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Election 2016

Already projecting ahead to November turnout

Some in the political chattering class think the end results in Harris County this yearwon’t be all that different than what we’ve seen before.

Harris County may be awash in Democratic hopefuls for the upcoming primary elections, but don’t expect that enthusiasm to translate into another blue wave this fall.

Yes, local demographics are slowly pushing the region further left, and President Donald Trump – who dragged down the Republican ticket here two years ago – gives progressives a ready campaign talking point. Democrats also point to their nearly full primary slate as evidence of newfound strength.

It is unlikely those factors will be enough, however, to counteract Republicans’ longtime advantage in Harris County midterms, political scientists and consultants said. Not only do local conservatives turn out more consistently in non-presidential years, but Republicans also have the benefit of popular state- and countywide incumbents on the ballot, advantages made only more powerful by straight-ticket voting in November.

“There is a very slow, but steady demographic shift that will favor Democrats. I don’t know if it’s enough this year for a gubernatorial cycle,” Democratic strategist Grant Martin said.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones agreed.

“Greg Abbott represents a red seawall here in Texas that I think will in many ways blunt the anti-Trump wave, and in doing so help hundreds of down-ballot Republican candidates across the state achieve victory,” he said.

[…]

Fewer than 54,000 Harris County voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary four years ago, compared to nearly 140,000 in the Republican primary. Come November, Republicans dominated down the ballot.

Though primary turnout certainly is not predictive of November performance, it can be, as University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus put it, “a good pulse check.”

Rottinghaus said he anticipates Democrats will perform better locally than they did in 2014, but still come up short in most local races, in large part because of their turnout problem.

“You’re definitely going to find a narrowed margin for most of these offices,” Rottinghaus said. Still, he added, “it would be hard to unseat the natural advantage Republicans have in the midterm.”

I feel like there are a lot of numbers thrown around in the story but without much context to them. Take the primary turnout totals, for instance. It’s true that Republicans drew a lot more people to the polls in March than the Democrats, but their margin in November was considerably less than it was in 2010, when the primary tallies were 101K for Dems and 159K for the GOP. Will anyone revise their predictions for November if the March turnout figures don’t fit with this “pulse check” hypothesis? Put a pin in this for now and we’ll check back later if it’s relevant.

But let’s come back to the November numbers for 2010 and 2014 for a minute. Let’s look at them as a percentage of Presidential turnout from the previous election


   2008 Pres  2010 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    571,883      431,690    75.5%
D    590,982      329,129    55.7%

   2012 Pres  2014 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    586,073      340,808    58.2%
D    587,044      317,241    54.0%

I’m using the Lt. Governor race here because of the significant number of crossover votes Bill White – who you may recall won Harris County – received in the Governor’s race. He did so much better than all the other Dems on the ticket that using his results would skew things. Now 2010 was clearly off the charts. If the share of the Presidential year vote is a measure of intensity, the Republicans had that in spades. I’m pretty sure no one is expecting that to happen again, however, so let’s look at the more conventional year of 2014. The intensity gap was about four points in the Republicans’ favor, but that was enough for them to achieve separation and sweep the downballot races.

What does that have to do with this year? The key difference is that there were a lot more voters in 2016 (1,338,898) than there were in either 2008 (1,188,731) or 2012 (1,204,167), and that the Democratic advantage was also a lot bigger. I’m going to switch my metric here to the 2016 judicial average, since there were even more crossovers for Hillary Clinton than there were for Bill White. In 2016, the average Republican judicial candidate got 606,114 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate got 661,284. That’s a pretty big difference, and it has implications for the intensity measure. To wit:

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 55.7%, which is what it was in 2010, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 368,335.

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 54.0%, which is what it was in 2014, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 357,093.

Well guess what? If Republican intensity is at 58.2%, which is what it was in 2014, then the Rs should expect a base vote of about 352,758. Which, you might notice, is less than what the Democrats would expect. In order to match the Democratic base, Rs would need 60.8% to equal the former total, and 58.9% for the latter.

In other words, if intensity levels are exactly what they were in 2014, Democrats should expect to win most countywide races. Republicans will need to be more intense than they were in 2014 just to keep up. And if Democratic intensity is up, say at 60%? That’s a base of 396,770, and it would require a Republican intensity level of 65.5% to equal it.

Where did this apparent Democratic advantage come from? Very simply, from more registered voters. In 2016, there were 2,182,980 people registered in Harris County, compared to 1,942,566 in 2012 and 1,892,731 in 2008. I’ve noted this before, but it’s important to remember that while turnout was up in an absolute sense in 2016 over 2012 and 2008, it was actually down as a percentage of registered voters. It was just that there were so many more RVs, and that more than made up for it. And by the way, voter registration is higher today than it was in 2016.

Now none of this comes with any guarantees. Democratic intensity could be down from 2010 and 2014. Republicans could be more fired up than we think they will be, in particular more than they were in 2014. My point is that at least one of those conditions will need to hold true for Republicans to win Harris County this year. If you think that will happen, then you need to explain which of those numbers are the reason for it.

Oh, and that “red seawall” that Greg Abbott represents? Republicans may have swept the races in 2014, but they didn’t actually dominate. 2010, where they were winning the county by 12-16 points in most races, that was domination. Abbott got 51.41% in 2014 and won by a bit less than four and a half points. Which was enough, obviously, but isn’t exactly a big cushion. Like I said, the Republicans will have to improve on 2014 to stay ahead. Can they do that? Sure, it could happen, and I’d be an idiot to say otherwise. Will it happen? You tell me, and account for these numbers when you do.

Independent candidates’ day

Continuing with a theme, there are a lot of wannabe independent candidates for various offices, most of whom will never make it onto the ballot.

Dallas billionaire Ross Perot did it in 1992 and 1996. Satirist Kinky Friedman and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn did it in 2006. They each got on the ballot as independent candidates in the November general election—Perot twice for president, and Friedman and Strayhorn as candidates for governor. None won, but they were on the ballot and votes for them got counted. This year, “Will Rap 4 Weed” and sixty-nine other people have given notice to the Texas Secretary of State that they intend to run as independent candidates for state and federal office this November.

But getting on the ballot as an independent in Texas is no easy task. A want-to-be candidate can’t just buy a spot; they’ve got to collect signatures on a ballot petition. For governor this year, valid signatures are required from a number of people equal to one percent of the total vote in the 2014 gubernatorial election—47,183 signatures from qualified voters. To make it even more difficult, the petition drives can only occur between the end of the major party primaries for the office the independent is seeking and a deadline of 5 p.m. on June 21. And the individual signing the petition cannot have voted in a primary or signed a petition for another candidate running for the same office.

“Texas is the only state that requires independent candidates to file a declaration of candidacy virtually an entire year before the general election,” said Richard Winger, editor of a national election-focused newsletter, Ballot Access News. Federal courts struck down similar laws in South Carolina in 1990 and in West Virginia in 2016, he said, adding that the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1983 decision noted that independent candidates with substantial support usually only emerge after the voting public know the names of the Democratic and Republican nominees. But Texas required independent candidates to file their intent to run for the 2018 election by December 11, 2017. “If the federal judges in Texas were of higher caliber, the Texas December deadline would have been struck down long ago,” Winger told me.

Nevertheless, the law remains intact along with its petition requirement.

The issue of Texas’ statutory requirements for getting on the ballot as an independent have come up before, most recently in 2016, but that ship appears to have sailed. Author RG Ratcliffe kindly put together this compendium of no-label hopefuls, and believe it or not there are a couple of names I recognize. Lori Bartley, running in CD18, was the Republican candidate in my Congressional district in 2016. There must be something enticing about that prospect here, because there are two other indies seeking a spot on the ballot alongside her. Scott Cubbler, running in CD02, was one of thirteen write-in candidates for President
anyone can be written in, but one must register with the SOS to have those votes be officially counted – in 2016. A grand total of 314 people did so. He was also a classmate of mine in college, and I guess I may have to satisfy my curiosity and ask him what he thinks he’s getting out of this experience. Anyway, the list of potential indies is there if for some reason you need it. None of them are official till they turn in their petitions, and please note that if you choose to sign one of their petitions you cannot vote in a primary, lest you render your signature void. Happy trails, y’all.

Trump’s lousy approval ratings in Texas

According to Gallup.

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating averaged 38% throughout the U.S. in 2017, but at the state level it ranged from a high of 61% in West Virginia to a low of 26% in Vermont.

Trump averaged 50% or higher approval in 12 states in total, primarily in the states where he received the most votes in the 2016 election. In addition to West Virginia, the states where at least half the respondents approved of Trump included several western states (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Alaska), several southern states (Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas) and two Midwestern states (North and South Dakota).

Trump earned between 40% and 49% approval — above his national average — in 20 states. These were predominantly in the Midwest and South, and included several of the key rustbelt states that were critical to his 2016 victory: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Fewer than 40% of respondents approved of Trump in the remaining 18 states, 14 of which are located in the East and West — his worst performing regions in the election. In addition to Vermont, his ratings were particularly low — below 30% — in Massachusetts (27%), California (29%) and Hawaii (29%). Maryland, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island round out the states where fewer than one-third of the respondents approved.

Texas fell into that latter group, with 39/54 approve/disapprove totals. That’s worse than in some states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. For comparison with other polls:

UT/Trib, February, 46 approve/44 disapprove (poll of RVs)
Texas Lyceum, April, 42 approve/54 disapprove (poll of adults)
UT/Trib, June, 43 approve/51 disapprove (poll of RVs)
PPP Senate poll, January, 45 favorable/48 unfavorable (poll of RVs)

The Wilson Perkins poll did not have any publicly available favorability/approval data. Favorable/unfavorable is not quite the same as approve/disapprove, but it’s what we’ve got for that PPP poll. This Gallup result is quite in line with the Lyceum result, with slightly lower approval, and it’s not far off from the later UT/Trib survey. Polls of adults are the loosest screen, and thus contain the largest number of likely non-voters, but that’s a function of motivation, and it sure looks like the anti-Trump faction is more full up on that. The standard disclaimers apply as always, my point here is simply to keep these numbers in mind when we see things like other poll results, as Trump’s favorability is certain to be a factor in how they shake out. Ed Kilgore has more.

Kim Ogg’s first year as DA

I certainly approve of the job DA Kim Ogg has done so far.

Kim Ogg

The accomplishment Kim Ogg is most proud of after her first year as Harris County District Attorney was not implementing a new drug policy, energizing the division that holds police officers accountable or working to ensure victims’ rights.

It’s that the prosecutor’s office was able to stay open round the clock during Hurricane Harvey and in the weeks of the storm’s aftermath. More than 50 inches of water flooded courthouses and displaced the 24-hour intake division, the critical group which decides whether to accept charges presented by police officers and keeps track of who was arrested and why.

“I’m proudest of my employees because they maintained constant operations, 24/7, throughout the biggest natural disaster in Houston’s history,” she said earlier this monthin a wide ranging interview about her first year as district attorney. “We survived the storm surge.”

Ogg, a 56-year-old native Houstonian, became Harris County’s third female district attorney Jan. 1 after besting incumbent Devon Anderson in the November 2016 general election. The Democrat is Houston’s first openly gay DA although it rarely comes up. Unlike Annise Parker, Houston’s mayor from 2010 to 2016, who was well-known in politics because of her LGBT activism, Ogg was known for her criminal justice work, including running the city’s first gang task force, then helming CrimeStoppers of Houston. Ogg’s sexual orientation came up during last year’s campaign when Anderson labeled her a “liberal, pro-choice, lesbian” in an interview.

It was during that campaign that Ogg promised an administration that would champion drug reform, diversion courts and holding police officers accountable, all of which seem to be moving forward.

And that’s the key – Ogg promised a lot of changes, and she has made measurable progress on the things she has promised. Nowhere in the story is there a question about or exploration of something she hasn’t gotten around to yet. Some things will inevitably go wrong, and there will be issues on which her office faces stronger resistance from groups like the police and the bail bondsmen, and when that happens she and her crew will be tested in new ways. But at this point I can’t think of anything I’d have wanted her to do differently. Go read the rest, and to Kim Ogg and the DA’s office I say keep up the good work.

Thoughts going into primary season

So primary season is officially open, with candidates pretty much everywhere. I’ve been busy doing interviews and will cover as many Democratic races as I can, but won’t get to them all. I may double back in the runoffs, we’ll see. In the meantime, here are my thoughts as we begin.

1. Let’s take a minute to appreciate the depth and breadth of the candidate pool. It’s not just that there are so many people running and that so many offices have candidates competing for them, it’s that so many of these candidates reflect a diverse array of backgrounds, talents, and experiences. In every way, we’ve never seen anything like this before.

