Democratic Super PAC Makes Early Buy in Gallego-Hurd Contest

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (left) was ousted by Republican Will Hurd, right, in the 2014 CD-23 contest.
Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (left) was ousted by Republican Will Hurd, right, in the 2014 CD-23 contest.

A Democratic super PAC that supports party efforts to capture back control of the House of Representatives will likely target U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, in the fall.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, is challenging Hurd in a rematch this fall.

The House Majority PAC announced Tuesday that the group reserved $851,618 in the San Antonio television market, intended to air ads against the freshman incumbent. Democrats in general — and this group, specifically — reserve ad time early in the cycle in order to secure the lowest advertising rates possible.

House Majority PAC and other groups are known to cancel reservations in the fall if a race is perceived to be over — either already won or a lost cause, in a brutal process called "triage."

Republican organizations often reserve late — and at a premium — in order to preserve the element of surprise. It is all but certain that GOP groups will support Hurd on the air as well, but will make their buys at a later date. Some Texas strategists project that spending in the race could exceed $15 million.

No other race in Texas garners this kind of interest or national group spending. It is the only competitive contest in the state that draws in this kind of outside interest.

Political handicappers rate this race as a pure tossup.


Gov. Greg Abbott kicked off in Austin on Wednesday a lengthy bus tour of the state to promote his new memoir/political manifesto, “Broken But Unbowed,” that combines his life story of overcoming considerable personal adversity with his prescription for a states-led overhaul of the U.S. Constitution.

When all is said and done, Abbott will have visited 19 cities over a 10-day span.

Abbott took the stage as news was breaking that Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who has developed a national reputation for his prolific and often humorous tweets, was included in presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s shortlist of possible nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For full details of the Willett mention by Trump, check out the comprehensive coverage by the Tribune’s Matthew Watkins and Julián Aguilar here (yes, there are sample tweets).

The Tribune’s Patrick Svitek, meanwhile, noted on Twitter (natch) that Abbott, a former Texas Supreme Court justice himself, was asked by a reporter about Willett’s tweets critical of Trump. Abbott responded, “Do you want me to comment on the profundity of Twitter?”


U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, is officially the fastest man in the House of Representatives. On Wednesday morning, he was the top House member finisher in an annual three-mile dash called the Capital Challenge.

The congressman finished the run in 20 minutes, 16 seconds. He was not the fastest member of Congress, though. That honor went to U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, who finished the race in 18 minutes, 35 seconds.


The Legislative Reference Library of Texas has received a collection of documents from Austin attorney Mark Kincaid, who died earlier this year. Kincaid was widely considered a leading authority on unfair insurance practices in the state.

The documents span two decades — from 1995 through 2015 — and include legislation, analyses of bills, transcripts of testimony, slideshow presentations and communication with other individuals. The papers were donated to the Library by Kincaid's wife, Joan Kincaid.

"This generous donation by Ms. Kincaid is a significant legislative intent research tool available to bench, bar and anyone interested in the development of Texas consumer insurance law over the last thirty years," said Austin attorney Joe Longley.

Kincaid's papers will be included in the Library's Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act and Insurance Law collection.

"The library is extremely excited at the thoughtfulness and generosity of the Kincaid family," said Library Director Mary Camp in a statement. "These papers provide a broad-based and much-needed historical perspective to Texas consumer's insurance rights."

Disclosure: Mark and Joan Kincaid have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Hunt Proposal To Buy Oncor Is Now Dead, Officially

A Ray L. Hunt-led proposal to buy and reshape Oncor, the state’s largest electric utility, is officially dead.

The Texas Public Utility Commission on Thursday nailed the coffin shut on the deal, one day after the Dallas oil family asked the three-member panel to vacate its March order on the matter. That order approved the sale with stipulations that investors later called a deal-breaker.

Instead of precisely granting Hunt's request, the commission voted unanimously to let its original order stand — leaving the deal to wither on its own.

Thursday's vote officially rendered moot a seven-month slog that sometimes turned testy at the commission, which was tasked with deciding whether Hunt’s plan was in Texans’ “public interest.”

