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Newsclips - October 29, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 28, 2020

President Donald Trump raised nearly twice as much money in Texas as Joe Biden

It’s still unclear whether President Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden is winning Texas at the ballot box, but when it comes to campaign fundraising there is no doubt who is dominating the Lone Star State. Trump has raised nearly twice as much money from Texas donors as Biden. Federal Election Commission records show Trump has raised $53 million from people in Texas, while Joe Biden has raised just over $28 million. Trump’s haul from Texas makes the state his second-best fundraising state in the nation after California, where he pulled in $58 million. And his Texas fundraising is light years ahead of what he did in 2016 when he raised almost $16 million from individual donors in the state. “This isn’t surprising,” said Samantha Zager, the deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign. “Texas is not in play for Joe Biden and never has been because Texans would never vote for Biden’s radical agenda, including a call to end the oil industry by 2025.”

Texans have made substantial contributions to Biden, but not anywhere close to what he’s getting in other big states. California has led the way with $127 million from individuals, according to the FEC. New Yorkers have given more than $63 million. Biden has now raised more in Texas than Hillary Clinton raised in 2016 when she pulled in almost $23 million from Texas. Democrats say all that Texas money Trump has been raising has been being shipped out of state, while the Biden campaign has been using some of its money on campaign ads and high profile visits to Texas — including Friday’s visit from vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris. “Donald Trump has used Texas like an ATM piggy bank while governing against the interest of Texas time after time,” Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said. “Look at the money Donald Trump has taken out of Texas and into other states.” The fundraising advantage for Trump doesn’t surprise Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. He said while the Texas electorate is becoming more diverse, there is still far more money in wealthy white communities. “So even as Texas becomes increasingly competitive, Republicans will continue to outraise Democrats,” he said.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 28, 2020

New challenge seeks to void thousands of Harris County drive-thru votes

A new challenge to Harris County’s drive-thru voting sites, filed by two GOP candidates and a Republican member of the Texas House, asks the state Supreme Court to void ballots “illegally” cast by voters in cars. That could put more than 100,000 ballots at risk, drawing sharp criticism from Democrats and raising fears among voters, including those with disabilities and others who were directed into drive-thru lanes as a faster method of voting.

Last week, the Supreme Court rejected two GOP challenges that sought to end drive-thru voting, which is available only in Harris County at 10 locations created by Clerk Chris Hollins, a Democrat. Some Republicans have complained that most of the drive-thru sites are in or near heavily Democratic areas. One of the unsuccessful challenges was filed by the Republican Party of Texas. The second was from the Harris County GOP, activist Steven Hotze, and Sharen Hemphill, a GOP candidate for district judge in Harris County. Neither petition sought to void votes. That changed with the latest petition filed shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday by Hotze, Hemphill, GOP congressional candidate Wendell Champion, and state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands. The new petition asks the all-Republican Supreme Court to confiscate memory cards from voting machines at drive-thru locations and reject any votes cast in violation of state election laws. The petition argues that drive-thru voting is an illegal expansion of curbside voting, which state law reserves for voters who submit a sworn application saying they have an illness or disability that could put them at risk if forced to enter a polling place.

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Houston Chronicle - October 28, 2020

Abbott says National Guard won’t interfere with voting, will be deployed to ‘address protests that could turn to riots’

Gov. Greg Abbott answered questions for the first time Wednesday about the potential deployment of the Texas National Guard to cities around the state in the coming days. On Monday, Hearst Newspapers broke the news that the Texas National Guard was considering deploying hundreds of troops in major cities around the state to provide security in case disturbances break out after the Nov. 3 election. “We want to make sure that in the event there are any after the elections are concluded, and that we will have adequate personnel in place to make sure that we will be able to address any protests that could turn to riots,” Abbott said, at a “Back-the-Blue” news conference held at the Houston Police Officers’ Union headquarters just west of downtown Houston.

He was joined by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and numerous other Republican politicians or candidates running in the 2020 election. Asked whether he planned to send troops to Houston, Abbott said such decisions would be made on an “as needed basis.” He also said that any troops — wherever deployed — would play “no role whatsoever” in the electoral process, and would not be present at the polls. “They will not be disruptive in the election process whatsoever,” Abbott said. “They have a goal, and that is to support the efforts that they would be called upon to support the Texas Department of Public Safety.” Some Texas Democrats previously criticized the move as a potential ploy to deter voters from heading to the polls. On Monday, for example, Austin City Councilmember Gregorio Casar said Abbott should “make clear why he is doing this,” and said “Texas voters will not be intimidated by Gov. Greg Abbott’s fear-mongering during this election.” The 2020 election has sparked unprecedented turnout in Texas, but few reports of violence or unrest.

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CNN - October 28, 2020

Author of 2018 'Anonymous' op-ed critical of Trump revealed

The anonymous senior Trump administration official who wrote a 2018 New York Times op-ed and a subsequent book critical of President Donald Trump is Miles Taylor, he revealed in a statement to CNN on Wednesday. Taylor, who was chief of staff to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, wrote a lengthy statement explaining why he penned the 2018 op-ed declaring he was part of the "resistance" inside the Trump administration working to thwart Trump's worst inclinations. Taylor said that he wanted to force Trump to respond to the charges he was leveling without the ability to attack the messenger specifically. Trump called the op-ed treasonous.

"Much has been made of the fact that these writings were published anonymously. The decision wasn't easy, I wrestled with it, and I understand why some people consider it questionable to levy such serious charges against a sitting President under the cover of anonymity. But my reasoning was straightforward, and I stand by it," Taylor wrote. "Issuing my critiques without attribution forced the President to answer them directly on their merits or not at all, rather than creating distractions through petty insults and name-calling," Taylor added. "I wanted the attention to be on the arguments themselves." Taylor joined CNN as a contributor in September 2020. He had previously denied that he was "Anonymous." Asked in August by CNN's Anderson Cooper if he had written the op-ed and book, Taylor said, "I wear a mask for two things, Anderson: Halloweens and pandemics. So no."

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 28, 2020

Growing Asian American population could help sway election

Nhat Nguyen stood Sunday morning on a sidewalk on Bellaire Boulevard with a bullhorn in one hand and phone in the other. “Go Trump!” he shouted while live-streaming to Facebook a parade of honking cars bedecked in Trump flags. Trucks blasted music from open windows as they cruised through southwest Houston’s Little Saigon neighborhood. The previous afternoon, a socially-distanced group stood on a wide lawn just blocks away listening to speakers decry the president’s handling of the pandemic, call for unity and demand for respect. Busy traffic rushed past as the group walked alongside a strip mall of Vietnamese cafes, chanting and clutching signs for Joe Biden.

The Houston metropolitan area is home to a significant population of Vietnamese refugees, many with conservative values who see President Donald Trump as a strong anti-Communist leader. But the Vietnamese American community is splintering along generational lines as new voices herald more progressive views that align with the broader Asian American community — an often overlooked contingent of voters who political experts say could sway Tuesday’s presidential election. “I think Asian Americans ultimately provide a blue edge in Texas,” said Janelle Wong, a University of Maryland professor and senior researcher at Asian American Pacific Islander Data, a policy research group that co-published in September an Asian American voter survey. Asian Americans, the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S. electorate, represent a powerful political force. As the population has boomed across Texas and in the Houston area, so too has the number of eligible voters — a historically “untapped source of electorate power,” said Steven Wu, a board member at OCA-Greater Houston, a nonpartisan civic advocacy group.

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Houston Chronicle - October 28, 2020

Senior Army investigator meets with Vanessa Guillén’s family in Houston

A senior U.S. Army official on Tuesday spoke with the family of Vanessa Guillén in Houston, delivering an update on the investigation into the soldier’s death and collecting additional information about the case, the army announced. Gen. John Murray, commanding general of Army Futures Command and a senior investigator into Guillén’s death, is conducting a formal inquiry known as a “15-6 investigation” into the chain of command actions related to her killing. Spc. Aaron David Robinson was accused of bludgeoning Guillén in April and burying her mutilated body in a rural area about 30 miles from the base. Robinson died of a self-inflicted gunshot when police tried to take him into custody. His girlfriend, Cecily Ann Aguilar, has been charged as an accomplice.

Guillén’s family previously told authorities that she had been sexually harassed before her disappearance, but army officials have said they did not find evidence of harassment during its initial probe. The army on Tuesday did not provide any additional updates about the investigation or what Guillén’s family told Murray during their meeting. Murray’s investigation incorporates information from other reviews of Guillén’s case, including the ongoing criminal probe by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and a review of the post’s sexual harassment reporting program by the U.S. Army Forces Command Inspector General. "What happened to Spc. Guillén was horrible. We must honor her memory by doing better," said Gen. Michael X. Garrett, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg who appointed Gen. Murray. "This investigation will allow us to better understand what happened. Importantly, it will also give us insight on what we can do to ensure something like this doesn't happen again." The army said it would publicly release more information about the investigation “once the final report is complete.”

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Houston Chronicle - October 28, 2020

Meet the woman behind the Harris County Clerk’s hilarious Twitter account

It’s a rare occurrence when a government-run social media account can make someone laugh out loud with a post about voting. But social media users who are closely following everything Election 2020 in Houston would probably agree: the Harris County Clerk’s official Twitter account succeeds at this nearly every day. Thanks to Heights resident Sara Cress, the Harris County Clerk’s Twitter account has gained a loyal following of more than 13,500 appreciative social media users who find her posts on voting to be exactly what we need in a year like 2020: hilarious quips that also provide digestible, critical information about voting in what some are calling one of the most contentious elections in modern-day history.

The attention her posts have gotten the Twitter account have transferred the limelight to her at times, with some calling her the “Eric Berger of voting,” re-tweets from big-name celebrities such as John Cusack and even a nod from Politico. Harris County and Texas voters have set record after record during early voting. More than 125,000 Harris County residents cast their ballots on the first day of early voting; a little more than a week later, more than 1 million residents here had voted. Looking back on the whirlwind response, Cress said that that first day was a “real blur.” “Things just started exploding on that day,” she said. As a consultant for the clerk’s office, Cress, 43, tweets from 6:45 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Like many of us, she has been working from home during the pandemic. Most of the posts she makes are from a writing nook in the guest room of her Heights home while her two rescue dogs, Beans and Fig, and three cats, Boxie, Caper and Juniper, stand guard at a nearby window. “I try to imagine that someone is ready to go vote and they have one last question and if it doesn’t get answered right then, then they are not going to vote,” Cress said.

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Houston Chronicle - October 28, 2020

U.S. district judge rules Texas voters must wear masks at polls

A federal judge has struck down the part of Gov. Greg Abbott's state mask mandate that exempted polling places, saying their exclusion “creates a discriminatory burden on Black and Latino voters.” U.S. District Judge Jason Pulliam’s ruling on Tuesday temporarily halts Abbott’s order while the case is being heard. The Texas attorney general’s office, which represents state agencies and officials, immediately appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The suit was first brought in July by Mi Familia Vota, the Texas NAACP and two Texas voters and raised a series of issues, requesting a longer early voting period, more polling places and an expansion of curbside voting. Attorneys for the plaintiffs could not immediately be reached. The San Antonio-based judge had dismissed the suit in November, saying he lacked the jurisdiction to make the large-scale changes that plaintiffs requested. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, sent the case back to Pulliam this month, saying that if he found the polling place part of Abbott’s order to violate the federal Voting Rights Act, then he would have the authority to make changes. In the 35-page ruling Tuesday, Pulliam agreed with plaintiffs that the exemption disproportionately affects Black and Latino Texans who are statistically more likely to become infected with COVID-19 and have more serious complications and would have to “choose between not voting or risking their lives or the lives of their loved ones to vote.”

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Houston Chronicle - October 28, 2020

Erica Grieder: Cornyn’s fate may depend on whether voters give him a pass for standing by Trump

Turnout was sparse at MJ Hegar’s get-out-the-vote rally at Matzke Park in northwest Houston Sunday evening. Just a few dozen voters gathered to hear from the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, who was joined by local leaders including Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia and state Rep. Armando Walle. It would be a mistake to read too much into that, though. The coronavirus pandemic has put the kibosh on rallies and other traditional campaign activities this year, but it definitely hasn’t kept Texans from voting. If anything, the pandemic — or rather President Donald Trump’s bungled handling of it — has added to a collective sense of anger, frustration and urgency.

In 2016, some 1.3 million votes were cast in Harris County; this year, we’re on the way to shattering that record. By Sunday evening — with a full week of early voting yet to go, not to mention Election Day — more than a million voters in Harris County had already weighed in on this year’s races. Most of the state’s urban and suburban counties are seeing similar surges in turnout. According to experts, all of that augurs well for Texas Democrats. And, from Hegar’s perspective, what would you expect? “I’m happy we have reached the potential that I knew we could, but I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” said Hegar, 44, an Air Force veteran who served several tours in Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot, after her public remarks. She reflected on the fact that she wasn’t particularly engaged in electoral politics prior to Trump’s election, after which she decided to run for Congress as a Democrat, narrowly losing her bid to represent the state’s 31st Congressional District in 2018. “I wasn’t politically active, and I’m running for Senate. If I’m going to take that step, think of how many people like me are at least going to vote!” It’s a new day in Texas, that’s for sure. Polls suggest that the incumbent, three-term U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, is now facing a serious general election challenge for the first time in his career. Cornyn won by 27 points in 2014.

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Houston Chronicle - October 28, 2020

Another ‘gutsy’ move: Houston Rep. Senfronia Thompson runs for House Speaker

Houston state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the longest-serving woman and the longest-serving Black person in the Legislature, is known for fighting uphill battles. In a chamber dominated by Republicans, Thompson fought hard over two legislative sessions to pass the 2001 James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which increased penalties for the offenses, and ultimately won despite strong opposition, led by then-Gov. George W. Bush, that had defeated an earlier version. Last year, an eleventh-hour bill amendment by Thompson gave Texas one of the toughest prescription drug price transparency laws in the nation.

Over nearly 50 years of lawmaking, she has both seen and been at the forefront of historic change, passing measures that raised the minimum wage, banned racial profiling by police, established alimony rights, created drug courts and required insurance companies to cover 3D mammograms and HPV tests. Now, the 81-year-old hopes to make history again as the first Black House Speaker and the first woman to hold the post. If elected, she would also be the first speaker from Houston since 1939. Thompson, affectionately known by her colleagues in the House as “Ms. T.,” represents District 141, which includes Northeast Houston and Humble. “I just think that if we’re electing speakers based on their past accomplishments and their relationships with the members, then I can’t think of a better person than Ms. T.,” said Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston, chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. Thompson received the endorsement of the Harris County delegation of the Texas House on Wednesday. “From leading the state through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the decennial redistricting process to writing a thoughtful state budget so Texans can have a fair shot to recover from this recession, the 87th Texas Legislative Session will be the most pivotal and consequential one in recent memory,” they wrote in a letter. “The Texas House will need the capable, experienced and steady hands of Representative Thompson.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 28, 2020

With alcohol delivery here to stay, TABC creates new certification for delivery drivers

The pandemic has brought few welcomed changes to the Texas restaurant industry, but alcohol delivery is one of them. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission now wants to make sure it’s done safely by offering a certification program for delivery drivers. The Texas Responsible Alcohol Delivery certification course is available to employees of businesses that hold a consumer delivery permit through the TABC.

Similar to the Safe Harbor law that offers protections to brick-and-mortar businesses if their employees break the law by serving alcohol to a minor or intoxicated person, the program could offer businesses liability protection if their delivery drivers violate the law but hold TRAD certifications. The 2-year certification is $25 per person, and the coursework, which covers processes like checking IDs and ensuring alcohol isn’t delivered to an intoxicated person, is offered online. “With delivery drivers going out across the state and making those deliveries as they do, the Legislature wanted to ensure that those folks have some sort of training to help prevent any sale or service of alcohol to minors or intoxicated persons,” says Chris Porter, a TABC spokesman. “We hope it gives people who are looking for employment as delivery drivers an easy step to take before they begin work.” Employees who work as delivery drivers for businesses that hold consumer delivery permits will be required to obtain a TRAD certification in order to deliver alcohol.

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Dallas Morning News - October 28, 2020

‘New day in Texas’: Julián Castro hits trail in hopes of helping Joe Biden win in Lone Star State, nationally

Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro has returned to the presidential campaign trail, this time on behalf of former Vice President Joe Biden. The former White House candidate, in an interview with The Dallas Morning News, said he’d “go anywhere and do anything that I’m asked to try and help the ticket.” That means drive-in rallies in Pueblo, Colo., and Reno, Nev. And a roundtable discussion with military veterans in Colorado Springs, Colo. And literature drops and sign distribution events in Arizona. And get-out-the-vote efforts in his home state, where he says Biden can win.

“I think so — I certainly hope so,” said Castro, who served as housing and urban development secretary under President Barack Obama and alongside Biden. “But either way, it’s going to be a new day in Texas.” He added: “Texas is bound to flip over. There’s no question in my mind about that. The question is, ‘Is that going to happen one week from now, or is it going to happen in 2022?’” Castro’s measured confidence comes as he and other Texas Democrats have urged the Biden campaign to make a late play for Texas — and its 38 electoral votes — even though no Democratic presidential candidate has won the state since Jimmy Carter did so in 1976. The Biden campaign is giving it something of a go, sending Biden’s running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, on Friday to Fort Worth, Houston and McAllen.

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Dallas Morning News - October 28, 2020

‘Chump change’? Cornyn’s, Hegar’s fundraising tallies once would’ve been record-setting, but are now just average

In the not-so-distant past, the $8.6 million raised by Texas Sen. John Cornyn over the last 3 ½ months would’ve been a true show of force. The $17.7 million brought in during that time period by his opponent, Democrat MJ Hegar? Downright earth-shaking. No longer. The fundraising tallies posted to date in Texas' high-profile Senate clash are lagging not only behind the then-record-setting sums hauled in two years ago by former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in a down-to-the-wire race.

The totals are also far less than what’s being raised this cycle in many other Senate races across the U.S. Candidates in South Carolina, Maine, Iowa, Kentucky, Montana and elsewhere are raising millions more dollars – in some cases, tens of millions more dollars – than Hegar or Cornyn, despite Texas being among the most expensive states in the U.S. to run a statewide campaign. “This has not emerged as one of the top Senate races – just yet,” said Jessica Taylor, a Senate handicapper for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Partisans in Texas tend to pin the blame on Hegar and Cornyn, with either side saying the other’s candidate has failed to generate enough enthusiasm. But other factors also come into play. Texas is so massive – and has been solid GOP turf for so long – that some donors may still see it as prohibitive. Hot races down-ballot in Texas have crowded the menu of donation options. The Senate race wasn’t set until the summer, due to Hegar needing a primary runoff to advance. And in the end, the relative cash crunch may not matter.

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Dallas Morning News - October 28, 2020

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz rips Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey: ‘Who the hell elected you?’

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday unloaded on Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey, accusing the tech titan’s popular social media platform of “egregious” conduct that poses a dire threat to free speech in America. The Republican, in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, zeroed in on Twitter’s decision to block the posting and sharing of a recent New York Post report that made corruption allegations – unsubstantiated by other major media outlets – against Democrat Joe Biden.

“Mr. Dorsey, who the hell elected you? And put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear?” Cruz said, accusing Twitter of “behaving like a Democratic super PAC" and "silencing views to the contrary of your political beliefs.” There was little doubt that the showdown between Cruz and Dorsey would produce fireworks, given that the Texan has long railed against Twitter and that his staff produced a poster for the clash that was made to look a promotion for a boxing match. Cruz even telegraphed his punch in his introduction – addressing not only Dorsey, but also Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “The three witnesses we have before the committee today collectively pose the single biggest threat to free speech in America and the greatest threat we have to free and fair elections,” he said. “Of the three players before us, Twitter’s conduct has by far been the most egregious.”

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Texas Public Radio - October 28, 2020

What could 2020 election outcomes mean for Texas' 2021 legislative session?

2020 election results will have a tremendous impact on the future of public policy in Texas, including pandemic response and recovery, as the state's 87th legislative session is mere months away. As Texans head to the polls, daily case numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise. How much of a role will the state's handling of COVID-19 so far play in their decision-making?

One of the major goals for the Democratic party is to win the majority of seats in the Texas House of Representatives. What changes could we see if the House flips? Would this bring checks and balances or partisan gridlock to the Capitol? House Speaker Dennis Bonnen will soon be retiring. Who's running on each side to be the lower chamber's next leader? No special session was called to address pandemic-related fallout this year. Do state lawmakers plan to meet in person in 2021? How could they address budget shortfalls, health care, unemployment, redistricting, public education and other hot-button issues in 2021?

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Austin American-Statesman - October 28, 2020

Kamala Harris to campaign in Fort Worth, McAllen and Houston on Friday

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, will head to Fort Worth, McAllen and Houston on Friday, the campaign announced in a news release Wednesday. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign notified Texas lawmakers on Sunday that Harris would travel to the state Friday.

Harris initially planned to visit Texas earlier this month, but canceled the trip after her communications director tested positive for COVID-19. Biden has not visited Texas during the general election campaign, and President Donald Trump has not visited the state since surveying hurricane damage in Southeast Texas in August. But Harris’ trip comes as polling shows a close race at the top of the ticket in Texas. The Cook Political Report on Wednesday moved Texas from “lean Republican” to “toss up.” If Biden wins Texas’ 38 electoral votes, Trump would have no viable path to victory. Michael Bloomberg also announced that he will be spending about $1 million a day the last week of the campaign on statewide advertising in Texas in both Spanish and English to help Biden defeat president Donald Trump.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 28, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Southwest Fort Worth voters have two strong choices for Texas House. Here’s our pick

Let’s be honest: Some Texas House districts occasionally struggle to offer up a single strong candidate. Voters in southwest Fort Worth’s House District 97 don’t suffer that problem. The parties yielded excellent nominees this year in Republican incumbent Craig Goldman and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Beck. It’s a close call, but we recommend voters stick with Goldman’s experience and leadership skills.

Goldman, a 52-year-old real estate investor seeking his fifth term, has steadily risen in the House. He could be a credible candidate for speaker, and in a closely divided chamber, he could help carry the mantle for compromise and build a bridge between Democrats and Republicans. On one of the biggest issues to come up next year, health care, Goldman said during our joint interview with the candidates that he wants to look for a “Texas solution.” Beck, like other Democrats, strongly favors taking additional federal money under the Affordable Care Act to cover more Texans on the Medicaid program. That may be a good step, but there are problems in health care beyond lack of coverage, including affordability and transparency of pricing. As Goldman climbs the ladder in the House, some are detecting a hint of arrogance. His dismissal of questions about his business in our interview was troubling. Goldman’s company moved in April to evict a tenant at an Arlington apartment complex he owns, despite a federal ban during the pandemic of evictions from certain properties, including the one in question. Goldman has said that the eviction was over lease violations other than failure to pay rent and has declined to elaborate because of ongoing legal action. He bristled at the idea that his business record would even be an issue. While business disputes are tough to adjudicate during a campaign, voters can make up their minds how much weight to give the incident. Goldman should understand that scrutiny is part of politics, and it’s best to be transparent — as well as a little humble.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 28, 2020

Tarrant County surpasses 65,000 COVID cases, reports 5 deaths as hospitalizations rise

Tarrant County reported 641 new coronavirus cases and five deaths on Wednesday. The latest deaths include a Fort Worth man in his 50s, two Fort Worth men in their 60s, and two Fort Worth women in their 70s. All had underlying health conditions, according to officials.

As of Tuesday, COVID-19 hospitalizations were at 15% of the 3,485 occupied beds in the county, and 11% of all beds, which are the highest rates since Aug. 3. The county hit a pandemic high hospitalization rate of 20% of occupied beds on July 23. The rate has been increasing in the county since Sept. 21. Tarrant County has reported a total of 65,368 COVID-19 cases, including 728 deaths and an estimated 52,070 recoveries.

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D Magazine - October 27, 2020

Why the Dallas ISD bond election won’t really increase property taxes

A commenter in Leading Off this morning asks an important question: Why do ballots claim that the Dallas ISD bond election represents a vote to increase property taxes while supporters of the bond say it will not? The short answer is that regardless of the details of this particular bond election, the property tax language is a new blanket requirement of any school bond election that was included in the Texas school finance reform bill that passed during the last legislative session. In a video urging for the passage of the DISD bond, state Rep. Rafael Anchia says that the inclusion of the language in the bill was part of a legislative compromise that helped get the lege’s large school finance bill passed. But even so, is the language correct – is the DISD bond vote a vote to raise taxes? Well, not really. And here’s why.

First off, let’s look at how the district plans to finance the bonds. The $3.7 billion package will be paid by the portion of the district’s tax rate that is dedicated toward capital projects—$0.2420 per every $100 of taxable value—a chunk of the overall $1.310385 per $100 rate that property owners pay toward Dallas ISD. In putting together the bond package proposal, a district assessment identified around $6 billion in total capital improvement needs, including hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance costs. The district arrived at its $3.7 billion number because that was a debt amount that could be issued and serviced without increasing the tax rate. In other words, Dallas ISD specifically designed its bond package so that it wouldn’t require a tax increase in order to service the bonds. So why, then, does the ballot say the bonds will increase taxes? Well, that requires understanding a certain kind of logic that drives the thinking of some members of the Texas House. It seems some Texas legislators believe that any school bond package represents a “property tax increase” because, theoretically, if the school district did not issue the bonds it could decrease the tax rate. In other words, the DISD bond package is a property tax increase if you believe that not passing the bond will result in the district cutting the tax rate. Follow that?

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County Stories

CBS 11 - October 28, 2020

Collin County Judge Chris Hill tests positive for COVID-19

Collin County Judge Chris Hill has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Hill said he woke up Sunday morning with a mild headache and sore throat. By Monday morning he took a COVID-19 test, which was positive. In a statement, Hill said he “was surprised when the test came back positive,” because he “really didn’t feel that bad.” Despite “feeling great,” Hill said he will continue to self-isolate, stay home and follow CDC guidelines. Hill plans to work remotely and said, “county operations continue to run without interruption.”

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 27, 2020

PAC spends nearly $1 million to support Project Connect

A political action committee striving to furnish Austin with a multi-billion-dollar public transit system spent nearly $1 million in the past month to win over voters, a jaw-dropping figure that dwarfed the $371,000 spent by an opposition committee. In the final financial disclosure due before Election Day, the pro-transit Mobility for All also reported bringing in $333,000 in donations between Sept. 25 and Oct. 24. It was an impressive fundraising effort to be sure, but the number that really jumped off of the screen from Monday’s report was the $991,000 the PAC said it spent during that same stretch, primarily on advertising, consulting and salaries.

“I think it signifies broad-based support in the community,” said the committee’s campaign manager, Mykle Tomlinson. “People are ready to take on addressing traffic and taking steps to combat climate change here in our community.” The rush to reach additional voters by Tuesday will likely yield a final flurry of spending, as the committee still had $206,000 in its coffers as of Saturday. Since forming in late July, Mobility for All has come strong to get behind Prop A, a tax rate proposal that, if approved, would raise the city of Austin’s property taxes by 8.75 cents per $100 of valuation. Combating counterarguments that the price tag is too steep, particularly during an ongoing economic crisis, the committee has spent $1.1 million to make their case to voters about why a robust transit system would alleviate traffic congestion and reduce emissions by removing vehicles from the road. The PAC has raised $1.3 million in that time. Meanwhile, the anti-Prop A committee, Our Mobility Our Future, looms as a potential spoiler. It has now spent $458,000 to derail the transit system --- a good chunk, but less than half of the money the other side has spent. It has raised $440,000, including $164,000 in the reporting period that ended last week. Donors included Texas Monthly founder Michael Levy, who made separate contributions of $8,900 and $5,800, and Mercedes Benz of Austin, which contributed $25,000.

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National Stories

Market Watch - October 26, 2020

Mike Huckabee tweets about filling out dead relatives’ absentee ballots, and key Federal Election Commission member doesn’t find it funny

In 2017, the magazine Fast Company hailed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as “the least funny person on Twitter,” spotlighting these kinds of “dad jokes” over the years as evidence: "Breaking News! Jimmy Dean Sausage Co will be renamed GORSUCH SAUSAGE because he's grinding up some Democrat Senators into PURE PORK SAUSAGE!"

A tweet that he fired off over the weekend — assuming it’s one of his trademark knee-slappers — certainly won’t cost him that Fast Company crown: "Stood in rain for hour to early vote today. When I got home I filled in my stack of mail-in ballots and then voted the ballots of my deceased parents and grandparents. They vote just like me! #Trump2020" Joining the backlash from a noteworthy perch was Ellen L. Weintraub, who serves as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission. Here’s her scathing response: "I hope you’ve been hacked, @GovMikeHuckabee. Trying to undermine the faith of the American people in our democracy with this baseless voter-fraud nonsense? Publicly confessing to committing felony violations of AR Code §§7-1-104(a)(11)-(12)?"

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Newsclips - October 28, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 27, 2020

Joe Biden makes last-minute plea to Hispanic voters in 11 states, including Texas

The Joe Biden campaign is making a last-minute push to convince Hispanic voters to support him. The campaign is launching five new Spanish language ads airing across 11 states, including Texas, aimed at getting Hispanic voters to the polls. The Spanish-language ads include TV, radio and digital ads. It comes as polls show Biden winning the Hispanic vote nationally, but not by the same margins as Hillary Clinton four years ago. In a Quinnipiac University Poll released last week, Biden was winning 51 percent of the Latino vote nationally. But exit polls from the November 2016 campaign show Clinton won 66 percent of that vote. Former President Barack Obama won over 70 of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polls in 2012.

Since the summer, Biden’s supporters have been working to boost those numbers. The Biden campaign ads largely feature Hispanic voters around the nation vouching for Biden and explaining why he’s their candidate. In one called “Yo, Biden” there are separate East Coast and Western U.S. versions that feature workers touting Biden’s plans for reviving the economy, handling the pandemic and addressing climate change. The different versions are airing in Texas on digital platforms, but on television in other key battleground states such as Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Another ad called “Quienes Somos” is airing on Texas radio stations, featuring how Latinos are contributing to fighting the pandemic and serving in the military.

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New York Times - October 27, 2020

Bloomberg funds last-minute advertising blitz for Biden in Texas and Ohio

Michael R. Bloomberg is funding a last-minute spending blitz to bolster former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in Texas and Ohio, directing millions toward television advertising in two red states that have shifted away from President Trump in the general election. A political adviser to Mr. Bloomberg said the billionaire former mayor of New York City would use his super PAC, Independence USA, to air intensive ad campaigns in all television markets in both states. The cost of the two-state campaign is expected to total around $15 million.

The decision by Mr. Bloomberg reflects just how much the electoral landscape appears to have shifted in the final few months of the presidential race, as Mr. Trump’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic has intensified his unpopularity and further alienated crucial voting groups like women and suburbanites. Mr. Biden’s campaign has treated Ohio as a competitive battleground for some time, even though Mr. Trump carried it by a wide margin in 2016, and more recently, the Democratic ticket has been putting some time and money into Texas. Senator Kamala Harris of California, Mr. Biden’s running mate, is planning to visit the state on Friday. Howard Wolfson, one of Mr. Bloomberg’s closest aides, said the former mayor had recently asked his team to run a round of polls to see whether Mr. Trump had unexpected vulnerabilities that could be exploited in the campaign’s closing weeks. Up to this point, Mr. Bloomberg’s general-election activities have focused on Florida, where he has pledged to spend $100 million supporting Mr. Biden. The Bloomberg team conducted polling in a number of states over the weekend and came away convinced that Texas and Ohio represented its best targets — narrowly divided electoral prizes where the war for television airtime is not already cluttered with heavy advertising on either side. The team presented Mr. Bloomberg with the numbers on Monday morning and he gave the go-ahead.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 28, 2020

Texas coronavirus cases, hospitalizations at highest point in two months

Texas coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, two key indicators of the prevalence of COVID-19, reached their highest point in two months Tuesday. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 5,512 coronavirus patients in Texas hospitals Tuesday, the most since Aug. 21. Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will rely heavily on hospitalization numbers when considering whether to loosen or pull back on coronavirus restrictions.

The state health agency also reported 7,055 new COVID-19 cases, the highest the number has been since Aug. 18. The seven-day average of new cases has risen by 45% since Oct. 1. Coronavirus hospitalizations and cases have been rising for weeks, concerning state health officials and public health experts. “We’re particularly concerned about hospitalizations,” Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said Friday. Statewide hospitalizations have been steadily rising since September, when the state saw a recent low of 3,081 on Sept. 20. Cases reached a recent low point of 1,292 new cases reported on Sept. 27. The health agency also reported 81 new fatalities, which likely occurred over the last 10 days. The figure brings the statewide virus death toll to 17,595.

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Houston Chronicle - October 27, 2020

Abbott’s move to send troops to cities — still unexplained — would be rare to the point of extraordinary

Governors can deploy troops for numerous reasons, from natural disasters to border security. But observers found the situation rare to the point of extraordinary when the Texas National Guard revealed that Gov. Greg Abbott has directed that its troops be prepared to respond to disturbances after the Nov. 3 election in major cities across the state. Abbott has not explained his reasons, so far.

Ben West, a security analyst at Stratfor, an Austin-based geopolitical intelligence consulting firm, said he anticipates most of the troops will be sent to Houston and Austin, which saw the bulk of the state’s racial justice protests this summer. Guard officials have compared the new mission to its response in June to the unrest. While an election-related deployment is uncommon, 2020 might be the exception, West said. “When everything is just upside down, things that in any other year would have been extraordinary get lost in the wash,” he said. The governor has pushed hard in recent weeks to convey to voters his allegiance to law enforcement, and has proposed new laws that would stiffen punishments for unruly protesters, including mandatory jail time. “My sense is that it is unlikely that there is civil unrest in Texas cities in the wake of the election, and particularly that the police and local forces couldn’t handle, so I think (Abbott’s directive) is more of a political statement in support of the broad theme of law and order,” Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 27, 2020

Gov. Abbott gives GOP candidates over $1.9M in Texas House races

As voting kicked off in Texas earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott was pouring money into state House races to keep the lower chamber in Republican hands. His donations — totaling at least $1.9 million over the past month — reached competitive GOP House candidates across Texas, according to new campaign finance filings. The late investment comes as Democrats have aggressively campaigned to flip the nine seats they need to capture a majority in the House.

