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Allen Vaught

Who will run statewide for the Dems?

For several statewide offices, it is unclear at this time who might run.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Lillie Schechter, the new chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party, has watched in recent months as at least seven candidates have come through the doors of the party headquarters to introduce themselves, eager for their shot at U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

That’s seven candidates that she can recall, but she may be forgiven for forgetting: Texas’ 7th Congressional District is one of several that have already drawn a swarm of Democratic candidates for 2018. The bonanza is unfolding not just in districts like the 7th — one of three in Texas that national Democrats are targeting — but also in even redder districts, delighting a state party that is not used to so much so interest so early.

“When we have competitive primaries, we get to engage with more Democrats,” Schechter said. “I do not see that as a negative thing.”

Yet it’s just one part of the picture for Democrats at the outset of the 2018 election cycle. While the congressional races are overflowing with candidates, the party remains without a number of statewide contenders — a reality that is coming into focus ahead of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s anticipated announcement Friday that he’s running for re-election. Barring any last-minute surprises, Abbott will make his second-term bid official without the presence of a serious Democratic rival.

[…]

So far, Democrats have three statewide candidates they see as serious: U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso for U.S. Senate, Houston-area accountant Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, for agriculture commissioner. They are without similarly credible contenders for governor, comptroller, land commissioner, railroad commissioner and attorney general — a seat considered particularly worth targeting because the GOP incumbent, Ken Paxton, is under indictment.

By far the biggest profile belongs to O’Rourke, who announced his challenge to Cruz in March. As the top of the ticket — assuming he wins his party’s primary next year — he stands a chance of being Texas Democrats’ standard-bearer in 2018, regardless of whom they ultimately put up for the other statewide jobs.

In an interview Monday, O’Rourke said he was not worried about the lack of company so far on his party’s statewide ticket.

“I can’t worry about what I can’t control, and so we’re just going to focus on our campaign,” he said.

But he also expressed optimism for the party’s prospects up and down the ballot in 2018 “as more people become aware of how significantly the dynamics have changed in Texas.”

The story notes that former State Rep. Allen Vaught is also looking at Lt. Governor, and it’s not impossible to imagine him running there with Collier shifting over to Comptroller again. I am aware of at least one person looking at the AG race, and if there’s one slot I feel confident will have a name in it, it’s that one. As for Governor, who knows. We wanted Julian Castro, but we’re not going to get Julian Castro. I had been thinking about Trey Martinez-Fischer, but he’s not interested. As with AG, I feel reasonably confident someone will run. I just don’t know how exciting that person will be.

As the story notes, there are many, many people running for Congress. At least five races, in CDs 02, 07, 21, 31, and 32, have multiple candidates, and some of those candidates have already raised a very decent amount of money. There are still plenty of races in need of candidates – CDs 22 and 24 come to mind, as well as SD16 and various State House seats – but I’m not worried about any of them yet. One way of thinking about this is to note that in the last three cycles, the number of Democratic challengers for Republican-held districts in the State House has been 38 in 2016, 37 in 2014, and 39 in 2012, with the latter being inflated by redistricting and the 2010 wipeout. Fewer than half of all Republican State House incumbents have had November opponents in each of these cycles. To be sure, one reason for that is that a large number of these districts are basically hopeless from our perspective, but there is more to it than that. If there’s ever a year to get a larger number of challengers for red districts, this is it. We won’t know the totals for certain until after the filing deadline, but this is something to keep an eye on. The DMN has more.

DCCC says it will aim for three Texas Congressional seats

We’ll see what this means in practice.

The House Democratic campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, announced Monday morning that the party intends to target two longtime GOP incumbents that, until recently, have long been considered locks for re-election: U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions of Dallas and John Culberson of Houston.

The two races are in addition to the committee’s targeting of U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of San Antonio, who represents Texas’ 23rd District, a perennial target which includes much of the state’s border communities.

[…]

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried all three districts in November, falling just short of an outright majority in each place, according to a DCCC analysis of election records. In contrast, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the same districts in 2012.

While many political observers say Clinton’s performance was likely a one-time phenomenon in the Sessions and Culberson districts, it could serve as a warning sign to Republican incumbents as split-ticket voting is a diminishing habit.

