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George P. Bush

Endorsement watch: Crossing over

Nice.

Miguel Suazo

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican, has endorsed Democrat Miguel Suazo in his bid to replace current Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Patterson, a former political rival of Bush, cited what he called mismanagement of the Alamo and Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

Patterson isn’t the only Republican taking the unusual approach of withholding support from Bush. Three other former Republican primary opponents of Bush — Rick Range, Davey Edwards and David Watts — signed onto a letter with Patterson saying they would not be voting for Bush in November.

“There are things that are more important than your party,” Patterson said. “The Alamo is Texas.”

[…]

Patterson told The Texas Tribune he had spoken with Suazo and liked what he heard. He acknowledged that it is unlikely Bush loses in November; Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. But he said there was a “very, very remote chance.”

“The statewide candidates in Texas in November, some of their fortunes may be dependent of the fortunes of Donald Trump,” Patterson said. “But that’s not the point. I don’t have any compulsion to always back the winner. My compulsion is to be true to my convictions.”

Suazo said he was “honored” to have Patterson’s endorsement, saying the former commissioner had put “Texas before Party.”

If you care to search the archives here, you will see that I have long had some affection for Jerry Patterson. There’s plenty I don’t agree with him on, but he always took the job of Land Commissioner seriously, and I respected him for that. He was also a rare member of the ruling class that was not himself a plutocrat; as a story about the financial disclosures of statewide officeholders revealed, his two sources of income as Land Commissioner were his salary for that job, and his military pension. I saw him express some approval of Miguel Suazo’s positions regarding the Alamo a couple months back, and I wondered at this time if that might culminate in an endorsement. I’m glad to see that it did. He’s right that in the end it probably won’t have much effect on the outcome, but it’s good to know that Patterson is still the kind of person I thought he was when he was in office. Thanks for that, Jerry.

And then later in the same day, we got this.

Bennett Ratliff, a Republican who preceded Matt Rinaldi as state representative for his Dallas County district, endorsed Rinaldi’s Democratic opponent, Julie Johnson.

“As a lifelong Republican, I have supported and worked for Republican candidates since before I was able to vote, I have voted Republican since I was able and served as a Republican elected official. I have supported the party, our nominees, and I have never endorsed a Democrat for office. But extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Ratliff wrote in a message to supporters on Friday.

Ratliff represented House District 115 — which covers Irving, Coppell, Carrollton, Farmers Branch and Addison — in 2013 after defeating Rinaldi in the 2012 Republican primary. But Rinaldi won the seat from Ratliff in a rematch in 2014. Rinaldi once again beat back a challenge from Ratliff in 2016, before narrowly edging out his Democratic opponent.

Ratliff said the upcoming session would be a critical moment for Texas public schools and said Rinaldi was “in the pocket of a small group of wealthy donors” and had failed to advocate for Texas schoolchildren and local taxpayers.

“In addition to his complete ineffectiveness and lack of decorum in office, Representative Rinaldi voted 10 times against legislation to reform our school finance system, legislation that would have helped public schools and provided local tax relief,” Ratliff said. “As a result, I believe it’s time we change our representation, so we can refocus the priorities of our State Legislature.”

[…]

In his letter, Ratliff, a former Coppell school board member, said he believed Johnson would be a good advocate for Texas school students, teachers and local taxpayers.

“While we don’t agree on every issue facing our state, we both agree and understand that Republicans and Democrats must come together on the issue of public education for the future of our children,” Ratliff said. “I encourage my friends and neighbors to join me in voting for Julie Johnson.”

Johnson is endorsed by Texas Parent PAC, a bipartisan political action committee that advocates for high quality public education. Ratliff is on the PAC’s leadership board.

Johnson, a personal injury lawyer from Addison who was also endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood, said she has Republican support because many of the district’s constituents don’t feel represented by Rinaldi.

“Former Representative Ratliff’s support for my candidacy in House District 115 is proof of what we’ve been saying for months– Texans are tired of extremist partisan politics and want their elected officials to put people first, no matter what,” Johnson said in an email statement. “It’s time to focus on the issues that affect us the most, like fully funding our public schools and taking care of our teachers. I will work with anyone in the Texas House who has a good idea and I will vote down bills that are bad for Texans regardless of where they come from.”

Very nice. And the fact that Rinaldi is one of the worst members of the House makes it that much sweeter. Now if three makes a trend, we have a trend, because right after the primary, Lt. Governor candidate Scott Milder endorsed Mike Collier over Dan Patrick. How much difference these endorsements all make I couldn’t say, but I’d sure rather have them than not.

Paxton joins the wimp brigade

Seems fitting.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a TV interview that he would be “happy to debate anybody on the issues” as he seeks re-election this fall, but he is now backing off that offer by refusing to debate Democrat Justin Nelson as voters decide who to hire as the state’s top lawyer.

Paxton instead “will communicate directly with the voters,” his campaign spokesman, Matt Welch, wrote in an emailed statement Thursday in rejecting Nelson’s invitation to debate.

Welch did not respond when asked if Paxton’s previous offer to debate was sincere.

“I’m happy to debate anybody on the issues and I look forward to it,” Paxton said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program in November.

See here and here for the background. No one should be surprised by this. All bark no bite, all hat no cattle, all hawk no spit – pick your cliche to to describe these yellow bellies. I doubt Paxton, along with Dan Patrick and Sid Miller and George P. Bush, can feel shame, but they can probably feel ridicule, and they deserve all the Bronx cheers they get. If they refuse to debate because they don’t want to give publicity to their opponents, then let’s make their refusal to debate a story. They should not be allowed to run away and hide.

Don’t expect any other debates

Cowardice + lack of incentive = avoiding engagement.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush (son of Jeb and nephew to George W.) has no plans to go one-on-one with his challenger, Miguel Suazo — at least, not as of Tuesday, July 24.

“At this point, we’re not planning to do a debate, but we always assess things as we go forward,” Bush campaign spokesman Lee Spieckerman told The Dallas Morning News. And why not? “Voters are very aware of Commissioner Bush’s record, which is the main thing. … His performance speaks for itself.”

But perhaps it’s the spokesman for Sid Miller, the perpetually be-Stetson-ed commissioner of agriculture, who said it best. Miller’s got 719,000 followers on Facebook, after all, where he’s shared his thoughts on refugee “rattlers,” drag queens and Whoopi Goldberg. Why give his challenger a slice of that “free publicity?”

“It’ll be a cold day in Texas before we give our opponent the opportunity to have free name recognition by having a debate,” Todd M. Smith told The News on Tuesday. “As the lieutenant governor said, there’s not anybody in Texas who doesn’t know where Sid Miller stands on the issues.”

[…]

Kim Olson, who is seen as both forceful and folksy, accused Miller of running scared.

“Candidates should earn their votes, and the only way to do that is to present yourself,” Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, told The News. “It is suspect when an incumbent will not defend his record or present a vision of the future.”

Collier accused Patrick of ensconcing himself away “in his bunker, sending out audio snippets to the few supporters that remain, that are chock full of spin and nonsense,” to which Blakemore shot back with a long list of Patrick’s campaign events over the last two days, including a meeting with the Dallas Police Association, folks from UT Southwestern and a group of conservative women in Tomball.

And Suazo, the energy lawyer who wants to run the Alamo and manage the state’s mineral rights as land commissioner, said Bush should live up to his name: “Every other candidate named George Bush has debated, except this one. That’s because his record is indefensible and he knows that I’ll beat him.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s spokesman did not return calls and emails requesting comment. In a November television appearance, Paxton (who was indicted in July 2015 and is awaiting trial on fraud charges) said he would “be happy to debate anybody on the issues and look forward to it.

It was unclear if he meant an election opponent. Paxton refused to meet his challenger in 2014. His opponent this time around is Justin Nelson, a Houston attorney. On Wednesday, the Nelson campaign released a video featuring a clip of Paxton’s November appearance where he says he’d be “happy to debate anybody.”

“Sounds good, Ken,” the ad says. “Ready when you are.”

See here for the background, and here for the comparison to Ted Cruz. I love how Patrick sends his spokesperson out to fight his verbal battles for him. The Warner Brothers cartoon image of a small yappy dog hiding behind his bulldog friend while barking at a cat really comes to mind. And while one has to give Sid Miller some props for being honest about why he doesn’t want to debate anyone, especially not an icky girl like Kim Olson who surely has cooties, it’s hilarious and entirely in character that he cites Dan Patrick’s reasoning, as he lacks the originality to come up with his own. If it’s not a Facebook meme, it’s too complicated for Miller. Again, I get the rationale for not wanting to give publicity to an underfunded opponent, but the lack of confidence in their own abilities is startling. What a bunch of chickens.

Debating debates

We have an agreement for a debate (mostly) between Greg Abbott and Lupe Valdez.

Lupe Valdez

Incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott agreed Wednesday to participate in a televised statewide debate with Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez, the first in the general election runup.

