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March 4th, 2019:

January 2019 campaign finance reports: Congress

We come to the last of our January finance report roundups. The next one will be in April, for Congressional candidates, which will be our first indicator of who among the repeaters and the newcomers has gotten off to a fast start and who is still biding their time. This post covers the last three months of 2018, though as always remember that unlike other systems, the FEC reports are cumulative for the cycle. You have to compare to earlier reports to see how much was raised and spent in the period in question. Given that this period covered the month before the election, you will see from the vastly diminished cash on hand totals just how much was being spent at this time. As it should have been, of course.

Here are the July 2017 finance reports, here are the October 2017 finance reports, here are the January 2018 finance reports, here are the April 2018 finance reports, here are the July 2018 finance reports, here are the October 2018 finance reports, and here’s the FEC summary page for Democratic Congressional candidates in Texas.

Todd Litton – CD02
Lori Burch – CD03
Jana Sanchez – CD06
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Steven David – CD08
Mike Siegel – CD10
Vanessa Adia – CD12
Adrienne Bell – CD14
Rick Kennedy – CD17
Joseph Kopser – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Linsey Fagan – CD26
Eric Holguin – CD27
MJ Hegar – CD31
Colin Allred – CD32
Dayna Steele – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Litton        1,536,148  1,515,116        0     21,032
03    Burch           292,395    322,136   25,649     -1,278
06    Sanchez         734,004    707,924        0     58,590
07    Fletcher      6,226,876  6,184,824        0     42,067
08    David            34,332     30,263        0      3,565
10    Siegel          489,172    485,681   10,000      3,490
12    Adia            208,585    198,453        0      9,987
14    Bell            211,652    211,652        0          0
17    Kennedy         132,158    130,830   11,789      1,427
21    Kopser        3,251,295  3,241,756   49,231      9,538
22    Kulkarni      1,637,103  1,609,335        0     27,767
23    Ortiz Jones   6,216,644  6,098,297        0    118,346
24    McDowell        108,709     95,507        0     13,320
25    Oliver          645,926    645,926      644          0
26    Fagan           176,157    106,139        0     53,142
27    Holguin         200,712    198,801        0     -1,460
31    Hegar         5,122,102  5,069,600        0     47,481
32    Allred        5,972,679  5,869,234        0    103,445
36    Steele          902,066    901,866        0          0

Please note that some of those report links about will not take you directly to the candidate’s summary page. At this juncture, before any 2019-2020 reports are filed, candidate who span cycles will go to a landing page asking you to pick what cycle you want. That includes first-time-candidates-who-won, like Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, for whom the link will say that nothing from this cycle has been filed yet. You can then choose the 2017-2018 cycle from the dropdown and see the data I’m reporting on here.

I don’t know how a candidate can report a negative cash on hand balance. I’m just giving you what the website gave me. I tried in some previous posts to differentiate between the cash actually raised by the candidate and money that came from loans or transfers from committees like the DCCC, but that was too much work for this effort, so what you get in the Raised column is the top line number indicated by the candidate.

Reps. Fletcher and Allred start with fairly modest balances, but I’m not at all worried about that. Both will rake it in, as the Republicans try to win those seats back. Allred is already drawing interest, and I’m sure so is Fletcher, but if so I’ve not seen any stories about who might want to take her on. I’ll be honest, no names pop into my head as obvious challengers for her.

Mike Siegel and Sri Kulkarni are known to be interested in running again – Siegel is already a declared candidate, Kulkarni may be although I can’t independently verify that. Gina Ortiz Jones is acting like someone who may take another crack at it, though I’d expect she will have company in a primary, while Siegel and Kulkarni are more likely to have either a clear path or token opposition. MJ Hegar may run again or may run for Senate. I don’t know what Todd Litton, Jana Sanchez, or Joseph Kopser are up to, nor do I know about Julie Oliver or Lorie Burch. I also don’t know about Jan McDowell, but as CD24 is now firmly on the national radar, I’m 100% sure that other potential candidates are being courted, or making themselves known. McDowell may be a candidate next March, but I’ll be more than a little surprised – and disappointed – if she’s the candidate next November.

That’s it for this round of campaign finance reports. Tune in again in April for the first look at Congress 2020, and in July for the first real indicators of who’s got it going on for Houston City Council. Let me know what you think.

Can we turn the anti-vax tide in the Lege this session?

It sure would be nice, and this needs to be the primary goal.

In Texas, children are required to have certain sets of vaccinations before they can be enrolled in public school – including the vaccine for measles.

But parents who have “reasons of conscience” for not wanting their children to be vaccinated are allowed to opt out of vaccinations, a practice that experts say is forming a dangerous trend that helped fuel the most recent measles outbreak.

Statewide, there was only one confirmed case of measles in each of 2016 and 2017. In 2018, there were nine confirmed cases of measles, authorities say.

There are seven confirmed cases so far in 2019.

The legislature does not define what constitutes a “reason of conscience,” meaning that any parent, for any reason, can decide not to immunize their children against dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases.

Close to 57,000 children in Texas went to public schools unvaccinated in 2018 for non-medical reasons, according to Allison Winnike, president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership. She said those numbers are growing year-over-year since the non-medical, “reasons of conscience” exemption went into effect almost two decades ago.

Concerns about the rise in measles cases is the fulcrum for this. Anti-vaxxers had a good session in 2017, but their advantage is more partisan than non-partisan, and a couple of their leading advocates – Reps. Bill Zedler and Jonathan Stickland – both had close wins in 2018 and will be big targets in 2020, along with others in Tarrant County.

