Governor Abbott Holds First Texas Safety Commission Meeting On Combating Hate And Extremism In Texas

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott today hosted the first meeting of the Texas Safety Commission in Austin.

Governor Greg Abbott today hosted the first meeting of the Texas Safety Commission in Austin. The Governor met with lawmakers, educators, advocates, community leaders, and experts to generate strategies to provide community healing, combat the rise of extremist groups and hateful ideologies, keep guns out of the hands of deranged individuals, and combat domestic terrorism in Texas. The ideas discussed in the commission meetings will aid in the development of an immediate action plan for the State of Texas. 

“It is imperative that Texas develop solutions that not only make our state a better place, but most importantly a safer place,” said Governor Abbott. “Our starting point began today, with the process of exploring all avenues and reviewing all facts to determine how we can prevent another tragedy like the shooting in El Paso from occurring again. I am grateful for the insight and expertise of those who participated in the Texas Safety Commission meeting today, and I look forward to our continued work as we pursue ideas that will keep Texas safe.” 

Please visit Governor Greg Abbott’s Flickr page to view more photos.

[FISCAL NOTES — LINE ITEMS] Reinventing Probation in Harris County

Texas Comptroller

   
Reforms Reduce Recidivism and Foster Turnarounds
Reinventing Probation in Harris County
 

  Industrial radiographer Steven Serrano standing near a pipeline transfer station in Katy.

Since completing Harris County’s innovative probation program, Steven Serrano now works for a North Texas-based oil and gas pipeline inspection company.

Teresa May has never met Steven Serrano, but she very well may have saved his life.

As director of the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department (CSCD), May helped develop an innovative approach to drug cases that, in turn, gave Serrano the opportunity to become drug-free and gainfully employed. Serrano’s experience is an example of a government program reducing costs while boosting the economy by helping offenders re-enter the workforce.

Read more about the Harris County CSCD and its impact on Harris County state jail felons in the latest Line Items article from Fiscal Notes.

 

Governor Abbott Holds Ceremonial Bill Signing Establishing College Of Medicine At University Of Houston

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott today ceremonially signed into law House Bill 826 (Zerwas/Huffman), establishing the College of Medicine at the University of Houston.

Governor Greg Abbott today ceremonially signed into law House Bill 826 (Zerwas/Huffman), establishing the College of Medicine at the University of Houston. The Governor was joined by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, President and Chancellor of the UH System Dr. Renu Khator, and Chairman of the UH System Board of Regents Tillman Fertitta, for the ceremony at the university’s flagship campus in Houston.

“Today is a momentous day for the University of Houston as it continues its evolution of excellence,” said Governor Abbott. “Throughout the years, the University of Houston has continued to elevate its status as a premier institution of higher education. With the establishment of the College of Medicine, the University of Houston has gone from Cougar High to conquering the next frontier of medical research and health care. I am proud to support the University of Houston’s College of Medicine in its efforts to better serve Texans with pressing health care needs and train the next generation of Texas doctors.”

The University of Houston’s College of Medicine, which expects its inaugural class next fall, will be the 13th medical school in Texas.

Governor Abbott Names Daniel Chair And Appoints Demerson To Texas Workforce Commission

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Aaron Demerson to the Texas Workforce Commission for a term set to expire February 1, 2021. Additionally, the Governor named Bryan Daniel chair.

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Aaron Demerson to the Texas Workforce Commission for a term set to expire February 1, 2021. Additionally, the Governor named Bryan Daniel chair. The Commission is charged with overseeing and providing workforce development services to employers and job seekers in Texas.

Aaron Demerson of Austin has served as the director of the Office of Employer Initiatives for the Texas Workforce Commission since 2014. Previously, he served as a senior advisor to Governor Rick Perry and was the executive director of the Economic Development and Tourism Division. He is a member of the National Forum of Black Public Administrators – Central Texas Chapter, Texas Economic Development Council, Delta Sigma Pi Business Fraternity, and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. He is chair of the Capitol Credit Union Nominating Committee and a member of the 100 Black Men of Austin. Additionally, he is a founder and former president of Texas Organized Professional and former board member of the Austin Lyric Opera Board. Demerson received a Bachelor of Business Administration in finance from Texas A&M University – Kingsville and a general banking diploma from the American Institute of Banking.

Bryan Daniel of Georgetown was recently appointed to the Commission and previously served as the executive director of the Office of the Governor Economic Development Division and as the chief administrator for the Texas Department of Agriculture Trade and Business Development Division. Daniel received a Bachelor of Science in agricultural communications and a Master of Science in agricultural education from Texas Tech University.

Governor Abbott Announces New Uber Hub in Dallas

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott today announced that Uber Technologies, Inc. will establish a new U.S. General and Administrative Hub that will house various corporate functions in Dallas, Texas

Governor Greg Abbott today announced that Uber Technologies, Inc. will establish a new U.S. General and Administrative Hub that will house various corporate functions in Dallas, Texas. Uber is a multinational company that offers ride hailing services, food delivery, and other forms of transportation worldwide. The project will create 3,000 new jobs and more than $75 million in capital investment. A Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) grant of $24,000,000 has been extended to Uber Technologies, Inc.  

