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

Rainfall, Flooding in East Texas and Houston Area

Even more rain is expected to fall today and over the weekend in areas that are already flooded.  Areas of east Texas have seen as much as 20 inches of rain this week.  Polk County received 12 inches from midnight Thursday through the early morning hours.  With the Trinity River swelling, officials have issued mandatory evacuations for low-lying areas below the Lake Livingston Dam.  Many areas in Livingston along Business 59 were underwater on Thursday, and several areas of I-69 were closed due to high water.  Numerous areas throughout southeast Texas remain under a flood watch with more rain predicted for later today and through the weekend.  Highest rain chances occur later this morning with skies hopefully starting to clear later this afternoon.  Rain chances are not completely gone for the weekend, but the forecast shows only lingering showers on Saturday and Sunday.  Then, next week shows a much hotter and drier pattern for the hard-hit areas.

Further south, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed a disaster declaration for the county and issued a mandatory evacuation order for areas in the northern part of the county along the San Jacinto River, which includes areas near Lake Houston.

House Speaker Subject of Altered Mailer

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan was the subject of a mailer sent out to benefit his opponent that showed Phelan in an altered image where he is hugging former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California. (Phelan has been targeted by the far right for failing to pass legislative priorities of the more conservative wing of the party).  At a meeting of the House Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence this week, one of the resource witnesses said while the mailer was overtly deceptive and clearly altered, it is not illegal.  Current Texas law only forbids “the distribution of a fake video intended to deceive voters within 30 days of the election.”  Discussion among the House members ensued, with suggestions of including photographs, mailers, speech, text, and radio ads in the list of prohibited items used to deceive voters.  The difficulty then would be the ability to prove that any of the materials were actually altered to try and deceive the voters.  The committee will continue to meet and make recommendations to the full House in January.

Republicans Look to Close Primary Election

Outgoing Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, Matt Rinaldi, sent out a press release over the weekend announcing the party is establishing a work group to explore the possibility of closing the primary election process in Texas.  Currently, registered voters in Texas are allowed to participate in the party primary of their choosing, and do not have to declare a party affiliation when registering to vote. 16 states allow a similar open primary process, while only 8 have fully closed primaries.  In a closed primary, voters must declare a party affiliation and can only vote in that party’s primary election.

In the press release, Rinaldi points to the fact that 73% of Republican primary voters this year endorsed the closed primary idea through a non-binding survey on primary ballots.  Discussions about closing the primary began earlier this year when moderate Jill Dutton won a Texas House special election over more conservative Brent Money amid accusations that Dutton recruited Democrats to support her.  Dutton narrowly won the special election – during which any registered voter can participate – but subsequently lost the primary race to Money by nearly 15 points.

Legal experts have weighed in on the proposal, saying that the state constitution guarantees the right of anyone to vote as long as they are registered, with a few exceptions including those who are mentally incompetent or are convicted felons.  Case law in Texas is consistent in requiring state party rules to correspond with state law.  Therefore, any legislation to convert to a closed primary system in Texas could require a constitutional amendment, which requires a 2/3rds vote from both Houses of the legislature and voter approval.

The work group may disagree with that legal assessment, however.  No timetable was given regarding when their findings and proposals would be released.  But something should be available this fall in preparation for the regular session beginning in January.

New Poll Shows Cruz with Big Lead

The University of Texas/Texas Politics Project released a poll this week showing incumbent Republican US Senator Ted Cruz with a big lead over Democrat Colin Allred.  The survey of 1,200 registered Texas voters showed Cruz the preference of 46% of the respondents compared to 33% for Allred.  Cruz is seeking his 3rd term in the US Senate.  Allred is in his 3rd term in Congress representing areas of central Dallas County. 49% of the voters also said they approve of the job Cruz is doing in the Senate.

The poll also showed Donald Trump leading President Biden by a 45% to 36% margin among Texas voters when other candidates such as Robert F. Kennedy are included.  Head-to-head, Trump leads Biden 48% to 40%.

