Abbott/O’Rourke on Campaign Trail
In his first public event since winning the Democratic nomination, Beto O’Rourke took the stage at a church in Dallas on Sunday to focus on public education. O’Rourke pledged support for more funding for public education and for increased teacher pay. This is the first in a series of public events O’Rourke will be conducting in the coming weeks to lay out his priorities that he will address, according to his campaign. Issues such as jobs, economic development, and health care. In response to O’Rourke’s announcement on Sunday, Gov. Abbott issued a directive to the Texas Education Agency to create a task force to examine the state’s teacher shortage. The pandemic caused numerous teacher shortages throughout the state, including 700 vacancies in the Houston ISD alone.
O’Rourke Sued by Energy Company
The Chairman of Energy Transfer Partners, Kelcey Warren, has sued Beto O’Rourke for defamation of character in association with comments O’Rourke has made on the campaign trail. Warren says O’Rourke is lying about him, while O’Rourke calls the lawsuit frivolous. The basis of the lawsuit by Warren is that during campaign stops and in the media, O’Rourke has made claims that Warren and his company committed extortion, bribes, and other acts of corruption to persuade Gov. Abbott to hold off on fixing the power grid during the 2021 winter storm, so the company could reap profits as the grid failed.
For some background, during the 2021 freeze when a substantial portion of the electric grid failed, there were a small number of natural gas producing companies that were able to continue supplying natural gas as other companies were unable to do so. According to a May 6, 2021 article in Bloomberg Business, Energy Transfer Partners saw a positive earnings impact of $2.4 billion from the extreme weather event. A few months later, Warren personally contributed $1 million to Abbott’s reelection campaign.
Warren’s lawsuit claims the statements made by O’Rourke are baseless, and that the campaign contribution did not have anything to do with the profits made during the winter storm. O’Rourke stands by his comments and claims that his campaign will “connect the dots” proving his assertions are correct. The lawsuit was filed in San Saba County on Tuesday and can be found here, courtesy of the Quorum Report: http://www.quorumreport.com/downloadit.cfm?DocID=11523
Harris County Elections Administrator Resigns
Harris County has had several problems related to the primary election. First, on election night, results were delayed for hours, with not all votes being counted until after the 7PM Wednesday deadline, leaving many races in limbo throughout the day. The reason for the nearly 30 hour delay in the final tallies was tied to the fact that a precinct judge in Baytown failed to return a piece of voting equipment. The precinct judge failed to return a scanner that holds counted votes electronically. He did not return the equipment until a constable deputy went to his house to retrieve it. And finally, it has now been discovered that more than 10,000 mail-in ballots – 6,00 cast by Democrats and 4,000 by Republicans — were scanned in, but never added to the final results, causing the results of at least one Texas House race and the Democratic runoff for Attorney General to be in doubt. Harris County officials seemed unaware of this last error until the Secretary of State noticed a discrepancy in the election night reconciliation form which indicated a difference of 10,702 between the number of votes counted and the number of votes cast.
On Tuesday, Harris County Election Administrator Isabel Longoria submitted her resignation to the commissioners court. This was in response to a call for her resignation by several Houston area Republican legislators, and an announcement by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo that she intended to replace Longoria. In her statement, Longoria took full responsibility for the many miscues associated with last Tuesday’s election.
The county Republican Party has also filed a lawsuit alleging the clerk violated the Texas Election Code by failing to have all votes counted in 24 hours after polls closed and for breach of the contract that the party has with the county to conduct the primary election. In response, the Harris County Democratic agreed to a thorough review of the election night process.
As the runoff begins, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has endorsed incumbent Ken Paxton in the Republican primary runoff. Patrick said his endorsement comes as praise for Paxton continually challenging the overreach of the federal government trying to infringe on state sovereignty. Gov. Abbott has refused to take a stance in the race,
Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson weighed in on the runoff last week when he went on the attack against Bush. Patterson, a Republican, held the job as Land Commissioner for two terms, first elected in 2006 and again in 2010. Patterson left his post as Land Commissioner to run for Lt. Governor in 2014 where he was soundly defeated by Dan Patrick. In 2018, as Bush was seeking reelection for his second term as Land Commissioner, Patterson challenged him in the Republican primary, saying Bush had bungled the effort to rebuild houses after Hurricane Harvey. Bush won that primary with nearly 60% of the vote. Patterson is raising his head again, saying Bush is bad for Texas. But he is stopping short of endorsing Paxton either. He said “It’s more Bush is bad than Paxton is good”. Patterson had praise for Democratic candidate Joe Jaworski, a trial lawyer from Galveston. Patterson served as a member of the Texas Senate from Galveston from 1992-1998.
Senate Committees Begin Interim Hearings
Even though a thorough list of interim charges have not been issued for committees in the House and Senate, two Senate committees met this week that have already been given direction for preparations for the next regular session.
The Senate Committee on Border Security met under the direction of Senator Brian Birdwell (R, Granbury). This committee was formed recently to address the ongoing crisis at the Texas/Mexico border. The Director of the Department of Public Safety, Col. Steve McCraw was the first to address the committee. McCraw testified on the ongoing problems created by a lax border policies at the federal level. Accounts were given relative to how sophisticated the cartels had become relative to basically every aspect of illegal activities, including drug trafficking and human smuggling. Methamphetamine has once again become the most prevalent illegal substance being brought into our country. And, McCraw stated that there were 1.3 apprehensions of people on the border last year, the highest since 1986 when 750,000 were intercepted at the border. This has overwhelmed the Customs and Border Patrol, which McCraw says exemplifies the need for a continued presence of state National Guard troops and Department of Public Safety officers. Last year, the state appropriated .$2.9 billion to the border effort, and committee members have asked for quarterly reports regarding the spending so they can give the full Legislature an accurate account of the activities and ensure the most cost effective measures are in place. The committee will meet again later this month.
The Senate Business and Commerce Committee met to discuss and review the actions of all agencies related to the operation of the state’s electric grid. Much of the testimony and discussion centered on the natural gas industry, whose regulation is key to a long term solution to strengthen the state’s electric grid and prevent future tragedies like the blackouts that occurred last winter. The natural gas industry provides fuel to most of the state’s power plants, and a disruption in the flow of natural gas last winter was a factor in the need for the rolling blackouts. The Chairman of the Public Utility Commission, that regulates the electric companies, testified that the commission had enacted winterization mandates for electric generators in time for this winter, and claims the grid itself is more reliable than ever. However, the Railroad Commission, that regulates the state’s natural gas production, has not done the same. The same legislation from this past session that mandated all electric generators winterize by this winter, allowed the natural gas companies to wait until winter of 2023 to have winterization standards in place.
Austin welcomes next week the annual South by Southwest festival, starting tonight. The festival runs for 10 days and has segments related to film, interactive, and music. The festival returns after a two year hiatus due to the pandemic. The convention center is the center of the conference, but events – especially the music portion – take place all over the downtown area. This festival is the largest revenue producing event outside of athletic events at the University of Texas. The estimated economic impact to the city will be over $300 million, which is roughly the same impact of hosting a Super Bowl. The last in person festival in 2019 drew 417,000 people to the city.
With the primary election date behind us, both chambers will likely issue their interim studies later this month, as preparations for the next regular session will begin.