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Interview with Janaeya Carmouche

Janaeya Carmouche

Houston is a Democratic city, where the Democratic Presidential candidate has drawn 60% or more of the vote in each of the past three races. Yet we stand today with three of the five At Large Council seats being held by Republicans. One is term-limited out, and the other two have multiple challengers to their re-elections. In At Large #3, Janaeya Carmouche is one of three candidates running against CM Michael Kubosh, who was first elected in 2013. Carmouche is a community activist and communications professional who has worked for City Council and more recently for Commissioner Rodney Ellis. You can see her LinkedIn profile for more details. Here’s what we talked about:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes At Large #3 is here, and my 2013 interview with then-candidate, now incumbent Michael Kubosh is here.

Appealing the Crystal Mason illegal voting conviction

This continues to be an appalling travesty.

When Crystal Mason got out of federal prison, she said, she “got out running.”

By Nov. 8, 2016, when she’d been out for months but was still on supervised release, she was working full-time at Santander Bank in downtown Dallas and enrolled in night classes at Ogle Beauty School, trying, she said, to show her children that a “bump in the road doesn’t determine your future.”

On Election Day, there was yet another thing to do: After work, she drove through the rain to her polling place in the southern end of Tarrant County, expecting to vote for the first female president.

When she got there, she was surprised to learn that her name wasn’t on the roll. On the advice of a poll worker, she cast a provisional ballot instead. She didn’t make it to her night class.

A month later, she learned that her ballot had been rejected, and a few months after that, she was arrested. Because she was on supervised release, prosecutors argued, she had knowingly violated a law preventing felons from voting before completing their sentences. Mason insisted she had no idea officials considered her ineligible — and would never have risked her freedom if she had.

For “illegally voting,” she was sentenced to five years in prison. Now, as her lawyers attempt to persuade a Fort Worth appeals court to overturn that sentence, the question is whether she voted at all.

Created in 2002, provisional ballots were intended to serve as an electoral safe harbor, allowing a person to record her vote even amid questions about her eligibility. In 2016, more than 66,000 provisional ballots were cast in Texas, and the vast majority of those were rejected, most of them because they were cast by individuals who weren’t registered to vote, according to data compiled by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. In Tarrant County, where Mason lives, nearly 4,500 provisional ballots were cast that year, and 3,990 were rejected — but she was the only one who faced criminal prosecution.

In fact, Mason’s lawyer told a three-judge panel in North Texas last Tuesday, hers is the first known instance of an individual facing criminal charges for casting a ballot that ultimately didn’t count.

Her case, now pending before an all-Republican appeals panel, is about not just her freedom, but about the role and risks of the provisional ballot itself.

Prosecutors insist that they are not criminalizing individuals who merely vote by mistake. Despite those assurances, voting rights advocates fear the case could foster enough doubt among low-information voters that they’ll be discouraged from heading to the polls — or even clear a path for prosecutors to criminally pursue other provisional ballot-casters.

“There are a lot of people who have questions about whether they can vote or where they can vote,” said Andre Segura, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “You want all of those people to feel comfortable going in and submitting a provisional ballot.”

[…]

Tarrant County prosecutors have brushed off concerns the Mason case could lead to voter suppression. “The fact that this case is so unique should emphasize why this case should in no way have a ‘chilling effect’ on anyone except people who knowingly vote illegally,” Jordan said.

But during the 2019 legislative session, some Republican lawmakers pushed to erase Mason’s legal defense for future defendants by making it easier to prosecute people who cast ballots without realizing they’re ineligible.

Currently, to commit a crime, voters must know they are ineligible; under the proposed law, they would commit a crime just by voting while knowing about the circumstances that made them ineligible. In other words, Mason would have been illegally voting because she was aware of her past felony conviction — even if she was not aware her “supervised release” status made her ineligible.

The fact that Mason’s provisional ballot wasn’t actually counted would have also been ruled out as a legal defense under the proposed changes to state law. That legislation ultimately failed in the House amid major opposition from Democrats.

See here for some background. The appellate hearing was last week, and it drew national coverage. There are three legal justifications given by the ACLU on behalf of Crystal Mason why her attempt to vote was not illegal, but even if you think those arguments are insufficient, there’s still no possible justice in a five year prison sentence for this. I mean, there’s plenty of other crimes that are punished far, far less. This is about scaring certain people so they don’t feel confident about voting. This is why reversing the tide of voter suppression laws has to be a priority for the next Democratic Legislature. Further reading about the case from the ACLU is here and here, and the Observer has more.

Dan Patrick and Michael Quinn Sullivan fighting is the sweetest sound you will ever hear

Inject this directly into my veins.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Michael Quinn Sullivan, a hardline conservative activist long aligned with the head of the Texas Senate, publicly accused each other of “destroying” the Republican Party on Tuesday — seeming to further a rift that has emerged between the two longtime conservative allies.

The dust-up on Twitter started over gun rights, specifically Patrick’s recent support of requiring background checks for private person-to-person gun sales — an idea Sullivan opposes. But the most aggressive sparring came over a secret recording Sullivan has of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen during a June 12 meeting at the Capitol. Sullivan has said he caught Bonnen and one of the speaker’s top allies on tape asking Sullivan to target 10 GOP lawmakers in the 2020 primaries, but Sullivan hasn’t made the recording public.

“BTW, release the tape,” Patrick tweeted at Sullivan. “You are destroying our party.”

To be clear, Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, have forcefully pushed back against Sullivan’s allegations. And both, along with Patrick and other Republicans and Democrats, have also called on Sullivan to release his recording of the meeting. Sullivan has so far declined to do so, though he has allowed certain Republicans to listen to the roughly hour-long audio privately.

[…]

Responding to Patrick, Sullivan tweeted that the lieutenant governor hadn’t yet listened to the audio himself — and suggested that Patrick may be “too scared to make a moral judgment without a poll.”

“What’s actually destroying the GOP is moral cowardice in which elected officials are unwilling to address the unethical behavior of other politicians,” Sullivan tweeted.

See more of the thread here. Read it, share it, enjoy it. As an old beer commercial once said, it just doesn’t get any better than this. The Texas Signal has more.

Where to find the HD148 candidates

One of the things I observed as I was frantically updating lists of who had filed to run in the HD148 special election was that some of the candidates were easier to find online than others, and that some had already created a web presence for themselves while others had not. As I intended to do interviews for this race, that mattered to me. About two weeks out from the filing deadline, I’ve been able to track down many of them, and the Erik Manning spreadsheet has more information. But for my convenience and yours, here’s how to find the Democrats of the HD148 special election online:

Rob BlockFacebook
Kendra Yarbrough CamarenaFacebook
Anna EastmanFacebook
Adrian P. GarciaFacebook
Terah IsaacsonFacebook
Michele LealFacebook
Mia Mundy (no website, just Facebook)
Anna NúñezFacebook
Penny ShawFacebook
Alva TreviñoFacebook
Chris WattFacebook

Still can’t find anything online for Carol Denson. I’ll leave it to you to locate the Republicans.

If you want to know if you or someone you know is in HD148, you can of course look yourself up on the Tax Assessor’s voter registration webpage. Or, you can use this map of HD148 to see if your address is in or out. I will have a bunch of interviews with HD148 candidates for you beginning September 30, so you’ll have a chance to hear what they have to say for themselves. If you’ve had the chance to see any of them in action, let us know what your impression was.

No, crime is not up in Houston

Facts are stubborn things.

Like the rest of the country, crime in Houston has plummeted over the last 30 years, as has residents’ fear of crime being the city’s most pressing problem. FBI data show that most categories of crime in Houston have fallen or remained stagnant during Turner’s term, which began in January 2016. Criminologists also scoff at the claim that Houston is among the country’s most dangerous cities.

Violent crime is down more than 10 percent from 2017, during its peak under Turner’s administration, according to preliminary FBI data. Non-violent crime has dropped about 6 percent since 2015.

From 2015 to 2018, murders dropped and robberies fell; burglaries decreased; thefts fell; and fewer vehicles were stolen. The exceptions were aggravated assaults and rapes, which rose in 2017 before declining again in 2018.

[…]

“We are at the bottom of a 30-year decline, more or less, in the crime rate,” said Scott Henson, of Just Liberty, a criminal justice reform nonprofit.

In Turner’s first year in office, for example, criminals murdered 301 Houstonians. The city saw 279 murders in 2018, a slight uptick from 269 in 2017.

The city’s murder rate is four times that of New York, the safest large city in the United States, and a sixth of St. Louis, the nation’s most deadly. A survey of the nation’s 297 largest cities (meaning they had populations of 100,000 or more) shows Houston’s ranked 75th in murders, and 31st in violent crime.

“When we talk about the murder capitals of the country, the violent crime capitals of the country, Houston is not one of the cities people put on that list,” said Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based criminologist. “At least anyone familiar with the data.”

Ames Grawert, senior counsel for the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, said it is misleading to compare the crime rate of a city with 2.3 million people to those of small towns, which frequently have much lower crime rates.

A more accurate measure, he said, would be to look at other large cities across the country.

Among the nation’s 30 largest cities, Houston’s murder rate “is thoroughly middle of the road,” Grawert said. “I don’t see Houston as being one of the more ‘violent’ places in the country.”

And while criminologists acknowledge the city’s overall crime rate is indeed higher than 95 percent of other American cities, towns, and villages, they say such comparisons overinflate the importance of more common but less serious crimes like thefts.

“As a major American city, Houston has some crime,” said Asher. “That’s the same as me saying Houston has more trash cans than 95 percent of cities … Houston is one of the largest cities in the country. Of course it does.”

Experts say it is not useful to measure crime on a year-to-year basis because one-year outliers do not accurately reflect trends or significant changes in crime patterns.

Since 1985, the annual number of murders has risen as high as 608 in 1991 and as low as 198 in 2011. Overall, the city’s murder rate has trended downward from about 26.5 per 100,000 to 11.5 per 100,000 in 2018.

“Houston is safer than has been for a really long time, honestly, is the truth of it,” said Henson.

This article was written because the non-Mayors in the Mayoral race were all claiming that crime is up and mayhem is rampant. I mean, what else do they have to talk about? I don’t know about some of these candidates, but I was living here in 1991, and I remember what it was like. I remember looking for rental properties with my roommates in Houston and noticing that the most prominent feature on many places in Montrose was burglar bars. I remember that the conventional wisdom was that single women should not live in the Heights because it wasn’t safe for them. Hell, when I bought my first house in the Heights in 1997, Tiffany’s parents (who live in Bellaire) were worried about its location. The Houston we live in now is so much safer.

One more thing: Insistence that the city is swamped by crime leads naturally to a demand for more aggressive policing – more traffic stops, more “broken windows”-type arrests, more zero-tolerance mindset, etc. We all know what that means for minority communities. At a time when people are recognizing the great harm that over-incarceration and the “war on drugs” have caused, this is dangerous and deeply out of step with the popular will. And pretty much what I’d expect from King and Buzbee, the two loudest voices in that story. Grits, who was quoted in the story, has more.

Rep. Cesar Blanco to run for Sen. Jose Rodriguez’s seat

Looks like this has been settled quickly.

Rep. César Blanco

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, is running for the seat being vacated by state Sen. José Rodríguez.

In a video published Monday, Blanco alluded to the deadly mass shooting last month in El Paso, and said El Paso and West Texas “need a fighter.”

“Now more than ever, El Paso needs leaders willing to stand up to those that try to turn our community into a political punching bag by promoting dangerous rhetoric and hateful policies meant to tear us apart,” Blanco said.

