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Fallon fallout

Of interest.

Sen. Pat Fallon

After Sen. Pat Fallon’s impressive though not unexpected victory this weekend in the insider’s race to be the GOP nominee for Congressional District 4 – being vacated by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe – rumors are flying and announcements are expected quickly in the coming race to succeed him in the Texas Senate.

If the early buzz is any indication, it’ll perhaps be more of a rural versus suburban fight than a “conservative versus moderate” one.

But there are other fault lines developing and there’s some chatter about whether House members considering a promotion could put the GOP House majority at risk when it comes time to vote for a new speaker.

This is a Quorum Report story, so the rest is behind their paywall, but what I quoted is what you need to know. Fallon, who became the Republican nominee for CD04 over the weekend and is sure to win in November in this deep red district, has not yet said when he plans to resign from the Senate. There could be a special election in SD30 in November if he steps down in the next week or two, but after that it will be post-November. As you may recall from 2018, the SD06 special election was held on December 11th following now-Rep. Sylvia Garcia’s resignation from the Senate, which came after she was officially elected in CD29. That’s one path Fallon could follow, but the complications set in if the winner of the SD30 special election is a sitting member of the State House, because then there would have to be a special election for that seat. Again, going back to 2018, the special election in HD145 that was necessitated after now-Sen. Carol Alvarado won that race was held on January 29, with a runoff on March 5.

So what? Well, as the QR story suggests, we could have a very closely divided House this session. Indeed, it could wind up being 75-75, which would surely make for an entertaining Speaker’s race. But then remember the SD30 special election, in which an elected State House member moved up to that chamber. Now all of a sudden it’s 75-74 in favor of the Dems, and you have a whole new ballgame. And remember, it’s quite common for a newly-elected veteran member of the House to resign following the November election. That also happened in 2018, when Joe Pickett resigned, citing health concerns. It’s not out of the question that a 76-74 GOP majority turns into a 74-74 tie with the SD30 election and some unexpected retirement throwing a spanner into the works. Crazy things do happen.

Another potential chaos factor: Carol Alvarado won the SD06 special in 2018 in the first round, which allowed the HD145 special to take place when it did. If there had needed to be a runoff, it would have happened in late January instead of the HD145 special. But if that had been the case, Alvarado would have still been in her House seat. What that means is that if there’s a runoff in SD30, the Republicans might not actually be down a seat at the time that a Speaker is chosen, but would be later on, possibly stretching into April. They’d have a Speaker but they might not have a functional House majority, especially if the Speaker continues the tradition of not voting on most bills. (And of course, on any given day, some number of members will be absent.) Again, the potential for Weird Shit to happen is non-trivial.

This is ultimately why Rep. Eddie Rodriguez made the decision to withdraw from the SD14 special election runoff, to ensure that his seat was occupied in January. Would every State House member whose district overlaps with SD30 make the same selfless decision if the GOP doesn’t have a clear majority in the lower chamber? That’s the $64,000 question. Of course, there would need to be a non-legislative candidate to rally around. There are many variables, is what I’m saying.

Anyway. This is super inside baseball, but this is also the kind of year where these esoteric considerations need to be taken seriously. I will of course be keeping an eye on this.

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 4

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

Ryan Guillen, HD31
Marian Knowlton, HD31

Abel Herrero, HD34
James Hernandez, HD34

Erin Zwiener, HD45
Carrie Isaac, HD45

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

James Talarico, HD52
Lucio Valdez, HD52

Michelle Beckley, HD65
Kronda Thimesch, HD65

Eddie Morales, HD74
Ruben Falcon, HD74

Ana-Maria Ramos, HD102
Linda Koop, HD102

Terry Meza, HD105
Gerson Hernandez, HD105

Victoria Neave, HD107
Samuel Smith, HD107

Rhetta Bowers, HD113
Will Douglas, HD113

John Turner, HD114
Luisa Del Rosal, HD114

Julie Johnson, HD115
Karyn Brownlee, HD115

John Bucy, HD136
Mike Guevara, HD136


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 3

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

Janet Dudding, HD14
John Raney, HD14

Eric Holguin, HD32
Todd Hunter, HD32

Keke Williams, HD54
Brad Buckley, HD54

Angela Brewer, HD64
Lynn Stucky, HD64

Sharon Hirsch, HD66
Matt Shaheen, HD66

Lorenzo Sanchez, HD67
Jeff Leach, HD67

John Gibson, HD84
John Frullo, HD84

Ray Ash, HD89
Candy Noble, HD89

Jeff Whitfield, HD92
Jeff Cason, HD92

Lydia Bean, HD93
Matt Krause, HD93

Alisa Simmons, HD94
Tony Tinderholt, HD94

Joe Drago, HD96
David Cook, HD96

Elizabeth Beck, HD97
Craig Goldman, HD97

Jennifer Skidonenko, HD106
Jared Patterson, HD106

Joanna Cattanach, HD108
Morgan Meyer, HD108

Brandy Chambers, HD112
Angie Chen Button, HD112

Celina Montoya, HD121
Steve Allison, HD121


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No eviction moratoriums

So opines Ken Paxton, and we all know what an unimpeachable source he is.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton advised Friday that local Texas governments’ attempts to delay evictions for renters grappling with the COVID-19 recession amounted to rewriting state law — something they can’t do, he said in nonbinding legal guidance.

“While local officials do possess certain emergency powers … statewide eviction procedures far exceed the requirement that those powers be exercised ‘on an appropriate local scale,’” Paxton said in a letter. “Government Code does not authorize local governmental entities operating under a declared disaster to independently rewrite state law as it applies to their jurisdiction to prohibit, delay, or restrict the issuance of a notice to vacate.”

Paxton’s letter, issued in response to a question from Republican state Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, seems to chide local officials like Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who last month extended the eviction moratorium in the city until Sept. 30. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe extended his ban until the same date. In other counties, like Harris and Dallas, some justices of the peace have decided to not hear evictions. It is unclear if Paxton’s opinion will influence those judges.

Adler said in a statement that his orders were lawful and “do not amend statewide eviction procedures,” but rather aim to “reduce person-to-person contact to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Hector Nieto, a spokesperson for Travis County, said officials there are reviewing the opinion.

Paxton’s opinion could have weight if someone were to sue a local government over its eviction moratorium.

“I can’t say I’m shocked that the state attorney general would side with landlords. Nothing he has done to date shows us that we could expect something different,” said Sandy Rollins, executive director of the housing advocacy group Texas Tenants Union. “A lot of tenants are facing eviction in Texas by zero fault of their own, and putting protections that are normal in almost every other state should be allowed in this pandemic.”

As we know, AG opinions don’t carry the force of law, but they are an obstacle. As with other contentious matters on which Paxton has opined, someone will have to take this to court to force the issue. Of course, this is also something the Legislature can review and revise, and I’d say it needs to be on the ever-increasing list of things the Lege very much needs to do at its first opportunity. On a side note, this adds some context to the city of Houston’s rental assistance program, which has been offered instead of an eviction moratorium order, which a number of people advocated for. A moratorium would certainly have been a more comprehensive tool to keep people who have been affected by the pandemic and the economic devastation that resulted from it in their homes, but not if it could not be enforced. Whatever you think of Mayor Turner’s approach, it was not affected by this action.

It’s like we don’t want any extra Congresspeople

As someone once said, where’s the outrage?

For months, as Texans have been asked to stay home to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus, Jennifer Edwards has been doing the rounds at gas stations in a trio of counties near the Texas-Louisiana border.

Volunteering as a census community organizer, the Tarleton State University professor reasoned that gas stations, like grocery stores, would continue to see foot traffic during the pandemic. Setting up a booth just outside the front doors offered her face time with essential workers to deliver an essential message — please fill out the census.

“When we’re meeting with people in front of the tractor supply or the dollar store or the gas station … the communication is focused on ‘Well when does it end, what’s the deadline?’” said Edwards, who had been sharing the pandemic-induced October deadline for counting every person living in the U.S. for the once-a-decade census.

But on Monday evening, the U.S. Census Bureau upended the timeline Edwards and hundreds of other organizers, volunteers and local officials had been working under. After previously stating the census would run through Oct. 31, the bureau announced it was cutting the count short by a month, moving up the deadline for responding to Sept. 30.

The October cutoff had offered organizers crucial overtime for the count after the coronavirus pandemic derailed a ground game for canvassing and outreach efforts that in some regions of the state had been in the works for years. Now, the earlier deadline is heightening risks that Texas will be undercounted and that some Texans, particularly those who are low-income or Hispanic, will be missed in the count as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage their communities.

The schedule change comes at a key point in the count. The bureau has started its door-to-door campaign to follow up with households that have not yet filled out the census online, by phone or by mail, but census workers won’t reach some communities in Texas, like the Rio Grande Valley, that are at the highest risk of being missed until next week.

“It seems like not only are they cutting back the time they’re giving themselves to do this nonresponse follow up, but they’re also allocating the least amount of time in the hardest-to-count places in the state,” said Lila Valencia, a senior demographer at the Texas Demographic Center.

This follows Donald Trump’s efforts to exclude certain people from the Census data for redistricting purposes, as well as the state’s refusal to pay for any effort to do a thorough Census count. It’s like there’s a conspiracy to keep Texas from getting the up to three additional members of Congress that it would be due if everything went as it should. And also, you know, billions and billions of federal money that our taxes contribute to that will instead flow to other states because the Census says we have a lot fewer people than we actually do. I get what Trump’s motivations are here. I have a much harder time understanding why this isn’t a problem for Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz and every Republican running for Congress. Why do they all want to hurt Texas like this? It’s a question that should get asked, a lot.

July 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 2

Let’s move on to finance reports from the State House, which I will break up into two parts. Today’s look is on the various races in the greater Houston area, and after that I’ll look at the other races of interest from around the state. Part One of my look at the July reports for state races is here. January reports for Harris County State House races are here, January reports for other area State House races are here.

Martin Shupp, HD03
Cecil Bell, HD03

Lorena McGill, HD15
Steve Toth, HD15

Jeff Antonelli, HD23
Mayes Middleton, HD23

Brian Rogers, HD24
Greg Bonnen, HD24

Patrick Henry, HD25
Cody Vasut, HD25

Sarah DeMerchant, HD26
Matt Morgan, HD26

Eliz Markowitz, HD28
Gary Gates, HD28

Travis Boldt, HD29
Ed Thompson, HD29

Joe Cardenas, HD85
Phil Stephenson, HD85

Natali Hurtado, HD126
Sam Harless, HD126

Kayla Alix, HD129
Dennis Paul, HD129

Gina Calanni, HD132
Mike Schofield, HD132

Sandra Moore, HD133
Jim Murphy, HD133

Ann Johnson, HD134
Sarah Davis, HD134

Jon Rosenthal, HD135
Justin Ray, HD135

Akilah Bacy, HD138
Lacey Hull, HD138


Dist   Candidate       Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD03   Shupp              430         0          0         430
HD03   Bell             8,750    24,449     82,140      19,327

HD15   McGill          11,010    12,791          0       3,437
HD15   Toth            32,849    22,015          0      20,413

HD23   Antonelli        2,104         0          0       2,104
HD23   Middleton        9,782   271,170    500,000      87,325

HD24   Rogers             970         0          0       1,445
HD24   Bonnen          16,120    35,375    450,000     563,721

HD25   Henry            3,660     5,113          0       3,660
HD25   Vasut           48,486    68,549        100      28,176

HD26   DeMerchant      12,998     5,138        975       6,178
HD26   Morgan          25,702    44,030     29,615       3,998

HD28   Markowitz      287,618   243,837          0      48,119
HD28   Gates          497,620   632,891  1,736,100      58,549

HD29   Boldt           16,531     7,228          0      15,682
HD29   Thompson        59,521    72,807          0     412,652

HD85   Cardenas         9,298     4,542          0       1,800
HD85   Stephenson      20,243    40,447     29,791      34,720

HD126  Hurtado        121,203    30,604          0      66,783
HD126  Harless         28,914     2,965     20,000     124,052

HD129  Alix            33,836     3,868          0         898
HD129  Paul            38,885    17,665    156,000      46,752

HD132  Calanni         92,315    33,941          0      99,500
HD132  Schofield       63,290   134,658          0      53,016

HD133  Moore            4,025     2,352          0       3,862
HD133  Murphy          60,100    27,894          0     514,779

HD134  Johnson        267,651   110,996          0     193,642
HD134  Davis          133,245    98,848          0     169,966

HD135  Rosenthal      129,685    61,548          0      87,108
HD135  Ray             64,170    53,847          0      60,774

HD138  Bacy            76,135    38,924          0      48,944
HD138  Hull            25,638    49,438          0      20,518

The first thing to keep in mind is that the time period covered by these reports varies. Candidates who did not have a primary opponent did not have to file eight-day reports for March, so those lucky folks’ reports cover the entire six months from January 1 through June 30. Those who had a March primary and emerged victorious did have to file an eight-day report for March, so their reports cover February 23 through June 30. And those who had to endure the runoff election also had to file an eight-day report for that race as well, so their reports cover February 23 through July 6. Got it? Check the individual report links themselves if you’re not sure what applied for a given candidate.

For obvious reasons, candidates who had contested primaries and/or runoffs may have raised and spent more than someone who could have cruised through that period. Looking at these numbers, it’s not actually all that obvious who was running in a real race during this period and who wasn’t, but that was a factor. Also, remember that the runoff for the special election in HD28 was in January, so much of the fundraising and spending for Eliz Markowitz and Gary Gates includes that.

So with all that, a few things to note. Ed Thompson (HD29) and Jim Murphy (HD133) have clearly followed the well-trod path of multiple-term incumbents, building up a decent campaign treasury for the year when it may be needed. Remember how I once suggested that Jim Murphy could make sense as a candidate for Houston Mayor in 2023? The strategy of building up a campaign war chest while a member of the Legislature worked pretty well for Mayor Turner. I’m just saying. First term Democratic incumbents Jon Rosenthal and Gina Calanni, neither of whom were big fundraisers in their successful 2018 campaigns, have done all right for themselves so far. They’re not going to scare anyone off with their bank accounts, but they’re not starting from scratch, either.

Nobody in the hot races in HD26 or HD138 has a lot of money right now, but I don’t expect that to last. I figure the 30-day reports will tell more of the story there, and of course there will be a ton of PAC money at play. Eliz Markowitz will have a larger network of donors from her special election to tap into, but will be operating in a much more competitive environment, and as before will be running against a guy who prints his own money. Natali Hurtado has some catching up to do in HD126, but she’s off to a roaring start. No one in the lower-profile races has done anything to raise their profiles.

