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Greg Abbott

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.

The case against expediting the CD27 special election

Erica Greider does not approve of Greg Abbott’s actions in CD27.

Blake Farenthold

All things considered, then, I find it hard to believe that Abbott’s decision was motivated by his altruistic concern for the Texans who live in this district.

What disturbs me, however, is that under the laws of Texas, the 27th Congressional District probably shouldn’t have a representative in Congress at all until January, when the candidate who wins the general election will be sworn into office.

I’ve always believed that the laws of Texas should not be dismissed as a technicality, or taken lightly, or suspended by the governor of Texas, whoever that might be.

Abbott has always cast himself as someone who believes in the rule of law. But in calling for this emergency special election, he has acted in a way that might — by his own account — exceed his constitutional authority.

“May I utilize my authority under section 418.016 of the Government Code to suspend relevant state election laws and order an emergency special election?” he asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a letter sent on Friday, April 19.

In Paxton’s opinion, Abbott may suspend state election laws. And in the opinion he issued on Monday, in response to the governor’s letter, he concluded that a court would likely agree.

Perhaps. But we don’t know that. And neither does Abbott, who responded to Paxton’s opinion by acting unilaterally on Tuesday.

See here for the background. I take her point, and Lord knows the rule of law could use all the support it can get these days. I just believe that the default preference in all cases should be to get these elections scheduled as soon as reasonably possible. Having this one in November is essentially pointless. Have it now, so that even a temporary representative will be able to, you know, represent the people of CD27. Remember when Rick Perry chose to keep a vacancy in HD143 through two special sessions he called? Greg Abbott and his lapdog Ken Paxton may have pushed the envelope here, but the urge to let the voters fill an empty seat is one I’ll defend.

Still waiting for those other special elections

Ross Ramsey returned to a frequent topic a few days ago.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was found guilty of 11 felonies earlier this year. He has not yet faced sentencing and says he will appeal the convictions on charges including money laundering and fraud. He’s not required to quit the Senate in the face of that, but it’s safe to say many of his colleagues are eager to see him go. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stripped him of his committee assignments, and the Senate Democratic Caucus called on him to quit.

The other potential resignation is a happier story: State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, won her party’s nomination to succeed the retiring Gene Green in the U.S. House. It’s a Democratic district, but she’ll face the winner of a Republican primary in November’s election. And in the unlikely event that Garcia were to lose that race, she would still be a state senator; her term in the current job doesn’t end until 2021.

Without putting their names to their words, many of Garcia’s colleagues are hoping she’ll quit early, allowing a replacement to be seated before the Legislature convenes in January.

“A vacancy is never politically helpful, but no one is more harmed than the constituents who are in that district, who have zero representation,” said Harold Cook, a longtime Democratic operative and one-time staffer to the Senate’s Democratic Caucus. “Aside from the fact that it kind of screws with a few majority votes, and that is not unimportant, you’re leaving Texans with no representation — and you don’t have to.”

The idea is that Garcia’s election to Congress is all but certain and that her timely resignation would position Democrats in the Texas Senate at full strength next year, instead of leaving them waiting on a special election to fill her seat. Or Uresti’s seat, for that matter.

Since he wrote that, we have gotten an update on SD06. Also from Ross Ramsey:

A one-seat pickup [in the Senate] would leave the Democrats one vote short of the number needed to force debate. It would also put them in position, if they could hold their own folks together, to block debate by luring one Republican to their side.

Another way to put it: Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats would have any wiggle room — a generally rotten prospect for a group since it empowers any one member to hold an issue hostage by saying, “Do it my way or lose my vote.”

If the Democrats were to win more than one seat now held by Republicans, the Texas Senate would be back in the position it was in for years — when nobody could get an issue to the floor without brokering enough of a compromise to convince a supermajority that the issue is worth hearing.

That’s been used to keep all kinds of things — not all of them partisan, by the way — from coming to the Senate floor for a vote. For a moment, think like one of the swamp creatures; sometimes, it’s safer not to vote on something controversial than it is to take a stand. The three-fifths rule provides a way to either work on a compromise or just walk away without any political bruises.

One needn’t agree with that to appreciate its political value.

But even a big Democratic day in November could leave crafty Republicans with some breathing room. Two Democratic senators who aren’t on the ballot this year — Sylvia Garcia of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio — are contemplating resignation.

Garcia won the Democratic nomination for a congressional seat in a district unlikely to elect a Republican to Congress. But she said [last] Thursday, in an interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, that she won’t resign until after the Nov. 6 election. She said she’s doing that out of consideration for the voters and doesn’t want to presume what they’ll do. If she wins and then resigns, it’ll take a special election to replace her — one that would likely leave her seat in the Senate empty for the early days of the legislative session.

Gotta say, I’m disappointed to hear that. I really believed Sen. Garcia would step down in a timely fashion, perhaps after the May 22 primary runoffs, to allow a successor to be in place by January. If she does wait till November to step down, then the Leticia Van de Putte experience kicks in, where the special election is in January and the successor is installed in March; that runoff actually happened in February, but the swearing-in didn’t take place till after the official canvass. As Ramsey goes on to say, even if the Dems have picked up one or more seats, they’d lose the numerical advantage if the Garcia and Uresti seats are empty.

So yeah, the timing up front can have a big effect on the back end, and that’s before we take into account the subsequent vacancies that may be caused by the Garcia and Uresti specials. I appreciate Sen. Garcia’s position. It’s honorable and respectful. It’s also completely impractical, and potentially very damaging. I really, really hope she reconsiders.

