Cascos: Voter Turnout in Texas "Should Embarrass Everyone"

Secretary of State Carlos Cascos speaks to a University of Texas class about what students need to know to vote in November.
Secretary of State Carlos Cascos speaks to a University of Texas class about what students need to know to vote in November.

Texans should be embarrassed by their state’s perennially low voter turnout figures, Secretary of State Carlos Cascos said late last week.

"Texas takes a lot of pride” in many things, he said. “We're certainly not number one in voting. That should embarrass everyone."

Cascos was speaking in Austin at “Texas Turnout” weekend, which the Texas Tribune hosted in partnership with the Society of News Design and the Knight Foundation.

Texas is a long way from tops in turnout.

Just 21 percent of voting age Texans, for instance, voted in this year’s primary elections — a lower rate than all but four states (Unlike Texas, each of those laggard states have closed primary systems, and three held no down-ballot races.).

And Texas ranked 48th among states— counting the District of Columbia — during the 2012 General Election.

Cascos called it the responsibility of candidates and political parties to bolster turnout, and he also called on those wanting improvement to build “that voting ethic” with their friends and family — by inviting them to the polls.

Cascos sounded skeptical that Texas’ strict voter 2011 voter ID law — struck down by a U.S. appeals court last month as discriminatory — had discouraged minorities from voting. He suggested that a court-ordered relaxation of the rules this election would test whether that’s the case.

“Whatever number of voters that I hear are disenfranchised, I want to see if they get re-enfranchised,” he said. “I want to see if that’s really keeping people away from the polls. Or is it something else?”

A federal judge has ordered Texas to spend $2.5 million on voter outreach before November, roughly the amount it spent ahead of elections in 2013 and 2014 when the voter ID law first took effect.


Here’s some news that’s sure to grab the attention of folks following legal wrangling over Texas’ strict voter ID law. A deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday denied North Carolina’s request to reinstate a range of strict voting restrictions — including a photo ID requirement — that an appeals court struck down last month.

The justices declined to halt the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that accused North Carolina lawmakers of targeting would-be African American voters “with almost surgical precision” in creating restrictions on voting.

The high court’s 4-4 ruling on Wednesday left the lower court’s opinion in place, illustrating the huge impact of the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacancy. 

How does this bode for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as he prepares to ask the justices to review this state's law — also struck down as discriminatory?

That’s not clear, since the North Carolina case doesn’t compare apples-to-apples with Texas.

Rick Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, wrote on his blog Wednesday that North Carolina’s petition was “exceptionally weak” (The state waited 17 days to file for a stay, and then called it an “emergency.”)

But Hasen added: “there is very likely to be a 4-4 deadline on the merits” on many of the other cases working their way up to the court — which would leave appeals court rulings in tact.

“It also means that how the Court handles not only voting rights but a whole host of issues depends on the outcome of the presidential election. The Supreme Court really matters,” Hasen wrote.

Group Allied With Bernie Sanders Backs Texans in Local Races

Vermont Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters in Austin, Texas on Feb. 27, 2016.
Vermont Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters in Austin, Texas on Feb. 27, 2016.

In Texas, they’re feeling the Bern at the local level. 

A national group recently started by former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is getting involved in Texas politics.

Julie Ann Nitsch, a candidate for the Austin Community College Board of Trustees, announced Monday she has been endorsed by the group, Our Revolution. Nitsch was a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention last month in Philadelphia.

Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, launched Our Revolution in an effort to boost candidates across the country who share the views that fueled his upstart challenge to Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic nominee.

According to the Our Revolution website, it is currently backing one other Texas candidate: Jared Cates, who is running for Nacogdoches county commissioner.

Meanwhile, Jim Hightower, the Austin-based progressive activist and former Texas agriculture commissioner, was one of 11 people named this week to the board of Our Revolution.

Hightower was an enthusiastic supporter of Sanders throughout the primary, stumping for him in a number of states.


Nelda Laney was laid to rest at the Texas State Cemetery on Tuesday at a graveside service.

The burial was attended by scores of political people she had helped and influenced for decades. Laney, 73, married to former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, succumbed to cancer last week. Several hundred people attended church services for her in Lubbock on Saturday.

