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Pete Olson

With silver linings like these…

…Who needs misfortune?

Even Texas Republicans are a bit amused with the clever new Democratic battle cry that’s emerged amid a recent spate of GOP congressional retirements: “Texodus.”

First came U.S. Rep. Pete Olson of Sugar Land on July 25. Then U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland, Will Hurd of Helotes and, on Monday, Kenny Marchant of Coppell.

Hurd’s unexpected exit set off concern within the Republican political class. But otherwise, according to interviews with state and national Republican operatives, there is a widespread sense that turnover within the delegation is healthy for the party.

“Of course, it’s hard to lose strong incumbents, but there is good reason for optimism — it will create a needed sense of urgency beyond the GOP and the base that will be critical to keeping Texas red and reminding Democrats that their movement toward socialism has no place in the state,” said Catherine Frazier, a veteran of the Rick Perry and Ted Cruz political operations.

“These open seats are a great opportunity to put our best candidates forward, to instill a shot of energy to Republicans statewide and lay waste to the tens of millions national Democrats will spend in a futile effort to win Texas,” she added, echoing many of her colleagues.

Yeah, keep telling yourselves that.

Democrats scoff at the GOP optimism.

“What’s necessarily good for Republican consultants may not be good for the size of the Republican conference come January 2021,” said Avery Jaffe, a spokesman for the House Democratic campaign arm.

“Jerry Jones should check on his stadium because that is the most shameless incident of moving the goal posts Texas has ever seen,” he added.

His state party counterpart concurred.

“That is complete spin,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s something where everybody knows it’s easier to run with an incumbent than with an open seat.”

Both men further pointed out that an open seat usually translates into a crowded primary, wherein a nominee usually emerges in the May runoff with little money in his or her campaign account. In contrast, incumbents rarely face serious primary challenges and enter the general election with millions to spend.

Now to be fair, I scoff at that crowded primary/runoff trope when it’s being peddled about Democratic Senate candidates, and I scoff at it here when it involves Republican Congressional candidates as well. You know who was involved in expensive crowded primaries and runoffs recently? Reps. Lizzie Fletcher, Colin Allred, Dan Crenshaw, Chip Roy, and Ron Wright in 2018, that’s who. I guarantee you, the Republican candidates for CDs 22, 23, and 24 will have money. They may be facing strong headwinds, but they’ll have the resources they need to compete.

Before the 2018 midterms, nearly all of the House Republicans from Texas were white men ranging in age from their 50s into their 80s. While Republicans are careful not to slight the outgoing members, there is a sense that the House GOP delegation had become stagnant. Most cycles, only one or two members retired.

But Republicans have a deep bench in the state. And as soon as these retirements went public, the names of viable potential candidate immediately floated. Furthermore, Republicans argue, younger candidates will not have the baggage of long Congressional records to contend with in a general election campaign.

I mean, sure, some of these incumbents had little going for them beyond their campaign finance accounts. But the problem now isn’t the candidates themselves, it’s their close association with Donald Trump. And while the size of the primary fields or the necessity of runoffs isn’t a problem for the GOP, the need for their replacement candidates to hug Trump even harder than the outgoing incumbents did is. You can swap out the players, but the director remains the same.

Marchant joins the exodus

The line at the door keeps growing.

Rep. Kenny Marchant

U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant will not seek reelection in 2020, two sources confirmed to The Texas Tribune late Sunday.

He is the fourth member of the Texas delegation to announce his retirement in recent days. Marchant’s decision was first reported by The New York Times.

Marchant, who was elected to Congress in 2004, is a founding member of the House Tea Party Caucus. He represents Texas’ 24th Congressional District, which spans the northern suburbs of Forth Worth and Dallas. The district has historically been reliably red, but Marchant’s margins of victory have grown thinner in recent elections. In 2016, he won by a comfortable two-digit margin. Last year, Marchant squeaked by with a 3 point win over Democrat Jan McDowell.

[…]

The senior representative joins an exodus of Texas Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd. In several cases, members have stepped down ahead of facing toss-up races for seats they could once hold without much effort.

As you may recall, the Politico story that ran the day before Will Hurd’s retirement announcement named Marchant and Rep. Mike McCaul in CD10 as rumored leavers. They’re one for two so far. As we know, Beto carried CD24, and it’s entirely possible that a better candidate might have already sent him packing. Be that as it may, there are multiple candidates running now, with Kim Olson, Crystal Fletcher, and Candace Valenzuela all doing well in fundraising. As with CDs 22 and 23, I don’t expect Marchant’s quitting to have much effect on the Democratic field – this was already a top tier race, and people were already drawn to it. I do expect a scramble on the Republican side, but we’ll leave that for another day.

One final note about Marchant, whose statement is here. Like Mike Conaway, he was the beneficiary of a district drawn just for him in the 2003 DeLay re-redistricting. They don’t draw ’em like they used to, I guess. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on Mike McCaul and any other potential retirees out there. Daily Kos has more.

UPDATE: Also from dKos:

Team Red still has a large bench here despite the changing political winds, and they quickly got their first candidate when former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who resigned from her post at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday, told the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek that she was in. Van Duyne had been mentioned as a candidate for the nearby 32nd district, but that seat contains none of her Irving base.

There are several other Republicans who could run here including the congressman’s son, former Carrollton Mayor Matthew Marchant. The younger Marchant said Mondayhe was “[g]etting a lot of encouragement, but I’m focusing on my dad’s years of service today.” Former GOP state Rep. Matt Rinaldi also didn’t rule anything out, saying he’d “received numerous calls asking me to consider running but haven’t yet made a decision either way.” Last year, Rinaldi lost the general election by a brutal 57-43 margin in a seat that backed Clinton 52-44.

The National Journal also name drops former state Rep. Ron Simmons and state Sen. Jane Nelson as possible contenders. However, former state Sen. Konni Burton quickly said no.

Should be a fun primary on their side.

Rep. Mike Conaway to retire

We will have at least three new members of Congress from Texas in 2021.

Rep. Mike Conaway

Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas will not seek reelection in 2020, according to multiple GOP sources, becoming the fifth Republican to announce their retirement over the past two weeks.

Conaway, a veteran lawmaker who represents a ruby red district, has a news conference scheduled for Wednesday in Midland, but did not specify a topic. Republican sources, however, are expecting him to say he’s retiring. His office declined to comment.

Conaway has served in Congress for 15 years, but stepped into the national spotlight in 2017 when he was tasked with leading the House Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The panel’s then-chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), had agreed to step aside from the investigation amid ethics charges against him.

Conaway, 71, is also the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee and has served stints in the leadership of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s political arm. Conaway, an accountant, once used his accounting expertise to uncover an embezzlement scheme at the NRCC.

A longtime ally of George W. Bush, Conaway worked as chief financial officer of Bush Exploration, an oil and gas firm, in the 1980s. When Bush was governor of Texas, he appointed Conaway a state board of accountants.

Conaway joins Reps. Pete Olson and Will Hurd in heading for the exit; Conaway’s new hit before Hurd’s did, but Hurd’s was the bigger deal. The main difference here is that CD22 is basically a tossup and CD23 could now be called “lean Dem”, while Conaway’s CD11 is as red as it gets; he won with 80% of the vote in 2018. All the action for that one is gonna be in March. The only other point of interest I can think of for this is that CD11 as it is now configured exists because then-Speaker Tom Craddick insisted on creating a Midland-anchored Congressional district during the 2003 DeLay re-redistricting. He won over those who wanted to keep Midland in the old CD19, where Lubbock was the center of gravity, and here we are today. Conaway was the hand-picked beneficiary of Craddick’s political heft. Sure is good to have friends in high places. The Trib has more.

Rep. Will Hurd to step down

Wow. I did not see this coming.

Rep. Will Hurd

The U.S. House’s last black Republican member, Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes, announced Thursday that he is retiring from Congress. President Donald Trump’s racist comments about elected officials weighed heavily on Hurd, who has often spoken out against the rhetoric.

In announcing his resignation on Twitter, he alluded to future plans, but provided no specifics.

“I have made the decision to not seek reelection for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security,” he wrote.

It was unclear as the news broke whether or not state or national Republicans have a back-up plan for a candidate in this district. Several state and national Republican operatives reached out to the Tribune to react to the news. Nearly all of the commentary involved highly explicit language.

It is apparent that this reelection would have been difficult.

Veteran Gina Ortiz Jones nearly defeated Hurd last cycle, and Democrats were emphatic that they would put all of their muscle in helping her capture this district, which has become something of a white whale for the party.

Emphasis mine. I’d feel sorry for those SOBs if they deserved any sympathy, but they don’t. I do however have an idea of why they’re so upset, and it’s because they’re in the same state I am, which is caught off guard. I mean, earlier that same day came this Politico piece about potential Republican retirements, and well, see for yourself:

Among those on the retirement watch list include older members, like Hal Rogers of Kentucky, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Don Young of Alaska; moderates, like Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon; lawmakers facing tougher races, like Texans Michael McCaul and Kenny Marchant, and Ann Wagner of Missouri; and the two members under indictment, Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York.

History suggests that an uptick in retirements is common for the minority party after a shift in power. More than a dozen House Democrats left Congress after the 2010 tea party wave that swept Republicans back to power — and seven House Republicans have already announced their departures from politics, just seven months into the cycle.

“Unfortunately, I am afraid there may be more coming,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports centrist Republicans in swing districts.

The pile-up of retirements could complicate the GOP’s path back to the majority after a bruising midterm election. Almost immediately after Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) announced he would not seek reelection last week, election forecasters shifted the race from “lean Republican” to “toss-up.”

Olson, who came to Congress in 2009, would have faced a competitive reelection battle in his district in the Houston suburbs, where he just narrowly fended off a Democratic challenger last year. And Democrats are dumping resources into Texas this cycle, hoping to build on their gains in the midterms.

“Texas is the biggest battleground state. Republicans know it,” said Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party. “We wouldn’t be surprised if there were more retirements because Republicans know their 2020 prospects in Texas are doomed.”

I guarantee you, if there had been any whispers of Hurd hitting the exit, it would have been in that story. This was a bolt from the blue, and it had to have left a mark. Good. Also, too, if McCaul and Marchant drop out, the Republicans are really in a world of hurt.

As for Dem opposition in CD23, Gina Ortiz Jones is off to a fast start in fundraising. She has two opponents in the primary so far, though only Rosey Aburabara looks like a serious challenger. I don’t expect anyone else with any heft to get in on the Dem side. I have no idea who might get in on the Republican side, but my best guess would be someone from the Bexar County part of the district.

One more thing:

Because I love you all, I can and will tell you that the others are:

Ted Poe (CD02)
Sam Johnson (CD03)
Jeb Hensarling (CD05)
Joe Barton (CD06)
John Culberson (CD07)
Mike Conaway (CD11)
Rubén Hinojosa (CD15)
Beto O’Rourke (CD16)
Randy Neugebauer (CD19)
Lamar Smith (CD21)
Pete Olson (CD22)
Will Hurd (CD23)
Blake Farenthold (CD27)
Gene Green (CD29)
Pete Sessions (CD32)

As noted later by Svitek, that doesn’t include John Ratcliffe (CD04), who is reported to be Trump’s pick for Director of National Intelligence. Add in McCaul and Marchant and we’d have turned over more than half the delegation in the last three elections. That’s pretty amazing.

Pete Olson not running for re-election

Least surprising story of the week.