Abbott’s campaign said the governor has funneled millions of additional dollars in total to help down-ballot candidates, and the most recent campaign finance reports do not include statewide TV and radio ad buys. The new reports, which cover individual donations from Sept. 25 to Oct. 24, identify 22 Republican recipients running for the state House, but a campaign spokeswoman said the governor’s investments targeted 24 competitive districts. Abbott’s total investments in the latter half of 2020 will be detailed in additional campaign expense reports after the Nov. 3 election, she said. Among Abbott’s late donations were about $80,000 apiece for Houston-area Reps. Gary Gates, Sarah Davis and Sam Harless, as well as former Rep. Mike Schofield and Jacey Jetton, the GOP candidate for the 26th House District in Fort Bend County. He also funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into Dallas-area races, supporting incumbent Reps. Matt Shaheen, Jeff Leach and Angie Button, alongside candidates Karyn Brownlee, Linda Koop, Luisa del Rosal, Will Douglas and Kronda Thimesch.

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Houston Chronicle - October 27, 2020

Statisticians find ‘no evidence’ voting by mail increases fraud

A national group of statisticians says the data does not support Republican claims that voting by mail increases the risk of voter fraud. The study comes as nearly every state in the nation has expanded mail-in voting for this year’s election to make voting safer during the coronavirus outbreak over the vocal objections of President Donald Trump and other prominent Republicans.

Texas is one of just five states that won’t accept concerns about the coronavirus as an excuse to vote by mail and state leaders blocked attempts by local officials in Harris County to make voting by mail more accessible. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Trump’s Texas re-election campaign chairman, recently claimed that “almost everyone in office” knows mail-ballot fraud is real. The data doesn’t back up that claim, the statisticians say. The American Statistical Association compared the number of criminal investigations for voter fraud in states that have established expansive mail-in voting options to those that limit voting by mail. The group found “no evidence that voting by mail increases the risk of voter fraud overall.” “The expansion of voting by mail has rekindled the long-standing debate between proponents of election security and accessibility,” the study says. “If voting by mail creates more opportunities for fraud, those opportunities do not appear to have been realized in the data.”

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Houston Chronicle - October 27, 2020

Oil firms bring record level of debt to bankruptcy court

Debt from oil and gas bankruptcies reached a record high this year and will likely rise even higher as more companies file for Chapter 11 during the worst oil bust in decades. North American energy companies have brought $89 billion of debt to bankruptcy court this year, up from about $70 billion during the last oil bust in 2014-16, according to a report published this week by Norwegian research firm Rystad Energy that analyzed data from Dallas law firm Haynes and Boone.

Fewer exploration, production and oil-field service companies have filed for bankruptcy this year: 84, compared with the historical high of 142 in 2016. But each bankruptcy filing this year reported significantly higher debt, illustrating the depth of the industry’s financial distress during the coronavirus-driven oil bust. The average bankruptcy debt per company this year is $1.05 billion so far, almost twice as much as the 2017 level of $576 million. Rystad, a Norwegian energy research firm, warned that it expects another 15 to 21 exploration and production companies to file for bankruptcy by the end of the year, pushing the related debt to more than $100 billion. Although crude prices have climbed back to around $40 a barrel, recovery remains tenuous as coronavirus cases spike anew around the globe and contnue to depress economies and crude demand.

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Houston Chronicle - October 27, 2020

More Harris County judges accused of favoritism in defense appointments

Civil rights groups have formally filed complaints against two more state district judges in Harris County, adding to the list of jurists who are accused of violating state law in their case appointment practices. The Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Civil Rights Project now contend that four judges favor certain private defense attorneys and overlook the Harris County Public Defender when appointing lawyers to indigent defendants’ cases. The groups on Thursday filed the new complaints against district Judges Frank Aguilar and Randy Roll, just one week after submitting two similar grievances against Judges Robert Johnson and Amy Martin.

“This conduct harms indigent people charged with crimes and creates the appearance of cronyism, further undermining public faith in the courts,” the groups’ leaders wrote in the complaints to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. This year to date, Aguilar and Roll have each appointed only .99 and 1.61 percent of their cases, respectively, to the Harris County Public Defender’s Office, according to the filing. The public defender’s office’s leaders say they can reasonably take on 20 percent of case appointments in each district court. Neither Aguilar nor Roll responded to requests for comment Monday evening. Judges do not typically speak publicly about complaints, citing judicial rules that prevent them from doing so. The complaint largely stems from the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees indigent peoples’ right to a quality defense. The Fair Defense Act in 2001 strengthened that right, and the state code was later amended to require that courts give priority appointments to public defenders, who already receive a budget from the county.

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Houston Chronicle - October 27, 2020

Revised ‘Ike Dike’ plan would cost $26.2B, include massive sea gates and 43 miles of sand dunes

The Army Corps of Engineers has revised its plan for a coastal barrier that would fundamentally alter the southeast Texas coastline, with massive sea gates across the Houston Ship Channel and 43 miles of dunes and renourished beaches spanning Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston. The newest version of the coastal barrier, once known as the “Ike Dike,” was released Tuesday by the Corps and Texas General Land Office. While initial estimates said the project would cost as much as $32 billion, officials now peg the cost as $26.2 billion. The plan incorporates feedback received during a contentious round of public meetings after the original plan was released in October 2018. Many coastal residents and environmentalists balked at a structure that they said could harm ecology and wildlife and tank property values.

But with three major hurricanes narrowly skirting the Houston-Galveston region this year during a particularly active season — 27 named storms — state officials noted that a project on the scale of the coastal barrier would protect the region for decades to come as the climate gets warmer and more volatile. “The Corps of Engineers recognizes the coast as a extremely vibrant place to live and recognizes, and our metrics in the army show, that the Texas coast is leading economic growth for the nation,” said Mark Havens, deputy land commissioner for the General Land Office. “This hurricane season has given us pause because it's given us too many close calls not to heed this warning.” The Corps plans to convene three days of virtual public meetings, beginning Nov. 16. The public comment period will end on Dec. 14, and feedback will be incorporated into the final feasibility report, which the Corps plans to publish in May 2021. The Corps also emphasized interactive web features for the public such as 3-D virtual tours of some of the project’s features and flood impact maps. Once the study is complete it will be proposed for congressional authorization and funding. If approved, it is expected to take 12 to 20 years to design and construct.

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Dallas Morning News - October 27, 2020

Sharon Grigsby: Parkland CEO keeps watch on a staff worn down by COVID and whether ‘we’re going to be El Paso’

Dr. Fred Cerise, local champion of the underdog and unfazed by crisis, doesn’t care that most of you have no clue who he is. No one plays a bigger role than Parkland’s CEO in Dallas County’s efforts to beat COVID-19. And this is not Cerise’s first rodeo against overwhelming odds. As Louisiana’s health secretary, he fought through Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters to rescue patients stranded at New Orleans hospitals. After the 2005 catastrophe, he went on to revamp that state’s public health system.

Next he led Parkland out of its regulatory problems with the feds, and today he oversees almost 9,000 employees on its main campus and 2,400 more across the county. Cerise won’t tell you this, but his staff will: Since his first day on the job, he’s made it a point to walk every floor of the hospital — just another doctor making rounds and checking in with the charge nurses — every Saturday. Monday through Friday, the 58-year-old is in his office before 6 a.m. and, on a good day, heading home 12 or 13 hours later. Good days have been few and far between in these last eight-plus months. Now Cerise watches COVID cases rise yet again at his own hospital while monitoring the crisis in El Paso and trying to steer his staff through the latest sense of dread about a disease that is, if anything, unpredictable. There’s just no way to know whether “we’re going to be El Paso or we’re going to be a milder version,” he told me Monday. “Instead of knowing others will pitch in, come to the rescue, everybody’s dealing with the same thing at the same time.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 27, 2020

Dallas County, Tarrant County both report 498 new cases; three new deaths reported across eight-county area

Dallas County reported 498 more coronavirus cases Monday, all of which the county considers new. Two new COVID-19 deaths were also reported. Labs either report coronavirus cases directly to the county health department or to the state health department, which then relays the information to individual counties. Of cases reported Monday, Dallas County health officials said 304 came from the state’s reporting system. The remaining 194 cases were reported directly to the county health department. The latest victims were both men with underlying health problems. One lived in Dallas and was in his 50s, while the other lived in Cedar Hill and was in his 80s.

Of the new cases reported Monday, 391 are confirmed cases and 107 are probable cases. The newly reported cases bring the county’s total confirmed cases to 93,939 and probable cases to 5,235. The county has recorded 1,101 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 14 probable deaths. A spokeswoman recently said the county was counting only positive antigen tests (sometimes called rapid tests) as probable cases, though a few antibody and “household” results had been included previously. While other North Texas counties provide estimates for how many people have recovered from the virus, Dallas County officials do not report recoveries, saying it’s not a measurement used by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Dallas Morning News - October 27, 2020

Republicans roar back, defending Texas House hopefuls with seven-figure wads of cash

In about half of the 25 most competitive races for the Texas House, Republicans raised at least $1 million each in the past month, erasing the surprise money advantage Democrats enjoyed earlier, reports to the Texas Ethics Commission showed on Tuesday. While two Democrats also took in seven-figure amounts in the latest reporting period, including Brandy K. Chambers of Dallas, the eye-popping display of financial firepower by Republican-leaning groups enabled a dozen GOP candidates to eclipse $1 million each in contributions. That sent a clear message to Texas Democrats: Not so fast. Maybe you’ve become more competitive as fundraisers this cycle, but we do not intend to go quietly.

With coordination from Gov. Greg Abbott’s political team, as well as money from his campaign fund, the GOP effort to save the House marshaled funds from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group trying to curb civil lawsuits against business; traditional GOP group Associated Republicans of Texas; Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s political arm; and a new PAC created by House incumbents and Republican strategist Karl Rove. Texans for Lawsuit Reform chipped in about $6.7 million to GOP contenders in the top 25 races between Sept. 25 and Monday, the reports showed. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that recently received $5 million from Las Vegas gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, poured $5.4 million into Texas House races during the period. The Washington-based leadership committee has spent $9 million this cycle, trying to fend off an unprecedented Democratic bid to regain a toehold in Austin, spokeswoman Lenze Morris said. A “constellation” of Democratic groups, including former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s gun-control group Everytown and Democratic super PAC Forward Majority, which is spending $12 million, are trying to flip the Texas House, Morris noted.

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Dallas Morning News - October 26, 2020

Fact check: Are Abbott’s ads defending Texas GOP under fire from Democrats over health care true?

Gov. Greg Abbott and fellow Republicans in the Texas House, under attack from Democrats saying they haven’t done enough on health care, have responded by talking a lot lately about a bill they’ve passed in each of the past two legislative sessions. But did North Richland Hills GOP Sen. Kelly Hancock’s legislation really shield Texans with chronic medical problems from again facing a situation in which health insurance is unaffordable? With the U.S. Supreme Court slated next month to hear a lawsuit led by Texas that attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Democrats have used the prospect of reduced protections for people with pre-existing conditions for everything from trying to stall the ascent of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court to winning control of the Texas House.

A pro-Democratic super PAC, Forward Majority Action Texas, has said it’ll run $12 million in ads targeting 18 state representative seats, many now held by North Texas Republicans. Many of the ads hammer GOP candidates for opposing Obamacare and cheering state Attorney General Ken Paxton as he pressed the lawsuit. Last week, Abbott dipped into his $38 million campaign fund to air ads defending Republican candidates for the House in 24 districts. In a digital ad featuring Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, the two-term lawmaker defends the GOP record on health care. Oliverson says Republicans passed legislation to protect Texans with pre-existing conditions from losing access to coverage. Democrats and health care experts, though, have said that if the state falls back on a past solution, as the state legislation suggested, it would provide far less protection than current Obamacare provisions.

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Dallas Morning News - October 27, 2020

Texas social workers can no longer discriminate against LGBTQ and disabled people after council reverses decision

A state council voted Tuesday to reverse a decision that would have allowed social workers to turn away LGBTQ or disabled clients. After backlash from lawmakers, social workers and advocacy groups, the Texas Behavioral Executive Council voted unanimously to again include disability, sexual orientation and gender identity in the nondiscrimination clause of the social worker code of conduct, according to The Texas Tribune.

On Oct. 12, in a joint meeting with the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners, the council had voted unanimously to take those protections away. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s office had recommended that move, saying it would align better with the state’s discrimination policy for social workers, the Occupations Code. But lawmakers, social workers and advocacy groups were outraged by the change. The decision was condemned in a joint statement by seven advocacy groups: Equality Texas, Transgender Education Network of Texas, National Association for Social Workers-Texas Chapter, Texas Freedom Network, ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign. They said the decision was an effort by the governor’s office to exempt social workers and other mental health professionals from nondiscrimination requirements because of their religious beliefs after the Legislature was unable to pass bills to that effect. Former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg had called the move “disturbing” in a tweet, saying it was “one more reason we must turn Texas blue.”

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San Antonio Express-News - October 27, 2020

Project Veritas activists release San Antonio video purporting to show voter fraud

A heavily edited video released Tuesday by a conservative activist group purports to show a Republican campaign employee in San Antonio interfering as an elderly woman fills out her absentee ballot in Texas. In the video, released by Project Veritas, the campaign employee also appears to discuss unlawful voter influence tactics, including assisting people at the polls. Project Veritas specializes in often deceptive “stings” intended to expose supposed liberal bias and corruption. In September, researchers at Stanford University concluded a video the group released about Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s campaign likely was part of a coordinated disinformation effort, the New York Times reported.

In Tuesday’s video, the group did not provide details about who the woman believes she’s speaking with, and included only snippets of what appear to be multiple conversations. The employee is described as a consultant for Mauro Garza, the Republican challenger to U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. Garza said in an email that he welcomed an investigation into the “outlandish” allegations, and that he does not support or tolerate voter fraud. In a letter posted to the campaign employee’s Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, she said the group approached her saying it represented an “anonymous candidate with money” looking for help in a future City Council race. “I immediately suspected something was wrong with this conversation,” wrote the employee, Raquel Rodriguez. She added: “I chose to continue the conversation and ‘play along’ in order to discover the source and gather my own evidence that I could submit to legal authorities.”

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San Antonio Express-News - October 28, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: TMF makes his big move for House speaker

During the 2009 Texas legislative session, a Republican representative from Angleton took to the House floor during a debate about acceptance policies at state universities. “In the Hispanic culture, they are less interested in seeing their young daughter go to Austin or College Station at 18 years of age,” Dennis Bonnen said. “They want to keep them at home.” The controversial statement outraged Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who responded by putting Bonnen on the “naughty list” of the Mexican American Legislative Council (which Martinez Fischer chaired) and posting a snippet of Bonnen’s speech on YouTube. Bonnen was stung by his colleague’s criticism, but he valued his friendship with Martinez Fischer enough to call the San Antonio lawmaker and offer an explanation for his speech. He even sent Martinez Fischer a University of Texas onesie for TMF’s then-four-month-old daughter, Francesca.

I spoke to Bonnen at the time and he explained what he liked about Martinez Fischer. “He’s honest, he’s upfront, he’s very truthful with the way he does his business,” Bonnen said. “In the House, we’ve always had a lot more respect for members who walk right up to your face and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a problem with your issue,’ or ‘I’m gonna do some battle with you today.’” Bonnen’s 2009 appraisal of TMF takes on additional resonance these days. For one thing, Bonnen is the outgoing speaker of the Texas House, a lame duck at least partly because of the way he maneuvered behind the scenes to undermine some of his fellow GOP lawmakers. For another, Martinez Fischer has officially entered the race to become Bonnen’s successor. Martinez Fischer’s prospects, of course, hinge on the voters of Texas flipping at least nine Texas House seats from red to blue, enabling Democrats to gain a House majority for the first time in 18 years. His decision to file for the speakership a week before Election Day, however, was meant as a brash statement of confidence that the election will go his party’s way. It’s a bit like Michael Jordan only packing enough clothes for one game when the Chicago Bulls had to go to Phoenix with a 3-2 lead in the 1993 NBA Finals.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 28, 2020

Nirenberg says Abbott’s troop deployment won’t include San Antonio

Gov. Greg Abbott agreed to drop San Antonio from his planned weekend deployment of Texas National Guard troops to major Texas cities in advance of the Nov. 3 election, a spokesman for Mayor Ron Nirenberg said late Tuesday. Abbott’s office informed the mayor’s chief of staff, Ivalis Meza, during the day after she contacted them about it, said Bruce Davidson, spokesman for Nirenberg.

Nirenberg was unavailable for comment and Davidson could provide few details. It was unclear if the change of plans also applied to any of the other cities where guard officials said the governor had directed them to send troops: Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth. When the guard revealed Monday that Abbott wanted the troops in position to respond to disturbances after the election, observers found the situation unusual to the point of extraordinary. Abbott has not explained his reasons for the directive, saying nothing about it on his official web pages and Twitter account. His office hasn’t responded to emails and phone calls. A guard spokesman did not return an email and text Tuesday night. The guard said Monday it would send up to 1,000 troops to the five cities as early as this weekend. A top guard official, retired Maj. Gen. James K. “Red” Brown, said the deployment was in case of “postelection” disturbances, to support local law enforcement and the Texas Department of Public Safety. He said the guardsmen’s role would be similar to that during the summer protests, and the troops would act “as we previously did to deter any civil disturbance at sites in various cities in Texas.”

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San Antonio Express-News - October 27, 2020

Dallas Fed: Texas service activity, retail sales slow in October

A key measure of the health of Texas’ service industry declined in October, indicating a slower pace of growth, and retail sales also dropped. The revenue index fell from 14 in September to 7.1 in October, according to a monthly survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Another metric gauging outlook uncertainty in the sector also shot up. But executives’ perceptions of conditions kept improving, with the general business activity index reaching its highest reading this year. The sector represents nearly 70 percent of the state’s economy and employs about 8.6 million workers, according to the Dallas Fed.

“Activity moderated in October — though the headline revenue index remained in positive territory for the third month in a row — and labor market indicators suggested a leveling off in employment,” said Christopher Slijk, an associate economist at the Dallas Fed. Retail sales also plunged in October, with the sales index dropping from 20.8 to 5.2. Measures of employment and hours worked dropped into negative territory, and executives are feeling somewhat less optimistic about future activity. They expressed concerns about the upcoming presidential election. “The major uncertainty right now is the election,” a business leader in administrative and support services told the Dallas Fed. “Once that is over, we will have better visibility into the future from a tax and economic perspective.” A respondent at an accommodation business said it’s hard to anticipate future conditions, since leisure and business travel lags, but “with a vaccine and a ratcheting down of the politics, we could see a significant improvement” in the first or second quarter next year.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 27, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Here’s our recommendation for voters in suburban Fort Worth district in Texas House

Voters in south Tarrant County have two pragmatic choices to fill their open Texas House seat. It’s a close call, but we recommend Democrat Joe Drago, a Fort Worth lawyer, over former Mansfield Mayor David Cook, the Republican. Drago would bring more of a fresh voice to the office, and his facility with the major issues facing lawmakers next year and beyond show the promise of an effective representative. (Libertarian Nelson Range is also on the ballot.)

The district, which covers Mansfield, Crowley and parts of south Fort Worth and south Arlington, has been a conservative stronghold represented by Rep. Bill Zedler, an Arlington Republican who is retiring. But like suburban districts everywhere, it’s changing. Voters want a strong emphasis on public education and common-sense solutions to problems such as health care, traffic and property taxes. In our joint interview with the candidates, Drago, 52, noted that it’s taken years just for schools to climb out of the cuts leveled in 2011 as a result of the Great Recession. He noted that lawmakers have several options even while dealing with a large expected budget shortfall, including federal pandemic relief funds, to avoid cuts to education and health programs. Those are by far the two biggest categories in the state budget, so some cuts may be inevitable. But for someone who’s not yet in the Legislature, Drago shows a strong understanding of the choices ahead. Cook, a 49-year-old-lawyer, stepped down after five terms as Mansfield’s mayor to run for this seat. Bringing a local government perspective to the House would be valuable, as the Legislature threatens more steps to curtail the prerogatives of cities and counties. And his brand of pragmatic conservatism would be an upgrade over Zedler, a warrior on social causes.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 27, 2020

One-third of Tarrant County mail-in ballots rejected over defect, but votes still count

About one-third of Tarrant County mail-in ballots have been rejected by scanners because the bar codes are not legible, but the votes will still be counted, election administrator Heider Garcia told county commissioners on Tuesday. The county’s state-approved print shop is not making the bar codes 100% scannable, Garcia said. The county’s election board will have to copy the mail-in ballots into new ballots and scan them, Garcia said. If about 60,000 mail-in ballots get returned, Garcia expects about 20,000 of those will need to be redone by the election board.

Garcia said this isn’t a new issue. In the past, people might damage the bar code themselves and they would need to redo the ballot, but this year the sheer volume is concerning. But, Garcia assured that elections staff will work around the clock so votes can be counted on Election Day. “We believe we have enough time and resources to do this,” he said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 28, 2020

Judge tentatively sets August trial for former Fort Worth officer charged with murder

A state district judge on Tuesday set a tentative window for the trial for a former Fort Worth police officer indicted on a murder charge in the death of a woman he shot as he and another officer handled an open structure call. Judge David Hagerman said during a pretrial proceeding that although scheduling in the case will be fluid and may change, the trial for Aaron Dean will likely be held in August. The judge did not select a date for voir dire, when about 200 potential jurors will be culled to a smaller panel that will consider evidence in the case.

The novel coronavirus and connected social distancing measures have for months delayed legal affairs and spurred logistics complications for jury trials in courthouses across the state, including in 297th District Court, where Dean’s case is being handled. Potential jurors may spill beyond a single room on the fifth floor of the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in downtown Fort Worth. The case “needs to be tried next year,” Hagerman said. The judge said he would likely consider a motion for a change of venue, which would seek a transfer of the trial outside Tarrant County, in July. Dean’s attorneys, Jim Lane and Miles Brissette, have not filed a venue motion, but Hagerman said that he anticipated it.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 26, 2020

Texas A&M to lead $100M hypersonic research project

The U.S. Department of Defense has picked Texas A&M University to lead a five-year, $100-million national research initiative focused on hypersonic technology. The initiative, called the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics, will focus on hypersonic flight systems. Hypersonic refers to projectiles that can travel Mach 5, five times the speed of sound, or faster.

Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, an engineering research agency of the university, will manage the five-year initiative, which allocates $20 million per year for the consortium. The announcement comes amid a recent boom in defense technology in Texas. It follows the news that Texas A&M and Austin-based Army Futures Command will partner to build the biggest enclosed hypersonic testing range in the nation as part of the George H. W. Bush Combat Development Complex on the university’s RELLIS campus. Futures Comman is a public-private initiative created to lead modernization projects for the U.S. Army. For the latest initiative, Texas A&M will lead a cooperative that includes 45 universities, as well as research institutions run by the government, national laboratories and other federally funded research centers. Gillian Bussey, director of the Joint Hypersonics Transition Office for the Department of Defense, said the consortium will bring together some of the nation’s best minds and researchers.

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San Antonio Report - October 27, 2020

Rick Casey: From ox carts to docs and techies: the morphing of ‘Military City’

Mayor Ron Nirenberg didn’t take an army with him to Washington last week for a mission at the COVID-quiet Pentagon. He was accompanied only by Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, director of the city’s Office of Military and Veteran Affairs, and Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president and CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. They met with what the mayor called the “top decision makers” relating to a number of prizes the city is seeking. One is to attract the military’s 2022 Warrior Games, athletic competitions for wounded members of the military that San Antonio was set to host this year before the coronavirus pandemic caused its cancellation. Another is to add some medical programs to the city’s thriving military medical facilities. But the big one is to make San Antonio the permanent headquarters for the recently activated U.S. Space Command.

This command, now based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, would bring an estimated 1,300 to 1,400 personnel to oversee such things as the protection of the nation’s military satellites from either physical or cyberattacks. Added to San Antonio’s role as the nation’s largest military medical center for treatment and training and as the location of both the National Security Agency’s second largest and the Air Force’s largest cybersecurity operations, the Space Command would continue to position San Antonio on the futuristic cutting edge of military operations. Which, of course, has me thinking of the city’s massive and at times rocky military past. San Antonio trademarked its title as “Military City U.S.A.” three years ago, but its military history goes back three centuries. Spain saw its control of its northern frontier threatened by the French, who had established cities first in Mobile, Alabama, and then New Orleans, with apparent designs on moving westward. A key part of Spain’s response was to dispatch missionaries to San Antonio to recruit and train natives as a workforce. But they knew protection would be needed so they paired the mission (which became the Alamo) with a presidio, a fortified military installation. They then recruited Canary Islanders to set up a village that would grow into a city.

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 27, 2020

Fort Worth leaders want better buses and trains, but balk at the $86 million cost

Fort Worth city leaders agree that the city needs better passenger trains, buses and other transit services. But the cost is giving them sticker shock. Trinity Metro, the transit agency for the western half of Dallas-Fort Worth, recently asked the Fort Worth City Council for $86.1 million in improvements during the coming year. Much of the money — about $61.1 million — would be used to extend the TEXRail commuter line about two miles south to the medical district, and the remainder would be needed to build a new bus rapid transit system on the city’s east side.

That’s on top of the $10 million Trinity Metro requested about a year ago for other capital and operating needs. Councilman Dennis Shingleton said Trinity Metro’s request “kind of blew my doors off” because of the dollars involved. He and Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray asked for more details about the scope of work and how the money would be spent. Councilman Cary Moon doubted it was the city’s responsibility to use debt capacity to fund Trinity Metro through a bond election. The city has not done that in the past and the request would take up nearly a quarter of the city’s debt capacity. That means council members would have to sacrifice projects they want funded in their districts to make way for Trinity Metro without a tax increase, Moon said. “I think both of these are important,” Moon said of the TEXRail station and the planned rapid bus line on East Lancaster Avenue. “It’s not worth increasing taxes at this time.” He suggested Trinity Metro take another look at how it spends its own dollars before requesting city funds. The chilly reception Trinity Metro once again is receiving at Fort Worth City Hall is frustrating Jeff Davis, Trinity Metro board chairman. Davis noted that Trinity Metro’s counterparts to the east, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, are currently working on multiple projects worth more than $1 billion each.

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National Stories

NBC News - October 27, 2020

Trump says we're 'rounding the turn,' but Covid-19 is spreading faster than ever, NBC numbers show

Covid-19 infections are spreading across the United States at the fastest rate since the start of the pandemic, the latest NBC News figures showed Tuesday. The 71,000 new cases per day that the U.S. averaged over the past week was the most in any seven-day stretch since the crisis started and stood in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that “we are rounding the turn” on the pandemic. And no part of the country has gone untouched by this latest surge in new coronavirus cases.

Wyoming, which had relatively few cases until recently, reported a 475 percent spike in Covid-19 deaths in the last 14 days, the numbers showed. Nine deaths were reported Monday in Wyoming, boosting the state’s total number of coronavirus fatalities to 77, the NBC numbers showed. Of those, five were elderly residents of a long-term care facility in Big Horn County, the Wyoming Department of Health reported. Also on Monday, the state set a single day record for new cases for the second time in less than a week, with 436. Those numbers are tiny compared to Texas and California, which have the most cases in the country, but Wyoming with 579,000 residents is the nation’s least populated state. Dr. J.J. Bleicher, the interim head of the Wyoming Medical Center, told The Casper Star-Tribune that they were bracing for an “exponential” growth in the number of critically ill Covid-19 patients.

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New York Times - October 23, 2020

Sacha Baron Cohen duped them. Here’s what they did next.

What differentiates Sacha Baron Cohen, a master of the “Gotcha,” from your run-of-the-mill prankster is his knack for catching notable names in compromising moments. Now it’s Rudolph W. Giuliani who has been filmed with his hand down his pants after an interview with an actress posing as a conservative TV news reporter (Giuliani has said he was tucking in his shirt). The scene takes place in Baron Cohen’s new movie, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” out Friday. But Baron Cohen has for years been posing as outlandish fictional characters (Borat is a moronic, mustachioed Kazakh journalist) to lure the unsuspecting into ridiculous, potentially embarrassing situations. Of course, the charades are not always successful (interviews with Donald J. Trump before he was president and Bernie Sanders have both fallen flat). But other efforts have resulted in a resignation, lawsuits and, in one case, by Baron Cohen’s telling, trouble in the marriage of Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock.

In 2018, Baron Cohen persuaded Roy S. Moore, a former Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, to grant him an interview for what he claimed was an Israeli television network, but which was actually his Showtime satire series, “Who Is America?” Baron Cohen posed as an Israeli antiterrorism expert before whipping out a device he claimed was a pedophile detector, which began chirping when he waved it in front of Moore. (Moore had been accused by several women during his unsuccessful Senate campaign of making sexual advances toward them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.) Moore became angry — “Maybe Israeli technology hasn’t developed properly,” he said — and walked out of the interview. Moore sued Baron Cohen, Showtime and CBS for $95 million in damages for defamation, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He argued that his signature on the release was obtained through fraud and was not valid. As of this month, the suit is still pending. But as Baron Cohen’s previous track record in court demonstrates, it can be tough to win a lawsuit against him — even if the assertions are true. (Experts have said that subjects who sign a release before the interview without reading the fine print — as Moore did — have little legal ground to stand on.) Baron Cohen, in character as the Israeli antiterrorism expert Erran Morad, persuaded the former vice president to grant him an interview in 2018. He asked Cheney to sign a “waterboarding kit,” which was an empty plastic jug. “That’s the first time I’ve ever signed a waterboard,” Cheney told Baron Cohen’s character. “Very valuable.” (Baron Cohen listed the jug on eBay after the show aired, where bidding went as high as $3,801, though it was unclear if it was sold.) Cheney never publicly reacted to the interview.

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Reuters - October 28, 2020

Fame or blame? What lies ahead for 'the Squad', as they eye second terms in U.S. Congress

They came to Washington to shake things up and in their first two years in the U.S. House of Representatives the four lawmakers popularly known as ‘the Squad’ achieved stardom but also discovered that life in the political fast-lane can be perilous. New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley, Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar stand to see their influence grow if Democrats win big on Nov. 3 by capturing the White House and a Senate majority. But if their party falls short, they’ll take a share of the blame.

Ocasio-Cortez’s leadership on climate change makes her well-placed to have a voice in legislation that presidential candidate Joe Biden has promised to pursue. Although Biden has distanced himself from aspects of her ‘Green New Deal,’ such as an immediate ban on fracking, the plan has nonetheless influenced his environmental platform, a weighty accomplishment for the youngest woman ever elected to the House. “These women have completely broken open the climate debate,” said Leah Stokes, a climate policy professor at University of California Santa Barbara. “Had the Squad not been elected this would not be happening.” Tlaib, from her perch on the powerful House Financial Services Committee, took the environmental cause to Wall Street titans when she grilled bank chief executives last year, challenging their commitment to “clean and sustainable financing.” All four, elected to two-year terms in 2018, already serve on heavy-hitting committees, including those that oversee the financial industry, foreign affairs and the federal budget.

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Bloomberg - October 28, 2020

Trump pins hopes on rallies that could be sealing his defeat

President Donald Trump’s push for a second poll-defying victory is relying on a hallmark of his first -- raucous campaign rallies that Trump sees as a crucial sign of voter enthusiasm but that pollsters say may only be cementing his defeat. Trump held three rallies Monday, all in Pennsylvania, with three more scheduled Tuesday and as many as five or six a day expected by the weekend. The rallies befit the showman with roots in reality television: blaring music, slick production, video montages, warm-up speeches, Air Force One as a backdrop and the president himself as the headline attraction. Attendees erupt in screams and cheers at his arrival, and local Republicans say it’s unlike any political event they’ve seen.

But the rallies’ impact is far from clear. Republicans say they harvest data from attendees and fire up their base, while Democrats say they get a spike in donations and volunteers, too, and wonder if Trump is merely preaching to the choir. Holding rallies in defiance of coronavirus health recommendations has fueled voters’ disapproval of his handling of the pandemic -- feeding Biden’s key argument that Trump has mishandled the first major crisis of his presidency. And pollsters say there’s little evidence of a rally boost. “The rapid-fire Trump rallies, while clearly well-received by the base, have done nothing to tip the scale in President Trump’s direction,” said Tim Malloy, a pollster from Quinnipiac University. Trump has held five rallies each in Florida and Pennsylvania since his recovery from the coronavirus, more than any other states, along with repeat stops in North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arizona. Democrat Joe Biden has kept a limited travel schedule, holding two events since last Thursday’s debate. And when he does, they are sparsely attended by design, often staged as drive-in rallies, to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Biden is leading Trump by about 8 percentage points in national polls, according to RealClearPolitics. The two are essentially tied in Florida, a critical state to each one’s potential victory, and Biden has small leads in most battleground states. Trump has mocked Biden’s small crowd sizes, marveled at his own turnout and cited it as a sign of a looming “red wave.”

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Washington Post - October 27, 2020

National Guard responds as protests over Walter Wallace killing engulf Philadelphia

On the second night of mass demonstrations over the fatal police shooting of a 27-year-old Black man, about 1,000 protesters marched through the streets of West Philadelphia on Tuesday demanding justice for Walter Wallace Jr. Following a smaller protest that turned destructive on Monday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) authorized the National Guard to deploy troops Tuesday to help police protect property and quell unrest in the state’s largest city. Monday’s demonstrations and looting left shops damaged and at least 30 officers injured, including one hospitalized with a broken leg after being struck by a truck. On Tuesday, police and protesters clashed again, but officers, aided by National Guardsmen, took a more aggressive tack, filling the streets with lines of riot cops who stopped marchers and made several arrests earlier in the evening.

On Tuesday evening, a racially diverse crowd gathered at Malcolm X Park in West Philadelphia, near the neighborhood where Wallace was shot and killed by police on Monday. The group wound through residential streets until their path collided with a line of police officers in riot gear. Protesters chanted directly to the police. “Who killed Walter Wallace?” they asked. “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” Wallace died Monday after two Philadelphia police officers shot him multiple times while responding to a call reporting a man with a knife. His family said he suffered from mental health issues, which his doctors had been treating with medication. A lawyer for the family told the Associated Press Tuesday that Wallace’s relatives had called for an ambulance to take him to the hospital for medical care, but police showed up instead.

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Associated Press - October 27, 2020

Gulf Coast braces, again, for hurricane as Zeta takes aim

Residents of the storm-pummeled Gulf Coast steeled themselves for yet another tropical weather strike Tuesday as Tropical Storm Zeta took aim at southeast Louisiana, fraying the nerves of evacuees from earlier storms and raising concerns in New Orleans about the low-lying city’s antiquated drainage pump system. Zeta, the 27th named storm of a very busy Atlantic hurricane season, was a hurricane when it began raking across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula early Tuesday. It emerged in the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm but was expected to regain hurricane strength before landfall south of New Orleans Wednesday evening. Already this year, Louisiana has been hit by two tropical storms and two hurricanes: Laura, blamed for at least 27 Louisiana deaths after it struck in August, and Delta, which exacerbated Laura’s damage in the same area weeks later. New Orleans has been in the warning area for potential tropical cyclones seven times this year but has seen them veer to the east or west.

