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September, 2018:

Weekend link dump for September 30

New flash: George R.R. Martin takes his own sweet time when writing books.

“With scooters, cities have a fresh shot, and they don’t intend to waste it.”

“What’s surfacing in these comments is something that has, up until now, mostly been dodged, or left unspoken: that it has traditionally been accepted for men to sexually assault women, particularly at parties, particularly when they’re young. But the fact that this behavior has been tacitly understood as permissible does not mean that people—even while young, even while drunk at parties—have understood it to be O.K. It’s true that our earliest sexual experiences tend to be messy and confusing, and that this is, to some degree, inevitable and natural. It’s also true that, even in the Reagan era, and even to a sloppy and inexperienced teen-ager, preventing someone from screaming in fear during a sexual encounter is a stunningly clear and universally recognized sign that something is wrong.”

Yeah, I’ve never worn contact lenses, and I have no intention to start.

“Of the many forms of cruelty, that directed against those who are weak or powerless is one of the worst.”

“So, no, the teenaged Christine Blasey Ford would not have come forward to allege attempted rape in the early 1980s. It just wouldn’t have happened. And anyone who says otherwise is arguing in bad faith.”

And by the way, Ed Whelan has long been a jackass.

“A girl has a name, and so do at least 343 others. That’s how many newborn girls were named Arya in England last year, according to a BBC report that also tracks the rise in babies named Khaleesi (73) and Tyrion (11), among [others]”.

After disaster strikes, the relief scams are sure to follow.

“We are 65 witches who have been practicing magic for more than 35 years. We hail from every realm: Narnia, Eastwick, Salem, Sunnydale, Scotland, Hogwarts, The Woods. We are a diverse community, representing a bipartisan coven — good and evil, white and green-skinned. And today, we want to let everybody know that Dorothy Gale has never killed any of us with her house.”

“This underscores the point that many women who experience sexual assault or harassment don’t immediately go public with those experiences, for a variety of reasons. Instead, these stories often stay confined to the small group of people who witnessed it or were told about it at the time.”

“Now, it’s clear to me how powerless I felt throughout high school. The entire time I attended NCS, we had a male headmaster. We were a school for girls, which was presumably meant to empower us, but the boys were still in charge. High school is where we learned to put up with it. And now, as the prep-school boys are running the country and a kind of masculine backlash has taken hold of our democracy, it feels like we’re back in high school again.”

The Crazy Scandal At [The John Jay College of Criminal Justice] Everybody Would Be Talking About If The SCOTUS Nominee Wasn’t Accused Of Attempted Rape”.

“Based on my time with Debbie, I believe her to be unusually honest and straightforward and I cannot imagine her making this up. Based on my time with Brett, I believe that he and his social circle were capable of the actions that Debbie described.”

We should all be able to sing anything even half as well as this 7-year-old girl sings the national anthem.

I have been somewhat obsessed with the Mary Kay LeTourneau saga from the beginning. This update on her life and the life of the two daughters she had with Vili Fualaau feeds my fascination.

The Senate hearing with Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was surely not what Republicans were hoping for.

“So women aren’t believed in America either?”

“The out-of-network scam is not just an outrage, but an obvious outrage designed solely to stuff dollar bills into the pockets of favored doctors. No one, Democrat or Republican, should have any sympathy for it, and hopefully this bill will put an end to it.”

Sarah Davis’ balancing act

As it will be for many of her Republican colleagues, especially in Harris County, 2018 is a challenging year for Rep. Sarah Davis.

Rep. Sarah Davis

To understand how Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis plans to survive a possible Democratic blue wave in her House district, consider the front lawn of Jeanne and Michael Maher.

Like several others in their neighborhood near West University Place, the Mahers have staked yard signs in front of their house for two political candidates of opposing parties: U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat running for Senate, and Davis, a moderate, pro-choice conservative.

“It is a Republican-dominated Legislature, it will continue to be a Republican-dominated Legislature, and I would like to have someone who would be pulling some of the Republicans in the other direction,” Michael Maher said, explaining his support for Davis.

The 65-year-old Rice University energy researcher described himself as a moderate unmoored by party affiliation.

If the blue wave does wash over Texas, Davis might be the Republican best equipped to withstand it. She represents a swing district in an affluent section of Houston that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2014.

I would bet a considerable sum of money that Sarah Davis will run well ahead of the Republican baseline in HD134. You know who else once ran well ahead of her party’s baseline in HD134? Former Rep. Ellen Cohen, that’s who. She lost to Davis in the tsunami of 2010, as even her ability to get crossovers was not enough. Davis has the advantage of running in a district that leans Republican. She has the disadvantage of being roundly despised by the billionaire-coddlers and raving lunatics in her party, who may for their own perverse reasons want to see a Democrat take the seat.

My guess is that she hangs on, and assuming she does so again in 2020 there will be an interesting dilemma for Republicans when it comes time to redraw the district lines. They could do like they’ve tried to do to Rep. Lloyd Doggett in Congress and simply erase her district altogether, perhaps distributing some of her voters to HDs 135 and 138 to shore them up and adding the rest to Democratic districts. My guess is that if they do that they would then draw a new red district in the western/northwestern part of the county. That would have the dual effect of ridding themselves of someone they find troublesome, and swapping a swing district for a less-swingy one, while helping out some other Republicans. The traditional and collegial thing would be to tinker around the edges of HD134 to make it a little redder, as they did in 2011, and of course they could do that. The fact that this is even a possibility to contemplate is kind of amazing, but these are the things that can happen when your own Governor wants you out.

(Note – if Allison Lami Sawyer defeats her, or if a different Dem knocks off Davis in 2020, it’s a sure thing that Republicans do what they can to make this district redder. It’s the one thing I had to console myself after Cohen’s loss in 2010, that there was no way the Republicans were going to give her a district she could win in 2012. One way or another, I think we are in the waning days of what we now know as HD134.)

Planning to fail

Big surprise.

Right there with them

Anti-abortion activist Carol Everett had no experience running a family planning program when the state of Texas awarded her millions in taxpayer funds to help rebuild a network of low-income women’s health providers. The state knew that. So it should have been no surprise when Everett’s organization, the Heidi Group, failed to provide services to thousands of women after the Legislature slashed family planning funds and kicked out Planned Parenthood.

Last year, officials with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) acknowledged that the Heidi Group hadn’t met its contractual obligations, and the agency clawed back some of the money. But, until now, HHSC has refused to reveal how many patients Everett served, or just how much was spent on their care. Data obtained by the Observer shows that in fiscal year 2017, the Heidi Group served just over 3,300 clients, less than 5 percent of the nearly 70,000 Everett had pledged to cover. Nonetheless, the state renewed the group’s multimillion-dollar contracts for a third year.

“It’s outrageous. In what other area of state government would this kind of incompetence be rewarded over and over and over again?” said Dan Quinn, communications director at Texas Freedom Network, which called for an investigation into the Heidi Group contracts. “It’s a betrayal of taxpayers and especially of women who need these services and aren’t getting them.”

[…]

One of Heidi Group’s contracts is for the Healthy Texas Women program, which provides family planning services and preventive screenings for poor Texans. For fiscal year 2017, Heidi was initially awarded about $1.6 million to build a network of providers — a mix of clinics, individual doctors and crisis pregnancy centers — to serve nearly 51,000 patients enrolled in Healthy Texas Women. Despite spending more than $1.3 million, Heidi Group only managed to serve 2,300 clients, according to the new data.

Through a second contract, HHSC awarded the Heidi Group $5.1 million to serve nearly 18,000 clients through the Family Planning Program, the state’s other reproductive health program. Last year, the health agency conceded that the Heidi Group was falling short and cut back its contract by just over $4 million, reducing Heidi’s proposed client totals to about 3,500 and reallocating the remaining funds to other contractors. The Heidi Group missed that mark too, spending about $605,000 to serve just over 1,000 clients.

The Heidi Group was the only contractor in either program to have funds revoked in 2017.

See here and here for the background. We need to be clear that the Heidi Group’s incompetence, in conjunction with its anti-choice pedigree, is a feature and not a bug. As such, from the perspective of our state leadership, they’re doing a heck of a job. The Trib has more.

Have a Coke and a toke

Dude.

Aurora Cannabis Inc. led pot stocks higher after Coca-Cola Co. said it’s eyeing the cannabis drinks market, becoming the latest beverage company to tap into surging demand for marijuana products as traditional sales slow.

Coca-Cola says it’s monitoring the nascent industry and is interested in drinks infused with CBD — the non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that treats pain but doesn’t get you high. The Atlanta-based soft drinks maker is in talks with Canadian marijuana producer Aurora Cannabis to develop the beverages, according to a report from BNN Bloomberg Television.

“We are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world,” Coca-Cola spokesman Kent Landers said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg News. “The space is evolving quickly. No decisions have been made at this time.” Landers declined to comment on Aurora.

[…]

Coke’s possible foray into the marijuana sector comes as beverage makers are trying to add cannabis as a trendy ingredient while their traditional businesses slow. Last month, Corona beer brewer Constellation Brands Inc. announced it will spend $3.8 billion to increase its stake in Canopy Growth Corp., the Canadian marijuana producer with a value that exceeds C$13 billion ($10 billion).

Molson Coors Brewing Co. is starting a joint venture with Quebec’s Hexo’s Corp., formerly known as Hydropothecary Corp., to develop cannabis drinks in Canada. Diageo PLC, maker of Guinness beer, is holding discussions with at least three Canadian cannabis producers about a possible deal, BNN Bloomberg reported last month. Heineken NV’s Lagunitas craft-brewing label has launched a brand specializing in non-alcoholic drinks infused with THC, marijuana’s active ingredient.

