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Beto v Briscoe

I approve of this, with some small reservations.

Beto O’Rourke

Presidential contender Beto O’Rourke is helping a fellow Democrat raise money to unseat the Texas Rep. Briscoe Cain, after the Republican lawmaker tweeted last week that his AR-15 is “ready” for O’Rourke.

An email over the weekend from O’Rourke — still basking in the spotlight from his debate-stage vow that “Hell yes” he’ll confiscate assault-style weapons if elected — led to more than 3,600 donations for the campaign of Cain’s challenger, Josh Markle, of Deer Park.

Cain, a Baytown Republican, went viral after last week’s Democratic debate in Houston, when he tweeted at O’Rourke, “My AR is ready for you Robert Francis.” O’Rourke’s campaign reported the tweet to the FBI as a threat, then turned to its followers to raise money for Markle.

“Last year, Briscoe Cain ran completely unopposed,” the fundraising note, which vowed to split all money raised with Markle’s campaign, said. “This time, the Texas House Democratic caucus is running a campaign with Josh Markle to defeat him. The more money we can raise for them today, the stronger and clearer our message to Cain becomes. So please, make your best donation right now.”

O’Rourke’s supporters apparently did just that.

Markle — whose first foray into politics was block-walking and making calls for O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate run — told the Chronicle that his campaign received more than $43,000 in donations from that email alone. He says his campaign has brought in nearly 4,800 donations, totaling more than $68,000, since Cain posted the viral tweet that put the race for the solid-red district on the map.

I assume you heard about Briscoe Cain’s stupid and threatening statement towards Beto; I didn’t bother with it because there wasn’t much to say beyond demonstrating Cain’s profound amorality and utter unfitness to own any weapon, let alone one whose purpose it is to murder many people quickly and efficiently. Beto’s response here – he had other things to say, of course – is the normal political response, which is to make the elected official who said the stupid and offensive thing pay a price for it. The only problem is that Briscoe Cain is largely insulated from such effects, as one can observe in the 2018 numbers:


Dist    Beto
============
HD128  32.6%
HD130  33.2%
HD127  39.8%
HD150  42.3%
HD133  45.0%
HD129  45.2%
HD126  47.8%

Cain’s HD128 is the most Republican district in Harris County. I don’t see that trend reversing itself any time soon. It’s great to bring money and attention to Cain’s Democratic rival, and all hail Josh Markle for taking on the thankless task of running against Cain. It’s just that Beto could have raised ten times as much for Markle without it having any significant effect. I believe in running everywhere, I believe in supporting worthwhile candidates, and I believe that there’s always a chance. I just hope that the people who gave to Josh Markle did so with their eyes open, and didn’t blow their entire giving-to-local-Dems-in-2020 budget on that race.

(Beto was also busy in recent days boosting Eliz Markowitz’s campaign in HD28. That one comes with no reservations attached.)

Dan Patrick and Michael Quinn Sullivan fighting is the sweetest sound you will ever hear

Inject this directly into my veins.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Michael Quinn Sullivan, a hardline conservative activist long aligned with the head of the Texas Senate, publicly accused each other of “destroying” the Republican Party on Tuesday — seeming to further a rift that has emerged between the two longtime conservative allies.

The dust-up on Twitter started over gun rights, specifically Patrick’s recent support of requiring background checks for private person-to-person gun sales — an idea Sullivan opposes. But the most aggressive sparring came over a secret recording Sullivan has of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen during a June 12 meeting at the Capitol. Sullivan has said he caught Bonnen and one of the speaker’s top allies on tape asking Sullivan to target 10 GOP lawmakers in the 2020 primaries, but Sullivan hasn’t made the recording public.

“BTW, release the tape,” Patrick tweeted at Sullivan. “You are destroying our party.”

To be clear, Bonnen and state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, have forcefully pushed back against Sullivan’s allegations. And both, along with Patrick and other Republicans and Democrats, have also called on Sullivan to release his recording of the meeting. Sullivan has so far declined to do so, though he has allowed certain Republicans to listen to the roughly hour-long audio privately.

[…]

Responding to Patrick, Sullivan tweeted that the lieutenant governor hadn’t yet listened to the audio himself — and suggested that Patrick may be “too scared to make a moral judgment without a poll.”

“What’s actually destroying the GOP is moral cowardice in which elected officials are unwilling to address the unethical behavior of other politicians,” Sullivan tweeted.

See more of the thread here. Read it, share it, enjoy it. As an old beer commercial once said, it just doesn’t get any better than this. The Texas Signal has more.

Where to find the HD148 candidates

One of the things I observed as I was frantically updating lists of who had filed to run in the HD148 special election was that some of the candidates were easier to find online than others, and that some had already created a web presence for themselves while others had not. As I intended to do interviews for this race, that mattered to me. About two weeks out from the filing deadline, I’ve been able to track down many of them, and the Erik Manning spreadsheet has more information. But for my convenience and yours, here’s how to find the Democrats of the HD148 special election online:

Rob BlockFacebook
Kendra Yarbrough CamarenaFacebook
Anna EastmanFacebook
Adrian P. GarciaFacebook
Terah IsaacsonFacebook
Michele LealFacebook
Mia Mundy (no website, just Facebook)
Anna NúñezFacebook
Penny ShawFacebook
Alva TreviñoFacebook
Chris WattFacebook

Still can’t find anything online for Carol Denson. I’ll leave it to you to locate the Republicans.

If you want to know if you or someone you know is in HD148, you can of course look yourself up on the Tax Assessor’s voter registration webpage. Or, you can use this map of HD148 to see if your address is in or out. I will have a bunch of interviews with HD148 candidates for you beginning September 30, so you’ll have a chance to hear what they have to say for themselves. If you’ve had the chance to see any of them in action, let us know what your impression was.

Rep. Cesar Blanco to run for Sen. Jose Rodriguez’s seat

Looks like this has been settled quickly.

Rep. César Blanco

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, is running for the seat being vacated by state Sen. José Rodríguez.

In a video published Monday, Blanco alluded to the deadly mass shooting last month in El Paso, and said El Paso and West Texas “need a fighter.”

“Now more than ever, El Paso needs leaders willing to stand up to those that try to turn our community into a political punching bag by promoting dangerous rhetoric and hateful policies meant to tear us apart,” Blanco said.

Rodríguez, another El Paso Democrat, announced Friday he was not seeking reelection, and Blanco quickly emerged as a potential candidate for the seat. The Latino Victory Fund launched a draft campaign that night to convince him to run, and on Saturday morning, four lawmakers in the Senate district endorsed him, including three of his four colleagues from El Paso’s House delegation.

See here for the background. The four other legislators are Joe Moody, Mary González, Art Fierro, and Pancho Navárez. That doesn’t rule out the possibility of someone else running, but that’s a pretty significant show of strength. Any other State Rep who wanted to run would have to give up their seat to do so, as this is not a special election but the March primary. I’d guess Rep. Blanco will get some low-profile opponents, but this race is likely his to lose at this point. His HD76 will then also become open, but as with SD29 it’s a safe Dem seat, so the eventual primary winner there will take it in November.

Abbott’s gun suggestions

Weak leader makes timid proposals. Film at 11.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for the Texas Legislature to consider laws that would make it easier for private gun sellers to perform voluntary background checks on buyers — declining to go as far as other Republicans in backing mandatory ones — in one of a series of recommendations released Thursday.

The safety action report, which comes after a town hall Abbott convened last month to discuss possible solutions in the wake of recent mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa, contains nearly a dozen recommendations to the Legislature, which won’t meet again until 2021 — after the next election.

