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Texas

It’s still supposed to be a busy hurricane season

Hurricane season technically lasts until December 1, but this is the peak of it, so keep paying attention.

Don’t be lulled by a quiet June and July. The real Atlantic hurricane season is about to kick off.

The hurricane season generally runs from June 1 to the end of November. But the next six weeks — “the season within a season” — is regularly the most dangerous and active time for storms to develop in the Atlantic, said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Only two named storms have developed in the Atlantic so far this summer. Dry, dusty air from Africa’s Sahara robbed potential storms of moisture, and wind shear spurred by the El Nino climate systems ripped apart budding storms. Now, those brakes on hurricane development are gone.

The result: “A big change in the pattern over the Atlantic, going from a very lackluster quiet weather pattern to a much more active one,” said Dan Kottlowski, the lead hurricane forecaster at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “We are thinking this season will be back-loaded.”

Last week, the U.S. National Weather Service forecast 10 to 17 named storms in the Atlantic. Last year, there were 15, including hurricanes Florence and Michael that killed a combined 96 people and caused more than $49 billion in damage. A storm is named when it reaches tropical storm strength, with maximum sustained winds of at least 74 miles per hour.

You know the drill by now. Tune in to Space City Weather and stay on top of what you need to know.

More driverless trucks

Look out on I-45.

When Don Burnette worked at Otto, a self-driving truck startup, his team hit some pretty big milestones. It recorded the first shipment of cargo delivered by a self-driving truck: 50,000 cans of Budweiser in 2016. It was acquired by Uber the same year.

But something didn’t feel right to Burnette, an engineer by trade who’s spent almost a decade in the self-driving vehicle industry.

“That was very much a demo-like system,” Burnette said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. “It wasn’t built with production or scale in mind. And it wasn’t quite the technology that was going to push the industry forward.”

When Uber shifted away from self-driving trucks last year, Burnette saw an opportunity. He helped create Kodiak Robotics in 2018, with the hope that driverless trucks could serve commercial clients.

Kodiak Robotics is putting down roots in Texas, and has become one of the first self-driving trucking companies operating in the state. The Dallas-to-Houston (and back) route features a safety driver behind the wheel.

And humans take over for more challenging stretches between freeways and final destinations. Once Kodiak masters the “middle mile” — freeway driving that’s a large part of most routes — it’ll tackle the non-highway driving that’s proven difficult to other driverless startups.

See here and here for more about the driverless trucks currently on the highways in Texas. They’re not fully autonomous, of course – they all have safety drivers, and they all need to be human-operated off the interstates. For the time being at least, that’s a pretty good combination all around – the drivers stay rested, and the trucks can get where they’re going safely. As with all autonomous vehicles, the question is how far off are they from not needing the human drivers at all. For all the breathless prose in these stories, that part remains vague. TechCrunch and Wired have more.

Is there anything Houston can do about gun violence?

Not much, unfortunately.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday said he wants state lawmakers to give cities and counties more flexibility to address gun violence in response to mass shootings this month that killed 31 people, including 22 in El Paso.

Turner made the remarks at City Hall while calling for a special session of the Texas Legislature on the issue of gun violence.

Current state law mostly forbids local governments from passing measures that restrict gun usage.

Among the items Turner said he would like to pursue are background checks on firearms sales at gun shows, including those that have been held at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

“If I could do it today, I would do it today,” Turner told reporters. “But the state has preempted us.”

[…]

In March, Turner announced the city was establishing a task force to combat local gun violence. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has been an outspoken advocate for stricter gun laws, telling Congress earlier this year that gun violence is “one of the greatest public health epidemics facing the nation.”

Turner also allocated $1 million for police overtime pay in April to help officers fight gun violence.

Turner’s comments Wednesday echo those made last week by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who floated the idea of ending the use of county property for gun shows. The county, however, has no power to enact ordinances.

Hidalgo said Wednesday she is working with Turner on a proposal to take “whatever action we can.”

“We are hamstrung by the legislature. They have passed laws specifically preventing us from making policy around gun safety,” Hidalgo said. “We’re really looking under every nook and cranny for what can be done.”

Dru Stevenson, a law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said the state’s lock on local action largely is absolute.

“The state preempts municipalities from having any type of gun control regulation at all,” Stevenson said.

Even Hidalgo’s idea about ending use of county buildings for gun shows likely would not pass muster, according to Stevenson, due to how strict the state preemptions are.

“They’re more likely to get away with it informally than if they adopt a policy,” he said. “Behind the scenes pressure or incentives might work, but the gun shows are big and lucrative for the conference centers.”

There may be some other things the city could try, but the story doesn’t suggest anything interesting. As with a number of other vexing issues, the real solution lies in another level of government. Really, both state and federal for this one, but there’s probably more direct action that could be taken at the state level, if only by undoing the restrictions that have been imposed. That means the first real chance to get something done will be at the federal level, if all goes well in 2020. We’re not getting anything done in Austin until Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, at the very least, have been sent packing.

The psychological shift

I have three things to say about this.

[Democratic operative Jason] Stanford has a theory about how [Texas Democratic] angst started. He says it began with the 1996 U.S. Senate race in Texas. Democrats were recovering from losing two years earlier and were hoping to stem another round of losses.

As a result, he says, the primary was stacked with impressive candidates running to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Phil Gramm. The field included two incumbent congressmen, a county party chair and a teacher named Victor Morales, who eventually won the nomination.

The race was relatively close, but Morales lost.

“After we lost, that was two losses in a row and Democrats lost hope for generation,” Stanford says.

For years after, he says, it was hard to convince people to run for office as a Democrat in the state.

“We couldn’t get good people to run,” he says. “We would just try to fill the ballot instead of recruiting actually good candidates.”

That’s partially why the last time a Democrat won a statewide election of any kind was back in 1994.

Even though Democrats have still been shut out of statewide races, in the past few years, the party has been able to get at least one thing back: hope.

“The political changes are astronomical in Texas,” says Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

[…]

After 2016, Democratic-leaning Texans who had been sitting out elections started to vote again.

“I think of it like a seat with four legs,” Rottinghaus says. “You’ve got white progressives, you’ve got young people, you’ve got people of color, and you’ve got low-income people. That forms the platform for the Democratic Party. And in all of those elements, you’ve got increases in voting.”

In the 2018 election, Texas had higher voter turnout among all those groups. Republicans had been winning statewide races by double-digit margins, but that year a Democratic Senate candidate lost by only 2.6 percentage points.

Rottinghaus says this trend bodes well for Democrats in 2020, but a win is not a sure thing.

“There’s no guarantee Texas will be blue or any statewide office will be won,” he says. “But the pieces are in place to be able to be competitive. And that’s what Democrats are looking for and why a lot of people are running for these positions.”

In the past several weeks, a slew of candidates has announced they want to run against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year.

The field is up to nine candidates, including former Congressman Chris Bell, state Sen. Royce West, Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards and former congressional candidate MJ Hegar. Most recently, Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, a well-known immigrant rights and political activist, said she’s joining the race, too.

“Good candidates are just showing up,” Stanford says. “It’s amazing. This is a huge sea change.”

1. The story calls it a “psychological shift”, and I’ve called it “changing the narrative”, but we both refer to the fact that now everyone believes that the state is competitive for Democrats. The previous belief that basically all of the elections, save for a couple of swing districts, were settled in the primaries, is no longer operative. This isn’t just wild-eyed optimism by Democrats or a scare story being used in fundraising emails by Republicans. Democrats actually did make Texas competitive in 2018, and despite some chest-thumping by Republicans about it all being about Beto, the objective evidence suggests we are in for more of the same this year. And everyone with skin in the game is acting accordingly. That’s how you get five experienced politicians, all of whom come with fundraising promise, lining up to take on John Cornyn.

2. The fundraising bit is important in ways that can’t be overstated. Only two Democrats since the 2002 debacle have raised sufficient money to truly compete statewide, Bill White in 2010 and Wendy Davis in 2014. Beto broke through on this in a big way in 2018, but he was the only one who did. Other statewide candidates, who ran against deeply flawed opponents and who came almost as close as Beto did to win, did not get that kind of support. Would Mike Collier, or Justin Nelson, or Kim Olson have done better if they had had $10 million or more to work with? We’ll never know, but I’m confident that the candidates on the 2022 statewide slate will not have it as tough as they did. And I hear a lot less now about how Texas is just an ATM for Democratic candidates everywhere else.

3. To an extent, the shift began right after the 2016 election, with the swarm of candidates who entered the Congressional races and raised a ton of money in them. That was part of the national wave, of course, so it was in its way a separate thing, but still. I spent all of that cycle talking about how unprecedented much of it was, in particular the fundraising. The point I’m making here is that this shift didn’t begin post-Beto, it’s been going on for two years now. The main difference is that it’s happening at a statewide level, and not just downballot.

No Rocket

What a world we live in.

Roger Clemens (AP Photo/David Goldman)


Pitching great Roger Clemens didn’t shy away from many battles in his major league career, but politics is something he’s not willing to take on.

Clemens had been encouraged to run as a Republican candidate for the seat of Texas Republican Rep. Pete Olson, who announced his retirement last month.

The 57-year-old Clemens said he was honored but had “no interest” in running for office.

“The climate in politics at this time is much more than I would want to undertake, along with my family considerations,” Clemens said in a message to Olson that was obtained by ABC News.

“I am a Republican and I support our President and will continue to do so,” Clemens said. “No matter who our President may be, I will continue my support of them and root for them to be successful, just as I did when President Obama was in office.

“I will … do all I can to continue to promote the quality of life issues that we respect and try to maintain as citizens of the State of Texas and the United States.”

I’m not on vacation, but this still resonated with me:

Anyway. The Chron version of this story notes that Clemens would have been the second Republican to run for CD22 if he had gotten in, following Pearland City Council member Greg Hill. I checked the FEC finance reports page, and they missed a few potential wannabes:

Greg Hill
Matthew Hinton
Thaddeus Walz
Kathaleen Wall

Yes, that Kathaleen Wall. We are both blessed and cursed. The Chron did note her candidacy in a separate story.

One more thing. Compare that list to the lineup from the 2008 Republican primary in CD22. CD22 wasn’t open that year, but it was held by Democrat Nick Lampson after his win over write-in candidate Shelley Sekula Gibbs, which was the fallout from Tom DeLay’s resignation that he tried to paint as withdrawing from the race because he was no longer eligible after “moving” to Virginia. In addition to eventual winner Olson (who had been on John Cornyn’s staff) and the immortal Shelley, that lineup included the former Mayors of Sugar Land (Dean Hrbacek) and Pasadena (John Manlove), former State Rep. Robert Talton, and future SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. To say the least, the people lining up now to keep CD22 red have a whole lot less gravitas than the 2008 bunch. Put another way, the Republican bench is looking thin. I don’t know about you, but the lack of interest in this once solid GOP seat tells me something.

