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

Early Voting Ends Today

Turnout has been low in some areas and higher in others during the early voting period.  According to election data guru Derek Ryan, we are at basically the same place we were two years ago regarding turnout, which is at 7% of voters having cast a ballot.  Turnout in the Republican primary is 4.7% and 2.3% in the Democratic primary.  Of interest, turnout has been slightly higher in counties with more contentious state House races, which compensates for lower turnout in other counties.

Election day is Tuesday and voting hours are 7AM to 7PM.  For all issues related to voting, go to  where you find links to polling places, acceptable types of voter ID, mail-in voting, ballot tracking, and more.

As as a reminder, I am repeating the summary from last week’s update of what’s at stake this election here:

Highlights of this year’s primary ballot include the Presidential primaries at the national level, as well as the hotly contested Democratic primary which will determine who will challenge incumbent US Senator Ted Cruz in the November general election.  That race is likely to come down to a runoff between Dallas Congressman Colin Allred and San Antonio state Senator Roland Gutierrez.

At the state level, 15 of the 31 members of the Texas Senate stand for reelection this year.  However, there are only 3 races of consequence.  On the Democratic side, Senator Nathan Johnson of Dallas is facing Rep. Victoria Criado in a Dallas area seat and in Houston, several candidates are facing off to succeed longtime Senator John Whitmire, who was elected mayor of Houston in November.  On the Republican side, several candidates are vying to succeed Senator Drew Springer – who is not seeking reelection – in a north Texas based Senate seat.

All 150 members of the state House must stand for reelection every two years.  Many of the Republican House incumbents are being challenged from the far-right wing of the party.  Due to contentious votes regarding private school vouchers and the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, over 30 Republican incumbent House members have drawn primary opponents.  Gov. Abbott and AG Paxton have endorsed the opponents of the incumbents in many races.  The Texas House Speaker has also drawn two opponents, one of which has been endorsed by former President Trump.  The outcome of these primary races will determine the direction of the House for the 2025 session, with the control moving either to the more conservative wing of the party or staying in the hands of the more traditional and moderate Republicans.

Wildfires in Panhandle

As of Thursday, firefighters had still not contained a series of wildfires burning in the Panhandle that have now consumed over 1 million acres of land and crossed into Oklahoma. The fire – known as the Smoke Creek fire – is now the largest in the state’s history and is only 3% contained.  The fire broke out in Hutchinson County on Monday and has destroyed more than 2,000 square miles.  No confirmed cause for the fires has been given, but warm weather and high winds from earlier this week helped fuel the fires.  The city of Canadian has seen the worst of the damage left behind with 40 homes destroyed.  Over 5,000 residents of Canadian, Fritch, and Glazier are under mandatory evacuation orders as the fires spread mostly eastward blanketing areas north and east of Amarillo.

Cooler weather and a light snow that started to fall on Thursday afternoon will help with the on the ground efforts to contain the fires.  Crews will work over the next 48 hours to contain the fire as much as possible since the forecast is for warmer temperature and high winds on Saturday and Sunday which will allow the fires to intensify again.

Texas Social Media Law Before US Supreme Court

On Monday, the US Supreme Court heard arguments that challenge two state laws – one from Texas and one from Florida – regarding how states can regulate social media content.  The challenges were brought by trade associations representing the high-tech industry.  The lawsuits question whether states can legally prohibit social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.. from banning certain posts or users.  This situation arises out of Twitter banning former President Trump from their platform. In response, both states passed laws to stop censorship of conservative viewpoints.

The laws are very similar and attempt to limit social media sites from moderating content.  The social media companies argue they should be treated like newspapers, which are free to choose what they publish without government interference and should be allowed to have editorial discretion.  On the other side, the states argued that the social media platforms should be considered common carriers of information, like telecommunication companies that are required to transmit all messages sent on their platforms.

This is the first examination of how free speech applies to social media platforms by the high court.  This case – and others to follow – will have significant impact on how laws are written to address offensive and misleading information.  In the end, the justices seem to favor sending the case back to the lower courts for more examination and discussion, so the ultimate decision on this issue may not be decided for several years.  The court will have their decision on this particular case by the end of June.

Trump Endorsements in Texas House Races

Former President Trump continued with endorsements in contested Texas House Republican primary races by announcing on Truth Social this week more support for challengers to House incumbents.  In addition to the endorsement of four challengers last week, Trump added an additional 12 endorsements in House races – seven of which are challengers to incumbents.  The most consequential may be the endorsement of Barry Wernick, challenging House Ways and Means chair Rep. Morgan Meyer of Dallas.  Trump also joined Gov. Abbott in endorsing the opponents of Reps. Travis Clardy, Ernest Bailes, Hugh Shine and newly elected Jill Dutton, who just won a special election in an east Texas district.

