Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:
Paxton Impeachment Trial
Prominent Republicans weighed in on the impeachment trial after its first week. Late Wednesday, former President Trump posted on social media that the impeachment trial was a “shameful” attempt by “establishment RINO’s” to undo last year’s election. This is not the first time Trump has come to Paxton’s defense. In May, when the House was initiating the impeachment proceedings, Trump encouraged Republican House members not to impeach Paxton. After the social media post by Trump, Paxton took advantage by immediately going to Twitter to say he is proud to have the former President’s support, and then asked for a campaign donation.
US Senator John Cornyn said in a call with reporters that the accusations against suspended AG Ken Paxton are “deeply disturbing”. Cornyn went on to say he believes the impeachment trial is warranted based on the evidence and testimony that has seen so far in the trial. He went on to praise Lt. Governor Dan Patrick for ensuring that Paxton receives a fair trial in light of the seriousness of the allegations.
Former US Congressman Louie Gohmert – who challenged Paxton in the 2022 Republican primary — issued an op-ed over the weekend that said he also thinks the trial is necessary due to the testimony and evidence he has heard as well. Gohmert said while there are corrupt prosecutions in the state, “pursuing Paxton is not…” Gohmert also believes that if Paxton is allowed to remain in office, the political price to Republicans in the next election will be substantial.
The second week of testimony began with a focus on the extra marital affair that Paxton became involved in that led to the suspended AG asking a political donor to employ the woman with whom Paxton was involved. The former chief of staff of the agency testified that she told Paxton the affair was damaging to the agency and the morale of the employees. Katherine Cary, who was serving as the agency’s chief of staff in 2018 when she initially confronted Paxton about the affair, said that Paxton’s travel aides complained about excessive hours due to Paxton’s ongoing affair. Cary also testified that in late 2018, Paxton gathered senior aides of the agency with his wife to admit to the affair and apologize. Cary said the affair continued even after the admission. The cover up of the affair – which is the central focus of the impeachment trial – led to Paxton pivoting to Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who agreed to not only employ the woman, but also helped Paxton continue to cover up the affair. In exchange, many agency employees have testified about Paxton abusing the powers of his office by helping Paul thwart an FBI investigation into his business practices. Other witnesses — all former employees of the agency – have testified on various ways that Paxton used the agency powers to try and help Paul in any way, including attempts to discredit FBI investigators.
In a very unusual move, Paxton even hired outside counsel to assist Nate Paul with his defense of the ongoing investigation by the FBI. Houston attorney Brandon Cammack testified on Tuesday that Paxton hired him to look into allegations made by Nate Paul that the FBI and other law enforcement had falsified documents relative to their investigation and had illegally searched his home and business. Cammack testified that Paxton hired him directly after staff in the AG’s office refused to investigate the allegations made by Paul regarding the FBI investigation. Cammack said he was instructed to report directly to Paxton through a nongovernmental email address. Eventually, Cammack said he found the FBI investigation to be legitimate, and never received any compensation for his work.
The trial saw a series of very bizarre events as the week went on. The prosecution seemed to make several errors, and it remains to be seen how their missteps will affect the outcome of the trial. First, the prosecution was not able to use their witness to definitively confirm that the Paxtons had used Nate Paul to pay for home renovations, which was intended to play to the theme of the bribery allegations. At the end of the testimony, there was not any hard evidence that Paul had paid for any renovations, or the renovations had even been done. Secondly, the alleged mistress of Paxton – Laura Olson – was not even allowed to testify due to a mistake by the prosecution that eventually led to Lt. Gov. Patrick announcing that she had planned to plea the 5th amendment protection against self-incrimination, and therefore would not allow her testimony in the trial. Finally, for some unknown reason, prosecution attorney Rusty Hardin declared “the House of managers rests” – meaning they are through presenting their case – before the defense team could cross-examine the prosecution’s final witness. Hardin immediately admitted he made a mistake by resting their case prematurely, and the defense tried to seize on all the mishaps by making a motion to have the case thrown out — which would have effectively ended the trial and exonerated Paxton. After a series of back and forth by the attorneys and several conferences with the judge, the motion was eventually withdrawn.
On Thursday, the defense finally got their turn to present their case. They spent the day calling current and former employees of the AG’s office to all say they had seen no wrongdoing, no crimes committed, and were proud to serve in the AG’s office under Ken Paxton. The defense team used the witnesses to try and dispute the testimony over the last couple of weeks that had laid out a series of allegations including bribery, adultery, and abuse of office, which were all related to Paxton’s questionable relationship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
The defense rested their case Thursday afternoon. And as you receive this on Friday morning, closing arguments are being made by each side. After the closing arguments, the members of the Senate will enter private deliberations where they will decide the fate of Paxton by considering and voting on the 16 articles of impeachment. As a reminder, it takes 21 of the 31 members of the Senate to convict Paxton on any of the article of impeachment.
