Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Sid Miller

Who told Allen West it was a good idea for him to run for Governor?

Lord help us.

Actual campaign logo

Texas GOP Chairman Allen West announced Sunday he is running for governor, challenging fellow Republican Greg Abbott.

The announcement was made during at appearance by West at Sojourn Church in Carrollton, where the former Florida congressman played a video launching his campaign.

“I’ve not been in elected political office for about a decade, but I can no longer sit on the sidelines and see what has happened in these United States of America and … the place that I call home,” West said in the video, which was preceded by West reading aloud the Declaration of Independence to the churchgoers gathering on July Fourth.

West’s campaign launch comes about a month after he announced his resignation as state party chairman. The resignation is effective July 11, when the State Republican Executive Committee is set to meet to pick West’s successor as chair.

[…]

West did not directly mention Abbott in his remarks Sunday in the church or in the video. West used the video to sketch out a platform focused on shielding the state’s energy resources against the Green New Deal — the sweeping climate change proposal pushed by some Democrats in Washington, D.C. — securing the state’s border “to ensure that Texas is for Texans” and combatting sex trafficking.

You can see the launch video, if you have a deeply masochistic streak and literally nothing else to do, in this Twitter thread. Look, we all know that Allen West is a malignant idiot who has no place being within a thousand miles of political power. The extent to which a Governor West would be a disaster are impossible to fathom. One can easily find comfort in thinking that the addition of this fool into the Republican primary for Governor weakens the Republicans overall, but while there may be some truth to that there has been a lot of real damage done in the meantime, as Abbott’s entire plan for the Legislature has been to shore up his right flank against an assault from the likes of Allen West. We’ll be living with those effects for years no matter what happens in 2022. And, not to put too fine a point on it, there’s no evidence to suggest that a crazier and more malevolent Republican is less electable statewide – Ted Cruz, Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, and Sid Miller are Exhibits A through D against that proposition. So go ahead and have your laugh at the ridiculous Allen West and his third-grade graphic design skills – it is the response he deserves – but don’t let that make you think his candidacy can or should be dismissed as a joke. It’s deadly serious, and we need to treat it as such.

James White to challenge Sid Miller

Should be interesting.

State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, announced Wednesday that he is running for agriculture commissioner, marking the first major primary opponent for incumbent Sid Miller.

“The combination of my proven conservative record, experience on agriculture issues, and commitment to integrity and ethics makes me the right candidate to steer this crucial agency back in the right direction,” White said in a news release.

The announcement made official a move White had been teasing since he announced earlier this month that he would not seek reelection to the Texas House after six terms in office. The only Black Republican in the Legislature, White chairs the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. He previously served on the Agriculture and Livestock Committee.

Miller considered running for governor in 2022, challenging fellow Republican Greg Abbott, but announced earlier this month that he would instead run for reelection as agriculture commissioner. Miller won a second term in 2018 after facing two primary challengers and prevailing with 56% of the vote.

Miller did not immediately respond to a request for comment on White’s candidacy.

In his announcement, White offered thinly veiled contrasts with Miller over his personal controversies over the years, which include spreading fake news on Facebook and using taxpayer dollars for two trips involving personal activities, including getting a medical injection in Oklahoma called the “Jesus Shot.” The Texas Rangers investigated the trips, and Travis County prosecutors eventually opted against bringing criminal charges.

Former President Donald Trump could play a role in the race. Miller is an enthusiastic ally of Trump, and an news release announcing White’s campaign cast him as an “early supporter of … Trump, serving as an advisory board member for Black Voices for Trump.”

For his part, White has received support from House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and other colleagues in the House, who have urged him to run for agriculture commissioner.

See here and here for the background. This will be another test of the idea that a “normal” conservative candidate can oust a high-profile grievance-mongering performance artist with a deeply problematic record. The three-candidate AG race is the other example of this. White’s challenge is a little different, for two reasons. One is that James White starts out with low name recognition, while Sid Miller is pretty well known (for bad reasons, to be sure, but it still counts). Compare that to the Ken Paxton challengers – both P Bush and Eva Guzman have won statewide more than once, and while neither is universally known they both start out at a much higher level. This is a big hurdle for White to overcome. It’s certainly possible for a State Rep to win a statewide primary – Sid Miller himself is an example of that – but taking out an incumbent is a new frontier. Keep an eye on the fundraising – if White posts a big report in January, that might tell us something.

On the other hand, Ken Paxton can point to a lot more accomplishments that a Republican primary voter will like than Sid Miller can. He certainly lost some big cases in court, but he has plenty of wins, and has led many multi-state coalitions against the federal government and now against Google. I have no idea what actual things Sid Miller has done as Ag Commissioner, other than the barbecue scale situation, which I kind of thought was okay but which ruffled some feathers. To be fair, what an Ag Commissioner does is usually not of great interest to us urbanites, but I follow the news pretty closely and I can’t think of anything offhand. He’s got the evil clown bit down pat, and that may well be enough for him. White can and surely will talk policy and will be able to credibly say that Miller hasn’t done much of anything, but it’s not clear to me that will matter.

Anyway. I expect at this time that both Ken Paxton and Sid Miller will survive their challenges. I may revise that opinion later, and it’s clear that some people see an opportunity, but I’m betting on the house until I see a reason to do otherwise.

White said in the news release that Texas “needs competent, statewide leaders.”

Sid Miller running for re-election

The Governor’s race will have one fewer malicious jokers in it.

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced Monday he would seek reelection, putting to rest speculation that he could challenge Gov. Greg Abbott for the top elected position in the state.

“I really have the best and most rewarding job in the world,” Miller said in a statement. “That’s why, after listening to the advice of supporters, friends and my team, I have decided that I can best serve Texas by continuing this important work.”

“Today I am announcing my campaign for reelection as your Texas Agriculture Commissioner,” he said.

[…]

In May, the Conservative Republicans of Texas political action committee had cut a video ad to recruit Miller to run against Abbott, declaring: “He was right on Trump, he’ll be right for Texas.” Miller appeared to be pondering the decision, announcing weeks later that he was running for statewide office but not saying for which position.

“I’m convinced that our current governor cannot get reelected in the general election,” he said on a podcast with Sery Kim, a former congressional Republican candidate.

Earlier this month, Trump endorsed Abbott.

[…]

That backlash from the right wing of the Republican Party has led former Dallas State Sen. Don Huffines to challenge Abbott. Allen West, the chair of the Republican Party of Texas, is also expected to run for statewide office after his resignation as party chairman becomes official next month. West has not said what office he will seek.

Miller did not name Abbott in his reelection announcement but said that he felt a special obligation to use his bully pulpit to “hold other elected officials accountable.”

Whatever. Miller’s assertion about Abbott’s re-election chances are interesting and wishful, but they can’t be trusted because he’s not a reliable source. It would have been interesting, in the way that a freight train derailing and crashing into a warehouse filled with manure would be interesting, for Miller to have challenged Abbott, but that was not to be. We’ll need to beat him ourselves.

In news from that other primary that we have to pay attention to:

Eva Guzman, the Republican former justice on the Texas Supreme Court, officially began her campaign against embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday, pledging to bring “honor and integrity” to the office as well as an extensive legal background that could set her apart from another primary candidate, George P. Bush.

“I’m just what Texas needs because I have the experience, the proven integrity, the conservative values,” Guzman said in an interview, adding that she has shown she can “put together winning teams” — a reference to her distinction as the highest vote-getter in Texas history at the time of her last statewide race.

[…]

Guzman made her bid official in a roughly two-minute video during which she talks about growing up in Houston’s East End, going from “humble beginnings to the Texas Supreme Court” and working to secure justice for families like hers. She says she is running for attorney general “to protect our border, to ensure elections are fair, to fight the overreach of the federal government and to alway support the police who keep us all safe.”

She quickly picked up a major endorsement from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the powerful tort reform group that supported Paxton for attorney general in the 2014 and 2018 general elections. The chairman of the group’s PAC, Richard J. Trabulsi Jr., said in a statement that Guzman “has the breadth of legal experience and the personal and professional integrity that we must require of our state’s highest legal officer.”

[…]

Guzman said her experience also extends to her ability to fight the White House in court. She said she “will be ready to sue the Biden administration on Day 1 to protect Texans, and I’ve actually been in a courtroom and I’ve actually argued cases … on the very issues” that could come up in pushing against the White House.

Former President Donald Trump has promised to make an endorsement in the primary, though it remains to be seen if Guzman’s candidacy alters his plans. Before Bush started his campaign against Paxton, Trump released a statement saying he likes “them both very much” and that he would make an endorsement “in the not-so-distant future.”

“I’m in a three-way primary,” Guzman said. “I welcome all the support I could get, including from former President Trump.”

See here for the background. I continue to believe that Guzman will have a hard time winning over the kind of slavering nihilists that populate a Republican primary, but the endorsement from TLR probably came as an unpleasant surprise to Paxton. Please observe that while Guzman would be a more competent and less criminal Attorney General than Paxton, that in no way means that she would be a good Attorney General. No one should feel any reason to vote for her.

State Rep. James White not running for re-election

I have three things to say about this.

Rep. James White

State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, has decided not to seek reelection, he told East Texas TV station KLTV in a roundtable with lawmakers. And he hinted to another news station that he’s considering a statewide run.

The Texas House doesn’t have term limits, but White suggested that his longevity in the lower chamber was a factor in his decision. He was first elected in 2010.

“I’m a term limit guy by nature,” White told KLTV on Thursday. “I wish we had term limits in Texas… I think we can continue being a great state even without me being in the Texas House.”

White is the chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, and is the only Black Republican in the Texas House. He represents solidly Republican House District 19 in East Texas.

On Friday, he suggested to KFDM/Fox 4 News in Beaumont that he is mulling a run for statewide office.

“Don’t be surprised if you see me on the Republican Primary ballot for statewide office,” the station reported him as saying.

1. Rep. White may be a “term limit guy by nature”. He will also have served 12 years in the House when his term ends, which means he is fully vested in the pension plan for state reps, worth $34,500 a year as of 2012 for a 12-year veteran over the age of 50 (White is 56, according to his bio). Everything else he says here may be true. It’s just that it’s also true that this is an optimal time for him to call it quits, financially speaking.

2. White’s HD19 voted 81.77% for Trump in 2020, making it the fifth-most Republican district in the state. I think we can all picture what the primary to replace him will look like, even if the redrawn HD19 is slightly less red. I have no warmth for Rep. White, who is as crappy and complicit as everyone else in his rotten caucus, but he does have a record as a serious policymaker and has done some worthwhile work on criminal justice reform. The odds are great that his successor will be less of a policy person and more of a grievance-driven performance artist, as that is the norm in Republican primaries these days. And that has an effect, because one of the few restraints on the two legislative chambers in recent years has been the number of actual legislators in ridiculously Republican districts, especially as those members attain positions of influence.

To put this another way, both James White and Briscoe Cain were committee chairs last session. That’s what happens when the Briscoe Cains of the world replace the boring old establishment guys like Wayne Smith. This is one of the reasons the Senate sucks so bad – since 2012, we’ve swapped Kevin Eltife for Bryan Hughes, Bob Deuell for Bob Hall, and Robert Duncan for Charles Perry (who it must be noted has some criminal justice policy chops as well, but spent this session pretending to be a medical expert on trans youth, which he most emphatically is not). It’s not that Eltife and Deuell and Duncan were great, it’s that their replacements are Dan Patrick’s foot soldiers, and that’s before you take into account the special kind of crazy maliciousness that a Bob Hall brings. Every time you take out Dan Flynn for Bryan Slaton, Rob Eissler for Steve Toth, John Zerwas for Gary Gates, you make the House a little worse. I very much fear we’re about to have the same thing happen here.

3. What statewide office might White run for, if he does run for something statewide? Land Commissioner makes sense – it’s open, and there’s no reason White couldn’t make it a race against Dawn Buckingham. Ag Commissioner is a possibility, even if Sid Miller runs for re-election instead of jumping into the Governor’s race. And though it’s not a statewide office, I will note that State Sen. Robert Nichols, whose SD03 contains all of HD19, is 76 years old, and the post-redistricting election cycle is always a popular time to peace out. Just a thought.

UPDATE: I drafted this over the weekend, but the just-released Texas Monthly Best and Worst Legislators list for this session illustrates the point I made in item two damn near perfectly.

We need to talk about Sid

I know, I don’t want to and you don’t want to talk about it, but Sid Miller might run for Governor, so we’re gonna have to talk about it.

Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller doesn’t believe Texas Governor Greg Abbott can win a general election battle against Beto O’Rourke or any other Democrat for that matter. And that is why Miller is still considering a run for Texas Governor in the Republican Primary.

Miller joined The Chad Hasty Show on Wednesday to address his political future and accusations that he told Rep. Dustin Burrows to sit on the gender modification bill in Calendars Committee. Miller said he was lied to about Burrows sitting on the bill initially and told Burrows told “hold on” as he tried to get radio ads pulled accusing Burrows of sitting on the legislation. Miller said he was unsuccessful at trying to get the ads removed, but ultimately he does blame Burrows for killing the body modification bill.

After discussing the modification bill, the discussion focused on Miller’s future. Miller told Hasty that, “We need a new Governor for sure. I don’t think there is any way he (Abbott) can win a general election”. Miller said that in the “next couple of weeks” he would decide on whether or not to run for Governor or to run for reelection as Texas Agriculture Commissioner. When asked his thoughts on former President Trump’s endorsement of Abbott, Miller said the endorsement was “odd” and said, “I don’t know what that’s about. It was real, real strange”. Miller said that while the former President’s endorsement of Abbott has some “weight to it”, it wouldn’t stop him from running if he felt that he was called to run.

Miller would join former one-term Senator Don Huffines in trying to outflank Abbott from the right. I have no doubt that most of what we have seen this session, and now with the Great Wall of Abbott, was done with an eye towards the Republican primary. I find it fascinating that Miller thinks he would be more appealing to the 2022 general electorate than Abbott – as a reminder, Miller got 400K fewer votes than Abbott in 2018, and won by five points while Abbott was winning by 13 – but then many politicians have made successful careers being delusional in this way. I don’t know if Miller’s invocation of Beto is based on a belief that Beto is running or just hyping a bogeyman, but I’d be happy to see Beto pitted against any of them. I certainly believe that Miller is the weaker candidate of the two, but there’s only one way to find out.

P Bush officially challenges Paxton

The primary no one asked for.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here comes Huffines

The political comeback nobody asked for is officially on.

Former state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, announced Monday that he is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott in the 2022 primary.

“Texas deserves actual Republican leadership that will act urgently and decisively—no more excuses or lies,” Huffines said in a statement.

Huffines is a wealthy businessman who served in the Senate from 2015-2019. Democrat Nathan Johnson defeated Huffines in 2018.

Abbott is up for a third term in 2022 and has drawn some heat from within his party for his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Huffines has criticized Abbott as being too slow to fully reopen the state and he spoke at a protest outside the Governor’s Mansion last fall.

Huffines’ announcement did not mention Abbott but took aim at “politicians who offer nothing but excuses and lies” and promised to take on the “entrenched elites of the Austin swamp.”

You can see Huffines’ statement here. It’s a lot. His name has come up before as a potential primary challenger to Abbott, and hey, he’s rich, he’s bored, and he’s got nothing better to do, so why not. As we have discussed before, Greg Abbott’s approval ratings have gotten soft, but he’s still strong with Republicans. I don’t see him as a credible threat and I doubt Team Abbott does as well, though I’m sure they’ll use a couple of their mega-millions to remind everyone what a non-entity Huffines is.

The story notes that Allen West (state GOP Chair and certified wackadoodle) and Sid Miller (Ag Commissioner) are also in the conversation as possible primary challengers to Abbott. Miller is the only one of the three that I think would present any real competition to Abbott, as he has at least won statewide, but my sense is that they’d still be fishing from the same pond of anti-Abbott Republicans. I don’t see them as likely to peel away existing support for Abbott. But I’m not a Republican, so take that with an appropriate amount of salt. The Chron and Reform Austin have more.

HempLicenseGate

The headline on this Trib story is “Top political aide to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller arrested in alleged scheme to take money in exchange for hemp licenses”, and I have no idea how to make it any pithier than that.

The top political consultant to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was arrested Thursday on allegations that he participated in a scheme to solicit money and campaign contributions for state hemp licenses issued by Miller’s Texas Department of Agriculture.

The consultant, Todd Smith, ultimately took $55,000 as part of the scheme, an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by The Texas Tribune says. Smith and others involved in the scheme are alleged in the warrant to have solicited a total of $150,000 to guarantee a license, including a $25,000 upfront cost for a survey that they said was required to get a license in Texas. Some of the money would also go toward funding unnamed political campaigns, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit alleges that Smith committed third-degree felony theft.

“Todd Smith created by words and his conduct, a false impression of fact that affected the judgment of others in the transactions to obtain a hemp license and/or conduct a survey that was never attempted by Todd Smith,” the affidavit says.

The allegations were investigated by the Texas Rangers’ Public Integrity Unit, which is responsible for looking into claims of public corruption.

[…]

The affidavit says Smith used another person as a middle man between himself and those interested in getting licenses. The affidavit does not provide much information about the middle man other than that he was “introduced to Todd Smith by a friend in August 2019.”

The affidavit includes the account of one man who wanted to get involved in the hemp industry and met the middle man at a social gathering in August 2019. The affidavit says the middle man told the license-seeker that he was “working directly with senior leadership at the TDA” and that he “needed $150,000.00 in cash, with some of the money going toward campaign contributions, in order to receive the ‘guaranteed’ hemp license.”

The license-seeking man agreed to the deal, setting off a chain of events that included a November 2019 visit to Austin where he handed the middle man $30,000 cash in a car outside El Mercado, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Austin near the TDA offices, according to the affidavit. Williams went through an alley to take the money to the TDA headquarters before returning to the car and collecting Vinson for a scheduled meeting at the offices.

The affidavit says the license-seeker learned later that month that he was not guaranteed a license, despite the scheme that had been proposed to him. He reached Smith via phone, who “denied any knowledge but did admit to receiving a $5,000.00 gift from” the middle man, according to the allegations.

You can see the affidavit here. As the story notes, these hemp licenses were created in the 2019 Legislature for the purpose of allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp, which had been illegal under prior marijuana laws. HB 1325 from last session modified the legal definition of marijuana as part of the solution for that, and in the process made it harder for prosecutors to pursue low-level marijuana possession cases. None of that has anything to do with this case, which appears to be your basic “greedy dude with access to power attempts to cash in” story, at least on the surface. Good luck to the famously articulate Sid Miller explaining that to the voters.

Are you now, or have you ever been, a supporter of Greg Abbott?

Ken Paxton will get back to you on that.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a New York Times story published Tuesday that he does not support Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Republican, as Abbott runs for reelection, the latest — and most revealing — sign that some state GOP leaders are on a collision course ahead of the 2022 election.

“The way this typically works in a primary, is it’s kind of everybody running their own race,” Paxton told the Times. “I don’t think he supports me; I don’t support him.”

Within hours of the story’s publication, Paxton bashed it as “fake news” and insisted he supports Abbott. “He’s a great Governor and a Great Texan,” Paxton tweeted.

Abbott is up for a third term in 2022, and for months he has faced heat from some on his right, most notably over his response to the coronavirus pandemic. Paxton told the Times that he wished Abbott had reopened the state “a little bit earlier.”

[…]

Abbott, a former attorney general, has dealt cautiously with Paxton and his legal woes over the years. Abbott declined to say whether he voted to reelect Paxton in the 2018 primary — Paxton was unopposed — though Abbott went on to voice support for Paxton in the general election.

Abbott said the latest allegations against Paxton “raise serious concerns” but declined further comment until any probe is complete.

Paxton was a top ally of former President Donald Trump among attorneys general, and especially so during Trump’s final weeks in office, when Paxton launched a lawsuit challenging Trump’s reelection loss in four battleground states. Abbott expressed support for the lawsuit, which the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up.

But will Ken Paxton let Greg Abbott sit at his table in the cafeteria at lunchtime? That’s what I really need to know. Or will he let that b*tch Sid Miller sit there instead? The drama, I just can’t stand the drama.

A Paxton spokesperson, Ian Prior, said in a statement that the Times took Paxton’s comments out of context.

“What the Attorney General said was that typically, when running primary campaigns, candidates run their own races and do not get involved in other races,” Prior said. “This is not a unique concept.”

True enough, but right now we’re talking about whether he supports the two-term Governor, who at this point has no known opponent, or if he’s keeping his options open in case something sexier comes along. The “don’t get involved in other races” stricture is usually for contested primaries or open-seat races, and only if you’re not already in the middle of it for other reasons. It’s fair to say that a political reporter should understand that concept, but it’s also fair to say that “he’s my Governor and I support him” in this context is a pretty anodyne statement, one that a veteran officeholder shouldn’t have had any reason not to make. Sometimes it takes two to upgrade a molehill into a mountain.

Have you been pining for another Hotze/Woodfill lawsuit?

Well, then today is your lucky day.

Not that kind of face mask

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and conservative activist Dr. Steven Hotze, a prolific litigant, are suing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for requiring COVID-19 tests for entry into the Texas Senate gallery and committee hearings.

In the 18-page suit filed in Travis County court, Miller and Hotze argue the Senate rule violates the Texas Constitution and Open Meetings Act and ask the court to block the rule. Patrick’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Gov. Abbott is opening up businesses while Patrick is shutting down the people’s access to their government,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Jared Woodfill said in a statement.

Members of the public wishing to view proceedings must receive a wristband that indicates a negative COVID-19 test. The rule was established to prevent the spread of the virus at the statehouse, which proved to be hotspots in other states.

[…]

The lawsuit says the Senate rule “unreasonably restricts speech” by mandating a “medical procedure as a prerequisite” and violates the right to free speech guaranteed by the Texas Constitution.

“The constitutional mandate that the legislative session be ‘open’ supersedes any statutory emergency authority that may otherwise apply to the Senate,” the suit reads, noting Hotze had tried to enter on March 2 but was denied entry when he refused a COVID-19 test.

See here for some background. I couldn’t find a copy of the lawsuit online, but Jasper Scherer has an image of the first four pages. In the name of preserving my sanity, I did not read them. One does not have to be a lawyer to think that the “free speech” argument here is a stretch, though maybe there’s something to the open meetings claim. I’ve got better things to worry about, so we’ll see what the courts make of it. We know what their recent track record is, I’ll just leave it at that.

Is there really a primary threat to Abbott?

Maybe, but it’s not a serious one.

As Gov. Greg Abbott races to reopen all businesses and end mask mandates this week, it hasn’t been fast enough to defuse escalating political pressure from fellow Republicans who see Texas lagging behind other states in dropping COVID-19 restrictions.

For months, Abbott has taken barbs from conservatives who have held up Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a measuring stick to show Texas is reopening too slowly, fueling talk that Abbott will face something he’s never seen: a real primary battle.

“We are glad Governor Abbott is following the example of Governor Ron DeSantis of FL & Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota & opening up Texas,” Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West said last week on his social media accounts after Abbott announced that all businesses would be allowed to reopen to 100 percent this week.

That came days after DeSantis blew Abbott away in an early 2024 presidential primary test ballot at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla. Asked who their top choice would be if Donald Trump doesn’t run, 43 percent in the straw poll picked DeSantis. Noem finished second with 11 percent. Abbott was the choice of less than 1 percent, finishing 21st among 22 potential candidates.

And then there was January when DeSantis himself was in Austin, less than a mile from the governor’s mansion, touting how he kept his state open despite criticism from the media.

“Florida is open,” said DeSantis, a guest at the Texas Public Policy Foundation at a time businesses in the region were barred from operating at more than 50 percent. “No restriction and mandates from the state of Florida whatsoever. We trust individuals.”

DeSantis lifted Florida’s restrictions in September — a full six months before Abbott made his move in Lubbock last week.

“Greg Abbott certainly is no Ron DeSantis,” former state Sen. Don Huffines, a Republican, said Saturday while standing in front of the Alamo to mark the 185th anniversary of that battle.

Huffines said between Abbott’s handling of the mass statewide power outages and his pandemic response, it is long past time for someone to challenge Abbott in a GOP primary.

“There’s a lot of issues that are going to be discussed in a primary, and those are just two of them,” Huffines said just before delivering a speech before almost 300 people in which he decried governments taking away people’s liberties.

Huffines isn’t ready to declare for the race but said he’s keeping his options open.

