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Just a reminder, Will Hurd is still a Republican

That means he does Republican things.

Beto O’Rourke

Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd said he would vote for Donald Trump in 2020 over his friend, former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, should he decide to run and win the Democratic Party’s nomination.

“My plan is to vote for the Republican nominee,” Hurd told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

“So, you would vote for President Trump over Beto O’Rourke?” Tapper asked.

“It’s most likely that Donald Trump is the likely candidate, right,” Hurd said.

“So, Trump over O’Rourke?” Tapper pressed again.

“That’s very clear,” Hurd replied. “Unless Beto O’Rourke decides to run as a Republican, which I don’t think he’s planning on doing.”

Normally, “Republican Congressman says he will vote for Republican President” is not news, but this is Will Hurd and Beto O’Rourke, stars of a buddy road trip video, in which Beto’s refusal to campaign against Hurd in the latter’s hotly contested Congressional race caused a minor kerfuffle before full-on Betomania made everyone forget the whole thing. Hurd survived his race by less than a point, in a district that Beto carried by five points, and it’s safe to say that some Dems think Beto’s hands-off approach to Hurd and his race was a decisive factor.

It’s really hard to say what the effect actually was, but here’s a look at some numbers.


Dist     Beto   Litton     Cruz Crenshaw
========================================
CD02  129,460  119,992  132,559  139,188

Dist     Beto  Sanchez     Cruz   Wright
========================================
CD06  124,144  116,350  132,290  135,961

Dist     Beto Fletcher     Cruz     Culb
========================================
CD07  130,185  127,959  115,642  112,286

Dist     Beto   Siegel     Cruz   McCaul
========================================
CD10  154,034  144,034  153,467  157,166

Dist     Beto   Kopser     Cruz      Roy
========================================
CD21  177,246  168,421  177,785  177,654

Dist     Beto Kulkarni     Cruz    Olson
========================================
CD22  147,650  138,153  149,575  152,750

Dist     Beto    Jones     Cruz     Hurd
========================================
CD23  110,689  102,359  100,145  103,285

Dist     Beto McDowell     Cruz Marchant
========================================
CD24  136,786  125,231  127,534  133,317

Dist     Beto    Hegar     Cruz   Carter
========================================
CD31  139,253  136,362  145,480  144,680

Dist     Beto   Allred     Cruz Sessions
========================================
CD32  152,092  144,067  122,736  126,101

First things first: Beto outscored every Dem in each of these Congressional districts, ranging from leads of 2,026 votes over Lizzie Fletcher and 2,891 votes over MJ Hegar to 11,555 votes over Jan McDowell. He led Gina Ortiz Jones by 8,330 votes, and in most cases led the Dem Congressional candidate by about 10,000 votes.

On the other hand, Ted Cruz trailed each Republican Congressional candidate/incumbent except for three: John Culberson, Chip Roy, and John Carter. Cruz had more votes in each district except the two that were won by Democrats, CDs 07 and 32, and Will Hurd’s CD23. Cruz trailed Dan Crenshaw in CD02 by 6,629 votes and Kenny Marchant in CD24 buy 5,883 votes, but otherwise was usually with three to four thousand votes of the GOP Congressional candidate.

In every case, there were more votes cast in the Senate race than in the Congressional race. In some but not all of these Congressional races, there was a Libertarian candidate. In CDs 02 and 22 there were also Independent candidates, while in CD07 it was just Fletcher and Culberson. Generally speaking, where it was an R/D/L race, the Libertarian candidate for Congress got more votes than the Libertarian candidate for Senate. For example, in CD21, Libertarian Congressional candidate Lee Santos got 7,542 votes, while Libertarian Senate candidate Neil Dikeman got 3,333. That accounts for some of the differences between the races, but not all of it.

What I’m left with is the impression that there was a set of voters, consistent across Congressional districts, who voted for Beto but skipped most or all of the downballot races, including the Congressional race. At the same time, there was a smaller but equally consistent number of Republicans who did vote downballot, particularly in the Congressional race, but skipped the Senate race. I presume these people refused to vote for Cruz but didn’t want to go all the way and vote for Beto.

That leads to two key questions: One, were there nominal Republicans who crossed over to vote for Beto, and – crucially – other Democrats. We know there were in CD07, because we see it in the varying levels of support for Republican candidates, at the local level as well as at the state level. How many were there, and did they exist in equivalent levels in other districts? That I don’t know.

Two, could Beto have moved votes in the CD23 election? Beto gained a lot of renown giving other candidates visibility and opportunities to campaign at his events. The gap between hit vote totals and those of the Congressional candidates suggests to me that such support only went so far. If Beto had explicitly stumped for Gina Ortiz Jones, might it have helped her gain the 900 votes she needed to win? Maybe. Maybe it would have pushed some of those non-Cruz voters to not skip the Senate race. Maybe it would have helped Hurd convince some Republicans who think he’s a RINO squish that he’s better than they give him credit for. Actions cause reactions, and they don’t always work in the same direction.

I wish I could give a more definitive answer to the question, but I can’t. The difference in the race is small, but there weren’t that many people who voted in CD23 but skipped that race. I certainly understand the frustration. I get why O’Rourke partnered with Hurd – he was in the minority in Congress, and he needed someone on the team that had a chance to pass bills to advocate for border issues, on which the two of them largely agreed. The larger picture is that nothing was going to change until Congress changed, and flipping CD23 could have been necessary for that to happen. Part of Beto’s brand was a certain maverick-ness that caused him to skip certain political norms when that suited him. That led him to not turn on his ally. As Harold Cook says, people can feel how they want to about that. I feel like the real difference in the CD23 race was more Will Hurd and Gina Ortiz Jones than Beto O’Rourke, but I understand if you feel otherwise.

House passes its budget out of committee

On to the full House, then the real fight occurs.

A panel of House budget writers gave initial approval Monday to a budget that would spend $115 billion in state funds, including a $9 billion infusion of new funds for Texas public schools and property tax relief.

Now that the House Appropriations Committee has approved the 2020-21 spending plan, House Bill 1, the legislation moves to the floor of the 150-member House.

[…]

Among the highlights of the House’s spending plan are:

$9 billion in new state funding for K-12 education and property tax relief, contingent on lawmakers passing reforms to the way the state funds public schools. The budget does not dictate the breakdown of those funds, but a bill backed by Speaker Dennis Bonnen would give about $6 billion to school districts and use the remaining $3 billion to pay for a reduction in local school district property taxes.

A $2.8 billion increase in state and federal funds for health and human services above what the House proposed in January. That includes a $25 million increase for early childhood intervention services, $6.7 million to reduce caseloads for Adult Protective Services workers, $31 million to expand capacity at local mental health clinics for low-income Texans and $87 million to raise the pay of personal attendants, who care for the elderly and disabled, by about 10 cents an hour.

A $168 million expenditure to give some Texas prison guards and parole officers a pay raise.

Rep. Matt Schaefer was the lone No vote in committee, so presume that this will get some pushback from the wingnuts. The story notes that the House budget draws $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, but it doesn’t specify what it’s used for. There’s more here on the House school finance proposal. The budget is the one thing the Lege absolutely has to do. With some cracks beneath the surface on other “priority” items, it’s nice to see this get a head start.

Precinct analysis: 2018 State Senate

The day I look forward to since November has finally arrived – all the data from the last election is now available on the Texas Legislative Council webpage. You know what that means: It’s statewide precinct analysis time! Let’s start where we started two years ago at this time, with the State Senate, for whom 2018 data is here. I will boil this down into the bits of greatest interest.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
SD02   40.6%   41.3%   36.0%   40.1%   40.5%   39.5%   37.3%
SD05   41.5%   44.6%   38.1%   42.5%   42.8%   41.9%   39.2%
SD07   40.3%   43.9%   38.5%   42.3%   42.9%   42.5%   39.5%
SD08   48.8%   50.6%   43.0%   47.6%   48.6%   47.1%   44.3%
SD09   46.0%   48.9%   42.8%   46.0%   47.0%   46.2%   43.8%
SD10   51.7%   53.3%   47.1%   50.8%   51.6%   50.9%   48.3%
SD11      NA   41.5%   36.2%   39.9%   40.7%   40.6%   37.5%
SD12      NA   43.3%   36.5%   40.5%   41.2%   40.2%   37.3%
SD16   54.1%   55.9%   46.9%   52.6%   53.9%   52.3%   48.1%
SD17   46.8%   51.8%   44.6%   49.7%   50.7%   50.0%   45.1%
SD19      NA   56.8%   50.2%   53.7%   55.4%   55.3%   53.3%
SD25   42.3%   45.2%   38.4%   42.4%   43.6%   42.9%   39.2%

SDs 11, 12, and 19 were not on the ballot in 2018 and are thus the districts of interest for 2020. SD19, which Dems fumbled away in a special election last year, is the obvious, and realistically only target for 2020. The good news is that in a normal turnout context, it’s a sufficiently blue district to favor whoever challenges Sen. Pete Flores. No guarantees, of course, but as you can see it was more Democratic than SDs 10 or 16, the two seats that Dems won last year. A decent candidate and a November-of-an-even-year level of unity among Dems should be enough to win it back.

In SD05, it would appear that Sen. Charles Schwertner was not damaged by the sexual harassment allegations against him. He wasn’t the top performer among Republicans in his district, but he was solidly above average. The allegations, which were ultimately resolved in a non-conclusive fashion, were vague enough to let voters conclude that they didn’t really know what may have happened, and they voted accordingly.

I did not expect SD08 to be as close as it was. Looking at past data, it was a step below SDs 10, 16, and 17. The shift in suburban county politics, plus perhaps a bit of Paxton fatigue, put this one on the cusp for Dems. Might it have made a difference if more money had been dumped into Mark Phariss’ campaign. We’ll never know, but I’m going to be a little haunted by this one. It’s close enough to think that maybe it could have gone differently.

As for SD17, don’t be too mesmerized by the gaudy Dem numbers for the top candidates. SD17 contains the bulk of HD134, and that means a lot of nominal Republicans who crossed over in certain elections. It would seem that Sen. Huffman was not on their naughty list, and that enabled her to get by without too much discomfort.

One other way to look at this is to compare numbers over time. Here’s how this breaks down:


Dist  08Obama 12Obama 16Clinton 18 Beto 
=======================================
SD02   38.2%    35.5%     35.4%   41.3%
SD05   38.8%    34.5%     36.4%   44.6%
SD07   33.0%    32.0%     38.3%   43.9%
SD08   39.3%    36.6%     42.6%   50.6%
SD09   41.3%    39.2%     41.8%   48.9%
SD10   47.1%    45.4%     47.3%   53.3%
SD11   36.5%    33.5%     36.6%   41.5%
SD12   36.1%    32.2%     35.4%   43.3%
SD16   43.9%    41.6%     49.9%   55.9%
SD17   41.4%    39.2%     47.2%   51.8%
SD19   55.5%    54.6%     53.4%   56.8%
SD25   37.4%    33.9%     37.9%   45.2%

2018 had Presidential-level turnout, so I’m comparing it to previous Presidential elections. Some big shifts in there, most notably in SDs 08 and 16, but even districts that weren’t competitive in 2018 like SDs 07 and 25 moved by double digits in a Dem direction from 2012. Some of this is demographic change, but it sure seems like some of it is reaction to Trump and his brand of Republicanism. I do not believe that SD16 goes that blue without a lot of people who used to vote Republican switching sides. How long that effect lasts, in particular how long it lasts once Trump is a nightmare we’ve all woken up from and are trying to forget, is a huge question. If the shift is permanent, or at least resilient, Republicans are going to have some very tough choices to make in the 2021 redistricting process. If not – if things return more or less to what we’ve seen this past decade once a Democrat is back in the White House – then they can keep doing what they’ve been doing and dare Dems to do something about it. We won’t know till we experience it, which God willing will be 2022, a year when every Senator will be on the ballot. In the meantime, electing enough Dem Senators to force Dan Patrick to either change the three-fifths rule or get used to wooing Dems for his preferred bills is on the table for next year. I’ll have more numbers in the coming days.

Still a “no” on Whitley

As it should be.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Senate Democrats still pledge to block the confirmation of embattled Secretary of State David Whitley, even as a top Texas law enforcement official is taking blame for major errors in a list of suspected non-citizen voters.

“I take full responsibility as the leader of the Department of Public Safety,” Steven McCraw told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee this week. Had the department assigned a “senior level person” to the project, he said, it wouldn’t have turned over bad data that included thousands of people who had already proven their citizenship.

“I can tell you throughout the entire project, the secretary was not involved in any of it because he wasn’t there at the time,” McCraw said.

The mea culpa, however, is being met with skepticism from county election officials, who first identified mistakes in the state list, and from Senate Democrats, who still fault Whitley. He had been on the job about six weeks before launching the attempted purge.

“Ultimately he’s responsible, because he is the secretary of state,” state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said Thursday. “I still think he’s a fine gentleman, he just made the wrong decision.”

[…]

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said McCraw’s statement this week didn’t change his mind.

“I don’t know that changed anybody’s mind,” Whitmire said. “The harm has been done.”

The Democrats’ resistance is a rare show of force from the minority party this early in the legislative session, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. Abbott’s nominees don’t usually meet much pushback from the upper chamber.

