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The Lege

It’s bill-filing season

Here are some highlights from Day One:

  • House Bill 49, by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would get rid of daylight saving time in Texas. Some lawmakers have tried to do this in past sessions.
  • House Bill 63, by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would make it a civil offense — not a crime — to be caught with less than one ounce of marijuana. Moody’s bill was one of several filed Monday aiming to loosen marijuana laws in Texas.
  • House Bill 84, also by Moody, would repeal the section of the Texas penal code that lists “homosexual conduct” as a crime. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that the section is unenforceable, but it remains on the books.
  • House Bill 222, by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, would prohibit Texas cities from adopting or enforcing ordinances that would require employers to offer their employees paid sick leave. San Antonio and Austin have passed paid sick leave ordinances this year. Soon after Austin passed its ordinance, state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, announced that he would file legislation banning the ordinances, but Workman was defeated in Tuesday’s election.
  • House Joint Resolution 24, by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, would propose a constitutional amendment requiring the state to fund at least half of the cost of funding public schools. If the amendment were approved by voters, local property tax collections would not apply to the state’s share.
  • Senate Bill 66, by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would reduce and eventually eliminate the state’s franchise tax.

My reaction, in order: Oppose, favor, favor, oppose, favor, neutral. It makes me happy that the pro-sick employees faction had to find a new lackey after their original sponsor got tossed. I’ll be following this stuff as usual as we morph into the legislative season.

CD23 update

Today is the last day to cure a provisional ballot. In the meantime, the counting goes on in the closest Texas Congressional race.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Election officials in 29 Texas counties are furiously counting outstanding votes in the Congressional District 23 election, in which Republican Rep. Will Hurd holds a narrow lead with at least 859 ballots outstanding.

Hurd, a two-term incumbent, thought he had a comfortable win Tuesday night, when the Associated Press called the race for him around 11 p.m.

But the contest tightened in the early morning hours Wednesday, and it appeared — for a half-hour — that Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones had pulled off an upset.

Then the lead changed hands again, and the state’s unofficial results showed Hurd winning by 689 votes. Later Wednesday, a tabulation error in Jones’ favor was discovered in Culberson County. Once the error was corrected, Hurd’s margin had increased to 1,150 votes — out of more than 200,000 cast.

[…]

On Friday, Bexar County — which accounts for more than half the votes in the district — updated its tally to reflect 446 ballots counted since election night. Hurd received 183, Jones 253 and Libertarian candidate Ruben Corvalan 10.

Jones gained a net 70 votes, reducing Hurd’s overall margin to 1,080.

Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said there’s been a steady stream of lawyers and campaign workers at the county’s Elections Department asking questions about the uncounted ballots.

“We haven’t seen so many lawyers in here since forever,” she said.

At least 859 ballots are still outstanding, according to county elections officials across the district, but it’s unclear how many will ultimately be included in the final count.

See here for some background. The SOS still shows Hurd with a 1,150 vote lead, but as you can see the Bexar County elections page shows more votes counted, so the SOS page is a bit out of date. Ortiz Jones is pushing for more information about the provisional voters, though Bexar County officials say they’re just following the rules about what can and cannot be disclosed at this time. I still don’t expect there the be enough uncounted votes to make it likely that she could catch up, but we’ll know soon enough.

In the meantime, the HD138 and HD108 races remain in contention, while Gina Calanni’s lead in HD132 has increased to 97 votes. Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol Donovan put out a statement yesterday about the HD108 race that included this curious bit:

One of the hold-ups is caused by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Though Texas law allows people to register to vote when renewing their drivers license, the DMV is notorious for sitting on these registrations and failing to turn them in to the election department of the counties in which they operate. Without this documentation, the local election departments are unable to determine if certain provisional ballots should be counted. In Dallas County, it is estimated that approximately 1,000 provisional ballots are being held, pending the documentation from the DMV. This number is significantly higher than the number of votes that separate the candidates in House District 108.

Not really sure what to make of that, but as I said, we should at least get some official numbers by the end of the day today. Stay tuned.

It sure looks like Dennis Bonnen will be the next Speaker

The Speaker’s race is over before it started, basically.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen announced Monday that he has support from 109 members to become the next speaker of the Texas House. That number, if it holds, is more than enough votes for him to win the gavel.

The Angleton Republican’s announcement comes after four other speaker candidates — Republicans Tan Parker, Four Price and Phil King, along with Democrat Eric Johnson — dropped out of the race in the last 48 hours. All four endorsed Bonnen upon removing their names from consideration. Bonnen said during a news conference at the Texas Capitol on Monday afternoon that his team plans to release the list of 109 members supporting his bid soon.

“We are here to let you know the speaker’s race is over, and the Texas House is ready to go to work,” said Bonnen, who was flanked by at least two members of the hardline conservative Texas House Freedom Caucus — Jeff Leach of Plano and Mike Lang of Granbury — and state Rep. Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican and former speaker, among other Republican and Democrats. When asked by reporters what the House’s No. 1 priority would be during the 2019 legislative session, Bonnen suggested school finance would be at the top of members’ lists.

[…]

During Monday’s press conference, Bonnen dumped cold water on rumors that there would be no Democratic chairs under his leadership — adding that he would adhere to the House tradition of being a “bipartisan chamber.”

“We are excited to bring the house together, to be unified and to do good work for the people of Texas,” he said.

See here and here for some background. All of the other Speaker wannabes have since withdrawn and gotten behind Bonnen as well. The dominoes really started to fall when Rep. Four Price dropped out on Sunday and endorsed Bonnen. Then the tweets started flying, with a 3 PM press conference announced, and Democratic Rep. Eric Johnson announced his withdrawal and endorsement of Bonnen an hour or so ahead of that, and the next thing you know Rep. Bonnen is announcing his 109 supporters and getting cautious kudos from Rep. Chris Turner, the House Dem Caucus leader. There may still be some bumps in the road from those who had previously committed to other candidates, but honestly that’s a bump on a log. Your average Alabama football game has more suspense about who’s going to win at this point. Look to see who gets named to Committee chairs, and then we’ll see how spicy this session may be.

Initial thoughts: The Lege

Live by the gerrymander, die by the gerrymander.

At the end of the 2011 legislative session, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, sat down to dinner with a Republican colleague from the Texas House. Anchia was exhausted and incensed.

It had been a brutal six months for House Democrats, who were down to 48 seats in the 150-seat chamber. After riding a red wave in the 2010 election, Republicans used their new House supermajority to redraw Texas’ political maps following the once-a-decade census in a way that would help them hold onto their gains. They all but assured GOP control of the House for the next decade and secured almost 60 percent of the seats in Dallas County, even though the county was already reliably blue.

Anchia recalled telling the Republican colleague, who he declined to name, that Dallas Democrats were “getting screwed.” But the colleague offered a puzzling piece of solace: “There’s not going to be one [Dallas] Republican left by the end of this decade.”

Seven years later, that political forecast almost became reality. Amid their zeal for control, Republicans in 2011 opted for keeping their numbers up in the county and dismissed the possibility of creating a district with a black and Hispanic majority that could’ve made their seats safer in a Democratic wave election. Going into Election Day, Republicans held seven of the 14 House seats in Dallas County. But a collapse of the Republican-leaning redistricting scheme has left them with just two seats — and even those were won by narrow margins.

“The lesson is you can get too clever in gerrymandering,” said Michael Li, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

[…]

As far as Democrats and redistricting experts are concerned, Republicans could have opted to create a new “opportunity district” for the county’s growing population of color. That would’ve reduced the number of voters of color in Republican districts, giving the GOP more of a cushion through the decade, but it would have also likely added another seat to the Democrats’ column.

Opting instead for more power, the Democrats alleged, the Republicans packed and cracked Latino voters across the county to diminish their voting strength overall and ensure a GOP majority.

But Republicans “shaved those things off a little too close because they got greedy,” said Jose Garza, a voting rights lawyer who helped challenge the GOP’s mapmaking. And in a wave election like this, the vulnerable Republican majority loses its edge, he added.

Here’s my precinct analysis from 2016 for Dallas County. I had some thoughts about how this year might go based on what happened in 2016, so let me quote myself from that second post:

“So the best case for the Republicans is a clear win in six districts, with two tossups. Democrats can reasonably hope to have an advantage in eight districts, and in a really good year could mount a decent challenge in 11. These are Presidential year conditions, of course, though as we’ve discussed several times, there’s every reason to believe that 2018 will not be like 2010 or 2014. It still could be bad – Dems will definitely have to protect HD107 – but if the off-year cycle has been broken, there are a lot of opportunities in Dallas to make gains.”

In actuality, Dems won twelve of fourteen races, with a recount possible in one of the two losses. Clearly, I did not see that coming. The supercharged performance in Dallas County overall contributed not only to these results, but also the wins in SD16 and CD32. If this is the new normal in Dallas County, Republicans are going to have some very hard choices to make in 2021 when it’s time to redraw the lines.

And by the way, this lesson about not being too greedy is one they should have learned in the last decade. In 2001, they drew the six legislative districts in Travis County to be three Ds and three Rs. By 2008, all six districts were in Democratic hands. The Republicans won HD47 back in the 2010 wave, and the map they drew this time around left it at 5-1 for the Dems. Of course, they lost HD47 last week too, so maybe the lesson is that the big urban areas are just unrelentingly hostile to them. Not a very useful lesson, I suppose, but not my problem.

