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Trey Martinez-Fischer

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

And Democratic women aren’t leaving the men of their own party undisturbed. In Minnesota, former FBI analyst Leah Phifer is challenging incumbent Democratic representative Rick Nolan; Sameena Mustafa, a tenant advocate and founder of the comedy troupe Simmer Brown, is primarying Democrat Mike Quigley in Illinois’s Fifth District. And Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, announced recently that she’s going after Ben Cardin, the 74-year-old who has held one of Maryland’s Senate seats for 11 years and served in the House for 20 years before that.

While the vision of women storming the ramparts of government is radical from one vantage point, from others it’s as American as the idea of representative democracy laid out by our forefathers (like Great-great-great-great-grandpa Frelinghuysen!). “Representative citizens coming from all parts of the nation, cobblers and farmers — that was what was intended by the founders,” says Marie Newman, a former small-business owner and anti-bullying advocate who is challenging Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski in a primary. “You come to the House for a while and bring your ideas and then you probably go back to your life.” Not only has her opponent been in office for 13 years, Newman notes, but his father held the same seat for 20 years before that. “It’s a family that has reigned supreme, like a monarchy, for over 30 years,” she says.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, Newman and the rest of this girl gang are eyeing the aging cast of men (and a few women) who’ve hogged the political stage forever and trying to replace them. Replacement. It’s an alluring concept, striking fear in the hearts of the guys who’ve been running the place — recall that the white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer chanted “You will not replace us” — and stirring hope in the rest of us that a redistribution of power might be possible.

So naturally that made me wonder about what the situation was in Texas. For Congress, there are eleven Democrats from Texas, nine men and two women. Two men are not running for re-election, and in each case the most likely successor is a woman. Of the seven men running for re-election, only one (Marc Veasey) has a primary opponent, another man. Both female members of Congress have primary opponents – Sheila Jackson Lee has a male challenger, Eddie Bernice Johnson has a man and a woman running against her. That woman is Barbara Mallory Caroway, who is on something like her third campaign against EBJ. Basically, nothing much of interest here.

Where it is interesting is at the legislative level. Here are all the Democratic incumbents who face primary challengers, sorted into appropriate groups.

Women challenging men:

HD31 (Rep. Ryan Guillen) – Ana Lisa Garza
HD100 (Rep. Eric Johnson) – Sandra Crenshaw
HD104 (Rep. Robert Alonzo) – Jessica Gonzalez
HD117 (Rep. Phillip Cortez) – Terisha DeDeaux

Guillen’s opponent Garza is a district court judge. He was one of the Dems who voted for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment back in 2005. I’d like to know both of their positions on LGBT equality. Speaking of which, Jessica Gonzalez is among the many LGBT candidates on the ballot this year. Note that Alonzo was on the right side of that vote in 2005, FWIW. Crenshaw appears to be a former member of Dallas City Council who ran for HD110 in 2014. There’s an interesting story to go along with that, which I’ll let you discover on your own. Cortez was first elected in 2012, winning the nomination over a candidate who had been backed by Annie’s List, and he drew some ire from female activists for some of his activity during that campaign. I have no idea how things stand with him today, but I figured I’d mention that bit of backstory.

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

HD27 (Rep. Ron Reynolds) – Wilvin Carter
HD37 (Rep. Rene Oliveira) – Alex Dominguez and Arturo Alonzo
HD41 (Rep. Bobby Guerra) – Michael L. Pinkard, Jr
HD118 (Rep. Tomas Uresti) – Leo Pacheco
HD139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson) – Randy Bates
HD142 (Rep. Harold Dutton) – Richard Bonton
HD147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman) – Daniel Espinoza

Men challenging women:

HD116 (Rep. Diana Arevalo) – Trey Martinez Fischer
HD124 (Rep. Ina Minjarez) – Robert Escobedo
HD146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry) – Roy Owens

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

We know about Reps. Reynolds and Dukes. Bates and Owens represent rematches – Bates was in the 2016 primary, while Owens competed unsuccessfully in the precinct chair process for HD146, then ran as a write-in that November, getting a bit less than 3% of the vote. Alonzo and Bonton look like interesting candidates, but by far the hottest race here is in HD116, where TMF is seeking a return engagement to the Lege, and a lot of his former colleagues are there for him. I imagine things could be a bit awkward if Rep. Arevalo hangs on. Anyway, I don’t know that there are any lessons to be learned from this, I just wanted to document it.

Filing news: The “not much to add but I’ll add it anyway” edition

One more week to go till the filing deadline. There’s already been a lot of activity, but there should be plenty more to come. A few highlights as we head into the last week for filing:

An old familiar face wants back in.

Trey Martinez-Fischer

Former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Saturday that he is running for his old Texas House seat, setting up a primary battle with fellow San Antonio Democrat Diana Arévalo.

Addressing supporters in San Antonio, Fischer said he could not think of a more compelling reason to run than the election of President Donald Trump — and the forthcoming retirement of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a moderate Republican.

“We can hide and get out of the way, or we can stand and fight,” Fischer said. “I’m not very good at hiding, and I’m not very good at retiring.”

Fischer represented House District 116 from 2001 until he gave it up to run for Texas Senate in 2016.

TMF was a very good representative, who knew the House rulebook well and wielded it with considerable success. I don’t know much about Rep. Arevalo – it’s hard for a freshman to stand out, especially a Democratic freshman in this environment. I’ll be honest, if we could rewind the tape back a few months, I’d be pleading with TMF to run for Lite Guv. No disrespect to Mike Collier, but TMF is the opponent Dan Patrick deserves. We’ll see if the voters in HD116 want to bring him back.

– Like basically everyone, I expect Sen. Sylvia Garcia to be the next member of Congress from CD29, but some are not willing to concede.

Tahir Javed, CEO of Riceland Health Care in Winnie, late Friday released a statement saying he had officially filed papers with the Harris County Democratic Party to get into the growing Democratic primary.

“The American people are demanding change – at the federal, state and local level,” Javed, who is from Beaumont and who hosted a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in January 2016, said in a statement. “We need a real fighter in Congress, which is why I have filed to run.”

You know as much about Tahir Javed, who does not appear to have a campaign we presence yet, as I do. I’ve got the over/under for Sylvia at around 65% right now, but as they say, this is why we play the game on the field.

– There are now five candidates for Governor in the Democratic primary, according to the SOS candidate filings page. None of them a yet are named Jeffrey Payne, Andrew White, or Lupe Valdez. Of those five, one has won an election before, Cedric Davis, the former Mayor of Balch Springs; his campaign Facebook page is here. And now you know as much about Cedric Davis as I do.

– On the Republican side it’s pretty much dullsville, especially in Harris County. Other than the pissing contest in HD134, the most interesting race on that side is in HD128, where Baytown City Council Member Terry Sain is challenging first-term Rep. Briscoe Cain. Sain, whose entry in the race has been expected for months, is an old school Reagan Republican with a long record of public service, while Cain is an obsequious little twerp. You can probably tell which way my rooting interests lie, but this is something we should all care about. I don’t expect Terry Sain to vote with my interests more than a small percentage of the time, but I do expect him to take the job seriously, and to not act like an ignorant fool on the House floor. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Like I said, I expect there to be a lot more action this week. I’ll do my best to stay on top of it.

Redistricting trial week begins

This will be the main event of the week.

Eight months ahead of the 2018 primaries, Texas and its legal foes on Monday will kick off a week-long trial that could shake up races across the state.

The state and minority rights groups have been squabbling for six years over new political district boundaries drawn following the 2010 census. As part of a long-winding legal battle, a panel of three federal judges this week will reconvene in a federal courthouse here to consider the validity of the state’s political maps and whether changes should quickly be made to the state’s House and Congressional boundaries ahead of the midterm elections. At issue is whether the current boundaries violate the voting rights of millions of Texans of color.

The showdown comes months after the panel of judges found fault with the state’s 2011 drafts of the political maps. In a pair of rulings this spring, the judges also found that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in crafting them.

Those rulings did not require an immediate remedy because the state has been running elections since 2013 under court-drawn maps that were crafted amid an election scramble and later adopted by the Legislature.

But the judges are now turning their attention to the existing boundaries.

There’s an overview of how we got here and what is at stake in that story and also in this Statesman story, which notes the time factor:

Don’t expect immediate gratification. When the trial closes Friday or Saturday, the judges will take the matter under advisement — though a written ruling is expected relatively quickly as the court labors under looming election deadlines.

State officials have advised the court that any new maps would have to be ready by around Oct. 1 to meet deadlines for setting precinct lines and to allow candidate filing for the 2018 primaries to begin, as scheduled, in mid-November. Complicating the timing will be the inevitable appeal that the losing side will make directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If new maps are needed, the judges likely will order additional input on how to redraw district boundaries, lawyers said Friday.

The maps in question are the Congressional and State House maps that were implemented in 2013. Those maps in turn are basically identical to the interim maps created in 2011 after preclearance was rejected; the Lege adopted them with a couple of tweaks. The state claims that since the current maps are based on ones that had been drawn by the court, they cannot be discriminatory. The plaintiffs note that the 2013 maps differ only a little from the 2011 maps, which were ruled to be discriminatory, and that many of the problematic elements of the 2011 maps exist in the same form in the 2013 maps. The trial this week is to answer the question whether the existing maps are discriminatory, and if so what should replace them and also should the state be bailed back into preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. This Brennan Center article explains it better than I just did, with more details.

Here’s the Trib Day One story. A couple of highlights:

With Texas becoming less white each day, lawyers for minority rights groups opened their push for new maps by parsing the state’s demographic growth, which shows that the population of eligible white voters has significantly declined since 2010.

When asked by federal district Judge Orlando Garcia how this relates to the 2013 maps, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus’ lawyer, Jose Garza, indicated it was proof that Texans of color don’t have proportional representation under the maps currently in place.

“Even today … minorities are underrepresented when measured against population data and population figures,” Garza said.

MALC also presented an alternative map to demonstrate that the state House boundaries could have been drawn in a way that minimized the slicing of municipalities and created additional “opportunity districts” where minority voters are able to select their preferred candidates.

Creating that type of district was not a legislative priority when the House took on redistricting in 2013; lawmakers only made “cosmetic changes” that didn’t “improve the overall map for minority opportunity,” former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer testified before the court.

In 2011, state lawmakers drew legislative and congressional maps following the 2010 census, but they were immediately challenged in court on the basis that they diluted the voting strength of Hispanic and black voters. The court drew interim maps amid an election scramble, and the Legislature in 2013 moved to adopt them.

Martinez Fischer argued that efforts to improve those maps for minority representation were rebuffed by the Republican majority.

“It was almost all upon deaf ears,” Martinez Fischer said.

All the plaintiffs’ briefs for the trial can be found here. The demonstration map mentioned in the story for the State House is H391, and C285 is for Congress, with the former drawn by MALC and the latter by MALC, LULAC, and the Perez plaintiffs. There more of these – go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/, choose a Shaded Plan, change the Category to All, and scroll down. The last maps listed for each type will be the ones being shown in the trial. Michael Li of the Brennan Center is live-tweeting the trial, so follow along with him for the play-by-play. I’ll do my best to keep up as well.

Two more redistricting updates

From KUT, will we have a new Congressional map for next year?

[Gerry Hebert, one of the plaintiff attorneys], says he’s hopeful there won’t be yet another election with the old maps.

“The timing of the court’s decision is absolutely giving us an opportunity to get a new congressional redistricting plan for the 2018 election,” he says.

There are still quite a few steps between that decision and new maps, though. First up: a court hearing at the end of the month. Michael Li with the Brennan Center for Justice, another member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, says it should answer some of the “what happens next” kind of questions.

“We need to know when the parties are supposed to file briefs, when they are supposed to propose maps. Is the Legislature going to be given a chance? Is it not?” he says. “All of that is going to have to be decided.”

Li says at some point, both sides might also have to settle whether the 2013 interim map the state is currently using should be thrown out. Li, like Hebert, argues the interim map is not totally different than the 2011 map that the court struck down.

[…]

There has already been one unforeseen twist in the case since the ruling.

The state recently filed a motion asking the trial court to give it permission to appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is unusual. Typically such cases are appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So, Li, Hebert and others will have to make the case for why the decision on the 2011 map should not be overturned.

See here, here, and here for some background. As noted, the status conference next Thursday the 27th is where these issues will begin to get hashed out. The timeline proposed by the plaintiffs would have a final map in place by July 1. Lots of things can and surely will happen between now and then, but that’s the goal and we should have some clue how attainable it will be next week.

As we have discussed before, all of this activity so far is around the Congressional map. We now have a decision in the case involving the original State House map, but will we get a new map drawn in time for 2018 in that case as well?

The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to hear the Texas redistricting case in which a three-judge federal panel ruled against the state in a 2-1 decision.

“The state of Texas purposely and intentionally, with full knowledge of what they were doing, discriminated against Latinos and African-American voters,” said Luis Vera, the national general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, who has argued the case over the last several years.

[…]

Vera said it’s expected if Governor Greg Abbott calls a special legislative session, Texas lawmakers will have the first crack at fixing the 2011 map. If not, the federal judges will step in, Vera said.

Vera said there also could be a state and federal compromise.

Vera said the lines must be redrawn by 2018. He said even then, a new map is required after the U.S. Census in 2020.