“I can’t remember ever having someone this controversial in my 29 years in the Senate,” Lucio said.

See here and here for some background. All due respect to Sen. Lucio, but I’d argue that the David Bradley and Don McLeroy fiascoes were on par with this one. Be that as it may, the Abbott-McCraw blame-passing pas-de-duex doesn’t pass the smell test.

State Elections Director Keith Ingram acknowledged in federal court that the secretary of state’s office knew ahead of time that issue might pose some problems with the list. Some 50,000 people are naturalized each year in Texas.

“I don’t see why DPS is taking responsibility, other than it’s convenient for the Department of Public Safety to take the fall, rather than the secretary of state,” said Special Assistant Harris County Attorney Douglas Ray, who has said DPS data is notoriously unreliable.

Williamson County Elections Administrator Chris Davis questioned why the secretary of state’s office didn’t spot the errors that were quickly evident to county officials.

“The secretary of state had a duty to vet this information,” said Davis, who is president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators. “So much of this could have been avoided had they done so.”

“I apologize to all of the voters whose citizenship was called into question by this advisory. In our effort to protect the integrity of our voter registration system, my office acted in haste to verify the rolls, and in doing so created unnecessary problems for county officials and many voters. I take responsibility for this, and I promise to take every step to improve and optimize our processes to achieve our goal of ensuring that elections are protected and all eligible citizens have the opportunity to vote.” See how easy that was? If David Whitley had said something like that at the beginning, we wouldn’t be having this discussion now. He’d have been confirmed, and we’d be obsessing about something else. Why hasn’t Whitley taken responsibility for his actions, and why does Greg Abbott insist on coddling him in this fashion?

Joaquin reportedly in for Senate

This would be exciting.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Joaquin Castro, the Democratic congressman from San Antonio, “is all but certain” to enter next year’s race for U.S. Senate and take on incumbent Republican John Cornyn, a source familiar with Castro’s thinking said Thursday.

The move would profoundly change the dynamics of the 2020 campaign and put Texas squarely on center stage, with two Texans already in the Democratic primary race and Joaquin taking on a longtime Republican senator who many see as vulnerable, especially during a presidential election year.

“We’ll be making an announcement in the very near future,” said Matthew Jones, Castro’s campaign adviser.

“This instantly makes the race very competitive,” Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist and longtime political observer, said of Joaquin’s potential entry into the race. Running in tandem with his brother, who announced his candidacy for president on January 12 in San Antonio, would only benefit both candidates, Miller said, and “doubles up on all the positives.” When asked if Cornyn was vulnerable, Miller said, “Every Republican senator up for election next year is vulnerable.”

“This is quite an important development,” said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. “Beto proved Texas can be competitive, and this means that Cornyn is really going to have to work hard to raise money and work hard to earn votes—and Republicans in Texas are not used to doing that.”

[…]

The source said a timeline has not been established for Joaquin to formalize any announcement, but one Democrat who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the congressman said that Joaquin has been reaching out and telling several key Democratic leaders in Texas that he has been leaning toward running. Castro’s decision may have further solidified on Thursday after O’Rourke announced he was running for president. There had been speculation that O’Rourke may have taken on Cornyn following his 2.5 percentage point defeat to Republican Ted Cruz last year.

See here for the background. If this turns out to be the case, then I would presume that all of the other potential Cornyn opponents will turn their attention elsewhere. That would suggest MJ Hegar and Joe Kopser take another shot at the Congressional races they ran in 2018, and Wendy Davis keep doing what she’s doing now, as an advocate and supporter of other candidates. All of which is fine by me – Joaquin Castro has always been my top non-Beto choice to run against Cornyn, I just didn’t think he’d give up his Congressional seat to do it. Expect a big scramble for that seat when and if this happens as well, by the way. We’ll save that for another day. Also, as the story notes, this likely forecloses the Senate fallback option for Beto – it’s not that he couldn’t try for Senate again if he gets no traction in the Presidential primary, it’s that it would be much more complicated and fraught for him to do so. We should know more soon enough. The Trib has more.

No more PSF investing for you, Land Board

Seems worth considering.

Austin Lawmakers filed bills this week that would strip the School Land Board of its ability to invest billions of dollars on behalf of Texas schoolchildren.

The bipartisan legislation, submitted Wednesday, comes amid mounting scrutiny over the management of the $44 billion Permanent School Fund, which is run jointly by the land board and the State Board of Education. The two boards are the subject of a yearlong Houston Chronicle investigation that began publishing Sunday, which found that the fund has lost out on as much as $12 billion in revenue, fueled by anemic returns, skyrocketing fees and questionable investment deals.

At the same time, students in Texas have received less annually from the endowment over the past decade, in real dollars, than they did in the two decades prior, even as the overall size of the fund has swelled.

The land board’s role has been especially contentious. It manages its portion of the portfolio — now at $10 billion — by collecting the state’s oil and gas royalty revenues and investing them, primarily in private equity. The land board has only three members, often meets behind closed doors, and since 2006 has committed or invested nearly $3.7 billion with companies run by friends, business associates or campaign donors.

The bills would end that, revoking the land board’s investment power and returning it entirely to the education board. It would still gather fees from royalties, but pass them straight on to the education board.

Consolidating the two will “put more money to work for the benefit of our schoolchildren,” Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat who is leading the effort, said in a statement. “The legislature created this flawed structure, and it’s time we fixed it.”

Five Republican Senate committee chairs have signed on to the legislation, including Jane Nelson, Brian Birdwell, Paul Bettencourt, Dawn Buckingham and Bob Hall. Republican Rep. Ken King has filed identical legislation in the House.

See here for the background, and here for the full series published by the Chron. The SBOE had full responsibility for the PSF until 2001, so this would revert things to the earlier setup. Not that the SBOE has been a perfect steward of the PSF, but they’ve been a little better than the Land Board. I would not object to an overall higher level of scrutiny on the whole process. This is at least a step in the right direction.

In a statement, Land Commissioner George P. Bush called the proposal a “power grab.” He said he welcomes reforms, but only if they’re based upon sound financial expertise.

“Without expert evaluation, the school children of Texas stand to lose,” he said.

Bush, who oversees the land board, said after a meeting on Tuesday that he had not read the Chronicle’s reporting and didn’t plan to.

“I’m trying a new strategy in 2019 by not reading my media,” he said. He said his office would review the series’ findings and follow up later.

Remember when George P. Bush was the fresh new exciting face of the Texas GOP? Boy, those were the days.

Beto is in for President

Ready or not, here he comes.

Beto O’Rourke

After months of intense speculation, Beto O’Rourke is entering the presidential race Thursday, marking an extraordinary rise from little-known El Paso congressman a few years ago to potentially formidable White House contender.

“Amy and I are happy to share with you that I’m running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America,” O’Rourke says in a video with his wife released Thursday morning. “This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us.”

O’Rourke is making the announcement ahead of a three-day trip to Iowa that begins Thursday afternoon. In the video, O’Rourke says he will travel the country before returning to El Paso on March 30 for a kickoff rally.

“This is going to be a positive campaign that seeks to bring out the very best from every single one of us, that seeks to unite a very divided country,” O’Rourke says in the announcement. “We saw the power of this in Texas.”

My position has not changed. If it had been up to me, Beto would be running for Senate again, which is what national Dems would have preferred as well. It’s clear by now that we’ll have a good Dem running against John Cornyn, which makes this easier to accept, but it’s hard to argue at this time (though we will revisit that question later) that anyone would have been a stronger challenger to Cornyn than Beto. That said, I’m putting a lot of value in the question of how much each Democratic Presidential wannabe will contest Texas in 2020 as I make up my mind who to vote for in the primary. Beto – who, like basically every other Dem, should beat Trump like a drum if he gets nominated – puts extra pressure on the non-Julian Castro parts of the field to make that kind of commitment. Everything else I’ll sort out later. For now, what I want to know is what these candidates are going to do to turn Texas blue in 2020.

For more reactions on Beto for President, see the Chron, Mother Jones, Texas Monthly, Slate, Daily Kos, Decision Desk, TPM, and the Observer. You tell me, what do you think of this?

Kim Olson looking at CD24

I’m down with this.

Kim Olson

While retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson, a Democrat who lost the 2018 general election for state agriculture secretary by a respectable 51-46 margin, has shown some interest in challenging GOP Sen. John Cornyn, the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek flags some social media posts suggesting that she’s planning to take on GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant instead.

The Palo Pinto County Democratic Party posted on Facebook on Sunday that Olson would run for Texas’ 24th District in the northern Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs, saying that she “sent a text out last night and gave permission to share this information with you.” Jan McDowell, who was the 2018 nominee against Marchant and said she “intend[s]” to try again, also said on Friday that she’d heard Olson would run here. McDowell, who raised very little money but held Marchant to a shockingly close 51-48win, doesn’t sound at all inclined to defer to Olson, though. McDowell said that, while Olson is a “national treasure,” she “lives in Mineral Wells … nowhere even close to our district!”

Olson, who has yet to say anything publicly about a run against Marchant, did move to Mineral Wells in rural Texas in 2010, which is well to the west of this suburban seat. However, Olson is a former human resources director for the Dallas Independent School District, so she does have some ties to the area.

Texas’ 24th District, which includes a small portion of the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth as well as most of the suburb of Irving, had been safely red turf until recently. However, after voting for Mitt Romney by a 60-38 margin in 2012, it went for Trump by a much narrower 51-45 in 2016, and last year, according to analyst Miles Coleman, Beto O’Rourke actually edged Ted Cruz here 51-48.

You don’t have to take Miles Coleman’s word for it, it’s right here in the official TLC numbers that Beto won CD24 by a 51-48 margin. Justin Nelson also carried it, 49-48. Kim Olson trailed in CD24 by a similar margin. I would not give Jan McDowell credit for “holding” Kenny Marchant to 51%. The Democratic surge, which began in that district in 2016, is what did it.

Olson, who has speculated on as a candidate against John Cornyn, has not committed to CD24 as yet, but she’s clearly thinking about it:

Count me as being in favor of this. If Jan McDowell intends to try again a third time, so much the better because it means Olson – and hey, McDowell too – will have to get an early start at both organizing and fundraising, to win the March race first. I’m very much rooting for Kim Olson to take the plunge here.

UPDATE: Sitting in my inbox this morning is an email from Kim Olson announcing her candidacy.

Kim is ready to serve Texans and represent TX-24.  

Let’s also to help Kim and her team:
Turn Tarrant County Blue
Flip 6 Texas House Seats
Hold the US House

You in for Kim, send a pledge kim@kimforcongress.org

Go Kim!

McCraw falls on his sword

He’s a good company man, I’ll give him that much.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

After being rebuked by Gov. Greg Abbott for the state’s botched review of the voter rolls, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety took “full responsibility” Tuesday for providing data to the secretary of state’s office that included thousands of individuals whose citizenship should never have been in question.

Testifying before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, Steve McCraw offered a mea culpa for the role his agency played in transmitting flawed data to the secretary of state. That data led state officials to mistakenly challenge the eligibility of almost 25,000 registered voters who had already proved their citizenship status to DPS.

McCraw explained that DPS lacked a “senior-level person in position” at the beginning of the review process, which dates back to last March, to help explain the data to other state officials.

“If we had done that, there never would have been U.S. naturalized citizens known to DPS that was provided to the secretary of state that would have gone out through the election process and caused the problems that is causing right now,” McCraw said.

[…]

“I take full responsibility as the leader of the Department of Public Safety, recognizing there’s some complex issues with our data,” McCraw said. “We’re the experts on our data. If we had a senior person in place, I am confident that that would not have happened. I can assure you of that.”

See here for the background. So when McCraw says he takes “full responsibility” for this, does that include consequences? I mean, David Whitley is probably not going to be SOS for much longer. Is McCraw’s eat-a-crap-sandwich testimony the worst thing that happens to him? It could well be.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday seemed to welcome the head of the Department of Public Safety’s acceptance of blame for a botched rollout of a more rigorous, ongoing search by Texas for possible noncitizen voting.

Abbott said he stands 100 percent behind his nomination of Secretary of State David Whitley, who runs the other agency involved in the ill-fated release of error-filled lists of voters, which has drawn scornful criticism from a federal judge.

Abbott, who twice criticized DPS director Steve McCraw in recent weeks, declined to directly answer a question about whether McCraw’s testimony to a Senate panel on Tuesday has appeased the Republican governor.

Abbott, though, said he has not gone over McCraw’s head to complain to the five-member Public Safety Commission, which hired McCraw and could let him go.

“I’ve not talked to anybody on the board,” Abbott said at a news conference at which the music industry’s collector of license fees for songwriters, Broadcast Music Inc., announced it is opening an Austin office.

That’s it? Not even an “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” speech? As consequences go, that’s not very consequential. Of course, if the SOS keeps screwing up on its own, Steve McCraw’s true confessions may not be enough. Anyone else out there wanna do Greg Abbott a solid?

Is the anti-sick leave bill also anti-equality?

Could be. Whose word do you take for it?

