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Mike Collier

Health care needs to be a twofer

Lt. Governor candidate Mike Collier is on the right track here, but he needs to keep going.

Mike Collier

Lieutenant governor hopeful Mike Collier announced his health care reform plan Tuesday, which aims to reduce costs and increase access to health care in Texas.

“Achieving these goals will not be easy,” Collier said in a statement. “But it’s time to get cracking. Doing nothing — the only skill our current governor and lieutenant governor seem to possess — is no longer acceptable.”

Colliers faces incumbent GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in November’s general election. Patrick has been a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act and any move to expand Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled, to include the working poor.

Collier said Texas’ decision not to pay for health care costs for Texans who cannot afford health insurance is “unbelievably stupid,” and said that using federal dollars to close the coverage gap will bring Texas an estimated $9 billion per year in federal dollars and create as many as 250,000 jobs.

Collier said his plan also includes deploying state money to encourage Texans to buy insurance, which he said will drive down the cost of health care.

Additionally, Collier emphasized price transparency and a “Patient Financial Bill of Rights,” which would require insurance companies to provide health care prices in advance, show the availability of less expensive drugs and procedures, and itemize bills “in plain language,” among other requirements.

This is all good, but it’s missing an opportunity. You’ve heard me say this before, but it bears repeating – over and over and over again – that if we’re really going to talk about improving mental health care, which is all we ever talk about after another mass shooting, then we have to talk about expanding Medicaid, because it’s by far the biggest and best way to pay for mental health care for the people who need it. If we’re not talking about expanding Medicaid, then we’re just flapping our lips when we bring up the “mental illness” shibboleth. We need to keep saying this until it starts to sink in. You took a good first step, Mike Collier. Now please take the next steps.

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

Not Greg Abbott or Dan Patrick.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Precinct analysis: Guv and Lite Guv

We move now to the Democratic primaries for Governor and Lt. Governor. I did not analyze any of the other Democratic statewide contested primaries, mostly because they were sufficiently low-profile that I didn’t think there was anything of interest to be learned. My view of the Senate primary is here if you missed it. First up, the Governor’s race:


Dist   Valdez    White  Davis  Others
=====================================
CD02    6,779   16,271  2,163   3,738
CD07    6,626   19,479  2,150   4,217
CD08      463      808    224     336
CD09    3,326   10,582  4,018   4,106
CD10    1,837    3,420    883   1,248
CD18    5,780   17,951  5,844   6,518
CD22      762    1,587    343     563
CD29    5,620    6,785  1,569   3,485
CD36    1,880    4,397    513   1,378
				
HD126   1,026    2,293    610     820
HD127   1,240    2,638    752     939
HD128     780    1,747    239     593
HD129   1,511    3,635    475   1,021
HD130   1,044    2,244    468     739
HD131   1,161    4,365  1,775   1,709
HD132   1,475    2,399    812   1,077
HD133   1,597    5,369    358     945
HD134   3,251   12,319    384   1,283
HD135   1,360    2,646    810   1,051
HD137     804    1,526    366     561
HD138   1,276    2,677    396     824
HD139   1,285    4,526  1,664   1,754
HD140     839      944    273     610
HD141     699    2,406  1,358   1,282
HD142   1,019    3,059  1,568   1,582
HD143   1,385    1,780    482   1,004
HD144     860      930     74     499
HD145   1,760    2,174    224     766
HD146   1,547    5,337  1,685   1,871
HD147   2,380    6,969  1,515   1,939
HD148   2,591    4,913    265   1,027
HD149     890    1,885    489     728
HD150   1,293    2,499    665     965

Andrew White

I don’t have the room to display nine candidates’ worth of results, so I’m just showing the top three, with the other six aggregated into the last column. Harris County was by far Andrew White’s best county – he won over 51% of the vote here, and nearly thirty percent of his statewide total came from Harris. Most of the other counties he won were our neighbors – Fort Bend, Brazoria, Montgomery, and Galveston were all in his column. As such, I don’t want to draw too broad a conclusion from the numbers you see above. This is White’s home turf, and it’s probably where he did the most campaigning, and it worked for him. If he wants to have any hope for winning the runoff, he’s going to have to do well here in May. The fact that there are also runoffs in CDs 07 and 22, plus in countywide races, helps him, but then there are also runoffs in places like CD32, so it’s not like he has all the advantage. My advice to him would simply be to do more of what he did here elsewhere in the state.

Lupe Valdez

As for Lupe Valdez, again I don’t want to generalize from atypical data. She won in all of the other big urban counties, she won in the big suburbs of Collin, Denton, and Williamson, she won in South Texas, and she won in places like Lubbock and Ector and Midland. There’s a good case to be made that she doesn’t need to do anything special to win in May, and should concentrate on fundraising and sharpening her message against Greg Abbott instead. But as I said before, there were still a lot of people who chose someone other than her or White, and many of them will be in the Congressional districts that have runoffs. This is the only statewide runoff, and that means it’s the main attraction for the next eight weeks. She shouldn’t view invitations to debate Andrew White as opportunities for him to gain ground on her, but as opportunities for attention to be focused on Democratic candidates, Democratic priorities, and Democratic messages. When was the last time we had that?

Lastly, Cedric Davis was the one other candidate in this race that had won an election before, and he did have some traction with African-American voters. If he cares to make an endorsement for the runoff, it could carry some weight. If Valdez and White have not been reaching out to him, that’s a bad decision on their part.

Now for the Lite Guv race, for which there were two candidates and thus no runoff concerns:


Dist    Cooper  Collier
=======================
CD02    11,197   16,416
CD07    12,166   18,092
CD08       929      833
CD09    12,682    8,621
CD10     3,676    3,495
CD18    18,698   15,785
CD22     1,693    1,449
CD29     9,333    7,082
CD36     3,545    4,333
		
HD126    2,541    2,071
HD127    2,836    2,575
HD128    1,633    1,585
HD129    2,853    3,574
HD130    2,118    2,220
HD131    5,308    3,448
HD132    3,150    2,488
HD133    2,704    4,953
HD134    4,203   11,439
HD135    3,163    2,512
HD137    1,541    1,567
HD138    2,310    2,653
HD139    5,006    3,863
HD140    1,566      966
HD141    3,623    1,901
HD142    4,401    2,548
HD143    2,661    1,748
HD144    1,192    1,010
HD145    2,131    2,441
HD146    5,401    4,557
HD147    5,667    6,506
HD148    2,871    5,381
HD149    2,222    1,671
HD150    2,818    2,429

Collier won Harris County with 50.70% of the vote; he did better statewide, getting 52.37% of the total. Neither he nor Michael Cooper had any money, but Collier’s campaign was visible to me while Cooper’s was not. I got Collier’s emails, I saw his posts on Facebook, and I saw posts from friends about him on Facebook. Looking at where Collier did well in Harris County, I’d say he did well with other voters like me who probably saw evidence of his campaign as well. Collier did very well in some counties, like Travis and Bexar and Williamson, as well as the Dallas suburbs, but trailed by a little in Dallas and Tarrant, and by more in El Paso and the South Texas region. The not Dan Patrick crowd seems to be on board with him. I suspect that’s mostly a matter of making sure his campaign is visible to them as well.

Endorsement watch: Not Dan Patrick

Scott Milder, who was defeated by Dan Patrick in the Republican primary, endorses Mike Collier for the general election.

Scott Milder

Scott Milder, who lost his Republican primary challenge to incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick two days ago, says he will vote for the Democrat running against Patrick in November to curb “irrational, out-of-touch politics.”

In a Facebook post that he characterized not as a concession, “but rather an absolute victory speech,”, Milder — a longtime Republican and and well-known public education advocate — said he plans to vote “for Republican candidates in every race with one exception.

“I cannot on good conscience vote for a man who I know to be a liar, nor can I vote for a man who willfully ignores and disrespects his legislative colleagues and his constituents,” Milder said in the post. “I will be casting my vote for Mike Collier, the rational Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, and will strongly encourage all Texans who voted for me in this race to cast their votes for Mr. Collier as well.”

[…]

Coillier told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday that he appreciates Milder’s support, after a campaign in which they agreed on many of the issues including opposition to school vouchers. He said Milder may even campaign with him in coming weeks.

“It doesn’t happen very often that a Republican endorses a Democrat, but public education groups recruited (Milder) to run against Patrick and he and I viewed proper funding of public education as very important,” said Collier, a retired Kingwood CPA and business executive.

“I’ve already had a fair number of moderate Republican donors (to Milder’s campaign) who have called and said they want to join me.”

You can read Milder’s statement here. Patrick beat him pretty handily, but Milder still got 367K votes. If his words carry weight with his supporters, that could move things a bit. I mean, I don’t expect too much from this, even if Milder does help Collier campaign. I doubt that many people will even hear about this, but to the extent that they do, this can’t hurt.

2018 primary results: Statewide

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

For comparison purposes:

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

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

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

And on a related note:

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 1

Whoa, all of a sudden the Chron is chock full of endorsements. Let’s run through ’em. Actually, let’s start to run through them. So many appeared all at once that I’m going to need to break this into more than one post.

For Lite Guv: Anyone but Dan.

Lieutenant governor: Scott Milder

Scott Milder has become the tip of the spear in this statewide effort to fight back against Patrick, and we endorse his run to unseat the incumbent as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. A former City Council member in Rockwall, a Dallas suburb, Milder, 50, is aligned with the schools, business interests and pastors who are hoping to restore the conservative values of local control and pro-growth that for decades sat at the core of Texas politics. It is a movement that wants to put an end to the potty-bill politics that have dominated our state Legislature under Patrick.

