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Greg Abbott

It depends what the meaning of “intent” is

Give me a break.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

It has been about three weeks since state Sen. Sylvia Garcia submitted a letter declaring her “intent to resign,” but whether it qualifies as an actual resignation has fallen into dispute — and has threatened to upend the timeline for Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election for the Houston Democrat’s seat.

[…]

Still, Abbott has held off on calling a special election as his office and Garcia’s remain at odds over the validity of her letter. Abbott’s office does not believe Garcia’s use of the phrase “intent to resign” is good enough to trigger the process by which the governor can call a special election, while Garcia’s staff believes there is nothing wrong with the letter.

The clock is ticking on when Abbott can call the special election so that it coincides with the November general election. If he does not do it before Aug. 24, the next uniform election date on which he could call it is in May of next year. Still, he retains the option of calling an emergency special election that could occur take place on some other date.

In questioning Garcia’s letter, Abbott’s office attributes its reasoning to a 1996 Texas Supreme Court case — Angelini v. Hardberger — that involved a similar situation. Abbott was a judge on the court at the time.

“The governor’s position is that ‘intent’ to resign is insufficient to constitute an official resignation,” Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement. “The governor has made clear the only thing the Senator must to do to submit an effective resignation is delete the word ‘intent.’ The ball is in her court.”

Garcia’s office notes that her letter is very similar to the one former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, submitted to then-Gov. Rick Perry when she resigned in November 2014 to run for San Antonio mayor. That letter also used the phrase “intent to resign.” Perry scheduled a special election without any controversy, and Abbott, who took office in January 2015, called the runoff.

“It’s Sen. Garcia’s position that she has submitted a lawful, effective, valid resignation, and it was based on precedent, as recently as 2014, when Sen. Van de Putte submitted a letter of resignation almost identical to Sen. Garcia’s, and [Gov.] Perry called an election, and Sen. Van de Putte fulfilled the duties of her office until a successor was elected,” said John Gorczynski, Garcia’s chief of staff. “And we expect Gov. Abbott to call an election and set an election date by Aug. 20 because a resignation has been submitted and the governor hasn’t said anything to the contrary.”

See here for the background. On the one hand, Abbott is being a jackass. On the other hand, nothing is more important than getting that seat filled in a timely fashion, so if that means indulging Abbott’s pettiness and sending a substitute letter, suck it up and do it. There’s a time to stand on principle, and a time to say “screw it” and do what you have to do, and this is one of the latter. Let’s get this done.

The meta-campaign for Senate

Let’s talk about what we talk about when we talk about the Senate campaign.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange match up of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

[…]

More than one operative from both parties brushed off the O’Rourke excitement with a pervasive phrase — “This is still Texas” — a nod to the state’s recent history as the most populous conservative powerhouse in the union.

The enthusiasm for O’Rourke — his bonanza event attendance and record-breaking fundraising, in particular — is something the state has not seen in modern memory. But there remain open questions over whether the three-term congressman can take a punch when the widely expected fall advertising blitz against him begins, whether he can activate the Hispanic vote and whether he can effectively build his name identification in a such a sprawling and populated state.

“We’ve never been in a situation where November matters at a statewide level,” said Jason Stanford, a former Democratic consultant, about the uncertainty of the fall.

So what would a moral victory be, if O’Rourke is unable to close the deal outright? Operatives from both parties suggest a 5- to 6-point spread — or smaller — could send a shockwave through Texas politics.

Such a margin could compel national Democrats to start making serious investments in the state and force local Republicans to re-examine how their own party practices politics going forward.

But that kind of O’Rourke performance could also bear more immediate consequences, potentially scrambling the outcomes of races for other offices this fall.

Only a handful of statewide surveys on the race are floating around the Texas political ether. But one increasing point of alarm for Republicans is what campaign strategists are seeing when they test down-ballot races.

Often campaigns for the U.S. House or the Texas Legislature will include statewide matchups in polling they conduct within a district. Sources from both parties say some of those polls show Cruz underperforming in some state legislative and congressional races — particularly in urban areas.

In effect, O’Rourke could come up short but turn out enough voters in the right communities to push Democrats over the line in races for the Legislature and U.S. House.

I know I discussed this before back in 2014 when we were all high on Battleground Texas, but let’s do this again. What are the consolation prize goals for Texas Democrats in 2018?

– To discuss the consolation prizes, we have to first agree on what the main goals are. Clearly, electing Beto O’Rourke is one of the brass rings, but what about the other statewide campaigns? My guess is that based primarily on visibility and the implications for control of the Senate, the O’Rourke-Cruz race is in a class by itself, so everything after that falls in the “consolation prize” bucket. Thus, I’d posit that winning one or more downballot statewide race would be in the first level of lower-tier goals, with Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, and any Supreme Court/CCA bench being the ones that are most in focus.

– Very close behind would be the Congressional races, for which three (CDs 07, 23, and 32) are rated as tossups, a couple more (CDs 21 and 31) are on the radar, and more than we can count are on the fringes. You have to feel like CD23 is winnable in any decent year, so for this to count as a prize we’d need at least one more seat in addition to flip. Very good would be all three tossups, and great would be another seat in addition.

– In the Lege, picking up even one Senate seat would be nice, but picking up two or three means Dems have enough members to block things via the three-fifths (formerly two-thirds) rule. I don’t know how many House seats I’d consider prize-level-worthy, but knocking off a couple of the worst offenders that are in winnable seats, like Matt Rinaldi in HD115, Gary Elkins in HD135, and Tony Dale in HD136, would be sweet.

– Sweeping Harris County, breaking through in Fort Bend County, picking up any kind of victory in places like Collin, Denton, Williamson, Brazoria, you get the idea. And don’t forget the appellate courts, which will require doing well in non-urban counties.

It’s easy enough to say what counts as lower-level goals, it’s harder to put numbers on it. It’s not my place to say what we “should” win in order to feel good about it. Frankly, given recent off-year elections, it’s a bit presumptuous to say that any number of victories in places we haven’t won this decade might be somehow inadequate. I think everyone will have their own perception of how it went once the election is over, and unless there’s a clear rout one way or the other there will be some level of disagreement over how successful Democrats were.

The range of Republican anxiety

Some folks are a little scared about all this “blue wave” talk and poll numbers and what have you.

Not Ted Cruz

As Ted Cruz took questions at a Republican women’s event [in Smithville] Saturday evening, Bastrop retiree Ronnie Ann Burt wanted to know: Should she really trust the growing barrage of chatter online that the senator’s re-election bid is in peril?

Cruz’s response: Believe it.

“It’s clear we have a real and contested race where the margin is much too close for comfort,” said Cruz, who’s facing a vigorous, massively funded challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

Cruz’s stop in this small Central Texas town was part of a return to the campaign trail Saturday in which the incumbent cranked up his long-building warnings that Democratic enthusiasm in the era of President Donald Trump should not be discounted, even in a state as red as Texas.

The timing couldn’t have been more fitting: A trio of polls came out this week showing Cruz’s race tightening and a national political forecaster shifted the contest in O’Rourke’s favor. Meanwhile, Cruz launched his first TV ads Friday, including three targeting O’Rourke, and the challenger moved quickly to turn them into a fundraising boon for him.

Appearing Saturday afternoon at the conservative Resurgent Gathering in Austin, Cruz delivered a nearly 10-minute assessment of the uncertain political landscape he faces in November.

“The biggest challenge I have in this race … is complacency,” Cruz said. “People say all the time, ‘Oh, come on, it’s a Texas re-elect. How could you possibly lose?’ Well, in an ordinary cycle, that might be true. But this is not an ordinary cycle. The far left is filled with anger and rage and we underestimate that anger at our peril.”

Cruz added that there is reason to be skeptical of the polls — his campaign has criticized their methodologies — but the trendline “ought to be a cause for concern for everyone.”

[…]

Cruz’s remarks at events Saturday came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott offered a more reassuring forecast for November while addressing the Resurgent conference. He dismissed the idea of a “blue wave” in November as media hype that “sells papers” and reminded the audience that he ended up defeating his much-ballyhooed Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, by over 20 points in 2014.

“Texas is going to stay red,” said Abbott, whose Democratic opponent, Lupe Valdez, has not caught traction in the way O’Rourke has against Cruz.

Cruz did not sound as sure as Abbott on Saturday — and his supporters appeared to get the message.

Cruz and Abbott are two sides of the same coin here. Cruz is quite right that complacency is a big potential problem for him, for the simple reason that if Republican turnout is less energetic than it has been in recent elections, Democrats have a smaller hill to climb to catch them. I’ve talked multiple times about how I’m hoping for Republicans to have a 2006-style year for turnout, as that would mean some 200K to 300K fewer votes than they got in 2014. This is Cruz’s main concern as well, and his message is simply “Don’t take this for granted”.

Abbott, on the other hand, is not wrong to observe that even with the recent polls, Cruz is still in the lead, and that other Republicans (most notably himself, not that he’s bragging or anything) are doing better than Cruz, that one UT/Trib poll result for Ken Paxton aside. Until such time as we start seeing poll results with one or more Dems in the lead, one can quite confidently say that the Republicans are ahead and thus favored to win. While that may run a bit counter to Cruz’s “we have to have a sense of urgency” message, Abbott is aiming at the media (to get them to run something other than a positive story about Beto O’Rourke and Democratic enthusiasm) and also at Dems, to say basically “don’t bother getting your hopes up, you still can’t win”. I don’t think he’s going to demoralize anyone, but it can’t hurt to try.

Finally, a word on the polls. Republican pollster Chris Wilson complained bitterly about that Lyceum poll, saying they had the samples all wrong. I don’t know if he has the same complaint about Quinnipiac and PPP and everyone else who has put out a result on this race, but I do know that he himself hasn’t published a result lately. Maybe he’s just lying low to let us all fall into a false sense of security, I don’t know. The average of all these poll suggests a six-point race, more or less, so go argue against that if you want to. It is certainly possible that pollsters are misreading the electorate this year, and thus skewing the numbers because they’re not polling the right mix of people. It’s also possible that Chris Wilson is one of those misguided pollsters.

Lyceum: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 39

Good result, though the others with it could be better.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A new poll released Wednesday suggests that U.S. Sen Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, are in a dead heat.

The poll from Texas Lyceum shows Cruz holding a slim margin over his Democratic challenger in the U.S. Senate race. Among likely voters, Cruz carries 41 percent of the vote compared to O’Rourke’s 39 percent. Nineteen percent of voters said they were undecided.

That lead falls within the polls 4.67 percent margin of error.

“O’Rourke continues to nip at Cruz’s heels, but it’s a long way to go until Election Day,” Josh Blank, Lyceum Poll Research Director, said in a news release. “If this race looks different than the rest, that’s probably because it is because a strong Democratic challenger raising prolific sums of money and tons of earned media.”

All the information about the 2018 Lyceum poll is here. Here’s the press release, the executive summary, the toplines, and the crosstabs. Here also are the results for the four races they polled:

Registered voters:

Senate – Cruz 36, O’Rourke 34
Governor – Abbott 44, Valdez 25
Lt. Governor – Patrick 32, Collier 23
Attorney General – Paxton 32, Nelson 20

Likely voters:

Senate – Cruz 41, O’Rourke 39
Governor – Abbott 47, Valdez 31
Lt. Governor – Patrick 39, Collier 29
Attorney General – Paxton 35, Nelson 25

I’ve generally gone with RV totals in these polls, but you can make your own choice here. I’m including the LV totals in the polling average for Senate, which now stands at 46.2 for Cruz and 39.9 for O’Rourke. The Lyceum did its 2014 polling in October, which is a bit annoying as that makes it less directly comparable. At the time, their numbers in the Abbott-Davis race looked not too bad, but that was the last time one could make that assertion. What makes me want to pull my hair out is that they did generic ballot polling for Congress and the Lege in 2014, giving Republicans a 46-35 lead in the former and a 38-31 lead in the latter, but apparently didn’t ask that same question this time around. Argh! That sure would have been a nice little data point to have.

I’ve spent a lot of my time on this blog nitpicking polls and questioning assumptions and samples and whatnot, oftentimes for reasons that in retrospect don’t look that great. So it is with a certain measure of grim satisfaction that I read this:

The newest poll is sure to draw skepticism from Cruz supporters. Even before it was released, Cruz’s pollster Chris Wilson published an article on Medium questioning whether it would be accurate.

“Dating back to 2008 the Texas Lyceum has generously given Democrats a massive house effect boost of seven (7!!!) points,” he wrote, add that the poll has historically overestimated the share of the Hispanic vote.

I feel your pain, buddy. But just for the record, here are some previous Lyceum results:

2016 – Trump 39, Clinton 32 (LVs)
2014 – Abbott 49, Davis 40 (LVs)
2012: Romney 58, Obama 39 (LVs)

They definitely underestimated Abbott in 2014 (though they did show a wider lead 47-33 lead for Dan Patrick over Letitia Van de Putte), but the total for Davis was spot on. They were pretty close on the other two. Take your “house effect” complaint to the nerds at 538 (which doesn’t have the Texas Lyceum poll in its pollster ratings). Texas Monthly has more.

