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August 13th, 2019:

Five for Senate

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is in.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Leading Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is launching a campaign for U.S. Senate, entering a Democratic primary to oust Republican John Cornyn that has steadily grown throughout the summer.

The daughter of an immigrant mother, co-founder of the Workers Defense Project and founder of the progressive Latino youth group Jolt Texas, Tzintzún Ramirez argues she has the best story, experience and ideas to harness the energy of Texas’ ascendant voters, particularly young people of color. To do so, she will have the help of some of the top organizers from Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, a potentially pivotal asset as the crowded field vies to build on O’Rourke’s closer-than-expected loss to GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I don’t think we have a reflection of those in power that represent the Texas we are today. I think I represent those ideals and the diversity of the state, and I want Texas to be a national leader in solving the major problems that our country faces,” Tzintzún Ramirez said in an interview, citing health care, immigration and climate change as major issues the state should be at the forefront of tackling.

Tzintzún Ramirez made her candidacy official in a video Monday morning.

The longtime organizer joins a primary lineup that is approaching a double-digit tally. Among the better-known contenders are former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, 2018 U.S. House candidate MJ Hegar, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas and Sema Hernandez, who was the runner-up to O’Rourke in the 2018 Senate primary.

Tzintzún Ramirez welcomed a competitive nominating contest as healthy for Democrats, saying the candidates in the Senate race are “all essentially at the same starting place,” unknown to most voters statewide and thus forced to run on the merits of their platforms. Asked how she plans to distinguish herself, she pointed to her forthrightness on the issues and her record of mobilizing the kind of voters often overlooked by politicians.

“I know how to speak to the diversity of this state,” Tzintzún Ramirez said.

We first heard about Tzintzún Ramirez’s potential candidacy a month ago. I hadn’t seen any followups to that so this announcement came a bit out of the blue to me. Tzintzún Ramirez has a great resume and a campaign team built in part from the Beto 2018 crew, so she’s got some advantages. Like everyone else in the field, her main tasks at this point are to raise money and get her name out in front of the voters. I’m very interested to see how she will do.

So is the field set now, modulo any no-names that file for reasons known only to themselves? I suppose that depends on the Beto question, about which I’ll have more to say tomorrow. I’ll say this much: What I want more than anything is a candidate that can beat John Cornyn. There are three basic possibilities at this point. One is that no one can beat Cornyn. The state isn’t ready yet, he’s got enough money and isn’t as widely loathed as Ted Cruz to fend off any adversary, even a favorable climate isn’t enough at this time. A second possibility is that basically anyone can beat him, because the climate is sufficiently favorable and the state is ready and he’s disliked enough. If #1 is true I just want someone who’ll put up a good fight and do nothing to harm the downballot candidates. If #2 is true then ideally I’d want the candidate closest to my own political preferences, but honestly they’ll all be such a huge upgrade that I’m not going to sweat the small stuff.

It’s possibility #3 – that The Right Candidate can beat Cornyn, but only The Right Candidate can do so – that will keep me awake at night. There’s no objective way to evaluate that question, but it’s what we’re going to be arguing about for the next seven to ten months. The candidate that can convince you that they’re the one is the one you should probably vote for in the primary. I’ll leave that to you to ponder for now. The DMN, the Observer, Stace, and Texas Monthly have more.

Here come the Rangers

I don’t know where this is going to go, but it sure will be fun getting there.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The Texas House General Investigating Committee voted Monday to request that the Texas Rangers look into allegations against House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants in the lower chamber.

The committee vote, which was unanimous, followed roughly an hour of closed-door deliberations among the five House members who serve on the panel. At issue is whether Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, offered hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan media credentials for his organization in exchange for politically targeting a list of fellow GOP members in the 2020 primaries.

[…]

State Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House committee, said Monday that the Texas Ranger’s Public Integrity Unit “will conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding” that meeting between Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows. Meyer also requested that the Texas Rangers provide a copy of its final investigative report to the committee at the end of its investigation.

See here for the background. What might happen next could get complicated.

Aside from the quid pro quo aspect of the scandal, exchanging money in the Capitol or directing expenditures from a Capitol office has been a Class A misdemeanor ever since the Legislature reacted to a 1989 public outcry over the late chicken producer Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim handing out $10,000 checks to nine senators in the Senate chamber during a hearing on workers compensation reform.