Select committees in the Texas House and Senate will meet to review and discuss the recommendations in the meantime. It remains to be seen what kind of legislation could come from the report.

Abbott has indicated he has no plans to call a special session, despite calls from a growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers, saying he wants to avoid “hastily” called votes that split along party lines. Instead, earlier this month, he issued a handful of executive orders meant to strengthen the statewide suspicious activity reporting system.

[…]

The 13-page report recommends laws that would speed up the reporting of criminal convictions, crack down on people who illegally buy or possess guns and impose a lifetime ban on convicted felons purchasing firearms.

But the report makes no mention of background checks for private sales between strangers, as Lt. Gov Dan Patrick suggested last week when he side-stepped traditional party lines and the National Rifle Association.

Texas has faced five major mass shootings in the past three years — including two last month. In early August, 22 people were killed by a lone gunman who drove hours to at an El Paso Walmart. At the end of the month, seven died when a shooter went on a spree as he drove through Odessa and Midland.

Ed Scruggs, president of the board of directors for Texas Gun Sense, said it’s “mystifying” how few of Abbott’s recommendations relate to what happened in those shootings.

“The failure to strongly support closing the private sales loophole is mystifying because both the governor and lieutenant governor expressed discomfort what that hole in the system and speculated about how it could be abused,” Scruggs said. “We saw how it was abused in Odessa, so I am really surprised we didn’t see anything more direct on that.”

Here’s the report. It’s not that these are bad ideas, but most of them are reactive – stiffer penalties, better reporting of criminal convictions – and the more proactive ones are presented as things the Lege “may want to consider” rather than as priorities Abbott himself wants to see get done. I mean, unless Abbott calls a special session, as only he can do, the next time any of this will be relevant will be a year and a half from now, and who knows what might be going on then. Not taking immediate action is wiggle room for Abbott and Dan Patrick to let everyone else get distracted and lose focus. Abbott doesn’t want to take real action. He’ll do what he thinks he needs to do to take the heat off, and then he’ll be on to the things he actually wants to do. That’s what this is about. The Trib has more.

The San Antonio Chick-fil-A lawsuit

Oh, good Lord.

In a lawsuit citing a controversial new state law, five area residents are suing the city of San Antonio over its decision to prevent Chick-fil-A — a franchise known for opposing same-sex marriage — from opening a location in the city’s airport.

“The continued religious ban on Chick-fil-A by the San Antonio City Council has by left citizens with no choice but to take this case to court,” Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values Action, said Monday at a news conference with the plaintiffs in announcing the lawsuit. “Any other vendor that tries to replace Chick-fil-A at the airport will be doing so under a major cloud of long and costly litigation with the city.”

The lawsuit, which also seeks the city to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees, calls for an injunction preventing San Antonio from taking adverse action against Chick-Fil-A or others “based wholly or partly on that person or entity’s support for religious organizations that oppose homosexual behavior.”

It cites Senate Bill 1978, a law passed this year in the Texas Legislature, that outlaws government retaliation based on “membership in and support to religious organizations.”

Laura Mayes, chief communications officer for the city of San Antonio, said in an email that the lawsuit “is an attempt by the plaintiffs to improperly use the court to advance their political agenda.”

“Among the many weaknesses in their case, they are trying to rely on a law that did not exist when Council voted on the airport concessions contract,” Mayes said. “We will seek a quick resolution from the Court.”

State Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, chairwoman of the Legislature’s LBGTQ caucus, said in a statement that it is disappointing that SB 1978 has “created the space for discriminatory lawsuits, such as the one against San Antonio” and commended San Antonio City Council for supporting inclusion.

“LGBTQ Texans are routinely denied fair and equal access to education, healthcare, housing, and economic opportunity — that is what the government should be protecting Texans from,” González said.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Current explains how silly this is.

The suit, filed in Bexar County district court, argues that a recent Texas law dubbed the “save Chick-fil-A bill” makes it illegal for the city to bar the fast-food purveyor from the airport. The problem with that, points out St. Mary’s University Law Professor Michael Ariens, is that the law passed after the city’s decision, and courts are almost never willing to retroactively apply statutes.

“I didn’t see any statement in the petition explaining why it is permissible for a court to apply retroactively the statute which serves as the basis for the plaintiffs’ claim,” Ariens said, “And I know the City of San Antonio will raise this as a defense, so I’m not sure what is going on.”

[…]

Also likely dooming the suit is the concept of standing, which requires plaintiffs to show they suffered damages, Ariens said. To that end, the petition only explains that the plaintiffs “use the San Antonio airport for travel and would patronize Chick-fil-A at the airport if it were allowed to operate there.”

Yes. Really.

It’s difficult to imagine any court considering an unmet craving for fried chicken — no matter how tasty — as a legitimate damage.

Yeah, that’s pretty weak, but Chick-fil-A is the golden calf of the zealot faction these days. If nothing else expect there to be a lot of posturing, and it’s only a matter of time before Ken Paxton invents a reason to get involved. This will go on for awhile.

As the Bonnen turns

Drip, drip, drip

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

In the hours after hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan exploded his political bombshell in late July — alleging House Speaker Dennis Bonnen wanted to target some of his own GOP members in 2020 — the lower chamber’s top Republican lawmaker made a series of phone calls to assure his flock that Sullivan was lying.

“This is Dennis,” the speaker said to a House member in a 22-second voicemail soon after Sullivan lobbed his allegations. “Hopefully, you know better than to believe anything Michael Quinn Sullivan would bother to say. … I did meet with him to tell him he should not campaign against any Republican in the primary — um, obviously the opposite of what he’s trying to present.”

Now that voicemail, obtained by The Texas Tribune, is giving more ammunition to critics who say it was Bonnen — not Sullivan — who has lied and misled the people who elevated him to the powerful elected position he could be in danger of losing.

Such a response from the speaker in the aftermath of Sullivan’s allegations, multiple members say, has prompted some to wonder whether the chamber will ever fully trust Bonnen again — or if the damage that’s been done is simply beyond repair. For House speakers, who owe their job not to nameless Texas voters but instead to a few dozen fellow members they know well, trust is the coin of the realm in the lower chamber.

At least five members on the alleged 10-person political target list were told either by Bonnen or by someone on his team that Sullivan’s allegations were downright false in the hours after the news broke, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

In most cases, Bonnen batted down the allegations and questioned the credibility of Sullivan, who many state lawmakers already loathed thanks to his track record of criticizing — and, oftentimes, spending against — members in his own party.

In a statement to the Tribune late Wednesday, Bonnen’s office renewed the speaker’s call for Sullivan to release his secret recording of a June meeting from which his allegations stem.

“There is significant context missing from reports, namely, the hour long recording that has been strategically withheld from the public despite repeated calls from the Speaker, state leaders, and objective journalists for its release,” said Cait Meisenheimer, the speaker’s press secretary. “The Speaker believes that Members are owed the opportunity to draw their own conclusions based on the full context of the conversation — not the slow leak of cherry-picked information that has been used to fuel speculation.”

Since his immediate denial though, according to those familiar with the matter, the speaker hasn’t spoken with at least a few of those members who were allegedly mentioned during that June 12 meeting at the Texas Capitol between Bonnen, another top House Republican and Sullivan.

And though Bonnen has since apologized to members for saying “terrible things” during the meeting, he hasn’t directly addressed Sullivan’s allegations about a 10-member list — which has fed into a frustration that’s been simmering for almost two months among a broader coalition of Republicans.

“He’ll deny, deny, deny, a little more will come out, then he will dial back his denial and get a little more technical about it,” one person who works closely with multiple Republicans on the alleged target list told the Tribune. “It’s a constant walking back of previous details.”

