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Day 11 quorum busting post: The Beto factor

Early on I mentioned how one potentially limiting factor in the Democratic exodus to Washington DC was funding, as housing and feeding 50+ people in the Capitol for up to four weeks would run into some money. Turns out, Beto O’Rourke had that covered.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke has funneled $600,000 to Texas House Democrats in Washington, D.C., to help fund their stay, which could last for up to another two weeks as the lawmakers attempt to block passage of a GOP election bill at the state Legislature.

Powered by People, the group started by the former presidential candidate and El Paso congressman, will wire the funds to the Texas House Democratic Caucus sometime this week, according to state Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston.

The money will be used to help offset costs for lodging, meals and transportation as over 50 Democrats and roughly two dozen staffers stay in the nation’s capital. Members left Texas about 10 days ago and have said they plan to stay out of state until after the special session ends Aug. 6.

The funds will also help pay for costs associated with a virtual voting rights conference the caucus helped to host this week, Walle told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday.

O’Rourke announced the news during that virtual conference Thursday morning, saying that his group will continue fundraising for the Democrats in Washington.

“We’re gonna make sure that we get the full amount, 100% of what’s raised, to y’all,” he told lawmakers. “It is the least that we could do for everything that you all are doing for us. We want to do more.”

Walle said that the infusion of funds will go toward Democrats’ goal of raising $1.5 million to continue to help pay for the bills while in Washington. The caucus, he said, is “on a good pace to meet that goal.”

There are a number of ways that this exodus could end badly for the Dems. Running out of money and having to visibly scramble to cover living expenses would be one of them, made worse only by having to slink back home because there were no other choices. That outcome at least should be avoided, for which we can all be grateful. (And we could chip in a few bucks, if we felt so moved.)

And Beto’s role in this is appreciated.

Whether Beto O’Rourke is ready to run for governor or not, the Texas House Democrats’ fight over voting rights has already given him a springboard if he decides to take the plunge.

Over the past several weeks, the former presidential candidate from El Paso has been their biggest promoter, holding fundraisers with celebrities, co-organizing a 1960s-style civil rights march with prominent national leaders, and writing big checks to cover expenses for the Texas House and Senate Democrats who fled to Washington, D.C. to stop an elections bill.

It has all given O’Rourke a new boost of national media interviews and political relevance at a critical time for statewide candidates in Texas to build momentum if they are going to have a shot in an election cycle that starts faster than in most states because of the early primaries in March.

“They are keeping the coals hot on issues like election reform and redistricting, which Beto would try to leverage in 2022,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political science professor.

While Democratic activists are pushing O’Rourke to get into the governor’s race, he insists he’s not thinking about that right now and is focused on fighting the elections bills Texas Republicans are trying to pass.

[…]

What O’Rourke is doing is a rarity in Texas politics, an arena where few are willing to pitch in without getting payback, said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

“He’s built an authentic platform with a lot of Texans and put it to good use to help us,” he said.

State Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, said the donations that O’Rourke has been sharing have been a big morale boost. He said seeing so many Texans giving small donations to help the cause has lifted spirits as the Democrats in D.C. push ahead.

“It’s meant the world to us,” Walle said. “It’s been a shot in the arm.”

Yet while O’Rourke may not be looking for an immediate tradeoff, he still benefits in a big way from what the House Democrats have done.

Rottinghaus said the Democrats’ battle over voting rights has teed up the very issues that O’Rourke would want to talk about on a campaign for governor.

“Now all they need is for him to step into the tee box,” Rottinghaus said.

One can only hope that is being communicated. I feel reasonably confident that Beto will have plenty of volunteer and establishment energy if and hopefully when he announces his candidacy. In the meantime, he’s definitely helping.

Day 9 quorum busting post: See you in August

Here’s your endgame, more or less.

Texas House Democrats will not return to the state until after the special session of the Legislature is over, one of the leaders of their walkout confirmed Tuesday.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said they expect to return to Texas on Aug. 7 — when the 30-day special session aimed at passing new voting restrictions is required to end.

“It will be our plan on that day — on or about — to return back to Texas,” Martinez Fischer told advocates of a group Center for American Progress Action Fund, that is led by former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, a Democrat. “Then we will evaluate our next option.”

[…]

He said Democrats want to soften some of the “sharp edges” of the voting restrictions Republicans are proposing — specifically, how the GOP bill enables felony charges against election officials who violate its provisions, as well as for people who help voters fill out their ballots without the proper documentation, even for inadvertent offenses.

“There really has been no attempt to negotiate in good faith,” he said. “We are all putting our hopes in a federal standard.”

Other Texas Democrats have said their plan right now is to keep their caucus unified and focused on spurring national action. State Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, said Abbott’s threats to have them arrested or to call more special sessions don’t mean much to her.

“Our presence here together ensures that those Texans who are not being heard by Gov. Greg Abbott continue to be stood up for,” Johnson said.

Democrats on Tuesday said while in Washington, they are pushing for a meeting with President Joe Biden and were continuing to meet with key leaders. That included a strategy session with U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, a top leader in the House from South Carolina.

But if the Texans are counting on Congress acting, they don’t have much time. The U.S. House goes on its annual August recess starting July 30 and the U.S. Senate leaves a week later. Neither returns to Washington until after Labor Day.

When Texas Democrats do finally return, Abbott has made clear he’ll call them back into special session again to pass an elections bill and other key priorities of Republicans who control the agenda in state politics. The Texas Constitution allows the governor to call as many special sessions as he wants, but each cannot last for more than 30 days.

It’s the Senate that matters, and their recess (assuming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer allows it in full) corresponds to the end of Special Session #1. The House is not the problem for the Dems. Same story, different day.

Timing may be a problem for Greg Abbott, as Harvey Kronberg suggests.

HK: Article X Veto may have compromised full Republican control of redistricting

In theory at least, Democrats may have leverage they should not otherwise have; Article X cannot be revived without a special and with a hard August 20 deadline looming, the Legislature is on the edge of mutually assured destruction

“The Democrats’ claims about the governor’s veto ‘cancelling’ the legislative branch are misleading and misguided. The Constitution protects the legislative branch, and as the Democrats well know, their positions, their powers and their salaries are protected by the Constitution. They can continue to legislate despite the veto” – Gov. Greg Abbott, responding to the Democrats’ Texas Supreme Court request to overturn his Article X veto.

Let’s be clear up front.

The conventional wisdom is that although there is a threat of arrest upon arrival, the House Democrats will come back at some point and watch Republicans pass some version of their election bill. A substantive question is whether the bill becomes more punitive due to Republican anger over the quorum break.

Let’s not bury the lede here. The House is boiling and Governor Abbott’s veto of legislative funding could conceivably lead to Republican loss of control in redistricting. While there is much chest beating and both feigned and real anger over the quorum bust, it camouflages a much bigger issue.

The rest is paywalled, but I was able to get a look at it. The basic idea is that per Comptroller Glenn Hegar, the state has until August 20 to reinstate legislative funding for the software to be updated in time to write checks for the next fiscal year beginning September 1. If that hasn’t happened by then, the Texas Legislative Council, which does all of the data crunching for redistricting, goes offline. No TLC, no ability to draw new maps. Pretty simple, as far as that goes.

What happens next is unclear. If the Lege can’t draw maps, that task falls to a federal court for the Congressional map. They wouldn’t have the needed data, and they wouldn’t have a default map to use as a basis, since the existing map is two Congressional districts short. The Legislative Redistricting Board draws the House, Senate, and SBOE maps if the Lege doesn’t, but they wouldn’t have data either, and per Kronberg “the LRB cannot constitutionally convene until after the first regular session in which census numbers have been received. (Article 3, Section 28).” Which is to say, not until 2023. You begin to see the problem.

Now maybe funding could be restored quickly, if Abbott were to call everyone back on August 8 or so. But maybe some TLC staffers decide they don’t need this kind of uncertainty and they move on to other gigs. Maybe Abbott declares another emergency and funds the TLC himself, though that may open several cans of worms when the litigation begins. Maybe the Supreme Court gets off its ass and rules on the line item veto mandamus, which could settle this now. Indeed, as Kronberg points out, the amicus brief filed by the League of Women Voters is expressly about the failure of the Lege to do its constitutional duty in the absence of funding for the TLC.

There are a lot of things that could happen here, and Kronberg is just positing one scenario. His topline point is that any outcome that includes a court drawing maps is a big loss for Republicans, for obvious reasons. Does that provide some incentive for “good faith negotiation”, if only as a risk mitigation for the Republicans? I have no idea.

One more thing:

When Texas Democrats staged a walkout at the end of the regular legislative session in late May, they successfully killed Republicans’ prized bill: a slew of restrictions on voting statewide. Or that’s how it seemed at the time, at least.

Less than three weeks later, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a special legislative session specifically aimed at passing an equivalent version of the so-called election integrity bill alongside other conservative legislative priorities.

The same day Abbott announced his plan for the special session, AT&T, whose CEO has said the company supports expanding voting rights nationwide, gave Abbott $100,000 to fund his reelection campaign.

[…]

In April, AT&T CEO John Stankey told The Hill that the company believes “the right to vote is sacred and we support voting laws that make it easier for more Americans to vote in free, fair and secure elections.”

In an email, an AT&T spokesperson said, “Our employee PACs contribute to policymakers in both major parties, and it will not agree with every PAC dollar recipient on every issue. It is likely our employee PACs have contributed to policymakers in support of and opposed to any given issue.”

How could the left hand possibly know what the right hand is doing? It’s a mystery, I tell you.

Day 3 not as long omnibus quorum busting post

Let’s jump right in…

Who’s paying for Texas Democrats’ trip to DC? Beto O’Rourke has already raised $400K.

Beto O’Rourke’s political action committee has raised nearly half a million dollars to support Texas Democrats’ escape to Washington, D.C., he said Tuesday night.

O’Rourke, a former El Paso congressman and possible 2022 candidate for governor, has been soliciting donations for the Democrats on Twitter since they fled to the nation’s capital on Monday. It’s the second time House Democrats have broken quorum in about six weeks to kill a controversial elections bill championed by Texas’ GOP leaders.

The PAC, Powered By People, has raised more than $430,000 so far, O’Rourke said.

“Up to them to use it for whatever keeps them in the fight for as long as it takes,” he said.

The 60 or so fugitive Democrats have repeatedly said that no taxpayer dollars are funding the expenses for their stay in Washington, which could last as long as Aug. 7, the end of the special session in Austin. Legislators have been using campaign funds and personal funds, they said.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said he paid for the first night of hotel rooms and meeting spaces for the group on Monday.

The effort has garnered national attention, and some celebrities have joined the fundraising push. Texas icon Willie Nelson and his wife, Annie, matched $5,000 in donations on Tuesday.

The Trib also covered this topic. Greg Abbott has been out there claiming the Dems are using taxpayer funds for this journey, which is nonsense. As I said up front, of course this is going to be a fundraising opportunity for the Dems, partly because firing up the base is a key component and partly because they’re going to need it. It’s pretty simple.

Behind the partisan drama lies a profoundly serious struggle over who gets shut out under Texas voting laws.

The dramatic exodus of Democratic Texas lawmakers to block a Republican voting bill has choked the political airways in a haze of confusion, posturing and finger-pointing.

But beneath the smoke, a fire rages.

Many Democrats, especially those who are people of color, are incensed, seeing the latest Republican voting bill as another moment of crisis in a state they believe has long marginalized people like them in the halls of power.

Many Republicans, passions stoked by unsubstantiated claims of widespread voting fraud, see their hold on political power slipping away, and are clamoring for a firewall.

The struggle over voting rights in Texas goes beyond the legislative theatrics of the moment. It is fundamentally a clash not just of elected officials, but of the two constituencies they represent. It is a fight over whose voices will be heard that began long before the Democrats shut down the Texas Legislature, and the stakes are not trivial.

The two days preceding the Democratic flight offered a microcosm of the standoff.

[…]

In the lead up to their quorum break, Democrats appeared frustrated at Republicans’ lack of consideration for the fallout voters of color could face from their proposals. Throughout the legislative debates, they’ve repeatedly pressed GOP bill authors on whether they’ve sought disparate impact studies to assess if their new voting rules would disproportionately harm voters of color. (Republicans have consistently responded they have not.)

But Democrats’ retort since fleeing the state — that their actions are an extreme but necessary effort at safeguarding their own communities from the Republicans in charge of the state — have underlined the reason behind their destination.

Conceding they don’t have the sufficient numbers to block the Texas legislation indefinitely, they have thrust their fight onto the national stage in hopes of helping increase pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation to restore sweeping protections for voters of color.

“Texas’ generations-long pattern of discrimination is not in the past; it is alive and present today in the anti-voter bills before the Texas State Legislature,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said in a statement about the quorum break. “This is part of a calculated and deliberate Republican plan to chip away at the freedom to vote and to choose our leaders.”

Their remarks echoed the series of federal court rulings in recent years that found state lawmakers have repeatedly and intentionally discriminated against voters of color, often by diluting the power of their votes in selecting their representatives.

The high-stakes fight in Congress centers on a pair of federal bills, including one that could place Texas, and other states with a history of discrimination against voters of color, back under federal supervision of its election laws and redistricting.

For decades, that oversight — known as preclearance — proved to be a powerful mechanism for keeping Texas laws and political maps from going into effect until the Department of Justice or a federal court ensured they wouldn’t undermine the voting rights of people of color.

Before it was wiped out by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, preclearance forestalled the adoption of the state’s 2011 redistricting maps before they were revised by the federal courts. It also kept Texas from immediately implementing its stringent voter ID law, which was eventually slightly rewritten as a result of the legal intervention over the way it targeted Hispanic and Black voters who were less likely to have the one of the IDs that were not required to cast a ballot.

Texas Democrats have been able to easily align their efforts with calls for the restoration of those protections because they would wholly benefit the voters of color that are in the majority in most of their districts. Republicans’ political base is more likely to be made up of older, white Texans, while Democrats rely on a more diverse electorate with huge vote counts coming in from the state’s urban metros.

