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Wendy Davis

Signs, signs, everywhere there’s Beto signs

And they’re breaking the minds of Ted Cruz supporters.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The conversation unfolding before a campaign event for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz here last week echoed similar ones popping up among Republican groups around Texas. With a mixture of frustration and bewilderment, attendees were discussing the proliferation of black-and-white yard signs in their neighborhoods brandishing a single four-letter-word: BETO.

The signs have become a signature calling card of Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s bid to unseat Cruz. While Democrats posting yard signs for candidates is nothing new, even when it happens in some of Texas’ most conservative conclaves, what’s been different this summer is the extent to which O’Rourke’s signs have seemingly dominated the landscape in some neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Cruz signs are far tougher to spot, and many Cruz supporters have become increasingly agitated at their inability to obtain signs to counter what they see on their daily drives.

[…]

The difference in tactics goes back to a 2006 political science experiment. At the time, former Gov. Rick Perry was running for his second full term and allowed for researchers to try different tactics in some communities to test which were most effective at motivating voters. Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the Texas Tribune/University of Texas Poll, worked on experiments involving yard signs in Perry’s race and saw little evidence that they moved Perry’s numbers.

Four years later, Perry’s team essentially abandoned the entire practice of distributing yard signs during his third re-election campaign. He soundly defeated now-former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican primary and Democrat Bill White in the general election.

Since then, more academic research backed up Shaw’s findings, and yard signs have largely fallen out of vogue within the Texas GOP consultant class, at least among statewide candidates.

But that 2006 campaign marked Perry’s fifth statewide race — when he already had near-universal name identification in Texas, much like Cruz does now. As such, Shaw cautions not every campaign should follow Perry’s lead.

“It varies race by race and year by year,” he said. “So I wouldn’t claim that that study should be used as evidence that you ought not to be doing it this time around.”

For a candidate like O’Rourke, who began the race as a relative unknown, there is anecdotal evidence that the signs have helped him build his name identification.

Jo Johns is a retired physical education teacher who recently attended an organizing rally for O’Rourke in Weatherford.

She told the Tribune she first learned about O’Rourke by seeing his signs while driving to yoga class.

“I didn’t know who he was, and I wanted to know about him,” she added. “I saw Beto, Beto, Beto. I thought he must be a Republican because they’re everywhere.”

Shaw pointed back to the 2014 governor’s race, when Democrat Wendy Davis’ signs outnumbered her opponent, now-Gov. Greg Abbott, in some communities. Davis still lost by 20 points. But this time around, the political scientist suggests O’Rourke’s yard signs are possibly signaling momentum to voters, priming some who may have otherwise assumed Cruz was unbeatable that O’Rourke has a shot.

“In this race, it probably is more of a positive because it reinforces information you’re getting in public polls, stories you’re getting in the media and fundraising,” said Shaw.

My neighborhood is chock full of Beto signs. Literally, there’s multiple signs on every block. I do a lot of walking through the neighborhood with my dog, and not only are there tons of them, more keep popping up. Meanwhile, I have seen four Ted Cruz signs. Hilariously, three of them are accompanied by green signs with clovers on them that say “Make Beto Irish again”, to which the obvious riposte is “Sure, as soon as we make Ted Canadian again”.

Anyway, I think the Trib captures the dynamic of the sign skirmish well. Signs in and of themselves aren’t, well, signs of anything, but this year at least feels different. This year, the vast proliferation of Beto signs are both an indicator of enthusiasm and a means for expressing it. I do think it has helped to expand his name ID, and to signal to Democrats in red areas where they have felt isolated that they are not in fact alone. I don’t think it’s possible to isolate an effect related to this, and if we could it would probably be no more than a marginal one, but I do think this year that signs matter. I look forward to whatever research someone publishes about this after the election.

Lyceum: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 39

Good result, though the others with it could be better.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A new poll released Wednesday suggests that U.S. Sen Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, are in a dead heat.

The poll from Texas Lyceum shows Cruz holding a slim margin over his Democratic challenger in the U.S. Senate race. Among likely voters, Cruz carries 41 percent of the vote compared to O’Rourke’s 39 percent. Nineteen percent of voters said they were undecided.

That lead falls within the polls 4.67 percent margin of error.

“O’Rourke continues to nip at Cruz’s heels, but it’s a long way to go until Election Day,” Josh Blank, Lyceum Poll Research Director, said in a news release. “If this race looks different than the rest, that’s probably because it is because a strong Democratic challenger raising prolific sums of money and tons of earned media.”

All the information about the 2018 Lyceum poll is here. Here’s the press release, the executive summary, the toplines, and the crosstabs. Here also are the results for the four races they polled:

Registered voters:

Senate – Cruz 36, O’Rourke 34
Governor – Abbott 44, Valdez 25
Lt. Governor – Patrick 32, Collier 23
Attorney General – Paxton 32, Nelson 20

Likely voters:

Senate – Cruz 41, O’Rourke 39
Governor – Abbott 47, Valdez 31
Lt. Governor – Patrick 39, Collier 29
Attorney General – Paxton 35, Nelson 25

I’ve generally gone with RV totals in these polls, but you can make your own choice here. I’m including the LV totals in the polling average for Senate, which now stands at 46.2 for Cruz and 39.9 for O’Rourke. The Lyceum did its 2014 polling in October, which is a bit annoying as that makes it less directly comparable. At the time, their numbers in the Abbott-Davis race looked not too bad, but that was the last time one could make that assertion. What makes me want to pull my hair out is that they did generic ballot polling for Congress and the Lege in 2014, giving Republicans a 46-35 lead in the former and a 38-31 lead in the latter, but apparently didn’t ask that same question this time around. Argh! That sure would have been a nice little data point to have.

I’ve spent a lot of my time on this blog nitpicking polls and questioning assumptions and samples and whatnot, oftentimes for reasons that in retrospect don’t look that great. So it is with a certain measure of grim satisfaction that I read this:

The newest poll is sure to draw skepticism from Cruz supporters. Even before it was released, Cruz’s pollster Chris Wilson published an article on Medium questioning whether it would be accurate.

“Dating back to 2008 the Texas Lyceum has generously given Democrats a massive house effect boost of seven (7!!!) points,” he wrote, add that the poll has historically overestimated the share of the Hispanic vote.

I feel your pain, buddy. But just for the record, here are some previous Lyceum results:

2016 – Trump 39, Clinton 32 (LVs)
2014 – Abbott 49, Davis 40 (LVs)
2012: Romney 58, Obama 39 (LVs)

They definitely underestimated Abbott in 2014 (though they did show a wider lead 47-33 lead for Dan Patrick over Letitia Van de Putte), but the total for Davis was spot on. They were pretty close on the other two. Take your “house effect” complaint to the nerds at 538 (which doesn’t have the Texas Lyceum poll in its pollster ratings). Texas Monthly has more.

Two views of Democratic fundraising

Positive:

For the first time in a generation, there is a Democrat running for Congress in every single district in the state.

Most of those candidates vying to unseat Republicans will likely lose. Many are running in districts where President Donald Trump and the GOP incumbent won by double digits in 2016. But campaign finance reports show that a significant number of these Democrats are running professional campaigns, hiring staff and making their presence known in their communities.

And in this effort, they are bringing big money into the state.

Back in 2016, Texas U.S. House Republican candidates raised an aggregate sum of $32.3 million at this point in the cycle, nearly three times as much as Texas U.S. House Democratic candidates, who raised $11.4 million, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of campaign finance reports.

Two years later, Texas U.S. House Republican candidates have raised an aggregate sum of $34.8 million so far this cycle, similar to where they were in 2016. Democrats in Texas meanwhile, have nearly doubled their haul, having raised $21.8 million.

These figures do not reflect the more than $30 million raised so far in the state’s high profile race for U.S. Senate between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

And negative:

Four years ago, Wendy Davis was touring Texas like a rock star as she ran for governor. Sporting the same pink Mizuno sneakers she wore for her famous filibuster against a bill to restrict abortions, she was greeted by 1,600 cheering fans here, many of them wearing “Turn Texas Blue” T-shirts.

She had more than $10 million in the bank of the $37 million she would raise in her bid to become the first Democrat elected to statewide office in Texas in 20 years.

Now, as former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez runs for the same office against Gov. Greg Abbott — who beat Davis by more than 20 percentage points — the crowds have often been scant. Valdez’s statewide name ID remains slim. Her bank account has been skinnier than a coyote in the desert.

Nevertheless, Democratic Party insiders expressed little concern as Valdez on Tuesday reported raising $742,250 in political contributions in the past seven months. As of June 30, she had $222,050 in the bank.

Instead of trying to build Valdez vs. Abbott into a marquee race, Democrats are focusing much of their attention — and campaign cash — on down-ballot and congressional races that have drawn a record number of candidates.

They’re hoping for what they call the reverse coattails effect — essentially they’re banking on well-funded Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and the Democrats running for Congress, state and local office to help generate turnout for statewide candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, instead of the other way around.

[…]

“Wendy (Davis) inspired optimism and enthusiasm, and she raised enough money to mount a top-flight campaign,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who analyzed the 2014 race and has been watching Valdez’s sputtering campaign — now at its halfway point approaching the November general election.

“This campaign is an embarrassment to everyone involved — Lupe Valdez, the Democratic Party, even Greg Abbott. At this point, I don’t think anyone could imagine Lupe Valdez as governor. You can’t create an alternate universe where she could win.”

But Jerry Polinard, a longtime political scientist at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, said the party’s strategy could pay dividends in the future “if they’re successful in some of their down-ballot races. That could lay a groundwork for the future.”

If not, “that’ll be the party’s next big problem,” he said. “I’ve never seen a year like this in Texas at the top of the state ballot.”

I think you know where I stand on this. I’ll say again, Beto O’Rourke has raised a lot more money by this point than Davis did, and as we well know the Congressional challengers are orders of magnitude ahead of where they were in 2014. Yes, it would be nice if Lupe Valdez and Mike Collier could stay within the same zip code as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. But expand your field of vision a little, all right?

Republican reactions to Beto’s fundraising

The interesting bits of this story:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke, the underdog challenger to Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, recently burnished his grass-roots credentials by completing a tour of all 254 counties in Texas.

Now O’Rourke has proven his fundraising chops as well, raising a staggering $10.4 million in the past three months, more than double the $4.6 million reported by Cruz, a former presidential candidate defending his Senate seat in November.

The cash haul for the three-term congressman laid down a marker in a Senate race that has already brought national attention to a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since the Clinton administration.

[…]

While Democrats were buoyed by the latest numbers, several GOP analysts said they are not sounding the alarms, given the state’s deeply conservative leanings.

“O’Rourke’s fundraising is impressive. However, he is spending massive amounts to raise it,” said Austin GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. “O’Rourke appears to be raising a lot of money outside Texas, and those dollars could be going to far more competitive U.S. Senate races than this one.”

Apart from fundraising, Mackowiak said Cruz retains significant advantages: He has a stronger statewide organization, higher name ID, and Texas remains a Republican state. “It is now clear that both campaigns will have sufficient funds to run real campaigns,” he said. “What remains unproven is this: What is Beto’s path to victory? I don’t see one.”

Other Republicans see O’Rourke’s fundraising as a sign of a more competitive race than Texans are used to, given the Democrats’ long record of futility in The Lone Star State.

“It’s significant,” said Texas GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who served as Sen. John Cornyn’s campaign manager in 2014. “Time is still his enemy here, because a lot of people still don’t know who (O’Rourke) is. But if he continues to do that, he will have the resources to build his name ID very quickly through TV, radio and digital advertising.”

[…]

Steinhauser remains skeptical about O’Rourke’s chances but says he has forced Republicans to take the measure of the Democratic challenger.

“The challenge is a legitimate one,” Steinhauser said. “Cruz is taking it seriously; the party is taking it seriously. But at the end of the day, the voters go and vote regardless of the amount of money that you have. It’s about the candidates themselves, more than anything.”

O’Rourke’s fundraising prowess has been all the more surprising because Cruz, regarded as a national conservative leader, has a solid record of campaign organization, data analysis and fundraising. He raised nearly $90 million in the 2016 presidential primaries, more than any of Trump’s other GOP challengers, including Ben Carson and Jeb Bush.

But Cruz’s top-dog status in the Senate race also could also be a liability in the money chase.

“He raised a lot of money nationally for his presidential campaign, and he’s probably tapped out a lot of those folks,” Steinhauser said. “Some people around the country certainly gave him money for the presidential who wouldn’t necessarily give him money for a Texas Senate race, especially if they don’t buy the hype about O’Rourke, and they don’t see it as competitive.”

For Cruz partisans, the trick now could be how to project strength without seeming too overconfident.

Said Steinhauser: “Partly, I think people are like, ‘Look, it’s a statewide race in Texas, the Republican is going to win …’”

I don’t know what the status is now, but someone might want to advise Matt Mackowiak that as of the end of Q1, half of Ted Cruz’s contributions came from outside Texas, while less than a third of Beto’s did; his total out of state fundraising was less than Cruz’s while his in-state haul was far greater. Maybe the Q2 numbers will change that – the story does not address the point beyond quoting Mackowiak – but the narrative so far is quite clear, and it’s not that Beto has relied on non-Texas money to crush Cruz in that department.

Steinhauser’s statements are more reality-based, and are in the ballpark of what I’d say if the positions were reversed. The thing is, it’s not just about the Senate race. Republicans have thoroughly dominated the fundraising space since Tony Sanchez was spreading money around the state like grass seed in 2002. Democrats have had a few candidates here and there raise big bucks – Wendy Davis, Bill White, and people like Nick Lampson and Michael Skelley in Congressional races – but in any given year the vast amount of money raised has gone towards Republicans, with the lion’s share of Democratic money going to long-term incumbents in safe districts. It’s not just that Beto is raking it in, it’s also that multiple Democratic Congressional challengers are also kicking butt, in some cases outraising the incumbents they are running against. Republicans will still have the advantage overall, thanks mostly to Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. It’s just that they won’t have the skies all to themselves this time. I feel certain that folks like Brendan Steinhauser are concerned about that, too. The DMN has more.

On enthusiasm and fundraising

RG Ratcliffe engages the “can Lupe Valdez be competitive” question.

Lupe Valdez

Valdez will almost certainly lose to Greg Abbott in November. Yet if she inspires Hispanic voters to turn out, she could help Democratic candidates in tight down-ballot races and make a big difference in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Texas House.

That scenario assumes that Valdez can significantly increase Hispanic turnout. But not everyone is certain she can. “I see the value of having Lupe Valdez running for governor,” [Julian] Castro said at the Blue Star pub. “She’s a great candidate, and her experience as Dallas County sheriff, her life experience, and the issues that she is addressing speak to a lot of Texans. Whether having her at the top of the ticket would impact the Latino vote . . . that’s hard to tell.”

Valdez, after all, has significant deficiencies as a candidate. She’s unpolished as a speaker and has demonstrated little command of statewide issues. She’s also underfunded—her latest campaign finance report showed she had a little more than $115,000 cash on hand, compared to Abbott’s $43 million. That has forced her to forgo campaign fundamentals such as an internal vetting process, in which the campaign looks for skeletons in its own candidate’s closet. Two days after Valdez won the Democratic runoff, for example, the Houston Chronicle revealed that she owed more than $12,000 in unpaid property taxes. A vetting would have prepared her better to respond when a Chronicle reporter asked about it; instead, a campaign spokesman tried to blame Abbott for allowing property taxes to rise.

