Here’s a quick recap of what happened this week:
Record Heat Will Continue
The unrelenting heat continues. Austin has now seen temperatures rise above the 105 degree mark for 11 consecutive days. El Paso has now gone more than 30 straight days where the temperature reached at least 100 degrees, and McAllen has recorded 30 days of 100-degree temperatures since June 12th. The Dallas area recorded its highest temperature of the summer when the area hit 108 degrees on Tuesday. This summer could end up being the hottest on record. In June, National Service Weather stations across the state recorded temperatures above 100 degrees on 250 occasions. The average June temperature was 82.2 degrees. But, there may be some relief in sight, but very little. The dome of high pressure that has camped out over the entire state is predicted to move slightly west over the weekend. That could allow temperatures to drop, but only a few degrees.
The grid is still keeping up with demand. The state continues to see record demand for power, almost on a daily basis. If you are interested in monitoring grid conditions, go to the ERCOT website: https://www.ercot.com
Earlier this week, the Houston Chronicle reported allegations from a state trooper that his superiors ordered officers stationed at the border station in Eagle Pass to push migrants back into the Rio Grande and to deny them water. Texas Department of Public Safety officials immediately denied the accusations and opened an investigation through the State Inspector General. Gov. Abbott also issued a statement saying these claims were blatantly false, and said that state troopers are doing everything possible to provide migrants with water, needed medical attention, and everything else possible to ensure their safety. Even with the immediate denials, the chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus issued a statement saying that the legislature should investigate the allegations independent of the Inspector General. The original email from the trooper provided in depth and very serious allegations, which has also prompted the US Department of Justice to begin an investigation as well. The Justice Department – so far – has only said they will begin to work with relative federal agencies to look into the allegations brought forth in the trooper’s email.
And on Thursday, the Department of Justice announced they will be suing the state of Texas over the floating buoy barriers that have been deployed in the Rio Grande to block migrants from crossing the river. The DOJ sent a letter to Gov. Abbott yesterday informing him they are preparing to file suit. In the letter, the DOJ said the state’s action “violates federal law, raises humanitarian concerns, and presents serious risk to public safety…and interferes with the federal government’s ability to carry out its official duties.” Furthermore, the letter went on to say that the state did not seek authorization for deployment of the buoys. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to the announcement of the lawsuit.
Texas Leaving Voter Fraud Prevention Group
On Thursday, state officials announced their intention to leave a multistate partnership that helps prevent voter fraud. The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) is a nonpartisan group that works with states and local entities to identify voters who have moved, died, or may have multiple registrations. In recent years, ERIC has become the target of Republican officials who say the group has become too partisan in favor of Democrats and has drifted too far from its original purpose of cleaning up voter rolls. Texas is just the latest state to withdraw from ERIC. Eight other states – including Florida and Virginia – have recently decided to withdraw as well. The Texas Secretary of State will now develop a new interstate voter registration and crosscheck program, and there is a possibility that other states that have left ERIC will join Texas in the new venture.
Latest on Paxton Impeachment
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick – in his role as the presiding officer over the September impeachment trial – issued a gag order on Monday. Patrick says attorneys on both sides have made egregious statements in an attempt to influence public attention, and the out of court comments pose a serious threat to Paxton’s right to a fair trial. The order applies to all attorneys and potential witnesses at the trial, as well as all members of the Texas Senate and their staffs. The order came shortly after Tony Buzbee – lead attorney for Paxton – called a press conference where he was intending to bring a live kangaroo to demonstrate the similarities to the pending impeachment trial and the metaphor used when an accused believes the judicial process is not working in their favor. Buzbee canceled the press conference after the order was issued. Violation of the order could result in a $500 or up to six months in jail.
State Senator Angela Paxton – the wife of the embattled Attorney General facing impeachment – will step down in her role as chair of the Senate Republican Caucus during the impeachment trial. The change was made in a caucus meeting last week but not made public until Monday. Sen. Paxton’s office did not comment on who made the motion to remove her from the position. The Senate has already voted to prohibit her from voting on any of the articles of impeachment. She can be present at the trial, but cannot vote or participate in the deliberations.
Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin has entered the race for the seat currently held by state Rep. Tracy King, who announced last week he would not seek reelection in 2024. McLaughlin will run as a Republican. He has served as mayor of Uvalde since 2014 and rose to prominence in the aftermath of the school shooting there, particularly when he confronted then Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke for interrupting a press conference days after the shooting. The seat is a target for Republicans to flip in 2024 now that King is not running. Pleasanton mayor Clint Powell has also entered the race as a Republican. No Democrat has entered the race so far.
US Senator Ted Cruz announced this week he has raised $4.4 million in the 2nd quarter of 2023, which is a smaller amount than was raised by his Democratic opponent, Colin Allred. Allred announced raising $6.2 million in the same time period. The other Democrat in the race – state Senator Roland Gutierrez – only recently entered the race and has not made figures available. Cruz is running for a 3rd, six-year term, despite his pending legislation that limits members of the Senate to two six-year terms.
Despite being suspended from office and awaiting trial for bribery and abuse of office charges, Attorney General Ken Paxton still raised $1.7 million in the last two weeks of June. State officials had from the end of the veto period on June 19th until June 30th to raise funds for their semi-annual report. $1.2 million came from only 6 donors, each of whom gave between $100,000 and $500,000. Paxton did not provide cash on hand figures, but he did report having $2.3 million at the end of 2022. Gov Abbott raised $15 million in the 12-day period. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick raised $4 million during the period and reports having $22 million cash on hand.
Senator Charles Schwertner – chair of the powerful Senate Business and Commerce Committee – will not face prosecution for a DWI arrest in February. Schwertner’s attorney announced this week that the Travis County DA has dismissed the charges. Schwertner serves Senate District 5, stretching from Williamson County to Huntsville, and was first elected to the Senate in 2013 after serving one term in the Texas House.
Another retirement announced as the list grows of veteran members not returning. This week Rep. Four Price announced he will not seek reelection in 2024. Price, the Amarillo Republican first elected in 2010, simply said it is time to complete his service as a House member. He represents a solidly red district in the Texas Panhandle which will undoubtedly attract a crowded field to be his successor. Price served as chairman of the powerful House Calendars committee for two terms and most recently served on the Natural Resources and Public Health committees.
With the House and Senate adjourned Sine Die, lawmakers are finally on a break that should last until the beginning of the Paxton impeachment trial in the Senate. Upon completion of the trial, Gov. Abbott has promised to bring lawmakers back to Austin to consider legislation on school vouchers and other public education issues.