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Norma Chavez

A look at CD16 and CD03

As one might expect, the primary race for Beto O’Rourke’s soon-to-be-former Congressional seat is compettiive and < and getting a little salty.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

[Now-former El Paso COunty Judge Veronica] Escobar is running, in part, on her experience as a former leader of a county government that fought corruption and is touting how her progressive ideals helped shape policy. Escobar voted to sue the state after the Legislature passed Senate Bill 4, the state’s anti-“sanctuary city” law, and she’s been an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community.

But the issue of her husband, Michael Pleters, and his job as a federal immigration judge, is one her opponents are latching onto tightly. [El Paso ISD TrusteeDori] Fenenbock, who describes herself as the moderate in the race and who’s been dinged on the campaign trail for garnering financial support from Republicans, is quick to highlight what she says is the hypocrisy of Escobar’s campaign.

“[Pleters] is currently employed by the Trump administration and he’s currently following orders by the Trump administration, which is to deport,” Fenenbock said during a recent interview at her office. “He could find another job; he can become an immigration attorney, [but] he has built a career around deporting immigrants.”

But Escobar said last week at her campaign office that her husband was first approached for the job by the Obama administration.

“My husband is not a political appointee … it is a merit-based position,” she said. “He got offered the position last year while Obama happened to be president. But because of the time that the background check took, and it overlapped with the election and everything kind of came to a halt … he didn’t take the bench until this past summer.”

She added that Pleters is a lifetime Democrat and an “impartial arbiter of the law.”

“I’ve never been in a campaign where my family has been attacked until now,” she said. “And I think that it says more about those doing the attacking than it does about me. But I also wonder, when did an honorable profession such as being a jurist become a bad thing?”

The pack of candidates hopes that Fenenbock’s embrace of the term “moderate” proves to be her Achilles’ heel. The Escobar campaign points to a July story in the El Paso Times that shows Fenenbock received almost half of her initial financial support from El Pasoans who voted in the 2016 GOP primary. She also voted in the GOP primary in 2008 and 2010.

Fenenbock said she is a proud Democrat but notes that both parties have become too extreme and that, as a moderate, she can get things accomplished.

“Progressives have moved further to left, and the alt-right has moved further to right,” she said. She notes that though El Paso is a Democratic stronghold, it’s also somewhat “socially conservative.”

There are other candidates in the race, including former State Rep. Norma Chavez, and they get some time in the story as well. After reading it, my impression is that I’d vote for Escobar if I were in CD16. After reading so many articles that declared one or the other of Escobar and Sylvia Garcia as having a chance to be “the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas”, I’m rooting for both of them to get there so we can debate over which one was technically “the first” or if we get to designate them as co-firsts. Leave your hot take on that in the comments.

Also interesting in its own way is the races in CD03.

All eyes are on the GOP primary race where Van Taylor, who decided against running a second time for his safe state senate seat, will face off against the lesser-known Alex Donkervoet and David Niederkorn.

Taylor, 45, is widely seen as Johnson’s successor and has racked up the endorsements and cash in the red district that stretches from Plano to Blue Ridge, encompassing much of Collin County.

Gov. Greg Abbott, former Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz are among Taylor’s big-name supporters. He’s also backed by conservative groups like the Plano-based First Liberty Institute, Texas Right to Life and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. And Taylor has the most cash of any candidate in the race — $1.7 million.

But Donkervoet, an insurance company actuary from Dallas, said Taylor’s endorsements and money are exactly why he chose to run against him.

“That’s just wrong,” Donkervoet said of the amount of local and state endorsements that poured in for Taylor in the days after the legislator announced that he’d run for Congress. “The Republican Party is pretty much hand-selecting somebody to represent (the district).”

Donkervoet, 34, didn’t vote for Trump in the election, and he sets himself apart from conservatives on a number of issues. He’s a “big believer in net neutrality,” social issues like gay marriage and expanding background checks for semi-automatic rifles.

“I’m a very big underdog,” Donkervoet admits, but he wants to push the district away from the partisan divides that plague Congress. “Just because that’s the way it is doesn’t mean that’s right.”

Taylor, who ran for Congress against Chet Edwards in 2006, has been the heir apparent to Johnson for some time now. He does have a bipartisan credit or two to tout from the Lege – he and Rep. Senfronia Thompson sponsored the long-overdue bill to outlaw child marriages in Texas, and good on him for that – while Donkervoet is an obvious heretic and third candidate David Niederkorn is a full-on Trump chump who’s attacking Taylor for being the ambitious ladder-climber that he is. I’ll put my money on Taylor to win, but it’s possible he may have to go to overtime to get there.