In short, Valdez may not be the transformational figure many Democrats hope for. In the March 6 primary, Democrats turned out a million voters—their best primary showing since 1994—30 percent of whom had Hispanic surnames. But that high turnout seems to have been in spite of Valdez’s presence on the ballot. In several South Texas counties, thousands of voters cast ballots in the U.S. Senate contest and various local races but skipped voting for governor entirely. In Hidalgo County, Valdez failed to capture even half the voters with Hispanic surnames. One prominent South Texas Democrat told me that when Valdez campaigned in the area, her lack of knowledge of state issues turned off a lot of local voters. “We’re not blind,” he said. He also admitted that many conservative Hispanics just would not vote for a lesbian.

[…]

At her Blue Star Brewing event, Valdez turned the sanctuary cities bill into a major talking point, emphasizing her belief that Republicans only control Texas because many people—especially Hispanics—don’t vote. “Texas is not a red state,” Valdez intoned. “It’s a nonvoting state.”

Perhaps. But this is still Texas; even if Valdez manages to help a few of her Democratic colleagues, that doesn’t mean she’ll be able to help herself. There was tremendous enthusiasm for Wendy Davis four years ago too, and she was crushed by Greg Abbott by 20 points. Democratic enthusiasm this election cycle is, arguably, even greater, thanks to anti-Trump fervor. But to capitalize on that, Valdez will have to pull off something that no other Democrat has done: awaken the sleeping giant of Hispanic voters. And right now the giant seems content to catch a few more z’s.

Ratcliffe spends some time discussing the three highest-profile Congressional races and their effect, which I appreciate. There’s been too much coverage of the Governor’s race that seems to think it exists in a vacuum. It was Ratcliffe’s mention of enthusiasm levels that caught my eye, though. While he acknowledges that enthusiasm is high this year, which anyone who can read a poll knows, he cites 2014 as an example of high enthusiasm not translating to good results. I admit that’s something I worry about as well, but I can think of three factors that make this year different:

1. I feel like the enthusiasm in 2014 peaked when Davis announced her candidacy, with a bounce when Leticia Van de Putte followed suit, but trended steadily downhill after that, while this year enthusiasm has remained high and if anything has intensified. Maybe peak 2014 compares favorably to 2018, but I’d be willing to bet that June 2018 is well ahead of where June 2014 was.

2. There are a number of reasons why enthusiasm trended downward in 2014, including gripes about how Davis ran her campaign – remember when she said she favored open carry? – and concerns about just what the hell Battleground Texas was doing. I don’t think you can underestimate the effect the national atmosphere had on the enthusiasm level here, though. Say what you want about Davis and her campaign, she was far from alone in underperforming that year, and the national mood, which was strongly in the Republicans’ favor, was a big part of that. That’s just not the case this year, and it’s something I continue to believe that the pundit class here has not grappled with.

3. I’ll get into this more in a minute, but the full top-to-bottom slate of candidates that are working hard and raising money has an effect that we haven’t figured out how to quantify yet, too. The number of spirited Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, in places both traditional and pioneering, is much greater this year.

I’m not arguing that the political world as we know it is about to be turned upside down. It may well be that Texas Republicans are better engaged than Republicans elsewhere, or that Democratic enthusiasm is overstated, or that Democratic weaknesses in organization and infrastructure will limit the potential gains from the positive factors that we have. We could look back on this in December and wonder what we were thinking. I’m willing to stand by the assertion that conditions are different now than they were four years ago and in ways that tend to favor Democrats. Beyond that, we’ll see.

On a related note:

Fundraising can be a reliable indicator of support for a candidate, and Valdez has struggled to raise money. Some analysts say she’ll need to raise $10 million to compete against Abbott in the general election. At last report in May, she had $115,000 on hand.

O’Rourke has raised $13 million from small-dollar donors, which worries Republicans because he’ll be able to go back to those people for more. He may also share those donors with other Democrats in the future.

Valdez, lieutenant governor candidate Mike Collier and other statewide candidates’ fundraising efforts, though, have paled in comparison. Collier warned that raising money for statewide races alone does not guarantee success.

Democrats watched gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis raise tons of money in 2014 but fail to turn out voters. This election year, there was a concerted effort to field more candidates even in tough red areas. That way dozens of candidates will be using money to turn out Democrats instead of just hoping the top of the ticket will take care of everything.

“It has to come from the bottom up,” said Collier. “It can’t be top down.”

For what it’s worth, Wendy Davis had raised about $13 million across three campaign accounts as of the June 2014 finance report. Beto had raised $13 million as of April, though to be fair he had been running for Senate longer than Davis had been running for Governor by then. I expect he’ll have a few million more when the June quarterly report hits. Beyond Davis in 2014, Leticia Van de Putte had raised $1.2 million as of June, but the well got empty pretty quickly after that. Whatever Lupe Valdez and Mike Collier and the other statewides do – I’ll bet Justin Nelson has a decent report – I think we can conclude that Beto and crew will have raised more as of June than Davis and VdP and their squad.

But of course there’s more to it than that. I keep coming back to the Congressional fundraising because it really is so completely different than what we have seen before. Here are the final reports from the 2014 cycle. Pete Gallego raised $2.6 million in his unsuccessful defense of CD23, Wesley Reed raised $300K for CD27, and no one else in a potentially competitive race broke the $100K mark. As of this April, three Democratic Congressional challengers – Lizzie Fletcher, Joseph Kopser, Gina Ortiz Jones – had surpassed $1 million, with Colin Allred right behind them. Todd Litton and MJ Hegar are well on their way to $1 million. Dayna Steele and Jana Sanchez should break $500K. Sri Kulkarni and Lorie Burch are past $100K, with Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel not far off. At this level, it’s not even close, and that’s before we factor in outside money like the DCCC. And we haven’t even touched on legislative or county races.

Now of course Republicans are going to raise a bunch of money, too. Greg Abbott by himself probably has more cash on hand than what all these people will raise combined. What I’m saying, again, is that Dems are in a better position than they were in 2014, and that you shouldn’t focus on the Governor’s race to the exclusion of everything else. It would be nice if Lupe could raise more money. Maybe she’ll surprise us on her June report. Nonetheless, Dems just aren’t as dependent on one statewide candidate raising money as they were four years ago.

UT/Trib: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 36, part 2

We pick up where we left off.

Republican Ted Cruz leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke 41 percent to 36 percent in the general election race for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Neal Dikeman, the Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. Senate, garnered 2 percent, according to the survey. And 20 percent of registered voters said either that they would vote for someone else in an election held today (3 percent) or that they haven’t thought enough about the contest to have a preference (17 percent).

In the governor’s race, Republican incumbent Greg Abbott holds a comfortable 12-percentage-point lead over Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez — the exact same advantage he held over Democrat Wendy Davis in an early-summer poll in 2014. Abbott went on to win that race by 20 percentage points. In this survey, Abbott had the support of 44 percent to Valdez’s 32 percent. Libertarian Mark Tippetts had the support of 4 percent of registered voters, while 20 percent chose “someone else” or said they haven’t made a choice yet.

[…]

The June UT/TT Poll, conducted from June 8 to June 17, is an early look at the 2018 general election, a survey of registered voters — not of the “likely voters” whose intentions will become clearer in the weeks immediately preceding the election. If recent history is the guide, most registered voters won’t vote in November; according to the Texas Secretary of State, only 34 percent of registered voters turned out in 2014, the last gubernatorial election year.

The numbers also reflect, perhaps, the faint rumble of excitement from Democrats and wariness from Republicans who together are wondering what kind of midterm election President Donald Trump might inspire. The last gubernatorial election year in Texas, 2014, came at Barack Obama’s second midterm, and like his first midterm — the Tea Party explosion of 2010 — it was a rough year for Democrats in Texas and elsewhere. As the late social philosopher Yogi Berra once said, this year could be “Déjà vu all over again.”

Accordingly, voter uncertainty rises in down-ballot races where even previously elected officials are less well known. Republican incumbent Dan Patrick leads Democrat Mike Collier in the contest for lieutenant governor, 37 percent to 31 percent. Kerry McKennon, the Libertarian in that race, had the support of 4 percent of the registered voters surveyed, while the rest said they were undecided (23 percent) or would vote for someone other than the three named candidates (5 percent).

“As you move down to races that are just less well known, you see the numbers drop,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “They drop more for the Republicans. Part of that reflects the visibility of those races, and of those candidates.”

Henson said Patrick and other down-ballot incumbents work in the shadow of the governor, especially when the Legislature is not in in session. “That said, he’s still solid with the Republican base, though he lags behind Abbott and Cruz in both prominence and popularity,” he said. “There’s nothing unusual about that.”

And indecision marks the race for Texas attorney general, where Republican incumbent Ken Paxton has 32 percent to Democrat Justin Nelson’s 31 percent and 6 percent for Libertarian Michael Ray Harris. Four percent of registered voters said they plan to vote for someone else in that race and a fourth — 26 percent — said they haven’t chosen a favorite.

Nelson and Harris are unknown to statewide general election voters. Paxton, first elected in 2014, is fighting felony indictments for securities fraud — allegations that arose from his work as a private attorney before he was AG. He has steadily maintained his innocence, but political adversaries are hoping his legal problems prompt the state’s persistently conservative electorate to consider turning out an incumbent Republican officeholder.

“If you’ve heard anything about Ken Paxton in the last four years, more than likely you’ve heard about his legal troubles,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling and research at UT’s Texas Politics Project. Henson added a note of caution to that: There’s also no erosion in Ken Paxton support by the Republican base. This reflects some stirrings amongst the Democrats and Paxton’s troubles. But it would premature to draw drastic conclusions for November based upon these numbers from June.”

Shaw noted that the support for the Democrats in the three state races is uniform: Each has 31 percent or 32 percent of the vote. “All the variability is on the Republican side, it seems to me,” he said. When those voters move away from the Republican side, Shaw said, “they move not to the Democrats but to the Libertarian or to undecided.”

Trump is still getting very strong job ratings from Republican voters — strong enough to make his overall numbers look balanced, according to the poll. Among all registered voters, 47 percent approve of the job the president is doing, while 44 percent disapprove. Only 8 percent had no opinion.

See here for yesterday’s discussion. Before we go any further, let me provide a bit of context here, since I seem to be the only person to have noticed that that Trib poll from June 2014 also inquired about other races. Here for your perusal is a comparison of then and now:


Year    Office  Republican  Democrat  R Pct  D Pct
==================================================
2014    Senate      Cornyn   Alameel     36     25
2018    Senate        Cruz  O'Rourke     41     36

2014  Governor      Abbott     Davis     44     32
2018  Governor      Abbott    Valdez     44     32

2014  Lite Guv     Patrick       VdP     41     26
2018  Lite Guv     Patrick   Collier     37     31

2014  Atty Gen      Paxton   Houston     40     27
2018  Atty Gen      Paxton    Nelson     32     31

So four years ago, Wendy Davis topped Dems with 32%, with the others ranging from 25 to 27. All Dems trailed by double digits (there were some closer races further down the ballot, but that was entirely due to lower scores for the Republicans in those mostly obscure contests). Republicans other than the oddly-underperforming John Cornyn were all at 40% or higher. The Governor’s race was the marquee event, with the largest share of respondents offering an opinion.

This year, Beto O’Rourke leads the way for Dems at 36%, with others at 31 or 32. Abbott and Ted Cruz top 40%, but Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton are both lower than they were in 2014, with Paxton barely ahead of Justin Nelson. Only Abbott has a double-digit lead, with the other three in front by six, five, and one (!) points.

And yet the one quote we get about the numbers suggests that 2018 could be like 2010 or 2014? I must be missing something. Hey, how about we add in some 2010 numbers from the May 2010 UT/Trib poll?


Year    Office  Republican  Democrat  R Pct  D Pct
==================================================
2014    Senate      Cornyn   Alameel     36     25
2018    Senate        Cruz  O'Rourke     41     36

2010  Governor       Perry     White     44     35
2014  Governor      Abbott     Davis     44     32
2018  Governor      Abbott    Valdez     44     32

2010  Lite Guv    Dewhurst       LCT     44     30
2014  Lite Guv     Patrick       VdP     41     26
2018  Lite Guv     Patrick   Collier     37     31

2010  Atty Gen      Abbott Radnofsky     47     28
2014  Atty Gen      Paxton   Houston     40     27
2018  Atty Gen      Paxton    Nelson     32     31

There was no Senate race in 2010. I dunno, maybe the fact that Republicans outside the Governor’s race are doing worse this year than they did in the last two cycles is worth noting? Especially since two of them were first-time statewide candidates in 2014 and are running for re-election this year? Or am I the only one who’s able to remember that we had polls back then?

Since this cycle began and everyone started talking about Democratic energy going into the midterms, I’ve been looking for evidence of said energy here in Texas. There are objective signs of it, from the vast number of candidates running, to the strong fundraising numbers at the Congressional level, to the higher primary turnout, and so on. I haven’t as yet seen much in the poll numbers to show a Democratic boost, though. As we’ve observed before, Beto O’Rourke’s numbers aren’t that different than Bill White or Wendy Davis’ were. A bit higher than Davis overall, but still mostly in that 35-42 range. However, I did find something in the poll data, which was not in the story, that does suggest more Dem enthusiasm. Again, a comparison to 2010 and 2014 is instructive. In each of these three polls, there’s at least one “generic ballot” question, relating to the US House and the Texas Legislature. Let’s take a look at them.

If the 2010 election for [Congress/Lege] in your district were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought enough about it to have an opinion?

2010 Congress – GOP 46, Dem 34
2010 Lege – GOP 44, Dem 33

If the 2014 election for the Texas Legislature in your district were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?

2014 Lege – GOP 46, Dem 38

If the 2018 election for [Congress/Lege] in your district were held today, would you vote for [RANDOMIZE “the Democratic candidate” and “the Republican candidate”] the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?

2018 Congress – GOP 43, Dem 41
2018 Lege – GOP 43, Dem 42

Annoyingly, in 2014 they only asked that question about the Lege, and not about Congress. Be that as it may, Dems are up in this measure as well. True, they were up in 2014 compared to 2010, and in the end that meant nothing. This may mean nothing too, but why not at least note it in passing? How is it that I often seem to know these poll numbers better than Jim Henson and Daron Shaw themselves do?

Now maybe the pollsters have changed their methodology since then. It’s been eight years, I’m sure there have been a few tweaks, and as such we may not be doing a true comparison across these years. Even if that were the case, I’d still find this particular number worthy of mention. Moe than two thirds of Texas’ Congressional delegation is Republican. Even accounting for unopposed incumbents, the Republican share of the Congressional vote ought to be well above fifty percent in a given year, yet this poll suggests a neck and neck comparison. If you can think of a better explanation for this than a higher level of engagement among Dems than we’re used to seeing, I’m open to hearing it. And if I hadn’t noticed that, I don’t know who else might have.

Looking back at 2010 and 2014

I’ve talked a lot about polls in the past week, so I thought I’d take a minute and look back at the polling data that we had as of this time in the 2010 and 2014 elections, to see if we can learn anything. The polls those years were about Governor’s races while this year is focused on the Senate race, but that’s all right. I’m not intending for this to be a straight apples-to-apples comparison, just more of a general feel. So with no further ado:

PPP, June 2010: Perry 43, White 43
UT/Trib, May 2010: Perry 44, White 35
Rasmussen, May 2010: Perry 51, White 38
Rasmussen, April 2010: Perry 48, White 44
UT/Trib, Feb 2010: Perry 44, White 35
PPP, Feb 2010: Perry 48, White 42

Avg: Perry 46.3, White 39.5

Boy, were we optimistic in the early days of 2010. Bill White was a top-notch candidate, coming off a successful tenure as Mayor of Houston with high popularity numbers and a strong fundraising apparatus. The polls supported that optimism, with that June result showing a tied race. Rick Perry, in the meantime, was coming off a 39% re-election in 2006 and a bruising primary win over then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. There were lots of reasons to think that people had gotten tired of Perry and his schtick after a decade in office, and the enthusiasm from the 2008 election was still felt and seen as a harbinger of things to come.

