If Only We Had a Meter: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics, Feb 11, 2017

In what should be expected to be a continuing trend, the last week saw national news not only dominate coverage, but also touch Texas directly, even as each chamber of the legislature got a little busier, albeit each at their own respective pace.  Though there were no other signs of the apocalypse, the Lt. Governor called a press conference promoting a Politifact column in the local paper that gave a mostly false rating to a report on the economic impact of laws placing restrictions on the rights of transgender people, where he also again invoked polling that he says supports SB 6.  That claim is pretty complicated, but that’s another story. Read on for some data points that shed light on some of the week’s political developments.

1.  Another promise kept. Friday saw the federal government seemingly delivering on another of Donald Trump’s campaign promises as federal immigration authorities confirmed stepped up operations in cities across the country, including central and south Texas.  The Washington Post went big with the story early on Friday, and the Austin American Statesman had Congressman Joaquin Castro confirming that  “targeted operations are taking place in Central and South Texas in a program that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is calling Operation Cross Check.”  The policy is likely to find a receptive audience among Texas Republicans, for whom immigration and border security have long been salient, and large number of whom hold punitive views toward undocumented immigrants, as the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll has repeatedly illustrated. It's also sparking a lot of counter-reaction across the country, including in Texas, not just in rhetorical terms but also in policy and actions in organizations and institutions that serve communities that include undocumented immigrants and their families.

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Border security3%13%25%
Political corruption/leadership16%7%1%
The economy6%8%5%

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Strongly agree8%33%34%
Somewhat agree13%20%36%
Somewhat disagree19%22%17%
Strongly disagree54%16%6%
Don't know/No opinion6%9%7%

2. Maybe a cable new show on The Federalist Papers would help here. A panel of three appellate judges of the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Thrusday declined to lift a stay on the President’s executive order blocking travel from seven countries. There was news late Friday that there will be a hearing to consider whether there should be an en banc review (that is, by the full court)  of the three-judge panel’s ruling. The judges ran roughshod over the administration's arguments, but of particular interest given dour public attitudes toward the branches of the federal government was the judiciary’s assertion of authority vis-a-vis the executive.   The judges were pretty forceful in one of the most widely quoted passages from the decision:  

"[T]he government has taken the position that the president's decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections. ... There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.

"It is beyond question, that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action."

Approval levels for the different branches showed expected partisan differences when we last surveyed Texans on the question in 2016.  Of particular interest is how much the judicial branch fell in the estimation of Republicans between 2012 and 2016. We posted public opinion data on attitudes toward banning Muslims from the U.S. last week.  Stay tuned for new data on both of these soon. #teaser 

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The U.S. Congress, the legislative branch3%3%27%
The President, the executive branch35%12%4%
The U.S. Supreme Court, the judicial branch31%36%26%
Don't know31%49%43%

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The U.S. Congress, the legislative branch1%11%19%
The President, the executive branch61%18%2%
The U.S. Supreme Court, the judicial branch22%38%45%
Don't know16%33%34%

3.  No, I'm really, really happy with my committee assignments. Really. Speaker of the House Joe Straus released Committee appointments on what turned out to be a busy Thursday.  You can pore over them in a table we put together that notes who moved where in the House.  Some of the big changes that were the stuff of chatter and speculation didn’t materialize -- the chairs remained the same on calendars and state affairs (and house administration, too, if you get the drift).  The opening at the head of appropriations went to John Zerwas, which created a vacancy in the chair of higher education, which was filled by J.M. Lozano. There’s a lot to pore over if you’re looking for signs of strategy, and the table will help, so check it out. There's a lot of material for insidery snark here, but you do it.

4.  "I mean, it's not ALL fake news..."  Lt. Governor Patrick held a press conference with Sen. Lois  Kolkhorst, the sponsor of SB 6, the bill that would limit transgender people’s access to public restrooms and other facilities, among other things.  Several other backers of the bill were also present -- though fewer than three-fifths of the Senate. The main purpose seemed to be to celebrate a Politifact column in the Austin American Statesman that heavily criticized the recent TAB-sponsored report claiming that the passage of SB 6 could have a negative impact on Texas ranging from  $964 million to $8.5 billion, which is a whopper of a range that included the just-concluded Super Bowl in Houston. The Politifact folks did a long unpacking of the estimates, which were assembled 13 months, and judged it mostly false.  The Lt. Governor went heavy on the “false” and petty light on the “mostly,” which led Politifact’s Austin honcho Gardner Selby to take to Twitter in real time (in response to live-Tweeting from Capitol Tonight's Karina Kling) to note that Politifact had not argued that SB 6 wouldn’t have any economic impact, but only that the claim touted by TAB wasn’t accurate.  Speaking of trying to map out gray areas, the Lt. Governor again invoked majority support for SB 6 in public opinion polling at that press conference, a claim Joshua Blank and I discussed in detail in a TribTalk post on Friday.


5. They know emergencies when they see them.  Meanwhile, the Senate passed out both an ethics reform bill and the much heralded sanctuary city bill. The latter was amended to add punishments for city officials who declined to enforce federal law, a nod to Governor Abbott’s efforts to punish Travis County (and Austin) for Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez's policy of limited cooperation with federal immigration authorities, which earned national and even international news coverage for the governor. We posted polling related to both these issues last week when these issues on Governor Abbott’s emergency items agenda moved out of committee in the Senate. 

And by the way: if you see Josh Blank around, tell him congratulations -- you know, fatherhood & all (again).