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Two election-related bills to watch

From the Texas Election Law Blog:

For this legislative session, Representative Mike Lang has filed two bills to further a couple longstanding goals that have been planks in the Texas Republican Party’s party platform; namely (1) enforcing voter registration by party (see party plank 66), and (2) drastically cutting down on the frequency with which elections take place (party plank 76).

I. CLOSING THE DOOR ON OPEN PRIMARIES – VOTER REGISTRATION BY PARTY

H.B. 1072 — Sometimes, voters who philosophically identify with one party or the other will “cross over” to vote for spoiler candidates who happen to be running for nomination in the other party’s primary election. To combat this, Representative Lang has authored legislation to enforce closed primaries by requiring voters to register by party

Voter registration by party is a common feature of registration in a number of states that have so-called “closed” primary elections, such as New Mexico, New York, and Oregon. (In this context, a primary election is “closed” if the election is administered in such a way as to exclude participation by voters who are not registered as members of the same party).

Current state law already specifies that by voting in a party primary, a person affiliates with that party for a full calendar year, and is prohibited from voting for or signing a nominating petition for any candidate not affiliated with that party.

But under current Texas law, registered voters are not compelled to self-identify as being members of one party or another, and functionally are unaffiliated with any party unless and until they decide to vote in one or another party primary election. Additionally, under current law, Texas voters aren’t permanently assigned to be members of one party or another.

H.B. 1072 proposes a change in the existing law by outlining a procedure for permanent voter registration by party affiliation in Texas.

[…]

II. FEWER ELECTIONS

H.B. 1271 – A reduction in the number and frequency of local elections is (as noted above) a key legislative goal of the Republican Party.

Prior to 2005 (and the enactment that year of H.B. 57, which eliminated the winter and summer election dates, and severely curtailed the capacity of local governments to order special elections for non-uniform election dates), elections in Texas were traditionally conducted on one of four days in a year. Winter elections took place in January (later moved to February), Spring elections happened in April (later moved to May), Summer elections were held in July (later moved to August), and Fall elections were held in November.

Winter elections tended (for reasons relating to fiscal budget cycles) to be bond elections for cities and school districts. Spring elections were officer elections for local governments. Summer elections were used for run-offs, local incorporations, and some small government officer elections. And the November elections were (as they are now) the “big show” – federal and state officer elections in even-numbered years, and state constitutional amendment elections in odd-numbered years.

In a bold stroke as part of an omnibus school finance bill enacted in the third called special legislative session in 2006, local elections in odd-numbered years were largely eliminated with a change in the Texas Education Code regarding school district board election schedules.

Subsequent legislative efforts have been focused on “cleaning up” all those nooks and crannies of state law that still permit some flexibility on election scheduling, in order to further limit the number of elections taking place in any particular year.

H.B. 1271 would get rid of all elections in odd-numbered years, and all May elections.

The bill would limit all elections (including bond elections, water district elections, local government elections of all forms, etc.), by requiring that these elections either take place on the same day as the political primaries or the statewide officer elections (i.e., the first Tuesday of March or the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even-numbered years).

The main effect of HB1072 would be to lower turnout in primary elections. There’s certainly a case to be made that only Republican voters should choose Republican candidates and only Democratic voters should choose Democratic candidates (*), which is not how it is with open primaries. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about this bill, but as it is with many other bills these days I don’t see that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. I’ve never felt the need to vote in a Republican primary, but I do know some people who have done that for a variety of personal and strategic reasons. I don’t see any reason to believe enough people do that to make a difference, but whatever.

As for HB1271, I recall during Tom Craddick’s time as Speaker that some people pushed for even-year-November-only elections on the grounds that it would make all elections more explicitly partisan, which (given that this was being pushed by conservative groups) would presumably redound to the benefit of the Republicans. I have a hard time understanding the logic of that now – in Houston, at least, the main effect would be for turnout in city elections to be much higher, with a more diverse electorate, which I think we can all agree would not be beneficial for Republican candidates. I’ll put it to you this way – under the pre-2011 Houston Council Council map, only Districts A, E, and G would be clearly Republican-leaning, with the city as a whole being easily over 60% Democratic. We would not have the Council we have today if our most recent city election had been this past November. Beyond the illusory “savings” outlined in the post, I’m honestly not sure what the goal of this bill would be, given who its supporters are. Be careful what you wish for, is what I’m saying.

(*) Green and Libertarian candidates are chosen by convention rather than primary, so this doesn’t directly apply to them.

Dropping out of Electoral College

I have some respect for this.

A Texas Republican elector is resigning over the election of Donald Trump, saying he cannot “in good conscience” vote for the incoming president.

The elector, Art Sisneros of Dayton, detailed his decision in a blog post Saturday that said he believed voting for Trump “would bring dishonor to God.” The remaining 537 members of the Electoral College will choose Sisneros’ replacement when they convene Dec. 19 in state capitals across the country.

[…]

Sisneros has previously been critical of Trump, raising the prospect that he could turn into a “faithless elector” — one who votes against the winner of the popular vote in his or her state. He ruled out that option in his blog post, writing that it “would be difficult to justify how being faithless could be a righteous act.”

The post in question is here, and it’s rather wordy but worth a read. Basically, Sisneros felt constrained because the Texas GOP requires people who want to become electors to sign a pledge affirming that they will only vote for the candidate who won the vote in the state, which if you want to get all original-constructionist is a perversion of the intent of the Electoral College. He admits he shouldn’t have signed the pledge (and thus not been chosen as an elector), but sign it he did, and thus was faced with voting for a candidate he couldn’t abide, being a “faithless elector” (a term he says he despises), or resigning. His reasoning comes from a place that I don’t share, but given his starting point, I do agree that this was the honorable path for him to take. Not that any of this matters in the grand scheme of things, nor does it address the underlying tension of the huge disparity between the popular vote and the electoral vote, but there you have it.

Sustaining the Harris County Democrats’ success

All things considered, I feel reasonably optimistic about Democratic prospects in Harris County going forward, but I felt that way in 2008 as well, so I certainly understand the inclination to be cautious.

Democrats swept Harris County last Tuesday in nothing short of a rout, claiming every countywide position on the ballot as Hillary Clinton toppled Donald Trump by more than 12 points – a larger margin of victory than George W. Bush enjoyed here in either of his presidential bids.

That edge – and the domino effect it had on local races – exceeded many Democrats’ most optimistic projections. It also fueled speculation that the nation’s largest swing county soon could be reliably blue.

Yet some on the left still worry that, absent Trump, the party’s decentralized coalition could make that transformation a tall order near-term, despite favorable demographic shifts.

“It’s not something that’s going to be sustained with the party infrastructure we have right now,” local Democratic direct mail vendor Ryan Slattery said, recalling the party’s trouncing in 2010, two years after President Barack Obama won the county. “You’ll always have this ebb and flow.”

Former Mayor Annise Parker agreed the party “has underperformed in the past” but was more hopeful.

“In this election cycle, both the Harris County Democratic Party in its official leadership and committed Democrats came together and we all played nicely,” Parker said. “The way we swept Harris County down here and knowing the way midterm elections generally go, it might be a pretty good place to be a Democrat in two years and even four years.”

[…]

Concurrently, the share of county residents who identified as Democrats rose steeply, to 48 percent from 35 percent, according to the Kinder Institute’s Houston Area Survey. The percentage of Republicans fell to 30 percent from 37 percent.

Democrats have harnessed that momentum in presidential election years but floundered in the interim, when Republicans capitalized on national political discontent and lower turnout.

After earning nearly 48,000 more straight-ticket votes than Republicans did in 2008, Democrats lost the straight-ticket vote by nearly 50,000 votes in 2010 and 44,000 votes in 2014. They earned nearly 3,000 more straight-ticket votes in 2012 and 70,000 this year.

I’ll repeat my mantra here: Conditions in 2018 are going to be different than they were in 2010 and 2014. I don’t know what they will be like, and it’s certainly possible they could be worse, but they pretty much have to be different by definition. I’ll also say again that after this election, it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are more Democrats in the county than there are Republicans. Doesn’t mean there will be more Democratic voters in a given election, and things can always change, but as they stand today we have a bigger pool than they do. Put aside the Hillary/Trump numbers, and consider that in this election, the average Republican judicial candidate received about 606,000 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate received about 661,000. There are more Ds than Rs.

One corollary of this is that Dems don’t necessarily need a boost in turnout, at least on a percentage basis, to have a bright outlook for 2018. Remember, the turnout rate this year was lower than it had been in 2012, but the sheer increase in voter registrations led to the higher turnout total. It’s my contention, based on the average judicial race numbers from 2012 to 2016, that the bulk of those new registrants were Dems. Base turnout is an issue in off year elections until the results show that it isn’t, but I believe we are starting out in a more favorable position than we have done before.

So with this in mind, here are the things I would recommend Democrats in Harris County do to get the kind of outcome we want in 2018:

– Don’t be discouraged by what happened nationally. That’s going to be hard, because there’s going to be a lot of bad things happening, and not a whole lot that can be done to stop it. What we need to do here is remember that old adage about acting locally, and channel the frustration and anger we will feel into local organizing and action. Harris County Democrats had a really good 2016. We can have a good 2018 as well. Let’s keep our focus on that.

– It all starts with the candidates. There are three important county offices that will need candidates – County Judge, which has now been complicated by Judge Ed Emmett’s announcement that he plans to run for re-election instead of retiring as had been thought, County Clerk, and Commissioner in Precinct 2. (Yes, District Clerk and County Treasurer are also on the ballot, but with all due respect they don’t have the ability to affect policy that these offices do. Also, HCDE At Large Trustee Diane Trautman will be up for re-election, but unless she decides to step down that candidacy will be accounted for.) I’m not going to get into the candidate speculation business right now – there will be plenty of time for that later – but we need good candidates, and we need to ensure that they fully engage in the primary process. The last thing we need is a Lloyd Oliver-style failure.

– I’ve talked about this several times over the years, but one thing that stands out in the 2016 data that I’ve seen so far is that the rising tide of Democratic voters didn’t just come from the traditional Democratic places, but from all over the county. The end result of that was that a lot of districts that had been previously seen as Republican were less so this year. That in turn means two things: One, there are more opportunities to make serious challenges in State Rep districts, in particular HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126. Lining up good candidates for these districts is a must. Two, we need to recognize that there are lots of Democrats in these and other Republican-held State Rep districts, and that we have to do at least as good a job connecting with them as we do with Dems in the places we know and are used to dealing with if we want to sustain and build on our gains from this year.

– That bit I said before about Dems not necessarily needing a big boost in turnout level to be in a winning position? The key to that was that even with turnout percentage being down a bit, the overall turnout total was higher, and the reason for that was the large increase in voter registration. We absolutely need to keep doing that. This may have been the secret to our success this year. Let’s not let up on it.

I can’t say Harris County Dems will be successful in 2018. Hell, at this point no one can say anything about the future with any degree of certainty. I’ve highlighted the things that I believe are important. There will be a lot to talk about and a lot to do before we get to any of that.

Some Republican women unhappy about Sid Miller

Noted for the record.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

For many female Texans working in Republican politics, last month’s release of a video showing GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump boasting about groping women was bad enough. They have since watched in astonishment as male elected officials from their own state have engaged in coarse rhetoric of their own.

The simmer turned into a full rolling boil on Tuesday, when someone using state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s Twitter account used a four-letter word that is frequently described as “the worst word in the English language.”

“When I heard about the tweet, I was stunned,” said Jennifer Waisath Harris, an Austin-based public relations consultant with a long history with the GOP. “I have not been surprised with some of the words that came of the commissioner’s mouth … but it’s one of those words you just don’t utter.”

The consequences of what Miller’s camp describes as an accidental tweet, juxtaposed with both Trump’s tone and recent comments from two Texas congressmen, has the potential to run off an entire generation of the party’s female talent pool, according to several women with strong ties to the party in Texas. They’ve spent their careers fighting for hallmark conservative values including school choice, opposition to abortion, limited government and a strong national defense.

“I can’t believe he even employs anybody who would post such a thing if he didn’t do it himself,” wrote Elizabeth Ames Coleman, a former Texas Railroad Commission chairwoman who also served in the Texas House, in an email. “Is everybody just so desensitized by the barrage of gutter-level talk that they don’t recognize it anymore? How embarrassing to have any Texas elected official perpetuate this kind of discourse.”

See here for some background. The story goes on in that vein for awhile, and I’ll get back to it in a minute, but first let’s jump over to this Statesman story, which provides more context for Miller’s tweeting habits.

