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Texas

Yet another story about suburbs shifting away from Republicans

Collect the whole set!

Texas is currently experiencing two trends that are favorable to Democrats: increasing urbanization, and big demographic shifts.

The Texas Tribune recently reported that Hispanics are expected to become the largest demographic group in the state by 2022, with Texas gaining nearly nine times as many Hispanic residents as white residents.

As the Tribune noted, almost half of Texas’ Hispanic population is concentrated in the state’s five largest counties, and Hispanic voters in Texas “are registering and voting at significantly higher rates than their population is growing,” according to a Houston Chronicle analysis.

The current rate of population growth among non-white Texas residents is a positive development for Democrats, but they can’t take voters of color for granted.

Despite Latino turnout doubling in Texas between the 2014 and 2018 midterms, according to one analysis, Democrats do not hold a monopoly on Hispanic and Latino voters.

As the Pew Research Center noted, 65% of Hispanics voted for Rep. Beto O’Rourke while 35% backed Sen. Ted Cruz in their high-profile Senate race in 2018. And a slim majority of Hispanic voters — 53% — backed Democrat Lupe Valdez over incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, who received 42% of the Latino vote.

[…]

Benjamin Ray, a Democratic strategist and communications specialist at the pro-choice political action committee EMILY’s List, told INSIDER that long-time Republican members of Congress retiring in formerly safe districts presents a “great opportunity” for Democrats and a glaring warning sign for the GOP.

Ray further pointed out that many of the districts in the Houston, Dallas, and Austin suburbs were specifically gerrymandered to optimize the chances of a Republican victory, making it all the more concerning that Republicans’ margins of victory in those areas are getting slimmer over time.

“They drew these maps for one particular version of the Republican party to do well in, and the voters that they’re counting on don’t think that their Republican representatives are speaking for them anymore,” Ray added.

He said of the retiring congressmen, “these folks have been in politics for a while, they can tell which way the wind is blowing, and they’re heading for the exits. That doesn’t just happen by accident.”

The story touches on the Romney-Clinton voters, who by and large are the suburbanites that helped drive the big political shifts in 2018 and are expected to do so again next year. I wish there was some detailed polling data about these folks in Texas. We can see the effect, but it sure would be nice to have a deep dive into what motivates them.

I have to say, I’m a little amused by the bits about Latino turnout, and Latino levels of support for Dems. Sixty-five percent support sounds pretty good to me, and it’s fairly close to the overall level of support that Dems get nationally from Latinos (these numbers can vary depending on the time and circumstance). There’s also evidence that lower-propensity Latino voters tend to me more strongly Democratic, which is both the reason why everyone talks about how a spike in Latino turnout would be huge for Dems, and also why Republicans expend so much energy making it harder to vote. There was a surge in Latino turnout in 2018, certainly as compared to 2014, and it definitely helped the Dems overall. The only thing you could want – and what we will have to work hard to achieve – is even more of that. Another million Latino voters at that level of support in 2018 – for all of the turnout boom in 2018, Texas was still under fifty percent of registered voters, and low in the national rankings, so there’s plenty of room for growth – would have given us not only Sen. Beto O’Rourke, it would have also given us Attorney General Justin Nelson. Think about that for a few minutes. What we need in 2020 is what we got in 2018, but more so.

“Mistakes were made”

Oops.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday that “mistakes were made” in his fundraising letter that used alarmist language in calling to “DEFEND” the Texas border and was dated one day before a deadly shooting that targeted Hispanics in El Paso.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the second meeting of the newly formed Texas Safety Commission, Abbott said he talked to members of the El Paso legislative delegation about the mailer and “emphasized the importance of making sure that rhetoric will not be used in any dangerous way.”

“I did get the chance to visit with the El Paso delegation and help them understand that mistakes were made and course correction has been made,” he said. “We will make sure that we work collaboratively in unification. I had the opportunity to visit with [the El Paso delegation] for about an hour to fully discuss the issue.”

In his short remarks, Abbott didn’t address the specific language of the letter, what mistakes were made or what course correction has been made on his end. His comments come nearly a week after The Texas Tribune first reported on the letter, which cautioned of supposed political implications that could come with unchecked illegal immigration.

I try not to pay too much attention to Greg Abbott, because honestly, he’s about as interesting as cardboard. The most amazing thing about this story is that Abbott actually responded to a reporter’s question. Go ahead, find the last story in any reputable Texas news source that doesn’t contain some variation on “Governor Abbott’s office did not respond to our request for comment”. As Chris Hooks points out, Abbott is much more likely to engage with some rando on Twitter than with a newsie. I have no idea what spurred this little bit of passively voicing the quiet part of his inner dialog, but we may as well enjoy it. Who knows when it may happen again. The Observer has more.

Buc-ee’s is going national

The WaPo has a look at our famous highway rest stop’s growing ambitions.

Its fans say few things are more Texas than the chain of massive convenience stores with the disposition of an amusement park. Among its 38 stores, customers can find a whole wall dedicated to Icees. Seasoned nuts are roasted on site, and there’s a homemade fudge bar and a massive beef jerky display. The travel centers can have as many as 120 fueling stations but don’t allow 18-wheelers. And the bathrooms are high-tech and famously pristine.

Its legions of die-hard fans include Cody Esser, who visited 33 Texas stores in three days for his Impulsive Traveler Guy blog. “I’ve traveled all throughout the United States and into Canada, and I’ve never seen anything as big as Buc-ee’s,” he said.

