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Sam Houston

Yes, m’lord

I totally should bid on this.

All it takes to be a noble – to be called “m’Lord” or “m’Lady” – is money. And for Texans interested in owning a noble title, a silent auction in London holds an extra appeal. The title being auctioned has a loose connection to Gen. Sam Houston, arguably the most important figure in Texas history.

The Barony of Fingalton, Renfrewshire, Scotland, is said to have once belonged to Houston’s ancestors. Between June 27 and July 11, it’s being sold in a special silent auction.

Auctioneer Robert Smith, of Manorial Auctioneers Ltd., said that he expected the title to sell for at least $100,000.

It’s being sold, Smith said, by a French-speaking Swiss businessman who’s owned it since 1998.

Why would anyone want to pay $80,000 for nothing more than the right to call yourself a baron or baroness?

“People’s reasons vary,” Smith said. “There’s novelty involved, I suppose. I would think someone in Texas would have some warmth in regard to the general.”

Ernie Manouse, the Houston Public Media TV host, said that he bought a title of nobility nearly 20 years ago – for $29 or so.

That title, of highly questionable provenance, came with an ID card and a certificate suitable for framing.

It was, Manouse laughs, well worth the investment.

Manouse used the title years ago on a Lord & Taylor credit-card application, resulting in a credit card that read: “Sir Ernie Manouse.”

According to the sidebar, “Anyone wanting information or planning to bid should write to manorial@msgb.co.us or call auctioneer Robert Smith at &44-20-7582-1588.” I suppose there are better uses for a hundred grand, but these things don’t grow on trees, you know. Maybe I could crowdfund it. Who’d be in for a piece of the action with me?

It’s not crazy to think that a downballot Democrat could win statewide this year

I’ll get to that headline in a minute. I’ve got some reading to sort through first. We’ll start with the most pessimistic, or perhaps the least blue-sky, story of how things are likely to go.

Arizona. Georgia. Utah. Indiana. Is Texas next?

Across the country in recent days, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has suffered polling collapses in a slew of traditionally conservative states. The deterioration raises the question: Is Trump such a catastrophic Republican standard-bearer that Democrats could actually poach their ultimate white whale, the Lone Star State?

No.

That’s the consensus of a raft of state and national Democratic insiders who discussed with the Tribune the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning Texas in November.

“I think that it could set off a little bit of a panic among Republicans, but you’re not going to see banners flying and people marching into Texas saying, ‘We’re gonna turn Texas blue,'” said Matt Angle, a Democratic operative with Texas roots.

[…]

So, what would an incremental victory look like for Texas Democrats on Election Day?

Party infrastructure was the mantra in several interviews. The aim is to excite dormant Texas Democratic voters into volunteering for the first time in a generation, even if it is out of distaste for Trump. Even now, Texas volunteers are phone banking to battleground state voters elsewhere in the country.

“We know it’s going to be a multi-cycle endeavor, but these numbers reinforce that we are making significant movement, particularly with Texas’ diverse new majority,” said Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

State Democrats are also cautiously hopeful they can make gains in the Legislature, and maybe lay the groundwork for a viable campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 when he is up for re-election.

Amid the cautious optimism, Democrats are willing to concede that anything is believable given the erratic nature of the Trump campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, an Arlington Democrat, echoed many Democratic insiders when he said he has heard no chatter about competing for Texas in the fall.

“This is a crazy election,” he said. “Anything can happen, but I still think Texas is a reach.”

A more optimistic take on where things stand.

The [PPP] poll shows Trump leading Clinton by a 44-to-38 percent margin, with his strongest support among senior-age Texans, especially men. Among that group, the New York business tycoon holds a 63-33 percent lead.

With voters under age 65, Clinton leads 49-35. For those under 45, she leads Trump 60-35.

Among nonwhite voters in Texas, Clinton has a 73-21 percent lead, according to the poll conducted by the Democrat-leaning polling firm Friday through Sunday of 944 likely voters; the poll has a margin of error of plus- or minus-3.2 percentage points.

That split, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who has studied how the changing generational demographics of voters affects elections, could be the most significant statistic from the poll and other recent surveys that have highlighted a similar trend in Texas.

“This election is an outlier because Trump in many ways transcends ideology and party,” Jones said. “The older the voters, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The younger the voters, the more likely they are to vote Democratic. And the Republicans’ base in Texas is growing older.”

[…]

Statewide, an estimated 14 million Texans are registered to vote, an increase of about 1 million voters over the last four years, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections. Whether those are new Republicans or Democrats or independents is unknown, and party affiliation is determined by which primary a voter casts his or her ballot.

Officials in fast-growing Williamson County, in staunchly conservative GOP territory just north of Austin, said their registration numbers are up significantly.

During the 2008 presidential race, Williamson County accounted for just more than 220,000 of the state’s registered voters. The most current figures put Williamson County’s voter total at 294,329.

In Fort Bend County, a fast-growing GOP suburban stronghold southwest of Houston, elections administrator John Oldham said registrations have grown by 25 percent since 2008. That has added nearly 100,000 new voters to the rolls in just under eight years, he said.

Oldham estimated that about half of recently registered have not had Anglo or Hispanic surnames. Many have last names traditionally associated with Asian, Middle Eastern and African heritages, he said.

“That’s where we’re seeing a lot of growth,” he said.

For Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, surburban areas like Fort Bend County are the places to watch in November.

“Republicans in Texas have dominated the suburban vote, and that’s been one reason for their success,” Rottinghaus said. “But in this election, Trump is doing poorly among these voters – the suburban women, college-educated voters who are younger. (Gov. Greg) Abbott and (U.S. Sen. Ted) Cruz still do well there, but crossover voting in the suburbs could cause a moment that might allow the Democrats to do better.

“That is how the Republicans got their foot in the door in congressional elections years ago,” he added.

And finally, an X factor to consider.

There are now 272 electoral votes in states that RCP rates as leaning toward Clinton, likely to go to her or solidly in her column. Another 112 come from states rated as tossups (plus Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, from which an elector is chosen independent of the statewide result). On Wednesday morning, Clinton had a lead in six of those eight states, including a statistically insignificant three-tenths-of-a-point edge in Deep South Georgia.

Furthermore, in talking to Democratic and Republican strategists in recent days, it has become clear that the polls could be significantly underestimating the Clinton margins that we’ll see on Election Day. Here’s why: Clinton has poured money into both television advertising and field organizing even in states where she has an outside chance of winning while Trump has been inactive.

Republican and Democratic experts in field organizing say that a tiptop organization can make a small but significant difference — maybe as many as four or five percentage points — in a particular state. That is, where Clinton’s building an operation and Trump isn’t, polls are likely underrepresentative of her strength.

In a chat last week on the social media platform Sidewire, former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn and GOP strategist Doug Heye lamented the absence of a Trump field operation on the ground in the battleground Hawkeye State.

“The boots have largely been outsourced to the RNC staff that’s been on [the] ground. They are hustling to staff up,” Strawn said. “And as everyone learned watching Hillary [and] Bernie battle during caucuses, if it comes down to mechanics versus message at the end … well, we know how that turned out.”

That last one isn’t about Texas at all, and it may be irrelevant to the discussion at hand, since Republican Presidential campaigns don’t bother investing in Texas for the same reason that Democratic ones don’t – there’s no reason to. But there is a correlation between the national level and the state level, and if there are concerns about Republican turnout nationally – and there are, and they go beyond worries about campaign infrastructure – then there are concerns about it here as well, if not necessarily as great.

Which leads me to a conclusion that I’ve seen only articulated once, briefly, in the Beatty memo, which is this: It’s not crazy to think that Texas Democrats could win a statewide race or two this November.

Note that I am not talking about the Presidential race. The Beatty memo suggests that the Railroad Commissioner’s race could go either way, as nobody knows who the candidates are. I’m thinking more about the races for Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, for which the Dems have a full slate of candidates. The same argument about nobody knowing who the candidates are holds, but there’s also the numbers, for all of these races.

Look at it this way: A six-point Trump win in Texas, which is consistent with that PPP poll, translates to roughly a 400,000-vote margin for Trump. To pick some numbers out of the sky, a victory by Trump of 4,000,000 votes to 3,600,000 votes – a drop of about 12.5% for Trump from Mitt Romney’s 2012 total, with an increase of about nine percent for Hillary Clinton over President Obama in 2012 – would translate to 52.6% for Trump to 47.4% for Clinton in a two-person race. That’s a little less than six percent, but grant me that much optimism. (For the record, 4.1 million votes for Trump to 3.6 million for Clinton would be 53.2% to 46.8%, or a 6.4 point difference, so assume we’re somewhere in the middle if you want.) All disclaimers aside, I think we can all agree that as things stand today, a result like this is in the ballpark.

Now here’s the thing: There’s always some level of dropoff from the Presidential level to the downballot level. In the three most recent Presidential elections, there has been much more dropoff on the Republican side than on the Democratic side.


2004

Bush -  4,526,917
Kerry - 2,832,704

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Carrillo      3,891,482   635,435    14.0%
Brister       4,093,854   433,063     9.6%
Keasler       3,990,315   536,602    11.9%

Scarborough   2,872,717       N/A      N/A
Van Os        2,817,700    15,004     0.5%
Molina        2,906,720       N/A      N/A


2008

McCain - 4,479,328
Obama  - 3,528,633

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Williams      4,003,789   475,539    10.6%
Jefferson     4,092,181   387,147     8.6%
Wainwright    3,926,015   553,313    12.4%
Johnson       4,018,396   460,932    10.3%
Price         3,948,722   530,606    11.8%

Thompson      3,406,174   122,459     3.5%
Jordan        3,374,433   154,200     4.4%
Houston       3,525,141     3,492     0.0%
Yanez         3,428,179   100,454     2.8%
Strawn        3,482,718    45,915     1.3%


2012

Romney - 4,569,843
Obama  - 3,308,124

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Craddick      4,336,499    233,344    5.1%
Hecht         4,127,493    442,350    9.7%
Keller        4,257,024    312,819    6.8%

Henry         3,057,733    250,391    7.6%
Petty         3,219,948     88,176    2.7%
Hampton       3,163,825    144,299    4.4%

Republicans did better in 2012 than in 2008, to which I attribute greater enthusiasm on their part, which led to more straight-ticket and general downballot voting. They obviously had a lot of enthusiasm in 2004, but they also had some crossover votes at the Presidential level, as well as (I believe) a decent number of people who turned out just to vote for President. Dems, on the other hand, had less dropoff in every race except one, and in most cases the difference between R dropoff and D dropoff was large. I attribute that in one part to good messaging about straight-ticket voting, especially in 2008, and one part being that if you bothered to show up and vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate in Texas, you were probably pretty committed to the party as a whole.

I think this year combines the lack of enthusiasm on the Republican side that we saw in 2008, plus the possibility of people showing up to just vote for Trump and nobody else, like in 2004. Against that, some number of people who normally vote for Republican Presidential candidates will do something else in that race this year, then vote normally after that. Put it all together, and I think the likelihood of Republican dropoff in the 2004 and 2008 ranges is a reasonably likely outcome this year.

If that is the case, and if we are indeed headed for a Presidential race with roughly a six-point differential between Trump and Clinton, then the math is clear. Four million less ten percent is 3.6 million, or what I’m projecting Clinton to get. Sure, there will be some Democratic dropoff as well, but you could have 11 or 12 percent loss on the R side, with only one percent or so for a given D. That will vary from candidate to candidate for reasons none of us can predict or will understand, but that’s my whole point: Under these conditions, we’re basically at a coin toss for downballot statewide races. And if that happens, we could see one or more Democrats squeak past their opponents and win their races. Looking at the numbers for the two most recent elections above, Sam Houston and Susan Strawn would have won in this environment, with Mark Thompson, Linda Yanez, and Michelle Petty (2012) falling just short. All they needed was for the Presidential race to have been sufficiently close.

Now as always, this comes with a pile of caveats – the election is still three months away, this is based on one poll, even a seven or eight point lead for Trump would almost certainly render all this moot, there could be a whole lot of Johnson-plus-downballot-GOP voters, etc etc etc. I’m absolutely not saying this will happen, nor am I saying it is likely to happen. I am saying it is possible, and conditions could become better for it rather than worse. I wouldn’t have said this a month ago, and the next poll result may make me want to throw this whole post into the trash, but my original statement stands: As things look right now, it’s not crazy to consider the possibility that at least one downballot statewide Democrat could win this fall.

So now that we’ve had this thought, what are we going to do about it? I’ll address that in the next post.

Ken who?

State Republican leaders don’t have much to say about our allegedly felonious Attorney General.

Ken Paxton

Texas’ Republican leaders Sunday continued their radio silence on the indictment of Attorney General Ken Paxton on three felony fraud charges.

Paxton, who was elected as part of a conservative GOP sweep that put Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick into office, will reportedly surrender to authorities Monday in North Texas on felony charges stemming from an alleged investment scheme into the McKinney-based technology company Servergy, as well as his failure to register as an investment advisor representative with the state.

Republicans’ silence comes in stark contrast to the support that followed then-Gov. Rick Perry when he was indicted on felony charges last year. Party leaders were quick to publicly decry those charges as politically motivated and insist Perry would prevail.

Paxton’s indictment could spell trouble for the state’s GOP leadership – generally with voters who may see it as symptomatic of ethics problems in Austin, and even among the conservative grassroots groups that helped elect Paxton but insist that elected officials should be squeaky clean.

Democrats and government-watchdog groups continue to blast the indictment Sunday as high-lighting cronyism among the state GOP leaders. Several called for his resignation.

Neither Abbott nor Patrick, who both championed ethics during the campaign and in the legislative session earlier this year, has commented on Paxton’s predicament.

[…]

The Texas Republican Party did not return calls and emails seeking comment since the news broke Saturday. Other Paxton supporters, including state legislators who count the same conservative groups among their supporters, remained silent over the weekend.

Calls to a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were not returned Sunday.

But they have not always been so silent. During last year’s campaign, an array of GOP luminaries from Abbott to Cruz, now a presidential contender, were effusive in their praise for Paxton even after he admitted and was punished for violating state securities.

Cruz, a star among Christian conservatives and tea party activists, referred to Paxton as “a good friend” at campaign rallies and cited Paxton’s support of straight-line conservative causes from opposing Obamacare and federal overreach to support of voter ID and more border security.

“You’re a good, strong conservative leader,” Cruz said of Paxton in one speech.

Paxton, in return, ran heavily on Cruz’s support, a key proof of his conservative bona fides that some political observers said helped him clinch a victory in the GOP primaries against Rep. Dan Branch, a favorite among establishment Republicans.

Privately, some Austin insiders said the issue was Paxton’s to address. Since it did not involve allegations of wrongdoing in his role as a state official, and because the case involved private business dealings, they said state business was not involved.

No doubt, this is going to cause heartburn for some people, from Cruz to Abbott to Dan Patrick and on down. That will be one of the fun parts about this saga. It’s not like no one could have seen this coming – Dan Branch and Sam Houston both made an issue of it in the elections last year. There were enough voters who cared more about Paxton’s stances on social issues than his integrity or capability, and so here we are. Still, let’s not forget how much better we could have done in this department.

Paxton’s Democratic opponent from 2014, attorney Sam Houston, said when the November election rolled around there was a cloud of controversy hanging over the Republican nominee. By then, Paxton had already easily defeated state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who had made Paxton’s alleged ethical lapses the centerpiece of his primary runoff.

“Dan Branch and I both talked about a pattern in the election. So I don’t think this is anything surprising or new,” Houston said. “I hate to say I told you so because that doesn’t make me feel better, but we were saying that it was likely that once he was elected that he could be indicted and sure enough, it’s happened. It’s just been even more counts than I even thought would happen.”

[…]

As word of the indictment spread, it was Tea Party activists who were the most willing to speak out about it. Writing for Empower Texans, an influential conservative group, its general counsel Tony McDonald questioned whether the investigations of Paxton had ties to the leadership of House Speaker Joe Straus.

Saying House leaders’ “motives are obvious,” McDonald wrote hours before word of the indictment spread: “Paxton rose to statewide prominence when he challenged Straus for the speakership in 2011. Further, the three are still stinging from Paxton’s defeat of their ally and Straus’s boyhood friend, Dan Branch, in the 2014 primary for Attorney General.”