At 1:43 a.m. Tuesday, more than 12 hours before a tweet from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s Twitter account referred to Hillary Clinton using a sexually explicit, derogatory term for women, Miller, or whoever was tweeting on his behalf at that hour in the morning, tweeted a question — “Can we bring Milo back?!?”

Milo is Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart senior editor who Twitter in July banned for life for directing his vast army of 300,000 Twitter followers to bombard “Saturday Night Live’s” Leslie Jones with racist tweets for her starring role in the “Ghostbusters” movie remake.

Miller’s middle-of-the night Twitter query was directed at four other cult figures, like Yiannopoulos with large social media followings at the alt-right edge of the Donald Trump political orbit.

There is Ricky Vaughn, who commonly uses the vulgarism for Clinton, and it appears might have been the source for Miller’s offensive tweet, which was quickly taken down.

There is RooshV, a renowned “pick-up artist” who on Oct. 17 wrote that women should confine themselves to reproductive sex, child rearing and homemaking, and who has warned that if Clinton is elected, a heterosexual male will never again serve as president.

There is Mike Cernovich, the man The New Yorker in its Oct. 31 issue profiles as the “meme mastermind of the alt-right,” who, on his “Danger and Play” blog, developed a theory of white male identity that posits that “men were oppressed by feminism, and political correctness prevented the discussion of obvious truths, such as the criminal proclivities of certain ethnic groups.”

And there is Jack Posobiec, special projects director of Citizens4Trump, who maintains that the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump talking about his predatory behavior with women was part of an attempted coup against Trump by House Speaker Paul Ryan and his GOP allies.

TM Daily Post riffs off of this and provides a few links to help illustrate who this particular basket of deplorables are. The point here is that the tweet that brought on this latest firestorm wasn’t just some accident of the kind that could happen to anyone. It’s that Miller and whoever else runs his social media accounts regularly swims in this cesspool of racist misogynistic douchebags. They’re buddies who laugh at the same jokes and share the same worldview. Put politics aside for a second and imagine that you’ve found yourself at a happy hour with these characters. Would you order a beer and hang out with them, or would you get the hell out of there and be glad to be rid of them?

Back to the Trib story, the theme of professional Republican women who have suddenly realized that they have been at this particular happy hour from hell all along but only began to notice it when the men they have worked for and supported have failed to say or do anything to derail these jerks is one that has started to appear. It’s not just Miller and Trump, either – the story notes recent comments by US Reps. Blake Farenthold and Brian Babin, among others, as part of the problem as well. Part of me feels sympathy for these women because how can one not feel sympathy, and part of me wonders what took them so long to figure out what was plainly obvious to the rest of us. Mostly I wonder what if anything they will do about it now that they have had this realization. The Trib story mentions some write-in votes for Evan McMullin, a lessened likelihood among Republican women to run for office (already a problem for the GOP), and some vague talk about reforming the party from within or splintering off into something else. The real question comes at the end:

[Randan Steinhauser, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee,] suggested that with Miller, at least, women would have the final word.

“We are political consultants by trade,” she said. “We’re conservatives, and as a strong conservative woman, I open the door to a strong conservative woman challenging Sid Miller.”

I’ll believe that when I see it. I might even take it seriously if it happens. As I’ve said many times about other matters of political controversy, nothing changes until someone loses an election over it. The filing deadline for 2018 is in a little more than a year. Put your money where your mouth is, and then we can talk. The Press has more.

Republicans remain concerned about their turnout in Texas

Exhibit A:

Can you feel the excitement?

Can you feel the excitement?

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is stepping up his travel for state Republicans amid concerns about GOP turnout in November.

Cruz is set to attend a trio of events next week in North Texas aimed at getting out the vote, particularly among conservatives who have long made up his base. Cruz will appear with U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Austin on Wednesday night in Burleson, followed by an event Thursday afternoon for the Dallas County GOP and another in the evening for the Denton County GOP with U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess of Lewisville.

The string of appearances comes as Cruz increases his focus on one of his main political goals of late: ensuring that conservative turnout does not slip after a presidential race that left many such voters disillusioned. Cruz himself has grappled with the choice in November, declining to endorse his party’s nominee, Donald Trump, until last month.

Cruz’s get-out-the-vote efforts began in earnest earlier this month, when he visited a phone bank for the Tarrant County Republican Party. Speaking with reporters at the party’s headquarters in Fort Worth, he reiterated a worry about depressed turnout among “strong conservatives,” particularly in large urban counties like Tarrant, Dallas and Harris.

“That could wreak real damage, particularly in down-ticket races — in state legislative races, in judicial races, in county races,” Cruz said. “I don’t want to see that happen, so I’m doing everything I can to encourage conservatives” to vote.

We all know how well that went. Try smiling more, Ted, that comes through in your tone of voice. Meanwhile, here’s Exhibit B:

In the final weeks before the November election, Houston-area supporters of Donald Trump say they feel let down and abandoned by both the Republican Party and the nominee’s campaign.

Still, they persevere to get out the vote for their candidate, standing on street corners, knocking on doors without the traditional list of homes to target and handing out home-printed fliers.

“We have gotten no guidance,” said Jeana Blackford, a local leader of pro-Trump activists. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and we’ve never seen this. It’s absurd.”

The Republican parties of Texas and Harris County said they were running get-out-the-vote efforts and that they support all candidates on the ballot equally, but frustrated local Trump supporters allege the party is turning its back on its presidential nominee and his millions of followers.

The sentiment mirrors events unfolding nationally, in which a schism between the Trump campaign and the GOP is widening as the nominee berates top party members and Republican officials rescind their support of his candidacy.

“We get calls all the time from people saying, ‘the party does not support him (Trump),’ ” said Ben McPhaul, executive director of the Harris County Republican Party. “Maybe they get that perception from the national party, though I’m not sure that’s true. But we’re always quick to say we support every candidate on the ticket and we support them all equally.”

[…]

In a typical election, state and local parties generally focus on state and local candidates and do not carry a lot of weight supporting the presidential nominee, said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus.

Promotion of the presidential candidate isusually is left largely to the national party and the candidate’s campaign.

The Trump campaign, however, has been mostly absent in Texas. Its Houston office opened for a few months in the run-up to the March primary, then closed in the summer, Blackford said. She said local Trump supporters did not trust the Trump campaign staff, but she stressed that Trump himself had not known about the “chaos and disorganization” in his staff until it was too late.

Blackford, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mom and veteran campaign worker who traveled to other states for Trump in the primaries, said she has about 350 people in the Houston area eager to get to work, but they have been given no direction.

By comparison, the Hillary Clinton campaign has six Texas offices. Stephen Abrams Harrison, a volunteer in the Houston headquarters, said the campaign supplies the office with computers, as well as buttons and yard signs. Volunteers sit in on weekly conference calls with the board of state directors.

Fed up Trump supporters in September formed a political action committee based in Waxahachie, called Make America Safe Again, a merger of existing grass-roots organizations. Board member Stephani Scruggs said the PAC was formed to make up for what they perceived as the Republican National Committee’s abandonment of Trump’s candidacy.

The group posted a news release Thursday titled, “Pro-Trump super PAC implements own ground game amid rumors of RNC betrayal.”

See here and here for previous examples. It’s hard to know how much to make of this, but I keep coming back to the premise that Republicans really haven’t had to do much if any campaigning in this state in Presidential years in a long time. There are downballot races, like the perpetual struggle in CD23, that they work on, and it’s very different in the off years when control of state government is at stake, but this just feels different, and it makes me wonder if the data they’re seeing confirms or even amplifies the bits of evidence we have that this will not be a typical year for them. I hesitate to put any quantifiers on this, but with the polls being what they are and the campaign activity being what it is, it’s hard not to feel like we’re in some very unfamiliar territory, and that we may wake up on November 9 with a very different set of expectations going forward. At the very least, you have to wonder if this feeling by the Trump partisans that they’re being ignored will put a damper on things for the GOP in 2018. If their enthusiasm in 2018 is down to the point where we’d be looking at 2006 levels of turnout, that opens up a whole lot of possibilities for the Democrats. That’s getting way ahead of ourselves here, but stick that thought in your back pocket and we’ll look at it again in the aftermath.

Appeals Court judge Terry Jennings switches parties

Cool.

Justice Terry Jennings

Justice Terry Jennings

It was just after presiding over a same-sex wedding, in January, that the formerly Republican Justice Terry Jennings, of the Texas First Court of Appeals, started thinking more seriously about changing his party affiliation.

Jennings had been considering becoming a Democrat for years as he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the way the Republican Party had trended toward the fringes, turning “moderate” into a dirty word, he said. And as his children, two daughters in college and a son in high school, continued to ask their dad why he still identified as a Republican, Jennings said the question continued to grow harder to answer.

Then came the wedding.

When others commented to him that deciding to preside over a same-sex wedding was a decision many other Republican judges may not have made, “that’s when I started thinking, Well maybe I’m not in the right party then,” Jennings told the Houston Press in an interview Monday.

The change-over makes him the only Democrat among the nine justices on the First Court of Appeals. Democrats make up just 12 of 73 jurists on the state’s 14 courts of appeal.

Jennings made the formal announcement at the Harris County Democratic Party’s Johnson, Rayburn and Richards fundraising dinner on Saturday evening, saying “today’s Republican Party has chosen a dark path I cannot take.” Elected in 2000 to the First Court of Appeals (which hears Harris County civil cases), Jennings said he was once proud to call himself a member of the Republican Party, and had always considered himself a conservative judge who applied the law just as it was written. Now, however, Jennings says his principles no longer align with those of the GOP.

“It’s just a party I didn’t feel comfortable being a member of anymore,” he told the Press. “You’ve heard the common expression a thousand times: I didn’t leave my party; my party left me. And it’s true.”

I got a blast email from HCDP Chair Lane Lewis about this on Monday. As you know, I’m hoping he’ll have some company on the 1st Court after this election. Whether that happens or not, his term is up in 2018, and as the story notes, he’s not sure if he wants to run for another term. Solving the turnout problem so that this is a question with more than one viable answer would be nice. In the meantime, welcome aboard, Justice Jennings. The Chron has more.

We won’t have Robert Morrow to kick around any longer

Valar morghulis, y’all.

Robert Morrow

Robert Morrow

The brief, zany tenure of Travis County GOP Chairman Robert Morrow came to an end Friday, as party officials made clear the conspiracy theorist abandoned his post by running for president and he accepted their conclusion without question.

Inside a nondescript office park in Austin, party officials convened reporters to lay out their case, saying Morrow’s application to be a write-in candidate for the White House, filed last week, “resulted in an immediate vacancy” at the top of the county party. Waiting in the lobby afterward was Morrow, wearing his trademark jester’s hat and carrying the “Trump is a Child Rapist” sign that had got him booted from a rally for the Republican presidential nominee Tuesday in Austin.

“I’m in complete agreement with them because I’m running for president,” Morrow said of party officials’ conclusion. “It’s clear: You can’t be the president of the United States of America, or even run for president, and be the chairman of a political party, and I’m fine with that.”

It marked a relatively noncontroversial finish to Morrow’s controversial tenure, which was sparked by his surprise victory over incumbent James Dickey in the March elections. Alarmed by Morrow’s conspiracy theory-fueled bombast and disinterest in actually running the organization, party officials created a steering committee in June that handled many of the duties typically reserved for the chairman.

[…]

The writing was on the wall Thursday, when word got out that the secretary of state’s office accepted Morrow as a write-in presidential candidate. By the end of the day, the county party was getting backup from the state party, whose chairman Tom Mechler issued a statement affirming that Morrow became ineligible to serve as county chairman upon filing for president.

On Friday, Morrow did not exactly say whether he knew that when he applied to be a write-in candidate he was effectively resigning from the county party. “I knew in the back of my mind,” Morrow told reporters, “it might cause a problem.”

That’s a slight change from what Morrow had been saying on Thursday, when word of this development first came to light.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, state GOP Chairman Tom Mechler said Morrow “became ineligible to hold the office of Travis County Republican Chair” upon filing Friday to be a write-in candidate. Morrow told The Texas Tribune earlier Thursday he could not be ousted.

“They don’t have the grounds to do that, and anybody who says so is probably lying,” Morrow said. “The case law on this is probably extremely thin.”

[…]

A party spokesman declined to elaborate on the announcement, but a person close to the party said the news conference will likely be about Morrow’s fate. It was not immediately clear how the process of Morrow stepping down would unfold, and at least one party official cautioned that the party was still conferring over the issue.

The county party nonetheless has the support of Mechler.

“There is absolutely no place for rhetoric as distasteful as Mr. Morrow’s in the Republican Party of Texas,” Mechler said in the statement. “We are excited to move forward with the Travis County GOP and the new incoming Chair as soon as an election is held to fill the position.”