Former First Lady Laura Bush, who worked with Laney on historical projects in Texas, was among her eulogists; former President and Gov. George W. Bush sat with the family during the short outdoor service on a warm humid morning in Austin.


Gov. Greg Abbott has endorsed Dawn Buckingham, the Republican nominee for state Senate who faces a long-shot Democratic opponent in November.

“As a physician, mother, and small business owner, Dawn Buckingham understands the challenges that Texans face every day," Abbott said in a statement released Thursday afternoon by Buckingham's campaign. "She embodies conservative principles and will fight tirelessly for the Texans of Senate District 24, and I am proud to support her candidacy for the Texas Senate."

Buckingham, an Austin ophthalmologist, is up against Jennie Lou Leeder, a Democratic activist from Llano. Buckingham is favored to win in the solid-red district.


Tim Kaine is coming back to Texas. The Democratic vice presidential nominee, who held two days of fundraisers earlier this month, is coming back next month for another round.

He’s set to attend a fundraiser in Houston on Sept. 22 with a pair of fundraisers set for Austin on Sept. 23.

The Tribune’s Patrick Svitek reported, “Tickets start at $500 for the Houston event and one of the Austin events, while it costs at least $10,000 to get in to the other Austin event.

“Hosts for the fundraisers are still being selected. The high-dollar event in Austin is at the home of Bonnie Mills, a member of the board of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas.”


Pete Gallego has released his first TV ad in his rematch with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio.

Gallego, a Democrat from Alpine, uses the 30-second spot to recall how while growing up, everyone was expected to pitch in at his family restaurant in West Texas. 

"I washed a lot of dishes — a lot of them," Gallego says, speaking to the camera from a kitchen with his son Nicolas behind him. "That's how we achieve the American Dream. It's going to take leaders working across the aisle to build an economy for everyone. so the next generation, like my son Nicolas, can own their own family business, work hard and achieve the American Dream too."

"Looking great, Nicolas," Gallego then says, turning to his son washing dishes at the sink. "Thanks, Dad!" Nicolas replies.

Gallego's campaign said Thursday morning the ad will "air on broadcast television in Texas' 23rd district." 

Hurd, who has a financial advantage over Gallego, launched his first TV ad earlier this month. He put out another spot Thursday, this one touting how much time he has spent in the district as a congressman. 

"I come home so often because traveling these 29 counties, I meet people who inspire me," Hurd says in the 30-second spot, going on to discuss the need to provide constituents with good-paying jobs, care for veterans and national security.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Inside Intelligence: About That Coarsening Discourse...

For this week’s nonscientific survey of insiders in government and politics, we asked about the coarsening political discourse.

We started by asking whether the political climate is worse than usual this year. Nearly four in five of the insiders agreed that things are worse this year.

When it comes to assigning responsibility for this decay in decorum, politicians were cited by 30 percent of the insiders. Another 20 percent blamed politically active media and 19 percent named political operatives. The mainstream media were deemed culpable by 16 percent.

A protest last month on the UT-Austin campus against the state's campus carry law drew headlines for the unorthodox use of sex toys as political speech. We asked if the outrageous nature of the protest helped or harmed the cause of the campus carry protesters.

On this one, 45 percent said the nature of the protest harmed the cause while 23 percent said that it helped.

On the final question, we asked if the polarizing nature of the presidential contest helps ensure that next year's legislative session will be politically bruising.

On that one, 52 percent said they expect a session full of hot button social issues while 40 percent said they expect lawmakers to pay attention to work on the budget and other policy issues.

We collected comments along the way, and a full set of those is attached.


Politics may not be beanbag, but is the political climate worse than usual?

• "The current climate may seem worse than usual only because it is playing out in the social media theater. In days of the past, the muckraking remained anonymous, and you never knew the real thoughts of your 'closest friends.' Our keyboard courage has changed our anonymity."

• "Please don't say the 1800 election was this bad! The politics of contempt that began with the Clinton scandals and the people has infected the politics of both sides."

• "Every cycle people complain about nasty politics. Sam Houston called his opponents thieves and murderers, John Q. Adams was called a pimp and Abraham Lincoln was called a baboon. There is nothing new under the political sun."