Abbott said he has accepted an invitation from Nexstar Media Group for a statewide debate with Valdez in Austin from 7-8 p.m. on Sept. 28 at a location to be determined

The debate will be broadcast statewide on television and online, and will be carried on the twelve stations Nexstar Media Group owns and operates across Texas, in addition to partner stations in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

[…]

In a Tweet, Valdez accepted the chance to debate Abbott — but not on Sept. 28, a Friday night when most Texans watching high school football, not politicians on the tube.

“Thanks @GregAbbott_TX for accepting a debate!” she said in her message. “We’re in and always happy to discuss our vision for a Texas that works for all. We haven’t agreed to the terms yet — but seriously, during Friday Night Lights? Texans deserve better. Call me, maybe?”

Getting a debate scheduled at all is a decent accomplishment. I wouldn’t have been surprised in the least if Abbott had basically pretended he had no opponent and didn’t respond to any request for a debate. Don’t put too much hope in a better time slot, is what I’m saying.

Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz are debating the terms of their debates.

O’Rourke, a Congressman from El Paso, said on Tuesday that he sent Cruz’s campaign a second letter calling for them to begin coordinating six debates before the Nov. 6 general election. O’Rourke wants two of the debates in Spanish.

“At this critical moment for our country, when everything we are about is on the line, when the stakes couldn’t be higher, Texans deserve a serious debate on these issues and it’s a debate I want to have,” O’Rourke said in statement to the media.

Cruz’s campaign sent O’Rourke’s campaign acknowledgment of the second request for a debate and noted Cruz “has made it quite clear he is looking forward to debating Congressman O’Rourke.”

“However, your arbitrary timeline for coordinating between the campaigns remains irrelevant to our decision-making process” a letter from Cruz for Senate advisor Bryan English states. “We will let you know when we are ready to discuss the details of joint appearances.”

I feel reasonably confident saying that there will be fewer than six debates, and they will all be in English. Keep pushing for what you want, Beto, but be ready to settle and actually get debating.

Last but not least, from the inbox:

Miguel Suazo, the Democratic Nominee for Land Commissioner, is calling on George P. Bush to follow the lead of Greg Abbott and debate his Democratic challenger.

“With the fall schedule filling-up, now is the time to commit to a public debate,” said Miguel Suazo, who is an energy and natural resources attorney based in the Austin area. “Every other George Bush has debated for public office – I’m encouraging you to continue the legacy.”

The most appropriate place to debate might be the Texas Tribune Festival, but Suazo is open to debating anytime and any place.

Added Suazo: “I think all statewide Republicans should debate their Democratic opponents. And like Gov. Abbot, we can pick a time when your supporters won’t see it, since I am going to dismantle your record as Land Commissioner. How about between 6-8AM while you are reading Trump’s tweets?”

It would be nice to have debates for all the statewide offices. That’s what democracy is about, right? Good on Miguel Suazo for putting it out there.

Remember the (gross mismanagement by George P. Bush’s Land Office at the) Alamo

Maybe remember this in November.

As the election season rolls on, keep this in mind when Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush opens his mouth: The officeholder from the state’s best-known political family certainly knows how to spin a story.

Back in February, Bush was in a noisy Republican primary fight with his predecessor, Jerry Patterson. Among other things, Patterson is an Alamo buff. He has made it abundantly clear that he thinks Bush has mismanaged things at that monument. And he got some support of that view from a draft of an internal audit critical of the “structure and funding model” at the Alamo put in place by the General Land Office.

“Internal” is an important word in the previous sentence. That draft audit — along with the final version that came out this week — was issued by the internal auditor in Bush’s own agency. That’s what internal auditors are supposed to do, to tell you when there’s spinach on your teeth, toilet paper stuck to your shoe, oddities in your accounting and so on.

They point things out to management. Management is supposed to clean things up.

The draft audit was first revealed by the Austin American-Statesman in early February, and other reporters caught up with the land commissioner to see what he thought about it. “I can’t really comment on the document,” Bush said at the time. “I cannot disclose, but we do have evidence that it was a doctored memo.”

Here’s the lead paragraph from the draft audit — also the lead paragraph of the final audit:

“GLO should reconsider the structure and funding model it uses for operating the Alamo. A contractor performs the daily operations, but it uses state resources to do this, as it does not have its own funds or other assets. This is an unusual situation that has created complexity and a lack of clarity regarding the nature and the use of the funds used for Alamo operations. It is also the root cause of several of the observations in this report.”

[…]

Auditors typically give space to the people and organizations under the microscope, a place to make arguments, to disagree or to point out things the auditors might have missed. In this audit, the top line sort of slams the door: “Management concurs with the recommendations.”

Here’s a copy of the audit report, with more recent news coverage from the Statesman and the Chron. You have to admire the gall it takes to claim that an audit report by his own agency, signed off by his own management, is “fake news”, but that’s how stupid Baby Bush thinks you are. Here’s the key takeaway:

Bush faces Democrat Miguel Suazo in the fall. Suazo said Thursday the audit “clearly demonstrates that George P. Bush is in over his head and lacks the competence to manage our state’s most historic landmark.”

There’s a reason why Jerry Patterson came out of retirement to try to win his old job back. I hope you’re still committed to bringing change to the GLO this November, Jerry.

2018 primary results: Statewide

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

For comparison purposes:

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

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

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

And on a related note:

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 1

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

For Lite Guv: Anyone but Dan.

Lieutenant governor: Scott Milder

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

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

Democratic Lieutenant governor: Mike Collier

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

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

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

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

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

Land Commissioner: Not Baby Bush.

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

Now the real deal has become a real disappointment.

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

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

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

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

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

For County Treasurer – Dylan Osborne

Dylan Osborne

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

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

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

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

And for HCDE: Josh Wallenstein and Danny Norris.

County School Trustee Position 3, At large: Josh Wallenstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interviews:

Josh Wallenstein
Richard Cantu
Elvonte Patton
Danny Norris
John Miller

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

The Land Office in the news

Please enjoy this coverage of a downballot statewide race, which is not something we get all that much of.

Jerry Patterson

Incumbent George P. Bush, the 41-year-old grandson and nephew of U.S. presidents, is facing off against his outspoken predecessor Jerry Patterson, 71, who wants his old job back after leaving it to unsuccessfully run for lieutenant governor.

Despite its low profile, the land commissioner has one of the state’s most critical jobs, especially now as hundreds of communities, including Houston, continue to recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“The (governor), the lieutenant governor and other statewide elected officials, including the land commissioner, are important positions because they touch so many lives,” said David Dewhurst, who served as the land commissioner from 1999 to 2003.

The Texas land commissioner is responsible for cleaning up oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, raising money for schools, preserving the state’s most iconic landmark, doling out benefits to veterans and helping communities recover from a natural disaster.

“Our land commissioner oversees extensive programs that benefit our veterans, and our oil and gas activities, which are important to provide more funding for public education, particularly when the Legislature has not been as aggressive as it has in the past to provide funding for public schools,” Dewhurst said.

[…]

Tex Morgan, who is running as a Democrat, said that if elected he’ll work to increase awareness about the land office’s duties.

“Too few Texans know the scope or depth of the GLO’s responsibilities, programs and opportunities,” Morgan, 31, said.

[…]

Miguel Suazo, a Democrat on the primary ballot, has repeatedly called out Bush for not demanding that the state tap its rainy day fund, which has about $10 billion available for budget emergencies.

In a January interview with the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Bush expressed support for calling a special session so that the state could provide more money for Harvey relief. A few days after the interview was published, Bush walked back the statement saying he “misspoke.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has said calling a special session is unnecessary.

“I agree that calling a special session is not necessary,” Bush said. “I will continue to work under Gov. Abbott’s leadership as we help Texans throughout the hurricane recovery process.”

Since recovery efforts began, Bush has said the land office is at the mercy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which determines eligibility for the recovery programs and distributes the funds.

Bush has three primary opponents, of whom his predecessor Jerry Patterson would appear to be his biggest threat. I feel like he’ll probably win, but let’s remember, Baby Bush was the top votegetter in the state among Republicans with Democratic opponents in 2014. He toyed with the idea of running for Governor before “settling” on the Land Office while he built his resume and bided his time till the old farts got out of his way and he could ascend to the throne vie for the top spot. He was a rising star, the half-Latino face of the Republican future, and now he could actually fail to win re-nomination. The fact that he has non-token opposition at all is remarkable.

(Oh, and also, too: Secret mansions financed by undisclosed loans. I mean, seriously?)

On the Democratic side, Suazo was the first candidate in, while Morgan filed at the last minute. They both look all right, though at this point I don’t know enough about them to make a choice yet. This is one of those races where I’ll probably let myself be guided by endorsements more than anything else. If you have a strong feeling about either Suazo or Morgan, leave a comment and let us know.

The statewide lineups

Here’s the statewide lineup for Democrats. I’ll add in some notes afterwards.

