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

Texas House Campaign Spending

With the defeat of eight Republican incumbents in the March 5th primary elections that were political allies of incumbent Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, the fate of the nine Republican incumbents that are now in runoffs will go a long way in deciding the path House members will take to either reelect Phelan or pick a new leader in 2025.

Private school vouchers – which establishes a state fund accessible to parents to use for private school tuition – was a major issue in all of the contested Republican primaries.  The pro-voucher community – which spent their resources on several challengers to defeat incumbents that had opposed the voucher legislation – far outspent the groups that spent resources to defend those incumbents.  The pro-voucher group American Federation for Children spent over $9.5 million in 20 House races, including $500,000 on each of nine key House races.  By comparison, the Charles Butt Public Education PAC spent roughly $2.6 million on the same races to defend House incumbents.

The AFC PAC has already committed to spend generously in the runoff elections against the Republican incumbents.  And yesterday, the conservative PAC Club for Growth said they intend to spend $4.4 million on behalf of the challengers in five races involving Republican incumbents, including House Speaker Dade Phelan.  The others are Rep. DeWayne Burns of Cleburne, Rep. Gary VanDeaver of New Boston, Rep. Justin Holland of Rockwall, and Rep. John Kuempel of Seguin.

Paxton Resolves Securities Charges

Attorney General Ken Paxton and state prosecutors have reached a deal to resolve the 9-year-old case alleging securities fraud committed by Paxton.  On Tuesday morning, a Harris County court announced that the charges against Paxton will be dropped in exchange for Paxton performing 100 hours of community service, enrolling in 15 hours of legal ethics training, and paying $271,000 in restitution to those who invested in a Dallas area start-up company based on solicitations made by Paxton on behalf of the company.

The three felony charges were originally handed down by a Collin County grand jury in 2015 alleging Paxton did not disclose that the company was paying him $100,000 in stock for each referral or investor.  State law requires an agent to register with the state when soliciting investors for new companies.  The state initiated the diversion agreement, and it includes no requirement of admission of wrongdoing or guilt by Paxton.

The resolution to this case comes as Paxton remains under federal investigation regarding allegations of abuse of office by Paxton to help a wealthy donor who is an ongoing target of an FBI investigation.  Those allegations triggered the impeachment of AG Paxton by the Texas House and subsequent acquittal by the Texas Senate last summer.

Border News

If the US Supreme Court allows SB 4 to take effect – the new Texas law authorizing state level law enforcement officers to arrest suspected migrants on trespassing charges – the Department of Public Safety will only arrest migrants they actually witness crossing the Rio Grande River and will limit the enforcement of the law to counties along the US/Mexico border.  This declaration came in a statement issued by a spokesman for the agency’s south region this week.  The statement went on to clarify that the law was intended to for border security, and not designed for enforcement in the interior part of the state.  The statement went on to say that officers will only arrest adults and would turn over minor children to US Customs and Border Patrol agents.

This clarification was provided as the state has asked federal appeals courts to reinstate the law after it was initially placed on hold by a federal district judge in Austin.  The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the state’s request to allow the law to go into effect while the appeals work their way through the court system.  The 5th Circuit will hear oral arguments in the case on Wednesday, April 3rd.  No timetable has been given for a decision, and the constitutionality of the law will ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court.

US Customs and Border Patrol released the numbers for February regarding border activity.  Migrant encounters are on the rise after a slight downturn in January.  CBP reported 140,644 encounters at ports of entry during the month of February, an increase of 16,000 encounters compared to January.  CBP also reported 189,922 total encounters, up from 176,205 in January.  Also on the rise is the apprehension of illegal drugs at the border.  During February, seizures of drugs such as fentanyl, cocaine, meth, heroin, and marijuana increased 118% over the month of January.  So far in fiscal 2024 – which began October 1st – CBP has seized 8,447 pounds of fentanyl at the southern border.  Two milligrams of fentanyl is considered lethal.

Texas Dollars in Presidential Campaign

President Biden made a very successful run for cash through Texas last week.  The Biden campaign said this week that Biden raised $6 million in a two-day swing through Dallas and Houston last week, and he is set to report having raised a total of $10 million in Texas through March.  That $10 million figure more than doubles the $4 million raised in Texas at this point in the 2020 campaign.

This news comes as – according to recent campaign finance reports – Trump is well behind the money raising pace set for the 2020 campaign.  Through February, the Trump campaign reported raising $8.8 million from Texas donors, which is far below the $19.4 million raised from Texas donors through February of 2020.

Texas is not considered a battleground state.  However, the 5.6 point margin of victory by Trump in 2020 is the smallest margin of victory for a Republican Presidential candidate in the state since 1996.

Political Notes

US Senator Ted Cruz continued to issue endorsements in contested Republican primary runoffs this week.  Cruz threw his support to Chris Spencer, the challenger to incumbent Republican Rep. Gary VanDeaver of New Boston in far northeast Texas.  VanDeaver is an adamant voucher opponent, and Abbott has also endorsed Spencer due to VanDeaver’s opposition to vouchers.  Cruz also endorsed Andy Hopper in his race against Denton Republican Rep. Lynn Stucky.  And finally, Cruz is supporting Cheryl Bean in the open Fort Worth seat against John McQueeny.  Bean almost avoided a runoff by getting 49.6% of the vote in the first round to 29% for McQueeny.  Abbott has endorsed McQueeny and campaigned for him in Fort Worth this week.  Bean enjoys the big money lead with over $100,000 cash on hand to start the runoff campaign.

As we watch 9 Republican House incumbents in the Texas House fight for their political lives, there is also one Republican primary runoff in the state Senate.  In Senate District 30, based in Denton County, Brent Hagenbuch led Jace Yarbrough by a slim 36% to 34% margin after the March 5th primary election.  The third-place finisher – Carrie de Moor – has reportedly offered her endorsement to the highest bidder. Current Revolt reported this week that de Moor first went to Hagenbuch with the offer of an endorsement for cash.  When Hagenbuch refused, apparently, she then went to Yarbrough, who also refused the offer.  All parties involved have of course denied any wrongdoing and are now only commenting through lawyers.

Many Capitol veterans will remember former Senator Carl Parker, who passed away over the weekend.  Parker was a very colorful and influential member of the Senate who served when the Democrats led the chamber throughout the 1980’s.  Parker was first elected to the state House in 1962 and then was elected to the Senate in 1976.  A Democrat from Port Arthur, Parker was a force and an ally for labor and the plaintiffs bar at a time when Democrats controlled all areas of state government.  Parker was defeated for reelection in 1994 by a Republican when the red wave was just beginning in the state.  Since leaving the Senate, Parker has been in private practice back home.  Parker was 89 and will be laid to rest in the Texas State Cemetery on Wednesday.

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

Here’s wishing everyone and very safe and Happy Easter!!