Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:
This past Sunday, Gov. Abbott gathered with 13 other Republican governors at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass. This is the park that is currently under state control and has been the focal point of the standoff between the state and federal government regarding immigration and border enforcement issues. The group of state leaders said they all gathered to have the news conference to send a message to President Biden that the crisis at the southern border affects all states, and Biden is not doing enough to stop illegal immigration into the US. Governors from Tennessee, Arkansas, and New Hampshire were present with other Republican governors for the event. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was not present at the event, but has pledged to send manpower to assist the state of Texas with immigration enforcement.
Furthermore, Gov. Abbott is doubling down. He declared that the state of Texas and the Texas National Guard will no longer contain its operations just to Shelby Park, but will expand their operations to other areas. He did not go into detail on exactly what type of expansion operations were being planned. However, Shelby Park is where state troopers and members of the Texas National Guard have assumed full control and are preventing federal agents from apprehending and processing migrants that land on the park that sits on the banks of the Rio Grande River.
Texas lawmakers passed a bill in November that authorized state law enforcement officers to arrest migrants for state trespassing charges. Thousands of state troopers and national guardsmen have been deployed to the southern border to carry out the actions authorized in this legislation.
Amid the standoff, Customs and Border Patrol recently released data showing December of 2023 reached a single month high for migrant encounters. In the last month of 2023, federal agents recorded 302,034 encounters with migrants along the US southern border. Consistent with historical data, the month of January saw a significant drop in encounters. The first two weeks of January saw a 50% decrease in encounters.
The standoff between the state of Texas and the federal government shows no sign of cooling anytime soon. Court battles remain regarding the state’s new legislation regarding the arrest of migrants for trespassing, along with pending decisions on the state’s use of razor wire to deter entry into the US. This, along with the inaction by Congress on immigration reform – mainly due to election year politics — will undoubtedly lead to more flexing by both sides with no solution to the crisis for the foreseeable future.
Abbott returned to the southern border on Thursday accompanied by about 10 members of the Texas House to announce that he will be expanding border operations beyond Eagle Pass in the future. Abbott gave no specifics on the tactics, locations, or timing of the expanded effort.
Growing Number of Chinese Immigrants
And one more interesting bit of news regarding the border. The fastest growing group of migrants attempting to cross the border are now from China. Many of these migrants are flying from China to Ecuador because that country does not require a visa for Chinese nationals. From there, many fly to destinations in Mexico before making their attempt to enter the US. In 2023, Customs and Border Patrol reported 37,000 Chinese citizens were apprehended crossing illegally into the US, up from just over 17,000 apprehensions of Chinese nationals in 2021. That percentage increase is the largest increase over the last two years among any of the countries of origin trying to enter the US.
For many years, Chinese citizens were able to enter the US by obtaining temporary visas that allowed them to work or study here. In 2016, the US government granted 2.2 million visas to Chinese nationals. That number decreased to 160,000 in 2022. Due to the increased tensions between China and the US, visas have been increasingly difficult to secure, which is one of the main reasons for the increased number of attempted illegal crossings into the US.
According to Department of Justice figures, of those that eventually enter the US and apply for asylum, 55% of Chinese immigrants have been granted asylum, compared to just 14% for every other nationality. The main reason that so many Chinese nationals are granted asylum is because China will not take back its citizens once they have left and sought asylum elsewhere. And the US has no way of forcing China to accept those not granted asylum here.
High Cost of Paxton Legal Fees
Taxpayers are on the hook for over $700,000 in legal fees that the Attorney General’s office has billed out to defend against the whistleblower lawsuit the led to the impeachment and trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton. Instead of using in house attorneys, Paxton hired private law firms to handle the case. The $700,000 figure was reached through open records requests from several media outlets.
The whistleblower case in what I have discussed many times. It is the 2020 lawsuit that accuses Paxton of firing four former employees in retaliation for the employees taking information to the FBI regarding corruption and abuse of office by Paxton. For his part, Paxton has basically pleaded no contest to the suit, saying he will accept any judgement handed down by the courts. However, the four employees still want to have Paxton testify under oath regarding their allegations to force him to answer the allegations regarding their dismissal. After several back-and-forth rulings, the issue of Paxton providing a deposition in the case is in the hands of the Texas Supreme Court, which has given both sides until the end of this month to argue whether or not the case should move forward.
And, in another legal battle for Paxton, he is also trying to dismiss an 8-year-old securities fraud case against him before it goes to trial. Paxton has been under indictment since 2015 for acting as an agent to recruit investors for a McKinney based technology company without disclosing he was being compensated for his role, which is required by state law. The case has been delayed by both sides for years and has finally been set to go to trial on April 15th. Tuesday of this week was the deadline to file pretrial motions, and Paxton’s legal team filed a motion to dismiss the case for violating his right to a speedy trial, even though he has asked of many delays in the trial.
Business Relocations Top Nation
The Federal Reserve of Dallas released a report this week showing that the state of Texas gained more jobs than any other state over the last 10 years due to businesses relocating to our state from other parts of the country. According to the report, more than 25,000 establishments relocated to Texas during the years of 2010-2019, bringing more than 281,000 jobs and resulting in a gain of 103,000 new jobs. In all, the state economy created 1.4 million jobs and lost 1.2 million jobs each year between 2010 and 2019, resulting in a net gain of 216,000 jobs annually. California exported the most jobs nationally, with the states of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Jersey benefitting the most from the jobs that left California.