Hunt had said yes, but consumer advocates, PUC staff and some lawmakers said no. The commissioners eventually said 'yes, if' in crafting the complicated March decision.

After that order, Hunt initially asked for a rehearing on the matter, suggesting that it could salvage the deal — if regulators helped. But on Wednesday, the family changed its tune, acknowledging that such an effort was doomed.

That’s because Energy Future Holdings — Oncor’s heavily indebted parent — recently filed a new reorganization plan in a Delaware bankruptcy court. It no longer made the Hunt deal for Oncor its centerpiece. It leaves open the possibility such a sale to the Hunt family or anyone else.

Hunt vows to launch a new effort from scratch.

“The Commission’s actions today now allow all parties to engage in conversations about next steps toward ensuring that Oncor remains under the management control of Texans,” Jeanne Philips, a spokeswoman for Hunt Consolidated, said in a statement. “Hunt is committed to working with all stakeholders to come up with a plan that supports this goal.”

For its part, Oncor said through spokesman Geoff Bailey: “We look forward to working with all parties interested in acquiring Energy Future Holdings' majority stake in Oncor.”

The biggest sticking point in the now-failed deal concerned how regulators would treat hundreds of millions of dollars each year that investors sought to save on federal taxes by shifting into a real estate investment trust.

Had Hunt’s group stuck with the March order, the commission looked poised to force the utility to share some of those tax savings directly with ratepayers, potentially lowering their bills — and the yield to investors.


Gov. Greg Abbott told President Barack Obama on Monday that Texas will not only maintain its sanctions against Iran but also build on them, rejecting an effort by Obama's administration to get states to roll back such laws.

Abbott made the announcement in a letter to the president, whose administration asked governors last month to revisit their state-level sanctions in light of the United States' agreement with Iran to scale back its nuclear program.

"Because the Iran deal is fundamentally flawed and does not permanently dismantle Iran’s nuclear capability, Texas will maintain its sanctions against Iran," Abbott wrote. "Further, because your administration has recklessly and unilaterally removed critical sanctions, I have called on the Texas Legislature to strengthen the Iran sanctions that Texas already has in place."

Texas already has a law that prohibits state pension and retirement systems from investing in Iran or entities that conduct business with the country. Abbott told Obama he wants the Texas Legislature to go further by passing laws that would ban local governments from investing in Iran or entities that do business with it, among other things.

The letter can be viewed here.


Ted Cruz has released a five-and-a-half minute video of him and Jeff Roe, his campaign manager, addressing campaign staff after he dropped out of the presidential race.

Click here to view the video, entitled “No Regrets.”

Disclosure: Oncor and Energy Future Holdings have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Inside Intelligence: About Those Runoff Election Predictions...

For this week’s nonscientific survey of insiders in government and politics, we asked about your predictions for next week’s runoff elections.

Voters across the state started casting ballots this week ahead of Tuesday's party primary runoff elections. So we decided to ask the insiders to dust off their crystal balls and give their best predictions on how a few of the highest-profile races would fall.

We began by asking about the two runoff contests to decide the Republican nominee in two open Senate Districts, the East Texas-based SD-1 and the Hill Country/Rolling Plains-anchored SD-24.

The insiders had favorites in both races, with 82 percent picking Mineola state Rep. Bryan Hughes in SD-1 and 74 percent picking Abilene state Rep. Susan King in SD-24.

Exactly 50 percent of the insiders thought former state Rep. Wayne Christian would take the GOP runoff contest for Railroad Commission with Gary Gates favored by 42 percent.

That would be the only race where the insiders were split, though. In the two House District races where Republican incumbents were forced into a runoff, the insiders broke solidly in favor of those incumbents holding on to their jobs.

In HD-73, 78 percent of the insiders thought New Braunfels state Rep. Doug Miller would win. And in HD-128, 77 percent of the insiders thought Baytown state Rep. Wayne Smith would win.

We collected comments along the way, and a full set of those is attached. Here’s a sampling:


Who wins in the Senate District 1 GOP runoff?

• "Marijuana hurt Simpson."