There’s more, so read the rest. As a reminder, all of the reasons why Bonnen and others want MQS to release the full recording are also exactly the reasons why he won’t. MQS is in it for himself, as he always is. You can’t overstate how big a self-own by Bonnen it is to make the loathsome and sleazy Michael Quinn Sullivan look like a truth teller.

On a side note, we’ve been wondering from the beginning why Bonnen would target these particular members of the House, since they included seeming allies. Rick Casey puts forth a theory:

What did the 10 on Bonnen’s would-be hit list have in common? They all voted against one of Bonnen’s pet bills, a measure that would have made it illegal for cities, counties, school districts, and other local government agencies to hire lobbyists to represent them at the state legislature and in Washington.

It’s a very bad bill that had been pushed for years by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. Speaker Straus had made sure it didn’t see the light of day in previous sessions, but Bonnen signed on as a co-author.

The only Bexar County legislator on the hit list was, somewhat ironically, Straus’s successor, Allison, to whom Bonnen had made an in-kind contribution of $20,000 earlier this year. While he was a rookie in the 86th Legislature, Allison is no stranger to local government. He has served on both the Alamo Heights school board and on the VIA Metropolitan Transit board. Like Straus, he is not an ideologue. He is conservative, but he wants government to work.

Bonnen’s bill would not only have prohibited local governments from hiring lobbyists, but it also would have barred them from belonging to associations that hire lobbyists. So the school board would not have been able to belong, at a very modest cost, to the Texas Association of School Boards, which lobbies on behalf of the more than 1,000 school boards in the state. Likewise the City of San Antonio would have had to quit the Texas Municipal League unless it fired its lobbyists, considerably reducing its value to its members.

[…]

What’s stunning is that Bonnen would react by secretly asking a sworn enemy to do something he himself had so publicly criticized – working against incumbents. Being so vindictive against those who vote for the interests of their constituents rather than acceding to the speaker’s desires is, ironically, what led to the downfall of former Speaker Tom Craddick.

It’s an interesting hypothesis and Casey is the first person I’ve seen identify a common thread among the Bonnen Ten. That doesn’t mean this is the reason, but until someone comes up with a better explanation I’m willing to go with it. Every way you look at this, it’s such a bad look for Bonnen.

Life after the Voting Rights Act

A good long read from the Trib about where we are with redistricting and what may lie ahead.

Since Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has been barred by law from discriminating against voters of color. Yet in every decade since then, federal judges have ruled at least once that the state violated federal protections for voters in redistricting.

Now, as Texas Republicans are facing the possibility of losing their political dominance, the state is gearing up for a new cycle of mapmaking. The House Redistricting Committee [held] the first of more than a dozen hearings Tuesday in advance of what’s expected to be a contentious legislative session in 2021, when new political boundaries will need to be drawn to account for the state’s booming population.

But because of voting rights advocates’ repeated court losses over the past decade, state lawmakers facing an incredibly pivotal and politically fraught moment will instead have much more freedom to set those lines — and the power that comes with them — without any federal government oversight. And once they’re enacted, the voters of color and civil rights groups that have fought the maps in the past may not have the same tools with which to challenge the discrimination that may tarnish them.

“It’s just extremely disappointing as far as they went to sort of kick us down and kick minority voting rights down,” [civil rights attorney Jose] Garza said after the Supreme Court ruling came down.

That was the ruling that upheld the Texas Congressional and legislative maps; the subsequent SCOTUS ruling that batted away partisan redistricting claims was just another ton of dirt on the coffin. It’s very likely that Republicans will pursue maximal advantage through redistricting in 2021, including drawing districts based on Citizen Voting Age Population instead of just population – this is what the Census fight and the Hofeller project were about. The only possible kink in that plan would be a Democratic-majority House, which might force some compromises. Anyway, read the story and brush up on your history, because we’re all going to be living it again soon.

What can we really do about I-45?

Urban planner Jeff Speck is once again warning us about the negative effects of widening I-45.

TxDOT cites three principal motivations for advancing the I-45 project: reducing traffic congestion, improving driver safety, and improving air quality. These laudable goals are apparently considered important enough to outweigh the significant costs discussed above. And they might be — if they were achievable.

Sadly, each one is a false promise. Decades of similar state projects around the U.S., each with its own ample justification, teach a simple lesson: highway widenings do not reduce congestion in the long run, and make both driver safety and air quality worse.

[…]

If I-45 is widened, it will be remembered that, in the decade prior, Houston enjoyed a brief glimpse of a better future. Downtown and Midtown have been reborn, lifted on a demographic shift that favors urban living. Regional bike trails grace the Bayou Greenways, and a brilliant Beyond the Bayous plan lays out an ambitious path for sustainable growth. Transit ridership is up, thanks to investment in light rail and a redesigned bus network. The mayor, members of city council, and county commissioners all sing the praises of a more walkable Houston. Sadly, all these trends will be reversed if Houston doubles down on its nation-leading commitment to fossil-fuel infrastructure.

This need not happen. Houston has the ability to stop the I-45 expansion in its tracks, just as Dallas stopped the Trinity Parkway. That proposed roadway was called “the worst boondoggle imaginable” despite costing only one-fifth of the current I-45 plan. It took a 10-year fight, but the good people of Dallas rose up and killed it.

Meanwhile, Houston’s fatalistic response to its TxDOT incursion has been to just “make I-45 better.” The well-resourced but cautious Make I-45 Better Coalition has proposed a collection of modifications, all good, that unfortunately do not begin to question the underlying folly of fighting congestion, car crashes, and tailpipe emissions by welcoming more driving.

Here’s how to make I-45 better: first, fix the parts that need repair, without making them any wider. At the same time, introduce congestion-based pricing on the entire roadway to maximize its capacity around the clock. Invest the proceeds in transit, biking, walking, and in those poor people who truly have no choice but to keep driving.

Unlike highway widenings, congestion-based pricing reduces traffic, driving deaths, and pollution, all while earning billions rather than wasting them. It has worked wherever it’s been tried, including London, Stockholm, and Sydney, and it is about to become law in New York City. Even Dallas has been experimenting with congestion-based pricing for years.

Speck has addressed the I-45 expansion plan before, and I find him very compelling. The problem, as I’ve said before, is that there is no current mechanism in Texas to do the things he advocates. TxDOT, as the name implies, is a state agency, with leaders appointed by the Governor. Houston has no authority to impose any kind of pricing on I-45, and TxDOT also has no authority under current law to do congestion pricing, because TxDOT does not operate the toll roads and toll-based HOV lanes that do have that kind of authority. The now-dead Trinity Parkway project was not a TxDOT project but a local project under the auspices of a regional toll road authority.

What I’m saying is that the fight over I-45 isn’t in Houston, it is – or it needs to be – in Austin, in the Legislature and the Governor’s mansion. You want TxDOT to have a different mission, one that emphasizes transit over highway widening, you need a different Legislature and a different Governor. You want cities to have the authority to impose congestion pricing rules, with the revenue to be used to boost non-automobile mobility, you need to get that new Legislature to pass a law allowing for it, and a Governor to sign it. We can take one step towards those goals next year, but the Governor and the Senate aren’t up for grabs till 2022 (yes, there are Senators on the ballot in 2020, but only one Republican-held seat is a realistic target, and that won’t be enough). What do we do till then? The Make I-45 Better Coalition may be a limited response to a big problem, but at least their goals are achievable in the current time frame. If we want to think big – and we should! – we also have to play the longer game.

Will Lone Star Rail get resurrected?

Maybe!

A coalition of San Antonio and Austin state representatives has asked the House Transportation Committee chair to study the possibility of passenger rail between the two cities ahead of the 2021 legislative session.

Congestion between the two cities will only increase, the legislators wrote, costing drivers time and money.

“Improved transportation connectivity is critical for the Austin-San Antonio corridor,” 20 legislators said in an Aug. 16 letter. “We must not only look at how to utilize our current assets most effectively, but also find new and creative solutions for this corridor. As members of this region, we believe that it is imperative for the House Transportation Committee to explore new opportunities for our constituents to have frequent, safe, and dependable transportation.”

Officials from the Austin and San Antonio areas have been trying to connect the two cities by passenger rail for years. The Lone Star Rail District proposal stalled after Union Pacific pulled out of the project in 2016 over concerns about how passenger rail using its tracks would impact its freight operations. The Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) pulled its funding for the project later that year, leaving the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) few options for keeping the project alive.

The rail line proposed by the Lone Star Rail District would have had multiple stops, starting at the University of Texas A&M-San Antonio and ending in the north-of-Austin suburb Georgetown.

Rep. Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio) served on AAMPO’s board and as the city councilman for District 6 during passenger rail discussions. He said the corridor rail project took many blows but could be revived with proper action from the State.

“Texans have engaged in overviews and reviews, but what we need to do is have a strong directive from the state … and request or require or demand, indeed, that some action plan be created and presented to the Legislature for consideration and ultimately funding,” Lopez said.

[…]

San Antonians have rejected rail before, but as a local means of public transportation. Voters shot down light rail in 2000 and in 2015 approved a charter amendment requiring light rail proposals go to voters.

But if an intercity rail project starts up again, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said San Antonio would support it “if the state worked with us and we found a path forward for rail between Austin and San Antonio.”

“It has been a priority for this community for almost three decades,” he said. “And I’ve always said it will happen once the governor’s office makes it a priority.”

The last we heard about this was in 2016 when the previous plan died, in part because of a failure to come to an agreement with Union Pacific to share its tracks. On the one hand, a passenger rail line between San Antonio and Austin makes all kinds of sense and would be a fantastic alternative to the money and traffic pit that is I-35. On the other hand, well, the past couple of decades trying to get this line even to a preliminary approval stage with no success doesn’t bode well. But maybe this time it’s different. I’m rooting for it, but my expectations are firmly under control. The Current has more.

Try, try again

A lot of women ran for office as Democrats in 2018. A lot of them won, and a lot of them who didn’t win are trying again.

[Gina Ortiz Jones isn’t] the only woman who’s back for a second round.

In April, MJ Hegar, who got within three points of defeating U.S. Representative John Carter, an eight-term incumbent in a deep-red district north of Austin, announced she would challenge U.S. Senator John Cornyn. Julie Oliver, who lost Texas’ 25th Congressional District to three-term Republican Roger Williams, despite cutting a 21-point spread down to just under nine, is also running again. So is Kim Olson, the Democratic challenger who lost to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller. This time she’s running to represent Texas’ 24th Congressional District, which spans the suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth.

At least six Democratic women who lost their bids for the Texas Legislature in 2018 are running again in 2020, says Monica Gomez, the political director at Annie’s List, a political action committee that supports progressive women running for state and local office in Texas. Two more are coming back to run for different seats. “We haven’t seen this kind of rededication to running again in Texas since Annie’s List was founded in 2003,” Gomez says. She estimates that in the organization’s history, a total of 10 candidates have run again after a loss. “So eight in one cycle is a very large increase.”

The record-breaking number of first-time female candidates who ran for office in 2018 led to a record-breaking number of first-time female officeholders: 127 women now serve in Congress, the most ever and a 23-seat increase from 2017. Despite these gains, women remain grossly underrepresented in public office at every level. Women hold 24 percent of seats in the 116th U.S. Congress and 29 percent of statewide executive positions across the country. Texas sends 38 people to Congress; in 2019, only six of them are women. In the Texas Legislature, women hold 43 of 181 seats, or 24 percent—five points lower than the national average.

Why are women persistently underrepresented in politics? Over the past decade, a body of research has established that when women run, they win elections at the same rate as men. Melanie Wasserman, an economist at UCLA who studies occupational segregation by gender, wanted to learn more. So in 2018 she analyzed the political trajectories of more than 11,000 candidates over two decades in local California elections, focusing on how candidates responded after losing an election. She found that women were 56 percent less likely than men to run again after a loss, noting what she called a “gender gap in persistence.”

“If I make the assumption that the candidates who drop out have similar chances of winning as those that run again, then the gender gap in persistence can explain quite a lot of the gender gap in officeholding,” Wasserman told the Observer. “It would increase female representation among officeholders at the local level by 17 percent.”

In other words, perhaps we should be paying more attention to the losers—the women who run, lose, and choose to run again.

I’ve discussed some repeat Congressional candidates before; several of the second-shot brigade are men as well. The candidates mentioned in this story are:

MJ Hegar (Senate, previously CD31)
Gina Ortiz Jones (CD23)
Kim Olson (CD24, previously Ag Commissioner)
Julie Oliver (CD25)
Sarah DeMerchant (HD26)
Joanna Cattanach (HD108)

Others for Congress that could have been mentioned:

Jennie Lou Leeder (CD21, previously CD11)
Adrienne Bell (CD14)
Jan McDowell (CD24)
Christine Eady Mann (CD31)

As for the other legislative candidates, I’d say Eliz Markowitz (SBOE in 2018, HD28 in 2020) counts, and it looks like Natali Hurtado is doing it again in HD126. That leaves four more, going by Monica Gomez’s math, and I have no idea who they may be. Please leave a comment if you do know.

Not all of these candidates will make it to November, of course. All except Markowitz and Hurtado have at least one primary opponent as far as I can tell. McDowell and Olson are running for the same seat (with others in the mix as well), Leeder is unlikely to make it past Wendy Davis, and of course Hegar is in a pleasantly crowded field. I’ve been idly wondering if she might do what some had been crying for Beto to do and get back into the race she’d run last time, in CD31 where no other candidates of her stature have emerged yet. I doubt it – she’s still a strong contender for the Senate nom, and if anyone else has had the same thought as I have, I’ve not seen them express it – but anything is possible up till the filing deadline. DeMerchant will face off against Suleman Lalani and Rish Oberoi, while Cattanach has Shawn Terry. Point being, there are still more chapters of this story to be written. The next one will be out in December.

UPDATE: Forgot about Sema Hernandez for the federal races. Still don’t know who the other four repeat legislative candidates are.

UPDATE: I have been informed about a couple of “try again”-ers for this year. Brandy Chambers (HD112) and Celina Montoya (HD121) are both repeat candidates from 2018. Ann Johnson (HD134) ran in 2012 and is running again.

Dan Patrick says he’s for slightly expanded background checks

It’s a start.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he’s “willing to take an arrow” and defy the National Rifle Association by pressing Texas to close one loophole in gun-purchaser background checks.

On Friday, Patrick said it’s “common sense” to tighten background-check laws because in many instances, stranger-to-stranger sales now are exempt from the requirement that buyers be vetted through a federal database of people not eligible to purchase firearms.

Patrick wants to protect transfers among family members from triggering a check. He’d also continue to exempt friends, though he acknowledged that could be abused. Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, said he’s willing to accede to the preferences of senators on whether to maintain that loophole — and if so, exactly how.

But he said Texas must strongly discourage selling guns to strangers without a background check.

“That gap of stranger to stranger we have to close, in my view,” Patrick, a staunchly conservative Republican and avid gun-rights advocate, said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News.

“When I talk to gun owners, NRA members and voters, people don’t understand why we allow strangers to sell guns to total strangers when they have no idea if the person they’re selling the gun to could be a felon, could be someone who’s getting a gun to go commit a crime or could be a potential mass shooter or someone who has serious mental issues.”

“Look, I’m a solid NRA guy,” he said, “but not expanding the background check to eliminate the stranger to stranger sale makes no sense to me and … most folks.”

You can add in the Abbott executive orders that won’t do much but do help give the impression that they’re doing something, or are at least in favor of doing something. Patrick’s idea would be something, though it’s not clear to me how much of something. Does this also close the gun show loophole, or is that outside the scope? If it does include gun show sales, then I’d call it a real step forward, and I will admit to being pleasantly surprised. If not, it’s still not nothing, but it’s also not much. Until we see a bill, and until the Lege is in session to take action on that bill, it’s hard to say. And even if something does get introduced, there will continue to be resistance to it getting passed in any meaningful form. But I’ve been saying that Republicans will take no action, and this is the first indication that I could be wrong about that. We’ll see.

UPDATE: The Texas Signal is also skeptical.

The special election lineups are set

From the Trib:

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Democrats in HD-28 have coalesced around Elizabeth “Eliz” Markowitz, who was the only Democrat to file. Markowitz, a Katy teacher, unsuccessfully ran last year for State Board of Education District 7, which overlaps with HD-28.

Six Republicans, meanwhile, filed for the seat, making it likely that there will be a runoff featuring one of them and Markowitz, who will not have to split the Democratic vote. The GOP contenders are:

  • Anna Allred, a Houston anesthesiologist from the same doctor group as [outgoing Rep. John] Zerwas
  • Gary Gates, a Rosenberg businessman who has unsuccessfully run for several other offices, most recently railroad commissioner in 2016
  • Gary J. Hale, a Katy business owner who has his own intelligence firm and is a retired intelligence official with the Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Tricia Krenek, a Katy attorney and former member of the Fulshear City Council
  • Sarah Laningham, a Richmond woman who works in sales and unsuccessfully ran for House District 14 in 2018
  • Clinton D. Purnell, a Katy man who works in logistics and customs compliance

[…]

The HD-148 candidates:

  • Rob Block (D)
  • Kendra Yarbrough Camarena (D)
  • Chris Carmona (I)
  • Carol Denson (D)
  • Anna Eastman (D)
  • Adrian Garcia (D)
  • Terah Isaacson (D)
  • Michele Leal (D)
  • Ryan McConnico (R)
  • Mia Mundy (D)
  • Anna Núñez (D)
  • Luis La Rotta (R)
  • Penny “Morales” Shaw (D)
  • Alva Trevino (D)
  • Chris Watt (D)

See here for my interview with Markowitz. Most of these HD148 candidates we’ve discussed before. One of the four new names is Ryan McConnico, who was Farrar’s Republican opponent in 2018. Of the other three, the only one I can positively identify is Michele Leal, though there’s not yet any biographical info on her Facebook page or nascent campaign webpage. Here’s the public part of her LinkedIn profile, which notes her past presidency of the Latin Women’s Initiative, which in turn tells me she also goes by Michele Leal Farah. As for Rob Block and Carol Denson, I can find people with those names, but none that I can say with any degree of certainty are the people who filed for this election. If you know something about them, please leave a comment.

Three other points of note: Like Campos (who lists each candidate’s occupation), I don’t know what the deal is with the quotes around Penny Shaw’s maiden name. I don’t know if longtime Republican Chris Carmona is calling himself an independent due to a pure-hearted change of mind or a cynical attempt to differentiate himself from the other Republicans. And despite filing a CTA, it appears that Anna Nunez did not follow through and enter the race. Not sure what happened there.

I do plan to do some interviews, how many is yet to be determined. In the meantime, there’s your field. The candidates from the third legislative special election, in HD100 to succeed new Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, are also in the Trib story. What do you think?

UPDATE: Apparently, the omission of Anna Núñez from the Trib list of HD148 candidates was the result of an error by the Secretary of State, which has now been corrected. My apologies for my role in extending that error.

We talk once again about straight ticket voting

We have a new study, so we have a new reason.

The state’s decision to kill straight-ticket voting could cut turnout in down-ballot races in the 2020 elections — even if more voters show up to the polls.

Sure, those additional voters will cast ballots for president and U.S. Senate. But voter interest and knowledge gets thinner and thinner as the ballots go on and on.

Without straight-ticket voting — where voters register support for all of their parties’ candidates with a single vote — down-ballot candidates will have to win with the support of the relatively few voters who make it past the marquee contests.

Two-thirds of Texans voted straight ticket in 2018. In 2020, candidates for offices like constable and justice of the peace will need all the help they can get from friends and family; it won’t be enough to rely on the straight-ticket voters.

In particular, Democratic candidates depending on a growing base of voters may suffer, according to a study done by the Austin Community College Center for Public Policy and Political Studies.

“Most analyses of the election contend that straight-ticket voting helped the Democratic Party candidates in certain types of counties — metropolitan and some suburbs,” authors Stefan Haag and Peck Young wrote. “And we agree that the increased competitiveness of Democrats in many counties was abetted by straight-ticket voting.”

It’s not so much that Democrats were depending on straight tickets for their strength; it’s that strong candidates at the top of the ticket — like Democrat Beto O’Rourke — were making it easier for the rest of the party’s candidates to win some votes.

[…]

“The greatest effect of the elimination of straight-ticket voting will probably not be the elimination of Texans voting for all candidates of one political party — the essence of straight-ticket voting,” the two wrote. “The effect will be that people will spend more time in the voting booth.”

You can see the study here, and you can read everything I’ve had to say on the topic here. The authors get some things right, in my opinion, including the conclusion that I quoted at the end there, but I’m not convinced yet that there will be a huge effect on downballot races. I’m especially not convinced that this is going to help Republicans win judicial races in Harris County again. The Harris County GOP has much bigger problems than that.

The main effect is to make voting take longer, which (it is hoped by the GOP) will not only make some (Democratic) people skip some races, but will also make lines longer and thus discourage some (Democratic) people from getting in to vote at all. There are other techniques they are employing towards this end as well.

The Texas Legislature never seems to pass up a chance to make voting harder, scarier, or more confusing. True to form, Texas was one of several states this year that restricted—rather than expanded—access to the polls.

HB 1888, which Governor Greg Abbott signed into law in June, goes into effect this week, effectively banning the use of mobile polling places, a strategy adopted by some counties to facilitate early voting in communities where people may have a harder time getting to a polling site. Travis County, for instance, has for the past several years operated dozens of temporary polling places at various times during the state’s two-week early voting window, opening up temporary sites at colleges, rural community centers, and senior living facilities. More than 28,000 people voted at those rotating polling sites last year, or nearly 6 percent of all Travis County votes cast during the 2018 midterm election.

However, since the county can’t afford to turn all of those temporary polling places into permanent early voting sites, as required by HB 1888, some areas accustomed to having early voting won’t get it during the 2020 election, according to Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. “We’re struggling with what to do for some of these communities now,” DeBeauvoir told the Observer. “We won’t be able to open polling places that some people have gotten used to.”

It’s all of our responsibility to find ways to keep lines manageable and give everyone the best chance to vote in a timely manner. A couple of suggestions come to mind:

1. If you are 65 years old, or will be by Election Day, you are eligible to vote by mail. Take advantage of it.

2. The best days to vote early are Tuesday through Friday of the first week of early voting, and the Monday and Tuesday of the second week. If you’ve made it to Thursday of the second week of early voting, go ahead and wait till Election Day. Those last two days of early voting, especially the very last day, are by far the busiest. Don’t make it more so.

3. If you really want to go the (literal) extra mile, find the lower-volume early voting locations and vote at one of them. You can look back at my daily EV reports to see which places to seek out. Vote first thing in the morning (7 AM during the second week), later in the morning (like between 9:30 and 11), or early afternoon (say between 1:30 and 3) to avoid the commute and lunchtime crowds.

4. If you have the time, sign up with your county to be an election judge, so that if they do want to open another EV location, they will have the staff for it.

Every little bit helps. When we finally take over state government, we can work on actually fixing this. Until then, do what we can to not make things worse.

Greg Abbott is not going to take action on gun violence

Why would he? It’s not who he is.

When Gov. Greg Abbott first convened the new Texas Safety Commission last month after the El Paso shooting, he brought with him a stack of papers and wasted little time directing the media’s attention to it.

“In the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Santa Fe, we had discussions just like what we are having today,” Abbott said, holding up thick, paper-clipped packets for the cameras. “Those discussions weren’t just for show and for people to go off into the sunset and do nothing. They led to more than 20 laws being signed by me to make sure that the state of Texas was a better, safer place, including our schools for our children.”

The intended message was clear: He had been here before, and it led to results. But over a year later — with two more mass shootings rocking the state just weeks apart — the pressure that the second-term Republican governor faces to do more to keep Texans safe is higher than ever. And the political divisions are just as intense, as Abbott seeks to navigate between an increasingly influential gun control movement and those in his own party who demand that he hold the line on gun rights.

“My impression is the governor’s in a tight spot … because the majority legislative coalition doesn’t really give anyone on that side a chance to move on this,” said Ed Scruggs, the board vice chair of Texas Gun Sense who has participated in both the post-Santa Fe and post-El Paso roundtables. “They’ve been absolutists for so long that it’s very, very difficult. I really can tell you that the governor wants to do something to prevent this, but politically what is possible — he may be the only one who knows that.”

[…]

However, with Abbott’s response to the shootings still in the roundtable phase, skepticism runs amok. In addition to leaving a trail of gleeful social media posts about Texas gun culture in recent years — tweets that have routinely resurfaced after recent mass shootings in the state — Abbott has overseen a dramatic expansion of gun rights in Texas, from an open carry law in 2016 to the slew of new laws that went into effect Sunday loosening firearms restrictions. And for gun control advocates, the memory is still fresh of Abbott asking lawmakers after the Santa Fe shooting to consider a “red flag” law that would allow local officials to take guns away from people if a judge declares them a danger — only to back away from the idea amid an intraparty backlash.

“I would say I am more cynical about Greg Abbott’s leadership than I am optimistic,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of the gun control group Giffords, who participated in the safety commission meeting in El Paso. “However, I do think there’s a path forward on gun safety legislation. I think that means that Abbott is gonna have to get out of the NRA’s box and take a leadership position that is basically a repudiation of what he’s done in the past and where he’s been in the past.”

Remember first and foremost that the Legislature is not in session, and barring the very unlikely calling of a special session, there’s nothing that can be done in Texas except talk and study until 2021. But look, Greg Abbott believes in more guns and fewer restrictions on them. That’s what he has pushed for, that’s what he advocates, that’s what he is. He may be feeling some political pressure to Do Something about gun violence now, though I’d say that’s more a concern for Republican legislators and Congressfolk losing races than for his own political fortunes, but he also feels a lot of pressure to hold fast against such action. Why would he go along with what Democrats want? It makes no sense, and it collides with everything Abbott has done as a politician. When that changes (spoiler alert: it won’t), let me know. The Chron, the Chron editorial board, Erica Greider, Texas Monthly, the Texas Signal, and the Observer have more.

Five for fleeing

There goes another one.

Rep. Bill Flores

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores announced Wednesday morning that he would not run for reelection in 2020 — making him the fifth Texas Republican to announce his retirement from Congress.

“Serving my country as the Representative of the hardworking Texas families in the 17th Congressional District has been an honor and one of the greatest privileges of my life,” Flores said in a statement. “Following the end of my current term in January 2021, I look forward to spending much more time with my family and our grandchildren,” he said in a statement. “I also intend to resume business activities in the private sector and to stay politically active on a federal, state and local level.”

Flores joins several other Texas Republicans in Congress who are not running for reelection — U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway and Will Hurd.

[…]

Flores represents the 17th district, which stretches across a swath of Central Texas encompassing Waco, College Station and a small cut of north Austin. It is a reliably conservative district, and unlike the districts of several of the departing GOP Texans, the 17th did not see a marked Democratic surge in the 2018 midterms. His departure does not seem to be one of retreat in the face of steeper reelection odds.

A surge, no, but 2018 was a high water mark for Dems in CD17:


Year      CCA R    CCA D
========================
2012      57.9%    38.1%
2014      62.4%    33.5%
2016      58.9%    36.5%
2018      55.6%    41.7%
2018 Sen  54.3%    44.8%

The CCA numbers all come from races with a Republican, a Democrat, and a Libertarian. I included the Beto-Cruz race at the bottom for comparison. CD17 was never on the radar, in part because it was and is more Republican than other contested districts, and in part because 2018 Dem candidate Rick Kennedy didn’t raise much money. Kennedy is running again, but Flores’ departure may draw the interest of someone who can run more vigorously. That person will have to be a self-starter because this race will not get any national interest – if CD17 is seen as competitive, then Dems are already likely to flip a bunch of seats – but CD17 includes all of HD14, which is a Dem target for the Lege, so having a strong candidate here has ancillary benefits. I’ll be interested to see who emerges on both sides. Daily Kos, Think Progress, and the Texas Signal have more.

Interview with Eliz Markowitz

Eliz Markowitz

In addition to the city, HISD, and HCC races, the November ballot includes two special legislative elections in the greater Houston area. The first one that came about is in HD28, where outgoing Rep. John Zerwas stepped down to pursue other opportunities. Zerwas drew a spirited challenge in 2018 from Meghan Scoggins, prevailing with 54% of the vote in a district where Beto got 48%. HD28 was always going to be a Democratic target in 2020, and now we get a chance to win it even before then. Stepping up for this challenge is Eliz Markowitz, who had run for the SBOE in 2018. Markowitz is an educator who works at the Princeton Review and is the primary author of a high school algebra textbook. She has also worked in medical research and is an alum of my alma mater, Trinity University, which as you know always gets a bump in esteem from me. Here’s the interview:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is not following the HD28 race, but the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet is, and it looks like it’s Markowitz versus a bunch of Republicans. Fine by me. You can see her finance report here, and you can listen to my interview with 2018 candidate Meghan Scoggins here.

Beer to go is here

Hooray!

The highly anticipated beer-to-go legislation officially [went] into effect Sunday, and local breweries [celebrated] the occasion by offering up cans, growlers and crowlers of beer for visitors to bring home — a simple act that has been illegal in the state of Texas until now.

“We still don’t really believe it,” said John Holler, who along with his wife Kathryn, owns Holler Brewing in Houston’s Sawyer Yards district. “Without this, our beer would never be in a can, because at our size, it just wouldn’t make sense to sell cans unless we could sell them directly to the consumer.”

John Holler has been a key part of the push to help Texas become the 50th state in the nation to allow beer-to-go sales, joining the board of the Craft Brewers Guild. While Texas craft brewers spent more than a decade advocating for beer to go, it wasn’t until the run-up to this 86th Legislature that the movement reached is full force with the formation of the guild, a political action committee.

[…]

For some of the city’s larger breweries, the novelty of being able to sip their beer from cans isn’t quite as potent as it is for Holler, where beers have always been available exclusively from the tap.

At Southern Star Brewing in Conroe, brewers will celebrate by releasing some of their specialty beers, like a tequila-aged Trippel and others in can and growler-fills.

It’s been too long since I’ve visited some of these places. Time to start planning some Saturday outings, now that the heat should begin dissipating a bit. We wanted this for a long time, now let’s make it count.

The HD148 field keeps growing

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Here’s the current list of people who have filed CTAs for HD148, not including Rep. Jessica Farrar and her 2018 opponent Ryan McConnico:

83999 COH Isaacson, Terah C. 08/20/2019 State Representative Dist 148
65547 COH Yarbrough Camarena, Kendra J. 08/21/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84004 COH LaRotta, Luis Humberto 08/21/2019 State Representative Dist 148
83177 COH Mundy, Mia 11/26/2018 State Representative Dist 148
83989 COH Shaw, Penny 08/18/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84010 COH Nunez, Anna L. 08/22/2019 State Representative Dist 148
69682 COH Carmona, Christopher 08/26/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84029 COH Watt, Christopher B. 08/29/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84025 COH Garcia, Adrian 08/28/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84022 COH Eastman, Anna M. 08/27/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84026 COH Trevino, Alva I 08/27/2019 State Representative Dist 148

The first six, down to Anna Nunez, I’ve discussed before. Let’s review the others.

– No, that’s not County Commissioner Adrian Garcia. According to Carlos Calbillo on Facebook, this Adrian Garcia is a “former Texas Senate intern, Aggie and campaign worker in the race that now-Commissioner Adrian Garcia ran for Congress against Gene Green. He is no relation to the Commissioner.” You can see a picture of him at the link above, and this appears to be his Facebook page. It’s certainly possible some people will think he’s the County Commissioner, but whether they’d be happy to vote for him or confused as to why he’d be running for another office is a question I can’t answer.

– Chris Carmona is a Republican who has run for office a couple of times – City Council against Melissa Noriega in 2011, County Attorney in 2016 (he lost in the primary), and for HD148 against Rep. Farrar in 2014 (he got 39.7%). Having more than one Republican in the race may split that vote enough to prevent either of them from making the runoff, though with this many Dems in there as well I wouldn’t count on that. He still has his 2016 campaign Facebook page; I assume he’ll repurpose it for this race.

Christopher Watt is an attorney (this is why I’m pretty sure I’ve got the right person). His Facebook page suggests he’s a Democrat. I didn’t find any campaign presence for him.

Alva Trevino is an attorney who serves on METRO’s Executive Leadership Team, having previously been METRO’s General Counsel. Her husband Joe Trevino ran for City Council in 2007, losing in the runoff to Jolanda Jones for At Large #5. She should be a serious contender, able to raise some money quickly, which everyone is going to need to do in this short campaign with a lot of background noise.

– Last but certainly not least is Anna Eastman, who I’d say starts out with the name recognition advantage after serving two terms as HISD Trustee. She announced her candidacy on Friday to a lot of acclaim.

So that’s eleven candidates, which needless to say is a lot, all running for an office that they’d need to run for again next year, beginning with the primary. I had originally thought that whoever won the special election would have a leg up in the primary, but now I’m not so sure. Mostly that’s because with this many candidates – and remember, the filing deadline is Wednesday, so there’s still time for more people to jump in – the potential for an unexpected result is non-trivial. As I’ve said many times, we’re going to have a super high turnout primary next March, which means the incumbent advantage for someone who would have literally just won, will be small. I’d still give the winner of this race the edge, but it would not shock me at all if we wind up electing someone else next year.

I’ll update again once the filing deadline passes. I’m going to do some interviews for this race, but we’ll see how many.

The Lege will not take any action on guns

By all means, keep calling for a special session to address the issue. Just do keep in mind who holds all the cards.

At least 17 Texas state lawmakers are asking Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to address gun violence following a mass shooting in El Paso that left 22 dead and dozens injured.

The list includes four state representatives from San Antonio, including Roland Gutierrez, Diego Bernal, Leo Pacheco and Ina Minjarez.

“Our state leadership has failed to be proactive and adopt laws that would allow gun safety,” said Gutierrez, who has secured more than 500 signatures in a related online petition. “All Texans should feel safe in their communities. Every year we lose too many to gun violence. Over 3,353 gun-related deaths occur in Texas each year. One death is too many – time for change.”

Others on the list are: state Rep. Shawn Thierry, D-Houston; state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin; state Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton; state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston; state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas; state Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin; state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood; state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City; state Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin; state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo; state Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Fort Worth and state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

In case you didn’t read through that whole list, none of the legislators in question are Republicans. That tells you everything you need to know.

(To be fair, there are other political reasons why there won’t be a special session.)

After the massacre of 22 people at an El Paso Walmart by an attacker with a military-style rifle, Texas’ Republican leadership is still unlikely to push for gun restrictions in a state that has long embraced firearms and has nearly 1.4 million handgun license holders, experts and advocates on both sides of the gun issue say. The shooting comes nearly 21 months after the Sutherland Springs massacre that killed more than two dozen people and more than a year after the Santa Fe shooting that killed 10.

“When Texas Republicans look at these massacres, they don’t blame guns, or gun laws. They blame people. They may blame institutions, schools, families, mental health, but not guns,” said Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University. “If a school massacre and a church massacre didn’t change people’s opinion, the El Paso massacre isn’t going to.”

[…]

Abbott met last week with Democratic lawmakers from El Paso who have pushed for gun control and said he wants to keep guns away from “deranged killers.” Abbott said the state should battle hate, racism and terrorism, but made no mention of gun restrictions.

“Our job is to keep Texans safe,” Abbott said. “We take that job seriously. We will act swiftly and aggressively to address it.”

Abbott said he will meet with experts this month to discuss how Texas can respond – much as he did after shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe.

Those meetings resulted in Abbott issuing a 43-page report with proposals for more armed guards in schools, boosting mental health screenings, new restrictions on home gun storage, and consideration of red flag laws.

Gun rights supporters immediately pushed back on anything that could be interpreted as restricting gun ownership, and the Legislature’s Republican majority pivoted to expanding run rights. The only victory gun control supporters could claim was a small item in a $250 billion state budget: $1 million for a public awareness campaign on safe gun storage at home.

“They made things worse,” said Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense. “I went naively into the session thinking ‘Progress here we come.’ But we ran head on into this idea that more guns make us safer.”

Well, more armed guards in schools, in churches, at WalMart, and now after Midland/Odessa, in cars and on the roads. Maybe if we station an armed guard on every street corner, inside every shop and restaurant, and on every floor of every office building in America, we’ll finally be safe from gun violence. We won’t have time to do anything else because we’ll need literally everyone to serve as all those armed guards, but hey, at least we’ll have done something that the Greg Abbotts and Matt Schaefers of the world can abide. Alternately, we can vote them out and elect people who want to do more rational, sensible, and effective things to curb gun violence. Decisions, decisions.

A reminder about the local legislative races

Let’s review the facts together.

Rep. Jon Rosenthal

State Rep. Jon Rosenthal wasn’t supposed to win his Texas House seat last year. He was too much of a Democrat for the swath of northwest Harris County that had long elected Republicans.

But in the 2018 election, amid buzz over Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and frustration with the Trump administration, the longtime engineer and first-time candidate emerged as one of a dozen Democrats to turn a Republican seat blue.

Now Rosenthal, 56, has a political target on his back. Republican operatives say Rosenthal’s seat is one of about a dozen nestled in the Texas suburbs that they can win back. Most of the hottest races are expected in the Houston area or the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Nearly $2 million has already been poured into coffers for candidates as both parties brace for the fight.

“The 2020 year is going to be really wild in terms of what outside influences and national parties spend in our areas,” said Rosenthal.

Democrats will have to work the hardest to defend their new turf in Harris County, analysts say, after flipping two seats by slim margins in 2018.

In 2020, the stakes will be considerably higher, as the party that controls the House in 2021 will have a commanding influence on redrawing congressional and legislative district maps that will be in use over the next decade, shaping the political direction of the state.

Republicans have set their sights on Rosenthal, who won District 135 by 3 percentage points in his northwest Harris County district, which spans from Jersey Village to Westgate. Further west in Katy, first-time candidate Gina Calanni eked out a win in District 132 against another Republican incumbent by 113 votes.

“We need to take these two seats back to expand the majority and certainly heading into redistricting next session. It’s critical to taking Texas Republican after the census,” said Paul Simpson, chairman of the Harris County GOP.

Although population growth in those areas is on the rise, Republicans doubt those districts are shifting as liberal as Democrats think. The districts were victim of a “Beto wave,” Simpson said, noting that voters in both 132 and 135 also favored Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Democrats are counting on long-awaited demographic changes to widen the margins and keep both Rosenthal and Calanni in office.

“I think the population has changed dramatically over the past few years and I think there’s a lot more anti-Trump sentiment to add fuel to the fire, said Lillie Schechter, chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party.

Let me start with the assertion that Rep. Rosenthal “wasn’t supposed to win” in HD135. Sure, he was an underdog in a Republican district that was trending Democratic, but it was not at all hard to imagine this swingy district going blue in a good year for the Dems. It’s a weird start to the article.

I’m not here to argue that Rosenthal’s HD135, or Rep. Gina Calanni’s HD132, are not legitimate targets for the Republicans in 2020. These are districts that had voted Republican for a long time, they were close races in 2018 – especially close in Calanni’s case, as she won with less than 50% with a Libertarian also in the mix – and what else are the Republicans going to do in 2020? They’d be committing political malpractice if they didn’t go all out in those districts. But for crying out loud, can we quit with the “Beto wave” foolishness? Sure, Beto won HDs 132 and 135. So did Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, and Kim Olson. The statewide Republicans that carried those districts did so by small margins. At the judicial race level, both districts were basically 50-50. Both Calanni and Rosenthal won a majority of the non-straight ticket voters in their districts. And at the risk of repeating myself, both districts were trending Democratic before 2018. There’s no reason to think they’ve trended any less Democratic since then.

None of this is to say that either or both of Rosenthal and Calanni can’t lose. Those races were actually kind of low profile in 2018. No one is sneaking up on anyone in 2020, especially not in HDs 132 and 135. The incumbents start out as favorites, as they had in 2018, but upsets are possible. Just be sure to show your work if you’re going to predict that they will happen.

The Republicans say it’s the Democrats who will have more trouble at the top of the ticket, with no O’Rourke.

“I’m not being arrogant when I say this, but our numbers should have been higher according to the polling,” said Rep. Sam Harless, a relatively moderate Republican who won his first election in 2018 by 9.7 percentage points. “The Beto factor was huge.”

“I think the Democrats see a little blood in the water, they’re getting excited, but I think the Republicans will pick back up five to seven seats,” he said.

In total, Democratic and Republican party operatives have identified 34 seats across Texas as potential toss-ups. Of them, 14 were won within a 5-percent margin in the last election. Another 13 contests came within a 10-percentage point margin, and seven are seen as vulnerable for other reasons.

Yeah, it’s the (probable) lack of Beto at the top of the ticket that will make a difference. Have y’all heard of Donald Trump? I mean, seriously. I’ll take that bet, Rep. Harless. Indeed, while this story correctly identified HDs 138 and 134 as top Democratic targets for 2020, and mentioned HDs 129 and 133 as stretch targets, HD126 was actually more Democratic than either of those two. Are those footsteps you hear, Rep. Harless? Beyond that, I’d like to see the complete list of those 34 seats, especially the seven that are “seen as vulnerable for other reasons”. What does that even mean? We can’t tell from this story, so feel free to speculate in the comments.

The children will count us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

MQS-Bonnen secret meeting investigation update

Noted for the record.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

HD148 update

From TX Elects:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more thing, on an unrelated note:

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

Our all-important metro areas

Another look at the trouble Republicans face in Texas now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty much everybody wants MQS to release the Bonnen recordings

From Twitter:

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

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

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

The 2019 ballot order

Time once again for this risible ceremony.

The order of the November Houston ballot was set Friday morning in a random drawing at City Hall, laying out how the candidates for mayor, controller and city council will appear when voters cast their ballots this fall.

Here is the order of the 12-candidate field for mayor, as it will appear on the ballot:

  • Demetria Smith
  • Naoufal Houjami
  • Victoria Romero
  • Roy J. Vasquez
  • Kendall Baker
  • Derrick Broze
  • Sue Lovell
  • Bill King
  • Sylvester Turner
  • Tony Buzbee
  • Dwight A. Boykins
  • Johnny “J.T.” Taylor

Though candidates listed atop the ballot traditionally receive a slight bump, the leading candidates for mayor this year are clustered together near the bottom, appearing to deny anyone a major advantage in the order.

The order for all of the Houston elections can be seen here. The ballot order for other elections, such as for HISD and HCC, are set by the entities that run those elections.

This is the time when I put on my Grumpy Old Man hat, hitch up my Grumpy Old Man pants, and complain for the umpty-umpth time about the whole “drawing for ballot position” thing. We are in the year of our Lord two thousand and nineteen. We have been using electronic doohickies to conduct our elections for almost two decades. Why in the name of Ada Lovelace have we not made it a requirement to have those electronic election doohickies randomize the order of candidates for each individual voter? The idea that there could be even a tiny advantage to the candidate who through the luck of the draw gets to have their name first on the ballot is an utter abomination, one that could be resolved by one line of code in the programming of those electronic voting doohickies. Why oh Lord why can we not do this?

(The answer to my overwrought rhetorical question is almost certainly “because state law doesn’t allow it”, and to be fair the people who have a genuine, good faith interest in conducting better and fairer elections have much bigger fish to fry than this pet issue of mine. That said, there’s nothing at all partisan in what I am once again bitching about. I would like to think that a bill that mandated random ballot order, to be implemented as each vote-conducting entity upgrades its current voting machines, or by some deadline ten or so years in the future, would not draw strong opposition. Maybe someday, someone will take up my admittedly small-bore cause. Until then, I look forward to whining about this again early next year, when the ballot order for the 2020 primary races is established.)

Is there anything Houston can do about gun violence?

Not much, unfortunately.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here comes beer to go

Hooray!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special election set for HD148

Straight from the source.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

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

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

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

Read the Governor’s full special election proclamation.

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

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

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

One person says she’s in:

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

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

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

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

The Bonnen-MQS saga makes the Times

Gotta love it when our little intramural squabbles go national.

Found on the Twitters

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

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

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

Except there was a tape.

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rep. Dustin Burrows steps down as House GOP Caucus Chair

Noted for the record.

Rep. Dustin Burrows

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

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

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

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

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

State Rep. Jessica Farrar departs

This was unexpected.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special election set in HD28

Looks like I was a bit confused about this.

Rep. John Zerwas

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

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

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

[…]

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

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