In addition, Trump posted a series of statements reiterating his support for David Covey, who is challenging incumbent Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan.  Trump announced his endorsement of Covey last week but went on this week to again criticize Phelan for the House impeachment of AG Ken Paxton.  Then Trump went farther, saying “Any Republican backing Phelan is a fool, and should be disassociated with the Republican Party…”

Trump, Biden Visit Border

Former President Trump and President Biden made separate visits to the southern border yesterday. Biden was in Brownsville where he received a briefing and met with border patrol agents.  Biden then made remarks to the media where he pleaded with Trump to help pass his border security proposal that was before Congress two weeks ago, ultimately voted down in the Senate.  The Biden proposal – which he touted as the “toughest and most effective border bill the country has ever seen” – included $20 billion for border security, added border patrol personnel, asylum officers, and immigration judges to help with the processing of asylum requests.  It also added more detention beds in an attempt to slow the release of migrants into the US.  A record 8.6 million migrants have entered the US since Biden took office in January of 2021.

Trump was in Eagle Pass at the same time Biden was in Brownsville.  Trump scoffed at Biden’s request, saying Biden deserves all the blame for the crisis at the border as well as the “deaths and destructions that his policies have caused.”  Trump used the death of nursing student Laken Riley – allegedly killed by an undocumented Venezuelan migrant near the University of Georgia campus – as an example of a direct consequence of Biden’s border policies.  Trump went on to call the situation a “Joe Biden invasion”.

This is only the 2nd time President Biden has visited the country’s border with Mexico, while Trump has visited the border many times both as President and now as a candidate.  Trump also suggested that Biden use executive action to close the border, and Biden admits he is considering some sort of action to at least tighten asylum rules.  However, Biden has encountered stiff opposition from the progressive wing of his party.

A final footnote on the visit to the border.  During an interview with Fox News while at the border, Trump said that Gov. Abbott was under consideration for his list of potential Vice-Presidential running mates.  Trump praised the job Abbott has done as Governor – specifically his attention to the border crisis – and said, “he would be someone I would very much consider.”  Trump also named South Carolina Senator Tim Scott – a one-time Republican primary rival – as under consideration as well.

More Border News

A federal district judge in Austin has blocked a recently passed Texas law that would allow state police to arrest those suspected of crossing the border illegally on state trespassing charges.  Judge David Ezra – an appointee of President Reagan who now serves the US Western District based in San Antonio – issued an injunction that will keep the law from going into effect while the legal battles continue.  The federal government, along with several immigration advocacy organizations, sued the state of Texas to stop the law, which was scheduled to take effect next Tuesday.  In his opinion, Ezra writes the bill “threatens the fundamental notion that the United States must regulate immigration with one voice.”  The Texas law created a Class B misdemeanor offense for anyone caught crossing the border illegally.  The law also would have allowed local and state law enforcement to transport anyone convicted of this offense to the border for deportation.  The federal government has argued that immigration enforcement lies solely in the hands of the federal government.  And that premise has been upheld by the US Supreme Court in challenges to a similar law passed in Arizona.  The state will appeal immediately, and the case will head to the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Expect this case to ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court.

AG Ken Paxton has filed a counter suit to shut down a nonprofit organization in El Paso that he alleges is engaging in human smuggling.  In the court filing, Paxton is claiming Annunciation House is “an illegal stash house” and is seeking to terminate its right to operate in Texas.  The organization – along with members of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso – filed a lawsuit against the state when Paxton sent them a letter demanding immediate access to all of their records, including a roster of all migrants that they have served.  The Diocese also has come to the stern defense of Annunciation House, defending its work as a migrant aid organization.  The shelter – which is staffed by volunteers – has a goal of helping the most vulnerable in the El Paso community, regardless of their economic or immigration status.  In a statement to further amplify the reason for the lawsuit, Paxton said this week that Annunciation House was created “out of the chaos at the southern border where NGO’s can use taxpayer money to facilitate astonishing horrors, including human smuggling.”  Several elected officials – including El Paso Congresswoman Veronica Escobar – continue to come to the defense of Annunciation House, saying the shelter is serving a purpose of housing those in need when federal detention centers reach capacity, thus keeping migrants off the streets.  The Annunciation House leaders say all they want now is a quick hearing, and they are confident they will be vindicated and thus allowed to continue operating.

Court of Appeals Races Receiving Attention

Races for the seats on the state’s Criminal Court of Appeals generally receive very little attention.  They are down the ballot and generally only spark real interest from the legal community.  However, this year’s races are getting a great deal of attention – especially from Attorney General Ken Paxton.  In 2021, the state’s highest criminal court ruled that the state Attorney General does not have the authority to prosecute individual voter fraud cases.  This stemmed from a case alleging campaign finance violations during the 2016 election.  The all-Republican court – in an 8-1 ruling – said the state constitution does not allow the AG to prosecute criminal cases, which is the authority of the local district and county prosecutors.

For the last three years, AG Ken Paxton has been very vocal in his opposition to this ruling, saying the justices are acting politically, simply wanting to strip him of more power due to his political beliefs.  The justices stand by their decision, saying the constitution is clear on the fact that the state Attorney General is only allowed to directly prosecute a crime if the request is made by a local prosecutor.