Those voters who have sided with Paxton through the controversy, [SMU poli sci prof Cal] Jillson said, need to “blink hard twice and ask themselves what they were thinking.”

Some conservatives are taking a less defensive approach to Paxton’s legal troubles, though. North Texas Tea Party activist Mike Openshaw wrote on Facebook that Paxton should “step aside” if the reports about his indictment were true.

“Texas conservatives need to maintain a higher standard,” Openshaw wrote. “We aren’t Democrats.”

Yeah, we Democrats knew he was a crook a long time ago. Welcome to the table, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for your colleagues to come along with you. They’re all doing their best to pretend nothing has happened.

“Judge [George] Gallagher has specifically instructed both parties to refrain from public comment on this matter, and we are honoring the judge’s instructions,” Paxton attorney Joe Kendall, a former federal judge, said in a statement.

It was a far cry from the full-throated and indignant denials of other Texas leaders who have — on not entirely rare occasions — found themselves indicted. And it indicated that the state’s top law enforcement official is facing months, if not years, of his office and his stature being diminished under the weight of criminal charges.

“His situation is darkened,” said Republican political consultant Bill Miller.

The difficulties of Paxton’s defense are already stacking up: The investigation was run by the Texas Rangers; a hometown Collin County grand jury indicted him; and the charges spring from his questionable involvement in troubled financial deals, Miller said.

Paxton is accused of encouraging investors in 2011 to put more than $600,000 into a McKinney-based technology company, Servergy Inc. He is charged with failing to disclose to investors that he was making a commission on their investment. And he is alleged to have misrepresented himself as an investor in the company.

In the wake of the allegations has come a deafening silence from Republican colleagues.

“That’s the loudest noise in the room,” Miller said.

“The Democrats will yell for his resignation, and the Republicans will be silent,” he said. “However it’s resolved, he’s seriously wounded.”

They may have to say something now that Paxton has turned himself in for booking and a spectacularly ugly mugshot – seriously, where was Rick Perry’s stylist when Paxton needed him? The state Republican Party did issue a a perfunctorily snotty statement reminding us that even someone like Ken Paxton is innocent until proven guilty (and not subsequently cut loose by the Court of Criminal Appeals). Here’s one reason why at least some Republicans may not be out there standing by him: At least one, Rep. Byron Cook, is a complainant. Awkward! Several other Republicans lost money in a deal involving Paxton as well, though I don’t know if that one is part of the charges against him. Point being, as this is about money and not politics, the lines could get just a little blurry. Settle in and enjoy the ride going forward. Newsdesk, BOR, Hair Balls, Paradise in Hell, Texas Leftist, Trail Blazers, the Lone Star Project, the Observer, the full-of-ennui Burkablog, the Trib, and the Current have more.

UPDATE: Here’s the Republican Party of Texas’ statement on Paxton’s indictment. I did mention that they put out a statement in my writeup above, but there’s a pull quote from a story earlier in the cycle when they hadn’t yet put a statement out, so I’m putting this here for clarity.

Chron overview of the AG race

Couple of interesting tidbits in here.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

A tea party darling with a dozen years in the state Legislature, Sen. Ken Paxton has avoided the media since admitting to a third-degree felony violation of state securities law in late April. Spokesman Anthony Holm serves as his gatekeeper – even once physically blocking a reporter from approaching the candidate – while Paxton refuses to release his public schedule or meet with newspaper editorial boards.

The McKinney Republican refused multiple interview requests for this story.

Democratic opponent Sam Houston is Paxton’s foil in almost every way. So eager to garner media attention and sow unease about his opponent’s past, the Houston lawyer holds press conferences with few or no attendees. He has never held office, though he came closer than anyone expected in a recent bid for the Texas Supreme Court, and only jumped in the attorney general’s race after finding that no other Democrat intended to enter.

The importance of the position cannot be oversold. The attorney general decides what legal battles to wage on behalf of the state, and what information should and can be released to the public by government officials and agencies. This year, Abbott steered the debate over abortion, gay marriage, voter identification and the disclosure of dangerous chemical information. His successor will help determine the future of public school funding and much more.

Paxton has said he would take up Abbott’s mantle to act as a bulwark between Texas and “federal encroachment.” Houston views the office differently. In an interview with the Chronicle, he said he disagreed with many of Abbott’s decisions, but none more than his repeated lawsuits against the federal government: “A lawsuit ought to be your very last resort, and it shouldn’t be a campaign slogan. It doesn’t do any dang good.”

Both men recognize the attorney general’s duty is to the law, but Houston said the office should be an advocate for the entire state and “not just certain interests.”

“I think there might be situations when you say, ‘the state’s acting unconstitutionally. Well, I’m going to take my role as a public official and I’m not going to defend that,'” said Houston. He called Abbott’s insistence that he can’t settle the state’s school finance lawsuit “a cop out,” and said as attorney general he would work on a settlement.

After 12 years in the Legislature, Paxton consistently is described by his Senate and former House colleagues as a soft-spoken, introspective lawmaker, a quiet ideologue. Never a bomb-thrower, he gained notoriety by remaining cordial with his colleagues while challenging moderate Republicans on policy and leadership. He is heavily endorsed by tea party groups and backed by divisive figures like conservative powerbroker Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose Empower Texans PAC helped give Paxton the financial upper hand against Houston by lending his campaign more than $1 million.

[…]

In his early years in the Legislature, Paxton spoke up on education and transparency issues, complaining in 2005 he had been “inundated by government lobbyists” during the session. He opposed tax increases, voted against equal pay efforts and co-sponsored Texas’ 2011 voter identification bill, which a federal judge ruled unconstitutional last week. He has been a leader on anti-abortion legislation, including the state’s pre-abortion sonogram requirement. He voted for requiring drug testing for welfare recipients and was one of only four senators to vote against the 2013 state budget that funneled billions back into public school funding “because it was too big.”

[…]

Paxton consistently is popular with tea party Republicans, but not with more moderate members of his party. Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas and a Branch supporter in the runoff, has thrown his support behind him despite concerns with Paxton’s media strategy and his refusal to debate his opponent. Bob Deuell, another long-time moderate Republican senator ousted by a tea partyer this year, said he could not support Paxton: “I’m just probably not going to vote in that race.”

“He’s not going to stick his neck out on any issues,” Deuell said. “But I don’t lose any sleep about him being attorney general. The world’s not going to come to an end.”

Deuell is a moderate in the same way that I’m an anarcho-syndicalist, but never mind that for now. Most of what’s in this section isn’t new, but it’s good to have a reminder that 1) the AG office is really important, 2) Ken Paxton is fully aware that he’s in deep doo-doo, no matter how hard is poor overworked spokesperson has to issue the same stale denials, and 3) Paxton is a stone ideologue who will continue Greg Abbott’s practice of representing the interests of the Republican Party over everyone else’s, regardless of the cost, correctness, or likelihood of success. I hope Bob Deuell has a lot of company here, because we’re going to need it to get Sam Houston elected.

Speaking of, here’s the smaller section of the story about Sam Houston:

Sam Houston’s name is certainly memorable, but it is not the one he claimed at birth. He was born Samuel Jones in Colorado City in 1963. His parents divorced soon after, and his father disappeared when he was a toddler, Houston said. His mother remarried and he took on his stepfather’s notable moniker.

The grandson of farmers and ranchers, Houston grew up working in his family’s auto shop. He first left the sleepy west Texas town to attend the University of Texas at Austin, after which he proceeded to Baylor for law school. He and Paxton overlapped by one year there, but their paths never crossed.

Houston married his college sweetheart soon after the two moved to Houston in the mid-1980s. But by 1993, she had developed colon cancer and died three years later. Houston said he spiraled emotionally, culminating in a 1997 arrest for driving while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty, served six months probation.

It was meeting and marrying his second wife that likely ended the cycle, Houston said: “I had a couple of really hard years. … I can say Jantha probably pulled me out of it, to be honest with you.”

I must say, I knew none of that before reading this story. That doesn’t happen to me very often these days. It would have been interesting to have seen how some of this information might have been conveyed and received if Ken Paxton had run an actual campaign instead of hiding under a rock. Too bad for him that being out in public and actually talking about things was a risk he couldn’t bear. The Trib, which covered a lot of the same ground as the Chron but with more of a focus on Houston’s campaign and Paxton’s non-campaign, and Texas Politics have more.

Endorsement watch: Sweep for Sam Houston

The Houston Chronicle endorses Sam Houston, completing a sweep of the big papers for the Democratic candidate for Attorney General.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

Democratic candidate Sam Houston is the best choice on the ballot. A graduate of Baylor Law School and candidate for Texas Supreme Court in 2008, Houston is more than just a famous name (though it certainly doesn’t hurt). Houston, 51, is board certified in civil trial advocacy and has 26 years experience as a Houston-based litigator, practicing civil law at the state and federal level. With executive experience managing his law firm, Houston will bring the attitude of an attorney over that of a politician.

Meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Houston said that he would rely more on mediation than politically charged proactive lawsuits. That strategy may not make headlines, but it stands to save taxpayer dollars while getting good results for Texas.

This balanced, professional attitude should help win over some traditionally Republican voters, who find themselves with a troubling candidate.

State Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, puts forth the persona of a Sunday school teacher but has a history of lawbreaking and questionable business practices that should disqualify him in the minds of Texans.

They go on to make as thorough an accounting of Paxton’s sins as you’ll see. I expected Houston to sweep the endorsements from the beginning, on the grounds that editorial boards tend to not like lawbreakers, but it’s still good to see it happen. I’ll be interested to see how the smaller papers, especially those in deep red areas like Lubbock or Midland, handle this. They tend to endorse later, since they have fewer candidates to consider. Ideology is the only argument Ken Paxton has. We’ll see how far it gets him in places that would otherwise be his breadbasket.

Speaking of ideology and candidates that deserve all of the endorsements, the Statesman gave their nod to Leticia Van de Putte for Lite Gov.

In the contest for lieutenant governor between Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio and Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, the question voters should ask is whether they want a Texas Senate capable of governing, or a Senate that risks devolving into Washington-style gridlock. We favor a functional Senate and urge voters to support Van de Putte.

Elected to the Texas House in 1990 and the Texas Senate in 1999, Van de Putte, 59, a pharmacist by training, possesses a deep knowledge of state government and owns a successful legislative record. Throughout her political career, she has fought for public and higher education, women’s health care, equal pay for women and programs to help veterans and military families. She’s widely respected and liked by her colleagues.

As a candidate for lieutenant governor, she has called for funding all-day pre-kindergarten and reducing standardized testing. She supports the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And as the daughter of a Latino family that has been in Texas for generations, Van de Putte has a perspective on immigration and border security that is grounded in reality and possibility, not divisive rhetoric like Patrick’s.

Granted, Van de Putte, if elected, will be called on to lead a conservative Texas Senate disinclined to follow a Democrat, but her career has been distinguished by an ability to work with senators on all sides of a debate. We’re confident she can forge coalitions and find common paths forward to meet the state’s education, health care, infrastructure and other priorities and needs.

Where Van de Putte knows how to reach across the aisle, the confrontational Patrick, 64, shows more interest in using his conservative majority to dominate, bully and ram through legislation than in seeking bipartisan consensus.

That would be the choice, all right. Patrick doesn’t have Paxton’s ethical issues, but he has enough other baggage to weigh down a 747. Editorial boards don’t like crooks, and they also generally don’t like obnoxious ideologues, especially when there’s a viable alternative. That isn’t quite as reliable an indicator – see the Chronicle’s regrettable endorsement of Ted Cruz in 2012 on the laughable grounds that he couldn’t possibly have meant all those crazy things he’d been saying on the campaign trail – but it’s still a pretty good bet. The Chron seems to have absorbed that lesson since they endorsed Van de Putte earlier, and it’s my expectation that the other papers will follow. We’ll see.

Endorsement watch: State Reps and Sam Houston

The Chron made its State House endorsements in two parts. The highlight from Part One was a couple of key races.

Susan Criss

Susan Criss

District 23: Susan Criss

In one of the few competitive contests, Democrat Susan Criss and Republican Wayne Faircloth are battling to replace retiring Democratic state Rep. Craig Eiland in a district that includes all of Galveston County and part of Chambers County. Criss, a former judge and prosecutor, is supported by trial lawyers, while Faircloth, an insurance agent, is backed by insurance companies, who are not much loved in a region that had problems with them following Hurricane Ike in 2008. Faircloth’s campaign comes right out of the Republican textbook – less regulation and secure the border. Criss, 53, wants to restore all education funding cut in 2011’s budget crunch so that public school students are not short-changed. She says big corporations must pay their fair share of taxes so average people don’t have to pay more. She wants the proposed “Ike Dike” to protect against future storms so people won’t lose their homes again. And she wants insurance companies to treat people fairly. We agree, so we endorse Susan Criss for District 23.

District 149: Hubert Vo

Another of the rare competitive races pits longtime state Rep. Hubert Vo against Republican Al Hoang, 38, in a battle between two Vietnamese immigrants who share a culture but not political philosophies. Vo, 58, is a moderate Democrat who concentrates on bread-and-butter issues while Hoang, a former Houston city councilman, tends to echo conservative bromides. Hoang says he reflects the true values of the Vietnamese community, which makes up about 20 percent of the district that stretches from Alief to the Energy Corridor on Interstate 10. The low-key Vo has a list of modest accomplishments, including creation of the International Management District and sponsoring legislation that helped bring private space company SpaceX to Texas. He is a strong supporter of public education and wants the state to accept the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act. Buried in Hoang’s rhetoric about abortion, the death penalty and other red meat issues are a few good ideas. But the Legislature has enough members who think pushing hot political buttons is good policy, so we endorse Hubert Vo for a sixth term.

Wise choices if you ask me, obviously. Susan Criss also picked up an endorsement from Texas Parent PAC, which ought to help. The main thing that will help here is elevated turnout, to overcome the red lean of the district. My interview with Susan Criss is here in case you missed it. By the way, it was interesting to see the Chron venture outside Harris County, making recommendations in Galveston, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. I couldn’t swear to this, but my recollection is that this has not been their usual habit. Am I wrong about that?

Round Two was mostly about races featuring incumbents, all here in Harris and all but two getting the Chron’s nod. Those two races, plus one of the open seat races of interest:

District 132: Mike Schofield

Republican lawyer Mike Schofield, 50, handled legislative matters for Rick Perry for six sessions, which gives him an understanding of the lawmaking process that Democrat Luis Lopez does not have. Lopez, 25, has a compelling story: He came from Mexico as a child and has gone on to become a citizen, accountant and business owner. But Schofield can more immediately help the far west Houston district that includes Katy and the Cy-Fair area deal with the explosive growth expected there, so we endorse him.

District 135: No endorsement

As Republican incumbent Gary Elkins tells it, his biggest accomplishment during 20 years in the Legislature was the elimination of slower speed limits at night. His other unfortunate claim to fame was in 2011 when he disgraced the House by defending the payday lending business against state regulation in a massive conflict of interest – he himself owns payday lender businesses.

Elkins, 59, told us he will fight against overregulation, but couldn’t give any specifics. He couldn’t remember how many bills he filed last session or the details of a key constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot. Yet, this hapless spouter of Republican clichés keeps getting re-elected in the northwest suburban district that includes Jersey Village and the Cy-Fair area. His opponent, Democrat Moiz Abbas, 60, is a good guy and smart, but we haven’t seen much of a campaign, so we’ll make no endorsement.

District 150: Amy Perez

Incumbent Debbie Riddle, 65, is seeking a seventh term in the House where she is a dependable conservative vote with a bad habit of sticking her foot in her mouth. She is best known for her absurd – and telling – rant that free education “comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.” She also flamed out on CNN claiming “terror babies” were being born in the U.S. In contrast, Democrat Amy Perez is a history teacher in a local district and dedicated to public education and fully knows its problems. Once, she won teacher of the year in a local district, then got laid off because funds for social studies ran out. Perez, 29, has no political experience, but is super smart and might teach the Legislature something about education. In the district that goes from the Woodlands south to FM 1960 and includes Spring, it’s time for a change. We endorse Amy Perez.

