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Dan Patrick

Many more school districts are feeling the pinch

Not just HISD. Not by a long shot.

For eight-straight years, Cypress-Fairbanks and Conroe ISDs earned the Texas Smart Schools Award, bestowed on school districts with prudent financial practices and high academic achievement.

Now, Cypress-Fairbanks faces a $50 million deficit next school year, and Conroe is projected to face its first deficit in nearly a decade in the next two to four years.

They are not alone.

As the Texas Legislature studies potential changes to the state’s school funding mechanisms, the majority of large Houston-area school districts are facing budget shortfalls they say stem from a lack of state aid. Of the 10 largest Houston-area school districts, all but three approved budgets last summer that included deficits of more than $1 million, according to a Chronicle review. At least nine say they may have to dip into reserve funds within the next three to five years if revenues do not increase.

For some, it is more dire. If nothing changes at the state or local level, district officials say Spring Branch ISD in west Houston will be financially insolvent in three years. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will use up all its reserve funds in four or five years. Pasadena ISD only avoided a $20 million shortfall for the next school year by passing a tax hike referendum, and multiple districts are considering similar measures to keep their schools afloat.

That pain is felt in large and small districts across the state. North East ISD in San Antonio expects to cut $12 million from its budget next year, likely leading to teacher layoffs, according to the San Antonio Express-News. By 2020, budget documents in Ysleta ISD near El Paso show the district likely will draw down its reserve funds by $12 million. Friendswood ISD, which educates roughly 6,000 students in a sliver of southeast Greater Houston, is facing a $1.9 million budget shortfall next year.

“If we’ve been one of the most efficient districts in the state, and we’re facing this crisis, imagine what other districts are dealing with,” Cy-Fair ISD Chief Financial Officer Stuart Snow said.

[…]

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who sits on the Commission of Public Education Funding, said districts should expand their revenue streams to include sources other than local property taxes and the state. He pointed to Dallas ISD, which pulls in about $10 million annually from philanthropy. United Airlines also staffed one of DISD’s schools with 25 full-time employees, a partnership Bettencourt said should inspire districts elsewhere.

“It’s not going to be one-size fits all — there are many, many ways to do it right,” Bettencourt said. “At end of the day, we want the education system to get students the best educations they can get for best deals taxpayers can support. But we need to look for all the ways we can do it right.”

First of all, to Paul Bettencourt: You cannot be serious. Philanthropy? Are you kidding me? Dallas ISD’s 2017-2018 general revenue expenditures were over $1.4 billion. That $10 million represents 0.7% of the total. You gonna suggest everyone search their couch cushions, too? Oh, and I don’t know about you, but I’m old enough to remember when two of the biggest philanthropic entities in Houston were Enron and Continental Airlines. Good thing HISD didn’t make itself dependent on them, you know?

This is entirely the Legislature’s responsibility. We are here because they refuse to adequately fund schools, and because they use the increases in property valuations to fund the rest of the budget, while blaming local officials for their shortfalls and tax hikes. As with everything else in this state, nothing will change until the people we elect change. If you live in one of these districts, don’t take your frustrations out on your school board trustees. Take it out on the State Reps and State Senators who skimp on school finance, and the Governor and Lt. Governor who push them to keep doing it.

From the “Answering my own rhetorical question” department

Nobody could have seen this coming!

Best mugshot ever

Ever since Texas’s “sanctuary cities” ban was first proposed in late 2016, the measure’s Republican backers have painted it as a public safety measure targeting criminals — without racist or anti-immigrant intent. But records obtained by the Observer reveal that some of the Texas citizens most supportive of the law apparently never got the memo.

Senate Bill 4, among other things, threatens local law enforcement officials who impede cooperation with federal immigration agents with fines, jail time and removal from office. To prosecute wayward officials, the law requires citizens to report violations of SB 4 to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Attorney General Ken Paxton formally began accepting complaints in September, but the records include a stream of phone calls and emails beginning last February. Of 43 total formal and informal complaints so far, most veered wildly from SB 4’s supposed intent, expressing instead resentment of immigrants and even threatening violence.

“These comments are disturbing to read,” said state Senator José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat and staunch SB 4 opponent. Rodríguez called them part of a general shift toward viewing immigrants in a “national security framework” rather than a human rights one, adding that “during the SB 4 debate, we warned that the attorney general would receive frivolous, anti-immigrant complaints such as these.”

See here for the background, and click over for the entirely predictable stream of garbage that ensued. In a world where Ken Paxton felt shame he would no doubt be red-faced over this, but we do not live in that world. I don’t know what else there is to say.

One other thing:

Out of the dozens who communicated with Paxton’s office, only five followed the guidelines laid out in SB 4 by swearing their complaints before a notary or submitting an “unsworn declaration.” Four of the five centered on a high-profile incident involving San Antonio Police Chief William McManus — currently the focus of the only investigation of a potential SB 4 violation.

In late December, an SAPD officer encountered what appeared to be 12 immigrants being smuggled into the country in an 18-wheeler. When McManus arrived on the scene, he made the unusual decision to charge the truck’s driver using a state smuggling statute rather than turn him over to the feds. After questioning, McManus released the immigrants to a local nonprofit, effectively shielding them from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

That set off a firestorm: The head of the local police union called for McManus to be put on administrative leave; Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick urged Paxton to investigate whether McManus violated SB 4; and Paxton informed city officials on January 10 that he had received “several” complaints and was launching an investigation.

But will anything come of this taxpayer-funded investigation? SB 4 — which is still being fought over in the courts — forbids any local policy that bans or “materially limits” cooperation between law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, and forces jailers to extend detention of undocumented immigrants at the request of ICE.

McManus says his choice was an isolated decision that didn’t represent a new policy and that an ICE agent had every opportunity to intervene and take the individuals into custody. An ICE spokesperson has contradicted that, telling the San Antonio Express-News that the agency offered assistance and was rebuffed.

Vera, the LULAC attorney, said that the chief’s decision wouldn’t violate SB 4 because it didn’t represent a policy of non-cooperation. “[Paxton] doesn’t have a case,” he told the Observer. “If he had a case, he would’ve filed it already.”

See here for the background. Sometimes it’s just better to think of this all as a third-rate costume drama, available for streaming at CBS All Access or some such. Just let go and lean into the absurdity.

Precinct analysis: One of these things is not like the others

Let’s finish up our look at the primary precinct data with a peek at the Republican side of things. As a reminder, my analysis of the Democratic Senate primary is here, my analysis of the Governor and Lt. Governor races is here, and my analysis of the countywide races is here. We start here with the Senate race, where Ted Cruz had four opponents:


Dist    Sam    Cruz  Stef  Miller Jacobson   Cruz %
===================================================
HD126   217   9,385   222     429      295   88.97%
HD127   263  12,657   301     598      354   89.30%
HD128   151   8,585   106     313      207   91.70%
HD129   242   9,345   217     535      280   88.00%
HD130   236  12,193   233     511      321   90.36%
HD131    50   1,280    44      83       41   85.45%
HD132   161   7,077   164     316      221   89.14%
HD133   300  12,431   390     823      503   86.05%
HD134   492  10,749   824   1,283      720   76.41%
HD135   159   6,226   146     321      194   88.36%
HD137    56   1,903    59     134       70   85.64%
HD138   151   6,716   216     337      185   88.31%
HD139    66   2,534    89     159       77   86.63%
HD140    23   1,054    16      27       26   91.97%
HD141    13     882    15      32       18   91.88%
HD142    41   1,656    51      84       49   88.04%
HD143    30   1,580    25      61       41   90.96%
HD144    43   2,102    30      79       69   90.49%
HD145    52   2,082    78     126       75   86.28%
HD146    79   2,174   125     189       82   82.07%
HD147    99   1,684   151     201       96   75.48%
HD148   118   3,164   237     275      154   80.14%
HD149   101   3,046    75     194      117   86.22%
HD150   206  11,161   227     430      284   90.68%

Cruz got just over 87% in Harris County. If he did any campaigning here, I didn’t see it – the one sign I did see of any activity was one sign for Stefano de Stefano a few blocks from my house. In most districts, Cruz is right around his countywide total, but there are two that really stand out. I doubt anyone is surprised to see that HD134 was a low-performing district for Cruz, but I didn’t see HD147 coming. It’s an inner-Loop district, and I’d bet the Republican voters there skew a little younger than average, so it’s not like it’s a shock, just unexpected. Now let’s move to the Governor’s race:


Dist  Kilgore Krueger  Abbott  Abbott%
======================================
HD126     115     759   9,623   91.67%
HD127     192     970  12,921   91.75%
HD128      97     497   8,720   93.62%
HD129     130     839   9,644   90.87%
HD130     131     793  12,535   93.13%
HD131      27     133   1,329   89.25%
HD132      86     515   7,289   92.38%
HD133     153   1,335  13,024   89.75%
HD134     278   2,701  11,042   78.75%
HD135     103     489   6,422   91.56%
HD137      38     187   1,999   89.88%
HD138     112     545   6,936   91.35%
HD139      41     259   2,618   89.72%
HD140      28      57   1,056   92.55%
HD141       4      59     897   93.44%
HD142      24     128   1,706   91.82%
HD143      33      76   1,621   93.70%
HD144      29     126   2,153   93.28%
HD145      47     208   2,147   89.38%
HD146      54     311   2,277   86.18%
HD147      78     339   1,780   81.02%
HD148      84     481   3,370   85.64%
HD149      58     287   3,187   90.23%
HD150     151     745  11,385   92.70%

If you look the term “token opposition” up in the dictionary, you’ll see the two non-Greg Abbott candidates in the definition. Abbott got 90.09% in Harris County against a fringe candidate’s fringe candidate and a first-time no-name. Like Ted Cruz, Abbott performed mostly to spec around the county, once again with the notable exception of HD134. Nearly three thousand Republican primary voters, more than 20% of the total in HD134, basically said “anyone bu Greg Abbott”. There were a few people during the primary who thought Sarah Davis was being a bit nonchalant about the campaign against her, being spearheaded as forcefully as it was by Abbott. Maybe she knew something, you know?

Last but not least, Lite Guv:


Dest   Milder Patrick Patrick%
==============================
HD126   1,826   8,802   82.82%
HD127   2,289  11,890   83.86%
HD128   1,540   7,904   83.69%
HD129   1,768   8,878   83.39%
HD130   2,203  11,406   83.81%
HD131     257   1,242   82.86%
HD132   1,268   6,696   84.08%
HD133   3,144  11,470   78.49%
HD134   4,748   9,589   66.88%
HD135   1,174   5,906   83.42%
HD137     399   1,831   82.11%
HD138   1,208   6,428   84.18%
HD139     524   2,441   82.33%
HD140     107   1,032   90.61%
HD141      92     863   90.37%
HD142     275   1,605   85.37%
HD143     173   1,555   89.99%
HD144     274   2,025   88.08%
HD145     406   2,007   83.17%
HD146     576   2,084   78.35%
HD147     614   1,622   72.54%
HD148     892   3,072   77.50%
HD149     618   2,915   82.51%
HD150   1,839  10,583   85.20%

On the one hand, the protest candidacy by Scott Milder didn’t amount to that much, as Dan Patrick got 81.45% of the vote in Harris County and over 76% statewide. On the other hand, there were still a lot of people who did vote for Milder, including one out of three participants in HD134. To the extent that there’s hope for some anti-Trump crossover backlash this November, the Republicans who refused to vote for their top three name brands would be the starting point.

One other point to address with the Lite Guv race is the question of turnout in that race compared to other Republican primaries. We know there was an effort by education and business groups to encourage people to vote in the Republican primary to support more moderate candidates, with Scott Milder being the poster boy for that. If people who were not normally Republican primary voters were coming to vote against Dan Patrick, it stands to reason that they may not have bothered voting in the other races, since they presumably held less interest for them. The evidence for that is mixed. In Harris, Travis, and Tarrant counties, it was indeed the case that more people voted in the Lt. Governor race than in the Senate and Governor races; the other statewide races had far lower totals than those three. Indeed, the undervote in Harris County in the Lite Guv race (2.38%) was lower than it was in the hotly contested open-seat CD02 race (2.48%). However, in Bexar and Dallas counties, the Lite Guv vote total was third, behind Senate and Governor, which is what you’d normally expect given ballot order and profile of the offices in question. I wouldn’t draw too broad a conclusion about any of this – some of those drawn-in voters may well cast ballots in other races, especially visible ones like Senate and Governor, and in all of these cases the differences are small. I just like looking for this sort of thing and felt it was worth pointing out even if it’s ambiguous.

So that’s what I have for the precinct data. As always, I hope this was useful to you. Let me know if you have any questions.

Did Greg Abbott oppose the bathroom bill?

Color me skeptical.

Gov. Greg Abbott himself was opposed to the controversial “bathroom bill” that dominated debate at the Texas Capitol for much of 2017, according to a state representative involved in keeping the legislation from passing the Texas House.

State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs committee that blocked the bill from reaching the House floor for a full vote, said Tuesday that Abbott “did not want that bill on his desk.”

Cook’s comments on the bill, which would have restricted the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans, came alongside the long-awaited release Tuesday of a report from the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness. After months of discussion, a public squabble and several hours-long hearings, most committee members came to the conclusion many had anticipated: the “bathroom bill” is bad for business.

“Future legislators should focus on [low taxes, limited regulation and local control] to maintain a predictable and reliable business climate, avoiding legislation that distracts from critical priorities and is viewed by many as enabling discrimination against certain groups or classes of Texans,” says the committee’s report. “Texas policymakers must acknowledge warnings from leaders in the business community, academicians and law enforcement officials about the consequences of such discriminatory legislation to avoid endangering the state’s successful economy.”

Two of the committee’s Republican members, state Reps. Angie Chen Button of Richardson and Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, didn’t sign the final report. Neither Abbott, Button nor Geren immediately returned a request for comment Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick first unveiled a “bathroom bill” in January 2017, and for the first several months of debate, Abbott remained largely silent even as some cautioned that it would be bad for business. When an alternative form of the bill emerged in the Texas House in April, Abbott called it a “thoughtful proposal.” But he didn’t give the policy his clear support until later that spring, when he endorsed it as a legislative priority.

No bathroom bill made it to Abbott’s desk by the end of the legislative session in May — a block largely credited to Straus and Cook, who said in a hearing that “there’s no information” supporting the need for such a bill. But Abbott revived the controversial legislation in June, when he put it on his 20-item call for the summer’s month-long special session.

