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Congress

Blake Farenthold is a gift that keeps on giving

Oh, Blake.

Blake Farenthold

Nearly a month after abruptly resigning from Congress in the wake of revelations over lewd and verbally abusive behavior, former Corpus Christi Rep. Blake Farenthold had been angling for several days to get a lobbying job at a port authority in his district.

And he appeared to be getting antsy.

“What’s up with the lawyers?” Farenthold wrote to Calhoun Port Authority director Charles Hausmann in an April 30 email, which was obtained by The Dallas Morning News through an open records request. “I’m ready to get work for y’all.

“Any problems that I should know about?”

Farenthold ended up landing the gig this month.  He  started Monday as a $160,000-a-year legislative liaison who will seek to boost the port’s “presence and visibility in Washington.”

The new position — which Farenthold announced in a radio interview — has created a stir in South Texas and beyond, in no small part because the former congressman said this week that he would not repay $84,000 in taxpayer money used to settle a sexual harassment suit against him.

Never stop never stopping.

Asked Friday about a news report that said former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s recent hiring as a lobbyist for the Port of Port Lavaca may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, the Republican said he “wasn’t involved.”

The Victoria Advocate reported Friday that Farenthold’s hiring may have been illegal since the notice posted by the Calhoun Port Authority, which oversees the port, was too vague in describing what was going to be said at a closed meeting where the former congressman’s hiring was discussed.

“I’m trying to get on with my life. I wasn’t involved other than I talked to them about a job. I don’t know anything about it,” Farenthold said after an event hosted by The Texas Tribune. “I’m not talking to reporters. I’m a private citizen now.”

According to the Advocate, the posting said the board would meet “for the purposes of deliberating the appointment, employment, compensation, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of a public officer or employee.” But the Texas Supreme Court ruled that these notices need to be specific when they concern high-profile people.

Like flies to a garbage can, you know? Some people just have a knack for this sort of thing.

Farenthold, in a brief phone interview, said that he’s “a private citizen now” and is “trying to not be a news item anymore.” He declined to comment on what the Florida reference meant. He didn’t dispute the general timeline for how he obtained his new employment.

“I started looking for a job as soon as I was out of office,” he said.

Heck of a job not being a news item, dude. Maybe next time check and see if Chili’s is hiring first.

2018 primary runoff results: Congress and Legislature

All results are here. I began drafting this around 9:30 when there were still a bunch of precincts out, but with the exception of the tossup in CD25, all of the Congressional races were pretty clear by then:

CD03: Lorie Burch
CD06: Jana Sanchez
CD07: Lizzie Fletcher
CD10: Mike Siegel
CD21: Joseph Kopser
CD22: Sri Kulkarni
CD23: Gina Ortiz Jones
CD27: Eric Holguin
CD31: MJ Hegar
CD32: Colin Allred

At the time I started writing this, Julie Oliver led in CD25 by 70 votes out of almost 18,000 cast and about three quarters of precincts reporting. Later on, she had pulled out to a five point lead, so add her to the winners’ list as well.

On the legislative side, Rita Lucido was leading in SD17, Sheryl Cole had a modest lead in HD46 with most precincts reporting, Carl Sherman had a much bigger lead in HD109, and longtime Rep. Rene Oliveira had been shown the door.

As for the Republicans, Dan Crenshaw won big in CD02, Lance Gooden won in CD05, so no more Republican women in Congress, Chip Roy and Michael Cloud led in CDs 21 and 27, respectively. The wingnuts in HDs 08 and 121 lost, and incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper lost.

Congratulations to all the winners. I’ll have some more coherent thoughts on all these races in the next day or so.

The Trib on CD22 and Fort Bend

A closer look at a lower-profile but highly interesting primary runoff.

Sri Kulkarni

At a glance, volunteers at Sri Kulkarni’s campaign headquarters are no different than those for congressional campaigns across the country — huddling over laptops, tapping voters’ numbers into their cell phones and concentrating on the call scripts in front of them.

But when the person on the other end of the line picks up, some volunteers greet them not in English but in Vietnamese, Hindi, Urdu or Mandarin Chinese.

For Kulkarni, a Democrat vying for a congressional seat in a Republican-leaning district, getting his message out to voters means not just knocking on doors and calling voters but also speaking the language they speak.

“You need to reach out to those communities the way they are and the way they want to be reached,” Kulkarni said. “The blue wave is real. That force is coming from all of us.”

Letitia Plummer

Kulkarni and Letitia Plummer are vying in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff to take on U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. Though President Donald Trump won the district by 8 percentage points in 2016, both Democrats see it as vulnerable, in part due to demographic changes — the same shifts that both candidates are using to their advantage. The district includes most of Fort Bend County, one of America’s most ethnically diverse counties: 20 percent of its residents are Asian, 20 percent are black, 24 percent are Hispanic and 34 percent are white. Clinton won the county decisively in 2016.

In the March primaries, Kulkarni and Plummer came in first and second among five Democrats vying for the seat, drawing 32 and 24 percent of the vote respectively.

Kulkarni, a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, has focused his campaign on groups of voters that he thinks will help bring about a local “blue wave” in November — particularly Asian-Americans and Latinos, who have had low voter turnout in the past.

When they’ve gone block walking in minority neighborhoods, Kulkarni and his team said they’ve noticed a sense of gratitude mixed with shock because campaigns have so rarely engaged those areas.

“A lot of folks have told me that no one has knocked on their door before, no one has called them before,” Kulkarni said. “Some of them just grab me and pull me in like a life preserver because they’ve never had somebody come out that way.”

Kulkarni’s campaign has translated his website into Spanish and Chinese, visited local temples and mosques and arranged appearances with Latino, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Indian media outlets, including Hindi/Urdu, Telugu and Malayali talk shows.

[…]

Nathan Gonzalez, editor and publisher of the Washington, D.C.-based Inside Elections, said he’s skeptical when campaigns appear to be relying heavily on turning out non-voters, but doesn’t rule out the strategy’s potential effectiveness, particularly in a climate in which Trump’s presidency is prompting an increase in civic action.

“I think the burden of proof is on Democrats to show that they can harness the energy from the protests and increasing fundraising and large number of candidates in races into votes,” Gonzalez said.

CD22 also includes parts of Harris and Brazoria counties, but going by the 2016 and 2014 results, about two thirds of the total vote in CD22 will be cast in Fort Bend. If a Democrat hopes to win CD22, he or she is almost certainly going to have to carry the part of the district that’s in Fort Bend. That’s a tall order based on electoral history, but it’s the task at hand.

The story notes Fort Bend’s diversity. That carries over into CD22, which has more Asian-American residents than any other Texas Congressional district (the “Other” classification in these reports generally refers to Asian-Americans). And while Nathan Gonzalez’s point is well taken, if you’re going to go after non-habitual voters, Asian-American voters make a lot of sense from a Democratic perspective.

In 1992, the first year that exit polls specifically tracked Asian Americans—an umbrella term referring to anyone with ancestry from East Asia, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent—55 percent of them supported George H. W. Bush over Bill Clinton. Eight years later, Al Gore became the first Democrat to win a majority of Asian American votes, and by 2012, the group favored Obama over Mitt Romney by almost 75 to 25. And the trend seems to be accelerating. More than a quarter of Asian American Republicans have abandoned the GOP since 2011, by far the largest shift of any demographic group. At the same time, the Asian American share of the population has doubled since 1990 to 6 percent overall.

The GOP’s increased nativism after 9/11 has long been a turnoff for Asian Americans, even before Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015. Trump has spent the better part of three years fear-mongering about undocumented immigrants—one out of six of whom is Asian. Asian Americans are the biggest beneficiaries of family reunification policies, which Trump and other prominent Republicans have taken to bashing as “chain migration.” (Family reunification is how nearly all Vietnamese and Bangladeshi immigrants have come to America.) Asian Americans might not be the direct target of Trump’s disdain as often as Hispanics, but the modern Republican Party’s increasingly overt hostility to nonwhite immigration can’t help but push them away.

All of which is good news for Democrats. But here’s the problem: Asian Americans have among the lowest voting rates of any racial group in America—49 percent of eligible voters, in 2016, compared to 65 percent among white people and 60 percent among black people. Not coincidentally, they also are less likely to be contacted by parties and campaigns. “Democrats are leaving a lot of votes on the table,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an expert in political demography. “They don’t need 100 percent Asian turnout, but if Asians could come close to what whites vote at, or even blacks, it could have a big difference.”

That may make Sri Kulkarni the stronger general election candidate, but he has to win the runoff first. We’ll know soon enough about that.

Runoff races, part 4: Republicans

Again, not going to spend too much time on this, but here are the US House and State House races for which there are Republican primary runoffs:


Dist  Candidate    March%
=========================
CD02  Roberts      33.03%
CD02  Crenshaw     27.42%

CD05  Gooden       29.97%
CD05  Pounds       21.95%

CD06  Wright       45.15%
CD06  Ellzey       21.76%

CD21  Roy          27.06%
CD21  McCall       16.93%

CD27  Bruun        36.09%
CD27  Cloud        33.83%

CD29  Aronoff      38.60%
CD29  Montiel      23.58%


HD04  Spitzer      45.78%
HD04  Bell         26.21%

HD08  Harris       44.99%
HD08  McNutt       39.39%

HD13  Wolfskill    38.47%
HD13  Leman        36.28%

HD54  Cosper       44.60%
HD54  Buckley      41.55%

HD62  Smith        45.84%
HD62  Lawson       34.35%

HD107 Metzger      45.32%
HD107 Ruzicka      27.34%

HD121 Beebe        29.56%
HD121 Allison      26.34%

We’ve discussed CD02 and CD21 in recent days. Bunni Pounds in CD05 is the Republicans’ best hope to bolster the ranks of female members of Congress from Texas. I mean sure, Carmen Montiel is still in the running in CD29, but I think we can all agree that winning the runoff would be her last hurrah. In any event, Pounds is outgoing Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s preferred successor, and she has the support of Mike Pence. Which, it turns out, has caused some drama in the White House, because everything these days causes drama in the White House. The two contenders in CD27 are also running in the special election. It would be funny if the runoff loser wound up winning that race, but my guess would be that the runoff loser withdraws from the special election.

In the State House races, HD121 is Joe Straus’ seat, while HD08 belonged to his deputy Byron Cook. Thomas McNutt and Matt Beebe are the wingnuts backed by Tim Dunn and Empower Texans who have run against Straus and Cook in the past, so if you hope to retain a touch of sanity in the lower chamber, root for their opponents. Scott Cosper is the lone incumbent in a runoff. Stuart Spitzer is a return customer in HD04 best known for his extreme love of virginity. HD107 is held by freshman Dem Victoria Neave, who like Rep. Oliveira had a recent brush with the law, and in part due to that may be the one truly vulnerable Dem in any legislative chamber this cycle. HD107 is also the latest example of Why Every Vote Matters, as primary runnerup Joe Ruzicka collected 2,070 votes in March, exactly one more than third place finisher Brad Perry’s 2,069 votes.

