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Texas

Republicans have no incentive to worry about redistricting being used against them

I appreciate the thrust of this story, but it omits a key fact.

Rep. Donna Howard

One way to determine if Texas is truly gerrymandered is to compare the total vote share that Republican and Democratic candidates for the U.S. Congress received in the 2018 midterm election.

Republicans received 53 percent of those votes. Democrats got 47 percent.

If the 36 seats in the Texas congressional delegation were divided with that proportion then there would be 19 Republican members of congress from Texas and 17 Democrats.

Instead what Texas has is 23 Republican congressmen and 13 Democrats.

The Republicans appear to get four additional seats because of the way the maps are drawn. And to see how they do that look no further than Austin.

“If you look at the city of Austin and Travis County as a whole, we have six congressional reps,” said State Representative Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat. “There is not a single district that has more than 25% of the Austin population. So six different congressional representatives, five of whom are Republican, one Democrat representing the city of Austin and Travis County.”

Howard is working to end gerrymandering in Texas with the establishment of an independent redistricting commission. She says it’s not just Republicans who gerrymander. When the Democrats had control in the state they did it too.

Howard added that “whichever party’s been in power basically has used this situation to draw lines that protected incumbents that ensure that a certain people can be elected that pack districts with a part, the party in power.”

[…]

Michael Li, an expert on redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice, said this is a pivotal time for Texas.

“It’s really a great time for people to be statesmen,” Li said.

Li said because of where the political pendulum is in its swing, this is a rare time when both political parties could be motivated to actually pass meaningful redistricting reform.

“Republicans had better provide themselves with some insurance and at the same time Democrats don’t know when that’s going to arrive so they have that incentive to continue to want to be fair,” he said.

So will this legislature be able to move forward on redistricting reform? Don’t bet on it.

Howard’s bills and similar ones were left pending. Essentially they are left in legislative limbo, stuck there until there’s another committee meeting to vote them out. Howard said it’s her impression that the House Redistricting Committee will not meet again this legislative session. So unless something changes, the issue is dead.

Rep. Howard’s bill is HB312, which would establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission. It’s a fine idea, and the logic that Republicans ought to help set something up that won’t be hostile to them when they lose power makes sense. The reality is that in 2021, when redistricting will happen, Greg Abbott will still be Governor and Republicans will have a majority in the Senate. The best case scenario for Dems is winning the nine seats they need to take the majority in the House. But even then, if no maps can be agreed on, the task ultimately falls to the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is “composed of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, attorney general, comptroller, and commissioner of the general land office” and thus four to one Republican in the scenario I’m laying out. In other words, Republicans have this covered in 2021. There’s no incentive for them to ease up on the gas pedal, especially with a Supreme Court that will have their backs.

Now, in a truly blue-sky world, Dems sweep into statewide control in 2023, and following the Tom DeLay precedent redraw all the lines in that session. Let’s just say this is a longshot scenario, and not risky enough for the GOP to consider mitigation. Realistically, the next chance Dems will have to extract payback will be in 2031, and I think it’s fair to say that that’s far enough off to not be worth anyone’s time to worry about. If the statewide offices were up next year, then this might be a different story. But as things stand today, the Republicans have no reason to veer off the path they’re on now. They control the process now, and they will control it again in two years when it counts.

DCCC polls Trump in three target districts

News flash: Donald Trump is not very popular.

Surveys the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently conducted found that 41 percent of voters approved of Trump’s job performance in Texas’ 24th congressional district, where Rep. Kenny Marchant serves, while 44 percent disapproved.

In Rep. Mike McCaul’s 10th district, 44 percent approved and 45 percent disapproved of the job Trump is doing. And in Rep. Chip Roy’s 21st district, 45 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved.

Trump carried all three suburban seats by ten points or fewer during the 2016 presidential election.

[…]

To flip these traditionally GOP seats, Democrats say they are relying on moderate Republicans who have soured on the Trump-led party, as well as minority voters who have become a larger share of the electorate.

The DCCC’s polling, for example, showed Marchant’s district has increased its African American population by 26 percent between 2010 and 2016 among citizens of voting age. The Hispanic population rose by 29 percent, and the Asian population by 42 percent.

[…]

The Democratic polling showed that Marchant was viewed favorably by 26 percent of voters and unfavorably by 19 percent, while 55 percent didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

For McCaul, 31 percent viewed him favorably compared to 14 percent who viewed him unfavorably. As for Roy, 28 percent viewed him favorably and 19 percent viewed him unfavorably.

The DCCC conducted the surveys using a mix of live and automated calls from April 3-6 (the poll in the 21st district was in the field April 4-6). The 10th district and 21st district polls had a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points, while the 24th district poll had a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percentage points.

See here for 2018 numbers. As discussed, Trump’s 2016 number in the district was a decent predictor of the Beto number in 2018, though that was always at least a bit higher than the Dem Congressional number. The bottom line is that the worse Trump is faring in the district, the harder it’s going to be for the Republican Congressional incumbent, especially with these three CDs on the radar from the beginning. I hope we get to see similar results from other districts (yes, I know, it’s possible other districts were also polled but those numbers weren’t as good so these are the only ones we get to see). I have a feeling that there will be plenty of data to hang our hats on this cycle.

One more for CD24

Another contested primary.

Candace Valenzuela

Democrat Candace Valenzuela, a 34-year-old Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member, is launching a campaign Monday against Texas GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant, one of the party’s top targets in 2020.

She will face an uphill battle for her party’s nomination in Texas’ 24th district, where several high-profile Democrats are eyeing the race. The suburban north Texas seat has long been a conservative stronghold, but the region’s rapidly changing demographics have recently made it more competitive.

Valenzuela, whose mother is Mexican-American and father is African-American, hopes to capitalize on that in her bid against Marchant, a seven-term congressman who narrowly beat a poorly funded opponent in 2018.

“We have a lot of folks moving into this area to live and go to work, this district isn’t the same as it was five-ten years ago,” Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela won her first and only election by defeating an 18-year incumbent on the school board of trustees in 2017, saying she wanted to add diversity to a panel did not match the student population.

[…]

Other candidates gearing up for the Democratic primary in the 24th district include Kim Olson, who ran unsuccessfully for state Agriculture Commissioner last year, Jan McDowell, the Democratic nominee against Marchant in 2016 and 2018, and Will Fisher, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in Texas’ 26th district last cycle.

See here for more on Olson’s entry. With the contested primaries now here and in CD22, I was wondering where things stood in comparison to 2018. In CD07, the field had begun to fill out in early April, with Jason Westin being the first of the candidates that raised significant money to enter. Alex Triantaphyllis entered in early May, with Laura Moser and eventual winner Lizzie Fletcher joining in mid-May. In CD32, Colin Allred was an early entrant, in late April.

There were lots of other contested primaries, of course, but you get the idea. Based on this much, I’d say we’re basically on the same track as in 2018. We had enough candidates by this time in the cycle to start to see real fundraising activity for the Q2 report. I expect we’ll have a similar experience this time. For tracking purposes, here’s what I know about other races of interest:

The DCCC top tier races:
CD10 – 2018 candidate Mike Siegel is in.
CD21 – Joe Kopser will not run again, but Wendy Davis is giving it a look.
CD23 – 2018 candidate Gina Ortiz Jones is giving all indications that she’s in, though she has not yet made an official announcement.
CD31 – MJ Hegar is being urged to run for this again, but she is currently looking at the Senate race. I have no idea who else might be looking at this one.

Other races:
CD02 – Elisa Cardnell is in, and it sounds like Todd Litton is not going to make another run.
CD03 – No idea yet.
CD06 – No idea yet.
CD25 – No idea yet.

That’s what I know at this time. I’ll be looking at the Q1 finance reports in the next few days, which may reveal some other names. If you know of more candidates, leave a comment and let us know.

UPDATE: Somehow, I managed to overlook CD22, where Sri Kulkarni and Nyanza Moore are in the race.

Texas versus AirBnB update

From last week:

The Texas Comptroller’s office said Tuesday it’s reviewing the inclusion of Airbnb on a list of companies that boycott Israel and are banned from doing business with the state after the company announced a change to its policy for listings in the West Bank.

The home-sharing company said in a statement that it’s reversing a plan announced this November to remove about 200 rental listings from the territory, whose ownership is disputed by Palestinians. The company said it will donate the profits to humanitarian aid groups.

“Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform,” the company said in the statement. “We have always sought to bring people together and will continue to work with our community to achieve this goal.”

The company’s decision to delist the properties had prompted the state last month to blacklist it in keeping with a 2017 law that bans state agencies from contracting with or investing in companies that boycott Israel. The law was touted by Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, as a way to show solidarity with Israel.

See here for the background. As I’ve said before, governments base policy decisions on who they do and don’t want to do business with all the time, so this policy is in and of itself not remarkable. It’s dumb and misguided, but not unusual. It’s also led to some other consequences.

Texas state agencies are beginning to divest nearly $72 million worth of stock in a company said to be boycotting Israel — the first financial move after a year-old law that bars Texas agencies from investing in such companies.

Two major state pension funds — the Employees Retirement System of Texas and Texas Permanent School Fund —own $68 million and about $4 million, respectively, worth of stock in DNB ASA, a Norwegian financial services company, officials said, though the company has denied it boycotts Israel.

[…]

The Comptroller’s office, upon the advice of two contracted consulting groups, identified four companies as having boycotted Israel, though all of them deny that they engage in any punitive ban.

Employees Retirement System spokeswoman Mary Jane Wardlow said the fund began divesting March 1, 2018, when it had about $68 million invested in DNB, and as of early April had divested about half that amount. Divestment should be complete by June, Wardlow said.

The Texas Permanent School Fund did not respond to a request for information on its divestment.

The state has no direct holdings in any of the other three companies on its divestment list, according to notifications to the state obtained by Hearst Newspapers.

Two of the six state agencies affected by the law —Texas County and District Retirement System and Texas Municipal Retirement System — had indirect investments in DNB, records show.

And three of the six state agencies affected by the law — the Employees Retirement System of Texas, Texas Municipal Retirement System and Teacher Retirement System of Texas — had indirect investments in Airbnb. (The only agency to disclose how much, ERS, had about $460,000-worth.)

