.70%   48.01%  2.29%
HD133  49,946   37,393  1,520  56.21%   42.08%  1.71%
HD134  47,593   59,069  1,938  43.82%   54.39%  1.78%
HD135  36,215   37,075  1,607  48.35%   49.50%  2.15%
HD137  10,226   21,044    708  31.98%   65.81%  2.21%
HD138  31,413   31,231  1,372  49.07%   48.79%  2.14%
HD139  15,293   44,932  1,208  24.89%   73.14%  1.97%
HD140   9,270   21,715    677  29.28%   68.58%  2.14%
HD141   6,943   36,106    738  15.86%   82.46%  1.69%
HD142  13,649   41,816  1,006  24.17%   74.05%  1.78%
HD143  11,953   24,211    783  32.35%   65.53%  2.12%
HD144  13,712   16,444    757  44.36%   53.19%  2.45%
HD145  14,749   26,907  1,082  34.51%   62.96%  2.53%
HD146  10,957   43,683    985  19.70%   78.53%  1.77%
HD147  14,628   53,564  1,547  20.98%   76.81%  2.22%
HD148  21,551   37,172  1,616  35.72%   61.61%  2.68%
HD149  21,554   30,949    980  40.30%   57.87%  1.83%
HD150  55,473   39,693  2,090  57.04%   40.81%  2.15%
						
CC1    90,441  281,651  7,183  23.85%   74.26%  1.89%
CC2   149,519  144,951  6,793  49.63%   48.11%  2.25%
CC3   224,732  213,022  8,935  50.31%   47.69%  2.00%
CC4   237,926  215,574 10,064  51.33%   46.50%  2.17%
						
JP1    90,471  166,282  5,724  34.47%   63.35%  2.18%
JP2    33,968   48,891  1,877  40.09%   57.70%  2.22%
JP3    51,567   68,134  2,269  42.28%   55.86%  1.86%
JP4   232,446  185,828  8,942  54.41%   43.50%  2.09%
JP5   201,507  217,080  8,748  47.15%   50.80%  2.05%
JP6     7,848   26,989    935  21.94%   75.45%  2.61%
JP7    17,772  100,858  2,001  14.73%   83.61%  1.66%
JP8    67,039   41,136  2,479  60.58%   37.18%  2.24%

Dist    Busby   Triana    Lib  Busby%  Triana%   Lib%
=====================================================
CD02  180,619  152,062  8,019  53.01%   44.63%  2.35%
CD07  154,593  146,826  6,759  50.16%   47.64%  2.19%
CD08   25,758   14,928    955  61.86%   35.85%  2.29%
CD09   37,362  119,463  3,094  23.36%   74.70%  1.93%
CD10  102,251   59,298  3,908  61.80%   35.84%  2.36%
CD18   58,913  178,629  5,394  24.25%   73.53%  2.22%
CD22   21,575   20,090  1,118  50.43%   46.96%  2.61%
CD29   47,694  102,644  3,275  31.05%   66.82%  2.13%
CD36   82,901   47,695  3,069  62.02%   35.68%  2.30%

HD126  38,980   33,040  1,658  52.91%   44.84%  2.25%
HD127  54,112   34,934  2,025  59.42%   38.36%  2.22%
HD128  48,180   21,765  1,477  67.46%   30.47%  2.07%
HD129  47,955   34,683  2,230  56.51%   40.87%  2.63%
HD130  70,019   31,790  2,447  67.16%   30.49%  2.35%
HD131   9,827   44,382  1,012  17.80%   80.37%  1.83%
HD132  50,189   48,200  2,493  49.75%   47.78%  2.47%
HD133  51,870   35,055  1,814  58.45%   39.50%  2.04%
HD134  51,239   55,036  2,250  47.21%   50.71%  2.07%
HD135  36,361   36,664  1,790  48.60%   49.01%  2.39%
HD137  10,325   20,780    812  32.35%   65.11%  2.54%
HD138  31,761   30,656  1,497  49.69%   47.96%  2.34%
HD139  15,489   44,606  1,222  25.26%   72.75%  1.99%
HD140   8,987   21,995    659  28.40%   69.51%  2.08%
HD141   6,791   36,116    798  15.54%   82.64%  1.83%
HD142  13,605   41,732  1,042  24.13%   74.02%  1.85%
HD143  11,665   24,588    733  31.54%   66.48%  1.98%
HD144  13,471   16,721    744  43.54%   54.05%  2.40%
HD145  14,593   27,092  1,061  34.14%   63.38%  2.48%
HD146  11,412   42,928  1,129  20.57%   77.39%  2.04%
HD147  15,183   52,758  1,661  21.81%   75.80%  2.39%
HD148  22,402   36,229  1,688  37.14%   60.06%  2.80%
HD149  21,574   30,729  1,065  40.42%   57.58%  2.00%
HD150  55,675   39,155  2,284  57.33%   40.32%  2.35%
						
CC1    92,822  277,923  7,778  24.52%   73.42%  2.05%
CC2   149,446  144,793  6,922  49.62%   48.08%  2.30%
CC3   228,849  207,334  9,987  51.29%   46.47%  2.24%
CC4   240,549  211,588 10,904  51.95%   45.70%  2.35%
						
JP1    94,735  161,383  6,127  36.12%   61.54%  2.34%
JP2    33,518   49,255  1,882  39.59%   58.18%  2.22%
JP3    51,327   68,119  2,341  42.14%   55.93%  1.92%
JP4   233,635  183,442  9,668  54.75%   42.99%  2.27%
JP5   204,626  212,437  9,722  47.95%   49.78%  2.28%
JP6     7,711   27,250    875  21.52%   76.04%  2.44%
JP7    18,508   99,518  2,270  15.39%   82.73%  1.89%
JP8    67,606   40,234  2,706  61.16%   36.40%  2.45%

Dist    Bland    Cheng  Bland%   Cheng%
=======================================
CD02  186,706  154,725  54.68%   45.32%
CD07  159,574  149,326  51.66%   48.34%
CD08   26,540   15,186  63.61%   36.39%
CD09   39,465  120,736  24.63%   75.37%
CD10  105,349   60,323  63.59%   36.41%
CD18   62,985  180,105  25.91%   74.09%
CD22   22,415   20,441  52.30%   47.70%
CD29   51,670  102,080  33.61%   66.39%
CD36   85,490   48,367  63.87%   36.13%

HD126  40,209   33,586  54.49%   45.51%
HD127  55,788   35,414  61.17%   38.83%
HD128  49,423   22,087  69.11%   30.89%
HD129  49,640   35,394  58.38%   41.62%
HD130  71,946   32,493  68.89%   31.11%
HD131  10,622   44,674  19.21%   80.79%
HD132  52,183   48,781  51.68%   48.32%
HD133  53,308   35,720  59.88%   40.12%
HD134  52,985   55,899  48.66%   51.34%
HD135  37,544   37,368  50.12%   49.88%
HD137  10,776   21,212  33.69%   66.31%
HD138  32,815   31,243  51.23%   48.77%
HD139  16,488   44,881  26.87%   73.13%
HD140   9,808   21,860  30.97%   69.03%
HD141   7,537   36,159  17.25%   82.75%
HD142  14,573   41,837  25.83%   74.17%
HD143  12,622   24,375  34.12%   65.88%
HD144  14,320   16,647  46.24%   53.76%
HD145  15,721   27,079  36.73%   63.27%
HD146  12,136   43,482  21.82%   78.18%
HD147  16,299   53,306  23.42%   76.58%
HD148  23,760   36,701  39.30%   60.70%
HD149  22,218   31,229  41.57%   58.43%
HD150  57,472   39,861  59.05%   40.95%
				
CC1    98,928  280,012  26.11%   73.89%
CC2   156,101  145,437  51.77%   48.23%
CC3   236,143  210,982  52.81%   47.19%
CC4   249,022  214,861  53.68%   46.32%
				
JP1    99,802  162,942  37.98%   62.02%
JP2    35,454   49,274  41.84%   58.16%
JP3    53,615   68,275  43.99%   56.01%
JP4   241,226  186,223  56.43%   43.57%
JP5   211,577  216,054  49.48%   50.52%
JP6     8,598   27,274  23.97%   76.03%
JP7    20,093  100,384  16.68%   83.32%
JP8    69,829   40,866  63.08%   36.92%

Dist    BertR  Frizell  BertR% Frizell%
=======================================
CD02  182,683  156,878  53.80%   46.20%
CD07  154,962  152,062  50.47%   49.53%
CD08   26,171   15,356  63.02%   36.98%
CD09   38,285  121,530  23.96%   76.04%
CD10  103,856   61,112  62.96%   37.04%
CD18   60,147  182,281  24.81%   75.19%
CD22   22,094   20,602  51.75%   48.25%
CD29   49,588  103,742  32.34%   67.66%
CD36   84,033   49,223  63.06%   36.94%
				
HD126  39,527   33,961  53.79%   46.21%
HD127  54,907   35,913  60.46%   39.54%
HD128  48,755   22,498  68.43%   31.57%
HD129  48,845   35,746  57.74%   42.26%
HD130  71,099   32,881  68.38%   31.62%
HD131  10,143   45,055  18.38%   81.62%
HD132  51,129   49,476  50.82%   49.18%
HD133  51,832   36,580  58.63%   41.37%
HD134  50,395   57,371  46.76%   53.24%
HD135  36,941   37,669  49.51%   50.49%
HD137  10,540   21,336  33.07%   66.93%
HD138  32,162   31,590  50.45%   49.55%
HD139  15,861   45,360  25.91%   74.09%
HD140   9,330   22,296  29.50%   70.50%
HD141   7,087   36,609  16.22%   83.78%
HD142  14,019   42,335  24.88%   75.12%
HD143  12,089   24,821  32.75%   67.25%
HD144  13,871   17,022  44.90%   55.10%
HD145  15,087   27,539  35.39%   64.61%
HD146  11,553   43,886  20.84%   79.16%
HD147  15,480   53,890  22.32%   77.68%
HD148  22,624   37,382  37.70%   62.30%
HD149  21,970   31,301  41.24%   58.76%
HD150  56,572   40,268  58.42%   41.58%
				
CC1    94,471  283,329  25.01%   74.99%
CC2   152,430  147,946  50.75%   49.25%
CC3   231,007  213,789  51.94%   48.06%
CC4   243,911  217,725  52.84%   47.16%
				
JP1    94,825  166,188  36.33%   63.67%
JP2    34,572   49,950  40.90%   59.10%
JP3    52,322   69,282  43.03%   56.97%
JP4   237,425  188,270  55.77%   44.23%
JP5   207,011  218,653  48.63%   51.37%
JP6     8,115   27,625  22.71%   77.29%
JP7    18,911  101,267  15.74%   84.26%
JP8    68,638   41,554  62.29%   37.71%

Dist    Yeary  Clinton  Yeary% Clinton%
=======================================
CD02  181,198  157,995  53.42%   46.58%
CD07  151,549  154,946  49.45%   50.55%
CD08   26,274   15,252  63.27%   36.73%
CD09   38,213  121,550  23.92%   76.08%
CD10  103,978   60,908  63.06%   36.94%
CD18   59,656  182,560  24.63%   75.37%
CD22   21,975   20,676  51.52%   48.48%
CD29   50,071  103,069  32.70%   67.30%
CD36   83,847   49,311  62.97%   37.03%

HD126  39,406   34,008  53.68%   46.32%
HD127  54,799   35,974  60.37%   39.63%
HD128  48,866   22,330  68.64%   31.36%
HD129  48,336   36,186  57.19%   42.81%
HD130  71,143   32,784  68.45%   31.55%
HD131  10,107   45,059  18.32%   81.68%
HD132  51,349   49,189  51.07%   48.93%
HD133  50,252   37,973  56.96%   43.04%
HD134  47,809   59,740  44.45%   55.55%
HD135  36,998   37,557  49.63%   50.37%
HD137  10,513   21,328  33.02%   66.98%
HD138  31,954   31,731  50.18%   49.82%
HD139  15,775   45,409  25.78%   74.22%
HD140   9,482   22,099  30.02%   69.98%
HD141   7,189   36,455  16.47%   83.53%
HD142  14,134   42,173  25.10%   74.90%
HD143  12,173   24,673  33.04%   66.96%
HD144  13,989   16,866  45.34%   54.66%
HD145  15,119   27,441  35.52%   64.48%
HD146  11,410   43,976  20.60%   79.40%
HD147  15,255   54,067  22.01%   77.99%
HD148  22,154   37,759  36.98%   63.02%
HD149  21,889   31,344  41.12%   58.88%
HD150  56,659   40,145  58.53%   41.47%
				
CC1    93,178  284,268  24.69%   75.31%
CC2   152,526  147,534  50.83%   49.17%
CC3   228,374  215,887  51.41%   48.59%
CC4   242,683  218,581  52.61%   47.39%
				
JP1    92,164  168,445  35.36%   64.64%
JP2    34,638   49,779  41.03%   58.97%
JP3    52,563   68,943  43.26%   56.74%
JP4   237,318  188,099  55.78%   44.22%
JP5   205,042  220,128  48.23%   51.77%
JP6     8,132   27,549  22.79%   77.21%
JP7    18,576  101,549  15.46%   84.54%
JP8    68,328   41,778  62.06%   37.94%

Dist   Newell    Birm  Newell%    Birm%
=======================================
CD02  183,283  155,303  54.13%   45.87%
CD07  154,445  151,554  50.47%   49.53%
CD08   26,375   15,075  63.63%   36.37%
CD09   39,055  120,306  24.51%   75.49%
CD10  104,616   60,043  63.53%   36.47%
CD18   61,174  180,645  25.30%   74.70%
CD22   22,249   20,322  52.26%   47.74%
CD29   51,148  101,583  33.49%   66.51%
CD36   84,501   48,451  63.56%   36.44%

HD126  39,784   33,498  54.29%   45.71%
HD127  55,127   35,497  60.83%   39.17%
HD128  49,062   22,055  68.99%   31.01%
HD129  48,920   35,437  57.99%   42.01%
HD130  71,414   32,353  68.82%   31.18%
HD131  10,424   44,586  18.95%   81.05%
HD132  51,878   48,536  51.66%   48.34%
HD133  51,273   36,800  58.22%   41.78%
HD134  49,412   57,931  46.03%   53.97%
HD135  37,337   37,104  50.16%   49.84%
HD137  10,697   21,067  33.68%   66.32%
HD138  32,371   31,165  50.95%   49.05%
HD139  16,204   44,873  26.53%   73.47%
HD140   9,722   21,767  30.87%   69.13%
HD141   7,342   36,259  16.84%   83.16%
HD142  14,466   41,754  25.73%   74.27%
HD143  12,491   24,246  34.00%   66.00%
HD144  14,227   16,561  46.21%   53.79%
HD145  15,377   27,059  36.24%   63.76%
HD146  11,707   43,563  21.18%   78.82%
HD147  15,713   53,487  22.71%   77.29%
HD148  22,748   37,026  38.06%   61.94%
HD149  22,175   30,953  41.74%   58.26%
HD150  56,974   39,704  58.93%   41.07%
				
CC1    95,668  281,099  25.39%   74.61%
CC2   154,203  145,222  51.50%   48.50%
CC3   231,571  211,887  52.22%   47.78%
CC4   245,404  215,077  53.29%   46.71%
				
JP1    94,960  165,091  36.52%   63.48%
JP2    35,233   48,975  41.84%   58.16%
JP3    53,108   68,215  43.77%   56.23%
JP4   238,952  185,854  56.25%   43.75%
JP5   208,027  216,365  49.02%   50.98%
JP6     8,409   27,151  23.65%   76.35%
JP7    19,213  100,651  16.03%   83.97%
JP8    68,944   40,983  62.72%   37.28%

Another word about the order in which these races appeared. On the Harris County election returns page, they appeared in the order you’d expect: first was the Supreme Court Chief Justice race, then Places 6, 7, and 8, followed by Court of Criminal Appeals Places 3, 4, and 9. In other words, the order a random person off the streets might have put them in if they had been tasked with it. For whatever the reason, on the Secretary of State election returns page, the order is different: Chief Justice, then Supreme Court Places 8, 6, and 7, followed by CCA Places 4, 9, and 3. I have no idea why they did it this way.

What difference does it make? The answer is in the total number of votes cast. The generally accepted wisdom is that the farther down the ballot, the more likely it is that a voter will skip the race, presumably because they thought “well, that’s all the voting I have in me, I’m going to call it quits now”. This was the underpinning of the many breathless articles about the effect of not having straight ticket voting, which came with the implicit assumption that Democratic voters would have less endurance in them, thus giving Republican candidates farther down the ballot an advantage. You know how I felt about that.