One the Democratic side:

Adam Bell, Lorie Burch, Medrick Yhap and Sam Johnson — not to be confused with the retiring GOP congressman — are hopeful they can turn the district blue for the first time in decades.

Voters may be familiar with Bell, a title company owner who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2016. He received 34.6 percent of the vote against incumbent Rep. Sam Johnson, but Bell predicts this time will be different.

“When we got into the race, we knew that we didn’t have the bandwidth, didn’t have the power to pull something off in that cycle,” Bell, 40, said about his 2016 run. “The eye was always on the 2018 cycle because of the need to build.”

Burch, 41, is well-known lawyer, gay rights activist and Democrat from the area. She’s raised more than $60,000, and said she wants to make a difference for the “unseen and unheard.”

“What we need right now is a unifying voice,” she said.

The “divisiveness” of the last election cycle inspired Burch to run for the seat. She had made up her mind even before Rep. Sam Johnson announced he would not be running again.

I like Lorie Burch out of this group, but all four have their merits and would be fine if they win. CD03 is in a lower tier of takeover prospects, with odds of flipping in the 25-30% range by the Crosstab metric. It would take more than a regular-sized wave to go blue, but the fact that it’s in the conversation at all is encouraging. The longer-term prospects in Collin County for Dems are brightening, so if it doesn’t fall this year it ought to be on the list for 2020.

How many more women are we likely to have in Congress next year?

Probably at least two, and more are possible.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

No freshman woman has come to Congress from Texas since Granger’s election 1996, with the exception of former U.S. Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs, who served as a placeholder for less than two months in late 2006. (Hutchison, who left the Senate in 2013, is now U.S. ambassador to NATO.)

The problem in Texas was not so much that women weren’t winning – it was that they weren’t running.

In interviews with candidates, officeholders and campaign consultants, the most-cited reasons for the lack of female candidates were concerns that gerrymandered districts would protect incumbents, an aversion to commuting to Washington while raising children and general apathy, a problem Jackson Lee cited back in 2016.

That all changed this year, in part due to a national backlash against Trump on the Democratic side and, in Texas, a wave of retirements on both sides.

Approximately 50 women have lined up this year to run for Congress in Texas, among hundreds running around the country. Of that sum, a handful are running well-funded, professional campaigns and have viable paths to serving in Washington.

[…]

Former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and former El Paso School Board President Dori Fenenbock are the best-funded candidates aiming to succeed O’Rourke, and former state Rep. Norma Chavez threw her hat into the ring just before the December filing deadline. Escobar and Fenenbock both cited the same reason as contributing to their decisions to run: Their children are old enough that they felt comfortable making the Washington commute without creating disruptions in their families.

Three men are also running in the Democratic primary, but the betting money among political observers is on El Paso sending a woman to Washington.

Another potential future congresswoman is state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat who is seeking retiring U.S. Rep. Gene Green’s 29th District seat and has drawn Green’s endorsement. She faces a crowded field in a Democratic primary that will likely determine the outcome of the election. Houston political insiders say that, while there are no assurances, Garcia is in the driver’s seat for the nomination.

She ran for Congress previously in 1992 against Green and lost. Back then, she was part of another crush of women entering politics, at that time in response to the controversial Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings.

On the GOP side, Texas women running for open seats in Congress include political fundraiser Bunni Pounds and communications consultant Jenifer Sarver. Both women are in ferociously competitive primaries.

Pounds is running in CD05, the only woman among nine candidates. Sarver is in the 18-candidate pileup in CD21; there are two other women alongside her. I suppose you could add Kathaleen Wall in CD02 to this list as well. She’s the sole woman in that eight-contestant field, and she’s already advertising on TV, with a spot during the college football playoffs last week. Here’s my subjective ranking of the odds for each of these hopefuls.

1. Sylvia Garcia – She doesn’t appear to have any notable opposition, though one of her opponents has raised some money. If she wins the primary she’s a shoe-in for November. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if she’s not the winner in CD29.

2. Escobar/Fenenbock/Chavez – Like CD29, the primary winner has a cakewalk in November. There’s a non-zero chance that any or all of these women could fail to make the primary runoff, so I put their collective odds below Garcia’s.

3. Bunni Pounds – As with the others, she’s a lock if she wins the primary, but she has a tougher road to get there.

4. Gina Ortiz Jones – I originally had her lower than Wall and Sarver, but Dems are currently more favored to win here than the GOP is in CDs 02 or 21, and I figure she’ll be in a runoff with Jay Hulings, while neither Wall nor Sarver has as seemingly clear a path to May. Ask me again after I see the Q4 finance reports; Hulings outraised Jones in Q3 but he was officially in the race before her. We’ll see how she does with an equal time period.

5. Jennifer Sarver – The Republican candidate will be favored in CD21, but it’s not a lock. Sarver has to get through the primary first, and with that many candidates it’s like ping pong balls in a lottery machine.