U. S. Senator Beto O’Rourke
U. S. Senator Edward Kimbrough
U. S. Senator Sema Hernandez
Governor Adrian Ocegueda
Governor Andrew White
Governor Cedric Davis, Sr.
Governor Demetria Smith
Governor Grady Yarbrough
Governor James Jolly Clark
Governor Jeffrey Payne
Governor Joe Mumbach
Governor Lupe Valdez
Governor Tom Wakely
Lieutenant Governor Michael Cooper
Lieutenant Governor Mike Collier
Attorney General Justin Nelson
Comptroller of Public Accounts Joi Chevalier
Comptroller of Public Accounts Tim Mahoney
Commissioner of the General Land Office Miguel Suazo
Commissioner of the General Land Office Tex Morgan
Commissioner of Agriculture Kim Olson
Railroad Commissioner Chris Spellmon
Railroad Commissioner Roman McAllen
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 2 Steven Kirkland
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 4 R.K. Sandill
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 6 Kathy Cheng
Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Maria T. (Terri) Jackson
Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 7 Ramona Franklin

Just a few tidbits about some of the later entrants into the races:

Sema Hernandez was on the SOS filing page for a day or two, then disappeared from it until deadline day. I have no idea what was up with that.

Edward Kimbrough is apparently from Houston. I can’t find anything online about him.

There were two late filers in the Governor’s race, because apparently eight was not enough. James Jolly Clark is from Austin and appears to have been involved in some interesting lawsuits. Demetria Smith is a perennial candidate from Houston.

Joi Chevalier is a culinary entrepreneur. At first glance at least, she appears to have an interesting profile. It would have been nice to have heard of her before now.

Tex Morgan is a programmer in San Antonio who serves as a VIA Metropolitan Transit trustee, and has an even more interesting profile.

Chris Spellmon was a candidate for HCDP Chair who ultimately endorsed Eartha Jean Johnson in that race.

Some of these races are perhaps a bit more interesting than I expected them to be. I’ll do a separate post looking at Congressional and legislative candidates later.

There weren’t any late entrants of interest for statewide races on the Republican side. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing is that Baby Bush got multiple challengers but no one opposed Ken Paxton. Given that there is a nonzero chance he could get convicted of a felony next year, that seems like a curious outcome. Hey, their problem, not mine.

The TDP touted its ginormous candidate tally late Monday. I’ll summarize as follows:

All 36 Congressional seats are contested, with 110 total candidates.
14 of 15 State Senate seats are contested, with 24 total candidates.
133 of 150 State House seats are contested, with 189 total candidates.

Someone with a much more in depth knowledge of Texas’ political history will have to say when the last time was that we had a similar set of Democratic primary races. I’ll try to do a similar let-me-Google-that-for-you overview of these folks in the coming days, as time allows.

Finally, one more news item of interest:

Former U.S. Congressman Nick Lampson just filed to run as a Democrat for Jefferson County judge, KFDM/Fox 4 has learned.

The deadline to file was 6 p.m. Lampson will not face an opponent in the primary, but is challenging Republican incumbent Jeff Branick in next November’s general election.

I’m a longtime fan of Nick Lampson’s, so I’m happy to see him stay involved. The incumbent switched from D to R this year, so it would be nice to send him packing. Stace and RG Ratcliffe have more.

The Harvey effect on the state budget

You know what the solution to this is, right?

Senate leaders warned Tuesday that Hurricane Harvey could put a billion-dollar hole in Texas’ budget, an ever-growing number that could affect how much money is available for other state programs.

Only $20 million remains in the state disaster-assistance fund, Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson said at a public hearing Tuesday on the status of hurricane recovery efforts.

“Our state costs are escalating,” said Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “We need to be judicious. … If we, God forbid, had another disaster in the next 18 months, where would we get the money?”

The Legislature will not convene in a regular session until January 2019.

The state has spent more than $1.7 billion so far in state funds, along with billions in federal assistance, according to updated numbers provided to the committee on Tuesday. Legislative Budget Board officials said as much as $2 billion in additional state funds may be needed in 2019 to cover hurricane-related school costs.

[…]

[Land Commissioner George P.] Bush said that $1 billion in immediate state funding would allow temporary housing assistance to be speeded up. Those funds could be fully reimbursed later by the federal government, he said.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, suggested those funds could be borrowed quickly from the state’s Rainy Day Fund – a savings account – to expedite the housing recovery for thousands of Texans, some of whom are living in tents.

“We’d need to have a special session” to approve that borrowing, West said, drawing silence from other committee members.

Yes, that is what the Rainy Day fund is for. Not specifically for disaster recovery – that was the bogus justification invented by Rick Perry in 2011 as an excuse for not alleviating cuts to the public education budget – but to help cover budget shortfalls in bad times. The choice is pretty simple, either we draw money from the Rainy Day fund to help the thousands of people who remain displaced by Harvey, or we decide they’re not worth our time and compassion. No wonder Sen. West got no response when he brought it up.

Filing news: Jerry’s back

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

Jerry Patterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t hold your breath waiting for federal Harvey recovery money

Settle in for the long haul.

It could be months, if not years, before southeast Texans and scores of counties and cities receive federal funds to pay for the long-term rebuilding and recovery of homes and communities battered by Hurricane Harvey’s epic rains.

Federal Emergency Management Agency money for short-term relief like debris removal and some house repairs is already flowing to people and government agencies. But state lawmakers were told Monday that Housing and Urban Development disaster relief funds, which includes money for extensive home repairs or rebuilds, could take seven to 32 months to work their way through bureaucratic processes and several layers of government agencies.

“It could be some time,” Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush told the House Urban Affairs Committee.

[…]

People affected by disasters receive HUD disaster relief funds, which are distributed as grants from various government agencies and non-profits. Before the government agencies can disperse the money, they must develop an action plan that HUD approves. The public must also have a chance to comment on the plan, a process that can take 30 to 60 days. Texas officials have asked that time period be reduced to seven days.

State officials told lawmakers that immediate FEMA payments are for homes that are up to 50 percent damaged. Long-term HUD disaster relief funds cover homes damaged beyond that threshold, they said.

Beth Van Duyne, the regional HUD administrator for Texas and four other states, said the agency is working to fast-track all processes.

“What we’re trying to do is make those time periods in between as tight as possible, realizing people need help today,” she said in an interview with The Texas Tribune last month.

The funds also come with certain limitations on how they can be spent and who should receive them. Congress approved $7.4 billion in HUD disaster relief funds last month. But that may have to be shared with Florida and Puerto Rico, which have each been hit by hurricanes in the weeks after Harvey battered Texas, unless legislators approve another aid package.

State officials said it could be November before HUD releases allocations and the stipulations on how such funds can be spent. From there, the state’s General Land Office plans to work with metropolitan planning organizations to develop disbursement plans and determine how to divvy money up across such a wide swath of the state.

Part of the deliberateness is just that you need to know who needs how much for what. You want funds to go to those who need them, so you have to do some due diligence. That’s one reason why it’s necessary to have funding from multiple sources, including the state, since different agencies and commissions and whatnot can attack various aspects of the overall need. In the meantime, we’re asking for more from the feds, and we’re going to need that and still more beyond it. It’s not just the things that need to be rebuilt, it’s people’s lives. So much of that is harder to see up front, but we’ll see the effects of it for years, if not generations.

Texas asks for Ike Dike money from the feds

Good luck with that.

Almost a decade after Hurricane Ike killed dozens of people and caused $30 billion in damage, a group of Texas politicians and business leaders say they finally have “all the support necessary” to break ground on a massive coastal barrier that would protect the Houston area from another devastating hurricane.

Now they just need $15 billion to build it. And that’s what they urged the federal government to provide in a recent letter to President Donald Trump.

Signers of the letter include Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, more than 20 area mayors, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and several Houston-area members of the Texas Legislature.

[…]

Even for a president that has pledged to restore the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, the barrier will be a tough sell. Such an ambitious public works project has never been built in anticipation of a natural catastrophe. It took the Great Storm of 1900, which killed thousands of people in Galveston, to get a seawall constructed on the island; New Orleans’ failing levee system was not fixed until after Hurricane Katrina killed nearly 2,000 people in 2005; and only after Hurricane Sandy devastated New York did Congress allocate a significant amount of money to pay for storm protection studies.

The massive projects that do get funding also usually require years of planning and federal studies. In December, then-President Barack Obama signed a law that might help speed up that process for the Ike Dike, but there is still no official consensus plan on exactly what to build. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will have the final say on what plan to pursue and is conducting its own study of the issue, has estimated that construction on any such system for Texas couldn’t begin until 2024 at the earliest.

And it might take far more than $15 billion to get the coastal spine up and running. Some have estimated it will actually cost twice that to build it, not including the money necessary for continued maintenance and operation of the barrier system.

We know what Trump’s promises are worth, so take that “pledge” with an appropriate amount of sea salt. That said, there’s no real precedent for this as noted in the story, and it’s not like the Republican Congress is inclined to spend money on anything but the Pentagon and tax cuts for the rich. So yeah, go ahead and ask – it costs nothing to ask – but don’t get your hopes up. The Chron has more.

“Grab her by the p—-“

Donald Trump, ladies and gentlemen:

Donald Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women during a 2005 conversation caught on a hot microphone, saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it,” according to a video obtained by The Washington Post.

The video captures Trump talking with Billy Bush, then of “Access Hollywood,” on a bus with the show’s name written across the side. They were arriving on the set of “Days of Our Lives” to tape a segment about Trump’s cameo on the soap opera.