Just for clarity, Don Huffines is a one-term State Senator who lost his first re-election bid in 2018 by double digits. Others mentioned in the story include hair salon owner Shelley Luther, who lost her one election in the special for SD30, one of the reddest districts in the state; Jonathan Stickland, widely loathed State Rep who did not run for re-election in 2020; and Florida Man Allen West, a former one-term Congressman who is now somehow the state GOP Chair. If these are the potential opponents, then as someone once said, they’re not sending their best. I seriously doubt Greg Abbott is living in fear of any of these folks.

This story mentions three other potential candidates: Dan Patrick, George P. Bush, and Sid Miller. Patrick, who would be a legitimate threat to Abbott, has said he’s running for re-election. Bush, who would be a lesser threat, has been encouraged by some to run for AG instead. Miller is hard to take seriously in any context, but he’d be a greater threat than the first three. I’d be surprised at this point if any of them ran against Abbott, but I can’t rule it out completely.

I’ll say what I always say in these situations: No one is running until they actually say they’re running. I’m not a Republican and I claim no insight into what their base wants, but there’s no polling evidence at this time to suggest that Abbott is in any trouble with his base. As we have discussed, he is annoyingly popular. Dan Patrick could beat him – it would be a hell of a fight – but I doubt anyone else has a chance. I just don’t think anyone who could make a fight out of it will try. We’ll see.

Now we get to worry about food

Because the supply chain also suffered from the massive power outages.

Now would be a good time to donate

The state’s week of weather hell started with a deadly 133-car pileup outside of Fort Worth. A winter storm unlike any Texas has ever seen quickly followed, and seven days later, millions are without power and reliable water.

And now Texans are running out of food. From farm to table, freezing temperatures and power outages are disrupting the food supply chain that people rely on every day.

Across the state, people are using up supplies they had stockpiled and losing more as items start to spoil in dark refrigerators. Some are storing their remaining rations in coolers outside, and trips to the grocery store often do little to replenish pantries.

“It was out of meat, eggs and almost all milk before I left,” Cristal Porter, an Austin resident, said about her local Target which she visited Monday. “Lines were wrapped around the store when we arrived. … Shelves were almost fully cleared for potatoes, meat, eggs and some dairy.”

Two days later, one of Porter’s neighbors went to that same Target, and the store was completely out of food, with no sign of additional shipments arriving or employees restocking shelves.

With grocery stores across the state shuttered for lack of power, supermarkets that remain open have seen supplies dwindle, shortages that ripple over to food pantries that count on grocery store surplus to keep their own shelves stocked.

Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable crops in the Rio Grande Valley have frozen over in what The Produce News described as a “Valentine’s Day produce massacre.” School districts from Fort Worth to Houston have halted meal distributions to students for the next several days, and Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said dairy farmers around the state are pouring $8 million worth of milk down the drain every day because they can’t get it to dairies.

Celia Cole, the CEO of hunger-relief organization Feeding Texas, said that so far, eight food banks have asked the state for extra help feeding their communities. Several food banks affiliated with Feeding Texas have also started providing food supplies to emergency warming shelters in the state’s major cities. Wednesday afternoon, the Central Food Bank of Texas canceled its deliveries scheduled for Thursday in Austin and Rockdale.

“The Food Bank’s fleet, equipment, facilities and operations have been adversely impacted by the extremely low temperatures, and hazardous road conditions are hindering our staff and volunteers from getting to our building safely,” the organization announced in a media alert. “These conditions are also keeping us from distributing food safely.”

[…]

Between the current strain on grocery stores and the potential for huge damages to the state’s agricultural sector, this storm could hamper food access for weeks to come. Miller and Cole emphasized that it’s impossible to know the extent of the losses until power returns, but the food supply will continue to drain unless farmers and stores get electricity back soon.

“They’ve been very, very badly hit – the agricultural sector, generally —by the pandemic, so they’re already struggling,” Cole said. “And so I think although the impact if the power gets restored quickly might not be huge in absolute terms, it’s hitting a sector that’s already reeling from the pandemic.”

There’s likely not much that we could have done about the effect the weather had on the crops and animals themselves. But the loss of power, and the extreme disruption it has caused not just in people’s daily lives but in the food supply chain, that’s a risk that cannot be considered acceptable. I’ve gone into this plenty of times now and won’t repeat myself here, but it’s important to keep the human misery factor in mind as much as the actual dollars-and-cents cost of this past week. That’s as good a segue as any to this reminder that the Houston Food Bank needs all the help it can get right now to meet the need caused by the storm and the blackouts.

Like many others in Harris County, residents at Big Bass Resort in Jacinto City had run low on groceries by Thursday. After the winter storm iced roads and kept millions holed up without water and power, Texas officials anticipate major food shortages in the days and weeks to come, prompting the Houston Food Bank to kick start mass food giveaways that are already ramping up through the weekend.

Calls from residents in need have led the food bank to expect long lines at facilities where its partner groups distribute their food. The food bank has a massive reach across southeast Texas, with 159 million meals provided across 18 counties during the past fiscal year, according to spokeswoman Paula Murphy.

“The food bank and all the partners we work with, we’re almost like the last resort,” said Brian Greene, president and CEO of the organization. “It can, for a lot of households, be the difference between getting by and tragedy.”

Aside from any issues grocery stores might have restocking their shelves, most food shortages equate to income shortages, Greene said. Families who were already struggling financially – some still recovering from past floods and others laid off during the pandemic – might be experiencing rougher situations after losing a week’s worth of income due to an inability to work during the freeze.

Some money that was spent on food before the storm likely went to waste, as a lack of electricity caused refrigerated or frozen items to spoil, Greene said. And unforseen expenses from building damage can make affording food difficult.

Greene expects food shortages to mirror experiences during hurricanes. A large number of households need aid in the first few days after a storm, and then the number trickles down to low-income households that sustained significant damage, he said.

Because of the anticipated needs, Harris County officials have urged out-of-state supporters to donate to the food bank.

“Even as the lights come back on, we’re facing a food and water crisis in Harris County, Texas,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted Thursday.

If you’re not Ted Cruz and are looking for a way to help go to and make a donation or sign up to volunteer. Direct your out-of-town friends and family who want to help there as well. This really is like the immediate after-effect of a hurricane.

Republicans are determined to learn the wrong lessons from the blackouts

It’s kind of amazing, and yet completely on brand.

With millions of Texans having lost power during the winter storms, key players in the Legislature say one of the most immediate reforms they will push for is recalibrating the state’s electricity grid to ensure more fossil fuels are in that mix and fewer renewables.

While all energy sources were disrupted during the historic freeze, Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature say renewables have been given all the attention over the years, yet proved to be unhelpful during the state’s crisis.

“It’s cool to be into wind and solar these days, but the problem is it leaves us frigid in the winter,” said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who leads the GOP caucus in the Texas Senate.

Officials with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas said most of the generating plants that went offline this week were natural gas, coal or nuclear facilities. But still, Republicans have singled out wind and solar as targets over the objections of Democrats and renewable energy advocates.

Texas utilities ratepayers have funded more than $7 billion over the last eight years building transmission lines to take wind power from West Texas to the big cities. It’s made Texas the biggest wind producer in the nation.

But Bettencourt and other Republicans say advantages like federal subsidies for wind and solar have to be evened out.

“We need a baseload energy generation strategy in Texas that is reliable and not based upon renewables so strongly,” he said.

Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, this week reupped a bill he filed last session that would require ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission to write rules that would “eliminate or compensate for market distortion caused by certain federal tax credits.”

“It’s not just the frozen wind turbines; it’s the fact that they even exist that is creating the problem,” said Patterson, who works as an energy consultant. “Their existence, their heavily subsidized existence on our grid is creating a shortage of energy supply because no one else can compete against them.”

[…]

Blaming renewables is misguided and politically motivated, said Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group.

“There is no energy source that doesn’t receive subsidies,” Shelley said. “There have been energy tax credits for fossil fuel sources for a hundred years, so to target the renewable tax credit … it’s pretty disingenuous.”

[…]

But while there may be reforms to ERCOT, not many Republicans are talking about the prospect of ordering the state’s nearly 700 power plants to invest in weatherization and what that would cost.

ERCOT officials said earlier this week in a statewide press conference that while it was recommended power plants weatherize after winter storms in 2011 knocked out power, those were voluntary requests and not mandatory.

Jon Rosenthal, a Houston Democrat and senior mechanical engineer in the oil and gas industry, said he is working on legislation that would build in more reserve energy supply for Texas, such as by hooking up the state to the nationally interconnected system, or offering financial incentives for providers to increase back-up power.

Rosenthal would also like to see reliability standards introduced that require generators to weatherize their systems. He said he knows that adding more regulations will be an uphill battle in the Republican-majority Legislature but believes there is a “happy medium” that can be struck.

“While the common argument ‘we don’t want regulation so we can provide electricity as cheaply as possible’ does provide cheap energy a lot of the time, these disasters are horrendously expensive,” Rosenthal said. “I’ve heard insurance folks saying this could be the costliest ever natural disaster in Texas. So you make a little bit of an investment in your infrastructure to ensure that you don’t have these disastrous consequences.”

He added: “And it’s not just the cost of it. It’s the human suffering.”

How it is that they could have missed the voluminous reporting about how the same freeze we all just endured also caused problems for gas and coal plants since they both involve water and that water was frozen solid is an eternal mystery, but here we are. We’ve literally had thirty years’ of warnings about the need to weatherize our power plants and wind turbines, and this is the response we get from Paul Bettencourt and his cronies. It would cost money – I forget where I read this now, but I saw one back-of-the-envelope estimate of about $2 billion for the whole system – but that can be paid in part by the power generators and in part by the state, with cash from the Rainy Day Fund or a bond issuance if need be.

Doing that might require changing the financial incentives for the operators, and it might require shudder regulating the energy market – certainly, ERCOT or some other governing body will need enforcement power, because simply asking the operators nicely to invest in weatherizing hasn’t worked so far – and it even might require rejoining the national power grid, which has its own pros and cons but would come with federal enforcement of weatherization standards. There are many viable options. We don’t have to choose the stupid, head-in-the-frozen-tundra option that Bettencourt et al seem hellbent on doing.

One more thing, which I find equal parts amusing and puzzling: All this antagonism towards wind energy seems to overlook the fact that a large number of wind farms and turbines are in the Panhandle and West Texas, easily two of the most Republican parts of the state. Do these Republican legislators and other currently trashing wind energy – the Observer quotes a Facebook post by Sid Miller that says “We should never build another wind turbine in Texas”, for instance – not realize that they’re kicking sand on their own people? I don’t even know what to make of that, but I do know that part of the 2022 Democratic message needs to be targeted at those folks. Texas Monthly has more.

Hunting hogs from hot air balloons

Not as popular as hoped.

Turns out, hunting feral hogs from a hot air balloon is not all that popular in Texas.

Three years after state lawmakers approved the high-flying hunts, no balloon company has gotten a permit, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Gunning down feral hogs from a helicopter, however, has taken off. Since the Legislature passed the so-called “pork chopper” bill in 2011 to drive down invasive pig populations, scores of businesses have begun offering aerial hog hunts to customers willing to pay thousands of dollars for the experience.

[…]

[Ag Commissioner Sid] >Miller said he floated the hot air balloon proposal to a state lawmaker after meeting a West Texan who raved about using balloons to hunt hogs. They are less noisy than helicopters and offer a more steady shooting platform, proponents have said.

Still, balloons come with their own challenges, chief among them, the wind, which can send hunters flying in the opposite direction of the hogs.

“Even though you might know where the winds are forecasted to go, doesn’t mean that’s always what the winds are going to do,” said Josh Sneed, Southwest Region Director for the Balloon Federation of America.

Sneed doesn’t know any Texas balloon pilots who offer hog hunts. Safety has been a chief concern, he said.

“You can do it safely,” he said. “But most pilots don’t feel comfortable having people carrying rifles in their balloons with them and discharging (them).”

Helicopters have proven far more popular. There are currently 155 active permits for aerial wildlife management that list helicopters, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.

HeliBacon, based in Bryan, has approval from farmers and ranchers to hunt hogs across roughly 300,000 acres in the area, said CEO Chris Britt. Hogs tend to be nocturnal, so the after-dawn excursions last just a few hours. About 85% of the company’s customers come from out of state and some of them from abroad, he said.

“From the customer’s perspective, they want to fly in a helicopter at a low level. They want to shoot a machine gun. They’re chasing a live, moving target,” Britt said. “The fact it happens to be a feral pig that they are killing… and it’s good for the ecology, the farmers and the economy is a bonus.”