I will keep you informed and let you all know as soon as a verdict is reached.
Record Heat Finally Subside
This week saw a little bit of relief. For the first time in months, Houston and Austin both have gone through the week without reaching the 100-degree mark. Austin recorded about ½ an inch of rainfall from Wednesday into Thursday, with more predicted over the weekend. Plus, overnight lows have fallen in the low 70’s – which at least for Austin is a full 10 degrees cooler than the overnight lows throughout the months of July and August. Highs have been in the mid to upper 90’s, but that is much better than the 100+ degree highs that both cities have experienced for the last several weeks. Overnight lows have been averaging above 80 degrees, with 22 days of low temperatures never dipping below 80 degrees. Forecast models call for substantial chances of rain throughout the state starting today and lasting through the weekend. However, temperatures in Austin are predicted to reach the high 90’s again by the middle of next week.
Hopefully, the brutal and relentless heat wave will continue to subside. Cities in the southern third of the state have all experienced record numbers of triple-digit days this summer. Houston logged 45 days of 100+ degree temperatures, while Austin experienced 78 days of triple-digit readings. That surpassed the all-time record of 68 days with 100-degree temperatures in Austin that was set in 2011. San Antonio has had 74 days of 100-degree temperatures, but Laredo had the most with 97 days with the temperature reaching over 100 degrees.
ERCOT – The Texas power grid operator – has been given permission to exceed federal pollution standards by the Department of Energy as ERCOT continues to look for any and all methods to keep the power flowing during the relentless heat wave. One of the reasons for the timing of the exemption is due to the fact that the sun is now setting earlier, causing less solar generation during the early evening hours when temperatures are still high. The exemption allows all power plants to operate at maximum output between the hours of 5PM and 9PM to fully generate enough power to satisfy demand. The Department of Energy has issued an exemption to ERCOT last December when freezing temperatures caused several power plants to go offline.
If you are interested in monitoring grid conditions, go to the ERCOT website: https://www.ercot.com
President Biden is considering forcing migrants who cross into the US illegally to remain in Texas while they are waiting on the screening process regarding their request for asylum. This proposal is in response first to the continuing feud between the state of Texas and the federal government regarding the buoys that have been placed in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass. And secondly, due to the busing program that is sending migrants to self-defined “sanctuary cities” such as Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. Texas has bused over 35,000 migrants to these cities in the last year. Outcry from the mayors of these cities has drawn attention, and they admit to being overwhelmed with the numbers of migrants coming to their cities and are struggling to provide adequate resources to those that have been bused to their respective cities.
Gov. Abbott said the busing is necessary so those cities can share in the responsibility of caring for the migrants that are entering the country at record numbers. Frustration is growing over the number of migrants entering the country. Earlier this week, New York Mayor Eric Adams said at a townhall meeting on Manhattan’s upper west side that “I don’t see an end to this, and the issue is going to destroy the city…it’s coming to your neighborhoods.” Adams has also announced a 15% cut in city services so the money can be diverted to fund the housing and feeding of migrants.
In addition to the growing issues and frustrations voiced by the Democratic mayors of the cities to which the migrants are being bused, Gov. Abbott is now beginning to take on criticism from the more conservative wing of his own party. Conservative commentator and former Fox News host Tucker Carlson blasted Gov. Abbott at an event in Michigan earlier this week. Carlson said Abbott has not provided any meaningful solutions to the border crisis and should engage the National Guard and “line them up at the southern border” in a show of force to repel the illegal migration. Carlson claims that the National Guard is doing nothing more than processing migrants once they have crossed the border, and more needs to be done to ensure they don’t have the opportunity to cross. Carlson was even more harsh in his comments, calling the Governor a “liar” and “betrayer of your own people.” Gov. Abbott has not responded directly to the comments made by Carlson.
Calls for Judge Hidalgo to Resign
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced last month that she was taking a leave of absence from her elected position to receive treatment for clinical depression. Hidalgo’s Republican opponent from the 2022 election – Alexandra del Moral Mealer – has called on Hidalgo to either return to her duties or resign. The reason for the timing of the call to action is that the Harris County Commissioners Court is set to approve the budget for the upcoming year at their regular meeting next week. In the initial announcement of her leave of absence, Hildalgo’s staff said the Judge checked herself into an inpatient facility in late June and planned to return in early September. Her staff also said they are in constant communication with the Judge, and she is available in the event of an emergency. In responding directly to Mealer’s demand, her staff said – in a statement – that Mealer was ”simply trying to score political points by taking advantage of someone who is seeking treatment for a chronic illness.” However, just one day after Mealer’s demand, Judge Hidalgo announced she would be returning to work on October 2nd. In the statement, Hidalgo said her condition has improved, and she is scheduled to be released from the facility on September 16th. Her doctors have said she will then need a 2 week “re-acclimatization” period before returning to a full, regular work schedule.
