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March 21st, 2019:

Emily’s List takes aim at Cornyn

Interesting.

Big John Cornyn

The influential Democratic group EMILY’s List is adding U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to its target list for 2020 — and in doing so, signaling it’d like to see a woman challenge him.

EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, is giving Cornyn its “On Notice” designation, making him the seventh GOP senator to land in the group’s crosshairs ahead of next year. The announcement comes as a Democratic man, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, appears likely to launch a Cornyn challenge soon.

“In his nearly 20 years in the Senate, John Cornyn has made clear that he’ll always put his party’s dangerous and destructive agenda ahead of the people he was elected to serve,” the president of EMILY’s List, Stephanie Schriock, says in a statement. “It’s time for a change, and EMILY’s List is actively recruiting to replace him. There are plenty of Democratic women who are up for the challenge, and who will always put Texan families first.”

There are at least three women thinking about challenging Cornyn. They include Wendy Davis, the 2014 gubernatorial nominee; Amanda Edwards, a member of the Houston City Council; and M.J. Hegar, a former congressional candidate. EMILY’s List backed Hegar in her run last year against U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

There are a few ways of looking at this.

1. Rep. Joaquin Castro may be reported to be all in, but until he makes an official statement to that effect, it’s just rumor. As such, given the time and money it takes to make oneself known to the voters, it’s best to have multiple options for as long as they may be needed. I was dismissive of the speculation about him giving up his safe Congressional seat now that Dems are in the majority for a reason, and others will be as well.

2. Of course, even if Joaquin is in no one is required to consider that to be the be all and end all of the matter. EMILY’s List is in the business of getting progressive, pro-choice women elected, and they’re going to put that mission first. They may well believe that a female candidate would do better against Cornyn even compared to someone like Joaquin Castro, who starts out with some advantages. If you believe Joaquin Castro would have a 50% chance of beating John Cornyn, but (say) MJ Hegar would have a 60% chance of winning (yes, I know, these are very optimistic estimates), why wouldn’t you try to get MJ Hegar nominated?

3. Bottom line is simply that if this is likely to be a competitive race, then it is also an opportunity to increase the number of women in the Senate. Joaquin Castro has a 100% rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund as of 2017, but if you want more women elected then you either take a shot in 2020 or you wait till 2024 when Ted Cruz is up again.

As for the potential candidates listed, let’s just say that a lot of Democrats have nuanced feelings about Wendy Davis, and MJ Hegar will come under a lot of pressure to run again in CD31. This is the first I’ve heard of Amanda Edwards as a possibility. I’d always kind of assumed she’d run for Mayor in 2023, but who knows? I believe EMILY’s List is recruiting, I believe that at least some candidates will likely want to wait and see what Joaquin Castro does first, and I believe their list of potential candidates is longer than what the story suggests. We’ll see what happens next.

House moves its school finance bill

Step two of the process.

Rep. Dan Huberty

The Texas House Public Education Committee unanimously signed off on a comprehensive $9 billion school finance and property tax reform bill Tuesday — but only after removing a controversial educator merit pay provision that had angered teachers unions.

House Bill 3, filed by committee chair Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, would put $6.3 billion into public schools and $2.7 billion into property tax reform. The bill will likely head to the full House soon, where more than 100 have already signed on as co-sponsors.

“Everybody’s opinion is welcome,” said Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, before voting to approve the bill. “I would just hate to see the destruction of a valiant effort because somebody didn’t like one little piece on it.”

The initial version of HB 3 included money for districts that wanted to rate their teachers and provide the top-rated ones with more money, modeled on a Dallas ISD program that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has touted.

“The language we ended up with to some degree could have been construed as tied to [the state’s standardized test] and created a little bit too much authority as we went forward,” Huberty said, explaining the change in the bill.

[…]

HB 3 does not include an across-the-board teacher pay raise, with Huberty and Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen arguing school districts should instead have local control to decide how to use additional funding. The Senate already unanimously passed Senate Bill 3, which would put $4 billion toward $5,000 raises for full-time classroom teachers and librarians.

Educators and advocates have appeared divided in their support for the two bills, which will need to be reconciled in some form later this session.

See here, here, and here for some background. Now is when the real sausage-making begins, as everyone agrees that Something Must Be Done, but views differ from there. The most likely scenario is that something gets hammered out in a conference committee in the very last days of the session. It’s hard to say at this point which chamber’s bill, or which provisions of each bill, have the advantage. Sometimes it just comes down to who gets on the committee. Expect there to be a bunch of amendments to both bills as they come to their respective floors, which may bring them closer together and may heighten their differences, with the extra joy of shenanigans and other partisan games always in the offing. It’s stuff like this that makes political junkies what they are.

Raising the smoking age

I’m fine with this.

A long-stalled push to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco and e-cigarettes in Texas has a puff of momentum, thanks to early hearings in both chambers, strong support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a surprising and quiet change of position by one of Big Tobacco’s leading corporations.

GOP leaders of powerful committees in the House and Senate are again lead authors of proposals that would raise the legal age for buying cigarettes, other tobacco products and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. Since 2007, such proposals have failed to pass into law for lack of support from Republicans who control the Legislature.

But there’s another new twist: Big Tobacco registering support for raising the legal age for buying smokes. Altria, the nation’s largest tobacco company, “supports raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to twenty-one.” and encourages the Texas Legislature to enact the proposal “without delay,” an Altria Client Services executive, Jennifer Hunter, said in written testimony submitted to the House Committee on Public Health this month.

Hunter’s statement did not acknowledge that Altria, which makes Marlboro cigarettes and owns a stake in Juul, the leading maker of e-cigarettes, opposed a similar Texas proposal during the 2017 session. That year, an age-hiking measure offered by Republican Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond physician, died short of House consideration.

Hunter’s statement said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s 2018 call to address a national surge in the use of e-vapor products among 12- to 17-year-olds led Altria to “believe the time has come to enact legislation” raising the legal purchasing age to 21.

“We are supporting this step because we believe it is the most effective step available to reverse rising underage e-vapor rate,” Altria’s statement said. “Data shows that youth under eighteen get tobacco products — including e-vapor — primarily through ‘social access,’ that is, from friends or siblings who are” 18 or older, Hunter said.

Hunter added: “By raising the minimum age to twenty-one, no high school student should be able to purchase tobacco products legally.”

[…]

Several vape shopkeepers urged the House panel to reject the change in age while Schell Hammell of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association — which has as a slogan, “Saving Vaping Every Day” — said the group hopes lawmakers clarify the ability of local jurisdictions to regulate sales.

In 2017, Zerwas, who chairs the budget-drafting House Appropriations Committee, shrugged off criticisms of the raise-the-age proposal.

“There’s obviously some people who are going to see this as an infringement on rights and stuff, and those voices need to be heard,” Zerwas said then. “And yeah, that’s a loss of potential revenue, but one we can probably make up somewhere else.

“What’s more important than the health of our youth and future generations?”

Multiple individuals told the Senate panel Monday that the move to raise the age is a bad idea, particularly because the change would incongruously keep young men and women who risk their lives by enlisting in the military from being able to make their own choices to use cigarettes and e-cigs.

That’s the one argument that has any merit, in my opinion. Eighteen isn’t universal, however, as the drinking age can attest. The very clear health benefits of a 21-year smoking age versus an 18-year smoking age is more than enough to outweigh the philosophical objections. According to the Chron, one of these bills – SB21 in the Senate, HB749 in the House – has a solid chance of passing. I’m rooting for them.

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 18

The Texas Progressive Alliance stands against the threat of white nationalist violence as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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