Texas politics continued to be roiled by the ongoing national reckoning with sexual misconduct and gender attitudes in the culture this week, from a hearing in the Texas Senate on harassment policy to a couple of men calling it quits, including yet another Congressman, Blake Farenthold. In the policy realm, good stories on the history of the border wall produced by a team of Texas Tribune and ProPublica, and on climate change and Harvey in the Houston Chronicle, remind us all that we can continue to talk about enduring policy issues, though they also point to polarized public attitudes that make any moves on those issues difficult. All this, and, of course, Alabama
Matters of intense partisan contention at the state and federal level – LGBTQ rights, voting rights, the President’s travel ban, and abortion – are getting attention from the judicial branch this week. Our polling in Texas has yielded a lot of data on the issue at hand that might be useful in thinking about how they made it onto the public agenda in the first place, how specific politics and laws that are now being contested in the courts came to be, and how actions taken by the courts will be interpreted by the broader public here in Texas
General Flynn has flipped, though on whom is still developing. Also still developing is just how many members of the Texas Congressional delegation will not be coming back. Joe Barton opted out, but there’s bad news out today for Congressman Farenthold, too. Over on the other side of the U.S. Capitol, the Senate handling of the tax rewrite (whatever the outcome) isn’t likely to help Congress’s approval rating – probably about as much as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, and Mark Halperin have helped the news media’s standing. On the other hand, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s endorsement of Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is likely to give him a shot in the arm after he picked up a challenger this week. Lest we think there’s no policy news, health care was in the post-Harvey spotlight this week at a Texas Tribune event, and amidst all these other weird things going on, Texas surrendered in one of the voting rights cases working its way through federal courts.
How much shifts in opinion towards the government's response to Harvey can be expected to impact the 2018 election campaigns in Texas depends on how they interact with what has become an unexpectedly roiled political season in the state. The elections are already buffeted by the raucous rule of Trump and his nominal party allies in Washington, the specter of an unusually roused Democratic electorate, lots of candidates shifting around as a result of Congressional retirements, and the ongoing intra-party warfare in the Texas GOP. As government at all levels struggle to respond to the aftermath of disaster in Texas and other places where severe misfortune has struck, the data below will serve as benchmarks for understanding the changes that are coming.
The national media storm over sexual harassment hit Texas this week, which the legislative leadership attempted to act on even as in other corners, some of the same old internecine fights in the GOP played out in the House and on the terrain of the upcoming 2018 primary elections. Congressman Gene Green’s announcement that he wouldn’t seek reelection added another wrinkle in Houston politics, this one among Democrats who are either jumping in to fight for his seat or waiting to see which #txlege competitors create new openings as a result of others' efforts to move up. Meanwhile, events in Congress provided lots of reasons why so many people don’t want to work there anymore, and some are even policy related, like the effort to combine repealing the ACA insurance mandate with the Tax Reform bill.
Democrat Gene Green of Houston's retirement brings the number of Texas legislators not returning to the nation's capitol to six as the filing period for office began over the weekend. While Green is only the second Democrat to announce that he won't be returning to the U.S. House of Representatives (along with Beto O'Rourke, who is instead running to replace Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the upper chamber), each recent announcement by Republican Congressman has resulted in a new round of speculation about what these retirements mean for 2018. The questions are both local – like who is going to fill these seats and how will those replacements reverberate down the ballot – but also global, about the 2018 Election, the Republican Party, and the potential impact of Donald Trump. While these are both interesting and worthy lines of inquiry, a simpler question to ask first is: what the usual Congressional churn looks like in the Texas delegation?
Fantasies of widespread voter abandonment of Republicans for Democrats in the Texas suburbs remain far-fetched, but data from the last three University of Texas/Texas Tribune polls does show that suburban attitudes towards President Trump in Texas could become cause for Texas GOP concern if the party continues on its current trajectory.
As the grim particulars of the Sutherland Springs shooting have become known in the days since the incident, the fact that a bystander armed with a rifle of his own shot the perpetrator and gave chase crucially transforms the terrain of the political interpretation of the shootings. The presence of an armed citizen "shooting in the opposite direction," as President Donald Trump put it hours after the killings, activates partisan attitudes about guns in Texas that can be effectively mobilized by advocates and political leaders to stifle discussion of adding even the most mild restrictions on access to, or ownership, of guns. The trope that the best antidote to gun violence by bad (or even sick) people is good people with guns resonates sufficiently with the right audience of Republicans so as to effectively seal off discussions outside the status quo.
The UT/Texas Tribune Poll asked about two of the key provisions of SB4 that have been subjects of the litigation under discussion today – the so-called "show me your papers provision" that preserve law enforcement officers' option to ask for proof of citizenship during a legal detainment, and the requirement that local authorities' cooperate and comply with federal immigration law, including detainer requests by Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE).
When it comes to legal cases in general, and legal rights in particular, it's important to note that public opinion can often act as a poor guide to a just outcome, and in many cases, may have no relevance on particular legal proceedings. With that caveat aside, public opinion is useful in determining how elected officials, including the Attorney General, might react to court decisions, and further, whether the state chooses to push ahead in the legal process in the face of adverse decisions.