Culberson’s district saw the most dramatic shift: Romney carried the seat with 60 percent of the vote. Four years later, Trump drew 47 percent support, according to the DCCC.

[…]

Democrats on Capitol Hill say President Trump’s performance in Texas against Clinton is why they are concentrating on a state they mostly ignored in the last several cycles, save for Hurd’s district. Trump’s 9-point win over Clinton in Texas was the narrowest for a Republican presidential candidate in 20 years.

Democrats further argue that Trump underperformed in Texas’ urban areas, particularly in Dallas and Harris Counties. At least one Democratic operative close to leadership who was not authorized to speak on the record called the president a potential “albatross around their neck.”

Multiple interviews with House Democratic sources have yet to scare up any possible recruits in the two districts.

“It’s more of a, ‘Where can we go and create opportunities?'” said Moses Mercado, a plugged-in Washington lobbyist with Texas roots.

See here for some background. There’s no doubt that Trump underperformed in urban areas like Houston and Dallas. Further, the evidence I have so far suggests that the underlying partisan mix shifted in Democrats’ favor at least in CD07 and likely CD32; I have not had a chance to look at any part of CD23 yet. CDs 07 and 32 are still reliably Republican, but they are not overwhelmingly so. If 2018 winds up being a strong Democratic year, they’re in the ballpark. Even if not, if the partisan ground shifts by as much between 2016 and 2020 as it did between 2012 and 2016, then these two become genuine swing districts. Just in time for the next round of redistricting, to be sure, but still. It makes sense to pay attention to them, and there’s no reason not to start now.

For all the time I’ve spent cautioning about Presidential numbers versus judicial race numbers in gauging legislative districts, I am intrigued by the potential here. There were large numbers of Republicans in CD07 and CD32 who voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, and a few more who voted for Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin or some other minor candidate instead of Trump. Surely some of these people, even as they generally voted Republican otherwise, will be open to the argument that in this election, if they still oppose Trump and want to do something to stop him, they need to vote against the members of Congress who are enabling him. I don’t know how many of these crossover voters might be willing to consider that – whatever the number is today, it may well be very different next fall – but we have some time to identify them and to figure out the best way to present that argument to them. If the DCCC really is serious about this, one way they can show it is to do a deep analytics dive into the precinct-level data and figure out who their target audience is. The hard part will be coming up with a message that is persuasive to them without alienating core Democrats, who are not going to be very tolerant about appeals to centrism or bipartisanship. A simple motto of “oppose Trump by opposing this Congressman who stand with him” is probably best.

As for finding candidates, we already have one in CD07, and I’m sure there will be plenty of people interested in CD23, as it is perennially competitive. As for CD32, again I’m sure there will be plenty of people who might want to run, but let me put in a good word for Allen Vaught, Army Reserve captain in Iraq and former State Rep from Dallas. I have no idea if he might be interested, but I do know he’d be a good candidate. D Magazine suggests current Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who would also be a fine choice. Let the recruiting begin!

Endorsement watch: ParentPAC

I haven’t mentioned the Texas ParentPAC lately, as there’s been so much other stuff going on lately, but they are as busy with endorsements as ever. Here’s a list of candidates that they have announced they are backing for the general election. The links are to the press releases they sent out in each case:

State Rep. Robert Miklos, HD101

State Rep. Carol Kent, HD102

State Rep. Joe Moody, HD78

Loretta Haldenwang, HD105

State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134

State Rep. Joe Heflin, HD85

I’ll pass along any others that come my way.

UPDATE: Add the following to the tally:

State Rep. Chris Turner, HD96

State Rep. Allen Vaught, HD107

Endorsement watch: Dallas Democratic legislative candidates

As we know, the Dallas Morning News dumped Double-Dip Joe Driver from its list of endorsed candidates. Here’s what they said about some other legislative races of interest to Democrats:

Editorial: We recommend Haldenwang in HD105

Republican Linda Harper-Brown has represented Texas House District 105 since 2003. We previously have recommended her as a knowledgeable conservative, but her effectiveness has diminished. In 2008, she won re-election by only a few votes, and things have only deteriorated since.

This Irving-based district needs new leadership, and we believe Democrat Loretta Haldenwang can provide it.

