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Konni Burton

SD10 poll: Powell 46, Burton 42

From the Trib’s email newsletter:

Beverly Powell

State Sen. Konni Burton’s Democratic challenger, Beverly Powell, has a 4-point lead over the Colleyville Republican, according to a new poll from Powell’s campaign.

The survey of 600 likely voters found Powell, a former Burleson ISD trustee, receiving 46 percent of the vote and Burton 42 percent, with 11 percent undecided. Powell expanded her lead to 9 points — 53 percent to 44 percent — after respondents were read positive descriptions of both candidates.

Burton’s District 10 is regarded as the most competitive Texas Senate district in November, and Powell’s campaign says the survey shows it’s “in a strong position to win.”

“I think the results make clear that Beverly’s commitment to education and her pro-business background resonates with voters in the district,” Powell campaign manager Garry Jones tells us. “And I think it shows Konni Burton has really ignored voters in SD-10, taking her marching orders from [Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick and Empower Texans for the past two sessions instead of listening to the business interests and constituents of Tarrant County.”

The poll also asked likely voters in the battleground district about the U.S. Senate race and found the Republican incumbent, Ted Cruz, trailing Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 4 points, 49 percent to 45 percent. Six percent were unsure.

Democratic pollster Keith Frederick conducted the survey from May 14-21 using phone interviews, 38 percent of which included cell phones. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 4 points.

The polling memo is here, though it doesn’t tell you much more. It does indicate that the sample self-identified as 40% Republican, 36% Democrat, and the rest Independent. We’ve discussed the reasons to be cautious about internal polls before, and those reasons apply here. Powell won the primary in March so it’s not unreasonable to think this is not the first poll her team has commissioned, and the “informed voter” part of it is surely aimed at potential funders. This has been a contentious race from the get-go, in part because it’s the one truly swingy Senate seat. Even in the wipeout of 2014, it wasn’t that red – Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick won it by about eight points, while downballot Republicans won it by about ten. In a context where the statewide split is something like 55-45 instead of the 60-40 it was four years ago, this district is basically 50-50. If nothing else, this result is consistent with the US Senate polls we’ve seen. Link via the Lone Star Project, which also teases an encouraging poll in SD16, which I’m trying to learn more about.

Republicans “against” Dan Patrick

RG Ratcliffe reports on a “loose coalition” of business and education interests who are seeking to clip Dan Patrick’s wings.

[FBSID Board President Kristin] Tassin is now running for a seat in the state Senate, and she is just one candidate in a growing coalition of education and business groups that want to roll back the social conservative agenda of Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott. And recognizing the ineffectiveness of the Texas Democratic Party, they are concentrating their efforts on the upcoming March Republican primaries instead of betting on candidates in the general election. “There is a perfect storm brewing, and it goes a lot deeper than just a vouchers vote,” Tassin told me. “What really led me to step into this race is I really see this past session as an indicator of failed leadership and, often, particularly in the Senate.”

This is, at best, a loose coalition. Some by law are restricted to urging people to vote based on certain issues, while others are gathering money to put behind candidates who will clip Patrick’s dominance in the Senate. If they just pick up a few seats, Patrick will no longer be able to steamroll controversial bathroom bills and school voucher bills through the Senate, because he will lack the procedural votes needed to bring the legislation to the floor for debate.

[…]

One of the main groups that fought against the bathroom bill was the Texas Association of Business, and its political committee currently is evaluating which candidates to support in the primaries. “You’re seeing more and more business leaders engaged in this election—this time in the primaries in particular—than you probably ever had,” TAB President Chris Wallace told me. He said the leaders are motivated because “we had such a divisive time” during the 2017 legislative sessions.

Most of the TAB endorsements will be made over the next several weeks, but the group already has endorsed state Representative Cindy Burkett in her Republican primary challenge to incumbent Senator Bob Hall. In the TAB scorecard for pro-business votes, Hall sat at 53 percent and Burkett was at 94 percent, even though she supported the “sanctuary cities” legislation that TAB opposed. Hall voted in favor of the bathroom bill, but it never came up for a vote in the House. Because Burkett also carried legislation adding restrictions to abortion last year, she probably would not gain much support among Democrats. But as an advocate of public education, she already is opposed by the Texas Home School Coalition.

Emotions already are running high. When Hall put out a tweet that he is one of the most consistently conservative senators, a former school principal responded: “No, @SenBobHall, the reason we’re coming after you is because you side w/ Dan Patrick over the will of your constituents time and again. That’s why we’ll vote for @CindyBurkett_TX in the Mar. Primary. We’re not liberals, just ppl who want to be heard. #txed #txlege #blockvote.”

The Tassin race may create divisions in this loose coalition. She is challenging incumbent Senator Joan Huffman of Houston in the primary. Huffman gave Patrick a procedural vote he needed to bring the voucher bill to the floor, but then voted against the legislation. Huffman also voted in favor of killing dues check-offs, which allow teacher groups to collect their membership fees directly from a member-educator’s paycheck. But Huffman’s pro-business score is almost has high as Burkett’s, even though Huffman voted for the bathroom bill. Huffman also received a Best Legislator nod from Texas Monthly for helping negotiate a solution to the city of Houston’s financial problems with its police and firefighter pensions. However, the firefighters are angry over that deal and likely will work for Tassin in the primary. Huffman, though, has received an endorsement from Governor Abbott. We can’t make a prediction in that race until the endorsements come out.

I agree with the basic tactic of targeting the most fervent Patrick acolytes in the Senate. Patrick’s ability to ram through crap like the bathroom bill and the voucher bill is dependent on their being a sufficient number of his fellow travelers present. Knocking that number down even by one or two makes it harder for him to steer the ship in his preferred direction. Neither Kristin Tassin nor Cindy Burkett are my cup of tea, but they have a very low bar to clear to represent an improvement over the status quo.

The problem with this approach is twofold. First and foremost, depending on Republican primary voters to do something sensible is not exactly a winning proposition these days. There’s a reason why the Senate has trended the way it has in recent years. To be sure, it’s been an uneven fight in that there has basically been no effort like this to rein in the crazy in favor of more traditional Republican issues. To that I’d say, were you watching the Republican Presidential primary in 2016? The traditional interests didn’t do too well then, either. The Texas Parent PAC has had a lot of success over the years supporting anti-voucher candidates, often in rural districts where that issue resonates. I have a lot of respect for them and I wish them all the best this year, along with their allies of convenience. I just don’t plan to get my hopes up too high.

That leads to point two, which is that there needs to be a part two to this strategy. The two purplest Senate districts are SDs 10 and 16, where Sens. Konni Burton (who also scored a 53 on that TAB report card, tied with Bob Hall for the lowest tally in the Senate, including Democrats) and Don Huffines (and his 60 TAB score) will face Democratic challengers but not primary opponents. It’s reasonable for TAB et al to not have any interest in those races now, as they work to knock off Hall and (maybe) Huffman. If they don’t have a plan to play there in the fall, then at the very least you’ll know how serious this “loose coalition” is. I fully expect TAB and the other business groups to roll over and show Patrick their bellies after March. But maybe I’m wrong. I’ll be more than happy to admit it if I am. I wouldn’t bet my own money on it, though.

Lots of female candidates running this year

It’s that kind of year.

Inside a classroom at a community college in downtown Dallas, a group of two dozen women took turns sharing their names, hometowns and what they hoped would be their future titles: Congresswoman. Dallas County judge. State representative.

It was part of a training held by EMILY’s List, an organization dedicated to electing women at all levels of government who support abortion rights. During the presentation, one of the PowerPoint slides flashed a mock advertisement on the projector screen: “Help Wanted: Progressive Women Candidates.”

A record number of women appear to be answering that call, fueled largely by frustration on the Democratic side over the election of President Donald Trump and energized by Democratic women winning races in Virginia in November. Experts say 2018 is on track to be a historic year, with more women saying they are running at this point than ever before.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. “Every day, dozens more women come to our website, come to our Facebook page and say, ‘I am mad as hell. I want to do something about it. What should I do now?’”