A lot of this is going to be about attention and headlines and winning hearts and minds and news cycles, but at the core there’s a serious policy issue, and Dems are giving it the level of commitment they believe it deserves. I hope that’s one of the messages that gets through to lower-information voters.

‘We are in a state of crisis’ Texas Black faith leaders speak against voter suppression legislation.

In a press conference on Tuesday highlighting Texas Republicans latest push on voter suppression bills, Black faith leaders from across the state asked Gov. Greg Abbott for a meeting to discuss voting legislation.

In addition to the meeting, leaders also asked constituents to participate in the Push Democracy Forward and the Austin Justice Coalition Prayer and Justice March on Voter Suppression at the steps of the Austin Capitol on July 15.

According to Dixon, buses will be provided in cities across the state for constituents who want to participate in the march.

“Texas is headed toward a dangerous tipping point,” Bishop James Dixon, President of the Houston chapter of the NAACP said. “We are indeed a state and a nation in crisis.”

The Black clergy said they are hoping to provide spiritual and moral leadership in the community regarding voting rights.

“We intend to make it clear that this issue is more than political,” Dixon said. “People are being misunderstood and the truth is being misrepresented.”

Dixon also said the Black clergy will be sending an open letter to non-Black clergy colleagues to meet and stand in solidarity.

“We all read from the same Bible thus we should be able to stand together for justice,” Dixon said.

Furthermore, Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III said Austin is the new Selma.

“We’re coming to Austin to say Texas, America, you must be born again,” Haynes said. “Voter suppression and democratic subversion taking place in Texas is a result of an addiction to the big lie and it’s connectected to the terrorist sedition of Jan. 6.”

Not much you can say to that except “Amen”.

Scenarios: Where Texas Dems go from here.

Texas Democrats made national news this week when they once again denied a quorum in the state legislature, preventing the Texas House from conducting business and thus preventing the passage of an egregious voter suppression bill.

So what happens next? Democrats have some options here.

1. LOBBYING TO PASS FEDERAL VOTING RIGHTS LEGISLATION
In flying to D.C. to break quorum, Democrats are continuing their work in a different forum. Their presence expresses urgency to President Biden, Senator Schumer, and Speaker Pelosi to use their majorities to pass federal voting rights legislation.

This is bigger than just Texas, because what we’re seeing in the Lone Star State is what we also saw in state legislative chambers around the country – Donald Trump’s claim that he lost the election due to unsubstantiated voter fraud, also known as “The Big Lie,” has become the basis for voter suppression laws around the country.

Things like limiting the number of polling places in cities but not in rural areas, limiting access to vote by mail, limiting voting hours, criminalizing clerical errors on voter registration cards, allowing judges to overturn elections simply based on claims and not evidence, and empowering partisan poll watchers to interfere with balloting are some of the more egregious efforts in these bills.

Democrats must use their national leverage to protect our free and fair elections, and neither Donald Trump nor state legislatures should be allowed to stifle those elections.

Door #2 is “Keep delaying the special session”, perhaps until the Supreme Court settles the legislative funding veto; Door #3 is “Republicans can negotiate”; and Door #4 is “Democrats return, nothing changes”. We don’t want to open Door #4.

That’s all for today. Tune in tomorrow when I may do another one of these.

The Texas Dem legislators and the push for federal voting rights legislation

We know this happened.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday pointed to Texas Republicans’ push for sweeping new voting restrictions as a key illustration of the need to restore federal oversight of elections.

While meeting at the White House with a group of Democratic members of the Texas Legislature, Harris pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling to nullify the lynchpin of the landmark Voting Rights Act that kept states like Texas under “preclearance” of its voting laws to safeguard the rights of voters of color — a measure Democrats are hoping to bring back with new federal legislation.

“We have seen exactly what we feared when that case came down in 2013. Because that case was an opening of a door to allow states to do what otherwise we have protected against, which is states putting in place laws that are designed, in many cases quite intentionally, to make it difficult for people to vote,” Harris said. “And so this is what we’ve seen over and over again, and what’s happening right now in Texas is, of course, a very clear and current example of that.”

Harris’ remarks came at the start of a meeting with 16 Democratic members of the Texas Legislature. The vice president, who is leading the Biden administration’s voting rights efforts, invited the lawmakers to the White House after state representatives in May staged an 11th hour walkout of the state Capitol to break quorum and prevent a final vote on what is considered one of the most restrictive GOP-backed state voting bills following the 2020 election. On Wednesday, Harris called the Democrats “courageous leaders” and “American patriots.”

The bill Democrats defeated, Senate Bill 7, would have brought sweeping changes to Texas elections by restricting voting hours, narrowing local officials’ control of elections, further tightening the rules for voting by mail and bolstering access for partisan poll watchers, among several other provisions.

[…]

In a series of meetings with U.S. senators and congressional leaders, Democrats have been using the trip — and the national attention their quorum break garnered — to push for a pair of federal bills that could preempt portions of the Texas legislation they temporarily prevented from becoming law and restore expansive protections for voters of color. With Republicans in full control of the Legislature, Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to call lawmakers back this summer for a special legislative session to pass the bill into law.

The far-reaching federal For the People Act would overhaul elections, requiring states like Texas to offer automatic and same-day voter registration. Under the law, Texas would also have to drop its tight eligibility requirements for voting by mail, among several other changes to state law. The more narrowly tailored John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act could place Texas back under federal oversight so its election laws could not go into effect before the federal government ensured they wouldn’t undermine the voting rights of people of color.

Under preclearance, various sets of political maps and voting restrictions were placed on hold with federal courts repeatedly finding Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color in drawing them up.

The point of preclearance, and the reason for the urgency, is that in a world where preclearance has been restored, any new legislation that affects voting in any way will have to be reviewed before it can be implemented. In the world we’re in now, those bills go into effect until and unless they are put on hold by a federal court after a lawsuit has been filed. As we know from the past decade’s experience with voter ID and redistricting, there’s no reason to expect that to happen. The federal bills would re-establish preclearance in some updated fashion – remember, the Shelby decision was predicated on the fact that the formula used to determine which states needed to be under preclearance was outdated, and it said that Congress could fix that.

The key, though, is that this would only affect state laws passed afterwards. If SB7 had been passed, or if it passes before Congress can enact its bill, then preclearance doesn’t apply. That’s why the quorum break, which doomed SB7 for now, was so consequential, and why the Texas Dem legislators are good spokespeople for getting that ball rolling. I don’t know what will happen in terms of the Congressional calendar – really, the Senate’s calendar, as the House has already passed both of those bills and would be able to pass a revised version of either in short order – but at least the Dems had a receptive audience for their pitch.

Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Jasmine Crockett met with [Sen. Joe] Manchin’s staff on Tuesday. In comments to Texas Signal, Crockett maintained that the meeting with his Chief of Staff and another aide was quite substantial. According to Crockett, they started going through all the provisions of the For The People Act, also known as H.R. 1, they agreed with.

“I’m not really one for this term incremental change they continually try to sell me in the Texas House, but if this is what incremental looks like that will at least provide us cover now,” said Crockett. She also told the Texas Signal there were certain things that Manchin supported, like vote by mail options for those who are sick or have a conflict with work, that would be a lot more expansive than what we currently have in Texas now.

Crockett believes a big factor in Manchin’s movements towards supporting some version of a voting rights bill stems from his former role as West Virginia Secretary of State. She also believes she and Martinez Fischer were able to really convey the totality of the voter suppression efforts of SB 7 to him and his staff. “We were able to give them some of the details that they just weren’t privy to because they’ve not lived and breathed SB 7 all session,” said Crockett.

Some members of the Texas delegation did actually meet with Manchin in Washington. U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Al Green, and Henry Cuellar helped broker the last-minute meeting, which Garcia called “productive.” Senator Jose Menéndez posted on Twitter afterward, writing “Working together we’ll find a pathway forward to protect [voting rights] of all Americans and protect our democracy.”

[…]

The fact that Manchin was engaging in an earnest debate, was also for Crockett a step forward on voting rights legislation. That wouldn’t have happened if Texas House Democrats had not broken the quorum. “I really do feel like we were heard, and we were heard in a manner that we wouldn’t have been heard if we just sat there and pushed our buttons and said no and [SB 7] became law,” said Crockett.

There does appear to be some momentum now for the Manchin version of SB1, which received Stacy Abrams’ support as well. It’s when the Republicans filibuster it, and it becomes clear there isn’t any support on their side for the Manchin revision, that we’ll see whether the immovable object or the irresistible force wins.

Harris County considers its ERCOT responses

Maybe ERCOT isn’t right for us.

Commissioner Adrian Garcia

Harris County should consider leaving the state’s main power grid after it failed to prevent widespread blackouts for more than half of Houston-area residents last week, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said Monday.

Garcia has asked the Commissioners Court to explore what authority it has to sever ties with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees the grid that powers all of the state except for El Paso, parts of the Panhandle and a group of counties in East Texas.

“This agenda item is meant to explore how we in Harris County can take ownership of keeping residents safe, something the state has clearly shown it can’t be trusted to do itself,” Garcia said in a statement.

[…]

Liberty County, which borders Harris County to the east, is part of MISO. That grid also suffered outages during the storm, when demand for electricity overwhelmed supply, but they were less severe than those within ERCOT’s system.

What ability, if any, Harris County has to leave ERCOT is unclear. First Assistant County Attorney Jay Aiyer said such a move would almost certainly require approval by the Legislature. As subdivisions of state government, commissioners courts have few independent powers; they cannot even enact ordinances.

Aiyer said Harris County also will examine what actions, if any, the Legislature takes this session to reform ERCOT or the Public Utility Commission to prevent future blackouts.

The odds that the Lege would allow this are basically nil. Even if it made perfect sense on the merits, they’re just not going to allow it to happen. It’s still worth exploring and discussing, because everyone should be talking about potential options to improve our current situation. If nothing else, Harris County can clarify what it wants the Lege to do in response to last week’s fiasco.

The County Attorney has a role to play, too.

Harris County officials are launching an investigation into the events that led up to “Texas’ recent electricity disaster” and will be probing decisions made by the board that operates the state’s power grid, energy providers and the Public Utility Commission.

“Members of our community died in this disaster, and millions of Texans languished without power and water while suffering billions in property damage,” Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said in a Tuesday statement. “Harris County residents deserve to know what happened, who made which decisions, and whether this could have been avoided or mitigated.”

[…]

Menefee will request authorization to take legal action on behalf of Harris County during its Commissioner’s Court meeting Friday. He said he is willing to collaborate with independent state agencies’ investigations as well.

He said operators should have been prepared after 2011’s hard freeze that exposed weaknesses in Texas’ electrical grid system.

“There was nothing unpredictable about this last freeze, and everyone had plenty of notice it was coming,” he said. “But, the people running the grid were woefully unprepared and failed to take immediate action and warn folks of what could happen.”

See above about what everyone, in particular everyone in a position of authority, should be doing. This is what Menefee ran on, and it’s good to see him follow through. Again, what he may actually be able to do, beyond some amicus briefs, is unclear, but we won’t know till he has a good look. He won’t be alone – as the story notes, Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer has called on the Travis County DA to investigate as well. I think civil action is more likely to be the proper course, but hey, all hands on deck. Both items will be discussed by Commissioners Court on Friday.

What should the Governor’s powers be in a future emergency?

He admits there could maybe be some limits, but as is often the case has no great idea what they might be.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he is open to reconsidering his executive powers during state emergencies, a point of contention among some fellow Republicans during the coronavirus pandemic, and that his office is “offering up some legislation ourselves on ways to address this going forward.”

“What we are working on — and we’ve already begun working with legislators — is approaches to make sure we can pre-plan how a response would be done, but it has to be done in a way that leaves flexibility to move swiftly,” Abbott said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.

Abbott spoke with The Tribune the day after his State of the State speech in which he laid out his agenda for the 2021 legislative session, which started last month. As the pandemic has dragged on, some GOP lawmakers have grown uneasy with how aggressively Abbott has used his executive authority, particularly when it comes to business shutdowns and mask mandates. In the speech, Abbott promised to “continue working with the Legislature to find ways to navigate a pandemic while also allowing businesses to remain open.”

Abbott said in the interview that he still wants the governor to have the ability to do things like cut regulations in the time of a disaster, saying there is an “absolute need for speed” in such instances that the legislative process cannot provide. That is especially true, he added, “during a pandemic, when sometimes it’s hours that matters, especially sometimes in responding to demands that are coming from the White House where you basically have a 24-hour time period to respond to it.”

“We need to create a structure that will work that accommodates the need for a 24-hour turnaround,” Abbott said.

Abbott issued a monthlong shutdown of nonessential businesses last spring as the virus was bearing down on Texas. He has since relaxed restrictions and now business operations are based on the proportion of a region’s hospital patients being treated for COVID-19. Along the way, some in his party have argued the Legislature should have had more of a say in decisions that affect so many Texans. Some Republicans blasted him for going too far with his executive orders, while many Democrats and local officials criticized him for not going far enough to curb infections.

I brought this subject up a bunch of times in the earlier days of the pandemic, when Abbott showed some actual interest in doing something about it. A lot of the pushback came in the form of clownish lawsuits from Steven Hotze and Jared Woodfill, which was absolutely the worst way to have this discussion. Woodfill is quoted in this Chron story that includes some input from legislators, but screw him, he’s a waste of space. Let’s see what members of the House think.

Lawmakers in the state House, which is controlled by Republicans, have yet to coalesce around any specific bills. Some members have called for requiring the governor to get legislative approval before renewing emergency orders.

“When you have to make split-second decisions on how to operate under a pandemic, it’s very difficult,” House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said in an interview last month with the Tribune’s Evan Smith. “It’s a lose-lose situation. I thought he did as best he could.”

A spokesman for the speaker added in an email Wednesday that Phelan, whose district has received help from the governor’s office during hurricanes, “believes the Texas Legislature should have a seat at the table when developing a framework for how Texas addresses future public health emergencies.”

