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

Lt. Governor Patrick Calls on Speaker to Drop Out

House Speaker Dade Phelan received another blow to his reelection bid this week when the 3rd candidate in the primary race endorsed Phelan’s opponent, David Covey.  Alicia Davis, who received 10% of the vote last Tuesday, announced her endorsement on Twitter this week.  After the endorsement, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick sent out a statement calling on Speaker Phelan to drop out of the race, saying that the endorsement by Davis “seals off any pathway to victory for Dade Phelan.”  Patrick went on to say that since Phelan received only 43% of the vote on primary day, he should “recognize the obvious … and stop what is going to be an embarrassing defeat.”

Covey received 46% of the vote on primary day and said he welcomes Davis’ endorsement.  In addition to the endorsement just obtained from Davis, Covey also touts the endorsements of former President Trump, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and US Senator Ted Cruz.  To be formally removed from the ballot in a runoff this year, candidates have until March 20th to withdraw.

Border News

A helicopter carrying three National Guard soldiers and one border patrol agent crashed near Rio Grande City near the US/Mexico border last weekend.  The crash tragically took the lives of three of the four on board the aircraft.  Angry reaction to the tragedy was enhanced when Customs and Border Patrol released footage of the incident showing cartel members laughing at the crash while watching footage of the incident with their drone.  The soldiers and border patrol agent were on a mission keep watch for illicit drug and human trafficking as well as anyone trying to cross the border illegally.  The cause of the crash is still under investigation.  The video of the cartel members has drawn swift and furious reaction from state officials including Lt. Governor Dan Patrick who once again called on President Biden to secure our southern border.

In January of 2023 AG Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit – as part of a coalition with 20 other states – to stop the implementation of a new program by the Biden administration to allow up to 360,000 people to legally enter the US from the countries of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.  In the lawsuit, the states argued that the program will place an undue burden on its residents because those approved under the new program would automatically qualify for services such as health care and public education.  The administration argued that the program was necessary to encourage legal migration to the country thus allowing for a more orderly and efficient way to track migration into the US.

One year into the program, 357,000 people have been allowed into the country under this program – 14,000 of which have listed Texas as their destination.  On Monday, a federal district judge in Victoria rejected the state’s lawsuit and will allow the program to continue.  Applicants to the program must apply in their home countries and if approved, can spend up to two years in the country and then are eligible to apply for asylum.  This issue, like many others regarding the state’s differences with federal immigration policies, will have ongoing legal battles and will ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court.

In other legal news, the US Supreme Court has further delayed a law passed by the legislature last fall that would have allowed state and local police to arrest migrants suspected of entering the country illegally.  The law is being challenged by the Biden administration and several migrant advocacy groups saying that enforcement of all immigration laws should be left to the federal government, not the states.  A federal district judge found the law unconstitutional in February and placed an injunction on allowing the law to take effect.  In response, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the district court ruling, thus landing the fate of the law with the US Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court last week placed an administrative stay on the implementation of the law that was set to expire on Wednesday.  This week, Justice Samuel Alito extended that stay – which prohibits the law from taking effect – to give the Supreme Court more time to consider the arguments in the ongoing legal battle.  The 5th Circuit has scheduled a hearing for next month when it will hear from the state of Texas and the Department of Justice.  Ultimately, the decision of the 5th Circuit will then be reviewed by the US Supreme Court.

Wildfires in Panhandle

As of Wednesday, the Texas A&M Forest Service reported that the Smokehouse Creek Fire was 89% contained and has burned an estimated 1.058 million acres.  The nearby Windy Deuce Fire is now 94% contained and has burned nearly 145,000 acres.  The Smokehouse Creek Fire is the largest wildfire to ever burn in the state of Texas.  As firefighters continue to work to further contain the fire, lower winds and cooler temperatures were welcomed yesterday after threatening winds along with hotter, drier air was in place earlier in the week.

On Tuesday, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan announced a new House special committee that will investigate the origins of the devasting fires in the Panhandle.  The committee will be chaired by Rep. Ken King of Canadian, whose district was hit especially hard by the fires.  The five-member committee – three House members and two public members – will look at the factors that contributed to the origins of the fires, the effectiveness of the state’s response, and evaluate the coordination efforts between the state, local, and federal authorities regarding preparedness and response.  The committee will begin meeting in the coming weeks and has been given a deadline of May 1st to report their findings back to the full House, including recommendations for legislation for the next regular session convening in January.

Solar Eclipse Preparations

Travis County has issued a disaster declaration in preparation for the county’s population to double in size because of the number of people that will be visiting to view the April 8th solar eclipse.  County officials are estimating that as many as 1 million additional people could be in Travis County on the day of the eclipse, causing a significant increase in traffic and putting a heavy burden on the county’s resources including emergency response protocols and personnel.  Issuing the disaster declaration allows the county to access federal funds to pay for additional first responders and emergency management coordinators.   Western Travis County is predicted to have a longer view of the eclipse, and Hamilton Pool Reserve is already fully booked, as are Pace Bend Park and Aransas Bend Park on Lake Travis.

This comes on the heels of the current South by Southwest Festival that has brought over 300,000 people to Austin for the 10-day festival that includes film premiers, interactive media demonstrations, informational speakers, and ends with a four-day long music festival that features over 2,000 bands and musicians.  The downtown area has basically been shut down to normal activity this week. The city and county will have to quickly recover and regroup to adequately prepare for the onslaught of visitors to view the solar eclipse.

Political Notes

More runoff endorsements:

Several 3rd place finishers endorsed against the Republican incumbents in contested Texas House races this week.  In the far northeast Texas House District 1, Rep. Gary VanDeaver was forced into a runoff against Chris Spencer, who has the backing of Gov. Abbott.  Third place finisher Dale Huls endorsed Spencer this week.

In House District 33, Rockwall Republican Rep. Justin Holland is in a runoff against former Trump administration official Katrina Pierson.  Third place finisher Dennis London threw his support to Pierson this week.

And in an open seat based in Pearland, Alex Kamkar received the endorsement of the 3rd place finisher, Edgar Pacheco.  Kamkar has been endorsed by Gov Abbott and faces Jeff Barry in the runoff.

And on the Senate side, Denton Republican Jace Yarbrough received the endorsement of recent primary winner Shelly Luther of Sherman in his Senate primary runoff.  Luther – who just defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Reggie Smith in their Republican primary race – threw her support to Yarbrough over front runner Brent Hagenbuch, who led the field after the first round of voting.

Barry Wernick – who challenged Rep. Morgan Meyer of Dallas in this year’s Republican primary – is asking for a recount.  Meyer defeated Wernick by 523 votes out of nearly 24,000 total votes cast in the March 5th primary. In his statement regarding the recount, Wernick said he is not attempting to overturn the election, rather he is attempting to expose any flaws and potential discrepancies in voting methods and tabulations.  Wernick said the software used by Dallas County was not lawfully certified, and he is requesting a manual (by hand) recount.  State law allows a recount if the requestor is within 10% of the winner.  However, the candidate requesting the recount must pay for the process.

What’s Next??

Hard to say what’s next.  With the House in disarray, interim study issues may not be released until after the runoff – if at all.  The Senate may issue interim study issues soon, but no date has been set.

With 8 incumbents being forced into runoffs, the fundraising for the May 28th election is in full swing.  Eight candidates have scheduled Austin fundraisers for the first week of May, and others are sure to follow.