But the law doesn’t require state governmental entities to divest from indirect holdings. It only requires them to send letters to the managers of the investment fund in question and request that they remove blacklisted companies from the fund or create a similar fund without those companies.

If the manager can’t come up with a fund with “substantially the same management fees and same level of investment risk and anticipated return,” the law requires no further action.

I mean, I don’t think this was a good idea, but if you do, then this is what you signed up for.

Castro says he’ll make a Senate decision “soon”

Yes, please.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro said he still has not made a decision on whether he will run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in 2020.

“I’ll have an announcement soon,” Castro said during a stop at the Texas Capitol Building on Wednesday.

Castro, the 44-year-old San Antonio Democrat, pointed out that in past races he’s made a decision by May 1.

As Castro weighed his decision, other prominent Democrats have said they, too, are looking at jumping into the race. MJ Hegar, a former U.S. Air Force helicopter pilot, has said on social media that she is considering making a bid.

When asked about Hegar on Wednesday, Castro spoke more generally about how competitive primaries are likely going to be the norm in Texas politics.

“I think probably the era of uncontested primaries in both parties in Texas is over,” Castro said.

Castro has been reported to be in for a month, with everyone waiting for the official announcement since. Whether this possible timeline has been affected by Hegar’s repeatedly expressed interest in the race – or, perhaps, has had an effect on Hegar’s intentions – is a question we can’t answer at this time. I do agree that a competitive primary among serious candidates is a good thing and a sign of health. Check back on May 1 and we’ll see where we stand.

CD07: Here comes another Bush?

Oh, goodie.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

A number of West Houston political insiders are abuzz at the prospect that Pierce Bush, the Houston-based CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star and member of the storied Bush family, might run for the Congressional seat currently occupied by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

The 7th Congressional District has significant history in the Bush family: It’s the seat Pierce Bush’s grandfather, the late President George H.W. Bush, represented in the late 1960s.

“Over the past few months, I have been flattered by many people in Houston who have reached out and encouraged me to run for this seat,” Pierce Bush said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “I am currently putting my heart and soul into my role as CEO of the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters agency in the country.

“With my awesome staff team, our volunteers, and donors, we are empowering thousands of kids in Texas to achieve their full potential in life through our outcomes achieving mission,” he added. “If I were to run for this office, or any other office, I would certainly run as a big tent candidate focused on discussing the important matters. Together, we can stand for real opportunity for the many who need it.”

It’s a nice statement, and it sounds sincere, but let’s face it, if you are running as a Republican in 2020, you are running with Donald Trump as your running mate. There’s no way around it. Trump himself would have it no other way, and for that matter neither would every other elected Republican in Texas. There may come a time when a Pierce Bush could run as a Republican while talking about “big tents” and “discussing important matters”. That time is not 2020.

There is already a high-profile Republican candidate in the race: Wesley Hunt announced his challenge to Fletcher earlier this month. A West Point graduate, Hunt is politically connected locally and nationally. Upon his entrance into the race, U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy highlighted Hunt’s candidacy in a memo to donors. Former Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel announced her run earlier this month as well.

See here for more on Hunt. Both Wesley Hunt and Cindy Siegel sound like they’d be decent candidates, in another time and without the stink of Trump on them. Doesn’t mean they couldn’t win in 2020 anyway – it will surely be a close race, though Rep. Fletcher’s five point win in 2018 well outpaced all the public polls – but I’m hard pressed to imagine a scenario where 2022, with (gods willing) a Democratic President in office and after the Lege does its thing in redistricting, wouldn’t be far more inviting.

This was a busy week for dumb lawsuits

Exhibit A:

“Objection Overruled”, by Charles Bragg

Houston mayoral challenger Tony Buzbee followed through his pledge to sue Mayor Sylvester Turner Wednesday, claiming that donated billboards for the city’s AlertHouston! campaign violate campaign finance laws because they feature a photo of Turner.

The lawsuit, filed in the 281st state district court, names Turner and Clear Channel Outdoor Inc., the company that donated the 27 billboards, as defendants.

Buzbee’s petition claims Clear Channel is “blatantly supporting” Turner in the November mayoral race “by plastering his smiling face across this city while promoting him as a civic-minded, safety conscious leader.”

The billboards promote AlertHouston!, a system that sends alerts to Houston residents during emergency situations.

I’m not going to waste our time on the details here. Let’s refer to this earlier story for the reasons why this is dumb.

Buck Wood, an Austin-based campaign finance lawyer, equated Buzbee’s allegations to a hypothetical real estate agent who, after announcing a run for public office, would then have to take down any advertisements for their private business.

“I have never seen anything like that,” he said.

Proving the billboards are illegal, Wood said, would require Buzbee to show that the company and Turner struck a deal explicitly aimed at aiding the mayor’s re-election.

“You’d have to have good, strong evidence that they put up these pictures just for the purpose of helping elect him,” Wood said. “…You’d have to prove a conspiracy, and that’s basically impossible to do in this situation.”

Each year around hurricane season, former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett would appear on billboards, in some years directing people to the county’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management website. Emmett said he used campaign funds to pay for the billboards during election years.

I mean, I know Tony Buzbee is supposed to be a super duper lawyer and all, but maybe he might have asked another lawyer about this first? Just a thought.

Exhibit B:

Months after being denied media credentials for the Texas House, the conservative organization Texas Scorecard — a product of Empower Texans, a Tea Party-aligned political advocacy group with one of the state’s best-funded political action committees — has filed a First Amendment lawsuit arguing that its rejection from the lower chamber constitutes “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

Before the legislative session kicked off in January, two employees of Texas Scorecard, Brandon Waltens and Destin Sensky, applied for media credentials in both chambers of the Legislature. In the Senate, their credentials were granted; in the House, they were denied. The two chambers follow similar rules about who is allowed special journalistic access to the floor, and both prohibit lobbyists. But the chambers’ political atmospheres are different.

House Administration Chair Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who has sparred with Empower Texans and its PAC in the past, told the group in a January rejection letter that it was ineligible for media credentials because “the organization you are employed by, Texas Scorecard, has a close association with a general-purpose political committee (GPAC) and that the organization’s website prominently displays advocacy on policy matters before the legislature.” As evidence of the group’s affiliation with the PAC, Geren cited the organizations’ shared address — but by the time Geren’s letter was issued, the lawsuit claims, they no longer shared that address.

Empower Texans PAC has backed primary opponents to Geren and has given Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Texas Senate, more than $850,000 in the last five years.

Now, Empower Texans is very likely to get a friendly hearing from the State Supreme Court, so at least from a strategic perspective, this isn’t a dumb lawsuit. It’s very likely to be a successful lawsuit. But come on. If these Empower Texans flunkies count as “journalists”, then that word has no meaning. All of us are made a little more dumb by the existence of this lawsuit.

Chick-fil-A follies, part 2

Noted for the record.

Best mugshot ever

The city of San Antonio voted 6-4 in late March to exclude Chick-fil-A from its renovation of the airport food court offerings due to the company’s “legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

Shortly after the city’s decision, public outcry in Buffalo, N.Y., led to a concessions company nixing the brand from its plans for the nearby Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

Chick-fil-A told Buffalo news station KBKW recent coverage of the company drives an inaccurate narrative about their brand. “More than 145,000 people from different backgrounds and beliefs represent the Chick-fil-A brand. We embrace all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity,” the statement said.

Earlier this week, the city of San Jose, Calif., voted unanimously to settle the debate in an entirely different way — by flying rainbow and pride flags in front of Chick-fil-A locations both inside and outside of the airport.

On Thursday, the San Antonio city council will reconsider its previous vote. Councilman Greg Brockhouse said the city’s decision to exclude Chick-fil-A “embarrassed” the city, KTSA reported.

“Every day the Chick-fil-A removal decision is allowed to stand hurts our reputation nationwide as a welcoming and inclusive city. It sends a message we are anti-faith and we cannot stand by without speaking the truth and standing up for our principles,” he said.

See here for the background. I don’t know what the city of San Antonio is going to do at this point. There’s certainly a practical argument to be made that they have more to lose than to gain by picking this fight. But like Pete Buttigieg, I think there’s a lot of value in highlighting the moral bankruptcy of anti-gay animus, especially from Christian conservatives. Let the Chick-fil-As and their enablers explain why they choose to discriminate. Also, Greg Brockhouse can go jump into a vat of dipping sauce. Anyway, we’ll see what happens.

We need more than just bail reform

Bail reform is based on the radical idea that locking up non-violent, low-risk people who have been arrested on minor charges is a very bad and very expensive thing to do. But let’s take a step back from that and note that lots of people get arrested for things they shouldn’t get arrested for.

As the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee today prepares to hear HB 2754 (White), the committee substitute to which would limit most Class C misdemeanor arrests (with certain public safety exceptions), Just Liberty put out a new analysis of data titled, “Thousands of Sandra Blands: Analyzing Class-C-misdemeanor arrests and use-of-force at Texas traffic stops.”

The analysis relies on the new racial profiling reports which came out March 1st, analyzing information for Texas police departments in cities with more than 50,000 people, and sheriffs in counties with more than 100,000. Here’s the table from Appendix One of the report with the underlying data.

Readers will recall that new detail about Class-C arrests, use of force, and outcomes of searches were added to the report as part of the Sandra Bland Actpassed in 2017. But the provision to restrict Class C arrests was removed before the law was passed. So HB 2754 amounts to unfinished business for those concerned about what happened to Sandra Bland.

Our findings: The practice of arresting drivers for Class C misdemeanors – not warrants, and not more serious offenses – is more widespread than portrayed by law enforcement. The 96 police and sheriffs in our sample arrested people nearly 23,000 times for Class-C misdemeanors last year, with the Texas Department of Public Safety accounting for nearly 5,000 more.

[…]

These data represent fewer than 100 law enforcement agencies, but more than 2,000 agencies must submit racial profiling reports because they perform traffic stops in come capacity. Agencies in our dataset represent the largest jurisdictions, but not all by a longshot. If we assume that these departments plus DPS represent 60 percent of traffic stops in the state, and that the average arrest rate for the other 40 percent is the same as in this sample, then Texas law enforcement agencies arrested more than 45,000 people at traffic stops statewide last year, the report estimated.

