July 16, 2021 | View in browser
By The Texas Tribune Politics Team

Today's Blast was complied by Farah Eltohamy
228 days until the March primary

REPS. CANALES AND LONGORIA HEAD BACK TO THE HOUSE


As we watch and wait to see how long Texas House Democrats extend their quorum break, two familiar faces returned to the chamber on Friday. Edinburg Rep. Terry Canales and Mission Rep. Oscar Longoria both reported to the House for duty. Neither lawmaker was listed among the Democrats that had asked the House clerk to lock their desks and their return does not impact the quorum break. 

House Speaker Dade Phelan has said he'll charter a plane on Saturday to bring the fugitive Democrats home from Washington, D.C. As of early Friday morning, his office said no Democrats had confirmed they would accept Phelan's ride home.

— James Barragán
Programming note: Every Friday, The Blast provides an early copy of Ross Ramsey’s Monday column. Below is Ramsey’s latest “Unconventional Wisdom.”

Analysis: Texas Democrats may find themselves in the wilderness of wandering public attention

The spotlight won’t shine for long on the story of Texas’ flyaway Democrats. The novelty will wear off. The cable TV networks will have other top stories before you know it, and this will become another of those insider fights of only passing interest to Texans who don’t have regular business in the state Capitol.

Voting rights are important to voters, but most people only pay attention to the particulars at election time. Where do I go? What do I have to do? Who and what is on the ballot? Who are all of these people, and which ones are in my way and which ones can I ignore?

But the next big elections in Texas aren’t until March at the earliest — and those, the party primaries, could easily be delayed until May or later because of delays in the 2020 U.S. census, and the resulting delays in drawing new political maps to fit new details of where Texans live and how many of them live there.

For now, it’s enough to know that the state government in Texas is dysfunctional, but not in a way that has any immediate effect on the lives of everyday Texans.

That’s a particular problem for the wandering Democrats whose political play depends, to some extent, on public attention. They decamped on Monday, faced with the prospect of showing up to watch Republicans approve a bill with new restrictions on voting that they cannot abide.

The Republicans call it an “election integrity” bill and say it’s needed to bar practices they fear leave elections open to fraud, though there is no evidence of the kind of widespread chicanery that would change election results. Democrats say the changes would amount to “voter suppression,” making it harder for people of color and Democrats to vote.

The political lines had hardened even before the special legislative session that has now been interrupted by the Democrats’ flight to Washington, D.C. The Texas House can’t conduct business unless at least 100 of its 150 members are present, and enough Democrats left the state to bust that quorum requirement.

Their aim is to change the voting bill, kill it or preempt it. Maybe the Republicans left behind will soften their stand, a prospect that seemed unlikely even before Gov. Greg Abbott told public radio’s “Texas Standard” that, because of the quorum bust, Republicans are “in no mood for additional compromise.”

The reason most of the decamped Democrats are in Washington is to try to get a voting bill they like — one that would preempt state law — from Congress. That requires some public attention, too, to get enough voters interested to draw members of Congress away from what they were doing to what the Texans hope they’ll do.

But the Texas Democrats aren’t the only politicians looking for public attention and support. Texas Republicans are promoting other legislation on the special session agenda that might get more public interest.

An example: Abbott put a “13th check” for retired teachers on the list — a move to give a bonus check to teachers who get monthly retirement payments, because their retirement fund is relatively flush right now. Those teachers are an important constituency for Democrats, and getting them a check, the Republicans hope, is a way to lure the Democrats back to Austin.

The governor, in that same radio interview, was pushing his overhaul of the bail bond system in a way that might appeal to voters, or at least spook them.

“There are dead people today because the Democrats have refused to step up and reform our broken bail system that lets very dangerous criminals back out on the streets,” Abbott said. “So the Democrats have blood on their hands for failing to step up and do their job. We don’t know how many Texans may lose their lives until the Democrats finally return to the Capitol and step up and pass bail reform policies in the state of Texas that do not let dangerous criminals back out onto the street.”

The first week of this legislative drama got a lot of attention from the news media and from voters. Everyone in the fight grabbed for it, because they’re playing for public favor and also working to prevent their foes from gaining public support.

Barring some new drama, the spotlight won’t last for long. Eighteen years ago this month, Texas Senate Democrats were bivouacked in Albuquerque, New Mexico, trying to use a quorum break to stop Republican redistricting plans. It lasted long enough to fall off the front pages of the papers, and they eventually decided to come home to Texas.

And the Republicans in the Legislature got the maps they wanted.

