As the Trump administration moves forward with efforts to compile detailed citizenship information for the upcoming census, the U.S. Census Bureau has asked Texas to consider sharing parts of its driver’s license and ID database.
The Texas Department of Public Safety received the request from the bureau Oct. 2 with a proposal for the state to provide a monthly dataset, including driver license or ID numbers and citizenship status for Texans who have been issued those documents. A DPS spokeswoman said the department was reviewing the request, but “no action has been taken at this time.”
Similar requests went out across the country as part of the Census Bureau’s efforts to comply with a July executive order from President Donald Trump that called for compiling citizenship data from existing government records. The bureau has long used state administrative records to supplement and improve its surveys, the bureau said in a statement released earlier this week, but it recently expanded into driver’s license records for the 2020 census.
“Responses to all Census Bureau surveys and administrative records obtained by the Census Bureau are safe, secure and protected by law,” the bureau’s statement read.
DPS on Friday provided The Texas Tribune with the communications it received from a Census Bureau official, including a template for a data-sharing agreement. That template included a proposal for the state to provide monthly records from 2018 through 2023. The requested data includes “driver license number or identification number, type of card, name, address, date of birth, sex, race, citizenship status, data issued and date updated.”
Several states have rejected the federal government’s request. But it’s unclear whether Gov. Greg Abbott will follow suit. A spokesman for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
In 2017, Texas partly rejected a request from the Trump Administration’s now-defunct Election Integrity Commission for voter information, only handing over information that’s considered public under Texas law. And Abbott sought to reassure Texans that while the state would comply with part of a request for information, it would keep “private your private information.”
The Census Bureau’s requests come several months after the Trump administration lost a lengthy court fight to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census — a move that the U.S. Supreme Court blocked after finding that the administration had provided a “contrived” reason for obtaining the information.
The administration had claimed the citizenship question was added at the request of the Justice Department so officials could better enforce voting rights law. But evidence that emerged through litigation indicated that U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asked the Justice Department to make that request after he was in touch with Trump advisers.
Although Trump backed away from that effort, he signed an executive order directing the government to use administrative records to compile citizenship information, which aligned with what the Census Bureau had been recommending all along.
But the Census Bureau’s request has raised concerns about the reliability of citizenship information from driver’s license and ID databanks.
Earlier this year, that dataset derailed Texas’ efforts to scour its voter rolls for noncitizens when the secretary of state relied on driver’s license and ID data to question the citizenship status of nearly 100,000 registered voters, only to discover later that tens of thousands of them were naturalized citizens.
In Texas, immigrants who are not citizens can obtain driver’s licenses and IDs, which are valid for several years, and are not required to update DPS if they become naturalized citizens before they have to renew those documents.
Data from the decennial census is used to distribute billions of dollars in federal funding and is the basis for political representation. In announcing his executive order earlier this year, Trump offered the clear indication that his administration was seeking the detailed citizenship data to offer states the ability to redraw legislative districts based on who is eligible to vote.
Evidence in the litigation over the citizenship question uncovered a 2015 analysis of the Texas House that demonstrated how using the population of citizens who are voting age, as opposed to total population, would lead to a “radical redrawing” of House districts and prove advantageous to Republicans and white Texans.
Texas House leaders have since said they have no plans to use citizenship data in this way. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has not responded to questions about whether he would support such a move.
DALLAS — Donning a camouflage Trump baseball cap and Trump-Pence 2020 sneakers, Ronnie Drury arrived nearly 12 hours early to hear President Donald Trump speak Thursday evening at a reelection rally in Dallas.
“This is the biggest thing on my bucket list, and I’m checking it off,” he said.
For Drury, of Plano, the draw wasn’t hearing Trump discuss any particular policy issue but receiving affirmation on his staunch beliefs toward Social Security and immigration policy. “They can’t live off of you and I’s benefits,” Drury said of migrants entering through the U.S.-Mexico border. “They have to work just like everybody else does.”
The president didn’t disappoint.
“We’re building a great wall along the southern border,” Trump said as raucous cheers of “build a wall” radiated from the brimming crowd. “It is going up rapidly, we are building that sucker right now, and it is having a tremendous effect.”
Trump also drew praise from the crowd as he took aim at Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 2020 presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter (some in the crowd derisively referred to him as “Cokehead Biden”), and former President Barack Obama.
“I really don’t believe they love our country,” Trump said, also referring to Democrats as “corrupt people.”
National headlines Thursday would suggest the president was having a rough day. Just hours before, his acting chief of staff admitted, then tried to walk back, that the president used military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine into a political investigation. Hours later, Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced he was resigning at the end of the year. But Trump and his supporters were unfazed, eager to embrace the rally as a sort of therapeutic escape.
For the thousands of faithful supporters who found themselves at Thursday evening’s rally, the night was more than a political spectacle. Attendees donned bright red, white and blue garments adorned with buttons and carried signs insisting they were neither racist nor stupid. Trump strode onstage nearly an hour after he was slated to speak, but the audience paid no mind. Energized by a pump-up playlist that included Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Elton John, attendees waved their hands in the air, paraded blue and red “Trump-Pence” signs, and cheered and booed on cue with those who warmed up the crowd.
In talks with more than a dozen Trump supporters before and after the rally, the message was clear. Their support for Trump was steeped in two main beliefs: He’s done exactly “what he said he’d do,” and his remarks toward Democrats and people of color matched what they said and believed.
“He talks like me. He thinks like me,” said Patrick Stevenson, 34, of Arlington. “He can talk like a normal person, which is weird because the guy is a flippin’ billionaire. He’s just like a regular cab driver dude.”
Stevenson, who said he voted for Obama in 2008 because “he was black and we needed change,” didn’t fully embrace the Republican ideology until he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 under the Obama administration. He said he noticed a change in policy on the ground that led him to develop a callous attitude toward the military and the government.
Then Trump entered the 2016 presidential race.
“This orange guy gets on the TV and starts campaigning, you know, and it just hits home,” he said. “I’m like, ‘You know what, this guy gets me.’”
First: A dog is decked out in Trump regalia at the Dallas rally. Last: Nicole Rogers, 34, who flew in from New Mexico, says she has seen the problems at the border and wants to let people know.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune
Shelly Gish of Hallsville said she believed in “everything Mr. Trump is doing.” Regarding the Democrats, she said, “All they want to do is impeach, impeach, impeach since the first day.”
“If I get to talkin’ about it, I get angry,” she said, laughing a little. “He’s a smart man. The way he is diplomatin’ with other countries. He’s doing everything great.”
Although a flurry of campaign activity in Texas over the past week signaled to some Democrats that the president and his team may be wary that the state is in play, the synergy between the president and his audience last night only helped to affirm the crowd’s confidence in his grip over Texas Republicans — and their shared belief that the country under the president’s leadership is better than ever — heading into what is already a tumultuous 2020 campaign.
Trump carried Texas by 9 percentage points in 2016, the smallest margin for a Republican presidential nominee here in two decades. His approval rating typically comes in several points above water here, but recent polling has shown him trailing or only narrowly defeating a number of potential Democratic nominees in the state.
Trump, and the Texas elected officials who spoke before him Thursday, were undaunted by those stats, instead spending their time at the mic to warn that if they’re not reelected in 2020, they’ll be replaced by liberal Democrats who are “coming to get your guns.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Trump campaign manager and former San Antonio resident Brad Parscale were among those who warmed up the crowd before Trump’s speech.
“We did not have an election in 2016. We had a revolt,” Patrick, who is chairing Trump’s campaign in Texas, said to huge cheers. “The revolution is only getting louder and larger.”
Trump’s presence also prompted outcry and a counter-rally by O’Rourke. The president’s critics decried how Trump’s sometimes vulgar language and actions have made some vulnerable people feel unsafe or unvalued. And they warned of a backlash that’s brewing among the Texas electorate.
“Tonight, this President is going to go on stage and lie to his supporters about his standing in the state of Texas and the destruction that he’s caused our state and our country,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Let’s be clear: the only reason Donald Trump is in Texas tonight is that he knows he will lose the state and lose this election.”