Rodríguez, another El Paso Democrat, announced Friday he was not seeking reelection, and Blanco quickly emerged as a potential candidate for the seat. The Latino Victory Fund launched a draft campaign that night to convince him to run, and on Saturday morning, four lawmakers in the Senate district endorsed him, including three of his four colleagues from El Paso’s House delegation.

See here for the background. The four other legislators are Joe Moody, Mary González, Art Fierro, and Pancho Navárez. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of someone else running, but that’s a pretty significant show of strength. Any other State Rep who wanted to run would have to give up their seat to do so, as this is not a special election but the March primary. I’d guess Rep. Blanco will get some low-profile opponents, but this race is likely his to lose at this point. His HD76 will then also become open, but as with SD29 it’s a safe Dem seat, so the eventual primary winner there will take it in November.

Interview with Raj Salhotra

Raj Salhotra

This week I will have interviews from two of the At Large races that feature challenges to sitting incumbents. First up is At Large #1, where candidate Raj Salhotra is among the four challengers to first-term incumbent Mike Knox. Salhotra is a native Houstonian, the son of immigrants, and another one of those younger candidates this year we keep reading about. A graduate of Rice University and Harvard Law School, he has taught high school math, worked on economic development policy with Mayor Turner, and co-founded a non-profit to help students get to and through college. Here’s the interview:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes At Large #1 is here, my 2013 interview with incumbent Mike Knox, who was then a candidate for District A, is here, and my 2013 interview with candidate Georgia Provost, who was running for District D at the time, is here.

Abbott’s gun suggestions

Weak leader makes timid proposals. Film at 11.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for the Texas Legislature to consider laws that would make it easier for private gun sellers to perform voluntary background checks on buyers — declining to go as far as other Republicans in backing mandatory ones — in one of a series of recommendations released Thursday.

The safety action report, which comes after a town hall Abbott convened last month to discuss possible solutions in the wake of recent mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa, contains nearly a dozen recommendations to the Legislature, which won’t meet again until 2021 — after the next election.

Select committees in the Texas House and Senate will meet to review and discuss the recommendations in the meantime. It remains to be seen what kind of legislation could come from the report.

Abbott has indicated he has no plans to call a special session, despite calls from a growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers, saying he wants to avoid “hastily” called votes that split along party lines. Instead, earlier this month, he issued a handful of executive orders meant to strengthen the statewide suspicious activity reporting system.

[…]

The 13-page report recommends laws that would speed up the reporting of criminal convictions, crack down on people who illegally buy or possess guns and impose a lifetime ban on convicted felons purchasing firearms.

But the report makes no mention of background checks for private sales between strangers, as Lt. Gov Dan Patrick suggested last week when he side-stepped traditional party lines and the National Rifle Association.

Texas has faced five major mass shootings in the past three years — including two last month. In early August, 22 people were killed by a lone gunman who drove hours to at an El Paso Walmart. At the end of the month, seven died when a shooter went on a spree as he drove through Odessa and Midland.

Ed Scruggs, president of the board of directors for Texas Gun Sense, said it’s “mystifying” how few of Abbott’s recommendations relate to what happened in those shootings.

“The failure to strongly support closing the private sales loophole is mystifying because both the governor and lieutenant governor expressed discomfort what that hole in the system and speculated about how it could be abused,” Scruggs said. “We saw how it was abused in Odessa, so I am really surprised we didn’t see anything more direct on that.”

Here’s the report. It’s not that these are bad ideas, but most of them are reactive – stiffer penalties, better reporting of criminal convictions – and the more proactive ones are presented as things the Lege “may want to consider” rather than as priorities Abbott himself wants to see get done. I mean, unless Abbott calls a special session, as only he can do, the next time any of this will be relevant will be a year and a half from now, and who knows what might be going on then. Not taking immediate action is wiggle room for Abbott and Dan Patrick to let everyone else get distracted and lose focus. Abbott doesn’t want to take real action. He’ll do what he thinks he needs to do to take the heat off, and then he’ll be on to the things he actually wants to do. That’s what this is about. The Trib has more.

Commissioners Court gets more aggressive on environmental enforcement

Good.

Commissioners Court on Tuesday voted to hire 61 employees across three departments in a bid to significantly boost Harris County’s ability to respond to environmental emergencies after finding numerous shortcomings in its efforts to manage three chemical fires near the Houston Ship Channel this spring.

The $11.6 million investment will go toward purchasing new equipment and add employees to the fire marshal’s office, pollution control and public health departments. It is the most aggressive effort yet by the new Democrat-controlled court, which took office in January, to grow the emergency response infrastructure in the county, home to the heart of the nation’s petrochemical industry.

A Houston Chronicle investigation found that the staffing levels of the three departments have for decades failed to keep pace with the growth of commercial activity along the Houston Ship Channel. Previous Commissioners Courts had not acted with the same sense of urgency after chemical incidents; the county never replaced the Pollution Control employees laid off during the Great Recession. Instead, court members prided themselves on finishing fiscal years with a large fund balance.

“All these resources we’re bringing to the table, after a careful analysis … will help us be in a much better position in the future,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia, whose Precinct 2 included the sites of each of the chemical fires in March and April.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo hailed the budget increases as the most significant investment in environmental protection the county has made in 30 years. Hidalgo said she was pleased the new monitors, for example, will allow the county to test air quality on a regular basis, in addition to during emergencies.

A report on the blaze at Intercontinental Terminals Co. released on July 29 concluded the county needed more equipment and manpower to monitor pollution and keep the public informed about safety risks. The 133-page “gap analysis” made a total of 49 recommendations.

Two days later, a fire at an Exxon plant in Baytown injured 37 workers.

[…]

Court members unanimously approved the budget increases for Pollution Control and the fire marshal’s office. Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack was the lone opponent to increasing the size of the health department.

See here and here for the background. I’m glad most of the votes were unanimous – I mean, I don’t even know what the counter arguments are for this – but it’s still the leadership of the new Court that made this possible. Going forward let’s be more proactive so there will (one hopes) be less to have to react to.

Weekend link dump for September 15

“In 2009, Conservatives Shouted Down Efforts to Confront Right-Wing Threats. We’re Still Dealing With the Consequences.”

“Though it can’t change everything, Walmart’s act is likely to change something. The employees’ response shares the logic of a previous people’s fight, against drunk driving. It’s the primary rule both of social agitation and of social reform: the more micro-changes you make in more places, the more effective the macro-change becomes. Banning the sale of some of the most dangerous kinds of guns and ammunition is just one step. But many steps make long marches.”

“According to data gathered on all fifty states (and D.C.) by the National Federation of State High Schools Association, more girls are playing on boys football teams than ever before. For the 2018-2019 school year 2,404 girls played 11-man tackle football on boys teams at the high school level.”

“We almost filled every swamp and river in the Eastern US with 1.5 ton murderous ornery bulletproof amphibious assault cows. Just breathe that in for a second.”

“We’re not a school; we’re a real estate hedge fund. We’re not educating; we’re buying real estate every year and taking students’ money to do it.”

“The American Meteorological Society fully supports our colleagues at NOAA, who consistently put the safety of the American public first and foremost. They work tirelessly employing state of the art science to keep Americans safe. With respect to the press release that was issued by NOAA on Friday, 6 September, regarding the forecast of Hurricane Dorian, AMS believes the criticism of the Birmingham forecast office is unwarranted; rather they should have been commended for their quick action based on science in clearly communicating the lack of threat to the citizens of Alabama.”

What is minor league baseball for these days?

“As we know, Donald Trump likes to go it alone when it comes to foreign policy. So he pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran and started a unilateral trade war with China. Now those two countries have deepened their partnership, dealing what might be a fatal blow to any leverage the United States has in dealing with either country.”

“The Threat of a Post-Roe America Is Already Changing How Women Get Abortions”.

“Italy, one of the main locations in Spider-Man: Far From Home, recently erected a statue of Iron Man created by artist Daniele Basso in order to commemorate the hero’s cinematic death.”

“Sure you negotiate with your enemies. But you don’t host Taliban leaders at your historic presidential retreat days after they claimed responsibility for yet another deadly attack in Kabul that killed a U.S. serviceman and 11 others, not to mention the deaths of thousands of their fellow Afghans and U.S. forces over the years.”

“This is the story of 2019, as Trump has replaced institutionalists attempting to curtail his grossest instincts with loyalists happy to indulge them. It is playing out across multiple dimensions. This is the through-line between several seemingly disconnected episodes from the last several days.”

RIP, Daniel Johnston, influential Austin singer-songwriter and artist.

“We’re now considering giving Iran a bailout to get them through the damage caused by our sanctions which we put on them after we tore up a deal the US had agreed to and all to get the Iranians to come back into the deal.”

RIP, Eddie Money, rock and roller.

“It has been by far the longest TV partnership in baseball, but the number of Cubs games left to be broadcast on WGN TV is down to less than a half dozen. After 72 seasons, the last of them is almost over.”

Voting centers everywhere

In Dallas:

Starting in November, problems like Mr. Voter’s, at least in Dallas County, will be a thing of the past. Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office officially gave the county permission to participate in the countywide voting program the state allows its most populous counties to opt into. That means that whenever you vote, whether it’s early or on Election Day, you can vote at whatever polling place you choose, as long as you’re both registered to vote in Dallas County and physically in Dallas County.

County commissioners voted to ask the state to get in on the program this spring, after county staff said participation would streamline the voting process, potentially increase voter turnout and decrease the number of voters who cast provisional ballots.

“It is time to come into the 21st century and have an election system that actually works,” Commissioner Elba Garcia said in March. “The main point about vote centers is that we have people, over 3,000 people, that wanted to vote during the last election and they were not able to do it. Voting centers bring that to the table. It’s time to make sure that anyone who wants to vote is able to go and vote in the right place without any problems.”

[…]

In order to participate in countywide voting this November, Dallas County had to upgrade its voter check-in system, something you may have noticed if you’re one of the literally hundreds of people who voted in May or June’s municipal elections. Those looking to cast ballots now check in on a cloud-connected tablet that has service from two carriers, in case one is on the fritz.

November’s state constitutional amendment election is essentially a dry run. If everything comes off without a hitch, and Dallas County sends a successful report to the state, the county will be able to offer countywide polling places during all elections moving forward.

In San Antonio:

The Secretary of State approved Bexar County’s adoption of the vote center model Friday for the upcoming November election, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen told county commissioners Tuesday.

The November election will serve as the “soft rollout” for the vote center model, Callanen said. Vote centers allow voters to cast ballots at any location in Bexar County on Election Day. The county previously used the precinct model, under which voters were required to cast ballots at their specific precincts on election day.

“When we do publication [of voting locations], we’ll have Vote Center 1, VC 2, VC 3, and addresses listed,” Callanen said. “No longer are we precinct-driven.”

Callanen said she expected people to get used to the new model after a complete election cycle. The Elections Department plans to start its advertising push after Oct. 1 to allow people enough time to hear about and understand the new voting model.

“I think that will take a little assistance to get the word out,” she said.

This year’s Nov. 5 Election Day will feature 10 constitutional amendments on the ballot, and turnout is expected to be low. However, county election officials view the election as an important dress rehearsal for the November 2020 presidential election.

Both will join Harris County, which had its dry run in May and will get a fuller test this November, with the city of Houston elections and the Metro referendum. It’s a good thing that voting centers are spreading, because traditional polling places have been going away in the state in recent years.

A new report out from the Leadership Conference Education Fund found that Texas is leading the nation in polling place closures, another practice that voting rights advocates fear can lead to disenfranchisement.