From El Paso to Texarkana, Brownsville to Canadian, local cities and counties are starting to stand together against a state government obsessed with the political minutiae that excites the partisan wings but does little to make our state a better place to live. A vote for Milder will be a vote to fix school funding and return Texas to normalcy.

Democratic Lieutenant governor: Mike Collier

In the Democratic primary for this important post, the Chronicle recommends Mike Collier, the more experienced, better qualified of the two candidates vying to face off against the Republican winner in the November general election.

A graduate of the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree and MBA, Collier wants to see more state money directed to public schools, arguing that overtaxed homeowners cannot afford to carry what ought to be the state’s share of education funding. An accountant by training, Collier held high-level positions in auditing and finance during his career at a global accounting firm, giving weight to his proposal to close a corporate tax loophole as a means of raising revenue for public education and property tax relief.

Collier, 56, is well-versed in this region’s need for storm surge protection and Harvey recovery, and he’s ready to tap the state’s substantial rainy day fund to pay for it. “Let’s crack it open and stimulate recovery as fast as we can,” he told the editorial board.

Collier supports expanding Medicaid to improve health for poor children, and he wants to improve care for rural Texans dealing with local hospital closures and few physicians wanting to practice outside large cities.

I count myself lucky that I have not yet been subjected to Dan Patrick’s TV ad barrage. I’m all in for Mike Collier, but for sure Scott Milder would be a step away from the dystopia that Patrick is determined to drag us all to.

Land Commissioner: Not Baby Bush.

Four years ago, this editorial page enthusiastically supported Bush in his first bid for elected office. We were mightily impressed with his command of the complex issues facing the General Land Office. Anybody who thought this guy was just coasting on his family name was wrong. “George P. Bush is the real deal,” we wrote.

Now the real deal has become a real disappointment.

Bush has repeatedly stumbled during his first term in his first elected office. He directed the General Land Office to spend nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to keep at least 40 employees on the payroll for as long as five months after they’d actually quit their jobs, but only if they promised they wouldn’t sue Bush or the agency. Three days after a contractor scored a $13.5 million hurricane cleanup contract, Bush’s campaign accepted almost $30,000 in contributions from the company’s executives.

But his highest profile problem has been his plan to “reimagine” the Alamo. It’s an ongoing mess criticized not only by Texas history buffs but also by Republican lawmakers irate about the way it’s being managed. Among other problems, Bush played a cynical shell game with state employees, shifting about 60 people over to a taxpayer-funded nonprofit so he could brag that he cut his agency’s staff. As one incredulous GOP fundraiser put it, “How do you screw up the Alamo?”

To his credit, months before Hurricane Harvey, Bush wrote President Donald Trump a detailed letter requesting funding for a coastal storm surge barrier. Unfortunately, since then we haven’t seen him do much to advance the cause of this critical infrastructure project.

Losing faith in a man who once looked like a rising political star is disillusioning, but voters in the Republican primary for Texas land commissioner should bypass Bush and cast their ballots for Jerry Patterson.

I feel reasonably confident that Jerry Patterson will not buy any secret mansions with secret money. He was a perfectly decent Land Commissioner whose service I respect as you know, but just clearing that bar would have been enough to prefer him. I only wish the Chron had expressed an opinion on the Democratic side, as that’s a race where I don’t feel like I know much about the candidates. Maybe we’ll get that later.

For County Treasurer – Dylan Osborne

Dylan Osborne

Three Democrats are running in this friendly race. All seem to be self-starters, and all recognize that taxpayers need to get more for their dollar than a mere office figure head who oversees routine financial operations conducted by professional staff. All want to increase efficiencies and cost savings, and improve service through better use of technology.

Our choice, Dylan Osborne, 36, is the candidate with the background in customer relations and experience in community service needed to elevate this job from one of sinecure to public service.

Osborne, who holds a Master’s in Public Administration, currently works in the city of Houston Planning and Development Department. The University of Houston graduate got his start as the manager of a restaurant and an auto parts store and has risen his way through city ranks. While employed by two city council members, the personable Osborne organized events with civic clubs and super neighborhoods to educate citizens about local issues.

My interview with Dylan Osborne is here and with Nile Copeland is here; Cosme Garcia never replied to my email. The Chron has endorsed Orlando Sanchez in the last couple of general elections. Maybe this year they’ll break that habit.

And for HCDE: Josh Wallenstein and Danny Norris.

County School Trustee Position 3, At large: Josh Wallenstein

This Democratic primary is a coin toss between Josh Wallenstein and Richard Cantu.

The HCDE has come under political fire in recent years, and it needs to achieve two goals to stay on course. The department needs to avoid conflicts of interest and maximize its use of the public dollar. Wallenstein was chief compliance officer of a major corporation before starting his own law firm and could bring to the board the skill of contract review and analysis including, minimizing waste, fraud and abuse, conflict of interest and self-dealing and maximizing efficiencies for schools. He graduated from Stanford Law School.

The department does a good job of offering school districts services at a much reduced rate, but it does a poor of job of communicating to voters how it saves taxpayer money. Cantu, who holds a masters in public administration from St. Thomas University, would be in the best position to develop partnerships and collaborations around the city and to help the department get the word out. He’s held management positions with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Baker Ripley, the Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office and currently he’s deputy executive director of the East Aldine Management District.

It was a tough choice but choose we must, and we endorse Wallenstein.

County School Trustee, Position 6, Precinct 1: Danyahel (Danny) Norris

There is no Republican running for this seat vacated by Democratic incumbent Erica Lee Carter, which stretches from the portion of Friendswood in Harris County to near Galena Park in the south. The winner of this primary will become a trustee on the HCDE board. Two candidates — John F. Miller and Danyahel “Danny” Norris — stand out in this three person race. We tip our hat to the only candidate with experience in education policy: Norris.

Norris, 37, holds the distinction of being a chemical engineer, a former teacher and tutor for math students, a lawyer with a degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law, a law professor, and a librarian with a masters of library science from the University of North Texas.

Miller, who is also a chemical engineer, demonstrated an admirable commitment to the board position, having attended all of its meetings since September. However, he didn’t convince us that his budgeting or hiring skills would fill a gap in the board’s expertise.

Interviews:

Josh Wallenstein
Richard Cantu
Elvonte Patton
Danny Norris
John Miller

Prince Bryant did reply to my email request for an interview a week ago, but then never followed up when I suggested some possible times to talk. I agree with the Chron that the choices we have in these races are good ones.

Finance reports start coming in

And once again, CD07 is the big story.

The winner in the money chase so far is nonprofit executive Alex Triantaphyllis, who raised over $255,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, bringing his total raised for the election to over $925,000. After expenses, that leaves him over $630,000 cash on hand heading into the final stretch of the March 6 primary.

Culberson, 17-year incumbent who trailed Triantaphyllis in fundraising at the end of September, responded in the last three months by raising more than $345,000, bringing his year-end total to over $949,000.

But Culberson’s campaign also has been burning through money more quickly than Triantaphyllis, leaving him with about $595,000 in the bank — a slightly smaller war chest than the Democrat’s.

Culberson ended the third quarter of 2017 – the end of September – with more than $645,000 in receipts, trailing Triantaphyllis’ $668,000. Culberson’s war chest of nearly $390,000 at the time also was dwarfed by the $535,000 Triantaphyllis had at his disposal, raising alarms in GOP circles.

While Culberson, a top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, had narrowed the gap, he has not shown the usual outsized incumbent advantage in campaign fundraising. However unlike all the Democrats in the race, he does not face a well-funded primary opponent.

Three other Democrats have shown their fundraising chops ahead of the January 31 Federal Election Commission deadline.

Laura Moser, a writer and national anti-Trump activist, said she raised about $215,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, bringing her total to about $616,340.

Another top fundraiser in the Democratic primary is Houston attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who had raised more than $550,000 by the end of September, trailing only Triantaphyllis and Culberson. She has since raised some $200,000 more, bringing her total to more than $750,000, leaving about $400,000 in cash on hand.

Houston physician Jason Westin, a researcher MD Anderson Cancer Center, reported $123,369 in fourth-quarter fundraising, bringing him up to a total of $421,303 for the election so far. He goes into the final primary stretch with $218,773.

Here’s where things stood in October. I recall reading somewhere that the totals so far were nice and all, but surely by now the candidates had tapped out their inner circles, and that from here on it was going to get tougher. Looks like the challenge was met. Links to various Congressional finance reports will be on my 2018 Congressional page; the pro tip is that the URL for each candidate stays the same.

Elsewhere, part 1:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew White raised over $200,000 during the first three weeks of his campaign, while one of his better-known primary opponents, Lupe Valdez, took in a quarter of that over roughly the same period.

White’s campaign told The Texas Tribune on Monday that he raised $219,277 from 200-plus donors through the end of the fundraising period on Dec. 31. The total haul includes $40,000 from White, a Houston businessman and the son of late Gov. Mark White. Andrew White announced his bid on Dec. 7.

[…]

Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff who announced for governor the day before White did in early December, took in $46,498 through the end of that month, according to a filing Sunday with the Texas Ethics Commission. She has $40,346.62 cash on hand.

Nobody got started till December so the lower totals are understandable. But we’re in the big leagues now, so it’s time to step it up.

Elsewhere, part 2:

Mike Collier, a retired Kingwood accounttant running as a Democrat for lieutenant governor, on Friday said he will report raising about $500,000 in his bid to unsert Repubnlican incumbent Dan Patrick.