The Woodlands Republican Rep. Steve Toth, who was involved in and supported multiple suits against the governor over pandemic-related executive orders and has filed a bill to limit those powers, said Abbott’s comments were “very welcome.”

“I have to agree with him 100 percent: The ability to adjust regulations and ease regulations was critical in the face of this shutdown to give retailers and small business owners the ability to survive,” Toth said. “The big question is when it’s something this big, a shutdown statewide for multiple months … I just think it’s imperative that a decision of that magnitude that we bear that burden together, that it falls on all our shoulders to come up with a solution.”

Toth’s bill, HJR 42, would give voters in November the choice to decide whether to require the governor to call a special session of the Texas Legislature if he wishes to extend a state of emergency past 30 days.

Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio on Wednesday filed a similar bill, HB 1557, that would amend the law immediately without a need for an election. Martinez Fischer called it “the most seamless proposal that’s been offered.”

“In times of pandemic, we need a quarterback,” Martinez Fischer said. “But that quarterback also needs a team. And the Legislature’s the team. (The bill) gives the governor the ability to be that decision-maker, if you will, but then bring us in session so that we can provide our expertise and be part of the solution.”

Steve Toth is generally a lousy member of the House, but in this case I agree with what he’s suggesting, though I prefer Rep. Martinez Fischer’s approach of making any changes statutory rather than constitutional. For one thing, that will be easier to do, and for another it will be easier to modify or undo if those changes are more obstructive than constructive. I like the basic idea that the Governor can impose emergency orders, but beyond a certain point the Legislature needs to be brought in to extend them. I think that’s a decent balance, though of course it could fall prey to politics, especially if we ever get to a situation of divided partisan rule. I very much want to avoid the ridiculous shenanigans that Republican legislatures in states like Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania and North Carolina have done to overrule and neuter their Democratic governors, often in ways that were harmful and politically motivated. I think the Republican legislature here is unlikely to over-correct on a Republican governor, though there will be a wingnut faction that will want to do that. For now at least, I’m cautiously optimistic that something reasonable can be put forward. We’ll see how that goes.

On a completely tangential note: Remember the days when people could assert with a straight face that the Governor of Texas was maybe the fifth or sixth most powerful office in the state? It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that old chestnut, and the last time I did a few years ago I snorted out loud. I don’t know exactly when that stopped being true, but it sure hasn’t been in awhile. Just thought I’d make note of it here.

Looks like (maybe) we have a Speaker

I give you Rep. Dade Phelan. May he not spontaneously combust in spectacular and self-inflicted fashion like a drummer for Spinal Tap the last Speaker.

Rep. Dade Phelan

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, announced Wednesday he has the votes needed to become the next speaker of the Texas House and soon after released a bipartisan list of 83 members supporting his candidacy. That number, should it hold, is more than enough votes for Phelan to win the gavel when the Legislature convenes in January.

But Phelan’s main competitor for the speakership, state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, indicated in a statement he was not backing down from the race and said the GOP caucus should meet per its bylaws to “vote to back a candidate … as soon as possible.”

The news comes hours after the GOP maintained its majority over the lower chamber, fending off a well-funded challenge from Democrats who had hoped to flip the House for the first time in nearly two decades.

“The race is over,” Phelan said at a noon press conference at the Texas Capitol, saying he has a “supermajority of the Republican caucus” and a “broad coalition of support” from Democrats. A candidate needs a majority of the 150-member chamber in order to win the gavel and preside over the House.

As election results came in Tuesday, the eight candidate field for speaker — four Democrats and four Republicans — seemed to consolidate into two camps: a group supporting Phelan and another backing Ashby. Both candidates had filed for the gavel in recent days as the race quickly escalated heading into Election Day.

On Tuesday night, one Republican in the race, state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria, announced she was backing Ashby for the job. And on Wednesday morning, another Republican in the race, Chris Paddie of Marshall, announced he was supporting Phelan.

“Last night … was a very long, long process — and now it’s time to heal,” Phelan said at the press conference. “The work of the 150 members coming together to serve Texas begins today.”

There had been some Speaker-related news on Monday and even Tuesday, and I had prepped a post about it, which I knew would likely become obsolete as soon as we knew the House situation. And indeed, here we are. That draft is beneath the fold, if you’re interested. Needless to say, the next Legislature has a long to-do list in front of it, and a Speaker who can help get the main things done in a reasonable way will be welcomed by the members. One who can also tell Dan Patrick to go pound sand and who will never commit the classic blunder of saying stupid stuff to Michael Quinn Sullivan, especially when there might be a recorder in operation, would be nice. Good luck to Rep. Phelan if he is indeed the presumptive Speaker. As noted in the story, Rep. Ashby, who has now withdrawn from the race and backed Rep. Morrison, does not see this as being over. Reform Austin, which notes that three of the four Democrats who had filed for Speaker are on that letter Phelan released, has more.

(more…)

We need an official Speaker candidate tracker

We’re up to five now, and we’re likely not done yet.

Rep. Trent Ashby

State Reps. Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Cyrier of Lockhart join two Democrats in seeking the gavel: Senfronia Thompson of Houston and Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio. More candidates are expected to file, perhaps after the Nov. 3 election once it’s clear which party will be in control of the chamber.

In statements, both Ashby and Cyrier pointed to the legislative session beginning in January — and the challenges state lawmakers will all but certainly have to tackle — to help make their pitch for why they’re the best candidate for the job.

“Given the collective challenges we will face in upcoming legislative session, as we continue our battle with COVID-19 and work to balance a budget despite revenue challenges, it is critically important that the next Speaker fosters the trust and cooperation necessary to overcome these challenges and deliver the results that all Texans expect and deserve,” Ashby, who has served in the House since 2013, said.

Cyrier, who has served in the House since 2015, said the session “will be a demonstration of Texans’ resilience.”

“My top priority as speaker will be to work with all members of the House and build consensus during what is sure to be a challenging session,” Cyrier said.

Paddie, who has served in the lower chamber since 2013, did not immediately release a statement about his bid.

As noted, Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Trey Martinez Fischer are already in. None of the three Republicans were among the crowd that had made a move towards running for Speaker before the last session; five of those seven will be in the 2021 Lege, so there is definitely the possibility of a larger field. I should note that Rep. Thompson picked up the endorsements of her fellow Harris County Democratic legislators, and also of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, thus giving her the most supporters for now, though still far from a majority.

We’ll have a much better idea of how this may shake out once we know how many Ds and how many Rs there will be. And as a reminder: Right after the election is when some number of members announce their intent to step down, thus necessitating a special election to replace them. Rep. Drew Spinger is in the runoff for SD30, scheduled for December 19, so his seat may become vacant right before the opening gavel as well. I say this all because the number we have on November 4 may be different than the number we have on January 4, and that could have a real effect on who has enough votes to actually become Speaker. The potential for chaos, and maybe even some shenanigans, is quite high. The Lege is never more entertaining when those things are true.

UPDATE: And now there are six:

Possibly by the time you read this, there will be more announced candidates. You see what I mean when I say we need a tracker.

UPDATE: And now there are seven:

All members of the House that are not running for Speaker, please raise your hand.

TMF files for Speaker

Now it’s a race.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Monday that he is running for Texas House speaker, becoming the second Democrat in the lower chamber to launch a bid for the gavel.

Martinez Fischer, from San Antonio, joins state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and Black person in the history of the Texas Legislature, in the race. Both filings come ahead of a November election in which Democrats are within striking distance of winning control of the Republican-held House for the first time in nearly two decades.

Martinez Fischer would be the first Latino to hold the position, if elected. Thompson would be the first woman and Black person to serve as speaker.

No Republicans have filed paperwork yet with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for the job, which Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen will vacate at the end of his term when he retires from office. More members from both parties are expected to enter the race in the coming days.

[…]

Martinez Fischer nodded to the upcoming legislative challenges in a statement announcing his speaker bid, saying he is running “because I believe that I am best prepared to deliver the solutions Texans expect, navigate the redistricting process, and protect the House as we chart our path forward as Texans.” Martinez Fischer also said as speaker his goal would be to “make historic changes” to the makeup of House committees in an attempt to address “the disparities in the lack of women and people of color in our leadership ranks.

“The Texas House operates on trust,” he said in his statement. “For the last twenty years, Members know that even when we may disagree, I have never been shy about saying where I stand. As Speaker, I will always deal straight.”

See here for the background. I had said that it was my belief that if Rep. Thompson wanted this, she’d have a clear path. That’s not the case, but it is early days. There were multiple people floated as possible challengers to Tom Craddick before a majority coalesced around Joe Straus, and when Dennis Bonnen succeeded Straus, it was after several other Republicans (and one Democrat) had made their intentions known. In each situation, the others simply backed down and got on board with the winner. If Dems have a clear majority in the House, I would expect there to be only one Dem in the running for Speaker at the end.

Does it mean anything that TMF filed so quickly after Thompson did? Probably not – his ambition is as good as anyone’s, he’s likely been talking about it for some time, and there are many ways to be a Speaker if one gets elected to that spot. Most of what will happen between now and when the members take a vote will not be visible to us. That said, if this ever does get ugly, we will surely hear about it. I’m sure a Republican will file at some point, but I figure there’s still some factional healing that needs to happen post-Bonnen, and no one may be ready to go public yet. This is the Lege nerds’ equivalent of fantasy football – it’s of extreme interest to a few, and means nothing to normal people. Enjoy the ride, or feel free to tune out until something interesting happens, it’s your call.

Speaker’s race? What Speaker’s race?

Just a reminder that one of the three most powerful political offices in the state is on the ballot this November, even if it’s largely invisible to us.

Found on the Twitters

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson fielded a question last week that’s been on the minds of many members of the Texas House: If her party wins control of the lower chamber in November, will she be a candidate for speaker?

“Well, if I can get James Frank’s support, I probably will be,” the Houston Democrat said with a chuckle during a Texas Tribune Festival panel, referring to her Republican colleague also on the screen.

Frank responded with a laugh of his own: “I’m pretty sure if Democrats take over in November … that she’ll be a candidate.”

The exchange, though lighthearted, was indicative of how uncertain the 150-member chamber is ahead of a legislative session that lawmakers say will be their toughest in years. With the pending retirement of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, the lower chamber knows someone new will be in charge in January — but not a single member has so far declared their candidacy to seek the gavel.

[…]

Of course, members could break ranks and file their candidacy for speaker with the Texas Ethics Commission before November. Members will formally elect a new speaker on the first day of the regular session in January — and whoever ends up taking the gavel will be one of the state’s most consequential leaders as the Legislature responds to the coronavirus pandemic, grapples with billions of dollars in shortfalls to the state budget and undergoes a once-in-a-decade redistricting cycle.

Members are already weighing who would be a viable candidate if the margin is more narrow than the 83-67 partisan split from the 2019 legislative session. Some think that’s more likely than the chamber flipping entirely. References to the 2008 elections — and the 76-74 split it produced — came up repeatedly in conversations with members, with many suggesting the chamber’s next speaker will need supporters from both parties to win the gavel.

In the wake of that 2008 election, then-state Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, won the speaker’s race after most of the chamber’s Democrats and some Republicans coalesced around his bid. After Straus announced his retirement in 2017, a more hardline conservative faction of Republicans helped push a change to the groups’s bylaws to select a speaker within the caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor. Democrats also tried to rally their ranks to commit to voting for a candidate as a bloc, though neither party had an enforcement mechanism.

None of those elements have come up in any sort of tangible way so far this year, which some members chalk up again to the uncertainty surrounding the November election and the possibility that the margin will be more narrow than in 2019.

Jim Dunnam, a former House member from Waco who served in the lower chamber from 1997 to 2011, said it would be presumptuous for members to start committing to speaker candidates before they have even won reelection, especially given predictions that November will yield tight results.

Dunnam, who at one point also chaired the House Democratic Caucus, also waved off the notion of one party exclusively electing a speaker candidate.

“The speaker is supposed to be the speaker of the House,” he said, “not the speaker of one caucus.”

[…]

In conversations with nearly two dozen members, staffers and lobbyists — nearly all of whom declined to be named due to the sensitive nature of internal House politics — several GOP and Democratic names were mentioned repeatedly as members to keep an eye on as the speaker’s race develops.

On the Republican side: Four Price of Amarillo; Trent Ashby of Lufkin; Chris Paddie of Marshall; Dade Phelan of Beaumont; Geanie Morrison of Victoria; Tom Craddick of Midland, the longest-serving House member and a former speaker; Craig Goldman of Fort Worth; Frank of Wichita Falls and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. On the Democratic side: Joe Moody of El Paso, the House speaker pro tempore; Rafael Anchia of Dallas; Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio; Thompson; Turner, the caucus chair; Oscar Longoria of Mission and Donna Howard of Austin.

Each candidate’s chances at winning the gavel are influenced by the partisan breakdowns in the House. GOP members have suggested that if Republicans pick up a couple of seats and increase their majority, a more ideological speaker candidate like Frank, Goldman or Krause could be on the table. There’s also a theory that a Democratic candidate like Thompson — the second longest-serving House member and the longest-serving woman and African-American in history at the Legislature — has the experience to navigate the House through the upcoming session.

I agree that which party has the majority, and by how much, will matter a lot. And hoo boy, what might happen if we have a 75-75 split – there would surely be a compromise power-sharing agreement out there, but just agreeing about who chairs what committees gives me a headache. I tend to believe that if Dems have a majority, the job will be Rep. Thompson’s if she wants it, but she may not want it. She might prefer to be in the trenches passing the priority bills, or she may just decide the job is too much trouble to be worth it. Joe Moody may be best positioned to be a compromise candidate if the parties are tied or even if Republicans have a 76-74 lead but can’t settle their ideological rifts and find their own consensus; in other words, he could be the Democratic Joe Straus. I feel like TMF is the choice if Dems wind up with a bit of a cushion and are feeling a bit salty. I’m totally spitballing here.

