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The Lege

Interview with Jon Rosenthal

Jon Rosenthal

We move back to Harris County this week for conversations with more State Rep candidates. I talked to several such candidates who were involved in contested primaries earlier in the year, and you can find links to those interviews here. We have several flippable House districts here in Harris County, and one of the better opportunities has kind of flown under the radar. I speak of HD135, held by the odious payday loan magnate Rep. Gary Elkins, who hasn’t had a serious challenger in my memory. Aiming to change that this year is Jon Rosenthal. An engineer by trade who has had a career in the energy industry, Rosenthal is among the legions of folks who activated themselves in the aftermath of the Trump election. He started an Indivisible Group for Texas Congressional District 7, and now here he is running for the Lege and getting interviewed by me. Our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

The Dallas County House battleground

Lot of seats in play here.

Julie Johnson

[Julie] Johnson is among several Democratic candidates in Dallas hoping national and statewide talk of a blue wave will trickle down to several local state House races. A mix of Democratic enthusiasm this cycle, along with a litany of well-funded candidates, has created a hotbed of competitive state House races around Texas’ third largest city. While some of these districts have drawn contentious matchups before, the fact that most handily went to Hillary Clinton in 2016 has only heightened the stakes.

State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, a hardline conservative from Irving, has had perhaps the biggest target on his back since last year, when protesters descended on the Texas Capitol over the state’s new “sanctuary cities” law.” Rinaldi said he called federal immigration authorities on the protesters, which angered some Hispanic House members. An argument on the House floor escalated to accusations of death threats and shoving, some of which was captured on a video that drew national attention.

[…]

While immigration is an unavoidable issue in Rinaldi’s race, there are other things on the minds of voters around North Texas. Candidates in several competitive state House races in the region said they are hearing the most about rising property taxes, health care coverage and education.

Along with Rinaldi, other state House Republicans in Dallas facing notable challenges from Democrats include Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, Angie Chen Button of Richardson and Linda Koop and Morgan Meyer, both of Dallas.

But former Dallas County GOP Chair Wade Emmert said Democrats may be overestimating the impact bad headlines out of Washington will have on these races lower on the ballot.

“People understand that Trump is not running to be a House representative,” he said. “They want to trust the person that’s running. And I don’t know if voters are going to vote for a Democrat to carry the mantle in previously Republican districts.”

[…]

Aside from impressive fundraising hauls and a surge of Dallas-area candidates, Democrats argue that the blue wave they expect this election cycle gives them a competitive advantage they didn’t have two years ago. But in Gov. Greg Abbott, Republicans have a popular incumbent at the top of their ticket with a $40 million war chest that could be employed to boost Republican turnout statewide.

Dallas Republicans, though, say they’re not taking anything for granted. After all, the region has gotten tougher for the party politically since the once reliably Republican Dallas County flipped blue in 2006. “We understand that there is a challenge,” Karen Watson, the vice chair of the Dallas County Republican Party, said. “We were comfortable in Texas just being red. Now we’re like, ‘Okay — if you wanna fight, bring it, and we will match you.’”

Dallas Democrats, meanwhile, are hopeful that excitement around two races in particular — U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Colin Allred’s campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas — may help candidates in these local races. Frustration with the current occupant of the Oval Office, party leaders say, is also expected to boost Democratic turnout.

“Mr. Trump has done the Democrats a huge favor,” said Carol Donovan, chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party. She also mentioned a couple of candidates that she said have an advantage this cycle because they’ve run for the seat before — including Democrat Terry Meza, who’s again challenging Anderson, the Grand Prairie Republican, in House District 105.

[…]

In House District 114, Lisa Luby Ryan faces Democrat John Turner. Ryan, who has support from hardline conservative groups such as Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life, ousted Republican incumbent Jason Villalba of Dallas in the March primaries. Villalba, who has represented the district since 2013, aligns with the more centrist faction of the party and has been critical of Ryan since she defeated him in March. Villalba said he thinks the district’s changing demographics, along with Ryan’s more conservative politics, could cause HD-114 to flip in Democrats’ favor this year.

“The district is clearly a centrist, chamber-of-commerce district,” he said. “Ryan does not represent that wing of the Republican Party. And I think she is at a disadvantage going into the election against someone like Turner.”

Turner, the son of former U.S. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, has picked up support from the influential Texas Association of Realtors. And, in August, he released a letter of support from the Dallas business community — which included some Republicans. Villalba said earlier this month he doesn’t plan to endorse in the race.

In nearby House District 113, Democrat Rhetta Bowers and Republican Jonathan Boos are vying for the seat state Rep. Cindy Burkett represents. (Burkett, a Sunnyvale Republican, didn’t seek re-election and instead had an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate). Both Bowers and Boos ran previously for the seat in 2016; Bowers, who has support from groups such as Planned Parenthood and Moms Demand Action, which advocates for stricter gun control laws, says her campaign has drawn in some of the district’s disgruntled Republicans. Boos, meanwhile, has endorsements from the same conservative groups that endorsed Ryan in HD-114.

I did a thorough review of the precinct data from Dallas County after the election. I’ll sum this up by quoting myself from that last post: “Dallas is a solid blue county (57-42 for Obama over Romney in 2012) drawn to give the Republicans an 8-6 majority of their legislative caucus. There’s no margin for error here.” It won’t take much to tip the three most competitive districts, which are HDs 105, 113, and 115. (And sweet fancy Moses do I want to see Matt Rinaldi lose.) We talk a lot about the Beto effect, but Lupe Valdez should be an asset for Dems here, as she has consistently been a big vote-getter in the county. And if things head south for Republicans – if the recent spate of generic Congressional polls hold, and Trump’s approval rating moves consistently below 40 – you could see four, five, even six seats flip here. It’s the downside to a brutally efficient gerrymander – there’s an inflection point at which a whole bunch of seats become vulnerable. Dallas County Republicans may find that point this year.

Interview with Jennifer Cantu

Jennifer Cantu

We wrap up our week in Fort Bend County with HD85, the district that was added to the county in the 2011 redistricting. HD85 extends out from the southwest part of Fort Bend to incorporate Wharton and Jackson counties as well. It’s been represented since its creation by Rep. Phil Stephenson. Opposing him in November is Jennifer Cantu. A native of Laredo, Cantu has degrees from UT San Antonio and the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara and currently works as an Early Childhood Intervention therapist for a Texas nonprofit. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Voter ID lawsuit officially ends

That’s all there is, at least until the next atrocity.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge formally dismissed the lawsuit challenging the Texas voter ID law Monday, the final step in a yearslong fight that will allow the state to enforce a weakened version of the 2011 statute.

At the urging of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi issued a two-sentence order dismissing the case in light of April’s decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the law.

Lawyers for the minority voters, Democratic politicians and civil rights groups that challenged the law had argued that Paxton’s request for a dismissal was an unnecessary step because there was nothing left to decide — except for assessing legal fees and costs — after the 5th Circuit Court’s decision.

See here for the background. Like I said, we’re going to need a political solution to this problem. Maybe with a different Supreme Court we could keep pushing this via litigation, but I expect we all understand that’s not the world we currently inhabit. First we have to create that world, and that gets us back to my initial point. There is still an effort to put Texas back under preclearance, but even if that happens (spoiler alert: it almost certainly won’t) it won’t change what has already occurred. It can only affect what may be yet to come. The road forward starts with winning some elections. This November would be an excellent time for that.

Interview with Meghan Scoggins

Meghan Scoggins

We move out to the west end of Fort Bend County, where the population is booming. HD28 covers this part of the county, and the number of votes cast in Presidential years here has increased by more than fifty percent since 2008. Democrat Meghan Scoggins is the first candidate of any party to run against six-term incumbent Rep. John Zerwas since 2010. Scoggins currently works in the non-profit space, having previously worked in legal services and with NASA on the International Space Station. She’s also been an advocate for consumer protection, having been a victim of identity theft, and for disability rights. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Property tax revenue up, school funding down

Welcome to Texas.

An early projection has Texas decreasing state funding to public education, and largely using local taxes to fill the gap.

In its preliminary budget request ahead of next year’s legislative session, the Texas Education Agency projected a drop in the state’s general revenue for public education by more than $3.5 billion over the next couple of years, in part because the revenue from local property taxes is expected to skyrocket. General revenue only makes up part of the state’s education funding.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath confirmed this projection in front of a state budget panel Wednesday morning as he laid out the state agency’s budget request through 2021.

The Foundation School Program, the main way of distributing state funds to Texas public schools, includes both state general revenue and local property tax revenue. Local property values are expected to grow by about 6.8 percent each year, and existing statute requires the state to use that money first before factoring in state funding.