We know how this movie ended. The thing was, it wasn’t apparent that it was headed that way till the final days. Polls from September and early October continued to show a tight race. It wasn’t really until early voting had started and the last polls were published that we began to see the downward trends. It wasn’t a lack of Democratic enthusiasm that doomed White and the rest of the ticket – turnout was up from 2006, not that that was saying much – but Republican turnout was off the charts, swamping Democratic boats across the country and wiping out large swaths of the Democratic caucus in the Legislature. We didn’t know it in June, but there was a very ill wind about to blow.

UT/Trib, June 2014: Abbott 44, Davis 32
PPP, April 2014: Abbott 51, Davis 37
Rasmussen, March 2014: Abbott 53, Davis 41
ECPS, March 2014: Abbott 49, Davis 42
UT/Trib, Feb 2014: Abbott 47, Davis 36

Avg: Abbott 48.8, Davis 37.6

There are a lot of ways in which 2014 was like 2010 – initial excitement and optimism, high-profile candidate who drew national attention and had good fundraising chops, all ending in a gut-wrenching wipeout. One major way in which things were very different is that the early polls did not support that initial optimism in 2014. I distinctly remember writing a lot of words about why 2014 was going to be different and not at all like 2010. We were so young and innocent then. We also had a lot more warning about the impending doom we faced, as the next poll result after this one had Abbott up by 16, and in only two of the last seven polls was Davis within single digits. I was right about one thing – Republican turnout was in fact down from 2010. It’s just that Democratic turnout was as best flat from 2010, despite the endlessly-hyped presence of Battleground Texas, and that all added up to roughly a 2002-style outcome.

PPP, June 2018: Cruz 48, O’Rourke 42
Quinnipiac, May 2018: Cruz 50, O’Rourke 39
Quinnipiac, April 2018: Cruz 47, O’Rourke 44
PPP, Jan 2018: Cruz 45, O’Rourke 37

Avg: Cruz 47.5, O’Rourke 40.5

I discussed these last week, when that PPP poll hit. I’m dropping the Wilson Perkins result from this calculation, as it was done in the latter days of 2017, but if you insist on including it the averages change to Cruz 48.4, O’Rourke 39.2. That’s not as good as the 2010 average – if you just take these four polls, it’s basically even with 2010 – but it’s about two points better than 2014, three points better without the outlier. We don’t know how this one will end, of course, and it remains to be seen where the polls go from here. I just wanted to provide some context, so there you have it.

Lupe and Beto

Beto O’Rourke has a year-old, well-funded campaign for US Senate. Lupe Valdez doesn’t have anything like those advantages in her campaign for Governor. Will her lower profile effort have a negative effect on his higher profile one?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The race for governor is often the biggest spectacle in Texas politics, and the governor’s mansion the biggest prize.

But the contest between incumbent Republican Greg Abbott and Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez is forecast to be not much of a contest at all. Abbott, who in 2014 beat former state Sen. Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points, looms like Goliath on the political landscape, with Valdez lacking the weaponry to take him down. She needs more than five smooth stones.

Democrats have focused much of their attention on the remarkable campaign of Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman who’s challenging incumbent Ted Cruz for Senate.

The Cruz-O’Rourke showdown is the marquee race of the season, and could change the fortunes of Democrats and Republicans alike.

With Abbott poised to spend more than $40 million to turn out the Republican vote and in the process help Cruz, the question becomes: does Valdez’s presence on the ticket hurt or help O’Rourke?

Lupe Valdez

“Compared to nothing, she helps,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

[…]

Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell, who Democrats recruited to run for governor, said Valdez’s presence on the ticket will have little impact on O’Rourke’s efforts.

“I don’t think Lupe makes a difference to this race,” Sorrell said. “People view Beto’s race as a separate entity from Lupe’s race.”

Veteran Republican consultant Bill Miller said Valdez could be a problem for O’Rourke and other Democrats because her campaign is so irrelevant.

“The Democrats believe she helps, but in my opinion she hurts,” Miller said. “She’s not going to be a strong candidate and her race is not a hot race. She’s going to be discounted early on and that won’t help O’Rourke.”

My inclination is to agree with Michael Sorrell. We haven’t had a situation like this in recent memory. In the recent years where we have had concurrent races for Senate and Governor:

– Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial campaign was much higher profile than David Alameel’s Senate campaign in 2014. Not that any of it made much difference.

– The four-way Governor’s race in 2006 defies comparison to anything else.

– Both Tony Sanchez and Ron Kirk had well-funded campaigns in 2002, with Kirk doing a few points better in the end.

Honestly, the real factor here is Greg Abbott and his gazillions of dollars, which would be a major concern no matter who was his opponent. Valdez has improved as a candidate after a rough start, and in the end I think she’ll raise a million or two bucks, which is a water balloon against Abbott’s fire hose but will at least allow for some kind of campaign activity. The main way Abbott can use his money to affect other races is by spending a ton on GOTV stuff, which again he’d do if he were running instead against Andrew White or Julian Castro or whoever your fantasy alternative candidate might be. He still has to contend with whatever chaos Donald Trump unleashes, whatever discontent the electorate may feel about Hurricane Harvey and gun violence, and other things that money may not be able to ameliorate. All things considered, I think Valdez’s campaign will have little effect on Beto’s. It’s unlikely to be of any help, but it probably won’t hurt, either.

(Yes, I wrote this before the property tax story came out. I still don’t think one campaign will have much effect on the other.)

Some people sound very threatened by that Quinnipiac Texas Senate poll

This is almost funny.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

In its first-ever Texas poll, Quinnipiac University deemed the Senate race “too close to call” in reporting that 47 percent of Texas voters surveyed back Cruz and 44 percent support O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman. The pollster surveyed 1,029 self-identified registered voters this month, and reported a 3.6 percent margin of error.

But some Texas pollsters and political scientists say they have questions about the survey. While Quinnipiac is considered a quality outlet, and has an A-minus rating from FiveThirtyEight, they say the firm’s data appears out of step with Lone Star political realities.

“Nobody who looks at the record of polling and election results can plausibly look at this and say this tells us what the race will look like on Election Day,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Democrats almost always tend to poll better in modern Texas in the spring than they actually earn votes” in November.

He dismissed describing the race as “too close to call” at this point in the contest, and said that, given the margin of error, one could also interpret the data to mean Cruz is leading by as much as six points.

Emphasis mine. See here for the background. I don’t know what polls Jim Henson is thinking of, but here are a few I can think of to disabuse him of that notion:

UT/Texas Trib, May 2010: Rick Perry 44, Bill White 35

UT/Texas Trib, May 2012: Mitt Romney 55, Barack Obama 35 (likely voters)

UT/Texas Trib, February 2014: Greg Abbott 47, Wendy Davis 36
UT/Texas Trib, June 2014: Greg Abbott 44, Wendy Davis 32

UT/Texas Politics Project, June 2016: Donald Trump 41, Hillary Clinton 33

Bill White got 42.3% of the vote. Barack Obama got 41.4% of the vote. Wendy Davis got 38.9% of the vote. Hillary Clinton got 43.2% of the vote. These November numbers all exceed, in some cases by a lot, lowball numbers for them that came from polls conducted in part by one Jim Henson. Would you care to revise and extend your remarks, Professor Henson?

I mean look, there are other polls from those years that do overstate Democratic support early on, and it is certainly the case in most of these polls that Republican support is understated, often by a lot. But as a I showed yesterday with the poll averages for Davis and Clinton, overstating support for Democratic candidates has never been a regular feature of polls in Texas, at any time of the year. There’s a lot of carping in this story, some from poli sci prof Mark Jones and some from Republican pollster Chris Wilson of Wilson Perkins Associates in addition to what we saw from Henson, about the demographics of the sample and the number of independents. I’ve made those complaints myself in other polls – in this one, does anyone really believe Ted Cruz is going to get close to 20% of the black vote? – so join the crowd, fellas. It’s one poll – from a respected pollster, but still – just as those other polls that had Beto at 34 and 37 were. Maybe subsequent polls will be more like those first two and 2018 will be another normal crap year for Texas Democrats. Maybe not. In the meantime, would you all like a little cheese with that whine? Daily Kos, which has a very measured view of this, has more.

Quinnipiac: Cruz 47, O’Rourke 44

Pretty good poll result, with the ever-present proviso that it’s just one result.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The closely watched U.S. Senate race in Texas is too close to call, with 47 percent for Republican incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and 44 percent for U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, his Democratic challenger, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll released today.

There are wide party, gender, age and racial gaps, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN- uh-pe-ack) University Poll finds:

  • O’Rourke gets 87 – 9 percent support from Democrats and 51 – 37 percent backing from independent voters, as Republicans go to Cruz 88 – 6 percent;
  • Men back Cruz 51 – 40 percent, while women go 47 percent for O’Rourke and 43 percent for Cruz;
  • Voters 18 to 34 years old go Democratic 50 – 34 percent, while voters over 65 years old go Republican 50 – 43 percent;
  • White voters back Cruz 59 – 34 percent, as O’Rourke leads 78 – 18 percent among black voters and 51 – 33 percent among Hispanic voters.
  • Sen. Cruz gets lackluster grades, including a 47 – 45 percent job approval rating and a 46 – 44 percent favorability rating. O’Rourke gets a 30 – 16 percent favorability rating, but 53 percent of Texas voters don’t know enough about him to form an opinion of him.
  • Texas voters “like Ted Cruz as a person” 47 – 38 percent. Voters “like Beto O’Rourke as a person” 40 – 13 percent with 47 percent undecided.

“Democrats have had a target on Sen. Ted Cruz’s back, and they may be hitting the mark. Once expected to ‘cruise’ to reelection, the incumbent is in a tight race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll.

“The key may well be independent voters. O’Rourke’s 51 – 37 percent lead among that group is key to his standing today. But Texas remains a strong GOP state so O’Rourke will need the independent strength to pull the upset.”

[…]

In the Texas governor’s race, Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott tops former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez 49 – 40 percent and leads entrepreneur Andrew White 48 – 41 percent.

Voters approve 54 – 33 percent of the job Gov. Abbott is doing and give him a 51 – 33 percent favorability. His challengers are largely unknown as 65 percent don’t know enough about Valdez to form an opinion of her and 72 percent don’t know enough about White.

“Gov. Greg Abbott has a modest lead over each of the two people vying for the Democratic nomination. But what is significant is that governors with 54 percent job approval ratings rarely lose,” Brown said.

Texas voters disapprove 52 – 43 percent of the job President Donald Trump is doing. Republicans approve 85 – 13 percent. Disapproval is 90 – 8 percent among Democrats and 64 – 28 percent among independent voters.

President Trump will not be an important factor in their U.S. Senate vote, 43 percent of Texas voters say, while 26 percent say their vote will be more to express support for Trump and 27 percent say their vote will be more to express opposition.

The poll was of “1,029 Texas voters”, which I assume means registered voters. For comparison, the earlier poll results we have re:

PPP: Cruz 45, O’Rourke 37
Wilson Perkins: Cruz 52, O’Rourke 34

Not too surprisingly, this one has one of the lower approval ratings for Donald Trump, which is no doubt correlated to the overall numbers. What stands out the most to me is that all three Democratic candidates score at least forty percent even though their name ID is quite low – in the questions about favorability, the “haven’t heard enough about them” choice is 53% for Beto, 65% for Valdez, and 72% for White. I’d usually expect that to be in conjunction with a “vote for” number at best in the low 30s. The fact that it’s higher suggests to me this is another piece of evidence for the higher level of engagement.

Another thing that would suggest more engagement will be poll numbers that are consistently at least in the high thirties and forties. That may not sound like much, but look on the sidebar at the numbers from 2014 and 2016. I did a little figuring, and I found that Hillary Clinton had a 38.53% poll average across 19 polls,with a high score 46 (twice) and a low score 30. Wendy Davis in 2014 had a 36.87% poll average across 15 polls. Her high score was 42, and her low score was 32 (twice). One poll number above those totals doesn’t mean anything – remember, the first two results we saw in the Senate race had Beto and 34 and 37 – but a string of them would.

I say all that as a way of trying to put this into perspective. I’ve seen some good poll results before – again, look at that sidebar. It’s just that for each good one, there are four or five not so good ones, so we fixate on the good ones. These are good numbers, but if you read the whole poll memo, you see that Cruz beats O’Rourke in all the “who do you prefer on this issue” questions, and Abbott as noted has a shiny approval rating. Plus, you know, we Texas Democrats don’t exactly have a track record for turning out in the off years. By all means, take this as something positive, but for crying out loud don’t take it as gospel. The Observer, the DMN, RG Ratcliffe, Mother Jones and the Trib have more.

Evaluating Beto

I think this is about right.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke, the candidate running the most high-profile statewide race, [scored] only 61 percent in his primary, against two lesser-known candidates.

[…]

A lot of weird things happen in the Democratic Primary, because the party is far from cohesive. A few years ago, a LaRouche acolyte made it into a Senate runoff, and it’s not unheard of for the party’s contender to get crushed in the first round for unclear reasons. The fact that [Sema] Hernandez and [2014 gubernatorial candidate Ray] Madrigal won in many of the same places seems to point to the benefit of running with a Hispanic last name in the Democratic Primary. It’s possible voters really took to Hernandez’s and Kimbrough’s message, of course, but it seems likely more evidence that lots of Democrats enter the primary booth with limited knowledge of who is on the ballot and select names — ask Grady Yarbrough and Jim Hogan. And it’s hard to blame them, because the “frontrunners” that usually are on the ballot aren’t exactly titans.

That said, O’Rourke’s soft spot so far has been name recognition. If you’ve seen 30 news stories a day about O’Rourke for the last six months and seen some of his packed rallies, that might seem strange, but there’s room to question whether all the hype about the “punk rock Democrat” is translating to the masses.

The Trib has a map showing the county-by-county results, and now they have a story covering the same topic. Some polls have shown that O’Rourke’s name recognition, while perfectly decent for a three-term Congressman making his first statewide run, is hardly universal. I think that’s exactly what these results show, and it’s the basic weakness of his otherwise well-lauded “visit everywhere” campaign strategy. The simple fact is that even in a low-turnout statewide election, there are way more voters than there are opportunities to meet and interact with them. If you’re not already well-known in the state, a condition that describes nearly every current Texas Democrat, you’re going to have to fortify your outreach with some old-fashioned communications. O’Rourke has raised an impressive amount of money so far, and is close to even with Ted Cruz in fundraising. It would have been a good investment to drop a few of those bucks on something other than a volunteer-powered text message outreach to voters (which annoyed a few of them of my acquaintance, by the way). This is again a reminder that one should never overestimate one’s name ID.

All that said, this is hardly a disaster. He still won handily, which is mission one. He’s getting under Ted Cruz’s skin, which ought to provide a little free advertising for him as Cruz generates news about him. I doubt he has to worry about people voting on a name in November, when party affiliation will be part of the process. But if O’Rourke wants to be someone who will push people to the polls – and Lord knows, we all want that for him – and not just someone who will be voted for by those who do show up, he’s going to need to look at these result and figure out what he could be doing better. He has time to introduce himself to a (much) wider audience, but he needs to be a bit more strategic about that. You can do this, Beto.

UPDATE: Stace has more.

Sandra Bullock hurts Dan Patrick’s fee-fees

Poor little snowflake.

I can see why she might intimidate him

Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick is not too pleased that Oscar winning actress Sandra Bullock has agreed to star in a movie about former state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose 13-hour filibuster helped stall an anti-abortion bill in 2013.

“It saddens me that Sandra Bullock agreed to play Wendy Davis in a movie called ‘Let Her Speak,'” Patrick said in downtown Austin, just miles from where Bullock once owned a home.