Endorsing opponents to The Riddler is old hat for the Chron by now. She is the worst, after all. Here’s a brief Q&A from a neighborhood paper with Perez and Riddle if you want to know more. Elkins is right up there – or down there, I suppose – with Riddle, and he’s in a district that has a chance of being competitive before the next round of redistricting. Not really sure what their hangup was with Moiz Abbas, but whatever. As for HD132, another district that is trending the right way, I’d say that assuming Mike Scofield will use that experience he has to actually help his district may be assuming facts not in evidence.

Moving elsewhere, Sam Houston gets two more endorsements. Here’s the DMN:

Serious legal issues dogging Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton should rule him out for consideration to be the next attorney general of Texas. It’s fortunate for voters that there’s a solid alternative in a Houston attorney whose name isn’t easy to forget.

Career litigator Sam Houston, a Democrat, is making his second run for office, having been on the ballot in 2008 in an unsuccessful run for the Supreme Court of Texas.

This newspaper recommended Houston for office then and recommends him now, on the strength of his legal experience and ideas for the office.

Paxton’s impaired candidacy stems from his written admission that he broke state law by failing to register with the State Securities Board even though he solicited paying clients for a financial services firm that paid him a 30 percent cut. It wasn’t a one-time slipup on Paxton’s part. The Securities Board’s civil complaint against him cites solicitations from 2004, 2005 and 2012.

As if to make the situation vanish, Paxton, 51, a veteran lawmaker from McKinney, declined to contest the disciplinary order and paid a $1,000 fine in May. But the matter lives on. A complaint has been filed with the Travis County district attorney’s office, which has postponed any decision on taking the matter to a grand jury until after the election. That raises the possibility of felony charges against a sitting attorney general, the state’s chief law enforcement officer. Voters should not invite that kind of embarrassment for Texas.

And here’s the Express News:

We strongly urge Texans to elect Democrat Sam Houston, a native of Colorado City who has practiced law in Houston for 26 years.

Houston faces Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton, a McKinney lawyer. The Express-News reported that Paxton “admitted in May to referring clients to a North Texas investment firm without registering with state authorities as required by law. The Texas State Securities Board reprimanded Paxton and fined him $1,000, concluding that he violated state securities law in 2004, 2005 and 2012.”

The episode was a dominant theme for Paxton’s GOP primary runoff opponent and is being emphasized by Democrats this fall. A watchdog group filed a complaint with the Travis County district attorney’s office. Travis County prosecutors wisely will not consider the complaint prior to the Nov. 4 election.

Whether the issue results in a criminal investigation or not, the case raises disturbing ethical questions about Paxton. We believe voters should take this blemish on Paxton’s record seriously as they consider who should be the state’s top lawyer.

At this point we’re just waiting for the Chron to make it a clean sweep. They should have a pretty good idea of what the arguments are by now.

Endorsement watch: Probate courts

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

Jerry Simoneaux

Harris County Probate Court No. 3: Jerry Simoneaux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paxton should know better.

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

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

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

Other AGs for same sex marriage

Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone like one of these 15 Attorneys General representing Texas?

RedEquality

A majority of the states that have legalized same-sex marriage are throwing their support behind two couples fighting Texas’ ban, arguing their own experiences show only positive effects from expanding the right to gays and lesbians.

[Last] Monday, the attorneys general of 15 states and the District of Columbia filed a “friend of the court,” or amicus, brief supporting the couples’ case pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Writing for the group, counsel for Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley asserts that denying lesbians and gays the right to marry could have harmful effects.

“The continued exclusion of same-sex couples (many of them parents) from the institution of marriage actually serves to harm adults, children and the broader community,” wrote Boston-based attorney Jonathan B. Miller. “This is a case where the exclusion of same-sex couples … irrationally undermines important governmental interests.”

Miller goes on to argue that marriage – whether between a man and a woman or same-sex partners – preserves public order, promotes stable family bonds and ensures economic security.

More family units mean more opportunities for adoption, while expanding marriage rights also benefits the physical and psychological health and economic prosperity of same-sex partners, he wrote.

Drawing from their own experiences, the brief says these 15 states and D.C. “have seen only benefits from marriage equality” and calls Texas’ continued ban “alarmism that is unfounded.”

Our own Attorney General, who will no doubt claim he’s under attack by these amicus briefs and thus the real victim here, is of course opposed to marriage equality and is kind of a jerk about it. It doesn’t have to be like this, and in fact we can change course next month. Democrat Sam Houston is on record saying he would not pursue further appeals of the earlier federal court decision that threw out Texas’ ban against same sex marriage. He said as much in the interview I did with him. Go listen to it, as Lone Star Q did, and hear for yourself.

And with the action by the Supreme Court letting rulings striking down laws against same sex marriage stand in three other circuits, the Fifth Circuit appeal takes on greater significance.

By refusing to hear same-sex marriage appeals from five states that had banned such unions, the U.S. Supreme Court may have set the stage for using Texas’ prohibition as the basis of a future landmark ruling.

[…]

“If the 5th Circuit decides to uphold the ban, there’s a very strong possibility that the Texas case could be a landmark (Supreme Court ruling) two years from now,” said Cary Franklin, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin.

An upholding of Texas’ ban of same-sex marriage would create disagreement among the federal circuit courts, which have so far been in unison of their support of overturning such bans. In such a circumstance, the Supreme Court might be more likely to step in.

Monday’s action “signals, I hope, the direction the court is going,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the ACLU of Texas. “It’s hard not to look at this optimistically.”

The state’s reply brief to the plaintiffs is due October 10. We are still waiting for the Fifth Circuit to set a date for oral arguments, but the good news is that they have now agreed to fast track the case. One hopes this time Abbott’s office can turn in its homework on time and not drag its feet. It’s generally wise to expect the worst from the Fifth Circuit, but this is one of those times where it’s reasonable to hope for something better. I look forward to this getting finished.

Of interest will be how the Fifth Circuit interprets the non-action by SCOTUS. Lyle Denniston prognosticates:

Third, four other circuits — the Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Eleventh — are currently considering the constitutionality of same-sex marriages. Of those, the Ninth Circuit — which had earlier struck down California’s famous “Proposition 8″ ban and uses a very rigorous test of laws against gay equality — is considered most likely to strike down state bans. If that happens, it would add five more states to the marriages-allowed column (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada), which would bring the national total to thirty-five.

The reaction in those four circuits could depend upon how they interpret what the Supreme Court did on Monday.

If the Court is not likely to uphold any state ban, either on same-sex marriage in the first place or recognition of existing such marriage, lower courts may see good reason to fall in line. The Court’s actions, however, do not set any precedent, so lower courts are technically free to go ahead and decide as they otherwise would.

If they interpret the denials of review as providing no guidance whatsoever, then they would feel free to proceed without reading anything into what the Court has in mind.

It is very hard, however, to interpret the Justices’ actions as having no meaning. Here are the reasons why the denial orders were such a surprise:

Go read the rest. As if on cue, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court ruling that struck down bans in Idaho and Nevada. Emily Badger thinks that the Supremes have basically already had their say in the Windsor decision, which has been the guidepost for the lower courts so far, but Dahlia Lithwick strongly believes SCOTUS still needs to explicitly call same sex marriage bans discrimination before it can say it has concluded its business. Either the Fifth Circuit or the Sixth Circuit might go their own way and uphold the bans, which would force SCOTUS to act sooner rather than later. And as Philip Bump reminds us, South Carolina and Alabama both lad laws banning miscegenation on their books until 1998 and 2000, over 30 years after the Loving decision rendered them unenforceable. So yeah, we are not done here yet. Lord knows, the forces against progress aren’t done; as Ed Kilgore notes, they’re already retuning their dog whistles. There’s a lot more of this story to be told. Hair Balls has more.

Gov debate II: That’s more like it

The second Governor’s debate was a lively affair.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has mostly avoided direct confrontation with his opponent in the race for Texas governor, took a hard swing at Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis over her ethics as a lawmaker in a televised debate Tuesday night.

And she let him have it right back.

While clashing over tax incentives doled out at both the state and local levels, Abbott accused Davis of using her role as a Fort Worth city councilwoman to pad her own pocketbook. Specifically, he said she made money on an economic development deal involving the sporting goods store Cabela’s, because her title company got a piece of the action during a time that she was serving on the council.

That exchange in the second half of the hour-long discussion was easily the most heated moment the two have shared in either of the two statewide debates, and it represented a far more personal and hands-on attack from Abbott, who has generally left the campaign dirty work to surrogates.

“When you used those incentive funds to attract Cabela, and then closed the deal, it was your title company that benefited by closing that deal,” he said. “So you personally profited. You were able to use your title company …”

He never got to finish his sentence. Davis, in keeping with her aggressive posture from the last debate, cut Abbott off and stopped just short of calling him a liar.

“Mr. Abbott, you are not telling the truth right now, and you know you are not telling the truth. I did not personally profit from that,” she said.

Then Davis pivoted to the latest controversy involving incentives at the state level — contained in the bruising audit from the state’s deal-closing Texas Enterprise Fund — and revelations that much of the tax subsidies were doled out to companies with little oversight.

“You were the chief law enforcement officer over the Enterprise Fund. It was your responsibility to make sure that the tens of millions of dollars that were going to these companies were resulting in jobs, and you failed to do that,” she said.

When he was given a rebuttal opportunity, Abbott went back for more.

“I would like to respond by knowing how much your title company received by closing the Cabela’s deal that was granted an award from the Texas Enterprise Fund,” Abbott said.

Davis said the title company in question, Republic Title, which was run by her husband, “was not my title company.” She said she earned a salary that was “never depending on any deal that ever closed.” Davis finished her remarks by turning the attention back to Abbott and said he should have done more to stop misspending inside the Texas Enterprise Fund.

“Mr. Abbott, this is about your failure,” she said.

Video of the debate is here. By all accounts I’ve seen, the format was better and so was Davis’ performance than in the first debate. Here’s The Observer:

On the issues, Abbott and Davis made stark distinctions. Neither could really answer a question about how they’d fund their education plans, though Abbott at least had a dollar figure for student spending that made it appear that he had given it some thought. But Davis hit Abbott hard. It was ludicrous, she said, for Abbott to keep saying he would make Texas schools No. 1 while defending huge cuts to funding and refusing to commit to providing more resources.

“Mr. Abbott, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth,” she said. “You say you want to make Texas No. 1 in education. You cannot accomplish that goal without making the appropriate investments.”

On immigration, Abbott committed, after some pushing, to not vetoing a bill from the Legislature that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented migrants. There’s been a question about how Abbott would interact with a Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Killing in-state tuition is one of Patrick’s top priorities, and Abbott’s on board, apparently.

The Chron story also noted Abbott being in tune with Dan Patrick on this, and they included Davis’ answer in which she said she would veto such a bill. Perhaps someone ought to let the Latino voters that Abbott is trying to woo know about this. On a side note, Davis’ attacks on Abbott over his less-than-transparent actions with the Texas Enterprise Fund led to AG candidate Sam Houston pledging to make Enterprise Fund applications public if elected, as well as a hilariously over-the-top non-responsive answer to the question by his opponent, Ken Paxton. Gotta love it when candidates are in tune with each other.

Back to the Observer:

But the best part of the debate might have been the discussion over Medicaid expansion—at about 29:30 in the video above. Medicaid expansion is, quite literally, a matter of life and death, one of the most serious issues in the race. If Medicaid isn’t expanded in Texas, a quantifiable number of people will suffer and die—unnecessarily. But it hasn’t come up in the race as much as it might.

Abbott said he’d ask the feds to give Texas its Medicaid dollars as a block grant to be spent as the state sees fit, which few think is a realistic possibility. He assured listeners that he “wouldn’t bankrupt Texas” by imposing on Texas the “overwhelming Obamacare disaster.”

Davis laid out a forceful argument for Medicaid expansion. “I have to laugh when I hear Mr. Abbott talk about bankrupting Texas,” she said. “Right now Texans are sending their hard-earned tax dollars to the IRS, $100 billion of which will never come back to work for us in our state unless we bring it back. As governor, I will it bring it back. Greg Abbott’s plan is for you to send that tax money to California and New York.” Abbott’s rebuttal left Davis smiling from ear to ear. The whole fairly long exchange is worth watching.

The Observer also has video embedded, if you’d rather click over there. This was the last debate, which while a shame is at least two more than we got in 2010 and one more than in 2006. What did you think? PDiddie, Burka, Newsdesk, Campos, and Egberto Willies have more.

Interview with Sam Houston

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

As we head into the home stretch of the campaign – early voting begins in three weeks, and the deadline to be registered for this election is one week from today – we turn to the statewide candidates for the final round of interviews. I’ve said before that not only is this year’s slate of statewide Dems the strongest top to bottom that we’ve seen since 1994, this is also the weakest group of Republicans we’ve seen since at least then. Nowhere is this dichotomy clearer than in the race for Attorney General, where the Democratic candidate is the excellent Sam Houston, and the Republican hopeful is the ethically challenged and possibly future felon Ken Paxton. A native of West Texas, Sam is a well-regarded attorney in Houston. He was a candidate for State Supreme Court in 2008 and had the highest vote percentage of any statewide Democrat that year. The stark contrast between Houston and his underqualified opponent has been noticed by the press, whose attentions Paxton has been diligently ducking ever since he secured the Republican nomination. Houston has been racking up the endorsements, and should have a clean sweep when all is said and done. He’ll be a breath of fresh air and a return to the original purpose of the office of Attorney General, which at one time represented the interests of the state of Texas and not just the Republican Party. Here’s the interview:

I’ve got two more of these set to go. Let me know what you think.

A thought about the stealth campaign

Forrest Wilder writes about the un-campaigns being run by most statewide Republicans.

“Oozing charm from every pore I oiled my way around the floor”

But now comes a new twist: the art of the non-campaign. The candidate who doesn’t even bother to put on a show, doesn’t even pretend to reach the broad middle of the citizenry and instead appears behind closed doors to small groups of like-minded voters, if he or she appears in public at all.

That’s the kind of campaign that some Texas Republicans are now running, in particular Ken Paxton, who’s favored to become attorney general, and Dan Patrick, who’s the frontrunner for lieutenant governor. Their campaigns are marked by a general refusal to speak with reporters, engage with their opponents, hold press conferences, meet with newspaper editorial boards, publicly announce events in advance, or even run TV ads.

Instead, the two men are running “stealth” campaigns—as the Houston Chronicle recently put it—speaking to tea party gatherings or events closed to the press.

A talk-radio show host not known for his reticence, Patrick ran a boisterous campaign against his three rivals during the GOP lieutenant governor primary and later in a head-to-head runoff against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Now, he’s like the chupacabra: rumored but rarely seen in the flesh.

[…]

Ted Delisi, a GOP consultant quoted in the Chronicle, acknowledged that it’s “not the typical campaigning” but then implausibly tried to coin the approach as not being “covert,” but rather “the new overt.”

If anything, state Sen. Ken Paxton is even more covertly overt. Paxton is the overwhelming favorite to be the next attorney general—he faces an underfunded Democratic attorney with the somewhat helpful name Sam Houston. The highlight of Paxton’s resume so far is that he’s admitted to violating state securities law by accepting kickbacks from an investment firm without disclosing that relationship to regulators or his clients. And apparently he’s not eager to talk about it: Paxton has been almost completely AWOL.

I can find precisely one news account of a public appearance in the last month. On Sept. 8, he was the special guest of honor at a San Jacinto County Republican Party event, where he told the crowd that Obamacare would be “obliterated” if unspecified lawsuits were successful.

This isn’t news, of course. I’ve said before and I’ll say again here, Patrick and Paxton and the other Republican statewides (not counting Greg Abbott) simply aren’t interested in talking to anyone who isn’t a Republican primary voter. They don’t care about them, they’re not going to represent them, so why bother? They’ve already won the races that matter to them, the rest is a mere formality.

Again, none of this is new. But it got me to wondering: What if this lack of overt campaigning has a negative effect on turnout for Republicans?