Rep. Pete Olson

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, announced Thursday afternoon that he is retiring from Congress at the end of his term.

The retirement sets up what will likely be one of the most competitive House races in the country. Olson narrowly won reelection last year against Democrat Sri Kulkarni, who is running again.

Olson, who was first elected to Congress in 2008, announced his retirement in a news release.

“Protecting our future and preserving our exceptional nation are the reasons I first ran for Congress,” he wrote. “Now, it’s time for another citizen-legislator to take up this mission, not to make a career out of politics, but to help lead in the cause of empowering our people, defending our liberties, and making sure America remains the greatest nation in history.”

Among Republicans who could run for the seat, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls is an immediate prospect. He explored challenging Olson last year and recently announced he wasn’t running for reelection as sheriff, keeping the door open to a TX-22 campaign.

Olson is a graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law. On the day he took the bar exam, he enlisted in the Navy and served as an aviator during the Gulf War. He went on to serve as a staffer to Republican U.S. Sens. Phil Gramm and John Cornyn.

[…]

Attorney Nyanza Davis Moore and Pearland City Councilman Derrick Reed are also running for the Democratic nomination.

See here for some background. There were rumors about Olson stepping down in 2018, and pretty much everyone expected Nehls to announce for CD22 after he said he was not running for re-election as Fort Bend County Sheriff. In a sense, this was just the next chapter of the story. Kulkarni raised a bunch of money last quarter, so he has an early advantage. Given Olson’s situation and the fact that CD22 was on the radar from the jump, I don’t think this development changes things much on the Dem side. I do expect there will be other contenders in the Republican primary, though Nehls starts out as the establishment pick. Look at the open seat GOP races from 2018 to get some idea of what we could be in for. It’s gonna be fun, I know that much. The Chron has more.

We’ll have a much better idea of who the candidates are soon

There are a lot of people filing to run for Congress as Democrats. It remains to be seen how many of them are viable.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Three times as many Democrats have already filed to run for Congress in Texas this year as in 2012 or 2016, yet another sign that Texas will be more of a battleground for the two major political parties in 2020.

With the elections still well over a year away, Democrats already have 66 candidates who have signed up to run in 30 different congressional districts. At this same point four years ago, Democrats had just 19 candidates ready to run in 16 of the state’s 36 congressional districts.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm statewide,” said Abhi Rahman, director of communications for the Texas Democratic Party.

The increase is a sign that fired-up Democrats want to take on President Donald Trump and his policies, and is a testament to the party’s success in 2018, when Democrats flipped two Congressional seats previously held by the GOP, picked up 12 seats in the Texas House and two in the Texas Senate. In addition, Beto O’Rourke came within 3 percentage points of defeating Republican powerhouse U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — the closest statewide race in Texas in decades.

[…]

It’s not just that Democrats flipped two congressional seats in 2018, but also how close they came to flipping a half dozen others in Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. Six Republican members of Congress won their elections in 2018 with 52 percent of the vote or less. Those six districts have become magnets for Democratic candidates, with 26 Democrats already filing official statements of candidacy to run with the Federal Election Commission.

Two San Antonio-area districts lead the way. In 2018, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, won his re-election in the 23rd Congressional District with 49 percent of the vote. And U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, won his seat with just 50.3 percent of the vote. Hurd already has four Democrats who have filed to challenge him, including his 2018 opponent Gina Ortiz Jones. Roy meanwhile has drawn three opponents.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, seven Democrats have filed to run in the 24th Congressional District, where Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, won his re-election with 50.7 percent of the vote. Similarly, near Austin, seven Democrats have filed to run in the 31st Congressional District where Republican John Carter won his re-election with 50.6 percent of the vote.

In Houston, U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul and Pete Olson won their districts with 51 percent of the vote. Three Democrats have filed to take on McCaul, and two to take on Olson.

It’s a little curious to me that they used 2012 and 2016 as a basis of comparison rather than 2018. We already know that 2012 and 2016 were not great years for Democratic Congressional campaign recruiting, while 2018 was off-the-charts good. I realize those were Presidential years, as 2020 is, but until further notice 2018 is the basis for all meaningful comparisons.

So as far as that goes, here’s my look at finance reports from Q1 of this year and Q2 of 2017. That doesn’t tell you how many people had filed – I mostly didn’t pay attention to the non-competitive districts, and there were plenty of fringey candidates I didn’t put much effort into – but it does tell you how many candidates of interest to me there were. The Q2 finance reports are still trickling in, so you’ll see an updated list of interesting candidates when the data is there. You can see some candidates’ names now, but until I see a finance report I don’t feel confident about who is a potential difference maker, and who is just taking up space. It’s good to know there are four contenders in CD31, for example, but I need to know more than that. Give it a week or so, and we’ll get that.

Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls will step down

That sound you hear is a domino falling.

Troy Nehls

Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls announced Wednesday that he would not seek a third term in 2020.

“My work in law enforcement, it’s been an honor and a privilege,” said Nehls. “I’ve done it (law enforcement) for almost 25 years. I think it’s time for me to do something else.”

News of Nehls’ decision prompted immediate speculation that he might run for Congress, a possibility he did not confirm or deny in an interview. Nehls said he announced his decision not to seek re-election now to provide time for others who may want to run for sheriff.

“I will again revisit that over the next four, five months,” Nehls said about a possible Congress run. “We’ll just wait to see what happens.”

[…]

Prior to being elected sheriff, Nehls served two terms as Precinct 4 constable in Fort Bend County.

Nehls said he has encouraged his twin brother, Constable Trever Nehls, to run to replace him as sheriff. Trever Nehls was elected Precinct 4 constable after his twin left the job to run for sheriff.

As you may recall, Democrats won all of the contested countywide races in Fort Bend in 2018. They would like very much to repeat that in 2020. Having a longtime incumbent like Nehls will help, as he had the best percentage among countywide Republicans in 2016 and was one of the top performers in 2012. Democrats do have a candidate.

Eric Fagan, a former Houston police officer with 34 years of law enforcement experience, has launched his campaign for Fort Bend County sheriff.

Born in Louisiana but raised in Texas, Fagan has been a Fort Bend County resident since 1991 and has received the ‘Officer of the Year’ award three times by at least two agencies.

“I want to bring the sheriff’s office in Fort Bend into the 21st century,” Fagan said. “I want to bring proactive police work to the county. We can’t be retroactive.”

Fagan, a Democrat, said his top priorities as sheriff include bringing back community-orientated policing, addressing human trafficking and domestic violence and creating partnerships with community groups to address crime and social issues.

Here’s his website. It’s possible there will be someone else – I mean, Dems have to be optimistic to begin with, and open seats don’t come along every day – but Fagan was there first, and he was who I found when I went looking.

As for Nehls, everyone and her cousin expects him to run for Congress in CD22. There were rumors that Pete Olson would step down in 2018, and I’m sure this will amplify them. As I’ve said in other contexts, Q3 is likely the last chance for serious candidates to get into these races, as the demands of fundraising require a lot of time. Sri Kulkarni has already announced a haul of $420K for Q2, so that’s the scope here. As such, if this is what Nehls has in mind, I expect these dominoes to fall quickly.

Where the Republicans think they’re vulnerable

Always good to get the opposing perspective on these things.

Rep. Kenny Marchant

Eight House Republicans, including the three from districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, have been named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s list of incumbents expected to face tough re-elections.

Members of the Patriot Program typically benefit from fundraising and organizational assistance. The list can be a signal to donors to direct checks to members in need.

“While Democrats continue to call them ‘targets,’ the NRCC will be empowering these members to stay on offense and run aggressive, organized campaigns against their Democratic challengers,” New York Rep. John Katko, Patriot Program chairman, said in a statement Friday.

[…]

Half of the GOP’s Patriot Program designees are from Texas. Two on the list — Texas’ Will Hurd and Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick — were on the initial list for the 2018 cycle. Six of the 10 Republicans on that list lost last fall.

The four from Texas are among those you’d expect:

CD10 – McCaul
CD22 – Olson
CD23 – Hurd
CD31 – Carter

It’s more interesting to me to see the two that the NRCC chose not to include up front, namely CDs 21 and 24. CD24 was carried by Beto O’Rourke and was the closest of the districts in 2016 that wasn’t carried by Hillary Clinton. I’d easily make CD24 more vulnerable than CD31 (and that’s without taking into account the fact that MJ Hegar is running for Senate and not taking another crack at this), so its omission is a curious one to me. Maybe the NRCC knows something we don’t, maybe they’re lowering the priority on CD24 on the theory that it’s likely to be toast, maybe they’re happier with Kenny Marchant’s fundraising and cash on hand so far than they are with these others, or maybe it just worked out this way. For sure, this is a list that will grow over time, and as it does we can reassess the NRCC’s apparent defensive priorities.

Two for CD22

I expect the primary season for the other competitive Republican-held Congress districts to be busy, and so it begins.

Nyanza Moore

Lawyer Nyanza Moore plans to officially announce her candidacy Sunday for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, where she plans to seek the 2020 Democratic nomination for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land.

“My personal story is rooted in faith, guided by progressive values, and fueled by the will to overcome tragedy,” Moore said in a statement.

In a news release, Moore focused heavily on health care, recalling financial challenges when both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer, and when her sister once went into a coma. She connected the topic to Olson, contending he has “repeatedly voted to take away health care” from constituents.

Moore’s announcement comes the weekend after Democrat Sri Kulkarni launched his second campaign for the seat. Kulkarni was the district’s Democratic nominee last cycle and came within five points of unseating Olson.

See here for Kulkarni’s announcement, which notes that there is also a third potential contender out there as well. CD22 drew five Dem hopefuls in 2018, when it was an interesting but more remote possibility that wasn’t on the national radar. It’s very much on the radar now, which I suspect will increase the level of interest, even with Kulkarni showing himself to have been a strong candidate and good fundraiser. This is as good an opportunity as you’re likely to get and you miss all the shots you don’t take, so if you think you’ve got what it takes, why not give it a go? Nyanza Moore’s webpage is here and her Facebook page is here. As always, I’ll be looking forward to seeing the campaign finance reports.

Kulkarni 2.0

Glad to see this.

Sri Kulkarni

Democrat Sri Kulkarni, an ex-foreign service officer who last year came within five points of unseating U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, announced Thursday he is challenging the Sugar Land Republican anew in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District.

Making his first run for office in 2018, Kulkarni drew attention by repeatedly out fundraising Olson and forming a multilingual campaign team to take aim at the district’s highly diverse population. He ultimately lost by more than 14,000 votes, or about 4.9 percentage points.

To bridge the gap, Kulkarni said his efforts will largely revolve around registering new voters in the district, where he has identified roughly 70,000 unregistered residents who are eligible to vote. Kulkarni also intends to reach more low-propensity voters this cycle, he said, and harness lingering energy from his prior campaign by jumping in only five months after the November midterms.

“We have people who are pumped up to come out and knock on doors right now, and we’re a year and a half away from the election,” Kulkarni said. “People wanted change in this district, and since we’ve built all that infrastructure, it would be a waste to start from scratch.”

Before he can set his sights on Olson, however, Kulkarni must first get past the Democratic primary, where he already faces two opponents. Nyanza Moore, a Fox 26 political commentator, and Joe Walz, an Army veteran, each are seeking the Democratic nomination.

Whoever emerges to face the Republican nominee will likely begin with better odds than Kulkarni did in 2018. Viewed for years as a longshot for Democrats, the district has made it onto the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2020 battleground map, an early indication that national Democrats are willing to put resources into flipping the seat.

