Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:
Special Session Update
The House and Senate met briefly on Monday and took no action on anything. The Senate met again on Thursday and immediately adjourned until today, taking no action. The only thing that had been left pending this session is the legislation appropriating $1.5 billion to extend construction of the border wall. The bill has passed both Houses, with the House making very small changes that the Senate must approve for the bill to become law. Earlier today, the Senate approved the House changes, so that bill is now on its way to the Governor for his signature.
Also on Friday, the Senate introduced and heard two new pieces of legislation. The first is Senate Bill 5, which establishes a school safety grant program and appropriates $400 million to the program. The House has already passed similar legislation, but it was not taken up by the Senate. The Senate unanimously passed SB 5.
The Senate also passed House Bill 6, which seeks to remedy a situation regarding the most recent constitutional amendment election. Several lawsuits have been filed questioning the validity of the voting machines used in some locations throughout the state and have caused a delay in certification of the election. If the election is not certified, then that will delay the property tax cuts approved by the voters and other issues approved by the voters such as the increase in teacher retirement benefits and the funding of the new water infrastructure fund. SB 6 expedites the litigation and appeals process, so the constitutional amendments approved by voters last month are not left in state of uncertainty. There has been no commitment from the Governor to add this issue to the call and the House has not scheduled a hearing on the bill as of yet.
The voucher legislation is dead, and there are no negotiations ongoing at this time. This special session is set to end next Wednesday, December 6th with a resolution or agreement on the voucher legislation very unlikely.
Bridge Closed at Border
Due to increasing levels of migrant encounters, US Customs and Border Protection has closed the main bridge connecting Eagle Pass with Piedras Negras – The Eagle Pass International Bridge — to incoming vehicle traffic. CBP attributes this latest surge to the cartels and other smugglers that are preying on vulnerable individuals and encouraging their migration to the US through misinformation regarding the ease and process of crossing the border. The agency has posted staggering numbers on its website. From October 1st through November 6th of this year, there have been over 38,000 migrants that have illegally crossed the border in the Del Rio sector that includes Eagle Pass. In addition – during the same time period – there have been 22,000 illegal crossings in the El Paso region and 32,000 in the Rio Grande Valley region.
The closure of this main bridge will remain in effect indefinitely. However, due to concerns for continued trade and cargo traffic, the 2nd bridge in Eagle Pass – Camino Real International Bridge — will remain open. Local officials have been very critical of the decision to close the main bridge, saying it will severely harm the local economy that is dependent on legal trade traffic coming in from Mexico. The closure only affects vehicles coming into the US. Vehicles crossing into Mexico are not affected.
Paxton Whistleblower Lawsuit Update
Lawyers for the whistleblowers – AG office employees who claim they were fired in retaliation for contacting the FBI regarding Paxton – are continuing to move forward with their lawsuit. The group has filed motions asking the judge to compel Paxton and other aides to sit for depositions. The whistleblowers initially took information to the FBI alleging Paxton was abusing the powers of his office to help a wealthy friend and donor. The case is pending in Travis County district court, but was originally filed in 2020 seeking back pay and damages claiming they were improperly fired. In late 2022, the group agreed to a $3.3 million settlement, but the Legislature refused to make the payment. After the payment was not made, and Paxton was acquitted in the impeachment trial, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the case could be reinstated and proceed. The Travis County judge has not ruled on the last motion regarding the compulsion to sit for the depositions.
Cuban Sells Dallas Mavericks
We don’t generally talk about sports news here, but this could have an impact on the legislature next session. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is selling controlling interest of the NBA franchise to Miriam Adelson, the majority owner of the Sands casino group. According to reports in the Dallas Morning News, the deal is worth roughly $3.5 billion, and would leave Cuban in operational control of the team. This deal would merge the interests of Cuban and the Las Vegas Sands Corp, which has been trying for the last several sessions to bring full casino gaming to the state of Texas. Cuban has not responded directly to the reports of this deal, but did tell the Morning News in an interview before this year’s regular legislative session “My goal, and we would partner with Las Vegas Sands, is when we build a new arena it’ll be in the middle of a resort and casino. That’s the mission.” Cuban has owned and been a very hands-on owner of the NBA team for over 20 years. He purchased a majority stake in the Mavericks from Ross Perot, Jr. for $285 million in 2000.
This deal is a further demonstration of the commitment the Sands Corp has in bringing casino gaming to Texas. However, significant hurdles remain. The state House debated casino gaming for the first time on the House floor in the 2023 regular session, falling a few votes short of approval. The Texas Senate did not hold any hearings to consider similar legislation. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick remains a steadfast opponent to expanded gaming, and Gov. Abbott has never voiced support for any type of expanded gaming.
Vice President Harris Visits Houston
Vice President Kamala Harris visited Houston on Monday to meet with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The event was held at the Hardy Center in the Congressional district of Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia. Harris touted the administration’s efforts to assist minority owned businesses by committing to a significant increase in federal contracts with minority owned businesses and a $12 billion investment in lending agencies to expand access to capital for those business owners. The event was moderated by Congresswoman Garcia and Congresswoman Nanette Barragan of California, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. After the event, Harris attended a fundraiser for the Biden campaign at a private residence in Houston.