• "In essence, the third parties have finally gotten their candidates. Libertarians have taken over the Republican Party and Socialists have taken over the Democratic Party. The extremes are driving the train."

• "The problem in the presidential race is not the tone or the tactics; it is having two of the absolute worst major party nominees in American history on the ballot at the same time."


Who's played the biggest role in coarsening the discourse?

• "Political operatives know that civil discourse does not motivate people to vote for or against their candidate. The overarching message of all political communications is that the opponent is evil and will destroy our democracy and life as we know it."

• "Politicians have promised too much, and failed to deliver. They are apparently controlled by lobbyists, not the citizenry. That's the main problem in our political life today."

• "Redistricting helped create this mess! While districts have always been drawn in a partisan manner, politicians desire for 80-90 percent partisan leaning districts — for their own political survival — is not conducive to middle-of-the-road policies and politicians."

• "The 24-hour news cycle combined with relentless axe-to-grind 'reporting' are killing all of us. People's reactions (on both sides) are reasonable in the context of what they are hearing from their media of choice. But all significant modern 'news' sources have devolved into the high tech equivalent of yellow journalism. I don't know what the path was from William Randolph Hearst to Ben Bradlee, but I hope we can find a similar path forward with the new media."

• "'None of the above?' Try ALL of the above. It takes a village to run a country's electoral system into the ground."


In the case of the UT student sex toy protest against campus carry, does the outrageous nature of the protest help or harm the cause of campus carry critics?

• "It didn't bring a single dildo sympathizer to their side but it likely alienated scores of people who would otherwise have had sympathy for their arguments. Like many, I'm certain, I'm not sure what the point of the sex toys was but it 'turned me off' from diving deeper to understand the core of their complaint."

• "For those who get irony or Freud, it helps. For the irony-free zone non-thinkers, it harms."

• "Neither. The NRA will soon market a dildo-shaped gun."

• "Regardless of your position on guns, this protest is juvenile and stupid. Shame on the media for giving it so much coverage."

• "As foolish as they looked, they drew attention to their cause. (Not that it's going to have any impact on the Texas Legislature.)"


Does the polarizing presidential election make a politically bruising legislative session more likely?

• "Urban Republicans (URs) are now at the same crossroads that East/West Texas Democrats were in the 90s. Can they remain part of a party that has lost touch with the values of their district? If the URs happen to survive the general, they will be in a predicament on whether or not to support hot button social issues."

• "As former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby stated, 'the legislative process is 90 percent about the budget and the 10 percent is poetry.' The budget will be the big issue but, with the lack of money, social issues will be good political fodder because the members will not have a lot of opportunities to do things that are meaningful. Last session, the state had an abundance of money and the leadership had a difficult time getting on the same page. Imagine how it will work with no money to fund the leadership's priorities. Special Session!!!!"

• "Not in Texas. The Houston delegation will bipartisanly fight the Dallas delegation for money just like they always do ... and so on and so on."

• "Neither. The Donald is a rare and odd occurrence that won't have much lasting impact on Texas state politics. But the election of Hillary will recharge the batteries of the 'Washington is evil' agenda. Get ready for four more years of vigorous Texas federalism."

• "Some will still try to be the legislative equivalent of Robert Morrow. Legislators need to respect the office they were elected to instead of being part of a group of anarchists."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Clyde Alexander, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Dave Beckwith, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Chris Britton, Raif Calvert, Lydia Camarillo, Kerry Cammack, Marc Campos, Janis Carter, Harold Cook, Beth Cubriel, Curtis Culwell, Denise Davis, Tom Duffy, David Dunn, Richard Dyer, Jon Fisher, Tom Forbes, Dominic Giarratani, Bruce Gibson, Stephanie Gibson, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, John Greytok, Clint Hackney, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Susan Hays, Deborah Ingersoll, Mark Jones, Lisa Kaufman, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Sandy Kress, Dale Laine, Pete Laney, Dick Lavine, James LeBas, Luke Legate, Myra Leo, Ruben Longoria, Matt Mackowiak, Jason McElvaney, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Nelson Nease, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Robert Peeler, Jerry Philips, 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, Jason Sabo, Andy Sansom, Barbara Schlief, Stan Schlueter, Robert Scott, Steve Scurlock, Ben Sebree, Nancy Sims, Jason Skaggs, Ed Small, Mark Smith, Larry Soward, Leonard Spearman, Dennis Speight, Tom Spilman, Sherry Sylvester, Trey Trainor, Ware Wendell, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Michael Williams, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

The Calendar

Sunday, Sept. 4

  • Gold Star Gala, benefiting the creation of a monument for Gold Star families; Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel & Conference Center, 1101 Woodlawn Ave, Georgetown (6-11 p.m.)

