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Framing the 2018 question

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Sorrell

Gromer Jeffers of the DMN floats a name for Governor.

Michael Sorrell

On the rugged campus of Paul Quinn College, Michael Sorrell, the school’s president, could be the last hope for Democrats to field a credible candidate to face incumbent Greg Abbott in next year’s governor’s race.

Operatives in the Texas Democratic Party have been trying to persuade Sorrell to be the party’s standard-bearer against Abbott. The talks intensified Oct. 13, the Friday before the Texas-Oklahoma football showdown, when Democrats had another meeting with Sorrell in Dallas. They are hoping that he will agree to submit his paperwork for a campaign when the filing period for the 2018 election opens next month.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Sorrell said recently, realizing that I knew about his talks with Democrats.

Sorrell, 50, is largely unknown throughout Texas and has never run for statewide office. At times, he’s been considered a potential candidate for Dallas mayor and Dallas County judge. He’s managed political campaigns and been a part of various bond efforts in the city of Dallas.


Many big-name Democrats have said “no” or given the party the “I’ll get back to you” brushoff. They include former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio (Julian’s twin), former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio , Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas and Hill+Knowlton Strategies CEO Jack Martin.

The would-be contenders don’t believe Democrats can beat Abbott next year, and the pessimism could hurt the rest of the ticket. Democrats did get some positive news on Tuesday. Andrew White, the son of the late Gov. Mark White, is exploring a run for governor. The Houston investor told Texas Monthly that he would campaign as a Democrat, but try to appeal to moderate Republican voters.

With White on a listening tour, the only Democrats who have announced bids to challenge Abbott are Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne, former congressional candidate Tom Wakely of San Antonio and former Balch Springs Mayor Cedric Davis. They are all candidates not recruited by party leaders and have little chance of beating Abbott.

Enter Sorrell, a native Chicagoan who has been a part of several successful underdog campaigns, including the 2008 election of former President Barack Obama.

Sorrell is not afraid of Abbott, and because he doesn’t have a political office to forfeit, he has nothing to lose but valuable time away from Paul Quinn College and his family. Education would surely be part of his platform, as Democrats want to pound Abbott and Republicans for not putting enough resources into improving public schools. Known as an innovative leader, Sorrell has improved the facilities, fundraising and curriculum at the historically black private college. Paul Quinn is accredited, and he famously turned the football field into an urban farm. Sorrell would be acceptable to the base of the Democratic Party, though it remains to be seen how much he’ll be able to fire up the electorate.

My reaction right now is that I feel the same way about Sorrell as I do about Andrew White, and for that matter Jeffrey Payne and anyone else: I’d like to hear more about who they are, what they stand for, and what they would like to do as Governor. And, you know, that they actually want to run and are committed to winning, however unlikely that is. Payne has crossed that bridge; we’ll see about Sorrell and White and the others. At first glance Sorrell looks mighty impressive, so I hope he is giving this serious consideration. HBCU Digest has more.

Andrew White

We’ll see about this.

Andrew White

Houston investor Andrew White—the son of the late Texas governor Mark White and one of the small boat heroes of Hurricane Harvey—plans to launch an exploratory bid for governor in the 2018 elections this week. Although White wants to run as a Democrat, he aims to appeal to moderate Republicans who are frustrated with the state’s leadership on issues like the bathroom bill.

“What we’re trying to do is look beyond the issues and try to figure out who are the people leading us,” White says. “What kind of people are leading us? Are they people who are politically expedient, making short-sighted decisions? Are they people who are appealing to fringe elements of their party, the 200,000 to 300,000 fringe voters in their primary who represent less than 1 percent of the population of Texas, or are they willing to stand up and do what’s right?”

White says his favorite phrase is, “Do right and risk consequences,” the motto of Sam Houston. White’s father used that as part of a speech urging the Legislature to raise taxes during a 1986 financial crisis. Lawmakers raised taxes to prevent making drastic cuts to public schools, higher education, and social services, but it cost then-governor White his re-election bid.

“It worked out for the people of Texas. It didn’t work out for his career,” White says of his dad. “That’s the problem here. We have to have politicians who are willing to lose their job to do what’s right.”

The best example of that dearth, White says, is the so-called bathroom bill. When Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick forced a special session, Governor Greg Abbott put it on the agenda. Supporters of the bill, which ultimately died in the special session, said it would keep predatory men out of women’s restrooms, but it was largely seen as an attempt to discriminate against transgender individuals and as a political swipe at the LGBTQ community. Abbott and Patrick have not ruled out resurfacing the issue in any future special session or when the Legislature reconvenes in its 2019 regular session.

“The moderate Republicans are looking at their leaders and finding out they don’t represent their beliefs,” White says. “The old Republican party was pro-business and pro-jobs and ‘keep the government off my back.’ So what’s the bathroom bill? It’s an over-reaching government program to tell you that you need to bring your birth certificate into the bathroom. It might cause us to lose every Super Bowl, every national championship game—not to mention, how could Amazon consider a second headquarters in Texas if we’re having this argument right now? How many jobs do you lose? The sacrifice we would have to make over something that has zero data to support it is bizarre.”

Like I said, we’ll see. I’m glad to see someone with a brand name express an interest in the race, and he’s already got the right message on the bathroom bill. Beyond that, I’m going to need to hear a lot more, and I’m going to need to hear some good answers. It’s not just that “conservative Democrat” doesn’t excite me, it’s that we’ve tried this strategy of wooing “moderate” Republicans before, in the last two elections, and we don’t have a whole lot to show for it. In a world where base Democratic turnout is at parity with base Republican turnout, that kind of plan makes sense. In a world where their base is a million voters bigger than ours, it’s a proven loser.

So that’s what I mean when I say I need to hear more. What message does Andrew White have for Democratic voters? “Sanctuary cities”, access to health care, voting rights, criminal justice reform, public education – I’m just getting started. White now has a Facebook page and up, though they are both bare bones at this time. The bathroom bill stuff is a good start. I hope he builds on that. The Trib has more.

Jeffrey Payne makes it official

Democrats have their first candidate for Governor.

Jeffrey Payne

The first reaction by many Texans to Saturday evening’s announcement by Jeffrey Payne as the first officially declared Democratic candidate for Texas governor is likely to be: “Who?”

But Payne, a businessman who owns a gay bar in Dallas among other ventures, is focused on the “what.”

And what Payne sees before him is the potential for a Democratic outsider to finally begin turning the tide against Republicans in Texas politics. He’s the first Democrat to officially announce for a spring primary expected to include at least three candidates.

He sees a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment among Texans fed up with what they see as dysfunction in Austin. He sees a lot of anti-Donald Trump backlash. He also sees the potential to rally the sizable LGBT community in Texas to mobilize like never before in the wake of continued efforts to pass a bathroom bill. And he sees a lot of disenchanted, disenfranchised Texans who might be attracted to an outsider promising big change.

Even so, Payne’s chances of an upset against popular Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott are a long shot at best, in a state where Democrats have not won a statewide race in two decades – and where conservatives still rail against gay men like Payne.

But in a year when the Republican party if engaged in a civil war between the tea-party conservatives in control and moderates who think they have gone way too far right for most Texans, Payne and his supporters insist a November surprise is possible.

“I am tired of politics as usual in Texas,” said Payne, 49, making his first run for public office and facing Abbott’s whopping $41 million in a race where he pledged to invest $2.5 million of his own money, without much of any likely party support.

See here and here for some background. As you know, there’s been an endless stream of articles about how Texas Dems have been looking everywhere for a top-drawer candidate for Governor. Payne has an interesting backstory, and if he were running for a legislative office he’d be considered a pretty good catch. But as a first-time candidate running against a guy with unlimited money and good poll numbers, coming off a 20-point win in 2014, Payne is not anyone’s idea of that candidate. I can’t claim to be excited about him. But at least he has the guts to run, and that’s worth more than any amount of wishcasting.

My advice to Jeffrey Payne, for what it’s worth, is to emulate what Beto O’Rourke is doing. Get out there and talk to some voters, especially in places where Dems are not often seen. It won’t get any national press, but it ought to get some local coverage, and who knows, some of that Beto grassroots mojo might rub off. It can’t hurt, and it will at least offer a counter to the inevitable campaign treasury comparison stories that will follow. Also, too, take seriously Abbott’s intent to woo Hispanic voters. Spend some time in South Texas and the Valley, listen to what people are saying, and make all of the obvious points against Abbott. Lastly, if and when you do have some company in the race, take the primary seriously, too. Aim for high turnout, and to get people excited about November. That’s advice I’ve already given to O’Rourke, and would give to any gubernatorial hopefuls. We have a pretty good idea by now of what doesn’t work. May as well try something else.

Houston gets state recovery funds, property tax rate hike shelved

Was that so hard? I ask you.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday said he would withdraw a proposed property tax rate hike after Gov. Greg Abbott handed him a check for $50 million to help fund the city’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey.

The exchange came as the mayor and governor held a joint City Hall news conference, a sharp departure from the last several days when the pair had traded letters and criticism over each other’s Harvey response.

Turner had tried to pin his proposed tax hike on the state’s unwillingness to tap its $10 billion savings account, while state officials viewed the city as seeking a blank check rather than targeting specific emergency funds in the state budget.

Ultimately, Abbott said he would draw upon a disaster fund within the discretion of his office, producing the $50 million amount Turner had intended to collect from residents’ property taxes.

See here and here for the background. The Trib adds some details.

The money, which comes from the $100 million disaster relief fund appropriated to Abbott’s office during the last legislative session, will go toward immediate relief needs such as reconstruction, Abbott and Turner said at a joint news conference in Houston. Abbott said long-term recovery and preventive measures would be funded by the federal government and the state’s $10 billion savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, but not until exact costs for recovery are known.

“The time to use the thrust of the Rainy Day Fund is when the expenses are known,” Abbott said. “So the members of the Legislature know how best to use the Rainy Day Fund.”


During the Friday news conference, Abbott said there “is a possibility for a special session” to allocate funds for recovery and prevention once those costs are better known.

“Now that the hurricane winds are calm … it’s time that we begin the process of rebuilding Texas, and that’s a tall task,” Abbott said. “This is what the state of Texas is for … We’re proud to be here wearing the same jersey working for the same team.”

Still, Abbott said the $10 billion Rainy Day Fund would only be able to cover a “fraction of the costs” of longer term recovery and prevention. Turner added that he and Abbott have discussed future preventative measures such as a third reservoir for flood waters, which could cost up to $400 million, and expanding bayous, which could cost $311 million. The two said they have also discussed a “coastal spine” — a protective seawall and floodgate system — along the coast, which Turner estimated to be a roughly $12 billion project.

So the money ultimately came from a funding source Abbott controlled, not the Rainy Day Fund, though as noted there may be some use of that later on. I don’t care what the provenance of the money is, but I do wonder why this was handled so clumsily by Abbott. Was this always what he intended to do but just never could explain it lucidly, or was this where he ended up after realizing how ridiculous he looked? I have no idea. That said, one must give credit where it is due, so kudos to Abbott for eventually figuring this out and doing the right thing. Even bigger kudos to Mayor Turner for getting the job done. This is what we elected him for.