When a member of the audience doubted it, Patrick assured the crowd it was true.

“Sandra Bullock,” he repeated. “I used to like her.”

But Patrick said he’s already taking steps to keep Bullock and film crews out of the Senate chamber to recreate the filibuster that raised Davis’s statewide profile. Davis ran for governor in 2014 and lost to Gov. Greg Abbott.

“And by the way, if I have anything to do with it, I’m not going to let them use the Senate chamber to shoot, because they’ve already disgraced it once,” Patrick said. “They’re not going to do it a second time.”

Patrick told the audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative public policy advocacy group, that he already has other issues with the movie. He said they sent him a script and asked, “Guess who the villain is?”

After a pause, Patrick raised his right hand and smiled: “Me.”

Can’t imagine why anyone might think of you that way, Danno. Now please go ahead and show me where that mean lady hurt you. You’re safe now. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Filing roundup: State Senate

In 2014, Democrats contested five of the eleven Republican-held State Senate seats on the ballot, plus the seat that was vacated by Wendy Davis, which was won by Republican Konni Burton. This year, Democrats have candidates in eleven of these twelve districts. I wanted to take a closer look at some of these folks. For convenience, I collected the filing info for Senate and House candidates from the SOS page and put it all in this spreadsheet.

Kendall Scudder

SD02Kendall Scudder (Facebook)

SD03 – Shirley Layton

SD05Brian Cronin (Facebook)
SD05Glenn “Grumpy” Williams
SD05Meg Walsh

SD07David Romero

SD08Brian Chaput
SD08 – Mark Phariss

SD09Gwenn Burud

SD10Allison Campolo (Facebook)
SD10Beverly Powell (Facebook)

SD16Joe Bogen (Facebook)
SD16Nathan Johnson (Facebook)

SD17Fran Watson (Facebook)
SD17Rita Lucido (Facebook)
SD17 – Ahmad Hassan

SD25Jack Guerra (Facebook)
SD25Steven Kling (Facebook)

SD30Kevin Lopez

I skipped SDs 14, 15, and 23, which are held by Democrats Kirk Watson, John Whitmire, and Royce West. Whitmire has two primary opponents, the others are unopposed. Let’s look at who we have here.

Kendall Scudder is a promising young candidate running in a tough district against a truly awful incumbent. First-term Sen. Bob Hall is basically Abe Simpson after a couple years of listening to Alex Jones. If he runs a good race, regardless of outcome, Scudder’s got a future in politics if he wants it.

Shirley Layton is the Chair of the Angelina County Democratic Party, which includes Lufkin. Robert Nichols is the incumbent.

All of the contested primaries look like they will present some good choices for the voters. In SD05, Brian Cronin, who has extensive experience in state government, looks like the most polished candidate to take on Charles Schwertner. Grumpy Williams is easily the most colorful candidate in any of these races. There wasn’t enough information about Meg Walsh for me to make a judgment about her.

I’ve previously mentioned Mark Phariss’ entry into the SD08 race at the filing deadline. He doesn’t have a website or Facebook page up yet, but you could read this Texas Monthly story about him and his husband for a reminder of who Phariss is and why he matters. This seat is being vacated by Van Taylor, and the demonic duo of Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines are running for it on the GOP side.

I couldn’t find much about either David Romero or Gwenn Burud, but in searching for the latter I did find this Star-Telegram story, which tells me that the Tarrant County Democratic Party did a great job filling out their slate. The incumbent here is Kelly Hancock.

Elsewhere in Tarrant County, the primary for SD10, which is overall the most closely divided district, ought to be salty. Powell is clearly the establishment candidate, having been endorsed by folks like Wendy Davis and Congressman Mark Veasey. Campolo identifies herself as a Bernie Sanders supporter. I expect there will be some elbows thrown. The winner gets to try to knock out Konni Burton.

Joe Bogen and Nathan Johnson seem pretty evenly matched to me. They’re battling for the right to take on the awful Don Huffines, whose SD16 is probably the second most vulnerable to takeover.

In SD17, Fran Watson, who is a former President of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, has been in the race for a few months. Rita Lucido, who was the candidate against Joan Huffman in 2014, filed on deadline day. The presence of perennial candidate Ahmad Hassan means this one could go to a runoff.

Both Jack Guerra and Steven Kling look like good guys in SD25. No doubt, both would be a big improvement over the zealot incumbent Donna Campbell.

Last but not least, Kevin Lopez is a City Council member in the town of Bridgeport. He joins Beverly Powell, who serves on the Burleson ISD Board of Trustees, as the only current elected officials running for one of these offices. The incumbent in SD30 is Craig Estes, and he is being challenged in the Republican primary.

Winning even one of these seats would be great. Winning two would bring the ratio to 18-13 R/D, which would be a big deal because the old two thirds rule is now a “sixty percent” rule, meaning that 19 Senators are enough to bring a bill to the floor, where 21 had been needed before. Needless to say, getting the Republicans under that would be a big deal, though of course they could throw that rule out all together if they want to. Be that as it may, more Dems would mean less power for Dan Patrick. I think we can all agree that would be a good thing. None of this will be easy – Dems are underdogs in each district, with more than half of them being very unfavorable – but at least we’re competing. National conditions, and individual candidates, will determine how we do.

At some point we will be able to stop talking about who may run for Governor as a Democrat

That day is December 11. I am looking forward to it.

Andrew White

With less than a month before the filing deadline, the most prominent declared candidate for Texas governor is probably Andrew White, the son of former governor Mark White. White, a self-described “very conservative Democrat,” has never run for elected office and holds views on abortion likely to alienate some Democratic primary voters. (He says he wants to “increase access to healthcare and make abortion rare.”) In a November 2 Facebook post, Davis — a major figure in the state’s reproductive justice scene — called White “anti-choice” and summarized her reaction to his candidacy: “Uhh — no. Just no.”

For lieutenant governor, mild-mannered accountant Mike Collier — who lost a run for comptroller last cycle by 21 percentage points — is challenging Dan Patrick, one of the state’s most effective and well-funded conservative firebrands. Attorney General Ken Paxton, who will be fighting his securities fraud indictment during campaign season, drew a largely unheard-of Democratic opponent last week in attorney Justin Nelson, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Candidate filing officially opened Saturday and ends December 11, but candidates who haven’t declared are missing opportunities for fundraising, building name recognition and organizing a campaign.

“Texas Democrats have quite clearly thrown in the towel for 2018,” said Mark P. Jones, a Rice University political scientist. “People truly committed to running would already be running; [the party] may be able to cajole, coerce or convince some higher-profile candidates to run, but with every passing day that’s less likely.”

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced last week that she’s considering a gubernatorial run, but her staff refused further comment and Valdez has yet to file. Whoever faces off with Governor Greg Abbott will be staring down a $41 million war chest.

Democratic party officials insist more candidates are forthcoming: “We’ve taken our punches for withholding the names of who we’re talking to,” said Manny Garcia, deputy director with the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s been personally frustrating to me because I know who we’re talking to and I know they’re exciting people.”

Castro agreed with Garcia: “I do believe that before the filing deadline you’re going to see people stepping up to run,” he told the Observer.

The lone bright spot on the statewide slate, said Jones, is Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman taking on Ted Cruz. Highlighting the value of announcing early, O’Rourke has raised an impressive $4 million since March off mostly individual donations.

“Like in Battlestar Galactica, O’Rourke is Battlestar Galactica and then there’s this ragtag fleet of garbage ships and transports accompanying him,” Jones said of the current Democratic lineup, noting that even O’Rourke was a second-string option to Congressman Joaquín Castro.

Look, either Manny Garcia is right and we’ll be pleasantly surprised come December 12, or he’s being irrationally exuberant and we’ll all enjoy some gallows humor at his expense. Yeah, it would be nice to have a brand-name candidate out there raising money and his or her profile right now, but how much does two or three months really matter? Bill White was still running for a Senate seat that turned out not to be available at this time in 2009; he didn’t officially shift to Governor until the first week of December. If there is a candidate out there that will broadly satisfy people we’ll know soon enough; if not, we’ll need to get to work for the candidates we do have. Such is life.

In other filing news, you can see the 2018 Harris County GOP lineup to date here. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the HCDP has no such publicly available list at this time. You can see some pictures of candidates who have filed on the HCDP Facebook page, but most of those pictures have no captions and I have no idea who some of those people are. The SOS primary filings page is useless, and the TDP webpage has nothing, too. As for the Harris County GOP, a few notes:

– State Rep. Kevin Roberts is indeed in for CD02. He’s alone in that so far, and there isn’t a candidate for HD126 yet.

– Marc Cowart is their candidate for HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large, the seat being vacated by Diane Trautman.

– So far, Sarah Davis is the only incumbent lucky enough to have drawn a primary challenger, but I expect that will change.

That’s about it for anything interesting. There really aren’t any good targets for them beyond that At Large HCDE seat, as the second edge of the redistricting sword is really safe seats for the other party, since you have to pack them in somewhere. Feel free to leave any good speculation or innuendo in the comments.

Abbott v Davis

It’s getting real out there.

Rep. Sarah Davis

In what promises to deepen divisions in the Texas Republican Party, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed a GOP challenger to incumbent state Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston.

Abbott gave his public thumbs-up to Susanna Dokupil, a more-conservative Republican like Abbott, who is running against the more moderate Davis, who also touts herself as “a conservative voice in Austin.”

The announcement was the first endorsement of a legislative challenger by Abbott, who had announced last summer that he would support legislative candidates who supported his positions on issues. In the past, it has been relatively rare for governors to get involved in legislative races so early — if at all.

[…]

Davis, an attorney, has challenged Abbott’s positions on a number of issues in the past year, including the bathroom bill. She has represented a district that includes West University Place for four terms in the Texas House.

“We need leaders in Austin who will join me to build a better future for Texas,” Abbott said in his endorsement statement. “I trust Susanna, and I know voters in House District 134 can trust her too to fight for their needs in Austin, Texas. Susanna is a principled conservative who will be a true champion for the people of House District 134, and I am proud to support her in the upcoming election.”

Dokupil, who is CEO of Paladin Strategies, a strategic communications firm based in Houston, worked for Abbott as assistant solicitor general while he was Texas attorney general, before becoming governor. There, she handled religious liberty issues, he said.

Abbott said he has known Dokupil for more than a decade.

Davis is a part of the House leadership team. She chairs the House General Investigating and Ethics, serves as chair for health and human services issues on the House Appropriations Committee and is a member of the influential Calendars Committee that sets the House schedule.

In a statement, Davis appeared to dismiss the Abbott endorsement of her challenger, who said she represents the views of her district.

“I have always voted my uniquely independent district, and when it comes to campaign season I have always stood on my own, which is why I outperformed Republicans up and down the ballot in the last mid-term election,” Davis said.

This ought to be fun. Davis has survived primary challenges before, though she hasn’t had to fight off the governor as well in those past battles. She is quite right that she generally outperforms the rest of her party in HD134. Not for nothing, but Hillary Clinton stomped Donald Trump in HD134, carrying the district by an even larger margin than Mitt Romney had against President Obama in 2012. If there’s one way to make HD134 a pickup opportunity for Dems in 2018, it’s by ousting Davis in favor of an Abbott/Patrick Trump-loving clone. Perhaps Greg Abbott is unaware that he himself only carried HD134 by two points in 2014, less than half the margin by which he carried Harris County. Bill White won HD134 by three points in 2010. HD134 is a Republican district, but the people there will vote for a Democrat if they sufficiently dislike the Republican in question. This could be the best thing Greg Abbott has ever done for us. The Trib and the Observer, which has more about Davis’ opponent, have more.

Julian 2020?

He has raised the possibility.

Julian Castro

Texas Democrat Julian Castro confirmed Sunday he is seriously considering running for president in 2020 and former state Sen. Wendy Davis left open the possibility she will take another run at running for governor in 2018.

“I might,” Castro told more than 350 people at a political conference near the University of Texas on Sunday morning. Davis’ comments came at the same event.

Castro, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, said the country needs a very different president than what is in office now and he will spend 2018 weighing a bid. He said the country needs someone “fundamentally honest” in the White House.

“We’ve had too much lying out of the White House,” Castro said.

Well, it’s hard to argue with that. There has been talk of Julian Castro running for President in 2020 – it’s even had an effect on Joaquin Castro’s consideration of running for Governor this year. I’ve no doubt that Julian Castro has been thinking about running since approximately November 9 of last year. It’s mostly a question of how he goes about it. I’ll be happy to see Julian run and will give strong consideration to supporting him, but for now all I care about is 2018.

Speaking of 2018, from the same story:

At the same event, Davis meanwhile left open the possibility that she will be running for governor again in 2020.

The former state senator from Fort Worth said although she was defeated in 2014 by Gov. Greg Abbott, it was before voters knew how far right he would go in supporting legislation like SB 4, which she called the “show me your papers” law that threatens every citizen with brown skin. Supporters of SB 4 have said the legislation was to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities and allow local law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they pull over.

Davis made clear she’s only considering it largely because other Democrats have failed to step forward to run.

“Because no one else is stepping forward,” Davis said when asked by moderator Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune why she was not ruling it out.

I love Wendy Davis. I don’t know how many other Democrats love her at this point. It’s a hard thing, losing an election like she did. This story came out before Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez put her name out there, and I think it’s safe to say that if Valdez gets in, Davis will not. But she’s there, maybe, just in case.

One of the other brand-name candidates who is at least thinking about “stepping forward” is Andrew White, who as this Trib story about the same event notes was criticized by Davis fr being anti-choice. White has since updated his website to address some issues; he says “Roe v Wade is the law of the land, and I respect the law” in the Women’s Health section, which doesn’t tell us very much about what sort of bills he would sign or veto if he were to be elected. You can see what he has for yourself – I’m more concerned about his Border Security position, which doesn’t make any sense to me. Filing begins this weekend, so one way or another we’ll begin to get some clarity.

Two (so far) for SD10

Here’s what we learn in this Star-Telegram story about incumbent Sen. Konni Burton’s intent to run for re-election.

Sen. Konni Burton

At least two Democrats already have announced their intention to seek Burton’s seat.

Allison Campolo, a research scientist and teaching assistant at Oklahoma State University who lives in Euless, announced her campaign on Facebook, saying “this is going to be a long and hard and expensive fight but every sacrifice will be worth it if we can put another progressive in the State Legislature to fight for Texans.”

Beverly Powell, a Fort Worth woman who serves on the Burleson school board and is Burleson Mayor Ken Shetter’s mother, also intends to run. Powell criticized Burton’s ardent partisanship that she said sometimes runs counter to the needs of her district.

“It’s time for new leadership that cares more about families here in Tarrant County than about narrow ideology or endless division and I will work to provide it.”

Fort Worth attorney Jeff Whitfield is considering a bid for the office as well.

Here’s Allison Campolo’s webpage and campaign Facebook page. She has a campaign kickoff event coming up on July 1. Google didn’t have any other useful information for me about her, but I see that she and several other Democratic female candidates in the D/FW area joined together for a campaign event, which seems like a great idea.

Beverly Powell’s candidacy also drew a local newspaper mention. Her website is here and her Facebook page is here. You can also see her official bio on the Burleson ISD School Board page.

This ought to be an interesting primary, between two candidates that at least on the surface offer a bit of contrast, as Campolo is a newcomer with a science background, and Powell is more of an establishment figure as well as a current officeholder. I wonder if Annie’s List will have a favorite or if they’ll wait till after the primary to publicly back the nominee. Hillary Clinton didn’t quite carry SD10, but overall it is the most competitive Senate district on the ballot next year. Even in the disaster of 2014, Burton only beat Libby Willis by 52.8% to 44.7%, with Greg Abbott beating Wendy Davis in her former district 52.9% to 45.6% and Dan Patrick topping Leticia Van de Putte 52.7% to 44.2%. It wouldn’t take much of a shift in turnout for SD10 to be at best a tossup. I look forward to seeing who emerges in this district.