The report, titled “Democracy Diverted: Polling Place Closures and the Right to Vote,” looked at 757 of the 861 counties and county-level equivalents across the nation that were previously covered by Section 5, and found that 750 polling places in Texas have been shuttered since Shelby. That constitutes almost half of all polling places in the U.S. closed since 2013. Fourteen Texas counties closed at least 50 percent of their polling places after Shelby, and 590 have been shuttered since the 2014 midterm election.

Maricopa County in Arizona had the most polling place closures, but that was followed by six counties in Texas: Dallas lost 74 places; Travis lost 67; Harris shuttered 52; Brazoria closed 37; and Nueces closed 37.

“The large number of polling location closures is attributable to the size of Texas and the fact that we’re no longer under preclearance,” said Beth Stevens, director of the Voting Rights Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project. Now, “there’s no one [the state needs] to ask for permission to make changes.”

[…]

This comes into focus when looking at the demographics of some of the counties that saw the most closures. Brazoria County, which lost 59 percent of its polling locations since Shelby, is 30 percent Latino and 13 percent African American. The number of polling places in Nueces County, home to Corpus Christi and 63 percent Latinx, dropped by nearly a third. In Jefferson County, where Beaumont is located, about 34 percent of its 250,000 residents are African American and 20 percent are Latino; polling places there dropped from 57 in 2012 to 39 in 2018.

The report attributes some of these closures to jurisdictions adopting the county-wide polling program and opening voting mega-centers. By allowing people to cast a ballot on Election Day at any location, instead of bounding them to their precinct, the program is supposed to make voting easier (more locations to choose from, shorter lines).

The Texas Civil Rights Project is supportive of the program, said Stevens—so long as it’s enacted responsibly. She pointed to counties like Harris and Bexar as good examples: they’ve moved to county-wide polling while maintaining every single polling location that they would otherwise be required to have.

But, the report notes, some counties with large drops in polling locations—like Somervell (minus 80 percent), Loving (minus 75 percent), and Stonewall (minus 75 percent)—didn’t transition to vote centers. The report adds, “voters in counties that still hold precinct-style elections have 250 fewer voting locations than they did in 2012.”

The report is here and I’ve just glanced at some of it, so I can’t give you too much extra context. Some of what’s reported in the Observer is a bit alarmist, however. Loving County had 110 total registered voters in 2016, and its demographics are almost entirely Anglo. I’d bet that its “75% reduction” is going from four sites to one. Stonewall County had 998 RVs total in 2016. Every voter counts, but not every county’s actions are equal in scope. The statistics for Brazoria, Jefferson, and Nueces counties sounds more ominous, but all of them use voting centers as well. Travis County, of course, is one of the pioneers of voting centers; one of the people in charge of implementing the Harris County program came from the Travis County Clerk’s office having done the same thing there. What all this means is we need more information about how well or not these are working and what the effect are on voters of color. Which, as is noted in the report summary, is a hard thing to assess without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This is definitely something to watch, I just can’t say right now what the level of concern needs to be. The Chron, whose story gets more into the details about voting centers, has more.

Galveston ordered to provide counsel at bail hearings

Sure seems like the proper thing to do.

Add Galveston to the list of Texas counties that have been court ordered to change their bail practices.

A federal district judge on Wednesday issued a temporary injunction in a 2018 lawsuit where attorneys for inmates have called Galveston County’s money bail system discriminatory against poor criminal defendants. The court’s order doesn’t target the entire pretrial system — which has largely changed since the suit was filed after federal rulings against Harris County. But it requires poor arrestees to have a lawyer at their first court appearance, where their bail is set to determine the monetary or other conditions under which an arrestee can be released from jail before trial.

The ACLU of Texas, which represents Galveston County inmates in the lawsuit, said in a statement after the order that it was the first court in the country to conclude that the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a right to counsel, requires defense attorneys to be provided at initial bail-setting hearings.

“It’s a matter of basic fairness that you should get a lawyer before a judge decides whether to lock you in jail,” said Trisha Trigilio, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Unsurprisingly, without lawyers to advocate for their release, many people wind up in jail who shouldn’t be there. And even a short time in jail can have devastating repercussions on someone’s life.”

[…]

Since the lawsuit was filed — and as the two most populous counties in the state were repeatedly slammed by federal judges for their bail practices — Galveston County has transformed its pretrial practices. The district attorney’s office still recommends bail amounts from a schedule, but the judicial officer setting bail now has financial information the defendant provided before the first court appearance. Defendants who want to request a lower bond amount for financial reasons can get a second bail review hearing, typically within 12 hours of their first court appearance, where a defense attorney is present to represent all the defendants before the judge in that time slot.

U.S. District Judge George Hanks Jr.’s injunction, however, said the county needs to have a lawyer not just at the review hearings, but at the initial court appearance. He clarified that the order applies to those arrested without warrants and that are first seen in court through Galveston County jail. Hanks adopted the recommendation of magistrate judge Andrew Edison, who said having a defense attorney at a hearing where the court determines how, if at all, to release a defendant before trial, is “a no-brainer.”

See here and here for the background. A copy of the ruling is here and a copy of the magistrate’s recommendations is here. I have to say, I don’t know what the argument against providing an attorney for defendants at bail hearings is, but we’ll find out if there’s an appeal. The Chron has more.

The San Antonio Chick-fil-A lawsuit

Oh, good Lord.

In a lawsuit citing a controversial new state law, five area residents are suing the city of San Antonio over its decision to prevent Chick-fil-A — a franchise known for opposing same-sex marriage — from opening a location in the city’s airport.

“The continued religious ban on Chick-fil-A by the San Antonio City Council has by left citizens with no choice but to take this case to court,” Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values Action, said Monday at a news conference with the plaintiffs in announcing the lawsuit. “Any other vendor that tries to replace Chick-fil-A at the airport will be doing so under a major cloud of long and costly litigation with the city.”

The lawsuit, which also seeks the city to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees, calls for an injunction preventing San Antonio from taking adverse action against Chick-Fil-A or others “based wholly or partly on that person or entity’s support for religious organizations that oppose homosexual behavior.”

It cites Senate Bill 1978, a law passed this year in the Texas Legislature, that outlaws government retaliation based on “membership in and support to religious organizations.”

Laura Mayes, chief communications officer for the city of San Antonio, said in an email that the lawsuit “is an attempt by the plaintiffs to improperly use the court to advance their political agenda.”

“Among the many weaknesses in their case, they are trying to rely on a law that did not exist when Council voted on the airport concessions contract,” Mayes said. “We will seek a quick resolution from the Court.”

State Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, chairwoman of the Legislature’s LBGTQ caucus, said in a statement that it is disappointing that SB 1978 has “created the space for discriminatory lawsuits, such as the one against San Antonio” and commended San Antonio City Council for supporting inclusion.

“LGBTQ Texans are routinely denied fair and equal access to education, healthcare, housing, and economic opportunity — that is what the government should be protecting Texans from,” González said.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Current explains how silly this is.

The suit, filed in Bexar County district court, argues that a recent Texas law dubbed the “save Chick-fil-A bill” makes it illegal for the city to bar the fast-food purveyor from the airport. The problem with that, points out St. Mary’s University Law Professor Michael Ariens, is that the law passed after the city’s decision, and courts are almost never willing to retroactively apply statutes.

“I didn’t see any statement in the petition explaining why it is permissible for a court to apply retroactively the statute which serves as the basis for the plaintiffs’ claim,” Ariens said, “And I know the City of San Antonio will raise this as a defense, so I’m not sure what is going on.”

[…]

Also likely dooming the suit is the concept of standing, which requires plaintiffs to show they suffered damages, Ariens said. To that end, the petition only explains that the plaintiffs “use the San Antonio airport for travel and would patronize Chick-fil-A at the airport if it were allowed to operate there.”

Yes. Really.

It’s difficult to imagine any court considering an unmet craving for fried chicken — no matter how tasty — as a legitimate damage.

Yeah, that’s pretty weak, but Chick-fil-A is the golden calf of the zealot faction these days. If nothing else expect there to be a lot of posturing, and it’s only a matter of time before Ken Paxton invents a reason to get involved. This will go on for awhile.

The TDP 2020 plan

Bring it on.

The Texas Democratic Party is pulling back the curtain on its 2020 strategy ahead of the Houston presidential debate, releasing a plan to flip the state that targets 2.6 million potential Democratic voters who are not registered yet and commits to deploying over 1,000 organizers by the end of the election cycle.

The 10-page proposal, shared first with The Texas Tribune, primarily focuses on dramatically expanding the Democratic vote in Texas while building a massive coordinated campaign. Both are ambitious undertakings for a party that has long been out of power — no Democrat has won statewide since 1994 — but has seen its prospects brighten over the last two election cycles, especially in 2018.

“At the Texas Democratic Party, we know that to win we must build a state party infrastructure larger than anyone has ever seen,” the party’s deputy executive director, Cliff Walker, says in a statement accompanying the plan. “Change is coming to Texas — a new wave of activists and progressive candidates demand it.”

[…]

The plan broadly seeks to register as many as possible of the 2.6 million Texans it says are not registered to vote but would vote Democratic if registered. There are another 2.4 million voters from minority communities who are registered to vote but did not cast a ballot in 2018 and “are primed to be mobilized in a presidential year,” according to the plan.

To close those gaps, the party offers four possible paths based on its data analysis: increasing turnout in communities of color (over 400,000 new votes), increasing turnout in urban, reliably blue counties (at least 225,000 new votes), registering voters in the politically changing suburbs (over 130,000 new votes) and reaching out to conservative rural voters (more than 100,000 new votes).

The party plans to tackle those opportunities by doing things like sending more vote-by-mail applications in 2020 than ever before — more than 1.5 million. But most important will be a statewide coordinated campaign that can support over 1,500 Democratic nominees throughout the ballot in 2020, by the party’s count. Key to that campaign would be the 1,000 organizers, a big ramp-up from the party’s current staffing levels. They would be paid through the coordinated campaign.

The plan also puts an emphasis on protecting voting rights from GOP efforts that make it more difficult to cast a ballot. The party will launch a year-round hotline on Jan. 1, 2020, to deal with such issues, in addition to other new and ongoing efforts.

The doc is here, but you get the basics of it from the Trib story. In a broad sense, this is the Battleground Texas plan – register new voters, boost turnout among traditional Dem constituencies, work to turn out lower-propensity Dems, all using a hands-on community model. That requires a lot of resources – people, training, equipment, office space, data – and that in turn requires money. For the TDP to talk like this, they either have a plan to raise the money, or they’re publicly thinking big and hoping to impress enough people to get the money to follow. I hope it’s the former, but the next finance report will tell the tale.

How well will this work? Well, as the story notes, the 2018 election and the Beto campaign gave them a good head start, as well as a road map. The fact of the matter is that Dems need to bring out a lot more voters to have a reasonable shot at winning statewide in 2020. Beto broke Democratic records getting to four million votes, but Republicans have been regularly topping four million since Dubya in 2004. Trump underperformed relative to other Republicans in 2016, but he still got nearly 4.7 million votes, which was a gain of 116K over Mitt Romney. I’ve said before, to me the over/under for 2020 is five million, and that may be too conservative. The Republicans are working to boost their own turnout next year, too. Five million may be just the opening bid. There’s room to bring in a lot more Democratic voters, but we won’t have the field to ourselves. The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez to retire

Sad to see him go.

Sen. Jose Rodriguez

State Sen. José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat, announced Friday that he will not seek reelection to the upper chamber in 2020.