“I am proud to welcome Uber’s investment in the great state of Texas, along with the 3,000 jobs the company will bring to its new Dallas office,” said Governor Abbott. “This investment will bolster Texas’ continued economic success and reputation as the best state for business. Our unrivaled workforce and business-friendly environment makes Texas the perfect home for innovative companies like Uber.”

“Dallas became the first city in Texas where the Uber app was available in 2012, and since then Texas has been a hub of innovation for our platform,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber. “Uber is excited to bring this major investment to Texas and to increase our commitment to the City of Dallas. We are grateful for our partnership with Governor Abbott, Mayor Johnson and Judge Jenkins and their leadership in making this a reality.”

“This decision speaks to the depth of innovation and technology talent that is moving to the Dallas region. We’ve seen the fourth-highest high-tech job growth of any U.S. metro area over the past four years. Uber recognizes that we are committed to recruiting elite tech talent from around the globe, and also preparing our home-grown workforce through expanded focus on rigorous STEM instruction in our high schools and colleges,” said Dallas Regional Chamber President and CEO Dale Petroskey.

“Uber’s selection of Dallas County spotlights our position as a premier talent market for companies looking to expand. This move will create a $400 million annual payroll in Deep Ellum that will provide a huge boost to our urban core with a positive wave that will spread across our entire county and region,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins.

“The numbers that make up this investment package add up to a win for Uber Technologies and for the City of Dallas. But beyond the math, Dallas and Uber are just a great match. Dallas is a vibrant, diverse, welcoming, and innovative city, and I’m certain Uber and its employees will flourish here,” said Eric Johnson, Mayor of the City of Dallas.

“Dallas has the infrastructure, diverse workforce, and global access to ensure Uber is successful in our great city. I am confident that Uber will be an asset to our city and elated that Uber has decided to expand their operations in Dallas. We are continuing to invest in economic development to attract and retain companies like Uber so that Dallas remains an ideal location for businesses and working professionals,” said T.C. Broadnax, City Manager of the City of Dallas.

View more information about Uber Technologies, Inc.

[Fiscal Notes] How Many Federal Medicaid Dollars Can Texas Expect?

Texas Comptroller

 
Photo of a tangled system of highway interchanges
 
Texas and the 1115 Medicaid Waiver
In the August edition of Fiscal Notes, the Comptroller’s office highlights the 1115 Medicaid waiver, a federal provision that has channeled billions of dollars to innovative health and human services projects in our state. One part of the waiver is coming to an end; the state is seeking to renew the other part to ensure that federal aid continues flowing to programs serving the most vulnerable Texans.

In this issue, we also examine Texas’ state jails program, created in 1993 to provide a less-restrictive institutional setting for nonviolent felons with an emphasis on treatment, rehabilitation and successful re-entry into society. Today, state jails are more commonly used to temporarily hold felons on their way to conventional prison units, leading to calls for a reset of the program

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Julián Castro qualifies for third Democratic debate in September

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

Presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks at the National Education Association presidential forum in Houston on Friday, July 5, 2019.  (Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune
Presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks at the National Education Association presidential forum in Houston on Friday, July 5, 2019. (Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune
Michael Stravato for The Texas Tribune

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro tweeted Tuesday morning that he has achieved the polling requirement to qualify for the primary debate in Houston this fall.

Castro received 2% in a CNN poll conducted by the survey and research firm SSRS that was released Tuesday. To qualify for the September and October debates, candidates must hit the 130,000-donor threshold and get 2% support in four polls — a higher bar than what the national party set for the first two debates in Miami and Detroit. Castro reached 130,000 donors, surpassing the other threshold for fall primary debates, in July.

“Thank you to our growing number of supporters across the country,” Castro tweeted Tuesday morning, along with a link to a CNN article stating he got a fourth qualifying poll to participate in the debate. The other Texan running for president, Beto O’Rourke, has already qualified for the Houston debate.

According to Castro’s campaign, the Democrat had previously surpassed 2% in national polls from Washington Post/ABC News and NBC News and an Iowa poll from CBS News.

“With two standout debate performances, Secretary Castro has been building momentum for his candidacy,” campaign manager Maya Rupert said in a statement. “He has never wanted to be a ‘flash in the pan’ candidate, but rather has continued to build support and momentum by leading the field on critical issues and showing voters every day why he’s the best candidate to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump.”

Aside from O’Rourke and Castro, eight candidates have now met the qualifications for the fall debates: former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and businessman Andrew Yang.

Texas raises the legal smoking age, exempting members of the military

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

A University of Texas at Austin student smokes a cigarette and checks her phone on the South Mall between classes.
A University of Texas at Austin student smokes a cigarette and checks her phone on the South Mall between classes.
Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune

Texans will soon have to wait until their 21st birthday to buy tobacco and nicotine products products — with the exception of young military members.

Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican from Houston, said she crafted Senate Bill 21, which takes effect Sept. 1, hoping that it would keep cigarettes, electronic cigarettes and tobacco products out of public schools by creating more “social distance” between younger students and students old enough to purchase them. In Texas, nearly 12% of high school students smoke cigarettes, and 19% use e-cigarettes, according to data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“If we can have [kids] leave high school tobacco and nicotine free, that’s a huge win,” said Jennifer Cofer, director of the End Tobacco Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The original bill didn’t exempt military members, but that changed after some Republican resistance in both the House and Senate. More than 12,500 active-duty troops ages 18 to 20 live in Texas, according to The Dallas Morning News.

When Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill, Texas became the 16th state to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco. John Schachter, director of state communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, has been following similar laws as they play out in legislatures across the country.

E-cigarette companies Juul and Altria both supported the Texas bill, which also prevents local governments from raising the legal age higher than 21.

Schachter said his group’s only issues with the Texas bill are that it lacks funding for enforcement to ensure retailers follow the new law, and it still includes fines that punish underage smokers who get caught with tobacco products. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids supports the elimination of youth penalties all together — and while that didn’t happen in Texas, the state reduced fines for underage smokers from $250 to $100.

“The youth themselves are already victims of the tobacco industry and its billions of dollars of marketing that lure them and addict them before they’re adults,” Schachter said. “They should not be further penalized when it’s the retailers who are the ones who are in violation of the law in selling to these underage kids.”

Enforcement of tobacco laws — like sending law enforcement to retail locations that sell tobacco products and running sting operations with “minor decoys” — is costly. Texas lawmakers allocated about $9.5 million in this year’s budget to reducing the use of tobacco products across the state — about $3 million more than the last budget — but that money is largely dedicated to prevention and education rather than enforcement.

Cofer, the director of MD Anderson’s program, said the bill is still a step in the right direction.

“We’re going to see a major shift in public health, and ultimately cancer reduction,” Cofer said.

Disclosure: The University of Texas 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.

Governor Abbott Sets Special Election For Texas House District 148

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation announcing Tuesday, November 5, 2019 as the special election date to fill the Texas House of Representatives District 148 seat recently vacated by former Representative Jessica Farrar.

Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation announcing Tuesday, November 5, 2019 as the special election date to fill the Texas House of Representatives District 148 seat recently vacated by former Representative Jessica Farrar.

Candidates who wish to have their names placed on the special election ballot must file their applications with the Secretary of State no later than 5:00PM on Wednesday, September 4, 2019.

Early voting will begin on Monday, October 21, 2019.

Read the Governor’s full special election proclamation.

PRESS RELEASE: Fiscal Notes: Texas and the 1115 Medicaid Waiver 

Texas Comptroller

Contact:
Chris Bryan
Kevin Lyons
Email Us

512-463-4070
Comptroller.Texas.Gov

1-800-531-5441
ext. 3-4070
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 19, 2019 

Fiscal Notes: Texas and the 1115 Medicaid Waiver 

(AUSTIN) — In the August edition of Fiscal Notes, released today, the Comptroller’s office examines the state’s Medicaid waiver for its Healthcare Transformation and Quality Improvement program, commonly called the 1115 Medicaid waiver. 

The federally funded program will provide Texas with up to $25 billion between 2018 and 2022, but it is currently set to expire during the next two years. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is negotiating with the federal government to extend the waiver; without it, vulnerable populations could lose access to vital health care resources. 

“Federal revenue provides more than half of the money we spend on health and human services, so anything that affects that funding stream can have significant consequences,” said Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. “The 1115 Medicaid waiver channels federal funding to medical providers that serve the state’s most vulnerable populations.” 

This issue also takes a look at Texas’ state jail program, created in 1993 as a less restrictive and more cost-effective alternative to prison, with an emphasis on treatment, rehabilitation and successful re-entry to society. Recently, some have criticized the program for drifting away from its original goals. 

Fiscal Notes is available online and can be received by subscribing via the Comptroller’s website.

Fiscal Notes furthers the Comptroller’s constitutional responsibility to monitor the state’s economy and estimate state government revenues. It has been published since 1975, featuring in-depth analysis concerning state finances and original research by subject-matter experts in the Comptroller’s office.

 

Governor Abbott Announces Texas Safety Commission

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Last week, Governor Greg Abbott announced the Domestic Terrorism Task Force to combat hateful acts of extremism in Texas following the recent shooting in El Paso. Today, Governor Abbott announced the Texas Safety Commission, which will develop an immediate action plan for the State of Texas.

Last week, Governor Greg Abbott announced the Domestic Terrorism Task Force to combat hateful acts of extremism in Texas following the recent shooting in El Paso. Today, Governor Abbott announced the Texas Safety Commission, which will develop an immediate action plan for the State of Texas. This plan will include strategies to provide community healing, combat the rise of extremist groups and hateful ideologies, keep guns out of the hands of deranged individuals, and combat domestic terrorism, including cybersecurity threats. The commission will also produce legislative solutions the State of Texas can adopt to prevent mass shootings and domestic terror attacks.  