Sen. Brandon Creighton

What started as seemingly simple state legislation hailed as good for Texas businesses is drawing skepticism from legal experts and outrage from advocates worried it would strike employment protections and benefits for LGBTQ workers.

As originally filed, Senate Bill 15 by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would have prohibited cities from requiring that private companies offer paid sick leave and other benefits to their employees. It also created a statewide mandate preventing individual cities and counties from adopting local ordinances related to employment leave and paid days off for holidays. But it made clear that the bill wouldn’t override local regulations that prohibit employers from discriminating against their workers.

Yet, when Creighton presented SB 15 to the Senate State Affairs Committee, he introduced a reworked version — a last-minute move, some lawmakers said, that shocked many in the Capitol.

Among its changes: A provision was added to clarify that while local governments couldn’t force companies to offer certain benefits, business could do so voluntarily. But most notably, gone was the language that explicitly said the potential state law wouldn’t supersede local non-discrimination ordinances.

There’s widespread debate about what the revised language for the bill means. And the new version has left some legal experts and LGBTQ advocates concerned. Axing that language, they say, could undermine the enforceability of local anti-discrimination laws and allow businesses to selectively pick and choose which of its employees are eligible to receive benefits that go beyond monetary compensation.

“You could see an instance where an employer wanted to discriminate against employees who are in same-sex marriages and say, ‘Well, I will offer extra vacation time or sick leave to opposite sex couples, but I won’t offer those benefits if it’s for a same sex couple,” said Anthony Kreis, a visiting assistant professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

A spokesperson for Creighton said SB 15 was filed strictly as a response to local governments — like Austin and San Antonio — imposing “burdensome, costly regulations on Texas private businesses.”

“The bill is limited to sick leave, predictive scheduling and benefit policies,” Erin Daly Wilson, a spokesperson for the senator, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “The pro-business climate in Texas is something we have worked hard to promote, and need to protect.”

The anti-sick leave stuff is a bunch of BS to begin with, but it doesn’t address the core question. Does the wording of this bill undermine protection for LGBTQ employees that have been granted via local ordinances? Equality advocates think it may be interpreted that way.

“Millions of people are covered by nondiscrimination protections at the local level (and) stand to have those protections dramatically cut back,” said Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign.

[…]

When touting the legislation at business events, Abbott has focused on the paid sick leave aspect, saying such policies should be discretionary and not mandated by local government.

David Welch, a Houston resident and leader of the Texas Pastor Council, says the bill would create a uniform standard for businesses across the state.

“SB 15 is one step in reversing the continued march toward unequal rights with a hodgepodge of laws throughout hundreds of cities and counties having different laws, language and enforcement,” Welch said in a statement.

The council — which was a backer of the so-called bathroom bill last session — sued the city of Austin over its anti-discrimination ordinance in 2018.

Jessica Shortall, with the business coalition Texas Competes, said the group is still trying to understand the revised bill’s potential effect on cities’ anti-discrimination ordinances. Early analysis of the changes, Shortall said, suggest the “best case scenario is confusion, and worst case is opening a door” to eroding the local ordinances.

Equality Texas has highlighted SB15 as a threat. Who are you going to believe, the people on the sharp end of bills like this, or the people who have made it their life’s work to discriminate against LGBTQ people but are now trying to pretend that this bill they support has nothing to do with their ongoing crusade? If SB15 passes, how long do you think it will take the likes of Welch to file lawsuits to overturn other cities’ non-discrimination ordinances on the grounds that they are in conflict with it? Just look at the never-ending Pidgeon lawsuit for an example. These guys will never quit, and they will take every opening given to them. SB15 sure looks like an opening to me.

One more thing:

Creighton doesn’t intend to add the disclaimer back in at this time. But Rep. Craig Goldman, the Fort Worth Republican who is carrying the House’s companion bill, said he has no intention of stripping the clause reassuring cities their LGBT protections won’t be axed.

Fine by me if this is a point of dispute. Erica Greider has more.

SOS screws up again

Are you kidding me?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The list of missteps in the Texas secretary of state’s review of the voter rolls for supposed noncitizens grew again Monday, when the office inadvertently added additional people to its already flawed list of voters flagged for citizenship checks.

Blaming a vendor for the mix-up, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office confirmed new names were sent to certain counties for possible investigation because of a technical error. The mistake occurred while state election officials were analyzing new data from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

As with the state’s initial review of previous years’ data, the secretary of state obtained a list of individuals who had visited DPS offices during January and February and indicated they were not U.S. citizens. The goal was to match those names with individuals on the state’s voter rolls and eventually send that list of names to counties for possible investigations.

But the secretary of state’s office was not ready to send out those lists when some counties received them Monday.

“Just like we told the counties and the court last week, this list maintenance process is still on pause,” said the office’s spokesman, Sam Taylor. “The test data that some counties had mistakenly received earlier today was the result of an issue with our vendor, which we immediately addressed with our vendor and the counties.”

[…]

Two counties confirmed to The Texas Tribune they had received the test dataset, which appeared to be riddled with the same errors in the state’s original list. Travis County received 146 names on Monday, but a “substantial number” had proved their citizenship when they registered to vote at DPS, said Bruce Elfant, who oversees the voter rolls in Travis County.

Travis County officials did not finish reviewing the Monday list because they got a call from the secretary of state’s office indicating it was sent by mistake.

“They said they sent the list in error and that we should disregard it,” Elfant said.

Williamson County also received a list Monday, only to be later told that “it was a mistake that shouldn’t have gone out,” said Chris Davis, the county’s election administrator.

Late on Monday, Keith Ingram — the chief of the secretary of state’s elections division — emailed county election officials asking them to “completely disregard the file” they received Monday.

The secretary of state’s mistake comes the same day lawyers with the attorney general’s office indicated in federal court that the secretary of state’s office was still working on the process for sending out the monthly lists.

See here for the whole saga. At least there’s a new villain for David Whitley’s apologists to blame. I don’t even know what else there is to say about this, but I will presume that Whitley’s charm offensive on Senate Democrats is going swell.

Bills to restore Open Meetings Act filed

This is good to see.

Sen. Kirk Watson

Two state legislators are aiming to restore a provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act that was struck down last week by the state’s highest criminal court.

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, filed identical bills to reverse the court ruling that the “walking quorum” provision of the act is “unconstitutionally vague.” The provision made it a crime for government officials to secretly discuss the public’s business in small groups. Senate Bill 1640 and House Bill 3402 will reword the passage to make it more precise and remove confusion, Watson and Phelan say.

“We simply couldn’t let this ruling go unanswered,” Watson said Wednesday. “Without some kind of walking quorum prohibition, there’s nothing to stop government actors from meeting in smaller groups to avoid the spirit and intent of the Open Meetings Act.”

[…]

The bills already appear to have strong support, as Phelan is the chairman of the House of Representatives State Affairs Committee, which is likely the first stop for the bills before a hearing on the House floor.

Rep. Dade Phelan

“Texans want their elected officials to be transparent and allow honest participation in the process,” Phelan said in the press release. “If we do not act this session to address this ruling, we deny them the open government they deserve.”

Watson and Phelan’s legislation come two days before the bill filing period ends for the session, leaving Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas President Kelley Shannon thankful that the court’s ruling left enough time for legislators to address the issue.

“We’re really glad that several lawmakers are interested in fixing this situation, and we’re fortunate that we still have the bill filing period so they can address it this session,” Shannon said. “It just goes to show how important the Texas Open Meetings Act is for this state and how widely recognized that is.”

The court’s ruling stems from the indictment of Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, who met privately with a county commissioner and a political consultant about a road bond when he was a member of the county commissioners court in 2015. A misdemeanor criminal charge against Doyal was thrown out by the ruling.

Doyal argued the law is too vague and violates his free speech rights.

Impacts of the court’s ruling are already being seen in the Houston area, where prosecutors asked a judge to dismiss all charges against six current and former members of the Pasadena Second Century Corp., who were indicted last year for violating the Open Meetings Act. Board members Ernesto Paredes and Emilio Carmona, former board President Roy Mease and ex-board members Brad Hance, Jackie Welch and Jim Harris allegedly met twice on Nov. 28, 2016, with engineering firm Civil Concepts to discuss potential designs for a new civic center.

See here for the background. SB1640 is here, and HB3402 is here. I was skeptical that anything would get done by the Lege about this, at least in this session, but there does seem to be a chance. We’ll keep an eye on this.

Add one more to the list of potential Cornyn opponents list

Joe Kopser, who made a strong showing in CD21 in 2018, puts himself on the roster of possible not-Beto challengers for John Cornyn in 2020.

Joseph Kopser

Call it the other “Beto Effect“.

Just months after Democrat Beto O’Rourke outperformed expectations by coming within three points of defeating Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Democrats are lining up to run against the sate’s other U.S. Senator, John Cornyn, in 2020.

The latest possible contender is veteran and 2018 Congressional candidate Joseph Kopser, who lost to Republican Chip Roy for an open seat previously held by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio.

“Everything’s on the table for me,” Kopser said in a Wednesday phone interview with the Tribune.

Kopser spoke admiringly of Cornyn, but said he was still considering a run against the state’s senior senator.

“He’s a guy I respect,” Kopser said. “But also, I think if you’ve been in Washington too long, you need to come home.”

[…]

All of the interest in running against Cornyn is a striking contrast to two years ago, when multiple Democrats passed on challenging Cruz, leaving O’Rourke as the most prominent name in the primary.

Along with looking at challenging Cornyn, both Hegar and Kopser are also debating whether to run in U.S. House rematches in 2020. Both ran in GOP-leaning districts yet came within three points of defeating their Republican opponents – U.S. Reps. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and Roy, respectively.

See here and here for the background. Kopser was not on my list of possible candidates for this slot in 2020 – neither was Wendy Davis, for that matter – but there’s no reason he couldn’t have been. At this point, I’d say if Beto really is out then Joaquin Castro is my first choice, MJ Hegar is my second choice (though that may mean a greatly diminished chance of taking CD31), and after that it’s a tossup for me between Wendy Davis and Joe Kopser. If he’d rather take another shot at CD21, that’s fine, too. I feel like there may be a wider range of decent candidates there than in CD31 if it comes to it, but if we’ve learned anything from 2018 it’s that there are many more strong possible candidates out there than we’d been giving ourselves credit for. And, as the story notes, now many of them are much more interested in running for something. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a more-good-candidates-than-available-races problem. As I said in the beginning of this cycle, I’m confident we’ll have someone worthwhile running against Cornyn. I feel that has already come true.

One more thing:

We may get multiple strong candidates in a primary for Senate regardless of how the Congressional situation sorts itself out.

In the cloud

Gotta say, this makes sense.

What do a warehouse in North Austin and a building at Angelo State University have in common? They hold trillions of bytes of data about some of Texans’ most sensitive information, including health and education records.

The Texas Legislature created the twin data centers in 2005 to consolidate disparate data management operations at dozens of state agencies. But since then, as government programs churned out more and more electronic information about health care, highways, public schools and other key services, the cost to operate the facilities has ballooned.

This session, lawmakers are considering an overhaul of how the state uses its data centers, with an eye toward private tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft that own private networks of remote servers known as a “cloud.” Proponents say hiring such a firm to be the official keeper of much of the state’s data could save millions of dollars and modernize vulnerable government tech infrastructure. But detractors say the current set-up is working fine and that any kind of structural change would be laborious, expensive and potentially risky.

A decade ago, it cost $278 million to run the centers over the state’s two-year budget cycle; under the current spending plan, it costs about $489 million to operate them.

“What can we do to try to reduce those costs?” state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, asked state information officers at a recent committee hearing. “Today there’s a lot of options in terms of what we can do with the data center.”

Though some lawmakers have bristled at the idea of private companies storing Texans’ personal information in far-flung locations, proponents of the reforms say data security will be at the forefront of any decision they make.

“We are not signing a contract with anybody until we have a chance to find out what’s really going on here,” said state Sen. Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “The discussion about whether we do cloud and all that, we can have that discussion. I want to make sure — A, we’re protecting that information, [and] B, that we are keeping that information in Texas.”

Much of the data center debate this session has centered on a $1.5 billion deal that the Texas Department of Information Resources made with a French-headquartered company, Atos, to operate the facilities. In recent committee hearings, lawmakers have encouraged the agency to look at data storage options offered by cloud-computing service providers.

“I don’t understand why we’re so far behind here on this,” said state Rep. Donna Howard at a recent legislative hearing on data centers. The Austin Democrat noted that her city’s — and Texas’— reputation as a tech hub doesn’t jibe with the state government still “doing Medicaid on Excel spreadsheets.”

[…]

Last week, Nelson filed a bill that would require state agencies to consider cloud-based storage options when creating new government software applications. Another bill, authored by Capriglione, would create a technology modernization fund that agencies could use to pay for a transition to cloud-computing services.

State agencies already have some authority to bypass the data center and hire outside companies for certain data management projects, but only if the agency gets permission from the Department of Information Resources.

In an interview, Capriglione said he had heard from state officials, whom he declined to name, who recounted their frustrations working with a state data center they said was expensive and cumbersome.

“Here’s the reality — anyone that’s looking at this has come to the conclusion that cloud-based technology is significantly more secure, more resilient, more future-proof, than any sort of in-house data center client service,” Capriglione said.