Just a reminder, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are lots of things that could be done differently, but they all require legislative action, not to mention state leadership. There is one thing we can all do to facilitate this kind of necessary change, and that’s to vote for candidates who want to make that happen. Start with Mike Collier, who has plenty of ideas for how to fix this mess, but don’t stop there. We have a years-long record to tell us what we’re going to get if we have the same old same old in government next year. Vote to do something different or quit complaining when you don’t get it. The Chron editorial board has more.

There are reasons why “suspect addresses” may be legit

Real talk here.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas law requires voters to register where they live. At the same time, state law requires counties to take voters at their word that their voter registration applications are truthful.

Registrars who suspect an address may be invalid can send letters to voters asking them to confirm where the live. If residents re-submit the same address, however, registrars must process the application. Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the only other remedy registrars have is to refer cases to district attorneys for prosecution.

“The Texas Election Code does not grant any sort of additional investigative authority to a voter registrar in that situation,” Taylor said. “That’s where investigators and/or law enforcement get involved.”

Taylor said the secretary of state’s office has received complaints about the issue in the past, but said instances in which voters insist they live at an address that appears commercial are not a widespread problem.

“It does occur occasionally and we do occasionally hear frustrations from county voter registrars,” Taylor said.

See here for some background. Let’s state up front again that elected officials routinely game the “home address” requirement, with far less scrutiny. Let’s also state that the election process for many utility districts is a sham, again with far less attention and outcry than a few votes with PO box addresses. We could be a little more consistent about this sort of thing, is what I’m saying.

Having said all that, let’s talk about why some people might legitimately not want to put their residential address on their voter registration. Some people are dealing with stalkers and abusive exes, and thus do not want their home locations to be publicly searchable. Some people are homeless, or in transitional situations. Some people may be on temporary assignments out of state or out of the country. I have a friend from college who spent several years as a road-warrior employee for a company that provided software and training services for law firms. She literally lived in hotels or at friends’ houses year-round, and used her employer’s New York office as her mailing address. Some people live in Winnebagos and drive around the country.

I would argue that all these people have a right to vote that should not be challenged by some busybody party apparatchiks. It may be that some folks have dishonorable reasons for not using a “true” residential address on their registrations, but let’s keep some perspective here. Four thousand of them may sound like a lot, but there are 2.3 million registered voters in Harris County, so we’re talking less than 0.2% of the total. It’s basically a rounding error, even if you refuse to grant that there are any legitimate reasons for doing this. Maybe instead of obsessing over this tiny number of technical violations, we could grant ordinary voters the same deference we insist on giving elected officials when it comes to where they say they live.

(If instead we want to crack down on elected officials with dubious residential situations, I know who I’d start with. But we both know that’s not going to happen.)

Interview with Sarah DeMerchant

Sarah DeMerchant

Back to the State House, and over to Fort Bend County, where there are three elections of interest this year. Fort Bend trended Democratic in 2016, and you can see that reflected in the State Rep districts. HD26 is the epicenter of Democratic growth in Fort Bend, and candidate Sarah De Merchant is back for a second attempt at taking it. DeMerchant has a degree in Computer Information Systems and a professional background in software development. She is involved in numerous community organizations and volunteered on the Wendy Davis and Barack Obama campaigns in past years. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Endorsement watch: Crossing over

Nice.

Miguel Suazo

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican, has endorsed Democrat Miguel Suazo in his bid to replace current Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Patterson, a former political rival of Bush, cited what he called mismanagement of the Alamo and Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.

Patterson isn’t the only Republican taking the unusual approach of withholding support from Bush. Three other former Republican primary opponents of Bush — Rick Range, Davey Edwards and David Watts — signed onto a letter with Patterson saying they would not be voting for Bush in November.

“There are things that are more important than your party,” Patterson said. “The Alamo is Texas.”

[…]

Patterson told The Texas Tribune he had spoken with Suazo and liked what he heard. He acknowledged that it is unlikely Bush loses in November; Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. But he said there was a “very, very remote chance.”

“The statewide candidates in Texas in November, some of their fortunes may be dependent of the fortunes of Donald Trump,” Patterson said. “But that’s not the point. I don’t have any compulsion to always back the winner. My compulsion is to be true to my convictions.”

Suazo said he was “honored” to have Patterson’s endorsement, saying the former commissioner had put “Texas before Party.”

If you care to search the archives here, you will see that I have long had some affection for Jerry Patterson. There’s plenty I don’t agree with him on, but he always took the job of Land Commissioner seriously, and I respected him for that. He was also a rare member of the ruling class that was not himself a plutocrat; as a story about the financial disclosures of statewide officeholders revealed, his two sources of income as Land Commissioner were his salary for that job, and his military pension. I saw him express some approval of Miguel Suazo’s positions regarding the Alamo a couple months back, and I wondered at this time if that might culminate in an endorsement. I’m glad to see that it did. He’s right that in the end it probably won’t have much effect on the outcome, but it’s good to know that Patterson is still the kind of person I thought he was when he was in office. Thanks for that, Jerry.

And then later in the same day, we got this.

Bennett Ratliff, a Republican who preceded Matt Rinaldi as state representative for his Dallas County district, endorsed Rinaldi’s Democratic opponent, Julie Johnson.

“As a lifelong Republican, I have supported and worked for Republican candidates since before I was able to vote, I have voted Republican since I was able and served as a Republican elected official. I have supported the party, our nominees, and I have never endorsed a Democrat for office. But extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” Ratliff wrote in a message to supporters on Friday.

Ratliff represented House District 115 — which covers Irving, Coppell, Carrollton, Farmers Branch and Addison — in 2013 after defeating Rinaldi in the 2012 Republican primary. But Rinaldi won the seat from Ratliff in a rematch in 2014. Rinaldi once again beat back a challenge from Ratliff in 2016, before narrowly edging out his Democratic opponent.

Ratliff said the upcoming session would be a critical moment for Texas public schools and said Rinaldi was “in the pocket of a small group of wealthy donors” and had failed to advocate for Texas schoolchildren and local taxpayers.

“In addition to his complete ineffectiveness and lack of decorum in office, Representative Rinaldi voted 10 times against legislation to reform our school finance system, legislation that would have helped public schools and provided local tax relief,” Ratliff said. “As a result, I believe it’s time we change our representation, so we can refocus the priorities of our State Legislature.”

[…]

In his letter, Ratliff, a former Coppell school board member, said he believed Johnson would be a good advocate for Texas school students, teachers and local taxpayers.

“While we don’t agree on every issue facing our state, we both agree and understand that Republicans and Democrats must come together on the issue of public education for the future of our children,” Ratliff said. “I encourage my friends and neighbors to join me in voting for Julie Johnson.”

Johnson is endorsed by Texas Parent PAC, a bipartisan political action committee that advocates for high quality public education. Ratliff is on the PAC’s leadership board.

Johnson, a personal injury lawyer from Addison who was also endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign and Planned Parenthood, said she has Republican support because many of the district’s constituents don’t feel represented by Rinaldi.

“Former Representative Ratliff’s support for my candidacy in House District 115 is proof of what we’ve been saying for months– Texans are tired of extremist partisan politics and want their elected officials to put people first, no matter what,” Johnson said in an email statement. “It’s time to focus on the issues that affect us the most, like fully funding our public schools and taking care of our teachers. I will work with anyone in the Texas House who has a good idea and I will vote down bills that are bad for Texans regardless of where they come from.”

Very nice. And the fact that Rinaldi is one of the worst members of the House makes it that much sweeter. Now if three makes a trend, we have a trend, because right after the primary, Lt. Governor candidate Scott Milder endorsed Mike Collier over Dan Patrick. How much difference these endorsements all make I couldn’t say, but I’d sure rather have them than not.

The state of special education at HISD

Still a lot of work to be done.

Houston ISD’s quality of special education services remains in “grave” shape due to inadequate staffing, confusion among employees and a lack of accountability, according to a district-appointed committee reviewing the quality of programs provided to students with disabilities.

In a draft report expected to be presented to HISD trustees Thursday, members of the district’s Special Education Ad-Hoc Committee said the district needs to better address its many shortcomings and school board members should provide more oversight of efforts to improve delivery of special education services. The committee, comprised of district leaders, special education experts and HISD parents, has been meeting since February 2017, in response to a Houston Chronicle investigation that found a years-long pattern of Texas school districts — including HISD — denying access to special education services.