The bombastic Morrow fired back on Twitter by asking Mechler to perform a sex act on him. Morrow remained defiant as speculation built Thursday afternoon that an effort was afoot to see him out as chairman.

“If other people attempt to pull a coup like this, there will be trouble,” Morrow added. “The bottom line is the Texas voters, the Republican Party, have spoken.”

It’s hard to know what might have happened between Thursday and Friday to facilitate Morrow’s change of mind, probably because as Dave Barry once said about Lyndon LaRouche, where you and I have a brain, Robert Morrow has a Whack-a-Mole game. Be that as it may, this is a terrible loss for people who need some cheap, tawdry laughs in their political news consumption, a group in which I include myself. Also, too, did you know it only took 38 signatures to “appear” on the ballot as a write-in candidate for President, by which I mean “have the write-in votes that are cast for you included in the official count by the Secretary of State”? And that Morrow met that threshold, but Evan McMullin did not? I can’t wait to see if Morrow manages to exceed 38 actual votes this November; the low total among 2012 Presidential write-ins was 87, so I’d say he has a decent shot at it. We may never see his like again, that’s for sure. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Taking on Ted

Rep. Mike McCaul isn’t saying that he will, but he isn’t saying that he won’t, either.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, is not ruling out challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018, but he’s emphasizing that he is not focused on it for now.

“Like Reagan said, never say never, but it’s not something I’m spending a whole lot of time thinking about right now,” McCaul told reporters Wednesday in Austin.

McCaul, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, has been encouraged to take on Cruz following the Texas senator’s controversial showing last month at the Republican National Convention, where Cruz declined to endorse GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Speaking with reporters at a book signing, McCaul acknowledged that “a lot of people” have urged him to challenge Cruz and said he was flattered by their support, but stressed he has nothing to do with the effort.

“It’s, I think, been sort of organic, an effort to draft, if you will,” said McCaul, who is advising Trump on national security. “But right now I’m really focused on my re-election to the Congress. I’m focused on advising the nominee to regain the White House and also maintaining a majority in the House of Representatives, which is critically important to the nation.”

Asked whether he has been satisfied with Cruz’s tenure in the Senate, McCaul said Cruz has “for the most part spent a lot of time running for president.”

“I think he also represents the state of Texas in the Senate,” McCaul told reporters. “I think that’s an important job as well, and so I think the presidential campaign’s over and it’s time to — I think governance is important. I think in Washington getting things for the great people of Texas done is an important job.”

Pressed on whether he was suggesting Cruz has not always been focused on Texas, McCaul replied, “Again, I think he’s been focused on his ambition running for president.”

Nice. The Trib reported on this chatter before, and I’ll say what I was thinking at the time – it’s nice to imagine, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Like Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is also considering a challenge to Cruz in 2018, McCaul would have to give up his seat in Congress to try to take the step up. That’s not nothing, especially given that McCaul, now in his seventh term, has accrued some seniority. He’s also filthy rich, so if he decides he’s in he’d be able to pay for it, regardless of how fundraising goes. PPP has some not-terribly-encouraging news for both of them, slightly better for Castro than McCaul though I personally wouldn’t put too much stock in anything 2018-related at this early date. Maybe McCaul could win, and maybe he couldn’t – “moderate” Republicans do still win primaries in this state, though that’s a proposition I’m seldom willing to wager on. Whatever the case, it’s best to recall that “moderate” here is relative. McCaul would almost certainly be John Cornyn 2.0 if elected to the Senate, right down to his Cornynesque executive-style hair. Temper your expectations accordingly.

AG asked to investigate Hill County ballot irregularities

Weird, but we’ll see.

The Texas Attorney General’s office has been asked to launch an investigation into allegations that multiple people voted illegally in the 2016 Republican primary elections in Hill County, despite local officials’ claims that the discrepancies were caused by human error and would not have affected the results of any elections.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office made the request Thursday in response to a complaint from Aaron Harris, executive director of Direct Action Texas, a conservative political advocacy group. Harris noted that there were 1,743 more votes cast in the election than there were voters.

In the most hotly contested race involving the county, eight-term state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, eked out a victory in the House District 8 spring primary, receiving about 360 more votes than political newcomer Thomas McNutt, who is best known for his family’s ownership of the Corsicana-based Collin Street Bakery, a well-known fruitcake purveyor.

Cook did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and a spokesman for McNutt declined to comment. Even if the AG’s office finds evidence of misconduct, it would not change the election results. The time to contest the primaries has passed, said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office.

Six or seven primary voters are shown to have two ballot dates, and one voter appears to have voted as many as four times, Harris wrote in a letter sent to Hill County election officials in June.

“Our research in Hill County has revealed very significant discrepancies in the 2016 Republican primary election,” Harris said in a statement. “Given the magnitude of this issue, we must reform the election code to restore the integrity of the process.”

Hill County Election Administrator Patsy Damschen said the difference could be explained by human error. While most votes are counted by a machine, early votes and absentee ballots are tallied by hand. The early votes were accidentally counted more than once, Damschen said. They were added to the absentee ballot count, thus inflating the total number of votes.

But the mistake didn’t change the outcome of any elections, Damschen said. Removing the duplicated votes would lower the margin by which candidates won, but the winner in each of the county’s 22 precincts would remain the same.

You can see a copy of the letter here. I can’t reconcile the numbers mentioned with the figures I can see on the SOS webpage, which shows 8,929 votes cast in the GOP Presidential primary in Hill County, and 8,165 votes cast in Hill County, out of 22,300 voters. Cook won that race by 225 votes, per SOS figures, so as noted the total number of actual disputed votes is not enough to make a difference in the outcome. I agree with Mark Jones at the end of the story – this feels like sloppy bookkeeping by Hill County. We’ll see what the AG says.

Tesla tries another approach to getting access to Texas

If at first you don’t succeed, change your strategy.

Tesla Motors’ Lone Star ambitions won the blessing of the Texas GOP at the party convention in Dallas this month, paving the path towards a possible end to the three years of drama over the electric car manufacturer’s right to sell in Texas.

It’s a dramatic incremental victory for Tesla in Texas, the nation’s second-largest auto market, coming less than a year after the state’s top Republican, Gov. Greg Abbott, told Bloomberg that Texas wasn’t interested in the California car company’s direct sales.

[…]

The coming 2017 session seems poised to provide a breakthrough for Tesla, now that the company has courted the sentiments of Texas republicans.

With a booth at the party’s state convention in Dallas in May, a Tesla rep argued that repeal of franchise law amounted to a truer free market system. And the party agreed, adding a Tesla-friendly plank to its 2016 platform.

“We support allowing consumers in Texas to be able to purchase cars directly from manufacturers,” the addition said.

That will make it very hard for the state’s ruling party to continue to resist the years-long push when lawmakers convene again in Austin in January.

See here, here, and here for some background. Tesla has tried logic, and they have tried lobbyists, so why not try platform management? I hadn’t seen Abbott’s remarkable comment to Bloomberg before now – gotta love that commitment to free-market principles – but if he’s not on board with this, that’s a potentially significant obstacle for Tesla to overcome. Not impossible, of course, but that’s a challenge. I’ve often compared the Tesla/auto dealers fight to that of the microbreweries and beer distributors. That took multiple sessions, and a significant amount of grassroots engagement for the microbrewers to win the fight, even if it was a mostly qualified victory. While this action by Tesla is a step in that direction, I still feel like they haven’t done enough of it yet. We’ll see how it goes when the Lege reconvenes.

Cain retains lead in HD128 after recount

It’s all over.

Rep. Wayne Smith

After a recount, Briscoe Cain remains the winner in his Republican primary challenge to state Rep. Wayne Smith of Baytown.

Cain, an attorney from Deer Park, edged out Smith, a longtime incumbent, by 23 votes last month in House District 128. After initially conceding defeat in the May 24 primary runoff, Smith requested a recount.

The Texas Republican Party said Friday afternoon that Cain has won the recount. It was not immediately clear whether he prevailed by the same margin.

[…]

The deadline for requesting a recount of last month’s primary runoffs is 5 p.m. Monday.

See here for the background. We had previously been told that Thursday, June 2, was the deadline for requesting recounts. Not that it really matters at this point. In any event, as there is no Democrat running in HD128, Cain is the newest member of the legislative caucus from Harris County, so congratulations to him on his election.

Two runoff recounts in the works

It’s not over yet in HD128.

Rep. Wayne Smith

In a reversal, state Rep. Wayne Smith is now pursuing a recount in his narrow loss in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff.

Deer Park attorney Briscoe Cain beat Smith, a longtime incumbent from Baytown, by 23 votes in the runoff. As soon as the outcome became clear in House District 128, Smith conceded the race, and his campaign confirmed the next morning that he was not interested in a recount.

But in a statement issued Thursday night, Smith indicated he had changed his mind.

“After much thought and careful consideration, I have decided to move forward with a recount,” Smith said. “Whenever a race is this close, the option for a recount must be considered. In the past two days, I have been overwhelmed by friends and supporters who have encouraged this option.”

Smith lost in the closest race of the runoffs, though not the closest race of the cycle. I was surprised when he initially declined to ask for a recount, so I’m not surprised he changed his mind.

The other recount was announced immediately in the aftermath of Tuesday’s runoffs.

Tuesday’s Republican primary runoffs may not be over yet for at least one candidate.

The contests produced a number of narrow margins — including in House District 54, where Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper won by just 43 votes. His opponent, Killeen optometrist Austin Ruiz, said late Tuesday night he has “decided to pursue filing for a recount.”

[…]

A losing candidate can ask for a recount if the number of votes by which he or she lost is less than 10 percent of the total number of votes his or her opponent received, according to the secretary of state’s office. The deadline to apply for a recount is by the end of the fifth day after the election or the second day after the vote totals are canvassed.

That deadline is Thursday, June 2, at 5 PM, according to the Secretary of State. I can’t imagine there will be any other requests, as the only other runoffs for which the races were close have had the losing candidates concede. But if Wayne Smith can change his mind then someone else could, too.

Republican primary runoff results

vote-button

Harris County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Your new State Senators are Bryan Hughes, who defeated his former House colleague David Simpson, and Dawn Buckingham, who defeated former Rep. Susan King. Hughes is a Dan Patrick buddy, who will fit right in to the awfulness of the upper chamber. Buckingham is a first-time officeholder who needs only to be less terrible than Troy Fraser, but I don’t know if she’s capable of that. She has a Democratic opponent in November, but that’s not a competitive district.

The single best result in any race on either side is Keven Ellis defeating certifiable loon Mary Lou Bruner in SBOE9. Whether Bruner finally shot herself in the foot or it was divine intervention I couldn’t say, but either way we should all be grateful. State government has more than enough fools in it already. Here’s TFN’s statement celebrating the result.

Jodey Arrington will be the next Congressman from CD19. There were also runoffs in a couple of Democratic districts, but I don’t really care about those.

Scott Walker easily won his Court of Criminal Appeals runoff. Mary Lou Keel had a two-point lead, representing about 6,000 votes, with three-quarters of precincts reporting, while Wayne Christian had a 7,000 vote lead for Railroad Commissioner. Those results could still change, but that seems unlikely.

Two incumbent House members appear to have fallen. Rep. Doug Miller in HD73 lost to Kyle Biedermann after a nasty race. Miller is the third incumbent to be ousted in a primary since 2006. They sure are easily dissatisfied in the Hill Country. Here in Harris County, Rep. Wayne Smith has been nipped by 22 votes by Briscoe Cain. That race was nasty, too. You have to figure there’ll be a recount in that one, with such a small margin, but we’ll see. For other House runoffs, see the Trib for details.

Last but not least, in another fit of sanity Harris County Republicans chose to keep their party chair, Paul Simpson. Better luck next time, dead-enders. Final turnout was 38,276 with 927 of 1,012 precincts reporting, so well below the Stanart pre-voting estimate of 50,000. Dems were clocking in at just under 30K with about the same number or precincts out. That’s actually a tad higher than I was expecting, more or less in line with 2012 when there was a Senate runoff.

Overview of the Harris County GOP Chair runoff

This is the Republican runoff I’m most interested in.

vote-button

Two years after wresting control of the Harris County Republican Party, Paul Simpson is facing an unexpected runoff challenge from political newcomer Rick Ramos in a race that again pits establishment fiscal conservatives against a group of socially minded GOP kingmakers.

Simpson finished second with 39 percent of the vote in March’s three-way primary, as Ramos and political novice Tex Christopher – neither of whom reported raising a penny – earned the remainder.

Caught off guard, several party activists and deep-pocketed donors have mobilized behind Simpson, as Ramos has leaned on the support of a trio of local power players: Steve Hotze, Gary Polland and Terry Lowry.