2. That said, there are a few duds out there – Lloyd Oliver in HD134 is the most prominent local loser. The good news is that unlike 2014, there are no Jim Hogans or Grady Yarbroughs running in the statewide races where a low profile can enable them to sneak through. Hogan is running for Ag Commissioner in the Republican primary this year (LOL), and Yarbrough is buried in the gubernatorial race. Some candidates are better than others in the downballot primaries, but as far as I can tell none of them look like embarrassments.

3. Still, it’s on all of us to ensure that the best candidates make it through. That starts with the candidates themselves, all of whom need to take the primary seriously, but we’re the ones that get to choose. We need to do our homework.

4. Let’s talk about that diversity for a minute. Having looked at the web and Facebook pages of all the State Senate and most of the Congressional candidates, I’ve seen:

– Quite a few LGBT candidates – Mark Phariss and Fran Watson for State Senate; Lorie Burch and John Duncan and Mary Wilson and Gina Ortiz Jones for Congress. I’m sure I have missed some, and that’s before considering State House contenders.

– Doctors, scientists, software engineers, teachers, the non-profit sector, at least one locksmith. Basically, a lot more than just your usual lawyers, businessfolk, and political types.

– Military veterans, from all four branches of service.

– People of color running in districts that were not specifically drawn to elect a person of color. Not too surprising, given that we’re talking about people running in Republican districts, but still at a higher rate than in past years. With Sylvia Garcia running in CD29, we are very likely to elect our first ever Latina member of Congress, and if Veronica Escobar wins in CD16, we’ll elect our second as well. Gina Ortiz Jones, whose family is from the Philippines, has a decent chance of being our first ever Asian-American member of Congress. On the flip side of that, if Democrats make gains in the suburbs that could well increase the legislative presence of Anglo Democrats, of which there are currently (I think) six all together.

– Lots of younger candidates. Everyone in CD07 is younger than I am. I didn’t spend too much time dwelling on this lest I fall into a “What have I done with my life?” rabbit hole, but there’s a lot of youthful energy out there.

5. The more I think about it, the more I believe that strong turnout in the primary will be important going forward. First and foremost, a big showing in the primary will ensure that the narrativeis about Democrats being engaged and involved, and that this year really is unlike previous years. As we know, Dems topped one million primary voters in 2002, and haven’t come close to it in a non-Presidential year since then. Reaching one million in 2018 would be a positive sign. Reaching 1.5 million, which would be higher than the 2010 and 2014 Republican primaries, would really open some eyes. My hope is that all those Ylocal and legislative races will draw people out, but it wouldn’t hurt for the Beto O’Rourkes and Lupe Valdezes and Andrew Whites to do their part and spend some money getting people to the polls.

6. As much as we celebrate the vast number of candidates running this year, we also need to come to terms with the fact that the vast majority of them will lose. Most of them, in fact, won’t make it to November at all – this is the obvious consequence of having so many multi-candidate primaries. Given the talents and experiences of these candidates, it would be a shame if most of them wind up being one-and-done with elected office. Most people don’t win their first race, and sometimes losing a race just means that the time wasn’t right for that candidate. It’s very much my hope that a decent number of the people who fall short come back to try again. That can mean a second try at the same office in 2020, and it can mean some other office. Again, many elected officials got there on their second or third or even fourth attempt. Learn from the experience, keep building relationships, and find another opportunity in the future.

7. Of course, there are other ways to contribute beyond another run for office. Organize, advocate, fundraise, network, mentor – the list goes on. 2016 was a wakeup call for a lot of people. We don’t get to go back to sleep regardless of whether things go as we’d like in 2018.

8. But we do think 2018 will go our way, and if that’s the case we should act like it. What I mean by that is that the organizations that back candidates in competitive districts need to expand their vision, and their supporting capabilities, beyond that horizon. Set some stretch goals, and work to meet them. Find candidates running against the really bad actors, even in “unwinnable” districts, and support them, too. Annie’s List, labor, Equality Texas, the DLCC and more, I’m talking to you. Examples of such candidates: Kendall Scudder, running (most likely) against Sen. Bob Hall; Lisa Seger, running against Rep. Cecil Bell; Yolanda Prince, running against Rep. Matt Schaefer. If we want good people to run in these districts, the least we can do is not leave them hanging.

The Nation on Our Revolution in Texas

Here’s a feature story in The Nation from before the holidays about Our Revolution, one of the many grassroots groups that have become prominent post-Trump to organize and get better people elected. The focus of this story is on what OR is doing in Texas.

When Jim Hightower, Nina Turner, and the Our Revolution road show rolled into Tyler, Texas, Ed Moore liked what he heard. “This is basically what we’ve all been needing,” explained the retired factory worker and union leader, who lives in a town where factories and unions have taken a lot of hits in recent years. Moore, a city councilman who represents working-class neighborhoods shaken by deindustrialization, nodded in agreement as Hightower channeled old-school Texas populism into a warning: “The powers that be…are knocking down the middle class. They are holding down the poor” and attacking “the essential ethic that holds America together—and that is the notion that we are all in this together.”

Our Revolution is the national group created by backers of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run with the goal of transforming the Democratic Party. When Turner, a former Ohio state senator who now leads the organization, finished her address by declaring, “We can change the world—one community at a time, one state at a time…. Tyler, Texas, can we do this?,” Moore joined the enthusiastic multiracial, multiethnic crowd, which was packed into an activity center on the local college campus, in answering: “Yes!”

[…]

Of the many resistance and rebuilding groups that are working on the ground to renew Democratic fortunes in the states, Our Revolution has made a notable decision: It’s betting big on Texas. As soon as the Sanders campaign gave way to the organization—with its slogan “Campaigns End, Revolutions Endure” and its promise to “transform American politics”—Hightower and a new generation of Lone Star populists vowed that they would make Texas Our Revolution’s most engaged, active, and, they hope, politically successful state branch. And after a shaky start, Our Revolution is developing into a muscular grassroots organization with nearly 500 chapters in 49 states and a burgeoning capacity to organize on behalf of issues and to help win elections. This is about the recognition of a need: Political movements that evolve out of presidential campaigns often have a hard time defining themselves as more than a reflection of a particular candidate and a particular moment in history. To get to that broader definition, groups that seek to fundamentally change parties and politics must deliver successful examples of how the politics of an insurgent presidential campaign can elect candidates in other races.

[…]

Designated by Our Revolution’s national board as the organization’s first state affiliate, the Lone Star group has hired staff; used Sanders-campaign lists to connect with grassroots activists; and begun organizing chapters at the local, county, and regional levels. It has spelled out a progressive agenda—a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, worker rights, support for immigrants, policies to address climate change, and a commitment to get big money out of politics—and it is encouraging political newcomers who came of age in the Sanders campaign, as well as the worker-rights, immigrant-rights, and Black Lives Matter movements, to start running in Democratic primaries and nonpartisan local elections.

Some of these newcomers have already won. Activist La’Shadion Shemwell, 30, was elected in June to the McKinney City Council in conservative Collin County, north of Dallas. “If I can do it,” Shemwell says, “having been arrested, being a minority, having tattoos and dreadlocks, being a poor person with all the odds against me—if I can do it, then anybody can do it.” In San Antonio, history teacher John Courage surprised nearly everyone by winning his uphill run for a City Council seat. “We can’t overstate how huge an upset this is,” said Our Revolution, which backed him. “Education activist John Courage has won his race in San Antonio’s most conservative district!”

The group plans to endorse candidates in 2018 for posts like state commissioner of agriculture—where Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel and rancher who has become a dynamic advocate for sustainable food production, seeks the Democratic nod—as well as in hundreds of down-ballot contests that have often been neglected in recent years. And it’s exploring the possibility of endorsing for governor and US Senate. There will be some primary fights, but in many parts of Texas, Our Revolution activists are working with local Democrats and stepping up as candidates supported not just by Sanders backers but by 2016 Clinton backers. “They’re bringing energy and a lot of young people into the party,” says Lorraine Broll, president of the Circle-C Area Democrats club in Central Texas. She isn’t a member of Our Revolution, but she’s pleased the group is organizing in places like Hays County, an area between Austin and San Antonio where Trump narrowly won in 2016 but where Democrats hope to make dramatic progress in 2018.

Part of the Our Revolution Texas strategy is to run in places where Democrats aren’t supposed to have a chance. To that end, it’s organizing not just frustrated Democrats but also independents and members of the largest political group in the state: nonvoters. This emphasis on expanding the voter roll and the candidate list intrigues Texans who have grown cynical after years of hearing that the demographics of this minority-majority state will soon make Democrats dominant.

It’s always interesting to get an outsider’s perspective on things in Texas. Sometimes they see things we don’t, sometimes they provide a reality check on our warped perspective. And sometimes you shake your head and say “you really should have run this past someone who knows something about Texas”. I have a few admittedly nitpicky examples of the latter to discuss.

First, a genuine question: What practical experience does Jim Hightower have in grassroots organization, and turning that into an effective means of not just communicating but actually winning elections? All due respect, but I can’t think of any prominent recent efforts he’s been involved in. He does his pundit/humorist thing, and that’s fine, but my perception here is that his main function is eminance grise and “Texas liberal person whose name non-Texan readers of The Nation will recognize”. Maybe I’m selling him short and if so I apologize, but it might have been nice to have had his recent accomplishments listed in the story.

The story does mention a couple of recent wins by OR-affiliated candidates, and that’s really where my observation about getting some input from a local applies. I mean, calling John Courage a “newcomer” is more than a little silly. Courage, who I interviewed in 2012 when he ran for State Senate, had previously run for Congress in 2006, and served on the Alamo Community College District Board of Trustees in the 1980s. I think highly of John Courage and am delighted that he won his race for San Antonio City Council, but he’s not a newcomer.

To be sure, there haven’t been that many opportunities for any group to exert influence in an election this year in Texas. The May elections were the main event – it would have been interesting to have seen what might have happened in a Houston election, but we won’t get that until 2019 – and there have been no legislative special elections as yet. The upcoming primaries will offer some opportunities. Kim Olson is unopposed in March, so that won’t tell us anything. The race to watch if you want to see what OR can do is in CD21, where OR has endorsed Derrick Crowe, who faces three opponents including one (Joseph Kopser) who has a lot of establishment support and has raised a bunch of money. I looked at the Our Revolution Texas Facebook page and didn’t see any other endorsement announcements – I don’t recall seeing any others while looking at all those Congressional candidate Facebook pages, either – but there’s still time and plenty of races to choose from. I will definitely be interested in that, and I expect there will be other players looking to leave their mark on the races in 2018 as well.

Anyway, read it and see what you think. Olson and Crowe were the only 2018 candidates mentioned by name, so I hope there will be more to be said about what OR is doing.

Another look at Congressional odds

I was browsing around Facebook and came across a link to this 2018 midterm forecast from The Crosstab, whose proprietor also works at Decision Desk. As such, it is basically a December update to the November Decision Desk forecast, which is nice because it allows us to make direct comparisons. As before, it has a table containing numbers for each Congressional race, so as before let’s take a look at the relevant ones for Texas:


Dist  Dem 2016/14 %  Clinton %  Dem 2018 %  Dem W Prob  Nov Prob
================================================================
TX-02          37.3       45.1        49.9        49.6      45.8
TX-03          36.1       42.6        47.4        33.5      29.6
TX-06          40.1       43.6        48.5        40.0      15.0
TX-07          43.8       50.7        50.1        51.0      46.3
TX-10          40.1       45.2        46.1        22.4      18.6
TX-14          38.1       39.8        42.9         8.1       6.1
TX-17          36.7       40.8        42.7         7.7       5.7
TX-21          39.0       44.7        49.6        47.4      43.4
TX-22          40.5       45.9        46.6        25.2      20.9
TX-23          49.3       51.8        53.0        72.2      69.2
TX-24          41.2       46.7        47.2        29.3      24.9
TX-25          39.3       42.2        44.5        14.1      11.0
TX-27          38.3       37.8        42.8        11.5       4.5
TX-31          38.5       43.3        44.6        14.6      11.3
TX-32          36.4       51.0        47.0        27.5      23.1
TX-36          22.5       25.9        30.1         1.0       1.0

I added the “Nov Prob” column to compare the Democrats’ win probability as given in this December article to the win probability in November. In all cases, it has improved over the last month, mostly as the approval ratings for Donald Trump continue to sink and the generic Congressional preference polls favor Dems more strongly. The single biggest change is in CD06, thanks to the nude photo-fueled retirement of Smokey Joe Barton. The overall numbers may continue to move in a Democratic direction, they may plateau, they may fluctuate, it’s hard to say. But as long as these updates keep coming out, we can at least track them.

