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Money from outside House District 21, and Texas, dominates fundraising in Phelan-Covey race | Houston Public Media

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Money from outside House District 21, and Texas, dominates fundraising in Phelan-Covey race | Houston Public Media


Dade Phelan Facebook, Dave Covey Facebook

House Speaker Dade Phelan and candidate Dave Covey

Early voting in the May 28 Texas primary runoffs ends today. One of the highest-profile contests in the state is the Republican runoff in House District 21 between Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan and former Orange County GOP chairman David Covey. The race could prove the most expensive state legislative contest in Texas history.

Monday night, former Governor Rick Perry introduced Speaker Phelan to a capacity crowd at Courville’s, a Cajun restaurant and catering venue just off US-90 in Beaumont. One of the first things Phelan did as he took the stage was to apologize to his family.

“I apologize for your mailboxes,” Phelan said. “I apologize for what you’ve seen on TV. The lies, the lies, the lies are unimaginable. We’ve never seen anything like it in the history of Southeast Texas.”

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Dade Phelan

Andrew Schneider

House Speaker Dade Phelan speaks at a campaign event at Courville’s.

Phelan was referring to the political attack ads directed at him. He’s running for his sixth term in the Texas House and claimed the money spent on House District 21 is breaking state records. It’s certainly having an outsized impact in the district, a three-county region along the Louisiana border that’s also known as “the Golden Triangle.”

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“I’ll remind you, when you buy $100,000 in TV in Beaumont, it’s like buying $500,000 in Houston,” he said.

And the money is not just going into TV commercials. It’s paying for social media campaigns and mailers, including one with a doctored photo showing Phelan hugging the former U.S. Speaker of the House, and Democrat, Nancy Pelosi. Phelan said much of the money comes from a handful of very wealthy individuals supporting his opponent, David Covey, who has never run for state office before.

“Here we are in a runoff,” Phelan said, “because he has taken money from two West Texas billionaires, and now some guy from Pennsylvania, who I’ve never heard of until the last six weeks, who just came in and spent millions of dollars against me.”

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Covey’s Donors

Phelan didn’t name them, but he was talking specifically about two conservative oil executives from the Midland area, Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, along with Pennsylvania tech investor Jeff Yass. All three have been pouring millions of dollars into efforts to defeat politicians who have opposed school choice.

Yass is one of the largest contributors to the Club for Growth, a conservative 501 nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The Club has spent nearly $1.8 million on advertising to defeat Phelan who’s been accused of blocking school vouchers. They also blame the House Speaker for giving away power to Democrats.

“Basically, we don’t feel you can call yourself a conservative if you oppose school freedom,” said David McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth and a former Indiana congressman. “I think it’s an important symbolic victory if Mr. Covey wins, and the reason would be, it basically sends a signal to other Republicans: You don’t want to try to get power in this fashion.”

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This fashion, meaning by giving some House committee chairs to Democrats. It’s a traditional power-sharing arrangement in the Texas Legislature that’s fallen sharply out of favor with conservative Republicans. Many blame the process for preventing the passage of school choice, among other priorities.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, since July of last year, oil executive Tim Dunn has donated just over $8.6 million to a pair of political action committees, Defend Texas Liberty and Texans United for a Conservative Majority, either directly or through an entity known as Hexagon Partners. Oil executive Farris Wilks donated about $2.8 million over the same period.

Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks provided virtually all the donations to Defend Texas Liberty and Texans United for a Conservative Majority over the current cycle. Those two PACs in turn donated $800,000 to David Covey’s campaign. Covey received another $700,000 directly in donations from a third Texas billionaire, insurance broker Alex Fairly of Amarillo. Neither Dunn, Wilks, nor Fairly responded to requests for interviews. For context, Covey’s campaign has raised just over $2.5 million since July of last year, and more than three out of every five dollars came from three men.

“Texas has no campaign finance limits whatsoever,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas. “So, if you’re a billionaire, and you want to throw millions of dollars into the political system to change who’s in office, you can do that.”