Anyway. Here were the top legislative targets for 2018 that I identified last cycle. Let’s do an update on that:


Dist  Clinton% Burns%  Dem18%  Rep18%
=====================================
105     52.1%   49.0%   54.7%   45.3%
113     49.1%   46.4%   53.5%   46.5%
115     51.5%   45.8%   56.7%   43.3%
134     54.7%   45.4%   46.8%   53.2%
102     52.3%   45.3%   52.8%   47.2%
043     43.6%   44.3%   38.9%   61.1%
112     48.3%   43.9%   48.9%   51.1%
135     46.6%   43.7%   50.8%   47.7%
138     47.6%   43.6%   49.9%   50.1%
114     52.1%   43.3%   55.6%   44.4%
132     45.5%   42.7%   49.2%   49.1%
136     46.7%   42.7%   53.3%   43.8%
065     46.1%   42.4%   51.1%   48.9%
052     45.3%   42.2%   51.7%   48.3%
054     43.6%   42.0%   46.2%   53.8%
045     44.2%   41.7%   51.6%   48.4%
026     45.5%   41.0%   47.5%   52.5%
047     46.5%   40.5%   52.3%   47.7%
126     42.7%   39.8%   45.2%   54.8%
108     50.3%   39.6%   49.7%   50.3%
066     45.5%   39.5%   49.7%   50.3%
067     43.9%   38.9%   48.9%   51.1%
097     42.1%   38.5%   47.2%   50.9%
121     42.7%   38.0%   44.7%   53.2%

“Clinton%” is the share of the vote Hillary Clinton got in the district in 2016, while “Burns%” is the same for Court of Criminal Appeals candidate Robert Burns. I used the latter as my proxy for the partisan ratio in a district, as Clinton had picked up crossover votes and thus in my mind made things look better for Dems than perhaps they really were. As you can see from the “Dem18% and “Rep18%” values, which are the percentages the State Rep candidates got this year, I was overly pessimistic. I figured the potential was there for growth, and hoped that people who avoided Trump could be persuaded, but I did not expect this much success. Obviously Beto was a factor as well, but it’s not like Republicans didn’t vote. They just had nowhere near the cushion they were accustomed to having, and it showed in the results.

All 12 pickups came from this group, and there remain a few key opportunities for 2020, starting with HDs 138, 54, 26, 66, and 67. I’d remove HD43, which is moving in the wrong direction, and HD134 continues to be in a class by itself, but there are other places to look. What’s more, we can consider a few districts that weren’t on the radar this year to be in play for 2020:


Dist  Clinton% Burns%  Dem18%  Rep18%
=====================================
014     38.1%   34.7%   43.6%   56.4%
023     40.7%   40.5%   41.1%   56.8%
028     42.7%   38.9%   45.8%   54.2%
029     41.0%   38.9%   
032     41.9%   39.5%
064     39.5%   37.4%   44.5%   52.8%
070     32.2%   28.8%   38.2%   61.8%
084     34.8%   32.1%   39.8%   60.2%
085     40.9%   39.7%   43.5%   46.5%
089     35.4%   32.1%   40.4%   59.6%
092     40.2%   37.9%   47.4%   49.8%
093     40.0%   37.5%   46.1%   53.9%
094     40.5%   37.7%   43.9%   52.5%
096     42.3%   40.6%   47.2%   50.9%
129     39.8%   36.3%   41.8%   56.5%
150     36.3%   33.5%   42.2%   57.8%

Dems did not field a candidate in HD32 (Nueces County), and while we had a candidate run and win in the primary in HD29 (Brazoria County), he must have withdrawn because there’s no Dem listed on the SOS results page. Obviously, some of these are reaches, but given how much some of the districts above shifted in a Dem direction, I’d want to see it be a priority to get good candidates in all of them, and find the funds to help them run robust campaigns.

Two other points to note. One is that the number of LGBTQ members of the House went from two (Reps. Mary Gonzalez and Celia Israel) to five in this election, as Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Jessica Gonzalez, and Julie Johnson join them. We just missed adding one to the Senate as Mark Phariss lost by two points to Angela Paxton. Other LGBTQ candidates won other races around the state, and that list at the bottom of the article omits at least one I know of, my friend and former blogging colleague KT Musselman in Williamson County.

And on a related note, the number of Anglo Democrats, a subject that gets discussed from time to time, has more than tripled, going from six to seventeen. We began with Sens. Kirk Watson and John Whitmire, and Reps. Donna Howard, Joe Pickett, Tracy King, and Chris Turner, and to them we add Sens-elect Beverly Powell and Nathan Johnson, and Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Vikki Goodwin, James Talarico, Michelle Beckley, John Turner, Julie Johnson, Gina Calanni, Jon Rosenthal, and John Bucy. You can make of that what you want, I’m just noting it for the record.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, added Rep. Tracy King to the list of Anglo Dems.

Now how about that Speaker’s race?

It’s a little different now.

Rep. Eric Johnson

Democrats picked up 12 state House seats and are now confident they’ll have a stronger hand in electing the next leader. It’s an outlook even some Republicans agree with, although they’ll only say so privately. But while the GOP’s 95-55 stronghold shrank, they still appear to hold 83 seats — comfortably above the 76 votes a candidate needs to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Election night strengthened the Democratic caucus and a renewed commitment to taking our time,” said state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin. “We have time to be thoughtful. We mattered at 55, and we matter even more now at 67.”

But of the six declared Republican speaker candidates, two told The Texas Tribune that the state of the race hasn’t changed much — despite the fact that their party lost a considerable number of seats.

Republican Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, who launched his bid in August, said he didn’t think Tuesday’s results will impact his party’s role in determining who will replace Straus on the dais — and that he still has a “viable path forward” after Tuesday.

“I didn’t lose any supporters [Tuesday] night, by my calculus,” he told the Tribune. “I think it is going to prove to be helpful to me not because we lost Republican seats, but because we’re bringing in a new energy.”

Phil King of Weatherford, who filed to run for speaker before Straus announced his retirement, said the race will still be settled exclusively within the 150-member lower chamber even if it does have a new balance of political power. And King pointed to an upcoming GOP caucus meeting scheduled for Dec. 1, when members are set to rally around their preferred speaker candidate ahead of the full floor vote in January.

[…]

Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas, the only Democrat to throw his hat in the ring to replace Straus, is bullish that his party’s 12-member gain means that a lawmaker from the minority party can win the speakership.

“My perspective on this is pretty straight-forward: Democrats should stop being defeatist in their mentality and start thinking about the speaker’s race in terms of us sticking together — we have 67 votes and are nine away from the majority,” Johnson said. “If we start thinking in terms of finding nine Republicans who will join with us, we can change the conversation from ‘which Republican is it going to be’ to whether we can elect one of our own as speaker. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t be thinking that way.”

I think the odds of Speaker Eric Johnson are extremely slim, but as a matter of strategy, Rep. Johnson has it right. The more united the Dems are, the more influence they will have. As the story notes, some Dems have met with Dennis Bonnen, which fuels my speculation that he was recruited by the Straus disciples for the purpose of garnering enough Dem support to win the job. That said, as the story also notes, the smaller Republican caucus means the number of them needed to form a majority and declare their choice is smaller. Assuming they all agree to support their majority-of-the-majority choice, of course. I suspect there will be plenty more drama and intrigue before it’s all over. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Four Price has dropped his bid to be Speaker and has endorsed Dennis Bonnen. I didn’t see this in time for this post. I’ll post about that story tomorrow.

The state of the high speed rail line

A good long read from the Trib.

Private developer Texas Central Partners LLC plans to build a train that will shuttle people between Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes along a 240-mile route roughly parallel to a highway corridor that normally takes four hours to drive. This new link between two of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation — home to roughly half of the state’s 28 million residents — will help create “a super economy” says Holly Reed, Texas Central’s managing director of external affairs.

Texas Central sees the line as a mammoth example of a private entity addressing an infrastructure demand that government agencies are increasingly unable to tackle — and a chance to hook Americans on an alternative to highways that’s long connected major cities in Asia and Europe.

“There’s no doubt once people ride this train, they will want trains like this to go other places,” Reed adds.

The company’s ambitious vision has arrived just as American cities are starting to grasp the detrimental side effects and financial unsustainability of car-centric infrastructure that’s dominated urban planning since the end of World War II.

Texas Central officials say they have raised and spent at least $125 million, of which at least $75 million has come from Texas investors and individuals. In September, the company announced that it secured an additional $300 million in loans from two Japanese entities. But before Texas Central can create an interstate high-speed network in the United States, it’s got to prove high-speed rail is viable in Texas. Even as the company pushes forward with development — and brings on construction and operations partners — it faces daunting hurdles.

The company is embroiled in legal and bureaucratic debates about whether a private company can use eminent domain, a process that allows entities to condemn land it needs for a project and forcibly buy it from owners who aren’t willing to sell.

At the state Capitol, the bullet train represents the collision of two things that Republicans — who control Texas government — hold dear: private property rights and an unrestrained free market. And for two legislative sessions in a row, the free market has largely come out on top. The project has emerged relatively unscathed after bills aimed at hamstringing or killing it failed to get much traction.

“Big business is a big deal in the state of Texas,” says Kyle Workman, who heads the grassroots opposition group Texans Against High-Speed Rail, an organization that has galvanized rural Texans to lobby local and state leaders to stop the project. Workman says they’ll keep trying when lawmakers reconvene in January.

The political debate is an outgrowth of a larger question confronting a state where most people now live in urban areas: How much should rural residents have to sacrifice to solve problems born in the cities they intentionally avoided or outright fled?

We’re all familiar with the outline of the debate, so read the story for some more details and personal experiences. I do have sympathy for the folks in the rural counties who are in the path of the rail line, but if we were talking about building a new highway, or expanding I-45, no one would blink an eye. I mean, look at how much got bulldozed and paved over during the Katy Freeway widening. There’s a great unmet need for transportation capacity in this state, and given a choice between building high speed rail lines and building more interstate highway lanes, I’ll pick the former 100% of the time. I wish there were a way to do this without taking someone’s property, but until we perfect Star Trek transporter technology, there won’t be. I don’t know what else there is to say.

Garcia officially resigns from the Senate

We will finally get that special election to succeed her in SD06.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat elected to Congress earlier this week, announced Friday she is resigning from the Texas Senate, setting in motion a process to fill the seat that may be resolved after the Legislature convenes in January.