First: Nathan Quick drove more than 1,000 miles to be at the rally in Dallas. He says he follows the president all over the country selling merchandise. Last: A big crowd turned out for the rally. Lines continued for blocks around the arena.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune
The rally and talks of an election nearly 13 months away weren’t the only things in place to help electrify the crowd. Hours before Trump took the stage, his campaign hosted 45 Fest, where supporters stood in winding lines for cheesy nachos, bobbed their heads to a medley of country music and watched various big screens that rolled pretaped interviews of the president, Donald Trump Jr., Lara Trump, and social media stars Diamond and Silk.
Attendees bemoaned the long lines to get into the arena, but many, including Drury, the man from Plano, found solace among the likeminded strangers all eager to embrace the concert-like atmosphere of the event well before Trump took the stage.
Two men got there early to buy knockoff Make America Great Again merchandise: “LGBT” shirts where the letters stood for liberty, guns, beer and Trump. Nicole Rogers, a 34-year-old corrections officer who had flown in from New Mexico that morning to attend, paraded around with a sign declaring she was gay but not stupid.
For some, the lead-up to the rally was better than seeing it firsthand.
Nathan Quick, 51, drove from North Carolina with his cousin to sell merchandise adjacent to the American Airlines Center. Quick estimated that Thursday was his 80th Trump rally.
“He’s a man of his word,” Quick said. “I follow him everywhere because he hasn’t told a lie yet.”
The president’s speech stuck to his main points on the campaign trail — the fake news, the whistleblower who spurred an impeachment inquiry, a trade war with China, the country’s economic performance during his term, his friendships with Republican politicians in the state and his strongly held belief that he will be reelected president.
Alicia Lyon of Garland predicted that would be the case before the rally started. “He’s not a robot practicing his speech in a mirror,” she said of Trump. “What you see is what you get.”
“He’s a human, and everyone who says, ‘Well he’s not presidential,’” she said. “Well what does that really mean? To me, that’s fake.”
She laughed a little before insisting that the media would twist and spin Trump’s words to “fit their agenda” regardless of what he said onstage. But much like Trump during his speech, she was unperturbed. That’s just one inconvenience, she said, of defending a man who is “doing everything right.”
“Trump 2020,” she said, grinning. “It’s going on again, baby.”
Texas has long been a red state. But with the vast amount of money here — and with many predicting a new level of competitiveness — it’s still an important place for the Democratic presidential candidates.
That’s especially true for the two Texas natives vying for the presidency, Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke.
To take a look at who is winning the money race in Texas, we reviewed numbers from the Federal Election Commission and ActBlue, the Democratic fundraising platform.
This is only a partial picture of each candidates’ donors. Federal law doesn’t require candidates to disclose individual donors who give less than $200, meaning the sources of millions of dollars in contributions to both campaigns aren’t reported. The vast majority of those small-dollar donations come in through ActBlue, which does the name and location of all donors. We were able to review those ActBlue donations through the midpoint of this year, but information about donations from the second half of the year won’t be available until 2020.
Between Jan. 1, 2019 and June 1, 2019, O’Rourke raised roughly $13 million. (He formally launched his White House bid in mid-March.) Castro, by comparison, received around $3.9 million during the first half of the year, though he entered the presidential arena months prior.
U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., raised $36.2 million and $25.2 million, respectively, during the first six months of 2019. (Sanders announced his presidential bid on Feb. 19, while Warren did so on Feb. 9.) Those two candidates had stellar hauls for the third fundraising quarter. Sanders raised $28 million, while Warren earned nearly $25 million.
O’Rourke has received the most Texas money: $5.9 million in the first two fundraising quarters. Fifty-nine percent of O’Rourke’s haul came from small-dollar donors.
His numbers aren’t too surprising. O’Rourke proved during his nationally watched Senate race against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz last year he can easily rake in eye-popping amounts of money from fellow Texans. (Last year, he received over $80 million compared to Cruz’s $39 million.)
Following O’Rourke, the candidates, in order, who raised the most from Texas donors are Sanders at $1.4 million, Castro and Buttigieg who are tied at $1.1 million, Biden at $1 million and, lastly, Warren at $847,920.
Of those six candidates, Sanders received the most from small-dollar donors. A majority of Biden’s haul, meanwhile, came from high-dollar donors who gave $201 or more.
We won’t be able to assess how much each candidate received from Texas donors in the latest fundraising quarter until ActBlue Texas releases its itemized data for the last half of the year around January 2020.
Where are the two Texans in the race getting the most in-state support?
Unsurprisingly, most of O’Rourke’s monetary support from Texas donors in the first two fundraising quarters came from his hometown of El Paso. Outside of El Paso, he has received the most support from donors in Austin and Houston zip codes.
Castro has also seen the bulk of his in-state support come from his hometown, San Antonio. Three San Antonio zip codes — 78209, 78212 and 78230 — gave him a combined $95,224.85 during the first six months of the year.
How has Castro’s and O’Rourke’s fundraising gone since entering the race?
O’Rourke announced in March that he raised $6.1 million for his presidential campaign in his first 24 hours as a candidate. About $2.8 million of that haul came from Texas, according to a Texas Tribune analysis.
Since then, his fundraising has gone downhill.
O’Rourke raised $3.6 million overall in the second quarter, a disappointing figure after he entered the race with high expectations. His second best day was the day after his campaign announcement, when he raised nearly $335,000. He raised another $551,552 from Texas donors in the last two days of March.
Surprisingly, O’Rourke also raised a significant sum of money from Texas donors on June 30 — three days after his noticeably rocky performance in the first Democratic presidential primary debate and two days before he hosted a campaign event in Austin.
The best in-state fundraising day for Castro, meanwhile, paled in comparison to O’Rourke’s worst day. The former U.S. Housing Secretary raised the most money — $107,258 — on March 28.
He raised a substantial amount of money from Texans immediately after his well-reviewed debate performance in Miami — earning $56,979 the day of the debate and $51,615 three days later. Almost 40% of Castro’s overall second quarter haul came in the days after the Miami debate, campaign spokesman Sawyer Hackett previously told the Tribune.
The five best fundraising dates for O’Rourke nationally are identical to his five best in-state fundraising days. Castro, meanwhile, had most of his top five national fundraising days for the second quarter in the days after the June 26 debate: He collected $323,141 on June 27, $196,674 on June 28, $186,194 on June 29 and $237,669 on June 30.
How seriously are the top tier candidates taking Texas?
Texas could be key to helping the Democratic candidates clinch their party’s nomination — even if they don’t win the state’s primary.
Democrats have shown signs of understanding that dynamic and have already held a bevy of town halls, fundraisers and forums throughout the state. The growing spotlight on Texas this cycle was its brightest yet when 10 candidates took the stage last month in Houston for the third primary debate.
Non-Texas candidates aren’t ceding any ground to the state’s native sons: U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., held campaign events in Houston and Tarrant County in March. Warren recently held a town hall in Austin and hired a Texas state director earlier this month. Some other campaigns have regional staffers, both based in Texas and elsewhere, that focus on groups of states including Texas. For example, Buttigieg has a regional organizing director, Michelle Hutchinson, who is based in Austin and oversees organizers working in Texas as well as other southwest states.
Biden’s efforts in Texas, meanwhile, are primarily centered on hosting fundraising events with high-dollar donors. Ahead of the Houston debate, he attended at least two fundraisers in Texas — one in Houston and another in Dallas. Buttigieg also held a campaign fundraiser Sept. 27 in Austin while in town for this year’s Texas Tribune Festival.
Texas offers the second-largest Super Tuesday delegate haul on March 3, and its non-winner-take-all approach gives candidates reason to compete here even if they cannot win statewide.
A leading contender in a Houston state House special election told The Texas Tribune this week she and her husband recently paid the federal government more than $25,000 in delinquent taxes.
Michele Leal, one of a dozen Democrats in the Nov. 5 special election and the top fundraiser, and her husband had been slapped with a lien from the Internal Revenue Service alleging she owed the government $26,853.25 for unpaid taxes, according to documents from the Harris County Clerk’s Office.