The poll also asked respondents about their favorable vs. unfavorable views of many of our state leaders.  Gov. Abbott led the way with a 55% approval rating, with 37% disapproving of the job he is doing.  Lt. Governor Patrick is also in positive territory, with a 44% to 33% approval/disapproval rating.  Same for Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has a 41% approval rating among voters, compared to a 35% disapproval.

On the other end of the ratings was US Senator John Cornyn, who consistently has a negative rating when it comes to assessing the job he is doing.  Cornyn has a 36% approval rating – very low for a four-term incumbent – and a 38% disapproval rating.  President Biden also received low approval marks.  43% approve of his performance compared to 51% who disapprove.

The poll was conducted from April 12th-22nd and has a margin of error of 2.83%.  A link to the full poll can be found here:

More Protests at UT

Less than a week after 57 people were arrested while gathering to protest the Israel/Hamas war, pro-Palestinian protestors again gathered on Monday on the University of Texas campus to set up an encampment to demand the University divest all interests related to Israel.  State troopers were called in by the University after the protestors were warned of their violations of trespassing laws and still refused to disperse.  According to the University, the protestors became physically engaged with the officers.  Accounts of the incident have reported that 79 protestors were arrested by UT Police on trespassing charges.  In a statement from the University, they said 45 of the protestors were unaffiliated with the university and 34 were students.

And then on Wednesday, pro-Palestinian students set up an encampment at UT-Dallas in Richardson at 4:30AM.  By noon, there were over 100 students in and around the encampment.  Police were called and surrounded the area, and by late afternoon, DPS troopers were called in to disperse the protestors.  Police arrested 17 people on trespassing charges and tore down the tents that had been set up on campus.

Proposal to Ban Transgender Teachers

Speaking to the Young Conservatives of Texas meeting in Dallas over the weekend, Gov. Abbott declared that Texas public school teachers should be prohibited from dressing in a way that is not consistent with their gender at birth.  This was sparked by a male chemistry teacher in Lewisville that wore a pink dress on school spirit day.  The incident was widely circulated on social media.  The school district said he had not violated any laws or district policies.   The teacher said he was simply pulling a prank and was not trying to make a political statement or espouse any political beliefs.

The incident and remarks by Abbott have caused several Republican elected officials and interest groups to call for a ban on transgender teachers from the Texas public school classrooms.  LGBTQ interest groups and the ACLU immediately criticized Gov. Abbott and anyone calling for a ban on transgender teachers as nothing but fear mongering and a way to further motivate the Republican voting base in Texas.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against any employee based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a related story, Gov. Abbott has ordered the Texas Education Agency to ignore a new directive by the Biden administration that expands discrimination protections to LGBTQ students.  The new rules – set to take effect at the beginning of the new school year in August – prohibits discrimination or harassment of any students based on gender identity and sexual orientation.  AG Ken Paxton has already filed suit in an attempt to stop the rules from going into effect.

Report on Panhandle Fires Released

The three-member committee established by House Speaker Dade Phelan to investigate the causes of the destructive fires in the Panhandle that burned in late February issued its report this week.  The committee was asked to make recommendations to the Texas House that will hopefully prevent future wildfires.

The committee determined that a decayed utility pole that broke and caused a power line to fall on dry grass was the cause.  Ineffective communication from outdated equipment, lack of immediately available air support, and poor coordination between state and local responders also contributed to a much slower response to the fires and inhibited on the ground efforts to contain the blaze.  The committee recommends more effective monitoring of electrical equipment and the infrastructure of oil and gas operators, more resources for containment of wildfires, updating of communications equipment and systems – for better communication between local and state agencies, and additional funding for volunteer fire departments in rural areas.

The investigations and recommendations came as a result of a series of hearings in Amarillo in March that heard testimony from local landowners, first responders, and state officials.  The deadly wildfires – the largest in the state’s history — burned more than 1 million acres, killed 2 people and more than 15,000 heads of cattle.  They burned across several counties east of Amarillo and stretched into Oklahoma before being contained in early March.