You may wonder why the percentage of the vote Hillary Clinton received in 2016 is greater than the projected Democratic percentage in 2018 in CDs 07 and 32. I’d say the main reason for that is that Clinton ran so far ahead of the baseline in those districts, picking up numerous Republican crossover votes. What those folks may do in 2018 is a bit of a mystery, and will likely be dependent to some extent on who the nominees are in those districts. Still, CD07 is now ever so slightly tilted towards the Democrats, with CD02 on the verge of following. The numbers look so good even I have a hard time really believing them. We’re still talking a coin flip, of course. It will be easy to begin to think that these races are in the bag – I already see people on Facebook posting as if Dems had all but already won in CD07. These races are and will be hard and expensive, and there are absolutely no guarantees. What we have is opportunity. What we do with it is up to us.

Filing roundup: Other Congressional races, part 2

See part 1 here, and the spreadsheet with all the Democratic Congressional filings here. These are the races that are objectively most likely to produce a flip, so there are fewer of them. Let’s dive right in.

Jana Lynne Sanchez

CD06

So long, Smokey Joe. Hope to see a whole lot less of you from here on out. There are, I kid you not, eleven Republican candidates vying for this seat, and it could have been thirteen but two hopefuls had their applications rejected. Lord only knows what will happen on that side. I have mentioned the five Democratic candidates before, back when we were first learning about Smokey Joe’s peccadilloes. Decision Desk had this as only a 15% chance of a pickup in November, but that was pre-scandal and retirement. Those odds are better now.

Jana Lynne Sanchez
Ruby Faye Woolridge
Levii Shocklee
Justin Snider
John Duncan

Jana Lynne Sanchez has been a political consultant and fundraiser, and worked as a journalist after that. She’s a Rice graduate and an aspiring country singer. If she makes it to Congress, maybe she can collaborate with Sen. Orrin Hatch. Ruby Faye Woolridge is a retired educator who has run for office several times, including for CD06 in 2016. Levii Shocklee is a Navy veteran who doesn’t tell us much else about his biography. Justin Snider is a locksmith and served as a national delegate for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016. John Duncan works for the largest local non-profit HIV/AIDS service organization in North Texas.

Joseph Kopser

CD21

Boy, you only think there’s a cattle call for the Republican nomination in CD06. There are eighteen – EIGHTEEN! – Republicans that have filed to fill Lamar Smith’s pollution-loving immigrant-hating shoes. They include Chip Roy, former Chief of Staff to Ted Cruz; Jason Isaac, the State Rep. in HD25; Quico Canseco, who lucked into a term as Congressman in CD23 in the 2010 wave; Susan Narvaiz, a three-time loser to Rep. Lloyd Doggett in CD35, and fourteen more. One way to look at this is that is the vote were to be split evenly among all the contenders, they’d each get about 5.6%. Fifteen percent may well be enough to make it to the runoff. There’s a non-zero chance that the nominee could be some random nobody. Which makes it all the more important that the Democratic candidate is someone who has an A game to bring in a district pegged at a 43.4% win chance and 49.0% performance.

Joseph Kopser
Derrick Crowe
Elliott McFadden
Mary Wilson

This race is interesting and worth watching on just about every level, and that begins with the primary. Joseph Kopser is an Army veteran and businessman who made news for out-fundraising Lamar Smith back in Q2. He’s also racking up endorsements – Garry Mauro, House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, as well as nonprofit STEM organization 314 Action – and can fairly be characterized as the establishment candidate. Derrick Crowe, who has been a senior staffer on Capitol Hill and now works in the nonprofit sector, also has an impressive array of endorsements including Our Revolution, Democracy for America, and the UT University Democrats. He was the first Democrat I heard of in this race, citing Smith’s terrible environmental record as his inspiration to run. And then there’s Elliott McFadden, the Executive Director of Austin B-Cycle and past Executive Director of the Travis County Democratic Party, who has his own set of endorsements, and Mary Wilson, a math teacher and minister. They all look like terrific candidates, so my main hope at this point is that the primary doesn’t get too nasty.

Gina Ortiz Jones

CD23

Here’s a list of Congressmen from CD23 since 2002:

Henry Bonilla (R)
Ciro Rodriguez (D, elected in 2006)
Quico Canseco (R, elected in 2010)
Pete Gallego (D, elected in 2012)
Will Hurd (R, elected in 2014)

And there’s a 69.2% chance (according to Decision Desk as of November) that we’ll have another person in there next year. After that who knows – this district was ruled illegal by the federal district court and could be redrawn for 2020, and regardless of that it will be redrawn again for 2022. You know what they say about change being the only constant? This district is the poster child for that.

Angela Villescaz
Gina Ortiz Jones
Jay Hulings
Judy Canales
Rick Trevino

Gina Ortiz Jones served in Iraq as an Air Force intelligence officer, and continues to work in national security, intelligence, and defense. She’s one of several female veterans running for Congress as Democrats this cycle – note that article doesn’t appear to count MJ Hegar, so it is necessarily incomplete – and has racked up an impressive array of endorsements, from Emily’s List and Vote Vets to the Asian American Action Fund and the Victory Fund. Jay Hulings is a former federal prosecutor and has served in the House as Counsel to the House Intelligence Committee and Legislative Director to former Rep. Jane Harman. Judy Canales was appointed by President Obama in 2013 to be the Texas State Executive Director for the USDA Farm Service Agency. Rick Trevino is a teacher and Secretary of the Bexar County Democratic Party who served as a national delegate for Bernie Sanders in 2016.

I’ve covered other Congressional races in the Harris County and surrounding county writeups, and of course there’s great interest in CD16 to succeed Beto O’Rourke, but that race will be decided when the primary winner emerges. I’m busy doing interviews in CDs 07 and 02, and we’ll see how much more I wind up doing. Again, it is important for all of us to know who our candidates are and to pick the best one to represent us, on the ballot and hopefully in Washington. I hope this has been useful for you.

Filing roundup: Other Congressional races, part 1

We already knew this, but just a reminder there’s at least one Democratic candidate in all 36 Congressional districts in Texas.

In deep-red Texas, Republicans will have to fight for every congressional seat in next year’s midterm elections. For the first time in 25 years, Democrats are running in all of Texas’ 36 congressional districts, according to documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Mark Jones, political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, says those filings set a record for the number of Democratic challengers in an era of Republican dominance, and are a departure from 2016 – when eight Republican-held congressional seats went uncontested by Democrats.

“We are seeing a groundswell of unusually high support and mobilization among progressive Democrats who are really angered by the Trump administration,” Jones said.

[…]

“Outside of CD 23, held by Will Hurd, all of the Republican-held districts today, more likely than not, will stay Republican-held districts,” Jones said. “But they are not locks, and certainly we can’t consider them to be sure-things.”

Jones says it will take a perfect storm for Texas Democrats to make significant gains in Congress. He says Trump’s approval ratings will have to continue to decline, Democrats will have to continue to out-fundraise their Republican opponents, and Republican candidates will have to make a lot of mistakes.

We can and will discuss the prospects for winning various races as we go. For now, let’s talk about who the Democratic contenders are. I’ve put together another spreadsheet based on the SOS filings page for convenient reference. Some of these folks I’ve talked about a lot, others are new to me. I’m going to concentrate on the districts where Dems have a non-trivial chance of winning, on the races I haven’t previously covered in another filing roundup. Turns out there’s a lot of these candidates, so I’m splitting this into two posts, one for the top tier races and one for the ones a notch or two below that. We’ll begin with the latter group.

Lorie Burch

CD03

This district is in Collin County, and it is being vacated by longtime Rep. Sam Johnson. State Sen. Van Taylor is a leading contender for the Republican nomination. Decision Desk in November gave Democrats a 30% chance of taking it, with an expected performance of 46.9%.

Adam Bell
Lorie Burch
Medrick Yhap
Sam Johnson

Yes, there is a Democratic candidate named Sam Johnson who is running to succeed the retiring Republican Congressman Sam Johnson. He’s not afraid to make the obvious jokes about it, for which he has my respect. This Sam Johnson is an attorney and UT graduate who lives in Plano. Adam Bell was the candidate against the incumbent Sam Johnson in 2016. He doesn’t have much in the way of biographical information on his webpage, but he identifies himself as a small business owner. Lorie Burch is also an attorney in Plano, and I’m pleased to note a fellow graduate of my alma mater, Trinity University (we did not overlap and as far as I know I’ve never met her). She recently served on the Lambda Legal Leadership Committee, and as her bio notes, in her senior year at Trinity she interned for Judge Orlando Garcia, who issued the ruling that threw out Texas’ anti-same sex marriage law. Medrick Yhap doesn’t have a campaign Facebook page that I can find, and the only biographical information I discovered was that he works for a software company.

CD17

This is the district that former Rep. Chet Edwards once served. He hung on after the DeLay re-redistricting in 2004, then won two more terms before being wiped out in 2010. The district is more rural than anything else, so unlike the others on this list it hasn’t really trended blue. It’s on the far outer edges of competitiveness, and if it really is in play next fall then the question is not “will Dems take the House” but “how large will the Dem majority be”.

Rick Kennedy
Dale Mantey

Rick Kennedy is a software developer. Dale Mantey is working on a doctorate at the UT School of Public Health. Decision Desk put the odds in November at 5.7% for a pickup. I wish them both well.

Todd Allen

CD24

Former State Rep. Kenny Marchant has held this district since it was drawn, apparently with him in mind, in the 2003 DeLay re-redistricting. Longtime Democrat Martin Frost had been the incumbent here, but he chose to run in CD32 against Pete Sessions in 2004, coming up short in that race. The closest race Marchant has had was a 17-point win in 2016, as CD24 was one of several districts to see its Democratic performance increase from 2012 to 2016. Decision Desk projected 46.7% Democratic performance and a 24.9% chance of flipping in November.

Todd Allen
Jan McDowell
John Biggan
Josh Imhoff

Todd Allen is a high school government teacher and former football coach who like Lorie Burch is a Trinity University graduate. My cup runneth over here. Jan McDowell is a CPA with a degree in journalism; she was the Democratic candidate for CD24 in 2016. John Biggan is an Eagle Scout and slef-described “brain scientist”, with a doctorate from UT-Arlington. I could not find any web presence for Josh Imhoff’s campaign.

Chris Perri

CD25

CD25 is the district Rep. Lloyd Doggett moved into in 2004 post-DeLay; he had previously been in CD10. He then moved again to CD35 in 2012 as the Republicans tried and failed again to draw him out of a district he could win. Car salesman and former Secretary of State Roger Williams, who has Rick Perry-class hair, became the incumbent in this district that year. He has won by at least 20 points each time, with Decision Desk pegging the district at a 43.9% Democratic level and an 11.0% chance of turning over. I blogged about three of the five Democratic candidates in October.

Chetan Panda
Chris Perri
Julie Oliver
Kathi Thomas
West Hansen

Chetan Panda is a first generation American who grew up in Austin. He has a degree from the London School of Economics and was working as a retirement fund manager at a mutual fund before stepping down to run for Congress. Chris Perri is a defense attorney who serves as supervising attorney for UT Law’s pro bono Texas Expunction Project, which helps people clear wrongful arrests from their backgrounds. Julie Oliver describes herself as a healthcare advocate, tax policy expert, and community volunteer who serves on the board of Central Health in Austin. Kathi Thomas was the Democratic candidate for CD25 in 2016, and also ran for State Senate in 2006. She’s a small businesswoman, an education activist, a Democratic precinct chair, and a band geek, which is also something I respect. West Hansen is a psychologist whose great-grandparents settled in Texas in the 1800s.

CD27

Bye-bye, Blake. Smokey Joe Barton had a more sudden demise, but outgoing incumbent (*) Blake Farenthold had a pretty spectacular – and well-deserved – fall. Alas, unlike Smokey Joe’s departure in CD06, the odds of a Democratic takeover here are not improved much, and weren’t that good to begin with. Decision Desk puts the odds of flipping at 4.5%, the lowest of all the districts I’m looking at. But we’re thinking positive, right?

Eric Holguin
Raul “Roy” Barrera
Ronnie McDonald

Eric Holguin cites a family history of service and past experience with the New York City Comptroller and in an unnamed Congresswoman’s office, but I couldn’t tell what he was doing at the time of his candidacy. Roy Barrera was the Democratic candidate against Farenthold in 2016 – that’s his 2016 campaign Facebook page above, I couldn’t find a current version. Ronnie McDonald served as Bastrop County Judge for 14 years, and more recently worked with the directors of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas A&M Forest Service. He ran for CD27 in 2012 but did not win the primary.

MJ Hegar

CD31

Hey, a race where we have a specific poll result. A six-point lead by Rep. John Carter over one of his opponents isn’t much, though it is better than the situation some of his colleagues are in. This one has 11.3% odds of changing sides, with 44.0% Dem performance. It’s another mostly-suburban battleground, with most of the district in Williamson County. If there really is something to the well-educated suburbs getting turned off by Trump and Trumpish followers, this like several other districts listed here is the kind of place where we should see evidence of it.