Collier said his campaign-finance report due Monday will show he has about $143,000 in cash on hand.

Patrick, who had about $17 million in his campaign war chest last July, has not yet reported his fundraising totals for the last six months of 2017. He raised about $4 million during the first part of 2017.

Not too bad. At this point in 2014, Collier had raised about $213K, and had loaned himself $400K. For comparison purposes, then-Sen. Leticia Van de Putte raised about $430K total between her account and her PAC.

Elsewhere, part 3:

Justin Nelson, a lawyer from Houston, raised $911,000 through the end of 2017, his campaign said Thursday. More than half of that amount — $500,000 — came out of the candidate’s own pocket.

[…]

Paxton has not yet released his most current fundraising numbers, but he reported more than $5 million in the bank in June.

As the story notes, neither Nelson nor Paxton have primary opponents. They will also be in the news a lot, mostly due to Paxton’s eventual trial. One suspects that could go a long way towards boosting Nelson’s name ID, depending on how it goes. I’ll have more on the reports from all the races later.

At some point we will be able to stop talking about who may run for Governor as a Democrat

That day is December 11. I am looking forward to it.

Andrew White

With less than a month before the filing deadline, the most prominent declared candidate for Texas governor is probably Andrew White, the son of former governor Mark White. White, a self-described “very conservative Democrat,” has never run for elected office and holds views on abortion likely to alienate some Democratic primary voters. (He says he wants to “increase access to healthcare and make abortion rare.”) In a November 2 Facebook post, Davis — a major figure in the state’s reproductive justice scene — called White “anti-choice” and summarized her reaction to his candidacy: “Uhh — no. Just no.”

For lieutenant governor, mild-mannered accountant Mike Collier — who lost a run for comptroller last cycle by 21 percentage points — is challenging Dan Patrick, one of the state’s most effective and well-funded conservative firebrands. Attorney General Ken Paxton, who will be fighting his securities fraud indictment during campaign season, drew a largely unheard-of Democratic opponent last week in attorney Justin Nelson, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Candidate filing officially opened Saturday and ends December 11, but candidates who haven’t declared are missing opportunities for fundraising, building name recognition and organizing a campaign.

“Texas Democrats have quite clearly thrown in the towel for 2018,” said Mark P. Jones, a Rice University political scientist. “People truly committed to running would already be running; [the party] may be able to cajole, coerce or convince some higher-profile candidates to run, but with every passing day that’s less likely.”

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced last week that she’s considering a gubernatorial run, but her staff refused further comment and Valdez has yet to file. Whoever faces off with Governor Greg Abbott will be staring down a $41 million war chest.

Democratic party officials insist more candidates are forthcoming: “We’ve taken our punches for withholding the names of who we’re talking to,” said Manny Garcia, deputy director with the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s been personally frustrating to me because I know who we’re talking to and I know they’re exciting people.”

Castro agreed with Garcia: “I do believe that before the filing deadline you’re going to see people stepping up to run,” he told the Observer.

The lone bright spot on the statewide slate, said Jones, is Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman taking on Ted Cruz. Highlighting the value of announcing early, O’Rourke has raised an impressive $4 million since March off mostly individual donations.

“Like in Battlestar Galactica, O’Rourke is Battlestar Galactica and then there’s this ragtag fleet of garbage ships and transports accompanying him,” Jones said of the current Democratic lineup, noting that even O’Rourke was a second-string option to Congressman Joaquín Castro.

Look, either Manny Garcia is right and we’ll be pleasantly surprised come December 12, or he’s being irrationally exuberant and we’ll all enjoy some gallows humor at his expense. Yeah, it would be nice to have a brand-name candidate out there raising money and his or her profile right now, but how much does two or three months really matter? Bill White was still running for a Senate seat that turned out not to be available at this time in 2009; he didn’t officially shift to Governor until the first week of December. If there is a candidate out there that will broadly satisfy people we’ll know soon enough; if not, we’ll need to get to work for the candidates we do have. Such is life.

In other filing news, you can see the 2018 Harris County GOP lineup to date here. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the HCDP has no such publicly available list at this time. You can see some pictures of candidates who have filed on the HCDP Facebook page, but most of those pictures have no captions and I have no idea who some of those people are. The SOS primary filings page is useless, and the TDP webpage has nothing, too. As for the Harris County GOP, a few notes:

– State Rep. Kevin Roberts is indeed in for CD02. He’s alone in that so far, and there isn’t a candidate for HD126 yet.

– Marc Cowart is their candidate for HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large, the seat being vacated by Diane Trautman.

– So far, Sarah Davis is the only incumbent lucky enough to have drawn a primary challenger, but I expect that will change.

That’s about it for anything interesting. There really aren’t any good targets for them beyond that At Large HCDE seat, as the second edge of the redistricting sword is really safe seats for the other party, since you have to pack them in somewhere. Feel free to leave any good speculation or innuendo in the comments.

Filing season has begun

Candidate filing season is now open, and it will run for a month, concluding at 6 PM on Monday, December 11. There will be a lot of activity this year – we are already aware of so many candidates – and I’m sure there will be a few surprises. You can find candidate filings on the Secretary of State webpage, though I expect that will lag a day or so behind what county parties have. Here are a few things I can say so far:

– The first candidates to file for Governor are Tom Wakely and sign Grady Yarbrough. Is it written somewhere that in every generation there must be an annoying perennial candidate? Jeffrey Payne and Garry Brown are still to file, and then we have the being wooed/thinking about it trio of Andrew White, Michael Sorrell, and Lupe Valdez. I figure when/if one of them files, the other two will step aside. I will be surprised if more than one of them jumps in.

– Michael Cooper, who has been doing some tandem campaigning with Wakely, has filed for Lt. Governor. Mike Collier has been running for months and should be filing soon.

Justin Nelson was late in announcing but prompt in filing for Attorney General.

– We have a candidate for Railroad Commissioner: Roman McAllen, who has a preference for bow ties and wordy biographies. He’s on the board of Preservation Texas, which would make him a welcome alternate perspective to the shills and know-nothings that currently serve on the RRC.

– I don’t have a link to point you to for activity in Harris County at this time. I do know from talking to people that Lina Hidalgo (County Judge), Diane Trautman (County Clerk), and Dylan Osborne (County Treasurer) have filed. I also know that we may get a contested primary for County Judge as Mike Nichols is taking the filing period to explore a candidacy. Nichols has worked with the Houston Food Bank, the Houston Long Range Financial Management Task Force, Planned Parenthood, and the Houston Parks Board. We’ll see what he decides.

– At the state level, we still need someone to run for Comptroller and Land Commissioner; Kim Olson is running for Ag Commissioner. We know of two Supreme Court candidates, but we still need one more of those plus three for the Court of Criminal Appeals. We could use someone for CD22. In Harris County, we’re still looking for a candidate for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, a candidate for HCDE Position 4, Precinct 3, and State Rep in HDs 126, 132, and 135.

– Again, I think there will be some surprises. People get in and drop out at the last minute. I think we’re going to have a lot more contested primaries than we’re used to seeing. And of course I have no idea what may happen on the Republican side. It’s going to be an exciting four weeks. What are you looking for?

Patrick gets a primary challenger

The plot thickens.

Former Rockwall City Council member Scott Milder will challenge Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in next year’s Republican primary, Milder announced formally on Thursday.

Milder, a public education advocate and resident of North Texas, is the first Republican to officially challenge Patrick, a far-right conservative and one of the most powerful elected officials in Texas. Milder has criticized the lieutenant governor for his education policy stances and called Patrick “classless and clueless” for tweeting smiling pictures of himself and Hurricane Harvey first responders.

Milder’s decision to jump into the race was spurred by Patrick’s unsuccessful attempts this year to pass controversial legislation such as the so-called bathroom bill.

“Texans are fed up with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s antics and deserve a choice on the Republican primary ballot,” Milder said. “Voters want to support a traditional conservative leader who will govern with common sense and focus on the critical challenges facing our great state.”

[…]

The bathroom bill, which would have restricted public restroom access for transgender Texans, was the most divisive issue Texas lawmakers debated this year. The Rockwall City Council tackled the issue this year, too, and Milder opposed the effort he said would hurt the economy.

“I am not sympathetic to the transgender agenda, nor any agenda seeking special treatment for special interests under the law,” Milder wrote in a recent Dallas Morning News op-ed. “My opposition to this ordinance was strictly a business decision based in practicality.”

Saying he initially supported the concept of restricting restroom use based on sex, Milder changed his mind when he considered the reaction to “a man dressing up as a woman” and using the men’s room: “That is much more likely to turn some heads and cause trouble.”

Like the statewide effort, Rockwall’s bathroom ordinance also failed to pass.

You can find Milder’s webpage here and his campaign Facebook page here. A press release from his campaign is here. Milder served four years on Rockwell city council, losing a bid for re-election this year. I have no illusions about his chances, but I am interested in three things: How much support he gets – fundraising, endorsements, etc – what percentage of the vote he gets, and whether he endorses Patrick after he loses. I’d set the over/under for Patrick at 80% of the vote in the primary, and I figure anything over 70% will be seen as nothing remarkable. Still, it’s a big deal for someone to take on the biggest bully in the room, so on that score I salute Scott Milder and wish him well. As I like to say, nothing will change until someone loses an election over this stuff, and that starts with people being willing to take the challenge and run. Good luck to you, Scott Milder. Please do your best to soften Danny up for Mike Collier.

Garry Brown

We now have at least two officially declared Democratic candidates for Governor.