Now hoping to capitalize on the cultlike devotion it has inspired at home, Buc-ee’s is in the midst of a multistate expansion. It recently broke ground in Alabama and soon will have stops in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

“Texans held on for so long until they realized there’s a market elsewhere,” said travel blogger Brandi Perry of Columbia, Miss. “We’re begging for one in Mississippi.”

It’s the reliability that keeps people coming back, said Buc-ee’s general counsel, Jeff Nadalo. They come knowing that each store is “clean, friendly and in stock,” 24/7, no matter what.

Other than a few regional differences — such as a wider selection of fishing gear at Gulf Coast stores — Buc-ee’s is “insanely brand consistent,” Esser said.

“If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”

[…]

Buc-ee’s has a strict employee dress code: no visible body piercings or tattoos, “unnatural” dyed hair, open-toed shoes or torn or faded clothing. Employees say they’re expected to arrive not even a minute late (with three strikes, you’re fired); to keep their phones in lockers and only take one break during their shift for a “moment,” which is less than 10 minutes to eat lunch and use the restroom. There isn’t any seating inside Buc-ee’s, which may keep customers cycling through quickly but can be difficult for employees who stand for as many as 10 hours straight.

Full-time employees qualify for health and dental insurance, a 401(k) retirement plan and three weeks of vacation. At the Loxley location, Buc-ee’s advertised the starting entry-level salary at $14 an hour — almost twice the state’s minimum wage.

“We want people who are clearly happy to be working there so that comes across to the customer when the customer walks in,” Nadalo said.

A current cashier, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for job security, has worked at a Buc-ee’s store in northeast Texas for a few months but is already looking for a different job. She works full time and says the $13-an-hour pay is higher than most jobs where she lives.

She understood the expectations when she sat for the job interview, she said, but she didn’t realize how strenuous the job would be without being allowed to take a break.

“Until you get in there and experience [it], it just blows your brain,” she said. “You just don’t expect it to be quite so hard-line. You expect some kind of human compassion, I guess.”

She said in-store cameras are used to monitor employees. Signs that read, “Don’t forget who pays you,” are posted behind the register. Managers encourage employees to report one another for infractions. It feels as though they are constantly being watched, she said.

“Going to the bathroom is a hassle,” she said. “I’ve asked sometime to go to the bathroom, and it’s been a couple hours before I’m allowed to go.”

Nadalo disputed the employee’s claim regarding workplace conditions.

“We comply with all state and federal laws regarding breaks,” he said.

See here for more on the opening of the first non-Texas Buc-ee’s, in Alabama. More construction in Alabama, and in Florida, is ongoing. I skipped some bits about the campaign contribution controversy from 2014, and the chain’s remarkable non-presence on social media, which was news to me, to focus on its treatment of employees. Buc-ee’s is justly lauded for its pay, and its benefits package is good, too. For that kind of work, they’re much better than, say, WalMart or an Amazon fulfillment center. Doesn’t mean they couldn’t do better, though, and the reporting above clearly shows that. I hope as they continue to expand, and draw some stronger competition – I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed several other longstanding rest stops on the highways around here upping their game – they continue to improve as a place to work.

How many Congressional seats are really in play for Texas Dems?

By one measure, more than you probably think. From Jonathan Tilove of the Statesman:

Last weekend, I read an interview in Salon with Rachel Bitecofer, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.

She is also an election analyst whose forecast of big Democratic gains in the 2018 midterm election was uncannily, uniquely accurate. She is now using the same model to forecast that any Democratic presidential candidate will win a minimum of 278 electoral votes in 2020 against President Donald Trump, eight more than the 270 needed to win.

But even more interesting to me, she is predicting that, if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the D-trip, as she and others commonly call it — applies resources generously and wisely, it could flip nine Texas House seats in 2020, half again as many as the six seats the DCCC is now targeting.

In addition to what will be open seats now held by Republicans in the 23rd Congressional District, where Will Hurd is not seeking reelection; the 22nd, where Pete Olson is retiring; and the 24th, where Kenny Marchant joined the Texodus; the DCCC is also setting its sights on the 21st, held by freshman Rep. Chip Roy; the 31st, held by veteran John Carter; and the 10th, which now belongs to Austin’s Michael McCaul.

But Bitecofer also includes three U.S. House districts on her list that are not now on the DCCC target list — the 25th Congressional District, where Democrat Julie Oliver is making a second run at incumbent Roger Williams, also of Austin; the 2nd, held by freshman Dan Crenshaw; and the 3rd, held by another freshman, Van Taylor, who I’ve never before heard mentioned as potential Democratic target of opportunity.

In fact, according to Bitecofer, nine of the Democrats’ 18 best chances for pickups in 2020 congressional races nationally are in Texas, which makes it, in her estimation, Ground Zero next year.

I interviewed Bitecofer on Monday and realized that it’s not so much that her analysis flies in the face of conventional wisdom about Texas politics, as it flies above it.

[…]

Under Bitecofer’s model, it doesn’t really matter if the Democratic congressional candidate is a fire-breathing progressive or a milquetoast moderate, as long as they remind voters that the election is all about Trump.

Bitecofer exudes confidence in her forecast.

