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UT/Trib: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 36, part 2

We pick up where we left off.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014 Lege – GOP 46, Dem 38

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

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

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

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

Our typically feckless state leaders

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

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

Neither are they criticizing it.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cornyn Ike Dike bill

Credit where credit is due.

With hurricane season right around the corner, Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday he is introducing legislation to expedite a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study on a coastal barrier to mitigate storm damage along the Texas coast.

The measure, the Coastal Texas Protection Act, is directed at advancing the construction of a long-awaited “Ike Dike” or Coastal Spine – proposed after Hurricane Ike in 2008 – to better protect the Gulf Coast from storm damage.

“We’ve been working with local stakeholders as well as state officials to try to encourage this process to move along quickly,” Cornyn said. “The Corps of Engineers is an instrumental part of this, and we want them to finish these studies and come up with a plan that the stakeholders and the state can agree upon, and then we will work hard to make sure that coastal protection plan is funded.”

[…]

In 2016, Cornyn advanced legislation signed by then President Barack Obama to streamline the Army Corps engineering studies.

According to a Cornyn aide, the 2016 bill prevented the Corps from duplicating efforts by requiring them to take into account studies that had already been conducted by the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District (GCCPRD).

The new bill would direct the Corps to expedite the completion of the Coastal Texas Study. It also provides a necessary exception for the project under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA). Currently, the CBRA restricts the expenditure of federal funds associated with coastal barriers to avoid encouraging development of such barriers.

Kudos to Cornyn, who is capable of getting stuff done when he wants to. Of course, introducing a bill is not the same as passing it, and the Republican Congress has a crappy track record by any measure. You have to start somewhere, and this is it. Check again in a couple months and see if it’s gone anywhere.

Texas v the feds, disaster recovery funding edition

This would be quite entertaining to watch, if the stakes weren’t so high.

Texas Republicans on Friday panned the White House’s latest disaster aid request, with Gov. Greg Abbott calling it “completely inadequate” for the state’s needs in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

President Donald Trump’s administration was quick to respond, calling on the state to pony up its own dollars to help with the recovery.

Unveiled earlier Friday, the request seeks $44 billion from Congress to assist with the Harvey aftermath, as well as the recoveries from other recent hurricanes in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. While not final, the number is far less than the $61 billion proposal that Abbott had submitted for Texas alone to Congress last month.

“What was offered up by Mick Mulvaney and [his Office of Management and Budget] is completely inadequate for the needs of the state of Texas and I believe does not live up to what the president wants to achieve,” Abbott said at a Texas Capitol news conference called to unveil a $5 billion grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The president has told me privately what he’s said publicly, and that is that he wants to be the builder president,” Abbott added. “The president has said that he wants this to be the best recovery from a disaster ever.”

In Washington, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the amount in the request — and put the onus on Texas to tap its funds for Harvey recovery.

“Up until this point, Texas has not put any state dollars into this process,” Sanders told reporters. “We feel strongly that they should step up and play a role and work with the federal government in this process. We did a thorough assessment and that was completed and this was the number that we put forward to Congress today.”

See here for the background. I would just note that the Republicans have been working hard at passing a huge tax cut for billionaires, so there hasn’t been much time for small stuff like this. Priorities, you know.

There’s one other thing to consider here, which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere yet, and that’s that this could turn into a big political liability for the Republicans, from Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz to the various members of Congress. The campaign ads write themselves: “Your party controls the government, and you couldn’t get anything done to help with the recovery. What good are you?” Maybe Abbott can survive that, against a low-profile opponent, but I sure wouldn’t want to be John Culberson or Ted Cruz and have that hanging around my neck. Maybe Trump and Congress get their act together on this and turn this into a positive for their team. They certainly have the incentive for it. They just don’t have the track record, or the ideological impulses. Keep an eye on it, that’s all I’m saying. A statement from Mayor Turner is here, and the Chron has more.

What about Roy?

Who wants to stand with this particular predator?

Texas’ two U.S. senators found themselves under intense pressure Thursday after explosive allegations surfaced that a candidate both men have endorsed pursued underage teenage girls decades ago.

The Washington Post is reporting that Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican nominee in an upcoming Senate special election to succeed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, tried to become romantically involved with four girls between the ages of 14 and 18 while he was in his 30s.

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have both endorsed Moore in his bid.

[…]

Cornyn, the second-ranking GOP senator, called the allegations “deeply disturbing and troubling.”

“I think it’s up to the governor and the folks in Alabama to make that decision as far as what the next step is,” he said.

Cruz declined to answer questions as he passed reporters but said in a later statement, “These are serious and troubling allegations. If they are true, Judge Moore should immediately withdraw. However, we need to know the truth, and Judge Moore has the right to respond to these accusations.”

You should also read this. The way some of Cornyn and Cruz’s fellow Republicans have responded to this is quite astonishing, even in this day and age. Remember when the GOP branded itself as the party of virtue and values? Boy, those were the days.

It should be noted that the “if true” formulation here is basically meaningless. There’s not going to be any trial, so there won’t be a formal verdict to hold out for. Unless more women turn up with the same story – always a possibility, to be sure – this is all the evidence you’re going to get. Is that enough evidence? Only you and your conscience and your God can decide. Slate, which reminds us of Moore’s long record of gay bashing as a means of “protecting” children from predators much like himself, has more.

A big ask for hurricane recovery

Good luck with that. I mean that mostly sincerely.

Texas needs an additional $61 billion in federal disaster recovery money for infrastructure alone after Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, according to a report from the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas that was delivered to members of Congress Tuesday.

Compiled at Gov. Greg Abbott’s request, the report was released on the day the governor traveled to the U.S. Capitol to talk Hurricane Harvey relief with congressional leaders.

Speaking with reporters in the hallways of the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, Abbott said he’d had a “well-reasoned discussion” where he stressed that rebuilding the state’s Gulf coast was in the country’s best national security and economic interests.

“We are asking not for any handouts or for anything unusual, but we are asking for funding that will flood the entire region that was impacted so that the federal government, the state government, and the local government are not going to be facing these ongoing out-of-pocket costs,” Abbott said as he held a binder containing the 301-page report.

The $61 billion is in addition to money the state already anticipates receiving from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from the federal housing department, which distributes disaster recovery grants aimed at long-term rebuilding.

[…]

The requests include:

  • $12 billion for the Galveston County Coastal Spine, part of the larger “Ike Dike,” a barrier aimed at protecting coastal areas from hurricane storm surge.
  • $9 billion for housing assistance in the City of Houston, which would help rebuild 85,000 single and multi-family housing units damaged by Harvey.
  • $6 billion to buy land, easements, and rights-of-way around Buffalo Bayou and the Addicks and Barker reservoirs.
  • $2 billion for “coast-wide critical infrastructure protection,” described as flood control and other mitigation projects around critical public infrastructure such as “power plants, communication networks, prison systems, etc.”
  • $466 million for the Port of Houston to “create resiliency” and harden the Houston Ship Channel.
  • $115 million to repair 113 county buildings in Harris County.

Abbott appointed [John] Sharp, who is the chancellor of Texas A&M University and a former legislator, railroad commissioner and state comptroller, to oversee the commission in early September.

So far, Congress has agreed to spend more than $51 billion on disaster relief in the past two months. But it is unclear what Texas’s share of that money will be, because it will be divided between the states and territories devastated by three deadly hurricanes and fatal wildfires.

It’s not that I disagree with any of this – in particular, I’m rooting for Ike Dike money to be appropriated – but that’s a lot of money, there are a lot of Republican Congressfolk who really don’t like spending money, there are even more Congressfolk who are still mad at some of their Texas colleagues for voting against Superstorm Sandy recovery money, and there’s a lot of money that will need to be spent in Puerto Rico, Florida, and California. Texas’ original ask for Harvey recovery money was a lot less than this, and even that caused some friction from within the Texas caucus when Greg Abbott got a little shirty with his fellow Republicans. Oh, and there’s also the Republican Congress’ track record of not being able to tie their own shoes. So, you know, don’t go using this as collateral just yet.

Speaking of the Texas caucus, their reaction to this was muted.

The initial reaction from Washington officials to the request: Surprise at its size and scope.

That could mean approval of the full amount will be a tough sell with Congress and the White House, coming at a time when hurricane damages to Puerto Rico and Florida, and losses in California to wildfires, are also in line for billions more in federal disaster funding.

But Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, was hopeful. “Just like the Astros, we’re going to get ‘er done,” Weber said in a reference to the World Series.

U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, whose district was hit hard by Harvey, agreed.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of money,” he said, “but it was a lot of storm.”

[…]

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, gave little indication of the prospects for the governor’s request. As for the $61 billion figure, Cornyn said, “We’re working on a number. We don’t have a number.”

Later, Cornyn said in a statement “it’s really important for us to remember that there’s a lot of work that we need to do in responding to some of the unmet disaster needs around the country, starting with Hurricane Harvey in my state.”

Added Cornyn: “The reason I bring that up today is because Governor Abbott of Texas is up meeting with the entire Texas delegation to make sure that we continue to make the case and make sure that Texans are not forgotten as we get to work on these other important matters as well.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was also circumspect about the prospects for Abbott’s request, though he emphasized that the Texas delegation will remain united with the governor in getting the Gulf region all the aid it can from Washington.

“Repeatedly, projections have shown that Harvey is likely to prove to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history,” he said. “The president has repeatedly made direct assurances to me that the administration will stand by the people of Texas.”

As to whether the government might raise or borrow the money, Cruz said, “those discussions will be ongoing.”

