Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Congress

Life after the Voting Rights Act

A good long read from the Trib about where we are with redistricting and what may lie ahead.

Since Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has been barred by law from discriminating against voters of color. Yet in every decade since then, federal judges have ruled at least once that the state violated federal protections for voters in redistricting.

Now, as Texas Republicans are facing the possibility of losing their political dominance, the state is gearing up for a new cycle of mapmaking. The House Redistricting Committee [held] the first of more than a dozen hearings Tuesday in advance of what’s expected to be a contentious legislative session in 2021, when new political boundaries will need to be drawn to account for the state’s booming population.

But because of voting rights advocates’ repeated court losses over the past decade, state lawmakers facing an incredibly pivotal and politically fraught moment will instead have much more freedom to set those lines — and the power that comes with them — without any federal government oversight. And once they’re enacted, the voters of color and civil rights groups that have fought the maps in the past may not have the same tools with which to challenge the discrimination that may tarnish them.

“It’s just extremely disappointing as far as they went to sort of kick us down and kick minority voting rights down,” [civil rights attorney Jose] Garza said after the Supreme Court ruling came down.

That was the ruling that upheld the Texas Congressional and legislative maps; the subsequent SCOTUS ruling that batted away partisan redistricting claims was just another ton of dirt on the coffin. It’s very likely that Republicans will pursue maximal advantage through redistricting in 2021, including drawing districts based on Citizen Voting Age Population instead of just population – this is what the Census fight and the Hofeller project were about. The only possible kink in that plan would be a Democratic-majority House, which might force some compromises. Anyway, read the story and brush up on your history, because we’re all going to be living it again soon.

Endorsement watch: Warren sticks her neck out

Very interesting.

Jessica Cisneros

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is wading into one of Texas’ highest-profile intraparty fights, endorsing Jessica Cisneros, the primary challenger to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

“The people of Texas’ 28th district are ready for systematic change and deserve a Democrat that will be on the side of working people; not the side of big money and obstructionist Republicans,” Warren, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts, said in a statement Monday morning. “I believe Jessica Cisneros is that fighter.”

Cisneros, a young immigration attorney from Laredo, has the backing of Justice Democrats, the progressive group famous for helping elect freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., last year. Cuellar is among the more conservative Democrats in the House.

“Jessica knows our diversity is our strength and that when progressives are unapologetic about our values and who we’re in this battle for, we win,” Warren said. “It’s time Texans had a champion in Congress who does just that.”

See here for the background. This will certainly raise Cisneros’ profile, and I’d say it’s a good bet it will help her with fundraising, too. It’s a bit of a risk for Warren to take, partly because it may cost her some primary votes in a heavily Democratic part of the state, partly because she may have made a mortal enemy who can sabotage her agenda in the House if he survives and she wins, and partly because Henry Cuellar also has friends who are now motivated to work against her. It’s also very on brand for her, and if you’re looking for someone who walks the walk, Elizabeth Warren has the record to show she does that. This race just got more interesting. The Texas Signal has more.

On an unrelated note but something that I’ve been looking for an excuse to include in a post, CD02 candidate Elisa Cardnell was recently endorsed by Rep. Marc Veasey, who among other things is the Regional Vice-Chair of the DCCC. CD02 is not currently on the DCCC target list, but in an ideal world the overall political climate, the Cardnell campaign fundraising prowess, and any available polling data would cause this race to be added in at some point. For now, it’s on the second tier, but the endorsement of an incumbent like Rep. Veasey is a boost for Team Cardnell, and suggests the national folks are keeping an eye on this one as well.

Lucio’s challengers

Will definitely want to keep an eye on this.

Sen. Eddie Lucio

This cycle, [Sen. Eddie] Lucio’s record will be dissected as two opponents—one a trial lawyer and daughter of a former Cameron County Democratic chair, and another a current State Board of Education member—take aim at this titan of Rio Grande Valley politics. Can they persuade the voters of Lucio’s district, which is 89 percent Hispanic with a 37 percent poverty rate, to reject the Texas Senate’s most conservative Democrat, or will the 73-year-old prevail again?

[…]

Lucio’s two primary challengers are Sara Stapleton-Barrera, a 35-year-old trial lawyer whose father chaired the Cameron County Dems in the ’90s, and Ruben Cortez, a sitting member of the State Board of Education who won re-election last year.

Stapleton-Barrera practices injury and constitutional law and criminal defense, but she’s politically inexperienced. Her campaign is founded on the idea the district needs new blood and on a promise to prioritize women and children. She’s been endorsed by the Cameron County Democratic Women, said Lucio’s not a “real Democrat,” and condemned his anti-equality views. “I’m 110 percent supportive of the LGBTQ community,” she told me over the phone. She’s also stressing the need for renewable energy and addressing climate change, an area where Lucio may be vulnerable: The senator voted to kill Denton’s fracking ban in 2015, and wrote a letter of support in March for one of three controversialliquefied natural gas plants proposed east of Brownsville. Stapleton-Barrera opposes the gas plants.

Seven months before writing the letter of support, Lucio accepted $5,000 from the company, Exelon, proposing the natural gas plant. Over the phone, Lucio told me he couldn’t remember who requested the letter and said his support for the gas plants depends on them operating in an environmentally “safe” way.

Stapleton-Barrera also hits Lucio for his tort reform record. “He’s taking money from the insurance companies and leaving people injured in a car wreck or by medical malpractice high and dry,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t take money from any PACs including TLR.

On abortion, Stapleton-Barrera is to Lucio’s left, but may not excite pro-choice advocates. In an email to me, she stole a line from the 1990s, saying abortion should be “legal, safe, and rare.” When pressed, she told me she would not support any further restrictions on abortion and would consider any measures loosening restrictions on a case-by-case basis. Her online platform doesn’t mention reproductive rights at all, and she told me she’s not making it a prominent part of her campaign because many in her district are anti-abortion.

Cortez has served on the state education board since 2013 and used his role to fight for Mexican-American studies; before that, he was on the Brownsville school board. In 2018 in Lucio’s senate district, Cortez got more votes than any other candidate, including Beto O’Rourke. (Lucio was not on the ballot.) Cortez, who currently represents an area larger than the state senate district, is attacking Lucio’s liberal bona fides. In a recently-posted bilingual announcement video, he slams Lucio for “consistently break[ing] his promise to carry forward the Democratic Party values” and accuses the senator of siding with “Trumpist Republicans” against Valley residents. According to the video, Cortez has endorsements from three local teachers’ unions and a letter carriers’ union.

But Cortez’s grasp of Lucio’s record appears a bit shaky. In the video and a separate post, he hits the senator for supporting a bill this year to allow more guns in schools, even linking the vote to the recent mass shooting in El Paso. Lucio, however, voted against that bill both in committee and on the floor. (Hinojosa, the McAllen-based state Senator, is the one who broke party ranks.) Cortez did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Money could be a problem for both challengers. In the first half of this year, Stapleton-Barrera raised around $4,000 and took about $20,000 in loans from her husband; as of July, Cortez had only about $1,000 on hand. Lucio couldn’t fundraise during the legislative session, but in the second half of last year he pulled in almost $350,000.

I’m a big non-fan of Sen. Lucio, so I’m happy to see him draw a couple of serious challengers, flawed though they may be. There’s a lot of attention being paid to the primary challenge in CD28, where national Democrats are funding a more progressive candidate against Congressman Henry Cuellar, whose record on many issues is as problematic as Lucio’s. I’m skeptical about that effort, in part because challenger Jessica Cisneros is flawed in her own ways, but it’s a worthwhile thing to try. Lucio is arguably a bigger impediment to progress than Cuellar, because he’s one of 31 Senators, giving him that much more influence in his chamber, whereas Cuellar is one 435 Congressfolk. The good news is that even if Lucio survives this race, every Senator will be up for election in 2022, so the next opportunity to have another go at him will be in short order.

Anyway. Stapleton-Barrera’s website is here. Cortez doesn’t appear to have any web presence, but his SBOE profile is here. Check them out, and I’ll keep an eye on this.

Try, try again

A lot of women ran for office as Democrats in 2018. A lot of them won, and a lot of them who didn’t win are trying again.

[Gina Ortiz Jones isn’t] the only woman who’s back for a second round.

In April, MJ Hegar, who got within three points of defeating U.S. Representative John Carter, an eight-term incumbent in a deep-red district north of Austin, announced she would challenge U.S. Senator John Cornyn. Julie Oliver, who lost Texas’ 25th Congressional District to three-term Republican Roger Williams, despite cutting a 21-point spread down to just under nine, is also running again. So is Kim Olson, the Democratic challenger who lost to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. This time she’s running to represent Texas’ 24th Congressional District, which spans the suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth.

At least six Democratic women who lost their bids for the Texas Legislature in 2018 are running again in 2020, says Monica Gomez, the political director at Annie’s List, a political action committee that supports progressive women running for state and local office in Texas. Two more are coming back to run for different seats. “We haven’t seen this kind of rededication to running again in Texas since Annie’s List was founded in 2003,” Gomez says. She estimates that in the organization’s history, a total of 10 candidates have run again after a loss. “So eight in one cycle is a very large increase.”

The record-breaking number of first-time female candidates who ran for office in 2018 led to a record-breaking number of first-time female officeholders: 127 women now serve in Congress, the most ever and a 23-seat increase from 2017. Despite these gains, women remain grossly underrepresented in public office at every level. Women hold 24 percent of seats in the 116th U.S. Congress and 29 percent of statewide executive positions across the country. Texas sends 38 people to Congress; in 2019, only six of them are women. In the Texas Legislature, women hold 43 of 181 seats, or 24 percent—five points lower than the national average.

Why are women persistently underrepresented in politics? Over the past decade, a body of research has established that when women run, they win elections at the same rate as men. Melanie Wasserman, an economist at UCLA who studies occupational segregation by gender, wanted to learn more. So in 2018 she analyzed the political trajectories of more than 11,000 candidates over two decades in local California elections, focusing on how candidates responded after losing an election. She found that women were 56 percent less likely than men to run again after a loss, noting what she called a “gender gap in persistence.”

“If I make the assumption that the candidates who drop out have similar chances of winning as those that run again, then the gender gap in persistence can explain quite a lot of the gender gap in officeholding,” Wasserman told the Observer. “It would increase female representation among officeholders at the local level by 17 percent.”

In other words, perhaps we should be paying more attention to the losers—the women who run, lose, and choose to run again.

I’ve discussed some repeat Congressional candidates before; several of the second-shot brigade are men as well. The candidates mentioned in this story are:

MJ Hegar (Senate, previously CD31)
Gina Ortiz Jones (CD23)
Kim Olson (CD24, previously Ag Commissioner)
Julie Oliver (CD25)
Sarah DeMerchant (HD26)
Joanna Cattanach (HD108)

Others for Congress that could have been mentioned:

Jennie Lou Leeder (CD21, previously CD11)
Adrienne Bell (CD14)
Jan McDowell (CD24)
Christine Eady Mann (CD31)

As for the other legislative candidates, I’d say Eliz Markowitz (SBOE in 2018, HD28 in 2020) counts, and it looks like Natali Hurtado is doing it again in HD126. That leaves four more, going by Monica Gomez’s math, and I have no idea who they may be. Please leave a comment if you do know.

Not all of these candidates will make it to November, of course. All except Markowitz and Hurtado have at least one primary opponent as far as I can tell. McDowell and Olson are running for the same seat (with others in the mix as well), Leeder is unlikely to make it past Wendy Davis, and of course Hegar is in a pleasantly crowded field. I’ve been idly wondering if she might do what some had been crying for Beto to do and get back into the race she’d run last time, in CD31 where no other candidates of her stature have emerged yet. I doubt it – she’s still a strong contender for the Senate nom, and if anyone else has had the same thought as I have, I’ve not seen them express it – but anything is possible up till the filing deadline. DeMerchant will face off against Suleman Lalani and Rish Oberoi, while Cattanach has Shawn Terry. Point being, there are still more chapters of this story to be written. The next one will be out in December.

UPDATE: Forgot about Sema Hernandez for the federal races. Still don’t know who the other four repeat legislative candidates are.

UPDATE: I have been informed about a couple of “try again”-ers for this year. Brandy Chambers (HD112) and Celina Montoya (HD121) are both repeat candidates from 2018. Ann Johnson (HD134) ran in 2012 and is running again.