After that, he struck a delicate balance on the thorny issue, calling on legislators to pass all of his special session priorities but taking care not to emphasize the “bathroom bill” individually. Many observers speculated that Abbott was happy to stay out of the fight, letting Straus take the heat for keeping the bill from the floor.

The rest of the story is about that report, which looks like it says more or less what you’d expect it to. I guess the best argument for what Rep. Cook says to be true is basically that Abbott was too scared of getting primaried by Dan Patrick to say anything against a bathroom bill. He’s a weak leader, and I can believe he’d let Joe Straus take all the bullets for him on this, so I can’t completely dismiss Rep. Cook’s words. But how big a wuss does he have to be to put the bathroom bill on the call for the special session if he didn’t want a bill to be sent to him? There’s just no bottom to his fecklessness. The Chron has more.

Does primary turnout in a district predict the November result?

Karl Rove would like you to think so.

At the House level, Democrats hope to win three districts won by Hillary Clinton and now held by Republican incumbents, as well as some of the six seats opened up by GOP retirements. Here again, the primary results are not heartening for Democrats.

In two Clinton-GOP congressional districts—the Seventh, in Houston, represented by Rep. John Culberson, and the 32nd, in Dallas, held by Rep. Pete Sessions—more Republicans voted than Democrats: 38,032 Republicans to 33,176 Democrats in the Seventh and 41,359 Republicans to 40,084 Democrats in the 32nd. Mrs. Clinton carried both districts by less than 2 percentage points in 2016.

Moreover, no Democrat won a majority in either district’s primary, forcing runoffs in May. In the Seventh, journalist Laura Moser —endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-connected “Our Revolution”—is pitted against Clinton loyalist and attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted Ms. Moser with an opposition-research dump arguing she was too liberal to win in the fall. The attack backfired: Ms. Moser was trailing Ms. Fletcher in early voting before the DCCC assault but won more votes among those who turned out on election day.

Democrats outvoted Republicans in a GOP-held seat that Mrs. Clinton carried by 3.4 percentage points—the massive 23rd Congressional District, which sweeps across West Texas. This year, after Democratic candidates spent a combined $1.1 million, 44,320 voted in their primary to 30,951 Republicans. Still, that is 5,000 more Republicans than voted in the 2014 primary, which launched Will Hurd into Congress. A former undercover CIA officer, Rep. Hurd is one of the GOP’s most effective campaigners. His “DQ Townhalls” at Dairy Queens across his largely Hispanic district helped him hold the district by 1.3 points in 2016 even as Mr. Trump lost by more than 3 points.

Democratic aspirations to take some of the six open Republican congressional districts also appear slim: Republicans turned out more voters in all six, with the GOP’s margins ranging from roughly 16,000 to 22,000 votes.

If we’re talking about CD23, I can tell you that the Democratic candidates have received more votes than the Republican candidates in each primary since 2012, which includes one year that Pete Gallego won and two years that Will Hurd won. As such, I’m not sure how predictive that is.

More to the point, I am always suspicious when a data point is presented in a vacuum as being indicative of something. We’ve had primary elections before. How often is it the case that the party who collects the most primry votes in a given race goes on to win that race in November? Putting it another way, if one party draws fewer votes in the primary, does that mean they can’t win in November? Let’s step into the wayback machine and visit some primaries to the past to see.


2004

CD17 - GOP            CD17 - Dem

McIntyre     10,681   Edwards      17,754
Snyder       11,568
Wohlgemuth   15,627

Total        37,876   Total        17,754

November result - Edwards 125,309  Wohlgemuth 116,049

HD134 - GOP           HD134 - Dem

Wong          4,927   Barclay         771
                      Daugherty     4,193

Total         4,927   Total         4,964

November result - Wong 36,021  Daugherty 29,806

HD137 - GOP           HD137 - Dem

Witt          1,291   Amadi           376
Zieben          970   Hochberg      1,012

Total         2,261   Total         1,388

November result - Hochberg 10,565  Witt 8,095

HD149 - GOP           HD149 - Dem

Heflin        2,526   Vo            1,800

November result - Vo 20,695  Heflin 20,662


2006

HD47 - GOP            HD47 - Dem

Welch         2,349   Bolton        1,569
Four others   3,743   Three others  2,071

Total         6,092   Total         3,640

November result - Bolton 26,975  Welch 24,447

HD50 - GOP            HD50 - Dem

Fleece        1,441   Strama        2,466
Wheeler         294
Zimmerman     1,344

Total         3,079   Total         2,466

November result - Strama 25,098  Fleece 13,681

HD107 - GOP           HD107 - Dem

Keffer        3,054   Smith           724
                      Vaught        1,169

Total         3,054   Total         1,893

November result - Vaught 16,254  Keffer 15,145

HD134 - GOP           HD134 - Dem

Wong          3,725   Cohen         2,196

November result - Cohen 25,219  Wong 20,005


2010

HD48 - GOP            HD48 - Dem

Neil          9,136   Howard        6,239

November result - Howard 25,023  Neil 25,011


2012

SD10 - GOP            SD10 - GOP

Cooper        6,709   Davis        17,230
Shelton      28,249

Total        34,958   Total        17,230

November result - Davis 147,103  Shelton 140,656

HD144 - GOP           HD144 - Dem

Pena          1,030   Perez         1,149
Pineda        1,437   Risner          462
                      Ybarra          591

Total         2,467   Total         2,022

November result - Perez 12,446  Pineda 10,885


2014

SD15 - GOP            SD15 - Dem

Hale         13,563   LaCroix       3,239
                      Whitmire      9,766

Total        13,563   Total        13,005

November result - Whitmire 74,192  Hale 48,249


2016

HD107 GOP             HD107 - Dem

Sheets       10,371   Neave         6,317

November result - Neave 27,922  Sheets 27,086

Some points to note here. One, I’m cherry-picking just as Rove had done. There were plenty of examples of one party outvoting the other in a given primary race, then winning that race in November. That’s why I don’t have an example to cite from 2008, for instance. It’s also why I concentrated on the legislative races, since outside of CD23 there haven’t been many competitive Congressional races. Two, as you can see most of the examples are from last decade. That’s largely a function of how brutally efficient the 2011 gerrymander was. Three, these are actual votes cast, not turnout, as that data doesn’t exist on the SOS page and I was not going to trawl through multiple county election sites for this. It could be in some of the closer examples that adding in the undervotes would have flipped which party led the way.

All that out of the way, as you can see there are plenty of examples of parties trailing the primary votes but winning when it mattered. In some cases, the March tallies weren’t close, like with SD10 in 2012. In some other cases, it was the November races that weren’t close, like HD50 in 2006 and SD15 in 2014. The point I would make here is simply that this doesn’t look like a reliable metric to me. If you want to make the case that these Congressional races will be tough for Democrats to win regardless of the atmosphere and the demographic trends and the relative level of enthusiasm in the two parties, I’d agree. The weight of the evidence says that despite the positive indicators for 2018, we’re still underdogs in these districts. Our odds are better than they’ve been, but that doesn’t mean they’re great. I don’t think you need to use questionable statistics to make that case.

One more thing to consider: There was an effort, mostly driven by educators, to show up in the Republican primary and vote against Dan Patrick. It didn’t work in the sense that he won easily, but some 367K people did vote against him. I’m sure some number of those people are reliable Republicans, but some of them were likely new to the primary process. This probably had an effect on overall Republican turnout. A small effect, to be sure, but if it’s a little more than half of the anti-Patrick vote then we’re talking about 200K people. Take them out of the pool and the Republicans are back down at 2014 turnout levels.

I have no idea how much this effect might be. It’s certainly small, and I doubt you could measure it without some polling. But we know it’s there, and so it’s worth keeping in mind.

Endorsement watch: Not Dan Patrick

Scott Milder, who was defeated by Dan Patrick in the Republican primary, endorses Mike Collier for the general election.

Scott Milder

Scott Milder, who lost his Republican primary challenge to incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick two days ago, says he will vote for the Democrat running against Patrick in November to curb “irrational, out-of-touch politics.”

In a Facebook post that he characterized not as a concession, “but rather an absolute victory speech,”, Milder — a longtime Republican and and well-known public education advocate — said he plans to vote “for Republican candidates in every race with one exception.

“I cannot on good conscience vote for a man who I know to be a liar, nor can I vote for a man who willfully ignores and disrespects his legislative colleagues and his constituents,” Milder said in the post. “I will be casting my vote for Mike Collier, the rational Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, and will strongly encourage all Texans who voted for me in this race to cast their votes for Mr. Collier as well.”

[…]

Coillier told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday that he appreciates Milder’s support, after a campaign in which they agreed on many of the issues including opposition to school vouchers. He said Milder may even campaign with him in coming weeks.

“It doesn’t happen very often that a Republican endorses a Democrat, but public education groups recruited (Milder) to run against Patrick and he and I viewed proper funding of public education as very important,” said Collier, a retired Kingwood CPA and business executive.

“I’ve already had a fair number of moderate Republican donors (to Milder’s campaign) who have called and said they want to join me.”

You can read Milder’s statement here. Patrick beat him pretty handily, but Milder still got 367K votes. If his words carry weight with his supporters, that could move things a bit. I mean, I don’t expect too much from this, even if Milder does help Collier campaign. I doubt that many people will even hear about this, but to the extent that they do, this can’t hurt.

2018 primary results: Statewide

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

(Please note that all results were coming in very slowly. I expect there will still be some precincts not yet reported by the time this publishes. So, I’m going to be less specific than usual, and may have to make a correction or two by Thursday.)

No real surprises here. Lupe Valdez and Andrew White will fight it out in the runoff. They combined for about 70% of the vote. Beto O’Rourke was a bit over 60% on his way to the Senate nomination. To be honest, I thought he’d score higher than that, but whatever. Statewide primaries are hard.

Miguel Suazo was near 70% for Land Commissioner, and Roman McAllen was near 60% for Railroad Commissioner. Mike Collier was leading by about seven points for Lt. Governor. The closest race was for Comptroller, where Joi Chevalier had a tiny lead over Tim Mahoney.

On the Republican side, Greg Abbott (90%), Ted Cruz (85%), Dan Patrick (75%), and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick (75%), who I didn’t even realize had an opponent, all cruised. Baby Bush and Sid Miller were in the high 50’s and so also on their way to renomination. That means the only statewide runoff will be for the Democratic gubernatorial race.

One note on turnout: In 2014, there were 554,014 total votes cast in the Democratic primary for Governor. The early vote tally for the Dem gubernatorial primary was 555,002. So yeah, turnout was up. Republicans will probably have 30-40% more total turnout statewide, but I fully expect Dems to top one million at this point.

UT/TT poll: Trump approval more or less the same as before

A tad bit more positive than last time, but still nothing to write home about.

With the usual disclaimers about partisan imbalance, President Donald Trump’s job approval ratings are holding steady, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Overall, equal numbers of Texas voters approve and disapprove of the job Trump is doing. Beneath that, the poll found, Republicans are highly supportive, with 83 percent saying they approve, while 84 percent of Democrats say they disapprove. The president’s numbers are remarkably similar to those in last February’s UT/TT Poll — the first survey after Trump took office. Then, as now, Republicans were solidly behind him and Democrats were solidly against him, making the blended numbers appear balanced.

[…]

The contrasting voter impressions of the state’s two Republican U.S. senators continue. John Cornyn had approving marks from 29 percent of all voters, 47 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats. Overall, 38 percent of voters disapprove of the job Cornyn’s doing as the second-highest-ranking member of the Senate majority’s leadership. That’s driven by the disapproval of 59 percent of Texas Democrats.

Ted Cruz, who is up for re-election this year, gets about the same number of good grades — 40 percent — and bad ones — 41 percent. As with other officeholders, it’s about party, but only Trump’s numbers are as strongly divided on those lines. Cruz’s high grades from 72 percent of Republicans are offset by his bad grades from 73 percent of Democrats.

In another question, voters were asked their opinion of Cruz, which yielded similar results. Overall, 40 percent said they have a favorable impression of him and 42 percent have an unfavorable one. It’s a party thing, with 71 percent of Democrats holding negative opinions and 70 percent of Republicans holding positive ones. Fewer than one in five said they had no opinion at all.

Contrast that with his likely general election opponent, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. The El Paso Democrat has never been on a statewide ballot, and it shows, with 58 percent of all voters saying they have neither a favorable nor an unfavorable opinion of him. Among Democrats, 52 percent have a favorable opinion of O’Rourke, 4 percent have an unfavorable opinion and 44 percent have no opinion at all. Among Republicans, 8 percent were favorable, 22 percent were unfavorable and 70 percent were neither positive nor negative.

Gov. Greg Abbott remains the most popular elected state official, if job assessments are the measure. Overall, 46 percent said he’s doing a good job and 31 percent said he’s not. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s numbers almost break into three equal parts: 36 percent approval, 33 percent disapproval and 31 percent neutral. And House Speaker Joe Straus, who is not seeking another term, remains the least well-known high official in Austin: 27 percent approve of the job he’s doing, 24 percent disapprove and 48 percent remain neutral.

For comparison purposes:

UT/Trib, February 2017, 46 approve/44 disapprove
UT/Trib, June 2017, 43 approve/51 disapprove
UT/Trib, October 2017, 45 approve/49 disapprove
UT/Trib, February 2018, 46 approve/46 disapprove

There are other pollsters that have shown poorer results for Trump in the past year. For apples to apples purposes, the numbers above all come from the UT/Trib poll. This was Trump’s best showing since last February, and it may represent the passage of the tax bill, the onset of primary season and the partisan stirrings that brings, random variations, some combination of the above, or something else entirely. I think his numbers are more likely to sag a big going forward than improve, and there’s always the chance that some factor like the Mueller investigation could cause him to crater. Overall, though, I think this is more or less what we should expect.

What does it mean? Well, overall probably not much. Not because of anything having to do with this poll or any other poll, but because for November purposes I don’t think the right questions are being asked, or more to the point I don’t think the right people are being asked. We all know this election is about who will turn out, so why not focus on the voters who are the biggest variables in that? What I’d love to see are surveys of 1) Democratic voters who turned out in 2016 and 2012 and 2008 but not 2010 or 2014; 2) people who voted for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in 2016 and who have a history of voting in the off years; and 3) Republicans who voted for Clinton in 2016. Ask them what their plans are for this year, and maybe you’ll get a better idea of what to expect in 8.5 months.

And on a related note:

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are far ahead of their Republican primary opponents in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, but the Democrats running for those two high offices face more difficult paths to their party’s nomination.