6. Kathaleen Wall – You could swap Wall and Sarver without much argument from me. I think Dems have slightly better odds to win CD02, but Wall has fewer opponents in the primary, so it kind of balances out.

7. Lizzie Fletcher/Laura Moser – It’s a tough primary in CD07 and a coin flip in November, but if either of these women can make it to the November ballot she’ll have a decent shot at it.

8. The rest of the field – Lillian Salerno in CD32, Jana Sanchez and Ruby Woolridge in CD06, Letitia Plummer in CD22, Lorie Burch in CD03, Jan McDowell in CD24, Silky Malik in CD02, MJ Hegar in CD31, etc etc etc. The over/under is set at two for now, but there is a scenario in which the number of female members of Congress from Texas increases by a lot.

More primary thoughts

I wonder if Big John Cornyn will come to rue this interview.

Big John Cornyn

Big John Cornyn

BDS: At the kickoff for your reelection campaign in November, Governor Perry said that you are “the epitome of what I look for in a U.S. senator.” He has certainly been embraced by members of the tea party. But in your speech you said that Republicans should be the party of the “big tent,” which sounded an awful lot like it was pointed in their direction.

JC: To be clear, I was talking about being a welcoming party, not an exclusive party. I don’t know how we got off on this track, where some people are welcome in our party and some people are not. Hence my reference to Ronald Reagan’s line, “What do you call someone who agrees with you eight times out of ten? An ally, not a twenty-percent traitor.” Well, we’re at a point where you can agree with someone 98 percent of the time, but they think of you as a 2 percent traitor, which is just an impossible standard. I like to point out that my wife and I have been married for 34 years, we don’t agree with each other 100 percent of the time. We need to be a little more realistic about the goals, and we need to look not just at the short term but at the long term. If the goal is to change the direction of the country—and I would say to save the country from the big government track we’re on now—then we have to win elections by adding voters, not subtracting them.

That sound you hear is Steve Stockman rubbing his hands and cackling with glee. Remember, Steve Stockman is nuts. I know that term gets thrown around a lot, but seriously. That boy ain’t right.

Josh Marshall ponders what the implications are of Stockman’s entrance.

Everyone seemed to think Cornyn had successfully evaded a challenge and that he was home free. And Stockman got in just under the wire. I’m curious whether he waited so long precisely to assure a serious Democrat didn’t get into the race. As long as there’s no serious Democrat running, that will make it easier for him to argue he’s not another Akin in the making.

Of course, he is basically an Akin in the making, or an Akin before there was Akin (Stockman first came in in the ’94 Republican landslide but was too nuts and got bounced out after one term). But if there’s no credible Dem, maybe he gets through?

I seriously doubt the condition of the Democratic field for Senate had anything to do with Stockman’s move. I don’t think he operates that way, and I don’t think the Texas GOP would behave any differently towards him if he wins the nomination regardless. A better question is whether or not the DSCC and other national Dem groups get involved in the event it’s Stockman versus Maxey Scherr or David Alameel or Mike Fjetland. If it winds up as Stockman versus Kesha Rogers, we may as well just admit that this whole experiment in self-governance has been an abject failure and see if Great Britain is willing to take us back.

Speaking of Maxey Scherr, the El Paso Times covered her campaign kickoff in Austin.

[Scherr] said she is coordinating her effort with statewide Democratic organizations that are hopeful that with Texas’ changing demographics and, in Wendy Davis, an attractive candidate at the top of the ticket, 2014 will be the year Texas starts to turn blue.

[…]

“If I can raise $7 million, I can be competitive, and I think I can,” she said.

She plans to suspend her law practice and spend the coming year the same way she spent Monday — traveling the state in a motor home towing a car with a smashed-in hood and emblazoned with her campaign slogan, “Texas on Cruz Control.”

If she wins the Democratic Primary, Scherr will likely face Cornyn, but she says her real opponent is Texas’ junior senator, Ted Cruz, who won’t be on the ballot until 2018.

“This race is about Ted Cruz,” Scherr said. “This race is about Ted Cruz because John Cornyn has taken a back seat to Ted Cruz. It’s unfortunate that our senior senator of Texas has done everything that Ted Cruz, the junior senator, wants him to. He doesn’t have the guts to stand up to Ted Cruz on anything that matters to Texans and I will.”

[…]

Among the issues Scherr plans to attack Cornyn are education, health care, women’s rights and immigration. On the latter topic, Scherr said she’s tired of Republicans whipping up false fears about security on the border.

“Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have voted against a comprehensive immigration reform bill every single time it has come up. I find that offensive,” she said.