Bathroom bills and business interests

Texas Monthly’s Dave Mann reviews the Republican schism over the bathroom bill and comes to the same conclusion as I have.

At the moment, the Legislature—and the Republican party, for that matter—has settled into an uneasy stalemate between Patrick’s right-leaning Senate and Straus’s more moderate coalition in the House. But, as they say, stalemates are made to be broken, and right now, Patrick’s faction seems likely to prevail eventually. It has the support of the most-devoted Republican primary voters, many of whom view moderation or compromise as surrender.

So business leaders and their Republican allies are in a precarious position. They still have a power base in the House, because Straus and his leadership team have fended off several challenges from the right, but he won’t be speaker forever. This session is his fifth leading the House, tying the record for longest-serving speaker with Pete Laney and Gib Lewis. Whenever he departs, Straus could well be replaced by a more conservative figure. So the talk among business Republicans in Austin’s bars and restaurants these days is about how they can reverse their losses and reclaim their party.

Well, good luck with that. The Republican grass roots aren’t going to moderate themselves, and it seems likely that business-friendly Republicans will continue to lose primaries, especially in statewide races. As long as that dynamic remains, the Republican party won’t be tilting back toward the middle anytime soon.

But there is another political party. Remember that one? It’s been stripped down and left to rust for the past two decades. But the Texas Democratic party is still there, waiting for someone to gas it up and take it for a spin.

That’s just what big-business interests should do. The TAB and any number of influential corporations could easily take over the party by recruiting and funding candidates to run as Democrats. It would be a homecoming of sorts; after all, years ago, before the state flipped to the GOP, business-friendly Republicans were conservative Democrats.

The problem with this idea is that Democrats can’t win in Texas at the moment. Sure, big business could take over the Democratic party, but what good would it do? Except the goal here isn’t to suddenly flip the state back to the Democrats. No, the goal would simply be to make Democrats somewhat more competitive, especially in statewide races. They don’t necessarily have to win, just get close enough to scare Republicans and perhaps nudge the GOP back toward moderation.

Republican primaries might turn out differently if there was the threat of a tight race in the general election—and that threat could be more credible in 2018 than it has been in years, with many pundits expecting the national mood to favor Democrats by then. Would Abbott strike a more moderate tone if he knew a well-funded pro-business Democrat was waiting for him in the 2018 general? Part of the business lobby’s problem with Patrick is that it has no way to threaten him. He’s untouchable in a Republican primary, and his general election campaigns have been cakewalks. But if, say, a conservative Democrat, backed by big-business money, opposed him in 2018, that might lead Patrick to moderate just a bit. Similarly, if the GOP once again nominated social conservatives with questionable credentials—like Attorney General Ken Paxton, currently under indictment, or Sid Miller, the agriculture commissioner famous for traveling out of state for his “Jesus shot”—for statewide offices, they’d at least have a challenging race in the fall. And just maybe the specter of a formidable Democratic opponent would lead to a more robust debate within the Republican party, rather than simply a mass rush to the right.

While I agree with Mann in the aggregate, there are several places where I disagree. For one thing, I don’t know what he means by a “conservative” Democrat, but I do know that Democratic primary voters aren’t going to be interested in that. Discussions like this often get bogged down in semantics and everyone’s personal definitions of words like “liberal” and “conservative”, but I think we can all agree that a Democratic candidate who is “conservative” (or just relatively “conservative” for a Democrat) in the social issues sense is going to be extremely controversial. It’s not like Democrats haven’t tried the approach of soft-pedaling such items in recent elections – see, for example, Wendy Davis’ muteness on abortion and her flipflop on open carry in 2014 – it’s just that there’s little to no evidence that it has helped them any. Maybe nothing could have helped them in those elections, but in the Trump era where everyone is fired up with the spirit of resistance, it’s really hard to see how this approach would do anything but piss people off.

I also dispute the assertion that the threat of a close race will make Republicans more likely to choose the less-extreme, more “electable” candidate in their primaries. For Exhibit A, see Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. Surely Bill White was a credible threat to them that year, but Rick Perry’s successful strategy was the exact opposite of striking a more “moderate” tone. The only thing that might convince Republican primary voters to try something different will be sustained electoral failure. To say the least, we are not there yet.

What I would recommend for Democrats like Mike Collier and Beto O’Rourke and whoever might emerge to challenge Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton is to approach the business community by reminding them that we already broadly agree on a number of core matters – quality public and higher education, better infrastructure, sanity on immigration, non-discrimination – and where we may disagree on things like taxes and regulations, the Lege will still be Republican. What you get with, say, a Democratic Lt. Governor is a hedge against self-inflicted stupidity of the SB6 and “sanctuary cities” variety. You will get someone who will listen to reason and who will be persuaded by evidence. From the business community’s perspective, this is a better deal than what they have now, and a better deal than any they’re likely to get in the near future. For there to be a chance for that to happen, it will take Democratic candidates that a fired-up base can and will support, plus the willingness of the business community to recognize the hand they’ve been dealt. The ball is in their court.

Texas Lyceum poll on Trump and 2018

From the inbox, the promised Day Two results:

Statewide poll numbers released today by the Texas Lyceum, the state’s premier, non-partisan, nonprofit statewide leadership group, show U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Houston (Lyceum Class of 2004) isn’t guaranteed another term as Texas’ Senator according to early trial ballots pitting the incumbent against his two likely Democratic challengers: U.S. Congressmen Beto O’Rourke of El Paso and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.

Senator Cruz is tied with Congressman O’Rourke, who entered the contest last month, at 30 percent each. However, 37 percent of registered Texas voters say they haven’t thought about the race yet. Congressman Castro fairs slightly better against the incumbent Senator, with 35 percent of Texas adults saying they support him over Ted Cruz at 31 percent.

“Ballot tests conducted this far in advance of an actual election are, at best, useful in gauging the potential weaknesses of incumbents seeking re-election,” said Daron Shaw. “But the substantial percentage of undecided respondents—coupled with the conservative, pro-Republican proclivities of the Texas electorate in recent years—suggest a cautious interpretation.”

Patrick vs. Collier

Meantime, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s Democratic challenger, Houston area accountant Mike Collier, comes within the margin of error if that 2018 race were held today. 27 percent chose the little-known Collier compared to 25 percent who chose Lieutenant Governor Patrick. But again “not thought about it” outpaces both candidates at 46 percent in that race – which is also 18 months away.

Right Track/ Wrong Track

Compared to last year, fewer Texans believe the country is on the wrong track at 52 percent compared to to 63 percent in 2016. However, party and race drive much of the results, with 84 percent of Democrats saying the country is on the wrong track, and 73 percent of Republicans expressing that things are moving in the right direction.

President Trump’s job approval numbers line up by party

More Texans disapprove than approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as President (54 percent to 42 percent), but the results vary significantly by party. 85 percent of Republicans give the President positive marks compared to 86 percent of Democrats who disapprove of his job performance. Same goes for young Texans – 73 percent of 18-29 year olds are not enthused with the President’s job performance along with 61 percent of Hispanics. Meantime, he is viewed positively by 60 percent of Whites.

The press release for Day Two, from which I am quoting above, is here, and the Day Two Executive Summary is here. My post on the Day One poll is here, and the Lyceum poll page for 2017 is here. As you might imagine, I have a few thoughts about this.

1. For comparison purposes, the UT/Trib poll from February had Trump’s approval ratings at 46/44, which is to say slightly more approval but considerably less disapproval than the Lyceum result, with both polls showing a strong split between Dems and Republicans. What explains the divergence of the results, given the similar partisan dynamic? Two likely reasons: First, the Trib poll is of registered voters, while the Lyceum surveys adults, of whom 11% are not registered. It’s probable that the broader the sample, the less Republican-leaning it is. We don’t know what the partisan mix is of the Lyceum poll so this is just a guess, but it is consistent with the numbers. Two, the Trib result showed that independents were basically evenly split on Trump, at least in February. The Lyceum poll doesn’t say how indies felt about Trump, but if it is the case that they were sufficiently against him, that would have tilted the numbers into negative territory. Again I’m just guessing, but either or both of these things being true could explain the difference.

2. I’m not sure what the “cautious interpretation” of the very early horse race numbers Daron Shaw has in mind is, but my cautious interpretation is that these numbers kind of stink for Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick. Not because of what the Democrats got, though I’ll speak to those figures in a minute, but because there was so little support expressed for Cruz and Patrick. A key feature of many super early polls is that a lot of people haven’t given the matter any thought, and of those who have many don’t yet have an opinion or don’t feel strongly enough about it to express an opinion. With challengers, there’s often a name recognition factor as well, so the generally low number that a newbie will get reflects little more than some raw partisan preference. But here we are talking about two incumbents who are the highest-profile politicians in the state. For Cruz to top out at 31 percent and Patrick at 25 percent, with both trailing lesser-known opponents, suggests that there’s not a whole lot of love for these guys. It’s hardly a time for panic, but I’d be at least a little bit concerned about such limp numbers if I were them.

3. By the same token, even a 35% support level for Joaquin Castro at this point in time, and even before he’s a candidate (if indeed he becomes one), is not too shabby. Remember, most people haven’t given this any thought or don’t have a strong opinion if they have one, yet Castro is already almost at the level of support that actual 2014 statewide Democrats received that year. That suggests at least the possibility of a higher than usual level of engagement and interest. For another point of comparison, the November 2013 UT/Trib poll for the Governor’s race had Greg Abbott leading Wendy Davis 40-35; this was not long after the summer of the Davis filibuster and the the HB2 special sessions, when enthusiasm for Davis was about as high as it ever was to get, as well as being seven months farther along in the calendar. It’s one result and I don’t want to over-interpret, but given all the other evidence we have about Democratic levels of engagement this year, it feels like we’re starting out in a different place. Beto O’Rourke’s thirty percent against Cruz is closer to what I’d consider the normal default level for Dems in a very early poll, but in this case the difference between himself and Catro may just be a reflection of a higher level of name recognition for Castro.

4. Again, it is important to remember this is a poll of adults, eleven percent of whom in this sample are not registered to vote. I don’t know how the numbers break down by registered/not registered, but the point here is that it is likely a significant number of the people in this poll will not participate in the 2018 election, and as such their opinions just don’t matter. That said, a huge piece of the puzzle for Democrats, especially next year, will be to get lower propensity voters to the polls, as we saw happen in the recent Congressional special elections in Kansas and Georgia. This one poll doesn’t tell us much, but future polls may paint a picture of how or if that is happening for Democrats, and for Republicans too – if they are less engaged, then they will have trouble.

5. Which brings me back to the Presidential approval numbers, as they are likely to be the best proxy we will have for voter enthusiasm going forward. As noted before, Democrats and Republicans have roughly similar levels of disapproval and approval of Donald Trump, which means that any change in the overall level of approval for Trump will come from either independents turning against him and/or Republicans abandoning him. This poll suggests the possibility of #1 happening, but as yet we have not seen evidence of #2. If we ever do, that’s going to be a big deal, and potentially a big problem for the Republicans. RG Ratcliffe, TPM, and the Trib have more.

As goes Tarrant

The Trib ponders the one big urban county that is not like the others.

Among the state’s five biggest counties, Tarrant is the only one that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. The 2016 presidential election heightened Tarrant’s status as an outlier. Even as the rest of the state’s big-city territories moved deeper into the Democratic column, Tarrant steadfastly emerged as America’s most conservative large urban county.

President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office this week, won the county by an 8.6-point margin. It was the narrowest win for a GOP presidential nominee in decades in Tarrant. But among the country’s 20 largest counties, Tarrant was only one of two that swung Trump’s way in November — and it had the wider margin.

Across Tarrant County, Democratic pockets are fewer and less powerful than their Republican counterparts. All four of the state senate districts that fall in Tarrant County are represented by Republicans. The GOP also holds eight of the county’s 11 state House seats. Four of the five county commissioner court seats are held by Republicans.

Residents, elected officials and experts here point to a nuanced union of demographic, cultural and political forces to explain why.

“There’s just all kinds of interesting numbers out there that make Tarrant County a lot different,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the only Democrat holding one of the county’s five congressional seats.

Tarrant’s minority population, which tends to lean Democratic, hasn’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties. At the same time, many Tarrant voters have a storied history of preferring practical governance to partisanship, according to officials and political observers. They say that helps support the moderate faction of the GOP, especially in Fort Worth, the nation’s 16th-largest city.

Then there’s the county’s development pattern. A lot of Tarrant remains rural. And, unlike Harris, Dallas and Travis counties, many of Tarrant’s affluent suburbs and conservative bedroom communities lie within its borders, not outside them. That’s helped give rise to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, a passionate and organized group that simultaneously supports far-right local candidates and serves as a powerful base for statewide Republicans.

[…]

Part of what has helped Tarrant become the state’s lone Republican urban county is that its minority populations, which largely and traditionally tend to lean Democratic, haven’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties.

White residents’ share of the Tarrant population is falling, but it hasn’t declined as quickly as it has in Harris, Dallas, Travis and Bexar, said state demographer Lloyd Potter. The county’s Hispanic population is growing quickly, but it still lags behind the other big counties in terms of raw numbers, Potter added.

But that’s likely to change.

While Tarrant remains more white than Texas as a whole, it’s experienced a more significant drop in its share of white residents in the past 10 years compared to the state. In 2015, the county’s white population dropped to 48.5 percent — down from 56.4 percent in 2005.

Whites’ falling numbers in the county aren’t limited to its urban core in Fort Worth. In fact, the white population experienced a bigger drop in its share of the population in the suburbs from 2005 to 2015.

Here’s a fun fact, which I believe I have mentioned before: Tarrant County is a really good predictor of the overall Presidential race result in Texas. Witness the past four elections:

2004

Statewide – Bush 61.09%, Kerry 38.22%
Tarrant – Bush 62.39%, Kerry 37.01%

2008

Statewide – McCain 55.45%, Obama 43.68%
Tarrant – McCain 55.43%, Obama 43.43%

2012

Statewide – Romney 57.17%, Obama 41.38%
Tarrant – Romney 57.12%, Obama 41.43%

2016

Statewide – Trump 52.23%, Clinton 43.24%
Tarrant – Trump 51.74%, Clinton 43.14%

Almost spooky, isn’t it? One perfectly rational answer to the question “when will Texas turn blue?” is “when Tarrant County also turns blue”.

Anyway. The article is correct that Tarrant differs from the other big urban counties in that it’s actually a lot less urban than they are. Much of Tarrant is suburban, even rural, and that’s just not the case in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis. Tarrant’s demographics are changing, as the story notes, but I have no idea if there’s anything to suggest its demographics are changing any faster than the state’s are. The statewide judicial races and the one contested district court race were all in the 13-16 point range, which is consistent with the statewide results. I wish I could say I saw something to suggest change was coming faster, but at least in the numbers, I can’t. Maybe someone who is more familiar with the county can chime in.

Having said all this, one big opportunity in 2018 is in Tarrant, and that’s SD10, the Senate seat formerly held by Wendy Davis. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, freshman Sen. Konni Burton only won by nine points, with 52.83% of the vote. If 2018 is a less hostile year, this is a winnable race, and as I’ve said before, any competitive Senate race is a big deal. Whatever we can do to hasten change in Tarrant County, 2018 would be a good time to do it.

Texas Dems look to 2018

I have a few things to say about this.

Just because

A tight-knit group of Texas Democratic leaders traveled to the state capital [in late January] to begin preliminary conversations about the 2018 midterm races.