Both candidates painted the outcome of the low-profile race as crucial for the party’s future in Harris County, which recently swung majority-Democratic, according to Rice University’s Kinder Institute.

“We are a battleground county,” Simpson, a 61-year-old energy lawyer, said during a recent interview in his downtown office. “So, the only way we can keep Republican leadership in place is to be an effective party, and we weren’t for a long time.”

Ramos, a 45-year-old family lawyer, said the party needs to broaden its appeal among minority voters and get more involved in social policy fights.

“For the Republican Party to be able to go forward … we have to have more diversity. We have to be able to reach out to communities at large within our own county, and what worked 20 years ago, 30 years ago for the Republican Party is not going to work in the immediate future,” Ramos said. “I think we have to be more proactive, more innovative, and really give the party somewhat of a face-lift.”

The down-ballot race drew scarcely any attention amid the Super Tuesday hubbub, when about two-thirds of the Republican voters cast ballots for party chair.

Little appears to have changed ahead of the May 24 runoff, for which Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he expects just 50,000 Republican voters to turn out.

I was going to cast aspersions on Stanart’s estimate of GOP runoff turnout, partly because he so comically mis-estimated March turnout and partly because as is the case on the Dem side there’s not really anything to drive runoff turnout, but there were 40,547 GOP primary runoff votes in 2008, when there was even less to push people to the polls, so given that 50K seems quite reasonable. (The 2012 runoffs, which were all about Cruz v. Dewhurst for Senate, are not a viable comparison.) I don’t have anything to add to this story, as I don’t know the combatants and have no stake in the outcome, but like many people I was caught off guard by the March result and have been waiting for a Chron story on the race. This one does answer some of my questions, and it offers the hint of continued GOP infighting after whoever gets elected, which is always nice to contemplate. Beyond that, I’ll leave it to those who will vote in this race to offer up their thoughts on it.

By all means, go for Jared

Keeping it classy.

The race for chairman of the Texas Republican Party has spawned charges that the party’s current leader, Tom Mechler, supports a “disgusting homosexual agenda.”

A supporter of Jared Woodfill, a Houston lawyer and former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, has sent out campaign mailers blasting Mechler for allowing a gay and lesbian GOP group to have a booth at the upcoming state convention and not doing enough to move the event out of Dallas, which they call a “homosexual-friendly location.”

Mechler said he had nothing to do with the decision to allow the group, the Metroplex Republicans, to have a booth at the state GOP convention.

“I understand that hatred has spewed into the chairman’s race,” Mechler said.

Quelle surprise. You can’t spell “zealous hatred of the gays” without the letters H-O-T-Z-E, and indeed this mail was sent by Houston’s gay-hatingest quack. Nothing surprising there, though you may find yourself wondering how in the heck Jared Woodfill could be in a position to fail upward like that. Well, Woodfill as State GOP Chair is indeed a thing that could happen.

Houston’s Jared Woodfill is trying to win control of the Republican Party of Texas, challenging the current management and saying it has been too quiet in the face of legislative defeats in a state government dominated by Republican officeholders and appointees.

The contest between Tom Mechler of Amarillo, the party’s current chairman, and Woodfill, who once led the Harris County GOP, is a fight about purity, about which kinds of conservatives the Texas GOP represents and about what the party is supposed to be doing. They don’t run as combined tickets, but former state party Chairman Cathie Adams is running for vice chair in tandem with Woodfill, while current vice chair Amy Clark is seeking reelection, along with Mechler.

The outcome of the elections, to be held at the GOP’s state convention in Dallas next month, probably isn’t going to change your life, but it’s interesting. Mechler wants the party to bring in more voters — he’s talking about minorities and millennials, among others — who have generally eluded the charms of the GOP. He doesn’t think it’s his job to tell the state’s Republican officeholders what to do.

“Every Republican should be comfortable within the party,” he says. “My vision is and will be that is that this party is welcoming and embracing all conservatives from all over the state of Texas.”

Woodfill is a bully-pulpit guy, a political figure whose effectiveness depends on everything from actual microphones on actual podiums to social media, news media and advertising.

He is appealing for the support of others who, like him, think the state political party should be whipping the Legislature to keep it in line with the GOP platform and the beliefs of Texans in its voting base.

His pitch against the current party leadership seems aimed more at the House than at anyone else. An example from the Facebook page promoting his candidacy: “Friends, we are engaged in a cultural war and our Republican Party of Texas leadership is running from the fight! One need only look at the 2015 legislative sessions to find evidence of the RPT surrendering our values.”

Woodfill focuses on a list of issues that met their demise, he contends, in the Texas House, including bills outlawing references to Sharia law in courts, requiring Texas cities to enforce federal immigration laws, allowing the use or diversion of tax dollars for private school tuition, repealing in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrantsnon-citizens who graduate from Texas high schools, and enacting new ethics legislation.

That plays into existing divisions among the Republicans in government, however they are characterized: establishment against insurgents, social conservatives against social moderates, chamber of commerce against grassroots.

The characterization that matters here is that Jared Woodfill is an idiot, and would almost certainly be a terrible state party chair. He’s certainly not going to be about building a party for the future, or one that intends to grow. All of which, needless to say, is fine by me. I’ve said that scandal, in the form of criminality from the likes of Ken Paxton and Sid Miller, may help boost Democratic prospects in Texas in the short term. Incompetent leadership, especially when combined with an unwelcoming attitude towards anyone who isn’t already fully on board with a full slate of ideological shibboleths, would also help. And Lord knows, we Democrats can use all the help we can get. So please do your part, RPT. Please put Jared Woodfill in charge of your party. Thanks.

Runoff watch: Leftovers

Three last races that didn’t fit into any other categories.

SBOE District 6 – Democratic

Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter, the two candidates that actually campaigned for this office in this three-way race, finished one and two in the voting in March. Carter collected all of the endorsements that I tracked, which may help him make up the ground he needs in the runoff. As I’ve noted, this is going to be a very low turnout affair, but SBOE districts are huge and not at all conducive to shoe leather and door knocking, so if there’s ever a time for endorsements to make a difference, this ought to be it. Jenkins had a 7500 vote lead in Round One, so it would need to make a big difference. They’re both good, qualified candidates and I’d love to be more excited about this race, but the stark fact remains that Donna Bahorich won by a 100,000-vote margin in 2012. It’s going to take one hell of a Trump effect to make a difference here.

CD18 – Republican

You may be surprised to hear that four people ran in the Republican primary in CD18 for the right to get creamed by Sheila Jackson Lee in November. Lori Bartley and Reggie Gonzales were the top two vote-getters in that race. I’ve seen a couple of Bartley signs around my neighborhood, posted in random places. Here’s a little factoid to consider: Of the 23,937 votes cast in the four-candidate Republican primary in CD18, 7,041 (29.41%) skipped this race. Of the 54,857 votes cast in the Democratic primary in CD18, for which SJL was unopposed, 8,744 (15.94%) bypassed this race. Point being, even Republican primary voters aren’t exactly invested in this race. In a district where holding SJL to under 70% would be notable, that’s easy enough to understand.

County chair – Republican

Call me crazy, but I still think this is a result that maybe ought to pique the interest of a Chron reporter. I mean, it’s not a Robert Morrow situation, but surely it’s interesting that four years after knocking off Jared Woodfill in a nasty race, Paul Simpson is on the verge of being ousted in his first re-election attempt. Maybe there’s a story there? Some good quotes to be had from various insiders and wannabees? I’m just saying. You can read Big Jolly’s pre-election report on the race for one perspective. This is one race where I’d actually like to know what the usual gang of quotable types thinks. Can someone at the Chron please make this happen? Thanks.

Travis County GOP shakes its fist at its new Chair

Poor babies.

At a packed Travis County GOP executive committee meeting Tuesday night, it took less than a minute for someone to acknowledge the elephant not in the room.

“Give us wisdom to deal with the situation that we’re in,” Peggy Bower prayed during the opening invocation, to a chorus of quiet amens. “We pray this can be used as a lesson to everyone about how important it is to stay informed.”

Bower was referring to the recent election of Robert Morrow, the conspiracy theorist and author who won the Travis County GOP chairmanship in the March 1 election with a 55 percent majority. Morrow’s political beliefs — and non-stop stream of graphic tweets, which on Tuesday alone included references to bestiality and various Republican leaders’ sexual preferences — quickly attracted international attention.

Over the course of the two-hour meeting, which Morrow did not attend, Travis County GOP precinct chairs voted overwhelmingly to condemn “all profane or slanderous statements” Morrow made.

“The Travis County Republican Party seeks to raise the level of public debate,” the resolution read.

Although Morrow did not respond to the resolution specifically, he did tweet several pictures of women with what he described as “big titties” while the meeting was in session.

See here and here for the background. The Statesman has a few extra details and a copy of the Sternly Worded Letter than these folks wrote, which I have on good authority will surely frost Morrow’s cookies. Yes, I am enjoying all of this. The Press has more.

Greg Abbott does not approve of Robert Morrow

Aw, that’s so cute.

As the battle for control of the Travis County GOP heats up, and its newly elected chair writes increasingly raunchy tweets at breakneck speed, Gov. Greg Abbott has stepped into the fray to condemn his fellow Republican.

“Robert Morrow in no way speaks for the Republican Party or its values,” read a statement from Abbott’s office Thursday. “He cannot adequately represent the Travis County GOP.”

Although Abbott rarely addresses controversies within his own party, the Travis County GOP — whose territory includes the governor’s mansion — has been roiled by Morrow’s recent election. Morrow, an outspoken conspiracy theorist who regularly opines on the sexual predilections of political leaders in both parties, was elected chair by a clear margin Tuesday night.

In a tweet, Morrow made it clear he disagreed with Abbott. “I am the elected face of the Travis Cty Republican party,” he tweeted Thursday, citing Abbott’s statement. “The people have spoken.”

See here for some background. Greg Abbott can sniff disapprovingly all he wants, and Mark Mackowiak can hold his breath till he turns purple, but Robert Morrow isn’t going anywhere.

And although Mackowiak has pledged to take any action possible to remove Morrow from office, those efforts will likely come to naught, according to ethics expert Buck Wood, an attorney familiar with county bylaws. Unless Morrow resigns or commits a felony, Wood said, the position is his to hold.

Morrow told the Tribune he had no intention of resigning, adding that anyone opposed to him could “go fuck themselves.”

“They elected him county chair, and for two years, he’s going to be county chair,” Wood told the Tribune. “They can try to talk him into stepping down — but other than that, they just screwed up.”

I’m not an election law expert, but I can use Google, and so I will quote from this Texas GOP Vote post from 2011 in which a question about removing a county party chair was sent to the Secretary of State:

You ask whether there is a method under which a county party chair may be removed by the state executive committee or by a county executive committee. We do not believe so. The Secretary of State’s long standing position has been that there is no means provided in the Texas Election Code (the “Code”) to remove a county chair, as most recently expressed in the attached letter to State Representative Joe Farias concerning a similar issue with the Bexar County Democratic Party chair. This office may in past correspondence have acknowledged the role party rules generally play in political party affairs, but the Secretary of State has not to our knowledge stated that a county chair may be removed from office by party rule. Chapter 171 of the Code provides procedures for party organization including the process of filling county chair vacancies, while Chapter 172 provides the primary election procedures.

As noted above, both chapters are silent as to removal of a county chair once the chair has been elected by party members of the county voting at the primary election. We note that there are no cases or Attorney General opinions directly on point on this subject. We suggest state law has in effect preempted the election process for the primary-holding parties, while the parties retain authority over the elements of their required rules as set out in Section 163.002 of the Code. A more recent example of this state authority is provided in Section 171.0251, which created a process by which a member of the executive committee called to active military service may appoint a replacement to serve on the committee during his or her time in active service. It is this office’s position that in the absence of express authority under the Code, the party may not by rule create a removal procedure for county chairs.

So there you have it. This is going to be so much fun to watch.

2016 primary reactions and initial impressions

First, a couple of minor notes. Rep. Byron Cook ultimately pulled out a win in his nasty and high-profile primary. That’s good news for Speaker Joe Straus and the general forces of “government that isn’t like a three-year-old coming off a sugar high”. Rep. Wayne Smith was forced into a runoff but did not lose outright. Also forced into a runoff was Rep. Doug Miller in HD73 – I missed that one on Tuesday night – and on the Democratic side, Rep. Ron Reynolds in HD27. That one apparently happened after midnight; Reynolds will face Angelique Bartholomew in May.

