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September 15th, 2018:

The other Senate races that Republicans are worried about

They’re concerned about the State Senate, too.

Beverly Powell

Republican lawmakers in the Texas Senate were sitting pretty last year.

For years, the GOP had faced roadblocks to passing some conservative measures by the chamber’s two-thirds rule, which normally required the support of 21 members to get a bill to the floor. With 20 Republicans in the chamber, that left Republicans one short of moving out bills without the help of a single Democrat.

But then in 2015, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led a successful move to lower the threshold from two-thirds to three-fifths. Suddenly, any measure with the backing of all of the chamber’s Republicans had all the support it needed. For that session and the ones that followed in 2017, the GOP effectively ran the Senate floor.

Now, with less than two months until Election Day, Republicans are finding that keeping that supermajority in the Texas Senate is no longer a sure thing.

Nathan Johnson

“We’re emphasizing the possibility of losses,” said Darl Easton, the Republican Party Chairman in Tarrant County, where state Sen. Konni Burton’s re-election bid as seen is a potential toss-up. “The more complacent you become, the more likely it is that you won’t win. We definitely have to keep the voters alert to the possibility of losing some seats. We’re not going to take anything for granted.”

“We are working and making sure we’re leaving no stone unturned,” added Missy Shorey, the Dallas County Republican Party Chairwoman, speaking of the party’s efforts in assisting state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas. “People in Dallas certainly know there’s no chance that seat is going to flip. [Huffines] is working for every vote out there.”

The Senate is still poised to remain GOP-dominated during next year’s legislative session. What’s at stake for the chamber’s Republicans this election cycle is losing their three-fifths majority — the crucial threshold for bringing legislation to the Senate floor without any support from Democrats.

[…]

If at least two of [Konni Burton, Don Huffines, and Joan Huffman] lose their seats this election cycle, the political repercussions could be far-reaching: not only would it loosen Patrick’s stronghold over the upper chamber, Republican senators themselves would have to work across the aisle to get their bills passed.

Rita Lucido

“When you have to cross the aisle, you have to cross the river and that changes everything,” said Bill Miller, a veteran political consultant and lobbyist. “If [Dan Patrick] were to lose that three-fifths majority, his power would be diminished. That doesn’t mean he won’t be powerful, but he won’t be the most powerful person to ever hold the office — which is what he’s been up to this point.”

“If you haven’t had any power in a while and I give you power, it’s going to be tasty,” he added. “It’s a tasty morsel. If Democrats get back at the table, that will change how the Senate behaves.”

What’s also at risk is the ability to get conservative legislation to the governor. Without a Republican Senate supermajority, Easton said, measures important to hard-line conservatives might not get a hearing in the Texas House — let alone be brought up for debate on the Senate floor.

“Obviously, it’s going to be harder to get conservative stuff through the Senate if we don’t have the numbers, and if we don’t get it through the Senate then the House doesn’t even have to look at it,” Easton said. “It’s politics as usual. The stronger your base is, the more likely it is you’re going to get stuff through the House and eventually to the governor’s desk.”

Miller agreed, adding that Republicans in the Senate might have reason to worry.

“In recent cycles, Republicans have looked at every election cycle as just a reaffirmation of their dominance, and that has absolutely been the case,” he said. “This is the first time in memory where not only is that dominance in question, but there’s a high degree of confidence on the part of Democrats. So it’s a whole new world out there.”

There’s at least some polling evidence to suggest that both Powell and Johnson are in decent shape, though it’s one poll in each case and you know what we say about individual polls. I just want to observe that I wrote about the effect of Dems picking up two Senate seats last year, right after the filing deadline. Patrick could of course seek to eliminate the three-fifths rule in the same way that he eliminated the two-thirds rule; the Senate adopts the rules it abides by each session, and it only takes a majority vote to do so. All I know is that anything that clips Dan Patrick’s wings, even a little bit, is a good thing. Both Powell and Johnson have been endorsed by the DMN, for whatever that’s worth. These are all winnable races. It’s a matter of proving Dems can win in districts that weren’t drawn for them.

You know, there is a cheaper way to do this

Why are we still outsourcing inmates?

County commissioners next week will consider a proposal to outsource inmates to the Fort Bend County Jail, which would allow Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to slow — but not stop — the flow of inmates to a private prison in Louisiana.

The deal would bring as many as several hundred inmates closer to their families and attorneys, but would cost Harris County more than twice as much as shipping prisoners to Jackson Parish, La. It would also fail to address the root causes of overcrowding at the Harris County Jail, one of the nation’s largest, and prolong an elaborate game of musical chairs as the sheriff searches for jails to take his inmates.

Harris County’s 10,162 inmates are already spread across five facilities in Texas and Louisiana. It currently outsources 724 inmates, more than twice as many as any other Texas county.

[…]

“If there’s a desire to bring inmates closer to Harris County, this is the best deal we’ve been able to find so far,” said Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jason Spencer. “It doesn’t fully address the outsourcing issue, but it chips away at it.”

Harris County pays $29.33 per inmate, per day at Jackson Parish Correctional Center, with transport included. Fort Bend’s per diem is $55.00, and Harris County would also have to pay for transport. Spencer said the additional costs would push the county’s total monthly inmate outsourcing bill to around $1 million.