Well, we have plenty of caffeine-infused food and beverages on the market, so this was only a matter of time. I personally don’t have any interest in cannabis, but I have no doubt that plenty of other folks will. If you really want to know when our state’s marijuana laws will start to change, this is likely to be your answer: When big business interests start lobbying to make it happen so that they can make a boatload of money. Ain’t life grand? Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a snack.

SD16 poll: Johnson 45, Huffines 42

From the inbox:

Nathan Johnson

A new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling shows challenger Nathan Johnson leading Don Huffines in the race for Texas Senate District 16, which covers most of northern Dallas County. Johnson has 45 percent of the vote, Huffines 42 percent, with 13 percent undecided. Senate District 16 has been one to watch ever since Hillary Clinton carried the district over Donald Trump in 2016 by 4.7 points. The poll of 525 respondents was conducted Sept. 20-21 and has a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

“My campaign is about priorities – addressing our most important issues and solving problems. I am not interested in partisan extremes. I am interested in finally solving our public school funding crisis, among other things.” said Johnson. “And I think our message is resonating with voters.” Johnson recently received the recommendation of the Dallas Morning News.

Other insights from the poll:

– 53 percent of Senate District 16 voters disapprove of Trump’s job performance, 44 percent approve, and 3 percent have no opinion.

– 39 percent of Senate District 16 voters have an unfavorable opinion of Don Huffines, 32 percent are favorable, and 29 percent are unsure.

– If a presidential election were held today, and Donald Trump and Joe Biden were the nominees, in Senate District 16, Biden would receive 52 percent, and Trump 44 percent, with 3 percent undecided.

All the usual caveats apply here. It’s one poll. We don’t have the full data, though we do have a polling memo here. It’s a poll that was commissioned by a campaign, not an independent poll. Have all the salt you want with this one. We do have the recent poll results for CD32 (which has significant overlap with SD16), which offers some corroborating evidence that this part of Dallas County may be shifting. For now at least we can say this is in line with other known facts. I for one sure hope it’s accurate.

What about Neal?

Ross Ramsey reminds us there is a third person in the Texas Senate race.

Neal Dikeman

Libertarians and other third-party candidates have never won state elections in Texas and rarely make a meaningful difference in election results, with one big exception: As spoilers.

If recent indications of a close U.S. Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, prove valid, a third candidate’s voters could spell the difference on Election Day.

“It will be the Libertarian voters who win this race,” says a hopeful Neal Dikeman, the Texas Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate.

[…]

Most polls have Cruz ahead of O’Rourke — but only by single digits. The most recent survey, from Quinnipiac University, had Cruz ahead by 9 percentage points among likely voters. Dikeman wasn’t included in that one, and none of the respondents said they would vote for someone other than the two major-party candidates.

For what it’s worth, covering a nine-point spread would be a big reach for a Libertarian candidate. Most of the time, in races with both Democrats and Republicans, third parties do well to get half that amount. Their mileage varies: Mark Miller and Martina Salinas, a Libertarian and a Green, combined for 8.6 percent in the 2016 race for Texas Railroad Commission; that same year, the presidential candidates from those parties, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, combined for 3.9 percent.

But several late summer polls in the Texas race for U.S. Senate are closer than Quinnipiac’s latest, raising at least the possibility that support for Dikeman could amount to more than the final difference between Ted and Beto.

This was written before that Ipsos poll came out, but that doesn’t change the main point. The two points of interest is that there is a Libertarian candidate, which will affect the win number in this race, and that the polling we have seen so far has not really taken this into effect.

On point one, by “win number” I mean the actual minimum amount needed to finish first in the race. It’s not fifty percent because there are more than two candidates. I did a broad look at this before the 2014 elections, so let’s revisit that here. Each Senate race in recent years has had at least three candidates in it. What percentage of the vote was actually needed to win those races? Here’s a look:


Year    Lib  Green   Else  Total     Win
========================================
2014  2.88%  1.18%  0.02%  4.18%  47.91%
2012  2.06%  0.86%         2.92%  48.54%
2008  2.34%                2.34%  48.83%
2006  2.26%                2.26%  48.87%
2002  0.79%  0.55%  0.03%  1.37%  49.32%

“Win” is the minimum amount that would have won that year. There were write-in candidates in 2014 and 2002. The third party vote hasn’t amounted to much in these races, but it’s not nothing. As you can see, in each year after 2002, 49% was enough to win, and in 2014 48% was enough.

What about this year? Obviously, that depends on how much support Neal Dikeman ultimately attracts. History suggests that will be in the two to three percent range, but it’s at least possible it could be more. Given that nobody likes Ted Cruz, it may be that the number of Republicans who refuse to vote for him but won’t vote for a Democrat is higher than usual. If that’s the case, then Dikeman will be the beneficiary of that. It wouldn’t shock me if he got more like three or four percent.

We might get some feel for that if pollsters specifically included Dikeman in their candidate choices, especially now if everyone is switching to a likely voter model. Not because polling for third party candidates is particularly accurate – they almost always overstate third party support – but because it might give a clearer picture of the gap between Cruz and O’Rourke. I have to imagine that the Quinnipiac poll would have Cruz at something lower than 54 had Dikeman been named as a choice. Yes, the polls have included “don’t know” as a choice, but it’s not the same as an actual person. It’s my hope we’ll see polls like that going forward. After all, that 47% support Beto got in the Ipsos poll may be closer to a win than you might think.

We need to talk about the robot sex brothel

I can’t avoid it any longer.

In a surprise reveal last week, a Toronto businessman announced that he would be opening the nation’s first robot sex brothel in Houston.

The business, set to open its doors later this month or in early October, will allow customers to rent or purchase a robotic sex doll that, according to the company’s founder, is “warm and ready to play.”

As you might imagine, people had opinions about this.

KinkySdollS, a Canadian company that opened the first North American robot brothel last year in Toronto, unofficially announced via Facebook last month that its first enterprise outside Canada would be in Houston, confirming on the company website that the business was “coming soon” to the Bayou City.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city is currently reviewing existing ordinances — or will consider drafting new ordinances — that could restrict or regulate such enterprises.

“This is not the kind of business I would like to see in Houston, and certainly this is not the kind of business the city is seeking to attract,” Turner said in a written statement to the Houston Chronicle.

[…]

The brothel would apparently not be illegal under current laws, according to experts.

“Unfortunately, there are currently no laws in the U.S. to prevent the sale of the type of dolls intended for this ‘robot brothel,’” said Houston attorney Richard Weaver, who specializes in business law.

“Unless a new ordinance is passed, this business will likely open and operate in Houston,” Weaver said.

Albert Van Huff, a Houston attorney who is familiar with Houston’s sexually oriented business ordinances, said that robot brothels would likely fall under the city’s definition of an adult sexual operation, however, and could likely be regulated for visibility and distances from schools, churches and other religious facilities.

I’ll be honest, I kind of want there to be some litigation over this, just so I can read the briefs and see the arguments. You just know there’s an attorney somewhere who’ll be thinking “three years of law school and months of cramming for the bar exam, for this”. Reading the story, it sounds like there’s a solid public health argument for not allowing the dolls to be rented. Beyond that, I confess I don’t quite get all the fuss. In the year of our Lord 2018, I’ve got bigger things to worry about.

Interview with Alex Karjeker

Alex Karjeker

We conclude our tour of Harris County legislative districts with a trip to the southern end of the county into HD129. Alex Karjeker grew up in Clear Lake and attended public schools there before heading to UT for degrees in math and economics. After a stint working in Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s office, he got a masters from Georgetown and has worked since then for Morgan Stanley and Uber. HD129 is another one of those districts that have remained stubbornly Republican, but it is also suburban and has a lot of college graduates, so who knows. Karjeker has been one of the more successful fundraisers among the Democratic legislative candidates in the county, so whatever the past electoral history of this district, keep an eye on HD129. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Lots more voters registered statewide

Always good to hear.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas voter rolls have grown to 15.6 million people, a new record, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos confirmed.

That is nearly a 400,000-person increase since March and a jump of 1.6 million since the last time Texas held a midterm election in 2014, according to election records.

And there is still time for more voters to join the rolls before Oct. 9, the final day to register in time to vote in the midterm elections.

[…]

Registering to vote and casting a ballot are two different things in Texas. Despite having 14 million registered voters in 2014, just 4.7 million people voted — about 34 percent of voters. In presidential cycles, voter turnout is much higher, hitting almost 60 percent in 2016 and 2012.

Here’s a convenient table that was included in the story to illustrate the progression of the voter rolls:

Voter Registration in Texas For Midterm elections over last 20 years


2018 - 15.6 million

2014 - 14.0 million

2010 - 13.2 million

2006 - 13.1 million

2002 - 12.6 million

1998 - 11.5 million

So there’s been more people registered to vote in the last four years than there were in the twelve years before that combined. There has been a comprehensive effort among various groups to increase Texas’ voter numbers – registering voters was in fact one of the few things that Battleground Texas did well in the 2014 cycle – so it’s good to see that pay off. Harris County by itself can account for nearly 250K of those new registrations since 2014. There’s definitely been a big focus on registering people in this cycle, which should not come as a surprise to anyone who has not been in a cryogenic state.

As noted, registering and voting are two different things. That said, even if the turnout rate remained at 34 percent as it was in 2014, that would translate to 5.3 million ballots cast, modulo however many more people get signed up before the 9th. For what it’s worth, I investigated the question of new voters voting in Harris County in 2014. As I recall (I can’t find the post I wrote about it right now), something like 21% of the brand-new voters turned out in 2014. That’s not great, but it’s not nothing, either. Twenty-one percent turnout of those 1.6 million new voters statewide would still push the 2014 total to just over five million. In 2016, turnout as a percentage of registered voters in Harris County was down compared to 2008 and 2012, but the total number of actual voters was up 130K over 2012, precisely because there were so many (300K in all) more voters. One way or another, expect 2018 turnout to exceed 2014. The real question is who those voters will be.

