Here’s a quick recap of what happened over the last week:
Paxton Impeachment Trial
The impeachment trial will obviously dominate the news out of Austin for the next several weeks. This is only the third impeachment trial in the history of the state. In 1917, Governor James Ferguson was indicted and impeached on embezzlement charges, forcing him to resign from office. In 1975, state District Judge OP Carillo of Duval County was impeached and convicted of income tax evasion and using county equipment for personal use. Carillo also served jail time.
The Paxton trial started on Tuesday with two big developments. First, the Senate rejected all of Paxton’s efforts to have the articles of impeachment dismissed. Each individual article was voted on separately. Varying combinations of the 19 Republican Senators voted with the 12 Senate Democrats to move forward with the trial. The votes varied from 24-6 to 20-10 against dismissing the articles of impeachment with all but one article receiving at least 21 votes. For conviction to occur, 21 of the 31 members of the Senate must vote in the affirmative to convict. Senator Angela Paxton – the wife of suspended AG Ken Paxton – is not allowed to vote under the rules adopted by the Senate for the trial. After the motions to dismiss were defeated, Paxton pleaded not guilty to all 16 articles of impeachment.
Having a consistent number of at least 21 votes to set the tone for the trial is considered to be difficult news for Paxton. Furthermore, only 6 Republican Senators consistently voted with the Paxton defense team to dismiss the charges. With the 12 Democratic Senators expected to vote with the prosecution, only 9 Republican Senators are needed for conviction. Plus, conviction relative to only one of the 16 articles under consideration will remove Paxton from office.
The second major development also occurred in the opening hours of the trial when Lt. Governor Dan Patrick ruled that Paxton cannot be compelled to testify at the trial. Patrick said that the trial is a criminal proceeding, and that Paxton should be afforded the same legal protections as a criminal defendant, thus not being forced to testify.
The first witness – former First Assistant AG Jeff Mateer — took the stand on Tuesday and testified most of Wednesday as well. The prosecution tried to establish a pattern of abuse of the office by Paxton, including immoral and unethical conduct in addition to the crimes alleged, while the defense portrayed the former Paxton employee as part of a conspiracy that is fabricating stories in an effort to “stage a coup” to oust Paxton as state Attorney General. Other witnesses were called by the prosecution to establish the same theme of corruption and abuse by Paxton, with the defense again trying to push the theory that they are disgruntled employees trying to remove Paxton from office.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick last week announced he would not accept political contributions during the trial. Through a spokesman, Patrick said he will be focused solely on the trial for its duration, and will not be involved in any fundraising activities, meetings, or events of any kind during the trial. The House impeachment managers made the same pledge not to accept contributions. The chairs of the Senate Democratic and Republican Caucuses also released statements over the weekend that their respective caucuses also will not engage in any fundraising events or accept contributions during impeachment trial.
And speaking of fundraising, Paxton continues to try and raise funds during the trial. He sent out an email to supporters after the first day of the trial that said, “With your help, I can be back in office by the end of the month.” Paxton is allowed to use campaign funds to pay for his legal defense in the impeachment trial. The Dallas Morning News obtained a copy of the email and published the text of the solicitation that also included Paxton citing his record of fighting the policies of the Biden administration.
School District Refuses to Make Redistribution Payment
In 1993 — under pressure from a court order that found the method the state uses to fund its public schools is unconstitutional – the state passed the “Robin Hood” law which requires property-rich districts to make payments to the state so that money can be redistributed to property-poor districts. The practice – known as recapture – mandates that certain districts send millions of dollars each year to the state so the state can send it to other districts that do not have enough revenue from property taxes to sufficiently fund their schools. In Spring Branch, north of Houston, the school district trustees recently voted against authorizing the next recapture payment of nearly $22 million. During board deliberations, the members said it is time for the property rich districts to take a stand against the lack of state funding and the recapture payments that are “decimating” their districts. In coming to a decision to no longer send recapture payments, the board heard testimony from their financial advisors that the district can no longer afford the recapture payments without increased funding from the state. The board trustees hope to send a message to the state and are eagerly promoting their decision on social media with a “Come and Take It” theme. They also hope their concerns are addressed in the upcoming special session due to start sometime this fall that will focus on several public school related issues.
Record Heat Leads to Leadership Changes at ERCOT
Even though the state’s electric grid has held up during this summer’s relentless heatwave, the agency in charge of overseeing grid operations is under intense scrutiny after calling on Texans to conserve energy eleven different times due to the shrinking gap between available energy supply and strong demand for power. In response, ERCOT announced it is reorganizing its leadership structure to focus more sharply on daily operations. The new positions will be charged with evaluating and approving new sources of energy, as well as more comprehensive system planning and weatherization. Several natural gas and coal plants have had to shut down recently to perform routine maintenance due to the continued strain on their operations. Furthermore, calm days have decreased the availability of wind energy to help with the supply of energy to the grid. The agency is hopeful that by streamlining and focus more on day-to-day operations, the need for emergency conservation measures will not be needed moving forward.