Abbott wants to send Farenthold a bill for the CD27 special election

Good luck with that.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott is demanding that former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold “cover all costs” of the special election to fill his seat using the $84,000 the Corpus Christi Republican used to settle a sexual harassment claim years ago.

Farenthold, who abruptly resigned earlier this month, had promised to pay back the $84,000 — which came out of a taxpayer-funded account — after that settlement was made public last year but hasn’t so far.

In a letter to Farenthold on Wednesday, Abbott said the former congressman should return the money to taxpayers by funding the June 30 special election to finish his term.

“While you have publicly offered to reimburse the $84,000 in taxpayer funds you wrongly used to settle a sexual harassment claim, there is no legal recourse requiring you to give that money back to Congress,” Abbott wrote. “I am urging you to give those funds back to the counties in your district to cover the costs of the June 30, 2018, special election.”

“This seat must be filled, and the counties and taxpayers in the 27th Congressional District should not again pay the price for your actions,” Abbott added. He requested a response from Farenthold by May 2.

See here and here for the background. We all understand that this is just a stunt by Abbott, right? He has no more leverage over Farenthold than the Office of Congressional Ethics does at this point. Farenthold was never afflicted with a sense of shame before, and there’s no reason to think he will be afflicted by it going forward. It’s a feel-good maneuver by Abbott, and honestly I can’t blame him for it – if Wendy Davis were Governor today, she might well have sent a similar letter – but that’s all it is. That letter will have as much effect on Faranthold’s actions as any of my blog posts have had.

Special election set in CD27

Here we go.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott has called a June 30 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

The candidate filing deadline is Friday, and early voting will run from June 13-26, according to the governor’s proclamation.

[…]

Democratic and Republican runoffs are currently underway in the race to represent the district for a full term starting in January 2019. Raul “Roy” Barrera and Eric Holguin are running for the Democratic nomination, while Bech Bruun and Michael Cloud are competing for the Republican nod. The runoffs are May 22.

See here for the background, and here for the governor’s press release. Yes, that really is this Friday, as in two days from today, for the filing deadline. My guess is that the four candidates currently in the primary runoffs will file for this, with maybe a stray or two joining in. I would also guess that unless the loser of the Democratic primary runoff subsequently drops out, there won’t be much national attention paid to this race, not because it’s less winnable than the other special elections but because there won’t be a single candidate to focus on.

Anyway. Prior to this, Abbott had gotten an okey dokey from Ken Paxton to issue this proclamation in the first place.

Gov. Greg Abbott got the go-ahead Monday from Attorney General Ken Paxton to suspend state law so the governor can call a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, as soon as possible.

Responding to a request from Abbott submitted Thursday, Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion saying a court would agree Abbott could set aside the election rules under a part of Texas law that lets the governor suspend certain statutes if they interfere with disaster recovery. Abbott said last week he wanted Farenthold’s former constituents to have new representation “as quickly as possible” because the Coastal Bend-area’s Congressional District 27 is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey.

“If the Governor determines the situation in Congressional District 27 constitutes an emergency warranting a special election before November 6, 2018, a court would likely conclude that section 41.0011 of the Election Code authorizes calling an expedited special election to fill the vacancy in that district,” Paxton wrote.

Paxton’s nonbinding opinion paves the way for Abbott to work around state and federal laws that he said are in conflict and make it “practically impossible to hold an emergency special election … before the end of September.” The governor’s office did not immediately say what he planned to do in light of Paxton’s opinion.

I was going to post that yesterday, but there were too many other things, and I figured I’d be okay waiting another day. Life comes at you fast, obviously. I suppose someone could file a lawsuit if they objected to this – maybe an overseas voter who might not have enough time to participate? I dunno – but speaking as a non-lawyer, this seems like the right call. The public interest is served by having the election sooner rather than later. The Chron has more.

Abbott does want a special election in CD27

Well all righty then.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott wants to hold a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, as soon as possible.That’s according to a letter he sent Thursday to Attorney General Ken Paxton, seeking guidance on whether the governor can suspend certain laws he believes are standing in the way of a timely special election.

The letter amounts to Abbott’s first public comments on the subject since Farenthold suddenly resigned earlier this month, leaving the governor to ponder how long the Coastal Bend-area district could go without representation given that it is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey. Abbott made clear Thursday he believes there is no time to waste.

“It is imperative to restore representation for the people of that district as quickly as possible,” Abbott told Paxton in the letter. “I am acutely concerned about this issue because many of the district’s residents are still recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.”

The problem, according to the governor, is that state and federal law are in conflict, making it “practically impossible to hold an emergency special election and to replace Representative Farenthold before the end of September.” Therefore, Abbott asked Paxton if he could use his executive authority to “suspend relevant state election laws and order an emergency special election.”

In posing the question, Abbott cited a part of the Texas Government Code that allows the governor to temporarily set aside certain statutes if they hinder “necessary action in coping with a disaster.”

See here for the background. I’d been wondering about this, because it sure seemed like an obvious thing to call an election. The crux of Abbott’s legal question is as follows:

“It is impossible to order an election, allow candidates to file, print ballots, mail them in accordance with federal law, and hold an emergency election within the statutorily prescribed 50-day window. Complicating the issue is that if an emergency election for District 27 results in a runoff election, the date for the runoff election cannot be sooner than the 70th day after the final canvas of the emergency election.”

I’ll leave it to the lawyers to hash out the details. I’m wondering how long it will take Paxton to get back with an answer – the question may wind up being moot if he isn’t sufficiently snappy about it. In the meantime, the answer to my original question is yes, there will be a special election in CD27. It’s just a matter of when.

