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Texas attorney general who survived impeachment targets House Republicans who sought his ouster

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas attorney general who survived a historic impeachment trial last year made a Super Tuesday primary a bitter Republican-on-Republican brawl, targeting the House speaker and dozens of other lawmakers who had sought his ouster.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was on the brink of removal from office just six months ago, campaigned to defeat those political rivals in his own party in a test of his own clout and that of his biggest backer, former president Donald Trump.

After Paxton narrowly survived allegations of corruption and abuse of office, the attorney general quickly pivoted to launch fierce, bare-knuckle campaign attacks seeking to rid the GOP-dominated House of those Republicans who backed the impeachment drive.

Paxton found his biggest target in House Speaker Dade Phelan, leader of the attempt, along with more than 30 of Phelan’s Republican House colleagues who voted against the attorney general on the corruption and abuse of office allegations.

Paxton was not on the Super Tuesday ballot himself. He won a third term in 2022. His aim to overthrow the leadership of the House was being widely watched as an attempt to push an already conservative chamber further to the right.

Phelan has led the House through two terms. He fought back on the campaign trail in blunt and often personal terms against Paxton, with ads reminding voters of the corruption and abuse of office allegations that gave rise to the impeachment trial. Additional spots reminded voters of a Paxton extramarital affair.

Besides drawing support for his endorsed candidates from Trump, Paxton’s intensive and broad campaign of political revenge also prompted third-party groups to pour in millions of dollars of donations into the campaign.

Paxton still faces ongoing legal issues. He is scheduled for trial in April on felony securities fraud charges that could land him in prison for 90 years if convicted. He also is facing an ongoing federal probe involving some of the same allegations raised in his impeachment.

Paxton wasn’t the only Republican attacking fellow Republicans in Tuesday’s primaries Gov. Greg Abbott has targeted nearly two dozen incumbents who helped defeat his plan to spend tax money on private schools, putting some lawmakers in the crosshairs of both men as targets for removal.

Paxton also mounted a campaign to oust three female judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals. They were part of an 8-1 majority that stripped Paxton of the power to prosecute voter fraud without permission from local prosecutors. Paxton accused them of being “activist” judges after the court majority ruled the law had been a violation of the state Constitution’s separation of powers.

In Paxton’s sights were two of the court’s longest-serving judges: Judge Barbara Hervey, elected in 2001, and Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, elected in 1994. The third, Judge Michelle Slaughter, was elected in 2018.

“The Court follows the law, period,” Slaughter responded to the attacks in a pre-election post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We cannot and will not be partisan political activists.


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James Crumbley is up next as 2nd parent to stand trial in Michigan school shooting

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — A man who purchased a gun with his son four days before a Michigan school shooting is headed to trial, accused of failing to take steps that could have prevented the teen from killing four students and wounding others.

No one says James Crumbley knew what Ethan Crumbley planned to do at Oxford High School on Nov. 30, 2021. But prosecutors allege that his “gross negligence” was a cause of the violence.

It is the second act for prosecutors: Jennifer Crumbley was convicted of the same involuntary manslaughter charges a month ago. They are the first U.S. parents to be charged with having criminal responsibility in a mass school shooting committed by a child.

Jury selection in James Crumbley’s case starts Tuesday in Oakland County, north of Detroit.

“I don’t think it’s overreach,” Rick Convertino, a Detroit-area defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor, said of the trials.

“I think the prosecution did an excellent job in putting the links of the chain together” during Jennifer Crumbley’s case, Convertino said. “What led to the horrific shootings could easily have been prevented by simple and ordinary care.”

James Crumbley, accompanied by 15-year-old Ethan, purchased a Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun over Thanksgiving weekend in 2021. The boy called it his “new beauty” on social media. His mother, also on social media, described the gun as a Christmas gift and took Ethan to a shooting range.

A few days later, the parents went to Oxford High to discuss a violent drawing on Ethan Crumbley’s math assignment, which was accompanied by tormented phrases: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me. The world is dead. My life is useless.” There was a gun on the paper that looked similar to the Sig Sauer.