Garcia’s departure ramps up what had been a low-key race for her seat, which covers Houston’s north and southeast sides. Two Houston Democrats — state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez — launched their candidacies after Garcia won her March primary.

Elected Tuesday in Texas’ 29th Congressional District, Garcia resigned Friday to coincide with the start of the “expedited election” period, a provision of Texas’ Election Code intended to speed up special elections for vacancies that occur during or close to a legislative session.

The “expedited” period kicks in the 60th day before the Legislature convenes, which in this case is Friday. The session begins at noon Jan. 8, so Garcia is making her resignation effective at 12:01 p.m.

Once Gov. Greg Abbott accepts Garcia’s resignation, the Texas Constitution gives him 20 days to order an election, though it could take up to eight days for the resignation to become official.

The election must then fall on a Tuesday or Saturday, 21 to 45 days after Abbott orders it, according to the election code. That means if Abbott accepts Garcia’s letter Friday and immediately orders the election, he could schedule it as early as Dec. 1.

Otherwise, the election could fall as late as Jan. 19, if Abbott orders the election a full 28 days after Friday and schedules it on the last possible day within the “expedited” window.

See here for the previous update. Abbott’s gonna do what Abbott’s gonna do. Maybe he’ll schedule it on the early side, but my expectation is we won’t have an election till January. Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez are in, and if it’s just them or maybe just them plus a no-name or two, we can get this resolved in one round. If there has to be a runoff, and the election is when I think it will be, we’re looking at early March before it’s all said and done. And then we get to elect a new State Rep, which may mean I’ll be in a district with a vacancy for that duration. Election season is never truly over, we just constantly rotate the cast of characters.

UPDATE: I missed a later version of this story, in which the special election date was set for December 11. Here’s the proclamation. That’s very good news, because it means that even with a runoff, we’ll have a successor in place no later than mid-January or so.

How many recounts might there be?

More than one, is my guess.

Rep. Morgan Meyer

On Wednesday, Dallas state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Republican, tweeted that he was “honored and grateful” voters had decided to send him back to the Texas Legislature for another term in office.

But his Democratic opponent in the race, Joanna Cattanach, isn’t ready to concede in House District 108, which includes Park Cities, Uptown Dallas, parts of downtown and Old East Dallas.

[…]

In Houston, Republican state Rep. Dwayne Bohac inched ahead of Democratic challenger Adam Milasincic on election night with 137 votes. Milasincic, too, is waiting on all votes to come in.

“I want to see the final numbers before we make any determination one way or another,” Milasincic said, adding that he hadn’t expected the count to draw out this long.

In Houston, Republican state Rep. Dwayne Bohac inched ahead of Democratic challenger Adam Milasincic on election night with 137 votes. Milasincic, too, is waiting on all votes to come in.

“I want to see the final numbers before we make any determination one way or another,” Milasincic said, adding that he hadn’t expected the count to draw out this long.

“I wish it had been over on election night,” he said.

In Collin County, state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, with 378 more votes in unofficial returns, declared victory over Democrat Sharon Hirsch.

But Hirsch posted a message on her website noting the close margin and adding that she is “waiting until this process concludes before making any final remarks.”

[…]

State Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Houston, who trailed Democrat Gina Calanni by 49 votes, told his supporters on social media Thursday morning that “Tuesday’s results are not final yet.”

“The Harris County Clerk advises me that there are many votes yet to be counted — more absentee ballots and provisional ballots. We will continue to wait for a final vote count.”

And of course there’s the still-unsettled CD23 race. Meyer leads Cattanach by 440 votes, which is the widest margin of the it-ain’t-over-till-it’s-over State Rep races. I can’t think of an example of a race that was materially affected by overseas and provisional ballots – my impression is that such votes tend to be countable on one’s fingers – but I suppose there has to be a first time at some point. The last successful recount that I can think of was the 2004 Dem primary between Henry Cuellar and Ciro Rodriguez, in which a bunch of ballots were found after Election Day. This is all part of the process and people are entitled to ask for recounts. I just don’t ever expect them to change anything.

Second trimester lawsuit appeal heard at the Fifth Circuit

Elections or no elections, the world keeps spinning.

The federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday morning about whether Texas should be able to ban doctors from performing the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, called dilation and evacuation.

In a nearly hourlong hearing, attorneys for Texas and lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood argued in front of a panel of three judges.

At issue was Senate Bill 8, a law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2017 but blocked by a federal judge that would ban abortions in which a doctor uses surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue. The law would only allow the procedure to be done if the fetus is deceased.

[…]

Janet Crepps, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, argued that the state’s proposed law was “invasive, medically unnecessary and poses a dangerous risk” to women. She said injections with potassium chloride using a three-to-four-inch spinal needle puts women at risks for infection and hospitalization.

“Just the idea the state thinks that’s what’s within its power is contrary to the whole idea that women have a right to autonomy, dignity,” Crepps said after the hearing.

The appeals case comes nearly a year after Judge Lee Yeakel said the provision imposed an “undue burden” on women seeking second-trimester abortions in Texas. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood filed suit last summer on behalf of several women’s health providers in the state. Yeakel issued a temporary restraining order on enforcing the measure in August, a day before the ban’s effective date.

Throughout the hearing the three judges asked questions around how to best interpret a Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that blocked Alabama’s dilation and evacuation ban from going into effect; how the injections work; and who are the women likely to need these services.

Medical professionals deem the dilation and evacuation method the safest way to perform an abortion, and reproductive rights groups have said this ban would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure.

See here for the previous update. I don’t have any faith in the Fifth Circuit or the Supreme Court interpreting “undue burden” in a meaningful fashion, but I’ll be happy to be surprised. Whatever the outcome of this case, if we don’t have a federal law protecting access to abortion on our near-term goals, we’re doing it wrong.

From the “I may have spoken too soon” department

First, Will Hurd was declared the winner in CD23. But there were still a few precincts out, some in deep red Medina County and others in El Paso County. Hurd started the evening with a 6K early vote lead, but Jones cut into it through the night. Then we had this:


CD23

Will Hurd - Incumbent   REP    100,627  48.88%
Gina Ortiz Jones        DEM    100,909  49.02%
Ruben Corvalan          LIB      4,311   2.09%

And it looked like all the precincts had been counted, and Gina Ortiz Jones had pulled it out in the end. But then it turned out there may have been a mistake in the Medina numbers, and the SOS page showed one precinct still out. When the dust cleared, we got this:


CD23

Will Hurd - Incumbent   REP    102,903  49.11%
Gina Ortiz Jones        DEM    102,214  48.78%
Ruben Corvalan          LIB      4,402   2.10%

Harold has the screenshots. One way or the other, I smell a recount.

Which leads to this:


HD132

Mike Schofield (REP)    32,629  49.14%
Gina Calanni   (DEM)    32,678  49.21%
Daniel Arevalo (LIB)     1,097   1.65%

There were only a tiny number of uncounted precincts left in Harris County when I posted that omnibus report, but apparently some of them were in HD132, and they gave Gina Calanni enough support to overcome the 270-vote advantage Mike Schofield had owned. Again, for sure there will be a recount, but if this results now stands, Democrats will have 67 of 150 seats in the State House, for a gain of twelve (!) in that chamber. I am amazed. And I won’t be surprised if I find out that something else has happened in one of these races, or any other for that matter.

Omnibus election report

It’s after midnight, I’ve mostly posted stuff on my long-dormant Twitter account (@kuff), and I will have many, many thoughts in the coming days. For now, a brief recap.

– As you know, neither Beto nor any other Dem won statewide, thus continuing the shutout that began in 1996. However, as of this writing and 6,998 of 7,939 precincts counted, O’Rourke had 3,824,780 votes, good for 47.86% of the total. In 2016, Hillary Clinton collected 3,877,868 votes. It seems very likely that by the time all is said and done, Beto O’Rourke will be the biggest vote-getter in history for a Texas Democrat. He will have built on Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. That’s pretty goddamn amazing, and if you’re not truly impressed by it you’re not seeing the whole picture. We’re in a different state now.

– Beto may not have won, but boy howdy did he have coattails. Colin Allred won in CD32, and Lizzie Fletcher won in CD07. Will Hurd is hanging on to a shrinking lead in CD23, up by less than 1,200 votes with about 14% of the precincts yet to report. He was leading by 6,000 votes in early voting, and it may still be possible for Gina Ortiz Jones to catch him. Todd Litton (45.30% in CD02), Lorie Burch (44.21% in CD03), Jana Lynne Sanchez (45.25% in CD06), Mike Siegel (46.71% in CD10), Joseph Kopser (47.26% in CD21), Sri Kulkarni (46.38% in CD22), Jan McDowell (46.91% in CD24), Julie Oliver (44.43% in CD25), and MJ Hegar (47.54% in CD31) all came within ten points.

– Those coattails extended further down the ballot. Dems picked up two State Senate seats, as Beverly Powell defeated Konni Burton in SD10 (Wendy Davis’ old seat) and Nathan Johnson trounced Don Huffines in SD16. Rita Lucido was at 46.69% in SD17, but she wasn’t the next-closest competitor – Mark Phariss came within three points of defeating Angela Paxton in SD08, a race that wasn’t really on the radar. Oh, and in an even less-visible race Gwenn Burud scored 45.45% in SD09, while Meg Walsh got to 41.60% against Sen. Charles Schwertner in SD05 (he was just over 55% in that race). We could make things very, very interesting in 2022.

– And down in the State House, Dems have picked up 11 seats:

HD45, Erin Zwiener
HD47, Vikki Goodwin
HD52, James Talarico
HD65, Michelle Beckley
HD102, Ana-Marie Ramos
HD105, Terry Meza
HD113, Rhetta Bowers
HD114, John Turner
HD115, Julie Johnson
HD135, Jon Rosenthal
HD136, John Bucy

Note that of those seven wins, a total of four came from Denton, Hays, and Williamson Counties. The Dems have officially gained a foothold in the suburbs. They also lost some heartbreakingly close races in the House – I’ll save that for tomorrow – and now hold 12 of 14 seats in Dallas County after starting the decade with only six seats. This is the risk of doing too precise a gerrymander – the Republicans there had no room for error in a strong Democratic year.

