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August 16th, 2012:

Here come the city bonds

For your approval.

Houston voters will decide in November whether local governments can borrow more than $2.7 billion for schools, parks, libraries and public safety.

City Council OK’d its portion of that total Wednesday, a $410 million package of bond measures. The crowded and costly ballot during a presidential election has some questioning whether voters will balk at the price tag.

“I think the voters are going to most likely turn down all bond referendums on the November ballot,” Councilman Mike Sullivan said. “There is very little sentiment for more tax dollars to be spent right now on virtually anything. You can look at the Cruz campaign and the way that that election turned out, and there’s a message there. People are fed up. People are tired of excessive spending.”

Sure, because a statewide Republican primary runoff is exactly like a Presidential year general election in a city that voted 61% for Obama in 2008. Makes total sense to me.

The bond measures come up this year as part of a routine cycle of going to voters every five to seven years for the equivalent of pre-approval for a mortgage so the city can borrow money to fix and replace its buildings, parks, streets and drainage.

The city’s last bond package of $625 million received voter approval in 2006. This year’s proposals would pay for the city’s recently approved five-year capital improvement projects list, which includes new police and fire stations, library renovations, playgrounds installed in parks and repairs to health and sanitation department facilities. By city ordinance, about $4.8 million will be spent on civic art as part of the projects.

Price tag aside, the campaigns face a challenge in educating voters about so many propositions, said Michael Adams, professor of political science at Texas Southern University.

“There can be some ballot fatigue in terms of the number of items” voters are being asked to understand and decide on,” Adams said.

All due respect to Prof. Adams, but I’d like to see some empirical data before accepting that proposition as fact. Heck, I’m not even sure what that evidence would look like. How do you measure “ballot fatigue”? How does a fatigued voter differ from a non-fatigued voter? Seems to me that such a voter would skip voting on a referendum, not stick it out to the end in order to vote against it in a fatigued fit of pique. Show me how you can measure this, and then I’ll tell you if I buy it.

One thing I can tell you is that there’s already a campaign going on to generate support for the parks referendum, which is Proposition B. We got a call on Tuesday night – before Council officially approved the ballot item – from Parks By You asking us to support it. An email sent to a neighborhood mailing list from another recipient of a Parks By You call suggests they’re already hard at work. Will there be organized opposition to this bond, or any of the others? That’s always the question. You can see more details on the bond referenda here, and Stace has more.

Gearing up in District A

And they’re off.

Amy Peck

It appears unlikely that former District A Councilwoman Brenda Stardig will get a one-on-one shot at a comeback from her 2011 loss to current Councilwoman Helena Brown.

“It is my plan to run for District A,” Amy Peck, district director for state Sen. Dan Patrick, told me Monday.

Stardig has said it is “highly possible” that she will try to gain the seat back next year. Brown and At-Large Position 5 Councilman Jack Christie were the first challengers in 12 years to knock off incumbent Council members when they won run-off elections in December 2011.

Peck has worked for Patrick for five years. She also writes the Peckblog about City Hall issues. She came in third in a seven-candidate field for the District A seat in 2009. She notes on her website that she “spent the lowest amount of money per vote out of the top contenders” and that she ran on a platform of budget reform, increasing tourism and businesses, flooding and drainage improvements and support for the police and fire departments.

Peck made her displeasure with CM Brown clear in a post that followed the Press cover story and the Chron story on timecard alterations. As I suggested before, I think she’d make a strong candidate. My guess would be that if either she or former CM Stardig could get CM Brown into a runoff, she could succeed in knocking the incumbent out. One thing to watch for will be who (if anyone) the usual establishment types line up behind. I note with interest that on CM Brown’s July 2012 report quite a few of them make their first appearances, including the Texas Association of Realtors, who gave $3000 to Brown’s coffers. Stardig is a realtor, and they were her among her biggest backers in 2009 and 2011. Incumbency does have its privileges. Brown also wrote a couple of checks to Walden and Associates, so it’s probably safe to say that her re-election campaign will not bear a great deal of resemblance to her initial campaign. This will be fun to watch. Stace has more.

The demographics of jury service

Why is it that juries in Harris County tend to not reflect the demography of the county as a whole? District Clerk Chris Daniel explains why in a recent Chron op-ed. If you’re familiar with the concept of “citizen voting age population” (CVAP), you will likely nod your head as you read it. This isn’t everything – who responds to jury summonses, and who gets picked (and who gets eliminated) by the lawyers during voir dire has something to do with it as well – but it’s a significant factor. It’s also something we should ensure changes over time, as the currently-young Latino population grows up.

On a tangential note, Greg gives us another look at the distribution of Latino registered voters in Harris County. It’s a different topic but the same underlying dynamic, and another thing we should observe over time to see how it changes. In each case, if the change observed is significantly different from what one might reasonably predict to happen, it’s an indicator that something has very likely gone wrong.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 13

The Texas Progressive Alliance would like to thank Mitt Rmoney for clarifying what this election is about better than it ever could as it brings you this week’s roundup.