The parents “chose silence” instead of disclosing the gun purchase and a visit to the shooting range, assistant prosecutor Marc Keast said in a court filing.

The Crumbleys didn’t take Ethan home, and the school didn’t demand it. But the parents departed with a list of area mental health services. School counselor Shawn Hopkins said Jennifer Crumbley cited work as the reason to keep her son in class.

“I don’t remember James speaking on that topic,” he testified.

No one — the parents or school staff — checked the boy’s backpack for a gun, and the shooting happened that afternoon.

James Crumbley called 911, frantically saying, “I think my son took the gun.”

Convertino predicts the call will be “extraordinary, powerful evidence” for prosecutors, who will argue that the father failed to safely store the gun and ammunition.

Defense lawyers, however, said the parents could not have foreseen a mass shooting.

The case “begs the question of when a parent will cross the subjective line of ‘good parenting’ and render himself or herself criminally liable for the independent acts of a teenager,” Mariell Lehman and Shannon Smith said in a court filing.

Ethan, now 17, is serving a life prison sentence for murder and terrorism. He told a judge when he pleaded guilty that his money was used to buy the gun and that the weapon was not locked at home.

Jennifer Crumbley returns to court for her sentence on April 9. Her minimum prison term could be as high as 10 years.

Both parents have been in jail for more than two years. They were unable to post a bond of $500,000 each, following their arrest at a friend’s art studio in Detroit. They insisted they were not trying to flee.

___

Follow Ed White on X, formerly Twitter: @edwritez


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Analysis-Biden’s scaled-back power rule raises doubts over US climate target

By Valerie Volcovici and Nichola Groom

(Reuters) – The Biden administration’s decision to exclude the existing U.S. fleet of natural gas power plants from upcoming carbon emissions regulations raises questions over the nation’s ability to meet its climate goals, according to researchers.

Cleaning up the U.S. power industry, source of about a quarter of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, has been a central plank of President Joe Biden’s strategy to decarbonize the nation’s economy by 2050 to counter global warming.

But in an unusual move, the Environmental Protection Agency late last week said it would take existing gas plants, which account for over 40% of U.S. power sector carbon emissions, out of the plan before finalizing the rule – a decision made after months of intense industry opposition.

Because the standards would not have kicked in until after 2030, the existing gas plant rule would have had a minimal contribution to near-term targets. But reducing emissions from those plants would be critical for U.S. climate goals beyond 2030, said Ben King, an associate director with Rhodium Group’s energy and climate practice.

“Once you retire or mitigate a bunch of emissions from the coal fleet, then what you are left with in the power sector is a bunch of gas that you need to figure out what to do with,” he said. “Utilities and grid operators need to really start planning for that now.”

The EPA has said it plans to write a separate rule to cover CO2 emissions from existing gas plants as well as other hazardous air pollutants after it finalizes the rest of the regulation later this spring, but did not give a specific timeline.

The process of writing and finalizing a new rule often takes over a year and the agency faces the distraction of a looming general election in November. If President Joe Biden loses his bid for a second term to Republican rival Donald Trump, the effort would likely be abandoned.

“The Trump administration displayed enormous hostility to environmental protections for American communities when they were in power,” Trevor Higgins, senior vice president for energy and environment at the left-wing think tank Center for American Progress, said.

“They intend to roll back and halt climate policy across the board.”

Natural gas plants account for 43% of power sector greenhouse gas emissions, according to EPA’s latest figures, and are on track to replace coal as the industry’s largest source of emissions in 2028, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The proposal stripped from the power regulation would have required large gas-fired plants to install carbon capture equipment by 2035, or co-fire with 30% hydrogen by 2032. The power industry called the proposal unworkable.

EPA estimated when it initially unveiled the plan that the portion of the regulation that covered existing gas plants would lead to a cut of between 214 million and 407 million metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2028 and 2042 – the equivalent of around 6% of total U.S. CO2 emissions in a year.

UNUSUAL PROCESS

The EPA’s proposal upset the U.S. power industry right from the start, in part because utilities had not expected existing gas plants would be included.