Abbott says he wants a list from Turner

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbott has no interest in helping Houston

So much for that.

If the state taps into the Rainy Day Fund to help with recovery following Hurricane Harvey, it won’t be until the next legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott said during a news conference Tuesday.

Abbott’s announcement comes after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wrote to the governor asking the state to use the $10 billion fund. Turner said without significant state help, Houston will be forced to raise property taxes for one year to bring in $50 million for recovery efforts, which would cost the owner of an average Houston house $48.

Turner said he would not have proposed the tax hike had the governor called a special session to tap into the fund.

Abbott, who has said the state has enough resources to address Harvey-related needs between now and the next legislative session, added Tuesday that the state has already granted Houston almost $100 million for debris removal and established an “accelerated reimbursement program” for recovery efforts.

Abbott said he would pay any invoice the city submits to the state within 10 days.

Turner “has all the money that he needs,” Abbott said. “He just needs to tap into it,” referring to money in Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, Turner spokesman Alan Bernstein said Houston “cannot raid funds that the state has indicated cannot be raided – and which are largely for drainage projects to prevent future flooding anyway.”

Remember when we were talking about how Harvey has changed things in the state? Boy, those were the days. I believe this should settle once and for all what the Rainy Day Fund is for: Absolutely nothing. It’s an illusion. We should take all the money in this fund, convert it to gold bullion, and bury it in Greg Abbott’s backyard, perhaps next to one of the wells he had drilled to water his lawn during droughts. That would do us as much good as the fund actually does now. Maybe this might inspire someone to run against Abbott. It’s as easy an issue as you’ll get to run on. In any event, we’re on our own, because special sessions are for potties but not hurricane recovery. Thanks, Abbott!

UPDATE: Also, too, other parts of the state are in really bad shape. Sure, there’s insurance and FEMA and charity and volunteers, and all of those things should be utilized to the maximum. But does that mean the state gets off the hook, or that it just gets to sit back and wait to see what’s left over, which it then may get around to helping out with if it feels like it and if it doesn’t feel “blackmailed” by local officials who are trying to do their jobs? The lack of leadership here is as deep and pervasive as the rainfall was a month ago.

Can anyone beat Greg Abbott?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Don’t wait on Joaquin

We may want him to, but Rep. Joaquin Castro probably isn’t running for Governor.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Exiting a summit on citizen diplomacy Tuesday at the Texas Capitol, U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, was trailed by a handful of reporters.
“Something tells me you didn’t come to hear a speech about international affairs,” Castro said.

He was right.

The reporters were there to once again ask whether he would consider running for governor in 2018.

It has become a somewhat tired ritual. But with no hint of any formidable Democratic candidate ready to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott, reporters have little else to work with, and for Castro, as for his twin brother, Julián, the only day more nettlesome than the ones on which they are asked about their future political ambitions, will be the day when reporters stop asking about those ambitions.


Last week, Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa stirred the ashes of hope that Joaquín Castro might run in 2018 in search of faint embers.

“He’s never ruled it out,” Hinojosa said of Castro.

So, Castro was asked Tuesday, apropos Hinojosa’s comments, “Are you still considering it?”

“No. I have nothing further to add right now,” Castro replied. “My plan is to run for re-election, as I said when we had a press conference here about a month ago.”

That was Aug. 16, when Castro, also in the Capitol where he served 10 years as a state representative, said to much the same gaggle of reporters, “Well, I have a job right now, and my plan is to run for re-election.”

Castro was asked Tuesday if Hinojosa was guilty of peddling false information.

“The chairman is a great friend and has worked really hard building up the Democratic Party over the last few years, and I’m very appreciative of his work,” Castro said.

Have you ruled out a run for governor?

“My plan is to run for re-election,” replied Castro, now chuckling at the inability of reporters to let it go.

See here for the background. One can twist oneself into knots parsing each word and coming up with Reasons why this isn’t a flat denial, but one would be deluding oneself. He’s not running for Governor, for all the reasons why he didn’t run for Senate and more. Maybe there is someone out there with a decent profile who will (*cough* *cough* Pete Gallego *cough* *cough*), but barring anything unforeseen, I’ll take the chance of looking foolish and saying there’s no there there. He’s running for re-election, and that’s that. Sorry, y’all.

Some people would like Joaquin Castro to run for Governor

The headline to this story says that Rep. Castro “is considering” a run for Governor, but if you read the story you’ll see that my characterization is the more accurate.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

In need of someone to lead the top of the 2018 ticket, Democrats are trying to persuade U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro to run for Texas governor.

“He and others are considering it,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told The Dallas Morning News. “It’s a very big decision for him. It would require him to leave his safe seat in the U.S. House, where he’s a rising star.”

Castro, who will turn 43 on Saturday, has represented the 20th Congressional District since 2013. He served 10 years in the Texas House. He had not responded to requests for comment as of Thursday afternoon.

Texas Democrats have been in search of a 2018 candidate for governor in hopes of beating incumbent Republican Greg Abbott and boosting down-ballot candidates in the Texas Senate and House.

Hinojosa said Democrats hope to compete in 15 to 20 Texas House contests, as well as three congressional seats with Republican incumbents. “All these races would be helped by a strong candidate at the top of the ticket,” Hinojosa said. But analysts say Castro is unlikely to run for governor because there’s not a clear path to victory for Democrats, who have not won a statewide race in Texas since 1994.


Castro appeared destined to run for re-election to the House, but Texas Democrats approached him late this summer and asked him to be the party’s standard-bearer against Abbott. Several Democrats have passed on running for governor, including Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas.

Hinojosa said he doesn’t know which way Castro was leaning. “I won’t comment on conversations I’ve had with potential candidates,” he said.

Matt Angle, director of the Democratic research group the Lone Star Project, said Castro’s deliberations might lead him to run for re-election, not governor. But he said Democrats will still field a strong challenger. “We will have a candidate for governor that Democrats can feel good about,” he said. “Whether they will have a path to victory, I don’t know.”

I’d love to know who those “others” are that are also considering it. (I’ll put in a plug again for Pete Gallego.) Chairman Hinojosa seems to have a good grasp of the reasons why Rep. Castro may demur – they’re basically the same as the reasons why he’d demur on a run against Ted Cruz, with the added incentive of Abbott having a bajillion dollars to his name and not being the most despised politician not named Trump in the state. Against that, one could argue that the political climate is growing more favorable to the Dems as Trump keeps flailing about and selling out his base, and if Castro had any plans to run for Senate against John Cornyn in 2020, a noble but non-crushing loss to Abbott would be a decent dry run for it. On top of all this are the apparent calculations about Julian Castro’s future, and whether a Joaquin candidacy for Governor and the accompanying non-trivial risk of crashing and burning would hinder Julian’s chances of running against Trump in 2020. As they say, it’s complicated. My guess is that Castro sits it out and we get to see who’s next on the wish list. I imagine we’ll have a clear indicator soon.

UPDATE: In the Statesman, Hinojosa says that Castro “never ruled out” running for Governor. To be fair, neither have I.

No re-rematch for Gallego against Hurd

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

Pete Gallego

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

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


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

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

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

RIP, Mark White

Former Texas Governor Mark White has passed away.

Mark White

Former Gov. Mark White, who championed education reforms while serving as Texas governor from 1983 to 1987, died Saturday in Houston. He was 77.

Julian Read, a close friend of White who served as press secretary to Gov. John Connally during the 1960s a confidant to many Texas governors since then, confirmed that White suffered a heart attack at his Houston home.

White, who was born March 17, 1940, graduated from Lamar High School and Baylor University. He received his law degree from Baylor Law School in 1965.


White’s signature legislation as governor was an education bill that implemented Texas’ first-ever statewide testing standards and the well-known “no pass, no play” rule that required students to maintain passing grades to play sports. It also mandated class-size limits and teacher pay raises — legislation that required a tax hike and ultimately cost White a chance at reelection.

I came to Texas in 1984, so White is the first Governor I experienced, though I don’t remember much of his tenure as I was a college student and not paying that much attention to state politics. Everyone I know holds him in high regard, and his education reform legacy lives on to this day. Rest in peace, Mark White. The Trib and RG Ratcliffe have more.

More on Jeffrey Payne

The Trib talks to the first declared Democratic candidate for Governor.

Jeffrey Payne

The Tribune spoke to Payne about his ideas for the state and how he plans on building momentum ahead of the election to mobilize Texans. The following is an edited and condensed version of the interview.

What changes would you try to implement as governor?

Our educational system is very much underfunded, and we need to get back to the basics. We have too many rules and regulations in place and we need to give the power back to the professionals — those are the teachers and the parents. We also need to make our colleges and universities more accessible to everyone and stop the huge increases in tuition happening each and every year.

Currently we have 2.2 million undocumented individuals in Texas. We need to provide a compassionate, and strict, policy to allow those undocumented individuals a pathway to citizenship. We need to stop treating undocumented individuals with the venom that we’ve been treating them with.

We also need to bring Medicaid expansion to Texas and ensure that women’s health is brought back to the forefront.

I support and uphold the Second Amendment wholeheartedly, but we need to continue to design policies that will provide more education and the promotion of gun safety.

Gerrymandering is not democracy, as far as I’m concerned. I believe our districts should be designed by an independent group so that they’re fair to all Texans and not just a particular group of individuals.

The last thing I’ll tackle is foster care. We had a law come down this past regular legislative session that allows adoption agencies to actually turn people away. There’s already a small group of people within our state who want to adopt or are eligible to adopt, and to limit that sends a horrible message to those children who need adopting. As someone who came out of the foster care system myself, that’s a law I would work to change almost immediately.

See here for some background. There’s more to the interview, but that’s the most important bit. Payne has company in the race from Tom Wakely, whose website has now been updated to accurately reflect his candidacy. I saw a bit of chatter on Facebook over the weekend that Mike Collier, who is now running for Lt. Governor, is thinking about switching to this race. Whether he does or not I feel reasonably confident that Payne and Wakely won’t be the only candidates running. For now, see what you think about Jeffrey Payne.

Tom Wakely

As noted in the update and comments to Wednesday’s post about our first Democratic candidate for Governor, we now have a second such candidate, Tom Wakely. PDiddie brings word of Wakely’s announcement, which he made on Down with Tyranny, a more nationally-oriented blog. Wakely ran against Rep. Lamar Smith in 2016, and had been running against him again this year – he filed a Q2 FEC report, and the title of his website, which you can see via Google search for “Tom Wakely”, is “Tom Wakely to run against Lamar Smith in 2018”. The site is now just a placeholder, presumably awaiting a redesign for the change in focus of the campaign, so you’ll have to wait a bit to see what it looks like. For now, if you want to know more about him, go read his announcement or this Gilbert Garcia column from last year about his initial campaign against the odious Smith:

Tom Wakely

How else to describe a Bernie Sanders devotee who helped César Chávez organize grape boycotts in the 1970s, became a Unitarian Universalist pastor in the 1980s, ran a jazz club in Mexico in the 2000s and now uses his white-brick North Side home as a veterans hospice?

