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Mike Conaway

Trump’s Texas beneficiaries

Interesting.

Six Texas Republican in Congress received a show of financial support from their party’s leader this week.

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign announced Thursday that it was donating the maximum contribution possible to around 100 House and Senate Republican candidates ahead of midterm elections in which multiple polls suggest Democrats could be poised for big wins. Republican National Committee spokesperson Christiana Purves confirmed Friday that six of those candidates are incumbents from Texas: U.S. Reps. Michael Burgess of Lewisville, John Carter of Round Rock, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Mike Conaway of Midland, John Culberson of Houston and Pete Sessions of Dallas.

Three of those Republicans – Carter, Culberson and Sessions – recently learned they had been outraised by their Democratic challengers in the second quarter of the year, the latest sign that Democrats are aiming to compete in more Texas congressional districts than they have in a generation.

[…]

Burgess and Conaway are somewhat more surprising picks for being singled out by Trump as both represent solidly Republican districts.

Conaway is the biggest head-scratcher on this list. He has $1.5 million on hand, his opponent has $42K on hand on $48K raised (which to be fair, is a record-setting amount for a Dem in CD11), and is running in a district that Trump won by a 77-19 margin in 2016. There’s literally no definition of “incumbents who need financial support from their president” that includes Mike Conaway.

Even more curious is the omission of Will Hurd, the third member of the “toss-up trio” in Texas. Hurd likes to polish his image of being independent of the president (so don’t go looking at his voting record), and he’s a good fundraiser on his own. My guess is that if Trump’s money was offered rather than thrust upon these recipients, Hurd would probably have said “thanks but no thanks”. Nonetheless, it would be nice to understand the process here.

Culberson’s continued stock problems

Oopsie.

Rep. John Culberson

Two members of Congress from Texas — Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland and John Culberson of Houston — purchased stock in a company last year that is now at the center of insider trading charges against one of their colleagues, U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York.

Collins, best known as the first congressman to back Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, was indicted Wednesday by federal prosecutors and charged with securities fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI. The indictment stems from his involvement in an Australian biotech firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics, and it alleges he passed non-public information about the company to his son, Cameron, who then used it to purchase stock and tip off others.

Conaway and Culberson are not named in the indictment and face no allegations of wrongdoing. But they were among several of Collins’ colleagues who purchased shares of Innate last year and faced some scrutiny for it, especially after reports surfaced that Collins was seeking to convince them and other associates to invest. Collins, who has denied any wrongdoing, was already being investigated by the House Ethics Committee before the indictment was unveiled Wednesday.

Both Conaway and Culberson bought stock in Innate on Jan. 26, 2017, worth between $1,001 and $15,000, according to personal financial statements filed with the House clerk. Their purchases came two days after a contentious confirmation hearing for U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, then Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, during which he was questioned over his own investment in Innate. Conaway purchased more of the stock on Feb. 3, 2017, again valued at between $1,001 and $15,000.

Culberson sold his stock on June 12, 2017 — 10 days before Chris Collins is accused of sharing the non-public information with his son. Conaway, meanwhile, dumped all his shares in November 2017, according to a spokesperson for his office.

[…]

The fallout from the indictment could be more of a political problem for Culberson, who is among national Democrats’ top three targets in Texas this fall. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee singled out Culberson in a statement after the charges against Collins were revealed, and his opponent, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, said in her own statement that the indictment “raises serious questions.”

“Congressman Culberson must explain why he, along with a small group of Republican lawmakers, bought stock in an obscure Australian biopharmaceutical company that is at the center of an insider trading scandal,” Fletcher said. “If Congressman Culberson used his position of power, along with access to material nonpublic information, in an effort to benefit himself personally then Congressman Culberson will have confirmed he is exactly what is wrong with Washington.”

See here for some background. In a different year, with a less-hostile political environment and a non-threatening opponent, Culberson could easily shrug this off. This year, not so much. Even if you yourself are not being accused of wrongdoing, the close association with a colleague who just got busted on federal charges and a Trump administration official who resigned amid a cascade of ethical scandals is not a good look. Good luck coming up with a satisfactory explanation for it all. The Chron has more on the Culberson angle, and for more on the Chris Collins arrest see Daily Kos, Mother Jones, ThinkProgress, and Political Animal.

Another look ahead at redistricting

The short version of this Chron story is basically “Republicans would like to control every aspect of the redistricting process, while Democrats would at least like to win the Governor’s office and maintain some semblance of parity in the House”. A few points:

“The governor’s race is critical to redistricting,” declares U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, a former state legislator whose district is one of the fastest-growing in the nation. “A Republican governor increases the likelihood that the final map will be drawn by elected state representatives. A Democratic governor who vetoes the GOP Legislature’s plan ensures the federal courts will draw the final congressional map for Texas.”

