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Speaker’s race

Now how about that Speaker’s race?

It’s a little different now.

Rep. Eric Johnson

Democrats picked up 12 state House seats and are now confident they’ll have a stronger hand in electing the next leader. It’s an outlook even some Republicans agree with, although they’ll only say so privately. But while the GOP’s 95-55 stronghold shrank, they still appear to hold 83 seats — comfortably above the 76 votes a candidate needs to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Election night strengthened the Democratic caucus and a renewed commitment to taking our time,” said state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin. “We have time to be thoughtful. We mattered at 55, and we matter even more now at 67.”

But of the six declared Republican speaker candidates, two told The Texas Tribune that the state of the race hasn’t changed much — despite the fact that their party lost a considerable number of seats.

Republican Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, who launched his bid in August, said he didn’t think Tuesday’s results will impact his party’s role in determining who will replace Straus on the dais — and that he still has a “viable path forward” after Tuesday.

“I didn’t lose any supporters [Tuesday] night, by my calculus,” he told the Tribune. “I think it is going to prove to be helpful to me not because we lost Republican seats, but because we’re bringing in a new energy.”

Phil King of Weatherford, who filed to run for speaker before Straus announced his retirement, said the race will still be settled exclusively within the 150-member lower chamber even if it does have a new balance of political power. And King pointed to an upcoming GOP caucus meeting scheduled for Dec. 1, when members are set to rally around their preferred speaker candidate ahead of the full floor vote in January.

[…]

Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas, the only Democrat to throw his hat in the ring to replace Straus, is bullish that his party’s 12-member gain means that a lawmaker from the minority party can win the speakership.

“My perspective on this is pretty straight-forward: Democrats should stop being defeatist in their mentality and start thinking about the speaker’s race in terms of us sticking together — we have 67 votes and are nine away from the majority,” Johnson said. “If we start thinking in terms of finding nine Republicans who will join with us, we can change the conversation from ‘which Republican is it going to be’ to whether we can elect one of our own as speaker. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t be thinking that way.”

I think the odds of Speaker Eric Johnson are extremely slim, but as a matter of strategy, Rep. Johnson has it right. The more united the Dems are, the more influence they will have. As the story notes, some Dems have met with Dennis Bonnen, which fuels my speculation that he was recruited by the Straus disciples for the purpose of garnering enough Dem support to win the job. That said, as the story also notes, the smaller Republican caucus means the number of them needed to form a majority and declare their choice is smaller. Assuming they all agree to support their majority-of-the-majority choice, of course. I suspect there will be plenty more drama and intrigue before it’s all over. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Four Price has dropped his bid to be Speaker and has endorsed Dennis Bonnen. I didn’t see this in time for this post. I’ll post about that story tomorrow.

Zerwas out, Bonnen in for Speaker

A harbinger of intrigue.

Rep. John Zerwas

State Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, has withdrawn from the race for speaker of the Texas House, he confirmed to The Texas Tribune on Sunday evening.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to engage with the members of the House. The honest conversations are critical to the relationships I have, and I am honored to work with such principled leaders,” he said in a statement to the Tribune. “While I believe that I could lead the House through a successful 2019 session, it has come time for me to end my bid for Speaker and wholly focus on writing the budget for the 2020-2021 biennium.”

His departure comes amid an effort among roughly 40 GOP House members to draft state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, into the race. Bonnen did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Texas Tribune.

On Sunday night, that group of 40 members was scheduled to gather in Austin to discuss recruiting him for the job. Bonnen previously had told The Texas Tribune in May that he was not interested in running for the top slot in the lower chamber. The Tribune was told Sunday night that Bonnen was not at the meeting.

There are still a lot of Speaker wannabes. Zerwas was the first among them, declaring his intent to run right after Joe Straus announced his departure. My speculation when I read this was that the various Straus-like candidates have concluded their best move is to consolidate behind one candidate that they think can win, someone who Democrats and enough Republicans can support, so as to pre-empt the non-Straus contenders. For that to happen, to assuage egos and whatnot, the compromise/consensus candidate would have to be someone who is not currently a candidate. And thus it was:

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said Tuesday he is officially running for speaker of the Texas House — two days after an Oct. 28 meeting in Austin, where roughly 40 GOP House members gathered to discuss recruiting him for the job.

“Throughout my career in the House, I have always emphasized my respect for the institution as a whole as well as the unique position each member has to serve their district,” Bonnen said in a statement. “I look forward to the many conversations to come with members across the state. My desire, which I believe I share with the vast majority of my colleagues, is that this process come to a conclusion with a House ready to do the people’s business with strength, resolve, and unity in the 86th Legislative Session.”

Clearly, they were sufficiently persuasive. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is more or less how Straus emerged as a contender for Speaker in the first place – the dozen or so renegade Republicans who were publicly gunning for Tom Craddick emerged from a meeting with him as their exemplar, and after that it was all a matter of counting noses. We’ll see if it works.

Four makes seven

Rep. Four Price files for Speaker, making him the sixth Republican and seventh member to do so.

Rep. Four Price

State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, filed Thursday for speaker of the Texas House, making him the sixth Republican to enter an already crowded race to replace the retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Having successfully worked for the last four sessions with my colleagues from across our state to pass major legislation and focus on issues of importance to all Texans, I am eager to seek this leadership position in the Texas House of Representatives,” he said in a statement. “Looking towards the future, I truly believe the Texas House will play a leading role in making the decisions that keep Texas on the path to prosperity.”

Price enters a speaker’s race that already includes Republicans Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford, John Zerwas of Richmond, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches and Drew Darby of San Angelo, as well as Democrat Eric Johnson of Dallas.

As with the other Republicans, I have no official opinion on Rep. Price, though I will note that he was endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC when he first ran for office. Honestly, at this point I’d rather see another villain type declare for Speaker, as that would help divide the bad-guy vote some more. The goal here is for the next Speaker to need Democratic help to get there, so the more division on that side, the better.

Ron Reynolds reports to jail

We’ll see how long a year lasts.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

State Rep. Ron Reynolds has turned himself in to authorities in Montgomery County to begin serving his year-long jail sentence.

Reynolds, a Democrat from Missouri City, was convicted in 2015 on misdemeanor charges for illegally soliciting clients for his personal injury practice and sentenced to a year in jail. He was out on an appellate bond for years while his case wound through the appeals process.

On Friday morning, he had a hearing in Montgomery County after all his appeals were denied, and he turned himself in, according to a court clerk. He has not resigned his seat and state law does not force resignations for misdemeanor convictions, meaning it’s likely he’ll be in jail when the next session of the Texas Legislature convenes in January.

Reynolds has won several elections since his conviction, including his primary in March. He faces no opposition in the general election this November.

The exact length of time he will spend behind bars, however, remains uncertain. Though he was sentenced to one year, county jails will often allow “good time credit” which can drastically cut time served in some cases. Joel Daniels, the main prosecutor in Reynolds’ trial and chief of the white collar division in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, said that decision is left up to the sheriff.

“The sheriff can have him serve day-for-day, he can give him credit for two days for every day that he serves or three days,” he said. “It’s really just on the discretion of the sheriff and it depends on Mr. Reynolds’ behavior.”

If Reynolds served only one day of every three of his sentence, he could conceivably get out of jail just one or two days before the next legislative session starts on Jan. 8.

[…]

On Friday, a Texas Democratic Party leader said Reynolds was taking responsibility for his actions.

“No politician is above the law,” said Manny Garcia, the party’s deputy executive director. “Today, Rep. Reynolds took responsibility for his actions and is facing the consequences, when will indicted Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton do the same?”

Paxton is facing a criminal trial for securities fraud charges, but has not been convicted of a crime.

Garcia said he had “no further comment at this time” when asked if the party saw any need for Reynolds to resign or face disciplinary action. State Rep. Chris Turner, head of the House Democratic Caucus, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

See here for the previous update. You know where I stand on this, so I will just note that there’s an excellent chance Reynolds will be absent when the next Speaker is chosen. Given how Democrats are working to be in position to affect the election of the next Speaker, being shy a member diminishes their influence, even if only at the margins. I sympathize with Manny Garcia, as the TDP has zero power to make Reynolds do anything, but until Ken Paxton is convicted of something, this is not an apt comparison. Reynolds should have taken responsibility for his actions a long time ago. And judging by the press release I got in my inbox shortly after this news hit, the Republicans are already making hay about it, as well they should. We wouldn’t be in this position now if Reynolds had stepped down or declined to run again this year.

And then there were six

Five Republicans for Speaker, six in total.

Rep. Drew Darby

State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, filed on Friday to run for speaker of the Texas House.

“After prayerful consideration, discussions with my family, and at the urging of my House colleagues, today I filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to start a speaker campaign for the 86th Legislative Session,” Darby said in an emailed statement. “In the coming weeks, I plan to visit with every House member to discuss the priorities of their district and how the Texas House of Representatives can work together to put forward good policies to keep Texas the number one state to live, work and raise a family.” 
 


Darby, who’s been in the House since 2007, joins four other Republicans in vying for the top slot in the lower chamber: state Reps. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches and John Zerwas of Richmond. Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson has also declared he is running.