[…]

One hundred women, Democrats and Republicans, have filed to run for Texas legislative seats this year, compared with 76 women in 2016, according to Patsy Woods Martin, executive director of Annie’s List, whose mission is to recruit, train, support and elect progressive, pro-choice female candidates in Texas.

Woods Martin said that in 2017, 800 women participated in the organization’s candidate training programs, up from 550 in 2013.

As of now, Annie’s List has endorsed two candidates — Beverly Powell and Julie Johnson. Powell is seeking to beat state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, in Senate District 10, for the North Texas seat formerly held by Wendy Davis, who surrendered it in 2014 to run for governor. Johnson is looking to oust state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, one of the most conservative members of the House, in House District 115.

While the statewide slates of both parties will be dominated by men, Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, with a ranch in Mineral Wells, is the lone Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner, and Republican Christi Craddick is seeking to keep her spot on the Railroad Commission.

There are also quite a few Texas women running for seats in Congress, including Mary Jennings Hegar and Christine Eady Mann, two of the four candidates seeking to win the Democratic nomination to take on Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in U.S. House District 31.

Because I’m a numbers kind of guy, I went back through the SOS candidate filings page and did a little count. Here’s what I came up with, including incumbents who are running for re-election:

For Democrats, there are 37 female candidates for Senate and Congress, in a total of 23 districts. There are 7 female candidates for State Senate, and 78 for State House. On the Republican side, there are 12 female candidates for Senate and Congress, with 7 for State Senate and 24 for State House. That adds up to 116 for state legislative office, with the proviso that I may have missed a name or two here and there.

For comparison purposes, there are currently three Texas women in Congress (Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Kay Granger), eight female State Senators (only half the Senate is up for election this cycle), and 29 female State Reps. Bearing in mind that some of these candidates are competing for the same office, and some of them are running against female incumbents, it seems likely that there will be more women in these offices overall next year. Gotta run to win, and this year that’s less of an issue than in other years.

Filing roundup: State Senate

In 2014, Democrats contested five of the eleven Republican-held State Senate seats on the ballot, plus the seat that was vacated by Wendy Davis, which was won by Republican Konni Burton. This year, Democrats have candidates in eleven of these twelve districts. I wanted to take a closer look at some of these folks. For convenience, I collected the filing info for Senate and House candidates from the SOS page and put it all in this spreadsheet.

Kendall Scudder

SD02Kendall Scudder (Facebook)

SD03 – Shirley Layton

SD05Brian Cronin (Facebook)
SD05Glenn “Grumpy” Williams
SD05Meg Walsh

SD07David Romero

SD08Brian Chaput
SD08 – Mark Phariss

SD09Gwenn Burud

SD10Allison Campolo (Facebook)
SD10Beverly Powell (Facebook)

SD16Joe Bogen (Facebook)
SD16Nathan Johnson (Facebook)

SD17Fran Watson (Facebook)
SD17Rita Lucido (Facebook)
SD17 – Ahmad Hassan

SD25Jack Guerra (Facebook)
SD25Steven Kling (Facebook)

SD30Kevin Lopez

I skipped SDs 14, 15, and 23, which are held by Democrats Kirk Watson, John Whitmire, and Royce West. Whitmire has two primary opponents, the others are unopposed. Let’s look at who we have here.

Kendall Scudder is a promising young candidate running in a tough district against a truly awful incumbent. First-term Sen. Bob Hall is basically Abe Simpson after a couple years of listening to Alex Jones. If he runs a good race, regardless of outcome, Scudder’s got a future in politics if he wants it.

Shirley Layton is the Chair of the Angelina County Democratic Party, which includes Lufkin. Robert Nichols is the incumbent.

All of the contested primaries look like they will present some good choices for the voters. In SD05, Brian Cronin, who has extensive experience in state government, looks like the most polished candidate to take on Charles Schwertner. Grumpy Williams is easily the most colorful candidate in any of these races. There wasn’t enough information about Meg Walsh for me to make a judgment about her.

I’ve previously mentioned Mark Phariss’ entry into the SD08 race at the filing deadline. He doesn’t have a website or Facebook page up yet, but you could read this Texas Monthly story about him and his husband for a reminder of who Phariss is and why he matters. This seat is being vacated by Van Taylor, and the demonic duo of Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines are running for it on the GOP side.

I couldn’t find much about either David Romero or Gwenn Burud, but in searching for the latter I did find this Star-Telegram story, which tells me that the Tarrant County Democratic Party did a great job filling out their slate. The incumbent here is Kelly Hancock.

Elsewhere in Tarrant County, the primary for SD10, which is overall the most closely divided district, ought to be salty. Powell is clearly the establishment candidate, having been endorsed by folks like Wendy Davis and Congressman Mark Veasey. Campolo identifies herself as a Bernie Sanders supporter. I expect there will be some elbows thrown. The winner gets to try to knock out Konni Burton.

Joe Bogen and Nathan Johnson seem pretty evenly matched to me. They’re battling for the right to take on the awful Don Huffines, whose SD16 is probably the second most vulnerable to takeover.

In SD17, Fran Watson, who is a former President of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, has been in the race for a few months. Rita Lucido, who was the candidate against Joan Huffman in 2014, filed on deadline day. The presence of perennial candidate Ahmad Hassan means this one could go to a runoff.

Both Jack Guerra and Steven Kling look like good guys in SD25. No doubt, both would be a big improvement over the zealot incumbent Donna Campbell.

Last but not least, Kevin Lopez is a City Council member in the town of Bridgeport. He joins Beverly Powell, who serves on the Burleson ISD Board of Trustees, as the only current elected officials running for one of these offices. The incumbent in SD30 is Craig Estes, and he is being challenged in the Republican primary.

Winning even one of these seats would be great. Winning two would bring the ratio to 18-13 R/D, which would be a big deal because the old two thirds rule is now a “sixty percent” rule, meaning that 19 Senators are enough to bring a bill to the floor, where 21 had been needed before. Needless to say, getting the Republicans under that would be a big deal, though of course they could throw that rule out all together if they want to. Be that as it may, more Dems would mean less power for Dan Patrick. I think we can all agree that would be a good thing. None of this will be easy – Dems are underdogs in each district, with more than half of them being very unfavorable – but at least we’re competing. National conditions, and individual candidates, will determine how we do.

TAB wants the Lege to quit it with bathroom bills

The talk is good. We’ll see about the action.

Texas lawmakers spent too much time this year debating bathrooms and immigration, and took their eyes off some matters vital to economic growth, such as phasing out the business-franchise tax and easing road congestion, the head of the state’s top business lobbying group said Tuesday.

Texas Association of Business chief executive Jeff Moseley, releasing a scorecard that rates each lawmaker based on selected votes, said his group was pleased to help block a bill that would require transgender Texans to use restrooms that match their gender at birth. It was sorry lawmakers went too far in adding a “show me your papers” provision to a new law banning sanctuary city policies that prohibit police and sheriff’s deputies from asking people about their immigration status.

But Moseley said the business group would have preferred lawmakers pay more attention to things that could spur the Texas economy, such as repealing the franchise or “margins tax” and continuing the use of agreements under which private firms build toll roads. “We were very successful in making sure that a lot of bad ideas didn’t make it to the House floor,” he said. “A lot of those issues that we thought were unnecessary, that were a distraction, those didn’t make it forward to the floor.”

[…]

To prevent future legislation it views as discriminatory and bad for business, the association is upping its game, Moseley said. The group has state and federal political action committees, but they’ve been largely symbolic, handing out endorsements and sometimes $1,000 checks.

In September, the organization started actively fundraising to support business-minded candidates in the March primaries. In a matter of weeks, it raised $200,000, he said.

“The board feels like there’s more opportunity to be a voice for our members and to speak out on business issues in the primary election,” Moseley said.

The TAB scorecard for the 2017 sessions is here. Note that only the Senate was graded on the bathroom bill, because that bill never came to the floor in the House. One has to approach this sort of thing with a good deal of caution, as beyond the broad strokes like opposition to bathroom bills and “show me your papers” laws there are plenty of things that progressives will not care for in TAB’s priorities, and the devil is in the details of others. I could see fit to eliminating the margins tax, for example, as it is an ungodly and underperforming mess, but only if it is replaced by something worthwhile. In the meantime, I’m willing to join hands with them if they put some resources into defeating the likes of Konni Burton and Jonathan Stickland, both of whom scored poorly on their card. You gonna walk the walk, TAB? For related testifying-before-House-committee action, see the Chron and the Trib.