The committee’s 11-page draft report, which is expected to undergo some revisions before Thursday, echoes many of the findings documented earlier this year in a third-party review by American Institutes of Research. The nonprofit found HISD needed more staff members dedicated to special education, better clarity about delivering services to students and clearer systems for carrying out essential programs for students with disabilities, among other areas of improvement.

The committee is expected to issue several recommendations to HISD’s nine-member school board. They include ordering HISD administrators to issue a detailed response to the American Institutes of Research report and mandating regular reports to trustees about the district’s plans for improving special education services.

“It’s going to take years of persistence and commitment to special education to get the district to where we want it to be,” said HISD Trustee Anne Sung, who chaired the committee.

[…]

Kara DeRocha, an HISD parent and special education advocate who sat on the committee, said district leaders need a consistent, detailed and well-managed plan to satisfy long-frustrated families.

“The biggest problem in HISD has always been follow-through,” DeRocha said. “There are a lot of great plans that come out, but the devil is in the details and making sure they do what they said they’d do with fidelity.”

See here for all previous blogging on the topic. HISD had embraced the state’s artificial limits on special education in the past, and then-Superintendent Carranza set up the review of the district’s practices last January. The state is also working on a reform plan, but all these things will cost money. I agree with Kara DeRocha that the devil is in the details, but look at the budget appropriations first. It remains to be seen that the Lege will deal with this in an adequate manner.

How many police forces do we need?

It’s an age-old question.

Harris County could save millions of dollars a year by consolidating overlapping law enforcement agencies, from sharing technological resources to reallocating duties from constables to the sheriff’s department, according to a report by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.

The report, which was released Thursday, revives several decades-old ideas to combine resources between law enforcement agencies in Harris County, despite likely opposition from the agencies and county government, which would have the ultimate authority in enacting many of the proposed changes.

[…]

Kinder studied the 60 law enforcement agencies that form a patchwork of separate but sometimes overlapping patrols within Harris County, including the sheriff’s office, the Houston Police Department, constables’ offices, school district police departments and smaller municipal police departments. Those agencies spend a combined $1.6 billion per year on law enforcement, according to the report.

“We do have a system that, for all intents and purposes, is working fairly well,” Kinder researcher Kyle Shelton said. “But there are clearly places where there are overlaps and places where we could see what efficiencies would work.”

Among ideas included in the report are a merger of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s police department with the Houston Police Department, and the consolidation of smaller municipal police departments into a larger network.

One of the report’s most aggressive ideas to consolidate would be to move patrol duties from the eight Harris County constables’ offices to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Political opposition to that idea would be too difficult to overcome because agencies would have to cede governing power, [County Commissioner Steve] Radack said.

“People can study it and study it and study it, but I can assure you … the people that are really familiar with this are all going to say, no” said Radack, who was formerly the Precinct 5 constable.

You can see the report here. Two points I would add: One, this is not limited to Harris County. Two, the list above leaves out police departments associated with universities, community colleges, and medical schools. There’s a lot of law enforcement agencies out there.

I find it interesting that the main argument against any sort of consolidation is that there would be political opposition to it, as Commissioner Radack notes. I don’t doubt that he’s right, but it’s not a reason, it’s a justification. Some reforms would require legislative assistance – Constables are constitutional offices, after all – while others shouldn’t need anything more than various entities working together. I’m pretty sure that there’s a dollar figure that could be attached to each recommendation in that report. Maybe if we start talking about it, we can decide what if any of these ideas are really worth pursuing, even in the face of political opposition.

Four makes seven

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

Rep. Four Price

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

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

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

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

Ron Reynolds reports to jail

We’ll see how long a year lasts.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Lisa Seger

Lisa Seger

Lisa Seger, who is running for HD03 in Montgomery and Waller Counties, is an uncommon candidate in an unexpected place. She and her husband have owned and operated Blue Heron Farm in Field Store Community of Waller County since 2006. The farm’s main business is goats, which they raise for milk and cheese. She’s also active in dog rescue in Montgomery County. Like many of the candidate this cycle, she was spurred to run by the events of 2016 and the fact that there had been no Democratic candidates running in HD03 since the district was drawn in 2011. As I have noted before, Seger and my wife Tiffany are friends, and we are regular customers of Blue Heron’s goat cheese, which I can attest is quite tasty. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

“Fetal remains” law tossed

Very good.

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra struck down a Texas law on Wednesday that would have required hospitals and clinics to bury cremate fetal remains, causing another courtroom setback for state leaders and anti-abortion groups.

Under Senate Bill 8, passed in 2017, health care facilities including hospitals and abortion clinics would be required to bury or cremate any fetal remains — whether from abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or treatments for ectopic pregnancy regardless of patients’ personal wishes or beliefs. Legislators passed the bill following a ruling that year by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that struck down a similar rule implemented by the Texas Department of State Health Services. At the time Sparks said it was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

Over the course of a nearly 30-minute hearing at a federal court in Austin on Wednesday, Ezra gave a synopsis of the ruling, calling the case “a very emotional topic.” The requirement would have been challenging for health providers, in part because it would be difficult to find medical waste vendors willing to participate. In addition, Ezra expressed wariness about the state having to reach out to private cemeteries to help with fetal remain disposals.

“The implementation of this law, as I have pointed out, would cause and, if allowed to go into effect, would be a violation of a woman’s right to obtain a legal abortion under the law as it stands today,” Ezra said.

[…]

Multiple doctors and health advocates who testified said women often don’t ask what happens to their fetal tissue, since they assume it’ll be treated like medical waste. Providers also said they have experienced challenges trying to find medical waste vendors willing to work with their clinics. A top reason, they said, is that vendors are unwilling to endure backlash and harassment from anti-abortion advocates.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m terribly amused by the fact that the zealotry of the anti-abortion movement was cited as a reason that this law they supported is illegal. If there’s a Greek goddess of irony, she’s pouring herself a glass of wine right now. Of course the state will appeal, and we know that the Fifth Circuit and soon SCOTUS are places where hope goes to be strangled in a back alley. But until then we have this, so let’s celebrate while we still can. The Observer has more.

Looking beyond HISD’s one year reprieve

As we know, HISD has been in danger of sanctions from the TEA, which could include a state takeover of the district, because of several schools that had rated as “improvement needed” for multiple years in a row. They managed to avoid that fate for this year as most of its schools were granted waivers due to Harvey, while the schools that weren’t exempted met the mandated standard. Next year, however, the schools that received waivers will have to measure up or the same sanctions will apply. As a result, local officials are planning ahead for that possibility.

Local civic leaders are considering whether to form a nonprofit that could take control of several long-struggling Houston ISD schools in 2019-20, a potential bid to improve academic outcomes at those campuses and stave off a state takeover of the district’s locally elected governing board.

Members of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration, education leaders and prominent philanthropic and business organizations have convened periodically over the past few months to research and sketch out frameworks for a nonprofit capable of governing some HISD campuses. The discussions remain preliminary — no plans or proposals have been formulated — but local leaders say they their efforts will become more urgent and public in the coming months.

The nonprofit would partner with HISD through a recently passed state law commonly known as SB 1882. Under the law, school districts temporarily can surrender control over campuses to an outside organization — including a nonprofit — in exchange for a two-year reprieve from state sanctions tied to low academic performance, an extra $1,200 in per-student funding and some regulatory breaks. If HISD does not engage in an outside partnership this academic year at four chronically low-performing schools this year, the district risks state sanctions in 2019 if any of the campuses fail to meet state academic standards.

Juliet Stipeche, the director of education in Turner’s administration, said a nonprofit “seems like the wisest catalyst” for a potential private partnership with HISD. Stipeche, an HISD trustee from 2010 to 2015, is among the lead organizers of early talks about a nonprofit.

“Our office is trying to bring together a very diverse group of people to find a new way of partnering with the school district,” Stipeche said. “There’s a clear, obvious sense of urgency given the situation that we have, but there’s also an understanding that this needs to be a long-term project.”

[…]

Houston-area leaders involved in talks about forming a nonprofit for an HISD partnership said many questions remain answered: Who would serve on the nonprofit’s governing board? How would board members be chosen? How would community members engage in the nonprofit’s formation? Who would manage day-to-day campus operations? Which schools would fall under the nonprofit’s purview?

To gain support for a private partnership, local leaders will have to clear several hurdles. They likely will have three to six months to craft governance plans and an academic framework for campuses, a relatively short time frame. They will have to get buy-in from several constituencies that often clash politically, including HISD trustees, school district administrators, teachers’ union leaders and residents in neighborhoods with schools facing takeover. The TEA also would have to approve any proposals.

