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Will we ever get an Ike Dike?

We will when it gets funded. When might it get funded? Ummm…

If the Houston-Galveston region continues to boom for the next 60 years and sea level rises as scientists predict, a direct hit to Galveston from a massive hurricane could destroy an estimated $31.8 billion worth of homes, a new study says.

But Texas A&M researchers found that if the government builds a 17-foot barrier about 60 miles long from Galveston Island to Bolivar Peninsula, the potential residential destruction from a storm surge would drop to about $6 billion – a reduction of more than 80 percent.

The only problem: So far, Texas can’t get congressional funding to build the coastal barrier, a proposal that has been floated since Hurricane Ike threatened to make a run for Galveston in 2008.

“The numbers make sense,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican who has tried for years to get federal funding for a coastal barrier, estimated to cost up to $12 billion. “This investment is going to pay for itself time and time again.”

The cost-benefit numbers could change with additional data: The A&M study only looked at damages to homes and apartments from a storm surge – not flooding caused by rainfall – and excludes the potential harm to the region’s commercial buildings and its bustling ports.

[…]

U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a Friendswood Republican, said some Republican lawmakers have pushed back against funding infrastructure as part of disaster relief, warning it sets a bad precedent.

Weber said he hopes to get the coastal barrier included in an infrastructure package if efforts to include it in disaster relief ultimately fail.

“This is foolish for us to just keep paying for these disasters over and over and over again,” Weber said. “How about something to prevent this from happening on the next go around?”

That story was from January, before the budget agreement that included disaster relief, but still no Ike Dike. I should note that the state has been officially asking for Ike Dike money since April, well before Harvey. But you know, there was Obamacare to repeal and tax cuts for millionaires to push and collusion investigations to obstruct. The Republicans have just had their hands full, you know? I’m sure they’ll get to it eventually. Hurricane season doesn’t begin for another four months, right? So there’s no rush.

Interview with Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni

We wrap up the week in HD132, in the westernmost part of Harris County, including the Katy area. Democrats have not usually challenged in this district – going back to the 2001 redistricting, there has been a Democratic candidate in HD132 in only two elections, in 2010 and 2014. That’s as many candidates as we had file for this year, though only one of them appears to be actively campaigning. Carlos Pena did not reply to my email asking for an interview; he does now have a website, on which he says he “could have just as easily run as a Republican”, though he thinks they have gotten too extreme lately. Gina Calanni, on the other hand, has been out there campaigning and is clear about which party she represents. A published author and single mother of three, we had a good discussion about her candidacy, which you can listen to here. I’ll be back to round out the State House interviews next week.

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Lawsuit over how judges are elected statewide goes to trial

Hey, remember that lawsuit that argued that statewide elections of judges was discriminatory against Latinos? The case is being heard in court this week.

El Paso lawyer Carmen Rodriguez and Juanita Valdez-Cox, a community organizer in the Rio Grande Valley, live hundreds of miles from each other, but they share an electoral grievance that could upend the way Texans fill seats on the state’s highest courts.

For years, Rodriguez and Valdez-Cox have noticed that campaigning for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals hardly reaches their corners of the state. And it’s left them feeling so neglected and undermined as voters that they decided to the sue Texas over the statewide election system it uses to fill seats on those courts.

“I think every vote should count and should have equal weight as much as possible,” Rodriguez testified in federal court on Monday on the first day of a week-long trial in a case challenging the state’s current election method for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. But those campaigning for those seats hardly make their case to El Paso voters, Rodriguez added, so “they don’t seem to need our vote.”

That sentiment is a key component to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Rodriguez, six other Hispanic voters and Valdez-Cox’s organization, La Union del Pueblo Entero, that alleges the statewide method of electing judges violates the federal Voting Rights Act because it dilutes the voting power of Texas Hispanics and keeps them from electing their preferred candidates.U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has set aside the rest of the week for the trial during which the plaintiffs’ lawyers will work to convince Ramos that Texas should adopt a single-member approach — similar to those employed by some city councils and school boards — that would carve up districts geographically in a way that could allow for Latino-majority voting districts.

“The courts cannot be the great equalizer of our social fabric when one group — Latinos — are disadvantaged in the election process,” Jose Garza, an attorney representing the voters, said in his opening statement Monday.

Throughout the day, Garza and other attorneys representing the voters suing the state called up individual plaintiffs and election law and history experts to help make their case that the state’s current system for electing Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals judges “submerges Latino voters” in a manner that violates Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits an electoral practice or procedure that discriminates against voters.

Lawyers for the Texas attorney general’s office, which is representing the state in court, will offer up their own experts later in the week in hopes of dispelling those claims. The state’s lead attorney, Patrick Sweeten, on Monday provided a preview of their arguments when he described their defense and the plaintiffs’ arguments as “two ships passing in the night” because the state’s evidence will show that the plaintiffs cannot meet their legal burden of proving a Section 2 violation.

The state is also expected to call up an expert witness who will argue that single-member districts would “disempower more Hispanic voters than they could potentially empower” because they would only be able to vote for one seat on each high court instead of casting a ballot for all 18 seats.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers spent a large portion of the day arguing that that point would only hold up if you assumed Latinos had the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates to begin with.

See here and here for some background. The plaintiffs survived a motion to dismiss a few months ago. This story was from Tuesday, but I haven’t seen anything more recent so I can’t say how the trial is going. Seems like a heavy lift to me, and there’s an argument to be made that districting the courts would put a ceiling on the number of Latinos that could be elected. You have to figure that sooner or later things will be different for statewide races. That said, I very much understand not wanting to wait, though of course taking a court case to completion will take some number of years. We’re at the start of that process, and we’ll see how it goes. Courthouse News and KUT have more.

Interview with Marty Schexnayder

Marty Schexnayder

We come for a return engagement in HD133. For all the legitimate issues in our state and around the country with gerrymandering, HD133 is fairly close to a plain old rectangle, bordered by I-10 to the north, Westheimer to the south, Beltway 8 Highway 6 to the west and Loop 610 to the east. It’s kind of like a more Republican version of HD134, including the large number of Trump refuseniks in 2016. Hoping to persuade those voters to keep standing firm is native Houstonian Marty Schexnayder. An attorney and UT graduate, Schexnayder volunteers at his church and serves on the board of directors for Faith in Practice, a non-profit agency dedicated to providing medical services to the citizens of Guatemala. Here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

So where are we on Harvey response?

Stuff is happening.

Local and state leaders are moving toward a major, lengthy and costly overhaul of the region’s flood defenses that includes regulating developmentmassive buyouts of flood-prone properties and flood-prevention projects that have been discussed for decades but never built.

Few of the initiatives will be complete before hurricane season starts in June, but nearly six months after Hurricane Harvey ripped through the Texas Gulf Coast and devastated the nation’s fourth-largest city, leaders are seeking to address long-ignored shortcomings laid bare by one of the most intense rainstorms in U.S. history.

Gov. Greg Abbott says he can write a check for a third reservoir to better protect areas west of Houston from inundation as well as attempt to avoid the types of releases from Addicks and Barker dams that swamped Houston downstream during Harvey.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wants to join Harris County in strengthening regulation on the region’s rapid development to protect the city’s population from floodwaters and alleviate the burden on taxpayers to repair and rebuild flood-prone properties.

Harris County leaders want a major bond issue – and a corresponding increase in property taxes – this year to pay for bayou drainage projects and, possibly, broad buyouts in flood-prone areas.

There’s also broad support for legislation that would require buyers of property in reservoir flood pools, which are dry much of the time, to be notified of flooding risks; 30,000 homes have been built in the flood pools of Addicks and Barker, and many owners say they had no idea they were living in an area designed to hold water during times of heavy rain. More than 9,000 of those homes flooded during Harvey.

Some of the local response has been slowed as officials waited to see what Congress will be willing to fund, a logjam that started to break late in the week with the approval of nearly $90 billion for victims of this year’s storms and natural disasters – much of it for recovery, not prevention. But state and local officials tell the Houston Chronicle they remain committed to broader improvements.

That was written before the Congressional budget deal was reached, so that obstacle should be removed, though it’s still not totally clear what that will mean. County Commissioners will need to figure that out for the bond referendum they’re planning. There are now more FEMA funds available for recovery, which is nice but makes you wonder why it took so long.

It’s a little hard for me as someone who wasn’t directly affected by Harvey to judge if “enough” progress has been made. My friends who were flooded out are still dealing with it; one family is about to move back into their repaired home, which was damaged by the dam releases, another has made the decision to sell and live elsewhere, others are in similar places. I can’t speak for them, but we will all have the opportunity to listen to them as the elections approach. I have to assume that every elected official is going to have to answer for his or her actions and decisions during and after Harvey. I feel like this could be a point of weakness for Greg Abbott, and I think that Andrew White’s campaign ad touting his actions during Harvey is a smart move. It’s too soon to say how much of an effect Harvey will have on November – I don’t get the sense that it’s a difference maker in the primaries, but at least on the Democratic side that may be because no one disagrees with the notion that more can and should have been done to aid the recovery and mitigate against future floods – but it will be there. The time to take action to shield oneself against charges that one’s response was inadequate is rapidly running out, if it hasn’t already.

Endorsement watch: Congresspalooza

The Chron Chron“>endorses in four Congressional primaries, three of which are Dem races.

United States Representative, District 10: Mike Siegel or Tami Walker

Seven candidates are running for this sprawling rural and suburban district that stretches from Austin to (almost) Houston. We recommend that Democratic voters send representatives from those two urban poles to compete in the almost-inevitable runoff: Austin assistant city attorney Mike Siegel and Katy-area attorney Tami Walker.

Siegel, 40, who graduated from Cornell Law School, said his boss once jokingly described Siegel’s job as waking up, suing Gov. Greg Abbott and going home. He is involved in Austin’s lawsuit against SB4, which abrogates local law enforcement discretion on immigration issues. Siegel has the passion of a professional politician, and we mean that as a compliment. However, his focus on renewable energy might fit well in Austin, but will likely run into a few bumps in Houston’s oil and gas enclaves.