ACLU reminds counties to provide voting materials in Spanish

From the inbox:

With weeks to go before the November 6 election, the ACLU of Texas has sent advisal letters to 36 counties across Texas that may be in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The letters urge the identified counties to comply with a provision in the law that requires any information about voting or elections to be provided in English and Spanish in counties where more than 10,000 or more than 5% of all voting age citizens are Spanish-speakers with low English proficiency.

“Counties need to ensure that they are providing all citizens with information that will enable them to vote,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “The obligation to provide information in Spanish is a simple but important requirement which helps to remove barriers to voting in the state with the largest number of counties needing foreign language voting materials.”

ACLU of Texas attorneys reviewed county election websites and looked at whether pertinent information was made available in Spanish, including voter identification information, key voting dates, voter registration information, and applications for ballot by mail and absentee voting. The preliminary research determined that 36 counties had inadequate or inaccessible information in Spanish, had poor or misleading translations, or offered no voting information in Spanish at all. For example, one county’s use of an automated translation service translated the term “runoff election” as “election water leak” or “election drainage.”

Several counties have already responded positively to the letters, agreeing to comply with the Voting Rights Act and include Spanish language voting information on their websites.

Click over to see the list of counties. If one of them is yours, maybe make a call yourself to your local elections administrator. It’s a little hard to believe that any county could still have problems with this after all this time, but here we are.

Judicial Q&A: Richard Hightower

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Richard Hightower

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

Richard Hightower, Democratic nominee for Justice, 1st Court of Appeals, Place 8.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 1st Court of Appeals hears both criminal and civil appeals from trial courts in ten Texas counties, including Harris County.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Appellate courts in Texas should be balanced with justices elected from both parties. Currently all 36 of the appellate court justices overseeing Harris County (the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) were elected as Republicans. This is not a reflective balance of the diverse communities served. I believe that appellate court justices should serve in a fair and impartial manner, follow the law, and avoid political associations and relationships that place in question their ability to do so.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a practicing attorney for over 37 years, graduating from Baylor Law School in 1980, and a member of the Baylor Law Review. I am currently the owner of Richard F. Hightower P.C. and serve as of-counsel to the Oaks, Hartline & Daly law firm. I have been a trial attorney for over 20 years, have represented both Plaintiffs and Defendants, and throughout my practice have represented the interests of our public school districts and community colleges in both urban and rural counties. I was co-counsel in one case argued before the United States Supreme Court. In addition, I have served as an outside examiner/officer and as a certified mediator in hundreds of disputes.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because voters have an opportunity to provide balance and a diversity of background and experience to the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals. Fairness and justice for all are on the ballot as ten seats on these two courts are up for reelection this November. I am honored to have the opportunity to provide my broad experience and sound judgment to the 1st Court of Appeals.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

With over 37 years experience as a practicing attorney, I have been involved in many of the types of cases that might come before the 1st Court of Appeals. I have experience in large firms and small firms, and I have experience in large counties and small counties. I have been involved in complex multi million dollar litigation and have also represented parties in family law, juvenile, probate, criminal, employment, and breach of contract cases. I was honored by my peers by receiving the AV Preeminent rating from Martindale Hubbell, the highest possible rating in both legal ability and ethical standards, and by being listed as a Super Lawyer by Texas Monthly Magazine. I also received more votes than my opponent in the 2018 State Bar preference poll sent to all lawyers in the ten county district served by the 1st Court of Appeals.

The AG race and the lawsuit to kill Obamacare

I feel like this is a better issue for Justin Nelson than it is for Ken Paxton. Of course, on the down side, for it to really be salient millions of people will have lost health insurance. Not that Ken Paxton cares, of course.

Justin Nelson

Can a Texas-led lawsuit to kill Obamacare boost Democrats even in deep-red Texas?

Justin Nelson sure hopes so. The well-credentialed Austin lawyer is challenging the architect of that case, incumbent Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in this fall’s general election, betting that the controversial case can help him overcome the partisan disadvantage that’s proved insurmountable for statewide Democratic candidates for the past two decades.

In February, Paxton — who was indicted in 2015 for securities fraud and has not yet gone to trial — launched a 20-state challenge to the landmark health care law, arguing that after Congress gutted the individual mandate, the rest of the law is unconstitutional and must fall. Critics have cast doubt on the case, from its motivations — many argue it’s rooted partisan politics, not genuine constitutional concerns — to its legal arguments.

As the lawsuit comes into play in races across the country, Nelson’s campaign has seized on it as perhaps its best bet at victory. Focusing on protections for pre-existing conditions — one of the most popular provisions of Obama’s landmark health law — Nelson has framed the lawsuit as his opponent’s attempt to wrench health care away from Texas’ most vulnerable residents. The Democrat brings the issue up almost as often as he cites the criminal charges against his opponent.

Republicans have been running against Obamacare practically since before it passed. But now, as they butt up against a midterm election season widely considered friendly to the Democrats, the issue may be becoming an advantage on the other side. Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 75 percent of Americans consider protections for pre-existing conditions “very important.”

[…]

Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist, said the Texas-led lawsuit is “creating a microscope” on a statewide race that tends to fly under the radar.

“To some extent, sure, yes, it keeps the name in the news in a positive way among [Paxton’s] base,” Steinhauser said. But it’s also “giving the Democrats something to use,” he added.

Nelson has pledged to withdraw from the lawsuit on his first day in office. Earlier this month, his camp hosted a protest in a park across the street from the Fort Worth courtroom where Paxton’s staff was asking a federal judge to block Obamacare nationwide. Dozens of protesters wielded signs with messages like “Why Oh Why Are You Killing Me?” and one protester dressed as the grim reaper.

The issue is clearly speaking to voters, Nelson said.

“People come up to me at events and hug me for what I’m doing, speaking out on protections for pre-existing conditions,” Nelson said.

His campaign claims the numbers bear that out. In internal polls, just over half of likely voters had either “serious doubts” or “very serious doubts” about Paxton’s efforts to roll back Obamacare’s protections, a spokeswoman said. Once voters are briefed on Paxton’s background, including on the indictment, she added, Nelson pulls ahead by a small margin.

A Paxton campaign spokesman said the incumbent carries a consistent 10-point lead in his campaign’s polling.

See here, here, and here for the background. I can believe that both candidates’ polling is accurate, or at least plausible. Nelson’s depends on people being aware of the Paxton-led lawsuit and its effect. An injunction from the judge would accomplish that, though I think the judge will heed the request to hold off till after the election. Wouldn’t want to get the rabble all roused up, after all. As the story notes, this lawsuit has been an issue in elections in other states. Breaking through here is harder – dozens of media markets, lots of oxygen being consumed by other races, not that much money in this race, etc – but a little media coverage can’t hurt. The more, the better.

Schwertner update

He has amended his statement.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

In the face of a sexual harassment allegation, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, has hired two Austin attorneys and denied sending “any inappropriate texts as alleged” — “Period.” — in a new statement Wednesday from the attorneys.

[…]

Schwertner has hired attorneys Perry and David Minton to represent him, the Statesman reported. The attorneys said they have been in touch with UT-Austin to “resolve this matter.” The law firm did not immediately return a request for comment from the Tribune.

“The Senator is devastated over these allegations and is concerned for the unnamed victim,” the lawyers said in a statement to the Statesman. “Our statements regarding the Senator will be proven in the days and weeks to come. Until then, Senator Schwertner deserves the courtesy of holding judgment until he is afforded the opportunity for a fair process to occur.”

See here for the background, and here for that Statesman story, which has a lot more detail. That new statement implicitly acknowledges that Schwertner did text the grad student in question, though he continues to deny that there was anything inappropriate in them. As I said, the existence of texts means the existence of objective evidence. One way or the other, we should be able to know the truth of the matter. For now, Schwertner’s colleagues, as well as Dan Patrick, are mostly taking a wait-and-see attitude. Like I said, one way or the other we should know something real eventually.

In the meantime:

Meg Walsh

Schwertner, who has represented the district since 2013 and is the chairman of the powerful Health and Human Services Committee, is facing two female challengers in the upcoming midterm elections: Democrat Meg Walsh and Libertarian Amy Lyons.

“If these allegations are true, Sen. Schwertner is unfit to serve in office,” Walsh said in a statement released Wednesday. “These serious allegations deserve a full and thorough investigation.”

Walsh also noted in the statement that she has dealt with workplace harassment before and will “never stop fighting so that women and every single person is treated with the respect they deserve.”

In an interview with The Texas Tribune Wednesday afternoon, Walsh reiterated her assertion that Schwertner is unfit to serve and said that if the allegation is true, it is a “serious abuse of power.”

[…]

While Schwertner is unlikely to lose his seat in November, a soft showing for his re-election could potentially endanger other Republicans on the ballot whose districts overlap with Schwertner’s.

Bill Fairbrother, chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party, said state Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, is in a “purplish and competitive district” that overlaps with Schwertner’s. Clinton defeated Trump in that district by less than 3 percentage points in 2016, according to data from the Texas Legislative Council.

A the story notes, SD05 is pretty solidly Republican; Trump carried it by 20 points in 2016. The truth would have to be really bad, and probably need to come out quickly, to have a significant effect. There could be a trickle-down effect, however, with the likes of Rep. Dale as casualties. Which would be fine by me, of course. Maybe now would be a good time for Annie’s List to jump in and lend a hand to Walsh. They don’t normally play in a race like this, but if now isn’t time for them to get involved, when would it be?