Five for fleeing

There goes another one.

Rep. Bill Flores

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores announced Wednesday morning that he would not run for reelection in 2020 — making him the fifth Texas Republican to announce his retirement from Congress.

“Serving my country as the Representative of the hardworking Texas families in the 17th Congressional District has been an honor and one of the greatest privileges of my life,” Flores said in a statement. “Following the end of my current term in January 2021, I look forward to spending much more time with my family and our grandchildren,” he said in a statement. “I also intend to resume business activities in the private sector and to stay politically active on a federal, state and local level.”

Flores joins several other Texas Republicans in Congress who are not running for reelection — U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway and Will Hurd.

[…]

Flores represents the 17th district, which stretches across a swath of Central Texas encompassing Waco, College Station and a small cut of north Austin. It is a reliably conservative district, and unlike the districts of several of the departing GOP Texans, the 17th did not see a marked Democratic surge in the 2018 midterms. His departure does not seem to be one of retreat in the face of steeper reelection odds.

A surge, no, but 2018 was a high water mark for Dems in CD17:


Year      CCA R    CCA D
========================
2012      57.9%    38.1%
2014      62.4%    33.5%
2016      58.9%    36.5%
2018      55.6%    41.7%
2018 Sen  54.3%    44.8%

The CCA numbers all come from races with a Republican, a Democrat, and a Libertarian. I included the Beto-Cruz race at the bottom for comparison. CD17 was never on the radar, in part because it was and is more Republican than other contested districts, and in part because 2018 Dem candidate Rick Kennedy didn’t raise much money. Kennedy is running again, but Flores’ departure may draw the interest of someone who can run more vigorously. That person will have to be a self-starter because this race will not get any national interest – if CD17 is seen as competitive, then Dems are already likely to flip a bunch of seats – but CD17 includes all of HD14, which is a Dem target for the Lege, so having a strong candidate here has ancillary benefits. I’ll be interested to see who emerges on both sides. Daily Kos, Think Progress, and the Texas Signal have more.

McCaul’s hustle

Turns out, running for re-election is hard work.

Rep. Mike McCaul

Rep. Michael McCaul does not have to be here, at Carl’s BBQ on the side of a highway, in a wood-paneled backroom, seated at a bare table in front of a stuffed, life-size buck whose antlers hold a sign saying, “NEVER moon a werewolf.”

He doesn’t have to drive east two and a half hours from his home in Austin to find brisket this good, but here is where his voters are. And after the last election, his worst in his 15-year political career, the Republican congressman decided he needs to campaign for them like never before.

McCaul could be forgiven for retiring. In the past four weeks, four of his fellow Texas Republican colleagues have done so — a political phenomenon nicknamed “Texodus” — including two members who represent suburban districts similar to McCaul’s. The Democrats flipped the House in 2018, suddenly making life miserable for GOP members now in the minority, and targeted half a dozen of the members of Congress in Texas, including him. To win, McCaul has to, for the first time, actually try; His once-safe district stretching from Austin to Houston is changing faster than he expected, threatening to throw him out.

But when faced with fight or flight, McCaul chose the former. He changed his campaign staff, including hiring Corry Bliss, who led the top Republican-affiliated super PAC for House races in 2018, as a general consultant. Last quarter, McCaul claimed a personal fundraising record. His team boasted the earliest field program of any incumbent Republican in America, one it says has already knocked on 10,000 doors. In the past week, McCaul met with local chamber of commerce officials, AARP constituents and local journalists. He toured car dealerships. He led a consortium on how to address human trafficking. And he hit three barbecue joints in three days.

“I decided if I’m going to do this again, I’m going to work it hard, maybe harder than I ever have,” McCaul told CNN.

In a 25-minute interview this week, McCaul blamed the Texas Republicans’ drubbing last cycle “in large part” to the top of the ticket. GOP Sen. Ted Cruz lost the big four metropolitan regions — “something no top-of-the-ticket Republican nominee had done since Barry Goldwater in 1964,” who faced native son and President Lyndon B. Johnson, according to a University of Houston study. McCaul noted that Cruz, who was “not as likeable” and unable to “fully” energize his party’s base voters, lost his district to then-Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who created a following McCaul called “Beto-mania.” (A source close to the Cruz operation responded that McCaul raised more than triple the amount of his Democratic opponent and still “almost lost.”)

[…]

In recent years, the populations of Latinos, African Americans and Asians in McCaul’s district have boomed. Between 2012 and 2017, Latinos grew from 26% to 29% of the population as over 60,000 moved there or were born, according to American Community Survey figures pointed out by Potter. The white population increased but more slowly than other races, and shrunk as a percentage of the district from 58% to 52%.

Rep. Marc Veasey, a Texas Democrat, said the population explosion could yield the state two or three more congressional seats after the next census. But he said that rapid demographic change was just one reason why these suburban seats have become competitive after so long, saying the voters “have really had enough of this President — and Republicans not pushing back against a lot of what they see as wrong for the country.”

Siegel, physician Dr. Pritesh Gandhi and Shannon Hutcheson, a lawyer whose clients include Planned Parenthood, are all vying to be the Democratic nominee to take on McCaul. Democrats are confident that the mix of Trump at the top of the ticket, fundamental demographic changes and a message centering on health care and protecting the Affordable Care Act will flip the seat.

The Democrats also don’t think McCaul is well-known even after winning eight terms in office and call his claims of a reinvigorated field campaign overblown. According to a copy of McCaul’s schedule of the past two weeks obtained by CNN, the congressman had one door-knocking event but canceled it. When CNN toured the block, which included a home hoisting a Trump flag out front, a couple potential voters said they didn’t recognize McCaul’s name, but they would vote for him so long that he was Republican.

I love both the faux-blockwalking story and the Ted Cruz shade. Who says politics is boring? The story is cool and all, but I’m going to boil this all down to a couple of tables:


County    McCaul   Cadien     Diff
==================================
Harris    68,540   22,459   46,081
Travis    37,493   51,400  -13,907
Others    53,750   21,851   31,899

Total    159,783   95,710   64,073

County    McCaul   Siegel     Diff
==================================
Harris    71,717   40,820   30,897
Travis    30,857   80,864  -50,007
Others    54,592   22,350   32,242

Total    157,166  144,034   13,132

Mike McCaul got slightly fewer votes in 2018 than he did in 2012, while Mike Siegel got nearly 50K more votes than Tawana Cadien did. All of the improvement in Siegel’s vote totals came from Harris and Travis counties. The small rural counties in between produced essentially the same totals and margins each year. If Dems can squeeze a bit more out of the two big counties (*), they can win this seat. As before, that’s going to be a combination of relentless voter registration and GOTV, which I can guarantee will involve actual blockwalking. The path forward is clear.

(*) For what it’s worth, Siegel improved slightly on Cadien’s performance in Bastrop County, reducing the margin there from 2,353 for McCaul in 2012 to 1,691. It’s worth expending some effort there, in part because every vote will matter and in part because I at least still have hope that Bastrop will start to go the way of Hays County, but the fat part of the target remains the two biggest counties.

Is there anything Houston can do about gun violence?

Not much, unfortunately.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday said he wants state lawmakers to give cities and counties more flexibility to address gun violence in response to mass shootings this month that killed 31 people, including 22 in El Paso.

Turner made the remarks at City Hall while calling for a special session of the Texas Legislature on the issue of gun violence.

Current state law mostly forbids local governments from passing measures that restrict gun usage.

Among the items Turner said he would like to pursue are background checks on firearms sales at gun shows, including those that have been held at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“If I could do it today, I would do it today,” Turner told reporters. “But the state has preempted us.”

[…]

In March, Turner announced the city was establishing a task force to combat local gun violence. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has been an outspoken advocate for stricter gun laws, telling Congress earlier this year that gun violence is “one of the greatest public health epidemics facing the nation.”

Turner also allocated $1 million for police overtime pay in April to help officers fight gun violence.

Turner’s comments Wednesday echo those made last week by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who floated the idea of ending the use of county property for gun shows. The county, however, has no power to enact ordinances.

Hidalgo said Wednesday she is working with Turner on a proposal to take “whatever action we can.”

“We are hamstrung by the legislature. They have passed laws specifically preventing us from making policy around gun safety,” Hidalgo said. “We’re really looking under every nook and cranny for what can be done.”

Dru Stevenson, a law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said the state’s lock on local action largely is absolute.

“The state preempts municipalities from having any type of gun control regulation at all,” Stevenson said.

Even Hidalgo’s idea about ending use of county buildings for gun shows likely would not pass muster, according to Stevenson, due to how strict the state preemptions are.

“They’re more likely to get away with it informally than if they adopt a policy,” he said. “Behind the scenes pressure or incentives might work, but the gun shows are big and lucrative for the conference centers.”

There may be some other things the city could try, but the story doesn’t suggest anything interesting. As with a number of other vexing issues, the real solution lies in another level of government. Really, both state and federal for this one, but there’s probably more direct action that could be taken at the state level, if only by undoing the restrictions that have been imposed. That means the first real chance to get something done will be at the federal level, if all goes well in 2020. We’re not getting anything done in Austin until Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, at the very least, have been sent packing.

The psychological shift

I have three things to say about this.

[Democratic operative Jason] Stanford has a theory about how [Texas Democratic] angst started. He says it began with the 1996 U.S. Senate race in Texas. Democrats were recovering from losing two years earlier and were hoping to stem another round of losses.

As a result, he says, the primary was stacked with impressive candidates running to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Phil Gramm. The field included two incumbent congressmen, a county party chair and a teacher named Victor Morales, who eventually won the nomination.

The race was relatively close, but Morales lost.

“After we lost, that was two losses in a row and Democrats lost hope for generation,” Stanford says.

For years after, he says, it was hard to convince people to run for office as a Democrat in the state.

“We couldn’t get good people to run,” he says. “We would just try to fill the ballot instead of recruiting actually good candidates.”

That’s partially why the last time a Democrat won a statewide election of any kind was back in 1994.

Even though Democrats have still been shut out of statewide races, in the past few years, the party has been able to get at least one thing back: hope.

“The political changes are astronomical in Texas,” says Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

[…]

After 2016, Democratic-leaning Texans who had been sitting out elections started to vote again.

“I think of it like a seat with four legs,” Rottinghaus says. “You’ve got white progressives, you’ve got young people, you’ve got people of color, and you’ve got low-income people. That forms the platform for the Democratic Party. And in all of those elements, you’ve got increases in voting.”

In the 2018 election, Texas had higher voter turnout among all those groups. Republicans had been winning statewide races by double-digit margins, but that year a Democratic Senate candidate lost by only 2.6 percentage points.

Rottinghaus says this trend bodes well for Democrats in 2020, but a win is not a sure thing.

“There’s no guarantee Texas will be blue or any statewide office will be won,” he says. “But the pieces are in place to be able to be competitive. And that’s what Democrats are looking for and why a lot of people are running for these positions.”

In the past several weeks, a slew of candidates has announced they want to run against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year.

The field is up to nine candidates, including former Congressman Chris Bell, state Sen. Royce West, Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards and former congressional candidate MJ Hegar. Most recently, Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, a well-known immigrant rights and political activist, said she’s joining the race, too.

“Good candidates are just showing up,” Stanford says. “It’s amazing. This is a huge sea change.”

1. The story calls it a “psychological shift”, and I’ve called it “changing the narrative”, but we both refer to the fact that now everyone believes that the state is competitive for Democrats. The previous belief that basically all of the elections, save for a couple of swing districts, were settled in the primaries, is no longer operative. This isn’t just wild-eyed optimism by Democrats or a scare story being used in fundraising emails by Republicans. Democrats actually did make Texas competitive in 2018, and despite some chest-thumping by Republicans about it all being about Beto, the objective evidence suggests we are in for more of the same this year. And everyone with skin in the game is acting accordingly. That’s how you get five experienced politicians, all of whom come with fundraising promise, lining up to take on John Cornyn.