Of McCaul, she said: “He’s a dead man walking if the DCCC drops money in that race, and then it doesn’t really matter who the Democrats nominate. Other handicappers will have it as `lean red’ when they do their races, and I will have it as ‘will flip’ if the DCCC has put it on its list.”

Bitecofer’s model is based on the number of college-educated voters in a given district, and it happens that Texas, being a mostly urban and suburban state, has a lot of them. You can read Tilove’s interview with her, or that Salon article, or listen to this interview she did on The Gist with Mike Pesca, but that’s the basic idea behind it.

Bitecofer’s model is alluring, but note the assumption of the DCCC targeting the district. That means pouring money into it, which also means that the Democratic nominee is already doing well in the fundraising department. By that reckoning, we need to dial back the enthusiasm a bit. CD03 has no candidate at this time now that Lorie Burch has ended her candidacy. CD31, which is on the DCCC list, doesn’t have a proven candidate yet. The two who filed Q2 finance reports have raised a few bucks, but the fact that freshman State Rep. James Talerico had been encouraged to run tells me this one is not at all settled. Elisa Cardnell in CD02 has raised some money and has been campaigning for months now, but Crenshaw has a national profile and a sheen from his Saturday Night Live appearance that he’s doing his best to tarnish but is still there. Julie Oliver is off to a nice start in CD25, but that’s the district of the nine with the weakest overall Dem performance from 2018. I’m still enough of a skeptic to think those numbers matter, too.

(Note also that Bitecofer does not include CD06 in her list. Beto did slightly better there than in CDs 03 and 25, and I personally would be inclined to think it’s a bit more reachable, but as of the Q2 reporting period there wasn’t a candidate yet. Minor details and all that.)

Anyway, I’d say that Dems are in a strong position in CDs 10, 21, 22, 23, and 24, and we’ll see what happens after that. For what it’s worth, just flipping those five seats – and can we take a moment to acknowledge how amazing it is that one can write such a thing and not feel ridiculous about it? – would make the Congressional caucus from Texas 18 Dems and 18 GOPers. That’s not too shabby.

The children will count us

Great idea for something that shouldn’t have to be the case.

Teresa Flores knows the costs of a census undercount as well as anyone.

As the executive director of the Hidalgo County Head Start Program, one of the area’s most underfunded services, she watched low funding after a 2010 undercount cap the program’s maximum enrollment around 3,600 students.

More than 14,000 other children could qualify for the program, Flores estimates, but she barely has enough money to maintain the current level of enrollment — even with additional state grants.

Many of her students come from immigrant and non-English speaking households, two groups that are among the hardest to count in Texas. Though the efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census form failed, she’s spoken with families who still fear inquires into their citizenship. But as someone with a long-established role in the community, Flores said she’s been able to relieve anxieties about sending information to the government and correct misinformation. By herself though, she can’t do that for everyone.

In looking for new approaches to census engagement — ones that residents can trust — the Hidalgo County committee focused on getting a complete count of the area’s population is increasingly targeting its outreach toward an unconventional group of residents: children and teenagers.

“When parents come and sign their children in and out, we’re able to speak with them about their participation,” Flores said. “Children could be the best people to continue those conversations all night long once they get home, and ease those concerns on a long-term basis.”

[…]

Victoria Le isn’t sure whether her parents filled out census forms in 2010. But after working on a complete count campaign at her school, the 18-year-old said she’s making sure they do this time.

Le is a recent graduate of Alief Early College High School in southwest Houston, where she and 15 other students spent months researching new approaches to fighting an undercount and marketing those plans to hard to count residents. Their work was initially regarded by other students as nothing more than a minor passion project, Le said.

Then the group threw its first major event last spring, where students competed for prizes as they learned more about the census and ways to get their families engaged.

“It was just an insane success,” said Jordan Carswell, the program’s director. “When people see half the student body showing up and going completely crazy over census games, they start asking questions. They knew how to get their peers energized, and when you see how passionate they are about it, it’s hard to not to feel the same way.”

Carswell said the campaign came together when Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked him to get students involved with census engagement. Alief ISD is part of Houston and Harris County’s joint $4 million effort to achieve an accurate count. There’s also a coalition of more than 50 local nonprofits and organizations working with them to mobilize communities.

I think this is both great and awful. It’s great that there’s such creativity and commitment to getting as full and accurate a Census count as possible. It’s awful that our Legislature refused to offer any help to cities to achieve that. That has left cities like Houston and others to their own devices, because what else can they do? There was a time when everyone agreed that the Census was important, and getting it right was vital to all of our interests. The only way forward from here is to elect more people who still think that way.

Ride sharing for kids

Yet another transportation option.

Los Angeles-based HopSkipDrive, a ride-hailing platform that hires vetted caregivers to drive children 6 and older, is now available in Houston.

“Parents shouldn’t have to choose between their careers and their children’s education and activities, but that tough choice is very real for countless families,” Joanna McFarland, co-founder and CEO of HopSkipDrive, said in a news release. “HopSkipDrive wants parents to take comfort in knowing they have a caregiver to rely on to get their kids where they need to go, safely and without worry.”

Founded in 2014, HopSkipDrive hires drivers with at least five years of caregiving experience and a four-door vehicle no more than 10 years old. Each driver is vetted with a 15-point certification process that includes fingerprinting, background checks using FBI and Department of Justice database searches, driving record checks and in-person meetings.