The tape includes audio of Bush and Trump talking inside the bus, as well as audio and video once they emerge from it to begin shooting the segment.

In that audio, Trump discusses a failed attempt to seduce a woman, whose full name is not given in the video.

“I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it,” Trump is heard saying. It was unclear when the events he was describing took place. The tape was recorded several months after he married his third wife, Melania.

“Whoa,” another voice said.

“I did try and f— her. She was married,” Trump says.

Trump continues: “And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, ‘I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.’”

“I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married,” Trump says. “Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”

At that point in the audio, Trump and Bush appear to notice Arianne Zucker, the actress who is waiting to escort them into the soap-opera set.

“Your girl’s hot as s—, in the purple,” says Bush, who’s now a co-host of NBC’s “Today” show.

“Whoa!” Trump says. “Whoa!”

“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her,” Trump says. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”

“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

“Whatever you want,” says another voice, apparently Bush’s.

“Grab them by the p—y,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

I don’t have any snark to bring for this. It’s hardly a surprise, given all we know about Donald Trump, though it’s still shocking in a way that I didn’t think I could still be shocked. The coordinated national Republican response has been rolled out, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot of it over the next thirty-something days.

And sure enough, Dan Patrick was quick to “condemn” Trump for what he said. Of course, there’s literally nothing Trump could say or do that would persuade Dan Patrick that Donald Trump is manifestly unqualified and incapable of being President, so take it for what it’s worth. That leaves Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Greg Abbott, Ken Paxton, George P. Bush, Sid Miller, and every other Texas Republican that has endorsed and worked to help elect Donald Trump to let us know what they have to say for themselves. Because as with Patrick, what they have to say about it will say a lot about themselves as well.

UPDATE: What Josh Marshall says.

Endorsement watch: P for Trump

Better to be P’ed off than P’ed on, as they say.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who has not endorsed Donald Trump, is now asking Texas Republicans to support the party’s presidential nominee.

Addressing state GOP activists Saturday, Bush said it was time to put aside any lingering animosity from the primaries — where Trump defeated Bush’s dad, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, among others — and get behind Trump.

“From Team Bush, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but you know what? You get back up and you help the man that won, and you make sure that we stop Hillary Clinton,” Bush said, according to video of the remarks provided by an audience member.

Bush was speaking in his capacity as the Texas GOP’s victory chairman, who is responsible for overseeing the party’s statewide campaign in November. Bush had been criticized for taking the role without backing the party’s presidential nominee.

Bush’s remarks Saturday were at a training meeting for members of the State Republican Executive Committee and county chairs. The group also heard from a Trump aide, Matt Mowers.

Well, no one ever said that Baby Bush wasn’t a good little soldier. With his bending of the knee, every member of the state Republican leadership save for Speaker Joe Straus has now endorsed Trump. Some have been more vocal about it than others, while some have played the “let’s support our nominee, whose name must not be mentioned” game, but in the end they joined hands with other distinguished company in supporting their Great Leader. Hope it’s not too awkward for you next Thanksgiving, dude.

Legislative hearing on emergency leave

Figure this will be on the legislative agenda next spring.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

At a Texas House hearing Tuesday looking into how some state agencies were able to keep some departing employees on the public payroll by granting them emergency leave, lawmakers expressed frustration that vague state rules may have allowed the practice.

“I want to know exactly … if there [were] any violations of the law or violations of the process, and I think that’s incumbent upon everybody on this committee to figure out if that transpired,” said Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. “If the law wasn’t broken, then I want to know exactly how we can correct it.”

Lawmakers on the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics were looking into whether heads of agencies have too much discretion when it comes to awarding emergency leave.

“There’s going to be absolute certain change to this statute, but let’s work together to get it right,” said Committee Chairman Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, during the hearing.

Texas does not award severance pay to state employees, but recent news reports showed that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid both his first assistant attorney general and communications director for months after they left the agency by categorizing both as being on emergency leave. Other reports revealed a similar practice in the General Land Office where departing employees continued to receive compensation, though not through emergency leave.

Emergency leave is often used as a way of permitting state employees to take a leave of absence for a death in the family, but the law also allows agency heads to grant it for other unspecified situations.

In June, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, asked the Legislature to examine the issue. He had previously called for limiting the practice in order to ensure “that agencies use taxpayer dollars appropriately.”

See here and here for the background. There’s a request for an investigation by the Rangers into the severances, but I don’t know where that stands. As a philosophical matter, I don’t particularly object to severance packages for state employees. There ought to be some limit on them, but I don’t think they need to be banned completely. The use of emergency leave as a form of severance package, done as a way of keeping people quiet as they’re being shown the door, is another matter, one that deserves a close look from the Lege. I don’t know what action they’ll take, but it will be something. The Chron has more.

Abbott orders state agencies to obey the law

Better late than never.

Droppin’ dimes, droppin’ dimes

Gov. Greg Abbott and Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Wednesday ordered state agencies to stop paying departing employees by placing them on “emergency leave.”

“Pursuant to this directive, the use of emergency leave, administrative leave or other mechanisms to continue paying state employees who have ceased to work will be prohibited,” the directive from Abbott and Hegar stated. The directive will remain in place until the Legislature takes up the issue during next year’s legislative session, Abbott’s office said.

The Dallas Morning News and other media outlets have recently reported on the growing practice by agencies to keep departing employees on the payroll by placing them on “emergency leave,” often as a form of severance.

The practice first came to light after reports that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid his first assistant attorney and communications director for months after they left the agency. Subsequent stories revealed the General Land Office continued to pay departing employees without using the emergency leave designation.

Representatives of both agencies said they will follow the governor’s new order.

“We appreciate Governor Abbott’s leadership,” said Marc Rylander, spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “We do not disagree with the Governor’s new policy for all agencies subject to the direction of the governor, and we will concur with it moving forward.”

Brittany Eck, GLO spokeswoman, said the agency will suspend the use of separation agreements until lawmakers decide how to proceed.

“We look forward to continuing our work with the Governor, Comptroller, and members of the Texas Legislature to not only clarify the law on this issue but also discuss how state agencies should manage its workforce in an efficient and cost-effective manner,” Eck said.

See here and here for the background. The Lone Star Project requested an investigation into this a couple of days ago. I guess it had finally gotten to the point where Abbott could no longer ignore the issue. Trail Blazers and the Chron have more.

Lone Star Project requests investigation of severance packages

From the inbox:

BagOfMoney

Today, Lone Star Project Director Matt Angle sent letters to the Texas Rangers, the State Auditor and the Travis County District Attorney requesting formal investigations into a series of questionable payments made by Attorney General Ken Paxton, State Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, State Land Commissioner George P. Bush and other state officials.

Improper Payments Detailed in Investigative News Reports

Widespread abuse of state employee compensation has been detailed in a series of investigative news reports by the Houston Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and other Texas publications over recent weeks.  The reports point to the systematic use of “emergency leave” as well as document manipulation to allow some state employees to quit or be removed from their state jobs but continue receiving thousands of dollars in state pay.   In some cases, the payments appear intended to provide special treatment to politically connected or otherwise favored employees.  In other instances, the payments may be a form of hush money to keep specific employees from criticizing state officials or disclosing information that might prove incriminating or embarrassing.

Angle’s letter to the Texas Rangers can be seen here and reads in part:

“These reports confirm that, contrary to the intent of law, multiple statewide officeholders have provided certain employees with emergency leave packages as a form of severance pay or even settlement agreements.”

“The intentional misuse of state funds violates both the spirit and the letter of the emergency leave provision of state law and could be viewed by Texas taxpayers as the equivalent of tax-payer funded hush money.”

“Specifically, the facts outlined by state news media and Texas state law merit a full investigation of the Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, Land Commissioner, Teacher Retirement System, Water Development Board and potentially other agencies for violations of Texas Penal Code 39.02 (Abuse of Official Capacity), Section 36.02 (Bribery), and Section 37.10 (Tampering with a Government Record).”

See here and here for the background. I had assumed someone would file a complaint over this sooner or later. The Rangers and the State Auditor can add it to their growing to-do list. The Chron has more.

More on severance pay and the Land Commissioner’s office

The law doesn’t apply here.

BagOfMoney

After reports of state agencies keeping former employees on the payroll after they stopped working, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other agency heads have taken heat for stretching the rules on paid “emergency leave” to keep the ex-workers on the books.

But when 26 employees were paid for an additional one to two months after they quit working for the General Land Office, Land Commissioner George P. Bush didn’t use emergency leave or any other type of paid leave established in law to compensate them. Instead, Bush’s agency treated the former employees as if they were still working, sending time sheets to the comptroller’s office indicating they had shown up to work.

The arrangement raises questions about whether the agency properly awarded and reported the paid leave, which amounted to at least $383,000 for the 26 employees let go during Bush’s “reboot” of the agency after he took office in January 2015.

An additional 14 employees signed separation agreements when they left the agency after Bush was elected in November 2014 but before he was sworn in. Bush’s predecessor, Jerry Patterson, said those terminations should also be included as part of Bush’s agency reorganization because Patterson allowed Bush and his interim team to decide who should be hired and fired during that period.