Whoever wins the job in the event of a Dem house, he or she will have a slightly easier go of it than a Dem Speaker from before 2010 would have had, as the caucus is more unified on issues these days. That’s largely because there are no more conservative Dems from rural districts, and thus no one who has to be appeased or coddled on things like LGBTQ equality or gun control or immigration. Passing a budget that fully funds education and prioritizes coronavirus relief, and maximizing Democratic leverage on redistricting, are the two top tasks. When the Dems get together after the election to plan their strategy for the session, those have to be the main questions that any Speaker wannabe must answer. We know how important this election is, but in part that’s because what comes after it is so damn important, too.

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.

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.

Still more Bonnen business

I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be obsessing over the Bonnen implosion, but we’re not done yet. Today’s topic is What It All Means for 2020.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

“The quarterback and coach have been taken off the field,” said Bill Miller, a longtime Republican lobbyist. “It’s short notice, it’s a big leadership change, and they don’t have a lot of time. It’s problematic for Republicans.”

One of the more obvious questions is what happens to Texas Leads, the political action committee that Bonnen unveiled in July to help keep the majority — and touted in his conversation with Sullivan. Bonnen started the group with $3 million transferred from his own campaign, which saw a seven-figure flood of donations after he emerged late last year as the likely next speaker. Bonnen promised an “ongoing commitment” to the PAC, though its first campaign finance report is not due until January, so it is unclear how much more he raised since the PAC’s July launch.

In any case, the money now carries the stain of Bonnen’s scandal — “I don’t see how any of us could take any money from him,” recently remarked a member targeted in the Sullivan recording — and likely would only make a race more complicated. Still, Democrats are not taking any chances.

“I can give you 3 million reasons why Democrats are not gonna let their guard down going the 2020 election cycle,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who Bonnen referenced in the recording while talking about his rule against member-versus-member campaigning. “Speaker Bonnen’s announcement is by no way a message that Democrats can take the day off. We have a lot of work to do.”

[…]

In addition to the fate of Texas Leads, uncertainty abounds about Bonnen’s end-of-session threat of consequences for members who campaign against other members. Bonnen’s edict was already undermined by comments he made in the recording, but his decision to not seek reelection only further invalidated his self-appointed role as political disciplinarian.

“I don’t think that Speaker Bonnen — and we heard it on the tape — I don’t think he ever was sincere about that edict,” said Royce Brooks, executive director of Annie’s List, which works to elect Democratic women at the state level who support abortion rights.

Brooks and other Democrats involved in House races said Tuesday it was full steam ahead regardless of Bonnen’s political standing throughout the rest of the cycle. For Annie’s List, that means following through on its plan to have female nominees in at least 20 of the 29 seats that it believes are in play.

See here for the previous update. Honestly, I think the main effect of the Bonnen affair will be to depress and disorganize Republicans by at least a little bit. The ten Republicans who were targeted by Bonnen have every reason to be pissed off, and in being pissed off pull back a bit from being a team player in favor of focusing on themselves. Is that a difference-maker at a state level, or in the most hotly contested districts? Probably not. But it won’t help them, and this year they need all the help they can get. On the other hand, it clarifies things greatly for Democrats, and puts focus on the goal of winning the House. I’d say there was already clarity and focus in abundance, but a little more can’t hurt. It’s not much but it’s better for us than for them, and that’s good enough.

Van de Putte has her eye on Castro’s seat

With seemingly-informed speculation that Rep. Joaquin Castro will run for Senate in 2020, someone else will need to run for the Congressional seat he’d be abandoning. That speculation has now begun, with some familiar names in the conversation.

Leticia Van de Putte

Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is seriously considering a run for the congressional seat likely to be vacated by Joaquin Castro.

Van de Putte, 64, a San Antonio Democrat who served for 24 years in the Legislature, is discussing the ramifications of a possible congressional campaign with her family, according to multiple sources.

[…]

Almost certainly, however, she would enter the race with the highest name recognition and the most campaign experience. She probably would also command the strongest fundraising base.

During her bid for lieutenant governor, Van de Putte raised more than $8.2 million.

Insiders suggest that a successful District 20 primary campaign will require more than $1 million in funds.

While most prospective District 20 candidates are still in a watching-and-waiting phase, some prominent names are in the mix, including state lawmakers Ina Minjarez, Diego Bernal and Trey Martinez Fischer and City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales.

There also are two highly accomplished Latinas working in the private sector, contemplating their first campaigns as candidates:

Dr. Erika Gonzalez, a physician who served as the chief of allergy, immunology and rheumatology at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, spent 10 years in the Air Force and is the 2020 chair-elect of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Melanie Aranda Tawil, a tech business owner, Democratic activist (New Mexico youth vote field organizer for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign) and community leader whose credits include serving on the city’s 2017-22 Parks & Recreation bond committee.

See here and here for the background. After her 2014 Lt. Gov. campaign, Van de Putte jumped into the 2015 San Antonio Mayor’s race, which did former Rep. Mike Villarreal no favors, and wound up losing in a runoff to now-former Mayor Ivy Taylor, who was defeated in 2017 by Mayor Ron Nirenberg. She then co-founded a lobbying firm with former Secretary of State Hope Andrade, and seemed to be done running for office. You never know when a tantalizing opportunity will arrive. She’d definitely have competition, and it’s fair to say that primary voters have concerns on their minds now that they didn’t have the last time she ran in a primary. I could easily see such a campaign taking unexpected turns. All this is theoretical, of course – nobody’s running to succeed Joaquin Castro until Joaquin Castro confirms he’s running for Senate, which for all we know may not happen. Speculation is never out of style, however. The dominoes are lining up, it’s just going to need someone to topple them over.

On special election runoff turnout and HD125

I figured a story like this was inevitable after Round One of the HD125 special election, in which Republican Fred Rangel got 38% of the vote and four Democrats combined to take the rest, with three of them being close to each other and thus farther behind Rangel. Ray Lopez will face Rangel in the runoff, for which a date has not yet been set.

Justin Rodriguez

Democratic Party officials and Lopez’s campaign remain adamant that they are in position to win the runoff and keep the seat. The four Democrats, combined, received more than 60 percent of the vote, they point out. And District 125 hasn’t elected a Republican since it was redrawn in 1992 to include more West Side voters.

But to others, the result immediately recalled San Antonio Democrats’ not-so-sterling track record in recent special elections. Electoral history and district demographics have not protected Democrats in those runoffs over the last few years: They have lost the last three off-cycle races in San Antonio, each of which occurred in traditional party strongholds.

In early 2016, Republican John Lujan scored an upset in a South Side legislative seat over Democrats Tomás Uresti and Gabe Farias. Uresti would defeat him nine months later in the general election.

Later that year, Independent Laura Thompson won election to an East Side legislative seat after Bexar County Dean Ruth McClendon’s death, also overcoming multiple Democrats. Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins put the seat back in Democratic hands in the next general election.

And in perhaps the most painful loss for Democrats, Republican Pete Flores won a state Senate seat last year that includes much of San Antonio. Flores flipped a seat that hadn’t gone to the GOP since Reconstruction, and his victory sealed a two-thirds Republican supermajority in the Texas Senate.

That race has some conspicuous similarities to Tuesday’s election in District 125. For one, the man who engineered Flores’ upset, Matt Mackowiak, is now running Rangel’s campaign. For another, multiple Democrats split the party’s vote, allowing the Republican to plunge ahead.

[…]

“It’s a very simple game of math in a special election,” [Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer] said. “When you’re running a race in a Democratic district you’re going to have multiple Democrats running for that position, and it’s always going to be that one Republican that has a universe of voters to himself.”

The Democrats believe that will change in a mano-a-mano, Democrat vs. Republican, runoff, and Democratic members of the Legislature are now rallying around Lopez. But they had a similar conviction — ultimately to no avail — that Flores wouldn’t prevail in what had been a Democratic district for more than a century.

Their logic isn’t reflective of the political reality of special elections, according to Mackowiak. The voters who chose Democrats Rayo-Garza or Art Reyna won’t necessarily show up again for Lopez in the runoff election.

“It’s just not transferable,” Mackowiak said. “Special elections are about motivation and enthusiasm.”

That sentiment was echoed by Larry Hufford, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s University.

“These small groups are so committed to their candidates,” Hufford said. “They say, ‘Well, my candidate didn’t win, forget it.’”

Those factors give Rangel an edge, Hufford said, especially if turnout drops in the runoff. If Rangel brings out the same number of voters, it puts him in a good position to win the majority while Lopez tries to inspire voters who backed Democrats no longer in the race, the professor added.

See here for the background. There are two claims being made here, that Bexar County Dems have had a spotty recent record in legislative special elections, and that the key to winning special election runoffs is to hold onto more of your own voters from round one than the other guy (if you’re the leader, that is) because getting new voters is too hard. Let’s take these one at a time.

First, the two special elections from 2016 are basically meaningless for these purposes. The reason why is because they were basically meaningless as special elections. They were for the purpose of serving the remainder of the 2015-2016 term, at a time when the Lege was not in session and not going to be in session. Neither John Lujan nor Laura Thompson ever filed a bill or cast a vote as State Rep, because there were no opportunities for them to do so. Tomas Uresti, who lost in that January 2016 special election runoff to John Lujan, went on to win the Democratic primary in March and the November general election, ousting Lujan before he ever did anything of note. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, the November nominee in HD120, didn’t bother running in the summer special election for it. Those special elections didn’t matter.

As for the turnout question, I would remind everyone that there were three legislative special elections plus runoffs from 2015. Here’s what they looked like:

2015 Special Election, House District 123


Melissa Aguillon  DEM   1,257   17.69%
Diego Bernal      DEM   3,372   47.46%
Roger V. Gary     LIB     103    1.45%
Paul Ingmundson   GRN      81    1.14%
Walter Martinez   DEM     780   10.98%
Nunzio Previtera  REP   1,512   21.28%

Total = 7,105

Special Runoff Election State Representative, District 123


Diego Bernal      DEM   5,170   63.67%
Nunzio Previtera  REP   2,950   36.33%

Total = 8,120

Diego Bernal got 1,798 more votes in the runoff – there had been 2,037 votes that went to other Dems in the initial election. Nunzio Previtera got 1,438 more votes in the runoff even though he’d been the only Republican initially.

2015 Special Election, Senate District 26


Trey Martinez Fischer  DEM   8,232   43.28%
Alma Perez Jackson     REP   3,892   20.46%
Jose Menendez          DEM   4,824   25.36%
Joan Pedrotti          REP   1,427    7.50%
Al Suarez              DEM     644    3.39%

Total = 19,019

Special Runoff Election State Senator, District 26


Trey Martinez Fischer  DEM   9,635   40.95%
Jose Menendez          DEM  13,891   59.05%

Total = 23,526

Remember how some idiot bloggers called for Sen. Menendez to concede rather than bother going through with the runoff, so the next special election could take place more quickly? Good times. After smoking TMF in said runoff, some other people claimed he won on the strength of Republican turnout in round two. For what it’s worth, there were 5,319 Republican votes in round one, and Menendez gained 9,067 votes overall. Make of that what you will. Also, for what it’s worth, TMF boosted his total by 1,403.

2015 Special Election, House District 124


Nathan Alonzo    DEM    467   23.81%
Delicia Herrera  DEM    555   28.30%
Ina Minjarez     DEM    828   42.22%
David L. Rosa    DEM    111    5.66%

Total = 1,961

Special Runoff Election, House District 124


Delicia Herrera  DEM  1,090   45.02%
Ina Minjarez     DEM  1,331   54.98%

Total = 2,421

The two runoff candidates combined for 1,383 votes in round one, while the two also rans got 578. Assuming all 578 voted again in the runoff, there were still another 460 people participating.

My point, in case I haven’t beaten you over the head with it enough, is that in all of these elections, there were more votes in the runoff than in the first round. That means – stay with me here, I know this is tricky – it’s possible for a candidate to win the runoff with extra votes from people who didn’t vote initially. It’s even possible for the second place finisher to win, in part by bringing in new voters. See, when not that many people vote the first time, there are actually quite a few habitual voters out there to round up. Who even knew this was a thing?

Yes, the SD19 still stands out like a turd on the sidewalk. SD19 encompasses more than just Bexar County, and there was some genuine resentment from third place candidate Roland Gutierrez, which likely hindered Pete Gallego in the runoff. (There were also many questions raised about the effectiveness of Gallego’s campaign.) Here, as it happens, third place finisher Coda Rayo-Garza has conceded after the remaining mail ballots arrived and endorsed Ray Lopez, so at least that bit of history won’t repeat itself. HD125 is more Democratic than SD19, so there’s a larger pool of dependable voters that Lopez can call on. He’s got work to do and ground to make up, and he certainly could lose if he doesn’t do a good job of it. But if we look at the history of Bexar County special legislative elections going all the way back to 2015 instead of just to 2016, we can see that the picture is a bit more nuanced than Matt Mackowiak and Larry Hufford make it out to be.

2018 primary results: Legislative

Rep. Sarah Davis

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

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

I’m gonna lead with the Republicans this time. Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson, both viciously targeted by Greg Abbott, won their races easily. Sarah, here’s that picture I mentioned before. Also, too, the anti-vaxxers can suck it (in this race; they unfortunately appear to have claimed a scalp elsewhere). Abbott did manage to unseat the mediocre Wayne Faircloth, who was the most conservative of his three targets. Party on, Greg!

Back to the good side: Rita Lucido was leading Fran Watson in SD17, but was short of a majority. Beverly Powell won in SD10, Wendy Davis’ old district. Mark Phariss was leading in SD08, but it was too close to call. On the Republican side, Rep. Pat Fallon destroyed Sen. Craig Estes in SD30, but Sen. Kel Seliger beat back the wingnuts again in SD31. Sen. John Whitmire won easily. Joan Huffman easily held off Kristin Tassin on her side of SD17. And Angela Paxton won in SD08 over the lesser Huffines brother. Apparently, two Paxtons are better than one, and also better than two Huffineses.