There’s definitely room to grow in a district that wasn’t at all on the national radar last year, but got more attention as the situation in Texas became clearer. I suspect that the promise of DCCC support for CD22 is contingent on Kulkarni winning the primary, as he has proven himself to be a strong candidate, though if one of the other two beats him I’m sure they’ll get a chance to prove themselves as well. With all due respect, I’d prefer Kulkarni, as would a number of elected officials and other party figures who have endorsed him. I’m looking forward to reviewing the FEC reports for Congressional candidates again.

More looking forward to 2020

Gonna have some more of that sweet Congressional election action.

Smelling blood after picking up two Texas congressional seats in November – along with Beto O’Rourke’s narrow loss in the U.S. Senate race – House Democrats [recently] announced six new 2020 targets in the Lone Star State.

In a wish list of 33 GOP-held or open seats targeted nationally by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Texas figures prominently as a potential battleground, particularly in the suburbs.

The targeted Texas lawmakers include Houston-area Republicans Michael McCaul and Pete Olson. Around San Antonio, the Democrats are putting two other Republicans in their sights: Freshman Chip Roy, a conservative stalwart who worked for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and moderate Will Hurd, who represents a heavily Latino border district.

Rounding out the list are Republicans John Carter of Round Rock and Kenny Marchant of Coppell.

“All six have suburban areas experiencing population booms and an increasingly diverse electorate. These factors gave Republicans a taste of what is headed their way.” said DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos, an Illinois Democrat, in a memo released Monday.

“In 2020 a rapidly emerging Democratic coalition will make Texas a focal point of the House Democrats’ offensive strategy,” she continued.

Democrats noted that all six targeted Republicans in Texas won by five points or less, revealing electoral weaknesses in a state that has been dominated by Republicans for a generation.

In practical terms, the DCCC list indicates the group will be pouring money and organizational resources into those races, including recruitment efforts to help candidates who best match their districts.

It’s the shutdown target list plus Will Hurd. Not really a surprise, though I think overlooking CD02 is a bit short-sighted. There will be time to correct that. For their part, the Republicans will target freshman Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred. A priori everyone goes into 2020 as the favorite to hold their own seat, but suffice it to say there are many variables and a whole lot of potential for volatility. If Donald Trump is heading for a massive loss, who knows how many of these red seats could fall. If he’s back into the low-to-mid-40s approval ratings, there may be a lot of action but not much change. If things have gone south for the Dems – a bit hard to imagine now, but politics is weird these days – the Republicans could win back the seats they lost. Hard hitting analysis, I know, but at this point it’s all as meaningful as a split squad game during spring training. All we’re doing now it setting up the potential story lines. The Current and Mother Jones have more.

The first targets for 2020

We’ve already agreed that the 2020 election season has begun, so a little attack advertising over the shutdown seems like a good play

Mike Siegel

National Democrats have five Texas Republican congressmen in their crosshairs as they begin the 2020 election cycle looking to build on their gains here in November.

As part of its first digital ad campaign of the cycle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul of Austin, Chip Roy of Austin, Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and John Carter of Round Rock. They are among 25 GOP House members across the country included in the ad offensive, which the DCCC announced Friday.

The ads criticize the lawmakers for voting against recent Democratic-backed legislation to end the government shutdown without funding for a border wall — a demand by President Donald Trump that prompted the closure. The ads, which come on the day that federal workers will miss their second paycheck under the shutdown, feature an image of a helicopter rescue mission over the water, accompanied by text reading, “The Coast Guard, Border Patrol, & [Transportation Security Administration] just missed another paycheck thanks to” the targeted member of Congress.

Good thing they got this out as quickly as they did, eh? I put Mike Siegel in there for the featured image because he’s already announced his candidacy for 2020. Doesn’t mean he’ll be the nominee, of course, but he’s in the running. I am of course delighted to see CD24, which some people think might wind up being an open seat, among the targets. As for CD23 and Will Hurd, he gets a pass this time around because he has been (wisely) critical of The Wall and has voted for reopening the government. He’ll be targeted another time; as the story notes, Gina Ortiz Jones is saying she wants to run again. All of this is one reason why one of my criteria for supporting a Democratic Presidential nominee is their level of commitment to competing in Texas next year. There’s more than just our plentiful electoral votes at stake.

What if he does it anyway?

That’s my question.

Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s two Republican U.S. senators and a bipartisan group of 20 U.S. House members released a letter stating their staunch opposition to raiding Texas’ hard-fought Harvey money.

“Recent reports have indicated that your administration is considering the use of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funds, appropriated by Congress and intended for Hurricane Harvey recovery and mitigation efforts, in an effort to secure our southern border,” they wrote. “We strongly support securing the border with additional federal resources including tactical infrastructure, technology, ports of entry improvements and personnel. However, we are strongly opposed to using funds appropriated by Congress for disaster relief and mitigation for Texas for any unintended purpose.”

Congressional signatories included nine lawmakers from the Houston metropolitan region: Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Babin, Kevin Brady, Dan Crenshaw, Michael McCaul, Pete Olson and Randy Weber; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Lizzie Fletcher and Sheila Jackson Lee.

Texans from other regions also signed on: Republican U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Mike Conaway of Midland, Bill Flores of Bryan, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Will Hurd of Helotes, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Roger Williams of Austin; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen and Filemon Vela of Brownsville

See here for the background. That certainly is a letter. Nicely typed, good sentence structure, no spelling errors as far as I could tell. Now what happens if and when Donald Trump goes ahead and declares an emergency and tries to tap into these funds anyway, because Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh called him mean names again? What are you, Greg Abbott, and you, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and you, Republican members of Congress, going to do then? We wouldn’t be here in the first place if Donald Trump were a rational actor. He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do. What are those of you who enable him at every step going to do when that happens?

From the “If at first you don’t succeed” department

Three Dem Congressional candidates from 2018 may try again in 2020.

Todd Litton

Among the typically deep-red districts that came down to single digits were three races around Harris County. Incumbent Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, won by margins of 4.3 and 4.9 percentage points in Texas’ heavily gerrymandered 10th and 22nd Congressional Districts. Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, R-Spring, won by more than 7 points an open race for the 2nd Congressional District, one also drawn to elect Republicans.

In recent elections, the districts had gone to Republicans by no fewer than 19 percentage points, with margins as high as 38 points.

Now, as they parse the results and consider what comes next, Democrats in these races must grapple with important questions. Did they come close because of a boost from Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid and anger among voters prodded to the polls by President Donald Trump, or did they offer a preview of what is to come? Is a 40-something percent result the ceiling, and if not, where might they find more votes?

All three losing Democrats — Todd Litton, Mike Siegel and Sri Preston Kulkarni — said they may take another swing at the districts in 2020, when Trump could appear atop the ballot and galvanize even more voters than in 2018.

[…]

Litton acknowledged he was unlucky to draw an opponent as tough as Crenshaw, saying the former Navy SEAL “was not your standard first-time candidate.” For now, the defeated Democrat plans to see how Crenshaw’s first term goes, and decide later if he wants to run.

“I’d consider it. I don’t know that I’m going to do it,” said Litton, who directed an education nonprofit before seeking office. “We’ll see how Dan does and what he says.”

[…]

Mike Siegel

Texas’ 10th Congressional District covers much of the rural area between Travis and Harris counties, stretching across nine counties from Katy and Cypress all the way through downtown Austin to Lake Travis. It is one of four GOP-held districts dividing up deep-blue Travis County, the only county Siegel won.

Compared to McCaul’s 2016 race, turnout this year grew by more than 3,400 votes in Travis County, where McCaul’s support fell by about eight percentage points. In the remaining eight counties, turnout fell by 8,200 votes from two years ago, and McCaul’s support dropped from 70 percent to 65 percent.

All told, McCaul lost ground in every county from 2016, though his support dipped by fewer than two percentage points in Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lee and Washington counties — all areas where Siegel failed to break even 23 percent.

[…]

One reason for Democratic optimism, Siegel said, is the changing nature of Bastrop and Waller counties, located next to Travis and Harris, respectively. Two years ago, McCaul won Bastrop and Waller by 22 and 32 percentage points, respectively, while this year the margin was 11 and 25 points. Siegel also drew 36 percent of the vote in Harris County, about 7 points ahead of Cadien in 2016.

[…]

Sri Kulkarni

Olson never had won a general election by fewer than 19 points — his margin in 2016 — but several trends gave Kulkarni reason to contest the district. Notably, it shifted 17.5 points in favor of Democrats from the 2012 to 2016 presidential election, the fourth most dramatic change in the country.

Kulkarni’s preliminary data also found that both parties had ignored major swaths of the district. In particular, Asian residents make up about 20 percent of the district’s population, far more than any other Texas congressional district, but Kulkarni found that three-quarters of Asian voters had not been contacted by any political party.

Kulkarni’s efforts hinged on turning out the scores of college-educated immigrants who moved to the district during the last several years. He ultimately lost by 4.9 percentage points, a result he attributes partly to not reaching enough Hispanic voters. He did not rule out giving it another shot in 2020.

“If I’m the best candidate, I’ll run again,” Kulkarni said. “I don’t want to throw away all the hard work that we did in organizing here, because going from 19 points two years ago or 34 points four years ago, to 4.9 — there’s obviously a change going on in terms of who’s participating.”

A few general thoughts…

1. Obviously, it’s very early to say who may or may not be running in 2020. Even if all three of these guys say they’re in, they could face primary opponents, and who knows what might happen in a Presidential-year primary, where I think we might see 2008-level turnout. That said, there are always advantages to getting in early – among other things, you can start fundraising right away – and whether we like it or not, the 2020 campaign is already underway. Take all the time you need to decide, but don’t take any longer than that.

2. Of the three, Litton or anyone else in CD02 will likely have the toughest race. Dan Crenshaw has star potential, and he doesn’t yet have any Trump stink on him. He also had the biggest margin of victory in 2018. On the other hand, he will have to start making tough choices about Trump and the Trump agenda, and with CD07 in Democratic hands, CD02 is (along with County Commissioner Precinct 3) the top target for Team Blue in 2020. In addition, no one has to be convinced now that CD02 is worth targeting. It will be on the national radar from the beginning, which will help.

3. That “key for Democratic optimism” paragraph about CD10 is the key for 2020. The Harris County part of the district is fast-growing, and offers a lot of opportunity to find, register, and turn out new Dem voters that year. Looking at the 2016 and 2018 election returns, there were 21K more voters this year in the Harris part of CD10 than there were two years ago. Turnout was 69% in there in 2016, and 59% in 2018, though that meant 6K more voters thanks to the larger voter pool. I feel like if you can get the Dem number in Harris County above 40%, you can win this district. You’ll still need a strong showing in Travis, and there’s room for growth as noted in Bastrop and Waller, but if you get to 40% in Harris I feel like this one is in reach.

4. As noted before, Pete Olson may or may not make it to the ballot in 2020. Generally speaking, having an open seat makes it more winnable for the opposing party. That may be less true in the Trump era, but an open seat will definitely push this up a notch on the national radar. If Kulkarni runs again, my advice is “keep doing what you’re doing”. If it’s someone else, my advice is “do what Sri Kulkarni did, and do more of it”.

Normally, this is the time when I say things like “I want to get through 2019 before I start thinking about 2020”. This is the world we live in now. 2019 is important, but given that everyone who wants to run in 2020 will have to file for office before 2019 is over, we really do have to be thinking about it now.