[…]

When the Texas House convenes for its legislative session in January, picking the next House speaker will be one of its first acts. Ahead of the vote from the full chamber, House Republicans last year agreed to hold a non-binding vote to pick a speaker candidate within the GOP caucus. And ahead of this year’s primaries, the Republican Party of Texas urged candidates and incumbents running for House seats to sign a form pledging to back whoever the caucus picks as their speaker candidate. Parker and King have signed the form, while Darby, Clardy and Zerwas have not.

See here for some background. What I said about Rep. Clardy’s candidacy holds true for Rep. Darby’s. Not sure how some of these guys will distinguish themselves from their rivals, but that’s their problem.

One more for Speaker

And then there were five.

Rep. Travis Clardy

State Rep. Travis Clardy, R-Nacogdoches, filed Monday morning to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the fourth Republican to throw his hat in the ring in the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“We’re coming out of the summer and I think it’s time we get serious about the political process,” Clardy told The Texas Tribune. “I think it’s more important than ever that we make a decision as a House to pick our leadership, and be prepared to start the 86th Legislature with a strong, positive step and a vision for the future.”

[…]

He enters a speaker’s race that already includes Democrat Eric Johnson of Dallas and three Republicans: Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond.

Ahead of the next regular session, House Republicans agreed to select a speaker in their caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor. Prior to the March 6 primaries, House Republicans pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. While Parker and King have signed the form, Zerwas and Clardy have not. Clardy told the Tribune Monday, however, that he does intend to vote with his party next session on who should succeed Straus.

“I’m a lifelong Republican and I was at the convention, but that pledge was originally prepared before we did the caucus vote. It’s kind of redundant,” Clardy told the Tribune. “I already voted with the caucus to support a Republican nominee out of our caucus to be the next speaker. It’s kind of backwards to pledge to do something I’ve already done.”

See here and here for some background. I don’t have an opinion on Rep. Clardy, who told his hometown newspaper shortly after Straus announced his retirement that he’d be interested in the Speaker gig. As I said in that first link above, the question is whether Republicans can coalesce around a single candidate so that they can elect him (all the candidates so far are male) without needing any dirty Democratic support, or if their divisions are too deep and whoever comes crawling to the Dems first wins the prize. The more Dems there are, the fewer Republicans there are, the less room the Republicans have for dissent, the more likely that latter scenario. So basically, as with most of my other entries the past few months, the message is to get out and vote, and make sure everyone you know votes. It’s not just about Congress, after all.

Rep. Eric Johnson declares for Speaker

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Rep. Eric Johnson

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed Wednesday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the first Democrat to enter the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune, Johnson pointed out that, if elected, he would be the first speaker under the age of 45 since former House Speaker Price Daniel Jr. in 1973 and the first person of color to ever serve as speaker of the Texas House.

Johnson enters a speaker’s race that already includes three Republicans: Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond.

“I’m in it, and I’m in it to win it,” Johnson told the Tribune.

[…]

“I am deeply troubled by the far rightward shift in our state government and the excessive partisanship and the poor legislation this shift has spawned,” Johnson said in a separate statement. “Texas has become a one-party state, and this has been to Texas’s detriment.”

As a Democrat, Johnson would need bipartisan support to be elected speaker in the Republican-dominated House. Ahead of the next regular session, House Republicans agreed to select a speaker in their caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor — a move that could completely cut out Democrats from picking the chamber’s next leader. Prior to the March 6 primaries, House Republicans pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. While Parker and King have signed the form, Zerwas has not.

Let’s state up front that Republican members are not going to vote for a Democrat for Speaker, at least not as long as they have a majority in the House. Let’s also state that it is…unlikely…that the Republicans will lose the majority in the Texas House. So, barring something very unexpected, Rep. Eric Johnson will not be the next Speaer of the House.

What could happen is that Republicans fail to coalesce behind a single one of their Speaker candidates, so that none of them can get a majority to become Speaker. In that case, Eric Johnson and his Democratic supporters can make a deal with one of them to push him over the top in return for some concessions. This is a more likely scenario with Democrats numbering in the mid-to-upper sixties (or higher, of course), but it could still happen with something more like the current caucus size. This is not unlike how Joe Straus became Speaker himself in 2009; I trust you will find the irony of that if it happens to be as delicious as I will. Having Johnson file as Speaker should mean that the Dems will be unified behind him, rather than making their own individual deals a la Tom Craddick in 2003.

And that’s the key. Being able to elect a Democratic Speaker would be awesome, of course, but the way the House map is drawn they’d need not just to win the statewide vote, they’d need to win it with some room to spare. That just isn’t going to happen. But being in a position to get a seat at the table, that’s a fine consolation prize. The more seats we do win in November, the closer we can get to that.

Speaker Straus not running for re-election

A bombshell no one saw coming.

Rep. Joe Straus

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election in 2018, a decision that has the potential to upend the political balance of power in the state.

Straus, who has lately been the most powerful moderate Republican in the Texas Capitol, said he will serve until the end of his term. That means there will be a new speaker when the Legislature next convenes in 2019.

His decision will immediately set in motion a scrum for control of the House, pitting arch-conservative members who have opposed Straus against more centrist Republicans. Within hours, one of Straus’ top lieutenants, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, announced that he had filed to run for the speaker’s post. State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, has already announced he is running. Other candidates are expected to jump in.

Straus has clashed with hardline conservatives in recent years, not least Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Tea Party leaders and their allies have blamed Straus for killing controversial measures backed by the far right, most notably a bill that would have regulated which bathrooms transgender Texans could use.

“I believe that in a representative democracy, those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime. And so I want you to know that my family and I have decided that I will not run for re-election next year,” Straus said in a campaign email. “My time as a State Representative and as Speaker will end at the conclusion of my current term.”

[…]

Asked if he planned to run for any other office in the future, Straus said he is “not one to close doors.” He acknowledged he has received encouragement to run for other offices and did not rule out the possibility of a gubernatorial bid. But he said he doubts he will be on the ballot in 2018.

As for the race to succeed him as speaker, Straus suggested he would not get involved.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for people who aren’t members in the Legislature in the next session to really register an opinion on that,” Straus said.

The announcement immediately set into motion speculation about the future of Straus’ top lieutenants. One of his closest allies, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who is chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said in a statement first reported by Quorum Report that he “will pursue other opportunities to serve our great state.”

Straus made his announcement on Facebook, which if you have a feed like mine immediately took over everything. This came as a big surprise, because just last month Straus was urging business leaders to keep up the fight against bathroom bills and other such harmful proposals, and two weeks ago he formed the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness to push pro-growth policies. I doubt it had occurred to anyone that he himself might walk away at this time, but if a young, scandal-free first-term US Senator can say “screw it, I’ve had enough”, then nothing like this should surprise us. Indeed, as Ross Ramsey notes, this will almost surely presage a lot more retirements. Get ready for it.

As to what happens next, I’m not going to panic or despair, at least not yet. For one thing, like Christopher Hooks, I’m a little wary of the hagiography coming from my fellow travelers over Straus’ legislative career.

Liberals have never quite figured out what to make of the man. On one hand, it’s undoubtedly true that Straus was a bulwark against the new populist tendencies of the Texas GOP. He and allies such as Byron Cook, who is also retiring, stopped a metric ton of junk legislation that would have passed with a different speaker. When considering the question of why Texas has fared generally better than similarly red states like Louisiana and Kansas, which are on fire, Straus and the conditions that created Straus are a significant part of the answer. He’s the last person in state government who seems to care about governing as a concept.

But out of that fact emerged too a picture of Straus as a sort of Aaron Sorkin character, a paternal figure with an unnaturally rosy image and a passing resemblance to Gregg Popovich, typified by the mythic representation of Straus’ bathroom bill showdown with Patrick in a recent New Yorker article. There is an element of Stockholm Syndrome in that, as if Straus was the jailer who always asks about your kids. Among other things, the House of Straus passed many of its own pieces of junk legislation — voter ID, loads of anti-abortion laws, etc. — and served at times as a trough for the lobby. Straus and his lieutenants often declined to water down bad legislation, including, spectacularly the state’s “show your papers” law. The Capitol debate over what Straus personally wants, and when his hand is being “forced,” is as long and storied as it is useless to ordinary Texans.

Straus isn’t Jeff Flake or Bob Corker — he’s been staying true to some version of his principles since he was elected speaker, not just recently. But it’s also worth wondering why a person who places so much emphasis on good government is willing to abandon his post, possibly to another Republican in the mold of Dan Patrick or Donald Trump. A tremendous amount now depends on whether a Straus-type successor can be elected speaker.

For sure, we could have done much worse than Straus – we had already done much worse, under Tom Craddick – and we could do much worse going forward. I’m just suggesting that we maintain a bit of perspective here. Going forward, a Speaker Zerwas would be more or less the same as Speaker Straus was, while a Speaker King would basically be Speaker Craddick minus the Craddick Dems. The way to enhance the odds of the former is for more Democrats to win legislative races next year, especially against wingnuts in swing districts like Matt Rinaldi. Perhaps the Texas Association of Business, who helped give us Speaker Craddick in 2002, might get involved in a few Republican primaries if they’d like to see Straus’ legacy live on. There are concrete things that can be done to ensure a better outcome, is what I’m saying. That’s where I’d put my energy if this news is distressing to me. The Chron, RG Ratcliffe, the Current, and the DMN have more.