Other incumbents in both parties had more trouble. On the D side, longtime Rep. Robert Alonzo lost to Jessica Gonzalez in HD104; her election increases the number of LGBT members of the Lege by one. First term Rep. Diana Arevalo lost to former Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer in HD116, and first-term Rep. Tomas Uresti, no doubt damaged by his brother’s legal problems, lost to Leo Pacheco. And Dawnna Dukes’ odyssey came to an end as challengers Sheryl Cole and Chito Vela both ran way ahead of her. Other Dems, including (sigh) Ron Reynolds hung on, though Rep. Rene Oliveira was headed to a runoff with Alex Dominguez in HD37. For the Rs, Rep. Jason Villalba was going down in HD114 – he was an anti-vaxxer target, though there were other factors in that race, so it sure would be nice for Dems to pick that one off in November. Rep. Scott Cosper was headed to a runoff in HD54. Other incumbents, including those targeted by the extreme wingnut coalition, made it through.

For Harris County, the following challengers won: Natali Hurtado (HD126; she celebrated by going into labor, so double congratulations to her), Gina Calanni (HD132), Adam Milasincic (HD138). Sandra Moore was briefly above 50% in HD133, but ultimately fell back below it to wind up in a runoff with Marty Schexnayder. Allison Lami Sawyer had a slightly easier time of it, collecting over 90% of the vote against the idiot Lloyd Oliver. Maybe, just maybe, this will be enough to convince Oliver that his run-for-office marketing strategy has come to the end of its usefulness. Sam Harless was on the knife’s edge of a majority in HD126 on the R side; if he falls short, Kevin Fulton was in second place.

There will be a few runoffs in other races around the state. I’ll get back to that another day.

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

And Democratic women aren’t leaving the men of their own party undisturbed. In Minnesota, former FBI analyst Leah Phifer is challenging incumbent Democratic representative Rick Nolan; Sameena Mustafa, a tenant advocate and founder of the comedy troupe Simmer Brown, is primarying Democrat Mike Quigley in Illinois’s Fifth District. And Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, announced recently that she’s going after Ben Cardin, the 74-year-old who has held one of Maryland’s Senate seats for 11 years and served in the House for 20 years before that.

While the vision of women storming the ramparts of government is radical from one vantage point, from others it’s as American as the idea of representative democracy laid out by our forefathers (like Great-great-great-great-grandpa Frelinghuysen!). “Representative citizens coming from all parts of the nation, cobblers and farmers — that was what was intended by the founders,” says Marie Newman, a former small-business owner and anti-bullying advocate who is challenging Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski in a primary. “You come to the House for a while and bring your ideas and then you probably go back to your life.” Not only has her opponent been in office for 13 years, Newman notes, but his father held the same seat for 20 years before that. “It’s a family that has reigned supreme, like a monarchy, for over 30 years,” she says.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, Newman and the rest of this girl gang are eyeing the aging cast of men (and a few women) who’ve hogged the political stage forever and trying to replace them. Replacement. It’s an alluring concept, striking fear in the hearts of the guys who’ve been running the place — recall that the white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer chanted “You will not replace us” — and stirring hope in the rest of us that a redistribution of power might be possible.

So naturally that made me wonder about what the situation was in Texas. For Congress, there are eleven Democrats from Texas, nine men and two women. Two men are not running for re-election, and in each case the most likely successor is a woman. Of the seven men running for re-election, only one (Marc Veasey) has a primary opponent, another man. Both female members of Congress have primary opponents – Sheila Jackson Lee has a male challenger, Eddie Bernice Johnson has a man and a woman running against her. That woman is Barbara Mallory Caroway, who is on something like her third campaign against EBJ. Basically, nothing much of interest here.

Where it is interesting is at the legislative level. Here are all the Democratic incumbents who face primary challengers, sorted into appropriate groups.

Women challenging men:

HD31 (Rep. Ryan Guillen) – Ana Lisa Garza
HD100 (Rep. Eric Johnson) – Sandra Crenshaw
HD104 (Rep. Robert Alonzo) – Jessica Gonzalez
HD117 (Rep. Phillip Cortez) – Terisha DeDeaux

Guillen’s opponent Garza is a district court judge. He was one of the Dems who voted for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment back in 2005. I’d like to know both of their positions on LGBT equality. Speaking of which, Jessica Gonzalez is among the many LGBT candidates on the ballot this year. Note that Alonzo was on the right side of that vote in 2005, FWIW. Crenshaw appears to be a former member of Dallas City Council who ran for HD110 in 2014. There’s an interesting story to go along with that, which I’ll let you discover on your own. Cortez was first elected in 2012, winning the nomination over a candidate who had been backed by Annie’s List, and he drew some ire from female activists for some of his activity during that campaign. I have no idea how things stand with him today, but I figured I’d mention that bit of backstory.

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

HD27 (Rep. Ron Reynolds) – Wilvin Carter
HD37 (Rep. Rene Oliveira) – Alex Dominguez and Arturo Alonzo
HD41 (Rep. Bobby Guerra) – Michael L. Pinkard, Jr
HD118 (Rep. Tomas Uresti) – Leo Pacheco
HD139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson) – Randy Bates
HD142 (Rep. Harold Dutton) – Richard Bonton
HD147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman) – Daniel Espinoza

Men challenging women:

HD116 (Rep. Diana Arevalo) – Trey Martinez Fischer
HD124 (Rep. Ina Minjarez) – Robert Escobedo
HD146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry) – Roy Owens

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

We know about Reps. Reynolds and Dukes. Bates and Owens represent rematches – Bates was in the 2016 primary, while Owens competed unsuccessfully in the precinct chair process for HD146, then ran as a write-in that November, getting a bit less than 3% of the vote. Alonzo and Bonton look like interesting candidates, but by far the hottest race here is in HD116, where TMF is seeking a return engagement to the Lege, and a lot of his former colleagues are there for him. I imagine things could be a bit awkward if Rep. Arevalo hangs on. Anyway, I don’t know that there are any lessons to be learned from this, I just wanted to document it.

Filing news: The “not much to add but I’ll add it anyway” edition

One more week to go till the filing deadline. There’s already been a lot of activity, but there should be plenty more to come. A few highlights as we head into the last week for filing:

An old familiar face wants back in.

Trey Martinez-Fischer

Former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Saturday that he is running for his old Texas House seat, setting up a primary battle with fellow San Antonio Democrat Diana Arévalo.

Addressing supporters in San Antonio, Fischer said he could not think of a more compelling reason to run than the election of President Donald Trump — and the forthcoming retirement of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a moderate Republican.

“We can hide and get out of the way, or we can stand and fight,” Fischer said. “I’m not very good at hiding, and I’m not very good at retiring.”

Fischer represented House District 116 from 2001 until he gave it up to run for Texas Senate in 2016.

TMF was a very good representative, who knew the House rulebook well and wielded it with considerable success. I don’t know much about Rep. Arevalo – it’s hard for a freshman to stand out, especially a Democratic freshman in this environment. I’ll be honest, if we could rewind the tape back a few months, I’d be pleading with TMF to run for Lite Guv. No disrespect to Mike Collier, but TMF is the opponent Dan Patrick deserves. We’ll see if the voters in HD116 want to bring him back.

– Like basically everyone, I expect Sen. Sylvia Garcia to be the next member of Congress from CD29, but some are not willing to concede.

Tahir Javed, CEO of Riceland Health Care in Winnie, late Friday released a statement saying he had officially filed papers with the Harris County Democratic Party to get into the growing Democratic primary.

“The American people are demanding change – at the federal, state and local level,” Javed, who is from Beaumont and who hosted a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in January 2016, said in a statement. “We need a real fighter in Congress, which is why I have filed to run.”

You know as much about Tahir Javed, who does not appear to have a campaign we presence yet, as I do. I’ve got the over/under for Sylvia at around 65% right now, but as they say, this is why we play the game on the field.

– There are now five candidates for Governor in the Democratic primary, according to the SOS candidate filings page. None of them a yet are named Jeffrey Payne, Andrew White, or Lupe Valdez. Of those five, one has won an election before, Cedric Davis, the former Mayor of Balch Springs; his campaign Facebook page is here. And now you know as much about Cedric Davis as I do.

– On the Republican side it’s pretty much dullsville, especially in Harris County. Other than the pissing contest in HD134, the most interesting race on that side is in HD128, where Baytown City Council Member Terry Sain is challenging first-term Rep. Briscoe Cain. Sain, whose entry in the race has been expected for months, is an old school Reagan Republican with a long record of public service, while Cain is an obsequious little twerp. You can probably tell which way my rooting interests lie, but this is something we should all care about. I don’t expect Terry Sain to vote with my interests more than a small percentage of the time, but I do expect him to take the job seriously, and to not act like an ignorant fool on the House floor. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Like I said, I expect there to be a lot more action this week. I’ll do my best to stay on top of it.

Redistricting trial week begins

This will be the main event of the week.

Eight months ahead of the 2018 primaries, Texas and its legal foes on Monday will kick off a week-long trial that could shake up races across the state.

The state and minority rights groups have been squabbling for six years over new political district boundaries drawn following the 2010 census. As part of a long-winding legal battle, a panel of three federal judges this week will reconvene in a federal courthouse here to consider the validity of the state’s political maps and whether changes should quickly be made to the state’s House and Congressional boundaries ahead of the midterm elections. At issue is whether the current boundaries violate the voting rights of millions of Texans of color.

The showdown comes months after the panel of judges found fault with the state’s 2011 drafts of the political maps. In a pair of rulings this spring, the judges also found that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in crafting them.

Those rulings did not require an immediate remedy because the state has been running elections since 2013 under court-drawn maps that were crafted amid an election scramble and later adopted by the Legislature.

But the judges are now turning their attention to the existing boundaries.

There’s an overview of how we got here and what is at stake in that story and also in this Statesman story, which notes the time factor:

Don’t expect immediate gratification. When the trial closes Friday or Saturday, the judges will take the matter under advisement — though a written ruling is expected relatively quickly as the court labors under looming election deadlines.

State officials have advised the court that any new maps would have to be ready by around Oct. 1 to meet deadlines for setting precinct lines and to allow candidate filing for the 2018 primaries to begin, as scheduled, in mid-November. Complicating the timing will be the inevitable appeal that the losing side will make directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If new maps are needed, the judges likely will order additional input on how to redraw district boundaries, lawyers said Friday.

The maps in question are the Congressional and State House maps that were implemented in 2013. Those maps in turn are basically identical to the interim maps created in 2011 after preclearance was rejected; the Lege adopted them with a couple of tweaks. The state claims that since the current maps are based on ones that had been drawn by the court, they cannot be discriminatory. The plaintiffs note that the 2013 maps differ only a little from the 2011 maps, which were ruled to be discriminatory, and that many of the problematic elements of the 2011 maps exist in the same form in the 2013 maps. The trial this week is to answer the question whether the existing maps are discriminatory, and if so what should replace them and also should the state be bailed back into preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. This Brennan Center article explains it better than I just did, with more details.

Here’s the Trib Day One story. A couple of highlights:

With Texas becoming less white each day, lawyers for minority rights groups opened their push for new maps by parsing the state’s demographic growth, which shows that the population of eligible white voters has significantly declined since 2010.

When asked by federal district Judge Orlando Garcia how this relates to the 2013 maps, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus’ lawyer, Jose Garza, indicated it was proof that Texans of color don’t have proportional representation under the maps currently in place.

“Even today … minorities are underrepresented when measured against population data and population figures,” Garza said.

MALC also presented an alternative map to demonstrate that the state House boundaries could have been drawn in a way that minimized the slicing of municipalities and created additional “opportunity districts” where minority voters are able to select their preferred candidates.

Creating that type of district was not a legislative priority when the House took on redistricting in 2013; lawmakers only made “cosmetic changes” that didn’t “improve the overall map for minority opportunity,” former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer testified before the court.

In 2011, state lawmakers drew legislative and congressional maps following the 2010 census, but they were immediately challenged in court on the basis that they diluted the voting strength of Hispanic and black voters. The court drew interim maps amid an election scramble, and the Legislature in 2013 moved to adopt them.

Martinez Fischer argued that efforts to improve those maps for minority representation were rebuffed by the Republican majority.

“It was almost all upon deaf ears,” Martinez Fischer said.

All the plaintiffs’ briefs for the trial can be found here. The demonstration map mentioned in the story for the State House is H391, and C285 is for Congress, with the former drawn by MALC and the latter by MALC, LULAC, and the Perez plaintiffs. There more of these – go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/, choose a Shaded Plan, change the Category to All, and scroll down. The last maps listed for each type will be the ones being shown in the trial. Michael Li of the Brennan Center is live-tweeting the trial, so follow along with him for the play-by-play. I’ll do my best to keep up as well.

Two more redistricting updates

From KUT, will we have a new Congressional map for next year?

[Gerry Hebert, one of the plaintiff attorneys], says he’s hopeful there won’t be yet another election with the old maps.

“The timing of the court’s decision is absolutely giving us an opportunity to get a new congressional redistricting plan for the 2018 election,” he says.

There are still quite a few steps between that decision and new maps, though. First up: a court hearing at the end of the month. Michael Li with the Brennan Center for Justice, another member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, says it should answer some of the “what happens next” kind of questions.

“We need to know when the parties are supposed to file briefs, when they are supposed to propose maps. Is the Legislature going to be given a chance? Is it not?” he says. “All of that is going to have to be decided.”

Li says at some point, both sides might also have to settle whether the 2013 interim map the state is currently using should be thrown out. Li, like Hebert, argues the interim map is not totally different than the 2011 map that the court struck down.

[…]

There has already been one unforeseen twist in the case since the ruling.

The state recently filed a motion asking the trial court to give it permission to appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is unusual. Typically such cases are appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, Li, Hebert and others will have to make the case for why the decision on the 2011 map should not be overturned.

