Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:

House Incumbents Fighting Back

There are 8 House Republican incumbents that are in primary runoffs, and this is in addition to the 9 incumbents that were defeated on the March 5th primary date.  The Club for Growth PAC, which is funded by Jeff Yass, the Pennsylvania billionaire that has contributed over $6 million to the campaign of Gov. Abbott, has invested millions of dollars trying to unseat Texas House Republican incumbents.  Yass has made bringing private school vouchers to Texas a top priority, and the Club for Growth PAC is targeting several of these incumbents because of their opposition to vouchers.

Club for Growth this week launched a series of ads targeting the anti-voucher incumbents including a $900,000 TV buy against House Speaker Dade Phelan. Phelan has responded with a series of ad buys on social media, and on broadcast and cable TV.  Phelan’s ads will focus on his support of the Operation Lone Star – the state’s border enforcement initiative – and criticism of President Biden’s handling of the border crisis.  Phelan is also running attack ads on Covey now, saying he is nothing more than a puppet for a small group of billionaires trying to take over the Texas House.

Now, at least two more of the incumbents are fighting back.  According to a report in the Texas Tribune over the weekend, Rep. John Kuempel of Seguin and Rep. Justin Holland of Rockwall are starting to run ads that highlighting the connection between Yass and his past investment in TikTok – the controversial social media app that Congress just voted to ban in the US if new ownership is not acquired.

Gov. Abbott went to Kuempel’s district last weekend to campaign for his opponent, former Rep. Alan Schoolcraft of Universal City.  AG Ken Paxton has also hit the road to campaign for David Covey, the challenger to Speaker Phelan.   He hosted an event for Covey yesterday in Jasper.  Paxton has also campaigned recently for Republican challengers Helen Kerwin against Rep. DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, and Chris Spencer against Rep. Gary VanDeaver of New Boston.

Border News

Late last week, DPS troopers seized over 200 pounds of cocaine during a routine traffic stop in Weslaco.  The troopers stopped a tractor-trailer and discovered cellophane wrapped bundles in the cargo area.  The couriers tried to disguise the drugs by covering them with various dried goods packed into pallets.  The cocaine has an estimated street value of over $2 million.

Migrants are again choosing to ride trains through Mexico to arrive at Texas border towns before attempting to enter the US.  Border Report obtained images of a train arriving on Wednesday afternoon in Juarez, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso.  The images showed hundreds of suspected migrants packed into boxcars.  The train originated in Chihuahua City, where Mexican immigration officials were unable to stop them from getting on the trains due to the massive size of the group.  Many of the migrants seen trying to enter somewhere other than a point of entry were deterred by the razor wire and CBP agents stationed along the river.  As of yesterday, it was reported that only a few migrants were attempting to turn themselves in at a point of entry to begin the process of seeking asylum in the US.

Travis County DA Subject to Removal

Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza could be the first local DA removed under a new state law that targets prosecutors who refuse to enforce laws passed by the legislature.  During the 2023 session, the legislature passed Senate Bill 17 which expands the definition of official misconduct to include “a prosecuting attorney’s adoption or enforcement of a policy of categorically refusing to prosecute specific criminal offenses under state law.”  Under the law, if a resident of a certain county feels the local DA is engaging in such misconduct, he or she can file a petition to initiate to process of removing the DA from office.

A Travis County resident has filed a petition to remove Garza from office.  And last week, the 3rd Judicial Administrative Region granted the validity of the petition and assigned Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols to prosecute the case.  The petition claims that Garza has not pursued charges related to drug possession and abortion and cites statements Garza has made regarding not pursuing abortion related cases.  The first hearing is set for May 17th in Austin.

Students Arrested at UT

More than 50 arrests were made on the UT Austin campus on Wednesday after students organized a walkout and began a protest on the South Lawn near the UT Tower.  A total of 57 people were booked into the Travis County jail on Wednesday evening on criminal trespass charges.  An estimated 500 students walked out of class on Wednesday to demand that UT divest from manufacturers supplying Israel weapons for its war with Hamas.  As the protests became larger, Gov. Abbott deployed 100 DPS troopers to the scene, at the request of UT President Jay Hartzell.  Hartzell’s fear was the university police could not handle the large number of protestors without assistance.  UT police made all 57 arrests after the students were warned to stop the protests.  By Thursday morning, 46 of those arrested had their charges dropped by the Travis County Attorney due to lack of probable cause to make the arrests.