As someone who works in IT, I agree with Rep. Capriglione. It’s not magic and it’s not set-it-and-forget-it, but it is industry standard now, and not to move in that direction would be weird and almost surely more expensive in the long run. Texas doesn’t have a great track record with large IT projects, but a lot of that was driven by bad ideas about cost-saving. Both of the bills above seem like the right idea. If you’re not moving forward in IT, you’re stagnating.

Cornyn still thinks he may face Beto

He could be right, but I would not expect it.

Big John Cornyn

Beto O’Rourke has ruled out another run for the Senate, and as he edges closer to a bid for president, Texas Democrats are still searching for someone to challenge Sen. John Cornyn.

But Cornyn isn’t convinced O’Rourke has given up his Senate aspirations.

On Tuesday, he sent donors an email blast warning of “Beto’s Texas,” hinting that the El Paso Democrat could yet come after him, and asking for help filling a new “Stop Beto Fund.”

“I don’t think it’s out of the realm of the possibility that that could happen,” Cornyn said Wednesday when asked about his fundraising message. “The filing deadline is December the 9th, I believe. So my expectation is that perhaps Beto, perhaps Julian Castro or others who have indicated that they’re running for president — if they’re not getting a lot of traction then obviously it’s very easy to pivot into the Senate race.”

Cornyn is correct that no matter what Beto (or Julian, for that matter) says now, there’s a lot of time between now and December 9, and a lot of people running for President. Some number of them may very well not make it to the starting line, and if so they could easily jump into another race like this. Bill White was running for Senate, in anticipation of Kay Bailey Hutchison stepping down to run for Governor, for quite some time in 2009 before he finally figured out that KBH was staying put. Only then did he shift gears to run for Governor. It could happen. I don’t think it will because I don’t think anyone who has the capability of raising money and building a team is going to drop out before the first votes are cast, and that won’t happen till after the filing deadline. But I could be wrong. Cornyn is not wrong to tout the possibility – I figure Beto is at least as big a boogeyman among Republican campaign donors as Nancy Pelosi. May as well ride that horse till it drops.

Other interesting bits:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, had urged O’Rourke to run against Cornyn.

After O’Rourke decided against it, Schumer met with Hegar, who lost to Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, by about 8,000 votes out of 281,000.

Nearly 3 million people have viewed a 3-minute campaign video that Hegar, a decorated Air Force helicopter pilot, used in her effort to unseat Carter.

But Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the party’s House campaign arm — is urging Hegar to run against Carter, The Hill reported Wednesday.

Bustos also said that Gina Ortiz Jones, an Iraq War veteran, will take a second shot at Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio.

“I would say over the next, you know, one, two, three cycles, that that state’s going to look very different,” Bustos said.

Seems clear that what the national Dems want is Beto for Senate, and basically all of the 2018 Congressional candidates – CD24 not included – back for another go at it. Second choice is Joaquin for Senate and the rest as above. We need to know what Beto is doing before we can know what Joaquin is doing, and the rest follows from that. That’s another reason why I think it’s either/or for Beto – once he’s all in for President (or for not running at all), he will no longer have a clear pathway to the nomination for Senate. Someone else will be in that lane, and the surest way to evaporate one’s good will among the party faithful is to be a Beto-come-lately into a race where a perfectly fine candidate that some number of people will already be fiercely loyal to already exists. As someone once said, it’s now or never.

Senate presents disaster relief bills

Better late than never, though why they’re late remains a subject of interest.

More than a year and a half after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the state, Texas Senate leaders announced a $1.8 billion trio of disaster relief bills on Wednesday that they said would create “a roadmap to prepare our state for future hurricanes and natural disasters.”

The legislation — Senate Bill 6Senate Bill 7 and Senate Bill 8 — would require the Texas Department of Emergency Management to create a disaster response plan for local officials, direct the state’s water planning agency to devise a statewide flood plan and create a “resiliency fund” to support flood projects.

Flanked by senators who represent Harvey-impacted districts, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick acknowledged at a Capitol news conference that storm-ravaged communities have been waiting for a long time to see what the state might do to help them recover. But Patrick and the senators who authored the bills emphasized in their Wednesday remarks that the result was the product of “a lot of thought and input” and is the best possible outcome.

“We said at the time [of the storm] we would dedicate ourselves to helping people rebuild their homes, their businesses, their communities and do all we could to mitigate,” Patrick said.

[…]

Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Conroe Republican who authored SB 7, which would create the flood infrastructure fund, described the package as the “most comprehensive, forward-reaching approach that any state has offered following a disaster.”

His bill is the most expensive of the three. It would withdraw $900 million from the state’s historically flush Economic Stabilization Fund to help local officials put up the so-called “matching dollars” they’ll need to draw down billions more in federal recovery funds.

That’s far less than the $1.3 billion that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has asked for on behalf of all 55 Harvey-impacted counties to help with local matching funds. He has said that would draw down another $11 billion in federal dollars for debris removal, for repairs of storm-battered government facilities, and to harden public and private structures so they can better withstand future storms.

A similar bill Creighton filed in early February would allocate $3 billion from the state’s emergency savings account for the fund. But he said in an interview after the news conference that the total price tag of the projects local communities have told the state they want to complete is less than that.

Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican who also spoke at Wednesday’s news conference, said about $200 million of the $900 million allocated under SB 7 would go to draw down federal funds for a multibillion-dollar project to construct nearly 27 miles of coastal levees in southern Orange County and to shore up nearly 30 miles of existing coastal levees in Port Arthur and Freeport. That project is a significant component of a larger coastal protection system that local officials and scientists have long envisioned to safeguard the state from deadly storm surges during hurricanes.

We can certainly debate whether or not there should have been a special session to get all this done. For now, this is what is on the table. I’m going to wait and see what the experts have to say about these bills before I draw any conclusions. Feel free to chime in if you have opinions already.

What about Wendy?

If not Beto and not Joaquin

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis of Texas said Tuesday she is considering a U.S. Senate run in 2020 but is waiting to see whether another high-profile Democrat, Rep. Joaquin Castro, goes through with challenging Republican incumbent John Cornyn.

Davis hasn’t run for office since badly losing the governor’s race in 2014 following her star-making filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in the Texas Capitol, catapulting her into the national spotlight and making her a prominent voice for women’s rights.

She told The Associated Press she has urged Castro to run, calling him “uniquely poised” in Texas to give Democrats a chance at winning their first statewide office in 25 years. Castro said last week he was giving “serious” consideration to a Senate campaign but set no timetable for a decision.

Davis said she wants him to decide soon so that someone else — including her — could step up if he sits out. She said she also discussed a Senate run with MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran who last year lost a close congressional challenge near Austin.

“I’m proud of the way that all of us are working together to decide how can we best beat John Cornyn. What’s the best approach? Who has the strongest opportunity?” Davis said. “As we answer that question, we are going to circle behind that person and do all we can to support them — whether it’s me, whether it’s MJ, whether it’s Joaquin, whether it’s someone else. You are going to see us come together cohesively.”

See here and here for the background. The pro-Davis side is easy to see: She’s run statewide before, she has some name recognition, she has demonstrated fundraising ability, this is a good time for female candidates, and in the Gorsuch/Kavanaugh era being strongly pro-choice is more of an asset than it was four years ago. The downside is just as obvious, and it all basically boils down to the disaster that was 2014. To be fair, that was a national disaster for Dems, and at the very least the turnout issue should be muted somewhat in a Presidential year, especially with Trump on the ballot. She’d still need to convince people that she’s learned from that awful experience and would run a different and better campaign this time around. I kind of think she’s positioning herself as a fallback plan, which is fine. I too would prefer Castro or Hegar, but I’ve always been a Wendy Davis fan and I’m happy to see that she’s still in the game.

One more thing:

If she doesn’t go for Senate, Davis said it was unlikely she’ll run for Congress this cycle, pointing to no obvious seats around Austin for now.

Well, Mike Siegel is running in CD10. I don’t know if Joseph Kopser is up for another shot at CD21, but I’m sure the DCCC has been in touch with him. If MJ Hegar winds up running for Senate, that would open up CD31, though as an Austin resident Davis would be quickly painted as a carpetbagger. Maybe she could talk to Julie Oliver about what it was like to run in CD25. That’s a longer shot than these other three, but I bet Davis could raise some money and put a scare into Roger Williams. Just a thought.

Here comes the House school finance plan

Not surprisingly, they go bigger than the Senate.

Rep. Dan Huberty

With Texas House lawmakers unveiling their long-awaited school finance proposal Tuesday and the Senate’s version likely close behind, teacher pay appears to be emerging as one of the biggest sticking points between the two chambers.

House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, laid out their reform proposal at a press conference Tuesday, calling for raising minimum salaries for a broad group of educators, increasing health and pension benefits, and offering opportunities for merit pay programs. That approach differs substantially from the $4 billion proposal that sailed through the Senate on Monday that would provide mandatory across-the-board $5,000 raises for classroom teachers and librarians.

When asked about the Senate’s proposal, which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has championed, Bonnen said, “I don’t know how you call a $5,000 across-the-board teacher pay raise … with no discussion of reducing recapture, no discussion of reducing property taxes, no discussion of early childhood education, no discussion of incentivizing the teachers going to a tougher school to teach” a school finance plan.

“What we have is a plan,” he added. “I think teachers are some of the smartest people in Texas, and they are going to figure out that the Texas House has a winning plan for the teachers and students in Texas.”

[…]

The House proposal, House Bill 3, would increase the base funding per student while requiring school districts to meet a higher minimum base pay for classroom teachers, full-time counselors, full-time librarians and full-time registered nurses. Many districts already exceed the current minimum salaries for educators at different experience levels.

It would work hand-in-hand with House Bill 9, filed Monday by the speaker’s brother, Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, which would increase the state’s contribution to Teacher Retirement System pensions over time while keeping active member and district contributions the same.

HB 3 would also provide funding for districts that offer a merit pay program, rating their teachers and providing the top-rated ones with more money — modeled on a Dallas ISD program touted among lawmakers. The Senate is expected to include a similar proposal in its school finance bill later this week.

The politics surrounding the Senate’s teacher pay raise bill this session are unusual, with Patrick, who has previously clashed with educators, advocating for a proposal many teachers like. Meanwhile, conservative group Empower Texans, a key contributor to Patrick’s campaign, has come out against the bill, with one employeecriticizing conservatives like Patrick for “kowtowing” to liberals.

That bill has divided the education community, with superintendents and school boards arguing they need more flexibility with additional funds and many teachers supporting the directed raises.

Huberty said Tuesday that the House would “certainly have a hearing on that [Senate] bill” but that the school finance panel that worked to develop recommendations for lawmakers did not include across-the-board raises.

He said HB 3 provides more opportunity for local school boards and superintendents to decide how to use increased funding. More than 85 House members have signed on as co-authors of HB 3, and in a public show of support, many of them were present at Tuesday’s press conference.

See here and here for some background. A preview story about the House bill is here, and a story about that Senate bill is here. The Senate bill covers raises for teachers and librarians, but not other support personnel like nurses or bus drivers, which is one reason why the more-flexible approach is favored by school districts; that said, the president of the Texas State Teachers Association released a statement emphasizing the need for a Senate-style guaranteed teacher pay raise. The House is also taking a different approach on property taxes, as noted in that preview story:

According to the summary, the bill would increase the base funding per student by $890 to $6,030 — the first time that allotment has been raised in four years. It would also lower school district property tax rates statewide by 4 cents per $100 of taxable property value, helping to reduce so-called Robin Hood payments that redistribute money from wealthier districts to poorer ones. The compression could save the owner of a home with $250,000 in taxable value about $100 annually in school district taxes.

That method of property tax relief is different than one proposed by Gov. Greg Abbott last year, which would cap annual increases in school districts’ tax revenues at 2.5 percent.

There’s also the Democratic proposal, some of which is in HB3. All of this is a starting point, so I don’t want to get too far into the weeds. None of these bills will be adopted as is, and some of them may not get adopted at all. This and the budget will be the last pieces of business the Lege deals with, and the main reason why there could be a special session. We’ll keep an eye on it all. The Chron has more.

Blaming DPS

Meet your new scapegoat for the SOS non-citizen voter advisory fiasco.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Amid the fallout surrounding his administration’s botched review of the voter rolls, Gov. Greg Abbott has picked a side.

Who’s to blame for the state’s mistaken challenge to the voting rights of thousands of Texans? The longtime head of the Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw.

During a radio interview last week, Abbott slammed McCraw’s department for not “adequately” communicating to the secretary of state that the data at heart of the controversial voter review was “admittedly flawed.” And he specifically passed the blame onto McCraw for “faulty information” that “hamstrung” the state’s review efforts.

Then on Monday, Abbott referred to McCraw’s alleged mistakes as “unacceptable,” describing the review as a mishandled “law enforcement issue.”

It was a striking, two-punch rebuke of a high-ranking state official who has long backed Abbott’s priorities, particularly on security concerns at the Texas-Mexico border. But recent court testimony and documents obtained by The Texas Tribune paint a more complicated picture. In reality, the voter citizenship review was flawed in two major ways.