Finally, there’s the runoff for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 5 in Harris County, a race that will be decided by the Republican runoff as no Democrat filed for it. (There actually was a Dem who filed but he either withdrew or was disqualified late in the game, I don’t know which, and there wasn’t the time to collect enough petition signatures for a backup candidate.) The race is between normal incumbent Republican Jeff Williams and village idiot Michael Wolfe, backed by the likes of Steven Hotze and Eric Dick, the Tweedledum to Wolfe’s Tweedledumber. Go read Erica Greider if you want to know more about it.

Farenthold finds a trough

It’s the circle of life.

Blake Farenthold

Former Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold has accepted a lucrative position lobbying for a port in his ex-Texas district — mere weeks after resigning in disgrace amid fallout from using public funds to settle a past sexual harassment complaint.

The Calhoun Port Authority announced Monday that Farenthold would promote its interests in Washington and assist “in resolving funding issues.”

“Blake has always been a strong supporter of the Calhoun Port Authority and is familiar with the issues facing the port,” it said in a statement. Port Director Charles R. Hausmann said Farenthold’s annual salary will be $160,000.

The port is located in the Gulf Coast community of Point Comfort, an area hit by Hurricane Harvey last summer.

A former Farenthold congressional staffer didn’t return messages seeking comment Monday, but the ex-congressman himself told radio station KKTX that he’d taken a job about a 90-minute drive from his home in Corpus Christi.

We should all be so fortuitous with our employment prospects. And just to prove that it’s better to be lucky than good, there’s this:

Former House members are prohibited from acting as lobbyists for at least one year after leaving office. But there’s a loophole: The lobbying restrictions do not apply to employees or officials of federal, state or local governments. Since the port is run by the government, Farenthold does not have to abide by the mandatory one-year “cooling-off” period.

Life sure is beautiful, ain’t it?

Primary runoff early voting begins today

From the inbox:

Early voting for the May 22 Primary Runoff Elections will take place from Monday, May 14 to Friday, May 18. During that period, Harris County voters may vote at any of the 46 polling locations throughout the county. Polls will be open from 7 am to 7 pm.

“Every voter in Harris County is eligible to vote in either the Democratic Party or Republican Party Runoff Election.  However, a voter who participated in the March Primary Election may ONLY vote in the Primary Runoff Election of the same political party,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County.

It is not necessary to have voted in the March Primary Election to vote in one of the Primary Runoff Elections.  There are a total of thirteen (13) races in the Democratic Party Primary and four (4) in the Republican Party Primary.

 “Voting early is the best option because in Primary Runoff Elections, the political parties significantly consolidate many voting precincts into one poll due to low voter turnout. As a result, a voter’s usual polling location likely has changed for Election Day,” concluded Stanart, urging voters to take advantage of the early voting period.

Primary Runoff Elections are a party function. The political parties determine the number of voting locations and where the polls are located on Election Day.

For more information about the May 22 Primary Elections, view a personal sample ballot, or review a list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

The list of early voting locations is below. As usual, you are best off voting early – there’s going to be a limited number of Election Day precincts open, so vote early and avoid confusion. My look at the Congressional runoffs is here and the legislative runoffs is here. Of course there’s the Governor’s race, so wherever you are there’s a race to vote in, and here in Harris County we have runoffs for District Clerk, County Clerk, County Treasurer, HCDE Position 3 At Large, HCDE Position 6 Precinct 1, and Justice of the Peace in Precinct 7. Get out there and vote.

Early Voting Locations for the May 22, 2018 Primary Runoff Elections in Harris County, TX
Location Address City Zip
County Attorney Conference Center 1019 Congress Avenue Houston 77002
Champion Forest Baptist Church 4840 Strack Road Houston 77069
Prairie View A&M University Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Lake Houston Church of Christ 8003 Farmingham Road Humble 77346
Kingwood United Methodist Church 1799 Woodland Hills Drive Kingwood 77339
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
East Harris County Activity Center 7340 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
Harris County Scarsdale Annex 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Hiram Clarke Multi Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Katy Branch Library 5414 Franz Road Katy 77493
Lone Star College Cypress Center 19710 Clay Road Katy 77449
Harris County MUD 81 805 Hidden Canyon Road Katy 77450
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Harris County Public Health Environmental Services 2223 West Loop South Freeway, 1st Floor Houston 77027
Metropolitan Multi Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
City of Jersey Village City Hall 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Richard & Meg Weekley Community Center 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Street Houston 77074
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042
Living Word Church the Nazarene 16607 Clay Road Houston 77084
Trini Mendenhall Community Center 1414 Wirt Road Houston 77055
Acres Homes Multi Service Center 6719 West Montgomery Road Houston 77091
Fallbrook Church 12512 Walters Road Houston 77014
Lone Star College Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Northeast Multi Service Center 9720 Spaulding Street, Building 4 Houston 77016
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Kashmere Multi Service Center 4802 Lockwood Drive Houston 77026
North Channel Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Galena Park Library 1500 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
John Phelps Courthouse 101 South Richey Street Pasadena 77506
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Sunnyside Multi Service Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77051
Young Neighborhood Library 5107 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
SPJST Lodge 88 1435 Beall Street Houston 77008
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Big Stone Lodge 709 Riley Fuzzel Road Spring 77373
Lone Star College Creekside 8747 West New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
Spring First Church 1851 Spring Cypress Road Spring 77388

Runoff races, part 1: Congress

I looked at most of these races after the filing deadline here and here. Here’s a reminder about who’s still in.

Lorie Burch

CD03

Lorie BurchFinance report
Sam JohnsonFinance report

First round: Burch 49.61%, Johnson 28.68%

Burch was above fifty percent for most of the evening on March 6, but eventually fell less than 250 votes short of the mark. She was endorsed by the DMN for the primary. This North Texas Gazette story has a bit about these candidates, as well as those in the CD06 and CD32 runoffs.

CD06

Jana Lynne SanchezFinance report
Ruby Faye WoolridgeFinance report

First round: Woolridge 36.95%, Sanchez 36.90%

It doesn’t get much closer than this – fifteen votes separated Woolridge and Sanchez in March. Woolridge is a rare candidate in these races that has run for Congress before – she was the Dem nominee in 2016. She has the endorsements of the DMN and the Star-Telegram, though I can’t find the link for the latter. Sanchez has been the stronger fundraiser. Here’s a KERA overview and a Guardian story about female Congressional candidates that focuses on this race and on CD07.

CD07

Lizzie FletcherFinance report
Laura MoserFinance report

First round: Fletcher 29.36%, Moser 24.34%

I feel like you’re probably familiar with this race, so let’s move on.

CD10

Mike SiegelFinance report
Tawana CadienFinance report

First round: Siegel 40.00%, Cadien 17.96%

Cadien is another repeat candidate; this is her fourth go-round. She emphasized that she’s been there all along, when no one paid any attention to CD10, in this AusChron story. She doesn’t appear to have done any fundraising. Siegel has the Chron endorsement and picked up the HGLBT Political Caucus endorsement for the runoff.

CD21

Mary WilsonFinance report
Joseph KopserFinance report

First round: Wilson 30.90%, Kopser 29.03%

The CD21 primary was the original “establishment/centrist versus outsider/lefty” primary, though the role of the latter was initially played by Derrick Crowe. Mary Wilson kind of came out of nowhere – if you want to posit that she benefited by being the only woman in the four-candidate race, I won’t stop you – and has been receiving some catch-up media coverage since. The Statesman did profiles of both candidates – Wilson here, Kopser here – and Texas Public Radio has more.

CD22

Sri KulkarniFinance report
Letitia PlummerFinance report

First round: Kulkarni 31.85%, Plummer 24.29%

My interview with Kulkarni is here and with Plummer is here. I referenced the news stories I could find about them in those posts, and there ain’t much since then. Kulkarni got the Chron endorsement in March.

Gina Ortiz Jones

CD23

Gina Ortiz JonesFinance report
Rick TrevinoFinance report

First round: Ortiz Jones 41.56%, Trevino 17.38%

Like CD21, this runoff has an “establishment/outsider lefty” narrative, but it wasn’t supposed to be that way. It started out as a battle between establishment factions, but that crashed to earth in March when the Castro-backed Jay Hulings came in fourth. I said my piece about this one a couple of days ago, so let me just add that Gina Ortiz Jones has the potential to be a star if she can win and win again in 2020. She’s already probably the most-covered candidate (non-Beto division) in the state, and her combination of youth, background, and willingness to speak bluntly is a good recipe for continued attention from the national press. If she wins and can get re-elected, I don’t think it would be crazy to imagine her getting touted as a statewide candidate in the near future, perhaps in 2022 for Governor or 2024 for Senate if Beto can’t knock off Cruz.

CD25

Chris PerriFinance report
Julie OliverFinance report

First round: Perri 32.79%, Oliver 26.44%

I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to this race, as CD25 is a notch or two down on the competitiveness list. It’s not out of the question that this could be competitive in November, but if it is Democrats are having a very, very good day. The AusChron and the Statesman have a couple of good recent profiles of this race the the two remaining candidates, both of whom look perfectly acceptable. According to Ed Sills’ email newsletter, Julie Oliver recently joined Laura Moser and Mike Siegel in having their campaigns get unionized, a trend that I approve of. Whoever wins, I hope he or she puts up a good fight against empty-suit-with-Rick-Perry-class-hair Roger Williams.

CD27

Roy BarreraFinance report
Eric HolguinFinance report

First round: Barrera 41.23%, Holguin 23.30%

I had some hope in this one early on, but that pretty much dissipated when Ducky Boy Farenthold was able to slink off into the sunset. With boring generic Republicans in the running for the nomination, this is a boring generic race in which the Rs are heavily favored. I don’t have much expectation for the special election in August, as the multiple Democratic candidates on the ballot will likely split the vote enough to produce an all-R runoff. There are plenty of other races out there to get invested in.

CD31

MJ HegarFinance report
Christine Eady MannFinance report

First round: Hegar 44.93%, Mann 33.51%

Hegar is the high-profile candidate in this race, and she has been the much stronger fundraiser. She’s got a great story as a Purple Heart recipient and advocate for women who’s published a book on her experiences and gets invited to participate in things like the Texas Monthly Women’s Voices Project, but Mann was in the race earlier and picked a pretty good year to run for Congress as a doctor. Like Gina Ortiz Jones, I think Hegar has star potential, but her road to Congress is a lot rougher. The AusChron and Killeen Daily Herald have brief overviews of this race.

CD32

Colin AllredFinance report
Lillian SalernoFinance report

First round: Allred 38.43%, Salerno 18.35%

Another runoff where the script deviated from what we might have originally expected. Ed Meier, an Obama administration alum and the top fundraiser going into March, fell short as Allred ran well ahead of everyone else in the field. I have to think he has the edge just by the numbers, but Salerno has been no slouch at fundraising, and female candidates as a group did very well in March, so don’t go counting chickens yet. The Dallas Observer did some good Q&As with these candidates before the primary – here’s Allred, here’s Salerno – and there are more recent Q&As from the UTD Mercury with Allred and the Preston Hollow People with Salerno. The DMN, which endorsed Allred, has a runoff overview here. And my favorite news bite on this race: A Marijuana Super PAC Is Targeting Pete Sessions. Smoke ’em if you got ’em, y’all.

