Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:
Special Session Update
The fourth special session came to an end on Tuesday much like it started – no deal to pass education vouchers, Republican party squabbles and the two presiding officers trading childish barbs on social media. There were only two pieces of legislation passed during the most recent 30-day session. A bill to appropriate an additional $1.5 billion to continue construction of the border wall and another to allow state peace officers to arrest those who have crossed the border illegally on state trespass charges.
What was left pending – in addition to the voucher bill – were measures related to increased funding for school safety measures, increased funding for the daily allotment schools receive for daily attendance, pay raises for Texas public school teachers, and legislation related to lawsuits filed challenging an election.
Constitutional Amendment Election Challenges Addressed
In the waning days of the 4th special session last week, the Senate introduced and passed Senate Bill 6, which expedited the time period regarding lawsuits challenging election results. This was done in response to several lawsuits filed by conservative groups that challenged the validity of the recent statewide election regarding the approval or rejection of proposed amendments to the state constitution. The House did not take up SB 6, saying the legislation was introduced too late in the session for proper consideration. Among the proposals approved in this election was the $18 billion property tax relief package passed by the legislature that is now in jeopardy due to the election challenges.
State officials moved past the challenges this week and certified the election results despite the lack of resolution to the lawsuits challenging the election. According to current state law, election results cannot be certified until all lawsuits are resolved. In addition to the certification of the results, the Attorney General’s office this week submitted a petition to dismiss all lawsuits claiming the plaintiffs did not properly serve the secretary of state’s office with their challenges. The lawsuits claim the secretary of state’s office either did not certify or certified substandard voting machines that were used in numerous locations throughout the state. The AG claims now that the results have been certified, the lawsuits are moot. No rulings have been made on any of the lawsuits filed or on any of the motions filed by the state. So even though the state claims to be on solid legal footing, the issue will not be fully resolved until there is a final ruling on all lawsuits.
Republican Party Rejects Ban on Associations with White Supremacist Groups
In a very contentious and controversial vote last weekend, the State Republican Executive Committee voted against a proposed resolution that would have prohibited party officials from meeting with or having any type of association with white supremacy groups. The proposal arose from the controversy surrounding a meeting earlier this fall between the head of a pro-Republican PAC – who is also a former state representative – and Nick Fuentes, an admitted white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer. Several members of the SREC had wanted to confront the controversy by publicly severing ties with the relative groups, but a majority of the committee members decided that the proposed resolution was too vague since it did not provide specific definitions of certain fringe groups that could lead to unintended consequences.
Houston Airport Expansion
If you fly in and out of Intercontinental Airport in Houston, you will see some big changes in the coming years. United Airlines broke ground this week on a $2.6 billion expansion of Terminal B which calls for the construction of 40 new gates and will add 3,000 new jobs. The expansion will allow for the accommodation of larger aircraft as United expands its fleet. This further demonstrates United’s growing presence in the region. Earlier this year, the airline opened a $24 million flight attendant training center in the IAH complex, which is one of only 7 training centers worldwide for the airline. The city hopes to demonstrate that IAH can handle any type of air transportation needs as it aggressively lobbies to be a host city for the 2026 World Cup soccer tournament. The expansion is due to be completed in early 2026.
The 5th Circuit US Court of Appeals has been busy addressing border issues related to lawsuits involving the state of Texas and the federal government. First, the court upheld a lower court ruling that Texas must remove its chain of border buoys in the Rio Grande River near Eagle Pass. The appeals court agreed with an Austin federal judge that ruled in September that the state cannot place the buoys in the river without prior approval and consent from the US Army Corps of Engineers. The 1,000-foot-long chain was placed in the river this summer by the state in an attempt to deter migration as part of the state’s Operation Lone Star – the border enforcement initiative. After the ruling, Gov. Abbott vowed to continue the appeals process all the way to the US Supreme Court.
And in a separate ruling this week, the court sided with the state by placing a stay on a ruling that allowed US Border and Customs Patrol agents to cut and take down razor wire that had been placed in the same area near Eagle Pass to deter illegal migration. The state argued that by allowing the federal agents to destroy the razor wire, they are being allowed to trespass on and destroy state property. The court has given the federal government until today to respond to the stay.
Houston Mayoral Race
The runoff election between state Senator John Whitmire and Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee will be held tomorrow. In the runoff so far, Whitmire is outspending Jackson Lee by a wide margin. Whitmire has reported spending $3 million over the last month – including a $2 million TV ad by — compared to $341,000 for Jackson Lee. Whitmire also reports having another $3 million cash on hand compared to $230,000 for Jackson Lee. In total, Whitmire has spent $12 million on the entire campaign.