Interview with Michael Shawn Kelly

Michael Shawn Kelly

We continue with our tour of Harris County legislative districts. It’s already the case that a majority of the Harris County legislative caucus is Democratic; in 2016, 13 of 24 members of the State House from our county were Dems. This year, four more districts are viewed as competitive, with a fifth on the fringes. And then we have the holdouts, six in all, that represent the Republican base here. One of the hallmarks of this election is that even in the deep red districts, many strong candidates have emerged to provide a voice and a choice for the voters there. In HD150, a district where even a zealot like Debbie Riddle can get primaried out, Michael Shawn Kelley has stepped up to take the challenge, one he also undertook in 2016. Kelley owns an award-winning landscape architectural business in Spring, and has has deep roots in the community, a long record of service, and much to say about why he felt called to run for office. Here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

CD32 “live poll”: Sessions 48, Allred 47

Another on of these polls, another close result.

Colin Allred

Incumbent Republican Pete Sessions and Democratic challenger Colin Allred are in a dead heat in the much-anticipated race for Dallas County’s 32nd Congressional District.

According to a New York Times/Siena College poll completed Monday night, Sessions leads Allred 48 to 47 percent, with 5 percent of those surveyed undecided. Pollsters talked to only 500 potential voters, so the margin of error is plus or minus 4.8 percent. The Dallas Morning News is part of the New York Times’ effort to make the political polling process more transparent.

“Our poll result is about what was expected. But remember: It’s just one poll, and we talked to only 500 people,” an introduction to the results state. “Each candidate’s total could easily be five points different if we polled everyone in the district.”

[…]

The poll shows 52 percent disapprove of Trump’s performance, while 44 percent approve and 5 percent don’t know.

Trump endorsed Sessions earlier this month, while former President Barack Obama is backing Allred.

Potential voters overwhelming rejected Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum by a 50 percent to 39 percent margin, with 11 percent undecided, the poll revealed.

[…]

The incumbent has campaigned heavily on the 2017 tax cuts pushed by Trump and approved by Congress. To that point, the polls reveals that 53 percent in the district support the tax cuts, compared to 39 percent that disapproved and 8 percent that didn’t know.

Perhaps even more significant for Sessions, 54 percent agree that Trump’s policies have made their economic situation better. And the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was supported by a 50-41 percent margin.

Sessions is hoping voters feel good about Republican policies and Trump’s judicial appointments.

Those surveyed were nearly equally divided over which party should control the U.S. House, with 48 percent favoring Democrats and 47 percent wanting Republicans to maintain control. Six percent were undecided.

The 32nd Congressional District still leans Republican. The outcome of the race could be decided by a base fight in a county dominated by Democrats. Those Democrats hope Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, in a close Senate race against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz, will help the entire ticket.

But the poll shows that Cruz and O’Rourke could have similar coattails. O’Rourke was favored by a 48-47 percent margin, reflecting the overall competitiveness in the congressional district.

See here and here for previous “live poll” results, from CDs 07 and 23, and here for the full NYT writeup. An internal poll released in August had it as 47-45 Sessions, while Patrick Svitek tweeted about just-released PPP results that had Allred leading 47-42 and Lizzie Fletcher leading 47-45 in CD07. The disconnect between the disapproval of Trump and the approval of the tax cuts and Brett Kavanaugh could be a sign that people want to exert a counter-force on Trump even if they like some of the things he’s done, a sign that one side or the other is over- or under-performing in the district, or just random noise. Far as I know, these are the only live polls planned for Texas. I wish they’d dip down into some of the second-tier races – I’d kill to see what they might find about CD31, or CD22, or CD21 – but we should be happy we got this much.

The firefighter pay parity proposal sure seems like it’s going to pass

What are ya gonna do?

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is holding town halls to try to convince voters that the city can’t afford Proposition B, a ballot measure that would tie firefighters’ pay to that of police. It’s turning into an uphill fight.

Mayor Turner argues that full pay parity would cost Houston nearly $300 million, at a time when the city is wrestling with chronic deficits. But Turner is having a hard time getting voters to see this as anything other than attacking the firefighters.

“The default mode is not only to support equity pay but to support it by very big margins,” says Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

That’s particularly the case if Democrats turn out in larger-than-usual numbers. “You’ll have a lot of voters coming out who are predisposed as Democrats to support equity pay for public employees,” Stein says. “On top of that, the firemen not only have a good campaign message, but they’re going to get national support from national public employee associations and unions to support this equity pay raise.”

I’ve already seen three pro-Prop B signs in my neighborhood. Mayor Turner has been busy holding town halls and writing op-eds, but beyond that I’ve not seen much of a campaign. So yeah, I expect this to pass, quite possibly by a lot. And I’d say Mayor Turner is making the same judgment.

Mayor Sylvester Turner has instituted a hiring freeze across the city government’s roughly 21,400 positions, ordering department directors seeking exceptions to meet with him or his chief of staff in person.

The directive, he wrote in a memo dated Friday, will be reviewed “at a later date this year.” Executive positions are exempt from the freeze, but those already require mayoral approval.

Mayoral spokeswoman Mary Benton said the order was spurred by Proposition B on the Nov. 6 ballot. That measure would give firefighters the same pay as police officers of corresponding rank and seniority, costing the city an estimated $98 million annually.

“The impact would financially cripple the city and force layoffs and cutbacks to services,” Benton said. “The mayor believes it is not prudent at this time to hire additional city of Houston employees, who would lose their jobs as a result of the election.”

I mean, what did you expect? At this point I’d say the city’s best strategy is to find some plaintiffs for the ballot language lawsuit, and hope to get an injunction preventing it from being implemented while it gets hashed out in court. I wouldn’t bet my own money on that outcome either, but the odds have to be better than beating this thing at the ballot box.

UT investigating sexual misconduct case against State Sen. Schwertner

Noted for the record.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The University of Texas is investigating an allegation that state Sen. Charles Schwertner sent a sexually explicit image and text message to a graduate student he met at an on-campus event this summer, three senior UT officials with knowledge of the investigation told the American-Statesman.
If the allegation is deemed true, the university would consider banning Schwertner from campus, two of the officials said. The third official said the university is also considering hiring outside legal counsel to investigate further.

Through a spokesman, Schwertner on Tuesday said he “categorically denies any knowledge of the accusations” and plans to cooperate with UT’s investigation.

The student met Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican and a UT alumnus, at an on-campus event to which Schwertner was invited and told him she was interested in working at the Legislature, according to two of the officials. After the event, they exchanged messages on the networking site LinkedIn before moving to text messaging, the two officials said.

During an otherwise professional exchange on networking and career advice, Schwertner abruptly wrote, “I just really want to f—- you,” and sent her an image that appeared to be a picture of his genitals that was taken in the shower, according to a UT official who has seen the exchange and the photo. The image does not include his face, the official said. The Statesman has not seen the photo.

The student told Schwertner that she thought he had acted inappropriately, the officials said, and Schwertner did not respond. The student then reported Schwertner’s behavior to the school, prompting the investigation, they said.

All UT officials interviewed by the Statesman declined to reveal the identity of the student out of respect for her privacy and to honor the promise of confidentiality that the university made to her when she reported the incident. Student privacy laws also prohibit the university from disclosing the student’s name.

The officials, who declined to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, said that the investigation into Schwertner has not found any potentially criminal misconduct.

That’s all we know at this point. I suppose since the crux of this allegation involves text messages, there should be evidence one way or another, to support or refute it. We’ll see what UT finds out, including what if any action the Senate will take in the event the charges are corroborated. I’ll reserve judgment for now, but as someone who called for Sens. Miles and Uresti to step down after the stories about their alleged harassment were published, I’m not likely to be very sympathetic if these charges stick. Oh, and if you’re wondering, Sen. Schwertner is on the ballot in November. His opponent is Meg Walsh. Feel free to get to know her a little better. The Trib has more.

Judicial Q&A: Meg Poissant

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Meg Poissant

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Margaret “Meg” Poissant and I am running for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 8.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Court of Appeals decides appeals from civil and criminal cases in ten counties, with the exception of death penalty cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Court of Appeals should rule fairly with equal justice for all. I seek to bring my thirty-three years of experience and integrity to ensure justice for all Texans. The opinions of the incumbent are not always consistent or based on sound legal reasoning.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 33 years experience representing clients and trying civil cases, including personal injury, chemical exposure, wrongful death, probate, real estate, and complex business cases, many cases involving expert testimony and complex issues of law, as well as experience representing Defendants in criminal cases. My appellate experience includes appeals involving issues of insurance coverage, property damage, contract, and wrongful death.

I am Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent rated as having the highest ethical standards by both my peers and the judiciary. I am licensed in Texas and New York.

My memberships include the Texas Bar Association; Member of the New York Bar Association; Trial Lawyers of America; American Bar Association; Houston Bar Association; Texas Trial Lawyers Association; Houston Trial Lawyers Association; State Bar Committee; Houston Volunteer Lawyers Association; Harris County Democratic Lawyers Association; International Who's Who of Professionals; Notable Women of Texas; President Westwood Grove Civic Association; Committee Chair SN22 Ordinance Committee; Executive Committee Member- Legal and Communications Director for all of North America for a non-profit group; Special commendation from Humble Police Association for pro bono legal services; Board Member Shine Studios Board of Directors, a non-profit dedicated to issues of education for Latin American girls.

As a member of the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Association, I recently represented a non-status, indigent client in a case for 2 years, and 3 days in trial with a great result for the client; Volunteered for ARC of Greater Houston; Provided pro bono legal services to senior citizens, undocumented workers, neighbors and artists; pro bono legal counsel, as lead for the legal team, for all of North America for a national nonprofit foundation; Proactive member of the Super Neighborhood 22 Committees, ​devoting numerous hours to neighborhood quality of life issues; Volunteered for Avenue CDC (Community Development Corporation) art benefits to help finance the building of affordable homes and strengthening communities; Volunteer jurist for Fort Bend Contemporary Arts Museum; Charity fundraisers for various arts organizations and artists.

5. Why is this race important?

The Court of Appeals is often the last Court to rule on cases because the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals hear very few cases. The Court of Appeals is often the last opportunity for justice in a case. It is important to have a fair justice on the bench with integrity and experience.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am qualified and experienced, and I will bring justice and fairness to the rulings of the Court of Appeals. These rulings affect all Texans.

