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March 1st, 2019:

Ridiculously early Quinnipiac poll: Trump has a small lead

Consider this to be for entertainment purposes only.

In a very early look at possible 2020 presidential matchups in Texas, President Donald Trump is essentially tied with former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders or former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. President Trump leads other possible Democratic contenders by small margins.

Hypothetical matchups by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll show:

  • President Trump at 47 percent, including 41 percent of independent voters, to Biden’s 46 percent, including 46 percent of independent voters;
  • Trump at 47 percent, including 41 percent of independent voters, to Sanders’ 45 percent, including 48 percent of independent voters;
  • Trump at 47 percent, including 41 percent of independent voters, to O’Rourke’s 46 percent, including 48 percent of independent voters.

Trump has leads, driven mainly by a shift among independent voters, over other possible Democratic candidates:

  • 46 – 41 percent over former San Antonio Mayor and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro;
  • 48 – 41 percent over U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California;
  • 48 – 41 percent over U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Biden, Sanders and O’Rourke share similar support among Democrats and voters 18 – 34 years old.

“The 2020 presidential race in Texas, and how some of Democrats stack up against President Donald Trump, begins as a two-tiered contest. There are three more well-known contenders who run evenly against President Donald Trump. Another group, less well-known, are just a little behind Trump,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

“Former Vice President Joe Biden has the highest favorability of any of the contenders and has a better net favorability than President Trump,” Brown added. “Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke also does relatively well on favorability and in a matchup with Trump, but that may well be due to O’Rourke being a home-state favorite.

“But former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, who is also a former San Antonio mayor, does not do as well as O’Rourke.”

Among Texas voters, 47 percent have a favorable opinion of Trump, with 49 percent unfavorable. Favorability ratings for possible Democratic challengers are:

  • Biden: 48 – 38 percent;
  • Sanders: Negative 41 – 47 percent;
  • O’Rourke: Divided 44 – 40 percent;
  • Harris: Negative 24 – 33 percent;
  • Warren: Negative 27 – 42 percent;
  • Castro: Divided 23 – 27 percent;
  • U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey: 51 percent haven’t heard enough to form an opinion;
  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: 53 percent haven’t heard enough to form an opinion;
  • U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York: 68 percent haven’t heard enough to form an opinion;
  • U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota: 70 percent haven’t heard enough to form an opinion.

Texas Senate Race

In an early look at the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Texas, Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn and possible Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke are tied 46 – 46 percent. Independent voters go to O’Rourke 47 – 40 percent.

From February 20 – 25, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,222 Texas voters with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points, including the design effect.

I’m gonna bullet-point this one:

– It’s ridiculously early. Don’t overthink this.

– Differences between the top three Dems and everyone else is at least 95% about name recognition and nothing else.

– We just don’t have any polls from similar time frames to compare to. The earliest polls from the 2016 and 2012 cycles that I tracked were from the actual election years, mostly after the nominees had been settled. More than a year later in the cycle from where we are now, in other words.

– That said, the high level of responses is interesting, and probably reflects the fact that basically everyone has an opinion about Donald Trump. In that sense, the dynamic is more like 2012, which was also a Presidential re-election year. Look at the numbers on the right sidebar for 2012, and you’ll see that there were very few “undecided” or “other” respondents. If that is a valid basis for comparison, then Trump starts out at least a couple of points behind Mitt Romney. Given that Romney wound up at 57%, that’s not necessarily a bad place for him to be. Romney also never polled below fifty percent, so there’s that. Again, it’s stupid early. Don’t overthink this.

– There are reports now that Beto will not be running for Senate, in which case we can ignore those numbers even more. I’ll wait till I see the words from Beto himself, but to be sure he’s not talked much if at all about running for Senate again, so this seems credible to me. Without Beto in the race, if that is indeed the case, Cornyn will probably poll a bit better than Trump, at least early on when name recognition is again a factor. In the end, though, I think Cornyn rises and falls with Trump. I can imagine him outperforming Trump by a bit, but not that much. If it’s not Beto against Cornyn, I look forward to seeing who does jump in, and how they poll later on in the cycle.

Not so open meetings

We’ll have to see how big a deal this is.

In a major blow to the state’s government transparency laws, Texas’ highest criminal court has struck down a significant provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act, calling it “unconstitutionally vague.”

That law, which imposes basic requirements providing for public access to and information about governmental meetings, makes it a crime for public officials to “knowingly [conspire] to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.” That provision aims to keep public officials from convening smaller meetings — without an official quorum present — to discuss public business outside the view of the taxpayers and the media.

Craig Doyal, the Montgomery County judge, was indicted under that statute for allegedly conducting “secret deliberations” — without a quorum of the commissioners court present — about a November 2015 county road bond. Doyal filed to have the charges dismissed, claiming the statute was unconstitutional. The case eventually made it to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which handed him a victory Wednesday. Two judges on the nine-member, all-Republican court dissented.

“We do not doubt the legislature’s power to prevent government officials from using clever tactics to circumvent the purpose and effect of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wrote for the majority. “But the statute before us wholly lacks any specificity, and any narrowing construction we could impose would be just a guess, an imposition of our own judicial views. This we decline to do.”

Attorneys for Doyal argued months ago that the case should not be interpreted as a broad “take-down of the entire Texas Open Meetings Act.”