“We need to be taking advantage of the next year,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, the region’s largest business advocacy nonprofit. “We need to work very aggressively. It will take time to put something like this together.”

See here for some background, and here and here for what happened when HISD looked at this kind of solution earlier this year. I guess the first hurdle I’d like to be cleared is an answer to the question of how any theoretical partnership will help these schools succeed beyond what HISD has been able to do with them. In some sense this doesn’t matter since this is one of the options that the Lege mandates, and it’s the option that retains the most local control, which I agree is the better choice. There’s also the option of persuading the Lege to make some changes to SB 1882, which is something that Rep. Garnet Coleman has been talking about. Let’s focus on the bigger picture of getting the best outcome, and go from there.

And then there were six

Five Republicans for Speaker, six in total.

Rep. Drew Darby

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

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


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

[…]

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

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

Emmett speaks post-bond

With the flood bond referendum safely passed, we now turn to what comes next.

Land and housing preservation is key to the Houston region becoming more resilient, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Tuesday, on the heels of last weekend’s vote that approved a $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond.

“We need to not fight with nature, we need to live with nature and allow those areas to be green that need to be green, and frankly, allow those areas to be wet that need to be wet and not try and change that,” Emmett said during a luncheon presentation to members of the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute.

Emmett specifically called for the Katy Prairie, a vast area encompassing much of western Harris and eastern Waller counties, to be maintained and expanded.

“I think that’s a very easy one for the federal government or the state to declare as a nature preserve and just set it aside and move on,” he told the crowd of several hundred developers and real estate professionals in the ballroom of the Junior League of Houston.

[…]

The challenges brought by Harvey will give city and county leaders the opportunity to make positive changes as it recovers, he said.

One such improvement: a better system of urban governance.

If unincorporated Harris County was a city it would be the fifth largest in the U.S.

“We cannot continue to do that,” Emmett said. “We have got to find a way for city for Houston and Harris County to come up with a new structure of urban governance. “I view Harvey as kick-starting a lot of these conversations.”

Preserving the Katy Prairie and other green space was one of the topics I covered with Judge Emmett when I interviewed him about the bond referendum. I agree this is a high priority and I’m glad to hear Emmett talk that way, but let’s be clear that there’s a lot less of it to preserve now than there was 20 or 30 years ago, before Katy Mills and the Grand Parkway were built. We can’t turn back the clock, but the fact that there’s far less of that open space to preserve now means that we have to take it that much more seriously. What’s left is so much more precious to us.

As for the governance issue, I welcome that conversation as well. If there’s going to be an obstacle to the kind of intra-governmental cooperation Emmett envisions, it may well be the Lege, as any new structure to urban governance will likely require new laws, and our Lege isn’t very interested in helping out cities these days. Let’s see what Emmett and the other powers that be in the region come up with, and then we’ll figure out how to make it happen.

In the meantime, the work has begun.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday gave the green light to 16 new flood control projects, three days after voters overwhelmingly approved a $2.5 billion bond aimed at boosting the region’s protections against future floods.

The projects include de-silting the Addicks and Barker reservoir watersheds, drainage improvements in the San Jacinto River, Cypress Creek, Luce Bayou and Cedar Bayou watersheds, a stormwater detention basin project along Greens Bayou and conveyance improvements on Willow Creek.

“It’s a matter of starting with the low-hanging fruit, the ones that are ready to go, and move forward,” County Judge Ed Emmett said.

As good a place to start as any. There’s a lot more where that came from.

Going for Section 3

I wouldn’t get my hopes up, but Lord knows this is desperately needed.

The voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers who have long challenged the validity of Texas’ political maps were dealt a bruising loss earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court signed off on most of the state’s current political boundaries and pushed aside claims that state lawmakers had intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they drew the maps.

But a crucial question remained in the case: Would the state’s opponents ask the courts to force Texas back under federal oversight of its electoral map drawing, given previous maps that federal judges ruled discriminatory?

Their answer came Wednesday in a series of brief court filings in which some of the plaintiffs in the case indicated they wanted to press forward on those high stakes efforts.

[…]

In approving the state’s current maps, the high court in June wiped out a ruling by a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio that found the maps, which were adopted in 2013, were tainted with discrimination that was meant to thwart the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office.

But seemingly left untouched were previous findings of intentional discrimination at the hands of the state lawmakers who in 2011 first embarked on redrawing the state’s maps following the 2010 census.

Though the plaintiffs lost on their challenge to the state’s current maps, groups that challenged the maps pointed to some of those 2011 violations in indicating to the San Antonio panel that the issue of a return to federal oversight was not yet settled in the case.

See here for the background. I want to be clear that I agree with everything the plaintiffs are saying. I just don’t believe that the courts will lift a finger to do anything about it. The lower court might go along with it, since they previously ruled that the Republicans had discriminated in drawing the maps, but there are no circumstances I can imagine where SCOTUS will uphold that. It’s just not going to happen. The only possible recourse would have to come from Congress. That’s what we need to push for and work for in the next two elections.

In the meantime, there is now one item on the to-do list.

Before 45 days pass in the next legislative session, Texas lawmakers must begin fixing discriminatory issues with the way in which North Texas’ House District 90 was drawn.

In a brief order, a three-judge panel based in San Antonio told lawmakers they needed to address racial gerrymandering violations in the district — the only exception the U.S. Supreme Court made when it signed off on the state’s embattled political maps earlier this year. HD-90, which is occupied by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero, was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

Opponents of the state’s maps had previously indicated to the court that they wanted to revert the district to its 2011 version, a suggestion the state said it opposed and that the panel said it disagreed with.

On Thursday, the panel ordered lawmakers to redraw the district — either in a 2018 special legislative session that would need to be called by the governor or at the start of the 2019 legislative session. If a proposal isn’t introduced within the first month and half of the session, the judges said they would undertake the “unwelcome obligation” of fixing the district.

That’s fairly small potatoes, but it needs to be done and I for one would be interested to see what happens if the court winds up having to do the deed itself. As a reminder, the voter ID litigation is over, so this is the only court action left relating to the original 2011 legislative atrocities. The DMN has more.

County Attorney declares registration challenges invalid

That’s one word for it.

The Harris County Attorney’s office said Tuesday that the 4,000 voter registrations challenged by a county Republican Party official were invalid, and the voter registrar should not have sent suspension notices to more than 1,700 county voters.

“The voter challenge they received was not in compliance with the law,” Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said. “If somebody doesn’t respond to that notice, we advise (the registrar) not to place voters on the suspension list.”

[…]

Ray explained to Commissioners Court at its Tuesday meeting that to challenge a voter’s registration under state law, the challenger must have personal knowledge that the registration is inaccurate. Ray concluded that Alan Vera, the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee who brought the challenges in July, could not possibly know each of the 4,037 voters on his list. Therefore, the challenges cannot be considered, he said.

Vera said Tuesday afternoon he disagrees with that interpretation and will “take follow-up actions.”

He previously said he and volunteers had combed through the rolls looking for voters who had listed the locations of post offices, parcel stories or places of business as their address.

State law requires voters to register at the address where they live.

See here and here for the background. The actual standard for voter registration is not where you actually live but where you intend to live, as Karl Rove and a long list of elected officials going back to the first days of the Republic could tell you. If we really want to enforce this standard, there’s going to be an awful lot of politicians hiring moving vans.

There’s another class of voter that this invalid challenge went after as well.

A detailed look at the list of challenges to the voter registration rolls filed by Harris County Republican Party Ballot Security Committee Chairman Alan Vera reveals that individuals using facilities dedicated to the homeless as residency addresses were among the 4,000 people targeted.

[…]

In addition, the challenge list had a startling number of facilities used by homeless people in the Houston area. The Beacon at 1212 Prairie had 15 such challenges. When contacted, The Beacon said that they partner with COMPASS, a group dedicated to helping the disadvantaged through employment and other means, to allow people staying at the shelter to receive their mail, including government documents such as voter registration paperwork. The Beacon is also where many of the people temporarily staying with the Salvation Army on North Main Street are referred to. The Salvation Army was listed in 23 challenges, despite the fact that the organization does not allow people to use it as a mail service.

Star of Hope Mission, Healthcare for the Homeless and The Hope Center were also among the challenged addresses. Aable Bail Bonds had 18 challenges, likely because they formerly ran a bunkhouse for homeless clients on the second floor.

Patients listing substance abuse and mental health care center addresses were included as well. The Houston Recovery Center, which attempts to divert individuals caught intoxicated in public away from incarceration, had 12 challenges on Vera’s list. Patients may reside at the facility for 18 months according to their media relations department.