A mobile app allows parents to book and track the rides. And HopSkipDrive’s Safe Ride Support, staffed with former 911 operators, EMTs, childcare specialists and parents, monitors every ride in real time.

Rides start at $17, which the company said is comparable to the hourly rate of a driving babysitter.

And in addition to helping busy families, HopSkipDrive works with more than 170 schools and districts nationwide to transport students who receive an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, who are homeless or who are in foster care and don’t fit into a bus route.

I’m a little skeptical of that “rides start at $17” bit, as they surely have higher operating costs than Uber and Lyft. What percentage of their rides cost that much, what is the range for more typical rides, what are the factors that go into the price (distance, time of day, etc), and so on. This story from last year, from when HopSkipDrive expanded to San Diego says they’d been in business for four years at that time. They started out as a Southern California operation, but scrolling through their Twitter feed I see they’re now in the DC area and Boulder, CO. I don’t have a need for this service, but I’ll be interested to see if anyone at my kids’ schools talk about using it. Is this something you might use?

MQS-Bonnen secret meeting investigation update

Noted for the record.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The top prosecutor in House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s home district has joined the probe into Bonnen’s secret meeting with a conservative political activist, in which the activist alleges he was offered an illegal quid pro quo.

Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne said Tuesday that she asked the Texas Rangers Public Integrity Unit to investigate the meeting on Aug. 13, one day after the House General Investigating Committee made the same request.

“Upon completion of the investigation by the Public Integrity Unit, the investigation will be expeditiously reviewed to determine whether any laws were violated,” Yenne said.

Yenne is the top prosecutor in Bonnen’s county of residence, so under a law passed in 2015, the investigation would ultimately have been referred to her for review if the Rangers had reasonable suspicion that Bonnen had committed a crime.

[…]

Earlier Tuesday, the Department of Public Safety, the agency that houses the Rangers, said investigators were “gathering evidence related to the meeting, to include a copy of the recording.”

“To protect the integrity of the investigation, no additional information will be provided, and we request additional questions be referred to the Brazoria County District Attorney,” the agency said in a statement.

Prior to 2015, investigations into public corruption by state lawmakers were conducted by the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit. But that year, state lawmakers changed the law to put the Texas Rangers in charge of those investigations. If the Rangers find reasonable suspicion that a crime occurred, they refer the case to “the appropriate prosecutor of the county in which venue is proper,” usually a lawmaker’s county of residence.

See here for the background. I have a hard time imagining criminal charges coming out of this, and even if they somehow did (if a grand jury gets empaneled, then maybe) I can’t see this ever going to trial. I mean, we may never see Ken Paxton go to trial, and that was a long time ago with a much clearer crime. I also still think the Republican vendetta against the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County DA’s office will come back to bite them one way or another, some day. We’ll see how this one goes.

Our first look at how Engage Texas will operate

Interesting move.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As people filed in and out of the massive driver license office in Southwest Houston on Tuesday morning, two workers at a tent affiliated with a conservative advocacy group asked if the passersby would sign a petition or register to vote.

A follow-up question as two women filled out the forms: Are you conservative or liberal?

“Conservative means you believe in less government and less taxes,” one of the workers – wearing a lime green T-shirt with the group’s name, Engage Texas — asked them. “Liberal means you believe in more government and more taxes.”

State Rep. Chris Turner, who leads the Democratic Caucus in the Texas House, said he witnessed something similar Monday outside Department of Public Safety driver license offices in Fort Worth and in Hurst, a suburb of Dallas, where people who signed a petition to ‘ban late-term abortion’ were asked to register to vote.

“The taxpayers of Texas have a right to expect that their hard-earned dollars are not subsidizing political activity, as is the case here,” Turner wrote Tuesday in a letter to DPS. “And Texans who are trying to renew their driver licenses, already forced to wait hours – sometimes outside in the heat – are enduring enough already without having to deal with political operatives while stuck in line.”

But DPS said in a statement that public spaces outside driver license offices are available for “political speech,” and it appears that Engage Texas is just beginning to ramp up its efforts to register voters ahead of the 2020 elections in which the GOP faces more competitive races than it has in over a decade.

[…]

Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said the difference between Engage Texas’ voter drive and those organized by Democratic and other groups is the use of a petition or other questions to gauge a person’s political interests.

“If you’re going to be there and register voters, that’s fine,” Rahman said. “But if you’re only registering conservative voters and you’re making them do a political test … that’s where the problem is.”

Chris Davis, elections administrator in Williamson County — where Turner said Engage Texas representatives told him the group was also posted — said he wasn’t aware of any part of the law that explicitly prohibits deputy voter registrars from screening for political affiliation before registering a voter.

But Davis said he believes they have an obligation to register anyone who would like to be registered.

“Their primary charge, as I see it, is to register folks, regardless of stripe, race, creed,” Davis said. “And I wouldn’t look kindly on anyone that is trying to determine a potential voter’s leanings or proclivities as it relates to their politics or stances or beliefs before they issue out an application.”

See here and here for the background. This appears to be legal, though apparently something no one had known would be allowed by DPS before now. Let’s be honest, if any Democratic-aligned group had tried something like this – not just operating on state property, but also overtly excluding people they don’t want to register – as recently as last year, Republicans everywhere would have had a capital-F freakout. I’m trying to come up with non-hyperbolic examples of reactions they would have had, and I can’t. Everything up to and including calling out the National Guard to arrest the registrars and defend DPS parking lots from them would have been possible. Now? Desperate times, I guess. But if that’s what they want

Legislation can’t be filed to stop what Engage Texas is doing until the Texas House and Senate’s 2021 session. In the meantime, Turner says, he expects a bevy of groups to take advantage of DPS’ hospitality.