Christine Eady Mann
Kent Lester
Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar
Mike Clark

All four of these candidates have been running since at least July, so it’s a pretty stable field. Christine Eady Mann is a family practice physician who has had some experience in local politics, including a successful campaign to pass an indoor smoking ban in Round Rock and serving as the volunteer coordinator for a Georgetown City Council member’s re-election. Kent Lester is a West Point graduate and 20-year Army veteran who has also been an educator. MJ Hegar is an Air Force officer and Purple Heart recipient who led a 2012 lawsuit against the Defense Department over its now-repealed policy excluding women from ground combat positions and wrote a book about her experiences in the military that is being made into a movie. Mike Clark has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees with a background in Geology and Geospatial technology and is currently employed in the technology sector.

So that’s a lot of districts and a lot of candidates, and we haven’t covered some of the most competitive November races, which I’ll get to next week. I strongly encourage everyone to get to know who is running to represent them in Congress and make an informed choice in March. I’ll have more tomorrow.

A third PPP Congressional poll in Texas

Here’s a Public Policy Polling Twitter thread of interest. I’ve highlighted the specific relevant tweets.

 

The Culberson and Sessions results we knew about. The CD31 poll between Carter and MJ Hegar is news to me. Let me expand a bit on the numbers from 2016 that PPP cites:


2012

Carter      61.3%
Wyman       35.0%

Romney      59.4%
Obama       38.1%

Keller      57.8%
Hampton     36.8%


2014

Carter      64.0%
Minor       32.0%

Abbott      61.5%
Davis       36.0%

Richardson  61.3%
Granberg    33.6%


2016

Carter      58.4%
Clark       36.5%

Trump       52.6%
Clinton     40.1%

Keasler     56.8%
Burns       37.3%

So forty percent is basically the high water mark for a Dem in CD31 this decade. (Barack Obama got 42.5% there in 2008.) That’s good, and it does tend to show a higher level of Dem engagement, especially compared to 2014, but we’re still a ways off. The 46% for Carter is more interesting, as it is a big dropoff from every non-Trump Republican. The question is whether this represents a bunch of undecided respondents who will come home next November, or it’s a genuine indicator of low enthusiasm. Also, the HD31 poll involves a specific opponent to Carter, one who will have to win a primary first, rather than a “generic Democrat” as in the CD07 and CD32 surveys. It’s possible the 40% level for MJ Hegar is lower than a “generic Dem” level might have been. As with any other poll, file it away for later when we have more data.

The Harris County slates

Let’s talk about the filings for Harris County. The SOS filings page is still the best source of information, but they don’t provide shareable links, so in the name of ease and convenience I copied the Democratic filing information for Harris County to this spreadsheet. I took out the statewide candidates, and I didn’t include Republicans because they have not updated the SOS office with their slate. Their primary filing site is still the best source for that. So review those and then come back so we can discuss.

Ready? Here we go.

– If there was an announcement I missed it, but HCDE Trustee Erica Lee, in Position 6, Precinct 1, did not file for re-election. Three candidates did file, Danyahel Norris, an attorney and associate director at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law; John F. Miller, who was a candidate for HCDE Chair earlier this year; and Prince Bryant.

– While there are contested races up and down the ballot, there’s one race that is no longer contested. Mike Nichols withdrew his filing for Harris County Judge, leaving Lina Hidalgo as the sole candidate to oppose Judge Ed Emmett next fall.

– The SOS page also shows that Sammy Casados withdrew his filing for County Commissioner. However, his campaign Facebook page makes no such announcement, and there’s no evidence I can find to confirm that. It’s possible this is a mistake on the SOS page. We’ll know soon enough, when the HCDP publishes its official final list. Anyway, the cast for Commissioner in Precinct 2 also includes Adrian Garcia, Daniel Box, Roger Garcia, and Ken Melancon, who was previously a candidate for Constable in Precinct 3 (note that Constable precincts, like Justice of the Peace precincts, do not correspond to Commissioner precincts). Also, there are now two candidates for Commissioner in Precinct 4, Penny Shaw and Jeff Stauber, who was a candidate for Sheriff in 2016.

– All other county races save one are contested. Diane Trautman has two opponents for County Clerk: Gayle Mitchell, who ran for the same office in 2014, losing to Ann Harris Bennett in the primary, and Nat West, who is the SDEC Chair for Senate District 13 and who ran for County Commissioner in Precinct 1 in that weird precinct chair-run election. Two candidates joined Marilyn Burgess and Kevin Howard for District Clerk, Michael Jordan and former Council candidate Rozzy Shorter. Dylan Osborne, Cosme Garcia, and Nile Copeland, who ran for judge as a Dem in 2010, are in for County Treasurer. HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large has Josh Wallenstein, Elvonte Patton, and Richard Cantu, who may be the same Richard Cantu that ran for HISD Trustee in District I in 2005. Only Andrea Duhon, the candidate for HCDE Trustee for Position 4 in Precinct 3, has a free pass to November.

– I will go through the late filings for legislative offices in a minute, but first you need to know that Lloyd Oliver filed in HD134. Whatever you do, do not vote for Lloyd Oliver. Make sure everyone you know who lives in HD134 knows to vote for Alison Sawyer and not Lloyd Oliver. That is all.

– Now then. SBOE member Lawrence Allen drew an opponent, Steven Chambers, who is a senior manager at HISD. That’s a race worth watching.

– Sen. John Whitmire has two primary opponents, Damien LaCroix, who ran against him in 2014, and Hank Segelke, about whom I know nothing. Rita Lucido, who ran for SD17, threw her hat in the ring to join Fran Watson and Ahmad Hassan.

– Carlos Pena (my google fu fails me on him) joins Gina Calanni for HD132. Ricardo Soliz made HD146 a three-candidate race, against Rep. Shawn Thierry and Roy Owens. There are also three candidates in HD133: Marty Schexnayder, Sandra Moore, and someone you should not vote for under any circumstances. He’s another perennial candidate with lousy views, just like Lloyd Oliver. Wh you should also not vote for under any circumstances.

– The Republican side is boring. Stan Stanart has a primary opponent. Rep. Briscoe Cain no longer does. There’s some drama at the JP level, where Precinct 5 incumbent Jeff Williams faces two challengers. Williams continued to perform weddings after the Obergefell decision, meaning he did (or at least was willing to do) same sex weddings as well. You do the math. Unfortunately, there’s no Democrat in this race – it’s one of the few that went unfilled. There was a Dem who filed, but for reasons unknown to me the filing was rejected. Alas.

I’ll have more in subsequent posts. Here’s a Chron story from Monday, and Campos has more.

UPDATE: Two people have confirmed to me that Sammy Casados has withdrawn from the Commissioners Court race.

Five out of six ain’t bad

Five Democratic candidates for six statewide judicial positions, all from Harris County.

Four state district and county-level judges from Harris County and a Houston civil-litigation lawyer filed for seats on the Texas Supreme Court and the state Court of Criminal Appeals at state Democratic headquarters.

“The only time they open the courts is when it suits their cronies,” said state District Judge Steven Kirkland of Houston, referring to the nine Republicans on the Texas Supreme Court.

[…]

Harris County Civil Court Judge Ravi K. Sandill, who seeks Republican Justice John Devine’s Place 4 seat on the state Supreme Court, said voters would reject the leadership styles of Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We’ve got a bully in the White House. We’ve got a governor who’s a bully,” he said. “Texans stand up to bullies.”

[…]

Kathy Cheng, a native of Taiwan, said she’s been “the voice for people who don’t have a voice” in nearly 20 years of private law practice. She filed for the Place 6 seat of Republican Justice Jeff Brown.

Signing paperwork to run for Court of Criminal Appeals were Maria T. Jackson, presiding judge of the 339th state District Court in Harris County, and Ramona Franklin, who’s judge there in the 338th.

Jackson filed for the presiding judge seat now held by Republican Sharon Keller of Dallas. Franklin is seeking the Place 7 seat of Republican Barbara Hervey of San Antonio.
“No matter where you live or what you look like or who you love, in my courtroom, you’re going to receive justice,” she said.

Kirkland and Sandill you knew about. Jackson was elected in 2008 and has been re-elected twice. Franklin was elected in 2016. Cheng ran for the 1st Court of Appeals in 2012. The Chron story says that a sixth candidate is not expected to come forward, which is too bad. It’s great that Harris County is representing like this, but surely there’s someone somewhere else in the state who can throw a hat in the ring. Be that as it may, best of luck to these five.

Nobody likes Smokey Joe any more

Pobrecito.

Rep. Joe Barton

One day after a group of local Republicans met privately with U.S. Rep. Joe Barton about a nude photo of him that ended up online — and his political future — a number of Tarrant County Republicans are calling on the longtime congressman to not seek re-election.

“Since Mr. Barton’s highly-publicized issues have come to light, I have talked to numerous Republican activists, leaders, voters and elected officials about this situation — not a single one of them thinks he should run again,” said Tim O’Hare, who heads the Tarrant County Republican Party. “I personally hope he learns from this and tries to be a better father and man.”

Last week, the 68-year-old Barton issued an apology for the sexually explicit photo he took and texted to a woman he was in a consensual relationship with years ago.

“…I, along with thousands of other Tarrant County Republicans, call on Mr. Barton to not seek re-election and to retire from Congress by the end of this year,” O’Hare said in a statement. “We are at a critical point in our nation’s history.

“It is my hope Mr. Barton will place his constituents, Tarrant County Republicans and our nation above his personal desires to make way for a candidate who better embodies our values and who will ensure Congressional District 6 remains in Republican hands.”

Around 20 Republican leaders, mostly women, met with Barton at an Arlington home Monday night to share concerns about his potential re-election bid. Barton, R-Ennis, has filed for re-election but could choose to withdraw from the race.

The consensus from many at the meeting is that Barton’s past service was greatly appreciated, but they didn’t feel he should run for another term.

See here for the background. Why this is an uncrossable bridge and not, say, molesting teenagers or admitting to sexual assault is left as an exercise for the reader. The Star-Telegram editorial board would also like for Smokey Joe to take a seat, not that any Republican voter cares what a newspaper thinks. Whether Barton steps aside on his own or not, there’s already another Republican candidate looking to take his position.

Jake Ellzey, a retired U.S. Navy pilot and commissioner on the Texas Veterans Commission, is the first Republican to challenge Barton this cycle — a sign that at least some GOP’ers view the longtime congressman as vulnerable after intimate images he sent to a former lover were mysteriously released online.

Reached by phone, Ellzey, of Midlothian, said he was pondering a run against Barton long before the sexting issue emerged.

He said he differs with the congressman on issues related to immigration and that, after Barton’s three decades in Congress, it’s time for “fresh blood.”

He also pledged that, if elected, he would serve no more than five terms in office.

Ellzey, 47, said he commissioned a poll about his chances, and the results came out the same day as Barton’s acknowledgement of the infidelity and lewd photos.

Good timing, I guess. Ellzey ran for State House in HD10, which is primarily in Ellis County, in 2014 after Rep. Jim Pitts retired, but finished third in a field of four in the GOP primary. I have no idea how good a candidate he might be against Barton, but then all he may need is good timing.

Barton, or perhaps Ellzey or someone else, also has several Democrats vying to take him on, and this story has been a boost for them as well.

For nearly a year, Democrat and public relations consultant Jana Lynne Sanchez has been begging people to pay attention to her bid to represent Texas’s 6th Congressional District.

Now, thanks to viral nude photos of Rep. Joe Barton, the Republican she hopes to challenge for the seat, she’s landed a publicity boost PR people only dream about.

Days after the photos focused an intense spotlight on the 17-term congressman, Sanchez said she’s raised $100,000 for the race — more than any Democrat who has run against Barton since he took office more than three decades ago. She’s received 450 new contributions over the weekend, and added more than 1,000 Twitter followers.

Also hoping to benefit is Ruby Woolridge, who ran in 2016 and got 39 percent, the most any Democrat has ever taken against Barton. She maintains a strong following among the district’s African American community and the Democratic grassroots. She was recently in Washington meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.

[…]

Though raised in Ellis County, Sanchez spent her post-college career as a political fundraiser in California, then as a journalist in Baltimore and Amsterdam. In 2005 she co-founded a public relations agency based in London and Amsterdam, before moving home in 2015 to help her aging parents.

She’s not shy about using that experience to draw attention to the race.

Sanchez keeps a running a list of articles mentioning her, which now includes the New York Times, thanks to Barton’s video. She’s been endorsed by several national groups, including the New Democrat Coalition and the environmental group Climate Hawks Vote.

Sanchez hired a California-based consultant, SKDKnickerbocker’s Bill Burton, who worked on President Barack Obama’s first campaign. She also has a Washington-based consultant, Chuck Rocha, to do digital campaign work.

The self-described “redneck Latina” regularly shows up at Barton’s town halls to hand out flyers, dressed in cowboy boots with Texas flags on them. She’s attracted the attention of a documentary film crew, which could feature her campaign in episodes aired before Election Day.