Quinnipiac: Cruz 47, O’Rourke 44

Pretty good poll result, with the ever-present proviso that it’s just one result.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The closely watched U.S. Senate race in Texas is too close to call, with 47 percent for Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and 44 percent for U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, his Democratic challenger, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released today.

There are wide party, gender, age and racial gaps, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN- uh-pe-ack) University Poll finds:

  • O’Rourke gets 87 – 9 percent support from Democrats and 51 – 37 percent backing from independent voters, as Republicans go to Cruz 88 – 6 percent;
  • Men back Cruz 51 – 40 percent, while women go 47 percent for O’Rourke and 43 percent for Cruz;
  • Voters 18 to 34 years old go Democratic 50 – 34 percent, while voters over 65 years old go Republican 50 – 43 percent;
  • White voters back Cruz 59 – 34 percent, as O’Rourke leads 78 – 18 percent among black voters and 51 – 33 percent among Hispanic voters.
  • Sen. Cruz gets lackluster grades, including a 47 – 45 percent job approval rating and a 46 – 44 percent favorability rating. O’Rourke gets a 30 – 16 percent favorability rating, but 53 percent of Texas voters don’t know enough about him to form an opinion of him.
  • Texas voters “like Ted Cruz as a person” 47 – 38 percent. Voters “like Beto O’Rourke as a person” 40 – 13 percent with 47 percent undecided.

“Democrats have had a target on Sen. Ted Cruz’s back, and they may be hitting the mark. Once expected to ‘cruise’ to reelection, the incumbent is in a tight race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll.

“The key may well be independent voters. O’Rourke’s 51 – 37 percent lead among that group is key to his standing today. But Texas remains a strong GOP state so O’Rourke will need the independent strength to pull the upset.”

[…]

In the Texas governor’s race, Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott tops former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez 49 – 40 percent and leads entrepreneur Andrew White 48 – 41 percent.

Voters approve 54 – 33 percent of the job Gov. Abbott is doing and give him a 51 – 33 percent favorability. His challengers are largely unknown as 65 percent don’t know enough about Valdez to form an opinion of her and 72 percent don’t know enough about White.

“Gov. Greg Abbott has a modest lead over each of the two people vying for the Democratic nomination. But what is significant is that governors with 54 percent job approval ratings rarely lose,” Brown said.

Texas voters disapprove 52 – 43 percent of the job President Donald Trump is doing. Republicans approve 85 – 13 percent. Disapproval is 90 – 8 percent among Democrats and 64 – 28 percent among independent voters.

President Trump will not be an important factor in their U.S. Senate vote, 43 percent of Texas voters say, while 26 percent say their vote will be more to express support for Trump and 27 percent say their vote will be more to express opposition.

The poll was of “1,029 Texas voters”, which I assume means registered voters. For comparison, the earlier poll results we have re:

PPP: Cruz 45, O’Rourke 37
Wilson Perkins: Cruz 52, O’Rourke 34

Not too surprisingly, this one has one of the lower approval ratings for Donald Trump, which is no doubt correlated to the overall numbers. What stands out the most to me is that all three Democratic candidates score at least forty percent even though their name ID is quite low – in the questions about favorability, the “haven’t heard enough about them” choice is 53% for Beto, 65% for Valdez, and 72% for White. I’d usually expect that to be in conjunction with a “vote for” number at best in the low 30s. The fact that it’s higher suggests to me this is another piece of evidence for the higher level of engagement.

Another thing that would suggest more engagement will be poll numbers that are consistently at least in the high thirties and forties. That may not sound like much, but look on the sidebar at the numbers from 2014 and 2016. I did a little figuring, and I found that Hillary Clinton had a 38.53% poll average across 19 polls,with a high score 46 (twice) and a low score 30. Wendy Davis in 2014 had a 36.87% poll average across 15 polls. Her high score was 42, and her low score was 32 (twice). One poll number above those totals doesn’t mean anything – remember, the first two results we saw in the Senate race had Beto and 34 and 37 – but a string of them would.

I say all that as a way of trying to put this into perspective. I’ve seen some good poll results before – again, look at that sidebar. It’s just that for each good one, there are four or five not so good ones, so we fixate on the good ones. These are good numbers, but if you read the whole poll memo, you see that Cruz beats O’Rourke in all the “who do you prefer on this issue” questions, and Abbott as noted has a shiny approval rating. Plus, you know, we Texas Democrats don’t exactly have a track record for turning out in the off years. By all means, take this as something positive, but for crying out loud don’t take it as gospel. The Observer, the DMN, RG Ratcliffe, Mother Jones and the Trib have more.

Are Texas Republicans really worried about Trump for November?

I mean, I guess they are. They’ve seen what has happened around the country, in other elections and other red places. I don’t know how worried they are, or how worried they should be.

This is a Red State where Trump remains popular among most Republicans and even some Democrats, a state that he won in 2016 by a slimmer margin that Republican Mitt Romney had four years before. And while political consultants for both parties agree he will be a drag on Texas Republicans in November, the growing question is just how much.

Fact: For the first time in a decade, Texas Republicans are having to worry about the vote drag their president could have on elections, much as Democrats suffered through eight years of Barack Obama, whom Texas Republicans loved to hate.

“Trump won’t be as much of an effect as he is in some northern states, but he will have impact here,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor who has been monitoring the “Trump effect” in Texas races for months. “In some of the down ballot races in Texas, the strategy you’re seeing is a modest embrace of Trump. … Republicans with strong brands like Abbott are not going to tarnish themselves by agreeing with him.”