Who wins in the Senate District 24 GOP runoff?

• "PLEASE let it be Susan King!!!"

• "Dawn Buckingham is viewed as favorably as a Veterans Administration doctor now."

• "I don't know who wins... but I'm hoping for Buckingham."

• "King's record is LIBERAL."

• "Susan King and her short skirts"  


Who wins in the Railroad Commission GOP runoff?

• "Turnout must be (and will be) low."

• "The write-in candidate?"

• "Gates. Uses it for higher office. A waste. Wayne would do the job. Industry sat on their ass and were too cowardly to get involved. Wonder why we get lousy candidates? Business is chicken shit. We might take a side and offend someone. A key industry regulator and industry sits it out. Pathetic."

• "How many previous losses for Gates?" 


Who wins in the House District 73 GOP runoff?

• "Die Leute denken nicht Hitler Witze lustig sind."

• "Herr Biedermann will not be in Poland by the spring."

• "The defamation by Miller reveals the man's LACK of integrity." 





Who wins in the House District 128 GOP runoff?

• "I am SUPER scared on this one — but Smith REALLY needs to pull this one out."

• "Oh so close on March 1st."






What will be the most notable surprise from the runoff elections?

• "How poorly MQS and Empower performed during this election."

• "Ron Reynolds will win. Why? Because when a Democratic organization like Annie's List recruits a REPUBLICAN woman to run against a Democratic man with a 100 percent voting record — Democrats get pissed. (Yes, he has some personal baggage, but really — you recruited a Republican woman????)"

• "TEA members of the Republican Party are not as strong as pundits think."

• "Yarborough beats Garrett for Democrat nomination for RRC, i.e., they will be picking the least qualified candidate (and least active campaigner) of the original three. This will be the latest sign of the weakness of Democrats in Texas. Texas Dems can't hope to put up a strong challenge in a statewide race until they can get it together enough to pick a strong person to carry their banner."

• "Rock-bottom low turnout will show that nobody cares and that Republicans are deflated due to the Trump Train."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Brandon Alderete, Clyde Alexander, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Amy Beneski, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Raif Calvert, Lydia Camarillo, Snapper Carr, Elna Christopher, Harold Cook, Kevin Cooper, Randy Cubriel, Curtis Culwell, Denise Davis, June Deadrick, Glenn Deshields, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, Jack Erskine, John Esparza, Neftali Garcia, Bruce Gibson, Stephanie Gibson, Eric Glenn, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, John Greytok, Clint Hackney, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Deborah Ingersoll, Mark Jones, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Pete Laney, Luke Legate, Myra Leo, Ruben Longoria, Matt Mackowiak, Jason McElvaney, Steve Minick, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Keats Norfleet, Sylvia Nugent, Gardner Pate, Robert Peeler, Tom Phillips, Wayne Pierce, Allen Place, Gary Polland, Jay Pritchard, Jay Propes, Ted Melina Raab, Patrick Reinhart, David Reynolds, Carl Richie, A.J. Rodriguez, Grant Ruckel, Andy Sansom, Barbara Schlief, Stan Schlueter, Robert Scott, Bruce Scott, Steve Scurlock, Ben Sebree, Jason Skaggs, Ed Small, Mark Smith, Larry Soward, Leonard Spearman, Dennis Speight, Tom Spilman, Colin Strother, Sherry Sylvester, Sara Tays, Trey Trainor, Vicki Truitt, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

The Calendar

Friday, May 20

  • Last day of early voting for party primary runoff elections
  • Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton fundraiser, hosted by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Diane LandW Austin, 200 Lavaca St., Austin (1:30-3:30 p.m.)
  • Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton fundraiser; Home of Ginni and Richard Mithoff, Houston (5-7 p.m.)

Saturday, May 21

  • Lower Bois D'Arc Discussion Town Hall, hosted by state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood; Bailey Inglish Elementary School, 201 E. 10th St., Bonham (1:30-3:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, May 24

  • Party primary runoff elections
  • State Rep. Armando "Mando" Martinez, D-Weslaco, fundraiser; The Austin Club, 110 E. Ninth St., Austin (4:30-6 p.m.)