These higher-than-previously-understood estimates are corroborated by Texas Appleseed’s recent analysis of jail bookings. Examining data from eleven (11) counties, they found more than 30,000 jail bookings where Class C misdemeanors (not warrants) were the highest charge. The difference between analyzing jail bookings and racial-profiling data is that jail bookings include Class C arrests which happened anywhere. The racial profiling reports Just Liberty analyzed only consider arrests made during traffic stops.

Taken together, these analyses demonstrate that the overall number of Class C arrests is much higher than anyone ever imagined when this topic has been discussed in the past.

The full report is here. It’s short, so go read it. How many people over the years do you think have spent time in the Harris County Jail because of a traffic stop? How many millions of your taxes do you think went to keeping them there?

Senate passes all of its SB15 alternatives

When one big bill won’t do but four smaller bills will.

Sen. Brandon Creighton

The Texas Senate on Tuesday preliminarily approved the last two bills in a package of splintered legislation aimed at limiting the ability of cities to regulate private companies’ employment policies.

The bills from state Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Conroe Republican, would preempt local rules that disallow employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history and bar cities from enacting rules on how businesses schedule their employees’ shifts.

In 2016, Austin passed an ordinance — known as “ban the box” — preventing private employers with 15 or more employees from asking potential job candidates’ criminal history before extending a conditional job offer. At the time of passage, city officials said one of the goals was to reduce unemployment and lower the chances that people with criminal histories would reoffend. But more recently, some have slammed the city’s proposal for lacking teeth since it wasn’t being enforced.

If passed, Creighton’s bill would ensure local governments couldn’t implement such laws in the first place.

“I don’t dispute that many people are deserving of a second chance, but I do want private employers to make that decision and not the government,” Creighton told other senators. “It’s a lose-lose for both the applicant and the employer to go through a lengthy process just to learn that a felony may disqualify the applicant.”

Senate Bill 2488’s initial passage came in a party-line vote of 19-12, with only Republicans in support. It will need to get final approval from the Senate before it can head to the House.

According to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group that works to strengthen protections for low-income or unemployed workers, 34 states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted “ban the box” ordinances. Some business owners and Republicans, however, have said that such laws potentially make an employer liable to their workers’ actions — should they go on to commit a crime.

See here and here for some background. Look, I can understand the argument for having a uniform set of rules under which businesses operate. I disagree with the proposed remedy – the undergirding force of all this was the Austin ordinance mandating sick leave, and if it were up to me there’d be a federal law mandating it for all businesses, because it’s a fricking stupid and harmful idea to make sick people go to work – but the principle makes sense.

In this case, though, the “such laws potentially make an employer liable to their workers’ actions” argument is totally specious. I mean, in the very sentence before that one, we learn that 34 states and more than 150 cities and counties have these “ban the box” laws in place. That’s more than enough actual experience to draw real, fact-based conclusions about the effect of these laws. Have any employers in any of those locations been successfully sued for hiring someone with a criminal record who was subsequently convicted of a crime? Either the data supports your hypothetical or it doesn’t, so which is it? The fact that bill proponents relied on a hypothetical suggests what the answer to that is.

Congressional Republicans seek to halt SOS voter purge inquiry

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Republicans are challenging the authority of a U.S. House panel to investigate the Texas effort to purge thousands of suspected non-citizens from voter rolls, contending in letters Monday that a recent request for documents has no “valid legislative purpose.”

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Dripping Springs, and three other Republican members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee asked the committee to halt its investigations in Texas and related efforts in Georgia and Kansas.

“Your letters rely in large part on unverified media articles to suggest misfeasance or malfeasance in administering various state election laws and elections held in each of the three states,” the letter reads.

In separate letters to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, the Republican congressmen suggest that Texas doesn’t need to comply with a request for documents because the “inquiry does not appear to have a valid legislative purpose and instead seeks confidential communications among state officials.”

[…]

[Committee member Rep. Jamie] Raskin, a law professor before he ran for Congress, asserted that Congress has the power and obligation to enforce voting rights under five separate constitutional amendments.

He said “indignant” Republicans might want to review letters written by the GOP-led Oversight Committee to states investigating the Affordable Care Act.

“It would be best if our GOP colleagues joined us in protecting voting rights, but at the very least they should stop trying to prevent us from doing our constitutionally mandated work,” he said in a statement. “Far from raising the ‘federalism concerns’ of Reps. Jordan, Hice, Cloud and Roy, this is serious federalism in action. Our colleagues should get used to it.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I say cry havoc and let slip the dogs of, um, subpoena power. The Republicans are gonna do what the Republicans are gonna do, so let’s just skip to the part where the courts sort it out.

No-nuke version of SB2 passes the Senate

Dan Patrick gets his bill, without having to do any nasty partisan maneuvering.

The Texas Senate broke a logjam Monday that had paralyzed a piece of priority legislation for weeks — blunting a controversial provision in its property tax reform package and then advancing the bill, without having to deploy a procedural “nuclear option” to move it.

A vote on Senate Bill 2, a top imperative for state leaders, had been expected last week. But an apparent lack of support stalled the vote in the upper chamber, where the backing of 19 senators is generally required to bring a bill up for debate. After Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick threatened to blow past decades of tradition and bring the measure to a vote with a simple majority, state Sen. Kel Seliger, a vocal dissenter, relented Monday, allowing the bill onto the floor. He did not support its passage.

Seliger’s announcement came alongside a reworked bill with a handful of technical changes and one notable concession. As updated, SB 2 will force cities, counties and other taxing entities to receive voter approval before raising 3.5% more property tax revenue than the previous year — a change from the 2.5% trigger originally proposed. School districts would still face the 2.5% threshold under the version of the bill approved Monday.

Revenue generated on new construction does not count toward the threshold. And small taxing units, with sales and property tax levies under $15 million annually, will need to opt into some of SB 2’s provisions in an election.

[…]

After three hours of debate, SB 2 passed on an 18-13 vote, with Seliger joining the upper chamber’s Democrats in opposition. It was then given final approval on an 18-12 vote — with Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, voting present — and will be sent to the House for further debate.

The lower chamber, meanwhile, has postponed discussion of its property tax reform legislation until April 24. Unlike the Senate’s version, the House has exempted hospital districts, community colleges, emergency service districts and school districts from abiding by a 2.5% election trigger — a move that has enflamed far-right lawmakers and activists, who say homeowners will feel scant relief if those entities are exempted.

See here for the background. One way or another, this was going to pass. Sen. Seliger made a point about comity and tradition, for whatever those things are worth to Dan Patrick, and he voted according to his conscience, which is a good thing as long as one has a good conscience. Which Sen. Seliger has, and I appreciate his effort. Now it’s just a matter of what the conference committee bill looks like, since the House version will be different. Figure this one will more or less go down to the wire, but it will pass in some form similar to this. It’s a lousy bill and lousy policy, but (say it with me one more time), nothing will change until we change who we elect. Texas Monthly has more.

Using Beto 2018 to project Beto 2020

The NYT recently took a deep dive into the 2018 election data from Texas, and came out seeing a real swing state, partly because of Beto and partly for other reasons.

Mr. O’Rourke’s close result wasn’t because of an exceptional turnout that will be hard for other Democrats to repeat in 2020. Republican voters, defined as those who have participated in a recent Republican primary, turned out at a higher rate than Democratic ones. Neither the Hispanic nor youth voter share of the electorate was higher than it was in 2016, when President Trump won the state by nine points.

On the contrary, Democrats in 2020 can be expected to enjoy a more favorable turnout because presidential races tend to draw in more young and Hispanic voters. Mr. O’Rourke might have won Texas last November if turnout had been at the level of a contested presidential race, based on an Upshot analysis of Times/Siena poll responses, actual results and voter file data from L2, a nonpartisan voter file vendor.

The data yields an estimate of how every registered voter in Texas would have voted, based on a long list of geographic and demographic factors that predicted vote choice in the Times/Siena polling. Importantly, turnout in 2018 is among those factors, which allows us to fully untangle how much of Mr. O’Rourke’s strength was because of strong turnout among his supporters.

The data indicates that two opposing turnout trends influenced the results. The electorate was older, whiter and more Republican than the state as a whole — or than the 2016 electorate. But an O’Rourke supporter was generally likelier to vote than a demographically and politically similar supporter of Mr. Cruz. This was the pattern nationwide, so it is not obvious that this can be attributed to Mr. O’Rourke specifically; it could have been the favorable Democratic environment more generally.

Either way, the extra turnout boost probably cut Mr. Cruz’s margin of victory by two points.

Mr. O’Rourke might have won with a turnout of around 10 million voters. (The actual turnout was around 8.4 million.) Without the extra edge of a Democratic wave year, it might have taken 11 million votes, a number that is not out of the question in 2020 if Texas is contested as a battleground state.

So how did Mr. O’Rourke fare so well? He did it through old-fashioned persuasion, by winning voters who had voted for Republicans and for minor-party candidates.

[…]

No matter how you explain it, the president’s disapproval rating in Texas would seem to imply that there’s at least some additional upside for Democrats there, beyond what Mr. O’Rourke pulled off. And the president’s far lower approval rating among all adults (as opposed to among registered voters) hints at another opportunity for Democrats: mobilizing unregistered voters. In both cases, Hispanic voters could represent the upside for Democrats.

Mr. O’Rourke’s strong showing had essentially nothing to do with the initial vision of a Blue Texas powered by mobilizing the state’s growing Hispanic population. The Texas electorate was only two points more Hispanic in 2018 than it was in 2012, but President Obama lost the state by 16 points in 2012, compared with Mr. O’Rourke’s 2.6-point loss.

At the same time, Mr. O’Rourke fared worse than Mr. Obama or Hillary Clinton in many of the state’s heavily Hispanic areas, particularly in more conservative South Texas. This could reflect Mr. Cruz’s relative strength among Hispanic voters compared with a typical Republican.

Instead, Mr. O’Rourke’s improvement came almost exclusively from white voters, and particularly college-educated white voters. Whites probably gave him around 33 percent of their votes, up from a mere 22 percent for Mr. Obama in 2012.

I’ve been sitting on this for a little while, in part because of there being lots of other things to write about, and in part because I’ve been thinking about it. I want to present a few broad conclusions that I hope will help shape how we think about 2020.