Even so, Abbott confidantes privately acknowledge he likely will be re-elected by a slimmer margin than four years ago, when he beat Democratic rising star Wendy Davis by 20 points. They blame Trump.

“It’s not a question about whether there will be a Trump drag in Texas, the only question right now is how big it will be — and how many Republican incumbents will be in trouble,” said Harold Cook, a political consultant who is a former executive director of the state Democratic party.

“If you’re a member of Congress or state Senate or House incumbent who has a credible Democratic opponent, and you’re in districts that went for Trump less than 7 or 8 … points, you better be out working your ass off to get re-elected.”

I don’t disagree with any of this, but it’s hard to contextualize. The last two midterm elections in which there was a Republican President were 2002, when Dubya Bush was very popular, and 2006, when his approval rating had crashed and Rick Perry was fending off multiple challengers. The former was a great year for the GOP here and the latter was a lousy year for them (downballot, at least), but neither is a great comparison for this year. In the limited polling we have, Trump’s approval ratings are good with Republicans, terrible with Democrats, and not great with independents. How that compares with 2002 and 2006, I couldn’t say.

I think everyone expects Democratic turnout to be up this fall from previous midterms. The problem is that Democratic turnout has been so consistently crappy in previous midterms that there’s a lot of room for turnout to improve without making that much difference. We’d need to boost our baseline offyear performance by about fifty percent, to get to around 2.7 million, to really see significant gains. The good news is that basically everything would be competitive at that point, from the statewide races to a half dozen or more Congressional seats to enough legislative seats to make 2019 look like 2009. The bad news is that we’ve never come withing hailing distance of such a total, and Republicans have every reason to feel confident that it’s all just talk since we’ve never done anything like it.

So I just don’t know. I’m optimistic in general, and I really think good things will happen in Harris County and other areas that have been trending blue. I wish I knew how to quantify it, and I wish I knew how confident to feel beyond that.

Farenthold resigns

So long, Ducky.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, resigned on Friday.

The decision marks the capstone of a tumultuous few months for the four-term congressman, who has been dogged by sexual harassment allegations and an ongoing ethics investigation.

“While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it’s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve,” he said in a statement that offered no further explanation for why he was not completing the final eight months of his term.

The congressman spent the day packing up his office.

[…]

Gov. Greg Abbott now needs to call a special election to fill the seat, the winner of which will serve until early January 2019.

Abbott has two options for filling Farenthold’s seat for the rest of his term, according to the secretary of state’s office. Abbott can schedule a special election on the next uniform election date, which is Nov. 6. (It’s too late for him to call it for the May 5 date.)

Abbott’s other option is to order an emergency election for any other Tuesday or Saturday. He would have to call the election 36-50 days in advance of the date he chooses.

House Republicans likely have no appetite for a special election at this point in the cycle. But one thing the governor’s office will have to weigh is whether Texas’ 27th Congressional District — which bore the brunt of Hurricane Harvey — can go without congressional representation for seven months.

Farenthold announced his retirement in December, and despite some controversy around the timing of his announcement he was allowed to drop off the ballot for the primary. As for what Greg Abbott does, in a normal year he’d call an emergency special at his first opportunity, as the odds would be extremely favorable for a Republican candidate to win and thus maintain numbers in Congress. This year, who knows? I still think we’ll get an election sooner than November, but if we don’t it’s quite the admission of weakness. In the meantime, I hope someone will remind Farenthold to pay back the $84,000 he owes the taxpayers before he slinks off into the darkness. Daily Kos has more.

This is not how you secure elections

This is atrocious.

If she had known it was illegal, Crystal Mason said she would have never cast a vote in the 2016 presidential election.

The 43-year-old former tax preparer hadn’t even planned on voting until her mother encouraged her to do it. She had only recently been released from federal prison for a 2012 tax fraud conviction, in which she pleaded guilty to inflating returns for her clients, her attorney, J. Warren St. John, told The Washington Post.

She was still on community supervision at the time of the election — but no one, including her probation officer, St. John said, ever told her that being a felon on supervision meant she couldn’t vote under Texas law.

Now, she’s going back to prison for casting a ballot illegally — for five years.

Mason was indicted on a charge of illegal voting in Tarrant County, Tex., last year and found guilty by State District Judge Ruben Gonzalez on Thursday, despite her protestations that she simply was not aware that she was barred from casting a ballot and never would have done it had she known.

As she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at the time she was indicted: “You think I would jeopardize my freedom? You honestly think I would ever want to leave my babies again? That was the hardest thing in my life to deal with. Who would — as a mother, as a provider — leave their kids over voting?”

Both the Trib story and the Star-Telegram story contain tough-guy quotes from Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton, beating their chests about fighting vote fraud. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also a travesty. How does putting this woman in jail for FIVE YEARS serve justice in any way? If we treated white-collar crime with this kind of ferocity, no one would ever get scammed again. For that matter, if we took election security this seriously, no one would ever worry about Russians or hackers again. We sure have some screwed-up priorities.

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

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


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

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


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

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

Last but not least, Lite Guv:


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

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

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

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

Did Greg Abbott oppose the bathroom bill?

Color me skeptical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbott’s anti-anti-redistricting task force

Alternate title: Dude with deep pockets gives Greg Abbott a wad of cash to stop those evil Democrats.

As Gov. Greg Abbott sounds the alarm about Democratic efforts to influence the post-2020 redistricting process, he is being backed up by a new super PAC led by a key ally.