Democratic state Rep. Carl Sherman has joined the race to challenge US Senator Ted Cruz in 2024. Sherman, from DeSoto, is in his third term representing the solidly Democratic district south of Dallas. He serves as senior pastor at the Church of Christ in Hutchins. Sherman joins Congressman Colin Allred, state Senator Roland Gutierrez, and former Nueces County DA Mark Gonzalez in the Democratic primary field. State Board of Education member Aicha Davis has already announced she will run for the state House seat to succeed Sherman.
First term Republican state Rep. Caroline Harris of Round Rock – north of Austin – has drawn her first opponent for the 2024 election cycle. Democrat Jennie Birkholz, also of Round Rock, declared her candidacy to challenge Harris next year. Birkholz, according to her press announcement, is the owner of a health care services consulting firm and has been involved in community issues for 20 years in Williamson County. Her campaign will focus on improving public education. House District 52 covers parts of Round Rock and Georgetown, as well as the cities of Hutto and Taylor in eastern Williamson County. The district is favorable to Republicans. Harris won her election in 2024 by an 11-point margin over her Democratic opponent.
Venerable Republican state Rep. Doc Anderson of Waco has become the 9th House member to announce he will not seek reelection in 2024. Possibly figuring into the decision is the announcement of Republican Pat Curry to enter the race for Anderson’s House seat. Curry owned an A/C and plumbing business in nearby Hewitt and Miracle-Ear Hearing Aid Center in Waco. He was also involved in the management of Central Freight Lines in the mid 90’s. In his announcement, Curry laid out an impressive list of local endorsements. He says he has been blessed with success and wants to give back to his community. Anderson, a veterinarian in Waco, is in his 9th term as state Representative. No other candidates have announced for the seat.
In House District 29, the seat is open in the 2024 election cycle due to the announcement that incumbent Republican Ed Thompson of Pearland announced he will not seek reelection next year. Pearland City Councilman Alex Kamkar has announced he will seek the Republican nomination next year. Kamkar is a real estate developer in the northern Brazoria County district and was immediately endorsed by Texans for Lawsuit Reform. No other candidates have emerged.
On the other side of the aisle, Democratic incumbent state Rep. Erin Zweiner of Dripping Springs has drawn a primary opponent as well. In next year’s Democratic primary, she will be challenged by personal injury attorney Chevo Pastrano of San Marcos. Pastrano would be the first Hispanic elected from Hays County, south of Austin and feels the changing demographics in the county call for a new state representative. Zweiner is serving her third term.
In House District 80 – open next year due to the retirement of Democratic state Rep. Tracy King – Rosie Cuellar has announced she will seek the Democratic nomination in 2024. Cuellar is the sister of US Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo, and is the former tax assessor-collector in Webb County. Republicans are targeting the seat that includes Uvalde and surrounding areas in south Texas, as it has been trending more Republican in recent elections. President Trump carried the district by 4 points in 2020. Uvalde mayor Tom McLaughlin and Pleasanton mayor Clint Powell are already declared candidates in the Republican primary. Cuellar will face Carlos Lopez, the former chair of the Uvalde County Democratic party and Cecillia Castellano of Atascosa County in the Democratic primary.
And on the Senate side, Republican incumbent Sen. Drew Springer of Muenster has seemingly drawn an opponent in next year’s Republican primary. Carrie de Moos, a physician from Frisco, announced that she is exploring a run against Springer in 2024. Dr. de Moor says that she has been encouraged by local constituents in the district to run for the seat, and she says in her press announcement that the district needs “new, fresh, conservative leadership.” Senate District 30 runs from Wichita Falls east over to the north Dallas suburbs of Collin County. It is a solidly Republican district.
Republican Presidential candidate Nikki Haley is visiting Texas this week for a fundraising swing that will take her to Austin and San Antonio. The former South Carolina Governor and UN Ambassador held two events on Wednesday with several prominent Republican donors. The latest polls have her running either 4th or 5th in the crowded Republican field, polling mostly in high single digits. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will also visit Texas next week for a series of fundraisers, starting in Midland next Wednesday. DeSantis continues to run a distant second to former President Trump.
The impeachment trial has ended, and we are waiting on a verdict. Now that the trial has ended, we should get a clearer picture next week about the beginning of the next special session that will be called sometime later this month.