That approach has drawn criticism from some local Democrats, who say national strategists are discounting Woolridge.

“Ruby has a lot of support here in Arlington,” said Merlene Walker, a leader in the Progressive Women of Arlington group, who helped Woolridge’s 2016 campaign. She and her husband considered supporting Sanchez, if she were the stronger candidate, but felt Woolridge would give Barton the tougher race.

You can learn more about Sanchez here and about Woolridge here. As the first story above notes, there is at least one other Dem in the race, Levii Shocklee. All three have filed, according to the SOS candidate page. Sanchez had raised $75K through October, while Woolridge and Shocklee had raised about $7K each. If what Sanchez says about her fundraising since the nekkid pics of Barton came out is true, we’ll see a much higher total for her in January. There are two other people who have filed finance reports, Justin Snider (Facebook page here) and John Duncan (Facebook page here). Basically, CD06 looks like the CD07 of the Tarrant County area, though so far with a lot less money. We’ll see if that changes, for anyone other than Sanchez.

A little concern trolling from the WSJ

This is a story that tries to stir up concerns about all those Democratic Congressional candidates spending money and energy running against each other in the primaries. I flagged it mostly because of the CD07 content at the end.

Rep. John Culberson

In Houston, the Seventh Congressional District is ethnically diverse, well-educated, suburban and includes some of the city’s wealthiest voting precincts. Mrs. Clinton beat Mr. Trump here by 1.4 percentage points, but Mr. Culberson won by 12 points.

The DCCC sent a full-time organizer to Houston in February. She has been working to recruit volunteers and train organizers to defeat Mr. Culberson, without favoring a specific Democratic challenger.

The top fundraiser is Alex Triantaphyllis, founder of a nonprofit group that mentors refugees. He says the party’s “best approach is to be as connected and engaged in this community as possible.”

Primary opponent Laura Moser said at a recent candidate forum that many people in the party “are trying too hard to win over the crossover vote while abandoning our base.” She became a national activist last year by starting an anti-Trump text-message service for “resisting extremism in America.”

In August, Ms. Moser criticized Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D., N.M.), the current DCCC chairman, in Vogue magazine for saying last spring that the party shouldn’t rule out supporting antiabortion candidates.

Elizabeth Pannill Fletcher, a lawyer also running in the Democratic primary, says she welcomes the lively primary race because it helps to have “a lot of people out there getting people motivated” about next year’s midterm election.

She also acknowledges a downside: “We are raising money to spend against each other rather than against John Culberson.” Another candidate has already run unsuccessfully for the seat three times.

Some Democratic candidates worry they will face pressure to tack to the left because people who attend political events early in the campaign tend to be the party’s most liberal activists. A questioner at a forum in July sponsored by the anti-Trump activist group Indivisible demanded a yes or no answer on whether candidates support the legalization of marijuana.

“There is definitely a danger if you have a circular firing squad over who is the most leftist in the room,” Democratic candidate Jason Westin, an oncologist, said in an interview. “This is not a blue district.”

This was the first mention I had seen of the DCCC organizer in CD07. Since that story appeared, I’ve seen a couple of Facebook invitations to events featuring her, which focus on basic organizing stuff. As we now know, there’s a Republican PAC person here in CD07. It’s getting real, to say the least.

I have no idea why the story singles out marijuana legalization as an issue that might force one of the CD07 candidates to “tack to the left”. Support for marijuana legalization is pretty mainstream these days, and that includes Republicans. The second-highest votegetter in Harris County in 2016 was DA Kim Ogg, who ran and won on a platform of reforming how drug cases are handled, which includes prosecuting far fewer of them. Presumptive Democratic nominee for US Senate Beto O’Rourke supports marijuana legalization. If any candidate in CD07 feels pressured to support marijuana legalization, it’s because they’re out of step with prevailing opinion, not because they’re being dragged in front of an issue.

Finally, on the broader question of all these contested primaries, Lizzie Fletcher mostly sums up how I feel. I believe all these primaries will be a big driver of turnout, which will help set the narrative of higher Democratic engagement. If there’s anything a candidate should feel pressed to do, it’s to pledge to support whoever wins in their primary so we can present a united front for November. I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road and some nastiness in these campaigns as the days wear on, but overall this story sounds like the Journal trying to throw a rope to its surely despondent Republican readers. We Dems were telling ourselves the same kind of story in 2010 when the Tea Party was first making things uncomfortable for Republicans. I’d rather have this energy than not, even if some of it will ultimately be wasted.

Early Congressional odds

Decision Desk provides an early view of the 2018 Congressional election.

The 2018 House Midterm Election is bound to be one of the more interesting in recent memory. With Donald Trump in the White House, infighting on both sides of Congress, and an American public that is bursting at the seams we have a recipe for a perfect political storm. Keep your eye on this page, which houses our forecasts for all 435 congressional districts, and stick with us as we attempt to answer the ultimate questions: who will win majority control of the US House of Representatives?

[…]

The Democratic Party is ahead in generic ballot polls up 7.1% in our average. They hold an 8.2 percentage point lead in our projection of the election day two-party vote.. We get all of our polling data from Huffington Post Pollster, which you can investigate here.

But, because Democrats are clustered in cities and face harsh gerrymanders, they aren’t expected to win an equivalent share of the seats in Congress. What does electoral geography tell us about the actual outcome?

Democrats earn a median of 218 seats in our simulations of the 2018 midterms. This may differ from the strict predictions below because of the larger number of Lean Republican seats than Lean Democratic seats in the current Congress. Effectively we are saying that the below number is an ideal estimate, meant to give you context as to which seats are competitive, but that we expect Democrats to overperform expectations based on the assessment of our error in past predictions.

See here for ratings of individual races, and here for an explanation of the methodology. Note that latter entry is from August, when Dems had about a four percent lead in the generic Congressional ballot, and the model predicted a gain of nine seats, well below the amount needed to retake the majority. Things have improved considerably for them since then, and it shows up in the probabilistic model for each district. Farther down in the original link above is a table highlighting the relevant data and odds of a D victory in each district. I’ve cut out the relevant info for Texas. Feast your eyes:

District Dem 2016/14 (%) Clinton (%) Forecast Dem 2018 (%) Dem Win Prob.
TX-02 37.3 45.1 49.4 45.8
TX-03 36.1 42.6 46.9 29.6
TX-06 40.1 43.6 44.9 15.0
TX-07 43.8 50.7 49.6 46.3
TX-10 40.1 45.2 45.6 18.6
TX-14 38.1 39.8 42.4 6.1
TX-17 36.7 40.8 42.2 5.7
TX-21 39 44.7 49.0 43.4
TX-22 40.5 45.9 46.0 20.9
TX-23 49.3 51.8 52.4 69.2
TX-24 41.2 46.7 46.7 24.9
TX-25 39.3 42.2 43.9 11.0
TX-27 38.3 37.8 41.6 4.5
TX-31 38.5 43.3 44.0 11.3
TX-32 36.4 51.0 46.4 23.1
TX-36 22.5 25.9 29.6 1.0

Kind of amazing, isn’t it? One Dem takeover favored, three tossups, and four more seats for which the odds are around one in four. That was before the Joe Barton nude photos scandal, and who knows what effect that could have. CD02 is rated much more highly as a pickup opportunity than CD32, likely due to Ted Poe’s retirement. As the authors take pains to note, this kind of forecast provides a range of outcomes, and some amount of error is to be expected. Such errors are likely to go exclusively in one direction, and things can change quickly. We’ll need to keep an eye on this going forward – I expect there will be updates about once a quarter – but if there’s a main takeaway, it’s that we really need good candidates in every race. We have them in most districts, but there are a few that could still use an upgrade. There’s a ton of opportunity here, we need to be in a position to grab it.

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.

Opinions differ about Congressional prospects

I’m gonna boil this one down a bit.

Todd Litton

Moments before the polls closed in Virginia’s Democratic sweep, Houston-area Republican Ted Poe, across the Potomac River on Capitol Hill, announced his retirement in 2018 after 14 years in Congress.

Poe cast his move Tuesday night as a personal decision: “You know when it’s time to go,” he told the Chronicle. “And it’s time to go, and go back to Texas on a full-time basis.”

But a wave of retirement announcements from Texas Republicans in both Congress and the Legislature already had sparked a lot of speculation that the pendulum of power might swing against the GOP, even possibly to some degree in a deep red state like Texas.

Poe and other Republicans dismissed that notion, arguing that their prospects in 2018 are strong, particularly in the Senate, where 10 Democratic incumbents face the voters in states won by President Donald Trump.

Democrats, however, celebrated Ralph Northam’s victory over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s hard-fought governor’s race as the start of an anti-Trump wave that could only grow as the president’s approval ratings continue to sink.

However coincidental, Poe’s announcement – following those of Texas U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, Jeb Hensarling and Sam Johnson – seemed to add to the buzz.

[…]

Democratic hopeful Todd Litton, a nonprofit executive in Poe’s district, has raised more than $256,000 for the race, outpacing Poe’s fundraising in the three-month period between April and June.

Poe, however, called the suggestion that he is running away from a tough reelection “nonsense.” He noted that he won reelection last year with 61 percent of the vote, a substantially better showing than Trump, who won 52 percent of the district’s vote for president.

“I don’t appeal to people on the party label,” said Poe, a former teacher, prosecutor and judge. “I appeal based on who I am.”

[…]

David Crockett, a political scientist at San Antonio’s Trinity University, said the question lingering after Virginia’s election results: Is this the beginning of something different?

“Texas is still pretty red, but the result of all these retirements could be opportunity for a Democrat in the right circumstances,” he said. “It’s always easier for an opposition party to pick off an open seat … but I still think we’re a decade away from any significant change.”

Texas Democrats, for the most part, have their sights set on Hurd, Sessions and Culberson, whose districts went to Clinton in 2016. Recent internal polling also has bolstered their hopes of flipping the suburban San Antonio district where Smith is retiring.

Around Houston, it would take a pretty big wave for Poe’s 2nd Congressional District to fall into the Democratic column, but in the current political climate, some analysts say, who knows?

“I wouldn’t go to Las Vegas and bet on it,” said Craig Goodman, a political scientist at the University of Houston in Victoria. “But every election cycle, there’s always one or two districts where you’re like, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ Maybe the 2nd would be that district.”

CDs 02 and 21 were more Democratic in 2016 than they were in 2012, and the retirements of Ted Poe and Lamar Smith will make them at least a little harder to defend in 2018 than they would have been. They’re not in the same class as CDs 07, 23, and 32, but a sufficient wave could make them competitive. Another factor to keep in mind is who wins the Republican primaries to try to hold them? Some candidates will be tougher than others, and in this day and age it’s hardly out of the question that the winner in one of these primaries could be some frothing Trump-or-die type that no one has heard of who might have trouble raising money and turn voters off.

There’s another point to consider, which is that some of the candidates who run for these now-open Congressional seats may themselves be holding seats that would be more vulnerable without an incumbent to defend them. For instance, State Rep. Jason Issac has announced his candidacy in CD21. Isaac’s HD45 went for Trump by less than five points and with under 50% of the vote; it was typically more Republican at the downballot level, but still shifted a bit towards the Dems from 2012 to 2016. Erin Zwiener is the Democratic challenger in HD45. As for CD02, it is my understanding that State Rep. Kevin Roberts, the incumbent in HD126, is looking at CD02. HD126 was about as Republican in 2016 as CD02 was, so if Roberts changes races that will open up another Republican-favored-but-not-solid seat. We’ll know more when the filings come in, but that’s what I’d keep my eye on. Candidates matter, and the Dems have been rounding them up for months now. Republicans are just getting started in these districts. They have less margin for error.

Abbott v Davis

It’s getting real out there.

Rep. Sarah Davis

In what promises to deepen divisions in the Texas Republican Party, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed a GOP challenger to incumbent state Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston.

Abbott gave his public thumbs-up to Susanna Dokupil, a more-conservative Republican like Abbott, who is running against the more moderate Davis, who also touts herself as “a conservative voice in Austin.”

The announcement was the first endorsement of a legislative challenger by Abbott, who had announced last summer that he would support legislative candidates who supported his positions on issues. In the past, it has been relatively rare for governors to get involved in legislative races so early — if at all.

[…]

Davis, an attorney, has challenged Abbott’s positions on a number of issues in the past year, including the bathroom bill. She has represented a district that includes West University Place for four terms in the Texas House.

“We need leaders in Austin who will join me to build a better future for Texas,” Abbott said in his endorsement statement. “I trust Susanna, and I know voters in House District 134 can trust her too to fight for their needs in Austin, Texas. Susanna is a principled conservative who will be a true champion for the people of House District 134, and I am proud to support her in the upcoming election.”