Three different views of how competitive Texas Congressional districts are

You are by now familiar with The Crosstab and its 2018 Congressional forecast, as I’ve referred to it multiple times in recent months. G. Elliott Morris, the proprietor of The Crosstab, now works at The Economist, and they have their own midterm forecast, based on a different model. And of course you are familiar with FiveThirtyEight, which (guess what) also has a 2018 Congressional forecast. What do we like to do when we have multiple data sources? We compare them, that’s what. Here are the forecasts for the Texas Congressional districts of interest:


Dist   XTab   Econ    538
=========================
CD02   15.1   50.0    9.3
CD03    6.4   29.0    0.9
CD06   16.5   40.0    7.3
CD07   50.3   27.0   46.6
CD10   21.0   13.0    2.6
CD14    6.4    1.0    1.3
CD17    4.4    1.0    0.5
CD21   20.3   50.0   20.3
CD22   20.5    8.0   14.8
CD23   66.3   83.0   49.4
CD24   29.0    9.0    4.5
CD25   11.3    0.0    7.0
CD27    6.5   20.0    0.3
CD31   11.2    4.0   20.1
CD32   47.4    1.0   17.4

Left to right, those are the projected percentage chances of a Democratic win in the given district from the Crosstab, the Economist, and 538. I have a hard time taking the Economist’s model seriously so I’m not going to say anything more about it. The other two provide an additional piece of data that’s worth looking at, which is a projection of the margin between the candidates in each district. Let’s look at that as well:


Dist   XTab    538   2012    2014   2016
========================================
CD02  - 9.1  -10.6  -26.9   -33.7  -20.3
CD03  -12.9  -20.6  -30.8   -37.1  -25.7
CD06  - 7.1  - 9.8  -16.7   -21.3  -15.2
CD07    0.1  - 0.6  -19.9   -31.4  -14.0
CD10  - 6.0  -15.9  -18.7   -22.6  -16.5
CD14  -12.4  -19.0  -15.2   -22.8  -21.3
CD17  -13.2  -22.5  -19.8   -28.9  -22.7
CD21  - 5.6  - 6.3  -22.0   -26.0  -18.7
CD22  - 6.2  - 8.5  -25.1   -33.3  -16.3
CD23    3.2  - 0.2  - 3.1   -15.5  - 1.2
CD24  - 4.0  -13.4  -23.3   -30.9  -15.9
CD25  - 9.0  -11.7  -20.0   -22.5  -21.5
CD27  -13.4  -25.4  -19.1   -30.3  -24.4
CD31  - 9.2  - 5.9  -21.0   -27.7  -19.3
CD32  - 0.4  - 6.6  -15.4   -23.7  -12.2

These numbers are all as of the September 23 update. They may have drifted a bit since then, one way or the other. I can tell you that in the few days that it took me to get my act together and finish writing this post, Democratic odds dropped a bit across the board, with the exception of an uptick in the 538 model in CD32. I have no idea if the loss in SD19 had anything to do with that, or if it was just reflecting whatever ebbs and flows their equations pick up on.

Note that 538 provides a range of possible vote shares for each candidate. In CD07, for example, they forecast a high of 55.1% and a low of 45.5% for John Culberson, with a high of 54.5% and a low of 44.9% for Lizzie Fletcher. The margin is the difference between the average forecast, which as of September 23 was 50.3% for Culberson and 49.7% for Fletcher. They take third party candidates into account as well. The Crosstab isn’t quite that granular, they just provide a forecast for the margin. Again, these numbers will drift around some.

The two points of interest here are where the forecasts differ – 538 is more bearish overall for Dems, though more optimistic in CD31 and considerably more pessimistic in CD32 – and how the current margins compare to previous years, which I show in the last three columns. As is my custom, I’m using judicial numbers for those margins, and for this I used one of the statewide judicial races. I don’t remember which one I picked for each year – did I mention that it took me a few days to write this post? – but it really doesn’t matter that much, they’re all within a point or so of each other. Look at the comparisons in the Harris County CDs – 02 and 07, which are entirely within the county, and 10 and 22, which are partially so. Everywhere you look, the indicators are for a rough year for the Harris County GOP. Never take anything for granted, of course, but dismiss the data at your peril as well. The postmortem here is going to be something.

Dallas County gets the Harris County treatment in its bail lawsuit

We have a precedent, even if everything is still a work in progress.

Taking a cue from the rulings on Harris County’s bail-setting practices, a U.S. district judge in Dallas issued a temporary order Thursday evening saying the county’s post-arrest procedures routinely violate inmates’ constitutional rights. The judge gave the county 30 days to change its ways.

U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas said that the county has to stop the practice of imposing pre-set bail bond amounts, which often keep poor defendants locked up for days or weeks while letting wealthier ones go free, without individual consideration if arrestees claim they can’t afford it. He sided with the plaintiffs’ allegation that the county uses “wealth-based detention.”

“Wealthy arrestees — regardless of the crime they are accused of — who are offered secured bail can pay the requested amount and leave,” Godbey wrote. “Indigent arrestees in the same position cannot.”

[…]

Godbey relied heavily on Harris County rulings from the federal district court and the appellate court. He said the cases had the “same roots” — despite Dallas’ lawsuit also including felony defendants whereas Harris only involves those accused of misdemeanors — and concluded that doing anything other than what the appellate court ruled in Harris would “put the Court in direct conflict with binding precedent.”

“Broadly, those procedures include ‘notice, an opportunity to be heard and submit evidence within 48 hours of arrest, and a reasoned decision by an impartial decision-maker,’ he wrote, quoting the higher court’s ruling.

See here for some background, and here for an earlier story on how bail hearings have been done in Dallas. You know where I stand on this, and we both know that Dallas County has Democratic leadership, and thus I hope more than enough incentive to find a settlement. Some long overdue change is coming, and it is in everyone’s best interests to embrace it. The Chron and the Observer have more.

Interview with Jon Rosenthal

Jon Rosenthal

We move back to Harris County this week for conversations with more State Rep candidates. I talked to several such candidates who were involved in contested primaries earlier in the year, and you can find links to those interviews here. We have several flippable House districts here in Harris County, and one of the better opportunities has kind of flown under the radar. I speak of HD135, held by the odious payday loan magnate Rep. Gary Elkins, who hasn’t had a serious challenger in my memory. Aiming to change that this year is Jon Rosenthal. An engineer by trade who has had a career in the energy industry, Rosenthal is among the legions of folks who activated themselves in the aftermath of the Trump election. He started an Indivisible Group for Texas Congressional District 7, and now here he is running for the Lege and getting interviewed by me. Our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Dallas lawsuit over candidate eligibility officially mooted

From the inbox:

On Thursday, September 20, 2018, the Fifth Court of Appeals issued an Order in Dallas County GOP v. Dallas County Democratic Party, stating that any relief related to the November election is moot, and that the appeal, therefore, is limited to the propriety of dismissal under Rule 91a and attorney’s fees. Chad Baruch of Johnston, Tobey Baruch Law Firm, one of the attorneys for the Dallas County Democratic Party (the “Democrats”), explained: “This means, effectively, that only the attorney’s fees issue will be considered by the Appellate Court. The case is over as to the November ballot and the eligibility of the candidates.”

During the 2018 Primary, the Dallas County Republican Party (the “Republicans”) filed suit against the Democrats, asking the trial court to remove over 100 Democratic candidates from the ballot. The Republicans claimed that the candidates’ applications were not valid because they had not been personally signed by the Dallas County Democratic Party Chair. Upon review of the pleadings, and after a hearing on the merits, the trial court found that “the Texas Election Code does not impose a manual signature requirement” as alleged by the Republicans. The Court held that the Republicans claims are “moot,” that their party “lacks standing,” and that such claims should be dismissed as “lacking a basis of law.” The trial court also held that the Democrats were entitled to recover, from the Republicans, attorney’s fees in the amount of $41,275.

Carol Donovan, Chair of Dallas County Democratic Party stated, “During this election season, the Republican Party has been filing frivolous lawsuits against Democrats to try to remove candidates from the ballot. It appears that the Republicans are afraid to let the voters decide what persons they want to represent them. Thankfully, the rulings of the courts support democracy.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I didn’t find any news coverage of this, but the case is No. 05-18-00916-CV at the Fifth Court of Appeals, and a link to the court’s order is here. The relevant bits:

Appellants and appellees filed letter briefs as directed. The parties agree that any relief sought regarding the November 6, 2018 general election, including preparation of the ballot and what candidates may or may not appear on the ballot, will be mooted by the election schedule.

Appellants affirmatively state that they “do not request relief related to the general election” and “only seek to appeal relief related to the lower Court’s decision on subject matter jurisdiction; 91(a), and the mandatory attorney’s fees.” Appellants further state that their appeal seeks this Court’s ruling on five issues that are not mooted by the election schedule and relate to the propriety of the lower court’s dismissal under Rule 91a and the award of attorney’s fees.

Appellees concede that appellants may appeal the fees award and that the fees issue is not moot. Appellees did not address, however, whether they dispute appellants’ ability to appeal the propriety of dismissal under Rule 91a.

So, even though the late-in-the-day appeal still sought to argue that DCDP Chair Carol Donovan needed to sign the candidate petitions, in the end all that was argued was whether the case was properly dismissed, and how much is owed to the DCDP in attorneys’ fees. This is what you call ending with a whimper. At least it’s one less thing to worry about before voting begins.

Now how much would you pay to fix Houston’s sewer system?

We may be about to find out.

Federal and state authorities sued the city of Houston over its long-running struggle to limit sewage spills on Friday, marking the beginning of the end of a years-long negotiation that could force the city to invest billions to upgrade its sprawling treatment system.