Using aircraft to take out an entire group of wild pigs is effective, but if some get away, they learn to start avoiding the sound of helicopters, said John M. Tomecek, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist at Texas A&M University.

See here, here, and here for more on the pork-chopping bill, which also got off to a slow start. I don’t know how I missed the story of the hot air balloon option, but it wasn’t expected to do much anyway.

It’s easy to make fun of all this, and honestly I don’t know why anyone would want to pilot any kind of aerial vehicle while one or more people in said vehicle was firing guns at moving targets, but as we have noted many times before, feral hogs are a huge problem in Texas. It’s nearly impossible to control the population growth, because they reproduce so quickly and plentifully. I’m fine with some outside-the-box ideas to try and keep the population under some control – a plan to deploy poison against the hogs was ultimately withdrawn after concerns were raised about environmental damage – though as the story notes, it’s not clear how effective the pork-chopping strategy has been. But hey, until something better comes along, at least people are trying it.

Keep fighting, fellas

Primal scream time.

Two of Texas’ top Republicans took part [last] Saturday in a protest of Gov. Greg Abbott’s coronavirus restrictions outside the Governor’s Mansion, a striking display of intraparty defiance three days before early voting begins for a momentous November election.

The “Free Texas” rally featured speeches from Texas GOP Chair Allen West and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, both of whom invoked the governor critically. At one point, Miller turned toward the mansion with a message for Abbott.

“Quite frankly, governor, your cure is worse than the disease,” Miller said.

West, who took over the party in July and has been an open critic of some of Abbott’s coronavirus decisions, read a resolution that the State Republican Executive Committee passed last month. The resolution tells Abbott: “No Exceptions, No Delays….Open Texas NOW.”

“We call upon the governor to do what is right by the people of the great state of Texas so that Texas can continue to be a leader,” West added. “And if the governor did not get this resolution, I’m gonna leave it right here, at the gates of the Governor’s Mansion.”

The protest drew at least 200 people, a virtually maskless crowd, to a parking lot steps away from the Governor’s Mansion in downtown Austin. After hearing from a lineup of speakers that also included state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, the group marched on the streets and sidewalks surrounding the mansion, chanting, “Open Texas now!”

The audience was filled with signs expressing disgust at Abbott’s decisions to institute a statewide mask mandate and shut down certain businesses throughout the pandemic. One sign called Abbott the “#1 Job Killer in Texas,” while another called to “IMPEACH ABBOTT THE RHINO.”

I’ve been sitting on this for a few days in part because there’s so damn much other news that I’ve not been able to fit it in, and in part because it’s hard to add anything to “IMPEACH ABBOTT THE RHINO”. But we carry on.

West’s criticism of Abbott’s pandemic decisions has fueled speculation that he could run against the governor in 2022. As West prepared to start speaking at the rally, there were a couple chants of “West for governor!” which he sought to brush off, saying, “Oh, stop it, stop it, stop it.” Then there was another chant that drew cheers, prompting West to shake his head lightheartedly.

“Paid political announcement by a bunch of knuckleheads,” he said jokingly.

The idea of a carpetbagger like Allen West being a serious primary challenger to Greg Abbott is bizarre, to say the least, but we live in strange times. I do at this point believe someone will challenge Abbott in the primary, but who that might be and how seriously it will be taken remains unclear. Maybe this was Sid Miller’s audition for the job – he’s dumb enough to think he can do it, and clownish enough to appeal anyone who might think Allen West is some kind of savior. There’s plenty of room for this to get dumber, of that I’m certain. Dan Patrick as ever is the wild card, and likely the one Republican than Abbott actually fears. I don’t have any predictions – even if I did, it would be ridiculous to make them this far in advance – but I sure am interested in seeing how this plays out. We have a super consequential legislative session coming up, with redistricting and coronavirus and executive power and who knows what else that will dominate. How much does this kind of dissension affect Republican plans, or can they pull it together enough to support the things they all are supposed to like? Would a Dem Speaker remind them all of their real opponent? I don’t know, but these are the things I’ll be thinking about.

The state of the Democratic bench

It’s deeper now, and it could keep getting deeper after this year.

Rep. Victoria Neave

The speaking turns may have been brief and the spotlight not as bright, but Texas Democrats got a glimpse at their national convention this week of their emerging bench — beyond, notably, the usual suspects.

While names like Beto O’Rourke and Julián and Joaquin Castro continue to dominate the conversation — and O’Rourke had two roles in the convention — the virtual gathering also put on display at least four Texas Democrats who could have bright futures, too, either in 2022 or further down the line.

There was Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the 29-year-old leader of the state’s largest county, who appeared in video montages Monday and Thursday nights. There were U.S. Rep. Colin Allred and state Rep. Victoria Neave, both of Dallas, who spoke Tuesday night as part of a 17-person keynote address showcasing the party’s rising stars nationwide. And there was U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso, who announced the Texas delegate count for Biden on Tuesday night while delivering a solemn reminder of the 2019 Walmart massacre in her home city. The next night, Escobar appeared in a compilation video about women’s suffrage.

The pared-down online convention meant the Texans may have not gotten as much time — or overall prominence — as usual, but for politicos watching closely, their inclusion alone was notable.

“As we know, for the last two decades, it’s been slim pickings for Democrats in Texas,” said Keir Murray, a Houston Democratic strategist. “I think Allred, Neave, Hidalgo — some of these up-and-comers who are likely not familiar at all to audiences outside their respective districts — even within the state of Texas is my guess — does show a sort of young and growing bench in the state of potential candidates who may move on to do bigger and better things in the future.”

The emergence of such rising leaders speaks to an obvious truth in politics, Murray said: “Winning is what creates stars.” Neave unseated a Republican in 2016, while Allred and Hidalgo took out GOP incumbents in 2018, and that same year, Escobar won the election to replace O’Rourke in the U.S. House.

None is actively entertaining plans to run for higher office, but they are part of a new wave of talent that is giving state Democrats hope that they no longer have to tie their fortunes to a singular figure like a Castro or O’Rourke. Plus, while the Castros have undoubtedly spent years helping the party, they have repeatedly passed on one of its greatest needs: running statewide.

I agree with Keir Murray, in that winning turns candidates into stars. Sometimes that’s because you’re new and interesting and the media loves new and interesting things to talk about; Dan Crenshaw is a good example of this. Sometimes it comes from being a first to win something, like Lizzie Fletcher being the first Democrat to win CD07 in however many decades. I guarantee you, the next Democrat to win a statewide race in Texas, even lower-profile races like Railroad Commissioner or Court of Criminal Appeals justice, is going to get a lot of attention. Obviously, accomplishing things and performing well in high-profile situations does a lot for one’s career as well.

But first you have to win, to get into position to do those things. And having a bench is about having more than stars, it’s about having people with knowledge, experience, connections, fundraising ability, and the desire to move up the ladder. The fact that there are more offices that a Democrat can run for and plausibly win – and then win again, in the next election – means more people who may have these qualities will put themselves in that position. It’s a lot harder to build a bench if there’s only a few things that are worth running for, as was the case earlier in the decade, in part because there’s no incentive to give up what you have when the next thing you try is so unlikely to be yours. We’ve moved from a world where Dems had a third of the Legislature, less than a third of the Congressional caucus, and nothing statewide, to a world where Dems have a plausible path to a majority in the State House and maybe half or even more of the seats in Congress from Texas. That’s naturally going to draw a lot more talent.

What’s ironic is that one needn’t be seen as a “rising star” necessarily to move up in the political world. Just look at the current Republican officeholders in Congress or statewide slots who got there from the State House. Sid Miller and Wayne Christian were State Reps before moving up. Hell, they had lost a primary for their State House seats before winning their statewide races. No one saw them as up-and-comers back then. Lance Gooden was a perfectly normal State Rep before winning the open seat primary in CD05 in 2018. Ken Paxton was a fairly bland State Rep who lucked into an open State Senate seat that he held for two years before winning the primary for Attorney General. Van Taylor, then a two-term State Rep, then stepped into Paxton’s Senate seat and was there for one term before moving up to Congress in CD03. All three seats were open at the time he ran for them, and he was unopposed in the primary for Senate and had token opposition in the primary for Congress. Timing is everything in this life. And as Texas moves from being a Republican state to one that anyone can win, that timing will help the newcomers on the scene.

Give the bars a break

I’m OK with this.

The Texas Restaurant Association has asked Gov. Greg Abbott to revise the definitions of “bar” in his recent order closing drinking establishments in response to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

In a letter to the governor, the TRA argues that if businesses now classified as bars but equipped with permanent kitchen facilities are allowed to reopen as restaurants, 1,500 Texas businesses could resume operation and put up to 35,000 people back to work.

Under current state rules, any establishment that makes 51% of its revenue from alcohol sales is classified as a bar, even if it serves food. The TRA’s proposed change to that definition could clear the reopening of San Antonio businesses such as Southtown fixture The Friendly Spot and brewpub Weathered Souls.

“The definition of ‘bars’ in Gov. Abbott’s executive order has inadvertently captured a lot of restaurants, requiring them to close their dining rooms, even though they were following all of the statewide health protocols for restaurants,” the TRA said in a statement accompanying the letter.

“All restaurants should be allowed to serve the public under the same health and safety standards.”

Lots of bars serve food, and as far as I’m concerned, every bar that has a kitchen ought to be able to prepare meals to go for the duration and beyond. Let them sell mixed drinks to go, too. All that qualifies as low-risk activity and should be enabled and encouraged as a sensible way to let people work without putting their health in significant jeopardy. I’m less interested in letting them open their dining rooms at this time, especially now when we’re talking about maybe having to shut down again, but for to go service they should be considered as restaurants.

You may as well mark today’s date on your calendar, because it will be a long time before I say these words again: I agree with Sid Miller.

In a July 1 letter, Miller asked Gov. Greg Abbott to amend the recent order that closed all Texas bars so that wineries and tasting rooms can reopen immediately.

Currently, wineries and tasting rooms are lumped into the same business category as bars. That’s because more than 51% of their revenue comes from the sale of alcoholic beverages.

“I am sure you will agree tasting rooms are not bars, nor do they present the same reasons for concern related to excessive alcohol intake or inability to social distance as found in a bar,” Miller writes.

The letter noted that nearly 95% of all Texas wine is sold in tasting rooms, and without that revenue, Texas winemakers may not have the ability to purchase grapes for future Hill Country vintages.

“When these wineries suffer, we lose more than just wine,” the letter continued. “The closure of these testing rooms has a damaging downstream effect on the grape producers, wineries and surrounding communities…”

I’m a bit more measured on this one, since tasting rooms are mostly going to be inside. Outdoor tasting areas should be allowed with social distancing, and indoor tasting rooms should be allowed to operate with the same basic constraints as restaurants, which is to say with a max 50% capacity right now. I believe wineries can sell their wares to go for off-premises consumption, in the way that breweries now can, but if there are any restrictions on this they should be lifted, just as all of our anachronistic and anti-consumer laws regulating beer, wine, and liquor ought to be reformed or repealed. The point here is that both of these proposals are low risk and good for both the businesses and the consumers, and we should do them. Your move, Governor.

UPDATE: Case in point.

Where do they find these people?

News item: Five Texas GOP county leaders share racist Facebook posts, including one juxtaposing an MLK quote with a banana.

Republican leaders in five Texas counties shared racist Facebook posts, some of which also floated conspiracy theories, leading Gov. Greg Abbott to call for two of them to resign.

Abbott and other top Texas Republicans called for the resignation of the GOP chairs in Bexar and Nueces counties after they shared on social media a conspiracy theory that Floyd’s death was a “staged event,” apparently to gin up opposition to President Donald Trump. There is no evidence to support that claim; Floyd, a black Minnesota man, died last week after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

“These comments are disgusting and have no place in the Republican Party or in public discourse,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, the GOP chairman-elect in Harris County, Keith Nielsen, posted an image on Facebook earlier this week that showed a Martin Luther King Jr. quote — “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” — on a background with a banana. The juxtaposition of the quote and the banana can be read as an allusion to equating black people with monkeys, a well-worn racist trope. Nielsen appears to have deleted the post and apparently addressed it on his Facebook page Thursday evening. On Friday he updated his comments to say he would not resign.

[…]

Even later Thursday, Democrats also criticized a fourth post from a GOP chair on Facebook. Sue Piner, chair of the Comal County GOP, shared a post on Sunday that included an image of liberal billionaire George Soros and text that said, “I pay white cops to murder black people. And then I pay black people to riot because race wars keep the sheep in line.”