Gov. Abbott took to twitter to call the students “pro-Hamas idiots”, and went on to say that “antisemitism will not be tolerated in Texas.”  Abbott went on to say that any students joining in the protest at any public college in the state should be expelled.

Fallout from the protests and arrests have continued.  A much smaller and calmer protest occurred on Thursday morning with students reiterating the demand that UT divest from any company assisting Israel in the war.  The students also demanded the resignation of UT President Jay Hartzell over his role in the management of the protests on Wednesday, including the presence of DPS troopers on campus.  The faculty at UT has also called for Hartzell’s resignation.

Texas Supreme Court Blocks Harris County Guaranteed Income Program

On Tuesday, the Texas Supreme Court temporarily blocked Uplift Harris, which is a guaranteed income program set up by the Harris County Commissioners Court to give $500 monthly payments to low-income families in the county.  AG Ken Paxton had initially filed suit to stop the program in Harris County district court.  But a Harris County district judge and the state 14th District Court of Appeals rejected his request. Then the state Supreme Court intervened and granted Paxton and the state a temporary pause to the program while the legal arguments are considered. Paxton has claimed the program violates the Texas Constitution saying counties are not allowed to distribute funds to individuals under the state constitution.  The high court agreed with Paxton and has stopped the program until they make a final ruling in the case.  Austin and San Antonio have similar programs in place, but the Attorney General has taken no action to try and stop those programs.

Political Notes

Early voting began this week for the May 4th municipal elections where many local jurisdictions are holding elections for the offices of mayor, city council, and school boards.  There is also one legislative special election to be held on May 4th.  Voters in Senate District 15 will choose a candidate to fill the unexpired term of former Senator John Whitmire, who was elected mayor of Houston in November.  Voters in the central Harris County district will choose between current Rep. Jarvis Johnson and emergency room nurse Molly Cook.  The district is solidly Democratic.  Regardless of the outcome of the May 4th contest, the two will face off again on the May 28th runoff date where they are in a runoff to decide the Democratic nominee for the full four-year term that will begin in January.  Johnson won the first round of voting on March 5th by a 36% to 21% margin.

A poll just released shows US Senator Ted Cruz with a slim lead over Democrat rival Colin Allred.  The poll by the Texas Hispanic Research Council shows Cruz with a 46% to 41% lead over Allred.  The poll was conducted from April 5th – 10th among 1,600 likely Texas voters.  The poll also shows Donald Trump with a 48% to 36% advantage over President Biden in Texas.  Specifically, among Hispanic voters, Trump leads Biden by a 41% to 37% margin.  The advantage is flipped for the US Senate race, where Allred leads Cruz by a 44% to 39% margin among Hispanic voters. The poll has a margin of error of 2.45%.

Incumbent Republican Rep. Morgan Meyer defeated his primary opponent on March 5th by 523 votes out of over 26,000 cast.  His opponent, Barry Wernick, asked for a recount, which was completed this week.  After the recount, the Dallas County elections clerk said that the hand tallied results showed a difference of only 15 votes when compared to the original count on election night – and officially declared Meyer the winner of the primary.

And finally, Houston Rep. Lacey Hull was elected vice-chair of the Texas House Republican Caucus this week by her Republican colleagues.  Hull is in her 2nd term representing areas of western Harris County.  She recently won a hotly contested Republican primary and should easily win a 3rd term in November.

What’s Next??

Hard to say what’s next for the House.  A full list of interim study issues for all committees may not be released until after the runoff – if at all.  With interim studies issued in the Senate, look for hearings to begin in the next couple of weeks.

With 8 incumbents being forced into runoffs, the fundraising for the May 28th election is in full swing.  Candidates and officeholders continue to hold fundraisers in Austin.

Also, next week the first interim hearing of the year will take place.  The House Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence will meet on Monday to discuss various subjects related to AI including its impact on emerging technologies.  This committee was recently appointed by Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan and is chaired by Rep. Gio Capriglionne of Plano.