State Rep. Larry Gonzales to retire

This is an opportunity for the Democrats.

Rep. Larry Gonzales

State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, is not running for re-election.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve HD52 and this great state,” Gonzales wrote Wednesday night on Facebook. “We certainly gave it our all.”

Gonzales announced his decision not to run again at a meeting Tuesday night of the Williamson County GOP Executive Committee, according to attendees.

First elected in 2010, Gonzales has served on the Sunset Advisory Commission since 2014 and currently chairs the panel, which is responsible for periodic reviews of state agencies. He is also the chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee.

[…]

At least two Republicans have already lined up to run for Gonzales’ seat in House District 52: Texas GOP chaplain Jeremy Story and Round Rock resident Christopher Ward.

Another person, James Talarico, has filed paperwork indicating he is interested in running. He is expected to make an announcement early next week.

HD52 is one of several in which Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump by less than five points, with the spread in the downballot races being about eight points. It was a bit more Democratic than in 2012, though not dramatically so. It’s still one of the clearer Democratic targets for 2018, especially now that it is open. If that isn’t enough incentive, there’s also the Speaker’s race dynamic. HD52 is also a target for the wingnuts.

Gonzales was already facing a Republican primary challenge from the right in March. Jeremy Story, a 42-year-old father of seven from Round Rock who founded and is president of Campus Renewal, a Christian organization seeking to unite campus ministries across the country, has announced he’s running for the Republican nomination. Story also serves as chaplain to the Williamson County and Texas Republican parties.

Story said Wednesday that, like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, he was disappointed that Straus did not deliver on more of the governor’s 20-point agenda for the special session. He said he believed the House could benefit from a change in leadership.

But, on Tuesday night, the Williamson County Republican Party executive committee defeated, 31-14, a measure to call for the speaker’s replacement, and Chairman Bill Fairbrother said that support for Straus was stronger in the southern end of the county that makes up Gonzales’ district.

Fairbrother described Gonzales as a successful and popular legislator who had worked tirelessly to get around and represent the district. He said he expects several other Republicans to jump into the race in the near future.

They need to be joined by at least one good Democrat. Don’t let us down, Williamson County.

Meanwhile, up north there’s another retirement:

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, announced Thursday she is not running for re-election.

Laubenberg, who chairs the House Elections Committee, did not provide a specific reason for her decision in a statement. “I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life,” Laubenberg said.

Laubenberg has served eight terms representing House District 89 in Collin County.

The seat is likely to stay under GOP control. One name that was already being mentioned Thursday evening as a potential candidate to replace Laubenberg was Candy Noble, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee from Lucas.

Laubenberg was the author of the infamous HB2 abortion bill that eventually got canned by SCOTUS, but not before a bunch of clinics were forced to close. I seriously doubt that anyone else will be better than she was – HD89 is a safe Republican seat, having been carried by Trump by over 20 points – but no one I know will be sorry to see Jodie Laubenberg walk out the door for the last time.

Court throws out State House map

Once more, with feeling.

Parts of the Texas House map must be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting several legislative districts, federal judges ruled on Thursday.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Texas must address violations that could affect the configuration of House districts in four counties, where lawmakers diluted the strength of voters of color. In some cases, the court found mapdrawers intentionally undercut minority voting power “to ensure Anglo control” of legislative districts.

These are the nine districts the court flagged:

  • Dallas County’s HD 103, represented by Democrat Rafael Anchia, HD 104, represented by Democrat Roberto Alonzo and HD 105, represented by Republican Rodney Anderson
  • Nueces County’s HD 32, represented by Republican Todd Hunter, and HD 34, represented by Democrat Abel Herrero
  • Bell County’s HD 54, represented by Republican Scott Cosper, and HD 55, represented by Republican Hugh Shine
  • Tarrant County’s HD 90, represented by Democrat Ramon Romero, and HD 93 represented by Matt Krause.

Adjusting those boundaries could have a ripple effect on other races.

[…]

In both the congressional and state House rulings, the court ordered Attorney General Ken Paxton to signal whether the Legislature would take up redistricting to fix violations in the maps.

But so far, state leaders have signaled they have no appetite to call lawmakers back to Austin over mapmaking. Instead, Texas is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep its political boundaries intact.

“The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law,” Paxton said in a Thursday statement. “Needless to say, we will appeal.”

Meanwhile, the state and the parties that sued over the congressional districts are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 5 to begin redrawing the congressional map. In its Thursday ruling, the court indicated they should be prepared to also meet on Sept. 6 to consider changes to the state House map.

“Today’s ruling once again found that Texas racially gerrymandered its voting districts and used Latino voters as pawns in doing so,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who is representing plaintiffs in the case. “With the 2018 election cycle fast approaching, it’s time for Texas to stop discriminating against Latino voters and agree to a remedy that will provide equal opportunity to all.”

It was just over a week ago that the same court invalidated the Congressional map, also calling it intentionally discriminatory. Add in the voter ID ruling and you’ve got three such judgments in a span of eight days; you can also toss in the ruling on interpreters for a four-game losing streak for the state. Don’t forget the Pasadena case, too – it’s not the state, but it is another intentional-discrimination opinion. Maybe this will all add up to enough to convince Chief Justice Roberts to change his mind about the state of voting rights and the need to protect communities of color.

Or not. I wouldn’t hold my breath. Be that as it may, this ruling could have an effect on the effort by wingnuts to oust House Speaker Joe Straus. RG Ratcliffe explains.

The court found that in Nueces County, the district maps discriminated in the placement of minority voters in a way that favored the re-election of Representative Todd Hunter, a key Straus Republican ally and chairman of the House committee that sets bills for debate on the daily calendar. To make his district safe, the court said Hispanic voters were packed into the district of Representative Abel Herrero, a Democrat. Redrawing the districts won’t automatically guarantee Hunter’s defeat, but it will make it more difficult for him to win re-election.

The court also ruled that the Legislature intentionally split a minority community in Killeen to guarantee the election of two white Republicans in Districts 54 and 55, Scott Cosper of Killeen and Hugh Shine of Temple. Both have backed Straus in the past. Putting the minority community in Killeen back together probably endangers Cosper’s re-election, and may put a Democrat in that rural district. Either way, this likely is a wash in the politics of electing the next speaker.

In Dallas and Tarrant counties, the court ruling likely would help Straus win re-election. In declaring that five districts in those two counties discriminated against minorities, the most likely losers in any redrawing of the district maps will be Republican Representatives Rodney Anderson of Irving and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. Anderson was among nineteen House members who voted against Straus in one election for speaker, and Krause is a member of the Freedom Caucus, which has been trying to force a speaker vote in the caucus instead of on the House floor, where Democrats also have a say.

Anderson barely squeaked by in 2016, in a district that was ever so slightly bluer than HD107, which flipped to the Dems. He was going to be a target no matter what. The ripple effect in Dallas could be very interesting. And of course, anything that puts jerks like Krause in jeopardy is a good thing. We’ll know if and when SCOTUS intervenes if a second special session will be forthcoming. A statement from MALC is here, and Michael Li, the Chron, the DMN, Rick Hasen, the HuffPost, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Straus not very excited about Patrick’s potty bill

Take this for what it’s worth.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus doesn’t think passing a transgender bathroom bill is a pressing issue state lawmakers need to address during the 2017 legislative session.

“This isn’t the most urgent concern,” Straus, R-San Antonio, said on Tuesday during an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith. When asked if it was a priority, he added, “It isn’t. But that doesn’t mean the House is going to feel differently than I do.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said passing the bathroom bill is a top priority for him this session. Straus has expressed concern with the proposal, echoing business concerns that it will result in a huge economic loss for the state.

“We don’t want to do anything that jeopardizes that,” Straus said, referring to major events the state risks losing, like San Antonio hosting the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 2018. “I know the lieutenant governor is very enthusiastic about this. Let him run with it. We’ll see what the House wants to do.”

Let’s be clear about two things. One is that Straus can affect the fate of a given bill, if he really wants to. He can affect it by his committee chair appointments, which in turn can affect which committee gets a particular bill. This is old school Lege craft of long standing – the best way to kill a bill is to ensure it never gets out of committee. This can be done in ways that leave no obvious fingerprints, at least none that are visible to anyone who isn’t an obsessive follower of this sort of thing. So if Straus has a tacit understanding with the business lobby that any potty bill must die, he can make it happen without looking like he’s making it happen.

That said, such a style is more of a piece with former Speaker Tom Craddick than it is with Straus. Craddick fell out of favor with some Republicans in part because he put a heavy thumb on the scale of the bill-managing process. Straus’ MO has been to let the will of the House be the determining factor on most bills. He stays out of the way and whatever happens, happens. That’s a bit of an overstatement – all Speakers exert influence when they see fit to do so – but Straus is definitely subtle about it. Whatever does happen, Straus will say that this is how the House wanted it. The Trib has more.