Walker, 53, lives in Katy and after graduating from the University of Texas School of Law spent nearly three decades working as an attorney or general counsel in different industries. Her soft-spoken style embodies the moderate position of the suburban, oil patch Democrat.

United States Representative, District 22: Sri Preston Kulkarni

Incumbent Republican Congressman Pete Olson has attracted a total of eight challengers on both sides of the partisan divide to represent this diverse, suburban district that covers part of Harris County, most of Brazoria County and Fort Bend Counties, including Sugar Land. In the five-way Democratic primary, Sri Preston Kulkarni stands out as the most impressive candidate. As a foreign service officer in the U.S. State Department, Kulkarni served in Ukraine, Jerusalem and Iraq. He also worked as a foreign policy advisor to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. All that international experience doesn’t mean Kulkarni, 39, ever lost his Houston roots. Kulkarni was quick to discuss flooding problems in Cinco Ranch when he met with the Houston Chronicle editorial board. He talks like a real Texan when it comes to energy policy, focusing on the reality of how market forces promote natural gas over coal, and how renewables threaten to do the same for our oil and gas economy. Kulkarni also keeps a focus on the district’s diversity – nearly a quarter Asian – and is promoting his campaign in Spanish, Chinese, Hindi and Vietnamese.

Dayna Steele

United States Representative, District 36: Dayna Steele

Back when she had a talk radio show, Dayna Steele had one rule: Never talk about politics, religion or cats. All that changed with the 2016 election. After taking part in the Women’s March, the former KLOL disc jockey decided to run to represent the massive 36th Congressional District, which sprawls from Galveston Bay to the Louisiana border, including the Johnson Space Center. Despite the district’s size, Steele, 58, has the natural ability to rattle off the specific challenges facing cities and towns that often go ignored in the deep-red district’s traditionally non-competitive races. Those challenges includes the job cuts in the lumber industry, the lack of broadband internet access, and the limited health care services.

“There is a hospital in Orange County, they call it the Band-Aid station, because that’s about all you can get there,” Steele told the editorial board. She says that’s why she supports Medicare for All.

Steele also points out that Congress needs to provide oversight on post-Hurricane Harvey recovery funds to ensure they end up in the poor towns that need help the most.

“It never gets down to the people in Winnie and Rose City and Bridge City and Orange and West Orange,” she said.

My interview with Dayna Steele is here I didn’t get to CDs 10 or 22 – just not enough weeks in the primary season – but will circle back to them for the runoffs. The Chron also had nice things to say about nearly all of the other candidates, which is always good to see. Having a lot of people file for office is one thing, having a lot of good choices is another. By all indications I’ve seen, we have the latter as well as the former.

Interview with Sandra Moore

Sandra Moore

From HD138 we move to its southern neighbor, HD133. Covering territory from the Galleria area to the Westchase District, it’s solid Republican area but with a significant crossover swing to Hillary Clinton in 2016; she lost HD133 by a 54-40 margin while other Dems were trailing by 30. Rep. Jim Murphy was first elected here in 2006, then after being swept out in 2008 came back in 2010 and hasn’t faced much competition since (a healthy dose of 2011 redistricting didn’t hurt in that regard). Murphy is a past President of the Westchase District, and his relationship with it still works to his benefit. Three candidates filed to take him on, two actual Democrats and a third person who isn’t worth mentioning. Sandra Moore is one of those actual Democrats, and I don’t have any biographical information for you here but I did ask her about her background and other things in the interview:

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Endorsement watch: Republican roundup

The Chron makes a conventional choice in CD02.

Poe’s vacancy has attracted nine contenders in the Republican primary, and we encourage voters to look for a candidate who will aspire to embody the party’s values while also striving to represent a vast district.

Two candidates appear to lead the pack in this heated race: one-term state Rep. Kevin Roberts and wealthy activist Kathaleen Wall. However, both have developed a reputation for avoiding panels and other public events where they’ll stand alongside the seven other challengers. That tactic may be politically clever, but we get a sense that it frustrates voters.

Nevertheless, Roberts remains the best choice in this race. He works as executive director for the Lanier Law Firm and has been endorsed by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle. Support from county officials is a sign of faith in Roberts to advocate for Houston’s flood control needs at a federal level – the single most important issue in the 2018 election.

It is worth noting that Roberts, 52, successfully authored and passed a resolution during the last legislative session urging Congress to provide sufficient funding for the construction of a storm surge barrier along the Texas coast – well before Hurricane Harvey. The carrots and sticks of party politics don’t usually encourage that kind of smart advocacy, so it falls on primary voters to reward Roberts’ push for a long-term investment in our region.

[…]

Meanwhile, voters in this primary should avoid Wall, who has spent around $2.7 million of her family’s money on this primary race alone. Writing a check is no substitute for a proven track-record. Wall has little in her resume to show that she’ll be an effective representative in Congress for either the Republican base or for Houston overall.

Republicans are going to face a tougher contest than they’re used to in this changing district, and Wall’s unrelentingly pro-Trump campaign is going make it hard to win over moderate voters in November. Or worse, her antics could energize the deep-blue Montrose-area precincts that already can’t wait to vote against anything that even sounds like Trump.

I don’t think we’ll need any more incentive, but thanks for thinking of us. Frankly, I expect we’ll all still be dealing with the PTSD from Wall’s nonstop barrage of awful TV ads.

Meanwhile, the Chron observes the maxim that it is always a good time to vote against Sid Miller.

“We like to eat, we like to wear clothes and we like to put gas in our cars. All three of those things are affected by the Department of Agriculture.”

That’s how Trey Blocker succinctly describes the importance of the agency he wants to manage. Blocker is unquestionably the best qualified candidate running in the Republican primary for Texas agriculture commissioner. Anybody who’s been paying attention to the news coming out of this corner of Austin during the last couple of years knows it needs new leadership.

Blocker is a conservative ethics lawyer offended by what he calls “corruption and crony capitalism” in state government, but he’s also spent decades working as a lobbyist for the farming and ranching communities. Ask him anything about the myriad duties performed by the Texas Department of Agriculture and he’ll tell you not only how things work, but also how they need to change.

[…]

Texas voters are lucky that Blocker decided to enter this race, because he’s a well-qualified, conservative Republican alternative to Sid Miller. Even if you don’t follow state government very closely, you may have heard about the shenanigans of this embarrassing incumbent.

Miller claims he’s conservative, but he doesn’t act like one. After angering farmers and business owners by raising a host of regulatory fees, he gave employees of his agency more than $400,000 in bonuses. He used taxpayer money for a trip to Oklahoma where he got a so-called “Jesus shot” for chronic pain. He also traveled to Mississippi on the state’s dime where it so happened he wanted to participate in a rodeo. The Texas Rangers ended up investigating both incidents, and Miller ended up reimbursing the state’s coffers.

The incumbent agriculture commissioner needs to be put out to pasture. Republican primary voters should throw their support to Trey Blocker.

The competition for worst elected official in Texas is fierce, but beyond a doubt Sid Miller is a championship contender. Honestly, to be much worse you’d have to be engineered in a lab.

And to complete the trifecta of terribleness, we meet up with one of the local contenders for “worst elected official” in this Republican Justice of the Peace primary.

November comes early this year. No Democrats have signed up to run for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 2, which means that this Republican primary essentially functions as the general election.

Voters should feel comfortable reelecting current Justice of the Peace Jeff Williams to a third term in this sprawling west Harris County precinct.

Williams, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, exudes enthusiastic competence when discussing his job overseeing this low-level court, which handles more than 100,000 cases each year.

[…]

Williams’ challenger, J.R. Harris, said he would encourage landlord groups to go above and beyond the legal minimum to prevent evictions in the first place. Harris, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, currently works at the Harris County Attorney’s Office and has experience with the tax assessor’s office. He has the makings of a fine justice of the peace, but there’s no reason to boot Williams from office.

Both candidates had kind words about the other, and saved their criticism for Mike Wolfe, who declined to meet for an interview.

Both Williams and Harris said that they believe Wolfe had been put forward as a candidate by a reactionary anti-LGBT wing of the Republican Party hoping to fight same-sex marriage.

Yes, that’s the same Michael Wolfe from the HCDE; the editorial covers some of his more egregious recent actions on the Board. We’ll get a shot at ousting him in 2020, assuming he hasn’t been moved into this much safer seat in March. You’ll only be screwing yourselves if you vote him in here, Republicans.

Interview with Jenifer Pool

Jenifer Pool

We return to HD138 today. This is a district that has been held by Rep. Dwayne Bohac since 2002 but was carried by a tiny margin by Hillary Clinton on 2016, thus putting it high on the target list for this year. It’s a diverse district with a Latino plurality and a significant Asian population that had been on the fringes of contention before being thrust into the spotlight for 2018. Jenifer Pool made her entry into the race during the filing period. If you’ve been here before, you know Jenifer, who owns a construction and permitting consulting firm and has a long history of activism in the community. She’s run for Council a couple of times and became the first trans person to win a primary for county office when she was nominated for County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2016. You can search the archives for past interviews I’ve done with her, and you can listen to the one I did here for this race:

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Cruz’s concerns about November

Take this for what it’s worth.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is preparing Texas Republicans for a turbulent election year amid super-charged Democratic enthusiasm — including in his own re-election campaign.

Traveling the state for GOP events this weekend, Cruz portrayed an uncertain midterm environment that could go down as disastrous for Republicans if they don’t work to counteract Democratic energy throughout the country. Cruz has spent previous election cycles airing similar warnings against GOP complacency in ruby-red Texas, but this time it hits much closer to home for him — he is facing a well-funded re-election challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

Addressing the Fort Bend County GOP on Friday night, Cruz warned of an “incredible volatility in politics right now,” calling Democrats “stark-raving nuts” in their opposition to Trump. He pointed to Trump’s recent State of the Union address and Democrats’ reluctance to applaud, saying the scene “underscores the political risk in November.”

“Let me tell you right now: The left is going to show up,” Cruz said, delivering the keynote address at the party’s Lincoln Reagan Dinner. “They will crawl over broken glass in November to vote.”