We all know that the Democratic strategy for this year is based in large part on the unprecedented organizing efforts of Battleground Texas and other groups, with a healthy dose of energy from the Davis and Van de Putte campaigns and a general “had enough” feeling among the faithful. We also know that just as Democratic turnout had been flat for three elections running, Republican turnout had varied. In the landslide of 2010, some 500,000 Republican voters showed up that hadn’t voted in 2006; the vote total was also about 300,000 higher than it was in 2002. The big question – to me, at least – has always been “will those non-habitual 2010 voters show up again in 2014?” Clearly, if they do, then Patrick and Paxton and the rest are indeed on easy street, and they may as well start measuring the drapes and hiring staff. Polling models sure seem to think this is the case, which may be where those gaudy leads for Greg Abbott et al are coming from. Battleground Texas is doing great work, but it would take more than a miracle for Dems to be competitive if the Republican base vote is going to top three million as it did four years ago. If this is the expectation, then Patrick and Paxton’s behavior makes perfect sense even without taking into effect Patrick’s poisonous personality and Paxton’s equally toxic ethics issues.

But what if this isn’t the case? Voting tends to be a habit, which is why pollsters (among others) are so enamored with “likely” voters. Why would we assume that the first-time Republican voters of 2010 will be back for more in 2014? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some of them will. I don’t know how big a number that “some” is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be 500,000. Suppose instead that their base number is about 2.7 million, or about what they had in 2002. Now things maybe aren’t such a slam dunk for Patrick and Paxton. Let’s say the efforts of BGTX are enough to boost Democratic base turnout to 2.3 million or so, an ambitious and impressive total given the starting point, but hardly out of the question. That brings the GOP’s polling lead down to eight points – right in line with that Wendy Davis internal poll, in other words – and you can imagine the potential to peel away a few more votes from those that might find Patrick and/or Paxton unacceptable. How likely is that? I don’t know, but it’s greater than zero. It’s a very different scenario from the 2010 turnout possibility.

Now I know, turnout is mostly driven by the top of the ticket. But Greg Abbott is running a very different campaign than Rick Perry did in 2010. Where Perry was his usual swaggering self, Abbott has been trying to put a softer face on the same kind of hard-right politics. He’s all about madrinas and overcoming adversity, and has arguably spent more time wooing Democratic voters than any other bloc. That may pay off for him, but there’s no reason to believe that such a voter would continue on to vote for Patrick and Paxton and so forth. More to the point, he’s not running the kind of base-revving campaign that Perry ran in 2010, at least not visibly. There may be stuff going on covertly that I’m not tuned in to, but surely we agree that Perry 2010 and Abbott 2014 are two different beasts. I don’t know how to compare them quantitatively. Maybe they will perform about the same in the end. I just know they’re different, and I wonder what the implications are. If we’re assuming that these previously unlikely Republican voters are going to turn out in droves again this year, and we see that Abbott is running a different campaign than Rick Perry did – whether Abbott’s campaign is different because 2014 is different, or 2014 is different because Abbott’s campaign is different is a rabbit hole I don’t care to climb down – then what else might be driving these people to vote this year?

The obvious answer to that question is “President Obama”, and the Republicans’ unrelenting animosity towards him. I can’t deny the strong possibility of that, but I will offer two points. One is that when given the chance to vote against him in 2012, Republicans turned out at about the same level as they did in 2008, and 2004 for that matter. That’s a different voter universe, of course, but it at least suggests to me that there are some limits to this as a motivating factor. The other is mixed into that chicken-or-egg question I posed above, which is simply that 2014 is different than 2010. The campaigns are different, the candidates are different – remember, outside of the judicial candidates not a single Republican is running for re-election statewide, and only Greg Abbott has been on most people’s ballots before – the issues are different, the economy is in much stronger shape…you get the idea. The end result may well look the same, but right now this election doesn’t resemble 2010 at all. Why should we assume that it will?

And that’s my main point here. A lot of what we’re seeing in this campaign seems to be based on the assumption that this election will be like the 2010 election, despite all of the obvious differences. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t – maybe these differences won’t amount to much – but I’d at least like to see it acknowledged that the assumption is being made.

Paxton investigation put off till after the election

I can’t really argue with this.

Sen. Ken Paxton

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office will not pursue legal action against attorney general candidate state Sen. Ken Paxton until after the election, if at all, because of an internal policy aimed at preventing politically motivated investigations in campaign season.

The postponed timeline could be problematic for Paxton, a Republican from McKinney, regarded as the race’s front-runner. If the district attorney launches criminal proceedings after November, Paxton potentially could face a grand jury investigation in his first few months as a statewide elected official.

Gregg Cox, head of the Travis County District Attorney Office’s Public Integrity Unit that investigates cases of public corruption, would not address Paxton’s case, but said the policy is long-standing.

“That’s been the policy for many, many years and we’ve always pretty much adhered to it,” Cox said. “We get so many complaints, especially around election time.”

[…]

On Wednesday, [Democratic AG candidate Sam] Houston called again for Paxton to address the issue with the public – either in a press conference or debate – before the election.

“I am not sure why there has been no action in investigating Mr. Paxton, but justice should never be delayed,” said Houston, a Houston lawyer and former candidate for the Texas Supreme Court. “He is running for office and refuses to answer all questions at all. How can we expect him to defend Texas if he can’t defend himself?”

Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald said he did not think the policy was applicable to Paxton’s case.

“In our mind, compelling circumstances means an election in this case. He’s running to be the top law enforcement officer of this state and if he’s broken the law, people need to know before November,” said McDonald, who added the TPJ does not align itself with Houston.

“We’re disappointed that the policy is working against a Ken Paxton investigation. But, we understand that the policy is appropriate in other circumstances.”

It would have been better to get an answer to this question before the election, but I can totally see where the Public Integrity Unit is coming from. They would rather not get caught in a political crossfire, and I can’t blame them for it. Ultimately, what matters is that we get an answer one way or another. Ken Paxton, if he has any capacity for self awareness, knows if he’s truly in trouble or not, and if he had any honor and knew he was headed for a fall he’d do the right thing and withdraw from the race. Needless to say, I don’t expect him to do that. The Trib has more.

Law enforcement for same sex marriage

Bravo, y’all.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

The Democratic sheriffs of Texas’ two most populous counties have signed on with more than 60 other Texas law enforcement officials and first responders saying the state’s ban on same sex marriage not only disrespects but endangers front-line public safety officers.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia lent their names to a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court is hearing the state’s appeal of a February ruling by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia that declared Texas’ ban against gay marriage as unconstitutional.

Also filing briefs in support of the same-sex couple plaintiffs by Tuesday night’s deadline were 200 clergy members, including Episcopal Bishop Scott Mayer of a diocese covering the Panhandle, Lubbock and Abilene; major corporations, including Cisco, Alcoa, Pfizer, Target, Intel, Google and Staples; and about 10 other groups.

Last month, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick and GOP attorney general nominee Ken Paxton joined 61 legislative colleagues in signing a Texas Conservative Coalition brief that it was “entirely rational public policy” to oppose dissolving the gay marriage ban because recognition of same sex unions might lead to recognition of incest, pedophilia and polygamy.

Democrats Valdez and Garcia joined a brief by active and retired Texas police, prison security personnel, firefighters and paramedics saying the ban denies “peace of mind” and dignity to gay and lesbian public safety officers.

Their partners can’t qualify for the state’s $250,000 death benefits for police and firefighters who die in the line of duty. Nor can their children receive free tuition and fees at state colleges and universities, as the children of heterosexual officers do after such tragedies. Only in late July, after an action by the U.S. Department of Justice, did Texas public safety officers who are gay and lesbian gain the ability for their partners to qualify for federal death benefits of more than $333,000, the brief said. But they still have to travel to a state that allows gay marriage and get married there, it said — something straight couples don’t have to do.

If gay and lesbian public safety officers in Texas remain in the closet, the brief notes, their partners may not be notified if there is a medical emergency. More ominously, it says, the state’s discrimination may permeate police and fire departments and emergency services districts and convey a message that the gay and lesbian employees “do not deserve the same degree of respect and dignity as their heterosexual colleagues.” That could lead to concerns about “whether their heterosexual colleagues would provide backup in dangerous situations,” the brief warns.

“In sum, the ability of a gay and lesbian officer to marry would not only allow them to be treated equally with their peers, … but would also ensure them the peace of mind of knowing that the person they love will be cared for if they are killed in the line of duty,” it said.

A copy of the brief is here. We’re still waiting for the Fifth Circuit to schedule a hearing, after Greg Abbott files another silly response to the plaintiffs’ response to him. A better man than Greg Abbott would have recognized how wrong-headed his arguments were and how consistently the courts have rejected them and saved the state some money and a lot of deserving people a lot of inconvenience and uncertainty, but unfortunately he’s what we’re stuck with. We could really use a better Attorney General than the one we have and the one we’ll get if we don’t get out and vote in November. The Trib and Unfair Park have more.

Endorsement watch: One for Steve Brown

The Express News makes a nice call.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: First of many for Sam Houston

The Statesman gets an early start on endorsement season.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

A famous name can be a mixed blessing in politics. Sam Houston, the Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general, has persuaded us that he is more than just a name, and he is the best person in the race to succeed current Attorney General Greg Abbott.

[…]

Houston is clear about the direction that he would take the attorney general’s office, returning its focus to legal matters of the state rather than tilting at windmills by filing lawsuits against federal government agencies. He takes the position of the state’s defender seriously but suggests that there are other tools to be used rather than expensive lawsuits that take resources from the office’s other functions.

“It’s the job of the AG to define what is in the best interest of Texans, and I intend to return the office to that purpose,” he said.

Houston would bring a fresh eye to an office that in our estimation has strayed from its primary functions. In addition to being the state’s primary legal officer, the attorney general is charged with investigating Medicaid fraud, issuing open records rulings, collecting child support, upholding consumer protection statutes and prosecuting white-collar crime.

[…]

In the time since [Ken] Paxton’s last visit, troubling reports of ethics violations have come to light, including a pending complaint with the state’s Public Integrity Unit and the State Bar of Texas that Paxton violated conflict-of-interest rules when he failed to register as an investment adviser representative.

Paxton accepted a reprimand and $1,000 fine from the State Securities Board in May for soliciting clients for a Texas investment firm without registering, as required by state law, and without disclosing that he would receive 30 percent of management fees.

He and his campaign have said that it was an oversight, despite the fact that Paxton voted to approve and clarify the state law as a state representative. And the complaints raise the specter of the state’s top attorney facing a possible grand jury investigation and indictment while attempting to carry out the duties of the office. This is unacceptable.

Even without the legal concerns, it would be difficult to endorse Paxton. He appears ready to use the office to fight the battles of national politics at the expense of concerns of the state. His rhetoric about protection of freedoms — state’s rights, reproductive rights and religious freedom — appear to be only applicable to those whom he agrees with.

Note that Paxton declined to meet with the Statesman’s board for this endorsement interview, though he did so during the primary campaign. That will almost certainly be the norm among the top GOP candidates, and as I’ve said before, it’s because they believe they’ve already talked to all the voters they care about. That’s one reason why I expect Dems to do very well in newspaper endorsements this year, for whatever value that brings. I have a hard time imagining any non-ideological reason for any paper to endorse Paxton over Houston given Paxton’s multiple legal and ethical problems. Similarly, I don’t expect any paper to side with Dan Patrick over Leticia Van de Putte, in this case due to his extremeness and obnoxiousness. Mike Collier is definitely better qualified to be Comptroller than Glenn Hegar, but Collier has never run for office before, and his bluntness might be a turnoff to some delicate soul out there in Editorial Board Land. As for Davis versus Abbott, again I think the choice should be clear, but again I figure at least one of the major dailies will find some reason why they don’t like her. I’ll be happy to be wrong about that. Again, I doubt these endorsements means much, but better to have them than not have them.

Paxton’s “poll”

Oh, please.

Sen. Ken Paxton

State Sen. Ken Paxton‘s campaign is touting a double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent in the race for Texas attorney general, citing a poll commissioned for his campaign and released Tuesday.

The poll was performed by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, a Republican polling firm with locations in Washington, D.C., Oklahoma City and Austin. The poll surveyed 1,003 likely general election voters Aug. 24-26, 2014. They were asked: “If the general election for Texas Attorney General were held today, for whom would you vote for if the candidates were?”

Crosstabs provided to the Chronicle by Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm showed 52 percent chose his client and 28 percent chose Paxton’s Democratic opponent, lawyer Sam Houston, with 17 percent undecided. Paxton fared far better among conservatives, garnering the support of 75 percent of those polled.

Of those surveyed, 54 percent self-identified as conservative and 31 percent as independent. “Liberal” was not parsed out in the provided crosstabs. The margin of error was +/- 3.1 percent.

The polling memo, such as it is, is embedded in the linked post or available here. I’ll note that WPOA did a fairly decent 2012 Presidential poll, so they’re not complete hacks over there, but that just makes this result that much more ridiculous. The same poll also claims Abbott is leading Davis by 18. Note that they give zero information about question wording or overall composition of their population, and provide very little about how subsamples responded. The one bit of subgroup data they provide is the laughable claim that Paxton is leading with Hispanic voters 50-29. Putting aside how completely out of character that would be, consider that if the rest of his sample is 69% Anglo and 10% black, and assuming he gets 5% of the black vote, he’s be collecting only about 59% of the Anglo vote to land at 52% total. With this configuration, if Paxton were actually at 40% Hispanic support, he’d be in danger of losing. Do you think Ken Paxton is counting on 40% support among Hispanic voters for his win total? I don’t. Trying to distract from Sam Houston’s call for a debate? That I can believe.

Let there be an AG debate

I can’t think of any good reason why there shouldn’t be a debate between Sam Houston and Ken Paxton.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

Democratic candidate for attorney general Sam Houston wants his opponent, state Sen. Ken Paxton, to agree to a debate ahead of the November general election.

Houston is expected to issue the challenge Wednesday at a news conference in Austin, demanding his Republican opponent “quit hiding from the media and the voters,” spokeswoman Sue Davis confirmed.

“To me, this is fair. He’s either going to debate me or explain to somebody why he hasn’t,” Houston said Friday. “How is this guy going to be attorney general if he won’t even address the issues?”

Houston contends his opponent hasn’t made a public appearance in months, ever since Paxton admitted to repeatedly soliciting investment clients over the last decade – a service for which he pocketed up to a 30 percent in commission – without being properly registered with the state as an investment adviser representative.

[…]

In response, Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm called Houston’s debate demand a desperate ploy from an underdog candidate.

“It’s not surprising that anyone losing by 20 points – and unable to raise meaningful campaign funds – would want free publicity. Rabidly pushing debates is most often the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass,” said Holm.

He did not answer follow-up questions about whether Paxton would agree to a debate. Houston was unchallenged in the Democratic primary.

I should amend my statement to say that Ken Paxton has plenty of reasons to not want to be asked questions in a public forum. Houston touched on all that at a press conference where he called out Paxton.

Speaking to reporters at the Austin Club, Houston said the public should question his Republican opponent’s openness and trustworthiness after Paxton admitted to repeatedly soliciting investment clients over the last decade without being properly registered with the state as an investment adviser representative.

“Mr. Paxton has voted to make certain conduct a felony. He then has knowingly violated that conduct before and since,” said Houston. “Now he says, ‘don’t indict me, don’t punish me even though I’ve made that a felony for other people. In fact, make me attorney general so I can enforce that statute.’”

Speaking after the event, Houston said “I have faith he won’t” accept the challenge to debate. “He hasn’t so far. Look, I don’t think he can. I mean, he’s going to have to answer that question and I don’t think he can answer it.”

Issues he’d like to address in a hypothetical debate include his opponent’s litigation experience as well as recent open records rulings dealing with volatile chemicals and Gov. Rick Perry’s travel schedule issued by outgoing Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Looking very much the trial lawyer, Houston stood between three exhibits showing the Texas Securities Act and the disciplinary order Paxton signed in early May admitting to the violation. Paxton was fined $1,000 and issued a reprimand. Texans for Public Justice, the same watchdog group that filed the original complaint against Gov. Rick Perry that eventually led to his August indictment, has also filed a complaint over Paxton’s noncompliance with the state ethics commission.

Houston repeated criticisms Paxton hasn’t spoken to the media “as far as I know” in 120 days, specifically citing an incident in late-July when Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm physically blocked San Antonio Express-News reporter Nolan Hicks from asking him questions.

“You can’t hide behind spokespeople,” said Houston. “That’s Exhibit A that this man should not be attorney general.”