2. The fundraising bit is important in ways that can’t be overstated. Only two Democrats since the 2002 debacle have raised sufficient money to truly compete statewide, Bill White in 2010 and Wendy Davis in 2014. Beto broke through on this in a big way in 2018, but he was the only one who did. Other statewide candidates, who ran against deeply flawed opponents and who came almost as close as Beto did to win, did not get that kind of support. Would Mike Collier, or Justin Nelson, or Kim Olson have done better if they had had $10 million or more to work with? We’ll never know, but I’m confident that the candidates on the 2022 statewide slate will not have it as tough as they did. And I hear a lot less now about how Texas is just an ATM for Democratic candidates everywhere else.

3. To an extent, the shift began right after the 2016 election, with the swarm of candidates who entered the Congressional races and raised a ton of money in them. That was part of the national wave, of course, so it was in its way a separate thing, but still. I spent all of that cycle talking about how unprecedented much of it was, in particular the fundraising. The point I’m making here is that this shift didn’t begin post-Beto, it’s been going on for two years now. The main difference is that it’s happening at a statewide level, and not just downballot.

No Rocket

What a world we live in.

Roger Clemens (AP Photo/David Goldman)


Pitching great Roger Clemens didn’t shy away from many battles in his major league career, but politics is something he’s not willing to take on.

Clemens had been encouraged to run as a Republican candidate for the seat of Texas Republican Rep. Pete Olson, who announced his retirement last month.

The 57-year-old Clemens said he was honored but had “no interest” in running for office.

“The climate in politics at this time is much more than I would want to undertake, along with my family considerations,” Clemens said in a message to Olson that was obtained by ABC News.

“I am a Republican and I support our President and will continue to do so,” Clemens said. “No matter who our President may be, I will continue my support of them and root for them to be successful, just as I did when President Obama was in office.

“I will … do all I can to continue to promote the quality of life issues that we respect and try to maintain as citizens of the State of Texas and the United States.”

I’m not on vacation, but this still resonated with me:

Anyway. The Chron version of this story notes that Clemens would have been the second Republican to run for CD22 if he had gotten in, following Pearland City Council member Greg Hill. I checked the FEC finance reports page, and they missed a few potential wannabes:

Greg Hill
Matthew Hinton
Thaddeus Walz
Kathaleen Wall

Yes, that Kathaleen Wall. We are both blessed and cursed. The Chron did note her candidacy in a separate story.

One more thing. Compare that list to the lineup from the 2008 Republican primary in CD22. CD22 wasn’t open that year, but it was held by Democrat Nick Lampson after his win over write-in candidate Shelley Sekula Gibbs, which was the fallout from Tom DeLay’s resignation that he tried to paint as withdrawing from the race because he was no longer eligible after “moving” to Virginia. In addition to eventual winner Olson (who had been on John Cornyn’s staff) and the immortal Shelley, that lineup included the former Mayors of Sugar Land (Dean Hrbacek) and Pasadena (John Manlove), former State Rep. Robert Talton, and future SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. To say the least, the people lining up now to keep CD22 red have a whole lot less gravitas than the 2008 bunch. Put another way, the Republican bench is looking thin. I don’t know about you, but the lack of interest in this once solid GOP seat tells me something.

Once again with GOP anxiety

I recommend Xanax. Or, you know, marijuana. I’ve heard that’s good for anxiety.

Not Ted Cruz

Republicans have long idealized Texas as a deep-red frontier state, home to rural conservatives who love President Donald Trump. But political turbulence in the sprawling suburbs and fast-growing cities are turning the Lone Star State into a possible 2020 battleground.

“The president’s reelection campaign needs to take Texas seriously,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in an interview. He added that while he remains optimistic about the GOP’s chances, it is “by no means a given” that Trump will carry Texas – and win its 38 electoral votes – next year or that Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, will be reelected.

For a state that once elevated the Bush family and was forged into a Republican stronghold by Karl Rove, it is an increasingly uncertain time. Changing demographics and a wave of liberal activism have given new hope to Democrats, who have not won a statewide elected office since 1994 or Texas’ presidential vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Recent Republican congressional retirements have stoked party concerns, particularly the surprising Thursday announcement by a rising star, Rep. Will Hurd, that he would not seek reelection in his highly competitive district, which stretches east from El Paso along the Mexican border.

[…]

According to the Texas Tribune, nearly 9 million Texans showed up to the polls in 2016, when Trump won the state by nine percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton – a notably smaller margin than in 2012, when Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama by nearly 16 percentage points.

And in 2018, turnout was nearly at presidential-cycle levels at 8 million, compared with 4.6 million in 2014, the previous midterm election year.

Cruz said those figures should alarm Republicans nationally about potential Democratic turnout in 2020 – and make donors and party leaders recommit to investing in statewide and congressional races in Texas rather than assuming that Trump’s political brand and a few rallies will be enough.

The suburbs are where Texas Republicans are most vulnerable, Cruz said, noting that O’Rourke made inroads in 2018 in the highly populated suburbs outside Dallas and Austin, and in other urban areas.

U.S. Census data shows Texas is home to the nation’s fastest-growing cities, and an analysis last month by two University of Houston professors predicted that “metropolitan growth in Texas will certainly continue, along with its ever-growing share of the vote – 68 percent of the vote in 2016.”

“Historically, the cities have been bright blue and surrounded by bright red doughnuts of Republican suburban voters,” Cruz said. “What happened in 2018 is that those bright red doughnuts went purple – not blue, but purple. We’ve got to do a more effective job of carrying the message to the suburbs.”

This is a national story, reprinted in the Chron, so it doesn’t have much we haven’t seen before. I’d say that the historic strength of Republicans here has been in the suburbs and exurbs – the fast-growing parts of the state – which is similar to GOP strength elsewhere. It’s also where they suffered the greatest erosion of that strength in 2018, and if that continues in 2020 they really do have to worry about losing statewide. Honestly, loath as I am to say it, Ted Cruz has a pretty good handle on the dynamic. Not that he’ll be able to do anything about it, being Ted Cruz and all, but he does understand the predicament he and his fellow travelers are in.

CD23 update

The Rivard Report takes a look at the state of play in CD23 following Rep. Will Hurd’s surprise retirement.

Gina Ortiz Jones

In the wake of Hurd’s announcement, former U.S. Navy officer Tony Gonzales, a Republican, has entered the race. Gonzales was not 24 hours into his campaign for the 35th Congressional District, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), when he got the news Hurd would be leaving office. That’s when a flurry of phone calls and texts came in urging him to declare his candidacy for the 23rd district.

“No one saw Congressman Hurd retiring,” Gonzales said. “It was kind of a shock to a lot of folks.”

Unlike statehouse seats and other elected positions that require candidates to establish residency within the district one seeks to represent, running for the U.S. Congress only requires residency in the state in which one is running for office.

Gonzales has joined a field in the Republican primary that includes retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Raul Reyes Jr., who owns a home construction business in Del Rio, and Uvalde dentist Alma Arredondo-Lynch, who challenged Hurd in the 2018 primary. That list could potentially grow in light of Hurd’s exit from the race.

Reyes has a five-month head start on Gonzales and has raised more than $15,000 in campaign contributions. He had more than $9,000 cash on hand as of the last quarterly report to the Federal Elections Commission. Arredondo-Lynch did not report any campaign contributions last quarter.

But Gonzales has garnered significant endorsements in his incipient campaign. On the day the Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran announced his run, he picked up the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, who represented the 23rd district for 14 years. Days later, another former Republican representative of the 23rd district, Quico Canseco, endorsed Gonzales’ bid.

[…]

Altogether, the news of Hurd’s impending exit was both a surprise and not a surprise, [Gina Ortiz] Jones said.

“We came within 926 votes of taking out the most formidable Republican, raised $6 million to do it,” she said. “We’re going to work just as hard. So I think he saw the writing on the wall.”

But the decision to run again was not taken lightly, Jones said. The U.S. Air Force veteran who served as an intelligence officer during her service was so close in the last election that she held off conceding for two weeks until all outstanding ballots were counted. The John Jay High School alumna even attended orientation for freshmen members of Congress.

“You don’t go through that and say, ‘Let’s do that all over again,’” she said. “You assess and say, ‘What did I learn?’ For me, it’s always been about how best can I serve. When I made the decision, it was always based on the fact that my community’s needs were still not being met.”

In the Democratic primary, Jones will face former broadcast journalist Liz Wahl and activist and surgical practice administrator Rosey Abuabara.

Abuabara, 54, a Latina who was born and raised in West San Antonio, said she believes she can better represent a district that is 70 percent Hispanic, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.

“I wanted to come up and represent because we are the largest population,” she said. “I feel like I could do more.”

Just a guess here, but Tony Gonzales sure sounds like the establishment candidate for CD23. The amount that Raul Reyes has raised so far is not at all an obstacle, and you can be sure there will be big Republican money coming in. I’ll be a little surprised if an Anglo candidate doesn’t get in on the Republican side, because why wouldn’t an Anglo candidate get into that primary? History suggests any such candidate will have a shot.

Gina Ortiz Jones is for sure the establishment candidate on the Dem side, having done everything but eke out the win in 2018. It remains to be seen how much of a challenge Rosey Abuabara will present to her (no, I’m not taking Liz Wahl seriously). She got in too late to have a Q2 finance report, so we don’t know yet what her fundraising chops are. The high turnout in the primary will likely help Abuabara, but Ortiz Jones got 102,359 votes in 2018, so the voters should know who she is. Ortiz Jones should prevail – ask me again how confident I feel about that after the Q3 numbers are in – but don’t take this for granted.

UPDATE: As I said, I’m not taking Liz Wahl’s candidacy seriously, but here’s a story about her, if you’re interested.

With silver linings like these…

…Who needs misfortune?

Even Texas Republicans are a bit amused with the clever new Democratic battle cry that’s emerged amid a recent spate of GOP congressional retirements: “Texodus.”

First came U.S. Rep. Pete Olson of Sugar Land on July 25. Then U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland, Will Hurd of Helotes and, on Monday, Kenny Marchant of Coppell.

Hurd’s unexpected exit set off concern within the Republican political class. But otherwise, according to interviews with state and national Republican operatives, there is a widespread sense that turnover within the delegation is healthy for the party.

“Of course, it’s hard to lose strong incumbents, but there is good reason for optimism — it will create a needed sense of urgency beyond the GOP and the base that will be critical to keeping Texas red and reminding Democrats that their movement toward socialism has no place in the state,” said Catherine Frazier, a veteran of the Rick Perry and Ted Cruz political operations.

“These open seats are a great opportunity to put our best candidates forward, to instill a shot of energy to Republicans statewide and lay waste to the tens of millions national Democrats will spend in a futile effort to win Texas,” she added, echoing many of her colleagues.

Yeah, keep telling yourselves that.

Democrats scoff at the GOP optimism.

“What’s necessarily good for Republican consultants may not be good for the size of the Republican conference come January 2021,” said Avery Jaffe, a spokesman for the House Democratic campaign arm.

“Jerry Jones should check on his stadium because that is the most shameless incident of moving the goal posts Texas has ever seen,” he added.

His state party counterpart concurred.

“That is complete spin,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s something where everybody knows it’s easier to run with an incumbent than with an open seat.”

Both men further pointed out that an open seat usually translates into a crowded primary, wherein a nominee usually emerges in the May runoff with little money in his or her campaign account. In contrast, incumbents rarely face serious primary challenges and enter the general election with millions to spend.

Now to be fair, I scoff at that crowded primary/runoff trope when it’s being peddled about Democratic Senate candidates, and I scoff at it here when it involves Republican Congressional candidates as well. You know who was involved in expensive crowded primaries and runoffs recently? Reps. Lizzie Fletcher, Colin Allred, Dan Crenshaw, Chip Roy, and Ron Wright in 2018, that’s who. I guarantee you, the Republican candidates for CDs 22, 23, and 24 will have money. They may be facing strong headwinds, but they’ll have the resources they need to compete.

Before the 2018 midterms, nearly all of the House Republicans from Texas were white men ranging in age from their 50s into their 80s. While Republicans are careful not to slight the outgoing members, there is a sense that the House GOP delegation had become stagnant. Most cycles, only one or two members retired.

But Republicans have a deep bench in the state. And as soon as these retirements went public, the names of viable potential candidate immediately floated. Furthermore, Republicans argue, younger candidates will not have the baggage of long Congressional records to contend with in a general election campaign.