Leal, a consultant with a firm that focuses on providing LGBTQ diversity and inclusion training,said in an interview Wednesday afternoon she has since paid her taxes after being alerted of the lien by a letter last week. She said the bill came because “of the firm and type of law practice” her husband has, which causes their annual income to fluctuate. It also causes the amount of taxes they owe to the federal government to change on a case-by-case basis.
“There are years where we withhold enough and we don’t owe, and there are years where we sometimes owe a substantial amount of money,” she said.
In the case of the most recent bill, she said she and her husband had a payment agreement in place and made an adjustment to that agreement. Due to what she describes as an IRS oversight, the agreement was terminated without her or her husband’s knowledge.
They were made aware of the lien last week, she said, and “immediately took steps to remedy it.”
“It is now completely resolved and paid in full,” she said, noting that this is the first time she’s received a tax lien. “This happened do to a communication error. This is an extenuating circumstance due to us not receiving the mail.”
Although Leal emailed the Tribune copies of her receipt of payment, she was not immediately able to produce the release of lien — which proves she reimbursed the government. That document will take roughly 30 days to come through, she said.
Leal is running to replace state Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Democrat who served for over two decades and retired from the lower chamber at the end of September. A special election to fill the seat, which is in a district that has been historically safe for Democrats, will take place Nov. 5. Fifteen candidates — 12 Democrats, two Republicans and an independent — are vying for the seat. According to the latest campaign finance reports, Leal was the No. 1 fundraiser, earning $109,000 while keeping spending low — only $9,000. She has $62,000 in reserves. The No. 2 fundraiser was Anna Eastman, who raised less than half of Leal’s six-figure haul.
If elected, Leal wouldn’t be the first representative to be hit with a big bill from the federal government. Last year, the IRS filed a federal tax lien against state Rep. Roland Guttierez, D-San Antonio, and his wife, Sarah, totaling $60,284, for unpaid taxes dating to 2015.
“Everyone should be responsible for paying their taxes, which is why as soon as we became aware of the situation, we immediately took steps to remedy it and made payment,” Leal said.
Creatinga personal income tax in Texas isn’t easy. But supporters of a proposition on the Nov. 5 constitutional amendment ballot want to make the prospect of such a tax even more remote.
Currently, the Texas Constitution requires voters to approve an individual income tax in a statewide referendum, which legislators can ask for with a simple majority in the House and Senate. Proposition 4 would raise the bar, amending the constitution so that any income tax resolution would need two-thirds support in both legislative chambers before the matter goes to voters, who would ultimately decide.
State. Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, said lawmakers who supported the measure wanted to provide both residents and outsiders interested in doing business in Texas assurance that the state is committed to a business-friendly environment.
Most agree that the proposition is likely to pass; Fallon said he anticipates 90% of voters to approve.
Still, some lawmakers and tax experts expressed their opposition to the measure.
State Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, said he will be voting against the proposition, calling it a “waste of time” and “a political stunt.” He opposes an income tax but said the Texas economy could change in the future, necessitating an alteration to the state tax structure.
“We’re handcuffing future generations,” Johnson said.
Dick Lavine, a senior fiscal analyst at the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the issue is already covered in the state constitution.
“If you’re looking for voter control over a state income tax, you’ve already got it,” he said, referring to the 1993 constitutional amendment that required statewide voter approval to impose an income tax. Named after former Comptroller Bob Bullock, the Bullock Amendment also requires that revenues from any income tax be used to pay down property taxes and fund public education.
Controversy surrounded the measure as itmoved throughthe Legislature this spring. Senate Democrats raised objections about the measure’s language, contending that using the term “individual” instead of “natural persons” — the phrase used throughout the state constitution’s tax section — could precipitate legal challenges to the state’s franchise tax (a tax Texas levies on businesses) and possibly exempt corporations and other business entities from paying up. The Legislative Budget Board agreed in a May 15 letter, writing that failing to define “individual” could lead to interpretations that “include entities that are currently subject to the state’s franchise tax.”
An amendment proposed by State. Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, to replace “individual” with “natural person” in the bill’s text failed. Three Democrats crossed the aisle to support the finalresolution, giving the measure the two-thirds support it needed to go before voters.
But the day before the Legislature adjourned, both chambers passed a bill amending the tax code so “individual” means “natural person” and excludes corporations, business associations and other legal entities.
The change alleviated the concerns of some tax experts, who said that the language of House Bill 4542 creates a definition of individual that could apply across the tax code and act as a legal defense in the event of a challenge to the franchise tax. Lavine said HB 4542 assuaged his concerns about a potential legal loophole for businesses, but he still expects a battle in the courts if Proposition 4 passes.
“There’s going to be somebody who is going to challenge it,” he said.
Early voting begins Monday and runs through Nov. 1. Election Day is Nov. 5. For information on where to vote and what’s on your ballot, visit Vote 411.
Editor’s Note: We want your help in reporting on the challenges Texans face when trying to vote — and the possible ways to address them. Tell us about the hurdles or problems you’ve run into while trying to exercise your right to vote in Texas by filling out a short form or email our reporter, Alexa Ura, directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities 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.
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In this edition of the TribCast, Evan talks to Cassi, Alex and Patrick about the now-public recording of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s infamous meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan. Who told the truth? How will it affect 2020? And can Bonnen survive in his leadership post?
Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro raised $3.5 million in the third quarter of this year, according to his filing with the Federal Election Commission.
The haul is a significant bump from the $2.8 million the Democratic underdog and former San Antonio mayor raised in the second fundraising quarter. Still, his total is paltry compared to some Democratic rivals: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders raised $25.3 million in the third quarter, with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren not far behind. Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, raised $15.2 million.
Castro spent $3.9 million in the third quarter, meaning his cash on hand has shrunk from $1.1 million at the end of the second quarter to $672,333 at the end of the third.
Instead of blasting out its numbers to email subscribers, Castro’s campaign, along with those of a few other Democrats, quietly submitted his report just an hour or so before the midnight Oct. 15 deadline — immediately after the fourth Democratic debate in Ohio. According to Castro’s online filing, he spent nearly $4 million in the latest quarter.
Castro told supporters on Saturday that the average contribution to his campaign in the third quarter was $18. Castro also said his campaign added over 60,000 new donors in the last quarter.
Despite the marked improvement from his previous fundraising hauls, Castro has struggled for much of the race to climb out of the bottom tier in polls, and his latest fundraising places him in the lower third of candidates — behind fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke, who revealed last week that that he raised $4.5 million in the third quarter.
Both Texans participated in the fourth primary debate Tuesday in Ohio, but have yet to satisfy the requirements for the fifth debate, which is Nov. 20 in Georgia. Party rules say that to qualify for the debate, a candidate must have 165,000 unique donors and receive 3% in four national polls (up from 2% for the fall debates). Castro and O’Rourke have accrued the donors needed to make the stage, according to their respective campaigns. O’Rourke has one qualifying poll, while Castro has none.
It was, according to his critics, “hurtful,” “vindictive” and “unbefitting of the high office he holds.” But was House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s June 12 meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan illegal?
In June, when Bonnen met with the hard-charging Tea Party activist, he asked Sullivan to stay out of, and get into, certain electoral battles — “help us out, and maybe kill off one or two or three [moderate Republican House lawmakers] that are never going to help” — and in return offered Sullivan media credentials for the news arm of his organization — “If we can make this work, I’ll put your guys on the floor next session.”
During that meeting — a recording of which was released to the public Tuesday — Bonnen seemed to blur the line between the official and the political. It prompted the Texas House General Investigating Committee, which has subpoena power, to request a probe by the state’s elite investigative unit, the Texas Rangers.
With that investigation ongoing and little word from Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne, who is expected to make the decision on whether to bring a criminal charge, there’s been ample room for speculation — which only escalated after the secret recording was made public Tuesday morning. In Capitol circles, the rule is generally: Don’t offer official tit for political tat. But whether the smudging of those boundaries constitutes criminal activity is a case-by-case consideration, a decision ultimately made by a prosecutor and, if it gets that far, a jury.
“With just the information we know at this time, it’s not clear that a crime was committed,” said Buck Wood, an Austin ethics lawyer who helped rewrite the state’s restrictions in the 1970s after a major political scandal. “But it’s also not clear that a crime wasn’t committed.”
