COVID Hospitalizations Lowest Since June

As of yesterday, there were 1,746 people hospitalized throughout the state with COVID.  This is the lowest number of COVID related hospitalizations since the last week of June, 2021 when the state was averaging about 1,500 COVID patients in hospitals.  These recent numbers are significantly down from our high of nearly 14,000 hospitalizations in late January of this year.  Case counts continue to go down as well.  There were 1,486 new cases reported yesterday compared to 2,700 one week ago.


23,000 Mail In Ballots Rejected

The Associated Press released a report last night showing that about 13% — 1 out of every 8 – mail in ballots cast in the March 1st election were rejected.  Almost every ballot was rejected because they did not meet the new identification requirements enacted in SB 1 last fall.  The data collected by the AP contains information from 187 of the state’s 254 counties accounting for 85% of all primary voters.  The rejection rate in counties that lean Democratic was 15.1%, while the rejection rate in Republican counties was 9.1%.  These figures only include ballots that were rejected, not the applications that were initially rejected.  New provisions enacted in SB 1 require applicants for absentee, or mail in ballots, to provide their driver license number or last 4 digits of their social security number.  The same information must be included on the carrier envelope used to mail in the completed ballot.


Abbott/O’Rourke on Campaign Trail

This race is going to be very nasty, as both candidates are sniping back and forth at every given opportunity.

At an appearance at the SXSW festival on Saturday, O’Rourke got personal when asked about his opponent, Gov. Abbott.  O’Rourke called Abbott a “thug” and an “authoritarian”, referring to what O’Rourke called Abbott’s incompetence to maintain the reliability of the electric grid during the 2021 winter storm.  O’Rourke has hurled accusations that in addition to mismanagement of the grid, Abbott also directed state regulators to maintain high prices to be paid to natural gas producers that were able to continue operations during the storm.  O’Rourke is attempting to make a connection between the owners of the natural gas companies – many of whom are contributors to Abbott – and profits made by these companies at the height of the blackout periods last winter.  O’Rourke has been sued for defamation for his comments.  In the wide ranging discussion, O’Rourke also went on to discuss among other things, his desire to find common ground with Republican lawmakers on gun control measures, as well as the legalization of marijuana use for recreational purposes.

Also, allegations of abuse and neglect have surfaced regarding an investigation into a state run facility in Bastrop that shelters children who have been victims of abuse and trafficking.  The investigation also is trying to determine whether or not staff members were involved in trafficking some of the minors housed at the facility.  O’Rourke has pounced on this, blaming Gov. Abbott for ignoring the state’s foster care system and having a legacy of underfunding child protective services.  Abbott responded by saying O’Rourke should not politicize issues relating to care for children.  An initial investigation by the DPS has turned up no wrong doing, but the investigation is still ongoing, and there will be legislative committees having hearings into the matter as well.

Abbott, for his part, has found a series of votes O’Rourke made in 2014 as a member of Congress relative to aid for Ukraine after Russia invaded and took over Crimea, saying O’Rourke is sympathetic to Putin after voting against aid to Ukraine.  O’Rourke did not respond directly, rather he said he would welcome discussions with Abbott regarding Russia, saying that Abbott and Putin have in common the desire to “attack democracy” through authoritarian regimes.

We can look forward to eight more months of the back and forth between Abbott and O’Rourke.

Starting with another appearance in Austin yesterday, O’Rourke is planning to make campaign stops in 11 different cities over the next nine days in what his campaign is calling “People of Texas” events.  What is interesting is that O’Rourke is going mostly to small and mid-sized cities – Amarillo, Canadian, Olney, Weatherford, Lubbock, San Angelo – that are all Republican strongholds to discuss his vision for the state moving forward.

According to his website, Gov. Abbott has no campaign appearances scheduled at this time.


Abortion Law Challenges

Those challenging the new state law that outlaws abortions at six weeks, when a heartbeat can initially be detected, were dealt a devastating blow earlier this week by the Texas Supreme Court.  The new law empowers private citizens with the ability to bring lawsuits against anyone involved in the abortion process, leaving the state and local law enforcement authorities powerless to enforce the law.  The state Supreme Court upheld the intent of the law, ruling that since no state authority could enforce the law, then no state authority could be sued to stop the law.  This, for all intents and purposes, ends all lawsuits challenging the law.  Thus, the law will stay on the books unless and until the US Supreme Court rules on the Texas law or a related Mississippi law that is in process before the US Supreme Court.


Companies Weigh in on Transgender Fight

A group of more than 60 companies have signed onto a letter published in many newspapers throughout the state calling on Gov. Abbott to “abandon anti-LGBTQ and transgender efforts” after Gov. Abbott called for an investigation into families of transgender children who allow gender affirming care.  This issue has become a hot topic in Austin, rallying conservative groups and elected officials to enact and endorse measures to equate the allowance by parents who affirm and accept their transgender children with child abuse.  Companies that signed onto the letter include Dow Chemical, BASF, Microsoft, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Cisco, Corning, Johnson and Johnson, and many others.  This is not the first time that major companies have weighed in opposing state policies and proposals.  In 2017, many companies and business groups voiced opposition to the so-called “bathroom bill”, that would have dictated which bathroom transgender individuals could use.  That bill eventually died.  Last year during the series of special sessions, several companies, including Texas based American Airlines and Dell Computer, weighed in to oppose what they saw as a restrictive new voting law.  In each instance, state Republican leaders were quick to criticize the companies’ intervention.


Political Notes

In an already tension filled runoff for the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor, Houston accountant Mike Collier picked up the endorsements of 17 incumbent state House members. His opponent, state Rep. Michelle Beckley, has publicly called on Collier to drop out of the race citing his campaign’s lack of enthusiasm from the base.  Collier led Beckley in the first round of voting, and was the 2018 Democratic nominee, eventually losing to incumbent Dan Patrick by 3 points.

State Senator Dawn Buckingham has picked up the endorsements of four of her former opponents in the Republican primary race for Land Commissioner.  Don Minton, Weston Martinez, Ben Armenta, and Victor Avila have endorsed Buckingham in the runoff where she is facing San Antonio minister and Army veteran Tim Westley. Buckingham led the 8-person field with 41% of the vote in the first round of voting.

In the hotly contested Democratic runoff to replace outgoing state Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston, Jolanda Jones has picked up two key endorsements.  After initially saying he would stay out of the race, Coleman this week endorsed Jones, an attorney and former Houston City Councilwoman who led the field going into the runoff.  Yesterday, state Senator Borris Miles also gave his endorsement to Jones.  Coleman served the urban Houston district for nearly 30 years before resigning earlier this year due to health reasons.

Two Republican state House races are going to recounts.  In House District 64, encompassing parts of Denton and Wise Counties in north Texas, incumbent Lynn Stucky (R, Denton) won the Republican primary by only 88 votes.  His opponent, Andy Hopper of Wise County, has asked for a recount.  In House District 17, that takes in Bastrop and other areas south and east of Austin, the third place finisher has asked for a recount.  Tom Glass missed the runoff by 424 votes, but is demanding a recount.  No candidate received more than 29% of the vote in this newly created safe Republican seat.


What’s Next??

In response to allegations of a state run child care facility in Bastrop engaging in human trafficking, two legislative committees will meet to hear from the Department of Family and Protective Services and the Department of Public Safety on the failures of the regulatory process and the progress of the investigation into the facility.  The Senate Special Committee on Child Protective Services will meet today, and the House Human Services committee will hold a hearing on Monday

With the primary election date behind us, and the House having released its interim charges, more hearings are expected in the coming weeks.  The Senate is expected to release a full list of interim charges soon.