Here comes beer to go

Hooray!

Starting Sept. 1, Texans will be able to leave brewery taprooms with a case of their favorite craft beer, and order wine and beer for delivery, thanks to two laws passed by the Legislature this year.

Brewers and beer lovers around the state fought for beer to go, saying it will boost business and drive tourism to Texas.

“It’s going to be a really cool opportunity to showcase our ability in a different light,” said Rachael Hackathorn, taproom manager at the Austin-based Zilker Brewing Co. “For an out-of-town guest to take our beer back home with them and share it with their friends, that’s really what beer culture is about.”

Texas beer sales run on a system of three tiers: manufacturers who make the product, distributors who take it to market and retailers who sell it to customers. In the past, some beer distributors were opposed to beer to go, saying it would interrupt the state’s beer market and that Texas should continue its strict separation of the three tiers. The rationale behind the system is that it prevents anyone in one tier from controlling any of the activities of the other two tiers.

But this year, the distributors and brewers came to an agreement to allow brewers more access to the retail tier.

“Quite frankly, we were just tired of all the negative publicity and people not understanding the nuances of the three-tiered system,” said Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, an organization that represents distributors. “That’s the reason we agreed to a very limited amount of beer to be sold per customer per craft brewer.”

Sen. Dawn Buckingham, who authored the legislation, said although it was first met with some “significant opposition” from the distribution and retail tiers, she was happy to see the parties eventually come to an agreement.

“Beer to go was kind of the perfect example of the little guys being overrun by the process,” said Buckingham, a Lakeway Republican. “It seemed a little crazy that Texas would be the only state where you can’t go to a brewery and bring home a little bit of beer.”

See here for the background. Another bill, to allow home delivery of beer and wine, via Amazon or other means, will also take effect on the first. As you know, I think the three tier structure is an anachronistic load of hooey that should be chucked into Lake Houston, but whatever. Somehow, the beer distributors decided it was in their best interests to declare peace, and this was the result. I’m happy with the outcome, regardless of my feelings for the underlying structure. Bottoms up, y’all.

We have a new SOS

Yippie.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

After losing his last chief election officer over a botched review of the state’s voter rolls, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday appointed a new secretary of state: Ruth Ruggero Hughs.

Ruggero Hughs is moving from the Texas Workforce Commission, which she has chaired since August 2018. She joins the secretary of state’s office nearly three months after Democratic senators blocked the confirmation of her predecessor, David Whitley, who questioned the voter registration of thousands of naturalized citizens.

Whitley resigned on May 27, lacking enough votes in the Texas Senate to keep the job after he oversaw an effort to scour the voter rolls for supposed noncitizens. The review instead threatened the voting rights of tens of thousands of voters of color, landed the state in federal court and prompted a congressional inquiry into voting rights violations.

[…]

Ruggero Hughs is likely to face a challenge in repairing the secretary of state’s relationship with the hundreds of local officials it depends on to run elections. Some county officials have said they’re still waiting for an explanation from the secretary of state’s office on how they got the review so wrong.

I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. Abbott took his sweet time naming a replacement, because he’s Greg Abbott and he does what he wants. Whether Ruggero Hughs winds up being a better SOS than David Whitley was isn’t a high bar to clear, but the real question is whether she’ll be Abbott’s flunky or an honest broker. We’ll have to wait and see, and keep a very close eye on her in the meantime. Because the Lege is not in session, she’ll get to serve until 2021, at which point she’ll need to have won over at least a couple of Dems if she wants to stay in that job. The Chron has more.

“Coordinated cyberattack” on several Texas cities

That doesn’t sound good.

Twenty-three Texas towns have been struck by a “coordinated” ransomware attack, according to the state’s Department of Information Resources.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software, often delivered via email, that locks up an organization’s systems until a ransom is paid or files are recovered by other means. In many cases, ransomware significantly damages computer hardware and linked machinery and leads to days or weeks with systems offline, which is why it can be so costly to cities.

According to a weekend update by the Texas DIR, the attacks started Friday morning and though the locations aren’t named, “the majority of these entities were smaller local governments.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered a “Level 2 Escalated Response” on Friday following the incident, according to a statement from Governor’s Office deputy press secretary Nan Tolson. This response level, determined by the state’s Department of Emergency Management, is part of a four-step response protocol, and is one step below the highest level of alert, level 1 or “emergency.”

According to state emergency management planning guide, this means “the scope of the emergency has expanded beyond that which can be handled by local responders. Normal state and local government operations may be impaired.”

In addition to the state and local agencies assisting with the response, “Governor Abbott is also deploying cybersecurity experts to affected areas in order to assess damage and help bring local government entities back online,” Tolson said.

This NPR story has more details.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and state cybersecurity experts are examining the ongoing breach, which began Friday morning and has affected mostly smaller local governments. Officials have not disclosed which specific places are affected.

Investigators have also not yet identified who or what is behind the attack that took the systems offline, but the Texas Department of Information Resources says the evidence so far points to “one single threat actor.”

Elliott Sprehe, a spokesman for the department, said he was “not aware” of any of the cities having paid the undisclosed ransom sought by hackers. He said the areas impacted are predominantly rural. The department initially put the number of cities attacked at 23.

Two cities so far have come forward to say their computer systems were affected. Officials in Borger in the Texas Panhandle, said the attack has affected city business and financial operations. Birth and death certificates are not available online, and the city can’t accept utility payments from any of its 13,25o residents. “Responders have not yet established a time-frame for when full, normal operations will be restored,” city officials said.

[…]

Experts say that while government agencies have increasingly been hit by cyberattacks, simultaneously targeting nearly two dozen cities represents a new kind of cyberassault.

“What’s unique about this attack and something we hadn’t seen before is how coordinated attack this attack is,” said threat intelligence analyst Allan Liska. “It does present a new front in the ransomware attack,” he said. “It absolutely is the largest coordinated attack we’ve seen.”

Liska’s research firm, Recorded Future, has found that ransomware attacks aimed at state and local government have been on the rise, finding at least 169 examples of hackers breaking into government computer systems since 2013. There have been more than 60 already this year, he said.

The city of Keene, near Fort Worth, was also hit, and their Mayor said the attack came via their IT provider, as these small towns outsource that task since they don’t have sufficient resources to do it themselves. This is a real problem that’s going to keep happening, and we really should put more money and effort into fighting against it at a state and national level. Good luck to all involved in cleaning up the mess. A more recent statement from the Texas DIR is here, and the Star-Telegram, the Chron, and the Trib have more.

Special election set for HD148

Straight from the source.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation announcing Tuesday, November 5, 2019 as the special election date to fill the Texas House of Representatives District 148 seat recently vacated by former Representative Jessica Farrar.

Candidates who wish to have their names placed on the special election ballot must file their applications with the Secretary of State no later than 5:00PM on Wednesday, September 4, 2019.

Early voting will begin on Monday, October 21, 2019.

Read the Governor’s full special election proclamation.

That is the same as the special elections in HD28 and HD100. Already some candidates are circling around this, some of more interest to me than others.

Also on Monday, HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos announced she is exploring a run to replace state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who announced her retirement last week. Santos, whose seat is not up for re-election until 2021, would not be required to vacate her position to run.

All due respect, but no. Not with all that is going on with the Board right now. I mean, I understand the desire to jump ship, but no.

One person says she’s in:

After 2018, several leaders asked if I planned to run again, my reply was- we have great seasoned leaders in my district. The Honorable @RepFarrar has served District 148 since 1994 and has earned the utmost respect for her decades of services, especially for women’s health issues & civil jurisprudence.
Like Jessica, I will also bring my legal background (19-year attorney) to this legislative office.
I ask for your support as I seek to uphold and bring continued progress to the community that I grew up with.
Vote Penny Morales-Shaw for 148.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you!

Shaw was a fine and hardworking candidate for Commissioners Court last year. She would be a fine member of the Legislature if elected.

Also considering the race, in a post that is not public, is John Gorczynski, currently serving as the Chief of Staff to Rep. Sylvia Garcia; he was also her Chief of Staff while she was in the State Senate. He would also be a fine member of the Legislature if elected.

I’m sure we’ll hear from others in short order, as September 4 is not far away. As with the specials that happened during the session, this will be a sprint, and it will also carry the need to run for the nomination in March. I feel pretty confident saying that the winner of the special will be the heavy favorite for the nomination (yes, I’m assuming a Dem will win), I’m just saying that this is a more-than-one-race deal. We’ll know soon enough.

The Bonnen-MQS saga makes the Times

Gotta love it when our little intramural squabbles go national.

Found on the Twitters

In Texas, they are calling it the case of “The Speaker and the Creeper.”

The political imbroglio started last month, when Michael Quinn Sullivan, a conservative pit bull who routinely antagonizes establishment politicians, accused the Republican House speaker, Dennis Bonnen, of offering his organization coveted House media credentials if it would work to defeat 10 incumbent House members from Mr. Bonnen’s own party.

Mr. Bonnen denied it, and the bombshell was initially greeted with some skepticism. Why would one of the state’s top politicians court a back-room deal — to undermine his own bench — with a man Texas Monthly recently described as “one of the biggest snakes in Texas politics”?

Except there was a tape.

Now Mr. Sullivan’s accusations are at the heart of the biggest scandal to hit Texas in years, one that is throwing the state’s Republican-led House of Representatives into turmoil and threatening to bring down the speaker.

[…]

The big question many are trying to answer now in the Texas capital is why Mr. Bonnen would have approached a group about which he has been openly dismissive.

After Mr. Sullivan criticized the latest “amazing LOSER #Texlege session” on Twitter, Mr. Bonnen brushed it off. “They speak only for themselves,” he told reporters. “They aren’t worth responding to. The reality of it is, if we passed every pro-life bill filed in the history of the state they would say we have not done enough. You will never please or appease those folks and I’m sure as hell not going to waste my time trying.”

That was at the end of May. Then came the meeting in the speaker’s office, in June. Mr. Sullivan said he was expecting a “tongue-lashing” for not supporting what he called the “lackluster results” of the legislative session, but instead, according to his account, he was asked by the House speaker to refrain from further criticizing the just-ended legislative session, leave a select group of Republicans alone and target 10 others.

In exchange, Mr. Sullivan said, he was offered press credentials for Texas Scorecard, the media arm of Empower Texans — though the House speaker has since pointed out he would not have the authority to grant such credentials.

