Voter suppression ire was focused on Georgia today. But don't forget Texas! Gov. Greg Abbott has a long, ugly history of voter suppression. "With the hearing process underway in both the State House and the State Senate, Greg Abbott and Texas Republican legislators are moving forward with efforts to impose changes to Texas election law that would, by any fair measure, make voting harder in Texas. The efforts amount to overt, racially discriminatory voter suppression. It is important for Texans to know that the Republican-proposed discriminatory voter suppression underway now is just their latest cheat-to-win gambit. It’s the newest play in a now two-decade long strategy by Greg Abbott and Texas Republicans to hold power and impose harmful state policies by undermining the voting strength of Hispanic, Black, Asian, and minority voters, along with new and young voters of all ethnicities."
Texas most populous county-- Harris, which includes Houston, the nation's 4th biggest city-- tried figuring out how to conduct a voter-friendly election during the pandemic and came up with curbside, drive-by voting, absentee voting encouragement, longer voting hours at the polls so they wouldn't be as crowded, etc. The Texas GOP, according to an NPR report this morning, conflated all that with voter fraud. "In response to those local efforts," reported Ashley Lopez, "Republicans who control the state legislature filed a series of restrictive voting bills. Researchers last year said 'Texas is the state with the most restrictive voting processes,' but it's likely its laws will become stricter."
One measure that's been proposed would make distributing ballot applications to voters who didn't ask for one a felony. Others would outlaw drive thru-voting, and not allow polling locations to be open for more than 12 hours-- specifically beyond 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Another would require that election administrators put the same amount of voting machines in every one of their polling sites, no matter what.
That last one makes no sense to Chris Davis, the election administrator in Williamson County, a swing county in central Texas.
"If you have a smaller-size room in one part of your county that can only fit eight [voting machines]," he says, "well, by golly, eight is as many as you can have in an arena, or a lecture hall or high school gym."
Davis says the proposed changes to how local officials run elections are "incredibly short-sighted" and could lead to a misuse of public resources. And he also takes issue with proposals that would allow people to record video and sound in polling locations and ballot counting sites. He says that creates election security concerns.
But mostly Davis says he feels like lawmakers are accusing election administrators of doing bad things, which he says just isn't true.
"We contend that this isn't based in reality," he says. "It's a perception brought on by very, very visible candidates. And that perception has taken on a life of its own."
Committees in the Texas House and Senate began hearing two of the most notable Republican voting bills this week-- including House Bill 6 and Senate Bill 7.
Texas Democrats have raised concerns that certain bills would make running elections harder because of the fear of prosecution looming over many possible mistakes.
Harris County's Longoria says the reaction from state leaders has been disappointing because she was successful in getting more people to vote while also limiting the potential spread of the coronavirus. Turnout in Harris County hit about a 30-year high in 2020.
"We were really proud," she says.
Longoria, as well as voting rights advocates in Texas, are also worried these voting bills could make it harder for marginalized communities to vote. Longoria says it's difficult to disregard the role of race in this effort as lawmakers zero in on things like drive-thru voting.
"One hundred twenty-seven thousand voters did drive-thru voting-- the majority of which were Black and brown voters," she says. "It's hard to not draw a line and say, 'Why are you going after this innovation?'"
TX-06 has a special election coming up in just over a month (May Day). Officially an R+9 district-- Cook is always slowwwww to make PVI changes-- most of the district's voters live in blue-trending Tarrant County with almost another third in blood red Ellis and Navarro counties. The district, south and southwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth metro, includes Arlington between the two cities and scoots down to backward areas like Midlothian, Waxahachie, all the way down to Corsicana and the Richland-Chambers Reservoir where Navarro County meets Freestone County.
The reason for the special is because one-term incumbent, Ron Wright (R) died of masklessness. He was originally elected in 2018, beating moderate Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez 135,961 (53.1%) to 116,350 (45.4%). She won Tarrant County but Wright pulverized her in the rural parts of the district. See if you can spot the trend in recent presidential elections:
2000- Bush- 66%
2004- Bush- 66%
2008- McCain- 57%
2012- Romney- 58%
2016- Trump- 54%
2020 Trump- 51%
The last Democrat to be elected there in the 6th was Phil Gramm in 1978. A typical Blue Dog corporate whore, he switched to the GOP and after being reelected as a Democrat in 1982 and served as a right-wing Republican until becoming a senator in 1985. That's when another rightist, Joe Barton was elected. He was caught up in a sex scandal and retired, making way for Wright who died soon after being reelected last year, beating Stephen Daniel 179,507 (52.9%) to 149,530 (44.0%).