Runoff watch: Legislative races

I’m going to spend a few posts looking at the runoff elections that will be on the ballot this May. Primary runoffs are completely different than regular primaries, mostly because the races involved are low profile and only the hardest of hardcore voters come out for them. Remember how much time we spent this primary cycle talking about the 2008 Democratic primary and how off-the-charts high the turnout was? Well, turnout for the 2008 Democratic primary runoff in Harris County, which decided one District Judge nomination and one Justice of the Peace nomination, as well as voting on the nomination for Railroad Commissioner, drew all of 9,670 votes. Republican primary runoff turnout that year was 40,457, considerably higher but still quite paltry. The exception to this rule is when there is an actual high-profile race on the ballot, such as in 2012 when Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst went into overtime for the US Senate nomination. That year, in a runoff that happened in July, over 135,000 people came out to vote. The Democratic runoff, which also included a Senate race, drew 30,000 votes. Point being: Don’t expect much this year.

The bottom line is that there are two types of primary runoff voters: Those who are super plugged into the process and who turn out any time there’s an election, and those who are brought out by a campaign. In the absence of a high-profile campaign, the kind that draws news coverage and maybe TV advertising, the main kind of campaign that will draw out voters is one with a ground game. Legislative races are the best for that. There are three legislative runoffs of interest, two in Harris County and one in Fort Bend.

HD128 – Republican runoff

Rep. Wayne Smith

I don’t pay that much attention to most Republican primary races, and even if I did I doubt I’d have given this one much thought. Rep. Wayne Smith in HD128 is a low-key guy, serving as the Chair of the Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee and generally not doing much to attract my attention. He hadn’t had a competitive primary since he was first elected in 2002, and hadn’t had a non-third party opponent since 2004. Yet there he was on Election Day, trailing some guy named Brisco Cain by four points and coming close to losing outright in a three-candidate field. What happened?

I’ll leave you to read this Big Jolly post to get an idea. Basically, it’s one part Smith not being “conservative” enough – Cain drew a ton of support from the “grassroots” organizations – and one part this being yet another proxy fight over Speaker Joe Straus. That’s likely to be how the runoff plays out, though so far it’s been as under the radar from the perspective of an interested outsider like myself as the March race was. Smith’s best chance, it seems to me, is for Straus’ money to buy him some voter outreach, and get as many people who think he’s been good for Baytown to the polls. Cain, who ran for HD129 in 2014 but finished fourth in the seven-candidate primary, needs to harness the same seething anger that propels candidacies like his. He had a 500-vote lead on March 1, and the kind of people that vote for the kind of candidate that he is tend to be highly motivated to turn out, so I see this as Cain’s race to lose. I predict there will be at least one controversy over a mailer or online ad attacking Smith, because that’s the way these things tend to go and also because groups like Empower Texans are backing Cain. If you’re a Republican, how do you see this race?

HD139 – Democratic runoff

This is the race for Mayor Turner’s open seat, with the winner of the primary runoff the winner of the office, since there is no Republican running. (The same is true for the HD128 runoff.) Candidate Randy Bates collected the most institutional support, and he led the field when the initial results, from early and absentee voting, were published. He then collected only 20% of the vote on Election Day, and slid into third place behind Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. I’m not sure what happened there, but if I had to guess I’d posit that 1) Willis had a better ground game, and 2) Johnson benefited from the high turnout on Election Day, as perhaps it featured a higher percentage of voters who were voting for a familiar name. Like I said, that’s just a guess.

I could see this runoff going either way. I have not yet seen updated endorsements from the groups that had backed Bates in March, but I’ll be surprised if it isn’t the case that Willis cleans up among them. She has been by far the more active campaigner of the two, and Johnson’s legacy as Council member isn’t the best. I think Willis will be able to turn out some voters for this race, and that gives her the edge, but Johnson’s name recognition can’t be denied. Willis’ model needs to be Erica Lee’s runoff win for HCDE in 2012, which she accomplished despite Johnson nearly taking a majority in the first round. If she can reach enough voters, she can win.

On a side note, there is a complicating factor for this race, and that’s the special election to fill out the remainder of Turner’s term, which will be held on May 7, a mere 17 days before the primary runoff. I don’t know when the filing deadline is for this, and I don’t know who all will be in that race, but surely Willis and Johnson will file for it. If nothing else, it’s another opportunity to get out there before the voters. As long as they understand that their obligation doesn’t end with that race and they come out again on May 24, that is.

HD27 – Democratic runoff

The one non-Harris County race of interest, and the one with the highest profile so far. You know the story – three-term Rep. Ron Reynolds and his tsuris, with Annie’s List-backed Angelique Bartholomew the last candidate standing against him. Reynolds, like Briscoe Cain in HD128, was above 50% for most of the night on March 1. In fact, I went to bed around midnight having stated that Reynolds had pulled it out. Not so fast, as it happened.

What Reynolds has going for him is that a lot of people still genuinely like him – for all his self-inflicted wounds, even his opponents have compassion for him – and he hasn’t lost the support of elected officials and many establishment groups. What he has going against him, besides his conviction for barratry, is at least one establishment group that is sure to spend money to try to defeat him, money that he doesn’t have and probably won’t be able to raise. There’s also ammunition to use against him that goes beyond the barratry issue. I think he’s buoyant enough that this is still his race to lose – again, he came very close to winning outright in the first place – but he’s not invulnerable. If there are any further cracks in his support, it could shatter on him.

Rep. Scott Turner not running for re-election

Another one heads for the exit.

Rep. Scott Turner

State Rep. Scott Turner, the Frisco Republican who unsuccessfully ran for speaker this year, has decided not to seek re-election.

Turner announced his decision in an email to constituents Thursday, hinting that he is not done with politics.

“One chapter is closing for now, and I am beginning new chapters that I believe hold great promise and potential,” Turner wrote. “Though my service as a state representative comes to an end, you can count on me to use my voice to remain involved and champion our shared conservative values.”

Turner also told constituents he is looking forward to spending more time with his nephew Solomon, who has lived for years with Turner and his wife. In a January interview, Turner said that he and his wife were Solomon’s “full-time parents.”

Along with the announced departure of Rep. Sylvester Turner, this may make the Lege a Turner-free zone may leave the Lege with just one Turner (Rep. Chris Turner) in 2017. It will also likely make the Lege, and the GOP caucus, whiter, as Scott Turner was one of two African-American Republicans. Turner was mostly known for challenging Joe Straus for the Speakership this session; he didn’t come close, and if he had any major legislative achievements in his two sessions, I’m unaware of them. HD33 is in Collin County and it’s heavily Republican – 72.1% for Mitt Romney in 2012 – so it’s all about the Republican primary and hoping for a bit of sanity to win out. Best of luck to Rep. Scott Turner and his family in the next chapter of their lives. Trail Blazers has more.

UPDATE: Corrected my miscount of the Turners. Thanks to General Grant in the comments for the catch.

Keffer to retire

The original Straus gang shrinks again.

Rep. Jim Keffer

State Rep. Jim Keffer, an Eastland Republican who was one of the earliest supporters of House Speaker Joe Straus, has decided not to seek reelection next year, according to a statement he prepared for the Hood County News that was widely posted on social media Tuesday evening.

Sources familiar with his plans confirmed the news; Keffer could not immediately be reached for comment.

First elected in 1996, Keffer is finishing his tenth term in the Texas House. He chairs the Natural Resources Committee and previously led the committees on Energy Resources, Ways & Means, Property Tax Relief and Economic Development.

His departure leaves only three members of the original Polo Road Gang — the eleven Republicans who met privately at state Rep. Byron Cook’s house on Polo Road in Austin before the 2009 legislative session to decide who they would unite behind in the race for speaker of the House. The 2008 elections left the House split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats, destabilizing then-Speaker Tom Craddick’s coalition and setting the stage for a change in leadership. The eleven Republicans chose Straus, picked up some other Republicans and a majority of Democrats, and elected him that January.

Now, only Straus, Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Cook remain in office.

Keffer’s HD60 is ridiculously red (Romney 83.0% in 2012), so it’s all a matter of who survives the primary next year. Keffer is as conservative as anyone, but as a Straus backer and someone who’s more interested in governing than in burning crap down, he’s been a wingnut target for awhile and his seat will be high on their list. So, you know, same as it ever was. I wish Rep. Keffer the best in the next phase of his life, and I will hope that his successor isn’t a typical zombie robot idiot. It is what it is. PDiddie and Greg have more.

Louie, Louie

Great news, everyone. Christmas isn’t over yet.

U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, announced Sunday morning that he will challenge House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio to be the leader of the House Republicans.

Gohmert is, for now, likely a long-shot threat to Boehner. But two years ago, Boehner won re-election as speaker by one of the narrowest margins in modern history, thanks to a band of rebellious House Republicans.

“We’ve heard from a lot of Republicans that, “Gee I’d vote for somebody besides Speaker Boehner, but nobody will put their name out there as running, so there’s nobody else to vote for,’” Gohmert said in an appearance on “Fox and Friends” on Sunday morning.

“Well, that changed yesterday, when my friend [Florida Republican Rep.] Ted Yoho said, ‘I’m putting my name out there. I’ll be a candidate for speaker,’” Gohmert added.

“And I’m putting my name out there also today to be another candidate for speaker.”

Gohmert’s strategy is to force multiple rounds of voting.

“Eventually the goal is, second, third, fourth round, we have enough people that say, “You know what, it really is time for a change,” he said.