Paxton’s spokesperson then denied the charge, which kind of proves the point. I mean, the dude has issues, and I’m not talking about the kind that candidates like to discuss. There’s a Debate Challenge Clock on Sam Houston’s website now. I don’t expect it to need to be stopped.

Honestly, though, Paxton’s sins aside, I can’t think of any good reason why we shouldn’t have at least one debate among the candidates for all offices, especially this year when every single one is open. Not that I’d expect, say, Glenn Hegar to want to square off against Mike Collier any more than Paxton would want to face Houston, but you’d think it would be a worthwhile endeavor on its face. I mean, when city elections roll around next year I guarantee that nearly every candidate for every office, from the top Mayoral challengers down to the most anonymous district Council wannabees, will do their best to make it to every candidate forum put on by every club, organization, or random group of concerned citizens around. I’ve been to a bunch of these events myself. All we’re asking for here is one lousy debate. That really ain’t much.

But I don’t expect it. Paxton, like his debate-phobic colleagues elsewhere on the ballot, figure they’ve already talked to all the voters they actually care about. At this point they figure it’s just Democrats and people who don’t pay attention anyway, so why give themselves an opportunity to say something stupid that will turn into headlines? It would be nice if people demanded more, but the people who’d be doing the demanding aren’t the people these guys listen to, so there you have it. Texas Leftist has more.

What next for school finance?

That depends on the Attorney General and the Supreme Court, but one way or the other it’s up to the Legislature.

State lawmakers from both parties agreed the responsibility for funding public schools falls on them. But history suggests the Legislature is reluctant to act until its hand is forced.

“I would be surprised if the 2015 Legislature does more than put this issue on hold waiting for a Supreme Court ruling,” said Scott Hochberg, a former Democratic state representative from Houston and one of Texas’ premier public education experts. “Historically, legislatures want to know exactly what it is that is being expected of them before they’ll take on these hard choices.

“Members like to say, ‘I wouldn’t have done this but the court required it,’ ” Hochberg added.

Statements made by incoming leaders in response to Dietz’s ruling seemed to support Hochberg’s predictions. While many Democrats hailed the ruling and urged lawmakers to address the issue immediately when the Legislature convenes in January, Republicans in leadership positions were less eager to promise action addressing the deficiencies identified in Dietz’s ruling.

“It is our job in the Legislature to develop the next education budget, regardless of what happens in the next phase of the legal process, and to address problems in education that go well beyond dollars and cents,” said Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the incoming chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

“As a former teacher, I believe in the power of education. Our budget will prioritize education and prepare our students to succeed in today’s workforce,” Nelson said. She did not take a specific stance on Dietz’s ruling.

She didn’t say much of anything, really. Hochberg is exactly right. The Lege will do what the court tells it to do, more or less. They’ve been told multiple times and still haven’t gotten it right, but I suppose hope springs eternal. The most accurate way to characterize this is that the Lege will do the least they think they have to do in order to comply. Certainly, if they are forced to find more funding for public education, they’ll do the least they can do to clear the bar. It’s hard to believe we won’t be back here again some day.

As for when the Lege gets to work on this, it depends on the Attorney General.

The school finance case could take any number of paths in the courts.

In one scenario, the Legislature takes some action next session – allocating more money to public education, for example – before the Supreme Court hears arguments. This could make the entire case moot, or it could prompt the justices to kick it back to the district court level. By that time, Dietz will have retired. His spot on the bench will be filled by Karin Crump, a Democrat who ran unopposed.

If the Legislature fails to act, or delays, the Supreme Court will take up the case. Arguments would not be heard until late spring or summer of next year at the earliest, just as the Legislature adjourns.

This could signal the need for a special session, either to address just education funding, or even the budget in general. Education accounts for 37 percent of all state funds.

A less likely, but still possible, outcome is that Abbott’s replacement in the attorney general’s office decides not to advance the case.

Sam Houston, the Democratic underdog in the race, said Thursday the ruling was further evidence of Texas’ flawed public education funding model. Signaling he might choose to end the appeal, he added, “School finance issues need to be resolved by the Legislature, not at the courthouse.”

The Lege isn’t going to act without a direct order, so you can throw scenario #1 away. If Sam Houston wins, I think there’s an excellent chance he’ll drop the appeal, just as he’s promised to drop the appeal of the same sex marriage ruling. Wendy Davis has called on Greg Abbott to drop the appeal and let the Lege get to it, but just as that’s not going to happen neither would I expect it to happen if Ken Paxton gets elected, even though the story suggests he might be open to it. There’s nothing in Paxton’s record to support that hypothesis, and I can’t imagine he’d be willing to do anything Abbott wouldn’t have done. To me, the only realistic possibilities are Abbott/Paxton appeal the ruling, either straight to the Supreme Court or to the Third District Court of Appeals first, or Houston wins and drops the appeal. As long as Abbott and Paxton believe that Judge Dietz’s ruling isn’t the final say and thus they may not have to find more money for the schools, I think it gets appealed. Abbott has 30 days to file the paperwork to get it started, so we’ll know soon enough. Burka, the Observer, and the Trib have more.

The Public Integrity Unit probably won’t have to worry about a veto next year

They’ll have bigger things to worry about.

Rosemary Lehmberg

With Republican partisans campaigning loudly to strip Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg of her control of the unit, chances of getting the funding restored under her by the GOP-dominated Legislature that convenes in January do not look good.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said Thursday she thinks the unit should be moved elsewhere if it is funded.

“I have never thought this unit should be placed as an attachment to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office,” Nelson said. “I am certain we will have extensive discussions during the next legislative session regarding where they should be placed, but we need to move them somewhere less partisan.”

In the past, lawmakers have filed bills to move the unit to the attorney general’s office or into a separate agency. Both proposals have faltered over questions about separation of powers, as it is a judicial branch agency and not an executive branch function. Even if its investigative powers were moved out of the district attorney’s office, cases still would be referred there for prosecution.

[…]

Throughout its history, the unit has faced repeated threats of funding cutoffs or transfer of its duties to the state attorney general’s office, often when it begins a high-profile investigation or brings an indictment against a prominent official.

Sherri Greenberg, who served in the Texas House from 1991 until 2001, and is now director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs, said the unit’s funding and location have been an issue off and on for years.

“That’s been looked at, but it’s never been moved, probably for a reason,” she said.

State Sen. John Whitmire, a veteran Houston Democrat who supported the PIU’s creation in 1982, has been investigated and cleared by the unit, and who has been one of its champions in recent years, said the unit was housed with local prosecutors to give it some independence from state government, which it may be investigating.

“Why would you want to fool with a unit that can investigate you? … If you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t worry about the Public Integrity Unit,” he said. “I don’t know how to handicap (the chances of restored funding), but if I were working over there, I’d probably be looking for a job.”

Republicans have wanted to move the investigative function of the PIU to the Attorney General’s office for at least as long as they’ve held the AG’s office, which is to say since 1998. That’s a part of the backdrop of the Perry indictment saga, and however one feels about that I think Sen. Whitmire is reading the tea leaves accurately. One does wonder what the fallout will be if the next Attorney General gets indicted or otherwise sanctioned by the State Bar, but I rather doubt the Republicans that are pushing for the PIU to be reassigned are thinking about that very much. I also wonder if their ardor for moving the PIU’s investigative function into the AG’s office will get cooled if Sam Houston gets elected AG, but again I doubt they’re thinking about that. So just file it away for now and we’ll see if it matters later.

Redistricting II: Congressional Boogaloo

Phase Two of the redistricting lawsuit trial begins today, in which the 2011 Congressional maps go under the microscope. That’s as good a time as any for the mandatory How Much All This Redistricting Litigation Is Costing Us story.

BagOfMoney

Texans are on the hook for $3.9 million in costs for Attorney General Greg Abbott to fight for Republican-championed redistricting maps, and that number will only grow as a years-long legal fight continues Monday in federal court in San Antonio.

A big tally is expected in complicated redistricting litigation, experts say, particularly with the Abbott legal team’s aggressive defense of the congressional and legislative maps approved by the GOP-majority Legislature.

“Abbott’s attitude has been very much ‘I’m going to litigate this to the ends of the earth,'” said Michael Li, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center at New York University School of Law.

Abbott’s staff said he simply is doing his job as the state’s top lawyer and that the responsibility for the costs lies with those who have challenged the maps. Democrats said Abbott is using taxpayer funds as an ATM to defend discriminatory maps.

[…]

The $3.9-million tab so far, provided to the San Antonio Express-News in response to a Public Information Act request, includes more than $2.2 million in costs for in-house salary and overhead at the state attorney general’s office.

Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said internal costs include employee salaries that would have been incurred regardless of the cases. The state lawyers have spent 26,986 hours on redistricting litigation.

The total also includes $887,327 for high-powered outside counsel, $447,567 for expert witnesses and $339,996 for travel and other expenses.

“This litigation is fairly complex. It has a number of issues with voting rights concerns, and it has been drawn out over a long period of time. Those two things together, I think, are really what are driving the cost here of this effort,” said Michael McDonald, a redistricting expert who is associate professor of political science at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

[…]

In what Li called an example of the state’s aggressive court strategy, Abbott in 2011 filed a federal lawsuit to get a federal stamp of approval of the state’s maps from a court, rather than going through the administrative process at the U.S. Department of Justice.

He did not get that federal “pre-clearance,” required of states with a history of discrimination. But the formula used to determine whether a state is required to obtain pre-clearance to make voting changes was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in a separate case.

Li said Abbott’s aggressive strategy has worked in the state’s favor on occasion, pointing out that the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Texas in rejecting an initial set of interim maps drawn by a three-judge panel in San Antonio back in 2012.

“They’ve had some victories, though mostly they’ve come out with losses,” he said.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. It is Abbott’s job to defend the state’s maps, and much of the cost comes from salaries his own lawyers would be earning anyway, but Michael Li is absolutely right. Abbott is all about maximal ideological (and partisan) gain, without any other consideration. It’s not like the redistricting defense is out of character for his office, after all.

Like the fight over redistricting itself, the squabble about how much it costs to defend redistricting maps tends to sort itself out along partisan lines, so let’s move on. As Phase One, which concluded a couple of weeks ago amid little scrutiny, was about the State House, Phase Two is about the 2011 Congressional maps. The Texas Election Law Blog has a summary of what to watch for.

III. For Those of You Keeping Score

If Congressional districts were apportioned based solely on race, about 13 of the old 32 seats would have been apportioned to minority-favored candidates, and 14 seats would have to be apportioned out of the new 36 seats. As it happened, only 10 of the old seats were so apportioned (3 to African-American-favored candidates, and 7 to Hispanic and Latino-favored candidates).

That’s discriminatory, but not addressable as retrogressive (10 seats was better than what voters had been given previously). A redistricting plan isn’t retrogressive if it preserves an existing level of racial discrimination. If the state’s population hadn’t increased, Texas would not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by continuing to provide the same 10 total minority districts.

But as the number of seats increased from 32 to 36, Texas at least wasn’t legally entitled to make minority voters even worse off. They would have at least not been the author of worse discrimination than before by increasing the number of minority districts from 10 (which was three seats less than what it should have been) to 11 (which would have been three seats less than the new ideal of 14 seats out of 36).

So to recap – when Texas had 32 Congressional seats, 10 of the seats were apportioned as minority districts (3 African-American districts and 7 Hispanic or Latino districts). With 36 seats, either 10 (or 9 – there’s some disagreement among the parties about CD25 being a minority district or not) seats are now minority districts, meaning that depending on how one counts the districts, minority voters are either worse off (i.e., more discriminated against than before) by one Congressional district, or two.

IV. Remember the Real Issue

The State of Texas could admit that the 2011 redistricting plan was retrogressive, and still avoid any sanction. That’s because the 2011 plan was never actually used for an election, it was replaced with a court-drawn plan that was substantially adopted by the Texas Legislature in 2013, and that will be used for the 2014 election.

The real issue is whether the State of Texas engaged in intentional racial discrimination when it enacted the 2011 redistricting plan.

To keep track of the (surprisingly spotty and inconsistent) media coverage of the trial, and to make sense of the outcome, remember that the question isn’t so much that the 2011 redistricting plan was “bad,” but that the plaintiffs allege that the people drawing the maps made the plan intentionally bad in order to discriminate against minority voters.

I will be keeping track of the coverage, such as it is. There are still the 2013 maps to litigate, and of course whatever happens this will get appealed, so don’t be too anxious for a ruling anytime soon. If you need further incentive to get out and vote this fall, do keep in mind that Attorney General Sam Houston would be considerably more likely to find a reasonable settlement for the litigation than AG Ken Paxton would be.
Harold Cook has more on the Phase One part of the trial.

Planned Parenthood comes out swinging

Good to see.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Houston enters the chemical disclosure fray

From the inbox:

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

Sam Houston, Democratic Nominee for Texas Attorney General, today promised to reverse the current AG’s letter ruling on the release of the locations of dangerous chemicals, putting the safety of our families and children first.

“I have reviewed the law that General Abbott cited when his office upheld the state health department’s decision to withhold this vital information,” Houston said. “That opinion is wrong. Under the Texas Public Information Act, information is open to the public absent any specific exception. Federal and state statutes specifically make this information available to the public. General Abbott took a nonspecific statute and said it overrode the public right to know statutes. Legally, this is incorrect.

“Texans have the right to know whether their homes, schools or churches are located near facilities with dangerous chemicals,” Houston said. “As soon as I receive a request for an opinion on this issue , I will re-review the issue and, absent any new information, will reverse the decision.”

Houston noted that information on chemicals stored at corporate facilities has been available for decades under state and federal law. He said the suggestion that Texans could just “drive around” and ask these facilities what chemicals they have on site is insulting and leaves thousands of Texans vulnerable to another incident like the one that occurred in West. Additionally, Houston said General Abbott’s “drive around and ask” suggestion contradicts his claim that this information is confidential.

“Texans need to know that their attorney general will aggressively defend the rights of all Texans,” said Houston. “I will re-establish trust in the attorney general’s office.”

I’d been hoping Houston would jump on this, as it seemed to be an obvious opportunity to make some noise on an issue that’s already in the news and where he can boost his own candidacy while aiding that of Wendy Davis as well. It’s totally fair game for him to say that he disagrees with something the incumbent AG has done and that he would do it differently if he were in office, and given Abbott’s blinkered view of the law this is a pretty fat target. Houston has done this before, and honestly I wish he’d do it more often. It’s not like there’s a shortage of issues on which Abbott has been worthy of criticism as AG, and the news hook for Houston would be bigger when he aims up.

Speaking of which, Houston’s release did in fact make the news.

Kicking off a four-city tour to keep the issue on voters’ minds, Houston charged Abbott, the GOP front-runner for governor, with disregarding public right-to-know laws when he ruled the Texas Department of State Health Services does not have to disclose information about hazardous chemicals kept at private facilities, citing a 2003 anti-terrorism law.

“All that they’re relying on is a vague statute that’s not specific enough,” Houston said during a news conference at a union hall in Houston. “That’s not good enough.”

[…]

“Voters are always going to want to hear about it because it’s going to come home in the future if we don’t change this and they don’t find out about the information,” Houston told reporters, brushing off the idea that voters have heard enough about an issue that has dominated the governor’s race for most of the month so far.

It’s also an opportunity for a free shot at his actual opponent.

Houston speculated [Ken] Paxton has avoided speaking about the ruling because “he’s got his own issues about openness,” an apparent reference to Paxton’s violation of a a state securities law. He was fined $1,000 for not informing clients of his relationship with an investment adviser.

It’s okay to be a little less oblique about that, but otherwise, well done. More like this, please.

The Trib on the AG race

What do you do when you have an ethically compromised candidate on your ticket? Thank your lucky stars that you’re the majority party and hope like hell the challenger can’t get any traction.

Sen. Ken Paxton

A political candidate’s troubles are supposed to be a gold mine for the opposition, but that has not been the case with state Sen. Ken Paxton, the Republican nominee for attorney general.

His easy win in the Republican primary runoff in May was either a bafflement or a relief, depending on whether you were rooting for Paxton or his rival, state Rep. Dan Branch, of Dallas.

For Branch, it looked like a perfect setup. He’s a veteran legislator, a partner in a well-known Texas law firm, a member of the establishment.

And Paxton was in trouble.