I’ll round up the legislative runoffs tomorrow.

Endorsement watch: Runoff time

The Chron goes for Lizzie Fletcher in CD07.

Lizzie Fletcher

United States Representative, District 7: Lizzie Pannill Fletcher

Democrats have a serious chance of knocking Republican Congressman John Culberson out of the seat he has occupied since 2001. The 7th Congressional District encompasses some of the Houston area’s wealthiest neighborhoods, from West University Place and Bellaire to flood ravaged subdivisions in west and northwest Harris County. What was once the safely Republican district represented by George H.W. Bush was won by Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election. That caught the attention of seven Democrats who ran in a spirited primary. Now attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and freelance writer Laura Moser face each other in a hotly contested runoff.

Fletcher is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate who edited the William and Mary Law Review, a former Vinson & Elkins attorney who later became the first woman partner at another 50-person litigation firm. Her professional credentials and connections present the Houston model of business-friendly cosmopolitanism that used to be the hallmark of local Republicans. That George H.W. Bush-James Baker model has been abandoned by the Trump crowd and now Democrats like Fletcher are starting to claim the political territory as their own.

Her longtime history of involvement in both the corporate world and local nonprofits offers an appeal to crossover voters yearning to hear the voice of a real Houstonian up in Washington.

The Chron dual-endorsed Fletcher and Jason Westin in the primary, so this is not a surprise. As a reminder, my interview with Fletcher is here and with Laura Moser is here. I haven’t seen many announcements of runoff endorsements by other groups – many of them stayed out of the March race, and some went with other candidates – but Erik Manning’s runoff spreadsheet has you covered there.

The Chron also made a recommendation in the runoff for JP in Precinct 7.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

Audrie Lawton came in third in this race for the Democratic nomination for this front-line judicial position, so instead we lend our endorsement to Cheryl Elliott Thornton.

Of the two remaining candidates, Thornton, 60, has the most legal experience. She currently serves as an assistant county attorney but has held a variety of legal roles in her over 30 years of practice. Past positions include general counsel for Texas Southern University and administrative law judge for the Texas Workforce Commission. Thorton, a graduate of Thurgood Marshall School of Law, has an impressive record of community involvement in this southeast Houston district as well as in the greater Houston community. That diverse experience that makes for a fine justice of the peace, which often has to deal with pro-se litigants in Class C misdemeanor criminal cases and minor civil matters. This specific bench covers a slice of Harris County that stretches from Midtown and the Third Ward south to the Sam Houston Tollway.

The other candidate, Sharon M. Burney, the daughter of long-time sitting justice Zinetta Burney, is a practicing lawyer as well but can’t match Thorton’s legal experience.

Here’s the Q&A I got from Thornton. I did not receive one from Burney. For the other runoffs, the candidate the Chron endorsed originally is still in the race:

CD10 – Mike Siegel
CD22 – Sri Kulkarni
HD133 – Marty Schexnayder
District Clerk – Marilyn Burgess
County Clerk – Diane Trautman
Treasurer – Dylan Osborne
HCDE Position 3, At Large – Josh Wallenstein
HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 – Danny Norris

Early voting starts Monday and only runs through Friday – five says of EV is standard for runoffs. Get out there and vote.

A primary runoff threefer

It’s getting chippy in CD02.

What started off as a relatively cordial campaign between two Republicans who want to represent parts of Houston in Congress has gotten downright testy as early voting looms.

Eight weeks ago, Dan Crenshaw and Kevin Roberts were publicly declaring their respect for one another and making plans to visit a gun range together. Now the men are accusing each other of twisting words to score political points ahead of early voting, which begins May 14. Election Day is May 22, two weeks from Tuesday.

[…]

Over the last several days Crenshaw and his supporters have accused Roberts of disrespecting the his experience and that of all U.S. military veterans — something Roberts called “an absolute lie.”

That came just days after Roberts said Crenshaw demeaned Christianity in a Facebook post years ago, a claim Crenshaw called false and a “new low even for a politician like Kevin.”

The heightened intensity between the two shows how in a tight Republican primary in which candidates hold many of the same core philosophies, personalities inevitably become a key part of the race.

You can read the details as you see fit. It’s petty and personal, which as noted in that last paragraph is usually how things go. Lord knows, there are plenty of people on my side who are MORE THAN READY for the primary season to be over about now. One thing the story doesn’t note is the TV ads that are once again sullying my live-sports-watching experience, as some shadowy deep-pockets group accused Crenshaw of being insufficiently toadying to Donald Trump. They’re not as bad as the Kathaleen Wall ads, because nothing will ever be as bad as the Kathaleen Wall ads, but they’re bad.

Meanwhile, in CD21 there are two sets of runoffs keeping everyone busy.

With just a week remaining before the start of early runoff voting, the two Republicans and two Democrats vying to succeed longtime U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) pressed the flesh at a candidate forum Monday in San Marcos.

More than 50 people attended the “meet and greet” event organized by the League of Women Voters of Hays County at the San Marcos Activity Center, taking the opportunity to hear from the congressional candidates in advance of the May 22 runoff. Each candidate had five minutes to give an introductory speech to the audience and provide his or her qualifications for public office.

The GOP ballot has Boerne business owner Matt McCall squaring off with Chip Roy, a former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who lives in Dripping Springs. The Democratic runoff is a contest between two Austinites – businessman and U.S. Army veteran Joseph Kopser and Mary Street Wilson, an educator-turned-minister.

[…]

McCall and Roy have cast themselves as conservative Republicans who advocate limited government, a free market economy, a strong military, better border security, and a pro-life approach to reproductive rights.

In his remarks to the audience, Roy made an appeal to Democratic, GOP, and independent voters in the crowd.

“Fundamentally, I believe we have an opportunity right now to reunite this country around our shared values,” said Roy, who also has worked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and former Gov. Rick Perry. “I think we’ve got an opportunity to get back to the things we all care about on a non-partisan basis.”

Roy said that all people should care about the ever-growing national debt, rising health insurance premiums, a flawed immigration system, and ill-equipped military personnel.

“We have disagreements on how we get to the solutions, and that’s fine,” he said.

Roy, who most recently worked for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank, said he agrees with the federal government handling fewer national issues, and letting states address most other issues, such as health care.

“Let California be California and let Texas be Texas,” he said. “Let us be able to figure out these things at the local and state level.”

Roy almost sounds reasonable there, doesn’t he? I don’t buy it, but compared to what he could be saying, it’s not terrible.

And finally, look at the underdog in CD23.

On the last Wednesday in April, things are not going as planned for Rick Treviño. He has just driven two-and-a-half hours from San Antonio, where he lives, for a local Democratic event, only to find that it’s been rescheduled for later in the week. So, he decamps to a McDonald’s inside a Walmart here in Eagle Pass, a border town that’s in the far southeastern corner of Congressional District 23, the sprawling West Texas district that Treviño is gunning for as a Democrat. Frustrated and with five hours to kill until a meet-and-greet event in the evening, Treviño called an audible. He was going to knock on some doors.

Using the McDonald’s Wi-Fi, he logged onto his account with the Texas Democratic Party’s voter database to, as he puts it, “cut turf” on the fly. With the help of a campaign volunteer over the phone, he quickly pulled together a list of a few dozen homes in Eagle Pass.

“This is a grassroots campaign, man,” he tells me. And this, Treviño says, is how — with next to no money — he squeaked into the Democratic runoff, beating three other candidates, including Jay Hulings, the Castro brothers’ favorite who raised more than $600,000. “I win when I’m at the doors. I win when I’m talking to people.”

It’s also how he plans to win his runoff against Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer who won the crowded five-person primary with a commanding 40 percent of the vote. Treviño trailed Ortiz Jones by more than 10,000 votes.

But Treviño doesn’t see Ortiz Jones as his only opponent in the May 22 runoff. He says he’s running against the entire Democratic Party establishment and its hackneyed approach to politics. After the March 6 primary, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) placed Ortiz Jones on its Red to Blue list of top-priority candidates, citing her long list of both local and national endorsements.

[…]

His bid has support from the phalanx of new groups like Our Revolution, the Sanders’ campaign offshoot, Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress that are promoting anti-establishment candidates in congressional races around the country.

“He’s the new populist candidate in the old populist state of Texas,” says Jim Hightower, who heads Our Revolution Texas. “Candidates like Rick have a genuine message not developed in a think tank or by political consultants but out of his heart and his gut. And he conveys that with great conviction to voters and potential new voters.”

These groups have helped bring in small donors and door-knocking volunteers. But for the most part, Treviño’s campaign is a one-man show.

Emphasis mine. I bolded that section because a peek at Treviño’s campaign finance report shows what this means in practice. Click on the Browse Receipts button, and you will see that Treviño has taken in a total of ten donations for the runoff. One is from Justice Democrats and one (a max $2,700 contribution) is from someone in Colorado, so in all eight individuals have donated to him since he placed second in the primary. A tsunami that ain’t.

As for Ortiz Jones, who gets her own fawning profile from the Current, had 42 contributions from ActBlue among the first 100 in her report. A lot of PAC money in there too, to be sure, but many many times as many individual donations. I’ve got nothing against Rick Treviño, who seems like a good guy who’s working hard in this race. I just wonder about the definition of “grassroots” sometimes, and who gets to define what it means.

The crossover question

From G. Elliott Morris, reviewing the recent AZ-08 special Congressional election:

The second thing to learn from AZ-08 helps explain the first: if Democrats aren’t winning because of differential turnout (or, not solely because of differential turnout), why are they? The only explanation is that Republicans are crossing over to vote for Democrats](https://twitter.com/geoffreyvs/status/988982464524750853). This is clear as day in the early voting numbers from Arizona’s 8th.

Here are the data: In the 155,000 early/absentee mail-in ballots cast in last night’s contest, Republicans ran a 21-point margin in party registration. One would assume (perhaps naively, as candidates from one party aren’t wed to that candidate) that this would give them a 21-point margin in actual ballots cast for either ticket. As I explained on my blog this assumption could go wrong for many reasons:

Early voting data are not “real results,” per se, despite what some analysts would have you believe, since partisanship does not equal vote choice. Though they are very correlated in modern America it is not a safe bet to assume all GOP ballots are for GOP candidates, and vice versa for Democratic voters and candidates. Such assumptions would have led us quite astray in the Texas primaries where Democrats cast more early votes than Republicans for the first time since 2010, but cast just 40% of total votes in the D or R primaries.

Indeed, the early vote did mislead. Debbie Lesko won these “R+21” early votes by just a 6-point margin, meaning there was enough persuasion of Republicans to Tipirneni’s side to move the needle fifteen points. That is certainly (or, at the very least, it ought to be) enough to make many Republican elected officials shake in their boots.

There is an extra point to be made here: even in a contest where 75% of ballots are cast early, our analysis of those results can often go wrong. Stick (though not exclusively) to the polls, folks; Emerson College pegged Lesko’s lead at 6 points. She won by 6.