That said, the dropoff effect was there, albeit in a small amount. Here are the turnout totals for each race, going by the order on the Harris County ballot, which I’m taking as the proper order for elsewhere in the state. (You can check other county election sites to check this, I’ve already spent too much time on it.)


Position      Statewide     Harris
==================================
President    11,315,056  1,640,818
Senate       11,144,040  1,614,525
RRC          11,000,982  1,594,345
SC Chief     10,997,978  1,596,369
SC Place 6   10,954,061  1,591,486
SC Place 7   10,961,811  1,590,486
SC Place 8   10,948,768  1,588,895
CCA Place 3  10,918,384  1,584,608
CCA Place 4  10,898,223  1,583,031
CCA Place 9  10,879,051  1,580,131

I included the other statewide races here for comparison. There is some dropoff, but it’s pretty small – at both the statewide and Harris County level, the last race still got more than 96% of the vote total of the Presidential race. The dropoff among just the state offices is much more minimal, which I can understand – if all you care about is who’s running the country, you’ll probably stop after President, Senate, and Congress, which will be the third race on your ballot. Note also that with one exception in each column, the totals comport with their order on the ballot. Someday I might like to meet the person who decides to get off the bus after voting in three of the four Supreme Court races, or one of the three CCA races. Today is not that day, however.

The other thing to talk about here is how the candidates in races with a Libertarian candidate did versus the ones in races without a Libertarian. My eyeball sense of it is that the Republican candidates in two-person races picked up more of the erstwhile Libertarian voters in the redder districts, and the effect was more diffuse in the Dem districts, but I can’t say that with any level of rigor. There are too many factors to consider, including the gender and race of the candidates and their campaign finances and tenure in office and who knows what else. Maybe someone with a PhD can create a viable model for this.

Beyond that, what we see in these numbers is what we’ve been seeing all along. CD07 was a slightly tougher environment than it was in 2018, with three of the seven Democratic candidates carrying it. CD02 is basically a seven- or eight-point Republican district. HD135 leaned slightly Democratic, while HDs 132 and 138 leaned slightly more Republican, and HD134 completed its journey to becoming a Democratic district. Commissioner Precincts 2, 3, and 4 were all slightly to slightly-more-than-slightly red, but it won’t take much in redistricting to flip that around, at least for precincts 2 and 3. Everyone carried Constable/JP precinct 5, while precinct 4 remains a bit of a stretch. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t included SBOE and State Senate districts in these reports before now, wonder no more. I’ll be delving into those next. Let me know what you think.

A focus on the SCOTX races

With so much litigation over a variety of voting issues, the Supreme Court of Texas is in the news a lot these days. Will that mean more attention being paid to the four races for SCOTX positions?

Justice Gisela Triana

The sleepy contests for seats on Texas’ highest courts have taken on new energy this year as Democrats, bullish on their chances to claim seats on the all-Republican courts, seek to capitalize on a series of controversial pandemic- and election-related decisions.

Voters have the chance to choose four justices on the nine-member Texas Supreme Court, the state’s highest court for civil matters, and three judges on its sister body, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

It’s notoriously difficult for judicial candidates, even those running for the state’s high courts, to capture voters’ attention, particularly with a hotly contested presidential race above them on the ballot. But this year, Democrats say they have something new to run against: decisions by the high court to end Texas’ eviction moratorium and election opinions that limited mail-in voting options.

“The Supreme Court has been in the news on almost a weekly basis over the last several months … with all the election shenanigans that are going on,” said Justice Gisela Triana, who serves on the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals and is running as a Democrat for a seat on the high court. “I think they’ve been complicit in allowing the Republican Party to try to make it harder for people to vote.”

For Republicans, meanwhile, the virus is an argument for sticking with the status quo. Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who faces reelection this fall, said unprecedented challenges of access to justice and budget concerns during the pandemic would best be handled by a judge with experience running the court.

“We’re in such untraveled waters — dangerous, difficult, challenging times,” said Hecht, who has served on the court for more than three decades. “It takes some leadership not only to try to discern a wise course through all this, but to get the other branches to go along with you.”

[…]

Even as President Donald Trump runs an unusually tight race in Texas with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, less controversial Republicans lower on the ballot are expected to perform better in Texas. Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, facing Democrat MJ Hegar, has shown a wider lead in polling than the president, and statewide judicial candidates outperformed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and Trump in 2016.

Republicans say they’re confident Trump will carry the state — but that the judges could win even if he doesn’t.

Pollsters sometimes view statewide judicial races as pure tests of a voter’s partisan allegiance since so few Texans are familiar with the candidates.

“Even though we’re toward the top of the ticket, people don’t know much about who we are,” Hecht said.

[…]

Along with new attention to the high court comes the uncertainty about what the end of straight-ticket voting will mean for Texas. This Nov. 3 marks the first election in which Texans won’t have the option of voting for every candidate in a certain party with just one punch — a colossal change whose effects neither party can fully anticipate.

All that, coupled with a volatile presidential race, means “you just can’t tell” where the outcome may land, Hecht said.

“It’s just completely unpredictable,” Boyd said. A higher profile for the court could help him as an incumbent, he said.

“If people are seeing the coverage and thinking, ‘I need to do my homework on these races,’ I have full confidence that when they do their homework they’ll end up supporting me,” Boyd said.

Democrats see reason for optimism in early voting totals, which have shattered records, especially in large, blue counties like Harris. But Republicans are also turning out to vote early in high numbers.

And there may be more reason for Democrats to be hopeful. Keir Murray, a Democratic operative in Houston, said based on the statewide numbers he’s seeing, women are outvoting men by 10 points — a potentially major boon for an all-female Democratic slate for Supreme Court.

“Women usually outvote men, but not to that degree,” he said.

Let’s start with the obvious – the statewide judicial races are mostly affected by the Presidential race. It’s true that the Supreme Court has been in the news a lot recently and have made a number of consequential rulings that affect not just the election and how it is being conducted but also the COVID pandemic and how it is being handled. The story does a good job laying all this out, and I’d be willing to believe that a lot of people are at least aware of these things. How many of those people are more likely to vote, or are likely to change how they vote, as a result of these stories is a question none of us can answer, but my suspicion is that it’s pretty small. Makes for good speculation and the basis of stories like these, but that’s as far as we can go.

What about the claim that Republicans are likely to win the statewide judicial races even if Biden carries Texas? It’s kind of amazing that Republicans would advance that hypothesis instead of just laugh off the question, but a check of recent elections suggests they’re onto something. All of the Republicans running for statewide judicial office in 2016 won by a wider margin than Trump did, and all of the Republicans running for statewide judicial office in 2018 won by a wider margin than Ted Cruz did. If there are Republican voters who don’t vote for Trump like that, then that’s a plausible scenario. I feel like a lot of the people who avoided Trump but otherwise mostly voted R in 2016 were voting mostly D in 2018, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Keir Murray’s point about the electorate being disproportionately female so far means Dems are probably doing pretty well so far and that’s a boost for all Dem candidates, but it doesn’t tell us anything about how the court candidates may do compared to Trump. I don’t think the Cornyn/Hegar polling tells us all that much either, as there’s a name recognition component to that.

An alternate possibility is that some number of people who vote for Trump will peace out after that. Trump has spent plenty of time attacking Republicans, too, so some of his supporters are loyal to him but not the party. The 2016 experience suggests that’s unlikely, but maybe this year is different. I don’t think the lack of straight ticket voting will matter much. The Supreme Court Chief Justice election is the fifth race people will see on their ballots, following the three federal elections (President, US Senate, US House) and Railroad Commissioner. Maybe some people who aren’t strong partisans will skip those races because they don’t feel they know the candidates well enough, but it won’t be because they’re tired of all that voting.

Look, Democrats are motivated to vote, and they’re pissed at the rulings in some of these lawsuits, even if SCOTX maintained its integrity in the latest Hotze provocation. I think there’s a strong urge to vote all the way down. I just don’t know how to quantify that. I’ll know more after the election.

UH-Hobby: Trump 50, Biden 45

Here’s a poll result that stands in contrast to the others we have seen lately.

President Donald Trump is leading Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by more than five points among likely voters in Texas, according to a poll released Monday by the Hobby School for Public Affairs at the University of Houston.

The poll, conducted between Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, found 50% of voters said they already had or will vote for Trump, while 44.7% said they had or will vote for Biden.

Trump and running mate Mike Pence carried Texas by nine points in 2016.

The Republican edge held for statewide contests down the ballot, including for U.S. Senate, Texas Railroad Commission and three statewide judicial races covered by the poll.

“Record turnout in early voting clearly shows the state’s Democrats are energized, but at least at the top of the ticket, that enthusiasm appears unlikely to overcome the Republican advantage among men, Anglos and older voters,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School. “In fact, we found the Republican candidate leading by wider margins in statewide races farther down the ballot.”

Among the findings:

  • More than 40% had already voted at the time of the poll. Biden held a substantial edge among those voters, leading Trump 59% to 39%. Almost two-thirds of those who plan to vote on Election Day said they will vote for Trump.
  • Incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn leads Democratic challenger MJ Hegar 48.9% to 41.6%.
  • Republican Jim Wright is leading in the race for an open seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, with 46.8% of the vote; Democrat Chrysta Castañeda has 38.4%.
  • Biden holds a slight edge among women, 49.5% to 46%. Trump is preferred among men by a notably larger margin, 54.3% to 39.5%.
  • While 63% of Anglos support Trump, and 87% of African-American voters back Biden, the gap is narrower among Latino voters: 56% support Biden, and 38% back Trump.
  • Republican Nathan Hecht leads Democrat Amy Clark Meachum 47.5% to 40% for Texas Supreme Court chief justice. For Supreme Court Justice Place 6, Republican Jane Bland leads Democrat Kathy Cheng 49.2% to 40.1%.
  • Republican Bert Richardson leads Democrat Elizabeth Davis Frizell 48.2% to 38.3% for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Place 3.

The full report is available on the Hobby School website.

The Hobby School did a primary poll in February and one Trump-Clinton poll around this time in 2016; they also did a couple of polls of Harris County in 2016. As noted in their introduction, this was a YouGov poll, so similar in nature to the UT/Texas Tribune polls. As I alluded to in the headline, this is the first poll we’ve had in awhile that was this positive for Trump, and it especially stands in contrast with that UT-Tyler poll that came out over the weekend. What does one make of this?

You can peruse the poll data as you wish. I’m going to note one thing that really stood out to me. The following is a list of how Independent voters went in each of the last nine polls over the past month for which that data was available (in other words, skipping the Morning Consult polls). See if you can see what I saw:


Poll      Biden   Trump
=======================
UH-Hobby     34      51
UTT/DMN      51      29
Q'piac Oct   50      39
DFP          40      36
PPP          60      35
UT-Trib      45      37
UML          43      39
NYT/Siena    41      37
Q'piac Sep   51      43

Yeah, that’s a very different result for independent voters than for basically every other poll we’ve seen. Note that the UT-Trib poll had Trump up by five, as did the Quinnipiac poll from September (both were 50-45 for Trump, in fact), and that UMass-Lowell poll had Trump up 49-46. As the song goes, one of these things is not like the others.

There are other things that can be said about this poll – I appreciate the “who has voted” versus “who has yet to vote” distinction, and I appreciate the inclusion of downballot races though I tend to discount those results because of the increase in “don’t know” responses – but this is the main thing I wanted to cover.

Links to the cited polls, and their data or crosstabs page where the numbers I included can be found:

UT-Tyler/DMNdata
Quinnipiacdata
Data for Progressdata
PPPdata
UT-Trib (data about indies in quoted excerpt)
UMass-Lowelldata
NYT/Sienadata
Quinnipiacdata

I will also note that Jim Henson and Joshua Blank have observed a shift in independents’ preferences in Texas towards indies this cycle. And now I will stop beating this horse.

30 Day 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 1

Time once again to look at campaign finance reports. I don’t usually review the 30-day reports but this is a special year, and there’s a lot of money sloshing around, so let’s keep an eye on it. As before, I will split these into four parts. Part one will be statewide, SBOE, and State Senate, part two will be State House races from the Houston area, part three will be State House races from elsewhere in the state, 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. January reports for statewide candidates can be found here, January reports for various SBOE and State Senate races can be found here, and the July reports for the candidates in this post are here.

Chrysta Castaneda, RRC
Jim Wright, RRC

Amy Clark Meachum, Supreme Court, Chief Justice
Nathan Hecht, Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Gisela Triana, Supreme Court, Place 8
Brett Busby, Supreme Court, Place 8

Kathy Cheng, Supreme Court, Place 6
Jane Bland, Supreme Court, Place 6

Staci Williams, Supreme Court, Place 7
Jeff Boyd, Supreme Court, Place 7

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, SBOE5
Lani Popp, SBOE5

Michelle Palmer, SBOE6
Will Hickman, SBOE6

Marsha Webster, SBOE10
Tom Maynard, SBOE10

Susan Criss, SD11
Larry Taylor, SD11

Roland Gutierrez, SD19
Pete Flores, SD19


Candidate   Office    Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===========================================================
Castaneda      RRC   310,709   161,145   27,166     103,934
Wright         RRC   243,765   452,473   45,000     169,761

Meachum      SCOTX   103,704    27,920        0     200,072
Hecht        SCOTX   176,761   806,375        0     105,298

Triana       SCOTX    37,075    19,945        0     134,736
Busby        SCOTX   314,946   580,588        0     342,010

Cheng        SCOTX    17,901     5,196   90,174      80,371
Bland        SCOTX   167,487   490,849        0     132,174

Williams     SCOTX   127,667    69,733    1,000      78,572
Boyd         SCOTX   128,500   168,373        0     466,196

BellMetereau SBOE5    63,473    18,316    2,250      66,834
Popp         SBOE5    64,012    22,713   60,000      50,637

Palmer       SBOE6    17,395     8,251        0      12,982
Hickman      SBOE6     2,660       819    2,500       2,887

Webster     SBOE10     4,195     3,200       25       4,523
Maynard     SBOE10     4,332    14,797    4,000         848

Criss         SD11    18,137    29,403        0       5,048
Taylor        SD11    47,775   138,166        0   1,054,841

Gutierrez     SD19   199,270    50,785        0      11,309
Flores        SD19   627,919   531,779        0     606,589

I didn’t have a whole lot to say about these reports last time, and I don’t have much to add now. Chrysta Castaneda raised a few bucks and has done a bit of TV advertising, but there’s not a whole lot you can do statewide with less than a million bucks as an opening bid. She has done well with earned media, and I think Democrats may be more aware of this race than they usually are, which could have an effect on the margins if it keeps the third-party vote level low. To be sure, the Presidential race is by far the single biggest factor here. The hope is that Castaneda can outpace Biden, even by a little, and if so then she just needs it to be close at the top.

The same is true for the Supreme Court, where Dems at least are fired up by the rulings relating to mail ballots. I think the potential for crossovers is lower than in the RRC race, where Jim Wright is so obviously conflicted, but just retaining a sufficient portion of the Presidential vote would mean a lot. I know people like to talk about the lack of straight ticket voting, but 1) these races are all near the top of the ballot, following the three federal contests, and 2) the message about voting out Republicans at all levels has been pounded all over the place. How much will it matter? I have no idea. All this may be little more than a social media mirage. It’s just what I’ve observed.

I am a little surprised that Roland Gutierrez hasn’t raised more money, and it’s equally odd to me that Pete Flores has outspent him by that much. But like everywhere else, the top of the ticket will drive this result more than anything else. In the context of 2016, this was basically a 10-12 point Dem district. Flores has to convince a lot of people to cross over in order to win. That’s the challenge he faces.

More of these to come. Let me know what you think.

Endorsement watch: For (just a little) more diversity

The Chron says a few words about the need to diversify the Supreme Court, then mostly endorses the status quo.

Judge Staci Williams

When talk turns to Texas’ highest civil court — as it must, given voters’ opportunity to select four of the nine justices in the upcoming election — the old frames of left versus right take on entirely new and even hazy meanings.

As an editorial board, we’ve grappled with the consequences of one-party rule in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in 26 years. But those concerns are even more relevant when the topic is the Texas Supreme Court, and its criminal law counterpart, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

All 18 justices on these two courts are Republican, and we believe that lack of ideological diversity would do damage to any state, but especially one as big and diverse as Texas. That concern weighed heavy on our minds but still was only one factor in deliberations over which candidates to recommend.