Gutierrez, who studies campaign finance, is convinced that the Phelan-Covey race could easily be the most expensive race for a State House district in Texas history, though he said no one will know for certain until the Texas Ethics Commission publishes the final campaign finance reports of the cycle in July.

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Asked about the potential influence of these three men, David Covey told Houston Public Media, “Dade Phelan has raised more money from out-of-state donors than the total amount of money I have raised. The amount of money Phelan received from outside of the district is greater than 5 times the amount of money I raised.”

Phelan’s Contributors

Covey’s claim isn’t without merit, and it speaks to an important point about the influence of money in a region like the Golden Triangle.

“Generally, money is probably the most important factor in any political campaign,” said political consultant Bill Miller, whose firm, Austin-based HillCo Partners, has donated to Phelan’s campaign. “I think there’s so much money that’s been raised, and is being raised, that money is irrelevant. And there’s very few races where you can say that. But this race — because it’s a small area, and there’s so much money — I don’t think that either side will want for money to do whatever it is that they believe will help them win the race.”

Campaign finance records show Phelan has raised more than $9.4 million this cycle. The largest individual donor to Phelan by far is Miriam Adelson, widow of Sheldon Adelson and owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Adelson’s company is one of the main forces pushing to legalize casino gambling in Texas.

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Adelson donated more than $13 million to a pair of political action committees, Texas Defense and Texas Sands. Those two PACS in turn donated more than $800,000 to Phelan. Adelson also donated another $100,000 to Phelan’s campaign directly. Altogether, she’s supplied 1 dollar out of every 10 Phelan has collected. More than half of that money came in the critical two months following Phelan’s second-place finish in the first round of primary voting.

Phelan’s next biggest contributor is the Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund. The fund’s parent body, the Associated Republicans of Texas, bills itself as a non-profit dedicated to maintaining a Republican majority in the Texas Legislature. The group has raised $7.5 million since last July. One of its biggest benefactors is Houston-based John L. Nau III, the chairman and CEO of Silver Eagle Beverages, one of the nation’s largest Anheuser-Busch distributors. Nau, who co-chairs the Associated Republicans’ board of directors, gave the organization $2.1 million over the past ten months.

Phelan has received just over $238,000 from the Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund. That’s only 3% of the group’s total fundraising over the current cycle, but virtually all of it followed Phelan’s second-place finish to Covey in the first round of primary voting in March, making it a crucial lifeline.

What comes next?

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It’s far from normal to see so many millions of dollars in campaign donations flowing through this district. The last time Phelan fought a competitive race was his first legislative contest back in 2014. In that cycle, he raised just 2% of what he raised for this primary. So, I asked Phelan whether it’s time for tougher state campaign finance rules.

“It’s less of a finance issue than some of the campaign graphics and some of the images and some of the voiceovers that are obviously not realistic,” Phelan said. “They’re not accurate. And they’re obviously deep fakes. And AI, as it gets more and more refined, is very problematic in campaigns. We saw it in my campaign. We’re seeing it in other campaigns across the state of Texas. It’s a misdemeanor right now, and I don’t think that’s strong enough at all.”

Whether any such legislation comes to pass hangs on the outcome of this race: if Phelan loses, campaign finance limits will fall on whoever succeeds him as Speaker of the House.

Regarding the broader question of campaign finance regulation, Phelan is more philosophical, as someone who’s in the lead when it comes to fundraising can afford to be.

“It’s a First Amendment right to spend your money,” he said. “I get it. And I don’t know how the state of Texas will address that and still be under the constitutional standards that we expect from free speech.”

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Texas QB Commit KJ Lacey Opens Up About Official Visit Plans, Arch Manning Connection

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Texas QB Commit KJ Lacey Opens Up About Official Visit Plans, Arch Manning Connection


LOS ANGELES, CA – Texas Longhorns quarterback commit KJ Lacey just wrapped up an impressive showing at the 2024 Elite 11 Finals in Los Angeles and was in the thick of the race for the coveted MVP Award all week.