“I don’t think we’re going to be as lucky with this one,” city emergency director Colin Arnold said at a news conference with Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he asked President Donald Trump to issue a disaster declaration ahead of the storm. One worry among New Orleans officials: a turbine that powers the city's street drainage pumps broke down Sunday, according to officials of the agency that runs the system. There was enough power to keep the pumps operating if needed but it left authorities with little excess power to tap should a breakdown of other turbines occur. Officials said they were running through contingencies for rerouting power should the need occur. Forecasts, meanwhile, called for anywhere from 2 inches to 6 inches (5 to 15 centimeters) of rain to fall in the New Orleans area. Officials noted that Zeta is expected to be a relatively fast-moving storm, minimizing the flood threat.

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Newsclips - October 27, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 26, 2020

Another staffer who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of crimes leaves the agency

Yet another one of the top employees who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of serious crimes is leaving the agency. Darren McCarty, deputy attorney general of civil litigation, confirmed he resigned on Monday. His resignation takes effect in one week. McCarty declined to comment further.

Paxton, a Republican in his second term, is accused by senior staff members of serious crimes related to his relationship with real estate developer and campaign donor Nate Paul. Seven of the agency’s most senior employees recently reported Paxton to law enforcement, after they said he used the office to intervene in Paul’s legal affairs several times within the last year. Paxton’s agency hired McCarty from Dallas law firm Alston & Bird in 2017. In November 2018, he was promoted to deputy attorney general, one of the most senior positions. With McCarty’s departure, all but one of the seven staff members who raised concerns about Paxton’s behavior have left state employment or been sidelined. Two resigned, two were put on leave and according to The Texas Tribune and Houston Chronicle, two were fired. The departure further depletes leadership at the agency, which is charged with acting as the state’s law firm. Paxton denies wrongdoing and has instead pointed the finger at the employees, who he calls “rogue.” Top GOP officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have called the allegations against Paxton serious. Paxton says he will not step down amid the uprising and plans to run for re-election in 2022.

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Houston Chronicle - October 26, 2020

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg drops $2.6 million in Texas Railroad Commission race

Former New York City Mayor and one-time presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is spending $2.6 million to help a Democrat capture a seat on the state board overseeing the oil and gas industry. The billionaire contributed $2.625 million to help elect Chrysta Castañeda, a Dallas engineer and lawyer hoping to win a seat on the three-member Texas Railroad Commission that regulates oil and natural gas extraction, pipeline safety and surface coal and uranium mining. The railroad commission also has some say in the way Texas approaches climate change and clean energy — a campaign issue central to Castañeda’s bid to become the first Democrat to sit on the board in more than 25 years. Bloomberg’s donation, first reported by the Texas Tribune, is a tenfold increase in her campaign contributions.

“I’m glad to support Chrysta in her campaign to be the next Railroad c ommissioner because she has the vision and experience needed to build a safer, healthier, and more environmentally prosperous future for the state of Texas," Bloomberg said in a Monday release from Castañeda’s campaign. Her campaign said that Bloomberg’s donation helped raise a total of $3.7 million during the most recent campaign finance report period, which ran from Sept. 25 to Oct. 24. Candidates are required to submit their reports to the Texas Ethics Commission by the end of the day on Monday. “This campaign has been called the most important environmental race in the country, so I am grateful to be receiving such an unprecedented level of support,” Castañeda said in the release, which also touted a $500,000 donation from environmental philanthropists Richard and Dee Lawrence and $215,000 in combined contributions from the Sierra Club’s political committee and Texas PAC.

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Associated Press - October 26, 2020

Early vote total exceeds 2016; GOP chips at Dems’ advantage

With eight days before Election Day, more people already have cast ballots in this year’s presidential election than voted early or absentee in the 2016 race as the start of in-person early voting in big states led to a surge in turnout in recent days. The opening of early voting locations in Florida, Texas and elsewhere has piled millions of new votes on top of the mail ballots arriving at election offices as voters try to avoid crowded places on Nov. 3 during the coronavirus pandemic.

The result is a total of 58.6 million ballots cast so far, more than the 58 million that The Associated Press logged as being cast through the mail or at in-person early voting sites in 2016. Democrats have continued to dominate the initial balloting, but Republicans are narrowing the gap. GOP voters have begun to show up at early in-person voting, a sign that many heeded President Donald Trump’s unfounded warnings about mail-voting fraud. On Oct. 15, Democratic registrants cast 51% of all ballots reported, compared with 25% from Republicans. On Sunday, Democrats had a slightly smaller lead, 51% to 31%. The early vote totals, reported by state and local election officials and tracked by the AP, are an imperfect indicator of which party may be leading. The data only shows party registration, not which candidate voters support. Most GOP voters are expected to vote on Election Day. Analysts said the still sizable Democratic turnout puts extra pressure on the Republican Party to push its voters out in the final week and on Nov. 3. That’s especially clear in closely contested states such as Florida, Nevada and North Carolina.

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Associated Press - October 27, 2020

Barrett confirmed as Supreme Court justice in partisan vote

Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court late Monday by a deeply divided Senate, Republicans overpowering Democrats to install President Donald Trump’s nominee days before the election and secure a likely conservative court majority for years to come. Trump’s choice to fill the vacancy of the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg potentially opens a new era of rulings on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and even his own election. Democrats were unable to stop the outcome, Trump’s third justice on the court, as Republicans race to reshape the judiciary.

Barrett is 48, and her lifetime appointment as the 115th justice will solidify the court’s rightward tilt. Monday’s 52-48 vote was the closest high court confirmation ever to a presidential election, and the first in modern times with no support from the minority party. The spiking COVID-19 crisis has hung over the proceedings. Vice President Mike Pence’s office said Monday he would not preside at the Senate session unless his tie-breaking vote was needed after Democrats asked him to stay away when his aides tested positive for COVID-19. His vote was not necessary. With Barrett’s confirmation assured, Trump was expected to celebrate with a primetime swearing-in event at the White House. Justice Clarence Thomas was set to administer the Constitutional Oath, a senior White House official said. “This is something to be really proud of and feel good about,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a rare weekend session Sunday ahead of voting. He scoffed at the “apocalyptic” warnings from critics that the judicial branch was becoming mired in partisan politics and declared that “they won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 26, 2020

Dallas County, Tarrant County both report 498 new cases; three new deaths reported across eight-county area

Dallas County reported 498 more coronavirus cases Monday, all of which the county considers new. Two new COVID-19 deaths were also reported. Labs either report coronavirus cases directly to the county health department or to the state health department, which then relays the information to individual counties. Of cases reported Monday, Dallas County health officials said 304 came from the state’s reporting system. The remaining 194 cases were reported directly to the county health department.

The latest victims were both men with underlying health problems. One lived in Dallas and was in his 50s, while the other lived in Cedar Hill and was in his 80s. Of the new cases reported Monday, 391 are confirmed cases and 107 are probable cases. The newly reported cases bring the county’s total confirmed cases to 93,939 and probable cases to 5,235. The county has recorded 1,101 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 14 probable deaths. A spokeswoman recently said the county was counting only positive antigen tests (sometimes called rapid tests) as probable cases, though a few antibody and “household” results had been included previously. While other North Texas counties provide estimates for how many people have recovered from the virus, Dallas County officials do not report recoveries, saying it’s not a measurement used by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Dallas Morning News - October 26, 2020

North Texas counties shatter all-time early voting record

Several major North Texas counties have crushed their early voting records, including several head-turning figures from Dallas and Denton counties, according to updated data released Monday in advance of the final four days of early voting. Collin County reached a 54.84% voter turnout through Sunday, with a reported 355,710 votes, topping the 301,939 early votes the county reported in 2016. In Denton County, the 2016 early voting record was broken by nearly 60,000 votes on Sunday. The county was just votes away from breaking 300,000 heading into Monday, which was already enough to surpass the 2016 total of 239,954 early votes.

In fact, Denton and Williamson counties on Monday joined Hays County as the first counties in the state to surpass the total number of votes cast four years ago. In Dallas County, over 620,000 residents have voted since the start of early voting on Oct. 13, easily topping its early voting record of 549,643 votes set in 2016. Mail ballots make up 63,000 of the votes, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins tweeted Monday afternoon. Due to the sheer number of registered voters, this only tallies a roughly 44% voter turnout, though it makes up over 80% of the total votes from the 2016 presidential election. Tarrant County also broke its early voting record, boasting a 44.12% voter turnout, with nearly 535,000 votes by Monday morning. This is also up from 2016 when the county reported a total of 515,230 early votes. Harris County continues to headline early voting as the only county in Texas to break the 1 million voters mark. A total of 1,081,265 people have voted in the county, a seventh of Texas' total votes, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted. “A seventh of Texas' votes have been cast in Harris County, shattering records,” Hidalgo tweeted. “And 1M+ Harris County voters have yet to turn out. @JoeBiden happy to host you over here!”

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Dallas Morning News - October 27, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: A new vision for Fair Park is the best chance yet for renewal

For decades, Fair Park has been an underutilized and often forgotten Dallas asset except for the weeks of the State Fair, when fairgoers give it energy and vigor. What has ailed Fair Park isn’t a mystery. The challenge has been how to fuse the historic facility with the surrounding neighborhood, provide a modern vision for the physical plant and establish a viable business strategy to draw visitors and nearby residents to Fair Park throughout the year. Despite much talk about the future of Fair Park, resources and political consensus failed to walk the talk.

An updated master plan, the most comprehensive strategy for Fair Park’s revival, goes before the City Council on Wednesday. It should be approved. It is not lost on us that the once prosperous and closely knit South Dallas community has fought for and deserves the benefits of a venture that is both a symbolic departure from a tumultuous past and a gateway to a future that speaks to both the city at large and residents of the neighborhoods around Fair Park. The vision for the 277-acre park proposes green space and a 14-acre community park loosely based on Uptown’s Klyde Warren Park. The first phase creates a small MLK Gateway Park at one of the Fair Park entrances off Robert B. Cullum Boulevard, a 2-acre-plus music green and a parking deck near the Music Hall facing Parry Avenue. Plans also call for a bike trail entrance on Lagow Street to further meld Fair Park with the surrounding communities.

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Dallas Morning News - October 26, 2020

Signature matching is an electoral joke. Texas should remove it

On Monday, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas election officials are within their rights to reject mail-in ballots on the basis of mismatched signatures without notifying the voter before Election Day or providing any other remedy. We see this practice as a threat to free and fair elections, and we call on the next Texas Legislature to correct it. First, let’s consider the idea of using signatures to verify voter identity. In an age in which Americans are used to verifying their identities every time they interact with their banks, schools, employers, or social media accounts, this seems like a silly and antiquated problem. Matching a signature is too subjective a tool for verifying identity, especially considering that the population most likely to vote by mail — the elderly and disabled — are the people whose handwriting is most likely to change and deteriorate.

Jane Buckner, a professional graphoanalyst and CEO of JH Buckner and Associates in Dallas, told us analyzing signatures is a laborious and detailed process even for experts with years of training. Buckner said she spends hours verifying a signature and measures pen strokes down to 1/64th of an inch. To further complicate the process, Buckner told us handwriting changes appreciably over time. And if a signatory has any neurological condition — has suffered a stroke or dementia — then handwriting can even change hour to hour. “If people aren’t trained in this field, it’s easy for them to make an error in judgment,” Buckner said. Texas election code does not establish any standards for reviewing signatures, nor does it mandate any training. Dallas County Assistant Elections Administrator Robert Heard told us the signature verification committee in his office has had no training in this area. The only qualifications, he said, are “reasonable judgment and good vision.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 26, 2020

Workers are slowly coming back to the office, but less than half have returned

If you popped back into your office lately, it’s still a pretty lonely place. The vast majority of folks are still working at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But for the second month in a row, Dallas-Fort Worth leads the country in the share of workers who are back in the office.

Last week, 43.3% of D-FW office employees were back at their desks — the largest share of any metro area in the country, according to a new report from Kastle Systems. The percentage of people back in the workplace in D-FW is up from 36% in early September and less than 25 percent in early April. Among the 10 major U.S. markets Kastle Systems track, only 27.4% of workers have left home to return to the office. “The nation continues to return to offices, with building occupancy rates rising in nine out of the 10 cities,” the researchers who prepared the Kastle Systems' report said. Most metro areas still have a long way to go to get back to pre-pandemic office occupancies. Only 14.7% of San Francisco’s office worker population is back. And in New York City, almost 83% of employees are still working at home.

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Dallas Morning News - October 26, 2020

Democrat Colin Allred, Republican Genevieve Collins tout bipartisanship in critical District 32 race for Congress

In 2018, Democrat Colin Allred beat longtime GOP lawmaker Pete Sessions to flip Congressional District 32 from red to blue and help his party seize the U.S. House. Now Allred, 37, is defending the northern and eastern Dallas County seat against GOP challenger Genevieve Collins, who insists the district needs a bipartisan leader with business skills. Allred’s notable accomplishment: helping to land the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Garland.

“This has been one of the most tumultuous terms that just about any freshman class probably has ever had,” Allred told The Dallas Morning News. “We have a pandemic. We were sworn in during the longest shutdown in government history. We’ve had the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent movements around that. But my guiding star has always been, what do I think my community is focused on, and what can I deliver for us?” Collins, a former executive at her family’s education tech company, says she’s best qualified to lead the district. “Four months ago I started this journey because North Texas is an economic engine of our state," she told The News. “We need less government in business, and more business in government. Our community should demand someone with real business acumen and fundamentals." The district, led for 16 years by Sessions, was originally drawn for a GOP candidate but has changed. In 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the area. Two years later, Allred toppled Sessions by over 6 percentage points. Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s strong Senate campaign helped propel Allred. Democrats hope their 2020 presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has similar coattails.

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Dallas Morning News - October 26, 2020

Republican Land Commissioner George P. Bush considers run for Texas attorney general

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush is weighing a bid for attorney general, as the Republican currently in the job, Ken Paxton, faces new criminal accusations. Several campaign donors have asked Bush to consider running in 2022, senior political advisor Ash Wright said. The Republican has not made a decision. “Commissioner Bush has always said he will ‘keep all options open’ and that remains his policy,” Wright said in a statement. “Like many conservative leaders around the state, he is very concerned about these allegations regarding Paxton.”

Bush’s intentions were first reported on the conservative website Texas Scorecard. If he does jump in, Bush will face a fight. Paxton is “absolutely planning on running again, is looking forward to winning a third term, and is never going to stop fighting for the people of Texas,” his campaign spokesman, Ian Prior, said Monday. Paxton, now in his second term, is accused by senior staff of serious crimes related to his relationship with real estate developer and campaign donor Nate Paul. Seven of the agency’s most senior employees recently reported Paxton to law enforcement, after they said he used the office to intervene in Paul’s legal affairs several times within the last year. Paxton denies wrongdoing and has instead pointed the finger back at staff he calls “rogue.” Since they raised concerns, six of the seven employees have resigned or been fired or placed on investigative leave.

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Dallas Morning News - October 26, 2020

Democrat Stephen Daniel calls conservative group mailers warning he will destroy houses a ‘fictitious attack’

North Texas lawyer Stephen Daniel hit back against mailers sent by an influential and deep-pocketed conservative group, calling them a “fictitious attack” sent on behalf of incumbent Republican Rep. Ron Wright’s campaign in the race for Texas' 6th Congressional District. The mailers from Club for Growth, which has endorsed Wright, claim Daniel supports the “Defund the police” movement and show the Democrat’s image in front of pictures of a burning home, an overturned police car and an upside down American flag in front of a burning business. “Don’t let Stephen Daniel destroy your home,” reads the mailer. Daniel says the claims are baseless.

I do not support defunding the police and have never said it,” he said in a statement Monday. “This is a completely fictitious attack.” The group hinges its claims on three tweets from the last four months: One that Daniel’s campaign Twitter account wrote about attending a vigil for George Floyd, one from an unrelated user about Daniel’s attendance of the vigil and one that Daniel’s account “liked.” In the first tweet on June 12, Daniel said he attended a vigil the day before for Floyd, the Black Houston native who died in Minneapolis, Minn., in May after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by the knee of a white police officer. The death ignited massive protests in Minneapolis and across the country against police brutality and systemic racism. Daniel said he “was honored to stand with my fellow Texans to demand change” at the vigil. The conservative group cited another June 12 tweet by an attendee of the vigil that included a photo of Daniel at the vigil and voiced support for the candidate.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 26, 2020

Texas Army National Guard says it has no plans to dispatch troops to polls

The adjutant general of the Texas Army National Guard said there are no plans to dispatch troops to polling locations in Texas, after a news report Monday said the guard would deploy up to 1,000 troops to five cities, including Austin, in conjunction with the Nov. 3 election. “The Texas National Guard continues to support DPS guarding historical landmarks such as the Alamo and the State Capitol,” Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris said in a statement Monday evening. “To be clear, there has been no request nor plan to provide any type of support at any polling location in Texas.” A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott referred questions to the National Guard.

Norris’ statement came hours after the San Antonio Express-News reported that the Texas National Guard would dispatch troops to Austin, Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth and San Antonio as soon as this weekend. Maj. Gen. James K. “Red” Brown, chief of staff for the guard’s commander, told the Express-News that the activation of troops would be for “post election” support. Protecting polling stations “has not been on any mission request or in any conversation with the governor’s office,” he told the newspaper. Texas Guard spokesman Brandon Jones told the Express-News that troops could be deployed to the same state sites, including the Capitol, where they were sent over the summer during protests over police brutality. “We have not been asked to go to any polling locations as of yet. Now that could change, leading up to the election or after the election,” Jones said. Norris was asked to draft contingency plans in case of trouble at polling places in major cities around the state, the Express-News also reported.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 26, 2020

Texas State to hold in-person commencement ceremony for 2020 grads

Texas State University will hold two in-person commencement ceremonies in December, the institution announced on Monday: one for students graduating this fall and one for students who graduated during the spring and summer semesters. Both ceremonies will be held outdoors at Bobcat Stadium and have strict capacity limits and social distancing requirements for both the student graduates and their guests, as well as a mask mandate for all in attendance to protect against transmission of the coronavirus.

For students graduating this fall, the in-person commencement ceremony will be held on Dec. 11 and a virtual option will be available on Dec. 12. Spring and summer graduates can attend an in-person ceremony on Dec. 10. Graduation rites at the university were moved online for those students completing their studies in the spring and summer over concerns about the virus. “Although the outdoor and virtual commencements will be different from our traditional graduation events held in Strahan Arena, they will be a proud celebration of the accomplishments, spirit, and tenacity of our Bobcat graduates,” said University President Denise Trauth in a message to students on Monday.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 26, 2020

Hays, Williamson counties among first to exceed 2016 total votes

Three Texas counties, including Hays and Williamson, have reported early voting numbers already surpassing 2016 vote totals. According to Hays County officials, 74,804 early ballots — including more than 11,000 mail-in ballots — had been cast by the end of Sunday. That total, which accounts for about 49% of its more than 152,000 registered voters, exceeds the 73,589 total ballots cast in 2016, including early and Election Day voting.

Jennifer Anderson, election administrator and voter registrar for Hays County, said engagement at the polls has been busier than it ever has been. “Turnout is crazy,” she said. “We have seen it continue to be consistent every day, and we are looking at having a record-breaking year.” Williamson County and Denton County in North Texas, which are both made up of rural communities, also reported more early votes in 2020 than the total number of general election votes in 2016. Early voting in Texas began Oct. 13, with an extra week built in to spread out the number of people gathering at the polls amid the coronavirus pandemic. The early voting period ends Friday. More than 7 million Texans, or 43% of all registered voters have already cast an in-person or mail-in ballot, according to data Monday from the Texas secretary of state’s office.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 26, 2020

Bexar early voting figures pass 2016 total, with five days still remaining

Early voting figures have surpassed the total for the 2016 election, with five “long days” still to go, the Bexar County election chief told reporters in a briefing today. “We officially broke the 2016 in-person numbers at 9:38 this morning,” when the number of ballots cast since early voting began Oct. 13 passed the 2016 total of 436,025, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said.

Within an hour later, the number of in-person vote cast had passed the 440,000 mark, increasing the new record for early voting in a presidential election. The county already has received 75,387 completed mail-in ballots, having sent out nearly 116,000 so far — “the most we’ve ever done,” Callanen said. She estimated the elections department will send out up to 2,500 more mail ballots requested by voters. Although the deadline to request a mail ballot expired at the end of the workday Friday, voters technically under the law were allowed to send in images of completed applications by email or fax as a placeholder. They have until Thursday to get the original applications delivered in person or by the U.S. Postal Service. How many of them will actually fill out and return those ballots is anyone’s guess. “Now that’s going to be a tight window for us to mail that ballot out, for them to mail it back to us. But we saw a huge number of email applications, faxes. We had three fax machines just burning up. And so that number is going to go up,” of mail ballots, Callanen said. More than 13,000 people who requested mail ballots decided instead to vote in person.

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Houston Chronicle - October 26, 2020

‘It’s now or never.’ Democrats pour over $55 million into newly competitive Texas

Democratic groups are pouring money into Texas, fueling the state’s most competitive races with tens of millions in spending that would have been unthinkable four years ago. And with former Vice President Joe Biden leading in the state in some polls, prominent Texas Democrats are urging their national counterparts to spend even more in a final push to win a statewide election for the first time since 1994. The funding from D.C. and elsewhere comes as Democrats across the country rake in cash during the final stretch. The Biden campaign entered October with $177 million — nearly three times as much money as the $63 million President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign reported.

“Given the cash-on-hand advantage they have right now, I would argue they have a responsibility,” former Congressman Beto O’Rourke said on a Democratic press call last week. “They have invested close to zero dollars in the state of Texas and they are doing this well. Imagine if they invested some real dollars.” The close polling is “just too much to ignore,” Julián Castro, the former San Antonio mayor, said on the call. “It’s crunch time,” Castro said. “It’s now or never.” So far the spending — at least $55 million from national Democrats and aligned political action committees — has focused on the U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democrat MJ Hegar, along with a handful of competitive U.S. House races and the party’s effort to flip the state House. With 20 media markets, Texas is among the most expensive states in the nation to compete in. And while Democrats have been talking about turning the Texas blue for years, this election is the first in recent memory in which the party has offered so much help to candidates up and down the ballot. Even O’Rourke, who raised more than $80 million in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, was left largely on his own.

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Houston Chronicle - October 26, 2020

‘A lot more fun’: Thousands of Houston-area students leave screens to join classmates on campus

Walking back through Stratford High School’s doors for the first time since mid-March almost felt like taking a step into the past for Logan Thomas. The 16-year-old had almost forgotten what it was like to be surrounded by classmates, immersed in the school day rather than watching his junior year unfold on his computer screen, as he had for the first nine weeks of the school year. “It was really a huge change of atmosphere,” Thomas said. “When I’m online, it’s just kind of like, everyone is monotone and not a lot of people are paying attention. But being back in school, you get a sense of what everyone is doing in class. It’s a lot more fun, that’s really the biggest difference.”

Thomas and more than 50,000 students decided to return to campuses across greater Houston in mid- and late October after spending their first grading period online, according to a Houston Chronicle review of school district data. The Texas Education Agency requires all school districts that offer remote-learning options to give families the option to switch from virtual to in-person learning, and vice versa, each grading period. Of 14 school districts that responded to a Houston Chronicle request for placement information, all saw increases in the number of students electing to take classes face-to-face. In some districts, the shift was monumental. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will educate 21,847 additional students in their school buildings for their second grading period, increasing the percentage of students learning in-person from 41.5 percent of students to 60.5 percent. The percent of students in Spring Branch ISD opting to learn in person jumped from about 54.5 percent to 67.5 percent. Dickinson ISD went from hosting a little more than half its students on its campuses to 78 percent on Oct. 19, a rise of more than 2,700 students. Across all 14 districts, more than 50,570 students elected to come back.

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Houston Chronicle - October 27, 2020

Democratic Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Trey Martinez Fischer running for Texas House speaker

With a week to go until the Nov. 3 election that will reveal whether Republicans are able to successfully defend their majority in the Texas House, two candidates have filed to run for House speaker— and, in a move that’s telling of the political volatility of the moment, both are Democrats. Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, who with nearly five decades in the House is the Legislature’s longest-serving woman and Black person, filed her candidacy with the Texas Ethics Commission on Friday, followed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio on Monday. So far, no Republicans have done so.

Republicans have held their majority in the lower chamber since 2003, but for the first time since, they are encountering real competition from Democrats, who won 12 seats in 2018 and are nine seats away from taking the majority. The vacancy for the position is a result of Republican Speaker Dennis Bonnen stepping down at the end of the year after the publication of secretly recorded tapes in which he plotted against fellow Republicans in the 2020 primary. Thompson, if elected, would be the first woman or person of color to hold the speaker’s gavel. Thompson was not immediately available for comment, but state Rep. Garnet Coleman told Hearst Newspapers on Monday that he had asked Thompson to run a few months back, saying he thought it was important that a woman of color be in charge.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 26, 2020

Tarrant County COVID hospitalizations at 14% of occupied beds; 498 new cases reported

Coronavirus hospitalizations in Tarrant County are back at 14% of occupied beds and 10% of all beds as of Sunday. Hospitalizations hit 14% of occupied beds a week ago before dipping back down to 11% on Friday. The hospitalization rate had not been as high as 14% since Aug. 5. The last time it was higher than 14% was Aug. 3, when it was 16%.

Tarrant County reported 498 new coronavirus cases and no deaths on Monday. It’s the seventh consecutive day with at least 498 cases. There have been fewer than 400 COVID cases reported on seven days in October. Tarrant County has reported a total of 64,290 COVID-19 cases, including 719 deaths and an estimated 51,363 recoveries.

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Laredo Morning Times - October 26, 2020

Billboard names two stars ahead of Selena on its Greatest of All Time Latin Artists list

Fifty superstars earned a spot on Billboard's first-ever Greatest of All Time Latin Artists chart. Selena was the top female artist on the list. But she was not crowned the No. 1 great. That honor went to Enrique Iglesias, who was celebrated for the achievement Wednesday at the 2020 Billboard Latin Music Awards. Luis Miguel took home second place, followed by Selena, Marco Antonio Solís and Vicente Fernández.

To compile the ranking, Billboard tallied each artist's titles on both the Hot Latin Songs and Top Latin Albums charts. Iglesias first entered the Hot Latin Songs chart in October 1995 with "Si Tú Te Vas." The single topped the chart for eight weeks. Iglesias went on to have a record 27 No. 1 hits, spending a chart-record 189 total weeks at the top. Sixteen of Luis Miguel's songs reached the summit of the Hot Latin chart, while nine of his albums hit No. 1 on the Top Latin Albums list. Those two were the only superstars to edge out Selena, the late Queen of Tejano and subject of an upcoming Netflix series. Other female artists on the Greatest of All Time chart include Shakira (No. 8) and Gloria Estefan (No. 23).

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Texas Jewish Post - October 23, 2020

Cornyn and Hegar face off in JCRC and AJC forum

Republican Senator John Cornyn and Democratic opponent MJ Hegar made the case for their candidacies during a virtual forum Oct. 14 sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council and AJC–Dallas. The forum was moderated by Jeffrey A. Engel, founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and professor of history. Hegar and Cornyn appeared separately and audience questions were not permitted.

Hegar has campaigned as a decorated combat veteran and outsider candidate who has the willingness to buck her own party. Cornyn is seeking his fourth term. He sits on the Finance, Intelligence and Judiciary Committees and previously was Majority Whip. Both unequivocally supported the United States’ partnership with Israel, and denounced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. “The U.S.’s special relationship with Israel [is] unique and it’s special. And it’s something we have to protect,” Hegar stated. “I greatly respect Israel’s position as a democracy in a very volatile area of the world. This alliance is strategically and morally and ethically important to us.” The BDS movement does not recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, Hegar said and “its leaders have too frequently deployed antisemitic rhetoric that I don’t think that we’ve done a good enough job calling out. “There is no better friend or ally of Israel than the United States, certainly in the Middle East,” said Cornyn. “It’s important for us to continue to support Israel in every way we can both through military weapons sales and defensive weapons. But also [by fighting] back against efforts to marginalize Israel on the world stage through things like the BDS movement.”

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 27, 2020

Early voting hours extended for the next three days in Harris County

For the next few days Harris County voters will have fewer excuses for not voting as the county rolls out extended early voting hours.

Beginning Tuesday through Thursday, all early voting locations will open at 7 a.m. and close at 10 p.m., three hours beyond normal closing time.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 27, 2020

Travis appraiser says new option may solve sales data problem

Travis County Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler says she thinks she’s found a solution to get the sales data she needs to reappraise home values next year. If the new data source works out, it would end Crigler’s quest to get the sales information she says she needs to do her job under state law. Earlier this year, Crigler said she lacked sufficient sales data to update values for most residential properties in Travis County for the 2020 tax year.

Crigler has said a May 2019 cease-and-desist letter from the Austin Board of Realtors had a “chilling effect” on the various sources she previously has used to obtain sales data to value residential properties. That included what the Realtors’ board has said was proprietary sales data from its Multiple Listing Service database, which Crigler’s office had been paying vendor CoreLogic to supply. Texas is one of about a dozen states that doesn’t require property sales to be made public. However, state law does not prevent appraisal districts from acquiring sales data. The non-disclosure of sales data has presented a challenge for appraisal districts around the state tasked with annually appraising property at market value, Crigler said Friday at a board meeting of the Travis Central Appraisal District. The appraisal district’s board unanimously approved Crigler’s request to enter into a contract with Carahsoft Technology Corp. for market data that Crigler said should allow her office to reappraise properties in 2021. The contract is for an “enhanced real estate report” produced by Carahsoft’s TransUnion company, a data aggregator. The product is new and was added to the state contract system this summer. Crigler said the appraisal district has verified the accuracy of sample data.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 27, 2020

Dripping Springs superintendent resigns, school board names replacement

The Dripping Springs school board early Tuesday morning unanimously approved the resignation of Superintendent Todd Washburn. Washburn held the post for less than a year and had more than two years left on his contract, which was slated to run through June 30, 2023. He was hired last November to lead the 7,210-student district.

The trustees approved a resignation agreement shortly after midnight without discussion and did not publicly disclose the terms. An emailed press release from the district said Washburn’s resignation is effective at the end of the fall semester, but he will be taking personal leave in the near term, citing family health matters. Board President Carrie Kroll after the vote said she appreciated Washburn’s service and enjoyed watching the heart Washburn has for education and the Dripping Springs school district. “I know you have had big goals and we have found that all of this in the middle of a pandemic is rather daunting,” she said. “But I have appreciated the way you have acknowledged the hard work and walked by and supported all of our employees. I thank you for your dedication and for your time in the district. Although we are parting at this point, I just want to convey the board’s appreciation for all that you’ve done for DSISD, while you’ve been with us and thank you for your heart and your service to our community.”

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Austin Chronicle - October 23, 2020

Survival, and hope, in how Austin handles sexual assault

For nearly two years, the Austin women who sued local law enforcement over the treatment of sexual assault survivors waited for a ruling that it seemed at times would never come. Then in February, the class action was dismissed by a federal judge who said, basically, he didn't want to get involved. What was a crushing blow for the plaintiffs – women who claim they were raped and subsequently abused by the system meant to protect them – has led to an appeal, a second lawsuit, and commitments to change by the new leadership in the agencies being sued. The bigger battle for systemic change in how rape survivors and their cases are treated is far from over.

"It's been a wild year for everyone, to say the least," Hanna Senko told the Chronicle in October. A month earlier, Senko became the lead plaintiff in a second survivors' lawsuit, this one filed in state court. (The city of Austin, one of the defendants, has now acted to return the case to federal court; it's unclear where it will end up.) Senko and the three new survivor-plaintiffs were also unnamed plaintiffs in the original class action, and she has been seeking change in Travis County's criminal justice system since 2017. When we spoke, Senko was feeling optimistic. "I really do feel that, after a lot of the advocacy efforts that have been put forward over these past several years – we're starting to see results." That optimism is shared by many of the survivor-plaintiffs (there are now 12 in total), who point to success beyond the courtroom, at the ballot box: José Garza's resounding victory over incumbent Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, one of the defendants in both suits. "It has been five years since my rape. It's been ups and downs," explained Marina Conner, one of the original plaintiffs in the federal suit. "Moore losing was the first moment that I felt some sort of justice."

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San Antonio Express-News - October 26, 2020

Edgewood ISD board election is first since transition from state control

Four candidates, two of them uncontested incumbents, are seeking seats on the Edgewood Independent School District’s board of trustees Nov. 3 — the district’s first board election since transitioning from a state-appointed board of managers in the spring. Current trustee Timothy W. Payne is stepping down, and Ricky Escoto and Richard Santoyo are vying to replace him.

Board President Martha Castilla and Secretary Joseph M. Guerra are looking to stay on the board and are not facing any challengers. Edgewood ISD’s board has consisted fully of elected trustees only since May, nearly four years after Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath appointed a five-member board of managers. Morath intervened after the elected board had been stymied for months by a 3-3 factional split that left it unable to replace a departed trustee and make other important decisions. Edgewood is one of the poorest school districts in the country, with about 95 percent of its students considered economically disadvantaged. About 97 percent are Hispanic, and about 20 percent are English learners, according to Texas Education Agency data. The TEA gave Edgewood a C in district accountability in 2019.

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National Stories

Wall Street Journal - October 26, 2020

A Trump election comeback? With these pieces, it’s still possible

For those in the business of writing about politics, the question you are asked most frequently these days is: Could President Trump still win? It’s a question posed both by those who want the president to win and by those who don’t. With a week to go before Election Day, this seems a good time to offer an answer: Yes, of course he could. Doing so most likely would require piecing together the requisite support from a few influential demographic groups and the right combination of states, allowing him to win the Electoral College while again losing the popular vote nationally.

“Given the history of the 2016 campaign, Trump’s ability to turn his campaign around in the final days can’t be underestimated,” wrote Democrat Doug Sosnik, former political director for President Bill Clinton, in an analysis over the weekend. “Trump has a much more aggressive campaign schedule than Biden. He is drawing large crowds and is dominating local coverage in the battleground states where he is campaigning.” This is a look at how that could happen, though it comes with this bright, flashing caveat at the top. Most people with any sense got out of the prediction business after the 2016 election, and aren’t in that business now. To say that Joe Biden is well ahead in the national polls, for example, isn’t a prediction that the Democratic former vice president will win. It’s simply a statement of fact. To say that Mr. Trump still could come out on top by picking off a combination of important states isn’t a prediction he will win. It’s simply a statement of fact. In one fundamental respect, the closing picture isn’t favorable for Mr. Trump. The coronavirus, which may prove his 2020 Achilles heel, is surging just as the election approaches, and particularly in important Midwest battleground states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.