Cal Jillson, a political-science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Mr. Bonnen may have been seeking to soften the “enmity” between Republican factions and head off “incoming fire” from Empower Texans and affiliated groups in the future. “What Sullivan did was lay a trap for him,” Professor Jillson said.

In a July 29 press statement before Mr. Sullivan revealed that he had taped the conversations, Mr. Bonnen said that he had “one simple reason for taking the meeting — I saw it as an opportunity to protect my Republican colleagues and prevent us from having to waste millions of dollars defending ourselves against Empower Texans’ destructive primary attacks, as we have had to do in the past several cycles.”

Mr. Bonnen has said he supported the Texas Rangers investigation and has called on Mr. Sullivan to release the statement “in its entirety.”

Texas is no stranger to scandal, and a few old hands around the Capitol still remember the granddaddy of them all — the Sharpstown stock fraud scandal of 1970-72, which centered on quid pro quo stock purchases that resulted in charges against more than two dozen current and former state officials and led to a wholesale turnover in state government.

The latest investigation, which is becoming known as “Bonnenghazi” or “Bonnghazi,” will determine whether the current speaker hangs on to power or is forced to the sideline, further casting Republicans in disarray in a race for a new leader and perhaps even giving an opening to Democrats in their perennial efforts to regain control of the House for the first time in nearly two decades.

The question of what exactly Bonnen was doing talking to MQS in the first place remains the big mystery to me. None of it makes sense, including the list of alleged targets. I’m happy to continue to stoke the flames on this, but I think we would all be well advised to maintain some skepticism until such time as the full tapes come to light. The odds that MQS has been bullshitting us all this whole time via selective editing or other trickery remain non-trivial. Bonnen deserves a heaping pile of criticism for his actions, but that doesn’t mean we should believe anything MQS says.

Beto is still not running for Senate

Sorry, y’all.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke will return to the presidential campaign trail Thursday for the first time since the Aug. 3 massacre of 22 people at a Walmart in his hometown by a suspect who told police he was hunting “Mexicans” and who O’Rourke said drew “vile inspiration” from President Donald Trump.

According to O’Rourke’s campaign, he will relaunch with a morning speech in El Paso that will outline the path forward for a presidential campaign that began with great promise five months ago but is now mired at 2% in national polls.

O’Rourke has been importuned with increasing urgency, both publicly and privately, to consider swapping his struggling presidential campaign for a more promising and potentially more consequential second run for the U.S. Senate, challenging the reelection of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

“He just needs to get home and take care of business,” former Houston Mayor Annise Parker told The New York Times in the aftermath of the El Paso tragedy. “We wouldn’t have five people running for Senate if Beto came back.”

An Emerson College poll conducted during the first three days of August found that more than half of Texas Democrats thought O’Rourke should run for Senate instead of president.

The poll found that most Democratic voters had not formed an opinion on the Senate race without O’Rourke, and that none of the candidates already in the race had gained much traction.

The filing deadline for the March primary is not until December, but Thursday’s announcement by O’Rourke would seem to effectively foreclose the possibility that he would enter a race now so crowded with lesser-known candidates that it appears destined for a May runoff — potentially hobbling chances of defeating the state’s senior senator.

See here for the background. Here’s the money quote:

As I always say, nothing is certain until after the filing deadline. Up until then, Beto could change his mind if he wanted to. I don’t think he will, and you know why I don’t think he will, but until December 15 it’s at least a theoretical possibility. My advice is to accept what he’s saying at face value, and move on. The Trib has more.

Rep. Dustin Burrows steps down as House GOP Caucus Chair

Noted for the record.

Rep. Dustin Burrows

State Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock has resigned as chair of the Texas House GOP Caucus, according to two people familiar with the matter. Burrows’ departure comes amid allegations that he and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen planned to politically target members from their own party in the 2020 primaries — and it marks the largest fallout yet since the accusations surfaced.

Burrows has served in the House since 2015. His resignation is expected to be announced to House Republicans sometime Friday. State Rep. Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth, who serves as vice chair of the caucus, will be elevated to chair.

Burrows has not yet publicly responded to the accusations made by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a hardline conservative activist who heads Empower Texans. Over the past few weeks, a number of House Republicans have privately expressed frustration that their caucus leader was largely remaining silent on the accusations made against him.

In a statement, Bonnen said that Burrows “was a strong leader for the caucus.” He added, “I respect his decision and I remain committed to strengthening our majority.”

Normally, this is super-deep Inside Baseball stuff, of interest to almost no one outside of the people who actually inhabit the Capitol. But these are not normal times, and Burrows is enmeshed in the current unpleasantness surrounding Speaker Dennis Bonnen and professional troglodyte Michael Quinn Sullivan. The fact that Burrows has maintained such strict radio silence is either a tribute to his loyalty to Bonnen or a measure of how deep the doo-doo is. Some day, perhaps we’ll find out which is the case.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar departs

This was unexpected.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat who has served in the Texas House for over two decades, is retiring from the lower chamber at the end of September.

“I want to thank my constituents and the people of Texas for the high honor and privilege of representing them in the Texas Legislature these last 25 years,” Farrar said in a statement Friday. “My time in public service has provided me the opportunity to serve my state and community in ways for which I will forever be grateful.”

Farrar, an attorney first elected to the lower chamber in 1994, represents House District 148, which covers parts of northern and western Houston. The district has historically been a safe seat for Democrats.

In her statement, Farrar called her decision to retire a “very difficult and emotional decision” — and said her constituents “will always be deep in my heart.”

An early departure, Farrar said, would allow for her successor to take office and “hit the ground running” ahead of the 2021 legislative session. She called on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election for her seat on Nov. 5, the same day as Houston municipal elections, “to afford the most robust voter turnout at the least taxpayer expense.”

“I am encouraged in my decision to retire by enthusiasm and intelligence of emerging progressive leaders who will ensure that the momentum of positive change will continue forward,” she said. “While I will be stepping back from public office, be assured that I will continue being involved when the cause is good and just.”

Farrar served as vice chair of the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence during this year’s legislative session. She also chaired the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus. During the legislative session in 2011, Farrar served as chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

You can see her announcement on Facebook here. She cites the recent deaths of her father and father-in-law, and the need for her and her husband to be able to care for their mothers as factors in her decision to step down. Once you reach that point, and you’re reasonably sure there are no special sessions in the air, you may as well go all the way and give your successor the chance to get a head start and a boost in seniority. I’m going to presume that like HD28, we’ll get a November special with an early September filing deadline. Figure we’ll see the announcement from Greg Abbott on Monday or Tuesday.

I’m still kind of shocked by this, and more than a little sad. Jessica Farrar is one of the good ones, and she was my Rep from the time I moved into the Heights in 1997 until they redistricted me out of HD148 in 2011. She’s a friend, she did a lot to move Texas forward in her 25 years of service, and I wish her and Marco and the dogs all the best.

Once again with GOP anxiety

I recommend Xanax. Or, you know, marijuana. I’ve heard that’s good for anxiety.

Not Ted Cruz

Republicans have long idealized Texas as a deep-red frontier state, home to rural conservatives who love President Donald Trump. But political turbulence in the sprawling suburbs and fast-growing cities are turning the Lone Star State into a possible 2020 battleground.

“The president’s reelection campaign needs to take Texas seriously,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in an interview. He added that while he remains optimistic about the GOP’s chances, it is “by no means a given” that Trump will carry Texas – and win its 38 electoral votes – next year or that Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, will be reelected.

For a state that once elevated the Bush family and was forged into a Republican stronghold by Karl Rove, it is an increasingly uncertain time. Changing demographics and a wave of liberal activism have given new hope to Democrats, who have not won a statewide elected office since 1994 or Texas’ presidential vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Recent Republican congressional retirements have stoked party concerns, particularly the surprising Thursday announcement by a rising star, Rep. Will Hurd, that he would not seek reelection in his highly competitive district, which stretches east from El Paso along the Mexican border.

[…]

According to the Texas Tribune, nearly 9 million Texans showed up to the polls in 2016, when Trump won the state by nine percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton – a notably smaller margin than in 2012, when Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama by nearly 16 percentage points.

And in 2018, turnout was nearly at presidential-cycle levels at 8 million, compared with 4.6 million in 2014, the previous midterm election year.

Cruz said those figures should alarm Republicans nationally about potential Democratic turnout in 2020 – and make donors and party leaders recommit to investing in statewide and congressional races in Texas rather than assuming that Trump’s political brand and a few rallies will be enough.

The suburbs are where Texas Republicans are most vulnerable, Cruz said, noting that O’Rourke made inroads in 2018 in the highly populated suburbs outside Dallas and Austin, and in other urban areas.

U.S. Census data shows Texas is home to the nation’s fastest-growing cities, and an analysis last month by two University of Houston professors predicted that “metropolitan growth in Texas will certainly continue, along with its ever-growing share of the vote – 68 percent of the vote in 2016.”

“Historically, the cities have been bright blue and surrounded by bright red doughnuts of Republican suburban voters,” Cruz said. “What happened in 2018 is that those bright red doughnuts went purple – not blue, but purple. We’ve got to do a more effective job of carrying the message to the suburbs.”

This is a national story, reprinted in the Chron, so it doesn’t have much we haven’t seen before. I’d say that the historic strength of Republicans here has been in the suburbs and exurbs – the fast-growing parts of the state – which is similar to GOP strength elsewhere. It’s also where they suffered the greatest erosion of that strength in 2018, and if that continues in 2020 they really do have to worry about losing statewide. Honestly, loath as I am to say it, Ted Cruz has a pretty good handle on the dynamic. Not that he’ll be able to do anything about it, being Ted Cruz and all, but he does understand the predicament he and his fellow travelers are in.

A call to embrace scooters

Chron business writer Chris Tomlinson is a fan of scooters.

Photo: Josie Norris /San Antonio Express-News

After years of riding bicycles in traffic, I’m comfortable riding a scooter on the street where they belong. I find them a convenient and environmentally-friendly alternative to automobile congestion. But I’m in a distinct minority, according to new polling by Zpryme, an Austin-based research and events firm.

About 72 percent of Americans do not want electric scooters in their neighborhoods, according to the survey of 1,500 U.S. consumers. More than half of Americans believe that electric scooters are unsafe.

Only 5 percent of those polled have ever ridden one.

[…]

The scooters’ average top speed is 20 miles per hour, and the range is about 20 miles. An electric scooter performs about as well as the average bicycle commuter, but without sweating.

Zpryme’s survey of scooter users found most trips were less than a mile and cost less than $10 nationwide. But a substantial number said they routinely use scooters to travel up to 5 miles.

About 70 percent said they ride scooters for fun, according to the poll, and in San Antonio tourists use them for sightseeing. More than half said they use scooters because they are faster than walking, and a third use them for a daily commute to work. Last year, scooter users made 38.5 million trips in just a few dozen cities.