As a general rule, one should be wary of assigning a truth value to anything Ted Cruz says. Be that as it may, he’s right that Democrats are fired up, and Republicans need to be worried about it. That’s especially true for counties like Fort Bend and Harris, where Republicans don’t have a numerical advantage and need an edge in enthusiasm to make up for it.

What the likes of Cruz say in public to their core supporters, who seek inspiration from their standard-bearers, doesn’t tell us much. I’m much more interested in what they’re saying behind the scenes, with their consultants and pollsters, but for obvious reasons that information is harder to get. We can take inspiration from Cruz’s “we’re under siege” message as well, but we need to work at making that message an accurate one.

Julian 2020 still in the works

He says he’s still thinking about it, but I’m guessing it’s a “yes unless something unexpected happens” situation.

Julian Castro

In an interview this week, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro gave the strongest indication yet that he’s interested in running for president in 2020.

Castro, a Democrat who led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, told NBC News that he has “every interest in running.” His speech next week at an awards dinner in New Hampshire will help him take the temperature of voters in the early primary state.

“Part of the process of figuring out whether I’m going to run is going to listen to folks and feel the temperature” of voters, he said.

Castro told the San Antonio Express-News last week that he’d make a decision on whether to run by “the end of 2018.”

It’s way too early to think about who I’d like to support in 2020, but I’m all in favor of Castro running. The best thing he can do now to build a base and engender good will among the faithful is make that Congressional PAC of his as successful as he can. Be sure some of that action is here in Texas, too. We’ll await the go/no go decision, but we’ll be watching until then. The Current has more.

Interview with Adam Milasincic

Adam Milasincic

We are officially in the home stretch of primary season. Early voting starts eight days – eight days! – from today. Between now and then I will be bringing you interviews from the contested State Rep primaries in Harris County. I limited myself to the races in Republican-held districts, because there’s only one of me and there were only so many weeks before the election. These are some of the districts in which any gains that are available to be made this year are likely to be made. We start in HD138, where two Democrats vie to face Rep. Dwayne Bohac in November. Adam Milasincic is one of those candidates, and was one of the first to file for a legislative office this cycle in Harris County. Milasincic is an attorney and litigator who touts his pro bono advocacy on behalf of inmates and immigrants, among others. He was also one of two primary candidates to be singled out by labor for his firm’s role in a recent lawsuit against the SEIU. I asked him about that, and about other things, in the interview:

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Update on the Dallas ballot lawsuit

Still waiting on this.

Dallas County Republicans have filed a motion to remove Judge Eric Moyé from overseeing a lawsuit that would remove 127 Democrats from the 2018 general election ballot.

Moyé, a Democrat, has refused to step aside in the case, according to court documents. His decision is unlike one he made in an earlier case about ballot eligibility, when he recused himself.

Elizabeth Bingham, a lawyer for the Dallas County Republican Party, said it “boggles the mind” that Moyé did not remove himself from the case, given his ties to the Democratic Party and that he’s done so on similar cases.

Moyé, who is not up for re-election, has used Jeff Dalton as his political consultant. Dalton is the consultant for numerous Democrats on the 2018 election ballots.

“I am perplexed that he won’t recuse himself,” Bingham said.

But Buck Wood, a lawyer for 16 of the candidates who would be affected by the suit, said judges sometimes recuse themselves because of the political optics. But he said there’s no law requiring them to do so if they are in situations similar to Moyé’s.

“He said he’s not going to do it,” Wood said. “He’s certainly not required by any statute to recuse himself.”

[…]

A hearing on the case is scheduled for Feb. 16, but the case won’t move forward until Regional Administrative Judge Mary Murphy sets proceedings on whether Moyé should continue on the case.

See here for some background. I mean, if having a Democratic judge is a conflict of interest, then wouldn’t having a Republican judge be one, too? Maybe we’ve finally found a compelling-to-me argument for changing our system of electing judges. Good luck sorting this one out. Whatever ruling we eventually do get will be for the November election, not the primary. Sorry to burst your bubble if you were hoping for a quick resolution.

Endorsement watch: CD02 and the road ahead

The Chron makes their pick on the Democratic side for CD02.

Todd Litton

If the primary race in the 7th Congressional District is the major-league showdown for Houston-area Democrats, then consider this election to be the Triple-A minor league version. In a contest between five exciting candidates, we encourage Democrats to back Todd Litton in the primary for the 2nd Congressional District.

Money isn’t everything in politics, but there’s something undeniably impressive about Litton’s ability to make headlines for out-raising incumbent U.S. Rep. Ted Poe last year. It was a sign that this oft-unchallenged district was, for the first time in years, facing a real political competition. Now Poe has announced that he won’t run for reelection, and Democrats will face a rookie candidate on the Republican side. If they hope to win, Democrats will need someone who can do the hard work of running a serious campaign in this sprawling, gerrymandered district that stretches from Montrose through Spring, Kingwood and Humble, and Litton has proven that he’s got what it takes.

They also had some nice words for Silky Malik. You can hear all the interviews I did with the CD02 candidates – I did eventually get to talk to all five of them – on the 2018 Congressional page.

You can see all the Chron’s endorsements here. I’m tracking endorsements on my pages, and Erik Manning has a comprehensive set of endorsements along with more candidate information on this Google spreadsheet. One thing you might note as you look at that is that there are an awful lot of races in which the Chron has not yet offered an opinion, and that’s without taking into account the Republican side of the equation. With only nine days to go till early voting starts – and hell, with only 23 days till Election Day – it’s hard to see how they cover everything in the time remaining. I don’t think they need to do them all – incumbents being challenged by no-names could reasonably be skipped, for instance – but there are some that really demand action. For instance:

Statewide – So far, we have their endorsement for Governor on the Dem side, and for one contested Republican race for Court of Criminal Appeals. But US Senate, Lite Guv, Land Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner are at issue on both sides, plus Comptroller on the Dem side. I’ve got to say, the three lower-tier races for Dem nominations are up in the air for me. I’d love to see the Chron’s take on them.

Congress – The Republican race for CD02 is the obvious one missing here. I’ll be surprised if we don’t see it soon. The most interesting ones after that, at least as far as November competitiveness goes, are the Dems in CDs 10 and 22, and the Republican challenge to John Culberson in CD07.

Legislature – Both sides in SD17 and HD134, and the Dem races in the swingiest districts – HDs 126, 132, and 138 – should be the priorities.

County – None of these have been done yet. I have to assume they’re coming, hopefully this week.

Judicial – This is easily the best-covered group. Far as I can tell, all that remains are the county criminal courts and the JPs.

So there you have it. My advice to the Chron editorial board is to rest up after March 6, and start planning very early for November. Like, maybe get started in August, or even July. You have a lot of work ahead of you.

Will we or won’t we get a county bond election for flood control?

Answer unclear, try again later.

Judge Ed Emmett

In an interview with the Chronicle, [Harris County Judge Ed] Emmett described the various factors that are at play as the county grapples with the possible bond referendum, which would be one of the biggest ever proposed by the county.

There isn’t a clear picture yet of what would be part of the bond referendum. At a recent Commissioners Court meeting, officials emphasize the need to keep the language vague enough to give them flexibility in how to spend the money, but specific enough to make sure the voters know what they are buying.

Emmett said the construction of a highly-anticipated third dam and reservoir northwest of the city would not be part of the measure.

County officials previously have described buyouts and improvements to Houston-area bayous as things that could be paid for with the bonds.

What is included depends, in part, on what happens in Congress, and whether the state is willing to pay for any projects.

The timing and content of what will be included in the referendum have, thus far, hinged on knowing what the federal government is willing to pay for. That will not become clear until Congress passes legislation that could fund at least some flood control projects, such as improvements to Brays, White Oak, Hunting bayous or Clear Creek.

[…]

“You have some in Washington who say if the local government calls a bond election before they act, that will send a signal that ‘Well they don’t necessarily need as much money because they’re doing it locally,'” he said. “There’s another group up there that says if a local government calls a bond election, that shows they are real partners.”

See here for the background. This week’s Congressional budget deal includes the long-awaited disaster relief funds, so perhaps that will clarify things a bit for Commissioners Court. I can’t really imagine them not putting something on the ballot, it’s just a matter of what. We’ll see if they can figure it out now.

Sandra Bullock hurts Dan Patrick’s fee-fees

Poor little snowflake.

I can see why she might intimidate him

Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick is not too pleased that Oscar winning actress Sandra Bullock has agreed to star in a movie about former state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose 13-hour filibuster helped stall an anti-abortion bill in 2013.

“It saddens me that Sandra Bullock agreed to play Wendy Davis in a movie called ‘Let Her Speak,'” Patrick said in downtown Austin, just miles from where Bullock once owned a home.

When a member of the audience doubted it, Patrick assured the crowd it was true.

“Sandra Bullock,” he repeated. “I used to like her.”

But Patrick said he’s already taking steps to keep Bullock and film crews out of the Senate chamber to recreate the filibuster that raised Davis’s statewide profile. Davis ran for governor in 2014 and lost to Gov. Greg Abbott.

“And by the way, if I have anything to do with it, I’m not going to let them use the Senate chamber to shoot, because they’ve already disgraced it once,” Patrick said. “They’re not going to do it a second time.”

Patrick told the audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative public policy advocacy group, that he already has other issues with the movie. He said they sent him a script and asked, “Guess who the villain is?”

After a pause, Patrick raised his right hand and smiled: “Me.”

Can’t imagine why anyone might think of you that way, Danno. Now please go ahead and show me where that mean lady hurt you. You’re safe now. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Texas Monthly long read on Beto

Worth your time to peruse. It’s a feature from their January 2018 print issue.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Talk to political scientists, pollsters, operatives—both Democratic and Republican—around the state and you’ll hear plenty of reasons why, despite the surprising crowds in places like San Angelo and Tyler, O’Rourke is almost certain to go down in defeat, even if he manages to improve on Davis’s numbers. O’Rourke’s first problem is that he’s the only high-profile Democrat running for any statewide office, which means that he won’t be able to count on, say, the Joaquin Castro for Governor campaign to help mobilize volunteers and turn out new voters. His second problem is that the national Senate map in 2018 will force the Democrats to defend 26 seats, including 10 in states that Donald Trump won. The priority of the party’s Senate campaign committee and its major donors and super-PAC financiers will be to save vulnerable incumbents. Their choice will be easy: they can either fund a Lone-Star Hail Mary or—for the same price—help sitting U.S. senators in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

O’Rourke’s third problem is simple arithmetic. As of the 2016 election, Republican voters still significantly outnumbered Democratic voters in the state. Trump performed terribly in Texas, posting the worst results for a Republican presidential candidate since Bob Dole, in 1996. Trump did particularly poorly with the kinds of suburban, college-educated voters who helped turn Texas into a Republican state in the first place. But he still won by 800,000 votes.