Wakely, 62, kicks off his general-election campaign Saturday afternoon at Tilo Mexican Restaurant (two blocks from his campaign headquarters), marking the white-bearded activist’s graduation from a self-described role on the political fringes to a spot closer to the center of the arena.

The only political office he ever sought prior to this year was a Wisconsin school board post he won 25 years ago. That probably would have been the end of his political career if not for the encouragement of Lucy Coffey, a World War II veteran who died last March in San Antonio at the age of 108. Coffey, the country’s oldest living female veteran at the time of her passing, befriended Wakely near the end of her life.

One day, Smith visited Coffey at the hospice run by Wakely and his wife, Lety, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico. After Smith concluded his visit, Coffey realized who he was, and remembered that he had voted against a 2010 bill designed to provide billions of dollars for medical treatment to 9/11 first responders.

“She was so upset with this guy,” Wakely said. “She said, ‘Someone needs to run against him.’”

Wakely decided to be that someone.

His primary victory over businessman Tejas Vakil provides Wakely the honor of being political roadkill for Smith, who has been mowing down Democratic rivals since Donald Trump was on his first marriage. Over a span of 30 years, Smith has never won a general election by a margin of less than 25 percent.

Wakely, it should be noted, did better than losing by 25 points to Smith – he lost by a bit more than 20 in 2016. Wakely notes in his announcement post that he “received more votes than any Democrat in the State of Texas running against a incumbent Republican member of Congress”. True, but that’s at least partly because he ran in the district that had more total votes cast than any other. The flip side of his statement is that Smith received more votes than all his fellow incumbent Republicans except for Kevin Brady (who was unopposed) and Michael Burgess, who was in the district with the second-highest overall turnout. If one wants to play the vote comparison game I prefer to do it by looking at how many votes each candidate from the same party received in a given district. Here’s how that looks in CD21:

Candidate     Votes    Pct
Clinton     152,515  42.1%
Garza       135,365  38.3%
Burns       133,428  38.1%
Johnson     131,683  37.5%
Wakely      129,765  36.5%
Robinson    129,520  36.8%
Meyers      129,412  36.8%
Westergren  126,623  35.8%
Yarbrough   122,144  34.6%

Right in the middle, literally the median Democrat. No obvious reason based on this to think he’d draw votes away from an opponent, but no reason to think he’d lose them, either. I admire his reason for running last year, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say for himself.

One more point to add, and that’s to correct something in PDiddie’s post, where he refers to the new law to ban straight ticket voting, which was HB25. There may or may not be a lawsuit against this, but none of it matters for 2018 because the law won’t take effect before then. Here’s the key passage in the text of the bill: “As soon as practicable after September 1, 2020, the Secretary of state shall distribute electronically to each county election administrator and the county chair of each political party notice that straight ticket voting has been eliminated”. In other words, we will still be able to vote a straight ticket next year. Possibly for the last time, but we will get at least one more go-round.

Jeffrey Payne

There’s at least one person who wants to run for Governor against Greg Abbott.

Jeffrey Payne

Democrat Jeffrey Payne of Dallas says he’s going to try. “I love Dallas, and I love Texas.”

Hours before Abbott’s announcement, Payne filed his paperwork at the Secretary of State’s Office in Austin. He’s a political newcomer who owns five small businesses, and says he will loan his campaign $2.5 million.

Payne says the state is too divided on the issues, and that he’s running to bring Texans together. “If we don’t have compromise, and compassion for one another, we’re never going to reach a resolution, and we’re just going to keep talking about it and kicking the can down the road.”

He says he’s in a same-sex marriage, but doesn’t believe people will focus on that — and instead, thinks they will consider whether he can solve the state’s problems.

Payne says the state doesn’t fund education adequately and believes the state should expand Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor, and he also opposes the new state law banning sanctuary cities.

While he supports increasing border security, he says those who are in the U.S. illegally should be placed on a path to citizenship.

Payne says he had previously told the Texas Democratic Party he was thinking about running for governor, but hadn’t notified party leaders as of midday Friday.

A party spokesman declined comment about his candidacy.

But in an email Wednesday, Democratic Party Communications Director Tariq Thowfeek said, “The Texas Democratic Party is talking to a number of great leaders, and an announcement will come at the appropriate time. These Texans come from diverse backgrounds with proven track records of leadership, and an unwavering commitment to our shared Democratic values.”

When asked how he would convince millions of Texans to vote for someone they may never have heard of, Payne said, “For the next 16 months, it’s going to be pressing the flesh and getting out there.”

[SMU Political Science Professor Matthew] Wilson says the Texas Democratic Party will find others who have political experience to run against Abbott. “Whoever’s going to be the Democratic nominee, is going to be someone either who is a celebrity or someone with a significant record.”

Payne doesn’t have a website or Facebook page for his candidacy as yet, so there’s not much more I can tell you about him. I am sure that the party is beating the bushes to find someone else, and I feel reasonably confident that someone with a higher profile will emerge. To say the least, this is a tall order and a longshot race. If no no else has popped up by October or so, then I’ll re-evaluate. Until then, I wish Mr. Payne the best of luck. You can see a brief interview with him here, and Stace and the Dallas Voice have more.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, there is now a second candidate in the race, Tom Wakely. Wakely ran against Lamar Smith in CD21 in 2016, and he filed a second-quarter FEC report, so his gubernatorial candidacy is a change of direction for him. I’ll do a separate post on him later.

Who will run statewide for the Dems?

For several statewide offices, it is unclear at this time who might run.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Lillie Schechter, the new chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party, has watched in recent months as at least seven candidates have come through the doors of the party headquarters to introduce themselves, eager for their shot at U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

That’s seven candidates that she can recall, but she may be forgiven for forgetting: Texas’ 7th Congressional District is one of several that have already drawn a swarm of Democratic candidates for 2018. The bonanza is unfolding not just in districts like the 7th — one of three in Texas that national Democrats are targeting — but also in even redder districts, delighting a state party that is not used to so much so interest so early.

“When we have competitive primaries, we get to engage with more Democrats,” Schechter said. “I do not see that as a negative thing.”

Yet it’s just one part of the picture for Democrats at the outset of the 2018 election cycle. While the congressional races are overflowing with candidates, the party remains without a number of statewide contenders — a reality that is coming into focus ahead of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s anticipated announcement Friday that he’s running for re-election. Barring any last-minute surprises, Abbott will make his second-term bid official without the presence of a serious Democratic rival.


So far, Democrats have three statewide candidates they see as serious: U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso for U.S. Senate, Houston-area accountant Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, for agriculture commissioner. They are without similarly credible contenders for governor, comptroller, land commissioner, railroad commissioner and attorney general — a seat considered particularly worth targeting because the GOP incumbent, Ken Paxton, is under indictment.

By far the biggest profile belongs to O’Rourke, who announced his challenge to Cruz in March. As the top of the ticket — assuming he wins his party’s primary next year — he stands a chance of being Texas Democrats’ standard-bearer in 2018, regardless of whom they ultimately put up for the other statewide jobs.

In an interview Monday, O’Rourke said he was not worried about the lack of company so far on his party’s statewide ticket.

“I can’t worry about what I can’t control, and so we’re just going to focus on our campaign,” he said.

But he also expressed optimism for the party’s prospects up and down the ballot in 2018 “as more people become aware of how significantly the dynamics have changed in Texas.”

The story notes that former State Rep. Allen Vaught is also looking at Lt. Governor, and it’s not impossible to imagine him running there with Collier shifting over to Comptroller again. I am aware of at least one person looking at the AG race, and if there’s one slot I feel confident will have a name in it, it’s that one. As for Governor, who knows. We wanted Julian Castro, but we’re not going to get Julian Castro. I had been thinking about Trey Martinez-Fischer, but he’s not interested. As with AG, I feel reasonably confident someone will run. I just don’t know how exciting that person will be.

As the story notes, there are many, many people running for Congress. At least five races, in CDs 02, 07, 21, 31, and 32, have multiple candidates, and some of those candidates have already raised a very decent amount of money. There are still plenty of races in need of candidates – CDs 22 and 24 come to mind, as well as SD16 and various State House seats – but I’m not worried about any of them yet. One way of thinking about this is to note that in the last three cycles, the number of Democratic challengers for Republican-held districts in the State House has been 38 in 2016, 37 in 2014, and 39 in 2012, with the latter being inflated by redistricting and the 2010 wipeout. Fewer than half of all Republican State House incumbents have had November opponents in each of these cycles. To be sure, one reason for that is that a large number of these districts are basically hopeless from our perspective, but there is more to it than that. If there’s ever a year to get a larger number of challengers for red districts, this is it. We won’t know the totals for certain until after the filing deadline, but this is something to keep an eye on. The DMN has more.

What West Texas can do to improve their schools

Here’s an op-ed from the Statesman about one educator in West Texas who has had enough.

My hero this week is Graydon Hicks, Fort Davis superintendent of schools.

A West Texas publication published his open letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick raking them over the coals for “the lack of positive legislative action for public schools in Texas” at the most recent session, which adjourned at the end of May without passing a school finance bill.

Hicks is a West Point graduate and an experienced school administrator. He is no-nonsense guy who does not mince words. After detailing the effect of shrinking state financial support for public schools on Fort Davis schools over the past 10 years — combined with an increasing number of unfunded mandates and requirements — Hicks wrote, “How much more do you want to harm our children?

“If your intent is to dissolve public education (and your actions are more than a clear signal of such), then simply go on the record with that statement and remove the state’s authority to further overburden us without financial support. Quit pontificating about bathrooms. Quit hiding your intentions behind righteous statements about school vouchers and choice.”

Hicks accompanied his letter with a chart showing the annually declining amount of state funding available to the Fort Davis school district and the increasing burden on local taxpayers since 2008. That year, state funding amounted to $3.9 million, or 68 percent of the school district’s budget. Local property taxes provided $1.8 million, or 32 percent. In 2017, the state will contribute $378,000 — about one-tenth of its 2008 commitment, or 15 percent of the total budget. Local taxes this year will provide $2.2 million, or 85 percent.

“The Fort Davis ISD has 226 students,” Hicks wrote. “It has no cafeteria, has no bus routes, has dropped our band program, has eliminated (or not filled) 15 staff positions, has cut stipends for extra-curricular activities, has frozen (or reduced) staff pay for one year, has cut extra-curricular programs, has no debt, and has increased our local tax rate to the maximum allowed by the law.

“We have nothing left to cut.”