Even with the money spent and attention given to this race, enthusiasm is very low. As early voting came to a close, only 132,00 — 11% — of eligible registered voters have cast a ballot so far. In the November general election, only 252,000 cast a ballot in the mayor’s race. The official population of Houston is 2.3 million. In a breakdown from the Houston Chronicle, they report that precincts supporting Whitmire in the November election saw higher early voter turnout than precincts won by Jackson Lee in November.
State Rep Guilty of Criminal Charge
First term Republican state Rep. Frederick Frazier of McKinney has pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges of impersonating a public official and criminal mischief. While campaigning in 2022 — on two different occasions — Frazier claimed to be a McKinney code enforcement officer when he asked businesses and residents to take down his opponent’s campaign signs. Frazier said he was acting on behalf of the city and told the people that they were violating the law and had to remove their signs or face prosecution. The incidents were immediately reported, and an investigation quickly led to criminal charges. Despite these incidents, Frazier went on to win the Republican primary and the November general election and was sworn in for his first term in January.
Frazier represents District 61 in northern Collin County and is running for reelection. He faces Chuck Branch, a McKinney city councilman and Keresa Richardson, the owner of a home services company in McKinney. AG Ken Paxton has endorsed both Branch and Richardson in the primary due to Frazier’s vocal support of Paxton’s impeachment. Paxton said he endorsed both because he “knows them both very well, and either will do a better job than the incumbent…”
Frazier is a Dallas police officer who had been placed on leave pending the outcome of the criminal charges. He will now be dishonorably discharged from the Dallas Police Department, placed on probation for one year, and has to pay a $4,000 fine for each offense.
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.
Gov. Abbott continues to release endorsements in contested Republican primary races, with the sole criteria being a member’s vote or position on education vouchers. This week, Abbott endorsed Brent Money in the open House District 2 in northeast Texas, where he is in a runoff against Jill Dutton to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Bryan Slaton who was expelled from the House this summer. He also endorsed Pat Curry in the open House District 56 in Waco over two other Republican primary candidates.
Abbott also endorsed challenger Joanne Shofner, chair of the Nacogdoches County Republican Women, over incumbent Rep. Travis Clardy, also of Nacogdoches. Clardy is also an opponent of the voucher legislation. The solidly red district covers the Nacogdoches area and three surrounding counties.
Abbott has also endorsed two more challengers to House incumbents this week. He endorsed Nico LaHood of San Antonio in his Republican primary challenge to incumbent Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio. Abbott also endorsed Stormy Bradley of Big Spring in her challenge to incumbent Rep. Drew Darby of San Angelo. Darby and Allison are both opponents to voucher legislation.
Other prominent Republican House incumbents received challengers this week, all in districts that are solidly red, and all voted against the education voucher legislation during the regular and special sessions this year. State Rep. Ken King of Canadian will face challenger Karen Post in the Republican primary in 2024 in this panhandle area district. Post is the Hale County Republican Chair.
Rep. Gary Van Deaver of New Boston will face a challenge in this far northeast Texas district from Chris Spencer, who is an Abbott appointee to the Sulphur River Basin Authority.
And Rep. Reggie Smith will face a primary challenge in his Sherman area House district from a familiar opponent – Shelley Luther, the Dallas area salon owner who made national headlines by defying Gov. Abbott, refusing to close her salon when after Abbott ordered all businesses to shut down during the pandemic. Luther challenged Smith in the 2022 Republican primary, losing handily. She has also run unsuccessfully against Sen. Drew Springer.
Perennial candidate Ben Bius of Huntsville will join the Republican primary in the open House District 12, where incumbent Kyle Kacal is not seeking reelection. Bius is a homebuilder from Huntsville and has run unsuccessfully for the state House, state Senate, and Congress in previous election cycles. The district is based in the Bryan/College Station area and takes in parts of east Texas, including Huntsville. Trey Wharton of Huntsville and John Harvey Slocum (yes that Slocum family) are already up and running.
San Benito City Councilwoman Carol Lynn Sanchez will challenge first term Republican state Rep. Janie Lopez, also of San Benito. Sanchez will run as a Democrat in the Republican leaning seat based in the Rio Grande Valley.
In the open Senate District 30 – incumbent Sen. Drew Springer not seeking reelection – Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has endorsed Brent Hagenbuch in the Republican primary in this solidly red district in north Texas. Hagenbuch is the owner of a transit company in Denton and will face emergency room physician Carrie de Moor in the primary.
We will wait to see if Gov. Abbott calls lawmakers back for a 5th special session before the end of the year.
The filing period for candidates for the March 5th primary elections ends on Monday, so I will have highlights of all races next week.