The jail had stopped farming out inmates in 2017 but a backlog in the courts following Harvey led to a surplus of people in the jail, and so here we are today. The monthly cost of doing so now is more than $500K, which will go up to about $1 million with the more expensive Fort Bend option. That may not be a choice as defense attorneys in Harris County have asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to bar sending inmates out of state. I know you know but I’m going to say anyway that if we had fewer inmates in the jail – and remember, the lion’s share of these inmates have not been convicted of any crime – we wouldn’t need to spend this money. It’s a choice we’re making, one we’ve been making for way too many years. At least we get to make another choice this November.

Endorsement watch: Crossing over

Nice.

Miguel Suazo

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican, has endorsed Democrat Miguel Suazo in his bid to replace current Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Patterson, a former political rival of Bush, cited what he called mismanagement of the Alamo and Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

Patterson isn’t the only Republican taking the unusual approach of withholding support from Bush. Three other former Republican primary opponents of Bush — Rick Range, Davey Edwards and David Watts — signed onto a letter with Patterson saying they would not be voting for Bush in November.

“There are things that are more important than your party,” Patterson said. “The Alamo is Texas.”

[…]

Patterson told The Texas Tribune he had spoken with Suazo and liked what he heard. He acknowledged that it is unlikely Bush loses in November; Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. But he said there was a “very, very remote chance.”

“The statewide candidates in Texas in November, some of their fortunes may be dependent of the fortunes of Donald Trump,” Patterson said. “But that’s not the point. I don’t have any compulsion to always back the winner. My compulsion is to be true to my convictions.”

Suazo said he was “honored” to have Patterson’s endorsement, saying the former commissioner had put “Texas before Party.”

If you care to search the archives here, you will see that I have long had some affection for Jerry Patterson. There’s plenty I don’t agree with him on, but he always took the job of Land Commissioner seriously, and I respected him for that. He was also a rare member of the ruling class that was not himself a plutocrat; as a story about the financial disclosures of statewide officeholders revealed, his two sources of income as Land Commissioner were his salary for that job, and his military pension. I saw him express some approval of Miguel Suazo’s positions regarding the Alamo a couple months back, and I wondered at this time if that might culminate in an endorsement. I’m glad to see that it did. He’s right that in the end it probably won’t have much effect on the outcome, but it’s good to know that Patterson is still the kind of person I thought he was when he was in office. Thanks for that, Jerry.

And then later in the same day, we got this.

Bennett Ratliff, a Republican who preceded Matt Rinaldi as state representative for his Dallas County district, endorsed Rinaldi’s Democratic opponent, Julie Johnson.

“As a lifelong Republican, I have supported and worked for Republican candidates since before I was able to vote, I have voted Republican since I was able and served as a Republican elected official. I have supported the party, our nominees, and I have never endorsed a Democrat for office. But extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Ratliff wrote in a message to supporters on Friday.

Ratliff represented House District 115 — which covers Irving, Coppell, Carrollton, Farmers Branch and Addison — in 2013 after defeating Rinaldi in the 2012 Republican primary. But Rinaldi won the seat from Ratliff in a rematch in 2014. Rinaldi once again beat back a challenge from Ratliff in 2016, before narrowly edging out his Democratic opponent.

Ratliff said the upcoming session would be a critical moment for Texas public schools and said Rinaldi was “in the pocket of a small group of wealthy donors” and had failed to advocate for Texas schoolchildren and local taxpayers.

“In addition to his complete ineffectiveness and lack of decorum in office, Representative Rinaldi voted 10 times against legislation to reform our school finance system, legislation that would have helped public schools and provided local tax relief,” Ratliff said. “As a result, I believe it’s time we change our representation, so we can refocus the priorities of our State Legislature.”

[…]

In his letter, Ratliff, a former Coppell school board member, said he believed Johnson would be a good advocate for Texas school students, teachers and local taxpayers.

“While we don’t agree on every issue facing our state, we both agree and understand that Republicans and Democrats must come together on the issue of public education for the future of our children,” Ratliff said. “I encourage my friends and neighbors to join me in voting for Julie Johnson.”

Johnson is endorsed by Texas Parent PAC, a bipartisan political action committee that advocates for high quality public education. Ratliff is on the PAC’s leadership board.

Johnson, a personal injury lawyer from Addison who was also endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood, said she has Republican support because many of the district’s constituents don’t feel represented by Rinaldi.

“Former Representative Ratliff’s support for my candidacy in House District 115 is proof of what we’ve been saying for months– Texans are tired of extremist partisan politics and want their elected officials to put people first, no matter what,” Johnson said in an email statement. “It’s time to focus on the issues that affect us the most, like fully funding our public schools and taking care of our teachers. I will work with anyone in the Texas House who has a good idea and I will vote down bills that are bad for Texans regardless of where they come from.”

Very nice. And the fact that Rinaldi is one of the worst members of the House makes it that much sweeter. Now if three makes a trend, we have a trend, because right after the primary, Lt. Governor candidate Scott Milder endorsed Mike Collier over Dan Patrick. How much difference these endorsements all make I couldn’t say, but I’d sure rather have them than not.