As the story notes, just last year VoteTexas.gov was assuring people who had been displaced by Harvey that they could register to vote at a shelter if that’s where they were staying. How things change in a year, eh? It’s unfortunate that the Tax Assessor’s office took action on these registrations, even if was the result of a software glitch, before consulting with the County Attorney. But at least it has all come to light. If we use this as a catalyst to improve our voter registration process, so much the better.

Beto and the downballot Dems

I don’t sweat this too much, but there are a couple of points to address.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

“If there’s $20 in a room, $10 of it is going to Beto. That’s just happening right now,” said [Joanna] Cattanach, who’s challenging Republican state Rep. Morgan Meyer of Dallas this fall. “The rest of it goes, in order, to the congressional candidates, [state] Senate candidates and then, if you’re lucky, as a state House candidate you can get some of that too.”

With the 2018 midterms less than three months away, Cattanach and other Texas Democrats are facing an issue that’s not uncommon for candidates lower on the ballot: getting noticed when the name at the top of the ballot is getting the most attention.

What stands out this year, many candidates and operatives say, is the level of excitement O’Rourke is generating among the party’s base, a situation that has led to the U.S. Senate race dominating attention this summer — over virtually every other race on the ballot.

Despite the fanfare surrounding O’Rourke’s run, the race remains Cruz’s to lose. Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide in nearly 25 years. Cruz won his Senate seat in 2012 by 16 points. Yet lower on the ballot, Democrats see races where a win is far more likely — if only they can get out of O’Rourke’s shadow.

But, as former Austin-based Democratic consultant Harold Cook points out, the only thing worse than having a popular name at the top of the ticket is not having one.

“If you have one Democrat that’s doing well, that’s going to help down-ballot races,” Cook said. “I can tell you that some Democrat in Texas is going to win a House seat who would not have won if Beto were not doing well at the top of the ballot. Beto is going to do whatever he can do to break up a straight-ticket Republican vote, and do a pretty good job increasing turnout.”

[…]

Even some Republicans consultants think down-ballot candidates have reason to worry about the focus on O’Rourke’s campaign against Cruz.

“If I were the Democrats, I’d be putting a lot more energy into competitive state House and state Senate races and stuff down the ballot. They have a real opportunity,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist. “But that’s what happens, right? These big races do take up a lot of the time and energy of the volunteers and the money of the donors, and it’s going to be really, really difficult for any Democrat to win statewide — even O’Rourke.”

“So if I was a Democrat, I’d be saying, “I’m a state House candidate. I’ve got a shot to win. This race is competitive and if I just had $50,000 of what O’Rourke got, I can probably win this thing,” he added.

Once again I find myself in agreement with Brandon Steinhauser. We do need to be giving more money to State House candidates. There are some very winnable races that lack sufficient funding. To some degree that’s on the candidates themselves, but for sure there’s a lot less oxygen in the room for them after Beto and the top-tier Congressionals. We are all banking on the assumption that Beto and anger about Trump will help bring out Democratic voters who don’t normally vote in elections like this one, and that will help raise the tide for everyone. But that tide can always be made a little higher in a given locality, and there’s no substitute for ensuring that voters know who you are and what you’re running for.

That said, this is mostly an issue on the margins, and the existence of the enthusiasm for Beto is by far the biggest asset to everyone’s campaign. There’s also time to raise more money to help fund mailers and the like, and as noted in the story a lot of these candidates are getting spillover benefits from Beto. I can tell you that every candidate I’ve interviewed so far has spoken of the positive effects of his campaign. If you want to know what you can do right now to help Democratic candidates win, there are two main answers: Help register voters, and give some of your time, talent, and/or treasure to legislative and county candidates, or your local county coordinated campaign. A little of that will go a long way.

Vote suspension update

The situation gets more complicated.

Harris County mistakenly placed more than 1,700 voters on its suspension list in response to a local Republican official’s challenge of nearly 4,000 voter registrations, county Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett said Wednesday.

The situation quickly spun into a partisan spat with the Harris County Democrats accusing the GOP of targeting Democratic voters, and the Harris County Republican Party blasting Bennett, who also is the county’s voter registrar, for the suspensions and for confusing voters.

“Democrat Voter Registrar Ann Harris Bennett should not have jumped the gun by suspending those voters’ registrations,” Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson said in a statement. “We urge Democrat Ann Harris Bennett to follow the law and quit violating voters’ rights.”

The suspensions came to light after Bennett’s office mailed letters to the voters whose registrations were challenged, asking them to confirm their addresses.

Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said counties are required to give voters 30 days to respond to those requests before placing them on a suspension list, but Bennett’s office took that action prematurely in some cases.

“They were following procedure they believed was the correct procedure, but after they consulted with us, they realized that the correct procedure was to wait 30 days,” Ray said.

Bennett blamed the mistake on a software glitch. She said her office discovered the error after three or four days, and immediately fixed the 1,735 suspended registrations.

The suspension list is poorly named, Ray said, because voters whose registrations are placed on suspension remain eligible to cast ballots. Voters are purged from the rolls, he said, only if they are placed on the suspension list, fail to respond to letters from the county and fail to vote in two consecutive federal elections.

See here for the background. It’s good that the suspensions were undone, but it’s annoying that Bennett’s office got the law wrong in the first place. It’s also annoying that the law allows people to make such challenges based on flimsy evidence, which as we saw in this case caused problems for real people who done nothing to warrant it. Even if their registrations being put into suspense was premature and incorrect, the fact that they were sent a letter they had to respond to in order to avoid any future issues was needlessly intrusive. Thus, I still believe that law needs to be revised, and we all need to be on guard for shenanigans like this, since the increase in voter registration in Harris County is a big threat to the Republicans. For now at least we can dial down that alarm a bit. That goes for me, too. The Press has more.

One more for Speaker

And then there were five.

Rep. Travis Clardy

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

If you can’t win, cheat

This is some bullshit.

Harris County residents keen to vote in the upcoming midterm elections should be very careful about checking their mail. Recently, some residents of Third Ward received letters informing them of an address change they had not actually filed and which, if not answered, would put their franchise into suspension. It looks to be the result of a Republican-led challenge to thousands of Houston voters.

Lynn Lane, the well-respected Houston photographer who does a lot of theater and dance photography, almost threw the envelope away, thinking it was junk mail. Instead, it was from Ann Harris-Bennett, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar. Though Lane has lived at his address for the past five years, his letter said otherwise. Furthermore, lack of response would cost him the right to vote.

It reads:

“If you do not respond at all to this notice, your registration will be canceled if you have not confirmed your address either by completing the response form or confirming your address when voting before November 30 following the second general election for state and county officers that occurs after the date the confirmation notice is mailed.”

Lane subsequently checked his voter registration and found that his voting rights were indeed listed as suspended. He says that a neighbor and others he had spoken to – who declined to be named in this story – had received similar letters.

“Something is definitely fishy with them trying to cancel voters registration stating our addresses have changed and if we don’t return these forms completed they will remove us from the registration it we will not be able to vote in November,” says Lane.

Archie Rose in Harris-Bennett’s office said that he suspected voter registration challenges were to blame when contacted for comment. According to Section 16 of the Texas Election Code, “a registered voter may challenge the registration of another voter.” Alan Vera, Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee, has delivered 4,000 such challenges to Harris-Bennett’s office.

[…]

Lane’s letter is indicative that Vera and the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee’s movement has resulted in some lawfully registered voters in minority neighborhoods seeing their right to vote jeopardized. As the current system allows any registered voter to initiate such challenges against anyone they suspect or wish to accuse of improper registration, it is open to coordinated mob misuse.

“This is voter suppression at its finest,” says Lane. “And it’s also a waste of taxpayer dollars to send out all of these forms and then have us send them back to make sure we’re okay when we were okay before.”

Voters are encouraged to check their mail carefully in case they have also been challenged, and to make regular checks of the Secretary of State website to confirm their voter registration status. Anyone who receives a letter like Lane’s should respond promptly as instructed.

So, three things here. One, check yourself (choose “VUID and date of birth” for the Selection Criteria; your VUID is right there on your voter registration card) and tell everyone you know to check themselves. Two, the law in question being used to challenge these voters’ registrations needs to be tightened up. The person making the challenge must “state a specific qualification for registration that the challenged voter has not met based on the personal knowledge of the voter desiring to challenge the registration”, which seems awfully broad. Let’s define a standard of evidence here, and let’s include a penalty for making false claims. And three, while there may not be a prescribed remedy for someone who has been fraudulently challenged, I’m thinking a lawsuit against the perpetrators is in order anyway. Maybe file four thousand of them in JP court, for a bit of cosmic balance.