“This case is not about discussions of public matters in a quorum,” they wrote in a July 2018 brief. “This case is not about shutting out the public and the press from the political process.”

But open government advocates warned that the ruling, while specific to one slice of the open meetings act, importantly undermines its aims.

“I’m disappointed in the ruling,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “Some people will use it as a chance to try to get around the spirit of the law. But the vast majority of people want to follow the law and want the public to understand government and participate in government. The vast majority of public officials know they can’t go around in secret and deliberate.”

See here for a bit of background on the Doyal case. I don’t know about you, but I have always assumed that Sharon Keller imposes her own judicial views on every appeal she hears. Be that as it may, my first thought on reading this story was whether it might have an effect on the accusations against five HISD trustees who are alleged to have formed a “walking quorum” and met illegally to discuss replacing Superintendent Grenita Lathan. That charge, if justified, represents another reason for the TEA to take over HISD. Unless, I presume, it turns out that what they allegedly did wasn’t actually illegal. As of yesterday, that was unclear.

The ruling could impact the Texas Education Agency’s investigation into allegations of Open Meetings Act violations by some members of the Houston ISD Board of Trustees.

TEA officials are investigating whether five trustees illegally coordinated ahead of an October 2018 vote to oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan, who took over the position indefinitely in March 2018. The five trustees each spoke with Lathan’s chosen replacement, Abelardo Saavedra, prior to the vote. Some trustees have said they communicated with one other board member about a potential motion to remove Lathan.

Trustees ultimately voted 5-4 to replace Lathan with Saavedra, but they reversed the decision several days later following intense public backlash and Saavedra’s decision to back out of the job. Saavedra told the Houston Chronicle he quickly discovered HISD’s issues stemmed from the school board, as opposed to Lathan’s administration.

TEA opened a special accreditation investigation in January after receiving “multiple complaints” about violations of the Open Meetings Act. TEA leaders said they are investigating whether trustees were “deliberating district business prior to a regularly scheduled board meeting,” regarding Lathan’s removal.

While the notice alludes to misconduct described in the same statute that was overturned Wednesday, TEA officials did not indicate they are investigating HISD based on that statute. Rather, the TEA notice lists the entire chapter of open meetings laws, leaving it unclear whether the investigation rested entirely on the now-invalidated statute.

TEA officials declined to comment Wednesday “due to the open investigation.”

I Am Not A Lawyer and am thus not qualified to assess that possibility, but as a blogger I’m fully capable of speculating about it. My point is that this ruling may well have some odd and unexpected consequences. Greg Abbott says he wants state agencies to “continue to follow the spirit of the law”, whatever that means. I expect that would eventually lead to more litigation, until or unless the Lege fixes the law to satisfy this ruling. Anything is possible, but I tend to bet the under in these matters. Welcome to the mostly post-Open Meetings Act world that we now live in. The Observer has more.

Senate committee advances Whitley nomination

I’ll take Pointless Wastes of Time for $200, Alex.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A Texas Senate committee voted Thursday to advance the nomination of Texas Secretary of State David Whitley — the most forward motion he’s made in weeks in a stalled nomination that faces increasingly steep odds.

After a 4–3 vote along party lines, with all the committee’s Republicans backing Whitley and all Democrats voting against him, Whitley can be considered by the full Senate, where he’d need a two-thirds majority that he doesn’t appear to currently have.

[…]

Whitley, who appeared before the committee three weeks ago for a two-hour grilling over the bungled review effort, had been left pending in committee in its last two hearings even as other nominees sailed through. That seemed to bode poorly for his chances. The governor’s office has continued to back him “100 percent.”

And Gov. Greg Abbott said in a radio interview Thursday morning that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Democrats change their minds on Whitley.

“We’ve had ongoing conversations with them and we maintain good relationship with them. And so we’ll see how things turn out,” Abbott told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty. And he defended Whitley’s handling of the bungled probe, saying “secretary of state was relying on data from the Texas Department of Public Safety that was admittedly flawed by DPS, and DPS did not adequately communicate that to the secretary of state.”

“So the secretary of state was hamstrung by faulty information from the Department of Public Safety from the beginning and did not know that, and so the part of the fault goes to Steve McCraw, the director of the Department of Public Safety for causing the error in the first place,” Abbott said.

Don’t forget to blame the counties, too. There’s lots of room under that bus. I understand why Abbott is loyal to his former minion, but there’s gotta be some other party apparatchik with less baggage and more competence who can do this job. I have no idea who Abbott thinks is being wooed here, but in the absence of a real, genuine mea culpa plus a solid plan to get this right and a pledge to oppose any fruit of the poisoned tree bills, I see no reason why any Democratic Senator would give a damn.

UPDATE: Ross Ramsey suggests a way that Whitley could get confirmed: Not having all Senators present at the time his nomination is brought up for a vote, as two thirds of those who do vote are what is needed for confirmation. David Dewhurst tried this trick to pass the voter ID bill a couple of times in 2007, before the two thirds rule was changed to allow voter ID to pass on a simple majority. It’s definitely something to watch out for.

Today is the last day to vote early in HD145

Not many people have so far. I expect today will pick up as it usually does – better weather will help – but it’s been a quiet affair so far. Here’s where you need to go to vote, in case you’ve forgotten. I’ll be dropping by Moody Park later today, where there almost certainly won’t be a line. Get out there and vote, and if you want my advice vote for Melissa Noriega. Thanks very much.