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October, 2013:

Why some polls are less accurate than others

The local GOP had a rally Monday night that among other things featured a “straw poll” of the faithful to see who their preferences were in the upcoming primary election.

Harris County Republicans worked to energize their base on Monday night with a rally at the Galleria, where a parade of statewide candidates pitched voters for support in next year’s primary.

After nearly two hours of speeches, about 300 people participated in a straw poll that showed the party faithful support current Attorney General Greg Abbott for governor and picked state Sen. Dan Patrick almost 4-to-1 for lieutenant governor over the incumbent, David Dewhurst.

With Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson also running for lieutenant governor, that leaves those races open in the Republican primary next March.

Presidential grandson and nephew George P. Bush was the overwhelming favorite to replace Patterson. The crowd nearly split its preference for a new attorney general: Ken Paxton received 157 votes to Barry Smitherman’s 133 votes.

Among the candidates for agriculture commissioner who spoke, voters favored Sid Miller – who joined the race a week ago and has rocker Ted Nugent on his campaign leadership team – with 150 votes over rancher Eric Opiela with 106 votes and J. Allen Carnes with 42 votes.

The group favored Wayne Christian among a half-dozen candidates for railroad commissioner and state Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy, the author of the abortion restriction law that had certain provisions struck down Monday by a federal court, was the overwhelming choice for comptroller.

As it happens, one of the attendees at this event sent me screenshots of the straw poll from his smartphone. Here are a couple of those images. See if you can spot the problem with the poll’s methodology that my correspondent was unhappy about:

Where's Jerry?

Where’s Jerry?

Where's Debra? Glenn who?

Where’s Debra? Glenn who?

You can see the results of the “poll” here if you’re curious. My correspondent tells me that Jerry Patterson had a table at this event. I’d want a refund if I were him. I’ve noted before that the HCDP generally bends over backwards to avoid favoring one candidate over another in contested primaries, while the Harris County Republican Party often takes sides, so this is somewhat less shocking than it would be for a Democratic event, but still. To me, this is just disrespectful. Here’s another screenshot, with some of the candidates for Ag Commissioner and Railroad Commissioner. Malachi Boyuls, the top fundraiser in the race and who has a big ad in the Texas Conservative Review, was snubbed. It would be interesting to know who made the decisions about which candidates to include or not include in this straw poll, and whether the local GOP leadership knew about and approved of them.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m happy to lob spitballs from the sidelines. I just don’t understand the thinking. Why piss off the supporters of so many viable candidates, at a time when you’re trying to rally the faithful ahead of a tough election? Harris County Republicans face the same problems with demography that have helped defeat them in 2008 and 2012, and they face a fired up Democratic Party thanks to Wendy Davis’ candidacy. They do have the advantage of their huge turnout from 2010, and if a decent fraction of the new-to-off-years voters make a habit of their participation in non-Presidential contests, they could have the numbers to stay ahead of that demographic wave, at least for one more cycle. It surely wouldn’t have cost them anything to design a straw poll that included all of the relevant candidates. I have no idea why they chose not to do so.

EV Day 10: Two normally big days to go


We have completed ten days of early voting. Traditionally, the last two days are the big ones. Will we see the same this year? First, here are the comps:


Here’s a look at how turnout has gone over the first ten days of early voting for the past three municipal elections, and for the last two days:

Year 10 Day Last 2 Final Last2 % ====================================== 2013 80,959 2011 40,389 18,156 58,545 31.0% 2009 51,997 28,519 80,516 35.4% 2007 33,247 17,017 50,264 33.9%

Based on that, we can estimate final EV turnout at between 115,000 and 125,000, based on the 10 day total being between 65% and 70% of the final total. Obviously, we are in uncharted territory here, so it’s certainly possible that the last two days will be a smaller portion of the whole. We’ll just have to see.

I’m going to hold off on estimating final turnout until after early voting concludes. Some other folks have posted thoughts on turnout, runoffs, and so forth. Here’s a sample of them, with my comments, starting with turnout thoughts.


In 2009, 178,777 votes were cast in the H-Town city elections. In 2009, 10,152 voted by mail and 52,276 voted early in person.

According to Kyle, through Monday 12,886 had voted by mail and 29,532 in person.

Kyle also says that 72% of the vote are hard core voters – they voted in the last three city elections.

It looks to me that we are not going to reach the 2009 total. It will be interesting to see if mail ballots and early voting in person exceed next Tuesday’s turnout. Stay tuned!