Because they are electric and consume little energy, the environmental benefits of scooters are substantial. A person on a scooter also takes up much less space on the road, which helps relieve congestion.

As long as they are banned from sidewalks and there is a plan in place to ensure that abandoned scooters do not hinder the mobility of others, especially disabled folks, then I can sign onto this. I still have my doubts about the scooter sharing industry as a business model, and I’m still not convinced that they’re safer on the roads for the rider than bikes are, but I do agree that they can play a role in various urban areas to reduce car trips. And they are coming to Houston whether we like it or not, so let’s try to make the best of it.

Tzintzún Ramirez gets off to a quick start

Impressive.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez raked in more than $200,000 in the 24 hours after she announced her run for Senate, her campaign said today — giving her a quick start as she tries to catch up to the several other Democratic contenders who have a head start on fundraising.

The Austin-based advocate for the rights of workers and immigrants said in a video posted on Twitter that her campaign “blew through” the $100,000 fundraising goal it set on its first day.

“That’s going to help fuel our campaign to speak to voters across this great state and transform our government to actually represent our interests and our needs,” she said.

See here for the background. It’s a great start, and shows a lot of potential for her and her candidacy. MJ Hegar raised a million dollars in about half of Q2, while Royce West has $1.4 million in his state campaign account. At some point, everyone is going to have to find a higher gear, because John Cornyn has a lot of money, and it’s super expensive campaigning in Texas. But this is a very promising start.

Special election set in HD28

Looks like I was a bit confused about this.

Rep. John Zerwas

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday set a Nov. 5 special election to fill the Texas House seat being vacated by state Rep. John Zerwas, who last month announced he would retire from the lower chamber.

Candidates have until Sept. 4 to file for the seat, and early voting begins Oct. 21, Abbott’s office said in a news release.

Zerwas, R-Richmond, was first elected in 2006 and chaired the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee during the last two legislative sessions. He said he would step down Sept. 30 from his seat, which covers parts of Fort Bend County from Simonton to Mission Bend and Katy to Rosenberg.

[…]

Last week, former Fulshear city councilwoman Tricia Krenek announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination in Zerwas’ district, House District 28. Democrat Eliz Markowitz, a former candidate for the State Board of Education, is also running.

See here and here for the background. I had assumed that since Zerwas was not officially resigning until September 30 that no special election could or would be scheduled till after he was out. Maybe I’m just scarred by the Sylvia Garcia situation. Anyway, this will still be an interesting test of the trends that began last year, though probably more muted since it will be just another election in November rather than a headliner in May. I expect other candidates to get in, though probably no one serious unless they also plan to run for their party’s nomination in March, since that’s the more important of the two. In the meantime, if you live in this district, keep your eyes open for an opportunity to help out Eliz Markowitz.

CD23 update

The Rivard Report takes a look at the state of play in CD23 following Rep. Will Hurd’s surprise retirement.

Gina Ortiz Jones

In the wake of Hurd’s announcement, former U.S. Navy officer Tony Gonzales, a Republican, has entered the race. Gonzales was not 24 hours into his campaign for the 35th Congressional District, held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), when he got the news Hurd would be leaving office. That’s when a flurry of phone calls and texts came in urging him to declare his candidacy for the 23rd district.

“No one saw Congressman Hurd retiring,” Gonzales said. “It was kind of a shock to a lot of folks.”

Unlike statehouse seats and other elected positions that require candidates to establish residency within the district one seeks to represent, running for the U.S. Congress only requires residency in the state in which one is running for office.

Gonzales has joined a field in the Republican primary that includes retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Raul Reyes Jr., who owns a home construction business in Del Rio, and Uvalde dentist Alma Arredondo-Lynch, who challenged Hurd in the 2018 primary. That list could potentially grow in light of Hurd’s exit from the race.

Reyes has a five-month head start on Gonzales and has raised more than $15,000 in campaign contributions. He had more than $9,000 cash on hand as of the last quarterly report to the Federal Elections Commission. Arredondo-Lynch did not report any campaign contributions last quarter.

But Gonzales has garnered significant endorsements in his incipient campaign. On the day the Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran announced his run, he picked up the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, who represented the 23rd district for 14 years. Days later, another former Republican representative of the 23rd district, Quico Canseco, endorsed Gonzales’ bid.

[…]

Altogether, the news of Hurd’s impending exit was both a surprise and not a surprise, [Gina Ortiz] Jones said.

“We came within 926 votes of taking out the most formidable Republican, raised $6 million to do it,” she said. “We’re going to work just as hard. So I think he saw the writing on the wall.”

But the decision to run again was not taken lightly, Jones said. The U.S. Air Force veteran who served as an intelligence officer during her service was so close in the last election that she held off conceding for two weeks until all outstanding ballots were counted. The John Jay High School alumna even attended orientation for freshmen members of Congress.

“You don’t go through that and say, ‘Let’s do that all over again,’” she said. “You assess and say, ‘What did I learn?’ For me, it’s always been about how best can I serve. When I made the decision, it was always based on the fact that my community’s needs were still not being met.”

In the Democratic primary, Jones will face former broadcast journalist Liz Wahl and activist and surgical practice administrator Rosey Abuabara.

Abuabara, 54, a Latina who was born and raised in West San Antonio, said she believes she can better represent a district that is 70 percent Hispanic, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.

“I wanted to come up and represent because we are the largest population,” she said. “I feel like I could do more.”

Just a guess here, but Tony Gonzales sure sounds like the establishment candidate for CD23. The amount that Raul Reyes has raised so far is not at all an obstacle, and you can be sure there will be big Republican money coming in. I’ll be a little surprised if an Anglo candidate doesn’t get in on the Republican side, because why wouldn’t an Anglo candidate get into that primary? History suggests any such candidate will have a shot.

Gina Ortiz Jones is for sure the establishment candidate on the Dem side, having done everything but eke out the win in 2018. It remains to be seen how much of a challenge Rosey Abuabara will present to her (no, I’m not taking Liz Wahl seriously). She got in too late to have a Q2 finance report, so we don’t know yet what her fundraising chops are. The high turnout in the primary will likely help Abuabara, but Ortiz Jones got 102,359 votes in 2018, so the voters should know who she is. Ortiz Jones should prevail – ask me again how confident I feel about that after the Q3 numbers are in – but don’t take this for granted.

UPDATE: As I said, I’m not taking Liz Wahl’s candidacy seriously, but here’s a story about her, if you’re interested.

Back to the Beto question

As in, should Beto abandon his run for President and come back to Texas to make another run for Senate? The Chron says Yes.

Beto O’Rourke

There are times, it seems, in most presidential campaigns when the facades get stripped away like so many layers of paint. What’s left is a human moment, usually fleeting, and not always flattering. But real — and often more telling than a season of advertisements.

Hillary Clinton tearing up in New Hampshire in the winter of 2008. Ronald Reagan’s humor during a 1984 debate when, asked if he wasn’t too old to serve four more years, he replied that he had no plans to use his opponent’s youth and inexperience against him. Even Walter Mondale laughed with the audience.

Something like that happened last Sunday with O’Rourke, when a news reporter asked O’Rourke whether he felt there was anything President Trump could do to cool the atmosphere of hate toward immigrants.

“Um, what do you think?” O’Rourke responded bluntly. “You know the s*** he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know. … Like, members of the press — what the f***? It’s these questions that you know the answers to …”

Is that language presidential? Not normally. It certainly isn’t the normal fare for an editorial page in the Sunday paper, either, with or without the asterisks. But it struck us as so unscripted, so unexpected that its offense was somehow washed away.

The Atlantic called it the “art of giving a damn” in a piece last week about anger washing over the Democratic candidates.

[…]

Frankly, it’s made us wish O’Rourke would shift gears, and rather than unpause his presidential campaign, we’d like to see him take a new direction.

So Beto, if you’re listening: Come home. Drop out of the race for president and come back to Texas to run for senator. The chances of winning the race you’re in now are vanishingly small. And Texas needs you.

Nonsequiteuse was already on board this train. I mean, I get it. Beto polls strongly. The other candidates have so far not established themselves yet, though to be fair, neither had Beto at this time in 2017. Beto’s a known quantity, he’s the main reason why the state is now viewed as winnable, he’s got the fundraising chops, and a non-trivial number of people who want to see him come home and try again for the Senate.

And yet, I can’t quite get on board. It’s not lost to me that Beto never talked about running for Senate again this cycle. The fact that MJ Hegar was openly talking about running for Senate in February, when Beto had not announced his intentions – and you’ll note in that story that there was speculation about other potential Dem candidates – says to me that maybe another Senate run was never in his plans. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be persuaded to switch now, but we’re asking him to change to something he may not have wanted to do in the first place, and by the way he’d have to beat multiple talented candidates who are already in first. All of this, especially the other candidates, always get overlooked by the “please come back, Beto” wishers. Seems like a big thing to ask, if you ask me.

I really think the current situation makes it a lot trickier for Beto to change course. He had the field to himself in 2018, but now he’d have to defeat a large primary field, very likely in a runoff. Not a tragedy as I’ve said before, but it would put a damper on the “champion riding in to save the day” narrative. And not to put too fine a point on it, but a decent portion of the Democratic electorate isn’t going to be all that warm and fuzzy about that white-guy champion barging into a field that contains multiple women and people of color. (You know, like the reaction to Beto and all of those more generic white guys getting into the already-stuffed Presidential race.) Again, I’m not saying Beto isn’t the strongest possible candidate, and I’m not saying he wouldn’t be a big favorite to win that crowded primary. I’m saying it’s not as simple as “Beto changes his mind and swoops in to run against John Cornyn”.

If after all that you’re still pining for Beto, I get it. I always thought a repeat run for Senate was his best move, assuming he wanted to run for something in the first place. But here we are, and while we could possibly still get Beto in that race – in theory, anyway, as he himself continues to give no sign that he’s wavering in his path – we can’t roll the clock back to February, when Beto would have had near-universal support, and no brand name opponents, for that. At the time, I evaluated Beto’s choices as “clear path to the Senate race, with maybe a coin flip’s chance to win” versus “very tough road to the Presidential nomination, with strong chances of winning if he gets there”. That equation is different now. We should be honest about that.

So what’s the goal of a TEA takeover of HISD?

The history of TEA takeovers of school districts is mixed, so we ought to be clear about what the forthcoming takeover of HISD is supposed to do.

In recent years, districts subject to state-appointed boards successfully have balanced budgets and repaired leadership fissures but mostly struggled to immediately raise student achievement.