Sen. Garcia announces her resignation

Not quite what I was expecting, but it will do.

Here’s the Trib story:

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat likely on her way to Congress in the fall, has announced formal plans to resign after months of speculation about the timing of her decision.

When Garcia won a crowded congressional primary election in March, all but guaranteeing her election to represent a Democratic-leaning district in November, she immediately set off speculation about when she would resign her seat in the Texas Senate. The timing of the special election to replace her will have important implications for the upper chamber’s Democratic caucus, given that a seat usually held by the minority is up for grabs.

Several candidates have already lined up for Garcia’s seat, including two local Democrats currently serving in the Texas House: state Reps. Ana Hernandez and Carol Alvarado. Hernandez announced hopes to fill the “potential vacancy” just 12 hours after Garcia’s primary win, and shortly after, Alvarado posted a carefully crafted three-minute campaign video.

[…]

Though Garcia said her resignation won’t be effective until January, the Texas Election Code states that, for the purposes of calling a special election, a vacancy occurs on the date the resignation is accepted by the appropriate authority or on the eighth day after the date of its receipt by the authority” — in this case, Abbott, according to the secretary of state’s office.

I’ve been calling for this for months now, so as long as we get the election on or before November 6 (it would be one of three such elections), I’m happy. Barring anything unforeseen, the special will be a contest between Reps. Alvarado and Hernandez; refer to the 2013 SD06 special election for a reminder of how the partisan vote split previously. This will add to my to-do list for November interviews, but otherwise I get to be on the outside looking in, as I was redistricted into SD15 in 2011. I’ll keep my eyes open for Abbott’s response. In the meantime, I join legions of people in thanking Sen. Garcia for her service, and for her consideration in ensuring continuity of representation in SD06. The Chron has more.

Debating dates

We know what the best answer is. What the most likely answer is, I have no idea.

Lupe Valdez

The back-and-forth over when and where the two major candidates for Texas governor will debate continued Wednesday, with Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez announcing that she had accepted an invitation to a debate featuring a different host, location and time than the one that incumbent Republican Greg Abbott agreed to a week earlier.

The invitation Valdez accepted was for a debate on the evening of Monday, Oct. 8, at the University of Houston-Downtown. It would be organized by the local ABC and Univision affiliates. A week earlier, Abbott announced he had agreed to a debate hosted by Nexstar Media Group on the evening of Friday, Sept. 28, at a yet-to-be-determined location in Austin.

After Abbott’s announcement, Valdez said she was “in” for a debate but took issue with the timing of Sept. 28 event — a Friday evening in the middle of high school football season. Her campaign said Wednesday that any debate between the two should be at a different time and be broadcast live on television and online, feature a live in-studio audience and include a Spanish-language media partner with a portion of questions in Spanish.

“I’m running to represent all of Texas, and if there is going to be a debate, town hall or other type of forum, we need to ensure a real discussion for all of Texas to hear,” Valdez said in a news release that called on Abbott to “stop hiding from Texans.”

See here for the background. The right answer, of course, is for both of these debates to happen. You know, for Democracy! and all that. Realistically, Greg Abbott can say “hey, I’ve already agreed to a debate, and wasn’t Lupe Valdez less than eager to engage in debates against Andrew White”, and when he does, what’s the response to that? By all means, push for more, but the leverage is not at all with Valdez.

Two views of Democratic fundraising

Positive:

For the first time in a generation, there is a Democrat running for Congress in every single district in the state.

Most of those candidates vying to unseat Republicans will likely lose. Many are running in districts where President Donald Trump and the GOP incumbent won by double digits in 2016. But campaign finance reports show that a significant number of these Democrats are running professional campaigns, hiring staff and making their presence known in their communities.

And in this effort, they are bringing big money into the state.

Back in 2016, Texas U.S. House Republican candidates raised an aggregate sum of $32.3 million at this point in the cycle, nearly three times as much as Texas U.S. House Democratic candidates, who raised $11.4 million, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of campaign finance reports.

Two years later, Texas U.S. House Republican candidates have raised an aggregate sum of $34.8 million so far this cycle, similar to where they were in 2016. Democrats in Texas meanwhile, have nearly doubled their haul, having raised $21.8 million.

These figures do not reflect the more than $30 million raised so far in the state’s high profile race for U.S. Senate between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

And negative:

Four years ago, Wendy Davis was touring Texas like a rock star as she ran for governor. Sporting the same pink Mizuno sneakers she wore for her famous filibuster against a bill to restrict abortions, she was greeted by 1,600 cheering fans here, many of them wearing “Turn Texas Blue” T-shirts.

She had more than $10 million in the bank of the $37 million she would raise in her bid to become the first Democrat elected to statewide office in Texas in 20 years.

Now, as former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez runs for the same office against Gov. Greg Abbott — who beat Davis by more than 20 percentage points — the crowds have often been scant. Valdez’s statewide name ID remains slim. Her bank account has been skinnier than a coyote in the desert.

Nevertheless, Democratic Party insiders expressed little concern as Valdez on Tuesday reported raising $742,250 in political contributions in the past seven months. As of June 30, she had $222,050 in the bank.

Instead of trying to build Valdez vs. Abbott into a marquee race, Democrats are focusing much of their attention — and campaign cash — on down-ballot and congressional races that have drawn a record number of candidates.

They’re hoping for what they call the reverse coattails effect — essentially they’re banking on well-funded Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and the Democrats running for Congress, state and local office to help generate turnout for statewide candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, instead of the other way around.

[…]

“Wendy (Davis) inspired optimism and enthusiasm, and she raised enough money to mount a top-flight campaign,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who analyzed the 2014 race and has been watching Valdez’s sputtering campaign — now at its halfway point approaching the November general election.

“This campaign is an embarrassment to everyone involved — Lupe Valdez, the Democratic Party, even Greg Abbott. At this point, I don’t think anyone could imagine Lupe Valdez as governor. You can’t create an alternate universe where she could win.”

But Jerry Polinard, a longtime political scientist at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, said the party’s strategy could pay dividends in the future “if they’re successful in some of their down-ballot races. That could lay a groundwork for the future.”

If not, “that’ll be the party’s next big problem,” he said. “I’ve never seen a year like this in Texas at the top of the state ballot.”

I think you know where I stand on this. I’ll say again, Beto O’Rourke has raised a lot more money by this point than Davis did, and as we well know the Congressional challengers are orders of magnitude ahead of where they were in 2014. Yes, it would be nice if Lupe Valdez and Mike Collier could stay within the same zip code as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. But expand your field of vision a little, all right?

Dems keep posting very strong finance reports

Wow.

There are few bigger warning signs for a member of Congress that their re-election may be in doubt than when a challenger outraises them. In Texas, it just happened to seven incumbents, all Republicans.

Since last week, when U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, revealed that he had raised a stunning $10.4 million between April and June in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a wave of Texas Democrats running for U.S. House seats similarly blasted out their own unusually strong fundraising numbers.

The numbers only became more striking when compared to their rivals: Some Democratic challengers raised two, three or even four times what their Republican incumbent rivals posted. All congressional candidates were required to file their second-quarter fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission by Sunday.

Along with Cruz, the six congressional incumbents who were outraised are delegation fixtures: U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, John Culberson of Houston, Will Hurd of Helotes, Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Pete Sessions of Dallas and Roger Williams of Austin.

In the 21st Congressional District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith is retiring, GOP nominee Chip Roy trailed his Democratic rival, Joseph Kopser. Several other Democratic candidates running in Republican strongholds across the state also posted abnormally large six-figure fundraising hauls.

One of the biggest red flags for Republicans came from Carter’s once-safe 31st District. Thanks to a successful viral video, veteran MJ Hegar raised more than four times Carter’s second-quarter sum – the biggest split among the races where Democrats outraised GOP incumbents.

[…]

Hardly anyone in Texas will suggest that incumbents like Olson and Williams are in any significant electoral trouble because they were outraised. But the cumulative effect of so much strong Democratic fundraising is unnerving to many Texas Republican insiders.

One anxious Texas operative suggested these fundraising numbers are merely a first alarm bell. The second may come once incumbents go into the field en masse and poll. But two GOP sources say many incumbents have been reluctant to poll their districts amid what feels like a chaotic political environment and are waiting for a more stable period to get an accurate read of the electorate.

You know most of the names already, but to reiterate, the Dems who outraised their opponents this quarter are Lizzie Fletcher in CD07, Joseph Kopser in CD21, Sri Kulkarni in CD22, Gina Ortiz Jones in Cd23, Julie Oliver in CD25, MJ Hegar in CD31, and Colin Allred in CD32. And there are more dimensions to this as well.

Jana Lynne Sanchez, who is running for the Tarrant County-area seat left open by disgraced Representative Joe Barton, has been steadily raising money and currently has a cash-on-hand advantage against former Barton staffer Ron Wright.

The Democratic fundraising tear has even reached into southeast Texas’ 36th Congressional District, which is rated as a +26 Republican district, one of the most conservative seats in the entire country. Longtime radio host and Democratic nominee Dayna Steele, who has pledged not to take corporate PAC money, raised $220,000 in the latest quarter, trailing ultraconservative incumbent Brian Babin’s haul by just $5,000.

Following Beto O’Rourke’s lead, many of these lesser-known candidates — running without national support in districts deemed too red for a blue wave — have sworn off corporate PAC money and are relying on small-dollar contributions. Sanchez says she has a total of 9,000 donors who have made an average contribution of $42.

All of these Democratic candidates have raised far more than past challengers in these districts — if a Democrat even bothered to run.

Keep that last bit in mind, because I’ll have more on it in a future post. And even where there’s a bright spot for the Republicans in CD02, where Dan Crenshaw reported a big haul, he’s facing Todd Litton with $843K raised and $435K on hand. It’s safe to say it’s been a long time since the Republicans have faced this many well-funded opponents.

Not all the reports are available yet on the FEC page, but when they get there I’ll have a post summarizing it all. Do bear in mind that even with all these strong numbers, Dan Patrick has also raised a bunch of money, and Greg Abbott has already booked $16 million in TV time for the fall. So celebrate the good news, but don’t get overconfident. What we’ve done here is approach parity, and the other guys may well have another gear to shift into. Keep the momentum going.

Debating debates

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

Lupe Valdez

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last but not least, from the inbox:

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

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

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

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

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

Republican reactions to Beto’s fundraising

The interesting bits of this story:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke, the underdog challenger to Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, recently burnished his grass-roots credentials by completing a tour of all 254 counties in Texas.

Now O’Rourke has proven his fundraising chops as well, raising a staggering $10.4 million in the past three months, more than double the $4.6 million reported by Cruz, a former presidential candidate defending his Senate seat in November.

The cash haul for the three-term congressman laid down a marker in a Senate race that has already brought national attention to a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since the Clinton administration.

[…]

While Democrats were buoyed by the latest numbers, several GOP analysts said they are not sounding the alarms, given the state’s deeply conservative leanings.

“O’Rourke’s fundraising is impressive. However, he is spending massive amounts to raise it,” said Austin GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. “O’Rourke appears to be raising a lot of money outside Texas, and those dollars could be going to far more competitive U.S. Senate races than this one.”

Apart from fundraising, Mackowiak said Cruz retains significant advantages: He has a stronger statewide organization, higher name ID, and Texas remains a Republican state. “It is now clear that both campaigns will have sufficient funds to run real campaigns,” he said. “What remains unproven is this: What is Beto’s path to victory? I don’t see one.”

Other Republicans see O’Rourke’s fundraising as a sign of a more competitive race than Texans are used to, given the Democrats’ long record of futility in The Lone Star State.

“It’s significant,” said Texas GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who served as Sen. John Cornyn’s campaign manager in 2014. “Time is still his enemy here, because a lot of people still don’t know who (O’Rourke) is. But if he continues to do that, he will have the resources to build his name ID very quickly through TV, radio and digital advertising.”

[…]

Steinhauser remains skeptical about O’Rourke’s chances but says he has forced Republicans to take the measure of the Democratic challenger.

“The challenge is a legitimate one,” Steinhauser said. “Cruz is taking it seriously; the party is taking it seriously. But at the end of the day, the voters go and vote regardless of the amount of money that you have. It’s about the candidates themselves, more than anything.”

O’Rourke’s fundraising prowess has been all the more surprising because Cruz, regarded as a national conservative leader, has a solid record of campaign organization, data analysis and fundraising. He raised nearly $90 million in the 2016 presidential primaries, more than any of Trump’s other GOP challengers, including Ben Carson and Jeb Bush.

But Cruz’s top-dog status in the Senate race also could also be a liability in the money chase.

“He raised a lot of money nationally for his presidential campaign, and he’s probably tapped out a lot of those folks,” Steinhauser said. “Some people around the country certainly gave him money for the presidential who wouldn’t necessarily give him money for a Texas Senate race, especially if they don’t buy the hype about O’Rourke, and they don’t see it as competitive.”

For Cruz partisans, the trick now could be how to project strength without seeming too overconfident.