I’m glad to hear that the plaintiffs’ attorneys believe there will be a new map in place for 2018, but I’m sure the state will argue that the 2013 map fixed all the problems and will do everything in their power to delay any further action. SCOTUS already has a different gerrymandering case on its spring docket, which may or may not have any overlapping effect on this. As always, we should know a lot more after that status call on the 27th.

Patrick will run for re-election in 2018

In case you were worried that he was planning to “spend more time with his family”, or whatever.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick formally announced Monday he’s running for re-election, looking to finally quell speculation he’s interested in higher office.

“Put it in cement,” Patrick told reporters a day before the start of the 85th legislative session.

Patrick, who’s been beating back such rumors since he took office in 2015, also endorsed Gov. Greg Abbott for re-election. Abbott has not formally announced he is running again but is expected to.

“We are a great team,” Patrick told reporters. “We work well together. We agree 96, 97 percent of the time – I can’t even name the 3 percent we don’t.”

[…]

Patrick has repeatedly said he plans to run for re-election, but has been dogged by rumors he could challenge Abbott, which were the focus of a recent Associated Press story. Patrick emphatically denied Monday he was interested in taking on Abbott, saying he has “never even thought about it.”

“Let me put this to bed once and for all: I’m not running against Greg Abbott — not in ’18, not ever,” Patrick said. “If he wants to be governor for the next 20 years and I’m still running, that’s the same story.”

Whatever. As with most things Dan Patrick-related, there’s a distinct whiff of the-gentleman-doth-protest-too-much about this. I mean, either the rumors that he wants to run for Governor in 2018 are either completely unfounded, in which case sooner or later people will get tired of them, or there really is something to them, in which case all the denials in the world will be dismissed as not meaning anything. All I care about is who else may be running for Lite Gov – anyone know what Trey Martinez-FIscher is thinking about these days? – and there’s plenty of time to worry about that. The Lone Star Project has more.

Voter ID changes approved

We’re all set.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas’ voter ID law, cast as the strictest in the nation, will be substantially watered down during November’s election after a federal judge Wednesday approved a deal that allows those lacking required identification to cast a ballot by signing an affidavit.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos agreed to terms worked out between Texas and several minority groups, which requires the state to spend $2.5 million on a voter education campaign. Ramos also ordered that Texas allow the groups suing have input on the state’s outreach efforts.

[…]

Under the approved deal, acceptable identifications were expanded to include voter registration cards, birth certificates, utility bills, paycheck stubs and government documents with the voter’s name and address.

Along with one of the alternate IDs, voters will also have to sign an affidavit and check a box saying why they were unable to obtain one of the identifications required under the law. The deal also provides safeguards to prevent poll workers and election officials from questioning Texans lacking identification at the ballot box.

Democrats said the Republican-controlled Legislature could have provided protections for voters lacking necessary identification to still be allowed to cast ballots but opted instead to pass a bill that has been mired in litigation for years.

“This fix will provide welcome relief to the 600,000 Texas voters who have been disenfranchised by the state’s discriminatory voter ID law,” state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat and the chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we need not have waited three years or spent millions of taxpayer dollars to get to this point.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the full statement from MALC. The item about the plaintiffs having a say on how the outreach efforts go is a win as well, since they were skeptical about it to begin with.

Lawyers for Texas have disclosed that Burson-Marsteller, a public relations giant and global strategic communications firm with an Austin office, is under contract with the state to develop voter outreach efforts for the current year.

That includes a roughly $2.5 million plan Texas agreed to put in place after a federal appeals court last month found its voter ID measure discriminates against minorities.

Burson-Marsteller is no stranger to helping Texas with voter education plans, contracting with the state as far back as 2006. But Texas’ outreach efforts focused on the controversial photo ID law have been cast as lackluster by minority groups and federal courts, including a plan designed for the 2014 elections by Burson-Marsteller in which the state spent $2 million on an education campaign.

In a court filing last week, Texas said Burson-Marsteller and a subcontractor, Austin-based TKO Advertising, have already consulted with the state to design a “multi-faceted strategy to reach and educate voters” about changes to the voter ID law for the upcoming election. Texas says that plan is ready to be executed.

However, lawyers suing the state said they remain concerned about Texas’ willingness to reach out to voters and to train poll workers — and Burson-Marsteller’s involvement doesn’t help that perception.

“It gives us less confidence,” said Jose Garza, a lawyer for the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, which is a plaintiff in the case. “The state’s historical track record is not a very good one on this issue.”

As that second story notes, the oversight item was one on which the two sides did not agree. It’s not hard to understand why the plaintiffs had their doubts, given the association with previous “outreach” efforts. I’m hopeful this will ensure things go as smoothly as can be expected.

That said, this still isn’t over.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a staunch supporter of the voter ID law, signaled that he won’t give up the case any time soon. The legal battle over what is said to be the nation’s strictest voter ID law has already cost state taxpayers more than $3.5 million.

“This case is not over,” Paxton’s spokesman, Marc Rylander, said in a statement. “Given the time constraints of the November elections and the direction of the Fifth Circuit, today’s order by the district court is an interim remedy that preserves the crucial aspects of the Voter ID law for this November election, while we continue evaluating all options moving forward, including an appeal of the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Seems highly unlikely to me that there are five votes on SCOTUS to overturn the Fifth Circuit decision, but as we know it’s not the winning or losing that motivates Paxton, it’s the rallying of the troops. A glorious defeat works just fine for his purposes. The Lege will take another crack at this next year, though it remains to be seen what that might amount to. I feel pretty confident saying what we have now is what we’ll have in November. Beyond that, we’ll see. The Texas Civil Rights Project has more.

We haven’t heard the last of TMF

He’ll be back.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer says he laments nothing about a failed gambit for the state Senate that will end his 16-year stint with the Texas Legislature.

The boisterous San Antonio Democrat, however, is leaving office at the end of the year with a message: Don’t write off his political career just yet.

“Last time I checked this wasn’t a retirement party,” Martinez Fischer, 45, said in an interview. “I don’t want anybody to misconstrue my words to think this is my political obituary.”

[…]

Experts say they expect to see Martinez Fischer back in action and point to possible scenarios for another run at a high-profile public office, potentially Bexar County Commissioners Court or U.S. Congress. But, they note, the right opportunity would have to present itself, requiring in most cases for an incumbent to move on.

Democratic consultant Christian Archer said Martinez Fischer’s immediate choices appear limited.

Two seats on the Commissioners Court could present options, he said: Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo, 80, is up for re-election in 2018 and hasn’t said what he plans to do. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, 74, also hasn’t committed to another term.

Archer said running for either spot on the Commissioners Court would make perfect sense for Martinez Fischer.

“It keeps you home in San Antonio. It also comes with real check. And there’s a lot of power,” he said. “I would think that Trey would have to look at running for county commissioner or county judge if it were available.”

But Archer noted that Elizondo and Wolff are powerful and entrenched incumbents and would have to decide against running to make it feasible for Martinez Fischer.

Another scenario political observers are floating involves Martinez Fischer running to succeed U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, if he were tapped for a role in a potential Hillary Clinton White House or if he makes a run for another office in the near future.

There are some obvious parallels to Adrian Garcia here, as TMF lost a bruising primary against an incumbent after being in what was essentially another primary, one that was just as bruising, last year. The first order of business is to patch up damaged relationships and get everyone to remember why they liked him in the first place, and the best way to do that is to go all out to help Democrats win up and down the ballot this year. In Bexar County, that means working to retake HDs 117 and 118, and the Dems there have a Sheriff’s office to win as well. His old colleague Pete Gallego could use some help winning back CD23 as well. Do those things, with enthusiasm and visibility, and the potential possibilities become more possible. Like Garcia, TMF is a young man, so he could take a cycle or two off if he wants or needs to, and still be in good shape. We will miss having TMF in the Lege, but I feel confident that he has more good to do, and I look forward to supporting him in that again when the time is right.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

“Visit www.HarrisVotes.com to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at www.HarrisVotes.com.”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.

Checking in on Battleground Texas

They’re still here.

So where does [Lon] Burnam see Battleground Texas in his plan to be the first Texas Democrat elected to a statewide office since 1994?

“No comment,” he said, before adding as he walked away, “In 20 years of public service, that’s the first time I’ve ever said that.”

Burnam’s response echoed that of many of the longtime liberal activists in the room and around Texas, underscoring the complicated feelings many Democrats have toward Battleground Texas. Many declined to comment for this story. Others were careful to avoid either actively criticizing the group or offering strong praise of it.

“They’re pretty easy to set up as a piñata,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat running for state Senate, at a recent Texas Tribune event. “I mean, at a bare minimum, they’re trying, and sometimes that’s just half the battle. Whether they’re set up for this, whether they are doing this the right way, I don’t have any way to judge.”

[…]

After feeling that the group sought excessive attention in 2014, now many activists see the opposite problem: Battleground Texas seems to be hibernating. The group has scaled down its paid staff operation and will likely only do some field work in a few priority House races this year, according to sources close to the party.

In the meantime, Battleground is ignoring an important opportunity by not being more engaged in the current election cycle, argues Christian Archer, a veteran Texas campaign strategist based in San Antonio.

“We want to be able to harness the energy of right now and use it in future elections,” Archer said. “You’re never going to get the level of engagement that you do in a presidential, so there’s no better time to get involved than today. And yet I haven’t even heard the name Battleground in six months.”

I still get emails from them, but I agree that the volume is considerably lower right now. BGTX does not currently have an executive director, which I suspect is part of why that is. Most of the people quoted in the story seem willing to put the past behind us and focus on working together to do some good in this year’s election. So at least the next ED of BGTX won’t have to do too much groveling as part of the job. What I want to see in the next generation of leadership at BGTX is a full accounting of what went wrong in 2014 – I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of that story – what we learned from it, and what will be different this time. Some specific goals for this year would be nice, in particular targets for registering new voters and turning them out at the polls. In an alternate universe, this would be the year that BGTX was gearing up to Do Big Things, as their original intent was to focus on Presidential year turnout. They’ve taken a very different path to get where they are now, one that has inflicted some painful lessons on us all. Surely BGTX and everyone else can make something of that brutal experience. We’ll be the better for it if we can.

Overview of two Bexar County legislative primaries

The turnover of Bexar County’s Democratic legislative caucus continues apace. With the departures in 2015 of Mike Villarreal and Jose Menendez (succeeded by Diego Bernal and Ina Minjarez, respectively) and the departures this year by Joe Farias, Trey Martinez-Fischer, and Ruth Jones McClendon, there will be a whole lot of Bexar County legislators being sworn in on January 2, 2017 that weren’t there two years before. The Rivard Report takes a look at the three candidates who hope to succeed TMF in HD116.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez are not exactly household names in San Antonio, but all three candidates are hoping past political training or staff experience propel them into elected office. The primary winner – or May 24 runoff winner if a second round of voting is necessary – will run unopposed on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot and be sworn into office in January.

[…]

A Jefferson High School graduate, Arévalo served on the San Antonio Youth Commission and became involved with student government while attending college. She majored in business, earning a bachelor’s degree at UTSA and a master’s degree from Our Lady of the Lake University. As an undergraduate, Arévalo was a fellow at the United Leaders Institute for Political Service at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and she attended the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University.

She worked as an intern in U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office, and at the Obama White House in the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. She parlayed these and other experiences into a chance to work with the 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee, and on President Obama’s 2013 inaugural committee.

Back home, Arévalo has served as secretary of the Bexar County Democratic Party, and currently chairs the 2016 Texas Democratic Convention Host Committee. Her party work led to an opportunity to manage the 2013 City Council campaign of Leticia Ozuna, who finished second in a three way-race won by Rebecca Viagran. Arévalo said she learned a lot from the experience that she now is applying in her own campaign.

[…]

Golando, 38, is a native Midwesterner who has called San Antonio home for 17 years. He earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law and is a partner in the downtown law firm Garza Golando Moran, specializing in election and civil rights laws. Golando has the most direct connection to Martinez Fischer. He has worked for him for 10 years, including time as his chief of staff. Galindo said he focused on water policy, taxation and legislative procedure.

Golando has served for two years as general counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the nation’s oldest and largest Latino legislative caucus, and he has served as a co-counsel during the hotly contested Texas redistricting case and all challenges to the Texas Voter ID law. In 2013, Golando was briefly in the national spotlight. In the wake of the legislative redistricting fight that began in 2011, Golando requested repayment from the state of more than $282,000 in legal fees he said he incurred while helping the caucus in its legal battle.

The state’s Attorney General’s office, then under Greg Abbott’s leadership, said Golando was ineligible for repayment because of his dual employment. Golando has kept up the legal battle, and the case is still active.

[…]

Resendez is the first graduate of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s program to prepare young Latinas for public service who is seeking elected office, which led to this recent story on the Rivard Report.

“People want to have good, high-quality, high-paying jobs. People also want to make sure senior citizens’ needs are met,” Resendez said she has learned in her district campaigning. “There are good ideas in the community. We’re getting out onto the streets to help find solutions to conflicts in our neighborhoods.”

Meanwhile, the Express News provides a glimpse of the six candidates running to succeed McClendon in HD120.

On the Democrats’ March 1 ballot — listed in the following order — are Lou Miller, Latronda Darnell, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, Art Hall, Mario Salas and Byron Miller.

[…]

Lou Miller, an insurance agent and district governor for Rotary International who served on the city zoning commission and the VIA Transit board, said he knows “how to get things done even as a non-elected official,” having helped lure a planned health clinic to the East Side.