Monday, Sept. 5

  • Labor Day holiday

Tuesday, Sept. 6

  • Land Commissioner George P. Bush fundraiser; 3105 Above Stratford Place, Austin (6-7:30 p.m.)

Wednesday, Sept. 7

  • 11th Annual Border Health Conference, sponsored by the Texas Medical Association; U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Room HVC-201B, First St. NE, Washington, D.C. (8 a.m.-12:30 p.m.)
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick fundraiser; Four Seasons Hotel, Stone’s Crossing Room, 98 San Jacinto Blvd., Austin (12-1:30 p.m.)
  • State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, fundraiser; Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, Stephen F Bar, 2nd floor, 701 Congress Ave., Austin (4:30-6:30 p.m.)
  • Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner fundraiser; Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel, 2nd Floor Bar, 701 Congress Ave., Austin (4:30-6:30 p.m.)
  • TPPF's Broken Spoke Night: BBQ, Cocktails, & Live Music!; Broken Spoke, 3201 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin (6:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Sept. 8

  • State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, Annual Birthday Fundraiser; Rainbow Lodge, 2011 Ella Blvd., Houston (6-8 p.m.)

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Texas is appealing a federal judge’s dismissal of its lawsuit against the federal government and a refugee resettlement agency over the placement of Syrian refugees in the state.

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump lost a key Hispanic supporter in Texas after his speech Wednesday night on immigration. Houston immigration lawyer Jacob Monty said early Thursday morning that he had decided not only to resign from Trump's National Hispanic Advisory Council but also to stop raising money for the nominee in Texas.

Lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will try to convince a federal judge on Friday to throw out the federal civil fraud case filed against him for allegedly misleading investors in a technology startup.

Texas on Wednesday kicked off a voter education campaign ahead of the November elections. The state is required to spend $2.5 million to educate voters about its voter ID requirements. In March’s presidential primaries, Texas saw a record number of voters. Despite this, the state's turnout of voting-age residents — 21.5 percent — lagged behind that of many other states.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has listed several ideas for the University of Texas at Austin to make its campus safer. The proposals are in response to the slaying last year of a student, whose body was found on campus.

Within a decade, Texas will lead the nation in sicknesses linked to ozone-forming pollutants from oil and gas activity, according to a new analysis from a pair of environmental groups released Wednesday.

With the likely election of a new Democratic sheriff in November, Austin is poised to become the first true “sanctuary city” in GOP-ruled Texas if Travis County stops cooperating with federal immigration policies. Such a move would defy not just Republican orthodoxy but also the Obama administration’s policy on deporting criminal immigrants.

As Texas lawmakers consider filing legislation next year related to ride-hailing companies, they learned Tuesday that more than 30 states have passed laws calling for some level of regulation of companies like Uber and Lyft.

Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing Waller County over its ban on guns at its courthouse. The suit was filed Monday afternoon in district court in Travis County. The state argues that an exemption in the law does not apply to the courthouse in Waller County, northwest of Houston, because the building has non-judicial areas, such as the county clerk's office.

Former Gov. Rick Perry will appear on the upcoming season of "Dancing With the Stars," explaining that he's going on the show to promote veterans’ awareness and to learn to dance ahead of his daughter’s fall nuptials.

Texas has deemed an increasing number of schools as property-wealthy, requiring them to give up a share of their local tax dollars to help buoy poorer districts. The frustration is particularly rife in the state’s largest school district, Houston, which is making its first-ever “recapture” payment this year because the state now considers it too property-wealthy.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Monday called for a review of its current policy of detaining undocumented immigrants in private, for-profit facilities — several of which are in Texas.