The super PAC, #ProjectRedTX, has quietly raised a half a million dollars — from a single donor — as it looks to ensure Republican dominance in Texas through the next round of redistricting. Those efforts are ramping up as the state prepares to defend its current congressional and state House district maps before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The group is being helmed by Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s 2014 campaign manager, according to a person familiar with the effort. Hamilton, a former longtime executive director of the Texas GOP, has been involved in politics for the past three redistricting cycles.

“Our Mission is to create and support effective efforts to secure Republican representation in redistricting across the state,” the super PAC says on its website. “This mission includes making expenditures to support candidates. Additionally, we will provide support for redistricting effort with expert demographers, statisticians and legal counsel.”

[…]

The super PAC was formed in April of last year but did not show any activity until more recently. At the end of January, it reported collecting two donations — $200,000 in November and $300,000 in December — from a single person: Michael Porter, a retiree from the tiny Hill Country town of Doss.

See here for the background. This dude has written a big check to Greg Abbott before, and I’m sure he’ll do it again the next time Abbott sends him a scary email. Lather, rinse, repeat.

2018 primary results: Statewide

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

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

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

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

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

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

2018 primary results: Legislative

Rep. Sarah Davis

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

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

I’m gonna lead with the Republicans this time. Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson, both viciously targeted by Greg Abbott, won their races easily. Sarah, here’s that picture I mentioned before. Also, too, the anti-vaxxers can suck it (in this race; they unfortunately appear to have claimed a scalp elsewhere). Abbott did manage to unseat the mediocre Wayne Faircloth, who was the most conservative of his three targets. Party on, Greg!

Back to the good side: Rita Lucido was leading Fran Watson in SD17, but was short of a majority. Beverly Powell won in SD10, Wendy Davis’ old district. Mark Phariss was leading in SD08, but it was too close to call. On the Republican side, Rep. Pat Fallon destroyed Sen. Craig Estes in SD30, but Sen. Kel Seliger beat back the wingnuts again in SD31. Sen. John Whitmire won easily. Joan Huffman easily held off Kristin Tassin on her side of SD17. And Angela Paxton won in SD08 over the lesser Huffines brother. Apparently, two Paxtons are better than one, and also better than two Huffineses.

Other incumbents in both parties had more trouble. On the D side, longtime Rep. Robert Alonzo lost to Jessica Gonzalez in HD104; her election increases the number of LGBT members of the Lege by one. First term Rep. Diana Arevalo lost to former Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer in HD116, and first-term Rep. Tomas Uresti, no doubt damaged by his brother’s legal problems, lost to Leo Pacheco. And Dawnna Dukes’ odyssey came to an end as challengers Sheryl Cole and Chito Vela both ran way ahead of her. Other Dems, including (sigh) Ron Reynolds hung on, though Rep. Rene Oliveira was headed to a runoff with Alex Dominguez in HD37. For the Rs, Rep. Jason Villalba was going down in HD114 – he was an anti-vaxxer target, though there were other factors in that race, so it sure would be nice for Dems to pick that one off in November. Rep. Scott Cosper was headed to a runoff in HD54. Other incumbents, including those targeted by the extreme wingnut coalition, made it through.

For Harris County, the following challengers won: Natali Hurtado (HD126; she celebrated by going into labor, so double congratulations to her), Gina Calanni (HD132), Adam Milasincic (HD138). Sandra Moore was briefly above 50% in HD133, but ultimately fell back below it to wind up in a runoff with Marty Schexnayder. Allison Lami Sawyer had a slightly easier time of it, collecting over 90% of the vote against the idiot Lloyd Oliver. Maybe, just maybe, this will be enough to convince Oliver that his run-for-office marketing strategy has come to the end of its usefulness. Sam Harless was on the knife’s edge of a majority in HD126 on the R side; if he falls short, Kevin Fulton was in second place.

There will be a few runoffs in other races around the state. I’ll get back to that another day.

White and Valdez call for sensible gun control measures

Good.

Andrew White

The recent Florida school shooting is spurring the Democratic gubernatorial field to press for new firearms restrictions, looking to draw a contrast with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s response to the massacre — and touching on a sensitive subject in gun-loving Texas.

Democratic hopeful Andrew White was the most outspoken Monday, traveling to Austin to meet with local members of Moms Demand Action, a national group pushing for laws to prevent gun violence. Speaking with reporters while being flanked by the moms afterward, White invoked recent remarks from Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the shooting earlier this month at the Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 people dead.

Lupe VAldez

“Today I call BS on Gov. Abbott,” White said. “I call BS because you can support the Second Amendment and also support common-sense gun safety legislation. I call BS because the governor is in charge of the safety of 5 million school kids in Texas, and yet he’s too afraid to do anything about it because he’s protecting his A-plus NRA rating.”

White went on to call on Abbott to convene an “emergency special session to pass common-sense gun safety legislation.” He specifically proposed instituting universal background checks and banning large-capacity magazines. In response to reporters’ questions, he also voiced support for raising the age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21 and banning bump stocks, devices that make it easier to fire rounds more rapidly.

In a statement following White’s appearance in Austin, primary rival Lupe Valdez called for a “comprehensive approach to gun violence, instead of a reactive approach.” Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, echoed the need for universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines, calling them “common-sense efforts we must take now.”

I approve of this, of course – I’d go further if it were up to me, but I don’t claim to be representative. It’s hard to say how well proposals like these would go over – polling can be tricky, though universal background checks are usually popular. As an election issue, especially in a year like this, the better question to ask is whether espousing these positions will drive more supporters to the polls or more opponents. This sure seems like a good year to be optimistic about the former, but who knows? The Chron has more.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 5

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, part 4 is here and the full endorsements page is here.