[…]

State law spells out several types of paid leave — for such events as illnesses, vacation and deaths in the family — and the comptroller’s office requires agencies to indicate what type of leave an absent employee is getting by selecting a time sheet code that matches a leave category established in law.

The General Land Office, however, didn’t select any type of leave for the 26 employees with separation agreements, and the agency has since said it left the leave field blank because there was no leave category that corresponded to their circumstance. “Because there was not a more accurate code, we used what was readily available to us, and we didn’t want to miscategorize it as something that is not accurate,” agency spokeswoman Brittany Eck said.

For Buck Wood, a former deputy comptroller and expert on Texas government and ethics law, that omission is proof that the leave wasn’t authorized by state law.

“There’s got to be an appropriation, and there’s also got to be a law behind an appropriation that authorizes it,” Wood said. “In this case, neither exists. There is no such thing as severance pay (in state law), and there’s no appropriation for it, so it’s just totally and completely illegal.”

Also, Wood said, any time sheets approved by the General Land Office that indicated employees were still working after they had left the agency might constitute falsification of government records, a felony offense.

Bush’s staff said such payments are standard practice in the business world because they are efficient. Noting that none of the 100 employees who left the agency under Bush have sued for discrimination, Eck said the agreements save taxpayer money by reducing potential litigation risks and legal fees.

See here for the background. You almost have to admire their tenacity with the “it’s totally legit in the private sector” defense. Who cares that this is the public sector, or that knowing how our money is spent and how our public offices are being run are things we are supposed to value? Not George P. Bush, that’s for sure. You won’t get that kind of clarity of vision from just anyone. Ross Ramsey has more.

You get a severance! And you get a severance!

Everybody gets a severance package!

BagOfMoney

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has spent nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to entice dozens of people fired by his administration to agree not to sue him or the agency, a practice that may run afoul of a ban on severance pay for state workers.

Bush, a first-term Republican, has directed the General Land Office to keep at least 40 people on the payroll for as long as five months after ending their employment, according to an analysis of records obtained by the Houston Chronicle. The ex-staffers did not have to use vacation time, and, in fact, continued to accrue more time for as long as they were on the payroll. In return, they agreed in writing not to sue the agency or discuss the deal.

Many of the recipients were top aides to former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson who were fired during an agency “reboot” in which Bush replaced more than 100 employees.

Such separation arrangements are made frequently in the corporate world, but are not allowed in Texas government, where there is no severance and staffers generally are required to work to be paid, according to employment lawyers, union leaders and former state officials.

“I can understand the thinking of an agency head who wants to get rid of someone and thinks that this is an easy way to do it, but this is not the way to do it,” said Buck Wood, an ethics expert and former deputy state comptroller, noting the detailed rules that govern how agencies can spend money do not authorize that purpose. “Keeping someone on the payroll when they’re not coming to work so you can avoid the hassle of a lawsuit is just illegal.”

Malinda Gaul, a San Antonio employment lawyer who has represented state workers for 33 years, said she had never heard of such an arrangement.

[…]

Steve Aragon, a former general counsel for the Health and Human Services Commission, said he thinks there are justifiable reasons to pay employees for not working, including to prevent litigation in cases in which it was clear that a staffer likely would not come back. However, he said, it is not something that state agencies should do frequently.

“These situations should be exceptional and would not be expected as a matter of routine,” Aragon said.

Others objected to any use of the practice, including Seth Hutchinson, a spokesman for the Texas State Employees Union.

“It’s not an appropriate use of state funds,” Hutchinson said. “If people are being wrongfully fired, they’re being wrongfully fired, and they shouldn’t be using state funds to cover it up.”

After being told that it is not uncommon in the corporate world, Hutchinson scoffed.

“State government should be held to a higher standard of accountability,” he said.

This is getting to be quite the pattern, isn’t it? It’s almost like Baby Bush and Ken Paxton and Sid Miller have no regard for the law but only care about their own interests. I presume someone will file a complaint about this, thus providing Greg Abbott another opportunity to profess ignorance about what’s happening in his government. Keep it up, fellas.

Don’t expect Congress to pay for a Gulf Coast floodgate system

I sure don’t.

After nearly a decade of bickering and finger pointing, Texas scientists and lawmakers finally seem to agree that building some version of a “coastal spine” — a massive seawall and floodgate system — would best help protect the Houston region from a devastating hurricane.

But with a price tag sure to reach into the billions, the spine will almost certainly require a massive infusion of federal money, state officials agree. Whether Texas’ congressional delegation has the political backbone to deliver the cash remains to be seen.

While state officials say the project enjoys the full support of Texans in Congress, almost every member has been silent on the issue, including those who hold the most sway.

“Everything depends on how long it takes us to get Congress,” said Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, a local economic development organization. “We could have a hurricane in three months.”

In March, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica published an extensive look at what Houston’s perfect storm would look like. Scientists, experts, and public officials say that such a hurricane would kill thousands and cripple the national economy.

Building some sort of coastal barrier system around Galveston and Houston would rank as one of the nation’s most ambitious public works projects and would be unlikely to succeed without champions in Washington. State leaders and Houston-area congressmen cited U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Kevin Brady of Houston as those most likely to fill the role of standard bearer.

Cornyn and Brady, both Republicans, declined repeated interview requests about the coastal project over a period of months. The state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz, is busy running for president, and his staff has said he is waiting results of further studies. Of the 36 members representing Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives, only five agreed to interviews on the subject.

At the state level, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who has made coastal protection one of his top priorities, said he hopes for support from Brady, who chairs one of the most powerful committees in the U.S. House. He also mentioned Cornyn.

Congressman Randy Weber, a Republican from Friendswood, said he is already pushing the issue, but added that a senator’s support will be critical.

“John Cornyn, of course, a senior senator, majority whip over on the Senate side, would be a great one to champion the cause,” he said.

[…]

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also just started studying the issue, and Cornyn’s office emphasized that he signed a letter last October in support of that effort. But the study will take at least five years.

In another letter sent last November, 32 members of the House delegation urged the Army Corps to speed up the process even though it is at the mercy of funding from Congress.

Meanwhile, the next hurricane season is just two months away.

“Don’t just write a letter and think that you’re done with it,” said Michel Bechtel, the mayor of Morgan’s Point, an industrial town on the Houston Ship Channel that was nearly wiped out during Hurricane Ike in 2008. “Let’s get some dollars flowing down here and let’s build it.”

Republican Congressman Pete Olson said the Corps is taking too long and should have started its efforts earlier. But for years it didn’t have the money to study hurricane protection for the Houston region. The agency was able to start last fall only because the Texas General Land Office agreed to pay for half the $20 million study at the insistence of Bush.

Congress is supposed to provide the rest, but the Army Corps will have to ask for it every year until the study is complete.

Asked if he thinks Congress will commit to the $10 million, Olson said the Corps had never given him that dollar figure. “They told you that, but not me that,” he said.

[…]

Weber said he thinks the federal government should help pay for a hurricane protection barrier, but he wouldn’t comment on whether his colleagues in Congress agree with him.

“I don’t know, well, maybe,” he said.

See here, here, and here for the background. I say the odds of Congress agreeing to pony up some $10 billion or so for a coastal floodgate system are pretty damn low. I cannot imagine Randy Weber’s nihilistic teabagger caucus members going along with it. Hell, I’d bet money right now that the Texas Republican Congressional caucus is not all on board with the idea, and I’ll even exclude Ted Cruz from consideration. Look at the recent track record of Congressional Republicans not wanting to appropriate funds to places that had been hit by actual disasters (two words: Superstorm Sandy) and ask yourself why they would vote to spend money on a disaster that hasn’t happened and may never do so in their lifetime. All spending is political now, and the death of earmarks makes dealmaking a lot harder. The fact that there isn’t unanimity about the best kind of flood mitigation system doesn’t help, either. Maybe someday, in a different political climate, but not now. Don’t be surprised if you see another article like this being written a couple of years from now.

Another floodgate proposed

Third time’s the charm, right?

Academic leaders have long beseeched government officials to learn from the damage caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and harden the upper Texas coast against future threats.

Finally, on Monday, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of projects to limit flood and storm surge damage.

“It is time to take action,” said Bush, who came into office in January. “This has been a priority of mine since the campaign.”

That effort will build upon several previous studies, including one to be released Tuesday, which have found that a gate system in Galveston Bay, costing less than $3 billion, could provide protection from future hurricanes for $37 billion in chemical and other facilities along the Houston Ship Channel, as well as$9 billion in residential property.

These academic studies, funded by the Houston Endowment and managed by academic leaders from Rice University, the University of Houston, Texas A&M University at Galveston and other institutions, have presented a range of options to protect the coast.

The latest possibility calls for building a floodgate across the Ship Channel near San Leon.

This “mid-bay” gate would be tied to an extensive network of man-made reefs and island berms, most of which already exist, to safeguard not only industry along the Ship Channel but also homes in rapidly developing areas such as League City along the west side of Galveston Bay.

See here, here, and here for the background. Credit where credit is due, Bush is the first public official to get behind this idea, and if he can take it somewhere it will be a good thing. Cost has always been the main obstacle, but as the Trib reminds us, it’s not the only one.