Like I said, there are some obstacles. And I have to wonder, how might this conversation be going if Hillary Clinton were President? Harvey or no Harvey, I have a hard time picturing Greg Abbott asking President Hillary Clinton for billions of dollars for our state. I’d make him sign a pledge to quit suing the feds over every damn thing now that he’s come to town with his hat in his hand. Not that any of this matters now, I just marvel at the capacity some of us have for cognitive dissonance. We’ll see how this goes.

Trump nominates two to the Fifth Circuit

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

Don Willett

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

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

They would need to be confirmed by the Senate.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Will we spend on some flood mitigation projects?

Maybe. We’ll see.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is calling for the construction of flood control infrastructure in the Houston area — things he said should have been built “decades and decades ago” — including a coastal barrier to protect the region from deadly storm surge.

“We need more levees. We need more reservoirs. We need a coastal barrier,” Patrick said late last week during an interview with Fox News Radio. “These are expensive items and we’re working with [U.S. Sens. John] Cornyn and [Ted] Cruz and our congressional delegation to … get this right. We’ve had three now major floods in three years — nothing at this level but major floods.”

The need is particularly pressing because of the state’s rapid population growth, Patrick added, noting that “a lot of that growth is around the Houston area.” And he said the billions in federal aid that Texas is poised to receive presents an opportunity for Texas “to really rebuild and do things that, quite frankly, should have been done decades and decades ago.”

[…]

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul is seeking $320 million to build another reservoir that would take pressure off Addicks and Barker. That’s exciting, Bettencourt said, because the Austin Republican “can lift more than the average congressman” as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

McCaul’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But last week during a meeting with officials in Katy, he described such a project as “long-term” and said he has discussed funding with Gov. Greg Abbott, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to a Houston Chronicle report.

“We need to look at long-term solutions from an infrastructure standpoint,” he said.

None of it will be covered by the $15 billion short-term relief aid relief package Congress has approved for Texas, and it remains to be seen whether Congress will pay for any flood-control infrastructure projects in Texas.

As the man once said, show me the money. What we have here is state officials talking about getting Congress to spend some money on projects here. There’s no indication of willingness to spend any state funds, which among other things would raise ticklish questions about how to pay for them (*). Maybe this Congress is willing to do that, and maybe it’s not. Let’s just say that the track record is not encouraging.

(*) You may recall that in 2013, voters approved a constitutional amendment to fund a water infrastructure fund that among other things could be used to build reservoirs. The idea of this fund, which came on the heels of the devastating drought of 2011, was to make more water available for cities and industry, but I see no reason why it couldn’t be tapped for something like a flood-mitigation reservoir. I don’t know the specifics of the legislation, and frankly I haven’t heard much about this, the SWIFT fund, since its approval. As such, I may be mistaken in what it can and cannot be used for. But at the very least, it seems like a decent starting point for discussion.

An interesting shift in approval ratings for state leaders

More UT/Trib poll data:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Cornyn withdraws from consideration to succeed Comey

It was fun while it lasted.

Big John Cornyn

John Cornyn withdrew from consideration to be the next FBI director on Tuesday, saying the “best way I can serve is continuing to fight for a conservative agenda in the U.S. Senate.”

“Now more than ever the country needs a well-credentialed, independent FBI director,” he said in a statement. “I’ve informed the administration that I’m committed to helping them find such an individual.”

Cornyn was in serious contention to replace ousted FBI director James Comey, setting off a scramble and speculation around the state over who might succeed him in the U.S. Senate.

See here and here for the background. I can’t say this comes as a surprise. In a different time it might have made sense, but given everything that’s going on now, the only winning move is not to play. It would have been nice to have had more time to indulge in wild speculation about who might get appointed and who might run for that seat, but all good things must come to an end. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Cornyn’s colleagues cool to him as FBI Director

Boy, with friends like these

Big John Cornyn

There is a growing obstacle standing in the way of Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, becoming the next director of the FBI — his own Republican colleagues.

Led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, a chorus of GOP senators has signaled that they would prefer President Trump to nominate somebody other than the second-ranking ­Republican senator, despite his status as a well-liked and influential figure on Capitol Hill.

Their message: It’s nothing personal. But if Trump were to nominate Cornyn, who has shown interest in the job, it would trigger a raft of consequences that could be detrimental to McConnell and the broader GOP agenda.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, offered a response that was common among Republican senators Monday, praising Cornyn’s qualifications before adding: “I’d hate to lose him.”

“My own selfish thing would be to say, ‘Oh, he’s a terrible person — don’t do it,’ ” Tillis quipped.

Senate Republicans are hoping Trump takes their concerns into consideration as he zeros in on his choice. The president said Monday that his search was “moving rapidly.” McConnell predicted that Trump would make an appointment “in a week or so.”

[…]

Among other concerns, some fear that nominating a top political leader would roil a confirmation process in which Democrats are already emboldened to cry foul over former director James B. Comey’s abrupt firing. Since Trump’s inauguration, Cornyn has been a loyal defender of the president — including on the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, which have been looking at the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

“I told him I thought he’d be a good FBI director under normal circumstances,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in an interview. “But I think the politics of this is just — he gets it. He’d be an outstanding FBI director. But I just, quite frankly, think that last week made it tough.”

Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, said there is a need now for “someone who can lead us in the direction we need to go, and that doesn’t eliminate partisan folks, but there’s no question that the country seems to be — to find more confidence and credibility in someone who’s probably not involved in partisan politics.”

See here and here for the background. Can’t imagine why the Republicans might be a wee bit concerned about the politics of this, but I’m sure they’ll figure out what their story is. In a sense, it doesn’t matter who Trump picks. Left to his own devices, he will either pick a toady or someone who will be forced to tarnish his own reputation in the service of his new lord and master. (And yes, it will be a dude. Donald Trump does not put the ladies into positions of real power.) In addition, whoever Trump picks will and should cause Senate Democrats to shut the place down until he pledges to continue the Russia investigation that Comey started, with the increase in resources that Comey had asked for just before getting canned. Basically, there’s no acceptable candidates that Trump himself might be willing to appoint. (No, Merrick Garland doesn’t count – the only reason he’s being mentioned is one part troll job, and one part to get a vacancy on the DC Court of Appeals. No thanks.)

So anyway, I get where the Republicans are coming from on this, and that’s before factoring into the equation the possibility, no matter how slim, that a Democrat could win the seat in a special election. There’s no upside here. If I were advising someone with a role in this, I’d say just elevate the top deputy director, who is now serving as the acting director, and be done with it. Which Trump won’t do because the guy won’t swear personal loyalty to the toddler king, but that’s their problem. Have fun with it, fellas.

So who might run for Cornyn’s Senate seat?

The short answer is “pretty much anyone”, but there are several names that are on top of everyone’s list of imagined candidates.

Big John Cornyn

At least three members of the U.S. House are mulling a run for a possible U.S. Senate vacancy, should President Donald Trump appoint U.S. Sen. John Cornyn as the new FBI director.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican, is one of those hopefuls for the would-be vacancy, along with Democratic U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.

“McCaul has put himself in a good position to be toward the top of the list of people who might succeed Sen. Cornyn,” a source close to McCaul told The Texas Tribune. “He’s built statewide name recognition and a political effort that could be quickly turned on for a statewide campaign for Senate.”

There was a similar readout on the Democratic side.

“If there’s a special election called, Joaquin would strongly consider that,” a source close to Castro told the Tribune of a would-be Senate vacancy.

“He’s already running for Senate, and … if an election came up for a Texas [U.S.] Senate [seat] before that, he would undoubtedly look at it,” a source close to O’Rourke told the Tribune. “There’s no question he would take a look at it.”

O’Rourke is currently running against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, as the junior senator aims for a second term in 2018. The O’Rourke source did not elaborate on what these deliberations might mean for the 2018 race.

See here for the background, and remember that this is all Wild Speculation. As I said before, this would be a free shot for any incumbent, so of course it makes sense for Joaquin Castro to look at it. The same is true for Beto O’Rourke, who can argue he’s already running a Senate campaign now, so he’d have a leg up. I would have a preference for Castro in this case, in part to ensure that we still have someone to run against Ted Cruz next year, but the main consideration would be having just one of them in and not both. This is because a race like this will almost certainly go to a runoff, and the odds of having a Dem in the runoff are better with one consensus candidate among a gaggle of Republicans than more than one Dem splitting the vote. Again, we are getting way ahead of ourselves, and it’s not like anyone can stop someone from running if they want to, but if it were up to me we’d have Joaquin Castro in the race with Beto O’Rourke staying focused on 2018.

Dowd declines to run for Senate

Not a surprise.

Not Ted Cruz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornyn on shortlist to replace Comey

Interesting.

Big John Cornyn

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is on the short list to succeed James Comey as FBI director, according to a White House official.

Cornyn is one of about 11 contenders for the post, according to Fox News.

He has strong relationships with members of his conference and would likely sail through confirmation. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2002, Cornyn served as Texas attorney general, a Texas Supreme Court justice and a local judge.

In the immediate aftermath of Comey’s firing, Cornyn did not take the opportunity to lobby for the position.

“I’m happy serving my state and my country,” he told reporters off the Senate floor.

But that comment came Wednesday, which was a lifetime ago during a dramatic week in Washington.

[…]

A Senate vacancy could make for dramatic change in the state’s political pecking order.

Gov. Greg Abbott would be tasked with a short-term appointment, but several months later the state would hold a special election to finish the duration of the term, which ends in 2021.

When Lloyd Bentsen resigned from the U.S. Senate to become Treasury Secretary in 1993, Gov. Ann Richards appointed former U.S. Rep. Bob Krueger, a Democrat, to hold the post until a special election could be held. That was a noisy affair with two dozen candidates — including a couple of sitting members of Congress at the time — that ended with Texas Treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchison beating Krueger in the special election runoff. She ran successfully for a full term the next year and remained in the U.S. Senate until the end of 2012.