O’Rourke knows all of this, and he can’t tell you exactly how he’s going to beat the odds. When I asked him about what it would take to put together the kind of winning coalition that Obama did nationwide, the congressman said, “I’m not that smart or strategic, I’m not very tactical, I’m not into carving up the state. I think there’s a lot of energy right now everywhere in Texas.”

There are three phrases that O’Rourke repeats at nearly every campaign event: The first is “Texas isn’t a red state or a blue state, it’s a nonvoting state,” which is O’Rourke’s way of saying that he needs a lot of first-time voters to come to the polls in order for him to have a chance. The second is “There’s clearly something happening right now,” which reflects O’Rourke’s belief that the Trump presidency and the radicalization of the Republican party are initiating a tectonic shift in the state’s political orientation. The third is “I’m here,” and it’s O’Rourke’s game plan: if he shows up everywhere that he can, he will convince voters—even longtime Republicans—that he cares, that he’s capable, and that he might just deserve a shot to represent them.

This is what I’m talking about when I talk about the narrative. Believing this year will be different is one thing. Being able to point to empirical evidence that this year is different is another. The burden of proof is on us. There’s a lot more to this story, including some great bits from Harvey, so go read the whole thing.

Endorsement watch: Two for CD07

The Chron wades into the deep waters of CD07 and comes away with two favorites.

Jason Westin

If Democrats are going to win this race, they’ll need a strong candidate whose views will appeal to voters disillusioned with their tea party Republican congressman. It’s a tough call, but we believe the best two candidates for the inevitable runoff in this seven-way race are Jason Westin and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

Westin’s professional credentials alone are impressive enough; he says his peers elected him to lead the largest clinical trial team in the nation seeking new treatments for aggressive cancers. But don’t think for a second this doctor is a one-trick-pony running on a health care platform. He’s impressed crowds at community forums with his conspicuously thoughtful command of a wide variety of issues. Westin launched his candidacy with the help of a nationwide group that’s trying to get more scientists to run for office. When he says he’s bothered by “disrespect of facts and science,” he speaks with a quiet passion that seems to be winning over a growing number of supporters.

Lizzie Fletcher

Fletcher’s background is also impressive. After starting her law career at Vinson & Elkins, she joined AZA, a 50 person firm specializing in high-stakes business litigation and she became its first woman partner. She has served on the board of Planned Parenthood and she was on the front lines defending abortion providers from protesters during the 1992 Republican Convention in Houston. Like Westin, she has a firm grasp of the issues in the race. Just as important, she understands the importance of appealing to independent voters in this swing district.

Both Westin and Fletcher are extremely accomplished professionals with a deep understanding of complex public policy matters. Both of them exude an intelligent and level-headed pragmatism that will appeal to the moderate voters of this district, whose support Democrats will need if they’re serious about defeating Culberson.

Most important of all, both Westin and Fletcher would make fine members of Congress.

You can find all the interviews I did in CD07 on the 2018 Congressional page. There have actually been very few endorsements given out in this race so far, which is a testament to the depth of the field. I suspect many organizations will revisit this race in the runoffs. I don’t envy anyone the decision in this one, but at least you know you have a lot of good choices.

No, the bathroom bill issue hasn’t gone away

Lisa Falkenberg tries to argue that the bathroom bill issue has faded away this election, but I don’t buy it and I don’t think she does, either.

But there’s one hot-button issue that’s been notably absent: the bathroom bill.

And actually, it has been notably absent from just about every Republican primary contest this season, as the Texas Tribune reported this week.

That is interesting, seeing as how the divisive provision regulating transgender bathroom use distracted from serious legislation and even triggered a special session. I asked those closely involved in fighting the bill for a ballpark figure on the hours wasted in hearings, negotiations, stakeholder meetings and floor debate.

Hundreds, they said.

The fact that the burning issue is now a non-issue is a bit surprising, seeing as how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick warned lawmakers who worked successfully to thwart it that they would face consequences, namely the wrath of their constituents.

“Let them go home and face the voters for the next 90 days,” Patrick was quoted saying on the last day of the special session in reference to bill opponents.

Certainly, plenty of political observers, myself included, expected that the bill that launched protests, hours of debate among lawmakers and stoked fear in the hearts of parents and transgender Texans would play a role on the stump, whether employed as a strict litmus test or a mere dog whistle.

Now, it seems all but forgotten. The question is why.

[…]

Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University, says the issue just didn’t have the staying power among the Republican base as issues such as illegal immigration, abortion and taxes. He said most GOP primary voters have largely forgotten about the issue, which was never a priority for them anyway.

Jones says he suspects one reason that potty politics have quieted is that “even for most conservative activists the bathroom bill was something of a manufactured issue, where some members of the GOP elite converted a relatively non-issue into an issue among the base, but one that absent a constant stoking of the fire by the GOP elite has for all intents been extinguished.”

He added, “Until such time that Dan Patrick decides to pour some gasoline on the remaining embers.”

Hold that thought for a minute. The Trib had an article along the same lines a day or two before Falkenberg’s piece.

For starters, its biggest champion, Patrick, is no longer promoting it with remotely the same level of enthusiasm he did before and during the 2017 sessions. In October, he declared bathroom bill supporters had “already won” by sending a message to any school or business thinking about providing the kinds of accommodations that led to the push for the proposal in the first place.

Furthermore, the two Republicans most closely associated with the legislation’s death — Straus and state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee — are not seeking re-election, avoiding primary challenges that could have been shaped by their opposition to the proposal.

For some bathroom bill supporters, the Cook and Straus retirements are enough proof that the failure of the legislation had political consequences.

[…]

In a small number of cases, primary challengers have sought to appeal to more moderate Republican voters by providing a contrast with incumbents who supported the bathroom bill. In her debut ad, Shannon McClendon, who’s running against state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, said the incumbent “wants the government to intrude into our bedroom, our bathrooms and our boardrooms — I want to focus on our classrooms.”

That’s about as far as it goes among Republicans who weren’t keen on the bathroom bill, though. Even the political arm of the TAB, among the legislation’s biggest opponents last year, has kept talk of the issue at a minimum as it has sought to play a more aggressive role in the primaries. It snubbed a number of bathroom bill supporters in its primary endorsements, but it also backed some who unapologetically voted for it, like Campbell.

Hey, you know who’s a big bathroom bill booster that’s being challenged over that issue in the Republican primary? Dan Patrick, that’s who. His what-used-to-be-considered-mainstream Republican opponent is Scott Milder, who has gotten support from editorial boards and not much of a hold on the news pages. One reason why the bathroom bill isn’t getting much attention is precisely because this race isn’t getting much attention. Other reasons include the departures of Joe Straus and Byron Cook, and the big focus on federal races – Congress plus Beto O’Rourke – where bathrooms take a back seat to all things Trump. At the state level, there’s more attention on the Democratic gubernatorial primary than anything else.

But look, none of this really matters. What matters is what Mark Jones said. Dan Patrick doesn’t forget, and he doesn’t give up. The fact that there weren’t high profile fights over potties in the primary will be taken by him as proof that he was right all along, that Republican voters were on his side. And when you consider that there are no Republicans of prominence on the ballot who are disputing that, and that as expected the Texas Association of Business has been as toothless as a a newborn, why should he think otherwise? Republican primary voters are gonna do what Republican primary voters do, which over the past half dozen or so cycles has meant “nominate more and more unhinged lunatics”. You want to restore a little sanity and put things like bathroom bills in the trash can where they belong, vote Democratic. That’s a message that maybe, just maybe, Dan Patrick will have to listen to.

January 2018 finance reports: Harris County legislative candidates

We’ve looked at Congressional fundraising, now let’s look at some local legislative races.

Fran Watson – SD17
Rita Lucido – SD17
Ahmad Hassan – SD17

Natali Hurtado – HD126
Undrai Fizer – HD126

Gina Calanni – HD132
Carlos Pena – HD132

Marty Schexnayder – HD133
Sandra Moore – HD133

Allison Sawyer – HD134
Lloyd Oliver – HD134

Adam Milasincic – HD138
Jenifer Pool – HD138

Randy Bates – HD139
Jarvis Johnson – HD139

Richard Bonton – HD142
Harold Dutton – HD142

Shawn Thierry – HD146
Roy Owens – HD146
Ricardo Soliz – HD146

Garnet Coleman – HD147
Daniel Espinoza – HD147 – No report found

Here are the totals:


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
Watson            SD17    24,212      9,773        0      6,968
Lucido            SD17    10,826      7,456    3,000     10,868
Hassan            SD17       775      1,845        0          0

Hurtado          HD126     2,250        978        0        750
Fizer            HD126       800          0        0        450

Calanni          HD132        10        750        0         10
Pena             HD132         0          0        0          0

Schexnayder      HD133     6,330      3,744        0      3,332
Moore            HD133       650        939        0        362
Other guy        HD133

Sawyer           HD134     7,493     11,160        0     16,355
Oliver           HD134         0        750        0          0

Milasincic       HD138    64,071     11,816        0     54,577
Pool             HD138     1,000        623        0        346

Bates            HD139    39,730     17,720        0     27,178
Johnson          HD139     8,014      8,299   15,174     18,562

Bonton           HD142     3,000     24,203        0      1,538
Dutton           HD142    22,000     48,112        0     61,677

Thierry          HD146    31,200     19,270   20,650     10,629
Owens            HD146         0      4,278        0        550
Soliz            HD146         0          0        0          0

Coleman          HD147    43,433     51,012        0    333,602
Espinoza         HD147

A lot less money here than in the Congressional races, that’s for sure. Some of that is because many of these candidates didn’t get into the race until December. Adam Milasincic, who has raised the most, has also been running for the longest, at least among the candidates in Republican districts. As it happens, thanks to the compressed primary schedule, the 30 day reports are already up – the reports I’ve linked and figures I’ve posted are all January reports, which run through the end of 2017. The 30-day reports cover roughly the five weeks after that. I may add them to the 2018 Legislative page, but I doubt I’ll do another one of these till the July reports are up. Point being, there’s more recent data if you want to find it.

