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

ERCOT Predicts Possible Rotating Outages this Summer

Officials at ERCOT – the Electric Reliability Council of Texas – announced this week that the state has a 16% chance of having controlled outages – rolling blackouts – when wind power is low later this summer.  ERCOT said with the prediction of another stifling summer, the state’s grid will be strained once again, and the rolling blackouts will be the only way to stop the grid from total collapse.

Last summer – the 2nd hottest on record in Texas — the state set 10 records for power demand, and the demand has only gotten higher and will continue to increase with more people moving to the state causing an increase in business activity.

During the daytime hours, the grid is generally able to meet demand, with natural gas power plants, solar, and wind power all helping the power plants meet demand.  The highest demand during the summer months comes between the hours of 8PM and 9PM, when solar farms start ramping down, and the wind farms are not operating at full capacity.  ERCOT now hopes for battery storage facilities to help fill the gap between supply and demand.

ERCOT typically keeps 2,500 megawatts of reserves.  One megawatt can supply power to roughly 250 homes during the summer months.  When reserves drop below 1,500 megawatts, ERCOT will initiate the rolling blackouts to prevent total collapse of the grid, which would cause the entire state to be without power for several weeks.  The last time the state initiated rolling blackouts was in the freeze of 2021 when millions of customers went without power for several days due to subfreezing temperatures throughout the state for consecutive days.

Supreme Court Rejects Texas Abortion Pill Challenge

The US Supreme Court unanimously rejected a legal attempt to prohibit the use of Mifepristone – an abortion inducing medication.  The case originated in Amarillo when an anti-abortion medical group challenged the initial approval of the drug by the Food and Drug Administration.  The group filed the lawsuit in Amarillo where a favorable ruling was basically assured due to the federal district judge that hears all federal cases in the area.  The judge ruled the approval and authorization of Mifepristone was improper and it should therefore no longer be available on the market.  The conservative 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed with the lower court decision, sending the case to the US Supreme Court.

In the first Supreme Court’s first abortion-related decision since overturning Roe v Wade in 2022, the justices unanimously ruled nothing regarding the drug’s legal status should change.  In the ruling, the justices said that doctors should not bring suit simply because they want to make a legal drug less available.  The opinion went on to say that doctors trying to change the law and set public health policy due to a particular bias sets a poor precedent.

Border News

Two immigrants’ rights groups have sued the federal government over the new restrictions on granting asylum in most circumstances.  The order issued by President Biden last week cut off requests for asylum when the daily average encounters at the southern border reaches 2,500.  The lawsuit alleges the new rules violate current federal law by prohibiting asylum requests to those not entering the country at a point of entry.  The ACLU and Texas Civil Rights Project will be the legal representatives of the groups that filed the complaint.

Also this week, the Senate Border Affairs Committee met to get an update on Operation Lone Star, the state’s border and immigration enforcement initiative.  Governor’s staff and the DPS testified that in December of 2022, 130,000 illegal entries into the US were recorded along the border.  In January of 2024, that number had been reduced to 30,000 illegal entries.  Both witnesses testified that Operation Lone Star is having a significant effect on reducing the number of migrants attempting to enter by crossing the Texas border.  According to the Texas National Guard, in the last two years, Texas has constructed 72 miles of border wall, 133 miles of razor wire, and 30 miles of anti-climbing fence.

DPS went on to testify that while the state has made significant progress, there are new threats daily that continue to pose serious threats to the public.  The newest threat is a gang from Venezuela called Tren de Aragua, a violent gang with over 5,000 members that has been proven to have a presence in at least 5 states in the US.  Law enforcement groups in those states are investigating over 100 violent crimes they attribute to this gang including sex trafficking, drug smuggling and weapons dealing.  According to US Customs and Border Patrol, over 330,000 Venezuelans have crossed into the US over the last 12 months.

After the update and statistics from DPS and the Governor’s office, the chair of the Senate Border Affairs Committee asked about the sustainability of the state spending billions of dollars at the border.  Since 2021, the state has invested $11 billion on Operation Lone Star.  The committee chair, Senator Brian Birdwell, Republican from Granbury, asked the witnesses how long the state can continue pay for this operation.  The state has been blessed with two straight budget cycles with billions of dollars in surplus that started when the federal government pumped trillions of stimulus dollars into the economy as we came out of the pandemic.  But Birdwell pointed out that the day will come when the state does not have a budget surplus.  The witnesses defended the money being spent, blaming the federal government for not doing their job to enforce illegal immigration laws, and said that the state will have to continue the operation for the “foreseeable future”.  The state is estimated to have a budget surplus for the upcoming 2025-2026 budget cycle of at least $20 billion, allowing Operation Lone Star to continue through at least the next budget cycle.

Democratic State Convention

Texas Democrats held their convention in El Paso last weekend, and they said their focus for the November elections will be on protecting public education, opposing private school vouchers, and promoting abortion rights.  There are only a handful of state level races that are competitive in November, so the makeup of the legislature will not be changed after the fall elections.  Therefore, the Democrats are mainly focused on promoting Colin Allred in his bid to unseat incumbent Republican US Senator Ted Cruz.  Recent polls have shown Allred trailing Cruz, but Cruz does not poll above the 50% threshold, which is always a sign of potential problems for an incumbent.