“The State of Texas will not relent in its effort to help the El Paso community heal and keep all Texans safe,” said Governor Abbott. “The Texas Safety Commission will bring together experts and community leaders to develop an action plan to combat threats of domestic terrorism, root out extremist ideologies, and address the link between mental health challenges and gun violence in our communities. By working together, we will we ensure a safe and secure future for all Texans.”

The first Texas Safety Commission meeting will be held on August 22nd in Austin at the Texas Capitol at 10:30 a.m., with the second occurring in El Paso on August 29th. Portions of these commission meetings will be open to the press and additional logistical details will be forthcoming.

The following individuals will attend the first commission meeting on August 22nd in Austin:

  • Governor Greg Abbott
  • Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick
  • Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen
  • Senator Jose Rodriguez
  • Representative Mary Gonzales
  • Representative Cesar Blanco
  • Representative Joe Moody
  • Representative Art Fierro
  • Representative Lina Ortega
  • Senator Joan Huffman, Chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee
  • Representative Phil King, former police officer, member of the Texas State Guard
  • Colonel Steven McCraw, Department of Public Safety (DPS)
  • Major David Cabrera, DPS Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division, Texas Fusion Centers
  • Major Manuel Espinosa, DPS Criminal Investigation Division, Texas Anti-Gang Centers
  • Matthew DeSarno, Special Agent in Charge, Dallas Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Dr. Courtney Phillips, Executive Director, Texas Health and Human Services Commission
  • Ed Scruggs, Texas Gun Sense
  • Dr. Juan Martinez, Superintendent, Clint Independent School District
  • Jeff Murray, Protective Security Advisor, United States Department of Homeland Security
  • Dr. Lina Alathari, Chief, United States Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center
  • Dr. Susan Fletcher, Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists
  • Robert Chesney, Director and James Baker Chair, University of Texas at Austin
  • Neil Potts, Content Policy Team, Facebook
  • Tory Mayo, Lead Pastor, The Well Austin
  • A Representative From Google
  • Tom Tarantino, Head of US State Public Policy, Twitter
  • Lonzo Anderson, Assistant Chief, Dallas Police Department
  • Karie Gibson, Supervisory Special Agent, Behavioral Analysis Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Additional information on logistics and a list of attendees for the August 29th meeting will be released in the coming days.

Governor Abbott Reappoints Clayton To Texas Judicial Council

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott has reappointed Sonia Clayton to the Texas Judicial Council for a term set to expire on June 30, 2025.

Governor Greg Abbott has reappointed Sonia Clayton to the Texas Judicial Council for a term set to expire on June 30, 2025. The council studies the court system in Texas and looks for methods to improve while also investigating and reporting on matters referred to the council relating to the court system.

Sonia Clayton of Spring is president and CEO of Virtual Intelligence Providers LLC. She is a board member of the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University, member of the Lone Star College Citizens’ Board, and a nationally recognized member of the InfraGard FBI-Community partnership. Clayton received a Bachelor of Science from Universidad del Zulia and a Bachelor of Science from Capella University, and she has obtained certificates from London Business School, Stanford University, and Harvard Business School.

Donald Trump is spending more money on Facebook ads in Texas than in any other state

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

President Donald Trump’s campaign spent nearly half a million dollars on Facebook ads in Texas from Jan. 5 through Aug. 3.
President Donald Trump’s campaign spent nearly half a million dollars on Facebook ads in Texas from Jan. 5 through Aug. 3.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

Beginning in June, thousands of voters across the country saw a fundraising plea in the form of a Facebook ad from the president’s official social media page. It described how the “fake news media” would bolster Donald Trump’s reelection bid.

“The Fake News Media broadcasted the 2020 Crazy Dem Debate and showed the American People just how insane the Democratic candidates really are,” it said.

“They’re practically doing our job for us.”

While the rhetoric contained in the ad may not surprise anyone, the people on the receiving end could raise eyebrows. According to Facebook’s ad library, more Texans saw the ad than residents of any other state.

The ad isn’t an anomaly. As Trump’s reelection campaign pours far more money into Facebook advertising than any other 2020 candidate, its No. 1 target is Texas residents. According to Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic firm that tracks digital ad spending, Trump’s campaign spent nearly half a million dollars on Facebook ads in Texas alone from Jan. 5 through Aug. 3. (Texans and Democratic presidential nominees Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro, meanwhile, spent less than $300,000 combined in the same period.)

But the spending has split pundits along party lines: While Democrats take it as a sign that Trump might be worried Texas will flip, Republicans say it only means the president is trying to reenergize his base early on.

“When we think about digital ads, we think about it in terms of, ‘Is [Trump] using them to engage and excite his existing supporters, or is he using it to reach out and persuade new supporters?’” said Daniel Scarvalone, Bully Pulpit’s senior director of research and data.