July 2017 campaign finance reports: State Senate targets

The Trib highlights a couple of races of interest.

Senate District 8

State Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has not yet announced he’s running for Congress — he is expected to after the special session — but the race to replace him is already underway. Phillip Huffines, the chairman of the Dallas County GOP who has been campaigning for the Senate seat since March, put $2 million of his own money into his campaign and raised another $547,000, leaving him with $2.4 million in the bank. State Rep. Matt Shaheen, the Plano Republican who is likely to run for the Senate seat but has not yet made it official, had $495,000 cash on hand after raising $62,000 at the end of June and loaning himself $187,000 in June.

Senate District 10

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, already has two Democratic challengers in her battleground district, where she has a $352,000 war chest after raking in $196,000 at June’s end. One of her Democratic foes, Beverly Powell, raised $50,000 in just under a month and has $32,000 in the bank. Powell’s cash-on-hand figure is closer to $46,000 when factoring in online donations she received at the end of June, according to her campaign. Another Democratic candidate, Alison Campolo, posted smaller numbers.

Senate District 16

State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, is also on Democrats’ target list for 2018. He reported raising $222,000 at the end of June and having $930,000 in cash on hand. One of his Democratic rivals, Nathan Johnson, began his campaign in early April and has since raised $80,000, giving him a $65,000 cash-on-hand tally. Another Democratic candidate, Joseph Bogen, kicked off his bid in May and had raised $32,000 by the end of June. He has $21,000 in cash on hand.

Do I have finance reports for Senate districts and candidates of interest? Of course I do.

Van Taylor
Matt Shaheen
Phillip Huffines
Texans for Kelly Hancock
Konni Burton
Beverly Powell
Alison Campolo
Don Huffines
Nathan Johnson
Joe Bogen
Texans for Joan Huffman


Dist   Name         Raised     Spent      Loans     On Hand
===========================================================
SD08   Taylor        1,000   191,355    850,000     370,852
SD08   Shaheen      61,835     7,633    466,844     495,310
SD08   P Huffines  546,656   202,474  2,000,000   2,356,109
SD09   Hancock      87,655    86,634          0   1,205,070
SD10   Burton      196,058    49,152    240,000     351,787
SD10   Powell       51,200     1,265          0      31,704
SD10   Campolo       8,004     5,163          0       3,604
SD16   D Huffines  222,297   151,336  1,680,000     929,698
SD16   Johnson      80,260    14,851      5,286      64,728
SD16   Bogen        31,988     4,010          0      21,118
SD17   Huffman      10,025    54,606          0     410,465

Here’s my look at State Senate precinct data, with an eye towards evaluating potential electoral targets for 2018. The three of greatest interest are SDs 10, 16, and 17, more or less in that order. We’ve met the SD10 hopefuls, but this is the first I’ve heard of challengers in SD16. Here’s Nathan Johnson‘s webpage, and here’s Joe Bogen‘s. I don’t know anything more about either of them than that, so if you do please feel free to speak up. As for SD17, I sure hope Fran Watson or someone like her makes her entry soon, because right now the only opponent for Joan Huffman is Ahmad Hassan.

Pushing the NFL Draft angle

Every angle is going to be needed, and this is one that ought to speak to some folks.

The Cowboys’ efforts to land the NFL draft and how it could be derailed by the legislative push for a bathroom bill is part of a $1 million ad buy that will begin to play on radio stations Tuesday.

The Texas Association of Business is behind the ads. The Cowboys aren’t associated with the campaign, but they are featured.

A woman describes herself as a lifelong Cowboys fan and talks about how she’s thrilled that the 2018 draft could be in North Texas. She then says the NFL could reject the club’s bid to host the festivities, costing Texas “millions of dollars in lost revenue and leaving a lot of Cowboys fans angry” if the bathroom bill passes in Texas.

The one-minute ad ends by asking fans to contact their legislators to tell them to reject the bill and bring the NFL draft to Texas. The spot, which will run on 26 stations in the Dallas area, is designed to expand the debate and spotlight potential consequences.

“The bathroom bill distracts from the real challenges we face and would result in terrible economic consequences–on sporting events, talent, on tourism, on investment, on growth, and on small businesses,” said Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business. “That’s why TAB and the Keep Texas Open for Business coalition are investing heavily in radio ads in DFW and focusing on potentially losing the NFL Draft and remain steadfastly opposed to this unnecessary legislation.”

[…]

Behind the scenes, multiple sources say the Cowboys are letting lawmakers know how passage of this bill could negatively impact the franchise’s ability to book sporting and entertainment events at AT&T Stadium and The Star in Frisco. One source described the club’s lobbying efforts against the bill’s passage as “quiet and aggressive.”

The club, like so many other businesses, finds itself in a delicate position. It doesn’t want to antagonize Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the bill’s primary proponent, since there will be a variety of bills down the road that can aid the Cowboys and officials will seek support from the two. But the Cowboys want to get across how they believe altering existing law will impact their bottom line.

Corporations outside the state can threaten not to build or move existing projects and operations out of Texas if the bill passes. The Cowboys don’t have that sort of leverage.

What will Jones do if the bill passes? Move the franchise to Little Rock?

No. But club officials can discreetly point out that the U2 concert that recently took place at AT&T Stadium would not have found its way to Texas if this bill had been law. It can question whether the Big 12 Championship Game and other marquee college matchups and events will be staged in Arlington going forward.

There’s embedded audio of the ad in the piece linked above if you want to hear it. The NFL Draft and the Cowboys’ efforts to bring it to Dallas next year has come up before; this is just a way to bring more attention to that. Whether this campaign will affect how any member of the House votes on bathroom bills I can’t say, but I can say this: AT&T Stadium is located in Arlington, and it is represented in Austin by a total of six people: Sens. Kelly Hancock and Konni Burton, and Reps. Jonathan Stickland, Matt Krause, Tony Tinderholt, and Chris Turner. All but Turner are Republicans, and all but Turner are Yes votes on potty-related legislation. In fact, Stickland and Krause and Tinderholt are all members of the lunatic House Freedom Caucus, whose bill-killing maneuvers at the end of the regular session allowed Dan Patrick to take the sunset bills hostage and force the special session we are now enduring. So, while I greatly appreciate the Cowboys’ lobbying efforts, which no doubt carry far more weight than most, there very much is something they can do afterwards, whether one of these bills passes or not: They can put some of that weight behind an effort to get themselves better representation in the Legislature. It’s not a high bar to clear in this case. Just a reminder that the fight doesn’t end at sine die. The Chron has more.

Two (so far) for SD10

Here’s what we learn in this Star-Telegram story about incumbent Sen. Konni Burton’s intent to run for re-election.

Sen. Konni Burton

At least two Democrats already have announced their intention to seek Burton’s seat.

Allison Campolo, a research scientist and teaching assistant at Oklahoma State University who lives in Euless, announced her campaign on Facebook, saying “this is going to be a long and hard and expensive fight but every sacrifice will be worth it if we can put another progressive in the State Legislature to fight for Texans.”

Beverly Powell, a Fort Worth woman who serves on the Burleson school board and is Burleson Mayor Ken Shetter’s mother, also intends to run. Powell criticized Burton’s ardent partisanship that she said sometimes runs counter to the needs of her district.

“It’s time for new leadership that cares more about families here in Tarrant County than about narrow ideology or endless division and I will work to provide it.”

Fort Worth attorney Jeff Whitfield is considering a bid for the office as well.

Here’s Allison Campolo’s webpage and campaign Facebook page. She has a campaign kickoff event coming up on July 1. Google didn’t have any other useful information for me about her, but I see that she and several other Democratic female candidates in the D/FW area joined together for a campaign event, which seems like a great idea.

Beverly Powell’s candidacy also drew a local newspaper mention. Her website is here and her Facebook page is here. You can also see her official bio on the Burleson ISD School Board page.