Two other statewide Republican incumbents — Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — have the support of a majority of likely primary voters, but with a caveat. When those voters had the option of saying they weren’t ready to make a choice, 44 percent listed no preference in the land race and 60 percent said the same in the agriculture race.

With high numbers of undecided voters, Bush led his primary with 36 percent of the vote, and Miller led his with 27 percent. Only when they were asked how they’d vote if they had to make a choice now did the majorities appear for the incumbents.

[…]

The Democratic primary for governor is a muddle, with two clear frontrunners and no candidate close to enough votes to win without a runoff. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez had the support of 43 percent of likely primary voters responding to the poll, while Andrew White of Houston had 24 percent. If no candidate gets a majority, the top two finishers will go to a May runoff. Grady Yarbrough and Tom Wakely each got 7 percent in that primary poll, Adrian Ocegueda and Jeffrey Payne got 5 percent, and Cedric Davis Sr., Joe Mumbach and James Jolly Clark each got 4 percent or less.

The Democratic race for lieutenant governor won’t end in a runoff — there are only two candidates. But their names are similar — Mike Collier and Michael Cooper — and their numbers are close. Collier, whose name was on the statewide ballot four years ago when he ran for comptroller, got 55 percent in the latest UT/TT Poll. Cooper got 45 percent.

“You have two lieutenant governor candidates whose names are very similar to one another, who have received very little public attention and who are not very well known,” Henson said.

The Trib’s primary polls from 2014 were, in a word, trash. They were worse than useless, and they didn’t have a strong track record in Democratic primary polls before that. Their November polling has been good, but I emphatically advise you to take any and all of their March numbers as being strictly for entertainment purposes only. You have been warned.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 1

Whoa, all of a sudden the Chron is chock full of endorsements. Let’s run through ’em. Actually, let’s start to run through them. So many appeared all at once that I’m going to need to break this into more than one post.

For Lite Guv: Anyone but Dan.

Lieutenant governor: Scott Milder

Scott Milder has become the tip of the spear in this statewide effort to fight back against Patrick, and we endorse his run to unseat the incumbent as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. A former City Council member in Rockwall, a Dallas suburb, Milder, 50, is aligned with the schools, business interests and pastors who are hoping to restore the conservative values of local control and pro-growth that for decades sat at the core of Texas politics. It is a movement that wants to put an end to the potty-bill politics that have dominated our state Legislature under Patrick.

From El Paso to Texarkana, Brownsville to Canadian, local cities and counties are starting to stand together against a state government obsessed with the political minutiae that excites the partisan wings but does little to make our state a better place to live. A vote for Milder will be a vote to fix school funding and return Texas to normalcy.

Democratic Lieutenant governor: Mike Collier

In the Democratic primary for this important post, the Chronicle recommends Mike Collier, the more experienced, better qualified of the two candidates vying to face off against the Republican winner in the November general election.

A graduate of the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree and MBA, Collier wants to see more state money directed to public schools, arguing that overtaxed homeowners cannot afford to carry what ought to be the state’s share of education funding. An accountant by training, Collier held high-level positions in auditing and finance during his career at a global accounting firm, giving weight to his proposal to close a corporate tax loophole as a means of raising revenue for public education and property tax relief.

Collier, 56, is well-versed in this region’s need for storm surge protection and Harvey recovery, and he’s ready to tap the state’s substantial rainy day fund to pay for it. “Let’s crack it open and stimulate recovery as fast as we can,” he told the editorial board.

Collier supports expanding Medicaid to improve health for poor children, and he wants to improve care for rural Texans dealing with local hospital closures and few physicians wanting to practice outside large cities.

I count myself lucky that I have not yet been subjected to Dan Patrick’s TV ad barrage. I’m all in for Mike Collier, but for sure Scott Milder would be a step away from the dystopia that Patrick is determined to drag us all to.

Land Commissioner: Not Baby Bush.

Four years ago, this editorial page enthusiastically supported Bush in his first bid for elected office. We were mightily impressed with his command of the complex issues facing the General Land Office. Anybody who thought this guy was just coasting on his family name was wrong. “George P. Bush is the real deal,” we wrote.

Now the real deal has become a real disappointment.

Bush has repeatedly stumbled during his first term in his first elected office. He directed the General Land Office to spend nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to keep at least 40 employees on the payroll for as long as five months after they’d actually quit their jobs, but only if they promised they wouldn’t sue Bush or the agency. Three days after a contractor scored a $13.5 million hurricane cleanup contract, Bush’s campaign accepted almost $30,000 in contributions from the company’s executives.

But his highest profile problem has been his plan to “reimagine” the Alamo. It’s an ongoing mess criticized not only by Texas history buffs but also by Republican lawmakers irate about the way it’s being managed. Among other problems, Bush played a cynical shell game with state employees, shifting about 60 people over to a taxpayer-funded nonprofit so he could brag that he cut his agency’s staff. As one incredulous GOP fundraiser put it, “How do you screw up the Alamo?”

To his credit, months before Hurricane Harvey, Bush wrote President Donald Trump a detailed letter requesting funding for a coastal storm surge barrier. Unfortunately, since then we haven’t seen him do much to advance the cause of this critical infrastructure project.

Losing faith in a man who once looked like a rising political star is disillusioning, but voters in the Republican primary for Texas land commissioner should bypass Bush and cast their ballots for Jerry Patterson.

I feel reasonably confident that Jerry Patterson will not buy any secret mansions with secret money. He was a perfectly decent Land Commissioner whose service I respect as you know, but just clearing that bar would have been enough to prefer him. I only wish the Chron had expressed an opinion on the Democratic side, as that’s a race where I don’t feel like I know much about the candidates. Maybe we’ll get that later.

For County Treasurer – Dylan Osborne

Dylan Osborne

Three Democrats are running in this friendly race. All seem to be self-starters, and all recognize that taxpayers need to get more for their dollar than a mere office figure head who oversees routine financial operations conducted by professional staff. All want to increase efficiencies and cost savings, and improve service through better use of technology.

Our choice, Dylan Osborne, 36, is the candidate with the background in customer relations and experience in community service needed to elevate this job from one of sinecure to public service.

Osborne, who holds a Master’s in Public Administration, currently works in the city of Houston Planning and Development Department. The University of Houston graduate got his start as the manager of a restaurant and an auto parts store and has risen his way through city ranks. While employed by two city council members, the personable Osborne organized events with civic clubs and super neighborhoods to educate citizens about local issues.

My interview with Dylan Osborne is here and with Nile Copeland is here; Cosme Garcia never replied to my email. The Chron has endorsed Orlando Sanchez in the last couple of general elections. Maybe this year they’ll break that habit.

And for HCDE: Josh Wallenstein and Danny Norris.

County School Trustee Position 3, At large: Josh Wallenstein

This Democratic primary is a coin toss between Josh Wallenstein and Richard Cantu.

The HCDE has come under political fire in recent years, and it needs to achieve two goals to stay on course. The department needs to avoid conflicts of interest and maximize its use of the public dollar. Wallenstein was chief compliance officer of a major corporation before starting his own law firm and could bring to the board the skill of contract review and analysis including, minimizing waste, fraud and abuse, conflict of interest and self-dealing and maximizing efficiencies for schools. He graduated from Stanford Law School.

The department does a good job of offering school districts services at a much reduced rate, but it does a poor of job of communicating to voters how it saves taxpayer money. Cantu, who holds a masters in public administration from St. Thomas University, would be in the best position to develop partnerships and collaborations around the city and to help the department get the word out. He’s held management positions with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Baker Ripley, the Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office and currently he’s deputy executive director of the East Aldine Management District.

It was a tough choice but choose we must, and we endorse Wallenstein.

County School Trustee, Position 6, Precinct 1: Danyahel (Danny) Norris

There is no Republican running for this seat vacated by Democratic incumbent Erica Lee Carter, which stretches from the portion of Friendswood in Harris County to near Galena Park in the south. The winner of this primary will become a trustee on the HCDE board. Two candidates — John F. Miller and Danyahel “Danny” Norris — stand out in this three person race. We tip our hat to the only candidate with experience in education policy: Norris.

Norris, 37, holds the distinction of being a chemical engineer, a former teacher and tutor for math students, a lawyer with a degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law, a law professor, and a librarian with a masters of library science from the University of North Texas.

Miller, who is also a chemical engineer, demonstrated an admirable commitment to the board position, having attended all of its meetings since September. However, he didn’t convince us that his budgeting or hiring skills would fill a gap in the board’s expertise.

Interviews:

Josh Wallenstein
Richard Cantu
Elvonte Patton
Danny Norris
John Miller

Prince Bryant did reply to my email request for an interview a week ago, but then never followed up when I suggested some possible times to talk. I agree with the Chron that the choices we have in these races are good ones.

Sandra Bullock hurts Dan Patrick’s fee-fees

Poor little snowflake.

I can see why she might intimidate him

Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick is not too pleased that Oscar winning actress Sandra Bullock has agreed to star in a movie about former state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose 13-hour filibuster helped stall an anti-abortion bill in 2013.

“It saddens me that Sandra Bullock agreed to play Wendy Davis in a movie called ‘Let Her Speak,'” Patrick said in downtown Austin, just miles from where Bullock once owned a home.

When a member of the audience doubted it, Patrick assured the crowd it was true.

“Sandra Bullock,” he repeated. “I used to like her.”

But Patrick said he’s already taking steps to keep Bullock and film crews out of the Senate chamber to recreate the filibuster that raised Davis’s statewide profile. Davis ran for governor in 2014 and lost to Gov. Greg Abbott.

“And by the way, if I have anything to do with it, I’m not going to let them use the Senate chamber to shoot, because they’ve already disgraced it once,” Patrick said. “They’re not going to do it a second time.”

Patrick told the audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative public policy advocacy group, that he already has other issues with the movie. He said they sent him a script and asked, “Guess who the villain is?”

After a pause, Patrick raised his right hand and smiled: “Me.”

Can’t imagine why anyone might think of you that way, Danno. Now please go ahead and show me where that mean lady hurt you. You’re safe now. RG Ratcliffe has more.

No, the bathroom bill issue hasn’t gone away

Lisa Falkenberg tries to argue that the bathroom bill issue has faded away this election, but I don’t buy it and I don’t think she does, either.

But there’s one hot-button issue that’s been notably absent: the bathroom bill.

And actually, it has been notably absent from just about every Republican primary contest this season, as the Texas Tribune reported this week.

That is interesting, seeing as how the divisive provision regulating transgender bathroom use distracted from serious legislation and even triggered a special session. I asked those closely involved in fighting the bill for a ballpark figure on the hours wasted in hearings, negotiations, stakeholder meetings and floor debate.

Hundreds, they said.

The fact that the burning issue is now a non-issue is a bit surprising, seeing as how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick warned lawmakers who worked successfully to thwart it that they would face consequences, namely the wrath of their constituents.

“Let them go home and face the voters for the next 90 days,” Patrick was quoted saying on the last day of the special session in reference to bill opponents.

Certainly, plenty of political observers, myself included, expected that the bill that launched protests, hours of debate among lawmakers and stoked fear in the hearts of parents and transgender Texans would play a role on the stump, whether employed as a strict litmus test or a mere dog whistle.

Now, it seems all but forgotten. The question is why.

[…]

Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University, says the issue just didn’t have the staying power among the Republican base as issues such as illegal immigration, abortion and taxes. He said most GOP primary voters have largely forgotten about the issue, which was never a priority for them anyway.

Jones says he suspects one reason that potty politics have quieted is that “even for most conservative activists the bathroom bill was something of a manufactured issue, where some members of the GOP elite converted a relatively non-issue into an issue among the base, but one that absent a constant stoking of the fire by the GOP elite has for all intents been extinguished.”

He added, “Until such time that Dan Patrick decides to pour some gasoline on the remaining embers.”

Hold that thought for a minute. The Trib had an article along the same lines a day or two before Falkenberg’s piece.

For starters, its biggest champion, Patrick, is no longer promoting it with remotely the same level of enthusiasm he did before and during the 2017 sessions. In October, he declared bathroom bill supporters had “already won” by sending a message to any school or business thinking about providing the kinds of accommodations that led to the push for the proposal in the first place.

Furthermore, the two Republicans most closely associated with the legislation’s death — Straus and state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee — are not seeking re-election, avoiding primary challenges that could have been shaped by their opposition to the proposal.

For some bathroom bill supporters, the Cook and Straus retirements are enough proof that the failure of the legislation had political consequences.

[…]

In a small number of cases, primary challengers have sought to appeal to more moderate Republican voters by providing a contrast with incumbents who supported the bathroom bill. In her debut ad, Shannon McClendon, who’s running against state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, said the incumbent “wants the government to intrude into our bedroom, our bathrooms and our boardrooms — I want to focus on our classrooms.”

That’s about as far as it goes among Republicans who weren’t keen on the bathroom bill, though. Even the political arm of the TAB, among the legislation’s biggest opponents last year, has kept talk of the issue at a minimum as it has sought to play a more aggressive role in the primaries. It snubbed a number of bathroom bill supporters in its primary endorsements, but it also backed some who unapologetically voted for it, like Campbell.

Hey, you know who’s a big bathroom bill booster that’s being challenged over that issue in the Republican primary? Dan Patrick, that’s who. His what-used-to-be-considered-mainstream Republican opponent is Scott Milder, who has gotten support from editorial boards and not much of a hold on the news pages. One reason why the bathroom bill isn’t getting much attention is precisely because this race isn’t getting much attention. Other reasons include the departures of Joe Straus and Byron Cook, and the big focus on federal races – Congress plus Beto O’Rourke – where bathrooms take a back seat to all things Trump. At the state level, there’s more attention on the Democratic gubernatorial primary than anything else.

But look, none of this really matters. What matters is what Mark Jones said. Dan Patrick doesn’t forget, and he doesn’t give up. The fact that there weren’t high profile fights over potties in the primary will be taken by him as proof that he was right all along, that Republican voters were on his side. And when you consider that there are no Republicans of prominence on the ballot who are disputing that, and that as expected the Texas Association of Business has been as toothless as a a newborn, why should he think otherwise? Republican primary voters are gonna do what Republican primary voters do, which over the past half dozen or so cycles has meant “nominate more and more unhinged lunatics”. You want to restore a little sanity and put things like bathroom bills in the trash can where they belong, vote Democratic. That’s a message that maybe, just maybe, Dan Patrick will have to listen to.