As the story notes, the odds of this happening are quite slim, so anything we say here is highly speculative. But hey, isn’t that what a blog is for? The main thing I would note is the timing of a special election to complete Cornyn’s unexpired term. The special election in 1993 to succeed Lloyd Bentsen took place on May 1, 1993, which was the first uniform election date available after Bentsen resigned and Krueger was appointed. That means a special election to replace Cornyn – again, in the unlikely event this comes to pass – would then be in November of this year, with that person serving through 2020. The good news here is that it means that an elected official who isn’t subject to a resign-to-run law would be able to run for this seat without having to give up the seat they currently hold. I’m sure if we put our heads together, we can think of a sitting member of Congress who might be enticed to jump into such a race.

Two other points to note. One is that, at least according to the story, Abbott is not allowed to appoint himself. It’s not clear to me why that is so – the story references “precedent based in common law, not statute”, so I presume there was a lawsuit or maybe an AG opinion in there somewhere. I know I recall people urging Ann Richards to appoint herself in 1993, but it may be the case that she was not allowed to due to the same precedent. Someone with a more extensive understanding of Texas history will need to clarify here. Point two is that if Abbott names a sitting Republican officeholder, then there would of course be a special election to replace that person, either (most likely) this November for a member of Congress or next year for a statewide official. And yes, Abbott could appoint Dan Patrick, perhaps to take him out of any possible challenge to himself in 2018. Keep that in mind if your first instinct is to cheer a possible Cornyn departure. Like I said, all highly speculative, so have fun batting this around but don’t take any of it too seriously just yet.

Steve Stockman claims he’s broke

Pobrecito.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Former Congressman Steve Stockman told a federal magistrate Wednesday he can’t afford to pay for a lawyer to represent him against allegations he helped steal about $800,000 in charitable donations intended for conservative organizations.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson agreed to appoint a lawyer for him and postponed a hearing on his case until Friday.

Stockman told the judge he needed to dismiss his hand-picked lawyers from the elite firm of Smyser Kaplan & Veselka and ideally he wanted the court to re-appoint them to the case at the government’s expense. She said she’d consider the request.

He confirmed for the judge details on a disclosure form he’d filled out in front of a roomful of defendants in shackles and jail uniforms, indicating he owned a home, a rental property and two vans.

“But you have no assets?” Johnson asked.

“This is a four-year case,” the former lawmaker said, indicating he’d been paying for legal support on these matters for a long time.

See here and here for some background. I would have asked him “what, you can’t use some of that money you stole to pay your lawyers?”, which is no doubt why I’m not a US Magistrate. Well, that and the lack of a law degree. But seriously, this guy. I don’t know why anyone believes a word he says.

In the meantime, feast on this.

The fact that the former congressman is facing multiple felony counts made national news. But one of the most interesting details in the 46-page Stockman indictment escaped notice: The suggestion that Richard Uihlein, one of the country’s biggest conservative political donors, personally wrote a check for $450,571.65 to mail a fake newspaper called The Conservative News to voters across Texas. The paper, which prosecutors say was part of a Stockman-run, secretly funded operation intended to take down Cornyn, included the dubious claims that Cornyn wanted to ban veterans from having guns, had voted to fund abortion, and was secretly working with Democrats to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.

Mailing a fake newspaper is not a crime, nor is secretly funding a candidate to do so. Thanks to a series of court decisions now known collectively as Citizens United, billionaires are allowed to fund anonymous attacks as long as they abide by an arcane set of tax and campaign finance rules. And Uihlein, who has given more than $43 million to conservative candidates and super PACs since 2011, is a particularly big fish. He is the chief executive of a family-owned shipping and packing materials company that’s confusingly named “Uline,” which Forbes estimated was worth at least $700 million in 2014. And through his private foundation, Uihlein has given millions more to nonprofits that push a conservative policy agenda and train a new generation of political operatives to sell it.

It’s not clear what, if anything, Uihlein knew about Stockman’s fake-news scheme. He is described as a victim in the Stockman case: Prosecutors say Stockman and his staffers fraudulently diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars Uihlein had donated. Uihlein’s funding of the fake-news operation would likely never have become public had Stockman not gotten tangled up with an FBI investigation — meaning this episode exposes a side of the U.S. campaign finance system we don’t often get to see.

[…]

Larry Barry, director of legal affairs at Uline, refused to answer questions about the case, but said in an emailed statement that “we are deeply troubled by the allegations … that certain contributions made in good faith may have been used for unintended personal and political purposes.” Barry referred to Uihlein as “a victim of this alleged misconduct” and said that “we have and will continue to fully cooperate with the Department of Justice in this investigation.”

[…]

One of the biggest unanswered questions in the Stockman case is how he apparently fooled Uihlein twice.

Prosecutors say Posey told Uihlein’s accountant in a May 13, 2014, email ― sent two months after Stockman lost the election ― that some of the money that was supposed to be used for Freedom House had gone to delivering medical supplies to “third world” countries. The email, which also included an attached tax exemption letter for Life Without Limits, allegedly constituted wire fraud ― though prosecutors don’t spell out exactly why.

What the documents don’t clear up is why Uihlein would fund Stockman’s direct mail campaign a year after his donation for Freedom House ― especially since it seemed like so little progress had been made on that first project. “You raise a good question, but it’s not one I can talk about today,” said Dane C. Ball, a Houston lawyer defending Stockman.

An answer may be in the offing if the case goes to trial. If that happens, it’s likely Uihlein would be called to testify, said D.C. campaign finance lawyer Brett Kappel.

“Get your popcorn,” he quipped.

There’s not enough popcorn in the world. Also, I am unreasonably amused by the fact that Uline’s director of legal affairs is named “Larry Barry”. I cannot wait for this trial to begin.

A closer look at the Stockman saga

Chron reporter Lise Olson takes a deep dive into the charges against former Congressman and fulltime hot mess Steve Stockman.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Steve Stockman was soon to board a plane for the United Arab Emirates this month when his unorthodox life took a sudden detour. The outspoken two-time former congressman from Houston was met at the airport by federal agents holding an arrest warrant.

In his own colorful campaign literature, Stockman, 60, has portrayed himself as a gun-loving, abortion-hating activist and philanthropist who has used frequent travels abroad to deliver Christian charity and medical supplies to developing nations.

But a 28-count federal indictment handed down Wednesday describes Stockman as the head of a complex criminal conspiracy. It alleges that he and two aides collected $1.2 million from three U.S.-based foundations and individuals, laundered and misspent most of that money, spied on an unnamed opponent, accepted illegal campaign contributions, funneled money through bogus bank accounts and businesses, and failed to pay taxes on his ill-gotten gains.

Some of that money went for trips to try to “secure millions of dollars from African countries and companies operating” in Africa, the indictment says.

[…]

Jason Posey, 46, has been described as Stockman’s primary accomplice in the scheme to divert donations through companies linked by federal investigators to suburban Houston post office boxes and an array of bank accounts. He has not been arrested. Thomas Dodd, the other former staffer, pleaded guilty earlier this month to two charges related to the same conspiracy and agreed to testify as part of his plea deal.

The purpose of their conspiracy was “to unlawfully enrich themselves and to fund their political activities by fraudulently soliciting and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars,” the indictment says.

Prosecutors say Stockman used hundreds of thousands of pilfered funds to pay campaign and credit card debts, to cover personal expenses – and to politically attack Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Stockman’s long-shot Republican primary against Cornyn was the subject of one the scams outlined in the indictment.

In February 2014, Posey solicited and received a $450,000 charitable contribution from an Illinois-based donor that was supposed to finance 800,000 mailings to Texas voters of a campaign publication resembling a “newspaper.” The mass mailings for the Senate primary were part of what Posey later swore in an affidavit was an entirely “independent election expenditure” that was handled entirely by Posey and not by Stockman, one of the candidates.

Those mailings, made to look like real newspapers, championed Stockman’s candidacy and opposed Cornyn.

Posey received the donation through a company he controlled called the Center for the American Future, but he coordinated the mass mailings directly with Stockman in violation of federal campaign finance laws, the indictment says. Stockman and Posey also sought a partial refund of the mailing costs – $214,718.51 – without the donor’s knowledge and split the money, the indictment says.

Prosecutors allege Posey used the money to pay Stockman’s Senate campaign debts and his own personal expenses, including “airfare on a flight departing the United States.”

See here for the most recent update, and here for a large sample of my Stockman archives. A lot of people have been motivated to get involved in politics this year after the Trump debacle of 2016. It was Steve Stockman who provided my motivation to get more involved in politics, after his upset (and upsetting) Congressional victory in 1994. I’ve noted before that former Congressman Nick Lampson was the first candidate I ever donated to, and the first candidate whose fundraiser I attended, back in 1996. That was at least as much about Stockman as it was about Lampson.

The thing about Stockman is that, all politics aside, he has long acted in a shady manner. Do a search of the Houston Press’ archives for Stockman stories and peruse what they were writing about him during that 1995-96 Congressional term of office (Google on “steve stockman site:houstonpress.com”, for example) to see what I mean. In doing that myself, I came across this little nugget, which shows that the past is never truly past:

The squirrelly adventures of Congressman Steve Stockman’s frat-house band of consultants who call themselves Political Won Stop seem to know no limits. The Hill, a Congress-covering weekly in the nation’s capital, first revealed that Stockman’s re-election campaign had paid more than $126,000 to the consultancy, which is owned by 26-year-old Chris Cupit and 25-year-old Jason Posey and is listed on the congressman’s campaign disclosures as having the same Whitman Way address as Stockman’s combination home and election headquarters just outside Friendswood.

Emphasis mine. The fact that Stockman has had a long association with Jason Posey is not suggestive of anything. The fact that Stockman has been involved in at least two questionable-if-not-actually-illegal ventures with Posey is. Whatever we know now, I feel confident there’s more to be uncovered.