This ought to be an interesting primary, between two candidates that at least on the surface offer a bit of contrast, as Campolo is a newcomer with a science background, and Powell is more of an establishment figure as well as a current officeholder. I wonder if Annie’s List will have a favorite or if they’ll wait till after the primary to publicly back the nominee. Hillary Clinton didn’t quite carry SD10, but overall it is the most competitive Senate district on the ballot next year. Even in the disaster of 2014, Burton only beat Libby Willis by 52.8% to 44.7%, with Greg Abbott beating Wendy Davis in her former district 52.9% to 45.6% and Dan Patrick topping Leticia Van de Putte 52.7% to 44.2%. It wouldn’t take much of a shift in turnout for SD10 to be at best a tossup. I look forward to seeing who emerges in this district.

Greg Abbott’s war on trees

This is just bizarre.

One of the 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott has asked lawmakers to consider during the upcoming special session, which will begin July 18, is outlawing local tree regulations. More than 50 cities and towns in Texas have ordinances aimed at protecting trees; many of the local rules require property owners to either pay a fee for removing trees or replant trees after they cut some down. Municipalities often design them to prevent the type of branch slashing Beatty said occurred on the property near her Dallas home.

But Abbott — joined by a number of Republican lawmakers and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank — are calling for the end of those local protections. They argue that the tree ordinances are an unconstitutional violation of private property rights, and Abbott, who grappled with Austin tree regulations as a homeowner, calls the rules a “socialistic” infringement on a landowner’s freedom.

“I feel like those who own their trees have the right to do with their trees what they want,” said state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.

[…]

Keith Mars, who enforces Austin’s tree regulations as the city arborist, said trees are an important reason why Austin is a growing destination known for its quality of life. He points to the environmental and economic benefits of trees.

“We know about the quality that this urban canopy provides for our citizens and why so many people are moving here from all over the country,” he said. “There will be a real economic impact to the vitality of Austin and other cities.”

To Robert Henneke, the general counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, though, the tree regulations hamper economic growth in Texas cities.

“The compliance cost of these tree regulation ordinances is harmful because it drives up the cost of housing,” Henneke said. Henneke said the foundation worked with lawmakers who filed bills on the topic during the regular session.

Those efforts will run up against the Texas Municipal League, an organization that advocates for Texas cities and towns in the Legislature. Bennett Sandlin, the group’s executive director, said the organization plans to resist bills that nullify local tree regulations. He says municipalities have the constitutional power to protect trees.

“If you take that argument to the extreme — that you can do anything you want on your property in an urban area —then you wouldn’t have zoning,” Sandlin said. “You could have a strip club next to a home or you could have a liquor store next to a school.”

See here for the roots (sorry not sorry) of Abbott’s tree tirade. I find this just so petty and vindictive. I mean, maybe Austin’s tree removal ordinances and processes are byzantine and life-sucking – it happens, I have no idea. A normal person might view that as a city problem, since it was the city that put in these requirements, presumably for some justifiable reasons. One could complain to one’s Council member or the Mayor, one could form an organization devoted to reforming or repealing these rules, one could run for city office on a tree-regulation-reform platform – there are many options. To decide that all tree-related regulations in all cities are uniformly terrible and must be destroyed is some kind of special snowflaking right there. Also, some people refer to “driving up the cost of housing” as “enhancing property values”. Maybe talk to a realtor? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how Texas ever got to be such a wonderful place when so much of it is clearly a dystopian hellhole. Thank God we have Greg Abbott and his million-dollar donors to set us straight.

Our first look at Senate district data

The Trib looks at the data we now have.

Sen. Don Huffines

In the state Senate, one Republican — Don Huffines of Dallas — is now representing a district that Clinton easily won, while two more — Konni Burton of Colleyville and Joan Huffman of Houston — are now sitting in areas that Clinton almost carried. In the House, 10 Republicans are now representing districts that Clinton won, while several more are now sitting in areas she came close to winning.

The question in those districts, like so many surrounding Trump’s election across the country, is whether the dramatic swings in 2016 were meaningful shifts that could have implications in future elections. That question is particularly pressing for the 11 Texas Republicans now representing districts that voted for Clinton, all of whom are up for re-election in 2018.

[…]

In addition to [Rep. Pete] Sessions’ [Congressional] district, [Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol] Donovan said the party is already zeroing in on Huffines’ district, which Clinton won by 5 points after Romney carried it by 15 points four years prior. Aware of the swing, Huffines’ team does not blame Democrats for prioritizing the district — but also is not sweating 2018 quite yet.

“We take it seriously, but it’s not a hair-on-fire moment,” said Matt Langston, a Republican consultant who works for Huffines.

While Huffines’ district was the only GOP-held state Senate district that Clinton won, she almost carried two others. She came within a point of winning Burton’s and Huffman’s districts, which in 2012 went for Romney by 8 points and 20 points, respectively.

I should note that the comprehensive data for the 2016 elections are not yet available at the Texas Legislative Council’s FTP site, but as of two weeks ago the data for each individual district can be found via the following formulation:

http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/fyiwebdocs/PDF/senate/dist16/r8.pdf
http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/fyiwebdocs/PDF/house/dist66/r8.pdf

Just substitute the appropriate district number as needed and you’re good. Eventually, that data will be linked on each Member’s bio page on the official House and Senate sites, but for now this will do.

I’ve been talking about Huffines and the need to make him a top electoral target next year, and so I am delighted to see these numbers. As always, though, some context and perspective is needed, so with that in mind, here’s a larger view of the field of play.


Dist     Incumbent  Clinton%  Trump%    Obama%   Romney%
========================================================
SD08      V Taylor     42.6%   51.2%     36.6%     61.7%
SD09       Hancock     41.8%   53.1%     39.2%     59.3%
SD10        Burton     47.3%   47.9%     45.4%     53.3%
SD16      Huffines     49.9%   45.3%     41.6%     57.0%
SD17       Huffman     47.2%   48.1%     39.2%     59.4%

Dist     Incumbent   CCA16D% CCA16R%   CCA12D%   CCA12R%
========================================================
SD08      V Taylor     37.8%   57.9%     35.3%     61.1%
SD09       Hancock     39.2%   56.3%     37.9%     58.4%
SD10        Burton     44.5%   51.6%     44.4%     52.7%
SD16      Huffines     42.7%   52.9%     40.6%     56.0%
SD17       Huffman     42.2%   54.3%     39.1%     58.2%

All five of these Senators are on the ballot next year. “CCA16” refers to the Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 6, while “CCA12” is the Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race. The latter was the only R-versus-D race for the CCA in 2012, and like the Keasler/Burns race this year it featured a Libertarian but not a Green candidate, so the comparison is as apt as I can make it. For these purposes, the CCA races will suffice as a proxy for the “true” partisan split in these districts.

And not too surprisingly, things look distinctly less rosy when you pull back to that level. While Huffines’ district is a couple points bluer than it was in 2012 by the CCA metric, it’s still a ten-point district in the GOP’s favor. A big part of that is due to the fact that SD16 encompasses nearly all of HDs 108, 112, and 114, which as we’ve discussed before are the three most Republican State House districts in Dallas County. The good news is that there are clearly a sizable number of people in SD16 who are willing to vote Democratic against a sufficiently bad Republican. The bad news is that so far the only example of a race where that has happened is Clinton versus Trump. The challenge for Dallas Democrats will be threefold: Find a strong candidate to challenge Huffines, work to ensure the Dem base turns out in the off year (a task for which the track record is not great), and try to tie Huffines to Trump as closely as possible in order to entice the Hillary-voting Republicans in SD16 to cross over again.

As for the others, Konni Burton’s SD10 remains the closest thing to a swing district the Senate has, though it didn’t change much since 2012. It does have the distinction of electing a Democrat in part on the strength of Republican crossover votes as recently as 2012, though, and it probably wouldn’t take much of an erosion in Republican turnout to put her in peril, if 2018 is a year where Republicans don’t get fired up to vote. SD17 covers parts of Fort Bend and Brazoria in addition to Harris County. It will take coordination across the three counties as well as a commitment to turn out Dems in Fort Bend and Brazoria to be on the radar in 2018. SD08, which includes most of Collin County plus a small piece of Dallas, and SD09, which includes Dallas and Tarrant, aren’t really competitive in any sense, but they did move a bit in a Dem direction and included a fair number of crossovers as well. If we ever want to get closer to parity in the Senate, Dems are going to have to make serious gains in these suburban counties.