For one, officials from the Texas secretary of state’s office based their review on data DPS had warned would not be up-to-date. In addition, miscommunication between different state offices led state election officials to misinterpret the citizenship status of 25,000 Texans who had already proved to the state that they were citizens.

But Abbott has downplayed Secretary of State David Whitley’s role in the foul-up as Whitley, a longtime Abbott aide, faces a tough confirmation fight in the Senate that could result in him losing his job. That has left opponents of Whitley’s nomination questioning Abbott’s motivations.

“I think the governor is either misinformed or he’s trying to save his nominee despite what the facts are,” said Chad Dunn, one of the civil rights lawyers suing the state over the constitutionality of the review effort. “I don’t think there’s any evidence to support the governor’s comments.”

You should read on for the details, but this is a pretty good summary. Steve McCraw is a longtime hack and hatchet man, and I’m sure not going to hold anyone back from using him as a punching bag. This is still a remarkable evasion of the facts and defense of a guy who is both clearly beloved by Greg Abbott (warning: you may feel the need to brush your teeth after reading that sticky-sweet profile of Whitley) and in way over his head. At some level, I don’t care whose fault this idiocy was. It’s very clear that the intent was to bulldoze people off of the voter rolls without any concern about accuracy, and it’s equally clear that a similar effort done with more care and deliberation would have been much less controversial. It also would have ended up with a scope of maybe a couple hundred voters, which isn’t going to look nearly as sexy in a Ken Paxton press release. Them’s the breaks.

One more thing:

Texas Secretary of State David Whitley will tell Texas counties they may continue to look into the citizenship statuses of voters on his list of suspected noncitizens, according to an advisory approved by a federal judge Monday.

The advisory, which will be sent to all 254 counties in the state, notifies election offices that they must abide by the Feb. 27 court order that bars them from alerting people on the list that they’re under examination or removing anyone from the rolls without approval from the court and “conclusive” evidence that they’re ineligible.

It also clarifies that the counties may still vet voters on the list as long as they do not directly contact them. If, however, a voter reaches out to a county elections administrator first, the advisory says, then the office may communicate with them.

See here for the background. The effect of this is likely to be a continuing stream of voters being removed from the list of alleged non-citizens. As long as that is all that it is, it’s fine by me.

Can we turn the anti-vax tide in the Lege this session?

It sure would be nice, and this needs to be the primary goal.

In Texas, children are required to have certain sets of vaccinations before they can be enrolled in public school – including the vaccine for measles.

But parents who have “reasons of conscience” for not wanting their children to be vaccinated are allowed to opt out of vaccinations, a practice that experts say is forming a dangerous trend that helped fuel the most recent measles outbreak.

Statewide, there was only one confirmed case of measles in each of 2016 and 2017. In 2018, there were nine confirmed cases of measles, authorities say.

There are seven confirmed cases so far in 2019.

The legislature does not define what constitutes a “reason of conscience,” meaning that any parent, for any reason, can decide not to immunize their children against dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases.

Close to 57,000 children in Texas went to public schools unvaccinated in 2018 for non-medical reasons, according to Allison Winnike, president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership. She said those numbers are growing year-over-year since the non-medical, “reasons of conscience” exemption went into effect almost two decades ago.

Concerns about the rise in measles cases is the fulcrum for this. Anti-vaxxers had a good session in 2017, but their advantage is more partisan than non-partisan, and a couple of their leading advocates – Reps. Bill Zedler and Jonathan Stickland – both had close wins in 2018 and will be big targets in 2020, along with others in Tarrant County.

All this is good, but so far the only vaccine-related bill I could find of any value was SB 329 by Sen. Kel Seliger would require a biennial report on any outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases and the number of children without vaccines under the “reasons of conscience” law, but it doesn’t change the “reasons of conscience” law itself. That’s where we need to go, and we may as well get started on it this session. And we’d better not wait, because the anti-vaxxers are actively trying to make things worse.

A bill filed in the Texas Legislature this month by Representative Matt Krause, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, would make it easier for parents to request vaccine exemptions. A similar version was left pending after a House Public Health Committee hearing in 2017, but Krause’s new bill would go further, explicitly preventing the state health department from tracking the number of exemptions. Even though the exemption data doesn’t include anything that could identify individual students and is only available at the school district level, Krause and Zedler point to fears among anti-vaxxers that they will be tracked and bullied. “We’ve seen instances in California, stuff like that, where they start hunting people down,” [anti-vax Rep. Bill] Zedler said.

Public health officials say the proposal would curb their ability to identify and stop disease outbreaks, and parents of immunocompromised kids would have even less information to decide where to send their children to school.

“This is the modus operandi for anti-vaxxers in Texas: to promote exemptions, obfuscate and minimize transparency,” said Peter Hotez, a leading vaccine scientist and dean for the National School for Tropical Medicine at Baylor Medical School. “To do this in the middle of a measles outbreak in Texas is especially unconscionable.”

[…]

Krause, who is also backed by Texans for Vaccine Choice, argues that his legislation merely streamlines the process for parents who will obtain the exemptions anyway. He dismissed the many concerns raised by medical professionals last session. “They did a very good job of painting the worst-case scenario,” Krause told the Observer. “I’m not so sure those fears are founded.”

Krause acknowledged that he has already fielded concerns about his bill, in particular the clause preventing the state from tracking vaccine exemptions. He said he would be willing to scrap that language “if Texans for Vaccine Choice or some other vaccine choice groups or other folks from the medical community say that’s a bad idea.” Texans for Vaccine Choice did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Krause’s bill is HB1490. He won by eight points in 2018, so be sure to find a good opponent for him too. As I’ve said many times before, the anti-vaxxers are better organized and far more vocal – Rep. Gene Wu notes his recent encounter with this bunch – but I continue to believe they’re a small minority. This needs to be an issue people lose election over, because the stakes are getting higher. Vox, Mother Jones, and Daily Kos have more.

What about Joaquin

If Beto O’Rourke is indeed not running for Senate, Rep. Joaquin Castro may step up to do it.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro told the Associated Press on Thursday that his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is considering challenging U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

“He’s considering that, but he really has not made a decision about whether he’s going to do that,” Castro said while on the presidential campaign trail in Las Vegas.

“I think he’d beat him. My brother would win,” Castro said. “There are a lot of Texans that clearly have problems with the way that (Cornyn) has represented the state. Most recently, refusing to stand up to Trump even though a lot of land is going to get taken, a lot of Texas landowners’ property is going to get taken if there’s a wall.”

Matthew Jones, a campaign advisor to Joaquin Castro, confirmed Friday morning that, “Congressman Castro will seriously consider running for Senate in 2020.”

“Right now, he’s focused on protecting Texans—and all Americans — from the most consequential challenge to our constitutional separation of powers that we have seen in a generation,” Jones said. “He will not stand by while the president attempts to unilaterally strip Texans of their land to build a wall in a manner that most Americans, especially Texans, disagree with.”

A Joaquin Castro Senate candidacy would be an answered prayer for Texas Democrats amid the expectation that former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, who narrowly lost a Senate challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November, has decided to pass on challenging Cornyn and may soon join Julián Castro as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

[…]

Julián Castro’s dropping his brother’s name into the race also comes the same week that Joaquin’s promising congressional career — one reason he chose not to run for Senate in 2016 — truly delivered on its promise, with Castro leading the successful effort by House Democrats to pass a resolution he drafted to block President Trump’s emergency declaration, which Trump issued to secure border wall funds that Congress has denied him.

“This is the most consequential vote we will take in a generation on the balance of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government,” Castro said before the House voted Tuesday 245 to 182 in favor of the resolution. The resolution still has to pass the Senate, which is possible, and survive a certain presidential veto, which is almost certainly beyond reach. But it has already succeeded as an effective political response to the president.

The Castro twins have pursued parallel political careers, but Julián Castro, born a minute earlier, has been first among equals, serving as mayor of San Antonio and as a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, was considered for vice president by Hillary Clinton in 2016, has written a memoir, and is now running for president while his twin brother remains in Congress.

But in the less than two months since Julián Castro launched his bid for president, it is Joaquin who has had the higher political profile, punctuated by this week’s moment of triumph. He was elected chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the new Congress, and was elected vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as serving on the Education and Labor and House Intelligence committees On Homeland Security. He has been integrally involved in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and any potential Russian collusion by Trump and his campaign, and a frequent cable news presence.

As of this writing we still don’t have direct-from-Beto’s-mouth confirmation of his plans for 2020, but this seems like a decent sign that Beto is truly not a candidate for Senate next year. Which is a shame, in my opinion, but it’s his choice to make. As for Joaquin, he’s always been high on my list, but I remain skeptical that he will give up a very good gig in the Democratic-majority House for at best a coin flip for Senate. Obviously, I could be wrong about that – I’m not Joaquin Castro (spoiler alert), I don’t know what his risk profile and ambition levels are. If he does run, I think that’s a good sign that he thinks he can win, though how much of that is irrational exuberance and how much is a cold, hard assessment of the political landscape and strategic options is anyone’s guess. For certain, the fact that it even makes sense for him to publicly think about it is a clear indicator that Texas is being viewed as an opportunity for Dems next year. He may not rake in $80 million, but Joaquin Castro will have no trouble raising money if he hops in.

There are other potential candidates out there – MJ Hegar, Kim Olson, Wendy Davis, probably more though those are the most prominent ones to make noise about it. There’s a good case to be made that Dems should want a female candidate to oppose Cornyn. I feel confident saying that Beto and Joaquin are the first two in line, and if either of them says they’re in they will almost certainly have the nomination with at most token opposition. But one of them has to say they’re in first. The Trib has more.

Ridiculously early Quinnipiac poll: Trump has a small lead

Consider this to be for entertainment purposes only.

In a very early look at possible 2020 presidential matchups in Texas, President Donald Trump is essentially tied with former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders or former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. President Trump leads other possible Democratic contenders by small margins.

Hypothetical matchups by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll show:

  • President Trump at 47 percent, including 41 percent of independent voters, to Biden’s 46 percent, including 46 percent of independent voters;
  • Trump at 47 percent, including 41 percent of independent voters, to Sanders’ 45 percent, including 48 percent of independent voters;
  • Trump at 47 percent, including 41 percent of independent voters, to O’Rourke’s 46 percent, including 48 percent of independent voters.

Trump has leads, driven mainly by a shift among independent voters, over other possible Democratic candidates:

  • 46 – 41 percent over former San Antonio Mayor and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro;
  • 48 – 41 percent over U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California;
  • 48 – 41 percent over U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Biden, Sanders and O’Rourke share similar support among Democrats and voters 18 – 34 years old.

“The 2020 presidential race in Texas, and how some of Democrats stack up against President Donald Trump, begins as a two-tiered contest. There are three more well-known contenders who run evenly against President Donald Trump. Another group, less well-known, are just a little behind Trump,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

“Former Vice President Joe Biden has the highest favorability of any of the contenders and has a better net favorability than President Trump,” Brown added. “Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke also does relatively well on favorability and in a matchup with Trump, but that may well be due to O’Rourke being a home-state favorite.

“But former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, who is also a former San Antonio mayor, does not do as well as O’Rourke.”

Among Texas voters, 47 percent have a favorable opinion of Trump, with 49 percent unfavorable. Favorability ratings for possible Democratic challengers are:

  • Biden: 48 – 38 percent;
  • Sanders: Negative 41 – 47 percent;
  • O’Rourke: Divided 44 – 40 percent;
  • Harris: Negative 24 – 33 percent;
  • Warren: Negative 27 – 42 percent;
  • Castro: Divided 23 – 27 percent;
  • U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey: 51 percent haven’t heard enough to form an opinion;
  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: 53 percent haven’t heard enough to form an opinion;
  • U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York: 68 percent haven’t heard enough to form an opinion;
  • U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota: 70 percent haven’t heard enough to form an opinion.

Texas Senate Race

In an early look at the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Texas, Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn and possible Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke are tied 46 – 46 percent. Independent voters go to O’Rourke 47 – 40 percent.

From February 20 – 25, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,222 Texas voters with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points, including the design effect.

I’m gonna bullet-point this one:

– It’s ridiculously early. Don’t overthink this.

– Differences between the top three Dems and everyone else is at least 95% about name recognition and nothing else.

– We just don’t have any polls from similar time frames to compare to. The earliest polls from the 2016 and 2012 cycles that I tracked were from the actual election years, mostly after the nominees had been settled. More than a year later in the cycle from where we are now, in other words.

– That said, the high level of responses is interesting, and probably reflects the fact that basically everyone has an opinion about Donald Trump. In that sense, the dynamic is more like 2012, which was also a Presidential re-election year. Look at the numbers on the right sidebar for 2012, and you’ll see that there were very few “undecided” or “other” respondents. If that is a valid basis for comparison, then Trump starts out at least a couple of points behind Mitt Romney. Given that Romney wound up at 57%, that’s not necessarily a bad place for him to be. Romney also never polled below fifty percent, so there’s that. Again, it’s stupid early. Don’t overthink this.