— Ross Ramsey

BORDER WALL RECEIVES OVER $837K IN PRIVATE DONATIONS IN FIRST MONTH

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office had received over $837,000 in private donations for the planned Mexico-Texas border wall as of Thursday, according to a spokesperson. It’s been about a month since Abbott announced that he would be soliciting private donations to help fund his wall. 

The Texas Facilities Commission has begun its search for a contractor to serve as the project manager for the wall, who will make additional hires and plan the scope of the project. The search is set to close on Monday. The state has not posted a salary range and documents say the “cost will be negotiated” with the person chosen for the role. 

Abbott previously announced that he would reallocate $250 million of state funds as a “down payment”  for the wall, which he says will be coupled with private donations to finish the project.  

However, the chances of the barrier being completed along the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border is uncertain. The project faces a host of logistical issues, including exorbitant costs and the issue of obtaining the land to build the wall on, which will likely come with yearslong legal challenges and private landowners unwilling to give up their property. Abbott previously said he expects Texans to donate their land for the project.

— Reese Oxner

STATE SEN. KEL SELIGER FACES NEW PRIMARY CHALLENGER

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, is getting a primary challenger.

Stormy Bradley, a businesswoman and school board member from Big Spring, is set to announce her campaign for Seliger’s Senate District 31. In a campaign launch video, Bradley calls herself a “conservative outsider who’s proud of Texas and the United States of America.”

“With left-wing radicals trying to defund the police, tax us into poverty, and apologize for what makes our country great, I will hold firm to the West Texas values that I have followed my entire life: Faith and family, working hard and telling the truth, standing on principle, and never backing down from a fight,” Bradley says in a statement.

Neither the video nor statement mention the incumbent.

Among the businesses that Bradley owns is Bulldog Steel, a steel manufacturer in Big Spring. She serves on the Coahoma Independent School District Board of Trustees.

Seliger has not yet announced whether he’s running for reelection next year. The district lines are likely to change before the 2022 election due to redistricting.

The last time Seliger was on the ballot — in 2018 — he faced two primary opponents and narrowly avoided a runoff with 50.4% of the vote.

Watch Bradley's launch video here.

— Patrick Svitek

PRO-ELLZEY GROUP IN TX-6 FUNDED BY BIPARTISIAN VETERANS PAC


A super PAC that has spent six figures supporting Jake Ellzey in the special election runoff for the 6th Congressional District is exclusively funded by a separate super PAC that works to elect veterans from both parties.

The Elect Principled Veterans Fund, which was formed months ago, had to disclose its donors for the first time today, and it showed $515,000 in contributions exclusively from With Honor Fund. 

Ellzey, a Waxahachie state representative, faces fellow Republican Susan Wright in the July 27 runoff to succeed her late husband, U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington. Endorsed by former President Donald Trump, Susan Wright has her own big-money outside ally, the Club for Growth, which has unloaded six figures boosting her and attacking Ellzey in the runoff.

The connection between With Honor Fund and Elect Principled Veterans Fund was not unexpected. Each shares the same P.O. box, treasurer and vendor.

There are a couple reasons that With Honor Fund may not be a welcome presence in a GOP primary, beyond the fact that it helps Democrats in addition to Republicans. Its top donors in previous election cycles have been New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, both boogeymen on the right.

When With Honor Fund got involved in the 2020 GOP primary for Texas' 11th Congressional District, it caused problems for the group's favored candidate there, August Pfluger. He nonetheless ended up winning the race.

— Patrick Svitek

FLORIDA GOVERNOR RON DESTANTIS WILL HEAD DOWN TO THE BORDER


Two Republican governors who are seen as potential presidential candidates in 2024 will tout their efforts to control the U.S.-Mexico border Saturday as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott welcomes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for a border security briefing in Del Rio. In May, Abbott declared a state of disaster in dozens of Texas counties because of illegal immigration. DeSantis responded to Abbott's call for help by sending Florida law enforcement to Texas to assist in the state's operations. 

The two governors will be joined by Attorney General Ken Paxton, Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, Texas Department of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, Texas National Guard Major General Tracy Norris, Val Verde County Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez and Brandon Judd, the president of the national border patrol union. 

— James Barragán

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Jordan Overturf, the former director of communications for the Texas House GOP Caucus, has now moved on to work as senior communications advisor for South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. His first day was July 15

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, announced he would seek reelection on Friday on the Senate floor as he was being honored for being the longest-serving member of the chamber.

— Farah Eltohamy & Rebekah Allen
 
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New on the Tribune
Quote of the day
"The most important titles in my life will never change: Dad, Husband, El Pasoan. Nothing political has ever cracked the top three, so nothing has changed about who I am or what my values are."
— Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, after being stripped of his position as speaker pro tempore following the Dems walkout
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