Here's an election slogan you won’t hear in Texas in 2022

Democrats won't be rallying voters with claims they can flip control of the Texas Legislature in the general election a year from now.

The redistricting maps nearing approval in the current special legislative session make that a near impossibility.

Missing their last chance to win a majority in the Texas House in 2020 — remember that "Turn Texas Blue" battle cry? — was politically expensive for the state's Democrats. It meant the new political maps drawn to fit the new 2020 census would be tailored by Republicans, for Republicans, and that Democrats' wishes would end up in the dustbin or, at best, in the courts.

That's what's happening, and those are the maps that will be used in the 2022 elections. They're not quite law yet but will be soon, and they are markedly more Republican than this conservative state's recent voting history.

Because those maps almost guarantee Republican majorities in the state's congressional delegation, in the Texas House and Senate, and in the State Board of Education, the 2022 elections will really be about the executive branch. The odds there aren't great for the Democrats, either.

In the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump got 52.1% in Texas and Joe Biden got 46.5%. With that baseline, Republicans should have 78 seats in the House, 16 in the Senate, 20 in the congressional delegation and eight on the SBOE. In the new maps, voters in 85 of the House districts favored Trump, along with 19 Senate districts, 25 congressional districts and nine SBOE districts.

The proposed maps favor Republicans more than the state's voters do. But even if they were precisely representative of how Texans voted in the last statewide elections, the GOP would have an edge: They won all of those contests.

Whatever else you might say about that situation — whether it's "to the majority go the spoils" or "gerrymandering is undemocratic" — those are the maps that will be used in the 2022 elections. And if they aren't given wholesale makeovers, they strongly favor Republican candidates and are designed to keep Republican majorities in all four places.

Democratic candidates haven't won a statewide election in Texas since 1994. Midterm elections — those that fall between presidential elections — are typically hard on the party of whoever is in the White House. That's a Democrat right now, and Republicans running for office in Texas (and everywhere else in the country) will be campaigning against whichever Biden administration policy happens to be most unpopular with voters at the time.

To top it off, the Democrats do not yet have a standard-bearer, though it would be a surprise at this point if former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke of El Paso did not enter the governor's race before the start of the holiday season. While there has been a lot of conversation about who else might run for this or that, that late-forming Democratic ticket shortens the time available to raise the money and build the public reputation and recognition needed to win a statewide election. It takes time to become a household name, even if only the political households in the state are in the audience.

Having missed their shot at real influence on the maps, Texas Democrats start the next decade trying to find ways to win on Republican turf. At the end of the last decade, their biggest advances came in legislative races, particularly in the Texas House.

The new maps will make that difficult, particularly in the next couple of election cycles. The current maps were drawn in 2010 by Republicans trying to bolster their majorities, then tinkered with by federal judges who found intentional racial discrimination by lawmakers and other problems in the designs of some districts. Over the next 10 years, the state's growth and changing politics eroded that advantage. That might happen again between now and 2030, but that won't help the Democrats in 2022.

Their best chances are at the top of the ballot, where Republican incumbents are known to voters and have money, organization and an undefeated winning record that stretches back more than a quarter of a century. Those chances aren't all that great; they're just better than the chances Democrats have for legislative majorities.

Judging by their governing record this year, the Republicans — starting with Gov. Greg Abbott — are most worried about competition from members of their own party in next year's primaries. They're defending their right flanks from conservatives, not their left flanks from liberals.

It's not hard to see why.


Analysis: Intentional loopholes in Texas abortion law draw a judge’s rebuke

The federal judge who temporarily blocked enforcement of the new abortion restrictions in Texas said state lawmakers knew the law was unconstitutional and wrote it to try to prevent the federal courts from saying so.

"A person's right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability is well established," U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman wrote. "Fully aware that depriving its citizens of this right by direct state action would be flagrantly unconstitutional, the State contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme to do just that. … It drafted the law with the intent to preclude review by federal courts that have the obligation to safeguard the very rights the statute likely violates."

Pitman's order has already been paused. The state asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to restore the near-total ban, and on Friday, that court said the abortion law should remain in effect until it has heard arguments on Pitman's ruling. That ruling would have prevented anyone from enforcing Senate Bill 8, which outlaws abortions after detection of early cardiac activity in an embryo — usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. That's before many people know they're pregnant.

The law also includes a section that puts enforcement in the hands of private individuals — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called them "bounty hunters" — instead of state officials.

That mechanism drew Pitman's particular attention. He focused much of his ruling on the state's attempt to work around the courts, and around judges like him.

He didn't like that one bit.

"S.B. 8 is deliberately structured so that no adequate remedy at law exists by which to test its constitutionality," Pitman wrote. "By purporting to preclude direct enforcement by state officials, the statutory scheme is intended to be insulated from review in federal court. The State itself concedes that the law's terms proscribe review by the federal courts, limiting review to state court alone."

REFERENCE

Read U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman's October 6, 2021 ruling in U.S. v. State of Texas(775.8 KB) DOWNLOAD

This was a lawsuit brought by the federal government against the state government, and he cited the federal argument in making the point about the state's enforcement plan.

"The final factor identified by the United States will likely carry the most weight, as states can be expected not to deliberately deprive their citizens of redress through the courts," he wrote.