Dokupil, who is CEO of Paladin Strategies, a strategic communications firm based in Houston, worked for Abbott as assistant solicitor general while he was Texas attorney general, before becoming governor. There, she handled religious liberty issues, he said.

Abbott said he has known Dokupil for more than a decade.

Davis is a part of the House leadership team. She chairs the House General Investigating and Ethics, serves as chair for health and human services issues on the House Appropriations Committee and is a member of the influential Calendars Committee that sets the House schedule.

In a statement, Davis appeared to dismiss the Abbott endorsement of her challenger, who said she represents the views of her district.

“I have always voted my uniquely independent district, and when it comes to campaign season I have always stood on my own, which is why I outperformed Republicans up and down the ballot in the last mid-term election,” Davis said.

This ought to be fun. Davis has survived primary challenges before, though she hasn’t had to fight off the governor as well in those past battles. She is quite right that she generally outperforms the rest of her party in HD134. Not for nothing, but Hillary Clinton stomped Donald Trump in HD134, carrying the district by an even larger margin than Mitt Romney had against President Obama in 2012. If there’s one way to make HD134 a pickup opportunity for Dems in 2018, it’s by ousting Davis in favor of an Abbott/Patrick Trump-loving clone. Perhaps Greg Abbott is unaware that he himself only carried HD134 by two points in 2014, less than half the margin by which he carried Harris County. Bill White won HD134 by three points in 2010. HD134 is a Republican district, but the people there will vote for a Democrat if they sufficiently dislike the Republican in question. This could be the best thing Greg Abbott has ever done for us. The Trib and the Observer, which has more about Davis’ opponent, have more.

About that lost evidence

Sorry about that.

Mark Herman

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has sent notices to lawyers in 10,000 closed criminal cases that evidence, which was kept in storage, may have been lost or destroyed between 2007 and 2016.

The bulk of the emails, which were sent Wednesday to lawyers for about 7,750 defendants, caused an uproar among defense attorneys but left Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman scratching his head.

“We’ve already been through this,” Herman said Wednesday. “This all stems from a year and half ago. It’s old news.”

[…]

“Upon learning that evidence may have been lost or destroyed while in the custody of law enforcement, it was our duty to conduct a thorough review, which included manually going through thousands of records to determine which cases may have been affected,” according to a statement released Wednesday from the District Attorney’s Office. “After the recent completion of that process, it was also our duty to notify all defendants and defense lawyers involved.”

Since each of the 10,484 cases has been resolved, defense lawyers are scrambling to figure out what evidence may have been destroyed and when. If the evidence was destroyed before the case was resolved, it could be grounds for an appeal. If the case is being appealed, the destruction of evidence could hamper those proceedings.

See here, here, and here for the background. This may be old news in a sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s been resolved. I don’t see any reason why we would have considered it closed last year, without Kim Ogg getting a chance to review everything after she got elected. If this causes problems, the reason for those problems goes back a lot farther than last year. Better to make sure everything we know about what happened comes out, and then we can be done with it.

Julian 2020?

He has raised the possibility.

Julian Castro

Texas Democrat Julian Castro confirmed Sunday he is seriously considering running for president in 2020 and former state Sen. Wendy Davis left open the possibility she will take another run at running for governor in 2018.

“I might,” Castro told more than 350 people at a political conference near the University of Texas on Sunday morning. Davis’ comments came at the same event.

Castro, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, said the country needs a very different president than what is in office now and he will spend 2018 weighing a bid. He said the country needs someone “fundamentally honest” in the White House.

“We’ve had too much lying out of the White House,” Castro said.

Well, it’s hard to argue with that. There has been talk of Julian Castro running for President in 2020 – it’s even had an effect on Joaquin Castro’s consideration of running for Governor this year. I’ve no doubt that Julian Castro has been thinking about running since approximately November 9 of last year. It’s mostly a question of how he goes about it. I’ll be happy to see Julian run and will give strong consideration to supporting him, but for now all I care about is 2018.

Speaking of 2018, from the same story:

At the same event, Davis meanwhile left open the possibility that she will be running for governor again in 2020.

The former state senator from Fort Worth said although she was defeated in 2014 by Gov. Greg Abbott, it was before voters knew how far right he would go in supporting legislation like SB 4, which she called the “show me your papers” law that threatens every citizen with brown skin. Supporters of SB 4 have said the legislation was to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities and allow local law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they pull over.

Davis made clear she’s only considering it largely because other Democrats have failed to step forward to run.

“Because no one else is stepping forward,” Davis said when asked by moderator Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune why she was not ruling it out.

I love Wendy Davis. I don’t know how many other Democrats love her at this point. It’s a hard thing, losing an election like she did. This story came out before Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez put her name out there, and I think it’s safe to say that if Valdez gets in, Davis will not. But she’s there, maybe, just in case.

One of the other brand-name candidates who is at least thinking about “stepping forward” is Andrew White, who as this Trib story about the same event notes was criticized by Davis fr being anti-choice. White has since updated his website to address some issues; he says “Roe v Wade is the law of the land, and I respect the law” in the Women’s Health section, which doesn’t tell us very much about what sort of bills he would sign or veto if he were to be elected. You can see what he has for yourself – I’m more concerned about his Border Security position, which doesn’t make any sense to me. Filing begins this weekend, so one way or another we’ll begin to get some clarity.

Rep. Ted Poe to retire

We’re verging on a mass exodus here.

Rep. Ted Poe

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, announced Tuesday evening that he will retire from Congress.

“Thanks to the good Lord, I’m in good health, but it’s time for the next step,” Poe said in a statement. “I am looking forward to spending more time in Texas, especially with my 12 grandkids who have all been born since I was first elected to Congress. I am proud of the work that my office has accomplished: giving crime victims a voice, helping to combat human trafficking, and fighting for our constitutional rights and individual liberty.”

[…]

The seat has drawn some Democratic challengers, most notably nonprofit executive Todd Litton, who has held his own against Poe in fundraising in recent months.

First elected to Congress in 2004 and a sixth-generation Texan, Poe is possibly the most personally popular Texan within the U.S. House of Representatives.

With fans on both sides of the aisle, that affection came to light in 2016, when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Colleagues like U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, reacted to the news by wearing orange “Team Poe” wristbands. Even Democrats were known to check in with concern about his health.

Sources close to the congressman said that while the his health is stabilized, the ordeal did cause the 69-year-old to consider more spending time with his family.

But there were also signs of political frustration earlier this year. Amid congressional Republicans’ troubled efforts to move a repeal of former President Obama’s 2010 health care law, Poe resigned from the House Freedom Caucus. The group is known to be a thorn in the side of House leadership.

At the time he resigned from the group in late March, he said, “It is time to lead.”

A quirky but sincere presence around the Capitol, Poe made criminal justice a signature issue. He built his career as a Harris County prosecutor and a criminal court judge. His off-beat and shame-inducing punishments in that role became known as “Poe-tic justice.”

Poe also spent a much of his time on foreign affairs and on immigration. But he is best known to his colleagues as a go-to force on issues like violence against women and human sex trafficking.

First, let me say that I wish Rep. Poe all the best with his fight against leukemia, and that he has a happy and healthy retirement. He joins three of his Republican colleagues –
Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling, and Lamar Smith – in calling it a career this cycle. The last election we had where this many new members got elected was 2004, thanks to the DeLay re-redistricting that helped elevate Poe.

CD02 will be favored to be held by the Republicans, but Democrats made some gains there in 2016, and the departure of this generally well-liked incumbent may make holding this district a little tougher for them. First, we have to see who will run on that side; as of last night, there were no names being mentioned as potential candidates. I suspect that the pool of hopefuls is pretty deep, and as such we could have quite the primary race next year. I figure names will start dropping soon, and as filing season opens on Saturday, the rubber will meet the road in short order. How we feel about the future disposition on this district may depend a lot on who comes out of those races. The Chron has more.

Lamar Smith to retire

Good riddance.

Rep. Lamar Smith

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio said Tuesday he is retiring from Congress.

“For several reasons, this seems like a good time to pass on the privilege of representing the 21st District to someone else,” he wrote in an email obtained by the Tribune. “… With over a year remaining in my term, there is still much to do. There is legislation to enact, dozens of hearings to hold and hundreds of votes to cast.”

Smith, a San Antonio native, received his undergraduate degree from Yale and attended law school at Southern Methodist University. He was elected to Congress in 1987 and represents a district that spans Austin, San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country. He is the current chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Like U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the House Financial Services chairman who announced his retirement on Tuesday, Smith faced a term-limit in that role.

[…]

Speculation immediately began among Texas GOP insiders about who could succeed Smith in his seat. Names included state Reps. Jason Isaac and Lyle Larson, and Austin City Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair.

State Sen. Donna Campbell’s name was also put in play. A spokesman for Campbell said she “will carefully and prayerfully consider what is best for her and the district.”

Austin-based communications consultant Jenifer Sarver, a Republican, confirmed that she’s “taking a serious look” at running for the seat.

The question on many insider’s minds is whether retiring state House Speaker Joe Straus would consider a run, but sources close to him said Thursday he is not interested.

Smith’s 21st Congressional District runs from South Austin along the west side of I-35 into San Antonio and extends westward into the Hill Country. The district was drawn to be a safe Republican seat, but there is a competitive Democratic primary this year with viable fundraising candidates. One of the Democratic challengers, veteran Joe Kopser, raised more funds than Smith in the last quarter.

Democrats have argued for weeks that if more Republicans retire, they have a better shot at those open-seat races.

Is this one of those races? It’s too soon to tell, Democratic sources around the Capitol told the Tribune.

This district would be incredibly difficult to dislodge, but perhaps not as hard as a lift as a conservative East Texas bastion such as Hensarling’s seat. Democrats will prioritize dozens of other seat before they spend on this one, situated in the expensive Austin and San Antonio markets.

The early read from Democrats in Washington: It would have to be an absolutely toxic environment for the GOP next year for this seat to flip.

Let’s be clear: Lamar Smith is terrible. Not just for his longstanding enmity towards the environment, which the story covered, but also for his equally longstanding hostility towards immigration. Of the names mentioned as potential Republican candidates to replace him, only Donna Campbell is clearly worse. That said, it is hard to beat an incumbent, and his departure ought to make the path a tad bit easier for someone like Joseph Kopser. CD21 was red in 2016, but not as red as it has been. Trump carried it 51.9 to 42.1, while Mike Keasler on the CCA won it 56.7 to 38.1. In 2012, it was 59.8 to 37.9 for Mitt Romney and 58.6 to 36.6 for Sharon Keller. Whether that’s enough to draw national attention is another question, but adding Smith’s name to the pile of leavers does help further the “abandon ship” narrative. I only wish he had done so sooner. ThinkProgress, which goes deeper on Smith’s extreme pro-pollution record, has more.

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.

Congressional candidates everywhere

Texas Democrats are as optimistic as they’ve ever been about candidate recruitment.

Rep. Roger Williams

“I’ve been recruiting candidates in Texas for years, and I’ve never seen an environment quite like this,” said Cliff Walker, candidate recruitment director for the state Democratic Party.

Walker predicted that for the first time in his political career, every open congressional seat will be filled by a “strong Democratic nominee,” and many will have a Democratic primary.

One such race is the primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin. His 25th Congressional District includes much of East Austin and parts of Central Austin, including the University of Texas. It stretches from western Hays County to the suburbs south of Fort Worth.

So far three Democratic candidates have emerged for the March primary, though there’s still time for others to join the race before the Nov. 11. deadline. All three cited Trump as their main motivator in deciding to throw their hat in the ring.

Kathi Thomas, 64, a Dripping Springs small-business owner, also challenged Williams in 2016. Initially, it was hearing Williams speak at a town hall-type meeting in 2014 that motivated her to run. After she lost to him last year with about 38 percent of the vote, she said, she hadn’t planned to run again.

[…]

Julie Oliver, 45, a St. David’s HealthCare executive and Central Health board member, never planned to enter the world of politics until Trump’s election, when she said she felt a call of duty.

“We need voices in Congress who will stand up to (Trump) and say that’s not OK. The way you speak is not OK. Where you’re leading us is not OK,” Oliver said, before naming Republicans in Texas and across the country who “won’t stand up to the bully” as she says she will.

[…]

It was seeing Trump announce the immigration ban that stirred to action Chetan Panda, a first-generation American whose parents came to the U.S. from India. Panda grew up and lives in Austin.

“You could see on CNN, these people who are not being allowed to be again in this country,” Panda said. “Honestly, I saw myself and my family’s faces on those people’s faces. … It was really opportunity being denied.”

Panda, 26, was working as a retirement fund manager at a mutual fund, but after that moment and careful consideration, he decided to leave the job to turn his focus on the congressional race.