Said Steinhauser: “Partly, I think people are like, ‘Look, it’s a statewide race in Texas, the Republican is going to win …’”

I don’t know what the status is now, but someone might want to advise Matt Mackowiak that as of the end of Q1, half of Ted Cruz’s contributions came from outside Texas, while less than a third of Beto’s did; his total out of state fundraising was less than Cruz’s while his in-state haul was far greater. Maybe the Q2 numbers will change that – the story does not address the point beyond quoting Mackowiak – but the narrative so far is quite clear, and it’s not that Beto has relied on non-Texas money to crush Cruz in that department.

Steinhauser’s statements are more reality-based, and are in the ballpark of what I’d say if the positions were reversed. The thing is, it’s not just about the Senate race. Republicans have thoroughly dominated the fundraising space since Tony Sanchez was spreading money around the state like grass seed in 2002. Democrats have had a few candidates here and there raise big bucks – Wendy Davis, Bill White, and people like Nick Lampson and Michael Skelley in Congressional races – but in any given year the vast amount of money raised has gone towards Republicans, with the lion’s share of Democratic money going to long-term incumbents in safe districts. It’s not just that Beto is raking it in, it’s also that multiple Democratic Congressional challengers are also kicking butt, in some cases outraising the incumbents they are running against. Republicans will still have the advantage overall, thanks mostly to Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. It’s just that they won’t have the skies all to themselves this time. I feel certain that folks like Brendan Steinhauser are concerned about that, too. The DMN has more.

Gravis: Cruz 51, O’Rourke 42

Here’s a new poll of four statewide races in Texas, for which there may or may not be any news coverage. The executive summary:

Gravis Marketing, a nonpartisan research firm, conducted a random survey of 602 likely voters across Texas. The poll was conducted from July 3rd through July 7th and has a margin of error of ±4.0%. The totals may not round to 100% because of rounding. The survey was conducted using an online panel of cell phone users and interactive voice responses. The results are weighted by voting demographics. The poll was paid for by Gravis Marketing.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

As there is no news story to excerpt, I’ll just go straight to the results:

US Senate: Ted Cruz 51, Beto O’Rourke 42

Governor: Greg Abbott 51, Lupe Valdez 41

Lt. Governor: Dan Patrick 46, Mike Collier 44

Attorney General: Ken Paxton 45, Justin Nelson 41

There are a bunch of approval and issue questions in the polling memo, so feel free to browse through it. I will note two things. One is that Gravis is rated as a C+ pollster by FiveThirtyEight, better than some but worse than many others. Like Quinnipiac, they have no record in Texas prior to this year that I’m aware of. Two, while I haven’t spent any time critiquing subsamples in the polls we’ve seen so far, I have to say that the subsamples in this poll are nuts. Somehow, Gravis found the most ridiculously and unbelievably Republican group of 18-29 year olds and Hispanics I’ve ever seen, as well as the least hostile-to-Democrats Anglos. I have no explanation for this, and to some extent it doesn’t really matter. It is what it is, and what it is is another data point. And that data point brings the Senate poll average to 46.9 for Cruz, and 40.0 for O’Rourke.

I heard about this poll via a campaign email from Mike Collier, who for obvious reasons wanted to tout this result. (The TDP subsequently posted about it.) The low “don’t know/no answer” rate for the Lite Guv and AG questions is suspicious, but maybe that’s a function of their “likely voter” screen. Collier trails Patrick 50.4 to 42.8 among white voters, which is why he is so close in the race despite trailing 43.8 to 36.4 among Hispanics and leading by a mere 57.9 to 34.9 among blacks. Did I make my incredulity about this polls’ subsamples clear enough? You see some wacky stuff sometimes when the subgroups are small, but good Lord. As I’ve said, it’s a data point. Don’t make any more of it than that.

On enthusiasm and fundraising

RG Ratcliffe engages the “can Lupe Valdez be competitive” question.

Lupe Valdez

Valdez will almost certainly lose to Greg Abbott in November. Yet if she inspires Hispanic voters to turn out, she could help Democratic candidates in tight down-ballot races and make a big difference in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Texas House.

That scenario assumes that Valdez can significantly increase Hispanic turnout. But not everyone is certain she can. “I see the value of having Lupe Valdez running for governor,” [Julian] Castro said at the Blue Star pub. “She’s a great candidate, and her experience as Dallas County sheriff, her life experience, and the issues that she is addressing speak to a lot of Texans. Whether having her at the top of the ticket would impact the Latino vote . . . that’s hard to tell.”

Valdez, after all, has significant deficiencies as a candidate. She’s unpolished as a speaker and has demonstrated little command of statewide issues. She’s also underfunded—her latest campaign finance report showed she had a little more than $115,000 cash on hand, compared to Abbott’s $43 million. That has forced her to forgo campaign fundamentals such as an internal vetting process, in which the campaign looks for skeletons in its own candidate’s closet. Two days after Valdez won the Democratic runoff, for example, the Houston Chronicle revealed that she owed more than $12,000 in unpaid property taxes. A vetting would have prepared her better to respond when a Chronicle reporter asked about it; instead, a campaign spokesman tried to blame Abbott for allowing property taxes to rise.

In short, Valdez may not be the transformational figure many Democrats hope for. In the March 6 primary, Democrats turned out a million voters—their best primary showing since 1994—30 percent of whom had Hispanic surnames. But that high turnout seems to have been in spite of Valdez’s presence on the ballot. In several South Texas counties, thousands of voters cast ballots in the U.S. Senate contest and various local races but skipped voting for governor entirely. In Hidalgo County, Valdez failed to capture even half the voters with Hispanic surnames. One prominent South Texas Democrat told me that when Valdez campaigned in the area, her lack of knowledge of state issues turned off a lot of local voters. “We’re not blind,” he said. He also admitted that many conservative Hispanics just would not vote for a lesbian.

[…]

At her Blue Star Brewing event, Valdez turned the sanctuary cities bill into a major talking point, emphasizing her belief that Republicans only control Texas because many people—especially Hispanics—don’t vote. “Texas is not a red state,” Valdez intoned. “It’s a nonvoting state.”

Perhaps. But this is still Texas; even if Valdez manages to help a few of her Democratic colleagues, that doesn’t mean she’ll be able to help herself. There was tremendous enthusiasm for Wendy Davis four years ago too, and she was crushed by Greg Abbott by 20 points. Democratic enthusiasm this election cycle is, arguably, even greater, thanks to anti-Trump fervor. But to capitalize on that, Valdez will have to pull off something that no other Democrat has done: awaken the sleeping giant of Hispanic voters. And right now the giant seems content to catch a few more z’s.

Ratcliffe spends some time discussing the three highest-profile Congressional races and their effect, which I appreciate. There’s been too much coverage of the Governor’s race that seems to think it exists in a vacuum. It was Ratcliffe’s mention of enthusiasm levels that caught my eye, though. While he acknowledges that enthusiasm is high this year, which anyone who can read a poll knows, he cites 2014 as an example of high enthusiasm not translating to good results. I admit that’s something I worry about as well, but I can think of three factors that make this year different:

1. I feel like the enthusiasm in 2014 peaked when Davis announced her candidacy, with a bounce when Leticia Van de Putte followed suit, but trended steadily downhill after that, while this year enthusiasm has remained high and if anything has intensified. Maybe peak 2014 compares favorably to 2018, but I’d be willing to bet that June 2018 is well ahead of where June 2014 was.

2. There are a number of reasons why enthusiasm trended downward in 2014, including gripes about how Davis ran her campaign – remember when she said she favored open carry? – and concerns about just what the hell Battleground Texas was doing. I don’t think you can underestimate the effect the national atmosphere had on the enthusiasm level here, though. Say what you want about Davis and her campaign, she was far from alone in underperforming that year, and the national mood, which was strongly in the Republicans’ favor, was a big part of that. That’s just not the case this year, and it’s something I continue to believe that the pundit class here has not grappled with.

3. I’ll get into this more in a minute, but the full top-to-bottom slate of candidates that are working hard and raising money has an effect that we haven’t figured out how to quantify yet, too. The number of spirited Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, in places both traditional and pioneering, is much greater this year.

I’m not arguing that the political world as we know it is about to be turned upside down. It may well be that Texas Republicans are better engaged than Republicans elsewhere, or that Democratic enthusiasm is overstated, or that Democratic weaknesses in organization and infrastructure will limit the potential gains from the positive factors that we have. We could look back on this in December and wonder what we were thinking. I’m willing to stand by the assertion that conditions are different now than they were four years ago and in ways that tend to favor Democrats. Beyond that, we’ll see.

On a related note:

Fundraising can be a reliable indicator of support for a candidate, and Valdez has struggled to raise money. Some analysts say she’ll need to raise $10 million to compete against Abbott in the general election. At last report in May, she had $115,000 on hand.

O’Rourke has raised $13 million from small-dollar donors, which worries Republicans because he’ll be able to go back to those people for more. He may also share those donors with other Democrats in the future.

Valdez, lieutenant governor candidate Mike Collier and other statewide candidates’ fundraising efforts, though, have paled in comparison. Collier warned that raising money for statewide races alone does not guarantee success.

Democrats watched gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis raise tons of money in 2014 but fail to turn out voters. This election year, there was a concerted effort to field more candidates even in tough red areas. That way dozens of candidates will be using money to turn out Democrats instead of just hoping the top of the ticket will take care of everything.

“It has to come from the bottom up,” said Collier. “It can’t be top down.”

For what it’s worth, Wendy Davis had raised about $13 million across three campaign accounts as of the June 2014 finance report. Beto had raised $13 million as of April, though to be fair he had been running for Senate longer than Davis had been running for Governor by then. I expect he’ll have a few million more when the June quarterly report hits. Beyond Davis in 2014, Leticia Van de Putte had raised $1.2 million as of June, but the well got empty pretty quickly after that. Whatever Lupe Valdez and Mike Collier and the other statewides do – I’ll bet Justin Nelson has a decent report – I think we can conclude that Beto and crew will have raised more as of June than Davis and VdP and their squad.

But of course there’s more to it than that. I keep coming back to the Congressional fundraising because it really is so completely different than what we have seen before. Here are the final reports from the 2014 cycle. Pete Gallego raised $2.6 million in his unsuccessful defense of CD23, Wesley Reed raised $300K for CD27, and no one else in a potentially competitive race broke the $100K mark. As of this April, three Democratic Congressional challengers – Lizzie Fletcher, Joseph Kopser, Gina Ortiz Jones – had surpassed $1 million, with Colin Allred right behind them. Todd Litton and MJ Hegar are well on their way to $1 million. Dayna Steele and Jana Sanchez should break $500K. Sri Kulkarni and Lorie Burch are past $100K, with Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel not far off. At this level, it’s not even close, and that’s before we factor in outside money like the DCCC. And we haven’t even touched on legislative or county races.

Now of course Republicans are going to raise a bunch of money, too. Greg Abbott by himself probably has more cash on hand than what all these people will raise combined. What I’m saying, again, is that Dems are in a better position than they were in 2014, and that you shouldn’t focus on the Governor’s race to the exclusion of everything else. It would be nice if Lupe could raise more money. Maybe she’ll surprise us on her June report. Nonetheless, Dems just aren’t as dependent on one statewide candidate raising money as they were four years ago.

The CD27 special election is almost upon us

It’s on Saturday, to be specific.

Blake Farenthold

Voters in the 27th Congressional District are preparing to go to the polls for a third time this year on Saturday for a sleepy special election in which both parties are working to rally their fatigued troops behind a single candidate in the nine-person field to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

Farenthold abruptly resigned in April amid the fallout from sexual harassment allegations and an ethics investigation by the House Ethics Committee. He had announced four months earlier that he wouldn’t run for re-election, creating an open race to succeed him.

Saturday’s election is to determine who completes Farenthold’s current term, which ends in January, and it’s separate from the November election, the winner of which will take over the seat for a full two-year term after that.

Despite nine candidates on the ballot, Republicans are hoping their general election nominee, Michael Cloud, can win outright Saturday and avoid a runoff that would keep the seat empty for at least two more months and leave the counties with the bill for yet another election this year. Democrats, meanwhile, believe the crowded race provides an opening for their consensus candidate — Eric Holguin, also his party’s pick for the fall — to advance to a second round.

Even if Holguin makes the runoff, few are predicting the solidly red district could flip. Still, Democrats view it as an opportunity to at least build some momentum in the run-up to the November elections, and Republicans acknowledge there is an inescapable element of uncertainty in the low-turnout environment.

“I think the odds are highly favorable of [Cloud] winning the special election at least in a runoff, but the turnout’s so low, anything can happen,” said Michael Bergsma, the Republican Party chairman in Nueces County.

See here for the background. There’s more to the story, but that’s the main idea. With nine candidates it should be difficult to win a clean majority, especially since one of the lower-tier Republicans is actually spending money for the right to be a slightly longer-tenured Shelley Sekula Gibba, but it’s at least possible. Dems would love to get Eric Holguin into a runoff, and of course we’ll all be watching to see what the relative levels of turnout look like. Dems have generally overperformed by about thirteen points on average in special elections over the past year and a half, though there’s a wide range of outcomes. I’ll have the result from this one on Sunday.