He said he’d continue McClendon’s push to build a state office complex near downtown, a $135 million proposal that was approved by lawmakers in 2015 but vetoed by Abbott as too costly.

Darnell, a former legislative staffer to McClendon, said social justice issues are an overriding concern, along with improving education. Having served in the Legislature, she said she already has working relationships with key lawmakers and state officials, and her experience there taught her that “what happens in Austin happens to you.”

Working for McClendon, who had served District 120 since 1996, Darnell said she learned that “to serve 120 means to be engaged with this community.” And while candidates may have great ideas, change won’t happen if a lawmaker doesn’t have good rapport with other leaders.

Gervin-Hawkins, an educator who serves as executive director and superintendent of the George Gervin Youth Center, cited education as her focus, including faith-based, non-profit and public schools.

Calling these “pivotal times,” she said “what’s needed in Austin right now is someone with diplomacy, strategic planning and the ability to make things happen.” Lamenting a disinterested electorate, she said “we’ve got to give people hope again.” And citing rivalries exposed by the campaign, Gervin-Hawkins said “it’s about how we work together. Let’s unify. ”

Hall, a Harvard grad who earned a law degree from Texas Tech, likewise said education would be his top concern. The attorney who served on City Council and works as a district director for Alamo Colleges, said he’s wants to apply the financial and international business acumen he gained in the private sector.

“We deserve good, strong leadership to carry on the legacy that Ruth Jones McClendon and many others have left behind,” Hall said. Citing his role as a minister, Hall departed from the rest by saying he doesn’t condone same-sex marriage.

Salas, an educator who served on City Council and the Judson ISD board, wants teachers to be treated better by the state, along with minorities and women.

“We need a fighter in that position and I intend to wind it up,” Salas said. He called attention to his long involvement in racial equality and social justice causes and touted his backing by teacher groups. In Austin, Salas said he’s ready to fight “this jaugernaut of right-wing extremism” that impacts immigration policy and other issues.

Byron Miller, an attorney and Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who served as a justice of the peace and on numerous community boards, said he’s determined to bring better treatment of veterans and the elderly, and he’s also an advocate for early childhood education.

Although the district continues to have problems with infrastructure and social justice, Byron Miller said “it’s getting better” and will continue doing so “if we work together.” He added: “I want to represent everyone, equally.”

Golando in HD116 and Miller in HD120 were endorsed by the Express-News in their primaries. I don’t know much about any of these people, so it’s good to get at least a few tidbits.

It’s worth noting that in 2012, there were eight Democrats elected to the Lege from Bexar County, out of ten total districts. Here’s what the delegation looked like then, and what happened to them since:

HD116 – Trey Martinez-Fischer. He ran in the special election for SD26 after Leticia Van de Putte stepped down to run for Mayor but lost in a runoff to Jose Menendez. This year, he chose to go for a rematch in SD26, thus leaving his seat open.

HD117 – Philip Cortez reclaimed a seat that had been held by David Leibowitz from 2004 through 2010 before losing it in the 2010 wipeout. Cortez then lost it in 2014, and is trying to win it back this year.

HS118 – Joe Farias. Elected in 2006 to succeed Carlos Uresti after his successful primary race against then-Sen. Frank Madla, Farias announced his retirement at the end of the last session. He vacated his seat shortly thereafter, and the remainder of his term was won in a special election runoff by a Republican. Two Democrats, both of whom vied for his seat in the special election, are fighting each other in the primary for the chance to win it back in November: Gabe (son of Joe) Farias, and Tomas (brother of Carlos) Uresti; the latter was the loser in the special election runoff.

HD119 – Roland Gutierrez is now the senior member of the delegation. He was elected in 2008 in an unopposed primary to succeed Robert Puente, who was one of the last Craddick Dems still in the Lege.

HD120 – As noted above, Ruth Jones McClendon has retired, and resigned her seat. A special election to fill the remainder of her term will be held in May.

HD123 – Mike Villarreal. He stepped down after winning re-election in 2014 so he could run for Mayor of San Antonio. Diego Bernal won that seat in a January special election.

HD124 – Jose Menendez was the winner for SD26 last year, which then created a vacancy for his seat. Ina Minjarez won that in an April runoff.

HD125 – Justin Rodriguez is now the second longest-serving Democrat in Bexar County. He won the primary for that seat after Joaquin Castro moved up to Congress.

Whew. Lots of changes, with more to come. Good luck sorting it all out, Bexar County.

Endorsement watch: Succeeding Sylvester

The Chron makes its choice for HD139.

Kimberly Willis

Kimberly Willis

We encourage Democratic Party voters to look for a candidate who will emulate Turner’s successful model of connecting constituents’ interests with the levers of state power in Austin. We believe that Kimberly Willis will be that candidate.

Willis’ experience as a former staffer in the Legislature and as a social worker in Houston gives her a comprehensive view of the ways in which government programs can impact neighborhoods.

“I understand what good public policy does for a community,” she told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

[…]

Also running for the position are Randy Bates, 66, a former Lone Star College trustee; Jerry Ford Jr., 23, a student activist; and Jarvis Johnson, 44, a former member of Houston City Council.

Ford has an impressive passion and said he is running to spark a movement of youth involvement in politics, but he could use a little more experience. Bates and Johnson both have that experience as elected officials. However, Bates relied too much on vagaries when he talked with the editorial board. Johnson faced allegations of unethical and illegal behavior while on City Council, including allegations of trying to direct city contracts and being charged with evading arrest. He was never indicted or convicted, but too many questions still remain about Johnson’s political ethics.

Here are my interviews with Willia, Ford, and Bates. I’ll just note that Jarvis Johnson had no online campaign presence as my last check, and did not file a January finance report. He does almost certainly have the most name recognition among the foursome, and came dangerously close to winning a seat on the HCDE in 2012, so don’t count him out.

Meanwhile, since I happened to come across it, here are some primary legislative recommendations from San Antonio:

In Texas House District 116, three Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to replace state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who is vacating the post to run for the Texas Senate.

The three contenders are Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez. All three have the potential to be solid public servants, but Golando has far more relevant experience than the others. And for that reason, we recommend that voters cast their ballots for Golando.

Serving as Martinez Fischer’s chief of staff for almost 10 years, Golando has a vast amount of experience in the legislative process that will enable him to hit the ground running. A lawyer, Golando has served as the general counsel of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which was led by Martinez Fischer.

[…]

We strongly urge Democrats to nominate [Gabe] Farias [in HD118], who has served as president and CEO of the West Side Chamber of Commerce since 2012. Farias has an understanding of business issues that will be helpful in the Legislature. He also has served on the staff of two City Council members and worked in the office of state Rep. Roland Gutierrez.

Additionally, Farias demonstrates a superior knowledge of key legislative matters, advocates expanding Medicaid and is a strong supporter of public education.

[…]

We recommend that voters cast their ballots for Byron Miller, an Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who has been elected to the EAA District 2 post three times. Miller’s EAA experience gives him a strong foundation to be a voice for Bexar County on water policy, which is a crucial issue in the state.

Miller is a lifelong resident of District 120 and has a long record of civic involvement, ranging from being a Boy Scoutmaster to serving on the Carver Cultural Center and Witte Museum boards. Miller also served on the Bexar County Coliseum Advisory board.

[…]

In District 124, we strongly recommend Ina Minjarez, who last spring was elected to the post formerly held by Sen. José Menéndez with only weeks remaining in the legislative session.

Starting at the bottom, Minjarez was the E-N’s preferred candidate in that special election last year, and all the things I’ve heard about her so far have been positive. I don’t know Martin Golando, but people in San Antonio and with connections to the Lege that I respect are all high on him, and that’s good enough for me. The stakes may have been low in that HD118 special election, but Tomas Uresti lost it, and that sure seems like a good reason to support Gabe Farias (also the E-N choice in round one of that special election). Finally, I don’t know the candidates in HD120 (Art Hall ran for Railroad Commissioner in 2008 but finished out of the money in a three-way primary), so I welcome any input from the locals in that race.

AG’s office upholds Abbott’s line item vetos

Of course it does.

NO

Gov. Greg Abbott was well within his powers when he vetoed more than $200 million in funds approved by the Texas Legislature this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office wrote in an opinion issued Monday.

[…]

The nonbinding opinion, written by First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy, has the potential to shore up the governor’s power over the budget-writing process if Roy’s interpretation ultimately held up in a court of law.

“The provisions vetoed by the Governor each designate a specific purpose and the amount to be used therefor, and they are items of appropriations subject to the Governor’s veto” Roy wrote.

Abbott’s office praised the opinion Monday evening.

“The Attorney General’s opinion upholds the governor’s constitutional authority to limit unnecessary spending and ensure fiscal solvency,” spokesman John Wittman said.

The Budget Board is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus, and its members include the chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees who write the budget. Like Abbott, Patrick also publicly criticized the board’s argument — so much so that he wanted a special committee to review the budget board and other legislative agencies. Email traffic between his office, the board and the House speaker’s office made it clear that a top Patrick aide had seen the board document in advance and approved sending it to Hegar.

The vetoes covered funding for projects at several state agencies and higher education institutions.

The largest funding item at issue was for $132 million from the Texas Facilities Commission’s budget to build a state office building in San Antonio to replace the G.J. Sutton State Complex. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, has previously urged the city of San Antonio to consider legally challenging Abbott’s veto, noting that the new building is expected to play a key role in the revitalization of the city’s East Side area.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the AG opinion. I’m not qualified to address the legal points of this, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the fix was in. I said before that this probably needs to be resolved by the Supreme Court, so I hope the city of San Antonio takes up TMF’s call to sue over this. Perhaps a better question to ask, especially of Republicans, is if it’s such a good idea to expand the Governor’s powers in this way. It’s certainly open to debate whether this is a good idea or not, but shouldn’t we at least have that debate? I’m just saying. The Chron and Trail Blazers have more.

One more time for TMF-Menendez

It’s on, again.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Fifteen-year state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer announced Sunday he’ll run for Texas Senate District 26 next year against incumbent José Menéndez.

The March 1 Democratic primary race will pit the same contenders who battled for the seat earlier this year in a special election to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, also D-San Antonio, who gave up the seat in a failed bid for mayor.

Menéndez won that Feb. 17 contest by a 3-2 margin, and it wasn’t long before Martinez Fischer began hinting at a rematch, asserting that Menéndez was too beholden to Republicans who helped him win election.

Sen. Jose Menendez

The same charge was made Sunday when about 200 supporters gathered at a West Side restaurant to hear Martinez Fischer’s declaration, which came on the eve of Monday’s filing deadline for party primary candidates.

Drawing endorsements from U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and state Reps. Roland Gutierrez and Justin Rodriguez, all D-San Antonio, Martinez Fischer vowed to be a fighter for District 26. He said he would use his understanding of the legislative process to ward off GOP-backed measures that he views as harmful to constituents.

Without mentioning him by name, Martinez Fischer said Menéndez “bragged” that he voted for the state budget even though it was inadequate in many areas.

“I doubt he bragged to our public school teachers who work in classrooms that are overcrowded and underfunded. I doubt he bragged to the parents and families who go without insurance, without Medicaid, because they can’t afford the premium or the state cut their services,” Martinez Fischer said.

We’ll see how it goes. I know the conventional wisdom was that Menendez won the special election runoff on the strength of Republican votes, but those votes came on top of a base of Democratic support. The budget is a legitimate issue, but (again, despite the proffered wisdom at the time of the runoff), I can’t think of any other actions by Menendez that stand out as campaign fodder. But hey, that’s why they run the races. TMF’s decision means his HD116 seat will be open, and you can expect a flurry of candidates to sign up for that. One way or another, the San Antonio legislative delegation turns over some more. The Trib and the Rivard Report have more.

Rep. McClendon to step down

She’ll be missed.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, a San Antonio Democrat and 19-year veteran of the Texas House who tenaciously championed social justice reform, said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election.

McClendon was elected in 1996 to represent East Side voters in House District 120 and has emerged as a fixture in the Legislature as the dean of the Bexar County delegation.

However, McClendon’s health has been an ongoing concern. She was diagnosed in 2009 with stage 4 lung cancer and underwent surgery to remove water from her brain last year.

Her fragile physical state was emphasized during the latest legislative session when she relied on an electric scooter to navigate the Capitol and had noticeable trouble speaking.

In a statement, McClendon said she plans to stay in office until her term expires in December 2016 but that “it is time for someone else to take up the mantle.”

“Although I will not return to the Legislature in 2017,” she said, “I will still be engaged to ensure that the issues I have fought for will have a voice.”

[…]

McClendon has possibly become best known for her quest to have the state study wrongful prison convictions. She achieved the long-time goal during the last legislative session to create a commission to study exonerations, a triumph that helped earn her recognition from Texas Monthly as one of 2015’s best lawmakers.

Lawmakers said McClendon’s presence will be missed.

“Ruth is not only the dean of our delegation, she’s also our Capitol mother. Knowing that she’s not coming back is something that’s going to be hard to overcome,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat. “She’s always been the leader of our delegation, but now its time for her to make sure she’s taking care of her health and her family.”

All respect to Rep. McClendon, who has battled health issues for several years but went out on a high note this session with the passage of that exoneration commission bill. Go read the story at the end of that post linked above; if it doesn’t make you at least a little misty, you might want to adjust your meds. Her departure means that the ten-member Bexar County House delegation will have at least four members who were not there this past January – Rep. Diego Bernal, the successor to Mike Villarreal, who resigned to run for Mayor; Rep. Ina Minjarez, who won a special election for the seat vacated by now-Sen. Jose Rodriguez; and whoever follows the retiring Reps. McClendon and Joe Farias. If the Dems win back HD117 in this Presidential-turnout year, that will be half of the delegation turned over. Getting some new blood is always good, but losing such distinguished veterans is hard. I wish Rep. McClendon all the best as she enters the next phase of her life. The Trib has more.