A state representative who has passed legislation aimed at reeling in Texas’ standardized testing regime is calling on the state to ditch required STAAR exams while it “tries to iron out STAAR’s many kinks.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, Uber and Lyft 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 appointed three to a business promotion fund. He named Clement Marcus of El Paso, Kelli Frias of Lubbock and Jimmy Mize of Nacogdoches to the Product Development and Small Business Incubator (PDSBI) Board for terms to expire Feb. 1, 2021.

Abbott also appointed Joe Martino of Marshall, Greg New of Waxahachie and Steve Squier of Cleveland to the Texas Crime Stoppers Council for terms set to expire on Sept. 1, 2020.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced three new hires last Friday:

•    Kelly Garcia was named director of government and stakeholder relations where she will serve as liaison between the state agency and elected officials and their staff.
•    Carrie Williams was named the system's chief press officer. Previously the director of media relations at the Department of State Health Services, she was the public face of the response to appearances in Texas of Ebola, H1N1, West Nile virus and, most recently, Zika.
•    Molly Czepiel, who previously held the position for which Garcia has been hired, was named associate commissioner for policy and performance.

Victoria Neave, the Democratic challenger to state Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, in HD-107, announced Tuesday an endorsement from the Texas State Teachers Association.

George Gooch has been named CEO of the Texas Health Services Authority. The organization coordinates implementation of health information exchange in Texas. He’s served as CEO on an interim basis since April.

After nearly 10 years at the Texas Education Agency, serving in various roles and most recently as chief deputy commissioner, Lizzette González Reynolds has gone to work for Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) as vice president of policy. She will remain in Austin and commute to D.C.

The Texas AFL-CIO has hired Mark Maldonado as its first digital strategist. He worked previously for the Texas State Teachers Association. In his new job, Maldonado will be responsible for expanding the labor federation’s use of social media in its communications with its members and with the public.

The Fast Growth School Coalition has named former Humble ISD Superintendent Guy Sconzo as its new executive director. Sconzo, who retired from the Humble school district in May, starts his new job Sept. 1. He takes over for Michelle Smith, who served as executive director of the fast growth schools advocacy group for five years. She is moving to HillCo Partners, according to the FGSC, where she will still work on issues important to those school districts.

Uber has hired Beth Huddleston as its new general manager for its operations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area as well as North and West Texas. She previously worked as a consultant at McKinsey and Company in Atlanta. She takes over for Leandre Johns who will now handle external affairs for Uber’s Texas operations.

Bobby Bowling of El Paso was elected by the Texas Affiliation of Affordable Housing Providers to be its next president of the board of directors. He is president of Tropicana Building Company of El Paso and is a past president of the Texas Association of Builders.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities announced the awarding of its Future of Texas honor to Brianna Brown. She currently serves as deputy director of the Texas Organizing Project.

Deaths: Former state Sen. Bill Sims, 84, passed away Monday at his home in San Angelo. He served in the Senate from 1983 until 1997, serving as the chamber's president pro tempore for the 1991 Legislature. He was buried at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Texas State Cemetery. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at San Angelo First United Methodist Church.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities, the Texas State Teachers Association, the Fast Growth School Coalition, HillCo Partners, the Texas Affiliation of Affordable Housing Providers, the Texas Association of Builders and Uber have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Quotes of the Week

My daughter’s getting married in October, and I figured if I did the show, I’d at least not embarrass her when we did the father-daughter dance.

Former Gov. Rick Perry telling the Tribune one of his motivations for accepting a gig on the upcoming season of the TV show, "Dancing With the Stars"

It was magnificent. You know I’m not a hip-hop guy but I’m telling you the story and the way they handled it, my hat’s off to Mr. Miranda for this extraordinary story ... if you can get a ticket, go see it.

Perry, budding theater critic, who caught "Hamilton" with his daughter this week

In terms of representing our interests abroad, and ultimately that's what Americans, I think, view their president as a symbolic representative of U.S. interests both at home and abroad, … in that respect, I think he's failed.

Tony Garza, former ambassador to Mexico under George W. Bush, issuing a scathing assessment of Donald Trump

No way Jose ... it is pouring money down the drain.

Former Trump supporter Jacob Monty, telling the Tribune that he would no longer raise money for the GOP presidential nominee