Garry Brown

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Garry Brown of Austin announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

It was a simple affair on Brown’s front lawn in Milwood. A podium. About 30 folding chairs and as many people.

[…]

Brown called for better funding education, Medicaid expansion and preserving local control.

Of Abbott, he said, “He dislikes Big Government when it involves the Fed, but he himself practices it eery day. And now he’s begging the Feds to send us money for the Harvey recovery work. This isn’t just irony, folks, it’s hypocritical bullcrap.”

“I didn’t make the decision to run for governor lightly,” Brown said.

Brown said he will keep his day job, that he can’t afford not to. He is a renter and he is also supporting his mother, sister and nephew.

“I moved them all in with me to take care of them,” he said.

Then he offered what I thought was his most arresting image.

“Texas GOP leaders have been in power so long they believe we all have Stockholm Syndrome.”

Brown’s webpage is here and his Facebook page is here. There’s more about him in the story, so read the whole thing. Brown joins Jeffrey Payne, and they may or may not be joined by Andrew White and Michael Sorrell. I’ve not seen an official announcement from Tom Wakely, but he is campaigning, so he’s in as well. He’s also now being accompanied by a gentleman from Beaumont named Michael Cooper who is running for Lite Guv and who Wakley calls his running mate. Looks like we’ll have a contested primary in that race, too. As for Governor, I’ll say again, I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say. There’s plenty of time to decide who to support.

Can anyone beat Greg Abbott?

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

More on Jeffrey Payne

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

Jeffrey Payne

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

What changes would you try to implement as governor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will run statewide for the Dems?

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

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collier makes it official

Mike Collier announces his entry into the race for Lt. Governor.

Mike Collier

Democrat Mike Collier officially announced his bid for the position in Round Rock Saturday afternoon.

A large crowd of supporters came to the Sharon Prete Main Street Plaza to hear his plan to take on Dan Patrick in 2018. He told the crowd they need a lieutenant governor that will bring Texas together, not apart.

He criticized Patrick on his priorities this legislative session, like the so-called bathroom bill. He says if he wins the race, he’ll focus on fixing Texas’ economy and school funding.

“We’re very different in terms of public education,” Collier said. “I’m pro-public education. I’m pro-teacher and retired teacher and he’s not. We have very different points of view in terms of tax policy. I attribute high property taxes to republican fiscal policies. I’ll show that on the campaign trail.

“When you look at what he stands for you’ll see that he’s trying to do good for everyone not just for certain interest groups,” supporter Sharon Covey said.

Collier announced his intent in March, so this was to be expected. This race will be a big challenge, for reasons you don’t need me to explain. If Democratic enthusiasm is sufficiently high, and Collier can convince the business community that he’s on their side in a way Dan Patrick is not, then he’ll have a shot. The very early Texas Lyceum poll suggests there’s at least a bit of dislike for Patrick, so we’ll see. The finance reports will give us the first clues if any of this may be happening. The Statesman has more.

Bathroom bills and business interests

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Lyceum poll on Trump and 2018

From the inbox, the promised Day Two results:

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

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

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

Patrick vs. Collier

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

Right Track/ Wrong Track

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

President Trump’s job approval numbers line up by party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seems like it’s just a matter of time before Beto O’Rourke announces his Senate campaign

Soon.

Re. Beto O’Rourke

Eyeing a takedown of Ted Cruz, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke may be on the verge of declaring his candidacy for a 2018 Senate race, the next best gauge whether Texas Democrats are enjoying the resurgence they claim.

O’Rourke, D-El Paso, made national news last week along with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, when they drove together to Washington in a rental car after an East Coast storm canceled many flights.

Their “bipartisan congressional town hall,” intended to show how members of different political parties can get along, drew thousands of followers via live streaming as the two talked about substantive matters, joked with one another and even joined in song along the way.

The congressmen announced Wednesday that the San Antonio to D.C. trip will become an annual event – to be called the Congressional Cannonball Run – and that other bipartisan teams from Congress will be invited to join.

Along with O’Rourke, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is considering the 2018 Senate race and next month intends to make known his decision.

The whole O’Rourke-Hurd bipartisan road trip thing made me roll my eyes, but it accomplished the important purpose of generating a lot of positive attention for O’Rourke, which is no small thing for an otherwise not well known politician from El Paso who wants to mount a statewide campaign. Name recognition is a big deal, and getting that much publicity for free speaks well to his ability to campaign.

The Statesman has a longer profile of O’Rourke, which again speaks to his ability to get noticed. I’m going to focus here on the inevitable “can he win?” stuff.

Texas Democrats last won statewide office 1994. Cruz was elected to the Senate by a margin of 16 percentage points after a come-from-behind victory over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a GOP primary runoff. Cruz quickly became the most popular Republican in Texas, but his strong but failed presidential bid and his up-and-down relationship with candidate and now-President Donald Trump have brought his approval ratings down to earth.

Meanwhile, this is about the time in the political cycle when Democrats succumb to hope over experience.

In June 2013, Democratic hearts soared when then-state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth filibustered abortion legislation, drawing national attention and social media acclaim that led her to a run for governor in which she raised an enormous amount of money on the way to a 20-point drubbing.

[…]

Trump’s epic unpredictability adds an element of uncertainty for 2018 in Texas as everywhere else and, for Democrats, an urgency to harness all the anti-Trump energy at the grass roots.

“Talk to anybody who works in politics in Democratic and progressive circles in Texas,” said Jeff Rotkoff, a veteran Democratic political strategist who is now director of campaigns for the Texas AFL-CIO. “You would get near unanimous agreement with the statement that interest in political participation by average folks who have not participated in politics in the past is through the roof, and it’s impossible not to connect that to Trump.”

The state Democratic Party says it finds itself deluged with unusual interest by potential candidates at every level, and Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said that even the possibility of an O’Rourke-Castro contest does not distress him.

“Truthfully, after so many years having a difficult time getting strong candidates to run for the U.S. Senate, it’s a great problem to have,” Hinojosa said.

“I think it’s a healthy thing that both of them feel that they would seriously consider seeking the nomination for the U.S. Senate because they think that Ted Cruz is beatable and because they believe that the atmosphere that is being created in Texas and all across America by the Trump phenomenon is going to make a better atmosphere for Democrats in 2018,” Hinojosa said. “Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.”

O’Rourke said he has been buoyed by recent visits to Fort Worth, Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Austin, Killeen, Waco, College Station, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo, Houston, Dallas and any number of smaller town in between, often meeting with veterans’ service organizations. O’Rourke serves on the Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees.

Midland, Odessa, Big Spring and Abilene were on the schedule for this weekend.

I’ll address this in more detail in a separate post. For now, focus on the assertions that interest in political participation by folks who had not previously been terribly engaged is way up. The May elections may give us a bit of data to measure that, though we won’t really know until next year. I think we can all agree that getting people more engaged and involved is the first step towards getting more people to vote next year, and any chance Beto O’Rourke or Joaquin Castro – or Mike Collier or anyone else who runs statewide or in one of those target districts – has of being elected starts with that.

Mike Collier will run for Lt Gov

Good.

Mike Collier

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is getting a Democratic challenger for re-election in 2018.

The Texas Democratic Party said Thursday that Mike Collier is stepping down as finance chairman to start a campaign for lieutenant governor.

“Dan Patrick has proven he is unworthy of leading this great state,” party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement Thursday. “I am proud to see a courageous Texan like Mike Collier put his name forward to serve.”

In his own statement, Collier said he is “assembling a campaign team to run against Dan Patrick for Texas Lt. Governor.” He added that he will make a formal announcement after touring the state and gauging support for his run.

“We need a Lt. Governor that brings Texans together, not an ideologue that chases headlines and drives us apart,” Collier said.

[…]

In a brief interview with The Texas Tribune after the announcement, Collier said he filed Thursday morning with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for lieutenant governor. He promised to run a “very policy-oriented, substantive campaign” involving many of the same issues he raised in his 2014 run.

While Texas Democrats are hopeful President Donald Trump’s unpopularity will help them in 2018, Collier said he does not see Trump factoring into his race.

“I’m going to run against my opponent,” Collier said. “My focus has been on the state of Texas.

Collier ran for Comptroller in 2014. He raised some money, ran a decent campaign, won a few endorsements, and generally made a good impression in a lousy year. He was mentioned as a possible candidate for Governor in that story about planning for 2018, but as I noted at the time, he makes more sense as a Lite Guv candidate, because he can go to the business lobby and present himself as a fine and credible alternative to Dan Patrick. Which doesn’t mean they’ll go along, of course – he’ll need to raise a crap-ton of money and have a really good plan for turning out Democratic votes to not get politely shown the door – but there’s a chance. Having him get started this early says a lot. You want to get in on it, go here and get on his contacts list. If we’re serious about making some noise in 2018, here’s our first chance to show it.

Texas Dems look to 2018

I have a few things to say about this.

Just because

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

My thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s your 2018-19 revenue estimate

It’s pretty mediocre.

Facing sluggish economic forecasts amid low oil prices along with billions in tax revenue already dedicated to the state highway fund, Comptroller Glenn Hegarannounced Monday that lawmakers will have $104.87 billion in state funds at their disposal in crafting the next two-year budget, a 2.7 percent decrease from his estimate ahead of the legislative session two years ago.

Hegar told state lawmakers he expected a “slow to moderate” expansion of the Texas economy. Still, he said, the amount of revenue they will be able to negotiate over has fallen. That’s largely because lawmakers in 2015 moved to dedicate up to $5 billion in sales tax revenue every two years to the state’s highway fund, rather than being spent on other priorities such as schools, health care or reforms to the embattled Texas foster care system.