The bottom line is that while we’ve done a great job funding our Congressional challengers, there’s work to be done at this level. As I said, many of our candidates were late getting in, so the picture may be different elsewhere in the state. I’ll repeat my call from the previous post for Congressional candidates who don’t make it to the runoff to consider sharing the wealth down the ballot. Be that as it may, the well is more than deep enough to support all of our standard-bearers. We just need to do it. I’ll have more from other races soon.

Paxton and Paxton, Inc

How exactly is this not a conflict of interest?

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s political campaign guaranteed a $2 million loan to help his wife fuel her bid for a state Senate seat in North Texas.

The Bank of the Ozarks loaned the money to Angela Paxton, a Collin County Republican, with the help of Ken Paxton’s campaign operating as a guarantor, according to the attorney general’s campaign spokesman. That means if Paxton’s wife’s campaign cannot pay the loan back, Ken Paxton’s campaign is responsible for paying off the debt.

“Attorney General Paxton is confident she is going to win and her campaign will be able to pay back the loan with interest,” said Matt Welch, a spokesman for the attorney general’s campaign.

Angela, a former guidance counselor, is running for Senate District 8, which sits north of Dallas. In the March 6 Republican primary election, she is running against Phillip Huffines, a former Dallas County GOP chairman and twin brother of Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

[…]

Justin Nelson, an Austin lawyer and Democrat, is running against him in the general election. Nelson’s campaign scoffed at the attorney general’s move to back the loan as “shocking but not surprising.

“This loan emphasizes the corruption of the political class. It’s not normal for the attorney general’s campaign to lend his wife’s campaign $2 million. It’s wrong,” said Nate Walker, Nelson’s campaign manager.

I mean, a bank loaning a couple million dollars to the chief law enforcement officer of the state to help with his wife’s campaign couldn’t possibly cause any ethical concerns, right? And while I’m sure the Paxton’s believe that God will provide for their lifestyle forever, what do you think might happen if Ken Paxton loses in November, or if he gets convicted before then? It may be a tad bit hard to raise that money to pay the bank back, especially if busking for his legal defense fund becomes a top priority. I might be a little peeved about this if I were a depositor at that bank. Oh, and as the Huffines campaign pointed out, if you had previously donated to Ken Paxton and you support Phillip Huffines in SD08, congratulations – your donation just help subsidize his opponent. Not like my heart is breaking for Phillip Huffines or any of his backers – you knew, or should have known, that Ken Paxton has the moral compass of a lesser Borgia family member – but this stuff does actually matter. And willingly or not, we’re all now soaking in it.

Northwest Mall will be your Houston high speed rail terminal

No surprise.

Texas Central Partners and Houston-area elected officials on Monday announced that the company, which is seeking federal approval for a 240-mile high-speed train line, has chosen Northwest Mall near Loop 610 and U.S. 290 as their preferred site.

The company has an option to buy the land, said Jack Matthews, who is handling property acquisition for Texas Central.

The announcement was largely expected, as the mall site remained the most viable site to put a train station along Hempstead Road in the area around Loop 610. It also emerged from a federal environmental review as the most practical site in terms of displacing fewer homes and businesses. Still, the line will affect landowners along Hempstead as the tracks extend from the proposed station into northwest Harris and southern Waller counties.

[…]

Almost all of the stores within the mall itself are closed. Only a handful of stores and venues with exterior entrances remain open.

City leaders also joined with Metropolitan Transit Authority officials, noting they hoped the station could spur rail development from Metro’s nearby Northwest Transit Center to downtown Houston.

Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said the site was chosen because its location gives the company ready access to many Houston area travelers. The area around Loop 610 and U.S. 290 is essentially the population center of the region, as development has spread rapidly north and west of the urban core.

“This is the best site for Houston for many reasons,” Aguilar said.

That happened on the same day that the public hearing for the draft EIS was held in Cypress. The Dallas end of the line was chosen last week. The Trib adds a few details.

The chosen location is about 1.5 miles from Northwest Transit Center, a major bus hub and the closest public transportation connection. Despite that distance, the company said in a prepared statement Monday that the station will provide “convenient, efficient and direct” connections to the Houston METRO transit system.

METRO does not currently have any light-rail lines in that part of the city. The agency is working on a long-term plan for expanded transit service.

“So we’re in a broad range of conversation and thought as to how to provide that connection,” Texas Central President Tim Keith told The Texas Tribune on Monday.

There’s pictures at Swamplot, so go check it out. It’s true there’s not much there now, but as you can see there are big plans to change that. There aren’t any transit connections yet, but we’re talking about a 2024 debut for TCR, so there’s a lot of time for stuff to happen. I feel confident the forthcoming Metro referendum will include an item to deal with this in some fashion. I’m looking forward to it.

Medical marijuana is now available in Texas

To a very limited number of people, and only under a very strict set of circumstances.

Modern medicine has helped Laura Campbell’s 27-year-old daughter, Sierra, fight off many of her persistent seizures. At her peak, Sierra suffered from more than three seizures a day. Now, she’s down to one or two per month.

But the gains come with their own frustrations.

“She takes five pills twice a day, plus more if she needs an emergency supplement in case of a seizure. It damages her brain every time she has [a seizure]. Her IQ has gone down and her neurological functions are suffering,” Campbell said, trailing off between tears. “With every seizure she has, it just gets worse for her.”

Now Campbell, an Austin resident, is hoping she can wean her daughter off the “harsh” meds and turn to cannabis oil instead. That treatment was legalized in 2015, and a dispensary in Schulenburg made its first delivery of the oil to a young Texas child last week.

But as dispensaries are opening, Texans like Campbell’s daughter might still have a hard time getting access to the oil from marijuana plants. Currently, fewer than 20 doctors across the state are registered with the Texas Department of Public Safety to prescribe it.

They are able to do so under the Texas Compassionate Use Act, which legalized the sale of a specific kind of cannabis oil for a small group of Texans: epilepsy patients, like Sierra, whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.

But to qualify for the medicine, Texans must have tried two FDA-approved drugs and found them to be ineffective. The patients also must be permanent residents of Texas and get approval from two of the 18 doctors listed on the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas.

Under the law, a physician can only sign up for the state registry if, among several other requirements, the doctor has dedicated a significant portion of his or her clinical practice to the evaluation and treatment of epilepsy and is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in either epilepsy or neurology.

The bill in question was passed in 2015, so it’s taken awhile just to get to this point. There are only three dispensaries in the state, and there’s not likely to be many more doctors on the registry, at least not while Jeff Sessions is on a reefer madness kick. The effect of this law should be big for those who are able to take advantage of it, but the number of such people will be very small. I hope that effect is enough to allow for a broader bill in the next Legislature, but the surer route to that destination is to vote for candidates who are willing to support that outcome. The Chron has more.

Endorsement watch: Sylvia and more

The Chron makes the obvious choice in CD29.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

The frontrunner is clearly state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, the only current elected official on the ballot, who has name identification with this area’s voters that stretches back more than 20 years. The breadth of her experience as Houston city controller, a Harris County commissioner and a state senator gives her an almost insurmountable advantage in this race. Congress could use someone who so intimately understands the problems faced by city, county and state governments. So Garcia has our endorsement, but not without some reservations.

Garcia was the only member of the state Senate willing to vote against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s budget, which relied on a hike in property taxes. Democrats should lament losing that voice in Austin.

It’s also noteworthy that Garcia will be 68 years old on the day she hopes to be inaugurated into Congress. It’s a safe bet she won’t stay in Washington as long as her predecessor. When she retires, the Houston area will lose her seniority on Capitol Hill.

And as a number of her opponents point out, young people are dropping out of the political process, rightly realizing that gerrymandering has rendered November congressional elections all but meaningless. Millennial voters might be drawn back into this election if they had the opportunity to support a dynamic younger candidate. We’re especially impressed by Roel Garcia, a whip smart Latino lawyer who we hope to see back on the ballot running for another office.

Yes, and at the risk of being indelicate, Sylvia Garcia will be old for a Congressional first-termer. In a body that runs on seniority, that’s a non-trivial concern. Of course, if she’s won her first election for CD29 back in 1996, she’d have plenty of it. Life is like that, and it’s not her fault this is her next best chance at the seat. As for the complaint about millennials, I mean come on. For one, how is this on Sylvia? Two, there apparently is a dynamic younger candidate in this race. Millennials are free to vote for him if he’s what they’re looking for. Three, this district includes State Rep districts that are and have been represented by millennials – Armando Walle in HD140, and Ana Hernandez in HD143. Four, there are plenty of candidates from that cohort elsewhere on the ballot. You know, like the 26-year-old Democratic candidate for Harris County Judge. And I swear, if when the Chron makes an endorsement in that race for November, they say something about her “lack of experience”, I’m gonna break something.

Anyway, now that we’ve all gotten that out of our system, let’s look at some other recent endorsements of interest. The DMN, who like the Chron endorsed Andrew White for Governor over the weekend, seeks a new direction at Lite Guv.

The difference between an ideologue and a partisan can be measured in how they approach issues and policy. To that end, we recommend Scott Milder, a candidate with a conservative ideology over Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a rank partisan.

Both candidates represent the Republican Party. But Milder, 50, a former city council member from Rockwall and senior associate at Stantec, an engineering and architectural firm, brings to the table a more nuanced and reasonable outlook on the issues facing the people of Texas.

We know how well that goes over in Republican primaries these days. Look no further than what Greg Abbott is doing for proof.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed Hollywood Park Mayor Chris Fails in his primary challenge of four-term state Rep. Lyle Larson, who became the latest of several Republican incumbents to have Abbott come out in support of a primary opponent.