[…]

Gohmert was militant in his television appearance on Sunday, directly slamming Boehner on issues like immigration and funding the government. He went so far as to call his conference’s leader “a dictator.”

This is great news for late night TV show hosts, political writers of all stripes, and all those horny caribou up in Alaska. Oh, and for Democrats, too. I mean, I can’t imagine a scenario that will make the Republicans look more deranged and the Democrats more responsible than Speaker Gohmert. Heck, just the protracted fight for the Speakership might be enough. You go on with your bad self, Louie. You’re better entertainment than “Downtown Abbey”. PDiddie, Juanita, and Trail Blazers have more.

Day One of the Lege

What do we know so far?

Same old Rick Perry.

Gov. Rick Perry called for tax relief and a lean approach to budgeting as he addressed the Senate, even as the state faces a lawsuit from school districts over funding and concerns over the effects of budget cuts approved two years ago.

[…]

Perry said the state’s economic rebound is due to a fiscally conservative approach, telling lawmakers that interests across the state see the positive revenue picture as “ringing the dinner bell”

“They all want more for their causes they all figure we have manna falling from heaven and they all have your phone numbers and addresses,” Perry said.

Instead, he said it is time to put the state’s fiscal house in order by implementing his call to reduce diversions of dedicated funds, set a tighter constitutional spending limit, oppose any tax increases and stand against using rainy day fund money for ongoing expenses. He said lawmakers must stop writing IOUs and delaying payments.

“With a better budgetary picture now is the time for us to set the books straight… it’s also time for us to take a look at tax relief,” Perry said.

You didn’t really expect him to say that now was the time to restore services that had been needlessly slashed last session, did you? The man still thinks he’s running for President, but even if he weren’t, he showed us who and what he is a long time ago.

Joe Straus is still Speaker.

After the last of his challengers dropped out Tuesday, San Antonio Republican Joe Straus was elected to a third term as speaker of the Texas House.

That last challenger, Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, never found enough support to threaten the incumbent. An earlier challenger, Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, dropped out weeks ago as Simpson entered the race.

Saying he wasn’t certain of victory and didn’t want to put other members at risk by forcing a vote, Simpson withdrew from the race. “Absent certainty at winning this contest, at the request of my colleagues, I withdraw from this contest,” he said in a speech to the full House.

When it came time for the House to vote Tuesday — the first day of the 83rd Legislature — Straus was re-elected by acclamation.

The process to select the next “Bachelor” had more drama.

The two thirds rule still lives, or at least it most likely will still live.

Speaking after the Senate adjourned Tuesday, [Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst said that the contentious issue of the two-thirds rule had already been settled and that he expected a vote on the rules on Wednesday.

“In my conversations with the Senate Republicans and the Senate Democrats yesterday, I believe that’s where the senators are, to maintain the two-thirds rule for this regular session,” Dewhurst said.

He did not fully rule out sidestepping the rule for a particular bill, as Senate Republicans have in the past on high-profile measures such as voter ID and redistricting.

“The record is replete with different lieutenant governors in different sessions doing different things, and I’m not going to restrict anything lieutenant governors can do in the future,” Dewhurst said. “But it’s my understanding that the two-thirds rule will be in place for this session.”

Voter ID and redistricting were last session, so there probably isn’t anything that’s sufficiently controversial and sufficiently partisan to warrant an attempt to kill it by the Rs. They know that it’s sometimes convenient to let the Ds kill something that they’d rather not have to vote on. Still, it’s a bit amazing after all the drama of recent sessions that this still lives. Tradition is a powerful thing.

That’s probably the only news of interest for the week from the Dome. As Ed Sills said yesterday, only 139 more days to go. Burka, PDiddie, Stace, the Observer, and TM Daily Post have more.

UPDATE: More from Burka and EoW.

Simpson in, Hughes out to challenge Straus for Speaker

It started with an announcement that Rep. David Simpson would make the Speaker’s race a three-way, which I assure you sounds dirtier than it actually is.

Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, filed papers to run for Speaker of the House, he said in a letter to colleagues Monday morning. He joins Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in challenging Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. The election will take place on the first day of the legislative session in January.

Almost before the electrons were dry on the webpage, however, it went back to a two-man race as Hughes dropped out:

State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is dropping his bid for Speaker of the House and endorsing state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, for that leadership post.

You can read Simpson’s letter to his House colleagues, and Hughes’ endorsement, at the link above. Burka was skeptical of this when it looked like a dual challenge might be an attempt to oust Straus via divide-and-conquer. Simpson is a bit of an odd duck, a true-believer conservative who isn’t necessarily an orthodox Republican, for whatever value of “orthodox” is in play this week. It’s possible he could make a real run at this if he gets Democrats on his side, which would be ironic given how Straus ascended to the big chair in the first place. Democrats have every incentive to play hard to get, so a real race could work in their favor. But as was the case back in 2009 when Straus toppled Tom Craddick, none of this means anything until one person or the other can credibly claim to have pledges from a majority of the members. Basically, Straus is Speaker until he admits, or is forced to admit, that he’s not.

Time for another Speaker’s race

It’s like a rite of spring, except it happens in alternate Januaries.

Joe Straus

House Speaker Joe Straus’ bid for a third term as leader of the 150-member state House may not come as quickly or as easily as he had anticipated.

The San Antonio Republican finds himself caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place: His re-election path is complicated by a challenge from the hard conservative wing of his own GOP, combined with growing unease among some Democratic legislators upset with how Straus handled last year’s redistricting and other issues affecting minorities.

Straus faces a challenge from Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, who is drawing support from tea party Republicans, FreedomWorks and some of the chamber’s more conservative members.

Straus, confident of prevailing, is content to let the process play out.

“I have a broad-based bipartisan coalition of supporters in the House that spans the ideological spectrum,” he said. “The members know that I have presided over the House in a way that is fair.”

We had one of these in 2011, and it fizzled out without anything serious transpiring. Maybe this time it will be different, maybe not. PDiddie is correct that if Straus can hang on to Democratic support – and he should, since it’s hard to imagine Hughes going after them; the whole point of this insurgency is that Straus sleeps with the enemy – then he ought to be able to survive. But who knows what the 93 Republicans who aren’t Hughes or Straus will do.

It must be time for another Speaker’s Race

Those fun-loving chuckleheads at FreedomWorks are at it again.

FreedomWorks, which helped insurgent Ted Cruz snatch the GOP nod for U.S. Senate from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, said Monday it will put its muscle behind toppling Texas House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio from his leadership post.

The group is backing Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, for speaker. House members will elect the speaker after the Legislature convenes in January.

FreedomWorks is led by former U.S. House Majority leader Dick Armey, who endorsed Matt Beebe’s long-shot challenge to Straus in the GOP primary this year. FreedomWorks also endorsed a Straus challenger for speaker two years ago.

Blah blah blah, Straus is too liberal, he has Democratic committee chairs, we will bury you, etc etc etc. Straus has the right response to these nattering nabobs. I’m going to get an early start this time around and commence ignoring these guys now.

More map feedback

In addition to AG Abbott’s pitiful whining, a few other parties have been heard from regarding the interim legislative map. First, Speaker Joe Straus performs his duty as a Republican. Here’s his statement:

“As the panel of three federal judges prepares to issue its ruling on district lines for the Texas House of Representatives, I hope that the judges will take into account the will of the people of Texas as expressed by their elected representatives.

“I, along with many Members of the House, have strong concerns that the initial map released by the court last week goes much further than is necessary to correct any perceived legal defects in the recently-adopted redistricting plan.

“Members of the Texas House approved a redistricting plan that is fair and that the State’s lawyers have advised us is legal. Even if the panel of judges concludes that the new lines violate federal law in some respects, their role should be limited to making as few revisions as possible to cure those perceived defects, instead of making wholesale changes to the duly elected map.

“If the final order of the court is not substantially closer to the plan we passed, I will urge the Attorney General to seek an immediate stay from the U.S. Supreme Court so that several issues under the Voting Rights Act can be clarified before the federal judges impose their new map on Texas voters for the 2012 elections.”

Blah blah blah mean ol’ Republican-appointed activist judges…Clearly we need some other activist judges to step in and correct the error made by some other activist judges who did something we don’t like. Even if that means moving back the primaries, which wouldn’t be disruptive at all. The irony of this is that the court-drawn map is likely to be friendlier to Straus’ re-election as Speaker than the one the Lege drew. But certain ritualistic obligations must be met.

Meanwhile, Burka notes that various Republican legislators are none too happy with Abbott’s office for their role in pushing preclearance to the DC court and for losing the battle to get summary judgment. He also has some whining from doomed Republican HD144 incumbent Ken Legler. In that same post, he suggests that there may be some discontent on the D side as well:

Mike Hailey’s Capitol Inside reports that African-American members and support groups are not happy with the court-drawn maps either, which involve significant changes to districts that break up communities of interest.

African-Americans who’ve been involved in the court fight over redistricting that Democrats and minority groups have been waging contend that the House map that a pair of federal judges in San Antonio proposed last week is inferior from their perspective to the plan that the Republican-controlled Legislature approved earlier this year.