– There are reports now that Beto will not be running for Senate, in which case we can ignore those numbers even more. I’ll wait till I see the words from Beto himself, but to be sure he’s not talked much if at all about running for Senate again, so this seems credible to me. Without Beto in the race, if that is indeed the case, Cornyn will probably poll a bit better than Trump, at least early on when name recognition is again a factor. In the end, though, I think Cornyn rises and falls with Trump. I can imagine him outperforming Trump by a bit, but not that much. If it’s not Beto against Cornyn, I look forward to seeing who does jump in, and how they poll later on in the cycle.

Senate committee advances Whitley nomination

I’ll take Pointless Wastes of Time for $200, Alex.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A Texas Senate committee voted Thursday to advance the nomination of Texas Secretary of State David Whitley — the most forward motion he’s made in weeks in a stalled nomination that faces increasingly steep odds.

After a 4–3 vote along party lines, with all the committee’s Republicans backing Whitley and all Democrats voting against him, Whitley can be considered by the full Senate, where he’d need a two-thirds majority that he doesn’t appear to currently have.

[…]

Whitley, who appeared before the committee three weeks ago for a two-hour grilling over the bungled review effort, had been left pending in committee in its last two hearings even as other nominees sailed through. That seemed to bode poorly for his chances. The governor’s office has continued to back him “100 percent.”

And Gov. Greg Abbott said in a radio interview Thursday morning that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Democrats change their minds on Whitley.

“We’ve had ongoing conversations with them and we maintain good relationship with them. And so we’ll see how things turn out,” Abbott told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty. And he defended Whitley’s handling of the bungled probe, saying “secretary of state was relying on data from the Texas Department of Public Safety that was admittedly flawed by DPS, and DPS did not adequately communicate that to the secretary of state.”

“So the secretary of state was hamstrung by faulty information from the Department of Public Safety from the beginning and did not know that, and so the part of the fault goes to Steve McCraw, the director of the Department of Public Safety for causing the error in the first place,” Abbott said.

Don’t forget to blame the counties, too. There’s lots of room under that bus. I understand why Abbott is loyal to his former minion, but there’s gotta be some other party apparatchik with less baggage and more competence who can do this job. I have no idea who Abbott thinks is being wooed here, but in the absence of a real, genuine mea culpa plus a solid plan to get this right and a pledge to oppose any fruit of the poisoned tree bills, I see no reason why any Democratic Senator would give a damn.

UPDATE: Ross Ramsey suggests a way that Whitley could get confirmed: Not having all Senators present at the time his nomination is brought up for a vote, as two thirds of those who do vote are what is needed for confirmation. David Dewhurst tried this trick to pass the voter ID bill a couple of times in 2007, before the two thirds rule was changed to allow voter ID to pass on a simple majority. It’s definitely something to watch out for.

The state of equality 2019

From Equality Texas:

IN 2019, THE STATE OF EQUALITY IS: OUT OF STEP WITH TEXAS VALUES

As the 2019 Texas Legislature approaches the mid-point, Equality Texas has surveyed the current state of equality and concluded that urgent legislative action is needed. Public support for equality has never been higher. But from kindergarten to the retirement home, LGBTQ people still experience worse outcomes across nearly every metric and, for many, equality remains stubbornly out of reach. The 86th Texas Legislature must act to remove the antiquated legal barriers that put LGBTQ Texans at a marked disadvantage compared to their neighbors.

VISIBILITY & ACCEPTANCE

According to an analysis by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, approximately 930,000 Texans identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer. If LGBTQ Texans were a city unto themselves, they’d be the 5th most populous municipality in the state, just behind Austin, and significantly larger than El Paso.

LGBTQ people are more visible in their communities than ever before: according to a 2017 study, 70% of Americans report that they have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian, while the number of Americans who say they personally know someone who is transgender has nearly doubled, from 11% to 21%.

Public support for equality is also at an all time high in the state. The Public Religion Research Institute recently analyzed Texans’ attitudes and reported that 64% of Texans support non-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people. That strong support is consistent across political party, religious affiliation, demographic group, and region of the state. Similarly, a solid majority of Texans oppose laws that permit permit religiously motivated discrimination.

However, as detailed in this report, there is a stark gap between the strong public support for equality in the state and the actual lived reality of many LGBTQ Texans. LGBTQ people experience worse outcomes across almost every metric, often as a direct result the legal barriers to equality that persist in Texas law.

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. See here for more on the referenced poll. While the 2018 elections produced results that are more in line with the attitudes that Texans have expressed towards LGBTQ people, the Lege is still way out of step.

It’s no surprise that the bigots in the Texas legislature are mounting a serious, multi-pronged assault on the LGBTQ community.

But events this week at the Capitol have made it clear just how serious the fight will be this session.

We have a number of pieces of bad news to report:

  1. Two new religious refusal bills have been filed in the Texas Senate, bringing the total to four. SB 1009 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (Granbury) would allow government officials to refuse to marry couples based on “sincerely held religious belief.” And SB 1107 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (Brenham) would let health care providers refuse care to members of our community.
  2. SB 15 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (Conroe), the ‘preemption’ bill which would gut local ability to set policies like paid sick leave, today was given a rush-assignment for a committee hearing in Senate State Affairs. This bill is a potential vehicle for amendments that could gut nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Texans living in six major cities. That hearing has now been scheduled for this Thursday morning.
  3. HB 1035 by Rep. Bill Zedler (Arlington), arguably the most poisonous of the religious refusal bills because it is so sweeping, had been thought by Capitol insiders to be ‘dead on arrival’–but today, HB 1035 was referred to the House State Affairs committee.

Just how bad are these bills?

HB 1035, titled the “Free to Believe Act,” creates special rights to discriminate for people who hold anti-LGBTQ religious beliefs. This bill would empower anyone who holds those views to fire or refuse to hire, refuse to rent or sell housing to, refuse to serve or sell goods to, refuse to provide healthcare, and refuse to issue marriage licenses to LGBTQ Texans. HB 1035 even includes a “bathroom bill” clause.

SB 1107 and HB 1035 would allow health care providers to refuse medical care to LGBTQ people and families–the sole exception being life-saving measures.

SB 1009 not only would allow government officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples, it would also let them discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or national origin.

Make no mistake, these people are determined to roll back the progress we have made.

Now would definitely be a good time to contact your State Rep and your State Senator and let them know that you oppose these bills. The Current has more.

Of course there are bills to do something with that bogus SOS advisory

What else did you expect?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Among other things,  Senate Bill 960 and Senate Bill 953, filed late last week, would require voter registrars across the state to kick every person off the voter rolls who at one point said they were not a citizen to any government agency.

Beth Stevens, voting rights program director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the bills could potentially reduce “protections that a voter has to address a claim that they are a noncitizen.” The nonprofit is one of many groups challenging the state’s effort in court.

“It further adds an element of intimidation of voter registrars,” she said.

[…]

If enacted, SB 960 and SB 953 would require registrars to immediately remove flagged voters from voter rolls. The bills wouldn’t require registrars to notify individuals their citizenship was being questioned. SB 960 would also subject any registrar who does not immediately remove those voters to a civil penalty and a possible Class A misdemeanor charge.

SB 960 would also give the Attorney General’s office the power to petition a court to remove a registrar from office if he or she does not kick those voters off the rolls.

“These two bills – and particularly SB 960 – are very much voter suppression on their face,” Stevens said.

SB 960 was filed by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston. Bettencourt did not respond to a request for comment. He did, however, weigh in on the issue last year and admonished local officials for not pursuing and removing alleged noncitizens from voter rolls.

“This really strikes at the fabric of the integrity of the whole election process,” Bettencourt said in a written statement last June. “The fact is that non-citizens simply cannot vote in our elections.”

SB953 was authored by Sen. Pat Fallon. Of course Bettencourt would have a hand in this. He made his bones as Harris County Tax Assessor finding many creative and legally questionable ways to purge voters he didn’t like. There’s a reason why voter registration numbers in the county were flat for so long. Whether this particular ploy will work or not remains to be seen. These bills can probably pass if the leadership wants them to, but in the absence of a push they may die the usual death by natural causes. I’ll try to keep an eye on them.

Everyone’s talking about John Cornyn

I feel like I’ve read more stories about John Cornyn lately than I read about Beto a year ago at this time.

Big John Cornyn

As President Donald Trump embarked for El Paso on Monday to rally support for a border wall, Texas Republican John Cornyn sent out a personal message through his 2020 U.S. Senate re-election campaign:

“Texas stands with President Trump.”

For Cornyn, seeking a fourth term in the Senate, the message underscored some of the central challenges of his re-election bid: for better or worse, his fate is inextricably tied to that of a famously polarizing and unpredictable president, with whom he will share a ballot.

“As in the rest of my life, I don’t sweat too much the things I can’t control,” Cornyn said later in the week. “I look at the things I can control, and I can control my preparation for what I think will likely be a fairly serious opposition in 2020. The president is at the top of the ticket, and I believe he will be responsible for nearly 100 percent of the turnout, about half of the voters for him, and half against him.”

[…]

“The degree of difficulty John Cornyn is going to have in 2020 right now I think very much rests in the hands of Beto O’Rourke,” said political scientist James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

While Cruz labeled O’Rourke “too liberal for Texas,” Democrats like the contrast of a youthful, relative outsider against a 67-year-old incumbent who earned his stripes the old-fashioned way: working his way patiently up the Senate GOP ladder.

To many Texas Republicans, O’Rourke represents Cornyn’s worst-case-scenario. But some also see him as a one-off candidate that no other Texas Democrat can easily replicate. Next in the Democratic echelon are U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and his twin brother, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro. Many believe that Julián Castro’s own White House bid takes both brothers out of the Senate race.

Other than O’Rourke – who Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak calls “a hundred-year flood” in Texas politics – that would seem to clear the decks for Cornyn.

“Whoever runs against Cornyn doesn’t start where Beto stops,” Mackowiak said. “They start wherever they are.”

For Texas Democrats, that means starting with an expected voter share in the high 30 to low 40 percentage points – the average electoral result pre-Beto.

See here and here for some recent examples. We don’t really learn anything new in this story – spoiler alert, his campaign manager thinks Republicans need to work on their turnout in 2020 – just that the phenomenon of John Cornyn Is Taking 2020 Seriously and Will Beto Run For Senate Against John Cornyn has not come close to petering out.

There’s also the new startup of Who Will Run Against Cornyn If It’s Not Beto stories.

Democrats who are said to be considering a Senate run: MJ Hegar, an Afghanistan war hero and author who came within 2.9 points of toppling U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and North Texas farmer Kim Olson, who lost by 4.9 points to Republican state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Another potential candidate, according to party activists is former state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who suffered a lopsided loss in the 2014 governor’s race.

On Valentine’s Day, Cornyn’s campaign launched an online fundraising appeal citing Hegar and Davis as possible candidates.

But some Texas Democrats see the party’s best chances for success in a reprise of O’Rourke’s Senate campaign. O’Rourke hasn’t publicly mentioned a Senate run as a possibility — he told Oprah Winfrey last week that he’ll decide whether to run for president by the end of the month — but Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., met with O’Rourke last week to discuss a possible challenge to Cornyn, according to Politico.

“It’s very significant that Schumer is talking to Texans,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a political action committee, who said the Democratic leader had spoken to other potential candidates. “It signifies that Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee think Cornyn is vulnerable — and they’re right.”

A survey conducted Wednesday and Thursday by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found in a hypothetical matchup, 47 percent of registered Texas voters support Cornyn and 45 percent prefer O’Rourke, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

You can see more about that poll here. I got an email about it but didn’t do a post because it’s crazy early and there’s no data beyond the topline numbers. It actually would have been useful if they had included some other potential matchups for Cornyn – Big John versus MJ Hegar or Kim Olson or Joaquin Castro – just to see how they compared to Cornyn versus Beto. It would at least be a data point for where a less-known Democrat starts out in this matchup. In theory, we will have some clarity about this in about a week.

Texas is not going to expand Medicaid

Don’t get me wrong, Texas should have expanded Medicaid at its first opportunity. It would do so much to improve health care in the state, including and especially mental health care, which would have significant spillover effects on criminal justice. Other states have passed voter referenda mandating Medicaid expansion, but those states can do that via citizen petition. They don’t have to go through their legislature, which is a requirement here and the place that the effort will go to die.

Rep. Celia Israel

Seeing other states take Medicaid expansion to voters is what Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, says gave her the idea to file House Joint Resolution 40. She said she’s frustrated that Texas “has not shown the political fortitude” to expand the program and that giving the decision to voters may take political pressure off of Republicans.

Expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — has been a nonstarter in the GOP-dominated Texas Legislature. Republicans including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former Gov. Rick Perry have argued that expanding Medicaid would increase health care costs for the state — especially if the federal government ever breaks its promise to help pay for the surge of newly eligible people.

Israel’s strategy so far has included courting Republicans in districts that have lost rural hospitals. Nineteen rural hospitals have closed permanently or temporarily since 2013, according to the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals.

“I’m getting mixed responses,” Israel said of her progress. “I’m making the case that we have lost so many rural hospitals in Texas, and one of the reasons we wouldn’t have lost those rural hospitals is if we had said yes to expanding Medicaid.”

Anne Dunkelberg, associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning policy organization, said the 2018 election cycle and polls showed that health care is a top issue for voters.