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Bloomberg - October 26, 2020

Jared Kushner says African-Americans must ‘want to be successful’

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said Black people must “want to be successful” in order for his father-in-law’s policies to help them. “One thing we’ve seen in a lot of the Black community, which is mostly Democrat, is that President Trump’s policies are the policies that can help people break out of the problems that they’re complaining about,” Kushner said Monday on “Fox & Friends.” “But he can’t want them to be successful more than they want to be successful.” Kushner’s remarks drew criticism on Twitter, where Democrats said he was implying that many Black people don’t want to be successful.

Trump’s campaign believes he’s drawing more Black support for his re-election than in his 2016 run, thanks to policies including a law he signed reducing prison sentences for nonviolent offenders, increased spending for historically Black colleges and universities and new tax benefits for investors in low-income communities. Trump lost among Black voters by about 82 percentage points in 2016 but has closed the gap in support to about 71 points this year, according to an analysis of polling data FiveThirtyEight.com published last week. He’s improved particularly with Black men, cutting his disadvantage from 72 to 57 percentage points. “What you’re seeing throughout the country now is a groundswell of support in the Black community because they’re realizing that all the different bad things that the media and the Democrats have said about President Trump are not true and so they’re seeing that he’s actually delivered,” Kushner said. “President Trump may not always say the right things, but he does the right things. He says what’s on his mind and he gets results.” Trump frequently makes naked appeals to White voters in his campaign speeches, for example by promising to keep low-income housing out of U.S. suburbs. He’s also faced criticism for his hostile response to nationwide protests over police brutality against Black Americans.

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Houston Chronicle - October 26, 2020

Trump says he built a ‘booming’ economy. Economists say he inherited it.

President Donald Trump is hanging his case for reelection on his management of the economy, one of the few areas in which polls show voters preferring the president over his Democratic challenger, former vice president Joe Biden. Despite Trump’s claims of an economic renaissance under his administration, data show the pre-pandemic economy growing along trends established during the second term of former president Barack Obama. The coronavirus, however, disrupted those trends, reshaping the debate not only over who should get credit for the earlier boom, but also how to respond to unprecedented hardships created by the pandemic and manage what economists say could be a long, difficult recovery.

Trump’s argument for another term has focused on the three years of prosperity before COVID-19. But even Trump’s favorite indicator — the stock market — shows the economy’s performance during the Trump administration is similar to Obama’s second term. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 45 percent during Obama’s last four years, compared to 50 percent under Trump when the market peaked in February and 44 percent as of Friday’s close. By other measures, the Obama economy outperformed the Trump economy — even before the coronavirus hit. The unemployment rate, for example, fell more than 3 percentage points in Obama’s second term compared to about 1 percentage point under Trump before the pandemic. Employment grew by more than 10 million jobs, or 7.4 percent, in the last four years of Obama’s administration compared to about 7 million, or 4.7 percent through February, just before the coronavirus spread rapidly. Job growth averaged about 210,000 jobs a month in Obama’s second term compared to 185,000 a month under Trump through February. The statistics show the economic trajectory under both presidents was fundamentally the same, said Dietrich Vollrath, chair of the economics department at the University of Houston. In general, Vollrath said, presidents have less influence over the economy than people think, with one notable exception — during times of crisis.

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Fox News - October 26, 2020

NY politicians pan 'terrible' outcome of early voting system in Big Apple

Three of New York's most prominent politicans are condemning the Big Apple's early voting system after residents encountered hours-long wait times over the weekend. "The New York City Board of Elections blew it," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during Monday's coronavirus briefing. According to New York Now, 422,166 people voted early in the state with 193,915 residents voting in New York City alone. Early voting was expected to tick up this cycle as the coronavirus raised concerns about social distancing on election day. By comparison, only 250,000 people voted early throughout last year's election.

Mayor Bill De Blasio said the Board of Elections (BOE) was "clearly not prepared for this kind of turnout." Both he and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., indicated that the lines discouraged voting. "Long lines tell people to go home," he said according to NBC 4. "That's just the reality. Long lines at a poll site discourage voting. They don't encourage it. We worked so hard over the last years to make voting, to make the Democratic process better. To make it more accessible." Ocasio-Cortez, who voted on Sunday morning, described the lines as a form of voter suppression. “There is no place in the United States of America where two, three, four hour waits to vote is acceptable," she said on Monday, according to Politico. "And just because it’s happening in a blue state doesn’t mean that it’s not voter suppression." Calling on the BOE to "step up," De Blasio pledged to provide additional resources if the board lacked necessary funding. Deeper reform may be needed, however, as the BOE already received an additional $9 million for early voting this year.

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Reno Gazette Journal - October 26, 2020

Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands in talks to sell Vegas Strip properties

Las Vegas Sands Corp. is considering selling its two hotel-casinos on The Strip, the company confirmed to the Reno Gazette Journal Monday. Discussions have taken place, spokesman Ron Reese said in an email, but nothing has been finalized. The $37.5 billion company owned by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is working with an adviser to solicit interest from potential buyers, according to Bloomberg. The deal could be worth $6 billion for the Venetian and Palazzo resorts.

News of the potential sale comes at a time when Las Vegas Strip properties are struggling to attract visitors due to COVID-19 travel fallout. Las Vegas Sands Corp last week reported a third-quarter loss of $565 million, after reporting a profit in the same quarter last year. Following Bloomberg’s report, the company’s stock jumped more than 3%. The disappearance of conventions in the wake of COVID-19 contributed to a second quarter loss of almost $1 billion for Las Vegas Sands. "Las Vegas cannot perform without (the) return of these segments," said Las Vegas Sands President and COO Rob Goldstein in a July earnings call. "It cannot make money with limited hotel occupancy." Las Vegas Sands reported a second quarter loss of $985 million due to the coronavirus pandemic — down 97.1% from last year. The company recorded a net income of $1.11 billion in the second quarter of 2019.

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Newsclips - October 26, 2020

Lead Stories

Wall Street Journal - October 25, 2020

China trade war didn’t boost U.S. manufacturing might

President Trump’s trade war against China didn’t achieve the central objective of reversing a U.S. decline in manufacturing, economic data show, despite tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods to discourage imports. The tariffs did succeed in reducing the trade deficit with China in 2019, but the overall U.S. trade imbalance was bigger than ever that year and has continued climbing, soaring to a record $84 billion in August as U.S. importers shifted to cheaper sources of goods from Vietnam, Mexico and other countries. The trade deficit with China also has risen amid the pandemic, and is back to where it was at the start of the Trump administration. Another goal—reshoring of U.S. factory production—hasn’t happened either. Job growth in manufacturing started to slow in July 2018, and manufacturing production peaked in December 2018.

Mr. Trump’s trade advisers nonetheless say the tariffs succeeded in forcing China to agree to a phase one trade deal in January, in which Beijing agreed to buy more U.S. goods, enforce intellectual property protections, remove regulatory barriers to agricultural trade and financial services and to not manipulate its currency. They also say the tariffs—which remain on about $370 billion in Chinese goods annually—will over time force China to end unfair practices and help rebuild the U.S. manufacturing base. Tariffs “are having the effect of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in an interview, citing statistics that show a net gain of 400,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs from November 2016 until March 2020, when the pandemic forced widespread factory closures. However, about 75% of the increase in manufacturing jobs occurred before the first tranche of tariffs took effect against China in July 2018, when annual growth in manufacturing jobs peaked and then began to decline. By early 2020, even before the pandemic reached the U.S., manufacturing job growth had stalled out, and factories shed workers in four of the six months through March.

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Dallas Morning News - October 25, 2020

Rick Perry says Trump won’t stump again in Texas despite tight polls, but Harris is on the way

Despite a new poll showing he trails in Texas, President Donald Trump will not stump again in the state, his spokesman and former Gov. Rick Perry said Sunday. “He’s going to be in battleground states,” Perry, Trump’s former energy secretary, told reporters on a call the campaign arranged to critique Democrat Joe Biden’s energy policies. “Texas is not a battleground state, it’s that simple.” A poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler shows Biden leading 48%-45% among likely voters. That’s within the margin of error, but it’s also a 5-point reversal from the last such poll in early September.

Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, will stump in Texas on Friday, four days before Election Day. So far, neither Democrat has campaigned in Texas, though their spouses have, and Texas Democrats have been increasingly frustrated at the apparent neglect in the face of what they deem a historic opportunity to flip the state. Former El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke, who came close to toppling Sen. Ted Cruz two years ago, and Julian Castro, who served with Biden in the Obama Cabinet as housing secretary, both said they wanted Biden to come to Texas and to devote more of his ample stockpile of cash to advertising in the state. “The voters in Texas are doing their part,” said O’Rourke. “We need some help from the national ticket.” Castro called it “now or never,” and implored the Biden campaign to act. “To have Texas at 48-47, 48-48 — that’s just too much to ignore. The resources and investments ought to be made,” he said.

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Associated Press - October 25, 2020

GOP slowly gaining as early vote total surpasses 2016

With eight days before Election Day, more people already have cast ballots in this year's presidential election than voted early or absentee in the 2016 race as the start of in-person early voting in big states led to a surge in turnout in recent days. The opening of early voting locations in Florida, Texas and elsewhere has piled millions of new votes on top of the mail ballots arriving at election offices as voters try to avoid crowded places on Nov. 3 during the coronavirus pandemic.

The result is a total of 58.6 million ballots cast so far, more than the 58 million that The Associated Press logged as being cast through the mail or at in-person early voting sites in 2016. Democrats have continued to dominate the initial balloting, but Republicans are narrowing the gap. GOP voters have begun to show up as early in-person voting, a sign that many heeded President Donald Trump's unfounded warnings about mail-voting fraud. On Oct. 15, Democrats registrants cast 51% of all ballots reported, compared with 25% from Republicans. On Sunday, Democrats had a slightly smaller lead, 51% to 31%. The early vote totals, reported by state and local election officials and tracked by the AP, are an imperfect indicator of which party may be leading. The data only shows party registration, not which candidate voters support. Most GOP voters are expected to vote on Election Day. Analysts said the still sizable Democratic turnout puts extra pressure on the Republican Party to push its voters out in the final week and, especially, on Nov. 3. That's especially clear in closely contested states such as Florida, Nevada and North Carolina. “This is a glass half-full, glass half-empty situation,” said John Couvillon, a Republican pollster who tracks early voting closely. “They're showing up more,” he added, but “Republicans need to rapidly narrow that gap.”

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KHOU - October 25, 2020

Texas sees rising number of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations

Coronavirus outbreaks throughout Texas have led to a rise in case numbers and hospitalizations the state has not seen since August. Gov. Greg Abbott requested on Saturday that William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss in El Paso be used to treat non-COVID-19 patients. The request comes as a coronavirus surge takes hold of the West Texas city’s hospital system. Nearly 11,000 active cases of coronavirus were reported in El Paso on Saturday. The Texas Department of Health reported this weekend there are nearly 90,000 cases of active coronavirus throughout the state. The dramatic rise in cases and hospitalizations may not be seen in the Houston area just yet.

Texans fans showed up to watch the football game at NRG Park on Sunday as voters cast ballots at the park’s polling site. A new report from the University of Texas predicts a 33% chance that COVID-19 cases with exceed hospital capacity in Galveston within three weeks. Medical experts say that in order to limit the chance of contracting the virus, or unknowingly spreading it to others, it is not enough to simply wear a face covering. The type of mask matters, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday morning on CBS News’ Face the Nation. “If you want a mask to afford you a level of protection, wear a higher quality of mask,” Gottlieb said. “If you can only get a cloth mask, thickness matters, and a cloth mask with polyester, a combination of polyester and cotton, do better.”

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 26, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Four opportunities for oil and gas workers in a low-carbon economy

Producing hydrocarbons to meet the world’s energy needs has underpinned Texas’ economy for more than a century, which is why so many are terrified of a low-carbon future. Transforming markets, after all, have left a trail of destruction across the United States. Textile workers in the Southeast, autoworkers in the Midwest and loggers in the Northwest, have all lost jobs and entire industries from foreign competition, automation and environmental concerns. Texans in the oil and gas industry face all three challenges in the decade ahead.

Communities, businesses and individuals do not have to be victims of tyrannical change. The low-carbon future can deliver new careers if we lean into the wind, according to new research by the Center for Houston’s Future, the University of Houston’s Gutierrez Energy Management Institute and UH Energy. While these researchers focused on the Greater Houston region, their findings apply to the entire state and anyone interested in the jobs of the future. Texas entrepreneurs might find profitable opportunities, as well. The challenge facing the planet is climate change caused by human-made greenhouse gases concentrating in the atmosphere. Texas has made billions of dollars by becoming one of the world’s largest emitters, but there are four ways we can make even more money by reducing them. Entrepreneurs know the best businesses solve big problems, so naturally, managing greenhouse gas emissions is a growing industry. The same skills that apply to extracting hydrocarbons also apply to capturing carbon emissions. Innovations in capturing, utilizing and sequestering carbon are necessary if the world hopes to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals. The International Energy Agency estimates we need to capture 2.35 billion tons of carbon by 2040. The science and technology are understood; the trick is bringing down costs.

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Houston Chronicle - October 23, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Texas plan would worsen homelessness

Supportive housing reduces homelessness, improves public safety and saves taxpayer money. It’s the kind of successful program that brings together the public and private sector, nonprofits and faith-based groups — even Democrats and Republicans. So, why is it suddenly under attack by the state of Texas? “This doesn’t make any sense. We are shaking our heads over here,” said Mike Nichols, head of the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County. “I believe good government can help, and this is just the opposite.”

A proposal by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs would block people with criminal records from accessing the effective combination of affordable housing and wraparound supportive services that has helped reduce Houston’s homeless population by more than 50 percent over the past eight years, according to Houston officials. The draft rule change is part of the state’s qualified action plan for 2021, which outlines how Texas spends federal funds earmarked for developing affordable housing. Barring those with criminal convictions would severely limit the main intervention used to successfully house the homeless, said Marc Eichenbaum, special assistant to the mayor for homeless initiatives. “By doing this, we’re creating this huge class of untouchables who are stuck on the streets,” he told the editorial board. “We’re creating modern day lepers without giving them even a colony.” Most chronically homeless people have criminal records. Nearly 50 percent self-identity as having been convicted of a felony, officials said. The real number is likely to be higher and is probably around 75 percent once you include misdemeanors, Eichenbaum said.

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Houston Chronicle - October 26, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Four opportunities for oil and gas workers in a low-carbon economy

Producing hydrocarbons to meet the world’s energy needs has underpinned Texas’ economy for more than a century, which is why so many are terrified of a low-carbon future. Transforming markets, after all, have left a trail of destruction across the United States. Textile workers in the Southeast, autoworkers in the Midwest and loggers in the Northwest, have all lost jobs and entire industries from foreign competition, automation and environmental concerns. Texans in the oil and gas industry face all three challenges in the decade ahead.

Communities, businesses and individuals do not have to be victims of tyrannical change. The low-carbon future can deliver new careers if we lean into the wind, according to new research by the Center for Houston’s Future, the University of Houston’s Gutierrez Energy Management Institute and UH Energy. While these researchers focused on the Greater Houston region, their findings apply to the entire state and anyone interested in the jobs of the future. Texas entrepreneurs might find profitable opportunities, as well. The challenge facing the planet is climate change caused by human-made greenhouse gases concentrating in the atmosphere. Texas has made billions of dollars by becoming one of the world’s largest emitters, but there are four ways we can make even more money by reducing them. Entrepreneurs know the best businesses solve big problems, so naturally, managing greenhouse gas emissions is a growing industry. The same skills that apply to extracting hydrocarbons also apply to capturing carbon emissions. Innovations in capturing, utilizing and sequestering carbon are necessary if the world hopes to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals. The International Energy Agency estimates we need to capture 2.35 billion tons of carbon by 2040. The science and technology are understood; the trick is bringing down costs.

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Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

Texas Senate hopeful MJ Hegar tries to woo suburban centrists while mobilizing progressive Democrats

MJ Hegar has no track record in public office. She’s never held one. By her own account, she’s been a Democrat for just eight years. And yet the national Democratic Party, which heavily recruited military veterans as it flipped the U.S. House in 2018, tapped her to run that year in a rock-ribbed Republican congressional district in Central Texas. Though Hegar narrowly lost, a viral video about her war record and advocacy for women in the armed services gave her a national following.

Perhaps because of her audacity, a trait she highlights in every ad and campaign appearance, Hegar saw in defeat the beginning of something big. Now, days before the election, she and her supporters — both in Texas and in Washington — have at least matched the financial firepower of Republicans as she seeks to oust three-term U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Whether Hegar can pull off the upset depends a lot on how other Democrats above and below her perform on the Nov. 3 ballot and whether it’s a record turnout — in the right places. But Hegar’s prospects also hinge on how successful she is at attracting Texans in the suburbs and elsewhere who haven’t been voting Democratic, while holding support from traditional Democratic voting blocs — Blacks, Hispanics, union members, white liberals. At least some loyalist Democrats have been wary, including her runoff opponent, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas.

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Dallas Morning News - October 26, 2020

Lincoln Project won’t shed tears if MJ Hegar beats John Cornyn, co-founder says

Members of the Lincoln Project are doggedly trying to defeat President Donald Trump and take back the Republican Party. The group of former and current Republicans also are working to defeat Republican senators as well, like Martha McSally of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Cory Gardner of Colorado. Named after Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, the Lincoln Project is not actively trying to torpedo down-ballot Texas Republicans, even though most of them are in lockstep with Trump.

But turning out anti-Trump voters could negatively impact Republicans running on the Trump ticket, a consequence that’s creating controversy inside and outside the party. Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn is in a tough reelection fight against former Air Force combat veteran and Democratic nominee MJ Hegar, who used to vote Republican, but like so many other suburban women, turned to the Democratic Party. In their zeal to beat Trump, will Lincoln Project members also help to take down Cornyn? Mike Madrid, co-founder of the group, said he’s is comfortable letting the chips fall where they may. “We do feel that he’s been a part of the problem,” Madrid said. “If he were to not be successful, you wouldn’t see any tears shed of behalf of the Lincoln Project.” The Cornyn campaign declined to comment on the Lincoln Project.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 26, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Coronavirus fatigue? We get it. But Texans can’t let up just as cases are rising

Sometimes, the depth of our political polarization is overstated and over-dramatized. Then, there are times like the opening minutes of Thursday’s presidential debate. The exchange between Donald Trump and Joe Biden perfectly encapsulates our national split on the coronavirus. “I say we’re learning to live with it,” Trump said. Biden retorted: “People are learning to die with it.”

Both are correct, in their limited ways. They reflect the complete divide among people who think the virus just isn’t that bad and those who are still in lockdown mode. The nuance required to navigate this dangerous moment, with the virus resurgent in much of Tarrant County and much of the country, was largely absent. We have consistently advocated for cautious reopening. We believe it’s past time for children to be in schools. And much of the rest of life can go forward, with the right precautions and protections for the vulnerable. But the rising case numbers and troubling levels of hospitalizations clearly show we need a change. It’s not one that can come from political leaders. It has to come from each of us. Too many people still don’t get it about masks. Too many still don’t recognize the danger of mass gatherings. And too many who once were vigilant have given in, understandably, to COVID-19 fatigue.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 25, 2020

Tarrant County’s October COVID-19 surge continues for sixth consecutive day

Tarrant County reported 642 coronavirus cases and two deaths on Sunday. It’s the sixth consecutive day the county has reported at least 500 cases, a stretch in which it has averaged 688 new cases a day.

The county has reported 16 deaths this past week and 56 in October. COVID hospitalizations among occupied beds in the county hovered between 14% on Monday and 11% on Friday this past week. The rate was at 12% on Saturday. Tarrant County has confirmed 63,792 COVID-19 cases, including 719 deaths and an estimated 51,073 recoveries. Sunday’s reported deaths include a man in his 60s from unincorporated Tarrant County and a woman in her 80s from Forest Hill. Both had underlying health conditions. COVID-19 causes respiratory illness with cough, fever and shortness of breath and may lead to bronchitis and severe pneumonia. For more information go to coronavirus.tarrantcounty.com or call the Tarrant County Public Health information line, 817-248-6299.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 25, 2020

Javier Ambler II’s family sues with help of lawyer in George Floyd case

The family of Javier Ambler II, a Black man who died last year in the custody of Williamson County sheriff’s deputies, filed a federal lawsuit against the county Sunday as nationally known civil rights attorney Ben Crump joined the case. The 28-page suit included many findings revealed in an ongoing investigation by the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, which reported in June that Ambler died after deputies chased him in March 28, 2019, after he failed to dim his headlights. The officers used Tasers on Ambler four times, the suit says, and crews from the since-canceled reality show “Live PD” destroyed video of the encounter.

The suit also makes several new claims, including that the department relied upon training techniques in which deputies were taught that they could keep using force on detainees who said, “I can’t breathe” — just as Ambler did — because they were still able to speak. The lawsuit said the department and Sheriff Robert Chody, who was indicted in September on an evidence tampering charge related to the video destruction, promoted a culture of violence often for the sake of television. Seeking unspecified damages for Ambler’s parents and two young sons, the suit also said two deputies used excessive force on Ambler and violated his rights as a person with a disability. Ambler was obese and told deputies multiple times that he had congestive heart failure. “Sheriff Chody and his deputies made it a greater priority to create reality television than to defend and protect the citizens of Williamson County,” Crump said in a statement. Crump also represents the family of George Floyd, whose death while in Minneapolis police custody in May touched off national protests. Like Ambler, Floyd told police that he could not breathe in what became a rallying cry for law enforcement reform.

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Texas Jewish Post - October 26, 2020

House candidates duke it out in AJC–Dallas debate

Congressman Colin Allred and businesswoman Genevieve Collins, both of Dallas, squared off during a virtual debate on Sunday, Oct. 18, hosted by AJC–Dallas and Temple Shalom and supported by several community partners including Congregation Beth Torah, Temple Emanu-El, NCJW, BLEWS of North Texas and Cathedral of Hope. The candidates for the 32nd Congressional District, which includes northeast Dallas County and a portion of Collin County, provided differing visions for rebuilding the country after the COVID-19 pandemic has killed 222,000 Americans and seen 12 million people lose their jobs. They clashed on issues such as healthcare and foreign policy while affirming their support for Israel and a two-state solution.

Republicans held the seat from 2003 until 2018, when Allred knocked off longtime Congressman Pete Sessions. Now Collins is seeking to win it back.. Collins, who is running for office for the first time, touted her experience as executive at education technology firm Istation. Allred, an attorney, said he is a bipartisan dealmaker with endorsements from the conservative-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Dallas Morning News editorial board as well as labor unions like the AFL-CIO. “It has been an honor of my life to represent the district I grew up in,” he said, touting a successful new Veterans Affairs hospital in Garland, the new United States–Mexico–Canada trade deal and successfully pushing for a bullet train between Dallas and Houston. Collins chided Allred, however, for voting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi “100% of the time.” If elected, she said, she would focus on jobs, protecting pre-existing conditions and “fully funding the police” –– referring to the activist movement calling for policing reforms that emerged following multiple police-related killings of people of color. Republicans have sought to tie Democrats to the movement. “Just two weeks ago he voted to defund police by $600 million,” said Collins, who is backed by the Dallas Police Association. Allred said he also does not support defunding the police and voted for a COVID-19 relief bill that added $600 million to help law enforcement, including more than $300 million for a program that helps hire additional officers and $300 million to help law enforcement cover costs associated with the coronavirus. Allred said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Republicans rejected the House bill, saying it was too expensive. That led Pelosi and the House to scale back the original bill’s scope, though not all the police funding was scrapped.

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Texas Public Radio - October 26, 2020

Meet a progressive who won't be voting for Biden

Marlon Duran and his mom decided to vote early because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rio Grande Valley has been hit hard; more than 3,000 people have died. Duran and his mom walk out their front door to a car that’s parked outside. “It was nice of your friend to lend you her car,” he said to his mom. Their car wasn’t working earlier in the week, but they were still determined to get to the polls. A few minutes later they arrive at a polling station in McAllen. They grab their masks and quickly make their way inside to cast their ballots. Duran and his mom are lifelong Democrats, so they’re not voting for President Donald Trump, but they’re each voting for a different candidate today. “I’m voting Green because I think that’s the best choice, but if people vote for Biden, you know, I can’t judge them, but I can’t vote for him for several reasons,” said Duran.

Duran identifies as a democratic socialist, and over the past few months Progressive Rio Grande Valley Democrats like Duran have made some waves. They’ve mobilized what some call a “Progressive Movement” in a region where the majority of the population is Latino. This faction of Democrats recently came close to getting several local Progressive candidates elected. Many of them also threw their support behind Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who had arguably strong campaigns and support in South Texas and polled well with other Latinos across the country. With just days from the election, some Progressives within the Democratic Party are still not enthusiastic about a potential Joe Biden administration. There’s even “#SettleForBiden” that has been used across social media platforms. Duran said he supported Progressive policies like those Sanders campaigned on, including a Green New Deal and Medicare for All. He said he believes the Democratic Primary was rigged. Duran also said Biden isn’t as far left as he’d like him to be, which is just one of the reasons he decided to back Presidential candidate Howie Hawkins of the Green Party. Growing up, Durian said politics and participating in democracy had always been a part of his life.

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KSAT - October 25, 2020

Gov. Abbott establishes ‘alternate care site’ in El Paso to expand COVID-19 hospital capacity

Governor Greg Abbott has announced that the Texas Division of Emergency Management is creating an alternate care site in El Paso to expand COVID-19 hospital capacity. This comes after a recent surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the area. The facility will be located at the El Paso Convention and Performing Arts Center and will have a capacity of 50 beds. The site can also expand to 100 beds if needed, state officials said.

The Emergency Management Division and the Texas Department of State Health Services has deployed auxiliary medical units as well, which can provide up to 100 beds at a local hospital, to help with hospital capacity surges, according to the statement. Abbott said the state has provided over 900 medical personnel to El Paso and will continue to provide additional medical staffing, equipment and bed capacity at the request of local officials. “The alternate care site and auxiliary medical units will reduce the strain on hospitals in El Paso as we contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region,” Abbott said in a statement. “We continue to work closely with local officials in El Paso and provide resources to reduce hospitalizations, mitigate the spread, and keep the people of El Paso safe.”

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El Paso Times - October 25, 2020

El Paso Times Editorial: Here are our recommendations in federal races

We know the decision on who should serve as the next president of the United States is personal for most voters in the 2020 election. We respect those who are supporting President Donald Trump. We respect those who are supporting Democratic challenger Joe Biden. There also are other presidential candidates on the ballot. This recommendation is for those voters who wanted to wait until the final debate to make up their minds as they prepared to cast ballots in the Nov. 3 general election. After Thursday's debate, we are recommending Biden for president. As we explained earlier this month, remember our recommendations are not intended to tell you how to vote. Rather, they are offered as one of many sources for readers to make informed decisions.

MJ Hegar represents return to standing up for what's right It's easy to see how U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and many others in the Republican Party contributed to Trump's failures as president of the United States of America: We have lost confidence that Cornyn will stand up for what's right in a climate in which loyalty is more important than honor, political party is more important than principle and anything goes in the White House. We are counting on MJ Hegar to restore more independence to this important office. As Texas' senior senator, Cornyn has shown he is a fair and effective leader, yet he failed to speak out against Trump when he stepped over the line of decency. Cornyn owed Texas, Trump and the country to carry out his duties as a top Senate leader. He should have helped guide Trump rather than serving as an enabler when the president misused his powers, attacked anyone who attempted to rein him in and chose chaos over compromise to address acute, domestic issues. Gina Ortiz Jones for open seat: It is with some regret that we say so long to U.S. Rep. Will Hurd in Texas' 23rd congressional district. We are recommending Gina Ortiz Jones for this open seat in this swing district. The veteran is focused on three issues important to El Paso — education, jobs and affordable health care. Throw in national security and responsible immigration reform, and this new congresswoman will be busy. Republican Tony Gonzales' views on energy are more in line with much of the West Texas economy, but he is not running a centrist campaign that reflects the wide diversity of life in the congressional district.

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Austin Chronicle - October 23, 2020

Pipeline, drought key issues in the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District election

The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is not only a mouthful to say – it's likely an unfamiliar item on the ballot to many voters. Created in 1987 by the Texas Legislature to conserve groundwater and regulate pumpage from the Edwards and Trinity aquifers, the district is led by a five-member board representing five different precincts, which encompass 247 square miles of Caldwell, Hays, and Travis counties. The groundwater in this area has historically been used for farming and ranching but is rapidly shifting to mostly residential use as development spills out from Austin and San Marcos. According to the BSEACD website, "The use of groundwater in the segment has grown over the last 75 years from just incidental amounts to now serving as either a sole source or a primary source of drinking water of some 60,000 people." The district also includes beloved Barton Springs.

Three seats on the BSEACD board are up for grabs, but only Precinct 4 is contested (Dan Tickens in Precinct 1 and incumbent Blake Dorsett in Precinct 3 are running unopposed). In Precinct 4, Dr. Bob Larsen, a retired Texas State professor, has been on the board since 2002. Christy Williams, his challenger, is an environmental scientist and water resources regulator who volunteers with Sierra Club and TreeFolks and serves on Austin's Water and Wastewater Commission. Both Larsen and Williams want to conserve water through developing alternative sources like stormwater reuse, and both want to raise the price of water (currently 17 cents per 1,000 gallons) to incentivize pumpers to conserve. But stakeholders in the environmental community are worried about Larsen's record of making allowances for controversial actors. Though the board usually makes unanimous votes, Larsen's vote has run contrary in a couple of key cases, most notably the lawsuit brought over the Kinder-Morgan Permian Highway Pipeline for violation of the Endangered Species Act.

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McAllen Monitor - October 25, 2020

RGV hospitalizations steady, but officials on guard as virus cases trend younger

Cases of COVID-19 in hospitals are trending upward again throughout the country and the state, but in the Rio Grande Valley data suggests hospitalizations remain steady. Still, at least one hospital official warns that cases are increasing and they’re trending toward younger people. Over the last few weeks, statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations have sharply increased, going from 3,081 on Sept. 20 to 4,931 on Oct. 22, a 60% increase. But in the Rio Grande Valley those numbers have remained steady, actually decreasing by 19.42% during the same time period, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Looking closer at the local numbers, it’s important to note that hospitalizations have been fluctuating over the last three weeks, gaining 15 cases in one day to dropping just as many or more a few days later. A week ago, on Oct. 17, Valley hospitalizations hit their lowest point since the surge in July with 220 cases in hospitals. Since then, the cases have slowly risen, reaching 249 on Oct. 22. But that figure is still lower than what it was three weeks ago at 291 hospitalizations. Dr. Robert Martinez, chief medical officer for DHR Health, said Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, specifically, was seeing an increase in cases. “We’re starting to admit a few more regularly through the emergency room so we’re starting to see, I would call it a spike, in cases,” Martinez said. That is not completely unexpected, Martinez added, considering all of the activities that have resumed such as school and sports programs. Interestingly, Martinez said, the patients they’re seeing are trending toward younger people. “We’re seeing patients that are hospitalized that are much younger,” he said. “As opposed to 70-, 80-year-olds morbidly obese, diabetic patients, we’re starting to see some more 20-, 30-, 40-, 50-year-olds that may or may not have diabetes and hypertension or they are just finding out that they have those diseases and they’re getting hospitalized.” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said information he’s received has led him to believe that many infections occur because of younger people who go out and bring the virus home.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 23, 2020

Valero lost $464M in the third quarter of 2020

Valero Energy Corp. on Thursday reported a net loss of $464 million for the third quarter, providing more evidence of the global coronavirus pandemic's effects on the energy industry. The San Antonio-based refiner said in a statement to shareholders and investors its loss per share in the quarter was $1.14 per share, compared with $1.48 per share in the third quarter in 2019, when it earned $609 million. Energy analysts earlier projected Valero's loss per share in the recent quarter would hit $1.48 loss per share.

The company said fuel exports grew compared with the second quarter, despite the quarterly losses, and that demand for gasoline and jet fuel showed appeared to be improving after soft results in March and April. “As the global economy recovers, we are pleased to see a demand recovery for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel in the third quarter” said Joe Gorder, Valero Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Valero operates 15 petroleum refineries, including the two-plant Bill Greehey refining complex in Corpus Christi. The company generated $15.8 billion in revenue in the quarter ending Sept. 30, compared with $27.2 billion in the same period the year before.

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Rio Grande Guardian - October 25, 2020

Gary Mounce: Mexico and the U.S.: Whose oil?

(Dr. Mounce is a Professor Emeritus of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.) A quick glance back at Mexico’s history, the government acting to protect its sovereignty by nationalizing oil (President Lázaro Cárdenas, 1938), suffices to explain the symbolic role of oil in Mexico. Britain severed relations. Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, realizing the importance of Mexico in times of crisis, vowed to keep good relations. The current president of Mexico, López Obrador (AMLO), is trying to restore some of the nationalistic values cited by Cárdenas. His predecessor, right-wing Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN), rolled back some of those protections. Regardless of some of AMLO’s other peculiarities (a Trump-like ignoring of the Coronavirus), he has stood staunchly for Mexico’s sovereignty. Senators Cornyn and Cruz, joined (mostly) by fellow Republicans (open letter to Donald Trump, 22 Oct 20), demand Trump ensure the U.S. a larger share of Mexican oil.

They have no shame at the hypocrisy of greedily eyeing new oil fields in Mexico. They insist Trump pressure Mexico to cease protection of Mexico’s national oil company, PEMEX. They would scream “foul!” if Mexico attempted to dictate Texas energy policies, or co-opt the Texas Railroad Commission, which manages Texas oil. The immediate casus belli centers around a find—the first by a foreign firm, TALOS—of one billion barrels of oil off Mexico’s southern Gulf Coast (David Alire Garcia, “Mexico’s PEMEX,” Reuters, 30 Sep 19). The Mexican Minister of Energy, Rocio Nahle, is also Chair of the Board for PEMEX. (Yes, both countries are bothered by nepotism and fuzzy ethics.) He notes: “PEMEX should have a large part in the operations” of the new extraction project. The amount and nature of control is what worries U.S., oil-obedient Senators, since “AMLO is working to restore the primacy of PEMEX” (Keith Johnson, Foreign Policy, 4 Oct 19). Mexico is currently 8th in world oil production, 18th in terms of the largest oil and gas companies, and the U.S.’s largest export market for petroleum products. Much is at stake, for both countries. There is great concern but also great potential. At one time, “Texas was king of the energy world,” (Michael E. Webber, How Oil-loving, Frack-Happy Texas Could Lead the Low-Carbon Future,” Texas Monthly, 19 Sep 20). Webber warns: “Climate change threatens to knock us off the throne.”