This has the potential to turn into a nasty fight–not just R’s against D’s, but also blacks against browns. Hispanics are the clear winners to this point, and African Americans (and, of course, anglo Republicans) saw their communities of interest disrupted for no obvious Voting Rights Act purpose. I don’t see how this often-arbitrary map can withstand a trial on the merits.

That sounds pretty bad, until you read the brief that was filed by the NAACP-Jefferson plaintiff-intervenors. They ask for a grand total of 42 precincts (I counted) to be interchanged in Dallas and Harris Counties, mostly between neighboring African-American districts – 23 of the 42 precincts in all. Seventeen precincts, all in Harris County, would be swapped between African-American and Latino districts (this includes HD137, which has a Latino voting majority if not a Latino representative) and exactly two precincts between a Democratic district and a Republican district (HDs 146 and 134). In other words, these changes are pretty darned unlikely to affect the partisan balance that might result from Plan H298. In addition, there’s this footnote on page 3:

We understand that the State has mis-used the constructive comment of the NAACP-Jefferson plaintiff-intervenors in unwarranted attacks on the Court’s efforts. We wish to disassociate ourselves from such criticism. While we regard these changes as exceedingly important, indeed essential, to a racially fair redistricting plan, we understand the virtual inevitability of unintended circumstances, especially in such a short time period.

In other words, they may both be asking for changes, but they have very different reasons for doing so. I fully expect that there will be some changes to the interim map, but I do not expect them to be more than tweaks like what the NAACP-Jefferson plaintiff-intervenors have offered. You’ve got to figure we’ll know soon enough. For that matter, you’ve got to figure there’s a Congressional map in there somewhere. I don’t mean to rush you, Your Honors, but, um, tick tock.

UPDATE: Michael Li explains what must happen for the Supreme Court to step in and put a halt to the implementation of the interim maps.

A few thoughts from Opening Day

Just a few random bits from today’s festivities…

– In the end and despite the teabagger footstomping, the Speaker’s Race turned out to be a big nothingburger, which was what most rational people expected all along. There were a few deadenders, mostly Republican freshmen, who voted against Joe Straus. I can’t wait to see what kind of committee assignments some of them get, not to mention how they get treated in redistricting. Anyway, despite some speculation that they might get wooed by Team Paxton, in the end all the Democrats voted for Straus. At least they all knew enough not to go putting “Kick Me!” signs on their own posteriors.

– Putting it another way, what Harold says.

– Senate President Pro Tem Steve Ogden lays out the budget situation as he sees it. On the plus side, I am glad to see him call for reform of the business margins tax, with the apparent goal of generating more revenue. On the minus side, anyone who thinks the federal government needs a balanced budget amendment is either economically illiterate or doesn’t care that we’d have 15% or higher unemployment right now if we lived in such a world. Neither is a particularly comforting trait for a budget writer to have.

– Oh, and Ogden’s assertion that “It is impossible to balance the budget without making cuts in (education and health and human services)” is of course wrong. We can most certainly choose to raise enough revenue to do it, though I’ll agree that long term something needs to be done about Medicaid costs. (Like federalizing the program, just to pick one possibility.) The political will absolutely does not exist for this, but the point is that it’s a choice, not a physical law, that is forcing that course of action. It’s a choice the Republicans are making.

– Still having said all that, Ogden is much more in touch with reality than our Governor.

– Speaking of which, Rick Perry’s top priorities for this session are eminent domain and “sanctuary cities”. I wonder if anyone has informed Aaron Pena about this.

Robert Miller predicted that the Senate’s traditional 2/3 rule would remain unchanged. Paul Burka suggested it might be tweaked to be a 3/5th rule as desired by Dan Patrick. According to the Quorum Report, the Senate has put off deciding its rules till tomorrow, with Patrick saying he doesn’t have the votes to make his preferred change. However, it strikes me as entirely plausible that certain legislation, such as a voter ID bill, will be exempted from the 2/3 rule, as was the case last year. We’ll know soon enough.

– Finally, for those of you who are wondering what life is like in the alternate universe where Bill White was elected Governor, here’s an email he sent out to his campaign mailing list:

The Texas comptroller announced yesterday that next year’s state budget shortfall, already tens of billions of dollars, will be $4.3 billion more because Texas has been running an operating deficit for its last two fiscal years. Cuts of twenty to thirty percent in higher education are being discussed in Austin right now.

Please click on this link to an article describing why improved and more accessible higher education is critical to the future of Texas and showing where Texas ranks relative to other states and countries: DMN: Employment growth and higher education by Bill White.

For the first time, young Texans are less educated than the generation of their parents. Cuts in public universities and community colleges will hurt Texas’ long run competitiveness for high wage jobs, where we have already fallen behind at current funding levels. More detail can be found in the 2009 Report of The Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness.

You can share your concern by writing or emailing your local newspaper expressing your views on the importance of investing in education. Texas is a great state with great people and prospects. And certainly we can always spend public money more efficiently. But we should not miss the opportunity to prepare for a future with better education and training, resulting in rising incomes and greater opportunities.

So now you know. Not a whole lot else of interest is likely to happen until committee assignments are given out, so we get a little bit of calm before the storm. After that, the level of action will make “Deadliest Catch” look like a paddleboat ride at Hermann Park. Buckle up now and get ready.

UPDATE: Adding in a few opening day emails, from the Texas League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast, and Equality Texas. In addition, here are a couple of worthwhile press releases that respond to Governor Perry’s wacked-out priorities. First, from State Rep. Mike Villarreal:

Today Rep. Mike Villarreal expressed his dismay and concern about Governor Rick Perry’s official proclamation giving emergency status to divisive immigration legislation.

This rare first-day move by the Governor allows the Legislature to take up immigration within the first 60 days of the legislative session. The decision to put immigration legislation on the front burner ignores the true emergency faced by the Texas Legislature – the $27 billion shortfall announced by Comptroller Susan Combs the day before the session opened.

“Once again, the Governor demonstrates that he is a masterful politician.” said Rep. Villarreal. “Just when the public begins to learn that the state’s financial crisis is worse than California’s, he distracts us with a controversial issue that ultimately cannot be resolved by the state.”

“Texans deserve a state government that puts responsible governance over scoring political points,” Rep. Villarreal said. “Doesn’t he know the election is over? He won. Now it’s time for him take responsibility for our schools, our jobs, and the financial crisis he helped create.”

And from State Rep. Armando Walle:

Today State Representative Armando Walle (D-Houston) was sworn in to the Texas House of Representatives for his second term. After hearing Governor’s Perry’s call for emergency action on eminent domain and sanctuary cities, Rep. Walle released the following statement:

“The most pressing issue facing the Texas legislature is addressing the $27 billion shortfall that the Republican leadership has created and failed to address. Balancing the budget on the backs of uninsured children, the elderly, and hardworking everyday Texans is not the kind of approach that will make Texas stronger for future generations. The Republicans are driving the car, and we need to work together to get it out of the ditch. Running over the most vulnerable Texans is not the way to move Texas forward.

I find it very ironic that the Governor who brought you toll roads and Trans-Texas Corridor is calling to strengthen private property rights. We will face many challenges in the 82nd Session, and we must be guided by sound policy, not political pandering.

The call to address sanctuary cities is nothing more than a divisive political ploy aimed at distracting Texans from our state’s budget crisis. Law enforcement officers across the state understand that crime victims and witnesses are their most important resources for solving crimes. We cannot afford to alienate anyone who could be of assistance in solving crimes. The immigration system is broken and the federal government needs to act. And that should be our message to the federal government, so we can focus on the very real and challenging task of balancing our budget to build a stronger Texas.”

The Trib has more.

Some people just can’t handle prosperity

Infight away, y’all!

House Republicans have launched open warfare against one another as they vent spleen and fight over whether Joe Straus should remain speaker.

In open letters and news releases that came very close to being vitriolic, members on Wednesday impugned each other’s integrity and warned that dangerous new lows were being set for what’s acceptable in a no-holds-barred leadership contest.

Straus, R-San Antonio , accused backers of his rival in the speaker’s race, Rep. Warren Chisum, of conducting a “scorched earth campaign.”

Chisum, R-Pampa, called on Straus to release all House members from pledges of support to the incumbent, saying Straus’ prodigious fundraising for some has created a “perception that he has traded campaign cash for votes.”

The peanut gallery is also getting involved.

Tradition says the election of a Texas House speaker is up to the 150 members of the House, largely insulated from the influence of lobbyists, political organizers and rank-and-file voters.

But the conservative activists who helped lift Republicans to a historically large win in last week’s legislative elections don’t have much use for tradition, and some of them are demanding that the legislators who will choose the next speaker listen to them first.

“This isn’t picking the president of the garden club here,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan, who leads the small-government advocacy group Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. “We’re talking about a very important position. Let’s open this up.”

Given that the Democrats will be unable to do much more than bystand this session, one of the better results we can hope for is hurt feelings and lack of cooperation among the Republicans. It may not slow them down much, but you take what you can get. It’s never too early to start collecting ammunition for 2012. As for the Speaker’s race itself, I’ll just note that the more these guys snipe at each other, the better the odds that neither one will have 76 votes from just their own caucus. At some point, they’re going to have to approach some Democrats. In my ideal world, the Democratic caucus would stick together and get something for everyone, but we all know that’s not how it will go. We’ll see who emerges with whatever crumbs the eventual winner is willing to toss out.