More Congressional retirement speculation

From Roll Call:

Rep. Kenny Marchant

Life in the minority will be a new experience for most House Republicans next year. And many of them may not remember what happened the last time the GOP lost the House.

After the 2006 Democratic wave, about two dozen Republicans opted to retire the following cycle instead of languishing in the minority. And some in the party are worried about a repeat.

“I don’t know if people have gotten over the shell shock yet, but there ought to be,” said Rep. Tom Cole when asked if there was concern about potential retirements.

The Oklahoma Republican knows firsthand the costs of losing the majority. He chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 2008 campaign cycle and was tasked with convincing Republicans in tough districts not to retire. Twenty-three members ended up choosing to leave.

Convincing someone not to retire is a difficult, but important, sell — especially after a huge wave of GOP retirements in the 2018 cycle opened the door to Democratic victories last month.

“We saw how devastating that was for us this year,” Cole said. “Another round of that would be really bad.”

[…]

Close attention is likely to fall on lawmakers who survived close races last month, particularly in suburban areas where President Donald Trump is unpopular. And a few names are already starting to circulate.

A handful of Texas Republicans survived closer-than-expected contests. Rep. Pete Olson, who won re-election by 5 points in a district outside Houston, had been rumored to be eyeing the exit. But his chief of staff Melissa Kelly denied it. Rep. Kenny Marchant, who won his Dallas-area seat by just 3 points, said he “absolutely” is also running again, calling his recent victory margin an “anomaly.”

A handful of GOP ranking members who are facing their last term at the top of their committees could also be looking to leave. Republicans can only serve a combined six years as chairman or ranking member of a committee, and that influenced several retirements last cycle.

Rep. Olson has been the subject of retirement rumors for some time now. I don’t think anyone will be surprised if he bows out. Marchant is a new name for this, and it’s one that I think may have been more about speculation than actual chatter. That said, people have noticed how close CD24 was, and it’s a virtual certainty that Marchant will be in the spotlight this cycle. Beto carried CD24, a fact that you should expect to hear many more times over the next two years. (Beto also carried CD10, by a smaller margin.)

Along those lines, here are the way-too-early Cook Political Report rankings for the 2020 House elections. CDs 07 and 32, the two won by Dem challengers this year, are Lean Democratic. CDs 23 and 24 – there’s that district again – are Republican Toss-Ups. CDs 10, 21, 22, and 31 are Lean Republican, while CD06 is Likely Republican. I for one think CDs 02, 03, and 25 deserve mention as well. No matter how you look at it, Texas is going to get a lot of attention in 2020.

Who might be next to retire from Congress?

We may see some more exits in the coming years, some voluntary and some not.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

Retirement talk is generally speculative until an incumbent makes an official announcement.

But many Republican operatives bet that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the most senior Republican from Texas in Congress, could make the upcoming term his last. That’s because Thornberry, currently chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is term-limited out of being the top Republican on that committee, in 2021. Thornberry’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Beyond a severe loss of power in Washington, there are potentially bigger problems ahead for Texas Republicans. Every Republican incumbent from Texas who successfully ran for re-election saw his or her margins shrink over Democrats from contested 2016 races. Some of these numbers should not be troubling. For instance, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, won his race this year by 46 points, rather than 50 points in the prior cycle.

But five GOP incumbents – [Mike] McCaul and U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Kenny Marchant of Coppell, Pete Olson of Sugar Land and Roger Williams of Austin – saw their 2016 margins shrink this year to single digits. These members will likely have to work harder for re-election in 2020 than ever before, and those battles will take place in suburban stretches of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston that have become increasingly hostile to the GOP.

[…]

The 2018 results could well prove to have been a fluke, brought on by the coattails of outgoing U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke who ran the best Democratic statewide campaign in a generation in his unsuccessful bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But anxiety is high among members and their aides that Texas can no longer sustain so many GOP incumbents – particularly after political maps gets redrawn during redistricting in 2021. Members with an eye on retirement might well wait to see the outcome of the redraw before deciding whether to call it quits.

The East Texas seat of U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, is another possible vacancy to watch, though not related to his future re-election prospects. With an increasingly higher profile as a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and a past career as a federal prosecutor, Ratcliffe has emerged as a contender to be Trump’s next U.S. attorney general to replace the current acting AG, Matthew Whitaker.

As the story notes, the delegation has been pretty stable. In 2012, after the last round of redistricting and with four new seats added, there were only eight new members. Three were in new seats, of which one (Roger Williams, CD25) was in the district Lloyd Doggett abandoned to run in the new CD35. Of the other four, two defeated incumbents: Pete Gallego knocked off Quico Canseco in CD23, Beto O’Rourke knocked off Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for CD16. Only Randy Weber in CD14 and Joaquin Castro in CD20 succeeded members that had retired. Between then and this year, Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (CD15) and Randy Neugebauer (CD19) retired, and the now-convicted Steve Stockman (CD36) left to pursue a doomed primary against Sen. John Cornyn in 2014. This year was a bonanza for new faces, and there’s a decent chance we’ll have a few more over the next two cycles.

The Fort Bend blue wave

Let’s not forget that what happened in Harris County happened in Fort Bend, too.

KP George

Across the state, the “blue wave” that had long been a dream of the Democratic Party faithful failed to materialize in Tuesday’s midterm elections, with Republicans sweeping every statewide office for the 20th consecutive year, albeit by closer-than-expected margins.

But in Fort Bend County — the rapidly growing suburb southwest of Houston often heralded as a beacon of diversity — Democrats had their best election day since the political power base in Texas shifted from Democrat to Republican decades ago.

Political analysts attributed the near sweep in part to the county’s growing diversity, which also was reflected in the backgrounds of some of the winners: Middleton, who defeated Republican Cliff Vacek, is African-American, and Democrat KP George, who unseated longtime County Judge Robert Hebert, was born in India.

[…]

In Fort Bend County elections Tuesday, Democrats ousted Republican incumbents for county judge, Precinct 4 commissioner and district clerk. Middleton won the open district attorney race, and all 22 Democrats who ran for judicial positions — state district courts, appeals courts and county courts-at-law — prevailed; the lone Republican victor was opposed only by a Libertarian candidate.

Fort Bend County voters favored Democrats over Republicans for every statewide office on the ballot except governor. And even in that race, Gov. Greg Abbott, who won 56 percent of the statewide vote over challenger Lupe Valdez, managed only a slim plurality in Fort Bend County, besting Valdez by a mere 720 votes out of more than 250,000 cast.

Only in legislative campaigns did the Democrats fall short. Sri Kulkarni, who failed in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson in the multi-county 22nd Congressional District, lost in his district’s portion of Fort Bend County by 5 percentage points, roughly the same as the district-wide margin. Republican state Reps. Rick Miller and John Zerwas defeated Democratic challengers.

I agree that Fort Bend’s diversity played a big role in the result, but Fort Bend has been very diverse for years now. Democrats have come close before – Barack Obama got 48.50% in Fort Bend in 2008 – but they were never quite able to break through. This was the year it all came together, and I’d say it was a combination of demography, voter registration, Betomania, and the same disgust with Donald Trump from college-educated voters as we saw in Harris County and pretty much everywhere else. None of this really a surprise – we saw what was happening in Commissioners Court Precinct 4 in 2016 – but it still feels a bit unreal that it actually happened. The suburbs have long been the locus of Republican strength in Texas. That’s not true any more, and I think it’s going to take us all a little time to fully absorb that. In the meantime, I know some very happy people in Fort Bend right now. KUHF has more.

On the air

You might be seeing some TV ads from Texas Democrats who aren’t Beto O’Rourke or Lizzie Fletcher. There’s Justin Nelson:

Justin Nelson

Attorney Justin Nelson, a candidate for attorney general, on Tuesday became the first — and likely only — Democrat running for state office to go on TV with a Texas-wide campaign ad.

Nelson’s 30-second spot now on air across Texas hammers incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton for his 2015 criminal indictment for securities fraud and a subsequent 2017 investigation into bribery and corruption that was closed after prosecutors decided not to pursue any charges against him. Paxton has yet to go to trial on three felony charges from the 2015 indictment.

Paxton, a Republican finishing his first term, released his own ad Monday. Paxton’s campaign spot features his office cracking down on human trafficking to make Texas safer. That includes helping shut down Backpage.com, a website that hosted prostitution-related ads. Paxton’s spokesman said the ad is on air, including in the Houston market.

I saw one of the Nelson ads during the last Astros’ game (sigh).

There’s Todd Litton.

Todd Litton

Democrat Todd Litton on Monday began airing the first TV ad of his campaign for Texas’ 2nd Congressional District, with a 30-second spot that seeks to draw a contrast between himself and Republican opponent Dan Crenshaw.

The ad, titled “No Joke,” begins with a scene in Litton’s kitchen, where he tells a “dad joke” to his kids.

“They sure keep me in check,” Litton says about his children. “But no one is keeping Congress in check. That’s no joke.”

He goes on to mention “my far right opponent, Dan Crenshaw,” whom Litton says “only makes matters worse.” He contends Crenshaw would “do away with Social Security, health care and a woman’s right to choose.”

“I’ll protect them,” Litton concludes. “And I’ll stand up to anyone and work with anyone to get things done.”

The ad represents a six-figure buy and will air on broadcast networks through Election Day, according to Litton’s campaign.

If you had told me a couple of months ago that one of the Congressional candidates would tell a dad joke in a TV ad, I’d have guessed it would be Todd Litton. And now there’s Sri Kulkarni.

Sri Kulkarni

Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni is continuing to put pressure on U.S. Rep. Pete Olson in what has fast become one of the most competitive races for Congress in Texas.

Kulkarni has launched a new television ad blasting Olson, a 5-term incumbent, as a “do-nothing Congressman.”

“What happened to Pete Olson?” a narrator says, noting that Olson had sponsored just three bills that passed in 10 years in office.

According to records with the Library of Congress, Olson two of those bills renamed post offices in Pearland and Sugar Land. Another bill awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the World War II pilots who made raids on Tokyo.

[…]

The ad comes at a time that new campaign finance reports show Kulkarni raised more money in the last three months for his campaign than Olson, and Kulkarni has more money going into the final weeks of the campaign.

In addition, national Democrats are promising more help for Kulkarni after his surprise showing. This week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Kulkarni to their “Red to Blue” program, which provides organizational and fundraising support for campaigns.

“Sri has put together a strong people-powered campaign that makes this race competitive,” said DCCC chairman Ben Ray Lujan.

It’s almost like we live in a competitive political environment. Such exciting times. You can see Justin Nelson’s ad here, Todd Litton’s ad here, and Sri Kulkarni’s ad here.

Endorsement watch: Olson, Kulkarni, Schexnayder

This has got to be the easiest call the Chron will make.

Kim Olson

The race for commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture seems straightforward enough.

The incumbent, Sid Miller, is a career politician who used his first term as commissioner to unnecessarily hike fees on farmers and travel on the taxpayer dime to buy a painkiller shot from an Oklahoma doctor who had lost his license in other states. He hired friends and campaign aides to high-paying jobs without giving the public a chance to apply as the law requires. He also declared a personal vendetta on barbecue shops because he was convinced their scales were inaccurate.

Overall Miller has proven himself reckless with political power and irresponsible with public funds.