Piner could not be immediately reached for comment about the post. The unfounded Soros conspiracy theory is among many that have spread online as Americans have protested policy brutality.

Republican Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush late Thursday said all four county leaders should step down.

Sorry, I was busy reading this classic Onion article and got distracted for a minute. Where was I? Oh, yeah. First, who knew that the Harris County GOP could suck even more than it already did? And that Bexar County GOP Chair, nobody could have predicted that she was an utter wacko. Remember when Republican leaders in Texas believed in more wholesome conspiracy theories? Boy, those were the days.

You can see this Patrick Svitek Twitter thread for more calls from these respectable Republicans for these not-so-respectable Republicans to resign. But that, as they say, is not all. News item: In false Facebook posts, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller accused George Soros of paying protesters to “destroy” the country. I’m not going to quote from this one, you pretty much get the picture from the headline. It’s just that spouting bizarre, racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Facebook is pretty much Sid Miller’s core competence. I look forward to seeing George P. Bush and the rest of those Respectable Republicans call on him to resign, now that maybe Sid Miller may finally be too big an embarrassment even for them.

UPDATE: We’re now up to a dozen GOP county party chairs with truly Facebook posts about the George Floyd murder, and an equally vile lack of understanding of why they’re so disgusting.

UPDATE: And the new Harris County GOP Chair is out. My advice, leave the position vacant. Won’t make any difference whether they have a Chair or not, and there’s one less idiot to say something ugly and stupid in public.

Are we supposed to be scared by this?

I mean, I wouldn’t be.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher will be one of the first targets of a new nationwide anti-impeachment effort rolled out by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Trump Victory announced Wednesday it will hold a “Stop The Madness” campaign event early on Thursday morning, calling on Fletcher “to drop the impeachment inquiry against President Trump and get back to work for Texas.” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, an ardent Trump supporter, is scheduled to lead the event.

While other Houston Democrats including Al Green have been vocal advocates for impeaching Trump, Fletcher has been more cautious on the topic. Last week, she made her strongest comments yet, calling the president’s actions “a gross abuse of power” but stopping short of calling for his immediate impeachment, as many of her Democratic colleagues have.

This happened yesterday, at the Houston Marriott Westchase, in case anyone was around to see it. I just want to point out that Donald Trump got 46.8% in CD07 in 2016 (to Hillary Clinton’s 48.2%), and Sid Miller got 46.9% in CD07 in 2018, to Kim Olson’s 51.4%. Donald Trump is the reason CD07 went Democratic in 2018, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone more un-representative of the district than Sid Miller. Keep up the good work, y’all.

“The least-discussed vulnerable Republican on the ballot”

From Grits:

Grits does not expect Beto O’Rourke to win. But if he were to pull off the upset, many other dominos could fall in succession as a result, with at least three Republican senators, Texas’ Attorney General, and potentially even the Lt. Governor at risk. Another race likely to flip if Dem turnout goes that high is Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Incumbent Sharon Keller won her primary with only 52% of the vote, and CCA races have consistently been among the lowest vote-getters over the years among Republican statewide officials. There is no Libertarian in the race, so the Democrat, Maria Jackson, should get all the anti-incumbent vote. If, on election night, the US Senate race at the top of the ticket is competitive, or heaven forbid, Beto pulls an upset, check down the ballot for this race; it may flip, too.

It’s a little more complicated than that. The basis of this idea, which Grits has advanced before, is that in past elections Republicans have tended to drop off and not vote in downballot races more than Democrats have. If that is the case, and if the top of the ticket features a close race, then it stands to reason that other statewide races would be closer, and might even flip. I made the same observation early in the 2016 cycle when the polls were more favorable to Hillary Clinton in Texas. We seem to be headed for a close race at the top of the ticket this year, so could this scenario happen?

Well, lots of things can happen, but let’s run through the caveats first. First and foremost, Republicans don’t undervote in downballot races at the same pace in off years as they do in Presidential years. Here’s how the judicial vote totals from 2014 compared to the top of the ticket:


2014

Abbott - 2,796,547
Davis - 1,835,596

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Hecht         2,757,218    39,329     1.4%
Brown         2,772,824    23,723     0.8%
Boyd          2,711,363    85,184     3.0%
Richardson    2,738,412    58,135     2.1%

Moody         1,720,343   115,253     6.3%
Meyers        1,677,478   158,118     8.6%
Benavides     1,731,031   104,565     5.7%
Granberg      1,671,921   163,375     8.9%

Maybe if the hot race that year had been more closely contested we’d see something more like what we’ve seen in Presidential years, but so far this isn’t encouraging for that hypothesis.

The other issue is that it’s clear from polling that Beto is getting some number of Republican votes. That’s great for him and it’s a part of why that race is winnable for him, but the Republicans who vote for Beto are probably going to vote for mostly Republicans downballot. The end result of that is judicial candidates who outperform the guy at the top. Like what happened in 2016:


Trump    = 4,685,047
Lehrmann = 4,807,986
Green    = 4,758,334
Guzman   = 4,884,441
Keel     = 4,790,800
Walker   = 4,782,144
Keasler  = 4,785,012

So while Trump carried Texas by nine points, these judicial candidates were winning by about 15 points. Once more, not great for this theory.

Now again, nine points isn’t that close, or at least not close enough for this scenario to be likely. (I had suggested a maximum six-point spread in 2016.) Nine points in this context is probably a half million votes, and undervoting isn’t going to cut it for making up that much ground. But if Beto is, say, within four points (or, praise Jeebus, he wins), and if the reason he’s that close is primarily due to base Democratic turnout being sky high and not anti-Cruz Republicans, then the rest of the statewide ballot becomes very interesting. I personally would bet on Ken Paxton or Sid Miller going down before one of the Supreme Court or CCA justices, but the closer we are to 50-50, the more likely that anything really can happen. You know what you need to do to make that possible.

Endorsement watch: Olson, Kulkarni, Schexnayder

This has got to be the easiest call the Chron will make.

Kim Olson

The race for commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture seems straightforward enough.

The incumbent, Sid Miller, is a career politician who used his first term as commissioner to unnecessarily hike fees on farmers and travel on the taxpayer dime to buy a painkiller shot from an Oklahoma doctor who had lost his license in other states. He hired friends and campaign aides to high-paying jobs without giving the public a chance to apply as the law requires. He also declared a personal vendetta on barbecue shops because he was convinced their scales were inaccurate.

Overall Miller has proven himself reckless with political power and irresponsible with public funds.

The challenger, Kim Olson, is a 25-year Air Force veteran — one of their first woman pilots — fourth generation farmer, former school board trustee for Weatherford ISD in North Texas and an inductee at the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.

[…]

Here’s our pitch for hesitant Republicans: Voting for Olson won’t turn Texas blue. The office doesn’t have any legislative ability. Neither Miller nor Olson can use the seat to affect abortion laws, firearms regulations or the litany of partisan wedge issues that drive people to the polls.

What voting for Olson will do is return a sense of dignity to the chief office for Texas farmers and ranchers. She will run the office much like Republican former agriculture commissioner Susan Combs, with a focus on the issues. She plans to work with the Legislature in preparation for the department’s upcoming sunset review in 2020, address rural needs like broadband access and also grow the languishing Go Texan buy-local program.

Look for an interview I did with Olson on Monday. She’s as good and charismatic as you may have heard. As for ol’ Sid, I could make a case for Ted Cruz – hell, I could make a case for Dan Patrick – before I could make a case for him. It’s not just the clownishness, the corruption, and the racism. It’s that he’s objectively bad at his job. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. He was viewed as an ineffective clown as a State Rep, and in case you forgot he was booted out in the 2012 Republican primary by the much more mainstream JD Sheffield. He’s a classic case of failing upward. If we’re smart, this time we’ll fail him out.

This one is refreshing.

Sri Kulkarni

In 2016 incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson did not meet with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, but he nonetheless earned our endorsement over his Democratic challenger. That’s not the case in 2018.

First-time candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni, 40, wowed the editorial board with his knowledge, eloquence and robust resume that included time working in the U.S. Senate and 14 years as a State Department foreign service officer that took him all over the globe. That experience only emphasized to Kulkarni the value of American ideals, he told the editorial board, which sit at the core of his campaign. He’s running an optimistic, forward-looking effort that aims to combat the tribalism ripping apart our nation with a renewed sense of decency. That’s also why he’s not accepting corporate donations.

[…]

We’ve liked Olson in the past because of his support for NASA and the Port of Houston, but any promise Olson displayed when first elected to Congress in 2008 has been washed away over the years. Instead of representing the best interests of his district, he has become just another D.C. hypocrite who’s politically afraid to choose a more independent path.

Olson must think no one is connecting the dots between calling himself a fiscal conservative and his support for Trump’s tax cuts and profligate spending, which have raised the national debt to more than $21 trillion.

They have a lot of complimentary things to say about Kulkarni, and I encourage you to go read it. I interviewed him for the primary runoff, and I concur with their evaluation. As for this Olson, I’d argue he’s the same Congressman he’s always been. Maybe his act finally wore thin for the Chron, or maybe they finally found an opponent to him they liked. Either way, fine by me.

This has a bit of a surprise.

Marty Schexnayder

We usually like state Rep. Jim Murphy — a lot.

Over his five non-consecutive terms in office — won in 2006, lost in 2008, back in 2010 — this moderate Republican could be counted upon to bring local issues up to Austin. He pushed pension reform before it was popular and cleared the legal path for hike-and-bike trails along utility easements. However, it turns out that definition of “local issues” might not be exactly ethical. At his full-time job, Murphy was paid a yearly salary for more than $312,000 as the general manager of the Westchase District, which sits outside his district boundaries of by Interstate 10, Westheimer Road, Loop 610 West and State Highway 6. In Austin, he served as chair of the Houston Committee on Special Purpose Districts. In other words, his elected position put him in charge of providing oversight to his professional position. This questionable arrangement has been public since Murphy was first elected. This year, however, investigative reporters revealed the specifics of Murphy’s contracts, which showed he received incentive payments for delivering state funds from the Legislature. For example, Murphy had a $6,000 bonus if he secured “$1 million or more in new TxDOT funding for highway projects” for Westchase.

This smacks of an unethical conflict of interest, and raises questions about whether he was illegally lobbying without properly registering. Voters, too, should question how Murphy can adequately represent their interests during the legislative session when he’s getting paid thousands to deliver for someone outside the district.

[…]

Luckily, voters have an excellent alternative in Marty Schexnayder, who will be 52 on Election Day. He’s a first-time candidate with a well-rounded resume that includes 25 years in legal practice and volunteer work for charities like Interfaith Ministries. He also serves on the board of directors of Faith in Practice, a nonprofit dedicated to providing medical services in Guatemala. His campaign focuses almost exclusively on core issues, like fixing school funding, addressing property taxes and tackling flood concerns.

Here’s my interview with Schexnayder. I’d heard about the ethical concerns regarding Murphy, but with the likes of Trump and Paxton and Miller lumbering around, who can even keep up with that sort of thing? At least now you know.

The meta-campaign for Senate

Let’s talk about what we talk about when we talk about the Senate campaign.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange match up of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

[…]

More than one operative from both parties brushed off the O’Rourke excitement with a pervasive phrase — “This is still Texas” — a nod to the state’s recent history as the most populous conservative powerhouse in the union.

The enthusiasm for O’Rourke — his bonanza event attendance and record-breaking fundraising, in particular — is something the state has not seen in modern memory. But there remain open questions over whether the three-term congressman can take a punch when the widely expected fall advertising blitz against him begins, whether he can activate the Hispanic vote and whether he can effectively build his name identification in a such a sprawling and populated state.

“We’ve never been in a situation where November matters at a statewide level,” said Jason Stanford, a former Democratic consultant, about the uncertainty of the fall.

So what would a moral victory be, if O’Rourke is unable to close the deal outright? Operatives from both parties suggest a 5- to 6-point spread — or smaller — could send a shockwave through Texas politics.

Such a margin could compel national Democrats to start making serious investments in the state and force local Republicans to re-examine how their own party practices politics going forward.

But that kind of O’Rourke performance could also bear more immediate consequences, potentially scrambling the outcomes of races for other offices this fall.

Only a handful of statewide surveys on the race are floating around the Texas political ether. But one increasing point of alarm for Republicans is what campaign strategists are seeing when they test down-ballot races.