Beyond today

I’m having a hard time right now thinking about anything past last night, but here’s a Trib story from Sunday that takes a look ahead to the legislative and other battles that will follow. I think you can take some of those things for granted now, like voter ID and a Riddle/Berman immigration bill. It’s going to be ugly, that’s for sure. Just dealing with the budget and the huge deficit that Governor Perry has refused to acknowledge would be bad enough, but add in redistricting and those wingnut wish list item, and you can see what a mess it’s going to be. We can also start speculating about whether the days of Speaker Straus are numbered. I’m sure Warren Chisum’s phone was ringing all night. We’ll see what happens from here.

Chisum running for Speaker

We may have ourselves another Speaker’s race this January.

State Rep. Warren Chisum is delivering a letter to colleagues today saying he will run for House speaker next year, challenging Speaker Joe Straus, his fellow Republican.

He says the speaker should be elected from the majority of his own party. It was mostly Democrats who gave Straus the initial support he needed to become speaker in 2009.

“The times demand a strong and decisive leader,” Chisum says in his letter to colleagues. “The Texas House has enjoyed strong, experienced leadership under Speakers Laney and Craddick, who were fully supported by majorities of their respective political parties. Sadly, recent history has shown us that when a chamber’s leadership does not enjoy majority support from his own party mixed with good support from the opposition party, his leadership is weak and ineffective. As a candidate for Speaker of the House, I will give Republicans and Democrats an opportunity to decide whether the Texas House wants to lead this session, or whether it doesn’t.”

[…]

Assuming that Republicans maintain a House majority, beating Straus won’t be easy. He still has support from many Democrats and Republicans, and has used his considerable campaign account to help a number of Republicans in their races this year.

Chisum’s letter can be found on QR. On general principles, I’d rather have Straus than Chisum, but it seems to me that since neither one can be elected without significant Democratic support, this would be an excellent time for the Democratic caucus leaders to put together a little wish list of things they’d like to get from a Speaker, and see what happens. (As Trail Blazers reminds us, wacko Leo Berman is also running; it goes without saying that no sane Democrat should come within fifty miles of Berman.) It can’t hurt, and you never know. It will also be interesting to see what folks like Sylvester Turner and other former Craddick Ds decide to do. I don’t really expect Chisum to win, but he can certainly cause some trouble, and Dems may as well put themselves in position to benefit from that if they can.

Interview with State Rep. Armando Walle

Rep. Armando Walle

State Rep. Armando Walle is finishing his first term representing HD140 in northeast Harris County. Walle won a contested primary in 2008 against Craddick D Kevin Bailey, which helped contribute to the downfall of the former Speaker. At 32 years old, he’s one of the youngest members of the House, but he had plenty of legislative experience before his election. He has spoken out against Arizona’s immigration law, which is sure to be a flashpoint in the next legislative session. He represents a district that is largely poor and which is heavily populated by immigrants, and that was one of the topics we covered in our conversation:

Download the MP3 file

I should mention that at the time I did the interview with Rep. Walle, he was anticipating the birth of his first child, a son, any day now. I don’t see any mention of Baby Boy Walle’s arrival yet on his Facebook page, so I presume they are still anticipating. Regardless, let me extend my congratulations to the Walle family on their imminent addition.

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Interview with State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner is one of the senior members of the Houston-area delegation, having served HD139 since he was first elected in 1988. He doesn’t have a campaign webpage, so let me refer you to his Texas Tribune biography for a brief summary of his career. He was Speaker Pro Tempore under Tom Craddick for three regular and several special sessions from 2003 through 2007. As you know, that was a bone of contention with many of his fellow Democrats, and it was one of the topics we discussed.

Download the MP3 file

This is the first opportunity I’ve had to have an in depth conversation with Rep. Turner. I don’t agree with his evaluation of Speaker Craddick’s merits, but I appreciate his candor and his perspective. And I can’t say he’s wrong about Speaker Straus. See beneath the fold for corroboration of what he has to say on this matter.

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

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Keep yapping, Leo

Blah blah blah.

State Rep. Leo Berman said House Speaker Joe Straus’ ascent to the position was a “sham” based on promises to House Democrats and vowed he would offer the opposing party no leeway if elected Speaker next session.

“There were 11 Republican moderates to liberals. They got in the House one day trying to figure out how they could unseat Tom Craddick. They voted among themselves to see who would get the most votes out of the 11,” Berman told the Tribune just hours after making his candidacy for the position official.

If we learned one thing from the 2009 Speaker’s race, it’s that Speakers don’t get ousted quietly. Secretly, maybe, but not quietly. When someone other than Leo Berman – check that, when a group of someones other than Leo Berman start talking about a Speaker other than Joe Straus, it might be time to start paying attention. Berman himself only claims a dozen supportser, none on the record so far. Let’s just say he has a ways to go.

One more thing, from the Quorum Report:

The speaker’s office also could not resist disputing the Berman claim that Straus and his original Republican supporters had made a deal with the Democrats to block certain bills.

“That’s why we put voter ID as the first bill on the Major State Calendar a couple of weeks before the deadline,” a source in the speaker’s office chuckled.

You won’t get any argument from Democrats about that. I can’t see any sane Democrat getting within a mile of Leo Berman, but if he does start picking up support from some Republicans, Straus may want to mend a fence or two with the folks who helped put him over the top last year.

Berman to challenge Straus

I can’t say I’ve been thrilled with Joe Straus as Speaker of the House. He’s worlds better than Tom Craddick was, which still isn’t saying that much, but he hasn’t been all that friendly to his largely Democratic group of supporters. Which I expected to some extent, but still. Having said all that, I’ll take Straus every day of the week over crazy Leo Berman.

Berman, a conservative known for his tough anti-illegal immigration positions, isn’t a surprise challenger to Straus, who took office last session with the support of moderate lawmakers in both parties. Berman has courted the support of the anti-establishment Tea Party, speaking at the group’s convention, and has made his displeasure with Straus’ leadership on the immigration issue known.

Last week, he told WFAA-TV in Dallas that he plans to file legislation similar to a recent Arizona law that gives local police more authority to enforce immigration regulations, even though he believes Straus would block his efforts […]

Of course, I’d prefer a case of the mumps to having Leo Berman in charge of the House, so again, this isn’t saying that much. The best result of all, naturally, would be a Democratic majority in the House. Failing that, another session of Speaker Straus will have to do. Boy, I sure can give an enthusiastic endorsement, can’t I?

We’re not likely to have a Speaker’s race

Jason Embry makes the case that the start of the next legislative session will be much calmer than the previous one, and it’s hard to argue.

Republican Joe Straus finished his first session as speaker of the Texas House well-positioned to return for a second. His chances of remaining speaker seem only to have improved in the 10 months since.

The House remains closely divided between 77 Republicans and 73 Democrats. But a number of big and small events recently suggest more success for the speaker.

[…]

Questions persist about whether supporters of former GOP Speaker Tom Craddick can make a comeback and overtake Straus, much the way Straus overtook Craddick last year. But several staunch Craddick supporters opted not to seek re-election, and Straus won over some other Craddick backers during last year’s session. Even if voters sweep a wave of conservatives into office this fall (Straus is slightly more moderate than Craddick), would Republican lawmakers vote out the man at the helm when the party picked up seats?

[…]

Looking to November, don’t discount the Democrats, who proved themselves better at winning legislative races than Republicans by capturing 11 seats from 2005 to 2008.

Unhappiness with Gov. Rick Perry or incumbents in general could lift Dems to a House majority, and the party will get out-of-state financial help. Plus, Straus still has to prove he can carry his party to victories in November.

I think the odds are greater at this point of a Democratic majority than of a pro-Craddick majority. There wasn’t nearly the drama and intrigue in this year’s primaries as there was in years past, thanks to Craddick’s diminished role and lack of a giant PAC fund, and while there’s still a few runoffs that could elevate a more-friendly-to-him candidate to the House, overall the potentially pro-Craddick forces didn’t gain any ground. Plus, there’s just no chatter about a Craddick comeback, which you’d expect if there were something afoot. If we’ve learned anything this decade, it’s that ousting a Speaker isn’t easy to do, and doesn’t happen in the dark. If we wake up on November 3 with a Democratic majority in the House, that will be one thing, though even then it’s not certain it would mean a new Speaker. Otherwise, I figure it’ll be another session for Straus.

Two Trib primary stories

The Trib has done a series of good, informative stories on primary battles across the state, which I recommend you read. Two of their most recent are especially worthwhile:

First is HD43, in which freshman Dem Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra is being challenged by JM Lozano.

Lozano’s strategy is to label Rios Ybarra a “red Texan.” Her campaign contributions from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry ($10,000 from Jan. 22 through Feb. 20) and the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC (about $145,000 in-kind during the same time frame), both well-known backers of Republicans, are all the evidence he needs. His vision is of a blue Texas, he says, and that means weeding out what she represents. “The first thing we have to do is get rid of all the closet Republicans from the Democratic Party. My opponent is one of them,” he says. “You cannot have a strong Democratic Party if you have people that are beholden to the other party because you take 90 percent of your funding from them.”