By the way, when you see a puzzling disparity between raised/spent and cash on hand, the answer is almost always because the amount raised includes a significant “in kind” share. Kayla Alix in HD129, for example, raised $33K, but $26K of it was an in-kind donation for office rental. It’s a real contribution, but it doesn’t manifest as cash on hand.

The two oddest reports to me are those belonging to Sarah Davis and Mayes Middleton. What in the world was Middleton, a first-term incumbent with no primary opponent, spending $271K on? About $78K on advertising, and at least that much on six or seven paid staff, in monthly installments. Why does he have so many people on monthly retainers? You’d have to ask him. As for Davis, I have no idea how it is that she doesn’t have $500K or so in the bank. She’s been an incumbent for as long as Murphy has (they both were elected in 2010; Murphy had served a term before that and was defeated in 2008 but came back the following cycle), her last serious Democratic challenger was in 2012 (Ann Johnson again), and like Murphy she represents a wealthy district with plenty of well-heeled constituents. I recognize that this is a tough cycle for her, by most reckoning one in which she is likely to lose, so I can understand how Johnson is outperforming her now. What I don’t understand is why she didn’t have more socked away for exactly this circumstance. Not complaining, you understand, just marveling.

Another lawsuit against Abbott over emergency orders

This one is a bit more serious due to the lack of Hotze and Woodfill, but it’s still not a great way to have the debate about this issue.

Five Republican Texas lawmakers are suing Gov. Greg Abbott over the state’s $295 million COVID-19 contact tracing contract to a small, little-known company, alleging the agreement is unconstitutional because it wasn’t competitively bid and because the funds should have been appropriated by the Legislature in a special session.

In the Travis Country district court suit filed Monday, State Reps. Mike Lang, Kyle Biederman, William Zedler, Steve Toth and state Sen. Bob Hall named as defendants Abbott, the Texas Department of State Health Services and the company awarded the contract, the Frisco-based MTX Group.

Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have defended the contract. Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawmakers are seeking a court order voiding the contract for lack of statutory authorization and deeming unconstitutional the governor’s application of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which gives him broad powers in the case of an emergency, in granting the contract.

“The Texas Constitution requires a separation of powers, and that separation leaves policy-making decisions with the Texas Legislature,” the lawsuit states. “These decisions are not changed by pandemics.”

Abbott has declined to convene a special session since March when the coronavirus pandemic began, instead leaning on his emergency powers to issue a series of sweeping executive orders governing what businesses can open, where people can gather in public, and mandating safety measures including wearing face coverings in public.

While the law has been used by governors for years, the time span of the coronavirus-related orders is unprecedented and raises questions about the durability of that legal justification.

As the story notes, the Supreme Court just rejected several Hotze lawsuits relating to executive emergency powers, saying he lacked standing. I don’t know if that is likely to be an issue in this case or not. I still agree with the basic premise that we need to have a robust debate about the parameters of the Texas Disaster Act, including when the Governor should be compelled to call a special session so that the Lege can be involved in the decision-making process. I also still think that this is a lousy way to have that debate, and while these five legislators have more gravitas than Hotze, that’s a low bar to clear. To put it another way, the anti-face mask and quarantine lobby still isn’t sending their best.

There’s no doubt that the contact tracng deal was a boondoggle, and I welcome all scrutiny on it. And I have to admit, as queasy as I am with settling these big questions about emergency powers by litigation, there isn’t much legislators can do on their own, given that they’re not in session and can’t be in session before January unless Abbott calls them into a session. I’m not sure what the right process for this should have been, given the speed and urgency of the crisis. The Lege very much needs to address these matters in the spring, but I’m leery of making any drastic changes to the status quo before then. In some ways, this is the best argument I’ve seen against our tradition of having a Legislature that only meets every two years. Some things just can’t wait, and we shouldn’t have to depend on the judgment of the Governor to fill in the gaps. I hope some of the brighter lights in our Legislature are thinking about all this. The Trib has more.

An analysis of that Paxton opinion about schools and county health authorities

Short version: That’s just, like, his opinion, man.

Best mugshot ever

The law should mean what it says. Rule §97.6(h) of the Texas Administrative Code says: “The health authority is empowered to close any public or private child-care facility, school or other place of public or private assembly when in his or her opinion such closing is necessary to protect the public health; and such school or other place of public or private assembly shall not reopen until permitted by the health authority who caused its closure.” This law was invoked by the Harris County Health Authority this month , directing that K-12 schools in the county start operations entirely online until at least Sept. 7.

On Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote an opinion that effectively invalidated Harris County’s control order and others. The Texas Education Agency accepted the opinion, and said it will defund schools that follow the orders. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott added his backing.

While the attorney general’s opinions are non-binding, they are entitled to some respect. So too, though, is the plain language of the law. I believe Paxton has it wrong and that his opinion is likely to kill people.

[…]

The law appears to be clear. The provision of the administrative code cited above gives the power to local health authorities. Despite this, Paxton concludes the law doesn’t mean what it says. He argues if read literally, the law would undercut limitations on the power of local health authorities he believes exist elsewhere in Texas law .

I wouldn’t give that argument a high grade. The “limitations” he cites would cripple local health authority’s power to effectively manage dangerous diseases that cannot survive on surfaces. More importantly, Paxton really can’t explain why Texas couldn’t give local health authorities, who have the authority to take steps such as quarantining an entire county, the (supposedly) limited powers that exist elsewhere and, just as the law says, the explicit power to close schools.

The factual assumptions underlying Paxton’s reading of Texas law are flawed. He writes before closing schools as a form of “area quarantine” (which isn’t the part of the statute the Harris County order relied on), the local health authority must demonstrate “reasonable cause to believe the school, or persons within the school, are actually contaminated by or infected with a communicable disease.”

That condition will exist the instant schools reopen.

See here, here, and here for the background. This too is one person’s opinion, in this case a law professor named Seth Chandler. What any of it actually means is uncertain until either someone sues or the counties and school districts all concede. Given his track record and the political stakes here, it’s quite rational to believe that Paxton is not the most trustworthy authority on this, but until a court gets involved he’s what we have. I hope the various county attorneys, as well as the counsel for the affected school districts, are reviewing this carefully and considering all their options.

SCOTX rejects multiple Hotze petitions

Some good news.

The Texas Supreme Court has refused to hear several challenges by a Houston conservative power broker to emergency orders on coronavirus issued by Gov. Greg Abbott and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Without comment, the nine Republican justices on Friday denied a request that they review a trial court that upheld Hidalgo’s April 22 mask order.

The order required residents to wash hands before leaving home and wear masks, stay 6 feet away from each other and avoid touching their faces in public. For a time, Abbott, a Republican, prevented Hidalgo, a Democrat elected in 2018, from enforcing it. The governor later reversed course and issued his own mask order.

Experts said Friday they weren’t surprised that in five recent lawsuits, the state’s highest civil court has declined Dr. Steve Hotze’s demands that it step in and overturn Abbott and Hidalgo’s COVID-19 orders. Each time, the court ruled on procedural grounds.

Hotze, a staunch conservative who for decades has wielded influence with his “slate cards” telling Harris County voters whom to back in Republican primaries, said his bid to protect Texans’ state and federal constitutional rights will continue.

“We fight on,” he said. “It’s obvious to me some members of the Supreme Court just don’t want this case to come up. They don’t want to go against Abbott. Six of them were appointed by Abbott.”

See here for the background, and here for the one-line denial. This follows on the heels of an earlier denial over Abbott’s statewide mask order.

The Texas Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit disputing Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s executive orders closing nonessential businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, but one justice expressed concern he is improperly taking the role of state lawmakers.

The Republican-controlled high court dismissed without comment the lawsuit filed by lead plaintiff and Republican activist Dr. Steven Hotze for a lack of jurisdiction.

Justice John Devine agreed with the dismissal, concluding a lawsuit against the governor is the incorrect vehicle. Nonetheless, Devine said Abbott’s emergency actions are not “categorically immune” from review by the courts and he finds it “difficult to square” the governor’s orders and state law.

“I share relators’ concern in what they describe as ‘an improper delegation of legislative authority’ to the executive branch,” his five-page concurring opinion states. “During declared states of ‘disaster,’ the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 bestows upon the governor the power to issue executive orders that have ‘the force and effect of law.’ Disaster or not, the Texas Constitution doesn’t appear to contemplate any circumstances in which we may condone such consolidation of power.”

Devine, a Republican, said the constitution’s ban on a branch of government exercising another branch’s powers “is not simply a suggestion.”

“In the first article, it states: ‘No power of suspending laws in this state shall be exercised except by the Legislature,’” he wrote. “This provision means what it says. The judiciary may not suspend laws. Nor may the executive. Only the Legislature.”

The Texas Legislature is only in regular session once every two years for 140 calendar days beginning in January. Abbott has so far ignored calls by state lawmakers to call a month-long special session to replace his executive orders during the pandemic.

Devine wrote the court’s dismissal “should not be misperceived as a judicial kowtow” to Abbott, saying there is no “pause” button to the Texas Constitution. He expressed worry that more executive orders will come when a second wave of the virus hits, resulting in “short-term orders could continually escape” the court’s review.

See here for that background, and here for that denial. This recapitulates what I’ve been saying all along – there are serious questions to be asked about the Governor’s powers at this time and what the role of the Legislature should be, questions that I sincerely hope are addressed by the next Lege, but Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill and their shambling evil Lawsuits R Us clown car is absolutely the wrong way to examine those questions. I would also add that SCOTX’s loopiest Justice John Devine is exactly the wrong person to be setting the outlines of this debate, but at least he did so in a concurring opinion. I’ll take what I can get at this point.

On a side note, in that first article Rice poli sci professor Mark Jones is quoted saying that in a 2015-2017 context, Greg Abbott very likely would have given more weight to the demands of the fringiest wingnuts in the Republican Party, because there would have been no political counterweight to them. But now, at a time when Donald Trump is at best running even with Joe Biden in the polls of Texas and the Democrats have a legitimate shot at taking the State House and knocking off a bunch of GOP members of Congress, some discretion on his part is the better part of valor. In other words, elections do have consequences.

Finally, since all news of bad things happening to Steven Hotze is good news, I was recently sent some relevant court documents by a very helpful reader that I will chare with you here. First, is this by a Harris County judge, issued on his own volition (the fancy Latin legal term for this is “sua sponte”), chiding Hotze and Woodfill for not properly serving all parties of his various lawsuits the relevant pleadings he’d been filing with SCOTX in a timely manner. Even more interesting is this one, filed by the Harris County Attorney on behalf of County Judge Lina Hidalgo and County Fire Marshal Laurie Christianson, accusing Hotze of filing multiple bullshit lawsuits against the county as a harassment tactic and asking for sanctions. Here’s a taste:

Hotze filed five lawsuits and two appeals against Judge Hidalgo in the last four months. Many of these cases are based on fabricated facts, and they all make identical constitutional challenges to the Texas Disaster Act. Based on Hotze’s own statements and actions, it is clear that he brought these duplicative suits for the improper purpose of harassing Judge Hidalgo.

Not only are these duplicative suits made for an improper purpose, but Hotze litigates them in a manner orchestrated to be as harassing as possible. Hotze presents all of his cases as urgent matters requiring emergency temporary restraining orders and emergency petitions for writ of mandamus to the Supreme Court. However, these cases are never urgent, have typically been pre-filed for days or weeks, are often set for hearing long after the orders they complain about have expired, and have nothing to do with science, liberty, or the Constitution. Their “urgency” is manufactured to deny Defendants due process by preventing them time to respond.

Hotze’s five lawsuits were designed to maximize delay and cost and create a never-ending conveyor belt of litigation using a six-step formula: (1) Hold a rally and generate negative media attention toward Judge Hidalgo, (2) solicit plaintiffs for a choose-your-own-adventure style lawsuit, (3) file a lawsuit, never serve it, then email opposing counsel about a hearing on a few hours’ notice, (4) make false claims, (5) amend, dismiss, or appeal before the court considers sanctions, and (6) start over with a new lawsuit and repeat the cycle.

It goes from there. It was filed in the 189th Civil Court, the same one whose judge issued that sua sponte order, and it requests “$10,000 in attorney’s fees and a conditional $10,000 in attorney’s fees if this matter is unsuccessfully appealed” on behalf of Hidalgo and Christianson in their official capacities. I have no idea what the odds of success of this motion are, but you do love to see it.

Revisiting the May elections

I’m ambivalent about this.

Most cities in Texas — from Galveston to Lubbock — moved their May elections to November under a pandemic-era decree by Gov. Greg Abbott.

But the choices facing voters will remain limited to candidates who filed for office months ago — at least for now.

State Rep. Mayes Middleton, a Galveston County Republican, wants to reopen the filing period for candidates to lead cities and other political jurisdictions, including school boards. He believes voters may have soured on incumbents facing little or no competition.

Middleton is asking Attorney General Ken Paxton whether the state should give candidates who want to run in a postponed local election until mid-August to file for a spot on the ballot.

“I think it’s also only fair that this occur because there are a lot of people that have been frankly unhappy with how some of the decisions… have been made in local government during this pandemic,” Middleton said.

The legal rub: Abbott’s March 18 order was silent on the filing deadline. But Abbott’s secretary of state, Ruth Hughs, wrote local officials that “the postponement does not have the effect of reopening candidate filings.”

Middleton believes that guidance is not supported by election law and Abbott’s order. Middleton, who chairs the arch-conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, contends in his July 2 letter to Paxton that Texas law clearly states that if the election day is changed or moved, the filing period rolls forward with it.

He said the ripple effects of a legal opinion by Paxton go well beyond proving greater scrutiny for elected officials who have issued shutdown orders or mask requirements, which have drawn the ire of many conservatives. Some local officials believe that tax rates adopted by cities for the coming fiscal year could greatly exceed what voters have the appetite for amid curtailed local tax revenues due to the pandemic.