An ironic might-have-been on redistricting

From Rick Casey.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The three judges who decided the case include one Democrat and two Republicans. Ironically, the decision may have gone the other way if one of the judges hadn’t been punished for joining in an earlier ruling in the case. Here’s the backstory.

Judge Rodriguez, a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Texas law school, was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Perry. He lost in the Republican primary, however, when he had to stand for election. He returned briefly to private practice before being appointed to a federal district bench here by President George W. Bush.

Back in 2013, Rodriguez was asked to fill out the voluminous paperwork to be considered for promotion to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. President Barack Obama had selected a Democratic judge from Corpus Christi, but the two Republican senators reportedly made it clear they would block her nomination. So the Obama administration lit on Rodriguez — a nonideological choice who had been appointed to important benches by two Texas Republican leaders.

But the appointment languished until 2015 when, a friend of Rodriguez said, he was told his name was withdrawn because of a lack of support from the two senators. The reason: His previous rulings in the redistricting case.

Had Rodriguez been elevated to the appellate court, he might well have been replaced with a more conservative Republican on the three-judge panel hearing the redistricting case. The 2-1 decision could have gone in the other direction, with Rodriguez’s replacement joining the very conservative third member of the panel, Judge Jerry Smith of Houston.

We don’t know for certain that the ruling would have been different had Judge Rodriguez not been on the district court. I don’t know what the overall population of judges in that district is like, and I suppose the plaintiffs could have filed in a different district. For what it’s worth, where I think the plaintiffs got lucky was in having two judges of color hearing the case. We’ll never know how things might have been, but I for one am glad with how they turned out.

On a tangential note, this Texas Lawyer story from awhile ago talks about how the Fifth Circuit changed during the Obama years.

At first glance, the math confronting President Barack Obama’s three appointees on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit appears daunting.

If you include senior members of the bench, Obama’s appointees—Judges James Graves, Stephen Higginson, and Gregg Costa—are outnumbered more than 4-to-1 by judges who were chosen by Republican presidents.

Dig deeper, however, into court events and listen to appellate lawyers who make their livelihoods practicing before the Fifth Circuit and a more nuanced picture emerges. In the last eight years, the Fifth Circuit bench has begun shifting away from predictable conservative patterns, the appellate lawyers said.

Although Obama appointees may only be part of that change, they are using their youth, vigor and intellectual curiosity to influence outcomes, according to appellate lawyers including Jane Webre, a partner in Austin’s Scott Douglass & McConnico who practices civil appellate law and handles most of her firm’s appeals.

“It has moved away from how staunchly conservative it was known to be,” said Webre, who works with associates who have recently clerked for the Fifth Circuit.

Senior Fifth Circuit Judge Thomas Reavley, an appointee of former President Jimmy Carter, ranks among many who heap praise on the Obama picks. Reavley, who served as a state district and Texas Supreme Court justice before he started on the Fifth Circuit bench, observed its judges in the ’60s courageously enforce emerging civil rights protections. Asked by Texas Lawyer recently if he longed for the days of those judges, Reavley said Obama’s three appointees were equally equipped with the smarts and dispositions to handle such challenges: “I don’t think politics would enter into their decisions,” Reavley said.

Kurt Kuhn of Austin’s Kuhn Hobbs agrees. “They are not doctrinal. They are known as fair and not predisposed to any particular side,” Kuhn said.

[…]

On the Fifth Circuit, Higginson, Costa and Graves share the bench with six judges tapped by George W. Bush, six by Reagan and two by George H.W. Bush. Former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Carter together had appointed only five of the judges currently serving on the Fifth Circuit. Two vacancies are currently pending.

Obama’s ability to shape the Fifth Circuit has been hampered by the powerful sway held over the nomination process by Texas’ two Republican senators. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and also appoint the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee, which recommends federal judicial candidates to the White House.

It was three years before Obama made his first appointment to the Fifth Circuit. David Prichard, the committee’s chairman and partner in the San Antonio office of Prichard Hawkins Young, has no expectation that the court’s two vacancies will be filled before Obama leaves office.

“Those positions are just carefully negotiated between the Texas senators and the occupants of the White House,” Prichard said.

And yet, despite Obama’s difficulty seating judges on the Fifth Circuit, the passage of time and societal change has tempered the Fifth Circuit and made it less conservative, said Webre of Scott Douglass.

Given how few appointments he has made, Webre added, “I don’t know if we can say: ‘Thank you, President Obama,’ for those changes.”

But she, Gunn and Townsend detect a change. Before Obama took office, Webre and associates at her firm who clerked recently at the Fifth Circuit counted the active full-time judges on that court: There were 13 Republican and four Democratic appointees. That ratio has since shifted to 10-5.

But then Webre and the associates adjust for individual judges’ tendencies, regardless of who appointed them. “Not all Republicans are created equal,” Webre explained.

She and the former clerks put asterisks beside some of the Republican-appointed judges—she wouldn’t say which judges specifically—to denote that they lean less conservative than their fellow Republican appointees. Webre’s estimate is that eight of 15 judges are moderate or liberal compared with seven who are very conservative.

That has made a difference when lawyers receive an unfavorable panel decision.

“Now,” Webre said, “seeking an en banc hearing is a realistic venture.”

That story was published just before the November election, and I had flagged it at the time to discuss how things might change even more for the better post-Obama. Needless to say, that premise was scotched shortly thereafter. Nonetheless, this seemed like a reasonable time to dredge it up. Maybe we’ll get to discuss it again in a more positive way in four years.

More on the Stockman arrest

I’m just going to leave this here.

Steve Stockman

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, a Republican whose district stretched from Houston to Beaumont, allegedly conspired with two staffers to bilk conservative foundations out of at least $775,000 in donations meant for charitable purposes or voter education, according to federal court records.

Details of the alleged scam are described in a plea deal signed in Houston by Thomas Dodd, Stockman’s former campaign worker and 2013 congressional special assistant. Dodd pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of conspiracy and has agreed to help authorities build a case against Stockman in return for consideration on his sentencing. The maximum penalty for each charge is 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

Stockman was arrested March 16 by a Houston-based FBI agent as he prepared to board a plane to the Middle East, but was released on $25,000 bond after surrendering his passport.

He has been charged with two counts of conspiracy for allegedly colluding with Dodd and another staffer to hide illegal campaign contributions and to divert $350,000 from the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, based in Lake Forest, Ill. Uihlein had donated funds to renovate a townhouse to be used as a place for congressional interns to gather in Washington D.C. The meeting spot was never created. Dodd’s plea agreement says that he and Stockman also diverted $425,000 from the Rothschild Charitable Foundation and the Rothschild Art Foundation Inc., based in Baltimore.

The Rothschild Foundations donated for charitable purposes and voter education.

Most of the $775,000 in foundation donations was spent on Stockman’s campaign and on credit card bills, according to allegations in Dodd’s plea deal.

Prosecutors claim those illegal acts were part of a larger and more complex scam, court records show. The plea deal outlines a conspiracy among Stockman, Dodd and another staff member that allegedly included two shell companies, bogus campaign contributions, lies to executives at the foundations and a trail of wire and mail fraud.

See here for the background. An earlier story has a copy of the aforementioned plea agreement, which you can see here. This Chron story summarizes the questions that remain about Stockman and his questionable finances, many of which first came up back in 2014. I just want to point out that had Stockman not gotten into his twisted little head to run against John Cornyn in 2014, he’d very likely still be a sitting member of Congress. Funny how these things work.

How all that activism is being received

Texas Monthly looks at the recent spate of rallies and visits to Texas elected officials’ events and offices to see what’s up.

John Simpson and Mark Leech had never participated in a protest before last month. In fact, the couple—who got married in Temple last June—wasn’t particularly political before the 2016 election. They became concerned, though, that there would be new challenges to their marriage as Donald Trump began issuing executive orders (there have been reports that the administration is drafting an order on religious freedom, which concerns Simpson and Leech). Simpson was also concerned about Trump’s appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the border wall, and the suggestion of new tariffs on Mexican imports. And so, together, they started making phone calls. A friend told Simpson to call his senators, but when he tried, he kept getting a busy signal. Then, when the couple learned that Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn would be speaking at the Temple Chamber of Commerce on Friday, January 27—as the keynote speaker at the annual Salute to Business banquet—they decided to show up in person to voice their concerns.

They weren’t alone, either. They were joined by their neighbors in the community—the Bell County Democratic Party, an older man in a suit and tie with a sign that read “This Is What A Liberal Looks Like,” a retired National Guard member—and by dozens of people from Austin and Waco. All told, there were about seventy people waiting outside the Temple Convention Center that evening, starting around 4:30 in the evening and sticking around until seven, waiting for their Senator to arrive and chanting slogans like “What do we want? A town hall! When do we want it? Now!” and “Pick up your phone!”

The demonstration wasn’t made up of seasoned activists and full-time ax-grinders; there were college students in the crowd, but also retirees. “We’re the moderates,” the retired National Guard member explained. Simpson, who voted for Cornyn in 2014, said, “I didn’t know what to expect. This is my first protest.”

Cornyn. Ted Cruz, and Mike McCaul get most of the attention in the story, which is worth your time to read. I’ve been kind of amazed by the number of people I know who have been energetically calling and rallying people to call over this bill or that confirmation hearing – Betsy DeVos was a particular point of interest – these past few weeks. Many of them were not visibly active in politics before this. More than a few are people whose political orientation had been unknown to me before now. It may well be that all of this burns itself out at some point – November of 2018 is a long way off, and there are going to be far more losses than wins in the interim, given the current nature of Congress and the Capitol – but it’s equally plausible that the energy we’re seeing now builds on itself, with real infrastructure emerging to sustain it. I have believed all along that the political climate in 2018 will be different than what it was in 2010 and 2014. This has been mostly predicated on the sense that Republican voters won’t have the unifying villain of Barack Obama in the White House and will have to deal with their own inevitable disappointment in their elected heroes and their feet of clay. It’s clear there’s another side to that coin, where Democrats have the bulk of the enthusiasm. If this continues – and let’s be clear, it may not; see above about how far off the next election is – then we could be in for quite the year next year. In the meantime, keep calling and showing up. It’s working.