Rodriguez informed El Paso colleagues of his decision in a text late Thursday night that was obtained by The Texas Tribune. He made the announcement official at his district office.

“I started my tenure in the Senate with one of the worst budgets in the state’s modern history,” Rodríguez said in a written announcement on his retirement. “Fortunately, my last session was one where state leaders finally gave long overdue attention to our public schools.”

Rodríguez was first elected in 2010 to represent Senate District 29. The district, which hugs the Texas-Mexico border, is historically considered Democratic; it covers El Paso, Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.

The senator’s retirement announcement comes a day after the Senate Democratic Caucus announced that Rodríguez would step down as chair at the end of the year. State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, will replace him at the post.

It’s unclear who will announce bids for Rodríguez’s seat. One potential candidate is state Rep. César Blanco, a fellow El Paso Democrat who serves as chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

In case you’re wondering, Beto got 74% in SD29 in 2018, Lupe Valdez got 67%, and Paul Sadler got 61% against Ted Cruz in 2012. So yeah, safe Dem district. A State Rep. like César Blanco could certainly win it, or some other politician from within El Paso; Sen. Rodríguez had been the El Paso district attorney before he won the seat in 2010, following the retirement of Sen. Eliot Shapleigh. Sen. Rodríguez was a strong progressive and a good Senator, and whoever succeeds him will have big shoes to fill. I wish him all the best with whatever comes next.

Pity the poor lion hunters

Gag me.

Houston was once the nation’s top destination for African lions killed by U.S. trophy hunters, but public backlash and new federal restrictions have all but ended the sport, according to a group of big game hunters that has launched a campaign to bring it back.

Since 2015 when a dentist from Minnesota killed Cecil, a famed lion in Zimbabwe, the U.S. government has made sport hunting of lions and elephants so difficult as to discourage most hunters from even trying to navigate all of the paperwork, said wildlife attorney and hunting advocate John Jackson III.

“It’s worse than it has ever been,” said Jackson, who is chairman of a group called Conservation Force that advocates for big game hunting. “Now it’s almost impossible to get permits.”

While animal rights groups might see that as a victory, Jackson said they are losing sight of millions of dollars that hunters — and Texans in particular — have poured into African nations to support animal conservation. Over 10 years, almost $1.1 million went from just the Dallas Safari Club to lion conservation projects around the world. The Houston Safari Club — which has about 1,200 members — has reported donating more than $3.7 million for animal conservation work worldwide.

In May the Houston Safari Club launched a federal political action committee to raise money that could be used to influence political campaigns. And the club has increased its political commentary on its website, declaring it is “ramping up its legislative and policy efforts” and vowing to “grow our voice.”

Federal records confirm that imports of lions to Houston and other U.S. destinations have plummeted.

[…]

The Humane Society of the United States, on the other hand, has argued that hunters are overstating their impact and that lions and other endangered species can be promoted by supporting wildlife tourism expeditions.

Anna Frostic, managing wildlife attorney for the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, said trophy hunters like to claim their actions promote animal conservation, because that is what they have to prove legally in order to go on their hunts. She said on the face of it, it’s clear that killing individual animals doesn’t add to protecting the species.

“At the very least it is counter intuitive, and we would argue unethical and biologically unsubstantiated,” Frostic said.

Yeah, the whole “we must be able to kill lions in order to save them” argument doesn’t carry any weight with me. The Houston Safari Club could – stay with me here – just simply donate that same amount of money to conservation efforts without hunting lions. Maybe photograph them instead, I dunno. Beyond that, I can’t imagine a less sympathetic group right now than a bunch of rich guys whining about not being able to shoot things.

As the Bonnen turns

Drip, drip, drip

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

In the hours after hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan exploded his political bombshell in late July — alleging House Speaker Dennis Bonnen wanted to target some of his own GOP members in 2020 — the lower chamber’s top Republican lawmaker made a series of phone calls to assure his flock that Sullivan was lying.

“This is Dennis,” the speaker said to a House member in a 22-second voicemail soon after Sullivan lobbed his allegations. “Hopefully, you know better than to believe anything Michael Quinn Sullivan would bother to say. … I did meet with him to tell him he should not campaign against any Republican in the primary — um, obviously the opposite of what he’s trying to present.”

Now that voicemail, obtained by The Texas Tribune, is giving more ammunition to critics who say it was Bonnen — not Sullivan — who has lied and misled the people who elevated him to the powerful elected position he could be in danger of losing.

Such a response from the speaker in the aftermath of Sullivan’s allegations, multiple members say, has prompted some to wonder whether the chamber will ever fully trust Bonnen again — or if the damage that’s been done is simply beyond repair. For House speakers, who owe their job not to nameless Texas voters but instead to a few dozen fellow members they know well, trust is the coin of the realm in the lower chamber.

At least five members on the alleged 10-person political target list were told either by Bonnen or by someone on his team that Sullivan’s allegations were downright false in the hours after the news broke, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

In most cases, Bonnen batted down the allegations and questioned the credibility of Sullivan, who many state lawmakers already loathed thanks to his track record of criticizing — and, oftentimes, spending against — members in his own party.

In a statement to the Tribune late Wednesday, Bonnen’s office renewed the speaker’s call for Sullivan to release his secret recording of a June meeting from which his allegations stem.

“There is significant context missing from reports, namely, the hour long recording that has been strategically withheld from the public despite repeated calls from the Speaker, state leaders, and objective journalists for its release,” said Cait Meisenheimer, the speaker’s press secretary. “The Speaker believes that Members are owed the opportunity to draw their own conclusions based on the full context of the conversation — not the slow leak of cherry-picked information that has been used to fuel speculation.”

Since his immediate denial though, according to those familiar with the matter, the speaker hasn’t spoken with at least a few of those members who were allegedly mentioned during that June 12 meeting at the Texas Capitol between Bonnen, another top House Republican and Sullivan.

And though Bonnen has since apologized to members for saying “terrible things” during the meeting, he hasn’t directly addressed Sullivan’s allegations about a 10-member list — which has fed into a frustration that’s been simmering for almost two months among a broader coalition of Republicans.

“He’ll deny, deny, deny, a little more will come out, then he will dial back his denial and get a little more technical about it,” one person who works closely with multiple Republicans on the alleged target list told the Tribune. “It’s a constant walking back of previous details.”

There’s more, so read the rest. As a reminder, all of the reasons why Bonnen and others want MQS to release the full recording are also exactly the reasons why he won’t. MQS is in it for himself, as he always is. You can’t overstate how big a self-own by Bonnen it is to make the loathsome and sleazy Michael Quinn Sullivan look like a truth teller.

On a side note, we’ve been wondering from the beginning why Bonnen would target these particular members of the House, since they included seeming allies. Rick Casey puts forth a theory:

What did the 10 on Bonnen’s would-be hit list have in common? They all voted against one of Bonnen’s pet bills, a measure that would have made it illegal for cities, counties, school districts, and other local government agencies to hire lobbyists to represent them at the state legislature and in Washington.

It’s a very bad bill that had been pushed for years by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. Speaker Straus had made sure it didn’t see the light of day in previous sessions, but Bonnen signed on as a co-author.

The only Bexar County legislator on the hit list was, somewhat ironically, Straus’s successor, Allison, to whom Bonnen had made an in-kind contribution of $20,000 earlier this year. While he was a rookie in the 86th Legislature, Allison is no stranger to local government. He has served on both the Alamo Heights school board and on the VIA Metropolitan Transit board. Like Straus, he is not an ideologue. He is conservative, but he wants government to work.

Bonnen’s bill would not only have prohibited local governments from hiring lobbyists, but it also would have barred them from belonging to associations that hire lobbyists. So the school board would not have been able to belong, at a very modest cost, to the Texas Association of School Boards, which lobbies on behalf of the more than 1,000 school boards in the state. Likewise the City of San Antonio would have had to quit the Texas Municipal League unless it fired its lobbyists, considerably reducing its value to its members.

[…]

What’s stunning is that Bonnen would react by secretly asking a sworn enemy to do something he himself had so publicly criticized – working against incumbents. Being so vindictive against those who vote for the interests of their constituents rather than acceding to the speaker’s desires is, ironically, what led to the downfall of former Speaker Tom Craddick.

It’s an interesting hypothesis and Casey is the first person I’ve seen identify a common thread among the Bonnen Ten. That doesn’t mean this is the reason, but until someone comes up with a better explanation I’m willing to go with it. Every way you look at this, it’s such a bad look for Bonnen.

Life after the Voting Rights Act

A good long read from the Trib about where we are with redistricting and what may lie ahead.

Since Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has been barred by law from discriminating against voters of color. Yet in every decade since then, federal judges have ruled at least once that the state violated federal protections for voters in redistricting.

Now, as Texas Republicans are facing the possibility of losing their political dominance, the state is gearing up for a new cycle of mapmaking. The House Redistricting Committee [held] the first of more than a dozen hearings Tuesday in advance of what’s expected to be a contentious legislative session in 2021, when new political boundaries will need to be drawn to account for the state’s booming population.

But because of voting rights advocates’ repeated court losses over the past decade, state lawmakers facing an incredibly pivotal and politically fraught moment will instead have much more freedom to set those lines — and the power that comes with them — without any federal government oversight. And once they’re enacted, the voters of color and civil rights groups that have fought the maps in the past may not have the same tools with which to challenge the discrimination that may tarnish them.

“It’s just extremely disappointing as far as they went to sort of kick us down and kick minority voting rights down,” [civil rights attorney Jose] Garza said after the Supreme Court ruling came down.

That was the ruling that upheld the Texas Congressional and legislative maps; the subsequent SCOTUS ruling that batted away partisan redistricting claims was just another ton of dirt on the coffin. It’s very likely that Republicans will pursue maximal advantage through redistricting in 2021, including drawing districts based on Citizen Voting Age Population instead of just population – this is what the Census fight and the Hofeller project were about. The only possible kink in that plan would be a Democratic-majority House, which might force some compromises. Anyway, read the story and brush up on your history, because we’re all going to be living it again soon.

What’s going on with the Astrodome?

It’s on the back burner for now.

Still here

A $105 million county-approved plan to renovate and build parking at Houston’s most famous relic has been put on pause since the plan’s most prominent advocate, Republican Ed Emmett, lost his seat last fall to Democrat Lina Hidalgo.

Hidalgo, who took the reins as Harris County’s chief executive in January, said making progress on issues such as bail reform and flood control are more pressing than breathing new life into the Astrodome.

Work on the Astrodome has ground to a halt, and it’s not clear when — or if — the renovation plan spearheaded by Emmett will be picked back up again.

“There are no other updates or changes at this time, but the Astrodome is forever part of our history,” Hidalgo said in a written statement. “Right now, we are focused on transformational actions that will improve the daily lives of our residents.”

Hidalgo stressed that the county has boosted its flood control capacity, enhanced its environmental monitoring capability and fixed a broken bail-bond system.

“Until we can make sure that the Astrodome plan makes fiscal sense and makes sense for our community, no major steps will be taken with regard to the project,” she added.

[…]

Workers did complete some initial stages of Emmett’s plan, such as finishing the first phase of a program to strip asbestos from some parts of the stadium.

County officials finished drawings and specifications for the first phase of the restoration, but they shelved a meeting to present it to the state historical commission for approval.

The cost of that early work was just under $8 million. Most of that money — more than $6 million — went toward design and construction document fees. The asbestos program cost close to $2 million.

“In the future, we’ll come back and look at all of this,” said county engineer John Blount. “I understand people say, ‘Well, what about the Astrodome?’ No one’s forgotten about the Astrodome.”