I mean, I don’t agree with Mayes Middleton on much, and I think his motives for this action are screwy. But I confess that a part of me thinks that an election held in November, even if it was supposed to have been held in May but had to be postponed for whatever reason, should have a filing deadline that’s standard for a November election. On the other hand, the original filing deadline for the May 2 elections was February 14, more than a month before Abbott’s order that rescheduled the thing. As such, it’s hard to argue that people may have been unfairly excluded from filing. Obviously, conditions have changed, and I think there’s a valid case to be made that if these elections had been scheduled for November in the first place, there would be a very different lineup for them than what exists now. I think you can also make a valid case that the voters have it in their power to persuade the candidates they do have to prioritize the things they want now, as opposed to the things they would have wanted then.

On the related question of whether we should have regular elections in May at all, I’m also ambivalent. No question, turnout would be much greater in November elections, and as a general principle I think that’s preferable. But November elections, especially November elections in even-numbered years, are full of races with a lot more money and noise-making ability, which combine to drown out whatever local issues would be heard in a quieter context. It would be so much better if people simply took a greater interest in their local and school board elections, so that they could be held at any time and didn’t need the boost of a Presidential or gubernatorial election to get even semi-decent participation. I’d like to have a robust debate about this, but I fear that only the hardcore, vote-in-every-election types would be tuned in for it, and that would miss the point entirely. I don’t know what else to say.

One more thing:

Republican Cheryl Johnson, the Galveston County tax assessor, wrote Paxton in support of Middleton’s position. She said the pandemic has “opened the eyes” of Texans to potential government overreach, namely local tax rates that could soar as cities try to bridge budget shortfalls. Johnson wants officials considering tax hikes to feel the pressure of a campaign challenge.

Johnson noted that Senate Bill 2, signed into law by Abbott during the 2019 legislative session, requires cities to receive voter approval before levying taxes that would result in collections 3.5 percent higher than the previous year. But the bill contains a disaster provision that permits a city to collect more than twice as much for at least two years if any part of the city is declared a disaster area during the current tax year.

State and local officials are at odds over whether the coronavirus pandemic qualifies as a “disaster” to trigger this provision.

“I’m of the opinion that COVID-19 is not the type of disaster that would warrant the disaster provision of Senate Bill 2,” she said.

The Texas Municipal League says it conducted a survey of cities recently and found the “vast majority” plan to keep increased collections below the 3.5 percent threshold allowed by Senate Bill 2.

Yeah, sorry, if you don’t think what we’re in now counts as a “disaster”, then I’m afraid I just can’t take you seriously. SB2 was a terrible bill for many reasons, and this is one of them. But look, if you don’t want cities and counties to try to deal with their massive revenue shortfalls on their own, then there is a simple alternative, and that’s to push the Senate to pass the HEROES Act, which the House passed months ago, to provide fiscal relief to local governments for precisely this purpose. If you’re not down for that either, then I think we know all we need to know about your priorities.

A slightly less rosy view of Democratic prospects

Here’s the latest race ratings from Texas Elects:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a Democratic House means for redistricting

Rick Casey makes a point about what a Democratic-majority State House will and won’t be able to do in 2021, in particular with redistricting.

I would put the Democrats’ chances of taking back the State House of Representatives as better than the fulfillment of either of their two other dreams — beating President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — though recent polls show Trump and Democrat Joe Biden running even and a large “undecided” cohort in the Senate race.

But what if the Democrats win the Texas House? How much difference would it make?

One of the points I’ve seen made in the national media is that it would prevent the Republicans from gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts in the wake of the 2020 census. But that is wrong.

The Texas Constitution includes a provision, passed in 1951, for what happens if the Senate and House of Representatives can’t agree on lines for legislative seats. The lines are then drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Board which includes the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the attorney general, the comptroller, and the commissioner of the General Land Office. Since the only office in play this November is the speaker, he or she would have little impact on the likes of Republicans Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, Glenn Hegar, and George P. Bush.

[State Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer, however, thinks it may be possible for the Legislature to agree on lines.

“Lawmakers are probably not as trusting for a third party to draw their districts,” he said, suggesting that a Democratic House and a Republican Senate might compromise by agreeing to the plans each came up for their own members.

I’m skeptical. I think there would be a strong temptation for Republican leaders to try to take back the House through creative redistricting.

And no matter what plan the Legislature or the redistricting board come up with it will almost certainly end up in federal court. There, the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, severe gerrymandering for political (as distinct from racial) purposes is perfectly acceptable. Martinez Fischer suggests, however, that a Democratic House could, through witnesses at hearings and floor debate, build a record that would make lawsuits more feasible.

The Constitutional provision Casey references is here. Note, though, that it only applies to the legislature itself, the House and the Senate. It does not apply to the apportionment of Congressional districts. That job, if the 2021 Lege is unable to draw a map that passes both chambers, will fall to the federal courts. That’s exactly what happened in 2001. The fact that a court had drawn the Congressional map in 2001 was cited by Tom DeLay as a justification for his 2003 re-redistricting effort – he insisted that the Congressional map needed to be drawn by the Lege, and if that couldn’t happen in 2001 it could happen in 2003. (The fact that both chambers were now Republican-controlled was a happy coincidence, of course.)

My point here is that while Republicans would have a backstop for legislative redistricting, they would have much less control over Congressional redistricting in this scenario. I don’t know what court would get this assignment – maybe they’ll get a panel with a majority of Trump-appointed judges, who knows – but it’s a roll of the dice. The members themselves would likely prefer to avoid that outcome,. In addition, if Democrats do pick up a boatload of Congressional seats – or, you know, if Joe Biden carries Texas – the argument that the Congressional map should strongly favor Republicans kind of falls apart. Doesn’t mean Republicans couldn’t take a crack at it again in 2023 if they take back the State House in 2022, but that’s a lot of uncertainty. It’s not crazy to think that some kind of compromise, in which each side gets a few concessions in all of the maps, could be reached. No guarantee, of course, and again the Republicans would very much want to maximize their chances of having full control in 2023 to clean up anything they don’t like, but having that lever of control is worth something. Not as much as the national media might portray, I agree, but not nothing. Just having a seat at the table means something.

(Also, too, Democratic control of the House means things like the budget can’t get passed without Democratic input and assent. Redistricting would be done in a special session thanks to the later completion date for the Census, but this is still influence for the Dems. Even if it’s not directly influential on redistricting, it’s a pretty big deal in its own right, especially in a session where revenue is scarce and cuts will be on the table. Anyone who remembers the bloodbath of 2011 knows what that would mean.)

So yes, while taking the State House isn’t the be-all and end-all, it’s a mighty fine goal with lots of ways to pay off. Twitter user Kafka provides an intro to the Democratic candidates in most of the districts of interest, and you can learn more at FLIP The Texas House. If you’re wondering how best to spend your campaign donation dollars this cycle, find a State House candidate or three and toss a few bucks in their direction. This is a great opportunity, and we need to maximize it.

Rep. Rodriguez concedes in SD14

No runoff after all.

Rep. Eddie Rodriguez

Former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt will succeed former state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, in the Texas Senate after state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez said Monday he is dropping out of the race. Eckhardt and Rodriguez, both Democrats, were poised to face off in a special election runoff for the seat after the two finished first and second, respectively, in the six-way race on July 14.

After Rodriguez’s announcement, Eckhardt said she looked “forward to joining forces with him in the next session to advance our shared progressive values” for the community. Rodriguez congratulated Eckhardt on the race in an email he sent to supporters and said he is looking “forward to working with her to carve a progressive path forward for our shared community.”

Sen. Sarah Eckhardt

Pressure had been building over the past several days for Rodriguez to end his bid for the Senate and instead focus his efforts in the House, where he has served since 2003. Eckhardt finished first in the six-way race for Senate District 14 on July 14 with 49.7% of the vote — just shy of winning outright. Rodriguez, meanwhile, received nearly 34% of the vote for the historically Democratic seat that covers Bastrop County and parts of Travis County.

[…]

Some Eckhardt supporters and Capitol observers argued that Rodriguez was better off helping Democrats gain control of the House, which they are effectively nine seats away from doing, instead of focusing his energy and money on a Senate bid that Eckhardt nearly won outright earlier this month. There were also questions about the timing of a special election runoff and how that could impact Rodriguez’s seat in the House if he were to win the Senate race. Such a vacancy during a legislative session, some argued, could have implications if there is a slim margin between Democrats and Republicans next year.

First, congratulations to Sen.-elect Sarah Eckhardt. This race was a tough choice between two stellar candidates, and I have no doubt she will be a fine, fine Senator.

Second, this is a true team-first move by Rep. Rodriguez. Sure, Eckhardt had a commanding lead and came very close to an outright win on July 14, but Trey Martinez Fischer had a larger lead over now-Sen. Jose Menendez in the SD26 special election in 2015, and we know how that turned out. Because the two candidates were so well-qualified and differed so little on the substantial issues, this would have been the kind of nasty intramural fight over perceived differences and other minor issues that everyone pretty much hates, all happening at a time when we’re otherwise completely focused on November. And yes, you could imagine partisan control of the State House being affected by the need for Rodriguez to resign if he won, since a special election to replace him could not happen until after November. By far, this was the cleanest and least disruptive solution from a holistic perspective.

But even with all that, it’s still asking one person to put aside their legitimate ambition and aspirations for someone else’s, and given how fierce the competition can be to move up the ladder, that’s asking a lot. Rep. Rodriguez deserves a ton of thanks from Texas Dems. If there’s a way that his next preference for something, whether a legislative push or electoral opportunity or whatever, can be prioritized, that would be great. You can see Rep. Rodriguez’s announcement of his concession on Twitter. Go thank him there if you feel so moved.

How to lose a Congressional seat

As things stand right now, Texas will gain three Congressional seats in the 2021 reapportionment, as Texas continues to be the fastest-growing state in the country. There is one thing that can stop that, however: Donald Trump.

President Donald Trump opened a new front Tuesday in his effort to keep undocumented immigrants from being counted when lawmakers redraw congressional districts next year, a move that could cost Texas several seats in Congress if it succeeds.

Trump attempted last year to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, but was shot down by the courts. On Tuesday, he signed a memorandum directing Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to exclude undocumented immigrants who might be included in the census count from the “apportionment base,” or the base population that’s used to divide up seats in Congress.

The order, which will surely be challenged in court, is Trump’s latest effort to differentiate between citizens and noncitizens when states redraw the boundaries of political districts each decade to account for growth. Recent estimates indicate the size of the undocumented population in Texas has reached nearly 1.8 million. Excluding those residents from population counts to draw up congressional districts would likely lead to a drastic realignment of representation and power throughout the state.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that representation in Congress be divided among states based on a count every 10 years of every person residing in the country. But the Constitution, Trump wrote, does not define “which persons must be included in the apportionment base.”

“Excluding these illegal aliens from the apportionment base is more consonant with the principles of representative democracy underpinning our system of Government,” the memo reads. “Affording congressional representation, and therefore formal political influence, to States on account of the presence within their borders of aliens who have not followed the steps to secure a lawful immigration status under our laws undermines those principles.”

[…]

“The Constitution requires that everyone in the U.S. be counted in the census,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “President Trump can’t pick and choose. He tried to add a citizenship question to the census and lost in the Supreme Court. His latest attempt to weaponize the census for an attack on immigrant communities will be found unconstitutional. We’ll see him in court, and win, again.”

Litigation has indeed been filed, in multiple lawsuits and venues at this point. My interest in pointing this out was the very narrow one of showing what this would mean to Texas.

If unauthorized immigrants were excluded from the apportionment count, California, Florida and Texas would each end up with one less congressional seat than they would have been awarded based on population change alone. California would lose two seats instead of one, Florida would gain one instead of two, and Texas would gain two instead of three, according to analysis based on projections of Census Bureau 2019 population estimates and the Center’s estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population.

Alabama, Minnesota and Ohio would each hold onto a seat that they would have lost if apportionment were based only on total population change. Alabama filed a lawsuit in 2018 seeking to block the Census Bureau from including unauthorized immigrants in its population count.

[…]

The Census Bureau does not regularly publish counts or estimates of unauthorized immigrants, although the Department of Homeland Security has done so. Last year, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against including a question about citizenship on the 2020 census, the president ordered the Census Bureau to assemble a separate database, using other government records, on the citizenship status of every U.S. resident. This has also been challenged in court.

The Center’s analysis relies on assumptions about populations to be counted in the 2020 census and estimates of unauthorized immigrants. The actual figures used for apportionment will be different from these, and so the actual apportionment could differ regardless of whether unauthorized immigrants are excluded from the apportionment totals.

You might think that Texas’ political leaders would be up in arms about this. That Congressional seat belongs to Texas! State’s rights! You know the drill. And sadly, you also know that our Trump-hugging Attorney General would never, ever say or do anything that would contradict his Dear Leader. What’s a Congressional seat (or two, or even three, if our dismal failure to support a complete Census effort causes the official count to be unexpectedly low) compared to a favorable tweet from Donald Trump? That’s a question we should all be asking, loudly and often, in 2022, when they are up for re-election.

One more thing:

Texas House leaders have previously indicated to The Texas Tribune they have no plans to alter the way Texas redraws political districts even if the Legislature obtained more detailed data on citizenship.

“Bottom line, the law for the Texas House and the Senate — and frankly the courts and the State Board of Education — requires it be done by total population, as does the U.S. Constitution with regard to congressional seats,” said state Rep. Phil King, a Republican from Weatherford who chairs the House Redistricting Committee.

That’s good to hear, but my understanding is that while the State House is explicitly mandated to use total population in redistricting, the State Senate is not. That’s why it was the Senate map that was targeted in the Evenwel case. So, while I hope Rep. King means what he says here, the possibility very much exists that the Lege will try a different tack. (Also, it’s usually the House that draws the House map, and the Senate that draws the Senate map. I’d like to know what the relevant Senate committee chair has to say about this.)

UPDATE: From Ross Ramsey at the Trib:

In a letter urging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to take legal action to stop the proposal, state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, framed the idea as an attack on Texas.

“Filing suit to block the Presidential Memorandum to the Secretary of Commerce dated July 21 would be wholly consistent with your official biography that explains as Attorney General, you are ‘focused on protecting Texans and upholding Texas laws and the Constitution’ and ‘fighting federal overreach.’ Indeed, if unchallenged, the President’s actions would likely hurt Texas more than any other state.”

The partisan politics here are clear enough. Turner is the chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus. Paxton, a Republican, is the newly branded co-chair of the national Lawyers for Trump.

But not all that is political is partisan, even in an election year. Does anyone in elected office here think Texas should have less influence in Washington, D.C.?

Good question. Someone should ask Ken Paxton, and Greg Abbott, and Dan Patrick, and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and all of the Republican members of Congress.