We’re delighted to report that not one of the candidates was unqualified. We faced tough choices in selecting only one for each race. In addition to experience, judicial record, temperament and aptitudes for research, writing and analysis that form the heart of appellate law, we also gave thoughtful consideration to candidates’ ideological and personal backgrounds, including gender, race, ethnicity and life experiences.

What follows is our best advice in each of these four, consequential races. Endorsements in the Court of Criminal Appeals will be published soon.

And then they endorse three of the four Republican incumbents – Chief Justice Nathan Hecht over Judge Amy Clark Meachum, Justice Jane Bland over Kathy Cheng, Justice Brett Busby over Justice Gisela Triana; Judge Staci Williams over Justice Jeff Boyd was the lone exception – with nods to experience and temperament over the other factors. It’s fine to prefer those three incumbents and to value their experience, though I at least would argue that Triana has at least as much experience as the Abbott-appointed Busby, but the expressed concern over “lack of ideological diversity” sounds hollow given the result. The Justices in question may well be sober and experienced and learned, but I doubt anyone would claim they differ in any significant way on their philosophy and jurisprudence. Endorsing more of the same is not a great way to get something different. We’ll see what happens when they review the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Green Party candidate for Supreme Court withdraws

It’s not an election without a bit of ballot drama.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum

Charles Waterbury, the Green Party candidate for Texas Supreme Court chief justice, has dropped out of the race after an opponent questioned his eligibility to run.

Waterbury’s withdrawal notice was submitted to the Texas secretary of state’s office Monday and notarized Friday, the same day his Democratic opponent, Amy Clark Meachum, sought a court order declaring his candidacy invalid.

Meachum’s emergency petition to the Supreme Court, the same body she hopes to join, argued that Waterbury is prohibited from appearing on the ballot as the Green Party nominee because he voted in the March 3 Democratic primary.

State law prohibits candidates for state or county office from representing one political party in the general election if they voted in another party’s primary in the same election cycle.

Laura Palmer, co-chair of the Green Party, criticized the petition, saying party officials were given only one day to respond to allegations that Waterbury was ineligible to run and that Waterbury decided to withdraw on Friday.

“The filing is moot, baseless and harassing,” Palmer said.

But Meachum’s lawyer, Brandi Voss, said Monday that the Supreme Court petition was filed because of tight election deadlines after Green Party officials did not respond by a 2 p.m. Friday deadline. A candidate’s name can be omitted from the ballot up to the 74th day before an election, which is this Friday for the Nov. 3 general election, according to Meachum’s petition.

I’m not sure what the timing of all this is. The Greens (and the Libertarians) nominate by convention, and Waterbury was not listed as a candidate as of April 18, when the party confirmed seven other nominees. He was listed on their July newsletter, so somewhere in there he must have been confirmed. Once he was known to be a candidate, someone had to notice that he had cast a Democratic primary vote, and then whatever correspondence leading up to the SCOTX emergency petition had to happen. It’s plausible this could have all taken place on a compressed timeline.

This is also one of those situations where I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for the candidate who’s been booted off the ballot. Waterbury has run for statewide office before – he was a Green nominee for SCOTX in 2016 and 2014 and probably before that as well but I stopped looking – and so presumably had a passing familiarity with the rules. As with candidates who screw up their ballot applications, it’s not an onerous burden to get it right. All he had to do was not vote in another party’s primary, the same standard to which I as a precinct chair am held. He had one job, and he blew it.

The Libertarian Party has a full slate of candidates, including one for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, if that sort of thing interests you. Losing Waterbury is a blow to the Greens as a whole, because they need to break two percent in a statewide race in order to ensure future ballot access, and with Waterbury out they only have two others running statewide, David Collins for Senate and Katija Gruene for Railroad Commissioner. With all due respect to Collins, that isn’t happening for them in the Senate race – I mean, the Green candidate for Senate in 2014 got all of 1.18%, and that was with a lousy Dem candidate and with the Green being a Latina (as I have noted before, Latinx third party candidates tend to do better than non-Latinx third party candidates). It is doable in the RRC race, as Martina Salinas cleared 2% in 2014 and 3% in 2016, though in that latter race the major party candidates were the unqualified hack Wayne Christian and perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough. It might be tougher this year, and with turnout expected to be a lot higher, the bar is raised further. It’s not that Waterbury was likely to meet this threshhold – he got 1.23% in 2016, and 0.75% in 2014 – but at least he represented another opportunity. So much for that.

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 1

I’m going to take a look at the July finance reports from the various state races, which I will split into three parts. Part one will be statewide, SBOE, and State Senate, part two will be State House races from the Houston area, and part three will be State House races from elsewhere in the state. I’m not going to be doing every race of course, just the ones of interest. January reports for statewide candidates can be found here, and January reports for various SBOE and State Senate races can be found here.

Chrysta Castaneda, RRC
Jim Wright, RRC

Amy Clark Meachum, Supreme Court, Chief Justice
Nathan Hecht, Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Gisela Triana, Supreme Court, Place 8
Brett Busby, Supreme Court, Place 8

Kathy Cheng, Supreme Court, Place 6
Jane Bland, Supreme Court, Place 6

Staci Williams, Supreme Court, Place 7
Jeff Boyd, Supreme Court, Place 7

Rebecca Bell-Metereau, SBOE5
Lani Popp, SBOE5

Michelle Palmer, SBOE6
Will Hickman, SBOE6

Marsha Webster, SBOE10
Tom Maynard, SBOE10

Susan Criss, SD11
Larry Taylor, SD11

Roland Gutierrez, SD19
Pete Flores, SD19


Candidate   Office    Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===========================================================
Castaneda      RRC    43,072    38,785   27,166      16,043
Wright         RRC   384,282    90,680   45,000     350,856

Meachum      SCOTX    51,093    44,271        0     132,303
Hecht        SCOTX   312,030   106,598        0     727,648

Triana       SCOTX    17,592     9,781        0     113,567
Busby        SCOTX   207,080   116,130        0     611,700

Cheng        SCOTX     7,637     4,033   90,174       9,292
Bland        SCOTX   264,370   106,000        0     417,335

Williams     SCOTX    14,135    47,262        0       7,466
Boyd         SCOTX   104,743   171,002        0     492,183

BellMetereau SBOE5    27,439     8,027    2,250      20,935
Popp         SBOE5    22,930    98,185   10,000      25,354

Palmer       SBOE6     6,873     9,134        0       6,076
Hickman      SBOE6     1,800     2,225    2,500       1,047

Webster     SBOE10     2,480     1,589       25       3,529
Maynard     SBOE10     3,170     1,103    5,000       4,216

Criss         SD11    22,586    14,071        0      13,644
Taylor        SD11    64,150   116,848        0   1,129,009

Gutierrez     SD19    60,074    99,208        0      11,309
Flores        SD19   295,760    65,577        0     563,459

I skipped the Court of Criminal Appeals races because no one raises any money in them. Jim Wright is the no-name Republican challenger who ousted incumbent Ryan Sitton in the GOP Railroad Commissioner primary, in an upset no one saw coming. He had $12K on hand in his eight-day report for the March primary. You can see where he is now, thanks to the Republican money machine including Tim Dunn (evil rich guy behind Empower Texans, $20K) and a slew of PACs. Ryan Sitton had $2.5 million in his account at the time of his defeat (all of which he can now donate to other campaigns, if he wants), so Wright isn’t in that league yet, but the point is that Wright wasn’t a no-name nobody for long. The establishment just moved over to his camp and did their thing. The Republican Party of Texas is currently a dumpster fire, and many of its county parties (see, in particular, Harris and Bexar) are even worse off, but the real power structure is still operating at peak efficiency.

The larger point I would make here, as we begin to see Joe Biden and Donald Trump ads on TV – I saw one of each while watching the Yankees-Nationals game on Saturday night – is that there’s more than one way to do a statewide campaign in Texas. For a million bucks or so, you could probably blanket local and cable TV in many of the media markets with ads for Chrysta Castaneda and the statewide Democratic judicial slate. I have seen my share of “vote for Republican judges” ads on my teevee, as recently as 2016 and 2018. Our Congressional candidates have shown there’s plenty of financial support out there for Democratic contenders, even those in odds-against races. There are many people who know enough to create a PAC, get some dough in the door, then cut an ad and buy some time for it. The numbers say this is the best chance we’ve had in a quarter century to win statewide. What are we going to do about that?

As for the Senate races, SD11 isn’t really competitive. It’s on the list of “races that may end up being closer than you might have thought because of prevailing conditions and recent political shifts”, but it’s too far out of reach to expect more than that. The thing I’d ponder is if the likes of Larry Taylor, and other Republican Senators in safe districts or not on the ballot this year, will put some of their spare cash towards helping their fellow partymates who are in tough races. I’m sure we can all think of a few of them. As for SD19, I’m not too worried about the current gap between Roland Gutierrez’s and Pete Flores’ cash on hand. I fully expect Gutierrez, the one Dem running in a truly flippable district, to have the resources he needs. But I’ll still check the 30-day report, because SD19 officially makes me nervous after the 2018 special election fiasco.

Nobody ever raises money in the SBOE races. It would have been fascinating to see what might have happened had cartoon character/performance artist Robert Morrow won that primary runoff, but alas. It’s just another boring contest between two normal people. Which, given the history of the SBOE, is actually quite comforting.

Dems ask some Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from convention appeal

Stay with me here, this will all make sense.

The Texas Democratic Party on Friday called for four of the state’s nine Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from a case involving the Texas Republican Party’s in-person convention, claiming each had a conflict of interest.

The campaigns of Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Justices Jane Bland, Jeffrey Boyd and Brett Busby each sponsored the convention, according to an archived list of sponsors that since has been removed from the Texas GOP’s website.

[…]

Texas GOP officials are seeking a writ of mandamus from the court that would block Turner from canceling the convention, a day after a Harris County judge denied the party’s attempt to do so in state district court.

Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said the four justices, each of whom is up for re-election in November, are “faced with an obligation to do the right thing and choose the law over political allegiance.”

“A justice who funds a dangerous convention should not judicially decide the fate of that same convention,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “All four have interests in the case coming before them and all four should recuse.”

See here for the background. The allegation is that by sponsoring the convention and being on the November ballot, these judges have a conflict of interest. A press release from the TDP provided the following justification for the petition:

Canon 3(B)(1) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides that Texas judges “shall hear and decide matters assigned to the judge except those in which disqualification is required or recusal is appropriate.”

Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 18(b) requires a judge to recuse themself from a case when “(1) the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned” or “(2) the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning the subject matter or a party.”

I’m not qualified to assess this claim, but I will note that if the four Justices do recuse themselves, there’s still enough justices left to issue a ruling, and since all nine are Republicans it doesn’t change the dynamic. Given the compressed timeline for this litigation, I presume we’ll get an answer quickly.

Coronavirus and the State Supreme Court

Just a reminder, nearly half of the State Supreme Court is up for election this November. You know, in case you had opinions about their recent opinions.

Typically not top of mind for voters, the nine Republican justices of the Texas Supreme Court have come under the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic with a slate of high-profile and controversy-generating moves.

Actions on bailevictions, debt collections, vote-by-mail and a Dallas salon owner named Shelley Luther have foregrounded the court in a year when four incumbent justices face reelection — making it easier, Democratic challengers say, to make the case against them.

Last week, the high court lifted its coronavirus ban on evictions and debt collections, put in place in March as the economy shut down and hundreds of thousands were added to the unemployment rolls. And the justices temporarily put on hold a lower court ruling that expanded vote-by-mail access during the pandemic. Both decisions have infuriated some voters and energized the Democratic Party.

This month, the court ordered the release of Luther, who was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to shutter her salon under coronavirus orders; earlier this spring, it sided with state officials in limiting how many inmates could be released from county jails, which have become hotspots for disease.

Democrats, who have not won a seat on the state’s highest civil court in more than two decades, have reclassified the typically sleepy races as a “top-tier priority,” a designation party officials said comes with digital ad spending. And some candidates have already begun to speak out publicly against high court decisions they say disenfranchise voters and risk their safety.

“I think people’s eyes are opening up,” said 3rd Court of Appeals Justice Gisela Triana, one of the four women running for Supreme Court on the Democratic ticket this year. “What has been the sleepy branch of government … has woken up.”

There’s more and you should read the rest. For obvious reasons, these races are largely going to be determined by the Presidential race – if Joe Biden can run even with or ahead of Donald Trump, one or more of the Democratic candidates can break through. It surely wouldn’t hurt for their to be some money spent on these races, in part just to make sure voters are aware of them and in part to highlight some of the decisions that are not exactly in line with public preferences, but there’s only so much the individual candidates can do about that. In case you’re wondering, I have one Q&A from a Democratic candidate for Supreme Court from the primaries, from Judge Amy Clark Meachum.

On a more sobering note:

Justice Debra Lehrmann

One day after presiding over a hearing on the state’s mail-in ballot controversy via videoconference, Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann says she and her husband have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We began to exhibit symptoms last week, despite diligently complying with stay-at-home rules,” Lehrmann wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “Thankfully, this has not interfered with #SCOTX work, as the Court is working remotely. We are grateful for your thoughts & prayers.”

Her diagnosis marks the first known coronavirus case of a top state official. The justice did not immediately respond to requests for an interview but told the Dallas Morning News that she and her husband Greg had fevers and body aches early last week before getting tested at an Austin drive-thru testing center.

She also told The News that their Houston lawyer son, Jonathan, his wife Sarah and their six-month-old son Jack, who had been visiting them every other week, stopped and are believed to also be infected.

Her tweet is here. I wish Justice Lehrmann and her husband all the best for a swift recovery. (She is not on the 2020 ballot, in case you were wondering.)

January 2020 campaign finance reports: Statewide

There’s a whole lot of candidates of interest for state offices. I’m going to break them down into several groups, to keep things simple and the posts not too long. Today we will look at the candidates for statewide office. This will include the statewide judicial races, and both Republicans and Democrats. I have previously done the Harris County reports.

Roberto Alonzo, RRC
Chrysta Castaneda, RRC
Kelly Stone, RRC
Mark Watson, RRC

Ryan Sitton, RRC

Amy Clark Meachum, Supreme Court, Chief Justice
Jerry Zimmerer, Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Nathan Hecht, Supreme Court, Chief Justice

Kathy Cheng, Supreme Court, Place 6
Lawrence Praeger, Supreme Court, Place 6

Jane Bland, Supreme Court, Place 6

Brandy Voss, Supreme Court, Place 7
Staci Williams, Supreme Court, Place 7

Jeff Boyd, Supreme Court, Place 7

Peter Kelly, Supreme Court, Place 8
Gisela Triana, Supreme Court, Place 8

Brett Busby, Supreme Court, Place 8

William Demond, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3
Elizabeth Frizell, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3
Dan Wood, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3

Gina Parker, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3
Bert Richardson, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3

Tina Clinton, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4
Steve Miears, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4

Kevin Yeary, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4

Brandon Birmingham, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9

David Newell, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Alonzo         1,500     8,458    7,340       3,840
Castaneda     46,297    42,196   26,000      46,297
Stone         25,331    23,465    3,875       3,018
Watson           750     3,762        0         750

Sitton       480,850   154,832  378,899   2,514,759

Meachum      139,370    42,854        0     119,067
Zimmerer      10,680    22,213   20,000      45,251

Hecht        296,168   146,575        0     531,660

Cheng          1,315    41,200   84,167       8,129
Praeger        1,280     5,227   10,000       1,280

Bland        335,707    73,945        0     277,965

Voss         100,696   135,076  100,000     169,470
Williams      55,154   105,936        0      59,074

Boyd         134,844   100,193      177     562,533

Kelly         30,527     7,037        0      50,963
Triana       100,970    39,710        0     106,577

Busby        260,378   129,825        0     542,918

Demond        4,250      5,050    5,000       3,599
Frizell       1,000        988        0          11
Wood          6,490     68,592        0      41,291

Parker       58,195     82,247   25,000      21,055
Richardson   52,975     21,690    4,500      35,207

Clinton           0     10,216   25,000       4,944
Miears            0      3,750        0           0

Yeary        14,355     11,203    3,004       6,245

Birmingham   29,770     16,375   10,960      25,003

Newell        8,879      7,370        0       1,391

Railroad Commissioner is not a high profile office and not one for which a bunch of money is usually raised, though Ryan Sitton has clearly made good use of his five-plus years on the job. If you’ve listened to my interviews with Chrysta Castañeda and Kelly Stone, you know that I’m a little scarred by goofy results in some of our statewide primaries in recent cycles. Strange things can and do happen when people have no idea who the candidates are, as the likes of Grady Yarbrough and Jim Hogan can attest. On the plus side, I’d say three of the four candidates running in this primary would be fine – Castañeda and Stone are actively campaigning, Roberto Alonzo is a former State Rep, you can have confidence they’ll do their best. As for Mark Watson, at least I could identify him via a Google search. It’s a low bar to clear, you know?