Look for the helpers

They’re at the airports now.

Luis Ruiz, an immigration attorney with his own practice, set up shop early Sunday at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

He’d seen news of attorneys around the country flocking to airports to help people detained under the terms of the executive order President Donald Trump issued Friday, and he figured duty called. So he arrived at IAH around 9 a.m., the first attorney of what would become a sizable legal operation, and set off searching for clients to counsel pro bono.

“It’s been escalating,” he said Sunday night. “People just started showing up.”

By the evening, they ran an impromptu law office at the tables of a Starbucks amid deafening chants of hundreds of protesters in the arrivals area of the international terminal. More than 30 Houston lawyers specializing in immigration, personal injury, consumer protection, environment, civil law and more, pecked away on keyboards and interviewed family members of those who’d been detained inside the terminal.

[…]

The lawyers gathered at Starbucks fanned out in search of waiting worried people who might be relatives of those detained. They offered their services and helped put them in touch with U.S. Customs and Border Protection for answers on the status of their loved ones. In isolated cases, lawyers said they were willing to electronically file an emergency habeas petition to a federal court to ask a judge to immediately stop a detention.

Aside from that, however, they acknowledged they have few effective options.

“The problem is there is no right to counsel. We don’t have ability to access potential clients,” [Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Houston Law Center] said.

People who couldn’t help in that fashion gathered elsewhere.

Hundreds of chanting anti-Trump protesters swarmed George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Sunday, packing Terminal E to capacity until police barred entry to non-ticket holders. Dozens of pro-bono lawyers set up camp at a nearby Starbucks to help passengers who had gotten detained.

“There’s a lot of fear in the community,” said Arsalan Safiuallah, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations who attended the IAH protest. “I’m upset because I don’t think this is constitutional.”

Yehiya Aljuboory, a 29-year-old Iraqi man detained en route to Houston after traveling abroad, was held at IAH for nearly four hours Sunday. “Is it a crime to travel to visit your family?” asked his worried friend, 28-year-old Mohammed Jalil. “Only because he is Muslim.”

Earlier in the day, roughly 1,000 people gathered in downtown, just steps away from Super Bowl festivities, to make their voices heard. The divisive order resonated deeply in Houston, where more than 20 percent of people were foreign-born in 2013, according to nonpartisan think tank the Migration Policy Institute.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city as galvanized as this,” said Houston resident Bev Caplan, 39, who protested at Discovery Green.

A small reminder of who is being hurt by the actions of our deranged “leader”:

A woman traveling to Indiana to care for her cancer-stricken mother, a family physician who has lived in the U.S. for two decades, and a Minneapolis woman about to become a U.S. citizen were among those caught in the net cast by President Donald Trump when he banned travelers from entering the country from Muslim-majority nations.

We should heed the words of former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen.

To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week, in favor of his White House advisers, tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.

[…]

There is in this week’s events the foretaste of things to come. We have yet to see what happens when Trump tries to use the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to destroy his opponents. He thinks he has succeeded in bullying companies, and he has no compunction about bullying individuals, including those with infinitely less power than himself. His advisers are already calling for journalists critical of the administration to be fired: Expect more efforts at personal retribution. He has demonstrated that he intends to govern by executive orders that will replace the laws passed by the people’s representatives.

In the end, however, he will fail. He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible—The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

There are things we can do. Show up and protest if you have the capability. Offer your professional services if they are relevant – see this handy resource from the Houston Bar Association if you’re an attorney. Donate money to groups like the ACLU and the International Rescue Committee; there are other good options as well. Call John Cornyn and Ted Cruz at one of their local offices and tell them what you think. (If you can get through – it was nothing but busy signals for me today, and all the postings I see on Facebook say it’s either that or full voicemail boxes. Try anyway, you never know.) Add Mike McCaul to that list, too, especially if you live in CD10. Do something while you still can. Texas Monthly, Political Animal, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

Obama signs Cornyn flood mitigation bill

The title to this post is a bit of an overbid, but this is still a good thing.

President Obama on Monday signed into law a bill that could help expedite the long process of constructing a hurricane protection system for the Texas coast, including the particularly vulnerable Houston region.

The “Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation,” or WIIN, Act contains a major provision of another bill U.S. Sen. John Cornyn filed in April — the month after The Texas Tribune and ProPublica published an interactive report exploring the dire impacts of a monster storm hitting the nation’s fourth-largest city and its massive petrochemical complex. Scientists are still fine-tuning plans to protect against such an event, which they say could kill hundreds, if not thousands, of people and cripple the economy and environment.

Most agree on the need to build a project known as the “coastal spine,” a massive floodgate and barrier system, but there is no official consensus plan. (State lawmakers have asked scientists to settle on a plan to protect the coast, but they’re still in disagreement.) The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will have the final say on what plan to pursue and is conducting its own study of the issue, has estimated that construction on any such system for Texas couldn’t begin until 2024 at the earliest.

The bill Cornyn filed in April, called the “Corps’ Obligation to Assist in Safeguarding Texas,” or COAST, Act, was designed to hurry things along by requiring the Corps to take local studies on the issue into account (one by a six-county coalition, in particular) and by eliminating the need for Congress to authorize construction of whatever project the Corps ends up recommending.

The bipartisan WIIN Act includes only the former provision requiring the Corps to account for local studies, meaning Congress still will have to sign off on any plan. (The COAST Act passed the Senate in September but never passed the House.)

See here for some background. We’re still a long way from something being built, as we lack such minor details as consensus on what to build and a funding mechanism for it. But this is a step forward, so credit to Sen. Cornyn for shepherding the bill through and to President Obama for signing it. The Current and Space City Weather have more.

Beto O’Rourke talking about the Senate

Another Democratic Congressman is thinking about trying for an upgrade.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, told The Texas Tribune he is considering running for the U.S. Senate.

“I am,” the sophomore congressman said when Tribune CEO Evan Smith asked if O’Rourke is thinking about running for Senate in 2018 or 2020.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is up for re-election in 2018, while John Cornyn, the U.S. Senate majority whip, will be up for re-election and a fourth term in 2020.

“Am I looking at one of those two races? Yes,” O’Rourke said Friday, but he declined to specify whether he would challenge Cornyn or Cruz.

[…]

O’Rourke is a fierce advocate for term limits. So much so, that he has repeatedly promised to leave office after four terms. That would put the end of his U.S. House career in 2021.

It is still an open question whether Democrats can mount a statewide campaign in Texas, where they haven’t won a statewide race since 1994. But O’Rourke is no stranger to uphill challenges: He ousted long-term U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a fellow Democrat, in 2012.

In Washington, O’Rourke is viewed as young, liberal and an independent player within his party’s caucus in the U.S. House.

The El Paso Democrat also has a knack for drawing national attention. Last summer, his Facebook page went viral as he live-streamed an impromptu U.S. House chamber “sit-in” for gun control from his iPhone. For hours, he broadcasted the events from the House floor, switching out batteries, to the point that when the protest ended, he joked about hand injuries.

The single most consequential factor in any Senate candidacy is an ability to fundraise. In his time running congressional campaigns, O’Rourke proved able but not overly dominant at the task.

Typically, he has brought in in the mid-six figures for his re-election. He topped out in his challenge to Reyes with about $700,000 raised.

I drafted this before Tuesday, so who knows if this is still operative, but let’s proceed as if it is. As we know, Rep. Joaquin Castro has also talked about running for Senate in 2018 against Cruz. I still have plenty of doubts about that given that he inhabits a safe seat and is on track for House Caucus leadership, but he continues to lay some groundwork for that. It’s nice to know people are at least thinking about it.

As for O’Rourke, I’ve had no complaints with his service in Congress. I think term limits are a crock, but if he himself wants out after a max of four terms, and if that desire has him thinking about higher office, I can’t argue with that. His fundraising in 2012 got a big boost from a group called the Campaign for Primary Accountability that took aim at several Congressional incumbents of both parties that they thought needed to be ousted; O’Rourke’s defeat of then-Rep. Silvestre Reyes was their biggest victory. I’ve not heard anything from this group since 2012, but O’Rourke (who has some family money as well) can stand on his own two feet, and would no doubt draw at least some national attention if he went after Cruz. That gun control sit-in will help him with the Democratic grassroots as well.

As for which Senate race O’Rourke should aim for if indeed he aims to move up, I can make a case for either one. Cruz has more detractors and could be vulnerable to losing some establishment Republican types for his constant grandstanding and lack of interest in any state issues, but we know off-year electorates have been rough on Dems. Of course, that may not be the case now – there’s at least a chance that 2018 could be more like 2006 than 2010 or 2014. Cornyn should have no trouble holding onto core Republican support and he hasn’t antagonized minority groups like Cruz has. At this point, who knows if 2018 or 2020 will be a better year for a Dem to run. If I were a classic back-room power broker, I’d tell Castro to run in 2018 and O’Rourke in 2020. I don’t have that kind of power, so I’ll just have to wait and see what they decide like everyone else.

(Rep. Mike McCaul, who has been busy lately buttressing his GOP primary credentials for his own possible run against Cruz in 2018. This could wind up being a very interesting race.)