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Texas Observer - October 25, 2020

Democrats hope to end nearly 20 years of GOP dominance in the state government

The number is etched in Sharon Hirsch’s mind: 391. That’s how many votes she lost her 2018 race against Republican state Representative Matt Shaheen by, in Collin County’s House District 66. If 10 more people in each precinct had voted for her, she calculated, she would have won. “It really stunk to lose. I’m not gonna lie,” Hirsch says. The district is centered in Plano, a suburban city just north of Dallas with a population that’s grown by 50,000 since Republicans took control of the state House in 2002. Collin County has long been a bedrock of GOP conservatism—home to Ken and Angela Paxton and other influential tea partiers.

But the fact that Hirsch came so close was a sign to the former administrative staffer at Plano Independent School District that this once-ruby red suburban turf was changing—and fast. Two years before she came within a few hundred votes, Shaheen, first elected in 2014, had beaten his Democratic opponent by nearly 20 percentage points. Hirsch, a longtime Democratic activist in the area, promptly decided to challenge him again in 2020. The district is diversifying and she believes his politics are out of step with a community that prides itself on strong public schools and good parks, and is turned off by the rise of right-wing Trumpism. Apart from the 2019 school finance bill that passed out of the House near-unanimously, “I can’t think of any bill that he has supported that has been something good for the community,” she says of Shaheen, one of the most conservative members of the Texas House and a leading proponent of the “bathroom bill” legislation targeting transgender people. (Shaheen declined to be interviewed by the Observer.) The Democratic effort to flip the Texas House this year runs straight through District 66, the sort of suburban district that just a few years ago was seen as unwinnable for Democrats. As immense population growth has changed the political and demographic contours of the area, the district—and others like it—are now competitive. After flipping 12 House seats in 2018, Democrats need to flip only nine more this year in order to take control of the lower chamber, which would give them an official lever of power in state government for the first time in nearly 20 years.

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County Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

At least two Dallas County voters learn someone else voted in their name

Dallas County elections officials tell NBC 5 Investigates they have identified a voting system error after at least two voters showed up to cast ballots but were told that someone else had already voted in their name. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins confirmed the system error caused between two and four cases where someone actually voted in another person’s name.

But Jenkins said the error, which stemmed from the county’s electronic pollbooks, had the potential to affect between 72 and 100 voters. Still a tiny fraction of Dallas County’s more than 1.3 million registered voters. County officials say they have moved swiftly to address the problem and to make sure it is not more widespread.

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City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

With class canceled, can Austin police hold onto cadets?

On Friday morning, the Austin Police Department introduced a new class of graduated cadets for what will probably be the final time in the next year or more. As the officers took an oath at a ceremony at a church in Northwest Austin, Ryan Hastings was on the other side of town rethinking his plan to be a police officer. Hastings, 24, has been accepted to participate in the department’s next cadet class. But, like others scheduled to join it, he has no idea when it will begin.

This summer, Austin City Council members canceled Hastings’ class, which had already been pushed back by one month, because of concerns that the curriculum for cadets lacked what they considered to be proper anti-bias and cultural sensitivity training. The council also axed two more classes scheduled for next year. It’s hard to say when the training academy will resume, but it won’t happen until the council members are comfortable with the material that instructors are teaching — and that might take some time. In November, the council is expected to pick a consultant to audit the existing curriculum. That consultant would then be expected to deliver a final report with recommendations in December 2021. A parallel review by a citizen task force charged with analyzing instructional videos used in the academy is near completion. They are expected to announce their findings in November. Austin police officials say the uncertainty is not helpful to the department’s recruiting efforts — and it also is forcing the 100 cadets in the next class to decide whether to hang tight or to find another line of work.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

Motors and mayhem: Underground car meetups surge in Austin amid pandemic

Like with many other commercial areas around town, the usual hustle and bustle at the parking lot at Interstate 35 and Parmer Lane in North Austin came down to a crawl with the pandemic. The AMC movie theater that sits at the intersection remains mostly empty. Only a handful of shoppers trot in and out of the businesses in the retail center nearby. But throughout the summer, as the clock got closer to midnight on weekends, the lot would ring with the cacophony of subwoofers rattling in trunks, tires screeching against pavement and engines roaring to life.

Approaching from the frontage road of the highway, smoke from burnouts could often be seen hovering above the lot. On some nights, more than a hundred cars would gather outside the theater, not for some big movie opening, but to take part in Austin’s now not-so-underground car meetup scene. But the excitement that the meetups stir among some car lovers is not shared by everyone. Local authorities say the gatherings have led to shootings and can be a breeding ground for criminal behavior. Organizers of car clubs that have met peacefully for years say the recent meetups have hurt their ability to park and hang out around town. Walking through the crowd, the mood feels festive. The smell of cheap beer and pot lingers in the air. Two friends nod at each other in approval as a red Corvette and a blue Lamborghini spin around each other like a carousel. A woman lifts up her child to give her a better view of the cars. Ice cream trucks, at least two of them, creep around the parking lot playing familiar tunes.

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National Stories

CNN - October 25, 2020

White House chief of staff: US won't control Covid-19

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Sunday that the US is "not going to control" the coronavirus pandemic, as cases surge across the country and nearly 225,000 Americans have died from the virus. "We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," Meadows told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."

The comments from President Donald Trump's chief of staff come as coronavirus cases surge across the US and the administration continues to consistently disregard advice from government health experts to wear masks, social distance and avoid large gatherings as a way to curb the spread of the virus. The White House is also facing a potential second outbreak of the virus after at least five people in Pence's inner circle have tested positive in recent days, according to a source familiar with the situation. Pressed by Tapper on why the US isn't going to get the pandemic under control, Meadows said: "Because it is a contagious virus just like the flu." He added that the Trump administration is "making efforts to contain it." "What we need to do is make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors, whether it's therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don't die from this," Meadows said. The US reported its second-highest day of new cases on Saturday, with nearly 84,000 Americans contracting the deadly virus. As of Sunday, there were at least 8,575,000 total cases of coronavirus in the US, and at least 224,800 Americans have died from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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The Nation - October 25, 2020

Gregg Gonsalves: We’re never going back to normal

(Gonsalves is the codirector of the Global Health Justice Partnership and an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. A cofounder of the Treatment Action Group, he was the winner of a 2018 MacArthur fellowship.) Last Friday, the United States recorded 70,000 cases of SARS-CoV-2, the largest single-day tally since the end of July. Meanwhile, the president of the United States is trashing Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying, “People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong.” In the White House, all the scientists are gone except for Scott Atlas from the Hoover Institution whispering into the president’s ear like Rasputin at the side of Russian Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, telling him what he wants to hear: You’re on the right track; masks don’t work; we don’t need to be testing widely; and we’re on the road to herd immunity. The winter is most likely to be grim. While it’s hard to predict with any reliability months out from now, the upward trajectory of cases over the past couple of weeks (34 percent over the previous two-week average) is all but certain to be followed by an increase in deaths.

And we’re all about to go inside, windows will be shut as the temperatures drop and we’ll all begin to lower our guard, lower our masks. In fact, that is already happening: It’s small gatherings now that are driving increases in cases in many places. I’m tired; you’re tired; we’re all tired. We crave human contact, to see our friends and family. The holidays will simply amp up this desire to get together to celebrate the fall and winter holidays as we do every year. As much as Trump has botched the response to the virus, it’s not only in the United States that we’re seeing a resurgence in cases. In Europe, countries that were successful in beating back the first wave of Covid-19 are seeing the virus roar back and instituting new measures to contain the latest outbreaks. As Julia Belluz reports in Vox, most of these countries didn’t use the summer wisely to scale up testing and contact tracing, ensure humane isolation and quarantine (e.g., paid isolation “leave”), institute mandatory mask-wearing, and retro-fit ventilation in places like schools. The countries that did, such as Germany and in Asia-Pacific—New Zealand, South Korea, and China—are thus far managing this next phase of the pandemic far better than the rest of us.

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NBC News - October 25, 2020

'Toxic': CDC staffers say morale inside the public health agency has plummeted during the pandemic

Months of mixed messages, political pressure and public gaffes about Covid-19 have caused morale at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to turn "toxic," said four current and two former CDC staffers, with one saying the election could be a "tipping point" for a mass exodus if President Donald Trump wins. "The house is not only on fire," said a veteran CDC staffer who did not want to be named for fear of retribution. "We're standing in ashes." Current and former CDC employees told NBC News that career staffers are still struggling to influence key decisions on the pandemic as new daily Covid-19 cases soar nationwide, but are overruled by Trump appointees when politics intrudes.

Most recently, they said, they wanted to extend the "No Sail" order for cruise ships through February. It had been set to expire four days before the Nov. 3 election. Instead, they say Vice President Mike Pence's office pushed for the order to expire, which stands to benefit 21,000 cruise industry workers in the swing state of Florida. The dispute between the White House and the CDC over the cruise ship order was first reported by ProPublica. A White House official said that when the CDC proposed an extension to the "no sail" order it seemed "arbitrary" and "they provided no metrics or data as to why." The White House official added that two or three weeks ago the vice president, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and CDC Director Robert Redfield hosted a call with the cruise lines to discuss their plan and "discussions about lifting no sail are currently in front of them, but no decision made yet. The political pressure has taken its toll on CDC employees, said the current and former staffers. One current staffer said that during a recent Zoom call, a supervisor went so far as to instruct CDC staff to be loyal to the Constitution, not to the president. Another current employee said: "I don't know if the damage to our reputation can be overcome with a new administration. I worry it's a permanent problem."

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Roll Call - October 25, 2020

Senate cuts off debate on Barrett nomination, moves to final vote on Monday

A sharply divided Senate dispensed with a key procedural hurdle Sunday on the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, as Republicans raced to a final confirmation vote Monday that will solidify the high court’s conservative tilt. In a rare weekend floor vote mostly along party lines, 51-48, Republicans backed President Donald Trump’s pick of the reliably conservative federal appeals court judge to fill the vacancy left by the death last month of the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The only Republicans voting against the cloture motion were Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. On Saturday, Murkowski said she would vote Sunday against cutting off debate on the motion, but would vote to confirm Barrett on Monday.

At the same time, Democratic senators decried a plan to have Vice President Mike Pence preside over Monday night’s vote for the Supreme Court nominee from his state, even though his chief of staff and other staffers in his office tested positive for COVID-19. Pence’s office said he has tested negative. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, in a letter to the caucus, said members of a senator’s staff tested positive for the highly contagious novel coronavirus as well. He recommended that senators “not congregate in the Senate chamber today and that you cast your votes quickly and from a safe distance.” “Their carelessness with the health and safety of their colleagues and Capitol employees mirrors their carelessness with the health and safety of Americans during this crisis,” Schumer wrote. The compressed timeline Republicans set for the confirmation process means that Barrett, a longtime legal academic at Notre Dame law school and an appellate judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 2017, will arrive on the court in time to decide cases on contentious political and social issues. If confirmed, Barrett will boost the long-running advantage for justices appointed by Republican presidents from 5-4 to 6-3, which would mean the liberal wing would have to pick up at least two votes from the conservative wing to find any victories in cases on ideologically divisive issues.

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Bloomberg - October 23, 2020

Trump seizes on Biden oil comment to warn swing state voters

President Donald Trump seized on Joe Biden’s pledge Thursday to eventually replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, turning the Democratic nominee’s remarks into a warning for swing state voters that oil and gas jobs could be at risk. Biden’s comment came in response to a question from Trump during Thursday’s debate in Nashville about whether he would shut down the oil industry. The former vice president, in one of his starkest comments of the campaign on the issue, said “I would transition from the oil industry, yes.” “The oil industry pollutes significantly,” Biden said. “It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time.”

That response carries risk for Biden heading into the final days of the race. For weeks, Biden has been wooing voters in Pennsylvania with assurances that his pledges to ban fracking are limited to federal land and would not amount to a wholesale destruction of the oil and gas sector. He plans to campaign there Saturday. Trump seized on Biden’s remark. “Basically what he is saying is he would destroy the oil industry,” Trump said. “Would you remember that Texas? Would you remember that Pennsylvania? Oklahoma, Ohio?” Trump, meanwhile, sought to portray himself as an oil industry savior, boasting about his efforts in the spring to broker a global crude output cut as the coronavirus pandemic collapsed fuel demand. “We saved our oil industry,” Trump boasted, and it’s “vibrant.” Trump was trying to recreate a moment in 2020 that he used to advantage in 2016, when Hillary Clinton said, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”

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NBC News - October 26, 2020

Large corporate landlords have filed 10,000 eviction actions in five states since September

In early September, Cristina Velez lost her job running the staffing team on a Covid-19 treatment trial. Faced with a $2,440 rent bill on the Boca Raton, Fla., home she shares with her daughter, Velez began calling her landlord, Progress Residential, to ask whether it would give her time to come up with the money. "I told them I was affected by Covid, but it didn't matter to them," Velez said. "They are not very patient." On Sept. 8, Progress gave her an ultimatum — pay the rent or deliver the premises, a Palm Beach County court filing shows. Just over two weeks later, Progress filed eviction proceedings against Velez, demanding $4,210.14 in rent and legal fees, delivering the papers to her door. Not once, Velez said, did Progress representatives tell her about a nationwide eviction moratorium ordered by the federal government to let tenants hurt by Covid-19 stay in their homes if they couldn't pay their rent. The moratorium, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept. 4, bars landlords from evicting tenants who affirm that they've been harmed by the coronavirus for nonpayment of rent.

"I said, 'There's got to be something for people affected by Covid and being furloughed,'" Velez, 46, reported telling Progress. "There's nothing we can do," the company representative replied, she said. Velez said she sold her car to pay Progress. From early September to Oct. 17, despite the CDC eviction ban, almost 10,000 eviction actions have been filed in 23 counties in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas by large corporate landlords like the one that owns Velez's house, court documents show. After at least one landlord group lobbied the Trump administration, the CDC clarified its ban on Oct. 9, opening the door for still more such actions. New eviction filings have jumped since then, court records show. During the week of Oct. 12, for example, almost 2,000 proceedings were recorded in the five states, almost twice the number from the previous week. The evictions are part of a database compiled by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, a nonprofit that examines the impact of private equity on communities. It began compiling eviction statistics after the pandemic hit, although it isn't known how many evictions are related to the coronavirus. Large landlords filing numerous evictions include prosperous U.S. public companies like Invitation Homes, which owns and leases 80,000 single-family homes nationwide. The company is thriving — its earnings rose by 54 percent for the first six months of the year, and its stock price has jumped by 80 percent since the market bottomed out in March. Court records show 122 eviction filings by Invitation Homes in the five states during the period.

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Newsclips - October 25, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 25, 2020

Biden rebounds to edge over Trump in Texas, as Hegar slightly narrows Cornyn’s lead in Senate race

Former Vice President Joe Biden has regained a narrow lead over President Donald Trump in Texas, after wooing more independents and Hispanics, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler. Biden’s lead among likely voters is 48%-45%, within the poll’s margin of error. In the Texas race for U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent John Cornyn lost a bit more ground against Democrat MJ Hegar. Cornyn’s lead now stands at 8 points, down from 11 in September. Also, in a sign of potential trouble for Texas as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, fewer than half of Texas registered voters say they’re likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. That’s a slide from last spring, when about three-quarters were willing.

“Texas remains a tossup because of the public’s attitudes toward President Trump,” said political scientist Mark Owens, who directed the poll. In September, 32% of Texans said they had no confidence in Trump’s ability to keep communities safe from the coronavirus pandemic, Owens noted. Today, 44% voice that sentiment. Trump, though, still has the advantage as the candidate Texans believe would handle the economy best. Biden, who was 2 points behind Trump among likely voters in The News and UT-Tyler’s September survey, edged slightly ahead of the president this month by expanding his support among independents and grabbing a better than 3-to-1 advantage among Hispanics. The former vice president’s rebound from last month, when Trump led among likely Texas voters, 48-46, is sure to boost the already high spirits of state Democrats. In recent days, some Democratic leaders have bitterly complained that the Biden campaign stinted on buying TV ads in Texas — possibly missing out on an opportunity to proclaim Trump’s presidency kaput on election night.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 24, 2020

Nate Paul companies alleged to have defaulted on $258M in debt

Austin entrepreneur Nate Paul developed a reputation as a real estate wunderkind in recent years as he snapped up commercial properties here and elsewhere, growing his company into an industry force while still in his early 30s. But a quarter of a billion dollars in delinquent debt is raising questions about the stability of Paul’s real-estate empire.

Since late 2019, lenders have moved to foreclose on a combined $258 million in what they have contended are overdue loans made to more than two dozen Texas-based real-estate entities controlled by Paul and his company, World Class Property, according to bankruptcy filings and foreclosure actions reviewed by the American-Statesman. So far, the foreclosure efforts haven’t succeeded. Paul’s attorneys have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on 20 of the real-estate entities, often just before scheduled foreclosure auctions were to proceed, while scheduled auctions on seven others haven’t taken place for various reasons. The Statesman’s review of foreclosure proceedings involving Paul was limited to Texas. It’s unclear whether he faces similar issues in other states where he or his company owns real estate. It’s also possible that he has faced more foreclosure proceedings in Texas than those found by the newspaper. Neither Paul, 33, nor his attorney, Michael Wynne, responded to multiple requests for comment about the bankruptcy and foreclosure filings.

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Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intervened in donor’s legal affairs multiple times this year

For years, Jeff Mateer served as Attorney General Ken Paxton’s loyal second-in-command, handpicked to run the agency’s daily operations. But this summer, Mateer began to have serious qualms about his boss’s behavior. Paxton appeared to be taking a special interest in Nate Paul, a Texas real estate developer and campaign donor who was under federal investigation. In July, Mateer said, he learned Paxton wanted to personally appear in court to argue that a charity’s lawsuit against Paul’s businesses should be put on hold.

Attorneys general almost never show up for such lawsuits, and since the case involved a campaign donor, Mateer said he considered the circumstances suspect. “I was shocked,” Mateer told The Dallas Morning News in his first in-depth interview since he stepped down this month. “That, in my memory, no attorney general has ever done.” The incident was not isolated. This year, Paxton has personally intervened at least four times on a range of legal matters before his agency that involved or helped Paul, including at least one previously unreported incident in early spring, The News has learned. Experts say that level of involvement from the attorney general, the state’s top lawyer, is highly unusual and potentially unethical. Some of Paxton’s top deputies claim it is criminal.

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New Yorker - October 24, 2020

This Presidency poses stark questions about the ideological future of both parties.

The last weekend in August, 2001, two weeks before the attacks of 9/11, President George W. Bush travelled with his wife, Laura, and an entourage of government officials to a steel mill outside Pittsburgh. He worked the tables at a picnic for members of the United Steelworkers union and their families. I was there as a reporter, and I recall standing just a few feet away from the President on that hot day, listening to him make small talk with the factory workers and watching the sweat soak through his checkered shirt. After the picnic, he ascended a temporary stage and gave a speech promising a “level playing field” for American steel. A few months later, he instituted a tariff on steel imports. A President serves as the chief executive of the federal government, but he is also the functional head of his political party. Bush was at the steel mill more as Republican-in-Chief than as head of state. Though he couldn’t have imagined that Donald Trump, whom he is known to despise, would become President, Bush was trying out a populist turn in Republicanism as he attempted to persuade Democratic blue-collar workers in the Rust Belt to leave their party.

The failure of the war in Iraq and Bush’s insufficient response to Hurricane Katrina made him deeply unpopular, but the Bush dynasty retained enough of its mystique for Jeb Bush to enter the 2016 Presidential race as the heavy Republican favorite. He aimed to be friendlier than his brother had been both to the markets and to Latino voters. (His Spanish is better than George W.’s, and his wife is Latina.) Most of the other Republican candidates had similar positions, but Donald Trump made precisely opposite bets. He flung around flamboyantly offensive racial stereotypes about minorities, especially Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants. He defended Social Security. He resurrected the Buchanan-Perot position on trade, which both parties had rejected for decades. On foreign policy, he was an aggressive isolationist, hostile to the country’s elaborately maintained system of alliances. He attacked big business more often than any Republican candidate in memory. Trump will not be President forever—he may be in the role for only a few more months. It’s hard to imagine that the Republican Party could come close to replicating him with another Presidential candidate, unless it’s Donald Trump, Jr. But is there a future in Trumpism? This is a live question for both parties. The major political development of the past decade, all over the world, has been a series of reactions against economic insecurity and inequality powerful enough to blow apart the boundaries of conventional politics. On the right, this can be seen in the regimes of Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil; Narendra Modi, in India; Viktor Orbán, in Hungary; and Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, in Turkey. There are new nativist and nationalist parties across Western Europe, and movements like the ones that produced Brexit, in Britain, and the gilets jaunes, in France. An ambitious Republican can’t ignore Trumpism. Nor can an ambitious Democrat: the Democratic Party has also failed to address the deep economic discontent in this country. But is it possible to address it without opening a Pandora’s box of virulent rage and racism? Lisa McGirr, a historian at Harvard who often writes about conservatism, told me, “The component of both parties that did not grapple with the insecurity of many Americans—that created the opportunity for exclusionary politics. It’s not Trump. It’s an opportunity that Trump seized.”

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State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

Ken Paxton fraud case should move back to Collin County, judge rules

The criminal cases against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton should be transferred back to Collin County, the presiding judge announced Friday, marking a huge win for the embattled GOP official. Harris County District Court Judge Jason Luong, the fourth judge to preside over Paxton’s cases, said his court effectively lost control of the cases in June when his predecessor decided to transfer the cases to Collin County. Luong further cemented his decision by stating that if an appeals court disagrees and finds he does have jurisdiction, the cases still should be transferred back because they should never have been moved from Collin to Harris County in the first place.

The special prosecutors pursuing the criminal charges against Paxton promised to appeal the decision, which they said divested “the citizens of Harris County of their right to determine if Ken Paxton is a felon.” “We trust the court of appeals will set aside this clearly erroneous ruling and keep these felony prosecutions in Harris County where the law mandates they belong," Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer said in a statement. Paxton’s defense team applauded the ruling and admonished the prosecutors. “We now have two separate judges saying that the case needs to be returned to Collin County for trial — I trust the Special Prosecutors will withdraw their appeal and let the case proceed," Philip Hilder said.

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Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

Cornyn’s 18-year Senate record more nuanced, less warm and fuzzy, than his curated TV ads

Several words are missing from Sen. John Cornyn’s ad blitz hitting Texas TV viewers in the final weeks of his reelection bid: Republican. Conservative. Trump. Instead, the three-term incumbent focuses on his concern for victims of sexual violence and the scourge of COVID-19, and his dismay that challenger MJ Hegar uses vulgarity in public. One ad describes him as “calm, steady, effective,” another as “Common sense. Thoughtful. Proven leadership.”

It’s all very reassuring and not especially partisan, befitting a campaign season overshadowed by a pandemic and urban upheaval, and largely in the hands of suburbanites who have been abandoning the GOP in droves. President Donald Trump doesn’t appear in Cornyn’s ads. Nor do phrases like “liberal mob” — but that’s the TV image. It’s a tightrope, as Cornyn tries to avoid alienating suburban voters while also projecting that he’s conservative enough for the hard right activists who control the Texas Republican Party. “He’s really trying to carefully walk that middle ground to be, you know, not too far to the left, not too far to the right, just perfect. It’s the Goldilocks strategy,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist. The contrast is especially stark next to the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz. Compared to him, Rottinghaus said, Cornyn comes off as “a kind of moderate choice in a polarized Texas.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 24, 2020

Dallas County reports 533 confirmed coronavirus cases, 4 deaths; Tarrant County adds 848 cases

Dallas County reported 533 more confirmed coronavirus cases Friday, including 531 which the county considers new and two from previous months. Four new COVID-19 deaths were also reported. Labs either report coronavirus cases directly to the county health department or to the state health department, which then relays the information to individual counties. Of cases reported Friday, Dallas County health officials said 293 came from the state’s reporting system, including 291 from October and two from September. The remaining 240 cases were reported directly to the county health department.

The latest victims were three Dallas residents — a man in his 50s, a man in his 60s and a woman in her 80s — and a Seagoville man in his 80s. County Judge Clay Jenkins noted in a written statement that the new data continued a trend of increasing cases, adding that hospitalizations and emergency-room visits are also headed in “the wrong direction.” “At this point, you know what to do,” he said, referring to precautionary measures against spreading the virus like wearing masks and social distancing. “You just need to do it.” The newly reported cases bring the county’s total confirmed cases to 92,197. The county’s confirmed death toll stands at 1,097.

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Dallas Morning News - October 24, 2020

Texas Supreme Court stays order that had blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s mail ballot drop-off limits

The Texas Supreme Court on Saturday stayed a lower court’s order that had blocked Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting counties to one mail ballot drop-off site. The decision followed a ruling Friday by Texas' Austin-based Third Court of Appeals that had upheld a state judge’s order blocking Abbott’s order. The state had appealed the Third Court of Appeals order. The state Supreme Court was still reviewing whether to take further action in the case and ordered both sides to file their responses by 5 p.m. Monday. By then, there will be just more than one week left for voters to return their mail ballots in person to early voting clerks around the state.

The case centers on whether local elected officials can accept mail ballots at satellite offices. Harris County had told voters it would accept such ballots at 11 of the early voting clerk’s annexes. Travis County and Fort Bend Counties also planned to offer multiple drop-off sites. But on Oct. 1, Abbott, a Republican, issued an order limiting each county to one drop-off site. He cited the need to prevent voter fraud as his main reason. Several Texas chapters of the Anti-Defamation League, the government watchdog group Common Cause, and two Texas voters filed suit against the state, saying Abbott’s order overstepped the governor’s authority in the Texas Constitution and violated equal rights of voters. Under the state Constitution, they argued, local elected officials, not the governor, are in charge of administering elections.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

When ‘Live PD’ cameras rolled, Williamson County deputies used more violence

Imani Nembhard got out of her car, exactly as Williamson County sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Pisa ordered. Without warning, he knocked her to the ground with enough force to send her shoes and skirt flying. He dug his knee into her shoulder, burying his fingers in her braids as he pressed her cheek into the hot pavement. Her 4- and 8-year-old daughters watched in terror from the backseat, crying for their mother. “They were screaming, ‘Please get off my mom,’” said Nembhard, a Killeen resident and U.S. Army veteran who served in Kuwait. The 29-year-old mother’s violations: a missing license plate and a little attitude.

The kind of violence Nembhard experienced that day in April 2019 became increasingly common in Williamson County after Sheriff Robert Chody invited the camera crews of “Live PD” to feature his department. An American-Statesman analysis of 124 use-of-force reports shows that violent encounters between Williamson County sheriff’s deputies and civilians nearly doubled from 43 in 2017 — the year before “Live PD” joined the department — to 82 in 2019. During the weeks when the reality TV show filmed with the department, deputies used force significantly more often than during weeks when those cameras weren’t on patrol. Black civilians like Nembhard and Javier Ambler II, a 40-year-old father killed after being chased by Chody’s deputies in March 2019, represented 1 in 5 of the use-of-force targets, despite the fact they make up just 1 in 10 of Williamson County residents. The reports show that many of the deputies who used force had been on the job two years or fewer — including Pisa — raising concerns about the quality of training officers receive before being assigned to patrol.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

What to expect with the Texas vote count on election night

Texas polls close at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3, but officials caution that Election Day results will take hours to compile — and extremely close races could take almost a week to resolve. Some of the uncertainty is the result of an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots during the pandemic and heavy voter interest in the presidential election. But long-standing Texas election laws, human nature and geography will play a role as well. First, it’s important to note that vote counting doesn’t end on Election Day in Texas:

Mail-in ballots that are postmarked by Nov. 3 will be counted if they arrive at county offices before 5 p.m. on Nov. 4. ? Ballots mailed by military and overseas voters will be counted if they arrive before the close of business on Nov. 9. And provisional ballots — cast by voters whose registration was in question or who did not have acceptable identification — will be counted for those who visit their voter registrar’s office within six days of the election to correct the situation. “We’ll count everything we have in our hands on Election Day, but more votes come after that,” said Keith Ingram, director of the Texas secretary of state’s Elections Division. “So if anything’s close, what we always tell people when we get a call after Election Day (about a tied race) is, you might have a tie, but you don’t have one yet,” Ingram said. In 2016, approved provisional ballots and late-arriving mailed ballots added about 74,000 votes to the Election Day totals, he said. “I don’t know how 2020 will compare to 2016 on that score. It’s one of the things that I’m going to be watching pretty carefully,” Ingram said.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 24, 2020

Jerry Jeff Walker, Austin country music legend, dies at 78

Jerry Jeff Walker, who moved to Austin after becoming famous with the song “Mr. Bojangles” and helped change the Austin music landscape in the 1970s, died Friday evening after an extended battle with throat cancer. He was 78. Walker’s wife of 46 years, Susan Walker, confirmed Saturday morning that Jerry Jeff died around 6 p.m. Friday at Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. “He was at home until an hour before his passing,” she said. “He went very peacefully, which we were extremely grateful for.”

Walker had been dealing with throat cancer for several years and had nearly died in 2017. He rallied to finish a new album and played more shows, but a downturn in his health more recently resulted in difficulties with speaking and eating. Born Ronald Clyde Crosby on March 16, 1942, in Oneonta, N.Y., Walker wrote “Mr. Bojangles” in the mid-1960s after a night in a New Orleans jail where he met a man who “danced a lick across the cell.” Walker released the song as the title track of a 1968 solo album, shortly after he left the New York band Circus Maximus. In 1971, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band took “Mr. Bojangles” to No. 9 on the pop charts. More than 100 other artists also recorded the song, including Bob Dylan, Sammy Davis Jr., Nina Simone and Neil Diamond. Walker was headed to California about 50 years ago when he stopped in Austin and ended up staying. Along with Willie Nelson’s move here a couple of years later, Walker’s arrival helped to herald a prosperous time for Austin music, with terms such as “outlaw country” and “cosmic cowboy” used to describe the music Walker and others were making. Walker’s 1973 live album “Viva Terlingua!” — recorded not in the West Texas town of Terlingua but in the hill country hamlet of Luckenbach — became a touchstone for that era. His influence looms large even today, as dozens of Texas country roadhouse bands and troubadours are essentially still following the same path that Walker blazed in the ’70s.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

Former Travis County Sheriff Raymond Frank remembered for early progressive stances

Hunter Pearsall said he still doesn’t know how his grandfather, former Travis County Sheriff Raymond Frank who died Oct. 10 at the age of 95, always seemed to have Texas mountain laurel seeds in his pocket. Also known as mescal bean, the evergreen shrubs bloom in spring with abundant bluish-lavender flowers that smell like grape bubblegum. “He would go plant them and, if he saw one with seeds, he would take them and plant them somewhere else,” said Pearsall, who is 29 years old.

Frank died of health complications due to his age. He was buried Friday at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio next to his wife, Charlotte Anne Frank. Pearsall said his grandfather taught him the values of being a good person. He remembers how Frank wanted to better his community as sheriff. As the county’s sheriff from 1973 to 1980, Frank supported progressive ideas, some of which resonate today. Frank allowed conjugal visits for jail inmates, refused to arrest nude sunbathers at Lake Travis and advocated for the decriminalization of marijuana. During his tenure, county voters approved a bond that would set the ground for what is now the Travis County Correctional Complex. “The Travis County sheriff’s office grieves with his family, friends and former colleagues,” the office tweeted Friday afternoon.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 25, 2020

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: These 545 kids and our nation need to heal

Three years. That’s how long 545 migrant children, ripped from their parents’ arms in 2017 as they crossed the border, have been waiting to see their mothers and fathers again, according to devastating new reporting this week. Nonprofit groups and pro bono lawyers have been working to reunite hundreds of migrant families torn apart by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy, an enforcement charade so cruel and roundly condemned that Trump had to end it in June 2018. But the damage endures. Those working to reunite families still haven’t found the parents for 545 kids. More than 200 of those children were under age 10 when they arrived in the U.S.

About 60 were under age 5. Now they’re growing up with foster families, or perhaps relatives. In many cases, it’s hard to say. Reunification advocates got such shabby records from the federal government — in some cases receiving only a misspelled name or outdated phone number — that they have managed to reach only 183 of the 545 children in question. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The same federal government that cared so little for the children while they were in their custody — failing to provide toothbrushes and soap, failing to provide a decent place to sleep, sometimes failing to provide lifesaving medical care — also didn’t care enough to track the information that would be needed to return these children to their families. But we should be appalled. This destruction of families was done in our name, by our government. It was done without a plan. It was done with callous disregard for the children whose pain became the Trump administration’s message to everyone south of the border: Don’t come to America. This editorial board has repeatedly emphasized that our government has every obligation to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. But it should do so with compassion, and it must follow the law. As immigration law experts rightly point out, many of the children separated from their families at the border in 2017 and 2018 were seeking asylum, having fled violence in Central America. It is legal to apply for asylum while in the United States or at the border, regardless of legal status.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 24, 2020

Bud Kennedy: ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs stolen before Republican rally for Barrett in Fort Worth

“Black Lives Matter” signs at a South Main Village florist were ripped down, stolen and destroyed Thursday before a faith-and-values Christian group’s Republican political rally next door. More than 30 small, simple signs printed on pale pink paper had been taped to The Greenhouse 817’s windows since April. Some also read, “No Justice — No Peace.” They were subtle. Heck, they were barely readable from South Main Street.

So I am not clear why someone hanging around a Christian political rally would find the very idea of justice and fairness upsetting enough to make an exception to “Thou shalt not steal.” “To have my property vandalized — it’s a little unfathomable. It makes you feel unsafe,” shop owner Deryk Poynor said. The signs were stolen from her unoccupied shop in broad daylight, moments before a “Women for Amy” national bus tour arrrived for a rally to drum up support for Republican political candidates and for Judge Amy Comey Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. Some of the signs were tossed in nearby trash, Poynor said. “I think it’s extra suspicious that they were not just taken but thrown away,” she said.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 24, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: John Cornyn or MJ Hegar? Here’s the Star-Telegram’s Texas Senate race recommendation

For most of his long career, Sen. John Cornyn has faced little-known opponents in snooze-worthy campaigns. No longer. Cornyn is in the fight of his political life against Democrat MJ Hegar, and the nation is watching. Both candidates would benefit Texas in different ways, but we recommend voters send Cornyn back to Washington for a fourth term. His pragmatic conservatism, history of delivering for the state and ability to help broker compromises on the biggest issues needing attention give the Republican the edge. (Also on the ballot are Libertarian Kerry Douglas McKennon and Green Party nominee David B. Collins.)