Hold that thought, because Harry Enten was thinking along similar lines.

Republicans turned out in this election. The relative difference between Democrats and Republicans in registration among those who voted was about equal to overall registration figures. The number of people who voted in the special is fairly close to the number who voted in the the district during the last midterm election, in 2014. That’s not surprising because it is easy to vote early and by mail in Arizona. This allowed Republicans, who perhaps might have be been uninspired, to cast ballots without too much hassle.

It also means, however, that poor turnout is not an excuse for Republicans in this race. One common reason to be cautious of the special election results so far has been low turnout. Yet this election, like Pennsylvania 18 last month, saw turnout close to or exceeding 2014 levels, and Republicans trailed greatly behind the partisan baseline of these districts.

Finally, Republicans had a good candidate in Lesko. She had no major scandals and raised plenty of money. One of the excuses in previous elections that Republicans lost like Alabama US Senate (with Republican Roy Moore) and Pennsylvania 18 (with Republican Rick Saccone) was that the Republican was either scandal plagued or didn’t know how to raise funds. Lesko wasn’t either of those, and there was still a significant shift to the left.

Martin Longman and Ed Kilgore also discuss this evidence from the special elections that some non-trivial number of people who had identified (or registered, in the states that do that) as Republicans have not been voting for Republican candidates. Kilgore notes that national polling indicates that independents are pretty heavily negative on Donald Trump, which I will note is in line with that Quinnipiac Texas poll that had some people loudly complaining.

Now as always, it’s hard to say how much the national atmosphere applies to Texas, though it’s pretty clear that the state was an accurate reflection of said mood in 2006 and 2010 and 2014. To the extent that Democrats have a shot at winning races here that they haven’t won before, the formula starts with a boost in base turnout, because being outvoted by a million people statewide is not a good recipe for success. But if more Democrats showing up can put certain candidates in range, then a sufficient number of crossovers could put them the rest of the way over the top. To cite two recent examples, about 300,000 people who otherwise voted Republican voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and for Bill White in 2010. Neither candidate won, but in a context where base Democratic voting was higher, they could have.

How much of this happens this November, statewide and in the various specific districts of interest, is anyone’s guess right now, but may become clearer as we get more polling results. The point I’m making here is that there is evidence of it happening with Republicans elsewhere, and that this has been a part of the Democratic improvement in recent elections. In the absence of more polls like that Q-pac poll we can’t assume it’s happening here, but in the absence of more polls that aren’t like that Q-pac poll we can’t assume it’s not happening, either.

Interview with Mike Siegel

Mike Siegel

Early voting for the primary runoffs begins in a week, running from Monday through Friday, with Tuesday the 22nd being the vote-at-your-precinct-location day. I’ll have more information about that later, but for now I have one more interview to present. Mike Siegel led the field of seven in CD10 in March with 40% of the vote. Sigel is an Assistant City Attorney for the city of Austin, leading their efforts in the litigation against the “sanctuary cities” law. He served in the Teach for America corps out of college and later co-founded two nonprofit education organizations. Here’s what we talked about:

You can still find information about Congressional candidates on my 2018 Congressional webpage. I did not reach out to the other candidate in the runoff, Tawana Cadien, who was the Democratic nominee in CD10 in each of the last three elections, as she has not yet filed a campaign finance report for Q1 2018 and doesn’t appear to be doing much campaigning. I did interview her in 2012 if you’d like to listen to that.

Farenthold tells Abbott to go pound sand

Well, what did you expect?

Blake Farenthold

Blake Farenthold — a disgraced former Texas congressman who resigned last month — will not fund the special election to replace himself, he told Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter Wednesday, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Abbott had asked that Farenthold pay for the election, set for June 30, as a form of recompense: Farenthold resigned in April, months after it came to light that he had settled a sexual harassment claim from a former staffer with $84,000 of taxpayer money.

That payment mechanism is allowed under federal law but has nonetheless drawn sharp criticism on both sides of the aisle since it was uncovered last fall. Farenthold had originally pledged to repay that sum to taxpayers, but has yet to do so, claiming he is acting on the advice of his lawyers.

Farenthold, who is worth well over $2 million, according to a recent financial disclosure form, has now said he won’t pay for the election either.

“Since I didn’t call it and I don’t think it’s necessary, I shouldn’t be asked to pay for it,” his letter said.

See here for the background, and here for a longer version of that Chron story. I’m actually kind of glad there isn’t a copy of the letter to share, because the various closings I can imagine him using – “See you in hell”, “Kiss my grits“, “Insincerely yours” – are all way more entertaining to me than what he no doubt actually used. The point here is that just as Congress can’t touch Farenthold for the $84K he swiped, neither can Abbott for the special election that he insisted (quite reasonably, in my opinion) on calling. And Farenthold damn well knows this, which when combined with his utter lack of shame or conscience, is how we got here. See you in hell, indeed.

UPDATE: Okay, fine, you can see the letter here.

Interview with Sri Preston Kulkarni

Sri Kulkarni

The other contender in the Democratic primary runoff for CD22 is Sri Preston Kulkarni, who led the field in March with just under 32%. A graduate of UT, Kulkarni was commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer after college and served there for 14 years with stints in a variety of countries. He has also served as a foreign policy and defense advisor on Capitol Hill, assisting Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee. As with Gina Ortiz Jones in CD23, Kulkarni is hoping to become the first Asian-American elected to Congress from Texas. We covered a lot of ground in the interview:

You can still find information about Congressional candidates on my 2018 Congressional webpage. I have reached out to some other candidates and will have at least one more of these interviews, for next week. After that it’s more up to them than me at this point.

Interview with Letitia Plummer

Letitia Plummer

As you know, I did not do interviews in all of the contested Democratic primaries this year. There were just too many of them, with too many candidates, for me to be able to get to them all in the limited time frame available. I figured for at least some of these races that I could return to them in the runoffs, and so that’s what I’m doing here. I’ll have interviews with candidates in some Democratic Congressional runoffs, starting this week with CD22. Letitia Plummer, who came in second in that field of five, is a Houston native and first-time candidate. She is a dentist who owns two offices in the district, and while there’s not a whole lot of biographical information about her on her campaign website, I found this Forward Times story from early 2016 before she was a candidate and this Reddit post from last year when she was that will give you a lot more about her background. Here’s what she had to say with me:

You can still find information about Congressional candidates on my 2018 Congressional webpage. I hope to have more of these interviews between now and the start of early voting.

Nine for CD27

And they’re off.

Blake Farenthold

Nine candidates have filed for the June 30 special election to finish former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s term, according to the secretary of state’s office. The deadline was 5 p.m. Friday.

As expected, the group includes the four candidates who are currently in the May 22 runoffs for the November election: Democrats Raul “Roy” Barrera and Eric Holguin, as well as Republicans Bech Bruun and Michael Cloud. The other five candidates who filed for the special election are Democrat Mike Westergren, Republican Marty Perez, independent Judith Cutright, Libertarian Daniel Tinus and independent Christopher Suprun.

Of the five candidates who are not also in the runoffs, Suprun, who is from Dallas, is perhaps best known — he refused to vote for Donald Trump at Texas’ Electoral College meeting following the 2016 presidential election. Westergren, meanwhile, is a Corpus Christi lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for Texas Supreme Court in 2016.

[…]

Before the June 30 special election to finish Farenthold’s term, voters in the district will primary runoffs will take place on May 22 to determine Democratic and Republican nominees for the seat in the fall. The winner of that contest will serve a full term beginning in January 2019.

See here for the background. Let’s be clear that only the candidates who are in the primary runoffs have a chance to hold this seat beyond the end of this year, if he or she wins both their runoff and then again in November. The others can aspire to be little more than a slightly extended version of Shelley Sekula Gibbs. Which isn’t nothing, but isn’t more than that. My guess is that any involvement from national Democrats would occur in the runoff for this race, assuming one of the three Dems that filed makes it that far. We’ll see how it goes.

The case against expediting the CD27 special election

Erica Greider does not approve of Greg Abbott’s actions in CD27.

Blake Farenthold

All things considered, then, I find it hard to believe that Abbott’s decision was motivated by his altruistic concern for the Texans who live in this district.

What disturbs me, however, is that under the laws of Texas, the 27th Congressional District probably shouldn’t have a representative in Congress at all until January, when the candidate who wins the general election will be sworn into office.

I’ve always believed that the laws of Texas should not be dismissed as a technicality, or taken lightly, or suspended by the governor of Texas, whoever that might be.

Abbott has always cast himself as someone who believes in the rule of law. But in calling for this emergency special election, he has acted in a way that might — by his own account — exceed his constitutional authority.

“May I utilize my authority under section 418.016 of the Government Code to suspend relevant state election laws and order an emergency special election?” he asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a letter sent on Friday, April 19.

In Paxton’s opinion, Abbott may suspend state election laws. And in the opinion he issued on Monday, in response to the governor’s letter, he concluded that a court would likely agree.

Perhaps. But we don’t know that. And neither does Abbott, who responded to Paxton’s opinion by acting unilaterally on Tuesday.

See here for the background. I take her point, and Lord knows the rule of law could use all the support it can get these days. I just believe that the default preference in all cases should be to get these elections scheduled as soon as reasonably possible. Having this one in November is essentially pointless. Have it now, so that even a temporary representative will be able to, you know, represent the people of CD27. Remember when Rick Perry chose to keep a vacancy in HD143 through two special sessions he called? Greg Abbott and his lapdog Ken Paxton may have pushed the envelope here, but the urge to let the voters fill an empty seat is one I’ll defend.

Abbott wants to send Farenthold a bill for the CD27 special election

Good luck with that.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott is demanding that former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold “cover all costs” of the special election to fill his seat using the $84,000 the Corpus Christi Republican used to settle a sexual harassment claim years ago.

Farenthold, who abruptly resigned earlier this month, had promised to pay back the $84,000 — which came out of a taxpayer-funded account — after that settlement was made public last year but hasn’t so far.

In a letter to Farenthold on Wednesday, Abbott said the former congressman should return the money to taxpayers by funding the June 30 special election to finish his term.

“While you have publicly offered to reimburse the $84,000 in taxpayer funds you wrongly used to settle a sexual harassment claim, there is no legal recourse requiring you to give that money back to Congress,” Abbott wrote. “I am urging you to give those funds back to the counties in your district to cover the costs of the June 30, 2018, special election.”

“This seat must be filled, and the counties and taxpayers in the 27th Congressional District should not again pay the price for your actions,” Abbott added. He requested a response from Farenthold by May 2.

See here and here for the background. We all understand that this is just a stunt by Abbott, right? He has no more leverage over Farenthold than the Office of Congressional Ethics does at this point. Farenthold was never afflicted with a sense of shame before, and there’s no reason to think he will be afflicted by it going forward. It’s a feel-good maneuver by Abbott, and honestly I can’t blame him for it – if Wendy Davis were Governor today, she might well have sent a similar letter – but that’s all it is. That letter will have as much effect on Faranthold’s actions as any of my blog posts have had.

SCOTUS hears the redistricting arguments

It’s in their hands now.