“I come from El Paso and El Paso been consistently rated as one of the safest cities for several years. What these guys want to do is militarize our border, put a military-type outfit along the border. But they are wrong about that. El Paso is a huge border city and we don’t need to militarize it. We are safe as can be. What we need to do is pass comprehensive immigration reform that doesn’t tear apart families.”

Even if Emperor Cruz stays out of the GOP Senate primary – well, at least if he doesn’t take any overt action – a Stockman win would cement the point that Scherr is making about Cruz driving the action. In a sane world, Cornyn would have nothing to worry about in March. He may yet have nothing to worry about, but I doubt he’ll run his campaign that way. Of the sane Democrats running, I see Scherr as having the highest upside. I look forward to seeing her first couple of finance reports to see if she can make any headway on that fundraising goal.

More news from El Paso:

Meanwhile, all of the El Paso County incumbents in the Texas House of Representatives have filed for re-election.

Four have challengers.

District 76 Rep. Naomi Gonzalez faces former state Rep. Norma Chavez and Cesar Blanco, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego.

District 77 Rep. Marisa Marquez faces El Paso attorney Lyda Ness-Garcia.

District 75 Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by Rey Sepulveda, president of the Fabens school board.

And District 79 Rep. Joe Pickett, the dean of the El Paso delegation, faces Chuck Peartree.

I have no brief for Reps. Marquez or Naomi Gonzalez; they can explain their support of Dee Margo over Joe Moody (who did not get a primary challenger) to the voters. Pickett has been the Transportation Committee chair and has some juice, but he also voted for HB2; if he gets beaten up about that in his primary, I’ll shed no tears. The one legislator in that group I do care about is Rep. Mary Gonzalez, who is a force for good and deserves to be supported for re-election.

I mentioned yesterday that Rep. Marc Veasey avoided a rematch in CD33 with Domingo Garcia. I thought at the time that meant he was unopposed in the primary, but apparently not.

Several local members of Congress drew opponents as well.

U.S. representative, District 6: Republican Joe Barton (i), Frank Kuchar; Democrat David Edwin Cozad.

U.S. representative, District 12: Republican Kay Granger (i); Democrat Mark Greene

U.S. representative, District 24: Republican Kenny Marchant (i); Democrat Patrick McGehearty

U.S. representative, District 25: Republican Roger Williams (i); Democrats Stuart Gourd, Marco Montoya

U.S. representative, District 26: Republicans Michael Burgess (i), Joel A. Krause, Divenchy Watrous

U.S. representative, District 33: Democrats Marc Veasey (i), Thomas Carl Sanchez

There had been much speculation about whether former state Rep. Domingo Garcia, D-Dallas, would challenge Veasey for the 33rd Congressional District, setting up a rematch of last year’s hotly contested primary race. But Garcia put out a statement late Monday that he would not enter the race.

“I am truly humbled by the encouragement and support I have received to run for congress this year but after careful consideration I have decided against a run for congress in 2014,” he said. “I look forward to helping turning Texas blue and will continue to work to register and turn out more voters. I look forward to continuing to serve the community in one capacity or another.”

Democratic officials said Monday that little is known about Veasey’s challenger, Sanchez of Colleyville, other than that he is an attorney.

I feel reasonably confident that Rep. Veasey will win, but as always it’s best to not take anything for granted.

On the Republican side, Burka has a couple of observations. Number One:

Two trends are evident in this year’s campaign. One is that this is not necessarily shaping up as a tea party year. There are a lot of Main Street Republicans running for the House of Representatives — business people and school district leaders. Some of the candidates backed by Michael Quinn Sullivan might find themselves on the losing end of races. Matt Schaefer faces a strong opponent in Tyler. The same is true for Jonathan Stickland, whose opponent in Bedford is a popular former coach and educator.

That would be fine by me, but see my earlier comment about underestimating the crazy. Numero Dos:

The most significant late filings in the Republican primary:

(1) Steve Stockman vs. John Cornyn (U.S. Senator)

(2) Robert Talton vs. Nathan Hecht (Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court)

(3) Matt Beebe vs. Joe Straus (House District 121)

(4) John Ratcliffe v. Ralph Hall (U.S. House District 4)

(5) Mike Canon vs. Kel Seliger (Texas Senate District 31)

Stockman is about as far-right as far-right can get in this state. Cornyn can swamp him with money, but the tea party will be out in force against Cornyn.

Talton is a conservative trial lawyer who is famous for once having stationed a DPS officer outside his door to prevent gays from entering his office. He is a threat to Hecht (the stationing of the DPS officer outside his door notwithstanding).

Talton’s most recent foray into elections was last year as the GOP candidate for Harris County Attorney. He won that primary but lost the general, and slightly underperformed his peers. Hecht of course is deeply unethical. The winner of that race faces Bill Moody in the general.

