Tag Archives: Drew Springer

Texas election roundup: HEB owner advocates for voter safety

Charles Butt, the owner of beloved Texas grocery chain H-E-B, wrote a letter to the Texas Supreme Court this week arguing in support of the ability of Texans to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter comes in response to a fight between Harris County and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton over voting by mail, which unfortunately has become a partisan issue.

“We’ve worked hard to give customers the opportunities to buy their food in the safest way. In light of this, I also support efforts to allow voting by mail, which is the safest means for people to exercise this vital right during this time,” wrote Mr. Butt. “It’s always been my impression that the more people who vote, the stronger our democracy will be.”

Houston has become the focal point in the battle over voting by mail. In the latest turn, the Texas Supreme Court has ordered Harris County not to send all voters applications for mail-in ballots. Paxton filed the original lawsuit in response to a decision by the Harris County clerk to send applications to all voters in the county with the aim of ensuring safer voting during the pandemic. The clerk now plans to send applications to all voters over the age of 65, which is just one of the categories of persons eligible to vote by mail.

It’s important to note that applications are not the same as ballots. A voter must meet the requirements for voting by mail and return a completed application for a mail-in ballot to their county election official in order to receive a ballot in the mail. Once the voter receives their actual ballot, they can fill it out and mail it back to the county election department to cast their vote.

The field of candidates is now set for the special election scheduled for September 29 in Senate District (SD) 30 in North Texas. The special election comes after state Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) announced plans to resign the seat in anticipation of his likely election to the U.S. Congress. SD 30 voted to reelect U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) by a margin of more than 44%, making it virtually certain the Senate seat will remain in Republican hands.

Friday marked the deadline to file for the open seat, and several contenders have thrown their hats into the ring. The Republican candidates include state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), Denton Mayor Chris Watts, beauty salon owner Shelley Luther, bootmaker Craig Carter, and consultant Andy Hopper. Union activist and electrician Jacob Minter is the lone Democrat to file. Early voting runs Sept. 14 through 25.

The latest Texas poll shows President Donald Trump (R) and former Vice President Joe Biden (D) remain in a statistical tie. A Morning Consult survey conducted after the two party conventions shows Trump leading Biden 48% to 47% in Texas, which is within the poll’s margin of error. The 1% margin is unchanged from before the conventions, in which Trump led Biden by 47% to 46%.

October 4 is the last day to register to vote for the Nov. 3 presidential election. You can check your registration status here and get started on your registration if you are eligible and not already registered.

 

Texas election roundup: North Texas Senate race takes shape and more

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) announced over the weekend there will be a special election Sept. 29 to replace outgoing state Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), who is vacating his seat in the Texas Senate in order to run for U.S. Congress.

Fallon won the Republican nomination to replace U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX 4), who President Donald Trump appointed Director of National Intelligence. In the overwhelmingly Republican 4th Congressional District of Texas, Fallon is virtually guaranteed to win the general election in November.

Fallon sent a letter to Gov. Abbott on Saturday announcing his resignation effective Jan. 4 at midnight. Abbott’s proclamation states that the emergency special election is being set so quickly to ensure Senate District (SD) 30 is represented when the next legislative session begins in January. This marks an about-face from the governor’s decision-making when then-state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) resigned her seat in order to run for Congress in 2018. The governor waited to set the special election for that seat, leaving voters in SD 6 without representation for several months at the beginning of the 86th Texas Legislature.

Candidates have until 5:00 p.m. Friday to file for the SD 30 special election, and several contenders have already announced their candidacy. State Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) was the first to announce his candidacy and has received endorsements from Sen. Fallon and several members of the Texas House and Texas Senate. Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther, who achieved notoriety among certain circles for her arrest in violation of state and local public health orders, has announced her intent to run. Denton Mayor Chris Watts has submitted his resignation as mayor and has established a campaign committee for SD 30. ATPE will be profiling each candidate in the special election here on Teach the Vote as their campaigns are launched. Early voting in the SD 30 special election will begin Monday, Sept. 14.

U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a GOP megadonor appointed to run the U.S. Postal Service in May, testified before Congress this week in response to an escalating scandal over ordering changes that have resulted in nationwide mail delays, which the postal service has warned could disrupt the delivery of mail-in ballots in the November election.

DeJoy promised to deliver election mail on time in November, but urged those voting by mail to request their ballots early and mail them in as soon as possible. DeJoy also defended his decisions to House and Senate committees and refused to put back more than 600 mail sorting machines that have been taken out of service and dismantled.

The agency and DeJoy’s actions have come under bipartisan scrutiny after President Trump stated in an interview on Fox Business Channel and a subsequent White House briefing earlier this month that he will oppose funding for the postal service in order to prevent it from being able to process mail-in ballots. On Saturday, U.S. House Democrats and 26 Republicans passed bipartisan legislation that would continue funding for the Postal Service and block DeJoy’s operational changes.