Endorsement watch: Sylvia and more

The Chron makes the obvious choice in CD29.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

The frontrunner is clearly state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, the only current elected official on the ballot, who has name identification with this area’s voters that stretches back more than 20 years. The breadth of her experience as Houston city controller, a Harris County commissioner and a state senator gives her an almost insurmountable advantage in this race. Congress could use someone who so intimately understands the problems faced by city, county and state governments. So Garcia has our endorsement, but not without some reservations.

Garcia was the only member of the state Senate willing to vote against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s budget, which relied on a hike in property taxes. Democrats should lament losing that voice in Austin.

It’s also noteworthy that Garcia will be 68 years old on the day she hopes to be inaugurated into Congress. It’s a safe bet she won’t stay in Washington as long as her predecessor. When she retires, the Houston area will lose her seniority on Capitol Hill.

And as a number of her opponents point out, young people are dropping out of the political process, rightly realizing that gerrymandering has rendered November congressional elections all but meaningless. Millennial voters might be drawn back into this election if they had the opportunity to support a dynamic younger candidate. We’re especially impressed by Roel Garcia, a whip smart Latino lawyer who we hope to see back on the ballot running for another office.

Yes, and at the risk of being indelicate, Sylvia Garcia will be old for a Congressional first-termer. In a body that runs on seniority, that’s a non-trivial concern. Of course, if she’s won her first election for CD29 back in 1996, she’d have plenty of it. Life is like that, and it’s not her fault this is her next best chance at the seat. As for the complaint about millennials, I mean come on. For one, how is this on Sylvia? Two, there apparently is a dynamic younger candidate in this race. Millennials are free to vote for him if he’s what they’re looking for. Three, this district includes State Rep districts that are and have been represented by millennials – Armando Walle in HD140, and Ana Hernandez in HD143. Four, there are plenty of candidates from that cohort elsewhere on the ballot. You know, like the 26-year-old Democratic candidate for Harris County Judge. And I swear, if when the Chron makes an endorsement in that race for November, they say something about her “lack of experience”, I’m gonna break something.

Anyway, now that we’ve all gotten that out of our system, let’s look at some other recent endorsements of interest. The DMN, who like the Chron endorsed Andrew White for Governor over the weekend, seeks a new direction at Lite Guv.

The difference between an ideologue and a partisan can be measured in how they approach issues and policy. To that end, we recommend Scott Milder, a candidate with a conservative ideology over Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a rank partisan.

Both candidates represent the Republican Party. But Milder, 50, a former city council member from Rockwall and senior associate at Stantec, an engineering and architectural firm, brings to the table a more nuanced and reasonable outlook on the issues facing the people of Texas.

We know how well that goes over in Republican primaries these days. Look no further than what Greg Abbott is doing for proof.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed Hollywood Park Mayor Chris Fails in his primary challenge of four-term state Rep. Lyle Larson, who became the latest of several Republican incumbents to have Abbott come out in support of a primary opponent.

Abbott posted a video on his YouTube channel Monday morning in which he praised Fails’ stance on property tax reform.

“[Fails] knows firsthand the devastating impact that rising property taxes have on families and on small businesses,” Abbott said in the video. “I know that he will work with me to advance my plans to empower Texas voters to rein in skyrocketed property taxes for the people of his district.”

Fails told the Rivard Report that the endorsement in the state House District 122 primary came because of what he called Larson’s track record of voting to block property tax reform.

“My opponent has voted to block property tax reform in the past and I have committed to support Governor Abbott’s plan to get people some control over their property taxes,” Fails said.

Larson, who chairs the House Natural Resource Committee, told the Rivard Report that he thought Abbott was “misinformed on this endorsement.”

“It’s sort of strange,” Larson said. “[Fails] was against two of the three issues that [Abbott] called in the special session, tax reform and annexation [reform].”

[…]

David Crockett, chair of the political science department at Trinity University, said Abbott’s decision to endorse the primary challengers of several incumbents would be a test of his influence.

“Greg Abbott wrote down a list of names at the last session of people who annoyed him,” Crockett said. “He is now going to use whatever influence he has to demonstrate, if he’s successful, his ability to punish people who criticize him and his agenda.”

That’s certainly one part of it. There’s also this.

Larson is the third House Republican Abbott has endorsed against following special session where he had vowed to keep track of which members embraced his agenda — and which ones didn’t. The governor backed primary challengers to state Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, in November and Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, last month.

Both Davis and Larson were the stars of a news conference during the special session last year where they urged Abbott to add ethics reform to his 20-item agenda. The governor’s office later accused them of “showboating” and said their “constituents deserve better.”

Larson said he noticed a common theme among the three incumbents that Abbott is opposing: They all supported Larson’s proposed ban on “pay-for-play” appointments. The House passed the legislation, House Bill 3305, during the regular session, but it died in the Senate.

“To be honest … as a member of a party that prides itself on reform, we need to fix this issue before we lose control of the executive branch and the Legislature,” Larson said Monday.

That’s so 2014, Lyle. Welcome to today’s GOP.

Voter registration deadline is Monday

Check your registration status.

Houston-area voters are registering to vote in record numbers just in time for the March 6 primaries, and the two major political parties are bracing for yet another wave of newcomers over the next few days.

With Monday’s voter registration deadline fast approaching, both major political parties say they are seeing a definite uptick in interest from people wanting to be ready for the nation’s first in the nation political primaries.

“​We are seeing a spike in activity,” said Vlad Davidiuk, communications director for the Harris County Republican Party.

Harris County Democrats say they too are seeing a lot more interest than usual during a midterm election cycle for both the primary races on March 6 and the general election in November.

Already Harris County has nearly 2.3 million registered voters. Four years ago in 2014, the last time Texas had a midterm election cycle with the governor’s race being the top draw, Harris County had less than 2.1 million registered voters.

That last paragraph misstates the comparison. The “less than 2.1 million” figure – actually 2,044,361 – was for the November election. The truly comparable total is from the March primary, and that was 1,992,969. We’re more than 300,000 voters up on that amount. That in and of itself doesn’t mean anything, but I think it’s safe to say that turnout this March will be higher than that March, when 139K Republicans showed up for a bunch of contested statewide races and a paltry 53K Dems did the same for not much of excitement. I feel reasonably comfortable saying Dems will exceed that total. Beyond that, we’ll see.

You can check your status at the Harris County Tax Assessor, but it’s really only an issue if you’ve moved recently. The rest of you should have received your new voter registration card in the mail. I would definitely check if you haven’t received that.

Also, too, a reason to lean on your DVR over the next month:

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick may act like he’s not worried by his Republican primary challenger, but he is spending more than $1 million on TV ads in the Houston area between now and the March 6 election.

Some 975 ads are booked to run during the Olympics, morning shows, afternoon programming, and prime-time evening news hours, according to television station public inspection records filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

Spread among NBC affiliate KPRC-Channel 2, ABC affiliate KTRK-Channel 13, FOX affiliate KIRV-Channel 26 and KHOU-Channel 11, Patrick’s campaign is spending $1,049,640 on the TV ad spots that were scheduled to begin running this week through the election.

In technical terms, that is a metric crap-ton of advertising. You have been warned.

Republicans “against” Dan Patrick

RG Ratcliffe reports on a “loose coalition” of business and education interests who are seeking to clip Dan Patrick’s wings.

[FBSID Board President Kristin] Tassin is now running for a seat in the state Senate, and she is just one candidate in a growing coalition of education and business groups that want to roll back the social conservative agenda of Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott. And recognizing the ineffectiveness of the Texas Democratic Party, they are concentrating their efforts on the upcoming March Republican primaries instead of betting on candidates in the general election. “There is a perfect storm brewing, and it goes a lot deeper than just a vouchers vote,” Tassin told me. “What really led me to step into this race is I really see this past session as an indicator of failed leadership and, often, particularly in the Senate.”

This is, at best, a loose coalition. Some by law are restricted to urging people to vote based on certain issues, while others are gathering money to put behind candidates who will clip Patrick’s dominance in the Senate. If they just pick up a few seats, Patrick will no longer be able to steamroll controversial bathroom bills and school voucher bills through the Senate, because he will lack the procedural votes needed to bring the legislation to the floor for debate.

[…]

One of the main groups that fought against the bathroom bill was the Texas Association of Business, and its political committee currently is evaluating which candidates to support in the primaries. “You’re seeing more and more business leaders engaged in this election—this time in the primaries in particular—than you probably ever had,” TAB President Chris Wallace told me. He said the leaders are motivated because “we had such a divisive time” during the 2017 legislative sessions.

Most of the TAB endorsements will be made over the next several weeks, but the group already has endorsed state Representative Cindy Burkett in her Republican primary challenge to incumbent Senator Bob Hall. In the TAB scorecard for pro-business votes, Hall sat at 53 percent and Burkett was at 94 percent, even though she supported the “sanctuary cities” legislation that TAB opposed. Hall voted in favor of the bathroom bill, but it never came up for a vote in the House. Because Burkett also carried legislation adding restrictions to abortion last year, she probably would not gain much support among Democrats. But as an advocate of public education, she already is opposed by the Texas Home School Coalition.

Emotions already are running high. When Hall put out a tweet that he is one of the most consistently conservative senators, a former school principal responded: “No, @SenBobHall, the reason we’re coming after you is because you side w/ Dan Patrick over the will of your constituents time and again. That’s why we’ll vote for @CindyBurkett_TX in the Mar. Primary. We’re not liberals, just ppl who want to be heard. #txed #txlege #blockvote.”

The Tassin race may create divisions in this loose coalition. She is challenging incumbent Senator Joan Huffman of Houston in the primary. Huffman gave Patrick a procedural vote he needed to bring the voucher bill to the floor, but then voted against the legislation. Huffman also voted in favor of killing dues check-offs, which allow teacher groups to collect their membership fees directly from a member-educator’s paycheck. But Huffman’s pro-business score is almost has high as Burkett’s, even though Huffman voted for the bathroom bill. Huffman also received a Best Legislator nod from Texas Monthly for helping negotiate a solution to the city of Houston’s financial problems with its police and firefighter pensions. However, the firefighters are angry over that deal and likely will work for Tassin in the primary. Huffman, though, has received an endorsement from Governor Abbott. We can’t make a prediction in that race until the endorsements come out.

I agree with the basic tactic of targeting the most fervent Patrick acolytes in the Senate. Patrick’s ability to ram through crap like the bathroom bill and the voucher bill is dependent on their being a sufficient number of his fellow travelers present. Knocking that number down even by one or two makes it harder for him to steer the ship in his preferred direction. Neither Kristin Tassin nor Cindy Burkett are my cup of tea, but they have a very low bar to clear to represent an improvement over the status quo.

The problem with this approach is twofold. First and foremost, depending on Republican primary voters to do something sensible is not exactly a winning proposition these days. There’s a reason why the Senate has trended the way it has in recent years. To be sure, it’s been an uneven fight in that there has basically been no effort like this to rein in the crazy in favor of more traditional Republican issues. To that I’d say, were you watching the Republican Presidential primary in 2016? The traditional interests didn’t do too well then, either. The Texas Parent PAC has had a lot of success over the years supporting anti-voucher candidates, often in rural districts where that issue resonates. I have a lot of respect for them and I wish them all the best this year, along with their allies of convenience. I just don’t plan to get my hopes up too high.

That leads to point two, which is that there needs to be a part two to this strategy. The two purplest Senate districts are SDs 10 and 16, where Sens. Konni Burton (who also scored a 53 on that TAB report card, tied with Bob Hall for the lowest tally in the Senate, including Democrats) and Don Huffines (and his 60 TAB score) will face Democratic challengers but not primary opponents. It’s reasonable for TAB et al to not have any interest in those races now, as they work to knock off Hall and (maybe) Huffman. If they don’t have a plan to play there in the fall, then at the very least you’ll know how serious this “loose coalition” is. I fully expect TAB and the other business groups to roll over and show Patrick their bellies after March. But maybe I’m wrong. I’ll be more than happy to admit it if I am. I wouldn’t bet my own money on it, though.

Dan Patrick wants SAPD Chief arrested

Bring it on.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday asked the state’s attorney general to determine if the chief of the San Antonio Police Department violated the state’s immigration-enforcement law during a human smuggling incident.

Late last month, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said officers arrested the driver of a tractor-trailer after a passerby saw people being unloaded from the vehicle and flagged down a police unit, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Officers charged Herbert Nichols, 58, under a state statute that makes knowingly transporting persons in the country illegally a crime, instead of turning the case over to federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The immigrants were interviewed and released to a Catholic charity.

During a subsequent news conference, McManus said it could have been a state or federal charge but that he chose to go with the state charge because officers were waiting to see how to move forward.

In a letter, Patrick asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate whether the department violated any portion of the state’s Senate Bill 4, a controversial and sweeping immigration enforcement bill passed by the Texas Legislature last year.

“I am very troubled by the recent news reports of the San Antonio police chief releasing suspected illegal immigrants in a case of human trafficking or human smuggling without proper investigation, identification of witnesses, or cooperation with federal authorities,” Patrick wrote. “Such action could be in direct violation of the recently passed Senate Bill 4 and threatens the safety of citizens and law enforcement.”

It’s unclear exactly which provision of the SB 4 Patrick alleges McManus violated. As passed, SB 4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and punishes local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation — in the form of jail time and fines.

Chief McManus, backed by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, strongly disputes Patrick’s allegation. I kind of doubt Danno cares about the details. He’s looking to send a message. Keep an eye on this. The Current has more.

Filing news: Jerry’s back

Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson would like his office back, please.

Jerry Patterson

Patterson, who was first elected as the state’s land commissioner in 2003, wants to head the agency that manages state-owned lands and the Alamo. He gave up the job to run for lieutenant governor in 2014, but came in last in a four-way GOP primary race.

Patterson has long been critical of Bush, including the office’s response to Hurricane Harvey. Since 2011 the office has also overseen housing recovery efforts after natural disasters.

“If your headline is that Jerry Patterson wants his old job back, that would be wrong,” Patterson told the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t need this job and I would prefer to be praising George P. Bush.”

He decided to run himself — after looking for someone else to make the race against Bush — because he believed he was “watching this agency crater for the past three years.” That criticism comes after watching the agency refuse to disclose details about the Alamo restoration project that the Land Office is overseeing and after seeing tens of thousands of Texas homeless after Hurricane Harvey while just two homes have been rebuilt so far.

“This morning, Harvey victims who have been sleeping in tents awakened to the snow,” Patterson said.