With all 7,963 now having reported, Democratic primary turnout statewide was 1,433,827, with over 800,000 votes coming on Election Day. To put that into some perspective, since the only point of reference any news story I’ve seen lately seems to be the off-the-charts year of 2008, here’s was turnout was for every Democratic primary through 1992, which is as far back as the SOS archives go:


Year      Turnout
=================
2016    1,433,827
2014      554,014
2012      590,164
2010      680,548
2008    2,874,986
2006      508,602
2004      839,231
2002    1,003,388
2000      786,890
1998      654,154
1996      921,256
1994    1,036,907
1992    1,483,047

In other words, 2016 will have had the second highest turnout in any Democratic primary since 1992. Yes, I know, there are a lot more voters now than there were in 1992, but still. That’s not too shabby. Republican turnout with all precincts in was 2,832,234, so while it’s obviously a record-breaker for them, it falls short of the Dem number from 2008. So there.

One thing to touch on here is that in both primaries, well more than half the vote came on Election Day, which as a result meant that the final turnout projections were low. Over 1.6 million Republicans voted on E-Day, so in both primaries about 43% of the vote was early, and 57% came on Election Day. You may recall that the early/E-Day split was similar in 2008, whereas in 2012 the early vote was about 52% of the total. The two lessons I would draw from this are 1) Final turnout projections are always a guess that should always be taken with a healthy serving of salt, and 2) The more hotly contested and high-profile a race is, the more likely that people will wait till the last minute to decide. Someone with more resources than I have should take a closer look at the makeup of the early and late voters to see what percentage of each are the hardcore and the casual voters; my guess, based on a completely unscientific survey of my Facebook friends, is that more hardcore voters than you might think waited till Tuesday. There’s an opportunity here for someone with an enterprising spirit and some number-crunching skillz.

Also on the matter of turnout, 226,825 Democrats and 329,014 Republicans cast ballots in Harris County. 61.4% of all Democratic votes and 59.1% of all Republican votes were cast on Tuesday. See my previous paragraph for what that means to me.

On the matter of the Republican primaries for Court of Criminal Appeals, here’s what Grits had to say during early voting:

Statewide, I’ll be watching the Sid Harle/Sid Smith race on the Court of Criminal Appeals to see if Texas GOP voters have flat-out lost their minds, and the Keel-Oldner-Wheless race to see if Judge Wheless’ strategy of ignoring the establishment and seeking Tea Party, pro-life and generally conservative movement support is enough to win a primary in a low spending, low-profile race.

Well, of the four candidates running in the primary for Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 5, Steve Smith and Sid Harle came in third and fourth, respectively. A couple of guys named Scott Walker and Brent Webster will be in the runoff. As for Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2, Raymond Wheless came in second and will face Mary Lou Keel in the runoff, while Chris Oldner of Ken Paxton grand jury fame is on the outside looking in. I’ll leave it to Grits to tell me What It All Means.

There were a few races on the Dem side that had people shaking their heads or their fists, but there weren’t any truly bizarre results. For sure, there was nothing on the Dem side that compares to this:

The newly elected chair of the Republican Party in the county that includes the Texas Capitol spent most of election night tweeting about former Gov. Rick Perry’s sexual orientation and former President Bill Clinton’s penis, and insisting that members of the Bush family should be in jail.

He also found time to call Hillary Clinton an “angry bull dyke” and accuse his county vice chair of betraying the values of the Republican Party.

“The people have spoken,” Robert Morrow, who won the helm of the Travis County GOP with 54 percent of the vote, told The Texas Tribune. “My friends and neighbors and political supporters — they wanted Robert Morrow.”

Morrow’s election as Republican chair of the fifth-largest county in Texas left several members of the Travis County GOP, including vice chair Matt Mackowiak, apoplectic. Mackowiak, a Republican strategist, immediately announced over social media that he would do everything in his power to remove Morrow from office.

“We will explore every single option that exists, whether it be persuading him to resign, trying to force him to resign, constraining his power, removing his ability to spend money or resisting any attempt for him to access data or our social media account,” Mackowiak told the Tribune. “I’m treating this as a coup and as a hostile takeover.”

“Tell them they can go fuck themselves,” Morrow told the Tribune.

All righty then. Morrow, whose comedic stylings are collected here, was a regular inhabitant of the comment section at BurkaBlog, back when Paul Burka was still writing it. He was also Exhibit A for why one should never read the comments. I’d feel sorry for Travis County Republicans, but as the story notes Morrow is now Greg Abbott’s county party chair, and that’s just too hilarious for me to be empathetic about. Have fun with that, y’all, because there’s not much you can do to make him leave before his term expires. Trail Blazers has more.

I’ll start digging into the data tomorrow, when I hope all the precinct results will be in for the SOS website, and when I get a draft canvass from the Harris County Clerk. The Trib has a graphical view for the Presidential race if you can’t wait for me. Any other results or tidbits you want me to look at? Let me know. David Collins lists the races that will go to runoffs, and Harold Cook, Marc Campos, PDiddie, the Obserer, and the Current have more.

2016 primaries: Harris County

Though this will be the first entry published in the morning, it was the last one I wrote last night, and I’m super tired. So, I’m going to make this brief.

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic races of interest, with about 86% of precincts reporting

District Attorney: Kim Ogg with 51%, so no runoff needed.

Sheriff: Ed Gonzalez (43%) and Jerome Moore (30%) in the runoff.

Tax Assessor: Ann Harris Bennett (61%) gets another crack at it.

Judicial races: Some close, some blowouts, some runoffs. Jim Sharp will not be on the ballot, as Candance White won easily, while the one contested district court race that featured an incumbent will go to overtime. Elaine Palmer in the 215th will face JoAnn Storey, after drawing 43% of the vote to Storey’s 28%. Those who are still smarting from Palmer’s unlovely ouster of Steve Kirkland in 2012 will get their chance to exact revenge on May 24.

Turnout: For some reason, Dem results were reporting a lot more slowly than GOP results. As of midnight, nearly 150 precincts were still out. At that time, Dem turnout had topped 200,000, so the final number is likely to be in the 210,000 to 220,000 range. That’s well short of 2008, of course, but well ahead of projections, and nobody could call it lackluster or disappointing. As was the case in 2008, some 60% of the vote came on Election Day. I think the lesson to draw here is that when there is a real Presidential race, fewer people vote early than you’d normally expect.

Republican races of interest, with 92% of precincts reporting

Sheriff: Ron Hickman, with 72%.

Tax Assessor: Mike Sullivan, with 83%. Kudos for not being that stupid, y’all.

County Attorney: Jim Leitner, with 53%.

Strange (to me) result of the night: GOP Chair Paul Simpson was forced to a runoff, against someone named Rick Ramos. Both had about 39% of the vote. What’s up with that?

Turnout: With 67 precincts to go, just over 300,000 total votes. Interestingly, that was right on Stan Stanart’s initial, exuberant projection. He nailed the GOP side, he just woefully underestimated the Dems.

Bedtime for me. I’m sure there will be plenty more to say in the coming days. What are your reactions?

Republican filing deadline highlights

As a followup to this, here’s a look at who filed for what in the Republican primary here in Harris County. Set your phasers to “snark” and come on in with me.

Congress

There are nine Congressional districts partially or wholly within Harris County. Republicans have incumbents in six of them, and they are running candidates in two of the others, but for some reason only bother to list candidates in four of the eight races in which they have a stake. Rep. Ted Poe is unopposed in CD02, while Rep. John Culberson has two opponents in CD07. What about Reps. Kevin Brady (CD08), Mike McCaul (CD10), Pete Olson (CD22) and Brian Babin (CD36)? You can’t tell from the Harris County GOP’s candidate webpage. I don’t know what’s up with that. In any event, there are two Republicans vying to lose to someone in CD29, and four – four! – candidates who seek the opportunity to lose to Sheila Jackson Lee by fifty points in CD18. And no, that’s not an exaggeration – SJL defeated Sean Seibert 75.01% to 22.58% in 2012. Even in the disaster of 2014, she won 71.78% to 24.76%. Seibert appears to have learned his lesson; he’s not one of the four hopefuls this time.

Statewide

Statewide candidates are not listed on this page. I did not go looking for the Texas GOP website looking for info on the judicial and Railroad Commission races, but this Trib story provides some info on the former, and this FuelFix post covers the latter, so there you have it.

State Legislature

No State Senate candidates are listed, so no one is challenging Sens. Sylvia Garcia, Rodney Ellis, or (presumably) any of the incumbent Republicans whose districts intersect Harris County: Brandon Creighton, Larry Taylor, and Lois Kolkhorst. On the House side, the highlights are as follows:

– Reps. Dan Huberty (HD127), Wayne Smith (HD128), Sarah Davis (HD134), and Debbie Riddle (HD150) all have primary opponents; Smith has two, and Riddle has three.

– Kevin Roberts is unopposed to try to succeed Patricia Harless in HD126; there are two Democrats running for that seat as well. Tom Oliverson and HCDE Trustee Kay Smith (whose term does not expire until 2018) are duking it out for HD130, left vacant by Allen Fletcher. The winner of that race will have no Democratic opponent.

– Two failed Council candidates, Matt Murphy (At Large #4) and Kendall Baker (District F) are challenging Democratic incumbents, the former in HD147 and the latter in HD137. Rep. Gene Wu, the incumbent in HD137, was active in campaigning for HERO this fall, while Baker as we know was one of the leading wingnuts in the anti-HERO campaign. Rep. Wu also has a primary opponent, and assuming he survives that I think we can guess what the fall campaign will look like.

Harris County

– Two-time City Council loser Chris Carmona and 2008 failed DA candidate Jim Leitner (who subsequently served as a top lieutenant under DA Pat Lykos) are running to oppose County Attorney Vince Ryan.

– DA Devon Anderson does not have a primary opponent, but Sheriff Ron Hickman has two: failed 2012 Sheriff candidate Carl Pittman and twice-failed Sheriff candidate Paul Day.

– Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan gets a rematch with Don Sumners, who parlayed his catastrophic tenure as Tax Assessor into an At Large HCDE Trustee gig. We all remember what a disaster Sumners was as Tax Assessor for the two years he had the job before Sullivan mercifully ousted him in 2012, right?

– Speaking of the HCDE, I presume current Board Chair Angie Chesnut is retiring, because she’s not listed as a candidate. Running to succeed her are Danell Fields and sigh Eric Dick. Can you imagine a board for which nearly half the membership is Don Sumners, Michael Wolfe, and Eric Dick? That might be enough to convince me that Ed Emmett and Commissioners Court have the right idea in wanted to have the Lege dismantle the HCDE. In the other HCDE race, incumbent Marvin Morris has George Moore as a primary opponent. There are Dems running in each race, but alas it’s Morris’ Precinct 2 seat that could be competitive in a Presidential year, and not Chesnut’s Precinct 4 seat.

– There are three candidates running for the open JP Precinct 1, Place 1 bench, the one being vacated by Dale Gorczynski. No Republicans ran against Gorczynski in 2012 or 2008; I’d have to check but my recollection from previous analyses is that it’s in the 60-65% Dem range. There are three GOP incumbent JPs on the ballot, but only Lincoln Goodwin in Precinct 4, Place 1 has a primary opponent.

– Is Constable Phil Camus in Precinct 5 retiring? He’s not listed on this page. You know who is? Former District F Council Member Al Hoang, who is one of two people shown running for that position.

– Finally, HC GOP Chair Paul Simpson has two challengers, one of whom has an email address that includes the string “creditrepairtex”. Boy, nothing says quality like that kind of email address, am I right?

I will say one utterly complimentary thing about the Harris GOP primary candidates webpage: They provide (where applicable) the webpage, Facebook page, and Twitter handle for their candidates. This is a great thing, one that would save a humble blogger like myself a lot of time and effort, not to mention the occasional mis-identification of candidates with common names. Can someone at the HCDP please make this happen in 2018? Thanks.

All right then. If all that still hasn’t sated your blood lust for candidate information, go visit this handy Trib guide to the state and federal races, which confirms that I counted the number of Dem State House candidates correctly and also missed the fact that we should have run someone in HD94, PDiddie, Stace, and Ashton Woods. And remember that while we Dems can certainly get nasty with each other, the Republicans will be enthusiastically eating their own this March.

Just leave already

Seriously.

State GOP leaders, in a predictable but closely watched vote, have defeated a proposal to ask Texas voters whether they favor secession.

In a voice vote Saturday afternoon, the State Republican Executive Committee rejected a measure that would have put the issue on the March 1 primary ballot. The ballot language would have been non-binding, amounting to a formal survey of voters on whether they would like to see Texas declare its independence from the United States.

While the proposal’s defeat was expected, the measure had sparked some heated debate on the 60-member executive committee, the governing body of the Republican Party of Texas. Seeking to avoid a protracted fight, the executive committee voted earlier Saturday afternoon to cap discussion of the issue at 30 minutes then put it to an up-or-down vote.