The Republican National Convention continues this week, with President Trump scheduled to close out the event with a speech Thursday night. The convention continued its focus on school privatization Wednesday by featuring a speech from a school voucher advocate before the primetime address by Vice-President Mike Pence, who emphasized that privatization would be a top priority for the administration in a second term.

Texas election roundup: A shakeup in North Texas

Newly-elected state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) was ceremonially sworn into her new office at the Texas State Capitol this week after being formally sworn in a couple of weeks ago. Eckhardt, a former Travis County judge, will fill the Senate District (SD) 14 seat previously held by former Sen. Kirk Watson until its term expires in 2022. Eckhardt posted a photo of the ceremony in a tweet:


A shakeup involving a North Texas congressional seat is sending reverberations down through legislative seats in the district. State Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) was chosen by a GOP committee to replace U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX 4) on the ballot this November. Rep. Ratcliffe vacated his seat in Congress to serve as the appointed Director of National Intelligence (DNI) for the Trump administration. This particular congressional district is considered solidly Republican, which means Fallon will likely be elected the next congressman for the district.

What that means for the Texas Legislature is that Fallon’s Senate seat in SD 30 will likely become vacant, triggering a special election to fill the unexpired term that ends in 2022. State Reps. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), Lynn Stucky (R-Denton), and Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) have all been mentioned as potential candidates, as well as Shelley Luther, a Dallas beauty salon owner whose arrest for violating public health orders made her a cause celebre for those who oppose business restrictions tied to COVID-19. Denton Mayor Chris Watts has also been mentioned as a potential candidate.

The vacancy sets up a potential dilemma for GOP House members considering a run in reliably Republican SD 30. Once Fallon vacates his Senate seat, Gov. Greg Abbott is required to set a special election within a set time period. Depending on the timing, that special election could be held on the same day as the Nov. 3 general election. Texas law prohibits a candidate from running for two seats at once, so House members could be required to resign their House seats in order to run for the Senate under that scenario. There are also scenarios in which an election could be held right before or during the 2021 legislative session. Any of those scenarios could leave Republicans down one or more members at the beginning of the legislative session in January when members elect a speaker.

The national story this week was the announcement on Tuesday that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden selected U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate. Harris is the first African-American woman and first person of Asian-American descent to appear on a major political party’s presidential ticket. Earlier in the primary, presidential candidate Kamala Harris proposed raising teacher salaries on average by 23%, or roughly $13,500, in order to help close the pay gap between teachers and other professionals. Other Democratic candidates, including Biden, would later include teacher raises in their policy platforms.

This week we’re also highlighting the importance of the U.S. Census and its impact on how Texans are represented. Texas is currently represented in Congress by 36 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, along with our two U.S. senators. That ranks Texas just behind California (52 members) with the second-largest delegation in Congress overall and the largest Republican delegation. This is important because members representing Texas make up 8% of the total votes in the 435-person U.S. House, giving Texas more legislative power than any other state with the exception of California.

Congressional seats are apportioned to each state based on population, and population is officially recorded every 10 years through the census. The 2020 Census currently underway will determine whether the number of Congressional seats in Texas — and thereby our state’s power in Congress — grows or shrinks. The Trump administration has proposed changes to the way the 2020 Census counts population that would dilute Texas’s power, which makes responding to the census all the more important. You can respond to the 2020 Census right away by clicking here. To find out more about the census and what you can do in order to ensure Texas gets the voting power it deserves, check out this recent article by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas’ coronavirus strategy is a patchwork of different local rules

While other states fighting coronavirus enforce widespread closures, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott goes with a patchwork system

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has employed a mostly decentralized approach, giving cities, counties, school districts and universities the discretion to respond to the new coronavirus however they see fit. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, states across the country are increasingly taking a more heavy-handed approach to contain the new strain of coronavirus — shuttering schools, bars and restaurants and deploying state militaries.

Nearly 30 states have mandated temporary school closures, for example, with some orders applying even to private institutions. In Texas, though, only half of school districts have ordered students to stay home after spring break.

That’s because Gov. Greg Abbott has clung so far to a mostly decentralized approach, giving cities, counties, school districts and universities the discretion to respond to the virus however they see fit. The result has been a patchwork of local policies that differ from county to county, with leaders setting various limits on public gatherings and other putting in place other regulations meant to encourage “social distancing.”

Over the weekend, Abbott said he was confident that cities will make the best decisions for their communities. And he appeared to double down on that approach Monday at a news conference in San Antonio, where he praised Mayor Ron Nirenberg for opening the state’s first drive-through testing facility and choosing to go well beyond almost every other Texas city in banning public gatherings of more than 50 people, following recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Those are smart strategies that will prove effective,” he said.

To be sure, Abbott has taken notable steps to combat the spread of the virus. Last week, he declared a state of disaster — as every state has — and directed state agencies to provide flexible and remote work options to employees. He restricted visitation to high-risk facilities including nursing homes, hospitals, day cares and jails. Amid panic buying, he waived regulations on the trucking industry to streamline the flow of goods to depleted grocery stores. And on Monday, amid bipartisan pressure from state lawmakers, he waived standardized testing requirements for public schools, saying it would be impossible to administer the STAAR tests as planned given the closure of more than 560 districts and charter schools beyond spring break.