As goes Tarrant

The Trib ponders the one big urban county that is not like the others.

Among the state’s five biggest counties, Tarrant is the only one that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. The 2016 presidential election heightened Tarrant’s status as an outlier. Even as the rest of the state’s big-city territories moved deeper into the Democratic column, Tarrant steadfastly emerged as America’s most conservative large urban county.

President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office this week, won the county by an 8.6-point margin. It was the narrowest win for a GOP presidential nominee in decades in Tarrant. But among the country’s 20 largest counties, Tarrant was only one of two that swung Trump’s way in November — and it had the wider margin.

Across Tarrant County, Democratic pockets are fewer and less powerful than their Republican counterparts. All four of the state senate districts that fall in Tarrant County are represented by Republicans. The GOP also holds eight of the county’s 11 state House seats. Four of the five county commissioner court seats are held by Republicans.

Residents, elected officials and experts here point to a nuanced union of demographic, cultural and political forces to explain why.

“There’s just all kinds of interesting numbers out there that make Tarrant County a lot different,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the only Democrat holding one of the county’s five congressional seats.

Tarrant’s minority population, which tends to lean Democratic, hasn’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties. At the same time, many Tarrant voters have a storied history of preferring practical governance to partisanship, according to officials and political observers. They say that helps support the moderate faction of the GOP, especially in Fort Worth, the nation’s 16th-largest city.

Then there’s the county’s development pattern. A lot of Tarrant remains rural. And, unlike Harris, Dallas and Travis counties, many of Tarrant’s affluent suburbs and conservative bedroom communities lie within its borders, not outside them. That’s helped give rise to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, a passionate and organized group that simultaneously supports far-right local candidates and serves as a powerful base for statewide Republicans.

[…]

Part of what has helped Tarrant become the state’s lone Republican urban county is that its minority populations, which largely and traditionally tend to lean Democratic, haven’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties.

White residents’ share of the Tarrant population is falling, but it hasn’t declined as quickly as it has in Harris, Dallas, Travis and Bexar, said state demographer Lloyd Potter. The county’s Hispanic population is growing quickly, but it still lags behind the other big counties in terms of raw numbers, Potter added.

But that’s likely to change.

While Tarrant remains more white than Texas as a whole, it’s experienced a more significant drop in its share of white residents in the past 10 years compared to the state. In 2015, the county’s white population dropped to 48.5 percent — down from 56.4 percent in 2005.

Whites’ falling numbers in the county aren’t limited to its urban core in Fort Worth. In fact, the white population experienced a bigger drop in its share of the population in the suburbs from 2005 to 2015.

Here’s a fun fact, which I believe I have mentioned before: Tarrant County is a really good predictor of the overall Presidential race result in Texas. Witness the past four elections:

2004

Statewide – Bush 61.09%, Kerry 38.22%
Tarrant – Bush 62.39%, Kerry 37.01%

2008

Statewide – McCain 55.45%, Obama 43.68%
Tarrant – McCain 55.43%, Obama 43.43%

2012

Statewide – Romney 57.17%, Obama 41.38%
Tarrant – Romney 57.12%, Obama 41.43%

2016

Statewide – Trump 52.23%, Clinton 43.24%
Tarrant – Trump 51.74%, Clinton 43.14%

Almost spooky, isn’t it? One perfectly rational answer to the question “when will Texas turn blue?” is “when Tarrant County also turns blue”.

Anyway. The article is correct that Tarrant differs from the other big urban counties in that it’s actually a lot less urban than they are. Much of Tarrant is suburban, even rural, and that’s just not the case in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis. Tarrant’s demographics are changing, as the story notes, but I have no idea if there’s anything to suggest its demographics are changing any faster than the state’s are. The statewide judicial races and the one contested district court race were all in the 13-16 point range, which is consistent with the statewide results. I wish I could say I saw something to suggest change was coming faster, but at least in the numbers, I can’t. Maybe someone who is more familiar with the county can chime in.

Having said all this, one big opportunity in 2018 is in Tarrant, and that’s SD10, the Senate seat formerly held by Wendy Davis. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, freshman Sen. Konni Burton only won by nine points, with 52.83% of the vote. If 2018 is a less hostile year, this is a winnable race, and as I’ve said before, any competitive Senate race is a big deal. Whatever we can do to hasten change in Tarrant County, 2018 would be a good time to do it.

Counting to 19 on SB6

That’s the number of votes needed to move the Patrick potty bill to the floor of the Senate for a full vote.

At times, it seemed like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was a bit like a man on an island when it came to one of his signature priorities this legislative session: the Texas Privacy Act, otherwise referred to as ‘the bathroom bill.’

He has worked for the weeks to rally support for the measure, facing stiff opposition from the traditionally GOP-friendly Texas business community. House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, has thrown cold water on the proposal at various private and public events. Not only did Gov. Greg Abbott not list it as an emergency item in last week’s State of the State address, he didn’t mention it at all.

Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, would prohibit city or county officials from adopting an ordinance that prevents a business from making policies for their bathrooms and dressing rooms. It also would bar local officials from considering these measures when awarding government contracts.

[…]

Getting the state’s largest business lobby on board is one challenge for Patrick, and using the PolitiFact article to weaken opposition is a start on that journey. However, he and Kolkhorst still are working on their Republican Senate caucus, too.

On Monday, Kolkhorst said she has 14 co-sponsors, 15 including her vote. No Democrat has signed onto the bill, and Patrick needs at least 19 senators to move the measure to the floor for a full chamber debate and eventual vote.

She said she respected her colleagues for letting her explain the bill to them, adding that she has verbal support from some senators who are not listed publicly as co-sponsors on SB 6.

The five Senators who are not coauthors (*) of SB6 are Schwertner, Burton, Nelson, Huffman, and Seliger. Doesn’t mean they don’t support it and wouldn’t vote for it, just means they’re not listed as coauthors. I have a hard time believing that at least four of them won’t vote to bring it to the floor once it has passed out of committee, but I suppose anything can happen.

Possibly of interest: The two Republican Senators in the most competitive districts are Konni Burton and Don Huffines, while the two in the next-most competitive districts are Joan Huffman and Kelly Hancock. Huffines and Hancock are coauthors, Burton and Huffman are not. I don’t know that that means anything, I was just curious if competitiveness of a district had any effect on support for SB6. I’ll say again, the single best thing Democrats and progressives can do to make the Senate a better place in 2018 is to take out Huffines, who is a total buffoon as well as being far more extreme than a district like his should allow. The other three need to be targeted as well – Burton’s district is the least red of the four – but Huffines, whose district is entirely within Dallas County, offers a lot of bang for the buck, especially given that a significant portion of his district overlaps with CD32, where the DCCC will be going after Pete Sessions. You don’t have many new worlds left to conquer, Dallas Democrats. Please make this one a priority.

(*) If you visit the link for SB6, you will see that Kolkhorst’s colleagues are listed as coauthors, not co-sponsors. I’m not quite enough of a legislative geek to be able to explain the difference, but I’m sure someone will enlighten us in the comments.

Whose career would you like him to destroy?

Because that’s the kind of casual offer Dear Leader makes.

Sen. Konni Burton

President Donald Trump invited a wave of speculation Tuesday when he volunteered to “destroy” the career of a unnamed Texas state senator in response to a state sheriff’s complaint about the lawmaker.

Trump’s remark came during a meeting with sheriffs at the White House that included Rockwall County’s Harold Eavenson. When Trump asked the group for input on how to improve law enforcement, Eavenson spoke up.

“Asset forfeiture,” Eavenson replied. “We’ve got a state senator in Texas that’s talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive that forfeiture money and I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed.”

“Who’s the state senator?” Trump asked, getting no answer from a demurring Eavenson. “Want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career.”

Hours after the exchange, it was still unclear to whom Eavenson, a Republican, was referring. He was not immediately available for comment.