The immediate track record of state-appointed school boards does not bode well for drastic, quick repairs in the state’s largest school district, which has been dogged by chronically low performance at several schools and allegations of misconduct by trustees. HISD could trigger the appointment of a replacement school board if any one of four long-struggling schools fails to meet state academic standards this month, or if Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath upholds his staff’s recommendation this week to remove trustees following an investigation into alleged misconduct.

However, HISD presents a unique case with no precedent in state or national education. Never before has a public school district with 200,000-plus students, relatively strong districtwide academic performance and a solid balance sheet lost local control over its governance. A replacement board likely would be tasked with addressing the district’s lowest-rated campuses and resetting governance of HISD.

Ben Melson, director of public policy for the Greater Houston Partnership, which has advocated for installing a board of managers in HISD, said replacement boards in other Texas districts have “had a lot of success in addressing very specific issues” that prompted their appointment. Districts such as Beaumont and Edgewood ISD in San Antonio, however, remain low-rated academically, each receiving the equivalent of a “D” grade last year under the state’s accountability system.

“On that front, you see student assessment results, student outcomes overall, really stay stagnant,” said Melson, who has researched the efficacy of boards of managers for the partnership. “There really was no significant increase or decrease over the time of the board of managers. It’ll be an interesting opportunity for a board of managers to have their sole focus on students and improving student outcomes.”

The possible appointment of a replacement board largely has split the HISD community, with supporters arguing the move would refocus district efforts on students and opponents decrying it as an undemocratic seizure of power by state bureaucrats. To date, public outcry about losing local control over the district has been relatively muted.

See here and here for the background. There are two reasons why the TEA will or may exercise its authority to oust the Board of Trustees: The ethics investigation that has already led to a recommendation to take over, and the need for those four schools to make standards, which may lead to the same recommendation. That suggests two obvious goals: To get those schools up to standard, and to improve the functioning of the Board. The latter seems more achievable – at least, there’s a direct path to it, by the simple expedient of most if not all of the current members stepping down. Two of them are already doing so, with a third being rumored to do so this year. No guarantees of course – maybe the next generation of Board members that get elected will have similar problems – but it’s the obvious way to go.

Bringing the four schools up to standard is another matter. Ideally, the work HISD has done already will accomplish that – we’ll know very soon one way or the other. If one or more of them don’t make it, then it’s on the TEA and its appointed Trustees to do better. As noted in the story, that’s not so easily done. The way forward is not clear. If I’m the TEA, I know what outcome I’m rooting for.

As for the reaction to the TEA stepping in, I’m not happy about what is happening, but as I said before, it’s hard to be too vehement in defense of the Board. It’s hard for me to say that – I know most of the Trustees, and I like them. For whatever the reason, they didn’t function well together. The report is unflattering. I wish none of this was the case. I have no particular reason to trust the TEA, or to think the appointed Trustees will be any better qualified or more likely to make progress on the issues HISD now faces. But this is the situation we’re in, and the aim should be to get HISD’s governance back on track. I don’t know what else to say.

Five for Senate

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is in.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Leading Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is launching a campaign for U.S. Senate, entering a Democratic primary to oust Republican John Cornyn that has steadily grown throughout the summer.

The daughter of an immigrant mother, co-founder of the Workers Defense Project and founder of the progressive Latino youth group Jolt Texas, Tzintzún Ramirez argues she has the best story, experience and ideas to harness the energy of Texas’ ascendant voters, particularly young people of color. To do so, she will have the help of some of the top organizers from Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, a potentially pivotal asset as the crowded field vies to build on O’Rourke’s closer-than-expected loss to GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I don’t think we have a reflection of those in power that represent the Texas we are today. I think I represent those ideals and the diversity of the state, and I want Texas to be a national leader in solving the major problems that our country faces,” Tzintzún Ramirez said in an interview, citing health care, immigration and climate change as major issues the state should be at the forefront of tackling.

Tzintzún Ramirez made her candidacy official in a video Monday morning.

The longtime organizer joins a primary lineup that is approaching a double-digit tally. Among the better-known contenders are former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, 2018 U.S. House candidate MJ Hegar, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas and Sema Hernandez, who was the runner-up to O’Rourke in the 2018 Senate primary.

Tzintzún Ramirez welcomed a competitive nominating contest as healthy for Democrats, saying the candidates in the Senate race are “all essentially at the same starting place,” unknown to most voters statewide and thus forced to run on the merits of their platforms. Asked how she plans to distinguish herself, she pointed to her forthrightness on the issues and her record of mobilizing the kind of voters often overlooked by politicians.

“I know how to speak to the diversity of this state,” Tzintzún Ramirez said.

We first heard about Tzintzún Ramirez’s potential candidacy a month ago. I hadn’t seen any followups to that so this announcement came a bit out of the blue to me. Tzintzún Ramirez has a great resume and a campaign team built in part from the Beto 2018 crew, so she’s got some advantages. Like everyone else in the field, her main tasks at this point are to raise money and get her name out in front of the voters. I’m very interested to see how she will do.

So is the field set now, modulo any no-names that file for reasons known only to themselves? I suppose that depends on the Beto question, about which I’ll have more to say tomorrow. I’ll say this much: What I want more than anything is a candidate that can beat John Cornyn. There are three basic possibilities at this point. One is that no one can beat Cornyn. The state isn’t ready yet, he’s got enough money and isn’t as widely loathed as Ted Cruz to fend off any adversary, even a favorable climate isn’t enough at this time. A second possibility is that basically anyone can beat him, because the climate is sufficiently favorable and the state is ready and he’s disliked enough. If #1 is true I just want someone who’ll put up a good fight and do nothing to harm the downballot candidates. If #2 is true then ideally I’d want the candidate closest to my own political preferences, but honestly they’ll all be such a huge upgrade that I’m not going to sweat the small stuff.

It’s possibility #3 – that The Right Candidate can beat Cornyn, but only The Right Candidate can do so – that will keep me awake at night. There’s no objective way to evaluate that question, but it’s what we’re going to be arguing about for the next seven to ten months. The candidate that can convince you that they’re the one is the one you should probably vote for in the primary. I’ll leave that to you to ponder for now. The DMN, the Observer, Stace, and Texas Monthly have more.

Here come the Rangers

I don’t know where this is going to go, but it sure will be fun getting there.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The Texas House General Investigating Committee voted Monday to request that the Texas Rangers look into allegations against House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants in the lower chamber.

The committee vote, which was unanimous, followed roughly an hour of closed-door deliberations among the five House members who serve on the panel. At issue is whether Bonnen, an Angleton Republican, and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, offered hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan media credentials for his organization in exchange for politically targeting a list of fellow GOP members in the 2020 primaries.

[…]

State Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House committee, said Monday that the Texas Ranger’s Public Integrity Unit “will conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding” that meeting between Sullivan, Bonnen and Burrows. Meyer also requested that the Texas Rangers provide a copy of its final investigative report to the committee at the end of its investigation.

See here for the background. What might happen next could get complicated.

Aside from the quid pro quo aspect of the scandal, exchanging money in the Capitol or directing expenditures from a Capitol office has been a Class A misdemeanor ever since the Legislature reacted to a 1989 public outcry over the late chicken producer Lonnie “Bo” Pilgrim handing out $10,000 checks to nine senators in the Senate chamber during a hearing on workers compensation reform.

Besides the issue of whether there was bribery involved, there are also potential election law crimes, including not disclosing the source of campaign contributions directed by Bonnen. The Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against Sullivan on Thursday, alleging nine different potential criminal violations of the Texas Election Code, each a Class A misdemeanor. The lawsuit seeks to preserve evidence and damages of $100,000.

Given the potential for criminal wrongdoing, what happens next?

First, consider the dramatic changes that the Texas Legislature made to how public corruption cases are handled in Texas. Under a state law passed in 2015, the Travis County public integrity unit no longer has jurisdiction over elected officials at the Capitol. Potential criminal cases must be investigated first by the Texas Rangers. As of Thursday, the Rangers had not been asked to investigate the Bonnen/Sullivan controversy, nor had they initiated an investigation on their own, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson.

If the Rangers do investigate and decide further action is warranted, the case is referred to the home county of the public official. That means any corruption charges against Bonnen would have to be brought by the Brazoria County DA. For Burrows, it would be the Lubbock County DA. Travis County would retain jurisdiction only over Sullivan. In cases of multiple jurisdiction, the Texas attorney general’s office can take charge.

Funnily enough, Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment on securities fraud charges in his home territory of Collin County. Paxton is accused of failing to register as a securities agent as part of his private law practice. He claims he is innocent and that the case is politically motivated. Paxton counts among his allies the funders of Empower Texans. (The plot always seems to thicken in this scandal.)

You know what this would mean: Special prosecutors would be needed. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that approach. It’s almost as if abolishing the prosecutorial power of the Public Integrity Unit was a bad idea with all kinds of potentially unwanted consequences. We are getting way ahead of ourselves here, so let’s reel it in a bit and say we can’t wait to see what happens next. Ross Ramsey has more.

Emerson’s weird polls

It’s a poll, so we do the thing.

Joe Biden

A new poll has former Vice President Joe Biden leading Beto O’Rourke in the Texas presidential primary and toppling Donald Trump in a head-to-head showdown.

The survey, conducted by Emerson College for The Dallas Morning News, signals that even with two favorite sons in race, Lone Star State voters want a familiar face as their nominee.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 2016 runner-up to Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination, was third with 16% and the only other Democrat beating Trump in the general election.

The poll also projects a wide-open Democratic primary race for the Senate seat held by longtime incumbent John Cornyn. At 19%, “someone else” is leading the field, a blow to former Army helicopter pilot MJ Hegar, who’s been campaigning for most of the year.

That “someone else” is leading the entire field is an oddity, but reflects the complexity of the primary race and the conundrum felt by many Democrats.

Hegar was the choice of 10% of those polled, followed by state Sen. Royce West at 8%, former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell at 7% and Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards at 5%. A whopping 51% of respondents were unsure.

West, Bell and Edwards are all relatively new to the race.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see other people jump into the race,” said Spencer Kimball, the Emerson College polling director. “It’s just that wide open.”

The news is not great for Cornyn, the powerful incumbent who’s held the seat since 2003. Only 37% approved of his job performance, while 31% disapproved. The polls found that 33% of Texans were neutral or had no opinion.

For whatever the reason, the story only includes the head-to-head results in a non-embeddable graphic, so I will reproduce it here:


Candidate   Pct   Trump
=======================
Biden       51%     49%
Bernie      51%     49%
O’Rourke    48%     52%
Buttigieg   48%     52%
Warren      48%     52%
Castro      47%     53%

The poll is of 1,033 registered voters, with a 3% margin of error. They use a combination of automated calls to landlines and an online panel, as described here. You can find the crosstabs here, in a downloadable spreadsheet. They really didn’t want to make this easily to summarize, did they? The head-to-head numbers are very similar to the ones from their April poll, and are not far off from the Quinnipiac poll from June; the UT/Trib poll from June didn’t include two-candidate matchups.