See here, here, and here for some background. As noted, the status conference next Thursday the 27th is where these issues will begin to get hashed out. The timeline proposed by the plaintiffs would have a final map in place by July 1. Lots of things can and surely will happen between now and then, but that’s the goal and we should have some clue how attainable it will be next week.

As we have discussed before, all of this activity so far is around the Congressional map. We now have a decision in the case involving the original State House map, but will we get a new map drawn in time for 2018 in that case as well?

The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to hear the Texas redistricting case in which a three-judge federal panel ruled against the state in a 2-1 decision.

“The state of Texas purposely and intentionally, with full knowledge of what they were doing, discriminated against Latinos and African-American voters,” said Luis Vera, the national general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, who has argued the case over the last several years.

[…]

Vera said it’s expected if Governor Greg Abbott calls a special legislative session, Texas lawmakers will have the first crack at fixing the 2011 map. If not, the federal judges will step in, Vera said.

Vera said there also could be a state and federal compromise.

Vera said the lines must be redrawn by 2018. He said even then, a new map is required after the U.S. Census in 2020.

I’m glad to hear that the plaintiffs’ attorneys believe there will be a new map in place for 2018, but I’m sure the state will argue that the 2013 map fixed all the problems and will do everything in their power to delay any further action. SCOTUS already has a different gerrymandering case on its spring docket, which may or may not have any overlapping effect on this. As always, we should know a lot more after that status call on the 27th.

Patrick will run for re-election in 2018

In case you were worried that he was planning to “spend more time with his family”, or whatever.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick formally announced Monday he’s running for re-election, looking to finally quell speculation he’s interested in higher office.

“Put it in cement,” Patrick told reporters a day before the start of the 85th legislative session.

Patrick, who’s been beating back such rumors since he took office in 2015, also endorsed Gov. Greg Abbott for re-election. Abbott has not formally announced he is running again but is expected to.

“We are a great team,” Patrick told reporters. “We work well together. We agree 96, 97 percent of the time – I can’t even name the 3 percent we don’t.”

[…]

Patrick has repeatedly said he plans to run for re-election, but has been dogged by rumors he could challenge Abbott, which were the focus of a recent Associated Press story. Patrick emphatically denied Monday he was interested in taking on Abbott, saying he has “never even thought about it.”

“Let me put this to bed once and for all: I’m not running against Greg Abbott — not in ’18, not ever,” Patrick said. “If he wants to be governor for the next 20 years and I’m still running, that’s the same story.”

Whatever. As with most things Dan Patrick-related, there’s a distinct whiff of the-gentleman-doth-protest-too-much about this. I mean, either the rumors that he wants to run for Governor in 2018 are either completely unfounded, in which case sooner or later people will get tired of them, or there really is something to them, in which case all the denials in the world will be dismissed as not meaning anything. All I care about is who else may be running for Lite Gov – anyone know what Trey Martinez-FIscher is thinking about these days? – and there’s plenty of time to worry about that. The Lone Star Project has more.

Voter ID changes approved

We’re all set.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas’ voter ID law, cast as the strictest in the nation, will be substantially watered down during November’s election after a federal judge Wednesday approved a deal that allows those lacking required identification to cast a ballot by signing an affidavit.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos agreed to terms worked out between Texas and several minority groups, which requires the state to spend $2.5 million on a voter education campaign. Ramos also ordered that Texas allow the groups suing have input on the state’s outreach efforts.

[…]

Under the approved deal, acceptable identifications were expanded to include voter registration cards, birth certificates, utility bills, paycheck stubs and government documents with the voter’s name and address.

Along with one of the alternate IDs, voters will also have to sign an affidavit and check a box saying why they were unable to obtain one of the identifications required under the law. The deal also provides safeguards to prevent poll workers and election officials from questioning Texans lacking identification at the ballot box.

Democrats said the Republican-controlled Legislature could have provided protections for voters lacking necessary identification to still be allowed to cast ballots but opted instead to pass a bill that has been mired in litigation for years.

“This fix will provide welcome relief to the 600,000 Texas voters who have been disenfranchised by the state’s discriminatory voter ID law,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat and the chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we need not have waited three years or spent millions of taxpayer dollars to get to this point.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the full statement from MALC. The item about the plaintiffs having a say on how the outreach efforts go is a win as well, since they were skeptical about it to begin with.

Lawyers for Texas have disclosed that Burson-Marsteller, a public relations giant and global strategic communications firm with an Austin office, is under contract with the state to develop voter outreach efforts for the current year.

That includes a roughly $2.5 million plan Texas agreed to put in place after a federal appeals court last month found its voter ID measure discriminates against minorities.

Burson-Marsteller is no stranger to helping Texas with voter education plans, contracting with the state as far back as 2006. But Texas’ outreach efforts focused on the controversial photo ID law have been cast as lackluster by minority groups and federal courts, including a plan designed for the 2014 elections by Burson-Marsteller in which the state spent $2 million on an education campaign.

In a court filing last week, Texas said Burson-Marsteller and a subcontractor, Austin-based TKO Advertising, have already consulted with the state to design a “multi-faceted strategy to reach and educate voters” about changes to the voter ID law for the upcoming election. Texas says that plan is ready to be executed.

However, lawyers suing the state said they remain concerned about Texas’ willingness to reach out to voters and to train poll workers — and Burson-Marsteller’s involvement doesn’t help that perception.

“It gives us less confidence,” said Jose Garza, a lawyer for the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case. “The state’s historical track record is not a very good one on this issue.”

As that second story notes, the oversight item was one on which the two sides did not agree. It’s not hard to understand why the plaintiffs had their doubts, given the association with previous “outreach” efforts. I’m hopeful this will ensure things go as smoothly as can be expected.

That said, this still isn’t over.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a staunch supporter of the voter ID law, signaled that he won’t give up the case any time soon. The legal battle over what is said to be the nation’s strictest voter ID law has already cost state taxpayers more than $3.5 million.

“This case is not over,” Paxton’s spokesman, Marc Rylander, said in a statement. “Given the time constraints of the November elections and the direction of the Fifth Circuit, today’s order by the district court is an interim remedy that preserves the crucial aspects of the Voter ID law for this November election, while we continue evaluating all options moving forward, including an appeal of the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Seems highly unlikely to me that there are five votes on SCOTUS to overturn the Fifth Circuit decision, but as we know it’s not the winning or losing that motivates Paxton, it’s the rallying of the troops. A glorious defeat works just fine for his purposes. The Lege will take another crack at this next year, though it remains to be seen what that might amount to. I feel pretty confident saying what we have now is what we’ll have in November. Beyond that, we’ll see. The Texas Civil Rights Project has more.

We haven’t heard the last of TMF

He’ll be back.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer says he laments nothing about a failed gambit for the state Senate that will end his 16-year stint with the Texas Legislature.

The boisterous San Antonio Democrat, however, is leaving office at the end of the year with a message: Don’t write off his political career just yet.

“Last time I checked this wasn’t a retirement party,” Martinez Fischer, 45, said in an interview. “I don’t want anybody to misconstrue my words to think this is my political obituary.”

[…]

Experts say they expect to see Martinez Fischer back in action and point to possible scenarios for another run at a high-profile public office, potentially Bexar County Commissioners Court or U.S. Congress. But, they note, the right opportunity would have to present itself, requiring in most cases for an incumbent to move on.

Democratic consultant Christian Archer said Martinez Fischer’s immediate choices appear limited.

Two seats on the Commissioners Court could present options, he said: Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo, 80, is up for re-election in 2018 and hasn’t said what he plans to do. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, 74, also hasn’t committed to another term.

Archer said running for either spot on the Commissioners Court would make perfect sense for Martinez Fischer.

“It keeps you home in San Antonio. It also comes with real check. And there’s a lot of power,” he said. “I would think that Trey would have to look at running for county commissioner or county judge if it were available.”

But Archer noted that Elizondo and Wolff are powerful and entrenched incumbents and would have to decide against running to make it feasible for Martinez Fischer.

Another scenario political observers are floating involves Martinez Fischer running to succeed U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, if he were tapped for a role in a potential Hillary Clinton White House or if he makes a run for another office in the near future.

There are some obvious parallels to Adrian Garcia here, as TMF lost a bruising primary against an incumbent after being in what was essentially another primary, one that was just as bruising, last year. The first order of business is to patch up damaged relationships and get everyone to remember why they liked him in the first place, and the best way to do that is to go all out to help Democrats win up and down the ballot this year. In Bexar County, that means working to retake HDs 117 and 118, and the Dems there have a Sheriff’s office to win as well. His old colleague Pete Gallego could use some help winning back CD23 as well. Do those things, with enthusiasm and visibility, and the potential possibilities become more possible. Like Garcia, TMF is a young man, so he could take a cycle or two off if he wants or needs to, and still be in good shape. We will miss having TMF in the Lege, but I feel confident that he has more good to do, and I look forward to supporting him in that again when the time is right.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

“Visit www.HarrisVotes.com to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at www.HarrisVotes.com.”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.

Checking in on Battleground Texas

They’re still here.

So where does [Lon] Burnam see Battleground Texas in his plan to be the first Texas Democrat elected to a statewide office since 1994?

“No comment,” he said, before adding as he walked away, “In 20 years of public service, that’s the first time I’ve ever said that.”

Burnam’s response echoed that of many of the longtime liberal activists in the room and around Texas, underscoring the complicated feelings many Democrats have toward Battleground Texas. Many declined to comment for this story. Others were careful to avoid either actively criticizing the group or offering strong praise of it.

“They’re pretty easy to set up as a piñata,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat running for state Senate, at a recent Texas Tribune event. “I mean, at a bare minimum, they’re trying, and sometimes that’s just half the battle. Whether they’re set up for this, whether they are doing this the right way, I don’t have any way to judge.”

[…]

After feeling that the group sought excessive attention in 2014, now many activists see the opposite problem: Battleground Texas seems to be hibernating. The group has scaled down its paid staff operation and will likely only do some field work in a few priority House races this year, according to sources close to the party.

In the meantime, Battleground is ignoring an important opportunity by not being more engaged in the current election cycle, argues Christian Archer, a veteran Texas campaign strategist based in San Antonio.

“We want to be able to harness the energy of right now and use it in future elections,” Archer said. “You’re never going to get the level of engagement that you do in a presidential, so there’s no better time to get involved than today. And yet I haven’t even heard the name Battleground in six months.”

I still get emails from them, but I agree that the volume is considerably lower right now. BGTX does not currently have an executive director, which I suspect is part of why that is. Most of the people quoted in the story seem willing to put the past behind us and focus on working together to do some good in this year’s election. So at least the next ED of BGTX won’t have to do too much groveling as part of the job. What I want to see in the next generation of leadership at BGTX is a full accounting of what went wrong in 2014 – I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of that story – what we learned from it, and what will be different this time. Some specific goals for this year would be nice, in particular targets for registering new voters and turning them out at the polls. In an alternate universe, this would be the year that BGTX was gearing up to Do Big Things, as their original intent was to focus on Presidential year turnout. They’ve taken a very different path to get where they are now, one that has inflicted some painful lessons on us all. Surely BGTX and everyone else can make something of that brutal experience. We’ll be the better for it if we can.

Overview of two Bexar County legislative primaries

The turnover of Bexar County’s Democratic legislative caucus continues apace. With the departures in 2015 of Mike Villarreal and Jose Menendez (succeeded by Diego Bernal and Ina Minjarez, respectively) and the departures this year by Joe Farias, Trey Martinez-Fischer, and Ruth Jones McClendon, there will be a whole lot of Bexar County legislators being sworn in on January 2, 2017 that weren’t there two years before. The Rivard Report takes a look at the three candidates who hope to succeed TMF in HD116.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez are not exactly household names in San Antonio, but all three candidates are hoping past political training or staff experience propel them into elected office. The primary winner – or May 24 runoff winner if a second round of voting is necessary – will run unopposed on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot and be sworn into office in January.

[…]

A Jefferson High School graduate, Arévalo served on the San Antonio Youth Commission and became involved with student government while attending college. She majored in business, earning a bachelor’s degree at UTSA and a master’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. As an undergraduate, Arévalo was a fellow at the United Leaders Institute for Political Service at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and she attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University.

She worked as an intern in U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office, and at the Obama White House in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. She parlayed these and other experiences into a chance to work with the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee, and on President Obama’s 2013 inaugural committee.

Back home, Arévalo has served as secretary of the Bexar County Democratic Party, and currently chairs the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention Host Committee. Her party work led to an opportunity to manage the 2013 City Council campaign of Leticia Ozuna, who finished second in a three way-race won by Rebecca Viagran. Arévalo said she learned a lot from the experience that she now is applying in her own campaign.

[…]

Golando, 38, is a native Midwesterner who has called San Antonio home for 17 years. He earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law and is a partner in the downtown law firm Garza Golando Moran, specializing in election and civil rights laws. Golando has the most direct connection to Martinez Fischer. He has worked for him for 10 years, including time as his chief of staff. Galindo said he focused on water policy, taxation and legislative procedure.

Golando has served for two years as general counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus, and he has served as a co-counsel during the hotly contested Texas redistricting case and all challenges to the Texas Voter ID law. In 2013, Golando was briefly in the national spotlight. In the wake of the legislative redistricting fight that began in 2011, Golando requested repayment from the state of more than $282,000 in legal fees he said he incurred while helping the caucus in its legal battle.

The state’s Attorney General’s office, then under Greg Abbott’s leadership, said Golando was ineligible for repayment because of his dual employment. Golando has kept up the legal battle, and the case is still active.

[…]

Resendez is the first graduate of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s program to prepare young Latinas for public service who is seeking elected office, which led to this recent story on the Rivard Report.

“People want to have good, high-quality, high-paying jobs. People also want to make sure senior citizens’ needs are met,” Resendez said she has learned in her district campaigning. “There are good ideas in the community. We’re getting out onto the streets to help find solutions to conflicts in our neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, the Express News provides a glimpse of the six candidates running to succeed McClendon in HD120.