Later, he added, "State actors worked deliberately to craft a statutory scheme that would avoid review by the courts, and thereby circumvent any pronouncement of its unconstitutionality."

He said the state hadn't extracted itself entirely from enforcement anyway, that "the State has its prints all over the statute," since the law requires state employees and courts to take part, even if they're not bringing charges against people who help Texans obtain abortions.

And not just state employees. If the state is relying on private citizens to enforce the law through civil actions — to do themselves what the state itself has decided not to do — it has given them its power, and made them "state actors."

"The State chose to deputize them; the State chose to remove any requirement that they suffer an injury to bring suit (an injury is almost always required to bring suit); and the State chose to incentivize them by automatically awarding them damages of at least $10,000 if their suit is successful," he wrote.

His injunction was designed to stop enforcement of the law while it's being litigated and to remove "irreparable harm" Texans face if the law is in effect.

He also made a point that got lost in the first reports of the ruling and subsequent appeals: If the Texas law remains in effect, it will be an example — and not a good one, in Pitman's view — for other states.

"… had this Court not acted on its sound authority to provide relief to the United States, any number of states could enact legislation that deprives citizens of their constitutional rights, with no legal remedy to challenge that deprivation, without the concern that a federal court would enter an injunction," he wrote.

That could happen on abortion laws, or Second Amendment laws or other Constitutional rights, according to Pitman.

"If legislators know they cannot accomplish political agendas that curtail or eliminate constitutional rights and intentionally remove the legal remedy to challenge it," Pitman wrote, "then other states are less likely to engage in copycat legislation."

Texas and the US: Lawyered up and ready to go to court

Merrick Garland has an interesting job. He gets up, goes to the office, sues the state of Texas and then goes home.

If that description of the U.S. attorney general's job sounds familiar, it's because it's lifted from the campaign stump speeches of former Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who's now the governor. "I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home."

On Thursday, Garland sued to stop the state's new ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, calling it "a scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States," because it blocks a right to abortion deemed constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Expect more lawsuits like that — and soon — with the state's restrictive new voting law taking effect and with Texas about to draw new political districts in a special session on redistricting that starts later this month. Those issues combine long histories of civil and voting rights litigation and lawmaking, constitutional issues and deep partisan divides.

Blend in the mutual disdain of the federal and state governments. Add the Republican Party's dominance in Austin and the Democratic Party's dominance in Washington, D.C. The outcome was predetermined: Somebody was going to sue somebody.

This isn't new. Texas has a governor and an attorney general hell-bent on opposing the feds at every turn.

The state's steady barrage of legal challenges to the federal government abated with a Republican in the White House, but picked up considerably when Democrat Joe Biden became president.

Attorney General Ken Paxton promised as much in a tweet from his state account on the day Biden took office: "Congrats, President Biden. On Inauguration Day, I wish our country the best. I promise my fellow Texans and Americans that I will fight against the many unconstitutional and illegal actions that the new administration will take, challenge federal overreach that infringes on Texans' rights, and serve as a major check against the administration's lawlessness. Texas First! Law & Order always!"

Texas has sued the feds over a diverse set of issues so far this year, including health care funding, coal rules, oil pipelines, immigration policy and deportations.

Now the state is getting a taste of its own medicine.

It might get another dose or two.

Austin and Washington are clashing over what the state and federal governments can require private businesses to do in response to the pandemic.

Abbott is arguing both sides, squealing about the federal government telling businesses to mandate vaccinations while using state regulators to punish Texas businesses that want to require their customers to be vaccinated. The governor seems to be irritated that the feds are mandating in the same way he is, only with the opposite policy in mind.

Pity the state's businesses, which either must require vaccinations under threat of federal action or must not require vaccinations under threat of state action.

That hasn't risen to the level of lawsuits — not just yet, anyhow — but it has the aroma of pending litigation.

Meanwhile, Garland is suing over the Texas abortion law. The state's suits against the feds are winding through the courts. The initial redistricting lawsuits have already been filed, even though nobody has had the data long enough to make a serious attempt to draw the first map or hold the first debate over how the state's political turf should change. And the state's new voting law, which resembles new laws in other states, faces its own set of legal challenges — perhaps including future action from Garland's own U.S. Department of Justice.

Courts are for settling disputes, after all, and the people in politics and government do not suffer from a shortage of arguments. The executive and legislative branches in Austin and Washington are turning to the third branch — the judiciary — to sort out their differences.