Thursday, May 26

  • State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, fundraiser, hosted by Doug Deason; Park City Club, 5956 Sherry Ln, No. 1700, Dallas (5:30-7 p.m.)

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sought Saturday in a speech at the Republican Party of Texas state convention over the weekend to re-energize his most loyal supporters after a tough defeat in the presidential race, urging them not to abandon the conservative movement. It was Cruz's first major speech since he ended his campaign earlier this month.

Texas Republicans approved each of the 266 planks in their party's 2016 platform, weighing in on transgender bathroom rules and many other aspects of American life. Party officials, however, averted determined efforts by some delegates to insert a plank in favor of allowing Texas to secede from the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sent back to lower courts a case that pits religious groups against the Obama administration over a requirement that some employers provide birth control benefits to female employees. A Texas case is among seven related lawsuits the high court agreed to hear together in which religious nonprofits argue the mandate infringes on their religious freedom.

The University of North Texas is exploring becoming an exclusive higher education partner with the Dallas Cowboys football team, an unusual deal that could include sponsorship opportunities and student internships. No price tag has been made public, but a memo said that cost is expected to be of "sufficient size," to require the Board of Regents to sign off.

In an increasingly testy Republican runoff for railroad commissioner, state Rep. Wayne Christian is reaching into Gary Gates' legal history in an effort to paint his opponent as a “slumlord.” Gates, who has relentlessly criticized Christian's record as a lawmaker and brands him a “career politician,” calls the attacks dirty politics. Regardless, the issue highlights the vulnerabilities of a candidate who earned his wealth by building a small real estate empire of relatively low-cost rental units.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath on Tuesday praised the state Supreme Court's recent opinion upholding the state’s public school funding system and demurred on questions about bathroom use by transgender students.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee this week vowed to "tighten it up" when it comes to granting emergency leave to state employees. State employees in Texas are not awarded severance pay when they are fired or leave their posts, but recent reports show the embattled AG granted emergency leave to at least three top officials after they resigned, keeping them on the payroll for months.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett has made Donald Trump’s 11-person list of judges the real estate mogul would consider appointing to the U.S. Supreme Court if elected president.

Convicted of five misdemeanor counts of illegally soliciting clients to his personal injury law practice, state Rep. Ron Reynolds is now without a license to practice law. The Missouri City Democrat's law license has been suspended by the Texas Supreme Court's Board of Disciplinary Appeals as he appeals those convictions.

A Dallas oil family is going back to the drawing board after determining it can't go forward with a current plan to purchase utility Oncor, an attorney for the group told the Texas Public Utility Commission in a Wednesday filing.

Big Texas cities continue to add the greatest number of people, but the action is in the suburbs when it comes to rates of growth. Led by Georgetown, Texas has four of the nation's 10 fastest-growing cities.

Lawyers working for the Turkish government plan to file a complaint with the Texas Education Agency next week against Houston-based Harmony Public Schools, alleging financial malfeasance and other misconduct, school officials said.

A trio of Texas Republican lawmakers says the U.S. Library of Congress is bowing to political pressure by eliminating the terms “illegal alien” and “alien” from its search and subject heading classifications. In a letter dated May 19 to acting librarian David S. Mao, U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith of San Antonio and John Culberson of Houston joined U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in accusing the library of bowing "to the political pressure of the moment.”

Most of the water utilities in Texas need to "substantially increase" efforts to conserve water, according to a recent review of more than 300 city utilities by the Texas Living Waters Project.

The San Antonio Water System board on Wednesday approved a takeover of the controversial Vista Ridge project — a move set in motion by the financial troubles of a firm the city had enlisted to build the 142-mile pipeline.

Disclosure: The University of North Texas, the San Antonio Water System,Harmony Public Schools and Oncor have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Greg Abbott has reappointed Mike Arismendez of Shallowater and appointed Helen Callier of Kingwood and Rick Figueroa of Brenham to the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation for terms to expire Feb. 1, 2021. The governor’s office also noted that Arismendez will continue serving as the panel’s chairman.