There’s still a lot to process from the candidate filings. I don’t have a full picture yet of everything, and I suspect there are still some unexpected stories to tell. I’m already thinking about what interviews I want to do for March; with the primary back to its normal spot on the calendar next year, there isn’t much time to plan. What caught you by surprise this filing period?

Runoff wrapup

Here are the Republican and Democratic runoff results from yesterday. With the exception of Marc Brown, who came from behind to defeat Danny Dexter in the GOP runoff for the 180th Criminal District Court, everyone who led in early voting won. In the one statewide contest, the establishment-backed Debra Lehrmann, a family court judge from Fort Worth, held off social conservative favorite Rick Green for the Place 3 Supreme Court nomination. The more mainstream Marsha Farney defeated Brian Russell in the runoff for the Republican nomination to replace wingnut Cynthia Dunbar on the State Board of Education. Those were setbacks for the far right, but they did well in legislative races.

Republican voters in Lubbock and four other counties ousted long-time state Rep. Jones in favor of Charles Perry, a Tea Party organizer who campaigned for change and apparently got voters worked up about his candidacy: The runoff drew 17,501 voters — more than most primaries in March turned out. There’s no Democrat ahead, so Perry will take a chair in the House next January.

[…]

John Frullo upset the establishment candidate in Lubbock’s other race for the Texas House, an open seat where Republican Rep. Carl Isett decided not to seek reelection. Isett endorsed Frullo and helped finance and run his campaign. And they overcame endorsements from the likes of state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, for Mark Griffin. The former Texas Tech regent nearly won the race in March, but a last minute mailer in that round undercut his lead and set the table for his loss in the runoff. Frullo will face Democrat Carol Morgan in November.

Frullo, Perry, and Van Taylor in Plano all had significant support from Tea Party supporters and from voters upset with incumbents in general. And their victories came in a week in which legislative Republicans pulled together a new group designed to co-opt some Tea Party ideas and to repair the fracture that appeared in this year’s GOP primaries, and to do so before the November general election.

Taylor beat former Plano City Councilwoman Mabrie Griffith Jackson, who was endorsed by former Rep. Brian McCall. Taylor had the Tea Party folks (many of whom supported the third candidate, Wayne Richard, in the March primary) and also had endorsements from two other Collin County lawmakers, Reps. Jodie Laubenberg of Parker and Ken Paxton of McKinney. That wasn’t even close, with Taylor — dubbed “Moving Van” by Jackson for his recent move into the district — pulling 58 percent in the runoff. There’s no Democrat in that race, so Taylor is on his way to Austin.

The only legislative runoff on the Democratic side also saw an incumbent getting ousted.

State Rep. Norma Chávez, the brawler of the El Paso delegation, lost the most important fight of her 14-year political career Tuesday night.

Assistant County Attorney Naomi Gonzalez ousted Chávez in a bitter, high-dollar runoff election for the House District 76 seat.
Personal attacks between the two Democrats were routine as they racked up contributions totaling nearly $1 million. Much of the money went for negative ads.

Gonzalez, 31, talked less about herself than her opponent. She made her campaign a referendum against Chávez, 49.

She said that Chávez’s confrontational approach, one that put her at odds with other members of the El Paso delegation, had rendered her ineffective.

“This was a tough race, but we were focused on change, and the message resonated with the voters,” Gonzalez said. “We talked about the issues, the good and the bad. In the end, people decided to restore integrity in the district.”

The Trib has a full report of results.

Finally, a word on turnout.

Turnout in Harris County was less than 1.5 percent, except in the Humble-Kingwood area, where the [HD127] race between [winner Dan] Huberty and [Susan] Curling had grown increasingly bitter and expensive in recent weeks.

“Kingwood always comes out to vote,” said election judge Jzarela-Arethea “Yogi” Dougherty at Humble Independent School District’s James D. Eggers Instructional Support Center. “They’d come out at midnight if the doors were open.”

“It’s always high,” said [Jared] Woodfill, the county’s GOP chairman [who won his own runoff], “because it’s a Republican stronghold.” Woodfill, who was involved in a runoff himself, said the normally high interest among Kingwood area voters was stoked even higher by the expensive race between Huberty and Curling.

Woodfill’s Democratic Party counterpart, Gerry Birnberg, attributed low voter turnout in his party’s runoff to general voter satisfaction with the candidates running. “I believe that a reason there’s a muted turnout is because the candidates are all easily qualified,” Birnberg said.

Final turnout on the Republican side was 42,918; for the Democrats it was 15,109. Both totals were higher than I thought they’d be. Note that on the Democratic side, turnout in this year’s runoffs was higher than it was in 2006, when there were contests for Senate, Lt. Governor, and the first Borris Miles/Al Edwards matchup. In that context, I’d say Democratic turnout was pretty decent.