It has been another brutal week of record setting high temperatures throughout the state. On Wednesday, ERCOT triggered emergency operations which allowed the agency to call on all available power generation sources to stay ahead of demand. The emergency was in place for about 90 minutes Wednesday evening and fortunately no rolling blackouts were needed. ERCOT again called for conservation measures from 5PM to 9PM on Thursday as several coal and natural gas power plants reported either shortages or outages of supply. The weekend will bring no relief. However, there are indications that next week could see daily high temperatures in the 90’s in most parts of the state.
If you are interested in monitoring grid conditions, go to the ERCOT website: https://www.ercot.com
The US Department of Justice won the first round of court battles – sort of — as a federal judge this week ruled that the state of Texas must remove the barrier buoys placed in the Rio Grande by the end of next week. The DOJ contended that the state and Gov. Abbott violated federal law by placing the floating barriers without the approval of the Army Corps of Engineers, who maintain control over all navigable waters in the US. While that is a victory for the federal DOJ, it was short-lived. The state immediately appealed the ruling to the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, saying that the waters of the Rio Grande are not deemed as navigable because there is no commercial traffic on the river. The Fifth Circuit immediately granted the state’s request for a stay on the ruling, thus allowing the barriers to remain in place until the appeals court makes a final decision in the case. As they issued the stay, the court did not set a timeline for a hearing on the matter. The state began placing the barriers in the river in June to act as a deterrent to illegal immigration since the federal government – according to Gov. Abbott – has failed to control migration at the southern border.
The Washington Post has obtained preliminary figures regarding border arrests and apprehensions for the month of August and published their estimates earlier this week. After dropping sharply in May and June, border apprehensions have now increased over the last two months. US Border Patrol agents arrested an estimated 91,000 migrants in August, which breaks the previous one-month record of 84,486 arrests in May of 2019. These arrests include families or groups of migrants crossing together where one arrest can account for several individuals. Therefore, the total number of migrants apprehended at the border in August is estimated to be 177,000. This is up from confirmed numbers of 132,652 in July and 99,539 in June. These numbers give confirmation that for the first time, more migrants are now crossing in large family groups, instead of as individuals or unaccompanied minors.
The City of Los Angeles is considering filing a lawsuit against Gov. Abbott and the state of Texas for busing migrants from Texas to Los Angeles. Texas has sent 10 buses to LA since June of this year, sending over 400 migrants to the city. Last week, the LA City Council voted unanimously to investigate not only the possibility of a lawsuit seeking civil and financial restitution, but also whether or not the state’s actions constitute kidnapping and human trafficking. Abbott has fiercely defended his busing program that started in April of 2022 and has sent over 33,000 migrants to major cities that have declared themselves sanctuary cities such as New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC. Abbott – in a statement to the action taken by the LA City Council – released a statement saying the migrants go on the buses voluntarily and sign waivers in their native languages. Furthermore, the buses are stocked with food and water. Abbott went on to say that the city officials should focus their frustration on the Biden Administration for not securing the border.
A third Democrat has entered the race to challenge Republican US Senator Ted Cruz in 2024. Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez has resigned his position to run in next year’s Democratic primary. He joins Congressman Colin Allred and state Senator Roland Gutierrez in the Democratic field. Gonzalez was first elected Nueces County DA in 2016 and proudly calls himself the “Mexican biker lawyer covered in tattoos”. Until the resignation, Gonzalez was facing civil charges seeking his removal from office due to incompetency and official misconduct related to a high-profile capital murder case.
Six candidates have filed to fill the unexpired term of expelled former state Rep. Bryan Slaton, who was removed from the House in May for an inappropriate relationship with a Capitol intern. Five Republicans and one Democrat have filed for the solidly red district in northeast Texas. Jill Dutton of Van Zandt and Brent Money of Greenville – both Republicans – have led the fundraising totals so far. The special election is November 7th. The winner of this special election will only serve through next year. Any candidate wanting to run for the seat in the 2024 election to serve a full two-year term will have to also file for that race starting in November.
Texas House District 118 in San Antonio is one of the few battleground districts that will again be hotly contested in 2024. Two Democrats have announced a challenge incumbent Republican John Lujan. Attorney Carlos Quezada has been endorsed by two former members who have held the seat – Tomas Uresti and Leo Pacheco. And this week community organizer Kristian Carranza announced her intention to run in the Democratic primary as well. Carranza has worked for the Democratic National Committee and for Julian Castro when he served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Democratic state Rep. Venton Jones is in his first term representing HD 110 in central Dallas. This week, former state Rep. Barbara Mallory Callaway announced she will be challenging Jones in the Democratic primary next year. Caraway was first elected to the state House in 2006 and served two terms. She also served on Dallas City Council prior to her election to the House. She also unsuccessfully challenged longtime Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson in 2012. Caraway’s husband, Dwaine, is a former Mayor ProTem of Dallas and was convicted in 2018 of accepting bribes while serving as interim Mayor of Dallas.
The impeachment trial will continue throughout the day and reconvene on Tuesday. Senate members and staff have been told to be prepared to meet from Tuesday through Saturday of next week. The trial will continue to dominate the news from the Capitol. The trial is expected to last throughout the month of September.