COVID Cases Fall, Hospitalizations Steady
New infections continue a slow and steady decline with 1,074 cases reported by the state yesterday. This is down from the 1,900 reported one week ago. Hospitalizations are remaining steady, but falling slightly as well. The state is reporting 1,425 people hospitalized with COVID illness. That down slightly from the 1,725 reported one week ago and the lowest number since mid-June.
The only debate that will take place between incumbent Gov. Abbott and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke went basically according to plan with no game-changing headlines. And that’s exactly how Gov. Abbott wanted it to go. Both candidates reiterated their positions on abortion, gun safety, and immigration. O’Rourke attacked Abbott on his failure to secure the state’s electric grid, while Abbott fought back by reminding voters of O’Rourke’s position on gun control and defunding of law enforcement. All in all, no knockout punches were thrown, and no real headlines were made. In a debate where there was no clear winner, the incumbent came out unscathed and will likely continue to lead in the polls as the election nears.
Just hours ahead of the debate, several families of the victims of the Uvalde school shooting threw their support to O’Rourke. At a news conference announcing their support, the families said that Gov. Abbott has not taken action on meaningful gun control legislation such as raising the age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21. The news conference was held in Edinburg, the site of the gubernatorial debate that would be held later that evening. In response, Abbott put out a statement that he has asked lawmakers to convene committee hearings during the interim and make recommendations for the upcoming legislative session that would prevent future shootings.
Signs Pointing to Economic Slowdown
According to the latest survey issued by the Dallas Federal Reserve, there are signs that the state’s economy is slowing. The most recent jobs report showed state employment was flat in August, with unemployment growing to 4.1%, up from 4.0% in July. The most telling sign was the job growth numbers. For the first seven months of the year, new jobs were growing at a rate of 5.6% per month. But the job expansion number hit 0 in August. Wage growth also slowed to 2.8%, down from 4.4% in July. This is especially problematic since inflation figures continue to grow. However, even with the slowdown occurring at the end of the summer, the Fed predicts overall job growth for the state to exceed 4% for the calendar year. This will exceed the state’s historical average of roughly 2% annual job growth.
The centerpiece of the Abbott campaign has been border security. The state – over the last 2 years – has put $4 billion into Operation Lone Start, which encompasses continuing construction of the border wall, assigning more state troopers to patrol the border region, and increased inspections of vehicles crossing from Mexico. Last week, the state awarded two more contracts totaling $307 million to build 14 miles of border wall along the south Texas border. There will be two segments built, one near Del Rio and the other in the Rio Grande Valley.
Despite these efforts, the number of migrant encounters continues to grow. In August of this year, migrant encounters at the border exceeded 2 million for the year. Final numbers are not in, but the count for the entire fiscal year of 2022 which ended on Friday is expected to exceed 2.3 million. Many question the continued use of state dollars for border enforcement while the numbers continue to grow, while Abbott continues to blame the Biden administration for not imposing more significant restrictions relative to border security. Bottom line is that no matter how much attention is given to the border, the number of migrants continues to increase, and is expected to do so for the foreseeable future.
Incumbent Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is under a tremendous amount of scrutiny, from his pending federal indictment to bribery allegations. His latest blunder came last week when a constable attempted to serve him a subpoena regarding a case being brought by his agency employees. Upon seeing the constable approach his home, Paxton fled, thus avoiding being served. This obviously made news, and Paxton’s Democratic opponent has pounced on the opportunity. Rochelle Garza, long seen as a long shot, claims that she has raised over $100,000 since the incident last week.
Polls already showed this race as the tightest among all statewide races, with most polls having Garza within single digits of Paxton. This does make Paxton the most vulnerable of all the statewide incumbents. However, Garza has little name ID and very little in the way of resources to get her message out, particularly on television advertising. With all the legal and ethical troubles facing Paxton, Garza is still seen as fighting a stiff, uphill battle.
Retiring Republican state Rep. Lyle Larson of San Antonio becomes the latest Republican elected official to endorse Democrat Mike Collier over Republican incumbent Dan Patrick in the race for Lt. Governor. Larson joins Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, state Senator Kel Seliger (both are also not seeking reelection) and former Lt. Governor Bill Ratliff on the list of Republicans to buck their party and endorse Collier. Larson and Patrick clashed famously over the last few years over their views mainly on social issues, with Larson making no secret of his disdain for Patrick.
This weekend is the annual Texas/OU football rivalry in Dallas. This event has also become an excuse for members to have fundraising events in conjunction with all the festivities surrounding the big game. At last count, over 65 members of the House and Senate have events scheduled starting Thursday evening and running up to game time.
There are a few hearings scheduled on the House side in the coming weeks, but the hearing schedule has slowed down as most members are concentrating on their reelection.
The schedule and details of all interim hearings can be found here: https://capitol.texas.gov
The last day to register to vote is October 11th. Early voting starts October 24th, election day is November 8th, five weeks from today.