New Texas laws reflect Republican lawmakers' focus on the GOP's right-wing

Texans woke up Wednesday in a state where it's legal to carry a gun if you are neither licensed nor trained and where enforcement of anti-abortion laws has been crowdsourced to citizen bounty hunters who can get up to $10,000 for turning in anyone they catch helping someone obtain an abortion.
Under the guise of “election integrity," the Texas Legislature has also backed outlawing some of the voting practices that made voting easier in Harris County and other parts of Texas in 2020 during the pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott is hot to sign that legislation, having called two special sessions to get it to his desk, while participating in a kind of national race with other Republican governors to show their constituents that they're changing the voting rules after Americans fired Donald Trump last year.The gun bill passed during the regular legislative session took effect on the first day of this month, a victory for Second Amendment advocates who thought the state's gun laws, though more liberal than many states, were still too restrictive.
The state's new ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy also became law this week, though opponents of that legislation have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to suspend it while litigation is underway. In the current special session, lawmakers chased that with another bill that would make it illegal to dispense abortion-inducing medications after seven weeks of pregnancy; the current limit is 10 weeks. For elected officials who've been working on anti-abortion laws for a long time, 2021 was a breakthrough year.Those regular session Republican victories were just the beginning.That elections bill on the governor's desk would end 24-hour early voting, disallow sending vote-by-mail applications to voters who haven't asked for them, tighten voter ID requirements for voting by mail, offer protections for volunteer poll watchers and prohibit drive-thru voting.
Opponents argued that people of color were disproportionately helped by some of those conveniences and would be disproportionately hurt by the new law.Abbott and other advocates contend the new law will make it harder to commit fraud; that has become a political imperative in the GOP, though cases of fraud are rare, and no modern cases of fraud at a scale that would change election outcomes in Texas have been documented.

Although Trump lost the presidency, he won in Texas, and Republicans overcame big spending and big talk from Democrats last year, maintaining their strong grip on the steering wheel of state government. They hold solid majorities in the Texas House and Senate and in the state's congressional delegation. Republicans also hold each of the 29 statewide elected offices, from the courts to the U.S. Senate.

Texas remains a Republican state, and the lawmaking results of the last few weeks, along with those from the regular legislative session earlier this year, are evidence that the party in power is granting the wishes of its most conservative voters.

It's also a measure of the weakness of the opposition. Democrats don't have the numbers to defeat Republicans in legislative fights. Blame the last election or the ones before that; the Republican advantage has been in place for more than two decades.

Democrats also don't pose a threat, which is just as important. Republican officeholders worried about their futures aren't looking for trouble from the left; they're watching the conservative voters in their own party. No Democrat has raised a hand to challenge the governor in next year's election, but he'll face opposition from former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas, who bills himself as “an actual Republican," and Allen West, a former Florida congressman who was most recently chair of the Republican Party of Texas.

Abbott is relatively popular with Republican voters, and he had $55 million in his campaign account at mid-year; Huffines and West aren't likely to unseat him. On the other hand, they're the only opponents he has right now, and the state's lawmaking so far in 2021 mollifies the conservatives even as it angers liberals.

With no candidate leading the liberal charge, Abbott and other officeholders aren't seeing a threat from the left. It shows in the laws they've passed so far this year, and the laws they're still working on today.

Join us Sept. 20-25 at the 2021 Texas Tribune Festival. Tickets are on sale now for this multi-day celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day's news, curated by The Texas Tribune's award-winning journalists. Learn more.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/09/02/texas-republicans-new-laws/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas government grinds to a stop — of the governor’s choosing: analysis

What you think about Texas government right now depends on what you want out of it.

Local or state control of public health restrictions in a pandemic? Should government officials in Austin or local school officials decide whether to hold classes online or in person or both, and whether in-person students should wear masks? Should political minorities be able to block legislation by leaving the state, or should they be forced to work to keep their jobs? Should restaurants risk their state liquor licenses if they require customers to show proof of vaccination to get in?

It's a weird list of questions, but it's been a weird couple of weeks.

The latest escalation in coronavirus cases coincides with the commencement of classes in Texas public schools. Parents and educators are debating the safety of returning to campuses, especially with a confounding set of rules in place: Attendance in school is required and is also the basis for state school funding, the state won't pay for widespread virtual attendance under current law, students under age 12 aren't eligible for vaccinations, and the governor won't allow mask mandates.

This part is agreed upon: Students learn more in person than they do online. There's not a fight — or a new one, anyway — over education. The fight is about practicality and risk: What's safe, what does staying safe require of everyone involved, and what's this going to cost?

The courts are busy now and will be for a while. Legal battles over COVID-19 responses and non-responses rage on. Various counties, cities and school districts — including some of the biggest ones — want tighter local restrictions than the state wants to allow. The four biggest counties imposed mask mandates for public schools, for instance, in defiance of the governor's orders. The federal government is looking at whether it can challenge Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on mask mandates.

The Legislature that might wrestle with some of these questions has temporarily come to pieces.

The Republican majority in the Texas Senate will pass just about anything the lieutenant governor wants it to pass.

And the House hasn't had enough people in the room to conduct business for more than a month. Democrats opposed to a GOP voting bill don't have the numbers to beat it, but they do have enough people to break the quorum in a Legislature where two-thirds of the members have to be present for work to proceed.

One thing the Senate hasn't passed that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants is a constitutional amendment that would get rid of that quorum rule. It takes two-thirds of the Senate and the House to do that; so far, Patrick is short of votes in the Senate and there aren't enough people in the House to count noses on the proposal.

Add that up, and you might conclude that Abbott is winning most of his political fights, some faster than others, but winning just the same.

That delights his supporters and leaves his opponents furious.

The courts are with him. The Texas Supreme Court — the governor used to be a justice there — ruled in favor of his attempt to extort the Legislature by vetoing its budget for the next two years. Abbott struck the legislative budget earlier this summer, when Democrats first blocked the voting bill he supports.