Much of the argument concerned the issue of whether the case was properly before the justices at all.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas, in San Antonio, ruled that a congressional district including Corpus Christi denied Hispanic voters “their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” The district court also rejected a second congressional district stretching from San Antonio to Austin, saying that race had been the primary factor in drawing it.

In a separate decision, the district court found similar flaws in several state legislative districts.

But the court did not issue an injunction compelling the state to do anything, and only instructed Texas officials to promptly advise it about whether they would try to draw new maps.

[…]

The question for the justices, [Allison J. Riggs, a lawyer for the challengers] said, was, “Did the Legislature adopt the interim plan for race-neutral reasons, or did it use the adoption of that interim plan as a mask for the discriminatory intent that had manifested itself just two years ago?”

Later in the argument, she answered her own question. “They wanted to end the litigation,” she said, “by maintaining the discrimination against black and Latino voters, muffling their growing political voice in a state where black and Latino voters’ population is exploding.”

See here for the previous update. I’ll be honest, I’m a little unclear as to what exactly SCOTUS may be ruling on. The DMN has the most concise summary of that:

If the justices side with the state:
The lower court’s ruling could be vacated and Texas’ electoral maps would stay the same until they are next redrawn in 2021.

A victory for the state would also benefit Republican lawmakers, who would start their next redistricting session with more districts that are favorable to Anglo voters, who tend to vote Republican. That would slow the growth of districts with majority minority populations, which tend to vote Democrat, and whose numbers are fueling the state’s population growth.

If the court sides with the map’s challengers:
The case would be sent back to the San Antonio court, which would start hearings on how to redraw new maps that could also be appealed to the Supreme Court. Changing the challenged districts could have a ripple effect on surrounding districts and lead to more Democrats being elected.

A victory for them could spell deeper trouble for Texas. The San Antonio court could consider whether to place the state back under federal supervision for changes made to its election laws and maps. Texas and several other states with a history of discrimination were under “pre-clearance” — a protection under the Voting Rights Act for minorities who were historically disenfranchised — until a Supreme Court ruling in 2013.

If the justices rule it’s out of their jurisdiction:
The Supreme Court could send the case back to San Antonio because — despite the state’s argument that the order is in essence an injunction — the court hasn’t blocked the use of the current maps yet. Then the case could play out in much the same way as if the Supreme Court had sided with maps’ challengers, and the state could again appeal to the Supreme Court if the court formally blocks the maps.

In that latter case, I presume we[‘d go through the motions of getting a final ruling from the lower court, then going back to SCOTUS since surely there would be another appeal. From the way the hearing went it sounds like at least some of the justices think now is not the time for them to get involved, so be prepared for this to not be over yet. Whatever it is they do, they’ll do it by the summertime, so at least we won’t have to wait that long. CNN, NBC, SCOTUSBlog, Justin Levitt, the WaPo, and the Chron have more.

Special election set in CD27

Here we go.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott has called a June 30 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

The candidate filing deadline is Friday, and early voting will run from June 13-26, according to the governor’s proclamation.

[…]

Democratic and Republican runoffs are currently underway in the race to represent the district for a full term starting in January 2019. Raul “Roy” Barrera and Eric Holguin are running for the Democratic nomination, while Bech Bruun and Michael Cloud are competing for the Republican nod. The runoffs are May 22.

See here for the background, and here for the governor’s press release. Yes, that really is this Friday, as in two days from today, for the filing deadline. My guess is that the four candidates currently in the primary runoffs will file for this, with maybe a stray or two joining in. I would also guess that unless the loser of the Democratic primary runoff subsequently drops out, there won’t be much national attention paid to this race, not because it’s less winnable than the other special elections but because there won’t be a single candidate to focus on.

Anyway. Prior to this, Abbott had gotten an okey dokey from Ken Paxton to issue this proclamation in the first place.

Gov. Greg Abbott got the go-ahead Monday from Attorney General Ken Paxton to suspend state law so the governor can call a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, as soon as possible.

Responding to a request from Abbott submitted Thursday, Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion saying a court would agree Abbott could set aside the election rules under a part of Texas law that lets the governor suspend certain statutes if they interfere with disaster recovery. Abbott said last week he wanted Farenthold’s former constituents to have new representation “as quickly as possible” because the Coastal Bend-area’s Congressional District 27 is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey.

“If the Governor determines the situation in Congressional District 27 constitutes an emergency warranting a special election before November 6, 2018, a court would likely conclude that section 41.0011 of the Election Code authorizes calling an expedited special election to fill the vacancy in that district,” Paxton wrote.

Paxton’s nonbinding opinion paves the way for Abbott to work around state and federal laws that he said are in conflict and make it “practically impossible to hold an emergency special election … before the end of September.” The governor’s office did not immediately say what he planned to do in light of Paxton’s opinion.

I was going to post that yesterday, but there were too many other things, and I figured I’d be okay waiting another day. Life comes at you fast, obviously. I suppose someone could file a lawsuit if they objected to this – maybe an overseas voter who might not have enough time to participate? I dunno – but speaking as a non-lawyer, this seems like the right call. The public interest is served by having the election sooner rather than later. The Chron has more.

Today is Texas redistricting day at SCOTUS

The Chron sets the table.

The nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will take their seats Tuesday morning to hear a case that could remake the political map of Texas.

Hidden in the legalese of “interlocutory injunctions” and “statutory defects” is this simple question for the justices to dissect: Did the Republican-led state Legislature purposely draw its last legislative and congressional boundaries to subvert the voting power of Latino and African-American voters?

The answer, expected by June, could influence the racial and partisan makeup of the state’s political districts, culminating a long, high-stakes legal battle that has the potential to turn Texas a little more blue.

A possible finding of voting rights violations also could force the Lone Star State back under federal supervision for future election disputes, a civil rights remedy associated with the state’s segregationist past. Texas only got removed from federal preclearance requirements in 2013. Restrictions requiring strict federal scrutiny of all elections had been in place since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“The Texas case thus could be in a position to break new ground and will be closely watched for that reason,” said legal court analyst Michael Li, writing for the New York University Law School Brennan School of Justice.

See here for the last update. While the Chron story mostly covers familiar ground, it does note that thanks to other cases currently being considered by SCOTUS, the state is probably not going to use the “it was just a partisan matter” defense. Michael Li discusses that in this Q&A he did with the Observer:

What should we know about the other two redistricting cases before the Supreme Court?

In Texas, the claims are about racial fairness, but in the other two cases — in Wisconsin and Maryland — the claims are about partisan gerrymanders.

The Supreme Court has never put partisan gerrymandering out of bounds in the way it has racial gerrymandering, which has left a really big loophole for states to claim they’re only discriminating based on partisanship. It’s become this sort of strange defense you see playing out in states like Texas, where lawmakers essentially argue they’re discriminating against Democrats and not African Americans. That’s because it’s perfectly OK to discriminate against Democrats when you draw the lines. But if [the court] limits partisan gerrymandering, it could shut down the excuse that a lot of places in the South, including Texas, have used.

The two cases being argued on Tuesday are not the Texas maps’ first trip to the Supreme Court. They were also before the Court in 2012, which triggered a bit of a judicial fire drill at the time.

What the state will probably argue is that the current map, which was adopted in 2013, is legal and needs no changes made. Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress breaks that down.

Texas initially drew its gerrymandered maps in 2011, before the Supreme Court struck down much of the Voting Rights Act. Under the fully armed and operational Act, any new Texas voting law had to be submitted to federal officials in Washington, DC for “preclearance” before it could take effect, and a federal court in DC ultimately concluded that the state’s maps were not legal.

Meanwhile, the 2012 election was drawing closer and closer, and Texas still did not have any valid maps it could use to conduct that election.

With this deadline drawing nigh, a federal district court drew its own maps that Texas could use for 2012, but the Supreme Court vacated those maps. In an ominous statement that plays a starring role in Texas’ Perez brief, the Supreme Court explained that “redistricting is ‘primarily the duty and responsibility of the State.’” The district court’s maps, at least according to the justices, needed to be reconsidered because they may not have shown sufficient deference to state lawmakers.

“A district court,” the Supreme Court concluded, “should take guidance from the State’s recently enacted plan in drafting an interim plan.” Thus, even when state lawmakers draw legally dubious maps for the very purpose of giving some voters more power than others, courts should be reluctant to make sweeping changes to those maps.

In fairness, this was not an especially novel holding. The Court proclaimed in 1975that “reapportionment is primarily the duty and responsibility of the State.” But such a holding takes on chilling implications when a state legislature is actively trying to rig elections. Should courts really defer to lawmakers who are a straight up trying to undercut democracy?

It’s likely that a majority of the Supreme Court’s answer to this question in Perezwill be an emphatic “yes!” and that the Court will effectively allow much of Texas’ gerrymander to endure without any meaningful judicial review at all.

After the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision striking down the district court’s maps, the case went back down to the district court with instructions to try again. By this point, it was late January. Texas still had no valid maps, and a primary election was looming. Candidates had no idea where to campaign. Incumbents did not know who their constituents would be.

The result was a rushed, March 2012 order which laid out interim maps that closely resembled the maps drawn by the state legislature. “This interim map is not a final ruling on the merits of any claims asserted by the Plaintiffs in this case or any of the other cases consolidated with this case,” the court warned when it handed down the hastily drawn maps. Nevertheless, the court understood “the need to have the primaries as soon as possible, and the resulting need for the Court to produce an interim map with sufficient time to allow officials to implement the map.”

With few good options, the district court allowed several of Texas’ districts to remain unchanged, even though there were serious concerns that those districts were racial gerrymanders.

Flash forward to 2018, and the Perez cases involve several of these unchanged districts that the district court later held to be illegally gerrymandered. But there’s a catch! The Texas legislature, seeing a potential opportunity to shut down this litigation altogether, took the district court’s inadequately scrutinized, rush-job maps, and wrote them into state law in 2013. They now claim that these maps are immune from judicial review because they were drawn by a court.

“There are few things a legislature can do to avoid protracted litigation over its redistricting legislation,” Texas claims in its brief. “But if the nearly inevitable litigation comes to pass, one would have thought there was one reasonably safe course available to bring it to an end—namely, enacting the three-judge court’s remedial redistricting plan as the legislature’s own.”

It’s a stunning, arrogant claim. The only reason why the district court blessed its interim maps is because it felt it had no choice — a deadline was looming, and the Supreme Court left it with little time to act and an order to defer to the state legislature’s maps whenever possible. The districts at issue in Tuesday’s oral argument never received meaningful judicial scrutiny before they were whisked into action as a matter of necessity.

And yet, it is highly likely that a majority of the Court will agree with Texas’ claim that its maps are immune from review. Though the district court struck down portions of the Texas maps (again), the Supreme Court voted along party lines to reinstate those maps for the 2018 election last September.

One way or the other, we ought to have a clearer idea of what is and is not allowed when maps are drawn. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Travis County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant, in this Statesman op-ed, explain their motivation for pursuing this litigation, and the Trib has more.