The challenger, Kim Olson, is a 25-year Air Force veteran — one of their first woman pilots — fourth generation farmer, former school board trustee for Weatherford ISD in North Texas and an inductee at the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.

[…]

Here’s our pitch for hesitant Republicans: Voting for Olson won’t turn Texas blue. The office doesn’t have any legislative ability. Neither Miller nor Olson can use the seat to affect abortion laws, firearms regulations or the litany of partisan wedge issues that drive people to the polls.

What voting for Olson will do is return a sense of dignity to the chief office for Texas farmers and ranchers. She will run the office much like Republican former agriculture commissioner Susan Combs, with a focus on the issues. She plans to work with the Legislature in preparation for the department’s upcoming sunset review in 2020, address rural needs like broadband access and also grow the languishing Go Texan buy-local program.

Look for an interview I did with Olson on Monday. She’s as good and charismatic as you may have heard. As for ol’ Sid, I could make a case for Ted Cruz – hell, I could make a case for Dan Patrick – before I could make a case for him. It’s not just the clownishness, the corruption, and the racism. It’s that he’s objectively bad at his job. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. He was viewed as an ineffective clown as a State Rep, and in case you forgot he was booted out in the 2012 Republican primary by the much more mainstream JD Sheffield. He’s a classic case of failing upward. If we’re smart, this time we’ll fail him out.

This one is refreshing.

Sri Kulkarni

In 2016 incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson did not meet with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, but he nonetheless earned our endorsement over his Democratic challenger. That’s not the case in 2018.

First-time candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni, 40, wowed the editorial board with his knowledge, eloquence and robust resume that included time working in the U.S. Senate and 14 years as a State Department foreign service officer that took him all over the globe. That experience only emphasized to Kulkarni the value of American ideals, he told the editorial board, which sit at the core of his campaign. He’s running an optimistic, forward-looking effort that aims to combat the tribalism ripping apart our nation with a renewed sense of decency. That’s also why he’s not accepting corporate donations.

[…]

We’ve liked Olson in the past because of his support for NASA and the Port of Houston, but any promise Olson displayed when first elected to Congress in 2008 has been washed away over the years. Instead of representing the best interests of his district, he has become just another D.C. hypocrite who’s politically afraid to choose a more independent path.

Olson must think no one is connecting the dots between calling himself a fiscal conservative and his support for Trump’s tax cuts and profligate spending, which have raised the national debt to more than $21 trillion.

They have a lot of complimentary things to say about Kulkarni, and I encourage you to go read it. I interviewed him for the primary runoff, and I concur with their evaluation. As for this Olson, I’d argue he’s the same Congressman he’s always been. Maybe his act finally wore thin for the Chron, or maybe they finally found an opponent to him they liked. Either way, fine by me.

This has a bit of a surprise.

Marty Schexnayder

We usually like state Rep. Jim Murphy — a lot.

Over his five non-consecutive terms in office — won in 2006, lost in 2008, back in 2010 — this moderate Republican could be counted upon to bring local issues up to Austin. He pushed pension reform before it was popular and cleared the legal path for hike-and-bike trails along utility easements. However, it turns out that definition of “local issues” might not be exactly ethical. At his full-time job, Murphy was paid a yearly salary for more than $312,000 as the general manager of the Westchase District, which sits outside his district boundaries of by Interstate 10, Westheimer Road, Loop 610 West and State Highway 6. In Austin, he served as chair of the Houston Committee on Special Purpose Districts. In other words, his elected position put him in charge of providing oversight to his professional position. This questionable arrangement has been public since Murphy was first elected. This year, however, investigative reporters revealed the specifics of Murphy’s contracts, which showed he received incentive payments for delivering state funds from the Legislature. For example, Murphy had a $6,000 bonus if he secured “$1 million or more in new TxDOT funding for highway projects” for Westchase.

This smacks of an unethical conflict of interest, and raises questions about whether he was illegally lobbying without properly registering. Voters, too, should question how Murphy can adequately represent their interests during the legislative session when he’s getting paid thousands to deliver for someone outside the district.

[…]

Luckily, voters have an excellent alternative in Marty Schexnayder, who will be 52 on Election Day. He’s a first-time candidate with a well-rounded resume that includes 25 years in legal practice and volunteer work for charities like Interfaith Ministries. He also serves on the board of directors of Faith in Practice, a nonprofit dedicated to providing medical services in Guatemala. His campaign focuses almost exclusively on core issues, like fixing school funding, addressing property taxes and tackling flood concerns.

Here’s my interview with Schexnayder. I’d heard about the ethical concerns regarding Murphy, but with the likes of Trump and Paxton and Miller lumbering around, who can even keep up with that sort of thing? At least now you know.

Harvey and the Congressional races

This was from a couple of days ago.

Dayna Steele

A year ago this week, Dayna Steele was standing in 29 inches of water inside her Seabrook home. Her family had already made it through Hurricane Ike in 2008, when the water in her home had come up even higher. Nearly nine years later, Hurricane Harvey would once again force Steele to rebuild.

But this time around, Steele was also a candidate for Congress. She had filed months earlier as a Democrat to challenge U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, in a historically Republican district that stretches northwest from Houston across eight counties. In the days and weeks after the storm, as she heard about the worry and confusion from others in the region, Steele found it amplified her desire to represent her community in Congress.

“We still have entirely too many blue tarps, empty homes,” said Steele, who still sees local residents living in trailers parked in the driveways of their damaged homes. “It’s still a big issue.”

A year after one of the worst storms in the state’s history, Steele is one of several Texas congressional candidates emphasizing Harvey as a key issue heading into November, honing in on the details of its aftermath, the region’s long-term recovery and whether enough is being done to prepare for when the next major hurricane arrives.

Steele’s opponent, Babin, was also personally impacted by Harvey. For a few hours, he and his family were stuck in their Woodville home due to flooding in their neighborhood. Three months later, Babin was a part of a group of Texans in Congress who teamed up to secure more Harvey relief after an initial proposal put forth by the White House was criticized as too small by many Texans.

Steele said when she travels around the district, she hears from voters that they either don’t know who Babin is or say they never saw him in the aftermath of the storm.

Babin, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, has tweeted multiple timesabout his push to send additional federal aid to Texas. Recently Babin, along with other Houston-area congressional members, met with Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House, to discuss giving more money to the Army Corps for “future flood mitigation.” The congressman also tweeted that he toured disaster areas with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in the storm’s immediate aftermath.

A similar back and forth — challengers accusing the incumbent of not being physically present after the storm or fighting hard enough for relief funding and the incumbent insisting otherwise — is emerging in multiple races in Harvey-impacted districts.

“The lack of response from our representative is visceral,” said Sri Kulkarni, a Democrat vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. The prevailing sentiment from constituents in the Republican-leaning 22nd Congressional District, Kulkarni argued, is that “Pete Olson was absent on Harvey.”

That recent Atlantic story on CD07 covered this in the context of Lizzie Fletcher’s campaign. She and Todd Litton in CD02 have different challenges in their races; Fletcher is attacking John Culberson for basically doing nothing before Harvey to help with flood mitigation, while Litton has not incumbent to run against. As I said in that post, it makes sense to make Harvey response and recovery a campaign issue. The Republicans were in charge of the government when Harvey happened, so what happened after that is on them. How effective that will be is not clear. I’d love to see some polling data on that, but even if we never get to see such numbers, I’d bet that the candidates themselves have explored the question.

We ultimately may or may not ever know what if any effect the Harvey issue has. If an incumbent gets knocked off, there may be some followup reporting that sheds light on it, but if a race is just closer than one might have expected – Dayna Steele, running in a 70% Trump district, has a lot of room to gain ground without winning, for instance – we may never get an examination of why. Most likely the best we’ll be able to do is draw our own conclusions from the data that we get to see.

Dems keep posting very strong finance reports

Wow.

There are few bigger warning signs for a member of Congress that their re-election may be in doubt than when a challenger outraises them. In Texas, it just happened to seven incumbents, all Republicans.

Since last week, when U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, revealed that he had raised a stunning $10.4 million between April and June in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a wave of Texas Democrats running for U.S. House seats similarly blasted out their own unusually strong fundraising numbers.

The numbers only became more striking when compared to their rivals: Some Democratic challengers raised two, three or even four times what their Republican incumbent rivals posted. All congressional candidates were required to file their second-quarter fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission by Sunday.

Along with Cruz, the six congressional incumbents who were outraised are delegation fixtures: U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, John Culberson of Houston, Will Hurd of Helotes, Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Pete Sessions of Dallas and Roger Williams of Austin.

In the 21st Congressional District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith is retiring, GOP nominee Chip Roy trailed his Democratic rival, Joseph Kopser. Several other Democratic candidates running in Republican strongholds across the state also posted abnormally large six-figure fundraising hauls.

One of the biggest red flags for Republicans came from Carter’s once-safe 31st District. Thanks to a successful viral video, veteran MJ Hegar raised more than four times Carter’s second-quarter sum – the biggest split among the races where Democrats outraised GOP incumbents.

[…]

Hardly anyone in Texas will suggest that incumbents like Olson and Williams are in any significant electoral trouble because they were outraised. But the cumulative effect of so much strong Democratic fundraising is unnerving to many Texas Republican insiders.

One anxious Texas operative suggested these fundraising numbers are merely a first alarm bell. The second may come once incumbents go into the field en masse and poll. But two GOP sources say many incumbents have been reluctant to poll their districts amid what feels like a chaotic political environment and are waiting for a more stable period to get an accurate read of the electorate.

You know most of the names already, but to reiterate, the Dems who outraised their opponents this quarter are Lizzie Fletcher in CD07, Joseph Kopser in CD21, Sri Kulkarni in CD22, Gina Ortiz Jones in Cd23, Julie Oliver in CD25, MJ Hegar in CD31, and Colin Allred in CD32. And there are more dimensions to this as well.

Jana Lynne Sanchez, who is running for the Tarrant County-area seat left open by disgraced Representative Joe Barton, has been steadily raising money and currently has a cash-on-hand advantage against former Barton staffer Ron Wright.

The Democratic fundraising tear has even reached into southeast Texas’ 36th Congressional District, which is rated as a +26 Republican district, one of the most conservative seats in the entire country. Longtime radio host and Democratic nominee Dayna Steele, who has pledged not to take corporate PAC money, raised $220,000 in the latest quarter, trailing ultraconservative incumbent Brian Babin’s haul by just $5,000.

Following Beto O’Rourke’s lead, many of these lesser-known candidates — running without national support in districts deemed too red for a blue wave — have sworn off corporate PAC money and are relying on small-dollar contributions. Sanchez says she has a total of 9,000 donors who have made an average contribution of $42.

All of these Democratic candidates have raised far more than past challengers in these districts — if a Democrat even bothered to run.

Keep that last bit in mind, because I’ll have more on it in a future post. And even where there’s a bright spot for the Republicans in CD02, where Dan Crenshaw reported a big haul, he’s facing Todd Litton with $843K raised and $435K on hand. It’s safe to say it’s been a long time since the Republicans have faced this many well-funded opponents.

Not all the reports are available yet on the FEC page, but when they get there I’ll have a post summarizing it all. Do bear in mind that even with all these strong numbers, Dan Patrick has also raised a bunch of money, and Greg Abbott has already booked $16 million in TV time for the fall. So celebrate the good news, but don’t get overconfident. What we’ve done here is approach parity, and the other guys may well have another gear to shift into. Keep the momentum going.