And on a side note:

Texas officials are fuming over the tab for the upcoming special election to replace former Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold.

The cost of the June 30 election to replace Farenthold, who resigned in April amid reports he had used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit, is expected to be at least $157,000 — and many of the 13 largely rural counties holding the election say they can’t afford their share of the bill.

Worse, they argue, the special election is a pointless and needlessly costly exercise since the contest is likely to go to a September runoff — meaning the eventual winner will likely serve in Washington for less than 90 days.

“We’re all not happy,” said Wharton County Elections Administrator Cynthia Richter. “It is what it is, it’s just crazy.”

After announcing the special election date, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wrote the millionaire former congressman to request that Farenthold pay for the special election costs himself. Farenthold had originally said he would pay back the $84,000 he used to settle the harassment claim; the governor asked that he apply that money to the local counties to cover the costs of the special election.

Farenthold’s response? No.

“In my opinion, as well as many other county officials I have heard from, a special election was not warranted and should not have been called,” wrote Farenthold in a letter addressed to Abbott. “However, that was your decision based upon the advice you were given. Since I didn’t call it and don’t think it’s necessary, I shouldn’t be asked to pay for it.”

[…]

County officials say expenses associated with a special election are forcing them to reach into their contingency funds — accounts set up to cover government emergencies — or significantly downsize their operations.

“We have done everything we can to introduce cost-saving methods,” said Bastrop County Elections Administrator Bridgette Escobedo, whose county is expected to shell out $12,000 in special election expenses. “We’ve consolidated locations, reduced election workers; we’re running minimum crews for no overtime; we’re all paper and ordered minimum ballots.”

The counties aren’t alone in their frustration. The governor points his finger directly at Farenthold.

We’ve seen this before. I sympathize with the counties, who have no control over this stuff, but I supported the decision to have this election now rather than in November, and I stand by that. That said, the Governor has some discretionary funds at his disposal, in which $157K would make only a tiny dent, so it seems to me he could help these counties cover the cost of the choice he made if he wanted to. (I could be wrong about this, in the sense that I don’t know how “discretionary” these funds are. He may not be allowed to tap into them for this purpose.) He could also support an item in the next budget to make the state shoulder the cost of special elections like this. Sending an invoice to Farenthold makes for a good show. Doing something effective makes for good government. I’m just saying.

UT/Trib: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 36, part 2

We pick up where we left off.

Republican Ted Cruz leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke 41 percent to 36 percent in the general election race for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Neal Dikeman, the Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. Senate, garnered 2 percent, according to the survey. And 20 percent of registered voters said either that they would vote for someone else in an election held today (3 percent) or that they haven’t thought enough about the contest to have a preference (17 percent).

In the governor’s race, Republican incumbent Greg Abbott holds a comfortable 12-percentage-point lead over Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez — the exact same advantage he held over Democrat Wendy Davis in an early-summer poll in 2014. Abbott went on to win that race by 20 percentage points. In this survey, Abbott had the support of 44 percent to Valdez’s 32 percent. Libertarian Mark Tippetts had the support of 4 percent of registered voters, while 20 percent chose “someone else” or said they haven’t made a choice yet.

[…]

The June UT/TT Poll, conducted from June 8 to June 17, is an early look at the 2018 general election, a survey of registered voters — not of the “likely voters” whose intentions will become clearer in the weeks immediately preceding the election. If recent history is the guide, most registered voters won’t vote in November; according to the Texas Secretary of State, only 34 percent of registered voters turned out in 2014, the last gubernatorial election year.

The numbers also reflect, perhaps, the faint rumble of excitement from Democrats and wariness from Republicans who together are wondering what kind of midterm election President Donald Trump might inspire. The last gubernatorial election year in Texas, 2014, came at Barack Obama’s second midterm, and like his first midterm — the Tea Party explosion of 2010 — it was a rough year for Democrats in Texas and elsewhere. As the late social philosopher Yogi Berra once said, this year could be “Déjà vu all over again.”

Accordingly, voter uncertainty rises in down-ballot races where even previously elected officials are less well known. Republican incumbent Dan Patrick leads Democrat Mike Collier in the contest for lieutenant governor, 37 percent to 31 percent. Kerry McKennon, the Libertarian in that race, had the support of 4 percent of the registered voters surveyed, while the rest said they were undecided (23 percent) or would vote for someone other than the three named candidates (5 percent).

“As you move down to races that are just less well known, you see the numbers drop,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “They drop more for the Republicans. Part of that reflects the visibility of those races, and of those candidates.”

Henson said Patrick and other down-ballot incumbents work in the shadow of the governor, especially when the Legislature is not in in session. “That said, he’s still solid with the Republican base, though he lags behind Abbott and Cruz in both prominence and popularity,” he said. “There’s nothing unusual about that.”

And indecision marks the race for Texas attorney general, where Republican incumbent Ken Paxton has 32 percent to Democrat Justin Nelson’s 31 percent and 6 percent for Libertarian Michael Ray Harris. Four percent of registered voters said they plan to vote for someone else in that race and a fourth — 26 percent — said they haven’t chosen a favorite.

Nelson and Harris are unknown to statewide general election voters. Paxton, first elected in 2014, is fighting felony indictments for securities fraud — allegations that arose from his work as a private attorney before he was AG. He has steadily maintained his innocence, but political adversaries are hoping his legal problems prompt the state’s persistently conservative electorate to consider turning out an incumbent Republican officeholder.

“If you’ve heard anything about Ken Paxton in the last four years, more than likely you’ve heard about his legal troubles,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling and research at UT’s Texas Politics Project. Henson added a note of caution to that: There’s also no erosion in Ken Paxton support by the Republican base. This reflects some stirrings amongst the Democrats and Paxton’s troubles. But it would premature to draw drastic conclusions for November based upon these numbers from June.”

Shaw noted that the support for the Democrats in the three state races is uniform: Each has 31 percent or 32 percent of the vote. “All the variability is on the Republican side, it seems to me,” he said. When those voters move away from the Republican side, Shaw said, “they move not to the Democrats but to the Libertarian or to undecided.”

Trump is still getting very strong job ratings from Republican voters — strong enough to make his overall numbers look balanced, according to the poll. Among all registered voters, 47 percent approve of the job the president is doing, while 44 percent disapprove. Only 8 percent had no opinion.

See here for yesterday’s discussion. Before we go any further, let me provide a bit of context here, since I seem to be the only person to have noticed that that Trib poll from June 2014 also inquired about other races. Here for your perusal is a comparison of then and now:


Year    Office  Republican  Democrat  R Pct  D Pct
==================================================
2014    Senate      Cornyn   Alameel     36     25
2018    Senate        Cruz  O'Rourke     41     36

2014  Governor      Abbott     Davis     44     32
2018  Governor      Abbott    Valdez     44     32

2014  Lite Guv     Patrick       VdP     41     26
2018  Lite Guv     Patrick   Collier     37     31

2014  Atty Gen      Paxton   Houston     40     27
2018  Atty Gen      Paxton    Nelson     32     31

So four years ago, Wendy Davis topped Dems with 32%, with the others ranging from 25 to 27. All Dems trailed by double digits (there were some closer races further down the ballot, but that was entirely due to lower scores for the Republicans in those mostly obscure contests). Republicans other than the oddly-underperforming John Cornyn were all at 40% or higher. The Governor’s race was the marquee event, with the largest share of respondents offering an opinion.

This year, Beto O’Rourke leads the way for Dems at 36%, with others at 31 or 32. Abbott and Ted Cruz top 40%, but Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton are both lower than they were in 2014, with Paxton barely ahead of Justin Nelson. Only Abbott has a double-digit lead, with the other three in front by six, five, and one (!) points.

And yet the one quote we get about the numbers suggests that 2018 could be like 2010 or 2014? I must be missing something. Hey, how about we add in some 2010 numbers from the May 2010 UT/Trib poll?


Year    Office  Republican  Democrat  R Pct  D Pct
==================================================
2014    Senate      Cornyn   Alameel     36     25
2018    Senate        Cruz  O'Rourke     41     36

2010  Governor       Perry     White     44     35
2014  Governor      Abbott     Davis     44     32
2018  Governor      Abbott    Valdez     44     32

2010  Lite Guv    Dewhurst       LCT     44     30
2014  Lite Guv     Patrick       VdP     41     26
2018  Lite Guv     Patrick   Collier     37     31

2010  Atty Gen      Abbott Radnofsky     47     28
2014  Atty Gen      Paxton   Houston     40     27
2018  Atty Gen      Paxton    Nelson     32     31

There was no Senate race in 2010. I dunno, maybe the fact that Republicans outside the Governor’s race are doing worse this year than they did in the last two cycles is worth noting? Especially since two of them were first-time statewide candidates in 2014 and are running for re-election this year? Or am I the only one who’s able to remember that we had polls back then?

Since this cycle began and everyone started talking about Democratic energy going into the midterms, I’ve been looking for evidence of said energy here in Texas. There are objective signs of it, from the vast number of candidates running, to the strong fundraising numbers at the Congressional level, to the higher primary turnout, and so on. I haven’t as yet seen much in the poll numbers to show a Democratic boost, though. As we’ve observed before, Beto O’Rourke’s numbers aren’t that different than Bill White or Wendy Davis’ were. A bit higher than Davis overall, but still mostly in that 35-42 range. However, I did find something in the poll data, which was not in the story, that does suggest more Dem enthusiasm. Again, a comparison to 2010 and 2014 is instructive. In each of these three polls, there’s at least one “generic ballot” question, relating to the US House and the Texas Legislature. Let’s take a look at them.

If the 2010 election for [Congress/Lege] in your district were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought enough about it to have an opinion?

2010 Congress – GOP 46, Dem 34
2010 Lege – GOP 44, Dem 33

If the 2014 election for the Texas Legislature in your district were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?

2014 Lege – GOP 46, Dem 38

If the 2018 election for [Congress/Lege] in your district were held today, would you vote for [RANDOMIZE “the Democratic candidate” and “the Republican candidate”] the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?

2018 Congress – GOP 43, Dem 41
2018 Lege – GOP 43, Dem 42

Annoyingly, in 2014 they only asked that question about the Lege, and not about Congress. Be that as it may, Dems are up in this measure as well. True, they were up in 2014 compared to 2010, and in the end that meant nothing. This may mean nothing too, but why not at least note it in passing? How is it that I often seem to know these poll numbers better than Jim Henson and Daron Shaw themselves do?

Now maybe the pollsters have changed their methodology since then. It’s been eight years, I’m sure there have been a few tweaks, and as such we may not be doing a true comparison across these years. Even if that were the case, I’d still find this particular number worthy of mention. Moe than two thirds of Texas’ Congressional delegation is Republican. Even accounting for unopposed incumbents, the Republican share of the Congressional vote ought to be well above fifty percent in a given year, yet this poll suggests a neck and neck comparison. If you can think of a better explanation for this than a higher level of engagement among Dems than we’re used to seeing, I’m open to hearing it. And if I hadn’t noticed that, I don’t know who else might have.

UT/Trib: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 36

Well, what do you know?

Republican Ted Cruz leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke 41 percent to 36 percent in the general election race for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Neal Dikeman, the Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. Senate, garnered 2 percent, according to the survey. And 20 percent of registered voters said either that they would vote for someone else in an election held today (3 percent) or that they haven’t thought enough about the contest to have a preference (17 percent).

In the governor’s race, Republican incumbent Greg Abbott holds a comfortable 12-percentage-point lead over Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez — the exact same advantage he held over Democrat Wendy Davis in an early-summer poll in 2014. Abbott went on to win that race by 20 percentage points. In this survey, Abbott had the support of 44 percent to Valdez’s 32 percent. Libertarian Mark Tippetts had the support of 4 percent of registered voters, while 20 percent chose “someone else” or said they haven’t made a choice yet.

[…]

The June UT/TT Poll, conducted from June 8 to June 17, is an early look at the 2018 general election, a survey of registered voters — not of the “likely voters” whose intentions will become clearer in the weeks immediately preceding the election. If recent history is the guide, most registered voters won’t vote in November; according to the Texas Secretary of State, only 34 percent of registered voters turned out in 2014, the last gubernatorial election year.

The numbers also reflect, perhaps, the faint rumble of excitement from Democrats and wariness from Republicans who together are wondering what kind of midterm election President Donald Trump might inspire. The last gubernatorial election year in Texas, 2014, came at Barack Obama’s second midterm, and like his first midterm — the Tea Party explosion of 2010 — it was a rough year for Democrats in Texas and elsewhere. As the late social philosopher Yogi Berra once said, this year could be “Déjà vu all over again.”

Accordingly, voter uncertainty rises in down-ballot races where even previously elected officials are less well known. Republican incumbent Dan Patrick leads Democrat Mike Collier in the contest for lieutenant governor, 37 percent to 31 percent. Kerry McKennon, the Libertarian in that race, had the support of 4 percent of the registered voters surveyed, while the rest said they were undecided (23 percent) or would vote for someone other than the three named candidates (5 percent).

“As you move down to races that are just less well known, you see the numbers drop,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “They drop more for the Republicans. Part of that reflects the visibility of those races, and of those candidates.”