According to over a dozen interviews with Texas Democratic insiders and national Democrats with ties to the state, the meeting included some of the party’s most well-known figures from Texas including former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, Texas Democratic Party Finance Chairman Mike Collier, former state Sen. Wendy Davis, state Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and state Reps. Rafael Anchia of Dallas and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie.

Their main agenda: mapping out a strategy for the 2018 midterm elections.

The expectations in the room were not soaring but were cautiously hopeful. That optimism was mostly rooted around one person: President Donald Trump.

“I think 2018 will be the most favorable environment Texas Democrats have had in a midterm election in well over a decade,” said Turner, who declined to comment on the meeting. “I think when you look at the actions of the Trump administration just three weeks in, you’re seeing a president with historically low approval ratings in what should be a honeymoon period, and no indication that’s going to change given his divisive actions.”

Trump’s presidency brings together a confluence of several factors that Democrats hope will get candidates over the line: a stronger-than-past Texas Democratic performance last November in urban centers, the traditional backlash against a sitting president in the midterms and an increasingly expected added drag that Trump will create for Republicans.

The Democratic calculation is that in this unpredictable and angry climate, a full 2018 slate could produce a surprising win or two statewide or down-ballot.

[…]

Sources say no decisions were made on whom should run in which slot, nor was that widely discussed. Instead, the emphasis was on ensuring that state leaders would work together to present the strongest slate possible.

And also unlike past cycles, the Democratic planning this term centers on the political climate, rather than on a singularly compelling personality running for governor.

That the meeting happened at the outset of the state’s legislative session was also no coincidence. Democrats sense an opportunity to win over some of the business community, particularly as the “bathroom bill” touted by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick continues to percolate at the state Capitol and as immigration, and particularly Trump’s proposals for a border wall and Mexican tariffs, roil national politics.

Parker did emphasize to the Tribune that the conversations about 2018 are happening throughout the state.

“It’s never going to be about what a small group of people said or do in a room,” she said. “It’s about what the people of Texas tell us what they need. Many of us have committed to going out and having those conversations.”

[…]

Since the Jan. 27 meeting, Julian Castro, the most-speculated Democratic contender to take on Gov. Greg Abbott, has made clear he is unlikely to run statewide in 2018. He all but closed the door on that possibility in an early morning tweet Thursday.

Instead, the most frequently floated gubernatorial candidate is Collier, a 2014 state comptroller candidate. Collier is relatively unknown statewide but impressed several Democrats in that previous run. He has also been suggested as a possible contender to run for lieutenant governor.

It’s the U.S. Senate race that is quickly becoming the center of the Democratic world, in part because of the incumbent, Cruz, and because of the two Democratic up-and-comers mulling runs: O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro.

Both men are in the same 2012 congressional class and are considered friendly with each other.

Democrats in the state and in Congress are closely watching how the two men maneuver around a possible primary race against each other, but the betting money is that O’Rourke is more likely to follow through with a run.

My thoughts:

– Optimism tempered with reality is the way to go. Dems basically have nothing to lose – HD107 was the only Dem-won seat that was remotely close – and plenty of targets that at least appear to be closer after last year. To be sure, there was reason for optimism going into 2014 as well, and we know how that turned out. The difference is who’s in the White House.

– The “tempered by reality” part is the recognition that all the seats we are trying to win were drawn to elect Republicans, and to put it mildly there’s no track record of good Democratic turnout in off years. You have to believe, as I do, that the national political climate is a big factor in how these elections play out, and that 2018 will be different than 2014 and 2010. Different doesn’t have to mean better, but all things considered it’s the more likely possibility.

– Dan Patrick has got to be a better statewide target than Greg Abbott. Abbott has good favorability numbers, and he’s not out there leading the charge for SB6. Mike Collier is the kind of credible-to-business candidate Dems could present as a viable alternative to Patrick to the business lobby. There are many reasons why those guys may stick with the devil they know even as he works against their interests, but at least there’s a chance they could be persuaded. There’s no chance they would abandon Abbott. If I were advising Mike Collier, I’d tell him to put Lite Guv first on my list. Sure, it would be nice to have a candidate with legislative experience running for that spot, but 1) the main thing you need to know as the guy who presides over the Senate is parliamentary procedure, and 2) have you even seen the guy Dan Patrick backed for President? Don’t come at me with this “experience matters” stuff.

– As long as we’re being optimistic, let’s assume Ken Paxton gets convicted between now and next November, and he does not get primaried out. It shouldn’t be that hard to find a decent candidate willing to take that bet. Just make sure that he or she has the resources needed to win the Dem primary in the event a Grady Yarbrough/Lloyd Oliver type decides to get in. The one thing we absolutely cannot do is accidentally nominate a joke to oppose Paxton.

– Having good candidates with sufficient resources to wage active campaigns in the legislative races will have a positive effect on turnout just as having a strong slate at the top of the ticket. This is not an either-or, it’s a both-and.

– Along those lines, the next best way to check Dan Patrick’s power is to reduce the number of Republicans in the Senate. Dallas County Democrats need to find a strong candidate to run against Don Huffines. Dallas County needs to be strong in 2018.

– The story talks about Democratic performance in the urban centers, and that’s important, but the suburbs matter as well. Opportunities exist in Fort Bend, Brazoria, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, and there are also a lot of votes in these places. Part of the strategy needs to be geared towards turning the tide in the suburbs. If nothing else, winning a seat in one of these places really changes the narrative, and serves as a concrete marker of progress.

– At some point, Democrats need to figure out how to translate the message that they have won on in big urban centers to smaller but still sizeable urban centers where they have not done as well. I’m talking about Lubbock, Amarillo, Corpus Christi, places like that. Burgeoning urban centers in suburban and exurban places, like Sugar Land, Pearland, Katy, New Braunfels, Plano, etc etc etc need to be on that list as well. Some of these places already have a Democratic presence on their City Councils and school boards. All of them could use more attention from the kind of people who gathered in Austin to talk about 2018. Who do we have in these places to even present the Democratic message? If such people exist among the local elected officials, support them and help raise their profile. If they don’t, bring in the shining faces we hope to be offering for larger roles and have them deliver it, then find opportunities to grow some local success stories there. I mean, this is what the Republicans were doing in the 70s and 80s. It’s always been a good strategy.

Basically, this was a good start. It’s the right way to think about 2018. Now let’s keep it going.

Marching

In Austin.

Up to 50,000 activists swarmed the Capitol grounds on Saturday to fight for women’s rights on the heels of Trump’s inauguration. The high-spirited crowd joined more than a million protesters nationwide. The Austin march was so large that the front of the rally, which left from the Capitol and traveled down Congress Avenue, returned before thousands had even begun marching. Many long-time Austinites said it was the largest rally they’d ever seen in the capital city.

The protesters descended on downtown Austin, filling the air with chants and whistles that ricocheted among the highrises. They carried signs reading: “Nasty women unite”; “This pussy grabs back”; “Girls just wanna have fundamental rights”; “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries”; and “A woman’s place is in the revolution.”

“As you can see from the historic crowd, voters are paying attention,” said Sarah Wheat of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. “And we’re here to tell Trump, ‘Not on our watch.’”

[…]

Former state Senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat, highlighted the slate of speakers, opening her 20-minute speech with a reference to her 13-hour filibuster of sweeping abortion regulations that ultimately passed in 2013.

“Today, and though I do not do it very often, I am wearing those same pink sneakers that I did three years ago,” she said to booming applause. “I am wearing them not to remind you of something I did. But to remind myself of something you did.”

Giving no hints of her own political plans, Davis called on the thousands of activists to “fight like hell” to stay involved beyond the march through local organizing, contacting representatives and running for office. She called for equal pay for women as a means to improve the economy.

“In some ways we have been complicit in giving up our own power,” she said. “Well, I don’t know about you, my fellow nasty women warriors, but I have had enough of that. … We will not yield our bodies to be objectified, assaulted and trafficked.”

In Houston.

More than 20,000 singing, sign-waving protesters packed Hermann Square to roar their opposition to newly inaugurated President Donald Trump and show their solidarity with marching women across the nation Saturday.

The speaker line-up included Mayor Sylvester Turner, State Rep. Gene Wu and U.S. Rep. Al Green, who addressed a sea of people one organizer described as “the biggest crowd ever.”

“There is no room for hate in our state,” Turner told the enthusiastic masses.

Organized at the last minute, the march drew a massive and diverse crowd – even in a city not known for large protest turnout.

Planning started just over a week before the event, and the Facebook event only garnered around 5,000 responses.

“So elected officials take note,” one organizer said. “This is what could happen in 10 days.”

And there were a lot more of these around the country. (Around the world, too.) My Facebook feed on Saturday was jammed full of reports and pictures and videos, including more than a few from people I hadn’t known to be political before now. It’s encouraging and heartening, and a lot of people were energized by the experience. I’m certainly impressed by what I saw. My main concern is that we’ve seen energetic and uplifting demonstration before, most recently in 2013 with the Wendy Davis filibuster. As great as they are, they don’t mean much if they don’t translate into subsequent electoral victory, which in the end is what really matters. Circumstances are different now, and I feel like these marches will be building blocks for future action rather than one off events. They have definitely already delivered a message of resistance and accountability to the Republicans in Washington. It’s up to us from here to make sure they keep getting that message. The Austin Chronicle and the Current have more.

Republicans: Still worried about the Trump effect in Texas

The continuing story.

Texas Republicans are slowly coming to grips with the unthinkable: Hillary Clinton has a shot at winning the nation’s most iconic red state.

The odds are long, they say, in a state that hasn’t voted Democratic for president in 40 years. But in recent polling data and early voting results, they are also seeing signs of the perfect storm of demographic and political forces it would take to turn Texas blue.

According to some Republican and nonpartisan pollsters, Donald Trump is turning off enough core GOP constituencies and motivating Hispanic voters in ways that could pump up Clinton’s performance to higher levels than a Democratic nominee has seen in decades. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the state in a 16-point blowout. The current spread is just five points, according to the the RealClearPolitics polling average.

“I think that Texas is competitive this year,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP operative. “I think it’ll be much closer than usual. I think it’s because of the Trump factor.”

Steinhauser still expects Trump to end up on top. But the very idea that Texas — which gave Romney a nearly 1.3 million-vote winning margin — might be in play is an affront to some Republicans, a notion that would have seemed preposterous at the beginning of the election year. Texas is the beating heart of the modern Republican Party, and the cornerstone of any GOP nominee’s electoral strategy. It’s also home to the last Republican president, George W. Bush, and to two serious recent GOP contenders for the White House, Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry.

[…]

There’s still no indication that Clinton will even make a concerted effort to win the state’s 38 electoral votes. Allies described limited paid media buys touting her Dallas Morning News endorsement; one of her top Texas surrogates, 2014 gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, has largely been deployed to more competitive swing states.

Davis was skeptical of Clinton’s odds of winning the state this year, saying it’s too soon to read much into early voting figures or polling.

“It’s certainly the case that there’s a perfect storm right now, where we have a candidate, Donald Trump who’s particularly reviled by Latinas, African-Americans and women,” she said, pointing out that even a whisper of hope for Democrats this year could pay dividends in down-ballot races and in future elections.

Trump’s candidacy, she said, will be used as a bludgeon in 2018 when a slew of elected Republicans — from Abbott to Cruz — seek reelection. And any inroads Democrats make this year, Davis said, could encourage other Democrats to seek office.

“I think it could,” she said. “A lot of people in Texas who are considering running statewide in the future are going to be closely watching what the indications are coming out of this election and re-analyzing the possibilities of when it makes sense to try to launch again a statewide race in Texas. I think we’re going to see a lot of new Hispanic voters in this election, African-American voters and of course fair-minded Anglos that we can build a coalition around.”

Republicans aren’t thinking that far ahead. They’re busy fretting over the possibility that even if Trump wins, a weak finish could leave a trail of vanquished down-ballot Republicans behind.
“Would [Democrats] rightly consider it a moral victory if Trump were held to single digits in Texas? Maybe,” said Travis County Republican chairman James Dickey. “But the real question is, if the margin slides from double digits to low single digits, who else becomes jeopardized?”

Three points to make here. One is what James Dickey says, which is simply that races that Republicans won comfortably when Mitt Romney was carrying the state by 16 points might not be so comfortable if Donald Trump is winning by three. And two, as Wendy Davis says, this does give Democrats a starting point and rallying cry for 2018. If Donald Trump can motivate people to vote this year, then maybe he can help motivate them to vote in 2018. There’s a lot more to it than that, but you have to start somewhere.

These are things we’ve discussed before. The third point I want to make is to note the dog that hasn’t barked. In 2012, Republican pollsters Mike Baselice and Chris Perkins released results that showed Mitt Romney with a comfortable lead in the Presidential race in Texas. Both polls were firmly in the range of the others that were made public, and both were pretty accurate on both the margin and the percentage for Romney and President Obama. Neither has released a poll result this cycle. I’m sure they have conducted polls this year – they’re top-level Republican operatives, they work for Republican campaigns, this is literally what they get paid to do, it beggars the imagination to think they haven’t done polls this year. Yet they haven’t released any poll numbers this year. Why do you think that might be true? The obvious answer is that their data would confirm what all the other polls have been saying, which is that this is a historically close race. It’s even possible they’re seeing worse numbers than what the other polls have shown. Surely if they had data to contradict the current narrative of a close race, it would be in their interest to put it out there. The fact that they haven’t done so isn’t conclusive of anything, but it sure as hell is suggestive.

Wendy Davis takes a victory lap

As well she should.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis, the woman whose 11-hour filibuster focused national attention on Texas’ efforts to restrict abortion access in 2013, celebrated Monday when the Supreme Court ruled that the state law was unconstitutional.

“I’m overjoyed,” Davis said in an interview with MSNBC. “I have to tell you, I was fighting back tears a moment ago, as I was reading the SCOTUSblog and the first line that came out saying that the 5th Circuit opinion or decision had been reversed. It’s incredible news for the women of Texas. It’s incredible news for women throughout this country.”

In a 5-3 decision Monday, the Supreme Court struck down two abortion restrictions in a Texas law, known as HB 2, that would have shut down dozens of clinics across the state. It mandated that abortions take place in ambulatory surgical centers, or mini hospitals, instead of regular clinics.

On June 25, 2013, Davis, then a state senator, took to the floor of the Texas Senate to protest the legislation. Davis’ filibuster successfully helped Democrats delay passage of the bill, although the Senate later passed it in another session.

Since HB 2 went into effect, the number of abortion clinics in Texas has dropped from 42 to 19. Davis said Monday she expects it will take several months for access to rebound.

“But I know there are many people and organizations that are committed to making sure that that health care is returned, and that women have their reproductive freedoms restored in Texas,” she said on MSNBC. 

The title of this post is taken from a Dan Patrick sour grapes quote, and I can just imagine some of the things he’s been saying out of reporters’ earshot. Stings a little when you get slapped like that, doesn’t it, Dan? The point here is to remember that Wendy Davis was right. She was right that HB2 was a sham that would hurt women, she was right to get on the record all of the inconvenient fact-based medical questions that the Republicans refused to answer but the Supreme Court one day would, and she was right to stand and fight even though the votes were against her and she couldn’t later capitalize on that energy in the next election. The fight itself mattered, and even with the cost that came with it the vindication that Monday’s ruling brought was well earned and deserved. Whatever else happened since that day, Wendy Davis was right. We shouldn’t ever forget that.

You’ll take lower pay, ladies, and you’ll like it

From Lisa Falkenberg;

Over at the Wall Street Journal, a 25-year newsroom union pay analysis found women earning 13.2 percent less, a finding that prompted the chief executive of parent company Dow Jones and Co. to vow an urgent review of salaries.

Back in Texas last week, Gov. Greg Abbott gave a decidedly less urgent response when a reporter asked about equal pay.