Allred was the keynote speaker at the convention and criticized Cruz for being “self-serving” due to his recent claims to try to portray himself as bipartisan and for taking credit for laws and programs that were passed that Cruz opposed.  Allred called Cruz the “ultimate me guy”, and portrayed Cruz as completely disconnected from the voters of Texas.  Even with an unmatched fundraising prowess and the commitment of help from the national Democratic party to help with his race, Allred faces tough odds to defeat Cruz.  Allred is running on a ticket with President Biden, who consistently trails former President Trump in the polls and has a high disapproval rating among Texas voters.  Furthermore, with few legislative races to get voters to the polls, Allred faces a huge challenge to motivate the Democratic base throughout the state.

New Democratic Infrastructure Fund

Also coming out of the Democratic convention, a group of Democratic campaign strategists have announced the formation of Agave Democratic Infrastructure Fund, which hopes to raise money to support long neglected party infrastructure in Texas.  No Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas since 1994, with the blame on current leadership and the lack of necessary resources for voter registration, education, and turning out the vote.  This new group will focus on recruiting down-ballot candidates and training campaign staff to effectively message voters.

It is no coincidence that this new group emerged as the state convention was taking place last week.  Many in Democratic circles have been frustrated with the lack of these basic functions that should have been performed by the state party in recent years.  But the lack of statewide success proves the party has not developed the infrastructure necessary for any success.  Recently, party faithful have been critical of party leadership for failing to gain any legislative seats in the 2020 elections when Democrats in other states and nationally made gains. Couple that with the blowout victories by all Republican statewide candidates in 2022 and this new group was formed to try and change the fortunes of Texas Democrats.  Agave has raised $1.25 million so far and hopes to have a war chest of $3 million this fall in preparation for the November elections.

True Texas Project to Hold Convention

On the other end of the spectrum, True Texas Project – a far-right group focusing on Christian Nationalism – plans to hold a 15-year anniversary celebration next month in Fort Worth.  The invitation and agenda for the event says there is a “war on white America” and addresses the theory that white Americans are being intentionally replaced through lax immigration policies.  The agenda also lists sessions on promoting Christian Nationalism and understanding that America is undergoing a “forced multiculturalism” to undermine Christianity in the country.  Speakers at the event include former Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas.  Former state Senator Don Huffines, who unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Abbott in the 2022 Republican primary, was also scheduled to speak, but pulled out after the event received attention in the media.

Now however, the group will have to seek a new location for their event.  After their agenda and list of speakers were released this week, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden – originally scheduled to host the event on July 12th – announced True Texas Project would have to look elsewhere. The Garden announced on Facebook that their venue “celebrates the diversity of our community and rejects all forms of hate speech, discrimination, and bigotry.”  No word where the group is now planning to hold their event.

Political Notes

Four Republican Texas House members were censured by the House Republican Caucus this week for campaigning against other House Republican incumbents.  The four members – Brian Harrison of Waxahachie, Nate Schatzline of Fort Worth, Tony Tinderholt of Arlington, and Steve Toth of The Woodlands – had a complaint filed against them last week by defeated Rep. Glenn Rogers.  The complaint was considered by the caucus executive committee, who announced this week they confirmed the four members did actively campaign against other House Republicans through endorsements of and contributions to challengers in the Republican primary.  The punishment was to simply censure or condemn the four members for their conduct.  The executive committee said in their letter to the members that they hoped to put this issue behind them and have a more united caucus when the session begins in January.  One of the censured members – Rep. Brian Harrison – referred to the punishment as a “joke”.  Caucus staff reiterated the issue is closed and there will be no more discussions on the matter.

In Congressional District 23, incumbent Republican Tony Gonzalez defeated challenger Brandon Herrera by 407 votes in the runoff for the Republican nomination for the district that runs from San Antonio to El Paso.  Herrera is now asking for a recount in the race.  He says he does not necessarily expect the results to change but is doing this for the donors and volunteers that helped in the race.  The race drew national attention due to the fact that Herrera was endorsed by the Bexar County GOP and several of Gonzalez’s colleagues including Congressman Chip Roy of Dripping Springs.

Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo will not go to trial until after the November election.  Cuellar is under federal indictment for allegations of bribery, money laundering and influence peddling for working on behalf of the government of Azerbaijan and a bank in Mexico.   Both Cuellar’s legal team and federal prosecutors asked the judge to delay the trial.  The trial will begin in early 2025 in federal court in Houston.  Cuellar has maintained his innocence and will continue his bid for an 11th term in November.  His Republican opponent is retired Navy officer Jay Furman in the general election.  In 2022 against strong Republican opposition, Cuellar was reelected by a 13-point margin.

What’s Next??

The runoff election is complete and there is a full-fledged Speaker’s race in the House.  Four incumbent House committee chairs were defeated, so those committees may not have an active interim schedule.  However, the others will now begin to have hearings as the Speaker’s race unfolds and the preparations begin for next session.

After a flurry of hearings over the last couple of weeks, there are no hearings scheduled until after the July 4th holiday weekend.

Here is a link to the full list of hearings later this summer and fall, and the agenda for each hearing