Abbott posted a video on his YouTube channel Monday morning in which he praised Fails’ stance on property tax reform.

“[Fails] knows firsthand the devastating impact that rising property taxes have on families and on small businesses,” Abbott said in the video. “I know that he will work with me to advance my plans to empower Texas voters to rein in skyrocketed property taxes for the people of his district.”

Fails told the Rivard Report that the endorsement in the state House District 122 primary came because of what he called Larson’s track record of voting to block property tax reform.

“My opponent has voted to block property tax reform in the past and I have committed to support Governor Abbott’s plan to get people some control over their property taxes,” Fails said.

Larson, who chairs the House Natural Resource Committee, told the Rivard Report that he thought Abbott was “misinformed on this endorsement.”

“It’s sort of strange,” Larson said. “[Fails] was against two of the three issues that [Abbott] called in the special session, tax reform and annexation [reform].”

[…]

David Crockett, chair of the political science department at Trinity University, said Abbott’s decision to endorse the primary challengers of several incumbents would be a test of his influence.

“Greg Abbott wrote down a list of names at the last session of people who annoyed him,” Crockett said. “He is now going to use whatever influence he has to demonstrate, if he’s successful, his ability to punish people who criticize him and his agenda.”

That’s certainly one part of it. There’s also this.

Larson is the third House Republican Abbott has endorsed against following special session where he had vowed to keep track of which members embraced his agenda — and which ones didn’t. The governor backed primary challengers to state Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, in November and Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, last month.

Both Davis and Larson were the stars of a news conference during the special session last year where they urged Abbott to add ethics reform to his 20-item agenda. The governor’s office later accused them of “showboating” and said their “constituents deserve better.”

Larson said he noticed a common theme among the three incumbents that Abbott is opposing: They all supported Larson’s proposed ban on “pay-for-play” appointments. The House passed the legislation, House Bill 3305, during the regular session, but it died in the Senate.

“To be honest … as a member of a party that prides itself on reform, we need to fix this issue before we lose control of the executive branch and the Legislature,” Larson said Monday.

That’s so 2014, Lyle. Welcome to today’s GOP.

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

And Democratic women aren’t leaving the men of their own party undisturbed. In Minnesota, former FBI analyst Leah Phifer is challenging incumbent Democratic representative Rick Nolan; Sameena Mustafa, a tenant advocate and founder of the comedy troupe Simmer Brown, is primarying Democrat Mike Quigley in Illinois’s Fifth District. And Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, announced recently that she’s going after Ben Cardin, the 74-year-old who has held one of Maryland’s Senate seats for 11 years and served in the House for 20 years before that.

While the vision of women storming the ramparts of government is radical from one vantage point, from others it’s as American as the idea of representative democracy laid out by our forefathers (like Great-great-great-great-grandpa Frelinghuysen!). “Representative citizens coming from all parts of the nation, cobblers and farmers — that was what was intended by the founders,” says Marie Newman, a former small-business owner and anti-bullying advocate who is challenging Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski in a primary. “You come to the House for a while and bring your ideas and then you probably go back to your life.” Not only has her opponent been in office for 13 years, Newman notes, but his father held the same seat for 20 years before that. “It’s a family that has reigned supreme, like a monarchy, for over 30 years,” she says.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, Newman and the rest of this girl gang are eyeing the aging cast of men (and a few women) who’ve hogged the political stage forever and trying to replace them. Replacement. It’s an alluring concept, striking fear in the hearts of the guys who’ve been running the place — recall that the white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer chanted “You will not replace us” — and stirring hope in the rest of us that a redistribution of power might be possible.

So naturally that made me wonder about what the situation was in Texas. For Congress, there are eleven Democrats from Texas, nine men and two women. Two men are not running for re-election, and in each case the most likely successor is a woman. Of the seven men running for re-election, only one (Marc Veasey) has a primary opponent, another man. Both female members of Congress have primary opponents – Sheila Jackson Lee has a male challenger, Eddie Bernice Johnson has a man and a woman running against her. That woman is Barbara Mallory Caroway, who is on something like her third campaign against EBJ. Basically, nothing much of interest here.

Where it is interesting is at the legislative level. Here are all the Democratic incumbents who face primary challengers, sorted into appropriate groups.

Women challenging men:

HD31 (Rep. Ryan Guillen) – Ana Lisa Garza
HD100 (Rep. Eric Johnson) – Sandra Crenshaw
HD104 (Rep. Robert Alonzo) – Jessica Gonzalez
HD117 (Rep. Phillip Cortez) – Terisha DeDeaux

Guillen’s opponent Garza is a district court judge. He was one of the Dems who voted for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment back in 2005. I’d like to know both of their positions on LGBT equality. Speaking of which, Jessica Gonzalez is among the many LGBT candidates on the ballot this year. Note that Alonzo was on the right side of that vote in 2005, FWIW. Crenshaw appears to be a former member of Dallas City Council who ran for HD110 in 2014. There’s an interesting story to go along with that, which I’ll let you discover on your own. Cortez was first elected in 2012, winning the nomination over a candidate who had been backed by Annie’s List, and he drew some ire from female activists for some of his activity during that campaign. I have no idea how things stand with him today, but I figured I’d mention that bit of backstory.

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

HD27 (Rep. Ron Reynolds) – Wilvin Carter
HD37 (Rep. Rene Oliveira) – Alex Dominguez and Arturo Alonzo
HD41 (Rep. Bobby Guerra) – Michael L. Pinkard, Jr
HD118 (Rep. Tomas Uresti) – Leo Pacheco
HD139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson) – Randy Bates
HD142 (Rep. Harold Dutton) – Richard Bonton
HD147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman) – Daniel Espinoza

Men challenging women:

HD116 (Rep. Diana Arevalo) – Trey Martinez Fischer
HD124 (Rep. Ina Minjarez) – Robert Escobedo
HD146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry) – Roy Owens

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

We know about Reps. Reynolds and Dukes. Bates and Owens represent rematches – Bates was in the 2016 primary, while Owens competed unsuccessfully in the precinct chair process for HD146, then ran as a write-in that November, getting a bit less than 3% of the vote. Alonzo and Bonton look like interesting candidates, but by far the hottest race here is in HD116, where TMF is seeking a return engagement to the Lege, and a lot of his former colleagues are there for him. I imagine things could be a bit awkward if Rep. Arevalo hangs on. Anyway, I don’t know that there are any lessons to be learned from this, I just wanted to document it.

January 2018 campaign finance reports: Congress

Here are the Q2 finance reports, here are the Q3 finance reports, and here’s the FEC summary page for Democratic Congressional candidates in Texas. The Trib summarizes some of the highlights.

For many Texas congressional races, Wednesday was the most consequential day yet on the primary calendar.

That was the deadline for U.S. House and Senate campaigns to file finance reports covering the last three months of 2017. Those watching the races closely are sure to pore over the mishmash of donations and expenditures to separate viable candidates from the long shots.

And that weeding out process could be more intense than past years. Of the eight Texans in Congress who are not running for re-election, six waited until the fall to announce their decisions, prompting late scrambles for those open seats.

Over in the U.S. Senate, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was easily outraised by his leading Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

Texas is hosting the first statewide primaries of 2018 on March 6. Early voting begins on Feb. 20.

As before, here are links to individual reports of interest, with a table showing the important bits below.

Todd Litton – CD02
Ali Khorasani – CD02
Silky Malik – CD02
J. Darnell Jones – CD02

Adam Bell – CD03
Lori Burch – CD03
Medrick Yhap – CD03

Jana Sanchez – CD06
Ruby Faye Wooldridge – CD06
John Duncan – CD06
Levii Shocklee – CD06
Justin Snider – CD06

Alex Triantaphyllis – CD07
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Laura Moser – CD07
Jason Westin – CD07
James Cargas – CD07
Joshua Butler – CD07

Mike Siegel – CD10
Tami Walker – CD10
Richie DeGrow – CD10
Tawana Cadien – CD10

Dori Fenenbock – CD16
Veronica Escobar – CD16

Joseph Kopser – CD21
Derrick Crowe – CD21
Elliott McFadden – CD21

Letitia Plummer – CD22
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Mark Gibson – CD22

Jay Hulings – CD23
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Judy Canales – CD23
Rick Trevino – CD23

John Biggan – CD24
Jan McDowell – CD24
Todd Allen – CD24

Christopher Perri – CD25
Chetan Panda – CD25
Kathi Thomas – CD25
Julie Oliver – CD25
West Hansen – CD25

MJ Hegar – CD31
Richard Lester – CD31
Christine Mann – CD31
Mike Clark – CD31

Ed Meier – CD32
Colin Allred – CD32
Lillian Salerno – CD32
George Rodriguez – CD32
Brett Shipp – CD32
Dani Pellett – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36
Jonathan Powell – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          362,364   77,577        0   284,786
02    Khorasani        12,674   11,849        0       825
02    Malik            14,464   12,803        0     1,660
02    Jones            10,802      160        0    10,642

03    Bell             24,313   23,066  175,000   180,247
03    Burch            66,082   43,993      649    22,994
03    Yhap              1,350    6,384    6,700     1,665

06    Sanchez         137,832   94,452        0    43,379
06    Woolridge        75,121   62,104   17,000    37,139
06    Duncan           21,143   15,377        0     5,765
06    Shocklee          4,721    8,401    3,707        26
06    Snider           11,312    6,891        0     5,605

07    Triantaphyllis  927,023  293,314        0   633,709
07    Fletcher        751,352  319,190        0   437,366
07    Moser           616,643  287,151        0   329,491
07    Westin          389,941  140,286   10,365   249,655
07    Cargas           63,123   57,272        0    12,268
07    Butler           41,474   37,542        0     3,932

10    Siegel           22,731   14,971    5,000    12,760
10    Walker           14,864   18,424   20,000    16,440
10    DeGrow            6,061    5,944        0       117
10    Cadien              500       48   31,243       209

16    Fenenbock       563,853  412,726  300,000   451,126
16    Escobar         619,490  217,886        0   401,604

21    Kopser          678,527  341,189        0   337,337
21    Crowe           120,406  100,067        0    20,339
21    McFadden         70,944   58,107   15,000    30,997