Will there be TMF-Menendez round 2?

Maybe. Who knows?

Sen. Jose Menendez

Last February, Jose Menendez beat Trey Martinez Fischer to serve the remainder of Leticia Van De Putte’s term when she decided to run for mayor.

Campaign finance reports filed Wednesday may point to a rematch this fall.

“Without money you don’t get your message out, so that’s why having money is important,” says Senator Menendez.

“It’s quite a compliment and a testament to the work I do in Austin, and that believe in my public service,” says Martinez Fischer.

Combined the two men have raised more than $400,000 , according to their campaigns and finance reports.

[…]

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

“There’s no doubt about it, I’m giving it some very serious consideration. The special election was just in very recent memory, but there isn’t a day goes by in San Antonio that I’m not stopped in the street, or talking to people in a restaurant where they don’t ask about this race,” says Martinez Fischer.

“I can’t worry about who’s going to run, I have to worry about doing my job, and at the end of the day, come Election Day if I’ve done my job then the voters I believe will send me back to Austin,” says Menendez.

[…]

Menendez came in second in the general election, and then won handily in the runoff, and he admits he had Republican Party backing, he’s not sure he’ll need it if he and Martinez Fischer meet again.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many slick ads are cut, it doesn’t matter how many fliers you have, or how many signs are out there. What matters is that people believe that you care enough to work on what matters to them,” says Menendez.

Anything is possible, but let’s remember two things. One, for all the hullabaloo and self-loathing among some Democrats for the way Menendez won the runoff, the fact remains that even TMF’s post-election analysis showed Menendez had significant Democratic support. Republican voters preferred him over TMF, but that was likely more about them disliking TMF and his combative personality, as there was no ideological reason for them to have a preference. And that’s point two: For all the hue and cry about Menendez being more “conservative” than TMF, there’s nothing I know of in his voting record, in the House or in his short term so far in the Senate, to back that up. If TMF challenges Menendez in March – and I say this as someone who likes TMF and would have voted for him in SD26 if I had lived there – what does he have to use against him in that race? My guess is this would be one of those all-heat, little-light races that everyone hates. This is how it goes when two candidates that have no real difference between them on the issues battle it out. I have no opinion about whether or not TMF should challenge Menendez in March. If he does it’s fine and if he doesn’t it’s fine. All I’m saying is that the special election runoff from this year has nothing to tell us about how such a race might go next year.

House chubfest kills several bad bills

Some good news, though as always at the end of a session, the outcome isn’t clean and the details are very murky.

Squalius cephalus, the official mascot of talking bills to death

As the clock struck midnight, the failure of an anti-abortion initiative — dear to the hearts of the far right — marked the end of a tumultuous day on the floor of the Texas House that saw the passage of sweeping ethics reform and a version of legislation allowing concealed carrying of handguns on college campuses.

On the last day that it could approve major legislation that began in the Senate, the lower chamber embarked on an all-day procedural waltz, with Democrats attempting to kill bills by delaying them past midnight, and Republicans looking for openings to move their legislation.

Early in the day, Democrats narrowly shot down an attempt to essentially change the order of the calendar, moving big-ticket items up for faster consideration. They then used every parliamentary trick in the book to slow the pace, delaying consideration of mostly uncontroversial bills.

But after huddling in a secret meeting in a room adjacent to the House floor, Democrats let the action get moving again.

For hours, the House debated an ethics reform bill, dissolving into angry tirades and raunchy debate about the reach of a drug-testing provision for lawmakers.

The passionate debate pitted Republicans against each other — over lifting the veil on “dark money” and restricting people from recording or videotaping politicians without their permission.

With the clock ticking, a few Republicans at one point even sought to postpone debate over ethics legislation — deemed a priority by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — so the House could take up campus carry and an abortion bill that would have prohibited coverage of the procedure on certain health insurance plans.

Republican state Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler asked state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the House sponsor of the ethics legislation, to temporarily pull down the measure so that it did not chew up the time left on the clock.

After Cook declined, Democrats took to the mic to reiterate that ethics reform was declared an emergency item by the governor and was supposed to be prioritized over the rest of the calendar.

The House eventually passed the ethics bill, including the dark money provision, then went back to an innocuous agency-review bill, also known as a Sunset bill, to reform the Department of Family and Protective Services.

[…]

The biggest victim of the midnight deadline was Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor, which would have banned abortion coverage on plans sold on the federal Affordable Care Act’s marketplace.

Originally, SB 575 would have banned abortion coverage on both ACA plans and private health insurance plans. But the House State Affairs Committee amended the bill to mirror a measure filed in the House by state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, and approved by the committee this month before dying on a House bill deadline.

Republicans had said they intended to amend it on the floor to bring back the private insurance ban.

The bill — passed in the Senate earlier this month — died in the House after a turbulent ride in the lower chamber.

It was cleared by the State Affairs Committee on Saturday in a last-minute vote on the last day the committee could clear Senate proposals.

Killing SB575 was a big one, and one of the Democrats’ main goals for deadline day. They also succeeded in preventing an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families to a sunset bill for the Department of Family and Protective Services, another main goal. What did get passed was a somewhat watered-down version of campus carry that will allow university trustees to designate certain “gun-free zones” as long as there isn’t a blanket ban on carrying firearms by those with concealed handgun licenses. The campus carry bill could possibly have been stopped, though (this is where we get into the messy and murky stuff) that could have had effects that would make the victory a lot more pyhrric. The Morning News hints at some of what might have happened.

Late Tuesday, the House was debating the gun measure, though it was unclear if it would pass.

Several Republicans said that after the initial slowdown, Speaker Joe Straus intervened in the early afternoon, to get things moving. There were conflicting accounts, though, of precisely how Straus, a San Antonio Republican, did so.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Tan Parker of Flower Mound said that in conversations with individual Democrats, “the speaker was firm that he would use everything,” meaning parliamentary “nuclear options,” to shut down debate and force votes.

Straus, though, was coy.

“I didn’t talk to Democrats,” Straus told a reporter. “But I intend to get through this,” he added, referring to the House’s agenda.

One consideration may have been that the campus carry bill is part of a grand bargain on tax cuts, border security, guns and ethics. The deal may allow lawmakers to finish their work Monday, as scheduled, instead of having a special session.

As passed by the Senate, the campus carry measure would allow the licensed concealed carrying of handguns in most public university buildings. There were rumblings the House might restore a campus-by-campus opt-in provision, as it did two years ago, or let the measure die when the clock struck midnight.

Whether Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his GOP allies in the Senate would consider that a breach of the grand bargain remained unclear.

[…]

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said he was upset that some senior Democrats relented.

“We’ve given away too much leverage,” he said.

There was talk that Martinez Fischer and other long-serving Democrats were worried the minority might be asking for too much, especially after gaining key House GOP leaders’ cooperation in squelching bills aimed at unions and stopping hailstorm damage lawsuits.

[Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer, though, called that too facile.

“You can’t view everything as a quid pro quo,” he said. “It’s not personal. It’s all about business.”

Martinez-Fischer had a point of order that could have killed the campus carry bill, but he pulled it down after some intense discussion, and thus it went to a vote. How you feel about all this likely correlates directly to your opinion of his dealmaking ability and trustworthiness in making such deals. It’s also the case that this isn’t the end of the story, as the Statesman notes.

Cutting off debate ended a daylong Democratic effort to avoid a floor vote on the campus carry legislation before a drop-dead midnight deadline to have an initial vote on Senate bills.

After the vote, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said Democrats voluntarily pulled down their amendments after winning a key concession with an approved amendment allowing colleges and universities to have limited authority on banning guns in certain campus areas.

In addition, he said, Republicans were prepared to employ a rarely used maneuver to cut off debate with a motion that had already lined up agreement from the required 25 House members.

[…]

The bill-killing tactics appeared headed for success late Tuesday, until Speaker Joe Straus abruptly called for a vote on SB 11 about 20 minutes before the deadline.

The move avoided a bitter blow for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Based on assurances from House leaders that campus carry would get a floor vote in their chamber, Patrick and Birdwell declined last week to add the school gun bill as an amendment to House Bill 910, a measure to allow openly carried holstered handguns that is now one small step away from Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Before approving SB11, the House voted overwhelmingly to allow each college and university to regulate where guns may be excluded, as long as firearms are not banned campus-wide. Each plan would have to be approved by two-thirds of the board of regents under the amendment by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, that was approved 119-29.

The House also adopted an amendment by Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, to exempt health care-related institutions and the Texas Medical Center from campus carry.

“Never assume the Democrats gave up on campus carry. Democrats did not give up on campus carry,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “The Zerwas amendment waters it down. The bill will go to conference and we will continue to have our input in the process.”

Here’s a separate Trib story on the campus carry bill, an Observer story about the ethics reform bill that was a main vehicle for Democratic stalling tactics, and a Chron story on the overall chubbing strategy as it was happening. Newsdesk, RG Ratcliffe, and Hair Balls have more on the day overall, and for the last word (via PDiddie), here’s Glen Maxey:

LGBT people are finally, FINALLY free from all types of mischief and evilness. The Senate gets to debate the Cecil Bell amendment by Sen. Lucio put on a friggin’ Garnet Coleman bill tomorrow. It’s all for show. Garnet Coleman is one of the strongest allies of the LGBTQ community. They could amend all the anti-gay stuff they want on it and he’ll strip it off in conference or just outright kill the bill before allowing it to pass with that crap on it. This is for record votes to say they did “something” about teh gays to their nutso base.

And lots of high stakes trading to make sure that other stuff didn’t get amended onto bills today (labor dues, TWIA, etc.) and making sure an Ethics Bill of some sort passed. We didn’t want that to die and give Abbot a reason to call a special session.

Campus carry got watered down… no clue what happens in conference. And the delaying tactics kept us from reaching the abortion insurance ban.

Four good Elections bills passed today. Three on Consent in the House, three in the Senate all will be done by noon Wednesday.

And Lastly: Pigs have flown and landed. HB 1096 the bad voter registration bill is NOT on the Calendar for tomorrow and is therefore DEAD. I am one proud lobbyist on that one. With it’s demise, no major voter suppression bills passed (well, except for Interstate Crosscheck which is only bad if implemented badly, and we have to stay on top of it to make sure it’s not), and over forty good ones survived.

Just a few technical concurrences, and we’re done. Thank the goddess and well, some bipartisanship for once.

As someone once said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. See the next post for more on that.

House approves bill to move Public Integrity Unit

Like it or not, looks like this is going to get done.

Rosemary Lehmberg

The Texas House gave initial approval Monday to a stripped-down bill that would remove public corruption cases from Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit.

Final House approval is expected Tuesday.

House Bill 1690, initially approved 94-51, was amended on the House floor to apply solely to corruption allegations against elected or appointed state officials, who would be investigated by the Texas Rangers and prosecuted, if the allegations are confirmed, in the official’s home county.

House members adopted an amendment dropping state employees from home-county prosecution, keeping the status quo that would keep those cases in the county where a crime occurred — typically Travis County, where most state employees work.

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, joined Democrats in arguing that home-county prosecution would create a special privilege, and a “home-court advantage,” for state officials that is not available to other Texans.

“I just want to plead with you that you not create, with this bill, a specially protected class,” Simpson said. “I urge you not to treat yourself better than the constituents who you serve.”

A Simpson amendment to allow corruption cases also to be prosecuted in the county where the crime occurred was defeated, 93-49.

The Senate has already passed a similar bill, moving Republicans much closer toward realizing a longtime goal — removing corruption cases from Travis County, a Democratic stronghold where, they believe, GOP officials cannot receive a fair hearing.

Like the Senate version, the bill by Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, would not move the majority of cases handled by Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit — including fraud against state programs, insurance fraud and tax fraud.

King estimated public corruption cases affected by his bill would affect only about 2 percent of the unit’s caseload.

See here for background on the Senate bill. I don’t think this is the worst idea ever – it’s better than simply handing this off to the Attorney General’s office, for example – but I agree with Rep. Simpson about how it treats legislators versus everyone else, and I agree with RG Ratcliffe that this does not take the politics out of the process, it just changes them. It may take awhile, but I’d bet that one of these days there will be a scandal over how a future investigation into an officeholder is handled, or not handled, by the Rangers and that officeholder’s home county DA. Anyone want to bet against that proposition? Note that this isn’t a partisan thing – since the Governor appoints the head of DPS, a future Democratic Governor could be just as liable to engage in shenanigans as any other kind of Governor.

And speaking of shady officeholders and their buddies back home:

Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, won approval of a provision potentially affecting [Attorney General Ken] Paxton. It would require a local prosecutor who currently or in the past has had “a financial or other business relationship” with the target of a probe to ask the judge to let him be recused “for good cause.” If the judge approved, the hometown prosecutor would be considered disqualified, Turner’s amendment says.

As he explained the amendment, Turner did not mention Paxton or Willis or their offices. Bill author Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, accepted the amendment, which passed on a voice vote.

[…]

The question of criminal prosecution of Paxton appeared to be going nowhere until grand jury members were given information about his licensure violations. One grand jury member expressed a desire to look at the matter. Willis asked the Texas Rangers to investigate and make a recommendation.