The story notes that Sens. Konni Burton and Juan Hinojosa have both filed bills to do what Sheriff Eavenson is complaining about. It makes more sense for a Republican like Eavenson to whine about a Democratic Senator, but 1) I seriously doubt Chuy Hinojosa is the least bit intimidated, and 2) he’s in a safe-D district, and there’s not enough frothing Trumpies there to give him a primary challenge. That leaves fellow Republican Konni Burton, who’s in the Ted Cruz wing of the party and is generally an ally of Trump buddy Dan Patrick, not that any of that would help her. I have no idea to what extent Burton did or didn’t support Trump in the election, but she does disagree with him on trade, so if the seething hordes want to go after her, they’ve got an angle for it. Two angles now, I suppose.

One more thing, from Kevin Drum, who figures Burton is the target here:

My guess is that he has no idea what civil asset forfeiture is and has no real opinion about it. If, say, Trump had been in a meeting with a few senators, and Bob Goodlatte had remarked that “police can seize your money even if you weren’t convicted of a crime,” Trump probably would have reflexively answered, “Can you believe that?” Instead, a sheriff said it was a bad thing related to Mexicans, so Trump automatically agreed with him. That means it’s now official Trump administration policy.

Sad. But then again, Jeff Sessions is a huge fan of civil asset forfeiture and all the corrupt incentives it creates, so he probably would have gotten Trump on board one way or another. It’s yet another big win for the working class.

Indeed. Others who also landed on Burton and Hinojosa as the likely targets include Think Progress, Grits for Breakfast (who is a big supporter of the Burton bill), and Juanita. The Chron, Politico, Wonkblog, and The Hill have more.

It’s all bathrooms, all the time

People are paying attention to Dan Patrick’s anti-LGBT bathroom bill, and for the most part they do not like it.

In early February, the Super Bowl will be in Houston and in late March, the women’s Final Four will be in Dallas. If Patrick pushes the bathroom bill through the Senate by then, as expected, there will be a lot of unflattering stories.

For a taste of things to come, consider Monday’s subhead in The Economist: “In the toilet.”

How about this comment from a writer at The New York Daily News: “We probably should have stopped playing big-time sports in Texas a long time ago because gay rights have been under siege in Texas for decades.”

Then there’s Rick Riordan, the Texan who wrote the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series. After the bathroom bill was filed last week, he turned down an offer to attend a celebration of authors by the Texas Legislature.

“If they want to honor me, they could stop this nonsense,” Riordan wrote on Twitter.

[…]

There’s already been a backlash. Over a dozen large events, slated to bring in roughly 180,000 visitors, have contacted Dallas officials and said they would cancel, said Phillip Jones, CEO of Visit Dallas, the organization that promotes conventions and other tourism business here.

“That’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

An education group with about 20,000 members had penciled in Dallas for 2020, he said. Because of the bathroom bill, the group is considering a Midwest city instead.

Jones cited a survey that showed 53 percent of meeting planners are avoiding cities that don’t have universal bathroom use. Many planners are putting off decisions on Dallas until they see what happens with the Lege.

“We’re already suffering because of this negative perception,” Jones said.

Perception is the right word. Patrick pledged to make transgender bathrooms a top priority for the Legislature. He said it’s about safety and privacy, and not giving in to political correctness. But that’s not how others see it.

“The message to transgender people is stark — we do not and will not accept you,” wrote The Economist.

Dan Patrick, of course, disputes the very notion that Texas would lose any business at all due to his bathroom bill. So whatever you do, don’t show him this.

An academic group is threatening to pull an upcoming conference from Houston next year, citing concerns with a bill before the Texas legislature that would require transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their assigned sex at birth.

The American College Personnel Association, a trade group based in the nation’s capital, expects more than 3,100 people to travel to Houston over three days in March 2018 for the conference. Executive Director Cindi Love cited concern for transgender college students’ and attendees’ safety as a reason for potentially relocating the conference.

“We cannot bring transgender-identified members to a city and risk (discrimination) if they leave the facility where we’ve contracted,” Love said Wednesday morning. The group backed out of a conference in North Carolina scheduled for last summer after that state passed a similar law.

Love said the group’s withdrawal from Houston would mean $5.129 million in lost revenue for the city and state, calculating that figure from airfare, ground transportation, hotels, food, entertainment and other conference arrangements.

Yeah, but they’re a bunch of filthy academics, so their money doesn’t really count, right? Everything can be rationalized if you need it to be.

Meanwhile, the business lobby still wants no part of this.

Chris Wallace, the new president of the Texas Association of Business, said his priorities are better roads, expanded education, smarter taxation, sustainable heath care and no legislation that will tarnish the state’s brand.

“Infrastructure … that’s an issue for every legislative session,” Wallace said. “In any taxation discussion, we want to ensure it is fair for business, because business makes up more than 60 percent of the tax base.”

To improve the future workforce, the association wants to see free full-day pre-kindergarten, implementation of the A-through-F school accountability ratings and a way to link 10 percent of a four-year college’s funding to responsible graduation rates.

“Businesses put a lot of money into the education system, and many are questioning the return on investment,” Wallace said.

Other priorities include lowering health care costs by expanding telemedicine access and giving advanced-practice registered nurses more authority.

Stopping the transgender bathroom bill introduced by Houston-area Sen. Lois Kolkhorst may be the biggest fight to save the state’s reputation.

Former Chronicle reporter R.G. Ratcliffe recently explained in Texas Monthly magazine how Toyota Motor Corp. agreed to move its North American headquarters to Plano only after the city council promised an anti-discrimination ordinance that Kolkhorst’s bill would repeal. A non-discrimination ordinance was also a top priority for Apple when it created thousands of jobs in Austin. Major corporations care about this issue more than lawmakers realize.

“We’ll oppose any kind of legislation that would impact any our members’ abilities to recruit their workforce, or that would negatively impact economic development, such as recruiting corporate relocations,” Wallace said.

The association can’t defend business’s interests by itself, though. Wallace needs business leaders to do their part.

“They’ve got to speak up,” he said. “Whatever the issue is, we encourage businesses to make their voices heard with legislators.”

Look, there are plenty of things the business lobby likes that I don’t. The A-F grading system for schools is at best a very rough work in progress, and of course they’re all about tax cuts. But my argument is that almost by default these guys are more in line with the Democrats these days than they are with the Republicans, and they need to recognize that whatever reservations they may have about the Dems, one-party rule in this state is not a good thing for them. They don’t need to link hands with the SEIU, but a limited strategic alliance could be quite beneficial. The fact is, they may well succeed in killing the bathroom bill this session, but as Patrick himself told the Trib, he’s never going to give up on it. If they want this thing to be well and truly dead, there are two ways to ensure that. One is to defeat Dan Patrick in 2018. The other is to reduce the number of Patrick minions in the Senate.

After the vote rejecting West’s amendment to the rules, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, suggested another solution: “I think what we need to do is elect two more Democrats. Then we’d be forced to work together.”

I don’t have precinct data from the Senate districts that will have elections next year, but the names to look at are Konni Burton, Don Huffines, Joan Huffman, and Kelly Hancock. I guarantee, the 2016 numbers will make those seats look at least somewhat competitive, and winning even one of them would make a real difference. If the business lobby is serious about defeating not just this bill but the next however many incarnations of it, this is what it’s going to take. Are they in or are they not? The Observer has more.

On succeeding, and defending, Ken Paxton

Ross Ramsay:

Best mugshot ever

While Ken Paxton fights to avoid convictions and jail time on indictments alleging securities violations — and to keep his job as Texas attorney general — a muted and unofficial conversation about who will succeed him is already underway.

[…]

That considerable legal predicament opens the conversation about whether Paxton can survive politically. Any felony conviction, whether it involves prison or not, would cost him his law license and probably whatever remains of his term. And that could set up an appointment of his successor by Gov. Greg Abbott — his predecessor as attorney general.

That leads to this: There is a political fluster underway that most people know nothing about.

Names of possible Paxton successors are floating around in Republican circles: Supreme Court Justices Don Willett and Eva Guzman; former Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson; current and former first assistants to the AG Chip Roy and Daniel Hodge; [Dan] Branch and [Barry] Smitherman, the two also-rans in last year’s Republican primary. It goes on, picking up Education Commissioner Michael Williams and state Rep. Jason Villalba of Dallas.