I don’t often look at finance reports for judicial candidates – there’s just too many of them, for one thing, and they usually don’t tell you much. None of what I see here is surprising. The Republican incumbents have a few bucks, though none of their totals mean anything in a statewide context. I’m guessing the Dems with bigger totals to report had cash to transfer from their existing accounts, as District Court or Appeals court judges. It’s possible, if we really do see evidence of the state being a tossup, that some PAC money will get pumped into these races, for the purpose of making sure people don’t skip them. Everyone has to be concerned about the potential for undervotes to have an effect on the outcome, in this first year of no straight ticket voting.

As for the Court of Criminal Appeals, well, the money’s on the civil side of the house. It is what it is. I’ll be back with the Lege next, and then the SBOE and State Senate after that.

Filing period preview: Statewide

Previously: Congress. As before, I am using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet as my primary reference.

Statewide elections are much less exciting in Presidential years in Texas, since the state offices are on the ballot in the off years. We do have a US Senate race of interest, which I think you are familiar with. Beyond that, there’s the one Railroad Commission spot (there are three Railroad Commissioners, they serve six year terms, with one slot up for election each cycle), and the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals positions. We’ll take a look at those this time around.

Railroad Commissioner: We discussed this recently. Chrysta Castañeda and Kelly Stone are in, 2016 candidate Cody Garrett is thinking about it, and I will worry about Grady Yarbrough rising like a zombie to sow chaos until the filing deadline.

Supreme Court: There are four races, thanks to a previous retirement and appointment by Greg Abbott. Three of the races are contested.

Against Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, in Position 1, we have Amy Clark Meachum, a District Court judge in Travis County first elected in 2010, and Jerry Zimmerer, a Harris County judge elected to the 14th Court of Appeals in 2018.

For Position 7 against Jeff Boyd, the candidates are Brandy Voss, an attorney and law professor from McAllen, and Staci Williams, a District Court judge from Dallas County, first elected in 2014.

Position 6 is the open seat, where Jeff Brown was replaced by Jane Bland, a former First Court of Appeals judge who was defeated in 2018. Kathy Cheng, a Houston attorney who ran for this same position in 2018, finishing with 46.3% of the vote, and Lawrence Praeger, also a Houston attorney, are the contenders.

Position 8, held by Brett Busby, is the only one that has a lone Democrat, at least so far. Gisela Triana, a longtime District Court judge in Travis County who was elected to the Third Court of Appeals in 2018.

Court of Criminal Appeals: Three positions are up, as per usual: Bert Richardson (Place 3), Kevin Yeary (Place 4), and David Newell (Place 9). There are candidates running for Place 6, except that that election may not happen this cycle. The spreadsheet only lists the Place 3 race and doesn’t mention any Dem candidates, so at this point I don’t have any knowledge to drop on you. I’m sure there are people running for these positions, but for what it’s worth the one statewide office that Dems did not challenge in 2018 was a CCA slot. I will of course keep my eyes open for this.

Next up: SBOE, State Senate, and State House. Let me know what you think.

There’s no reason to trust the Republican study to “reform” the judicial election process

Oh, hell no.

After a punishing election for Republican judges, state leaders are set to take a long look at Texas’ often-criticized judicial selection system — a partisan election structure that Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht has described as “among the very worst methods of judicial selection.”

This summer, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law creating a commission to study the issue — signaling that the GOP-led Legislature could overhaul the system as soon as 2021. That move comes after Democrats killed a sweeping reform proposal that Abbott had quietly backed.

In Texas, one of just a few states that maintains a system of partisan judicial selection all the way up through its high courts, judges are at the mercy of the political winds. They are required to run as partisans but expected to rule impartially. They are forced to raise money from the same lawyers who will appear before them in court. And in their down-ballot, low-information races, their fates tend to track with the candidates at the top of the ticket.

That means political waves that sweep out of office good and bad, experienced and inexperienced judges alike. And while sweeps are perennial problems for the judiciary, 2018’s elections “set records,” said Tom Phillips, a former Texas Supreme Court chief justice.

Democrats, riding on the coattails of Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, left the election with majorities on appeals courts where they had previously held zero seats. Republicans were entirely shut out of major urban counties. Voters, largely uninformed about judicial races, differentiated very little between well-funded, experienced candidates and those who had done little but throw their hats in the ring. The judiciary lost hundreds of years of experience.

“Make no mistake: A judicial selection system that continues to sow the political wind will reap the whirlwind,” Hecht warned lawmakers in January, exhorting them to change the system.

But reform is similarly fraught with politics. Voters don’t like having choices taken away from them, even if vanishingly few recognize judicial candidates’ names on the ballot. And any new system has to win the approval of both parties, as a two-thirds majority in each chamber is required for the constitutional amendment needed to change the system.

[…]

Texas Republicans dominate the state’s judiciary: All nine members on each of the state’s two high courts are Republicans, as are lower-court judges across much of the state. But that dominance began to wilt after last fall’s elections, particularly on intermediate courts of appeals, where Democrats now hold majorities on 7 of 14 courts.

After scores of Republican judges lost their jobs last fall, Abbott set about appointing many of them back to the bench. He also became more vocal on the issue of judicial selection reform.

Eyebrows went up in February, when he tweeted a Houston Chronicle column criticizing the partisan judicial election system. The governor commented, “We need judges devoted to the constitution and strict application of the law, not to the political winds of the day.”

Advocates began to believe this might be the year to push the issue — or at least to tee it up for a big swing in 2021. It was around that time that a group of would-be reformers — attorneys, former judges and donors — formed a non-profit organization, Citizens for Judicial Excellence in Texas, to push the issue in Austin. One lobbyist registered to represent the group at the Capitol this spring.

With powerful supporters in his ear calling for change, Abbott was also pushing the issue more quietly. In March, he met with state Rep. Brooks Landgraf, a Republican lawyer from Lubbock. Two days later, on the Legislature’s filing deadline, Landgraf proposed a constitutional amendment that would have overhauled the system, centralizing much of the power to pick judges in the governor’s office.

The Landgraf pitch — which ultimately stalled out for a lack of bipartisan support — would have scrapped the partisan judicial election system, replacing it with a multi-step process: gubernatorial appointment, qualifications evaluation by a non-partisan commission, Texas Senate confirmation and retention elections. Since judges tend to win retention elections, barring scandal, the proposal would effectively have allowed Abbott to appoint judges likely to serve for three four-year terms — giving Republican-appointed judges a dozen years in power even as Texas creaks toward the political center.

Landgraf’s proposal carved out small, rural — conservative — counties, where voters would still have had the opportunity to elect judges on partisan ballots, unless they voted to opt into the appointment system.

Landgraf’s pitch, blessed by Abbott, didn’t sit well with Democrats, who demanded to know why the urban centers they and their colleagues represent would be treated differently from Republican strongholds. They feared overhauling the system would mean losing the new class of Democratic judges elected in last year’s sweep — a class that brought unprecedented diversity to the bench. And they questioned whether centralizing that power in Abbott’s office might effectively give the Republicans control over the judiciary for longer than the party can hold the other two branches of government.

In April, a House committee hosted a spirited debate on the bill, then left the pitch pending. Landgraf said he wouldn’t push to advance it without bipartisan support; Democrats cheered its defeat.

First of all, no way is it acceptable to put this power in the hands of the Governor. Putting aside who the governor is now, how does that take the politics out of the process? All it does is incentivize anyone who wants to be a judge to suck up to the Governor. Sure, you could redesign things so that no one person or one party has control over the process, but any way you slice it you are granting this power to a small, unelected, unrepresentative group of people. But if this does get traction, then no way do “small rural counties” get exempted from it. If this is a good system for Harris and Dallas, it’s a good system for Loving and Deaf Smith.

But the bottom line remains that this is only ever an issue when Democrats have a good year at the ballot box. The first time Republicans started talking about changing the partisan election system was in 2008. It then got mostly dropped (except for its most ardent supporters, and I will admit that the likes of Wallace Jefferson and Nathan Hecht continued to bang this drum at every opportunity) in the 2010 to 2014 period, only to be revived in 2016. First they ended straight ticket voting (though not in time for 2018, poor things), and now this. The goal is to install Republican judges, hopefully before Democrats can elect a majority to either of the statewide courts. Come back with a proposal that isn’t primarily about that, and then maybe we can talk. Until then, there’s no reason for any Democratic legislator to support this.

Time again to talk judicial elections

Here we go again, like it or not.

In the wake of a midterm election that swept some 20 Republican appellate judges out of office, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht called on the Texas Legislature to reform a system he called “among the very worst methods of judicial selection.”

“When partisan politics is the driving force and the political climate is as harsh as ours has become, judicial elections make judges more political, and judicial independence is the casualty,” Hecht told both chambers of the Legislature on Wednesday morning in his biennial address, a wide-ranging speech that touched on judicial salaries, technology and bail reform. “Make no mistake: A judicial selection system that continues to sow the political wind will reap the whirlwind.”

In recent history, partisan judicial elections have played well for Texas’ majority party; the state’s two high courts, in which justices run statewide, comprise all Republicans, as they have for two decades. But last year, as turnout surged in urban areas and voters leaned heavily toward the straight-ticket voting option, Democratic judges were swept onto the bench on the coattails of candidates like Beto O’Rourke. All told, Hecht said, in the last election, Texas’ district and appellate courts “lost seven centuries of judicial experience at a single stroke.”

“Qualifications did not drive their election,” Hecht said. “Partisan politics did.”

It wasn’t a new criticism, nor was it the first time Hecht has made such a call. Justices on Texas’ two high courts have been among the most vocal critics of a system that requires justices to run as partisan figures but rule as impartial arbiters, and the state has been challenged in court over the practice. But the call took on new significance after a shattering judicial election for Texas Republicans, who lost control of four major state appeals courts based in Austin, Houston and Dallas. Judges and lawyers who practice before those courts have fretted not just about the startling shift in judicial philosophy, but also the abrupt loss of judicial experience.

Hecht called on lawmakers to consider shifting to a system of merit selection and retention elections — or to at least pass legislative proposals that would increase the qualification requirements for judicial candidates.

You know how I feel about this, so I won’t belabor the point. I don’t doubt that Justice Hecht is sincere But:

1. Republicans have had complete control of Texas government since 2003. That’s eight regular sessions, and however many special sessions, in which they could have addressed this but chose not to.

2. Hecht and former Justice Wallace Jefferson have spoken about this before, but if anyone was talking about it before 2008, when Democrats first started winning judicial races in Harris County, I’m not aware of it.

3. The judges who were voted out may well have been experienced, but that doesn’t mean they’d make better judges than the candidates who replaced them. And the main consideration people had was voting for change. Maybe as part of the party in power, Hecht should given that a little more consideration.

Anyway. Until someone proposes an actual system to replace the one we have, one that takes into account the inherent politics of the process and deals with it in a way that truly enables merit and produces a judiciary that reflects the population it judges, it’s all just noise to me.

(Justice Hecht also had some loud and laudable words in favor of bail reform, which I appreciate. Go read the rest of the story for that.)

Trying again for bail reform at the Lege

A very worthwhile pursuit.

Sen. John Whitmire

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, announced Monday at the Capitol that they have again filed legislation that would implement a risk-assessment tool for judges to use when making bail decisions, among other proposals. Joining them in support of the legislation were the state’s two top judges, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht — who has publicly called for a change to Texas’ system for years — and Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller.

“I don’t believe I’ve seen anything more broken in the criminal justice system than our current bail bond process,” Whitmire said. “If we do not fix it, ladies and gentlemen, the federal courts will.”

Bail is a legal mechanism to ensure defendants appear in court for their hearings after being charged with a crime. The most common practice is money bail, in which judicial officers set a bond amount that defendants must pay in order to be released. In the last few years, lawsuits have popped up all over the country — including in Texas — arguing that the system wrongfully detains poor defendants until their case is resolved while similar defendants with cash are allowed to go free.

In a speech to the 2017 Legislature, Hecht argued for reforms by noting that 75 percent of people in Texas jails have not been convicted. To illustrate what he considers a flawed system, he cited the case of a grandmother who was kept in jail for about two months on a $150,000 bond after allegedly shoplifting $105 worth of clothes for her grandchildren.

The bipartisan legislation filed Monday aims to help poor, low-level defendants get out of jail on free bonds and keep in jail those thought to be flight risks or threats to public safety. The proposed risk-assessment tool would have to be used within two days of arrest to help judges determine the defendant’s level of risk based on criminal history, not just the current offense. The bills are similar to last session’s, when legislation passed the Senate but died before reaching the House floor.

Whitmire blamed his 2017 bill’s failure on the powerful bail bond industry, which includes companies that front the full cost of a bail bond at a fee of about 10 percent. (A defendant being held on a $1,000 bond, for example, could pay $100 to a bail bond company to be released.) He said last session that bail bond companies opposed the bill because it would cut into their cash flow, but those in the industry have argued the measure would lessen a judge’s discretion and threaten public safety by letting more people out of jail.

[…]

To set bail, most Texas jurisdictions use bail schedules, in which a bond amount is set based solely on the criminal charge. The proposed risk assessment tool would also take into account the defendant’s criminal history and age.

If the tool determines that a defendant shows a lower risk of skipping court hearings or posing a threat to public safety, the judicial officer would release the person on a no-cost “personal bond” with or without conditions, like GPS tracking or drug testing. Under the proposed measure, judges and magistrates could still impose money bail if they decided it was the least restrictive way to ensure court appearance and public safety, but they could not use it as a way to detain poor defendants before their trials.

The risk assessment tool is meant to keep poor defendants from being kept in jail before being convicted simply because they can’t afford a low-cost bond amount. Critics of current bail practices have argued that risk assessment tools considering criminal history can reinforce a system that prejudices against poor people of color. If someone was arrested on a charge earlier tied to race or poverty status, that person would be given a higher risk level. But the critics still support the tool over current practices.

“Until we can get some better tools, then the risk assessment system would need to work for now,” said Tarsha Jackson, criminal justice director of the Texas Organizing Project, a nonprofit that advocates for low-income communities and people of color.

The other piece of the proposed legislation would change bail practices — and the Texas Constitution — to allow judicial officers to deny bail if they believe money bail or a personal bond couldn’t reasonably ensure the person would show up for court or if that person might endanger the safety of a victim or the public.

Since release on bail is a constitutional right in Texas except in capital murder cases, changing this part of the law requires voter approval even after the Legislature passes it.

See here and here for the background. Whitmire got his bill through the Senate in 2017, but neither his bill nor Murr’s made it out of committee in the House. This year, we have the settlement of the Harris County litigation and support for the idea of bail reform from Greg Abbott, so perhaps the odds are better. It’s never a bad time to call your legislators and let them know you would like them to support these bills.

Why shouldn’t court records be made available online?

Seems clear to me that they should. What’s the case against?

Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, has noticed a curious trend in the state’s legal system: Folks are increasingly representing themselves in legal disputes, forgoing lawyers altogether.

“They really need legal help, but they don’t feel like they can afford it,” Hecht said.

But ditching a lawyer doesn’t make justice free. Obtaining legal records can be a big hurdle — time away from work, trips to a courthouse that may be far from home and copying fees that can run a dollar per page for documents that often run hundreds of pages.

“We’re talking about tens of thousands of people for whom getting a court record is probably impossible, at least practically,” said Hecht, who has long sought to help poor Texans navigate the legal system.

That’s just one reason he’s excited about efforts to deliver court records from all 254 counties to Texans’ fingertips through an online portal. Some urban counties — Dallas, Harris, Travis and Tarrant, for instance — individually put their records online. But scores of other counties rely only on old-fashioned paper, necessitating trips to the courthouse and making statewide research next to impossible.

The Texas Supreme Court, through its Office of Court Administration, has worked for years on a one-stop legal records shop. Called re:SearchTX, the project is coming out in phases, with plans to eventually provide widespread public access.

The Office of Court Administration last September extended a contract with Tyler Technologies, a Plano-based company that already has integrated every Texas county into a filing system allowing attorneys to electronically send documents to the clerks. Under that four-year $72 million extension, Tyler would keep that system running through 2021 and eventually open it to the public.