Often campaigns for the U.S. House or the Texas Legislature will include statewide matchups in polling they conduct within a district. Sources from both parties say some of those polls show Cruz underperforming in some state legislative and congressional races — particularly in urban areas.

In effect, O’Rourke could come up short but turn out enough voters in the right communities to push Democrats over the line in races for the Legislature and U.S. House.

I know I discussed this before back in 2014 when we were all high on Battleground Texas, but let’s do this again. What are the consolation prize goals for Texas Democrats in 2018?

– To discuss the consolation prizes, we have to first agree on what the main goals are. Clearly, electing Beto O’Rourke is one of the brass rings, but what about the other statewide campaigns? My guess is that based primarily on visibility and the implications for control of the Senate, the O’Rourke-Cruz race is in a class by itself, so everything after that falls in the “consolation prize” bucket. Thus, I’d posit that winning one or more downballot statewide race would be in the first level of lower-tier goals, with Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, and any Supreme Court/CCA bench being the ones that are most in focus.

– Very close behind would be the Congressional races, for which three (CDs 07, 23, and 32) are rated as tossups, a couple more (CDs 21 and 31) are on the radar, and more than we can count are on the fringes. You have to feel like CD23 is winnable in any decent year, so for this to count as a prize we’d need at least one more seat in addition to flip. Very good would be all three tossups, and great would be another seat in addition.

– In the Lege, picking up even one Senate seat would be nice, but picking up two or three means Dems have enough members to block things via the three-fifths (formerly two-thirds) rule. I don’t know how many House seats I’d consider prize-level-worthy, but knocking off a couple of the worst offenders that are in winnable seats, like Matt Rinaldi in HD115, Gary Elkins in HD135, and Tony Dale in HD136, would be sweet.

– Sweeping Harris County, breaking through in Fort Bend County, picking up any kind of victory in places like Collin, Denton, Williamson, Brazoria, you get the idea. And don’t forget the appellate courts, which will require doing well in non-urban counties.

It’s easy enough to say what counts as lower-level goals, it’s harder to put numbers on it. It’s not my place to say what we “should” win in order to feel good about it. Frankly, given recent off-year elections, it’s a bit presumptuous to say that any number of victories in places we haven’t won this decade might be somehow inadequate. I think everyone will have their own perception of how it went once the election is over, and unless there’s a clear rout one way or the other there will be some level of disagreement over how successful Democrats were.

Trib profiles Kim Olson

I have four things to say about this:

Kim Olson

Wherever she goes, Kim Olson carries with her packets of wildflower seeds advertising her campaign to unseat Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Olson calls the seed packets her “calling card.” She distributes them to everybody she meets on the campaign trail, from fellow Democrats at fundraisers in Austin to farmers selling pickles at outdoor markets in conservative West Texas. After lunch last week at an eatery in Midland, Olson had one of her supporters slip a seed packet into the bill.

Olson, a third-generation farmer, has only slightly less cash on hand than her Republican opponent, and over the last few months, she has established herself as the most outspoken feminist on the statewide Democratic ticket, with a loyal following of women who admire her barnstorming speeches. Although every Texas Democrat running this year faces an uphill battle in a state dominated by Republicans, experts in both parties say that Olson, 60, stands as good a chance as anyone on the Democratic slate of winning statewide office. Olson has pledged to visit all 254 counties in Texas — a feat recently achieved by fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who’s running for U.S. Senate — and meet with voters in conservative areas that Democrats typically avoid.

“The only way we’re gonna make a difference is if we go to them,” she said at a fundraiser earlier this month. “You’ve got to walk their fields, you’ve got to visit their farms, you’ve got to sit at their family dinner tables, because the last time I checked representative government was going out and listening.”

Olson, who has short gray hair and wears blue jeans and work boots, travels the state in a white pickup truck, where she stores cardboard boxes stuffed with seed packets. But for all their utility on the campaign trail, those packets hint at a potentially damaging episode from Olson’s past. In red lettering on the back of each packet is Olson’s military rank: retired Air Force colonel. In speeches at fundraisers and conversations with voters, Olson often touts her military credentials, particularly when she pitches her campaign to Republicans. The circumstances of her retirement from the Air Force, however, may represent her most serious political vulnerability.

1. Kim Olson is a legit badass with a ton of charisma – to use Molly Ivins’ formulation, she has a lot of Elvis in her – and she’s going up against the biggest chucklehead in the state. Yet it’s not clear that her likelihood of winning is the best amongst non-Beto statewide Dems. I’ve heard more than one expert make the same observation about Justin Nelson and his campaign against Ken Paxton. Suffice it to say that if merit were the determining factor, both would win in landslides.

2. I’m a fan of the visit-every-county style of campaigning, but I’m also a fan of keeping such things in perspective. One can only reach so many voters via this method. Even with the huge crowds Beto O’Rourke gets at his events, we’re looking at five million or more voters this November, so it’s hard to imagine even ten percent of them seeing Beto at a live event. With all due respect to Olson, her events are probably not as well-attended as Beto’s. These visits are a great way to touch base with the faithful, and especially for those in places that don’t get visited often one can hope those people will do their own leg work for you. It still really helps to have the resources to reach voters by other means.

3. You can read the rest of the article for the retirement incident. The short version is that (at least if one accepts Olson’s account) it was a bit of carelessness and a lot of appearance-of-impropriety rather than anything substantial. Which Miller will no doubt turn into The Worst Thing Ever, though to do so will require him to engage with Olson in some fashion, which he has been loath to do. Miller himself doesn’t have a lot of money, so a big negative-ad campaign seems unlikely. So it’s a bit hard to guess how this might play out. I suppose one advantage of being in a lower-profile campaign is that stuff like this tends to stay under the radar as well – this Trib article was the first I’d heard of it.

4. Sid Miller’s brand is his relentless oafishness, and as is often the case with politicians like him who are inexplicably successful despite everything about them, his trash mouth has not been a net negative for him. That said, you have to think there’s a decent chance he will say something truly offensive, the sort of thing that would make Clayton Williams’ rape humor look like knock-knock jokes. He has no filter, he never expects to suffer consequences for his actions, and you just know there’s a deep well of misogyny within him. It’s very easy to imagine him letting loose about about being challenged by a girl, and if that happens, who knows? He may well bring more publicity to this race – and his opponent – than he wanted, and maybe he’ll do just enough to get some Republican women to decide they’ve had it with him. Again, it’s hard to know how to evaluate this possibility. I’m just observing that the odds of it happening are greater than zero.

Paxton joins the wimp brigade

Seems fitting.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a TV interview that he would be “happy to debate anybody on the issues” as he seeks re-election this fall, but he is now backing off that offer by refusing to debate Democrat Justin Nelson as voters decide who to hire as the state’s top lawyer.

Paxton instead “will communicate directly with the voters,” his campaign spokesman, Matt Welch, wrote in an emailed statement Thursday in rejecting Nelson’s invitation to debate.

Welch did not respond when asked if Paxton’s previous offer to debate was sincere.

“I’m happy to debate anybody on the issues and I look forward to it,” Paxton said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program in November.

See here and here for the background. No one should be surprised by this. All bark no bite, all hat no cattle, all hawk no spit – pick your cliche to to describe these yellow bellies. I doubt Paxton, along with Dan Patrick and Sid Miller and George P. Bush, can feel shame, but they can probably feel ridicule, and they deserve all the Bronx cheers they get. If they refuse to debate because they don’t want to give publicity to their opponents, then let’s make their refusal to debate a story. They should not be allowed to run away and hide.

Don’t expect any other debates

Cowardice + lack of incentive = avoiding engagement.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush (son of Jeb and nephew to George W.) has no plans to go one-on-one with his challenger, Miguel Suazo — at least, not as of Tuesday, July 24.

“At this point, we’re not planning to do a debate, but we always assess things as we go forward,” Bush campaign spokesman Lee Spieckerman told The Dallas Morning News. And why not? “Voters are very aware of Commissioner Bush’s record, which is the main thing. … His performance speaks for itself.”

But perhaps it’s the spokesman for Sid Miller, the perpetually be-Stetson-ed commissioner of agriculture, who said it best. Miller’s got 719,000 followers on Facebook, after all, where he’s shared his thoughts on refugee “rattlers,” drag queens and Whoopi Goldberg. Why give his challenger a slice of that “free publicity?”

“It’ll be a cold day in Texas before we give our opponent the opportunity to have free name recognition by having a debate,” Todd M. Smith told The News on Tuesday. “As the lieutenant governor said, there’s not anybody in Texas who doesn’t know where Sid Miller stands on the issues.”

[…]

Kim Olson, who is seen as both forceful and folksy, accused Miller of running scared.

“Candidates should earn their votes, and the only way to do that is to present yourself,” Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, told The News. “It is suspect when an incumbent will not defend his record or present a vision of the future.”

Collier accused Patrick of ensconcing himself away “in his bunker, sending out audio snippets to the few supporters that remain, that are chock full of spin and nonsense,” to which Blakemore shot back with a long list of Patrick’s campaign events over the last two days, including a meeting with the Dallas Police Association, folks from UT Southwestern and a group of conservative women in Tomball.

And Suazo, the energy lawyer who wants to run the Alamo and manage the state’s mineral rights as land commissioner, said Bush should live up to his name: “Every other candidate named George Bush has debated, except this one. That’s because his record is indefensible and he knows that I’ll beat him.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s spokesman did not return calls and emails requesting comment. In a November television appearance, Paxton (who was indicted in July 2015 and is awaiting trial on fraud charges) said he would “be happy to debate anybody on the issues and look forward to it.

It was unclear if he meant an election opponent. Paxton refused to meet his challenger in 2014. His opponent this time around is Justin Nelson, a Houston attorney. On Wednesday, the Nelson campaign released a video featuring a clip of Paxton’s November appearance where he says he’d be “happy to debate anybody.”

“Sounds good, Ken,” the ad says. “Ready when you are.”

See here for the background, and here for the comparison to Ted Cruz. I love how Patrick sends his spokesperson out to fight his verbal battles for him. The Warner Brothers cartoon image of a small yappy dog hiding behind his bulldog friend while barking at a cat really comes to mind. And while one has to give Sid Miller some props for being honest about why he doesn’t want to debate anyone, especially not an icky girl like Kim Olson who surely has cooties, it’s hilarious and entirely in character that he cites Dan Patrick’s reasoning, as he lacks the originality to come up with his own. If it’s not a Facebook meme, it’s too complicated for Miller. Again, I get the rationale for not wanting to give publicity to an underfunded opponent, but the lack of confidence in their own abilities is startling. What a bunch of chickens.

Back to the barbecue battle

Once again, Sid Miller makes us pay attention to something we shouldn’t have to.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

Texas’ barbecue culture is sacred. But some pitmasters are catching heat from a former rodeo cowboy overseeing the state Department of Agriculture.

Commissioner Sid Miller is slapping fines on their small businesses despite a warning from the attorney general that his reasoning may be illegal. The department issued at least 13 citations to barbecue joints for failing to register their meat scales since September, despite a 2017 state law requiring the commissioner to leave such establishments alone. In a case of unlikely bedfellows, Miller’s commission issued nine scale-related fines to yogurt shops, too.

The department has no plans to stop.

The citations are part of a running feud between restaurant owners and Miller, a white-cowboy-hat-wearing commissioner who made it his mission to ensure the state register all scales that weigh food for customers. But the state’s restaurant association is warning the food fight could land the commissioner in court.

[…]

When you order a quarter-pound of brisket, Miller insists the meat-slinger should set it on a state-registered scale where you can read the weight. Restaurants must also pay a yearly $35 fee for each of their scales. But strictly enforcing the law could force some of Texas’ most storied smokehouses to completely change the layout of their kitchens, incurring huge remodeling costs.

It’s “patently absurd,” said Kenneth Besserman, general counsel for the Texas Restaurant Association. Some pitmasters scrambled to rewrite their menus to serve less specific amounts of meat but found that created confusion for customers, he said.

Besserman and the restaurant lobby quickly convinced the Legislature to rewrite the law, nicknaming their effort the “Barbecue Bill.” Lawmakers in 2017 almost unanimously agreed to exempt scales “exclusively used to weigh food sold for immediate consumption,” largely pertaining to barbecue restaurants, yogurt shops and certain salad bars. The governor was sold.