“If this is DPS’ policy, and they say it is, I think it’s going to be a free-for-all out there now that this is well-known,” Turner says.

I approve that message. The DMN and the Texas Signal have more.

The harder question

This story just upsets me so much.

After a man posing as a FedEx deliveryman forced his way into her family’s house and fatally shot her parents and four siblings, 15-year-old Cassidy Stay played dead until the killer fled the scene.

Bleeding from a wound on her head where a bullet grazed her, Cassidy managed to call 911.

“It was my Uncle Ronnie. He has been stalking my family for three weeks,” she told paramedics when they arrived at the Spring-area house, according to court documents. “He said he would shoot us and kill us.”

Cassidy would be the lone survivor of the July 2014 massacre, which Harris County prosecutors say unfolded in a moment of rage as Ronald Haskell hunted for his ex-wife, Melannie Lyon. Cassidy’s parents had been providing support to Lyon, the sister of Katie Stay, Cassidy’s mother. Ronald Haskell didn’t find his intended target, prosecutors said, but opened fire on the entire Stay family.

Cassidy’s phone call is believed to have prevented more violence, as Haskell was captured on the way to Lyon’s parents’ nearby home, police said.

[…]

In the case of the Stay family murders, police said Haskell had come to Texas from California in search of his ex-wife, who had recently divorced him after years of sustained domestic abuse, court filings show. They had lived together in Utah before Melannie Lyon escaped. Haskell had moved to California. where a restraining order was issued against him after he allegedly duct-taped his mother to a chair and choked her because she had spoken to Lyon.

But Lyon wasn’t at her sister’s home in the suburban Spring neighborhood that Wednesday afternoon.

Police gave the following account: Dressed as a FedEx deliveryman, Haskell knocked on the door, then went away. When he came back and knocked on the door again, Cassidy quickly realized something was not right, especially when he mentioned his name. Cassidy tried to close the door, but the burly Haskell forced his way inside, brandishing a 9mm pistol and holding Cassidy and the rest of the children hostage until their parents, Stephen and Katie Stay, returned home. Upon their return, Haskell demanded to know where his ex-wife was, but either no one knew or would say.

Initial police reports were that Haskell had tied up members of the family before shooting them, but court documents say he only threatened to do so. Katie Stay tried to stop him, and he opened fire on the entire family, killing Stephen, 39; Katie, 34; and Bryan, 13; Emily, 9; Rebecca, 7; and Zach, 4. Cassidy lay motionless until Haskell fled in the Stays’ Honda sedan, reportedly continuing his search for his ex-wife.

Katie’s 911 call saved her grandparents’ lives, officials said after the slayings. Harris County Precinct 4 deputy constables intercepted Haskell just seconds before he arrived at Lyon’s parents’ home, then chased him into a nearby cul-de-sac. After a long standoff, Haskell surrendered hours later.

“These people were seconds away from getting killed,” said Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman, then the assistant chief deputy of the agency.

There’s more in this story, and of course there’s been plenty more written about this horrible crime, which happened in 2014. Haskell’s trial is now underway, and prosecutors will seek the death penalty. Because this mass murder occurred in a private home and not a public space, it hasn’t gotten the wall-to-wall national coverage that the public massacres tend to get, but this kind of violence, often involving multiple victims, is much more prevalent. We can and should have serious conversations about how to prevent men like Ronald Haskell from getting guns, but we should also be realistic enough to admit that that’s an impossible task. As long as guns exist, men like Ronald Haskell will find them, and even if we somehow thwart them, they’ll find other ways to carry out their violent urges.

The much harder question to ask ourselves is, how do we prevent boys from growing up to become men like Ronald Haskell? The rage, the hate, the misogyny, they all come from somewhere. It’s well established that a common factor in many mass murders is a history of domestic violence on the part of the shooter, as was clearly the case here. If we want to reduce gun violence, this is what we have to address. What are we doing about that?

HD148 update

From TX Elects:

HD148 special: Houston physician Terah Isaacson established a campaign committee for a potential run for the seat being vacated by Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) as a Democrat.

Houston resident Lui LaRotta established a campaign committee for the race as a Republican. LaRotta chairs the Houston area chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

It turns out that you can search to see who has filed a designation of Treasurer for a state office. Scrolling down to the appropriate level, we get the following, as of Tuesday morning the 27th:

83999 COH Isaacson, Terah C. 08/20/2019 State Representative Dist 148
65547 COH Yarbrough Camarena, Kendra J. 08/21/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84004 COH LaRotta, Luis Humberto 08/21/2019 State Representative Dist 148
83177 COH Mundy, Mia 11/26/2018 State Representative Dist 148
83989 COH Shaw, Penny 08/18/2019 State Representative Dist 148

The date next to the candidates’ names represents the date that the CTA was filed. Obviously, the ones from the last few days are the ones of interest, but I’ll review them all anyway. I’m skipping the CTA that outgoing Rep. Jessica Farrar has filed back in 1993. I’m also skipping Ryan McConnico, who was the Republican candidate for HD148 in 2018. He got 32% of the vote. I have to confess, I had no idea who he was till I saw his name here and looked him up. The fact that he has a Treasurer doesn’t mean he has any interest in this special election, but I’ll note his name in passing here anyway, just in case.