What Ted Cruz is scared of

Let’s give him a reason for it.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz delivered a dire message to Texas Republican activists on Saturday about the danger President Donald Trump faces in November here.

“This is a real race,” Cruz told the Republican Party’s convention audience, pointing to five consecutive polls that show Trump and Democrat Joe Biden neck-and-neck in the state.

And Cruz would know. In 2018, Cruz survived the fight of his political life, narrowly defeating El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke by less than 3 percentage points in what was the closest a Democrat has come to winning a U.S. Senate seat in Texas since Sen. Lloyd Bentsen carried the state in 1988. Cruz told the audience that what happened to him is a “warning sign” of the tough road that lays ahead.

“Let me tell you right now, every one of those crazed leftists that showed up in 2018 are showing up in 2020,” Cruz said. “And they are even angrier.”

[…]

Trump has dismissed polling that shows he’s only up one point in Texas, saying they are just wrong.

“I’m not one point up in Texas,” Trump said on Monday. “We’re many points up.”

But on Saturday, Cruz had a very different message — warning that Texas is in jeopardy of going blue if Texas Republicans aren’t ready for one of the toughest presidential battles the state has ever seen.

“If the Democrats win Texas, it’s all over,” Cruz warned.

I mean, he’s not wrong. Republicans are facing a downballot disaster, and that’s before even considering the possibility of Joe Biden winning the state’s electoral votes. He doesn’t have any understanding of why he and hid fellow Republicans are in that position, but that’s not surprising. He just knows that things are tough and he’s not afraid to let you know it, too. Now let’s prove him right to be afraid.

More pressure on Biden to really compete in Texas

Fine by me.

With President Donald Trump’s poll numbers sliding in traditional battlegrounds as well as conservative-leaning states, and money pouring into Democratic campaigns, Joe Biden is facing rising pressure to expand his ambitions, compete aggressively in more states and press his party’s advantage down the ballot.

In a series of phone calls, Democratic lawmakers and party officials have lobbied Biden and his top aides to seize what they believe could be a singular opportunity not only to defeat Trump but also to rout him and discredit what they believe is his dangerous style of racial demagogy.

This election, the officials argue, offers the provocative possibility of a new path to the presidency through fast-changing states like Georgia and Texas, and a chance to install a generation of lawmakers who can cement Democratic control of Congress and help redraw legislative maps following this year’s census.

Biden’s campaign, though, is so far hewing to a more conservative path. It is focused mostly on a handful of traditional battlegrounds, where it is only now scaling up and naming top aides despite having claimed the nomination in April.

At the moment, Biden is airing TV ads in just six states, all of which Trump won four years ago: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida. The campaign included perennially close Florida only after some deliberations about whether it was worth the hefty price tag, and when Trump’s struggles with older populations made it clearly competitive, according to Democrats familiar with their discussions.

The campaign’s reluctance to pursue a more expansive strategy owes in part to the calendar: Biden’s aides want to see where the race stands closer to November before they broaden their focus and commit to multimillion-dollar investments, aware that no swing states, let alone Republican-leaning states, have actually been locked up.

Yet they are increasingly bumping up against a party emboldened by an extraordinary convergence of events. Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic, his self-defeating rhetorical eruptions and the soaring liberal enthusiasm — reflected in the sprawling social justice protests and Democrats’ unprecedented Senate fundraising — have many officeholders convinced they must act boldly.

Public and private polling shows Trump not only trailing badly in swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin but also running closely with Biden in traditionally conservative bastions like Kansas and Montana.

“Trump’s abominable presidency, especially in the context of the total failure to confront coronavirus, makes Texas very winnable,” said Rep. Filemon Vela, an early Biden supporter. He said he is “getting bombarded” with pleas from Texas Democrats who are similarly convinced the state could turn blue with a substantial commitment.

[…]

While the campaign has made a flurry of hires in recent weeks, its pace of building out regional desks and state teams has prompted some private grumbling from party operatives. They worry the Biden camp isn’t yet positioned to capitalize on this year’s opportunities — or adequately prepared for the organizational demands of a massive vote-by-mail push made necessary by the pandemic.

Long-tenured Democrats, however, say there are more profound reasons to contest a broad array of states.

“An Electoral College landslide gives Biden the ability to move on major issues,” Brown said. “Second, it’ll give him a stronger majority in the Senate and give the party more state legislators.”

More broadly, Brown posited, a resounding repudiation of Trump would make it more likely that Republicans will discard his politics.

“They’ve got to reject their plays to race if they’re going to be a national party that can compete in the future,” he said.

Paul Begala, the veteran Democratic strategist, was even blunter about the need for a convincing win.

“It used to be that anything past 270 electoral votes was useless because it doesn’t matter how far you run past the goal line in football,” Begala said. “But for the first time in American history there’s a legitimate concern that the incumbent president will not surrender power.”

I don’t have a whole lot to add to what I’ve already said on this subject. Resources are finite, and decisions have to be made about how best to deploy them. But I do think the “we need a landslide” argument has a lot of merit, and with recent polls showing Biden even or slightly ahead in Texas, it’s hard for me to understand the case for just letting things play out as they would. I understand that if Texas is truly winnable, then Biden has already won, and it thus makes more sense to ensure that he has indeed locked up those other states first. I’m not advocating an abandonment of the states Biden is currently contesting. I am saying that unless the resources just aren’t there, it makes more sense to me to add in some contingency states than it does to double down on the existing battlefields, because surely there’s a point of diminishing returns there. The Senate seat in Texas plus the multiple Congressional seats and the chance to win the State House all add weight to that position. I admit I’m biased, but I will not concede that it doesn’t add up to compete in Texas. It doesn’t add up to not compete.

UPDATE: So, this happened.

Joe Biden is launching his first general-election TV ads in Texas as a growing number of polls show a close presidential race here.

As part of a four-state ad buy that Biden’s campaign is announcing Tuesday, the presumptive Democratic nominee is going up with a 60-second spot in Texas that addresses the increasingly dire coronavirus situation here.

“I’m thinking all of you today across Texas,” Biden says in the ad, which opens with a shot of Marfa. “I know the rise in case numbers is causing fear and apprehension.”

“The virus is tough, but Texas is tougher,” Biden later says, telling Americans to follow guidelines to slow the spread of the virus — and that he wants them to know: “I will not abandon you. We’re all in this together.”

The buy, which also features digital ads, is across Texas, Arizona, Florida and North Carolina — and it marks the campaign’s first TV and digital ad spending in Texas since Biden secured the nomination. A Biden campaign official described the size of the four-state buy as “mid-six figures.”

It’s a start. A “mid-six figures” buy is not a whole lot, but it did generate some earned media, which is always a plus. As others have noted, Trump has been running ads here; my younger daughter loves procedurals, of which NCIS is one of her favorites, and I’ve seen a few Trump ads when she has streamed episodes from the most recent seasons on CBS All Access. If Trump thinks it’s necessary to run a few ads in Texas, it’s got to be worth it for Biden to do so as well.

The state deficit is quantified

Honestly, it’s not as bad as it could be.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar delivered bleak but unsurprising news Monday: Because of the economic fallout triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the amount of general revenue available for the state’s current two-year budget is projected to be roughly $11.5 billion less than originally estimated. That puts the state on track to end the biennium, which runs through August 2021, with a deficit of nearly $4.6 billion, Hegar said.

Those figures are a significant downward revision from Hegar’s last revenue estimate in October 2019, when the comptroller said the state would have over $121 billion to spend on its current budget and end the biennium with a surplus of nearly $2.9 billion. The state, Hegar said, will now have roughly $110 billion to work with for the current budget.

Hegar’s latest estimate, he stressed in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and other state leaders, carries “an unprecedented amount of uncertainty” and could change drastically in the coming months, thanks to the pandemic and, to a lesser extent, a recent drop in oil prices.

“We have had to make assumptions about the economic impact of COVID-19, the duration and effects of which remain largely unknown,” Hegar wrote. “Our forecast assumes restrictions [on businesses and people] will be lifted before the end of this calendar year, but that economic activity will not return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this biennium.”

Returning to pre-pandemic levels, Hegar said, would not happen until consumers and businesses are confident that the virus has been controlled.

“Even then,” he wrote, “it likely will take some time to recover from the economic damage done by the deep recession caused by the virus.”

I mean, it’s not great, but this much deficit could be easily covered by the Rainy Day Fund, and there is still the likelihood that Congress will send some more relief money to the states. A lot can happen between now and when the Lege has to actually write and pass a budget, and some of those things are good. Of course, pretty much all of those good things are predicated on getting the virus under control, and let’s just say that’s a jump ball at best. As you might expect, Dan Patrick gets this exactly backwards, so, you know. But look, it’s pretty basic. If we can get the virus under control, we can get the economy going in a safe and productive fashion. Otherwise, it’s more of what we’re getting now. Seems simple, right? I hope our leaders see it that way, because we’re at their mercy.

We still need that equality bill in the Lege

That SCOTUS ruling was huge, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

LGBTQ Texans marked a major victory Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal civil rights law prevents employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But in Texas, which did not have such workplace safeguards, LGBTQ lawmakers and advocates say they are far from done fighting for other essential protections.

Employment discrimination protections, they say, are necessary but not sufficient for advancing the equal treatment of LGBTQ Texans. Thanks to Monday’s ruling, Texans can no longer be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity, but there is no state law explicitly preventing landlords from refusing to rent homes to LGBTQ Texans, for example.

Members of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus are setting their sights on a comprehensive set of nondiscrimination protections that would codify the employment protections in state law, as well as guarantee LGBTQ Texans equal access to housing, health care and other public accomodations.

It will not be an easy bill to pass.

[…]

“We can’t look at this as being a partisan or political issue — it’s a human issue,” said Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, vice chair of the LGBTQ Caucus. “And in order to create a change in mind, you need to create a change in heart.”

González announced in May that she would spearhead the fight for a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill during the next regular legislative session in 2021 with Republican state Reps. Sarah Davis of West University Place and Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi.

“We rolled it out early to start the conversation,” González said.

In pushing for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections, LGBTQ lawmakers and their allies are also making an economic case. Big businesses like Amazon and Google have been major advocates for LGBTQ Texans over the last few years, telling lawmakers that to attract the best talent to their Texas offices, they need to guarantee workers equal rights in their communities.

“It is the business community’s voice that has been one of the loudest and strongest advocates for the LGBT community over the years,” said Tina Cannon, executive director of the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

Still, advocates have acknowledged that Monday’s ruling, while exhilirating the LGBTQ community, may also stir up opposition.

“I do think this is going to galvanize the folks who don’t want us to be at the same level,” Shelly Skeen, a senior attorney with the LGBTQ rights group Lambda Legal, said during a virtual briefing after Monday’s ruling. “So we got even more work to do, but I think we got some great momentum behind us.”

LGBTQ Caucus members have already made major progress since 2017, when LGBTQ advocates spent much of the legislative session playing defense as they fought back a controversial “bathroom bill” that would have limited transgender Texans’ access to certain public spaces. It was championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and hardline conservative groups.

See here for more on that SCOTUS ruling, and here for more on the equality bill. Dems taking the House is probably the only path to this bill making it out of the lower chamber, where it will never get a hearing in the Senate. The best we can do is get everyone on the record, and fight like hell to elect more Democratic Senators in 2022, as well as un-electing Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, by far the two biggest obstacles to getting a real equality bill enacted. Yeah, I’ve got Paxton there ahead of Greg Abbott, who I could sort of maybe imagine going with the flow if he gets enough pressure from business and the wingnut fringe has been somewhat neutered. Electing some Democrats to the State Supreme Court would also help, and that we can do this year as well. The things to remember are 1) this is going to take more than one session; 2) the more elections we win, the closer we will be able to get; and 3) we cannot ease up, not even a little, because it will always be possible to go backwards. Eyes on the prize, and get people elected to do the job. That’s what it is going to take.

Dems could possibly win a lot of Congressional races in Texas

It started with this:

You might think wow, that’s a really optimistic take, but after the Tuesday primary runoff, we also got this:

I’d quibble with the categorization of those 2018 contests as “not serious” – all of the candidates raised a decent amount of money that year, and prognosticators had CD10 on their radar by the end of the cycle – but I take his point. And in the replies to that tweet, we got this:

A second Blue Wave in the suburbs?

Well-educated suburban districts, particularly ones that also were diverse, were a major part of the Democrats’ victory in the House in 2018. Democrats captured many formerly Republican districts where Donald Trump performed significantly worse in 2016 than Mitt Romney had in 2012. Democratic victories in and around places like Northern Virginia, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, the Twin Cities, Atlanta, Orange County, CA, parts of New Jersey, and elsewhere came in seats that meet this broad definition.

And then there’s Texas. Democrats picked up two districts there, one in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex (TX-32) and another in suburban Houston (TX-7). But Democrats put scares into several other Republican incumbents, and the closeness of presidential polling in Texas could lead to unexpected opportunities for Democrats there this November.

Trump has generally led polls of Texas, but many have been close and Biden has on occasion led, like in a Fox News poll released last week that gave him a nominal lead of a single point.

Tellingly, of 18 Texas polls in the RealClearPolitics database matching Biden against Trump dating back to early last year, Trump has never led by more than seven points — in a state he won by nine in 2016. It seems reasonable to assume that Trump is going to do worse in Texas than four years ago, particularly if his currently gloomy numbers in national surveys and state-level polls elsewhere do not improve.

In an average of the most recent polls, Trump leads by two points in Texas. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) won reelection over then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D, TX-16) by 2.6 points. If Trump were to win Texas by a similar margin this November, the congressional district-level results probably would look a lot like the Cruz-O’Rourke race. Those results are shown in Map 1, courtesy of my colleague J. Miles Coleman.

Map 1: 2018 Texas Senate results by congressional district

Cruz carried 18 districts to O’Rourke’s 16. That includes the 11 districts the Democrats already held in Texas going into the 2018 election, as well as the two additional ones where they beat GOP incumbents (TX-7 and TX-32) and three additional districts that Republicans still hold. Those are TX-23, an open swing seat stretching from San Antonio to El Paso; Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R, TX-10) Austin-to-Houston seat; and TX-24, another open seat in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

TX-23 is competitive primarily because it’s two-thirds Hispanic, and it already leans to the Democrats in our ratings. TX-10 and TX-24 better fit the suburban mold: Both have significantly higher levels of four-year college attainment than the national average (particularly TX-24), and Republican incumbents in both seats nearly lost to unheralded Democratic challengers in 2018.