I agree that Superintendent Hicks sounds like a fine fellow who is speaking truth to power. That said, I feel compelled to point out how Jeff Davis County (*), which is where Fort Davis ISD, voted in the last gubernatorial election:

Greg Abbott             623  60.54%
Wendy R. Davis          366  35.57%
Kathie Glass             31   3.01%
Brandon Parmer            9   0.87%

Lieutenant Governor
Dan Patrick             560  56.62%
Leticia Van de Putte    375  37.92%
Robert D. Butler         48   4.85%
Chandrakantha Courtney    6   0.61%

Hold that thought. Now here’s a similar story about the school funding woes in West Texas:

Educators were excited to hear Gov. Greg Abbott announce he would call lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session to consider $1,000 teacher pay raises.

But Donna Hale, superintendent at 200-student Miami ISD in rural Roberts County, is wondering where the money is going to come from. An unfunded mandate, she said, could throw a wrench into their already difficult budgeting process.

“That’s the last thing we really need – the state saying you’ve got to do this when they’re not offering any support for us,” said Hale, who already doubles as the district’s librarian and said she was considering taking over as principal to cut payroll costs.

A wind farm and a sea of oil and natural gas wells in Roberts County has been good to Miami ISD, giving the district a flush tax base to pay for teachers and buildings. But its $1 billion dollar tax roll was cut in half this last year amid tumbling oil and gas prices. A state aid provision that it has relied on in recent years to guard against economic downturns expires in September and will take more than a third of the district’s budget with it.

Many rural schools like Miami ISD, the only school district in the county, are facing a similar dilemma and pleading with the State Legislature to act. Lawmakers return to the Capitol next month for a legislative overtime period, but school finance reform has taken a back seat to bills regulating bathroom use and creating a school choice program.

Again, I sympathize, and again, I wonder how did Roberts County vote in 2014?

Greg Abbott             324  93.91%
Wendy R. Davis           15   4.35%
Kathie Glass              5   1.45%
Brandon Parmer            1   0.29%

Lieutenant Governor			

Dan Patrick             320  93.29%
Leticia Van de Putte     12   3.50%
Robert D. Butler         10   2.92%
Chandrakantha Courtney    1   0.29%

I think you get where I’m going with this. Now, I will stipulate that in 2014, one might have been able to believe that Greg Abbott, who was touting an expansion of pre-K, and Dan Patrick, who had served as the Senate Education Committee chair and had passed some bipartisan bills during that time, could at least have been okay on education and school finance issues. Here in June of 2017, after a session that included the Senate refusing to consider HB21 and a special session that includes vouchers on the agenda, it’s really hard to believe that now. Further, both counties are represented in the Lege by pro-education members. Roberts County is served by Sen. Kel Seliger, who was the only Senate Republican to oppose the main voucher bill, and by Rep. Ken King, who was endorsed by Texas Parent PAC in the 2012 primary. Jeff Davis County has two Democrats, Sen. Jose Rodriguez and Rep. Cesar Blanco, in the Lege. Both were unopposed in 2016, and Blanco was unopposed in 2014, but in all three cases they drew a comparable number of votes to Republicans on the ballot. In addition, former Rep. Pete Gallego carried Jeff Davis County in 2010, even as Rick Perry and the rest of the Republicans were also winning it. The voters there do vote for pro-education candidates. Will they – and other counties like them – recognize in 2018 that “pro-education” does not describe Abbott or Patrick? I for one will have a lot more sympathy for their plight if they do.

(*) Yeah, I know.

An interesting shift in approval ratings for state leaders

More UT/Trib poll data:

The figurative wrestling match between the state’s top three officials jiggled their approval ratings, but not by much, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Gov. Greg Abbott remains the highest rated of the state’s high officials, with 45 percent of voters saying they approve his job performance and 38 saying they disapprove. That’s slightly higher than the 33 percent who disapproved in February’s UT/TT Poll, but he continues to get more positive than negative reviews.

The same can’t be said for his legislative colleagues. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus have more negative than positive reviews, though the margins are small. Patrick got good reviews from 34 percent of voters and bad ones from 36 percent; Straus had 25 percent good reviews and 29 percent negative ones. The speaker, as is ordinarily the case, remains the least well-known of the three, with 46 percent of voters either giving him neutral or no ratings.

Republican voters clearly have a favorite in Abbott, with 83 percent approving his job performance. Patrick gets good marks from 68 percent of those voters. Among Tea Party Republicans, Abbott gets approving nods from 90 percent; Patrick from 78 percent.

The most popular U.S. senator from Texas is Ted Cruz, with 38 percent of Texas voters saying they approve of the job he’s doing, while 28 percent approve of John Cornyn’s work in the Senate. But Cruz is also the leader in negative reviews, getting those from 44 percent of voters. Cornyn got negative marks from 41 percent. That said, the margins are important, and Cornyn had a wider gap — 13 percentage points — between his bad notices and his favorable ones.

They also polled Beto O’Rourke’s favorability numbers, but 55% of respondents didn’t know him, so that’s not very useful. The poll summary is here and it conveniently includes the numbers from previous efforts, so as I did on Friday I’m going to do a little comparing between February and now:

Incumbent     StrongApp  SomeApp  Neutral  SomeDis  StrongDis  DontKnow
Abbott June          27       18       12        9         29         4
Abbott Feb           27       18       17        9         24         5

Patrick June         15       19       18        8         28        11
Patrick Feb          16       16       24        8         23        14

Cornyn June           9       19       18       14         27        12
Cornyn Feb           11       19       22       12         22        14

Cruz June            21       17       12        9         35         6
Cruz Feb             20       18       14       10         29         9

I’m skipping Joe Straus because he’s not elected statewide like the others are. The Strongly Approve and Somewhat Approve numbers are basically identical for all. The one place where you see a change is in the Strongly Disapprove numbers, where everyone got a five or six point increase, with a corresponding decrease in the “neither approve nor disapprove” numbers; in Ted Cruz’s case, in that category plus the “don’t know” option. My guess is that the people who went from “meh” to “I can’t stand that guy” are mostly Democrats, and that the change represents a higher level of interest and engagement by them. I don’t know how much that might mean, and it’s possible this is more a function of the legislature being in session than anything else, meaning that it could vanish by October. Who knows? That will be worth keeping an eye on. I just thought it was worth noting.

More big employers against a bathroom bill

I don’t know what it will take to get this message to sink in, but it won’t be for lack of trying.

The CEOs of 14 top companies, including Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, have sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott urging him not to pass discriminatory legislation.

“As large employers in the state, we are gravely concerned that any such legislation would deeply tarnish Texas’ reputation as open and friendly to businesses and families,” the CEOs wrote Abbott in a letter dated May 27. “Our ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, encourage new business relocations, expansions and investment, and maintain our economic competitiveness would all be negatively affected.

In addition to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook, the letter was signed by Amazon CEO Jeff Wilke, IBM Chairman Ginni Rometty, Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. The leaders of Dell Technologies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Cisco, Silicon Labs, Celanese Corp., GSD&M, Salesforce and Gearbox Software also signed the letter.

“We strongly urge you and the Texas Legislature not to further pursue legislation of this kind,” they added.

The letter, which has not been made public but was released to The Dallas Morning News, was sent just days before state lawmakers were scheduled to gavel out the 2017 regular legislative session. The year’s most controversial and divisive issue has been a Senate proposal to block transgender Texans from using restrooms that match their gender identities.

That story ran on Sunday, so the letter is public now – you can find an image of it on Michael Dell’s Facebook page. There was a time when a Republican Governor of Texas would have taken this kind of feedback very seriously, but the Republican Party of Texas is no longer interested in what businesses have to say. What happens from here is entirely up to Abbott, but what happens after he makes his choice is up to the rest of us, including these businesses. If we want leaders in our state who value inclusion over discrimination and the reputation of the state over crass political interests, we’ll need to support and vote for such leaders. ThinkProgress has more.

Are we headed for a special session?

Maybe. Who knows? We’ll find out soon enough.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday promised to make an announcement “later this week” on whether he will call a special session.

“I can tell you this, and that is when it gets to a special session, the time and the topics are solely up to the governor of the state of Texas, and we will be, if we have a special session, convening only on the topics that I choose at the time of my choosing,” Abbott told reporters after a bill-signing ceremony in Austin.

Monday is the last day of the regular session. Lawmakers still have not come to an agreement on property taxes and a “bathroom bill” that would regulate which restroom transgender Texans can use. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had named those issues priorities in the homestretch, and Patrick has pushed for a special session on them.

Asked how much pressure he felt from Patrick to call a special session, Abbott replied, “none.”

On Sunday, the House and Senate descended into finger-pointing over inaction on critical legislation needed to keep some state agencies from shuttering. Patrick has threatened to hold hostage the measure, known as a sunset safety net bill, if he does not get his way on property taxes and the bathroom issue.

“My biggest disappointment, of course, is the sunset bill did not pass,” Abbott said Monday. “This is something that is incredibly easy to achieve that members could’ve very easily gotten together and agreed upon but simply was not done.”

See this previous Trib story for some more of the details. Abbott’s gonna do what Abbott’s gonna do, and what he does will depend on what he thinks is best for himself. He’ll let us know what that is when he’s good and ready.

SB4 is what you get when you vote for Greg Abbott

This is me, shaking my head.

Duque, who is Latina and Catholic, represents two constituencies Abbott courted during his campaign. The same constituencies strongly opposed the sanctuary cities ban, which Abbott made an emergency item in January and championed throughout the legislative session.

Now, his crusade may have cost him the support of some Latinos and Catholics, who are promising to oppose Abbott when he runs for re-election next year.

“He says one thing, but does another,” Duque said. “I think this is a moment for the next generation of Latinos to come out and vote and elect someone who will be really honest.”

During Abbott’s State of the State Address in late January, he pointed out a guest in the audience, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Abbott thanked DiNardo for his support on issues, such as abortion, that he fights on partly because of his Catholic faith.

But Abbott hasn’t publicly responded to DiNardo and other Texas bishops who oppose the sanctuary cities ban. The Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement two weeks ago saying its members were “disappointed” in the bill passed by the House and signed by Abbott.

“Immigration law should be enforced in a way that is targeted, proportional and humane,” DiNardo said in that statement. “This bill does not meet the standard.”

On Friday, the Texas bishops joined a chorus of other advocacy groups asking Abbott to veto the bill. Sunday night, as churchgoers were wrapping up their days of worship, Abbott signed the sanctuary cities ban during a Facebook Live video stream. Some Catholics took that as an affront.

“I’m shocked that the Governor chose to sign this anti-Latino, anti-immigrant, ‘Show Me Your Papers’ bill today on a day of worship,” Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, said in a statement. “While many Hispanics and immigrants are attending mass, the Governor is signing a bill that will profile these people and tear apart their families.”

Here’s a letter signed by a large number of faith leaders denouncing SB4, which will have no more effect on Abbott than a letter signed by Hollywood celebrities. You’ve heard the term “cafeteria Catholic”, which refers to people who pick and choose which part of the dogma they adhere to? It’s often used derisively to describe pro-choice Catholics, but by any reasonable definition, it fits Greg Abbott to a T. He’s right there on banning abortion and discriminating against the gays, but one matters like immigration, refugees, economic and environmental justice and on and on, he’s no more devout than any Christmas-and-Easter-only churchgoer. Like the people who pray in public, he wants to make sure you know how super-duper pious he is.