Terah Isaacson does not appear to have a Facebook page. This was the top Google result for her.

Lui LaRotta does have a Facebook page, and a LinkedIn page. I can’t tell you much more than that.

Mia Mundy (pronounced “Maya”, as in Maya Angelou) was a candidate in the SD06 special election earlier this year; she got 2.13% in that four-candidate race. Her Facebook page says she’s running in this special election as well.

Kendra Yarbrough Camarena and Penny Shaw, we’ve already discussed.

It also turns out that Trib reporter Patrick Svitek has been maintaining a spreadsheet of 2020 candidates, which for these purposes also includes candidates for the November 2019 special legislative elections. His list has Isaacson, LaRotta, Yarbrough Camarena, Shaw, and one more:

Anna Nunez, former Communications Coordinator for the ACLU of Texas, now a Special Programs Coordinator for the UT Health Science Center. I met her in 2015 during the fight to save HERO, and she’s pretty terrific. The voters in HD148 will have a tough decision to make, there are several really good candidates.

This campaign is very much a sprint, with the real action likely to occur in the runoff. The first job for everyone in this race is to communicate to voters that there is a special election and that they are running in it. That runoff, by the way, would be the same day as the city of Houston election runoffs as well, so given the large number of Houston elections that are sure to head to a second round, including the Mayor’s race, it won’t be much easier to get attention to this race in December than it is now.

(In case you were wondering, the last time there was a November special legislative election in the Houston area in an odd-numbered year was in 2005, for the special election in HD143 to succeed the late Joe Moreno. That runoff did coincide with the city of Houston and HISD runoffs, as would be the case this year. The main difference was that there was a small number of mostly low-turnout runoffs in 2005. That won’t be the case this year.)

One more thing, on an unrelated note:

This is one of the top Democratic priorities for 2020, after the debacle in the special election last year. With Presidential year turnout, this should be very gettable for a good Democratic candidate – it’s more Democratic than CD23, won by Carlos Uresti by a 56-40 margin in 2016. We did screw it up last year, though, so nothing for granted. I’ll comb through that Svitek spreadsheet and do a more comprehensive post later based on some of the interesting things I’ve seen there.

Our all-important metro areas

Another look at the trouble Republicans face in Texas now.

The key to Texas’ political future is whether it finally follows the geographic realignment that has transformed the politics of many other states over the past quarter century.

Across the country, Republicans since the 1980s have demonstrated increasing strength among voters who live in exurbs at the edge of the nation’s metropolitan centers or beyond them entirely in small-town and rural communities. Democrats, in turn, have extended their historic dominance of the nation’s urban cores into improved performance in inner suburbs, many of them well educated and racially diverse.

Both sides of this dynamic have accelerated under Trump, whose open appeals to voters uneasy about racial, cultural and economic change have swelled GOP margins outside the metropolitan areas while alienating many traditionally center-right suburban voters.

In Texas, only half of this equation has played out. In presidential elections since 2000, Republicans have consistently won more than two-thirds of the vote for the two parties in 199 mostly white nonmetropolitan counties across the state, according to a study by [Richard] Murray and Renee Cross, senior director of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. (Trump in 2016 swelled that number to three-fourths.) The GOP has attracted dominant majorities from those areas in other races, from the Senate and US House to the governorship and state legislative contests. Democrats consistently amassed big majorities in 28 mostly Latino South Texas counties, but they have composed only a very small share of the statewide vote.

The key to the GOP’s dominance of the state is that through most of this century it has also commanded majorities in the 27 counties that make up the state’s four biggest metropolitan areas: Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. Demographically similar places in states along the coasts and in the upper Midwest have moved consistently toward the Democrats since Bill Clinton’s era. But in Texas, Republicans still carried 53% to 59% of the vote in those metropolitan counties in the four presidential races from 2000 through 2012, Murray and Cross found.

In the Trump era, though, that metro strength has wavered for the GOP. In 2016, Hillary Clinton narrowly beat Trump across the 27 counties in Texas’ four major metropolitan areas. Then in 2018, Democrat O’Rourke carried over 54% of the vote in them in his narrow loss to Sen. Ted Cruz, Murray and Cross found. O’Rourke won each of the largest metro areas, the first time any Democrat on the top of the ticket had carried all four since native son Lyndon B. Johnson routed Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race, according to Murray and Cross.

Looking just at the state’s five largest urban counties — Harris (Houston), Travis (Austin), Bexar (San Antonio), Tarrant (Fort Worth) and Dallas — the change is even more stark. In 2012, Obama won them by a combined 131,000 votes. By 2016, Clinton expanded the Democratic margin across those five counties to 562,000 votes. In 2018, O’Rourke won those counties by a combined 790,000 votes, about six times more than Obama did in 2012. Along the way, Democrats ousted Republican US House incumbents in suburban Houston and Dallas seats and made substantial gains in municipal and state house elections across most of the major metro areas.

“We have now turned every major metropolitan area blue,” says Glenn Smith, a longtime Democratic strategist in the state.

Yet that, of course, still wasn’t enough for O’Rourke to overcome Cruz’s huge advantages in smaller nonmetro communities. That outcome underscores the equation facing Texas Democrats in 2020 and beyond: They must reduce the GOP’s towering margins outside of the major metropolitan areas and/or expand their own advantage inside the metro centers.