For years now, the president has used Facebook prolifically. After the 2016 election, Trump’s digital director, Texan Brad Parscale, told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that the campaign spent most of its digital advertising dollars on Facebook and that it tested between 50,000 and 100,000 ad variations each day to target potential voters.

The Trump campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment explaining the campaign’s digital strategy ahead of next year, but Parscale previously credited the popular social media platform for Trump’s presidential win in 2016.

“Twitter is how [Trump] talked to the people,” Parscale said. “Facebook was going to be how he won.”

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Trump’s digital strategy is not unique to his campaign. For years, political campaigns and outside groups have run ads on Facebook to sway voters ahead of Election Day. (For example, O’Rourke was the top political advertiser in the country on the site for much of last year during his heated Senate race against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz, spending more than $6.3 million on Facebook ads from May through late October.)

And Facebook might play an even bigger role ahead of 2020 compared to previous cycles. Democrats have been driven in part by the requirements of broad support from small-dollar donors in order to qualify for debates; Trump, meanwhile, is using it to raise money and collect a hefty list of donors by next year.

“Facebook is well established for preaching to the converted,” said Nicco Mele, the director of Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. “It’s very good at reaching your base.

“I am certain traditional TV advertising is still useful, but it’s a lot less useful than it was 20 years ago. And it’s clear that a lot is happening online.”

Trump seems to have received that message and is doubling down on the digital strategy that helped him win the presidency nearly four years ago. Last month, his campaign announced it had raised more money online in the second quarter of this year than in the first half of 2018. And his spending on Facebook so far has also exceeded that of all of his Democratic rivals combined.

“The truth about Texas is that it has abysmal voter turnout,” said Sam Martin, an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University. “If voters of color turned out to vote and could be engaged to vote, Trump would probably have reason to worry about Texas.”

Aside from the “fake news” ad, data from Facebook shows that the president’s reelection campaign is also sending more ads on topics like immigration and socialism to Texans’ news feeds than to people in any other state.

“Democrats are TOTALLY out of touch with the American people,” read one ad that began running in July but is now inactive. “We need to send a RESOUNDING message to the left that big-government socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar don’t represent the views of the American people!”

“It’s CRITICAL that we STOP THE INVASION. Nancy Pelosi and Democrats have not negotiated in good faith to fund a wall at our Southern Border, proving that OBSTRUCTION is far more important to them than YOUR SAFETY,” another ad read. “I cannot allow America’s safety and security to be put at risk any longer. We need the wall.”

His immigration ads have received heightened scrutiny in light of a recent massacre in El Paso in which the shooter allegedly penned a hate-filled manifesto warning of a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” along with other racist and xenophobic language. The messages continue a campaign tactic the president has employed since he first launched his 2016 campaign: using alarming rhetoric surrounding immigration to signal that there’s a crisis at the border that needs to be addressed immediately — and then suggesting he’s best equipped to handle it.

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Trump’s ads in Texas could prove influential given the state’s voting record the past two election cycles. The Senate race between O’Rourke and Cruz last year was the closest statewide race in Texas in 40 years. In 2016, Trump carried the state by only 9 percentage points — the smallest margin of victory for a Republican presidential nominee in Texas in two decades.

“Trump’s spending here ties directly into Texas being the biggest battleground state,” said Brittany Switzer, senior brand director for the Texas Democratic Party. “We see poll after poll showing Democrats beating Donald Trump here in Texas, and that plays over into the digital ad space as well.”

Others aren’t so sure.

“You want to fish in the pond with the most fish,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist. “The fact the Trump campaign is spending so much in Texas is a reflection of how much support he has in the state.”

And, Wilson noted, most of the ads targeted to a Texas audience have a clear purpose: building lists and collecting phone numbers, emails and, eventually, dollars.

“They wouldn’t be spending there if it were not performing well for them,” Wilson said, adding that Trump’s spending on digital ads in Texas shows that the campaign is trying to build up its infrastructure and rile up his core supporters early on, which is why nearly half of Trump’s overall Facebook ad budget is targeting users who are over 65 years old.

One other possible explanation for Trump’s heavy spending here: Texas is simply one of the biggest states — so there are more voters to reach. Traditional swing states Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida are also among the top five locations where Trump is spending money. But so is California, the most populous state and one that no one thinks will be competitive in 2020.

“There’s the big open question of: Do Republicans have Texas locked down, or do they really have to worry about it?” Scarvalone said. “In the months ahead, as Trump continues to use Texas as his cash register, we’ll see whether he’s using it to mobilize existing donors and supporters, or if he’s using Facebook to push his vote share in the state.”

Disclosure: Facebook and Southern Methodist University have been financial supporters 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.

Gov. Greg Abbott lays out response to El Paso shooting, but won’t commit to special session

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

Gov. Greg Abbott during the Texas Fallen Heroes Memorial Ceremony on May 25, 2019
Gov. Greg Abbott during the Texas Fallen Heroes Memorial Ceremony on May 25, 2019
Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

Nearly two weeks after a mass shooting in El Paso, Gov. Greg Abbott promised that his office, and the Legislature, would take appropriate action to stop future tragedies — but quashed any speculation that he’d call lawmakers back for a special session to make it happen.

