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February 26th, 2019:

Testimony ends in SOS advisory lawsuit

Now we wait for a ruling. We’ve already sort of gotten one, but it’s not all official yet.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As part of an ongoing flurry of litigation in federal court here over the state’s bungled citizenship review of its voter rolls, a federal judge on Monday told a handful of Texas counties they may not — for now — purge registered voters or send them letters demanding proof of citizenship.

Eight counties named in one of three pending lawsuits over the review effort agreed last week that they will not cancel any voter registrations as lawyers from a host of civil rights groups tangle with the state in court. U.S. District Judge Fred Biery said from the bench Monday that the other counties named in a separate lawsuit should consider themselves restrained in the same way as litigation proceeds.

That doesn’t apply to the other 200-plus counties in the state, but “we expect all the counties are watching these proceedings,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the groups suing Texas and several counties.

[…]

Still to come from the judge’s chambers is a decision on civil rights groups’ broader requests to block the state from taking any further action related to the list as the lawsuits proceed. And the judge seemed at least somewhat amenable to that argument during a day of testimony that revealed fresh troubles with the state’s initial rollout of what it has come to characterize as “routine list maintenance activity.” Critics label it as an attempted widespread voter purge.

State officials conceded in federal court here Monday that a quarter of the nearly 100,000 voters flagged for citizenship review are naturalized citizens whose voter registration should never have been questioned in the first place.

And the list is only expected to get smaller, Keith Ingram, elections director for the Texas secretary of state’s office, acknowledged during cross-examination Monday.

The initial number shrank to about 74,000, Ingram explained, after “additional refinement” of data sourced from DPS, where Texans can register to vote while applying for or renewing their driver’s licenses.

About half of the 25,000 flagged erroneously were what Ingram called “code 64s” — a bureaucratic tag indicating that the voters registered at DPS while applying for or renewing their driver’s licenses. Since Texans have to present documentation, either as a citizen or as a legal permanent resident, to receive an identification card from the state, voters who registered at DPS would have demonstrated citizenship status.

The other half of the 25,000 “refined” off the flagged list had demonstrated citizenship to DPS but not registered to vote at the same time, Ingram said.

Before the original list was rolled out at the end of January, the state wasn’t aware it could utilize DPS data in order to narrow its target list, elections officials said Monday.

“I wish all of this could’ve been done back as the original effort,” Biery said. “Would you agree that all of this refinement would not have been done but for the sunshine light of the press and litigation?”

“The thing is that it’s the category of Donald Rumsfeld, the ‘unknown unknown’ — the things you don’t know you don’t know,” Ingram responded. “We didn’t know until the counties reported to us.”

See here and here for the background. I mean, sure, mistakes were made and all, but you know what made those mistakes so much worse? Handing the original, unvetted, known to be full of mistakes list to the rabid dogs at the AG’s office and then offer “these things happen” regrets when the Twitter crapstorms get unleashed. David Whitley is bad at his job – frankly, I’m not all that impressed with Keith Ingram, either – and everything he did made this worse. There were many ways in which this could have been handled in a more professional, less messy fashion. Maybe the next Secretary of State will be capable of doing that. The DMN has more.

Everyone’s talking about John Cornyn

I feel like I’ve read more stories about John Cornyn lately than I read about Beto a year ago at this time.

Big John Cornyn

As President Donald Trump embarked for El Paso on Monday to rally support for a border wall, Texas Republican John Cornyn sent out a personal message through his 2020 U.S. Senate re-election campaign:

“Texas stands with President Trump.”

For Cornyn, seeking a fourth term in the Senate, the message underscored some of the central challenges of his re-election bid: for better or worse, his fate is inextricably tied to that of a famously polarizing and unpredictable president, with whom he will share a ballot.

“As in the rest of my life, I don’t sweat too much the things I can’t control,” Cornyn said later in the week. “I look at the things I can control, and I can control my preparation for what I think will likely be a fairly serious opposition in 2020. The president is at the top of the ticket, and I believe he will be responsible for nearly 100 percent of the turnout, about half of the voters for him, and half against him.”

[…]

“The degree of difficulty John Cornyn is going to have in 2020 right now I think very much rests in the hands of Beto O’Rourke,” said political scientist James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

While Cruz labeled O’Rourke “too liberal for Texas,” Democrats like the contrast of a youthful, relative outsider against a 67-year-old incumbent who earned his stripes the old-fashioned way: working his way patiently up the Senate GOP ladder.

To many Texas Republicans, O’Rourke represents Cornyn’s worst-case-scenario. But some also see him as a one-off candidate that no other Texas Democrat can easily replicate. Next in the Democratic echelon are U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and his twin brother, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. Many believe that Julián Castro’s own White House bid takes both brothers out of the Senate race.

Other than O’Rourke – who Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak calls “a hundred-year flood” in Texas politics – that would seem to clear the decks for Cornyn.

“Whoever runs against Cornyn doesn’t start where Beto stops,” Mackowiak said. “They start wherever they are.”

For Texas Democrats, that means starting with an expected voter share in the high 30 to low 40 percentage points – the average electoral result pre-Beto.

See here and here for some recent examples. We don’t really learn anything new in this story – spoiler alert, his campaign manager thinks Republicans need to work on their turnout in 2020 – just that the phenomenon of John Cornyn Is Taking 2020 Seriously and Will Beto Run For Senate Against John Cornyn has not come close to petering out.

There’s also the new startup of Who Will Run Against Cornyn If It’s Not Beto stories.