Thomas was the only candidate of the three in CD25 to have filed a finance report for Q2. I didn’t include her in my roundup because she’d only collected about $8K. The deadline for Q3 reports was Sunday the 15th, and reports are starting to come in, so I’ll be very interested in what we get in this district. In the meantime, you can see Kathi Thomas’ webpage here, Julie Oliver’s here, and Chetan Panda’s here. You’ve got a range of options available to you if you live in CD25.

How good a target is CD25? It’s not completely hopeless, but it’s not exactly top tier. Here are relevant Presidential and Gubernatorial results from recent years, with Court of Criminal Appeals races thrown in for extra effect:

2016 – Clinton 39.9%, Trump 54.7% — Burns 37.0%, Keasler 58.1%
2012 – Obama 37.8%, Romney 59.9% — Hampton 37.6%, Keller 57.6%

2014 – Davis 39.5%, Abbott 58.3% — Granberg 36.4%, Richardson 58.9%
2006 – Molina 44.4%, Keller 55.6%

I didn’t include results from the weird 2006 Governor’s race. The more-encouraging 2006 CCA numbers are due to reduced Republican turnout, which was exacerbated in the downballot contests. Hope in all of these Congressional races begins with a combination of lessened Republican turnout plus energized Democratic participation, with some districts needing a higher concentration of each than others. If CD25 winds up being in play, we are on the high end of that scale.

Trump nominates two to the Fifth Circuit

This is why Republicans put aside their doubts to vote for Trump, and it’s why they stick with him. This is the prize they kept their eyes on, and it’s paying off for them bigtime.

Don Willett

President Donald Trump on Thursday said he is nominating two Texans to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett and Dallas attorney James Ho.

“Both of these gentlemen, I think, will do an outstanding job,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said during a conference call with reporters.

They would need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Willett, a well-known Twitter user, has served on the state Supreme Court since 2005. During the 2016 presidential race, Trump had named Willett as a potential choice for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ho is the former solicitor general of Texas. He has also served as chief counsel for Cornyn.

[…]

Even after Thursday’s announcements, Trump has a host of vacancies left to fill in Texas. He has yet to fill two U.S. attorney positions, including the post in the Southern District, which is the busiest in the country. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s son Ryan Patrick is rumored to be the president’s choice for that post.

Trump also has six federal district court seats to fill, several of which have been classified as judicial emergencies. One of those seats has been open since 2011.

Neil Gorsuch gets all the attention as a tainted selection that resulted from extreme partisan obstruction, but don’t overlook all those district court and appellate court positions that have been open for years, with our two Senators refusing to allow any Obama nominations to be considered, let alone voted on. Willett and Ho are the beneficiaries of this from a professional standpoint, but one young and reliably conservative guy in a robe is as good as any other. This isn’t about qualifications – Willett and Ho are perfectly credible choices – it’s about opportunity, and about partisan cohesion. Don Willett and James Ho will be affecting public policy way longer than Donald Trump will. The Chron has more.

As I said, Willett and Ho are qualified to be judges – they’re not who I’d pick, but they fall within accepted norms for the job. Some nominees do not, but it’s going to take recognition of that in the right places to keep them out.

Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn raised fresh doubts Thursday about the White House nomination of assistant state Attorney General Jeff Mateer to be a federal judge in Texas.

Mateer, in a pair of speeches in 2015, reportedly referred to the rights of transgender children as part of “Satan’s plan” and defended the controversial practice of “conversion therapy” for gays.

Cornyn, commenting publicly for the first time since Mateer’s speeches were unearthed this month by CNN, said the speeches apparently were not disclosed to him as they should have been under a screening process set up by him and Sen. Ted Cruz.

“We requested that sort of information about speeches and the like on his application,” said Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate. “And to my knowledge there was no information given about those, so it’s fair to say I was surprised.”

[…]

Cornyn said Thursday that he is reevaluating Mateer’s nomination in light of the undisclosed speeches as well as other public utterances.

“I am evaluating that information, and I understand there may be even addition information other than that which has previously been disclosed,” he said in a conference call with Texas reporters.

Cornyn, formerly a Texas Supreme Court Justice, said there should be no “religious test” for judges. “But it is important,” he added, “that all of our judges be people who can administer equal justice under the law and can separate their personal views from their duties as a judge.”

He added: “Because the information had not been previously disclosed, we were not able to have that kind of conversation with Mr. Mateer, so we’ve got some work to do.”

Ted Cruz, of course, has no such qualms, because he’s Ted Cruz. Note that Cornyn has left himself a lot of wiggle room here. His primary concern here is that Mateer may have more such, let’s say “intemperate”, remarks in his past that he hasn’t told the likes of Cornyn about. Big John can handle a little gay-bashing, but he doesn’t like to be surprised. As long as Mateer makes a few perfunctory statements about how of course he believes in equal justice for all and would never ever ever treat anyone unfairly in his courtroom, and as long as no more embarrassing video turns up, Cornyn will be happy to support him. Eyes on the prize, you know.

DA’s office ends trace case prosecutions

Good.

Kim Ogg

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has stopped prosecuting thousands of so-called trace drug cases, which typically stem from glass pipes seized from users containing little more than residue of crack cocaine, officials said Thursday.

The recent change means it is not prosecuted at all, unless there are extenuating circumstances said Tom Berg, First Assistant District Attorney. Houston police officials have given the new policy their approval, but with an important caveat.

“We want to go after people who are a real danger to the community, violent against people, violent against property,” Berg said. “It’s a smarter practice that everybody agreed to go forward on without a great deal of controversy.”

Berg said several factors combined to push the policy change, including limited resources, a raft of exonerations in recent years because of erroneous field tests and the rise of lethal drugs. He singled out fentanyl, a chemical which is 100 times more powerful than heroin and is used to cheaply spike more expensive drugs.

“Fentanyl and carfentanil – horrible substances – potentially fatal substances on contact,” he said. “Inadvertent contact, in the context of trying to scrape up some crud out of carpet in a car, could have catastrophic effects on the officers. They could be inhaling it without knowing it.”

[…]

The change is being eyed with cautious optimism by police representatives who had previously argued against the change.

“We’re not opposed to it as long as the DA is going to hammer hard these (burglary of motor vehicle) suspects who are crackheads anyway,” said Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers Union. “These are the ‘trace case’ people, that’s who they are. They’re the people who are breaking into cars to steal change.”

The police union has argued that arresting people for drug possession because of residue on paraphernalia keeps them from burglarizing cars, homes and businesses.

In the past, much less than a gram of the illegal drug – often just scrapings – could be prosecuted as a felony adding 2,000 to 4,000 people a year to Houston’s crowded dockets.

Hunt said the district attorney’s office promised to vigorously prosecute car burglars in exchange for police support of the policy.

“If we start getting cases where we have BMV (burglary of a motor vehicle) suspects and it’s a crackhead with a pipe on them and that person gets one or two days in jail, then it’s a serious problem and they’re not living up to the deal,” Hunt said.

This was indeed a campaign promise of Ogg’s, and it had been the policy under Pat Lykos, before Devon Anderson put a stop to it. Getting buy in from the police union, however tentatively, is a big deal since they were a big part of the reason why it was so contentious under Lykos. Refocusing on property crimes is also a good move, as those offenses are seldom punished now and affect a lot of people in a tangible way. All in all, a big win. Let’s hope the follow-through is as successful. The Press has more.

So were we targeted by Russian hackers or not?

Depends who you ask, I guess.

A top state official is pushing back against the federal government’s claim that Texas was among states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

“At no point were any election-related systems, software, or information compromised by malicious cyber actors,” Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Thursday.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said the election infrastructure of 21 states, including Texas, was targeted by Russian hackers. Being targeted does not mean that votes were changed but that a system was scanned.

Shortly after the announcement, officials in California and Wisconsin said they’d received contradictory information from the department that suggested they’d been incorrectly included on that list.

Pablos, in his letter, made a similar claim and asked the department to “correct its erroneous notification” that the state agency’s website had been the target of malicious hackers. Pablos argued that federal officials had based their assessment on “incorrect information” and that an investigation by his office with the state’s Department of Information Resources had found no such targeting.

“In order to restore public confidence in the integrity of our elections systems, it is imperative for DHS to further clarify the information provided,” the letter says. “Our office understands that you have provided similar clarification to election officials in Wisconsin and California. We respectfully request you provide the same clarification to the State of Texas.”

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman told Reuters Thursday that “additional information and clarity” had been provided to several states, and that the department stood by its assessment “that Internet-connected networks in 21 states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.”

See here for the background. I’d need to see the specifics before I can make a judgment here. Saying the SOS systems weren’t “compromised” isn’t a contradiction of what was said by Homeland Security, which merely said the SOS website had been “scanned and probed”. That’s basically background noise on the Internet, though depending on the source of the probe it can be of interest. It would be nice for everyone to get their story straight so we know for sure who is claiming what.

Texas was a hacking target in 2016

We’re just finding out about this now?

Hackers targeted Texas and 20 other states prior to the 2016 presidential election, the United States Department of Homeland Security has formally informed the states.

But the hackers who tried to mess with Texas didn’t get far, officials with the Texas Secretary of State’s office said Monday.

The federal agents said instead of targeting the state’s voter registration database during the 2016 elections, hackers searched for a vulnerability on the Secretary of State’s public-facing website, according to Sam Taylor, an agency spokesman.

“If anyone was trying to get into the elections system, they were apparently targeting the wrong website,” Taylor said.

The website, http://www.sos.state.tx.us, is devoid of voter information, he said, and hackers never find a way to crack into it.

[…]

According to testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, the Department of Homeland Security began finding incidents of scanning and probing of state and local election systems in August 2016. A declassified report from national intelligence officials released in January stated that “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.”

“There is no complacency in Texas when it comes to protecting the security of our elections system,” Secretary Rolando Pablos said. “We take our responsibility to guard against any and all threats to the integrity of elections extremely seriously and will continue to do so moving forward.”

Here’s what bothers me about this. It’s not that our Secretary of State websites may have been attacked – that’s a matter of when, not if – and it’s not even that they might not have known about it until the feds informed them of it – it may have been a new vulnerability being exploited. What bothers me is the assertion that because there was nothing of value on the server that was hacked, there was nothing to worry about. Low-value servers, ones that are public facing and have no proprietary or confidential information on them, are often targets for hackers. The reason for this is that once you have access to such a machine, you have the opportunity to look for vulnerabilities inside the network, to do things like try to crack passwords on higher-privilege accounts so that you can gain access to more valuable resources. A spokesperson like Sam Taylor may not understand this, but I sure hope someone at the SOS office does.

Also, too: It’s not possible to stop every attack – any IT professional worth their salt will tell you this – but what is possible and very necessary is to detect as quickly as you can abnormal system activity so you can tell when you’ve been breached and take steps to stop it. As I said, the SOS may not have known about these particular attacks at the time. Some of this is cutting edge stuff, and the majority of us only find out about them in retrospect. But now that they do know, I sure hope they’re reviewing all their logs and their various monitoring tools to see what they might have missed and how they can detect this sort of attack going forward. I also hope they’re sharing this information with every elections administrator to ensure they are aware of this and can perform the same reviews. That is something I’d expect a spokesperson to address.

Two GOP State Reps seek Senate promotions

Item One:

Rep. Cindy Burkett

State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, launched a challenge Tuesday to state Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, setting up a Republican primary clash in North Texas.

“I am proud of what I have accomplished for Texas and for all people who share my conservative values,” Burkett said in a news release. “Serving in the Texas Senate will allow me to continue and expand this work.”

Burkett is serving her fourth term in the House, where she chairs the Redistricting Committee. She first won election to House District 101 in 2010. After HD-101 was altered by redistricting in 2011, Burkett successfully ran for House District 113, which she currently represents.

Hall, a Tea Party activist, won the Senate District 2 seat three years ago in an upset victory over Bob Deuell, the Republican incumbent from Greenville. Burkett was once an aide to Deuell in the Senate.

[…]

At least two candidates are already running for Burkett’s seat in HD-113. They include Garland Republican Jonathan Boos and Rowlett Democrat Rhetta Bowers, both of whom unsuccessfully challenged Burkett in 2016.

This race is of interest for several reasons. First and foremost, HD113 is a top target next year. Like all Dallas County districts, it was carried by Hillary Clinton, but it was also very close at the downballot level. Having it be an open seat is likely to be better for the Democrats, and may possibly be a signal that the Republicans don’t like their prospects. Bob Hall is a dithering fool, but much of SD02 is outside Dallas County, and some of that turf may not be very hospitable to a suburban establishment type, especially one who is already talking about playing well with others. If Burkett means what she says, she could be a marginal improvement on Hall – the bar is pretty low here, as Hall is awful – but Burkett was the author of the regular session omnibus anti-abortion bill, so don’t expect much.

Item Two:

State Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, is making it official: He is challenging state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls.

“They just desperately want somebody new,” Fallon said of voters in Senate District 30, which Estes has represented since 2001. “It’s been 16 years — it’s going to be 18 years. They want a change. They don’t see him around.”