I’ve never thought we’d approach the November of 2009 turnout level, but the December of 2009 runoff level, which is a bit more than 150,000 votes in the city, is possible. I do think that at least half of all votes will have been cast by the end of early voting. In other words, I do think 2013 will be like 2008 for city elections.

Robert Miller:

With 52,170 votes already cast, you can see that, as expected, Harris County will disproportionately affect the outcome of the statewide constitutional amendment propositions. In 2011, 695,052 Texans voted in the constitutional amendment election, with 152,597 votes being cast in Harris County or 22%. In 2013, it appears the Harris County may approach 30% of the statewide total.

An analysis of the City of Houston vote by Kyle Johnston of Johnston Campaign estimates that through the first five days, the ethnic breakdown of those casting Houston ballots is African American 32%, Hispanic 12%, Asian 1%, and Other (Anglo) 55%. Mr. Johnston also finds that of the City of Houston voters, 61% have a Democratic primary history, 34% have a Republican primary history, and 5% have no primary history. This partisan breakdown provides further evidence that the time has passed when a candidate running as a Republican can be elected Mayor of Houston.

Houston Politics has the latest version of Johnston’s analysis, through eight days of early voting. I do believe a Republican can be elected Mayor – surely CM Stephen Costello will be a strong contender in 2015 – but I agree that it is highly unlikely someone running as a Republican, with all that means today, could win.

Here’s Robert on the runoff question:

In the current mayoral election, Mayor Parker’s polling is showing her pulling away from Dr. Hall. According to her internal polls, the undecideds are breaking her way and Dr. Hall’s pro forma television buy is not sufficient to keep him in the game. Either the Mayor’s polls are wrong or she is going to win without a runoff.

Lots of people have been asking me this question. I think Mayor Parker can win without a runoff, but I’m not yet ready to bet my own money on that. That’s my answer until I see the first round of results on Tuesday night.

New Media Texas:

I’m no expert, but I’m predicting a runoff for the mayor’s race between Parker and Hall. Mayor Parker barely slipped by with %50.83 of the total vote on Election Day in 2011 with 5 opponents–none of whom I could name without Google. With an open seat in the African-American dense District D and a pool of 12 driving up the AA vote and Hall’s hefty war chest, he’s worth about 30% on November 5th. He’s got a pretty impressive team, although it’s apparent he’s not allowing them to perform at their full potential.

This time around Mayor Parker’s not facing 5 opponents, she’s facing 8. She’ll come out on top on November 5th, but without the 50.1% it takes to avoid a runoff–just my opinion. If I had to guess it, I’d put her numbers somewhere around 47% or so looking at the spread–Hall and Eric Dick, who brought in about 8% in his race for at large in 2011, finishing off the top 3. I’m pretty sure Dick will bring similar numbers this time around.

If Parker gets 47% and Hall gets 30%, then Dick and the other candidates have combined for 23% of the vote. Based on past history and my own observation of those campaigns’ capabilities, I think that’s unlikely. I think the most likely route to a runoff is Hall topping 40%. Second most likely is Dick et al combining for about 15%. When I think about it this way, it seems to make a runoff less likely. But we’ll see.

Nancy Sims:

The Mayor’s race was expected to be much more intense but seemed to fizzle out towards the end. Initially, most of the pundits regarded Ben Hall as a serious contender to face Mayor Parker due to his ability to self-fund his campaign. Pundits also like good political theater.

However, Mr. Hall has let down most everyone in that regard. While he has spent lots of money, he consistently hit the wrong note with voters. He went dark on TV while Parker steadily blasted him with attack ads.

Council races also seem to be flying slightly below the radar. When I ask any average voter (non-immersed politico) about At-Large Position 3, they look at me blankly. When I name a few of the candidates running they sometime have a glimmer of recognition. A number of people have seen the billboard Roy Morales has on 1-10 at Silber. Many have heard of or seen signs for Michael Kubosh. If they are party connected, they probably know Rogene Calvert, Kubosh or Morales. Some know Roland Chavez has been a fire fighter and inner loopers seem to know Jennifer Rene Pool. This race is anybody’s best guess. Pundits think Kubosh wins but most won’t predict who is in a run-off with him.

Agree that At Large #3 is anybody’s guess. Still not convinced Kubosh is a sure thing for the runoff, but I have nothing to back that up. I’ll be very interested to see how the precinct breakdown goes in this one.

Texpatriate thinks that if Mayor Parker wins without a runoff, she may not get as amenable a Council for herself as she could have gotten.