Two Ike Dike updates

Ike Dike could be hidden by dunes:

The “Ike Dike” that is being proposed to protect the Galveston-Houston area from a potentially catastrophic hurricane storm surge could take the form of undulating sand dunes hiding a steel or concrete core.

The proposal to craft a storm barrier that would blend in with the environment and potentially strengthen beaches against erosion is one of three proposals for where and how to build a surge barrier, an idea that has gained considerable political momentum and is likely to be the subject of some form of action when the Legislature convenes next year.

The six-county Gulf Coast Protection and Recovery District, known as the storm surge district, has looked at placing the surge barrier landward of the highways that run along the coast on Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula. Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center (or SSPEED) has recommended raising the highways as the most economical way to build a surge barrier and still ensure an evacuation route as storm water rises. Several people died during Hurricane Ike in 2008 as rising tides isolated them on the highway.

Placing the surge barrier on the beach, as has been done successfully in the Netherlands, is a proposal being pushed by the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at Texas A&M University at Galveston. Engineering the storm barrier to be part of the natural landscape would create habitat for plants and animals and protect homes between the beach and the highway that otherwise would be left to the mercy of the storm, said Sam Brody, who teaches marine science at the center.

Brody conceded that it will be more expensive to build the barrier along the beach and will increase the estimated $5.8 billion cost. “The added cost of restoring and enhancing the environment is worth it over the long term,” Brody said.

The idea is getting no resistance from the SSPEED Center and the storm surge district. “We don’t have a strong position one way or the other,” SSPEED Center Co-director Jim Blackburn said. Chris Sallese, program manager for the storm surge district, said his agency looked at building the barrier landward of the highway because SSPEED and Texas A&M were looking at the other alternatives and the district wanted to make sure all possibilities were examined.

Coastal barrier plan ‘Ike Dike’ draws support, needs funding:

If there is a lesson from the devastation of Hurricane Ike eight years ago, it is that the Houston-Galveston region is extremely vulnerable to a catastrophic storm surge, and the next hurricane could send the regional economy into a deep tailspin.

But plans to protect the region from such a storm surge have lagged as officials and experts argued about whether to build a major coastal barrier called the “Ike Dike” or a series of smaller projects that could be completed more quickly.

Now, there is strong support for building the $11.6 billion Ike Dike plan, designed to keep a massive storm surge from rushing into developed areas. A six-county storm surge district recently recommended a plan that calls for 277 miles of coastal barriers, including raised seawalls, levees and surge gates.

[…]

Planners have completed studies showing that the Ike Dike could prevent $38 billion in losses and save 151,000 jobs over a 50-year lifespan.

Unlike earlier proposals, the plan now backed by the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District, also known as the storm surge district, recommends raising the Galveston seawall by 4 feet, building a levee on the bay side of Galveston and a gate at Clear Lake. A proposed gate at San Luis Pass on the west end of Galveston Island was eliminated.

Differences remain over how to block a storm surge inside Galveston Bay and how close to the beach to build the surge barrier. Some also worry about the environmental effect of a proposed surge gate between Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula.

Larry Dunbar, project manager for Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction Education and Evacuation from Disaster (SSPEED) Center, told legislators that it was better to move ahead with smaller projects, such as the center’s proposal for a gate inside Galveston Bay, that could be financed locally.

“Are we going to sit back and wait for the federal government to give us the $10 billion we need?” Dunbar asked. “We believe … it can be built in pieces if necessary.”

See here for previous Ike Dike blogging. I don’t have a point to make, I just wanted to note this stuff before it got completely lost in the 2016 election hole. Actually, I will say that if Sen. John Cornyn wanted to propose some kind of funding mechanism for this, I’d bet President Hillary Clinton would be amenable to working with him on it. Just a thought.

“Grab her by the p—-“

Donald Trump, ladies and gentlemen:

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

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

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

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

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

“Whoa,” another voice said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Whoa!” Trump says. “Whoa!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: What Josh Marshall says.

Abbott pushes for hate crime status for targeted killing of police officers

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Gov. Greg Abbott wants the targeted killing of a police officer to be deemed a hate crime in Texas and urged lawmakers to send him such a bill to sign during next year’s legislative session.

Abbott announced Monday his plan to lobby for adding his Police Protection Act to Texas law. Along with extending hate crime protections to law enforcement, the measure would also increase criminal penalties for any crimes in which the victim is a law enforcement officer and “create a culture of respect for law enforcement by organizing a campaign to educate young Texans on the value law enforcement officers bring to their communities,” according to a statement from Abbott’s office.

[…]

“At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the State will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities,” Abbott said Monday in a statement

Abbott’s proposal comes after U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation on Wednesday that would make killing a police officer a federal crime.

I don’t have a position on these proposals yet; I’d like to see some analysis by policy experts first. What I do know is that the mostly conservative opposition to hate crime bills in the past has been on the grounds that they are redundant and thus unnecessary. The politics in this case are a lot different than they were in the past, and I fully expect to see people espousing very different views on this than they might have 20 years ago. To the extent that Greg Abbott’s views on such legislation of yore can be ascertained, it would be useful to ask him why and how his opinion on hate crime laws have changed, if indeed they have.

UPDATE: Lisa Falkenberg and Murray Newman have some fully-developed thoughts on the subject.

Alabama-Coushatta casino opens

Get your gamble on, y’all.

Fourteen years after it was forced to close under threat of legal action by the state, the tribe’s modest casino reopened three weeks ago with little fanfare but great expectations.

Now, the vast, once empty parking lot outside the Naskila Entertainmnet Center is packed with cars by noon, as gamblers from around East Texas roll in to play electronic bingo under a vaulted ceiling of knotty pine.

The 365 blinking, beeping machines, with names like Gecko Wild, Moo La La and Double Hotness, draw players long starved for local gaming, and thus far, the reviews – even by folks losing money – are five-star.

[…]

More than 240 Indian tribes around the country offer certain types of gambling under the oversight of the National Indian Gaming Commission. In Texas, only the Kickapoo in Eagle Pass have done so without a legal challenge from the state.

The crucial breakthrough came late last year, when two federal agencies ruled that national Indian law superseded Texas’ authority to block either the Alabama-Coushatta in East Texas and the Tigua in El Paso from offering gaming.

Almost three decades earlier, the two small tribes had agreed to accept a ban on gaming as a condition of becoming federally recognized tribes. The Kickapoo received recognition without this condition and have offered gambling since 1996. They now have 3,200 machines in a large modern casino-hotel complex.

The state had sued the Tigua and the Alabama-Coushatta, forcing each to close its casino in 2002. While the Tigua have been in near constant litigation since, the Alabama-Coushatta adopted a less confrontational posture.

When both the U.S. Department of the Interior and the NIGC decided late last year that both have the right to offer Class II gaming, including bingo, electronic bingo and certain card games, the Alabama-Coushatta were quick to act.

What if anything the state now intends to do remains unclear. A spokesman for Attorney General Ken Paxton last week declined to comment on the issue.

See here and here for some background. Past statements from the AG’s office have suggested that they do intend to do something about this. It’s not like they have a great deal of respect for federal laws, after all. So if you want to sample the fare at the new Alabama-Coushatta casino, I’d advise doing it sooner rather than later.

Texas tobacco litigation, 20 years later

Interesting look at something I don’t think about very much.

Twenty years ago, then-Texas Attorney General Dan Morales filed a federal lawsuit accusing the tobacco industry of racketeering and fraud. He said the case would make Big Tobacco change how it did business, force the cigarette companies to make less dangerous products and stop the industry from marketing to teenagers.

The lawsuit, he contended, would require the tobacco companies to fork over billions and billions of dollars, which would be used to reimburse the state of Texas for smoking-related Medicaid costs and fund anti-smoking programs.

“This was the most important health-related litigation in history,” says former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore. “Cigarette smoking was the No. 1 cause of death in the entire world.” He adds, “There will never be a case this big or this important ever again.”

Two decades later, legal experts remain divided over whether to label the Texas litigation a success.

The Texas state treasury pocketed billions of dollars from the litigation, though only pennies on the dollars won in the case went to smoking-cessation efforts. Teen smoking plummeted, but cigarettes are just as addictive and dangerous. The tobacco companies are more profitable than ever. The trial lawyers representing Morales got filthy rich.

As for Morales, he married a former exotic dancer, lost his bid for governor and eventually went to federal prison following a scandal involving misused campaign funds.

“The litigation exposed the tobacco industry’s lies, dramatically reduced teen smoking and resulted in limits in cigarette advertising,” says Matt Myers, general counsel for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “But it is far short of meeting the objectives. We didn’t change the industry’s conduct at all. The product is no safer.”

[…]

In January 1998, the Texas lawsuit settled on the eve of trial for a record $15.3 billion. It’s the largest settlement of a single case in U.S. history.

“The tobacco companies were looking for peace and it was absolutely the right time for the state to push for a settlement,” says Houston trial lawyer Richard Mithoff.

Mithoff represented Harris County in demanding that the cigarette makers also make payments to counties in the state for their smoking-related health care costs.

Mithoff’s efforts, combined with a clever “most favored nation’s” clause that Potter and the state’s outside lawyers included in the Texas settlement agreement, led Big Tobacco to fork over an additional $2.3 billion in July 1998, which increased the overall Texas settlement to $17.6 billion.

The cigarette makers have paid Texas $10.2 billion so far and make annual payments of about $490 million to the state, according to court records.

To pay for the settlement and lawyers’ fees, tobacco companies increased the price of cigarettes by $1.40 per pack, which impacted cash-strapped teenagers the most. As a result, teen smoking plummeted. Surveys showed that nearly 36 percent of teens smoked in 1996, but only 12 percent of them do today.

Myers and others point out that Texas budgeted only $10.2 million, or 2 percent of the $490 million payment to be used for anti-smoking efforts in 2016. At the same time, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says that the tobacco companies will spend an estimated $630 million on marketing their products in Texas.