Kulkarni reports $234K raised in Q2

From the Inbox:

Sri Kulkarni

Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress, Sri Preston Kulkarni, raised over $400,000 in receipts to date for his campaign to unseat incumbent Pete Olson (R-TX). This is the largest total ever for a Democratic candidate for the current district, with a total of $234,244 raised for the quarter from April 1 to June 30. Kulkarni has already outraised every democratic challenger for the past 8 years combined in District 22. Kulkarni’s campaign continues to push a positive and family values-based message, focused on ensuring children are healthy, educated, and safe, and investing in an economy for the future, not the past. By bringing together a strong coalition of various ethnicities and faiths in the second most diverse district in America, Kulkarni has offered a bold new vision of shared values and shared prosperity.

“This campaign has always been about the people of District 22. Because of our nearly 3,000 grassroots donors, we have increased Democratic fundraising from the previous election cycle by ten times. And we have done this all while rejecting corporate PAC money, unlike our opponent Pete Olson,” said Kulkarni. “This election is going to be won with hard work and sustained voter outreach. Our campaign has made over 120,000 direct voter contacts through multilingual digital engagement, phone calls, and blockwalking our neighborhoods with over 700 volunteers.”

The campaign is committed to a proven strategy of pulling in new voters from the immigrant community, engaging enthusiastic millennials, and offering an optimistic message that constituents across the political spectrum appreciate. By continuing to mobilize voters from every background, race, age, faith, and culture, the campaign will bring together this diverse district in November for a win.

Kulkarni had raised about $233K as of May 2, and $178K as of March 31, so as was the case with some other candidates, he really ramped things up in the last month of the quarter. If seeing the totals he announced make you think something like “oh, that’s not that much”, I will remind you that exactly one Democratic Congressional challenger raised as much as $100K for the entire 2016 election cycle, and he was a former incumbent. In this year, Kulkarni’s totals, overall and for Q2, will likely put him somewhere between seventh and tenth place; he trails the four (so far) million-dollar candidates as well as the not-yet-announced Joseph Kopser and Todd Litton, and his final ranking will depend on how the likes of Jana Sanchez, Dayna Steele, and Lorie Burch did. If you’re not amazed by this, you are not seeing the bigger picture.

UPDATE: Via Twitter, Trib reporter Abby Livingston says that Todd Litton “raised nearly $300,000 in Q2 and over $400K in COH”. I don’t have a press release and I didn’t see anything on Litton’s Twitter feed, but this would put him at close to $850K raised for the cycle. Not in the million dollar club yet, but getting there.

We have a candidate in CD02

Todd Litton

Meet Todd Litton, the first declared Democratic candidate of which I am aware for CD02, which is entirely within Harris County and which is held by Rep. Ted Poe, who has been there since 2004. I don’t know much about Litton – you can see his biographical information, he’s clearly spent a lot of time with various committees, boards, and organizations. What I do know is that CD02, like several other urban/suburban Congressional districts held by Republicans, moved in a Democratic direction in 2016. It was still a nine-point win for Trump, though after having been a 27-point win for Mitt Romney in 2012. As with a lot of these districts, it’s going to be a matter of boosting Dem turnout, and hoping for a lackluster showing on their side.

Litton’s campaign Facebook page is here. I don’t see any campaign events yet, but I’m sure there will be something soon. I am aware of at least one other person who is supposed to be interested in CD02, but as yet Litton is the only one to take action. Now we need someone to come forward in CD22, where Pete Olson is making his claim to be the worst member of the delegation, and you know how fierce the competition is for that.

On a related note, June appears to be a busy month for judicial campaigns to get off the ground as well, at least here in Harris County. I’ve seen four such announcements so far, three from friends and the other from a “people you may know” person I clicked on. All four are women, and three of them have not been on a ballot before. I don’t know if 2018 is the non-Presidential year that Democrats break through in Harris County, but if you’re a Democratic attorney who wants to wear a robe, it is almost certainly your best chance. After the sweep of 2016, your only options in 2020 will be to primary someone, to hope for a retirement, to move to another county, or to run for an appellate or statewide bench. Maybe 2018 will be the year and maybe it won’t, but the path to a bench is the clearest it will be until 2022.

Precinct analysis: Brazoria County

I had some time to spare, so I spent it with the canvass reports from Brazoria County. You know, like you do. Here’s what I was able to learn.


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Weber    Cole
=======================================================
Votes  36,572    15,127  37,036  14,996  37,917  14,678
Pct    68.58%    28.23%  71.18%  28.82%  72.09%  27.91%


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Olson  Gibson
=======================================================
Votes  36,219    28,073  39,026  26,713  40,179  26,178
Pct    54.08%    41.92%  59.37%  40.63%  60.55%  39.45%


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Thomp   Floyd
=======================================================
Votes  40,666    30,564  43,599  29,181  44,713  28,505
Pct    54.83%    41.21%  59.95%  40.05%  61.07%  38.93%

Votes  32,125    12,636  32,462  12,528
Pct    69.23%    27.23%  72.15%  27.85%

Brazoria County is part of two Congressional districts, CDs 14 and 22, and two State Rep districts, HDs 25 and 29. The latter two are entirely within Brazoria, so the numbers you see for them are for the whole districts, while the CDs include parts of other counties as well. The first table splits Brazoria by its two CDs, while the second table is for the two HDs. Incumbent Republican Randy Weber was challenged by Democrat Michael Cole in CD14, while Republican Pete Olsen was unopposed in CD22. The second group of numbers in the first table are the relevant ones for CD22; I didn’t include Olsen because there was no point (*). There were no contested District or County Court races, so the “R Avg” and “D Avg” above are for the four contested district Appeals Court races; these are the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals, which as you know includes Harris County.

The second table is for the State Rep districts. In HD29, incumbent Republican Ed Thompson faced Democrat John Floyd, while Republican Dennis Bonnen was unchallenged in HD25. You can sort of tell from the tables and I can confirm from the raw data that HD29 mostly overlapped CD22, and HD25 mostly overlapped CD14. As I have done before, the percentages for the Presidential races are calculated including the vote totals for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, which is why they don’t add to 100%. The other contested races all had only two candidates.

Still with me? If so, you can see that HD29 was much more interesting than HD25, and was where basically all of the crossover Presidential votes were. Trump lagged the Republican baseline in HD25, but those voters mostly either skipped the race or voted third party. Viewed through the Presidential race, HD29 looks like a potentially competitive district, but if you pull the lens back a bit you can see that it is less so outside that, and that Thompson exceeded the Republican baseline on top of that. It would be nice to point to this district as a clear opportunity, but we’re not quite there. There is another dimension to consider here, however, and that is a comparison with the 2012 results:


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Weber Lampson
=======================================================================
Votes  35,571    13,940  34,618  13,865  33,931  14,444  33,116  14,398
Pct    70.82%    27.75%  69.34%  27.77%  70.14%  29.86%  69.70%  30.30%


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Olsen  Rogers
=======================================================================
Votes  35,291    20,481  34,879  19,879  34,466  20,164  35,997  17,842
Pct    62.49%    36.27%  62.14%  35.42%  63.09%  36.91%  66.86%  33.14%


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Thomp   Blatt
=======================================================================
Votes  40,170    22,480  39,657  21,866  39,203  22,204  40,642  21,388
Pct    63.32%    35.44%  62.86%  34.66%  63.84%  36.16%  65.52%  34.48%

Votes  30,692    11,941  29,840  11,878  29,194  12,404
Pct    70.95%    27.60%  69.45%  27.64%  70.18%  29.82%

In 2012, Randy Weber was running to succeed Ron Paul in the redrawn CD14, which had a nontrivial amount of resemblance to the old CD02 of the 90s, which is how former Congressman Nick Lampson came to be running there. He ran ahead of the pack, but the district was too red for him to overcome. Pete Olsen was challenged by LaRouchie wacko Keisha Rogers, Ed Thompson faced Doug Blatt, and Dennis Bonnen was again unopposed. I threw in the numbers from the Ted Cruz-Paul Sadler Senate race in these tables for the heck of it.

The main thing to note here is that HD29 was a lot more Republican in 2012 than it was in 2016. Ed Thompson went from winning by 31 points in 2012 to winning by 22 in 2016, with the judicial average going from nearly a 28 point advantage for Republicans to just under a 20 point advantage. Total turnout in the district was up by about 11,000 votes, with 7K going to the Dems and 4K going to the Republicans. That still leaves a wide gap – 14K in the judicial races, 16K for Ed Thompson – but it’s progress, and it happened as far as I know without any big organized effort.

And that’s the thing. If Democrats are ever going to really close the gap in Texas, they’re going to have to do it by making places like HD29, and HD26 in Fort Bend and the districts we’ve talked about in Harris County and other districts in the suburbs, more competitive. If you look at the map Greg Wythe kindly provided, you can see that some of the blue in Brazoria is adjacent to blue precincts in Fort Bend and Harris Counties, but not all of it. Some of it is in Pearland, but some of it is out along the border with Fort Bend. I’m not an expert on the geography here so I can’t really say why some of these precincts are blue or why they flipped from red to blue in the four years since 2012, but I can say that they represent an opportunity and a starting point. This is what we need to figure out and build on.

(Since I initially drafted this, Greg provided me two more maps, with a closer view to the blue areas, to get a better feel for what’s in and around them. Here’s the North Brazoria map and the South Brazoria map. Thanks, Greg!)

(*) – As noted in the comments, I missed that Pete Olsen did have an opponent in 2016, Mark Gibson. I have added the numbers for that race. My apologies for the oversight.)

Endorsement watch: The Congress you expect

The Chron makes the most predictable endorsements of the season, for Congress. Here’s Part 1:

United States Representative, District 2: Ted Poe

Consider this not just an endorsement for Ted Poe, but also heartfelt support as the six-term congressman recovers from treatment for leukemia. A former criminal district judge known for his creative sentences and shaming tactics, Poe has cut a niche for himself as a dedicated public servant who is leading the fight against sex trafficking and who listens to the constituents of his sprawling district, which spirals around from Atascocita through west Harris County, northwest Houston, Montrose and Southampton.

United States Representative, District 7: James Cargas

John Culberson didn’t receive our endorsement in the contested Republican primary, and we don’t plan on changing our minds for the general election. But this showdown will be Democrat James Cargas’ third attempt to replace the eight-term Republican congressman, and, frankly, it is starting to get a bit repetitive.

United States Representative, District 9: Al Green

If you’re worried about flooding in Houston, then Al Green is your man in Washington. Over the past year, he’s been working with his fellow Democrats, and across the aisle with Republicans, to push a bill that would prioritize federal spending on Houston’s bayous. Now in his six-term, Green has inserted similar language into the must-pass Water Resources Development Act of 2016. Don’t expect any of this to make major headlines, but if it ends up in the final bill, it will save homes and lives in our swampy city. Green’s goal-oriented, dedicated attitude deserves praise – and re-election – from voters.

United States Representative,District 10: Michael T. McCaul

Over his six terms in Congress, Michael T. McCaul has distinguished himself as a steely and smart leader on foreign policy. As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, the former federal prosecutor is on path to become the Republican face of international relations and national security. His sprawling district, which extends between Houston and Austin suburbs, grants him a certain luxury of being able to focus on these national and international issues.

And here’s Part 2:

United States Representative, District 14: Randy Weber

We agree with Randy Weber on one thing: There may be no congressman in the Texas delegation who has a more important district. His territory, which stretches from the Louisiana border to an area just west of Freeport, covers a mix of precious but vulnerable wetlands in addition to five key ports.