And look, it’s not like he’s ever made any secret of his support of “sanctuary cities” legislation. If you thought otherwise, you probably also thought Donald Trump wasn’t going to take away your health insurance. All I can say now is I hope you’ve finally figured it out.

Dowd declines to run for Senate

Not a surprise.

Not Ted Cruz

Matthew Dowd, a political commentator and former strategist for George W. Bush, announced Wednesday that he will not challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018.

Dowd had been considering an independent run against Cruz, who is up for a second term. Dowd said this year that he had been encouraged by prominent members of both parties to take on Cruz.

“I’ve decided the best use of my voice is not putting myself in that position and running for that office in that way,” Dowd said in an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. “I think the best use of my most authentic voice and where my life is and what I want to do is in a different manner rather than running for office.”

Dowd was still critical of Cruz, saying he has been focused on higher office since being elected Texas’ junior senator in 2012. “Republicans in Iowa feel more represented by Ted Cruz than people in Texas,” Dowd said.

See here for the background. With all due respect to Matthew Dowd, I never took this seriously because it takes a lot of petition signatures to get on the ballot as an independent in Texas. Specifically, you need one percent of the total vote received by all candidates for governor in the most recent gubernatorial general election, which for the 2014 election would mean over 471,000 signatures, in a fairly short period of time from people who didn’t vote in either primary or primary runoff. That takes a lot of resources – money and/or volunteers – and most people can’t do that. Maybe Dowd could have, but that was his barrier to entry. It would have been interesting to have him on the ballot, and it would have made it easier to beat Cruz had he been there, but it would have been a surprise to see him there.

(Note: this was all before the possibility of John Cornyn’s Senate seeat being vacated came up. Special elections are not the same as primaries, as they are non-partisan. I don’t think you need anything more than a filing fee to jump in, which is why the field in 1993 for the seat Kay Bailey Hutchison eventually won was so crowded. As such, Dowd could get into that race if he wanted to without any difficulty. I have no idea if that holds any interest for him, if such a race were to happen, I just wanted to note this for the record.)

Bathroom bills and business interests

Texas Monthly’s Dave Mann reviews the Republican schism over the bathroom bill and comes to the same conclusion as I have.

At the moment, the Legislature—and the Republican party, for that matter—has settled into an uneasy stalemate between Patrick’s right-leaning Senate and Straus’s more moderate coalition in the House. But, as they say, stalemates are made to be broken, and right now, Patrick’s faction seems likely to prevail eventually. It has the support of the most-devoted Republican primary voters, many of whom view moderation or compromise as surrender.

So business leaders and their Republican allies are in a precarious position. They still have a power base in the House, because Straus and his leadership team have fended off several challenges from the right, but he won’t be speaker forever. This session is his fifth leading the House, tying the record for longest-serving speaker with Pete Laney and Gib Lewis. Whenever he departs, Straus could well be replaced by a more conservative figure. So the talk among business Republicans in Austin’s bars and restaurants these days is about how they can reverse their losses and reclaim their party.

Well, good luck with that. The Republican grass roots aren’t going to moderate themselves, and it seems likely that business-friendly Republicans will continue to lose primaries, especially in statewide races. As long as that dynamic remains, the Republican party won’t be tilting back toward the middle anytime soon.

But there is another political party. Remember that one? It’s been stripped down and left to rust for the past two decades. But the Texas Democratic party is still there, waiting for someone to gas it up and take it for a spin.

That’s just what big-business interests should do. The TAB and any number of influential corporations could easily take over the party by recruiting and funding candidates to run as Democrats. It would be a homecoming of sorts; after all, years ago, before the state flipped to the GOP, business-friendly Republicans were conservative Democrats.

The problem with this idea is that Democrats can’t win in Texas at the moment. Sure, big business could take over the Democratic party, but what good would it do? Except the goal here isn’t to suddenly flip the state back to the Democrats. No, the goal would simply be to make Democrats somewhat more competitive, especially in statewide races. They don’t necessarily have to win, just get close enough to scare Republicans and perhaps nudge the GOP back toward moderation.

Republican primaries might turn out differently if there was the threat of a tight race in the general election—and that threat could be more credible in 2018 than it has been in years, with many pundits expecting the national mood to favor Democrats by then. Would Abbott strike a more moderate tone if he knew a well-funded pro-business Democrat was waiting for him in the 2018 general? Part of the business lobby’s problem with Patrick is that it has no way to threaten him. He’s untouchable in a Republican primary, and his general election campaigns have been cakewalks. But if, say, a conservative Democrat, backed by big-business money, opposed him in 2018, that might lead Patrick to moderate just a bit. Similarly, if the GOP once again nominated social conservatives with questionable credentials—like Attorney General Ken Paxton, currently under indictment, or Sid Miller, the agriculture commissioner famous for traveling out of state for his “Jesus shot”—for statewide offices, they’d at least have a challenging race in the fall. And just maybe the specter of a formidable Democratic opponent would lead to a more robust debate within the Republican party, rather than simply a mass rush to the right.

While I agree with Mann in the aggregate, there are several places where I disagree. For one thing, I don’t know what he means by a “conservative” Democrat, but I do know that Democratic primary voters aren’t going to be interested in that. Discussions like this often get bogged down in semantics and everyone’s personal definitions of words like “liberal” and “conservative”, but I think we can all agree that a Democratic candidate who is “conservative” (or just relatively “conservative” for a Democrat) in the social issues sense is going to be extremely controversial. It’s not like Democrats haven’t tried the approach of soft-pedaling such items in recent elections – see, for example, Wendy Davis’ muteness on abortion and her flipflop on open carry in 2014 – it’s just that there’s little to no evidence that it has helped them any. Maybe nothing could have helped them in those elections, but in the Trump era where everyone is fired up with the spirit of resistance, it’s really hard to see how this approach would do anything but piss people off.

I also dispute the assertion that the threat of a close race will make Republicans more likely to choose the less-extreme, more “electable” candidate in their primaries. For Exhibit A, see Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. Surely Bill White was a credible threat to them that year, but Rick Perry’s successful strategy was the exact opposite of striking a more “moderate” tone. The only thing that might convince Republican primary voters to try something different will be sustained electoral failure. To say the least, we are not there yet.

What I would recommend for Democrats like Mike Collier and Beto O’Rourke and whoever might emerge to challenge Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton is to approach the business community by reminding them that we already broadly agree on a number of core matters – quality public and higher education, better infrastructure, sanity on immigration, non-discrimination – and where we may disagree on things like taxes and regulations, the Lege will still be Republican. What you get with, say, a Democratic Lt. Governor is a hedge against self-inflicted stupidity of the SB6 and “sanctuary cities” variety. You will get someone who will listen to reason and who will be persuaded by evidence. From the business community’s perspective, this is a better deal than what they have now, and a better deal than any they’re likely to get in the near future. For there to be a chance for that to happen, it will take Democratic candidates that a fired-up base can and will support, plus the willingness of the business community to recognize the hand they’ve been dealt. The ball is in their court.

Texas Lyceum poll on Trump and 2018

From the inbox, the promised Day Two results:

Statewide poll numbers released today by the Texas Lyceum, the state’s premier, non-partisan, nonprofit statewide leadership group, show U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Houston (Lyceum Class of 2004) isn’t guaranteed another term as Texas’ Senator according to early trial ballots pitting the incumbent against his two likely Democratic challengers: U.S. Congressmen Beto O’Rourke of El Paso and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.

Senator Cruz is tied with Congressman O’Rourke, who entered the contest last month, at 30 percent each. However, 37 percent of registered Texas voters say they haven’t thought about the race yet. Congressman Castro fairs slightly better against the incumbent Senator, with 35 percent of Texas adults saying they support him over Ted Cruz at 31 percent.

“Ballot tests conducted this far in advance of an actual election are, at best, useful in gauging the potential weaknesses of incumbents seeking re-election,” said Daron Shaw. “But the substantial percentage of undecided respondents—coupled with the conservative, pro-Republican proclivities of the Texas electorate in recent years—suggest a cautious interpretation.”

Patrick vs. Collier

Meantime, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger, Houston area accountant Mike Collier, comes within the margin of error if that 2018 race were held today. 27 percent chose the little-known Collier compared to 25 percent who chose Lieutenant Governor Patrick. But again “not thought about it” outpaces both candidates at 46 percent in that race – which is also 18 months away.

Right Track/ Wrong Track

Compared to last year, fewer Texans believe the country is on the wrong track at 52 percent compared to to 63 percent in 2016. However, party and race drive much of the results, with 84 percent of Democrats saying the country is on the wrong track, and 73 percent of Republicans expressing that things are moving in the right direction.

President Trump’s job approval numbers line up by party

More Texans disapprove than approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as President (54 percent to 42 percent), but the results vary significantly by party. 85 percent of Republicans give the President positive marks compared to 86 percent of Democrats who disapprove of his job performance. Same goes for young Texans – 73 percent of 18-29 year olds are not enthused with the President’s job performance along with 61 percent of Hispanics. Meantime, he is viewed positively by 60 percent of Whites.

The press release for Day Two, from which I am quoting above, is here, and the Day Two Executive Summary is here. My post on the Day One poll is here, and the Lyceum poll page for 2017 is here. As you might imagine, I have a few thoughts about this.

1. For comparison purposes, the UT/Trib poll from February had Trump’s approval ratings at 46/44, which is to say slightly more approval but considerably less disapproval than the Lyceum result, with both polls showing a strong split between Dems and Republicans. What explains the divergence of the results, given the similar partisan dynamic? Two likely reasons: First, the Trib poll is of registered voters, while the Lyceum surveys adults, of whom 11% are not registered. It’s probable that the broader the sample, the less Republican-leaning it is. We don’t know what the partisan mix is of the Lyceum poll so this is just a guess, but it is consistent with the numbers. Two, the Trib result showed that independents were basically evenly split on Trump, at least in February. The Lyceum poll doesn’t say how indies felt about Trump, but if it is the case that they were sufficiently against him, that would have tilted the numbers into negative territory. Again I’m just guessing, but either or both of these things being true could explain the difference.

2. I’m not sure what the “cautious interpretation” of the very early horse race numbers Daron Shaw has in mind is, but my cautious interpretation is that these numbers kind of stink for Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick. Not because of what the Democrats got, though I’ll speak to those figures in a minute, but because there was so little support expressed for Cruz and Patrick. A key feature of many super early polls is that a lot of people haven’t given the matter any thought, and of those who have many don’t yet have an opinion or don’t feel strongly enough about it to express an opinion. With challengers, there’s often a name recognition factor as well, so the generally low number that a newbie will get reflects little more than some raw partisan preference. But here we are talking about two incumbents who are the highest-profile politicians in the state. For Cruz to top out at 31 percent and Patrick at 25 percent, with both trailing lesser-known opponents, suggests that there’s not a whole lot of love for these guys. It’s hardly a time for panic, but I’d be at least a little bit concerned about such limp numbers if I were them.