Despite calls from a number of Texas Democrats to come back to Austin and address gun violence, Abbott told a live audience during a televised town hall at the University of Texas at Tyler that “it doesn’t require a special session for lawmakers to act.” Still, he insisted that waiting until 2021 to formally meet didn’t mean he wouldn’t act — calling the man who killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart an “enraged killer.” Police said the gunman told authorities he was targeting “Mexicans” when he surrendered.

“[The shooter] said in that manifesto that the reason why he made this attack is because of racism, because of hate, because of his desire to eliminate people from the face of the earth,” Abbott said Thursday evening, referencing a hate-filled manifesto allegedly penned by the shooter that decried an “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

“We need to get at the root of this,” Abbott said during his hourlong appearance.

Abbott, who has called the shooting an act of domestic terrorism, said he plans to release more details next week about a series of roundtables he’ll host with other lawmakers and state leaders to discuss possible legislative solutions that could prevent another massacre.

The governor said Thursday that the roundtables would include all the members of the El Paso legislative delegation. News of those discussions come around the same time, Abbott noted, that he formed a domestic terrorism task force, set to convene for the first time on Aug. 30, to protect against statewide acts of extremism.

Abbott said the task force was the first of its kind formed in Texas.

“Even though I’m in Tyler tonight, my heart is in El Paso,” Abbott said. “Our work to help you has just begun.”

Abbott also reiterated to an enthusiastic crowd that he didn’t think “red flag” laws, which in most cases allow judges to temporarily seize an individual’s firearms if that person is considered an imminent threat, would’ve stopped the shooter in El Paso.

“The El Paso shooter had demonstrated no red flags at all that would’ve triggered any type of mechanism that would’ve prevented him from being able to get a gun in the first place,” Abbott said.

Despite scattered chatter among some national Republicans, including President Donald Trump, on red flag laws and background checks, Abbott said Texas lawmakers will “work on getting guns out of the hands of deranged killers, while at the same time respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who delivered the Democratic response to Abbott’s town hall, said the governor’s response to the shooting was too short-sighted.

“As the school year starts, we are all facing the fact that we have to look into our children’s eyes and have a conversation — not about the excitement for the first day of class, but about people who could harm us, and getting back home safe. And active shooter drills,” Castro said.

“Every day that goes by Texans are in harm’s way,” he said, “and what is clear is that we cannot wait until 2021 for change.”

Answering questions about a range of other issues at Thursday’s event, Abbott insisted that Texas would remain red — despite a spate of GOP congressional retirements. He also touted the work done during this year’s legislative session, including the passage of a property tax reform bill and a massive school finance bill. Plus, he insisted that Trump didn’t need to change his rhetoric.

Abbott was also asked about the Capitol drama surrounding embattled House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. The lower chamber’s leader has been mired in controversy since news broke that he held a closed-door meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, where the speaker allegedly offered Sullivan’s organization media credentials in exchange for politically targeting a list of fellow GOP members in the 2020 primaries.

Abbott has remained mostly mum on the matter so far, but said Thursday that he enjoyed working with Bonnen during the session and would leave the matter to the Texas Rangers — who were recently asked to investigate the allegations against Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants — before drawing any conclusions.

“What is happening now is the best thing that could happen — and that’s getting the Texas Rangers involved,” Abbott said, noting it was premature to say whether Bonnen should resign. “We need to get to the bottom of this and get to the bottom of this quickly.”

Texas Democrats chided Abbott for his succinct remarks.

“While Abbott’s right hand man Dennis Bonnen continues to face a crippling lawsuit and a criminal investigation conducted by the Texas Rangers, Governor Greg Abbott side-stepped all questions about these allegations currently roiling his party.

“In fact, this press release is longer than Abbott’s comments about Bonnen,” party officials wrote. “Seriously. 69 words.”

Governor Abbott Appoints Covey To Governing Board Of The Texas Indigent Defense Commission

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Valerie Covey to the Governing Board of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for a term set to expire on February 1, 2020.

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Valerie Covey to the Governing Board of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for a term set to expire on February 1, 2020. The commission provides financial and technical support to counties to develop and maintain quality, cost-effective indigent defense systems.

Valerie Covey of Georgetown is the County Commissioner for Precinct 3 of Williamson County. Previously, she worked as a Certified Public Accountant for S. Thomas McDaniel and Ernst & Young. She previously served on the Advisory Council for Georgetown Assistance League and as chair of the Local Authority Network Advisory Committee. She is chairman of the National Habitat Conservation Plan Coalition. Covey received a Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting from The University of Texas at Austin.

Governor Abbott Appoints Senator Flores And Representative Huberty To Education Commission Of The States

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Senator Peter “Pete” Flores and Representative Daniel “Dan” Huberty to the Education Commission of the States for terms to expire at the pleasure of the Governor.