Abbott said it will happen as more women reach top posts in Texas businesses and start enterprises of their own, the Houston Chronicle’s Bobby Cervantes reported.

Ah, but there’s the rub, part of it anyway: promotion. It would have been the perfect moment for the governor to encourage businesses to promote more qualified women. But he failed to make the point, or, to make any sense at all.

“It’s essential that women get more involved in the business arena and that women be able to elevate pay in Texas,” Abbott was quoted as saying. “It’s going to be women who are going to be getting the pay and charting the course.”

Huh. Yeah.

Abbott’s non-answer was particularly hollow given the setting: he was announcing the expansion of his Commission for Women, increasing the number of women on the panel and ordering it to tackle weighty issues such as STEM-based education and access to health care.

Important issues, sure. Missing from the list: equal pay.

[…]

During his campaign against state Sen. Wendy Davis, Abbott acknowledged that he agreed with former Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to veto a state version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act. He argued women are already protected federally, but proponents of the legislation said it would have made suing over pay in state courts cheaper and faster for Texans.

Given the bill’s narrow scope, it wouldn’t have made a dent in pay inequity in Texas. But publicly opposing the bill sent a message about the former attorney general’s priorities.

That message came just as the San Antonio Express-News’ Peggy Fikac reported that female assistant attorneys general in Abbott’s office, on average, were paid less than men in the same classification. Abbott’s office cited the men’s experience, but the figures it provided showed there wasn’t always a direct correlation.

As Fikac reported: In several categories, women, on average, had more years of service, had been licensed longer, or both, but were paid less.

Abbott may truly believe there’s nothing government, outside of the courts, can and should do about equal pay. If so, he’s wrong.

The problem has many causes, from men and women choosing different jobs, to women bearing more family responsibilities, to women’s reluctance to negotiate, to real cognitive bias: the perception that women aren’t as competent or don’t work as hard.

Joseph Fishkin, a law professor at the University of Texas who focuses on employment discrimination, also mentions the “maternal wall,” which he describes as “the way we set up jobs and career paths to make it impossible to advance while having serious family responsibilities.”

Fishkin says government could do a lot about the gap if it wanted to. It doesn’t have to be passing the nation’s toughest equal pay law, as California did. Although that would be nice. For one: paid family leave and/or paid sick days, which would allow more women to stay in jobs and advance while caring for family.

Fishkin also mentions supporting a higher minimum wage, which would reduce the pay gap at the bottom, since those workers are overwhelmingly women.

Conveniently enough, Greg Abbott opposes all of those possible remedies. So we could say that he supports equal pay for women the same way he supports improving access to health care by opposing Medicaid expansion.

From the DMN editorial board:

A data crunch by The Morning News’ J. David McSwane this weekend revealed that if you are a woman, you’re making less than the white male colleague sitting right next to you doing a similar job. If you happen to be a minority woman, you’re making even less — particularly in higher-level jobs.

Not only is that blatantly unfair, but it’s been illegal for more than 50 years.

Even more troubling: Over the last decade, Texas’ gender gap has only widened.

Today, women in government make 92 cents for every $1 a white man makes, down 2 cents from 2006, The News’ report showed. Black women make 84 cents, down 2 cents. And Hispanic women make 82 cents, down 5 cents.

It’s obvious what that does to a paycheck today; just imagine how that inequity is compounded over time. And the effect it has on a woman trying to envision long-term career growth.

How’d we get here? The inequities are caused by an economic stew, including that women more often sign up for lower-paying jobs and white men more often get top-paying jobs.

Take a look at the recent recruiting and hiring done at Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office. Instead of posting two of the highest-paid positions in his office — as state law dictates — Paxton personally approached two hand-picked outsiders for the jobs. Both white men.

Paxton, the state’s top law-enforcement official, says the law allowed him the flexibility to simply appoint Jeff Mateer to assistant attorney general and Marc Rylander to communications director without opening the top jobs to others.

That smacks of cronyism. And such an unlevel playing field — where a qualified woman or minority never even had an opportunity to apply — points to one reason women’s paychecks still lag behind.

And hey, great news: Paxton just hired another crony to be his Chief of Staff. Because clearly there was no one within the office of the AG who was qualified for the job. That’s just the way these things work out, you know? But don’t worry, I’m sure the magic of the free market will solve this problem any day now.

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.

Mary Beth Rogers’ prescription for Texas Democrats

I’m sure you’ve seen this article by Mary Beth Rogers, onetime campaign manager for Ann Richards, about how Democrats can compete and win statewide again.

DEAR TEXAS DEMOCRATS…

First, let’s get the numbers out of the way. Let’s use the analytics as a backdrop for all that we do, but not as the only factor to consider.

If we don’t get the numbers right, we don’t have a chance to win on any other front.

This is what we know: We have to begin winning at least 35 percent of the white vote statewide to be competitive. That’s a big jump from the 25 percent that Wendy Davis got in 2014. I believe it is doable. If we are lucky — and luck will obviously play a part in all that we do — the 2016 presidential election might help us along. If we presume that Hillary Clinton, or some other relatively appealing Democratic presidential nominee, campaigns on issues that matter to centrist voters, it might be possible to draw up to 30 percent of the white vote in Texas. If that were to happen, then the margin for Republicans over Democrats could dip into the single digits, say, a seven or eight-point advantage. These numbers would not be impossible to overcome in future elections.

Although Barack Obama lost Texas in 2008 and 2012, he carried the African American vote by 98 percent. He got a paltry 26 percent of the white vote. If he had managed to win more than 30 percent of the white vote, as he did in Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina, and if he had invested heavily in a GOTV effort as he did in those states, he might have won Texas too. Hard to believe, isn’t it? If the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate attracts more white Texas voters than Obama did, Democrats would have a larger pool to begin wooing for the 2018 statewide campaigns. There are a lot of “ifs” here, I admit. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that white voters make up about two-thirds of the total electorate in off-year elections, and no Democrat since Ann Richards in the 1990s has succeeded in reaching them.

We Democrats still have to increase our vote totals among our base. That means reaching the 65 percent threshold with Hispanic voters, keeping 95 percent of African American voters, and winning Asian, millennial, and new urban voters who are more in tune with the values and issues of the Democratic Party than with the crazy extremists who hold power in Texas today. So if we can pump up the raw numbers among our solid base of Democratic voters (who can be easily identified after the 2016 presidential election), these are the percentages we need to reach in 2018:

Hispanics — 65 percent
African Americans — 95 percent
Anglos — 35 percent

This is not big news to anyone who studies Texas politics. The larger issue is how to do it. That’s always the rub — not what, but how. Here are ten ways to begin.

Read the whole thing, or buy the book if you really want to dig in. There’s nothing she says in the linked piece that I disagree with – I don’t think anyone would disagree with much of it. How to accomplish some of the things she describes will be easier to discuss than to do, and I’m sure there will be plenty of disagreement about who The Right Leader is/will be, but as a roadmap you could do far worse, and we have to start somewhere. So let’s agree that this is as good a place as any and go from there.

It’s that target of getting 35% of the white vote that is both enticing and elusive that I want to focus on. There will come a day when the non-Anglo portion of the electorate is big enough that we won’t need to worry as much about that number, but that day is not today. Rogers’ implicit distribution of the electorate is 62% Anglo, 26% Hispanic, and 12% African-American; do the math, and her targets above get you to exactly 50% of the vote. You can actually get away with a bit less than that, given the presence of third party candidates, but let’s run with that for now. This is a reasonable if an eensy bit optimistic view of the actual electorate. Looking back at a couple of 2014 polls, YouGov weighted their sample to be 65% Anglo, 19% Hispanic, 12% Af-Am, and 4% “other”, which Lord knows what that actually is. The UT/Trib sample was 63% Anglo, 18% Hispanic, 13% Af-Am, 1% Asian, and 2% multi-racial. Like I said, a bit optimistic but not out of the ballpark, and Dems are going to need to improve their base turnout anyway to be in the orbit of a winning scenario, so this is good enough for our purposes.

So how do we get to 35% of the Anglo vote? That’s the jackpot question. The good news is that there are likely to be multiple paths to this, and all of the things Rogers suggests ought to help a little. The bad news is that no two people are likely to agree on what should be prioritized to get there. Infrastructure, education, the war on women, economic populism, all of the above and then some – who knows? That’s above my pay grade. To some extent, none of it may matter much if the Texas economy is in the dumps in 2018 and enough voters decide to take out their frustrations on the people in charge. That’s a bigger factor in national elections than anyone wants to admit, so why not in a Governor’s race? If we have the right candidate, I feel confident we’ll have the right message.

We’ve got a Presidential election to get through first, and while no one expects Texas to be in play this year, some kind of improvement over 2012 would be nice. Rogers talks about how Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders might improve on President Obama’s performance with white voters. I can see that happening at the margins, but not more than a point or two, and I suspect anyone like that is probably not a solid D voter downballot, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. To whatever extent Clinton or Sanders can persuade a Romney/McCain voter to abandon ship, I’ll leave that to them. The real potential for gain in 2016 is increased turnout. As I’ve noted before, the GOP has plateaued at about 4.5 million Presidential year voters. Dems had a big jump from 2004 to 2008, then slid back from 3.5 million to 3.3 million in 2012. I’m not going to speculate how the Presidential race might affect things in Texas this year, but there’s room for growth just based on the natural increase in total voters:


Year   Voting age pop   Reg voters  Pct reg
===========================================
2008       17,735,442   13,575,062   76.54%
2012       18,279,737   13,646,226   74.65%
2015       19,110,272   13,988,920   73.20%

We’ll get new numbers for 2016 after the primary, but they’re unlikely to be that much different so we’ll stick with the 2015 figures. In 2008, turnout was 8,077,795, or 59.50%, while in 2012 turnout was 7,993,851, or 58.58%. Surely we can do better than that, but let’s aim modestly for now. If turnout in 2016 is at 2008 levels, then 8,323,407 people will vote. (If it’s at 2012 levels, that number will be 8,194,709.) Let’s further assume that the Republican total is what it was in 2012, which is to say 4,569,843 voters. If so, then there will be 3,753,564 other voters, which is 45.1%. Some number of those people would be voting Libertarian or Green, but my point here is to give us something to strive for. Can we get to 3.7 million Dem voters this year? How about 3.8 million? That’s not even 10% growth from 2008, and it’s a long way from a win, but it would be a big step forward, and could get the Republican margin of victory under ten points. I don’t know about you, but I think that might change the narrative a bit and give us a boost going into 2018.

I realize I’m indulging in a bit of fantasy here. There’s no reason why any of this has to happen, but by the same token there’s no reason why any of it can’t happen. The original purpose of Battleground Texas was to build Democratic turnout in Presidential years. Whether they’re still working on this or not, some of that task should be reasonably easy based on population growth. I’d like to think the Presidential campaign will at least offer a little help – leaving their paid staffers in place after the primary would be a start, and more than we got in 2008. I hope someone is thinking about this.

Another legal bill for Texas

That’s what happens when you lose.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to let stand a ruling that awarded more than $1.1 million to lawyers who represented former Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and several minority-rights groups in a case challenging Texas’ redistricting plans.

The justices this week refused to review the state’s appeal of legal fees granted to opponents of a lawsuit Texas filed seeking federal approval of political maps drawn by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011.

The decision is a blow to Attorney General Ken Paxton and former attorney general Greg Abbott. Combined, the two led the state’s fight against paying the lawyers since it was ordered by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., more than a year and a half ago.

A group of Hispanic voters that sued the state, known as the “Gonzales intervenors,” are due nearly $600,000, according to a court order from June 2014.

Another group led by Davis, a former gubernatorial candidate, and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, both Fort Worth Democrats, was awarded $466,680. The Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches was granted $32,374, according to the court.

Lawyers in the case said the final figure owed by the state will climb once fees for the appeal process and Supreme Court briefings are tallied.

Renea Hicks, an Austin attorney who represented the Gonzalez intervenors, said the state aggressively fought against the legal-fee award.

“It’s the end of the rope,” he said. “No place to turn, except to the checkbook.”

Sorry fellas. You lost, fair and square, so now pay up. Now if we can only get a ruling from the lower court on what the maps should be, we might just be able to wrap this up before we have to start drawing new maps for the next Census.

Two abortion stories

The amicus briefs are being filed in the HB2 case.

The Obama administration on Monday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a Texas abortion law that has shuttered nearly half the clinics in the state, saying the Republican-backed regulations would harm rather than protect women’s health.

[…]

If allowed to take full effect, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli wrote, the law would close many more of the state’s clinics and force hundreds of thousands of Texas women to travel great distances if they seek to terminate pregnancies.

“Those requirements are unnecessary to protect – indeed, would harm – women’s health, and they would result in closure of three quarters of the abortion clinics in the state,” Verrilli wrote.

[…]

The Obama administration did not fully embrace the clinic challengers’ position, however.

The clinics that sued Texas, represented by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), say judges trying to determine whether a regulation unconstitutionally burdens a woman’s right to abortion should look at legislators’ purpose or motives.

In this case, CRR lawyers said, the state’s assertions of health concerns “are nothing more than a pretext for restricting access to abortion.”

Administration lawyers emphasized a judicial review tied to the effects of a law. That more nuanced stance might have been crafted to appeal to pivotal justice Anthony Kennedy, who in past cases has backed a fundamental right to abortion but has broken from his abortion-rights colleagues to endorse certain regulations.

Obama administration lawyers said the law’s requirements that clinics have hospital-grade facilities and clinic doctors obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital were unnecessary because abortions provided in Texas are safe and have produced a low rate of complications.

The hearing will take place on March 2. As the Trib reports, there have been 45 briefs filed so far in opposition to HB2. Many of them are aimed at Justice Anthony Kennedy since he is our supreme lord and master seen as the lone swing vote on this issue. That Presidential election later this year is looking pretty big, huh? The Chron, Think Progress, Daily Kos, and Newsdesk have more.

Of course, even a favorable outcome in this case won’t make abortion that much more accessible in Texas. The 2015 Legislature continued its assault on reproductive freedom, and as usual those who have the least ability to cope will bear the brunt of it.

Minors needing an abortion in Texas without parental consent have a new web of rules to navigate in 2016.

The Texas Supreme Court issued the rules in late December to implementHB 3994, the state’s newly passed judicial bypass law that governs the process for abused and neglected minors to obtain court approval to consent to an abortion.

The rules took effect January 1, imposing extensive restrictions for those minors seeking a judicial bypass for an abortion. Advocates claim such restrictions are unconstitutional.

“Judicial bypass protects vulnerable pregnant teens who cannot find or safely turn to a parent,” Tina Hester, executive director of Jane’s Due Process, a nonprofit advocacy organization serving minors in need of reproductive health care, said in a statement following the release of the rules. “But the legislature and Governor Abbott decided to go after abused and neglected pregnant teens by amending this law.”

One of the most significant changes made to the judicial bypass process by HB 3994 is to remove the enforcement deadlines for the judge to rule on a minor’s request for an abortion. Advocates claim this provision effectively allows a judge to stall out a minor until they can no longer obtain a legal abortion.

“When a minor cannot even get a hearing or a court ruling in time, the state is then making her decision for her,” Susan Hays, legal counsel and a founding mother of Jane’s Due Process, said in a statement. “Such abuse of state power amounts to an ‘absolute veto’ of her decision and is under U.S. Supreme Court precedent unconstitutional.”

[…]

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the late 1970s that to be constitutional, a judicial bypass process must be anonymous, expeditious, and provide an effective opportunity for a minor to obtain an abortion. The new Texas requirements violate these requirements in a number of ways, advocates claim.

First, HB 3994 extends the time for a judge to rule on a minor’s request for a judicial bypass from two business days to five and declares a case denied if the judge does not rule within those five days. Advocates contend this requirement could have the harmful effect of pushing a minor into a more expensive procedure or past the legal limit for abortion, especially considering long clinic wait times since the passage of HB 2, Texas’ clinic-closure law.