Everything about the $2.8 billion plan from the Severe Storm Prediction Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center, or SSPEED, screams compromise.

The proposed location is roughly halfway between the upper-bay Centennial Gate and the lower-bay Ike Dike — and borrows certain features from the latter, including some new levees and elevated roadways. Its estimated price tag also falls somewhere in the middle, but closer to the $1.5 billion Centennial Gate than the $4 billion to $8 billion estimate for the Ike Dike.

The “mid-bay” plan — contained in the first of three annual reports from the center, and so far lacking a catchy moniker — calls for installing a storm surge-deterring gate as tall as 25 feet across the nearly 700-foot-wide Houston Ship Channel near the community of San Leon. The manmade channel connects the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of Houston, the busiest seaport in the U.S. by some measurements.

SSPEED Center officials say sophisticated storm modeling shows the structure would — in a Category 3 hurricane with wind speeds about 15 percent higher than those during Ike — “significantly reduce storm-surge flooding in both the Houston Ship Channel and in the heavily populated west Galveston Bay communities that are difficult to evacuate.”

That’s a direct response to the main criticism levied against the Centennial Gate, which coastal residents argued shielded the refineries along the ship channel at the expense of surrounding neighborhoods. (As for the Ike Dike, it has been criticized for its high cost and potential environmental impact.)

The mid-bay plan “is a much superior alternative in my mind at least than what we had previously looked at,” said Rice University professor Jim Blackburn, noting that “the consensus was that the Centennial Gate did not offer sufficient protection to the public and so we went back to the drawing board.”

Sometimes compromises satisfy everyone, and sometimes they piss everyone off. If this is more the former than the latter, then there ought to be some consensus to move forward, however slowly, towards a funding mechanism. If not, I figure we’ll see another story about another floodgate being proposed sometime next year. We’ll see how it goes.

Remember the Alamo lawsuit

Release the lawyers!

Earlier this month, Texas General Land Commissioner George P. Bush fired The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, longtime managers of the Alamo, effective July 10. In a letter to the group, Bush cited 10 contract violations and said the state would be moving in a new direction. Now, the group is suing the general land office and Bush, claiming they are wrongfully trying to claim the DRT’s library.

The lawsuit, filed in Bexar County on Monday, alleges that shortly after Bush decided to terminate the DRT’s management, the land office told the organization of plans to “transition” the group’s library collection to the state. The suit says this is an “unconstitutional taking” of private property.

The land office declined to comment on the suit.

The lawsuit also says that the land office ordered the library, which is located within the Alamo complex, to be closed on the weekends except for one Saturday a month. Then, the DRT says it was warned “the San Antonio Police Department would begin making ‘special patrols’ around the DRT Library premises.”

I don’t have a dog in this fight, and I don’t really care about the outcome of the lawsuit. I’m just looking forward to the made-for-TV movie that will eventually be filmed. My only regret is that Jan Hooks won’t be around to have a part in it. The Current has more.

Precinct analysis: Abbott versus Perry in Latino districts

District level election data for 2014 has been available for a few weeks now. Seems like as good a time as any to return to a favorite topic, namely how Greg Abbott did in heavily Latino areas. An exit poll from November claimed Abbott drew 44% of the Latino vote, which would be a very impressive accomplishment. My complaint whenever I read a story like that is that no one ever bothers to go back and check the actual election results later to see if that kind of number makes sense. No one but me, of course, because I’m a crank about that sort of thing. Now that we have this data, how does it look? Here’s a comparison to Rick Perry in 2010 in the most heavily Latino districts:

Dist SSVR% Perry Abbott ============================= 031 76.46% 42.01% 44.80% 035 76.58% 37.19% 39.11% 036 87.34% 29.55% 31.21% 037 81.21% 36.96% 38.13% 038 80.92% 39.11% 40.39% 039 85.14% 27.03% 32.12% 040 88.14% 25.37% 28.59% 041 71.98% 46.69% 47.84% 042 88.70% 22.58% 29.69% 075 83.70% 29.04% 30.84% 076 84.73% 23.57% 24.32% 079 72.70% 38.89% 39.26% 080 80.84% 34.79% 37.78%

SSVR data is from here. I’d like to think that this would put those 44% assertions to rest, but I know better by now. Abbott clearly did better than Perry, though by only a point or two in most districts. Some of that may simply be due to Perry doing worse overall than Abbott. Still, his actual number among Latino voters is nothing to sneeze at. But as I’ve said before, while the actual results provide a reality check on exit polls and from-the-ether assertions, they’re more suggestive than conclusive. We don’t know what percentage of actual voters in these districts was Latino. To see what I mean, consider a district with 10,000 voters and an SSVR of 80%. Imagine also that Abbott gets 70% of the Anglo vote, which is likely to be at least what Abbott would need to get to almost 60% overall. How does the vote break down if Abbott scored 40% (i.e., 4,000 votes) in that district?

If the actual mix of voters is 80% Latino and 20% Anglo, then Abbott got 1,400 Anglo votes, which means he needs 2,600 Latino votes to get to 40% overall. 2,600 votes out of 8,000 is 32.5%.

If the actual mix of voters is 70% Latino and 30% Anglo, then Abbott got 2,100 Anglo votes, which means he needs 1,900 Latino votes to get to 40% overall. 1,900 votes out of 8,000 is 23.75%.

Basically, the share of the Anglo vote, even though it is relatively small in a district like this, has a large effect on the share of the Latino vote. Changing the assumption that Abbott got 60% of the Anglo vote in this district instead of 70% doesn’t make that much difference. In scenario 1, Abbott needs 2,800 Latino votes instead of 2,600, or 35%. In scenario 2, it’s 2,200 instead of 1,900, or 31.4%. Even in a scenario where you assume the Latino vote exceeds the SSVR%, you get the same kind of result. In a 90/10 situation with a 70% Anglo vote, the corresponding Latino percentage is 36.7%; with a 60% Anglo vote, it’s 37.8%. The only way for the Latino vote percentage to be higher than the overall percentage is if the Anglo vote is less than the overall. I suppose it’s possible Abbott could fail to break 40% of the vote in these districts, but I’ve yet to see anyone offer objective evidence of it. Therefore, the numbers I present above represent the upper bound for Abbott among Latinos in these districts. Anyone who wants to claim otherwise needs to show me the numbers.

(To be completely fair, one scenario under which the Latino vote could be higher than the overall would be if some other segment of the electorate was voting disproportionately against Abbott. A significant portion of African-American voters in these districts could do that. Take the first scenario above and change the voter demography to 80% Latino, 10% African-American, and 10% Anglo. Now assume a 70% Anglo vote for Abbott and 10% A-A vote for him. With those assumptions, 3,200 Latino votes are needed to get to 40% overall, and as it happens that’s a 40% share of the Latino vote. However, in the districts above, the largest African-American population is four percent; it’s less than one percent in most of them. As such, this variation pretty much can’t exist.)

Another way we can look at this is to see if other Republicans did better in these districts as well, or if the effect was limited to Abbott. For that, we turn to a comparison of David Dewhurst in 2010 to Dan Patrick.

Dist SSVR% Dew Patrick ============================= 031 76.46% 45.47% 40.46% 035 76.58% 37.99% 34.86% 036 87.34% 29.04% 26.67% 037 81.21% 35.77% 33.85% 038 80.92% 38.91% 35.40% 039 85.14% 26.44% 27.50% 040 88.14% 25.11% 23.00% 041 71.98% 48.27% 42.16% 042 88.70% 24.68% 23.67% 075 83.70% 30.16% 29.72% 076 84.73% 24.67% 23.37% 079 72.70% 41.50% 37.98% 080 80.84% 35.40% 34.59%

With the exception of HD39, Dewhurst did better than Patrick. Obviously, Dewhurst did better overall than Perry, while Patrick was roughly equivalent to Abbott. That suggests that while Abbott may have improved on Perry’s performance, he wasn’t necessarily a rising tide. To be sure of that, we should compare him directly to his comrades on the ballot. I’ve thrown in Perry as well for some perspective.

Dist Abbott Perry Patrick Paxton Hegar Bush ========================================================== 031 44.08% 42.01% 40.46% 41.36% 40.97% 45.24% 035 39.11% 37.19% 34.86% 35.93% 35.70% 39.45% 036 31.21% 29.55% 26.67% 27.89% 28.06% 32.42% 037 38.13% 36.96% 33.85% 34.16% 34.13% 39.77% 038 40.39% 39.11% 35.40% 36.30% 36.15% 41.98% 039 32.12% 27.03% 27.50% 28.58% 28.68% 33.18% 040 28.59% 25.37% 23.00% 23.92% 24.24% 29.45% 041 47.84% 46.69% 42.16% 44.51% 44.77% 49.92% 042 29.69% 22.58% 23.67% 22.48% 23.40% 33.23% 075 30.84% 29.04% 29.72% 29.33% 29.21% 28.75% 076 24.32% 23.57% 23.37% 23.52% 22.91% 24.76% 079 39.26% 38.89% 37.98% 37.94% 37.41% 37.76% 080 37.78% 34.79% 34.59% 34.14% 33.71% 39.13%

A few observations:

– Clearly, Abbott did better in these districts than anyone except Baby Bush. Playing up their own Latino connections – wife in Abbott’s case, mother in Bush’s – helped them, at least to some extent. We have seen this before, with several other candidates – Ted Cruz, Eva Guzman, Hector Uribe, and as you can see above, Leticia Van de Putte. The effect isn’t much – a couple of points – but it exists. It should be noted that since these candidates’ overall totals don’t differ much from their ballotmates’, there’s an equivalent but opposite effect elsewhere. Just something to keep in mind.