Henson said Patrick and other down-ballot incumbents work in the shadow of the governor, especially when the Legislature is not in in session. “That said, he’s still solid with the Republican base, though he lags behind Abbott and Cruz in both prominence and popularity,” he said. “There’s nothing unusual about that.”

And indecision marks the race for Texas attorney general, where Republican incumbent Ken Paxton has 32 percent to Democrat Justin Nelson’s 31 percent and 6 percent for Libertarian Michael Ray Harris. Four percent of registered voters said they plan to vote for someone else in that race and a fourth — 26 percent — said they haven’t chosen a favorite.

Nelson and Harris are unknown to statewide general election voters. Paxton, first elected in 2014, is fighting felony indictments for securities fraud — allegations that arose from his work as a private attorney before he was AG. He has steadily maintained his innocence, but political adversaries are hoping his legal problems prompt the state’s persistently conservative electorate to consider turning out an incumbent Republican officeholder.

“If you’ve heard anything about Ken Paxton in the last four years, more than likely you’ve heard about his legal troubles,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling and research at UT’s Texas Politics Project. Henson added a note of caution to that: There’s also no erosion in Ken Paxton support by the Republican base. This reflects some stirrings amongst the Democrats and Paxton’s troubles. But it would premature to draw drastic conclusions for November based upon these numbers from June.”

Shaw noted that the support for the Democrats in the three state races is uniform: Each has 31 percent or 32 percent of the vote. “All the variability is on the Republican side, it seems to me,” he said. When those voters move away from the Republican side, Shaw said, “they move not to the Democrats but to the Libertarian or to undecided.”

Trump is still getting very strong job ratings from Republican voters — strong enough to make his overall numbers look balanced, according to the poll. Among all registered voters, 47 percent approve of the job the president is doing, while 44 percent disapprove. Only 8 percent had no opinion.

Our seven-poll average now stands at Cruz 46.3, O’Rourke 39.7. Remember when that second Q poll, the one that had Cruz up by 11, became the One True Result? we now have four polls since then, and all of them are in the five-to-eight points range, which is to say all right arounf the polling average. Imagine that. This result, one of the better ones for O’Rourke, occurs in the context of good approval numbers for Donald Trump. In fact, Trump’s numbers have been mostly above water lately, yet Beto remains competitive. Here’s a summary:

UT/Trib, February 2017, 46 approve/44 disapprove
UT/Trib, June 2017, 43 approve/51 disapprove
UT/Trib, October 2017, 45 approve/49 disapprove
UT/Trib, February 2018, 46 approve/46 disapprove
Quinnipiac Senate poll, April 2018, 43 approve/51 disapprove
Quinnipiac Senate poll, May 2018, 47 approve/47 disapprove
PPP Senate poll, June 2018, 49 approve/46 disapprove
CBS/YouGov Senate poll, June 2018, 50 approve/50 disapprove
UT/Trib Senate poll, June 2018, 47 approve/44 disapprove

Not too surprisingly, Beto’s best showing was in that first Q poll. The fact that he’s consistently within single digits despite Trump being even or better in approval is encouraging, and suggests things could really get interesting if his numbers ever soften.

What about the Governor’s race? There have been eight polls of the Senate race so far, but this is only the third poll to include the Governor’s race. Here’s how those compare:

Quinnipiac, April

Cruz 47, Beto 44
Abbott 49, Valdez 40

Quinnipiac, May

Cruz 50, Beto 39
Abbott 53, Valdez 44

UT/Trib, June

Cruz 41, Beto 36
Abbott 44, Valdez 32

So Cruz runs two or three points behind Abbott, while Beto runs four or five points ahead of Valdez. Some of the latter may be a function of name recognition, but overall I’d be comfortable saying Beto would do a few points better overall than Valdez. I hesitate to draw broad conclusions, but it seems clear Beto is on a path to outperform Valdez, and quite possibly the rest of the Dem ticket. By how much is an open question, and I would remind everyone that other than Bill White in 2010, the statewide results in both 2010 and 2014 landed in a pretty narrow range. Keep an eye on this, but don’t spend too much time thinking about it yet.

I have more to discuss with this poll, but this post is already long. I will pick things up tomorrow.

Our typically feckless state leaders

Way to set an example for the rest of us, y’all.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick frequently talk tough about illegal immigration, but they refuse to publicly support the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that’s spurred outrage for ripping thousands of undocumented children out of the arms of their parents.

Neither are they criticizing it.

Texas’ top Republicans are making a calculated decision to hide from the humanitarian crisis, largely taking place on Texas soil, because they are afraid of upsetting their political base.

The governor has tried to say as little as possible about the White House policy, making only one public comment backing Trump’s argument that the children’s and parents’ traumatic experiences can be used as leverage for an immigration overhaul.

“This is horrible and this rips everyone’s hearts apart about what’s going on,” Abbott told a Dallas-area TV station. He added that Trump had offered to “end the ripping apart of these families” if Democrats agree to a new immigration law.

Abbott declined repeated requests for comment from the Houston Chronicle. Instead, his staff forwarded the statement made last weekend to NBC TV. The governor seeks to appear loyal without attracting attention to himself.

“It shouldn’t be a tightrope to do the right thing,” said John Weaver, a longtime campaign strategist from Texas who has consulted for Republicans like George H.W. Bush and now Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “It’s disappointing that we haven’t heard from the governor but not surprising. We’ve gone from Texas having very strong leaders to having leaders who are very calculating.”

[…]

Patrick never brought up the separation policy or the border when he spoke for half an hour at the Texas Republican Party convention in San Antonio on Friday. His office and campaign have not returned repeated calls for comment.

“Dan Patrick’s silence, in the face of such brutality committed on Texas soil, makes him as culpable as the administration. Morally, it’s as though he wrenched the children from their parents with his own hands,” said Mike Collier, a Democratic businessman running against Patrick for lieutenant governor in November.

As the Lone Star Project noted, Abbott has expressed his support for the Trump detention policy previously, before it became untenable for everyone this side of Ken Paxton and Sid Miller to oppose it. I suppose he and Patrick were just taking their time and hoping this would all go away, as befitting their cowardly natures, but their absence was definitely noticed.

“What is happening on the border tonight is an affront to humanity and to all that we as proud Americans hold dear,” state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, told the American-Statesman Tuesday. “We are better than this. To watch our own governor remain silent in the face of this atrocity is an affront to all that we as Texans hold dear. As a member of the Texas Legislature, I am ashamed that my ‘so called’ leader is so controlled by his fealty to the president’s myopic vision of America that he is frightened like a feeble squirrel from taking action. It is time to act. NOW. Governor Abbott. Can you hear me?”

Both of those stories were from yesterday morning. By around lunchtime, Abbott had been forced out of his spider hole to make a few grudging remarks.

Gov. Greg Abbott is asking Texans in Congress to take bipartisan action to address the crisis of thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents.

“This disgraceful condition must end; and it can only end with action by Congress to reform the broken immigration system,” he wrote in a letter to all members of the Texas delegation, including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

Abbott called family separations, which are the result of a Trump administration policy announced earlier this year, “tragic and heartrending.” But he also called the separations the “latest calamity children suffer because of a broken U.S. border” — and urged members to “seize” the opportunity to work across the aisle and finally fix the problem.

“Texans are not fooled by the partisan divide on this issue,” Abbott wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. “They know that even if all Republicans agree, a bill fixing the problem will not pass without Democrat support in the Senate.”

Naturally, as befitting his craven nature, Abbott hid behind the lie that Trump was forced into the family separation policy and only Democrats could save him, to which Trump himself quickly put the lie with a hasty afternoon executive order, one that has ulterior motives. But as one Democratic Senator pointed out prior to that, it was easily within the power of even one Republican Senator to force the issue. And if Greg Abbott is sincere about wanting to keep families together and make progress on immigration, here’s a bill he could support. Don’t hold your breath would be my advice. Greg Abbott always, without fail, takes the easiest way out. Vox and ThinkProgress have more.

Abbott sets July 31 special election date in SD19

One way or another, we’ll have that slot filled in time for the start of the next session.

Carlos Uresti

Gov. Greg Abbott has scheduled a July 31 special election to replace state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Uresti announced his resignation Monday, four months after he was found guilty of 11 felonies. The resignation is effective Thursday.

The filing deadline for the special election is Monday, and early voting will start July 16, according to Abbott’s proclamation. The document also outlines Abbott’s reasoning for calling what is known as an emergency special election, noting Uresti’s District 19 has been “without effective representation” for over a year due to his legal troubles and it is important to fill the seat as soon as possible.

Abbott had the choice of setting the special election for the next uniform election date — Nov. 6 — or at an earlier date. Uresti had asked Abbott to slate the special election at the same time as the Nov. 6 elections, saying it would “save the 17 counties and taxpayers thousands of dollars.”

At least two Democrats are already running to finish Uresti’s term, which ends in 2021: former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine and state Rep. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio. Pete Flores, a Republican who unsuccessfully challenged Uresti in 2016, has also announced a special election run.

See here for the background. Our summer of constant elections continues. Why would Abbott set the date earlier instead of having it in November? Assuming as I do that Abbott is motivated first and foremost by politics, my guess would be that a summer special election, followed most likely by a summer special election runoff, offers the better odds of electing a Republican. SD19 is a Democratic district and I’d expect it to be pretty blue in November, but it went both ways in 2014 and could certainly be competitive in a lower-turnout environment. No guarantee of that, of course, and I’d expect Democrats to be more motivated to vote even in July this year than they were four years ago. Flores lost to Uresti 55.9% to 40.4% in 2016, for what it’s worth. Be all that as it may, this is going to be quite the sprint for the campaigns. Buckle up.

Who watches the anonymous tipsters?

Am I the only one who sees the potential for problems with this?

Want a safe way to anonymously report suspicious activity at your neighborhood school to prevent a potential school shooting? There’s an app for that.

In light of last month’s school shooting at Santa Fe High School, the Texas Department of Public Safety on Friday announced the launch of its “iWatch Texas” app giving students, teachers and parents a new tool to anonymously report incidents, suspicious activity or odd behavior to a network of federal, state, regional and local law enforcement authorities.

The app’s launch is part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s 40-part plan to ensure schools are safer in light of a school shooting at Santa Fe High School where a 17-year-old student opened fire on students there, killing 10 people and injuring 13. His other recommendations include beefing up security and hiring more school counselor.

The iWatch initiative is part of the DPS Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division, which operates as an information clearinghouse in Texas. The iWatch system feeds information to the Texas Fusion Center’s watch center 24 hours a day to coordinate with local law enforcement. Other states have created similar apps.

I should note that the IWatchTX.org website has been in existence since at least 2013. What’s new is the app, which you can find in the usual places. You can put in your contact information, but you don’t have to, and that’s my concern about this. What’s to stop people from anonymously filing false reports? It’s well known that when law enforcement advertises a tip line for help with particular cases, they are inundated with useless information, from delusions and nonsense to people reporting loved ones and rivals out of spite or revenge. The odds that people with bad motives will use this app for nefarious, even sinister purposes are very high.

Now, it says on the IWatchTX website that each report “will be reviewed by an analyst to determine if similar reporting exists and to ensure the appropriate referrals are made”, so clear-cut BS will likely be filtered out. That’s still going to mean DPS resources are being used on filtering it out, and innocent people may still get caught up in it. I get what DPS is trying to do, and I agree there may be value in it, but I say DPS will need to be transparent about the reports they get via this app. What percentage of them turn out to be viable, and what percentage is straight-up baloney? What percentage of the people targeted by false reports are minorities? The public needs to know these things to feel secure that law enforcement efforts are being used wisely. If there’s not already a provision in the law to make that happen, someone needs to push a bill in the next Legislature to make one.

Senate considers mostly symbolic ideas on school safety

Once again, see if you can tell what’s missing from this discussion.

Nearly three weeks after a shooter killed 10 people at a high school southeast of Houston, lawmakers gathered at the Texas Capitol on Monday to discuss new school safety measures that might prevent another tragedy — and stopped short of rallying behind ideas like adding metal detectors to schools or updating school architecture.

“It’s going to be very difficult to stop every incident,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, discussing the variety of situations in which students could be harmed.

Monday’s meeting came after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, created the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools & School Security to study ways to limit violence in Texas public schools before they reopen in August. Prior to those orders, Abbott had released a 40-page school safety plan with dozens of proposals of his own in response to the shooting at Santa Fe High School.

Lawmakers studied many of Abbott’s ideas Monday, including ensuring that teachers are trained through Mental Health First Aid, a day-long course that trains individuals on how to spot and respond to mental illness and substance abuse. State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said around 25,000 school staff members in Texas have already been trained through the program.

[…]

In addition to metal detectors, lawmakers discussed designing schools to prevent threats, like by keeping administrative offices at the front of schools. Legislators also briefly discussed monitoring cameras, limiting school access points and improving locks.