Cruz won the remaining districts, but several of them were close: TX-2, TX-3, TX-6, TX-21, TX-22, TX-25, and TX-31 all voted for Cruz by margins ranging from 0.1 points (TX-21) to 5.1 (TX-25). These districts all have at least average and often significantly higher-than-average levels of four-year college attainment, and they all are racially diverse.

In other words, these districts share some characteristics of those that have moved toward the Democrats recently, even though they remain right of center.

This is all a long preamble to an alarming possibility for Republicans: If Biden were to actually carry Texas, he might carry many or even all of these districts in the process. In a time when ticket-splitting is less common than in previous eras of American politics (though hardly extinct), that could exert some real pressure on Republicans in these districts.

Ted Cruz carried 20 districts to Beto’s 16, a minor quibble. Remember this post in which Mike Hailey of Capitol Inside predicted Dems would flip eight Congressional seats? Not so out there any more.

Look at it this way: Since the start of June, Trump has had exactly one poll, out of eight total, in which he has led Joe Biden by more than two points. The four-point lead he had in that poll is smaller than the five-point lead Biden had in a subsequent poll. In those eight polls, Trump has led in three, Biden has led in three, and the other two were tied. The average of those eight polls is Biden 45.9, Trump 45.6, another data point to suggest that Biden has gotten stronger as we have progressed.

Insert all the usual caveats here: Polls are snapshots in time. It’s still more than 100 days to Election Day. Things can change a lot. No Texas Democrat has won a statewide race since 1994, a losing streak to rival Rice football versus UT. (As it happens, the last time Rice beat UT in football was…1994. Coincidence? I think not.) The polls all said Hillary was gonna win in 2016 and we know how that went, smartass. Fill in your own rationalization as well.

The point here is simply this: If Joe Biden actually wins Texas, it could be really, really ugly for Republicans downballot. Even if Biden falls short, it’s likely going to leave a mark on them as well.

I’ll leave where we started:

Karma, man.

Another lawsuit filed over mobile voting locations

Don’t know that there’s enough time for this to be heard, but it’s a good idea.

Mi Familia Vota, the Texas NAACP and two Texas voters this week filed a suit against the state over its election policies, alleging they discriminate against minority voters who are disproportionately hurt by the pandemic.

The suit, filed Thursday in San Antonio federal court, alleges that the state’s “insufficient” number of polling places and “limited and inaccessible” early voting locations will result in unsafe voting conditions and voter suppression.

“Texas proposes to rely on election policies that, during the pandemic, will create inordinate burdens on the right to vote,” the suit states. “The burden will be particularly high for Black and Latino voters. Without the relief this lawsuit requests, voters’ exercise of the franchise will be compromised.”

The wide-ranging suit seeks a court order to suspend the Texas law that limits mobile early voting sites, to force the state to extend the duration of early voting and allow the opening of additional polling places in counties where lines typically exceed 20 minutes.

There’s some additional detail in the Trib.

Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs are named as defendants, but the suit targets some decisions that are ultimately up to local officials. The long list of changes the plaintiffs are seeking includes a month of early voting, an across-the-board mask mandate for anyone at a polling place and a suspension of rules that limit who can vote curbside without entering a polling place.

The plaintiffs also want to overturn a relatively new statewide election law that ended the long-established practice of setting up temporary or mobile early voting sites that could be moved around during the early voting period to reach as many voters as possible near where they live, work or go to school. They are asking the court to allow counties a temporary reprieve from that 2019 law, which is the target of a separate lawsuit filed last year.

To “ensure that polling sites are safe and of low risk to the health of all registered voters,” the suit also seeks that the state be ordered to open additional polling places and provide enough voting booths and workers to keep waits to less than 20 minutes.

(Polling places for general elections are ultimately designated by county commissioners courts.)

[…]

Without offering details, Abbott has previously indicated he will be ordering an expansion to the typical two-week early voting period for November. Extended early balloting has been one of the main ways in which state Republican leaders, who have vehemently opposed an expansion in voting by mail, have modified election processes during the pandemic.

I’m aware of two previous lawsuits filed over HB1888 from the last legislative session, which basically required that any early voting location had to be in operation for the entirity of early voting, so no more one-day popup locations on a college campus or at a senior center or whatever. That will have the effect of reducing voting locations, since the whole reason these had been temporary before was that there wasn’t enough money and/or poll workers for them to operate the whole time. Anyway, the TDP, DCCC, and DSCC filed one suit, and the Texas Young Democrats and Texas College Democrats filed the other, both last November. Both stories only referenced the TDP/DCCC/DSCC lawsuit, which maybe is an oversight and maybe means the second suit got tossed or joined with the first one. Far as I know, there’s been no court action on either of them, so I can’t say I expect a result from this one. But it can’t hurt to try.

Here, have a COVID update

Things are going great.

Texas set yet another record for coronavirus deaths Thursday with 154 — the third day in a row above 100.

The previous record was July 8 when 112 deaths were logged, according to a data analysis by Hearst Newspapers that shows the state reported 105 deaths on Wednesday and 104 on Tuesday.

The streak in deaths comes two weeks after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered most of the state’s 30 million residents to wear masks. Despite pressure from local authorities that he give back their ability to mandate stay-at-home orders, Abbott has insisted increased mask-wearing is the key.

Abbott told Houston’s Fox 26 on Thursday that “the last step that would ever be taken is to lock Texans back down” and said other measures would be taken before resorting to that.

“It seems like I get this question a thousand times a day, and there seem to be rumors out there about a looming shutdown,” Abbott said in the interview. “Let me tell you: There is no shutdown coming.”

It will take about three weeks, Abbott said, to see the effects of his mask mandate and his closure of bars in late June. Abbott claimed cases were flattening out in Harris County, though Hearst Newspapers’ analysis shows the county’s rolling average for new cases is more than three times higher than a month ago.

[…]

A new report from Kinsa, a company that uses internet-connected thermometers to predict the spread of diseases, showed that Texas’ rate of illness is spreading faster than those of other states. The company in the past few years has successfully anticipated outbreaks of the flu weeks ahead of the federal government.

The Kinsa data, which tracks whether an uncontrolled outbreak is likely using fever trends and other information, showed that the state is hitting above the threshold for the entirety of the past 30 days.

“This level of sustained, rampant disease transmission suggests that there is likely a lot more illness in the community than what has been reflected in the case numbers to date,” the company said in a press release Thursday. “In other words, there is no relief in store for Texas over the next few weeks, and we fear that the situation there may get much worse in the near-term.”

No, seriously, it’s just terrific.

A coronavirus patient in Anahuac was flown by helicopter to a hospital in El Campo — 120 miles away — because closer facilities could not take him.

Ambulances are waiting up to 10 hours to deliver patients to packed Hidalgo County emergency rooms.

And short-staffed hospitals in Midland and Odessa have had to turn away ailing COVID-19 patients from rural West Texas facilities that can’t offer the care they need.

As the tally of coronavirus infections climbs higher each day, Texas hospitals are taking extraordinary steps to make space for a surge of patients. Some facilities in South Texas say they are dangerously close to filling up, while hospitals elsewhere are taking precautionary measures to keep their numbers manageable.

Doctors warn of shortages of an antiviral drug that shows promise for treating COVID-19 patients. And epidemiologists say the state’s hospitals may be in for a longer, harder ride than places like New York, where hospitals were stretched to capacity in the spring and some parked refrigerated trailers outside to store bodies of people who died from COVID-19.

“It used to [be that] if one hospital got kind of overwhelmed … you would start transferring out ICU patients to other facilities that had ICU beds available,” said Dr. Robert Hancock, president of the Texas College of Emergency Physicians. “And there really is none of that now, because everybody’s in the same boat and they’re struggling to get their own patients admitted.”

You might say we’re red hot.

A document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force but not publicized suggests more than a dozen states should revert to more stringent protective measures, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, closing bars and gyms and asking residents to wear masks at all times.

The document, dated July 14 and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, says 18 states are in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases, meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week. Eleven states are in the “red zone” for test positivity, meaning more than 10 percent of diagnostic test results came back positive.

It includes county-level data and reflects the insistence of the Trump administration that states and counties should take the lead in responding to the coronavirus. The document has been shared within the federal government but does not appear to be posted publicly.

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said he thought the information and recommendations were mostly good.

“The fact that it’s not public makes no sense to me,” Jha said Thursday. “Why are we hiding this information from the American people? This should be published and updated every day.”

[…]

The 18 states that are included in the red zone for cases in the document are: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

The 11 states that are in the red zone for test positivity are Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Washington.

In May, the World Health Organization recommended that governments make sure test positivity rates were at 5 percent or lower for 14 days before reopening. A COVID-19 tracker from Johns Hopkins University shows that 33 states were above that recommended positivity as of July 16.

“If the test positivity rate is above 10 percent, that means we’re not doing a good job mitigating the outbreak,” said Jessica Malaty Rivera, science communication lead at the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization launched by journalists from The Atlantic. “Ideally we want the test positivity rate to be below 3 percent, because that shows that we’re suppressing COVID-19.”

But don’t worry, Greg Abbott is on it.

As the number of new coronavirus cases in Texas continues to rise and hospitals grow more crowded, Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday there is no statewide shutdown looming.

Abbott said last week that if the spread of the virus didn’t slow, “the next step would have to be a lockdown.” But in a television interview Thursday, he said that there have been rumors of such a move and stressed that they were not true.

“Let me tell you, there is no shutdown coming,” he told KRIV-TV in Houston.

Abbott pointed to measures he’s taken in recent weeks, including a statewide mask mandate and an order shutting down bars, to slow the spread of the virus. It will take a few weeks to see a reversal in coronavirus case surges, he said.

He has repeatedly stressed this week that, if people wear masks, he’ll be able to avoid shutting down the state. On Wednesday, he told KPRC-TV in Houston that it seems like people ask him about a shutdown “like a thousand times a day.”

“People are panicking, thinking I’m about to shut down Texas again,” he said. “The answer is no. That is not the goal. I’ve been abundantly clear.”

To also be abundantly clear, Abbott is correct that it will take a bit of time for the mask order and other interventions to work, just as there was a lag between the increasing case rate and subsequent increases in hospitalizations and deaths (not that we responded in time for them, but never mind that right now). He is also correct that universal face mask wearing would be a big help, though it may not be enough at this point, and he’s fighting headwinds from Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans on that score. And if we really want to be clear, we need to remember that Abbott mostly speaks in riddles these days, so we turn to an expert in the field for true clarity:

Yes, that’s the kind of straight talk you get from Greg Abbott.

Lawmakers quickly discovered something remarkable. It was possible to stare the man in the eyes, to speak with him for a half-hour or more, and walk away with no better idea of where he stood on important legislative matters. He seemed unwilling to speak forthrightly about nearly anything, drawing a veil around his positions, lest he alienate some key legislator or interest group.

When Abbott did make himself clear, it was to issue marching orders to those who had no reason to follow them, or to punish those who had defied him. “There was no comparison to Perry. [Abbott’s] concept of governing is ordering people around,” Republican state representative Sarah Davis told me in 2018. “He came into the regular session and kind of chided us, and then was absent for the rest of the session.”

And his public statements often contradicted his private ones. Publicly, Abbott endorsed the infamous anti-transgender “bathroom bill” in the 2017 session and pretended to advocate for its passage. But in private he reassured business groups—who worried the state would be boycotted by lucrative conventions and sports tournaments—that the bill would never pass. He was publicly accused of that duplicity by Republican state representative Byron Cook in 2018. The governor’s office has never addressed it.

[…]

Fast forward a few years, through 130,000 American deaths from the coronavirus, at least 3,500 of them from Texas so far, and the onset of the worst economic circumstances since the Great Depression. Now Abbott’s governing style is under strain. Arguably, the root cause of the current crisis is his tendency to talk a lot without saying much and his propensity to take the path of least resistance regardless of the circumstances, especially when confronted by the inchoate demands of the Republican party’s right wing. This modus operandi is on display every time Abbott gets in front of a television camera. But as we see more and more of it, the artifice is becoming more clear. Abbott’s disapproval numbers have been rising just a bit, even as other governors have seen a surge of popularity during the crisis.

Here, we could talk about Abbott’s quadruple-backflip on mask mandates; the time he issued a statewide lockdown disguised under a bureaucratic name while insisting it wasn’t one, before clarifying that it was the next day; the Shelley Luther saga, which saw him ordain that violators of his shutdown order should be punished with fines and jail time only to blame local officials for enforcing it, before retroactively nullifying what he had expressly commanded; or the way he opened the state for business before fixing the problems the lockdown was designed to address.

But instead, let’s consider a small but important test Abbott recently faced, one that seems instructive. Abbott’s party had long been planning to hold its state convention in Houston, one of the nation’s biggest coronavirus hot spots, which would have brought some six thousand attendees, many of them older and especially vulnerable to the virus, from all around the state for a crowded three-day fete. An in-person convention was a virtual guarantee that some delegates and service workers would get infected and possibly die, and that Houston’s seemingly potent strain of the virus would be spread around the state.

It was an incredibly bad idea that Abbott’s party nonetheless seemed hell-bent on pursuing. What did the governor have to say about it? Would he speak up, in an attempt to save the lives of his own party’s activists? “You’re the top Republican in the state, governor,” said an anchor for KDFW in Dallas on July 6, after Houston mayor Sylvester Turner begged the party to call off the gathering, then canceled it two days later. “What do you think should happen?”

The governor’s answer: “I know that the executive committee for the Republican Party of Texas have been talking about this. I think they continue to talk about it, and they weigh all of the consequences and the public health and measures … They’ll make a decision.”

The anchor persisted: “You don’t want to weigh in on what you think should happen?”

The governor paused and then gave his answer: “Obviously I think whatever happens—whether it be, listen, this convention or any action that anybody takes—we’re at a time with the outbreak of the coronavirus where public safety needs to be a paramount concern, and make sure that whoever does anything and whatever they do, they need to do to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.”

Huh?

A day later, an anchor for KENS in San Antonio tried a different tack: “Will you be attending in person?” Abbott dissembled, so the anchor tried again. “Yeah, listen, as for myself, as well as for everybody else,” Abbott said, “we will continue to see what the standards are that will be issued by the State Republican Executive Committee, by the state Republican Party to determine what the possibility will be for being able to attend.” To determine what the possibility will be for being able to attend.

