I trust everyone had a safe and restful Thanksgiving weekend.  Lots of activity during the break, below are some of the highlights.

Election Results Official

The November 2022 election results have been canvassed and are now official.  8.1 million people cast a vote, which is 46% of all registered voters, and 42% of the voting age population.  The turnout fell short of 2018 numbers.  In 2018 – the last time statewide elections were held —  8.4 million people cast votes, representing 53% of registered voters.  Nearly 11 million people – 9.6 million of which are registered voters – who are eligible to vote in Texas did not cast a vote this November.  Plus, there were 4 million fewer voters in 2022 compared to the number that voted in 2020.  That is the largest drop off in state history.

Overall this year, Republicans on the statewide ballot received an average of 56.6% of the vote, compared to 43.3% for the Democrats.  One figure that truly stands out – 75% of registered voters under the age of 30 did not vote this year.

Thanks to Jeff Blaylock and Texas Election Source for the final numbers!!

Harris County Voting Saga Continues

Due to numerous issues related to shortage of paper ballots on election day, polls in Harris County were allowed to stay open an extra hour on election day.  The state Supreme Court has ruled that the ballots cast during that extra hour be segregated.  The state Attorney General has asked the court to throw out the ballots, but the court said the ballots should be counted, and that separate canvasses of the votes with and without the additional ballots should be calculated.  Once that is done, a determination will be made – with consultation from the court, the candidates, and the parties – to determine if the outcomes are in question and whether additional litigation is warranted.

Governor Abbott has already called for an investigation into the Harris County elections, and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has said he fully supports the investigation.  Patrick says that legislation is needed for better oversight of the administration of Harris County elections because the county is not adequately funding investigations and prosecutions regarding election integrity.  Patrick – in an email to supporters – said the state’s investigation will prove “gross incompetence and criminal actions” on the part of Harris County officials.

Texas Redistricting

When the legislature does the reapportionment of legislative and Congressional districts every 10 years, scores of legal battles ensue.  In a major victory for the state of Texas and a good indication that the current districts will likely stand, the US Supreme Court last week declined to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the state Senate districts.  The case centered around a completely redrawn district in the Fort Worth area that changed a mostly urban, Democrat held district to a mostly suburban and rural district designed to elect a Republican.  The plaintiffs claimed that the state willfully discriminated against minority voters by dividing their communities and placing them in a Republican controlled district.  The court refused to hear the challenge, saying that the challenge was out of their jurisdiction.

DPS Active Shooter Academy

The Department of Public Safety will be asking the legislature for an additional $1.2 billion to convert a training facility in Austin into a full time statewide training facility to include active shooter training.  In the aftermath of the Uvalde school shooting, state leaders have focused on the need for increased tools for law enforcement such as bullet-resistant shields, rapid response training, and more effective on-site communication tools to deal with active shooter situations.  The DPS says if the money is approved, the facility could be converted quickly and begin training law enforcement personnel from all areas and agencies throughout the state.

University Votes to Join UT System

Stephen F Austin State University, an institution of about 12,000 students located in Nacogdoches in east Texas, wants to join the University of Texas System.  The SFA board of regents voted yesterday to make the move, saying the move makes solid financial sense for the current stand-alone college.  SFA regents said that once they entertained the notion of joining a system, all four major university systems showed interest and extended invitations to SFA.  The attraction of the UT System is their control of the Permanent University Fund, which consists of oil and gas revenue that brings in billions annually.  The Legislature must approve the proposal, which will be introduced in the form of legislation for the upcoming session.  UT System officials have committed to let SFA keep their name and mascot.

Border News

The Texas National Guard will begin sending tank-like military vehicles to 10 spots near the southern border and will also boost aircraft surveillance over the region.  The M113 Armored Personnel Carriers will be used to transport troops into areas where normal vehicles cannot get to or operate.  In announcing the deployment, Gov. Abbott said he is activating his “constitutional authority to take unprecedented measures to defend our state against an invasion.”  The exact locations where the new vehicles will be deployed were not disclosed.

A second bus has arrived in Philadelphia carrying migrants from Texas.  48 passengers arrived two days before Thanksgiving in Philadelphia, mostly from south and Central America.  City officials greeted the migrants and said they were prepared for more buses to arrive from Texas.  Texas has now sent approximately 13,500 migrants to the cities of Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

A coalition of 15 mostly conservative leaning states – including Texas – have filed a motion in federal court to keep in place the Trump-era policy – known as Title 42 — allowing asylum seekers to be turned away at the border. The policy is set to expire on December 21st, and the states are arguing that eliminating the policy will cause irreparable harm due to an anticipated increase in migrants seeking asylum.  More than 2.4 million migrants have been expelled from the US since the policy went into effect in March of 2020, and was based on the need to prevent the spread of COVID during the pandemic.  In April of this year, the CDC said that Title 42 was no longer needed for health related purposes and recommended a return to normal processing of migrants seeking asylum in the US.  A federal district court in Washington, DC has granted the Biden administration the authority to follow the CDC recommendation that Title 42 should expire.

Political Notes

US Senator Ted Cruz has announced he will seek reelection to a third term to represent Texas in Washington.  Cruz narrowly won a 2nd term in 2018 defeating Beto O’Rourke by less than 300,000 votes.  In addition to Cruz’s plans for reelection, he has also stated he is seriously considering another run at the Republican nomination for President in 2024.  Texas law does not allow a candidate to seek more than one office on the same election day, unless the 2nd office is for President or Vice-President.  So, Cruz conceivably could run for both in 2024.

However, a new poll shows he may have an uphill battle in his quest for the Republican nomination.  Emerson College released a poll last week showed that Republican voters in the country still prefer Donald Trump, who received the nod from 24% of the respondents.  He was followed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who received 11%.  Cruz even came in behind outgoing Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who drew 3.6% of the vote.  Cruz came in at 3.4%.

The Texas House Republican Caucus will meet Saturday in Austin to affirm their support for the reelection of Speaker Dade Phelan.  Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont, is seeking his second term leading the lower chamber.  Phelan is being challenged by Arlington Republican Tony Tinderholt, who is running on the platform on requiring all House committee chairs to be Republicans.  The House has traditionally had committee chairs from both parties, regardless of the party in power.  Tinderholt feels more partisan control will provide a more favorable environment for the passage of Republican party priorities.  Tinderholt has not received any public support from any member of the House for his challenge.

State Senator John Whitmire, Democrat from Houston, formally announced his candidacy this week for Mayor of Houston. Current Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is subject to term limits and cannot seek reelection in November of 2023.  Whitmire launched his campaign at an event hosted by Houston Rockets and Landry’s restaurant chain owner Tilman Fertitta.  Whitmire, who is Dean of the Texas Senate, was first elected to the Texas House in 1972 and then was elected to the Senate in 1982.  He will face former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollis and former Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards.  Since the election is still a year away, other candidates are expected to enter the race.

What’s Next??

Fundraising for members is in full swing now, as members try to replenish their campaign accounts prior to session.  Members are forbidden from accepting contributions 30 prior to and during the session.  So, they have about one more weeks to drag the sack for contributions.  The moratorium on contributions goes into effect on December 10th.

After the flurry of bill filings on the first day of prefiling, the pace has slowed substantially.  Nearly 1,000 were filed on the first day, and now the filing rate is about 25 bills a day.  This pace will likely remain slow until after the first of the year.

The session begins on Tuesday, January 10th and lasts for 140 days.