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August 12th, 2018:

Weekend link dump for August 12

The Ultimate Playlist Of Banned Wedding Songs“, some of which are more deserving than others.

Are you ready for the ALF reboot you didn’t know you needed?

“Behold, the rise of the feel-good feel-bad story.”

This was the year that targeted phishing went mainstream.

RIP, Robert Martin, Tuskegee Airman.

Three words: Mayonnaise ice cream. Oh, hell no.

Meet the scutoid, and new shape discovered in nature.

What took them so long? Seriously.

RIP, Charlotte Rae, best known as Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life.

“It’s a five-year-old making mud pies and being praised for it by Fox News and a bunch of Twitter trolls. This makes it news, and thus some explanation must be ginned up.”

“One possible lesson of the many brazen, conspicuous scandals related to President Trump and others in his orbit: The U.S. government has been massively underinvesting in enforcement and prosecution of white-collar crime.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a mensch.

Did you think that the Trump administration hates children? You don’t think it enough.

HGTV won the auction for the Brady Bunch house, outbidding Lance Bass.

“[I]f Russiagate is less an act of Cold War revival theater than a symptom of interlocking oligarchies across post-Soviet kleptocracies and the supposedly liberal West, Manafort’s career is a great way to get the background on how that all went down. Because for decades, he’s seen despots’ need for friends in the United States as his personal ticket to a lifestyle that includes, just for example, nearly a million dollars spent on carpets. Let’s take a walk through his thoroughly scummy career!”

“Luke Heimlich’s shot at professional baseball was short-lived as the Chinese Professional Baseball League terminated his contract with the Lamingo Monkeys less than a week after the former Oregon State star signed on.”

“People Trump accused of secretly taping him: Barack Obama, James Comey. People who actually secretly taped Trump:
Michael Cohen, Omarosa Manigault.”

George Tyndall and USC are the next Larry Nasser and Michigan State.

RIP, A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, Texas State Senator and champion of open beaches.

RIP, Douglas Grindstaff, Emmy Award-winning sound editor who created the iconic effects on the original Star Trek.

The meta-campaign for Senate

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

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We really need to replace our crappy old voting machines

This is embarrassing.

Local election administrators in Texas are eager to replace voting machines purchased more than a decade ago in time for the 2020 presidential election. Increasingly susceptible to malfunctions, upkeep for the aging machines can exceed $300,000 annually in the biggest counties. Election experts have also raised security concerns about the paperless electronic devices used in most of the state.

The little help Congress has offered comes in the form of recent funding that will be used for cyber updates and training, not voting machines. And state leaders have shown no interest in chipping in, even as scrutiny over the security of the country’s election systems ratchets up in the face of Russian attacks.

In 2017, budget writers in the Texas Legislature seemed lukewarm to the idea of replacing aging equipment. Legislation that would have created a state fund for new voting equipment died without getting a committee vote in the House. The bill received a late-session hearing during which one lawmaker on the panel, Representative Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, asked county officials to shorten their testimony because a college basketball championship game had just tipped off.

“I hope we don’t have to wait until a crisis, but we are walking on thin ice when it comes to the integrity of our voting machines,” said state Representative Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and the sponsor of the 2017 legislation.

More than 200 of Texas’ 254 counties still need to replace their voting machines and it appears unlikely that all will be able to do so in time for the next presidential election. The full price tag, according to election officials, is around $350 million — and local officials are having to find inventive ways to cover the costs. Travis County, for example, is expected to announce the winner of a new voting machine contract this week and plans to sell local bonds to come up with the anticipated $15 million.

The situation has grown dire. Some counties are using equipment that’s no longer manufactured. Machine failures are growing more common and it’s becoming harder to find replacement parts. County workers often have to scour eBay and Amazon to locate bygone tech relics such as as Zip disks and flash drives compatible with older machines.

Yeah, ZIP drives. Remember them, from the 90s? If you are relying on this kind of technology today, You Are Doing It Wrong. There’s no excuse for this – even if one thinks the counties should pay for the upgrades themselves, the cost cited in that penultimate paragraph is something like 0.3% of the state’s annual expenditures. It would be super easy to solve this if we gave a shit, but clearly our Republican leaders do not. But hey, I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen.

CD06 poll: Wright 48, Sanchez 39

Via Patrick Svitek on Twitter, I learned of a recent PPP poll in CD06. Here’s the polling memo, and here’s the information you’re most interested in:

Q1 Do you approve or disapprove of President Donald Trump’s job performance?


48% Approve
46% Disapprove
 5% Not sure

Q2 If the election for U.S. House of Representatives were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in your District?


45% Democratic candidate
49% Republican candidate
 6% Not sure

Q3 If the candidates for U.S. House of Representatives this fall were Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez and Republican Ron Wright, who would you vote for?


39% Jana Lynne Sanchez
48% Ron Wright
13% Not sure

Not exactly sure why there’s a dropoff from the generic Democrat to Jana Sanchez, but that’s not a terribly unusual event in polls. Smokey Joe Barton won in 2016 by 19 points, and he won in 2014 by 25 points, so whichever result is closer to the truth represents a much tighter race than we’ve seen recently. As noted in other contexts, this is consistent with statewide polling showing narrower than usual margins. I hope we see more Congessional-level polls in the state going forward.