Democrats sued, saying one branch of government can't kill funding for another branch. The state Supreme Court ruled the Democrats had the means to put that funding back in place, if only they would show up for the session where the governor is pushing a bill they don't like.

The governor's move might amount to extortion, but according to the Supremes, that's no violation of separation of powers.

It was a win for Abbott and his fellow Republicans.

When the Texas House directed state police to round up the truant Democrats and bring them to Austin so the session can proceed, those Democrats sued. The Supremes struck down those efforts, allowing the roundup to proceed.

Another win for Abbott and the Republicans.

Slowly, and with a lot of strain on the relationships that get most legislation passed into law, Abbott is winning his push for restrictive voting legislation and a list of other measures. The courts are backing his use of power to force lawmakers' action.

His power to boss local governments, school districts and businesses around is still being tested. Those Austin restaurants backed down and remain open. But other venues are testing the governor's orders in other ways, like asking unvaccinated patrons for COVID-19 test results that prove they're not infected.

The debates are loud, as they were in past surges of the pandemic that pitted Texans who favor restrictive public health measures to stop the spread against people who'd rather face the health risks of not wearing masks or getting shots or shutting things down.

The political din lately has been, depending on your mindset, good trouble or bad — a sign of a state government that can't tie its shoes, or of a persistent majority that is in the slow business of crushing its opposition. A lot of this remains unsettled, and there is a bigger, more important battle ahead.

Census numbers were delivered last week, and this same cast of characters will take those and draw the political maps that will be used in Texas elections for the next 10 years.

Analysis: The pandemic breaks into Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda

With the intersection of a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and the beginning of a new school year, the governor's agenda for the new special legislative session has a couple of additions.

Money for public schools is in there, along with a proposed guarantee of in-person learning for those who want it. Distribution of federal coronavirus response money is in there, with specific targets including medical personnel, alternatives for crowded hospitals, operations of nursing homes, and vaccination sites.

That's a reflection of how the public health outlooks have changed over the last month. When Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled his agenda for the first special legislative session, the expected Republican wish list was seasoned with a couple of issues designed to make Democrats think twice about shutting down the proceedings by leaving the state.

The GOP's proposed restrictions on voting practices are there, along with making it harder for people accused of crimes to be freed on bail, bans on mask mandates in schools, higher state spending on law enforcement on the border, limits on transgender athletes' participation in school sports and restrictions on how race is taught in public schools.

And the enticements — though they weren't enough to keep Democrats in Austin for the first special legislative session — are also back. A proposal to give retired educators a bonus — a "13th check" along with their monthly benefits — is on the list. More money for foster care providers is on the list, too.

And all legislators, Democrats and Republicans alike, want to erase the governor's veto of the legislative budget, which jeopardizes most operations of their branch of government during the two years starting Sept. 1. Temporary fixes might ease the immediate pressure for that funding, but a two-year solution is what they want.

All of that is known territory, made up of things lawmakers have been talking about — actually, not talking about — for the last month.

But the latest upswing in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations has returned old concerns to the front of the line.

Public schools open this month in Texas, and rising concern about students has undermined hopes that online classes could be ditched in favor of traditional in-person classes. Children under age 12 aren't eligible for coronavirus vaccines. And state officials say they can't, under current law, pay the state's share of public education costs for students who aren't in their seats in school classrooms.

That's not an esoteric political fight; lawmakers are hearing from parents and educators at home about it. Those voters want a quick resolution, and because of that, so do the people they elected. Abbott's to-do list includes "legislation providing strategies for public-school education in prekindergarten through twelfth grade during the COVID-19 pandemic," which wasn't on the agenda for the July session.

He also sped up consideration of federal COVID-19 relief, something he initially earmarked for later. Some of the money sent to Texas and other states by the Trump and Biden administrations has already been distributed. For instance, Texas school districts got billions earlier this year to help students catch up on what they should have learned but didn't because of disruptions during more than a year of pandemic.

Abbott said at the time he wouldn't distribute billions more without legislative consultation, and said that could be addressed in an anticipated special legislative session on redistricting later in the year. That session is still ahead; the state is waiting for pandemic-delayed census results needed to redraw political maps. But the disease has accelerated, and so has the governor's plan.

Issues the partisans have spent much of the summer bickering about are still on tap, along with those political maps — the subject of recurring and reliably ugly political and legal altercations every decade.

But not everything on the table hinges on differences between Republicans and Democrats. Lawmakers want their offices to stay open. Parents and educators want a full range of options as they deal with this latest wave of the pandemic. And so do the local health care providers and hospitals that are trying to battle it once again.

The political fights are less important.


The most influential non-voter in Texas

The Republican primary for governor is probably over, before it ever really started.

Greg Abbott already won the supporter who really counts, having converted his current tight focus on conservative populist issues into a Donald Trump endorsement that removes any threat from the likes of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Republican Party of Texas Chair Allen West, or former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas.

Intentional or not — did you really think Abbott was ad-libbing? — the governor ended a conservative legislative session by snagging the Trump golden ticket that's preemptive in the Republican primary. Now he's adopted the former president's pet project of a wall separating the United States and Mexico, and Trump is coming to Texas next week for a border tour with Abbott.