Gay-baiting in the HD76 runoff

I had not paid much attention to the Democratic primary runoff in El Paso’s HD76, which is the only Democratic legislative runoff on the ballot. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other about the incumbent, Rep. Norma Chavez, and all I really knew up till now about her challenger, Naomi Gonzalez, was that she’s received a lot of money from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which isn’t the sort of thing that makes me want to support someone. However, as noted in that Texas Trib story and also reported here, Rep. Chavez’s campaign has taken an unacceptable turn:

State Rep. Norma Chávez is employing a risky, negative strategy, publicly saying challenger Naomi Gonzalez is a lesbian and should come out.

Other Democrats, including El Paso County party chairman, Danny Anchondo, dislike Chávez’s use of sexual orientation as a campaign sword.

Anchondo said such tactics hurt and divide the party, which has always focused on inclusion.

“If somebody is lesbian or gay, our arms are open to all these individuals,” Anchondo said. “All these people are part of the party, so I don’t understand why someone would be using those terms to attack somebody.”

Gonzalez does not respond to Chávez’s baiting about her sexual orientation, nor will she discuss it.

“This campaign is not about me,” Gonzalez said. “This is about Norma Chávez, and this is another desperate attempt on her part to distract from her own record.”

Chávez, though, said it is a valid talking point because it may affect policy decisions in the state Legislature about gay marriage.

She also brought it up because she felt that Gonzalez attacked motorcycle enthusiasts.

“I have accepted my biker community,” Chávez said. “She needs to accept her gay community.”

I have no idea what Rep. Chavez is getting at here, and apparently neither does she, as her subsequent statements about civil unions and regretting what she just said would indicate. I suppose she could have been claiming that Gonzalez was insufficiently supportive of gay rights, but her intent to vote for HJR6 in 2005 belies that even if you want to be charitable about the interpretation. No, I think that Equality Texas got it right in saying that “Any candidate who uses ‘gay-baiting’ as a campaign tactic cannot rightfully claim to support equality”. Shame on you, Rep. Chavez.

Election results: The Lege

There are way too many races to recap here, and since the Trib has done such a thorough job of it, I’ll leave the heavy lifting to them. A few highlights:

– Steve Ogden easily won re-nomination in SD5, and Kip Averitt was returned to the ballot in SD22. Each faced fringe opponents, so these are good results as far as maintaining a functioning Senate goes. Averitt as we know had sought to drop out. He may yet do that, at which time we’ll get appointed nominees from both parties; if he changes his mind, he’s in, as no Dem filed originally.

– Borris Miles won by a razor-thin margin over Al Edwards in HD146. The margin as of this morning was all of eleven votes. Yes, you can expect a recount, and that’s a small enough number that there’s a chance the outcome could change. Don’t carve anything into stone just yet. A statement from Miles’ campaign is beneath the fold.

– Despite some predictions that Rep. Terri Hodge, who recently pleaded guilty to lying on her tax returns and stated her intention to resign after being sentenced, would still win her primary, challenger Eric Johnson defeated her by a large margin. There is no Republican challenger, so Johnson will be sworn in next January.

– Rep. Betty Brown, best known for her inability to handle Asian names, lost. That’s good. Rep. Tommy Merritt of Longview, who had faced primary challenges every cycle this decade for his opposition to Tom Craddick and other acts of heresy, also lost. That’s not good. Rep. Delwin Jones is in a runoff. On the Democratic side, Reps. Dora Olivo of Fort Bend and Tara Rios Ybarra of South Padre Island lost, and Rep. Norma Chavez of El Paso is in a runoff. Go click those Trib links for more.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll post links to more coverage later as I see them.

(more…)

Omnibus gambling bill gets committee approval

Brandi Grissom reports.

State Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, said today the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee approved the omnibus gambling measure that contains language that would allow the Tigua tribe in El Paso to resume gambling at Speaking Rock.

The measure, HJR137, would amend the Texas Constitution to allow voters to determine whether gambling should be allowed in their region.

I assume what this means is that the language for the omnibus bill has been approved, and will next go to the committee for a vote to be sent to the House floor. I say that because the Texas Legislature Online shows no recent activity for HJR137, and because the listed text of the bill is different from what Grissom provides (Word doc). A draft version of this bill had been released last week, so this is progress for it. Rep. Ed Kuempel, the chair of the committee, believes there is enough support in the House for this to pass. At this point, as with everything else, it’s a matter of time.

UPDATE: And now the TLO page has been updated to reflect the fact that this bill was in fact approved by the committee, on a 6-0 vote with three members absent. So it just needs House approval, then a vote in the Senate, along with the adoption of the enabling legislation.