Democrat voters are lazy. The preceding statement, while often controversial, is extremely true nonetheless. Presidential elections, those with higher turnout, see outcomes significantly more amicable to the Democratic Party in this State. As voter turnout drops into the low single-digits, Republicans become more and more successful in the heavily Democratic city of Houston.

For example, in the 2011 At-large position #5 election, the incumbent Jolanda Jones garnered a full 39% of the vote. Laurie Robinson, a likewise Democrat, earned a further 20% of the vote. According to reasonable inferences, Jones should have crushed her opposition in a runoff with close to 60% of the vote. However, when runoff election day came, Jack Christie defeated Jones with over 54% of the vote, rising over 21-points in the polls in the interim. The rise of 21 percentage points, however, was offset by actually about receiving 5000 fewer votes. This was possible because of a devastating drop in voter turnout. Without the Mayor’s race at the top of the ticket, over 1/3 of the electorate stayed home, allowing candidates severely out-of-touch from the interests of Houstonians to get elected.

The same thing will happen this year is Mayor Parker is re-elected in November without a runoff. Let us assume arguendo that this happens. The At-large position #3 will descend into a runoff between Michael Kubosh and one of the three major Democratic candidates (Rogene Calvert, Roland Chavez or Jenifer Pool), which Kubosh will decisively win without Annise Parker at the top of the ticket.

Similarly, I think there is a good chance Andrew Burks and David Robinson go into a runoff in At-large position #2. In that race, the comparably more conservative Burks will defeat Robinson in a runoff election that does not feature a Mayoral component.

If Kubosh replaces Noriega on the City Council, the horseshoe will be split 8-8 between the Mayor’s friends and her ideological opponents. (Costello, Davis, Cohen, Boykins/Richards, Gonzalez, Gallegos/Garces, Laster and Green vs. Burks, Kubosh, Bradford, Christie, Brown, Martin, Hoang and Pennington). Parker’s third term would be irreversibly marred by a recalcitrant and unreasonable City Council (similar to how President Obama’s last six years in office have been ruined by the House).

I don’t buy this analysis. For one thing, Andrew Burks, who has very little in his campaign coffers, doesn’t drive turnout. In 2009 and 2011, he greatly underperformed other African-American candidates on the ballot in runoffs – Gene Locke, Ronald Green, and Jolanda Jones twice. I think Burks will do better if Ben Hall is spending vast sums of money pushing African-American voters to the polls in December than if he is left to do that job for himself. I agree that the Republican Kubosh is likely to do better in a lower-turnout environment, but it’s not clearcut. Remember, Republicans were the biggest supporters of red light cameras in the 2010 referendum, so if Kubosh is running on that achievement, it may cut against him in a two-person race. I just don’t think we can make blanket statements about who does or does not benefit in a runoff if there’s a Mayoral race there or not.

Not all of HB2 was blocked

That injunction didn’t cover everything.

As state officials appealed a federal judge’s order blocking a portion of Texas’ new abortion law, a prohibition against performing the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy quietly took effect Tuesday.

While the ban will affect only a small percentage of abortions in Texas, abortion rights proponents say the new restriction will mean that women who learn late about serious birth defects or face life-threatening conditions themselves no longer will have the option to terminate their pregnancies.

Previously, abortions could be performed up to the 24th week, except to save the life of the mother.


Meanwhile, Texas on Tuesday joined 12 other states that have enacted bans on abortions after 20 weeks, though courts have blocked the laws in two of those states.

A 13th state, Arizona, banned abortions after 18 weeks; that law has been blocked by a federal appeals court, which ruled the law violated a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy before viability, or when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

Courts previously have recognized 24 weeks as the point of viability.

Arizona has appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled to decide soon whether to review that case.

Janet Crepps, lead attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights’ legal challenge in Texas, said her organization did not challenge the 20-week ban in Texas because it was more concerned about restrictions that could force clinics to close.

Back when the lawsuit was first filed, there was no indication that the 20-week ban was going to be challenged. I guess you can only fight so many battles at once. There is litigation over this coming from other states, so when all that inevitably makes it to the Supreme Court we’ll get a ruling one way or the other anyway. But between this and the rejection of the claims about the new restrictions on medical abortions, let’s not forget that the injunction granted on Monday was only a partial victory, and depending on what the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals does, possibly a very fleeting one. It’s still all about winning more elections. For more on where things stand now with HB2, see Dahlia Lithwick, Scott Lemieux, and The Makeshift Academic.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 28

The Texas Progressive Alliance has its Halloween costume ready as it bring you this weeks’ roundup.