The senator’s answer to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial Board’s question about his relationship with President Donald Trump sparked national news and significant Democratic outrage when he said that it was “maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.” But it illustrated something important about how Cornyn operates: He’s not a bomb thrower, and he knows how to adjust to the needs of the moment to be effective. There’s an old line, attributed to writer Michael Kinsley, that a Washington gaffe occurs when a politician inadvertently reveals a truth no one really wants to talk about. That’s what Cornyn did when he told us he had privately disagreed with the president on defense spending, trade and the deficit. In the four tumultuous years of the Trump presidency, many have been desperate for a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment. They want every Republican to run to the nearest microphone and denounce the president’s every move and utterance.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 24, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Our Editorial Board’s recommendation for voters in Arlington-area battle for Congress

Fewer things are less fun in politics than being in the minority in the U.S. House. The majority controls all the committees, the most powerful positions and the flow of legislation. It’s even harder if you’re a first-term lawmaker; without either seniority or party power, it’s hard to be effective.

Rep. Ron Wright, a Republican finishing up his two-year term under those circumstances, has nonetheless found ways to be effective, often in a bipartisan way. He’s earned a second term representing the 6th District, which covers much of Arlington and Mansfield and counties southeast of Tarrant. Wright, 67, is capping a career of service. He worked for his predecessor, Rep. Joe Barton, in North Texas and in Washington, giving him extensive knowledge of the district and a leg up on how Congress operates. Before winning the seat in 2018, he was also Tarrant County tax assessor-collector and Arlington mayor pro tem. He’s a rock-solid conservative, to the point of joining the House Freedom Caucus. That group has often created headaches for GOP leadership by drawing a hard line on tax and spending compromises. Wright, however, lacks the rough edges of many of his colleagues, and his views reflect much of his district.

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Houston Chronicle - October 24, 2020

Harris County hits an all-time record of 1 million early votes. Which party has the edge?

Harris County surpassed 1 million ballots cast Friday, setting an early voting record with seven days remaining, in spite of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and a flurry of lawsuits over the management of the election. The county reached the milestone at 3:14 p.m. as tens of thousands of voters again headed to 112 polling sites on a muggy October afternoon. A total of 68,819 voters cast ballots Friday, the Harris County clerk said. If residents continue at the current pace of more than 90,000 daily ballots, the total turnout record of 1.34 million set in 2016 will fall before Election Day on Nov. 3.

Turnout here through Thursday accounted for 15 percent of ballots cast in Texas, exceeding the number recorded by several states with more residents, including Indiana, Missouri and Maryland. Early vote tallies traditionally plunge after a raucous first few days — when the most motivated voters flood the polls — before surging on the final weekend with residents eager to avoid Election Day crowds. However, this year — after the pandemic ravaged Texas over the summer and led election administrators to worry it would deter voters in the fall — does not resemble any previous modern election. First to be bested Friday was the early voting record of 985,000 set four years ago. Within days, a series of others appear destined to fall: 1.18 million ballots cast in 2008, 1.2 million in 2012 and 1.22 million in 2018. The county’s projection that as many as 1.7 million votes could be cast this year appears within reach. The United States already has seen 110 percent of its early vote total from four years ago, driven in part by 6.4 million ballots cast in Texas, where many counties have set voting records. Turnout in Fort Bend County on Wednesday reached 39 percent, 2 percentage points ahead of Harris and Dallas counties.

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Houston Chronicle - October 25, 2020

These Texas women aren’t ‘flocking’ to Trump. They made up their minds weeks ago.

iz Castañeda does not play by party politics. The 49-year-old is “really in the middle.” She’s a big fan of Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, despises President Donald Trump and stayed out of the 2018 contest between former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Ted Cruz. This year, she’s most excited about two state legislative candidates in Carrollton, the Dallas suburb she calls home — one a Democrat and one a Republican. She arrived at the polls on Tuesday, Oct. 13, to cast her ballot on the first day of early voting — and the two names at the top of the ticket made her feel sick. It seemed like an absurd choice: “I’m not thrilled with” former Vice President Joe Biden, she said, but President Donald Trump “brings so much division and hate.” So she skipped the question and promised to come back to it later. “I didn’t want to deal with that, to be honest,” Castañeda said. After all, she had other candidates to vote for who actually made her excited about the future of her country.

For Castañeda, like many Texas suburban women, the election is a referendum on Trump — either a strong embrace or rebuke of the sitting president — though her indecision may be an outlier in a year when polls indicate that roughly 95 percent of likely voters have already made up their minds. Winning votes from women in the suburbs — including hundreds of thousands of educated Texas Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for Democrats in 2018 — is a central preoccupation for Trump, whose shout-outs to that demographic have become a national spectacle in 2020. “Finally!” Trump tweeted Thursday afternoon. “Suburban women are flocking over to us. They realize that I am saving the Suburbs — the American Dream.” Historically, pundits and politicians have used the term “suburban women” as code for middle-aged, white and affluent. That’s no longer true nationally or in Texas, where the suburbs are increasingly diverse in demographics, political ideology, education and other defining voting characteristics. In interviews, 15 suburban women on both sides of the aisle described deeply divided politics only worsened by 2020 — a hellish year that brought the coronavirus pandemic, racial unrest and economic uncertainty that will linger long after votes are counted. It is the year that anything can happen, but those events have only pushed many suburban women into their existing views — none of which exhibit particular excitement or disdain for a potential President Biden, but rather indicate strong opinions about the current President Trump.

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Houston Chronicle - October 25, 2020

Mourners celebrate life, legacy of Monica Roberts at funeral service

Mourners gathered Saturday at the University of Houston to celebrate the life and legacy of transgender rights activist and writer Monica Katrice Roberts. Flowers and photos surrounded Roberts’ coffin at the Cullen Performance Hall where family, friends and community members sang, cried and spoke with respect and awe throughout the morning for the towering icon of the LGBTQ community. On Sunday, a “Get Out the Vote” rally will be held in Roberts’ honor. Roberts died Oct. 6 of natural causes, according to the Harris County medical examiner. She will be laid to rest at a Pearland cemetary.

Roberts, born May 4, 1962 in Houston, launched a blog called TransGriot in 2006 in which she chronicled the history of black transgender people, wrote about transgender homicide victims who are often misgendered by officials and told stories of people in the community. Hundreds of comments from Roberts’ supporters poured in on the virtual Facebook page where the service was live-streamed. Hand sanitizer, masks and social distancing were implemented during the in-person ceremony. The ceremony was organized by A Community Funeral Home, owned by Unique Green, a transgender black woman. She hand-selected the casket, shopped for Roberts’ outfit, a pantsuit, and selected the lilies and rainbow roses that decorated the room. “To me, Monica is a legend, she’s a trailblazer, so to be given the opportunity to grace the world with this — there are no words to explain how grateful I was for the ability to present her to the world,” Green said. “It means everything.” Cristal Solares-Bockman and Nick Tripp wept together at Roberts’ coffin at the front of the auditorium where it sat surrounded by flowers and photos. Solares Bockman said she met Roberts at a mutual friends’ home when she was homeless at 19 after coming out as a transgender woman. When they talked, Roberts gave Solares-Bockman a sense of possibility when life seemed bleak, she said.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 25, 2020

‘I want to see them burn to the ground’ — Democrats angry with Republicans turning San Antonio’s 78209 into battleground

A longtime Republican stronghold in the heart of San Antonio is shaping up as a partisan battleground. For decades, ZIP code 78209 — the home of affluent Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills — was the domain of well-known Republicans, including former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and Congressman Lamar Smith. Support for President Donald Trump still is prevalent here. Flags with his name fly from trees and houses. Residents have given so much to Trump’s re-election campaign that ’09 ranks among the top ZIP codes nationally in fundraising for the president.

But “Republicans for Biden” signs also are in evidence. The Trump era has stoked Democratic turnout in ’09, delivering gains for Democrats in previously Republican neighborhoods. Even some longtime Republicans say they’re uneasy about giving the president a second term. For Terrell Hills resident Susie Golden, four years of Trump is more than enough. She voted for former Vice President Joe Biden this year and for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016. “The list is so long, starting with the misogyny, the racism, just the lying, the craziness … the list is endless,” Golden said. “I just dislike everything about that man.” Golden grew up in a Republican household, she said, and still has residual respect for Republicans in the Straus mold — fiscally conservative with a moderate temperament and less eagerness to please a far-right base. But given sitting Republicans’ association with Trump, they don’t deserve to keep their jobs, she said. She voted for Democrats up and down the ballot.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 25, 2020

Elaine Ayala: San Antonio’s lack of leadership on the Alamo Plaza redevelopment project begs for change

If it isn’t already obvious, the city of San Antonio’s role in the $450 million Alamo Plaza redevelopment plan has been a failure. Throughout this six-year ordeal, the city has failed to lead. It has failed to be transparent. It has failed to be accountable. It has failed to be inclusive. It has failed to show good judgment, as it did in signing off to move the Alamo Cenotaph without getting local buy-in. As if city leaders didn’t know that the Cenotaph had more supporters than the redevelopment plan. As if the city had no clue the Texas Historical Commission might deny its permit to move it.

Like it has in the past, the city went along with another attempt by the state to bulldoze past every opposition, however great, however small. It has been a show of arrogance. This week, plans were announced to build a new repository to house the $15.5 million Phil Collins collection of Battle of the Alamo artifacts and documents. The building will be constructed behind the Alamo, on its grounds. The plan came out of nowhere. It also was a result of desperation. The Alamo risks losing the Collins collection if it doesn’t have a home for it by this time next year. This was a failure of the Texas General Land Office; the Alamo Trust, which operates the Alamo on its behalf; and the city of San Antonio. They’ve failed to build a museum and visitor center across from the Alamo. Again, not enough buy-in. The project sounds like it’s back to Square 1. From the start, the city has conducted itself as if it has no power over what’s done at Alamo Plaza. It has not acted as a partner on the project, but a servant.

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KXAN - October 24, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott says ‘We must end’ mail-in ballot fraud, points to KXAN investigation finding 150 charges since 2004

On Friday evening, Gov. Greg Abbott took to Twitter to call for the end of “mail ballot vote fraud in Texas.” In a tweet, Abbott cited a Thursday KXAN Investigation, which found that in Texas, 150 people have been charged with voter fraud crime since 2004. The methods of voter fraud in these charges included ineligible felons casting ballots and people voting using names of deceased people.

“This shows Mail ballot vote fraud in Texas,” Abbott tweeted Friday. “We must end it.” But many in the Governor’s replies pointed to the fact that 150 in 16 years does not necessarily reflect a widespread problem. “150 out of 250,000,000 in 16 years?” someone responded. Other replies included: “It shows how difficult it is to get away with mail ballot vote fraud in Texas.” The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute at the New York University Law School, has widely researched instances of voter fraud in the U.S. In one of its most noted reports, “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” the Brennan Center reports that “voter fraud” is most often exaggerated. Additionally, the report says claims of voter fraud don’t take into account honest mistakes by voters: for instance, someone may not be aware they are currently ineligible to vote and may cast a ballot without knowing it.

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Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 24, 2020

John Moritz: LBJ protege says Donald Trump is wrong to claim he's done most for Blacks since Lincoln

One Texan whose political career got more than a little help from Lyndon Johnson called Donald Trump's claim that he has done more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln a gross distortion of history and an affront to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. "Johnson's Civil Rights (Act) was a moon shot," said former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who was elected to the Texas House in 1961 at age 22 and became a protege to both Johnson and former Gov. John Connally.

One Texan whose political career got more than a little help from Lyndon Johnson called Donald Trump's claim that he has done more for Black Americans than any president since Abraham Lincoln a gross distortion of history and an affront to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. "Johnson's Civil Rights (Act) was a moon shot," said former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who was elected to the Texas House in 1961 at age 22 and became a protege to both Johnson and former Gov. John Connally. Johnson, himself a southerner, had to break with several close friends in Congress, and some back home, as he cobbled together the coalition needed to break the impasse on what would become two of his signature domestic achievements as president — the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, signed one year later. "I don't think anyone could have passed that bill other than Lyndon Johnson," Barnes said.

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City Stories

McAllen Monitor - October 24, 2020

Electioneering ordinance designed to encourage participation in Pharr

The city of Pharr approved an ordinance that limits electioneering at polling locations throughout town. The first reading of the ordinance was introduced by Interim City Manager Edward M. Wylie during the Sept. 8 city commissioners meeting. During that meeting, Wylie suggested regulating election activity for the sake of keeping order.

Other officials sought to stamp out voter intimidation and to encourage greater participation at the polls. The measure was approved earlier this month and has been put into practice at Pharr polling locations since the start of early voting. “The law says that we cannot stop electioneering, which is the right of the people to push who they want to vote for, but we can control it,” Wylie said during the meeting. “We can regulate time, place and manner. We want to make it a little more orderly in the city of Pharr. So once you get on city property, i.e. the parking lot, once you drive into the parking lot, electioneering cannot happen. They can electioneer on the sidewalk, which is a public right of way. Pretty much that’s where they can do it.”

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San Antonio Express-News - October 23, 2020

TEA investigators urge a state monitor for South San Antonio ISD board

Trustees of the South San Antonio Independent School District violated state law last year when they repeatedly micromanaged their superintendent and his staff, state investigators have concluded. “This inability to govern caused dissent between Board members, the Superintendent and other district leadership and was detrimental to the students … thus affecting student outcomes,” states a report summarizing the Texas Education Agency’s findings.

The 18-page document, signed by Director of Special Investigations Adam Benthall, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the contentious relationship between former superintendent Alexandro Flores and a board majority that directed him and his staff to fast-track the reopening of three previously shuttered schools. A preliminary report not considered a public record until finalized, it was sent Tuesday to the district superintendent and board members. A copy was obtained by the Express-News. The report recommended a state monitor be appointed to the district. South San had a monitor last year, Laurie Elliott, who some trustees complained about or disregarded. Elliott recommended the TEA appoint a conservator, which has more direct oversight power and can overrule board actions. Trustees can request a review of the report and submit additional evidence by Nov. 2. If they don’t, it becomes final and they are then required to meet to explain its findings and their next steps and listen to anyone who wants to address them.

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KUT - October 25, 2020

A Texas Boogaloo Boi charged in Minneapolis riots was pulled over in Austin. He was let go.

A South Texas man charged with participating in a riot in Minneapolis after George Floyd's death was stopped by Austin police days later, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Friday. FBI investigators say 26-year-old Ivan Hunter of Boerne traveled from Texas to Minneapolis with the intent to start a riot. Hunter is a self-described member of the Boogaloo Bois, which has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

On May 28, Hunter allegedly fired an AK-47-style rifle into the Minneapolis Police Department's third precinct, which was ultimately set ablaze using Molotov cocktails. The fire was blamed initially on protesters. The Minnesota Star Tribune's Andy Mannix first reported news of the charges. The complaint alleges the de facto leader of the Boogaloo Bois, Steven Carrillo, told Hunter to "go for police buildings" hours before the shooting and the fire. A defendant cooperating with the FBI also told investigators Hunter fired the shots into the precinct. Authorities believe Hunter is the man on a video who yells "Justice for Floyd!" after firing 13 shots into the building. Days later, Hunter was in downtown Austin near protests outside Austin police headquarters with two other men – all three of whom allegedly were equipped with assault-style weapons and tactical gear.

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National Stories

New York Times - October 24, 2020

How The Epoch Times created a giant influence machine

For years, The Epoch Times was a small, low-budget newspaper with an anti-China slant that was handed out free on New York street corners. But in 2016 and 2017, the paper made two changes that transformed it into one of the country’s most powerful digital publishers. The changes also paved the way for the publication, which is affiliated with the secretive and relatively obscure Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong, to become a leading purveyor of right-wing misinformation. First, it embraced President Trump, treating him as an ally in Falun Gong’s scorched-earth fight against China’s ruling Communist Party, which banned the group two decades ago and has persecuted its members ever since. Its relatively staid coverage of U.S. politics became more partisan, with more articles explicitly supporting Mr. Trump and criticizing his opponents.

Around the same time, The Epoch Times bet big on another powerful American institution: Facebook. The publication and its affiliates employed a novel strategy that involved creating dozens of Facebook pages, filling them with feel-good videos and viral clickbait, and using them to sell subscriptions and drive traffic back to its partisan news coverage. In an April 2017 email to the staff obtained by The New York Times, the paper’s leadership envisioned that the Facebook strategy could help turn The Epoch Times into “the world’s largest and most authoritative media.” It could also introduce millions of people to the teachings of Falun Gong, fulfilling the group’s mission of “saving sentient beings.” Today, The Epoch Times and its affiliates are a force in right-wing media, with tens of millions of social media followers spread across dozens of pages and an online audience that rivals those of The Daily Caller and Breitbart News, and with a similar willingness to feed the online fever swamps of the far right. It also has growing influence in Mr. Trump’s inner circle. The president and his family have shared articles from the paper on social media, and Trump administration officials have sat for interviews with its reporters. In August, a reporter from The Epoch Times asked a question at a White House press briefing. It is a remarkable success story for Falun Gong, which has long struggled to establish its bona fides against Beijing’s efforts to demonize it as an “evil cult,” partly because its strident accounts of persecution in China can sometimes be difficult to substantiate or veer into exaggeration. In 2006, an Epoch Times reporter disrupted a White House visit by the Chinese president by shouting, “Evil people will die early.”

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NPR - October 25, 2020

Universal mask wearing could save some 130,000 lives in the U.S., study suggests

Universal mask wearing in public could greatly reduce the number of Americans who die by COVID-19 by February, a study published Friday in the journal Nature Medicine projects. Researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation made estimates based on some assumptions under different scenarios. In what they describe as the worst-case scenario, they project that COVID-19 deaths could exceed a million between September 2020 and February 2021 if what they call "the current pattern of easing" restrictions continues in states.

In a second scenario that they think is more likely, they say 511,000 could die between September and February under the assumption that "states would once again shut down social interaction and some economic activity" for six weeks once deaths reach a certain threshold per million residents. But in a third scenario where 95% of the population dons face coverings and social restrictions are in place, the projection is for deaths to be about 381,000 — or about 130,000 fewer than under the second scenario. If that mask percentage changes to 85% of Americans with restrictions, it could still save some 96,000 lives, they say. The study analyzed previous COVID-19 deaths and cases between Feb. 1 and Sept. 21. Researchers also pulled information from various surveys — including ones by Facebook and YouGov — to estimate that as of Sept. 21, only 49% of Americans reported always wearing a mask.

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CNN - October 24, 2020

Murkowski announces she will vote yes to confirm Amy Coney Barrett

Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced Saturday that she will ultimately vote yes on Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States. "I believe that the only way to put us back on the path of appropriate consideration of judicial nominees, is to evaluate Judge Barrett as we would want to be judged -- on the merits of her qualifications. And we do that when that final question comes before us. And when it does, I will be a yes," Murkowski said on the Senate floor. The Alaska Republican had been keeping her decision private and had previously said that she did not believe the Senate should be taking up a Supreme Court nomination this close to the election.

Murkowski's announcement comes just one day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut off debate and set up a final confirmation vote for Barrett to take place just eight days before the election. McConnell's move sets up a Sunday afternoon procedural vote to break a Democratic filibuster and then a final confirmation vote, likely Monday evening. Only one Republican -- Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is facing a competitive reelection fight -- is expected to vote against the confirmation due to concerns that it's too close to the election to consider a nominee. All Democrats are expected to vote against the nomination, though Republicans still have enough votes to confirm Barrett. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the nomination to the full chamber, over the boycott of Democratic committee members, who put in their seats pictures of individuals affected by the Affordable Care Act. Unable to stop the confirmation, Democrats have resorted to theatrical tactics instead to spotlight their anger. Democratic senators on Friday forced a rare closed session so members could privately discuss their concerns about the process. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he wanted the closed session in order to have a "candid conversation" about the push to confirm the nomination.

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Bloomberg - October 25, 2020

Two top Pence aides positive for coronavirus

Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, has tested positive for coronavirus infection, bringing the pandemic into the vice president’s inner circle. Earlier Saturday, Bloomberg News reported that one of Pence’s closest political advisers, Marty Obst, had also been infected by the virus, adding further to the cases in and around the White House. Short is Pence’s top aide, a constant presence in his company who frequently acts as a public spokesman for the vice president. Pence, who delivered a campaign speech in Tallahassee, Florida on Saturday evening, has not reported a positive test. Pence’s office confirmed Short’s diagnosis in a statement.

The vice president was aware of Short’s positive test before leaving for Florida, according to people familiar with the matter. Short was not seen aboard Pence’s plane, according to the pool reporter traveling with Pence, Megan Pratz. It wasn’t immediately clear if Obst or Short had developed symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Obst tested positive on Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter. Short was diagnosed on Saturday, according to the statement from Pence’s office. Pence’s office said that the vice president is considered a close contact of Short but would not quarantine and would maintain his schedule as “essential personnel” under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Obst is not a government employee, but is frequently in contact with Pence and his staff and often visits the White House grounds. He was last around Pence about a week ago but wasn’t in close proximity to the vice president, two of the people said. Obst was quiet on Twitter the day of his diagnosis, with just one retweet, but has since been active on the social media platform, posting criticism of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Obst declined to comment. Short didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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BuzzFeed - October 24, 2020

A leaked internal report reveals The Wall Street Journal is struggling with aging readers and covering race

A brutal internal Wall Street Journal report obtained by BuzzFeed News reveals how the 130-year-old broadsheet is struggling mightily in the current digital and cultural age — such as not covering racial issues because reporters are afraid to mention them to editors, playing to the limited interests of its aging core audience, at times losing more subscribers than it takes in, and favoring “a print edition that lands in the recycling bin.” The crown jewel of Rupert Murdoch’s media company has weathered months of strife between its news and opinion sections. In July, the same month the report is dated, more than 280 staffers at the Journal and sister newsroom Dow Jones signed a letter to its publisher calling for clearer distinctions between the opinion and news. “Opinion’s lack of fact-checking and transparency, and its apparent disregard for evidence, undermine our readers’ trust and our ability to gain credibility with sources,” the letter said.

This week, the Journal’s news division ran a reported piece that knocked down claims published in an opinion section piece just hours earlier. The opinion piece was trying to connect the dots on a smear alleging corruption by former vice president Joe Biden just days before the presidential election. The report, which one person at the Journal said was sent to some editors but not the whole newsroom, argues that many of the Wall Street Journal’s editors do not understand the internet and its readers — focusing its content instead on its long-term older male subscribers, rather than on a growing younger audience key to its survival. “Here’s the bottom line: if we want to grow to 5.5 million digital subscribers, and if we continue with churn, traffic and digital growth about where they are today — it will take us on the order of 22 years,” the report reads. “Oh fuck, wow,” one Journal employee told BuzzFeed News in reaction to these figures. “Speaking honestly, I would say that paints a bleaker picture of the Journal’s competitive position than most rank-and-file employees have been led to believe.”

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Newsclips - October 23, 2020

Lead Stories

Financial Times - October 23, 2020

Inside the Democrats’ battle to take back Texas

The first time Sima Ladjevardian experienced a political revolution, she was 12 years old and sitting in a classroom in Tehran in the middle of what felt like an earthquake. “Everything was shaking,” she says, recalling the uprising that engulfed Iran four decades ago and led to the country’s Islamic republic. “We all came out and it was a sea of people throwing acid into the school and shooting guns in the air. Very scary.” There had been whispers at home about the dangers of the revolution. Ladjevardian’s grandmother had helped women secure the right to vote and then become a member of parliament. Her father was also an MP at the time. But after that eventful day, those rumours turned into a harsh reality when her mother told her and her brother that they would go to Paris — just for a short while. “I had a really weird premonition that we were just never gonna go back,” she says. She was right. Her family spent two years in France, before moving to California to pursue the American dream. As a teenager, Ladjevardian perfected her English by watching Star Wars. Now 54, she talks to me from Houston, Texas, where in next month’s US elections she will embark on her own political quest with the Democratic party: she is campaigning to oust Dan Crenshaw, a freshman Republican in the second congressional district in Texas.

The turning point for Ladjevardian was watching Donald Trump win the White House in 2016. “That night when Trump won, I honestly had so much anxiety and flashbacks to everything that had happened in my life, to kind of thinking, ‘Oh my god, there’s going to be a revolution in this country,’” she says, explaining that she felt Trump had given licence to people to be racist and xenophobic. There was only one answer. “I decided to get more involved.” Four years later, Ladjevardian is one of many Democratic candidates in Texas hoping to convert anti-Trump sentiment into victories at the state and national level on November 3. Women are at the forefront of this push — from MJ Hegar, a retired Air Force pilot who is taking aim at Senator John Cornyn, to those such as Natalí Hurtado and Keke Williams, who are fighting for seats in the Texas House of Representatives — the lower house of the state legislature. Expectations for their party are rising. Joe Biden, the Democrat presidential candidate, is trailing Trump in Texas by just four points and has invested several million dollars there to boost his campaign and help other races. Democrats are also raising record amounts of money, helping to return the Lone Star state to serious battleground status for the first time in years. The Ladjevardian-Crenshaw fight is the eighth most expensive congressional contest of the 435 races this November. Republicans in the state take the threat seriously. Steve Munisteri, former head of the Texas Republican party, says: “We have to treat it like the largest competitive state in the union. Democrats are pouring a lot of money into the state, but Republicans are not.” Yet the former Trump White House official, who is advising Cornyn in his race, says the Republican National Committee is convinced that “Texas is pretty solid” for them, even if he thinks the president is only “slightly ahead”. Scott Braddock, editor of Quorum Report, a Texas politics newsletter, says the current situation reminds him of the Republican effort in 2002 to win the state House. “It’s that aggressive,” he says. But it’s also a sign of how big a challenge it will be. “A majority victory isn’t possible unless they win in some of those unexpected places,” says Braddock. The Texas Democratic party is targeting 22 Texas House districts — nine where O’Rourke beat Cruz and 13 where he lost with a margin of less than 10 points. In one district that is home to the Fort Hood military base, Keke Williams, a black retired army captain, is trying to oust Brad Buckley. Just before my call with O’Rourke, I read that Williams said she had raised more than $330,000 in seven weeks. O’Rourke says it is “phenomenal” that the veteran has raised so much money in an area that “is not a liberal bastion”.

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Houston Chronicle - October 23, 2020

Second whistleblower who accused Texas AG Ken Paxton of corruption has been fired

A second whistleblower who accused Attorney General Ken Paxton of public corruption has been fired, potentially exposing the state to liability for illegal retaliation, the Houston Chronicle has learned. Blake Brickman, hired in February to be Paxton’s deputy attorney general for policy and strategic initiatives, was fired on Tuesday, according to a former high-ranking state official and documents reviewed by the Chronicle. Brickman, a Dallas native who had recently served as chief of staff to former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, declined comment. Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Brickman is at least the second of seven Paxton accusers to be fired. The Texas Tribune reported this week that Lacey Mase, former deputy attorney general for administration, had been terminated. At least one of the whistleblowing aides has been placed on leave by Paxton’s office and another resigned to take a different job.

Brickman, Mase and five other top Paxton aides made an official complaint to law enforcement on Sept. 30, then wrote him a letter accusing him of multiple violations of law, including “abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses.” Paxton, a Republican, has called them “rogue employees” who sought to impede a legitimate investigation and made false allegations against him. The aides are accusing Paxton of using his office to benefit his friend and donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor whose home and offices were raided last year by the FBI. Paul, who gave Paxton a $25,000 campaign contribution in 2018, has complained vociferously that he was treated unfairly and illegally by state and federal law enforcement. Those complaints reached Paxton and eventually led the attorney general to launch an investigation. The probe proved to be the final straw for the whistleblowers, prompting them to report the attorney general to law enforcement and complain that Paxton was using the “criminal process” to help his donor. Earlier this month, Paxton pulled the plug on the investigation after Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore distanced her office from it. The firings of the two whistleblowers are raising eyebrows from employment attorneys. Under a unique provision of Texas law, a state agency is presumed to be retaliating against a whistleblower if a termination occurs 90 days or less after the whistleblower reports the violation to law enforcement.

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Deadline - October 23, 2020

Final presidential debate review: Joe Biden & Donald Trump offer few surprises as campaign limps to the end

In the last debate of likely the last campaign of their respective presidential ambitions, Joe Biden and Donald Trump offered few surprises tonight, which may have been the biggest surprise of all. With just 12-days to go before the election, this meet-up in Nashville was a far cry from the train wreck of the first debate last month. Yet, for all the muted microphone hype and anticipation, in the end, the two septuagenarians and tonight’s tepid event probably didn’t change a single voters’ mind in a nation where more 40 million have already cast their ballots. Just before the candidates strolled on stage, moderator and NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Walker prophesied a “really robust discussion” after greeting the respective families and scant guests. For the most part, with Biden passionately slamming Trump’s racism and his “dog whistle about as big as a foghorn,” that was true, but there was little new in the last stretch of the bitterly contested campaign.

Additionally, trying to hold the boys to their best behavior and time, Walker may have had a series of subjects on her agenda. In the end, this second meet-up of the ex-vice-president and the Celebrity Apprentice host was all about the coronavirus and the incumbent, just like the election. “We’re learning to live with it,” Trump said of the virus that has killed more than 222,000 Americans and seen more than 8.3 million confirmed cases, including the incumbent himself. Biden replied with the tragic line of the night: “People are learning to die with it.” In fact, with a lot of the same old same old talking points we’ve heard too many times before, the tone and drama was set before anyone said a word. Biden walked on stage in a black mask that he took off as he approached the podium and the former real estate developer entered with a scowl on his face. When Biden, in the first 30 minutes, told Trump that we ought to be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time” on managing the pandemic and the economy, the die was cast – even if you count the duo literally arguing over Abraham Lincoln.

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Houston Chronicle - October 22, 2020

The oil industry is consolidating. That's bad news for workers in Houston.

Mergers and acquisitions are sweeping the oil and gas industry, creating ever larger companies that can better withstand the crude market’s boom and bust cycles. ConocoPhillip’s $9.7 billion takeover of Concho Resources and Pioneer Natural Resources’ $4.5 billion pursuit of Parsley Energy — both announced this week — are the latest attempts by beleaguered energy companies to pool resources and slash costs in the wake of the historic oil bust caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The deals come on the heels of Chevron’s nearly $12 billion acquisition of Houston-based Noble Energy this month, and Devon Energy’s plans to purchase WPX Energy for nearly $2.6 billion.

But this new wave of consolidation will leave behind a smaller industry with fewer players employing fewer workers, analysts say. That’s bad news for Houston, the nation’s energy capital, which has already lost thousands of jobs in recent oil busts. “Everybody knows that when two companies come together, the sum of the two is not going to survive,” said Karr Ingham, a petroleum economist with the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. “If Company X has 1,000 employees and Company Y has 1,000, you’re not going to have a combined company with 2,000 employees. The tendency is that consolidation causes job loss.” Energy companies have laid off 17,500 drilling-related workers in the Houston region since 2018, with more than 70 percent of those cuts coming during the past six months of the pandemic, according to the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. While it appears the job losses stemming from the pandemic are slowing this fall, more layoffs could be coming as companies merge and cut redundant positions.

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State Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 22, 2020

Joe Biden leads in Texas in latest poll

Former Vice President Joe Biden leads in Texas in a poll of more than 3,000 likely voters released Thursday that showed him with a 1-percentage point edge over President Donald Trump. The Morning Consult poll of 3,347 likely voters conducted between Oct. 11 and 20 carries a margin of error of 1.7 points. It showed Biden leading Trump 48 to 47. It’s not the first to show Biden with a lead in Texas, but it’s by far the largest survey to show such a result. A Public Policy Polling survey of 721 likely voters released earlier this month showed Biden leading 48-49. On Wednesday, a Quinnipiac University survey showed Biden and President Donald Trump in a dead heat in Texas.

The Morning Consult poll comes just hours before Biden and Trump are scheduled to meet for their final . It showed a close Senate contest as well, with Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn leading Democratic challenger MJ Hegar, a former Air Force pilot, by five percentage points. It’s the latest poll to show Texas is staring down its first competitive presidential race in decades. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state was Jimmy Carter in 1976. Experts say polling in Texas should be viewed cautiously this year, perhaps more than ever, in part because of that increasing competitiveness. Pollsters say Texas isn’t easy to gauge accurately even in a normal year, and 2020 is anything but that. Texas Democrats were encouraged by the polls, but urged voters to not get complacent. "Polls don't vote. We need all hands on deck,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the party. “We're on the verge of history."

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Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

‘Will you remember that Texas?’: Key moments from the final Biden-Trump presidential debate

After an intense debate exchange between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden over dueling claims of corruption, the Democrat said there was an explanation for why the Republican was “bringing up all this malarkey.” The president “doesn’t want to talk about the substantive issues,” Biden asserted. “It’s not about his family and my family,” the former vice president said, turning to speak directly to the camera. “It’s about your family, and your family’s hurting badly.” Trump listened intently while Biden cited families who might be sitting around the kitchen table, discussing how to make it through the coronavirus pandemic and its related economic downturn. Then the president interjected to mock the former vice president’s tone and approach.

“Let’s get off this China thing, then he looks to family, around the table, and everything, just your typical politician,” Trump said. “That’s why I got elected. Let’s get off the subject of China. Let’s talk sitting around the table. Come on, Joe, you can do better.” The moment captured one of the White House race’s fundamental divides, one that persisted even amid a presidential debate in Nashville that was decidedly less combative as the two candidates accepted the use of a mute button and mostly followed the moderator’s rules. Trump, a businessman, takes pride in having redefined what it means to be presidential. Biden, a career politician, sees Trump’s approach as reckless and harmful. That fissure was exposed repeatedly throughout the 90-minute clash – the final debate of the 2020 White House race – as the candidates covered a wide range of issues, with Texas playing into the contest at a few key junctures.. Texas received an early mention in the debate as Trump and Biden discussed the coronavirus pandemic. Asked to explain how he would combat the outbreak as cases begin to rise again, the president said “we’re fighting it and we’re fighting it hard.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2020

Congressional battle between Rep. Roger Williams, Julie Oliver spotlights Texas' evolving political map

When Julie Oliver launched a longshot campaign in 2018 to unseat Republican Rep. Roger Williams in a conservative stronghold that stretches out from the Fort Worth suburbs, the Democrat said she “wasn’t thinking at the time, ‘Am I going to win?’” Instead, she recalled, her mentality was more along the lines of “Gosh, I hope I can win.” But after coming within nine points of Williams in that election – and then subsequently raising hundreds of thousands of dollars more this cycle than she collected for her bid two years ago – the former health care executive said “something has shifted.”