No Tigua casinos

We may still get some form of expanded gambling in Texas, but at least one form of it is off the table for this session.

The Tiguas hopes to restart lucrative gambling operations on their reservation are dead for this legislative session, state Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, said Friday.

Part of the reason was the criminal record of Tigua Gov. Frank Paiz.

“I believe the Tigua legislation is not salvageable,” Chavez said in an interview.

Lawmakers this week told the tribe chances were minuscule that any gambling legislation would pass this year.

Paiz’s 20-year criminal history, they said, diminished what were already small odds.

“There are insurmountable obstacles,” said state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, who spoke with the tribe this week about its flagging gambling efforts.

My understanding of this is that bills specific to Tigua matters, such as HB1308 and HJR 108, both of which are Chavez bills, are dead. Other gambling bills, such as HB222 and SJR 31, are still in play.

More details are in this version of the story.

The El Paso Times reported on Paiz’s long history with the law last year after he was elected to lead the tribe.

Court records and police documents show that Paiz was charged with offenses including theft in 1987, drunken driving in 1992 and assaulting a police officer in 2001. He repeatedly failed to comply with the terms of his probation, and spent at least a month in jail. He was also charged with domestic violence, though the case was dismissed.

Paiz said then that he had changed, had gotten an education and had become a leader in the tribal community. The tribe, he said, knew about his past and decided to give him a second chance.

[…]

Chavez said she told the Tiguas that Paiz’s past would be a problem for legislators.

The only chance for gambling this year, she said, was an amendment to the Texas Constitution. That requires approval from 100 of the 150 House members and 21 of the 31 senators before the proposal could be placed on the ballot in November for voters to make a final decision.

Chavez said she could not ask 100 of her colleagues to vote for the tribe when its leader had such a problematic background. Doing so, she said, could put the lawmakers at risk in future elections.

“A CEO of any gaming corporation with the same exact background of the governor wouldn’t be allowed to sign a contract with the state, so it’s hard to ask my colleagues to do something a CEO can’t do,” she said.

So there you have it.

CLC gambling update

Today there will be committee hearings on various gambling-related bills. I am reprinting here an email sent by Suzii Paynter of the Christian Life Coalition, which is one of the leading organizations that are fighting the expansion of gambling in Texas, as it has a pretty good summary of what has gone on so far.

Casino Hearing

On Wednesday, April 8, the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures will hear all the major gambling bills filed in the House this session. There are 16 gambling related bills currently on the notice of hearing which can be found here. This hearing is sure to draw the most vocal gambling proponents from all segments of the casino industry. We think it is important that the committee hear the other side of the argument as well. The CLC will be at the hearing to offer testimony. This is an entirely new committee made up of members who may not know this issue. It is important that they know people out in the state care about the issue and are paying attention. If your representative sits on this committee it would be an excellent time to let them know you oppose the expansion of gambling in Texas. A list of the committee members and their contact information can be found here.

The CLC recently completed a comprehensive newsletter outlining our most important arguments against the expansion of predatory gambling and in support of our current family-friendly economy. You can view the newsletter here (large PDF).

First Gambling Bills Voted Out of Committee

On the same afternoon that the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee announced the agenda for Wednesday’s hearing, they quietly passed out two gambling expansion bills. Both bills now sit in the Calendars committee and await a chance to be considered on the House floor.

The first bill is HB 222, by Rep. Menendez (D-San Antonio). This bill would legalize poker to be played at electronic tables in certain bars, restaurants, horse and dog race tracks and on Indian reservations. The proponents claim that only simple majorities in both the House and Senate are needed to pass this bill. It is the opinion of the CLC, based on previous opinions offered by the Attorney General, that the element of chance inherent in this card game requires a constitutional amendment and the support of 2/3rds of the House and Senate. Additionally, the electronic facsimile of a game of chance makes this a Class III game as described under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). As other states have experienced, and according to IGRA, the approval of a Class III game in Texas will lead to the expansion of Native American gambling in Texas above and beyond what is contemplated in this bill and in a way that weakens the state’s ability to control further casino expansion.

The second bill is HB 1474 by Rep. Geren (R- Ft. Worth). This bill is meant to be a “clean up” bill to standardize and improve the regulation of Bingo in Texas. However, the bill also greatly increases the number and type of organizations that are eligible to receive a bingo license. The CLC is concerned that bingo in this state is moving far beyond the original public understanding of the game and that the charitable purpose is being watered down. Specifically, during the legislative interim period after last session, the lottery commission approved new bingo games which would allow versions of electronic pull tab bingo as well as a type of Keno. We are concerned that these new games could lead to a rapid expansion of electronic casino-style games. This threat is even more possible with the broadening of organizations eligible to apply for a license stated in HB 1474.