It’s better than blaming everything on doors and video games, but not much more productive. I will take all the usual mutterings about mental health seriously when there’s a real proposal on the table to expand Medicaid, since expanding Medicaid will be by far the single most effective thing we can do to actually help many of the people who have mental health issues in Texas. As for the rest of it, I’m sure they could have some marginal benefit, but it all has the feel to me of talking about installing new windshield wipers when there’s smoke coming from the car engine and you have two flat tires. When are we going to address the real problems?

Looking back at 2010 and 2014

I’ve talked a lot about polls in the past week, so I thought I’d take a minute and look back at the polling data that we had as of this time in the 2010 and 2014 elections, to see if we can learn anything. The polls those years were about Governor’s races while this year is focused on the Senate race, but that’s all right. I’m not intending for this to be a straight apples-to-apples comparison, just more of a general feel. So with no further ado:

PPP, June 2010: Perry 43, White 43
UT/Trib, May 2010: Perry 44, White 35
Rasmussen, May 2010: Perry 51, White 38
Rasmussen, April 2010: Perry 48, White 44
UT/Trib, Feb 2010: Perry 44, White 35
PPP, Feb 2010: Perry 48, White 42

Avg: Perry 46.3, White 39.5

Boy, were we optimistic in the early days of 2010. Bill White was a top-notch candidate, coming off a successful tenure as Mayor of Houston with high popularity numbers and a strong fundraising apparatus. The polls supported that optimism, with that June result showing a tied race. Rick Perry, in the meantime, was coming off a 39% re-election in 2006 and a bruising primary win over then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. There were lots of reasons to think that people had gotten tired of Perry and his schtick after a decade in office, and the enthusiasm from the 2008 election was still felt and seen as a harbinger of things to come.

We know how this movie ended. The thing was, it wasn’t apparent that it was headed that way till the final days. Polls from September and early October continued to show a tight race. It wasn’t really until early voting had started and the last polls were published that we began to see the downward trends. It wasn’t a lack of Democratic enthusiasm that doomed White and the rest of the ticket – turnout was up from 2006, not that that was saying much – but Republican turnout was off the charts, swamping Democratic boats across the country and wiping out large swaths of the Democratic caucus in the Legislature. We didn’t know it in June, but there was a very ill wind about to blow.

UT/Trib, June 2014: Abbott 44, Davis 32
PPP, April 2014: Abbott 51, Davis 37
Rasmussen, March 2014: Abbott 53, Davis 41
ECPS, March 2014: Abbott 49, Davis 42
UT/Trib, Feb 2014: Abbott 47, Davis 36

Avg: Abbott 48.8, Davis 37.6

There are a lot of ways in which 2014 was like 2010 – initial excitement and optimism, high-profile candidate who drew national attention and had good fundraising chops, all ending in a gut-wrenching wipeout. One major way in which things were very different is that the early polls did not support that initial optimism in 2014. I distinctly remember writing a lot of words about why 2014 was going to be different and not at all like 2010. We were so young and innocent then. We also had a lot more warning about the impending doom we faced, as the next poll result after this one had Abbott up by 16, and in only two of the last seven polls was Davis within single digits. I was right about one thing – Republican turnout was in fact down from 2010. It’s just that Democratic turnout was as best flat from 2010, despite the endlessly-hyped presence of Battleground Texas, and that all added up to roughly a 2002-style outcome.

PPP, June 2018: Cruz 48, O’Rourke 42
Quinnipiac, May 2018: Cruz 50, O’Rourke 39
Quinnipiac, April 2018: Cruz 47, O’Rourke 44
PPP, Jan 2018: Cruz 45, O’Rourke 37

Avg: Cruz 47.5, O’Rourke 40.5

I discussed these last week, when that PPP poll hit. I’m dropping the Wilson Perkins result from this calculation, as it was done in the latter days of 2017, but if you insist on including it the averages change to Cruz 48.4, O’Rourke 39.2. That’s not as good as the 2010 average – if you just take these four polls, it’s basically even with 2010 – but it’s about two points better than 2014, three points better without the outlier. We don’t know how this one will end, of course, and it remains to be seen where the polls go from here. I just wanted to provide some context, so there you have it.

Who’s willing to tell Trump he’s all wet?

Not Greg Abbott or Dan Patrick.

During a visit to Pinkerton’s Barbecue on Friday afternoon, gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez said Gov. Greg Abbott failed to forcefully refute the president, who said on Wednesday that some Texans “went out in their boats to watch the hurricane” and that it “didn’t work out too well.”

Abbott told the Chronicle that he had “no information one way or another about that,” comments Valdez said were intended to avoid confronting the president.

“The heck with Trump… what are you doing taking care of somebody else?” Valdez said of Abbott. “Take care of your own people.”

[…]

[Lt. Governor candidate Mike] Collier said Trump’s comments were “one of the more offensive things I’ve ever heard.” He said that Texas’ elected Republican leaders have refrained from criticizing Trump’s comments because they want to protect the president.

See here for the background. Look, this is a layup, even for a craven Republican like Abbott or Patrick. “I’m not sure what the President saw, but the rest of us saw many people going out into the storm to help their neighbors, because that’s what we do in Texas”. Joe Straus got it right. It ain’t rocket science. Now, I do appreciate Abbott and Patrick giving Valdez and Collier a chance to dunk on them, but don’t these guys have advisers? Whatever, keep up the good work, fellas.

If I had a boat…

I wouldn’t have used it to go Harvey-watching. Where does he get this crap?

President Donald Trump praised the Coast Guard for its heroics during Hurricane Harvey Wednesday, but credited the high number of water rescues to people taking their boats out to watch the storm roll in, baffling first responders.

Trump was on a conference call with state and federal leaders in preparation for another dreadful hurricane season. During the call, Trump thanked the Coast Guard for their service in helping save 16,000 people after Harvey, Hurricane Maria and other storms. The Coast Guard doesn’t “get enough credit,” Trump said.

“Sixteen thousand people, many of them in Texas, for whatever reason that is. People went out in their boats to watch the hurricane,” Trump said. “That didn’t work out too well.”

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez took umbrage with the president’s remarks, crediting civilians with making an “extraordinary effort” with their own boats to rescue neighbors, relatives and pets as Hurricane Harvey flooded the Texas coast with 52 inches of rain last year.

“I didn’t see anyone taking the approach that would reflect his comments,” Gonzalez said. “I’ll be sure to invite the president to ride out the next hurricane in a jon boat in Galveston Bay the next time one approaches,” he added.

No one could explain the president’s comment.

When asked by the Houston Chronicle to confirm if Texans were out on boats gawking at the storm, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he had “no information one way or another about that.”

Coast Guard Petty Officer Edward Wargo said: “I don’t know how we would go about confirming that,” when asked for evidence.

“I don’t even know how to respond to that,” said Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.

In another reality, I’d just assume Donald Trump is stoned. In this world, there’s no point in trying to explain anything he says or does. He lies and he makes shit up, and that’s all there is to it. The Associated Press has more, but I can’t leave it like this. I need something to cleanse my palate.

There. Much better now.

The status of Confederate monument removal

We still have a long way to go.

Texas has removed the most Confederate symbols and statues in the country since 2015, according to a new Southern Poverty Law Center study. But the trend does not extend to the state Capitol, where lawmakers have been reluctant to take down monuments and plaques.

Texas cities removed 31 symbols, which include statues and renaming of schools and streets, according to the report. Austin led the way, with the removal of 10 symbols, the majority of them on the UT campus. Houston renamed seven schools and one street.

Cities in Texas and across the country have removed hundreds of symbols following the mass shooting at a black church in Charleston in 2015, which prompted lawmakers in South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse.

“As a consequence of the national reflection that began in Charleston, the myths and revisionist history surrounding the Confederacy may be losing their grip in the South,” the SPLC argues in its report. “Yet, for the most part, the symbols remain.”

Houston ISD spent $1.2 million to change the names of eight schools that once honored figures of the Confederacy. Reagan High became Heights High; Davis High was changed to Northside High; Lee High took the name of longtime educator Margaret Long Wisdom; Johnston Middle was changed to Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School; Jackson Middle became the Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence; Dowling Middle was renamed after Audrey Lawson; and Lanier Middle changed its first name to honor former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier instead of Confederate poet Sidney Lanier.

Dowling Street, named after Houston businessman Dick Dowling who served as a lieutenant in the Confederacy, was renamed Emancipation Avenue by the City of Houston in January 2017.

Two controversial monuments remain in city parks.

The Spirit of the Confederacy statue has stood in Downtown’s Sam Houston Park for 110 years. A monument commemorating Dick Dowling was erected in Market Square Park in 1905 before moving to its current location in Herman Park.

You can read the SPLC report here. There’s a sidebar story in there about the history and origin of Stone Mountain in Georgia, which, yeah. Go read that if you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about. I don’t know if they counted this sort of thing, but in addition to the schools that got renamed, HISD also recently got rid of a Confederate-themed school mascot. So yes, progress.

One place where a lot more progress could and should be made in short order is in the state Capitol. State Rep. Eric Johnson, who has been leading the charge to get a particular historically false plaque removed, just submitted a brief to the AG’s office regarding the authority of the State Preservation Board, which includes Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, to remove that “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque. He subsequently got support from outgoing Speaker Joe Straus.

The Republican speaker of the Texas House says a Confederate plaque hanging in the state Capitol can — and should — be removed immediately.

In a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton, Speaker Joe Straus called the plaque offensive and misleading. And he agreed with Rep. Eric Johnson, the Dallas Democrat pushing for its removal, that the Texas Preservation Board has the power to remove the plaque immediately.

“Every year, thousands of visitors to the Capitol are exposed to this inaccurate plaque,” the San Antonio Republican’s staff wrote on the Speaker’s behalf. “Maintaining it in its present location is a disservice to them and to history. The plaque should either be removed or relocated to a place where appropriate historical context can be provided.”

[…]

Johnson said he was disappointed he hasn’t heard from Abbott in the seven months since the two men sat down to discuss the plaque. He wants the governor to call a meeting of the board and vote on his request to remove this plaque. If the agency fails to act quickly on his request, he wrote, a court of law could compel it to do so.

“The Curator similarly cannot let a request languish,” Johnson wrote. “Should the Curator fail to act on a change request within a reasonable period of time, mandamus can issue to require the Curator to act.”

One may be disappointed in Abbott, but one shouldn’t be surprised. Straus has previously backed removing the monument, so if Abbott and Patrick would get off their butts and take action, we could get this done tomorrow. What are you waiting for, guys?

DCCC poll: Culberson 47, Fletcher 45

Game on.

Lizzie Fletcher

The U.S. House race between GOP incumbent John Culberson and Democratic challenger Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is generally expected to be closer than most in this traditionally Republican enclave of west Houston and the Harris County suburbs.

Now an internal Democratic poll of the 7th Congressional District shows it to be a statistical tie. The poll of district voters, released Friday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, found Fletcher within 2 points of Culberson, 45 percent to 47 percent. That is within the poll’s 4.9 percent margin of error.

[…]

The DCCC poll shows Fletcher leading Culberson by 8 points among women (50 percent to 42 percent), 20 points among independents (52 percent to 32 percent), and by 28 points among voters under 50 (57 percent to 29 percent).

Further proof that that the district could be in play: The poll found that a generic Democrat is within striking distance of a generic Republican – 46 percent to 47 percent. That’s tighter than the difference between Fletcher and Culberson, but still within the margin of error.

The Democratic poll also gave Culberson a net-negative favorability rating, with 32 percent of voters having a favorable view of the congressman, compared to 39 percent who don’t. Similarly, the poll found that 35 percent of voters approve of Culberson’s job performance, while 39 percent disapprove.

Meanwhile, Trump also remains underwater in a district, which he lost by 1.4 points in 2016. In the DCCC poll, 50 percent of Seventh District voters disapprove of his job performance, while 42 percent approve.

I first heard about this poll via G. Elliott Morris’s Twitter feed, but this story adds some details. Internal polls are generally treated with skepticism – scroll down to see the responses to that tweet for a couple of examples – and I want to talk about why that is first. The main reason why internal polls are looked at differently is because when an internal poll is released, you have no way of knowing how many other polls that particular campaign or committee might have done that they did not choose to release. In other words, the poll that gets released may be the most favorable of the bunch, cherry-picked to present a sunny view of the situation. Media and tracking polls are public, with all their results out there to be seen, so when there’s an outlier it tends to stand out. You just don’t know if an internal poll is an outlier or not.

The other reason why internal polls are different is that they are sometimes used for specific purposes like testing a message or attracting financial support. Polls that take the measure of a race, then “inform” the respondents about one of the candidates and re-ask the original question again at the end, are a common example of this. The Justin Nelson poll from December is in this category. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s a valuable campaign tool – but since the result comes from an idealized scenario – in a real campaign, both candidates get to “inform” voters, assuming they have the resources to do so – these polls are not very useful as predictive tools.

For those reasons, and because full poll data is often not available, poll aggregators and election modelers tend to give internal polls less weight. All that said, this poll is an example of one we can probably take more seriously. For one thing, given that the runoff was less than two weeks ago, there very likely have not been any other polls done by the DCCC since Fletcher became the nominee. There’s (again, probably) nothing to cherry-pick from. The DCCC, which has now added Fletcher to its Red to Blue group, generally doesn’t try to convince funders to invest in a particular race, and for them to want to include CD07 as a race to target they’ll want accurate horse-race numbers. None of this means that they couldn’t have made optimistic assumptions about turnout or the makeup of the electorate – we don’t have the internal poll data, so who knows what they sampled from – but all pollsters have to make those judgments.