United States Representative, District 29: Gene Green

Gene Green is frustrated with the Affordable Care Act. More specifically, the 12-term Democratic congressman is frustrated that Congress won’t try to improve it.

“Any law that you ever pass, you typically go back to it and fix it,” Green told the editorial board. “We haven’t had that opportunity. In the last six years, they’ve tried to repeal it 60-plus times.”

Representing a largely Hispanic and blue-collar district that circles from north Houston around through Pasadena and east Houston, Green puts his focus on those meat-and-potato issues that help keep his constituents healthy and the Port of Houston humming.

United States Representative, District 18: Sheila Jackson Lee

“Sheila Jackson Lee is stalking me.”

Those are the words of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, courtesy of Wikileaks. He was complaining that Houston’s own Jackson Lee wanted to be “involved in everything” and wouldn’t stop hounding him about Clinton accepting the Barbara Jordan Medallion for Service at Texas Southern University.

Whether you call it tenacity or stalking, it worked: Clinton showed up in person at TSU to receive the award.

United States Representative, District 22: Pete Olson

Incumbent Pete Olson did not meet with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, but he nonetheless earned our endorsement over his Democratic challenger, Mark Gibson.

I was going to say something about this, but it’s too boring. Move along, nothing to see here.

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

I sure don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

“I don’t know, well, maybe,” he said.

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

Precinct analysis: Congressional overs and unders

To wrap up my look at 2012 versus 2008 results for all the new districts, here’s how the 36 Congressional districts compared.

Dist McCain Pct Obama08 Pct Romney Pct Obama12 Pct RIdx DIdx ============================================================================== 01 178,520 68.85% 78,918 30.44% 181,833 71.49% 69,857 27.47% 1.04 0.90 02 150,665 61.78% 91,087 37.35% 157,094 62.93% 88,751 35.55% 1.02 0.95 03 165,158 61.46% 100,440 37.37% 175,383 64.16% 93,290 34.13% 1.04 0.91 04 180,772 69.71% 75,910 29.27% 189,455 73.95% 63,521 24.79% 1.06 0.85 05 137,698 61.79% 83,216 37.34% 137,239 64.49% 73,085 34.35% 1.04 0.92 06 148,503 57.03% 109,854 42.19% 146,985 57.87% 103,444 40.72% 1.01 0.97 07 140,692 58.73% 96,866 40.44% 143,631 59.89% 92,499 38.57% 1.02 0.95 08 171,408 73.02% 61,357 26.14% 195,735 76.97% 55,271 21.74% 1.05 0.83 09 44,520 23.42% 144,707 76.12% 39,392 21.15% 145,332 78.01% 0.90 1.02 10 148,867 56.17% 112,866 42.59% 159,714 59.06% 104,839 38.77% 1.05 0.91 11 184,238 75.90% 56,145 23.13% 182,403 79.10% 45,081 19.55% 1.04 0.85 12 161,030 63.61% 89,718 35.44% 166,992 66.77% 79,147 31.65% 1.05 0.89 13 189,600 76.88% 54,855 22.24% 184,090 80.16% 42,518 18.51% 1.04 0.83 14 139,304 57.03% 102,902 42.12% 147,151 59.32% 97,824 39.44% 1.04 0.94 15 61,282 41.84% 83,924 57.3% 62,883 41.48% 86,940 57.35% 0.99 1.00 16 58,764 34.59% 109,387 64.39% 54,315 34.44% 100,993 64.03% 1.00 0.99 17 135,738 57.95% 95,884 40.94% 134,521 60.29% 84,243 37.76% 1.04 0.92 18 45,069 22.89% 150,733 76.57% 44,991 22.81% 150,129 76.11% 1.00 0.99 19 168,553 71.22% 66,122 27.94% 160,060 73.55% 54,451 25.02% 1.03 0.90 20 80,667 40.64% 115,579 58.23% 74,540 39.59% 110,663 58.77% 0.97 1.01 21 178,531 56.42% 133,581 42.21% 188,240 59.76% 119,220 37.85% 1.06 0.90 22 142,073 60.45% 91,137 38.78% 158,452 62.11% 93,582 36.68% 1.03 0.95 23 95,679 49.27% 96,871 49.88% 99,654 50.67% 94,386 47.99% 1.03 0.96 24 152,453 58.41% 105,822 40.54% 150,547 60.42% 94,634 37.98% 1.03 0.94 25 153,998 56.05% 117,402 42.73% 162,278 59.89% 102,433 37.80% 1.07 0.88 26 166,877 64.18% 90,791 34.92% 177,941 67.59% 80,828 30.70% 1.05 0.88 27 133,839 58.95% 91,083 40.12% 131,800 60.46% 83,156 38.15% 1.03 0.95 28 65,066 40.97% 92,557 58.28% 65,372 38.65% 101,843 60.21% 0.94 1.03 29 41,843 37.04% 70,286 62.22% 37,909 32.99% 75,720 65.89% 0.89 1.06 30 47,144 21.07% 175,237 78.33% 43,333 19.64% 175,637 79.61% 0.93 1.02 31 135,601 55.80% 103,359 42.54% 144,634 59.36% 92,842 38.11% 1.06 0.90 32 147,226 55.05% 117,231 43.83% 146,420 56.97% 106,563 41.46% 1.03 0.95 33 40,290 30.64% 90,180 68.57% 32,641 27.09% 86,686 71.93% 0.88 1.05 34 58,707 39.06% 90,178 60.00% 57,303 38.28% 90,885 60.71% 0.98 1.01 35 62,764 35.47% 111,790 63.18% 58,007 34.59% 105,550 62.94% 0.98 1.00 36 165,899 69.45% 70,543 29.53% 175,850 73.05% 61,766 25.66% 1.05 0.87

The main thing that stands out is CD23, which went from plurality Obama in 2008 to a slight majority for Romney in 2012. That means that Rep. Pete Gallego joins State Rep. Craig Eiland and State Sen. Wendy Davis in the exclusive club of candidates who won in a district that their Presidential candidate lost. Not surprisingly, Rep. Gallego is a marked man for 2014. CD23 was one of the more strongly contested districts in the litigation as well as in the election, and it is likely to be modified further no matter what happens to the Voting Rights Act, so Rep. Gallego’s challenge next year may be different than it was this year. He’s clearly up to it, whatever it winds up being. Beyond that, the pattern witnessed elsewhere held here, as blue districts were generally bluer than before, while red districts were redder. Dems can still hope for (eventually) competitive races in CDs 06, 10, and 32, but the task is harder now than it would have been in 2008. As for CD14, you can see that the hurdle was just too high for Nick Lampson. Barring anything improbable, that district is unlikely to repeat as one featuring a race to watch.

One other thing I did in these races was compare the performances of the Congressional candidates with the Presidential candidates in their districts. Here are some of the more interesting results I found:

Dist Romney Pct Obama12 Pct R Cong Pct% D Cong Pct Winner ============================================================================== 02 157,094 62.93% 88,751 35.55% 159,664 64.81% 80,512 32.68% Poe 06 146,985 57.87% 103,444 40.72% 145,019 58.02% 98,053 39.23% Barton 07 143,631 59.89% 92,499 38.57% 142,793 60.80% 85,553 36.43% Culberson 10 159,714 59.06% 104,839 38.77% 159,783 60.51% 95,710 36.25% McCaul 14 147,151 59.32% 97,824 39.44% 131,460 53.47% 109,697 44.62% Weber 20 74,540 39.59% 110,663 58.77% 62,376 33.50% 119,032 63.93% Castro 21 188,240 59.76% 119,220 37.85% 187,015 60.54% 109,326 35.39% L Smith 22 158,452 62.11% 93,582 36.68% 160,668 64.03% 80,203 31.96% Olson 23 99,654 50.67% 94,386 47.99% 87,547 45.55% 96,676 50.30% Gallego 25 162,278 59.89% 102,433 37.80% 154,245 58.44% 98,827 37.44% R Williams 27 131,800 60.46% 83,156 38.15% 120,684 56.75% 83,395 39.21% Farenthold 28 65,372 38.65% 101,843 60.21% 49,309 29.76% 112,456 67.88% Cuellar 31 144,634 59.36% 92,842 38.11% 145,348 61.27% 82,977 34.98% Carter 32 146,420 56.97% 106,563 41.46% 146,653 58.27% 99,288 39.45% Sessions 35 58,007 34.59% 105,550 62.94% 52,894 32.02% 105,626 63.94% Doggett 36 175,850 73.05% 61,766 25.66% 165,405 70.73% 62,143 26.57% Stockman

You can mostly break this down into three groups. The first is the Overacheivers, the Congressional candidates that clearly drew at least some crossover votes. On that list are Reps. Ted Poe, Joaquin Castro, Pete Olson, Pete Gallego, and Henry Cuellar. Olson, one presumes, benefited from being opposed by LaRouchie nutcase Keisha Rogers. We’ll have to wait to see how he’ll do against a normal opponent, which one hopes will be this time around. Castro and Cuellas can point to their numbers as evidence for statewide viability someday, if and when they choose to make such a run. Gallego obviously had to be on this list, or he wouldn’t be Rep. Gallego. I guess the Republicans knew what their were doing when they tried to pull all those shenanigans to protect Quico Canseco, because he really did need the help. As for Ted Poe, I got nothing. He’s not a “moderate”, and he’s not a heavyweight on policy or in bringing home the bacon as far as I know, so I don’t have a ready explanation for his success here. Feel free to share your opinion in the comments.

The second group is what I’d call Tougher Than They Look. Notice how Republican incumbents in the least-red districts suffered no dropoff in support from Romney, while their Democratic opponents did? I’m talking about Reps. Joe Barton, John Culberson, Mike McCaul, Lamar Smith, John Carter, and Pete Sessions; you can also throw Democrat Lloyd Doggett onto the list. Whether by accident or design, these Republicans may be harder to knock off down the line if and when their districts get bluer. Culberson is the oddball in this group, because he greatly underperformed in 2006 and 2008. I suspect he benefited from redistricting, in particular from losing some inner Loop precincts, as well as the general trend away from crossover voting, but we’ll see if this was a one-time thing or not.

Finally, there’s the Underachievers, who lost crossover votes to their opponents. Ex-Rep Quico Canseco is the poster child, but Reps. Randy Weber, Blake Farenthold, and Steve Stockman keep him company. Weber may get a mulligan, since he’s unlikely to face an opponent like Lampson again. Farenthold’s presence is intriguing. He’s a ridiculous person, who won in a fluke year and who needed a lot of help in redistricting, but a look at this result suggests that he just might be vulnerable to the right opponent. If the Battlegound Texas folks want to try some things out on a smaller scale, let me suggest CD27 as a proving ground. Finally, Stockman shows that even in a deep red district, nuttiness has some limits. Too bad it’s not enough to affect a November election, but maybe there’s a chance that a slightly less mortifying Republican could win next March.

More on the Seliger-Solomons plan

Rick Dunham has a nice analysis of the proposed Congressional map that’s worth your time to read. I disagree with him on two related points.

Republicans successfully shored up three districts they captured from Democrats in the past two election cycles — those held by Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi and Francisco “Quico” Canseco of San Antonio.