The list of members on the Calendars Committee can be found here. If your representative is member of this committee, let them know that the best way to defeat these bills is to never allow a vote on the House floor.

Indian Gambling Bills Get Hearing

On Monday, March 30, two Native-American casino bills by Rep. Chavez (D-El Paso) were heard in committee. The first bill, HB 1308 was heard in the subcommittee on Criminal Procedure of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

The CLC testified in opposition to this bill. HB 1308 would give a defense to prosecution for Indian tribes that conduct otherwise illegal casino gambling operations. The bill is the exact same piece of legislation which failed to pass the House last session. According to Rep. Chavez and other supporters, the bill would simply allow two tribes, the Tigua of El Paso and the Alabama-Coushatta of Livingston to reopen illegal casinos that were shut down several years ago. While sympathetic to the desperate conditions on these two reservations, the Christian Life Commission opposes this piece of legislation because we believe that the consequences of passage may be far more expansive than what proponents are indicating.

HB 1308 does not improve the legal standing of gambling by the Texas tribes bound by the Restoration Act. The state has never used criminal charges to shut down illegal Native-American casinos. The state has the right to sue the tribe in federal court and seek injunctive relief. This is how the casinos were closed in the past and the bill cannot prevent the state from closing any casino opened by the Tigua or Alabama-Coushatta. The gambling activity the tribes seek to conduct is not just an illegal violation of the penal code that this bill amends; it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL according to the Texas Constitution. A statute passed by a simple legislative majority cannot trump the state constitution. While it may preclude criminal penalties the state may still seek to have any operating casino shut down in federal civil court. The bill is an attempt to expand gambling by a simple majority vote in the legislature rather than the two-thirds majority needed for a constitutional amendment. The end result of this bill would likely be more costly litigation on the part of the state in federal court.

Additionally, the vague language in the bill would actually open a legal loophole to Native-American tribes that are 1) named in the list of tribes referenced in the bill, 2) which have historic, recognized land ties to Texas and 3) are not bound by the Restoration Act. The list of tribes referenced in the bill includes over 300 tribes from across the country, several of whom have entered into agreements with state agencies acknowledging “historic property” in Texas. There are currently letters of intent to petition for recognition on file with the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 10 tribes seeking recognition in Texas.

The members of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee should hear from those opposed to this bill so that it is defeated in committee. A link to the committee and their contact info can be found here.

That afternoon, the House Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs heard testimony on HJR 108. This Joint Resolution proposes a constitutional amendment to allow the Tigua tribe of El Paso to operate a full blown, Las Vegas style casino. The CLC testified in opposition to this bill as well. Any constitutional amendment which would allow Class III gambling as defined under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) would be a “trigger” for further Native-American casinos beyond what is authorized in this resolution. It is impossible to authorize gambling for only one tribe without affecting the rights of other tribes in this state. As has been the case in other states, once the Class III threshold is crossed, the state loses much of the ability to control casino expansion since many of the decisions will be made on the federal level.

A link to the members of the Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee can be found here.

A news report of these two hearings can be found here.

To learn more about HB 1308 and the history of Native-American gambling in Texas see here (PDF).

Couple things. First, as you know, I support HB222. Of all the various gambling expansion options I’ve seen, allowing for poker seems to me to be the most sensible and least potentially harmful. Plus, as a bridge player who has had the chance to play for money legally, I think poker is a legitimate game of skill and should be treated as such. In fact, poker players in Pennsylvania and South Carolina recently won court rulings that agreed poker is a game of skill. As such, it’s not clear to me that the AG’s opinion would agree with the CLC about the inherent level of chance here. Of course, I Am Not A Lawyer, and Lord only knows what Greg Abbott will do. The point is that recent legal history is on the poker players’ side. I welcome any feedback on that question, and on the other legal points raised, by anyone who has more expertise on the topic.

Second, you can’t talk about the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta tribes and the litigation over their past attempts to open casinos without noting that a lot of the opposition to them has come from out of state Indian tribes and casinos, who have an obvious interest in minimizing their competition, and that along the way some really sleazy double-dealing was done by former Christian Coalition honcho Ralph Reed and Tom DeLay’s felonious friend Jack Abramoff. Here’s some previous blogging on the subject, plus a couple of corrected links to Observer articles to give you the background.

Finally, just to reiterate, outside of HB222, I am officially agnostic on the subject of expanded gambling in Texas. I have plenty of issues with it, and I may wind up voting against any future ballot propositions to allow for more gambling, but I am not comfortable being opposed to the idea. I thought this email was informative and worth highlighting, but please don’t take that as an endorsement, because it’s not intended as one.