Paxton has recruited candidates to replace three of the justices that are up for reelection this year who participated in the ruling.  In addition to attempting to defeat several Republican House members that voted to impeach him, Paxton has made defeating these justices a top priority during this election cycle.  The justices, all Republicans, are Sharon Keller, Barbara Hervey, and Michelle Slaughter.  The three challengers in the Republican primary are all backed by Paxton, and he is touting their candidacies at stops throughout the state, hoping to draw more attention to the court race this year.  And more attention was thrust upon these races when former President Trump went to Truth Social on Monday to endorse the challengers to the three incumbent justices.

However, all three deny being recruited by Paxton, and maintain the court’s decision on this issue was their only motivation to run.  No polling has been made public on these races, mainly because voters are not familiar with either the incumbent or the challengers, so there would be a very high number of undecideds.  Sitting justices are rarely defeated.  But if Paxton can draw enough attention to the races to be successful, he can further enhance his political clout.

Cornyn Announces Intentions to Run for Majority Leader

Texas Senator John Cornyn has launched his bid to become Senate Majority Leader, one day after the current leader – Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell – announced he would step down from the position in November.  Cornyn is the first to jump in, but there will be others making a run as well.  Two other names prominently mentioned are South Dakota Senator John Thune and Wyoming Senator John Barrasso.

In addition to the competition from two colleagues, Cornyn has other high hurdles to face in his quest to lead the US Senate.  Cornyn has been very critical of former President Trump in the past. Even though he has recently endorsed Trump’s candidacy this year, Cornyn has said in past instances that the party should pick another candidate, and questioned Trump’s ability to win a general election.  Texas AG Ken Paxton, a very close ally of President Trump, has already begun to try and derail Cornyn’s effort, calling him a RINO and that “Texans deserve better in their next leader, and they deserve a conservative Senator.”  Paxton has also given not so subtle indications that he intends to challenge Cornyn in the 2026 Republican primary.

Political Notes

Gov. Abbott has spent more than $5.7 million on House Republican candidates that support private school vouchers.  That issue was the single requirement to obtain an Abbott endorsement during this cycle, whether it be for an incumbent or challenger.  Most of the money — $4.8 million — has gone to 10 challengers that are trying to unseat incumbent House members who oppose vouchers and defeated any relative legislation last fall.  According to the most recent campaign finance reports – those that were due on February 24th – the candidates who have benefitted the most from the Abbott cash giveaway are Janis Holt, who is challenging east Texas Rep. Ernest Bailes, Marc LaHood, challenging Rep. Steve Allison in San Antonio and Stormy Bradley, who is challenging Rep. Drew Darby of San Angelo.  Abbott has given Holt $707,000, LaHood over $672,000, and Bradley has received $640,000 form Abbott.  Former Rep. Alan Schoolcraft has received $646,000 from Abbott in his race to unseat Rep. John Kuempel of Seguin who chairs the House Higher Education committee.  The generosity from Abbott came after he received a $6 million contribution from a billionaire from Pennsylvania who is a voucher proponent.

One of the candidates Abbott has endorsed against a Republican House incumbent is Liz Case, challenging Rep. Stan Lambert of Abilene.  A story published yesterday in the Abilene Reporter News raise questions about if Case actually lives in Abilene, and if so for how long.  Case has been a lifelong resident of Dallas, but her family has owned a ranch near Abilene for several years.  In 2023, she claimed her Dallas County home for her homestead exemption.  By law, any resident of Texas can claim only one residence for a homestead exemption and that must be the person’s primary residence.  Furthermore, the paper reports that Case has never voted in Abilene and did not register to vote there until November 15, 2023.  By law, a representative must be a resident of the district they wish to represent for one full year before the general election.  If she did not register until November 15th in Abilene, she would not be eligible to serve that district if she wins the primary election.  This will obviously spur a review regarding her eligibility by the Taylor County Republican Party and will likely go to court for a resolution.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick also announced two more endorsements in contested Texas House Republican primary races this week.  Patrick endorsed Brent Money in House District 2, where he is facing off – for the 2nd time in less than 2 months – against newly elected Rep. Jill Dutton.  Dutton won a January special election to fill the unexpired term of Rep. Bryan Slaton, who was expelled from the House last May for his affair with a Capitol intern.  The winner of next week’s primary election will then serve the full two-year term beginning in January.  Patrick also endorsed Mike Olcott in his challenge to Rep. Glenn Rogers of Graford, in this north Texas House seat.  Rogers defeated Olcott handily in 2022, but he is running again with the endorsements of Gov. Abbott, AG Ken Paxton, and now former President Trump.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee received a much-needed boost to her campaign when one of her opponents in the Democratic primary dropped out of the race this week and threw his support to the incumbent.  Robert Slater, a Houston chef, and businessman, who had been mounting a longshot campaign, has suspended his campaign, and formally endorsed Jackson Lee.  Former Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards has pulled to within a few points of the Congresswoman according to a recently released poll by the University of Houston. Jackson Lee — seeking her 15th term in Congress – has never faced such stiff opposition in her reelection bids for the 18th Congressional district anchored in Houston.

What’s Next??

Early voting ends today, Friday, March 1st .  The primary election is Tuesday, March 5th.