“I know I can win,” she said. It remains to be seen if her confidence is warranted in a mostly Central Texas district that President Donald Trump won by 15 points in the 2016 election, particularly since Williams has stressed that he’s taking “nothing for granted” and is running his campaign accordingly. “I feel good about our chances,” said the four-term congressman, who’s also scaled up his operation from two years ago. The fact that it’s even a question is a testament to Texas' evolving political map. Williams' district runs from south of Fort Worth through Fort Hood on down past Austin – forming a swath that was designed to be solid GOP turf. But the region’s fast-changing suburbs have altered the political calculus – and Oliver, a former “math-lete,” has seized upon that. What’s perhaps most fascinating amid that backdrop is how Oliver and Williams are running unabashed campaigns. Williams, the scion of a family-owned car dealership empire, touts his business bonafides, saying he serves as a “voice for Main Street” in Washington. Oliver counters that the Republican has “put himself first,” using his influence in Congress to benefit his business and his donors.

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Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2020

Health care could be deciding factor in Dallas County battleground district for Texas House

Republicans once had a stronghold on House District 114 — now, the North Dallas seat is one of the more intriguing legislative battlegrounds after Democrat incumbent Rep. John Turner flipped the district two years ago. Gone are the days of Jason Villaba, a three-term Republican from Dallas, who lost to Lisa Luby Ryan in the 2018 GOP primary. Despite Villaba’s 15-point victory in the 2016 general election, staunch conservative Ryan lost to Turner, a first-time candidate and moderate Democrat, by over 11 points two years later. Hillary Clinton even beat President Donald Trump by 8.9 points in 2016 in the district.

Now, HD 114 is providing another interesting race, this time between Turner and his GOP challenger Luisa del Rosal, a Mexican immigrant who is a pro-business, small government Republican with what some describe as a moderate approach. Turner only has two years of experience in the Texas Legislature, but the Yale-educated attorney believes what he’s learned since 2018 is crucial to help him navigate what is sure to be a turbulent session that begins in January. One of his victories in the 86th legislative session, Turner said, was working on his top issue: education. That meant tackling House Bill 3, which included a $11.6 billion school finance measure, with $6.5 billion for new public school spending and $5.1 billion for lowering Texans' property taxes. “Personally, I was able to pass a number of bills in my first session, bipartisan bills on first responders, on support for trial victims of crime and got to work on the budget as a member of the Appropriations Committee,” Turner said. “So I feel good about those accomplishments in the first session.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2020

D-FW polls are sanitized and distanced, but some voters refuse to wear masks in 2nd week of early voting

Texans have packed the polls in the second week of early voting despite the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 5.1 million in-person ballots cast. Even where people had to wait together in long lines, many said they felt safe — though a little uncomfortable at times. Hand sanitizer, masks and good efforts to maintain safe space in crowds were common. But not everyone kept their distance. Some voters have been reluctant or unwilling to cover their faces, and some folks — including poll workers — may let their mask slip below their noses.

Polling locations prepared for weeks to get ready, stocking up on disposable styluses, cotton swabs and plenty of sanitizer. The efforts were focused on following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Voters and poll workers have been encouraged to wear masks in line and while voting, but they aren’t legally required at the polls as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order. People who are waiting to cast their ballots have been urged to stay 6 feet from the people around them, which contributed to the long lines during the first week of early voting. Many polling locations were following the same social-distancing trend this week, but the rules weren’t universally observed. Jordan Niland, a 27-year-old Dallas resident, said the line outside Fretz Park Branch Library in Far North Dallas was long Monday afternoon because people were socially distanced. Inside, though, the close quarters of the library made her a little uncomfortable. “Once you actually get in, the little registration table where you give them your ID or your voter registration card is not socially distanced,” she said. “Everyone’s wearing a mask, but as far as socially distanced, I’m not really noticing that happening.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2020

As Cornyn says Hegar’s salty language is too naughty for a senator, she says he’s too prim for Texas

The swear jar is out in Texas' Senate race. Sen. John Cornyn, the incumbent Republican, on Thursday launched a digital advertisement that featured several bleeped-out clips of his Democratic opponent, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, using curse words at forums and in other public settings. “Warning. Graphic language,” the ad began. “Here’s the truth, MJ,” Cornyn’s camp added on Twitter. “Texans DO … care… about who represents them, and in these times, they need a leader with a steady hand who treats people with respect.” Hegar’s response? A few more bleeps. “Here’s another ad for you, John!” she wrote on Twitter.

“You’re a sell-out, and Texans see through your bull----,” she continued, not censoring her words. “We’re mad as hell that you tried to gut our health care. It’s a damn shame you’ve spent so long in DC you forgot what regular Texans sound like. So we’re gonna send your ass home!” It’s a war of words, in other words, over bad words. The tart-tongued tussle almost certainly reflects the growing battle for the Texas suburbs, traditionally conservative areas outside of Dallas and other urban centers that have started to trend more Democratic since President Donald Trump -- foul-mouthed in his own right -- won the White House. If the potty mouth politics sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Just two years ago, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ran an similar digital advertisement against his Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, highlighting the former El Paso congressman’s penchant for the f-bomb with a tagline that said O’Rourke was “showing the #@%* up.” “If Beto shows up in your town, maybe keep the kids at home,” the Cruz ad intoned.

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Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2020

An early look at census numbers in North Texas shows Dallas is the biggest loser

The 2020 census came to an early end last week, and Dallas County appears to be the biggest loser in North Texas. With a self-response rate of 63.9%, Dallas County had the lowest rate of the four most populous counties in North Texas, trailing Collin County (73.8%), Denton County (71.4%) and Tarrant County (68.8%). Self-response rates reflect households that responded to the census online, by mail or by phone. These response rates do not include households that were visited in person by census workers and are not the official census counts.

Through Monday, 67% of American households had responded through self-response, and 32.9% were visited in person, according to the Census Bureau. Of the four counties, Dallas had a lower self-response rate than the previous 2010 census. Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties had high self-response rates this year compared with the previous census — albeit by margins no greater than 2%. The overall self-response rate in Texas was 62.8%, lower than the 64.4% rate in the 2010 census. Though the figures may seem small, every person undercounted in this year’s census equates to a loss of about $15,000 in federal funding over the next decade, according to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Even an undercount of 1% of the county could mean a loss of $400 million in federal dollars over the next 10 years. The loss of those funds could affect day cares, clinics, food stamps and senior citizen support, among a long list of programs that count on federal help, according to Edward Rincón, president of Rincón & Associates. “You see long lines of people collecting food. People are already suffering because of the pandemic,” Rincón said, adding that an undercount will only compound that. “It’s going to really strap our ability to do business as usual.”

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Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2020

Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro fume that Biden has neglected Texas, demand ‘crunch time’ investment

Two of Joe Biden’s top allies in Texas pleaded Thursday for him to pay attention to the state, venting frustration at his lack of investment despite vast resources and signs that Texas is closer than it’s been in decades to slipping from the GOP grip. “We need some help from the national ticket,” said Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso congressman who nearly toppled Sen. Ted Cruz two years ago. “The voters in Texas are doing their part,” he said on a Texas Democratic Party call to preview Thursday night’s presidential debate in Nashville.

Julián Castro, the former Obama housing secretary and San Antonio mayor echoed the demand. “My hope is that we will see from the DNC and from the Biden campaign investment in Texas in these last 12 days, because this is it. It’s crunch time. It’s now or never,” he told reporters ahead of the final Biden-Trump showdown. Castro noted that Biden has $180 million more cash than President Donald Trump, and the gap may widen as donors see victory as a real possibility. “There are big priorities,” he conceded, "like making sure that Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are locked down. The Biden campaign is doing a fantastic job of locking those states down, and they need to. “But to have Texas at 48-47, 48-48 -- that’s just too much to ignore. The resources and investments ought to be made,” he said. The public reprimand marks an escalation. They and other Texas Democrats have expressed annoyance at the Biden campaign’s relatively casual approach to Texas. Jimmy Carter was the last Democratic nominee to win the state, in 1976, and through the Reagan and Bush eras the GOP solidified their control.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

TEA investigators urge a state monitor for South San Antonio ISD board

Trustees of the South San Antonio Independent School District violated state law last year when they repeatedly micromanaged their superintendent and his staff, state investigators have concluded. “This inability to govern caused dissent between Board members, the Superintendent and other district leadership and was detrimental to the students … thus affecting student outcomes,” states a report summarizing the Texas Education Agency’s findings. The 18-page document, signed by Director of Special Investigations Adam Benthall, offers a behind-the-scenes look at the contentious relationship between former superintendent Alexandro Flores and a board majority that directed him and his staff to fast-track the reopening of three previously shuttered schools.

A preliminary report not considered a public record until finalized, it was sent Tuesday to the district superintendent and board members. A copy was obtained by the Express-News. The report recommended a state monitor be appointed to the district. South San had a monitor last year, Laurie Elliott, who some trustees complained about or disregarded. Elliott recommended the TEA appoint a conservator, which has more direct oversight power and can overrule board actions. Trustees can request a review of the report and submit additional evidence by Nov. 2. If they don’t, it becomes final and they are then required to meet to explain its findings and their next steps and listen to anyone who wants to address them. West Campus High School, Kazen Middle School and Athens Elementary were opened just in time to welcome students last fall, but attendance was dismal. Trustees in the board majority who had pushed for the swift reopenings blamed Flores for not doing enough to attract students. The superintendent left the district two weeks later, taking a contract buyout that totaled $187,000, and three trustees who had sided with him against the majority abruptly resigned.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

Elaine Ayala: Dan Patrick’s Texas, where voting has been discouraged by Republicans, or at least not encouraged by them

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick long has drawn scurrilous attention for his raw-to-half-baked declarations. His legendary brand of absurdity made national headlines in March when he suggested the elderly would be willing to sacrifice their lives in the name of reopening the economy. Patrick famously championed a bill that would’ve restricted potty use to further marginalize transgender citizens. That nabbed him Texas Monthly’s top Bum Steer award in 2018 for dragging “Texas politics into the bathroom.” A die-hard gun-rights supporter, Patrick said too many entrances and exits in a school building led to a shooting that left 10 dead. He blamed everything but lax gun laws.

Perhaps only Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, accused by senior aides of bribery and abuse of office, has been more embarrassing for Texas than Patrick. Though that would be a competitive race. This week, in the face of increased mail-in balloting in Texas — and higher early-voting numbers — Patrick said everyone knows there’s fraud in mail-in ballots. He then reacted angrily when told the fraud charge sounded like more voter suppression. That was hyperbole. There has been very little documented voter fraud in the United States — hard period — and little to none in mail-in ballots. His comments sounded more like desperation from a party — and President Donald Trump’s man in Texas — that will do anything to stay in control of Texas, several experts said. Lydia Camarillo, who leads the national voter advocacy group Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, studies voting rights and trends. Patrick’s comments were meant to discourage voting. Strangely, she said, those comments may impact Republican voters, too.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

Stephen Amberg: Cornyn has been, and will be, a barrier to progress

(Stephen Amberg has taught courses on American political development, comparative economic policy, social movements and political creativity for 30 years at the University of Texas at San Antonio.) Sen. John Cornyn made a deathbed conversion this summer to support Dreamers and unemployment benefits to mixed immigration status families. He was against these before he was for them, but Cornyn knows the Republican Party is tanking. Yet Cornyn’s long record as a partisan Republican suggests he’ll revert to type if re-elected to a fourth term. The Republican Party adopted no platform for America for the first time since the 1850s — and Cornyn has no vision for the new Texas. Texas will soon have a majority minority population, which means that its future is tied to social justice for Blacks and Mexican Americans. Texas needs a senator who is committed to public education and closing the digital divide, guaranteed health care, policing and bail reform, workers’ rights to bargain collectively, renewable energy, infrastructure modernization and generous pandemic relief.

Instead, Cornyn favors the corporate elite over working people. Faced with massive needs during the pandemic economic crisis, Cornyn has worried about the federal debt, which wasn’t a concern when he supported President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion tax cut, which overwhelmingly benefits the richest 1 percent of people and corporations, rather than helping people by passing the HEROES Act. This obstruction will not change if Joe Biden is elected but Republicans control the Senate. The last time there was a Democratic president and a Republican Senate, Republicans blocked Barack Obama’s proposals for rapid economic development, raising college graduation rates, developing renewable energy and infrastructure. A vote for Cornyn is a vote for obstruction of a President Biden. Texans want to move beyond Cornyn’s rhetoric that confuses calls for racial justice with crime and immigration reform with border security, culture war claims that removing Confederate names from U.S. military bases erases Southern heritage, a proposal for mental health care in response to the racist gun massacre in El Paso, and assurances he will always protect life before birth but oppose paid family leave.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

In ‘uncharted waters’ of competitive Texas politics, can the polls keep up?

President Donald Trump frequently derides “phony polls” after he proved them wrong by defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016. But in Texas, some public polls had the opposite problem: They overestimated Trump’s margin of victory by three percentage points. Two years later, polls in Texas yet again underestimated Democrats, including Beto O’Rourke, who came within 3 percentage points of unseating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz after public polling showed him down by as many as 9 percentage points that October.

As Texas appears to be acting more like a swing state than it has in decades, O’Rourke and other Democrats have turned the idea that polling underestimates them into a sort of rallying cry as they seek to convince voters that Texas is actually in play for former Vice President Joe Biden, or that former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar could unseat longtime Republican Sen. John Cornyn. “Pollsters have a very hard time locating, tracking and counting the votes of likely Democratic voters,” O’Rourke said recently. “Even with the polling this tight, I think actually the advantage is to Biden.” O’Rourke’s assessment drew eye rolls from Republicans, who have fended off Democrats in every statewide race since 1994. Still, public polling indicates Trump and Biden are in a dead heat in the state, where polls from Morning Consult and Quinnipiac University this week showed them statistically tied. The Senate race is also close, with Cornyn holding a lead of anywhere from six to nine percentage points over Hegar.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

Dan Crenshaw and Beto O’Rourke fight on social media over pre-existing conditions coverage

Houston Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw tore into former congressman Beto O’Rourke on social media on Wednesday as the El Paso Democrat plays an increasingly bigger role in the campaign of Crenshaw’s opponent, Democrat Sima Ladjevardian. O’Rourke slammed Crenshaw on social media as “the gaslighting Texas Trump puppet” who is trying to reduce access to health care. “My lord, you seem unhinged,” Crenshaw shot back on Twitter and Facebook.

Crenshaw went on to rip O’Rourke for employing “Democrat scare tactics” about health care policies — particularly on protections for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions granted under the Affordable Care Act. With the Trump administration seeking to wipe out that law in the courts, Democrats have warned it would leave patients with pre-existing health conditions subject to being priced out of their insurance plans again, a routine occurrence prior to the ACA being enacted in 2010. While President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he would put forward a health care bill that would protect coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, no such legislation has been presented to Congress. Ladjevardian has tried to tie Crenshaw to the president’s actions and has argued if he’s re-elected, he’ll help the GOP get rid of that coverage, a tactic Democrats are using around the nation. Crenshaw says it’s false and he’s continually declared his support to protect people with pre-exisiting conditions.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 22, 2020

Texas Supreme Court rejects GOP bid to kill drive-thru voting

The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday turned away GOP-led efforts to shut down 10 drive-thru early voting sites in Harris County, quelling fears about the legality of 75,000 ballots already cast by voters in their vehicles. The court’s order gave no reason for denying separate requests to intervene by the Texas Republican Party and the Harris County GOP, but one member of the all-Republican court disagreed.

Justice John Devine said he would have blocked drive-thru voting until the court could determine whether the new form of voting meets the state law definition of “polling places.” Devine’s dissenting opinion also argued that drive-thru voting stretched election law beyond common-sense understanding, adding: “I struggle to see how the Election Code contemplates such a novel concoction.” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo expressed relief. “This is a victory for democracy, for the thousands of courageous voters who have participated, even in the face of suppression attempts, and it’s a fair interpretation of the law,” the Democrat said via Twitter. Earlier Thursday, Hidalgo asked Gov. Greg Abbott to guarantee the validity of votes cast in drive-thru settings, saying she feared the Republican challenges were laying the groundwork to toss out the ballots in “an outrageous act of voter suppression.” In its petition to the state Supreme Court, the state GOP argued that drive-thru voting booths violated the state law that strictly limits curbside voting to those who have submitted sworn applications verifying that they are sick, disabled or in danger of harm if required to vote inside a polling location.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 22, 2020

Texas regents: ‘The Eyes of Texas is, and will remain, the official school song’

The UT System Board of Regents took a proactive step Thursday to shield new University of Texas president Jay Hartzell from “The Eyes of Texas” hailstorm and left no doubt it will remain the Longhorns’ school song. Regents chairman Kevin Eltife reiterated the board’s approval of Hartzell’s announcement that “The Eyes” will remain the university song even though some band members are now refusing to play it.

“To be clear, the UT System Board of Regents stands unequivocally and unanimously in support of President Hartzell’s announcement that The Eyes of Texas is, and will remain, the official school song,” Eltife said in a statement. Each member of the UT System Board of Regents is appointed by the Texas state governor. It’s well known that Gov. Greg Abbott is a Longhorn fan. Collectively, the regents are the highest-ranking authoritative body within the statewide university system. “The Eyes of Texas has been UT Austin’s official school song for almost 120 years,” Eltife said in his statement. “It has been performed at most official events — celebratory or solemn — and sung by proud alumni and students for generations as a common bond of the UT family. It is a longstanding symbol of The University’s academic and athletic achievements in its pursuit of excellence.”

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Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2020

$3 million in ICE fines targeted 9 sanctuary-seekers, email shows

A 2019 email suggests that, through steep fines, U.S. immigration officials targeted undocumented immigrants — including one mother in Austin — who were living in American churches and had spoken out publicly about their experiences. The heavily redacted email written by an unknown U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official says he or she “sent out nine ‘notice of intention to fine’ for sanctuary cases,” all of which “already had high media interest.” The fines for the nine people totaled more than $3 million, the email says.

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights released the June 27, 2019, email Thursday. The center, along with two Austin-area immigrant rights groups, sued ICE for the documents in February. ICE officials said they could not provide a response to the American-Statesman about the email by press time. The email to several unknown recipients indicates that ICE was tracking nine undocumented immigrants, at least some of whom were living at churches. “In April 2019, you were tasked with providing to HQ details on 9 individuals who actively sought sanctuary from removal by entering into residence at a church or other sensitive location,” the email says. “The information provided was to be used to determine whether to impose a civil penalty against these individuals who have made clear their intention to continue non-compliance with their departure orders.” Hilda Ramirez, who said she fled domestic violence in Guatemala four years ago and has been living in sanctuary at an Austin church with her 14-year-old son, said she believes ICE sent her a $303,620 fine in the summer of 2019 to intimidate her and other immigrants who might seek asylum. ICE later dropped the fine, but Ramirez said ICE later sent her a different fine for about $59,000.

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Associated Press - October 22, 2020

Ex-Blue Bell Creameries CEO charged in deadly listeria case

The former president of Blue Bell Creameries has been charged with wire fraud for allegedly trying to cover up a 2015 listeria outbreak linked to the company's ice cream that killed three people in Kansas and sickened several others, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday. A federal grand jury in Austin returned a seven-count indictment Tuesday charging Paul Kruse with six counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to a Justice Department statement.

Health officials notified Blue Bell in February 2015 that two ice cream products from the company’s flagship factory in the central Texas city of Brenham and its Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, plant tested positive for listeria. The bacterium can cause severe illness or even death in vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly and the immuno-compromised. Blue Bell recalled products after its ice cream was linked to 10 listeria cases in four states, including three deaths in Kansas. Prosecutors allege that Kruse schemed to deceive Blue Bell customers by directing employees to remove potentially contaminated products from store freezers without alerting grocers and consumers as to why. They say he also directed employees to tell customers who asked that there was an unspecified issue with a manufacturing machine. The company did not immediately recall the products or issue a formal warning to customers about potential contamination.

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Associated Press - October 22, 2020

Texas housing market rebounds in September along with U.S.

Texas’ housing market rebounded in September as homebuyers rushed to take advantage of historically low mortgage rates. Existing homes sold through Texas Multiple Listing Services increased 10.7 percent from August and are running 2.6 percent higher relative to the first three quarters of 2019. “Many prospective homebuyers who were planning to purchase next year have been pulled into the market early as their affordability has suddenly improved,” said Dr. James Gaines, chief economist for the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. “This pull factor contrasts the pent-up demand that drove the summer sales surge.”

Home-purchase mortgage applications have increased within Texas despite tightening lending standards, according to a news release from the Real Estate Center. “Loan-to-value and debt-to-income ratios are falling, while credit scores for qualifying applicants are rising as lenders acknowledge the current state of economic uncertainty,” said Gaines. Aggressive fiscal and monetary policies in response to the coronavirus crisis have helped buoy housing demand, but the effect of those stimulants may be short-lived. Center Research Economist Dr. Luis Torres said consumer purchasing power has been affected since the onset of the global pandemic. “Texas’ real income per capita increased 8.1 percent year over year during the second quarter, explaining much of the housing markets’ resiliency. This income growth, however, was driven purely by an increase in transfer payments, like the stimulus checks widely distributed at the beginning of the pandemic. Net earnings and dividends/interest/rent components of the real income calculation decreased as expected. Congress is still debating the extent of the next round of stimulus,” said Torres.

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Houston Chronicle - October 22, 2020

Exxon Mobil, still reeling from massive oil bust, to lay off workers after all

In May, as oil and gas companies were starting to cut thousands of employees, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods said he had no plans to lay off any of its nearly 16,000 employees. “As you all know, we work hard to avoid layoffs,” Woods told shareholders on May 27. “Today, we have no layoff plans.” On Wednesday, Woods reversed course, telling employees at a town hall meeting at its Spring campus that layoffs are inevitable. ExxonMobil is undertaking a country-by-country review of its businesses, and is “very close” to completing its assessment of its U.S. and Canadian operations, Woods said. He did not disclose how many employees will be affected.

“We still have some significant headwinds, more work to do and, unfortunately, further reductions are necessary,” Woods said in a company letter to employees Wednesday. “Making the organization more efficient and more nimble will reduce the number of required positions, and unfortunately, reduce the number of people we need.” It’s a stunning admission by ExxonMobil, once the world’s most valuable company just seven years ago and one that has long prided itself on weathering the boom and bust cycles of the crude market without resorting to layoffs. But times have changed as ExxonMobil is reeling from the worst oil bust in decades driven by the coronavirus pandemic. The Irving company deferred more than $10 billion of capital spending and slashed 15 percent of its operating expenses to weather the economic downturn. Even if demand recovers over the next couple of years, Exxon faces the prospects of declining fossil fuel demand in the coming decade as more countries and corporations take action to mitigate climate change.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 22, 2020

Joe Barton: Texas coastal gas drilling fuels jobs, clean energy. Why would Joe Biden curtail it?

In these tough times, all of us are looking for signs of optimism, especially when it comes to getting the economy back on track. Here in Texas, one of the answers is right under our feet: our natural gas sector. It has been a bright spot amid the economic woes of 2020, and it’s keeping tens of thousands of Texans working while providing low-cost, reliable energy that consumers need. Today, Texas produces more natural gas than any other state. It has the potential to ramp up production even further if demand increases. The reason? Lawmakers in Washington and Austin have worked hard to promote all forms of energy development.

While both presidential candidates have been generally supportive of natural gas production on private land, Democrat Joe Biden has promised, if elected, to impose a ban on natural gas leases on federal lands. Federal lands include leases under federal waters on the outer continental shelf. That is of real concern because 22 percent of the nation’s total oil production and 12 percent of its natural gas production come from federal lands and waters. Politically, a federal leasing ban would seem to be out of touch with the voting public. A recent Morning Consult poll found that 64 percent of swing state voters prefer candidates who support “policies that ensure consumers continue to have access to natural gas and oil produced in the U.S.” A federal leasing ban certainly would be tone deaf in Texas, where 9% of all natural gas operations occurs from federal leases, mostly in the federal outer continental shelf. In Texas, a federal leasing ban would wreak economic havoc. A recent American Petroleum Institute analysis estimating that Texas would be harmed more than any other state, losing almost 120,000 well-paying jobs.

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Politico - October 22, 2020

Where Texas could actually turn blue in 2020

This is not a story about Texas as a whole turning blue on Nov. 3. The state’s Republican governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general are not up for reelection this year. Republican Sen. John Cornyn maintains a lead, though a narrowing one, over his Democratic challenger, MJ Hegar. The Texas congressional delegation will still be majority-Republican even if Democrats pick up a few seats. The state Senate will remain majority-Republican when the legislature convenes in January. President Donald Trump is also leading Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Texas, though by slim margins.

But in Texas, a blue state House would be a shocker all by itself. The “lege” is a creature of its own in American politics, a deep-red institution that only meets for 140 days on alternate years, and reliably gets caught up in national culture-war issues — stricter and stricter abortion rules, looser and looser gun limits, an anti-transgender rights bathroom bill in 2017 — that are less and less reflective of the state overall. And beyond the symbolic value, control of the state House would give Democrats a say in next year’s redistricting process, in turn laying the groundwork for future gains in Congress. And that looks ahead to an even bigger prize: The battle for the state House might end up being the first step in the Democratic Party’s long-term goal of flipping the nation’s third most populous state. Two years ago, Brandy Chambers lost to Republican incumbent Angie Chen Button by 1,110 votes in a Dallas County state House district. This time around, Chambers is running against Button with about $800,000, or more than triple the funds she had two years ago. Chambers told me that in 2018 Democratic donors were in denial that some of these races were winnable. But she saw O’Rourke’s near win as a sign that voters would come out of the woodwork if Democratic candidates actually challenged the incumbents.

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County Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 22, 2020

32,000 Harris County voters return mail ballots to vote in person

Samina Mirza had read enough in the news about U.S. Postal Service delays that she decided there was no way she’d trust the mail to deliver her ballot to Harris County election officials on time. The 70-year-old retired nonprofit staffer had originally planned to drop off her ballot at a location near her home in Katy, until Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation limiting counties to just one drop-off site. “I wasn’t going to drive 25 miles to downtown Houston to use the dropbox because the nearest one was taken away, so I said ‘OK that’s fine, I’ll take a chance and just vote in person,’” said Mirza, who voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president.

Mirza is one of about 32,000 voters in Harris County and almost 9,600 in Bexar County who had received a mail-in ballot but chose to instead vote in person as of Wednesday — and there’s still a week and a half left of early voting to go. That’s about 13 percent and 9 percent of all voters who received mail ballots in each county, respectively. About 759,000 Harris County residents had voted early in person by Wednesday and about 115,000 had done so by mail. In Bexar County, about 326,000 had voted in person and about 70,000 by mail. “Since there are more people voting by mail in general, it does make sense that some people might change their mind for whatever reason and decide to vote in person,” said Roxanne Werner, Harris County spokeswoman. “Some people may have applied months ago, and with news about USPS and general situations changing, they may have decided to vote in person.”

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City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 22, 2020

Fort Worth-area voting site closed after poll worker tests positive for coronavirus

Tarrant County has closed an early voting location in Hurst after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, officials said. Tarrant County election officials tweeted at 11:23 a.m. Thursday that the lead clerk for the Brookside Convention Center told officials that he tested positive. The last day he was at the location was Monday.

All poll workers from that location have been quarantined, according to the tweet. A replacement team of poll workers is being put together, and the site will reopen as soon as it is safe to do so, the county said. This is the second time the county has had a worker inform them that he or she has tested positive for the virus. On Oct. 13, the opening of the Euless Family Life Senior Center voting location was delayed several hours after a worker tested positive. That worker, along with about 20 others who trained together the week before, had to be quarantined.

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National Stories

Washington Post - October 22, 2020

Trump weighs firing FBI director after election as frustration with Wray, Barr grows

President Donald Trump and his advisers have repeatedly discussed whether to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray after Election Day - a scenario that also could imperil the tenure of Attorney General William Barr as the president grows increasingly frustrated that federal law enforcement has not delivered his campaign the kind of last-minute boost that the FBI provided in 2016, according to people familiar with the matter. The conversations among the president and senior aides stem in part from their disappointment that Wray in particular but Barr as well have not done what Trump had hoped - indicate that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, or other Biden associates are under investigation, these people say. Like others, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal discussions.

In the campaign's closing weeks, the president has intensified public calls for jailing his challenger, much as he did for Hillary Clinton, his opponent in 2016. Trump has called Biden a "criminal" without articulating what laws he believes the former vice president has broken. People familiar with the discussions say that Trump wants official action similar to the announcement made 11 days before the last presidential election by then-FBI Director James Comey, who informed Congress he had reopened an investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state after potential new evidence had been discovered. Trump emphasized the point in an interview Tuesday with Fox News, saying "we've got to get the attorney general to act" and that Barr should do so "fast." The president was alluding to information about Hunter Biden recently touted by Trump's private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and based on the contents of a laptop computer purportedly belonging to the former vice president's son. "This is major corruption," Trump added, "and this has to be known about before the election."

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Washington Post - October 22, 2020

Senate Republicans fume as Mnuchin gives ground to Pelosi in search of deal

Senate Republicans are growing increasingly frustrated with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as he makes what they see as unacceptable compromises in his quest for a stimulus deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, multiple people familiar with the talks said Thursday. Mnuchin has committed to a top-line figure of around $1.9 trillion, much too high for many Senate Republicans to swallow. That includes at least $300 billion for state and local aid, also a non-starter for many in the GOP. The treasury secretary is also giving ground on multiple specific policy issues, such as reducing payments that Republicans wanted to go to farmers so that some of the money would go for food boxes instead, according to two people involved in the talks who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the developments.

He has left open the possibility of allowing even more money to flow to states and localities via Community Development Block Grants sought by Democrats. “He negotiates harder with his own side than he does with her. Folks over here are sick of it,” said one Senate GOP aide who added that Republicans were “reaching a boiling point with him” as Mnuchin “gives and gives and gives and gets nothing in return.” Another Senate GOP aide said: “Fair to say the feeling is he’s giving away the store. No one is surprised, but yes frustrated. The idea that our conference is going to go along with whatever bad deal he cuts with Pelosi is completely unrealistic.” A spokeswoman for Mnuchin had no immediate comment. The complaints come as Pelosi (D-Calif.) voices optimism about her ongoing talks with Mnuchin, making clear that she believes she has leverage because President Trump wants a big new deal with less than two weeks remaining until the election. “The president wants a bill. The president wants a bill. And so that’s part of the opportunity that we have,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday.

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The Guardian - October 22, 2020

Ghislaine Maxwell deposition unsealed about Jeffrey Epstein relationship after court ruling

A court document containing detailed information about Ghislaine Maxwell and her relationship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was unsealed on Thursday morning in New York just moments before a court-imposed deadline. This document, an April 2016 deposition, is among about a dozen long-awaited Maxwell files that have been unsealed, with the first filing involving Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre’s lawyer alleging the British socialite avoided a question “about allegedly ‘adult’ sexual activity related to Jeffrey Epstein”. She also tried to distance herself from and play down links between Epstein and former US president Bill Clinton, who had used the financier’s private plane.

And Maxwell claimed she did not introduce Britain’s Prince Andrew to minor sex partners, in the tense and defensive deposition that was part of a civil case. While the name is redacted in this deposition, the description of events involving this redaction echo claims involving Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. Maxwell was also asked at the time about speculation that Epstein may have performed shady financial work for the US and possibly the Israeli governments. She also provided additional information on her romantic ties to Epstein and how he provided her financial assistance. Asked if she had considered herself Epstein’s girlfriend, Maxwell replied: “That’s a tricky question. There were times when I would have liked to think of myself as his girlfriend.” In the deposition, Maxwell denied inviting under-18s to Epstein’s homes, except, she said, the children of friends in a social setting, but fudged on whether she “brought” Giuffre as a 17-year-old to Epstein’s home.

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Wall Street Journal - October 22, 2020

Biden team prepares for potentially bumpy transition

Senior advisers to Joe Biden are preparing for the possibility that the Trump administration will throw up roadblocks to Mr. Biden’s transition to the presidency if he wins the election, according to people familiar with the internal discussions. Mr. Biden’s transition team, a low-profile group of policy experts tasked with making sure the former vice president is ready to take office, has crafted alternative plans if President Trump—who has given mixed messages on whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power—refuses to comply with requirements that a president-elect’s team be allowed into federal agencies ahead of Inauguration Day. The team is also planning for a scenario in which the Trump administration declines to share resources or provide briefings seen as crucial for a smooth transition of power, the people said.

So far, these worst-case scenarios haven’t come to pass, people close to the Biden campaign and transition said, adding that the former vice president has received classified briefings and lower-level Trump administration officials have been professional in initial interactions with the team. “Transition officials have been planning for various scenarios. So far, the pre-election process has run smoothly,” said a person familiar with Mr. Biden’s transition planning. Asked for comment, a White House official said, “We’re following all statutory requirements.” Mr. Trump has said he wants a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, but has equivocated about whether he will commit to one. “We’re going to have to see what happens,” he said last month. At an NBC News town hall last week, Mr. Trump said he would accept a peaceful transition, “but I want it to be an honest election.” He has repeatedly suggested that the election results can’t be trusted. “A lot of corrupt stuff going on,” Mr. Trump said about the voting process during a Michigan rally this week. Mr. Trump has said several times that an increase in mail-in balloting would lead to widespread fraud. Researchers have found instances of absentee-voter fraud, but studies show it isn’t widespread and election officials say they employ safeguards against it.

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Bloomberg - October 20, 2020

Defeat for Trump would mean some other leaders also lose out

If Donald Trump is forced from the White House in the November election, he won’t be the only loser. Though many governments would likely celebrate the end of the most unconventional and at times chaotic U.S. presidency of modern times, others will have reason to miss it. For the leaders of Turkey, North Korea and Israel, the ledger has been almost entirely positive. Trump’s ejection would confront them with immediate challenges. The scorecard for countries like China is more nuanced. Even so, what the mostly authoritarian winners from Trump’s four years in office have in common is a fear his departure would spell the return of a more conventional U.S. foreign policy. That could see the U.S. mending alliances and promoting the universality of values such as democracy and human rights, or the fight against climate change. “This president embraces all the thugs in the world,” Trump’s opponent Joe Biden said at a recent town hall event, as he sought to highlight the political divide.