“We are projecting overall revenue growth,” Hegar said. “Such growth, however, is more than offset” by the demands of the state highway fund and other dedicated funds.

The revenue estimate does not determine the scope of the entire Texas budget. Rather, it sets a limit on the state’s general fund, the portion of the budget that lawmakers have the most control over. The general fund typically makes up about half of the state’s total budget.

Two years ago, Hegar estimated that the Legislature would have $113 billion in state funds, also known as general revenue. Adding in federal funds and other revenue sources, lawmakers would have $221 billion in total for its budget, as well as $11.1 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, he said at the time. Lawmakers ultimately passed a $209.4 billion budget, which included billions in tax cuts.

On Monday, Hegar estimated lawmakers would have $104.87 billion in general revenue, and $224.8 billion in total revenue to write a budget for the 2018-19 biennium which begins in September.

See here for more on Hegar’s 2015 estimate, which would up being a tad bit optimistic, but not too far off. It won’t be surprising if this one is off a bit one way or the other – this is why 2014 Comptroller candidate Mike Collier called for more frequent revenue estimates during his campaign, so the course can be corrected as needed more often – but again I expect this to at least be in the ballpark. Assuming the economy doesn’t crash and burn and/or we don’t have ten percent annual growth under Dear Leader Trump, of course.

There are a lot of ingredients that go into making the budget sausage, and there are various things that can and will be done to avoid doing anything too painful. We could of course just assume this was a temporary dip and take a few bucks out of the Rainy Day Fund to smooth out the curve – that was its original purpose, after all; now it serves as a hole in the back yard into which we bury sacks of cash for no clear reason – but that isn’t going to happen. We do have your local property taxes bolstering the state’s bottom line, so be sure to send a thank you note to the State Supreme Court for that. And as always, remember that the biggest boost to spending in 2015 was tax cuts, but that’s never what the leadership has in mind when it says we need to “cut back” on expenses. We do things one way in this state, and will continue to do them that way until there are different people running the state. The Chron and BurkaBlog 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.

Endorsement watch: Probate courts

The Chron makes its endorsements for Probate Courts, and as they have done recently stayed mostly with incumbents while having nice things to say about the challengers. The one Democrat they recommended out of the four races was as follows:

Jerry Simoneaux

Harris County Probate Court No. 3: Jerry Simoneaux

A former probate court staff attorney, Democratic challenger Jerry Simoneaux is the right choice for this bench. A certified mediator who has practiced probate law for 13 years, Simoneaux, 48, graduated from the South Texas College of Law.

Incumbent Republican Judge Rory Robert Olsen has presided over this court since 1999. With a law degree from Duke University, an LLM from Southern Methodist University and a Master of Judicial Studies from the University of Nevada, Olsen, 65, has become an expert on the bench when it comes to mental health issues in probate. A prolific writer on the topic, he has recently worked on an assisted-outpatient treatment program with the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County. However, Olsen’s energy has begun to fade, and he has developed a reputation as an inconsistent judge. Voters should thank him for his years of service and send him out on a high note.

As it happens, Simoneaux is the one candidate out of four for whom I have not yet received Q&A responses. I previously published Q&As with James Horwitz and Kim Bohannon Hoesl, and will have one with Josefina Rendon next week.

In other endorsement news, the Chron also endorsed Big John Cornyn for re-election, in decidedly non-ringing fashion. Some choice quotes:

But voters should know that Cornyn is a Republican first and a Texan second. For a man who has served in elected office since 1986, Cornyn remains unfocused on issues of importance to Houston and the Gulf Coast.

Meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, it seemed as if coastal storm surge protection was a new topic for Texas’ senior senator. When asked about his position on the Ike Dike, Cornyn responded, “I don’t even know what that is.”

Discussing the nuances of exporting crude, Cornyn admitted, “I don’t pretend to understand these things.”

Way to make our alma mater proud, John. Elsewhere, the Star-Telegram joined the Sam Houston bandwagon, while the Dallas Morning News joined the chorus of Mike Collier fans. Let me quote a bit from the FWST piece, since it’s about as succinct a case against Ken Paxton as you’ll see:

The Republican nominee, lawyer and state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, is undeserving of consideration.

Paxton was fined $1,000 and still may face a felony investigation.

In May, state securities regulators found Paxton sent clients to an investment firm without registering or disclosing his own paid role.

It happened three times. A 2012 violation is within the five-year statute of limitations.

Paxton should know better.

No candidate to lead “the people’s law firm” should ever have misled a client, a state board or the people of Texas.

Anyone want to argue with that? By the way, there apparently was a Ken Paxton sighting the other day, in which Paxton admitted in passive-voice fashion that he had indeed committed a crime but that he stands lawyered-up and ready to fight the charges against him when they are finally filed. If that’s not a compelling campaign story, I don’t know what is.

Finally, the DMN went red in the races for Land Commissioner, Ag Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner, in the latter case because they valued industry experience more than not being another industry insider, in the former case because they naively think Baby Bush might somehow turn out to be Not That Kind Of Republican, and in the middle case for reasons unclear. Maybe Sid Miller was the only one that showed up, I dunno.

Interview with Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Given that we are guaranteed to have an entirely new set of statewide officeholders after this election no matter who wins, there are a lot of candidates with current or past experience as elected officials, or at least as candidates. Despite that, one of the most compelling candidates running this year is a first timer, Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate running for Comptroller. Collier is a career accountant, which you would think would be the norm for the state’s top financial officer, but it’s not. It was his experience as an accountant that led him to believe something was seriously wrong with how the Comptroller was estimating revenue for the 2011 legislative session, when incumbent Susan Combs projected a $28 billion deficit that turned out to be far off base but which led to devastating budget cuts for public education. His experience as an auditor led him to be critical of the Major Events Trust Fund and its unaccountable giveaway of millions of dollars to Formula One in Austin. His no-nonsense approach and sensible talk about ensuring the integrity of Texas’ finances have led him to be endorsed so far by the Statesman, the Caller, and now the Chronicle. Listen to him for a few minutes and you’ll see why he’s made such an impressive case for himself. Here’s the interview:

I will wrap up candidate interviews next week, and as noted before will continue to run judicial Q&As for as long as I receive responses.

UPDATE: The DMN endorsed Collier over the weekend.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Collier

Add the Houston Chronicle to the list of papers endorsing Mike Collier for Comptroller.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

[Sen. Glenn] Hegar knows politics; Collier knows the numbers. In our view the choice is clear: Texas needs the numbers man, not a politician who wants to use the office as a stepping stone to higher office.

Texans know what can happen when a comptroller gets the numbers wrong. In January 2013, the outgoing comptroller, Susan Combs, produced a Biennial Revenue Estimate that showed she had grossly underestimated what the state’s revenue would be in the 2012-13 biennium. That mistake, which prompted Collier to run for the office, played havoc with budget choices during the 2011 legislative session, including a $5.4 billion cut in education funding that didn’t have to be made.

Hegar, who has said he was proud of the education cut, seemed to suggest during the GOP primary that his chief qualifications for serving as comptroller were his opposition to abortion and his enthusiasm for the 2nd Amendment.

Since then, he has offered suggestions about how to run the office more effectively – more transparency, more training, a top-down review of the office’s basic functions – but it’s our impression he’d be learning on the job, and probably biding his time for the next office to open up.

Collier, one of the more engaging and articulate candidates we interviewed during the campaign season, clearly has the experience to run the comptroller’s office. He also has ideas for making it function more effectively – among them, producing quarterly revenue estimates so that lawmakers would have a better understanding of the state’s fiscal health.

The Chron joins the Statesman and the Caller and recommending Collier. I feel confident they won’t be the last paper to do so. Again, does this mean much? No, certainly not in this day and age, and in a partisan election. But it’s not nothing, and every little bit of reinforcement for the message that Collier is easily the better choice helps. Look for my interview with him on Monday.

Endorsement watch: One for Steve Brown

The Express News makes a nice call.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

In this year’s contest, Democrat Steve Brown is the best candidate.

A former party chairman of Fort Bend County, Brown has not worked in the oil-and-gas industry and can bring a much-needed outsider’s viewpoint. He is clearly the best candidate to voice concerns raised by people in communities most affected by the oil-and-gas boom.

Brown takes concerns about water usage, disposal wells fueling tremors in West Texas and the effects of flaring on our air quality seriously.

He has endorsed recommendations from the Sunset Advisory Commission to change the Railroad Commission’s name, place limits on fundraising from the oil-and-gas industry, and expand its recusal policy so conflicts are placed in writing.

The powerful oil-and-gas industry has excessive influence on the commission. Industry interests and public interests are not always the same.

I’ve talked before about how I expect some of the newspaper endorsements to go – I expect Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston to sweep, Mike Collier and Wendy Davis to do well, and Baby Bush to be the Republican standard-bearer – but the Railroad Commissioner race is harder to read. The E-N pretty much lays out the choice: Ryan Sitton will get the nod from the papers that think experience matters for this office, and Brown will be endorsed by those that think an outsider is needed on this industry-dominated commission. The fact that Brown is smart and a good communicator, has worked hard to learn the details of the job and has put forward some good policy ideas has helped his cause. I hope the other papers see it as the Express News did.

In other endorsement news, the Corpus Christi Caller has been busy. They put out nice recommendations for Mike Collier and Sam Houston. From the latter:

Houston lawyer Sam Houston, the Democrat running for attorney general, would make a compelling case for our endorsement even if the Republican nominee could match his resume and unblemished reputation for ethics. Republican Ken Paxton should be disqualified from consideration because his compromised ethics are a matter of record. We’re disturbed that Republican voters didn’t do that in the primary or the runoff.