Turner, the amendment sponsor, said the original bill would let a local prosecutor seek to be recused “for good cause.” That’s insufficient, he said.

“Obviously, it’s not appropriate for the prosecutor to be involved in that case,” Turner said.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, won approval for a related amendment. It would let an investigation’s target ask a judge to recuse a prosecutor with a conflict of interest.

That’s something, but we’ll see if those amendments stick. There’s two competing bills now, so it’s a matter of which one gets passed by the other chamber first, and if a conference committee is ultimately needed. The House bill is far from great, but it’s better than the Senate bill. The question is whose approach will win. The Chron and the Trib have more.

Menendez sworn in

We’re back at full strength in the Senate.

Sen. Jose Menendez

José Menéndez became San Antonio’s newest state senator in a ceremony Monday that featured the Alamo City Democrat taking the oath of office and urging his new colleagues in the upper chamber to chart a bipartisan course regardless of what “political price may come.”

In a 10-minute address to a packed Senate chamber, Menéndez waxed personal at times, reflecting on his experience growing up as a child born to two immigrants and who started kindergarten without knowing how to speak English.

But the thrust of his messaging revolved around the idea of lawmakers from both parties coming together to improve the state.

“I’m here to say that I’m ready to work with each and every one of you,” said Menéndez, who was sworn in by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia. “I rarely care or worry about what’s your party politics what I worry about and care about is what’s in your heart.”

He later added: “It is our duty as elected officials not only to defend the Constitution … we have to be there to make the tough decisions for the right reason. Sometimes it’s easier for us to make votes that are politically correct, to say things that are politically correct. And that’s why sometimes I think people loose faith in what we do.”

PDiddie notes that the kerfuffle over how Menendez won is still active, with Menendez’s opponent, Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer penning a piece in the Quorum Report laying out the argument about Republican voters affecting the outcome. I’ve said my piece on that. and don’t plan to say any more. We will literally never see an election like that again, and I see no reason to dwell on it.

Of greater interest to me is that we now have a date for what should really, truly be the last special election of this cycle, in HD124, which has now been vacated by Sen. Menendez. It’s been set for March 31, with early voting from the 23rd to the 27th. As expected with such a short turnaround time, candidates have begun to emerge.

Delicia Herrera won’t have to crash at a friend’s pad during this election cycle.

Herrera, a former two-term councilwoman, is one of four declared candidates for the District 124 Texas House seat that opened up two weeks ago when the district’s long-time representative, José Menéndez, won a special-election runoff for the Texas Senate. Herrera was one of the jubilant supporters who stood by Menéndez’s side at his victory party on February 17.

Three years ago, Herrera had her eye on a legislative seat, but encountered a slight inconvenience.

Her home at SW 39th Street was located in District 124, but that legislative seat was occupied by Menéndez, an incumbent who already had nearly a decade under his belt and showed no signs of political vulnerability. But Herrera’s home was just outside the boundary line for District 125, and that West Side seat had opened up, because Joaquin Castro was stepping down to run for Congress.

So Herrera claimed the Northwest Side home of her former campaign treasurer — about nine miles north of her own house — as her residence, even as she admitted to the San Antonio Express-News that she continued to receive her mail and keep her dogs and “stuff” at the 39th Street house.

[…]

Ina Minjarez, 39, a local attorney who spent the first six years of her legal career working as a prosecutor, has made two bids for the County Court at Law No. 5 bench.

Nathan Alonzo, 52, is the lone declared candidate who has yet to appear on an election ballot, but he’s a familiar name to local politicos.

The legislative director for the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association, Alonzo can make the case that his years of lobbying have given him the deepest understanding of the state legislative process of any candidate in the race.

I’ll be very interested to hear more about these candidates. If any locals want to chime in on them, please do so. The Rivard Report has more.

More thoughts on the special election results

There has been very little news about the four legislative special elections that were decided last week, other than the brief hubbub over what the result in SD26 meant. Among other things, I’ve been looking for any kind of reporting on the results in the other three races, as well as on the fact that there will need to be yet another special election to fill Sen.-elect Jose Menendez’s seat in HD124. This Trib story about Sen. Leticia Van de Putte’s upcoming departure from the upper chamber to focus on her race for Mayor of San Antonio contains the first tidbit of news concerning any of that I’ve seen:

Sen.-elect José Menéndez, who was on the floor on Tuesday, won the race for Van de Putte’s Senate seat on Feb. 17 and is set to be sworn in on March 5.

Sen. Jose Menendez

RG Ratcliffe also wrote about VdP’s good-bye if you want more of that. Me, I want more on the other stuff. If Menendez won’t be seated will next Thursday, that means the clock won’t start ticking for a special election to be called in HD124 until then. That puts such an election in April at least, and unless someone wins it outright it pretty much guarantees that whoever succeeds Menendez won’t be seated until there’s precious little left to do in this session. That said, there will almost surely be a special election sometime next year to (one hopes) fix school finance, so the stakes will still be as high as ever. I have not seen any names floating around as possible candidates for HD124, so if you know something I don’t know, please leave a comment and enlighten us.

One thing I’d like to add to my earlier commentary on the SD26 runoff: As much as I downplayed the pronouncements about that election being “decided” by Republican voters and bad actors like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, there is no question that some number of Republicans voted in that runoff. And why shouldn’t they? This wasn’t a primary, and the winner would be representing them, too. You may recall that just because the Houston City Council At Large #3 runoff in 2013 was between two Republicans doesn’t mean Democrats weren’t involved or courted by both sides. Quite the contrary, in fact. Some number of Republicans voted in the SD26 runoff. It’s likely that they went heavily for Menendez, and it’s entirely possible that they made up a good chunk of his margin of victory, if not all of it. The problem with making statements about this is that we have no “normal” election to compare this one to. For all we know, the number of Republicans voting in that runoff was about what it should have been expected to be. We don’t know, because the conditions for this election were unique, and will never be replicated. We can compare November elections, in Presidential years and not, and make statements about the partisan mix and whether a given cycle was remarkable in some way. We can’t do that here because there’s no other election like it. It stands on its own.

As for the other elections, however you feel about SD26 I think you should consider the election of Diego Bernal in HD123 a reason to celebrate. Bernal is like Rep. Martinez-Fischer in style and tenacity, and will be a more progressive voice in that district than Mike Villarreal, who cast himself as a moderate, business-friendly type. Having said that, I should note that Villarreal was in many ways “conservative” the way Menendez was “conservative”. It shows up much more in tone and rhetoric than it does in voting records. Villarreal’s record, at least in 2013, compares quite well – an A+ from Equality Texas, a 93% from the TLCV, and another nice, round zero from Texas Right to Life. Villarreal was more business-friendly, and I’m sure his fans and detractors could point to some votes he made that stood out from the caucus. His style is not like Diego Bernal’s has been, and especially if you were a TMF supporter in this special election, that should make you feel good.

The HD17 runoff was in a way a mirror image of the SD26 runoff, with the candidate who emphasized his crossover appeal emerging as the winner. That was a much closer election, and I have to wonder if the TLR crowd regrets not going all in on it. If John Cyrier had lost after running that campaign and being the big leader in round one, the articles about What It All Means pretty much write themselves. I’m a little surprised no one has taken this race and used it to run with a “Republican moderation” narrative. Assuming he doesn’t get primaried out in 2016, Cyrier ought to have a bright future under Speaker Straus.

And as for HD13, it remains as under-reported and mysterious as ever. Here’s a little factoid for you to consider: Rep.-elect Leighton Schubert defeated runnerup Carolyn Bilski in all but two counties in the runoff. One of them was Austin County, where Bilski had previously served as County Judge. Bilski had won a clear majority in Austin County in January, against three opponents. Schubert doubled his vote total in Austin County in a month, and it was enough to slip past her there. How in the world did that happen? Even more remarkable is the margin in Burleson County, Schubert’s home, which he won by the ridiculous total of 1,181 to 72. That’s the kind of margin you expect to see in a race featuring a major party candidate against a Green or Libertarian. Schubert won Burleson big in January as well, but with 75% of the vote, not almost 95%. Again, how does that happen? It sure would be nice if some professional reporter tried to figure that out.

Views differ on SD26

From Campos.

Before the State Senate District 26 Special started, Rep. José Menéndez and fellow Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer were both good elected officials and good Democrats. This morning they are still good elected officials and good Democrats. Somebody had to win.

I have to admit I was kind of surprised with last night’s results. I guess Sen.-Elect Menéndez ran a better and smarter campaign.

Then this was tweeted last night:


I don’t know if the media is saying it was a Dem loss. I think some Dem activists might be saying it was a Dem loss. You can’t deny that the Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) folks are feeling pretty good this morning. TLR racked up a decisive victory in Dem territory.

And then this tweet from Harold Cook:


How about played better and smarter?

Who might be saying it was a Dem loss? Well, BOR for one.

Sen. Jose Menendez

Last night, State Rep. Jose Menendez scored what has largely been viewed as an upset over State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, winning 59% to 41% in a special election to replace Senator Leticia Van de Putte in SD-26.

While Menendez and Martinez Fischer have both held office as Democrats and ran for the Senate as the same, Menendez’s win has been credited in part to his support from GOP voters and groups that traditionally back Republicans.

Martinez Fischer led going into the runoff by 18%, after 19,019 votes were cast in the first round in January. Curiously, more votes were cast in the run-off for a total of 23,523, which saw Menendez go from 4,824 votes good for 25.36% to 13,888 votes amounting to 59% of the tally while Martinez Fischer increased his share from 8,232 votes to 9,635 in the run-off.

So how did Menendez do it? Apparently, with Republican support.

Christopher Hooks and Ross Ramsey also buy into this logic. I don’t know about that. Remember, SD26 wasn’t the only runoff in San Antonio on Tuesday. HD123 was also happening. That district is almost entirely within SD26. If there was an unusual influx of Republican turnout in SD26, you’d think it might have had an effect on the HD123 race as well. Except that while Sen. Menendez was clobbering TMF, Diego Bernal was outperforming President Obama by three points, in a district that’s actually a teeny bit less Democratic than SD26 overall and a special election runoff, which as both Hooks and Ramsey note had lousy turnout. If there were a disproportionate number of Republicans voting in the SD26 race, why doesn’t it show up in the HD123 race as well? Does it make sense that all these Republican voters would also support Diego Bernal, an unabashed liberal whose opponent had Greg Abbott campaigning for him? It doesn’t to me. Yet none of the writers advancing the “Menendez won with GOP support” theory even mentions HD123. Sorry, but you all get an “incomplete” on that assignment. Get back to me when you’ve addressed all the evidence.

As for Menendez being more “conservative” than average, according to Mark Jones’ magic formula, I have to ask: Can someone point me to a single consequential bill, on a subject Democratic voters care about, in which Menendez was an outlier? I’m sure something exists, but we all know who the troublemakers have been in the caucus, and Menendez’s name is not one that usually comes up. He voted against the sonogram bill in 2011. He scored a 92% on the 2013 TLCV scorecard, which was not only slightly above the Democratic average of 91%, it was also higher than TMF’s score of 86%. (The difference was a vote on SB 219, House Amendment #2: Resign to Run.) He got an A on the 2013 Equality Texas scorecard, same as TMF. He scored a nice, fat zero on the 2013 Texas Right to Life scorecard. He went to Ardmore in 2003. What am I missing here? Yes, TMF is loud and proud, and the Republicans justifiably hated him. But what are the substantive differences between them? That’s what I care about, and as far as I can tell no one can say what it is.

(OK, I can think of one difference: Labor. The Texas AFL-CIO supported TMF over Menendez in the race. I couldn’t find a scorecard for them, so I can’t quantify the difference. I can, however, quote from Ed Sills’ daily email from last night: “Menendez is no foe of labor – not by a long shot – and we don’t expect him to become one as a Senator. The Texas AFL-CIO raised no criticism of Menendez during the campaign; our materials were a positive promotion of the Martinez Fischer candidacy. We wish Sen.-elect Menendez well as he crosses over to the east side of the dome.” So again I ask: Where’s the beef?)

My point is that it’s not like the Dems just elected an Allan Ritter, or a pinche cabron like Aaron Pena. Honestly, the whole reason why this campaign – much like the one in SD06 in 2013 – was nasty and personal and not about actual issues is because there isn’t that much substantive difference between the two. I’m going to refer you to Jonathan Tilove for a good view on what happened in this race.

A lot of charges and counter charges were swapped between the old friends, but in the end, the terms of engagement, and what separated the two, was generally agreed upon and revolved around their opposite political temperaments, and the political posture Democrats – and particularly Hispanic Democrats – ought to strike in a state where they are now, but not likely forever, on the outs.

[…]

TMF is a talented politician. He has proved to be an important figure in the workings of the House, where he will remain. It would have been something beyond kabuki if he had landed in Dan Patrick’s Senate. This loss won’t kill him. All the greats – Nixon, Clinton, Obama – suffered devastating losses on their way to their destiny. He wants to play on the big stage. But the lesson of last night may be that, even on his home turf, his edges may be too rough, at least until the day that confrontational style demonstrably revs up Hispanic turnout.

That sounds right to me. And while TLR may have achieved their goal of making the Senate slightly more amenable to them, it will be a simple enough matter to keep track of Sen. Menendez’s actual votes, and challenge him in a Democratic primary if he loses his way. Which, to be clear, I don’t expect will be needed. My view is that Sen. Menendez did a better job turning out his voters, and won the argument about what style would better represent the district. And now we wait to see when the special election to fill his HD124 seat will be called and who will run for it.