However, with the event now over, Lacey turns his attention toward a trip to Austin for this official visit to the 40 Acres, where he is set to be hosted by none other than Texas backup QB Arch Manning.

On Thursday in a one-on-one interview with Longhorns Country, Lacey opened up about his plans of his upcoming visit, as well as his growing relationship with Manning.

“Just have fun while I’m out there and get to know the coaches even better,” Lacey said. “I think Arch (Manning) will be the host for my (official visit), so I want to get to know Arch a little bit more, and why he chose Texas… We have a pretty good relationship. We talk here and there. Every time I go up there I ask him a lot of questions.”

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Lacey won’t be the only big-time recruit visiting Austin this weekend either, with the Saraland (AL) four-star QB set to be joined by a star-studded group of prospects, headlined by the five-star receiver duo of Jaime Ffrench and Kaliq Lockett.

And for Lacey, one of the main priorities on his official visit will be to show Ffrench and Lockett exactly why Texas is home.

“It’ll be Jaime Ffrench’s I think second time back to Austin, so just let him have the best time of his life while he’s out there, let him know what’s home, and get him locked in,” Lacey said on Thursday. “Also with Kaliq, I’m not sure how many times he’s been there but he’s from Texas, so I’m pretty sure he’s been a few times. I think those are the main two targets for me just on the receiver side right there that I want to get at.”

In fact, Lacey already got to spend some time with Ffrench this week, as the Mandarin (Jacksonville, FL) five-star took part in Day 1 of the Elite 11 Finals on Tuesday, and spending some time with the other prospects on the sidelines on Wednesday.

Lacey, of course, did his best to take advantage of that chance, sharing a significant amount of reps with Ffrench on Day 1 in particular.

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Now, heading into the O.V., Lacey wants to improve that connection even more.

“The connection has been there for a while,” Lacey said. “I met him at Future 50 last year, and the one-on-one’s he did pretty good out there. He was on the opposite team from me on the 7-on-7… All the way around I feel like our connection is really strong and it’s going to be there for a long time. He’s really fast and his hands are just different. His IQ is also up there, He’s also outgoing. He’s a really nice guy.”



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Summer temperatures are returning to North Texas. Here are some resources to help beat the heat.

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Summer temperatures are returning to North Texas. Here are some resources to help beat the heat.



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Summer is officially here in North Texas, and next week the First Alert Weather team is forecasting high temperatures to break 100 degrees for the first time this year. The heat index could bring the feels-like temperature to 109 degrees.

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Although many North Texans have become accustomed to dealing with extreme heat, there are still many people in the community who do not have air conditioning in their homes, or have trouble affording the increased electrical bills that come with cranking up the AC.

Power company Reliant and the City of Fort Worth opened four cooling centers in the city on Thursday, which are now among many places in the region to get relief.

Cooling centers in the North Texas region

Dallas

Fort Worth

Salvation Army of North Texas (open when temperatures rise above 100 degrees for three days in a row)

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  • Oak Cliff – 1617 W. Jefferson Blvd., Dallas
  • Pleasant Grove – 8341 Elam Rd., Dallas
  • Carr P. Collins Social Service Center – 5302 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas
  • Northside – 3023 NW 24th St, Fort Worth
  • J.E. & L.E. Mabee Social Service Center – 1855 E Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth
  • Irving – 250 E Grauwyler Rd.
  • Garland – 451 W Avenue D
  • Lewisville – 880 Fox Ave.
  • Waxahachie – 620 Farley St.
  • Plano – 3528 E 14th St.
  • McKinney – 600 Wilson Creek Pkwy.
  • Arlington – 712 W. Abram St.
  • Denton – 1508 E McKinney St.

Free air conditioners and fans

Reliant has also donated hundreds of air conditioner units and evaporative cooling fans to the community centers in Dallas and Fort Worth, listed above. Anyone interested in getting one for their home should contact the center in their community. Each center has its own eligibility and procedures for giving the units away.