Be that as it may, this story deserves to be more thoroughly reported and widely known. It’s been all over Facebook among local Democrats, and the HCDP took notice as well. From an email sent out by HCDP Chair Lillie Schechter:

We were alerted yesterday that the voter registrations of nearly 4,000 democratic voters had been challenged by Republicans. Taking advantage of a loophole that allows challenged voter registrations to be placed on a suspense list requiring them to either update their address information online or complete a Statement of Residence at their polling place.

Making it harder to vote is one of the oldest tactics in the playbook of Republicans who are right now shaking in their boots at the thought of the expanding electorate and the coming blue wave.

HCDP is working to identify every democratic voter affected and alert them to this change in their registration status. We plan to contact them by mail and phone to ensure they have all the information needed to exercise their right to vote in November and beyond.

Good, and exactly what they need to do. It sucks that they have to do this, but that’s the world we live in, where people who have lived at the same address for years can have their voter registrations challenged by random assholes. Know what’s going on, and don’t let anyone disenfranchise you or someone you know.

Fifth Circuit upholds dismissal of campus carry lawsuit

Not a surprise.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld Texas’ campus carry law, delivering another clear victory to the state in a longshot, long-running lawsuit brought by University of Texas at Austin professors opposed to the law.

In July 2016, three professors claimed that a 2015 state law that allows licensed gun-owners to carry concealed weapons into most public university buildings would have a “chilling effect” on free speech in their classrooms. But a federal district judge threw out their case in July 2017, saying the professors didn’t present any “concrete evidence to substantiate their fears.”

Accepting that logic and advancing it yet further, a three-judge panel on the appeals court this week rebuffed the professors’ free speech claim as well as two other constitutional challenges they had made.

Like the lower court, the 5th Circuit panel found that the professors lacked standing to challenge the law because they had not sufficiently shown how it might harm them.

“[The professors] cannot manufacture standing by self-censoring her speech based on what she alleges to be a reasonable probability that concealed-carry license holders will intimidate professors and students in the classroom,” Judge Leslie Southwick wrote for the unanimous panel.

See here for the background. The plaintiffs’ lawyer is talking about appealing to the Supreme Court, which strikes me as unlikely to succeed, even in the alternate universe of a SCOTUS with Merrick Garland and not-Brent-Kavanaugh. Some problems have to be solved via the ballot box, and this sure seems like one of them.

High schools need to do a better job of making voter registration available to students

As the Texas Civil Rights Project notes, it is the law.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In a report published today by the Texas Civil Rights Project, new data from October 2016 to February 2018 shows that just 34 percent of high schools in Texas requested voter registration forms from the Secretary of State—the key first step in registering students under the process mandated by Texas law. This is up from a mere 14 percent of public high schools in 2016.

“Our schools must prepare young Texans for the future, which includes teaching them how to participate in our democracy. For more than five years, TCRP has attempted to work with the Secretary of State to help schools comply with our unique high school student voter registration law,” said James Slattery, Senior Staff Attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project and author of the report. “Instead of working with civic engagement groups, parents, and students, the Secretary’s office has dragged its feet in implementing common sense reforms to help high schools comply with the law. This means that, every year, more than 180,000 eligible students are not getting the opportunity to register to vote as required by law.”

In addition to the report, TCRP is also releasing the first-ever digital map of nearly 3,000 public and private high schools in Texas that visually displays which schools and school districts have requested high school voter registration forms from the Secretary, pursuant to the law, and those schools for which we have not been able to verify compliance.

Currently 82 out of 232 counties in Texas, or 35 percent of all Texas counties, did not have a single high school request a voter registration form. The digital map will serve as a resource for parents, students, policy makers, and community members in spearheading efforts to register eligible students to vote.

“As the state’s chief elections officer, we encourage Secretary Rolando Pablos to take common sense steps to address the abysmal compliance rate,” continued Slattery. “We owe it to these young Texans to make sure they are equipped with the tools they need to participate in the democracy they will soon inherit from us. That includes making sure that every eligible high school student is offered the opportunity to register to vote as soon as they come of age, and educating them in all the duties of citizenship.”

See here for the report, and here for the map. To me, the answer to the question “why aren’t we doing a better job of this” is simply that there’s no enforcement. If it’s not anyone’s job to make it happen, it’s not going to happen. If we want the SOS to get schools and districts to do what they’re supposed to do, then give the SOS the resources to do that, and then hold the SOS accountable for it. This isn’t rocket science.

This will be your last year to vote a straight party ticket

Whether you like it or not. The linked story looks at how this upcoming change, to go into effect in 2020, may affect judicial elections.

Texas elects its judges, leaving the nearly anonymous people in charge of the third branch of state government in the hands of voters who have only the vaguest idea of who they are.

It’s one of the built-in problems of running a big state. Ballots are long. Attention spans are short. Judges are almost as invisible as they are important — a critical part of government located a long way from the noisy and partisan front lines of civics and politics.

The top of the ballot gets the attention. The bottom of the ballot gets leftovers.

When a party’s candidates at the top of the ticket are doing well, it bodes well for that party’s candidates at the bottom — for the time being anyway. For at least one more election, Texans will be able to cast straight-party votes — choosing everybody on their party’s ticket without going race-by-race through sometimes long ballots.

Texas lawmakers decided last year to get rid of the straight-ticket option starting in 2020. It’s a Republican Legislature and governor and straight-ticket Democrats in Dallas and Harris and other big counties have been making early retirees of Republican judges in recent elections.

[…]

When straight-ticket voting comes to an end in Texas, judges will to win by figuring out how to drag their supporters to the bottom of long ballots. For now, they have to worry about how their fellow partisans are doing at the top of the ticket — and whether the big blue counties will spoil their chances.

See here and here for thoughts I have expressed on this subject in the past. No question, turnout for downballot races – not just judicial, but for things like County Clerk and Railroad Commissioner and whatnot – will decrease when the one-button option disappears, though I expect both parties will put a lot of energy into convincing people to vote all the way down. I just want to point out that there’s already more variance than you might think in judicial race vote totals. We’ll see how much that increases in two years, assuming the Lege doesn’t undo itself next year.

HISD avoids sanctions for this year

Big sigh of relief.

Houston ISD will avoid major state sanctions for at least one year after four of its longest-struggling schools met state academic standards this year, according to preliminary results released Wednesday.

The announcement ensures the Texas Education Agency will not replace HISD’s locally elected school board in the coming months or close campuses that repeatedly have failed to meet academic standards before the 2019-20 school year. Under a new state law, commonly known as HB 1842, the TEA would have been required to implement one of the two sanctions if any of the four HISD campuses received another “improvement required” rating this year due to substandard academic performance.

[…]

The four HISD campuses that made standard to avoid triggering sanctions are Mading and Wesley elementary schools, Woodson PK-8 and Worthing High School. Each of those four had failed to meet standard for four to six consecutive years prior to 2018.

Although HISD will avoid sanctions this year, the threat of state-imposed punishment likely will loom throughout the 2018-19 school year.

Four low-performing HISD schools likely will risk triggering sanctions next year if they fail to meet academic standards when results are released in August 2019. Those four campuses are Highland Heights elementary schools, Henry Middle School, Kashmere and Wheatley high schools.

In an interview Wednesday, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath praised HISD’s accomplishment while cautioning more work needs to be done in Texas’ largest school district.

“Houston ISD has made progress, like many school systems across the state. That’s clear and that’s very good news,” Morath said. “But there’s obviously still a number of schools that need greater support throughout Houston, and I know they’re working diligently on that.”

See here for some background. As noted, the schools that qualified for Harvey waivers will need to be up to standard next year or the same sanctions will apply, but at least that gives the district another year to get there. Getting these found schools up to standard is a laudable accomplishment, and an encouraging sign that what the district had been doing has been working. Kudos to all, and let’s keep up the good work. The Trib has more.

The end of the voter ID fight

I guess that’s it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

After seven long years of litigation, opponents of Texas’ voter ID law say the case is over.

In a court filing on Wednesday, opponents of the law requiring Texas voters to present photo identification to vote told a federal district judge that the case was settled and that they would not pursue any other remedies or changes to the law they first challenged in 2011 as discriminatory against voters of color.

Because neither party in the case asked for rehearing or attempted to kick it up to U.S. Supreme Court, “the substantive merits and remedy phases of this long-standing case are over,” they wrote.

The filing follows the state’s June request to U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to reconsider previous findings that the state’s voter ID law was enacted to purposefully discriminate against Hispanic and black voters. That request came two days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas lawmakers did not intentionally discriminate when they signed off on congressional and state House maps in 2013 — a decision that Texas argued “cast irremovable doubt” on previous decisions against the voter ID law.

