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

Border News

The first hearing on a lawsuit initially filed by the ACLU and the Texas Civil Rights Project to block a law passed by the legislature last fall was Thursday in federal court.  Attorneys for the state faced off against attorneys for the Biden administration.  The federal Department of Justice also filed a lawsuit to stop the implementation of Senate Bill 4, which allows state law enforcement officers to arrest anyone entering the country illegally on state trespassing charges.  The law is scheduled to go into effect on March 5th, and the advocacy groups want to stop the law, saying it usurps federal law regarding the enforcement of immigration policy.  Previous federal courts – including the US Supreme Court – have consistently ruled that states have no jurisdiction over the enforcement of federal immigration laws or policies.

The hearing was held before US District Judge David Ezra, a Reagan appointee initially appointed for the District of Hawaii.  Ezra has been designated by the US Supreme Court to now serve on the federal Western District of Texas to help ease the workload on federal judges in Texas.  After hearing arguments from both sides, Ezra said he would make a ruling as soon as possible, and definitely before the March 5th effective date of the new law.  Ezra said he also expected his decision to be appealed and that this issue would ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has drafted a plan to release thousands of immigrants into the US and reduce its capacity to hold detainees due to a $700 million budget shortfall.  The proposal comes just a week after the US Senate failed to pass legislation that would have appropriated $7.6 billion in supplemental funding for ICE enforcement operations. The draft proposal by ICE slashes the number of migrants that could be held in detention from 38,000 to 22,000.  Furthermore, according to sources within ICE that spoke to the Washington Post, between 4,000 and 6,000 could be released into the US if the plan is approved.

And finally, earlier today, Gov. Abbott announced that the state will be building an 80-acre military style base camp to house the National Guard members deployed to the southern border.  The camp will accommodate roughly 2,300 national guardsmen, who now have to live in tents, hotels, and private residences during their assignment at the border.  No details were given on the cost of the new facility, when construction will begin, or when the base camp is scheduled to open.

Republican Party Censures Speaker

The executive committee of the Texas Republican Party censured Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan for facilitating the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton and appointing Democrats to chair committees in the House.  The censure came at a regularly scheduled executive committee last Saturday.

As a result, the party will not financially support Phelan during his primary election and the party is now free to endorse another candidate in the Republican primary.  State party chairman Matt Rinaldi has already endorsed one of Phelan’s opponents, David Covey.  Covey is also a former member of the party’s executive committee.  The censure is part of an ongoing intraparty battle between the party’s more moderate members and the far-right wing of the party.  The more conservative members of the party are frustrated with Phelan over the impeachment of AG Ken Paxton and the House’s rejection of the private school voucher plan that failed in two consecutive special sessions last fall.

Through a spokesperson, Phelan responded to the censure pointing out that the executive committee of the GOP has refused to “disassociate from anti-Semitic groups and balked at formally condemning a known sexual predator before he was ousted by the Texas House.”  The first part of the statement is a reference to the controversy surrounding the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, which is a major donor to the state Republican Party.  Last fall, the head of the PAC met with a known white supremacist, and the executive committee initially refused to disavow the meeting and voted down a resolution that would have called on the party to cut ties with all anti-Semitic groups.  The party did pass that resolution on Saturday after the vote to censure Phelan.  The second part of the statement refers to inaction on behalf of the executive committee to condemn the behavior of former Rep. Bryan Slaton, who was expelled from the House last summer for carrying on an affair with a 19-year-old Capitol intern.

Phelan went on to say the executive committee “has lost its moral authority and is no longer representative of the Party as a whole.”  Phelan is the second sitting House Speaker to be censured by the GOP executive committee.  The committee censured then House Speaker Joe Straus in 2018, citing his appointment of Democratic committee chairs as the primary reason.

Speaker Phelan Harassed at Home

As the Republican primary campaigns continue to get more and more nasty, Beaumont police responded to a call at the home of Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan who was subjected to harassment by political opponents.  Two men – claiming to be block walking for the Phelan campaign – knocked on his door and confronted his wife with issues related to the ongoing campaign.  Phelan’s opponent – David Covey – has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.  A series of TV and digital ads have been playing in the district that question Phelan’s conservative credentials.  These attacks on Phelan’s family seem to take the campaign rhetoric to a new level.

In response to the incident, Phelan issued a statement saying that this was “another instance of extreme political harassment that raises serious concerns about the lengths to which opponents will go to mislead voters into supporting David Covey’s campaign.”  Phelan went on to say that he is grateful for the swift and effective response by the police, and that “dirty, underhanded tactics have no place in politics.”  The Covey campaign claims they had no knowledge or direct involvement in the events.

Paxton, Cornyn Feud Over Foreign Aid Bill

The Republican party infighting continues to grow, this time between Senator John Cornyn and AG Ken Paxton.  Paxton has long been rumored to be considering a Republican primary challenge to Cornyn in 2026, when his current fourth term in the US Senate ends.  Cornyn has not declared any reelection plans, and there are also rumors that this current term may be his last.