The law requires minors to provide the judge considering the bypass their name, home address, and phone number, therefore erasing patient anonymity and confidentiality. HB 3994 also requires most minors to file their request for a bypass in their home county if its population is more than 10,000, including in cases of rape.

“How heartless for the law to have no exception for a rape survivor fearful of seeing her rapist at the courthouse,” Hays said.

Minors often pursue a judicial bypass for an abortion when parents are abusive, missing, deported, incarcerated, deceased, or drug dependent, according to advocates.

Advocates claim that many Texas courthouses are unwilling to assist minors in applying for bypass. A 2015 Jane’s Due Process survey of more than 80 Texas counties found that 81 percent of counties did not have immediate knowledge of the judicial bypass process and 37 percent of the counties denied entirely a teenager’s ability to file for a bypass.

The refusal rate was 58 percent in counties with fewer than 50,000 people.

See here, here, and here for the background. That’s our Legislature for you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nothing will change until some people start losing elections over this stuff. I’m not holding my breath for that, but in the meantime it sure sounds like there will be more litigation in our future. The Trib, the Press, the Observer, the Chron, and Newsdesk have more.

The local minimum wage fight

Not quite on the radar here, but it could be.

After years of failed proposals in the Texas Legislature to raise the minimum wage, organizers and advocates for higher hourly wages are going local.

Leaders in two major Texas cities and two large counties will vote soon on raising minimum wages for public employees and, in some cases, for employees of private companies that contract or receive financial incentives from local governments.

In Austin, a minimum wage hike to $13.03 an hour for full-time employees will be up for consideration in September as part of the city’s proposed budget. San Antonio leaders will consider a minimum wage of $13 an hour next month. Bexar County is also poised to increase its minimum wage to $13 an hour, while El Paso County could vote next month to boost pay for its lowest-paid employees to $10 an hour. Minimum wages in those localities currently range from $9.45 to $11.66 an hour.

Local organizers affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation are hopeful all four proposals will be approved, saying they’ve received assurances from city and county officials. But for these advocates, the wins could mean sending a message to state lawmakers who have been unable to garner enough support to raise the minimum wage statewide.

“We just didn’t see anything happening on this in the legislative session. Nothing is going to happen next year … so we decided to work with local public officials in getting something passed,” said Arturo Aguila, the lead organizer for the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization and Border Interfaith organization. “We thought that might send a message to the state legislators that cities across the state are already taking the initiative to do this.”

[…]

State law preempts local governments from setting a city or county-wide minimum wage that could require the private sector to increase wages for the lowest-paid employees, but they can set wage requirements for private-sector contractors that do business with them and for local government employees.

This has left advocates for higher minimum wages to pursue local policies that require private companies that contract or receive financial incentives for local government to follow to same minimum wage standards.

In other words, keep your expectations modest. Texas has no state minimum wage, it enforces the federal $7.25 rate. If that were to go up, a disproportionate number of workers here would benefit; as the story notes, Texas has 5.7 percent of all hourly paid workers earning minimum wage or less, while the national average is 3.9 percent. The prospects of anything changing at the state level are grim or worse; Wendy Davis backed implementing a $10/hour state minimum wage law, but that wasn’t exactly a high profile part of her campaign, and it wouldn’t have gone anywhere in a Republican legislature even if she had won. Local action is the best bet for now, just bear in mind that it can’t affect everyone. Here in Houston, Sylvester Turner spoke in favor of a $15 minimum wage – Adrian Garcia also signed the TOP/SEIU platform to “incentivize living wages”, though there was no specific proposal tied to it – but that position will require some clarity. As the Observer reminds us, “city workers now make at least $12 an hour and are expected to make $13.55 by 2018″. Paying city employees a living wage, and requiring contractors who do business with the city to do the same is a no-brainer. Anything beyond that is a laudable goal with a less-clear path. Getting the discussion started is the first step.

State ordered to pay fees in redistricting litigation

They don’t seem to be interested in doing that, however.

BagOfMoney

In a scolding tone, a federal appeals court panel in Washington, D.C., ordered the state of Texas on Tuesday to pay more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees in a case challenging district boundaries drawn by the Republican-led Legislature.

First under the direction of then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and now under Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state has been fighting a court order for more than a year to pay the lawyers who battled the state over the issuance of redistricting maps for the Texas House, Texas Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

A spokeswoman for Paxton, Cynthia Meyer, didn’t specify the state’s next steps. In an email, she said only: “This decision is disappointing for the state of Texas.”

A group of Hispanic Texans suing the state known as the “Gonzales intervenors” expects to take nearly $600,000 of the $1 million-plus in ordered fees from the state. A group that was led by former state Sen. Wendy Davis and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, both Fort Worth Democrats, should be awarded $466,680, and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches is owned $32,374, according to the court. The groups argued that boundaries were drawn to dilute the voting power of Hispanics and African-Americans.

Attorney Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the Davis group, said that he and other lawyers have repeatedly asked the attorney general’s office to pay the fees — only to be stonewalled, even in the face of a court order, issued in June 2014.

“If you or I or anybody else had done that, we would lose,” Dunn said. “What the D.C. Circuit has made clear is that Texas has to follow the same rules as any other litigant.”

Judge Patricia Millett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit admonished the state for its refusal to file the proper documents, and the court seemed to chide the state’s lawyers for filing an incomplete advisory.

By not following the rules, Texas has limited its options, the court said.

“(T)he district court held that Texas had conceded virtually all of the issues relevant to the motions for attorneys’ fees by deliberately choosing not to address them,” the court said. “Rejecting Texas’ cursory ‘Advisory’ argument, the district court granted the motions and awarded fees.”

[…]

The appeals court opinion comes a year after U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer’s order that criticized lawyers in Abbott’s office for submitting a legal brief that devoted more effort to complaining than answering the legal issues in the fight over lawyer fees.

“This matter presents a case study in how not to respond to a motion for attorney fees and costs,” Collyer, appointed by former President George W. Bush, said in the June 2014 order.

A spokeswoman for Abbott said at the time that Texas shouldn’t be made to pay other parties’ legal fees in a case the state considers that it won.

I guess that’s one way to get out of an order you don’t like. Just declare yourself the actual winner of the case, and thus not subject to any orders about attorneys’ fees. SCOTUSBlog has a succinct explanation of why Texas’ position was erroneous, at the end of a much longer discussion of overall case:

In June 2014, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer in Washington ruled that the three groups of challengers were entitled to recover their attorney fees expenses from Texas. The filing by the state’s lawyers, the judge wrote, “fails to recognize that the limited holding of Shelby County did not resolve the issues here.”

It was not the court’s duty, the judge added, to ask Texas to come up with some reasons to oppose the attorney fee requested. “Texas has had every chance to oppose the fees and costs that the applicants seek,” she added, but “it instead opted to file a three-page advisory that ignored every argument of applicants except the applicability of Shelby County.”

Under local court rules, the judge found, Texas had forfeited its right to oppose the fee award because of its failure to make an argument against it. Finding the voters and officeholders to have prevailed, she awarded one group $597,715.60 in fee recovery, another group $466,680.36, and the third $32,374.05 — for a total just under $1.1 million. Those amounts, the judge ruled, were reasonable.

At Texas’s request, Judge Collyer put her order on hold so that the state could appeal.

That appeal ended on Tuesday, with the D.C. Circuit upholding the fee awards, concluding that the Supreme Court’s June 2013 order did not settle the Texas redistricting case and did not resolve who would be the “prevailing party” in that case.

The Justices’ order, the panel said, was like many others in similar cases. All that the Court meant by that action, the decision added, was that there had been intervening developments that might suggest a need for the lower court to reconsider. This was not a ruling on the redistricting dispute, according to the panel, and it added: “It certainly did not declare Texas the victor.”

So there you go. As far as getting the state to quit making stuff up and pay its bills, I have an idea for how to get Ken Paxton’s attention, if it pleases the court: Just threaten to hold him in contempt of court. Recent history suggests that he will move quickly to comply with whatever you order, whatever it takes to stay out of the pokey. Just a suggestion, no pressure or anything.

Abbott would like to restore the uninsured rate

It’s what he does.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Greg Abbott on Monday urged his fellow Republicans not to “rescue” President Barack Obama’s signature health care law if it is torpedoed by the U.S. Supreme Court, an unusually public stance that could make the first-term Texas governor a leading voice on a national issue dividing the GOP.

Abbott’s position, announced in an opinion article published on the conservative National Review magazine’s website ahead of an expected high court decision, puts him in a group, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, that hopes a ruling against the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies to help poor residents buy health insurance ultimately would undo the entire law. Others, including U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, say the government should patch the problem by replacing the subsidies for the nearly 1 million Texans and 5 million other Americans now receiving them, at least temporarily and with some changes to the law.

Abbott’s piece also suggested what he intends to do if the justices throw out the subsidies and Congress fails to replace them: nothing.

“Now is not the time to throw Obamacare a lifeline,” Abbott wrote, “it is time to sound its death knell.”

Now is apparently the time to make sure that everyone who didn’t have insurance before the passage of the Affordable Care Act goes back to not having insurance if the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidies. Because that’s how we keep score in this state. Abbott’s article was typically full of the usual lies and distortions about Obamacare, which the Chron story to its credit points out. It also includes the same warmed-over Republican proposals for increasing health care access that Abbott would totally push for if only his party had any control in Texas. Oh, wait.

This is usually the place where liberal/Democratic types like me bemoan low turnout and lost opportunities and the like. I am instead going to point out that groups like the Texas Association of Business and the Texas Medical Association, both of which support the full implementation of Obamacare via Medicaid expansion and also supported Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial campaign, have a role in this as well. Yes, yes, I know – Wendy Davis was a lousy candidate, the Democratic Party in this state is feckless and impotent, there’s no point for these groups in supporting someone who can’t win, blah blah blah. These things may be true, but they’re also self-fulfilling. TAB and TMA supported Abbott for their own reasons – tax cuts and tort “reform”, to be specific – but there are plenty of other things they support that they aren’t ever going to get from him or his partymates. At some point they need to decide when doing the same thing and hoping for a different result starts to become more crazy than it’s worth to them.

UPDATE: Sorry (not sorry), Greg.

What’s next for Wendy Davis

Back to issues advocacy, which in this case is a fine thing.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis, whose fight against tighter abortion restrictions catapulted her into the national spotlight and an ill-fated race for governor, said Monday she is planning a national initiative on gender equality.

“My hope is to supplement the work of organizations that are striving to create equal opportunities for women,” Davis said via text. She confirmed she is “fine tuning details” of an initiative aimed at “fostering positive momentum toward the gender equality movement,” but said it was too early to talk specifics.

Davis has given speeches at venues such as Princeton University and the University of California in Berkeley since her campaign ended and is set Tuesday to give a speech sponsored by the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Midland. The Odessa American, in previewing that West Texas speech, first reported that Davis was creating an initiative to advance gender equality nationally.

“I hope to garner a cohesive force of women who can advance gender equality in a myriad of ways, whether it’s pay equity, (or) access to reproductive rights, and pull together women from all walks of life, all generations, all races, to use our power at the ballot box and elsewhere to drive change,” Davis told the newspaper. “There are too many women right now who are staying out of the conversation, and if we joined it collectively, we could drive the conversation.”

The rest of the story is about various talking heads’ opinions of Wendy Davis, a subject in which I have no interest. I think we’re still a little too close to last November to talk about any of that in a reasoned fashion, so let’s just skip it. What she’s doing here is good work and I’m glad she’s doing it. Lord knows, there are far less dignified things that former legislators wind up doing. Let’s just leave it at that for now.

Rural hospitals

If this story was meant to evoke my sympathy, I’m afraid it failed.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Since the hospital closed in Paducah, a town 30 miles to the north, patients in Guthrie have 60 long miles to travel to Childress for care. It’s a feeling of isolation that has crept up on other rural corners of the state following a spate of 10 hospital closures in the past two years. And financial data collected by the state and federal government shows revenue is falling for other rural hospitals, suggesting more may be on the brink.

Policymakers, operating on tight budgets, must decide whether they are willing to spend more money on small hospitals serving a limited number of patients, hospitals that in most cases could not keep their doors open without government assistance. But without them, people, inevitably, will die.

“We’ve all seen the crash that’s coming in the next five years,” said Kell Mercer, an Austin-based lawyer who has worked on hospital bankruptcy cases. “The Legislature’s more interested in cutting revenue and cutting services than providing the basic services for these rural communities. This is a perfect storm of events that’s going to hit the state, hard.”

Texas’ rural hospitals have long struggled to stay afloat, but new threats to their survival have mounted in recent years. Undelivered promises of federal health reform, payment cuts by both government programs and private insurers, falling patient volumes and a declining rural population overall have been tough on business — a phenomenon one health care executive called “death by a thousand paper cuts.” Add to that Texas’ distinction as the state with the highest percentage of people without health insurance and you get a financially hostile landscape for rural hospital operators.

“Hospital operating margins, and this is probably true of the big guys and the small guys, too, are very small, if not negative,” said John Henderson, chief executive of the Childress Regional Medical Center. “In a way, Texas rural hospitals are kind of in a worst-case scenario situation, because we lead the nation in uninsured, and we took Medicare cuts hoping that we could cover more people.”

[…]

The sum of all these changes has people like Don McBeath, who lobbies for rural hospitals, warning of a repeat of the widespread hospital closures Texas experienced three decades ago. In 1983, the federal government restructured the way Medicare made payments to hospitals, meant to reward efficient care. Those changes proved untenable for small hospitals with low patient volume, heralding decades of closures that claimed more than 200 small Texas hospitals as casualties, McBeath said.

Some counties can afford to raise taxes to keep their hospitals open; others cannot, or find that raising taxes is politically impossible.

And when a small county hospital closes, often the hospital in the next county over must shoulder a bigger burden of uninsured patients. Even patients with insurance face higher deductibles and often can’t pay their bills.

“When it closes, you’re forced to make other decisions, other plans,” said Becky Wilbanks, a judge in East Texas’ Cass County, which saw a hospital closure last year. “That’s an economic hit that we took.”

Rural hospitals are often one of the biggest and highest-paying employers in a community, Wilbanks said.

And when they close, it can have a domino effect on other local businesses, said Hall County Judge Ray Powell. When his county’s hospital closed in 2002, it prompted the local farm equipment dealership to close its doors and move to Childress.

“It was a big loss,” he said. “It was devastating.”

Across Texas, rural counties are seeing their populations dwindle. King County, home to Guthrie, is one of Texas’ 46 rural counties that are projected to lose population over the next four decades — at a time when the rest of the state’s population is expected to double.

Maybe I’m just a jerk, but my first reaction to stories like this is to check the most recent election results in the counties named.

In Cass County, Greg Abbott got 74.64% of the vote.
In Hall County, Greg Abbott got 85.09% of the vote.
In King County, Greg Abbott got 96.77% of the vote. Ninety-three people voted in total, and 90 of them went for Abbott.

In other words, the voters in these counties have gotten what they voted for. Perhaps someone should point that out to them if and when more of these rural hospitals close.

This isn’t entirely fair. Declining population in these counties is nobody’s fault. A change in Medicare payments in 2002 caused a lot of upheaval. But the problems they’re facing now are entirely the result of Republican intransigence on Obamacare and hostility to Medicaid. It’s abundantly clear by now that Medicaid expansion has been a boon for the states that have done it, while states like Texas are feeling the downside good and hard. If you want to blame Wendy Davis for not adequately communicating the issue to these voters, you have to equally blame Greg Abbott for continually lying about the need for “freedom” from the “tyranny” of Obamacare. Elections have consequences. This is one of them.