Special election runoff results

Here you go, from the Secretary of State webpage.

SD26 Trey Martinez Fischer 9,623 40.95% Jose Menendez 13,888 59.04% HD123 Diego Bernal 5,170 63.66% Nunzio Previtera 2,950 36.33% HD13 Carolyn Cerny Bilski 4,763 42.85% Leighton Schubert 6,350 57.14% HD17 John Cyrier 4,149 52.06% Brent Golemon 3,820 47.93%

Sen. Jose Menendez

Here are stories from the Trib and Rivard Report. As usual, I can’t find a damn thing about HDs 13 or 17. I’ll do another Google News search today and see if anything comes up, and will either add them to this post or do a new one later.

Obviously, the biggest surprise to me is the Menendez/Martinez-Fischer result. I mean, I had suggested that Menendez take one for the team and drop out, in the face of TMF’s big lead and in the interest of getting the next special election, to fill the to-be-vacated legislative seat, done as quickly as possible. So it’s fair to say I didn’t see this coming. Maybe that TLR money made a difference, or maybe Menendez just had a better ground game in overtime. Either way, I congratulate Sen.-elect Jose Menendez, and apologize to him for my disturbing lack of faith.

Rep. Leighton Schubert

The other surprise is in HD13, where newcomer Leighton Schubert had an easy time of it against Carolyn Bilski. Schubert trailed by less than 11 points in Round One, and he had a decent grassroots fundraising base, so his win isn’t that big a surprise, but any time a newcomer defeats a seasoned veteran with broad establishment backing, it’s an upset. Congratulations, Rep.-elect Leighton Schubert.

HD123 was a satisfying result, with numbers that look like they likely would in a Presidential year. The first press release that hit my inbox after the polls closed was from the SEIU reveling in this outcome, and I join them in congratulating Rep.-elect Diego Bernal. I expect big things out of you, sir.

The result in HD17 is a good one, as anytime a less-conservative Republican beats a wingnut, it’s a victory. It was the one close race, and for a few moments there as the numbers trickled in it looked like it could have gone the other way, but in the end the better candidate won. Congratulations, Rep.-elect John Cyrier.

Finally, as you know, this isn’t quite the end of it. With his win, Sen. Menendez will vacate his seat in HD124, and you know what that means: One more special election, with a runoff a lively possibility to follow. At this point, I have no idea who might be lining up for that race. He or she may not get sworn in until there isn’t much left to do in the session, depending on when Greg Abbott sets the next election date and whether or not two rounds are needed. I will of course keep an eye on that. In the meantime, we can all take a breath. Congratulations again to all the winners. Get some sleep, and get ready to get to work.

Early voting is up in the special election runoffs

Make of that what you will.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

If three days of early voting are any indication, the tense runoff fight for the state Senate 26 seat between Trey Martinez-Fischer and José Menéndez is attracting more voters than cast ballots in the first round election on Jan. 6, the result of record spending in the campaign that has pitted two Bexar County Democratic members of the House against one another in the fight to succeed departing Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for mayor.

The Jan. 6 state Senate ballot included two Republicans, Alma Perez Jackson and Joan Pedrotti, and a third Democrat, Al Suarez. Voter turnout was a miserable 5%. The five candidates in the first round drew only 19,158 voters, including 8,215 early voters. Martinez-Fischer finished well ahead of Menéndez and the others with 8,231 votes, or 43.28%. Menéndez finished a distant second with 4,824 votes, or 25.37%.

Special elections seldom draw many voters, and in most cases, a runoff would draw even fewer voters with one party knocked off the ballot. This time it’s different. A total of 6,977 people voted in the first three days of early voting this week, which continues today and Friday. At the current pace, that would add up to more than 11,000 early votes, or a 35% increase in the early turnout. If the same increased turnout occurs on Election Day the race will draw more than 25,000 voters, still a low percentage of registered voters, but enough of an increase to suggest a tight race.

You know I can’t turn down an opportunity like that to do some number-crunching. I looked at all the special legislative elections that included runoffs since 2010. Here are their respective vote totals:

Election Total Runoff Pct ===================================== SD22 5/10 29,851 24,557 82.3 HD14 11/11 13,519 6,736 49.8 SD06 1/13 16,369 18,141 110.8 HD50 11/13 14,936 10,520 70.4 SD04 5/14 30,348 22,605 74.5

“Pct” is the ratio of runoff turnout to total Round One turnout. Note that two of these special elections coincided with regular November elections, so it’s not terribly surprising that those runoffs lagged the most. Note also that the special election in SD06 in 2013 to succeed the late Mario Gallegos had higher turnout in the runoff than it did in the first round. That’s also the only race among these that was between two prominent Democrats, and as is the case this year it featured a nasty, negative overtime period. Not enough data to draw a firm conclusion, but the parallels are easy enough to see.

Having said all that, I kind of buried the lede a bit.

The increased turnout appears to be driven by negative campaigning and the role of outside money that aims to rally Republicans to cross party lines and vote for Menéndez. What’s different about this race is the role the powerful Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), an ultra-conservative lobby, is playing, contributing more than $550,000 to finance broadcast ads and direct mail pieces attacking Martinez Fischer and supporting Menéndez. The Express-News reported Tuesday that more than $2.3 million has been spent on the race, including the TLR money that actually exceeds the $513,000 that Menéndez has spent to date.

[…]

Martinez-Fischer is a plaintiff’s lawyer and a vocal, at times coarsely spoken Mexican-American. He looks and sounds like a boxer. Menéndez, also a lawyer, is softer spoken and less combative. People who watch Austin politics more closely than I say newly elected Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick would prefer to keep Martinez-Fischer out of the Senate, which is now a bastion of ultra-conservative Republicans, who now outnumber Democrats 20-11. Regardless of the runoff outcome, the winner will be the least senior of the minority party, but Martinez-Fischer would be a thorn in Patrick’s side, while Menéndez has said he would cross party lines to try to be effective.

I’ve said all along that TMF was my preferred candidate in this race. I had and continue to have nothing against Menendez, and I seriously doubt he’d be any more supportive of the evil trolls that make up TLR if he wins than he was in the House. But maybe he’ll be a little more supportive of them than TMF would be, and a couple hundred thousand bucks isn’t even pocket change to these guys, so all in they go. (They were a presence in the SD06 race as well, much as head lice is a presence in most elementary schools.) The point I’m making here is that even though this runoff is to them a choice between two candidates with whom they have little in common, they didn’t sit it out. They picked their lesser evil and did what they do to support him, in the hope that if it pays off, they’ll have an ever-so-slightly better Senate from their perspective. Say what you want about these guys – and believe me, I think they’re a greedy, rapacious, destructive force, too – it’s hard to argue that their approach had been anything but a big success. There may be a lesson in there for us somewhere, I dunno.

Anyway. It’s hard to know what effect this may have on the HD123 runoff, as HD123 is almost entirely within SD26. Like SD26, most Dems won HD123 by about ten points in 2010, the main exceptions being Bill White, who won it by more than 20 points, and Barbara Radnofsky, who lost it by a half point to Greg Abbott. I expect Diego Bernal to win easily enough, but one should never take anything for granted. Get out there and vote if you didn’t already do so. As for HDs 13 and 17, other than this report on campaign finances in HD17, there’s precious little news out there. I’ll have final results when they come in.

Early voting for special election runoffs has begun

EarlyVoting

It began yesterday, but I forgot to queue up a post in time to mention it. Here’s some relevant information for those of you who need to get out and vote in one or more of these runoffs.

For SD26 and HD123, here are the Bexar County early voting locations. The Bexar County Elections page is here as well.

For HD17, here are the early voting locations for Bastrop County, Caldwell County, and Lee County. The Bastrop County Elections page is here, and they already have Election Day voting locations up as well. Both the Caldwell and Lee pages have early voting and election day locations. As for Karnes County and Gonzales County, you’ll need to call the elections administrators for information, as you had to do for the January election.

For HD13, here are the early voting locations for Burleson County, Colorado County, Fayette County, Grimes County, Lavaca County, and Washington County. All of those pages also have Election Day locations, except for Fayette and Washington. I could not find information for Austin County, so call the elections administrator there for the scoop.

Googling around on the candidates’ names, I found basically zero new information since the original election, except for a couple of stories relating to the SD26 runoff. The only endorsements I found, as was the case in January, was from the Express News, which reiterated their choices from the first round.

In the Senate race, we recommend Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer to replace mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte.

The district will be in good hands regardless of who wins the showdown between Martinez Fischer and Rep. José Menéndez. Both Democrats who have been in the House since 2001.

But Martinez Fischer’s strong leadership ability unequivocally makes him the right choice for the Senate.

[…]

We strongly encourage voters to cast their ballots for former City Councilman Diego Bernal, who faces Republican Nunzio Previtera.

Bernal represented San Antonio’s City Council District 1 from 2011 until resigning late last year to seek the House seat. During his tenure at City Hall, Bernal showed courage by successfully sponsoring a highly controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that provided new protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

The 38-year-old Bernal also played a lead role in creating an advisory panel to study the future of Alamo Plaza. The city has failed to nurture the downtown asset, and Bernal’s efforts have revived hope for real improvements. This is an issue of statewide importance.

They also had a recent story about how Bexar Dems are dismayed by the negativity in the all-Dem SD26 runoff. Those of us who remember the SD06 special election from two years ago feel their pain. I figure turnout will be less than or equal to the first round, so if you live in any of these districts, your vote counts for a lot. There are no Dems in either HD17 or HD13, but John Cyrier and Carolyn Bilski are backed by the Texas Parent PAC, and Cyrier’s opponent in particular is aligned with the likes of Empower Texans, so even without a home team there’s still a rooting interest. I’ll keep an eye on the voting as we go. The Rivard Report has more.

HD13 runoff date set

We are now all set on special election runoffs.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday scheduled a Feb. 17 runoff in the special election for Lois Kolkhorst’s old seat in the Texas House.

Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski and Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert — both Republicans — were the top two finishers in the Jan. 13 special election to replace Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican. Last year, she won a promotion to the upper chamber, vacating her seat in House District 13, which includes parts of seven counties west of the Houston area.

Early voting in the HD13 runoff has been set for Feb. 9-13.

See here for the first round result in HD13. This means that all four runoffs are now scheduled for the same date, which makes the most sense. I presume the delay in adding this runoff to the calendar was because it hadn’t been canvassed yet. I approve of the quick turnaround, and I hope the special election that will be needed to succeed either Trey Martinez-Fischer or Jose Menendez in San Antonio gets the same consideration. On that note, the Express News’ Gilbert Garcia identifies MALDEF attorney Marisa Bono as a likely candidate in HD116 if TMF is the runoff winner. I can’t see the story, so I can’t tell you more than that (Ms. Bono is on Twitter, if you’re interested), but I’m sure we’ll start to hear about who might be interested in either of those seats soon enough. If we do get the kind of short turnaround I’m hoping for, they’ll need to hit the ground running.

First three runoff dates are set

Greg Abbott completes a bit of business left to him by Rick Perry.

Diego Bernal

Diego Bernal

Gov. Greg Abbott has scheduled runoffs from the Jan. 6 special elections for Feb. 17, according to his office.

The decision officially sets head-to-head match-ups in state Senate District 26, state House District 17 and state House District 123. Early voting in the runoffs will be held from Feb. 9-13.

In SD 26, two Democrats — Trey Martinez Fischer and Jose Menendez — are facing off for the seat being vacated by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. In HD 17, Republicans John Cyrier and Brent Golemon are vying to replace Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington. And in HD 123, Democrat Diego Bernal is up against Republican Nunzio Previtera for the seat formerly held by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

As you may recall from the January 6 election, TMF, Bernal, and Cyrier all led in their races, each collecting at least 43% and leading by a minimum of 18 points. No lead is ever insurmountable in a runoff, but I’d have to make them all strong favorites. Cyrier and Bernal are endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC, while Bernal and TMF have the backing of the San Antonio Central Labor Council and Texas AFL-CIO COPE. Bernal’s opponent in particular is a nut, so I especially look forward to him winning.

This means that the runoff for the HD13 special election will be scheduled separately, presumably a week later. Seems to me it would have made more sense to put all four of them together, but I guess that election hadn’t been canvassed yet. I’ll keep my eyes open for that announcement. The Rivard Report has more.

More on the three legislative runoffs

From the Chron/Express News on the Bexar County races.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

In the Senate contest, Martinez Fischer and Menéndez, both D-San Antonio, are vying to replace District 26 state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who’s exiting the Legislature to run for mayor of San Antonio.

“I think I’m in a very good spot,” Martinez Fischer said late Tuesday, adding he reserved funds to wage a competitive runoff race. Menéndez finished nearly 20 percentage points behind Martinez Fischer, who was targeted for defeat by Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

“Now it’s a brand new race,” Menéndez said.

In the race to replace another San Antonio mayoral candidate, state Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, the two top vote-getters were former Councilman Diego Bernal and Republican Nunzio Previtera, who serves on the State Republican Executive Committee.

Bernal, a civil rights attorney, missed an outright victory by a handful of percentage points. Previtera, an insurance firm owner in his first bid for office, trailed in second place with about half the votes that Bernal had garnered.

The two rose from a crowded six-candidate field that included two other Democrats – Melissa Aguillon and Walter Martinez. Libertarian Roger Gary and Green Party candidate Paul Ingmundson accounted for less than 3 percent of the overall vote.