Bonnen’s team, which continues to fight for its political future, has been eager to dismiss the other front of the war: the potential for criminal prosecution. An hour after the recording was released Tuesday, Bonnen in a statement called it “clear evidence … disproving allegations of criminal wrongdoing.”
That’s the line he’s been toeing since the allegations surfaced earlier this summer, when Bonnen retained Brian Roark, a criminal defense attorney in Austin. In an unsolicited eight-page memo sent Aug. 22 to Brian Weatherford, the Texas Rangers investigator heading up the probe, Roark argued that Bonnen had not committed any crimes. And Bonnen’s press secretary in August promoted an opinion piece by a prominent Austin ethics attorney arguing, “Hardball politics isn’t a crime.”
Sullivan himself said Tuesday he’s “never alleged Bonnen did anything criminal.”
“What we have said is that it was unethical,” Sullivan said. “I am not someone who can judge criminality — I’m not a judge, I’m not sitting on a jury.”
In an interview Tuesday, Roark insisted that what had transpired in the meeting was not a “quid pro quo” — but said even if it had been, “there’s a lot of things that are quid pro quos, and it turns out that a quid pro quo is just not illegal.”
“There’s no crime out there called ‘quid pro quo,’” Roark said.
There is, of course, a crime called “bribery.” But it’s not clear that the “understanding” Bonnen outlined in the meeting meets that definition, experts said.
To break Texas’ law against bribery, an elected official must offer or solicit a “benefit” — but the statute narrowly defines benefit as “pecuniary gain,” meaning a personal financial boon, experts said. During the meeting, Bonnen asked Sullivan to refrain from weighing in against fellow Republicans but did suggest that a handful of moderate GOP lawmakers, as well as some Democrats, would be helpful targets for Sullivan’s deep-pocketed political action committee to pursue.
“If we can make this work,” Bonnen said, he would offer long-sought House media credentials to employees of Texas Scorecard, the news arm of Empower Texans, which has floor access in the Texas Senate but has been denied passes to the lower chamber. But Bonnen was vague about how Sullivan might “pop” such opponents and did not ask for cash or mention specific dollar amounts. Some legal experts said that constitutes a gray area.
A media credential might indirectly help a news outlet make money — greater access could lead to speedier coverage and better scoops, helping the outlet attract greater readership, for example — but that may be too far a stretch to qualify under the bribery statute, said Sam Bassett, president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Similarly, Bassett said, while saving money to defend Republicans in primary challenges might be a financial boon to the Texas GOP and even to Bonnen’s political action committee, Texas Leads, it’s not necessarily a personal financial gain.
Experts pointed out that prosecutors could also look to the state’s law against abuse of official capacity or its prohibition against extortion. But those statues are similarly narrow.
Importantly, the decision on whether to prosecute the case against Bonnen appears to rest with Yenne, a Republican in a district that has stayed loyal to the speaker for decades. She did not return a request for comment Tuesday. Prosecutors, as legal experts pointed out, routinely opt not to press crimes when they appear difficult to prove in court. Resources are also often a consideration.
Beyond the criminal path, there might be a civil case against the beleaguered speaker. Democrats were in court in Travis County Tuesday pressing forward with their lawsuit arguing that Sullivan’s recording revealed serious violations of Texas campaign finance law. The party, along with state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, sued Sullivan in August, demanding the release of the full recording of the meeting.
The lawsuit was also filed against an “unknown political committee” that the lawsuit said includes Bonnen and Burrows. But the two lawmakers are not named defendants. At the hearing, attorney Chad Dunn argued for the Democratic Party that the newly released recording confirms there was discussion in the Capitol about political spending and requested the release of more documents about the meeting.
He said if the judge orders the information released, the party will use those documents to decide if Bonnen and Burrows should also be named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Under Texas election law, a political contribution can’t be made or authorized inside the Capitol. A violation of the law could result in up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. In civil court, it could mean having to pay back targeted candidates or opposing PACs. Dunn said the recording contains “a whole lot of authorizing.”
“If we live in a state of laws, there’s not going to be private conversations with the Speaker in the people’s Capitol authorizing illegal political contributions and expenditures,” he said.
Roark said in the August memo to the Texas Rangers that there was no political contribution authorized at the June meeting, so the law was not applicable in this case.
Bonnen’s most immediate concern may be political. In the hours since the recording was released, most House Republicans have stayed silent, while some Democrats have unleashed criticism. The Texas House GOP Caucus is set to meet later this week.
But like the political future of the speaker, the path ahead for the investigation remains uncertain. The Texas Rangers had told Roark that the investigation’s findings would be released this week, but that deadline may be a “moving target,” Roark said. House lawmakers have been asked to submit any materials related to the investigation to the Rangers by Thursday.
“There’s too many close-to-the-line things going on here, and I don’t know what a prosecutor would do with it,” Wood said.
But laughing a little, he added, “I certainly wouldn’t want to have to be defending it.”
For months, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has been hounded by an accusation that he plotted against fellow Republicans and sought political backing from hardline conservatives to defeat them.
Despite his initial denials, a secret recording between the speaker and Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan made public Tuesday seemed to back up claims against Bonnen with the back-and-forth depicting his ham-handed attempt at offering press credentials for Sullivan’s group and asking for political support for challengers in the 2020 primaries.
Here are key excerpts from the hourlong conversation that occurred at the Texas Capitol in June, edited in some places for clarity.
The meeting between Bonnen, Sullivan and then-GOP Caucus Chair Dustin Burrows starts with a few pleasantries and a several minutes of exchanges about Sullivan’s recent trip to France.
Around the nine-minute mark, the conversation turns to the 2020 elections. Bonnen expresses he wants to avoid expensive primary races between Republicans, but he hints at a possible list of targets.
Bonnen: “Let’s not spend millions of dollars fighting the primaries when we need to spend millions of dollars trying to win in November. And so honestly I just wanted to see if we can try and figure that out. And I mean this in a polite way: If you need some primaries to buy in, I will leave, and Dustin will tell you some that we would love it if you bought in, not that you need our permission.
But what I would love to be able to do, candidly, is kind of have, I don’t want to say agreement but kind of understanding, look: You want to go pop some guys.”
Bonnen generally mentions “the same 10 Republicans who don’t want to help on anything” and stand in the way of what Sullivan and the speaker “want done.” And he suggests that Sullivan’s Empower Texans — a Tea Party-aligned political advocacy group that has a history of using its deep pockets to support far-right candidates in Republican primaries — should not challenge other Republicans whom Bonnen considers unproblematic.
Hanging over the conversation is the reality that Democrats from both inside and outside of Texas have become intent on flipping the lower chamber and that Empower Texans’ dollars may be better spent in the November general election.
Bonnen: “I just think we got to get through 2020 and guarantee that we hold this majority, which — all due respect to Trump, who I love by the way — he’s killing us in urban, suburban districts.”
Next month, the Democratic Party hopes to flip a Fort Bend County seat vacated by John Zerwas of Richmond — a seat that, if Democrats are successful, would bring them within eights seats of the House majority.
Their optimism is due, in part, to President Donald Trump’s 2016 Texas win — which was thinner than previous GOP wins in the state — and Republicans’ heavy losses in the Texas suburbs in 2018, when two Republican state Senate seats flipped, 12 House Republicans lost their seats and two congressional districts turned blue.
But at the end of the this year’s legislative session, Bonnen said he would take action against House incumbents from either party who campaign against colleagues. His request was criticized by a faction of hardline Republican conservative activists who said the speaker should focus on picking up seats for his party, especially ahead of an election that impacts how the 2021 redistricting cycle will shake out.
In the recording, Bonnen boasts he recruited someone someone to run against that “Talarico kid,” referring to state Rep. James Talarico, a Round Rock Democrat who in 2018 flipped a seat previously held by Republicans.
From minute 12:20 to minute 13:28, Bonnen makes several disparaging comments about Democrats — specifically state Reps. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton and Jon Rosenthal of Houston.