The last update we had was before the election, so that’s about where we are now. It was clear from the way Judge Hidalgo campaigned that the Astrodome was not high on her list of priorities, so none of this is a surprise. I do think Commissioners Court will return to this in the next couple of years, but it’ll be on Judge Hidalgo’s timeline. If you’d prefer something else, I recommend attending a Commissioners Court meeting and airing your views there. The Press has more.

Quinnipiac: Lots of Texans don’t intend to vote for Trump

More nice polling news.

President Trump’s job approval rating remains marginally underwater in Texas, with 45 percent of registered voters saying that they approve and 50 percent saying that they disapprove. Thinking ahead to 2020, 48 percent of Texas voters say that they would definitely not vote for Trump if he was the Republican nominee, while 35 percent say that they would definitely vote for him and 14 percent say that they would consider voting for him.

Most of this poll is about the Democratic primary, in which Joe Biden leads the field in Texas. The latest UT/Trib poll finds the same thing. I continue to be way more interested in the November 2020 matchups, so that’s what I’m going to focus on. Here are the important numbers from the poll:

8. In the 2020 general election for president, if Donald Trump is the Republican candidate, would you definitely vote for him, consider voting for him, or would you definitely not vote for him?


                                                              WHITE......
                                                              COLLEGE DEG
                     Tot    Rep    Dem    Ind    Men    Wom    Yes    No
 
Definitely vote      35%    77%     3%    22%    40%    30%    41%    58%
Consider voting      14     14      1     21     16     11     16     15
Definitely not vote  48      7     93     52     41     55     41     25
DK/NA                 3      2      2      4      3      4      2      2
 
                     AGE IN YRS..............    WHITE.....
                     18-34  35-49  50-64  65+    Men    Wom    Wht    Blk    Hsp
 
Definitely vote      21%    32%    40%    47%    52%    46%    49%     9%    20%
Consider voting      20     17     10      8     17     14     15      7     14
Definitely not vote  55     49     47     43     29     37     33     78     65
DK/NA                 5      2      3      2      2      3      2      6      1

9. In the 2020 general election for the U.S. Senate, if John Cornyn is the Republican candidate, would you definitely vote for him, consider voting for him, or would you definitely not vote for him?


                                                               WHITE......
                                                               COLLEGE DEG
                     Tot    Rep    Dem    Ind    Men    Wom    Yes    No
 
Definitely vote      23%    49%     2%    16%    25%    21%    33%    30%
Consider voting      30     36     13     39     32     28     29     37
Definitely not vote  35      8     77     31     32     38     31     21
DK/NA                13      7      8     14     12     13      8     12
 
                     AGE IN YRS..............    WHITE.....
                     18-34  35-49  50-64  65+    Men    Wom    Wht    Blk    Hsp
 
Definitely vote      11%    16%    28%    39%    34%    29%    31%     8%    17%
Consider voting      38     36     26     19     34     32     33     22     26
Definitely not vote  31     36     36     34     23     28     26     58     41
DK/NA                20     11      9      8      9     10     10     12     17

13. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?


                                                               WHITE......
                                                               COLLEGE DEG
                     Tot    Rep    Dem    Ind    Men    Wom    Yes    No
 
Approve              45%    87%     2%    39%    53%    36%    49%    69%
Disapprove           50      9     95     56     42     57     46     27
DK/NA                 6      4      3      5      5      7      5      4
 
                     AGE IN YRS..............    WHITE.....
                     18-34  35-49  50-64  65+    Men    Wom    Wht    Blk    Hsp
 
Approve              36%    44%    46%    50%    64%    54%    59%    15%    29%
Disapprove           55     49     51     47     33     40     36     80     62
DK/NA                 8      7      2      3      3      6      4      4      8

In the June Quinnipiac poll, they polled specific matchups, with Biden leading Trump 48-44, and other Dems not doing quite as well. I’m not sure why they strayed from that path to this more generic question, but whatever. The numbers look pretty lousy for Trump regardless. Cornyn does a little better, which does not conform to my thesis that he will perform about as well as Trump, but there’s a lot more uncertainty in the Cornyn numbers. Trump’s approval numbers are better here than in that Univision poll, but still underwater, with 50% disapproval. His national approval numbers have been tanking, as are his national re-elect numbers, so this may be a reflection of all that. Approval numbers matter. No matter how you slice this, it ain’t great for Trump.

In somewhat related news:

U.S. Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, with a scant 11% of Texas Democrats supporting her, leads the Democratic candidates in the race for U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. The bigger piece of news might be this: 66% of potential Democratic primary voters said either that they don’t know who they’ll support or that they haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion.

Asked whether they’ve heard of the candidates, most of the respondents threw up their hands. State Sen. Royce West of Dallas, the most well-known of the candidates, was known to just 22% of voters, followed by Hegar, an unsuccessful 2018 congressional candidate from Round Rock, 21%; Chris Bell, a former U.S. representative and the party’s 2006 candidate for governor, 20%; Sema Hernandez, who ran against Beto O’Rourke in last year’s primary for U.S. Senate, 13%; Beaumont pastor Michael Cooper and political organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, 12% each; and Amanda Edwards, an at-large Houston city council member, 10%. Everyone else was known to fewer than 8% of Democratic voters.

Nevertheless, in a race held today, Hegar is the favorite, at 11%, with the other candidates mired in the low single digits behind her: West, 5%; Hernandez and Tzintzún Ramirez, 3% each; Bell, Cooper and Edwards, 2% each.

“[Hegar] is really well positioned,”said Daron Shaw, professor of government at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “She’s the frontrunner. I don’t know that it’s her race to lose, but she’s certainly got a leg up.”

Like I’ve said, don’t focus too much on these numbers yet. When one or more of the candidates starts spending money on a state campaign, we’ll begin to see how the race may shape up. Until then, it’s all up in the air. The DMN has more.

Why would you run for HISD Board of Trustees this year?

It’s a good question.

As she campaigns door-to-door to become the newest member of Houston ISD’s school board, Reagan Flowers is encountering many confused voters.

They ask whether school board elections matter this year, given the growing likelihood that state officials will strip power from HISD trustees within months. They wonder what Flowers will do if she wins but does not get any authority. They question how she would change the culture of the much-maligned board.

“There’s still a tremendous need to educate people, to inform them of the process,” said Flowers, an education nonprofit executive and one of four candidates vying to represent District IV, which covers parts of downtown and southern Houston. “I tell them I’ll be your representative, your voice, making sure the needs of the district are being met.”

As November approaches and the threat of state intervention in HISD looms, Flowers and fourteen other school board candidates find themselves in the midst of a highly unusual election season, aiming to convince voters to participate in potentially diminished races.

[…]

Some candidates said voters remain confused or apathetic about the off-year school board elections. About 25 percent of registered voters cast ballots for HISD trustee in 2015, with mayoral and city council races likely boosting turnout.

However, multiple candidates said more-engaged voters are aware of the school board’s self-admitted dysfunction, laid bare during a heated October 2018 meeting, and want trustees who will cut through the tumult. Dissension over whether to retain Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan has inflamed tensions on the board in the past 12 months, creating factions that largely split across racial and ethnic lines.

“The only thing I hear about (from voters) is that they’re concerned with the in-fighting on the board and they want it to stop,” said Patricia Allen, a District IV candidate and retired HISD principal. “I’m not hearing positive things about the board takeover. But what I am hearing is, the board needs changes, that they need someone in there to focus on education.”

That sounds about right to me. The story name-checks all of the candidates, for the two open seat races (Districts II and IV, where Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jolanda Jones will step down) and the two races against incumbents Sergio Lira (III) and Diana Davila (VIII). It’s not clear to me, or I suspect to anyone as this particular type of intervention by the TEA has never happened before, what exactly HISD Trustees will be doing once the TEA does its thing. Obviously, the goals are to improve outcomes in the schools, and to fix the problems the Board had so that it can be trusted to regain control. What that will look like in practice is something we will discover together. In the meantime and as always, please do pay attention to these races if you have one on your ballot (I don’t this time), and make good choices.

Red flag

This seems like maybe it’s a problem.

A report out Wednesday by the San Antonio Express-News found that a gun owner in Texas had sent more than 100 pages of racist and violent letters to the Texas Attorney General’s office threatening to kill undocumented immigrants over the course of a year and a half, and that nothing was done to stop him or to communicate the threat to local authorities.

“We will open fire on these thugs,” the white man who allegedly sent the messages wrote in an email to the office. “It will be a bloodbath.”

Over the same period, local officers in San Antonio responded to 911 calls made by and about the man, and visited his house, on at least 35 occasions. However, because he had never seemingly committed a crime, police did not arrest him or take legal action. Nearby neighbors told the Express-News that the man’s home is covered in security cameras and that he often emerged holding a shotgun.

When alerted by a reporter at the Express-News of the threats made to the Attorney General’s Office, the police force did respond. “Since you’ve made us aware of those threats, our fusion center and our mental health unit have reached out to the AG’s office and are trying to work something to make a case against [the alleged suspect Ralph] Pulliam,” Sargent Michelle Ramos told the paper. “They’re going to investigate that.”

The threats and lack of communication by Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to local police takes on a new light in the wake of two mass shootings in Odessa and El Paso. The El Paso shooter had long written about his hatred for immigrants and his mother had reportedly called the police before the shooting because she did not think her son should own a gun.

“These messages are clearly threats of deadly force against San Antonians based solely on the color of their skin,” wrote State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer in a letter to Paxton. “It is deeply alarming to me that despite the large volume and explicit nature of the messages from Mr. Pulliam, the Office of Attorney General has taken so long to cooperate with local law enforcement.”

The story was published in the print edition of the Sunday Chronicle, but there’s no link for it yet on the Chron site and the E-N story is behind the paywall, so this is the best I can do. Do bear in mind that Ken Paxton has been actively encouraging people like this to report their complaints to his office, so it’s no wonder he’s being tight lipped about this. Dude’s one of his best customers. In the meantime, while we hope this guy doesn’t follow through on any of the many threats of violence he has made, let’s see if any of our Republican leaders, who have been trying to convince us that they might actually Do Something this time, will at least voice support for disarming this guy. I’m not going to hold my breath.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 9

The Texas Progressive Alliance has written this week’s roundup entirely in Sharpie.

(more…)

Univision News poll: Trump 42, Dem 47

Here’s a fun poll.

Days away from the third Democratic debate in Houston and over a year from the 2020 presidential election, an exclusive poll by Univision News found that 40% of registered voters in the state say they will vote for the Democrat who prevails in the party’s primary, while 33% say they will support president Trump. If undecided voters leaning one way or the other are included, the advantage would be 47% to 42% in favor of the Democrats.

The Latino vote could be decisive. A large majority of Hispanics (69%) surveyed in the state said they intend to vote for the Democratic candidate, compared with 19% who plan to support Trump (also including undecided voters who are leaning one way or another).

According to Census data, Hispanics represented 40% of the population of Texas last year and during the 2018 elections Hispanics constituted more than 24% of registered voters. The Univision national poll, conducted by Latino Decisions and North Star Opinion, measured the presidential preferences of Hispanics in this election cycle and included a specific module for Texas with the support of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston in which included a sample of all state voters.

Senator Bernie Sanders would win the state (48% against 42%). Similarly, former Vice President Joe Biden would win the state (47% to 43%), and the same would happen with Senator Warren (44% to 42%).