All things considered, I believe we can take this poll more or less at face value. Which is to say, it’s a data point, and we hope to see more of them to get a fuller picture of what may be happening. Given that, the way to think about this is not just for this race, which we believe will be close and competitive, but for how it fits into the bigger picture. For one thing, Democrats swept Harris County in 2016 while John Culberson was winning in CD07 by 12 points. If we’re in an election year where CD07 is truly a tossup, then that strongly implies an even better year for Democrats in the county. Even more than that Lina Hidalgo poll, this should be encouraging for Dems, and downright terrifying for Republicans.

But it’s not just Harris County. There are two big reasons why CD07 is and has been seen as a top pickup opportunity. The main reason is because Hillary Clinton carried the district in 2016, but as we have discussed here before, some of that was because of crossover voters. Like I said above, Culberson still won the district 56-44. The other, equally important, reason is that the national atmosphere is one that favors Democrats and strongly indicates that the Republican advantage in districts like CD07 will be greatly diminished. Put another way, we expect that more Democrats and fewer Republicans will vote than in other similar election years. And that’s not just true in CD07, and in other battleground districts like CD23 and CD32. It’s true across the board, and it’s factored into every election prediction model, like the Morris model. Scroll down to the “Forecasts for every House seat” section and compare his projected margin in each Congressional district to the actual margins from 2016 and 2014.

This is something that I don’t think has been absorbed by media outlets and pundits in this state, all of which comes very much to the fore when a statewide poll like the second one from Quinnipiac comes out. Greg Abbott, who carried Harris County by five points in 2014, carried CD07 by a 60-38 margin in 2014; Culberson won that year by a 63-35 score. Again, if we are in an election where CD07 is a tossup, then the effect of that will be felt statewide, not just countywide. More to the point, if we are in that election, then the same effect will be felt in every Congressional district in Texas. It will be felt more in some districts than in others, and in specific races with specific candidates with strengths and weaknesses that may counter or enhance the national mood. But it will be felt.

The point I’m making is that a poll like that second Quinnipiac poll may be right, and polls like the DCCC CD07 poll and the Hidalgo Harris County poll may be right, but they can’t all be right. If the Q-poll is right, the other two are almost certainly too optimistic about Democratic chances, and if the latter two are right, then that Q-poll is almost certainly understating Democratic statewide support. I wish the people who write about these things would take that into consideration when they do. We don’t know yet which view is right. The fact that these conflicting polls exist is almost certainly because everyone has a different idea of what that national atmosphere will be like, and how big its effect on Texas will be. If you’re skeptical of any effect here you need to explain why. For now at least, all I’m saying is that polls like these don’t exist in a vacuum. Don’t evaluate one without taking into consideration the others.

The problem with more cops in schools

I haven’t had anything to say so far about Greg Abbott’s proposed responses to the Santa Fe school shooting. There isn’t much to say about it – these are a bunch of small changes around the margins, all while scrupulously avoiding any mention of ways to understand the causes of gun violence or strategies to actually try to reduce it. It basically takes it as a given that hey, people are gonna get shot, so we may want to try to make it a little harder on the shooters. RG Ratcliffe has a critique that’s worth reading, but Mimi Swartz really gets at an issue that has not gotten the attention it deserves.

But overall, the governor’s plan to address school safety is profoundly regressive in ways that go far beyond the gun control debate. His call for more police and more military style security raises crucial questions about what kind of places schools should be. Specifically, his plans for more armed guards, armed teachers, and armed staffers will erase a decade or so of progress in making schools more welcoming—and Texas’ kids better educated.

Maybe few Texans recall the Zero Tolerance era, which started with the Pre-Columbine U.S. Congress’ Gun Free Schools Act in 1994 that required a one year automatic expulsion for any kid who brought a gun to school. The Clinton Administration encouraged schools receiving federal funding to adopt the tenets of gun free schools, which became the basis of zero tolerance policies in other areas. There were many unexpected consequences, especially punishments for minor infractions that could be looped in with the War on Drugs—along with entering a classroom without permission, or roughhousing on a school bus, kids could be expelled for bringing asthma inhalers and Sudafed to school. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that the Zero Tolerance Era coincided with the Tough on Crime Era of the Bush and Clinton administrations which led to exponential increases in prison sentences for minor offenses, particularly for men of color. The so-called school to prison pipeline was born.

Over the ensuing years, groups like Texas Appleseed worked overtime to issue reports and lobby the legislature to reduce school suspensions (some of which started in kindergarten) and dire punishments for, say, talking back to teachers. Their reports also showed that so-called Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs were basically low cost jails for kids and profit centers for private companies that did nothing but put good kids in with bad and offered no educational value to either. Studies also showed that putting more police in schools had a detrimental effect on learning, especially among poor and minority kids who were now the target of police abuse both on the street and in schools. It wasn’t surprising that dropout rates increased.

Over time, it became clear that Zero Tolerance just didn’t work. Newer programs like Restorative Justice, which allow kids to have their say and teach them to take responsibility for their actions, have won the support of liberal and conservative groups largely because they do. Even though they can be more labor intensive, they have been shown in numerous studies to keep kids in school and violence down. “What we have shown in our research and what we know experts have documented across the U.S. is that an increase in law enforcement doesn’t lead to a safer school and often results in real harm, particularly for students of color and students with disabilities,” explained Deborah Fowler, Executive Director of Texas Appleseed.

Abbott’s report, then, has the musty whiff of a darker time, despite protestations that more protections—offering gun training to nearly everyone who isn’t a student—are needed to keep kids safe. This despite an FBI report, among others, that shows no statistical evidence that putting more armed people in schools reduces school violence.

There’s more, so read the rest. It’s hard to know how much support there will be for these proposals, even with both chambers getting a head start on studying them. I just hope there are some voices expressing these concerns while that is happening.

Quinnipiac: Cruz 50, O’Rourke 39

Quinnipiac giveth, Quinnipiac taketh away.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has some breathing space from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, according to a new poll released by Quinnipiac University on Wednesday.

In the banner statewide race in the state, the new survey showed Cruz had an 11 point lead over O’Rourke. Fifty percent of Texans backed Cruz while 39 percent supported O’Rourke in the coming U.S. Senate race in the fall.

An April poll from the same outfit showed the race “too close to call.” But now, at the dawn of the general election, Cruz in a stronger position than what Quinnipiac’s April survey conveyed.

In this new poll, Cruz is nearly universally known within the state. Forty-nine of Texans polled viewed him positively while 38 percent had an unfavorable opinion of him.

[…]

Quinnipiac also looked at the gubernatorial race. The survey showed the newly-minted Democratic nominee, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez trailing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott with 34 percent to 53 percent.

See here for the previous result. As I said then, we don’t have enough data yet to know if one or the other of these is an outlier. I don’t buy that there was a significant shift in opinion in the last month or so – what would even have caused that? – but it does seem like the sample from one poll was friendlier to O’Rourke in one and to Cruz in the other. For witness to that, compare the Trump approval rating from April (43% approve, 52% disapprove) to May (47% approve, 47% disapprove). I’ll say again, that’s the main story of each of these polls. As Trump’s national numbers have been fairly stable over the past months, there’s no reason to think this is indicative of anything. If Quinnipiac is going to continue to produce a new poll every six weeks or so, great! That will help tell the story a bit better; if other pollsters join in, even better. For now, take this poll like you should have taken the previous one, as another data point. The picture isn’t clear enough yet to tell us more than that.

Lupe and Beto

Beto O’Rourke has a year-old, well-funded campaign for US Senate. Lupe Valdez doesn’t have anything like those advantages in her campaign for Governor. Will her lower profile effort have a negative effect on his higher profile one?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The race for governor is often the biggest spectacle in Texas politics, and the governor’s mansion the biggest prize.

But the contest between incumbent Republican Greg Abbott and Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez is forecast to be not much of a contest at all. Abbott, who in 2014 beat former state Sen. Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points, looms like Goliath on the political landscape, with Valdez lacking the weaponry to take him down. She needs more than five smooth stones.

Democrats have focused much of their attention on the remarkable campaign of Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman who’s challenging incumbent Ted Cruz for Senate.

The Cruz-O’Rourke showdown is the marquee race of the season, and could change the fortunes of Democrats and Republicans alike.

With Abbott poised to spend more than $40 million to turn out the Republican vote and in the process help Cruz, the question becomes: does Valdez’s presence on the ticket hurt or help O’Rourke?

Lupe Valdez

“Compared to nothing, she helps,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

[…]

Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell, who Democrats recruited to run for governor, said Valdez’s presence on the ticket will have little impact on O’Rourke’s efforts.

“I don’t think Lupe makes a difference to this race,” Sorrell said. “People view Beto’s race as a separate entity from Lupe’s race.”

Veteran Republican consultant Bill Miller said Valdez could be a problem for O’Rourke and other Democrats because her campaign is so irrelevant.

“The Democrats believe she helps, but in my opinion she hurts,” Miller said. “She’s not going to be a strong candidate and her race is not a hot race. She’s going to be discounted early on and that won’t help O’Rourke.”

My inclination is to agree with Michael Sorrell. We haven’t had a situation like this in recent memory. In the recent years where we have had concurrent races for Senate and Governor:

– Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial campaign was much higher profile than David Alameel’s Senate campaign in 2014. Not that any of it made much difference.

– The four-way Governor’s race in 2006 defies comparison to anything else.

– Both Tony Sanchez and Ron Kirk had well-funded campaigns in 2002, with Kirk doing a few points better in the end.

Honestly, the real factor here is Greg Abbott and his gazillions of dollars, which would be a major concern no matter who was his opponent. Valdez has improved as a candidate after a rough start, and in the end I think she’ll raise a million or two bucks, which is a water balloon against Abbott’s fire hose but will at least allow for some kind of campaign activity. The main way Abbott can use his money to affect other races is by spending a ton on GOTV stuff, which again he’d do if he were running instead against Andrew White or Julian Castro or whoever your fantasy alternative candidate might be. He still has to contend with whatever chaos Donald Trump unleashes, whatever discontent the electorate may feel about Hurricane Harvey and gun violence, and other things that money may not be able to ameliorate. All things considered, I think Valdez’s campaign will have little effect on Beto’s. It’s unlikely to be of any help, but it probably won’t hurt, either.

(Yes, I wrote this before the property tax story came out. I still don’t think one campaign will have much effect on the other.)

Abbott versus Houston on Harvey funds

I have three things to say about this.

Gov. Greg Abbott blasted the city of Houston for its response to Hurricane Harvey Wednesday, critiquing what he described as a lack of sound financial planning and sluggish progress repairing flooded homes.

The governor’s assessment, which he delivered in two terse letters Wednesday, was prompted by a request Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and 55 other Gulf Coast mayors and county judges sent Abbott on Tuesday, requesting state help meeting the local match for a key federal disaster mitigation program.

FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is a standard aid process triggered after every federally declared disaster. In the case of Harvey, Texas will receive about $1.1 billion in mitigation funds, $500 million of which is available to local governments now. Local leaders must compete for the dollars and provide a 25 percent match to fund selected projects; FEMA covers the other 75 percent.

“The states of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Georgia and Colorado have provided for local matches in situations utilizing HMGP,” the 57 Gulf Coast leaders wrote to Abbott. “We ask that the state of Texas make a similar effort in joining local jurisdictions as a partner in flood mitigation.”

Abbott, in his response to Turner, said he had worked to ensure local governments could use federal block grants to provide that match.

“Texas Department of Emergency Management has received zero applications from the city of Houston to access this funding, meaning there is hundreds of millions of dollars sitting on the table for your use,” Abbott added. “It is perplexing that you are seeking more funding when you have shown no ability to spend what you already have access to.”

This response confused and angered some local officials. Not only are the mitigation funds subject to a competitive application process, they said, but the hundreds of millions of dollars Abbott referenced are the exact funds they are seeking the governor’s help in matching to be able to use.

[…]

Emmett added that using federal block grants for the mitigation program — something Abbott mentioned in another recent letter to county officials — would cannibalize dollars needed for home repairs and additional infrastructure projects.

“It defies logic as to why you’d take federal dollars and, instead of using them for the purpose of relief and prevention, you’d use them as your local match for other federal dollars,” Emmett said.

Emmett said he was taken aback by Abbott’s letter to Turner.

“The tone of the governor’s letter is troublesome, and I don’t think it recognizes reality. All of us are merely seeking to speed up recovery and to take the burden off local taxpayers,” Emmett said. “Why that deserves a lecture I don’t know.”

In addition, Emmett and Turner said, the governor only selectively referenced the federal notice that authorizes the use of block grants as matching funds. The same filing also stresses the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s efforts to “promote policies that require state and local financial participation to ensure their shared commitment and responsibility for long-term recovery and future disaster risk reduction” and states “HUD expects grantees to financially contribute to their recovery through the use of reserve or ‘rainy day’ funds, borrowing authority, or retargeting of existing financial resources.”