I mean, sure, some of these incumbents had little going for them beyond their campaign finance accounts. But the problem now isn’t the candidates themselves, it’s their close association with Donald Trump. And while the size of the primary fields or the necessity of runoffs isn’t a problem for the GOP, the need for their replacement candidates to hug Trump even harder than the outgoing incumbents did is. You can swap out the players, but the director remains the same.

Marchant joins the exodus

The line at the door keeps growing.

Rep. Kenny Marchant

U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant will not seek reelection in 2020, two sources confirmed to The Texas Tribune late Sunday.

He is the fourth member of the Texas delegation to announce his retirement in recent days. Marchant’s decision was first reported by The New York Times.

Marchant, who was elected to Congress in 2004, is a founding member of the House Tea Party Caucus. He represents Texas’ 24th Congressional District, which spans the northern suburbs of Forth Worth and Dallas. The district has historically been reliably red, but Marchant’s margins of victory have grown thinner in recent elections. In 2016, he won by a comfortable two-digit margin. Last year, Marchant squeaked by with a 3 point win over Democrat Jan McDowell.

[…]

The senior representative joins an exodus of Texas Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd. In several cases, members have stepped down ahead of facing toss-up races for seats they could once hold without much effort.

As you may recall, the Politico story that ran the day before Will Hurd’s retirement announcement named Marchant and Rep. Mike McCaul in CD10 as rumored leavers. They’re one for two so far. As we know, Beto carried CD24, and it’s entirely possible that a better candidate might have already sent him packing. Be that as it may, there are multiple candidates running now, with Kim Olson, Crystal Fletcher, and Candace Valenzuela all doing well in fundraising. As with CDs 22 and 23, I don’t expect Marchant’s quitting to have much effect on the Democratic field – this was already a top tier race, and people were already drawn to it. I do expect a scramble on the Republican side, but we’ll leave that for another day.

One final note about Marchant, whose statement is here. Like Mike Conaway, he was the beneficiary of a district drawn just for him in the 2003 DeLay re-redistricting. They don’t draw ’em like they used to, I guess. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on Mike McCaul and any other potential retirees out there. Daily Kos has more.

UPDATE: Also from dKos:

Team Red still has a large bench here despite the changing political winds, and they quickly got their first candidate when former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who resigned from her post at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday, told the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek that she was in. Van Duyne had been mentioned as a candidate for the nearby 32nd district, but that seat contains none of her Irving base.

There are several other Republicans who could run here including the congressman’s son, former Carrollton Mayor Matthew Marchant. The younger Marchant said Mondayhe was “[g]etting a lot of encouragement, but I’m focusing on my dad’s years of service today.” Former GOP state Rep. Matt Rinaldi also didn’t rule anything out, saying he’d “received numerous calls asking me to consider running but haven’t yet made a decision either way.” Last year, Rinaldi lost the general election by a brutal 57-43 margin in a seat that backed Clinton 52-44.

The National Journal also name drops former state Rep. Ron Simmons and state Sen. Jane Nelson as possible contenders. However, former state Sen. Konni Burton quickly said no.

Should be a fun primary on their side.

Rep. Mike Conaway to retire

We will have at least three new members of Congress from Texas in 2021.

Rep. Mike Conaway

Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas will not seek reelection in 2020, according to multiple GOP sources, becoming the fifth Republican to announce their retirement over the past two weeks.

Conaway, a veteran lawmaker who represents a ruby red district, has a news conference scheduled for Wednesday in Midland, but did not specify a topic. Republican sources, however, are expecting him to say he’s retiring. His office declined to comment.

Conaway has served in Congress for 15 years, but stepped into the national spotlight in 2017 when he was tasked with leading the House Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The panel’s then-chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), had agreed to step aside from the investigation amid ethics charges against him.

Conaway, 71, is also the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee and has served stints in the leadership of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s political arm. Conaway, an accountant, once used his accounting expertise to uncover an embezzlement scheme at the NRCC.

A longtime ally of George W. Bush, Conaway worked as chief financial officer of Bush Exploration, an oil and gas firm, in the 1980s. When Bush was governor of Texas, he appointed Conaway a state board of accountants.

Conaway joins Reps. Pete Olson and Will Hurd in heading for the exit; Conaway’s new hit before Hurd’s did, but Hurd’s was the bigger deal. The main difference here is that CD22 is basically a tossup and CD23 could now be called “lean Dem”, while Conaway’s CD11 is as red as it gets; he won with 80% of the vote in 2018. All the action for that one is gonna be in March. The only other point of interest I can think of for this is that CD11 as it is now configured exists because then-Speaker Tom Craddick insisted on creating a Midland-anchored Congressional district during the 2003 DeLay re-redistricting. He won over those who wanted to keep Midland in the old CD19, where Lubbock was the center of gravity, and here we are today. Conaway was the hand-picked beneficiary of Craddick’s political heft. Sure is good to have friends in high places. The Trib has more.

Rep. Will Hurd to step down

Wow. I did not see this coming.

Rep. Will Hurd

The U.S. House’s last black Republican member, Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes, announced Thursday that he is retiring from Congress. President Donald Trump’s racist comments about elected officials weighed heavily on Hurd, who has often spoken out against the rhetoric.

In announcing his resignation on Twitter, he alluded to future plans, but provided no specifics.

“I have made the decision to not seek reelection for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security,” he wrote.

It was unclear as the news broke whether or not state or national Republicans have a back-up plan for a candidate in this district. Several state and national Republican operatives reached out to the Tribune to react to the news. Nearly all of the commentary involved highly explicit language.

It is apparent that this reelection would have been difficult.

Veteran Gina Ortiz Jones nearly defeated Hurd last cycle, and Democrats were emphatic that they would put all of their muscle in helping her capture this district, which has become something of a white whale for the party.

Emphasis mine. I’d feel sorry for those SOBs if they deserved any sympathy, but they don’t. I do however have an idea of why they’re so upset, and it’s because they’re in the same state I am, which is caught off guard. I mean, earlier that same day came this Politico piece about potential Republican retirements, and well, see for yourself:

Among those on the retirement watch list include older members, like Hal Rogers of Kentucky, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Don Young of Alaska; moderates, like Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon; lawmakers facing tougher races, like Texans Michael McCaul and Kenny Marchant, and Ann Wagner of Missouri; and the two members under indictment, Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York.

History suggests that an uptick in retirements is common for the minority party after a shift in power. More than a dozen House Democrats left Congress after the 2010 tea party wave that swept Republicans back to power — and seven House Republicans have already announced their departures from politics, just seven months into the cycle.

“Unfortunately, I am afraid there may be more coming,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports centrist Republicans in swing districts.

The pile-up of retirements could complicate the GOP’s path back to the majority after a bruising midterm election. Almost immediately after Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) announced he would not seek reelection last week, election forecasters shifted the race from “lean Republican” to “toss-up.”

Olson, who came to Congress in 2009, would have faced a competitive reelection battle in his district in the Houston suburbs, where he just narrowly fended off a Democratic challenger last year. And Democrats are dumping resources into Texas this cycle, hoping to build on their gains in the midterms.

“Texas is the biggest battleground state. Republicans know it,” said Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party. “We wouldn’t be surprised if there were more retirements because Republicans know their 2020 prospects in Texas are doomed.”

I guarantee you, if there had been any whispers of Hurd hitting the exit, it would have been in that story. This was a bolt from the blue, and it had to have left a mark. Good. Also, too, if McCaul and Marchant drop out, the Republicans are really in a world of hurt.

As for Dem opposition in CD23, Gina Ortiz Jones is off to a fast start in fundraising. She has two opponents in the primary so far, though only Rosey Aburabara looks like a serious challenger. I don’t expect anyone else with any heft to get in on the Dem side. I have no idea who might get in on the Republican side, but my best guess would be someone from the Bexar County part of the district.

One more thing:

Because I love you all, I can and will tell you that the others are:

Ted Poe (CD02)
Sam Johnson (CD03)
Jeb Hensarling (CD05)
Joe Barton (CD06)
John Culberson (CD07)
Mike Conaway (CD11)
Rubén Hinojosa (CD15)
Beto O’Rourke (CD16)
Randy Neugebauer (CD19)
Lamar Smith (CD21)
Pete Olson (CD22)
Will Hurd (CD23)
Blake Farenthold (CD27)
Gene Green (CD29)
Pete Sessions (CD32)

As noted later by Svitek, that doesn’t include John Ratcliffe (CD04), who is reported to be Trump’s pick for Director of National Intelligence. Add in McCaul and Marchant and we’d have turned over more than half the delegation in the last three elections. That’s pretty amazing.

An update on election security

Nothing to see here.

Russian hackers probed election systems in all 50 states, a new Senate report confirmed Thursday.

The report comes one day after former special counsel Robert Mueller told Congress that the Russian government is working to meddle in U.S. elections “as we sit here.”

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller said Wednesday of Russia’s 2016 election interference. “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

The bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released Thursday confirmed previous comments by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that Russian hackers scanned election systems in all 50 states ahead of the 2016 presidential election. DHS initially acknowledged Russian attempts to hack into election systems in just 21 states.

[…]

Democrats used Mueller’s testimony Wednesday as the backdrop to bring a trio of election security bills to the Senate floor, but Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) blocked each one in succession.

Two of the measures, one by Warner and the other by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would require campaigns to report offers of foreign support. The third, by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), would have allowed the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms to help secure personal electronic devices belonging to senators and their staff.

Hyde-Smith has not said why she blocked the measures, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has long opposed bringing election-security measures up for vote. Last year, for example, Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chair Roy Blunt (R-MO) accused McConnell of blocking another election security bill, explaining that McConnell believed the issue “reaches no conclusion.”

“[McConnell] has a long history of opposing election reform,” Wyden told ThinkProgress earlier this year. “And he’s got people in his caucus who’ll do a lot of the heavy lifting for him.”

Remain calm, all is well.

Senate Intel Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC), and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) each issued statements with the report’s release. Burr said that in 2016, the United States was “unprepared at all levels of government” for attacks on election infrastructure, and has improved in the time since. Burr noted that the Department of Homeland Security and state election officials have a much better working relationship than before, but that “still much work remains to be done.”

It’s unclear whether Burr considers federal elections security legislation as part of the work that remains to be done. Mitch McConnell, Burr’s Republican colleague and the Senate majority leader, has prevented most of this type of legislation from coming to the Senate floor, arguing that Congress has done enough and that pending election security legislation is merely the Democrats’ effort to usurp states’ rights and bolster their chances at the polls.

Warner, who a day ago was part of a group of Congressional Democrats that blasted McConnell for holding up election security legislation, alluded to the need to get past the partisan gridlock. “I hope the bipartisan findings and recommendations outlined in this report will underscore to the White House and all of our colleagues, regardless of political party, that this threat remains urgent, and we have a responsibility to defend our democracy against it,” he said in a statement.

The report notes that the Russian operation dates back to “at least 2014.” It reveals that state and local officials, who are mostly in charge of running elections, “were not sufficiently warned or prepared to handle an attack from a hostile nation-state actor,” and that officials at all levels of the government debated whether to publicly acknowledge what was happening, with some concerned that disclosing it “might promote the very impression they were trying to dispel—that the voting systems were insecure.” At the time, McConnell took an active role in preventing further public disclosure of the Russian operation, theWashington Post reported in December 2016.

Go about your business.

Hacking individual voting machines would be an inefficient way to throw an election. But J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist who has tested vulnerabilities for more than a decade, testified to the Senate committee that he and his team “created attacks that can spread from machine to machine, like a computer virus, and silently change election outcomes.” They studied touch-screen and optical-scan systems, and “in every single case,” he said, “we found ways for attackers to sabotage machines and steal votes.”

Another way to throw an election might be to attack systems that manage voter-registration lists, which the hackers also did in some states. Remove people from the lists—focusing on areas dominated by members of the party that the hacker wants to lose—and they won’t be able to vote.

One former senior intelligence official told me, “If I was going to hack such a system, I’d leave the records alone and corrupt the tally software”—the programs that count the votes and transmit results to a central headquarters. The transmission is done through a network, which is vulnerable to hackers. Some data are transmitted from the voting machines via USB ports, which are also easy to hack.

In the past decade, many states have installed voting machines with paper backups. (One of the measures blocked in the Senate this week would have required them.) But the Senate report notes that 19 states do not conduct complete postelection audits to compare these ballots to the electronic results; five of them do not audit at all. Paper backups mean little if nobody looks at them.