[…]

According to the national poll, President Trump’s management style continues to generate a strong rejection among Hispanics, with four out of five registered voters disapproving of the president’s performance. At the same time, according to the survey, Democrats have gained support from Latinos who were undecided.

In this latest poll, which comes on the eve of Thursday’s debate in Houston in which all the leading Democratic candidates will share the same stage for the first time, 62% of Latinos reported that they will support any Democrat who opposes the president.

This is the most favorable poll for Dems versus Trump in Texas so far – compare to the Quinnipiac June poll, the UT/Trib June poll, the UT-Tyler July poll, and the August Emerson poll. In part, this is because Trump’s approval numbers are terrible – 44% approve of the job he’s doing, 56% disapprove. There does seem to be a correlation between the two in the polls we’ve seen so far, which makes sense but may not be conclusive. Trump did outperform his approval numbers in 2016, but he wasn’t President then, he didn’t have a record to defend, and he had the good luck to run against someone whose own approval numbers were lousy. At least the first two of those will not be true this time.

The poll has three results for each question – there’s a national Latino result (1,043 Latino RVs), a Texas Latino result (641 Texas Latino RVs), and an overall Texas result (1,004 Texas RVs). You can see how the questions break out, in many different combinations of candidate and query, and you can see it in tabular form with the wording of the questions here. To save you some clicking and scrolling, here are the headline numbers:


Matchup     LatinTX  All TX
===========================
Trump           19%     42%
Democrat        69%     47%

Trump           19%     43%
Biden           60%     47%

Trump           19%     42%
Sanders         68%     48%

Trump           20%     42%
Warren          64%     44%

Trump           19%     44%
Harris          60%     45%

Trump           20%     41%
Castro          62%     44%

Trump           21%     41%
Booker          63%     43%

Cornyn          22%     41%
Democrat        58%     40%

All numbers are for Texas, with the first number being from the Latino subsample and the second number being overall. Not a whole lot of difference, and where there are differences it’s usually in the Undecideds. Note they also threw in a Senate question, though just a generic one. It probably wouldn’t make much difference if they asked about individual candidates, as the polls we’ve seen so far, one from August and one from this week suggest the Dem candidates aren’t sufficiently well known for there to be much difference between them. On that note, here’s the more recent poll of the Texas Senate primary:

Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, of Round Rock, an Afghanistan War veteran who nearly unseated a veteran GOP congressman last year, came out on top – barely.

Hegar polled at 12 percent, followed by three candidates with 10 percent: State Sen. Royce West; activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez; and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards. Chris Bell, a former congressman from Houston, had 9 percent in the poll.

The survey of 600 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted from Sept. 3-5 by Ragnar Research Partners of Austin and Washington. The margin of error is 3.9 percent.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Dem Senate primary polls for now. In the Univision poll, John Cornyn does about as well as Trump, with the slight differences on both sides again coming from an increase in the undecideds. Cornyn did basically as well as John McCain in the 2008 election, the main difference in the two races being the larger share of the vote going to the third-party candidate. His 12-point margin over Rick Noriega was identical to McCain’s 12-point margin over Barack Obama. This suggests that there won’t be that much difference between Cornyn and Trump when the 2020 votes are counted. That in turn suggests to me that the not-Trump voters from 2016 who voted more or less Republican otherwise but went much more Democratic in 2018 will likely repeat their more recent behavior in 2020. I don’t want to go too far out on the limb for this – polling data is still preliminary and scarce – but it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s long been my belief that the not-Trump voters will stay with the Dems in 2020, and after that who knows, and if so that makes the path for Dems easier to navigate. But as they say, there’s still a lot of time. Now we wait for the next poll.

It’s not really a campaign until there are attack ads

I have three things to say about this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner launched a television ad Monday attacking Tony Buzbee for donating to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, marking the mayor’s first major attempt to link his political opponent to the president.

Buzbee, a millionaire businessman and lawyer, is one of 11 candidates running for mayor against Turner, who is seeking a second four-year term in November.

In the summer of 2016, Buzbee hosted a fundraiser for Trump — who was then the presumptive Republican nominee — at his mansion in River Oaks.

In October 2016, after a video surfaced in which Trump is heard bragging about groping women, Buzbee disavowed Trump, posting on social media, “Sorry Donald. I’m done with you. Completely.”

He later contributed $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee.

Turner’s ad opens with a clip of Trump calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” at his 2015 campaign launch speech, when Trump also accused immigrants of bringing drugs and crime across the border.

“Noise, and more noise, from Donald Trump and his imitator, Tony Buzbee,” a narrator’s voice says.

1. Ideally, incumbents prefer to be able to run campaigns that don’t acknowledge their opposition. Even the most devastating negative ad still has the effect of raising the opponent’s name ID. Attacking Buzbee means there’s more value in trying to take him down than the downside of introducing him to a wider audience.

2. Buzbee is of course a target-rich environment, with his ties to Donald Trump and Rick Perry, his general douche-bro profile, his loose relationship with accurate information, and the fact that he’s basically a loudmouth know-it-all with no experience in government. You know, kind of like some other guy who was also a very bad idea to vote for.

3. The thing about running attack ads in a multi-candidate race is that it can have the side effect of improving the position of the candidate or candidates who are neither the target nor the instigator of the ad. Is Turner attacking Buzbee in hope of softening him up for the runoff, or in hope of knocking him out so he’ll face someone else in the runoff? Hard to say. If he keeps this up for weeks, or if he goes on to attack other candidates, we’ll have a better idea.

Endorsement watch: Warren sticks her neck out

Very interesting.

Jessica Cisneros

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is wading into one of Texas’ highest-profile intraparty fights, endorsing Jessica Cisneros, the primary challenger to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

“The people of Texas’ 28th district are ready for systematic change and deserve a Democrat that will be on the side of working people; not the side of big money and obstructionist Republicans,” Warren, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts, said in a statement Monday morning. “I believe Jessica Cisneros is that fighter.”

Cisneros, a young immigration attorney from Laredo, has the backing of Justice Democrats, the progressive group famous for helping elect freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., last year. Cuellar is among the more conservative Democrats in the House.

“Jessica knows our diversity is our strength and that when progressives are unapologetic about our values and who we’re in this battle for, we win,” Warren said. “It’s time Texans had a champion in Congress who does just that.”

See here for the background. This will certainly raise Cisneros’ profile, and I’d say it’s a good bet it will help her with fundraising, too. It’s a bit of a risk for Warren to take, partly because it may cost her some primary votes in a heavily Democratic part of the state, partly because she may have made a mortal enemy who can sabotage her agenda in the House if he survives and she wins, and partly because Henry Cuellar also has friends who are now motivated to work against her. It’s also very on brand for her, and if you’re looking for someone who walks the walk, Elizabeth Warren has the record to show she does that. This race just got more interesting. The Texas Signal has more.

On an unrelated note but something that I’ve been looking for an excuse to include in a post, CD02 candidate Elisa Cardnell was recently endorsed by Rep. Marc Veasey, who among other things is the Regional Vice-Chair of the DCCC. CD02 is not currently on the DCCC target list, but in an ideal world the overall political climate, the Cardnell campaign fundraising prowess, and any available polling data would cause this race to be added in at some point. For now, it’s on the second tier, but the endorsement of an incumbent like Rep. Veasey is a boost for Team Cardnell, and suggests the national folks are keeping an eye on this one as well.

The Harris County GOP thinks it can come back in 2020

They’re so adorable.

Never forget

Once a rock of Republican politics in Texas, Harris County has become nothing short of a nightmare for the GOP over the last four years as Hillary Clinton and Beto O’Rourke carried the county and Democrats dominated further down ballot in local races.

But as bad as it has been of late, party leaders say it’s foolish to consider Harris County blue, based on just two election cycles. They insist the party has learned key lessons over the last four years and made changes that will not just stop the Democratic trends, but lead to GOP victories in 2020 and beyond.

“We are still a strong force here,” Harris County Republican Party chairman Paul Simpson said.

He sees 2016 and 2018 as more of temporary Democratic run than a change of the guard. There have already been big changes that will affect 2020, he said, pointing to the end of straight-ticket voting, better minority community outreach and a renewed commitment to registering new voters as three things that will lift GOP candidates in Harris County.

That’s not to discount the pain of the last two election cycles. Shifting demographics and an emboldened Democratic Party that has registered new voters at record speed allowed Clinton in 2016 to win the biggest share of the vote for a Democratic presidential candidate in Harris since Texas icon Lyndon Johnson was on the ballot in 1964.

And in the governor’s race in 2018, Democrat Lupe Valdez — who ran a campaign that was mediocre at best — won Harris County over incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, becoming only the second Democratic gubernatorial candidate to carry Harris County in 25 years.

“There was shell shock,” Republican media consultant Vlad Davidiuk said.

[…]

Months before the 2018 election, Abbott’s political team was warning allies about what was happening in Harris County. That summer at a training session in San Antonio, Abbott campaign advisers told workers that Democratic-leaning voter registration groups such as Battleground Texas were making big gains registering new voters in Harris County.

Davidiuk, who was working with the Harris County Republican Party then, said others saw it coming, too.

“We didn’t have a response to that,” he said. “If there was a response, it was too fractured.”

That voter registration push has only grown the Democratic advantage at the polls the last two years.

“Our historic voter base is shrinking in both real and absolute terms,” the 2016 post election analysis says. “As a consequence, we are at risk of becoming a minority party within Harris County.”

Later it makes clear that “Donald Trump’s loss in Harris County and its down-ballot impact in 2016 could foreshadow future elections if we do not broaden our voter base.”

I’ve already said most of what there is to say about this. The rationales they give – it was Beto! straight ticket voting! Trump! why don’t those minorities like us? – are as predictable as they are pathetic and self-unaware. The straight ticket thing I’ve beaten to death (but feel free to reread this for one of my responses to that trope), but I think what we need here is to throw some numbers at these claims.


Year    R Pres   D Pres   R Judges   D Judges
=============================================
2004   584,723  475,865    535,877    469,037
2008   571,883  590,982    541,938    559,048
2012   586,073  587,044    563,654    568,739
2016   545,955  707,914    605,112    661,404

Republicans have basically not done any better at the Presidential level in Harris County since George W. Bush in 2004. They have grown some at the judicial level (the numbers you see above are the average totals from the District Court races, my go-to for measuring partisan vote totals), which highlights Trump’s extreme underperformance, but their growth (plus 70K from 2004 to 2016) is dwarfed by Democratic vote growth (plus 192K) over the same period. This is my thesis, which I’ve repeated over and over again and which has clearly not sunk in. This is the problem Republicans need to solve.


Year  R Judges   D Judges    R Str    D Str  R Str%  D Str%
===========================================================
2004   535,877    469,037  370,455  325,097   69.1%   69.3%
2008   541,938    559,048  343,919  391,488   63.5%   70.1%
2012   563,654    568,739  404,165  406,991   71.7%   71.6%
2016   605,112    661,404  401,663  472,030   66.4%   71.4%

These are the countywide straight ticket voting totals, and the percentage of each side’s average judicial total that came from straight ticket votes. Looked at this way, Democratic straight ticket vote total growth is proportionate to their overall vote total growth. In other words, the increase in Democratic straight ticket voters wasn’t inflating their overall strength, it was merely reflecting it. Meanwhile, fewer people voted straight ticket Republican in 2016 than they did in 2012. Sure, some of that is a reaction to Trump, but that’s still a big problem for them, and it’s not something that the elimination of straight ticket voting will help them with in 2020. Note also that Republicans have been pretty heavily dependent on straight ticket voting as well. I do not understand the assumption that its removal will help them.