Tanya Robertson, the SREC member who introduced the proposal, argued at the executive committee meeting in Austin that the measure would have been “harmless,” allowing voters to register an “opinion only.” She also suggested the ballot language would have helped “get out the vote” among some Texas Republicans who have been sitting out recent elections.

“The goal of these is to take a thermometer of how Texans feels about an issue, and what better issue for Texans to do that with?” she asked.

See here for some background. I fully support Tanya Robertson and all her likeminded colleagues leaving the country if it’s not to their liking. I merely object to them trying to take me with them. Sorry you didn’t get your vote, Tanya, but seriously: No one is stopping you from leaving. It’s a big world, I’m sure there’s some other part of it that will be better for you.

One more thing:

Earlier Saturday, the executive committee defeated another controversial proposal, one in favor of moving the party’s 2016 convention from Dallas to Houston. The proposal, which was shot down in a nearly unanimous vote, was inspired by opposition to Dallas’ updated non-discrimination ordinance. Leading the charge to relocate the convention was Jared Woodfill, a key figure in the successful effort to repeal a similar law in Houston and a potential challenger to Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler.

It is never wrong to point out that Jared Woodfill is an idiot.

GOP versus Hall

Pass the popcorn.

RedEquality

The Harris County Republican Party released a flyer Monday attacking Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall for his Democratic ties and previous support for a nondiscrimination ordinance.

Among top-tier mayoral candidates, Hall, a Democrat, is the most ardent critic of the city’s equal rights ordinance, known as HERO. The law is set to appear on November’s ballot.

“Ben Hall says yes to HERO ordinance in 2013,” the GOP flyer reads, citing a 2013 Harris County Democratic Party questionnaire on which Hall said he would support a nondiscrimination ordinance.

The ad also labels Hall a “current Democratic Party sustaining member” and claims he contributed more than $100,000 to Democrats, including President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry, citing campaign finance reports.

Hall responded in a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he has been “crystal clear” on HERO.

“Ben Hall is the only candidate, Democrat or Republican, who has been opposed to the HERO ordinance from the very beginning, long before the campaign began for Houston Mayor, long before the court put it on the November ballot,” he said.

The full Chron story is here, and here’s the interview I did with Hall in 2013. I have no desire to go back and listen to it, but my recollection is that he said No when I asked if he would support an equal rights ordinance. He wasn’t a firebrand about it, just matter-of-fact. I also recall being surprised by that, as to my knowledge he hadn’t been opposed it before. I can’t swear to that latter part, I can just say what I remember thinking at the time. Whether Hall is virgin pure on hating HERO since the dawn of time or he cynically came to oppose it as a matter of political expediency somewhere along the line is irrelevant to me, and should be irrelevant to any decent person. He’s a hater now, he’s loud and proud about it, and that’s what matters.

Not that I really care, but I am a little curious as to why the Harris County GOP decided to pick this fight. I get their objections, I just think this is an odd hill to engage on. Hall’s HERO history was no problem for uber hater Steven Hotze, who endorsed Hall, among others. It’s fine by me if the antis spread their votes around in the Mayor’s race; better odds for good candidates making it to the runoff that way.

Anyway. I’ve seen some people asking about which candidates support what things – HERO and otherwise. You can listen to my interviews, of course, or do something crazy like check out the candidates’ websites and attend candidate forums and things like that. If you’re looking for a shortcut, both the local GOP and the HCDP have candidate guides that may help answer your questions. And at some point, one presumes, the candidates – the Mayoral candidates in particular – will start flooding our mailboxes and the airwaves. Greg has more.

The new closet

From this Observer story about how Democrats finally managed to put a stake through Rep. Cecil Bell’s awful anti-same-sex-marriage-license bill, comes word of the legislative preference that dare not speak its name:

RedEquality

[Rep. Jason] Villalba’s statements were a clear reminder that it wasn’t just Democrats who killed anti-LGBT proposals. And they were another sign of evolution, albeit glacially slow, on LGBT issues within the Republican caucus—punctuated by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), who last week came out in support of same-sex marriage.

“I think of the 93 members of the House that signed the letter, I think if you had private conversations with them, a significant number of them would feel like I do,” Villalba said. “I’m not ready to go on record saying that I support marriage yet, like Sarah has. Sarah was very brave and courageous to do that. I think she feels confident that she represents her district well. I’m not certain that my district feels that way yet, and I also believe this decision is not going to be within our hands.”

Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) said at times during the session, he felt as though it was his freshman year in 2005, when he served on a small floor team of Democrats working unsuccessfully to defeat the state’s marriage amendment.

“I thought the Republicans had sort of played out the anti-gay thing, because we hadn’t seen it for a couple of sessions,” Anchia said. “It’s clear that public opinion is moving away from them rapidly. This feels like a desperate last gasp to pander to the most hateful elements of the Republican primary electorate.”

Nevertheless, Anchia acknowledged that when members of his party worked to defeat anti-LGBT bills, they sometimes did so with the quiet encouragement of Republicans—both “moderate” and “not-so-moderate.”

“I can’t tell you how many members of the House have come up to me and said, ‘Will y’all please kill these bills, Democrats? Because we don’t feel good about them,’” Anchia said. “The reality is there are many Republican members of this Legislature who have gay children, gay siblings, who may be gay themselves but are just not out. As a result, they understand firsthand how hateful this legislation is.”

One often hears of these mythical Republican legislators, who are – to some measure, at least – secretly not anti-gay, or even anti-abortion. Doesn’t mean that they’re pro-equality or pro-choice in any fashion you or I would recognize, but they do have a limited appetite for tightening the screws any further than they already are. It’s just that they can’t admit to any of that in public, lest they be tarred and feathered by the howling fanatics who vote in the Republican primary elections. So they hide in the closet, their existence hinted at by the likes of Rep. Anchia, while the rest of us are left to speculate about their existence like some History Channel “expert”. Maybe this is who those American Phoenix Foundation yahoos have been hunting for. Anyway, I for one would like to know some names. I am sure that more than a few of them would surprise me. Feel free to speculate irresponsibly in the comments.

Another data point on Uber and Republicans

From Josh Barro.

Uber

Republicans have hailed Uber, the smartphone-based car service, as a symbol of entrepreneurial innovation that could be strangled by misplaced government regulation. In August, the Republican National Committee urged supporters to sign a petition in support of the company, warning that “government officials are trying to block Uber from providing services simply because it’s cutting into the taxi unions’ profits.”

But for Republicans, being the party of open and competitive markets is not always easy in practice. Just look at what happened two weeks ago, when UberX, one of Uber’s various ride-sharing options, began in Philadelphia. The local taxi regulator called UberX an illegal taxi service, so several drivers were fined and had their cars impounded.

Mayor Michael Nutter sent a clear message: Don’t blame me.

“I strongly support having Uber/Lyft services in Philly,” the mayor, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter on Oct. 27. “The #PPA, a STATE authority not run by the City, opposes them.” As Mr. Nutter correctly notes, Uber’s fight in Philadelphia is with the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a state agency that regulates taxis and whose board is appointed by the governor. Five of six parking authority board members are Republican appointees.

Anticompetitive business regulations are mostly imposed at the state and local level, and they usually have a strong built-in lobby: the owners of the businesses that are being shielded from competition.

The R.N.C. chairman, Reince Priebus, probably doesn’t get a lot of phone calls from taxi medallion owners, or car dealers, or other businesspeople who want to be insulated from competition.

But local politicians do; Republicans may be especially likely to hear from them because small business owners are a constituency that skews Republican.

As a result, in practice, it’s not clear Republicans are any more pro-market than Democrats when it comes to business regulation.

Andrew Moylan, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute think tank, has examined ride-sharing regulations around the country and doesn’t see a clear partisan divide. On Monday, R Street and Engine, a group advocating policies that support start-ups, [released] a report card rating the 50 largest cities on their friendliness to ride sharing. The eight cities receiving failing grades include ones in blue areas (Philadelphia and Portland, Ore.) and red ones (Omaha, Phoenix and San Antonio).

“There didn’t seem to be any obvious ideological trends,” Mr. Moylan said. “It may have something more to do with population density and consumer demand.”

In the case of Uber, the cities with the most to gain from innovation tend to be large and dense, and often Democratic. So at the local level, the leaders in welcoming Uber are often Democrats. Conservatives like to mock California as anti-business, but the state is one of just two to have enacted a comprehensive, statewide regulatory framework that is friendly to ride sharing. The other is Colorado, also run by Democrats.

But it’s not just about Uber and taxis. Consider state laws that prohibit auto manufacturers like Tesla from selling directly to consumers. Car dealers favor these laws, which interfere with Tesla’s direct sales model. Of 22 states that permit direct sales, 14 voted for President Obama. New York, California and Illinois all have freer markets in auto retailing than Texas. Did I mention that car dealers are a strongly Republican constituency? In 2009, the statistician Nate Silver found that 88 percent of car dealers’ political donations went to Republicans.

See here and here for previous musings on the subject of Uber and partisanship, and see here for the report. Note how California cities scored much better overall than Texas cities. R Street previously put out this press release that expressed their disappointment in Houston’s “onerous” regulations on ride sharing. We did score better than San Anotnio, for what that’s worth, and now you’ll be able to call Uber from the airports. As for Tesla, we all know about Tesla and Texas, right? Funny how that subject never came up during any of Rick Perry’s job-stealing trips. Anyway, I don’t have a lot to add to this, but as I’ve been tracking this sort of thing I thought it was worth mentioning.

Steven Hotze in his own words

Media Matters sat in on a conference call of professional haters, and, well, see for yourself.

Fox News hero and prominent Texas conservative Dr. Steven Hotze warned supporters during a conference call that gay activists want to overturn laws prohibiting pedophilia, calling gay people “perverted and deviant.”

On September 10, Conservative Republicans of Texas leader Steven Hotze held a “Marriage Battle Plan” conference call with supporters, aimed at laying out a “battle plan” for combating “pro-homosexual rhetoric and propaganda” in federal courts. The call, which also featured Texas GOP chairman candidate Jared Woodfill, was pitched as “a meeting that liberals will be talking about for years.”

During the call, Hotze warned that “perverted and deviant” homosexuals were attempting to overturn laws against pedophilia in order to recruit young boys into homosexuality — a sentiment Woodfill didn’t contest:

Hotze repeated the myth that gay people have lifespans “20 to 30 years shorter than the average person,” calling homosexuality “an unhealthy lifestyle” that “needs to be stopped”:

Hotze warned that, if same-sex marriage were recognized in Texas, children would be taught how to be gay:

He asked listeners to “stand up and fight” against homosexuality, comparing it to cancer:

Woodfill added that the gay “political agenda” included pushing for “universal acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle”:

In addition to Woodfill, Hotze’s conference call also featured Brian Camenker, president of the fringe anti-gay hate group MassResistance.

There’s audio at the post in each place where you see a colon above, so click over and have a listen. I like to think that I’ve lost my capacity to be surprised by this sort of thing, but every time I do someone like Steven Hotze goes and does something like this. I have not lost my capacity to be amazed at the amount of lying that people who consider themselves to be disciples of Christ are willing and able to do. This is what we’re up against, not just in the HERO fight but overall. They’re a dying breed but they’re still here now and they won’t go quietly. You want to help deposit them into the garbage can of history, you need to show up and vote, this year and every year.

Greg Enos turns his spotlight to Gary Polland

This ought to be good.

Gary Polland

There can be no doubt: Gary Polland is a smart, successful lawyer who knows how to make a lot of money from the practice of law. Polland is politically powerful and able to influence and profit from every Republican primary election. Polland should be your hero and role model if high income and political influence are your goals in life.

I asked a bunch of attorneys with experience in CPS cases how much they guessed Gary Polland had been paid in four and a half years for court appointments. Their guesses ranged from $300,000 – $700,000. They were totally floored to hear that Polland had been paid $1.9 million by Harris County since January 1, 2010 for court appointments. Just to be very clear, that is taxpayer dollars being paid to this one man for government court appointments only. It does not count the many cases where Polland was appointed by judges but paid by private parties.

My investigation into this incredible situation has just begun, but here is what I know:

Polland has enormous political influence in Harris County Republican primaries, especially with judges, because he is one of the “Big Three” endorsers. It is virtually impossible to win a Harris County GOP judicial primary, even for an incumbent, without at least two of three endorsements from Hotze, Lowry or Polland. Unlike Hotze or Lowry, Polland is an attorney. Click here to see who Polland endorsed in the 2014 GOP primaries.