“’Rainy day fund.’ That was an interesting choice of words that HUD used,” Emmett said.

1. As we know, the state’s “rainy day fund” is more properly known as the Economic Stabilization Fund, and it was originally intended as a way to stretch revenues during lean economic times, so that the budget didn’t have to be cut in drastic or harmful ways. That purpose more or less went out the window in 2011 when Rick Perry unilaterally declared that the fund could not be used to help with budge shortfalls because we needed to make sure it was sufficiently flush in the event that emergency funds were needed to recover from a natural disaster. You know, like Hurricane Harvey. As much as I decry the Perry decree about the rainy day fund and grind my teeth when I hear people on my side buy into that framing, I have to say that it does make for a very easy to grasp criticism of Greg Abbott. We have a rainy day fund, and it doesn’t get any rainier than Harvey, so why aren’t we using it?

2. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that Abbott is completely right in his criticism of Mayor Turner and all the other local officials who reached out to him for help. Which do you think makes for better politics, writing a bitchy, scolding letter that airs a bunch of grievances about how these local officials failed to follow bureaucratic processes correctly, or swooping in like a rich uncle and making a show of cutting red tape, providing cash, getting things done, and aiming your criticism at the feds for dragging their feet? I think you can guess which option I’d choose. Maybe that’s only something a guy like Abbott (or Perry) does when there’s a Democrat in the White House to serve as the bad guy, I don’t know.

3. Like Campos, I’d like to know more about what not only Judge Emmett thinks about all this, but also the Republican officeholders on the ballot here whose electoral fortunes will be at least somewhat connected to Abbott’s in Harris County. As you know, I already think Dems here are poised to do well this fall. If I’m right, then the main hope for survival may be to put a little distance between oneself and the less-helpful-than-he-could-be Republican Governor.

Will the AG get involved in the Karolyi case?

The gymnasts who were victimized by Larry Nasser at the Karolyi Ranch would like to see a higher level of action.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office should take the steps of the Michigan attorney general in aggressively pursuing charges against the men and women who enabled Larry Nassar — the former doctor for the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team — to sexually assault more than 200 young female athletes, a group of survivors and their lawyers said at a press conference Thursday morning.

Standing in the sunshine and wind outside the office of Texas’ top attorney, five women who say they suffered abuse at the hands of Nassar asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to take action against the couple they say allowed that abuse to continue — action Paxton’s office has said it does not have the power to take.

The women and their lawyers claim that Martha and Bela Karolyi, owners of the famed Texas Karolyi Ranch north of Houston, knew about the abuse at the longtime official training site of the team but took no steps to prevent it from continuing. They point to a May 2017 deposition in which Martha Karolyi answers “yes” after being asked whether she was aware of molestation accusations against Nassar.

The Karolyis have said through their lawyer that “Martha misunderstood the question and misspoke.”

[…]

The Texas Rangers, in consort with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, have been investigating Karolyi Ranch since January at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott. That investigation is ongoing, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Thursday.

Lawyers for the women called that investigation insufficient, saying there have been no search warrants or charges yet issued. And there’s no indication that that probe is “seriously looking into the Karolyis,” said California attorney John Manly, who’s representing more than 100 survivors in the Nassar case.

Michelle Tuegel, a Waco attorney representing many of the Texas survivors, said a case of this scope requires action from the state’s top attorney — and, perhaps more importantly, the resources his office brings with it.

But in a statement shortly after the press conference, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the investigation is “outside of our jurisdiction” but that the office would “gladly and immediately assist with this investigation and prosecution” if asked by local law enforcement.

See here and here for some background. The Texas Rangers have been working on this and I’d say it’s probably a little early to say that it’s taken too long for anything to happen. That said, Martha Karolyi’s “misstatement” deserves closer scrutiny, as does the entire history of the Karolyi Ranch, to be honest. It’s certainly fair to say that if either Karolyi didn’t know what was going on with Larry Nasser, they should have, and any professed ignorance on their part doesn’t excuse their culpability. Whether that translates into legal liability or not I don’t know, but the moral case is clear. The Chron has more.

Abbott approves August flood bond referendum

One more step forward.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday approved Harris County’s request to call a multi-billion-dollar bond election to pay for flood control measures on Aug. 25, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.

By state law, the county needed Abbott’s permission to call the “emergency special election” in spite of his oft-stated goal of reducing property taxes. The flood control bond package almost certainly will be accompanied by an increase in Harris County’s property tax rate.

Abbott granted the county’s request to put the issue to the voters, affirming his stated belief that responding to Harvey does “qualify as an emergency” and stating that he is “committed to working with Harris County to achieve its goals in the most efficient way possible.”

“As this request for an emergency special election was duly passed by a unanimous vote of the Harris County Commissioners Court, I hereby grant approval as governor of Texas for this emergency special election to be called for bonds to fund flood-related mitigation projects that respond to Hurricane Harvey,” Abbott wrote in a letter accompanying his decision.

[…]

The county plans to launch a public outreach campaign to seek input on what to include in the bond package, as well as drum up support for the measure. [County Judge Ed] Emmett said the focus would be on helping the most people possible.

“The worst thing we can do is say, ‘Just give us money and trust us,’” Emmett said. “It’s got to be a very open, transparent process.”

See here for the background. Commissioners Court still has to officially call the election, which means they have to define what the issue covers and what the wording of the referendum will be. There’s stuff in the story about that, but we’re not really any farther along than the “well, we could have this and we could have that” stage yet. That will all work itself out one way or another.

I’m more interested in the politics of this. What will the county’s strategy be to sell people on this idea and get them to come out at a weird time of year to vote for it? Who will spearhead the effort, and how much money will they spend on it? Who will be on Team Referendum, and who (if anyone) will stand in opposition? As I’ve said before, while city of Houston bonds tend to pass with room to spare, Harris County bonds tend to have less margin for error, and can’t be assumed to be favored even in the absence of organized resistance. They’re going to need to figure out what this thing is quickly so they can start selling it ASAP. Among other things, the difference between an election in August and an election in November is that people expect to vote in the latter. The first part of the sales job is going to be making sure people know that they need to vote at a different time. I’ll be keeping a close watch on this.

Farenthold tells Abbott to go pound sand

Well, what did you expect?

Blake Farenthold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Abbott, Russian stooge

Heck of a job, Greggie.

A former director of the CIA and NSA said Wednesday that hysteria in Texas over a 2015 U.S. military training exercise called Jade Helm was fueled by Russians wanting to dominate “the information space,” and that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to send the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation gave them proof of the power of such misinformation campaigns.

Michael Hayden, speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe podcast, chalked up peoples’ fear over Jade Helm 15 to “Russian bots and the American alt-right media [that] convinced many Texans [Jade Helm] was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”

Abbott ordered the State Guard to monitor the federal exercise soon after news broke of the operation. Hayden said that move gave Russians the go-ahead to continue — and possibly expand — their efforts to spread fear.

“At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying, ‘We can go big time,’” Hayden said of Abbott’s response. “At that point, I think they made the decision, ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process.’”

You can read the rest, and you can listen to the Morning Joe podcast – Gen. Hayden was also on The Gist with Mike Pesca on Wednesday, though he wasn’t specifically talking about Jade Helm. I just have two things to add. One is that from now on, any time Greg Abbott criticizes anyone for any reason, the response should be along the lines of “Well, at least [whoever] didn’t fall for Russian propaganda”. And two, from the Observer:

Meanwhile, another Jade Helm-style exercise is planned for San Angelo in June. Oddly enough, now that Trump is president, there’s a notable lack of freaking out this time.

Well, the Russians aren’t trying to goad idiots like Greg Abbott into peeing their pants over it this time. Amazing what a difference that makes. ThinkProgress and the Lone Star Project have more.

We’ll be voting on flood control bonds in August

Not my first choice, but it is what it is.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to seek a special election on Aug. 25 for what likely will be a multi-billion-dollar bond package that, if approved by voters, would be the largest local investment in the region’s flood control system after Hurricane Harvey.

The move comes a month before the start of the 2018 hurricane season and more than seven months after Hurricane Harvey, with the election timed to coincide with the storm’s one-year anniversary. County officials have spent months wrangling over when best to schedule the election, lest the measure fail and scuttle efforts to overhaul the area’s flood control efforts after one of the biggest rain storms in United States history.

“Why August 25?” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. “It’s the one year anniversary of Harvey. I don’t think we want to go a year and not be able to say we’re doing something. People who care about mitigation, resilience, flood control, they’ll be energized and they’ll want to go out. Will there be somebody who wants to stand in the face of what we went through during Harvey and say ‘I want to be against it’? I kind of dare them to do it.”

It is not clear yet what the bond referendum will include. The court on Tuesday floated a $2.5 billion price tag — a number that could change as a priority list of flood control projects emerges. Emmett said the number of projects would be in the “hundreds” and likely would include the buy-out of all of the county’s high-priority areas at highest-risk of flooding, approximately 5,500 properties.

A huge chunk of funds, between $500 and $700 million officials estimate, could go toward local matches for federal grants and projects. A match could be required for the completion of four bayou widening and straightening projects underway with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along Hunting, White Oak, Brays Bayou and Clear Creek. Bayou engineering projects on Halls and Greens Bayou — some of the areas in the county most vulnerable to flooding — also likely would be targeted.

Emmett said all of the county’s 22 watersheds would see some sort of investment.

The bond funds also could help finance the construction of an oft-discussed third reservoir northwest of the city to contain storm water from Cypress Creek.

See here for the background. I would have preferred to have this on the November ballot, and from the article most of the Commissioners at least started out with that same preference. County Judge Ed Emmett pushed for the August date, and convinced them to go along. Again, I get the reasoning, but the county is really going to have to sell this. Recent history has shown that even non-controversial bond issues with no organized opposition don’t pass by much. This one will have a big price tag, a (minor) property tax increase, and no obvious benefit for anyone who wasn’t directly affected by Harvey, all wrapped up in a weird election date. This should pass – it’s easy to scratch your head and say “how could it not?” – but do not take it for granted. The county still has to get approval from Greg Abbott, which should be straightforward, then formally call the election. I hope they start gearing up the campaign for this in the meantime.

The timing of a Harvey bond referendum

How does August grab you?

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday will consider calling a special election for August 25 — the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey — to ask voters to OK a massive bond referendum for flood control projects.

The amount of the referendum has yet to be determined as the county continues to assess its needs and as other funds, including as federal grants, become available. At least three members of Commissioners Court said Friday they envision a measure that could reach $2.5 billion.

[…]

The referendum could help finance property buyouts, as well as a range of infrastructure projects, such as the widening and deepening of bayous or the construction of a much-discussed third reservoir in northwest Harris County.

Tuesday’s vote follows months of wrangling over the logistics of holding the bond election, including the cost of holding a special election and the ideal date to ensure voters turn out to support the measure.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Friday said he supports presenting the bond referendum to voters during the November general election, when turnout is expected to be considerable as voters weigh in on mid-term congressional elections.

“Without evidence of a clear path to victory for a summer-time bond election, which is likely to have low turnout, I have serious reservations about the proposed August date,” Ellis said. “The future of Harris County hinges on the success of this flood bond.”

It also is not yet clear what the bond referendum will include. Harris County Flood Control District Director of Operations Matt Zeve said that would be determined after Tuesday’s discussion at Commissioners Court.

County officials have said the necessity for bond money grows as federal grants pour in to prepare the Houston area for future floods or to recover from Harvey, many of which require a sometimes hefty financial match from local governments.

“The risk is that they may allocate the funds elsewhere and, thus, become unavailable for our region,” Emmett states in the proposed letter to Abbott.

See here, here, and here for the background. I get the reason for wanting to do this as quickly as possible, as grant money may get grabbed up by other places before we could approve a November referendum. August is a weird time for an election – looking at the County Clerk election result archives, the only August date I see is in 2014, for a special election runoff in SD04, which is only part of the county.

The last election that wasn’t in March or May or November that included the entire county was the 2003 Constitutional Amendment special election, which included the infamous tort “reform” measure and which was done in September specifically to reduce turnout from the Houston area, since we had an open seat Mayoral race that November. Turnout for that, which was a state election and not a county election, was 238,334, or 13.38% of registered voters. We have more registered voters now, but that percentage would still put us south of 300K. Compare that to the November 2014 general election, which had 688,018 voters, which was still only 33.65% turnout. I’d bet on November this year being closer to 800K voters, and likely a lot more Democratic than either of those other two contexts.

So on the one hand, you’ve got a need to get this done, and the one year anniversary of Harvey as a rallying cry, but a smaller electorate that may be more likely to not support any kind of spending measure. You also need Greg Abbott’s approval to hold this election, which you’ll probably get but is still an unknown factor. On the other hand, you could have a November vote with a bigger and likely friendlier electorate, but you risk losing out on some grant money, and maybe that much farther away from Harvey people will feel less of a sense of urgency to do something, or at least something that may be historically big. All things considered, my preference is still November, but we’ll see what Commissioners Court decides.