Bonnen: “Can we kind of not waste our resources — yours or mine or anyone else’s — fighting over members that aren’t really a huge problem? I mean you might not find them to be your favorite, but they’re not particularly a problem and even help us out. You kill off one or two or three that are never going to help you. And then let’s also turn our guns completely. … I can’t stand [Richardson Democratic state Rep.] Ana-Maria Ramos. I mean Jon Rosenthal makes my skin crawl. He’s a piece of shit. [Bonnen Chief of Staff] Gavin Massingill said it well — begging this is all confidential — after we meet with [Rosenthal] the first time, he leaves us … and he said well his wife is going to be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.”
The men in the room laugh just before Bonnen affirms he agrees.
Rosenthal previously said he forgave Bonnen for what Bonnen said in the recording. In a new statement released Tuesday, Rosenthal said he’s “focused on people.”
“At the end of the day,” he said, “if you’re not making the lives of everyday people better — then you don’t deserve to be in office,” Rosenthal said.
Bonnen: “We’ve got Michelle Beckley, who’s vile. We’ve got people who beat our Republicans who are not even trying to act like moderate Democrats, OK. Which is good for us, because we ought to be able to take their heads off.”
Bonnen later comes back around the 16-minute mark and adds, “Michelle Beckley is heinous.”
During the tape, Bonnen never explicitly details what Beckley, Rosenthal or Ramos did to make his “skin crawl” or why he believes they’re “heinous.” Ramos has not publicly responded to Bonnen’s remarks; Beckley, meanwhile, called for Bonnen’s resignation as House speaker.
Talking about 2020
The conversation then turns to broader discussion on planning for 2020. Around the 22-minute mark, Burrows, Bonnen and Sullivan engage in the following conversation:
Burrows: “I’ve talked to Rodney Anderson every other day to figure out what’s going on in Dallas County just to make sure I know.”
Bonnen: “And we have a great Hispanic female candidate against John Turner who I’m going to meet with soon. … Actually, want to hear an interesting factoid? Joe Straus did meet her at an event and said, ‘Why are you running against a good moderate Democrat? Why don’t you run against [Dallas Republican state Rep.] Morgan Meyer?”
Sullivan, laughing: “Recently?”
Bonnen: “Yeah, a week or two ago.”
Anderson, who chairs the Dallas County Republican Party, previously served in the Texas House. He narrowly lost reelection in 2018 to state Rep. Terry Meza. The candidate Bonnen is referring to who is challenging state Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, is Luisa Del Rosa, whom Gov. Greg Abbott has already endorsed. A spokesman for Straus did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations.
Around the 25-minute mark, Burrows and Sullivan engage in a brief spat about whether the latter called the former a “moron” on Twitter.
Burrows to Sullivan: “Well, yeah, but you called me a moron on Twitter and you’re attacking me.”
Bonnen: “The problem is when you call people a ‘moron’ and this and that, they don’t trust you to have the conversation.”
Sullivan: “I don’t think we called you a moron.”
Burrows: “You said ‘moronic.’”
Sullivan: “We may have said something was moronic. And I will …”
Burrows: “‘The moronic Dustin Burrows,’ which refers to the person being a ‘moron.’ But that being said, fair is fair.”
Then the conversation turns to the quid pro quo Sullivan has alleged, pointing to what he saw as Bonnen offering “to take an official government action in exchange if I would just go after his political foes.”
The official government action in question is granting Texas Scorecard — a product of Sullivan’s Empower Texans — coveted House media credentials in exchange for targeting 10 moderate Republican lawmakers in the March primaries.
Bonnen, who has vehemently denied the allegations and said the recording served as “clear evidence” disproving any criminal wrongdoing, first referenced the credentials around the 13:49 minute mark.
Bonnen: “Let me tell you what I want to do. … If we can make this work, I’ll put your guys on the floor next session. And here’s what I will do: I’ll do what [Lt. Gov. Dan] Patrick did. I’ll take [Scott] Braddock off.”
Burrows again mentions Braddock, the editor of Quorum Report, during a later exchange around the 27-minute mark.
Burrows: “I want to be very clear. I’m also not the guy sitting over there with Scott Braddock telling him shit because I don’t trust him or like him. I think he’s sleazy. I don’t do the same thing with any of the newspapers. I don’t have a relationship with anybody, giving them information about what I’m doing, because I like to play my cards differently with that.”
Targeting GOP incumbents
About halfway through the conversation, Bonnen more explicitly addresses the list of House Republicans he’s hoping will face primary challengers in 2020.
He starts by warning that he’ll have to step into some races where Empower Texans might help fund challengers to incumbent members of the House.
Bonnen: “If y’all fund a candidate who runs against Dustin Burrows, I’m gonna have to go make sure Dustin has his money. I just don’t want to waste that money, and if we want to do that in 2020, fine. And I’m not being funny like, ‘Let’s do it.’”
But he indicates there are several individuals he doesn’t plan to support and suggests Burrows has a list of members that could be targeted.
Bonnen: “I’m just saying, but we’re in a unique election cycle where we don’t need to burn that money up this time. And between you and I, he has some folks — because the speaker of the House shouldn’t tell you some folks to go pop — but he has some folks if you want to go pop. … They’re going to have primaries. I may give them some pittance here or there.”
Despite acknowledging the constraints of his leadership position, Bonnen gets specific and notes he won’t back up incumbent Republicans like state Rep. Phil Stephenson of Wharton, who Bonnen says is “not going to get $150,000 out of me.”
Sullivan argues that he doesn’t like getting entangled in Republican primaries, and a back-and-forth ensues over what Bonnen describes as “opportunities” in the upcoming election.
Sullivan: “I think there’s the sense that I actually like being involved in primaries, and I actually don’t. … There is this presumption that we feel some urge to spend the money —”
Bonnen: “Yeah, I appreciate that.”
Sullivan: “But not a single person on my staff gets fed because we spend money on elections. No one does.”
Bonnen: “I’m not saying you spend money on them.”
Sullivan: “It’s not a, it’s not a mission-critical thing for us. It is a, it’s an outgrowth of things that we care about. [Inaudible] …”
Bonnen: “But with that said, I do think there’s some opportunities here because there are a few people that I’m not going to go dump money to protect.”
Bonnen and Sullivan then trade remarks on what the possible involvement of other political groups that typically back Republicans could mean in races where primary challengers may emerge. Sullivan brings up Republican state Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, but the crosstalk between Bonnen and Sullivan makes it difficult to discern the exchange.
The conversation turns to the role Empower Texans plays in helping buck up primary challengers so they seem more viable, with Bonnen pointing to his own primary challenger from 2018, a pastor named Damon Rambo whom Empower Texans financially backed. Then, Bonnen makes a request that Sullivan’s group stay out of his primary and most others but nods at a list of exceptions.
Bonnen: “So all I’m asking is that this time you don’t fund him. And I’ve got a lady running this time, and I hope won’t fund her.”
Sullivan: “More than likely we would not.”
Bonnen: “And I hope that you won’t fund about 90% of any others that show up in a Republican primary this time. He’ll show you the list of who we hope someone will show up and [challenge].”
Bonnen eventually steps out of the room, and Burrow takes the lead in the conversation, presenting a failed effort to ban “taxpayer-funded lobbying” this year as the “benchmark for next session.” That legislation, which Empower Texans considered a priority and Bonnen supported, was voted down in the House.
But Bonnen and Burrows seemingly took a list of Republicans who voted against the measure, many of whom also vied to become speaker, as a start of potential targets.
Before moving forward, Sullivan asks if it’s OK to “write down names,” to which Burrows seems to indicate it is. Then, the Lubbock Republican gets into specifics.
Burrows: “We’re going to spend the entire interim trying to expose what those dollars are being used on, try to get public support behind it, and we want to come back and take another pass at taxpayer-funded lobbying.”