3. By the same token, even a 35% support level for Joaquin Castro at this point in time, and even before he’s a candidate (if indeed he becomes one), is not too shabby. Remember, most people haven’t given this any thought or don’t have a strong opinion if they have one, yet Castro is already almost at the level of support that actual 2014 statewide Democrats received that year. That suggests at least the possibility of a higher than usual level of engagement and interest. For another point of comparison, the November 2013 UT/Trib poll for the Governor’s race had Greg Abbott leading Wendy Davis 40-35; this was not long after the summer of the Davis filibuster and the the HB2 special sessions, when enthusiasm for Davis was about as high as it ever was to get, as well as being seven months farther along in the calendar. It’s one result and I don’t want to over-interpret, but given all the other evidence we have about Democratic levels of engagement this year, it feels like we’re starting out in a different place. Beto O’Rourke’s thirty percent against Cruz is closer to what I’d consider the normal default level for Dems in a very early poll, but in this case the difference between himself and Catro may just be a reflection of a higher level of name recognition for Castro.

4. Again, it is important to remember this is a poll of adults, eleven percent of whom in this sample are not registered to vote. I don’t know how the numbers break down by registered/not registered, but the point here is that it is likely a significant number of the people in this poll will not participate in the 2018 election, and as such their opinions just don’t matter. That said, a huge piece of the puzzle for Democrats, especially next year, will be to get lower propensity voters to the polls, as we saw happen in the recent Congressional special elections in Kansas and Georgia. This one poll doesn’t tell us much, but future polls may paint a picture of how or if that is happening for Democrats, and for Republicans too – if they are less engaged, then they will have trouble.

5. Which brings me back to the Presidential approval numbers, as they are likely to be the best proxy we will have for voter enthusiasm going forward. As noted before, Democrats and Republicans have roughly similar levels of disapproval and approval of Donald Trump, which means that any change in the overall level of approval for Trump will come from either independents turning against him and/or Republicans abandoning him. This poll suggests the possibility of #1 happening, but as yet we have not seen evidence of #2. If we ever do, that’s going to be a big deal, and potentially a big problem for the Republicans. RG Ratcliffe, TPM, and the Trib have more.

Would a contested primary for Senate be bad for Dems in 2018?

I have three things to say about this.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A primary showdown between two well-liked and well-funded Democrats would add an extra layer of time and money for [Rep. Beto] O’Rourke and potentially [Rep. Joaquin] Castro – and could make it easier for Cruz to brand the winner as an out-of-touch liberal if O’Rourke and Castro need to spend time winning over the state’s liberal base.

“A competitive primary will split the party, leave hard feelings and limit the ability to raise the money needed to compete in the general” election, said University of Houston professor Brandon Rottinghaus, author of a recent book on Texas politics. “Two competitive Democrats in the primary who have run in the past has fractured the party and created new fault lines that Dem voters weren’t able to cross.”

Rottinghaus brought up the 2002 election, in which former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk won a four-way Democratic primary to challenge Sen. John Cornyn for an open seat at the time. While Republicans were united behind Cornyn’s ultimately successful bid, Democrats were divided by geographical and ideological interests that made it harder to win the general election.

In recent years, big-name Democrats have largely stayed out of one another’s way in statewide races. State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth faced nominal opposition in her 2014 gubernatorial bid against Greg Abbott, which she lost. Democrats did not contest primaries in races for lieutenant governor or attorney general.

1. I dispute the notion that a contested primary is necessarily a “good” or “bad” thing for a party’s chances in November. I certainly disagree with the assertion about the 2002 Senate primary. For one thing, it was mostly overshadowed by the Tony Sanchez/Dan Morales gubernatorial primary. For another, Ron Kirk was one of the better-performing Democrats, getting a higher percentage of the vote than any Dem after John Sharp and Margaret Mirabal. I’m gonna need to see some numbers before I buy that argument. Plenty of candidates have won general elections after winning nasty, brutal primary fights – see Ann Richards in 1990 and Ted Cruz in 2012, to pick two off the top of my head. I’ll bet a dollar right now that if Ted Cruz is re-elected next year, a primary between Beto O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro will be very low on the list of reasons why he won.

2. We don’t know yet if Castro will run or not – he says he’ll tell us later this month. As was the case last week in Dallas, Castro has made multiple appearances at events with Beto O’Rourke, which for now at least has kept everything nice and civil. I’ve said that I don’t think Castro will give up his safe Congressional seat and increasingly high profile within the party for what everyone would agree is a longshot run against Cruz. (Though perhaps somewhat less of a longshot if the political conditions from that Kansas special election persist through next November.) If he does, however, and especially if he does in the context of having to win a March election first, then I’d suggest it’s because he thinks his odds of winning are better than the current empirical evidence would imply. Maybe he’d be wrong about that, but I believe if Castro jumps in, it’s because he really believes he can win, above and beyond the usual amount that candidates believe.

3. Whatever Castro does, I do hope Beto O’Rourke faces at least one primary challenger, even if that’s a fringe or perennial candidate. I want him to take it seriously and begin engaging voters as soon as possible. As I said before, I was wrong to be dismissive about the 2014 primaries and what they meant for that November. Whoever else runs, I prefer to see this primary as an opportunity and not a threat.

Popovich for Governor

This site was set up by a Facebook friend of mine. Right now, all that’s there is a form to fill out to exhort Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to run for Governor, plus links to buy Pop-for-Governor T-shirts. I doubt it will be more than that, but I’d pay good money to see a sideline reporter ask him about it during a game telecast. I also doubt that Popovich’s name came up during the recent Democratic confab in Austin, but hey, you never know. We are early enough in the cycle to do a little wishcasting, so enjoy it while you can.

Texas Dems look to 2018

I have a few things to say about this.

Just because

A tight-knit group of Texas Democratic leaders traveled to the state capital [in late January] to begin preliminary conversations about the 2018 midterm races.

According to over a dozen interviews with Texas Democratic insiders and national Democrats with ties to the state, the meeting included some of the party’s most well-known figures from Texas including former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Texas Democratic Party Finance Chairman Mike Collier, former state Sen. Wendy Davis, state Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and state Reps. Rafael Anchia of Dallas and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie.

Their main agenda: mapping out a strategy for the 2018 midterm elections.

The expectations in the room were not soaring but were cautiously hopeful. That optimism was mostly rooted around one person: President Donald Trump.

“I think 2018 will be the most favorable environment Texas Democrats have had in a midterm election in well over a decade,” said Turner, who declined to comment on the meeting. “I think when you look at the actions of the Trump administration just three weeks in, you’re seeing a president with historically low approval ratings in what should be a honeymoon period, and no indication that’s going to change given his divisive actions.”

Trump’s presidency brings together a confluence of several factors that Democrats hope will get candidates over the line: a stronger-than-past Texas Democratic performance last November in urban centers, the traditional backlash against a sitting president in the midterms and an increasingly expected added drag that Trump will create for Republicans.

The Democratic calculation is that in this unpredictable and angry climate, a full 2018 slate could produce a surprising win or two statewide or down-ballot.


Sources say no decisions were made on whom should run in which slot, nor was that widely discussed. Instead, the emphasis was on ensuring that state leaders would work together to present the strongest slate possible.

And also unlike past cycles, the Democratic planning this term centers on the political climate, rather than on a singularly compelling personality running for governor.

That the meeting happened at the outset of the state’s legislative session was also no coincidence. Democrats sense an opportunity to win over some of the business community, particularly as the “bathroom bill” touted by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continues to percolate at the state Capitol and as immigration, and particularly Trump’s proposals for a border wall and Mexican tariffs, roil national politics.

Parker did emphasize to the Tribune that the conversations about 2018 are happening throughout the state.

“It’s never going to be about what a small group of people said or do in a room,” she said. “It’s about what the people of Texas tell us what they need. Many of us have committed to going out and having those conversations.”


Since the Jan. 27 meeting, Julian Castro, the most-speculated Democratic contender to take on Gov. Greg Abbott, has made clear he is unlikely to run statewide in 2018. He all but closed the door on that possibility in an early morning tweet Thursday.

Instead, the most frequently floated gubernatorial candidate is Collier, a 2014 state comptroller candidate. Collier is relatively unknown statewide but impressed several Democrats in that previous run. He has also been suggested as a possible contender to run for lieutenant governor.

It’s the U.S. Senate race that is quickly becoming the center of the Democratic world, in part because of the incumbent, Cruz, and because of the two Democratic up-and-comers mulling runs: O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro.

Both men are in the same 2012 congressional class and are considered friendly with each other.

Democrats in the state and in Congress are closely watching how the two men maneuver around a possible primary race against each other, but the betting money is that O’Rourke is more likely to follow through with a run.

My thoughts:

– Optimism tempered with reality is the way to go. Dems basically have nothing to lose – HD107 was the only Dem-won seat that was remotely close – and plenty of targets that at least appear to be closer after last year. To be sure, there was reason for optimism going into 2014 as well, and we know how that turned out. The difference is who’s in the White House.

– The “tempered by reality” part is the recognition that all the seats we are trying to win were drawn to elect Republicans, and to put it mildly there’s no track record of good Democratic turnout in off years. You have to believe, as I do, that the national political climate is a big factor in how these elections play out, and that 2018 will be different than 2014 and 2010. Different doesn’t have to mean better, but all things considered it’s the more likely possibility.

– Dan Patrick has got to be a better statewide target than Greg Abbott. Abbott has good favorability numbers, and he’s not out there leading the charge for SB6. Mike Collier is the kind of credible-to-business candidate Dems could present as a viable alternative to Patrick to the business lobby. There are many reasons why those guys may stick with the devil they know even as he works against their interests, but at least there’s a chance they could be persuaded. There’s no chance they would abandon Abbott. If I were advising Mike Collier, I’d tell him to put Lite Guv first on my list. Sure, it would be nice to have a candidate with legislative experience running for that spot, but 1) the main thing you need to know as the guy who presides over the Senate is parliamentary procedure, and 2) have you even seen the guy Dan Patrick backed for President? Don’t come at me with this “experience matters” stuff.

– As long as we’re being optimistic, let’s assume Ken Paxton gets convicted between now and next November, and he does not get primaried out. It shouldn’t be that hard to find a decent candidate willing to take that bet. Just make sure that he or she has the resources needed to win the Dem primary in the event a Grady Yarbrough/Lloyd Oliver type decides to get in. The one thing we absolutely cannot do is accidentally nominate a joke to oppose Paxton.

– Having good candidates with sufficient resources to wage active campaigns in the legislative races will have a positive effect on turnout just as having a strong slate at the top of the ticket. This is not an either-or, it’s a both-and.

– Along those lines, the next best way to check Dan Patrick’s power is to reduce the number of Republicans in the Senate. Dallas County Democrats need to find a strong candidate to run against Don Huffines. Dallas County needs to be strong in 2018.