CD07 candidate forum

Happening tomorrow, at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Road, Houston, Texas 77055, from 6:15 to 8:45. My guess, as this is the way these things tend to go, is that there will be some mix-and-mingle time with the candidates up front, with the main event to follow. I’m just guessing, you might want to post something on the Facebook event page if you need to know. The event moderator is an old friend and college classmate of mine, Patrick Pringle. Should be a good event, so if you voted for one of the other candidates in March and need to figure out who deserves your vote in May, this is a good chance to do that.

April 2018 campaign finance reports: Congress

Here are the Q2 finance reports, here are the Q3 finance reports, here are the January 2018 finance reports, and here’s the FEC summary page for Democratic Congressional candidates in Texas. Let’s get to it.

Todd Litton – CD02

Lori Burch – CD03
Sam Johnson – CD03

Jana Sanchez – CD06
Ruby Faye Wooldridge – CD06

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Laura Moser – CD07

Mike Siegel – CD10
Tawana Cadien – CD10

Joseph Kopser – CD21
Mary Wilson – CD21

Letitia Plummer – CD22
Sri Kulkarni – CD22

Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Rick Trevino – CD23

Jan McDowell – CD24

Christopher Perri – CD25
Julie Oliver – CD25

MJ Hegar – CD31
Christine Mann – CD31

Colin Allred – CD32
Lillian Salerno – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          546,503  304,139        0   242,363

03    Burch           104,700  116,639   25,649    14,085
03    Johnson          62,473   59,143    3,100     6,490

06    Sanchez         241,893  188,313        0    56,456
06    Woolridge        75,440   45,016   15,000    47,708    

07    Fletcher      1,261,314  874,619        0   391,899
07    Moser         1,067,837  975,659        0    92,177

10    Siegel           80,319   65,496    5,000    19,823
10    Cadien            

21    Kopser        1,100,451  846,895   25,000   278,556
21    Wilson           44,772   51,041   26,653    20,384

22    Plummer         108,732   99,153        0     9,578
22    Kulkarni        178,925  158,369   35,510    56,067

23    Ortiz Jones   1,025,194  703,481        0   321,713
23    Trevino          16,892   20,416    3,285     3,915

24    McDowell         33,452   16,100        0    17,470

25    Perri           139,016  133,443   24,890    30,603
25    Oliver           78,841   37,812    3,125    40,860

31    Hegar           458,085  316,854        0   141,240
31    Mann             56,814   58,856    2,276         0

32    Allred          828,565  608,938   25,000   219,626
32    Salerno         596,406  439,384        0   157,022

36    Steele          294,891  216,030    1,231    80,061

For comparison purposes, here’s what the 2008 cycle fundraising numbers looked like for Texas Democrats. Remember, those numbers are all the way through November, and nearly everyone in the top part of the list was an incumbent. Daily Kos has some of the same numbers I have – they picked a slightly different set of races to focus on – as well as the comparable totals for Republicans. Note that in several races, at least one Democratic candidate has outraised the Republican competition, either overall or in Q1 2018. This is yet another way of saying we’ve never seen anything like this cycle before.

As of this writing, Tawana Cadien had not filed her Q1 report. Christine Mann’s report showed a negative cash balance; I have chosen to represent that as a loan owed by the campaign. Everything else is up to date.

I continue to be blown away by the amount of money raised by these candidates. Already there are five who have exceeded one million dollars raised – Alex Triantaphyllis, who did not make the runoff in CD07, had topped the $1 million mark as of March – with Colin Allred sure to follow, and Todd Litton and MJ Hegar on track if Hegar wins her runoff. In some ways, I’m most impressed by the almost $300K raised by Dayna Steele, who has the advantage of being a well-known radio DJ and the disadvantage of running in a 70%+ Trump district. When was the last time you saw a non-self-funder do that? I’ll be very interested to see how the eventual nominees in the districts that are lower on the national priority lists do going forward. How can you ignore a CD06 or a CD22 if the candidates there keep raking it in? It will also be interesting to see what happens in CD21 going forward if the runoff winner is not big raiser Joseph Kopser but Mary Wilson instead. Does she inherit the effort that had been earmarked for CD21, or do those resources get deployed elsewhere, not necessarily in Texas?

Republican candidates have been raising a lot of money as well, and national groups are pouring in more, with CDs 07 and 23 their targets so far. We may see more districts added to their must-protect list, or they may make a decision to cut back in some places to try to save others. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

Abbott does want a special election in CD27

Well all righty then.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott wants to hold a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, as soon as possible.That’s according to a letter he sent Thursday to Attorney General Ken Paxton, seeking guidance on whether the governor can suspend certain laws he believes are standing in the way of a timely special election.

The letter amounts to Abbott’s first public comments on the subject since Farenthold suddenly resigned earlier this month, leaving the governor to ponder how long the Coastal Bend-area district could go without representation given that it is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey. Abbott made clear Thursday he believes there is no time to waste.

“It is imperative to restore representation for the people of that district as quickly as possible,” Abbott told Paxton in the letter. “I am acutely concerned about this issue because many of the district’s residents are still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.”

The problem, according to the governor, is that state and federal law are in conflict, making it “practically impossible to hold an emergency special election and to replace Representative Farenthold before the end of September.” Therefore, Abbott asked Paxton if he could use his executive authority to “suspend relevant state election laws and order an emergency special election.”

In posing the question, Abbott cited a part of the Texas Government Code that allows the governor to temporarily set aside certain statutes if they hinder “necessary action in coping with a disaster.”

See here for the background. I’d been wondering about this, because it sure seemed like an obvious thing to call an election. The crux of Abbott’s legal question is as follows:

“It is impossible to order an election, allow candidates to file, print ballots, mail them in accordance with federal law, and hold an emergency election within the statutorily prescribed 50-day window. Complicating the issue is that if an emergency election for District 27 results in a runoff election, the date for the runoff election cannot be sooner than the 70th day after the final canvas of the emergency election.”

I’ll leave it to the lawyers to hash out the details. I’m wondering how long it will take Paxton to get back with an answer – the question may wind up being moot if he isn’t sufficiently snappy about it. In the meantime, the answer to my original question is yes, there will be a special election in CD27. It’s just a matter of when.

An article about Congressional race in Texas that doesn’t mention CD07

Who knew that was even legal?

Gina Ortiz Jones

Several of the most truly competitive House races in the country are in Texas, which could wind up providing Democrats three or more of the 24 flipped seats that they need for control of the chamber. The state tells the tale of the November midterms as well as anywhere else.

The appeal of youth, of first-timers, of women, of veterans and of candidates of color will be tested here. And a bevy of compelling characters have emerged from the primaries on March 6 and are poised to prevail in runoffs on May 22.

There’s Gina Ortiz Jones, for example. Jones, 37, is almost certain to be the Democrat challenging Representative Will Hurd in the 23rd District, which sprawls from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso. Despite its large numbers of rural voters, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the 23rd by more than three points. (Clinton lost the state by nine.)

Jones was an Air Force intelligence officer in Iraq. Like Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, she drew the support of the Serve America PAC, which promotes veterans as candidates on the theory that they can help Democrats forge a cultural connection with working-class voters in swing districts.

She’s Filipina-American. She’s also openly lesbian, and while Texas political analysts told me that they weren’t sure whether that would affect her bid, Jones has figured out precisely how to handle it: with brief acknowledgment and no special focus.

[…]

Colin Allred

Democrats also have an excellent shot at victory in the 32nd District, a collection of Dallas neighborhoods and suburbs. Its Republican incumbent, Pete Sessions, has been in Congress for two decades, but the district has become more diverse and less white over those years, and his likely opponent, a black civil rights lawyer named Colin Allred, should benefit from that.

Allred is 34. Like Jones, he’s making his first run for office. Also like her, he has an unconventional professional biography. Before getting his law degree at the University of California, Berkeley, he played professional football for the Tennessee Titans, and before that he was a football star at Baylor University in Waco and at a high school in his Dallas district. Many of its voters remember watching him play.

And more of them voted for Clinton than for Trump in the presidential election, a sign of the district’s evolution and an outcome for which Democrats were so unprepared that not a single Democrat challenged Sessions in 2016. This time around, seven Democrats entered the race. Allred got 38.5 percent of the votes in the primary, more than twice that of the second-place finisher.

[…]

Democrats are even eyeing a few districts that Trump won, like the 21st and 31st. The 21st attracted the party’s attention largely because its Republican incumbent, Lamar Smith, isn’t seeking re-election. He decided to retire after more than three decades in the House.

And the 31st? Well, it’s hard not to indulge in some optimism when your party’s leading candidate is a female war hero whose story is possibly becoming a movie, “Shoot Like a Girl,” starring Angelina Jolie. That candidate, M. J. Hegar, 42, did several tours of duty in Afghanistan as a search-and-rescue pilot and won a Purple Heart after she was wounded while saving fellow passengers when the Taliban shot down her helicopter.

Richard Murray, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, told me to keep an eye as well on the 22nd District, a largely suburban swath of the Houston area that he described as a microcosm of demographic changes that are making the state ever more hospitable Democratic turf.

“The suburban counties that led Republicans to dominance here 25 years ago are getting significantly less Republican fast,” he said, adding that Fort Bend County, in the 22nd, is roughly 20 percent Asian-American now. The first-place finisher in the district’s Democratic primary, Sri Preston Kulkarni, is Indian-American. Murray said that if Kulkarni wins his runoff, that could be a significant boost to Democrats’ chances to nab this House seat.

Couple things here. All these matchups are contingent on the outcome of the runoffs. While Ortiz Jones and Allred are solid favorites in May based on their performances in March, the others are less clear. Kulkarni led runnerup Letitia Plummer 31.9 to 24.3, which is far from insurmountable. Hegar drew 44.9%, better than either Ortiz Jones or Allred, but second place finisher Christine Eady Mann had 33.5%, so her lead is much smaller. And then there’s the 21st, where the more establishment (and big money) candidate Joseph Kopser trailed the less-heralded Mary Wilson by two points. It will be interesting to see how this one is perceived if Wilson prevails in the runoff.

There are other districts that author Frank Bruni could have included as well, mostly CDs 02 and 06, both of which are open seats. Plus, you know, CD07. It’s important to remember that with the exception of CD23, all these districts were drawn to withstand a strong Democratic year, though that will be tested in November. Candidate quality does make a difference in tough races, and the basic thesis that the Dems here have collected a quality slate is accurate. From here on out it’s all about execution.

Are Texas Republicans really worried about Trump for November?

I mean, I guess they are. They’ve seen what has happened around the country, in other elections and other red places. I don’t know how worried they are, or how worried they should be.

This is a Red State where Trump remains popular among most Republicans and even some Democrats, a state that he won in 2016 by a slimmer margin that Republican Mitt Romney had four years before. And while political consultants for both parties agree he will be a drag on Texas Republicans in November, the growing question is just how much.

Fact: For the first time in a decade, Texas Republicans are having to worry about the vote drag their president could have on elections, much as Democrats suffered through eight years of Barack Obama, whom Texas Republicans loved to hate.