1. I haven’t tried to study this in great detail, but my general sense since the 2018 election has been that Democratic base turnout could have been higher than it was, and that to carry the state of Texas in 2020, the Democratic Presidential nominee will need to aim for five million votes. Both of these are validated by this story.

2. The other point, about persuasion and flipping people who had previously voted Republican, is another theme I’ve visited a few times since November. Some of the districts that Dems won in 2018 – CDs 07 and 32 in particular – just weren’t going to be won by better base turnout. Better base turnout was always going to be needed, it just wasn’t going to be enough. Remember, in a Presidential year, John Culberson won CD07 by eleven points, and Republican judicial candidates won it by similar margins. There weren’t enough non-voting Democrats to make up for that.

3. The key to the above was Trump, and that statement in the story about “winning voters who had voted for Republicans and for minor-party candidates” (emphasis mine) was the mechanism. CDs 07 and 32 were on the map, as were other districts like SD16 and the Dallas County State Rep districts, because they had been carried by Hillary Clinton. You may recall that I was skeptical of these numbers because it was clear that Clinton won those districts because a number of nominal Republicans just didn’t vote for Trump. It was an open question to me what they’d do in the next election. Clearly, now we know.

4. To be more specific, the not-Trump voters, who include those who voted for Gary Johnson and Evan McMullen and Jill Stein as well as those who actually crossed over to Clinton and those who skipped the race entirely, really did vote for Democratic candidates in 2018, at least in some races. Those candidates included Beto, most of the Congressional Dems, Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, Kim Olson, most of the legislative Dems, and some other downballot Dems. Some Republicans held onto the not-Trumpers – Greg Abbott, Glenn Hegar, George P. Bush, and Christie Craddick – but by and large these people were quite willing to stray. The proof is in the districts where the Trump percentage from 2016 was the ceiling for these Republicans in 2018.

5. Given this, the basis for Texas as a swing state, as well as a Congressional battleground, in 2020, is precisely the idea that these voters will again not vote for Trump, and base Democratic turnout will be higher. Implicit in this is the idea that the not-Trump voters who were also not-Hillary voters will be more inclined to vote for the 2020 Dem, which I think is a reasonable assumption. Dems will have their work cut out for them – we’re talking a million more votes than Beto got, which was 200K more votes than Hillary got and 500K more votes than Obama ’08 got – but the path is clear.

6. For example, Beto carried Harris County by 200K votes, with 1.2 million votes cast. If turnout in Harris is 1.5 million – hardly crazy, assuming 2.4 million registered voters (registration was 2.3 million in 2018), which in turn would be turnout of 62.5%, basically a point higher than it was in 2016 – you can imagine a Dem carrying the county 900K to 600K, which is about where the Republican vote total has plateaued. That’s 20 percent of the way to the goal right there, and it doesn’t even assume a heroic turnout effort.

7. Do I think Democratic turnout in Texas will be better if Beto, or for that matter Julian Castro, is the nominee than if someone else is? Maybe, but honestly I don’t think it would be by much, if at all. I think it really is about Trump more than it is about who the Dem is. Beto was very much the right candidate at the right time in 2018, but I don’t believe 2020 depends on him. I do think Beto as a Senate candidate may well have outperformed any Dem Presidential candidate (with the possible exception of Castro) in 2020, but that’s not the situation we will have. As a Presidential candidate, I don’t think he’d be that much different.

8. Bottom line, keep registering voters, and keep talking to people who haven’t been habitual voters. We’re going to need everyone working together to make this happen.

Two for CD22

I expect the primary season for the other competitive Republican-held Congress districts to be busy, and so it begins.

Nyanza Moore

Lawyer Nyanza Moore plans to officially announce her candidacy Sunday for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, where she plans to seek the 2020 Democratic nomination for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land.

“My personal story is rooted in faith, guided by progressive values, and fueled by the will to overcome tragedy,” Moore said in a statement.

In a news release, Moore focused heavily on health care, recalling financial challenges when both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer, and when her sister once went into a coma. She connected the topic to Olson, contending he has “repeatedly voted to take away health care” from constituents.

Moore’s announcement comes the weekend after Democrat Sri Kulkarni launched his second campaign for the seat. Kulkarni was the district’s Democratic nominee last cycle and came within five points of unseating Olson.

See here for Kulkarni’s announcement, which notes that there is also a third potential contender out there as well. CD22 drew five Dem hopefuls in 2018, when it was an interesting but more remote possibility that wasn’t on the national radar. It’s very much on the radar now, which I suspect will increase the level of interest, even with Kulkarni showing himself to have been a strong candidate and good fundraiser. This is as good an opportunity as you’re likely to get and you miss all the shots you don’t take, so if you think you’ve got what it takes, why not give it a go? Nyanza Moore’s webpage is here and her Facebook page is here. As always, I’ll be looking forward to seeing the campaign finance reports.

Here comes the DCCC

National Dems really are serious about competing in Texas next year.

National Democrats are ratcheting up their Texas offensive yet again ahead of 2020.

The chairwoman of U.S. House Democratic campaign arm announced Tuesday morning that her committee will open a new satellite office in Austin. The move replicates the committee’s 2018 California playbook, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had a substantive, on-the-ground presence in the Golden State and flipped seven U.S. House seats there.

“When it comes to places where House Democrats can go on offense, it doesn’t get any bigger than Texas,” said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., the chairwoman of the DCCC. “In 2018, Texas Democrats proved that they can win in competitive districts. That’s why we are continuing our investments in the Lone Star State by opening a new DCCC:Texas Headquarters.”

The DCCC previously announced a national offensive effort for the 2020 elections that would install staffers in the Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio suburbs. Monday’s announcement takes that initiative a step further, opening a central office in Austin with eight staffers including Texas Democratic operatives Roger Garza and Michael Beckendorf.

[…]

Back in 2017, the DCCC’s decision to open an office in Orange County – the home of President Richard Nixon – was met with skepticism. Democrats swept the county, picking up four seats and won three others to the north in Los Angeles County and in the San Joaquin Valley.

As for Texas Republicans, there are mixed emotions about this kind of spending and rhetoric.

A number of Republican insiders working in the state look back at the 2018 midterms as a perfect storm with Democrats benefitting from a uniquely talented standard-bearer in former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke running against a polarizing incumbent in U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and a statewide burst of organic enthusiasm that may already be subsiding.

But other Texas Republicans are anxious about the U.S. House map. Many of the concerned conversations are happening in private, but the Republican Party of Texas has been eager to ring the alarm and raise money off of these kinds of DCCC announcements.

Roger Garza is a Facebook friend of mine, and he worked on Rep. Colin Allred’s successful 2018 campaign. I approve of his hire.

I mean, we all know the story here. There’s a lot of action, and a lot of potential pickups for the DCCC in these locations. We saw what can happen last year, and there’s no reason to believe it can’t happen again this year. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Desperate Dan

Dan’s gonna do what Dan’s gonna do.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, increasingly desperate to pass legislation aimed at reforming the state’s property tax system, told a group of senators late Thursday night that if he can’t get the votes to win passage of the bill, on Monday he is simply going to change a decades-long Senate practice in order to guarantee himself a victory. Patrick issued the warning to Senate Democrats Thursday night, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussion.

To take up debate on legislation, three-fifths of the Senate, or nineteen senators, must vote to move forward. Patrick warned he would suspend this so-called three-fifths rule, a move known around the Capitol as the “nuclear option” because it would upend decades of tradition in the upper chamber, a body that has long esteemed itself for decorum and consensus-building. Patrick’s apparent decision, supported by Republican leadership, to suspend the tradition on Senate Bill 2 would mean that only a simple majority—sixteen votes—would be necessary to pass the property tax bill.

The move has Democratic senators scrambling to fashion a response and has some Republicans concerned about the precedent that the move could set. Senators said they intend to work throughout the weekend to fashion a bill acceptable to both parties and thereby avoid the nuclear option.

“It underscores the seriousness of the situation,” said Bill Miller, a longtime lobbyist and Capitol watcher who could not think of another instance in which this legislative maneuver has been used.

The Trib goes into some more detail.

Traditionally, the upper chamber starts the session by passing what’s called a “blocker bill” — a bill that sits ahead of any other priorities on the Senate’s ordered agenda so that bringing up anything other measure ahead of it requires a three-fifths vote, or 19 senators in support if all 31 are on the floor. Passing that bill would allow Patrick to bring a measure to the floor with a simple majority of senators, just 16.

The “blocker bill” tradition dates back at least to the 1950s.

It wouldn’t be the first time Patrick upended tradition to grease the skids in the chamber he’s led since 2015. That year, in his first term as lieutenant governor, Patrick lowered the threshold from two-thirds to three-fifths, allowing the chamber’s Republicans to bring legislation to the floor without support from any Democrats.

Senate Bill 2, along with an identical House Bill 2, was filed in January after the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House declared a united front in addressing property tax reform this session. But since then, facing opposition from local officials who argue the 2.5 percent election trigger is too low to accommodate their budgeting needs, it stalled in the Senate, passing the upper chamber’s property tax committee in February but not coming to the floor for a vote.

Meanwhile, in the House, the once-identical bill was overhauled in committee to carve out school districts, a change that has drawn criticism from some of the lower chamber’s more conservative members.

The House, which seems to have been moving the measure at a faster clip, was scheduled to debate the property tax bill on Thursday, but recessed that morning amid rumors that the Senate would instead bring up its version first. After a day of private negotiations, neither chamber brought up the proposal.

You may note the interesting math involved in Dan’s dilemma.

Senate rules say a bill can only be debated on the floor if three-fifths of senators, or 19 of the 31 members, agree to hear it. Republicans hold exactly the number of seats needed to meet this threshold.

But at least one, Amarillo Sen. Kel Seliger, has expressed his opposition to the tax bill, citing a preference for local control and concern that the 2.5 percent cap would hurt local government services. Without this support, Patrick cannot bring it up for debate unless he suspends the rules and instead allows a simple majority of senators to bring the bill up for debate.

In an interview with The News on Friday, Seliger criticized Patrick’s plan.

“The nuclear option would be a mistake,” Seliger said. “It’s obviously the desperate option.”