That’s what happened in 2001, when the Democrats still had a majority in the House and Pete Laney was Speaker. The House and Senate could not agree on a redistricting bill, and the Congressional map was ultimately drawn by a three-judge federal panel in Dallas. That was the flimsy justification that Tom DeLay then used to force his re-redistricting scheme in 2003, that since the map wasn’t drawn by the Lege it wasn’t legitimate. A Republican triumvirate would ensure a Lege-drawn map; a Democratic Governor and/or House would likely mean another map job for the judges. This time, a do-over in 2013 would almost certainly not happen, as there isn’t really anyone in the Texas Congressional delegation who would have the juice to make it happen.

Without White in the governor’s chair, the Democrats’ only leverage would be the Justice Department, which has reviewed Texas districts for the past four decades as part of a “pre-clearance” process required in states with legacies of institutionalized racial discrimination.

For the first time since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, the Justice Department is controlled by Democrats – something that makes Texas Republicans a bit nervous.

The GOP’s suspicion of the Obama administration has given birth to a novel legal strategy: Republican leaders in Austin are privately discussing the possibility of bypassing the Justice Department and filing any redistricting plan directly with the U.S. District Court in Washington.

This has come up before, and I confess I’m fuzzy on the details. It would have been nice for the story to explain it a bit more. The bottom line is that the GOP would prefer to take its chances with some activist judges than with a Justice Department that actually takes civil rights enforcement seriously.

Back in Texas, both parties have been gearing up for political combat for a year. Party leaders have convened training sessions for their operatives, legislative redistricting committees have begun holding hearings and congressional Republicans have chosen Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, as their point person in the process. The Democratic delegation has not yet picked its redistricting leaders.

But the political calculations are complicated by demographic realities. West Texas, a region dominated by Democrats, is likely to lose power in the legislative and congressional redistricting processes because of the concentration of population growth in the Houston area and along the I-35 corridor from Denton to Laredo.

What’s more, redistricting is just one of the hot-button items on the legislative agenda for 2011, along with a state budget dripping with red ink, education policy and funding, border security, the future of the Texas Department of Transportation and much more.

Here I will note again that the Trib floated the possibility of a redistricting compromise, agreed to in advance, which I believe the Lege would take if it were offered to them. Whether that’s still a live possibility at this point or not, I have no idea. I do know that the Republicans have to be at least a little careful, lest they do to their Congressional delegation what they did to their State House membership, which is to say lose a bunch of ground after initially overreaching. How they try to save Mike Conaway, in a district that was barely justifiable in 2003 and which owes its existence entirely to Tom Craddick’s insistence on separating Midland/Odessa from Abilene and Lubbock will be worth watching in itself. I feel quite confident that the electorate in 2012 will be more Democratic than it was in 2002, which complicates things further for them. Especially if Chet Edwards loses, holding serve and protecting their incumbents may look pretty good to them. But who knows? As Molly Ivins once said, our state motto ought to be “Too much is never enough, and wretched excess is even more fun.” Why should this be any different?

An early look at redistricting

The House Redistricting Committee is holding some hearings around the state in advance of the 2011 Census reports, and if there’s one thing we know already, it’s that West Texas will be losing influence next year.

The state population increased from 20.8 million in 2000 to an estimated 24.8 million in 2009, or 18.8 percent, but the Hispanic population grew at a faster rate, Jordan said. If the trend continues, as early as the next decade Hispanics will be the largest ethnic group in the state.

Though in more than a half-dozen counties in the Panhandle/South Plains region Latinos are now the majority, their population growth won’t compensate for the fact that the region stands to lose at least a Texas House seat and a congressional district when the Texas Legislature redraws the districts next year, some lawmakers said after the two-hour hearing ended.

“The Dallas area is going to gain some districts, but we are going to lose some,” state Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, chairman of the Redistricting Committee, told reporters after the hearing. “Right now this is guesswork, or maybe I should say an estimate, because we won’t know for sure until December when we get the official figures.

“However, it doesn’t look good for us in West Texas,” Jones added. “We are going to lose representation.”

Other lawmakers reached the same conclusion.

“One way or another the Panhandle is going to be in trouble,” said Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-Tornillo, in El Paso County.

[…]

At a hearing in February, members of the Redistricting Committee were told that the new congressional districts would represent 811,221 people compared to about 750,000 now, and Texas House districts would represent about 167,652 compared to about 140,000 now. This means the Panhandle/South Plains region would have to have at least one million people to keep all of its six House districts. Current estimates put the region’s population at about 800,000.