– Here in Harris County, it was another sweep, as Dems won all the judicial races and in the end all the countywide races. Ed Emmett lost by a point after leading most of the evening, while the other Republicans lost by wide margins. Also late in the evening, Adrian Garcia squeaked ahead of Commissioner Jack Morman in Precinct 2, leading by a 112,356 to 111,226 score. Seems fitting that Morman would lose a close race in a wave year, as that was how he won in the first place. That means Dems now have a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court. Did I say we now live in a different state? We now live in a very different county.

– With 999 of 1,013 precincts in, Harris County turnout was 1,194,379, with about 346K votes happening on Election Day. That puts turnout above what we had in 2008 (in terms of total votes, not percentage of registered voters) but a hair behind 2012. It also means that about 71% of the vote was cast early, a bit less than in 2016.

– Oh, and the Dems swept Fort Bend, too, winning District Attorney, County Judge, District Clerk, all contests judicial races, and County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Maybe someone can explain to me now why they didn’t run candidates for County Clerk and County Treasurer, but whatever.

– Possibly the biggest bloodbath of the night was in the Courts of Appeals, where the Dems won every single contested race in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 13th, and 14th Courts. I count 16 incumbent Republican judges losing, with several more open Republican-held seats flipping. That is utterly amazing, and will have an impact far greater than we can imagine right now.

– Last but not least, both Houston propositions passed. Expect there to be a lawsuit over Prop B.

Two possible straws in the wind

Ken Paxton seems a little nervous.

Best mugshot ever

Less than 36 hours before Election Day, the race for attorney general is showing signs of competition that have been absent in just about every other statewide contest.

Republican incumbent Ken Paxton, who was indicted more than three years ago on felony securities fraud charges, has been running a relatively quiet campaign with the comfortable advantage of a GOP incumbent in a state that has not elected a Democrat statewide in more than two decades.

But now he is firing back at his Democratic challenger, Justin Nelson, with a new attack ad — the first one from Paxton that addresses the indictment — and getting a fresh influx of high-dollar campaign donations, signals that Republicans are not taking anything for granted in the race for Texas’ top lawyer.

Nelson, a prominent Austin attorney, has made Paxton’s legal troubles the basis of his campaign and the main focus of much of his advertising — posting billboards around the state featuring Paxton’s mugshot, commissioning a rolling billboard he calls the “Mugshot Mobile” and even sending campaign staffers dressed as Paxton in prisoner garb to frolic on the Capitol grounds in a Halloween stunt. Yet most consequentially, Nelson has spent significantly to air TV ads informing voters all over the state that their attorney general is under indictment.

The anti-Nelson push from Paxton’s campaign suggests that the Democrat’s jabs have been successful in getting something most other Democratic statewide candidates have been aching for: the GOP’s attention. Except for the blockbuster U.S. Senate battle between incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, Republican statewide officials have largely ignored their Democratic challengers, let alone gone negative on TV against them.

“Nelson has successfully raised the profile of the race to a level where Republicans began to be nervous that people who vote straight-ticket Republican may cross over in this race as they learn more about Ken Paxton,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “While they’re still counting on it, they don’t have 100 percent confidence.”

Paxton also got a cash injection from Greg Abbott. As I said before, this may just be an abundance of caution on Paxton’s part. The official reason, asserted by the political scientists, is that Paxton doesn’t want to win by a wimpy single-digit score. And maybe that is all it is. But I feel pretty confident saying he wouldn’t be asking for handouts from Greg Abbott if he didn’t think he needed the help.

Meanwhile, there’s Democratic money coming in, too.

A Democratic super PAC focused on state legislative races has injected $2.2 million into a slew of Texas House contests in their closing days.

The group, Forward Majority, is using the money to help 32 Democratic candidates, many of them challengers in GOP-held districts who have not been able to match the financial backing of the incumbents. A large majority of the funds are going toward digital ads targeting the Republicans as beholden to big donors and corporate interests, with a couple of spots tailored to specific lawmakers.

“We are staging this late intervention because we believe there is a unique window of opportunity for first time candidates to take down several entrenched Republican incumbents on Tuesday,” said Ben Wexler-Waite, a spokesman for Forward Majority.

[…]

Forward Majority was launched last year by alumni of Barack Obama’s campaigns with the goal of retaking state legislatures across the country before the next round of redistricting in 2021. Texas is one of six states the group is targeting this cycle as part of a nearly $9 million push.

In Texas, Forward Majority began seriously spending in its targeted races just a couple weeks ago. Its latest filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, which covered Sept. 28 through Oct. 27, shows the group spent $1.1 million. The rest of the $2.2 million has come since then, Wexler-Waite said.

Forward Majority is not the only seven-figure force for Democrats in Texas House races this cycle. The House Democratic Campaign Committee has raised $1.1 million this cycle, fueled by six-figure donations from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The HDCC is currently waging an $800,000 digital ad campaign in the most competitive seats.

The list of races in which this PAC is spending money follows. It ranges from the ones that have been the focus of attention all along, to those that should have had more attention all along, to the stretch goals and the more speculative investments. I couldn’t tell you the last time we did something like this – pretty sure it wasn’t this redistricting cycle – so I’m just happy to see it happen. We’ll see how sound an investment this turns out to be.

Seeking a solution for the translators

Glad to see it.

Three days after election workers barred translators from asking Korean-American voters if they needed assistance inside a Spring Branch polling place, Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart met with a group of Korean-Americans to find a way to avoid a similar outcome on Election Day.

At the end of the hour-long meeting, which was brokered by Houston Councilwoman Brenda Stardig, the two sides were unable to agree on a solution that would allow volunteer translators to efficiently help Korean speakers cast ballots while following Harris County’s interpretation of the Texas Election Code. Stanart and the Korean-Americans agreed to work together on a fix, and each proposed a set of rules for translators.

“I want them to be successful,” Stanart said of the voters, who are largely elderly naturalized U.S. citizens. “But I want it to be within the law.”

[…]

On Wednesday afternoon, the Korean-Americans and their supporters sat around a table in the Korean Community Center in Spring Branch with Stanart, Stardig, and members of their staffs. Stardig invited each side to share ideas on how to improve the voting experience for Korean speakers.

Stanart said groups like the Korean American Voters League should inform the county when they plan to take voters to the polls so election workers can be prepared. He suggested the translators could set up a stand outside the 100-foot buffer zone and solicit voters there.

Some of the Korean-Americans said that would be impractical, since polling places are often crowded and non-English speakers are unsure where to go. They said making translators shuffle in line for an hour or more in some cases, instead of being available on an ad-hoc basis when voters reach the booths, is inefficient.

Others objected to being called loiterers by the county, noting that label is not applied to journalists and exit pollsters, who are free to work inside the 100-foot zone. They said Harris County is unfairly applying the Texas Election Code, which is silent on what a loiterer is and does not explicitly state where translators may or may not stand.

“It’s really not that clear,” said Sang Shin, Houston branch president of the Asian American Bar Association. “There are different opinions to that, legally.”

See here for the background. I feel like this is an area of the law that has not been greatly tested in the past, and as such no one is quite sure what to do now. As I said in my earlier post, it would be a good idea to revisit this law and take a stab at clarifying and updating it to better serve modern voters. We have nothing to lose here but our current state of confusion.

Zerwas out, Bonnen in for Speaker

A harbinger of intrigue.

Rep. John Zerwas

State Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, has withdrawn from the race for speaker of the Texas House, he confirmed to The Texas Tribune on Sunday evening.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to engage with the members of the House. The honest conversations are critical to the relationships I have, and I am honored to work with such principled leaders,” he said in a statement to the Tribune. “While I believe that I could lead the House through a successful 2019 session, it has come time for me to end my bid for Speaker and wholly focus on writing the budget for the 2020-2021 biennium.”

His departure comes amid an effort among roughly 40 GOP House members to draft state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, into the race. Bonnen did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Texas Tribune.

On Sunday night, that group of 40 members was scheduled to gather in Austin to discuss recruiting him for the job. Bonnen previously had told The Texas Tribune in May that he was not interested in running for the top slot in the lower chamber. The Tribune was told Sunday night that Bonnen was not at the meeting.

There are still a lot of Speaker wannabes. Zerwas was the first among them, declaring his intent to run right after Joe Straus announced his departure. My speculation when I read this was that the various Straus-like candidates have concluded their best move is to consolidate behind one candidate that they think can win, someone who Democrats and enough Republicans can support, so as to pre-empt the non-Straus contenders. For that to happen, to assuage egos and whatnot, the compromise/consensus candidate would have to be someone who is not currently a candidate. And thus it was:

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said Tuesday he is officially running for speaker of the Texas House — two days after an Oct. 28 meeting in Austin, where roughly 40 GOP House members gathered to discuss recruiting him for the job.

“Throughout my career in the House, I have always emphasized my respect for the institution as a whole as well as the unique position each member has to serve their district,” Bonnen said in a statement. “I look forward to the many conversations to come with members across the state. My desire, which I believe I share with the vast majority of my colleagues, is that this process come to a conclusion with a House ready to do the people’s business with strength, resolve, and unity in the 86th Legislative Session.”

Clearly, they were sufficiently persuasive. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is more or less how Straus emerged as a contender for Speaker in the first place – the dozen or so renegade Republicans who were publicly gunning for Tom Craddick emerged from a meeting with him as their exemplar, and after that it was all a matter of counting noses. We’ll see if it works.

Endorsement watch: Patrick and Patrick-lite

Now that the Chron has done an endorsement in every race of interest, I’m going to try to catch up on them, by group if not by individual race. We’ll start with the race for Lt. Governor, where there was another obvious choice and the Chron made it.