Kim Jong Un: No relationship with the U.S. changed more under Trump than North Korea’s. What began with mutual threats and insults morphed into a sometimes bizarre love-in as Kim and Trump met three times and exchanged more than two dozen letters, showcasing their “mysteriously wonderful” chemistry. Still, the radically different U.S. approach has also failed to secure North Korea‘s denuclearization. Kim unveiled a huge new intercontinental ballistic missile on Oct. 10 that appears capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads. Mohammed bin Salman: Trump set the tone for his approach to international relations in Saudi Arabia, choosing Riyadh for his first foreign visit in 2017. He was greeted by a huge image of his own face projected onto the facade of the palatial hotel where his delegation stayed. The Saudi Crown Prince made important gains, above all Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, his country’s mortal rival. Trump also offered personal support and vetoed Congressional sanctions when MBS, as he’s known, was besieged by allegations he’d ordered the 2018 murder of prominent regime critic Jamal Khashoggi. Recep Tayyip Erdogan: If anyone relies more on Trump than MBS for political protection, it’s Turkey’s president. Trump has stood virtually alone between Turkey and the imposition of Congressional sanctions over Erdogan’s decision to buy Russia’s S-400 air defense missile system, despite being a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally.

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Fox News - October 22, 2020

Senate Judiciary Republicans advance Barrett nomination despite Democrats' boycott, committee rules

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously advanced the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett at its executive business meeting despite a decision by Democrats to boycott the markup in protest of how close Republicans are moving the nomination to Election Day. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the boycott "is not a decision the members of the committee have taken lightly, but the Republican majority has left us no choice. We are boycotting this illegitimate hearing." Barrett was reported favorably out of the Judiciary Committee by 12-0, with no Democrats present.

"That was their choice. It will be my choice to vote the nominee out of committee," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said at the beginning of the meeting. "We are not going to allow them to take over the committee. They made a choice not to participate." Graham also slammed Democrats for allegedly beginning the process that led to the increased politicization of the Supreme Court during the Obama administration, when they removed the filibuster for lower federal court nominees. "I remember telling Sen. Schumer, 'You will regret this,'" Graham said Thursday of when Democrats got rid of the judicial filibuster. "Today he will regret it." The acrimony around judicial nominations can be traced all the way back to the nomination of Judge Robert Bork in the 1980s and has been contributed to by, among other things, Republicans' decision to hold open the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia for months before the 2016 presidential election.

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Newsclips - October 22, 2020

Lead Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 22, 2020

A ‘tied race’? Poll suggests this North Texas congressional race is anyone’s game

Stephen Daniel may have more leeway in attracting Democrats and independents than incumbent Rep. Ron Wright in the race for Texas’ 6th District, according to a public opinion survey. National firm GBOA Strategies found that while 45% of survey respondents supported Ron Wright, his 4% lead over Daniel is within the poll’s margin of error. Additionally, Daniel garnered more support from independents than Wright. Daniel’s campaign has labeled the results as proof the race is a “toss-up” between Daniel, a Waxahachie attorney, and the freshman representative.

“It’s clear that Ron Wright’s extreme conservatism and status as Donald Trump’s ‘yes-man’ in the Texas delegation have left voters looking for an alternative that will represent Texas values in Washington,” said James Sonneman, Daniel’s campaign manager. Wright’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. According to the report, 9% of those surveyed said they heard from Daniel’s campaign, while 24% said they’ve heard from Wright’s. Sonneman said the feedback is the chance to tell more people about Daniel’s background as a working-class Itasca native. “It’s just important for us to tell Stephen’s story and the fact that he has roots in the district,” Sonneman said.

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Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2020

‘It never happened,’ Exxon says of a hypothetical fundraising call Trump described having with company’s CEO

Exxon Mobil, the Irving-based energy giant, on Monday evening took to Twitter with a somewhat puzzling message, at least for those observers not tracking the minute-by-minute developments of the White House race’s waning days. It denied the existence of a made-up conversation. “We are aware of the President’s statement regarding a hypothetical call with our CEO,” the company wrote, referring to President Donald Trump and its chief executive, Darren Woods. “And just so we’re all clear, it never happened.”

Say what? The only-in-2020 exchange resulted from an extended aside Trump made earlier on Monday at a rally in Arizona, where the Republican is desperately trying to hang onto a swing state that most polls and prognosticators say is poised to flip to Democrat Joe Biden. The president was trying to make the point that he could “be the greatest fundraiser in history,” if he so chose. All he would have to do, Trump claimed, is call the “head of every major company” and ask them to make a major donation to his campaign. To hammer home that point, he decided to create a hypothetical conversation with a CEO – “I don’t know … I’ll use a company,” he said. Exxon is apparently what popped into Trump’s head. “I call the head of Exxon,” the president said. “'Hi, how you doing? How’s energy coming? When are you doing the exploration? Oh, you need a couple of permits, huh? OK.' … I say, ‘You know, I’d love you to send me $25 million for the campaign.’” Trump then invented a response from Woods. “'Absolutely, sir, why didn’t you ask? Would you like some more?'” the president said, impersonating the CEO’s voice.

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The Hill - October 22, 2020

GOP power shift emerges with Trump, McConnell

A subtle power shift is emerging on Capitol Hill as Republicans face a possible future that might no longer include President Trump. The shift has been most apparent in the dynamics surrounding negotiations on a new coronavirus relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sought to avoid a vote on a massive stimulus package that would badly divide the Senate GOP conference right before Election Day, even as Trump urges Republican senators to “go big.”

McConnell told Republican colleagues at a lunch meeting Tuesday that he warned the White House against a vote on a massive stimulus package before election day. He quipped that he knew his message that was delivered in a private meeting would get out to the public very quickly. “He made his statement prefaced by ‘this will probably be on Twitter in a few minutes,’” said a GOP senator recounting Tuesday’s meeting. A majority of GOP senators oppose a bigger coronavirus relief package, even as Trump pushes for one. “Mitch understands his troops,” the senator said. “He’s made the calculation that it’s not helpful to bring it to the floor because it would show we’re not on the same page as the president. There would be a lot of Republican nos. It’s just one of the emerging differences between the two pillars of GOP power in Washington. Republican lawmakers also have concerns about the management of Trump’s re-election campaign, ranging from his performance during the first debate, to its cash shortage, to the president’s tendency to highlight politically divisive topics instead of focus on the issues.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

Trump and Biden tied in Texas, according to new poll

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden are tied as early voting is underway in Texas, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday, the latest to indicate the presidential race is on track to be the closest the state has seen in decades. The poll also showed a tightening race between Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his Democratic challenger, former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar. Both Biden and Trump had the support of 47 percent of likely voters in the poll, which was conducted between Oct. 16 and 19 and carried a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points. Cornyn led Hegar 49 percent to 43 percent.

Both races are closer than they were in the last poll by Quinnipiac, released on September 24, which showed Trump leading Biden 50 to 45, while Cornyn led Hegar 50 to 42. “Biden and Trump find themselves in a Texas standoff, setting the stage for a bare knuckle battle for 38 electoral votes,” Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy said in a statement. “While Cornyn maintains a lead, there are still two weeks to go, and you can’t count Hegar out.” Texas has posted record turnout through the start of early voting — with more than 4 million voting by Sunday. Sixty-nine percent of likely voters said were planning to cast their ballot at an early voting location, while 18 percent say they plan to vote in person on Election Day and 12 percent say they have voted or plan to vote by mail or absentee ballot.

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State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2020

Joe Straus: Medicaid expansion a smart business move

It’s often said government should be run like a business. More to the point, it should be run like a successful business. But our state may no longer be making the right business decisions when it comes to health care. Texas receives federal support for our health care system — specifically to provide care for children, pregnant women and disabled adults from our lowest-income families. But our state accepts those dollars in a rather inefficient way, with a patchwork system of waivers that have left us with the country’s highest uninsured rate, a sparse safety net of doctors in many communities, and property taxes that are driven higher and higher by the cost of providing basic care to uninsured Texans in emergency rooms.

A smarter business approach would be to accept federal assistance in a more straightforward and transparent way that maximizes value for all Texans, including taxpayers. For years, Texas has resisted calls to expand Medicaid health coverage to low-income, able-bodied adults through the terms and programs other states have accessed. Instead, Texas has suffered the consequences of an increasingly rickety — and, for those who pay property taxes, expensive — health care system across the state. This is a missed opportunity. It is estimated more than 1.5 million Texans who lack health insurance would enroll if Texas sought federal funding to expand coverage. Many of these Texans are among the nearly 700,000 people in our state who have lost insurance during the pandemic. An eligible adult could be a 35-year-old single man who works in a meatpacking plant in the Texas Panhandle and cares for aging parents. Or she could be a single woman who provides home health care shift work and earns less than $13,000 per year.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 21, 2020

As students drift, some rural school districts outside San Antonio are canceling remote learning

Rural school districts outside San Antonio are eliminating their remote instruction options after seeing staggering numbers of virtual learners log absences and fail classes. Some campuses in Hondo Independent School District saw 80 percent of their remote learners miss five or more days of instruction, Superintendent A’Lann Truelock said. And there’s a correlation between absences and poor grades — as of Friday, the end of the first six weeks of the school year, 63 percent of remote learners were failing at least one class, she said.

“If this learning gap continues, we’ll have years of having to remediate kids that, through no fault of their own, lost a significant portion of their education, and I don’t want that for the children in Texas,” Truelock said. On Oct. 6, Bandera ISD informed parents that any student learning remotely who didn’t pass all classes on their progress report on Oct. 16 would be required to return to campus. It is not clear, however, if the Texas Education Agency will allow Bandera ISD to be selective about who gets ordered to return to classrooms. “Discontinuing remote instruction in a way that only targets struggling students is not permitted,” according to TEA guidance that was updated Oct. 15. Districts can discontinue remote learning altogether, and must give parents at least a 14-day notice of it. Parents may enroll their kids in other school districts that offer remote learning to transfer students. In light of that directive and an uptick in coronavirus cases in the district, Natalia ISD twice modified an Oct. 12 decision by its school board to discontinue remote learning in phases.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 21, 2020

San Antonio mayor to discuss Space Force, military medicine in Pentagon visit

Mayor Ron Nirenberg will spend Thursday in Washington talking with top Pentagon officials about bolstering the military’s many medical assets here, as well as the city’s hope to serve as the new home of U.S. Space Command. He’ll meet with the Air Force’s chief of staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., as well as Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, U.S. Space Force’s chief of space operations, and the head of the Defense Health Agency, Lt. Gen. Ronald J. Place. Call it a low-key trip with ambition as Nirenberg meets with the highest-level defense officials he’s yet to encounter. His goal is to convince them that San Antonio, “Military City, U.S.A.,” is ready to host Space Command, support other new and existing Air Force operations, and expand military medicine.

“I would say it’s low key in the sense it’s going at a time when things are still relatively dormant across the county and certainly in D.C., and that why I wanted to go now,” Nirenberg said. “We have been told repeatedly that San Antonio is one of the few cities, if not the only city, that shows up in force up there. Several “big things” are on the agenda, he continued, and while defense officials know the city’s record and commitment, Nirenberg said he wanted to make “a clear and present impression at a time when people are avoiding the area.” “I wanted them to know San Antonio is going to show up, even when the world’s on pause,” he said. Unlike the annual SA to DC lobbying trip to Washington, this one will be an affair with a small footprint, with the mayor bringing only two others with him. Nirenberg called this visit a “precision exercise.” “If SA to DC is sending in the cavalry, this trip is the air strike,” he said. In setting up the meetings, Pentagon officials asked that Nirenberg keep the group to just three people because they were to meet with key decision-makers. The others with him are retired Marine Maj. Gen. Juan Ayala, director of the city’s Office of Military and Veteran Affairs, and Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, president/CEO of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation.

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San Antonio Express-News - October 21, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Forget the Alamo’s myths, do not risk San Antonio’s reputation

What to do with the Alamo has consternated San Antonio’s business community for 150 years, but the last time the rancor got this bad was in the summer of 1908. Preservationist Adina De Zavala wanted to restore the Alamo compound to how it looked during the 1836 battle. Clara Driscoll, her rival for control of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, wanted the chapel to stand alone as the centerpiece of a gracious park. Their feuding chased away a wealthy out-of-state hotel developer courted by the Chamber of Commerce.

“By (focusing on the Alamo) we are advertising San Antonio not as a modern and enterprising city … but are associating her with a name that carries with it the idea that San Antonio is still a Mexican village,” said L.J. Hart, a member of the Business Men’s Club, according to the San Antonio Daily Express. “Let’s let the people abroad forget the Alamo,” he proclaimed. In recent years, a commission of San Antonio citizens, business people and politicians crafted a deal with Land Commissioner George P. Bush to renovate Alamo Plaza into a world-class attraction to boost tourism. They agreed to tell the Alamo’s whole story, not just regurgitate hoary myths, and pledged to raise $450 million for their ambitious renovation. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, fearful Bush will overshadow him in 2022, blew up that deal, criticized San Antonio’s leaders and demanded allegiance to legends created by racists. If the city caves into Patrick’s bullying and agrees to his plans, San Antonio risks ending up with an embarrassing monument to white supremacy instead of an inclusive experience that would attract tourists from far and wide. I came across Hart’s quote while writing a new book about the Alamo with Bryan Burrough and Jason Stanford. The book, which will come out next year, is titled “Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth,” not because we deny the former Spanish mission’s importance, but because it’s time to forget the fiction and tell the truth.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

72 percent of Houston hotel loans are in danger during COVID pandemic

Houston’s hotels are floundering during the pandemic. Seventy-two percent of securitized lodging loans in the area are delinquent, according to securities data company Trepp, compared to 23 percent across the nation. Trepp has predicted a "wave of foreclosures" over the next several quarters.

Social distancing measures meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have hit the hotel industry particularly hard. Former business travelers are meeting over Zoom instead of coffee; conventions, sporting events and festivals that once attracted visitors have been canceled; and though leisure travel has begun to return, many are opting to escape cities rather than visit them. Houston-area hotels are struggling more than those in other cities, including Dallas and Austin. Borrowers are behind on $720 million in loan payments out of the $995 million in Houston-area hotel loans that have been packaged into commercial mortgage-backed securities and sold to investors. Just $348 million out of $1.48 billion (23 percent) is delinquent in the Dallas area and $310 million out of $886 million (35 percent) in Austin. That’s because Houston’s hotel market is dealing not only with the pandemic but also an energy bust, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

Former Trump Hispanic adviser from Houston breaks ranks to help Joe Biden

This was hard for Jacob Monty. As a lifelong Republican, the 52-year old Houston attorney has been in the trenches with former President George W. Bush, never voted for a Democrat for president and even was part of President Donald Trump’s National Hispanic Advisory Council. But there he was on Wednesday at a Texas Democratic Party press conference, going public with his decision to vote for Joe Biden for president. “This is not a decision I took lightly, I love the GOP,” said Monty who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP causes over the years.

But Monty said voting Trump out is the only way he sees to save the GOP he grew up in. “I’ve not changed my philosophy, I’ve just determined that Donald Trump is an existential threat to America and a threat to the GOP,” he said, adding that he’s still voting Republican down the ballot. Monty, a former member of the University of Houston’s Board of Regents, joined with four other Republicans — including two former U.S. congressmen from Dallas and a GOP political strategist — in making a very public showing of their plan to vote against Trump and for Biden. To be sure, public polling shows they are a rarity in the GOP. In a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday, Trump was winning 92 percent of Republican voters in Texas. Trump has repeatedly Tweeted out polls that show 95 percent of Republicans approve of his work as president.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

Hollins asks secretary of state to affirm support for drive-thru voting amid legal challenges

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins is seeking assurance from Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs that her office is “committed to defending the votes” cast at the county’s drive-thru voting sites, the subject of two lawsuits currently before the state Supreme Court. In a letter sent to Hughs Tuesday, Hollins cited prior support from state election officials, including Elections Director Keith Ingram, for the legality of drive-thru voting. He asked Hughs to confirm by noon Wednesday that the office stands by those statements.

By noon, Hollins had not received a response from Hughs, according to a spokeswoman for the clerk’s office. A spokesman for Hughs said the office had received Hollins’ letter, but he declined to say whether Hughs or anyone from her office planned to respond. He also did not say whether Hollins had accurately characterized the position of state elections officials on drive-thru voting. Last week, on the eve of early voting, the Texas Republican Party sued Hollins in an attempt to halt the drive-thru voting system, arguing the Texas Election Code limits curbside voting, including drive-thru voting, to voters who are sick or disabled, or if voting inside the polling location “would create a likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” Those provisions do not apply to the coronavirus pandemic, the party argued in its filing. A Houston appeals court dismissed the lawsuit last Wednesday, less than two days after it was filed. The Republican Party then sought a writ of mandamus from the Texas Supreme Court, again arguing Hollins should not be allowed to extend drive-thru voting to all registered voters. Houston Republican activist Steve Hotze filed a similar motion with the state Supreme Court on Thursday, the day after the appeals court dismissal.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2020

Armando Sanchez: Social workers should care for LGBTQ Texans — not turn them away

I have been a social worker for 10 years and a gay Latino Texan since birth. I take pride in what I do and who I am. So I am outraged by the decision last week by the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners to change its code of conduct to allow social workers to deny services to members of the LGBTQ community. The policy change, recommended by Gov. Greg Abbott, takes away language that used to prohibit social workers from turning away clients on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as disability. Inserting prejudice into the Social Work Code of Conduct is extremely damaging.

It invites malice into a profession that exists to serve and do no harm to individuals and communities. It opens a path to harm LGBTQ Texans. Abbott may not be concerned about those consequences. But I know many social workers take issue with this strike against LGBTQ people and the professionals who are supposed to help them. I chose this profession because it allows me to live out my calling to help others. For the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of supporting people in their time of need. I help clients look within and outside of themselves to boldly face challenging and traumatic aspects of their life in order to find healing and growth. When I look at Texas, its people and the systems that make up this state — whose greatness hangs on a thread due to many of Abbott’s decisions as governor — I see a need for healing. I see a need for the work that social workers do tirelessly every day. My profession is a helping profession committed to serving without discrimination. As social workers, we embody and preserve our values of service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 21, 2020

Texas launches funding initiative for students with disabilities

State leaders are launching an initiative to help students with severe disabilities get special education services outside the classroom. Since the coronavirus pandemic abruptly shuttered schools in March, many special education students were left without needed services, contributing to learning gaps.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Education Agency officials on Wednesday announced the creation of the Supplementary Special Education Services program, which will provide up to $1,500 to families of children with severe cognitive disabilities to get supplemental education services, including tutoring, therapy or digital resources. Abbott is allocating $30 million for the effort from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, part of the federal CARES Act. “This program is a win for Texas families and children with special education needs, many of whom have endured education disruptions due to COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement. “Education is vital to the future of every Texas child, and every student is entitled to a high-quality education.” Abbott said the program aims to improve outcomes for students with disabilities and builds on the services students already are receiving in school.

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Austin American-Statesman - October 21, 2020

Tesla’s Austin-area site could include battery production

Tesla could be planning to build more than just vehicles at its $1 billion assembly plant in southeastern Travis County. The electric vehicle manufacturer has plans to produce battery cells at the site, according to documents filed with the state. The company has already said it will produce its Cybertruck, Semi, Model 3 compact sedan and Model Y vehicles at the plant.

Telsa has started construction on the Travis County site, and the company has begun hiring in Central Texas. Currently, Tesla’s job site lists more than 80 open positions in Austin. If a battery facility is added to the Travis County site, it could be the first Tesla location to co-locate a full scale battery and vehicle production, in addition to being the second U.S. vehicle-assembly factory after its flagship Fremont, Calif., plant. A company spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. Tesla executives were scheduled to issue the company’s third-quarter financial report on Tuesday afternoon. Amber Gunst, CEO of the Austin Technology Council, said on-site battery production would add to the benefits Tesla brings to Central Texas.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 21, 2020

COVID-19 hospitalization rate dips in Tarrant County for first time in 2 weeks

Tarrant County reported 633 coronavirus cases and one death on Wednesday. The lone death was a Haltom City man in his 70s who had underlying health conditions, according to officials.

COVID hospitalizations dropped to 12% Wednesday among occupied beds in the county on Tuesday, down from 14% the day before. It’s the first drop in the hospitalization rate since Oct. 6. There are 480 confirmed COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Wednesday. Tarrant County has confirmed 60,795 COVID-19 cases, including 710 deaths and an estimated 49,544 recoveries. COVID-19 causes respiratory illness with cough, fever and shortness of breath and may lead to bronchitis and severe pneumonia.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 21, 2020

Kelley Shannon: Texas governments must restore access to meetings and records cut off by COVID-19

The reopening of public places amid the coronavirus pandemic should certainly be carried out with caution. Government offices are no exception. But citizens must have the ability to watch over their government, even during an emergency. Especially during an emergency. It’s long past time to reopen public access to government records and meetings that have been closed off for months. This can happen even if government employees continue to work from home for safety reasons.

The Texas Public Information Act and Texas Open Meetings Act – two major open government laws that help us learn about everything from local zoning decisions and school safety to toxic dumps – have suffered serious setbacks since March, when the coronavirus swept in. Some governments misused a provision in the law allowing “catastrophe notices.” They are intended to temporarily postpone responses to public information requests because of a hurricane, flood, epidemic or other calamity. But certain governments tried to turn the temporary halt into an indefinite one. Others developed their own questionable policies about when government offices are considered “closed” or operating with a “skeleton crew,” days not counted as business days under the Public Information Act. However, if employees paid by tax dollars are on duty and working from home and records are accessible electronically, as so many are today, why can’t a citizen’s public information request be answered? Clarifications and updates are badly needed in the Texas Public Information Act to reflect workplace realities in modern times. We need uniformity in how the law is applied.

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Washington Post - October 19, 2020

Jennifer Rubin: It’s Republicans like John Cornyn who deserve to lose

The Post reports on an interview Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) had with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board: “Cornyn was asked about his relationship with the president. Cornyn responded with an analogy, describing himself as ‘maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.’ ” He continued, “I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump. He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between.” He added, “What I tried to do is not get into public confrontations and fights with him because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well.” Cornyn’s opponent in the Senate race, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, replied by tweet: “Coward.”

Let’s unpack that, starting with Cornyn’s image of women as civilizers, cunningly trying to domesticate their spouses. It is the stuff of 1950s comedies. It’s a variety of “benevolent sexism” — something that seems like a compliment but is really a put-down and effort to assign women to their traditional role. It is what we saw in Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearing, when Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) asked who does the laundry in her house. He wouldn’t have dreamed of asking a male nominee the same question. Kennedy wasn’t much better than other Republicans on the committee who fawned over her for raising seven kids and working as a professor and then judge. There are millions of women holding more strenuous jobs than law professor or appellate judge (so where have Republicans been on child care?), but more to the point, her husband was sitting right there. Why assume she has primary responsibility for the kids?

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Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2020

Police, autopsy reports reveal more details about Dallas woman who died of COVID-19 during flight

A Spirit Airlines employee performed CPR on an unconscious Dallas woman during a July flight that made an emergency landing in New Mexico, where the woman was pronounced dead. The woman’s death was later determined to have been caused by COVID-19, and Dallas County officials included her in their daily roundup of coronavirus cases and deaths Sunday.

Police reports obtained Wednesday by The Dallas Morning News offer more details about the incident than had previously been released. Officers were sent to Gate B7 at the Albuquerque International Sunport the night of July 24 after learning of an inbound flight with a medical emergency — a 38-year-old woman who was unconscious and not breathing. Spirit Flight 208, headed from Las Vegas to DFW International Airport, landed at the Albuquerque airport a little more than an hour into its scheduled 2½-hour duration, according to the flight-tracking service FlightAware. Firefighters and medical personnel from a nearby Air Force base went aboard and took over CPR. A crew member had performed CPR during the flight but had passed out from exhaustion, police wrote in an incident report. First responders then placed the woman on a cloth gurney and moved her onto the jetway, where they continued trying to revive her.

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Texas Tribune - October 20, 2020

Top aide in Texas attorney general's office terminated after accusing Ken Paxton of bribery

Lacey Mase, one of the top aides who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of crimes including bribery and abuse of office, has been fired, she told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday evening. “It was not voluntary,” she said, but declined to comment further. Mase was hired in 2011 and worked most recently as the deputy attorney general for administration. Paxton's office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Top aides say Paxton has used the power of his office to serve the interests of a political donor, Nate Paul. Several employees in his office brought concerns to law enforcement.

They wrote in an Oct. 1 letter to the agency’s human resources department that they had a “good faith belief that the attorney general is violating federal and/or state law including prohibitions related to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses.” Since then, one of the top aides — Jeff Mateer, who previously spent years as Paxton’s top deputy — has resigned, and another, Mark Penley, has been placed on leave. Paxton has dismissed the scandal as “rogue employees” wielding “false allegations” and said he will not resign, though some in his party have called on him to do so. Mase’s personnel file, obtained through a public records request, shows she rose quickly through the agency’s ranks, earning frequent promotions. She was promoted as recently as Sept. 1, 2019, earning a nearly 12% pay bump to $205,000 annually. When Mase was promoted in April 2018, a supervisor wrote that she “consistently exceeded standards” in all her roles at the agency. Her salary has multiplied over the past few years, from $50,000 in 2013 to more than $200,000 most recently.

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CBS 11 - October 21, 2020

Dallas County Democratic Party says campaign signs were set on fire at HQ

The Dallas County Democratic Party says campaign signs for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were set on fire outside the party’s headquarters. Officials say they believe the incident happened Tuesday evening and that they reported it to the Dallas Police Department. There has been no word on any suspects at this time.

Four signs in total were set ablaze, officials say. Pictures from the party show one of the signs that was burned. The Dallas County Democratic Party tweeted another picture of the burned sign, saying “Stealing & vandalizing is illegal! Help us defeat Trump supporters!” No information has been released from authorities that show any evidence that the crime was committed by a specific group or individual. Former Vice President Biden and California Sen. Harris are the duo running against President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the 2020 presidential election. Early voting in Texas began last week and ends on Friday, Oct. 30. Election Day is Nov. 3.

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KXAN - October 20, 2020

Health leaders warn 2nd wave of pandemic could be a few weeks out in Central Texas

Austin’s top doctor is sounding the alarm as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise again in Central Texas. On Tuesday, Dr. Mark Escott shared projections from the University of Texas in a briefing with Travis County commissioners. A week ago, those projections showed a 66% chance that cases would increase in the coming weeks. As of Tuesday, it has grown to almost a 90% chance of the pandemic worsening in Central Texas.

“This disease hasn’t changed. What’s changed is us, and that we have this pandemic fatigue,” Escott said Tuesday. Austin Public Health reports an increase both in case numbers and hospitalizations, especially among the elderly, over the past month. Escott said at the current rate Central Texas is moving, models predict the area will be at the same mark as it was this summer, when health officials were concerned about running out of space in hospitals. However, this fall, flu cases will be also be a factor, meaning surge capacity in hospitals will be lower than it was in the summer. “Thanksgiving’s going to be ugly if we don’t change our actions now,” Escott said. He warns families should be cautious this Halloween to prevent a spike in cases related to the holiday. APH is asking families not to trick-or-treat door-to-door this year. “Create a new tradition this year,” Escott suggested. “Some folks are doing a candy hunt similar to an Easter egg hunt this year. My family’s doing a piñata. So, there are lots of options for recognizing the holiday and doing fun things. Virtual Halloween costume contests are another popular choice for folks.”

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County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2020

Former sex crimes prosecutor indicted on prostitution charge in Tarrant County

A criminal defense attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor has been indicted on a prostitution charge in Tarrant County, according to court records. Colin McLaughlin is accused of having paid for sex with a woman who was his client in January 2019. A Tarrant County grand jury returned the direct indictment on Sept. 23, charging McLaughlin, 38, of Colleyville, with the misdemeanor.

The indictment accused McLaughlin of knowingly offering to pay another for the purpose of engaging in a sexual conduct. The alleged incident occurred in Grapevine. Authorities did not release any other details on the case. If convicted, McLaughlin who is a partner in Hoeller & McLaughlin in Colleyville, faces a maximum of six months in jail and a $2,000 fine. Steve Gordon of Fort Worth, McLaughlin’s attorney, declined Monday to comment on the case. McLaughlin was free on a personal recognizance bond. McLaughlin was a clerk at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and a prosecutor in Harris and Tarrant County, according to Hoeller & McLaughlin’s website.

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City Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

Fire chief: Midtown bar where shootings happened should not have been open

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña says the Midtown bar where three people were shot dead Tuesday night should not have been open due to COVID-19 restrictions. Three people were killed and another wounded after shots rang out around 9:45 p.m. at the DD Sky Club on Chenevert Street, according to Houston police. The gunmen remain at large. The bar was hosting an open mic night and was mostly packed with a regular crowd of local rap artists, witnesses said.

“The establishment is classified as a bar and was operating contrary to Governor Abbott’s executive order,” Peña told the Chronicle. Fire officials are tasked with enforcing the capacity restrictions. The chief said the fire marshal is reviewing records to see if anyone had referred the club to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in the past. Many bars have been able to open as restaurants under loopholes in rules administered by the TABC. If an establishment collects less than 51 percent of its gross receipts from alcohol, it can qualify as a restaurant. The state agency broadened the category of those receipts in August, allowing more bars to qualify.

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Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2020

Dallas City Council applauds new master plan for a greener Fair Park

The Dallas City Council got its first look at the updated master plan for Fair Park ahead of a vote scheduled for next week. The rendering for the 277-acre park in South Dallas — most of which is currently concrete — features an infusion of green space and a 14-acre Community Park designed with a vibe akin to Uptown’s Klyde Warren Park.

“That is one of the biggest excitements — to see this space be activated as an actual park,” said Adam Bazaldua, a council member who represents the Fair Park area. “This is park space. This is space that belongs to the people of Dallas.” Representatives from Dallas Park and Recreation, Fair Park First, the nonprofit that manages the area and its for-profit partner, Spectra, presented the plan to council members at a briefing on Wednesday. Phase one of the plan, which costs $58 million, includes the small MLK Gateway Park at one of the Fair Park entrances off Robert B. Cullum Boulevard, a 2-acre-plus music green and a parking deck near the Music Hall facing Parry Avenue.

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National Stories

NBC News - October 20, 2020

Lawyers say they can't find the parents of 545 migrant children separated by Trump administration

Lawyers appointed by a federal judge to identify migrant families who were separated by the Trump administration say that they have yet to track down the parents of 545 children and that about two-thirds of those parents were deported to Central America without their children, according to a filing Tuesday from the American Civil Liberties Union. The Trump administration instituted a "zero tolerance" policy in 2018 that separated migrant children and parents at the southern U.S. border.

The administration later confirmed that it had actually begun separating families in 2017 along some parts of the border under a pilot program. The ACLU and other pro-bono law firms were tasked with finding the members of families separated during the pilot program. Unlike the 2,800 families separated under zero tolerance in 2018, most of whom remained in custody when the policy was ended by executive order, many of the more than 1,000 parents separated from their children under the pilot program had already been deported before a federal judge in California ordered that they be found. "It is critical to find out as much as possible about who was responsible for this horrific practice while not losing sight of the fact that hundreds of families have still not been found and remain separated," said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "There is so much more work to be done to find these families.

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Politico - October 21, 2020

White House looks at cutting Covid funds, newborn screenings in ‘anarchist’ cities

The White House is considering slashing millions of dollars for coronavirus relief, HIV treatment, screenings for newborns and other programs in Democratic-led cities that President Donald Trump has deemed “anarchist jurisdictions,” according to documents obtained by POLITICO. New York, Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and Seattle could lose funding for a wide swath of programs that serve their poorest, sickest residents after the president moved last month to restrict funding, escalating his political battle against liberal cities he’s sought to use as a campaign foil. The Department of Health and Human Services has identified federal grants covering those services, which are among the nearly 200 health programs that could be in line for cuts as part of a sweeping government-wide directive the administration is advancing during the final weeks of the presidential campaign and amid an intensifying pandemic Trump has downplayed.

Trump in a Sept. 2 order called on federal agencies to curtail funding to jurisdictions that “disempower” police departments and promote “lawlessness.” The memo argued that the cities haven’t done enough to quash riots stemming from this summer’s protests over systemic racism and police violence. The HHS list offers the most detailed picture yet of the administration’s efforts to quickly comply with the Trump directive and the potentially large cuts facing these cities even as the pandemic strains local budgets. It isn’t immediately clear what criteria the budget office will use to evaluate the grants — or how or when cuts may be made. But while the White House pores over existing funds, at least one department has already moved to implement Trump’s directive for new funding. The Department of Transportation earlier this month said Trump’s “anarchy” memo would factor into the department’s review of applications for a new $10 million grant program supporting Covid-19 safety measures. "My Administration will do everything in its power to prevent weak mayors and lawless cities from taking Federal dollars while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses,” Trump tweeted shortly after releasing the Sept. 2 defunding memo. Almost three weeks later, Attorney General Bill Barr labeled New York City, Portland and Seattle as “anarchist jurisdictions.” The White House budget office also instructed departments to also scrutinize funding for Washington, D.C.

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The Guardian - October 21, 2020

Rudy Giuliani faces questions after compromising scene in new Borat film

The reputation of Rudy Giuliani could be set for a further blow with the release of highly embarrassing footage in Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to Borat. In the film, released on Friday, the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat’s daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist.

Following an obsequious interview for a fake conservative news programme, the pair retreat at her suggestion for a drink to the bedroom of a hotel suite, which is rigged with concealed cameras. After she removes his microphone, Giuliani, 76, can be seen lying back on the bed, fiddling with his untucked shirt and reaching into his trousers. They are then interrupted by Borat who runs in and says: “She’s 15. She’s too old for you.” Representatives for Giuliani have not replied to the Guardian’s requests for comment. Word of the incident first emerged on 7 July, when Giuliani called New York police to report the intrusion of an unusually-dressed man. “This guy comes running in, wearing a crazy, what I would say was a pink transgender outfit,” Giuliani told the New York Post. “It was a pink bikini, with lace, underneath a translucent mesh top, it looked absurd. He had the beard, bare legs, and wasn’t what I would call distractingly attractive.

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Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2020

NASA takes six seconds to get asteroid rocks and dust to answer cosmic questions

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which made NASA history Tuesday when it touched down on an asteroid, appears to have been successful in kicking up dust and pebbles to help answer one of humanity’s nagging questions: How did we get here? The team still needs to confirm how much of this material was collected, which they’ll do using a spacecraft camera for visual observations and a spinning maneuver to measure mass, but researchers were optimistic on Wednesday.

“Everything that we can see from these initial images indicate sampling success,” Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, said during a news conference. This was NASA’s first attempt at collecting samples from an asteroid. The Bennu asteroid formed nearly 4.5 billion years ago and is like a time capsule for the solar system’s earliest years. Some scientists believe that when ancient asteroids or comets crashed into the Earth, they may have been carrying water and carbon-based molecules that helped initiate life on our planet. Returning samples from Bennu could help researchers better understand the composition of asteroids and if these celestial bodies might have contributed to the early life on Earth. And since Bennu has a 1-in-2,700 chance of colliding with the Earth between the years 2175 and 2199, knowing more about its composition could help future generations create a deterrence plan should it be needed.

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