I’ll say this about Jerry Patterson: I disagree with him on many things, but he was without a doubt one of the more honorable people serving in government while he was there. He took the job of Land Commissioner seriously, he was a stalwart defender of the Texas Open Beaches Act, and in my view he always acted with the best interests of the state at heart. He’s not going to be my first choice, but I’d take him over Baby Bush in a heartbeat.

Land Commissioner was one of two statewide offices for which there had not been a Democratic candidate, but as the story note, that is no longer the case:

[Miguel] Suazo, an attorney from Austin, announced Friday he would run for the post as a Democrat.

No stranger to politics, Suazo worked as an aid to U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, in Washington D.C. and has also worked as an energy and environment associate for Wellford Energy Advisors, a manager for regulatory affairs for the the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. He has also worked as an oil and gas attorney in Houston.

“I am running for Land Commissioner because I am qualified for the office and eager to bring new leadership to Texas,” Suazo in a statement declaring his candidacy. “I represent small and large companies and also regular folks who need a job done. I know business and I know people . . . I’m self-made, nothing’s been handed to me. I intend to bring that approach to the General Land Office.”

Suazo, a proponent of block-chain technology, said he may be the first candidate in Texas to launch his campaign using proceeds from Bitcoin investments.

Here’s his campaign Facebook page. I’m so glad there will be a choice in November.

Other news:

– The other statewide office that was lacking a Democratic candidate was Comptroller. That too is no longer the case as Tim Mahoney has filed. I don’t know anything about him as yet beyond what you can see on that website.

– Someone named Edward Kimbrough has filed in the Democratic primary for Senate. Sema Hernandez had previously shown up on the SOS candidate filings page, but hasn’t been there for several days. Not sure what’s up with that, but be that as it may, it’s a reminder that Beto O’Rourke needs to keep running hard all the way through. On the Republican side, someone named Mary Miller has filed. As yet, neither Bruce Jacobson nor Stefano de Stefano has appeared on that list. It will break my heart if Stefano de Stefano backs out on this.

– Scott Milder’s campaign sent out a press release touting an endorsement he received for his primary campaign against Dan Patrick from former Education Commissioner Dr. Shirley J. (Neeley) Richardson, but as yet he has not filed. He did have a chat with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune the other day, so there’s that.

– Believe it or not, Democrats now have at least one candidate for all 36 Congressional offices. CD04 was the last holdout. Among other things, this means that every county in Texas will have the opportunity to vote in March for at least one non-statewide candidate. Very well done, y’all. Republicans are currently skipping a couple of the bluer Congressional districts. They also have nine candidates for CD21, which is the biggest pileup so far.

– Here in Harris County, in addition to the now-contested race for County Judge, there are a couple of challenges to incumbent legislators. Damien LaCroix is once again running against Sen. John Whitmire in SD15, and Richard A. Bonton has filed in HD142 against longtime State Rep. Harold Dutton. Also, there is now a Democrat running in SD07, the district formerly held by Dan Patrick and now held by his mini-me Paul Bettencourt, David Romero, and a candidate in HD129, Alexander Karjeker. Still need someone to file in HD135.

The filing deadline is Monday, and that’s when any real surprises will happen. Enjoy the weekend and be ready for something crazy to happen on the 11th, as it usually does.

State of the County 2017: Ed Emmett versus state leadership

That sound you heard was a fight breaking out.

Judge Ed Emmett

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Tuesday used his annual State of the County speech to blast state leaders who he said attack local governments and seek to cut needed taxes but offer no real solutions to the myriad problems Texas’ large urban counties face.

Before a crowd of hundreds at NRG Center, Emmett called on state officials to invest roughly $500 million in a third reservoir and dam to boost area flood control efforts, fund a beleaguered indigent health care system, and revamp “broken” tax policies that force the county to rely on property taxes to serve an unincorporated area that, on its own, would be the fifth-largest city in the country.

In addition to helping with the county’s flood control efforts, Emmett called on the state to contribute more for mental health care and transportation improvements, citing the need for an Interstate 69 bypass on the east side of the county and renewed emphasis on railroads and technology to move freight from area ports.

He also reiterated his call for state leaders to accept increased Medicaid funding from Washington.

“The next time a state official makes a big deal about a fraction of a cent cut in the property tax rate, ask them why they won’t help Harris County property taxpayers fund indigent health care,” the judge said. “State leaders who are eager to seek for disaster relief should also be willing to accept federal dollars to provide health care for poor people. That would be real property tax relief.”

The state, he said, should treat the county more like a city, which by law can levy a sales tax and pass ordinances. The county is an arm of state government and relies on property taxes for most of its revenue.

“The whole point of today’s speech was to say ‘enough is enough,'” Emmett said afterward. “We need to be able to provide the services and the government that people expect in an unincorporated area.”

[…]

Emmett criticized the bills that would have forced the county to get voter approval on taxes and spending.

“Such a populist approach might sound reasonable, but the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who nobody ever accused of being a liberal, described direct referenda as ‘a device for dictators and demagogues'” he said.

He also lit into lawmakers’ attempts to limit property tax collections during the last legislative session, saying leaders “attacked counties and cities and other local governments, all the while offering no real solutions.”

“County government relies almost completely on property tax revenue, but the property tax is widely hated, and wholly inadequate as a means of financing the unique urban government that we have. Unfortunately, narrow-minded politics has pushed unfunded mandates from the state onto county government,” Emmett said.

“It is just pure ugly politics. And, by the way, the portion of county taxes paid by business is, I don’t need to tell the business community in this room, growing. We are reaching the point where tax policies are a drag on economic development.”

You can read the whole speech here. Most of the criticisms Emmett made about state leadership and recent political actions are in the story, but the whole thing is worth a read. Oh, and he was introduced by outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, which was a further provocation. Like the useless demagogues they are, Dan Patrick and Paul Bettencourt responded petulantly in the story. This is another skirmish in the culture wars of the Republican Party, and Republicans who are in the Ed Emmett/Joe Straus camp – including Emmett himself – are going to have to decide next year if they really want the likes of Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick dictating to them. A vote for the status quo is a vote for four more years of the things that Emmett was railing against in his speech.

There’s scared and there’s strategy

What we’re seeing from the GOP is some of both.

Republicans are beginning to worry that a “blue wave” of Democratic voters angry with the Trump administration could crash into the 2018 election, even in the deep red state of Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s top campaign adviser and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are both sounding the alarm: Texas Republicans would be remiss to ignore sweeping Democratic victories on Election Day in Virginia. On Friday, The Cook Political Report, an independent nonpartisan election newsletter, weighed in, declaring Republican Congressman John Culberson’s Houston district a toss up.

Although some GOP leaders in Texas are warning that Republicans could feel the weight of a grass-roots surge by Democrats outraged by the Trump administration, many political analysts and operatives here say Republicans here have little to worry about.

“Even if the election becomes a tidal wave, Texas will remain solidly red,” said Mark McKinnon, a former media adviser to former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, both Republicans.

But McKinnon thinks it’s smart politics for Abbott and Patrick to warn of a wave. “It helps raise money. And if it doesn’t happen, nothing wrong with running up the score,” he said.

[…]

Pointing to the major Democratic wins in Virginia earlier this month, Patrick told party members in Waco on Thursday that they have a challenging election year ahead and the GOP should take nothing for granted. The Houston tea party favorite is considered a shoo-in for re-election.

“Recently in Virginia, Republicans turned out in record numbers, but it made no difference. A blue wave prevailed,” Patrick said, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald. The paper said Patrick went on to ask Republicans to each get at least 10 voters to the polls, and said Democrats are “howling” about Trump and are now “coming after us.”

Texas’ politics are different from Virginia’s, said Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a politics professor who studies political behavior and teaches at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Virginia is a swing state and moderate, far from Texas as a Republican stronghold with several conservatives at the helm.

Patrick’s not actually worried, she added. It’s a strategy.

“I would tell Dan Patrick to say the same thing,” she said. “It’s number one in politics: always run scared and never feel safe, even if you’re Dan Patrick. That’s textbook. I wouldn’t expect him to say anything else.”

See here for some background. Let’s stipulate that the Republicans have legitimate reasons to worry about next year. Let’s also stipulate that they have a lot of structural advantages – favorable districts, tons of money, a 20+ year statewide winning streak, that sort of thing – that will buffer them against a lot of adversity. They could have a pretty bad year, losing Congressional and legislative and local offices, and still remain firmly in control of state government.

The X factor in all of this remains enthusiasm, and the level of turnout that results from that. I was on a panel after this election talking about what happened this year and what it may mean for next year, and one of my co-panelists noted that Democrats were pretty excited at this time in 2013, when Wendy Davis had announced her candidacy for Governor, and we know how that ended. I’ve been thinking about that, and my response is that the energy Davis had generated was largely tied to a singular event and issue, and that wound up being impossible to maintain. Reproductive freedom does animate a lot of Democrats, but not all of them, and it didn’t do much outside the party. The energy this year is all about Trump, which is more unifying since pretty much every non-Republican hates him. Could that burn itself out? Sure, and that’s one of my biggest worries, but so far it looks like this energy has been building on itself. Aren’t there still divisions among Democrats, and don’t they need to work on a coherent message? Yes and yes, but the same could easily have been said about Republicans going into 2010. This is the advantage of being the out party. Have Democrats finally figured out how to increase turnout in an off year? That remains to be seen. It’s the key to nearly everything, and maybe having a large number of viable Congressional candidates will have an effect that we haven’t seen before. Or maybe it won’t, and the lack of a viable candidate for Governor (assuming nothing unexpected happens) blunts the edge of the hoped-for wave. We’re all guessing at this point. Ask again in a few months, and again a few months after that, and we’ll see what we’re saying then.

Patrick gets a primary challenger

The plot thickens.

Former Rockwall City Council member Scott Milder will challenge Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in next year’s Republican primary, Milder announced formally on Thursday.

Milder, a public education advocate and resident of North Texas, is the first Republican to officially challenge Patrick, a far-right conservative and one of the most powerful elected officials in Texas. Milder has criticized the lieutenant governor for his education policy stances and called Patrick “classless and clueless” for tweeting smiling pictures of himself and Hurricane Harvey first responders.

Milder’s decision to jump into the race was spurred by Patrick’s unsuccessful attempts this year to pass controversial legislation such as the so-called bathroom bill.

“Texans are fed up with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s antics and deserve a choice on the Republican primary ballot,” Milder said. “Voters want to support a traditional conservative leader who will govern with common sense and focus on the critical challenges facing our great state.”

[…]

The bathroom bill, which would have restricted public restroom access for transgender Texans, was the most divisive issue Texas lawmakers debated this year. The Rockwall City Council tackled the issue this year, too, and Milder opposed the effort he said would hurt the economy.

“I am not sympathetic to the transgender agenda, nor any agenda seeking special treatment for special interests under the law,” Milder wrote in a recent Dallas Morning News op-ed. “My opposition to this ordinance was strictly a business decision based in practicality.”

Saying he initially supported the concept of restricting restroom use based on sex, Milder changed his mind when he considered the reaction to “a man dressing up as a woman” and using the men’s room: “That is much more likely to turn some heads and cause trouble.”

Like the statewide effort, Rockwall’s bathroom ordinance also failed to pass.

You can find Milder’s webpage here and his campaign Facebook page here. A press release from his campaign is here. Milder served four years on Rockwell city council, losing a bid for re-election this year. I have no illusions about his chances, but I am interested in three things: How much support he gets – fundraising, endorsements, etc – what percentage of the vote he gets, and whether he endorses Patrick after he loses. I’d set the over/under for Patrick at 80% of the vote in the primary, and I figure anything over 70% will be seen as nothing remarkable. Still, it’s a big deal for someone to take on the biggest bully in the room, so on that score I salute Scott Milder and wish him well. As I like to say, nothing will change until someone loses an election over this stuff, and that starts with people being willing to take the challenge and run. Good luck to you, Scott Milder. Please do your best to soften Danny up for Mike Collier.

Framing the 2018 question

This Chron story asks the question “what might it take for a Democrat to win statewide in Texas in 2018, then never actually engages it.

At the five-top table in the corner at Russell’s Bakery, a northwest Austin restaurant and coffee bar, the conversation among the five women, all self-described as “recovering Republicans,” veered from the signature cinnamon rolls and traffic to President Donald Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“I have two questions I’d like to know the answer to: Is there any way for a Democrat to win a state office next year, and what would it take for some Republicans to lose in this state?” Chrys Langer, a 47-year-old tech consultant and mother of three, asked a reporter sitting at a nearby table. “Politics has taken a turn for the worse, in my opinion, in Austin with the bathroom bill and all kinds of other conservative-male nonsense and in the White House with – well, with Trump being Trump.”

[…]

In interviews with voters of both parties, from Houston to suburban San Antonio to Dallas to Austin, the question comes up time and time again, as does an underlying frustration with governments in both Washington and Austin.

Despite that, more than a dozen political scientists and consultants interviewed by the Chronicle said they see almost no chance that Republicans will lose hold of their 23-year grip on statewide elective offices during next year’s elections, despite the fact that Democrats made notable inroads in Dallas and Houston a year ago when Trump won Texas by just nine percentage points – down from previous double-digit support of Republican presidential candidates.

“There isn’t any way Democrats can win statewide office in Texas, short of some astounding collapse of the Republicans in Washington or Austin,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “Winning is a habit, and so is losing. The Democrats right now have no well-known candidate, no bench, their funding has evaporated, and they have no experience in their volunteer base. The Republicans have all of that.

“And at the end of the day, the Republicans who say they’re not satisfied with things will vote for a Republican because, with the polarization of the political process in recent years, Democrats are now seen as enemies of the state, and they won’t jump across and vote for them.”

Jillson’s sentiments echoed those of all the others, even with the so-called “Trump Factor” that Democrats are touting as a key to some unexpected victories in the November 2018 elections.

“Trump’s approval rating would have to drop into the teens where it might hurt Abbott and Patrick and the other Republicans on the ballot in Texas, and even then I doubt the effect would be significant,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “Even though the Democrats will try to tie Abbott and Patrick as close to Trump as they can, every time they get a chance, they can distance themselves from Trump because Texas voters in a midterm election pay more attention to state issues than Washington.”

Let me begin by saying that Rottinghaus’ statement about midterm elections is not at all in line with the results of at least the last four midterms, at least as far as Republican turnout goes. If you don’t think Texas is reflective of the national climate, I’m not sure what to tell you.