The United Way of Tarrant County also has a free air conditioner program. It’s only open to Tarrant County residents.

Help with utility bills

The State of Texas’s 211 service gives residents a central place to search for resources across the state, including assistance to with paying utility bills. Texans can call 211 or visit the website. 211 also has more information on cooling centers and air conditioning units for those who need them.



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ERCOT Abandons Congestion Plan, Pinpoints Key Texas Grid Weaknesses

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ERCOT Abandons Congestion Plan, Pinpoints Key Texas Grid Weaknesses


ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas told his Board during a planning session this week that his agency will abandon a plan to relieve congestion on a key transmission line due to lack of customer response. Vegas said Tuesday that a planned conservation program has failed to attract significant commitments from big power consumers.

“The contract for capacity that was issued to support summer conditions resulted in a very low submission,” he told the ERCOT board. “It’s clear … we need to modify the approach for developing the next set of demand response capabilities in the ERCOT market.”

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The issue at hand high-capacity transmission line designed to carry electricity generated by South Texas wind installations hundreds of miles north to the Dallas/Fort Worth market. During mid-day periods of high demand last summer, the line became congested with too much input, causing ERCOT to have to issue conservation warnings on as many as 11 days in August. The agency’s plan to address that issue was to solicit applications for voluntary conservation by major power users near the congestion point in South Texas for 500 MW of consumption, but the solicitation for bids attracted only three applications, all of which were for less than 10 MW.

Two Critical Grid Weak Spots

The failure of the plan – and the need to devise it to begin with – highlights a pair of key weaknesses in the Texas grid as currently constructed:

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  • The fact that the construction of new thermal generation capacity in high-demand regions like the DFW market has failed to keep pace with demand growth; and
  • The heavy reliance on costly transmission lines to move power generated by wind or solar industrial sites hundreds of miles to those demand centers.

Where wind is concerned, the problem in the state is that the only regions truly fit to host the big industrial sites are in the West Texas/Panhandle region and in deep South Texas, where populations are sparse. Over the first decade of this century, Texas spent $7 billion to build high-capacity transmission lines called the CREZ lines to carry wind-generated power from West Texas to the Houston and DFW markets. That final tab was 700% bigger than initial estimates provided by wind developers. Additional transmission has had to be added along with the more recent build-out of wind generation in South Texas.

The obsession by the state’s policymakers and regulators to pack the grid with intermittent and often unpredictable wind and solar at the expense of encouraging the installation of additional thermal or nuclear capacity has resulted in an increasingly unstable grid that requires ERCOT to often invoke novel plans like this one. It didn’t get a lot of news coverage, but this past winter, ERCOT even resorted to the extreme measure of trying to convince owners of mothballed coal-fired generation plants to reopen them as part of a plan to avoid blackouts during a major winter storm event.

Help Is On The Way

San Antonio-based CPS is currently in the process of upgrading the transmission line that caused the near-crisis situations last summer, but the anticipated completion date of that project is still three years away. As I reported here last week, help in the arena of new thermal capacity is also on the way after the new Texas Energy Fund to incentivize development of more natural gas generation attracted an overwhelming response from generation companies. But those projects will also take years to plan and build.

Looking out farther into the future, help could also be on the way in the form of modular nuclear power, after Dallas-based Natura Resources received the good news from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that a construction permit for its planned molten salt reactor to be sited on the campus of Abilene Christian University (ACU) will be approved in September.

In a recent interview, Natura CEO Doug Robison told me the project, which is a demonstration project developed in conjunction with ACU, the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology, has an anticipated startup date in 2027. The eventual success of that project could spur development of an array of such modular reactors – Robison says the reactor itself is roughly the size of a home refrigerator – that have the advantage of being installed in the middle of major demand centers rather than hundreds of miles distant.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, while this set of prospects for a more stable grid to come remain years away from reality, Mr. Vegas and his grid managers and planners at ERCOT will continue to have to devise novel ways to keep power flowing to a rapidly growing array of big demand centers. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.



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