Bernal said he and his team would soon regroup to build a game plan for the runoff election. On Tuesday, he offered thanks to those who pushed him to the No. 1 spot.

“I’m humbled by the support I’ve received. I’m almost embarrassed by the amount of work people have put in on my behalf,” he said. “Honestly, it always felt very competitive and I am proud of the work I’ve done with the community, and I plan to do more when I’m a state representative.”

Previtera said campaigning for the runoff starts Wednesday.

“I think we have a very good opportunity to win a runoff election,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is the voters in HD 123 are not like the voters all across the city.”

Many of the district’s residents, he said, make less than $30,000 a year and share the same core values as the GOP – they just don’t know it. Voters there cast ballots for Democrats because that’s what their parents did, Previtera said.

“They don’t realize that many of them, if their parents were still alive today, they’d be voting Republican,” he said.

By law, the runoff must take place within 45 days of the results being canvassed, which in practice should mean by February 21. As I said before, there’s a case to be made for Rep. Menendez to drop out instead of going to the runoff. Menendez trails TMF by about 18 points, which isn’t insurmountable – Borris Miles trailed Al Edwards 48.18 to 32.76 in the 2006 Democratic primary for HD146 and won in the runoff – but it’s a steep hill to climb, especially given that the bulk of the remaining votes went to the two Republican candidates. Menendez could try to persuade some Republicans that he’d be better for them in SD26 than TMF would be, not an unreasonable argument but one that must be made delicately if one doesn’t want to piss off one’s own base. He could try to bring back more of his voters to the runoff than TMF does, and he could try to bring out some folks who didn’t participate in Round One, which might be doable now that the holidays are over. Maybe.

You have to weigh the odds of success against the stark reality of the calendar: The day after the runoff there’s another legislative vacancy that would need to be filled. That special election would likely be at the end of March, and if there’s a runoff needed, which seems like a good bet, it might not happen till the first week of May or so. Against that, if Menendez concedes and TMF resigns his legislative seat to move up, the special election in HD116 would likely be in early to mid-February, with a runoff in mid to late March. That’s a big difference in terms of when a lot of the action happens, and when a lot of key votes need to be cast. If we want to beat back regressive constitutional amendments, we will need all hands on deck.

I recognize that what I’m saying here is that Rep. Menendez might consider taking one for the team. I want to be clear that he is in no way obligated to do so. If he believes, as I’m sure he does, that he has a path to victory, then by all means he should fight on. I have nothing but respect for Rep. Menendez and wish him good luck. For better or worse, the calendar is what it is. It could be a factor in how this session plays out. I feel it is worthwhile to point that out.

As for the HD123 runoff, putting aside Previtera’s adorable invocation of that old Reagan chestnut about Latinos being Republicans that just haven’t figured it out yet, I would note that 75% of the vote cast in that race was for Democrats. Good luck finding a way to 50% plus one with that.

Meanwhile, in HD17:

Cyrier and Golemon might be from the same party, but they come from different corners of the GOP.

Cyrier, who started the contracting firm Sabre Commercial and who served on the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court, boasts the support of some Democrats and says he is ready to reach across the aisle to govern.

Meanwhile, Golemon sees himself as the more conservative choice, he said. An entrepreneur and the son of a high-dollar lobbyist, Golemon doesn’t have a record to run on, but his campaign consultant, Luke Macias, has a reputation for helping to elect some of the Legislature’s most conservative and tea party-backed members.

Both Golemon and Cyrier have said they would focus on protecting water resources in the district, if elected.

Golemon’s website says he also wants to pass legislation dealing with education, securing the border, advancing Second Amendment rights and opposing the Affordable Care Act.

Cyrier’s other priorities include improving the state transportation system and funding public education, he said.

Like I said, not a pickup opportunity, but it’s clear what the better outcome is at this point. Now we await word of the runoff date.

All special elections will go to runoffs

From the Bexar County Elections webpage:

STATE SENATOR, DISTRICT 26 VOTE FOR 1 Votes Pct (WITH 322 OF 322 PRECINCTS COUNTED) Al Suarez (DEM) . . . . . . . . 644 3.39 Alma Perez Jackson (REP) . . . . . 3,892 20.46 Joan Pedrotti (REP) . . . . . . . 1,427 7.50 Jose Menendez (DEM) . . . . . . . 4,824 25.37 Trey Martinez Fischer (DEM) . . . . 8,231 43.28 STATE REPRESENTATIVE, DISTRICT 123 VOTE FOR 1 Votes Pct (WITH 96 OF 96 PRECINCTS COUNTED) Roger V. Gary (LIB) . . . . . . . 103 1.45 Melissa Aguillon (DEM) . . . . . . 1,257 17.69 Diego Bernal (DEM) . . . . . . . 3,372 47.46 Walter Martinez (DEM) . . . . . . 780 10.98 Nunzio Previtera (REP) . . . . . . 1,512 21.28 Paul Ingmundson (GRN) . . . . . . 81 1.14

So it’s TMF versus Menendez in SD26, and Diego Bernal versus Nunzio Previtera in HD123. One could make a case for Menendez to drop out, so that the inevitably vacant legislative seat, presumed to be TMF’s given his advantage in Round One, can be filled as quickly as possible. I don’t know if anyone will make that case, and even if someone does I don’t know that Menendez would, or should, be receptive to it. He isn’t trailing by that much, though his path to victory isn’t clear. I expect there will be a runoff, followed by that inevitable subsequent special election. We’ll see. As for HD123, a solid showing by Bernal. I like his chances in the runoff there.

And for HD17, from the Secretary of State:

State Representative District 17 Votes Pct Shelley Cartier DEM 290 3.80% Linda Curtis IND 1,046 13.71% John Cyrier REP 3,515 46.10% Brent Golemon REP 1,866 24.47% Ty McDonald DEM 907 11.89%

And it’s Cyrier versus Golemon, so no pickup opportunity. Cyrier is the ParentPAC candidate, so if you want to root for someone, he’s the choice. Runoffs should be in about six weeks. I’ll have more in the next day or so.

Special elections roundup

I haven’t seen any newspaper endorsements in the special elections that will conclude on Tuesday. I can tell you that the Texas Parent PAC has endorsed Diego Bernal in HD123 and John Cyrier in HD17. In the absence of further endorsements to report on, here’s a news roundup based on Google searches of the various candidates.

In SD26, it’s all about the money.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

A powerful special interest group that has contributed millions of dollars mostly to state Republicans over the years is targeting Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer’s bid to fill a vacant Senate seat.

And now Martinez Fischer is attempting to draw connections between the group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and his main opponent in the race, Democratic state Rep. José Menéndez.

TLR is the richest and most influential tort reform group in the state, and its political action committee has already spent close to $180,000 to influence Tuesday’s special election in District 26, state records show. That includes research and polling, along with TV ads and mailers blasting Martinez Fischer.

In a campaign memo released Wednesday, Martinez Fischer leveled his strongest public accusations to date about links to the group and Menéndez, claiming the head of TLR has personally made calls to help Menéndez and to “thwart” Martinez Fischer’s own fundraising efforts.

Martinez Fischer, in the memo, goes on to note that TLR contract lobbyist Ed Lopez was named earlier this month as part of the Menéndez finance team and then claims another unnamed lobbyist working for the group recently held a fundraiser for Menéndez.

[…]

“In my estimation, José’s relationship with TLR is obvious,” Martinez Fischer says in the memo.

On Wednesday, Menéndez remained steadfast that he’s not in cahoots with the group.

“It is obvious to me that Trey is desperate to try to create a connection between TLR and myself that doesn’t’ exist,” he said. “We’re running our campaign, and we’re not in a position that we feel like we need any help from outside sources.”

Menéndez also said that Lopez, the TLR lobbyist Martinez Fischer cited in his memo, is a personal friend dating back to his days on San Antonio City Council, and that “he’s a supporter of mine because he believes in me as a person.”

TMF has greatly outraised Menendez, though a lot of his donations have been non-local. Both candidates are spending heavily on TV ads. When the first order of business is to make sure people are aware that there is an election going on in the first place, you do what you have to do.

Meanwhile, the candidates in HD123 are trying to be heard over that volume.

The ballot includes three Democrats: businesswoman Melissa Aguillon, former San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal, and Walter Martinez, also a former city councilman, who served in the Texas House in the ’80s.

The lone Republican is insurance agent Nunzio Previtera. Clinical psychologist Paul Ingmundson is the Green Party candidate, while Libertarian Roger Gary rounds out the ballot.

Gary, like the others, has education reform high on his list. He wants to get back to the basics, like, he says, teaching basic math. ”I’ve asked some other people who say they’re doing it all on computers; people’s grammar and spelling and math, let’s get back to those basics. That’s what we need. The rest of the stuff they’re squabbling about, what’s in a high school history book? Well, who cares if they can’t read and write.”

Republican Nunzio Previtera wants schools to put as much emphasis on vocational training as they do on college preparation. “The primary goal of our school system needs to be to provide our students with opportunities to prosper as working adults, get them ready to be adults. Our magnet schools have done a pretty good job, but they need to be expanded, and our primary schools need to put a lot more emphasis on vocational skills and training people for their adult life.”

Paul Ingmundson went to UT Austin, where he paid $50 a semester. He says college tuition today is outrageous. He wants the first two years of college to be free. He’d pay for that by taxing oil and gas producers. “We can address the fossil fuel problem and the education problem with one policy change. I think even Republicans are going to start to get used to this. They are going to look around for money, and if you’re going to look around for money, the deepest pockets are in the oil and gas fields.” 


More affordable higher education and technical training are also high on the agendas of Democrats Melissa Aguillon and Walter Martinez.

“It was challenging for my parents to put me through college,” says Aguillon. “I actually had to pretty much fund my own college tuition, and so, I want to make sure that higher education is accessible for all students that want to go to college.” But she adds, there are far more career paths available to those students now, and far more jobs being created, “21st century jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year education.”

“I think it’s important that the necessary skills for trades are also accessible to them,” says Aguillon. Fellow Democrat Martinez agrees, and adds, “The delivery and implementation of workforce training, also providing technical training, to be able to provide the workforce that modern technology requires, those are all part of the agenda as far as supporting public education.”

Democrat Diego Bernal says the first bill he’d file would overhaul the way the state decides how much money each school district will receive. “The very first one I would file would have to do with public education and the formula that we use to pay for students who are either economically disadvantaged or English language learners. There’s a formula they use to give districts extra money and that formula hasn’t been updated since the mid-’80s. So if you want to know what my very first attempt at a bill would be, that would be it.”

Here’s an Express News overview of this race. The SA Current did Q&As with four of the candidates in the HD123 race – with Diego Bernal, Melissa Aguillon, Walter Martinez, and Roger Gary. They also profiled Bernal and noted that Aguillon had received financial support from a Georgia-based auto title loan business owner.

As for HD17, news is a lot harder to find. What little I have is from the Gonzalez Inquirer. Here’s their overview of the race:

Republican candidate John Cyrier, 41, of Lockhart, was in town Monday morning for a brief rally at the Roger M. Dreyer Memorial Airport to kick off early voting. He arrived by air in his Cessna Skylane II— which appropriately sported the colors red, white and blue.

[…]

The other Republican in the race, Brent Golemon, 46, of Bastrop, got a taste of politics early in life. Golemon worked as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff at the capitol after graduating Hampden-Sydney College while his father was a 35-year lobbyist in Austin.

Golemon co-founded GalleryWatch, the nation’s first online legislative tracking service in 1996, which was sold eight years later. His current occupation is listed as “entrepreneur.”

The closest Golemon gets to an elected office credential is a stint on the Tahitian Village Property Owners Association and a board appointment to the Bastrop County Water District. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching six-man football at a Christian-based athletics program for home-schooled and private school families.

The first of two Democrats on the ballot is Ty McDonald, 43, also of Bastrop. She is a 1993 graduate of Texas A&M University and is married to former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald.

McDonald’s early education into elected public service was as legislative director for State Rep. Yvonne Davis in the early 90s. She also served as campaign coordinator for John Sharp during his failed bid for comptroller.

After serving as a public school teacher for seven years, she was elected to a single term to the board of the Bastrop Independent School District. Her last year was served as president of that body.

After flirting with a run for state rep earlier this year, McDonald switched races to challenge incumbent Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. She lost that contest in November.

The other Democrat is Shelley Cartier, 51, yet another candidate from the Bastrop area. Her business card describes her as a non-politician and small business owner.

On the issues, she supports local control and small growth. Public education is also in her platform and she says she is a “defender of property and water rights for all.”

In her spare time she advocates for the humane treatment of animals and hosts several rescue horses on her property.

Rounding out the list is the lone Independent candidate, Linda Curtis, 63, the final Bastrop resident. Her tagline is “If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em!”

They also have a profile of Cyrier.

Cyrier hails from Caldwell County where he and his wife Rachelle live on a ranch south of Lockhart. His political fact sheet touts many accomplishments for the 42 year-old—successful businessman, past county commissioner and former commander of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band. He now wishes to be State Representative for District 17, which includes Gonzales County.

His business career began after he received a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Texas A&M University. A couple of stops in the general contracting business and branch office management led him to launch Sabre Commercial, Inc. in 2008, a commercial construction services company specializing in general contracting. It employs 51 people and has won numerous distinctions from the Austin Business Journal including a nomination for Best CEO Award in September.