Good news for Greg Abbott. Bummer for everybody else. He's got the lucky charm that can ward off attacks from the right — threats that were accumulating a year ago, when Abbott was issuing unpopular pandemic orders to close certain businesses, wear masks and remain at a distance to flatten COVID-19's curve.

The opponents, none of them especially formidable but most of them worthy of attention, started to line up.

Miller never said in public that he would challenge the governor, though at least one outside group, calling itself the Conservative Republicans of Texas, was encouraging him to jump in and Miller was saying Abbott "cannot get reelected in the general election." And he and West were outside the Governor's Mansion last October, manning the bullhorns and protesting Abbott's emergency responses to the pandemic. After some thought, and that Trump endorsement, Miller now says he will be running for reelection.

West resigned from his party post and hasn't said whether he plans to run for office — or which office he might covet. But with Trump hugging the incumbent, it's hard to see where West might be looking for votes; his potential audience is listening to someone else.

Huffines is still in, with some personal money but little in the way of visible political support. He needs Texas voters more than they seem to need him. He'll recognize that line, maybe, after telling WFAA-TV on Sunday that he wants to close the U.S.-Mexico border.

"I'm going to communicate to Mexico, and they know it, they need us a lot more than we need them, and this is a proven tactic that can work," Huffines said. He's still pushing Trump themes, especially with his talk of an "invasion" on the border — a word Abbott has also adopted — and with his claim that Abbott is stealing some of his ideas.

Maybe, but that's how it goes in politics, and Abbott is no slacker. He wants a wall between here and Mexico. Unlike Huffines, he's got the Trump seal of approval and will, in about a week, have TV footage with the former president on the border.

It's not the only Texas GOP contest where the man from Mar-a-Lago gets to make a decisive call. Look at the race for attorney general.

Ken Paxton, the Republican incumbent, sought favor as one of the pre-insurrection speakers at a Trump event in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. He's been under indictment on securities fraud charges for six years — through a reelection cycle in 2018 — and is under investigation after several top lawyers in his state agency accused him of using that office for the benefit of a political donor. Even so, he's still the one to beat.

But Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, whose father Jeb was emasculated by Trump in the 2016 presidential primary, sought the former president's blessing for his challenge to Paxton.

Trump hasn't picked a favorite, which is good news for Bush. But when he does, it has a good chance of deciding the race.

Eva Guzman, who quit the Texas Supreme Court to join that race, hasn't yet made a play for Trump's favor, relying so far on the support of Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a Republican-leaning political group that signals a candidate's establishment ties. That amounted to more formidable backing in Texas politics 20 years ago, before Republican tastes turned to Trump. If Paxton's troubles catch up with him, she could advance, but that's the funny thing about the 2022 Republican primaries.

They could well be decided by a non-Texan who won't be on the ballot.

Disclosure: Texans for Lawsuit Reform has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Joe Biden as popular as top Republican officeholders in Texas, UT/TT Poll finds

Texas Democrats think Joe Biden is doing a good job as president, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Texas Republicans don't.

Overall, the president gets good grades from 44% of Texas voters and bad grades from 46% — numbers that are better or roughly the same as the state's most popular Republican leaders. Underneath Biden's overall numbers, as with other officeholders in Texas, are starker partisan grades: 88% of Democrats said Biden is doing a good job, and 86% of Republicans disapprove of the work he's doing.

Biden does a little better — but still poorly — with Republicans on how he's handled the response to the pandemic; 14% approve, and 67% disapprove. But 92% of Democrats approve. And overall, 49% of Texas voters give Biden good grades on the pandemic, while 35% think he's done a bad job.

Overall, 38% approve of Biden's handling of the economy and 46% disapprove. Only 23% of voters approve of his response to immigration and border security, while 59% disapprove.

A 55% majority of Texas voters disapprove of the job the U.S. Congress is doing; 24% said they approve, but only 4% strongly approve. It's a Democratic Congress, getting good grades from 49% of Texas Democrats. Among Republicans, 82% disapprove of the work being done in the U.S. Capitol.

The state's U.S. senators are getting better grades than Congress as a whole. John Cornyn gets approving notices from 31% of all voters and disapproving ones from 43%. Among his fellow Republicans, 57% approve and 18% disapprove of his work.

Ted Cruz, overall, has the approval of 43% and disapproval from 48%. He's more popular with Texas Republicans than the senior senator, too, with 80% saying they approve of the job he's doing — 57% strongly so.

Gov. Greg Abbott gets good marks from about as many Texas voters (43%) as give him bad marks (45%). He's popular with Republicans, though: 77% approve of the way he's doing his job. Those numbers are consistent with the way voters grade the governor on his response to the pandemic. Overall, 43% approve and 48% disapprove. Among Democrats, 87% disapprove, and among Republicans, 76% approve.

Just over a third of Texas voters (35%) approve of the way Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is doing his job, while 39% disapprove. New House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, still hasn't made an impression on most voters — a condition he has in common with most of his predecessors in that post. While 20% of voters said he's doing a good job, and 22% said he's not, 57% of the voters either have no impression of him or no opinion.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, regularly in the news for legal actions involving the state and as the subject of an indictment on securities fraud and a federal investigation into allegedly using his public office to help a campaign donor, is doing a good job, according to 32% of Texas voters, and a bad one, according to 36%. The remaining 30% either had a neutral or no opinion. Among Republicans, 59% said he's doing a good job, and among Democrats, 68% said he's doing a bad job.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from April 16-22 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.