Abbott appointed John Best of San Angelo as district attorney for the 119th Judicial District in Runnels, Concho and Tom Green counties. The appointment, effective June 1, 2016, runs until the fall general election. Best will be on the November ballot after having won the Republican nomination in March.

Abbott appointed Albert Cheng of Houston and Cathy Norwood of Midland and reappointed Lamberto “Bobby” Ballí of San Antonio to the Texas Board of Professional Engineers (TBPE) for terms to expire Sept. 26, 2021.

Abbott named Anthony Giuliani of El Paso to the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners for a term to expire Jan. 31, 2019.

A couple of Texans have earned presidential nominations to represent the U.S. overseas as ambassadors. Rena Bitter was nominated to become ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Douglas Alan Silliman was nominated to become ambassador to the Republic of Iraq. Both are career members of the Foreign Service. Their nominations have been submitted to the U.S. Senate for confirmation.

State Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, endorsed Wayne Christian for Railroad Commission in a message sent to her supporters on Thursday.

The public education advocacy group Texas Parent PAC announced its endorsement of David Simpson for the East Texas-based SD-1 seat. He’s facing off against Bryan Hughes, a state representative from Mineola, for their party’s nod to succeed outgoing state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler.

GOP SD-24 runoff candidate Susan King received on Monday the endorsement of the Texas Travel Industry Association.

GOP SD-24 runoff candidate Dawn Buckingham announced endorsements over the past week from the political arm of the Texas Thoroughbred Breeder’s Association, SBOE District 5 representative Ken Mercer and a a trio of NRA board members — Leroy SiscoSusan Howard and Ted Nugent.

Former Gov. Rick Perry on Monday took a break from retirement to weigh in on another race involving the Texas Legislature. This time, he is throwing his support behind state Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, who has found himself in a tough runoff with 31-year-old attorney Briscoe Cain. Smith later in the week received the endorsement of Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has endorsed Jarvis Johnson in the Democratic runoff election for HD-139, the seat that Turner held before becoming mayor in January. Johnson faces off against Kimberly Willis next week to determine who will be the Democratic nominee in the fall general election.

The Health and Human Services Commission announced on Tuesday that it is bringing on board Heather Griffith Peterson as the organization’s new chief operating officer and Kara Crawford as its new chief of staff. Both begin work at HHSC on June 1.

The Texas Water Development Board on Thursday named Jeff Walker as its new executive administrator. He is currently serves as the deputy executive administrator of Water Supply and Infrastructure. 

The George W. Bush Presidential Center has selected Ken Hersh to take over as its president and CEO at the end of May. The George W. Bush Foundation also announced that Holly Kuzmich, who had served as the center’s interim president, will take over as executive director of the George W. Bush Institute.

John Moritz last week joined the statewide media relations team at the Texas Department of Transportation, leaving the communications shop at Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.

Stacy E. Wilson has been named the new president of the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas. She comes to CHAT from the Texas Hospital Association, where she was vice president and associate general counsel.

The Texas Civil Justice League announced Monday that former Senate parliamentarian Walter Fisher is joining the organization’s board of directors. He most recently had the title of senior advisor to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Disclosure: The Texas Travel Industry Association, the Children’s Hospital Association of Texas, the George W. Bush Institute, the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and the Texas Civil Justice League have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Quotes of the Week

Nobody stood and fought harder, more effectively and for longer, to prevent where we are now than I did.

Former GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, defending in an interview with the Tribune over the weekend his efforts to deny Donald Trump the party's nomination

I’m exercising judicial restraint.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett to reporters on Wednesday shortly after his appearance on a shortlist of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees in a Trump administration

Well, I think this does underscore the risk of electing a right-wing radio host to elected statewide office.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who said Texas won't be "blackmailed" by Obama's directive for public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms aligned with their gender identity

We make our plans for how and where to drill, but ultimately, the outcome, that’s in God’s hands.

Former chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission Victor Carrillo on Zion Oil and Gas, where he is CEO. He said the company is hoping to discover oil in Israel to "hasten the second coming of Jesus Christ."