Seliger said he was still opposed to Senate Bill 2. Even if rural areas were exempted and public safety costs carved out, he still has serious problems with the proposal. When asked what tax proposal he would back, Seliger mentioned legislation he’s filed that “is not just designed, I think, to handicap those units of local government.”

Senate Republicans reached no agreements or compromises Thursday, Seliger said, adding Patrick was not interested in straying far from his legislation by “discussing any substantive changes or amendments to SB2.”

Seliger also criticized Patrick for saying he was frustrated one Republican could hold up the process.

“They’re inappropriate,” Seliger said of the comments. “Negotiations and things like that, when they’re held in the media, I don’t think are very productive. Our system is designed so people can work together in a non-partisan fashion, and I’m not sure what those comments do for collegiality and cooperation and the Senate.

Hey, remember how Dan Patrick and Kel Seliger have been feuding? I’m pretty sure they both remember it.

I’m not going to offer a principled defense of the three-fifths rule, or its deceased predecessor the two-thirds rule, which had largely become an irritant to be pushed aside rather than an actual rule before it was finally modified to better accommodate the number of Republicans in the Senate. It’s anti-majoritarian, and as Democrats and progressives are arguing against the morass of anti-majoritarian policies and laws in our federal government as fundamentally anti-democratic, I’m not going to carve out a special-pleading exception at the state level. There are plenty of other anti-majoritarian objects in our state government right now, most notably gerrymandering and voter suppression, that deserve our uncompromised opposition. This is not to say that I won’t derive some Nelson Muntz level of schadenfreude at Dan Patrick having to act like a bully who’s been exposed as a weakling, because we all deserve every opportunity we get to deride Dan Patrick. But when the day comes that Democrats achieve a majority in the State Senate, I’ll raise a glass in Patrick’s direction when Dems use that majority to pass the bills they want to pass, without getting tripped up by old traditions.

No, we should not fear a competitive primary for Senate

This comes up all the time, for both parties. It’s way overblown.

Big John Cornyn

Democrats are closer than they’ve been in decades to winning statewide in Texas. But a looming clash between two of the party’s top prospects could blow their shot.

A pair of prominent Democrats — Rep. Joaquín Castro and MJ Hegar, a veteran who narrowly lost a House race last year —are seriously considering Senate campaigns, and a potential showdown between them is already dividing the party over who is best positioned to challenge three-term GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

Neither Hegar nor Castro has announced they’re running, but both have met with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) to discuss it. And both have prominent Democratic supporters convinced they represent the party’s best option to turn Texas blue. But a divisive primary would likely leave the eventual nominee damaged and cash-depleted, making the uphill climb to unseat Cornyn that much steeper.

[…]

So far in the Senate race, Hegar appears to be moving faster than Castro. She met with Schumer in New York in early March, right after O’Rourke announced he would forgo another campaign to run for president instead.

Hegar wrote an email to supporters last week that she was “taking a very close look” at running for the Senate race and said the incumbent had shown a “complete lack of leadership” in Washington. Her timetable for an official announcement is not yet clear, but one source familiar with Hegar’s thinking said she remains “full steam ahead” on the race.

Castro’s intentions are less clear, according to conversations with more than a half-dozen Democrats in Washington and Texas. Castro met with Schumer last week to discuss the race, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting. Texas Monthly published a story last month quoting a source familiar with Castro’s thinking that he was “all but certain” to enter the race, which many Democrats interpreted as a hint an announcement was imminent.

But Castro has not publicly signaled what his plans are in the weeks since, leaving most Democrats uncertain if he will run — and some frustrated by his indecision.

“I’m going to kill him,” said one source close to Castro, exaggerating for effect to relate his frustration over the congressman’s equivocation.

Castro declined multiple requests to comment on his Senate deliberations outside the Capitol in the past week. His political adviser, Matthew Jones, said an announcement would be in the near future: “Joaquin will make his announcement about running for Senate on his own timeline and in a way that works best for the people of Texas and his own family.”

Hegar and Castro both have significant allies pushing for them to enter the race. Leaders at EMILY’s List have called for a woman to run in Texas, and Latino Victory Fund has launched a draft effort to push Castro into the race, including endorsements from four members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Texas Democrats are fully prepared for the possibility of a primary between Hegar and Castro, and it remains possible other candidates will enter the race — including Amanda Edwards, an African American city council member in Houston. Edwards told POLITICO in an interview she is seriously considering a bid, and that Hegar and Castro’s decisions wouldn’t influence hers. She has spoken to EMILY’s List and the DSCC about the race, and said a decision could come “sooner rather than later.”

[…]

Some top Democrats, however, argue a primary would actually be helpful, allowing candidates to sharpen their messages and introduce themselves to a wider set of voters.

“Nobody will be hurt in a contested primary, and you would have stronger candidates come out,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the state Democratic Party, which recently launched a war room to attack Cornyn over the coming months. “Not that I’m hoping for a contested primary, but we’re not afraid to see that.”

Other Democrats are more nervous about the prospect. A contested primary would rob the candidates of months of time to focus solely on Cornyn and would drain resources in an extremely expensive state. The primary is in early March, earlier than any other state, and would allow ample time to pivot to the general election.

But if other candidates enter the race, and no candidate reaches 50 percent, the top two finishers would meet in a runoff at the end of May, robbing them of valuable time to raise money and build support to take on Cornyn. One veteran Democratic operative, requesting anonymity to speak candidly, said even the prospect of a runoff “hurts everyone.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Clearly, I need to revisit my assumption that Castro would have a clear path to the nomination if he declared his intention to run. The main inference to draw from this is that a lot of people really think Cornyn is beatable in 2020, in a way that basically nobody outside of Beto O’Rourke at this time in 2017 thought Ted Cruz was beatable. I mean, it seems obvious, but this is well beyond just putting one’s name out there. Castro, as noted many times, has a safe seat in a majority Democratic Congress, four terms of seniority, and is already a leading voice in that chamber. Hegar could let Castro run and ride his likely coattails, DCCC support, and her own strong campaign experience to as good a shot at winning CD31 as one could want. Amanda Edwards could cruise to re-election this fall, and then be in good position to run for Mayor in 2023. All three of them are willing to give it up for a chance to run statewide, even if they have to go through one or more other strong Democratic contenders in a primary. You don’t do that if you don’t have a firm belief you can win.

So what about it then, if two or three of them (plus the assorted minor candidates) meet in the primary? I see that as largely, almost entirely, positive for the reasons cited by “some top Democrats”. Nothing will get the candidates started earlier on engaging voters, raising money, pushing registration efforts, and so on like the need to win an election in March. Money spent on voter outreach in March is still money spent on voter outreach, and I’d argue there’s even more value to it early on. Sure, it could get nasty, and sure, people get tired of family fights when they have to go into overtime, but that’s a risk worth taking. I feel like I see this kind of hand-wringy story written about potential contested primaries in both parties every time they come up, and most of the time it makes no difference in the end. As I’ve said before, my main interest is in having a strong contender in every possible race, so to that end I’d prefer to see Hegar try again in CD31. But beyond that, come in whoever wants to come in. Let the best candidate win, and we’ll go from there.

Instagram in space!

Far out. Like, literally.

Internet service can sometimes be spotty here on Earth. Just imagine checking email from the moon or searching Google from Mars.

A Houston satellite and artificial intelligence company wants to make that possible through an “interplanetary internet” that someday could connect Earth to mining companies on the moon and human colonies on Mars and other planets. It ultimately would require a network of satellites stretching for hundreds of millions of miles and technology compensating for the movement of planets to prevent the interruption of data streaming at the speed of light.

But you’ve got to start somewhere.

“I fundamentally believe that we will be an interplanetary species,” Ben Lamm, chief executive of the parent company of Hypergiant Galactic Systems, the Houston firm aiming to build out the worlds-wide-web. “We need to start building the core infrastructure for the interplanetary internet now.”

Hypergiant Galactic, a subsidiary of Hypergiant Industries of Austin, is launching its effort as NASA talks about returning to the moon and sending humans to Mars. Hypergiant Galactic expects to begin building the outer-space internet next year by launching a series of small satellites that would be positioned at different points in space to create a network to relay signals from Earth until reaching the end destination, such as the moon, another planet or a space ship. (Kirk to Enterprise?)

Phase one, which includes connecting Earth to the moon and Mars over the next decade, would cost tens of millions of dollars, according to Hypergiant. Once the project moves beyond Mars, costs vault into the hundreds of millions.

The satellites also would store a 30-million page archive of human knowledge that will act as a scaled-down version of the internet so, for example, colonists on Mars could access it quickly, without having to wait long periods for pages to load as signals move from Mars to Earth and back. The archive would be updated frequently, and ultimately built out into a more robust subset of the internet.

The archive also aims to preserve and protect the legacy of the human race by placing it in off-world storage should cataclysm strike the planet. The archive, assembled by the nonprofit Arch Mission Foundation and stored on long-lasting metal disks as a backup to the version that can be updated from Earth, includes everything from Wikipedia to the Harry Potter series to the world’s many languages and mathematical equations.

I don’t really have anything to add to this. It caught my eye and I thought it was cool. Plus, it gave me a reason to embed this video:

Give the aliens all our best, Janet.

Paxton gives the middle finger to House Oversight Committee

I’m sure you’re as shocked as I am.

Best mugshot ever

Facing an investigation over the state’s botched efforts to screen its voter rolls for noncitizens, the Texas Attorney General’s Office is declining congressional leaders’ request for information about the review.

In a Thursday letter to top officials with the House’s main investigative committee, Jeffrey Mateer, the state’s first assistant attorney general, indicated the state was brushing off a request for documents and communications from the Texas secretary of state and attorney general because the committee lacks “oversight jurisdiction.”

Instead, Mateer wrote, the state will treat the congressional inquiry as a public information request under state law, which grants the Texas attorney general’s office broad control over what information can be withheld from the public.

“We do not interpret your letter to be a subpoena issued under applicable House Rules. Nor do we consider it a request for information under any applicable federal law,” Mateer said. “For the foregoing reasons, and because the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and its subcomittees lack oversight jurisdiction over constitutional officers of the State of Texas, we must interpret your request under Texas state law.”