“Trump won’t be as much of an effect as he is in some northern states, but he will have impact here,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor who has been monitoring the “Trump effect” in Texas races for months. “In some of the down ballot races in Texas, the strategy you’re seeing is a modest embrace of Trump. … Republicans with strong brands like Abbott are not going to tarnish themselves by agreeing with him.”

Even so, Abbott confidantes privately acknowledge he likely will be re-elected by a slimmer margin than four years ago, when he beat Democratic rising star Wendy Davis by 20 points. They blame Trump.

“It’s not a question about whether there will be a Trump drag in Texas, the only question right now is how big it will be — and how many Republican incumbents will be in trouble,” said Harold Cook, a political consultant who is a former executive director of the state Democratic party.

“If you’re a member of Congress or state Senate or House incumbent who has a credible Democratic opponent, and you’re in districts that went for Trump less than 7 or 8 … points, you better be out working your ass off to get re-elected.”

I don’t disagree with any of this, but it’s hard to contextualize. The last two midterm elections in which there was a Republican President were 2002, when Dubya Bush was very popular, and 2006, when his approval rating had crashed and Rick Perry was fending off multiple challengers. The former was a great year for the GOP here and the latter was a lousy year for them (downballot, at least), but neither is a great comparison for this year. In the limited polling we have, Trump’s approval ratings are good with Republicans, terrible with Democrats, and not great with independents. How that compares with 2002 and 2006, I couldn’t say.

I think everyone expects Democratic turnout to be up this fall from previous midterms. The problem is that Democratic turnout has been so consistently crappy in previous midterms that there’s a lot of room for turnout to improve without making that much difference. We’d need to boost our baseline offyear performance by about fifty percent, to get to around 2.7 million, to really see significant gains. The good news is that basically everything would be competitive at that point, from the statewide races to a half dozen or more Congressional seats to enough legislative seats to make 2019 look like 2009. The bad news is that we’ve never come withing hailing distance of such a total, and Republicans have every reason to feel confident that it’s all just talk since we’ve never done anything like it.

So I just don’t know. I’m optimistic in general, and I really think good things will happen in Harris County and other areas that have been trending blue. I wish I knew how to quantify it, and I wish I knew how confident to feel beyond that.

Someone needs to sue Blake Farenthold

That’s my response to this.

Blake Farenthold

Four months after U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold promised to repay an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement funded by taxpayers — and 11 days after the Republican resigned his Corpus Christi seat — he has yet to write a check. And with Farenthold out of public office and increasingly out of the public eye, there’s little anyone can do to force him.

Farenthold pledged last winter to personally repay the cash paid out by the federal government to a former staffer, Lauren Greene, who sued him for sexual harassment in 2014. When news of the settlement surfaced in December, Farenthold told a local TV station he’d reimburse the money that same week, saying “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for this.” In January, he said he would wait to repay the money after seeing what changes Congress would make to policies around the issue, saying he wanted to seek legal counsel.

Then, he resigned abruptly on April 6 — days before the House Ethics Committee, which was investigating his misconduct, would have released its findings in his case, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has led efforts to reform Congress’s sexual harassment complaint process. After leaving public office, he immediately shut down his social media accounts and went silent. Requests for comment to his former staff were not returned.

The House committee no longer has jurisdiction to investigate Farenthold, though its members called on him “in the strongest possible terms” to return the money. But there’s no legal avenue to force Farenthold to repay the money — meaning the only option is “public shame,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“He does not seem like someone who is easily shamed,” Libowitz said. “When this came to light, he said that he would pay it back, then started looking for more and more reasons to delay the payment. It became pretty clear that if he wasn’t forced to pay it back — which legally he’s not required to — he didn’t seem all that interested in it.”

See here and here for the background. The story doesn’t even mention the possibility of a lawsuit, so I could be completely out to lunch here – as we well know, I Am Not A Lawyer. All I can say is that some crazier lawsuits than what I am suggesting have gotten traction in the courts lately, so why not take a shot at it? Surely there’s a taxpayer out there with some time on their hands and the desire to throw a little sand in Blake Farenthold’s gears.

The math on redistricting

It’s not just that Republicans drew themselves a favorable map. It’s that they drew a durable favorable map.

Thanks to those very effective Republican redistricting maps, Texas Democrats would have to improve their statewide election results by more than 10 percentage points to gain more than one seat in the 36-member U.S. House delegation, according to a report from the non-profit Brennan Center for Justice.

The political maps in Texas and elsewhere across the country could ultimately protect the Republican majority in the U.S. House even if it turns out to be an otherwise mediocre midterm election for the president’s political party.

Overall, Republicans have a 24-seat advantage in the U.S. House. Democrats have an advantage over Republicans in recent polling, the report says, but gerrymandering makes a party switch much less likely. To win two dozen seats, by Brennan’s figuring, Democrats would have to win the national popular vote by 11 percentage points.

“Even a strong blue wave would crash against a wall of gerrymandered maps,” the report says.

The 2016 elections put 25 Republicans and 11 Democrats in the state’s delegation to the U.S. House. Democrats got 42 percent of the state’s votes that year, according to the report’s authors. A modest improvement in the share — as little as 2 percent — could move a seat from the Republicans to the Democrats. It’s not hard to figure out that the 23rd Congressional District that runs along the border is what’s in play here; it’s the only true swing seat in the state, regularly primed to go to whichever party is having the better election year.

But here’s the house-on-stilts aspect to the maps. According to the Brennan Center’s projections, the Democrats could improve their statewide vote share by as much as 7 points — to 49 percent — and that’s still the only congressional seat they would pick up.

Listen carefully right now and you’ll hear protests from other parts of the state, like CD-32 in Dallas and CD-7 in Houston, where optimistic Democratic challengers are vying to unseat Pete Sessions and John Culberson. They might be right. The study isn’t trying to predict races. It’s trying to show how strongly the Republicans cemented their advantage in Texas, given normal conditions. Actual mileage may vary.

It would take a tsunami — a double-digit leap in Democrat’s percentage share — to gain more than a single seat in Texas. Something like that would still leave the Republicans in the majority, but it would be a 19-17 advantage instead of the 25-11 edge they have now. “For Democrats to win more than one-third of seats under the 2011 Texas map, they would need to win close to half the vote,” the report says.

The report is here and the executive summary is here. It looks at multiple states and is worth reading for its methodology and thoroughness. One way to look at this is that if Democrats can get to fifty percent of the statewide vote, then there are an awful lot of Congressional seats that would be poised to topple in their direction. Republicans drew this map on the quite reasonable so far assumption that Dems will not get to a majority of the statewide vote, but if that assumption were to fail they’d go from a trickle to a flood in a big hurry.

If it’s too daunting to think about like that, the way I look at it is that the magic number for Democrats is 2.7 million, which is to say 75% of their 2016 vote total. I’ve noodled around with the numbers before now, and that’s where things get interesting, in multiple districts. Not just Congressional districts, either – State Senate seats start to flip as well. On the one hand, that’s a huge increase over the usual off-year total. On the other hand, it’s asking people who have at least some history of voting to vote this year. Democrats gained 800,000 votes from 2004 to 2008, so a big jump can happen. What this report is saying, and I agree with it, is that this is what needs to happen. Are we up to it?

Chron overview of CD07 runoff

Don’t know how much there is here we didn’t already know, but this is the marquee local runoff, so it gets the attention.

Laura Moser

On paper, there is little to separate attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and writer-activist Laura Moser, the two Democrats vying in Houston’s 7th Congressional District primary run-off battle next month.

They’re both women who favor abortion rights, first-time candidates with deep roots in Democratic politics. Both grew up in Houston political families and attended St. John’s School, an elite college preparatory academy on the city’s affluent west side.

But they’re sharply divided over how to unseat nine-term Republican John Culberson, presenting a contrast that serves as a microcosm of the divisions within the national Democratic Party as it looks to flip two dozen seats and wrest control of the House from the GOP.

[…]

A new Moser campaign strategy memo provided to the Chronicle plays up her status as the “grassroots” candidate “not chosen by DC party insiders.”

The memo also outlines her outreach as an “authentic” voice aimed at the party’s progressive base.

“Laura represents a break away from current political establishment politics and a return to the politics of the people of Texas itself,” the memo continues. “Her non-establishment status appeals to 2018 Democratic ‘surge’ voters. Many folks are awakening to political activism for the first time.”

Lizzie Fletcher

Fletcher’s campaign rejects the establishment label, contrasting her lifelong legal career in Houston to Moser’s move to Washington.

“Lizzie has been living and working in this community all her life, representing Houstonians from all walks of life in the courtroom, fighting on the front lines to protect Planned Parenthood and quality education for the next generation,” said Fletcher campaign manager Erin Mincberg.

Fletcher’s supporters point to her most recent fundraising, 80 percent of which came from donors in Houston. Moser has not detailed her most recent fundraising figures, but an earlier analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics showed that nearly 60 percent of her contributions came from out of state. Both campaigns have relied on Washington-based vendors and consultants.

Little separates them on the issues.

Both support gay rights, gun restrictions, and public education. Both also are eager to take on Trump and Culberson, a low-profile Republican lawmaker who they criticize for failing to push harder in Congress for long-neglected flood control projects that could have helped limit the devastation from Hurricane Harvey.

One of their few differences on policy involves health care. Moser, like Sanders, has vowed to push for a single-payer “Medicare for all” system. Fletcher has emphasized the need to protect the Affordable Care Act against GOP efforts to undermine the Obama-era heath care law.

Some of their differences come down to strategy. While both support legislation to protect undocumented “Dreamers” from deportation, Moser said she was willing to shut down the government over the issue. Fletcher said she was not.

“If you look at them on paper, they basically are 99 percent in alignment on all the issues,” said Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lillie Schechter, who disputes the “establishment versus insurgent” narrative that has grown up around the run-off.

I think we’re all familiar with the contours of this race. I find the narrative of this one as tiresome as Lillie Schechter does, but at least the race has (so far, knock on wood) not turned into something ugly, as races between similar candidates often do. Runoffs, like all low-turnout races, are about who gets their people to the polls. Both of these candidates are capable of it, and both of them should provide plenty of motivation for their supporters. May the best one win, and may we all join hands and focus on the prize beginning on May 23.

Cruz’s lesser fundraising haul

It’s not that little, Ted. Really.

Not Ted Cruz

When U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke announced his latest fundraising haul earlier this month – a stunning $6.7 million – it was widely expected to surpass what his rival, Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, brought in over the same period. Now it’s clear by how much: roughly $3.5 million.

Cruz raised $3.2 million in the first three months of this year, according to his campaign.

O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, did not outpace just Cruz – he posted one of the top quarterly federal fundraising hauls ever, outside of presidential campaigns. If not for O’Rourke’s large sum, Cruz’s fundraising would be considered robust for any incumbent seeking re-election.

[…]

Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. But O’Rourke’s campaign has excited Democrats around the country, in part due to his ability to draw large crowds around Texas, including in some conservative strongholds.

Yet the enthusiasm behind O’Rourke’s bid remains perplexing to some national political observers. While repeatedly outraising an incumbent helps a challenger signal that their campaign in viable, most political insiders say privately if not publicly that Cruz remains in a strong position to win re-election.