Political Notes

Both candidates in the special election to replace former Senator John Whitmire – who was elected mayor of Houston in November — reported robust fundraising totals prior to tomorrow’s special election.  State Rep. Jarvis Johnson is facing nurse Molly Cook for the right to serve out the final eight months of Whitmire’s unexpired term.  Johnson raised $178,000 and has $94,000 cash on hand while Cook reported raising $291,000 with $88,000 cash on hand.  Johnson led Cook 36% to 21% in the first round of voting. The two will face off again in the May 28th runoff election for the full four-year term to begin in January.

And speaking of, the preliminary numbers for early vote turnout in Harris County could set a new low.  Only 1.3% of registered in the state’s largest county cast a ballot during the nine days of early voting.  According to the Harris County Clerk’s office, that breaks down to 33,652 of the 2.56 million registered voters voting early for tomorrow’s elections.  Specifically in the special election for Senate District 15, 10,074 cast a ballot during the early vote period.  That’s out of nearly 550,000 registered voters in the district.  Statewide turnout is not much better.  Early estimates are that roughly 3% have voted early in the municipal elections being held throughout the state.

AG Ken Paxton has made no secret that he is seriously considering a Republican primary challenge to US Senator John Cornyn in 2026.  The two are not political allies and Paxton regularly criticizes Cornyn, saying he has been in Washington too long and has no accomplishments for his time in the US Senate.  Speaking to reporters over the weekend, Cornyn says he’s “not too worried” about a challenge from Paxton.  Cornyn says he has had primary opponents before and received 76% of the vote in the 2020 Republican primary.  Furthermore, he said a strong primary challenge will make him a better general election candidate.  The two have sparred on twitter through the years.  Most recently, Paxton questioned Cornyn’s candidacy for Senate Majority Leader by blasting Cornyn’s leadership skills, or lack thereof.  If Cornyn seeks reelection in 2026, it would be for his fifth term in the US Senate.  He was first elected to the Senate in 2002 after serving two terms as Attorney General of Texas.

And speaking of Paxton, he was in New York this week to support former President Trump during his trial regarding hush money payments allegedly made to a former adult film actress during the 2016 campaign.  Paxton stood with Trump as Trump made comments to reporters before entering the courtroom, but Paxton made no statement to reporters.  Trump and Paxton are close political allies, with Paxton taking the lead before the US Supreme Court challenge the 2020 election outcome.  It is not clear whether or not this is the only reason Paxton is in New York, or whether he is also there on official state business.

Charges of impersonating a public servant have been dismissed against state Rep. Frederick Frazier of Collin County.  Frazier was charged in 2022 with impersonating a city of McKinney code enforcement officer when he instructed business owners to remove campaign signs that were advertising for his opponent in the 2022 Republican primary.  In December, Frazier pleaded no contest and was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay $8,000 in fines.  In early April, Frazier’s attorneys filed for an early release from the probation and for dismissal of the charges.  A district judge granted the requests this week.  Frazier represents House District 61, a solidly Republican district in northern Collin County.  He faces Karesa Richardson in the May 28th runoff.  Richardson led Frazier by a 40% to 32% margin after the March 5th primary.

Former Houston mayor Annise Parker – who served from 2010-2016 – is considering a run for Harris County Judge in 2026.  Parker is currently leading the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ candidates for elected offices.  She will be leaving that job in December.  Current County Judge Lina Hidalgo is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party and is rumored to be a statewide candidate in 2026.  Hidalgo has not announced her intentions for the 2026 cycle.  Most Houston political insiders believe Parker will run for County Judge, regardless of Hidalgo’s plan to plan to either seek reelection or run for higher office.

What’s Next??

Hard to say what’s next for the House.  A full list of interim study issues for all committees may not be released until after the runoff – if at all.  With interim studies issued in the Senate, several hearings have been scheduled for the coming weeks.

The runoff election is May 28th, 25 days from today.  Fundraising, commercials, and all other relative activities will now begin to ramp up even more.