That’s the first thing to think about when considering possibilities for 2018: What will Republican turnout look like? On the one end, we have 2006, where statewide Republican vote totals ranged from 2,135,612 to 2,661,789. On the other end, there’s 2010 where the low was 2,737,481 and the high was 3,151,064 (I’m skipping races where there was no Democratic challenger, such as Comptroller in 2010). In between is 2014, with a range from 2,691,417 to 2,827,584. Which of those years will 2018 most closely resemble? Obviously, a 2006-style year makes for a more competitive environment for Democrats, but it’s not something Dems have control over. What are the factors that might lead one to expect a 2006 versus a 2014 or a 2010? Polls, fundraising, tone of rhetoric and advertising, Presidential popularity, some combination, something else? Put those PhDs to use and give me your thoughts on that.

Then there’s Democratic turnout, which as I’ve noted ad nauseum has remained stubbornly flat since 2002. The high end, with a few exceptions, has been around 1.8 million. If Dems could boost their base turnout by about 600K votes – that is, roughly the boost Republicans got from 2006 to 2010 – they’d be at 2.4 million, which would have been enough to capture the three Commissioner races and two contested judicial seats in 2006. Two point four million represents about two-thirds of the 2016 overall turnout for Dems, which again is about what Republicans achieved in 2010 over 2008. What factors might make a political science professor think such an achievement was possible? We know that the key in Harris County in 2016 was a big increase in voter registration, which in turn led to a much larger pool of Democratic-aligned voters. Dems may not have the infrastructure Republicans have enjoyed, but there are now multiple grassroots organizations – Pantsuit Nation, Indivisible, Our Revolution, the scaled-down version of Battleground Texas – that are out there engaging and registering and doing the things Dems should have been doing all along. Multiple Democratic Congressional candidates continue to excel at fundraising. Again, what do the people that the newsies reach out to for comment think of all that? What if anything might make them think there’s something happening here?

Picking the Republicans to hold serve again is very likely to be accurate, but it’s not very interesting. It doesn’t address the obvious fact that the climate is very different now, so it doesn’t give us any way to think about how that might change what could happen in 13 months – or five months, if you want to ask the same question about the primaries. It will be much harder to answer these questions than it was for me to ask them, and those answers may well change over the next year and a month, but surely we should be asking them anyway. I’d like to think I’m not the only one thinking along these lines.

The lost Harvey tax break

I have mixed feelings about this.

Rep. Sarah Davis

Owners of nearly 300,000 homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey in Texas won’t see any break in their property taxes because of political wrangling this year in the state Legislature over completely unrelated issues – including, one Houston Republican says, the bathroom bill.

A property tax reform bill that would have required all local governments to reappraise damaged homes and businesses and lower the tax bills came within a single round of votes on four different occasions. If the mandatory reappraisal proposal had become law, it would have all but assured that the tens of thousands of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed statewide because of Harvey would have received a reduction in property taxes this year.

But it never passed, and according to the state lawmaker who came up with the idea, it’s because of the bathroom bill. Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, lays the blame on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who she contends was trying to blackball her bills.

“I have little doubt its slow death in the Senate is because of social issues like the bathroom bill,” said Davis, whose district flooded badly during the 2015 Memorial Day storms and the 2016 tax day storms.

Currently, reappraisals after natural disasters are optional for local governments and most are like Harris County and Aransas County in saying they won’t do it because they cannot afford it.

A home in Houston that was valued at $200,000 before the hurricane, but worth just $30,000 after, would have seen a $700 cut just in school taxes, according to the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which strongly backed the Davis proposal.

“It was really one of my No. 1 priorities,” said Davis, whose original bill would have taken effect Sept. 1.

But that is likely why the bill never cleared the Senate, she said. Davis was a vocal opponent of the so-called bathroom bill that was a top priority in the Texas Senate.

[…]

Texas law already allows counties, cities and other local governments to reappraise properties after a storm, but few ever do because of the lost revenues that it could result in and because of how expensive and time consuming the reappraisal process could be during a time governments are trying to finalize their budgets. If governments do the reappraisals, the full cost is on the local governments.

“It’s not a very workable solution,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican, said about why he has not voluntarily called for the reappraisals in Harris. “It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for people and what they’ve lost.”

He said the problem is the reappraisals would cost $10 million in a county as big and urban as Harris County. Plus the county would lose revenue from tax collections at a time it most needs the money to address the natural disaster recovery.

He added that property owners still will get the benefit of the Jan. 1 appraisals for the next year’s taxes. That almost certainly will result in lower tax bills for homeowners with damaged properties next year.

Similarly, in Aransas County – where Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 and demolished 36 percent of all homes and businesses – there will be no reappraisal. Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills Jr. said there isn’t time or money to get it done and said it would only hurt tax revenues at a time when every source of funding the county relies on is in jeopardy.

“All of our income is in the toilet,” Mills said of a county that relies heavily on tourists to generate sales taxes and fill rental properties.

Let’s start with the obvious. Of course the bathroom bill was the reason why this bill never got a vote in the Senate. This is how Dan Patrick operates. You can admire his hard-nosed tactical consistency, or you can bemoan his willingness to sacrifice the greater good in service of his narrow partisan interests, but you can’t deny the premise.

I certainly get the impetus for Rep. Davis’ bill. Though all the activity on this came before Harvey, Davis represents neighborhoods that were hard hit by the floods of 2015 and 2016. Giving people whose houses have been greatly damaged or destroyed a break on their property taxes has a lot of obvious appeal. That said, I agree with Judges Emmett and Mills. The counties – and cities and school districts – that these houses are in will be facing large extra expenses as a result of the disaster in question, and they’ve built their budgets for the year based in part on the original values of those houses. When the houses are reappraised for the next year, everyone can plan their budgets based on the expected lower values. Is the benefit of an extra year’s lower tax bill for affected homeowners worth the cost?

There is, of course, a simple enough way to resolve this: Have the state cover the difference. We agree that homeowners whose houses have been devastated deserve a break. We agree (I hope) that the cost of that break should not be a burden on counties and school districts that are themselves recovering from the damage of the natural disaster. The amount in question would be a relative pittance for the state. Why not let the state budget make the affected local government entities whole? Because that’s not what we do. Dan Patrick and his buddies take from the locals, they don’t give back. They’d be more than willing to take the credit for the cut, but it’ll be a cold day in August before they’d be willing to bear the cost. I appreciate what Rep. Davis was trying to do with her bill, but without this I can’t quite support it.

Huffman gets a Republican challenger

This is definitely one to watch.

Kristin Tassin

Kristin Tassin, the president of the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees, is running against state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, in the 2018 GOP primary.

“I’m officially running,” Tassin told The Texas Tribune on Thursday. “The final decision really came down to the fact that the state Legislature is just not getting the job done on many issues that are important to families in Texas.”

Tassin citied issues including property tax reform and public education. “I feel like we need somebody in the Legislature who’s going to stand up for those things and bring real solutions and not be afraid to stand up to special interests,” she said.

Tassin has been an outspoken advocate for public education, penning a number of op-eds that have taken aim at the Senate — and Huffman — for how they have approached the issue. In one of those op-eds, Tassin took Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to task for his derisive use of the term “educrats.” 

“Most of us are parents, many with conservative views and values, who ran for the school board or got involved in our school districts in order to improve education and make a difference for the children in our communities and across the state of Texas,” Tassin said.

In the interview, Tassin said Huffman has “really been no friend to education,” pointing to Huffman’s vote during the regular session paving the way for a private school tuition subsidy bill to reach the floor. Huffman was among three Republicans who ultimately voted against the bill, but Tassin has argued the legislation would have never been able to make it to the floor without Huffman’s initial sign-off.

I’m Team Fran Watson all the way, but Kristin Tassin would be an upgrade over Joan Huffman. Huffman isn’t a freak like Bob Hall or Don Huffines, but she is a reliable vote for Dan Patrick, and anything that loosens Patrick’s grip on power is a good thing. We’ve seen plenty of wingnut challenges to establishment Republican incumbents before, but we’ve not seen a serious (much less successful) challenge by a more moderate R to a conservative incumbent. Mainstreamers have withstood challenges and they’ve won their share of open seat battles, but this is something new. I will be very interested to see who lines up behind whom in this race. I don’t expect any establishment Republican support for Tassin – that’s the way things are when an incumbent who is otherwise in good standing gets a primary challenger – but there’s plenty of room for outsiders to support her. Surely pro-education groups like Parent PAC will have to take a look at this race, and of course she can demonstrate strength in grassroots fundraising. If that happens, this could be a fascinating race. The odds are against Tassin, but the potential for shockwaves is real, and it would be amazing. I wish Tassin all the best.

Abbott says he wants a list from Turner

A list of funding priorities, he says. Because he’s passive like that.

Answering Houston’s latest complaints over funding for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday told Mayor Sylvester Turner the state can step up with more money as soon as the city gets a list of its top needs to the state.

Let’s meet quickly, Abbott said, as the deadline for an initial wave of federal funding is Friday.

After some verbal back-and-forth between the two leaders in recent days over funding for debris removal among other costs, Abbott wrote a four-page letter to Turner late Tuesday outlining seven different federal programs under which Houston will qualify for additional hurricane relief — from small-business disaster loans to special unemployment assistance to funding to help with food and housing needs.

[…]

“The Economic Stabilization Fund (the official name of the Rainy Day Fund) is a limited resource, and so it is imperative we understand the statewide financial situation before draining the fund only to learn of more financial obligations,” Abbott said in his letter.

“As of now it would be impossible to determine the highest and best use of ESF, because we do not yet know the extent of the losses . . . Texas should first use the full array of state financial resources and federal resources already available already available to us to respond to our current needs.

“Those tools should sufficient to respond to our needs, and Texans’ needs, until the next (legislative) session at which time a supplemental budget can be passed to pay for the expenses Texas has incurred. That supplemental budget will almost assuredly require using money from the Rainy Day Fund.”

See here for the background. I have no idea if Abbott felt a sensation akin to “shame” or “political pressure”, or if this story follows on the heels of the other one simply because there was information made available subsequently that added to the original picture. Be that as may, to address the substance of Abbott’s letter, let me first point you to this story in the Press:

Turner did give Abbott at least three specific examples of how Houston could use the Rainy Day Fund money in his letter Monday. For one, debris removal is projected to cost Houston $25 million, since FEMA is picking up 90 percent of the projected $250 debris removal tab. Turner has said structural damage to city buildings is now in the ballpark of $175 million — but meanwhile, the city’s flood insurance plan capped out at $100 million. In order to extend the plan through April 2018, so that the city still has flood insurance should another tropical storm make landfall this year, that’ll cost $10 million. The city must also pay a $15 million insurance deductible to recover on damages.

The mayor’s spokesman, Alan Bernstein, said that if the state were to hand over the $50 million to cover these insurance and debris removal costs, that is all the city is asking for and there will be no need to raise taxes.

$50 million is less than half of a percent of the total fund.

Is that list-y enough for you, Greg? Author Megan Flynn did a nice job of talking to some fiscal conservative types, none of whom could think of a good reason not to tap into the Rainy Day Fund for this. Note also that allocating $50 million from the $10 billion fund would “drain” it in the same way that spending a nickel on a piece of gum would “drain” a $10 bill.

The Chron editorial board, which reaches back to the 70s for a good analogy, also has a few minor corrections for our only Governor.

The governor rejected Turner’s request. He and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, another Houstonian, have said the mayor can use funds held by Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones for Harvey cleanup and recovery efforts. They’re mistaken. TIRZ bond funds are legally restricted to the use for which they were issued.

The governor has said the mayor’s request is unprecedented. Again, he’s mistaken. In 2013, the Legislature tapped into the Rainy Day Fund to help the Bastrop area recover from devastating wildfires. Bastrop County residents will tell you those fires were bad, but they didn’t cause damage expected to top $150 billion. That’s the toll Harvey wrought.

The governor has said the state has given Houston money. Again, he’s mistaken. The money that’s come our way is FEMA money destined for Houston and passed through the state, which keeps more than 3 percent for administrative costs. No state money has been allocated to the city for Harvey recovery.

Other than the folly of calling either Abbott of Patrick a “Houstonian” – Abbott has lived in Austin for all 20+ years of his political career, while Patrick is a “Houstonian” in the way all rich old white guys in the far flung master-planned communities and who think all cities are cesspools of crime and corruption because they don’t have enough rich old white guys like them living in them – I agree. What Abbott wants more than anything is a pretext to not do anything. If these falsehoods don’t work, I’m sure he’ll have others at the ready. The Observer has more.

Has Harvey changed anything politically?

You’d think it would, but it remains to be seen as far as I’m concerned.

A month to the day after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, the reality of the storm was beginning to sink in on the minds of politicians, policy makers and advocates bracing for a long recovery.

In short, any political plans people had pre-Harvey are now moot.

“Whatever any of us thought or hoped that the agenda for the next session would be, it is going to be overtaken by mother nature,” House Speaker Joe Straus told a full auditorium at the University of Texas Saturday. “It’s going to the biggest challenge that we face.”

[…]

Politicians said it’s still too soon to know exactly what the state needs to do to help the areas slammed by the storm cover, such as how much money it will cost to fix schools and roads and invest in such infrastructure to guard against future storms.

What policy experts and politicians across the board do know is it could take years for the state to recover.

The storm may provide an opportunity for a special legislative session for lawmakers to rethink the state’s school funding formula given property taxes, which schools depend on for funding, are expected to tank in storm-ravaged areas, said state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble.

“I don’t believe 1 million children are going anywhere, but their homes have been destroyed,” he said, noting his home sustained $50,000 in damage from Harvey. “I just don’t see any path to victory for the schools if we don’t take this very seriously going forward.”

Huberty wants lawmakers to return to Austin for a special legislative session focused on storm relief. In that conversation, they could rehab the state’s school funding formula to level out funding for districts that stand to lose property tax revenue from the storm.

[…]

Education Commissioner Mike Morath said he’s still undecided about whether to cancel, delay or ease how the state grades schools based on the tests. However, his tone changed from last week when he told the State Board of Education it was unlikely Texas would tinker with the STAAR.