– Note that the effect for Abbott was greater in South Texas and the Valley, and lesser in El Paso (HDs 75, 76, and 79). Bush also did worse in El Paso, no doubt due at least in part to having former El Paso Mayor John Cook as his opponent. Consider this a reminder that the Latino electorate is not monolithic, even within the same nationality. What works well here may not be as effective there. This should be obvious, but I feel like we all sometimes act as if that’s not the case, and yes I include myself in that.

– Along those lines, I wish that the SSVRs were high enough in the urban Latino districts to include them here, but they’re not really comparable. Having written that, I’m now curious enough to do that comparison in another post, just to see what I get.

– At the end of the day, Greg Abbott in 2014 was a lesser known quantity than Rick Perry in 2010. He had a chance to introduce himself as a more or less clean slate. That won’t be the case in 2018, if Abbott is on the ballot for re-election. He’ll have a record to defend, for good or bad. We’ll see how much his wife and madrina can help him then.

A Denton fracking overview

The Trib has a long piece on the Denton fracking fight, also published in Politico to help non-Texans understand what this was about. It’s a good read that goes over all the main points if you need a refresher on the details. There are two bits of interest I’d like to highlight:

Cathy McMullen taps the brakes of her Toyota Prius after driving through a neighborhood of mostly one-story homes in Denton, about an hour northwest of Dallas. “There,” she says, nodding toward a limestone wall shielding from view a pad of gas wells. McMullen, a 56-year-old ­­­­home health nurse, cruised past a stretch of yellowed grass and weeds. “They could have put that pad site on that far corner right there,” she says, pointing ahead. “The land’s all vacant.”

Instead, the wells sit on the corner of Bonnie Brae and Scripture Street. Across the way: Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Across another street: the basketball court, picnic tables and purple playground of McKenna Park. That was where Range Resources, a company based in Fort Worth, wanted to start drilling and fracking in 2009.

McMullen, who at that time had just moved into a house about 1,500 feet away from the proposed site, joined others in raising concerns about bringing the gas industry and hydraulic fracturing — widely known as fracking — so close to where kids play. Fracking, which involves blasting apart underground rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water to free up oil and gas, “is a brutal, brutal process for people living around it,” McMullen says.

Their efforts in city hall failed.

If McMullen felt invisible five years ago, she doesn’t anymore. Today, state lawmakers, the oil and gas industry and national environmental groups have become acutely aware of Denton, home to two universities, 277 gas wells and now, thanks to a rag-tag group of local activists, Texas’ first ban on fracking.

Thrust into the saga is George P. Bush, who in January will take the helm of the Texas General Land Office, an otherwise obscure office that manages mineral rights on millions of acres of state-owned property. In his first political office, Jeb’s eldest son and George W.’s nephew will inherit one of two major lawsuits filed against Denton, home to a sliver of that mineral portfolio.

We don’t need a patchwork approach to drilling regulations across the state,” Bush, a former energy investment consultant, told The Texas Tribune in July as the anti-fracking campaign gained steam. It appears to be his only public statement on the issue.

Bush’s role in the dispute — however peripheral — only brightens the spotlight on Denton, and it forces him and others to choose between two interests Texans hold dear: petroleum and local control.

I’m sorry, but the idea that “local control” is a dearly-held ideal, especially by Republicans, is a complete myth. Just look at the myriad bills Republican legislators have introduced in recent sessions and/or will introduce this session to limit or eliminate the ability of cities to pass and enforce anti-discrimination ordinances and to regulate a wide variety of things, from fracking to single use plastic bags to payday lending. Throw in other top legislative priorities to require cities to enforce federal immigration laws and to limit their revenue growth via tighter appraisal caps on top of that. As I said before, Republicans are at least as interested nowadays in nullifying municipal laws as they are of nullifying federal laws. Whatever fealty there is to the idea of “local control” has long gone out the window any time some local entity has tried to do something state Republicans – or more specifically, their corporate masters – don’t like. It’s time we recognized that.

McMullen’s group — Frack Free Denton — persuaded nearly 59 percent of Denton voters to approve a fracking ban on Nov. 4, after knocking on doors, staging puppet shows and performing song-and-dance numbers. The movement had help from Earthworks, a national environmental group, but its opponents — backed by the oil and gas lobby — raised more than $700,000 to spend on mailers and television ads and a high-profile public relations and polling firm. That was more than 10 times what Frack Free Denton collected.

[…]

Trying to make sense of the Nov. 4 landslide vote, some industry officials suggest that the voting power of Denton’s roughly 51,000 university students effectively drowned out the town’s permanent residents. The gowns, the argument goes, drove the town. “If we’re looking at Denton and trying to glean some sort of national significance out of this,” says Steve Everley, the national spokesman for Energy In-Depth, which promotes the petroleum industry, “then the significance is that activists are having success in college towns and in populations with few if any wells.”

But Denton’s voting records cast doubt on that argument. It’s not clear that college students turned out in high enough numbers to single-handedly tilt the vote. Voters closer to campuses overwhelmingly supported the ban, as well as Democrat Wendy Davis in the race for governor. But plenty of conservatives also rejected fracking. Both Republican Greg Abbott, who ultimately defeated Davis, and the ban prevailed in 11 of Denton’s biggest 33 precincts. Roughly 25,000 votes were cast in the fracking question and those opposed to fracking outpaced supporters by some 4,400 votes. Denton would have still passed the measure by 412 votes even if voters younger than 30 were disregarded. Voting data also shows that the average age of a voter was 52.

I’ve mentioned before that Democratic turnout in Denton was helped by the referendum, and that’s good, but it could and should have been better. I wonder how many people in Denton voted for the fracking ban and also voted for Ryan Sitton for Railroad Commissioner and George P. Bush for Land Commissioner, perhaps without realizing that by doing so they were partially undermining their own vote. Some of that was probably force of habit – partisan affiliation is strong – some of it was probably just not making the connection. I’m sure there were missed opportunities for Dems to work with the anti-fracking folks to help make that connection. Of course, that can be a dicey proposition when you need Republican support to win and thus need for your effort to appear as non-partisan as possible so as not to turn any of those folks off, and besides I’m sure it would have been difficult to get that message through when the city is already drowning in pro- and anti-fracking ads. I don’t have a good answer here, I’m just saying this is the sort of thing we need to be thinking about.

Endorsement watch: Probate courts

The Chron makes its endorsements for Probate Courts, and as they have done recently stayed mostly with incumbents while having nice things to say about the challengers. The one Democrat they recommended out of the four races was as follows:

Jerry Simoneaux

Harris County Probate Court No. 3: Jerry Simoneaux

A former probate court staff attorney, Democratic challenger Jerry Simoneaux is the right choice for this bench. A certified mediator who has practiced probate law for 13 years, Simoneaux, 48, graduated from the South Texas College of Law.

Incumbent Republican Judge Rory Robert Olsen has presided over this court since 1999. With a law degree from Duke University, an LLM from Southern Methodist University and a Master of Judicial Studies from the University of Nevada, Olsen, 65, has become an expert on the bench when it comes to mental health issues in probate. A prolific writer on the topic, he has recently worked on an assisted-outpatient treatment program with the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County. However, Olsen’s energy has begun to fade, and he has developed a reputation as an inconsistent judge. Voters should thank him for his years of service and send him out on a high note.

As it happens, Simoneaux is the one candidate out of four for whom I have not yet received Q&A responses. I previously published Q&As with James Horwitz and Kim Bohannon Hoesl, and will have one with Josefina Rendon next week.

In other endorsement news, the Chron also endorsed Big John Cornyn for re-election, in decidedly non-ringing fashion. Some choice quotes:

But voters should know that Cornyn is a Republican first and a Texan second. For a man who has served in elected office since 1986, Cornyn remains unfocused on issues of importance to Houston and the Gulf Coast.

Meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, it seemed as if coastal storm surge protection was a new topic for Texas’ senior senator. When asked about his position on the Ike Dike, Cornyn responded, “I don’t even know what that is.”

Discussing the nuances of exporting crude, Cornyn admitted, “I don’t pretend to understand these things.”

Way to make our alma mater proud, John. Elsewhere, the Star-Telegram joined the Sam Houston bandwagon, while the Dallas Morning News joined the chorus of Mike Collier fans. Let me quote a bit from the FWST piece, since it’s about as succinct a case against Ken Paxton as you’ll see:

The Republican nominee, lawyer and state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, is undeserving of consideration.

Paxton was fined $1,000 and still may face a felony investigation.