[…]

A spokesperson for the committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the AG’s letter. But in announcing the Texas investigation — part of a broader probe of voting irregularities in multiple states — Cummings and Raskin cited their authority to investigate “any matter” at “any time” under the rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. The committee has the authority to issue subpoenas. Raskin chairs a subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties.

See here and here for the background. I wish I could say I was surprised by this, but it’s about as surprising as a humid morning in July. What happens next is probably a subpoena, but after that it’s anyone’s guess.

The committee said in response to Paxton’s letter that it still expects to receive the documents.

“The right to vote is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and Congress is charged with protecting and defending the Constitution,” the committee said in a statement.

“Congress has an independent responsibility to investigate violations even when there may be separate litigation involving the same or similar matters. We expect full compliance with the Committee’s request.”

A committee spokesperson would not address a question about the use of a subpoena to obtain the emails and other documents.

[…]

Joe Larsen, a Houston lawyer and board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said even if the House does file a subpoena, the Attorney General could decline to cooperate.

The larger legal question of whether the committee has jurisdiction in a state matter may ultimately have to be solved by a court, Larsen said.

Normally, congressional oversight is for the executive branch, which does not include states, he said.

“It’s the idea that the federal government cannot be micromanaging what’s going on in the states unless that power is directly given to them by the Congress,” Larsen said.

But the committee could make the argument that it has the right under the “necessary and proper clause” of the Constitution to ensure that federal laws such as the Voting Rights Act aren’t being violated.

“That’s going to be a fight,” Larsen said. “It’s a fair argument on both sides.”

Better hope the courts are sympathetic to that line of reasoning. Our next chance to hold these amoral assholes accountable isn’t until 2022, and we can’t afford to wait that long.

Once again with EMILY’s List and the Senate

Pretty much the same story as before, but still worth noting.

Big John Cornyn

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro is considering jumping into the Texas Senate race, but he might not have the primary to himself if EMILY’s List gets its way.

The influential group, which backs female Democrats who support abortion rights, is in talks with three potential candidates: Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who lost a House race in 2018; Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards; and former state Sen. Wendy Davis.

“We would love to see a woman take Sen. [John] Cornyn on,” EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock told reporters Thursday. “We are in some conversations and really would like to find the candidate and then get everybody behind a strong woman to run for the U.S. Senate seat in Texas.”

Castro’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment. According to Texas Monthly, Davis encouraged Castro to run and would consider running herself if he does not.

Hegar has been mentioned as a potential Senate candidate since she raised millions last cycle in her unsuccessful race against GOP Rep. John Carter — she lost by 3 points. Hegar tweeted this week that she is “taking a very close look” at running for Senate.

See here for previous reporting, which came from the Trib’s email newsletter. Wendy Davis took her name out of consideration for the Senate the day after this story appeared, and I cannot find any mention of Amanda Edwards possibly considering a Senate run anywhere else. She’s up for re-election to City Council this year, so she would have some decisions to make about how she wants to spend her time over the next few months or more. As such, I think this basically comes down to whether or not MJ Hegar is in fact “taking a very close look” at this or not. I’ve run through those possibilities before, so let me just say that as someone whose interest is in having the best ticket top to bottom, my first choice would be Joaquin for Senate and MJ taking another shot at CD31. But it’s not up to me, so we’re back to waiting for someone to make an official announcement. (And to note that given how long it used to take any candidate to appear in so many races in past cycles, being able to impatiently anticipate such announcements in April the year before is quite the #FirstWorldProblem for us Texas Dems to have.) This will all sort itself out eventually.

Yes, they really are now pushing a sales tax for property tax swap

Some bad ideas never die.

Texas’ top three political leaders — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — threw their support Wednesday behind a proposal to increase the sales tax by one percentage point in order to lower property taxes across the state.

But that’s only if lawmakers agree to limit future local property tax increases.

The proposal would raise the state’s sales tax from 6.25% to 7.25%, generating billions of additional dollars annually for property tax relief, if voters approve a constitutional amendment. But the idea will be a hard sell to Democrats, since the sales tax is considered regressive, meaning lower-income Texans end up paying a larger percentage of their paychecks than higher-income Texans.

“Today we are introducing a sales tax proposal to buy down property tax rates for all Texas homeowners and businesses, once Senate Bill 2 or House Bill 2 is agreed to and passed by both Chambers. If the one-cent increase in the sales tax passes, it will result in billions of dollars in revenue to help drive down property taxes in the short and long term,” said a joint statement from the three Republicans.

Neither chamber has passed HB 2 or SB 2, which would require voter approval of property tax increases over 2.5%.

The House Ways and Means Committee was scheduled to take public testimony on the House’s sales tax swap proposal this week but delayed hearing the bills. Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who authored House Joint Resolution 3 and House Bill 4621, is considering changing the legislation to use a fraction of the additional money generated by the sales tax for public schools — in order to get more Democrats on board.

The bills are intended to provide another revenue source to help significantly cut down local school property taxes, which make up more than half of the local property taxes levied in Texas.

If the Legislature approves the resolution, the constitutional amendment would go to voters to approve in November, and if voters sign on the tax rate change would apply in January 2020.

See here for the background and my opinion about this lousy idea. Given that a constitutional amendment is needed for this, it will be easy enough to prevent it from happening. The progressive case against swapping out property taxes, which will disproportionately benefit commercial real estate and wealthy homeowners, for regressive sales taxes, is clear cut, and likely to hold a lot of sway with the current Democratic caucus. There’s also polling evidence to suggest that the public doesn’t care for a sales tax increase. I’m a little skeptical of that, since the question was not asked in conjunction with a potential cut in property taxes, but that’s an argument for the Republicans to make, and given the baked in doubt about anything actually reducing property taxes (for good reason!), I’d take that bet. HB2 is up for debate today, so we’ll see how this goes. The Chron and Texas Monthly have more.

Time for another Texas Central legislative update

I keep thinking that Texas Central has reached a point where there’s not much that can be done in the Lege to stop them, and events continue to prove otherwise.

Dallas-Houston bullet train developer Texas Central Partners LLC said its project could be delayed by a provision added to the Texas Senate’s proposed 2020-21 budget Wednesday, even though the company is not planning on using state funds to build the high-speed rail line. The company said language added to the upper chamber’s spending plan would encourage lawsuits and “is not beneficial for good coordination and planning.” Meanwhile, project opponents cheered the provision.

The measure, authored by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, continues to bar state funds from subsidizing high-speed passenger rail projects but would go further than current law. It would prevent the Texas Department of Transportation from helping coordinate access to rights-of-way on state highways for the high-speed rail project until there is a final, unappealable court ruling on the project’s eminent domain authority. Debate over whether Texas Central has the right to condemn land and buy it from unwilling owners has fueled opposition to the project and led to court battles across the state. The new language was added in what’s called a rider to the proposed budget.

[…]

“Working with TXDOT is critical to the project,” the company said in a statement late Wednesday. “This rider would impose arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions for a single project and sets a bad precedent.”

Texas law allows railroads to use eminent domain to take land for projects, and Texas Central says it is one. But opponents argue that the company doesn’t count as a railroad because it’s not operating any trains — and a Leon County Court upheld that viewpoint in February.

Texas Central disagreed with the ruling, citing a previous Harris County ruling in its favor, and said it plans to appeal the judge’s decision. But as the decision stands, the company can’t condemn land in the counties under the court’s jurisdiction, according to an attorney who represented the landowner in that case.

Patrick McShan, an attorney for the group Texans Against High-Speed Rail and more than 100 landowners along the train’s route, said there may be a lengthy court battle to settle the disagreement over whether the company can use eminent domain. And that, he said, could stall the project.

“At least two years, could be four years. Whatever it is, it’s several years,” he said. “It would be a significant obstacle to the project being constructed. … I do not envision a scenario where they can obtain these necessary approvals and these necessary court rulings to prove to the state that it is justifiable and necessary for the state to expend its resources on this project.”

See here for more on that court case, and here for where things stood at the end of the 2017 session. I fondly remember thinking that if Texas Central survived that session with nothing bad happening they were probably in good shape going forward. Those were the days, I tell you. The Senate budget still has to be approved by the full chamber and then reconciled with the House budget, so there will be opportunities for this rider to get ditched. And then I can make the same foolish prediction at the end of this session and get proven wrong again in 2021. It’s the circle of life, almost.

Interview with Nabila Mansoor

Nabila Mansoor

Another city having its municipal elections next month is Sugar Land in Fort Bend County. Fort Bend was one of the epicenters of the emerging Democratic majority in Texas suburban counties, as Dems swept the countywide races there last year. Carrying that momentum over will be the next test for that coalition, in places like Sugar Land that have diverse populations but not especially diverse city governments. Nabila Mansoor is picking up that challenge in District 2, where the current Council member is term-limited. Mansoor is an attorney and longtime activist who has worked in organizations such as Emgage USA, where she is the past Texas Executive Director and current Census Director for the Empowering Communities Initiative. She is also one of the co-leads of the Houston circles of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. Here’s what we talked about:

I don’t have any other May candidate interviews planned at this time. Sometimes things change after I make public statements like that. Be that as it may, look for November candidate interviews beginning in July.

Using floodplain rules to force environmental safety compliance

A county’s gotta do what a county’s gotta do.

Harris County officials are using flood control regulations passed after Hurricane Harvey to delay the reopening of two chemical companies where fires erupted in recent weeks, killing one worker and sending large plumes of black smoke into the Houston area.

The Harris County Attorney’s office cited the post-Harvey rules on floodplain construction and stormwater drainage in its civil lawsuits against KMCO and Intercontinental Terminals Co., where cleanup is still ongoing after the fires.

“We don’t shy away from going after the biggest, baddest companies out there,” said Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. “It sends a message to everyone.”

The county is digging through maps and available data to determine if both companies are in a floodplain. The new regulations put chemical facilities that are in a 500-year floodplain under tighter scrutiny.

The drainage rules restrict discharges of hazardous materials into the county’s stormwater system. If a company is found to have discharged hazardous materials, it can be cited by the county. Larger releases could lead to additional legal action.

The floodplain rules apply to more than facilities with fires and toxic releases and can force companies to meet new requirements when seeking to expand or change an existing facility, said Rock Owens, managing attorney for the Harris County Attorney’s environmental section.

