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

Tropical Storm Alberto

The Coastal Bend area near Corpus Christi was the hardest hit by tropical storm Alberto that went ashore near Tampico, Mexico early Thursday morning.  Wind gusts and flooding affected areas as far as 700 miles away.  The Corpus area experienced an average of 4 to 6 inches of rain, with Rockport getting over 8 inches.  Gov. Abbott issued a disaster declaration that included 51 Texas counties to ensure the at-risk regions have the resources and personnel needed to respond and recover from the storm.

While the rain affected the Corpus area, storm surge was the issue farther up the coast.  Surfside Beach – southwest of Galveston – remained under at least 4 feet of water as late as yesterday, delaying the city’s ability to fully assess the damage.  High tide occurred at 5:30AM yesterday, so crews will not be able to start a canvass until later today.  According to the city and EMS officials from their initial assessment, no major damage is believed to have occurred.  However, there were cars that were flooded and some stairs to homes were washed away.

Now, on the heels of Alberto, there is another tropical storm brewing in the southern Gulf of Mexico.  According to the National Weather Service, a low-pressure system – still disorganized – has a 50% chance of development in the next 7 days.  It is too early to tell how quickly the system will develop, or which direction it will take.  But, with high water temperatures and wind shifts in the atmosphere, the NWS will watch the area closely for development.

Speaker’s Race Update

43 Republican members and members-elect have signed a letter called the Texas Conservative Commitment that outlines 10 priorities for the upcoming regular session beginning in January.  The members – for the most part – are those that are believed to be aligned with current Speaker Dade Phelan.  But there are some members that have signed that have clearly not been supportive of Phelan’s reelection.  For example, Rep. Shelby Slawson of Stephenville is a declared Speaker candidate, and she signed this letter.

The letter lists their commitment to passing and strengthening laws related to border security, private school vouchers, election integrity, reduction of property taxes, stopping indoctrination in public ad higher education, ban taxpayer funded lobbying, and securing the reliability of the electric grid.

During the primary election season, members and candidates clearly opposed to Speaker Phelan maintaining his leadership role signed a “Contract with Texas”, which focused more on reform of the House rules and operations.  46 Republican members and candidates signed that document that was highlighted by a commitment to no longer appoint Democrats as chairs of committees in the House.

Regardless of who has signed each document, the battles lines are clearly drawn, with the members from the more conservative wing of the party more focused on reforming the way the House conducts its parliamentary business.  Again, focusing on eliminating the Democrats from holding any positions of leadership.  Their philosophy is by having all Republicans in control at all levels of the House, the more conservative priorities and legislation will pass.

A copy of the conservative commitment letter can be found here:

More House Republican Politics

Incumbent Speaker Phelan’s chief rival – for now – is Rep. Tom Oliverson of Spring.  Oliverson announced his candidacy in late 2023, and also has the built in advantage of chairing the House Republican Caucus.  While Speaker Phelan has announced interim study topics for the House committees to consider, Oliverson has now announced subcommittees within the caucus to establish policy for the next regular session.  So, we have competing entities – the House committees and the House Republican Caucus – that will be working to establish a blueprint for the session.  Oliverson’s appointments again focus more on procedural and political goals, as opposed to policy.  But he has left the door open to more interim subcommittee appointments. For this first round, Oliverson appointed three subcommittees.  First, parliamentary procedure which will review and make recommendations on improving the House’s methods of conducting business.  Second, legislative priorities which will lay out legislative goals and finally a subcommittee on the November elections, which will work to assist all Republican incumbents and candidates in their elections this fall.

Cruz Maintains Lead Over Allred

The latest University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll shows incumbent Republican US Senator Ted Cruz with an 11-point lead over Democratic rival Colin Allred, 45% to 34%.  Cruz is seeking reelection to a third term in the US Senate and will face the third term Congressman from Dallas in November.  Plaguing Allred seems to be his lack of name identification.  Only 24% of the respondents had a favorable view of him and another 34% had no opinion of him at all.  Cruz had a favorable rating of 46% compared to an unfavorable rating of 42%, with only 11% having no opinion of him.  Cruz is also holding solid with the Republican base, with 79% of Republicans approving of the job Cruz is doing.

The poll also showed Donald Trump maintaining a solid lead over President Biden among Texas voters.  In a 5-way contest – including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr and other third-party candidates – Trump leads Biden by a 45% to 36% margin.  In a head-to-head matchup, Trump has an 8-point advantage over Biden, 48% to 40%.  Biden was also underwater regarding his approval rating, with 43% approving and 51% disapproving.

Gov. Abbott leads the way among statewide officeholders with an approval rating of 55%, compared to a 37% disapproval rating.  Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has a 44% approval rating compared to 33% disapproval.  AG Ken Paxton also is above water with a 41% approval vs. 35% disapproval.  The only statewide elected official with an approval rating underwater is US Senator John Cornyn.  His approval rating is 36% compared to a disapproval rating of 38%.

The poll was conducted from April 12th-22nd among 1,200 registered Texas voters.  If you would like to review the full poll, you can find it here:

Texas Supreme Court Issues Major Rulings

The Texas Supreme Court issued three major rulings in the last few days that will have significant on all of our lives and on legislation next session.