The public health group says the annual health care costs for treating sick smokers in Texas will be $8.8 billion this year.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. To me, the single most important thing about this is captured in that sentence about teen smoking rates dropping from 36% to 12% over the past 20 years. The overall impact on public health from that is enormous, well more than enough to outweigh any concerns about what this litigation did or didn’t do. We also now know that increasing the price of a pack of smokes is the single bets way to deter kids from buying them, which has informed our public policy since then; you may recall that a $1-a-pack increase on the cigarette tax was a part of the 2006 property tax reduction deal that resulted from the previous school finance lawsuit. Bottom line, this did a lot of good even if it never did (or, in the case of making “safer” cigarettes, never could have) done all that we were told it would do. I do wonder if we would have even attempted to do something like this if it had happened later in Texas’ political history. John Cornyn became AG in 1998, then Greg Abbott in 2002. Would either of them have pursued this litigation? Maybe Cornyn would have, at least at that time, but I can’t see Greg Abbott giving a damn about it. So count me as being glad that Texas Democrats were still able to win statewide in 1994. Who knows how many more people would be smoking today if Dan Morales hadn’t driven this litigation back then?

Cornyn files bill to speed up floodgate construction process

Credit where credit is due.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn filed legislation Wednesday that he says would expedite the long process of constructing a hurricane protection system for the Texas coast, including the particularly vulnerable Houston region.

But while local officials cheered the high-profile support, it’s unclear how much the measure would actually speed anything up.

Most agree on the need to build a project known as the “coastal spine” — a massive floodgate and barrier system — to protect the Houston region from a devastating hurricane that could kill thousands and cripple the national economy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that construction on any such system for Texas couldn’t begin until 2024 at the earliest.

Cornyn’s bill is intended to hurry things along by requiring the Corps to take local studies into account and by eliminating the need for Congress to authorize construction of whatever project the Corps recommends.

The Corps has already said it would consider locally done studies, however. And while getting rid of the need for Congressional authorization could shave off a small amount of time, the real hurdle will be getting Congress to help fund what is sure to be a multi-billion-dollar project.

“The devil’s in the details, right?” said Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership. “But I will tell you that for the senator to step up and start this process is very positive, and it can’t do anything but help … the positive is Senator Cornyn has done something, and we’ve got to build on it.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Shortly thereafter, Cornyn’s bill had a House companion.

Two days after U.S. Sen. John Cornyn filed legislation seeking to expedite a hurricane protection plan for Texas, U.S. Rep. Randy Weber said he expects to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. House in the coming weeks.

The two Republicans hope their efforts will speed up the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ long process of studying, approving and building a hurricane protection system for the Texas coast. (The Army Corps has estimated that under a normal timeline, construction on such a system could not start until 2024 at the earliest.)

“We’re heightening awareness, we’re trying to get this ratcheted up as quickly as we can, so that when appropriations do come into play, we can say, ‘OK, here’s the project we’ve been talking about, here’s why it’s important, and we’re just one step closer to getting funding for it,'” Weber said Friday in a phone interview.

As you know, I have zero faith that Congress will pay for any of this. I think Cornyn will have a hard enough time just getting his bill to a vote in the Senate, and I have less faith that Weber can do the same in the dismal catastrophe that is the Republican-controlled House. Nonetheless, someone still has to file a bill like this, so kudos to Sen. Cornyn and Rep. Weber for taking the first step. They has their work cut out for them from here, and they are both a part of the reason why it’s basically impossible to get stuff like this done nowadays, but they did file their bills, so good on them for that. The Press has more.

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

I sure don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

“I don’t know, well, maybe,” he said.

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

The forthcoming fight over the Alabama-Coushatta casino in Texas

I missed this report from November.

After more than 13 years, the feds say the Alabama-Coushatta’s casino in Livingston can finally reopen. And here’s the kicker: according to the federal government’s reasoning, the tribe’s casino should never have been forced to close in the first place.

[…]

Recently, the tribe asked the Department of Interior and National Indian Gaming Association to clarify their legal standing, gambling-wise. In October, the Interior Department and the National Indian Gaming Commission decided that the Alabama-Coushatta (along with the Tigua, a tribe located on a reservation near El Paso) do actually have the right to offer bingo and electronic bingo on the reservation, meaning the Alabama-Coushatta will soon be open for business.

The Interior Department warned both the Alabama-Coushatta and the Tigua to be careful and line everything up with the National Indian Gaming Commission, considering the state isn’t likely to be happy with this development. Bullock says they’re intent on doing everything by the book. “The state hasn’t responded to us yet. I can’t say what their position is. I can’t anticipate what they’ll do, and we’re not going to. We’re going to do what the federal government allows us to do and that’s all.”

At the end of the day, the casino re-opening will be a game-changer for the people living on the reservation. There’s no firm opening date, Bullock says. The casino has been standing empty and acting as a sort of community center for more than a decade, but the tribe has already voted unanimously to pull money out of their permanent funds to get the casino ready.

The story delves into the background of this longstanding battle, the tl;dr version of which is that the casino that was opened in 2001 was shut down in 2002 thanks to the efforts of then-AG John Cornyn, with some court skirmishes and behind-the-scenes maneuvering since then. I’ve got a couple of posts on the more recent activity here and here; if you have a long memory and a morbid curiosity, see also here for one of the side attractions of the original fight, which went beyond Texas and demonstrated was an unscrupulous dirtbag Ralph Reed is.

So does this mean there’s casino gambling coming to Texas next year? I wouldn’t count on it just yet, because the state of Texas isn’t going to just let it happen. This story from last week explains (the lawsuit in question stems from the original fight).

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone issued an order requiring the Tiguas and other parties to the lawsuit to file their briefs on what the federal agency decision means.

On December 9 Paxton filed a brief on the Tiguas case — the tribe has been in a legal fight over the right to gamble for more than 20 years now — on the issue. Predictably he came down against it, contending that “no federal agency interpretation can contradict Congressional intent.”

The 26-page brief referenced 25 court cases and dug into eight “issues” that concerned the state, with most of the issues tugging at whether or not the National Indian Gaming Commission and the Department of the Interior had the right to even issue their opinion on gaming.

Paxton was pretty clear about what he thought:

“If Congress has explicitly left a gap for an agency to fill, there is an express delegation of authority to the agency to elucidate a specific provision of the statute … Here there is no gap. The only issues presented are legal issues for this court. Congress delegated no power or authority to either federal agency to interpret laws or invalidate portions of federal law.”

Outside of the brief Paxton has officially stayed silent on the question of the Alabama-Coushatta. “At this point, we will not be providing any comment,” Spokeswoman Teresa Farfan replied via email in response to our questions.

However, the Alabama-Coushatta come up twice in Paxton’s brief. The first mention comes right at the start:

“Should Texas be required to join the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe to this litigation … without any evidence that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe is currently violating the Restoration Act?”

Then, at the end of the brief he answers his own question:

“Since this litigation was filed to enjoin and hold accountable the Pueblo defendants for their continued violation of federal law embodied in the Restoration Act, there is no need to … add third-party tribes which, unlike the Pueblo defendants here, are not currently violating federal law.”

Translation: The Alabama-Coushatta aren’t currently violating the federal law so they won’t be in trouble with the state until they actually do something to violate the federal law, like, you know, maybe reopening their casino in 2016.

So yeah. I’d continue to make plans to visit Louisiana or Vegas to get my gamble on for the near future. The Alabama-Coushatta may eventually prevail, but if so it won’t be in 2016.

Al Bennett confirmed to federal district court

Great news.

Judge Al Bennett

After months of delay, a unanimous U.S. Senate on Monday confirmed Alfred Bennett to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, cracking open slightly a national logjam of judicial nominations and a backlog of cases.

Bennett’s 95-0 vote, though welcomed by legal reformers, still leaves in limbo at least two other pending confirmation votes for Texas judges – a vestige of congressional gridlock despite assurances by Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and other GOP leaders who had vowed to push for swift confirmation.

No final votes have been scheduled for Texas judges George Hanks Jr. and Jose Olvera Jr., although Senate aides said they could be confirmed in the coming weeks. Texas’ 11 federal judicial vacancies are the most of any state.

Bennett’s is the first judicial nomination to clear the Senate since Republicans took over in January.

[…]

None of the Texas judges are considered controversial. Originally nominated in September, they represent a diverse new generation of judges: Bennett and Hanks are black; Olvera is Latino.

During confirmation hearings in February all three won praise from Cornyn and fellow Republican Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas. At the time, Cornyn said he expected the three Texas judges to be confirmed expeditiously.

But the decision by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to hold back Senate votes on Olvera and Hanks has mystified court watchers.

“Majority Leader McConnell and Senator Charles Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, need to oil the judicial confirmation machinery they’ve allowed to rust over since they’ve taken control, and get the gears of justice moving efficiently again,” said Judith Schaeffer, vice president of the Constitutional Accountability Center.

Of the Lone Star state’s 11 federal judicial vacancies, nine are in district courts and two on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviews cases from Texas.

That is one-fifth of 55 total current vacancies nationwide, according to Glenn Sugameli, who tracks judicial appointments for Judging the Environment, a Defenders of Wildlife project. Meanwhile, the nation faces a record backlog of more than 330,000 civil cases.

I know Judge Bennett – in the Small World department, one of his cousins was a coworker of mine for many years – and he will be an excellent addition to the federal bench. He was first elected in 2008, so he’d have been on the ballot next fall. Greg Abbott will get to appoint his replacement (would that be his first?), so there will be a new Civil Court bench for Democrats to aim at. I’m guessing that will be a contested primary. Indeed, as of Tuesday afternoon former District Court Judge Dion Ramos, who was elected to complete a term on the 55th Civil Court bench in 2008 but then lost in 2010, has announced his intent to run for the 61st. I expect others will follow. Anyway, congratulations to Judge Al Bennett, a swell guy who truly deserves this appointment. May judges Hanks and Olvera join him soonest.