Mike Collier

There’s something nostalgic — some might even say naive — about the way Mike Collier talks about state government and his quest for arguably the most powerful political post in Texas.

For starters, the gray-haired, buttoned-up corporate accountant prefers facts and figures over dog whistles. A former oil company CFO and auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Collier is in his element talking about pragmatic solutions to property taxes, school finance reform and budget loopholes — things Texans actually care about.

Collier would be hopelessly out of his element talking about, say, the need to legislate adult bathroom choices.

Though running as a Democrat, Collier is a former Republican and much about him resembles one of Texas’ most respected lieutenant governors, Republican Bill Ratliff. Like the East Texas statesman, elected by his Senate colleagues in 2000, Collier is earnest almost to the point of boring, seemingly unencumbered by the partisanship and ego that often taint the process, and while we can’t say if he’d ever be knighted by his colleagues as Ratliff was with a nickname as lofty as “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” we can say Collier is a smart guy.

So smart, in fact, that his fellow Houstonian Dan Patrick wouldn’t dare debate him.

They didn’t quite call Patrick a chicken for refusing to debate Collier, but it’s there if you read between the lines.

Meanwhile, in the State Senate district Patrick used to represent, the Chron endorses the Democrat running against Patrick’s soulmate successor.

David Romero

When we endorsed state Sen. Paul Bettencourt in 2014 we described him as a “good-natured Dan Patrick” and a “happy warrior.” We just wish he were a warrior for a better cause.

Bettencourt’s top agenda item remains a state-imposed cap on property tax revenues for local governments. That plan is vociferously opposed by the Texas Municipal League, the Texas Association of Counties, plenty of moderate Republicans in the state House, County Judge Ed Emmett and this editorial board.

The issue is a breaking point for us, and it should be for voters as well. Bettencourt appears to be putting partisan preferences above local interests. So we can’t endorse him.

That’s a shame, because we agree with him on other issues that transcend the partisan lines. He’s skeptical of tax increment reinvestment zones and management districts, wants to find a solution to the challenge of unincorporated Harris County and is pushing to add at-large representatives to the Houston Independent School District’s board of trustees.

If those issues were the exclusive core of his platform, we’d shower Bettencourt in stars. But they aren’t.

Instead, we endorse first-time candidate David Romero. Although his political experience is limited to serving as president of his homeowners association, Romero demonstrated a nuanced knowledge of state issues that’s rare for a novice.

I mean, some of those issues the Chron cites are worthwhile, but I for one would be extremely skeptical of any “solution” Bettencourt might propose, for the basic reason that – stay with me here – he has always put partisan preferences above local interests. It’s not like his all-out assault on property tax revenues is a new obsession for Bettencourt. I have no idea what the Chron thought they were endorsing in 2014, but at least they’ve cleared up their confusion this time.

Not directly Patrick-related but sufficiently Patrick-adjacent to be worth noting, the Chron also endorsed Lisa Seger in HD03, and Michal Shawn Kelly in HD150. You can listen to my interview with Mike Collier here, with Lisa Seger here, and with Michael Shawn Kelly here.

Still obstacles to voting at Prairie View

The previous problems we talked about are resolved, at least for now, but it’s still harder to vote at PVAMU than it needs to be.

Denise Mattox, president of the Waller County Democratic Club, called the new rules a “treatment” but not a full-fledged “fix” for the voting barriers facing many Prairie A&M students. She said the real problem is that students do not have their own mailing addresses on campus.

The university does not have individual mailing addresses for students, so students have traditionally been instructed to register to vote using one of two shared campus addresses – 100 or 700 University Drive – per a 2016 agreement reached between the university and the county. However, the 700 University Drive address is not in the same precinct as the campus. That placed a number of students’ voter registrations in question for the upcoming election.

Mattox said she faults the university for not “telling the students where they live” and county officials for “keeping everyone in confusion” and “basically suppressing the vote.”

[…]

Lisa Seger, a Democrat running against state Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia, said she was pleased by the secretary of state’s decision but stressed that there was a larger problem: “We don’t treat the student population like residents.”

Seger said that the students’ access to voting has been “problematic forever.” She echoed Mattox in saying that the use of shared mailing addresses tends to disenfranchise student voters. She also noted that the students are further discouraged from voting because early voting on campus does not last as long as it does other places.

“You would think we’d be able to figure out how to make this easy for the students,” Seger said. “But nobody’s ever wanted to make this easy.”

On Wednesday, Waller County commissioners are expected to consider a recommendation from Eason to add additional early voting locations and times on campus, according to a statement released by the county.

“For those trying to paint Waller County in a certain light, the truth is that we have worked very hard to protect and expand the voting rights of students at PVAMU, and we will always remain committed to that endeavor, regardless of what anyone else tries to portray,” Waller County Judge Trey Duhon wrote in the statement.

The statement also said that all students using the 100 or 700 University mailing addresses will be allowed to vote in either of the precinct locations and that additional poll workers will be available to help students correct their addresses after they cast their ballot. Additionally, Waller County officials plan to hold an “Address Correction Drive” on campus for students to correct their addresses before Election Day if they want, according to the statement.

See here and here for some background. Prairie View posted a statement on Facebook defending its practices. Making early voting hours uniform should be a no-brainer, and should have been that way all along. Having the two accepted PVAMU addresses be in two different precincts is obnoxious, and the kind of routine obstruction we put on a small class of relatively powerless people for no good reason. This isn’t rocket science, and it should not still be an issue forty years after the original voting rights matter was resolved. Let’s get this right once and for all.

Endorsement watch: Another easy decision

Remember how I said the Chron’s endorsement of Kim Olson over Sid Miller was the easiest call they’d have to make this cycle? The one true competitor for that title is the AG race, where Justin Nelson is a LeBron-level slam dunk.

Justin Nelson

This is it. This is the race.

The election for attorney general offers the single best reason for a Texas Republican to cross over and vote for a Democratic candidate. You don’t even have to scroll down the burdensome ballot. Right on the front screen in the voting booth you’ll be able to vote the straight ticket for other Republicans and then vote for Justin Nelson. Hit the cast ballot button and you’re done.

Why you’d vote for Nelson is similarly straightforward. He’s an astoundingly qualified attorney who has a nonpartisan focus on ethics, ending gerrymandering and fulfilling the basic duties of the office. Plus, Republican incumbent Ken Paxton is facing felony indictments for fraud, which should automatically disqualify him in the minds of voters.

[…]

Paxton has been a model of the worst possible attorney general.

He’s the sort of politician who makes you wish Texas had a Lone Star version of “Saturday Night Live” to mock the fact that our state’s top lawman is facing two charges for felony investment fraud and another count of failing to register as an investment adviser. Paxton allegedly didn’t reveal he was being paid to solicit clients for a North Texas investment firm, which the law requires to help prevent fraud.

The former state representative and state senator successfully postponed his trial until after the election. It is worth noting, however, that Paxton has already admitted to soliciting investors without registering and paid a $1,000 fine to the state securities board. Or, to put it bluntly, he effectively confessed to a third-degree felony. No one should be above the law, but Paxton seems determined to try.

His ethical lapses don’t end there. Paxton once accepted a $1 million loanfrom the right-wing Empower Texans advocacy group — his largest political donor — and now refuses to defend the Texas Ethics Commission from the group’s attacks. It’s hard not to see a quid pro quo that puts campaign donors ahead of the public good.

He also was once caught stealing another lawyer’s $1,000 pen.

Paxton has been using his office to pursue a quixotic political agenda that even members of his own party question. For example, he’s leading a lawsuit that would eliminate the preexisting conditions protections of the Affordable Care Act. If Paxton succeeds, more than 4 million Texans could be denied coverage.

Beyond his own legal problems, Paxton is simply doing a bad job as attorney general. He doesn’t aggressively go after crooked payday lenders or exploitive nursing homes. His campaign website still touts how he’s going to sue the Obama administration — a policy agenda two years out of date.

You know the drill here. It’s the “should” in the third paragraph above that’s the sticking point. In a better world, or a less hegemonic state, everyone would consider Paxton to be a dead man walking. With the modern Republican Party that Paxton embodies, there is no such thing as accountability. Maybe we’ll get to see how big that party really is. Or maybe we’ll get to see what kind of Attorney General the governor will appoint when Paxton finally gets convicted. You tell me what the better outcome is. My interview with Justin Nelson is here if you haven’t listened to it yet.

They had a closer choice in CD02, but they made the right call.

Todd Litton

Voters have two thoroughly impressive major party candidates on the ballot, but Todd Litton would best serve Houston in Congress.

Litton, a Democrat, is a sixth-generation Texan with a law degree from the University of Texas and an MBA from Rice University. Deeply engaged in the world of nonprofits — with a specific focus on early childhood education and after-school programs — Litton, 48, has a career and service record that cuts across the major institutions of our city, including the the Center for Houston’s Future, the Houston Endowment and the Episcopal Health Foundation. His campaign slogan, “Common Sense and Common Decency,” embodies the business-minded sense of duty and obligation that historically defines our city’s leadership.

He references local experts Stan Marek and Charles Foster, both Republicans, when discussing immigration issues and vehemently opposes the idea of a border wall with Mexico. For Litton, immigration is a matter of heart — welcoming refugees expands the promise of liberty — and also a matter of economics. He notes that a global business hub like Houston needs national immigration policies that don’t scare away the best and brightest. He also recognizes that our city must address the long-term trends in oil and gas — especially in the context of climate change — if we don’t want to go the way of Detroit.

On health care, Litton wants to close gaps in the Affordable Care Act instead of beginning a single-payer program. In a position particularly appropriate for this meandering district, Litton calls for independent redistricting commissions to prevent gerrymandering.

I interviewed Litton for the primary. I like him a lot and think he’d do a great job. I’ve talked about how a couple of Democrats, most notably Gina Ortiz Jones and MJ Hegar, have star potential if they can get elected. Dan Crenshaw is by far the Republican with the highest ceiling. In a less Democratic year, I feel like he’d be getting a fair amount of national attention. He’ll probably get it later on if he wins.