I find the Emerson numbers dicey because I just don’t trust polls where the responses add up to one hundred percent. I guarantee you, there are “don’t know” and “someone else” responses in there, but their questions (scroll down past the disclosure stuff) do not allow for those answers. The crosstabs show that everyone surveyed picked someone, but if you have no choice but to give an answer, I don’t know how much I trust that answer. I’m much more comfortable with a poll that allows for “someone else” and “don’t know”. Emerson has a B+ rating from FiveThirtyEight, but I remain skeptical.

I don’t much care for Spencer Kimball’ analysis of the Senate race, either. MJ Hegar has been in the Senate race for ten weeks, not “most of the year”. She did say she was considering a run for Senate in February, but wasn’t raising any money or doing any campaigning until late April. All the other candidates have gotten in more recently. As I’ve noted before, Beto was still polling in the “majority of people don’t know who he is” area right up to the March 2018 primary. It’s going to take time – and money – for the people to know who the candidates are.

Also, too, the field for Senate is highly unlikely to get much bigger. There’s one potential new candidate out there, though nearly a month after that story I haven’t heard much about her. It’s already later than you think in the cycle, and it’s not going to get any easier to start fundraising and traveling the state to meet interest groups and primary voters. And as I’ve noted before, the fields for all of the Congressional races of interest in 2018 were basically set by this time two years ago. Each of the four top tier candidates entered the race only after some period of weeks or months of speculation, expressions of interest, exploration, and so forth. The only non-candidate out there right now with any association to the race is Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, and she only gets mentioned occasionally. If the primary field isn’t set, it’s close.

Anyway. I’m still waiting for some head-to-head Senate polling. Even if the candidates are basically unknowns at this point, a “Cornyn versus generic Dem” question still has value. Maybe the Trib will give me that in their October poll. In the meantime, enjoy the results we do have, for whatever they are worth.

With silver linings like these…

…Who needs misfortune?

Even Texas Republicans are a bit amused with the clever new Democratic battle cry that’s emerged amid a recent spate of GOP congressional retirements: “Texodus.”

First came U.S. Rep. Pete Olson of Sugar Land on July 25. Then U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland, Will Hurd of Helotes and, on Monday, Kenny Marchant of Coppell.

Hurd’s unexpected exit set off concern within the Republican political class. But otherwise, according to interviews with state and national Republican operatives, there is a widespread sense that turnover within the delegation is healthy for the party.

“Of course, it’s hard to lose strong incumbents, but there is good reason for optimism — it will create a needed sense of urgency beyond the GOP and the base that will be critical to keeping Texas red and reminding Democrats that their movement toward socialism has no place in the state,” said Catherine Frazier, a veteran of the Rick Perry and Ted Cruz political operations.

“These open seats are a great opportunity to put our best candidates forward, to instill a shot of energy to Republicans statewide and lay waste to the tens of millions national Democrats will spend in a futile effort to win Texas,” she added, echoing many of her colleagues.

Yeah, keep telling yourselves that.

Democrats scoff at the GOP optimism.

“What’s necessarily good for Republican consultants may not be good for the size of the Republican conference come January 2021,” said Avery Jaffe, a spokesman for the House Democratic campaign arm.

“Jerry Jones should check on his stadium because that is the most shameless incident of moving the goal posts Texas has ever seen,” he added.

His state party counterpart concurred.

“That is complete spin,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s something where everybody knows it’s easier to run with an incumbent than with an open seat.”

Both men further pointed out that an open seat usually translates into a crowded primary, wherein a nominee usually emerges in the May runoff with little money in his or her campaign account. In contrast, incumbents rarely face serious primary challenges and enter the general election with millions to spend.

Now to be fair, I scoff at that crowded primary/runoff trope when it’s being peddled about Democratic Senate candidates, and I scoff at it here when it involves Republican Congressional candidates as well. You know who was involved in expensive crowded primaries and runoffs recently? Reps. Lizzie Fletcher, Colin Allred, Dan Crenshaw, Chip Roy, and Ron Wright in 2018, that’s who. I guarantee you, the Republican candidates for CDs 22, 23, and 24 will have money. They may be facing strong headwinds, but they’ll have the resources they need to compete.

Before the 2018 midterms, nearly all of the House Republicans from Texas were white men ranging in age from their 50s into their 80s. While Republicans are careful not to slight the outgoing members, there is a sense that the House GOP delegation had become stagnant. Most cycles, only one or two members retired.

But Republicans have a deep bench in the state. And as soon as these retirements went public, the names of viable potential candidate immediately floated. Furthermore, Republicans argue, younger candidates will not have the baggage of long Congressional records to contend with in a general election campaign.

I mean, sure, some of these incumbents had little going for them beyond their campaign finance accounts. But the problem now isn’t the candidates themselves, it’s their close association with Donald Trump. And while the size of the primary fields or the necessity of runoffs isn’t a problem for the GOP, the need for their replacement candidates to hug Trump even harder than the outgoing incumbents did is. You can swap out the players, but the director remains the same.

Lawsuit filed over mail ballot practices

We haven’t had a good voting rights lawsuit in a few months.

In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in San Antonio, [two] voters — George Richardson of Brazos County and Rosalie Weisfeld of McAllen — alleged that the state law that allows “untrained local election officials to arbitrarily and subjectively” reject mail-in ballots based on mismatching signatures violates the Fourteenth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Joined by groups that represent Texans with disabilities, veterans and young voters, they are asking a federal judge to either block election officials from rejecting mail-in ballots over signature doubts or require Texas to notify voters about an alleged mismatch in time for them to “cure” their ballot.

“Even though Texas’ mail in-ballot process should make voting easier for voters from these underrepresented groups, the current flawed process leads to the unlawful disenfranchisement of these Texas voters,” the lawsuit says.

Like other states, Texas offers voting by mail to various kinds of voters — people with disabilities, Texans who are 65 and older, voters who will be outside of the county during an election, such as college students, and those in jail during an election.

Before they are counted, a committee of local election officials reviews mail-in ballots to ensure that a voter’s endorsement on the flap of a ballot envelope matches the signature that voter used on their application to vote by mail. They can also compare it to signatures on file with the county clerk or voter registrar that were made within the last six years.

But because the state election code does not establish any standards for review, the plaintiffs argued that law is applied unequally with each county “necessarily” developing “its own idiosyncratic, arbitrary, and ad hoc procedure to determine that a ballot should be rejected” with no requirement to notify voters about the rejections until 10 days after Election Day.

The lawsuit claims at least 1,873 mail-in ballots were rejected on the basis of mismatched signatures during the 2018 general election; at least 1,567 were rejected in 2016.

See here for the TCRP press release, which contains a link to the lawsuit and a video explaining things. Ideally, this should lead to a settlement. Both parties make use of mail ballots, so it’s not a partisan issue the way voter ID is. And objectively, the standard being applied, such as it is, is ridiculously arbitrary. I can tell you that my signature has changed over the years, from something that was readable as my full name to a basically meaningless scrawl. I noticed it as it was happening, but it happened anyway. I doubt I could replicate one of my older signatures even if I tried. It’s still my hand scrawling it, and it makes no sense that some bureaucrat could decide that it didn’t represent me. I don’t think Ken Paxton’s office knows how to settle lawsuits like this, though, so I expect it to be fought out in the courts. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

It looks like we’re getting a new school board

What a mess.

Texas Education Agency officials have recommended that a state-appointed governing team replace Houston ISD’s locally elected school board after a six-month investigation found several instances of alleged misconduct by some trustees, including violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, inappropriate influencing of vendor contracts and making false statements to investigators.

The recommendation and findings, issued by TEA Special Investigations Unit Director Jason Hewitt, will not become final until HISD officials have had an opportunity to respond. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who leads the agency, ultimately will decide whether to oust HISD’s school board. HISD officials have until Aug. 15 to respond, and Morath likely would issue a final decision in the following weeks.

In his recommendation, Hewitt wrote that HISD trustees should be replaced by a state-appointed board due to their “demonstrated inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the superintendent, and inability to ensure proper contract procurement laws are followed.”

[…]

In their report, state investigators outline multiple years of failed oversight and improper behavior by HISD’s much-maligned school board, which long has grappled with in-fighting and distrust. Conflict within the board reached a boiling point in the summer and fall of 2018 when trustees clashed over whether to retain Lathan, who took over as interim superintendent following Richard Carranza’s abrupt departure to become chancellor of New York City public schools.

Five board members had grown particularly frustrated with Lathan, believing she had not been responsive to their desires for the district and failed to adequately protect them from a threat posed by a community activist.

Through interviews and a review of text messages, state investigators determined the five trustees — Board President Diana Dávila, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, Sergio Lira, Elizabeth Santos and Anne Sung — secretly met with former HISD superintendent Abelardo Saavedra in two separate groups to coordinate ousting Lathan and installing him as interim superintendent. The meetings took place at a Houston restaurant on the same day in October 2018, the report said. Investigators determined that arrangement constituted a “walking quorum,” in violation of state law that requires trustees to conduct district business in public.

Three days later, the five trustees voted to replace Lathan with Saavedra, offering no advance warning to the public or the other four board members about the move. Trustees reinstated Lathan within a week of the vote following intense public backlash. Lathan remains the district’s indefinite leader.

TEA officials interviewed trustees as part of their investigation, ultimately determining that Dávila and Lira falsely claimed in interviews with investigators that they only met one-on-one with Saavedra. In separate interviews, Saavedra and Flynn Vilaseca placed Dávila and Lira at the restaurant meetings, the report states.

In an interview Wednesday, Dávila said she provided her best recollection of meeting Saavedra to TEA investigators, and denied that she attempted to mislead state officials.

“They wanted us to remember things that happened six, seven months prior to us being interviewed,” Dávila said.

So in the end it will be the ethics investigation that brings down the Board. We’ll get the performance results for the schools, including the four that needed to meet standards this year, on August 15, so there may be another cause for the demise, but this one came first. This isn’t final yet – the Board has until the 15th to respond to this report, and then TEA Commissioner Mike Morath gets to make his ruling – but the handwriting on the wall is quite clear. The state is stepping in to take over the HISD Board.