“I think the easiest way for me to say this is I’ve pulled the vote sheet from Republicans who voted against taxpayer-funded lobbying. And I’m going to go through the list of names and tell you who I think would flip their vote back on the good side. I don’t think I have to worry about that. Steve Allison voted against it. Doc Anderson voted against it — Doc will come around. I’m good with Doc. … [Trent] Ashby is 50-50, what do you think? … Same with Ernest Bailes. Keith Bell voted against it, he’s a freshman. I think Keith would probably come around. [Angie Chen] Button, she voted against it, but she’s good, especially for her district. [Travis] Clardy’s the ringleader of all opposition. [Long pause.] We would be thrilled to see Clardy, somebody else come back, in that district. … [Drew] Darby voted against it. [Todd] Hunter voted against it. … [Kyle] Kacal voted against it. [Stan] Lambert voted against it. Tan Parker voted against it. That makes no sense to me in his district at all. John Raney voted against it. [John] Smithee voted against it. Phil Stephenson voted against it. Those are pretty much the ones that I don’t know how to turn back and vote for it the next time.”
The final portion of the recording features Burrows and Sullivan discussing the political implications of the loss of straight-ticket voting will present. Texas lawmakers in 2017 voted to eliminate a voter’s ability to select every Republican or Democrat on a ballot by hitting just one button — an option two-thirds of Texans who voted in 2018 used.
But the law’s implementation was delayed until 2020 after statewide elected officials won reelection.
Sullivan: “I think that we’re going to regret eliminating straight-ticket voting. … I think we are all going to live to regret it. I was ambivalent on it when it [passed].”
Burrows: “I trusted the governor’s office and others who swore it was the best thing since sliced bread.”
Sullivan: “The fact that they wanted it pushed to a year in which they weren’t on the ballot is what sent up my first red flag, and I’m just going through the over and under votes historically, and particularly with what everyone thinks of the president and the presidential contest, a whole lot of people will be coming out, and I think trying to vote for — I think Trump is going to win Texas, and he’s going to win at back-to-normal levels — but the people he pulls out are going to be people who really don’t know — or care — what a state representative is.”
Later, Sullivan concisely summarizes the possibility that voters won’t get to the rest of a ticket and support Republican state representatives and judges.
Sullivan: “It’s going to be real easy for that person — again, that person just coming out for Trump — to go, ‘I’m done.’ That’s my fear.”
Governor Greg Abbott today announced $61.2 million in Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) funding to support state and local efforts to prevent terrorism and prepare for the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk to the security of Texas and its citizens.
Governor Greg Abbott today announced $61.2 million in Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) funding to support state and local efforts to prevent terrorism and prepare for the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk to the security of Texas and its citizens. The awards, released primarily to cities and counties across Texas, include 264 projects under the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) and 136 projects through the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) which are components of the HSGP.
“As Governor, my top priority is keeping our communities safe,” said Governor Abbott. “These grants will ensure our communities have the resources they need to counter terrorism statewide and enhance security for all Texans. Our ongoing efforts to keep Texas safe would not be possible without our partnership with the federal government, and I thank them for their continued assistance.”
These grant awards invest in core capabilities outlined in the National Preparedness Goal and serve to strengthen Texas’ ability to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from terrorism and other catastrophic events. Those capabilities include:
Special Response Teams and First Responder Capabilities: $24.3 million to provide equipment, training, and exercise support for local, regional, and state level response teams such as SWAT, Bomb, HAZMAT, Search and Rescue (SAR), and for other law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services personnel that serve communities across the state.
State, Regional & Local Planning: $13.4 million to support state-wide planning and preparedness efforts that provide the foundation for effective homeland security capability development and implementation in Texas.
Interoperable Emergency Communications: $8.3 million to sustain and enhance operational communications capabilities which facilitates information sharing and effective coordination essential for the successful response to all types of threats and hazards.
Fusion Centers: $3.2 million to support state and regional fusion centers thereby promoting ongoing intelligence and information sharing capabilities and the analysis, production and exchange of critical threat data between federal, state, and local partners.
The Governor’s Homeland Security Grants Division (HSGD) administers both the SHSP and UASI grant programs in coordination with the 24 regional Councils of Governments (COGs) in Texas and the Urban Area Working Groups (UAWGs) in Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington, Houston and San Antonio. All projects funded flow from risk assessments and planning processes that serve to identify capability gaps and foster coordination among agencies across the five mission areas (prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery). The HSGP is open to state, tribal, and local jurisdictions statewide. Agencies interested in seeking funds to support their terrorism preparedness initiatives during the next grant cycle for FY 2020 should reach out to the homeland security personnel at their local COG to learn about region specific timelines and requirements.
The authority assesses the scope of motor vehicle crime in Texas and supports a statewide law enforcement network through grants, auto theft reduction initiatives, education, and public awareness.
Governor Greg Abbott has reappointed Ashley Hunter and appointed Katherine “Kit” Whitehill to the Motor Vehicle Crime Prevention Authority for terms set to expire on February 1, 2025. The authority assesses the scope of motor vehicle crime in Texas and supports a statewide law enforcement network through grants, auto theft reduction initiatives, education, and public awareness.
Ashley Hunter of Austin is managing director for HM Risk Group. She is a member of Texas Wall Street Women, Professional Liability Underwriting Society, Reinsurance under 40, and The Waters Street Club. Additionally, she is a Trustee on the Zach Theater Board. Hunter received a Bachelor of Music in music theory and composition from Centenary College of Louisiana and a Master of Business Administration from Texas A&M University.
Katherine “Kit” Whitehill of Coppell is an in school suspension aide for Coppell ISD. Previously, she served on the Coppell Education Foundation Board of Directors and as a Family Legacy volunteer in Zambia. Additionally, she is the founder of the Coppell John D. Williams Cotillion and a founding member of the Coppell Assistance League. Whitehill received a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance and real estate from The University of Texas at Austin.
Governor Abbott spoke on the future of Texas’ economy and the importance of preparing the workforce for advancements in technology and thanked Microsoft for investing in the El Paso region through the TechSpark program.
Governor Greg Abbott today delivered remarks at the Microsoft TechSpark event in El Paso, Texas. The Governor was joined at the event by Microsoft President Brad Smith, as well as government, community, and business leaders from El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. Governor Abbott spoke on the future of Texas’ economy and the importance of preparing the workforce for advancements in technology and thanked Microsoft for investing in the El Paso region through the TechSpark program.
“At a time where rapid innovation and technological advancement are the new norm, it is crucial that businesses and the workforce adapt to a changing landscape,” said Governor Abbott. “I am proud of the progress we are making in Texas to achieve this goal, and am grateful to Microsoft TechSpark for their work here in El Paso. Together, we will continue to modernize our economy, facilitate greater trade between Texas and Mexico, and ensure greater prosperity in this region and across the entire state of Texas.”
“El Paso and Ciudad Juarez converge in a cross-border flow of ideas, ambition, and aspirations that have shaped the region for centuries,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith. “This forward-looking spirit and promise is what attracted us to the region in 2017 when we launched Microsoft TechSpark in El Paso to create new economic opportunities and help digitally transform established industries with modern software and cloud services. It’s also why today we are announcing that we are expanding the TechSpark El Paso program to include Ciudad Juarez and investing in the T-Hub Bridge Accelerator.”
Microsoft TechSpark is a civic program designed to foster greater economic opportunity and job creation in rural and smaller metropolitan communities. By partnering closely with local organizations and nonprofits, Microsoft TechSpark seeks to increase access to digital skills and computer science education, help local business thrive through digital transformation, and increase access to broadband in rural communities.
Since expanding their presence to El Paso in 2018, TechSpark has helped establish the Technology Education and Literacy Schools program in 19 El Paso schools, and has partnered with the Texas Workforce Commission, the state of Texas, and Techntonic to train military spouses in software development. TechSpark also helped start a bi-national innovation program called The Bridge Accelerator, which helps local companies grow their capacity to supply large, multinational manufacturers in the region.
The purpose of the Sabine River Authority is to conserve, store, control, preserve, utilize, and distribute the storm and flood waters and the waters of the Sabine River and its tributaries.
Governor Abbott has reappointed Jeffrey D. “Jeff” Jacobs and appointed Joshua A. “Josh” McAdams and Kevin M. Williams to the Sabine River Authority Board of Directors for terms set to expire on July 6, 2025. The purpose of the Sabine River Authority is to conserve, store, control, preserve, utilize, and distribute the storm and flood waters and the waters of the Sabine River and its tributaries.