Lastly, from a few days ago, a nod for Lorena Perez McGill in Montgomery County.

Lorena Perez McGill

Even if she doesn’t come close to winning, Lorena Perez McGill’s campaign will still make headlines. She’s the first Democrat to run for this seat in 12 years.

It’s not hard to understand the dearth of Democratic candidates. Not a single precinct in this Montgomery County district, which covers Shenandoah, Woodloch, Oak Ridge North and most of the Woodlands, went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Why run for the state House against insurmountable odds?

But for McGill, 48, watching the Texas Legislature hold a special session over bathroom bills, but refuse to hold one for Hurricane Harvey recovery, was just too much to bear. So the attorney and local volunteer decided to run a self-proclaimed “bipartisan campaign” that focuses on listening, conversation and compromise.

She’s a first-time candidate, but boasts an impressive resume that includes time at the Baker Botts law firm and as in-house counsel for the Organization of American States.

[…]

But for the self-proclaimed fiscally conservative, moderate Democrat, this campaign isn’t about any one specific policy. It is about bringing a sense of practicality and compromise to a legislative body overrun by ideology and cliques.

In that sense, she couldn’t be further from her Republican opponent, former state Rep. Steve Toth.

Yeah, Toth is a whackjob who knocked out former State Rep. Rob Eissler in a primary in 2012, then gave the seat up to run for State Senate. He’ll win because it’s The Woodlands, but at least Lorena Perez McGill will give the voters there a clear alternative.

Endorsement watch: Olson, Kulkarni, Schexnayder

This has got to be the easiest call the Chron will make.

Kim Olson

The race for commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture seems straightforward enough.

The incumbent, Sid Miller, is a career politician who used his first term as commissioner to unnecessarily hike fees on farmers and travel on the taxpayer dime to buy a painkiller shot from an Oklahoma doctor who had lost his license in other states. He hired friends and campaign aides to high-paying jobs without giving the public a chance to apply as the law requires. He also declared a personal vendetta on barbecue shops because he was convinced their scales were inaccurate.

Overall Miller has proven himself reckless with political power and irresponsible with public funds.

The challenger, Kim Olson, is a 25-year Air Force veteran — one of their first woman pilots — fourth generation farmer, former school board trustee for Weatherford ISD in North Texas and an inductee at the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.

[…]

Here’s our pitch for hesitant Republicans: Voting for Olson won’t turn Texas blue. The office doesn’t have any legislative ability. Neither Miller nor Olson can use the seat to affect abortion laws, firearms regulations or the litany of partisan wedge issues that drive people to the polls.

What voting for Olson will do is return a sense of dignity to the chief office for Texas farmers and ranchers. She will run the office much like Republican former agriculture commissioner Susan Combs, with a focus on the issues. She plans to work with the Legislature in preparation for the department’s upcoming sunset review in 2020, address rural needs like broadband access and also grow the languishing Go Texan buy-local program.

Look for an interview I did with Olson on Monday. She’s as good and charismatic as you may have heard. As for ol’ Sid, I could make a case for Ted Cruz – hell, I could make a case for Dan Patrick – before I could make a case for him. It’s not just the clownishness, the corruption, and the racism. It’s that he’s objectively bad at his job. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. He was viewed as an ineffective clown as a State Rep, and in case you forgot he was booted out in the 2012 Republican primary by the much more mainstream JD Sheffield. He’s a classic case of failing upward. If we’re smart, this time we’ll fail him out.

This one is refreshing.

Sri Kulkarni

In 2016 incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson did not meet with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, but he nonetheless earned our endorsement over his Democratic challenger. That’s not the case in 2018.

First-time candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni, 40, wowed the editorial board with his knowledge, eloquence and robust resume that included time working in the U.S. Senate and 14 years as a State Department foreign service officer that took him all over the globe. That experience only emphasized to Kulkarni the value of American ideals, he told the editorial board, which sit at the core of his campaign. He’s running an optimistic, forward-looking effort that aims to combat the tribalism ripping apart our nation with a renewed sense of decency. That’s also why he’s not accepting corporate donations.

[…]

We’ve liked Olson in the past because of his support for NASA and the Port of Houston, but any promise Olson displayed when first elected to Congress in 2008 has been washed away over the years. Instead of representing the best interests of his district, he has become just another D.C. hypocrite who’s politically afraid to choose a more independent path.

Olson must think no one is connecting the dots between calling himself a fiscal conservative and his support for Trump’s tax cuts and profligate spending, which have raised the national debt to more than $21 trillion.

They have a lot of complimentary things to say about Kulkarni, and I encourage you to go read it. I interviewed him for the primary runoff, and I concur with their evaluation. As for this Olson, I’d argue he’s the same Congressman he’s always been. Maybe his act finally wore thin for the Chron, or maybe they finally found an opponent to him they liked. Either way, fine by me.

This has a bit of a surprise.

Marty Schexnayder

We usually like state Rep. Jim Murphy — a lot.

Over his five non-consecutive terms in office — won in 2006, lost in 2008, back in 2010 — this moderate Republican could be counted upon to bring local issues up to Austin. He pushed pension reform before it was popular and cleared the legal path for hike-and-bike trails along utility easements. However, it turns out that definition of “local issues” might not be exactly ethical. At his full-time job, Murphy was paid a yearly salary for more than $312,000 as the general manager of the Westchase District, which sits outside his district boundaries of by Interstate 10, Westheimer Road, Loop 610 West and State Highway 6. In Austin, he served as chair of the Houston Committee on Special Purpose Districts. In other words, his elected position put him in charge of providing oversight to his professional position. This questionable arrangement has been public since Murphy was first elected. This year, however, investigative reporters revealed the specifics of Murphy’s contracts, which showed he received incentive payments for delivering state funds from the Legislature. For example, Murphy had a $6,000 bonus if he secured “$1 million or more in new TxDOT funding for highway projects” for Westchase.

This smacks of an unethical conflict of interest, and raises questions about whether he was illegally lobbying without properly registering. Voters, too, should question how Murphy can adequately represent their interests during the legislative session when he’s getting paid thousands to deliver for someone outside the district.

[…]

Luckily, voters have an excellent alternative in Marty Schexnayder, who will be 52 on Election Day. He’s a first-time candidate with a well-rounded resume that includes 25 years in legal practice and volunteer work for charities like Interfaith Ministries. He also serves on the board of directors of Faith in Practice, a nonprofit dedicated to providing medical services in Guatemala. His campaign focuses almost exclusively on core issues, like fixing school funding, addressing property taxes and tackling flood concerns.

Here’s my interview with Schexnayder. I’d heard about the ethical concerns regarding Murphy, but with the likes of Trump and Paxton and Miller lumbering around, who can even keep up with that sort of thing? At least now you know.

O’Rourke raises $38 million in Q3

That’s a lot.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, raised $38.1 million for his U.S. Senate campaign in the third quarter, a new record for the largest fundraising quarter ever in a U.S. Senate race, according to his campaign.

The haul more than tripled Republican incumbent Ted Cruz’s fundraising for the past three months, which Cruz has said was over $12 million. O’Rourke has consistently raised more than Cruz in the race, but this is the widest gap yet. The $38.1 million is by far the largest amount raised in a quarter by a Senate candidate, surpassing Republican Rick Lazio’s record of $22 million in 2000 for his bid against Democrat Hillary Clinton in New York.

O’Rourke’s campaign said the $38.1 million came from 802,836 individual contributions, and a majority of it came from Texas.

“The people of Texas in all 254 counties are proving that when we reject PACs and come together not as Republicans or Democrats but as Texans and Americans, there’s no stopping us,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “This is a historic campaign of people: all people, all the time, everywhere, every single day — that’s how we’re going to win this election and do something incredible for Texas and our country at this critical moment.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if O’Rourke had raised $38 million over the entire two-year cycle, it would have been impressive, and at least on par with, if not more than what the incumbent Cruz raised over that time. (Cruz’s $12 million for this quarter is not too shabby in its own right, but my guess is that without the pressure from the Beto machine, he’d have eased up a bit on the accelerator.) The real question is, what do you do with all that money?

In a press release announcing the haul, O’Rourke’s campaign said that they’re launching a “weekend of action” in which they intend to knock on 102,733 doors and make 102,733 phone calls. (That number is the exact capacity of Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, the largest stadium in Texas—perhaps a response to Trump’s vow in August to hold a rally for Ted Cruz in “the biggest stadium we can find.”) Those doors can be knocked on and those calls can be made by volunteers, but also by paid staff hired out of those record fundraising dollars. The campaign can use the money to stake into the ground more of the “Beto for Senate” signs that have become ubiquitous in certain parts of the state. It’ll pay for gas for the well-publicized pickup truck O’Rourke has driven from campaign rally to campaign rally. It can buy stamps for direct mail, or pay for radio, print, and TV advertising in Texas’s nearly twenty distinct (and often expensive) media markets.

It can also buy him more digital advertising, a form of spending that his campaign has invested more money in than any Senate candidate by a wide margin. On Facebook, O’Rourke’s campaign alone has outspent the entire 2018 Senate field—Democrats and Republicans combined—by nearly 30%. Digital ads were considered instrumental to Trump’s 2016 victory.

Much of the efficacy of O’Rourke’s fundraising haul will be determined by the infrastructure his campaign already has. The press release says that he’s built “the largest field operation in Texas history,” and his campaign currently employs about 300 staffers, a huge number. That could give him a place to put the additional short-term workers these numbers would allow him to bring in for a final push. Three and a half weeks is an eternity in politics, but a short time in the world of recruiting, hiring, training, and deploying workers—a challenge of the O’Rourke campaign will probably be to split the difference.

Well, first of all I hope he’s already been spending it, because there’s only so much you can do in four weeks. I hope some of this is earmarked for more traditional TV and radio advertising, with an emphasis on Spanish language ads in the appropriate places. To the extent that it’s legal, I hope some of it is spent boosting other Democrats in key races. People who are turning out for the Congressional candidates (*) and legislative candidates in various races will be voting for Beto, too. I hope some of it is intended to help with the GOTV efforts going on in the key counties. You could pay for an awful lot of rides to the polls, and stamps for vote-by-mail ballots, with that kind of scratch.

I’m just a voice in the peanut gallery, but you get the idea. Spend it on things that make sense, that’s all I ask. Just remember, Beto may have a crap-ton of small-dollar donors, but Ted Cruz has a gang of billionaires backing him, so whatever the disparity in their FEC reports, Cruz will have what he needs to fight, too. Martin Longman has more.

(*) Our Congressional candidates are doing pretty well for themselves, too, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some more help. The legislative candidates would surely not mind a boost, either.

Endorsement watch: Three for four

Four endorsements for the State House, and this time the Dems collect three recommendations from the Chron. All are challengers to incumbents, and all are in districts that have been trending blue.

HD132: Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni has written several novels, is a single mother with three boys and is making her first political run to represent this westside district. She has the backing of some major women’s organizations – Emily’s List, for example – and a number of local political groups. Add us to the list.

Calanni, 41, supports plenty of a reasonable plans we’ve heard from Democrats and Republicans alike running for House seats: She wants to bring soaring property taxes back to Earth by restoring the state’s full share of funding to public schools – it’s paying 37 percent of the school tab versus the usual 50 percent —and making corporations pay taxes on the full value of their properties. She has a dedicated focus on passing laws to help fight sex trafficking.

Calanni also told us that she wants the state to expand Medicaid, and is desperate for construction of the much-discussed third flood-control reservoir for Houston. It could be somewhere in or near her district, which runs north-south from Katy to Cypress, is bisected by the Grand Parkway, and was hit hard by Harvey.

“We don’t need any more studies; we need to build it right now,” Calanni said during her candidate interview.

They dinged Rep. Mike Schofield, whom they had previously endorsed, for meddling with the pension reform bill and redirecting clean air funds to “crisis pregnancy centers”.

HD135: Jon Rosenthal

Jon Rosenthal

Rosenthal is a 55-year-old mechanical engineer who has worked mostly in the oil industry and is making his first run at political office. Like just about everybody, Rosenthal complains about rising property taxes, which he blames in part on state leaders giving big corporations tax breaks by allowing them to greatly undervalue their properties, while at the same time directing money that should be going to public schools to charter schools.

Charter schools were supposed to be centers of innovation that would boost educational achievement, Rosenthal said, but their students are not doing any better on standardized tests than those in public schools. Rosenthal also said he wants to look at other ways of raising money to help fund schools, including the legalization of marijuana.

“I’m down with making it legal and regulating and taxing it just like we do with tobacco,” he said. “I’m an ex-hippie.”

He does not agree with plans to raise sales taxes because he thinks it will hurt the poor and the elderly. We found Rosenthal to be congenial, bright, well informed and very committed to the idea of making Texas a better place.

They really went to town on Rep. Gary Elkins, giving him one star and ending with an all-caps plea to all to not vote for him. As you know, I couldn’t agree more.

HD138: Adam Milasincic

First-time candidate Adam Milasincic has the potential to become a top-notch member of the Texas House of Representatives and voters in this district shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to see what he can do in Austin. Milasincic, 34, is a super smart, well-spoken lawyer with lots of good ideas and probably the savvy to get some of them through a Republican-dominated Legislature.

Milasincic has already stepped up to help his fellow Houstonians by volunteering to represent hurricane victims cheated by landlords.

Like most Democratic candidates — and plenty of moderate Republicans in the Texas House — Milasincic wants to restore the state’s share of school funding and reduce thetax burden on homeowners. He opposes school vouchers and what he calls “other schemes to privatize or def-und our public schools.”

On flooding, Milasincic also told us that he wants a regional flood control district, stricter rules on development in flood prone areas and a third flood control dam northwest of the city.

Incumbent Rep. Dwayne Bohac is another one the Chron has endorsed before, and as with Schofield they knocked him for meddling with the pension bill. You had one job, guys!

The one Republican incumbent they went for (in this round; there are four more Democratic challengers, plus a few Republican contestants) was Rep. Dennis Paul in HD129, though they gave an equal star rating to Democrat Alex Karjeker and had good things to say about him. I don’t know if the Chron plans to go outside Harris County in these races – Lord knows, they have plenty right here to keep them busy – but they’re making progress. You can find my interview with Calanni here, my interview with Rosenthal here, my interview with Milasincic here, and my interview with Karjeker here.

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Lizzie

The Chron endorses Lizzie Fletcher over Rep. John Culberson, which may be the biggest non-surprise so far of the election season.

Lizzie Fletcher

More than longtime Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. John Culberson, or even her opponents from the heated Democratic primary, Fletcher understands this diverse, changing district and has demonstrated a passion for putting its residents ahead of rank partisanship.

No doubt, Culberson did his job after Hurricane Harvey. He used his position on the House Appropriations Committee to help transform an insultingly sparse White House recovery bill into an adequate funding package. As we said at the time, we don’t want to imagine what would have happened after Harvey without Culberson in Congress. But Culberson’s tenure in Washington didn’t begin when the rain started to fall, nor did his responsibilities end after the floodwaters receded.

Culberson was first elected to public office in 1986 and has rarely faced a serious challenger outside a Republican primary. It shows. His career has been spent promoting his own pet projects rather than serving the local needs of his home district. That’s why it took the greatest natural disaster in Houston history to compel him to act with necessary passion.

[…]

On firearms, Culberson is unwilling to consider reasonable regulations to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. During their meeting with the editorial board, Fletcher said she believed that federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should share information with the gun background check list to ensure that people deemed mentally incapable cannot purchase deadly weapons.

“Two times in the past three years I have woken up to hear there’s a gunman in our congressional district who had mental illness issues randomly shooting people,” Fletcher said.

Culberson grew visibly agitated at the idea and argued that the only circumstance when someone should be prohibited from buying a gun is by a judicial order.

When it comes to health care, only Fletcher has an articulable vision for bringing costs under control. She wants a public option to create a baseline safety net for all Americans and to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices to bring down the cost of pharmaceuticals.

Culberson, on the other hand, still doesn’t have much beyond repealing Obamacare.

You get the idea. It’s not just that Fletcher is clearly superior to Culberson (four stars to three in the Chron’s new rating system), it’s also that the Chron has literally never endorsed Culberson in a November election, at least not since 2006. I look forward to their biennial not-Culberson editorial like some people look forward to sweater weather.

Also not a surprise, the Chron endorsed Sarah Davis for re-election in HD134. Someone pursuing a master’s in political science needs to write a paper comparing Sarah Davis to Susan Collins, just to see where they land up on it. That’s all I have to say on the topic of Sarah Davis.

Rural counties and AirBnB

It’s working well for them.

Texans running Airbnb rentals in rural counties earned $20.6 million in supplemental income in the last 12 months with 169,000 guests, according to a new report from the hospitality company.

These results represent a growth rate double that of urban counties, the report added, citing a trend of more guests wanting to visit more than just Texas’ big cities.

The company said that while the Texas hotel industry is booming, most of this growth is concentrated in the four major metro areas, making Airbnb sometimes the only lodging option outside of these cities and suburbs.

You can see a copy of that report here. As CultureMap Austin notes, some of the biggest beneficiaries are counties in the Hill Country, which makes sense. I’m happy for these rural counties, but none of this changes my mind about the need for cities to be able to regulate AirBnB locally. AirBnB my be having a significant and mostly positive effect in some parts of the state, but it will have an even bigger impact of a more-unknown effect on those cities. At the very least, let’s not pre-emptively foreclose on any tools that cities will need to manage their own interests.

Endorsement watch: Nine from Obama

I don’t know what the practical effect of this is, but I’m happy for the attention.

Former President Barack Obama has backed nine more Democratic candidates in Texas as part of his second round of midterm endorsements.

The nine candidates include challengers in two of Texas’ most competitive congressional races: Lizzie Fletcher, who is running against U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, and Gina Ortiz Jones, who is taking on U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. The Texans that Obama endorsed also include two who are likely to become the state’s first Latina congresswomen: Veronica Escobar, who is running to replace U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and Houston state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is vying for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston.

Rounding out the list of Obama’s latest endorsements in Texas are five state House candidates. One is Dallas state Rep. Eric Johnson, who is running for re-election, and the four others are all in races that Democrats are targeting as pick-up opportunities.

These nine were part of a much bigger group nationwide. All four of those State House endorsed challengers are also from Dallas: Ana-Marie Ramos (HD102), Terry Meza (HD105), Rhetta Bowers (HD113), and Julie Johnson (HD115). As the story notes, Obama had previously endorsed two Congressional candidates, Colin Allred and Adrienne Bell. I’m sure this will help everyone’s fundraising, though by how much is a question I can’t answer, and it’s certainly a lovely feather in one’s cap – I’d be over the moon as a candidate to get this kind of recognition. But at the end of the day, it’s about where and by how much the needle gets moved. These are all top-tier races, and the candidates deserve the support. What I’d really like to see is more attention to and support of the candidates in the second- and third-tier races, both as a means of trying to maximize the effect of the beneficial environment, and to recognize the great work that so many people have been doing without that kind of support. We’re going to need more of these candidate in 2020 and beyond, so let’s make sure no one walks away from this year feeling like it wasn’t worth the effort.

Falling short on college readiness

Not good.

A majority of students at the top-rated high schools in Texas are likely to need remedial course work when they get to college because they don’t score well enough on entrance exams, a Hearst Newspapers analysis of newly released school accountability data shows.