[…]

Attorneys appointed on CPS cases are paid a lower hourly rate than lawyers in private cases are paid. For example, I charge my clients $350 per hour for my work in divorce and child custody cases. Harris County pays CPS attorneys hourly rates which range from $75 to $125 per hour, depending on the specific service provided. Pay for trials is $300 to $500 per day. Young attorneys, who need experience and who want any paying case they can get, often seek CPS appointments. These young attorneys work hard to impress the judges and, because they are new, do not take CPS clients for granted. Massive amounts of appointments for just a few older, politically connected attorneys, take away from younger attorneys this opportunity to gain experience, help children and make a little money.

Most importantly, representation of abused children in CPS cases is not supposed to be an “assembly line” business to enrich the politically connected. CPS work takes time, dedication and focus on a few children at a time.

The $1.9 million paid to Polland by Harris County does not include what Polland has been paid in private cases by the parties where he was appointed a mediator or amicus attorney by a judge. In non-CPS child custody cases, the attorney appointed to represent a child is usually called an “amicus attorney.”

[…]

The $1.9 million Polland has been paid by Harris County since January 1, 2010 works out to $8,119.66 per week. Divided by $125 per hour (the minimum and usual non-trial hourly rate for CPS cases), that is 65 hours of billed legal work per week, every week, 52 weeks per year with no vacations or holidays. That would leave Mr. Polland very little time for his private appointments, mediations and civil cases where a client actually hires him. In contrast, for my clients, I work 7 – 10 hours per day but I usually bill a total of 4 – 6 hours per day. I clearly could learn a lot from Mr. Polland on how to efficiently bill for my time.

Every two years, Polland makes a lot of money from his business, Conservative Media Properties, LLC, doing business as the Texas Conservative Review, which endorses candidates in Republican primaries. Candidates give Polland money to pay for his mailers and local judicial candidates almost have to pay Polland because voters simply cannot know which of the dozens of judicial candidates are qualified. In election season, judges come to the attorneys asking for contributions, except for Polland. Unlike the rest of us, Polland is able to go to the judges and ask them for money. He is in a truly unique and powerful position.

My next issue will attempt to analyze which judges are appointing Polland and which paid his for-profit business for “advertisements” in his endorsement newspaper. For the next few months, a special feature in this newsletter will list each new appointment in family courts Polland gets and which judge appointed him. The judges who are appointing Polland are going to feel the spotlight even if they are unwilling to publicly explain why they choose him out of the hundreds of lawyers who seek appointments.

I can’t wait. Polland gets appointed to civil and criminal cases as well as to family court cases, and of course he is heavily involved in Republican primary politics, especially via his influential endorsement of judges. This year’s election is therefore particularly consequential for him, since a strong Democratic year would necessarily mean tossing out a bunch of judges that have been appointing him in favor of judges that would not have any electoral connection to him.

Enos’ calculation of Polland’s total bill to Harris County is about $300K higher than the figure he cites on his sidebar, where he lists the top 22 recipients of appointment earnings from Harris County since 2010. It’s still a lot of money either way. Keep that in mind the next time you hear Gary Polland rail against the Harris County Public Defender’s office. Its existence cuts into his bottom line.

Enos has invited Polland to reply to his reporting. I kind of doubt Polland will take him up on it, but I hope he does. It would be enlightening, if nothing else.

Petition deadline coming

Scott Braddock takes a look at the petition effort to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which must turn in its homework this week.

Opponents led by longtime – and now former because he was recently ousted – Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill are working to turn in at least 17,000 signatures of Houston residents by next Monday. If they can do that and the signatures are verified, the issue will be on track to cause all kinds of additional heat in Houston with potential statewide implications.

On the surface, this would seem to be a classic liberal versus conservative argument playing out at the local level. But one possible statewide consequence has do with Woodfill’s role in the fight coupled with speculation that he’d like to be the next Republican Party of Texas chairman. Meantime, the placement of what’s been framed as a gay-rights issue on the November ballot could be used by Democrats to push their voters to the polls in the state’s largest city during a non-presidential year.

[…]

Woodfill and others ominously call it a “sexual predator act.” As he and other opponents put it on this website: “It will by government decree open thousands of women’s restrooms, showers and girls locker rooms in the city to biological males! Predators and peepers can use it as cover to violate our women and children!”

Now working alongside Steve Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Texas, Woodfill told Quorum Report on Monday that his group is confident they’ll have enough signatures in time to meet the deadline. “We can’t afford to wait. Lives are at risk,” Woodfill said. “It’s about the safety of our wives and daughters and kids.”

See here and here for the background. According to TFN Insider, the due date is Thursday, July 3. The hate squad known as the Houston Area Pastors Council was ginning up one last Sunday effort; Woodfill had previously requested that petitions be returned by June 27, which was last Friday. I don’t know if that’s a sign they’re having trouble getting enough valid signatures or if they’re aiming to turn in an impressive amount of them. They need about 17,000 valid sigs, which isn’t that high a bar to clear, and pretty much everyone expects them to do so.

Woodfill declined to comment on growing speculation that he may be using the issue to position himself as the “conservative choice” for the next chairman of the Texas Republican Party. He stepped down as Harris County Chairman earlier this month after losing to challenger Paul Simpson. Voters in Houston could be forgiven, though, for not noticing Woodfill is no longer chairman given the amount of email blasts he is still sending out regularly about the ordinance. “This isn’t about anybody’s personality,” Woodfill said. “This is about the issue.”

For his part, Simpson said he supports the effort to overturn the ordinance and, he added, the county party leadership is in a state of transition. “I think repealing it is appropriate,” Simpson said.

Dear sweet baby Jesus, please let that incompetent boob Jared Woodfill be the next RPT Chair. It would be the best thing that could ever happen to them.

Some observers have said in a general election season when Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft Worth, needs to charge up her base in her bid for governor, this issue in Houston could give her specifically and Democrats broadly a boost. It is, of course, not likely that supporters of gay-rights would vote for Republicans if they do indeed show up at the polls this fall to make their voices heard about the ordinance.

“I think that’s right,” said University of Houston Political Scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. If Democrats are looking for ways to energize their base, the equal rights ordinance “would have to be on their list,” he said. Rottinghaus cautioned Democrats, however, that the issue is a double-edged sword. “They may want to use that as their tool to generate interest” but the problem is some reliably Democratic groups like many African-Americans and a significant percentage of Hispanics don’t have a traditional liberal view of gay rights, he said.

“There are opportunities for the Democrats to make this work and there’s also the potential there could be a serious backlash,” Rottinghaus said. Conservatives will also turn out with intensity to oppose the ordinance, he said.

Political Science Chair at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Jon Taylor, was more blunt in his assessment. He asked “Why give Democrats a reason to come out in November?” Taylor is a Republican and has long criticized Woodfill for his fiery brand of politics. “Do you really want to give extra ammunition to the opposition?” Taylor said. “Totally unnecessary. It is time to back off.”

PDiddie and I have talked about this before. I’ll say again, I don’t fear this fight. It sucks to have to engage in it, but if they want to bring it, then let’s get it on. I didn’t need any more motivation to vote and engage this fall, but I’m happy for there to be more. Let’s see what they’ve got for their signatures, and let’s get ready to rumble.

I repeat: Greg Abbott owns the RPT platform

This is what I’m talking about.

You want to be the boss, you get to deal with boss problems

At its state convention in Fort Worth last week, the Texas GOP amended its platform to include support for reparative therapy “for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.”

In response to the headline-grabbing plank, a spokesman for Davis’ campaign confirmed this week in an email to Lone Star Q that the Democratic gubernatorial nominee would back a statewide ban on reparative therapy for minors similar to laws that have passed in California and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Abbott dodged a question about his party’s support for reparative therapy during a visit to East Texas on Wednesday. KYTX Channel 19 reports that Abbott “stopped short of condemning” the reparative therapy plank but said the issue isn’t near the top of his agenda.

“First is jobs, second is schools, three is roads, transportation and water, and four is making sure our border is secure,” Abbott told KYTX reporter Field Sutton.

“It sounds like reparative therapy is pretty far down on that list,” Sutton said.

“Well, if government does what it’s supposed to do, and then gets out of people’s way, everyone is a whole lot happier,” Abbott responded.

Objection, Your Honor, non-responsive answer. Look, this isn’t about whether or not Greg Abbott would meddle in the affairs of the Legislature if he gets elected Governor. That’s not the point. The point is that as Governor, the bills the Legislature passes, which may include bills on things like banning sanctuary cities, rescinding the Texas DREAM Act, and authorizing “reparative therapy” in some form, will come to Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature. Does he sign them, or does he veto them? It’s a simple question. Abbott knows this, and he knows he doesn’t want to answer it. He’s following the lead of Republicans elsewhere on this. Reporters like Field Sutton need to know this too, and need to not let him get away with it.

Being an idiot, on the other hand, is totally treatable

It’s actually a little amazing that stuff like this doesn’t happen more often.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Open mouth, insert corndog

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaking in San Francisco on Wednesday night, said the U.S. would better serve its diverse population by letting the states handle many economic and social policies, a point he perhaps inadvertently drove home when he compared homosexuality to alcoholism.

Addressing the Commonwealth Club of California, Perry argued the federal government should give up much of its policy-making power, letting states chart their own courses on issues ranging from business subsidies to abortion. He joked about his frequent habit of luring California companies to Texas and called the competition between the two states healthy for both, as well as the nation.

But as Perry eyes another possible presidential run, some of his comments illustrated the wide gulf that exists between blue California and red Texas – and within the nation as a whole.

The Texas Republican Party this month adopted a platform supporting access to “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians, a widely discredited process intended to change sexual orientation. In response to an audience question about it Wednesday night, Perry said he did not know whether the therapy worked.

Commonwealth Club interviewer Greg Dalton then asked him whether he believes homosexuality is a disorder.

“Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that,” Perry said. “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

The large crowd gathered at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill included many Perry supporters. But the comment still drew a murmur of disbelief.

When you invite an ignorant fool like Rick Perry to speak to your group, you should not be surprised when he says something stupid. Reaction was swift.

“It’s not accurate and it’s not a reasonable conclusion that the world of medicine and psychiatry would endorse,” said Dr. John Oldham, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. Oldham also is chief of staff and senior vice president at the Menninger Clinic.

“Alcoholism is a form of addiction, which is an illness,” Oldham said. “Sexual orientation is not an illness.”

Defining homosexuality that way is simply outdated, he said.

“Many decades ago, in the diagnostic manual it was listed as a condition thought to be an illness,” Oldham said. “We’ve learned since that that was wrong.”

The governor’s comment came after he was asked about the Texas Republican Party’s new platform that supports “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians, a process aimed at changing sexual orientation. Pressed to say whether he thought homosexuality could be cured by prayer or counseling, Perry responded, “I don’t know. I’m not a psychiatrist; I’m not a doctor.”

The idea of changing someone’s sexual orientation throughtherapy has been “entirely debunked,” Oldham said. “Reparative therapy is not a legitimate therapy and, in fact, it can be destructive.”

To seek therapy to change one’s sexual orientation, he said, “would be like saying, ‘I would really like to get reparative therapy because I don’t like being short.’ ”

The Republican Party of Rick Perry and Greg Abbott doesn’t care what a bunch of pointy-headed scientists think. They have their own truth, and that’s all they need.

Yes, Greg Abbott owns the RPT platform

Sorry, Greg. You can mumble all the vague platitudes you want, but this baby’s all yours.

You want to be the boss, you get to deal with boss problems

In the wake of the GOP’s approval of a platform that includes a hardline stance on immigration, Attorney General Greg Abbott finds himself at the top of the ticket for a party whose members are deeply divided over the subject and under fire from opponents who say the Republicans’ position is offensive to Hispanic Texans.

And it all comes during an election cycle in which Hispanic Texans are seen as an especially critical voting bloc that Abbott has worked to woo.

“It effectively puts him in an awkward position,” said Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, because the attorney general does not want to risk alienating Hispanic voters or contradicting the official party stance.

Last week, the Republican party adopted a political platform that no longer endorses a provisional visa program for immigrants and calls for ending in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and for prohibiting “sanctuary cities” that do not enforce immigration laws.

Abbott has largely been silent on the issue. Representatives for the Abbott campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and they have not responded to previous inquiries about his position on the immigration plank of the platform.

The Chron has a similar story, though they did get a mealy-mouthed reply from the Abbott campaign.

Young conservatives. Gay Republicans. Hispanic GOPers. Take your pick – they are all fuming at the platform approved over the weekend by the Texas Republican Party.

With a return to a hard-line stance on immigration and a resounding endorsement of psychological therapy to cure gays of their homosexuality, Texas Republicans in a single stroke alienated a small but emerging faction of the party and handed Democrats a new set of talking points to wield against them in the midst of a heated election cycle.