We finish with the Republican races with challenged incumbents. And the first thing to note is the races in which no endorsements are made: US Senate and Governor. Yes, Greg Abbott has ridiculous token opposition, and none of Ted Cruz’s challengers are likely to be recognized by anyone on the street, but still. Not even a cursory “none of the alternatives are worthwhile” piece? That’s gotta sting a little. Of course, it could be worse. The DMN went whole hog and endorsed Stefano de Stefano over Cruz:

Texas Republicans have an opportunity in the March 6 primary featuring incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and four Republican opponents to vote for the kind of public leadership that inspires America rather than divides it. A kind of leadership that gives America its best chance to address the very real challenges ahead.

To make the most of the moment, we urge voters to choose Houston energy lawyer Stefano de Stefano over Cruz. Stefano, 37, is an earnest if mostly untested conservative who offers Republicans a way past the bruising style that has characterized Cruz’s time in public life.

Hell hath no fury like a Republican-cheerleading editorial board scorned. Still, the fact that the Chron skipped the US Senate and Governor primaries is even more remarkable when you consider…

CD07: John Culberson

Rep. John Culberson

We don’t want to imagine what would have happened after Hurricane Harvey without U.S. Rep. John Culberson in Congress.

In Harvey’s wake, cities from Port Aransas to Houston waited for the Trump administration to release its proposed disaster recovery bill, which mayors, county judges and families of all stripes hoped would provide the robust federal support needed to rebuild destroyed towns and keep the coast safe from the next big storm.

We didn’t get it. Instead, the White House released a pathetic $44 billion proposal that attracted criticism even from fellow Republicans.

Luckily for Houston, Donald Trump doesn’t decide how federal dollars are spent. That duty falls on Congress and, specifically, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees – which includes Culberson.

The west Houston representative worked with his Republican and Democratic colleagues to double the size of the hurricane recovery proposal, turning a failure of a bill into a passable piece of legislation. Throughout the process, Culberson was a point-man for City Hall, ensuring that areas hit by flood after flood – such as Houston – would be first in line for federal dollars.

The bill wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the alternative.

[…]

If you ignore the most recent term, Culberson’s accomplishments for the 7th Congressional District, which covers west Houston neighborhoods from West University through the Energy Corridor, seem pretty thin. That historically weak record, combined with a district that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, has attracted a strong group of Democratic challengers for the general election.

It should be an exciting race, and there’s little reason for Republican primary voters to deny Democrats their shot at the incumbent.

I don’t think the Chron has ever endorsed Culberson in a November race, not even in 2010 when he didn’t have a Democratic opponent. I have no doubt this year will be the same. Seeing them say anything nice about him is kind of a weird experience, but here we are.

HD150 (Republican): James Michael Wilson

An interesting battle is taking place in the Republican primary in District 150 where first-term incumbent state Rep. Valoree Swanson is being challenged by James Richard Wilson for being a political extremist.

Swanson, 45, is a tea party member who became the first woman in the Freedom Caucus last year in the Texas Legislature. Her district covers a largely unincorporated area of north Harris County that includes parts of Spring, The Woodlands and Tomball.

She didn’t have much luck in Austin passing legislation, which she blamed on House Speaker Joe Straus and his supporters, who spent much of the session fending off what they considered bad bills.

But Wilson, 44, a long-time Republican who worked for Republican state representatives and then-U.S. Senator Phil Gramm, R-Texas, thinks the problem was more Swanson’s zealotry for causes only popular with the political fringe.

“I don’t feel and a large number of people in our community don’t feel that our state representative is representing the interests of our community,” Wilson told the Chronicle.

Swanson is the type of wingnut that can make one almost nostalgic for the likes of Debbie Riddle. If Wilson can make the Lege an inch or two less crazy, then I wish him well.

HD134: Sarah Davis

Last year Texas Monthly listed state Rep. Sarah Davis as one of the best legislators in the session and called her “one of the few true moderates left in an increasingly strident Legislature.”

Gov. Greg Abbott apparently doesn’t agree and has endorsed her opponent in this primary – Susanna Dokupil.

Before explaining our endorsement, we have to ask: Is moderate really the best way to describe Davis? Moderate implies compromise, a willingness to change one’s positions and seek out the path of least resistance.

If that were Davis, then she would have spent her time in Austin acting more, for lack of a better word, extreme. At at time when the Texas GOP welcomes conspiracy theories about Jade Helm 15 and the panic about transgender bathrooms, Davis could have spent her days prattling on about black helicopters and the threat of chupacabras in West University and probably avoided a primary challenger. She could have acquiesced to the governor’s bizarre personal goal of overriding local tree regulations and easily earned his support.

But Davis did not seek out the path of least resistance. Instead, she stood alongside House Speaker Joe Straus against the reckless political antics of Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their acolytes. She held various leadership roles in the House, which she used to get money for foster care, mental health and women’s health programs and tried unsuccessfully to secure property tax relief for some Hurricane Harvey victims.

She fought Patrick’s attempt to include private school vouchers in the school funding bill and led an investigation into shenanigans at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission that resulted in the resignation of the commission’s seven top officials, two of them Abbott appointees.

This one appeared earlier, but I’m including it here. I don’t care about Sarah Davis, and I figure we Dems have a much better shot at that seat if she gets ousted in the primary. That said, I hate the idea of Greg Abbott and his goons, which in this race includes the anti-vaxxers, degrading our politics even more than they already have. All I’ll say at this point is that if I were Sarah Davis and I’m still standing on March 7, I’d tweet this picture at Greg Abbott every day for the rest of my life. Maybe someone can set up a fake Twitter profile to do that for her in the likely even she has too much class to do it herself. RG Ratcliffe has more.