That will be worth keeping an eye on. I’ve been thinking about what would have to happen for me to accept that “things have changed” in a substantive fashion. Two possibilities come to mind:

1. A special session to address school finance. This can’t be just to make payments to districts to cover Harvey costs that insurance and the feds won’t pay, though that absolutely needs to happen, and it can’t be something that waits till 2019 and is the initiative of the House Education Committee and Speaker Straus, because we already know they’re on board for this. It also can’t be used as a vehicle for pushing through the usual hobbyhorses like vouchers or the new obsessions like bathroom bills. The call would have to include both addressing disaster funding and more importantly the overall inequities of the system. The reason why this would be a change would be that it would demonstrate for the first time that Greg Abbott wants to fix this problem, and it would provide him with the chance to separate himself from Dan Patrick. For a variety of what should be obvious reasons, I don’t expect this to happen, but if it does it will be a real change.

2. Someone loses an election as a result of being unwilling to take positive action to abet recovery. I don’t think this will happen because right now the main obstacle to getting things done is Paul Bettencourt, and he’s not in any position to lose a race. The members of Congress who voted against Harvey aid, whatever their reasons for doing so, are all well outside the affected area. If a special session does happen, then that would create opportunities for people to say and do potentially costly things, but in the absence of such, I any current officeholder has much to worry about at this time.

I’m sure there are other possibilities, but these are what come to my mind. Everything else feels like normal business to me. Maybe if the state winds up doing nothing to help cities and school districts cover costs, despite the $10 billion-plus in the Rainy Day Fund, that would count as something having changed, though that’s clearly not what the story is about. I’m open to the idea that “things” will “change” after Harvey, but I’m going to wait until I see it happen before I believe it.

Can anyone beat Greg Abbott?

It’s early days and all that, but the evidence at hand now isn’t positive.

The reason for that is fairly simple. A poll circulating among the state’s Democratic leadership—which I was given on the agreement that I would not identify its source, but I have confirmed the information with additional Democratic operatives—shows Abbott is currently the most popular politician in Texas, with less than 30 percent of the state’s voters viewing him unfavorably. If the election had been held when the poll was conducted this summer among 1,000 registered Texans likely to vote in 2016, Abbott would have received 49 percent of the vote, and a Democrat to be named later would have scored 38 percent. That’s about the same percentage of the vote Democrat Wendy Davis received in her 2014 loss to Abbott. The poll also notes that Abbott’s name identification among voters was 91 percent. Castro’s was 44 percent. It was not a general survey of voters, because it oversampled Hispanics and voters in some targeted state House districts. About 37 percent of the respondents were Democrats, 19 percent independents, and 44 percent Republicans.

I only received a portion of the survey relating primarily to Abbott and the president, but it seems to show that the Donald Trump effect that Democrats have been hoping for is missing in Texas. Although the president’s personal favorable/unfavorable rating and job approval is about even, Abbott’s job approval was 61 percent, followed by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz at 55 percent. Not to mention that a whopping 76 percent of Texans had a positive view of the state’s economy—a key metric for incumbents.

Still, these numbers are in no small part because Abbott is Governor Bland. When asked whether he has ever done anything to make respondents proud, half said no, while less than 40 percent said yes. Has he ever done anything to make you angry? Sixty-seven percent said no.

The poll did produce some useful takeaways for Democrats though. For instance, 82 percent of poll respondents said the Legislature spends too much time on issues like the bathroom bill. President Trump’s health care proposals and plan to build a wall on the Texas border were opposed by half of those surveyed, and 65 percent said the state’s Medicaid program should be expanded to provide health care to more people. Fifty-eight percent opposed dividing families to deport undocumented immigrants, but support for the sanctuary cities law was split 40-40. The remaining 20 percent had no opinion.

[…]

But the biggest problem for Democrats with Abbott is that a sacrificial lamb candidate, or even a wealthy candidate who runs a poor campaign, can have a negative effect on candidates in down-ballot races.

So the other idea is to skip the governor’s race to concentrate on incumbents such as Patrick and Cruz. CPA Mike Collier, who ran an unsuccessful race for comptroller last year, has announced against Patrick, who is closely linked to the unpopular bathroom bill. There also are other potential down-ballot state races where the incumbent might be vulnerable, such as Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who has been making bad publicity a habit. Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment on securities fraud charges, and I’m told several attorneys are looking at mounting a challenge against him. Paxton’s trial is scheduled to begin jury selection on the same day as the party primaries filing deadline, December 11.

That’s from RG Ratcliffe, and I trust his reporting. The UT/Trib polls have always shown Abbott to be more popular than his peers, and I think Ratcliffe nails the reason why – Abbott is as dull as cardboard, so he gets the credit for things that people like without carrying the weight of being the villain, like Patrick or Cruz. I note that Ratcliffe has nothing to add about those two, which may be because the poll in question didn’t include them or possibly because he was not given clearance to talk about that stuff. I fully expect that the numbers look better for Dems against those two, though “better” does not mean “good enough to realistically think about winning”. All one can do here is speculate.

Ratcliffe suggests the best case scenario for Dems at the state level is for a self-funder to get in and spend enough to be competitive, at least in that category, with Abbott. I’ll wait to see who such a person may be and what he or she has to say about the issues before I sign off on that. An interesting question is what Abbott will do if he doesn’t have to spend much if any of his campaign fortune to get re-elected. Will he drop $20-30 million on a general get-out-the-Republican vote strategy, in the name of holding on to competitive seats and making gains where they are makable while maybe also knocking off some “RINOs” in the primaries, or will he prefer to hoard his gold, for the ego boost of seeing big numbers next to his name and to scare off the competition in 2022?

I don’t know yet what I think the effect of Abbott being functionally unopposed will be on other races. Patrick and Paxton and Miller all present fairly large attack surfaces, and of course Beto O’Rourke is doing his own thing and continuing to get favorable national press for his campaign. And for what it’s worth, O’Rourke isn’t sweating his lack of company at the very top of the ticket.

U.S. Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke said this week he isn’t worried that Democrats haven’t found a viable candidate to run for governor of Texas.

“The only thing I can do is what I can do. I can control our campaign,” O’Rourke told The Dallas Morning News during a campaign stop at the University of Texas at Dallas. “I’m not concerned. There’s clearly something different in Texas right now … folks are coming out like I’ve never seen before. As word gets out, as people see that, there’s going to be a greater interest in getting into the race.”

[…]

[TDP Chair Gilberto] Hinojosa and other Democrats insist they will have a candidate to run against Abbott. The filing period for the 2018 elections closes in December.

O’Rourke hopes there will be a full, qualified slate.

“I’m optimistic, but I can’t control it,” he said. “I try not to think about it too much.”

I mean, what else is he going to say? It’s not a problem until it is, I suppose, and that will happen when and if the first slew of crash-into-reality polls start coming down. Until then, Beto’s got his own fish to fry.

Mayor Turner lowers tax rate hike amount

I’m sure we’re all glad to see this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday said the temporary property tax rate hike he has proposed would be cut in half after federal officials approved his request to increase reimbursement for the city’s Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

Turner earlier this month had pitched an 8.9 percent increase for one year, but said it would not be enough to cover all of the city’s cost of recovering from the unprecedented storm and flooding. It would be the first rate hike in two decades.

On Wednesday, he said that increase could be halved – to an extra $50 next yearfor the owner of a $225,000 home with a standard homestead exemption – thanks to a White House decision to boost reimbursement of many of the city’s recovery costs from 75 to 90 percent.

“We’re going to do everything we can to hold our line. We’re trying to minimize our request,” Turner said. “I understand what people’s concerns are with what they’re going through in their homes, and we don’t want to add to the burden.”

[…]

No tax hike would be necessary, Turner said, if state leaders agree to tap their roughly $10 billion rainy day fund. That suggestion drew support from council members.

“We need it now. It’s raining,” said Councilman Jack Christie, who has spoken against a tax rate hike. “We’re behind you to do that to where we don’t have to raise taxes.”

Several times in recent days, Gov. Greg Abbott has said he expects funds will be tapped to pay for Harvey costs, but said damage estimates must be completed before dollars are withdrawn. The latest tally Wednesday projected $574 million in damage to public infrastructure, including $177 million in Harris County.

“I think most people understand that Texas will be tapping into the rainy day fund,” he said in San Antonio last week. “The important thing, though, is that we address the economic issues appropriately. We need to first understand what obligations we’re going to have, how much they will amount to, and decide upon the best strategies to pay for that.”

See here and here for the background. You know what could eliminate the need for any tax hike whatsoever? If the state of Texas, which has some $10 billion sitting around doing nothing, were to cover the remaining costs that insurance and the feds won’t. I wonder if anyone has briefed Paul Bettencourt about this possibility, since he seems to be so entirely bereft of constructive ideas. To be sure, even Dan Patrick has been talking about using the Rainy Day Fund to help Houston and everywhere else recover from Harvey. That’s both good and necessary. But the city of Houston has to pay for things now, and it has to make sure it has the financial wherewithal to pay for those things now since it is not allowed to carry expenses over from one accounting year to another (this is another way of saying the city must “balance” its budget), so unless there’s a firm commitment in place from the state that the city can rely on, it’s got to make its own plans to pay for any uncovered expenses. If Paul Bettencourt and the usual suspects on City Council don’t like that, they are welcome to direct their concerns to Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. The Press has more.

More on recapture and the Rainy Day Fund

There are some conditions that have to be met to get our recapture money back.

Houston Independent School District won’t have to hand millions of dollars to the state to spend at other schools if HISD needs that money to recover from Hurricane Harvey, but the district will have to apply for that money, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Friday.

The same goes for any of the roughly 250 school districts in declared disaster areas that are required to pay so-called recapture payments to the state as part of the “Robin Hood” program that siphons money from property wealthy school districts to give to property poor ones.

Morath, who leads the Texas Education Agency, said school districts will need to apply for the funds with the state and pay any recapture money not need for Harvey recovery. First, districts will have to exhaust their insurance and federal aid before trying to tap that money, he said.

“They have to have exhausted all their other funding sources first,” said Morath.

See here for the background. I get it, we want to make sure that all sources of recovery revenue are fully tapped. Let’s just make sure this doesn’t turn into a reason to nickel-and-dime the school districts, or to bury them under paperwork. The priority is the kids and their schools and teachers. We should not lose sight of that.

In related news, the state may make a bigger commitment to helping school districts recover.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Education Commissioner Mike Morath signaled Wednesday that the state will use rainy day funds to help schools saddled with Hurricane Harvey-related expenses, but the chances are slim that the state will delay state standardized tests planned for next spring.

Patrick, a Houston Republican, made vows to close to 45 superintendents from storm damaged areas in southeast Texas that he would support holding funding at current levels for school districts losing students due to Harvey, and for increasing money for school systems gaining displaced students.

[…]

Morath’s statements came one day after Patrick met with superintendents vowing state aid for storm-related costs not covered by insurance or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The promise came during a meeting Tuesday between Patrick and administrators of school districts affected by flooding.

In a press release sent late Wednesday, Patrick doubled down on that support, but stopped short of promising the state would cover all costs not covered by insurance plans and federal agencies.

The state aid could help prevent deep financial cuts in the hardest-hit school districts, and it could keep districts’ “rainy day” funds intact. Several districts, including Houston and Aldine ISDs, dipped into their reserve funds this year to balance their budgets.

In a statement, Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said Patrick “made it clear that it was his goal for districts to be made whole financially, both in terms of funding related to student attendance and facility repairs.” District officials don’t have an estimate of storm-related costs, but Kingwood High School, home to 2,800 students, will be closed for at least several months due to flood damage.

“The state’s intent to protect schools will help make a very difficult year more manageable, and we are encouraged,” Fagen said.

I’m glad, but I’m not inclined to take Dan Patrick’s word on anything, so I’ll want to see how this plays out. I can’t think of a good reason why the state shouldn’t completely fill any gaps that are left by insurance and the feds. There’s plenty of money in the Rainy Day Fund, and using it in this fashion would help districts avoid painful cuts or possibly tax increases. There needs to be a commitment to getting every district, school, and student back to where they were before the storm. If that’s asking for a lot, well, Harvey did a lot of damage. Are we going to shrug our shoulders, or are we going to be up to the challenge?

Will we spend on some flood mitigation projects?

Maybe. We’ll see.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is calling for the construction of flood control infrastructure in the Houston area — things he said should have been built “decades and decades ago” — including a coastal barrier to protect the region from deadly storm surge.

“We need more levees. We need more reservoirs. We need a coastal barrier,” Patrick said late last week during an interview with Fox News Radio. “These are expensive items and we’re working with [U.S. Sens. John] Cornyn and [Ted] Cruz and our congressional delegation to … get this right. We’ve had three now major floods in three years — nothing at this level but major floods.”

The need is particularly pressing because of the state’s rapid population growth, Patrick added, noting that “a lot of that growth is around the Houston area.” And he said the billions in federal aid that Texas is poised to receive presents an opportunity for Texas “to really rebuild and do things that, quite frankly, should have been done decades and decades ago.”

[…]

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul is seeking $320 million to build another reservoir that would take pressure off Addicks and Barker. That’s exciting, Bettencourt said, because the Austin Republican “can lift more than the average congressman” as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

McCaul’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But last week during a meeting with officials in Katy, he described such a project as “long-term” and said he has discussed funding with Gov. Greg Abbott, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to a Houston Chronicle report.

“We need to look at long-term solutions from an infrastructure standpoint,” he said.

None of it will be covered by the $15 billion short-term relief aid relief package Congress has approved for Texas, and it remains to be seen whether Congress will pay for any flood-control infrastructure projects in Texas.

As the man once said, show me the money. What we have here is state officials talking about getting Congress to spend some money on projects here. There’s no indication of willingness to spend any state funds, which among other things would raise ticklish questions about how to pay for them (*). Maybe this Congress is willing to do that, and maybe it’s not. Let’s just say that the track record is not encouraging.

(*) You may recall that in 2013, voters approved a constitutional amendment to fund a water infrastructure fund that among other things could be used to build reservoirs. The idea of this fund, which came on the heels of the devastating drought of 2011, was to make more water available for cities and industry, but I see no reason why it couldn’t be tapped for something like a flood-mitigation reservoir. I don’t know the specifics of the legislation, and frankly I haven’t heard much about this, the SWIFT fund, since its approval. As such, I may be mistaken in what it can and cannot be used for. But at the very least, it seems like a decent starting point for discussion.

The trans community is fully engaged now

One positive thing came out of this months-long anti-transgender legislative assault.

For more than a year, [Dan] Patrick pulled out all the stops for the bathroom bills, which would have restricted restroom use based on biological sex and undone local anti-discrimination ordinances protecting the rights of transgender Texans.