Not only could Abbott not say whether he thought the convention was a good idea, he couldn’t even say whether he would be there. The interview went out during the KENS five o’clock broadcast. Not half an hour later, during a meeting of the SREC, the party’s executive director announced that elected officials would be pre-recording messages instead of giving in-person speeches. Abbott surely knew this important fact when he was on the air.

I hope this clears everything up.

We’re still not doing great with the Census

There’s still time, but we have a lot of work to do.

Despite an extended deadline, local government cash infusions and grassroots campaigns to improve Houston’s 2020 census response rate, almost half of Houston households are still missing from the official count.

As of July 5, 52.5% of Houston’s estimated 2.32 million residents have completed the decennial survey, according to the most recent census data. In Harris County, the response has been about 56 percent.

But Houston is not alone. Across the country, many other large metropolitan areas are also struggling to get their populations counted, reporting similar self-response rates to Houston’s. In Los Angeles, the household response rate is 51.6%, while Chicago polls higher at 54.5%, and 53.1% in New York City.

Other cities in Texas have slightly greater household response rates so far, with Austin hovering around 60.4%, Fort Worth at 58.9%, and Dallas at 53.4%.

Texas ranks 40th in state census response, according to recent census findings. The state’s response rate of 56.7% lags behind the national rate of 61.9%. In 2010, the response rate was slightly higher at both the state and national levels, according to a recent report from Understanding Houston, which analyzed census data. The state had a 64.4% self-response rate compared with a national self-response rate of 66.5%.

With the deadline extended to Oct. 31, the hope is that more Texans will complete the survey, pulling the response rate up.

[…]

A 2019 study by Lopez Negrete Communications found that one helpful tool for ensuring people participate was through community action— which has become increasingly difficult with stay-at-home orders in place. Traditional forms of influence noted in the report include churches, schools, public events and community health clinics, yet many of these cultural and community centers remain closed.

It’s not hard to see why it’s been a challenge to get people to do the Census. If we can’t go door to door and can’t engage with the community, there’s only so much that can be done. It’s bad enough that the Lege didn’t appropriate any money for Census outreach, now we have Greg Abbott’s lousy handling of the pandemic acting as headwinds. Maybe we’ll be lucky and things will improve enough by October to make some more progress. I sure hope so.

Censuring Abbott

An amusing sideline, if nothing else.

Republicans in eight different Texas counties have now voted to censure Gov. Greg Abbott for his order requiring Texans to wear face coverings and take other protective measures as COVID-19 spreads throughout the state.

Over the weekend, the Henderson County Republican Party Executive Committee, just west of Tyler, held an emergency meeting to censure Abbott, a Republican, for not calling the Texas Legislature into a special session to help manage the COVID-19 emergency.

Since July 4, seven other county Republican Party Executive Committees around the state have approved censures of Abbott, including in Montgomery County, where they voted 40-0 on the censure.

The Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee’s censure resolution says Abbott has acted with “disregard to the Texas Constitution,” pointing to the mandated mask requirement for people in counties with at least 20 positive cases, limiting gatherings and the closing of bars across the state.

It’s similar to a censure resolution passed by Ector County Republicans in the Odessa-Midland area.

“The Ector County Republican Executive Board decided it would be a fitting day for us to send a clear message to Governor Abbott,” the party wrote on its Facebook page. “A message that we will no longer sit quietly while he over reaches his authority again, again, and again.”

I noted the Ector County resolution when it happened. Here’s the list so far, according to the sidebar:

Montgomery County
Ector County
Llano County
Harrison County
Denton County
Hood County
Eastland County
Henderson County

The ones who are arguing that Abbott needs to call a special session and involve the Legislature in some of these decisions are raising a fair point that deserves better elucidation than a Steven Hotze lawsuit. The ones that are basically an expression of “but I don’t wanna wear a mask!” can go pound sand, while wearing a mask. I think that about covers it.

Give reformers a seat at the police collective bargaining table

This is a clear path forward.

Chas Moore watched in shock one night in 2017 as Austin City Council voted on the city’s proposed police contract.

He and other criminal justice reformers had spent months observing contract negotiations and lobbying council members to reject a deal they said was too expensive and lacked crucial accountability measures.

The city’s 10 council members and mayor raised their hands to vote the deal down.

“I don’t think anyone thought that would happen,” said Moore, president of the Austin Justice Coalition. “Historically people fight police unions — and they do not win.”

The vote sent police back to the negotiating table, and the resulting contract included a slew of reforms — at half the cost of the previous version.

In Houston, that negotiating table is behind closed doors.

Activists here want to change that as the city and the police union negotiate a new contract this year. They are again seeking the right to observe deliberations and to try to change provisions they say protect officers accused of wrongdoing. But while other cities with similar bargaining rules allow residents to observe negotiations, Houston does not, aided by what critics say are gaps in the state’s government code that do not clearly require union contract negotiations to be open to the public.

Houston’s police budget in 2020 tallied about $911 million — by far the largest allocation in the city budget’s general fund. While other cities across the U.S. slashed police budgets, Houston’s City Council unanimously in June passed a budget with a $20 million increase for the police department.

The pressure for reform rose around the country in the wake of the killing of former Houston resident George Floyd in police custody, and organizers say it’s overdue here.

Not long after that Austin contract rejection, community organizers in Houston sought to observe police contract deliberations here.

Local criminal justice advocate Tarsha Jackson said she approached City Hall in 2018 to try to share community concerns — but the criminal justice reformer with the Texas Organizing Project said she found an opaque process.

“It was not public. It was like a guessing game,” Jackson said.

The contract was settled behind closed doors without them getting a chance to see it or offer their input.

“As we’re having these conversations around police accountability and reform, how can we have these conversations without the community?” Moore asked regarding the efforts around the country to get a seat at the table during contract negotiations.

We all recognize that a big piece of police reform must be done via the collective bargaining process. Given that, and given the action items that the reformers are seeking, they need a seat at the table or those items will not be addressed. The Lege can and should address some items as well, but they already have a lot on their plate, and it’s never a good idea to depend on a particular bill making it through the Lege, because so many things can happen to knock it off course. This is something we can do now, because the new CBA is coming up soon.

2020 primary runoff results: SBOE, Senate, House

Again, bullet points. Get used to it.

SBOE6 Dem: Michelle Palmer had a 65-35 lead after early voting, and that was pretty much all there was to it.

SBOE5 GOP: It’s much more boring and sedate, but the Republican candidate who didn’t arrive in a clown car, Lani Popp, defeated performance artist and semi-professional troll Robert Morrow. This is the best pickup opportunity for Dems, but since no one pays attention to SBOE races – the district are ginormous and candidates never have any money – there would have been a chance Morrow could have won if he’d been the nominee. Having Popp carry the GOP banner lowers the Dem chances slightly, but as we know from other elections it’s never a good idea for a chaos agent to be a viable candidate in any race. Whatever happens in November, this was the better outcome.

SD14 special election: Sarah Eckhardt has been over fifty percent all night. This may change by the morning, but as I type this she appears to be headed for a victory without a runoff.

UPDATE: The final results from Travis County show Sarah Eckhardt winning with 51.1%, but I’d forgotten that Bastrop County is also in SD14, and Eckhardt is only at 31% there thanks to 38% of the vote going to Republican Don Zimmerman. It appears that is enough to keep her under 50%, which means a runoff with Rep. Eddie Rodriguez.

SD19 Dem: State Rep. Roland Gutierrez has bounced back from his second place finish in March to lead 53-47 as I write this. Seems likely he’ll hand on.

SD27 Dem: Alas, Sen. Eddie Lucio has also hung on, leading 54-46 in the later evening. I believe he said this would be his last term. We can only hope.

State House Dem Sarah DeMerchant will get her third shot at HD26 in Fort Bend County. In Harris County, Akilah Bacy crushed it in HD138, Rep. Harold Dutton eked it out in HD142, and going late into the night, Penny Shaw was leading Anna Eastman in HD148. Eastman had a sizable lead in mail ballots – her campaign worked that pretty hard – but Shaw equaled that in early votes, and had a small but growing lead on Election Day. Anna’s a friend and I’m sad for her, but Shaw appears to be the nominee. I suspect – and I’d have said this regardless of who won – there will be another hotly contested primary in HD148 in 2022. It’s a fact of life with redistricting, and there’s a high potential for the neighborhoods in and around HD148 to be swapped in and out of various districts, as was the case in 2011. (I personally was at various times that year drawn into HDs 134, 143, 146, 147, and 148, before finally landing in 145. I can hardly wait to see what happens next.)

In Dallas, Lorraine Birabil, who had won the special election in HD100 and was leading by enough early on for me to say she had won, was trailing Jasmine Crockett by about 90 votes late in the evening, with three vote centers yet to report. (Hat tip to Scott Braddock and his indefatigable Twitter feed.) Elsewhere, Liz Campos won in HD119, while Lorenzo Sanchez (HD67) had a small lead. Two Republican incumbents were ousted, Dan Flynn (HD02) and JD Sheffield (HD59). Jacey Jetton had a modest lead in HD26.

UPDATE: Birabil is still trailing Crockett in HD100, but it’s not quite final yet.

UT-Tyler/DMN: Biden 48, Trump 43

Holy mackeral.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has built a 5-point lead over President Donald Trump in Texas, as unease over Trump’s handling of coronavirus mounts, a new Dallas Morning News-University of Texas Tyler poll has found.

If the general election were held today, Biden would carry Texas, with 46% of the vote to Trump’s 41%. 14% were undecided or named someone else.

Biden’s lead, which comes after he and Trump were tied 43%-43% in The News and UT-Tyler’s April survey, is significant, if barely: The poll, conducted June 29-July 7, has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.24 percentage points.

The story behind Biden’s slight bulge is the softening of the Republican incumbent’s support among independents and “weak partisans,” said Kenneth Bryant Jr., a UT-Tyler political scientist who helped design the poll. “While President Trump has and still enjoys near universal approval from Republicans, and overwhelming disfavor from Democrats, he has lost considerable ground among the folks in the middle, who may ultimately decide who wins Texas in November,” Bryant said.

Up to now, though, the Biden campaign has done little to demonstrate it’ll make a major effort before the Nov. 3 general election in Texas. The state hasn’t voted for a Democrat in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter carried the state in 1976.

The poll, the fourth of six tracking the 2020 election and current events by The News and the UT-Tyler Center for Public Opinion, also showed some movement, though not enough to be significant, by long-time Dallas state Sen. Royce West in Tuesday’s runoff for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

Purple Heart winner and political neophyte MJ Hegar of Round Rock, who has a big financial edge as well as late-hour help in the form of a TV ad blitz by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List, leads West, 32% to 20%, among Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, the poll found.

Since April, when Hegar led West, 32% to 16%, he’s closed the deficit with Hegar among women and college-educated voters to single digits. For Democratic voters, the poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.27 percentage points.

Neither Democrat gained much traction from the April survey as their party’s November standard bearer against three-term GOP incumbent Sen. John Cornyn: If the general election were held today, Cornyn would win a plurality of 37% against Hegar’s 26%, with 31% undecided, the latest poll found. Against West, Cornyn’s plurality would be slightly larger: 37% to West’s 25%, with 32% undecided.

The numbers in the headline of this post are different than the numbers cited in the story because the poll presented two results, one for registered voters and one for likely voters. Among registered voters (sample size 1,909), Biden leads 46-41. Among likely voters (sample size 1,677), it’s Biden 48-43 over Trump, as the headline notes. You can see both listed on the FiveThirtyEight page for Texas, though only the RV sample is given on the UT-Tyler PoliSci homepage.

As noted, in the April poll, Biden and Trump were tied at 43. (They finally have the RV sample for that poll published.) The funny thing is, if you look at the breakdown in each sample, the reason for the shift isn’t quite as pollster Kenneth Bryant puts it. In April, Biden led among Dems 84-6 and among indies 43-28, while Trump led among Republicans 87-5. In June, Biden led among Dems in the RV sample 87-4 and among indies 44-28, while Trump led among Republicans 87-9. In other words, Biden did a smidge better among Dems and Trump slipped a tiny bit among Republicans while indies were static. In the LV sample, however, Biden’s lead among indies jumped to 53-29, while the other numbers were the same. Indies were a bigger portion of the RV sample than the LV sample, so the larger shift was muted a bit by the larger partisan subgroups. My point here is that Biden’s advantage came from a bit of movement in all three subsamples.

As for the Senate race, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the numbers for now, as there are a lot of undecided voters in these samples – 33-34% of Dems in the RV sample, 24% of Republicans, and 41 or 43% of indies, with Hegar being the former numbers. (I went with the RV numbers here instead of the LV numbers because the LV numbers in the Hegar-Cornyn race are messed up.) That said, Cornyn draws more Dem support (13%) than Trump does without giving up more Republican support, so it’s not unreasonable to think Cornyn could run ahead of Trump. It’s too early to say on that score, but we’ll keep an eye on this once we have a single opponent for Cornyn. Hegar’s lead over West among Dem voters is a bit less now, but primary runoff polling is super tricky, so let’s not spend too much time on that, either.

One more number of interest, for the question “If the general election were today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate for the Texas State House?” – Democratic 52, Republican 48 in the RV sample, 52-47 in the LV sample. This is one point up for Dems and down for Republicans since April. Other polls generally don’t ask this kind of question so it’s hard to evaluate it as is, but there you have it anyway.

Finally, the approval numbers, which I’ll take from the RV sample. General approval:

Trump – 42 approve, 50 disapprove (42% disapprove strongly)
Greg Abbott – 54 approve, 31 disapprove
Dan Patrick – 37 approve, 37 disapprove

“Handling coronavirus” approval:

Trump – 38 approve, 52 disapprove (44% disapprove strongly)
Abbott – 48 approve, 40 disapprove
“Local leaders” (Mayors and County Judges) – 62 approve, 23 disapprove

Still good numbers for Greg Abbott, though softer on coronavirus. Clearly, everyone knows who’s doing the real work, though.

Believe it or not, there’s another poll out there, not quite as good for Biden but still strong. I’ll have that for tomorrow. And the eleven-poll average, using RV numbers from this poll to be consistent, is Trump 46.0, Biden 44.6, for a 1.4 point difference between the two. Pretty amazing, no?

Who wants to enforce Greg Abbott’s mask order?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Gov. Greg Abbott called on police across Texas to step up enforcement of his mask order amid the mounting pandemic, explaining Thursday that they can either “be part of the problem or part of the solution.”