More than 900 high schools in the state received the equivalent of an A or B rating from the state last month. But the analysis shows that at two-thirds of those schools, the majority of students are failing to score high enough on the SAT or ACT to be considered “college ready,” increasing the chances that they’ll need remedial course work in college and jeopardizing their chances of getting a college diploma.

The low number of Texas students who are adequately prepared for college has emerged again as an issue as state lawmakers study education funding this fall, in preparation for the Legislative Session, which starts in January. At a meeting Tuesday, education committee chairman Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, recommended giving more money to schools for each student who scores college-ready on the entrance exams.

Another group of lawmakers studying the performance of Texas schools, including Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, recommended that Texas do away with the STAAR test, the state standardized exam, and instead use the SAT or ACT to hold high schools accountable.

The state’s top education official says Texas is steadily raising the bar for what students are expected to learn, and schools are improving.

But education experts say the combination of high ratings and low college readiness scores exposes a major flaw in the state’s accountability system. They say the gap is proof that lawmakers are placing too much emphasis on improving scores on the STAAR and high school graduation rates, rather than on preparing students for what happens after they finish high school.

“To get an A means this school is doing a good job of getting an increasing number, and a majority number, of its students ready for the next stage in life,” said Sandy Kress, a former senior adviser for George W. Bush and one of the architects of No Child Left Behind, the law that brought accountability ratings to schools across the country. “You have no business getting an A if you can’t tell me that.”

I don’t know what the answer is for this, though I have a pretty good guess that it would involve spending more money up front and across the board. I do know that our state will suffer from the lack of truly college-ready students, and the students themselves are being poorly served by schools that aren’t doing what they could and should be doing. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott is busy running ads claiming credit for everything under the sun. Maybe someone should ask him about this.

A little effort for redistricting reform

It’s a start.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, is making a quarter-million-dollar investment in Texas to help Democrats here flip a number of state House seats in November.

The money represents one of the largest single contributions that the House Democratic Campaign Committee has ever received, according to its chair, El Paso state Rep. César Blanco, who said the investment “puts us in a stronger position to pick up more seats in the House.”

House Democrats, who currently control 55 out of the 150 seats in the lower chamber, are heading toward November targeting the 11 GOP-held districts — most of them traditionally Republican — that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, with an emphasis on the Dallas area. They are also looking at several Republican-controlled districts across the state where Clinton came close to winning.

Blanco said the value of growing the Democratic caucus by even just five members could increase its influence in the race to replace outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. A larger caucus could also have implications for inter-chamber relations next year.

Here’s what the NRDC has to say about Texas. $250K is not nothing, and it’s always nice to see national Democratic money flow into Texas instead of the other way around, but it’s not that much in the context of a dozen or so races. Honestly, it might be put to better use on the lower-profile and second-tier races, or in districts where there’s also a competitive Senate or Congressional race going on that’s already doing GOTV. Like I said, it’s a start and I’ll gladly take what they have to give, but let’s maintain some perspective. It’s still a drop in the bucket compared to what the Republicans’ moneybag overlords can and will spend.

Sarah Davis’ balancing act

As it will be for many of her Republican colleagues, especially in Harris County, 2018 is a challenging year for Rep. Sarah Davis.

Rep. Sarah Davis

To understand how Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis plans to survive a possible Democratic blue wave in her House district, consider the front lawn of Jeanne and Michael Maher.

Like several others in their neighborhood near West University Place, the Mahers have staked yard signs in front of their house for two political candidates of opposing parties: U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat running for Senate, and Davis, a moderate, pro-choice conservative.

“It is a Republican-dominated Legislature, it will continue to be a Republican-dominated Legislature, and I would like to have someone who would be pulling some of the Republicans in the other direction,” Michael Maher said, explaining his support for Davis.

The 65-year-old Rice University energy researcher described himself as a moderate unmoored by party affiliation.

If the blue wave does wash over Texas, Davis might be the Republican best equipped to withstand it. She represents a swing district in an affluent section of Houston that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2014.

I would bet a considerable sum of money that Sarah Davis will run well ahead of the Republican baseline in HD134. You know who else once ran well ahead of her party’s baseline in HD134? Former Rep. Ellen Cohen, that’s who. She lost to Davis in the tsunami of 2010, as even her ability to get crossovers was not enough. Davis has the advantage of running in a district that leans Republican. She has the disadvantage of being roundly despised by the billionaire-coddlers and raving lunatics in her party, who may for their own perverse reasons want to see a Democrat take the seat.

My guess is that she hangs on, and assuming she does so again in 2020 there will be an interesting dilemma for Republicans when it comes time to redraw the district lines. They could do like they’ve tried to do to Rep. Lloyd Doggett in Congress and simply erase her district altogether, perhaps distributing some of her voters to HDs 135 and 138 to shore them up and adding the rest to Democratic districts. My guess is that if they do that they would then draw a new red district in the western/northwestern part of the county. That would have the dual effect of ridding themselves of someone they find troublesome, and swapping a swing district for a less-swingy one, while helping out some other Republicans. The traditional and collegial thing would be to tinker around the edges of HD134 to make it a little redder, as they did in 2011, and of course they could do that. The fact that this is even a possibility to contemplate is kind of amazing, but these are the things that can happen when your own Governor wants you out.

(Note – if Allison Lami Sawyer defeats her, or if a different Dem knocks off Davis in 2020, it’s a sure thing that Republicans do what they can to make this district redder. It’s the one thing I had to console myself after Cohen’s loss in 2010, that there was no way the Republicans were going to give her a district she could win in 2012. One way or another, I think we are in the waning days of what we now know as HD134.)

Interview with Alex Karjeker

Alex Karjeker

We conclude our tour of Harris County legislative districts with a trip to the southern end of the county into HD129. Alex Karjeker grew up in Clear Lake and attended public schools there before heading to UT for degrees in math and economics. After a stint working in Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s office, he got a masters from Georgetown and has worked since then for Morgan Stanley and Uber. HD129 is another one of those districts that have remained stubbornly Republican, but it is also suburban and has a lot of college graduates, so who knows. Karjeker has been one of the more successful fundraisers among the Democratic legislative candidates in the county, so whatever the past electoral history of this district, keep an eye on HD129. Here’s what we talked about:

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

Schwertner update

He has amended his statement.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

In the face of a sexual harassment allegation, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, has hired two Austin attorneys and denied sending “any inappropriate texts as alleged” — “Period.” — in a new statement Wednesday from the attorneys.

[…]

Schwertner has hired attorneys Perry and David Minton to represent him, the Statesman reported. The attorneys said they have been in touch with UT-Austin to “resolve this matter.” The law firm did not immediately return a request for comment from the Tribune.

“The Senator is devastated over these allegations and is concerned for the unnamed victim,” the lawyers said in a statement to the Statesman. “Our statements regarding the Senator will be proven in the days and weeks to come. Until then, Senator Schwertner deserves the courtesy of holding judgment until he is afforded the opportunity for a fair process to occur.”

See here for the background, and here for that Statesman story, which has a lot more detail. That new statement implicitly acknowledges that Schwertner did text the grad student in question, though he continues to deny that there was anything inappropriate in them. As I said, the existence of texts means the existence of objective evidence. One way or the other, we should be able to know the truth of the matter. For now, Schwertner’s colleagues, as well as Dan Patrick, are mostly taking a wait-and-see attitude. Like I said, one way or the other we should know something real eventually.

In the meantime:

Meg Walsh

Schwertner, who has represented the district since 2013 and is the chairman of the powerful Health and Human Services Committee, is facing two female challengers in the upcoming midterm elections: Democrat Meg Walsh and Libertarian Amy Lyons.

“If these allegations are true, Sen. Schwertner is unfit to serve in office,” Walsh said in a statement released Wednesday. “These serious allegations deserve a full and thorough investigation.”

Walsh also noted in the statement that she has dealt with workplace harassment before and will “never stop fighting so that women and every single person is treated with the respect they deserve.”

In an interview with The Texas Tribune Wednesday afternoon, Walsh reiterated her assertion that Schwertner is unfit to serve and said that if the allegation is true, it is a “serious abuse of power.”

[…]

While Schwertner is unlikely to lose his seat in November, a soft showing for his re-election could potentially endanger other Republicans on the ballot whose districts overlap with Schwertner’s.

Bill Fairbrother, chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party, said state Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, is in a “purplish and competitive district” that overlaps with Schwertner’s. Clinton defeated Trump in that district by less than 3 percentage points in 2016, according to data from the Texas Legislative Council.

A the story notes, SD05 is pretty solidly Republican; Trump carried it by 20 points in 2016. The truth would have to be really bad, and probably need to come out quickly, to have a significant effect. There could be a trickle-down effect, however, with the likes of Rep. Dale as casualties. Which would be fine by me, of course. Maybe now would be a good time for Annie’s List to jump in and lend a hand to Walsh. They don’t normally play in a race like this, but if now isn’t time for them to get involved, when would it be?

Interview with Michael Shawn Kelly

Michael Shawn Kelly

We continue with our tour of Harris County legislative districts. It’s already the case that a majority of the Harris County legislative caucus is Democratic; in 2016, 13 of 24 members of the State House from our county were Dems. This year, four more districts are viewed as competitive, with a fifth on the fringes. And then we have the holdouts, six in all, that represent the Republican base here. One of the hallmarks of this election is that even in the deep red districts, many strong candidates have emerged to provide a voice and a choice for the voters there. In HD150, a district where even a zealot like Debbie Riddle can get primaried out, Michael Shawn Kelley has stepped up to take the challenge, one he also undertook in 2016. Kelley owns an award-winning landscape architectural business in Spring, and has has deep roots in the community, a long record of service, and much to say about why he felt called to run for office. Here’s our conversation:

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

Interview with Jon Rosenthal

Jon Rosenthal

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

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

The Dallas County House battleground

Lot of seats in play here.

Julie Johnson

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Jennifer Cantu

Jennifer Cantu

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

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

Voter ID lawsuit officially ends

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

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

Interview with Meghan Scoggins

Meghan Scoggins

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

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