HD127: Dan Huberty

State Representative Dan Huberty is effectively already the winner in the race for District 127 in northeast Houston because his only opponent in the Republican primary, Reginald C. Grant Jr., has been ruled ineligible for living outside the district and nobody is running for the Democratic nomination.

Even though Grant’s name will remain on the ballot, it would take a very strange occurrence for Huberty not to win a fifth consecutive term to the Texas House of Representatives, which is good news because he has emerged as a competent, well-intended legislator and the body’s leading expert on the very complicated topic of school finance.

Huberty has drawn his own share of ire from the Taliban wing of the local GOP, presumably because of his support for public education. If they succeed in taking out Sarah Davis, don’t be surprised if he’s on the hit list in 2020.

And that’s a wrap. I hope you feel like you have enough information to make educated decisions in the primary of your choice.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

For comparison purposes:

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

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

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

And on a related note:

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Already projecting ahead to November turnout

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

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

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

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

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

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones agreed.

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where are we on Harvey response?

Stuff is happening.

Local and state leaders are moving toward a major, lengthy and costly overhaul of the region’s flood defenses that includes regulating developmentmassive buyouts of flood-prone properties and flood-prevention projects that have been discussed for decades but never built.

Few of the initiatives will be complete before hurricane season starts in June, but nearly six months after Hurricane Harvey ripped through the Texas Gulf Coast and devastated the nation’s fourth-largest city, leaders are seeking to address long-ignored shortcomings laid bare by one of the most intense rainstorms in U.S. history.

Gov. Greg Abbott says he can write a check for a third reservoir to better protect areas west of Houston from inundation as well as attempt to avoid the types of releases from Addicks and Barker dams that swamped Houston downstream during Harvey.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wants to join Harris County in strengthening regulation on the region’s rapid development to protect the city’s population from floodwaters and alleviate the burden on taxpayers to repair and rebuild flood-prone properties.

Harris County leaders want a major bond issue – and a corresponding increase in property taxes – this year to pay for bayou drainage projects and, possibly, broad buyouts in flood-prone areas.

There’s also broad support for legislation that would require buyers of property in reservoir flood pools, which are dry much of the time, to be notified of flooding risks; 30,000 homes have been built in the flood pools of Addicks and Barker, and many owners say they had no idea they were living in an area designed to hold water during times of heavy rain. More than 9,000 of those homes flooded during Harvey.

Some of the local response has been slowed as officials waited to see what Congress will be willing to fund, a logjam that started to break late in the week with the approval of nearly $90 billion for victims of this year’s storms and natural disasters – much of it for recovery, not prevention. But state and local officials tell the Houston Chronicle they remain committed to broader improvements.

That was written before the Congressional budget deal was reached, so that obstacle should be removed, though it’s still not totally clear what that will mean. County Commissioners will need to figure that out for the bond referendum they’re planning. There are now more FEMA funds available for recovery, which is nice but makes you wonder why it took so long.

It’s a little hard for me as someone who wasn’t directly affected by Harvey to judge if “enough” progress has been made. My friends who were flooded out are still dealing with it; one family is about to move back into their repaired home, which was damaged by the dam releases, another has made the decision to sell and live elsewhere, others are in similar places. I can’t speak for them, but we will all have the opportunity to listen to them as the elections approach. I have to assume that every elected official is going to have to answer for his or her actions and decisions during and after Harvey. I feel like this could be a point of weakness for Greg Abbott, and I think that Andrew White’s campaign ad touting his actions during Harvey is a smart move. It’s too soon to say how much of an effect Harvey will have on November – I don’t get the sense that it’s a difference maker in the primaries, but at least on the Democratic side that may be because no one disagrees with the notion that more can and should have been done to aid the recovery and mitigate against future floods – but it will be there. The time to take action to shield oneself against charges that one’s response was inadequate is rapidly running out, if it hasn’t already.

Endorsement watch: Sylvia and more

The Chron makes the obvious choice in CD29.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investigating the Karolyis

I’m fine with this, but I feel like we’re overlooking something.

Nearly a week after prominent USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for the sexual assault of several female gymnasts, Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate misconduct allegations at the famed Karolyi Ranch, the U.S. Olympic training facility in southeast Texas, north of Houston, where Nassar treated athletes.

“The public statements made by athletes who previously trained at the Karolyi Ranch are gut-wrenching,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Those athletes, as well as all Texans, deserve to know that no stone is left unturned to ensure that the allegations are thoroughly vetted and the perpetrators and enablers of any such misconduct are brought to justice. The people of Texas demand, and the victims deserve, nothing less.”

The Walker County Sheriff’s Office confirmed last week that it was looking into the ranch.

Abbott added that the Texas Rangers, the state’s top criminal investigative unit, and the Walker County Sheriff’s Office must collaborate on the case because of the far reach of the allegations, which are spread across jurisdictions and state lines.

There’s more in the Chron, where we find out that Simone Biles is ready to speak to investigators about the assaults she endured. It’s appropriate ti have the Rangers help out with this investigation, as I’m sure they have more resources and experience than the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, and of course we want all of the facts to come out so that everyone responsible can be held to that responsibility.