Facing a revolt over the mandate within his conservative base, the governor acknowledged in a new round of interviews that masking is inconvenient, but said the alternative of locking the state down again is far worse.

“We have a short period of time in the next couple of weeks to bend the curve of this explosion in cases and hospitalizations,” he said in an interview on KSAT in San Antonio. “If we can enforce this, we will be able to keep the state open and reduce hospitalizations.”

Some local law enforcement officials, including the sheriffs in Montgomery and Gillespie counties, have refused to enforce the new order, citing personal liberties or enforcement logistics. On Wednesday, the Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee voted 40-0 to censure Abbott, joining at least three other county executive committees that have taken similar steps.

It’s more than just a few.

When Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide executive order requiring Texans to wear masks in public, he gave counties the opportunity to opt out if they have a low number of active coronavirus cases.

A week later, 78 counties have taken him up on that offer. And a handful of other local governments have insisted that they won’t enforce the order even though they don’t qualify for the opt-out provision. Officials cited a desire to preserve personal freedoms or concerns about enforcement.

“I think it’s an insult to Texans to be required to do something they should have discretion for,” said Hugh Reed, the top administrator for rural Armstrong County, near Amarillo, which opted out.

In a press release announcing the order, Abbott said that “wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19.” Public health experts broadly agree that masks slow the spread of the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend face coverings for anyone 2 or older in public settings.

The order came as coronavirus cases have grown quickly in the state. As of Thursday, more than 9,600 people were hospitalized with the virus.

In order to opt out of the requirement, the counties need to have 20 or fewer active COVID-19 cases. Given the spread of the virus in recent weeks, only counties that are sparsely populated and rural tend to qualify. Most are in conservative areas of the state.

Rex Fields, the top elected official in Eastland County, said Abbott’s option for counties with low coronavirus case counts “gives people some personal freedom.”

But a few local officials without that freedom are also choosing not to enforce the order. In Montgomery County, which has a population of over 600,000 and has reported more than 2,700 coronavirus cases so far, the sheriff’s office said July 3 that it would not take action on the mask rule.

“This order includes specific language prohibiting law enforcement from detaining, arresting, or confining to jail as a means to enforce the order,” the agency wrote in a press release. “This language strips law enforcement of the necessary tools to enforce compliance with the law.”

Yeah, so maybe undermining the rule of law was not a great idea. Greg Abbott could be in a position to insist that his order be enforced, if only Greg Abbott hadn’t so clearly demonstrated that Greg Abbott’s executive orders regarding COVID-19 are just suggestions.

That said, some places are more serious about trying to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Gov. Greg Abbott signaled his encouragement Wednesday to Austin city leaders to move forward on “additional enforcement mechanisms” related to a recent order Abbott issued requiring Texans to wear masks in most public spaces.

In a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Abbott said the city’s consideration of new enforcement measures “to ensure compliance with my Executive Orders is an important step toward reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).”

“As you know, these Orders were created and adopted based on advise from medical experts, and if these Orders are followed, we will be able to protect both public health and the livelihoods of our citizens,” he added.

The Austin-American Statesman reported Wednesday that the City Council will meet Thursday “to vote on a resolution that would allow for a fine of up to $2,000 for anyone violating a ‘health authority rule’ like not wearing a mask” and to take “civil action against any person who maintains a business or site that does not comply with minimum health standards.”

Another riddle solved, apparently. That resolution passed unanimously on Thursday. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before the Hotze contingent files a lawsuit against this, but in the meantime it’s something. (Hey, Greg! Now do letting counties issue stay-at-home orders.)

Now to be fair, if I’m going to advocate for letting local authorities have some of their authority to make local decisions back, I’m going to be circumspect about criticizing a small rural county with a still-low infection rate for not wanting to enforce a mask order. But let’s be clear that all parts of the state are vulnerable, and those lightly populated places also tend to be many miles away from hospitals, so their residents are in greater jeopardy should they get sick. The approach I’m looking for here is one that says “this is the minimum that counties must do – they can go above and beyond it within reason, but they have to do at least this much”. That philosophy has been distinctly lacking in recent years in this state.

But here we are, and here we once again face the worst case scenario, at least as far as Greg Abbott is concerned.

With Texas continuing to break records for new coronavirus deaths and hospitalizations this week, Gov. Greg Abbott reiterated Friday afternoon that things will continue to get worse. And if people keep flouting his new statewide mask mandate, he said, the next step could be another economic lockdown.

“Things will get worse, and let me explain why,” he told KLBK TV in Lubbock. “The deaths that we’re seeing announced today and yesterday — which are now over 100 — those are people who likely contracted COVID-19 in late May.

“The worst is yet to come as we work our way through that massive increase in people testing positive.”

Texans will also likely see an increase in cases next week, Abbott said, and people abiding by his face mask requirement might be the only thing standing between businesses remaining open and another shutdown.

“The public needs to understand this was a very tough decision for me to make,” Abbott told KLBK of his face mask mandate. “I made clear that I made this tough decision for one reason: It was our last best effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. If we do not slow the spread of COVID-19 … the next step would have to be a lockdown.”

And then when sheriffs in heavily Republican counties refuse to enforce that, then what? Say it with me now: None of this had to happen. But it did, and it’s Greg Abbott’s fault.

Greg Abbott has no one to blame but himself

Let’s be very clear about this.

Gov. Greg Abbott is under increasing political fire from fellow Republicans as well as Democrats as he responds to a sharp rise in coronavirus deaths — a record 112 on Wednesday and 106 on Thursday — by implementing more restrictions on Texans and increasingly warning of another shutdown if people fail to wear masks.

Prominent Democrats are blasting Abbott for reopening too quickly and shrugging off early warning signs. On the other side, county Republican Party committees are passing censures of Abbott for some of his latest orders, including one requiring people to wear masks in counties reporting at least 20 people infected with COVID-19. Those who violate the order face $250 fines, but no possibility of jail time.

On Wednesday, the Montgomery County Republican Executive Committee voted 40-0 to censure Abbott, joining at least three other county executive committees that have taken similar steps.

Even Republican state lawmakers are beginning to press Abbott to call a special session to cede some of the decision-making to them. State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said in a Fox News Channel interview that it’s time for the Legislature to be more involved and not just leave it all up to the governor.

“We have information and a lot of misinformation out there, honestly, that needs to be vetted by a legislative body,” Perry said.

It’s all coming as Abbott warns the daily number of deaths is going to keep rising.

“I think the numbers are going to look worse as we go into next week,” Abbott told Fox 26 in Houston during an interview Thursday night. “We need to make sure there are going to be plenty of hospital beds available in the Houston area.”

[…]

The criticism from Democrats comes days after Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Sunday on ABC’s This Week that she and other county and city officials need Abbott to give them the authority to issue stay-at-home orders again, calling it the surest way for them to get out of the crisis. She said leaders need to be taking bold aggressive steps because of how serious things have become in Houston and Texas overall. Abbott has so far declined.

“We don’t have room to experiment,” Hidalgo said. “We don’t have room for incrementalism, when we’re seeing these kinds of numbers, nor should we wait for all the hospital beds to fill and all these people to die before we take drastic action.”

I have many thoughts about this.

– The original sin in all this, from whence all other bad decisions and unenforceable actions flow, was the inexcusable, unfathomable, and completely self-inflicted Shelley Luther saga, which the Chron’s editorial board correctly identifies as a primary failing. It’s not just that Abbott took the teeth out of his own executive orders the very first time they ran into resistance, taking Luther off the hook like that – hell, turning her into a goddam folk hero, paying her court fees, bowing and scraping to her – it’s that this sent a very clear message that there are no consequences for violating any laws or orders related to coronavirus. You can draw a straight line from this to sheriffs saying they can’t or won’t enforce the current mask order, even as Abbott is now practically begging everyone to wear a mask. Turns out undermining the rule of law is a bad idea. Who knew?

– The problem with the Shelley Luther incident wasn’t just the undermining of the rule of law, or the evisceration of any consequences for pro-COVID behavior. It was the message it sent, from the top, that the people who didn’t feel like doing their part to fight the virus, who felt that their feelings and personal definition of “liberty” mattered more than anything else, were legitimate and needed to be handled as special and exceptional. Abbott could have very reasonably expressed empathy for Shelley Luther, said words to the effect of “I know this is hard, I know small businesspeople like her are suffering, but we have to bear down and really beat this virus back so that we can get back to normal life and business like we all want”. The fact that he didn’t is a clear and ongoing failure of leadership on his part.

– Yes, I know, that same message about “my feelings are bigger than your face mask” as well as pressure to “reopen the economy” came from Donald Trump as well, and Abbott had to be concerned about the heat he was getting from his fellow Republicans. I will note that other Republican governors, like Mike DeWine in Ohio, managed to figure this out. No one ever said that being Governor was going to be easy. If Greg Abbott didn’t have the fortitude to withstand the carping from the Steven Hotze wing of his party, then he has no business being Governor.

– Another self-inflicted wound in all this has been Abbott’s abrogation of the executive powers that Mayors and County Judges had exercised in the early days of the pandemic. Remember when cities and counties were issuing stay-at-home orders, and Abbott used that as justification for him not doing the same statewide because different counties have different needs? Abbott eventually and correctly bowed to pressure to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, but in doing so he basically took away all of the local decision-making power that Mayors and County Judges had. That has come back to bite him, as the big urban counties have been complaining for weeks about their need to respond to local conditions. The capper to this was the utterly ludicrous “you solved my riddle”, in which Abbott revealed that County Judges had the power all along to order businesses to require masks for their employees and customers, but he wasn’t going to tell them that, they had to figure that out on their own even though they had been loudly saying that getting more people to wear masks was the main thing they could do to help with the pandemic. Letting local authorities have more power to make local decisions was not only the better call for fighting the virus, it would have shifted a lot of the heat Abbott now feels from him to them, with “them” mostly being Democrats. When Abbott took their power away back in April, it was seen as him coming in to take credit for their work. Too bad for him that work wasn’t finished, because it’s all on him now.

– Let’s also not forget the fact that when Abbott announced his intent to reopen, he announced four criteria that were supposed to guide the reopening timeline. Those were declining case rates, declining positive test rates, enough contact tracers, and sufficient hospital capacity. Only that last one was ever met, and because the other three were completely ignored, the hospitals are now overwhelmed. A more far-sighted leader would have counseled patience, saying we need to reach these benchmarks before we get to do the things we want to do. But as established, Abbott isn’t a leader at all, and so here we are.

– Finally, and I have said this before as well, I do agree that at some point Abbott should have called a special session, partly to clarify his own executive powers and thus blunt some of the lawsuits that have been filed over stay-at-home and face mask orders, and partly to share the responsibility with the legislative body. Abbott has repeatedly shown that he likes to operate in a bubble, where he does his thing and no one gets to ask him any questions unless they’ve been pre-approved and invited to do so. I get that hating on the mainstream media is a standard part of the Republican playbook, but I think Abbott’s self-imposed isolation isn’t serving him well simply because he’s not hearing from anyone who isn’t in his inner circle. The Lege can serve as a foil, or at least a partner in taking the blame, but not when you’re a one-man show.

Every step of the way, Greg Abbott could have made better decisions. It was clear at the time he was making those decisions that he was choosing poorly. Now we are all facing the consequences of those bad decisions. Greg Abbott bears the responsibility for what happened. Never forget that.

A bullish take on the State House

From Mike Hailey of Capitol Inside:

The wildly unpredictable coronavirus appears to be fueling a massive blue wave that sweeps the Democrats back into power in the Texas House of Representatives with President Donald Trump as their all-time greatest ally.

With the president blowing up a submissive GOP in Texas and beyond, the Democrats are poised to take the Legislature’s lower chamber back as long they stay out of the way of the runaway train called the Trump campaign between now and November.

The Capitol Inside crystal ball foresees a cataclysmic November shaping up for the Republicans who could be on the verge of fumbling away the 38 Texas electoral votes and a U.S. Senate seat as well if Trump doesn’t pull off the biggest comeback in modern American history.

Barring a miraculous economy recovery that’s Trump’s only hope for a successful re-election bid, the tentative forecast here has the Democrats running up the score on the critical state House battlefield this fall with a net gain of at least 15 seats with the potential for more at the rate the Republicans are going now.

While the 2020 election is harder to predict than votes in the past, the current outlook for the Legislature’s lower chamber is a solid blue with a minimum of 82 Democrats and 68 Republicans or less taking the oath in January. The Democrats have a good chance to flip more than a half-dozen congressional districts in Texas with a toxic president leading the charge for the GOP. The minority party will oust GOP State Senator Pete Flores of Pleasanton in a district where he was lucky to win in the first place in a special election in 2018.

After predicting that Democrats would pick up 11 Texas House seats in 2018 when they wrestled a dozen away from the GOP, the crystal ball here sees Republican incumbents and open race candidates with cause for concern in any district where Trump failed to win less than two-thirds of the vote four years ago.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn would have won a new term in a November blowout if he hadn’t wrapped himself in a president who’d sought to portray the worst public health crisis in more than a century as a partisan hoax before ordering the military to attack peaceful protesters for the sake of a campaign photo op.

Cornyn might still have a 50-50 chance of surviving Trump in a development that could help minimize the down-ballot devastation that appears to be on the horizon for the Republicans here.

[…]

Texas Republicans have tried to dismiss the blue wave in 2018 as an offshoot of Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s strong showing as the minority party ticket leader in a battle that he almost won against U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. But the truth is that Trump had dramatically accelerated the conversion of Texas from red to blue with the results at the polls in 2016 and 2018 as obvious evidence of the unprecedented drain that he’s had on the Republicans here.

The Democrats would reclaim the state House with a net gain of nine seats. They could accomplish that simply by winning in every GOP-controlled district that O’Rourke carried two years ago.

Republicans will be running as underdogs in most of 17 House districts where Trump garnered less than 55 percent of the vote in his first White House race. Some of seven GOP candidates in House districts where the president claimed between 55 percent and 60 percent of the 2016 vote are probably going to lose as well.