The first ruling pertained to the high wholesale prices that were paid by the state for electricity during the 2021 winter storm.  During the days long freezing weather in February of 2021, the state’s electric grid was strained and millions in the state had to endure rolling blackouts to avoid a total collapse of the grid.  On the first day that grid operators instituted the rolling blackouts, ERCOT set wholesale prices at a $9,000 cap per megawatt hour to try to encourage power plants to sell as much power as they had to the grid.  As a note, under normal conditions, the wholesale prices average $30 per megawatt hour.  Several retail providers had to file for bankruptcy or were forced to shutter as a result of having to pay the overcharges.  And many residents were faced with electric bills in the thousands of dollars after the storm.  The prices remained high for two days after the rolling blackouts ended, resulting in $16 billion in overcharges.

Luminant – an operator that buys and sells electricity on the wholesale market — filed suit saying they lost nearly $2 billion during the winter storm due to the high costs the company had to pay relative to the increased cap.  The state Public Utility Commission argued that they have a duty to provide a reliable market, no matter what the consequences are.  The high court agreed, saying that before a competitive market is possible, the state has an obligation to provide a reliable power grid.

The next case involves the ongoing debate over in vitro fertilization.  The Texas Supreme Court has declined to hear a case that would have allowed them to rule on whether or not embryos have the same rights as a human being, as opposed to the legal precedent that establishes them as property.  The suit in question involves two Denton residents that signed an agreement that their embryos created during the marriage would go to the husband in case of divorce.  During subsequent divorce proceedings, the wife argued that the embryos should now be considered human beings under the state’s new near total abortion ban.  Thus, custody proceedings should dictate their control, not property agreements.  The high court rejected the wife’s petition and let stand a lower court ruling that the property agreement signed during the couple’s marriage is still valid.

And finally, the court has ruled against Harris County’s proposed guaranteed income program.  The commissioners court voted last June to send $500 a month to roughly 1,900 low-income residents over an 18-month period. The program was funded by the federal American Rescue Act, the COVID era stimulus package.  In April of this year, AG Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit to stop the program, saying that counties are prohibited by state law from giving public funds directly to an individual. The court initially put a hold on the program after Paxton’s filing, and has now fully agreed with the Attorney General, saying in its opinion that the program must remain on hold while full legal proceedings take course.  Other major US cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Minneapolis have similar programs in place.  Austin and San Antonio have also voted to approve cash assistance programs, but those will remain on hold as well.

US Supreme Court Sides with Austin Gun Dealer on Bump Stocks

The US Supreme Court has ruled that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) does not have the authority to ban bump stocks – accessories that allow for rapid fire of semiautomatic rifles.  During the Trump administration – in response to the massacre shooting in Las Vegas that killed 60 people – the ATF banned the bump stock devices saying they turned rifles into illegal machine guns.  The challenge to the ban was brought forth by an Austin gun store owner who challenged the authority of the ATF to issue such a ban.  In the lawsuit, the plaintiff declared that if Congress had passed a law banning bump stocks, he would not have brought forth the challenge.  The Supreme Court considered the case after conflicting rulings from lower courts.  The high court agreed with the challenge, saying in their opinion that it is the job of Congress to change the laws relating to regulation of firearms, not a federal agency through an administrative process.

Border News

President Biden announced this week that the US government will now offer protections against deportation to an estimated 500,000 undocumented people currently living in the US.  The plan grants protection to spouses of US citizens who have lived in the US for at least 10 years and allow those who qualify to apply for legal permanent status.  The plan will also extend a path to citizenship for minor children of US citizens.

Reaction from Texas elected officials predictably fell along party lines, with several Democratic members of the Texas Congressional delegation praising the new order as a strong step forward to promote meaningful immigration reform.  Gov. Abbott issued a statement that was echoed by many of the Republican officials in the state, calling the plan “mass amnesty” and accusing Biden of “desperate pandering for votes in his failing reelection bid.”

Political Notes

Social media influencers that are paid for political advertisements will now be required to disclose when they are being compensated for their politically related social media posts.  The Texas Ethics Commission adopted a rule this week regarding the new requirement.  The new rule is the result of influencers that were paid for social media posts in defense of AG Ken Paxton during the Senate impeachment trial last fall.  Reports by the Texas Tribune showed that influencers were paid to create posts to attack the impeachment process and criticize House Speaker Dade Phelan for his role in the House impeachment of Paxton.

Democratic state Rep. James Talarico of Austin has started a new PAC called the Big and Bright PAC designed to deepen and strengthen the pool of potential Democratic candidates in Texas.  Talarico says the PAC will recruit, train, and fund young candidates for public office.  Talarico was elected to the House in 2018 when he was 29.  He is rumored to be considering a run for Governor in 2026.  He was first elected to represent a district in Round Rock, north of Austin.  But when the redistricting process eliminated his district, he moved to Austin and was elected to his current seat in 2022.

Republican nominee Andy Hopper of Denton has gotten very vocal in his opposition to incumbent Speaker Dade Phelan.  Hopper – who recently defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Lynn Stucky – recently sent out a fundraising email calling for all Republicans to band together to deny Speaker Phelan a third term as leader of the House.  Hopper says it is time to elect a Speaker that will “not cede power to Democrats in return for their support.”  Hopper goes on to encourage all Republicans to pack the House gallery on the first day of the session in January “to strongly encourage all Republican House members to vote against Dade Phelan.”

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