Besides the issue of whether there was bribery involved, there are also potential election law crimes, including not disclosing the source of campaign contributions directed by Bonnen. The Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against Sullivan on Thursday, alleging nine different potential criminal violations of the Texas Election Code, each a Class A misdemeanor. The lawsuit seeks to preserve evidence and damages of $100,000.

Given the potential for criminal wrongdoing, what happens next?

First, consider the dramatic changes that the Texas Legislature made to how public corruption cases are handled in Texas. Under a state law passed in 2015, the Travis County public integrity unit no longer has jurisdiction over elected officials at the Capitol. Potential criminal cases must be investigated first by the Texas Rangers. As of Thursday, the Rangers had not been asked to investigate the Bonnen/Sullivan controversy, nor had they initiated an investigation on their own, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson.

If the Rangers do investigate and decide further action is warranted, the case is referred to the home county of the public official. That means any corruption charges against Bonnen would have to be brought by the Brazoria County DA. For Burrows, it would be the Lubbock County DA. Travis County would retain jurisdiction only over Sullivan. In cases of multiple jurisdiction, the Texas attorney general’s office can take charge.

Funnily enough, Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment on securities fraud charges in his home territory of Collin County. Paxton is accused of failing to register as a securities agent as part of his private law practice. He claims he is innocent and that the case is politically motivated. Paxton counts among his allies the funders of Empower Texans. (The plot always seems to thicken in this scandal.)

You know what this would mean: Special prosecutors would be needed. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that approach. It’s almost as if abolishing the prosecutorial power of the Public Integrity Unit was a bad idea with all kinds of potentially unwanted consequences. We are getting way ahead of ourselves here, so let’s reel it in a bit and say we can’t wait to see what happens next. Ross Ramsey has more.

Revisiting City Council redistricting

This would be interesting.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, District E Councilmember Dave Martin said the city should consider redrawing city council district boundaries, particularly in his own district.

District E includes two far-flung suburbs, Kingwood and Clear Lake. Martin said it’s a “ridiculously arranged council district” where it is difficult to coordinate meetings.

“I’ve always felt that the folks in Clear Lake do indeed deserve their own representation there, because it is tough for someone to drive 60 miles on a weekend to get to a certain area,” Martin said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner agreed with Martin’s assessment of District E.

“I will tell you it is an interesting drawing,” Turner said. “Because you certainly cannot go from Kingwood to Clear Lake for a town hall meeting, two town hall meetings.”

Turner said he would support taking a look at the map after the 2020 census.

“I don’t know what the thinking was back then,” Turner said. “But it does seem to be not in the best interest of two areas that are so geographically separated. I think it’s worth taking a look at.”

There’s a copy of the map embedded in the story, and you can also see it here, with links to individual district maps here. It’s true that District E is this two-headed amalgam of far-apart suburbs, with a bit of connecting tissue in between, but any proposed solution to address that is complicated. The problem is that the Kingwood part of E abuts District B, and the Clear Lake part borders on Districts D and I. Any redesign of the current map that would split District E into separate parts has to take into account merging a bunch of white Republicans with a bunch of black and Latinx Democrats. Even before we take Voting Rights Act requirements into consideration, I can guarantee you that a substantial number of people would be unhappy with any alternative.

What you could do is reduce the size of individual districts to be roughly the size of the Kingwood and Clear Lake pieces, then redraw the map with however many districts there would be with such smaller population requirements. That would result in a map with anywhere from 15 to 21 districts, depending on how much you padded out the two halves of E. We can debate whether that’s a good idea or a bad idea, but we’d also probably need a charter amendment to make it happen.

Personally, I’d be willing to at least explore the idea, and maybe have someone draw a few sample maps, to give a picture of what this might look like. Honestly, I think we ought to consider the same for the Legislature, where individual districts have grown in population quite a lot in recent years. This is especially true for Senate districts, which used to be smaller than Congressional districts but are now larger and will get more so in 2021 when Texas is given additional seats in Congress. It’ll never happen of course, but that doesn’t mean we should never think about it.