The public portal would be funded through fees that attorneys pay to use the system. It would function like PACER, a widely used federal portal that charges subscribers small fees for access.

“It’s just crucial,” Hecht said. “It’s important for transparency. The media and the public at large have a very fundamental interest in the public justice system.”

But county and district clerks are fuming. They’re pushing to kill the project in a wonky battle involving local control and privacy concerns, multimillion-dollar contracts and confusion about how the portal would ultimately work.

“Clerks have been doing this forever,” Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder said last week at rollicking meeting of the Judicial Committee on Information Technology, which advises the state Supreme Court. “It’s a duplication of effort.”

If the records get breached, he later told a reporter, “it’s our ass.”

At least 168 counties have adopted resolutions opposing re:SearchTX. They’ve found friendly ears in a Legislature that often shrugs off arguments for more local control on other issues, such as oil and gas drilling and penalizing polluters.

Court records are public documents, and they should be available online. That doesn’t mean they need to be unsecured or indexed by Google – it’s fine to require a logon account with a verifiable password to view records – but the days of having to trek to a District Clerk’s office to retrive paper files, for which one needs to pay a per-page printing fee, need to be over. I’m sympathetic to Clerk Wilder’s position, so if a county has already digitized its court records, that should be sufficient. It’s the counties that haven’t taken this basic step that need to be brought into re:SearchTX. Of course, one reason why many of those counties are reluctant to do so, and why HB1258 has been filed to kill the data project, is because these counties make money retrieving and printing those paper files. Sorry, y’all, but that’s not a good enough reason to lag behind the times. Justice Hecht is correct. Court records should be available online. If a county isn’t already doing that and has no plans to do it in the short-term future, they should be made to participate in re:SearchTX.

Bail reform bills

Glad to see this.

Sen. John Whitmire

An unusual bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and judges has teamed up to back broad reforms in Texas that could eliminate cash bail for nonviolent offenders who are not deemed dangerous or a flight risk.

Bills introduced simultaneously in the House and the Senate this week by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston and state Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, would require all judges statewide to use a proven risk assessment tool and quickly determine within 48 hours whether a defendant accused of a nonviolent crime might be eligible for a so-called personal bond — a measure that carries a financial penalty only if the person fails to how up for court. Now, defendants who can’t afford to pay bail are left in jail, even for minor crimes.

The proposals have been hammered out by jurists and legislators following reports that show more than 1,100 people died in Texas jails in the last decade – most of them pretrial detainees such as Sandra Bland, who committed suicide in the Waller County jail after being locked up after a traffic stop.

Nonviolent defendants detained after the first hearing would be re-evaluated within 10 days. And judges would be required to seek alternatives for those deemed mentally ill or disabled.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who is backing the measures, said he and other members of the National Conference of Chief Justices of the United States generally have concluded that America’s bail bond system “simply doesn’t make any sense.”

He said he’d like to see Texas follow the model of New Jersey, Washington D.C., Kentucky, Arizona and other states in pursuing reforms that restrict or eliminate monetary bail for defendants who pose no real risks.

Hecht said bail reforms elsewhere already have saved taxpayers’ money by eliminating unnecessary jail expenses and spared hardships for low-risk defendants who often lose jobs, homes or their health while being locked-up awaiting trial.

“There are constitutional problems, there are practical problems, there’s a burden on taxpayers — change is just the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re just talking about low-level crimes —we’re not talking about crimes of violence. So across the country, there’s been an effort to change bail procedures to get away from high bond and jail time in all of these low-level crimes.”

Hecht chairs the Texas Judicial Council, 22-member group that includes Murr. Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is vice chair. He said the council studied bail reforms and recommended changes last fall.

See here for some background. Via Grits, the bills in question are HB3011 and SB1338. Grits also notes that the bail bondsmen are fighting these bills, which is not surprising. A later version of this Chron story goes into that.

“We have a very conservative governor, lieutenant governor, Senate and House,” said Michael Kubosh, a Houston City Council member and long-time commercial bondsman. “To get all that through, there’s going to be a real battle, and our lobbyists are talking to them. They’re not going to want to let crime run rampant and give everybody free bonds.”

Kubosh and other industry supporters say bondsmen help make sure low-level defendants appear in court – and track them down when they fail to appear. They say they also get families involved, since relatives often must post cash or property to back bail bonds even when commercial bondsman are involved. He and other advocates are simultaneously monitoring a federal court challenge to a fairly rigid bail schedule used for years by Harris County judges even for low-level misdemeanor offenses.

[…]

The legislation also says that defendants are entitled to have lawyers present at pretrial detention hearings – not a common practice today.

On any given day, the Harris County Jail is crowded with 1,500 or more misdemeanor offenders awaiting trial. The county has spent more than $1.2 million in legal fees so far defending county court-at-law judges and hearing officers in the federal civil rights case before Judge Rosenthal.

Kubosh, the commercial bondsman, said he agrees that truly indigent defendants often don’t get personal bonds in Harris County. But he argues that bondsmen routinely save the county money by helping ensure that those who are released on commercial bond follow court conditions and by tracking down those who fail to appear. With fewer commercial bonds, he argues, “you’re going to see a spike in people thumbing their noses at the courts … you’ll see huge increases in warrants.”

No question, this would affect the bail bond business, and I can’t blame them for opposing these bills. I don’t agree with CM Kubosh’s assessment of what may happen if these bills pass, but there ought to be an objective way to evaluate it. Personal recognizance bonds are used with far greater frequency in other states. Is there any evidence to suggest that crime “runs rampant” where PR bonds are more the norm? Show me some numbers, or this is just going to sound like scaremongering.

Precinct analysis: State courts

We return to our tour of the precinct data with a look at the statewide judicial races. These tend to be interesting mostly as proxies for base partisan support, but there are variations that reflect qualities about the candidates. That’s what I’m going to focus on here.


Dist    Green    Garza   Guzman Robinson  R SJ Avg  D SJ Avg
============================================================
CD02  156,800  107,513  163,092  100,247   158,852   103,416
CD07  135,310  108,540  144,087   99,977   138,618   104,011
CD09   25,906  103,431   27,993  101,594    26,242   102,489
CD10   79,113   34,926   80,104   33,297    79,337    33,927
CD18   45,665  149,521   50,198  144,817    46,814   146,929
CD29   34,618   91,898   40,381   85,592    35,849    88,188
						
SBOE6 329,707  253,583  346,471  235,776   335,602   243,912
						
HD126  34,635   24,431   35,565   23,230    34,861    23,735
HD127  47,208   23,767   48,074   22,592    47,409    23,032
HD128  40,567   16,310   40,856   15,756    40,513    15,989
HD129  40,578   25,159   42,100   23,578    41,139    24,193
HD130  57,460   20,405   58,131   19,372    57,638    19,776
HD131   6,812   38,016    7,565   37,395     6,923    37,668
HD132  36,509   29,355   37,394   28,250    36,716    28,697
HD133  46,810   25,780   49,559   23,138    47,911    24,387
HD134  44,064   41,029   49,468   35,686    46,233    38,348
HD135  31,226   26,170   32,263   25,003    31,496    25,523
HD137   8,568   17,074    9,165   16,546     8,743    16,774
HD138  26,600   22,314   27,842   20,926    26,972    21,525
HD139  11,909   38,459   12,907   37,412    12,132    37,903
HD140   6,219   20,336    7,324   19,129     6,430    19,617
HD141   4,993   32,192    5,391   31,834     4,982    32,006
HD142  10,070   33,520   10,763   32,789    10,208    33,091
HD143   8,718   22,970    9,933   21,652     8,927    22,196
HD144  10,592   15,528   11,318   14,623    10,689    14,987
HD145  10,584   22,300   12,511   20,273    11,063    21,133
HD146   9,618   36,999   10,637   36,067     9,928    36,519
HD147  11,536   43,516   13,478   41,685    12,147    42,533
HD148  17,146   27,893   19,709   25,140    18,013    26,352
HD149  15,245   26,292   15,875   25,657    15,370    25,934
HD150  47,406   25,632   48,229   24,488    47,624    24,911
						
CC1    70,859  232,823   78,886  225,102    73,125   228,635
CC2   122,115  119,904  129,022  112,013   123,728   115,261
CC3   187,552  151,403  196,274  142,372   190,521   146,507
CC4   204,547  151,305  211,872  142,722   206,690   146,412


Dist    Green    Garza   Guzman Robinson    R Avg%    D Avg%
===========================================================
CD02   56.81%   38.95%   59.09%   36.32%    57.28%   37.29%
CD07   53.24%   42.71%   56.70%   39.34%    54.00%   40.52%
CD09   19.42%   77.53%   20.98%   76.15%    19.34%   75.55%
CD10   66.72%   29.46%   67.56%   28.08%    66.96%   28.64%
CD18   22.47%   73.57%   24.70%   71.25%    22.82%   71.64%
CD29   26.39%   70.04%   30.78%   65.24%    26.88%   66.12%
						
SBOE6  54.15%   41.64%   56.90%   38.72%    54.62%   39.70%
						
HD126  56.39%   39.78%   57.90%   37.82%    56.72%   38.62%
HD127  64.08%   32.26%   65.25%   30.67%    64.37%   31.27%
HD128  68.85%   27.68%   69.34%   26.74%    67.98%   26.83%
HD129  58.89%   36.52%   61.10%   34.22%    59.05%   34.73%
HD130  71.00%   25.21%   71.83%   23.94%    71.16%   24.42%
HD131  14.80%   82.57%   16.43%   81.22%    14.88%   80.97%
HD132  53.12%   42.71%   54.41%   41.10%    53.35%   41.70%
HD133  62.02%   34.15%   65.66%   30.65%    63.04%   32.09%
HD134  49.46%   46.05%   55.52%   40.05%    51.07%   42.36%
HD135  52.28%   43.81%   54.01%   41.86%    52.30%   42.39%
HD137  31.93%   63.63%   34.16%   61.66%    31.92%   61.24%
HD138  52.08%   43.69%   54.51%   40.97%    52.34%   41.77%
HD139  22.82%   73.69%   24.73%   71.69%    23.05%   72.01%
HD140  22.65%   74.05%   26.67%   69.66%    23.03%   70.25%
HD141  13.06%   84.21%   14.10%   83.27%    12.95%   83.21%
HD142  22.41%   74.60%   23.95%   72.97%    22.57%   73.18%
HD143  26.59%   70.05%   30.29%   66.03%    26.61%   66.17%
HD144  39.06%   57.26%   41.73%   53.92%    38.95%   54.61%
HD145  30.76%   64.81%   36.36%   58.92%    31.52%   60.21%
HD146  19.91%   76.58%   22.02%   74.65%    20.26%   74.54%
HD147  19.94%   75.21%   23.29%   72.05%    20.71%   72.50%
HD148  35.91%   58.42%   41.28%   52.65%    37.16%   54.37%
HD149  35.46%   61.15%   36.92%   59.67%    35.03%   59.11%
HD150  62.31%   33.69%   63.39%   32.19%    62.52%   32.70%
						
CC1    22.48%   73.86%   25.03%   71.41%    22.93%   71.70%
CC2    48.48%   47.61%   51.23%   44.47%    48.46%   45.14%
CC3    53.16%   42.92%   55.63%   40.36%    53.51%   41.15%
CC4    55.12%   40.78%   57.10%   38.46%    55.47%   39.29%
Justice Dori Garza

Justice Dori Garza

The figures above represent the races with Dori Garza and Eva Guzman, who were the top Democratic and Republican vote-getters among judicial candidates. Guzman was actually the high scorer overall, while Garza has the second-best Democratic total, trailing Hillary Clinton but topping Barack Obama in 2008. The other numbers are aggregates of all the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals candidates, where “R SJ Avg” means “Republican statewide judicial average” and “D SJ Avg” is the same thing for Democrats. The percentages have been calculated to include the third parties, though I didn’t explicitly list them for the sake of saving space.

The differences in each district are small, but they add up. Dori Garza received 162K more votes statewide than Savannah Robinson, while Eva Guzman collected 124K more than Paul Green. As previously expressed for third party candidates, I believe being Latina was an advantage for both Garza and Guzman, as I suspect they got the votes of some people who didn’t have a strong partisan preference and were perhaps drawn to a familiar name in a race where they didn’t know anything about who was running. This advantage is not universal – I suspect if I looked around the state, the effect would be small and possibly even negative in places that have few Latino voters. You can certainly see a difference for Garza in HDs 140, 143, 144, 145, and 148 compared to other districts, where the gap between her and the average D is around four points. It also doesn’t hurt that Garza and Guzman were both strong candidates, who were widely endorsed and (at least in Garza’s case) ran actual campaigns. None of this mattered this year, but if this had been a year where the margin at the Presidential level had been two or three points instead of nine, this could have been the difference between a close win and a close loss. I don’t want to over-generalize here, as in any year there will be a high scorer and a low scorer, but it’s something to keep in mind when we start recruiting candidates for 2018 and 2020.

But also keep in mind the fact that despite getting nearly 300,000 more votes than President Obama in 2012, Garza only received 41.12% of the vote, which is less than what Obama got that year. This is because the Republican vote was up, too. Compare Garza’s race to the Supreme Court, Place 6 election in 2012. Garza outpolled Michelle Petty by 279K votes, but Paul Green outdid Nathan Hecht by 629K. Go back to 2008 and Supreme Court, Place 8, and it’s more of the same: Garza improved on Linda Yanez by 170K, while Green did 738K better than Phil Johnson. The preponderance of new voters in Harris County were Democrats. That was not the case statewide. That’s a problem, and we shouldn’t let Hillary Clinton’s performance against Donald Trump distract us from that.

Republicans sure are hoping to get a bailout on school finance

Am I the only one who thinks that a lot of this sounds like wishful thinking?

BagOfMoney

The Texas Supreme Court may punt in a far-reaching school finance case, asking a lower court to assess the Legislature’s latest efforts on public schools. If it does, a new law may reduce the influence of trial judges elected in liberal Austin.

The Republican-backed law, passed largely along party lines, would deny Travis County’s Democratic judges their usual first crack at deciding multibillion-dollar lawsuits over school finance and politically fraught battles over redrawing congressional and legislative districts.

If it’s invoked in the school finance case, Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, would ask Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, also a Republican, to name a three-judge panel. Two of the three would be judges who sit — and are elected — some distance from Austin.

Rick Gray, who represents hundreds of low- and medium-wealth school districts in the lawsuit, predicts that adding geographically dispersed judges to review the Legislature’s work won’t change the final decisions.

In recent years, lawmakers have underfunded schools even as they set higher academic requirements for students, he said. About 650 of the state’s 1,023 school districts joined the current suit, he noted.

“These cases are really not about politics,” Gray said. “If you’ve got more than 60 percent of your school districts saying, ‘We can’t do it,’ that screams at you that you’ve got a problem.”

[…]

In oral arguments before the high court in September, aides to Paxton argued that the justices should throw out the case or send it back to district court for a review of budgetary and school-related actions of the 2015 Legislature.

Gov. Greg Abbott, in a friend of the court brief filed in late August, made the same plea. The Republican governor said in this year’s session, lawmakers passed “important reforms,” such as $118 million in grants to enrich the quality of prekindergarten programs. Over the past two sessions, the state has boosted overall school spending by 17 percent, Abbott said.

Lawyers for the plaintiff school districts, such as Gray, said they doubt the Supreme Court will toss their suit or require further study.

They noted that Travis County District Judge John Dietz already reviewed the Legislature’s 2013 move to increase school funding by $3.4 billion, after lawmakers cut $5.4 billion to offset a severe shortage of state revenue two years earlier.

[…]

House Public Education Committee Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said he discussed the case in October with Abbott, a former attorney general and Supreme Court justice.

“His prediction when I spoke with him was that there’s a 50 percent probability of a remand, a 25 percent probability of reversal and a 25 percent probability that there’d be substantial upholding of Dietz’s ruling — which leaves a 75 percent chance that the school districts will be unhappy,” Aycock said.

I’m not sure where Abbott came up with those numbers, but I’d guess it’s based on faith that we may finally have a Supreme Court that’s too conservative to care about school finance. I suppose the Supreme Court could remand the case back to a district court, but if so it will do so with instructions about how to revisit the case and what guidelines it should use to do so; it may also be that only part of the case is remanded. The point I’m making is that how they do so and what they tell the lower court to reconsider is of great importance. That said, it’s hard to escape the perception that underlying this is a hope that by doing so, and by getting (presumably) two Republican judges involved in the review, they can finally be free of this nonsense. That sure would be easier than actually dealing with it.