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Senator Peter “Pete” Flores and Representative Daniel “Dan” Huberty to the Education Commission of the States for terms to expire at the pleasure of the Governor. Additionally, Senator Larry Taylor, Representative Dwayne Bohac, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, Commissioner of Higher Education Raymund Paredes, and John Colyandro, Governor Abbott’s Policy Director & Senior Advisor, will continue to serve on the Commission. 

The Education Commission of the States gathers and analyzes data concerning education needs and resources as well as encourages research in all aspects of education. The Commission was established over 50 years ago as an interstate compact on education policy.     

Returning to the trail, Beto O’Rourke pledges to more aggressively confront Donald Trump

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke delivered a campaign address in El Paso on Thursday. The speech marked his return to campaigning, suspended after the mass shooting in El Paso.
Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke delivered a campaign address in El Paso on Thursday. The speech marked his return to campaigning, suspended after the mass shooting in El Paso.
Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Texas Tribune

Two weeks after putting his presidential run on pause, Beto O’Rourke presented himself to supporters Thursday as a changed candidate with a revamped campaign centered on holding President Donald Trump accountable in the aftermath of a mass shooting in his El Paso hometown.

On Thursday morning, the Democratic presidential candidate restarted his White House bid with a speech in the border city, where he drilled down on topics like racism, white supremacy and the strength of those in El Paso after a recent massacre that left 22 dead. The speech served as a reset for O’Rourke, who suspended his campaign after the tragedy and has been offering support to grieving victims and residents ever since.

O’Rourke opened his speech by highlighting some of the “extraordinary El Pasoans” he met immediately after the shooting. Then he told attendees that the massacre showed him a need to abandon the tactful approach he’s taken so far in the crowded presidential primary and instead focus on hitting Trump directly. O’Rourke said the president “speaks so openly in racist terms and so openly favors one race.”

“We have a racism in America that is as old as America itself,” O’Rourke said. “What President Trump says, and what he does, does not just offend our sensibilities or our understanding of the traditions of this great country. It changes who we are as a country.”

“I’m confident that, at this moment, if we don’t wake up to this threat,” O’Rourke said, “we as a country will die in our sleep.”

Trump’s campaign was quick to respond.

“After proclaiming just last week El Paso ‘need[s] to heal,’ Beto O’Rourke is now using the tragedy in his hometown to bolster his struggling presidential bid,” said Trump Victory Committee spokesperson Samantha Cotten. “O’Rourke’s second campaign reboot is likely to end up failing just like his first. Texans know O’Rourke is more interested in his own personal political gain than he is in helping his hometown heal.”

Still, Thursday’s speech showed a new, more raw side of O’Rourke. He spoke without a teleprompter or prepared remarks and told supporters that, moving forward, he’ll be on the offensive — with an eye toward directly confronting Trump, whom O’Rourke blamed for using incendiary language when talking about Mexicans and people of color that, O’Rourke said, inspired the shooter in El Paso to act.

“I see more clearly now than I ever have before that immigrants in this community, in this state, in this country will continue to be attacked,” he said, mentioning a Trump event in May where a rally attendee suggested shooting immigrants. “Not just killed as they were at the Walmart, but terrorized.”

The scathing rebuke of the president was, of course, not the first time O’Rourke has used his platform to challenge Trump for his racist remarks. O’Rourke previously said the president had “a lot to do” with the shooting and later received national attention for delivering an emotional critique of the media after a reporter asked O’Rourke if “there [is] anything in your mind that the president can do now to make this any better?”

O’Rourke’s relaunch comes during a precarious time. Since he launched his campaign in March, the press corps that followed him has thinned out, and his poll numbers have remained in the single digits. A Morning Consult poll released Monday put O’Rourke at 3% nationally — roughly the same standing he had before he paused his campaign. Meanwhile, a recent Economist/YouGov poll had O’Rourke at 5%.

Immediately after the massacre, O’Rourke canceled a number of planned campaign events, including ones in Nevada and California. And although he said he plans to return to the trail in the coming days, the Democrat said he doesn’t plan to return to the early states, or the “corn dogs and Ferris wheels” of the Iowa State Fair at first. Rather, he said he preferred to visit the places where “President Trump has been terrorizing and terrifying and demeaning our fellow Americans.”

“That’s where you will find me in this campaign,” he said to a round of applause.

From El Paso, O’Rourke said he’s headed to Mississippi and Arkansas — the former of which was the site of a massive ICE raid days after the El Paso shooting.

O’Rourke also used his time onstage to push for gun reform laws. He promoted universal background checks; so-called “red flag laws,” which in most cases allow judges to temporarily seize an individual’s firearms if that person is considered an imminent threat; and ending the sale of assault weapons.

“Though El Paso bore the brunt of this hatred, this violence and this inaction, I also know this community holds the answers — not only for our future in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, but for our country,” O’Rourke said. “Though we have not realized the idea of an America for everyone, it is still within our grasp.”