“I surround myself with good people and I take care of them,” said Cyrier. The good working morale has led Sabre to three top-10 “Best Places to Work in Central Texas” designations from the Journal.

Cyrier’s political career began in 2010. There was a vacancy on the commissioner’s court in Caldwell County and longtime County Judge H.T. Wright, Jr., a Democrat, picked Cyrier based on his community accomplishments. The judge knew that he would take heat for the appointment since Cyrier was a Republican, but he saw a need to balance the court and invite all ideas to the table.

Turns out that Cyrier was only the second Republican to ever hold a seat on the court. Party designation didn’t matter to most voters, for he was elected outright later that year by 60 percent of the ballots and was named Judge Pro-Tem in 2012.

“I loved being a county commissioner,” he said.

Cyrier decided to serve out his term but opted not to run in the general election in 2012. He figured that he could do just as much good for the community away from the commissioner’s court than he could on it. The list of boards on which he currently serves include: Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Caritas of Austin, Lockhart ISD Education Foundation, Caldwell County Republican precinct chair—and the list goes on — prove just that.

During the Thanksgiving holiday he received a call from Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt had resigned and the county’s leadership was looking for a candidate to promote. One GOP candidate had already popped up in Bastrop, but they were looking for something more. They believed that Cyrier had the vision to be the district’s next leader.

With the added urging of longtime Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett, Cyrier decided to run and continue his community service at the elected level. Soon he had a list of supporters that any candidate would envy.

There are three things that Cyrier lists as top priorities in the upcoming legislative session: education, water and infrastructure. Luckily for District 17, all three topics resonate throughout the five rural counties he would represent.

On education, Cyrier already counts superintendents from Bastrop, Smithville, Karnes, Lockhart, Gonzales and a host of other education professionals as supporting his candidacy.

He shows a strong command of the issues facing public schools in the state. His concerns are on elected officials that look to defund public education to send dollars elsewhere. Oftentimes school is the only place a child can eat a regular meal for breakfast, lunch— and more often now— even dinner.

Diverting public dollars would have an adverse affect on education, especially in communities like this one where the school system is the major employer. Cyrier looks to be a strong advocate for these independent school districts.

He also draws a parallel between the growth the district has seen based on underground resources—water to the north and oil to the south. Where Bastrop County has seen sprawl eat on its western flank, water developers look to siphon off the precious resource to far-flung housing developments throughout the I-35 corridor and down to San Antonio. Similar concerns can be seen here.

The other boom is down south with the shale explosion in the Eagle Ford. Gonzales County is experiencing growth and road degradation associated with this as is its neighbor to the south, Karnes County. Cyrier understands this and how public infrastructure funding is so important to the area.

Since all five counties in the district are still largely rural, he feels that the area shares the same challenges.

So there you have it. If you live in one of these districts, please make sure you vote.

Interview with Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Continuing with my sprint-to-the-finish-line week of special election interviews, today we have a conversation with State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, one of five candidates vying to succeed Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in SD26, the higher profile and much more expensive race of the three. An attorney and native of San Antonio, Rep. Martinez-Fischer – better known as TMF – has represented HD116 for seven terms. The current chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC), TMF has been one of the leaders in the Democratic caucus on some highly charged issues such as redistricting and voting rights. He has twice been recognized by Texas Monthly for his service in the Legislator, as a Ten Best winner in 2013 and the “Bull of the Brazos” following the bruising 2011 session. Here’s what we talked about:

I should have interviews with candidates from other races the rest of this week.

Perry sets HD13 special election date

For all the writing I’ve done about the various legislative special elections, I’d almost forgotten that this one was still out there.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

Just hours after Lois Kolkhorst was sworn in as the newest state senator Monday, Gov. Rick Perry called a Jan. 13 special election to fill the Brenham Republican’s former seat in the Texas House.

At least three Republicans have already launched bids for House District 13: Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert and Becky Berger, a member of the Republican State Executive Committee. All of them announced they were interested in the seat before Kolkhorst’s victory earlier this month in the special election to replace Katy Republican Glenn Hegar, the incoming comptroller.

[…]

Perry has given prospective candidates a week to file applications for the HD13 special election with the secretary of state’s office. Early voting commences Jan. 5.

In other words, everything is exactly one week after the elections in HDs 17 and 123 and SD26. And as a reminder, if either Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer or Rep. Jose Menendez wins in SD26 – an outcome that seems highly likely now that Sylvia Romo has dropped out of the race, having been found to not be a resident of the district – we will need one more special election before the session is over. Via the Secretary of State, here are the candidate lists for each race:

SD26

Trey Martinez Fischer
Democrat

Alma Perez Jackson
Republican

Jose Menendez
Democrat

Joan Pedrotti
Republican

Al Suarez
Democrat

HD123

Melissa Aguillon
Democrat

Diego Bernal
Democrat

Roger V. Gary
Libertarian

Paul Ingmundson
Green

Walter Martinez
Democrat

Nunzio Previtera
Republican

HD17

Shelley Cartier
Democrat

Linda Curtis
Independent

John Cyrier
Republican

Brent Golemon
Republican

Ty McDonald
Democrat

As for HD13, that election was set shortly after Kolkhorst was sworn in as the new Senator from District 18, which triggered the vacancy there. I’ll keep an eye out for other candidates, but as I noted before, it’s considerably less hospitable to a Democratic candidate than HD17 is, so the best we can hope for is a non-crazy Republican. I expect there to be some interesting endorsement action in these races, with such short turnarounds and big rewards for hitting the jackpot. We’ll see how that goes as well.

UPDATE: The Express News has more on the Bexar County elections, while the Trib adds some details and another name to the HD13 lineup:

Republican Austin County Judge Carolyn Bilski, 61, is playing the experience card, hoping her 20 years as a county judge and eight years as a city council member will give her a leg up. “I think the voters deserve someone who has done research and solved problems,” said Bilski, who listed education and infrastructure as high-priority issues.

Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert, also a Republican, said he has worked for every level of government from federal to county. He said keeping Texas’ economy strong and fiscally conservative is his top priority, plus protecting private property rights. “Any issue starts with the economy,” Schubert said. “We got to help keep this economy moving — that helps from the top down.”

Becky Berger, Republican No. 3 and a geologist, has lost twice in Republican primary races for the Texas Railroad Commission.

Cecil Webster, a veteran who’s been active in Democratic politics in Fayette County for years, said restoring education funding would be one of his top priorities if he’s elected, and rejected the premise that the district is unwinnable for a Democrat. “I am convinced that if you look at the actual number of folks here, there are more blue folks then red folks,” Webster, 60, said. “Democrats just don’t vote.”

Good luck to you, sir. I can’t do the exact same calculations of the Democratic vote potential as I did in HD17 because Kolkhorst was unopposed in 2014 and 2012, but I can say there were 1,837 total Democratic primary votes in the 2014 Democratic primary in the seven counties that make up HD13, and 3,093 votes in the 2012 Dem primary. Bill White received 16,250 votes total in HD13 in 2010. Hope you can track those folks down for this race.

Overview of the Bexar County special legislative elections

From The Rivard Report:

Texas House District 123

Former District 1 City Councilmember Diego Bernal resigned his city seat in mid-November to launch his campaign for Villarreal’s former seat. His VoteDiego website offers voters his positions on a number of issues, ranging from education to civil rights.

Melissa Aguillon, a small business owner and the principal of Aguillon & Associates, a public relations and digital marketing firm, also is running. Her VoteAguillon website displays her digital media acumen, offering videos, her Twitter feed, Facebook feed, etc.

Former District 5 Councilmember Walter Martinez (1985-92) and the Texas House District 119 representative for a single term (1983-85) is making a run to regain elected office after a two-decade-plus hiatus that began with a failed bid to win a seat on Commissioners Court. Martinez apparently does not have a campaign website.

Republican candidate Nunzio Previtera, with Integrity Insurance Agency in San Antonio, jumped into the race this week. His campaign website lists his support for small business, job growth and his pro-life position.

Libertarian candidate Roger Gary, who apparently sought his party’s nomination for president in 2012, also is running. He does not have a campaign website.

Click here to see a map of District 123, which extends from the Southside through the central city and north in Castle Hills and part of the Northside.

Texas Senate District 26

This vacant seat has attracted two strong and respected state representatives among other candidates.

Disrtrict 116 state Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher and District 124 state Rep. José Menéndez are the two leading candidates for the seat.

Sylvia Romo, the former Bexar County tax assessor-collector who served two terms in the Texas House in the 190s and who lost a Democratic primary race against U.S. Rep Lloyd Doggett in 2012, is looking to regain elected office.

Converse Mayor Al Saurez also is running for the seat as a long shot contender.

Here is a great map of the districts and the early voting locations within them. Early voting runs from December 29 through January 3, with a day off on January 1. Election Day will be January 6. Assume turnout will be low, so if you live in HD123 and/or SD26, your vote really counts.

These elections are important, especially the one in SD26 since Senate seats don’t have that much turnover, but please don’t get sucked into a narrative about it being some kind of proxy battle for the soul of the Texas Democratic Party. This is a low-turnout special election for a vacancy that no one knew would exist less than two months ago. It’s also no longer a straight-up battle between a liberal State Rep and a somewhat less liberal State Rep thanks to the entry of a third major candidate. Listen to the candidates and support whoever you think is the best choice. Don’t give a thought to what the nattering nabobs (of which I am one) think. But if you do care what I think, I’d vote for Trey Martinez-Fischer in SD26, and Diego Bernal in HD123. All due respect to Jose Menendez and Sylvia Romo, both of whom I think would be fine Senators, but TMF is my first choice, as is Bernal for the House. Just make sure you get out there and vote, in these races or in HD17, if you live in one of these districts.

UPDATE: Sylvia Romo has dropped out of the race for SD26 after it turned out out that she didn’t live in the district.

Romo to run in SD26

The race to succeed Sen. Leticia Van de Putte just got a little more interesting.

Sylvia Romo

Sylvia Romo

Sylvia Romo, former tax assessor-collector for Bexar County, on Tuesday morning entered the race to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, bringing to four the number of candidates in the special election for Senate District 26.

For two terms in the 1990s, Romo represented Texas House District 125, which covers a swath of northwest Bexar County. She unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett in the 2012 Democratic primary for Texas’ 35th congressional district.

“I am truly humbled by the bipartisan support from our community that has encouraged me to run for state senator,” Romo said in a news release. “As a mother and proud grandmother, I will stand up for Texas families, support small businesses, work to create high-paying jobs, and fight to give our children the chance to succeed.”

Romo joins three other Democrats vying for Van de Putte’s seat in the Jan. 6 contest: San Antonio state Reps. Jose Menendez and Trey Martinez Fischer as well as Converse Mayor Al Suarez.

See here for the background, and see here for Romo’s official announcement. Romo’s entry basically guarantees a runoff. What that means is that if one of the State Reps running for SD26 is the eventual winner, the special election to replace him would probably be in early March, with a runoff if needed in early April. That’s getting pretty close to the end of the session, and it could have an effect on the Dems’ ability to block noxious Constitutional amendments from being put on the ballot.

Be that as it may, Romo is certainly a qualified candidate. I interviewed her in 2012 when she was challenging Rep. Lloyd Doggett in CD35. I thought she would have been a perfectly acceptable Congressperson, with perfectly acceptable views, I just never could get a good answer from her as to why it made sense to swap out Doggett’s seniority and track record in favor of her candidacy. Here, seniority isn’t an issue, but there is another issue that I at least would consider if I lived in SD26. Both Reps. Martinez-Fischer and Menendez are in their 40s. Romo is, I believe, 71. My general preference these days when given a choice between otherwise similar candidates is to put a premium on youth and future statewide potential. TMF and Jose Menendez both strike me as someone who could run statewide in the next four to ten years if given a bigger springboard. I can’t honestly say that about Sylvia Romo. I’m not saying this is a decisive factor. If the campaign shows her to be the best choice, then she deserves to win. But at least for me, it would be a factor. Whether that’s true for anyone else or not, we’ll see. The filing deadline is Monday the 22nd, with early voting to begin on the 29th.

Legislative special elections set

Gear up quickly, here they come.

Mike Villarreal

Mike Villarreal

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday afternoon set three special elections for Jan. 6, including the race to replace state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

Van de Putte, who lost her bid for lieutenant governor last month, is stepping down to run for mayor of San Antonio, leaving a vacancy in Senate District 26. State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, resigned earlier this month to also launch a campaign for City Hall, a move that created an open seat in House District 123.

In addition, Perry scheduled a special election for Jan. 6 in House District 17, where Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, is resigning to become general counsel for the Texas Department of Agriculture. The district covers a five-county area east of Austin.

Democrats have already lined up to vie for the two seats in solidly blue Bexar County. San Antonio State Reps. Jose Menendez and Trey Martinez Fischer as well as Converse Mayor Al Suarez are running to replace Van de Putte. Former San Antonio Councilmen Diego Bernal and Walter Martinez as well as public relations consultant Melissa Aguillon are competing for Villarreal’s House seat.

See here for the background. Al Suarez is a new name for the SD26 seat; Converse is a small town inside Bexar County, but beyond that I know nothing about him. I can’t find any news about potential candidates for Kleinschmidt’s seat – as you know, I’m rooting for a Democrat to file for it – but I’m sure we’ll hear something soon enough. I wasn’t expecting it to be part of this set, but it makes sense for it to be. If either Martinez-Fischer or Menendez wins in SD26 we’ll need one more special, and then I presume we’ll be done for the near term. The Current has more.