It also has provoked fervent responses within the party.

Take state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican considered one of the leading Hispanic voices in the Texas House. He penned an open letter to delegates in Texas Monthly on Monday, saying they essentially “adopted a ‘deport them all’ strategy that compares human beings to foreign invaders.”

Jeff Davis, chairman of the Texas Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group, said Tuesday the platform will “haunt the party for the next two years.”

And Mark Brown, chairman emeritus of the Texas Young Republican Federation, which touts itself as the premier organization for conservative politicos under 40, called the party’s platform “quite abominable.”

“It’s divisive,” Brown said, adding that the party’s rejection of a plank supportive of medical marijuana also will hurt its image with young voters. “It will make it so much harder for some of us who want to grow this party to keep recruiting new members.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Wendy Davis’ campaign attempted to tie Attorney General Greg Abbott, the GOP nominee for governor, to the Republican platorm.

Zak Petkanas, a Davis spokesman, said the GOP took “their cues directly” from Abbott to craft the planks, imploring the attorney general to make his support for the platform clear.

But [RPT Chair Steve] Munisteri noted that statewide elected officials never embrace every tenet in the platform.

“I’ve yet to see a candidate say ‘I support 100 percent of the platform, otherwise we’d have people endorsing nonpasteurized milk,” he said. “It’s not the Greg Abbott platform. He has his own platform.”

Avdiel Huerta, the attorney general’s spokesman, agreed Tuesday.

“Greg Abbott has unveiled his own platform that focuses on jobs, education, roads, water and securing the border,” he said in a statement.

Let me digress for a moment to deal with the likes of Rep. Villalba, Messrs. Davis and Brown. If you really, truly don’t like the platform and really, truly think that it’s hurtful to people you want to reach out to, and you really, truly think it will harm the party’s long-term prospects, but then you go ahead and vote straight-ticket R anyway, you’re part of the problem. I don’t expect any of these three to publicly support a Democrat or oppose a Republican, but in their heart of hearts I think they know who on their ballot is most closely aligned with this platform (hint: his name rhymes with Pan Datrick, though he’s hardly the only one), and it would not be a betrayal of their principles to skip the race or races involving those candidates in November. It’s a secret ballot, fellas. No one will know, I promise. Otherwise, you own this platform just as much as Greg Abbott and the rest of the statewide slate does.

As for Abbott, I’ll stipulate that party platforms have since the beginning of time contained bits of effluvia, wishcasting, personal grievances, and other things that would not be universally supported. Even for the more mainstream things, candidates have the right to be all mavericky and distance themselves from whatever they personally do not buy into. Democrats are no strangers to any of that. The big difference, especially this year, is that the non-universal parts of Democratic platforms have always been either things that would never come up for serious consideration (like, sadly, single-payer healthcare) or that are on the horizon of becoming totally mainstream (like marriage equality was a couple of years ago). The RPT platform, on the other hand, is chock full of things that can and likely will get real hearings in the Legislature and barring shenanigans or heroic levels of lobbying may well pass. They’re not historical curiosities or back-bench saber rattling, they’re real live legislative priorities, shared by people that will be working and voting on actual for-real bills.

That’s why Greg Abbott doesn’t get to wave his hands and say we’re all our own people here and I’m not bound by what a bunch of yahoos in flag-themed clothing came up with. What happened in Fort Worth is going to come to the floor in Austin next year. If Greg Abbott wants to be Governor, it’s totally fair to know, unequivocally, what parts of that platform he supports and what parts he doesn’t. If a bill banning sanctuary cities comes to his desk, does he sign it or does he veto it? If the answer is “it depends”, what does it depend on? What’s acceptable and what isn’t? If a bill that repeals the Texas DREAM Act of 2001 comes before him, does he sign it or veto it? How about a bill that authorizes “reparative therapy” for LGBT teenagers in some form? What does he do with that? This isn’t a hypothetical situation. We all know that someone is going to file these bills, and we all know that if Dan Patrick is elected, he will do everything in his power to pass them out of the Senate. What will Greg Abbott do? He should be asked that question every day until he puts on his big boy underpants and answers it.

One more thing, from this Texas Public Radio story:

Texas Association of Business CEO Bill Hammond said not having the support for a guest worker will leave huge gaps in the state economy and doesn’t only involve jobs in construction, agriculture or hospitality.

“In the Austin area alone, I’m told some 8,000 information technology jobs are left vacant because there’s not the workforce to fill those jobs,” Hammond said. “We could easily do that if we allowed more legal immigration through a guest worker program.”

Hammond said that the platform stance weakens the Texas economy and may have companies looking to relocate to Texas looking at other states that can support their needs.

“We’ve got many, many openings in Texas that could be filled by legal immigration by a guest worker program that would allow people to come and also go when the work was simply no there,” Hammond said.

Hammond said he agrees with Villalba that the removal of the party’s support for a guest worker program isn’t reflective of the entire Texas Republican Party, but is reflective of delegates at the party convention and some of those who are running in statewide elections in 2014.

Bill Hammond, I know you’re not stupid, and I know you’re not naive. We both know that the parts of the party platform that you find objectionable are also supported by large numbers of Republican legislators and legislators-elect. We know this because your organization has given or will give money to many of them. You and your toothless talk about immigration have been a big part of the problem for a long time because it has never been accompanied by any real action. Either work to defeat – or at the very least, publicly refuse to support – the politicians that are pushing the things you say you oppose, or shut up about it.

Who stands with Jared?

I noted yesterday that soon-to-be-former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is busy trying to gather petition signatures to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Here’s the beginning of his pitch:

Jared Woodfill

I want to thank all of you who stood against Mayor Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act. The battle to repeal this ordinance has begun. I encourage each of you to join me in taking a stand against the ordinance proposed by a Mayor who admits that the ordinance is all about her personal agenda and the campaign promises she made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (“LGBT”) community. The next step in this battle is to promote and circulate a petition that would force a city-wide referendum to repeal Mayor Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act.

There should be no special privileges for her special interests. Parker’s Unequal Rights Ordinance is 34 pages long and creates two new “protected classes” in the city charter’s anti-discrimination provisions. This new city ordinance would grant minority status for “sexual orientation” and “gender identification.” Mayor Parker’s ordinance would include minority status for transvestites, allowing men who dress as women to enter women’s public bathrooms and locker room areas. For example, if a biological male, who believes he is a female, wants to use the women’s restroom and you do not allow them to use the female restroom, then the leaders of the business, restaurant, church or other establishment could be prosecuted criminally for discrimination under the Mayor’s ordinance. Additionally, it forces these same entities to recognize same sex marriage or be prosecuted for refusing to do so.

The ordinance is really about Mayor Parker’s personal, social, LGBT agenda for the city, state, and country. She must be stopped!

Blah blah blah hurt feelings entitlement rage lots of lies and so forth. You get the idea. What I want to know is simply this: If this is the official position of the Harris County Republican Party, as well as of the statewide Republican slate, where do all of the Republican candidates running for office stand on this? There’s a lot of Republican judges running for re-election this fall. How many of them will stand with Jared and sign his petition? That’s something I think we ought to know. And yes, I’d like to know the same for the Democrats running against those judges; I’m thinking I’ll add a question to my usual judicial Q&A this year to inquire about that.

What about the other Republican officeholders in Harris County? Well, County Clerk Stan Stanart has participated in the anti-HERO rallies at City Hall, so I think we know where he stands. And while I don’t know his personal opinions on the subject, I’d venture to guess that County Judge Ed Emmett will not be involved in this effort. I suspect he sees no reason to meddle in the affairs of the city of Houston, he’s never given any indication that he’s motivated by so-called social issues, and he just spent over $100K to defeat Woodfill in the primary. So yeah, I expect Judge Emmett will take a pass. That leaves County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, whom I expect will stand with Jared, District Clerk Chris Daniel, and District Attorney Devon Anderson. I won’t venture a guess about the latter two. Someone ought to ask them, for the record.

Anyway. Jared’s little petition is here, and it says that petitions with notarized signatures must be received (by them) no later than June 27. Circle that date on your calendar, we’ll know by then if we might have another item on the ballot this fall.

Yes, Greg Abbott opposes the HERO

He just doesn’t want to be forced to admit it.

It’s a reporter asking questions we don’t want to answer!!!

When the Houston City Council passed its nondiscrimination ordinance including gay and transgender protections, top Democratic statewide candidates such as Sen. Wendy Davis were quick to celebrate.

“All people should be treated equally in every way,” Davis said. Her gubernatorial campaign pointed out that when San Antonio earlier approved its nondiscrimination ordinance, Davis said she’d like to see one in every Texas city.

But the campaign of Davis’ GOP opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, was silent, suggesting a balancing act on the issue as the general election approaches.

Abbott wasn’t shy about opposing San Antonio’s ordinance when it was proposed last year, before he won his primary nod. He said it ran contrary to the Texas Constitution’s ban on religious tests and its one man-one woman definition of marriage, which Abbott has staunchly defended.

He even suggested Texas might sue over the San Antonio ordinance but backed off after seeing the final version, which his spokeswoman said included needed changes.

Other Republicans weren’t as reticent about the Houston ordinance. They didn’t put out press releases, but they responded when I called. The Abbott camp didn’t respond to calls, texts and emails.

Reporter Peggy Fikac quotes spokespeople from the Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton campaigns doing their best Dave Wilson impersonations, while noting that their Democratic opponents Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston are in favor of the equal rights ordinance. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, lacks the courage of his convictions and is hoping to make it through the next five months without anyone asking any embarrassing questions about that. But don’t mistake that lack of courage for a change of heart.

Meanwhile, as Abbott cowers in a secure undisclosed location, the Harris County GOP has gone all in for repeal. We’ll see if they have any more success with this effort than San Antonio’s haters had last year.

(PS – Why is Jared Woodfill still acting as Harris County GOP Chair? When does the new guy take over? I’m just curious.)

Mail ballots being mailed out for primary runoffs

From the inbox:

EarlyVoting

The first batch of over 38,000 postal ballots for the May 27, 2014 Primary Runoff Elections have been mailed and will be arriving in voters’ mailboxes this week. This mailing represents the highest number of mail ballots issued for a mid-term runoff election in the history of Harris County. The previous high of 31,468 was recorded during the 2010 Primary Runoff Election.

“It is likely that a portion of the increase in mail ballots issued is due to a measure passed by the State Legislature during the 2013 Legislative session that makes the mail ballot request process more efficient,” informed Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the largest county in Texas and third largest county in the nation. “Effective this year, voters who are 65 years of age or older, or who are disabled, have the option of submitting an annual ballot by mail application. The annual application is valid for all elections conducted by my office in the calendar year.”

Of the over 38,000 initial mail ballots issued for the Primary Runoff Elections, 96 percent were addressed to senior citizens and disabled voters who have taken advantage of the new law, one percent were sent to qualified voters who specifically requested a ballot for the Primary Runoff Elections, and three percent were mailed to Military and Overseas voters. For the May 27 Runoff Elections, the last day to apply for a ballot by mail is May 16, 2014.

There are a little over 300,000 registered voters on the Harris County voter roll who are 65 years of age or older and are qualified to submit an annual mail ballot application. “I encourage senior citizens and disabled voters who wish to vote by mail to submit an annual ballot by mail application,” asserted Stanart. “I want to ensure that every ballot by mail voter has sufficient time to vote their ballot and return it to my office by Election Day.”

“Permitting qualified voters who have difficulty going to a poll the opportunity to submit a single application to receive a postal ballot for multiple elections is good public policy,” concluded Stanart who supported the annual ballot by mail application for senior citizens and disabled voters.

For more information about the process to apply for a ballot by mail, or to download the new application for a ballot by mail, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com.

Yes, the runoff isn’t until May 27, but early voting will begin before you know it. If you plan to vote by mail for the primary runoff, now would be a good time to request your ballot if you haven’t already done so. Remember, if you didn’t vote in March you can vote in either runoff, but if you did vote in March you must vote in the runoff of the same party.

Speaking of parties, I was curious what the partisan breakdown of the mail ballots was, since that is something we know for primaries and primary runoffs. I sent the question to the County Clerk’s office, and this was the answer I got:

As of 4/15/2014:

DEM-13,547
REP-24,547

Interestingly, that’s a fairly significant increase for Democrats, but not for Republicans. For the March primary, there were 12,722 Democratic ballots mailed, of which 8,961 were returned. For Republicans, there were 24,548 ballots mailed, of which 20,026 were returned. There’s still time for more ballots to be requested, so these tallies should increase. I fully expect there to be more action on the Republican side, but clearly at least the usual Democratic suspects are planning to vote.