At the top of the page, there’s a summary that predicts 15 seats picked up by Dems in the House, one seat picked up in the Senate, eight (!) Congressional seats flipped by Dems, and it also rates the US Senate and Railroad Commissioner races as tossups. Heady stuff, to say the least. The Dems are officially targeting something like 22 State House seats, so a net of plus fifteen is conceivable, if quite aggressive. Picking up eight Congressional seats means not only taking all of CDs 10, 21, 22, 23, and 24, but also three out of 02, 03, 06, 25, and 31. That’s way on the high end of my imagination – though I will note it’s right in line with the Rachel Bitecofer model – and I confess I have a hard time wrapping my brain around it. That said, you see bits like this excerpt from the Daily Kos Elections digest, and you wonder:

TX-06: The DCCC’s Targeting and Analytics Department has conducted an in-house poll that gives freshman Republican Rep. Ron Wright a small 45-41 lead over Democrat Stephen Daniel in a race that hasn’t attracted much outside attention. The survey also shows Joe Biden and Donald Trump deadlocked 46-46 here. This seat, which includes Arlington and rural areas south of Dallasbacked Trump 54-42, but last cycle, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz carried it just 51-48. Wright won his first term 53-45 in a contest that featured very little outside spending.

It’s an internal poll, so take it with an appropriate level of salt. But if it’s accurate, if CD06 really is a tossup for Biden, then at the very least those first five seats would all be leaning Dem to some degree, and the other four would be very tight as well. It’s way optimistic, but that doesn’t mean it’s unrealistic. The Texas Signal has more.

So how’s Greg Abbott doing post-mask order?

Greg Abbott consistently polls as the politician with the highest approval rating in the state. He was basking in adulation a few weeks ago when things were reopening and the coronavirus numbers still looked good. How are things going for him now that he’s had to shut down the bars and require masks and we’re all worried about the hospitals overflowing? Well, there’s this:

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office says it will not enforce Gov. Greg Abbott’s order requiring most Texans to wear masks when they’re in public.

In a statement, the agency said it “will take NO actions to enforce” the order, arguing that it is unenforceable because it doesn’t allow law enforcement to detain, arrest or jail violators.

“This language strips law enforcement of the necessary tools to enforce compliance with the law,” the agency said.

[…]

The sheriff’s office argued the order could subject it to civil liability if deputies stop someone for failing to wear a mask and it is misconstrued as a detention. The agency said “holding someone for the purpose of issuing a citation related to a fine is a legally defined detention under current Texas law.”

“We are in a public health crisis and we will use this opportunity to educate our community while still respecting individual liberties,” the sheriff’s office said.

They did say they would respond to a call from a business who had a customer who refused to wear a mask upon entering. Sheriffs from a couple of other Republican counties have made similar statements as well. I mean, I can kind of see their point here, and as we know Greg Abbott basically destroyed the legitimacy of any kind of enforcement mechanism for mask and stay-at-home orders in the Shelley Luther debacle. It’s still a bit stunning to see a Republican sheriff say publicly that they won’t do what Abbott wants them to do. They appear to have no fear of political blowback.

Which leads us to this:

The Ector County Republican Party voted Saturday to censure Gov. Greg Abbott, accusing him of overstepping his authority in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, while state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, called for a special session so lawmakers could have a say in how Texas proceeds amid soaring caseloads.

The party executive committee in Ector County, home to Odessa, passed the censure resolution 10-1, with one abstention and three voting members who were not present, according to the chairperson, Tisha Crow. She said she was among those who supported the resolution, which accuses Abbott of violating five party principles related to his exercise of executive power during the pandemic.

While the resolution asks that delegates to the state convention later this month consider — and affirm — Ector County’s action, Crow said consideration is “not guaranteed,” and one precinct chair, Aubrey Mayberry, said the resolution “doesn’t have any teeth” for now — but that it was important to send a message about what they consider Abbott’s overreach.

Mayberry, who voted for the resolution, said he was working with precinct chairs in other Texas counties to get similar resolutions passed ahead of the convention.

That’s a pretty direct slap in the face, and with the state GOP convention almost upon us, the potential for this to become A Thing is substantial. Will that represent some steam that has been blown off, or will it be the first step towards a serious rebellion? That’s an excellent question.

[State Sen. Charles] Perry wrote Saturday on Facebook that he is “deeply concerned about the unilateral power being used with no end in sight.”

“This is why I urge Governor Abbott to convene a special session to allow the legislature to pass legislation and hold hearings regarding the COVID-19 response,” Perry said. “It should not be the sole responsibility of one person to manage all of the issues related to a disaster that has no end in sight.”

In the upper chamber, state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, has also called for a special session, as have several House Republicans.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer had previously called on Abbott to work with the Legislature on COVID response instead of acting so unilaterally, though he’s a Democrat and I didn’t see the words “special session” in that article. As I have said repeatedly, the extent of the Governor’s emergency powers is a subject that really demands further discussion, and so far all we’ve gotten is a bunch of Hotze/Woodfill lawsuits, which is the worst possible way to come to a decision about what Abbott and whoever succeeds him can and cannot do. Among other things, I think this is exposing a real weakness in our 20-weeks-every-other-year legislative calendar, precisely because there’s a lot of things that the Lege can and should be doing right now, but is unable to because they’re not in session. The same was true in 2017 following Hurricane Harvey, though at least there everyone understood what the emergency actions were for and there was a clearer metric for when they would be lifted.

I would argue that legislators need to think about proposing some constitutional amendments to 1) more clearly define the parameters of the Governor’s executive power, and 2) maybe automatically trigger a special session under certain crisis conditions. I obviously haven’t thought this all through, and I don’t want to see legislators rushing forth with half-baked ideas, but I am serious that we need to take a look at this. The current model of “Governor hands down orders from on high that no one knew were coming and then gets sued by a couple of crackpots from Houston so that the courts can eventually sort it all out” doesn’t seem like it’s sustainable.

Interview with Rep. Chris Turner

Rep. Chris Turner

I’ve done two interviews about redistricting so far, with both of them focused on the litigation aspect of it, which in turn had a focus on Congress. Today I want to pay more attention to the Legislature, which is not only where redistricting originates but also itself a big part of the fight. State Rep. Chris Turner is the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, representing HD101 in Tarrant County. That was a new district created in 2011 due to population growth in Tarrant County, and while it represented a third Democratic district in Tarrant, it was also a place to pack Democrats so the eight-member Republican caucus from Tarrant could have easier elections. Turner was elected to a different Tarrant County seat in 2008, lost it in the 2010 wave, and has served in HD101 since 2013. Tarrant is a major battleground for control of the State House in 2020, in part due to demography and in part due to the Trump effect on college-educated white voters. We talked about the effects of the 2011/2013 maps, and what we have to look forward to in the Lege in 2021. Here’s the conversation:

Previous interviews in this series: Redistricting legal expert Michael Li, and Congressman Marc Veasey. I have more of these in mind and will bring them to you as I can.

More and better police data, please

Like this.

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement will ask nearly 2,000 Texas law enforcement agencies to resubmit information legislators intended be used to analyze whether police were treating minority motorists differently — but which turned out to be worthless because TCOLE neglected to ask departments to include the race of the drivers in some of the data.

The change comes days after Hearst Newspapers published a story detailing how the information, required by the 2017 Sandra Bland Act, was impossible to use.

“I’m trying to jump on it pretty fast,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, a sponsor of the bill, who said he spoke Monday morning with TCOLE and they had agreed to correct the problem.

Coleman said he also has asked the agency to work with academic experts to ensure the information it is asking of Texas law enforcement agencies can be used to actually conduct racial bias analyses. Alex del Carmen, a criminal justice professor at Tarleton State University who helps train police executives, said he worked Sunday to create a survey that would produce the necessary information.

Coleman said the new list of questions will be used to gather the information for 2020. But he added the agency said it would also contact police departments to ask them to redo their 2019 surveys, originally submitted in March.

I mean, I’m glad this is happening now, but it’s more than a little embarrassing that the initial data collection was this lacking. Whose job was it to do quality assurance? Kudos to the Chron for bringing this to light.

And let me just add, while it is quite fashionable now to dunk on the idea of “running government like a business”, as someone who has worked for a Large Corporation for many years, this kind of data collection is absolutely the sort of things successful businesses do. It’s critical, to know if what you’re doing is working, to identify and learn from errors, to spot trends and respond to them, and so on and so forth. And really, it’s not that hard to do. Shame on TCOLE for such a shoddy first effort.

And also like this.

Two state lawmakers who reviewed a copy of the Houston Police Department’s audit of its narcotics division are calling on Chief Art Acevedo to release the document to the public.

“The reality is, there’s nothing in this the public should not be aware of,” Texas Sen. Paul Bettancourt said. “The real question is, what are they going to do about it?”

The police department performed the audit after last year’s disastrous Harding Street raid. Two homeowners died in the raid, and investigators later accused former officer Gerald Goines of lying to obtain the warrant on which he based the raid. He is now charged with murder.

In the wake of the incident, the police department launched an internal criminal probe, along with an administrative audit of the Narcotics Division.

[…]

In February, after questions from the Chronicle, Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, and a coalition of other Houston-area state representatives called on Acevedo to make the document public. The chief balked, saying he did not want to endanger the county’s criminal case against Goines and said the document included the names of undercover officers and could reveal information about confidential informants.

Because of the nondisclosure agreement, Wu said he could not comment on the specifics of the document. But he said that reviewing it only confirmed his belief that it should be public.

“Even without the redactions, there is little that can be gleaned from it that is not already public knowledge or could in any sense jeopardize an ongoing investigation or prosecution,” he said.

Yes, release the audit. The public needs to know. The criminal case will be fine – Kim Ogg is filing a bunch more charges now, in part because everyone involved seems to have a problem with telling the truth – but even if that were a problem, this is HPD’s mess. They need to come clean. The Chron editorial board and Odus Evbagharu, Chief of Staff to State Rep. Jon Rosenthal, have more.

UPDATE: And just like that, a draft of the audit was released on Twitter. Here’s a Chron story about it. Now let’s see some followup on this, because audits are all about actions.

What should Joe Biden do in Texas?

“Win” would be my preferred answer, but it’s more complicated than that.

No matter how frequently it happens, it’s always a bit startling.

Ever since February 2019, polls have been coming out indicating that former Vice President Joe Biden is competitive with — sometimes even leading — President Donald Trump in Texas. A June 3 poll by Quinnipiac University gave Trump a 1-percentage-point lead in the state. A recent FiveThirtyEight roundup of “key battleground state” polls taken since May 1 shows Trump up by an average of 1.5 points here.

And every time a survey is released, the same questions arise: Is 2020 the year deep red Texas flips to the Democrats? Is Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in trouble as well?

But for many in politics, the consideration is slightly different: The state is clearly more competitive. But even if Biden can compete here, how seriously will he choose to?

The answer to that question is more complicated. For Biden and his allied groups, making a run for Texas is no simple task and there are strategic considerations beyond looking at the polls. The most immediate objectives for national Democrats in 2020 are to recapture the White House and Senate majority. And Texas is far from necessary for either.

Recent polls have suggested Biden might hold an even stronger position in other states that Trump won in 2016 — Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and even Georgia. And because of its vast size, numerous media markets and massive population, Texas is more expensive to compete in. The paths to victory for Biden are so great in number, it’s hard for many political operatives to imagine a scenario where Texas would flip where it would be anything other than icing on the cake in a much broader national victory.

In other words, the cost of seriously trying to win Texas would almost certainly be high, while there’s a decent chance that the reward would ultimately prove inconsequential.

Below the surface, however, the presidential race in Texas still matters — an underperformance by Trump compared to recent history has the potential to reset Texas politics for the next decade. The central question in the political class every time one of these polls is released five months out from Election Day is: What kind of down-ballot damage could Republicans potentially suffer if Biden has coattails?

You know the polling situation; as of the most recent poll, where Biden led Trump by one point, Trump led in Texas by an average of 2.0 points. That’s a smidge less than the Ted Cruz margin of victory over Beto in 2018, and as disappointed as we all were with that result, we saw the effect downballot. I for one would not mind an encore of that kind of performance. What it all comes down to is two competing factors from Biden’s perspective. One is that he doesn’t need to win Texas to take the Presidency. If Texas is truly winnable for him, then he’s pretty much assured to have enough electoral votes to have won. I mean, if Texas is flipping, then surely Arizona and Florida and North Carolina and maybe even Georgia have gone blue, and the rout is on. Texas is an insanely expensive state to compete in, with something like 27 media markets for ad buys. The bang for your buck is much bigger in the old faithfuls like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Boring, but no one wants to take anything for granted.

On the other hand, that same downballot effect is a real thing for Biden to consider. There’s a Senate race here, which is likely going to be roughly as competitive as the Presidential race is. It sure would be nice to have another Dem in the Senate, and that makes Texas a twofer for Biden, which isn’t true for Florida or Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. (North Carolina and Arizona and Georgia and Iowa, on the other hand…) Plus, there are multiple Congressional seats available for pickup, one of which offers the chance to defenestrate Ted Cruz minion Chip Roy. Even the battle for the Texas State House is important, as that would give the Dems some leverage in drawing the next Congressional map. One would hope that Joe Biden learned the lesson of 2010 well enough to consider the advantage of flipping the State House here.

So of course I want Biden to compete here, as seriously as possible. I want Dems to win as many races as possible, and I can’t think of anything that would be a bigger psychological blow to the Republicans, both nationally and here, than seeing Texas go Democratic in a Presidential election. It would sure be a hell of a momentum boost headed into 2022, which for us is an even bigger election. (Another advantage for Biden: The possibility of throwing out the single biggest cause of ridiculous anti-Democratic lawsuits, AG Ken Paxton.) If he has to raise more money to afford it, then get on that. I understand the cost/benefit analysis, but I’m not going to claim to be impartial here. You have a real shot here, Joe Biden. Don’t throw it away.

Interview with Rep. Marc Veasey

Rep. Marc Veasey

When I came up with the idea to do a series of interviews about redistricting, Rep. Marc Veasey was among the first people I wanted to talk to. He was a State Rep in 2011 when the original maps were passed, and then he got elected as the first member of Congress in CD33, one of the new districts created in that 2011 session. He was one of the litigants in the consolidated case that made it to the Supreme Court (he was also one of the main litigants in the voter ID lawsuit; the 2010s were a busy decade for Rep. Veasey), and I wanted to get the insight from someone who was in this fight from the beginning. As a member of the now-Democratic majority US House, he’s also got a role to play in making the landscape better in the 2020’s, with legislation to make redistricting fairer that will also generally expand voting rights. Here’s what we talked about:

Here’s my interview with redistricting expert Michael Li if you haven’t listened to it yet. I hope to have more of these in the coming weeks.