The people in the preceding paragraph have a few things in common. They are Republicans. They are lawyers. They are not openly campaigning for Paxton’s job. Some support Paxton and hope he emerges without a mark. And they make up a pretty good list of viable candidates for state office, whether it turns out to be this one or something in the future. They’re from different parts of the GOP, and the infighting, should an opening occur, could be fierce.

I hope Paxton digs his heels in deep and hangs on to run for re-election even if he’s been convicted. What does he care what a bunch of insiders and establishment figures think about his “effectiveness” or “ability to govern?” They’re not the ones who elected him in the first place, and they’re not the ones who are steadfastly supporting him against all comers and all evidence. Scott Braddock explains.

Employees of Tim Dunn’s Empower Texans, a self-proclaimed conservative group, have tried to make the case that Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is somehow to blame for the legal problems Paxton now faces.

As Quorum Report publisher Harvey Kronberg has pointed out, this alleged swindling of investors amounts to the same kind of shenanigans that helped give rise to the Tea Party in the first place back in 2008 following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent Wall Street bailouts.

What’s gotten less attention is the company at the heart of the Paxton indictment, Servergy, received government economic incentives that are strongly opposed by Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, and others who claim to be as conservative as they come.

Sen. Ted Cruz – one of Paxton’s biggest supporters and the man who more than anyone put his political capital behind him in the GOP primary runoff against Rep. Dan Branch – regularly rails against government interference in the marketplace.

In his crusade against the Export-Import Bank, a top priority of many Texas employers, Cruz has called the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a liar and has repeatedly used the word “cartel” to describe lobbyists who represent job creators in his home state and elsewhere.

At the time Paxton was rounding up investors for Servergy, allegedly without disclosing his financial interest in the firm, the company was getting government incentives to move to his hometown. Among the details of Paxton’s situation is the fact that Servergy received rental assistance from the City of McKinney so that it could relocate to North Texas from California.

[…]

Many of those same folks in the business community are understandably unaware of the way in which scorecards created and promoted by Empower Texans are reverse-engineered with the goal of aiding GOP politicians who have been adversarial toward Speaker Straus. Sen. Burton and AG Paxton have been beneficiaries of those tactics.

Paxton was also the recipient of at least $1.4 million in Empower Texans political money in the form of a $1 million loan and $400,000 cash as he ran for the Republican nomination.

As far as we know, Paxton is the only one of their allies who possibly gained from government economic incentives that went to a company from which he stood to profit financially.

If consistency or conservatism were the priorities of Dunn, his spokesman Michael Quinn Sullivan, and Sen. Burton they would likely be among the loudest critics of Servergy’s rental assistance.

But the name of the game for this particular cartel is control, not consistency.

Indeed, and that’s why I think any talk of who might succeed Ken Paxton is premature. Paxton knows where his bread is buttered. Until that support dries up, or until the voters actually do boot him out, I don’t believe he’s going anywhere.

Local control deathwatch: Environment

Unsurprisingly, the Denton fracking ban has provoked a strong reaction.

As policy dilemmas go, the one triggered when Denton voters decided last fall to ban hydraulic fracturing in their city looked like a whopper: The oil and gas industry versus local control — two things Texas holds dear — in intractable opposition. There seemed little doubt lawmakers would weigh in upon their return to Austin.

But four months after the North Texas city’s historic vote, top state lawmakers don’t appear to be scratching their heads. Petroleum is winning hands down, and local control appears headed for a beating.

Several legislative proposals so far leave less wiggle room for Texas cities to regulate oil and gas production. 

“We need to restate that principle that the state has responsibility to regulate the oil and gas industry,” said state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, who chairs the House Energy Resources Committee. “I don’t know where people might have believed that the state was not going to assert fully its rights to regulate that.”

Texas lawmakers this session have filed at least 11 bills that would discourage local governments from enacting or amending certain drilling rules. Meanwhile, those watching legislation on the issue say they haven’t noticed one proposal to bolster – or even support – local control on petroleum development.

“We didn’t expect these to be just completely one-sided,” said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League. “Instead, they’re swinging for the fences, and it’s quite alarming.” 

The trend is part of a broader debate — touching on issues including plastic bag bans and sanctuary cities — that some Republicans have sought to reframe as a debate about the size of government.

Supporters of Denton’s fracking ban “accused me of violating my conservative principles, arguing that since a local government passed a measure, any attempt to overturn it would be using ‘big government’ to squash dissent,” state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, wrote in a recent op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “They have it backwards, because ‘big government’ is happening at the local level.”

One of King’s bills would require cities to get the attorney general’s blessing before enacting or repealing any ordinance by voter initiative or referendum, the tool Denton activists used to push that city’s fracking ban. Another would require cities that tighten drilling regulations to reimburse the state for any lost tax revenue.

Other bills have addressed compensation for mineral rights owners harmed by a local ordinance, while legislation from state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, gets right to the point of the Denton debate: It would ban fracking bans.

Perhaps the most controversial proposals, however, are those most likely to pass. Identical bills from Darby and Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, would limit cities’ power to regulate the industry to “surface activity that is incident to an oil and gas operation, is commercially reasonable, does not effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation, and is not otherwise preempted by state or federal law.”

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

See here for past coverage. I would have voted for the Denton ban, but I can understand the objections to it. Mineral rights are complex in Texas, and anyone who had such rights within Denton could reasonably complain that his or her property was taken away. It’s also generally better to have a uniform regulatory environment to facilitate business compliance. But that gets to the crux of the matter here, which is that the regulatory environment in Texas is a joke. The Railroad Commission is a complete lapdog for corporate interests. It’s precisely because activists in Denton felt they were being ignored and pushed aside that they sought out an alternate remedy. If we had a useful, functioning Railroad Commission, we would not have had this ballot referendum or interest in having such a referendum in other cities. This is not hard to understand, but the campaign coffers of people like Phil King and Konni Burton depend on them pretending to not understand it.

And speaking of the environment.

In another fight over local control this session, state Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), one of the more powerful lawmakers in the House, is pushing a bill that would erode the ability of cities and counties to collect civil penalties from polluters. This morning, Geren described the latest version of his House Bill 1794 to the House Environmental Regulation Committee as a way to curb “lawsuit abuse” by capping the maximum penalties that can be assessed on environmental violators at $4.3 million and imposing a five-year statute of limitations on the filing of lawsuits.

The legislation appears to be a response to high-profile litigation between Harris County and three companies considered liable for the San Jacinto River waste pits, an EPA Superfund site that has been leaking dioxins into the San Jacinto River and Galveston Bay for decades.

While Geren jettisoned some of the most far-reaching parts of the original version of HB 1794—a requirement for local governments to prove that a company “knowingly or intentionally” violated the law, for example—local authorities and environmentalists said they were still opposed.

Tom “Smitty” Smith, the veteran head of Public Citizen’s Texas office, said cities and counties need the ability to force polluters to pay civil penalties because state enforcement of environmental laws is so weak.

“We think the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] is a toothless tiger,” he said. The agency doesn’t have the resources or “the guts to go after biggest polluters.”

[…]

County- or city-led lawsuits seeking penalties from water polluters are relatively rare, but Harris County, with its vast petrochemical facilities, 20 known Superfund sites and loose rules that allow homes next to industry, is probably the most litigious. In the last 19 years, the county has issued 18,000 violation notices to companies and filed 205 civil actions, said Cathy Sisk, a retired environmental attorney with Harris County. She said the county only resorted to the lawsuit because the three successor companies hadn’t done anything to clean up the site, even going so far as to defy EPA’s orders.

“We feel like in those cases we need a hammer,” she said.

Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle, a Republican, made a pitch for keeping local control. “Government is best when it’s closest to the people,” he said. Sometimes, state officials are “removed from the passion of the folks who actually live in the neighborhoods, where we work, where we breathe, where we play and live.”

HB 1794 was left pending. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 1509, by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) has yet to be assigned a committee.