Nevertheless, Miller persisted. Once the bill became law, Miller used his authority to add three additional words: “on the premises.” That meant any establishment selling food to-go — as the vast majority of barbecue restaurants do — had to follow the scale laws and regulations, essentially undoing the new law.

See here and here for the background. AG Paxton has opined that Miller’s interpretation is out of bounds, and the TRA is threatening to sue. I have expressed my reluctant agreement with Miller on the merits of the 2017 law, but it is the law and a public official’s role is to obey and uphold the law, outside of situations where the law is obviously immoral or unjust. This doesn’t meet that standard, in which case Miller should be lobbying for the law to be changed, or to work to un-elect the legislators who passed it. It’s also fair to point out, as Miller’s Democratic opponent Kim Olson does in the story, that the AG ought to have other priorities than this, as there have been almost no complaints made in recent years about inaccurate barbecue scales. Of course, given the sorts of things Miller tends to do when he has a bit of free time, this is at least not horribly embarrassing. Silver linings, I suppose.

Our typically feckless state leaders

Way to set an example for the rest of us, y’all.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick frequently talk tough about illegal immigration, but they refuse to publicly support the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that’s spurred outrage for ripping thousands of undocumented children out of the arms of their parents.

Neither are they criticizing it.

Texas’ top Republicans are making a calculated decision to hide from the humanitarian crisis, largely taking place on Texas soil, because they are afraid of upsetting their political base.

The governor has tried to say as little as possible about the White House policy, making only one public comment backing Trump’s argument that the children’s and parents’ traumatic experiences can be used as leverage for an immigration overhaul.

“This is horrible and this rips everyone’s hearts apart about what’s going on,” Abbott told a Dallas-area TV station. He added that Trump had offered to “end the ripping apart of these families” if Democrats agree to a new immigration law.

Abbott declined repeated requests for comment from the Houston Chronicle. Instead, his staff forwarded the statement made last weekend to NBC TV. The governor seeks to appear loyal without attracting attention to himself.

“It shouldn’t be a tightrope to do the right thing,” said John Weaver, a longtime campaign strategist from Texas who has consulted for Republicans like George H.W. Bush and now Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “It’s disappointing that we haven’t heard from the governor but not surprising. We’ve gone from Texas having very strong leaders to having leaders who are very calculating.”

[…]

Patrick never brought up the separation policy or the border when he spoke for half an hour at the Texas Republican Party convention in San Antonio on Friday. His office and campaign have not returned repeated calls for comment.

“Dan Patrick’s silence, in the face of such brutality committed on Texas soil, makes him as culpable as the administration. Morally, it’s as though he wrenched the children from their parents with his own hands,” said Mike Collier, a Democratic businessman running against Patrick for lieutenant governor in November.

As the Lone Star Project noted, Abbott has expressed his support for the Trump detention policy previously, before it became untenable for everyone this side of Ken Paxton and Sid Miller to oppose it. I suppose he and Patrick were just taking their time and hoping this would all go away, as befitting their cowardly natures, but their absence was definitely noticed.

“What is happening on the border tonight is an affront to humanity and to all that we as proud Americans hold dear,” state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, told the American-Statesman Tuesday. “We are better than this. To watch our own governor remain silent in the face of this atrocity is an affront to all that we as Texans hold dear. As a member of the Texas Legislature, I am ashamed that my ‘so called’ leader is so controlled by his fealty to the president’s myopic vision of America that he is frightened like a feeble squirrel from taking action. It is time to act. NOW. Governor Abbott. Can you hear me?”

Both of those stories were from yesterday morning. By around lunchtime, Abbott had been forced out of his spider hole to make a few grudging remarks.

Gov. Greg Abbott is asking Texans in Congress to take bipartisan action to address the crisis of thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents.

“This disgraceful condition must end; and it can only end with action by Congress to reform the broken immigration system,” he wrote in a letter to all members of the Texas delegation, including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

Abbott called family separations, which are the result of a Trump administration policy announced earlier this year, “tragic and heartrending.” But he also called the separations the “latest calamity children suffer because of a broken U.S. border” — and urged members to “seize” the opportunity to work across the aisle and finally fix the problem.

“Texans are not fooled by the partisan divide on this issue,” Abbott wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. “They know that even if all Republicans agree, a bill fixing the problem will not pass without Democrat support in the Senate.”

Naturally, as befitting his craven nature, Abbott hid behind the lie that Trump was forced into the family separation policy and only Democrats could save him, to which Trump himself quickly put the lie with a hasty afternoon executive order, one that has ulterior motives. But as one Democratic Senator pointed out prior to that, it was easily within the power of even one Republican Senator to force the issue. And if Greg Abbott is sincere about wanting to keep families together and make progress on immigration, here’s a bill he could support. Don’t hold your breath would be my advice. Greg Abbott always, without fail, takes the easiest way out. Vox and ThinkProgress have more.

Paxton versus Miller on barbecue

Just embrace the fact that this is the world we live in.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

A nonbinding opinion issued Monday by Attorney General Ken Paxton continues a battle between lawmakers, restaurants and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller over regulation of scales used to measure food.

Under state law, roughly 17,725 retailers, including grocery store chains, airlines, coffee houses, laundries and brisket purveyors, are required to use scales to measure what they sell to the public. Those scales are also supposed to be registered with the state so inspectors can ensure that they’re not tipped in the seller’s favor.

A law passed during last year’s legislative session, however, carved out exemptions for scales “exclusively used to weigh food sold for immediate consumption,” meaning places such as yogurt shops and barbecue joints won’t have to get their scales registered.

Miller called the law “horse hockey.”

[…]

Miller’s agency, which was charged with verifying the accuracy of the retailers’ scales, decided that businesses would only be exempt from regulation if they weighed foods to be eaten “on the premises.” But the barbecue bill’s authors argued that in determining how to implement the law, Miller’s agency misinterpreted its intent. So Miller asked Paxton for a written opinion.

Paxton sided with the barbecue joints in his opinion Monday, saying Miller’s agency went too far.

See here for the background. As I said before and as I may never say again, I think Miller had the better argument, but at least we know Ken Paxton remains consistent about siding with the moneyed interests whenever the opportunity presents itself. But who cares about any of that? This calls for a song:

Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear some brisket calling my name.

Sid Miller and the unqualified creep

I missed this when it came out last Friday, and now that I’ve seen it I wish I was still blissfully ignorant of it.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller in late 2016 appointed to the state’s Rural Health Task Force a former physician and Miller campaign donor who had his medical license revoked or suspended in three states.

In Iowa, Rick Ray Redalen’s medical license was first suspended when he was convicted of perjury in a case involving his marriage to his 15-year-old former stepdaughter. The license was later revoked for good for failure to report a malpractice suit, medical board records show.

Redalen, who calls himself “the Maverick Doctor,” said he was introduced to Miller several years ago by Todd M. Smith, a lobbyist who has reported making hundreds of thousands of dollars from Redalen’s company and is Miller’s longtime political strategist.

Redalen, who donated heavily to Miller’s campaign months before his appointment, said he has used the unpaid task force position to advocate for expanded access to telemedicine — a service offered by one of his companies. Redalen said he never expected any favors in exchange for his contributions to Miller.

Miller “is one of the first actual political people that I have met that talks constantly about improving health care in rural Texas and among rural Texans. Most people aren’t interested in that,” Redalen, 75, said.

[…]

Redalen has not practiced medicine for years but hit it big in the medical business nonetheless. In 1996, he founded a company called QuestRx, which now goes by ExitCare and was sold to Elsevier in 2012. The company provides a widely used tool that provides information to patients as they are discharged from medical facilities.

As a doctor, Redalen worked in emergency rooms and as a primary care doctor and has had his license suspended or revoked in Minnesota, Iowa and Louisiana.

The disciplinary action against Redalen by Minnesota’s medical board was due to “psychiatric and drug problems,” according to a 1995 Des Moines Register article.

Redalen’s legal troubles in Iowa stemmed from his relationship with his stepdaughter, whom he married in Tarrant County while on a trip to Texas in September 1988. He had been married to her mother, who committed suicide in 1987. In 1986, Redalen pleaded guilty to assault after authorities said he struck his wife with a rifle butt and pointed a gun at sheriff’s deputies, according to the Register article.

Emphasis mine. There’s more, mostly about Redalen’s financial contributions to Miller, so go read it. I highlighted the bits I did because I want to focus on the fact that in 1988, when he was 45 years old, this man married his 15-year-old former stepdaughter, whose mother had committed suicide the year before, when she was 14. One can debate, as some experts do in the Statesman story, whether these financial arrangements constitute a violation of campaign finance regulations, and one can discuss, as Erica Greider does, Miller’s long history of not caring about his mostly rural consituents, if one wants. I can’t get past the fact that Rick Ray Redalen was a 45-year-old man who married a 15-year-old girl, a 15-year-old girl who used to be his STEPDAUGHTER. I’m unable to think of a good reason why a decent person would want to form a relationship with such a man, whether political or financial or otherwise. Sid Miller is quite infamous for questioning on social media the morals of people who are not like him. Frankly, anyone whose morals are different than Sid Miller’s should be happy about that.

2018 primary results: Statewide

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

(Please note that all results were coming in very slowly. I expect there will still be some precincts not yet reported by the time this publishes. So, I’m going to be less specific than usual, and may have to make a correction or two by Thursday.)

No real surprises here. Lupe Valdez and Andrew White will fight it out in the runoff. They combined for about 70% of the vote. Beto O’Rourke was a bit over 60% on his way to the Senate nomination. To be honest, I thought he’d score higher than that, but whatever. Statewide primaries are hard.

Miguel Suazo was near 70% for Land Commissioner, and Roman McAllen was near 60% for Railroad Commissioner. Mike Collier was leading by about seven points for Lt. Governor. The closest race was for Comptroller, where Joi Chevalier had a tiny lead over Tim Mahoney.

On the Republican side, Greg Abbott (90%), Ted Cruz (85%), Dan Patrick (75%), and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick (75%), who I didn’t even realize had an opponent, all cruised. Baby Bush and Sid Miller were in the high 50’s and so also on their way to renomination. That means the only statewide runoff will be for the Democratic gubernatorial race.

One note on turnout: In 2014, there were 554,014 total votes cast in the Democratic primary for Governor. The early vote tally for the Dem gubernatorial primary was 555,002. So yeah, turnout was up. Republicans will probably have 30-40% more total turnout statewide, but I fully expect Dems to top one million at this point.

UT/TT poll: Trump approval more or less the same as before

A tad bit more positive than last time, but still nothing to write home about.

With the usual disclaimers about partisan imbalance, President Donald Trump’s job approval ratings are holding steady, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Overall, equal numbers of Texas voters approve and disapprove of the job Trump is doing. Beneath that, the poll found, Republicans are highly supportive, with 83 percent saying they approve, while 84 percent of Democrats say they disapprove. The president’s numbers are remarkably similar to those in last February’s UT/TT Poll — the first survey after Trump took office. Then, as now, Republicans were solidly behind him and Democrats were solidly against him, making the blended numbers appear balanced.

[…]

The contrasting voter impressions of the state’s two Republican U.S. senators continue. John Cornyn had approving marks from 29 percent of all voters, 47 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats. Overall, 38 percent of voters disapprove of the job Cornyn’s doing as the second-highest-ranking member of the Senate majority’s leadership. That’s driven by the disapproval of 59 percent of Texas Democrats.

Ted Cruz, who is up for re-election this year, gets about the same number of good grades — 40 percent — and bad ones — 41 percent. As with other officeholders, it’s about party, but only Trump’s numbers are as strongly divided on those lines. Cruz’s high grades from 72 percent of Republicans are offset by his bad grades from 73 percent of Democrats.

In another question, voters were asked their opinion of Cruz, which yielded similar results. Overall, 40 percent said they have a favorable impression of him and 42 percent have an unfavorable one. It’s a party thing, with 71 percent of Democrats holding negative opinions and 70 percent of Republicans holding positive ones. Fewer than one in five said they had no opinion at all.

Contrast that with his likely general election opponent, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. The El Paso Democrat has never been on a statewide ballot, and it shows, with 58 percent of all voters saying they have neither a favorable nor an unfavorable opinion of him. Among Democrats, 52 percent have a favorable opinion of O’Rourke, 4 percent have an unfavorable opinion and 44 percent have no opinion at all. Among Republicans, 8 percent were favorable, 22 percent were unfavorable and 70 percent were neither positive nor negative.