The report credits several factors in the state’s ability to draw in business relocations, including its central location in the country, favorable climate, urban centers with large airports, and an overall history of a friendly business climate. Texas has also had incentives in place for many years to attract new business such as tax breaks in exchange for a commitment to economic growth and job creation.
The report also listed rising home prices as a side effect of the continued economic growth. While the population grows along with the job opportunities, cost of living rises as well. Other side effects are increased traffic, overcrowding in schools, and an overly stressed infrastructure – such as roads and the electric grid – that will continue to lack behind the massive growth in several of our communities.
Republican Primary Voters Share Views
A poll released this week by the University of Houston/Hobby School of Public Affairs revealed the thoughts of Republican voters as we head into the March primary. First the issue of school vouchers, which were the subject of the last two special sessions this fall – when legislation to authorize a voucher program failed to pass the legislature. In the poll, 60% of Republican primary voters said they would be less likely to vote for an incumbent House member if he/she voted against vouchers during the 2023 legislative sessions. Only 16% said that they would be more likely to support a member opposed to vouchers. The other issue that is prevalent among the Republican primary races is the impeachment by the Texas House of Attorney General Ken Paxton. Only 46% of the primary voters said that an incumbent House member supporting fellow Republican Paxton’s impeachment would make them less likely to get their support. 23% said they would be more likely to support an incumbent who voted to impeach Paxton.
Because of these two controversial and emotional issues, both Gov. Abbott and AG Paxton have made several endorsements in the Republican primary races involving Texas House incumbents. For Abbott, he is basing his endorsement solely on the candidate’s or office holder’s position on vouchers. For Paxton, the only issue driving an endorsement is the member’s impeachment vote. Both have endorsed incumbents and challengers to incumbents. One interesting finding by the UH poll is that 64% of the primary voters said they would be persuaded by an Abbott endorsement, whether it be for a challenger or an incumbent. Just 40% said the same of Paxton. The poll also revealed that if the candidate or officeholder received an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, then 70% said the endorsement would influence their decision.
A summary of the poll can be found here: https://uh.edu/hobby/txprimary2024/
After former President Trump endorsed David Covey – challenging incumbent Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan in the Republican primary – Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released a video over the weekend in support of Covey as well. The video was sent via text to Republican primary voters in the district, where Patrick announced Covey was the only “true conservative” in the race and faulted Speaker Phelan for not doing more to help with the Trump Presidential campaign. Covey has also started airing radio ads highlighting the endorsement from Trump.
For his part, Phelan countered by releasing a very long and impressive list of endorsements for his reelection on Tuesday, including a lengthy list of locally elected officials from his district including the mayors of Beaumont, Orange, Jasper, and Bridge City. Also included on the list are numerous county commissioners and members of local city councils. Several prominent statewide associations are also backing Phelan including the NRA, Farm Bureau, Alliance for Life, Texas Association of Business, Texas Association of Realtors, Texas Chemical Council, and Texans for Lawsuit Reform.
Phelan has also taken to the airwaves to aggressively defend the House impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton. Phelan went up this week on local television and through digital ads in a spot where he details the reasons that Paxton deserved to be impeached, including extra marital affair with a young Senate staffer and for firing former agency employees for going to the FBI regarding Paxton’s abuse of power allegations. Phelan’s opponent has criticized him for leading the impeachment of Paxton. No word on how long the ads will run, but it marks the first time the House Speaker has faced the issue head on during the campaign.
Former state Rep. Kyle Biedermann – who was elected in 2016 and served three terms before not seeking reelection in 2022 – in challenging Austin area incumbent Ellen Troxclair in the Republican primary, in a district that runs from western Travis County out into rural areas of the hill country. Yesterday at a Kendall County Tea Party rally, he criticized the House for expelling disgraced former House member Bryan Slaton – a Republican from Royse City in east Texas – for carrying on an affair with a 19-year-old Capitol intern. Slaton’s actions included giving her alcohol prior to sexual encounters. To the group of roughly 75 gathered at the event, Biedermann questioned why Slaton was expelled by the House, saying “what was his crime? It’s not a crime to have sex with a 19-year-old…” Biedermann is no stranger to controversy. He was outside the US Capitol during the January 6th events and has been photographed in a Hitler costume doing a Nazi salute. Troxclair went to Twitter to call Biedermann “disgusting” and states that Biedermann “defends married men getting interns drunk to sleep with them.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee – defeated in her campaign for mayor of Houston last November – is facing her toughest opponent for reelection during her 30-year career in Congress. Former Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards – challenging the incumbent in this year’s Democratic primary — is outraising the Congresswoman by a 10-1 margin according to latest campaign finance reports. In the latest reporting period for members and candidates for Congress – the last three months of 2023 – Edwards raised over $270,000 compared to only $23,000 raised by Jackson Lee. Edwards reports over $850,000 cash on hand compared to $220,000 for Jackson Lee. Jackson Lee has not had a serious challenge for reelection during her tenure in Congress. She has won reelection in both the primary and general elections with at least 70% of the vote for the last 5 election cycles.
On the national level, a recently released poll by NBC news shows President Biden facing an increasingly dissatisfied electorate. The poll shows Biden’s approval at its lowest level during his Presidency at 37%, with 60% disapproving of the job he is doing. Overall, the poll shows Trump leading among likely voters nationally by a 47% to 42% margin. This is a huge shift among voters from just 6 months ago when a similar NBC poll showed Biden leading Trump by a 49% to 45% margin. The poll also showed Trump with an astounding 60-point lead over Nikki Haley among Republican primary voters, 79% to 19%.
With the primaries now just 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 February 20th. The primary election is March 5th.