[…]

Houston would focus the office of attorney general more forcefully upon its core functions — enforcing consumer protection laws, collecting child support, issuing open-records opinions — and less on suing the federal government at Texas taxpayer expense. Attorney General Greg Abbott famously sued the government to obstruct environmental regulation and Obamacare implementation, and to stop a federal judge’s ruling that would have protected the endangered whooping crane. All of the Republican candidates for attorney general, especially Paxton, promised more of the same. So, we probably would have endorsed Houston anyway had Rep. Dan Branch or former Railroad and Public Utility commissions chairman Barry Smitherman been the GOP nominee — but not without acknowledging their undeniable fitness for the office.

Again, this one is such a no-brainer that I will be shocked if any paper comes up with a reason to tout Paxton. It’s just no contest. As for Collier:

If the state comptroller were a non-elected professional, sensible Texans would hire what they’ve never voted into that office — an accountant. Democrat Mike Collier — CPA and former oil company chief financial officer — would be a shoo-in. And the Republican nominee, state Sen. Glenn Hegar, a farmer — nothing wrong with farmers — would be irrelevant.

Hegar is an example of a recurring mistake voters make — a politician seeking a promotion to comptroller to then what?

Collier is believable when he says comptroller wouldn’t be a steppingstone for him. He’s easy to envision as a comptroller. Lieutenant governor? That would require some imagination. He has never run for office, says he wants to take the politics out of this one and — call us naive — we take him at his word.

[…]

Collier proposes quarterly revenue estimates, which would help lawmakers and the public know where Texas stands financially. He praises Combs for one thing — transparency — but says all she did was dish out mountains of unexplained data. He proposes explaining what it means — a task he’s uniquely qualified to do.

A very strong endorsement for a strong candidate. How much do these things matter? Not much. But it’s still nice to have.

And on a less serious note, there’s the Ag Commissioner race. Texpatriate surveyed the field, and after ruling out the useless Jim Hogan and the troglodyte Sid Miller, chose to endorse Green party candidate Kenneth Kendrick. Apparently, someone notified Hogan about this, and he paused “Storage Wars” and put down his bag of Funyons long enough to tweet his displeasure at this insult to the integrity of his campaign. Snarkery ensued, and so, I hope, will a drawn-out slapfight on social media. You take your diversions where you can, you know? To re-engage serious mode for a moment, it will be interesting to see how the papers handle this race. If there was ever a race in which a third-party candidate could rack up a few endorsements, this would be it. I don’t know that I’d bet on it, but I don’t know that I’d bet against it, either.

Endorsement watch: Statesman for Collier

The Statesman continues its early work on endorsements with a solid recommendation for Democratic Comptroller candidate Mike Collier.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

The deplorable revenue forecast issued ahead of the 2011 legislative session by the current comptroller, Republican Susan Combs, who’s retiring from politics, contributed to an unnecessary $5.4 billion cut to public education. Combs’ estimate – she was off by $11.3 billion, one of the worst misses in state history – motivated Collier to run.

Collier, 53, is the former chief financial officer of a Houston-based energy company and a former partner with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He has no previous political experience, though steering complicated projects through the huge bureaucracy of an international accounting firm with 180,000 employees requires its own set of political skills. He is a graduate of Georgetown High School in Williamson County and received his undergraduate and master of business administration degrees from the University of Texas.

Though he faces the usual long odds of any Democrat running for statewide office in Texas, Collier is a dynamic candidate. Engaging, enthusiastic and clearly knowledgeable of the duties of the office he seeks, he is a natural communicator with a winning sense of humor. The Texas Democratic Party could use more candidates like him.

Collier sees the comptroller’s office as “an exciting management challenge” that fits best with his focus on performance, not on, say, social issues that he says freeze too many voters in place. One of his main ideas for reforming the agency is to issue quarterly revenue estimates. Such estimates, he says, will improve the comptroller’s accuracy and timeliness, remove political agendas and make a huge difference in how the Legislature does its job.

The comptroller may not be as well-known a state official as the governor, or even lieutenant governor, but the comptroller still has a bully pulpit of sorts, Collier says, and he plans to use it to persuade counties to improve their property tax appraisals. He also wants to establish an ongoing dialogue with taxpayers about the state’s fiscal health and properly funding public education. And he says he’d lobby lawmakers to revive the comptroller’s ability to conduct performance reviews – accountability audits of state agencies to identify possible savings and improve the state’s finances.

As I noted with the Statesman’s endorsement of Sam Houston, I expect Collier to get the lion’s share of endorsements from the papers. Maybe not all of them, as he’s a first time candidate who speaks his mind directly, but any he does lose won’t be because he isn’t the better-qualified candidate. Having recently had the opportunity to interview him, I can confirm the Statesman’s assessment of him and his capabilities. I’ll say it again, on the merits and on their accomplishments and experience, the overall statewide Democratic ticket wipes the floor with the Republicans in a way that we haven’t seen since at least 1994, the last year we won something at the top. I’ll take all the good omens I can get. Look for my upcoming interview with Collier and be sure to give it a listen. If you don’t know much about the guy now, you’ll like what you hear.

Collier keeps up the attack

I really like the way he’s running his campaign.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Democratic comptroller nominee Mike Collier says his Republican opponent Glenn Hegar bragged to a Houston-area tea party interviewer last year that he was proud of the Legislature’s 2011 budget cuts to public schools. On Friday, Collier released a web video to prove it.

“It’s embarrassing and unacceptable that Glenn Hegar takes pride in cutting education despite our extraordinary prosperity,” Collier said in a statement.

“Hegar does not share our values, and he poses a profound threat to something Texans have held dear since our founding, … a great educational system,” said Collier, a Houston businessman.

Hegar spokesman David White called Collier’s 40-second video “a distortion.”

Though Hegar, a state senator from Katy, joined other Republican lawmakers in approving $5.4 billion in cuts to schools in the budget-cutting session of 2011, “Senator Hegar believes in adequately funding our education system,” White said.

Collier’s “entire campaign amounts to a distortion of truth and negative campaign commercials,” said White, Hegar’s senior adviser.

You can see the ad and the video from the Montgomery County Tea Party event from which the quote was taken at the link above. Note first that Hegar doesn’t actually deny saying what Collier accuses him of saying. He just says it’s not as bad as Collier makes it out to be. When he says he supports “adequately funding our school system”, he doesn’t say what he thinks “adequate” means. Remember, the state’s argument in the school finance lawsuit is that the current level of funding, which is still billions less than it was before 2011, is perfectly (and constitutionally) adequate. Glenn Hegar isn’t going to argue with that. Funny how these guys will proudly say something to one audience, then try to obfuscate what they actually said when it’s presented to a wider audience, isn’t it? The more Hegar complains, the more you know Collier is hitting the mark.

Planned Parenthood comes out swinging

Good to see.

Planned Parenthood’s political arm is embarking on the most aggressive campaign it has ever waged in Texas, with plans to spend $3 million to turn out voters for Democratic candidates including Sens. Wendy Davis for governor and Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor.

Bolstered by a $1 million donation from a single backer, Planned Parenthood’s latest Texas-based political action fund is sparking concerns among anti-abortion activists who expect to be outgunned financially by the effort that has a particular focus on women voters.

[…]

The new PAC, called Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, is intended to bolster the top of the Democratic ticket, along with a slate of state House candidates and the Democrat running for Davis’ open Senate seat. The group also endorsed Rep. Sarah Davis, the only Republican who voted against last year’s tighter abortion restrictions.

Created just four months ago, the PAC already has more than $1 million cash on hand, mostly through the $1 million donation from Planned Parenthood Chair Cecilia Boone. It’s only the third contribution of that amount recorded by any candidate or PAC this election cycle.

The endeavor will be coordinated with a new Texas-based Planned Parenthood 501c4 group, a tax exempt nonprofit that does not have to disclose contributors.

Planned Parenthood says the nonprofit is set up to handle administrative costs, while the bulk of the spending will be done through its PAC that makes contributors known to the public.

Despite having a long-established presence in Texas, state data shows it’s the first time Planned Parenthood’s political arm has dedicated this type of financial firepower to Texas’ elections.

[…]

Planned Parenthood organizers said they will parlay the PAC money into an aggressive field program to reach more than 300,000 women – including Democrats and Republicans identified as receptive to their message – through phone banks, door-to-door visits and direct mail. The campaign will also include a heavy dose of digital outreach that will include radio ads and online ads, along with social media.

That’s great and exciting and all, but I have to ask: What the hell took so long for someone to figure out this was a good idea? It’s not exactly rocket science, and the bad guys have been doing it for years now. More in the primaries than in November, I admit, but still. How is it that the light bulb never went on before now? And where are the other groups that ought to be doing the same thing? If I don’t see at least one more story like this about a similar organization between now and November, I’m going to be deeply annoyed.

Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant, said Planned Parenthood’s spending can slice two ways for Davis.

On one hand, it will put the abortion spotlight back on Davis and could stymie her messaging as a candidate focused on a broad range of policies. Mackowiak said, however, it can also provide more resources for her campaign, which is at a 3-1 cash disadvantage compared to Abbott, and maybe even provide a bit of cover on the issue.

“The campaign knows that talking about abortion is a net loser for her,” he said. “These outside groups can focus on maximizing the pro-choice vote while Wendy stays above that fray.”