Computerized voting might be inherently vulnerable. Matt Blaze, who holds the McDevitt Chair of Computer Science at Georgetown Law, said at a hacking conference in Washington earlier this year, “Voting security is by far the hardest problem I have ever encountered.”

That last link does have a proposed solution, if you’re not too depressed to read it. But as with most things in this life, if we want to make progress on fixing the problem, we have to first solve the Mitch McConnell problem.

The Dutch way to mitigate against floods

We can learn a lot from this largely-below-sea-level country.

David Zacek for The Texas Tribune

On a sunny Friday in late May, a jubilant wedding party scrambled to the top of a colossal sand dune in this tiny Dutch beach town for a photoshoot, bridesmaids’ arms flailing as their high heels sunk in. The wedding ceremony had just ended at an outdoor venue nestled behind the six-story mountain of sand, which blocked the view of the North Sea.

At the town’s main strip nearby, a mostly older crowd sipped beers and wine and nibbled on ice cream cones. No one seemed to mind that they couldn’t see the water.

Unlike in the United States, such obscured ocean views are common in the Netherlands, where people aren’t allowed to build homes or businesses directly on the coast — and for good reason. Three of Europe’s major rivers run through the compact country on their way to the ocean, and almost one-third of it lies below sea level, making it extremely vulnerable to deadly storm tides.

The dunes in Noordwijk are part of a world-renowned storm defense system that covers the entirety of the Netherlands’ coastline — much of it hefty enough to protect against a monster, 10,000-year storm. The system has become a beacon for Texas as it looks to guard the eastern flank of the low-lying Houston-Galveston region — home to millions of people and the nation’s largest petrochemical complex — from hurricanes. Despite its vulnerability to deadly storm surges, the upper Texas coast has no comprehensive storm protection system.

That vulnerability became apparent after Hurricane Ike in 2008, when scientists warned that the storm — the costliest to ever hit Texas at the time — could have been much worse for the Houston-Galveston region if it hadn’t changed course at the last minute. And although 2017’s Hurricane Harvey made landfall much farther down the coast, its torrential rains put large swaths of Houston underwater and drove home the widespread damage a hurricane could inflict on the nation’s fourth-largest city.

The Netherlands experienced a similar reckoning after a freak storm in 1953.

That North Sea flood, which the Dutch simply call “the disaster,” breached neglected and war-battered dikes, inundated an area bigger than the city of Houston and drowned more than 1,800 people — a death toll nearly identical to that of Hurricane Katrina after it swamped New Orleans and parts of Mississippi. Within weeks, a special Dutch commission initiated a sweeping public works program that it vowed would keep the country dry forever.

“The 1953 flood was a wake-up call,” said Marcel Stive, a hydraulic engineering professor at the Delft University of Technology. “While the economy was resurrecting and doing well [after World War II], the public and politicians realized our vulnerability.”

The Delta Works, later declared one of the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, surrounded a fifth of the country’s population with an ingenious combination of dams, dikes, locks and first-of-their-kind storm surge barriers. It took decades to finish it all — much longer than expected — but the first project was complete just five years after the storm.

In the 66 years since the disaster, no Dutch citizen has died in a flood. In Texas, hundreds of citizens have perished in floods and hurricanes just in the past two decades.

Flood risk has remained so low in the Netherlands that homeowners don’t buy flood insurance and building codes behind the flood barriers are virtually nonexistent.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? The Ike Dike is based on the Dutch storm surge system. Go read the rest of the story and see what that means.

Pete Olson not running for re-election

Least surprising story of the week.

Rep. Pete Olson

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, announced Thursday afternoon that he is retiring from Congress at the end of his term.

The retirement sets up what will likely be one of the most competitive House races in the country. Olson narrowly won reelection last year against Democrat Sri Kulkarni, who is running again.

Olson, who was first elected to Congress in 2008, announced his retirement in a news release.

“Protecting our future and preserving our exceptional nation are the reasons I first ran for Congress,” he wrote. “Now, it’s time for another citizen-legislator to take up this mission, not to make a career out of politics, but to help lead in the cause of empowering our people, defending our liberties, and making sure America remains the greatest nation in history.”

Among Republicans who could run for the seat, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls is an immediate prospect. He explored challenging Olson last year and recently announced he wasn’t running for reelection as sheriff, keeping the door open to a TX-22 campaign.

Olson is a graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law. On the day he took the bar exam, he enlisted in the Navy and served as an aviator during the Gulf War. He went on to serve as a staffer to Republican U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm and John Cornyn.

[…]

Attorney Nyanza Davis Moore and Pearland City Councilman Derrick Reed are also running for the Democratic nomination.

See here for some background. There were rumors about Olson stepping down in 2018, and pretty much everyone expected Nehls to announce for CD22 after he said he was not running for re-election as Fort Bend County Sheriff. In a sense, this was just the next chapter of the story. Kulkarni raised a bunch of money last quarter, so he has an early advantage. Given Olson’s situation and the fact that CD22 was on the radar from the jump, I don’t think this development changes things much on the Dem side. I do expect there will be other contenders in the Republican primary, though Nehls starts out as the establishment pick. Look at the open seat GOP races from 2018 to get some idea of what we could be in for. It’s gonna be fun, I know that much. The Chron has more.

Davis raises $250K on her first day as a candidate

Well, that would be one reason why people wanted her to run.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Former Texas Sen. Wendy Davis raked in more than $250,000 in the first 24 hours after she announced her bid for U.S. Rep. Chip Roy’s 21st District seat on Monday, her campaign announced Tuesday.

The campaign said Tuesday that about 82 percent of the funds came from within the state and 87 percent were of $50 or less.

“This just shows the level of grassroots excitement there is behind Wendy’s campaign,” said Malcolm Phelan, Davis’ campaign manager. “People want to know they have someone in their corner who is focused on them and their families. From making sure they have access to good paying jobs and healthcare, to providing their children safe schools and the opportunity to thrive, Wendy has a history of showing she won’t shy away from tough fights for the people she represents.”

The incumbent Roy has more than $650,000 in cash on hand and between April and June raised more than $400,000.

And that’s before the fundraiser in DC that’s sure to add to the pile. Look, as we’ve discussed before, it costs money to run a decent campaign. Chip “Mini-Ted” Roy is going to have a lot of money at his disposal. We need a candidate who can keep up with that. That’s one of the things Wendy Davis needs to do, and she’s doing it.

Wendy Davis is in for CD21

For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me that this was likely to happen on Monday. And here we are.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis is running for Congress.

Early Monday morning, Davis announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in Central Texas’ 21st District. She is challenging U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a freshman Republican from Austin.

She made her intentions known in a biographical video, narrated in part with archival footage from her late father, Jerry Russell.

“I’m running for Congress because people’s voices are still being silenced,” she said. “I’m running for our children and grandchildren, so they can live and love and fight for change themselves.”

The potential Davis-Roy matchup is likely to be among the most polarizing races the state has seen in recent years. Davis is a fierce national advocate for abortion rights, while Roy has built his reputation in his first six months in Congress as a conservative firebrand.

Davis lives in Austin but spent much of her adult life in Fort Worth, where she served on the City Council and in the state Senate. In 2013, Davis became a national figure when she filibustered an omnibus anti-abortion bill. Later that fall, she announced her campaign for Texas governor. Despite strong fundraising, she lost to Republican Greg Abbott by over 20 percentage points.

“Even in losing, we helped shape the future,” she said in the video.

[…]

Davis isn’t alone in seeking to challenge Roy. Llano County Democratic Chairwoman Jennie Lou Leeder and educator Bruce Boville are among Democratic candidates who have filed Federal Election Commission finance reports. But there is little doubt that Davis will have the backing of important state and national Democrats. On Tuesday, nearly every member of House Democratic leadership and nine members of the Texas delegation will host a reception in Washington, D.C. for the newly announced candidate.

Inside Elections, a campaign analyst group, currently rates this race “Likely Republican.”

See here for the previous update. I mean, if there’s going to be a big fundraiser for your Congressional campaign on Tuesday, you probably want to make it clear some time before Tuesday that you are, in fact, running for Congress. That fundraiser, and the likely support Davis will get from the Dem establishment is key, because as noted before, no one in CD21 had made any impression yet. (Which, again, is likely because a lot of people were waiting on Wendy, but still.) I saw that Bruce Boville had a finance report, but given that he had raised all of $2K, I didn’t think it was worth mentioning. I expect we’ll see a big number for Davis in the Q3 report.

Yes, I know, standard disclaimers about money not being everything apply here. This campaign, like all of the successful and nearly-successful ones from 2018, will need to lean on a lot of GOTV, and a lot of voter registration, and those things cost money. So yeah, rake it in, Wendy.

One more thing: If your entire reaction is “she got clobbered in 2014 so obviously she can’t win” or some such, that’s a bad take. You may not have noticed, but 2014 was a rotten year for Democrats nationally. At least at this time, that does not appear to be the case for 2020. Individual candidates and campaigns do matter, but so does the national climate. That crushed Dems in 2014, and elevated them in 2018. If 2020 is more like the latter, Davis will have a shot. CD21 is still a Republican district and so she’s still an underdog, but in a good Dem year she will have a chance to win. If 2020 is more like 2014, well, that’s just too gruesome to contemplate. My point is that this is a different year and a different atmosphere, and what happened in 2014 is not destiny. The Chron has more.

July 2019 campaign finance reports: Congress

Let’s move over to Congress and the Senate, where there are several new candidates, with more on the way. The January roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle, and the April report is here. For comparison, the July 2017 report is here. The FEC summary page is here.

MJ Hegar – Senate
Chris Bell – Senate
Amanda Edwards – Senate
Sema Hernandez – Senate
Adrian Ocegueda – Senate
Michael Cooper – Senate

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Henry Cuellar – CD28
Jessia Cisneros – CD28

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Lori Burch – CD03
Stephen Daniel – CD06
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Shannon Hutcheson – CD10
Jennie Lou Leeder – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Nyanza Moore – CD22
Derrick Reed – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Liz Wahl – CD23
Rosey Ramos Abuabara – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Kim Olson – CD24
Candace Valenzuela – CD24
Crystal Lee Fletcher – CD24
John Biggan – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26
Christine Eady Mann – CD31
Murray Holcomb – CD31


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Sen   Hegar         1,029,038    481,087        0    595,433       
Sen   Bell
Sen   Edwards
Sen   Hernandez
Sen   Ocegueda            638         15      500        623
Sen   Cooper

07    Fletcher      1,149,351    245,963        0    945,455
32    Allred        1,122,389    250,636        0    975,198  

28    Cuellar         722,816    243,234        0  3,024,586
28    Cisneros        147,266     21,799        0    125,466

02    Cardnell         77,407     42,968        0     34,439
03    Burch            46,595     45,690   19,649          0
06    Daniel
10    Siegel          246,978    108,466   30,000    142,003
10    Gandhi          342,539     78,308        0    264,230
10    Hutcheson       324,312     47,984        0    276,327
21    Leeder           10,864      7,202        0      3,657
22    Kulkarni        420,824    103,170        0    345,421
22    Moore            73,705     68,118    5,500      5,586
22    Reed
23    Ortiz Jones     587,527     82,359        0    596,686
23    Wahl              7,399      3,473    1,000      3,926
23    Abuabara
24    McDowell         40,036     31,500        0     21,856
24    Olson           303,218    103,267   24,500    199,950
24    Valenzuela       81,728     51,557        0     30,171
24    Fletcher        105,930      5,370        0    100,560
24    Biggan           24,407     23,422    9,134        984
25    Oliver          121,508     12,966    2,664    108,542
26    Ianuzzi          57,883     26,228   40,886     31,654
31    Mann             42,305     20,648        0     23,094
31    Holcomb          36,225      6,892        0     29,332

This was drafted before Amanda Edwards and Sen. Royce West announced their entries. Edwards now has an FEC link but hasn’t done any reporting yet. She can’t transfer money from her City Council campaign account as noted before, but can refund money to her donors and ask them to redirect it to her Senate campaign. West has $1.4 million in his state campaign account. I’m pretty sure he can use that money for the federal election, which puts him into the top spot in the money race for now. MJ Hegar’s million-dollar haul would be great for another Congressional run, but it’s no great shakes for a statewide contest. She wasn’t in for the whole quarter, though, so let’s see how she does now. Chris Bell was raising some money via an exploratory committee before he made his entry official, but I can’t figure out how to find that data. Sema Hernandez, who has now been a candidate for Senate in two election cycles, still does not have an FEC report filed from either cycle. That’s despite having a a donation link that goes to ActBlue, which provides all required contribution information to candidates every reporting period. For those of you who may wonder why I never bother to mention her when I write about the Senate race, now you know why. I’ll think about taking her candidacy seriously when she does the same.