The story doesn’t go into detail about what compliance issues there are and how long they may take to resolve. You may be thinking “why doesn’t the county file a lawsuit against these companies to force them to fix their problems?” The answer is that this used to be how things went, but your Texas legislature has taken steps to shackle counties and their enforcement efforts.

But in 2015, the state Legislature started taking away authority from the local governments. Lawmakers approved a bill capping the amount of money a local government could receive from civil penalties sought in environmental cases.

In 2017, another bill passed forcing local authorities to ask permission from the Texas attorney general before seeking penalties. If the attorney general’s office does not file its own suit in 90 days, the local government can go forward with a civil suit.

Lawmakers are currently considering two bills that would restrict local governments even more.

House Bill 3981, filed by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, would give the attorney general the authority to settle lawsuits started by the county, without the approval of the county.

House bill 2826, filed by state Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood and three others, would let the attorney general prohibit the county from hiring outside attorneys on cases.

“The concern isn’t that the local governments are intentionally causing any problems with these suits, just that a more efficient state-led effort may at times be more desirable,” said Justin Till, Bonnen’s chief of staff.

More desirable for the polluters, that’s for sure. Let’s be very clear, the main reason why bills like these get passed are specifically to muzzle Harris County’s enforcement efforts. (The city of Houston’s efforts were killed by the Supreme Court.) It’s a pollution-friendly Republican Legislature taking care of bad actors, aided and abetted by the business lobby. You know what I’m going to say next: Nothing will change until we change who we elect.

Third Census lawsuit ruling against Trump administration

Once, twice, three times an injunction.

A federal judge in Maryland ruled Friday against the government’s addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Judge George J. Hazel found that in deciding last year to add the question, the government violated administrative law, according to The Post. The ruling will probably be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, as is expected with two similar cases.

The case has Texas connections. Lawyers representing the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the Senate Hispanic Caucus, and several Texas-based nonprofits that advocate for Latino and Asian residents have appeared before Hazel to make arguments in the case.

The plaintiffs have challenged the inclusion of the citizenship question on several fronts, alleging that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, the Enumeration Clause and a federal law that governs federal agencies and their decision-making processes.

The Post reported that in his ruling, Hazel wrote, “The unreasonableness of Defendants’ addition of a citizenship question to the Census is underscored by the lack of any genuine need for the citizenship question, the woefully deficient process that led to it, the mysterious and potentially improper political considerations that motivated the decision and the clear pretext offered to the public.”

See here and here for the previous rulings, and here for more on this case. All three rulings focused on statutory issues, with constitutional issues either not being part of the case (as with the first lawsuit) or not getting the same favorable treatment. That may bode well for the forthcoming appeal to SCOTUS, as the questions are much more narrowly defined. Here’s hoping. Daily Kos has more.

How long will that TEA ethics investigation of HISD take?

Could be months, but they don’t really know.

The state investigation into allegations of Open Meetings Act and procurement violations by some Houston ISD trustees could last months, a top Texas Education Agency official said Saturday, potentially leaving the district and its superintendent search in limbo.

At a town hall attended by about 50 people, TEA Deputy Commissioner of Governance A.J. Crabill said state officials are still conducting a special accreditation investigation into HISD, with the most severe possible punishment resulting in school board members surrendering their powers to a state-appointed governing team. TEA officials have not provided a timeline for the investigation, which started in January, but Crabill said initial results likely are not imminent.

“My best guess is that the state is still several months away from a preliminary report,” Crabill said, while cautioning that he is not directly involved in the investigation.

Crabill’s comments came during a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, held at a downtown Houston church, that offered some clarity to residents concerned about the threat of sanctions looming over Texas’ largest school system. In addition to any fallout from the state investigation, HISD likely would lose local control of its school board if any one of four chronically low-performing campuses fails to meet state academic standards this year.

Crabill offered no hints as to whether HISD’s school board will fall out of power, telling the crowd it’s too early to predict outcomes of the state investigation or academic performance this year. He reassured those in attendance that an appointed board would hold power for only a few years, gradually transitioning back to a locally elected body.

The state-appointed board would be tasked with addressing a narrow set of pressing issues while carrying out the day-to-day functions of a traditional school board, Crabill said. In HISD’s case, the state-appointed board primarily would be tasked with improving student achievement at the lowest-performing campuses, where standardized test scores rank near the bottom in Texas and historical patterns suggest about two-thirds of graduates will not enroll in college.

See here, here, and here for the background. My understanding is that the accountability scores should be known by about August or so, meaning that we’ll know by then if the schools that must meet standards have done so or not. As is usually the case with these stories, I’m lost for much to say beyond I hope everything works out.

Interview with Steve Halvorson

Steve Halvorson

It’s April in an odd-numbered year, and that means that a number of cities and school districts around Texas are gearing up for their elections, which take place in May. Houston does not have such elections – ours will be this November – but several cities and ISDs near Houston do. The city of Pasadena will have its City Council elections, two years after electing a new Mayor and a Council that is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. (Pasadena Mayors serve four-year terms, so only Council members are on the ballot.) Steve Halvorson came close to tipping the balance of Pasadena City Council in favor of the Dems, losing his race by a mere nine votes. An Army veteran who retired as a Captain, Halvorson is back, this time in a three-candidate race, to take another shot at it. He’s a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and a Democratic precinct chair (his wife Jennifer is also a Democratic activist). Here’s what we talked about:

I have one more May election interview planned, and will be back as usual later with interviews for the November races.

Failing upward

Must be nice.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The day after David Whitley took office as Texas secretary of state on Dec. 17, he received a 49 percent pay raise thanks to his friend and political patron, Gov. Greg Abbott.

In a Dec. 18 letter to the Legislative Budget Board, the governor’s chief of staff said Abbott was using his authority to immediately raise Whitley’s annual salary to $197,415.

That’s almost $64,500 more than the $132,924 paid to Rolando Pablos, the Abbott appointee who was secretary of state before Whitley.

The raise, revealed in a footnote in a Legislative Budget Board document as part of the current budget process, meant Whitley still took a pay cut from his $205,000 salary as the governor’s deputy chief of staff — although the footnote said the letter was sent Dec. 8 instead of Dec. 18.

Whitley began working for Abbott in 2004 and spent almost four years as the then-attorney general’s travel aide, driving Abbott across Texas and helping him move from automobile to wheelchair. Abbott and his wife, Cecilia, grew to consider Whitley as almost part of their family, according to a recent Dallas Morning News profile of the secretary of state.

A priori, I don’t have an issue with bumping up the SOS salary so as to not give a guy a big pay cut. The problem is with the sheer incompetence. I mean, in a way I’m glad Whitley has been so bad at his job, because that has prevented him from doing any real damage so far. But the SOS has responsibilities beyond voter registrations, and I don’t see any reason to believe David Whitley will be good at any of them, either.

I’ll say this for Whitley, he’s staying positive in the face of all that pushback.

In his first public comments on the matter, acting Texas Secretary of State David Whitley last week pledged to cooperate with Congress, which has opened an investigation into his error-laden voter roll review that has Democrats howling voter suppression and has threatened his confirmation as the state’s top election officer. Whitley, on a visit to a school in the Rio Grande Valley, also expressed his confidence that he will ultimately be confirmed by the Texas Senate despite opposition by every Democrat in the chamber.

“I’m not worried about that. Those senators are my friends,” Whitley told reporters after speaking to several hundred students at Edinburg North High School about the importance of voting. Whitley added that he has worked with each state senator over the last four years during his previous job overseeing the governor’s appointments across the state. But now, “all I can do is do the best job I can as secretary of state.”

While fulfilling his duties as the state’s top elections official, Whitley said he will also “fully comply” with the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee investigation that was announced a day earlier. “We will fully comply. We have absolutely nothing to hide,” Whitley said. “We’ll read it thoroughly and make sure we turn everything over as required by law. Absolutely.”

See here for the background. I have no idea why Whitley thinks Senate Dems will change their minds about him, but hey, keep hope alive. In the meantime, those Congressional Dems have set a date for those documents they want.

“We want to get to the bottom of what happened in Texas,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, said in an interview.

The powerful committee, under Democratic control for the first time since 2011, gave acting Secretary of State David Whitley until April 11 to produce a host of documents related to his assertion in January that nearly 100,000 registered voters in Texas may not be citizens.

[…]

Raskin stopped short of threatening a subpoena if the many documents requested – including emails with Gov. Greg Abbott and Trump administration officials – aren’t turned over.

“We have the authority to order these documents to be produced and we have subpoena power if we need to use it. We’re very serious about this,” he said.

I have a hard time believing that Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton will just blithely hand over all their files to a bunch of Democrats. It’s just not consistent with everything we know about them. I think they will hand over as little as they think they can get away with, and will feel free to redact and claim executive privilege as it suits them. If this all goes off without subpoenas or a court fight, I will be surprised. We’ll know soon enough.

Wendy for Congress?

The great 2020 candidate shuffle continues.

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis says she is not running for U.S. Senate in 2020 and instead is considering a bid for the U.S. House.

“I’m looking very seriously at Congressional District 21,” the former Democratic nominee for governor said in a new podcast released Friday, referring to the traditionally Republican district that Democrats came close to flipping last year.

Davis, also a former state senator, had mulled whether to take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. But in the podcast, “The Rabble: TX Politics for the Unruly Mob,” Davis made clear she is no longer weighing a Senate campaign and reiterated her call for U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio to enter the race.

“There’s a reason I made a decision not to run for this Senate seat against John Cornyn,” Davis said on the show, which was taped Thursday. “I’ve been very candid about the fact that my dear friend Joaquin Castro is someone that I’d like to see run.

See here for some background. According to the story, Joseph Kopser, the 2018 candidate who came with four points of winning in CD21 and who also briefly flirted with running for Senate, has decided to sit out 2020. That leaves the need for a good candidate in CD21, and Wendy Davis would fit that bill nicely. She’d make for a great contrast with freshman Rep. Chip Roy, a former minion of both Ken Paxton and Ted Cruz who is doing his level best to achieve Lamar Smith levels of badness in his first term. I’d previously suggested CD25 for Wendy, but all things considered this would be best. I’m rooting for it.

They’re coming for Cornyn

Let’s bring it on.