School finance ruling expected soon

Hold onto your hats.

BagOfMoney

For decades, the state’s 1,000-plus school districts vied against one another for a bigger piece of the financial pie. Now two-thirds of state districts have joined forces to say the system is unfair because it doesn’t provide adequate funding for all.

The state’s high court is expected to rule any day now on a lawsuit filed by those districts, which could force Texas lawmakers into a special session next summer. The districts hope the high court’s ruling will prompt lawmakers to overhaul the system as early as June 2016.

“School funding formulas in Texas are at least 30 years old,” said J. David Thompson, Houston-based attorney for the moderate-wealth districts, such as Dallas and Fort Worth. “Some of our formulas were determined when Ronald Reagan was president and before the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

[…]

Many say that the current case in front of the high court is the most far-reaching school finance lawsuit in state history because it represents the broadest coalition of state districts.

“Now, there are other problems with the system that are affecting all of us,” said Thompson, who represents moderate-wealth districts, like Fort Worth.

Randall “Buck” Wood is the longtime Austin attorney for property-poor districts that filed the initial set of school finance suits, which began in the 1980s and led to Edgewood IV. Three decades later, Wood said he never thought that he would be on the same side as property-wealthy districts.

“Everybody tried to support everybody else,” said Wood, whose group also represents the Arlington school district. “There wasn’t any backbiting.”

Houston’s Mark R. Trachtenberg, attorney for property-wealthy districts, says it’s no longer an adversarial situation.

“In this case, again, the Legislature cut $5.4 billion out of public education in 2011 and it impacted property-wealthy and property-poor districts,” said Trachtenberg, who represents the Carroll, Grapevine-Colleyville, Northwest, Plano and Highland Park school districts.

“It’s been a long time since Edgewood IV,” he said.

See here and here for the most recent updates. The story is a pretty good primer on How We Got Here that’s worth your time if you want a refresher, but the main news is what I highlighted. I should note that the predictions made in that last link for when we’d get a ruling were “January” and “springtime”, so if we really are in “any day now” mode, it’s going to hit a lot sooner than people expected. (This Trib story about Ken Paxton whining about school finance litigation contains a note that Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht suggested January as a likely time frame, though “any say now” was still possible.) If the Supremes throw the finance system out and basically force the Lege to come up with some number of billions of dollars to make things whole, that could have a significant effect on the upcoming Republican legislative primaries. I mean, that’s one reason why everyone figured the ruling would be later rather than sooner, to take the primaries out of the equation. We’ll know soon enough.

Bail reform for Harris County?

This would be a big deal.

go_to_jail

In jails across the country, including Harris County, a majority of the people behind bars have not been convicted of a crime. In the jail complex on the north side of downtown Houston, more than 6,600 people, about three-quarters of the prisoners there, are waiting to go to trial. Each one costs taxpayers about $45 a day.

Those prisoners are there because they can’t afford to pay bail, the debt a judge imposes to make sure defendants return to court.

Advocates for bail reform have said the system can be burdensome for low-income defendants, saying it inhibits their ability to go back to work, support their families and aid in their own defense.

Leaders at both the local at state level are now looking at ways to change that, possibly allowing defendants charged with lower level crimes to remain free without bail, but with a pledge to return to court. They will use a screening process that can predict whether defendants will return to court or if they might commit more crimes if released.

Earlier this month, Nathan Hecht, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, announced the creation of a committee to study the issue for the Texas Judicial Council, the policy-making body for the state judiciary. Depending on the results, they may throw their support behind changes in the next legislative session.

Hecht said a recent report by the National Conference of Chief Justices showed that bail for suspects of non-violent crime, like drug offenses, is an unnecessary expense.

“It doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help the criminal justice system and it doesn’t help society,” he said. “It just creates additional burdens. If it’s easy to avoid and you end up at the same place, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Hecht said he wants to be able to prove that point before advocating for a change.

“The District of Columbia is pretty far along in revamping their system so that bail is not required,” Hecht said. “We’ll have Texas look at this and see if we can’t make some improvements.”

[…]

Some of those who oppose changing the system are the bail bondsmen who stand to lose business.

“Who’s going to chase these people when they miss court?” said Michael Kubosh, a bail bondsman and a city councilman. “You’re going to have to hire more government people to do it.”

When defendants use a bondsman to secure bail, they pay a fee-10 percent or more of the bail amount-and pledge collateral, usually property or automobiles, for the remaining amount.

If a defendant does not show up for court, the bondsman either has to pay the entire bail or go on a manhunt.

“If someone has a financial interest, then we can get ‘Billy Bob’ to show back up because someone will produce them,” Kubosh said. “Their mom will produce them before she’ll lose her house.”

He noted the cost of current system is paid by the people accused of crimes, not spread among taxpayers.

“If they miss court, a bondsman is financially obligated to the state to get these people back in custody,” he said. “We monitor every one of them every day, at no cost to the taxpayer.”

All due respect to CM Kubosh, but Harris County doesn’t owe bail bondsmen a living. The issue here isn’t with the people who make bail, it’s with the many people who can’t, and who as a result sit in jail – for which the taxpayers do foot the cost – even though they haven’t been convicted of anything and may never be convicted of anything, or – even worse – plead guilty to something they didn’t do in order to get out of jail. Basically, some number of people – more than is the case now – need to be released on their own recognizance, and more people need to be assessed a lower and more affordable bail amount. The goal here is to have fewer people in jail at any time, which is both more just and less expensive. If that means leaner times for the bail bonding business, well, that’s okay by me. The tradeoff is more than worth it.

On judicial elections and campaign finance

Ross Ramsey raises an interesting point.

BagOfMoney

It might seem silly to elect people who promise they won’t represent you, their political party or their donors, but that’s what we expect judges to do. They’re supposed to apply the law, and if they do any of those other things, they’re probably out of line.

Florida elects judges but bars them from raising their own campaign money. Lots of Texas judges — and Texas lawyers —would love to see similar restraints here.

“If you are an incumbent judge and you call a lawyer and ask for money, what is that lawyer going to say? No?” asks Wallace Jefferson, a former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court who now practices law in Austin. “That incumbent judge is going to raise more money. But no one should feel pressured to contribute.”

Better, he says, to take the judges out of the fundraising business and leave the transactional part of politics to campaign committees and others.

It could happen: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Florida’s law [in April] after challengers said it violated their First Amendment rights. That court was also concerned with whether asking for money sullied the impartiality of the elected judges. The court decided that was a serious enough public interest to justify the fundraising restriction.

“Simply put, the public may lack confidence in a judge’s ability to administer justice without fear or favor if he comes to office by asking for favors,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

[…]

This legislative session, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, filed a bill that would start public financing of campaigns for appellate judges in Texas. It was sent to the House Elections Committee on March 9 and never heard from again.

Sen. and former state District Judge Joan Huffman, R-Houston, has a bill that would eliminate straight-ticket voting in judicial races — the idea is to free judges from the slings and arrows of party politics. That one is stalled, as is its identical twin in the House, filed by Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas.

Jefferson and Tom Phillips, who preceded him as the Texas high court’s chief justice, wrote an amicus brief in the federal case, along with a couple of former chiefs of Alabama’s Supreme Court. “As former Chief Justices who have observed countless elections in our own States, and run as candidates for judicial office, we are well-acquainted with the genuine dangers — and sometimes actual abuse — present when judicial candidates personally solicit campaign contributions from parties and lawyers,” they wrote.

Now that the Florida law has been upheld, Jefferson thinks “it would be a step in the right direction” for Texas to take judges out of the campaign fundraising business.

“To me, money is not in the center except to the extent that the public believes, if a judge is accepting money from a lawyer or litigant, that they’ll be more likely to favor that lawyer or litigant,” Jefferson says. “I don’t believe that is generally true, but the public believes it. And I understand that belief. It undermines the ideal of impartial justice.”

I have been critical of Wallace Jefferson in the past for promoting the non=solution of making judicial elections non-partisan while ignoring the real problem of how judicial races are financed, so let me compliment him here for his advocacy for doing something about that problem. Pigs will fly before the Lege passes a bill allowing any kind of public financing of elections, but it’s still worth pursuing (kudos to Rep. Anchia for filing a bill this session to do that). If Jefferson, Tom Phillips, and Nathan Hecht can all support this, a bill like Rep. Anchia’s could get bipartisan support. The money people will fight it to the death, but that’s a fight we should all be willing to engage. Let’s get a nice long list of coauthors for this bill next time.

Abbott’s actions in the Hecht ethics case belie his “just doing my job” evasion

More accurately, it’s his lack of action that speaks clearly about his priorities and discretion.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott, accused of favoritism in his handling of an ethics case involving a Texas Supreme Court justice, says it’s not his duty to press the case that has sat idle for two years.

That reasoning, however, doesn’t stand up, according to an American-Statesman review of state law.

The issue began in 2008, when the Texas Ethics Commission fined Chief Justice Nathan Hecht $29,000 for violating campaign finance rules by getting a $167,200 discount on legal fees. Hecht appealed to Travis County district court, arguing that the agency misinterpreted state law.

With Abbott’s office defending the Ethics Commission, several years of sporadic action followed — until all activity ceased two years ago.

Defending the inactivity, an Abbott spokesman last week said his office wasn’t motivated to press the case because the ruling against Hecht remained in force — placing the onus to act on the chief justice.

But state law says otherwise.

The moment Hecht filed his appeal, the Ethics Commission judgment against him was vacated — or rendered void — to allow a Travis County district judge to conduct an independent review of the charges against him.

Legally, there is no judgment in place against Hecht, placing the onus to act on lawyers with the attorney general’s office.

[…]

Buck Wood, an Austin lawyer specializing in election law — mainly representing Democrats — said appeals of Ethics Commission rulings are rare, but the result is the same in every case.

“Once they appeal it, no enforcement action can be taken because it does vacate the decision,” Wood said. “The ethics fine is basically put on hold, and if (Abbott) doesn’t prosecute it, it’ll never get prosecuted.”

The inactivity is even harder to explain because Abbott’s lawyers believe Hecht’s appeal was improperly filed and should be tossed out.

A motion to dismiss the appeal, filed by the attorney general’s office in June 2012, argued that Hecht lawyer Steve McConnico failed to ask the Ethics Commission to reconsider its judgment against Hecht — a necessary first step before an appeal can be pursued in district court.

McConnico filed a brief rebutting the claim, and the last activity in Hecht’s appeal came in October 2012, when both sides filed responses trying to poke legal holes in each other’s arguments.

See here for the background. The 2012 filings weren’t included in the timeline of events put together by Texans for Public Justice, who has filed suit to toss Abbott off the case and appoint a special prosecutor that will actually do something, but the overall point stands. Nothing can or will happen in this case until one side or the other takes action, and since Team Hecht has no incentive to do anything – he’s in the clear for the time being, after all – that means Abbott needs to quit jerking around and do his job. Keep that in mind the next time you hear Abbott piously muse about how pursuing endless appeals of same sex marriage rulings and the like are “just doing his job”.

TPJ files suit against Abbott over Hecht ethics case

Here we go again.

An Austin legal watchdog group filed suit Wednesday to force action on a $29,000 ethics fine, levied against Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht in 2008, that has languished on appeal for 5½ years.

The motion from Texans for Public Justice seeks to remove Attorney General Greg Abbott from the case, saying Abbott has violated his legal duties by failing to pursue the case on behalf of the Texas Ethics Commission, which levied the fine.

“(Abbott) has helped his friend, former colleague and political ally by allowing the case to be inactive and dormant,” the motion said.

[…]

In Wednesday’s motion to intervene in Hecht’s appeal, Texans for Public Justice asked the court to disqualify Abbott, Republican candidate for governor, as the lawyer representing the ethics commission.

“By permitting, aiding and abetting, and acquiescing in almost six years of delay, Attorney General Abbott has violated his fundamental constitutional and statutory duties to ‘defend the laws’ of Texas and ‘represent the state in litigation’ … and he has failed to collect the fine that should have been collected years ago for the benefit of Texas taxpayers,” the motion said.

See here for a bit of background. The TPJ press release fills in the details.

Hecht’s troubles date to the short-lived 2005 nomination of his ex-flame Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. Hecht’s promotion of Miers to conservative groups and the media drew a Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct rebuke for violating state prohibitions on political activism by jurists. Arguing that the First Amendment trumps judicial canons, Hecht attorney Chip Babcock overturned the admonishment in 2006.

Hecht’s victory spawned new ethical issues. The Texas Ethics Commission ruled that Babcock’s discounted legal fees amounted to an in-kind contribution to Hecht worth $100,000. Hecht failed to report this contribution, which exceeded judicial campaign limits. Following a rare formal public hearing, commissioners ordered Hecht to pay a $29,000 fine on December 11, 2008. Justice Hecht appealed to a Travis County court on January 27, 2009 and the Attorney General quickly filed a response on behalf of the Ethics Commission. Since those filings in early 2009, the case has languished. Setting a record for the longest appeal of a state ethics fine, the case runs the risk of being dismissed for lack of prosecution.

“Abbott has a duty to prosecute this cold case and collect from Justice Hecht,” said TPJ Director Craig McDonald. “Instead, he has sat on his hands for six years to protect a friend and political crony. Texas law recognizes no crony exception. It’s time for Abbott to act—or to find someone who will.”

TPJ’s motion asks the district court to remove Abbott from the case if necessary and to impose appropriate sanctions for “his extraordinary and egregious pattern of inaction and neglect in apparent deference and favoritism toward his friend and former colleague.”

TPJ’s filing argues that Abbott’s inaction violates provisions of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, Texas Lawyers Creed and statutory and constitutional obligations of the Attorney General to promote the timely administration of justice. Abbott’s office, which has absolute discretion to aggressively pursue such matters, claimed in 2014 that plaintiff Hecht alone is responsible for advancing the case. Were this true, any defendant could beat any Ethics Commission rap simply by filing an appeal and then ignoring it.

I noted the five-year anniversary of the case last December. I get that TPJ could have timed the filing of their complaint differently, but come on. Abbott has time to file a zillion lawsuits against the federal government while simultaneously defending losers like the same sex marriage ruling, the school finance ruling, and the voter ID ruling, but he can’t assign a junior attorney or two to push some paper on this? His priorities as AG have always been the interests of the Republican Party first, and everything else second. There’s really no excuse for this. You can see the complaint TPJ filed here, the Ethics Commission order against Hecht from 2008 here, and their timeline of events here.

More primary thoughts

I wonder if Big John Cornyn will come to rue this interview.

Big John Cornyn

Big John Cornyn

BDS: At the kickoff for your reelection campaign in November, Governor Perry said that you are “the epitome of what I look for in a U.S. senator.” He has certainly been embraced by members of the tea party. But in your speech you said that Republicans should be the party of the “big tent,” which sounded an awful lot like it was pointed in their direction.

JC: To be clear, I was talking about being a welcoming party, not an exclusive party. I don’t know how we got off on this track, where some people are welcome in our party and some people are not. Hence my reference to Ronald Reagan’s line, “What do you call someone who agrees with you eight times out of ten? An ally, not a twenty-percent traitor.” Well, we’re at a point where you can agree with someone 98 percent of the time, but they think of you as a 2 percent traitor, which is just an impossible standard. I like to point out that my wife and I have been married for 34 years, we don’t agree with each other 100 percent of the time. We need to be a little more realistic about the goals, and we need to look not just at the short term but at the long term. If the goal is to change the direction of the country—and I would say to save the country from the big government track we’re on now—then we have to win elections by adding voters, not subtracting them.

That sound you hear is Steve Stockman rubbing his hands and cackling with glee. Remember, Steve Stockman is nuts. I know that term gets thrown around a lot, but seriously. That boy ain’t right.

Josh Marshall ponders what the implications are of Stockman’s entrance.

Everyone seemed to think Cornyn had successfully evaded a challenge and that he was home free. And Stockman got in just under the wire. I’m curious whether he waited so long precisely to assure a serious Democrat didn’t get into the race. As long as there’s no serious Democrat running, that will make it easier for him to argue he’s not another Akin in the making.

Of course, he is basically an Akin in the making, or an Akin before there was Akin (Stockman first came in in the ’94 Republican landslide but was too nuts and got bounced out after one term). But if there’s no credible Dem, maybe he gets through?

I seriously doubt the condition of the Democratic field for Senate had anything to do with Stockman’s move. I don’t think he operates that way, and I don’t think the Texas GOP would behave any differently towards him if he wins the nomination regardless. A better question is whether or not the DSCC and other national Dem groups get involved in the event it’s Stockman versus Maxey Scherr or David Alameel or Mike Fjetland. If it winds up as Stockman versus Kesha Rogers, we may as well just admit that this whole experiment in self-governance has been an abject failure and see if Great Britain is willing to take us back.