Freshman Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred are doing what they need to do, though Fletcher may need to step it up further as her opponents are more active so far than Allred’s are. I’m really curious about the primary fight in CD28. Rep. Henry Cuellar clearly knows how to raise money, and he’s already sitting on a big pile, but Jessica Cisneros took in that $147K in only four weeks’ time. I think she’ll have bigger challenges than financial ones, but at least she’ll have the resources to run a real campaign.

Including Wendy Davis in CD21, there are four Congressional candidates who are new or new to me: Derrick Reed, Pearland City Council member, running in CD22; Crystal Fletcher, attorney, in CD24; and Murray Holcomb, surgeon, in CD31. Reed entered in July, so he has no report. Fletcher posted some nice numbers in CD24, in a field with some strong candidates. Holcomb only started raising money on June 12, so that’s not bad at all for less than three weeks. Christine Mann is the experienced candidate in CD31, but keep an eye on Murray Holcomb. It’s very possible that the DCCC or other groups are still recruiting for that race, but it looks like we may have a contender.

Overall, things look pretty good from a Dem perspective. Gina Jones picked right up where she left off in CD23, raising that amount in about half of the allotted time period. Rosey Abuabara may provide a challenge to her, but so far at least the field she faces looks less fierce than it was last year. Sri Kulkarni and Kim Olson are off to roaring starts, with Candace Valenzuela and newcomer Crystal Fletcher doing all right. I don’t know how Nyanza Moore managed to spend nearly all the money she raised, but that’s not a sustainable pace. CD10 is looking a bit like CD07 did in 2018, and that’s with newcomers Pritesh Gandhi and Shannon Hutcheson outdoing holdover Mike Siegel. Julie Oliver and CD25 aren’t on any watch list, but that’s a better haul than she had in any quarter in the last cycle, so good on her. Elisa Cardnell isn’t getting the traction Todd Litton got, but I have hope that she’ll start to take off.

On the flip side, I have no idea what Lorie Burch is doing in CD03. She raised very little and spent most of what she had this period. I hope that’s a temporary situation. I was really wishing for more from Jennie Lou Leeder in CD21. I always wanted Wendy Davis to jump in, but having a strong alternate option, not to mention a reason to start working now, was appealing. We’ll have to wait and see how Stephen Daniel does in CD06, and while Murray Holcomb is off to a nice enough start I’d still like to see someone really break out in CD31. We have the targets, we need to be aiming at all of them.

Looks like Wendy Davis is in for CD21

Good.

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis is getting support from some of the highest-ranking Democrats in Congress — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — as she appears to move closer to run for Texas’ 21st Congressional District.

Pelosi and other House leaders have invited potential supporters to a meeting with Davis on Tuesday evening in Washington, D.C., according to an invitation obtained by The Texas Tribune. The co-hosts include nine of the 13 Democrats in the Texas congressional delegation.

The invitation obtained by the Tribune does not explicitly ask for donations to Davis but says the meeting is “in support of her campaign for Texas CD21” and includes a link to donate online.

The meeting is taking place at a townhouse affiliated with the political action committee Bold PAC, the campaign arm for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and one of its members, Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, is the lead organizer, according to a House leadership source.

[…]

Davis, a former state senator from Fort Worth who unsuccessfully ran for Texas governor after her famous 2013 filibuster of an anti-abortion bill, has been exploring a run against U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin. Roy is a national Democratic target after he won the seat last year by less than 3 percentage points. At least one other Democrat, Jennie Lou Leeder, is already running.

Hot damn. Davis first surfaced as a possible candidate in April, and after a quickly-squashed rumor that she had already entered the race in early June promised to announce her decision “in about three weeks”. We’re now about six weeks out from that, but better late than never, especially if the answer is that she’s in. I had some hope that Jennie Lou Leeder might have been an interesting candidate, but she hasn’t raised any money so far, and that just won’t cut it. Davis’ possible candidacy may have frozen out some contributors, but that’s a hurdle that has to be overcome. Maybe Davis’ entry will actually spur some people to donate to Leeder – I’m sure there will be some Dems who roll their eyes at another Davis run – so I’m not going to write her off just yet, and as with the Senate race I’m happy for there to be a contested primary. All I’m saying is we needed someone who can put this race on the radar where it belongs, and Wendy Davis does that. I’m delighted she’s back. The Statesman and the Chron have more.

(And before anyone asks, Davis has lived in Austin for the past few years. She is a resident of CD21.)

The next Census threat

From TPM:

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has directed the Census Bureau to prepare to offer states the data they’d need to do a redistricting overhaul that would boost “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” in the words of a deceased GOP consultant.

That the administration is taking that step is not surprising, given that President Trump said that it would last week while announcing that the 2020 census would not have a citizenship question.

But the government formally put that intention in writing in a regulatory notice that was published over the weekend.

The document was an update to a previous notice about the the government’s plans for the 2020 census that confirmed that the survey would not include a citizenship question due to the Supreme Court decision blocking it.

“Accordingly, the Secretary has directed the Census Bureau to proceed with the 2020 Census without a citizenship question on the questionnaire, and rather to produce Citizenship Voting Age Population (CVAP) information prior to April 1, 2021 that states may use in redistricting” the new version of the notice said.

[…]

The Supreme Court said in a 2016 unanimous opinion in the case, Evenwel v. Abbott, that use of total population was permissible. But the opinion didn’t address the question of whether CVAP could also be used.  Justice Clarence Thomas said in a concurrence that states should have the choice to use such a metric, while Justice Samuel Alito issued a concurrence of his own calling for another legal case to resolve this “important and sensitive”question.

It appears the groundwork is being laid for such a test case to be sent to the Supreme Court, which has shifted to the right — with the additions of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — since the Evenwel decision.

See here, here, and here for more on the Evenwel case. At the time, most of the experts expressed doubt that future attempts to draw districts based on CVAP rather than population would succeed in the courts. That was about a million years ago in political news cycle terms, and I don’t know how confident anyone would be of such a prediction now. For sure, if it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen here, but it will be that much harder to do with a Democratic majority in the State House. You know what to do about that. Ari Berman has more.

We’ll have a much better idea of who the candidates are soon

There are a lot of people filing to run for Congress as Democrats. It remains to be seen how many of them are viable.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Three times as many Democrats have already filed to run for Congress in Texas this year as in 2012 or 2016, yet another sign that Texas will be more of a battleground for the two major political parties in 2020.

With the elections still well over a year away, Democrats already have 66 candidates who have signed up to run in 30 different congressional districts. At this same point four years ago, Democrats had just 19 candidates ready to run in 16 of the state’s 36 congressional districts.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm statewide,” said Abhi Rahman, director of communications for the Texas Democratic Party.

The increase is a sign that fired-up Democrats want to take on President Donald Trump and his policies, and is a testament to the party’s success in 2018, when Democrats flipped two Congressional seats previously held by the GOP, picked up 12 seats in the Texas House and two in the Texas Senate. In addition, Beto O’Rourke came within 3 percentage points of defeating Republican powerhouse U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — the closest statewide race in Texas in decades.

[…]

It’s not just that Democrats flipped two congressional seats in 2018, but also how close they came to flipping a half dozen others in Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. Six Republican members of Congress won their elections in 2018 with 52 percent of the vote or less. Those six districts have become magnets for Democratic candidates, with 26 Democrats already filing official statements of candidacy to run with the Federal Election Commission.

Two San Antonio-area districts lead the way. In 2018, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, won his re-election in the 23rd Congressional District with 49 percent of the vote. And U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, won his seat with just 50.3 percent of the vote. Hurd already has four Democrats who have filed to challenge him, including his 2018 opponent Gina Ortiz Jones. Roy meanwhile has drawn three opponents.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, seven Democrats have filed to run in the 24th Congressional District, where Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, won his re-election with 50.7 percent of the vote. Similarly, near Austin, seven Democrats have filed to run in the 31st Congressional District where Republican John Carter won his re-election with 50.6 percent of the vote.

In Houston, U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul and Pete Olson won their districts with 51 percent of the vote. Three Democrats have filed to take on McCaul, and two to take on Olson.

It’s a little curious to me that they used 2012 and 2016 as a basis of comparison rather than 2018. We already know that 2012 and 2016 were not great years for Democratic Congressional campaign recruiting, while 2018 was off-the-charts good. I realize those were Presidential years, as 2020 is, but until further notice 2018 is the basis for all meaningful comparisons.

So as far as that goes, here’s my look at finance reports from Q1 of this year and Q2 of 2017. That doesn’t tell you how many people had filed – I mostly didn’t pay attention to the non-competitive districts, and there were plenty of fringey candidates I didn’t put much effort into – but it does tell you how many candidates of interest to me there were. The Q2 finance reports are still trickling in, so you’ll see an updated list of interesting candidates when the data is there. You can see some candidates’ names now, but until I see a finance report I don’t feel confident about who is a potential difference maker, and who is just taking up space. It’s good to know there are four contenders in CD31, for example, but I need to know more than that. Give it a week or so, and we’ll get that.

Does the partisan redistricting ruling change anything in Texas?

Maybe, but if so it will be indirect.

Robert Henneke, general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the ruling was a clear sign that the high court wanted to discourage federal judges from micromanaging the redistricting process.

“I think it de-escalates the use of litigation as a way of seeking results that aren’t supported on election day,” Henneke said.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer who sued on behalf of the Democratic Party in Texas to block redistricting maps drawn earlier this decade, said he did not believe Thursday’s ruling would have a dramatic impact in the state.

Courts have cracked down on Texas-drawn maps every decade since the 1960s for violating the Voting Rights Act’s restrictions on diluting minority voting strength and gerrymandering along racial grounds, and those restrictions remain in place, Dunn said.

“I don’t think, really, anything changes,” he said. “Partisan gerrymandering (complaints) would have been another tool for voters to use in the courthouse.”

Renea Hicks, another lawyer who challenged the current set of Texas maps, wasn’t so sure.

Republicans who drew the most recent maps claimed they were using voters’ political affiliations to draw districts that helped one party succeed or benefited an incumbent, but Hicks said the reason could be used to mask a racial purpose, particularly because Latino and African American voters tend to favor Democrats.

“They can use partisanship to locate minorities, then draw lines,” he said. “Now they have even more to hide behind.”

I think Hicks has it right. Let’s not forget the previous ruling that found essentially no fault with the Texas legislative and Congressional maps despite the lower court rulings that they were racially discriminatory. SCOTUS accepted the fig leaf that the slightly tweaked 2013 maps, which were still 98% based on the discriminatory 2011 maps, absolved the state of all its sins. I don’t think the Republicans will have much to fear in 2021 if they have full control of the process. Heck, even if they have to defer to the Legislative Redistricting Board for the non-Congressional maps, I don’t think they’ll hold back. And remember, even if they do draw maps that somehow wind up being tossed, they’ll get multiple elections out of the bad maps before any consequences are enforced. The incentives point one hundred percent in the direction of maximal partisan advantage. The real questions are 1) How much more maximally can they draw districts now versus 2011, and 2) How much do the state’s changing demographics hold them back? There’s only one way to find out.

Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls will step down

That sound you hear is a domino falling.

Troy Nehls

Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls announced Wednesday that he would not seek a third term in 2020.

“My work in law enforcement, it’s been an honor and a privilege,” said Nehls. “I’ve done it (law enforcement) for almost 25 years. I think it’s time for me to do something else.”

News of Nehls’ decision prompted immediate speculation that he might run for Congress, a possibility he did not confirm or deny in an interview. Nehls said he announced his decision not to seek re-election now to provide time for others who may want to run for sheriff.

“I will again revisit that over the next four, five months,” Nehls said about a possible Congress run. “We’ll just wait to see what happens.”

[…]

Prior to being elected sheriff, Nehls served two terms as Precinct 4 constable in Fort Bend County.