In May, state securities regulators found Paxton sent clients to an investment firm without registering or disclosing his own paid role.

It happened three times. A 2012 violation is within the five-year statute of limitations.

Paxton should know better.

No candidate to lead “the people’s law firm” should ever have misled a client, a state board or the people of Texas.

Anyone want to argue with that? By the way, there apparently was a Ken Paxton sighting the other day, in which Paxton admitted in passive-voice fashion that he had indeed committed a crime but that he stands lawyered-up and ready to fight the charges against him when they are finally filed. If that’s not a compelling campaign story, I don’t know what is.

Finally, the DMN went red in the races for Land Commissioner, Ag Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner, in the latter case because they valued industry experience more than not being another industry insider, in the former case because they naively think Baby Bush might somehow turn out to be Not That Kind Of Republican, and in the middle case for reasons unclear. Maybe Sid Miller was the only one that showed up, I dunno.

More on the Denton fracking referendum

I think everyone agrees the Denton anti-fracking referendum will wind up in court if it passes. It’s just a question of how wired the courts will be for the plaintiffs.

Voters will decide whether the city will become the state’s first to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – the method of oil and gas extraction that has led to a domestic energy boom. But passage of a ban would probably trigger another fracking fight: a legal clash over a city’s power to regulate for health and safety and the rights of mineral owners to develop their resources. The outcome could reshape Texas law at a time when drilling is causing tension in some of its urban areas.

“It’s going to be one of those first-time tests, and I don’t think there’s a clear answer out there in Texas law,” said Jim Bradbury, a Fort Worth-based lawyer who focuses on environmental and energy issues.

The Denton measure would not prohibit drilling outright; it would apply only to fracking, which involves blasting apart rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water hauled in by trucks. After gathering nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban on fracking, opponents forced the City Council to vote on it. Council members rejected the proposal last week, leaving the decision to voters.

Denton, a city of 121,000 with more than 270 gas wells scattered among its neighborhoods, is one of several cities that has tried to ban fracking. That includes towns in New York, whose highest court last month upheld local ordinances banning the practice. The state of Colorado has sued its cities that have banned fracking and is pushing back against ballot measures that would toughen regulations. The prospect of such a ban in Texas – a leading oil and natural gas producer — has put Denton in a bright spotlight, rankling industry leaders and the state”s Republican leadership.

“If one community after another continues to say ‘Not in my backyard,’ then before long, a tsunami of exclusion will jeopardize our freedom as a country profits as a corporate entity,” said Chris Faulkner, the chief executive of Breitling Energy in Dallas, one of many industry representatives who spoke at City Hall before the Council”s vote.

I fixed your quote for you, Chris. The debasement of the word “freedom” is one of the great travesties of the 21st century so far.

Though Texas courts have occasionally considered cities’ drilling regulations, they have yet to see a case of such size and scope, legal experts say.

Texas law says the state intends its mineral resources to be “fully and effectively exploited,” but courts have said the power is not absolute. The Railroad Commission has jurisdiction over all oil and gas wells in the state, with authority to adopt “all necessary rules for governing and regulating persons and their operations.” Local governments have the right to impose reasonable health and safety restrictions, and the Legislature has granted most Texas cities, including Denton, the power to “regulate exploration and development of mineral interests.”

The state has long regulated most aspects of drilling, including well integrity, pipeline safety, and air and water impact, while cities have typically controlled noise and authorized the location of wells or related facilities like compressor stations. Now, a key question is where fracking falls in that spectrum.

Tom Phillips, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court from 1988 to 2004, said he would expect courts to side with the energy industry — by ruling that the ban unconstitutionally supersedes state law or that it makes gas beneath the city too difficult to tap and amounts to a taking.

Phillips, now a lawyer with the firm of Baker Botts, who was asked to review the proposal for the Texas Oil and Gas Association, said state law gave cities less stringent options for protecting health and safety at well sites, and that Denton “can’t just say no” to fracking.

Other legal experts acknowledge that state high courts tend to favor oil and gas interests, but say that Denton could make a compelling argument that a fracking ban would not wipe out all options to drill.

“To say that this is a slam dunk, it’s a taking, I think that’s painting with an overly broad brush,” said Terrence Welch, a lawyer who has helped write drilling ordinances in several Texas cities. “The property — the mineral estate isn’t left valueless. You can drill, but you just can’t frack.”

See here for the background. It’s hard to be optimistic about how the courts might rule if you’re a ban supporter, but I suppose anything is possible. And I’ll say again, if the Railroad Commission wasn’t such an utter lapdog for the industry and people in places like Denton had any reason to believe that true regulatory oversight with actual enforcement was in place, this referendum would not exist. There would be no need for it.

One more thing:

Jerry Patterson, Texas’ outgoing land commissioner, warned in a letter last week that the state would “pursue any available remedy to ensure the right to develop” those minerals.

George P. Bush, the Republican nominee in this year’s election to succeed Patterson, said he supported that stance. “We don’t need a patchwork approach to drilling regulations across the state,” he said. But John Cook, Bush’s Democratic opponent, disagreed, saying that “local communities need to have a say” in quality-of-life issues.

Know who you’re voting for this fall, people of Denton.

We may have our first Democratic statewide candidate

And it’s John Cook, outgoing Mayor of El Paso.

Former El Paso Mayor John Cook will seek the Democratic nomination for Texas land commissioner in 2014, he told the El Paso Times Wednesday night.

“I think it’s an embarrassment to the city of El Paso, being one of the largest cities in the United States, that we’ve never had a candidate elected to a statewide office,” Cook said after attending a talk at the Wyndham Hotel by the Rev. Barry Lynn of Citizens United for Separation of Church and State.

There’s a brief video clip at the link, in which Cook adds that other than Judge Bill Moody, there have basically been no candidates for statewide office from El Paso. I’m glad he has decided to change that. Among the things Cook was known for as Mayor of El Paso was passing a domestic partner benefits ordinance, which led to a recall effort against him and two other Council members that he ultimately survived after a court threw out the petitions. The HuffPo had a great story about Mayor Cook and the fight he led for domestic partner benefits in El Paso.

John Cook

Deep in the heart of Texas, Cook has taken a stance on rights for gay and lesbian couples. And the former Catholic seminarian and Brooklyn native is arguing with his opponents in the words of a man who’s unafraid of a fight.

“To me this was always about bigotry,” Cook said. “Intolerance is bigotry.”

The path toward the recall efforts began in 2009, when the city council approved benefits for domestic couples — both gay and straight. Religious leaders quickly caught on, and in the ensuring firestorm they proposed a referendum to ban those benefits. It passed with 55 percent of the vote in 2010. But Cook wasn’t done just yet — with the help of most of the city council, he had a different partner benefits ordinance approved.

[…]

Cook said he is willing to fight — and in terms that might surprise some. He noted that “all of my education in New York City, all the way up through Saint Francis College, was in Catholic school.” He even spent a year in seminary after college.

“I read the Bible every day,” he said. “I’m challenging the argument that the other side is using, which is trying to make this a moral and spiritual issue. And if they want to argue on that basis, I’m very capable of doing that, too.”

More than 50 percent of El Pasoans do not have health coverage, he noted, and it would violate everything he stands for if the number of people who do have coverage decreased. And the government, he added, has no business enforcing an Old Testament moral code on its citizens.

“Where do I stop?” he asked. “Do I all of a sudden say … when you call 911 when you’re divorced, committing adultery, you ain’t going to get no ambulance or fire truck? And don’t expect me to pick your trash up, because that would be condoning sin?”

“It’s time for elected officials to start taking what they believe in and make it popular, not taking what’s popular and making it what they believe in,” Cook said.

I don’t know about you, but I could sure get behind that. Cook would of course be running against Republican cover boy/dynast George P. Bush. I wish Mayor Cook all the best and hope that he soon has plenty of company on the ticket. Texpatriate has more.

Baby Bush ready to claim his birthright

Perhaps we should just skip straight to the coronation once George P. Bush figures out what office he wants.

George Prescott Bush is gearing up to run for a little-known but powerful office in a state where his family already is a political dynasty and where his Hispanic roots could help extend a stranglehold on power Republicans have enjoyed for two decades.

The 36-year-old Fort Worth attorney says he is close to settling on campaigning for Texas land commissioner next year. He doesn’t expect to make up his mind until he knows what Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican, decides to do.

“We for sure are running, the question is the office,” Bush told The Associated Press during the first interview about his political future since filing paperwork in November to seek elected office in Texas.

Bush’s father is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, his grandfather is former President George H.W. Bush and his uncle is former President and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Perry has been governor since George W. left for the White House.

Land commissioner traditionally has been a steppingstone to higher office, but Bush said little about any plans to eventually become a national political force.

His grandfather Prescott Bush was a US Senator, too. The past four years have been a rare period in American history where a member of the Bush family has not held some office. It will be interesting to see how he handles the inevitable tea party opponent he gets for Land Commissioner or whatever else he runs for. Will he adopt their positions, or will he remain blandly Bushy and presume that his name, money, and connections will suffice to handle it? The Trib has an interview with our future overlord if you want to better prepare yourself for the inevitable.