The job in question is attorney general, the functional head of the state’s in-house law firm. Candidates like to talk about it as the top law enforcement position in the state — a bit of a stretch, since most criminal cases fall to local district and county attorneys, but a useful and effective exaggeration in a campaign.

Paxton committed a foul by failing to tell his clients and the State Securities Board about his relationship with a securities investment adviser. He looked into it, admitted the wrongdoing, amended some reports and paid a fine, then left Branch, who hoped to benefit from the revelations and admissions, in the dust. Branch received 36.6 percent of the vote to Paxton’s 63.4 percent.

That result was a vindication. Republican voters ignored the blot on Paxton’s résumé and looked instead to his conservative credentials, including a near endorsement from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Ideology trumped biography, and it will take some new twist to get voters to reconsider.

Now Sam Houston, the Democratic nominee (no relation to the 19th-century soldier and politician), lies in wait. He starts from a weaker position, with less money, no experience in state office and no natural political base. It makes sense that Paxton, in a competitive primary and runoff, had to raise money and Houston did not. Experience is a mixed bag at a time when voters find incumbency suspect.

This time, the Democrats are trying to stir the pot, suggesting that prosecutors are looking at Paxton’s file and could act at any time. They are hoping to succeed where Branch failed, but an investigation or an indictment — especially in Travis County, that blue Democratic smudge on the bright red Republican map of Texas — could bounce the wrong way.

Those suggestions come from the Lone Star Project, which sent out this email last week with those claims. Among other things, they say that emissaries for House Speaker Joe Straus have met with Travis County prosecutors to urge quick action against Paxton. I’ve got to say, I find this all highly dubious. For one thing, it’s not clear that any criminal laws were broken by Paxton – the original story gave no indication that there was something for a DA’s office to look into. Paxton’s already received a slap on the wrist from the Texas State Securities Board, and again it seemed like that’s all the action there was going to be at the state level. There’s still the matter of the SEC complaint that was filed against Paxton. That could certainly turn into something, though I’m sure Paxton and his buddies would be just as happy to run against the evil federal government trying to persecute him as they would be running against the evil Travis County DA’s office. Whether that would work for him or not I couldn’t say, but it’s certainly a possibility.

Strategy-wise, to me the best tactic is to raise enough money for Sam Houston for him to run ads featuring these quotes from that same email the LPS sent out:

If that draws out Dan Branch to denounce Houston for implying that he now opposes Paxton’s November candidacy, that’s fine. I seriously doubt the publicity would be anything but a net positive for Houston. One million dollars is enough to run a week’s worth of TV ads statewide. Surely that’s not too much to ask for. This accompanying story on Houston quotes Republican operative Matt Mackowiak saying that $5 to $10 million is needed for “first-rate, truly competitive” race for attorney general. That would be ideal, sure, but give him enough for a week’s worth of ads plus some faith in the outrage machine driving some earned media of it, and I’d take my chances.

Convention coverage

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

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

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

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

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

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

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

She took some swipes at her opponent, too.

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

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

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

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

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

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

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

“Well I did, and I won,” she said.

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

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

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

Wendy Davis

Leticia Van de Putte

Sam Houston

Mike Collier

John Cook

Steve Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On defining success

It depends on what your goals are.

Suppose you were a Texas Democrat and a realist.

You want your candidates to win in November and to break the spirit-killing string of losses that started after the statewide elections in 1994.

But you have been scratching for reasons that this year will be different, from the two women at the top of the Democratic ticket to the Battleground Texas organizing efforts to the current Republican tilt to the right that — to Democrats, anyway — seems out of step with mainstream voters.

But the realist within is thinking about Nov. 5, and how to keep the embers going on the day after an election that — unless there is an upset — will mark another set of Republican victories.

Short of winning a statewide election, what would constitute good news for Texas Democrats in November?

Jeremy Bird, a founder of the Battleground Texas effort to build a Democratic grassroots organization in the state, has his eyes on volunteers, energized activists and the sorts of activity that could expand through 2016 and 2018. His group started a little over a year ago with talk of a six-year plan to make Democrats competitive in Texas. The somewhat unexpected rise of state Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte as political candidates could accelerate that effort, even if neither takes office. His measure of a win, short of a victory: “Better than Bill White.”

White, a former Houston mayor, was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010. He received 42.3 percent of the vote — better than any Democratic candidate for governor since Ann Richards’ loss in 1994, when she received 45.9 percent.

“Closing the margin is important; getting back to the Ann Richards numbers in 1994,” said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “There’s not much opportunity for pickups in the Legislature, but closing the margin would help set the table for 2016.”

Glenn Smith, who managed part of Richards’ first campaign for governor in 1990, is not a fan of this kind of thinking.

“It’s my extremely strong opinion that you play every contest to win,” said Smith, who now runs the Progress Texas PAC, which supports Democratic candidates and causes. “You set everything on winning. There is nothing else. If you start even mentally thinking that we’re okay at 46, then you might end up at 42. You can’t get in that mind-set. It’s true in sports, in every competitive walk of life — you have to set a course to win. You can’t begin cutting the goal to something short of winning, or your plans will suck.”

I’ll settle this: They’re all right.

Look, there’s no question that winning is always the goal and that losing is failure. There are no consolation prizes, no moral victories, and no partial credit. Greg Abbott will govern the same way whether he wins by one vote or one million votes, just as Rick Perry did when we were all calling him “Governor 39%”. So will Dan Patrick, and so will the rest of them. Another shutout means another four years of the same old shit we’ve had since George Bush was first elected.

That doesn’t mean all losses are created equal, however. Democrats haven’t just lost every statewide election since 1996, we’ve lost them badly. Here are the top five statewide Democrats by percentage of the vote in the Rick Perry era:

Year Candidate Office Pct ===================================== 2002 Sharp Lt Gov 46.03 2002 Mirabal Sup Ct 45.90 2008 Houston Sup Ct 45.88 2008 Strawn CCA 45.53 2006 Moody Sup Ct 44.88

It’s about changing the perception almost as much as it is about winning. Winning obviously does that splendidly, and it comes with a heaping helping of other benefits, but after all this losing, coming close will mean something, too. Going from “Democrats last won a statewide election in 1994” to “Democrats came closer to winning statewide than they had in any election since 1998” matters. It will make recruiting and fundraising a lot easier, and not just for the star candidate or two at the top but for candidates up and down the ballot. It virtually guarantees that Hillary Clinton contests the state in 2016. It puts Ted Cruz squarely in the crosshairs for 2018.

As such, I respectfully disagree with Jeremy Bird. Doing better than Bill White isn’t progress. We need to do better than John Sharp. I’ve been reluctant to say stuff like this out loud – it’s not my place to set expectations – but the question was going to come up sooner or later. It’s not just about vote percentage, either, but also about turnout, since that’s what Battleground Texas’ mission is. I’ve talked at length about turnout and how Democratic levels of turnout have been flat in the last three off-year elections. I can’t say offhand what a minimally-acceptable level of improvement in that looks like to me, but I feel confident saying that if we’re achieving Sharp levels of vote percent, we’re doing fine on turnout.

Let’s also acknowledge that the original mission of Battleground Texas was to make Texas competitive in future Presidential elections, and that when they first showed up Wendy Davis was just another State Senator and we were all (okay, I was all) doing fantasy candidate recruitment for Governor. Davis’ arrival on the scene and BGTx’s integration with her campaign changed their focus, but they were never supposed to be about 2014. The whole point was that unlike traditional campaign machines, BGTx would stick around and keep working for the next election and the one after that. Obviously, having serious candidates that have generated real excitement at the top of the ticket has jumpstarted BGTx’s efforts, but it’s reasonable to expect that BGTx has their own metrics and their own timeline.

So yeah, they’re all right. And just because I’ve drawn a line somewhere doesn’t obligate anyone to recognize or respect it. We all agree that winning >>> losing, but beyond that it’s all open to interpretation.

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.)

Some postmortem thoughts

The Trib leads with the obvious.

As the results of Republican primary runoffs began to roll in Tuesday evening, Texas Democrats realized they were getting exactly what they wanted — and exactly what they feared.

The victories of Dan Patrick over incumbent David Dewhurst for lieutenant governor and Ken Paxton over Dan Branch for attorney general were just the most high-profile examples of Republican runoff races in which the candidate widely viewed as farther right prevailed.

The outcome means Democrats will have an easier time contrasting their ticket to the Republican option in November.

“You really can’t have a competitive election that voters pay attention to unless you have a clear contrast between the nominees,” Texas Democratic consultant Harold Cook said. “To the extent you’re going to have a Republican opponent, if that opponent can be just as far to the right as possible, that’s just what any Democratic nominee would want.”

Yet Tuesday’s results also raise the stakes for Democrats, who last won a statewide office in Texas 20 years ago. Most notably, a failure by Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte to win her bid for lieutenant governor will mean, come January, Patrick will be standing at the Senate dais, gavel in hand, ready to kick off a new legislative session. It’s an outcome that many Democrats fear will lead to the passage of even more conservative legislation on immigration, education and access to abortion, some of which their party’s members have managed to block so far.

“Some Democrats have said they want me to be the nominee,” Patrick said during his victory speech. “Well, they’ve got me, and I’m coming.”

We’ve discussed this before. As I said then, it’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy for Democrats, who as underdogs can’t afford to play it safe. At this point, given the elevated stupidity level of the Senate after Bob Deuell’s loss and Robert Duncan’s retirement, it’s not clear to me that the downside risk is all that great. Sure, Dan Patrick will do things as Lite Gov that David Dewhurst didn’t or wouldn’t, like not name any Democratic committee chairs, but does anyone think Dewhurst would have had the spine to push back on whatever crazy-ass legislation this next Senate is likely to want to pass? I’m not saying Dan Patrick wouldn’t be worse – he most assuredly would be – I’m just saying that the upside is much, much greater than the downside. Whatever the actual odds of the preferred outcome are, you have to like that kind of bet.

As noted yesterday, the anecdotal evidence of Republican crossover support for Leticia Van de Putte against Dan Patrick is already coming in. For sure, she’ll need that in order to win, though first and foremost she needs the base level of Democratic support to rise so that she can be within striking distance. One interesting perspective on this comes from Erica Greider:

A second problem for Texas Republicans in the wake of yesterday’s “conservative” victories is that, as a result of an election in which less than 6% of registered voters in Texas bothered to vote, the party now has several standard bearers that Republicans themselves aren’t exactly crazy about. Some of the nominees aren’t even popular among grassroots activists. You’ll have to take my word for that, because in public, they’re all circling the wagons, but my sense is that the Tea Party establishment is genuinely excited about a couple of candidates, including Konni Burton. They’re tepid about others; there weren’t many tears shed for Wayne Christian last night, and there won’t be many shed for Sid Miller in November when American hero Jim Hogan turns Texas blue with his bare hands. Perhaps most odd is how little sympathy there is between the Patrick and [Ken] Paxton crowds. Those two posted the biggest wins of the night, and apparently drew almost exactly the same voters, but I’ve met very few conservatives who are equally excited about both–and a number of Paxton supporters, in particular, who can barely conceal their disdain for Patrick.

This may be because Patrick and Paxton are temperamentally opposite (Patrick is a showman, and Paxton is very shy). It may be that Cruz supporters are skeptical of Patrick–Patrick attacked Cruz freely on behalf of Dewhurst in 2012, and Paxton would never do such a thing. My own unpopular opinion is that Patrick has the potential to do well as lieutenant-governor, whereas Paxton’s nomination to succeed Greg Abbott as attorney-general is a huge victory for the state’s lesser prairie chickens, who will soon roam free over federally protected habitats, enjoying their newly expanded Medicaid benefits–but that’s a post for another day, perhaps. For now, I’ll conclude by saying this: whatever the cause, the tension within the Tea Party or conservative movement is subdued at the moment. But this year’s Republican nominees, many of whom will be propelled to high office by support from 3 or 4% of the voters in Texas, can’t really afford for any further faultlines to emerge.

First I’ve heard of tension between Patrick and Paxton. Patrick has alienated a number of his Republican colleagues along the way so that’s not too surprising. The question as always is how many of them are good soldiers in November, and how many of them, however secretly, either undervote or cross over. It won’t surprise me if polling in this race winds up being more than a little wonky. Anyone know more about what Greider is saying here?

Frequent Burkablog commenter WURSPH makes an intriguing quantitative observation on Burka’s post lamenting the Tuesday results:

One feature of interest in yesterday’s balloting is the major DROP-OFF in the number of voters who participated in the GOP Run-off. A smaller turnout in the run-off was to be expected especially with it being a Tuesday election right after a holiday. But the drop was significant with total turnout down more than 580,000 from the original primary (748,000 to 1.3 million). And BOTH Patrick and Dewhurst received fewer votes than they did in the first primary (Patrick was down 63,000 and Dewhurst by 114,000).

It looks like this is attributable to two factors:

First, a lot of voters, including a good number who had voted for Patrick and Dewhurst the first time, thought it was effectively all over in March and didn’t bother to come out again.

And, secondly, the Staples-Patterson voters basically stayed home.

I doubt anyone was running exit polls yesterday, but if someone did it would be interesting to see what it says about the percentage of voters who voted for Staples or Patterson who voted this time. If they were turned off by the two other candidates it could have a small impact in November….Being Republicans most of them will probably come back into the fold in the fall, but if any perceptible percentage sit that one out too, it could have some impact on the November elections.

You know me, any time there are numbers to inspect my ears perk right up. Runoffs are tricky beasts to analyze for many reasons, but a look at the 2014 and 2012 Republican runoffs do illustrate what WURSPH is talking about. Here are the numbers for the two races that involved David Dewhurst, the 2012 Senate primary/runoff and the 2014 Lite Guv primary/runoff:

Year Primary Top Two Runoff ====================================== 2014 1,333,896 930,548 749,915 2012 1,406,608 1,108,289 1,111,938

There aren’t any runoffs of interest to look at before 2012, so these are the data points we have. All numbers are from the races that featured David Dewhurst – Dewhurst/Cruz in 2012, Dewhurst/Patrick in 2014. “Primary” is the total number of votes cast in those races, “Top Two” is the number collected by Dewhurst and his eventual runoff opponent, and “Runoff” is of course the total number of votes in that race. WURSPH is on to something here, as at least a few people who didn’t vote for either Dew or Cruz in the first round came out for one of them in overtime, while the total votes for Dew and Patrick dropped by almost 20%. Does that mean anything for November? Eh, I don’t know – maybe, maybe not. Either way, it’s interesting.

Finally, a few words about the Democratic side.

When the Associated Press declared the Dallas-area dentist millionaire David Alameel won, he was described as a “former major GOP donor.”

Here’s a fun fact. We all know about Alameel’s past history of contributions to some GOP officeholders. He stopped doing that in 2008, and the bulk of his activity was in 2002 and 2004. Did you know that when Wendy Davis first announced her candidacy for State Senate in 2008, the then-Chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party had some harsh words for her based on her vote in the 2006 GOP primary? That happened more than a few days ago, so of course no one remembers it. My point here is simply that there are two ways Democrats can catch up to Republicans. One is the much-heralded demographic wave, in which old white Republicans die off and are replaced in the electorate by young progressive Latinos. That’s happening, but in slow motion, and is not going to be much of a factor this year even with Battleground Texas ginning up Democratic turnout. The other is for people who currently identify as Republicans to start voting for at least some Democrats. Both Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte are basing their campaigns in part on luring crossovers. You can look at Alameel’s history as a negative, as some people once looked at Wendy Davis’ 2006 GOP primary vote as a negative, or you can recognize that we need a lot more people like David Alameel, who spoke in his interview with me about how couldn’t support such a radical, reactionary Republican Party any more, this November.

While Democrats believe they are fielding their strongest gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates in at least a decade, with Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van De Putte, the state party struggled once again to recruit top-tier candidates to fill out the rest of their statewide slate.

Beyond the questionable candidates for U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent John Cornyn, and to run the state’s Department of Agriculture, Democrats also lack a compelling candidate for Texas Attorney General and Republicans just nominated a candidate in Sen. Ken Paxton, who was recently admonished by authorities for violating the state’s securities laws.