Nehls said he has encouraged his twin brother, Constable Trever Nehls, to run to replace him as sheriff. Trever Nehls was elected Precinct 4 constable after his twin left the job to run for sheriff.

As you may recall, Democrats won all of the contested countywide races in Fort Bend in 2018. They would like very much to repeat that in 2020. Having a longtime incumbent like Nehls will help, as he had the best percentage among countywide Republicans in 2016 and was one of the top performers in 2012. Democrats do have a candidate.

Eric Fagan, a former Houston police officer with 34 years of law enforcement experience, has launched his campaign for Fort Bend County sheriff.

Born in Louisiana but raised in Texas, Fagan has been a Fort Bend County resident since 1991 and has received the ‘Officer of the Year’ award three times by at least two agencies.

“I want to bring the sheriff’s office in Fort Bend into the 21st century,” Fagan said. “I want to bring proactive police work to the county. We can’t be retroactive.”

Fagan, a Democrat, said his top priorities as sheriff include bringing back community-orientated policing, addressing human trafficking and domestic violence and creating partnerships with community groups to address crime and social issues.

Here’s his website. It’s possible there will be someone else – I mean, Dems have to be optimistic to begin with, and open seats don’t come along every day – but Fagan was there first, and he was who I found when I went looking.

As for Nehls, everyone and her cousin expects him to run for Congress in CD22. There were rumors that Pete Olson would step down in 2018, and I’m sure this will amplify them. As I’ve said in other contexts, Q3 is likely the last chance for serious candidates to get into these races, as the demands of fundraising require a lot of time. Sri Kulkarni has already announced a haul of $420K for Q2, so that’s the scope here. As such, if this is what Nehls has in mind, I expect these dominoes to fall quickly.

We have a candidate in CD06

Good.

Rep. Ron Wright

A Waxahachie Democrat who is business partners with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is running for Congress in 2020 against Rep. Ron Wright, an Arlington Republican who was first elected to office last year.

Stephen Daniel, an attorney, on Wednesday announced his House campaign, telling The Dallas Morning News that residents in the suburban-rural district “haven’t been adequately represented” by the incumbent and that, politically, “it’s a closer district than people think.”

“A lot of people are disenchanted,” said the 42-year-old, who grew up just outside of the district in Itasca, a tiny town in Hill County, and then eventually moved to Ellis County after law school.

The campaign launch could signal that Democrats are serious about expanding the battleground map in Texas, which was already expected to host eight competitive House races next year. While Daniel is a political novice running in a traditional GOP stronghold — one that President Donald Trump won by 12 points in 2016 — the attorney’s ties to a prominent North Texas Democrat like Jenkins could give him a step up in fundraising, name ID and party support. Consider that Daniel is vowing to raise $4 million, which would be a stunning amount for a congressional seat that hasn’t been the subject of a full-on campaign bout in decades.

[…]

Democrats have already circled pick-up opportunities in six Lone Star State districts where the incumbent Republican House member last year won by 5 points or less. The only North Texan among that group is Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell. Republicans, meanwhile, are eager to win back two longtime GOP seats that they lost last year in Texas. One of those districts is now represented by Rep. Colin Allred, a Dallas Democrat who ousted former Rep. Pete Sessions.

The contest for Wright’s seat could join that crowded docket. Daniel is pitching himself as a native son with humble roots. He “grew up very country,” he said, helping his dad work at a local landfill. He was also the first in his family to graduate from college, he said, ultimately earning a law degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law. He’s worked as a personal injury attorney for the last 15 years alongside Jenkins, who hailed Daniel’s “compassion, grit and tenacious spirit.”

“He cares about people and has earned the nickname ‘Bulldog’ for his zealous representation of his clients,” texted Jenkins, a longtime Democratic power player who was elected in 2010 as Dallas County judge.

As a reminder, this is Ron Wright. So yeah, I’m glad to see this. As noted, CD06 is not currently on the Dems’ target list, but Beto got 48.0% there, so it’s not a stretch to see it get on the radar. And the fastest way to get on that radar is via fundraising. Jana Sanchez, who is serving as Daniel’s treasurer, raised $734K last cycle, which in most other contexts would be excellent but is basically an opening bid here. I’ll definitely be looking for Stephen Daniel’s report at the end of this quarter. And with his entry, the only high profile district that still lacks a candidate is CD31; we’re still waiting on Wendy Davis in CD21, but we do have Jennie Lou Leeder, so that’s something. Let’s get that slate filled out.

The Fifth Circuit Obamacare hearing

Remember, the Fifth Circuit is where hope goes to die. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On the left was Judge Carolyn Dineen King, an appointee of Jimmy Carter; on the right sat Judge Kurt Engelhardt, a nominee of Donald Trump, and in the center sat Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, the George W. Bush appointee expected to represent the critical swing vote on a three-judge panel now charged with deciding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

It was that perhaps fitting seating arrangement that greeted attorneys for Texas on Tuesday afternoon, as the state and its allies asked this three-judge panel on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down the sweeping health law known as “Obamacare,” a legal means to a political end that has eluded conservatives for the better part of a decade.

Texas won a major victory in its bid to end the law in December, when a federal district judge in North Texas sided with the state, declaring that the law is unconstitutional in its entirety after Congress in 2017 gutted one of its important provisions, a tax penalty for individuals who chose to remain uninsured. The U.S. Department of Justice, in a highly unusual move, has declined to defend the law.

A California-led coalition of blue states that has stepped in to oppose Texas in the lawsuit quibbles with that question of “severability,” arguing that even if one slice of the law must fall as unconstitutional, its other hundreds of provisions — including a host of popular patient protections — should stand. The question of how much of the law may rightly be salvaged was a focal point of court discussions on Tuesday.

Texas’ odds of total vindication remain in question after nearly two hours of questions before the three judges.

Most of the unusually-large courtroom audience of journalists and interested but unaffiliated attorneys focused on Elrod at the center. By far the most vocal judge of the three, Elrod probed both sides on the issue of standing — whether they have the right to participate in the lawsuit at all. And she seemed highly focused on her court’s options for ordering a remedy, seeming to weigh options for sending the case back to a lower court for further consideration.

Engelhardt, who is among the newest appointees to the court, was harsh and occasionally sarcastic, asking more questions of the blue state coalition than he did of the Texas-led team. He seemed skeptical of the standing of both the California-led coalition and the Democratic-majority U.S. House of Representatives, which intervened in the case although the Republican-majority U.S. Senate did not.

The Senate, Engelhardt remarked, “is sort of the 800 lb. gorilla that’s not in the room.”

King, meanwhile, did not speak at all.

See here and here for the background. The legal basis of this lawsuit is so ridiculous that anything short of tossing it and its lawyers out of court is insufficient, but given where we are I could find a way to live with the idea of sending it back to the idiot district court judge for reconsideration. I fear we’ll get some kind of split-the-baby decision that strikes down parts of the law but leaves some crippled skeleton of it intact, which dumbass pundits will then call a “moderate compromise”, in the same way that the midpoint between “I murder you and burn down your house” and “I leave you alone” is a moderate compromise. Not much to do at this point but wait and work your ass off voting these morons out in 2020. NBC News, CNN, Daily Kos, Mother Jones, and Think Progress have more.

The lawsuit to kill Obamacare has its hearing at the Fifth Circuit today

Brace yourselves.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Last year, after a federal judge in Texas declared the entirety of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, throwing into question millions of Americans’ health coverage, the state’s Republican leaders promised they would come up with a plan to replace it.

But on Tuesday, after a legislative session that seemed to have no room for issues other than property tax reform and school finance, Texas will ask a federal appeals court in New Orleans to end the law in its entirety — without offering a replacement plan.

The conservative crusade against portions of the act, known as Obamacare, has spanned a decade. But Texas’ latest lawsuit, filed in February 2018, became an existential threat to the law after U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in December that it is unconstitutional in its entirety. At stake: the subsidized health coverage of roughly 1 million Texans, sweeping protections for patients with preexisting conditions, young adults staying on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 and a host of low-cost benefits available to all people with health insurance, including those covered through their employers.

Texas already has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.

In a highly unusual — if not entirely surprising — move, the U.S. Department of Justice has declined to defend the federal law, leaving a California-led coalition of blue states to protect it. As the case proceeds, Obamacare has remained in place, and likely will until the litigation is finally resolved.

Attorneys for the state of Texas argue the health law cannot stand since the Republican-led Congress in 2017 zeroed out Obamacare’s individual mandate — a penalty imposed on people who chose to remain uninsured. Democrats had favored the penalty as a way to induce more people to purchase health insurance, with the goal of reaching near-universal coverage. Without it, Texas argues, the whole law must fall.

But the state’s Republican leaders have offered few ideas about what should replace Obamacare, a law that touches practically every aspect of health care regulations and includes several popular protections for patients. Gov. Greg Abbott — a vocal critic of the law — pledged in December that if the law remained struck down on appeal, “Texas will be ready with replacement health care insurance that includes coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

Since then, he’s been quiet on the issue, including during this year’s 140-day Texas legislative session. Abbott did not respond to questions for this story.

See here for the background. And of course Greg Abbott doesn’t have a single thing to say about reducing the extremely high uninsured rate in Texas. That’s because Abbott’s plan to reduce the uninsured in Texas, supported by Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and the rest of the Republicans, is for more of them to die. Just as a reminder, Republicans have been in complete control of Texas government since 2003. Not once during that time have they taken any steps to improve access to health care in the state. Indeed, on multiple occasions, beginning in 2003 with the savage cuts to CHIP and continuing through their assault on women’s health via attacks on Planned Parenthood, they have time and time again make accessing health care harder. That’s what is at stake here. The only fix, regardless of the ruling in this case, is to vote them out. The WaPo, the Chron, and Think Progress have more.

Another cure for partisan redistricting

From the Brennan Center, written before SCOTUS lit a match to judicial remedies for partisan redistricting, and even more relevant now.

Congressional redistricting is broken. In most states, districts are drawn by partisan lawmakers, and the manipulation of district boundaries for partisan or other discriminatory purposes is rife, with communities of color being amongst the hardest hit. While courts can provide a remedy, litigation is often slow and costly. This allows discriminatory maps to sometimes remain in place for years while court cases and the inevitable appeals run their course. But H.R. 1, the broad and historic democracy reform bill passed by the House in March, offers some smart, comprehensive ideas that would make the redistricting process fairer and more transparent.

This would of course require three things: Democratic control of the Presidency and both chambers of Congress, discarding the filibuster so Mitch McConnell can’t block it, and then hoping that SCOTUS doesn’t decide that, well, actually, Congress can’t do any of the things that HR1 enables. In that case, a little court-packing, or at least the sufficient threat of it, may do the trick. The first is within our power, the latter two may be as well. First things first, though.

Chip off the old block

Chip Roy, that is, the Ted Cruz minion in the House that no one said they needed.

Rep. Chip Roy

Freshman Rep. Chip Roy, who squeaked into office last year, has spent his first months in Congress establishing himself as a brash and unapologetic conservative — and someone who is utterly unconcerned about what his colleagues think of him.

The 46-year-old Texan was the lone Republican in May to block swift passage of a disaster-relief package for millions of Americans, including those in Texas. In recent weeks, he has spent several nights sitting in a mostly empty House chamber demanding roll-call votes on dozens of uncontroversial amendments in what he billed as an attempt to prod Congress into addressing the crisis at the Southern border.

The practical effect of Roy’s campaign was to delay the passage of a pair of Democratic spending bills, detain lawmakers of both parties on the House floor for several marathon voting sessions, and generate plaudits for himself in the conservative media as well as gripes on the House floor.

“This is an exercise in representative democracy designed to make lots of noise and not much else,” groused Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) amid a two-hour vote series.

[…]

Following veteran Rep. Lamar Smith’s retirement, Roy emerged from an 18-candidate GOP primary and narrowly beat Democrat Joseph Kopser in November’s midterm elections. He won with strong backing from political action committees affiliated with the Club for Growth and the House Freedom Caucus, a group that he has since joined and whose confrontational tactics he has fully embraced.

“He’s a sharp guy, and he’s not afraid to step forward and lead,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), one of the group’s co-founders, who stood alongside Roy and other conservative hard-liners at a news conference pushing for action on the border.