Houston Mayoral Race
A recent poll conducted by the University of Houston shows state Senator John Whitmire maintaining a lead over Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, his opponent in the December 9th runoff. Whitmire leads Jackson Lee by a 42% to 35 % margin. But, 22% remain undecided – a very large number considering the attention the race has gotten over the past year and the high familiarity voters have with both candidates.
The Congresswoman received another high-profile endorsement when former President Bill Clinton lent his support to her. Clinton called Jackson Lee “a tireless advocate for Houston’s infrastructure, economic development, and prosperity for residents of all backgrounds.” Clinton joins his wife in supporting Jackson Lee. The former First Lady and New York Senator endorsed Jackson Lee prior to the general election.
The filing period for the March 2024 primary election is currently open and runs through Monday, December 11th. I will continue to update you all with relevant filings. The winner of the March primaries will go on to represent their respective parties in the November election.
Republican state Rep. Kyle Kacal of College Station announced this week he will not seek reelection in 2024. Kacal was first elected in 2012 in a district that ran from the Bryan/College Station area north to Waco. During redistricting in 2021, the district was changed and now includes areas of east Texas and Huntsville. Trey Wharton – a Huntsville ISD school board trustee — announced in October he was challenging Kacal in the Republican primary. The other candidate in the Republican primary is John Harvey Slocum, the son of former Texas A&M coach RC Slocum. Slocum unsuccessfully challenged state Rep. John Raney in a neighboring district in 2022.
Republican incumbent Rep. Justin Holland of Rockwall has drawn a high-profile opponent in next year’s Republican primary. Former national spokeswoman for the 2016 Trump Presidential campaign Katrina Pierson will challenge Holland in 2024. Holland was first elected in 2016 to the district that contains all of Rockwall County and parts of Garland and Plano in Collin County. Pierson – who lives in Garland – was deputy press secretary in the Trump White House and now works for America First Policies, a pro-Trump non-profit.
As mentioned last week, Republican Andy Murr of Junction will not seek reelection to his solidly red hill country House seat in 2024. Wes Virdell of Brady has been up and running for several weeks. He will now face Llano rancher Hatch Smith in the Republican primary. Virdell has been endorsed by AG Ken Paxton. Smith is an Abbott appointee to the Lower Colorado River Authority and touts endorsements from several business lobby groups in Austin.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Eddie Morales of Eagle Pass will face challenger Robert Garza in next year’s Democratic primary. Garza is the former mayor of Del Rio and ran unsuccessfully against state Senator Roland Gutierrez in 2022.
Gov. Abbott has set the date of January 30th for the runoff for state House district 2 in northeast Texas. This is to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Bryan Slaton who was expelled from the House in July for his affair with a Capitol intern. Van ISD board member Jill Dutton faces Greenville City Councilman Brent Money in the runoff.
In the open Senate District 30 – where incumbent Senator Drew Springer is not seeking reelection in 2024 – Denton County Republican Chair Brent Hagenbuch announced he will seek the Republican nomination in this solidly red seat. Emergency room physician Carrie de Moor has been up and running for weeks now. State Rep. Jared Patterson of Frisco, who had been considering a run, announced yesterday he will seek reelection to the House where he will face a primary challenge to Frisco attorney Cynthia Figueroa. Figueroa has the endorsement of AG Ken Paxton.
And speaking of Abbott, he has endorsed his first Republican primary challengers to House incumbents. Abbott promised at the beginning of the failed special sessions that he would seek retribution against incumbents that did not support his education voucher proposal. This week Abbott endorsed Hillary Hickland who is challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Hugh Shine of Temple. Hickland is a Republican party activist from Belton, while Shine is serving his second stint in the House. He first served two terms from 1987-1991 and then was elected again in 2016.
Abbott also endorsed Mike Olcott from Willow Park, near Weatherford. Olcott is a research scientist, and is making his second challenge to incumbent Republican Glenn Rogers of Mineral Wells. In 2022, Rogers won the Republican primary runoff by 318 votes out of nearly 20,000 votes cast. Also, what is interesting is that Abbott endorsed, campaigned for, and contributed financially to Rogers’ campaign in 2022. But, Rogers’ vote against education vouchers this year caused Abbott to now back his opponent.
On the Congressional side, the race to succeed retiring Congressman Michael Burgess of Denton is getting crowded. Scott Armey, the son of former US House Majority Leader Dick Armey is jumping in the race. Former Tarrant County Constable Clint Burgess, former Congressional staffer Luisa del Rosal, and conservative media activist Brandon Gill are all already up and running in the Republican primary.
After passing the two bills mentioned above, the Senate adjourned until Tuesday morning. The House is in recess for the weekend. This fourth called session is scheduled to end on Wednesday, December 6th.
We will wait to see if there any further efforts to revive the education voucher bill in the House, and if Gov. Abbott calls lawmakers back for a 5th special session before the end of the year.