– The story talks about Democratic performance in the urban centers, and that’s important, but the suburbs matter as well. Opportunities exist in Fort Bend, Brazoria, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, and there are also a lot of votes in these places. Part of the strategy needs to be geared towards turning the tide in the suburbs. If nothing else, winning a seat in one of these places really changes the narrative, and serves as a concrete marker of progress.

– At some point, Democrats need to figure out how to translate the message that they have won on in big urban centers to smaller but still sizeable urban centers where they have not done as well. I’m talking about Lubbock, Amarillo, Corpus Christi, places like that. Burgeoning urban centers in suburban and exurban places, like Sugar Land, Pearland, Katy, New Braunfels, Plano, etc etc etc need to be on that list as well. Some of these places already have a Democratic presence on their City Councils and school boards. All of them could use more attention from the kind of people who gathered in Austin to talk about 2018. Who do we have in these places to even present the Democratic message? If such people exist among the local elected officials, support them and help raise their profile. If they don’t, bring in the shining faces we hope to be offering for larger roles and have them deliver it, then find opportunities to grow some local success stories there. I mean, this is what the Republicans were doing in the 70s and 80s. It’s always been a good strategy.

Basically, this was a good start. It’s the right way to think about 2018. Now let’s keep it going.

Patrick will run for re-election in 2018

In case you were worried that he was planning to “spend more time with his family”, or whatever.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick formally announced Monday he’s running for re-election, looking to finally quell speculation he’s interested in higher office.

“Put it in cement,” Patrick told reporters a day before the start of the 85th legislative session.

Patrick, who’s been beating back such rumors since he took office in 2015, also endorsed Gov. Greg Abbott for re-election. Abbott has not formally announced he is running again but is expected to.

“We are a great team,” Patrick told reporters. “We work well together. We agree 96, 97 percent of the time – I can’t even name the 3 percent we don’t.”


Patrick has repeatedly said he plans to run for re-election, but has been dogged by rumors he could challenge Abbott, which were the focus of a recent Associated Press story. Patrick emphatically denied Monday he was interested in taking on Abbott, saying he has “never even thought about it.”

“Let me put this to bed once and for all: I’m not running against Greg Abbott — not in ’18, not ever,” Patrick said. “If he wants to be governor for the next 20 years and I’m still running, that’s the same story.”

Whatever. As with most things Dan Patrick-related, there’s a distinct whiff of the-gentleman-doth-protest-too-much about this. I mean, either the rumors that he wants to run for Governor in 2018 are either completely unfounded, in which case sooner or later people will get tired of them, or there really is something to them, in which case all the denials in the world will be dismissed as not meaning anything. All I care about is who else may be running for Lite Gov – anyone know what Trey Martinez-FIscher is thinking about these days? – and there’s plenty of time to worry about that. The Lone Star Project has more.

So now what for Julian Castro?

Whatever he wants to do, which probably doesn’t include anything in 2018.

Julian Castro

Just a few short months ago, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro appeared to stand a decent chance of becoming the next vice president.

A few weeks ago, the San Antonio Democrat looked poised to assume another high-ranking executive role in a Hillary Clinton administration.

Now, as Democrats pick up the pieces from their nationwide losses on Election Day, Castro is preparing to be unemployed and seems destined to spend some time in the political wilderness.

But to friends, allies and Democratic strategists, Castro remains better positioned than most in his party to rebound from the setback of the 2016 election.

“Really and truly, the future for the Castro brothers is unlimited,” said Christian Archer, referring to Castro and his twin brother, Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio. Archer was a close aide to Julián Castro during his time as mayor.

“There is so much pressure on these young men to answer the question what’s next,” Archer said. “They’re 42 years old. Julián could wait a decade before running for governor and still be a young guy running for governor.”


As veteran Texas Democratic operative Harold Cook surveys the fallout from the election, he argues few members of his party are better placed than Castro, who he notes was far enough removed from electoral politics in recent years to escape some of the blame that is going around for the Democrats’ demise.

“As Democrats go, he’s in pretty good shape,” Cook said. “This is a good time for him and a lot of people to bide their time and provide the loyal opposition, and maybe start some business interests and create some security for his family, and then wait for what opportunities arise, because no political party stays down forever.”

Unlike his brother, Secretary Castro has ruled out the possibility of challenging Sen. Ted Cruz in his 2018 re-election race. He hasn’t turned down the idea of running for governor, but many Democrats were disappointed Trump’s 9-point margin of victory in Texas wasn’t lower, which would have increased the odds of seeing more competitive statewide races.

“A-team people like Secretary Castro, obviously, everybody approaches them begging them to run,” Cook said. “But guys like him, their very first question is going to be, ‘Show me the numbers, show me the path to victory.’ And either professionals are going to be able to show that path or they’re not.”

Here’s what I wrote back in July when Castro was passed over as Hillary Clinton’s running mate. Rereading it now, I think it still holds true. I wish I could argue that running for Governor in 2018 made the most sense, but the best I can do is say that conditions in 2018 are going to be different than they were in 2010 and 2014. I hope Julian Castro chooses to do something that is more civic-minded than personally enriching, but he would be far from the first person to pick the latter option if he does so. I fully expect to see him run for something at some point, I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.

What next for Julian Castro?

I can think of something for him to do.

Julian Castro

Housing Secretary Julián Castro was long touted as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton, but when the call came Friday informing him that the presumptive Democratic nominee had picked someone else, he wasn’t entirely surprised.

“It’s disappointing, of course,” Castro said in a telephone interview Saturday morning, “but it’s also easy to put into perspective. When I was 30 years old, I lost a very close mayor’s race. At the time I was completely disappointed and crushed. But a few years later I came back and I became mayor of San Antonio and it actually worked out for the better.”


In his Saturday telephone interview with The Washington Post, Castro said he had no doubt that Clinton will receive the overwhelming share of the Hispanic vote, even without a Latino on the ticket.

“I believe that Hillary Clinton has a broad vision for America and that the Latino community is very much a part of that vision,” he said. “I’m confident she will get strong support.”

He added: “In the years to come there will be a Latino or Latina president. I believe that’s going to happen in due time. I hope to be alive to see it, and I’m very confident that my kids will.”

It’s not crazy to suggest that person could possibly be Julian Castro. A direct step Castro could take to increase the probability of that outcome would be to run for Texas Governor in 2018. A win would of course be a huge advancement, but even a creditable loss that set him up for a better try in 2022 – as he himself noted, it took him two attempts to get elected Mayor in San Antonio – would suffice. Sure, there’s a huge downside risk attached to this, as there’s no indication Texas is ready to even come close to electing a Democratic governor. But there’s a big risk in playing it safe and waiting for the right opportunity to come along. People may forget who you are in the meantime, or some brash upstart may emerge and cut ahead of you in line. Ask David Dewhurst, or Hillary Clinton for that matter, about that.

In the meantime, if Castro is even slightly inclined towards running for Governor in 2018, he can lay a lot of groundwork for it by working to turn out Latino voters in Texas and help Democratic candidates, especially Latino candidates, get elected this year. There’s Pete Gallego for CD23, Dori Contreras Garza for State Supreme Court, State Rep candidates in Dallas and Bexar Counties, Ed Gonzalez for Harris County Sheriff, etc etc etc. He’s going to be out on the trail anyway, so why not put a little elbow grease into helping out in his own state? If he really wants to get people fired up about a future candidacy, spend a little time in places that aren’t Democratic now but which need to be at least on the way there for him to have something resembling a reasonable shot – Fort Bend, Williamson, Bastrop, Comal, Collin, Denton, Brazoria, you get this idea.

Now maybe Castro isn’t looking at 2018. Maybe he wants to do something different for awhile, maybe he’d like to step out of the spotlight for a few years and spend more time with his young family, maybe he’s given it plenty of thought and concluded that 2018 is hopeless and would do him too much damage. If any of these or something else like them are true, I will understand. But in the meantime, I’m going to root for the ending I want.

Will we ever learn what caused Greg Abbott’s burns?

Not sure what to make of this.

Gov. Greg Abbott was released Friday from a San Antonio military hospital, but he has yet to give details of the accident that put him there with second- and third-degree burns.

Abbott’s office has said his lower legs and feet were severely burned when he came into contact with scalding hot water July 7 during a family trip to Wyoming. It also has released details of his treatment at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. But the governor’s office repeatedly has declined to say how that accident happened, prompting speculation and dividing political observers over whether Texas’ top official should give more information about such serious injuries.

“How incredibly foolish of the governor’s staff,” said political professor Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “One way or the other, the truth will come out. Why not head off silly speculation and tell it like it is from the start. Serious burns requiring skin grafts are major injuries, and people will wish him well. But hesitation to be forthcoming will encourage conspiracy theories in the age of social media.”

Others are fine with Abbott’s choice to withhold some details, including some consultants from the opposite side of the political aisle from the governor.

“I think public officials should be afforded as much privacy as reasonable,” said Democratic strategist Harold Cook. “It’s hard enough as it is to get quality people to run for office. The more intrusive the job description becomes, the more difficult it is.

“So if they have disclosed what the problem is, and what his treatment is and all that, then good enough for me,” said Cook. “And it ought to be good enough for all Texans.”


Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak suggested the details of the accident aren’t crucial.

“All that matters, I think, for most people is, is he able to continue doing his job, and is he able to recover? And I think the answer to both those questions is clearly yes,” said Mackowiak.

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson called it “unusual for a high-ranking official to be hospitalized with no description of the cause.” He made note that Abbott has “spent a great deal of time talking about his life-altering injury” that occurred in 1984.

“He has talked about it in ways that describe it as shaping his personality and his character and his determination – that that injury is part of what made him who he is, with his determination and strength – and so now to be so quiet about the nature of this injury means they haven’t yet figured out the positive story,” Jillson said.

See here for the background. On the one hand, I agree with Cook and Mackowiak. We know that something non-life-threatening happened, we know that he’s being treated and is recovering, and we know that he ought to be fine after missing a few days at work. What else do we really need to know? On the other hand, I confess I find the secrecy a little puzzling. It’s overwhelmingly likely that the explanation of how Abbott got burned is one of those dumb could-happen-to-anyone things. It’s certainly possible that it could be personally embarrassing for someone involved – accidents often are – and as far as that goes, I can understand keeping the details under the lid, to spare whoever’s feelings. But people talk, and it seems equally likely that word will get out eventually. In the meantime, people will also speculate, and the possibilities they will conjure will surely be more lurid and less plausible than the mundane truth. Seems like a clear case for disclosure to me, but it’s not my call. We’ll see if Abbott changes his mind about this.

More opposition to North Carolina’s HB2

The Justice Department seeks to halt implementation of North Carolina’s viciously anti-LGBT law.


The billowing legal fight over North Carolina’s House Bill 2 continued to grow this week with the U.S. Department of Justice asking a federal judge to suspend the law pending the outcome of a trial.

The federal agency sued the state over HB2 on May 9. Late Tuesday night, saying the law is causing ongoing damage to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, a team of Justice Department lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder to set aside the law.

The motion for a preliminary injunction is the second filed in Schroeder’s court against HB2. The American Civil Liberties Union sought a similar court order on May 16 as part of its own legal challenge against the state.