Houston’s “failure to properly operate and maintain” its 6,700 miles of sewer pipes, nearly 400 lift stations and 40 treatment plants caused thousands of “unpermitted and illegal discharges of pollutants” due to broken or blocked pipes dating back to 2005, the suit states. The city also recorded numerous incidents when its sewer plants released water with higher than allowable concentrations of waste into area waterways, the filing states.

The lawsuit by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality wants a judge to force Houston to comply with the Clean Water Act and Texas Water Code — typical orders include upgrading pipes, ramping up maintenance and educating the public on how to avoid clogging city pipes — and to assess civil penalties that could reach $53,000 per day, depending on when each violation occurred.

[…]

The filing was spurred by the intervention of a local nonprofit, Bayou City Waterkeeper, which announced in July that it planned to sue the city over the same violations and which filed its own lawsuit on Friday mirroring the EPA’s claims. It states that the city has reported more than 9,300 sewer spills in the last five years alone.

“The city’s unauthorized discharges have had a detrimental effect on, and pose an ongoing threat to, water quality and public health in the Houston area and have caused significant damage to the waters that Waterkeeper’s members use and enjoy,” the nonprofit’s filing states.

Waterkeeper’s July announcement was required by the Clean Water Act, which mandates that citizens or citizen groups planning to sue under the law give 60 days’ notice, in part to allow the EPA or its state counterparts to take their own actions.

See here for the background. This has been going on for a long time, and the city has been in negotiation for a resolution to this. How much it will all cost remains the big question. The one thing I can say for certain is that no one is going to like it. As a reminder, consider this:

Upon taking office in 2004, former mayor Bill White locked utility revenues into a dedicated fund, raised water rates 10 percent, tied future rates to inflation, and refinanced the debt. That was not enough to prevent the debt mountain from risking a utility credit downgrade by 2010, when former mayor Annise Parker took office, so she passed a 28 percent rate hike.

Remember how much some people bitched and moaned about that rate hike? Get ready to experience it all again.

Weekend link dump for September 23

When improvised slasher movies on Twitter become actual movies.

“All this comin’ and goin’. Rookies flyin’ up the road and ol-timers flyin’ down and nobody in between but me an’ old John Mize, standin’ pat, watchin’ ‘em go by. I ain’t even sure about ol’ John. Maybe he’s flyin’ on, too. If he is, I can always watch ‘em go by myself. Time ain’t gonna mess with me.”

Put the cheesesteak down, and slowly back away.

“America’s Top Nazi Sued Warner Bros. for Libel in 1939 Because He Didn’t Like the Movie Confessions of a Nazi Spy”.

“A group of women who went to Christine Blasey Ford’s high school are circulating a letter to show support for the woman who has alleged that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh tried to sexually assault her while they were in high school.”

“[I]t also encapsulates the fundamental challenge billionaire philanthropy poses—even when it’s used for good purposes, there’s not much accountability when things go wrong.”

My high school and your high school were not as cool as this high school is.

In these contentious times, I would hope that we could all get behind more drop kicks in NFL games.

“You can’t just go to court and ask a judge to answer some question that’s been bugging you, such as, for example, in the movie Annihilation, which I watched Saturday night, why don’t they just take a boat to the goddamn lighthouse instead of walking through the swamp for a week? It is simply not a judge’s job to answer such questions, important though they may be. The judge’s job is to determine whether the plaintiff has a legal right that has been infringed. Here, Standing argued that British Columbia’s dereliction of sasquatch duty was violating his civil rights, and these arguments were dumb enough that we should consider each separately.”

“For Thousands of Years, Humans Coexisted with the Largest Birds That Ever Lived”.

“Late summer and early fall have become filled with anniversaries of recent natural disasters—events that have fundamentally shaped how federal and state governments incorporate pet relief into emergency planning. With each disaster, and often at the request of state governments, animal rescue teams head straight into the areas people are fleeing to ensure that few shelter animals, strays, and displaced pets are left behind.”

“It has since been estimated that the above ground shoots and their roots account for some 6 million kilograms making it arguably the largest known single individual organism on earth eclipsing the giant sequoia General Sherman by at least three times.”

“The inescapable conclusion is that the #MeToo movement represents, in practical terms, a crisis for the American rule of law. Countless women and some men have come forward over the past year to describe what are essentially criminal acts committed against them. With rare exceptions, there are typically no formal indictments against those they name, no prosecutions or trials, no verdicts or sentences. Organized society hinges on the premise that there can be restitution for harms done and consequences for those who inflicted them. The consequences felt by those swept up in the Weinstein effect, however, often appear to be rare and fleeting. (Weinstein himself is among the few facing criminal charges.)”

Embrace the tie, football fans.

RIP, Arthur Mitchell, dance pioneer and the co-founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

All this will probably be out of date by the time you read this, but the attempt to defend Brett Kavanaugh just went nuts towards the end of the week. I mean, holy smokes.

“From top to bottom, the Whelan saga was a disaster for the Kavanaugh nomination.”

#WhyIDidn’tReport.

The leadership of the so-called “Christian” right is trash. And they have been for a long, long time.

The Dallas County House battleground

Lot of seats in play here.

Julie Johnson

[Julie] Johnson is among several Democratic candidates in Dallas hoping national and statewide talk of a blue wave will trickle down to several local state House races. A mix of Democratic enthusiasm this cycle, along with a litany of well-funded candidates, has created a hotbed of competitive state House races around Texas’ third largest city. While some of these districts have drawn contentious matchups before, the fact that most handily went to Hillary Clinton in 2016 has only heightened the stakes.

State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, a hardline conservative from Irving, has had perhaps the biggest target on his back since last year, when protesters descended on the Texas Capitol over the state’s new “sanctuary cities” law.” Rinaldi said he called federal immigration authorities on the protesters, which angered some Hispanic House members. An argument on the House floor escalated to accusations of death threats and shoving, some of which was captured on a video that drew national attention.

[…]

While immigration is an unavoidable issue in Rinaldi’s race, there are other things on the minds of voters around North Texas. Candidates in several competitive state House races in the region said they are hearing the most about rising property taxes, health care coverage and education.

Along with Rinaldi, other state House Republicans in Dallas facing notable challenges from Democrats include Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, Angie Chen Button of Richardson and Linda Koop and Morgan Meyer, both of Dallas.

But former Dallas County GOP Chair Wade Emmert said Democrats may be overestimating the impact bad headlines out of Washington will have on these races lower on the ballot.

“People understand that Trump is not running to be a House representative,” he said. “They want to trust the person that’s running. And I don’t know if voters are going to vote for a Democrat to carry the mantle in previously Republican districts.”

[…]

Aside from impressive fundraising hauls and a surge of Dallas-area candidates, Democrats argue that the blue wave they expect this election cycle gives them a competitive advantage they didn’t have two years ago. But in Gov. Greg Abbott, Republicans have a popular incumbent at the top of their ticket with a $40 million war chest that could be employed to boost Republican turnout statewide.

Dallas Republicans, though, say they’re not taking anything for granted. After all, the region has gotten tougher for the party politically since the once reliably Republican Dallas County flipped blue in 2006. “We understand that there is a challenge,” Karen Watson, the vice chair of the Dallas County Republican Party, said. “We were comfortable in Texas just being red. Now we’re like, ‘Okay — if you wanna fight, bring it, and we will match you.’”

Dallas Democrats, meanwhile, are hopeful that excitement around two races in particular — U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Colin Allred’s campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas — may help candidates in these local races. Frustration with the current occupant of the Oval Office, party leaders say, is also expected to boost Democratic turnout.

“Mr. Trump has done the Democrats a huge favor,” said Carol Donovan, chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party. She also mentioned a couple of candidates that she said have an advantage this cycle because they’ve run for the seat before — including Democrat Terry Meza, who’s again challenging Anderson, the Grand Prairie Republican, in House District 105.

[…]

In House District 114, Lisa Luby Ryan faces Democrat John Turner. Ryan, who has support from hardline conservative groups such as Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life, ousted Republican incumbent Jason Villalba of Dallas in the March primaries. Villalba, who has represented the district since 2013, aligns with the more centrist faction of the party and has been critical of Ryan since she defeated him in March. Villalba said he thinks the district’s changing demographics, along with Ryan’s more conservative politics, could cause HD-114 to flip in Democrats’ favor this year.

“The district is clearly a centrist, chamber-of-commerce district,” he said. “Ryan does not represent that wing of the Republican Party. And I think she is at a disadvantage going into the election against someone like Turner.”

Turner, the son of former U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, has picked up support from the influential Texas Association of Realtors. And, in August, he released a letter of support from the Dallas business community — which included some Republicans. Villalba said earlier this month he doesn’t plan to endorse in the race.

In nearby House District 113, Democrat Rhetta Bowers and Republican Jonathan Boos are vying for the seat state Rep. Cindy Burkett represents. (Burkett, a Sunnyvale Republican, didn’t seek re-election and instead had an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate). Both Bowers and Boos ran previously for the seat in 2016; Bowers, who has support from groups such as Planned Parenthood and Moms Demand Action, which advocates for stricter gun control laws, says her campaign has drawn in some of the district’s disgruntled Republicans. Boos, meanwhile, has endorsements from the same conservative groups that endorsed Ryan in HD-114.

I did a thorough review of the precinct data from Dallas County after the election. I’ll sum this up by quoting myself from that last post: “Dallas is a solid blue county (57-42 for Obama over Romney in 2012) drawn to give the Republicans an 8-6 majority of their legislative caucus. There’s no margin for error here.” It won’t take much to tip the three most competitive districts, which are HDs 105, 113, and 115. (And sweet fancy Moses do I want to see Matt Rinaldi lose.) We talk a lot about the Beto effect, but Lupe Valdez should be an asset for Dems here, as she has consistently been a big vote-getter in the county. And if things head south for Republicans – if the recent spate of generic Congressional polls hold, and Trump’s approval rating moves consistently below 40 – you could see four, five, even six seats flip here. It’s the downside to a brutally efficient gerrymander – there’s an inflection point at which a whole bunch of seats become vulnerable. Dallas County Republicans may find that point this year.