Big John Cornyn

Texas Democrats are launching a multimillion-dollar initiative to help take down U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, regardless of who they ultimately choose as their nominee next year.

Emboldened after their gains in 2018 — including the closer-than-expected Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke — the state party is establishing a “Cornyn War Room” to “define Cornyn before he defines himself,” according to a memo. It is unlike anything the party has done in recent history surrounding a U.S. Senate race, and it reflects the urgency with which Texas Democrats are approaching a potentially pivotal election cycle.

“In 2020, we must seize the opportunity to flip Texas,” says the memo from the state party, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. It cites recent polling that found Texas “essentially tied” in the 2020 presidential election and that 64 percent of voters do not know or dislike Cornyn. “We cannot wait for the primary dust to settle before we launch our attacks on John Cornyn.”

The project, the memo adds, will “define Cornyn and reveal him for what he is — a coward, afraid of shadows on his right and left.”

The offensive has five fronts: digital, communications, messaging and polling, research, and data and targeting. There will be staff dedicated to the project and coordination with affiliated groups, county parties and activists.

The memo says the effort is “funded, in part, by record-breaking fundraising, including the most successful February totals in Texas Democratic Party history.” The memo does not specify the figures.

[…]

Several prominent Democrats are considering challenging Cornyn, perhaps most notably U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar, who said Tuesday she is “taking a very close look” at the race. Three lower-profile Democrats have already declared their candidacies.

With no disrespect intended to MJ Hegar, just as it was my assumption that the Senate race was Beto’s if he wanted it, it is now my assumption that it’s Joaquin’s if he wants it. Doesn’t mean anyone else has to agree with that, just that I’d expect the establishment – most of it, anyway – would fall in line with Joaquin if he follows through on his reported interest in the race. Some people are already in line, they just need Joaquin to get to the head of it. My guess is that Hegar’s “close look” is at least one part a “just in case Joaquin doesn’t run” contingency. Someone has to get to the front of that line, after all. But she might jump in anyway, and if she does she’d be formidable, and might put Joaquin on the spot. My advice to him would be to make his mind up quickly. Easy for me to say, I know, but still.

The polls in question don’t really mean much – the “essentially tied” poll tested Cornyn versus Beto, not Cornyn versus anyone else or Cornyn versus a generic Dem – but compared to what we’re used to, they’re not bad at all. The bottom line is that the conventional wisdom at this time is that Texas will be competitive in 2020. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I need to sit down every time I say that. We are in exciting times.

What the rest of this means remains to be seen. Beto’s campaign in 2018 was singular, and I have no idea how much of it is foundational to this effort. Be that as it may, this is the sort of thing that a viable, competitive statewide party needs to be doing, and having the resources for it is fantastic. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. See the TDP statement for more.

Kulkarni 2.0

Glad to see this.

Sri Kulkarni

Democrat Sri Kulkarni, an ex-foreign service officer who last year came within five points of unseating U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, announced Thursday he is challenging the Sugar Land Republican anew in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District.

Making his first run for office in 2018, Kulkarni drew attention by repeatedly out fundraising Olson and forming a multilingual campaign team to take aim at the district’s highly diverse population. He ultimately lost by more than 14,000 votes, or about 4.9 percentage points.

To bridge the gap, Kulkarni said his efforts will largely revolve around registering new voters in the district, where he has identified roughly 70,000 unregistered residents who are eligible to vote. Kulkarni also intends to reach more low-propensity voters this cycle, he said, and harness lingering energy from his prior campaign by jumping in only five months after the November midterms.

“We have people who are pumped up to come out and knock on doors right now, and we’re a year and a half away from the election,” Kulkarni said. “People wanted change in this district, and since we’ve built all that infrastructure, it would be a waste to start from scratch.”

Before he can set his sights on Olson, however, Kulkarni must first get past the Democratic primary, where he already faces two opponents. Nyanza Moore, a Fox 26 political commentator, and Joe Walz, an Army veteran, each are seeking the Democratic nomination.

Whoever emerges to face the Republican nominee will likely begin with better odds than Kulkarni did in 2018. Viewed for years as a longshot for Democrats, the district has made it onto the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2020 battleground map, an early indication that national Democrats are willing to put resources into flipping the seat.

There’s definitely room to grow in a district that wasn’t at all on the national radar last year, but got more attention as the situation in Texas became clearer. I suspect that the promise of DCCC support for CD22 is contingent on Kulkarni winning the primary, as he has proven himself to be a strong candidate, though if one of the other two beats him I’m sure they’ll get a chance to prove themselves as well. With all due respect, I’d prefer Kulkarni, as would a number of elected officials and other party figures who have endorsed him. I’m looking forward to reviewing the FEC reports for Congressional candidates again.

They’re coming for Daylight Saving Time

Mark me down as opposed.

Rep. Lyle Larson

A powerful House committee chief on Monday said he’s building support for a constitutional amendment that would stop twice-yearly clock changes.

Rep. Lyle Larson laid out his legislation that would commit the state to following Daylight Saving Time year-round or exempting the state from it, which would make Standard Time the year-round practice.

On Nov. 5, Texans would choose between the two options. The measure would be on the ballot in an off-year, low-turnout constitutional amendment election.

Larson said in an interview he expects the tourism industry, which mostly supports Daylight Saving Time, “might spend some money to educate folks.” Potential opponents include parent and teacher groups, which are concerned that Daylight Saving endangers children by making them wait in the dark for school buses, he said.

Larson’s constitutional amendment and enabling legislation received a hearing before the House State Affairs Committee. The panel didn’t take a vote. Larson, a San Antonio Republican who is head of the House Natural Resources Committee, said he will press for one next week.

“I haven’t heard of any opposition in [State Affairs] committee,” he said.

Martha S. Habluetzel of Ingleside, with the Campaign to Opt Out of Daylight Saving Time in Texas, testified the bill has a least two big defects.

“Congress hasn’t passed a bill to allow year-round Daylight Saving Time,” she noted. Under current federal law, a state only may opt for year-round Standard Time, she said.

Potentially, Larson’s amendment could lead to a bad outcome, Habluetzel said. On Monday, the sun rose at 7:25 a.m., she noted. On Christmas Day, if Texas somehow managed to get itself on year-round Daylight Saving Time, sunrise would be at 8:25 a.m., she said.

“I don’t want the sun coming up at 8:25,” she said.

There is also a joint resolution in the Senate to abolish Daylight Saving Time, which would also require a public vote to be enacted. I’m one of those people who goes to work at a stupidly early hour. It might be daylight when I arrive in the middle of summer, especially if we abandon DST, but otherwise it’s always dark for me in the morning. As such, I appreciate having as much daytime as possible when I get home, which is when it is best experienced. I hope this effort fails, but I fear that sooner or later someone is going to succeed at killing off the late summer sunsets that I so enjoy. Whatever you think, please note that it’s really not DST that you hate, it’s standard time. Please let us not attempt to fix that which is not broken.

CD07: Fletcher draws an opponent

Someone was going to do it.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Republican Army veteran Wesley Hunt announced his candidacy Tuesday for Texas’ 7th Congressional District, the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston.

Hunt’s candidacy, first reported by ABC 13, comes just three months into Fletcher’s tenure. She was one of two Democrats to flip a GOP-held Texas congressional seat in 2018, beating Republican John Culberson.

In an announcement video, Hunt emphasized his military background, without mentioning Fletcher by name.

“When I flew Apaches over Iraq, I was guided by three words: duty, honor, country,” Hunt says in the video. “The men and women that I served with didn’t focus on things that divided us. We were bonded together by a shared mission that was larger than ourselves. We need more of this spirit in Washington, and that is why I am running for Congress.”

I figured it was just a matter of time before someone announced. There are only so many viable targets for Republicans in Harris County next year, and this is the biggest one. As I’ve said before, I think Fletcher starts out as the favorite, though of course things can change this far out from an election. Like every other Republican on the ballot next year, Hunt will have a running mate, Donald Trump. Hunt can say whatever he likes about duty and honor and country – I have no doubt that he means them sincerely – but good luck squaring that with Trump and his record.

Chick-fil-A follies

I have three things to say about this.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is investigating the city of San Antonio for potential First Amendment violations after the City Council voted to prevent Chick-fil-A — a franchise known for opposing same-sex marriage — from opening a location in the city’s airport.

“The Constitution’s protection of religious liberty is somehow even better than Chick-fil-A’s chicken,” Paxton, a Republican, wrote in a Thursday letter to San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the rest of the council. “Unfortunately, I have serious concerns that both are under assault at the San Antonio airport.”

In a 6-4 vote, the council voted last week to keep the franchise from opening at the San Antonio International Airport. The decision quickly drew national headlines and condemnations from conservatives across the country.

Chick-Fil-A, a national franchise with locations throughout Texas, is known for its leaders’ staunch Christian views and close ties to groups that worked to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. Its corporate purpose is “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.” It is, famously, “closed on Sundays.”

Paxton, a Christian conservative who has long billed himself as a crusader for religious liberty, has also asked U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to open an investigation into the city’s actions. Paxton said in a news release Thursday that federal regulations governing grant money that flows to the San Antonio airport prohibit discrimination.

1. If we must accept that corporations can have “religious beliefs” – I don’t, but SCOTUS has imposed it on us, so here we are – then we ought to be able to criticize those beliefs. Governments make policy decisions all the time based on who they do and don’t want to do business with (see, for example, the state of Texas picking a side in the Israel/West Bank conflict), for reasons one may or may not approve of. Often, these decisions are made in response to feedback from constituents. It’s a tool that activists have in their toolbox for holding corporations accountable for their actions. It’s messy and often contradictory, but it’s long been a part of the democratic process. I don’t think letting corporate “religious beliefs” serve as a get-out-of-consequences-free card is a good idea.

2. All that aside, isn’t the fact that Chick-fil-A closes on Sunday a factor here? Surely the city of San Antonio would like to have a full range of dining options for those who pass through its airport, as they can’t just go somewhere else if their needs aren’t being met. If the choice is between a restaurant that’s open seven days a week, and a restaurant that’s open six days a week, you’d think the former would be preferred.

3. San Antonio isn’t the only city cordially dis-inviting Chick-fil-A from its airport. However you feel about this issue, it’s not going away.