EPA staff had worked for months on a proposed rule covering coal and new gas plants only, but existing gas plants were added following a White House review, weeks before the May release, according to regulatory documents.

The White House and EPA declined to comment on the reason for the last-minute addition.

Industry groups as well as some environmental justice advocates later argued the proposals for existing gas plants could backfire by leading utilities to rely on smaller, dirtier plants that fall outside the regulation in order to avoid costly upgrades to bigger generators.

An EPA spokesperson acknowledged shortcomings of the rule.

“The 2023 proposal for existing gas-fired power plants focused only on large baseload natural gas-fired power plants, considered a limited range of technology options, and initially included separate analyses of available technical information at the time to support different parts of the proposal,” EPA spokesperson Tim Carroll said.

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Leslie Adler)


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Regulator proposes capping credit card late fees at $8, latest in Biden’s campaign against junk fees

NEW YORK (AP) — The Biden administration announced a rule Tuesday to cap all credit card late fees, the latest effort in the White House push to end what it has called junk fees and a move that regulators say will save Americans up to $10 billion a year.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new regulations will set a ceiling of $8 for most credit card late fees or require banks to show why they should charge more than $8 for such a fee.

The rule would bring the average credit card late fee down from $32. The bureau estimates banks brought in roughly $14 billion in credit card late fees a year.

“In credit cards, like so many corners of the economy today, consumers are beset by junk fees and forced to navigate a market dominated by relatively few, powerful players who control the market,” said Rohit Chopra, director of the bureau, in a statement.

President Joe Biden planned to highlight the proposal along with other efforts to reduce costs to Americans at a meeting of his competition council on Tuesday. The Democratic president is forming a new strike force to crack down on illegal and unfair pricing on things like groceries, prescription drugs, health care, housing and financial services.

The strike force will be led by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, according to a White House statement.

The Biden administration has portrayed the White House Competition Council as a way to save people money and promote greater competition within the U.S. economy.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers produced an analysis indicating that the Biden administration’s efforts overall will eliminate $20 billion in annual junk fees. The analysis found that consumers pay about $90 billion a year in junk fees, including for concerts, apartment rentals and auto dealers.

The effort appears to have done little to help Biden politically ahead of this year’s presidential election. Just 34% of U.S. adults approve of Biden’s economic leadership, according to a new survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Americans held more than $1.05 trillion on their credit cards in the third quarter of 2023, a record, and a figure certain to grow once the fourth-quarter data is released by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. next month. Those balances are now carrying interest on them, which is the highest it has been since the Federal Reserve started tracking the data back in the mid-1990s.

Further, more Americans are falling behind on their credit card debts as well. Delinquency rates at the major credit card issuers such as American Express, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Capital One and Discover have been trending upward for several quarters. Some analysts have become concerned Americans, particularly poorer households hurt by inflation, might be taking on too much debt.

“Overall, the consumer is credit healthy. However, the reality is that there are starting to be some significant signs of stress,” said Silvio Tavares, president and CEO of VantageScore, one of the country’s two major credit scoring systems, in an interview last month.

The growth of the credit card industry is partly why Capital One announced it would buy Discover Financial last month for $35 billion. The two companies, which are two of the largest credit card issuers, are also two companies whose customers regularly carry a balance on their accounts.

This is not the first time policymakers have weighed in on credit card fees. Congress in 2010 passed the CARD Act, which banned credit card companies from charging excessive penalty fees and established clearer disclosures and consumer protections.

The Federal Reserve issued a rule in 2010 that capped the first credit card late fee at $25, and $35 for subsequent late payments, and tied that fee to inflation. The CFPB, which took over the regulation of the credit card industry from the Fed after it was established, is proposing going further than the Fed.

The bureau’s proposal is similar in structure to what the bureau announced in January when it proposed capping overdraft fees to as little as $3. In that proposed regulation, banks would be required to either accept the bureau’s benchmark or show regulators why they should charge more, a method that few bank industry executives expect to use.

Biden has made the elimination of junk fees one of the cornerstones of his administration’s economic agenda heading into the 2024 election. Fees that banks charge customers have been at the center of that campaign, and the White House directed government regulators last year to do whatever is in their power to further curtail the practice.

In another move being highlighted by the White House, the Agriculture Department said it has finalized a rule to stop what it deems to be deceptive contracts by meat processors and to ban retaliation against small farmers and ranchers that work together in associations.

___

Boak reported from Washington.


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UN warns of climate change impact on farms and rural households run by women in poor countries

ROME (AP) — Women who run farms and rural households in poor countries suffer more from climate change and are discriminated against as they try to adapt to other sources of income in times of crises, the United Nations warned Tuesday.

A new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, “The Unjust Climate,” found that female-headed rural households lose on average 8% more of their income during heat waves and 3% more during floods, compared to male-headed households.

That disparity translates into a per capita reduction of $83 due to heat stress and $35 due to floods — coming up to an annual total of $37 billion and $16 billion respectively in poor countries, the U.N. agency said in the report.

“Considering the significant existing differences in agricultural productivity and wages between women and men, the study suggests that if not addressed, climate change will greatly widen these gaps in the years ahead,” FAO said.

The Rome-based FAO came up with the statistics by surveying 100,000 rural households across 24 poor and middle-income countries around the world. The agency then integrated that data with 70 years of precipitation and temperature data.

Significantly, the report noted that few government plans to address climate change and promote adaptation strategies take into account the specific vulnerabilities of rural women and youths.

Only 6% of the more than 4,000 proposals contained in the national climate adaptation plans of the countries surveyed mentioned women.

The report noted that in many poor countries, women are discriminated against in their ability to have rights to land or to make decisions over their work. When they then try to diversify their sources of income as a result of climate crises reducing farm and livestock productivity, they also face discrimination in gaining access to information, financing and technology.

The report called for targeted strategies to address the particular vulnerabilities of rural households headed by women.

‘’Social differences based on locations, wealth, gender and age have a powerful, yet poorly understood, impact on rural peoples’ vulnerability to the impacts of the climate crisis,” said FAO’s director general, Qu Dongyu.

“These findings highlight the urgent need to dedicate substantially more financial resources and policy attention to issues of inclusivity and resilience in global and national climate actions,” he said.


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Biden administration to limit credit card late fees in move against junk fees

By Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) – The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled its latest measures to combat rising consumer costs and charges known as junk fees, including an interagency effort to crack down on inflated prices and limiting what banks can charge for late credit card payments.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission will lead a joint “strike force” aimed at stopping illegal corporate behavior that hikes prices on Americans through anticompetitive or fraudulent business practices, said administration officials.

The administration will also finalize a rule that slashes credit card fees from an average of $31 down to $8, and another that gives ranchers and farmers more leverage when negotiating contracts with meat packers, officials said.

“Late credit card fees have gotten out of control,” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra said during a press call previewing the moves.

The moves to address rising costs come as Democratic President Joe Biden and his allies try to change views among the many American voters unhappy with his economic stewardship.

Biden is set to highlight the steps during the sixth meeting of the Competition Council, which he created by executive order to stop anticompetitive practices in sectors from agriculture to drugs and labor.

Biden has successfully pressured companies such as Airbnb and Live Nation to limit junk fees – or extra charges – that customers pay when booking concert tickets, hotels and airfares.

The White House Council of Economic advisers estimates that the administration’s actions will eliminate more than $20 billion in junk fees annually. The moves to counter junk fees is expected to feature in Biden’s State of Union Speech on Thursday, White House aides say.

Chopra said the limit on credit card late fees will save American families $10 billion annually, or an average of $220 per year for the 45 million cardholders who are charged late fees annually. Credit card issuers have been exploiting a loophole created in 2010 that allowed them to escape a federal ban on unreasonable fees by increasing them each year with automatic inflation adjustments, Chopra said.

The Department of Agriculture rule, first proposed last September, prohibits among other things retaliation against producers for activities like asserting rights under the Packers and Stockyards Act, which aims to ensure competition in the livestock, meat and poultry markets.

“This final rule will provide for clearer, more effective standards by which to govern all of this in the modern marketplace,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on a Monday press call.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; additional reporting by Leah Douglas; Editing by Don Durfee and Leslie Adler)


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Stock market today: Wall Street inches lower as retailers post holiday numbers

Wall Street pointed modestly lower Tuesday as more retailers post results from the holiday season and ahead of appearance by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell before Congress later this week.

Futures for the S&P 500 slipped 0.3% and futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.2%.

Momentum has slowed for U.S. stocks after hitting record highs as inflation appears to be cooling, cuts to interest rates may be coming and the U.S. economy has so far shrugged off predictions for a recession.

Though earnings season is close to wrapping up, several big retailers will report their latest quarterly results this week, which could give analysts a clearer picture of how Americans are feeling about the economy and their personal finances.

Target reported a 58% increase in fourth-quarter profits, handily beat Wall Street expectations as the retailer cut costs and maintained a lean inventory. Shares of Minneapolis company jumped 8.5% before the bell Tuesday.

Costco Wholesale, Gap and Nordstrom all put up holiday numbers this week.

AeroVironment, a Virginia defense contractor that specializes in drones, jumped 17.5% before the bell after it beat Wall Street’s sales forecast and nearly doubled profit targets.

Several events scheduled for this week could upset the market.

On Wednesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell will testify before a House of Representatives committee about monetary policy. He has said the Fed’s next move will likely be a cut, but he’s also said it needs more evidence that inflation is falling decisively toward its 2% target. That was before reports recently showed inflation at both the consumer and wholesale levels were higher than expected.

A report on Friday will show how the U.S. job market is doing, with economists forecasting a slowdown from January’s strong growth.

In Europe at midday, Germany’s DAX, the CAC 40 in Paris and Britain’s FTSE 100 all climbed back to even after being down slightly in the morning.

In Asia, Hong Kong’s benchmark sank 2.6% after China’s premier said the country’s target for economic growth this year is around 5%, in line with expectations. China’s economy expanded at a 5.2% annual rate last year after growth dipped to 3% in 2022.

Li Qiang, addressing the opening meeting of China’s National People’s Congress, also said Beijing would issue 1 trillion yuan ($139 billion) in long-term bonds to help bridge funding gaps, provide support to financially strapped local governments and invest in both advanced technology and in social support and education.

He said China would expand government-subsidized housing, part of a program aimed at reversing a downturn in the property market after a crackdown on excess borrowing caused dozens of developers to default on their debts.

But the government’s intention to keep its deficit at 3% of China’s GDP disappointed investors hoping for more aggressive action, Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management said in a commentary.

“The unchanged target of 3% fell below expectations and signaled a cautious approach to fiscal policy,” he said.

The congress is the year’s biggest political event, though it mainly just endorses policies set by top leaders of the ruling Communist Party.

The initial reaction to Li’s address and the annual budget report, also issued Tuesday, appeared tepid. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 2.6% to 16,162.64 and the Shanghai Composite index rose 0.3% to 3,047.79, barely budging for most of the day.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index ended flat at 40,097.63, just below Monday’s record close.

In Seoul, the Kospi sank 0.9% to 2,649.40, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 edged 0.2% lower to 7,724.20.

India’s Sensex declined 0.3% while Taiwan’s Taiex gained 0.4%.

In other trading early Tuesday, U.S. benchmark crude oil shed 74 cents to $78 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 58 cents to $82.22 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar was unchanged at 150.53 Japanese yen. The euro fell to $1.0845 from $1.0856.

On Monday, the S&P 500 slipped 0.1%, coming off its latest all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 0.2% and the Nasdaq composite lost 0.4%.


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Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee faces tough reelection bid after mayoral loss

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — An unusually tight race is brewing for Democratic U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s seat after she lost her bid to become Houston’s mayor last year.

The campaign is among a few competitive House races in Texas for Tuesday’s primaries, including for Republican Rep. Kay Granger’s open seat.

Along the Texas-Mexico border, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales will face his first election since being sanctioned by his party and U.S. Rep Monica De La Cruz will fight to keep her highly competitive district.

Here are some congressional races to watch in Texas’ primaries:

Jackson Lee did not announce that she would seek reelection to her Houston district until December, after losing the mayor’s race. John Whitmire, a veteran Democratic state lawmaker, defeated her in an upset to become mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city after Jackson Lee faced backlash over an unverified audio recording in which she purportedly berated staff members with a barrage of expletives.

She faces a challenge from former Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who had dropped out of the mayor’s race and decided to seek Jackson’ Lee’s seat when the longtime congresswoman announced her mayoral candidacy.

Jackson Lee has faced challengers only a handful of times in her nearly three-decade House career and defeated each definitively. Edwards has fundraised competitively.

The winner will move on to the November election in a district that is heavily Democratic.

The Fort Worth-area 12th Congressional District is open for the first time in nearly 30 years after Granger announced in November that she would not seek reelection.

Texas state Rep. Craig Goldman faces John O’Shea, a conservative former banker turned real estate developer and construction business owner, in the Republican primary.

O’Shea has received support from GOP Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton because Goldman was among Republicans who voted to impeach Paxton last year. Paxton narrowly survived allegations of corruption and abuse of office.

This is Republican U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales’ first campaign since the state party sanctioned him over his votes to protect same-sex marriage and in support of new gun safety laws following the 2022 Uvalde school shooting in his district that left 21 people dead.

Gonzales, who is from San Antonio, was first elected in 2020.

Republicans challenging Gonzales include Julie Clark, the former chair of the Medina County Republican Party, where the sanction against him originated. Others are Brandon Herrera, who produces YouTube videos about guns; Victor Avila, a retired U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent; and Frank Lopez, a retired Border Patrol agent.

Immigration is a key issue in the district, which covers a long portion of the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso to San Antonio. The district encompasses Eagle Pass, which has been thrust into a turf war between Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and President Joe Biden’s administration over immigration enforcement.

In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, Republican U.S. Rep. Monica de la Cruz is running to keep her 15th Congressional District seat. De la Cruz represents a formerly Democratic and highly competitive district that has shown growing support for the GOP.

De la Cruz is expected to win Tuesday. But Democrats are hoping to pick up the South Texas seat in November.

Democrats vying to run against de la Cruz are business owner Michelle Vallejo and attorney John Villarreal Rigney.

Immigration is also a central issue for the district, which stretches from the U.S.-Mexico border to a county east of San Antonio.


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Democrats are targeting US Senate race in Texas as voters pick who will take on GOP’s Ted Cruz

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Democrats in search of flipping a U.S. Senate seat were watching Texas closely on Super Tuesday to see who voters nominate against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, whose underdog challengers have cast as vulnerable after a narrow margin of victory in 2018.

U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, a former NFL player and three-term congressman from Dallas, and state Sen. Roland Gutierrez have drawn most of the attention in a primary that again finds Texas Democrats in pursuit of a breakthrough candidate. No Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas in 30 years, the longest losing streak of its kind in the U.S.

Despite that, Democrats believe Texas and Florida are their best shot for upsets in November as they try to preserve a slim 51-49 advantage in the Senate. That majority includes West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who is not seeking reelection and whose seat is likely to flip Republican.

Seven other Democrats are also running in the Senate primary in Texas, including state Rep. Carl Sherman. The race heads to a May 28 runoff if no candidate wins a vote majority.

Allred, who would become Texas’ first Black senator if elected, has raised more than $21 million since getting in the race. That’s significantly more than his primary challengers, whom the civil rights lawyer has largely ignored during the primary while keeping his attacks focused on Cruz.

Allred, 40, made headlines in January when he was among 14 House Democrats who backed a Republican resolution in Congress that criticized President Joe Biden’s handling of the border. Gutierrez criticized Allred for the vote, accusing him of siding “with GOP extremists,” and Cruz spokesperson Macarena Martinez called the vote a “disingenuous attempt to posture on the border.”

Allred said he did not agree with all the language in the resolution but said he wanted to see more urgency at the federal level when it comes to the border.

“For me, it was about sending a signal that, you know, what we have been doing is not working,” Allred said in an interview last week during early voting in Texas. “We have to change something.”

Cruz only narrowly beat Beto O’Rourke for reelection in 2018 by less than 3 percentage points. It was the closest Democrats have come in decades to winning a statewide seat and happened during a midterm election that wound up being a strong year for Democrats nationally.

Texas Democrats have struggled to recapture that momentum since then. O’Rourke lost by double digits when he challenged Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022.

“Things are shifting in the state. It takes a long time,” said Jared Hockeman, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Cameron County along the U.S.-Mexico border. “We recognize that.”

___

Murphy reported from Oklahoma City.


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Conspiracies hinder GOP’s efforts in Kansas to cut the time for returning mail ballots

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A repeating of baseless election conspiracy theories in the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature appears to have scuttled GOP lawmakers’ efforts this year to shorten the time that voters have to return mail ballots.

The state Senate was set to take a final vote Tuesday on a bill that would eliminate the three extra days after polls close for voters to get mail ballots back to their local election offices. Many Republicans argue that the so-called grace period undermines confidence in the state’s election results, though there’s no evidence of significant problems from the policy.

During a debate Monday, GOP senators rewrote the bill so that it also would ban remote ballot drop boxes — and, starting next year, bar election officials from using machines to count ballots. Ballot drop boxes and tabulating machines have been targets across the U.S. as conspiracy theories have circulated widely within the GOP and former President Donald Trump has promoted the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

The Senate’s approval of the bill would send it to the House, but the bans on vote-tabulating machines and remote ballot drop boxes all but doom it there. Ending the grace period for mail ballots already was an iffy proposition because Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly opposes the idea, and GOP leaders didn’t have the two-thirds majority necessary to override her veto of a similar bill last year.

Some Republicans had hoped they could pass a narrow bill this year and keep the Legislature’s GOP supermajorities together to override a certain Kelly veto.

“This isn’t a vote that’s going to secure our election,” Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, said Monday, arguing against the ban on vote-tabulation machines. “It’s going to put an anchor around the underlying bill.”

Trump’s false statements and his backers’ embrace of the unfounded idea that American elections are rife with problems have split Republicans. In Kansas, the state’s top election official, Secretary of State Scott Schwab, is a conservative Republican, but he’s repeatedly vouched for the integrity of the state’s elections and promoted ballot drop boxes.

Schwab is neutral on whether Kansas should eliminate its three-day grace period, a policy lawmakers enacted in 2017 over concerns that the U.S. Postal Service’s processing of mail was slowing.

More than 30 states require mail ballots to arrive at election offices by Election Day to be counted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and their politics vary widely. Among the remaining states, the deadlines vary from 5 p.m. the day after polls close in Texas to no set deadline in Washington state.

Voting rights advocates argue that giving Kansas voters less time to return their ballots could disenfranchise thousands of them and particularly disadvantage poor, disabled and older voters and people of color. Democratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, of Wichita, the Senate’s only Black woman, said she was offended by comments suggesting that ending the grace period would not be a problem for voters willing to follow the rules.

“It makes it harder for people to vote — period,” she said.

In the House, its Republican Elections Committee chair, Rep. Pat Proctor, said he would have the panel expand early voting by three days to make up for the shorter deadline.

Proctor said Monday that there’s no appetite in the House for banning or greatly restricting ballot drop boxes.

“Kansans that are not neck-deep in politics — they see absolutely no issue with voting machines and, frankly, neither do I,” he said.

During the Senate’s debate, conservative Republicans insisted that electronic tabulating machines can be manipulated, despite no evidence of it across the U.S. They brushed aside criticism that returning to hand-counting would take the administration of elections back decades.

They also incorrectly characterized mysterious letters sent in November to election offices in Kansas and at least four other states — including some containing the dangerous opioid fentanyl — as ballots left in drop boxes.

Sen. Mark Steffen, a conservative Republican from central Kansas, told his colleagues during Monday’s debate that Masterson’s pitch against banning vote-tabulating machines was merely an “incredibly, beautifully verbose commitment to mediocrity.”

“I encourage us to be strong,” he said. “We know what’s right.”


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