The report isn’t public yet – I presume it will be by the time Morath issues his ruling – but the Chron got to see it. The other misconduct allegations reported in the story apply to Diana Davila, with Sergio Lira also being accused of not being truthful to investigators. I feel like in other circumstances, with a Board that wasn’t already under a conservator, this would be an embarrassment but not the end of the existing Board. In such other circumstances, I might be moved to outrage at the prospect of our democratically elected Board being summarily replaced, even if only for a couple of years, by state-selected trustees. I find it hard to muster any such reaction this time. I find myself resignedly in agreement with this:

Trustee Jolanda Jones, who frequently has criticized colleagues who voted to oust Lathan, said replacement of the school board is “sadly, unfortunately” in the district’s best interests.

“I think it’s tragic, but I think the alternative is worse,” Jones said.

The good news, such as it is, is that the four schools in question, which have been making progress, will probably not be closed. That was a huge point of contention with the parent groups. If that’s truly off the table, then my guess is that reaction to this will be somewhat more muted. Who is going to step up to defend the current board, and demand that the TEA leave them in place?

It should be noted that there will still be elections for HISD trustees this November. These elected trustees, along with the others that are not on the November ballot, will still serve but have much less power in the interim. At least two of the four trustees whose terms are up this year (Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who is running for HCC Board, and Jolanda Jones) have announced they are not running for re-election, with Davila being rumored to not run again as well. If the end result of all this is that in another two or four years we get to elect nine new members, and (hopefully) the sword of Damocles that is the academic standards issue is not looming over us when we do (good luck with that, whoever the TEA picks to run the place), I find it hard to be too upset about that. I’m certainly not more upset than I am about everything that led to this.

TDP sues over Bonnen-MQS secret meeting

Here’s an interesting turn.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The Texas Democratic Party is suing House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, alleging they created an unregistered political action committee and violated other state election laws.

The lawsuit, filed in Travis County District Court on Thursday, stems from a June 12 meeting Sullivan had with Bonnen and Republican Caucus Chairman Dustin Burrows in Bonnen’s Capitol office. In the meeting, Sullivan has said, Bonnen and Burrows offered to give writers at his website, Texas Scorecard, House media credentials in the next legislative session in exchange for Sullivan’s political group targeting 10 Republican incumbents in next year’s primary elections. Sullivan said he rebuffed the offer.

But Democrats allege that meeting and any agreements reached in it show a coordinated effort “between political actors intended to influence the election or defeat of specific candidates” and amounts to an unregistered political committee as defined by state law.

The Democrats also allege that Bonnen and Burrows directed Sullivan to make political contributions or expenditures at their request under his political action committee, Empower Texans, which is illegal under Texas campaign finance law. They further claim that the alleged quid pro quo Bonnen offered Sullivan of public benefits in return for targeting elected officials amounts to a violation of state law.

The complaint says any contribution proposed at the meeting violated state law because it was made in the Capitol and during the Legislature’s fundraising moratorium.

[…]

As part of their lawsuit, the Democrats request that Sullivan produce the entire recording of the June meeting and any other recordings Sullivan has of Bonnen and Burrows. The Democrats also ask Sullivan to produce a list of all the people who have listened to the June recording and any documentation relevant to that meeting.

Ramos, a Richardson Democrat, is a plaintiff in the case because the Democratic Party says she “is one of the candidates mentioned in this recording as a target of the coordinated political efforts between the Speaker and Sullivan.” It is unclear whether she was named as a target, though multiple people who have heard the recording confirm Bonnen called her “awful.”

“Texans deserve to know exactly what happened on June 12, 2019 and they deserve accountability from their elected officials,” Ramos said in a prepared statement. “There needs to be accountability for any violations of ethics or the law that occurred during a meeting between a Republican activist and the Speaker of the House.”

You can see the TDP press release here, and a copy of the lawsuit here. We know about the tape. There’s no argument I can see for keeping it secret, though I’m sure MQS will come up with something. The Texas House General Investigating Committee investigation may also serve as a way to get the tape released, though I’d put more faith in the courts to serve as a fulcrum if it comes to that. One caveat about the House investigation:

But the actions of the committee – which can issue subpoenas, hire outside investigators or tap the state’s existing criminal investigative capability, such as the Texas Rangers – may complicate matters.

Under state law, a person testifying about incriminating behavior before the Legislature may not be prosecuted or indicted for any actions about which they truthfully testify, potentially giving Bonnen, Burrows and Sullivan immunity in any further legal actions if they testify before the committee.

If we didn’t have complications, we wouldn’t have anything. That said, MQS will not be able to delete the recording while the litigation is active, either, so we’ve got that going for us. Juanita and the Trib have more.

The Harris County bail lawsuit effect on Dallas County

The Trib looks to see if the recent Harris County bail lawsuit settlement might affect the bail lawsuit in Dallas County.

“Anytime one county settles, it could possibly provide a roadmap for another county, but I can’t say that it will,” said Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot, whose county’s bail practices have also been slammed by a federal judge. “The landscape of this lawsuit is different.”

A big piece of that is because Dallas’ lawsuit, like another in Harris and one in Galveston, targets bail practices not only for misdemeanor defendants, but for felony cases, too.

[…]

“I’ve been studying very closely what’s happening in Harris County, and I think that it’s a step in the right direction and something that we should … modify or use as a blueprint for felony cases,” said State District Court Judge Brandon Birmingham, a Democrat and defendant in Dallas’ lawsuit. He was especially interested in the idea of an open-hours court.

Adding felonies to the lawsuit against bail practices in Dallas brought a new complication, however. The judges work for the state, not the county, and are being represented by the Texas attorney general’s office, which claims they have no jurisdiction over early bail decisions. County officials, who are largely Democratic, have said the attorney general’s office, run by Republican Ken Paxton, has stalled settlement talks and reform efforts.

“The fact that felony judges are part of the lawsuit complicates resolution,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat. “The AG office’s public positions on criminal justice reform and bail reform are not the same as the Commissioners Court or most of our elected judges.”

The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a court filing last month, Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins wrote that the Dallas lawsuit goes too far by including felony judges. He said bail decisions are set by county judicial officers before felony judges assume jurisdiction over criminal matters.

“Despite tens of thousands of words spilled in this case so far, [the plaintiff] has yet to articulate just what she expects the felony judges to do, going forward, to remedy her alleged harm,” Hawkins wrote.

But things appear to be moving toward resolution. Two district judges, including Birmingham, recently began conducting their own bail hearings every morning and hired a lawyer to represent them instead of the attorney general. Jenkins and Creuzot confirmed that the parties are now headed to mediation to hopefully come up with a settlement proposal or consent decree.

See here for more on the second Harris County lawsuit, the one involving felony cases. It was filed in January and I haven’t seen any updates as yet, nor do I know if the AG’s office has gotten involved. Be that as it may, it seems to me that the underlying principle is the same, and should be viewed through a similar lens by the federal court. This time, Harris will follow behind Dallas, so we’ll see where they lead us.

Time to investigate

So, hey, that conversation we now know Dennis Bonnen had with MQS? The subject of that conversation, which involved a quid-pro-quo access-for-political-activity proposal, may be a violation of house rules. So, the relevant committee will have a look-see to check that out.

Found on the Twitters

The powerful Texas House General Investigating Committee is set to launch an investigation into allegations that Speaker Dennis Bonnen offered a hardline conservative organization media credentials if it politically targeted certain Republican members in the lower chamber.

“Last night, I initiated internal discussion with General Investigating staff about procedure with the intention of launching an investigation. Our committee will be posting notice today of a public hearing which will take place on Monday, August 12,” state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the committee, said in a letter dated Wednesday.

He was writing to state Rep. Nicole Collier, a Fort Worth Democrat who serves as vice chair. Earlier Wednesday, Collier wrote to Meyer requesting he “launch an immediate full investigation” into “whether not there has been a violation of any policy or rules that the committee is charged with overseeing.”

Collier specifically asked for an investigation into “the allegations relating to media credentials, as well as the circumstances and events surrounding a June 12, 2019 meeting, including any and all correspondence, statements and/or recordings related thereto.”

[…]

The General Investigating Committee, comprised of five House members, has sweeping jurisdiction and holds subpoena power. A person who disobeys a subpoena by the committee may be cited for contempt or prosecuted for contempt, according to House rules, which were adopted at the beginning of the 86th legislative session in January. The committee can also meet at any time or place and has the jurisdiction to enter into a closed-door meeting if deemed necessary.

Since Sullivan revealed he had recorded the meeting, Bonnen, along with a number of Republicans and Democrats, have called for the audio to be released. Sullivan hasn’t yet indicated when — or if — he will.

State Rep. Chris Turner, a Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs his party’s caucus, said in a statement Wednesday that Collier “is right to make this call and has my full support in this effort.” He added that the committee should take up the allegations because “there are simply too many rumors about what was said or not said in this meeting for anyone who has not heard the recording to have confidence they have the truth.”

Earlier Wednesday, a member of the committee, state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said on Facebook that, since there was a chance the allegations could come before the panel, it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment. He did, though, offer general thoughts on how he thinks the process should play out.

“We should not rush to judgment but we should not drag our feet either,” Krause said. “We should not condemn anyone arbitrarily but also must not be scared to move forward if we find evidence of wrongdoing.”

On Wednesday evening, as news of the House committee investigation spread, more people were listening to Sullivan’s recording and went public with details about it.

See here for the background. It looks like everyone agrees that the actual recording should be released, which sure seems like the logical thing to do. Whether MQS and his ego will go along with it, that’s another question. I won’t be surprised if he comes up with some weird legal pretext to decline to cooperate, in which case we’ll likely wind up in court. But maybe I’m wrong, and he thinks it’s to his advantage to play along. We’ll start to get some answers on Monday. Trail Blazers has more.

The Ike Dike debate continues

There’s more than one way to mitigate against flooding, and it may be best to adopt more than one of them.

For about a decade, two of Texas’ top universities have pushed dueling plans to protect the Houston-Galveston region from hurricanes.

A concept championed by Texas A&M University at Galveston appears to be winning out as the federal and state governments pursue a plan similar to one proposed by A&M oceanographer Bill Merrell in early 2009, months after Hurricane Ike smashed ashore at Galveston Island.

But that project by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas General Land Office, which calls for the installation of beachfront sand dunes and massive storm surge barrier gates, won’t become reality for at least 15 years — and probably much longer. That leaves plenty of time for a worst-case hurricane to devastate the densely populated, highly industrialized region — a reality that’s coming into sharper focus as sea levels rise and the ocean warms.

The so-called coastal barrier system also carries a significant price tag — as much as $20 billion — and a significant part of the system may guard against only a modest 100-year storm.

In the meantime, Rice University is pushing a plan that it says could become a reality faster and more cheaply than the coastal barrier system. While the Galveston Bay Park Plan isn’t designed to protect as much land as the coastal barrier system, the chief spokesperson for the university’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center — known as SSPEED — says it would offer a significantly higher level of protection than the coastal barrier system for the most populated and industrialized areas in Houston and Galveston.