What the hell? Sam Houston is a respected and well-qualified attorney who unlike nearly everybody else on both parties’ ballots has actually run statewide before – he got 46% as a candidate for Supreme Court in 2008, which was the highest percentage any Democrat received. I have no idea who Nolan Hicks is talking to or if he just pulled that out of his own posterior, but it’s gratuitous and misinformed. BOR and Texpatriate have more.

Why isn’t Ken Paxton releasing his tax returns?

This DMN story is actually about how Sen. Ken Paxton, currently in a runoff for the GOP nomination for Attorney General after leading the field in March, has done pretty well for himself as a lawyer since his initial election to the Legislature, but I kind of got hung up on the bit about his tax returns.

Sen. Ken Paxton

Ken Paxton was a small-town lawyer with no other business interests or sources of income before he was elected to the Legislature.

But since he joined the House in 2003, Paxton — now a Republican McKinney state senator running for attorney general — has started or become part of 28 business ventures, state records show.

They range from a cellphone tower company to an outfit that puts cameras in police cars. And his companies frequently trade in real estate.

Paxton, like other members of the Legislature, has voted on measures that could affect his personal holdings. State ethics law requires only that lawmakers avoid a direct conflict that affects their business. Many vote on measures affecting their broad industries.

Paxton said he’s become more active in trying to make money — not because he was a lawmaker, but because his family finally had the resources to invest.

“As many young professionals with children find, it’s their late 30s or early 40s before they are able to start meaningful savings for their retirement,” said Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm. “The Paxtons were this age in 2002 and were advised by one of their retirement counselors to begin one or two investments each year to allow them to responsibly plan for long-term financial security.”

Records show Paxton has a penchant for joining deals with other elected officials, usually friends in the Legislature or on the Collin County political scene. Those business opportunities with other lawmakers have had varying results. At least one went bust, costing Paxton and others more than $2 million.

Paxton has declined to say how much his net worth has grown since he joined the Legislature, and he’s refused to release copies of his federal tax returns. The state requires officeholders to list only broad ranges that their income and investments fall in, so it’s difficult to say how extensive Paxton’s business holdings are.

Wait a minute. Didn’t we spend almost the entire 2010 campaign debating whether or not Bill White needed to release every tax return he’d ever filed in his life and not just the ones he’d filed as Houston Mayor? Given Paxton’s disclosure issues and his susceptibility to getting fleeced by “Christian” con artists, you’d think he’d want to put his tax returns out there to head off questions like the ones being raised in this very story. Unless of course his tax returns would raise even more questions about his behavior, in which case the real question is why hasn’t Dan Branch made more of a fuss about this? To get a fuller idea of just how ethically compromised Paxton is, you should read Erica Greider’s devastating overview of his career. Here’s how she sums it up:

In running for attorney general, however, Paxton has continued to tout himself as a reformer. His campaign website lists “Protecting Taxpayers” as a priority issues, and elaborates: “The Attorney General plays a lead role in protecting taxpayers through investigating waste, fraud, and abuse, by reviewing and approving local bond packages, and through reviewing large state contracts.”

That would be nice. Unfortunately, there’s no reason to think Paxton would be well placed to do so if he wins. Looking over his record, he’s either surprisingly uninformed about what the state’s laws are, or surprisingly unconcerned about following them himself.

Go read the whole thing to see how she arrived at that conclusion. For an otherwise nondescript legislator who had people calling on Branch to clear the field for him after the March results were in, he’s sure got some issues.

On a side note, can someone please clarify for me what the unwritten rules are for statewide candidates and their tax returns? Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has released hers, while her fellow Senator and prospective opponent in the Lite Gov race, Dan Patrick is being criticized for not releasing his. My thought is that every statewide candidate ought to at least release a couple of years’ worth, for some value of “a couple of years”. If Democratic AG candidate Sam Houston hasn’t released a few of his tax returns I’d recommend he do so, and if he has or if he does I’d recommend he start bashing Ken Paxton about not releasing his. There’s clearly some material to work with here. BOR has more.

Paxton’s disclosure issues

Oopsie.

Sen. Ken Paxton

State Sen. Ken Paxton, the leading Republican candidate for attorney general, has launched an internal review of his disclosures to state regulatory authorities and the Texas Ethics Commission to determine whether he violated any laws by failing to report several business and professional relationships.

Paxton launched the review after The Texas Tribune obtained 2006 letters showing the McKinney lawmaker was being paid to solicit clients for a North Texas financial services firm at a time when he was not registered with the State Securities Board. Registration in such circumstances is typically required. Nor did Paxton ever reveal his solicitor work on the employment history section of his personal financial statements, which must be filed regularly with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Also missing from his ethics filings is any disclosure of his service on the boards of at least a half-dozen nonprofit corporations, the Tribune investigation found. Ethics laws require legislators to reveal service on corporate boards, including nonprofit ones.

[…]

This much is known from regulatory filings and the 2006 letters obtained by the Tribune: Paxton began working as a solicitor for companies run by his friend and business associate Frederick “Fritz” Mowery as far back as the summer of 2001. While Paxton has been associated with Mowery’s firm as a solicitor on and off for a decade or so, records show he was registered with the State Securities Board for a total of about two years.

Solicitor is the informal title for “investment adviser representative,” an official designation for people who refer investors — for a fee — to an investment adviser.

Records from the Securities Board show Paxton was registered once between July of 2003 and the end of 2004 for Mowery’s Oxford Advisors Corporation. He got registered again for Mowery Capital Management on Dec. 13 of last year, and that registration remains active.

Robert Elder, spokesman for the State Securities Board, confirmed that Paxton was not registered as a Texas investment adviser representative between Jan. 1, 2005, and mid-December of 2013. He said that he cannot discuss the hypothetical oversight of an individual solicitor or comment on whether Paxton should have been registered in other years.

The Texas Securities Act defines a solicitor, in part, as “each person or company who, for compensation, is employed, appointed, or authorized by an investment adviser to solicit clients for the investment adviser.” The law also says that unless a person is specifically exempted, he or she “may not act or render services as an investment adviser representative for a certain investment adviser in this state unless the person is registered.”

Paxton’s campaign has not said whether the senator believes state or federal securities laws required him to register when he was working as a solicitor. When asked specific questions, Holm, the campaign spokesman, referred to his written statement about the campaign’s promised review of Paxton’s disclosure obligations.

According to Elder, the Securities Board spokesman, penalties for acting as a solicitor while failing to register “can range from those administrative penalties to include suspension, up to revocations, to fines, and then things could move into, obviously, the criminal arena as well.”

“But it is all completely fact-specific,” he added, emphasizing that he was speaking in broad terms and not about any individual.

The facts in at least one case from 2006 demonstrate that Paxton was being paid at a time that he wasn’t registered with the state to do paid solicitor work.

The case involved two of Mowery’s customers — Teri and David Goettsche of Dallas. In a September 2006 letter, Mowery informed a concerned and apparently surprised Teri Goettsche that Paxton — whom she had previously retained as a lawyer on a separate matter — was being paid a 30 percent commission for referring her to Mowery’s investment firm.

“Mr. Paxton receives a percentage of Mowery Capital Management’s quarterly investment management fee for certain clients referred to us,” Mowery’s letter said. “This fee arrangement was a verbal arrangement between Mr. Paxton and us and therefore no documentation exists.”

Teri and David Goettsche later sued Mowery and Paxton, alleging that their actions helped lead the couple into a doomed real estate investment scheme with one of Mowery’s own business partners, who soon declared bankruptcy. David Goettsche entered into a separate investment arrangement with Mowery in 2005 and was later told in writing that Paxton was getting a 30 percent cut from his fees, too.

The Goettsches’ lawyer, John Sloan of Longview, said the couple lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the failed land deal, and only found out about Paxton’s role when things started to go south in the summer of 2006. Teri Goettsche was referred to Mowery after hiring Paxton to prepare a post-nuptial agreement in 2003 and didn’t realize the lawyer-turned-politician was also getting paid as a solicitor, they said in the lawsuit.

According to state and federal court records, Mowery declared bankruptcy a little more than a month after David Goettsche and Mowery jointly signed a brokerage account agreement. Paxton received referral fees for David Goettsche as well, letters from Mowery indicate.

“They were shocked that this Paxton guy was getting a kickback. They just thought he was doing them a favor,” Sloan said. “He saw an opportunity for himself to profit and did.”

There’s more at the link, so go read the whole story. Paxton’s been an elected official since 2002 when he won a race for State House. You’d think a guy that wants to be Attorney General would have a better understanding of what the laws are in these cases, and you’d hope that such a person would have a better record of complying with the law. His runoff opponent, Rep. Dan Branch – who came under some pressure by fellow Republicans to drop out of the race since Paxton had a pretty big lead in March – is now making noise about this and calling on Paxton to drop out. Seems to me that if perhaps the campaign prior to March had included a bit more discussion of the candidates’ credentials and a bit less about guns, abortion, President Obama, and who loves or hates each in the proper amount, we might have had this discussion at a more opportune time for Rep. Branch. Oh, well. Whether any of this hurts Paxton for the runoff, or whether the faithful read it as just another attack by the liberal media remains to be seen. Consider this further evidence of the Republican statewide slate being woefully underqualified, and another reason to support Sam Houston now and in November. PDiddie and John Coby have more.

Next steps in the Texas same sex marriage lawsuit

In case you were wondering, Attorney General and candidate for Governor Greg Abbott will appeal Wednesday’s historic ruling striking down Texas’ constitutional amendment barring same sex marriage.

The state of Texas has officially given notice that it is appealing a San Antonio judge’s ruling that completely struck down its ban on same sex marriage.

“Defendants … Rick Perry, Greg Abbott, and David Lakey … hereby appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from the Order Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, signed and entered in this action on February 26, 2014 ,” said the state’s notice, filed in federal court in San Antonio on Thursday.

Abbott’s statement is here. Democratic candidate for AG Sam Houston thinks Abbott shouldn’t have bothered.

I agree with Judge Garcia when he says “state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.” There is no question that marriage is a right that should be afforded to all consenting adults regardless of race. In my view, the same right should be afforded regardless of sexual orientation, and I am not convinced Texas should commit substantial time and money to appeal a ruling that is likely to remain unchanged when considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Needless to say, none of the Republican candidates agreed with that.

Texas Monthly, writing before Abbott’s promise to appeal, examines the timing of the process.

[Judge Orlando] Garcia’s ruling falls in line with similar district court decisions issued recently in Oklahoma, Virginia, and Utah—making it increasingly likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually have to settle the matter, possibly as soon as the 2014-15 session.

During a conference call [Wednesday] afternoon, Barry Chasnoff, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said that while he hoped Abbott would choose not to appeal the decision and allow it to stand—as attorney generals in states like New Jersey have done—he nonetheless expected that in “a political year” Abbott would issue an appeal.

Garcia’s injunction will place the case on a fast track to the appeals courts, which is also where the Utah and Oklahoma cases are headed. But while Oklahoma’s and Utah’s cases are being appealed to the traditionally moderate Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Texas appeal will be heard by the traditionally conservative Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans.

According to Kenneth Upton, a Dallas-based senior lawyer for the gay legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, the Texas appeal could be decided around the same time as the Oklahoma, Virginia, and Utah appeals. So although it’s still considered unlikely, there’s a chance that the Texas case could be the one the Supreme Court hears first—and could end up bringing same-sex marriage to all fifty states.

That would make it a bookend to the Lawrence v. Texas case from 2003. We sure have come a long way. I recommend you also read this TM feature story from the February issue, about plaintiffs Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes:

Phariss and Holmes, who filed suit with another same-sex couple in October and whose case will be heard this month by the U.S. District Court in San Antonio, are unlikely catalysts for social change: until recently, Phariss wasn’t entirely out of the closet, and both men were deeply hesitant about being part of the case. Holmes, who is a 43-year-old physician’s assistant in Fort Worth and former Air Force officer, feared that exposing themselves so publicly might make them targets of antigay violence. Phariss, who is 54 and an attorney, worried that the attendant publicity would alienate colleagues and clients, many of whom didn’t know about his sexuality. He even asked the legal team handling the suit if it could withhold a press release from the Dallas Morning News, since that’s the newspaper that everyone he works with reads.

“The day it was filed, I literally got physically sick,” recalled Phariss. “Leading up to that, we definitely had moments where we looked at each other and asked, ‘Have we lost our minds?’ It’s no accident that my name is the last of the plaintiffs listed.”

A decade after Lawrence v. Texas —the landmark 2003 Supreme Court decision that declared state laws forbidding homosexual activity to be unconstitutional—Texas seems to have found two more reluctant gay-equality activists. Like John Geddes Lawrence, who was closeted at the time of his 1998 arrest in Houston for consensual sex with another man in his own house, Phariss and Holmes found themselves drawn into the battle for marriage equality almost by happenstance. At every step of the way, they’ve had to keep convincing themselves this is the right thing to do. “The truth of the matter is I had some reticence about meeting with you,” Phariss told me.

[…]

The lawsuit originated with co-plaintiffs Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon, who live in Austin but married in Massachusetts in 2009. In the aftermath of last summer’s Windsor decision, the women decided to sue Texas to recognize their marriage. One of their main motivations, they said, was to cement parental rights regarding their son, whom De Leon gave birth to in 2012 and whom Dimetman has since adopted. “We want to be able to tell our kids that we are married,” De Leon told me.

In August, Dimetman, an attorney who previously worked for the San Antonio office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld (which had filed an amicus brief in the Windsor case), asked her former employers if they would be willing to represent the couple. After Akin Gump agreed to take on the case, the firm’s attorneys began reaching out to other gay couples, asking them to join as co-plaintiffs. They believed that a diverse group of plaintiffs—male and female, unmarried and already married in another state—would give the lawsuit its best chance. One of the first people lawyer Frank Stenger-Castro talked to was Phariss, whom he knew through legal circles. Phariss and Holmes eventually agreed to join the suit and went to the Bexar County Clerk’s office, where they requested and were denied a marriage license.

Why would Phariss and Holmes take on such a public role, given Phariss’s semi-closetedness and their concerns for their safety? They say that, in good conscience, they couldn’t not do it.

“There’s this phenomenon where someone is in trouble and needs an ambulance, and everybody says, ‘Call 911,’ and everybody assumes someone else is going to do it, and nobody winds up doing it,” said Holmes. “I didn’t see anybody else doing this, so I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll be the one who makes the call.’ ”

They’re happy they did make that call, as expressed by their statement after the ruling.

“We are extremely happy — happy beyond words — with Judge Garcia’s decision,” Phariss and Holmes said Wednesday in a written statement. “Today, Judge Garcia affirmed that the Equal Protection Clause applies to all Texans. We are delighted by that decision, and we expect that, if appealed, it will be upheld.”

In the same joint statement, Dimetman and De Leon described the decision as “a great step towards justice for our family.”

“Ultimately, the repeal of Texas’ ban will mean that our son will never know how this denial of equal protections demeaned our family and belittled his parents’ relationship,” they said in a written statement. “We look forward to the day when, surrounded by friends and family, we can renew our vows in our home state of Texas.”

Not everyone is happy, of course – this Chron story has a couple of quotes from usual suspects expressing their unhappiness.

Gov. Rick Perry said the ruling was yet another attempt by the federal government to tell Texans how to live their lives.

“Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens,” he said. “We will continue to fight for the rights of Texans to self-determine the laws of our state.”

[…]

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who authored the amendment to the state constitution that banned same-sex marriage when he was a state senator in 2005 issued a short, but to-the-point Tweet on the ruling:

“Having carried the constitutional amendment defining marriage between 1 man & 1 woman, I will change my definition of marriage when God does.”

Perry and Staples and Dan Patrick and all the rest of them deserve all the unhappiness they get over this. Couldn’t happen to a better bunch of people.

By the way, there’s a second lawsuit that has yet to be heard.

Another gay marriage lawsuit will be heard in Austin, possibly as early as June. Federal Judge Sam Sparks will hear an argument made by a gay couple that the state ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional because it discriminates against them based on their gender. The argument is slightly different from the one made before Garcia and could trigger another round of appeals.

You may recall that Abbott tried to get these two cases consolidated and moved to Judge Sparks’ court, but both Judges Garcia and Sparks rejected those motions. In preliminary hearings, Judge Sparks had expressed some skepticism about the plaintiffs’ claims in the lawsuit that he will hear, which as noted is based on different claims than the one Judge Garcia just ruled on. It will be interesting to see what happens in that case.