When train companies fight

Can’t we all just get along?

A competitor of the company trying to build a Dallas-to-Houston bullet-train connection has blasted the notion that a high-speed rail line can be built without public money.

“The whole thing is just a dream,” said Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, the Maryland-based arm of the French national railway company. “It’s not going to happen on private financing.”

Those remarks came after Texas Central Partners announced last week it had secured a loan of up to $300 million from Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corp. for Transport & Urban Development and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. Both institutions are backed by the Japanese government.

That drew the ire of SNCF, which has a rival plan to bring speedy rail service to the state. The Texas Central “project is right for Japanese companies subsidized by Japanese taxpayers and wrong for Texas,” said Scott Dunaway, spokesperson for SNCF America, in a statement Tuesday. “Nowhere in the world have high-speed rail projects become reality without government participation.”

SNCF America leaders also called on the Texas Legislature to give direction to the high-speed rail policy debate. The company last spring lobbied state legislators to consider its plan to serve the Interstate 35 corridor with “higher-speed” rail, rather than bullet-train technology.

See here for some background on SNCF and their counter-proposal for high speed rail in Texas. I don’t have the technical knowledge to evaluate their claims about the merits of their system versus TCR’s, and whether one thinks “Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corp. for Transport & Urban Development and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation” count as “public money” when none of it came from US taxpayers is a matter if taste and semantics. What I do know is what I’ve said before, which is that I wish both SNCF and TCR would build their proposed rail lines so that we can get as much of it as possible. The Dallas Business Journal has more.

“Viva Texas! Viva Beto!”

It’s been too long since the last time I posted a video.

It all came from a love of the law and a shared dislike of Ted Cruz.

It was a few bigwig local prosecutors, a capital defense attorney, a seasoned member of the Harris County Attorney’s Office and others who got together over the summer, hoping to unseat the junior senator from Texas – with their music. It was, they promised, not as outlandish as it seemed.

“Before John F. Kennedy the only person to ever defeat Lyndon Johnson for public office was Pappy Lee O’Daniel,” said Special Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke.

“Pappy Lee beat Johnson by having a band and they went around to all these courthouses in Texas playing this song – ‘Pass the Biscuits Pappy’ – and Lyndon Johnson lost that election.”

Seeking to replicate that success, the legally-minded balladeers recorded three songs in support of Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke, including ditties like “Viva Texas! Viva Beto!” – released on YouTube Saturday.

“We are part of the resistance, we’re it’s tonal dimension,” said David Mitcham, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office trial bureau chief and lead singer of what’s become the de facto in-house band for the DA’s office, Death by Injection.

But the new political rock gathering calls itself The Yellow Dog Howlers.

Here’s the video, in all its glory:

Well, it’s not The Altuve Polka or It’s A Ming Thing, but I give them an A for enthusiasm. And look, it’s not like anyone is gonna write a song about Ted Cruz.

And since they mentioned it, here’s Pass The Biscuits Pappy:

For sure, they don’t write ’em like that any more.

Two from PPP (RV): Cruz 48, O’Rourke 45, and Cruz 49, O’Rourke 46

Fourth in a series from PPP.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A new Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey commissioned by Protect Our Care finds that 62 percent of voters in Texas say health care will be one of the most important issues they consider when casting their vote in November. What’s more, 44 percent are deeply concerned about Senator Ted Cruz’s work to repeal health care and nearly 60 percent oppose the Trump Administration’s lawsuit to end protections for those with pre-existing conditions, which Cruz has refused to oppose.

The poll shows that for Cruz, who has been among the GOP’s fiercest advocates for repealing the American health care law, the issue is a drag on his prospects for reelection. In the poll, Cruz is in a dead heat against Democrat Beto O’Rourke 48 (Cruz) to 45 (O’Rourke). The poll was conducted September 19th and 20th among 613 Texas registered voters. The survey has a margin of sampling error of +/- 4 percent.

“Ted Cruz thought he was going to score political points shutting the government down trying to repeal health care, but what he actually did was put his own reelection prospects in serious jeopardy. Ted Cruz’s constituents say health care is one of the most important issues to them this election, and as a result he’s taking on some pretty serious water in this race. Whether it is Cruz’s opposition to protections for people with pre-existing conditions or his vote for an age tax, Ted Cruz’s extreme health care views are rejected by his constituents.”

The full polling memo is here. That hit my inbox on Thursday. On Friday, I got this:

A new poll of likely voters in Texas, commissioned by End Citizens United (ECU) and conducted by PPP, shows that Beto O’Rourke continues to close in on Senator Ted Cruz. ECU’s latest poll shows O’Rourke behind Cruz by three points, 46-49 percent. Click here to see the full polling.

When voters learned of O’Rourke’s decision to reject all PAC money and Cruz’s reliance on special interests, O’Rourke takes the lead 48-46 percent.

This is the fourth poll ECU has conducted in the race with each poll showing O’Rourke increasingly closing the gap. In January, O’Rourke was within eight points of Cruz, 37-45 percent. By June, O’Rourke had moved to within six points, 43-49 percent. In July, he closed the gap to four points, 42-46 percent. The latest poll conducted this week has him within the margin of error.

“Beto and his message of reform continues to win over Texans,” said ECU President Tiffany Muller. “He’s spent the last 18 months visiting every county in the state, listening to voters, and inspiring people to get involved. With just a few weeks until Election Day, Beto has pulled even with Ted Cruz and is in position to win this race.”

PPP surveyed 603 Texas voters from September 19-20. The margin of error is +/- 4%.

Based on his record of fighting for reform and his decision to reject all PAC money, Beto O’Rourke was the first challenger ECU endorsed in the 2018 midterms. For O’Rourke, ECU was his first national endorsement. ECU’s grassroots members have donated over $350,000 to O’Rourke’s campaign, averaging just $13 per contribution. Beto is one of only a handful of members of Congress to reject all PAC money, a decision that has made him a leader of a growing trend, with 124 no corporate PAC candidates advancing to the general election.

That poll memo is here. I think these are two different polls – they have different sponsors, slightly different results, and slightly different sample sizes (613 for the first, 603 for the latter), though they were all done between September 19 and 20. The End Citizens United-sponsored polls done by PPP are the ones I have linked on my sidebar. Protect Our Care references earlier polls, which could be these ECU polls, but doesn’t provide links, so who knows. I will say that ECU’s characterization of this as “within the margin of error” is correct, and POC’s “in a dead heat” is wrong and should be avoided. Both of these polls, plus that Ipsos poll arrived after the Quinnipiac poll, to vastly less fanfare; at least RG Ratcliffe acknowledged the existence of the Ipsos poll. The 18-poll average is now 46.83 for Cruz, and 41.83 for Beto.

On a side note, I also received a press release from the Republican Party of Texas announcing that they had filed a complaint with the FEC against End Citizens United for “ECU’s failure to file a direct expenditure for public communications in support of – or as an in-kind contribution to – the Beto for Texas campaign.” You can search the Internet for the eyeroll GIF of your choice here. It’s the weekend, and I can hear a beer calling my name.

Harvey and the Congressional races

This was from a couple of days ago.

Dayna Steele

A year ago this week, Dayna Steele was standing in 29 inches of water inside her Seabrook home. Her family had already made it through Hurricane Ike in 2008, when the water in her home had come up even higher. Nearly nine years later, Hurricane Harvey would once again force Steele to rebuild.

But this time around, Steele was also a candidate for Congress. She had filed months earlier as a Democrat to challenge U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, in a historically Republican district that stretches northwest from Houston across eight counties. In the days and weeks after the storm, as she heard about the worry and confusion from others in the region, Steele found it amplified her desire to represent her community in Congress.

“We still have entirely too many blue tarps, empty homes,” said Steele, who still sees local residents living in trailers parked in the driveways of their damaged homes. “It’s still a big issue.”

A year after one of the worst storms in the state’s history, Steele is one of several Texas congressional candidates emphasizing Harvey as a key issue heading into November, honing in on the details of its aftermath, the region’s long-term recovery and whether enough is being done to prepare for when the next major hurricane arrives.

Steele’s opponent, Babin, was also personally impacted by Harvey. For a few hours, he and his family were stuck in their Woodville home due to flooding in their neighborhood. Three months later, Babin was a part of a group of Texans in Congress who teamed up to secure more Harvey relief after an initial proposal put forth by the White House was criticized as too small by many Texans.

Steele said when she travels around the district, she hears from voters that they either don’t know who Babin is or say they never saw him in the aftermath of the storm.

Babin, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, has tweeted multiple timesabout his push to send additional federal aid to Texas. Recently Babin, along with other Houston-area congressional members, met with Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House, to discuss giving more money to the Army Corps for “future flood mitigation.” The congressman also tweeted that he toured disaster areas with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in the storm’s immediate aftermath.

A similar back and forth — challengers accusing the incumbent of not being physically present after the storm or fighting hard enough for relief funding and the incumbent insisting otherwise — is emerging in multiple races in Harvey-impacted districts.

“The lack of response from our representative is visceral,” said Sri Kulkarni, a Democrat vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. The prevailing sentiment from constituents in the Republican-leaning 22nd Congressional District, Kulkarni argued, is that “Pete Olson was absent on Harvey.”

That recent Atlantic story on CD07 covered this in the context of Lizzie Fletcher’s campaign. She and Todd Litton in CD02 have different challenges in their races; Fletcher is attacking John Culberson for basically doing nothing before Harvey to help with flood mitigation, while Litton has not incumbent to run against. As I said in that post, it makes sense to make Harvey response and recovery a campaign issue. The Republicans were in charge of the government when Harvey happened, so what happened after that is on them. How effective that will be is not clear. I’d love to see some polling data on that, but even if we never get to see such numbers, I’d bet that the candidates themselves have explored the question.