Rios Ybarra defends her “moderate” approach and her bipartisan tendencies, and the support she says comes with them, because of the economic hardship in District 43, which is one of the poorest in the state. It covers six counties — Jim Hogg, Brooks, Willacy, Kenedy, Kleberg and northern Cameron — and about a third of the families with children live in poverty. Nearly 40 percent of residents have less than a high school education. “I believe, in this country, that it isn’t about handouts,” she says. “I believe ultimately it’s about creating opportunity, and that is done when we have a strong small-business sector. If that resonates across the aisle, that resonates across the aisle.”

But Lozano’s accusations carry weight with at least one party mainstay. In a rare endorsement before a contested primary, the Jim Hogg County Democratic Party is backing Lozano. “A Democrat primarily financed by Republicans is no Democrat at all,” its chair, Juan Carlos Guerra, said in a Feb. 19 statement. Guerra claimed Rios Ybarra “hijacked” the term “Democrat” to claim victory in 2008 in this Democratic-majority district. “We will not sit back as a Democratic Party any longer and allow Republicans to infiltrate our party,” the statement continued. “She misled the voters once, but that will not happen again.”

An unfazed Rios Ybarra contends that her first term in the House, when she passed seven bills, shows her mettle. One that she’s most proud of, she says, allows access to Texas beaches by disabled people in motorized vehicles — and yet Lozano has criticized her for it. “He made fun of a bill that was given to me by the mother whose son was a quadriplegic and he couldn’t have access to the beach,” she complains.

A stone-faced Lozano says, “Ask her who gave her that bill. It was a lobbyist.”

I don’t care so much about who donates to whom as I do how you vote and what you support, and I don’t really know enough about Rios Ybarra’s record to judge. Having said that, anyone who is that strongly supported by TLR is a concern. And Rios Ybarra was widely considered to be a Craddick supporter in 2008 when she knocked off Juan Escobar. That turned out not to matter then, and it’s unlikely to be an issue this time around, but it’s not impossible. On balance, if I were voting in that race, I’d be voting for Lozano.

And in a race where I already know who I’m voting for, the Ag Commish race.

Gilbert and Friedman, who were both running for governor in those now-forgotten days before Bill White threw his hat in, may find themselves coveting the same job, but their notions of what that job is could hardly be more different. Gilbert emphasizes wonky expertise and hands-on experience, while Friedman is all showmanship — few campaign stops go by without him uttering his one-liner “No cow left behind!” or mentioning his desire for his ashes to be scattered in Gov. Rick Perry’s hair.

Before Friedman’s run for governor as an independent in 2006, he says Clinton told him, “Find a few issues that are close to your heart and hammer them relentlessly.” He took the former president’s advice then and chose a couple things this time too, focusing on his passion for animal rescue and shelters. The rest, he says, he’ll leave to the experts.

“Clearly Kinky has no direction other than he wants animals to run free, and for those that nobody wants anymore he wants to build shelters in every county,” says Gilbert. “Those are noble ideas and a fairy-tale way to live life, but it’s just not practical.”

Well, this race is a clear choice, that’s for sure. Either you like what Kinky is selling, or you grew tired of it four years ago and you prefer the clearly better qualified Hank Gilbert. I really don’t know how this one will turn out, but as I said, I know who I’m supporting.

McCall not running for re-election

State Rep. Brian McCall (R, Plano), one of the Republicans that helped oust Tom Craddick as Speaker, will not run for re-election next year.

McCall, 51, said he is looking at other opportunities because it is time to try something new after 19 years in the House.

“When I took my first oath of office, Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas and George Bush had never run for state political office,” said McCall, a businessman and investor.

He said when he first ran for the Legislature, he set a few simple goals, most of which he said he’s accomplished.

“The fifth one was to leave on a high note,” McCall said. “So few in politics know when to get off the stage.”

House Speaker Joe Straus praised McCall as a friend, leader and consensus builder.

“His career has been nothing short of outstanding,” said Straus, R-San Antonio. “He helped set the tone for effective governing in the House.”

McCall is a well-respected member, and he certainly has my thanks for his work in ridding us of the Craddick menace. His district is not competitive, so while I hope a good Democratic candidate will run, it’s highly unlikely this seat will be on anyone’s electoral radar after the primary. My best wishes to Rep. McCall in his retirement. BOR has more.

TPJ files complaint with Ethics Commission against Craddick

Texans for Public Justice has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission against former Speaker Tom Craddick, alleging that he obfuscated campaign donations made to several Democratic supporters of his prior to the 2008 primaries. From their press release (PDF):

Jobs PAC reported that it received $250,000 from Tom Craddick’s campaign committee on January 10, 2008. According to news reports, around that time Craddick campaign employee Christi Craddick also provided Texas Jobs with written instructions to distribute the funds to Democratic Reps. Kevin Bailey, Dawnna Dukes, Kino Flores and Aaron Pena.1 All four incumbents previously supported Republican Speaker Craddick and faced challengers in the 2008 Democratic primary.2 According to its own reports, Jobs PAC wrote three checks of $50,000 apiece to the campaigns of Reps. Bailey, Flores and Pena on January 11, 2008. By its own accounting, at the time Texas Jobs wrote these checks its sole source of funding was the $250,000 that it received the day before from the Craddick campaign. Rep. Dukes, the fourth lawmaker, told the Austin American-Statesman that she rejected an offer to receive $50,000 from Texas Jobs because her opponent already was making her Craddick ties a campaign issue.3

“Tom Craddick wanted to move tens of thousands of dollars to his favorite Democrats without letting voters know,” said Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald. “Hiding the true source of campaign funds is illegal. Craddick could have contributed the money directly and openly. Instead, he used Texas Jobs to launder his money and keep Texans in dark.”

The TPJ filed a criminal complaint with the Travis County Attorney’s office last year when this information first came out. I am not aware of any updates to this case, but I suspect that it went nowhere, else there’d be little reason to take things up with the TEC. We’ll see what happens. More on this can be found here and here.

Kino Flores not running for re-election

The March primary season just got a little more interesting.

Embattled state Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election to an eighth term in 2010.

Citing recent indictments handed down against him, the legislator said in a statement that he must concentrate on clearing his name and spending time with his family.

“I worked effectively, fought hard and delivered for South Texas,” he said. “I will not apologize for standing up for our region.”

In July, a Travis County grand jury charged Flores with 16 counts of tampering with government documents and three counts of perjury, alleging he hid more than $847,000 in personal assets from the Texas Ethics Commission over a period of six years.

I blogged about that here. Hard to know how much effect that had on his decision to step down, but it’s hard to imagine it had no effect.

The lawmaker’s announcement Tuesday now opens up the race for Texas House District 36 to a new candidate. Former teacher and probation officer Sandra Rodriguez, who gave the representative one of his closest challenges, during the 2007 Democratic primary has already announced her intention to run for the office again.

Several western Hidalgo County political operatives have also mentioned attorney Sergio Muñoz Jr. – son of former state Rep. Sergio Muñoz Sr. – as another possible candidate.

Flores, who won election in 1996 by defeating the elder Muñoz, became a polarizing figure among his constituents and colleagues during his 12 years in office.

Flores was of course a Craddick D, which is a big part of the reason why he wasn’t so well-liked in other parts of the state. That’s thankfully much less of an issue now than it used to be, but forgiveness and forgetfulness don’t always come easily. I don’t know much about the folks who are or may be running next year, but I’ll be very interested to see who lines up behind whom. A (long) press release from Rep. Flores is beneath the fold. Burka and BOR have more.

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DNC to help fund state races?

Interesting.

Texas Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie said today the Democratic National Committee next year may put money into Texas House races because of their importance in drawing new congressional maps in 2011.

Texas is expected to gain three to four seats in the U.S. House in the reapportionment that follows the 2010 census. Those seats are expected to come from Rust Belt Democratic states.

“With three or four new congressional seats that will be created here in Texas, the national party has the idea that they’re going to need to focus some resources here and some help here. Obviously, those seats have to come from somewhere. And if the demographics are true, those seats are Democratic seats now,” Richie said.

The Democratic National Committee is meeting Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Austin. The first time the group has met in Texas since a San Antonio meeting sometime in the late 1970s, Richie said. This is a sign, he said, that national Democrats see Texas as emerging from more than a decade of Republican rule.

Okay, first it’s nice to see the national folks see Texas as an opportunity rather than simply as a fundraising source. It’s about time – way past it, really – for some resources to flow back here. Democrats will never be able to truly compete without being on a more even financial footing.

That said, we do all realize that any gains we may make in the Lege can and will be wiped out if there isn’t enough Democratic representation on the Legislative Redistricting Board to prevent another GOP-friendly map from being drawn, right? Yes, the Speaker sits on the LRB, but so do the Lite Guv, Attorney General, Comptroller, and Land Commissioner. One Democratic voice out of five can only do so much. What if anything are we going to do about this?

I realize that’s not the DNC’s concern so much, as it’s the 2011 Lege that will draw the next Congressional map. But if they’re that concerned about it, perhaps they might consider getting involved in the Governor’s race as well. It sure would be nice to have two of the three players in that process be Democratic, wouldn’t it? Not to mention having a fallback position in the event the takeover of the House falls short. Think big, and give yourself more chances for a good outcome.