The latest dust up between these two came this week when Cornyn was one of 21 Senate Republicans who joined all Senate Democrats in supporting and passing a measure to send $95 billion in foreign aid to Israel, Taiwan, and Ukraine.  Paxton pounced on the opportunity by taking to X and accusing Cornyn of betraying the interests of the US, calling Cornyn an “America Last RINO who is joining hands with the Biden administration to prioritize foreign wars over the national security crisis at the southern border.”  Paxton is referring to the fact that the Senate was not able to come to an agreement and pass a border security bill last week and is now accusing Cornyn of prioritizing appropriations of aid to foreign governments over securing the southern border.

Cornyn responded immediately by pointing out Paxton’s ongoing legal troubles, saying on X that Paxton should “spend less time pushing Russian propaganda and more time defending long-standing felony charges…”   This is not the first time Cornyn has drawn attention to Paxton’s legal challenges.  During the 2022 Republican primary race for Attorney General, Cornyn called Paxton a “source of embarrassment” to the Republican party.

Paxton does have three legal issues working their way through the legal system. Earlier today, he appeared in court for a hearing regarding the long-awaited securities fraud trial where Paxton is accused of recruiting investors for a McKinney tech startup without registering as an agent for the company as is required by law.  There is also the pending whistleblower case where four former Attorney General office employees have brought a wrongful termination suit against him, saying they were terminated for taking information regarding Paxton’s abuse of office to the FBI.  And finally, Paxton has been under investigation since 2020 by the FBI for the actual allegations that were brought forth by the former employees.  No charges have been filed related to those allegations.

Political Notes

Former state Rep. Kyle Biedermann continues to cause controversy in his Republican primary challenge to Rep. Ellen Troxclair of Marble Falls.  Last week, Biedermann made headlines by criticizing the House for expelling the above-mentioned former Rep. Bryan Slaton for his affair with a Capitol intern.  Now, Biedermann has been caught falsely claiming the support of several groups and organizations in campaign materials.

Biedermann has sent out campaign materials containing pictures of him and Gov. Abbott, implying Abbott’s support.  Abbott has written a cease-and-desist letter to Biedermann and reiterated his support for Troxclair.  Abbott also appeared over the weekend at a rally in support of Troxclair.  Lt. Governor Dan Patrick also had to clarify – on X — that he has not endorsed Biedermann after Biedermann posted pictures on Facebook of them together.  Biedermann also sent out mailers to voters claiming the support of the NRA and Home School Coalition.  Both groups sent out statements this week reiterating their endorsements and support of Troxclair.

And speaking of endorsements and allegations of false claims, an endorsement by Gov. Abbott of state Rep. Morgan Meyer of Dallas drew the attention and ire of Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.  Abbott released a statement this week endorsing Meyer, who is facing a Republican primary challenge from attorney Barry Wernick to represent the district that runs just north of downtown Dallas.  In the endorsement, Abbott credits Rep. Meyer with authoring the property tax relief bill that passed during the second special session last year.

In response, Patrick took to X to say he had no intention of getting involved in the race, but felt he had to set the record straight.  Patrick called Meyer’s taking credit for part of the property tax relief bill – the increase in the homestead exemption to $100,000 – “deceitful and disgusting.”   After more criticism of Meyer, Patrick went on to say he is endorsing Wernick in the Republican primary.  Now, Wernick has gone up on TV with ads criticizing Meyer for misleading voters and working with liberal Democrats in the House.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick also made more endorsements this week, giving his nod to three primary challengers to incumbent Republican House members.  Patrick endorsed Janis Holt, who is challenging Rep. Ernest Bailes of Sheperd in an east Texas district stretching from northeast Montgomery County to Hardin County.  Patrick also endorsed Alan Schoolcraft in his run against incumbent Rep. John Kuempel of Seguin in a district that covers Guadalupe and Gonzalez counties north of San Antonio. Both Bailes and Kuempel now have opponents that have been endorsed by Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and AG Ken Paxton.

The other challenger Patrick endorsed this week is Helen Kerwin, who is facing incumbent Republican DeWayne Burns of Cleburne in a district south of Fort Worth.  Patrick’s final endorsement this week was for Caroline Fairly, running for an open seat in Amarillo where incumbent Rep. Four Price chose not to seek reelection.

Members and candidates had to file their latest campaign finance reports last week, showing contributions from January 1st to Feb 5th, which is the “30 day out” report for the upcoming primary election.  Of interest, there are several House Republican incumbents that have been outraised by their primary challengers.  Of interest, in the above-mentioned race between Rep. Morgan Meyer and challenger Barry Wernick, the challenger outraised Meyer by a $73,000 to $43,000 margin.

In east Texas, Nacogdoches Rep. Travis Clardy was significantly outraised by one of his primary challengers, Joanne Shofner.  Shofner raised over $288,000 during the period compared to just over $40,000 for Clardy.  Clardy still has the cash on hand advantage by a $115,000 to $97,000 margin.  Shofner has the endorsement of Gov Abbott, and he has campaigned for her in the district.

In west Texas, challenger Liz Case is making a strong push in her race against Abilene incumbent Rep. Stan Lambert.  Case raised over $207,000 during the reporting period compared to $107,000 for Lambert.  Case has $322,000 cash on hand compared to $212,00 for Lambert.  Case also has the endorsement of Gov Abbott.

What’s Next??

With the primaries now less than a month away, fundraising by members and candidates is in full swing and will continue up to the March 5th primary date.

Early voting starts this coming Tuesday, February 20th and lasts until Friday, March 1st .  The primary election is Tuesday, March 5th.