Year  Voter Reg   R Pres%  R Judge%  D Pres%  D Judge%
======================================================
2004  1,876,296     31.2%     28.6%    25.4%     25.0%
2008  1,892,656     30.2%     28.6%    31.2%     29.5%
2012  1,942,566     30.2%     29.0%    30.2%     29.3%
2016  2,182,980     25.0%     27.7%    32.4%     30.3%

The first column is the total number of registered voters in Harris County in the given year, and the percentages are the percentage of each of the total registered voter population. As a share of all registered voters, Donald Trump did worse than John Kerry, while Hillary Clinton did better than Dubya. The share of all voters choosing Democratic judicial candidates increased twenty percent from 2004 to 2016, while the share of all voters choosing Republican judicial candidates declined by three percent. This is what I mean when I say that the Republicans first and foremost have a “not enough voters” problem in Harris County. Their second problem is that they have no clue what to do about it.

For what it’s worth, here’s a similar comparison for the off years:


Year  R Judges   D Judges    R Str    D Str  R Str%  D Str%
===========================================================
2002   333,009    270,564  185,606  171,594   55.7%   63.4%
2014   359,842    297,812  254,006  210,018   70.6%   70.5%
2018   531,013    651,975  410,654  515,812   77.3%   79.1%

Year  Voter Reg  R Judge%  D Judge%
===================================
2002  1,875,777     17.8%     14.4%
2014  2,044,361     17.6%     14.6%
2018  2,307,654     23.0%     28.3%

Couple things to note here. One is that there wasn’t much in the way of growth for either party from 2002 to 2014, though as we know there were some ups and downs in between. The 2018 election was a lot like a Presidential election in terms of turnout – you’ve seen me use 2012 as a point of comparison for it before – but one in which the Dems did a much better job. No Republican, not even Ed Emmett, came close to getting 600,000 votes. Here, I’ll agree that having unpopular politicians at the top of the ballot, like Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, as well as having to fly under the Trump banner, helped propel Dems, in part because of former Republicans crossing over. But they were starting from a lower point to begin with.

Note, by the way, the jump in voter registrations from 2012 to 2014. Mike Sullivan deserves some credit for that, as he was the first Tax Assessor in a long time to not be hostile to voter registration, but this was also the point at which Dems started really focusing on registering voters. For sure, that has helped, and I’ve no doubt that Abbott’s people had reason to be alarmed going into 2018. I find it kind of amusing that Republicans are turning to voter registration themselves as a way forward. I have to wonder if that will lead to any bills getting advanced that would make voter reg easier and more convenient. My guess is still No, on the grounds that they probably figure they can throw money at the problem and would still rather have it be hard for Dems, but we’ll see.

I could go on, but you get the point. And as a reminder, the numbers themselves aren’t the whole story about why Republicans are struggling and will continue to do so in Harris County:

Simpson, for one, is glad to see the parade of Democratic presidential contenders coming to Harris County because it puts their ideas — particularly on climate change — front and center. Let them bring their calls for banning fossil fuels, he said.

“They don’t want us to eat beef, drill for oil or even use straws.”

Because it there’s one thing younger voters really hate, it’s trying to solve climate change. Way to be on top of the trends there, dude.

Big John may get a primary challenger

Drama! Maybe.

Big John Cornyn

State Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, announced Monday evening he is exploring a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, potentially giving the state’s senior senator his most prominent intraparty opponent yet.

Fallon, a former state representative elected to the Texas Senate last year, told a Tea Party group here that he was forming an exploratory committee and moving on a quick timeline, hoping to have a conversation with GOP voters over the next few days. Fallon said that for six months, he had been hoping that a “viable conservative choice” would step up to take on Cornyn, but that person never emerged.

Addressing the True Texas Project, formerly the NE Tarrant Tea Party, Fallon pitched himself as a U.S. Senate candidate who would bring more energy and conviction to the fight that awaits Republicans in the general election. At one point, he said he hoped to galvanize Republicans much like Beto O’Rourke revved up Democrats last year in his closer-than-expected loss to the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz.

“What would happen in Texas if we can finally have a candidate — a new one — that energized the right?” Fallon said. “That gave everybody in this room something to believe in, to say, ‘This person, I believe that they care, I believe that they will do as they say,’ and I have an eight-year record to prove that. You don’t have to take that leap of faith — compare our records.”

[…]

Fallon could be the third Republican to line up to challenge Cornyn in 2020, following two lower-profile candidates. One is Dallas financial adviser Mark Yancey, and the other is Dwayne Stovall, who finished third in the 2014 primary, behind Stockman, with 11% of the vote. Stovall was running as an independent against Cornyn this cycle until switching to the GOP primary last month.

Well, if you look at the picture in this story, you can see that Pat Fallon has the kind of square jaw and executive-style hair that ought to make him a serious challenger. Beyond that, well, you know. By all means, Republicans, boot out your long-term, well-funded incumbent for this guy. You won’t regret it, I’m sure. The Texas Signal has more.

What can we really do about I-45?

Urban planner Jeff Speck is once again warning us about the negative effects of widening I-45.

TxDOT cites three principal motivations for advancing the I-45 project: reducing traffic congestion, improving driver safety, and improving air quality. These laudable goals are apparently considered important enough to outweigh the significant costs discussed above. And they might be — if they were achievable.

Sadly, each one is a false promise. Decades of similar state projects around the U.S., each with its own ample justification, teach a simple lesson: highway widenings do not reduce congestion in the long run, and make both driver safety and air quality worse.

[…]

If I-45 is widened, it will be remembered that, in the decade prior, Houston enjoyed a brief glimpse of a better future. Downtown and Midtown have been reborn, lifted on a demographic shift that favors urban living. Regional bike trails grace the Bayou Greenways, and a brilliant Beyond the Bayous plan lays out an ambitious path for sustainable growth. Transit ridership is up, thanks to investment in light rail and a redesigned bus network. The mayor, members of city council, and county commissioners all sing the praises of a more walkable Houston. Sadly, all these trends will be reversed if Houston doubles down on its nation-leading commitment to fossil-fuel infrastructure.

This need not happen. Houston has the ability to stop the I-45 expansion in its tracks, just as Dallas stopped the Trinity Parkway. That proposed roadway was called “the worst boondoggle imaginable” despite costing only one-fifth of the current I-45 plan. It took a 10-year fight, but the good people of Dallas rose up and killed it.

Meanwhile, Houston’s fatalistic response to its TxDOT incursion has been to just “make I-45 better.” The well-resourced but cautious Make I-45 Better Coalition has proposed a collection of modifications, all good, that unfortunately do not begin to question the underlying folly of fighting congestion, car crashes, and tailpipe emissions by welcoming more driving.

Here’s how to make I-45 better: first, fix the parts that need repair, without making them any wider. At the same time, introduce congestion-based pricing on the entire roadway to maximize its capacity around the clock. Invest the proceeds in transit, biking, walking, and in those poor people who truly have no choice but to keep driving.

Unlike highway widenings, congestion-based pricing reduces traffic, driving deaths, and pollution, all while earning billions rather than wasting them. It has worked wherever it’s been tried, including London, Stockholm, and Sydney, and it is about to become law in New York City. Even Dallas has been experimenting with congestion-based pricing for years.

Speck has addressed the I-45 expansion plan before, and I find him very compelling. The problem, as I’ve said before, is that there is no current mechanism in Texas to do the things he advocates. TxDOT, as the name implies, is a state agency, with leaders appointed by the Governor. Houston has no authority to impose any kind of pricing on I-45, and TxDOT also has no authority under current law to do congestion pricing, because TxDOT does not operate the toll roads and toll-based HOV lanes that do have that kind of authority. The now-dead Trinity Parkway project was not a TxDOT project but a local project under the auspices of a regional toll road authority.

What I’m saying is that the fight over I-45 isn’t in Houston, it is – or it needs to be – in Austin, in the Legislature and the Governor’s mansion. You want TxDOT to have a different mission, one that emphasizes transit over highway widening, you need a different Legislature and a different Governor. You want cities to have the authority to impose congestion pricing rules, with the revenue to be used to boost non-automobile mobility, you need to get that new Legislature to pass a law allowing for it, and a Governor to sign it. We can take one step towards those goals next year, but the Governor and the Senate aren’t up for grabs till 2022 (yes, there are Senators on the ballot in 2020, but only one Republican-held seat is a realistic target, and that won’t be enough). What do we do till then? The Make I-45 Better Coalition may be a limited response to a big problem, but at least their goals are achievable in the current time frame. If we want to think big – and we should! – we also have to play the longer game.

Interview with Carrin Patman

Carrin Patman

I’ve talked a lot about the METRO Next referendum on the 2019 ballot. The referendum, the first time METRO has gone to the voters to ask for bonding authority since 2003, is intended to fund a significant expansion of transit services, including light rail, BRT, HOV, and local bus. There’s a lot to take in, and while METRO will be running a campaign to inform voters about the referendum, I wanted to do a deeper dive into the details. METRO Board Chair Carrin Patman was the person to talk to about that, and I had questions for her about all aspects of the plan. We also delved into bigger picture issues of how METRO fits into the region, connecting with bicycles, future expansion, and how autonomous vehicles will affect things. Have a listen and let me know what you think:

I’ll be back to candidate interviews next week. I’ve got HISD, HCC, more from the city of Houston, and some ungodly number of HD148 contenders in the queue.

Lucio’s challengers

Will definitely want to keep an eye on this.

Sen. Eddie Lucio

This cycle, [Sen. Eddie] Lucio’s record will be dissected as two opponents—one a trial lawyer and daughter of a former Cameron County Democratic chair, and another a current State Board of Education member—take aim at this titan of Rio Grande Valley politics. Can they persuade the voters of Lucio’s district, which is 89 percent Hispanic with a 37 percent poverty rate, to reject the Texas Senate’s most conservative Democrat, or will the 73-year-old prevail again?

[…]

Lucio’s two primary challengers are Sara Stapleton-Barrera, a 35-year-old trial lawyer whose father chaired the Cameron County Dems in the ’90s, and Ruben Cortez, a sitting member of the State Board of Education who won re-election last year.

Stapleton-Barrera practices injury and constitutional law and criminal defense, but she’s politically inexperienced. Her campaign is founded on the idea the district needs new blood and on a promise to prioritize women and children. She’s been endorsed by the Cameron County Democratic Women, said Lucio’s not a “real Democrat,” and condemned his anti-equality views. “I’m 110 percent supportive of the LGBTQ community,” she told me over the phone. She’s also stressing the need for renewable energy and addressing climate change, an area where Lucio may be vulnerable: The senator voted to kill Denton’s fracking ban in 2015, and wrote a letter of support in March for one of three controversialliquefied natural gas plants proposed east of Brownsville. Stapleton-Barrera opposes the gas plants.

Seven months before writing the letter of support, Lucio accepted $5,000 from the company, Exelon, proposing the natural gas plant. Over the phone, Lucio told me he couldn’t remember who requested the letter and said his support for the gas plants depends on them operating in an environmentally “safe” way.

Stapleton-Barrera also hits Lucio for his tort reform record. “He’s taking money from the insurance companies and leaving people injured in a car wreck or by medical malpractice high and dry,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t take money from any PACs including TLR.

On abortion, Stapleton-Barrera is to Lucio’s left, but may not excite pro-choice advocates. In an email to me, she stole a line from the 1990s, saying abortion should be “legal, safe, and rare.” When pressed, she told me she would not support any further restrictions on abortion and would consider any measures loosening restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Her online platform doesn’t mention reproductive rights at all, and she told me she’s not making it a prominent part of her campaign because many in her district are anti-abortion.