Texas' elected problem-solvers are creating more problems than they're solving: analysis

It's clear that there are more people trying to get across the border between Mexico and Texas, that state officials are concerned about increases in human trafficking there and that the state's Republican politicians are trying to pin those troubles on the country's Democratic president.

It is not at all clear that the people of Texas are more at risk of catching COVID-19 from a migrant than from anyone else they run into right now. But it's become convenient to tag people from other countries as scary carriers of the pandemic.

That rhetorical link between immigrants and disease isn't a new one, but it's an insidious one. There's no evidence to back it. It comes from the same bucket of political swill as Donald Trump's effort to paint refugees coming through the southern U.S. border as murderers and rapists.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who earlier this month reversed his own requirements for social distancing in public places and mask-wearing, followed that announcement with news conferences on the border and in Dallas, adding fears of spreading the pandemic to his concerns about the rising tide of immigrants crossing and trying to cross the state's southern border.

There is no denying the pressures at the border. And there's also no evidence to label those people coming into the U.S. as COVID-19 spreaders. It's a dirty trick common to nativist politics, particularly at a time when racial tensions are at a peak.

Political provocations are rising, too. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, reacted to Tuesday's slayings of six Asian women in Atlanta by deploring the crimes and then adding pain to the grief with a reference to lynching.

"The victims of race-based violence and their families deserve justice, and as the case for what we're talking about here with the tragedy of what we just saw occur in Atlanta, Georgia," he said. "I think there's an old saying in Texas about — find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree. You know we take justice very seriously, and we ought to do that— round up the bad guys," he added.

Words like this make it harder to address the hate crimes that prompted Roy. Adding slights about the coronavirus makes it harder to unwind the almost overwhelming tangle around immigration policy, as it did a year ago with the former president and some of his followers labeling the pandemic as a product of China, stirring nativist politics into a public health crisis that needed undivided attention.

The people who are supposed to be solving problems like these are making them harder to solve, creating new problems as they try to burnish their political popularity.

Democrats are fretting loudly, but even some Republicans, like Texas GOP Chair Allen West, think Roy went over the line. While saying the Democrats were making "mountains out of molehills," he said, "My recommendation to Congressman Chip Roy would be to engage the brain before firing the mouth, it would avoid embarrassing situations such as this."

It all makes former President George W. Bush's brand of Republican politics seem retro. In an interview with The Texas Tribune's Evan Smith at the opening of this year's SXSW Online 2021 festival, Bush said he delayed publication of his new book, "Out of Many, One: Portraits of America's Immigrants," for fear it would worsen the political differences blocking immigration reform.

"If I'd have been a more of a selfish guy, I would have tried to get the book out before Christmas of last year in order to enhance sales," he said. "But I wanted to avoid the election season, because one of the problems is immigration has become overly politicized, and it's really a rebuke of Congress' inability to come together to get something done on immigration."

Later, he added, "There needs to be an overhaul, which means that we need to get politics out of the system and get sober-minded people focusing on A, what's best for our economy and B, what's best for our country."

Democrats have criticized some proposed changes to the state's election laws — some of which are up for debate in the Texas Legislature on Monday — saying those would make it harder to vote and would disproportionately affect voters of color. Legislation on police reform and financing, sparked by demonstrations that followed the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police and by other incidents of police violence against Black and Hispanic people, is pending in Austin. And later this year, lawmakers will redraw political lines for the state Legislature and the congressional delegation — an issue that turns on demographic data and communities.

Those debates would be tough in any political environment. Fanning racial, ethnic and national differences has derailed immigration reform for more than a decade. It might work for campaigns, but it's a lousy way to govern.

Dan Patrick's recent swipe at Texas' Abbott fuels speculation about 2022 run

Lieutenant governors almost never interrogate witnesses at public hearings. It's not that it's illegal, just that that sort of showboating is not done. That's the business of senators and representatives. A lieutenant governor grabbing the mic is the legislative equivalent of a parent taking over a student's science fair project.

But there was Dan Patrick late Thursday afternoon, taking a chair — and a mic — to question the state's last remaining Public Utility Commissioner about the PUC's failure to do what Patrick and 28 state senators had demanded in a letter the day before.

That performance was not only about last month's electricity blackouts during a freeze that lasted nearly a week. It was also another swipe at Patrick's superior, Gov. Greg Abbott, who appointed Arthur D'Andrea, along with two other commissioners who already resigned under pressure from Patrick.

"You serve at the pleasure of the governor," Patrick said to D'Andrea at one point. He was admonishing the commissioner for not retroactively reducing energy prices incurred during the storm. D'Andrea, a lawyer, said it would be illegal to do so, noting that put him in an awkward position because Patrick and 28 senators have said he should go back and "correct" those charges.

Patrick wanted to know what he would do if the governor asked him to change the numbers, and D'Andrea said Abbott has never asked him to do something he thinks is illegal. In fact, the governor is in a position to make that request, but not to order it. Governors appoint commissioners, who are then confirmed by the Senate. But the governor can't fire them; they're not his employees.