Jeffrey D. “Jeff” Jacobs of Kaufman is the owner/partner of Jacobs Farms, a cow-calf operation, and part owner of Flyin’ J Transport, an ag commodities trucking company. He is a board member on the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service Ag Increment Advisory Board and the Rockwall County Farm Bureau Board of Directors. He has a background in water/wastewater transmission and distribution construction. Jacobs attended Eastfield College in Mesquite, where he studied drafting.
Joshua A. “Josh” McAdams of Center is owner of Midstream Transportation and vice president of McAdams Propane Company. He is president elect of Texas Propane Gas Association and a member of National Propane Gas Association. In addition, he is president of Shelby County Children’s Advocacy Center and a member of Shelby County Cookers and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Area Go Texan Committee. McAdams received a Bachelor of Business Administration in management from Texas A&M University.
Kevin M. Williams of Orange is owner of Cypress Bayou Industrial. He serves on the board of First Financial Bank, and as a member of Rotary District and ABC Associated Builders & Contractors. In addition, he is a member of Faith United Methodist Church and Krewe De Bon Amis. Williams received a Bachelor of Science in economics from Texas A&M University.
Asked to weigh in on a legal matter close to his own personal criminal case, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton this week recused himself from a request that could have constituted a conflict of interest.
Among the many duties of the Attorney General’s Office is to offer non-binding legal guidance to elected officials wrestling with a matter of law — a best estimate at what a court would decide, presented with the same question.
In June, Terri Sellars, the Wood County auditor, sought such an opinion from the agency regarding the payment of a “district attorney pro tem,” a special prosecutor appointed to take up a case after the district attorney has to be recused. The eight-page request referred repeatedly to an ongoing lawsuit — “State ex rel. Wice v. Fifth Judicial District Court of Appeals” — the long, dragged-out fight over how much local officials should pay the Houston prosecutors appointed to take Paxton to trial — and it involved a nearly identical issue.
Paxton was indicted in 2015 on felony securities fraud charges, but his case has yet to go to trial amid a slew of side fights, including a yearslong battle over how much the special prosecutors appointed to take him to trial may be paid. In June, when the question came in from Wood County, the state’s highest criminal court was mulling a motion to reconsider its own decision that payments to the Paxton prosecutors outside the schedule were illegal. Weeks later, the court re-affirmed its own decision.
Without referring to Paxton’s own criminal case, First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer wrote Friday that “this office concludes there could be an actual or perceived conflict of interest such that the Attorney General has recused himself from any participation on the matter.” He did not elaborate on what that conflict of interest might be, and the Attorney General’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment.
The letter also included an April 2017 statement from Paxton himself, in which he writes that “I delegate my signature authority in the attorney general opinion process to the First Assistant Attorney General, Jeffrey C. Mateer, for those opinions in which I may have an actual or perceived conflict of interest or in which my involvement gives even the appearance of impropriety.”
Like lawyers for indigent defendants, appointed prosecutors are paid according to their local government’s designated fee schedule, but judges are authorized to exceed those limits under extraordinary circumstances. In Paxton’s case, a GOP judge had agreed that the prosecutors could be paid $300 per hour, but a Paxton donor sued, calling the rate excessive, and the Collin County Commissioners Court later refused to pay the bill. The pay matter remains in dispute before the Harris County trial court set to hear Paxton’s case.
The opinion was also signed, as is customary, by agency attorneys who generally oversee the opinion-writing process. They informed Wood County officials that a provision allowing a judge to “opt out” of a mandatory fee schedule is “invalid” — effectively saying that deviating from a fee schedule’s fixed rates is impermissible.
The impacts of that guidance are difficult to predict. The Legislature this year quietly approved a law, Senate Bill 341, that bars private attorneys from serving as special prosecutors — a measure, author Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston said, that is in part intended to help counties save money on appointed prosecutors. Since Sept. 1, the only attorneys qualified to serve as “attorneys pro tem” are county attorneys, district attorneys and assistant attorneys general.
Paxton is accused of misleading investors into buying stock in a North Texas tech firm and failing to register with the state. The Texas State Securities Board fined him $1,000 in connection with one instance of soliciting clients without being registered; Paxton signed the order and did not dispute its findings. He has been cleared of related civil charges brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Paxton has denied the charges.
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Maybe Dennis Bonnen’s long summer of bad dreams is coming to an end.
Michael Quinn Sullivan, a political provocateur and a burr in the saddles of establishment Republicans, alleges Bonnen, the speaker of the Texas House, and state Rep. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock offered his organization House floor access during legislative sessions in return for help beating some incumbent Republicans in next year’s primaries. Now, Sullivan says (via an email newsletter to supporters) that he’s finally going to let the public hear his recording of the meeting where that took place.
That might well prove to be bad news for one or more of the three participants. Maybe for all of them. But it will end the innuendo and constant speculation fueled by Sullivan’s drip-drip-drip disclosures over the summer. He’s been playing the recording for select politicians and activists and leaving them to tell others what they heard, relying on his engineered hearsay to sow doubt among state representatives about their speaker’s trustworthiness.
Many have said that what they heard was close to Sullivan’s own account. Some have downplayed Bonnen’s comments as little more than insensitive and crass, the political blustering and plotting regularly heard from men in high places. But all of the witnesses were hand-selected by Sullivan and his crew, which leaves fair room for doubters and others who’d like to hear the evidence before passing final judgement.
Those include Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Bonnen allies who have, until this year, enjoyed Sullivan’s support and favor. The 86th legislative session this year wasn’t much to Sullivan’s liking, with a focus on school finance and property taxes that resulted in higher state spending on schools and no real guarantee that property taxes will fall. He was irked, and said so, that the Legislature didn’t ban cities and counties and other local governments from hiring lobbyists to help argue for them in Austin.
According to the hearsay accounts, that legislation was a prominent topic of the Bonnen-Sullivan-Burrows gabfest in June; the 10 Republicans allegedly targeted for replacement were among the Republicans who voted against that lobbying ban.
When Sullivan published his account in July, revealing that there was a meeting and adding his report on what was said there, he was languishing: The session hadn’t gone his way, his allies had become, in some measure, his foes, and the three state officials who led the way were being heralded as champions of good Republican government.
If that’s a little much, try this: Those three officials were happy with the results and set to brag about it.
After Sullivan added that he had a recording of the meeting and began his private listening sessions, bad news fouled that sunny climate. Bonnen said Sullivan should make the recording public. Abbott as well. Patrick joined them. The Texas Department of Public Safety, at the urging of the House General Investigating Committee, began an official inquiry that is still underway. The political cloudburst might not be getting much attention outside of the Texas Capitol complex, but on the inside, it has been the prevailing weather for months.
In emailing supporters his plan to release the recording next week, Sullivan even used a Dan Patrick quote from Mark Davis’ radio show in Dallas-Fort Worth.
“I don’t buy this ‘I don’t want to hurt the Republican Party by not putting out the tape.’ This drip-drip-drip is hurting,” Patrick told Davis. He and Sullivan sparred via Twitter, too.
Sullivan replied: “What’s actually destroying the GOP is moral cowardice in which elected officials are unwilling to address the unethical behavior of other politicians.”
Whatever condition that relationship is in, Sullivan said Thursday he’ll release his only real piece of evidence next week — presumably uncut and unfiltered.
The timing is interesting. Sullivan says he’ll release the recording next week. Next week is also when the House Republican Caucus is meeting in Austin for the first time since members learned of the June meeting — and of Sullivan’s recording of it.
They and the rest of us will have heard the recording by the time they meet. And we’ll finally have a way to figure out who’s been telling the truth, who’s been lying and what the members of the Texas House are going to do about it.
(AUSTIN) —Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced today the release of the Certification Revenue Estimate (CRE) for the fiscal 2020-21 biennium.
Before each regular legislative session, the Comptroller’s office issues a Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE) that estimates how much revenue will be available for spending in the state’s next two-year budget cycle. After the session, the agency releases the CRE to provide the detailed basis by which the Comptroller certified the budget, to revise estimates in the BRE to reflect legislative activity and current economic information and to take into account final revenue numbers for the recently ended fiscal year.