At the same time, though, I think we need to look past the criminal aspect of this and really ask ourselves how this was happening for nearly 20 years without anything being done about it. Among other things, maybe we need to have a good hard look at how the Karolyis operated for all these years and ask ourselves why we didn’t see the potential for problems all along. The isolation, the dictatorial methods, the extreme pressure on young girls to conform and submit to an absolute authority – is it any wonder a monster was able to flourish under those conditions? Yet as recently as 2016, in the runup to the Summer Olympics, the Karolyis were still the subject of fawning coverage; a lawsuit alleging they had a role in the Nasser scandal – he was forced out of US Gymnastics in 2015, you know – followed a couple of months later. But even before that, former gymnasts led by Dominique Moceanu had been sounding an alarm about their training methods; she was vindicated by an investigator last year. We were warned, well ahead of this recent news. We need to understand why we didn’t heed those warnings.

Endorsement watch: Chron for White

The Chron endorses Andrew White for Governor.

Andrew White

Democrats need to choose the candidate who, quite simply, will appeal to the most voters in a contest against Abbott. We believe that candidate is Andrew White.

White, 45, is a Houston entrepreneur who’s never before run for office, but he’s not exactly a political novice. He’s basically the Democratic George W. Bush of this race. Like Bush in 1994, he’s never won an election. And like Bush, his most valuable political asset is his father’s name. He’s the son of former Gov. Mark White, an education reformer who was respected by many Texas Democrats until the day he died last August.

White has cast himself as a common sense Democrat running for governor “to bring sanity and reason back to state government.” His top priority is improving public education, and he’s campaigning on a pledge to give every public school teacher a $5,000 a year raise. White proposes to fund his teacher pay hike by closing loopholes under which big businesses routinely dodge paying billions of dollars in commercial property taxes.

We’re not exactly fans of political dynasties, but White ultimately won our endorsement with his answer to one obvious question. He’s the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate who seems to have given serious thought to the state government’s role in protecting Gulf Coast residents from flooding. While the other candidates who spoke to our editorial board offered only vague thoughts about this critical issue, White specifically discussed the need for a third reservoir in west Harris County and the importance of leveraging federal funds to build a coastal barrier system.

After Hurricane Harvey, flood control should be the top concern voters in the Houston area consider when they cast their ballots. Maybe White has a grasp of the issue only because he lives here and he piloted his boat around inundated neighborhoods rescuing flood victims. But any serious candidate for governor speaking to people in Houston should have good answers for basic questions about this topic.

Yesterday was a pretty good day for the White campaign, as he garnered the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement as well. (The AFL-CIO went for Lupe Valdez.) I prefer Valdez myself, but I can’t argue with the Chron’s reasoning. Frankly, flooding issues and the state’s lackadaisical response – it was worthwhile to call a special session on bathrooms, but not Harvey recovery? – as well as the uselessness of Congress ought to be a prime campaign issue for Dems up and down the ballot. If White has the best answers for these questions, that will undoubtedly make him a more appealing candidate.

From the “Nothin’ but good times ahead” department

Given the good economic conditions in Texas right now, you’d think the budget outlook would be better than it is.

The Texas economy is growing healthily, but that doesn’t mean state budget writers will have more money at their disposal next year, state officials said Tuesday.

In fact, though unemployment is low and tax revenue is on the rise, big bills coming due for the state’s highways and health care programs are giving Texas lawmakers reason for concern.

“I would like to offer a few words of caution for reading too much into the positive recent economic numbers,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar told lawmakers at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

As they often do, state budget writers last year underfunded Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, which, alongside public education, makes up one of the largest shares of the state’s $217 billion two-year budget.

Then, during a special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott over the summer, state lawmakers shifted another $500 million away from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to pay for public education programs.

As a result, lawmakers could face a $2.5 billion Medicaid bill shortly after they reconvene in Austin in 2019. Then there are the additional drains on Texas coffers from Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, Hegar said.

That’s bad news for lawmakers given the comptroller’s prediction that the state will only have a $94 million “beginning balance” when lawmakers convene in 2019. By comparison, lawmakers had an $880 million beginning balance in 2017, which was ultimately a tight year for the state budget. Two years before that, lawmakers enjoyed a $7.3 billion beginning balance.

[…]

Another source of heartburn for budget writers is the ravenous state highway fund. In 2015, amid complaints of a highway system in disrepair, Texans voted to amend the state Constitution to require that up to $2.5 billion in sales tax revenue be dedicated to the highway fund.

That means that even as Texas collects more money from sales taxes — Hegar testified that sales tax revenue grew by an average of 10.3 percent over the last three months — the rest of the state budget will not benefit from that revenue since it is earmarked for the highway fund.

That was also an issue for budget writers in 2017. Last year, in order to free up some of that money for other purposes, Senate lawmakers pushed for an accounting trick that delayed a payment to the state highway fund into the next two-year budget cycle. That freed up about $1.6 billion for lawmakers last year, but it means there will be another bill to pay in 2019.

“In short, despite a strong economy and positive outlook for revenue growth in this biennium, it seems likely the next budget will be much like the one crafted in 2017, having to contend with restricted revenue relative to the spending trends of the state,” Hegar said.

Just a reminder: Underfunding Medicaid was a choice. Shifting money away from HHSC was a choice. The amendment to require all that highway spending was ratified by the voters, but it was there to be ratified because the Lege chose to put it there. Deferring that payment to the highway fund was a choice. And though the story doesn’t include it in its litany, spending nearly a billion dollars on boondoggle “border security” stunts was a choice, too.

We’ll probably be fine in the 2019 session, though the potential for shenanigans is always high. But remember, winter is coming, because it always does. When it does, we’re going to have a mess to clean up, one that was caused by the Republicans in charge of our state, one that could have been mitigated in many ways. I hope we’re ready for it.

(Note: This is the inspiration for the post title.)