Alameel 2018?

Sure, why not?

David Alameel

David Alameel

Even against long odds, David Alameel hasn’t thrown in the towel in his bid to unseat Sen. John Cornyn.

“I’m in it for the long run,” the Dallas investor and dentist told The Dallas Morning News editorial board on Monday.

Cornyn leads by about 20 percentage points in most polls. Alameel says it hasn’t dampened his optimism.

“My aim is not just to win. I want to change the way people think,” he said.

He also sees this year’s effort as a way to position himself to try again in 2018, when freshman Sen. Ted Cruz’s term expires.

“The next one is in four years, and you have to build a base. I’m building a base right now,” Alameel said.

I appreciate the willingness to think beyond this election. Some races need to be viewed as multi-cycle. Most candidates, for good and obvious reasons, don’t have that in them, so kudos to Alameel for taking the long view and seeing Ted Cruz’s re-election bid as an opportunity. That said, I hope Alameel has some fierce competition for the chance to take on our lunatic junior Senator. I hope this election is successful enough that several of our vaunted “rising stars” begin licking their chops and gearing up their fundraising with an eye for being first in line at filing time in December of 2017. A nice, high-profile Senate primary will be an excellent way to start the year in 2018.

By the way, the Alameel-Cornyn debate will be tonight, and it can be viewed on Univision on Saturday dubbed in Spanish. There’s a drinking game in there somewhere, I’m sure of it.

On Greg Abbott and who gets to get married

As you may have heard, Peggy Fikac got to ask Greg Abbott the obvious question about how exactly the state’s law against same-sex marriage, which Abbott is diligently defending in court, differs from the old laws that once banned interracial marriage, and would he have defended those as well since he claims he’s just doing his job as the state’s lawyer.

RedEquality

It didn’t take Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott any time at all to decide that not answering that question was the best course during a meeting with the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board.

“Right now, if there was a ban on interracial marriage, that’s already been ruled unconstitutional,” Abbott pointed out. “And all I can do is deal with the issues that are before me … The job of an attorney general is to represent and defend in court the laws of their client, which is the state Legislature, unless and until a court strikes it down.”

When I said I wasn’t clear if he was saying he would have defended a ban on interracial marriage, he said, “Actually, the reason why you’re uncertain about it is because I didn’t answer the question. And I can’t go back and answer some hypothetical question like that.”

Asked about the similarities some see between the ban on gay marriage and past prohibitions on interracial marriage, Abbott said, “Well, the Supreme Court has disagreed with that” by holding that sexual orientation isn’t due protected-class status in the way that race is.

[…]

“What kind of state would we live in if the public policies of this state were allowed to be determined by the attorney general? The attorney general would have a super veto over the elected representatives, and that would be a chaotic form of government, contrary to our fundamental constitutional principles,” he said. “It would be way beyond the separation of powers. It would be a dictatorship… by the attorney general.

“Believe me, I would love it,” he added, “The state would look a whole lot more like me right now if I did abandon my role and exercised my magic wand and decided what cases I would defend and which I didn’t, and therefore allowed me to dictate policy in this state.

“But I think that by doing what I do, I am maintaining the policy that I think is appropriate, and that is for each elected official to fulfill their constitutional obligations,” he said.

Not surprisingly, this broke the Internet as people around the globe reacted with gasps, guffaws, facepalms, and sputtering outrage. The Wendy Davis campaign was swift to jump all over this. One reason for the outpouring was the basic fact that Abbott’s answer was, in a word, a crock. The DMN points out one problem with it:

Other attorneys general, citing their oath of office to uphold the Constitution, have refused to defend certain policies, laws and judgments.

John Cornyn, now a Republican U.S. senator, as attorney general voluntarily dropped an appeal of a death penalty case and sought a new punishment hearing. He determined he could not defend the punishment meted out to a black defendant after the state presented an expert witness who had testified that blacks are more inclined to violence.

Former Attorney General Jim Mattox, a Democrat, refused to defend a state law that criminalized homosexual conduct. He dropped the appeal of that law.

In other words, previous attorneys general have felt free to follow their conscience when they thought that the situation merited it. The Observer cites an example of Abbott’s folly by sticking to his mantra.

But while the Attorney General may have to mount some kind of defense of the state, he has “a tremendous amount of discretion” over how aggressively to prosecute those cases, how “effectively” to prosecute cases, and which cases to bring to court. Abbott has been using his stint as AG to campaign for governor for years—he’s brought failed case after failed case against the federal government, costing Texas taxpayers millions. But his hands are tied when it comes to gay marriage and school finance, he insists. He has to aggressively defend bad laws to the last.

Abbott’s tenure has included a number of instances in which he pursued comically bizarre legal arguments in cases for which he could have no reasonable hope of victory—seemingly forfeiting his powers of discretion. In 2008, Abbott chose to defend the state’s ban on the sale of sex toys, a case that emerged from the fallout of Lawrence v. Texas. Over the years, Abbott has deployed novel legal arguments against gay marriage. But this wasn’t a case about gay marriage, a subject that still animates sincere moral disagreements. This was a case about every American’s god-given right to buy dildos.

At the time, anti-sex toy laws were widely understood to be unconstitutional, but Abbott suited up for battle. The state, his lieutenants argued with straight faces before the 5th Circuit, had an interest in “discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex and the pursuit of sexual gratification unrelated to procreation.” The state of Texas has a pressing interest, Abbott said, in discouraging you from masturbating or blowing your boyfriend. That was just six years ago.

By the way, the law that criminalized gay sex, which was the basis of the Lawrence v. Texas case, is still on the books in Texas, as our Republican-dominated Legislature has not seen fit to repeal it. If the Legislature instead decided to amend that law by offering reparative therapy as an alternate sentencing option for defendants – an action that would clearly be unconstitutional on its face but would nevertheless represent the will of his client – would he feel compelled to defend that?

I know, I know, that’s another hypothetical, and Greg Abbott doesn’t do hypotheticals. So let me ask this instead: Can Greg Abbott name one instance in his time as Attorney General when he had to defend a law or regulation that he didn’t support or approve of? Putting aside the obvious discretion he has used in deciding what lawsuits to file and what defendants to file them against, can he cite an example of a law he didn’t like but had to defend? I kind of suspect the answer to that is “no”. Maybe that’s not fair to him – maybe the opportunity just never arose – but regardless, it would put his “just doing my job” claim into some perspective. It’s a lot easier to just do your job when your job involves doing things you like and want to do. It’s a little different when you do something with the same vigor and diligence for a cause you wouldn’t have chosen to support but are compelled to because it’s your job. BOR and Lone Star Q have more.

Comptroller candidates will debate

It’s a trend!

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Candidates in the race for state comptroller have agreed to one televised debate, though watching the debate requires a Time Warner Cable subscription fo North Texas viewers.

Mike Collier, a Democrat from Houston, and Sen. Glenn Hegar, a Katy Republican, will face off 7 p.m., Oct. 29 in Austin. The 30-minute debate is sponsored by Time Warner Cable News. It will be broadcast to the Austin, San Antonio and Hill Country media markets.

The debate will be viewable statewide through the TWC’s On Demand service, as well as online here: http://sanantonio.twcnews.com/content/politics/.

As chief financial officer, the comptroller’s office collects all taxes owed to the state and estimates the state’s tax revenue for the biennium, among other duties. Lawmakers use the revenue estimate to set the two-year budget.

“Senator Hegar looks forward to discussing the important issues facing our state,” said David White, a spokesman for the campaign.

“Texans deserve to hear from the person who will be accountable for their tax dollars. I’m honored to receive this opportunity to show Texans how I will be their financial watchdog in the Comptroller’s office, not just another career politician,” Collier said.

If you can get past the fact that it happens with two days left in early voting and it’s easily available to only a fraction of the state, this is a good thing. The fact that there’s a debate at all, and that the Dems have a candidate that’s worth having in a debate, makes it worthwhile. Yes, it would be better to have something more widely visible, but given that the baseline for comparison is “nothing”, it’s an improvement. The Trib has more.

By the way, Collier continues to dominate the newspaper endorsements, picking up nods from the Express News and Star-Telegram this week. I thought Collier would do well in the editorial board interviews, but as a first-time candidate going against an experienced legislator who wasn’t weighed down by sixteen tons of ethical baggage, it was hardly a slam dunk that he’d get a string of endorsements. That he’s one paper away from a Sam Houston-style clean sweep says a lot about his qualities as a candidate and as a person. He’s also been sharp in how he has presented himself, as his latest campaign ad attests. I’m hard pressed to think of any way in which Collier could have run a better campaign. I hope the actual viewership of that debate far exceeds my meager expectations.

On a related note, there’s also this.

The only debate scheduled between Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his Democratic opponent, David Alameel, could end up only being broadcast in Spanish.

Cornyn and Alameel are scheduled to participate in a one-hour debate in Dallas hosted by Univision on Oct. 24. The debate will be conducted in English. Univision will broadcast the debate the next day with the candidates’ remarks dubbed in Spanish at 10 p.m. in eight markets around the state, according to Felicitas Cadena, community affairs manager for Univision Communications.

“The debate will not air in English in any market,” Cadena said in an email.

[…]

Cadena said the channel is open to talking with other media outlets about broadcasting the debate in English on television or online.

“We’re just looking at technical possibilities,” Cadena said. “We’d be more than glad to have that discussion.”

Putting the video online somewhere, pre-dubbed and post-dubbed, should not be too much to ask. I guess we’ll see.