[…]

In Wednesday’s filing, opponents of the law asked the court to dismiss the state’s request because there was nothing left to pursue in the case given the 5th Circuit’s ruling that the changes made to law in SB 5 were “an effective remedy” to the original 2011 law that was deemed legally defective.

They also described Texas’s arguments that “new Supreme Court precedent has somehow changed the standard for discriminatory intent that this Court applied in prior holdings” as “frivolous.” The only remaining issues in the case are fees and costs related to the litigation, according to the plaintiffs.

See here and here for the background. We may still be sparring over legal fees when the 2021 Lege convenes with the task of drawing the next decade’s districts, but that’s not going to affect what anyone has to do to vote. As we’ve seen quite a bit lately, this is going to require a political solution. At the federal level, with a new Congress and a new President, a new Voting Rights Act can be passed. At the state level, the voter ID law can be repealed, though at what point the conditions would apply that would allow for that is unclear, to say the least. But this is where we are and where we’ll need to go.

The meta-campaign for Senate

Let’s talk about what we talk about when we talk about the Senate campaign.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange match up of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

[…]

More than one operative from both parties brushed off the O’Rourke excitement with a pervasive phrase — “This is still Texas” — a nod to the state’s recent history as the most populous conservative powerhouse in the union.

The enthusiasm for O’Rourke — his bonanza event attendance and record-breaking fundraising, in particular — is something the state has not seen in modern memory. But there remain open questions over whether the three-term congressman can take a punch when the widely expected fall advertising blitz against him begins, whether he can activate the Hispanic vote and whether he can effectively build his name identification in a such a sprawling and populated state.

“We’ve never been in a situation where November matters at a statewide level,” said Jason Stanford, a former Democratic consultant, about the uncertainty of the fall.

So what would a moral victory be, if O’Rourke is unable to close the deal outright? Operatives from both parties suggest a 5- to 6-point spread — or smaller — could send a shockwave through Texas politics.

Such a margin could compel national Democrats to start making serious investments in the state and force local Republicans to re-examine how their own party practices politics going forward.

But that kind of O’Rourke performance could also bear more immediate consequences, potentially scrambling the outcomes of races for other offices this fall.

Only a handful of statewide surveys on the race are floating around the Texas political ether. But one increasing point of alarm for Republicans is what campaign strategists are seeing when they test down-ballot races.

Often campaigns for the U.S. House or the Texas Legislature will include statewide matchups in polling they conduct within a district. Sources from both parties say some of those polls show Cruz underperforming in some state legislative and congressional races — particularly in urban areas.

In effect, O’Rourke could come up short but turn out enough voters in the right communities to push Democrats over the line in races for the Legislature and U.S. House.

I know I discussed this before back in 2014 when we were all high on Battleground Texas, but let’s do this again. What are the consolation prize goals for Texas Democrats in 2018?

– To discuss the consolation prizes, we have to first agree on what the main goals are. Clearly, electing Beto O’Rourke is one of the brass rings, but what about the other statewide campaigns? My guess is that based primarily on visibility and the implications for control of the Senate, the O’Rourke-Cruz race is in a class by itself, so everything after that falls in the “consolation prize” bucket. Thus, I’d posit that winning one or more downballot statewide race would be in the first level of lower-tier goals, with Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, and any Supreme Court/CCA bench being the ones that are most in focus.

– Very close behind would be the Congressional races, for which three (CDs 07, 23, and 32) are rated as tossups, a couple more (CDs 21 and 31) are on the radar, and more than we can count are on the fringes. You have to feel like CD23 is winnable in any decent year, so for this to count as a prize we’d need at least one more seat in addition to flip. Very good would be all three tossups, and great would be another seat in addition.

– In the Lege, picking up even one Senate seat would be nice, but picking up two or three means Dems have enough members to block things via the three-fifths (formerly two-thirds) rule. I don’t know how many House seats I’d consider prize-level-worthy, but knocking off a couple of the worst offenders that are in winnable seats, like Matt Rinaldi in HD115, Gary Elkins in HD135, and Tony Dale in HD136, would be sweet.

– Sweeping Harris County, breaking through in Fort Bend County, picking up any kind of victory in places like Collin, Denton, Williamson, Brazoria, you get the idea. And don’t forget the appellate courts, which will require doing well in non-urban counties.

It’s easy enough to say what counts as lower-level goals, it’s harder to put numbers on it. It’s not my place to say what we “should” win in order to feel good about it. Frankly, given recent off-year elections, it’s a bit presumptuous to say that any number of victories in places we haven’t won this decade might be somehow inadequate. I think everyone will have their own perception of how it went once the election is over, and unless there’s a clear rout one way or the other there will be some level of disagreement over how successful Democrats were.

We really need to replace our crappy old voting machines

This is embarrassing.

Local election administrators in Texas are eager to replace voting machines purchased more than a decade ago in time for the 2020 presidential election. Increasingly susceptible to malfunctions, upkeep for the aging machines can exceed $300,000 annually in the biggest counties. Election experts have also raised security concerns about the paperless electronic devices used in most of the state.

The little help Congress has offered comes in the form of recent funding that will be used for cyber updates and training, not voting machines. And state leaders have shown no interest in chipping in, even as scrutiny over the security of the country’s election systems ratchets up in the face of Russian attacks.

In 2017, budget writers in the Texas Legislature seemed lukewarm to the idea of replacing aging equipment. Legislation that would have created a state fund for new voting equipment died without getting a committee vote in the House. The bill received a late-session hearing during which one lawmaker on the panel, Representative Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, asked county officials to shorten their testimony because a college basketball championship game had just tipped off.

“I hope we don’t have to wait until a crisis, but we are walking on thin ice when it comes to the integrity of our voting machines,” said state Representative Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and the sponsor of the 2017 legislation.

More than 200 of Texas’ 254 counties still need to replace their voting machines and it appears unlikely that all will be able to do so in time for the next presidential election. The full price tag, according to election officials, is around $350 million — and local officials are having to find inventive ways to cover the costs. Travis County, for example, is expected to announce the winner of a new voting machine contract this week and plans to sell local bonds to come up with the anticipated $15 million.

The situation has grown dire. Some counties are using equipment that’s no longer manufactured. Machine failures are growing more common and it’s becoming harder to find replacement parts. County workers often have to scour eBay and Amazon to locate bygone tech relics such as as Zip disks and flash drives compatible with older machines.

Yeah, ZIP drives. Remember them, from the 90s? If you are relying on this kind of technology today, You Are Doing It Wrong. There’s no excuse for this – even if one thinks the counties should pay for the upgrades themselves, the cost cited in that penultimate paragraph is something like 0.3% of the state’s annual expenditures. It would be super easy to solve this if we gave a shit, but clearly our Republican leaders do not. But hey, I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: State House

We’e seen a lot of very good campaign finance reports, all of which speak to the enthusiasm and engagement of Democrats this cycle. This batch of reports is not as good. These are July reports from State House candidates, take from the most competitive districts based on 2016 results. Let’s see what we’ve got and then we’ll talk about it.

Amanda Jamrok – HD23
Meghan Scoggins – HD28
Dee Ann Torres Miller – HD43
Erin Zwiener – HD45
Vikki Goodwin – HD47
James Talarico – HD52
Michelle Beckley – HD65
Sharon Hirsch – HD66
Beth McLaughlin – HD97
Ana-Maria Ramos – HD102
Terry Meza – HD105
Rep. Victoria Neave – HD107
Joanna Cattanach – HD108
Brandy Chambers – HD112
Rhetta Bowers – HD113
John Turner – HD114
Julie Johnson – HD115
Natali Hurtado – HD126
Alex Karjeker – HD129
Gina Calanni – HD132
Allison Sawyer – HD134
Jon Rosenthal – HD135
John Bucy – HD136
Adam Milasincic – HD138


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
023   Jamrok            3,914    4,244      323       191
028   Scoggins         15,545    8,516    3,000     6,499
043   Torres Miller    10,043    9,109   10,000    10,934
045   Zwiener          42,493   30,608    3,100     5,341
047   Goodwin          97,681  112,871   55,000    46,515
052   Talarico        118,017  120,938   25,000    71,428
065   Beckley          20,609   18,785   10,000     5,143
066   Hirsch           28,597    7,042        0    35,387
097   McLaughlin       19,154   14,713        0    12,314
102   Ramos            28,157   19,562      650    18,205
105   Meza             19,439   10,899        0    10,179
107   Neave           133,759   68,017        0    95,765
108   Cattanach        71,919   17,855        0    53,234
112   Chambers         51,220   22,778        0    23,000
113   Bowers           11,541   14,055        0       216
114   Turner          205,862  103,338    7,000   259,765
115   Johnson         204,965  143,261        0   201,005
126   Hurtado           2,989       90        0     1,906
129   Karjeker         59,746   24,474        0    34,527
132   Calanni           3,939      634      750     3,305
134   Sawyer           22,510   16,559        0    20,973
135   Rosenthal        11,143    2,830    1,750     7,312
136   Bucy             90,301   66,723   46,375    69,680
138   Milasincic       35,762   23,553        0    42,009

As with the State Senate candidates, some of these candidates’ reports reflect the full January through June time frame, some begin eight days before the March primary (for those who had a contested primary), and the reports for Erin Zwiener and Vikki Goodwin begin eight days before the May runoff, as they had to win those races to get this far. Some of the candidates for districts you saw in that earlier posts are not here because they didn’t raise anything worth mentioning. Victoria Neave in HD107 is an incumbent, having flipped that district in 2016; everyone else is a challenger. What’s here is what we’ve got to work with.