On the Democrats’ March 1 ballot — listed in the following order — are Lou Miller, Latronda Darnell, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Art Hall, Mario Salas and Byron Miller.

[…]

Lou Miller, an insurance agent and district governor for Rotary International who served on the city zoning commission and the VIA Transit board, said he knows “how to get things done even as a non-elected official,” having helped lure a planned health clinic to the East Side.

He said he’d continue McClendon’s push to build a state office complex near downtown, a $135 million proposal that was approved by lawmakers in 2015 but vetoed by Abbott as too costly.

Darnell, a former legislative staffer to McClendon, said social justice issues are an overriding concern, along with improving education. Having served in the Legislature, she said she already has working relationships with key lawmakers and state officials, and her experience there taught her that “what happens in Austin happens to you.”

Working for McClendon, who had served District 120 since 1996, Darnell said she learned that “to serve 120 means to be engaged with this community.” And while candidates may have great ideas, change won’t happen if a lawmaker doesn’t have good rapport with other leaders.

Gervin-Hawkins, an educator who serves as executive director and superintendent of the George Gervin Youth Center, cited education as her focus, including faith-based, non-profit and public schools.

Calling these “pivotal times,” she said “what’s needed in Austin right now is someone with diplomacy, strategic planning and the ability to make things happen.” Lamenting a disinterested electorate, she said “we’ve got to give people hope again.” And citing rivalries exposed by the campaign, Gervin-Hawkins said “it’s about how we work together. Let’s unify. ”

Hall, a Harvard grad who earned a law degree from Texas Tech, likewise said education would be his top concern. The attorney who served on City Council and works as a district director for Alamo Colleges, said he’s wants to apply the financial and international business acumen he gained in the private sector.

“We deserve good, strong leadership to carry on the legacy that Ruth Jones McClendon and many others have left behind,” Hall said. Citing his role as a minister, Hall departed from the rest by saying he doesn’t condone same-sex marriage.

Salas, an educator who served on City Council and the Judson ISD board, wants teachers to be treated better by the state, along with minorities and women.

“We need a fighter in that position and I intend to wind it up,” Salas said. He called attention to his long involvement in racial equality and social justice causes and touted his backing by teacher groups. In Austin, Salas said he’s ready to fight “this jaugernaut of right-wing extremism” that impacts immigration policy and other issues.

Byron Miller, an attorney and Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who served as a justice of the peace and on numerous community boards, said he’s determined to bring better treatment of veterans and the elderly, and he’s also an advocate for early childhood education.

Although the district continues to have problems with infrastructure and social justice, Byron Miller said “it’s getting better” and will continue doing so “if we work together.” He added: “I want to represent everyone, equally.”

Golando in HD116 and Miller in HD120 were endorsed by the Express-News in their primaries. I don’t know much about any of these people, so it’s good to get at least a few tidbits.

It’s worth noting that in 2012, there were eight Democrats elected to the Lege from Bexar County, out of ten total districts. Here’s what the delegation looked like then, and what happened to them since:

HD116 – Trey Martinez-Fischer. He ran in the special election for SD26 after Leticia Van de Putte stepped down to run for Mayor but lost in a runoff to Jose Menendez. This year, he chose to go for a rematch in SD26, thus leaving his seat open.

HD117 – Philip Cortez reclaimed a seat that had been held by David Leibowitz from 2004 through 2010 before losing it in the 2010 wipeout. Cortez then lost it in 2014, and is trying to win it back this year.

HS118 – Joe Farias. Elected in 2006 to succeed Carlos Uresti after his successful primary race against then-Sen. Frank Madla, Farias announced his retirement at the end of the last session. He vacated his seat shortly thereafter, and the remainder of his term was won in a special election runoff by a Republican. Two Democrats, both of whom vied for his seat in the special election, are fighting each other in the primary for the chance to win it back in November: Gabe (son of Joe) Farias, and Tomas (brother of Carlos) Uresti; the latter was the loser in the special election runoff.

HD119 – Roland Gutierrez is now the senior member of the delegation. He was elected in 2008 in an unopposed primary to succeed Robert Puente, who was one of the last Craddick Dems still in the Lege.

HD120 – As noted above, Ruth Jones McClendon has retired, and resigned her seat. A special election to fill the remainder of her term will be held in May.

HD123 – Mike Villarreal. He stepped down after winning re-election in 2014 so he could run for Mayor of San Antonio. Diego Bernal won that seat in a January special election.

HD124 – Jose Menendez was the winner for SD26 last year, which then created a vacancy for his seat. Ina Minjarez won that in an April runoff.

HD125 – Justin Rodriguez is now the second longest-serving Democrat in Bexar County. He won the primary for that seat after Joaquin Castro moved up to Congress.

Whew. Lots of changes, with more to come. Good luck sorting it all out, Bexar County.

Endorsement watch: Succeeding Sylvester

The Chron makes its choice for HD139.

Kimberly Willis

Kimberly Willis

We encourage Democratic Party voters to look for a candidate who will emulate Turner’s successful model of connecting constituents’ interests with the levers of state power in Austin. We believe that Kimberly Willis will be that candidate.

Willis’ experience as a former staffer in the Legislature and as a social worker in Houston gives her a comprehensive view of the ways in which government programs can impact neighborhoods.

“I understand what good public policy does for a community,” she told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

[…]

Also running for the position are Randy Bates, 66, a former Lone Star College trustee; Jerry Ford Jr., 23, a student activist; and Jarvis Johnson, 44, a former member of Houston City Council.

Ford has an impressive passion and said he is running to spark a movement of youth involvement in politics, but he could use a little more experience. Bates and Johnson both have that experience as elected officials. However, Bates relied too much on vagaries when he talked with the editorial board. Johnson faced allegations of unethical and illegal behavior while on City Council, including allegations of trying to direct city contracts and being charged with evading arrest. He was never indicted or convicted, but too many questions still remain about Johnson’s political ethics.

Here are my interviews with Willia, Ford, and Bates. I’ll just note that Jarvis Johnson had no online campaign presence as my last check, and did not file a January finance report. He does almost certainly have the most name recognition among the foursome, and came dangerously close to winning a seat on the HCDE in 2012, so don’t count him out.

Meanwhile, since I happened to come across it, here are some primary legislative recommendations from San Antonio:

In Texas House District 116, three Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to replace state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who is vacating the post to run for the Texas Senate.

The three contenders are Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez. All three have the potential to be solid public servants, but Golando has far more relevant experience than the others. And for that reason, we recommend that voters cast their ballots for Golando.

Serving as Martinez Fischer’s chief of staff for almost 10 years, Golando has a vast amount of experience in the legislative process that will enable him to hit the ground running. A lawyer, Golando has served as the general counsel of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which was led by Martinez Fischer.

[…]

We strongly urge Democrats to nominate [Gabe] Farias [in HD118], who has served as president and CEO of the West Side Chamber of Commerce since 2012. Farias has an understanding of business issues that will be helpful in the Legislature. He also has served on the staff of two City Council members and worked in the office of state Rep. Roland Gutierrez.

Additionally, Farias demonstrates a superior knowledge of key legislative matters, advocates expanding Medicaid and is a strong supporter of public education.

[…]

We recommend that voters cast their ballots for Byron Miller, an Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who has been elected to the EAA District 2 post three times. Miller’s EAA experience gives him a strong foundation to be a voice for Bexar County on water policy, which is a crucial issue in the state.

Miller is a lifelong resident of District 120 and has a long record of civic involvement, ranging from being a Boy Scoutmaster to serving on the Carver Cultural Center and Witte Museum boards. Miller also served on the Bexar County Coliseum Advisory board.

[…]

In District 124, we strongly recommend Ina Minjarez, who last spring was elected to the post formerly held by Sen. José Menéndez with only weeks remaining in the legislative session.

Starting at the bottom, Minjarez was the E-N’s preferred candidate in that special election last year, and all the things I’ve heard about her so far have been positive. I don’t know Martin Golando, but people in San Antonio and with connections to the Lege that I respect are all high on him, and that’s good enough for me. The stakes may have been low in that HD118 special election, but Tomas Uresti lost it, and that sure seems like a good reason to support Gabe Farias (also the E-N choice in round one of that special election). Finally, I don’t know the candidates in HD120 (Art Hall ran for Railroad Commissioner in 2008 but finished out of the money in a three-way primary), so I welcome any input from the locals in that race.

AG’s office upholds Abbott’s line item vetos

Of course it does.

NO

Gov. Greg Abbott was well within his powers when he vetoed more than $200 million in funds approved by the Texas Legislature this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office wrote in an opinion issued Monday.

[…]

The nonbinding opinion, written by First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy, has the potential to shore up the governor’s power over the budget-writing process if Roy’s interpretation ultimately held up in a court of law.

“The provisions vetoed by the Governor each designate a specific purpose and the amount to be used therefor, and they are items of appropriations subject to the Governor’s veto” Roy wrote.

Abbott’s office praised the opinion Monday evening.

“The Attorney General’s opinion upholds the governor’s constitutional authority to limit unnecessary spending and ensure fiscal solvency,” spokesman John Wittman said.

The Budget Board is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, and its members include the chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees who write the budget. Like Abbott, Patrick also publicly criticized the board’s argument — so much so that he wanted a special committee to review the budget board and other legislative agencies. Email traffic between his office, the board and the House speaker’s office made it clear that a top Patrick aide had seen the board document in advance and approved sending it to Hegar.

The vetoes covered funding for projects at several state agencies and higher education institutions.

The largest funding item at issue was for $132 million from the Texas Facilities Commission’s budget to build a state office building in San Antonio to replace the G.J. Sutton State Complex. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, has previously urged the city of San Antonio to consider legally challenging Abbott’s veto, noting that the new building is expected to play a key role in the revitalization of the city’s East Side area.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the AG opinion. I’m not qualified to address the legal points of this, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the fix was in. I said before that this probably needs to be resolved by the Supreme Court, so I hope the city of San Antonio takes up TMF’s call to sue over this. Perhaps a better question to ask, especially of Republicans, is if it’s such a good idea to expand the Governor’s powers in this way. It’s certainly open to debate whether this is a good idea or not, but shouldn’t we at least have that debate? I’m just saying. The Chron and Trail Blazers have more.

One more time for TMF-Menendez

It’s on, again.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Fifteen-year state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Sunday he’ll run for Texas Senate District 26 next year against incumbent José Menéndez.

The March 1 Democratic primary race will pit the same contenders who battled for the seat earlier this year in a special election to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, also D-San Antonio, who gave up the seat in a failed bid for mayor.

Menéndez won that Feb. 17 contest by a 3-2 margin, and it wasn’t long before Martinez Fischer began hinting at a rematch, asserting that Menéndez was too beholden to Republicans who helped him win election.

Sen. Jose Menendez

The same charge was made Sunday when about 200 supporters gathered at a West Side restaurant to hear Martinez Fischer’s declaration, which came on the eve of Monday’s filing deadline for party primary candidates.

Drawing endorsements from U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and state Reps. Roland Gutierrez and Justin Rodriguez, all D-San Antonio, Martinez Fischer vowed to be a fighter for District 26. He said he would use his understanding of the legislative process to ward off GOP-backed measures that he views as harmful to constituents.

Without mentioning him by name, Martinez Fischer said Menéndez “bragged” that he voted for the state budget even though it was inadequate in many areas.

“I doubt he bragged to our public school teachers who work in classrooms that are overcrowded and underfunded. I doubt he bragged to the parents and families who go without insurance, without Medicaid, because they can’t afford the premium or the state cut their services,” Martinez Fischer said.

We’ll see how it goes. I know the conventional wisdom was that Menendez won the special election runoff on the strength of Republican votes, but those votes came on top of a base of Democratic support. The budget is a legitimate issue, but (again, despite the proffered wisdom at the time of the runoff), I can’t think of any other actions by Menendez that stand out as campaign fodder. But hey, that’s why they run the races. TMF’s decision means his HD116 seat will be open, and you can expect a flurry of candidates to sign up for that. One way or another, the San Antonio legislative delegation turns over some more. The Trib and the Rivard Report have more.

Rep. McClendon to step down

She’ll be missed.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, a San Antonio Democrat and 19-year veteran of the Texas House who tenaciously championed social justice reform, said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election.

McClendon was elected in 1996 to represent East Side voters in House District 120 and has emerged as a fixture in the Legislature as the dean of the Bexar County delegation.

However, McClendon’s health has been an ongoing concern. She was diagnosed in 2009 with stage 4 lung cancer and underwent surgery to remove water from her brain last year.

Her fragile physical state was emphasized during the latest legislative session when she relied on an electric scooter to navigate the Capitol and had noticeable trouble speaking.

In a statement, McClendon said she plans to stay in office until her term expires in December 2016 but that “it is time for someone else to take up the mantle.”

“Although I will not return to the Legislature in 2017,” she said, “I will still be engaged to ensure that the issues I have fought for will have a voice.”

[…]

McClendon has possibly become best known for her quest to have the state study wrongful prison convictions. She achieved the long-time goal during the last legislative session to create a commission to study exonerations, a triumph that helped earn her recognition from Texas Monthly as one of 2015’s best lawmakers.

Lawmakers said McClendon’s presence will be missed.

“Ruth is not only the dean of our delegation, she’s also our Capitol mother. Knowing that she’s not coming back is something that’s going to be hard to overcome,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat. “She’s always been the leader of our delegation, but now its time for her to make sure she’s taking care of her health and her family.”

All respect to Rep. McClendon, who has battled health issues for several years but went out on a high note this session with the passage of that exoneration commission bill. Go read the story at the end of that post linked above; if it doesn’t make you at least a little misty, you might want to adjust your meds. Her departure means that the ten-member Bexar County House delegation will have at least four members who were not there this past January – Rep. Diego Bernal, the successor to Mike Villarreal, who resigned to run for Mayor; Rep. Ina Minjarez, who won a special election for the seat vacated by now-Sen. Jose Rodriguez; and whoever follows the retiring Reps. McClendon and Joe Farias. If the Dems win back HD117 in this Presidential-turnout year, that will be half of the delegation turned over. Getting some new blood is always good, but losing such distinguished veterans is hard. I wish Rep. McClendon all the best as she enters the next phase of her life. The Trib has more.