Gov. Greg Abbott remains the most popular elected state official, if job assessments are the measure. Overall, 46 percent said he’s doing a good job and 31 percent said he’s not. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s numbers almost break into three equal parts: 36 percent approval, 33 percent disapproval and 31 percent neutral. And House Speaker Joe Straus, who is not seeking another term, remains the least well-known high official in Austin: 27 percent approve of the job he’s doing, 24 percent disapprove and 48 percent remain neutral.

For comparison purposes:

UT/Trib, February 2017, 46 approve/44 disapprove
UT/Trib, June 2017, 43 approve/51 disapprove
UT/Trib, October 2017, 45 approve/49 disapprove
UT/Trib, February 2018, 46 approve/46 disapprove

There are other pollsters that have shown poorer results for Trump in the past year. For apples to apples purposes, the numbers above all come from the UT/Trib poll. This was Trump’s best showing since last February, and it may represent the passage of the tax bill, the onset of primary season and the partisan stirrings that brings, random variations, some combination of the above, or something else entirely. I think his numbers are more likely to sag a big going forward than improve, and there’s always the chance that some factor like the Mueller investigation could cause him to crater. Overall, though, I think this is more or less what we should expect.

What does it mean? Well, overall probably not much. Not because of anything having to do with this poll or any other poll, but because for November purposes I don’t think the right questions are being asked, or more to the point I don’t think the right people are being asked. We all know this election is about who will turn out, so why not focus on the voters who are the biggest variables in that? What I’d love to see are surveys of 1) Democratic voters who turned out in 2016 and 2012 and 2008 but not 2010 or 2014; 2) people who voted for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in 2016 and who have a history of voting in the off years; and 3) Republicans who voted for Clinton in 2016. Ask them what their plans are for this year, and maybe you’ll get a better idea of what to expect in 8.5 months.

And on a related note:

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are far ahead of their Republican primary opponents in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, but the Democrats running for those two high offices face more difficult paths to their party’s nomination.

Two other statewide Republican incumbents — Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — have the support of a majority of likely primary voters, but with a caveat. When those voters had the option of saying they weren’t ready to make a choice, 44 percent listed no preference in the land race and 60 percent said the same in the agriculture race.

With high numbers of undecided voters, Bush led his primary with 36 percent of the vote, and Miller led his with 27 percent. Only when they were asked how they’d vote if they had to make a choice now did the majorities appear for the incumbents.

[…]

The Democratic primary for governor is a muddle, with two clear frontrunners and no candidate close to enough votes to win without a runoff. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez had the support of 43 percent of likely primary voters responding to the poll, while Andrew White of Houston had 24 percent. If no candidate gets a majority, the top two finishers will go to a May runoff. Grady Yarbrough and Tom Wakely each got 7 percent in that primary poll, Adrian Ocegueda and Jeffrey Payne got 5 percent, and Cedric Davis Sr., Joe Mumbach and James Jolly Clark each got 4 percent or less.

The Democratic race for lieutenant governor won’t end in a runoff — there are only two candidates. But their names are similar — Mike Collier and Michael Cooper — and their numbers are close. Collier, whose name was on the statewide ballot four years ago when he ran for comptroller, got 55 percent in the latest UT/TT Poll. Cooper got 45 percent.

“You have two lieutenant governor candidates whose names are very similar to one another, who have received very little public attention and who are not very well known,” Henson said.

The Trib’s primary polls from 2014 were, in a word, trash. They were worse than useless, and they didn’t have a strong track record in Democratic primary polls before that. Their November polling has been good, but I emphatically advise you to take any and all of their March numbers as being strictly for entertainment purposes only. You have been warned.

Endorsement watch: Republican roundup

The Chron makes a conventional choice in CD02.

Poe’s vacancy has attracted nine contenders in the Republican primary, and we encourage voters to look for a candidate who will aspire to embody the party’s values while also striving to represent a vast district.

Two candidates appear to lead the pack in this heated race: one-term state Rep. Kevin Roberts and wealthy activist Kathaleen Wall. However, both have developed a reputation for avoiding panels and other public events where they’ll stand alongside the seven other challengers. That tactic may be politically clever, but we get a sense that it frustrates voters.

Nevertheless, Roberts remains the best choice in this race. He works as executive director for the Lanier Law Firm and has been endorsed by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle. Support from county officials is a sign of faith in Roberts to advocate for Houston’s flood control needs at a federal level – the single most important issue in the 2018 election.

It is worth noting that Roberts, 52, successfully authored and passed a resolution during the last legislative session urging Congress to provide sufficient funding for the construction of a storm surge barrier along the Texas coast – well before Hurricane Harvey. The carrots and sticks of party politics don’t usually encourage that kind of smart advocacy, so it falls on primary voters to reward Roberts’ push for a long-term investment in our region.

[…]

Meanwhile, voters in this primary should avoid Wall, who has spent around $2.7 million of her family’s money on this primary race alone. Writing a check is no substitute for a proven track-record. Wall has little in her resume to show that she’ll be an effective representative in Congress for either the Republican base or for Houston overall.

Republicans are going to face a tougher contest than they’re used to in this changing district, and Wall’s unrelentingly pro-Trump campaign is going make it hard to win over moderate voters in November. Or worse, her antics could energize the deep-blue Montrose-area precincts that already can’t wait to vote against anything that even sounds like Trump.

I don’t think we’ll need any more incentive, but thanks for thinking of us. Frankly, I expect we’ll all still be dealing with the PTSD from Wall’s nonstop barrage of awful TV ads.

Meanwhile, the Chron observes the maxim that it is always a good time to vote against Sid Miller.

“We like to eat, we like to wear clothes and we like to put gas in our cars. All three of those things are affected by the Department of Agriculture.”

That’s how Trey Blocker succinctly describes the importance of the agency he wants to manage. Blocker is unquestionably the best qualified candidate running in the Republican primary for Texas agriculture commissioner. Anybody who’s been paying attention to the news coming out of this corner of Austin during the last couple of years knows it needs new leadership.

Blocker is a conservative ethics lawyer offended by what he calls “corruption and crony capitalism” in state government, but he’s also spent decades working as a lobbyist for the farming and ranching communities. Ask him anything about the myriad duties performed by the Texas Department of Agriculture and he’ll tell you not only how things work, but also how they need to change.

[…]

Texas voters are lucky that Blocker decided to enter this race, because he’s a well-qualified, conservative Republican alternative to Sid Miller. Even if you don’t follow state government very closely, you may have heard about the shenanigans of this embarrassing incumbent.

Miller claims he’s conservative, but he doesn’t act like one. After angering farmers and business owners by raising a host of regulatory fees, he gave employees of his agency more than $400,000 in bonuses. He used taxpayer money for a trip to Oklahoma where he got a so-called “Jesus shot” for chronic pain. He also traveled to Mississippi on the state’s dime where it so happened he wanted to participate in a rodeo. The Texas Rangers ended up investigating both incidents, and Miller ended up reimbursing the state’s coffers.

The incumbent agriculture commissioner needs to be put out to pasture. Republican primary voters should throw their support to Trey Blocker.

The competition for worst elected official in Texas is fierce, but beyond a doubt Sid Miller is a championship contender. Honestly, to be much worse you’d have to be engineered in a lab.

And to complete the trifecta of terribleness, we meet up with one of the local contenders for “worst elected official” in this Republican Justice of the Peace primary.

November comes early this year. No Democrats have signed up to run for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 2, which means that this Republican primary essentially functions as the general election.

Voters should feel comfortable reelecting current Justice of the Peace Jeff Williams to a third term in this sprawling west Harris County precinct.

Williams, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, exudes enthusiastic competence when discussing his job overseeing this low-level court, which handles more than 100,000 cases each year.

[…]

Williams’ challenger, J.R. Harris, said he would encourage landlord groups to go above and beyond the legal minimum to prevent evictions in the first place. Harris, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, currently works at the Harris County Attorney’s Office and has experience with the tax assessor’s office. He has the makings of a fine justice of the peace, but there’s no reason to boot Williams from office.

Both candidates had kind words about the other, and saved their criticism for Mike Wolfe, who declined to meet for an interview.

Both Williams and Harris said that they believe Wolfe had been put forward as a candidate by a reactionary anti-LGBT wing of the Republican Party hoping to fight same-sex marriage.

Yes, that’s the same Michael Wolfe from the HCDE; the editorial covers some of his more egregious recent actions on the Board. We’ll get a shot at ousting him in 2020, assuming he hasn’t been moved into this much safer seat in March. You’ll only be screwing yourselves if you vote him in here, Republicans.

The Republican primary for Ag Commissioner is now about barbecue

Because of course it is.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

“Barbecue might be America’s most political food,” wrote the New Yorker earlier this year. The claim certainly applies to the 2018 race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner. Instead of farming or ranching issues, it’s Sid Miller’s recent history on barbecue that his Republican primary opponent, Trey Blocker, is using against him.

For some brief background, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) launched a program called Operation Maverick in 2015 to enforce, among other things, the requirement that barbecue joint scales be certified and registered, a rule that hadn’t been enforced in the past. Backlash from small business owners resulted in House Bill 2029, aka the “Barbecue Bill,” during this year’s legislative session. The bill, which exempted barbecue joints (and yogurt shops) from the regulation, easily passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June. The TDA then revised the wording of the bill—which had exempted “food sold for immediate consumption”—by adding “on the premises” in the rewritten regulation. Those three new words meant that any barbecue joint selling food to-go was no longer exempt. The Texas Restaurant Association cried foul, and the TDA asked Attorney General Ken Paxton for a ruling that is forthcoming. This has all become fuel in a food fight between the candidates.

The first shot came a few weeks ago from Miller, who mocked Blocker for holding a fundraiser at a restaurant that served Nutella crepes. Miller acted as if he didn’t know what Nutella was, despite only seeing the “tella” portion of the word on the blackboard sign behind Blocker in a photo from the event (which, for the record, was held at the Old German Bakery & Restaurant in Fredericksburg).

Blocker fired back with a fundraising email that described Miller’s stance as a “war on Texas BBQ.” Now, calling a Texan anti-barbecue is about on par with calling them un-Texan, but Blocker didn’t stop there. Over the weekend, he followed up with two campaign videos focused squarely on barbecue.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I don’t see anything wrong with what Miller did. I get why the TRA didn’t care for it, but I’m all for consumer protections, and that’s how I see this. All that said, this primary is already making us all stupider. Just vote for Kim Olson in November and all of this can be naught but a bad memory. The Chron and Texas Public Radio have more.

Sid Miller gets a primary opponent

But what will our village do without its idiot if ol’ Sid loses?

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is getting a primary challenge from Trey Blocker, the longtime lobbyist, ethics adviser and attorney from Austin.

“I’m running because we need to bring honesty, integrity and fiscal responsibility back to the Department of Agriculture,” Blocker said in a video announcing his campaign Wednesday. “We need to restore TDA to its core mission of promoting, protecting and preserving Texas agriculture and rural Texas. And we need a commissioner who can be an articulate, intelligent defender of our core conservative values.”

Blocker’s long-rumored run against Miller sets up potentially the most serious primary challenge yet to a statewide official in 2018. Miller is seeking a second term after three years on the job marked by a number of high-profile controversies, ranging from a Texas Rangers investigation into out-of-state, taxpayer-funded trips he took — no charges were ever brought — to the time his Twitter account sent out a message using the c-word to refer to Hillary Clinton.

Miller courted controversy early in his first term, when he pushed for dramatic fee hikes for a wide range of services the department offers — a move that irked farmers, ranchers and his former colleagues in the Texas House. A state audit later found that the higher fees generated millions more dollars than those programs cost to operate in 2016.

“Over the past four years, we’ve watched a career politician, embroiled in ethical controversies, raise taxes and grow government at a level that would make Bernie Sanders proud,” Blocker says in the video. “Asking our elected officials to be ethical shouldn’t be too much to ask for.”

While Blocker is critical of Miller’s leadership of the Texas Department of Agriculture, the challenger also is looking to provide a contrast with the incumbent on one of the biggest issues in Republican primaries: immigration. “I don’t think we’re tough enough on the immigration issue,” Blocker said in another video Wednesday, calling for a “moratorium on current levels of immigration until we have true reform.”

A career lobbyist who is also an immigration hardliner? Throw in religious extremism and you’ve got the modern Republican trifecta. If you’d prefer a candidate who’s actually worth voting for, you might check out Kim Olson. We can do so much better than either of these two jokers.