Legal experts give differing estimates on when Schroeder might act. For now, the mounds of paper being filed in the dispute continue to grow, and HB2 shows signs of remaining a pivotal statewide political issue through the November elections.

The law, which requires transgender people in government facilities to use the restroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates, has spawned at least five lawsuits – pro and con – in two federal courts.

The Justice Department’s 70-page legal brief attempts to establish the urgency for Schroeder to act. As with the earlier ACLU argument, government lawyers claim HB2 violates federal anti-discrimination statutes and is causing “ongoing and serious” harm to the state’s LGBT community.

Brian Clarke, a faculty member at the Charlotte School of Law, says it’s highly possible Schroeder has been waiting for the federal government to follow suit so he can rule on both motions at the same time.

“I would be surprised if Judge Schroeder lets this ride for very long,” Clarke said. “Even though the courts don’t have an official clock ticking, a judge does not want an injunctive motion sitting there for months. The legal standard is that irreparable damage is happening now.”


The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which holds legal sway over the Carolinas and three other states, ruled in April that a Virginia transgender student could sue his school for forcing him to use a special bathroom – in essence upholding the federal government’s right to include gender identity under federal protection.

Wallace says the appeals court ruling did not deal with the “competing privacy interests” of other students and “does not help the ACLU case as much as the ACLU thinks it does.”

Clarke, however, said the decision leaves the North Carolina federal courts little leeway.

“Ultimately, Judge Schroeder will grant the injunction,” he said. “I don’t think he has a choice.”

I think the first lesson to take from this is to be mistrustful of bills called HB2. I’m not saying that any HB2 is automatically bad, but I’m not not saying it, either.

The Justice Department is not alone in attacking North Carolina’s HB2.

Airlines, hotels and tech leaders are among the 68 leading companies that on Friday filed a friend-of-the-Court brief opposing North Carolina’s law that requires individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex at birth.

Written by conservative legal dynamo Ted Olson, a veteran of Republican George W. Bush’s Administration, the filing urges the courts to strike down the North Carolina law as discriminatory and denies the legitimacy of transgender residents. The businesses assert that the bathroom provision runs counter to many of their non-discrimination policy and pro-diversity statements. Plus, they’re just bad for business and alienate LGBT customers and employees.

Among the companies signing the measure are American and United Airlines, Hilton and Marriott hotels, and tech leaders Apple, Cisco, Dropbox, eBay, IBM and Microsoft. Big business has been vocal in opposition to such laws, and many firms have been successful in applying political pressure in places like Indiana and Alabama. But, to this point, they have been running into a wall against North Carolina’s law, known as House Bill 2, or HB2.

“HB2 is a law that forces transgender persons to deny, disclaim and conceal their gender identity, particularly whenever they wish to use single-sex restroom facilities on state or local government property,” said Olson, who represented Bush’s 2000 recount case and then his Justice Department before the Supreme Court. “In so doing, it forces transgender people to deny a fundamental feature of their character and personhood in the name of safety concerns that are wholly illusory and a slap in the face to all transgender persons who are simply trying to live their lives consistent with who they really are.”

That argument is key to the 44-page filing. “H.B. 2 discriminates against the roughly 44,000 transgender people in North Carolina by denying them access to single-sex facilities that accord with their gender identity but not their biological sex whenever they set foot in a facility owned or operated by any agency or arm of the State or a local government. In so doing, H.B. 2 sends a resounding message to the public that transgender persons—people simply trying to live their lives consistent with who they are—are ‘other’ and outcasts whose gender identity and human dignity are undeserving of recognition and respect on government property,” the companies write. “It is no accident that H.B. 2’s anti-transgender message and effects have prompted some commentators to coin it the most anti-LGBT legislation in the country.”

There are two points to note here. One is that laws like this are hugely divisive and really unpopular in the business community, which is normally quite friendly to Republican interests. Two is that between Mississippi, whose own anti-LGBT law was recently struck down, and North Carolina where theirs seemingly will be, is that passing such laws is ultimately an exercise in futility. They are expensive, divisive, damaging failures. Unfortunately, it seems clear that the culture warriors in this state will learn nothing from any of it. The only lesson they will take seriously is one delivered at the ballot box. I continue to believe that the opportunity is there for Democrats to pry the business community loose from the GOP grip, on the grounds that only they are willing to take on issues that business people say are important to them, like immigration reform, school finance, investing in infrastructure, and generally maintaining a business climate that isn’t hostile to a significant fraction of the workforce and marketplace. Julian Castro could be the candidate to do that if he’s in a position to run for Governor in 2018. I’ve no idea what Plan B is if he isn’t in a position to run, but the opportunity will still exist if someone wants to take it. Perhaps a good showing in the 2016 elections will help spur someone on.

Abbott, Patrick, and Trump

William Saletan:

Republicans who have sworn allegiance to Donald Trump—the majority leaders of the United States House and Senate, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and numerous governors and members of Congress—don’t think this country can return to the racism and fascism of the 20th century. They want us to believe that Trump will respect the norms of the post-Holocaust, post-segregation era because they support him. In truth, their capitulation should alarm us. As other countries have learned, the first step in the descent to racism and fascism is to become numb to them. Over the past week, we’ve received fresh evidence that the numbing process is underway.

Since announcing his candidacy, Trump has tested our tolerance. He has insinuated that Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, and Seventh-day Adventists can’t be trusted. He has proposed a ban on Muslims. These statements have thrilled his crowds, and they haven’t cost him the support of Republican leaders. In general election polls, he has pulled even with Hillary Clinton.

So the assault continues. On Friday, at a rally in San Diego, Trump claimed that the federal judge who is hearing the fraud case against Trump’s real-estate “university” isbiased and corrupt—in part, apparently, because the judge is “Mexican.”

Trump has previously portrayed people as biased or untrustworthy, based purely on Latino ancestry, on at least four occasions. Last summer, after retweeting an allegation that Jeb Bush “has to like the Mexican illegals because of his wife,” Trump defended this claim on the grounds that Bush’s wife—who had been an Americancitizen for more than 35 years—was “from Mexico.” On Dec. 12 and Dec. 29, Trump suggested to Republican audiences in Iowa that they shouldn’t vote for Sen. Ted Cruz because “not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba.” In February, Trump accused Gonzalo Curiel, the judge in the Trump University case, of conspiring against him, calling Curiel “Spanish” and “Hispanic.” When Trump was asked to explain the connection between the judge’s alleged bias and his ethnicity, Trump said: “I think it has to do with perhaps the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border.”

Trump’s attack on Friday continued in this vein. “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump,” he told a crowd in San Diego. “His name is”— at this point, Trump, having raised his voice like a drum roll, held up a piece of paper and pronounced the name carefully, gesturing for effect—“Gonzalo Curiel.” The audience booed, and Trump let the moment soak in, shaking his head in solidarity. Trump told the audience two things about Curiel: that he “was appointed by Barack Obama” and that he “happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” After railing against Curiel and the lawsuit for more than 10 minutes, Trump concluded: “The judges in this court system, federal court—they ought to look into Judge Curiel.”


Trump’s attack on Curiel is a warning, not just about who Trump is but also about how blasé we’ve become. On Sunday, Trump’s chief strategist, Paul Manafort, and his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, were interviewed on major network news shows. Neither one wasasked about Trump’s tirade against the judge. Meanwhile, Republican senators shilled for Trump as usual. Overt race-baiting has become normalized.

This is how it happens. It happens when you’re not looking. It happens because you weren’t looking.

Josh Marshall:

I confess Trump’s ‘Trump University’ turned out to be a bit more sleazy and craven than I’d realized. Does anyone remember Tom Vu, the comical, endlessly parodied late night real estate seminar infomercial king from the 80s and 90s? Trump U seems to have been a rip off on that scale. Just look at this single passage from the Times first look at the documents released [Tuesday] …

One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future. He watched with disgust, he said, as a fellow Trump University salesman persuaded the couple to purchase the class anyway.

“I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme,” Mr. Schnackenberg wrote in his testimony, “and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

At the risk of using that over-used phrase, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Trump U seemed explicitly organized to prey on the financially desperate and the elderly. As I noted yesterday, when Judge Curiel acceded to the Trump lawyers’ requests to delay the trial until after the election, one of the issues he had to contend with was that many of the claims are tied to elder abuse – i.e., specific fraud statutes that cover scams targeting the elderly.

That tells you a lot.

Another point is Trump’s repeated references to the testimonials students gave praising ‘Trump University’. At the risk of stating the obvious it’s hard to see these as much more than hostage videos in which students were pressured to give glowing reviews since they were explicitly told that Trump would take a personal interest in their careers. Think about it: why videotape the testimonials at all if not to guard against a situation like the current one?


As one of my colleagues has pointed out, this really isn’t terribly different from your standard get-rich-quick real estate seminar racket. But the people who run those usually don’t run for President. Perhaps more notable, would anyone worth $10 billion get into a racket like this?

So. Just a reminder, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick have both endorsed Donald Trump for President, even if Abbott is among the craven cohort who refuses to say Trump’s name in doing so. That means that they are actively supporting an openly racist con man for the office. At what point is the media in Texas going to start asking them about these things Trump is saying and doing? Do they stand with him on his racist attacks against a sitting federal judge? Note that quite a few national Republicans have at least criticized Trump’s continually escalating attacks on Judge Curiel. Even if nearly all of them do so in a weaselly way, it’s still more than what Abbott and Patrick have done, which is remain cravenly silent. As for the Trump University scam, they’s hoping the old cease and desist trick will spare them. That shouldn’t stop anyone from asking them whether they think Trump U was a scam or not. But really, the big question is what exactly does Donald Trump need to say or do to lose their support? We deserve to know.

Castro says he’s not been vetted for VP

So much for that, it would seem.

Mayor Julian Castro

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro said Tuesday that, despite all the speculation that he’s being considered to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate, he hasn’t been vetted by the Democratic front-runner’s campaign.

Castro, who endorsed Clinton last year, was asked by CNN’s Brooke Baldwin if he would accept a spot on Clinton’s presidential ticket and replied, “That’s not going to happen.”

When asked if he had been vetted, or contacted by the Clinton campaign, he said, “I am not … I haven’t heard from anyone.”

Ever since he gave a well-received speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2012, Castro has been buzzed about as a potential vice presidential pick in 2016.


Castro has been coy about the vice presidential buzz, telling Baldwin that he’s “going to be back in Texas next year,” a line he has repeated over the past few months.

Well, we could use someone to run for Governor in 2018, and that would offer the opportunity to beef up the ol’ resume, so perhaps this is for the best. There’s been a lot of buzz, going back to 2013, so let this be a lesson in just how much buzz means sometimes. Not that this will cause Castro’s name to be taken off the “also being considered” lists that every story about potential VP picks must include, but at least now you have some idea of how seriously to take them. In the meantime, perhaps we could hear a bit more about Labor Secretary Tom Perez? Thanks.