Will there be TMF-Menendez round 2?

Maybe. Who knows?

Sen. Jose Menendez

Last February, Jose Menendez beat Trey Martinez Fischer to serve the remainder of Leticia Van De Putte’s term when she decided to run for mayor.

Campaign finance reports filed Wednesday may point to a rematch this fall.

“Without money you don’t get your message out, so that’s why having money is important,” says Senator Menendez.

“It’s quite a compliment and a testament to the work I do in Austin, and that believe in my public service,” says Martinez Fischer.

Combined the two men have raised more than $400,000 , according to their campaigns and finance reports.

[…]

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

“There’s no doubt about it, I’m giving it some very serious consideration. The special election was just in very recent memory, but there isn’t a day goes by in San Antonio that I’m not stopped in the street, or talking to people in a restaurant where they don’t ask about this race,” says Martinez Fischer.

“I can’t worry about who’s going to run, I have to worry about doing my job, and at the end of the day, come Election Day if I’ve done my job then the voters I believe will send me back to Austin,” says Menendez.

[…]

Menendez came in second in the general election, and then won handily in the runoff, and he admits he had Republican Party backing, he’s not sure he’ll need it if he and Martinez Fischer meet again.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many slick ads are cut, it doesn’t matter how many fliers you have, or how many signs are out there. What matters is that people believe that you care enough to work on what matters to them,” says Menendez.

Anything is possible, but let’s remember two things. One, for all the hullabaloo and self-loathing among some Democrats for the way Menendez won the runoff, the fact remains that even TMF’s post-election analysis showed Menendez had significant Democratic support. Republican voters preferred him over TMF, but that was likely more about them disliking TMF and his combative personality, as there was no ideological reason for them to have a preference. And that’s point two: For all the hue and cry about Menendez being more “conservative” than TMF, there’s nothing I know of in his voting record, in the House or in his short term so far in the Senate, to back that up. If TMF challenges Menendez in March – and I say this as someone who likes TMF and would have voted for him in SD26 if I had lived there – what does he have to use against him in that race? My guess is this would be one of those all-heat, little-light races that everyone hates. This is how it goes when two candidates that have no real difference between them on the issues battle it out. I have no opinion about whether or not TMF should challenge Menendez in March. If he does it’s fine and if he doesn’t it’s fine. All I’m saying is that the special election runoff from this year has nothing to tell us about how such a race might go next year.

House chubfest kills several bad bills

Some good news, though as always at the end of a session, the outcome isn’t clean and the details are very murky.

Squalius cephalus, the official mascot of talking bills to death

As the clock struck midnight, the failure of an anti-abortion initiative — dear to the hearts of the far right — marked the end of a tumultuous day on the floor of the Texas House that saw the passage of sweeping ethics reform and a version of legislation allowing concealed carrying of handguns on college campuses.

On the last day that it could approve major legislation that began in the Senate, the lower chamber embarked on an all-day procedural waltz, with Democrats attempting to kill bills by delaying them past midnight, and Republicans looking for openings to move their legislation.

Early in the day, Democrats narrowly shot down an attempt to essentially change the order of the calendar, moving big-ticket items up for faster consideration. They then used every parliamentary trick in the book to slow the pace, delaying consideration of mostly uncontroversial bills.

But after huddling in a secret meeting in a room adjacent to the House floor, Democrats let the action get moving again.

For hours, the House debated an ethics reform bill, dissolving into angry tirades and raunchy debate about the reach of a drug-testing provision for lawmakers.

The passionate debate pitted Republicans against each other — over lifting the veil on “dark money” and restricting people from recording or videotaping politicians without their permission.

With the clock ticking, a few Republicans at one point even sought to postpone debate over ethics legislation — deemed a priority by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — so the House could take up campus carry and an abortion bill that would have prohibited coverage of the procedure on certain health insurance plans.

Republican state Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler asked state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the House sponsor of the ethics legislation, to temporarily pull down the measure so that it did not chew up the time left on the clock.

After Cook declined, Democrats took to the mic to reiterate that ethics reform was declared an emergency item by the governor and was supposed to be prioritized over the rest of the calendar.

The House eventually passed the ethics bill, including the dark money provision, then went back to an innocuous agency-review bill, also known as a Sunset bill, to reform the Department of Family and Protective Services.

[…]

The biggest victim of the midnight deadline was Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor, which would have banned abortion coverage on plans sold on the federal Affordable Care Act’s marketplace.

Originally, SB 575 would have banned abortion coverage on both ACA plans and private health insurance plans. But the House State Affairs Committee amended the bill to mirror a measure filed in the House by state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, and approved by the committee this month before dying on a House bill deadline.

Republicans had said they intended to amend it on the floor to bring back the private insurance ban.

The bill — passed in the Senate earlier this month — died in the House after a turbulent ride in the lower chamber.

It was cleared by the State Affairs Committee on Saturday in a last-minute vote on the last day the committee could clear Senate proposals.

Killing SB575 was a big one, and one of the Democrats’ main goals for deadline day. They also succeeded in preventing an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families to a sunset bill for the Department of Family and Protective Services, another main goal. What did get passed was a somewhat watered-down version of campus carry that will allow university trustees to designate certain “gun-free zones” as long as there isn’t a blanket ban on carrying firearms by those with concealed handgun licenses. The campus carry bill could possibly have been stopped, though (this is where we get into the messy and murky stuff) that could have had effects that would make the victory a lot more pyhrric. The Morning News hints at some of what might have happened.

Late Tuesday, the House was debating the gun measure, though it was unclear if it would pass.

Several Republicans said that after the initial slowdown, Speaker Joe Straus intervened in the early afternoon, to get things moving. There were conflicting accounts, though, of precisely how Straus, a San Antonio Republican, did so.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Tan Parker of Flower Mound said that in conversations with individual Democrats, “the speaker was firm that he would use everything,” meaning parliamentary “nuclear options,” to shut down debate and force votes.

Straus, though, was coy.

“I didn’t talk to Democrats,” Straus told a reporter. “But I intend to get through this,” he added, referring to the House’s agenda.

One consideration may have been that the campus carry bill is part of a grand bargain on tax cuts, border security, guns and ethics. The deal may allow lawmakers to finish their work Monday, as scheduled, instead of having a special session.

As passed by the Senate, the campus carry measure would allow the licensed concealed carrying of handguns in most public university buildings. There were rumblings the House might restore a campus-by-campus opt-in provision, as it did two years ago, or let the measure die when the clock struck midnight.

Whether Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his GOP allies in the Senate would consider that a breach of the grand bargain remained unclear.

[…]

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said he was upset that some senior Democrats relented.

“We’ve given away too much leverage,” he said.

There was talk that Martinez Fischer and other long-serving Democrats were worried the minority might be asking for too much, especially after gaining key House GOP leaders’ cooperation in squelching bills aimed at unions and stopping hailstorm damage lawsuits.

[Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer, though, called that too facile.

“You can’t view everything as a quid pro quo,” he said. “It’s not personal. It’s all about business.”

Martinez-Fischer had a point of order that could have killed the campus carry bill, but he pulled it down after some intense discussion, and thus it went to a vote. How you feel about all this likely correlates directly to your opinion of his dealmaking ability and trustworthiness in making such deals. It’s also the case that this isn’t the end of the story, as the Statesman notes.

Cutting off debate ended a daylong Democratic effort to avoid a floor vote on the campus carry legislation before a drop-dead midnight deadline to have an initial vote on Senate bills.

After the vote, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said Democrats voluntarily pulled down their amendments after winning a key concession with an approved amendment allowing colleges and universities to have limited authority on banning guns in certain campus areas.

In addition, he said, Republicans were prepared to employ a rarely used maneuver to cut off debate with a motion that had already lined up agreement from the required 25 House members.

[…]

The bill-killing tactics appeared headed for success late Tuesday, until Speaker Joe Straus abruptly called for a vote on SB 11 about 20 minutes before the deadline.

The move avoided a bitter blow for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Based on assurances from House leaders that campus carry would get a floor vote in their chamber, Patrick and Birdwell declined last week to add the school gun bill as an amendment to House Bill 910, a measure to allow openly carried holstered handguns that is now one small step away from Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Before approving SB11, the House voted overwhelmingly to allow each college and university to regulate where guns may be excluded, as long as firearms are not banned campus-wide. Each plan would have to be approved by two-thirds of the board of regents under the amendment by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, that was approved 119-29.

The House also adopted an amendment by Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, to exempt health care-related institutions and the Texas Medical Center from campus carry.

“Never assume the Democrats gave up on campus carry. Democrats did not give up on campus carry,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “The Zerwas amendment waters it down. The bill will go to conference and we will continue to have our input in the process.”

Here’s a separate Trib story on the campus carry bill, an Observer story about the ethics reform bill that was a main vehicle for Democratic stalling tactics, and a Chron story on the overall chubbing strategy as it was happening. Newsdesk, RG Ratcliffe, and Hair Balls have more on the day overall, and for the last word (via PDiddie), here’s Glen Maxey:

LGBT people are finally, FINALLY free from all types of mischief and evilness. The Senate gets to debate the Cecil Bell amendment by Sen. Lucio put on a friggin’ Garnet Coleman bill tomorrow. It’s all for show. Garnet Coleman is one of the strongest allies of the LGBTQ community. They could amend all the anti-gay stuff they want on it and he’ll strip it off in conference or just outright kill the bill before allowing it to pass with that crap on it. This is for record votes to say they did “something” about teh gays to their nutso base.

And lots of high stakes trading to make sure that other stuff didn’t get amended onto bills today (labor dues, TWIA, etc.) and making sure an Ethics Bill of some sort passed. We didn’t want that to die and give Abbot a reason to call a special session.

Campus carry got watered down… no clue what happens in conference. And the delaying tactics kept us from reaching the abortion insurance ban.

Four good Elections bills passed today. Three on Consent in the House, three in the Senate all will be done by noon Wednesday.

And Lastly: Pigs have flown and landed. HB 1096 the bad voter registration bill is NOT on the Calendar for tomorrow and is therefore DEAD. I am one proud lobbyist on that one. With it’s demise, no major voter suppression bills passed (well, except for Interstate Crosscheck which is only bad if implemented badly, and we have to stay on top of it to make sure it’s not), and over forty good ones survived.

Just a few technical concurrences, and we’re done. Thank the goddess and well, some bipartisanship for once.

As someone once said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. See the next post for more on that.

House approves bill to move Public Integrity Unit

Like it or not, looks like this is going to get done.

Rosemary Lehmberg

The Texas House gave initial approval Monday to a stripped-down bill that would remove public corruption cases from Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit.

Final House approval is expected Tuesday.

House Bill 1690, initially approved 94-51, was amended on the House floor to apply solely to corruption allegations against elected or appointed state officials, who would be investigated by the Texas Rangers and prosecuted, if the allegations are confirmed, in the official’s home county.

House members adopted an amendment dropping state employees from home-county prosecution, keeping the status quo that would keep those cases in the county where a crime occurred — typically Travis County, where most state employees work.

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, joined Democrats in arguing that home-county prosecution would create a special privilege, and a “home-court advantage,” for state officials that is not available to other Texans.

“I just want to plead with you that you not create, with this bill, a specially protected class,” Simpson said. “I urge you not to treat yourself better than the constituents who you serve.”

A Simpson amendment to allow corruption cases also to be prosecuted in the county where the crime occurred was defeated, 93-49.

The Senate has already passed a similar bill, moving Republicans much closer toward realizing a longtime goal — removing corruption cases from Travis County, a Democratic stronghold where, they believe, GOP officials cannot receive a fair hearing.

Like the Senate version, the bill by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, would not move the majority of cases handled by Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit — including fraud against state programs, insurance fraud and tax fraud.

King estimated public corruption cases affected by his bill would affect only about 2 percent of the unit’s caseload.

See here for background on the Senate bill. I don’t think this is the worst idea ever – it’s better than simply handing this off to the Attorney General’s office, for example – but I agree with Rep. Simpson about how it treats legislators versus everyone else, and I agree with RG Ratcliffe that this does not take the politics out of the process, it just changes them. It may take awhile, but I’d bet that one of these days there will be a scandal over how a future investigation into an officeholder is handled, or not handled, by the Rangers and that officeholder’s home county DA. Anyone want to bet against that proposition? Note that this isn’t a partisan thing – since the Governor appoints the head of DPS, a future Democratic Governor could be just as liable to engage in shenanigans as any other kind of Governor.

And speaking of shady officeholders and their buddies back home:

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, won approval of a provision potentially affecting [Attorney General Ken] Paxton. It would require a local prosecutor who currently or in the past has had “a financial or other business relationship” with the target of a probe to ask the judge to let him be recused “for good cause.” If the judge approved, the hometown prosecutor would be considered disqualified, Turner’s amendment says.

As he explained the amendment, Turner did not mention Paxton or Willis or their offices. Bill author Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, accepted the amendment, which passed on a voice vote.

[…]

The question of criminal prosecution of Paxton appeared to be going nowhere until grand jury members were given information about his licensure violations. One grand jury member expressed a desire to look at the matter. Willis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate and make a recommendation.

Turner, the amendment sponsor, said the original bill would let a local prosecutor seek to be recused “for good cause.” That’s insufficient, he said.

“Obviously, it’s not appropriate for the prosecutor to be involved in that case,” Turner said.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, won approval for a related amendment. It would let an investigation’s target ask a judge to recuse a prosecutor with a conflict of interest.

That’s something, but we’ll see if those amendments stick. There’s two competing bills now, so it’s a matter of which one gets passed by the other chamber first, and if a conference committee is ultimately needed. The House bill is far from great, but it’s better than the Senate bill. The question is whose approach will win. The Chron and the Trib have more.