Cortez has served on the state education board since 2013 and used his role to fight for Mexican-American studies; before that, he was on the Brownsville school board. In 2018 in Lucio’s senate district, Cortez got more votes than any other candidate, including Beto O’Rourke. (Lucio was not on the ballot.) Cortez, who currently represents an area larger than the state senate district, is attacking Lucio’s liberal bona fides. In a recently-posted bilingual announcement video, he slams Lucio for “consistently break[ing] his promise to carry forward the Democratic Party values” and accuses the senator of siding with “Trumpist Republicans” against Valley residents. According to the video, Cortez has endorsements from three local teachers’ unions and a letter carriers’ union.

But Cortez’s grasp of Lucio’s record appears a bit shaky. In the video and a separate post, he hits the senator for supporting a bill this year to allow more guns in schools, even linking the vote to the recent mass shooting in El Paso. Lucio, however, voted against that bill both in committee and on the floor. (Hinojosa, the McAllen-based state Senator, is the one who broke party ranks.) Cortez did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Money could be a problem for both challengers. In the first half of this year, Stapleton-Barrera raised around $4,000 and took about $20,000 in loans from her husband; as of July, Cortez had only about $1,000 on hand. Lucio couldn’t fundraise during the legislative session, but in the second half of last year he pulled in almost $350,000.

I’m a big non-fan of Sen. Lucio, so I’m happy to see him draw a couple of serious challengers, flawed though they may be. There’s a lot of attention being paid to the primary challenge in CD28, where national Democrats are funding a more progressive candidate against Congressman Henry Cuellar, whose record on many issues is as problematic as Lucio’s. I’m skeptical about that effort, in part because challenger Jessica Cisneros is flawed in her own ways, but it’s a worthwhile thing to try. Lucio is arguably a bigger impediment to progress than Cuellar, because he’s one of 31 Senators, giving him that much more influence in his chamber, whereas Cuellar is one 435 Congressfolk. The good news is that even if Lucio survives this race, every Senator will be up for election in 2022, so the next opportunity to have another go at him will be in short order.

Anyway. Stapleton-Barrera’s website is here. Cortez doesn’t appear to have any web presence, but his SBOE profile is here. Check them out, and I’ll keep an eye on this.

Will Lone Star Rail get resurrected?

Maybe!

A coalition of San Antonio and Austin state representatives has asked the House Transportation Committee chair to study the possibility of passenger rail between the two cities ahead of the 2021 legislative session.

Congestion between the two cities will only increase, the legislators wrote, costing drivers time and money.

“Improved transportation connectivity is critical for the Austin-San Antonio corridor,” 20 legislators said in an Aug. 16 letter. “We must not only look at how to utilize our current assets most effectively, but also find new and creative solutions for this corridor. As members of this region, we believe that it is imperative for the House Transportation Committee to explore new opportunities for our constituents to have frequent, safe, and dependable transportation.”

Officials from the Austin and San Antonio areas have been trying to connect the two cities by passenger rail for years. The Lone Star Rail District proposal stalled after Union Pacific pulled out of the project in 2016 over concerns about how passenger rail using its tracks would impact its freight operations. The Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) pulled its funding for the project later that year, leaving the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) few options for keeping the project alive.

The rail line proposed by the Lone Star Rail District would have had multiple stops, starting at the University of Texas A&M-San Antonio and ending in the north-of-Austin suburb Georgetown.

Rep. Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio) served on AAMPO’s board and as the city councilman for District 6 during passenger rail discussions. He said the corridor rail project took many blows but could be revived with proper action from the State.

“Texans have engaged in overviews and reviews, but what we need to do is have a strong directive from the state … and request or require or demand, indeed, that some action plan be created and presented to the Legislature for consideration and ultimately funding,” Lopez said.

[…]

San Antonians have rejected rail before, but as a local means of public transportation. Voters shot down light rail in 2000 and in 2015 approved a charter amendment requiring light rail proposals go to voters.

But if an intercity rail project starts up again, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said San Antonio would support it “if the state worked with us and we found a path forward for rail between Austin and San Antonio.”

“It has been a priority for this community for almost three decades,” he said. “And I’ve always said it will happen once the governor’s office makes it a priority.”

The last we heard about this was in 2016 when the previous plan died, in part because of a failure to come to an agreement with Union Pacific to share its tracks. On the one hand, a passenger rail line between San Antonio and Austin makes all kinds of sense and would be a fantastic alternative to the money and traffic pit that is I-35. On the other hand, well, the past couple of decades trying to get this line even to a preliminary approval stage with no success doesn’t bode well. But maybe this time it’s different. I’m rooting for it, but my expectations are firmly under control. The Current has more.

Weekend link dump for September 8

Don’t put non-recyclables in the recycling bin. It does more harm than good.

“Stephens fell victim to the Megyn Kelly Syndrome, the pattern whereby those who were groomed by the peculiar insular culture of right-wing media find it hard to adjust to the norms of the outside world.”

“While discipline is an admirable quality, in my conversations with Mattis I found it exasperating, because I believe that the American people should hear his answer to this question: Is Donald Trump fit for command? He should answer the question well before November 3, 2020.”

And as long as we’re asking, there are a lot of questions about James Mattis’ involvement with Theranos that need to be answered.

“The problem, of course, is that men like Stephens, Will, and Brooks—they are almost uniformly middle-aged or older white men—represent very few people in American civil society. Notably, very few of their kind wind up in elected office.”

Astros fans are well familiar with field reporter Julia Morales, who’s a good follow on Twitter and Instagram if you’re into that sort of thing. In a just world, she’ll get a chance to do play by play one of these days.

“A Response to Rod Rosenstein”.

“Can the world’s advanced democracies please stop electing clowns and grifters now? Things are getting serious.”

I never watched Friends back in the 90’s – I’m not much of a sitcom person, and I wasn’t watching much TV back then anyway – so the revisionist view that it was an awful show doesn’t cause me any stress. And it probably won’t have much effect on the kids today, like my own, who are watching it.

Are you getting spam in your calendar? You can do something about it.

This is all totally normal, nothing authoritarian or anti-democratic about it.

“We may not be any closer to changing the politics of guns in this country. But we’re seeing more clearly what’s going on, and who it benefits. That’s a start.”

“How to Stop Russia From Attacking and Influencing the 2020 Election“. You know, in case that’s a thing you want to do.

“Speaking ill of the dead after a selfish, harmful life, Dickens saw, was essential because it was true and because it demonstrated to those still living such lives the urgency of their need for repentance. It was only because he was granted the grace of hearing the harsh words spoken about him after his own death that Ebenezer Scrooge found a path to redemption.”

“Baseball is America’s pastime, but prices on its China-made gear are about to rise as the trade war escalates. Golf, lacrosse, basketball and other sports will feel the pinch, too.”

The right wing pill pushing industry.

The wheels on the bus go round and round, more efficiently now.

Keep an eye on Georgia this election season.

“Trump doctored a weather chart and ordered a rear admiral to release a statement backing up his falsehoods. The NOAA also jumped to Trump’s defense, and the White House won’t say if they engineered it. By my count, something like this has happened at least 7 times.”

Try, try again

A lot of women ran for office as Democrats in 2018. A lot of them won, and a lot of them who didn’t win are trying again.

[Gina Ortiz Jones isn’t] the only woman who’s back for a second round.

In April, MJ Hegar, who got within three points of defeating U.S. Representative John Carter, an eight-term incumbent in a deep-red district north of Austin, announced she would challenge U.S. Senator John Cornyn. Julie Oliver, who lost Texas’ 25th Congressional District to three-term Republican Roger Williams, despite cutting a 21-point spread down to just under nine, is also running again. So is Kim Olson, the Democratic challenger who lost to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. This time she’s running to represent Texas’ 24th Congressional District, which spans the suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth.

At least six Democratic women who lost their bids for the Texas Legislature in 2018 are running again in 2020, says Monica Gomez, the political director at Annie’s List, a political action committee that supports progressive women running for state and local office in Texas. Two more are coming back to run for different seats. “We haven’t seen this kind of rededication to running again in Texas since Annie’s List was founded in 2003,” Gomez says. She estimates that in the organization’s history, a total of 10 candidates have run again after a loss. “So eight in one cycle is a very large increase.”

The record-breaking number of first-time female candidates who ran for office in 2018 led to a record-breaking number of first-time female officeholders: 127 women now serve in Congress, the most ever and a 23-seat increase from 2017. Despite these gains, women remain grossly underrepresented in public office at every level. Women hold 24 percent of seats in the 116th U.S. Congress and 29 percent of statewide executive positions across the country. Texas sends 38 people to Congress; in 2019, only six of them are women. In the Texas Legislature, women hold 43 of 181 seats, or 24 percent—five points lower than the national average.

Why are women persistently underrepresented in politics? Over the past decade, a body of research has established that when women run, they win elections at the same rate as men. Melanie Wasserman, an economist at UCLA who studies occupational segregation by gender, wanted to learn more. So in 2018 she analyzed the political trajectories of more than 11,000 candidates over two decades in local California elections, focusing on how candidates responded after losing an election. She found that women were 56 percent less likely than men to run again after a loss, noting what she called a “gender gap in persistence.”

“If I make the assumption that the candidates who drop out have similar chances of winning as those that run again, then the gender gap in persistence can explain quite a lot of the gender gap in officeholding,” Wasserman told the Observer. “It would increase female representation among officeholders at the local level by 17 percent.”

In other words, perhaps we should be paying more attention to the losers—the women who run, lose, and choose to run again.

I’ve discussed some repeat Congressional candidates before; several of the second-shot brigade are men as well. The candidates mentioned in this story are:

MJ Hegar (Senate, previously CD31)
Gina Ortiz Jones (CD23)
Kim Olson (CD24, previously Ag Commissioner)
Julie Oliver (CD25)
Sarah DeMerchant (HD26)
Joanna Cattanach (HD108)

Others for Congress that could have been mentioned:

Jennie Lou Leeder (CD21, previously CD11)
Adrienne Bell (CD14)
Jan McDowell (CD24)
Christine Eady Mann (CD31)

As for the other legislative candidates, I’d say Eliz Markowitz (SBOE in 2018, HD28 in 2020) counts, and it looks like Natali Hurtado is doing it again in HD126. That leaves four more, going by Monica Gomez’s math, and I have no idea who they may be. Please leave a comment if you do know.

Not all of these candidates will make it to November, of course. All except Markowitz and Hurtado have at least one primary opponent as far as I can tell. McDowell and Olson are running for the same seat (with others in the mix as well), Leeder is unlikely to make it past Wendy Davis, and of course Hegar is in a pleasantly crowded field. I’ve been idly wondering if she might do what some had been crying for Beto to do and get back into the race she’d run last time, in CD31 where no other candidates of her stature have emerged yet. I doubt it – she’s still a strong contender for the Senate nom, and if anyone else has had the same thought as I have, I’ve not seen them express it – but anything is possible up till the filing deadline. DeMerchant will face off against Suleman Lalani and Rish Oberoi, while Cattanach has Shawn Terry. Point being, there are still more chapters of this story to be written. The next one will be out in December.

UPDATE: Forgot about Sema Hernandez for the federal races. Still don’t know who the other four repeat legislative candidates are.

UPDATE: I have been informed about a couple of “try again”-ers for this year. Brandy Chambers (HD112) and Celina Montoya (HD121) are both repeat candidates from 2018. Ann Johnson (HD134) ran in 2012 and is running again.