After the freeze, Patrick said the head of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas should go, along with Abbott's three appointees at the PUC. All but D'Andrea are now gone, evidence that the lieutenant governor has taken some control of the situation.

That's a political move, whether that was his aim or not. Patrick is exerting his powers at the expense of the governor, a member of the same party — albeit of a different wing of the GOP — who has been both an ally and an adversary since the two men were elected to their current posts in 2014.

Two years ago, Abbott, Patrick and then-House Speaker Dennis Bonnen legislated in unison, pushing through an overhaul of public school financing and significant changes to local property taxes. Two years before that, Patrick was pushing what became known as "the bathroom bill" — an attempt to regulate bathroom use and keep transgender Texans from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

In the resulting whirlwind of culture politics, then-Speaker Joe Straus and the House blocked the legislation while Abbott played both sides, publicly voicing support for the bill and adding it to the agenda of a special legislative session while privately assuring concerned business leaders that it wouldn't become law.

The polar vortex that descended on the state last month opened new differences between the state's top two elected officials. And it has reinvigorated speculation about Patrick's intentions for the 2022 elections.

He wouldn't be the first name mentioned, or even the first name in the past week. Abbott has said he wants to run for reelection. Patrick has knocked down rumors of a gubernatorial race several times, and has also said he wants to run for another term as lieutenant governor.

Political folk are getting restive. George P. Bush, the state's land commissioner, has said he's considering a race for attorney general, regardless of what Attorney General Ken Paxton decides to do in 2022. The mere possibility of openings in either of the top two offices is tantalizing music to the ears of statewide candidates lower on the political ladder, like Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick. Allen West, chair of the Republican Party of Texas, has been mentioned as an Abbott rival.

Throw in the new wild cards, like actor Matthew McConaughey, who was asked about the governor speculation on NBC's "Today" show. "It's a very honorable consideration. So am I considering that? Sure," he said. Or Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who told The Texas Tribune's Evan Smith, when asked, that she's focused on doing her job right now. Some might read that as a placeholder, with an emphasis on the word she didn't say: No. Pressed on that question, she told Smith she's focused on reelection to her current job. And there are persistent murmurs about former U.S. Rep. and erstwhile candidate Beto O'Rourke.

Expect more of this kind of talk over the next few months. The political calendar starts with an election. The elected people go to City Hall, or Austin, or Washington, to do the jobs they were elected to do. Voters and donors watch what happens before deciding, in the next election, whether those politicians deserve more time, or should be stopped in their tracks.

If everything stays on schedule — a question because of delayed census numbers used for drawing political districts — people who want to run in 2022 will file their papers in nine months.

Right now, voters are in that "watching" time, and the potential contestants are starting to audition for our attention and favor.

Texas voters like Biden’s COVID-19 response better than his overall performance, UT/TT Poll finds

President Joe Biden, who today is making his first visit to Texas since his January inauguration, starts his term with about the same numbers of voters giving him good and bad marks for job performance, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Among registered Texas voters, 45% approve of the job he's doing and 44% disapprove. Those results include 30% who said they strongly approve of his performance and 39% who strongly disapprove. The partisan lines are strong: 80% of Republicans disapprove, while 89% of Democrats approve.

"Election season always hardens partisan attitudes. That didn't end with the election," said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. "I don't know that we ever got out of election mode."

Biden's grades for responding to COVID-19 are better, with 49% approving what he's doing and 36% saying they disapprove. That's an improvement over his predecessor: In the October 2020 UT/TT Poll, 45% of voters approved Donald Trump's coronavirus response, while 48% did not — including 43% who disapproved strongly.

"He's starting out, in a Republican state, with fairly respectable numbers," Daron Shaw, a government professor at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll, said of Biden.

The assessment of Gov. Greg Abbott's COVID-19 response has improved a bit since October. In both polls, 44% said the governor is doing a good job, and the number who giving him bad marks has fallen 5 percentage points, to 41% from 46%. Public approval for Abbott's handling of the pandemic peaked at the beginning; in the April 2020 UT/TT Poll, 56% of Texas voters approved of his responses and 29% disapproved.

The poll was in the field Feb. 12-18, when a massive winter storm battered the state and caused the state's electric grid to lose control of the power supply. The poll was being completed just as the state began to thaw and news of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's trip to Cancún surfaced. None of that news was evident in voters' ratings of Abbott and Cruz.

The governor's numbers held steady, with 46% of Texas voters giving him an approving job review and 39% giving him a disapproving one. In October, his results were 47% – 40% — virtually the same.

The same was true for Cruz: 45% positive and 43% negative in this poll, compared to 46% - 42% in October.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn got positive marks from 32% of voters, and negative marks from 42% — a more negative showing than either Cruz or Abbott. In October, right before he was reelected, Cornyn's job performance was rated positively by 39% and negatively by the same percentage.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's job review was flat: 37% of voters say he's doing a good job and 36% saying they disapprove of his work. The state's newest legislative leader, House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, elevated to that post by his peers just a few weeks ago, still hasn't made an impression on most Texas voters; 60% said either that they have a neutral or no assessment of how he's doing his job, while 22% gave him positive grades and 18% were negative.