“The bottom line is even though individual members have seen desirability moving in this direction, it’s not something they’re going to fall on their sword and buck their leadership over,” Dunkelberg said.

[…]

State Rep. John Zerwas, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, attempted an alternative to Medicaid expansion during the 2013 session. The Richmond Republican’s House Bill 3791 would have allowed Texas to receive federal money in the form of block grants to enroll individuals in a private health plan using a sliding-scale subsidy, rather than expanding Medicaid to cover them. The bill also had a “pull the plug” provision if the federal government failed to continue funding. It had some bipartisan support but never reached the House floor for a vote.

He said Medicaid expansion in general still “comes with political radioactivity” that Republicans are hesitant to deal with. Just pursuing a waiver is still “a pretty steep hill to climb.” Zerwas said he doesn’t plan on bringing his bill back and also doesn’t believe Medicaid expansion needs to be taken to voters. He acknowledged that Texas has the highest number of uninsured people in the country but says there’s not a cost-effective way to provide care for the Medicaid population.

“It’s just politics, you know, and I’ve lived through this by virtue of carrying the bill in 2013 and was portrayed as someone who just loved Obamacare and was looking to grow it in the state of Texas,” Zerwas said. “Politically and in my party especially at that time and still so … it continues to be one of those things that Republicans rail against because they see it as a very heavy cost to the state.”

But Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, who filed Senate Joint Resolution 34, which also would create a constitutional amendment to expand Medicaid, said that “it should not take a leap of courage to put this on the ballot.” Amid Texas’ problems with the opioid epidemicmaternal mortality and access to mental health services, he said, it would be difficult for lawmakers to go back to their constituents and tell them why they refused to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot.

“It starts to become a bit of an embarrassment,” Johnson said. “I think we have the potential to be a leader in health care. … We have vast resources and tremendous amount of power and will when we decide to employ it.”

I agree with everything Rep. Israel and Sen. Johnson say. As you know, I’ve been beating the drum for Medicaid expansion in Texas since 2011. It’s just that there’s zero Republican support for it – Rep. Zerwas’ watered-down version went nowhere, and no one is coming up behind him with something else. A constitutional amendment, which is what a Joint Resolution is and the only way the Lege can send something to the voters, requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber to pass. It’s highly unlikely there’s a simple majority for this in the House, and zero chance of that in the Senate. What Israel and Johnson and others are doing is valuable and necessary and sure to be a big campaign issue again in 2020. What it’s not is legislation that will pass, not while Republicans are in charge.

Another reason David Whitley has to go

County elections officials feel like they can’t trust him or his office right now. That’s a big deal.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As the Texas secretary of state’s office rolled out its botched effort to review the citizenship of nearly 100,000 voters, Betsy Schonhoff was local election officials’ main point of contact.

Seven years into her post as the state’s voter registration manager, she was largely responsible for the training provided to county officials ahead of the review. Schonhoff and her team fielded calls from election officials across the state as they began to sift through their lists. And she was the person who reached out to many of them when her agency discovered that thousands of voters’ names had been mistakenly flagged.

But a week and half into the convoluted review efforts, Schonhoff — voter registrars’ main contact within the agency — disappeared.

County election officials who called the secretary of state’s office asking for her were informed she was not available. A county worker who traveled to Austin last week to meet with Schonhoff was told she was out that day.

By then, Schonhoff had been gone from the secretary of state’s office for several days. She abruptly resigned on Feb. 6. But the county workers who relied on her experience overseeing the state’s voter rolls were kept in the dark.

A spokesman for the secretary of state denied that county officials were misled, saying those who called in were “directed to appropriate staff.” But during a call to Schonhoff’s office a week after she tendered her resignation and completed an exit interview, The Texas Tribune was told “Betsy’s not in.”

“It’s extremely odd, ” said John Oldham, Fort Bend County’s elections administrator, complaining at the time that “we don’t know what’s going on.”

The secretary of state’s office has since acknowledged that Schonhoff left. But the maelstrom surrounding her exit highlights the breakdown in communication and frustrations that have emerged between the state’s top election officials and county election offices since the citizenship review effort launched four weeks ago.

I believe the term of art for this is that the SOS office is “in disarray”. Let us continue:

Sharing responsibilities for maintaining the state’s voter rolls, the secretary of state’s office and county election officials regularly review the list of 15.8 million people and counting who are registered to vote in Texas. List maintenance is largely a routine process and typically occurs without incident.

But the state’s latest stab at reviewing the rolls has felt anything but ordinary, according to county officials across the state.

It started with Whitley’s announcement of the new list maintenance process on Jan. 25. For the better part of last year, the secretary of state’s office had been quietly working with the Texas Department of Public Safety to match the state’s voter rolls with data kept on Texans who indicated they were not citizens when they obtained their driver’s licenses or ID cards.

His office had offered trainings for local county officials ahead of sharing the data, and the secretary of state’s advised them earlier in the day that the data would soon be released. But they had no warning about the press release Whitley sent out announcing the review, nor were they aware that Whitley had provided data of the approximately 95,000 voters who were initially flagged to the state’s top prosecutors even before county officials would have access to it.

Oldham said he was tipped off about the announcement by a former local candidate who had seen a draft of the press release the attorney general’s office would send soon after Whitley’s announcement landed.

But others were caught flat-footed.

“Most of the time, it’s just very routine. [The state and counties] work together very well and then every once in a while something like this comes out,” said Douglas Ray, a special assistant county attorney in Harris County. “They characterized it as list maintenance, but it didn’t look or feel anything like ordinary list maintenance.”

And from there it got worse. The data was quickly shown to be disastrously inaccurate, with the SOS office at first quietly admitting as much to county officials. The lawsuits started coming, with county officials themselves being named in some of them for taking action upon receipt of the SOS advisory. And then the crown jewel, in which Keith Ingram threw county officials under the bus in a mealy-mouthed defense of his office’s incompetence. I’m sure this marriage of state and local elections officials can still be saved, but it’s time to get some counseling.

In the meantime, we’re still waiting for Betsy Schonhoff to tell her story in court, and for the reality to sink in on the Republican side that David Whitley’s days in office are numbered. And all of this began because of a zealous and fanatical pursuit of “illegal voters”, a problem that is very small and usually the result of misunderstanding than any bad intent, where all of the proposed “solutions” cause far more damage than they can ever hope to mitigate. All happening against the backdrop of the biggest election scandal I can recall, in which a Republican candidate for Congress and a shady campaign consultant used absentee ballots to actually steal an election, just last year, which now has to be done over. Just curious here, I don’t follow Ken Paxton on Twitter, but has he had anything to say about that? There are indeed lessons to be learned about election fraud. Our state leadership refuses to try.

Civil rights groups want Whitley to not be confirmed

No kidding.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

More than 30 civil rights and community groups are calling on Senate Democrats to block the confirmation of embattled interim Secretary of State David Whitley, who oversaw the botched rollout of an investigation into the citizenship of tens of thousands of Texas voters.

“Under no circumstances should Mr. Whitley be allowed to continue to serve as the Texas Secretary of State. The Senate Democratic caucus – and each of you individually – have the power to unite in defense of the voting rights of all Texans and stop his confirmation,” the groups wrote in a letter sent to Democratic senators on Thursday morning. “We call on you to affirmatively block the confirmation of David Whitley for Texas Secretary of State.”

[…]

“It has become exceedingly clear that Mr. Whitley is unfit to serve in that office,” the letter reads. “Mr. Whitley has targeted naturalized citizens for disenfranchisement and falsely accused them of committing voter fraud.”

The letter’s signatories, which include the League of Women Voters of Texas, the Texas NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Texas Democratic Party, took Whitley to task for being unable to answer questions during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Nominations Committee about how his office handled the advisory’s rollout.

“Mr. Whitley demonstrated an embarrassing lack of knowledge about the process he initiated,” the letter reads.

Calling Whitley’s conduct “disqualifying,” the groups said he “knew or had reason to know that a substantial number of these 58,000 Texas residents had not voted unlawfully, and still he sent the entire list to the Attorney General for criminal investigation and potential prosecution.”

“Mr. Whitley’s actions demonstrate a level of incompetence that we cannot accept in a position tasked to protect and advance our most fundamental rights of civic participation,” the groups wrote.

I found a copy of the letter here. You will recognize a number of the signers as plaintiffs in the multiple lawsuits filed against Whitley and the SOS. Whitley’s confirmation remains in limbo as the Senate committee has yet to vote out his nomination following the hearing two weeks ago; it’s still pending after another no-action committee meeting on Thursday. It would take at least two Dems to vote for Whitley, assuming he gets unanimous Republican support, which maybe isn’t a sure thing given that he’s still pending in committee. And as of yesterday, every Dem Senator was on record opposing Whitley.

All 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate have publicly confirmed they are opposed to confirming embattled Secretary of State David Whitley, giving them more than enough votes to block his nomination if they’re all in the chamber when the vote comes up.

The tally of “no” verdicts from Senate Democrats hit a dozen on Friday, upping the ante on the minority party’s ability to block his path to confirmation if they all stick together. To be confirmed, Whitley needs a two-thirds vote in the 31-member chamber. But whether Whitley’s nomination will make it that far remains unclear.

[…]

If Whitley’s nomination is left pending for the rest of the session, he can serve only until the Legislature leaves Austin in late May. After that, Abbott could nominate a replacement who would immediately take over as secretary of state and serve at least until the next legislative session in 2021.

If the Senate votes and Whitley is rejected, he must leave office immediately.

Doesn’t look good for Whitley, does it? My guess at this point is that Whitley never comes up for a vote, and Abbott appoints someone else after the session. Basic competence for the task at hand, and not regularly insulting everyone’s intelligence, that’s all we’re asking here. This Twitter thread from the press conference has more.

On special election runoff turnout and HD125

I figured a story like this was inevitable after Round One of the HD125 special election, in which Republican Fred Rangel got 38% of the vote and four Democrats combined to take the rest, with three of them being close to each other and thus farther behind Rangel. Ray Lopez will face Rangel in the runoff, for which a date has not yet been set.

Justin Rodriguez

Democratic Party officials and Lopez’s campaign remain adamant that they are in position to win the runoff and keep the seat. The four Democrats, combined, received more than 60 percent of the vote, they point out. And District 125 hasn’t elected a Republican since it was redrawn in 1992 to include more West Side voters.

But to others, the result immediately recalled San Antonio Democrats’ not-so-sterling track record in recent special elections. Electoral history and district demographics have not protected Democrats in those runoffs over the last few years: They have lost the last three off-cycle races in San Antonio, each of which occurred in traditional party strongholds.

In early 2016, Republican John Lujan scored an upset in a South Side legislative seat over Democrats Tomás Uresti and Gabe Farias. Uresti would defeat him nine months later in the general election.

Later that year, Independent Laura Thompson won election to an East Side legislative seat after Bexar County Dean Ruth McClendon’s death, also overcoming multiple Democrats. Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins put the seat back in Democratic hands in the next general election.

And in perhaps the most painful loss for Democrats, Republican Pete Flores won a state Senate seat last year that includes much of San Antonio. Flores flipped a seat that hadn’t gone to the GOP since Reconstruction, and his victory sealed a two-thirds Republican supermajority in the Texas Senate.

That race has some conspicuous similarities to Tuesday’s election in District 125. For one, the man who engineered Flores’ upset, Matt Mackowiak, is now running Rangel’s campaign. For another, multiple Democrats split the party’s vote, allowing the Republican to plunge ahead.

[…]

“It’s a very simple game of math in a special election,” [Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer] said. “When you’re running a race in a Democratic district you’re going to have multiple Democrats running for that position, and it’s always going to be that one Republican that has a universe of voters to himself.”

The Democrats believe that will change in a mano-a-mano, Democrat vs. Republican, runoff, and Democratic members of the Legislature are now rallying around Lopez. But they had a similar conviction — ultimately to no avail — that Flores wouldn’t prevail in what had been a Democratic district for more than a century.

Their logic isn’t reflective of the political reality of special elections, according to Mackowiak. The voters who chose Democrats Rayo-Garza or Art Reyna won’t necessarily show up again for Lopez in the runoff election.

“It’s just not transferable,” Mackowiak said. “Special elections are about motivation and enthusiasm.”

That sentiment was echoed by Larry Hufford, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s University.

“These small groups are so committed to their candidates,” Hufford said. “They say, ‘Well, my candidate didn’t win, forget it.’”

Those factors give Rangel an edge, Hufford said, especially if turnout drops in the runoff. If Rangel brings out the same number of voters, it puts him in a good position to win the majority while Lopez tries to inspire voters who backed Democrats no longer in the race, the professor added.

See here for the background. There are two claims being made here, that Bexar County Dems have had a spotty recent record in legislative special elections, and that the key to winning special election runoffs is to hold onto more of your own voters from round one than the other guy (if you’re the leader, that is) because getting new voters is too hard. Let’s take these one at a time.