Few in either party give Democrats much chance to record many gains outside of metro Texas, especially given Trump’s national strength with such voters. O’Rourke campaigned heavily in Texas’ smaller counties and made very limited inroads there, even relative to Clinton’s abysmal performance in 2016. Exit polls conducted for a consortium of media organizations including CNN found that O’Rourke carried just 26% of white voters without a college education, only a minuscule improvement from the 21% Clinton won in Texas in 2016.

O’Rourke’s very limited rural gains have convinced many Texas Democrats that while they can’t entirely abandon smaller parts of the state, their new votes are most likely to come from the metropolitan centers.

“It’s a matter of emphasis,” says Smith, a senior adviser to the liberal group Progress Texas. “You’ve got to do urban/ suburban areas first. You’ve got to maximize your advantage there.”

The stakes in the struggle for Texas’ big metro areas are rising because they are growing so fast. While the four major metro areas cast about 60% of the statewide votes in the 1996 presidential election, that rose to about 69% in 2016 and 2018, Murray and Cross found. Murray expects the number to cross 70% in 2020.

And the concentration of Texas’ population into its biggest metropolitan areas shows no signs of slackening. The Texas Demographic Center, the official state demographer, projects that 70% of the state’s population growth through 2050 will settle in just 10 large metropolitan counties. Those include the big five urban centers that O’Rourke carried as well as five adjacent suburban counties; those adjacent counties still leaned toward the GOP in 2018 but by a much smaller cumulative margin than in the past. Overall, O’Rourke won the 10 counties expected to account for the preponderance of the state’s future growth by a combined nearly 700,000 votes.

We’ve been talking about this literally since the ink was still wet on the 2018 election results. I touched on it again more recently, referring to a “100 to 150-county strategy” for the eventual Democratic nominee for Senate. None of this is rocket science. Run up the score in the big urban areas – winning Harris County by at least 300K total votes should be the (very reachable) target – via emphasizing voter registration, canvassing apartments, and voters who turned out in 2008 and/or 2012 but not 2016. Keep doing what we’ve been doing in the adjacent suburbs, those that are trending blue (Fort Bend, Williamson, Hays), those that are still getting there (Collin, Denton, Brazoria), and those that need to have the curve bent (Montgomery, Comal, Guadalupe). Plan and implement a real grassroots outreach in the Latino border/Valley counties. We all know the drill, and we learned plenty from the 2018 experience, we just need to build on it.

The less-intuitive piece I’d add on is a push in the midsize cities, where there was also some evidence of Democratic growth. Waco, Lubbock, College Station, Abilene, Amarillo, Killeen, San Angelo, Midland, Odessa, etc etc etc. There are some low-key legislative pickup opportunities in some of these places to begin with. My theory is that these places feature increasingly diverse populations with a decent number of college graduates, and overall have more in common with the big urban and suburban counties than they do with the small rural ones. Some of these places will offer better opportunities than others, but they are all worth investing in. Again, this is not complicated. We’ve seen the data, we will definitely have the resources, we just need to do the thing.

Pretty much everybody wants MQS to release the Bonnen recordings

From Twitter:

Rep. Stephanie Klick is the current Chair of the House Republican Caucus, having replaced Rep. Dustin Burrows after he resigned from that post. Burrows and several of his friends in high places, such as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, have also called for the release of the tape. So have some unspecified number of House Republicans. I’m sure more will add on the longer this drags out.

And I appreciate their efforts. It’s very much in the public interest for the full recording to be released. As Scott Braddock notes in an interview with Chad Hasty, “if Empower Texas really is media, which they’re suing to try to be, then they ought to act like media and publish the findings of what they say is their investigative journalism.”

All of this is unquestionably true. It’s also unquestionably true that what MQS is the rights of being classified as “media”, but without any of the responsibilities. This is when Rep. Klick and others find out that what MQS cares about is himself, and that releasing the tape would be in conflict with his own interest of keeping everyone attention on himself. So again, while I appreciate the gesture, I’m pretty sure it’s going to go unrewarded. Thanks for trying, though. The DMN has more.

Who gets to perform marriages?

In Texas, the answer to that question is quite limited, and a lawsuit to change that just suffered a legal setback.

Texas couples who hope to marry — and leave religion completely out of it — suffered a setback last week.

A Texas judge ruled on Friday to dismiss a civil suit challenging the state’s long-standing law that says only government officials and clergy can perform marriages in the state.

The Center for Inquiry, a New York-based nonprofit that promotes secular values, filed the suit last year against Dallas County Clerk John Warren. In its complaint — brought on behalf of two Texas members of the nonprofit group who want to officiate weddings — the center charged that the law is unconstitutional because it violates nonreligious Americans’ rights as spelled out in the First and 14th amendments, as well as the establishment clause.

In her decision, U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle conceded that the Texas statute may provide a “benefit to religious groups and their adherents over nonreligious ones” but said no “constitutional rights are violated” by the law.

She wrote that “the state has an interest in … ensuring the respect, solemnity, and gravity of marriage ceremonies” and that the “Statute in this case rationally serves that purpose.” Only judges and religious leaders can “reasonably be expected” to maintain the appropriate ceremonial dignity, Boyle wrote.

The center, which has forced two other states to allow secular officiants through similar lawsuits over the past decade, said it would appeal the ruling. Warren’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Nicholas Little, the center’s vice president and general counsel, said he was shocked by the judge’s ruling, which he called “ridiculous.”

“What business is it of the state of Texas what the level of solemnity in your marriage ceremony is?” Little asked in an interview. “What if you want to get married by an Elvis impersonator? That’s not the state’s business!”

Many years ago – circa 1991, as best I can recall – I attended the wedding of a friend of mine and her then-boss at the We’ve Only Just Begun Chapel of Love in (of course) Las Vegas. This was, as the proprietors of said chapel took pains to note, including via a document acknowledging such, a 100% legally binding marriage. That didn’t deter my friend or her soon-to-be-legally-wedded-husband, who were in Vegas and thought “hey! we should get married at one of these silly chapels! won’t that be fun!”, because they were a couple of dumbasses. My friend later got another friend, a lawyer who specialized in maritime law, to help her get this marriage annulled. My point here is that the level of solemnity has never had anything to do with how legal a marriage is.

(For the record, we were all in town to attend COMDEX, and the “let’s get married!” idea sprung from having too much free time after the exhibition halls closed. My friend and her boss had traveled in from California, and I had happened to run into them one evening, the evening they decided to do this dumb stunt. My main regret from all this is that I didn’t have a camera.)

“It’s obviously unconstitutional because it gives a benefit to religious groups and denies that same benefit to comparable secular groups,” said Noah Feldman, a Harvard professor of constitutional law. “However — and this is a big ‘however’ — this is also an exemplar of the kind of law that might well survive judicial scrutiny.”

Courts may not want to declare state marriage laws like Texas’s unconstitutional because “it’s such a well-established tradition” and they “don’t want to rock the boat,” Feldman said. Laycock agreed, noting he was “pleasantly surprised” to learn of the center’s lawsuit.

“This hasn’t come up very often before because everyone is so used to it and because it just seemed the natural order of things,” Laycock said.

Little said the center, which began authorizing nonreligious Americans to perform weddings in 2009, wants to “fight this battle now” because the country’s shifting religious demographics demand action. He pointed to statistics suggesting that the United States is increasingly less religious — including in a recent Gallup poll that found the number of Americans belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque hit an all-time low of 50 percent in 2018.

The center plans to file more lawsuits against a range of states in the coming months, Little said.

“There’s this growing number of secular people, of agnostic or atheistic people who follow no particular religion, who want to have their wedding reflect their values,” Little said. “So we’re saying, ‘Hey! Add an extra category of people who can solemnize marriages!’ ”

[…]

That’s another reason Little is determined to advocate for the legalization of secular wedding officiants across the country. He said that there aren’t enough paths for nonreligious men and women to wed in the United States, and that Internet ordination, which is legal in Texas but was recently barred in Tennessee, isn’t a fair alternative. Little called it ludicrous that some nonreligious people must profess false sentiments online to earn a possibly bizarre religious affiliation — all in pursuit of the wedding they want.

That’s another reason Little is determined to advocate for the legalization of secular wedding officiants across the country. He said that there aren’t enough paths for nonreligious men and women to wed in the United States, and that Internet ordination, which is legal in Texas but was recently barred in Tennessee, isn’t a fair alternative. Little called it ludicrous that some nonreligious people must profess false sentiments online to earn a possibly bizarre religious affiliation — all in pursuit of the wedding they want.

Another wedding I once attended was in 1992, in Arizona, in which two dear friends were married by another dear friend, who had written off to some mail-order church in which one could get quickly ordained, for the express purpose of being able to perform this ceremony. This was the opposite of the Vegas wedding in that it was planned and involved many family and friends who came in for the celebration; the happy couple remains wedded to this day. It was the celebrant, who achieved ordination via an outfit that ran ads in the back of magazines and comic books (this was 1992, the Internet wasn’t a thing yet), and was legally empowered by the state of Arizona to join them or any other couple together as husband and wife as a result. The wedding was beautiful and solemn and if you didn’t know any better you’d have had no idea that the celebrant was performing her first (and as far as I know, only) marriage. It’s just that this was not exactly what one would call traditional.

All of this is my typically long-winded way of saying that I support the Center for Inquiry in their quest, and I agree that this ruling was ridiculous and built on an extremely shaky foundation. I wish them well in their appeal and in their other lawsuits on this topic around the country. See here and here for more.

The Houston Roughnecks

Meet your new XFL team.

When the XFL kicks off in February, the Houston team will be known as the Houston Roughnecks.

The XFL unveiled team names and logos for all eight teams in the league Wednesday.

The Houston Roughnecks logo is a bit reminiscent of the old Houston Oilers with an oil derrick featured prominently. The team opted to go away from the Oilers’ Columbia blue though, and went with a more Texans-like red and blue.

[…]

The Roughnecks will be coached by June Jones, who was an NFL head coach with the Falcons and Chargers as well as an assistant for the Houston Oilers and Houston Gamblers. The team will play at the University of Houston’s TDECU Stadium. Season tickets are available here.

See here for the background. There are eight teams, including one in Dallas, and each city with the exception of Saint Louis has an existing NFl team. (A sore subject in St. Louis, that.) I dunno what the market for not-NFL football outside of the usual football season is – the last league to try it didn’t make it till the end of their first season – but we’ll see. I’m all about basketball and spring training by then, but your mileage may vary. Texas Monthly and the Press have more.

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.