Fallon had been seriously mulling a Senate bid for months, crisscrossing the 14-county district in North Texas since at least the end of the regular legislative session in May. He first shared his decision to run Tuesday with a newspaper in SD-30, the Weatherford Democrat.

In an interview with the Tribune, Fallon said he was “shocked” to learn in his travels how many local officials view Estes as an absentee senator. Fallon, who loaned his campaign $1.8 million in June, also said he was prepared to “spend every dime and then some” to get his message out in the race.

“It’s a moral obligation,” he said. “We simply need in this district to close one chapter and open up a new one.”

Not much to be said about this one. Estes is basically a waste of space, while Fallon is more of a new school jackass. Neither district is competitive. Someone will win the race, but no one will truly win.

Finally, along those same lines, Angela Paxpn – wife of you-know-who – has officially announced her candidacy for SD08, where she will face off against Phillip Huffines, brother of Sen. Don Huffines. We first heard about this a couple of weeks ago. With any luck, Huffines will spend a bunch of his money attacking Angela Paxton by attacking Ken Paxton. Surely that’s not asking for too much.

No re-rematch for Gallego against Hurd

The third time is not a charm, mostly because there won’t be a third time.

Pete Gallego

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, has decided not to try again to reclaim his old seat in Congress.

“Know that my public service is not done, but that for the present, I have decided to forego another run in the 23rd District,” Gallego said in a statement Friday. “I continue to explore options that will allow me to give back to San Antonio and the rest of this great state which has given me and my family so much.”

[…]

Gallego had set up an exploratory committee for the seat in July. At the time, he said he was “energized about 2018,” citing a new level of Democratic enthusiasm in the district following the election of President Donald Trump.

In recent weeks, Gallego tried to raise money for his would-be congressional campaign, according to those plugged in with the Democratic establishment donor community — but found resistance after losing twice.

See here for the previous update. On the one hand, Gallego won in 2012 against an incumbent Republican in a district carried by Mitt Romney and every statewide Republican. He led the ticket in a tough loss in 2014, but then failed to win the seat back in a year where Hillary Clinton won the district. He was a fine legislator and he’s a good person, but with the emergence of some other interesting candidates, I can see why the donor community might have wanted to go another direction. Gallego is young enough to run again for something if he wants to – hell, he’d make a pretty good candidate for Governor if he wanted to give that a try and if the Castros figure out what they’re doing. Seriously, someone ought to talk to him about that. Anyway, this probably means the field in CD23 is set, but someone could still jump in.

State Rep. Larry Gonzales to retire

This is an opportunity for the Democrats.

Rep. Larry Gonzales

State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, is not running for re-election.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve HD52 and this great state,” Gonzales wrote Wednesday night on Facebook. “We certainly gave it our all.”

Gonzales announced his decision not to run again at a meeting Tuesday night of the Williamson County GOP Executive Committee, according to attendees.

First elected in 2010, Gonzales has served on the Sunset Advisory Commission since 2014 and currently chairs the panel, which is responsible for periodic reviews of state agencies. He is also the chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee.

[…]

At least two Republicans have already lined up to run for Gonzales’ seat in House District 52: Texas GOP chaplain Jeremy Story and Round Rock resident Christopher Ward.

Another person, James Talarico, has filed paperwork indicating he is interested in running. He is expected to make an announcement early next week.

HD52 is one of several in which Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump by less than five points, with the spread in the downballot races being about eight points. It was a bit more Democratic than in 2012, though not dramatically so. It’s still one of the clearer Democratic targets for 2018, especially now that it is open. If that isn’t enough incentive, there’s also the Speaker’s race dynamic. HD52 is also a target for the wingnuts.

Gonzales was already facing a Republican primary challenge from the right in March. Jeremy Story, a 42-year-old father of seven from Round Rock who founded and is president of Campus Renewal, a Christian organization seeking to unite campus ministries across the country, has announced he’s running for the Republican nomination. Story also serves as chaplain to the Williamson County and Texas Republican parties.

Story said Wednesday that, like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, he was disappointed that Straus did not deliver on more of the governor’s 20-point agenda for the special session. He said he believed the House could benefit from a change in leadership.

But, on Tuesday night, the Williamson County Republican Party executive committee defeated, 31-14, a measure to call for the speaker’s replacement, and Chairman Bill Fairbrother said that support for Straus was stronger in the southern end of the county that makes up Gonzales’ district.

Fairbrother described Gonzales as a successful and popular legislator who had worked tirelessly to get around and represent the district. He said he expects several other Republicans to jump into the race in the near future.

They need to be joined by at least one good Democrat. Don’t let us down, Williamson County.

Meanwhile, up north there’s another retirement:

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, announced Thursday she is not running for re-election.

Laubenberg, who chairs the House Elections Committee, did not provide a specific reason for her decision in a statement. “I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life,” Laubenberg said.

Laubenberg has served eight terms representing House District 89 in Collin County.

The seat is likely to stay under GOP control. One name that was already being mentioned Thursday evening as a potential candidate to replace Laubenberg was Candy Noble, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee from Lucas.

Laubenberg was the author of the infamous HB2 abortion bill that eventually got canned by SCOTUS, but not before a bunch of clinics were forced to close. I seriously doubt that anyone else will be better than she was – HD89 is a safe Republican seat, having been carried by Trump by over 20 points – but no one I know will be sorry to see Jodie Laubenberg walk out the door for the last time.

San Marcos files amicus brief against SB4

Good for them.

The city of San Marcos filed a legal brief Thursday supporting Austin, San Antonio and other cities that have filed suit against the state for its new law on immigration enforcement.

In the 16-page brief, city attorney Michael Cosentino argued that under Senate Bill 4, fear of immigration enforcement will lead people to avoid calling police, reporting crimes or coming forward as witnesses — in turn, making the city less safe.

[…]

City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to file the brief during a special meeting called a week after the council decided against joining the lawsuit as a party. Community groups and other residents had for months put pressure on the council to take a public stand.

“Hundreds of local residents have attended public meetings of the City Council and expressed their fears and concerns about the potential impact of SB 4,” Cosentino wrote in the amicus brief. “Despite the San Marcos Police Department’s ongoing efforts to calm the fears of the community, there are many who still believe that they, their family members, or friends will be stopped, questioned, detailed, or deported if SB 4 becomes law.”

The San Marcos Police Department’s current policy — to ask about immigration status only when someone has been arrested for involvement in a violent crime — will not be enforceable under SB 4, Cosentino wrote. The law will prevent departments from setting a policy limiting when immigration questions may be asked.

Cosentino suggested that the issue is especially of concern to residents of San Marcos, almost 40 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census data, as well as students of its school district and San Marcos-based Texas State University, both of which are majority Hispanic.

See here for the background. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan also filed an amicus brief after Commissioners Court declined to get involved. San Marcos is the first city in a county that went for both Greg Abbott in 2014 and Donald Trump (barely) in 2016 to get involved. We’re less than a week out from the implementation date for SB4, and with the redistricting lawsuit off the docket for now for Judge Garcia, hopefully we can get a ruling soon.

Court throws out State House map

Once more, with feeling.

Parts of the Texas House map must be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting several legislative districts, federal judges ruled on Thursday.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Texas must address violations that could affect the configuration of House districts in four counties, where lawmakers diluted the strength of voters of color. In some cases, the court found mapdrawers intentionally undercut minority voting power “to ensure Anglo control” of legislative districts.

These are the nine districts the court flagged:

  • Dallas County’s HD 103, represented by Democrat Rafael Anchia, HD 104, represented by Democrat Roberto Alonzo and HD 105, represented by Republican Rodney Anderson
  • Nueces County’s HD 32, represented by Republican Todd Hunter, and HD 34, represented by Democrat Abel Herrero
  • Bell County’s HD 54, represented by Republican Scott Cosper, and HD 55, represented by Republican Hugh Shine
  • Tarrant County’s HD 90, represented by Democrat Ramon Romero, and HD 93 represented by Matt Krause.

Adjusting those boundaries could have a ripple effect on other races.

[…]

In both the congressional and state House rulings, the court ordered Attorney General Ken Paxton to signal whether the Legislature would take up redistricting to fix violations in the maps.

But so far, state leaders have signaled they have no appetite to call lawmakers back to Austin over mapmaking. Instead, Texas is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep its political boundaries intact.

“The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law,” Paxton said in a Thursday statement. “Needless to say, we will appeal.”

Meanwhile, the state and the parties that sued over the congressional districts are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 5 to begin redrawing the congressional map. In its Thursday ruling, the court indicated they should be prepared to also meet on Sept. 6 to consider changes to the state House map.

“Today’s ruling once again found that Texas racially gerrymandered its voting districts and used Latino voters as pawns in doing so,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who is representing plaintiffs in the case. “With the 2018 election cycle fast approaching, it’s time for Texas to stop discriminating against Latino voters and agree to a remedy that will provide equal opportunity to all.”

It was just over a week ago that the same court invalidated the Congressional map, also calling it intentionally discriminatory. Add in the voter ID ruling and you’ve got three such judgments in a span of eight days; you can also toss in the ruling on interpreters for a four-game losing streak for the state. Don’t forget the Pasadena case, too – it’s not the state, but it is another intentional-discrimination opinion. Maybe this will all add up to enough to convince Chief Justice Roberts to change his mind about the state of voting rights and the need to protect communities of color.

Or not. I wouldn’t hold my breath. Be that as it may, this ruling could have an effect on the effort by wingnuts to oust House Speaker Joe Straus. RG Ratcliffe explains.

The court found that in Nueces County, the district maps discriminated in the placement of minority voters in a way that favored the re-election of Representative Todd Hunter, a key Straus Republican ally and chairman of the House committee that sets bills for debate on the daily calendar. To make his district safe, the court said Hispanic voters were packed into the district of Representative Abel Herrero, a Democrat. Redrawing the districts won’t automatically guarantee Hunter’s defeat, but it will make it more difficult for him to win re-election.

The court also ruled that the Legislature intentionally split a minority community in Killeen to guarantee the election of two white Republicans in Districts 54 and 55, Scott Cosper of Killeen and Hugh Shine of Temple. Both have backed Straus in the past. Putting the minority community in Killeen back together probably endangers Cosper’s re-election, and may put a Democrat in that rural district. Either way, this likely is a wash in the politics of electing the next speaker.

In Dallas and Tarrant counties, the court ruling likely would help Straus win re-election. In declaring that five districts in those two counties discriminated against minorities, the most likely losers in any redrawing of the district maps will be Republican Representatives Rodney Anderson of Irving and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. Anderson was among nineteen House members who voted against Straus in one election for speaker, and Krause is a member of the Freedom Caucus, which has been trying to force a speaker vote in the caucus instead of on the House floor, where Democrats also have a say.

Anderson barely squeaked by in 2016, in a district that was ever so slightly bluer than HD107, which flipped to the Dems. He was going to be a target no matter what. The ripple effect in Dallas could be very interesting. And of course, anything that puts jerks like Krause in jeopardy is a good thing. We’ll know if and when SCOTUS intervenes if a second special session will be forthcoming. A statement from MALC is here, and Michael Li, the Chron, the DMN, Rick Hasen, the HuffPost, and the Lone Star Project have more.

RK Sandill for State Supreme Court

Very good news, from the inbox:

Judge RK Sandill

The Supreme Court of Texas is elected to serve all of the nearly 28 million residents of our great state. Yet, after more than two decades of one-party rule, today’s Court is increasingly out of touch with the needs of everyday Texans.

On issues from public school finance to equal protection under the law, our state Supreme Court is ignoring its duties and instead catering to an extreme, special interest agenda.

It is time for a change.

I want you to know I’m running for the Supreme Court of Texas, Place 4, to restore an independent voice to our state’s highest judicial body and to focus on the rule of law, rather than a fringe ideological agenda.

I am a Texan — the proud son of immigrants — who grew up in a military family that knows the meaning of service. I have been a district court judge in our state’s largest county for nearly nine years. I am a husband, dad and cancer survivor. And I am running to serve all Texans.

I know this race won’t be easy. Texas is a big state and changing the status quo will be a challenge. I’m ready for the fight. Will you join me?

It is time our state’s highest court got back to working on behalf of everyday Texans.

I know Judge Sandill personally, and will attest he’s a super guy. He was elected in the 2008 Harris County Democratic wave, and won re-election in 2012 and 2016; he’s not on the ballot next year, so he does not have to decide between running again for the same position and trying to move up. His opponent is the execrable John Devine, who was the one Supreme Court justice to dissent when that court originally declined to take up the appeal of the Houston spousal benefits lawsuit. Devine isn’t qualified to be a district court judge, but there he is on the top bench in the state. Almost anyone would be an improvement, but Judge Sandill would be a vastly better jurist. Here’s his website and Facebook page. Get to know him if you don’t already, and give him some support.