The park plan, conceived in 2015, calls for the use of clay dredged from the Houston Ship Channel, where a $1 billion deepening and widening project is in the works to accommodate more and larger ships, to create a 25-foot-tall levee along the shipping lane, which is the nation’s busiest. Additional dredged material would be piled behind it to form parkland. The dike would connect to an existing levee at Texas City, which would be raised to 25 feet from 17 feet.

A significant amount of dredged material has already been disposed of along the channel, forming marshy islands and a wildlife management area. That means it would not have to be built entirely from scratch.

A large storm surge gate — much like ones called for in the coastal barrier system — also would be installed and would be closed only when big storms threatened the area. Like the coastal barrier system, the park plan also calls for a “ring” levee around the city of Galveston to protect it from incoming and outgoing storm surges, the deadliest effects of hurricanes. The new north-south levee, which would cut through Galveston Bay, would be punctuated by smaller gates to allow boats to pass through.

See here for some background on the SSPEED plan, and here for more on the plan that has been selected as the preferred plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The SSPEED alternative is touted by Jim Blackburn, who has been a critic of the Corps’ Ike Dike study. Blackburn says this plan could be done as early as 2027 for $3 billion to $6 billion, which means it could be locally funded; that would also speed up the process, as it would not need to go through so much federal review. It could also be done as a complement to the Ike Dike. The Corps disputes SSPEED’s cost estimate and argues their plan would have a significant environmental impact. I’m not qualified to sort that out, but I do like the idea of having a more nimble plan in place that could get some mitigation going right now, rather than a decade or more from now. Read the story and see what you think.

Bonnen blinks

OMG.

Found on the Twitters

Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Tuesday apologized to his 149 colleagues for “terrible things” he said about some of them, just hours after more details emerged about slurs against fellow House members uttered by him and his chief GOP sidekick Rep. Dustin Burrows.

“It was a mistake,” Bonnen wrote of his and Burrows’ June meeting with longtime conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

“I said terrible things that are embarrassing to the members, to the House, and to me personally,” Bonnen said in an email obtained by The Dallas Morning News. “You know me well enough to know I say things with no filter.”

Bonnen, whose hold on power has been rocked by Sullivan’s disclosure of the June meeting in Bonnen’s Capitol office, stopped short of admitting he has lied. Bonnen said he plans to meet individually in coming days and weeks with House members.

“I ask for your forgiveness, and I hope to rebuild your trust,” he wrote.

[…]

Bonnen acted Tuesday afternoon, more than five hours after Direct Action Texas, a grassroots conservative group critical of state GOP leaders, provided new and damning details of Bonnen and Burrows’ alleged targeting of incumbent House Republicans in a blog post.

On the Fort Worth-based group’s website, [Daniel] Greer, a former colleague of Sullivan’s, quoted Bonnen as labeling certain Democratic colleagues as “awful” and “vile,” while he said Burrows, the House GOP caucus’ chairman, derided fellow Republican Rep. Keith Bell of Forney as a “dumb freshman.”

Richardson Democratic freshman Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos “is called awful, [Houston Democratic freshman] Rep Jon Rosenthal makes the Speaker’s skin crawl … and [Carrollton Democratic freshman] Rep. Michelle Beckley is vile,” according to Greer’s account of a June 12 meeting between the two GOP House leaders and Sullivan. Sullivan secretly made the audio recording, and Greer wrote that he listened to it Sunday.

While The News could not independently confirm the account, Nacogdoches GOP Rep. Travis Clardy, who was named among the list of 10 targets and has listened to the recording, told the newspaper that the new account was mostly in line with what he’d heard.

As some House members, including Bonnen, were attending a national legislative conference in Nashville, Tenn., many were said to be discussing the Sullivan affair.

As texts and phone calls about the Greer post proliferated, Bonnen issued the apology.

See here for the previous update, and here for a copy of the Bonnen letter. There’s a lot here, so I’m going to summarize:

– My initial, hot-take reaction is that I don’t see any way forward for Dennis Bonnen to remain as Speaker. I’m not certain he can stay in the House. He’s going to have to smooth an awful lot of ruffled feathers, that’s for sure.

– But then, if Rep. Jon Rosenthal is typical – and according to Glenn Smith, he may be more typical than I’d have thought – maybe he will survive. Though I still don’t see how he can be Speaker again. Maybe that’s just me.

– By all accounts, Dennis Bonnen is a smart guy. And yet, this was galactically stupid of him in every regard. I have no idea what he hoped to gain, what he had against the members in question, why he let his guard down around a known enemy like MQS, all of it. Maybe someday he’ll spill his guts to a reporter to explain himself, but until then, boy howdy was this dumb.

– At least now we understand why Dustin Burrows has been hiding these past few days. I wouldn’t want to explain my role in this clusterfudge, either.

– As a Democrat, I almost can’t believe our luck. I do wish all of this were coming out later in the cycle, but this is going to leave a mark. I generally downplay the long-term effect of hard-fought primaries. There’s plenty of time to regroup and focus on the common goals. Here, I don’t think forgive and forget are in the cards. MQS being MQS, he’s sure not going to let people forget.

– Even after all this, it still feels like there’s another shoe to drop. At this point, all those calls to release the full tape may now work in MQS’ favor. I’m sure he will continue playing it for more people, and we’ll keep getting reactions from them. Who knows how long this will drag out?

So yeah, let’s keep that popcorn coming. The Trib has more.

UPDATE: This guy, clearly a Republican, is tracking statements of House members accepting Bonnen’s apology.

By the way, Trump is also a deadbeat

It’s his brand.

President Donald Trump publicly pledged “all the support of the federal government” on Saturday after 22 people were shot to death in an El Paso Walmart this weekend.

But his statements are prompting charges of hypocrisy because the city claims the president’s political campaign owes an outstanding debt from a February campaign rally — specifically, more than half a million dollars.

On Monday, an El Paso city official said Trump has yet to pay.

According to Laura Cruz-Acosta, communications manager for the El Paso city manager’s office, the president has an outstanding bill of $569,204.63 for police and public safety services associated with a February campaign rally.

“The city staff have followed the process and procedures as it relates to any invoicing that we provide, and we will continue to do so accordingly as per city and state policies,” Cruz-Acosta said. She said that Trump owed an initial fee of $470,417.05 but that the city tacked on a 21% one-time late fee in June — 30 days after the campaign failed to pay the initial amount owed.

Local officials have repeatedly harangued Trump for not covering the costs associated with his visit to the border city, with some contrasting his actions with those of Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who visited his hometown for a rally on the same day and has since paid his dues.

“Our resources are really strained right now,” said Alexsandra Annello, a member of the El Paso City Council. “Our police and fire are exhausted, our health department had for three days straight been working with the reunification of families. As you see from the bill, these are the services required for a presidential visit. In addition to financial costs, our community and resources are already strained and do not need this extra burden.”

Here’s the invoice. His whole brand is stiffing creditors, and he can’t be shamed, so don’t hold your breath waiting for a check. I just hope he doesn’t add to the bill after today’s (unwanted) visit.

There will be a special election in HD28

Missed this the other day.

Rep. John Zerwas

The chair of the powerful House budget-writing Appropriations Committee, state Rep. John Zerwas, will be the new executive vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System.

Zerwas, a doctor by training, announced Wednesday that he would retire from the Legislature effective Sept. 30, after representing Richmond as a Republican for more than a decade. He was first named the lower chamber’s chief budget writer in 2017, and he previously chaired the House Higher Education Committee and served on the Public Health Committee.

[…]

Zerwas’ appointment at the UT System is effective Oct. 1. He will succeed Ray Greenberg, who served as the UT System’s top health executive for five years before stepping down in March.

See here for the background. What this means is that HD28 will be vacant as of September 30, and that means there will need to be a special election to fill the seat for the remainder of this term. That will happen next year, probably in May. It’ll be one of those weird elections where the candidates may or may not include the nominees for the seat in the November election, and barring a highly unlikely special session the only value to the special election winner will be a boost in seniority if he or she goes on to win that November race, assuming he or she had previously won their party’s nomination.

So, on the one hand, much like the special elections in HDs 120 and 139 in 2016, this will be a low-stakes affair for a short-term prize. On the other hand, it will be a dry run in a contested district that Democrats will hope to flip in their quest to take control of the House, and wittingly or unwittingly it will serve as a proxy for how the November election is shaping up, thus making it likely to attract national attention. So, you know. Just another special election for a State House seat.

It’s all about the tape

You want to hear the recording of that conversation between Speaker Dennis Bonnen and MQS in which Bonnen supposedly trashed a bunch of Republican legislators? You can’t hear it unless MQS wants you to.

Found on the Twitters

For the past week, Texas Republicans, Democrats and even Speaker Dennis Bonnen have called for the full release of audio that allegedly captures him attacking members of his party and making crude remarks about House colleagues.

But now some of those who listened to the audio are calling for the full recordings to be withheld from the public.

The fear? Mutually assured destruction.

“Any representative calling for this to be released in its unredacted, unedited form hasn’t heard it, because if you had heard it you wouldn’t want it to be released,” said Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, who listened to the recordings last week.

Toth is among at least a half dozen people who say they’ve listened to the full audio of a conversation captured by conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan. He has roiled the state Capitol with accusations that Bonnen and House GOP Caucus chairman Dustin Burrows asked Sullivan to target a list of 10 Republican legislators ahead of next March’s primary.

Six people who say they listened to the audio have confirmed Sullivan’s side of the story, despite Bonnen saying publicly that Sullivan is lying. Sullivan last week began allowing Republican lawmakers, party leaders and conservative activists listen to the audio in the presence of his lawyer.

[…]

The list of supposed Republican targets includes Reps. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Steve Allison of San Antonio, Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Ernest Bailes of Shepherd, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, Drew Darby of San Angelo, Kyle Kacal and John Raney of College Station, Stan Lambert of Abilene, and Phil Stephenson of Wharton.

From that list, Parker and Clardy have told news outlets they have listened to the recording, but it’s unclear how many others have listened to it. Parker declined further comment to the insider newsletter Quorum Report. Clardy called the comments on the recording “repugnant” and said it was “the most disappointing thing I’ve ever seen.”

Sullivan has denied Democrats a chance to listen to the audio, even those who he says were mentioned by name. He has also denied requests from news outlets to hear the recording.

See here for the previous update. Democrats of course want the full recording to be released, as do some Republicans, but MQS is gonna do what MQS is gonna do, and as long as only a select few get to hear it, it keeps his name squarely in the news. What more could an egotist like him want? All I know is I haven’t run out of popcorn yet.