I basically agree with Mackowiak, but not for the reason he has in mind. The issue here for Davis, as I’ve said before, is that there’s precious little she can do as Governor to advance reproductive rights. She can’t undo or roll back HB2, the bill she famously filibustered, she can’t restore funding to family planning services or Planned Parenthood. She can’t even introduce a bill to do any of these things, not that they’d go anywhere if she could. The one thing she can do is be the last line of defense against further assaults on women’s health and reproductive freedom, via the veto pen. Vitally important, to be sure, and something that needs to be said, but talking about defense doesn’t strike me as very inspiring. In my more cynical moments, I suspect that if she did speak more about it, the nattering types that have complained Davis has not talked enough about abortion would complain that she’s focusing on it too much.

Be that as it may, apocalyptic scenarios and desperate appeals to hold the line are exactly the sort of thing that outside groups are made for. They can get as hyperbolic as they want and do whatever they can to scare targeted voters to the ballot box. (Again, the mind boggles that we hadn’t been doing this before now.) In addition, PPVT and any other groups that want to jump in can shill for candidates other than just Wendy Davis as well. Certainly they’d want to push for Leticia Van de Putte, but including Sam Houston and Mike Collier – yes, I know that the Comptroller has little to nothing to do with abortion, but remember that Collier is running against the guy who sponsored HB2 – would also make sense and would be a nice little boost to their campaigns.

So jump in with both feet, PPVT, and invite your friends to jump in with you. There’s plenty of people in Texas to help fund this kind of effort. We need them all to keep some of their money in state and do their part to help the good guys win in November.

Collier hits the road

Talking taxes, and our state’s screwed-up appraisal process.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

With about as many local candidates as voters in attendance, the Travis County Democratic Party hosted a “town hall” on property tax reform Friday morning, where everybody agreed with would-be County Commissioner (Precinct 2) Brigid Shea: “The appraisal process is broken.” To fix it – in the current state political climate – will take some doing.

The event, introduced by TCDP Executive Director J.D. Gins, was headlined by Shea and Mike Collier, candidate for state Comptroller, who each spoke briefly and then responded to audience questions. Among the several dozen attendees, Newsdesk counted at least a dozen local candidates – most of them for Austin’s fall City Council elections – and among them likely County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who took the mic for a moment to rattle off some estimates of the financial benefits to county homeowners of substantial tax reform. The forum was also webcast across the state; Shea introduced a brief video produced by Real Values for Texas, a new statewide coalition “taking action to expose the impact of our state’s broken property tax system on homeowners, kids, and local communities.”

The gist of the problem, reiterated Collier and Shea, is that the property tax appraisal system has been allowed to become radically inequitable – even unconstitutional, said Collier. Under the Texas Constitution, properties are required to be assessed at market value for taxation purposes. For individual homeowners, said Collier, that’s mostly what happens; but big industrial and commercial property owners have managed, over the years, by various mechanisms – e.g., limiting exposure, concealing sales prices, and using greater resources to appeal – to be taxed at much lower valuations.

According to Real Values for Texas, the result is a system that, statewide, taxes major commercial and industrial properties at roughly 60% of market value, thereby moving much of that additional burden onto residential homeowners. Shea said that during her campaign visits, the subject is on everyone’s lips (especially in Travis County, where property values continue to surge). “It is hurting people all across our state,” Shea said, “literally driving people out of their homes.”

Collier noted that statewide, the problem must be addressed by the Legislature, which has largely relied on across-the-board spending cuts – especially to public schools – instead of attempting to make the system more equitable. He recommended three basic fixes: 1) tightening the definition of capital property; 2) requiring some form of sale price disclosure (as is required in 46 states); 3) addressing the imbalance in “negotiating power.” Commercial property owners, he pointed out, not only have teams of lawyers to appeal their valuations, but also, if they should win a lawsuit, the appraisal districts must pay any legal costs (not so in reverse). As a result, appraisal officials are motivated to capitulate rather than risk losing contested appeals.

Collier acknowledged that substantial reform will require legislative action, but the comptroller has a “voice, and the data,” to press the Legislature to comprehend the problem and restore equity to the system. He said that the Republican Party in Texas has become the spokesman and representative of big business, and “small businesses need at least one comptroller.” Rather than think first about the needs of big business, he added, state officials need to consider, in order, the needs of “homeowners, consumers, small business, and then big business.”

We’ve talked about this before, and you know how I feel about it. I’m glad to see Collier out and about talking about this – he’s on a two-week statewide tour, including a stop in Atascocita today, to discuss the issue. If he can get his message out, he can put himself in a position to win.

Convention coverage

Wendy and Leticia and a whole host of others rally the crowd in Dallas.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte shared the spotlight at the Texas Democratic Party convention on Friday night, promising to change the direction of the state, ripping their Republican opponents and imploring Democrats to break the GOP’s two-decade grip on state government.

Davis attacked her Republican opponent, matching his attacks at the GOP convention in Fort Worth earlier this month, and talked fighting insiders in Austin.

“I’m running because there’s a moderate majority that’s being ignored — commonsense, practical, hardworking Texans whose voices are being drowned out by insiders in Greg Abbott’s party, and it needs to stop,” she said.

Davis spoke about her background, her kids and her grandmother, all as a way of establishing her Texas roots and values.

She talked about what she would do if elected, promising full-day pre-K “for every eligible child,” less testing in public schools, less state interference with teaching, more affordable and accessible college. She also implied she would end property tax exemptions for country clubs as part of property tax reform, and end a sales tax discount for big retailers who pay on time.

She took some swipes at her opponent, too.

“Unlike Greg Abbott, I’m not afraid to share the stage with my party’s nominee for lieutenant governor, my colleague, mi hermana, Leticia Van de Putte,” she said. When the audience hooted, she cautioned them: “Now you guys don’t clap too much or Greg Abbott will sue you.”

The insider slam on Abbott was woven into Davis’ nine pages of prepared remarks. “You see, Mr. Abbott cut his teeth politically as part of the good old boys network that’s had their hands on the reins for decades,” she said. “He’s been in their service and their debt since he ran for office, and as a judge and a lawyer he’s spent his career defending insiders, protecting insiders, stacking the deck for insiders and making hardworking Texans pay the price.”

Davis said Abbott accepts large contributions from payday lenders “and then clears the way for them to charge unlimited interest rates and fees.” She blasted him for taking contributions from law firms that handle bond deals approved by the office of the attorney general, and for saying state law does not require chemical companies to reveal what they are storing in Texas communities.

“He isn’t working for you; he’s just another insider, working for insiders,” she said.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Van de Putte, who spoke immediately before Davis, promised not to back down from the fight against Dan Patrick, her opponent for lieutenant governor. She said she would instead fight to “put Texas first.”

When she ran for student council president in junior high, she said, she was told she could not run because she was a girl.

“Well I did, and I won,” she said.

She said that lesson remains relevant now. “I need to run, not just because I am a girl, but because I want the responsibility. Because I know what needs to get done. And I know I’m the right person for the job.”

I love it when they talk tough. I’m not up in Dallas, though several of my blogging colleagues are. So far the reports I’ve heard are positive – lots of energy and excitement. One person even compared it to 2008, which is music to the ear. Obviously, the folks who take the time to go to a party convention aren’t the ones that need to be inspired to go vote, but they are the ones that will be doing a lot of the work to inspire others, so the more enthusiastic they are, the better.

As I said on Friday, the best thing you can do is work to help get the message out and get the voters to the polls. The next best thing you can do is pitch in financially. Democrats have done phenomenally well in grassroots small-dollar fundraising of late, which is both great and necessary since the other guys have a lot more megalomaniac billionaires on their side. Monday is the last day for this fundraising period, and while we can’t do much about the polling narrative right now, we can at least make sure that one part of the story is that our candidates will be in good shape to take the fight to their opponents this fall. So with that in mind, here’s where you can park that loose change that’s burning a hole in your pocket:

Wendy Davis

Leticia Van de Putte

Sam Houston

Mike Collier

John Cook

Steve Brown

If you can only give to one, I would advise you to donate to Leticia Van de Putte. Wendy Davis has already demonstrated that she can raise a ton of money, but Leticia needs to post a big number in July to ensure that every story written about her doesn’t contain a disclaimer about her ability to get her message out. Sam Houston and then Mike Collier are next in line. Those two plus John Cook and Steve Brown will have less effect on the ultimate outcome than the ladies will, but they are still very important.

“You just work with what you have rather than complaining that you don’t have it,” said John Cook, the land commissioner candidate. “That’s what our campaign is all about.”

Cook said he will focus less on the General Land Office and home in on the GOP’s controversial platform on social issues, which touts reparative therapy for gays and lesbians, among other measures.

“My job now is to point out the shortcomings of the Republican Party and the inclusiveness of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Brown, running for a seat on the state board that regulates oil and gas, has campaigned on increasing the Railroad Commission’s environmental stewardship and improving the agency’s fairness. He said he would work on communicating that to delegates at the convention.

Houston, vying to become the state’s chief lawyer, said he wants to depoliticize the attorney general’s office, saying that under Greg Abbott it too often has focused on fighting the federal government rather than finding solutions.

Collier said he intends to paint the tea party – and the Texas GOP, by extension – as anti-business for failing to support fully funding key state programs, such as public education, that ultimately aid business.

“If you understand business, you understand that you’ve got to invest to plan for the future,” Collier said.

The badness of the Republican statewide ticket doesn’t end with Dan Patrick. It’s rotten all the way down. Don’t forget about these guys, who will be working as hard as Wendy and Leticia with far less attention being paid to them.