About two in five Texans, 39%, don't have a favorite branch of government, mentioned first here because that answer outranked the U.S. Supreme Court and the judicial branch, 35%; the president and the executive branch, 22%; and Congress and the legislative branch, 5%.

With a Democrat in the White House, 42% of Democratic voters chose the executive branch as their favorite. Meanwhile, 50% of Republicans chose the courts. Among independents, 64% went with "don't know/no opinion" over any of the three branches. Congress fared poorly no matter who was responding. It's the favorite of 7% of Democrats, and 3% each of the independents and the Republicans.

Congress remains notably unpopular: 22% of Texas voters approve of its job performance, and 57% disapprove — 43% of them strongly.

Almost half of the voters who identified themselves as conservative — 46% — said the Republican elected officials in Texas are "conservative enough." But 32% said those officeholders are not conservative enough. Only 12% said they are too conservative.

Among voters who identify themselves as liberals, 36% said the Democrats now in office are "liberal enough," 38% said they're not liberal enough and 9% said state Democratic officeholders are too liberal.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 12-18 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100% because of rounding.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Just when you thought campaign season was over with, Texas pulls you back in

Beto O'Rourke is thinking about challenging Gov. Greg Abbott in the 2022 election. Abbott is already responding, the way candidates do.

You're right to think this is happening early. The last big election was less than three months ago. If you include the protests of the results, and you should, it wasn't officially over until Jan. 6.

But it's always campaign season in Texas.

O'Rourke, the state's best-known Democrat, launched this trial balloon when asked on El Paso radio station KLAQ whether he would run for governor.

"It is something I'm going to think about," he said. He expanded on that in a string of tweets Thursday night.

Abbott had his opening shot ready to go, recalling the Democrat's support for an assault weapon buyback program during the 2020 presidential race.

"You're talking about a person who says they want to run for governor who said, 'Heck yes,' he's gonna come and take your guns," Abbott said Thursday at a news conference in Odessa. "Heck yes, he's for open borders. Heck yes, he's for killing the energy sector and fossil fuels in the state of Texas. I don't think that's gonna sell real well."

Here's the setup: Abbott has been in statewide office for more than 25 years, serving on the Texas Supreme Court, as attorney general and then as governor. He's a formidable fundraiser and outperformed the other Republicans on the ballot with him in his last reelection in 2018. O'Rourke was an El Paso City Council member and member of Congress who found political celebrity with his 2018 challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, raising millions of dollars and coming within 3 percentage points of winning that election. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

Neither of the state's U.S. Senate seats will be on the 2022 ballot; the governor's race will be the marquee contest. Abbott has said he wants a third term.

And the primaries in Texas are early. What might seem like a contest that's far in the future is just over a year away.

Texas contestants have to declare their candidacies by Dec. 13 of this year, and early voting in the March 1 primaries starts on Valentine's Day next year — just a year and two weeks from now.

Abbott had only minor opposition in his last primary, and he zoomed out of that race with more than 90% of the vote. He could have more competition next time, with Republicans like Don Huffines of Dallas, a former state senator, and Allen West, chair of the Republican Party of Texas, most often mentioned as potential challengers. In the short term, O'Rourke gives the governor an opportunity to rail against a Democrat and talk past the noisy, and so far, minor, wannabes in his own party. And it's a welcome change of subject for a governor whose responses to the pandemic have generated persistent criticism across the political spectrum.

The Democratic race is open, but that party hasn't won a statewide race since Abbott was first appointed to statewide office in 1995, and it hasn't produced a truly competitive candidate for governor for years. Abbott won his first race for governor by more than 20 percentage points, his second by more than 13.

From this distance, Republicans appear to have some advantages in 2022. That will be a presidential midterm election, and those often go against the party in power. Donald Trump's party had a rough time in 2018, as did Barack Obama's Democrats in 2010. It will be Joe Biden's turn to test the waters.

It will also be the first election held under political maps cut to fit the 2020 census numbers. The Texas Legislature will draw those maps this year, as soon as it gets those census results, and it's reasonable to expect that the Republican majorities in the House and Senate will join with the Republican governor to draw maps that favor GOP candidates.

But in O'Rourke's only statewide race in Texas — he dropped out of the presidential race before the Texas primaries last year — he was a formidable, if losing, candidate. There's a reason he's a name brand for the Democrats; he came out of nowhere and nearly unseated Cruz. Other Democrats dreaming of being the next governor now have some more thinking to do.

The voters are still getting over the 2020 elections. The politicians have already moved on to 2022.

Analysis: Texans in many border counties voted for Donald Trump — and then for Democrats

All but one of the Republicans running statewide campaigns in Texas this year beat their opponents by 8 to 11 percentage points. The one? President Donald Trump, who beat Joe Biden by 5.8 percentage points.

Keep reading... Show less

Donald Trump leads Joe Biden by 5 points in Texas, UT/TT Poll finds

President Donald Trump leads former Vice President Joe Biden with the support of 50% of the state’s likely voters to Biden’s 45% in the 2020 race for president, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Keep reading... Show less

Analysis: Voting in Texas is different from other places. It’s a hassle.

Lots of states make it as easy as possible to register and vote, whether there's a pandemic or not. Texas is not one of those states.

Keep reading... Show less

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Raw Story Investigates and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.