All this is good, but so far the only vaccine-related bill I could find of any value was SB 329 by Sen. Kel Seliger would require a biennial report on any outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and the number of children without vaccines under the “reasons of conscience” law, but it doesn’t change the “reasons of conscience” law itself. That’s where we need to go, and we may as well get started on it this session. And we’d better not wait, because the anti-vaxxers are actively trying to make things worse.

A bill filed in the Texas Legislature this month by Representative Matt Krause, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, would make it easier for parents to request vaccine exemptions. A similar version was left pending after a House Public Health Committee hearing in 2017, but Krause’s new bill would go further, explicitly preventing the state health department from tracking the number of exemptions. Even though the exemption data doesn’t include anything that could identify individual students and is only available at the school district level, Krause and Zedler point to fears among anti-vaxxers that they will be tracked and bullied. “We’ve seen instances in California, stuff like that, where they start hunting people down,” [anti-vax Rep. Bill] Zedler said.

Public health officials say the proposal would curb their ability to identify and stop disease outbreaks, and parents of immunocompromised kids would have even less information to decide where to send their children to school.

“This is the modus operandi for anti-vaxxers in Texas: to promote exemptions, obfuscate and minimize transparency,” said Peter Hotez, a leading vaccine scientist and dean for the National School for Tropical Medicine at Baylor Medical School. “To do this in the middle of a measles outbreak in Texas is especially unconscionable.”

[…]

Krause, who is also backed by Texans for Vaccine Choice, argues that his legislation merely streamlines the process for parents who will obtain the exemptions anyway. He dismissed the many concerns raised by medical professionals last session. “They did a very good job of painting the worst-case scenario,” Krause told the Observer. “I’m not so sure those fears are founded.”

Krause acknowledged that he has already fielded concerns about his bill, in particular the clause preventing the state from tracking vaccine exemptions. He said he would be willing to scrap that language “if Texans for Vaccine Choice or some other vaccine choice groups or other folks from the medical community say that’s a bad idea.” Texans for Vaccine Choice did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Krause’s bill is HB1490. He won by eight points in 2018, so be sure to find a good opponent for him too. As I’ve said many times before, the anti-vaxxers are better organized and far more vocal – Rep. Gene Wu notes his recent encounter with this bunch – but I continue to believe they’re a small minority. This needs to be an issue people lose election over, because the stakes are getting higher. Vox, Mother Jones, and Daily Kos have more.

What can you legally wear when you go to vote?

That’s the subject of a lawsuit involving voters from Houston and Dallas.

A Houston woman who was forced to turn a firefighters T-shirt inside out at the polls and a Dallas-area man who tried to vote in his Trump MAGA cap are suing a long list of public officials in federal court here for violating their free speech rights.

The lawsuit comes in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June invalidating a Minnesota law that banned voters from displaying “issue oriented” apparel at the polls. The case filed in Houston federal court Thursday on behalf of two Texas voters was brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a California-based nonprofit advocacy group that won the free speech victory in the Minnesota case.

The conservative foundation wants a Houston judge to overturn the Texas law that restricts what people can wear when they vote. Texas is one of several states that still have clothing restrictions on the books. The concern is not just that voters won’t feel free to express themselves, but also that enforcement by poll workers will be “arbitrary and erratic.”

Douglas Ray, an special assistant overseeing election issues at the Harris County Attorney’s Office. said the county will defend itself but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — who was also sued — will likely take the lead. County officials last dealt with this issue in 2010, when voters showed up at the polls with Obama-related gear, Ray said. President Barack Obama was not on the ballot, but several measures that reflected his policies were, he said.

“What we tell the election judge is they have the power to adjudicate when they think electioneering is going on and when it’s not,” said Ray. “We tell them to make that determination based on a totality of the circumstances and if it’s consistent with advocacy for somebody or some party that’s on the ballot.”

In the case of the firefighters shirts, Ray acknowledged the county was aware the shirts caused friction at the polls. “We had a lot of trouble with that during the last election because there were people wearing these yellow shirts with red lettering that said ‘Vote for Prop B’ but they were almost identical to a shirt that just said ‘Houston Fire Fighters.’”

He said the shirts had the same colors, logo and lettering but one had “Vote for Prop B” and one didn’t. The county attorney’s office advised election judges that the yellow shirts were problematic if they said something specific about voting.

“But that is just advice,” Ray said. “The election judge in that situation makes the adjudication.”

[…]

The Texas law is more specific than the Minnesota one that the Supreme Court addressed last year, which could help or hurt the case, according to David Coale, a constitutional law expert at Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst in Dallas. The Minnesota law prohibited voters from wearing political badges, buttons or other political insignia to the polls, while Texas law prohibits inside or within 100 feet of the voting site the wearing of badges, insignia, emblems representing any a candidate, measure or political party appearing on the ballot or to the conduct of the election.

“The Supreme Court said it was a legitimate state interest to have a polling place free of distracting political activity. But by doing so, it still requires the election official to make judgment calls about what ‘relates to’ the election…and also means that the official can get it wrong,” Coale said. “The argument that a ‘MAGA’ hat ‘relates to’ the subject of this election is not a strong one. I think that is why the Pacific Foundation focused on this case as its test case, to get some law made on how far away from the specific subject of an election you can be and still ‘relate to’ it.”

There are always going to be some issues when you are relying on individual election judges to exercise their own judgment in interpreting election law. We see plenty of examples of this every year with the voter ID law and whether or not the name on their ID matches what’s on their voter registration card. Restricting what is allowed at the polling place is much more fraught than that. Wherever a line is drawn for what is acceptable, there will be cases right on that line where reasonable people may disagree. I have a certain amount of sympathy for these plaintiffs, but I don’t know that it adds up to enough weight to warrant throwing out the existing law. I suspect the courts will say that it does, but we’ll see.