He also made one thing clear: He has no plans to drop his White House bid and run for U.S. Senate against Republican John Cornyn, despite the occasional calls for him to do so.

“There’s some part of me that wants to stay here and be with my family and be with my community. I love my community. I love El Paso,” he said. “There have even been some that suggest I stay in Texas and run for Senate, but that would not be good enough for this community. That would not be good enough for this country.

“We must take the fight directly to the source of this problem.”

TribCast: A House speaker in hot water

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

(Audio unavailable. Click here to listen on texastribune.org.)

On this week’s TribCast, Emily talks to Evan, Ross and Cassi about the scandal roiling the Texas House speaker’s office.

Governor Abbott Reappoints Lewis As Sabine River Compact Administration Commissioner

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott has reappointed Michael H. “Mike” Lewis as Sabine River Compact Administration Commissioner for a term set to expire on July 12, 2025.

Governor Greg Abbott has reappointed Michael H. “Mike” Lewis as Sabine River Compact Administration Commissioner for a term set to expire on July 12, 2025. The commissioners are responsible for administering the provisions of the Sabine River Compact entered into by Texas, Louisiana and the United States.

Michael H. “Mike” Lewis of Newton is an investigator with the Newton County District Attorney. He currently serves as a board member on the Jasper/Newton County Health Board, and is a member of the Newton County Investment Committee and the Newton County Bid Review Committee. Additionally, he is a county ambassador and committee member for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and a member and Chaplain of Rainbow Masonic Lodge #735. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserves from 1970 to 1971, at which point he received an honorable discharge. Lewis received a Bachelor of Science from Sam Houston State University.

Governor Abbott Forms Domestic Terrorism Task Force In The Wake Of El Paso Shooting

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott today, under Article 4, Sections 1, 7, and 10 of the Texas Constitution, formed a Domestic Terrorism Task Force in the wake of the El Paso shooting to combat these hateful acts and extremism in Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott today, under Article 4, Sections 1, 7, and 10 of the Texas Constitution, formed a Domestic Terrorism Task Force in the wake of the El Paso shooting to combat these hateful acts and extremism in Texas. The group of experts will analyze and provide advice on strategies to maximize law enforcement’s ability to protect against acts of domestic terrorism. The task force will hold its first roundtable meeting with Governor Abbott on Friday, August 30th.

Additionally, the Governor today directed the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to take immediate action to combat any form of domestic terrorism in Texas including:

  • Conducting a state intelligence assessment on the domestic terrorism threat in Texas.
  • Establishing a Domestic Terrorism Section within the Texas Fusion Center to proactively seek, assess and monitor domestic terrorism and other mass casualty threats.
  • Coordinating with the designated regional fusion centers in Texas to increase the detection and monitoring of domestic terrorism and other mass casualty threats.
  • Establishing Domestic Terrorism Teams comprised of DPS Special Agents to provide immediate direct support to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF), and increase the number of Special Agents assigned to the JTTFs to conduct domestic counterterrorism investigations.
  • Increasing the number of DPS Special Agents and Analysts in the Texas Anti-Gang Centers conducting investigations on criminal gangs affiliated with Neo Nazi and White Nationalist groups and networks espousing terrorist attacks.

“Our top priority is to keep Texans safe in their communities,” said Governor Abbott. “Part of that mission is to combat domestic terrorism and root out the extremist ideologies that fuel hatred and violence in our state. This task force brings together leaders with the expertise Texas needs to develop effective strategies and combat domestic terrorism. Texas is stronger when we come together in pursuit of a shared goal, and today’s actions are vital steps in our ongoing fight against extremism and violence. We stand united against those who wish to bring harm to our state, and together we will build a safer future for every Texan.”

The task force will meet quarterly, or at the call of the Governor, and will consist of the following members:

  • Governor Greg Abbott
  • Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick
  • Attorney General Ken Paxton 
  • Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen 
  • Colonel Steve McCraw, Department of Public Safety
  • Chief W. Nim Kidd, Texas Division of Emergency Management
  • Major General Tracy Norris, Texas Military Department
  • Executive Director Amanda Crawford, Texas Department of Information Resources
  • Executive Director Carter Smith, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
  • Members of the United States Customs and Border Patrol
  • Members of the United States Secret Service
  • John Bash, United States Attorney — Western District of Texas 
  • Jeff Murray, Department of Homeland Security
  • Members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • K. Sunshine Stanek, District Attorney for Lubbock County
  • Greg Allen, El Paso Police Chief 
  • Sheriff Eddie Guerra, Hidalgo County
  • Captain Anthony Carter, Collin County Sheriff’s Office, North Texas Fusion Center

Specific objectives of the task force will include:

  • Analyzing current and emerging threats in Texas, and developing strategies that government entities can take to prevent and respond to such threats.
  • Studying ways to increase interagency cooperation and collaboration between local, state, and federal agencies.
  • Developing model tools, policies, and protocols to assist in fighting domestic terrorism.
  • Providing advice and recommendations regarding state homeland security strategic planning, and relevant legislative recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature.