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Statewide elections, a redder South Texas and Beto-mania: the biggest Texas political stories to watch for in 2022 – The Texas Tribune

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Next year, every state official and every member of the Texas Legislature and Congress are up for election. That makes for a big year in Texas politics.

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2021 was an exhausting year in Texas politics.
A power grid failure that left millions of Texans without power. A Democratic quorum break in the Texas House over new voting restrictions. Four legislative sessions that pushed the state further to the right. And persistent fights over COVID-19 rules, namely mask and vaccine mandates.
Heading into 2022, voters will get the chance to register their opinions on how the state’s elected officials handled those events. All the major statewide officials are up for reelection, as is every member of the Legislature — a function of redistricting — and every congressperson per usual.
Unlike the last election cycle, there are not many races that are expected to be hard-fought in the general election, partly due to the GOP-led redistricting process that aimed to cement their majorities. But there will still be ample political action, with plenty of open seats due to lawmaker retirements and Republicans eager to get a stronger foothold in South Texas.
Here are the top five political stories we are watching for in 2022:
Democrats landed their strongest possible candidate to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott when Beto O’Rourke announced his campaign in November. But that does not mean the race will be easy, and O’Rourke enters 2022 with a lot to prove.
He spent the first weeks of his campaign visiting over two dozen counties, reviving the go-everywhere spirit that he became known for when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2018. And he got a solid start on fundraising, collecting $2 million in the first 24 hours of his candidacy.
But he is still facing an uphill battle against an incumbent with a massive warchest — $55 million as of June — and running in a national environment that does not favor Democrats. A Quinnipiac University survey released in early December — one of the few public polls conducted since he announced — found him trailing Abbott by 15 percentage points.
O’Rourke is hopeful that he can defy the odds by capitalizing on Texans’ dissatisfaction with Abbott’s efforts to prevent another power-grid disaster like the one the state experienced in February, which left hundreds of people dead. O’Rourke is also betting voters will turn against the incumbent over the state’s hard-right turn in 2021 when it came to abortion and guns.
Abbott, meanwhile, is focusing relentlessly on border security and trying to tie O’Rourke to President Joe Biden, who has abysmal poll numbers in Texas.
Both first have to get through their primaries in March. O’Rourke’s does not appear competitive, with his competitors including Joy Diaz, a former journalist from Austin, and Michael Cooper, a 2020 U.S. Senate candidate. Meanwhile, Abbott is facing a better-known lineup that includes former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas and former Texas GOP Chair Allen West. Polling has suggested Abbott should not be concerned, but he spent 2021 uniquely attuned to his right flank and can be expected to be out for a decisive primary win.
Redistricting and fatigue after this year’s contentious marathon of special legislative sessions is fueling an exodus of state lawmakers in 2022. Five senators are not returning, and over two dozen representatives are not seeking reelection, either to their current seat or at all.
Plus, some House Republicans are facing crowded lineups of primary challengers — as many as four in some districts — portending even more freshmen on the way.
That means there will be a lot of fresh faces when lawmakers come back to Austin for their next regular session in January 2023. While the number of seats that could change party control in November is limited, there is high potential for Republicans to be succeeded by different kinds of Republicans and the same with Democrats.
Take for example the 31st Senate District — spanning the Panhandle and the Permian Basin — where Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, is not seeking reelection. He has been the closest thing to a Republican maverick in the Senate, butting heads with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over some of his top priorities. But Patrick — as well as former President Donald Trump — have handpicked a successor to Seliger, Kevin Sparks, who would be much more of an ally to the lieutenant governor, even if he is from the same party as Seliger.
When it comes to Democrats, one major changeover could come in Senate District 27, where Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, is retiring. He has long stood out for his socially conservative views, regularly siding with Republicans in voting to restrict abortion. But many of the Democrats running to succeed Lucio appear to support abortion rights, meaning the seat could be held by a meaningfully different type of Democrat in 2023.
Republicans have made no secret that they want to gain new ground in predominantly Hispanic South Texas after Biden posted disappointing results there in 2020.
Abbott, who has focused on the Latino vote in his past campaigns, appears to be prioritizing the traditionally Democratic region in his effort to beat O’Rourke. And down ballot, the GOP has its sights set on a host of seats. They are especially emboldened after capturing a San Antonio-based state House seat in a November special election runoff and then the decision by state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, a longtime Democrat, to switch parties.
In 2022 congressional races, Republicans are most determined to flip the 15th District, whose Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen, decided to seek reelection elsewhere due to redistricting. The Republican who gave Gonzalez a surprisingly close race in 2020, Monica De La Cruz, is running again, and national Republicans have coalesced behind her. Meanwhile, Democrats are playing catch-up on finding their nominee after Gonzalez bailed on running again in the 15th District. The field includes education advocate Eliza Alvarado, previous 15th District candidate Ruben Ramirez and progressive businesswoman Michelle Vallejo.
In state legislative contests, Republicans can be expected to vie for Senate District 27, where Lucio is retiring and redistricting made the seat a little less blue. Republicans also used redistricting to create a new battleground Texas House seat in the Rio Grande Valley that will likely be hotly contested.
Republicans are also gunning for South Texas even further down the ballot. One GOP group, Project Red Texas, spent the weeks before the Dec. 13 filing deadline crisscrossing the region and finding Republicans to run for county offices, offering to pay their filing fees.
Embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton has attracted a lineup of challengers from his own party in what is poised to be the most dramatic statewide primary. His primary opponents include Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler.
They have been drawn to the race by Paxton’s legal problems, which include a 2015 securities fraud indictment that he is still fighting and an FBI investigation into claims by former deputies that he abused his office to help a wealthy donor. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
Paxton has the endorsement of Trump, but his GOP opponents are undeterred.
All of them say he lacks the integrity to be the state’s top law enforcement officer and could jeopardize the office for Republicans in November. Meanwhile, they are trying to differentiate themselves as challengers, with Guzman, for example, arguing she has more legal experience than anyone else.
But the biggest developments around Paxton in 2022 could be in the legal arena. Will his securities fraud case finally go to trial, or at least get closer to trial? Could he get indicted over the FBI matter? Gohmert in particular has been warning that Republicans cannot replace Paxton on the general-election ballot if he gets indicted after winning the primary.
Five Democrats are vying to take on whoever emerges from the GOP primary.
Over the past two years, major external events rocked Texas politics, namely the coronavirus pandemic and the power-grid failure. They forced state leaders to make tough decisions and enmeshed them in tricky new political territory.
Look no further than Abbott, whose approval rating began declining after the arrival of the pandemic.
What, if any, external events could shake up Texas politics in 2022?
Despite Abbott’s insistence that the grid is ready for the winter, what if it collapses again? That would amount to a political calamity for Abbott, and the attack ads would write themselves.
How hard will the latest COVID-19 surge, fueled by the omicron variant, hit Texas? As case numbers pile up, Abbott could be back in a familiar position: stuck between Democrats who want to see more aggressive statewide action to combat the virus — or at least a restoration of local control — and some fellow Republicans who believe Abbott should act as if the pandemic is effectively over. So far, with omicron bearing down on Texas, Abbott has sided more with the latter group.
Other external events could come from the courts, which are currently weighing a bevy of challenges to the red-meat laws that the Legislature produced earlier this year. Those laws include Texas’ near-total abortion ban, which the U.S. Supreme Court sent back to a federal appeals court earlier this month.
The courts could also deliver a dramatic twist to the 2022 election by striking down all or part of Texas’ new political maps. Such a ruling could push back the primary and reopen the filing period, scrambling countless competitive races.
Then there is always the lingering prospect of another special legislative session. Dozens of Republican state lawmakers have said another special session is needed to codify Abbott’s executive order banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates by any entity, though the governor so far has not appeared inclined to oblige them.
Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn’t cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.
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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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