Daniel decided not to run again in the special, but Jana Lynn Sanchez is back for another swing-- as are 9 other Democrats and 11 Republicans, including Wright's widow, Susan. There are several all-Trump-all-the-time candidates, including Dan Rodimer (a scandal-ridden former pro-wrestler who ran for Congress last year in Nevada and never set foot in the district until the day he filed), and a vaguely anti-Trump candidate, Michael Wood. Susan Wright has been endorsed by 6 Trumpist members of Congress. It's a jungle primary with all the candidates competing on one ballot and then a run-off for the top two in June. Both recent publicly-available polls show Wright and Sanchez going to the runoff.
This week, Texas Tribune reporter Patrick Svitek wrote that Democrats are cautiously optimist that they have a shot to take the seat. "While Democrats," he wrote, "have cause for optimism-- the district has rapidly trended blue in recent presidential election results-- some are urging caution. They are mindful of a few factors, not the least of which is a 2020 election cycle in which high Democratic expectations culminated in deep disappointment throughout the ballot. 'We’re not counting our chickens before they hatch and we’re gonna work to earn every vote,' said Abhi Rahman, a Texas Democratic strategist who previously worked for the state party. 'This is not a bellwether. This is the first of many battles that will eventually lead to Texas turning blue.'"
The DCCC, concerned about hoarding money for their incumbent protection program, is largely ignoring the race. "Whether to engage," wrote Svitek, "could be an especially difficult decision for the DCCC, which made a show of going on offense in Texas last cycle, opening an office in Austin early on and building a target list that grew to include 10 Republican-held districts, including Wright’s. They ended up flipping none of them." I guess it should be pointed out that the DCCC wasted their money on the most conservative candidates and offered littleton no help to the progressives. So... maybe they ought to realize that that's why they lost every non-defensive race in the state. If the DCCC (and EMILY's List) come in at all, it will be after the primary.
Yesterday, Texas, which is 100% open for business and without a mask mandate, reported 3,280 new cases of COVID bringing the statewide total to 2,775,010 (95,704 cases per million Texans). Right now there are 106,487 active cases in the state. The 7 day daily average of new cases is 3,398. Among the 25 worst hit counties in the whole country this week are 4 in Texas:
Dimmit (4th worst in the U.S.)
Texas is also the worst hit state in the country for college students. 85 schools have 42,237 cases. For comparison's sake, Florida is second worst with 28,705 at 127 schools. Harris County's jail has the second most cases of any prison in the country (3,805 cases), compared to 3,985 in the Fresno County jail and 3,637 at Corcoran State Prison (California). Texas also has the 3 worst hit nursing homes in the country:
Carrara in Plano- 627
West Side Campus of Care in White Settlement- 586
The Carlyle at Stonebridge Park in Southlake- 568
And two more Texas facilities are among the top 10 worst hit in the country, Traymore Nursing Center in Dallas and Hearthstone Nursing and Rehabilitation in Round Rock.
This morning the state sued Austin over the city's mask mandate-- and Austin won. KXAN reported that "Travis County District Court Judge Lora Livingston ruled in favor of Austin-Travis County in a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton sued the city two weeks ago for continuing its mask mandate after Gov. Greg Abbott rolled back COVID-19 safety orders, including a state-level mask mandate, March 10." Conventions and conferences looking at Texas' COVID stats and the decision to throw caution to the wind, have started cancelling. "At least four organizations canceled conferences or conventions in Austin, citing health concerns after Texas ended its statewide mask mandate earlier this month. The cancellations cost the Hilton Austin hotel $350,000 in revenue, according to Austin Convention Enterprises, a city-created corporation that owns and manages the hotel. 'These were rooms that were already on the books, and largely what we saw was fallout, ironically, from the governor opening the economy,' said Joe Bolash, Hilton Austin general manager, during a March 16 Austin Convention Enterprises board meeting. 'It was groups that were not comfortable returning to a fully opened economy where there was no mask mandate in place.'... On Thursday, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology announced it was canceling the in-person portion of its annual conference that was to be held in Austin due to the end of Texas’ COVID-19-related precautions... Greg Casar, an Austin City Council member, said the lack of a mask mandate isn’t just driving business from the state, but it is putting pressure on public-facing workers, including those in the hospitality industry, to enforce mask-wearing in businesses. 'Greg Abbott didn’t help the economy when he lifted the mask rule, he only helped the virus,' he said. 'That’s clearly bad for workers, but it’s bad for business, too. And you can see that clearly with the cancellation of these conferences.'"