First, the two special elections from 2016 are basically meaningless for these purposes. The reason why is because they were basically meaningless as special elections. They were for the purpose of serving the remainder of the 2015-2016 term, at a time when the Lege was not in session and not going to be in session. Neither John Lujan nor Laura Thompson ever filed a bill or cast a vote as State Rep, because there were no opportunities for them to do so. Tomas Uresti, who lost in that January 2016 special election runoff to John Lujan, went on to win the Democratic primary in March and the November general election, ousting Lujan before he ever did anything of note. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, the November nominee in HD120, didn’t bother running in the summer special election for it. Those special elections didn’t matter.

As for the turnout question, I would remind everyone that there were three legislative special elections plus runoffs from 2015. Here’s what they looked like:

2015 Special Election, House District 123


Melissa Aguillon  DEM   1,257   17.69%
Diego Bernal      DEM   3,372   47.46%
Roger V. Gary     LIB     103    1.45%
Paul Ingmundson   GRN      81    1.14%
Walter Martinez   DEM     780   10.98%
Nunzio Previtera  REP   1,512   21.28%

Total = 7,105

Special Runoff Election State Representative, District 123


Diego Bernal      DEM   5,170   63.67%
Nunzio Previtera  REP   2,950   36.33%

Total = 8,120

Diego Bernal got 1,798 more votes in the runoff – there had been 2,037 votes that went to other Dems in the initial election. Nunzio Previtera got 1,438 more votes in the runoff even though he’d been the only Republican initially.

2015 Special Election, Senate District 26


Trey Martinez Fischer  DEM   8,232   43.28%
Alma Perez Jackson     REP   3,892   20.46%
Jose Menendez          DEM   4,824   25.36%
Joan Pedrotti          REP   1,427    7.50%
Al Suarez              DEM     644    3.39%

Total = 19,019

Special Runoff Election State Senator, District 26


Trey Martinez Fischer  DEM   9,635   40.95%
Jose Menendez          DEM  13,891   59.05%

Total = 23,526

Remember how some idiot bloggers called for Sen. Menendez to concede rather than bother going through with the runoff, so the next special election could take place more quickly? Good times. After smoking TMF in said runoff, some other people claimed he won on the strength of Republican turnout in round two. For what it’s worth, there were 5,319 Republican votes in round one, and Menendez gained 9,067 votes overall. Make of that what you will. Also, for what it’s worth, TMF boosted his total by 1,403.

2015 Special Election, House District 124


Nathan Alonzo    DEM    467   23.81%
Delicia Herrera  DEM    555   28.30%
Ina Minjarez     DEM    828   42.22%
David L. Rosa    DEM    111    5.66%

Total = 1,961

Special Runoff Election, House District 124


Delicia Herrera  DEM  1,090   45.02%
Ina Minjarez     DEM  1,331   54.98%

Total = 2,421

The two runoff candidates combined for 1,383 votes in round one, while the two also rans got 578. Assuming all 578 voted again in the runoff, there were still another 460 people participating.

My point, in case I haven’t beaten you over the head with it enough, is that in all of these elections, there were more votes in the runoff than in the first round. That means – stay with me here, I know this is tricky – it’s possible for a candidate to win the runoff with extra votes from people who didn’t vote initially. It’s even possible for the second place finisher to win, in part by bringing in new voters. See, when not that many people vote the first time, there are actually quite a few habitual voters out there to round up. Who even knew this was a thing?

Yes, the SD19 still stands out like a turd on the sidewalk. SD19 encompasses more than just Bexar County, and there was some genuine resentment from third place candidate Roland Gutierrez, which likely hindered Pete Gallego in the runoff. (There were also many questions raised about the effectiveness of Gallego’s campaign.) Here, as it happens, third place finisher Coda Rayo-Garza has conceded after the remaining mail ballots arrived and endorsed Ray Lopez, so at least that bit of history won’t repeat itself. HD125 is more Democratic than SD19, so there’s a larger pool of dependable voters that Lopez can call on. He’s got work to do and ground to make up, and he certainly could lose if he doesn’t do a good job of it. But if we look at the history of Bexar County special legislative elections going all the way back to 2015 instead of just to 2016, we can see that the picture is a bit more nuanced than Matt Mackowiak and Larry Hufford make it out to be.

The family that grifts together

I am utterly flabbergasted.

Sen. Angela Paxton

In what state Sen. Angela Paxton describes as an effort to safely expand Texas’ burgeoning financial tech industry, the freshman Republican from McKinney has filed a bill that would empower the office of her husband, Attorney General Ken Paxton, to exempt entrepreneurs from certain state regulations so they can market “innovative financial products or services.”

One of those exemptions would be working as an “investment adviser” without registering with the state board. Currently, doing so is a felony in Texas — one for which Ken Paxton was issued a civil penalty in 2014 and criminally charged in 2015.

Senate Bill 860, filed Friday, would create within the attorney general’s office an entirely new program — what the bill calls a “regulatory sandbox” — that would allow approved individuals “limited access to the market … without obtaining a license, registration, or other regulatory authorization.” The bill, based on a 2018 Arizona law hailed as the first of its kind, aims to cut red tape for the growing financial tech sector, allowing businesses to market new products for up to two years and to as many as 10,000 customers with scant regulation.

In doing so, the bill would grant broad powers to the attorney general’s consumer protection division, allowing it to accept or reject entrepreneurial applicants who seek to hawk innovative products outside of the state’s current standards and regulations.

Angela Paxton said the bill is geared toward strengthening consumer protections in the underregulated, ever-changing financial tech industry — a sector that in Texas is largely centered in Richardson, part of her North Texas district. Constituents from that district first brought the issue to her attention, her office said.

“SB 860 allows for the growth and economic benefit of the emerging Financial Technology industry while the state provides the necessary regulatory framework and consumer protection in the marketplace,” she said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “The state agencies that have regulatory oversight of financial institutions and consumer protection laws will provide appropriate regulatory support within the sandbox to ensure that consumers are protected.”

But skeptics pointed to the bill’s optics problem: Ken Paxton, a statewide official accused of violating state securities law, would be empowered to decide who can skirt state securities law. And he’d get that power from a bill authored by his wife. Currently, Texas law requires investment advisers to register with the state — failing to do so is a third-degree felony punishable by a sentence of two to 10 years.

[…]

If SB 860 moved through both chambers of the Legislature and eventually became law, it would take effect Sept. 1. The proposal does not appear to offer any retroactive legal cover for past violations and it’s not clear whether it would directly impact Ken Paxton’s pending criminal case, though a change in statute could prove persuasive to a jury.

Still, ethics experts were slack-jawed that such a proposal would come from the wife of the state’s attorney general — even if he weren’t under criminal indictment for a charge so closely related to the legislation.

Randall “Buck” Wood, a longtime ethics lawyer in Austin, said it would be “a real concern” for Angela Paxton to introduce any legislation related to the agency her husband leads. But a proposal that relates so closely to his personal criminal indictment is “beyond the pale,” he said.

“It sounds like one of the more blatantly unethical acts I’ve seen recently. That’s just ridiculous,” Wood said. “This particular situation, it seems to me, is definitely personal to her and probably to very few other people.”

The measure would “almost certainly” influence Paxton’s criminal trial, added Wood, who has worked as a trial lawyer for decades.

Sometimes I think about the crazy things we have seen in our politics over the past couple of years, and of the players who have been responsible for them, and I realize that if any of this had been the plot and characters of a fictionalized drama, no one would buy any of it. It would be too ridiculous, too over-the-top, too unbelievable. And yet here we are, soaking in it in real life. How exactly did we get here? I don’t really have a point to make here. I just know that if I had suggested before last year’s election that Angela Paxton would file a bill to make what her husband had been arrested for doing legal, a large number of sober-minded people would have accused me of being somewhere between melodramatic and paranoid. I hope someday to live in a world where those accusations would have had merit.

More looking forward to 2020

Gonna have some more of that sweet Congressional election action.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beto may yet be a Senate candidate in 2020

He’s at least talking about the possibility.

Beto O’Rourke

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke last week to discuss a possible 2020 Senate campaign against GOP Sen. John Cornyn, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

O’Rourke, a Democrat who lost narrowly against Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, is considering running for president and hasn’t publicly discussed running again for Senate in 2020. But he also hasn’t ruled it out.

[…]

If O’Rourke chooses to challenge Cornyn instead of seeking the Democratic nomination for president, he would immediately have the support of Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) — Julián Castro’s twin brother.

“Joaquin believes Beto could beat John in 2020, and if Beto decides to see this thing through and do that, then Joaquin will give him his full support, just like he did against Ted Cruz,” a source close to Castro told POLITICO. “Otherwise, Joaquin will absolutely consider jumping in and finishing the job.”

As the story notes, we should know by the end of the month if Beto is mounting a Presidential campaign, which would almost certainly take him out of the running for Senate. That doesn’t mean he’ll run for Senate again if he decides against a Presidential bid, but we’ll have a bit more clarity on where things stand. The story also notes that MJ Hegar and Wendy Davis are looking at a Senate bid, which may apply a bit of pressure to Beto to pick a direction. The possibility that Joaquin Castro might try for the Senate intrigues me. I’ve discounted the idea of Joaquin running for Senate on the grounds that he’d be giving up four terms of seniority in what is now a Democratic Congress, with a sure path to leadership opportunities, for at best a coin flip for Senate. Obviously, I could be wrong about his thinking or his risk appetite.

I don’t know how this will be sorted out. I do think in the end, either 1) Beto announces for Senate and everyone else goes and does other things, or 2) Beto makes it clear he’s not running for Senate, and it becomes open season for whoever wants in. In the end, I think we’ll wind up with a strong candidate for Senate, whether Beto or Joaquin or MJ or Wendy or someone else. Mostly, I’m glad we’re talking about this now, and working towards getting someone officially declared now, so we can start fundraising and organizing for that person. One of the lessons learned from 2018 was that an early start was a benefit in many ways. We have the advantage of learning from and building on 2018 as we prepare for 2020. We’re running against a stronger candidate who sees us coming this time, so we’ll need every advantage we can get. The Current has more.

Whitley’s “apology”

He can do a lot better than this. He should do a lot better than this if he wants to get confirmed.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Facing an uncertain path to confirmation after ordering a deeply flawed voter citizenship review that seemingly focused on naturalized citizens, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley is apologizing to state lawmakers for the way his office bungled its rollout of the review — but he is still holding firm behind the overall effort.

In a letter sent to state lawmakers late Wednesday, Whitley largely defended the review efforts as a legally sound exercise, and he did not admit that his office had erred when it mistakenly threw into question the eligibility of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens or when it sent counties lists of voters it knew very likely included naturalized citizens.

Instead, Whitley vaguely admitted there were some shortcomings to the data his office used to flag almost 100,000 registered voters for citizenship reviews and noted his office should have devoted more time to “additional communication” with local and state officials to “further eliminate anyone from our original list who is, in fact, eligible to vote.”

“After close consultation with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), the counties, and members of the Texas Legislature, I have discovered that additional refining of the data my office provides to county voter registrars, both in substance and in timing, is necessary to ensure a more accurate and efficient list maintenance process,” Whitley wrote in the letter obtained by The Texas Tribune.

[…]

In his letter to lawmakers, Whitley said his announcement “could have been communicated better” by including “more substance” from the advisory his office sent out to counties detailing the release of the data and “by emphasizing my goal to ensure that no qualified voters are removed from the rolls.”

“I recognize this caused some confusion about our intentions, which were at all times aimed at maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the voter rolls,” Whitley wrote. “To the extent my actions missed that mark, I apologize.”

You can click over and see the letter if you want – I see no real value in that, given the clear lack of substance. Nothing about this should inspire any confidence in David Whitley’s ability to do the job. At the very least, we deserve an explanation of how this shoddy list was constructed, why there were no controls in place to properly vet it, why it was referred to the AG’s office despite these obvious shortcomings, and what is being done to prevent anything like this from happening again. Oh, and an apology to the people who have been wrongly accused. Come back after that and then we can talk.

In the meantime:

The confusion and chaos caused by Texas’ bombastic voter fraud allegations has manifested in almost every element of the fallout.

The latest example is a voter purge notice sent out by one Texas county that lacked basic contact information or even an official letterhead.

The notice left one citizen mistakenly flagged by the stake feeling “very worried” and a “sense of fear,” according to court documents filed Monday.

[…]

In Wood County, those notices went out with the space left blank where the phone number of the local elections office should have been. The notices also lacked the response form the recipients were asked to use to reply, and there was no letterhead on the notices.

A woman in the court docs known as “Jane Doe #2” — who received the notice despite being naturalized in March 2018 and voting legally in that year — recounted in a declaration her frustration and her “sense of fear,” given that she could not tell if the letter was fake or real.

“I questioned whether I had done something wrong, or if somebody was trying to prank me.” Jane Doe #2 wrote in the declaration. “I did not know where to go or who to call to receive answers to my questions.”

She first tried to call the county clerk’s office, where the staff member who answered her call said the letter might be fake and that the person whose name was on the notice didn’t work for the county clerk, according to Jane Doe #2’s statement. She finally got in touch with the county elections administrator, Lisa Wise, who explained that the notices had been sent out without the contact information by mistake. Jane Doe #2 eventually traveled to meet Wise in person and showed Wise a copy of her naturalization certificate.

This was part of a filing by MALDEF in their lawsuit against the SOS. What would David Whitley say to Jane Doe? What he has said so far is completely inadequate.