We ultimately may or may not ever know what if any effect the Harvey issue has. If an incumbent gets knocked off, there may be some followup reporting that sheds light on it, but if a race is just closer than one might have expected – Dayna Steele, running in a 70% Trump district, has a lot of room to gain ground without winning, for instance – we may never get an examination of why. Most likely the best we’ll be able to do is draw our own conclusions from the data that we get to see.

Distributing the VW settlement money

Good for some, less good for others.

Texas cities will soon get millions of dollars to help clean up air quality, but Houston officials say the plan for distributing all that money isn’t fair.

The money is coming from a settlement in the Volkswagen (VW) emissions cheating scandal. Local governments will be able to use the money to reduce emissions from their vehicles and other equipment.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) plans to give the biggest chunk of the money – more than $73 million – to the San Antonio area, mainly because that city is closer than others to getting in line with federal pollution rules it’s currently violating.

Under the state’s plan, the Houston area, which has worse air quality, would get about $27 million.

The City of Houston says about a quarter of the cheating VW cars that were in Texas were driving in the Houston region.

“So we deserve at least a quarter of those funds, because we’re the ones that were harmed,” said Kris Banks, a government relations assistant with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office.

See here, here, and here for some background. Mayor Turner expressed his disenchantment with the amount allocated to Houston in a press release; you can see all of the city’s documentation on the matter here. The full TCEQ plan for the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust is here, or you can save yourself some time and read the Texas Vox summary of it. The TCEQ is still accepting feedback on the draft plan through October 8, so send them an email at VWsettle@tceq.texas.gov if you have comments. The Rivard Report has more.

Interview with Jennifer Cantu

Jennifer Cantu

We wrap up our week in Fort Bend County with HD85, the district that was added to the county in the 2011 redistricting. HD85 extends out from the southwest part of Fort Bend to incorporate Wharton and Jackson counties as well. It’s been represented since its creation by Rep. Phil Stephenson. Opposing him in November is Jennifer Cantu. A native of Laredo, Cantu has degrees from UT San Antonio and the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara and currently works as an Early Childhood Intervention therapist for a Texas nonprofit. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

CD07 “live poll”: Culberson 48, Fletcher 45

Here’s another of those NYT-Siena “live polls” of interesting Congressional races.

Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Rep. John Culberson holds a narrow lead over Democratic challenger Lizzie Fletcher, a poll conducted by The New York Times Upshot found Tuesday.

Culberson’s 3-point lead is within the 5-point margin of error for the poll, which The New York Times conducted Sept. 14-18. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they preferred Culberson, and 45 percent sided with Fletcher.

The nine-term congressman had a 43 percent favorable rating in the poll, compared to Fletcher’s 28 percent. That difference could be attributed to name recognition — 49 percent of those polled answered that they “didn’t know” if they had a favorable opinion of Fletcher, a Houston attorney, compared to 24 percent for Culberson.

Election handicappers such as Cook Political Report, FiveThirtyEight, and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball have deemed the race a “toss-up,” while Inside Elections rated it a “lean Republican.”

[…]

Pollsters asked several other questions of district residents.

Of those polled, El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke held a 7-point lead over Sen. Ted Cruz, who is from Houston. President Donald Trump had a 51 percent approval rating. Fifty-five percent opposed funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, and 60 percent supported a ban on assault-style guns and high-capacity magazines.

The Upshot, in partnership with Siena College, called 40,665 people in the Houston district and received 500 responses.

The full NYT writeup is here. They had previously done a poll in CD23, which I wrote about here; a poll of CD32 is coming soon. The DMN story goes over the candidates’ fundraising and the ads they have running now – I’ve seen one of Fletcher’s, but not yet Culberson’s – but none of that interests me. There are two other things I want to talk about.

The first thing is the embedded image of where in the district they got their responses, and whether those responses were for Fletcher or Culberson. CD07 has a big piece inside Beltway 8, and a big piece on the farther west side of Harris County, outside Highway 6 and north of I-10 up to US 290. The original idea of this district was to pair the relatively small and mostly Democratic inner urban piece with the larger and more Republican outer suburban area. That has worked well for the decade, but as you can see, there are an awful lot of Fletcher-responding blue dots in the far-flung section of CD07. The outer areas of Harris County are the Republican stronghold, with sufficient population to counterbalance the Democratic city of Houston. If the unincorporated part of the county is trending bluer, that’s a big problem for the local GOP.

Which brings me to the second point. It’s important to remember that CD07 was a thirty-point Republican district in 2014. Kim Ogg, in her first run for DA in the special election against Devon Anderson, got 37.5% in CD07 in 2014. Ann Harris Bennett, then running for County Clerk, got 34.7%. Judith Snively, running for District Clerk, got 33.6%. It was a massacre.

Things were different in 2016, of course, but the fact that CD07 was carried by Hillary Clinton obscures the fact that CD07 was still fundamentally Republican. Ogg, in her rematch with Anderson, took 46.8% in the district. Vince Ryan got 46.2%, Ed Gonzalez got 45.0%, and Ann Harris Bennett, now running for Tax Assessor, just barely cleared 42%. The average Democratic district judge candidate got 43.5%.

Remember, though, that even in losing CD07 by 16 points (Bennett) or 13 points (average Dem judicial candidate), they all still won Harris County overall. Greg Abbott had a more modest 22-point win over Wendy Davis in CD07, and he needed all of that to win the county by less than five points. If CD07 is even close to being fifty-fifty, how does any Republican win countywide? If Beto O’Rourke is really leading in CD07 by seven points, then he’s going to crush it in the county, and that as much as any “likely voter” poll suggests a real, close race statewide.

Now of course all of this is predicated on this poll being accurate. As we discussed after the CD23 poll was published, this is a new and experimental approach to polling, and as always it’s just one result. We do have one earlier result, which happens to closely match this one, but two data points are only slightly better than one. My point is that this poll doesn’t have to be dead-on accurate to highlight the potential for a blue wave in Harris County. Even a modest shift from 2016 would point in that direction.

Voter ID lawsuit officially ends

That’s all there is, at least until the next atrocity.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge formally dismissed the lawsuit challenging the Texas voter ID law Monday, the final step in a yearslong fight that will allow the state to enforce a weakened version of the 2011 statute.

At the urging of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi issued a two-sentence order dismissing the case in light of April’s decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the law.

Lawyers for the minority voters, Democratic politicians and civil rights groups that challenged the law had argued that Paxton’s request for a dismissal was an unnecessary step because there was nothing left to decide — except for assessing legal fees and costs — after the 5th Circuit Court’s decision.

See here for the background. Like I said, we’re going to need a political solution to this problem. Maybe with a different Supreme Court we could keep pushing this via litigation, but I expect we all understand that’s not the world we currently inhabit. First we have to create that world, and that gets us back to my initial point. There is still an effort to put Texas back under preclearance, but even if that happens (spoiler alert: it almost certainly won’t) it won’t change what has already occurred. It can only affect what may be yet to come. The road forward starts with winning some elections. This November would be an excellent time for that.

Judicial Q&A: Chip Wells

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Chip Wells

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Clinton Chip Wells the Democrat nominee for Judge in the 312 th Family District Court. I have been practicing law for over 41 years in Harris County and across the State. I am married with three children (two of which are from my wife’s prior marriage) and one grandchild. I’ve been practicing law with my law partner John McDowell for more than 28 years.

2. What kind of cases docs this court hear?

The 312th Family District Court hears all cases of which it has jurisdiction in Harris County including but not limited to marriage dissolution, modification of prior orders, support, adoption and cases associated with the Child Protective Services.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 312th Family District Court because of the clear distinction between my experience and that of the current Judge. As I stated above I have practiced law for over 41 years representing individual Texans and Texas families across the State. I have tried jury and non-jury cases in counties from El Paso to Beaumont and Denton to Brownsville. My experience is in the private practice of law resolving issues and obtaining relief for clients involving family law and personal injury claims. The distinction referenced above is that my opponent’s experience is almost exclusively institutional employment either through the County, State or Texas Guard. He has little or no experience representing individuals or families seeking affirmative relief. Thus, his experience lacks the component of compassion that comes with representing clients for over four decades.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My qualifications are as stated above including the more than 41 years of experience practicing law in Harris County and across the State of Texas. I have represented families and individuals in both non-jury and jury trials in many counties across the State. I am married for more than 24 years. I have raised my wife’s two children from a prior marriage and one of our own. I have been married and divorced. I have experienced as a lawyer the issues that will be addressed in a family court on a daily basis. I have practiced law with my present law partner for over 28 years thus demonstrating loyalty, commitment and the ability to work well with others. I am a certified mediator in civil law and family law mediation.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important for the same reason that all of the judicial races are important. We elect our judges in Texas. Each Court whether civil, criminal or family is charged with the same obligation, to apply the law to the facts and circumstances of the case before it. Every Judge is required to apply the law. How those facts and circumstances are appreciated by the Judge charged with the obligation of applying the law is often the difference. The Judges that sit in our Courts should reflect the community as a whole and should serve the community with compassion, fairness and equity for all its members.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

At present, the Harris County Family District Courts consist of nine Republicans and one Democratic Judge. As the Democratic nominee for the 312th Family District Court I am committed to maintain a courtroom open to all citizens of Harris County irrespective of race, origin, sexual preference or position. I am not beholden to any platform or litmus test for relief. I will strive to apply the laws of the State of Texas fairly, equitably and compassionately to all who may come before the Court.

I have the experience and background to serve all the citizens of Harris County. The citizens of Harris County should have access to Courts with Judiciary that reflects the community as a whole.