Speaking of Maxey Scherr, the El Paso Times covered her campaign kickoff in Austin.

[Scherr] said she is coordinating her effort with statewide Democratic organizations that are hopeful that with Texas’ changing demographics and, in Wendy Davis, an attractive candidate at the top of the ticket, 2014 will be the year Texas starts to turn blue.

[…]

“If I can raise $7 million, I can be competitive, and I think I can,” she said.

She plans to suspend her law practice and spend the coming year the same way she spent Monday — traveling the state in a motor home towing a car with a smashed-in hood and emblazoned with her campaign slogan, “Texas on Cruz Control.”

If she wins the Democratic Primary, Scherr will likely face Cornyn, but she says her real opponent is Texas’ junior senator, Ted Cruz, who won’t be on the ballot until 2018.

“This race is about Ted Cruz,” Scherr said. “This race is about Ted Cruz because John Cornyn has taken a back seat to Ted Cruz. It’s unfortunate that our senior senator of Texas has done everything that Ted Cruz, the junior senator, wants him to. He doesn’t have the guts to stand up to Ted Cruz on anything that matters to Texans and I will.”

[…]

Among the issues Scherr plans to attack Cornyn are education, health care, women’s rights and immigration. On the latter topic, Scherr said she’s tired of Republicans whipping up false fears about security on the border.

“Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have voted against a comprehensive immigration reform bill every single time it has come up. I find that offensive,” she said.

“I come from El Paso and El Paso been consistently rated as one of the safest cities for several years. What these guys want to do is militarize our border, put a military-type outfit along the border. But they are wrong about that. El Paso is a huge border city and we don’t need to militarize it. We are safe as can be. What we need to do is pass comprehensive immigration reform that doesn’t tear apart families.”

Even if Emperor Cruz stays out of the GOP Senate primary – well, at least if he doesn’t take any overt action – a Stockman win would cement the point that Scherr is making about Cruz driving the action. In a sane world, Cornyn would have nothing to worry about in March. He may yet have nothing to worry about, but I doubt he’ll run his campaign that way. Of the sane Democrats running, I see Scherr as having the highest upside. I look forward to seeing her first couple of finance reports to see if she can make any headway on that fundraising goal.

More news from El Paso:

Meanwhile, all of the El Paso County incumbents in the Texas House of Representatives have filed for re-election.

Four have challengers.

District 76 Rep. Naomi Gonzalez faces former state Rep. Norma Chavez and Cesar Blanco, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego.

District 77 Rep. Marisa Marquez faces El Paso attorney Lyda Ness-Garcia.

District 75 Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by Rey Sepulveda, president of the Fabens school board.

And District 79 Rep. Joe Pickett, the dean of the El Paso delegation, faces Chuck Peartree.

I have no brief for Reps. Marquez or Naomi Gonzalez; they can explain their support of Dee Margo over Joe Moody (who did not get a primary challenger) to the voters. Pickett has been the Transportation Committee chair and has some juice, but he also voted for HB2; if he gets beaten up about that in his primary, I’ll shed no tears. The one legislator in that group I do care about is Rep. Mary Gonzalez, who is a force for good and deserves to be supported for re-election.

I mentioned yesterday that Rep. Marc Veasey avoided a rematch in CD33 with Domingo Garcia. I thought at the time that meant he was unopposed in the primary, but apparently not.

Several local members of Congress drew opponents as well.

U.S. representative, District 6: Republican Joe Barton (i), Frank Kuchar; Democrat David Edwin Cozad.

U.S. representative, District 12: Republican Kay Granger (i); Democrat Mark Greene

U.S. representative, District 24: Republican Kenny Marchant (i); Democrat Patrick McGehearty

U.S. representative, District 25: Republican Roger Williams (i); Democrats Stuart Gourd, Marco Montoya

U.S. representative, District 26: Republicans Michael Burgess (i), Joel A. Krause, Divenchy Watrous

U.S. representative, District 33: Democrats Marc Veasey (i), Thomas Carl Sanchez

There had been much speculation about whether former state Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, would challenge Veasey for the 33rd Congressional District, setting up a rematch of last year’s hotly contested primary race. But Garcia put out a statement late Monday that he would not enter the race.

“I am truly humbled by the encouragement and support I have received to run for congress this year but after careful consideration I have decided against a run for congress in 2014,” he said. “I look forward to helping turning Texas blue and will continue to work to register and turn out more voters. I look forward to continuing to serve the community in one capacity or another.”

Democratic officials said Monday that little is known about Veasey’s challenger, Sanchez of Colleyville, other than that he is an attorney.

I feel reasonably confident that Rep. Veasey will win, but as always it’s best to not take anything for granted.

On the Republican side, Burka has a couple of observations. Number One:

Two trends are evident in this year’s campaign. One is that this is not necessarily shaping up as a tea party year. There are a lot of Main Street Republicans running for the House of Representatives — business people and school district leaders. Some of the candidates backed by Michael Quinn Sullivan might find themselves on the losing end of races. Matt Schaefer faces a strong opponent in Tyler. The same is true for Jonathan Stickland, whose opponent in Bedford is a popular former coach and educator.

That would be fine by me, but see my earlier comment about underestimating the crazy. Numero Dos:

The most significant late filings in the Republican primary:

(1) Steve Stockman vs. John Cornyn (U.S. Senator)

(2) Robert Talton vs. Nathan Hecht (Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court)

(3) Matt Beebe vs. Joe Straus (House District 121)

(4) John Ratcliffe v. Ralph Hall (U.S. House District 4)

(5) Mike Canon vs. Kel Seliger (Texas Senate District 31)

Stockman is about as far-right as far-right can get in this state. Cornyn can swamp him with money, but the tea party will be out in force against Cornyn.

Talton is a conservative trial lawyer who is famous for once having stationed a DPS officer outside his door to prevent gays from entering his office. He is a threat to Hecht (the stationing of the DPS officer outside his door notwithstanding).

Talton’s most recent foray into elections was last year as the GOP candidate for Harris County Attorney. He won that primary but lost the general, and slightly underperformed his peers. Hecht of course is deeply unethical. The winner of that race faces Bill Moody in the general.

There’s still a lot to process from the candidate filings. I don’t have a full picture yet of everything, and I suspect there are still some unexpected stories to tell. I’m already thinking about what interviews I want to do for March; with the primary back to its normal spot on the calendar next year, there isn’t much time to plan. What caught you by surprise this filing period?

The oldest established permanent floating ethics probe in the state

The Chief Justice of our State Supreme Court, ladies and gentlemen.

Nathan Hecht

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, already the longest-serving member of the state’s highest civil court, has the dubious distinction of owning another record: the longest running appeal of a state ethics fine.

With the case dragging into its fifth year, watchdog groups are pointing the finger at Attorney General Greg Abbott for not pressing harder in court for a final resolution.

[…]

Hecht’s case is set to reach its fifth anniversary in Travis County District Court next month, making it by the far the longest-running legal challenge over an ethics panel fine in the agency’s roughly two-decade history.

“This whole matter has been swept under the rug for years and years without any resolution,” said Alex Winslow, director of Texas Watch, which monitors the state Supreme Court and filed the ethics complaint against Hecht. “Greg Abbott has the full discretion for pursuing this case and reaching some resolution for it and for whatever reason he’s opted not to do that.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Abbott’s office said it is not its responsibility to speed the ethics appeal along. That falls on Hecht’s shoulders, according to the Abbott’s office, since he filed the case.

“These watchdog groups’ claims make no sense because, to the extent the case is not advancing quickly, the result is that the attempt to overturn the Ethics Commission’s ruling is not advancing,” Abbott spokesman Thomas Kelley said in a statement.

The watchdog groups, however, said the case has seemingly fallen off the radar for both sides: it has sat dormant for more than a year, with not a document filed since October 2012. That marks the second time the case has gone at least 12 months without so much as a single filing.

With the ethics case hanging overhead, Hecht won re-election in 2012 to the Supreme Court and recently was sworn in for the promotion to chief justice.

“It gets more important every day now. Texans need to know whether the ruling of the Texas Ethics Commission that Hecht violated the law is valid,” said Craig McDonald, director of the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, which filed the ethics complaint against Keller that resulted in a $25,000 settlement.

“It’s the burden of the attorney general to prosecute the case and from the outside it looks like the attorney general’s office has thrown this case in a dusty file cabinet.”

Abbott’s excuse for doing nothing is mighty convenient when you stop and think about it. As long as Hecht’s appeal is pending, he’s not on the hook for anything. It’s only once his final appeals have finished running their course that he might have to write a check. True, he might beat the rap, but why take the chance if there’s no pressure on him to ever bring this thing to a close? If Greg Abbott has no interest in pursuing a resolution, why should Nathan Hecht? The status quo suits him just fine, thank you very much. Burka, who suggests a way out of this, has more.

Precinct analysis: Comparing 2012 and 2008

Though the data isn’t yet posted on individual members’ webpages, I have gotten a copy of the 2012 election results by State Rep district, for which there was much rejoicing. The first question of interest is how much the 2008 results resembled the 2012 results in each district. I went by vote percentages as reported – that is, including third-party candidates – and compared Mitt Romney’s 2012 percentage in each district to John McCain’s 2008 percentage, and Obama 2012 to Obama 2008. I did this by taking the ratio of the 2012 percentage to the 2008 percentage. Statewide, Romney was three percent better than McCain – i.e., the ratio of Romney’s percentage (57.16) to McCain’s (55.45) is 1.03 – and 2012 Obama (41.38) was five percent worse than 2008 Obama (43.68), for a ratio of 0.95. If the difference were uniformly distributed around the state, you would expect Romney to have a 1.03 ratio in every district, and 2012 Obama to have a 0.95 ratio. Obviously, that didn’t happen, so I was interested in the places where each candidate did the best compared to 2008. Here’s a look at them:

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama R ratio D ratio ==================================================== 108 53.86 44.88 58.97 39.30 1.09 0.88 047 53.85 44.75 58.03 39.31 1.08 0.88 055 60.67 38.13 65.29 32.99 1.08 0.87 134 52.46 46.48 56.37 41.72 1.07 0.90 017 56.54 41.93 60.56 37.15 1.07 0.89 045 51.66 46.72 55.17 41.82 1.07 0.90 136 51.81 45.92 55.06 41.22 1.06 0.90 023 51.35 47.77 54.56 44.24 1.06 0.93 064 56.98 41.84 60.28 37.32 1.06 0.89 114 52.36 46.57 55.21 43.47 1.05 0.93 048 37.53 60.77 39.55 56.84 1.05 0.94 052 51.93 46.18 54.69 42.40 1.05 0.92 012 59.77 39.38 62.59 36.18 1.05 0.92 093 57.57 41.60 60.19 38.25 1.05 0.92

There were a number of other districts in which Romney ran at least five percent better than McCain – remember, that’s 5%, not five percentage points – but I’m really only interested in the reasonably competitive ones. Rep. Craig Eiland is the only member of the House to win a district that was not carried by his party’s Presidential candidate; I’m pretty sure Sen. Wendy Davis can say the same thing for her chamber, but I don’t have those numbers just yet. The only other Democratic district represented above is Rep. Donna Howard’s HD48, though it wasn’t enough of a difference to be worrisome to her. That chart has a lot of good news for the Republicans, since it contains a number of their least-safe seats. Many of these seats will still be hotly contested in 2014 – where else are Democrats going to go to add to their delegation? – but the GOP starts out with a bigger cushion than they might have expected.

And here are the districts of interest that were more Democratic in 2012:

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama R ratio D ratio ==================================================== 145 41.99 57.13 38.27 60.25 0.91 1.05 144 51.04 47.95 47.86 50.76 0.94 1.06 034 46.63 52.58 44.23 54.62 0.95 1.04 149 43.84 55.52 41.79 57.08 0.95 1.03 119 40.30 58.59 38.51 60.15 0.96 1.03 125 40.69 58.14 39.51 58.99 0.97 1.03 135 60.56 38.71 58.82 39.85 0.97 1.03 132 59.68 39.59 58.90 39.75 0.99 1.00 118 43.86 55.10 43.33 55.22 0.99 1.00 105 52.69 46.14 52.11 46.46 0.99 1.01 113 53.00 46.05 52.51 46.30 0.99 1.01 107 52.25 46.71 51.81 46.87 0.99 1.00

Again, I excluded the non-competitive seats. As above, mostly good news for Dems and their least-safe members, Eiland excluded. In two HDs where Democratic challengers ousted Republican incumbents (HDs 34 and 117), plus the open HD144, Dems had an easier time of it than you would have thought. There’s also some hope for pickups in 2014 or beyond, mostly with the three Dallas County seats.

Looking ahead to 2014, here are your “swing” districts, for some value of the term “swing”.

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama Hecht Petty ===================================================== 017 56.54 41.93 60.56 37.15 53.13 40.61 064 56.98 41.84 60.28 37.32 57.23 36.38 094 59.62 39.45 60.27 38.09 57.45 37.73 093 57.57 41.60 60.19 38.25 57.17 37.98 097 57.62 41.41 59.55 38.91 57.30 38.25 138 59.30 39.82 59.16 39.29 57.48 39.00 108 53.86 44.88 58.97 39.30 58.66 36.49 132 59.68 39.59 58.90 39.75 57.32 39.41 135 60.56 38.71 58.82 39.85 57.09 39.77 096 57.97 41.39 58.58 40.20 55.68 40.73 047 53.85 44.75 58.03 39.31 55.30 37.87 065 56.11 43.04 57.51 40.83 55.62 39.89 032 56.40 42.57 56.91 41.43 52.98 42.12 134 52.46 46.48 56.37 41.72 56.41 39.30 115 54.91 43.86 55.37 43.08 53.74 41.67 114 52.36 46.57 55.21 43.47 54.98 41.33 045 51.66 46.72 55.17 41.82 51.11 41.39 136 51.81 45.92 55.06 41.22 51.07 40.33 112 54.89 44.03 55.01 43.48 53.01 42.79 052 51.93 46.18 54.69 42.40 50.70 42.05 023 51.35 47.77 54.56 44.24 49.41 46.77 102 52.18 46.64 53.01 45.31 52.01 43.53 054 51.20 47.93 52.90 45.73 49.92 45.71 113 53.00 46.05 52.51 46.30 50.34 46.10 105 52.69 46.14 52.11 46.46 49.18 46.28 043 51.45 47.94 52.05 46.92 46.72 49.10 107 52.25 46.71 51.81 46.87 49.73 46.29 144 51.04 47.95 47.86 50.76 44.08 52.33 117 46.49 52.52 46.71 51.84 43.46 52.79 034 46.63 52.58 44.23 54.62 40.11 56.07 078 43.64 55.31 44.05 54.29 40.84 53.47 118 43.86 55.10 43.33 55.22 38.76 57.79 041 42.16 57.05 42.28 56.54 38.86 57.22 149 43.84 55.52 41.79 57.08 40.46 56.95 074 41.15 57.91 41.51 56.93 36.18 57.25 148 41.43 57.49 41.07 56.58 38.79 55.59 048 37.53 60.77 39.55 56.84 37.43 54.95 125 40.69 58.14 39.51 58.99 36.03 60.35 050 38.01 60.27 38.78 57.75 36.33 56.25

Again, note that no one but Eiland won in a hostile district. Turncoat Republican JM Lozano gets partial credit for Michelle Petty’s plurality vote in HD43, but that’s at least partly a function of the unusually high Libertarian vote in that race, which generally suppressed Nathan Hecht’s percentages. Note how much more Hecht diverges from Romney than Petty does from Obama to see what I mean. Without factoring possible turnout differences into account, Dems have maybe six viable flip opportunities – Lozano, four Dallas seats, and HD54 – while the GOP has one clear shot and two other good ones. That’s assuming no further changes to the map, which may or may not be a good bet. Beyond that, we’ll have to see what the march of demographic change looks like and whether there’s anything to all this talk about investing in Texas Democratic infrastructure.

Endorsement watch: The Statesman gets in the game

In addition to their Sunday endorsement of Paul Sadler, the Statesman made up for lost time last week by finally getting around to making endorsements in various races. Among their first was a nice recommendation of John Courage.