Three senior members of the Lege from West Texas won’t be back next year – Jones, who was defeated in the Republican primary; Carl Isett, and David Swinford, each of whom retired. It’s going to be a rough year for that part of the state next year. In addition to that, you have to wonder what will become of Rep. Michael Conaway’s district, which was created in 2003 at the insistence of then-Speaker Craddick, who wanted a Congressional seat for Midland. Objectively speaking, there was no real reason for that, and the Census data will make it even harder to justify. Without someone of influence pushing to protect it, who knows what will happen.

As the story notes, West Texas’ loss will likely be the Metroplex’s gain.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, said lawmakers next session will have a chance to create winnable districts for Hispanics in North Texas — not just in the Texas House, but state Senate and U.S. House.

“I would hope that everybody sees the light, that Texas has diversified,” Alonzo said.

He recalled it took a voting rights lawsuit for him to have a chance to win 17 years ago in House District 104, redrawn by the courts to enhance Mexican-American voters’ chances of electing one of their own.

“In Texas, we’ve had to go through litigation to make it happen,” Alonzo said. “I would hope we don’t have to go to that point.”

I wouldn’t count on that, but you never know. The more I think about it, the more I believe that the new Congressional district slated for the D/FW area will have to be a Democratic seat. The Congressional map up there is anything but representative right now. Of the 25 legislative members who represent Dallas and Tarrant counties, 13 are Democrats, yet only one member of Congress (Eddie Bernice Johnson) out of the nine whose districts include either Dallas or Tarrant is a Democrat. Among other things, the electoral trends are not sustainable for the Republican incumbents – Kenny Marchant and Pete Sessions need some help, with Sam Johnson and Michael Burgess not far behind them. Drawing a new seat to soak up some Democratic voters would benefit them.

Anyway. I believe a compromise at the Congressional level, one that aims to mostly protect incumbents, is still a viable possibility. The main reason for that not to happen is for someone with an interest in the outcome to push for a more partisan plan. As yet, I have not seen an indication of that, but it’s still early days. Legislative redistricting worries me more, especially if Rick Perry gets re-elected. We’ll see how it goes.

Census update

This is not exactly a surprise.

Households in older, single-family Houston neighborhoods are returning 2010 census forms at the highest levels in the city so far, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data.

Neighborhoods with concentrations of apartments or condominiums, even high-cost rental housing, have lower return rates, said Jerry Wood, a former city planning department official working as a consultant on the city’s census response effort.

The highest return rate as of Monday, Wood said, was 47 percent in a portion of Meyerland, in southwest Houston, near Kolter Elementary School. He described this as a mature, mostly single-family neighborhood with a high home ownership rate.

Just 8 percent of households in Gulfton, a predominantly Latino southwest Houston neighborhood with a heavy concentration of apartments, had returned their forms by Monday.

They think more people will send in their forms this week. I sure hope so.

Some of the reasons for low participation are self-inflicted.

As of Friday afternoon, only 27 percent of Texas households had filled in and returned their census forms — well below the national average of 34 percent — according to computer data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In Harris County, the response rate is 23 percent. Houston’s returns are running at 21 percent.

Contrary to historical trends, some of the toughest challenges facing the agency responsible for measuring the nation’s population are not from counting the traditionally undercounted groups such as African-Americans and Latinos. Instead, a new and growing threat to an accurate national head count is coming from anti-government conservatives who may not fill out their forms to protest against “Big Brother” in Washington.

“There’s a general distrust of the federal government at every level, starting with Congress and the president, all the way down to executive branch agencies,” says Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland.

Not that you or your partymates have anything to do with that, Congressman. It would be mighty ironic if these delusions led to a loss of Congressional representation for these areas. West Texas in particular hasn’t kept up with the rest of the state in terms of population growth. Well, actions do have consequences, you know. Among them is the fact that not sending in the Census form will cost us all money, now and later.

Director Robert Groves issued a statement [Tuesday] morning urging Texans to mail the forms so temporary workers don’t have to collect the information in person. For every percentage point increase in mail response, the bureau estimates it saves $85 million in taxpayer money.

“We’re concerned about the relatively low response from parts of Texas,” he said in a press release. “Every household that fails to send back their census form by mail must be visited by a census taker starting in May — at a significant taxpayer cost. The easiest and best way to be counted in the census is to fill out and return your form by mail.”

I’m sure most of the folks that Rep. Conaway is speaking of consider themselves to be fiscal conservatives who claim to be deeply concerned about the deficit. Funny how these things go, isn’t it?