Democrats who are said to be considering a Senate run: MJ Hegar, an Afghanistan war hero and author who came within 2.9 points of toppling U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and North Texas farmer Kim Olson, who lost by 4.9 points to Republican state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Another potential candidate, according to party activists is former state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who suffered a lopsided loss in the 2014 governor’s race.

On Valentine’s Day, Cornyn’s campaign launched an online fundraising appeal citing Hegar and Davis as possible candidates.

But some Texas Democrats see the party’s best chances for success in a reprise of O’Rourke’s Senate campaign. O’Rourke hasn’t publicly mentioned a Senate run as a possibility — he told Oprah Winfrey last week that he’ll decide whether to run for president by the end of the month — but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., met with O’Rourke last week to discuss a possible challenge to Cornyn, according to Politico.

“It’s very significant that Schumer is talking to Texans,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a political action committee, who said the Democratic leader had spoken to other potential candidates. “It signifies that Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee think Cornyn is vulnerable — and they’re right.”

A survey conducted Wednesday and Thursday by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found in a hypothetical matchup, 47 percent of registered Texas voters support Cornyn and 45 percent prefer O’Rourke, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

You can see more about that poll here. I got an email about it but didn’t do a post because it’s crazy early and there’s no data beyond the topline numbers. It actually would have been useful if they had included some other potential matchups for Cornyn – Big John versus MJ Hegar or Kim Olson or Joaquin Castro – just to see how they compared to Cornyn versus Beto. It would at least be a data point for where a less-known Democrat starts out in this matchup. In theory, we will have some clarity about this in about a week.

Texas is not going to expand Medicaid

Don’t get me wrong, Texas should have expanded Medicaid at its first opportunity. It would do so much to improve health care in the state, including and especially mental health care, which would have significant spillover effects on criminal justice. Other states have passed voter referenda mandating Medicaid expansion, but those states can do that via citizen petition. They don’t have to go through their legislature, which is a requirement here and the place that the effort will go to die.

Rep. Celia Israel

Seeing other states take Medicaid expansion to voters is what Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, says gave her the idea to file House Joint Resolution 40. She said she’s frustrated that Texas “has not shown the political fortitude” to expand the program and that giving the decision to voters may take political pressure off of Republicans.

Expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — has been a nonstarter in the GOP-dominated Texas Legislature. Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former Gov. Rick Perry have argued that expanding Medicaid would increase health care costs for the state — especially if the federal government ever breaks its promise to help pay for the surge of newly eligible people.

Israel’s strategy so far has included courting Republicans in districts that have lost rural hospitals. Nineteen rural hospitals have closed permanently or temporarily since 2013, according to the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals.

“I’m getting mixed responses,” Israel said of her progress. “I’m making the case that we have lost so many rural hospitals in Texas, and one of the reasons we wouldn’t have lost those rural hospitals is if we had said yes to expanding Medicaid.”

Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning policy organization, said the 2018 election cycle and polls showed that health care is a top issue for voters.

“The bottom line is even though individual members have seen desirability moving in this direction, it’s not something they’re going to fall on their sword and buck their leadership over,” Dunkelberg said.

[…]

State Rep. John Zerwas, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, attempted an alternative to Medicaid expansion during the 2013 session. The Richmond Republican’s House Bill 3791 would have allowed Texas to receive federal money in the form of block grants to enroll individuals in a private health plan using a sliding-scale subsidy, rather than expanding Medicaid to cover them. The bill also had a “pull the plug” provision if the federal government failed to continue funding. It had some bipartisan support but never reached the House floor for a vote.

He said Medicaid expansion in general still “comes with political radioactivity” that Republicans are hesitant to deal with. Just pursuing a waiver is still “a pretty steep hill to climb.” Zerwas said he doesn’t plan on bringing his bill back and also doesn’t believe Medicaid expansion needs to be taken to voters. He acknowledged that Texas has the highest number of uninsured people in the country but says there’s not a cost-effective way to provide care for the Medicaid population.

“It’s just politics, you know, and I’ve lived through this by virtue of carrying the bill in 2013 and was portrayed as someone who just loved Obamacare and was looking to grow it in the state of Texas,” Zerwas said. “Politically and in my party especially at that time and still so … it continues to be one of those things that Republicans rail against because they see it as a very heavy cost to the state.”

But Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, who filed Senate Joint Resolution 34, which also would create a constitutional amendment to expand Medicaid, said that “it should not take a leap of courage to put this on the ballot.” Amid Texas’ problems with the opioid epidemicmaternal mortality and access to mental health services, he said, it would be difficult for lawmakers to go back to their constituents and tell them why they refused to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot.

“It starts to become a bit of an embarrassment,” Johnson said. “I think we have the potential to be a leader in health care. … We have vast resources and tremendous amount of power and will when we decide to employ it.”

I agree with everything Rep. Israel and Sen. Johnson say. As you know, I’ve been beating the drum for Medicaid expansion in Texas since 2011. It’s just that there’s zero Republican support for it – Rep. Zerwas’ watered-down version went nowhere, and no one is coming up behind him with something else. A constitutional amendment, which is what a Joint Resolution is and the only way the Lege can send something to the voters, requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber to pass. It’s highly unlikely there’s a simple majority for this in the House, and zero chance of that in the Senate. What Israel and Johnson and others are doing is valuable and necessary and sure to be a big campaign issue again in 2020. What it’s not is legislation that will pass, not while Republicans are in charge.