John Cook mentioned the party platform, so let’s talk about that.

Roughly 7,000 delegates have converged on the Big D this weekend, two weeks after Texas Republicans met at the Fort Worth end of the Metroplex to hammer out a platform that drew national attention for its controversial planks on immigration and support for so-called “reparative therapy” to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality.

“All they did was talk about hating people,” Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said at a Thursday night reception. “This week, we’re in Dallas, Texas, talking about love, right?”

The Democratic Party platform will reflect that feeling, said Garnet Coleman, the Houston state representative in charge of leading the drafting committee for the last decade.

“Our platform is designed to include, not exclude,” Coleman said on Friday, the day before the draft document is viewed, debated and voted on by the permanent platform committee. “And I think their (the Republicans’) platform is an expression of values that are, quite frankly, outside of the mainstream.”

Coleman predicted the Democrats’ platform will not spark the heated debates of the Republican convention, where delegates fought over planks on immigration, medical marijuana and homosexuality, because of a “set of values” the party approved in 2004 and on which they have been building since.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of change,” Coleman said of the 2014 draft compared with its 2012 predecessor. The party will remain opposed to a guest worker program in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and the issue of child detainees on the border likely will not be included in the platform.

[…]

The most significant departure from previous years’ platforms likely will be the inclusion of a new plank regarding women’s issues, said Coleman. The section will focus on issues that affect women beyond family planning and abortion, such as wage disparity and other workplace challenges.

The transportation section also will see some additions, addressing what Coleman called the “non-sexy” issues of toll roads and highway building and maintenance funds.

“There’s not enough money to just maintain the highways we have, so that affects the ability for Texas to grow,” Coleman said, adding he would like to see a gas tax. “(Gov. Rick) Perry has made Texas highways into franchises for toll roads.”

As I’ve said before, no candidate is bound by their party’s platform, but I doubt you’ll find too many Democrats trying to back away or distract from the TDP platform. That especially includes the provisions on immigration.

Contrasting the GOP positions to their own, Democrats said it boils down to matters of inclusion and respect.

Like the Republicans, Democrats see immigration as a key to motivating voter turnout for the November general election.

In speech after speech Friday, Democratic Party luminaries ranging from Van de Putte to U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro to party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa bashed the GOP platform for its tough-on-immigrants, secure-the-border stance.

And when the Democrats approve their platform on Saturday, party officials said the result will feature most everything the Republicans’ did not.

“We are very supportive of a path to citizenship because there are people who are here and are very productive and have committed no crime and are adding to our economy,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, chairman of the party’s platform committee. “We are not for a guest-worker program, because that can become a form of indentured servitude.”

Throughout caucuses and forums on Friday, Democrats spent time focusing on the GOP platform that calls for tightening immigration enforcement, a position underscored in recent weeks by an unprecedented influx of tens of thousands of unaccompanied apprehended after crossing the Mexican border.

“The Republicans have gone backward on immigration,” Castro told reporters. “You have a candidate in Wendy Davis that appreciates the contribution of immigrants throughout Texas history, and you have Republican candidates who use the border as a bogeyman. They use it to stoke fear. They use it to divide Texans, to turn Texans against each other and to win elections and the people of our state are tired of that.”

Stace seems to be pleased with developments so far, which makes me happy. There’s a lot more to come, but let’s stay focused on what’s important. Keep organizing, keep talking to the voters, and keep moving forward.

Great moments in false equivalence

The headline reads Money from disputed tax bills flowing to candidates for top tax chief, and then the story tells us that more than 99% of that money is going to one of those candidates.

BagOfMoney

Business entities and taxpayers are pumping thousands of dollars into the campaign coffers of candidates who, if elected state comptroller, would receive their tax-bill complaints.

The Texas Comptroller’s Office is charged with collecting state tax revenue and implementing state tax law. And even though the state auditor sought a ban on business contributions to comptroller candidates nine years ago, the Texas Legislature did not act and the practice prevails.

In this election cycle, businesses and lawyers with clients before the comptroller’s office have thrown more than $200,000 into the campaigns of two candidates seeking to replace Susan Combs: Republican state Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy and Houston-area accountant Mike Collier, a Democrat.

Public watchdog groups see a potential conflict of interest.

“As long as we’re going to have comptrollers running on partisan political tickets, it’s almost impossible to filter out which contributions might not have an interest in the comptroller’s office,” said Craig McDonald, head of Texans for Public Justice.

Collier hasn’t received a lot of cash from entities with a stake in tax cases. Of the $200,000 he’s raised, only $1,500 comes from employees of ExxonMobil and BP, two energy firms with disputes before the Comptroller’s Office. He said he’d be open to legislative action barring contributions from donors with active cases with the office, but wouldn’t cut those donations out of his coffers.

“Because I’m the underdog and I’m trying to throw out the trench politicians, I’ll take money from anybody who’ll give it to me,” Collier said.

Hegar has snagged more than 10 percent of the more than $2 million he’s raised from businesses or firms with clients with active tax cases.

So in other words, of the “more than $200,000” that has been raised by the Comptroller candidates from people and firms that have business before the Comptroller’s office, at least $200,000 of it went to Glenn Hegar, while all of $1,500 went to Mike Collier. This is like saying that the Aaron brothers, Hank and Tommie, combined to hit 768 home runs in their career. One of the two contributed a lot more to the bottom line than the other. Oh, and well done on the “more than 10 percent of the more than $2 million” bit, which not only obscures the actual total (how much more than ten percent? how much more than $2 million?) it also surely confuses the more math-phobic readers about how much Hegar collected to the point where they have no idea that it’s way, way more than Collier. An impressive performance all around.

By the way, companies like BP and ExxonMobil have lots and lots of employees. Very few of those employees would have any role in or influence over the dispute process with the Comptroller’s office. Unless the BP and ExxonMobil employees cited above that donated to Mike Collier are among that small group, then the whole premise that “both candidates” are benefiting from contributions of entities and their representatives that have business before the Comptroller’s office is shot. Details, details.

The point of the story is that in 2005, a report by the Texas State Auditor showed that 750 taxpayers received $461 million in tax credits and refunds from the comptroller’s office less than a year after they or their representatives had made a contribution to then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. This was a key attack point by Rick Perry against Strayhorn in the 2006 campaign. That auditor’s report recommended that legislation be passed to the Comptroller or candidates for Comptroller from receiving campaign contributions from anyone that had a dispute pending with the office. Needless to say, nothing happened then, and nothing will happen in 2015. But at least now we’ve been reminded of the issue, and the Chronicle figured out a way to make numbers that are two orders of magnitude apart sound similar. So there’s that.

TM talks to Mike Collier

He’s a really impressive candidate.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

What I’ve been surprised by in the past two years is how much farther right the state has gotten, even compared to someone like Rick Perry, who has, I think, been conservative by any normal standard. When Combs came back in 2013 reporting an $8.8 billion surplus—to me, that was a red flag that we cut the schools budget $5 billion by accident in 2011, or perhaps not by accident; perhaps in an abundance of caution that should raise some eyebrows.

Here’s my perspective on that. When the Eighty-second Legislature sat in January 2011, she showed up with a Biennial Revenue Estimate that showed a deficit that surprised everybody. It should have been a red flag to everybody: maybe this estimate isn’t right. If you look at the state’s economy, even in the document itself where she transmits the news, page 1 says we’re going to have less in revenues, which leads to the deficit. Page 2 says the good news is that we grew in 2010 and we’re going to grow in 2011 and we’re going to grow in 2012 and we’re going to grow in 2013. Anybody with any finance sense should have said, “There’s something really wrong here.” And my opponent didn’t say, “I think there’s something wrong here.” I’ve gone back and looked at the revenues coming into the treasury at the time. If you did a quarter on quarter analysis—this past quarter versus a year ago—you would have seen that revenues were roaring in. She should have at least stopped and said, “How do we manage our way through this uncertainty?” I think it was politics, and unacceptable.

I tend to agree with that, although within the Lege, I think there were people on both sides who were trying to maneuver their way through it, because they were logistically constrained by what the comptroller had projected, or maybe they were politically constrained. So they wrote a budget knowing they would backfill the budget. But there were also some who genuinely didn’t understand, and maybe some who felt genuinely cautious because it’s better to have a surplus than a shortfall.

You know, Erica, what I think this all boils down to is that if you’re a politician, you struggle with all the political implications of what you do. But if you’re a chief financial officer and you’re not a politician, it suddenly becomes very simple. You think of it the way a real executive would think of it and say, “These are the numbers; these are the uncertainties; these are the possibilities.” You don’t have to go through all of that political stuff. But you have to have a comptroller who’s not a politician to do that. And that’s, I think, what makes this so compelling to Texas voters. When I tell the story, the response I get—this whole notion of what party am I running for—just dissolves when I tell that story.

Go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. I believe it’s a bit naive, albeit quite normal for an idealistic first-time candidate, to think that you can remove political considerations from inherently political processes. Revenue forecasts rely on assumptions, and assumptions are colored by one’s beliefs. Be that as it may, some forecasters are justifiably more trusted than others, and that’s a function of transparency and fidelity to verifiable facts. I feel quite confident that anyone who listens to Mike Collier will come away feeling good about his ability to make reliable forecasts. The key is whether he can get enough people to hear what he has to say. I actually got a genuine snail mail fundraising pitch from Collier the other day, and I plan to send him a check. If he can raise $5 million or so, who knows? What I do know is that the more voices like Mike Collier there are out there, the better off Democrats as a whole will be this fall.