But rather than pushing them farther into the shadows, Patrick’s bathroom bills have galvanized the transgender community in Texas like never before. New friends have been made, activist networks formed and some are even running for office, all spurred by an effort they feared would only vilify and dehumanize them.

Patrick’s crusade, however, succeeded in further dividing his own party, whose fissures were laid bare as big business, big oil, police and teachers pushed back. The GOP found itself at odds with benefactors it has long protected, underlining the struggle between the traditional “open for business” Republicanism of the Rick Perry years and the culture war evangelism Patrick espouses.

The bathroom bill’s defeat was stunning. Patrick is, after all, considered by many to be the most influential conservative in Texas. But more astounding than this failure was its effect on the marginalized group it targeted.

The transgender community is now a new standard bearer for the civil rights fight in Texas. And now, they have more allies than ever.

And they know who those allies are. The greater visibility for the transgender community has helped make more people realize that trans people are just that – people, who want to live their lives and get the same basic deal the rest of us get. As it was with gays and lesbians, it’s a lot harder to demonize a group when you know members of that group. The show of support for the transgender community from a broad range of stakeholders really reinforced the message. Patrick and his pals will continue doing their dirty work, but I think their path is rockier now. We still have a long way to go, but we have made progress. Do keep that in mind as we go forward.

No special session needed to address Harvey flooding

So says Greg Abbott.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Friday another special session of the Texas Legislature won’t be necessary to deal with the response to Hurricane Harvey.

“We won’t need a special session for this,” Abbott told reporters, noting that the state has enough resources to “address the needs between now and the next session.”

[…]

In recent days, some members of the Texas Legislature have speculated that a special session to address the recovery seemed likely. They included state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, an ally of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the chairman of the Senate GOP caucus.

“My personal assumption right now is that we will probably be back in Austin at work no later than January,” Bettencourt told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday.

Here’s that Chron story. A few details from it to help clarify:

“My personal assumption right now is that we will probably be back in Austin at work no later than January,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chair Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, echoing the sentiments of other House and Senate members.

“The governor and the Legislative Budget Board have the ability to move around quite a bit of money in current appropriations, but it probably won’t be enough when all the bills come in. This storm is going to cost more than (hurricanes) Katrina and Sandy put together, and I’m thinking we’ll be breaking the $200 billion mark before this over.”

While the state would be liable for only a fraction of that amount, after insurance and federal payments come in, but whatever that (remaining) amount is will be something the Legislature will probably have to address.”

That, say other lawmakers, will most likely involve a politically charged debate over tapping the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund — a $10 billion account officially known as the Economic Stabilization Fund — to pay for some of the storm-damage tab.

[…]

In a Thursday letter to House members, House Speaker Joe Straus said he will be issuing selective interim charges — directives for legislative recommendations — “in the near future to address these challenges” resulting from the massive destruction caused by Harvey, especially to schools.

“The House Appropriations Committee will identify state resources that can be applied toward the recovery and relief efforts being incurred today, as well as long-term investments the state can make to minimize future storms,” the San Antonio Republican said in his letter. “When the appropriate time comes, other committees will review the state’s response and delivery of services.”

The Legislative Budget Board, jointly headed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Straus, can make key decisions on reallocating state funds to meet emergency needs — up to a point, officials said. Half of its members — three senators and two House members — represent areas devastated by Harvey.

My guess is that Abbott is probably right and the LBB can cover this for now. Tapping the Rainy Day Fund, which I will point out again was created for the purpose of helping to cover budget shortfalls in times of economic downturn before being bizarrely recast as in-case-of-disaster savings by Rick Perry in 2011, may require the Lege, but that may be done in a way as to defer that action until 2019. My wonk skillz are limited in this particular area. Point being, if Congress can manage to allocate relief funding without tripping over their ideologies, there shouldn’t be that much for the state to have to pick up. We’ll see.

Pastoral malignancy

Know your enemy.

A day before the Texas Legislature ended its special session this week, a session that included a high-profile fight over a “bathroom bill” that appeared almost certainly dead, David Welch had a message for Gov. Greg Abbott: call lawmakers back to Austin. Again.

For years, Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, has worked to pass a bill that would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use restrooms in public schools and government buildings that match their gender identity. The summer special session, which was quickly coming to a close, had been Welch and other social conservatives’ second chance, an overtime round after the bill — denounced by critics as discriminatory and unnecessary — failed during the regular session that ended in May.

But with the Texas House unlikely to vote on a bathroom bill, Welch gathered with some of the most conservative Republicans in that chamber to make a final plea. The bill, they argued without any evidence, would prevent men from entering bathrooms to sexually assault or harass women.

“If this does not pass during this special session, we are asking for, urgently on behalf of all these pastors across the state of Texas, that we do hold a second special session until the job is done,” Welch said at the press event, hosted by Texas Values, a socially conservative group.

Though the group of lawmakers, religious leaders and activists were still coming to terms with their failure to get a bill to Abbott’s desk, for Welch’s Pastor Council, the years-long fight over bathroom restrictions has nonetheless been a galvanizing campaign.

The group, which Welch founded in 2003, has grown from a local organization to a burgeoning statewide apparatus with eyes on someday becoming a nationwide force, one able to mobilize conservative Christians around the country into future political battles. If Abbott doesn’t call lawmakers back for another special session to pass a bathroom bill, the group is likely to shift its attention to the 2018 elections.

“Our role in this process shouldn’t be restricted just because people attend church,” Welch told The Texas Tribune. “Active voting, informed voting, is a legitimate ministry of the church.”

[…]

With primary season approaching, members of the Pastor Council are preparing to take their campaign to the ballot box and unseat Republicans who did not do enough to challenge Straus’ opposition to a “bathroom bill.” Steve Riggle, a pastor to a congregation of more than 20,000 at Grace Community Church in Houston and a member of the Pastor Council, said he and others are talking about “how in the world do we have 90-some Republicans [in the 150-member Texas House] who won’t stand behind what they say they believe.”

“They’re more afraid of Straus than they are of us,” he said. “It’s about time they’re more afraid of us.”

First, let me commend the Trib for noting that the push for the bathroom bill was based on a lie, and for reporting that Welch and his squadron of ideologues are far from a representative voice in the Christian community. Both of these points are often overlooked in reporting about so-called “Christian” conservatives, so kudos to the Trib for getting it right. I would just add that what people like Dave Welch and Steve Riggle believe, and want the Lege and the Congress to legalize, is that they have a right to discriminate against anyone they want, as long as they can claim “religious” reasons for it.

As such, I really hope that Chris Wallace and the rest of the business community absorbs what these bad hombres are saying. I want them to understand that the power dynamic in the Republican Party has greatly shifted, in a way that threatens to leave them on the sidelines. It used to be that the Republican legislative caucus was owned and operated by business interests, with the religious zealots providing votes and logistical support. The zealots are now in charge, or at least they are trying to be. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and increasingly Greg Abbott are on their side, and now they want to take out Joe Straus and enforce complete control. Either the business lobby fights back by supporting a mix of non-wacko Republicans in primaries and Democrats in winnable November races, or this is what the agenda for 2019 will look like. I hope you’re paying attention, because there may not be a second chance to get this right. The DMN has more.

The long view of the bathroom bill

The Chron considers the future of the bathroom bill.

Texas’ controversial bathroom bill, championed by Gov. Greg Abbot and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, may have been declared dead, but some say it could be revived soon enough.

“Like Frankenstein, the bathroom bill could come back to life,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist. “Because, in an election year, it’s an issue that appeals to the Republican base that turns out to vote.”

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said many lawmakers have kept their views on the controversial measure private, and there remains support.

“The bill may be dead, but the issue is not,” he said.

Chalk up the bill’s demise to Texas business leaders who support nondiscrimination laws and see the issue of which bathrooms transgender people use as a manufactured one. Nevertheless, both supporters and opponents agree the issue will be back — either in a future legislative session or in the Republican primaries next March, when bathroom bill proponents hope to oust House Republican moderates they blame for derailing its passage into law this summer.

[…]

“It was largely a manufactured issue that will evaporate over time,” said Rice University’s Jones. “There is no crisis on transgender Texans for most Texans. But for Republican primary voters, it will still be around.”

More than a dozen tea party and conservative Republican activists agreed, saying they plan to press Abbott to call the Legislature back into a special session early next year to remind GOP primary voters how much of the summer’s conservative agenda did not get passed – including the bathroom bill.

“It’s looking pretty dismal right now, all the priorities of Gov. Abbott that the House blocked, and I can assure you that people in Texas are not going to forget about that,” said JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America: We the People, an influential tea party group among conservative Texas Republicans. “An awful lot of bills have not been passed, and now they’re trying to cut deals in the House at the very end to make it look like they’re accomplishing something when they’re not.”

Other activists in Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio echoed that disdain, warning that the business leaders may end up sorry they fought the bathroom bill, when the Texans who support it successfully push it through in another legislative session.

Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, the lobby group that for decades has wielded considerable clout at the Capitol and threw its weight behind derailing the bathroom bill, disagrees. He said his group, facing a growing amount of legislation that is bad for business, plans to continue its legislative momentum.

After remaining relatively low-key in some recent sessions, lobbying for criminal justice reforms as lawmakers fought about conservative social issues such as abortions, Big Business took a higher profile last spring in fighting attempts to place new restrictions on eminent domain, to cut tax-abatement incentives and to kill the state’s business-development fund – along with their fight against the bathroom bill that grew into a full-on throwdown this summer.

“We were ringing the bell during the regular session, and then the governor put it on the special session agenda, and we knew that our voice had to be heard strongly and loudly,” Moseley said. “For Texas to remain globally competitive, we have to remain open for business. And laws like this are a disregard for the Texas Miracle, which wasn’t some cosmic accident. It was a result of solid policies that encouraged business growth and economic development in Texas.”

I disagree with the assertion that the demonization of transgender people will fade over time. These GOP primary-driven issues don’t go away. Look at the history – voter ID, campus carry, and “sanctuary cities” all took multiple sessions, but in the end they all passed. Hell, they’re still fighting against same-sex marriage, SCOTUS be damned. The Lege overall is a lot more conservative now than it was before the 2010 wipeout, especially in the Senate where one mainstream Republican Senator after another has been replaced by a Dan Patrick minion, and that is what drives this. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Dan Patrick is not going to give up. He has no remorse and no conscience, and he doesn’t accept defeat. The business lobby that fought the bathroom bill need to internalize this or they’ll see a bathroom bill get passed over their objections just as the “sanctuary cities” bill was passed. The only way they can improve their odds going forward is to knock off some of the main proponents of the bathroom bill and whatever lunacy comes after it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this lesson has been learned:

The intensity of the debate has raised questions about the future relationship between business groups and the state’s Republican leadership, which have shared a decades-long bond. Mr. Wallace, president of the Texas business association, said the bond would remain unbroken despite the differences in the current showdown.

“Ninety-plus percent of the time we are in agreement,” he said. “We just happen to disagree on this issue.”

This is a recipe for disaster. Either the business lobby needs to be more selective about which Republicans they support, and more willing to oppose the ones who push this crap, or they will live to regret it. I don’t know how else to explain it to you, Chris Wallace. I just hope you’re not really that naive. The Trib has more.

Let’s play two?

Oh, God, please, no.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday put blame on the House — particularly Speaker Joe Straus — for the shortcomings of the special session and left the door open to calling another one.

“I’m disappointed that all 20 items that I put on the agenda did not receive the up-or-down vote that I wanted but more importantly that the constituents of these members deserved,” Abbott said in a KTRH radio interview. “They had plenty of time to consider all of these items, and the voters of the state of Texas deserved to know where their legislators stood on these issues.”

The comments came the morning after lawmakers closed out the special session without taking action on Abbott’s No. 1 issue, property tax reform. Abbott ended up seeing legislation get sent to his desk that addressed half his agenda.

As the Senate prepared to adjourn Tuesday night, some senators said they wanted Abbott to call them back for another special session on property taxes. Asked about that possibility Wednesday, the governor said “all options are always on the table.”

“There is a deep divide between the House and Senate on these important issues,” Abbott said in the interview. “So I’m going to be making decisions later on about whether we call another special session, but in the meantime, what we must do is we need to all work to get more support for these priorities and to eliminate or try to dissolve the difference between the House and the Senate on these issues so we can get at a minimum an up-or-down vote on these issues or to pass it.”

In the interview, Abbott contrasted the House with the Senate, which moved quickly to pass all but two items on his agenda. The lower chamber started the special session by “dilly-dallying,” Abbott said, and focused on issues that had “nothing to do whatsoever” with his call.

Asked if he assigned blame to Straus, a San Antonio Republican, Abbott replied, “Well, of course.”

Such big talk from such a weak leader. I suspect there won’t be that much appetite for another special session (*), with the preferred strategy being to attack Straus and get the 2018 primaries up and running. Failure to pass certain bills is often as big a victory for the zealots as success is. Everyone has their talking points for the primaries, so why waste more time in Austin when you can be out raising funds?

(*) The one thing that might make House members want to come back is a court order to redraw the House map. Everyone will be keenly interested in that, especially if some districts are declared illegal. They’ll not want to leave that up to the court, so if it comes down to it, expect there to be pressure for a special session to come up with a compliant map.

Smell ya later, Senate

How about that?

The special legislative session is over — in one chamber, at least.

The Texas House abruptly gaveled out Sine Die – the formal designation meaning the end of a session – on Tuesday evening after voting to approve the Senate’s version of a school finance bill that largely stripped provisions the chamber had fought to keep.

Gov. Greg Abbott called lawmakers back for a special session on July 18. Special sessions can last for up to 30 days, which gave both chambers til Wednesday to work.

The House’s abrupt move came after days of difficult negotiations with the Senate on school finance and property tax bills — and leaves the fate of the latter in question.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen had been expected to appoint conference committee members Tuesday so that the two chambers could reconcile their versions of the bill.

But instead, shortly before the surprise motion to Sine Die, the Angleton Republican made an announcement.

“I have been working with members of the Senate for several days on SB 1, we have made our efforts, so I don’t want there to be in any way a suggestion that we have not, will not, would not work with the Senate on such an important issue,” he said.

So now the Senate can take it or lump it on SB1, which in the end was the bill Abbott was really pushing for. Dan Patrick has a press conference scheduled for today, and I expect it will be epic. I have no idea what happens next, but this is as fitting an ending for a stupid special session as one could imagine. Some things, including at least one really bad thing got done, but most of the petty attacks on local control, as well as the odious bathroom bill, got nowhere. We’ll see if Abbott takes his ball and goes home or drags everyone back out again.