Indeed, the TCEQ is as useless as the Railroad Commission and as deeply in the pocket of the people and businesses they are supposed to regulate. What else is one to do but take the avenue that is available? If you don’t want the Harris County Attorney filing so many lawsuits against polluters, then provide a regulatory agency that will, you know, actually regulate. That includes going after the bad actors and levying punishments as needed. Again, this is not hard to understand. It should not be this hard to do.

Two in Tarrant to watch

Tarrant County isn’t often an electoral battleground, but this time it is, at least in two legislative races.

Libby Willis

[HD94 Republican nominee Tony] Tinderholt’s race is one of two legislative contests in Tarrant County where Democrats are pinning their hopes on Republican voters soured by the most conservative elements of their party.

The second is a race to fill the Senate seat left open by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. There, in a district dominated by Republicans until Davis’ election, Democrat Libby Willis faces Konni Burton, a grassroots activist from Colleyville who touts the rare endorsement of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Like Tinderholt, who ousted Diane Patrick, an eight-year incumbent, in a primary upset, Burton sailed to GOP victory by questioning the conservative credentials of other Republicans. Now, in the general election, both candidates are under fire from their opponents for positions on abortion, gun rights and illegal immigration that Democrats say are out of sync with mainstream voters.

“I’m looking for those people who just don’t care about the partisan nonsense,” said Cole Ballweg, the Arlington businessman running against Tinderholt. “I’m looking for those people who’re more like me, who say, ‘What is really going to move the needle for my community, for my schools, for my kids?’ And there’s actually a lot of them out there.”

[…]

Ballweg acknowledged that it would take a “miracle” for a Democrat to carry Arlington’s staunchly Republican House District 94.

“I understand that so many of these people are still going to vote against me,” Ballweg said. “But you know what, they’re a lot more reasonable than a lot of people give them credit. They don’t want rifles in their streets; they don’t want angry, off-the-rails rhetoric about the border or anything else.”

The contest for the state Senate seat is closer. With advertising buys still rolling in, Willis and Burton have each spent over $1 million getting their message to Tarrant County voters since May, according to Texas Ethics Commission data.

Burton has raked in high-dollar donations from prominent conservative backers, including $100,000 from Midland oil and gas developer Tim Dunn and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which has spent more than $300,000 on last-minute direct mail and television ads on her behalf.

Willis has received substantial sums from Democratic donors, including Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, who has contributed a combined $850,000 to her campaign through his law firm and Back to Basics, the political action committee he funds. She has also received support from Planned Parenthood, the Democratic organizing group Battleground Texas and Annie’s List, which helps Democratic female candidates run for office.

But in her run for the high-profile swing district, Willis has also made inroads with groups otherwise supporting a slate of primarily Republican candidates, like the Texas Medical Association and the statewide law enforcement association known as CLEAT.

The former teacher and past president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations has attempted to draw a sharp contrast with her opponent, billing herself as a coalition builder and Burton as a partisan.

“I have so many Republicans saying, ‘I am not a Tea Party person, I am not extreme, I am just not that far out there.’ And they are voting for me,” Willis said. “A lot of them are voting for a Democrat for the first time in their lives, and they are voting for me.”

I’ve written about the SD10 race before, both as a benchmark of success and an example of what else Battleground Texas is doing. I continue to believe that Libby Willis has at least as good a chance to hold this seat with Wendy Davis running for Governor as Davis would have with a mystery candidate for Governor. Early voting was up in Tarrant County, and one presumes these races as well as the Governor’s race were the driving forces behind that. As for the HD94 race, it would be nice to think that Republicans would be “soured by the most conservative elements of their party”, but one expects that if they were then Tinderholt would have lost in the primary to Rep. Diane Patrick, who had a solid reputation and was on Tom Craddick’s leadership team. I’ll hope for the best here, and I won’t be surprised if Cole Ballweg exceeds the partisan norm, but I’m not expecting more than that.

The equal pay issue in SD10

Just as the issue of equal pay has become a big deal in the Governor’s race, so is it an issue in the race to succeed Sen. Wendy Davis in SD10.

Libby Willis

In the battle for Senate District 10, [Konni] Burton and [Mark] Shelton head to a May 27 Republican primary runoff to determine who takes on [Democrat Libby] Willis in November.

Davis has represented the district since 2009.

Burton, a leader in the NE Tarrant Tea Party, said Willis is pushing issues like this while avoiding “tackling serious issues facing Texans,” like the “crippling” impact of Obamacare.

Shelton, a pediatrician and former state representative who lost a bid for this seat in 2012, said no more legislation is necessary.

“Equal pay for equal work is the law of the United States and the state of Texas,” he said. “Current law should be enforced and additional laws are unneeded.”

Willis said something must be done.

“Republicans, Democrats and independents support equal pay for women,” she said. “Equal pay is not only a fairness issue, it’s a family economic issue.”

To whatever extent this issue has salience in the statewide race, it ought to have a similar effect in SD10. Maybe more, since the SD10 Republicans have a harder edge than Greg Abbott. I think Abbott would rather just have this issue (and most others) go away, while Burton and Shelton will campaign loud and proud against the Ledbetter law. Whatever it takes, because it sure would be nice to hold onto this seat. Between Donna Campbell, Don Huffines, and whoever wins the special election to succeed Tommy Williams, the Senate is stupid and mean enough already. Let’s not make it any more so.

Primary results: Legislature and Congress

Rep. Lon Burnam

The big news on the Democratic side is the close loss by longtime Rep. Lon Burnam in HD90, who fell by 111 votes to Ramon Romero Jr. I know basically nothing about Rep.-elect Romero, but I do know that Rep. Burnam has been a progressive stalwart, and it is sad to see him go. His district is heavily Latino, and he defeated a Latino challenger in 2012, but fell short this year. Congratulations to Rep.-elect Romero. Also in Tarrant County, Annie’s List-backed Libby Willis will carry the Democratic banner in SD10 to try to hold the seat being vacated by Wendy Davis. Elsewhere in Democratic legislative primaries, Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, who earned a Ten Worst spot this past session for a DUI bust during the session, was running third for her seat. Cesar Blanco, a former staffer for Rep. Pete Gallego, was leading with over 40% and will face either Gonzalez or Norma Chavez, whom Gonzalez had defeated in a previous and very nasty primary. I’m rooting for Blanco in either matchup. All other Dem incumbents won, including Rep. Mary Gonzalez in HD75. Congressional incumbents Eddie Berniece Johnson and Marc Veasey cruised to re-election, while challengers Donald Brown (CD14), Frank Briscoe (CD22), and Marco Montoya (CD25) all won their nominations.

On the Republican side, the endorsements of Rafael Cruz and Sarah Palin were not enough for Katrina Pierson in CD32, as Rep. Pete Sessions waltzed to a 68% win. Rep. Ralph Hall, who was born sometime during the Cretaceous Era, will be in a runoff against John Ratcliffe in CD04. All other GOP Congressional incumbents won, and there will be runoffs in CDs 23 and 36, the latter being between Brian Babin and Ben Streusand. I pity the fool that has to follow Steve Stockman’s act.

Some trouble in the Senate, as Sen. Bob Deuell appears headed for a runoff, and Sen. John Carona appears to have lost. Sen. Donna Campbell defeats two challengers. Those latter results ensure the Senate will be even dumber next session than it was last session. Konni Burton and Marc Shelton, whom Wendy Davis defeated in 2012, are in a runoff for SD10.

Multiple Republican State Reps went down to defeat – George Lavender (HD01), Lance Gooden (HD04), Ralph Sheffield (HD55), Diane Patrick (HD94), Linda Harper-Brown (HD105), and Bennett Ratliff (HD115). As I said last night, overall a fairly tough night for Texas Parent PAC. Rep. Stefani Carter (HD102), who briefly abandoned her seat for an ill-fated run for Railroad Commissioner, trailed Linda Koop heading into a runoff.

I’ll have more thoughts on some of these races later. I’d say the “establishment” Republican effort to push back on the Empower Texas/teabagger contingent is at best a work in progress. May open an opportunity or two for Dems – I’d say HD115 is now on their list in a way that it wouldn’t have been against Rep. Ratliff – but barring anything strange we should expect more of the same from the Lege in 2015.