See here for more on Beto’s haul. I don’t see what’s so perplexing about this. There’s a lot of Democratic energy this year, Texas is a big state, Beto has made a real connection with people, and pretty much everyone loathes Ted Cruz. What’s so mysterious about that?

On a related note:

Texas Republican U.S. Rep. John Culberson, targeted by Democrats in his upscale district in west Houston and Harris County, raised $549,078 for his reelection campaign in the first three months of 2018, his campaign reported Wednesday.

Culberson’s take, the largest fundraising quarter of his nine-term career in Congress, edged out the $500,000 haul of his top Democratic challenger, Houston attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

Laura Moser, Fletcher’s rival in the May 22 Democratic primary run-off, has yet to report her first-quarter fundraising totals, announcing only that her overall cash total for the election has surpassed $1 million.

Culberson’s latest cash haul brings his total to nearly $1.5 million in the current election cycle, more than the $1.2 million raised as of March 31 by Fletcher.

Culberson also retains a substantial cash advantage going forward, with $920,000 in the bank, compared to $409,000 for Fletcher.

Culberson has never been a big moneybags. He hasn’t had to be one, but then plenty of incumbents who don’t usually have real challenges rake it in. Bearing in mind that the field in CD07 has combined to vastly outraise Culberson, and that at some point the marginal dollars don’t mean much, I wouldn’t worry about who has more in this one. Both candidates will have more than enough to run the race they want to run. I’ll look at all the relevant reports in the next week or so.

Stockman convicted

Turn out the lights, the party’s over.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman — a political maverick once viewed as a champion of right-wing causes — was taken into federal custody Thursday after a jury convicted him of masterminding a wide-ranging fraud scheme that diverted $1.25 million in charitable donations from wealthy conservative philanthropists to cover personal expenses and campaign debts.

After deliberating more than 15 hours over three days, the jury found Stockman guilty on 23 counts of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission and money laundering. The jury found him not guilty on one count of wire fraud.

Stockman, 61, of Clear Lake, who served two non-consecutive terms as a Republican congressman in separate southeast Texas districts, showed no reaction to the jury’s verdict. His wife, Patti, watched from the courtroom gallery, as did U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ruled that Stockman was a flight risk and she ordered him taken into custody by U.S. marshals. Stockman faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the fraud charges alone. Sentencing is set for Aug. 17.

I feel like my whole life has been leading up to this moment. I may have some coherent thoughts about this in a day or so, but until then let me go a little medieval Latin on you:

O Fortuna
velut luna
statu variabilis,
semper crescis
aut decrescis;
vita detestabilis
nunc obdurat
et tunc curat
ludo mentis aciem,
egestatem,
potestatem
dissolvit ut glaciem.

That’s all I’ve got for now. The Trib and RG Ratcliffe, who recalls some of Stockman’s greatest hits, have more.

Stockman trial: Off to the jury

Please return a verdict.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The defense team for former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman told jurors Monday the ex- GOP lawmaker did not plot a massive fraud scheme, but said the government should have targeted two wealthy conservative donors for making illegal campaign contributions disguised as charitable gifts.

“The true motives of his donors … was to fund Stockman, his political activities and his projects without being restricted,” said attorney Charles Flood, referring to $1.25 million in tax deductible donations Stockman is accused of diverting to pay off personal and campaign costs.

Flood said investigators “believed early on this was a fraud case and they retrofitted it. They formed a conclusion and tried to back into it.”

Flood and two other defense lawyers — who are being compensated by an anonymous Stockman friend — argued that while the two-time Republican lawmaker spent some of the seed money he solicited on an array of unrelated expenses, he did not deliberately trick the donors into giving him money nor attempt to cover his tracks after the money was gone.

See here for the last update. So Stockman isn’t guilty of money laundering, just of participating in a scheme to evade campaign finance law. Unwittingly, I guess – we all know how naive he is. I got nothing. Let’s just keep going.

In closing, prosecution stressed there was no evidence to prove the defense claims that these donors meant to break the law when they made donations to what they believed were genuine charities.

In all, prosecutors questioned dozens of witnesses over three weeks of testimony — including an IRS investigator, a forensic accountant for the FBI and Stockman’s own accountant — to back their theory that between 2010 and 2014 Stockman systematically planned to use the donations money however he wanted and then lied to cover it up.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Ellersick walked the jury through a series of transactions, pointing out that Stockman, a trained accountant whom a former assistant described as a “micromanger,” stated in his own words in emails, texts and letters that he knew exactly what he was doing.

Ellersick quoted Stockman’s letter to a doubtful government minister in South Sudan, who was questioning a humanitarian donation that included a percentage fee for the former congressman. Stockman stated in the letter, “My experience is vast … I know what I am doing,” and assured the official that while some people might be untrustworthy, his reputation was impeccable. “Leopards don’t change their spots,” Stockman wrote.

As someone who has followed Steve Stockman’s career for nearly a quarter-century, I do agree with that. I’m on ping and needles till a verdict comes in. The Trib has more.

Farenthold resigns

So long, Ducky.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, resigned on Friday.

The decision marks the capstone of a tumultuous few months for the four-term congressman, who has been dogged by sexual harassment allegations and an ongoing ethics investigation.

“While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it’s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve,” he said in a statement that offered no further explanation for why he was not completing the final eight months of his term.

The congressman spent the day packing up his office.

[…]

Gov. Greg Abbott now needs to call a special election to fill the seat, the winner of which will serve until early January 2019.

Abbott has two options for filling Farenthold’s seat for the rest of his term, according to the secretary of state’s office. Abbott can schedule a special election on the next uniform election date, which is Nov. 6. (It’s too late for him to call it for the May 5 date.)

Abbott’s other option is to order an emergency election for any other Tuesday or Saturday. He would have to call the election 36-50 days in advance of the date he chooses.

House Republicans likely have no appetite for a special election at this point in the cycle. But one thing the governor’s office will have to weigh is whether Texas’ 27th Congressional District — which bore the brunt of Hurricane Harvey — can go without congressional representation for seven months.

Farenthold announced his retirement in December, and despite some controversy around the timing of his announcement he was allowed to drop off the ballot for the primary. As for what Greg Abbott does, in a normal year he’d call an emergency special at his first opportunity, as the odds would be extremely favorable for a Republican candidate to win and thus maintain numbers in Congress. This year, who knows? I still think we’ll get an election sooner than November, but if we don’t it’s quite the admission of weakness. In the meantime, I hope someone will remind Farenthold to pay back the $84,000 he owes the taxpayers before he slinks off into the darkness. Daily Kos has more.

Stockman trial update: Defense rests

And we’re done.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The defense rested its case Thursday in ex-GOP congressman Steve Stockman’s federal campaign fraud trial, after calling only two witnesses who together testified for less than an hour.

The former Republican lawmaker from Clear Lake told the judge presiding over his trial that he did not intend to testify in his own defense.

[…]

After court adjourned, Stockman’s defense team explained to reporters they would have called many more than two witnesses if the rules of evidence didn’t preclude Stockman to put on broader testimony about his reputation, work ethic and charitable work.

On Thursday, the final witness in the trial was Stevie Bidjoua Sianard-Roc, who had flown in from Africa to testify and took the stand for 38 minutes. She testified about several trips Stockman made to the Republic of Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo to meet with government ministers, discuss social issues and in one case deliver three boxes of medicine to a local hospital in which she served as his translator. In one instance, she said, Stockman donated an iPad to her husband.

“In Africa, Steve is like family to us,” Sianard-Roc told the jury.

Under cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Ellersick, the Sianard-Roc said she was not aware that Stockman was also working on a deal in the region with an oil company and hoped to meet with an oil minister there.

See here for the previous update. This whole trial has been amazing, but the thing that really stands out to me is how unimpressive the defense seems to be. Maybe it just hasn’t come through in the reporting, but I haven’t seen much to rebut any of the prosecution’s evidence. The defense seems to boil down to twenty-plus-year-politician Stockman is a naive dupe, and people in Africa like him. It feels more like what you’d put on during the sentencing hearing. Like I said, maybe there was more to it than the stories conveyed. Closing arguments are Monday, and then we’ll see. What do you think?

It’s going to be redistricting time for Texas at SCOTUS soon

Here’s an update.

In their latest brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, the voting and minority rights groups challenging Texas’ political maps painted Republican state lawmakers as “opportunistically inconsistent in their treatment of appearance versus reality.”

Pointing to the lawmakers’ 2013 adoption of a court-drawn map that was meant to be temporary, the groups chronicled the actions as “a ruse,” a “shellgame strategy” and a devious “smokescreen” meant to obscure discriminatory motives behind a previous redistricting plan.

Channeling their anger toward the lower court that found lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color, state attorneys used a February brief to denounce the court’s ruling as one that “defies law and logic,” suffers multiple “legal defects” and “flunks the commonsense test to boot.”

[…]

The legal fight between the state and its legal foes, which include several voters of color, has been churning through the courts since 2011. That was when lawmakers embarked on redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts to account for explosive growth, particularly among Hispanic residents, following the 2010 census.

Those maps never took effect because Texas, at the time, was still required to get federal approval of changes to its political maps before using them in elections. A federal court in Washington eventually rejected the boundaries, ruling they violated federal safeguards for voters of color. But by then, a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio had ordered up interim maps for congressional and state House districts to be used for the 2012 elections.

The San Antonio court at the time warned that the interim maps were still subject to revision. But state lawmakers in 2013 adopted those maps as their own, with few tweaks.

That move, the state contends, was a “conciliatory act” in which the Legislature “embraced the court’s maps for the perfectly permissible reason that it wanted to bring the litigation to an end.”

But in their brief filed last week with the high court, attorneys for voters and legislators challenging the maps described the 2013 maneuver in much different terms:

“In the State’s telling, there was a brief, shining moment in 2013 when Texas history reversed course and the Texas Legislature fell all over itself to conform state conduct to a federal court’s provisional observations. The district court rightly saw through the 2013 masquerade.”

As noted before, oral arguments will be on April 24, so gird your loins and make sure children and pets are in safe places. I will remind everyone that there were actually two remedial maps produced by the three-judge panel way back in 2011. The first one, which was based on the previous decade’s pre-cleared-and/or-ruled-VRA-compliant-by-SCOTUS maps, was thrown out by SCOTUS on the grounds that the panel needed to defer to the new maps as drawn by the Lege as their starting point. Which the court did, and which it did without taking into consideration the VRA Section 2 claims on which the plaintiffs subsequently prevailed. As such, claims that the interim maps solved all the problems and should have been the end of the litigation are false. The maps had problems, which the courts ultimately found, and that’s even before we get into the “intent” question.

Anyway. What happens from here is unknown. SCOTUS has had a busy term grappling with redistricting questions, but unlike the partisan-gerrymandering claims from Wisconsin and Maryland, this is old-fashioned racial discrimination/Voting Rights Act stuff. It’s also our last chance to remediate any damages before the next redistricting cycle. It would not be much of a win for the plaintiffs if we never get to have an election under non-discriminatory maps.