Editorial: We recommend Miklos in HD101

State Rep. Robert Miklos uses the focus of a former prosecutor – which is he – to outline strategies for addressing problems facing the state. Cindy Burkett, his challenger for the Mesquite-based House District 101 seat, is often vague and unrealistic in approaches she would pursue in the Legislature.

Take the budget. Miklos, 44, a Democrat seeking his second term, is clear about the need to cut budgets and tap the state’s rainy day fund to help close a budget gap estimated at $21 billion. He also would close loopholes that benefit oil and gas companies in the state’s new, underperforming business tax.

Burkett, 52, a Republican and small-business owner, supports more business breaks at a time the state is struggling to support basic services. Her ideas didn’t indicate that she grasped the magnitude of the problem. Only when pressed did she indicate a tepid willingness to dip into the emergency fund.

Editorial: We recommend Vaught in HD107

State Rep. Allen Vaught is among a group of centrist Democrats who are piecing together a balanced strategy – with specifics – for bridging a huge gap in the state budget.

Vaught’s opponent, Republican Kenneth Sheets, preaches fiscal conservatism but lack details on how he would apply that philosophy in Austin.

Our recommendation in East Dallas-based House District 107 goes to Vaught, based on his experience from two terms in office, his budget ideas and his positions on the critical urban issues of air quality and traffic congestion.

Editorial: We recommend England in HD106

Sound bites won’t solve problems that await state lawmakers next year.

Rep. Kirk England isn’t basing his re-election campaign on easy answers. That’s the department of challenger Rodney Anderson in the Grand Prairie/Irving-based House District 106.

Editorial: We recommend Kent in HD102

As a freshman lawmaker, Democrat Carol Kent has shown herself to be far more grounded in Texas House District 102 than her opponent and more capable of dealing with the state’s pressing education, transportation, air quality and budget challenges.

Voters would be wise to reward the poised and thoughtful Kent with a second term.

Kind of a theme there, wouldn’t you say? Even in the editorials where they have endorsed Republican incumbents like Will Hartnett and Dan Branch, the DMN was generally complimentary towards the Democrat; about Branch’s opponent Pete Schulte, they said he was “bright and well-spoken” and “might someday grow into a top legislator”. All in all, a pretty solid performance by Dallas County Democrats.

Cottage foods update

A month ago, I wrote about a website called Texas Cottage Food Law, which is working to pass a bill that would allow folks who bake bread and cakes and whatnot to sell their wares from their homes. I’m pleased to report that they’re making some progress in their quest.

For the past four-and-a-half weeks HB 3282 has been held up in the Public Health Committee. The bill was voted out of the Public Health Committee by a unanimous vote of 9-0 around 6:30 p.m. on April 28. A report is now being prepared to be sent to the Calendars Committee to await placement for floor debate and vote. This alone could take up to a week.

“If no actions are taken by May 11 the bill dies,” Magnolia area home-school student and cake enthusiast Emily Doty said. “I am so passionate about the passing of this bill because my grandma baked for years and it is something I would like to have the option to do later.”

Doty said that the bill has a lot of public support. Rep. Dan Gattis discussed his bill allowing for the production of baked goods in an individual’s home before the Committee on Public Health, on March 27.

He introduced the Cottage Food Production Act after being contacted by a constituent who wanted to see a change in the law.

Cake Boss Kelley Masters of CakeCentral.com wrote the representative seeking assistance so individuals such as herself could legally sell baked goods made in their homes. In addition to hearing from Masters, Gattis received numerous calls and a signed petition from more than 2,000 Texans supporting such legislation, according to a Texas House of Representatives press release.

“The Cottage Food Production Bill is about encouraging entrepreneurship among individuals who want to legally sell their baked goods,” Gattis said. “A number of successful businesses began in people’s homes, from Microsoft and Dell, to Paula Dean and Tiff’s Treats. This bill provides a starting place for bakers in Texas to earn some additional income and opens the doors for additional successful businesses in the future.”

Reps. Allen Vaught and Debbie Riddle are now co-authors of HB3282, and according to Masters, who sent me the link to this article, Sen. Steve Ogden has agreed to sponsor it if it reaches the Senate. It’s all up to the Calendars committee now, so contact its membership if you want to see this move forward.