Another lawsuit likely to be affected by this is the one that was filed by Jared Woodfill against the city of Houston over Mayor Parker’s order to make spousal benefits available to legally married same sex couples as well. Lone Star Q discusses that.

Ken Upton, a senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal who’s representing the gay Houston employees, told Lone Star Q on Thursday that U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s ruling striking down the amendment will bolster the argument for same-sex benefits in Houston.

“It should be persuasive that the City and the employees have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits given that another federal judge in a sister district has found the law to violate both the liberty and equality guarantees of the 14th amendment,” Upton said.

You’d sure think so, wouldn’t you? That case is now in federal court, being heard by Judge Lee Rosenthal. There should be another hearing for it soon, unless the plaintiffs decide to drop it. Take the hint, Jared.

Last and least, Louie Gohmert is still an idiot. Just thought you’d want to know that.

On succeeding Abbott as AG

The next Attorney General will inherit a lot of Greg Abbott’s unfinished fights, some of which he instigated and some of which were thrust upon him by the Lege.

Still not Greg Abbott

Defending the constitutionality of the state’s controversial public school finance system before the Texas Supreme Court will be a tall order for the person elected to replace Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Three Republicans and one Democrat are running for the position.

Houston lawyer Sam Houston thinks there are problems with the way Texas funds its schools, but an attorney general is bound to defend the state law whether he or she agrees or disagrees.

“That’s the job,” Houston said in an interview.

And backing Abbott’s current defense of the school funding system are all three Republican attorney general candidates: State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas; state Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; and Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman.

“All of the candidates are campaigning on the idea that they would carry forward the Abbott agenda on standing firm against federal overreach and the expansion of government,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

[…]

During his tenure, Abbott has used the position to champion socially conservative positions on gay marriage and abortion as well as to launch political attacks against the Obama administration and federal agencies.

His defense of the school finance system became campaign fodder for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who filibustered against the 2011 cuts in the Texas Senate. Abbott has responded that he was acting in his capacity as attorney general to defend state laws.

Houston, the lone Democrat in the race, said in an interview that he questions what advice Abbott gave to members of the Legislature during the 2013 session regarding the system’s constitutionality.

He’s also questioned the advice Abbott gave the Lege about redistricting. I don’t think that comment Prof. Jillson made above applies to Sam Houston, at least not in the same way. Being tasked with defending the state against litigation doesn’t preclude one from seeking a settlement if one reasonably concludes that the state’s position is a loser and it’s going to get its tuchus handed to it in court. There’s already an argument being made by the Lone Star Project that Abbott can and should be seeking a settlement in the school finance case. A much more contentious question will arise with the state’s defense of its Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage law. The initial hearing to determine if there needs to be an injunction against it will be soon, but it’s very likely the appeals process will still be ongoing in 2015. The precedent exists for an Attorney General to decline to defend a state’s ban on same sex marriages. Houston may come under a lot of pressure if it’s his job to do that for Texas next year. The Supreme Court could possibly render that decision moot, but this is something to keep in mind going forward.

Federal judge denies Abbott motion to consolidate same sex marriage lawsuits

From Lone Star Q:

RedEquality

A key hearing in a federal lawsuit challenging Texas’ same-sex marriage bans will go forward next month in San Antonio.

U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia, of the Western District of Texas, on Wednesday rejected Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s latest effort to transfer the lawsuit from San Antonio to Austin.

Garcia cited key differences between the San Antonio lawsuit, known as DeLeon v. Perry, and two other lawsuits challenging the marriage bans that are pending before U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin. Garcia’s decision to deny Abbott’s motion means a hearing in DeLeon v. Perry will take place as scheduled in February.

“The Court finds that while both lawsuits filed in the Austin court share a common issue with the present lawsuit in that all Plaintiffs challenge he constitutionality of Defendants’ refusal to let them marry their same-sex partners, the three lawsuits differ in important respects,” Garcia wrote.

That hearing will be on February 12. Previously, Abbott had petitioned Judge Sparks to consolidate the lawsuits, which do have some key differences, but Judge Sparks denied the request. Neel McLane, the attorney for the San Antonio plaintiffs, thinks Abbott has been forum shopping.

U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia, who presides over the Western District of Texas’ San Antonio district, is a President Bill Clinton appointee. Garcia also happens to be the brother-in-law of Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a Democrat and marriage-equality supporter who’s running for lieutenant governor in 2014. Legal experts say they believe there’s a good chance Garcia will rule in favor of marriage equality in DeLeon v. Perry, a lawsuit filed in his court in October alleging Texas’ marriage bans are unconstitutional.

[…]

Lane said Abbott’s office wants the cases before Sparks, who gave preliminary indications at [a hearing on January 9] that it won’t be easy to convince him to strike down the state’s marriage amendment.

“He [Sparks] did suggest it was going to be a difficult showing to make,” Lane said.

Of course, from there it would be appealed to the Fifth Circuit, where good things go to die. But it would still be a big step forward.

The state of Texas is sure to fight this every step of the way. At least, that would be the case as long as there is a fanatical enemy of marriage equality infesting the Attorney General’s office. If a proponent of marriage equality were to be elected, we might see what Virginia is seeing, where its newly-elected AG is declining to defend that state’s ban on same sex marriage.

Virginia’s new attorney general has decided to switch sides in an important case that is challenging the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.

In an interview with Morning Edition’s Steve Inskeep, Democrat Mark Herring said his office will no longer defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.

“As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend laws that violate Virginians’ rights,” Herring said. “The commonwealth will be siding with the plaintiffs in this case and with every other Virginia couple whose right to marry is being denied.”

Herring was sworn in just days ago after a razor-thin win in November, an election that marked big political change in the state and also ushered in Democrat Terry McAuliffe to the governor’s mansion. Herring is taking over for Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican who ran and lost a bid for governor on a Tea Party platform and was a staunch defender of the gay-marriage ban.

Herring said as he came into office, he asked his staff to review Bostic v. Rainey and, after careful consideration, he came to the conclusion that the ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

[…]

Herring’s solicitor general will tell a federal judge in Norfolk next week that Virginia is joining the plaintiffs in the case, that the state agrees a ban on gay marriage denies some couples in the state what the Supreme Court has called a fundamental right.

Herring said he’s doing it for Virginians. That’s when Steve reminded him that the amendment to Virginia’s Constitution defining marriage as only between a man and woman was approved by 57 percent of voters in 2006.

Herring said that his job is to defend laws that are constitutional. This one, he said, isn’t. Also, Herring added, he wants his state to be on the right side of history.

“There have been times in some key landmark cases where Virginia was on the wrong side, was on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the law,” Herring said. “And as attorney general, I’m going to make sure that the [people] presenting the state’s legal position on behalf of the people of Virginia are on the right side of history and on the right side of the law.”

Consider that a reason to vote for Sam Houston, if you needed one. Herring is not the first AG to reach this conclusion.

It is not the first time an attorney general has decided to stop defending their state’s gay marriage ban. In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said last year that she would stop defending that state’s gay marriage ban, also calling it unconstitutional. An outside law firm was hired to represent the state in a lawsuit over the ban.

And before that, the state of California declined to defend Prop 8, and the federal government declined to defend DOMA. It’s one thing to be dealt a losing hand, it’s another to be dealt a hand you don’t believe should be played at all. The fall of DOMA, the recent court rulings, and the massive shift in public opinion give plenty of cover for these decisions. And as Dave Weigel points out, it’s not like this is a bedrock principle that’s at stake here.

Virginia’s constitutional definition of marriage is not some sacred script handed down from Thomas Jefferson to Patrick Henry to (still sounds weird) Terry McAuliffe. It’s actually younger than the iPod. In 2006, 57 percent of Virginia voters approved the Marshall-Newman Amendment, adding the definition to their Constitution. Since then, lots of Virginians have, like Herring, changed their minds. As of six months ago, only 43 percent of Virginians opposed gay marriage — a 14-point swing.

So Virginia’s one of those states that’s probably ready to wave in gay marriages, but can’t, because an older and more conservative electorate locked and bolted the door. Back in 2006, this was seen as a boon for Republicans. And now it’s left Republicans defending a pretty unpopular position.

Texas passed its amendment in 2005, still years after the iPod hit the scene, though our history of banning gay marriage does go back to the pre-iPod era. The point about locking it in via the Constitution, which I’ve made before, is why this will need to be resolved by the courts. Daily Kos has more.

January finance reports for Democratic statewide candidates

BagOfMoney

With the exception of a stray missing report here and there, all of the January campaign finance reports for state office holders and seekers are up on the Texas Ethics Commission webpage. Here’s a brief look at the reports filed by Democratic candidates for statewide offices. I already have reports for the candidates in contested primaries on my 2014 Election page, so this is a chance to look at the uncontested candidates as well.

Governor

Wendy Davis
Wendy Davis SPAC
Wendy Davis GPAC

Ray Madrigal – No report

As you’ve probably read by now, Wendy Davis filed three campaign reports – basically, the first one is her previously existing Senate account, to which people were contributing before her official announcement that she was running for Governor; the second is her special purpose PAC account for her gubernatorial campaign, similar to the “Friends Of” or “Texans For” PACs that Republicans often use; and the joint Battleground Texas PAC that has gotten every Republican’s panties in a wad. I’m not going to rehash any of that, I’m just going to note with amusement that her total must have really freaked them out to have reacted so strongly instead of just pointing to Greg Abbott’s bottom line, which is enough to make Switzerland salivate. Davis certainly answered the question about her ability to raise the funds she’ll need, but once won’t be enough. She’ll need to post similar, if not better, numbers for July. But we’ll worry about that another day.

Lt. Governor

Leticia Van de Putte
Leticia Van de Putte SPAC

As with Wendy Davis, the first account is the pre-existing Senate account, and the second is for the Lite Guv race. Here are the details from each:

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Senate $154,087 $177,799 $235,084 LG SPAC $290,514 $ 21 $251,756 Total $445,601 $177,820 $486,840

I presume all of the expenditures came out of the Senate account, which makes sense. The SPAC was created on November 23, so basically it represents five weeks’ worth of fundraising, which isn’t too shabby. I didn’t go through its contributions, but I did go through the expenses for the Senate account, and I did not see any transfers from the one to the other, so that $290K figure is accurate and as far as I know doesn’t include redundant funds. For five weeks during the Thanksgiving/Christmas period, that’s a decent total, which would project to $1.5 million to $2 million at that pace for the July report. Not bad as I say, but not really enough, either. LVdP doesn’t need to be in Wendy’s league, but she does need to have enough to do some real statewide outreach. If she doesn’t raise at least $5 million for July, I’d be concerned she won’t be able to do that. On the plus side, she can hit up Wendy’s supporters, including and especially the big-dollar ones. I feel confident that she is more than up to this challenge, but if you’ve donated to Wendy and not to Leticia, you need to rectify that.

Attorney General
Comptroller

Sam Houston
Mike Collier

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Houston $184,595 $ 41,216 $153,678 Collier $213,518 $170,791 $439,015

I put these two together, because they’re the only other candidates to report significant fundraising totals. Houston’s report begins in October, whereas Collier had the whole six month period in which to raise money. Both did pretty well, with Collier’s totals being boosted by $400K in loans ($250K from himself, $150K from his company; Houston reported $10K in loans as well). Collier spent $30K on video production, and $50K on “website design and video advertising”; he also spent many thousands on consultant fees, which I didn’t add up. As Van de Putte needs to kick it up by an order of magnitude this period, so do these two. I’d be happy with $2 million raised from each. We know the base is big enough to support Wendy’s campaign, and I’m confident that support will extend to LVdP. Will it reach this far? I hope so.

Ag Commissioner
Land Commissioner
Railroad Commissioner

Kinky Friedman
Hugh Fitzsimons
Jim Hogan

John Cook

Steve Brown
Dale Henry

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kinky $26,416 $ 4,256 $22,159 Fitz $27,200 $ 6,549 $74,401 Hogan $ 0 $ 3,750 $ 0 Cook $13,153 $17,010 $ 0 Brown $ 4,455 $ 5,661 $ 0 Henry $ 0 $ 0 $ 0

Not a whole lot to say here. Fitzsimons had $50K in loans, and Cook, the former Mayor of El Paso, had a bit more than $19K in loans. I’m not exactly sure why neither Cook nor Brown reported any cash on hand, but it’s not that important. With the exception of Kinky, none of these folks will have much in the way of name recognition in November, but then neither will any of their opponents other than Baby Bush. From this point on, it’s all about the top of the ticket.

Supreme Court
Court of Criminal Appeals

William Moody
Larry Meyers
Gina Benavides

John Granberg

Account Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Moody $ 7,500 $ 9,358 $ 4,037 Meyers $ 1,000 $ 3,750 $ 441 Benavides $ 2,500 $ 3,750 $ 0 Granburg $ 780 $ 5,296 $ 780

Again, not much to say here. I thought Larry Meyers might have a few bucks stashed away just due to his longevity, but apparently not. He does have about $94K in outstanding loans, presumably money he has already spent. In case you’re wondering, that $3,750 figure you see is the filing fee. Again, these races are determined by the top of the ticket more than anything else. Maybe the state party will raise some money to campaign for the slate as a whole.

That’s it for these reports. I’ll look at others as we go along.

Davis outraises Abbott

Nice.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democrat Wendy Davis pulled $8.7 million into her gubernatorial campaign coffers in the last half of 2013, and another group committed to her election as governor raised $3.5 million over the same period, the Davis campaign announced Tuesday. Minutes after she announced the combined $12.2 million haul, her expected Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, announced he had raised $11.5 million over the same time frame.

Both had bragging rights: Abbott outraised Davis when it came to their actual campaign accounts. But Davis had more when counting the joint “Texas Victory Committee” that splits its resources between her campaign and Battleground Texas, a group working to drive up Democratic turnout and make the GOP-ruled state politically competitive.

The Abbott campaign said it was misleading to combine the two pots of money in describing Davis’ total for the last half of 2013.

“It’s more fuzzy math from the Davis campaign,” Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said.

But Davis spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña said the money is all going to the same purpose: to help Davis become the first Democrat elected governor since Ann Richards won in an upset in 1990.

“The committee is a joint effort between Wendy Davis and Battleground Texas,” Acuña said. “The campaign has asked donors to contribute to the TVC, and that money goes to support the work those organizations conduct in making Wendy Davis the next governor.”

Separately, Battleground Texas will report an additional $1.8 million for its field operations. The group was founded by former field operatives for President Obama. Jenn Brown, executive director of the group, said the money that comes in from the joint committee would “absolutely” be used to support Davis’ efforts. She said Abbott’s campaign criticized the structure of Davis’ fundraising operation because he’s worried.

“That’s what I would say, too, if I had raised less,” Brown said. “I think this shows the excitement Texas has for Wendy, and they’re trying to discredit it and it’s terrible for him.”

Besides unveiling the combined $12.2 million haul, Team Davis also said that the Fort Worth senator had collected donations from 71,000 contributors from Texas and around the United States.

BOR has a copy of the Davis press release. The truly impressive stat to me is the one about Team Wendy getting a contribution from all 254 counties in Texas. That would include King County, in which President Obama received five – yes, I said “five” – votes in 2012, and Loving County, in which he received nine. Eighty-five percent of the donations were for $50 or less. And yes, that is some fine whining from the Abbott campaign. He has more cash overall, of course, since he’s had years to hoard many millions, but the game is officially on.

We should start to see finance reports for all candidates on the Texas Ethics Commission webpage tomorrow. I’m very interested to see how other statewide Dems have done, in particular Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. She got in a lot later, so she won’t have nearly as impressive a haul, but I do hope that overall she is able to keep up. This can’t be just the Wendy show, with no one else able to run a statewide organization. LVdP, Sam Houston, Mike Collier – it would be really nice if all of them are able to raise some money, too. It can’t all go to Wendy – we need to make the pie higher, as they say.

Yes, I know, money is not determinative. But let’s be honest, it’s expensive to run a statewide campaign in Texas. You can’t raise the kind of money you’re going to need to run that campaign if people don’t believe in you. This is a great first step, but it’s a long way from over. Davis will need to repeat this kind of performance for July and for the 30 day, and again she’s going to need her ballotmates to do well, too. We all have our work cut out for us.