The numbers speak for themselves, and I’m not going to review them district by district. Candidates in Dallas County have done pretty well overall, though we could sure stand to do better in HDs 105 and 113, which are two of the best pickup opportunities out there. James Talarico and John Bucy in Williamson County are both hauling it in, but I wonder what they’re spending all that dough on, as neither of them had primary opponents. Alex Karjeker in HD129 is off to a strong start, but he’s not exactly in the most competitive district in Harris County. The good news here is that Annie’s List recently announced their endorsements of Gina Calanni and Allison Lami Sawyer, which ought to boost their numbers. *They also endorsed Lina Hidalgo for County Judge, which is great for her but outside the scope of this post.) Prior to that, the only challengers among the Annie’s List candidates were Julie Johnson in HD115 and Senate candidate Beverly Powell. I very much hope they will ramp up their support of legislative contenders, because we can clearly use all the help we can get.

Now to be sure, there’s a lot of money out there going to turn out Democratic voters. It’s likely that money going to the campaigns for Congressional candidates and Beto O’Rourke will bring them out for the other races as well. But this is an all-hands-on-deck situation, and State Rep campaigns are very well suited for door-knocking and other close-to-the-ground efforts. If you’ve already made donations to Beto or a Congressional candidate, that’s great! But if you haven’t given yet or you’re looking to give again, consider dropping a few coins on a State Rep candidate or two. That looks to me to be your best bang for the buck.

From the “Many are called, but few are chosen” department

Here are your non-standard choices for the November election.

Independent candidates

Candidates unaffiliated with a political party are allowed access to the general election ballot as long as they file the necessary paperwork and gather a certain number of signatures — depending on the office sought — from people who didn’t attend either the Republican or Democratic party conventions this year or vote in either party’s primary.

“It’s up to their personal campaign on how they want to portray themselves [but] when you’re an independent, you haven’t attended the convention of another party,” said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

Independent candidates were required to register with the appropriate office by June 21. This year, eight candidates are registered as independents — seven in congressional races and another vying for a state House seat. None are running for statewide office. Independent U.S. Senate candidate Jonathan Jenkins missed the filing deadline for the November ballot.

Here’s the full list of independent candidates:

  • Scott Cubbler in the 2nd Congressional District in the Houston area.

  • Benjamin Hernandez and Kesha Rogers in Houston’s 9th Congressional District.

  • Ben Mendoza in El Paso’s 16th Congressional District.

  • Kellen Sweny in the Houston area’s 22nd Congressional District.

  • Martin Luecke in Texas’ 25th Congressional District, which spans from Fort Worth to Austin.

  • James Duerr in Texas’ 27th Congressional District along Texas’ Gulf Coast.

  • Neal Katz, in Texas House District 6 in Tyler.

Write-in candidates

Five parties in Texas made an effort this year to get November ballot access — America’s Party of Texas, the Christian Party of Texas, the Green Party of Texas, None of the Above and the Texas Independent Party. However, none of the parties secured the nearly 50,000 valid signatures needed for ballot access this fall.

There’s a last-ditch effort these parties can utilize, however: filing a declaration of write-in candidacy. The window to file declarations opened on July 21 and will close Aug. 20, Taylor said.

As of Friday, Taylor said, only one candidate had filed a nominating petition: Samuel Lee Williams Jr. (who will appear on the ballot as Sam Williams). According to his campaign filing, Williams is running as a candidate for the Independent Party against Democrat Veronica Escobar and Republican Rick Seeberger in the race fill the U.S. House seat that’s being vacated by Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

But don’t be surprised if more write-ins file to get on the ballot over the next several weeks. Jan Richards, a Green Party of Texas candidate for governor, told The Texas Tribune she plans to send her paperwork to the secretary of state’s office in the final days leading up to the declaration deadline — but first she said she needs to collect the $3,750 needed to be eligible as a write-in. She said she wasn’t aware of other candidates in her party that planned on doing the same.

The Libertarians have a full slate, but that’s boring since they do that all the time. The number of official Independent candidates is a lot less than the number of people who originally expressed interest in being an independent candidate, which 1) is completely unsurprising, and 2) is another reminder that actually being a candidate requires a higher level of commitment and follow-through than talking about being a candidate. Sadly, the final list does not include Yvette “Will Rap 4 Weed” Gbahlazeh, but one presumes she has a ready way to console herself for that. The main effect any of these candidates are likely to have will be to make it that someone can win a race with less than 50% of the vote. This was a more common occurrence last decade, before the 2011/2013 redistricting, but it does still happen – Rep. Will Hurd in CD23 has won both his races with less than half the vote – but given the environment this year and the competitiveness in more districts than usual, anything is possible.

The STEM candidates

If there was ever a year for scientists to run for office, this was it.

Across the country, hundreds of candidates with academic or professional experience in science, technology, engineering and mathematics have left their businesses and laboratories to compete in state legislative contests, congressional elections and even governor’s races. These scientists-turned-politicians constitute the largest wave of such candidates in modern U.S. history, according to 314 Action, an advocacy group that works to elect STEM professionals to public office.

Like the similar surge of women running for office this year, many of these first-time candidates entered the political arena in response to Trump’s election, frustrated with the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and energized by the inaugural Marches for Sciences held on Earth Day in April 2017.

“Attacks on science didn’t start with the Trump administration,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, a former congressional candidate who founded 314 Action — named for the first three digits of pi — in 2014. “But they’ve taken what felt like a war on science and turned it into a war on facts, and that has been a catalyst for getting scientists involved.”

Over the course of the election cycle, more than 150 candidates with STEM credentials announced campaigns for Congress across the country, according to VoteSTEM, another organization that advocates for scientists to run for office. Eleven of those candidates were in Texas.

Ultimately, only two of the congressional hopefuls in Texas, both of them Democrats, survived the primaries — Joseph Kopser, an engineer running in District 21, which covers a portion of Austin, and Rick Kennedy, a computer scientist competing in District 17 in Central Texas. But around the state, candidates like [Allison] Sawyer [in HD134] remain in contention for a range of local positions, including seats in the state Legislature and on the State Board of Education.

And although many of these candidates face long odds in November, the current political environment, in which officials invoke “alternative facts” to justify inaccurate claims, could prove favorable to politicians schooled in the scientific method, said Colin Strother, a longtime Democratic strategist in Texas.

Candidates who favor “making data-driven decisions based on evidence and facts” will have a good chance in the upcoming elections, Strother said. “That worldview is a winner.”

[…]

Other Texas candidates with STEM backgrounds express similar frustrations at the status of scientific discourse in national politics. Carla Morton, a neuropsychologist running for the State Board of Education as a Democrat, said she remembers feeling dismayed when Trump posited a connection between vaccines and autism, a dubious claim backed by little scientific evidence. And Michelle Beckley, a Democrat with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences who is running for a state House seat in Carrollton, said she wishes politicians would act on data showing the prevalence of gun violence across the country.

Morton is running in SBOE11, where incumbent Pat Hardy went unopposed in 2012 (SBOE members have six-year terms), and which is a fairly red district. Beckley is running in HD65 against Rep. Ron Simmons; Donald Trump carried it with 48.1% of the vote in 2016, but it was more like a ten-point Republican district downballot. Kopser and Sawyer are more likely to win than either of them, but all four are underdogs. Still, they’re all worth watching, and to the extent they can make the debate about what is real versus what is some yahoo’s fever dreams, we’ll all be better off.