Overall, though, Abbott’s cumulative actions stop short of those taken in many other states, including neighboring Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana, whose governors shuttered schools across the board, mobilized their militaries and implemented travel restrictions.

According to the National Governors Association, about 20 state leaders have activated their national guards and limited travel of state employees or citizens, and about 17 have passed legislation to divert state funds to the response effort. (Abbott promised Monday that federal money is on the way.) More than a dozen have also ordered restaurants and bars to close to in-house patrons — a policy various cities and counties, including Houston and Dallas, enacted Monday.

Local decision-making

Abbott’s office, asked about the local protocols, said Monday that cities and counties “have done a very good job of doing what is right for their municipalities” and nodded to how helpful local decision-making can be in a state as large as Texas. That approach is in stark contrast to Abbott’s recent attitude toward local control. In the past few years, he has routinely sparred with mayors and backed several laws that chipped away at the power of cities and counties.

“Texas is so diverse that what is right in Houston and Harris County and Dallas and San Antonio may not be the best approach in Amarillo,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said. “These cities and counties are following the proper protocol and guidance that they are receiving from their local health departments.”

Abbott’s push for local decision-making comes as the nation’s top infectious disease expert said the most effective way to stop spread of COVID-19 may be a 14-day nationwide shutdown.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House task force on combating the spread of the new coronavirus, said Sunday that “Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.”

On Sunday, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents and lawmakers that decisions on extended school closures would be left up to locals.

That means that policies may differ even among neighboring school districts.

Public-health experts said such a patchwork approach can be confusing and make it difficult to gauge the effectiveness of containment policies. They also said governors have sufficient authority to ensure such consistency during emergencies.

It “makes people feel that they don’t really know what’s going on and that the people who are in charge don’t really know what’s going on,” said Mary Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.

Leaders should be consistent not only in policy, said Bassett, who was New York City health commissioner during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, but also in messaging, “otherwise people aren’t confident that they’re being given good advice.”

She noted that President Donald Trump has largely deferred to governors on COVID-19 response strategy.

Because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mention health care, it’s an authority that largely resides with the states, and some have more decentralized approaches than others, said Claire Standley, a researcher with the Center for Global Health Science and Security and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University.

That can be a good thing, particularly when the federal government’s response is inadequate, Standley said, noting that New York was able to expedite COVID-19 testing before federal guidelines were finalized.

But having many different response policies across a state might make it difficult to manage the crisis, too.

“I honestly think it’s more about coordination between central level and peripheral level and having that trust in place,” she said. “If people don’t trust their authorities, they’re not going to comply with regulations, which is largely what we’ve been seeing so far with a few exceptions.”

Elected officials respond

Abbott has also been in frequent contact with members of the Texas Legislature and other local officials since the spread of the virus reached a fever pitch last week. The governor’s office has organized a number of conference calls already in an attempt to get state lawmakers and local players on the same page as new information becomes available.

Many Republicans and some local officials have lauded Abbott’s decentralized strategy so far, thanking his office for his leadership approach, giving local governments the flexibility to operate as they see fit on most matters.

“I have not been one who has been bashful about criticizing Abbott in the past,” said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who has previously criticized Abbott for micromanaging county spending. “But I think he’s doing a fantastic job and giving us the flexibility to do what’s right for our areas. I don’t see any politics in this deal; I see [Abbott] really trying to tackle a difficult issue and recognizing the importance of the fact that this is a huge state.”

Meanwhile, a number of Democrats have offered muted praise for Abbott’s crisis management, though some have suggested the governor could be doing more to offer guidance for local governments.

State Rep. Erin Zwiener, a freshman Democrat from Driftwood, said she thinks clearer guidance at the state and federal levels would better position local governments to respond to the virus.

“I’ve observed confusion from my local decision makers,” Zweiner told The Texas Tribune. “I see my city councils, my city administrators, my county commissioners desperate for answers on what the right thing to do is, and they’re not getting answers; they’re getting general advice.”

Another House Democrat, state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, told the Tribune that the best thing leaders can do is “give to the people of Texas consistency, uniformity and predictability, because that’s not coming from any other direction.”

“To the extent we can give people some normalcy … and whoever has the most authority to do that as swiftly as possible, should do it,” Moody said. “They should do it with an understanding that no one expects them to be perfect right now, but that we expect them to act quickly so that we remain ahead of the virus.”

But Republicans said Abbott has handled the situation appropriately — and that he has rightly shifted certain responsibilities to local governments.

“In terms of a crisis, we don’t need somebody to act like a dictator and push all of that information down to people,” said state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. “We need those empowered local officials to make the detailed decisions, and the governor has empowered local officials to make those judgments.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/17/experts-say-texas-patchwork-strategy-coronavirus-problem/.