22    Plummer          69,346   51,550    2,350    17,796
22    Kulkarni         41,102    8,598      244    32,504
22    Gibson            5,895    9,034    6,645     4,006

23    Hulings         410,257  128,831        0   281,425
23    Ortiz Jones     316,972  147,508        0   169,463
23    Canales          17,085   20,113   10,000     6,972
23    Trevino          12,337   17,000    3,285     2,776

24    Biggan           41,269   22,113        0    19,156
24    McDowell         19,686   13,955        0     5,849
24    Allen            10,924    8,652        0     2,272

25    Perri            85,637   61,387   16,890    41,279
25    Panda            99,336   79,253        0    16,942
25    Thomas           31,201   27,038    3,082     3,478
25    Oliver           18,796   10,297    3,125    11,624
25    Hansen            5,600    4,472   11,477     9,223

31    Hegar           194,859  114,007        0    80,852
31    Lester          106,682   58,698  100,000   148,149
31    Mann             30,751   26,192        0     4,294
31    Clark            10,926    6,584    6,300     5,423

32    Meier           803,738  303,369        0   500,369
32    Allred          404,660  302,406   44,978   127,638
32    Salerno         312,062  155,035        0   157,026
32    Rodriguez        92,034   68,791        0    23,273
32    Shipp            46,969   29,778    9,000    26,191
32    Pellett          15,976   14,220        0     1,816

36    Steele          155,265   97,258        0    58,006
36    Powell           58,920   37,402   20,000    41,896

Here’s a Trib roundup of reports, which includes Republicans. I only looked at the Dems, and there were a few candidates who didn’t have any to see as of Saturday, so those folks are not represented above. Here are a few thoughts:

– Damn, this is a lot of money being raised. As I observed before, in 2016 there was only one Democratic non-incumbent who raised as much as $100K over the course of the cycle. With nearly a year to go in this cycle, eighteen candidates have topped that mark, with four others above $70K. Republicans are still going to lead the money race in most districts, but there’s no reason why any Democratic candidate must be outclassed.

– There’s about to be a lot of money spent, too. All four of the top raisers in CD07 are or are about to be airing TV ads, and they have been sending mail, too. We’ll see the scope of this in the next report, for which the deadline is March 31, after the primary is over.

– While there’s a lot of money in the Republican primary for CD02 – Kathaleen Wall has given her campaign some $2.7 million – Todd Litton has raised more from actual donors than any of them.

– In my previous update, I noted that Gina Ortiz Jones hadn’t had much time to do any fundraising. She had a pretty good Q4, though that was effectively even with Jay Hulings. She did demonstrate she has the chops, which was what mattered.

– For all the money that has been raised overall, I feel like Dems are not maximizing their potential as yet. We could use more resources in CDs 03, 06, 10, 22, and 24. Sure, most of these races are longer shots, but the point is that if this is a strong year for Dems, the margin between winning and losing in a district like those could be whether or not the challenger has enough resources to put up a real fight. There are going to be a number of people who wake up on March 7 as former candidates and who will still have six figures in the bank. I would strongly encourage these people to redirect some of their campaign cash to the nominees in other districts. Trickling some of it down to the state races would not be a bad idea, either.

– Do you live in one of these districts? If so, have you seen or heard from a campaign? Leave a comment and let me know.

I’m working on similar posts for the other race types. There’s a lot to go through but I’ll get there. John Coby has more.

Investigating the Karolyis

I’m fine with this, but I feel like we’re overlooking something.

Nearly a week after prominent USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for the sexual assault of several female gymnasts, Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate misconduct allegations at the famed Karolyi Ranch, the U.S. Olympic training facility in southeast Texas, north of Houston, where Nassar treated athletes.

“The public statements made by athletes who previously trained at the Karolyi Ranch are gut-wrenching,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Those athletes, as well as all Texans, deserve to know that no stone is left unturned to ensure that the allegations are thoroughly vetted and the perpetrators and enablers of any such misconduct are brought to justice. The people of Texas demand, and the victims deserve, nothing less.”

The Walker County Sheriff’s Office confirmed last week that it was looking into the ranch.

Abbott added that the Texas Rangers, the state’s top criminal investigative unit, and the Walker County Sheriff’s Office must collaborate on the case because of the far reach of the allegations, which are spread across jurisdictions and state lines.

There’s more in the Chron, where we find out that Simone Biles is ready to speak to investigators about the assaults she endured. It’s appropriate ti have the Rangers help out with this investigation, as I’m sure they have more resources and experience than the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, and of course we want all of the facts to come out so that everyone responsible can be held to that responsibility.

At the same time, though, I think we need to look past the criminal aspect of this and really ask ourselves how this was happening for nearly 20 years without anything being done about it. Among other things, maybe we need to have a good hard look at how the Karolyis operated for all these years and ask ourselves why we didn’t see the potential for problems all along. The isolation, the dictatorial methods, the extreme pressure on young girls to conform and submit to an absolute authority – is it any wonder a monster was able to flourish under those conditions? Yet as recently as 2016, in the runup to the Summer Olympics, the Karolyis were still the subject of fawning coverage; a lawsuit alleging they had a role in the Nasser scandal – he was forced out of US Gymnastics in 2015, you know – followed a couple of months later. But even before that, former gymnasts led by Dominique Moceanu had been sounding an alarm about their training methods; she was vindicated by an investigator last year. We were warned, well ahead of this recent news. We need to understand why we didn’t heed those warnings.

Endorsement watch: Chron for White

The Chron endorses Andrew White for Governor.

Andrew White

Democrats need to choose the candidate who, quite simply, will appeal to the most voters in a contest against Abbott. We believe that candidate is Andrew White.

White, 45, is a Houston entrepreneur who’s never before run for office, but he’s not exactly a political novice. He’s basically the Democratic George W. Bush of this race. Like Bush in 1994, he’s never won an election. And like Bush, his most valuable political asset is his father’s name. He’s the son of former Gov. Mark White, an education reformer who was respected by many Texas Democrats until the day he died last August.

White has cast himself as a common sense Democrat running for governor “to bring sanity and reason back to state government.” His top priority is improving public education, and he’s campaigning on a pledge to give every public school teacher a $5,000 a year raise. White proposes to fund his teacher pay hike by closing loopholes under which big businesses routinely dodge paying billions of dollars in commercial property taxes.

We’re not exactly fans of political dynasties, but White ultimately won our endorsement with his answer to one obvious question. He’s the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate who seems to have given serious thought to the state government’s role in protecting Gulf Coast residents from flooding. While the other candidates who spoke to our editorial board offered only vague thoughts about this critical issue, White specifically discussed the need for a third reservoir in west Harris County and the importance of leveraging federal funds to build a coastal barrier system.

After Hurricane Harvey, flood control should be the top concern voters in the Houston area consider when they cast their ballots. Maybe White has a grasp of the issue only because he lives here and he piloted his boat around inundated neighborhoods rescuing flood victims. But any serious candidate for governor speaking to people in Houston should have good answers for basic questions about this topic.

Yesterday was a pretty good day for the White campaign, as he garnered the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement as well. (The AFL-CIO went for Lupe Valdez.) I prefer Valdez myself, but I can’t argue with the Chron’s reasoning. Frankly, flooding issues and the state’s lackadaisical response – it was worthwhile to call a special session on bathrooms, but not Harvey recovery? – as well as the uselessness of Congress ought to be a prime campaign issue for Dems up and down the ballot. If White has the best answers for these questions, that will undoubtedly make him a more appealing candidate.

Special election coming in HD13

We have an opening act for November.

Rep. Leighton Schubert

State Rep. Leighton Schubert, who previously said he wouldn’t seek re-election this year, has decided to resign early to take a job at a local junior college.

The Caldwell Republican will step down Feb. 4 and go to work for Blinn College in Brenham, according to Richard Bray, a spokesman for Blinn. Bray said Schubert, who was first elected to the House in 2015, will work in the college’s legal affairs office, handling both legal and governmental matters.

Schubert confirmed the news in a release.

“Serving the people of District 13 over the past two terms has been a great honor,” he said. “As a fifth-generation resident of this district on both sides of my family, one of my main goals as state representative was to help make our area an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.”

[…]

Schubert surprised many when he announced late last year he would not run for another term, citing the need to focus on his family. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, had already endorsed him for re-election.

Five Republicans and one Democrat had signed up to run to replace him in the 2018 election. Now, a special election will be called for sometime this spring to fill out the remainder of Schubert’s term. But that election will be entirely separate from the regularly planned March 6 primary.

I must have missed the announcement that he was not running again. Schubert won a special election to succeed former-Rep.-now-Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, who won a special election herself to earn the seat formerly held by now-Comptroller Glenn Hegar. I suppose there’s a certain poetry in him requiring a special election to fill out his term, though the stakes are much lower in this case because of the timing. The winner will just get to serve till the end of the year, so unless that person is also the November winner that’s all he or she will get. You can find the November hopefuls via the SOS filings page; filter on both parties and Washington County. I figure most if not all of the primary candidates will also run in the special, as a win in both races means a boost in seniority over all the other 2018 winners. I’ll check back after the election is called and the lineup is set.

Independent candidates’ day

Continuing with a theme, there are a lot of wannabe independent candidates for various offices, most of whom will never make it onto the ballot.

Dallas billionaire Ross Perot did it in 1992 and 1996. Satirist Kinky Friedman and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn did it in 2006. They each got on the ballot as independent candidates in the November general election—Perot twice for president, and Friedman and Strayhorn as candidates for governor. None won, but they were on the ballot and votes for them got counted. This year, “Will Rap 4 Weed” and sixty-nine other people have given notice to the Texas Secretary of State that they intend to run as independent candidates for state and federal office this November.

But getting on the ballot as an independent in Texas is no easy task. A want-to-be candidate can’t just buy a spot; they’ve got to collect signatures on a ballot petition. For governor this year, valid signatures are required from a number of people equal to one percent of the total vote in the 2014 gubernatorial election—47,183 signatures from qualified voters. To make it even more difficult, the petition drives can only occur between the end of the major party primaries for the office the independent is seeking and a deadline of 5 p.m. on June 21. And the individual signing the petition cannot have voted in a primary or signed a petition for another candidate running for the same office.