[…]

Rep. Joe Barton is the only Republican to be put in jeopardy by the GOP line-drawers. His Dallas-area district becomes more Hispanic and is probably a political toss-up. Barton decided to take the high road when I sought his reaction: “I think this map is a great starting point,” he said. “And it is positive that the House and Senate redistricting chairmen joined together and put forth a public map. Now open debate can begin.”

To see where I disagree, let’s look at a breakdown of the districts by 2008 electoral results. I’m using the Obama and Sam Houston numbers to divide these districts into different groups. First, the Safe Republicans:


Dist Obama Houston ======================= 01 30.40 37.01 02 35.39 38.14 03 37.37 36.79 04 29.28 37.55 05 37.31 42.07 07 39.32 38.10 08 25.43 28.59 11 23.42 28.44 13 22.24 27.48 14 34.30 39.69 19 27.94 32.32 22 35.80 36.92 26 39.44 39.64

Some of these are likely to move into the next category over time. Keep an eye on districts 7, 22, and 26, as I think they’re the best bets to be affected by demographic change over the next decade. All this is assuming this is the map we get, of course, which is no sure bet, but we do have to start the conversation somewhere. Next is what I’d call the Likely Republicans:

Dist Obama Houston ======================= 06 41.67 44.29 10 43.81 44.14 12 42.50 43.10 17 40.71 43.98 21 42.51 40.48 24 40.55 39.91 25 42.40 43.63 27 40.78 46.28 31 42.61 42.47 32 43.79 43.63 33 42.64 43.90 36 41.02 47.46

Some of these are likelier than others. Despite the high Sam Houston numbers, I don’t really think that either CDs 27 or 36 are going to be seriously in play. They just have too much rural turf. Same for CDs 17 and 33. The ones I’d keep my eye on are CDs 32, 31, 21, 12, and yes, 06. But while Smokey Joe may have a slightly more purple district in this map, he’s not the GOPer on the most shaky ground. That goes to the one Lean Republican district:

Dist Obama Houston ======================= 23 47.19 49.27

I should note that both Linda Yanez and Susan Strawn won a majority in CD23, while all downballot Dems other than Jim Jordan had pluralities. It’s redder than it was before, but it sure as heck isn’t safe.

On the Democratic side, there’s not much to see:

Dist Obama Houston ======================= 15 59.15 61.90 20 58.40 58.15 34 59.11 62.85 09 76.42 76.77 16 66.44 68.68 18 79.48 78.71 28 60.40 63.33 29 65.18 70.09 30 81.87 82.08 35 60.70 61.16

For the sake of consistency, I’d call the first three Likely Dem and the latter seven Safe Dem. I don’t really think Congressmen Hinojosa or Gonzalez has much to fear, and whether it’s a Lucio or someone else I figure the Democratic nominee in CD34 would win easily.

So as drawn, this map would elect 10 or 11 Democrats, depending on how things broke in CD23, and 25 or 26 Republicans, though I would expect several Republican held districts to become more competitive over time. Again, all of this assumes that the final map is more or less the same as this one. Even without lawsuits and a Justice Department review, surely some aspects of this map will change. For those of you in Austin or who can get there today or tomorrow, the House Redistricting Committee will have a hearing this morning at 10:45, and the Senate will have a hearing Friday at 9. Be there if you can. A statement about the proposed map from the Texas Democratic Congressional delegation is beneath the fold, and an analysis of the plan plus a statement from the Lone Star Project is here.

(more…)

Why the moon?

I understand the politics of the fight against NASA cutbacks. Jobs are at stake, even if they are being funded by those evil, dirty, not-job-creating federal dollars. But I’m still puzzled by the whole thing.

Texans have so little clout in Washington nowadays that when U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, now Sugar Land’s Republican Congressman, wanted to meet privately with NASA chief Charles Bolden, he had to buttonhole the former astronaut after a House panel hearing.

And although thousands of Houston-area jobs are at stake, Texans in 2008 did nothing to help usher Barack Obama into the White House. Furthermore, history shows previous lobbying efforts to salvage massive NASA projects have never succeeded.

“There’s not a single case where a major cancellation in the space program has been overturned by external lobbying,” says space historian John Logsdon, former director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute. “Congress defers to presidents on space because you can’t run a space program from Capitol Hill.”

Still, Texans vow to press ahead to overcome the decision to end the Bush-era $108 billion project initially envisioned to return astronauts to the moon by 2020.

Let’s put the politics aside for a minute. Why exactly do we want to go back to the moon? What is it we hope to learn from going there that we didn’t learn from all of the Apollo missions? What larger goal are we moving towards that these missions would help us achieve? From the time the Constellation program was first announced, the reason for it has been unclear to me. When I read about the political fight going on now, I see lots of talk about jobs, but basically nothing about the scientific value of more manned flights to the moon. So I want to know, what is the Constellation program for?

The other thing that strikes me about this is that in typical fashion, President Bush’s announcement of Constellation brought with it a large financial commitment for his eventual successor for which he himself provided no means to pay. Given the concerns that some people, like Pete Olson and John Cornyn and Rick Perry, say they have about the deficit and how much money the federal government is spending, what’s the justification for the $100 billion this will cost? Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s different when it affects you. I get that, but I don’t get why anyone thinks this is something on which President Obama is likely to be flexible. It’s not like Olson has shown any willingness to support anything Obama does. I mean, if Obama called up Pete Olson today and said “I’ll give you everything you want on NASA if you vote for the health care bill”, would anyone expect Olson to take the deal? I think we know what the answer to that would be. So why does Olson expect to get something with nothing? More to the point, why does anyone who voted for Olson think he’d be able to?

From the “I hate you! Now give me some money!” files

Republicans think the stimulus package was bad public policy and an ineffective waste of money, except for the money that comes to their districts, in which case it’s all good.

Texas’ top lawmakers in Congress want President Barack Obama to pony up some of the $787 billion in economic stimulus money to rescue NASA’s manned space program and ensure that astronauts one day will travel beyond the orbiting international space station.

Twenty-eight Republican and Democratic members of Texas’ 34-member delegation, led by Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, delivered their appeal by letter on Monday, days before Obama is expected to hear a White House panel of experts recommend greater spending.

The lawmakers asked Obama to divert $3 billion from the unspent portion of the economic stimulus package that continues to be doled out as part of an economic recovery plan stretching over two years.

The two senators and 19 Republican House members who signed the letter voted against the economic stimulus in February; the seven Democrats who signed the letter voted for it.

“Boldness does not come cheaply (in space) and in a venture that is inherently risky, we have an obligation to provide the adequate resources to make these worthy goals safe, attainable and sustainable over time,” the lawmakers wrote the president. “Since the stated purpose of the stimulus package was to secure good jobs and stabilize our economy, there is no better investment that could be made than the addition of up to $3 billion to NASA” in the next fiscal year.

[…]

The letter was drafted and circulated by Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, the freshman lawmaker whose congressional district includes the Johnson Space Center that serves as the hub for 20,000 direct and indirect jobs in the greater Houston area.

“Investing in space is well worth the return on investment” in the effort to “secure good jobs and stabilize our economy,” Olson said in a statement.

Funny how that works, isn’t it? John Coby and Think Progress have more.

Pete gets pwned

In case you haven’t been reading John Coby‘s coverage of Rep. Pete Olson’s hilariously off-message performance at a recent town hall, you should be. See here:

Congressman Olson talks about the free market death panels

Congressman Olson’s townhall mtg

Update on Congressman Olson and the sick kid

Keith Olbermann takes on Congressman Pete Olson

Congressman Pete Olson: Setting the record straight

GOP Chairman addresses Congressman Pete Olson

Be advised that John occasionally uses naughty words, especially in that last post, so if you’re sensitive to that sort of thing, as a couple of his anonymous commenters apparently are, be sure to have the smelling salts handy before you click over.

Lampson to NASA?

Former Rep. Nick Lampson, who was a big advocate for NASA while he was in Congress, is now on the short list to become NASA’s administrator.

The 64-year-old Stafford Democrat, whose Houston-area congressional district included Johnson Space Center, has joined a short list of prospective nominees for the $177,000-a-year post.

Former astronaut Charles Bolden Jr., a retired Marine Corps major general, also remains in contention, in part because of support from Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate panel that oversees NASA.

[…]

The selection of a NASA administrator has dragged on for months. It has been complicated by political divisions within the NASA community, rival candidates favored by Texas and Florida lawmakers and a White House distracted by a national economic crisis.

A bipartisan group of 14 lawmakers — including seven Texans — recently wrote Obama to express their concern about the absence of a NASA administrator.

Freshman Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who defeated Lampson in November’s congressional election, said he found the lengthy delay “extremely troubling,” especially with NASA’s budget being considered by the House and critical decisions over program milestones mounting.

“I’m very concerned that five months after the election, we’ve still only heard rumors from the administration regarding the next NASA administrator,” said Olson, who serves as ranking Republican on the House panel that oversees NASA.

[…]

Scott Pace, a former NASA official directing George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, said Obama would be looking for a two-person leadership team on which the administrator enjoys a strong relationship with the president and Congress — and the deputy administrator would have broad technical expertise. “Between the two officials, you need to be able to operate up and out to the White House, Congress and the public — as well as manage down and into the agency,” Pace said.

Lampson, a political moderate with friendships that cross party lines, could help the $18 billion-a-year agency negotiate the treacherous political shoals of Capitol Hill.

Lampson was formerly the chair of that panel on which Olson now sits. I’ve heard rumors for months about Lampson being appointed to run NASA; I don’t even remember where I first heard it. It makes a lot of sense, and he’d be a great fit for them. I wish him the best of luck in this pursuit.

Which Republicans do you have in mind for that?

Republican attorney Jacob Monty calls on his party to tackle the problem of immigration reform in a serious and rational way. I think he makes some good points about the toxic relations the GOP currently has with Hispanics nationally, and about the fact that the Democrats haven’t exactly trampled over anyone to get a handle on this. None of that stopped me from having a belly laugh over this:

Republicans have a long-standing record of courageous support for realistic immigration reform that goes back more than 20 years. It was Republican icon President Reagan who successfully battled organized labor and the GOP’s own right wing to normalize 3 million undocumented immigrants. By building on that record, Republicans will begin the process of taking back the harsh words of some of the extremists on the right — and begin putting a critical wedge into the Democratic coalition in the process. By forcing the issue, Republicans will force Democrats to take sides, exposing serious fractures in the Democratic coalition. Equally important, for the first time since the November elections, they’ll show America they are still a party with positive, practical ideas to solve real and long-standing problems — and the courage to move them forward.

Um, Jacob? Which Republicans do you have in mind to propose these serious, sober, non-xenophobic reforms? John Boehner, maybe? How about any member of the Texas delegation – Ted Poe, John Culberson, Pete Olson? Yeah, I don’t think so, either. When you find a single Republican member of Congress to sponsor and introduce a bill that does what you want, let me know. I won’t be holding my breath waiting.

Oh, and since we’re invoking St. Ronald Reagan, the Republican they don’t make ’em like any more, I’ll note that he also embraced serious, realistic solutions to budget problems (which were of his own making, mind you, but still), including tax increases. Today’s Republicans? Not so much.

And even if you could find such a Republican to push for serious comprehensive immigration reform, how are you going to keep the screaming banshees of ideological purity from ripping him apart? To his credit, Monty recognizes this problem. But if he has a solution for it, he keeps it to himself.

Bottom line, this is indeed an issue that needs leadership and serious, comprehensive thinking. All I can say is good luck finding those things in today’s Republican Party.