But few Freedom Caucus members had as close a race as Roy, and Democrats have taken notice. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has moved Roy’s seat up its target list, and a well-known Texas Democrat with proven fundraising potential — former state senator Wendy Davis — is mulling a 2020 challenge in a district that could be swinging away from Republicans.

“It’s a growing district with people who are not ideologically extreme, so it’s been a surprise that he’s taken some of the most right-wing positions in the Congress,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) who represents a neighboring San Antonio district.

I mean, the guy was a top henchman for both Ted Cruz and Ken Paxton, so I’m pretty sure he doesn’t much care about anything other than his own ideology. He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, and it’s on the rest of us to take the scissors out of his hands. On that score, it’s been a bit more than three weeks now since Wendy Davis said she’s make a decision in about three weeks. Maybe we’ll hear something soon. In the meantime, I will remind you that there is a declared candidate in this race, Jennie Lou Leeder, who I can attest has been busy with the fundraising emails. We’ll know soon enough how successful she’s been at that. As long as we have someone who can give this guy a strong challenge, that’s all I ask.

You are free to redistrict to your partisan heart’s content

Your Supreme Court, ladies and gentlemen.

In an effort to appear as though it hovers permanently above the partisan fray, the Supreme Court on Thursday delivered perhaps the most staggering win to the Republican Party since Bush v. Gore. In a pair of cases out of North Carolina and Maryland raising the question of whether extreme partisan political gerrymanders can ever violate the Constitution, the five-justice conservative majority finally answered a decades-old question: The federal courts will have no role to play in overseeing whether political lines were drawn for the gain of the majority in violation of the Constitution. As Chief Justice John Roberts put it in his majority opinion:

We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts. Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions. “[J]udicial action must be governed by standard, by rule,” and must be “principled, rational, and based upon reasoned distinctions” found in the Constitution or laws [as a plurality of the court found in the 2004 case Vieth v. Jubelirer]. Judicial review of partisan gerrymandering does not meet those basic requirements.

With this opinion, the chief justice puts on a masterclass in legal analysis by way of hypothetical question. How much of a partisan gerrymander is too much? How can we know? Which tool could we use? Who knows what lurks in the heart of voters? It reads as a protracted still life in learned helplessness. If, as it turns out, a court genuinely doesn’t want to adjudicate a problem, they can always say it’s too hard.

[…]

To be sure, the chief justice knows how this all feels, to the millions of voters whose votes are and will be diluted and discounted by the majorities who draw lines: “Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust,” he concedes. “But the fact that such gerrymandering is ‘incompatible with democratic principles,’ does not mean that the solution lies with the federal judiciary.” The solution, he would suggest, lies in state courts, constitutional amendments, state redistricting commissions (which he has deemed unconstitutional in the past), Congress, and state legislatures, which is a tiny bit like putting the looters in charge of the looting problem.

He ends with the noble caution that “No one can accuse this Court of having a crabbed view of the reach of its competence.” And, indeed, nobody does. We have in recent terms witnessed the court’s view of its competence to dismantle the administrative state, to curb union power, to overturn prior precedent, to gut the Voting Rights Act, and to use the First Amendment as an all-purpose civil rights stun-gun. But its competence to do sweeping and consequential change stops, today, at the door of the political gerrymander. In the chief justice’s telling, this is neutral minimalism.

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan calls out this learned helplessness in her very first line: “[F]or the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks the task beyond judicial capabilities.” She adds that the doctrine here clouds the issue that:

The partisan gerrymanders in these cases deprived citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives. In so doing, the partisan gerrymanders here debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people. These gerrymanders enabled politicians to entrench themselves in office as against voters’ preferences. They promoted partisanship above respect for the popular will. They encouraged a politics of polarization and dysfunction. If left unchecked, gerrymanders like the ones here may irreparably damage our system of government.

Before laying out the specific grotesquerie of the Maryland and North Carolina gerrymanders at issue, Kagan asks her reader to consider: “As I relate what happened in those two States, ask yourself: Is this how American democracy is supposed to work?”

In John Roberts’ America, it is. Mark Joseph Stern, who notes that Roberts likes to call himself “the most aggressive defender of the First Amendment on the court now”, reviews a couple of his recent decisions and concludes that Roberts thinks billionaires deserve more First Amendment protections than regular voters do. And if you really want to go down a nighmarish path, consider this:

After today’s disastrous decision, here are some things that line-drawers could do in the future:

  • Instruct a computer algorithm to generate huge numbers of maps that comply with all nonpartisan criteria and produce as large and durable an advantage as possible for the line-drawing party. Then pick an actual plan from this array of potential gerrymanders. This plan will be close to impregnable if it’s challenged on nonpartisan grounds. But it will still massively benefit the line-drawing party, probably more than any human-drawn map could.
  • Revise districts after each election to optimize their performance in the next election. Any districts slipping away from the line-drawing party could have some copartisans added to them. Any districts becoming overly safe could have some copartisans subtracted. Decennial redistricting, in other words, could become a thing of the past. Redistricting every two years is so much more effective.
  • Design noncontiguous districts in order to avoid the constraints of political geography. A state with many Democrats concentrated in cities (like my Illinois) could join clusters of urban Democrats with slightly smaller clusters of rural Republicans hundreds of miles away. These clusters wouldn’t have to be connected since no federal law, and no other law in many states, mandates contiguity. A state could even adopt entirely nongeographic districts, e.g., by assigning a representative (and sufficiently numerous) sample of the state’s population to each district.

We’ve already established that mid-decade redistricting is a thing that happens. Who’s to say any of this is out of bounds? Not John Roberts, that’s for sure. ThinkProgress, Sam Wang, and the WaPo have more.

How good a stepping stone is Mayor of Dallas?

Stephen Young notes that being Mayor of Dallas has not been particularly helpful to others’ ambitions.

Rep. Eric Johnson

If he’s anything, Dallas mayor-elect Eric Johnson is an ambitious guy. He’s got degrees from Harvard, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania, and took his seat in the Texas House of Representatives before turning 40. In the legislature, he’s sought out high-profile fights, sparring over things like criminal justice reform, gentrification and corruption in municipal politics. The resume that Johnson’s put together is almost too perfect for someone who aspires to hold higher state or federal office.

That’s what makes his current position so interesting. Saturday night, Johnson won the keys to one of the most useless big-deal jobs in the United States. Dallas’ mayor is, essentially, just an at-large member of the City Council. He or she gets to run the council’s meetings and can place an item on the council agenda if he or she wishes to do so, but the city manager draws up the city’s budget and has all the real power. Johnson has long been at the top of the list whenever people talk about potential replacements for longtime Dallas U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, but one has to wonder if that’s changed, given the mayor’s office’s challenges and history.

To find a former Dallas mayor who sought and won higher office after leaving city hall, one has to look at the way back to Earle Cabell, who resigned as mayor in February 1964 to run for Congress against incumbent Republican Bruce Alger. Since Cabell’s successful campaign, former mayors Wes Wise, Ron Kirk and Tom Leppert have all run unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. House or Senate. Laura Miller, Kirk’s successor, couldn’t even win a Dallas City Council race 12 years after leaving office, getting trounced by incumbent Jennifer Staubach Gates in May.

I noted when Mayor-elect Johnson won the runoff that he was a politician with ambitions. Does this mean those ambitions are doomed? I don’t think so. I can’t speak to Wes Wise’s experience, but Ron Kirk ran for Senate as a Democrat in 2002, while Tom Leppert joined a primary that already had David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz. I wouldn’t extrapolate much from that.

I’d say three things will matter. One, does a good opportunity come along at a good time? I’d suggested Johnson might want to run statewide, but Young notes he has had his eye on Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson’s CD30 seat. Maybe the timing will work for one of those options, and maybe it won’t. Two, does he build up his fundraising network enough to be a force in a more expensive race? And three, does he does a good enough job to make him look like an appealing candidate for whatever comes next? It’s not rocket science. This is one of those times where past history isn’t a great guide, but the basic fundamentals still apply.

Scouting the opposition in CD07

Not impressed so far.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Facing a roomful of conservative voters at a meet-and-greet earlier this month, Republican Wesley Hunt laid out the stakes for his party’s primary in Texas’ 7th Congressional District.

“This is about putting the best candidate forward who can beat Lizzie Fletcher. Period.” Hunt said.

Republican voters still are smarting from their 2018 loss in this suburban west Houston district, where Fletcher, a Democratic Houston energy lawyer, toppled nine-term GOP incumbent John Culberson. Her five-point win flipped the seat blue for the first time since the 1960s, prompting Republicans to take aim at the district almost as soon as Fletcher took office.

The GOP primary field already has come into focus, setting up a clash between Hunt, an Army veteran who works for Perry Homes, and Cindy Siegel, a former Bellaire mayor and METRO board member. Battle lines are sharpening, but not around the two candidates’ conservative bona fides or the strength of their policy proposals. The early contours of the race instead have centered on the question: Who is best positioned to snatch the seat from Fletcher?

Threatening to upend the primary is the potential candidacy of Pierce Bush, CEO of the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters Houston affiliate and grandson of former president George H.W. Bush, who once represented the district.

Bush in an email earlier this month said he still is mulling a run for the seat and has been “flattered by people who are encouraging me to consider running,” though he did not lay out a deadline for a decision.

Meanwhile, both declared Republicans have their electability pitches ready to go. Hunt, 37, contends the party could use a “new generation of leadership,” and he peppers his stump speech with references to his time as a helicopter pilot in the Army, including his combat deployment to Iraq. Siegel, meanwhile, pitches her governing experience serving on Bellaire city council and as mayor, along with a number of boards and commissions.

Also, she contends that it will take a Republican woman to beat Fletcher.

“I feel that way strongly,” the 64-year-old Siegel said. “It’s coming as no surprise to anyone, on a national basis: Women have moved away from the Republican Party.”

[…]

In 2018, Trump’s name did not appear on the ballot, but scores of voters in Texas’ 7th said they viewed the election as a referendum on the president nonetheless. Now, the president’s down-ballot impact is set to become amplified, for better or worse, with his name likely atop the Republican ticket in 2020.

After the president lost the district to Clinton in 2016, 48 to 47 percent, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took notice and weighed in heavily on Fletcher’s behalf, spending north of $3.5 million on the seat in 2018.

This time, House Democrats’ campaign arm again figures to play a heavy role, making early attempts to muddy the GOP waters. When Trump visited Houston in April, for instance, the group sent reporters a news release with the subject line: “With Trump in Houston, How Far Will Hunt and Siegel Go to Win Him Over?”

That last bit is more important than who wins this primary, because whoever it is will have Donald Trump as their running mate. Unless the national mood starts souring on Democrats, I think that’s going to be too big an obstacle to overcome.

Beyond that, it’s just too early to have any opinions about these two, or possibly three, candidates. I fully expect one or two other names to pop up, though whether the field expands like it did on the Democratic side in 2018 I couldn’t say. Given the need to raise funds for this race, time is starting to run out for any other wannabes.

Speaking of fundraising, here’s a data point to note for when Hunt and Siegel file their Q2 finance reports. The top four Dem contenders in CD07 raised $1.2 million combined as of July 2017. Fletcher had the second most, with $365K. The eye-popping early numbers all around the country were a leading indicator of Democratic enthusiasm for the 2018 election. I’ll be very interested to see how things look this time around.

One more thing. What happens to CD07 in the 2021 redistricting cycle. Before the 2018 election, when I figured John Culberson would still be the incumbent, my thinking was that Republicans were going to have to shift some of the district out of Harris County – maybe into Montgomery, maybe into western Fort Bend, maybe northwest into what’s now part of CD10 – to keep it red enough for him. At the very least, they’d have to take some of the bluer-and-bluer inner Harris parts out to keep things in their favor. What happens now if Fletcher wins again? Well, they could try this anyway, to take that seat back by other means. Redistricting doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though, and with CDs 02, 10, and 22 all getting competitive it might be too much to save everyone, especially in a solidly blue Harris County and a much more balanced state as a whole. It would not shock me if the Republicans basically gave up on CD07 and used parts of it to shore up those other districts, especially CD02. That’s more or less what they did with the State House in 2011, making HD133 (which they had lost in 2008) redder while making HDs 137 and 149 bluer. Incumbent protection is still a thing that matters, and in a state with fewer safe Republicans, it may matter more than ever. Just a thought.