As a result of legislative actions and an updated economic forecast, the Comptroller’s office now expects revenue available for general spending in 2020-21 to total about $121.76 billion, up 9.6 percent from the 2018-19 biennium. This revenue will support the $118.86 billion in general-purpose spending called for by the 86th Legislature and will result in a final balance available for certification of $2.89 billion.
“In fiscal 2019, the Texas economy continued to grow at rates among the highest in the nation,” Hegar said. “We are projecting continued expansion of the Texas economy in this biennium. The most likely scenario is one of steady expansion at a pace below that of the 2018-19 biennium. Risks to this estimate include ongoing uncertainty about trade and national economic policy, slowing global economic growth and volatility in energy prices resulting from instability and potential conflict in the Middle East.”
The State Highway Fund (SHF) and Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF; the state’s “Rainy Day Fund”) both receive funding from oil and gas severance taxes. Fiscal 2020 transfers will total $1.67 billion each to the ESF and SHF; fiscal 2021 transfers are projected to be $1.59 billion to each fund. After accounting for interest and investment earnings by the ESF, along with expenditures authorized by appropriations made in recent legislative sessions, the CRE projects a fiscal 2021 ending Rainy Day Fund balance of $9.35 billion.
Also, based on a constitutional amendment passed in 2015 and because annual state sales tax revenue exceeded $28 billion, an additional $2.5 billion will be deposited to the SHF in each year of the 2020-21 biennium. This amendment also stipulated that when motor vehicle sales tax revenue collected in any fiscal year exceeds $5 billion, a portion will be transferred to the SHF. The CRE projects that the threshold will be met for the first time in fiscal 2020 and that $35 million will be transferred to the SHF from motor vehicle sales tax collections in the 2020-21 biennium.
“I will continue to monitor the Texas economy and state revenues closely and will keep the public informed of significant events as they arise,” Hegar said.
Governor Greg Abbott has appointed John Todd Cornett, O.D. and Meghan Schutte, O.D. and reappointed Judy Chambers to the Texas Optometry Board for terms set to expire on January 31, 2025.
Governor Greg Abbott has appointed John Todd Cornett, O.D. and Meghan Schutte, O.D. and reappointed Judy Chambers to the Texas Optometry Board for terms set to expire on January 31, 2025. The board oversees licensing and regulation of optometrists in Texas.
John Todd Cornett, O.D. of Amarillo is a managing partner and optometrist at Premier Vision Services, PLLC. He is a member of the American Optometric Association, Texas Optometric Association, and the Panhandle Optometric Society. Additionally, he is the chairman of the Board of Trustees for Great Cities Missions and a former president and trustee of the Bushland Independent School District Board of Trustees. Cornett received a Bachelor of Science in optometry and a Doctorate of Optometry from the University of Houston.
Meghan Schutte, O.D. of Austin is an optometrist at Northwest Hills Eye Care, and currently practices therapeutic optometry with a focus on low vision services and specialty contact lenses. She is a member of the American Optometric Association and the Texas Optometric Association. In addition, she volunteers by donating her time preforming eye exams for the VSP – Eyes of Hope program and the Lions Club. Schutte received a Bachelor of Arts in biology and a Business Foundations Certification from The University of Texas at Austin, a Doctor of Optometry from the Illinois College of Optometry, and completed her residency in primary care optometry at the Lexington Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Judy Chambers of Austin recently retired as the executive director of Dress for Success – Austin. She currently volunteers with the International Philanthropic Organization. She previously served on the Pueblo Colorado County Fair Board, Colorado State University Alumni Board, and the Texas Occupational Therapy Board. Chambers received a Bachelor of Science in family studies and a Master’s in vocational education and administration from Colorado State University, and a Master’s in guidance and counseling from Sam Houston State University.
She will assume the role of Commissioner of DFPS effective December 2, 2019, for a term set to expire September 1, 2021.
Governor Greg Abbott today announced his intention to appoint Jaime Masters as the Commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). She will assume the role of Commissioner of DFPS effective December 2, 2019, for a term set to expire September 1, 2021.
“The Department of Family Protective Services is one of our most important state agencies and needs a leader who has the experience to build upon its recent successes and improve care for all Texas families,” said Governor Abbott. “Jaime is that leader and I am confident in her ability to keep Texas families, children and vulnerable adults safe from neglect and abuse. I am proud to appoint her as the new DFPS Commissioner and will work with her to create an even brighter future for the Lone Star State.”
Jaime Masters of Kansas City, Missouri is currently the Chief of Health Services and Acting Chief of Operations for Jackson County Missouri. Previously, she served as the Deputy Secretary of Family Services and as the Director of Economic and Employment Services for the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF). Prior to her service with the Kansas DCF, she served as the Director of Procurement and Contract Compliance for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Kansas City, Kansas and as a Mental Health Program Manager for the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, she served as a member of the Kansas Sentencing Commission and the Kansas Board of Indigent Defense. Masters received a Bachelor of Science in human resource management and a Master of Science in marriage and family therapy from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas.
Fiscal Notes’ online edition, Line Items, sat down with Firefly CEO Tom Markusic for a Q&A about his company, the decision to locate in Texas and the workforce opportunities provided in Central Texas. You won’t want to miss out on this company’s contributions to the latest race into space.
The board fosters the provision of quality pharmaceutical care to the citizens of Texas and regulates the practice of pharmacy in accordance with the highest standards of ethics, accountability, efficiency, effectiveness and openness.
Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Donna Montemayor and Rick Tish and reappointed Donald “Donnie” Lewis and Bradley Miller to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy for terms set to expire on August 31, 2025. Additionally, the Governor named Julie Spier as chair of the board. The board fosters the provision of quality pharmaceutical care to the citizens of Texas and regulates the practice of pharmacy in accordance with the highest standards of ethics, accountability, efficiency, effectiveness and openness.
Donna Montemayor of San Antonio is the senior director of pharmacy professional services, marketing and strategic initiatives for HEB. She is a member of the Texas Pharmacy Association, Bexar County Pharmacy Association, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and American Pharmacy Association. In addition, she serves on the board of the Daughters of Charity Services of San Antonio, Providence Catholic School, and The University of Texas College of Pharmacy Alumni Association, and is the pharmacist-in-charge at the La Mision Family Health Center. Montemayor received a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy from The University of Texas at Austin.
Rick Tisch of Spring is a design consultant for Renewal by Andersen. He is a member of the Southwest Business Association and a coach for the Special Olympics. Previously, he served as a gubernatorial appointee on the Texas Council for Development Disabilities. Tisch received a Bachelor of Business Administration in management and marketing from The University of Texas at Austin.
Donald “Donnie” Lewis of Athens is a staff pharmacist for Malakoff Pharmacy and Tyler Hematology Oncology Pharmacy. He has practiced in hospital and community pharmacy for over 40 years, during which he owned two of his own pharmacies. Additionally, he operates a wedding and event venue and is a licensed real estate agent. He is a former Athens City Council member and Mayor Pro-Tem, and currently is a member of The University of Texas Health East Texas Board of Managers in Athens. Previously, he volunteered for the Pendulum Project Culinary Program and has coordinated pharmacy services for medical mission trips to Africa, Peru and Ecuador. Lewis received a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy from the University of Houston College of Pharmacy.
Bradley Miller of Austin is the supervisor of pharmacy technicians for Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas. He is a member of the Texas Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Austin Area Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Texas Pharmacy Association, Capital Area Pharmacy Association, and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Miller attended Austin Community College and Southwest Texas State University.
Julie Spier of Katy is the director of pharmacy operations for the southern division of Albertsons, Randalls, and Tom Thumb, where she oversees 146 locations in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. She is a member of the Texas Federation of Drug Stores, where she has served as president, secretary/treasurer, and vice president. She is a member of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, Texas Pharmacy Association, American Leadership Forum Med Class 5, and the University of Houston Dean’s Advisory Council, which she has twice chaired. Additionally, she is an active member of the Boy Scouts of America serving at the troop, district, and council levels in various capacities. Spier received a Bachelor of Science in biology from Sam Houston State University and a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy from the University of Houston College of Pharmacy.