John Courage

Texas Senate, District 25

District 25, which stretches from South Austin to northern San Antonio and Bexar County, is a Republican district, and Donna Campbell, a tea party favorite who crushed incumbent state Sen. Jeff Wentworth in the runoff, is heavily favored to win Nov. 6. Nonetheless, voters in District 25 should put aside their partisan inclinations and consider the alternative: Democrat John Courage.

Courage, an Air Force veteran and San Antonio schoolteacher, might be a longshot, but he knows the district better than Campbell, a recent transplant. His experience in education would make him a strong advocate for public schools, but education is not the only issue where he has the advantage over Campbell. From reforming the margins tax to transportation, from water to the electrical grid, Courage is the more informed, better-qualified candidate.

The Senate really will be a less functional place next year if Campbell wins as she is heavily favored to do. In the same editorial as this endorsement of Courage is one for the new HD136 as well:

Matt Stillwell

Texas House, District 136

District 136 is a new state House district that includes Cedar Park, Leander, Brushy Creek and a substantial part of Northwest Austin. Anchored in Williamson County, District 136 appears to be safe for the Republican in this race, Tony Dale, an Army veteran and member of the Cedar Park City Council. He’s a strong candidate who has a deep affection for his community and no doubt would serve his district’s residents well. But in a close call, we’re supporting Democrat Matt Stillwell.

An insurance agent who lives in Northwest Austin, Stillwell’s deep concern about the future of public education motivated his run for the Legislature. He says he’ll fight for public schools if elected and will do what he can to roll back punitive, high-stakes testing. He also understands how seriously underfunded the state’s roads are and how cuts to roads and highways, along with cuts in other areas, have not reduced spending or tax burdens but merely shifted costs and debt to towns and cities. He focuses on fiscally sound, gimmick-free remedies that would benefit District 136 in the long term.

As I said before, I think this race has the potential to be closer than people think. The shift in voter behavior from 2004 to 2008 was huge, and the district is likely to have evolved further since then. How much I don’t know, and of course it could have changed back. Stillwell is low on cash, but he’s been competitive in fundraising and hasn’t been greatly outspent, at least so far. I just think there may be more to this one than what the numbers might suggest.

After that, the Statesman opined on the statewide judicial races.

You may recall that Sharon Keller, chief justice of the Court of Criminal Appeals – the state’s highest criminal appellate court – was reprimanded after 300 lawyers filed complaints alleging dereliction of duty. The complaints stem from an incident involving attempts by lawyers representing a death row inmate to file motions after business hours. Keller told the lawyers that the clerk’s office closed at 5 p.m. and the inmate was executed later that night.

The incident garnered national attention and ended with Keller being reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. She appealed the reprimand and it was ultimately lifted. It was a victory but not a vindication because the specially selected court of review said a reprimand was not included in the options available to the Commission on Judicial Conduct in disciplining a judge.

Some might call that a technicality, but that’s ultimately what the law is — a collection of technicalities.

Then there was the case of Nathan Hecht, who is considered the intellectual leader of the Texas Supreme Court’s most conservative wing. Hecht was reprimanded for lobbying to confirm the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. That reprimand was also lifted, but the drama didn’t end there. Hecht raised eyebrows when he not only solicited contributions to pay the legal fees incurred in battling the complaint but asked a couple of friendly legislators to file bills that would have allowed him to use state funds to pay those bills. When state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and former state Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, learned that Hecht was soliciting contributions, they pulled their bills down

That was not the end of it. Hecht was fined $29,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission in 2008, declaring the discount extended to him on those legal fees was an improper campaign contribution. The matter has yet to be resolved.

Keller also tried unsuccessfully to have the state pick up the tab for legal fees and said she paid them out of savings and took out a loan.

[…]

Michele Petty

Democrat Keith Hampton opposes Keller in the general election. Michele Petty, a San Antonio lawyer, challenges Hecht. As Democrats, both face an uphill battle.

Hampton brings an impressive legal resume to the race as well as experience as a statewide candidate. He is known and respected for his criminal defense work and has notched a long bibliography of scholarly legal works.

Hampton is amply qualified both academically and ethically to serve on the court, but more importantly to carry a message that Texans demand a judiciary free of taint or bias.

The same standards should apply in the Supreme Court as well. There is no denying Hecht’s ability, talent and background.

Petty, on the other hand, is an unknown but is eager and is motivated. Her demeanor and approach is a marked and clear contrast to the more polished, patrician Hecht.

But Petty’s academic training is impressive. She was Baylor Law’s top graduate in 1984 and a member of the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame.

She understands well that she is running uphill. Win or lose, the state owes Petty its thanks for the effort. An airing of unpleasant history may save us a repetition of it.

It’s not quite an endorsement of Hampton and Petty, in the sense that the Statesman never actually uses words like “we endorse” or “we recommend a vote”, but they do say that “we all lose” if Hampton and Petty lose, so it’s pretty clear what they intend. Hampton, of course, has been sweeping up endorsements left and right, but as far as I an tell this is a first for Petty, about whom you can learn more here. Keller is a much easier target than Hecht, whose sins are more garden-variety, but some new blood would do both courts a lot of good.

Judicial Q&A: Michele Petty

Note: As I have done in years past, I am conducting written Q&As with judicial candidates. This one is a little different in that the questions were originally asked by someone else, but the idea is the same. Further explanation after the post.

Michele Petty

1. Please explain why voters should elect you over your opponent.

Justice Hecht thought it was OK to stick the taxpayers with nearly half a million dollars of his personal legal bills at a time when Texas is closing its parks and laying off its teachers. The cronies who submitted special appropriations bills on his behalf did not get the bills passed, so Justice Hecht sent letters to lawyers and litigants with cases pending asking for donations to pay off his debts. Some got handwritten notes. Those who paid $5000 or more according to Texas Watch won 8 out of 9 times. Those fees arose out of his appeal of the Judicial Conduct Commission Admonishment for “willfully and persistently violating” the judicial canons. The Admonishment was overturned on appeal by a panel comprised of a majority of Republican judges from his home Court of Appeals who were appointed by the Chief Justice who sits next to him on the Court.

Justice Hecht also has an unresolved $29,000 ethics fine from 2008 for accepting an illegal campaign contribution and then failing to report it. His appeal should have been dismissed want of prosecution over two and a half years ago under Travis County local rules, but the attorney general’s office has not filed the motion, and has not set the case for trial. (Attorney General Greg Abbott sat on the court with Justice Hecht.)

I have recent jury trial experience, run my own firm and am Board Certified in Civil Trial Law. Justice Hecht has not tried a case in 30 years and is not Board Certified in anything. I have been nationally recognized for a top ten verdict and have handled cases against multinational corporations. The Court is all Republican with only two women and no contingent fee or plaintiff’s practice attorneys. I would bring much needed perspective and balance to the court.

2. The Texas Supreme Court has been described as a “conservative court” for more than 15 years. Do you think that conservatism is a product of the justices themselves or of laws of the Texas Legislature that the high court must interpret?

Six of the nine Justices currently on the Court were appointed by Governor Perry, and some have advertised themselves as the most conservative on the court. While the Legislature has enacted conservative legislation in the last fifteen years, the court has gone beyond what was enacted and engaged in judicial legislation to further restrict the rights of injured Texans. Laws that did not pass legislatively were adopted by the Court, and the court has interpreted statutes in favor of businesses even though such language is nowhere in the statute nor legislative history.

3. The Texas Supreme Court has a reputation for being pro-business, especially in tort cases. Do you agree or disagree and what can be done to correct that impression?

The Texas Supreme Court deserves its reputation for being pro-business. Wal-Mart has been to the Texas Supreme Court 12 times and has won all 12 times between 1998 and 2005 according to UT law professor David Anderson. ( Wal-Mart prevailed in only 56 percent of the 81 cases in other states.) In a 2007 study of 69 opinions written by the court in 2004 and 2005, Anderson found that defendants won 87% of the time. From 2000-2010, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against consumers 79% of the time according to Texas Watch. Recent cases have eliminated entire causes of action and elements of recovery to insulate businesses from future suits.

The Justices have received so much business related PAC money that realistically Texas must change the way Justices are selected so that campaign contributions are no longer part of the equation. (Justice Don Willett received and spent over $1.4 million for his May primary.) Otherwise, Texas will have to turn blue with voters sweeping out a majority of the incumbents in the next election cycles to restore balance to the court.

4. Some critics of the court believe it goes out its way to disregard jury verdicts. What are some of the reasons the Texas Supreme Court should overturn a jury verdict?

A ten year study by Texas Watch reports that the Texas Supreme Court overturns jury verdicts 74% of the time; however, jury verdicts should be overturned when the trial court has committed reversible error or there has been jury misconduct. Trial judge mistakes in admission and exclusion of evidence, improper jury argument, defects in the jury charge and errors of law can justifiably cause the jury verdict to be reversed.

5. What do you hope to accomplish during a six-year term on the Texas Supreme Court?

I will work to provide better access to justice for the people of Texas. I have direct experience with legal services for indigent and low income clients in contested family law matters. I am sensitive to the needs of the indigent for legal services, but am also respectful of the family bar and those administering legal aid programs and will act to make sure that the solutions implemented are in fact workable and are not riddled with the “80 substantial defects” identified by the Family Law Foundation in the forms proposed by Justice Hecht’s committee. Access to justice also includes the opportunity to redress grievances in a court of law before a jury of peers. I will act to curb the court’s judicial activist trend that inhibits Texans’ ability to meaningfully have their day in court.

I believe that judges should not be career politicians and will work toward the adoption of sensible term limits. I will work to change the way justices are selected.

Note: This Q&A was sent to me by Petty; it was originally slated to run in Texas Lawyer but they edited out her charges against Justice Hecht, and she objected to that. The questions were all asked by Texas Lawyer. Petty added the following bits of information in a followup email:

This is the Texas Ethics Commission order Justice Hecht appealed http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/sworncomp/2007/2707161.pdf

This is the Texas Judicial Conduct Commission Public Admonitition: http://texasweekly.com/documents/tcjc-hecht.pdf

Making open beaches a campaign issue

This is great.

Michele Petty

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision weakening the state Open Beaches Act has become a key issue in the race for one of the two contested Supreme Court seats in the Nov. 6 election.

San Antonio attorney Michele Petty stood in front of a battered beach home in Surfside last weekend to criticize her opponent, Justice Nathan Hecht, for siding with the majority in Severance v. Patterson, the case that led to the controversial decision.

“Texans have shown their love for their beach and they want access to the beach, and the Texas Supreme Court has ignored that,” said Petty, who would be the only Democrat on the court if she defeated Hecht. Hecht did not respond to a request for comment.

The Open Beaches Act historically has been interpreted to allow the public beach to move landward with erosion, a concept known as a “rolling easement.” The court said the rolling easement does not apply if the erosion is sudden, as in the case of a storm. Although the decision applied only to West Galveston Island, it potentially could affect other areas of the coast.

“We now have private beaches in Texas where the public can be excluded,” Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said after court issued its 5-3 decision in April. The ninth justice, Chief Judge Wallace Jefferson, did not participate.

Patterson, a Republican, would not go as far as supporting Petty, but said, “It’s an issue and the voters need to be aware of it.”

Patterson has been making an issue of this for awhile now. I’ll give him a pass on not going all the way – he does want to be the Republican candidate for Lite Guv in 2014, after all. Supreme Court races are generally low profile and the issues that usually get brought up don’t often resonate with voters. This time it may be different. Here we have the confluence of a longtime incumbent, a ruling that has been criticized across the political spectrum, a newsworthy issue, and a candidate who appears to be savvy about earned media. Michele Petty may not win this fall, but if she doesn’t it won’t be because the stars refused to align in her favor for her.

Petty withdraws lawsuit against Hecht

A couple of weeks ago, Democratic Supreme Court candidate Michele Petty filed a lawsuit that sought to determine if her opponent, Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, had fulfilled his legal requirement to gather petition signatures from 50 registered voters in each of the state’s 14 appeals court districts. Petty alleged some technical violations in the petitions, and said at the time that if further investigation revealed that these did not merit Hecht’s removal from the ballot, she would drop the lawsuit. On Wednesday, she did just that.

Michele Petty

In a motion to dismiss her lawsuit, Petty told the Travis County District Court that her investigation revealed that voters “understood what they were doing” when they signed the petitions.

“Petty felt it would not be fair to invalidate their signatures because of error on the part of the circulators or notary,” said the filing.

[…]

However, Petty invited the Legislature to address the issue, noting that judicial petitions are a frequent source of legal challenges. Only Republicans and Democrats must collect signatures from 50 registered voters in each of the state’s 14 appeals court districts, she noted, while Green and Libertarian candidates do not.

“These different requirements raise constitutional questions as to whether Democrats or Republicans should be eliminated from the ballot due to petitions,” Petty wrote, asking lawmakers to end the practice.

Republican and Democratic leaders, however, have favored the petition requirement as a way to weed out fringe candidates for low-visibility judicial posts.

Maybe they should consider extending that requirement to State Board of Ed candidates. Be that as it may, I commend her for being true to her word. I also think that perhaps a better way to approach this is to make the petitions available online but only allow them to be downloaded and printed if these required fields are entered correctly first. Why make it a bigger deal than it needs to be?

Fifth Circuit sends open beaches lawsuit back to district court

Unfortunately, the headline makes it sound like better news than it is.

A federal appeals court Monday ruled that the Texas Open Beaches Act is unconstitutional in the case of a Galveston Island property, a ruling that puts the fate of Texas public beaches in doubt.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Houston federal district court for retrial, but said that few issues were left to be decided.

“What issues must now be determined, aside from attorneys’ fees accruing to the appellant, is unclear,” the three-judge panel said in a three-paragraph opinion.

Chief Circuit Judge Edith Jones and Circuit Judge Edith Clement relied on an April advisory opinion by the Texas Supreme Court that essentially said the Open Beaches Act does not apply on West Galveston Island if the beach is rapidly eroded by storms, known as avulsion, rather than slowly eroded.

I was a little confused when I first read this, but after exchanging emails with the General Land Office, I got straightened out. A succinct explanation is in this 2010 Chron story about the original Supreme Court ruling.

[Plaintiff Carol] Severance initially filed suit in federal district court, which dismissed the case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal but sent some questions to the Texas Supreme Court for answers, prompting Friday’s ruling.

And then the Supreme Court ruling prompted the Fifth Court to finish its task, which came back to them after the Supremes affirmed their ruling in April. As the Tuesday story says, there’s not much left for the district court to sort out, but there are sure to be more lawsuits filed by other beachfront property owners. One possible outcome of that, as former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro wrote in the Trib is that this could lead the Supreme Court to limit the scope of its ruling to lots on Galveston’s West Beach. Before that happens, voters will have a chance to take Commissioner Patterson’s advice and give a verdict of their own on the judges who voted against open beaches. Assuming he doesn’t get booted off the ballot, Justice Nathan Hecht faces Democrat Michele Petty in November. Remember that race when it’s time to vote.

Lawsuit filed against Justice Hecht’s ballot access

Interesting.

Michele Petty

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht’s Democratic opponent has filed suit seeking to delay the printing of ballots and other election material to allow time to investigate potential problems with Hecht’s candidacy petitions.

Several unfilled blanks in petitions from the Fort Worth area could invalidate signatures, leaving Hecht short of support needed to be a legitimate candidate, said the lawsuit by San Antonio lawyer Michele Petty.

Statewide judicial candidates must collect signatures from 50 registered voters in each of the state’s 14 appeals court districts.

Petty’s lawsuit, filed Friday in Travis County District Court, said several Hecht petitions did not have three blanks filled out – showing the candidate’s name, office sought and place number – in the Spanish-language portion of the forms.

Petitions also included inaccurate affidavits and problems with notary forms, the lawsuit said.

To allow time to investigate election law, Petty’s lawsuit seeks an injunction preventing the Republican Party of Texas and Secretary of State Hope Andrade from printing election materials or ballots containing Hecht’s name.

“We’re going to be taking some statements regarding that. If we find out there are irregularities, we’ll let you know; if not, we’ll drop the case,” Petty said today.

The lawsuit asks for Hecht any any replacement candidate to be barred from the general election. According to Ballot Access News, “Texas courts have usually not enforced ultra-strict compliance with such technicalities”. I can’t think of a recent example of a candidate who was allowed onto the primary ballot but then knocked off the ticket in November. Judge Hecht richly deserves to be sent packing, but I am not particularly comfortable with this kind of technical disqualification. The law is the law, but the remedy is awfully harsh and deprives the voters of a choice. Still, the candidates are responsible for dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s, and the party chairs are supposed to make sure they do that. I don’t know. We’ll see. TexParte has more.