“Texas is the only state that requires independent candidates to file a declaration of candidacy virtually an entire year before the general election,” said Richard Winger, editor of a national election-focused newsletter, Ballot Access News. Federal courts struck down similar laws in South Carolina in 1990 and in West Virginia in 2016, he said, adding that the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1983 decision noted that independent candidates with substantial support usually only emerge after the voting public know the names of the Democratic and Republican nominees. But Texas required independent candidates to file their intent to run for the 2018 election by December 11, 2017. “If the federal judges in Texas were of higher caliber, the Texas December deadline would have been struck down long ago,” Winger told me.

Nevertheless, the law remains intact along with its petition requirement.

The issue of Texas’ statutory requirements for getting on the ballot as an independent have come up before, most recently in 2016, but that ship appears to have sailed. Author RG Ratcliffe kindly put together this compendium of no-label hopefuls, and believe it or not there are a couple of names I recognize. Lori Bartley, running in CD18, was the Republican candidate in my Congressional district in 2016. There must be something enticing about that prospect here, because there are two other indies seeking a spot on the ballot alongside her. Scott Cubbler, running in CD02, was one of thirteen write-in candidates for President
anyone can be written in, but one must register with the SOS to have those votes be officially counted – in 2016. A grand total of 314 people did so. He was also a classmate of mine in college, and I guess I may have to satisfy my curiosity and ask him what he thinks he’s getting out of this experience. Anyway, the list of potential indies is there if for some reason you need it. None of them are official till they turn in their petitions, and please note that if you choose to sign one of their petitions you cannot vote in a primary, lest you render your signature void. Happy trails, y’all.

Trump’s lousy approval ratings in Texas

According to Gallup.

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating averaged 38% throughout the U.S. in 2017, but at the state level it ranged from a high of 61% in West Virginia to a low of 26% in Vermont.

Trump averaged 50% or higher approval in 12 states in total, primarily in the states where he received the most votes in the 2016 election. In addition to West Virginia, the states where at least half the respondents approved of Trump included several western states (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Alaska), several southern states (Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas) and two Midwestern states (North and South Dakota).

Trump earned between 40% and 49% approval — above his national average — in 20 states. These were predominantly in the Midwest and South, and included several of the key rustbelt states that were critical to his 2016 victory: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Fewer than 40% of respondents approved of Trump in the remaining 18 states, 14 of which are located in the East and West — his worst performing regions in the election. In addition to Vermont, his ratings were particularly low — below 30% — in Massachusetts (27%), California (29%) and Hawaii (29%). Maryland, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island round out the states where fewer than one-third of the respondents approved.

Texas fell into that latter group, with 39/54 approve/disapprove totals. That’s worse than in some states carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016. For comparison with other polls:

UT/Trib, February, 46 approve/44 disapprove (poll of RVs)
Texas Lyceum, April, 42 approve/54 disapprove (poll of adults)
UT/Trib, June, 43 approve/51 disapprove (poll of RVs)
PPP Senate poll, January, 45 favorable/48 unfavorable (poll of RVs)

The Wilson Perkins poll did not have any publicly available favorability/approval data. Favorable/unfavorable is not quite the same as approve/disapprove, but it’s what we’ve got for that PPP poll. This Gallup result is quite in line with the Lyceum result, with slightly lower approval, and it’s not far off from the later UT/Trib survey. Polls of adults are the loosest screen, and thus contain the largest number of likely non-voters, but that’s a function of motivation, and it sure looks like the anti-Trump faction is more full up on that. The standard disclaimers apply as always, my point here is simply to keep these numbers in mind when we see things like other poll results, as Trump’s favorability is certain to be a factor in how they shake out. Ed Kilgore has more.

People who oppose the high speed rail line continue to oppose the high speed rail line

The DEIS hearings go as you’d expect them to.

Meetings to discuss a proposed high-speed train between Houston and Dallas pulled into some of the areas most opposed to the project on Tuesday night, as federal environmental meetings continue to make their way to Houston.

Residents in Jewett – perhaps the epicenter of animosity over the 240-mile line – showed up in droves to Leon County High School. At points, with a high school basketball game next door, parking was scarce as residents and elected officials from at least five counties came to the session.

[…]

Concerned about their rural character and their property rights, many landowners said they simply didn’t want train tracks crossing the county. Leon County commissioners have passed three resolutions and numerous other items intended as roadblocks to the rail line.

Many speakers Tuesday emotionally noted how the train risks their rural charm, some of whom live on land that has been in their families for five, six and seven generations. Opponents spoke of hunting and outdoor activities that the train would disrupt, along with aesthetics and possible noise and safety fears. At least two attendees suggested feral hogs in the area would run wild because of worries of shooting near the tracks.

Tales ranged from worries about a landowner’s autistic son who reacts poorly to loud noises, decades of family campouts, emergency response times for elderly ranchers and property sovereignty.

“This land is irreplaceable to us,” Logan Wilson said, reading remarks prepared for him by his daughter. “I believe we have the right to keep what is ours.”

Of 36 people who asked to speak publicly at the session, all voiced opposition to the project. About two dozen others asked about their feelings said they were against it. No one, when asked by a reporter, said they supported the train.

See here for some background. On the one hand, I sympathize with these folks. The train line will go through all these rural counties, but there’s only one station for them. I’ve no doubt I’d be unhappy in their position. On the other hand, public infrastructure projects have taken land from people since forever. It’s a price of progress, and it’s always been this way. The people affected get a chance to affect where the project is built, they get a reasonable price for the land that they lose, and let’s be honest, in this case they’d be getting a lot less attention and consideration if the project in question were another highway. I sympathize, but I think this rail line will be good for Texas, and I want to see it happen. I want the people affected to be treated fairly, but not to the point where they get a veto.

From Harvey to drought

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

The Texas Panhandle has become ground zero in a drought that has crept into much of the state just five months after Hurricane Harvey — including areas that suffered massive flooding during the storm.

More than 40 percent of Texas is now in a moderate to severe drought, according to the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. That’s compared to 4 percent on Aug. 29, a few days after Harvey slammed into the South Texas coast.

And dry conditions are expected to worsen over the coming months.

“As soon as Hurricane Harvey cleared Texas, then we almost immediately started going into the next drought,” said Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist for the Texas Water Development Board.

August was the wettest year in the state in 124 years, but every month since then — aside from December — has been considerably dry, he said.

Part of Beaumont, which saw nearly 50 inches of rain when Harvey stalled over southeast Texas as a tropical storm, is now in a moderate drought. And all of the city is considered “abnormally dry,” according to the drought monitor.

Drought conditions are particularly bad in North Texas and especially in the Panhandle, where all 26 of the region’s counties are in a severe to extreme drought and most have burn bans in effect. The outdoor fire restrictions don’t stop there, though: They’re in effect in more than one-third of Texas’ 254 counties, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Two bits of good news here. One is that Harris County is completely out of the drought zone, and two is that the longer-range forecast is for more normal rainfall beginning in May. One hopes that means a non-blistering summer. Be that as it may, this is what normal looks like now, one extreme to another. Maybe we should take climate change just a wee bit more seriously, you know, to try and cope better with this? Just a thought.

From the “Nothin’ but good times ahead” department

Given the good economic conditions in Texas right now, you’d think the budget outlook would be better than it is.

The Texas economy is growing healthily, but that doesn’t mean state budget writers will have more money at their disposal next year, state officials said Tuesday.

In fact, though unemployment is low and tax revenue is on the rise, big bills coming due for the state’s highways and health care programs are giving Texas lawmakers reason for concern.

“I would like to offer a few words of caution for reading too much into the positive recent economic numbers,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar told lawmakers at a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

As they often do, state budget writers last year underfunded Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, which, alongside public education, makes up one of the largest shares of the state’s $217 billion two-year budget.

Then, during a special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott over the summer, state lawmakers shifted another $500 million away from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to pay for public education programs.

As a result, lawmakers could face a $2.5 billion Medicaid bill shortly after they reconvene in Austin in 2019. Then there are the additional drains on Texas coffers from Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, Hegar said.

That’s bad news for lawmakers given the comptroller’s prediction that the state will only have a $94 million “beginning balance” when lawmakers convene in 2019. By comparison, lawmakers had an $880 million beginning balance in 2017, which was ultimately a tight year for the state budget. Two years before that, lawmakers enjoyed a $7.3 billion beginning balance.

[…]

Another source of heartburn for budget writers is the ravenous state highway fund. In 2015, amid complaints of a highway system in disrepair, Texans voted to amend the state Constitution to require that up to $2.5 billion in sales tax revenue be dedicated to the highway fund.

That means that even as Texas collects more money from sales taxes — Hegar testified that sales tax revenue grew by an average of 10.3 percent over the last three months — the rest of the state budget will not benefit from that revenue since it is earmarked for the highway fund.

That was also an issue for budget writers in 2017. Last year, in order to free up some of that money for other purposes, Senate lawmakers pushed for an accounting trick that delayed a payment to the state highway fund into the next two-year budget cycle. That freed up about $1.6 billion for lawmakers last year, but it means there will be another bill to pay in 2019.

“In short, despite a strong economy and positive outlook for revenue growth in this biennium, it seems likely the next budget will be much like the one crafted in 2017, having to contend with restricted revenue relative to the spending trends of the state,” Hegar said.

Just a reminder: Underfunding Medicaid was a choice. Shifting money away from HHSC was a choice. The amendment to require all that highway spending was ratified by the voters, but it was there to be ratified because the Lege chose to put it there. Deferring that payment to the highway fund was a choice. And though the story doesn’t include it in its litany, spending nearly a billion dollars on boondoggle “border security” stunts was a choice, too.

We’ll probably be fine in the 2019 session, though the potential for shenanigans is always high. But remember, winter is coming, because it always does. When it does, we’re going to have a mess to clean up, one that was caused by the Republicans in charge of our state, one that could have been mitigated in many ways. I hope we’re ready for it.

(Note: This is the inspiration for the post title.)