Dave Wilson is up to his usual tricks

Yolanda Navarro Flores

As you know, Dave Wilson is running against incumbent HCC Trustee Bruce Austin in HCC District 2. I wasn’t sure at first if it was that Dave Wilson or not, but it unquestionably is. The fact that he’s running in HCC 2 isn’t stopping him from meddling in his usual slimy way in the HCC 1 race, where Zeph Capo and Kevin Hoffman are challenging scandal-prone incumbent Yolanda Navarro Flores. Here are front and back scans of a mailer Wilson has sent to voters in HCC 1:

Wilson mailer 1

Wilson mailer 2

Like fleas on a rat, Dave Wilson continues to cling to the body politic. Yolanda Navarro Flores then followed the path Wilson blazed:

Flores mailer 1

Flores mailer 2

She has also sent out a mailer touting the endorsement of some current and former elected officials:

Flored endorsement mailer

I wonder if these folks have any idea what else is being said on behalf of Yolanda Navarro Flores. Since she herself has (as far as I know) not asked Dave Wilson to stop saying hateful things about her opponents, perhaps her supporters might. So let me ask the following people:

HCC Trustees Carroll Robinson and Eva Loredo, whom I might add is my Trustee
Constables May Walker and Ruben Davis
CM Andrew Burks
Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel
Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez

Do you have anything to say about what Dave Wilson is doing in support of Yolanda Navarro Flores? Leave a comment, send me an email, post it on Facebook, just let me know one way or another and I’ll be happy to echo your sentiments. To be clear, I’m not calling on anyone to rescind their endorsement of Navarro Flores. I have no problem with anyone supporting her for whatever the reason. I am saying that I hope these folks would want to distance themselves from the Dave Wilson campaign playbook from which Navarro Flores is drawing. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to say that this kind of campaign rhetoric, like what HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriguez employed two years ago against Ramiro Fonseca, has no place in decent society. I especially don’t think it’s too much for Navarro Flores’ Democratic supporters, most especially those that will be on my ballot at some point in the future, to denounce such tactics. (Democratic voters in HCC 2 that have not cast their ballots yet might also note Navarro Flores’ support from the Texas Conservative Review. I’m just saying.) I look forward to hearing from you.

No action from Fifth Circuit yet

HB2 is still enjoined.

The Texas attorney general’s office is seeking an emergency stay, asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel’s ruling against abortion regulations in House Bill 2.

Beginning Tuesday, abortion providers would have been required to obtain hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of the abortion facility and follow federal standards for the administration of abortion-inducing drugs. Yeakel ruled that the hospital privileges requirement was unconstitutional because it created an undue burden on women without serving a rational purpose. He also said drug-induced abortions could be performed following a common evidence-based regimen if the physician believed it was safer for the patient.

In its request, the state says the district court took an “extraordinary step” by ruling that the provisions caused an undue burden on women seeking abortion, as 90 percent of patients would still be able to secure an abortion within 100 miles of their residence. The state calls the move “so aggressive that it ignores those concessions and sweeps more broadly than even the plaintiffs were willing to argue.” It calls for an emergency stay by Tuesday night.

The state also asks that the 5th Circuit expedite the briefing schedule so a hearing can be held in January to reconsider the constitutionality of the provisions.

Far as I can tell, there were no orders issued by the court yesterday, so HB2 is still mostly blocked. I’m a little surprised, I was expecting a ruling from them – to be specific, I was expecting them to swoop in and give the state everything it wanted. Not complaining, but I still feel like it’s just delaying the inevitable. But then, every day that HB2 is not in effect is a good day, so I’ll take what I can. We’ll see what today brings.

Don’t believe anything the TPPF has to say about the Affordable Care Act

With the exception of some things they have to say about criminal justice, you shouldn’t believe anything the Texas Public Policy Foundation has to say, full stop. You especially shouldn’t believe anything they have to say about the Affordable Care Act.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Affordable Care Act will increase the average cost of insurance premiums, making health care less affordable for those Texans on whom the system financially depends, according to a report from a conservative think tank.

The report, released Monday by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, says premiums for health insurance plans will increase for young, healthy Texans under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The health care law requires private insurers to cover essential health benefits and establishes a federal marketplace for insurers to sell coverage plans, among other requirements.

The report concludes that premiums will be on average “significantly higher than coverage available on the individual market in Texas prior to the ACA.” Nonetheless, it concedes that comparing pre- and post-ACA health care plans “presents some difficulties” because of the costs associated with mandating that health plans cover essential benefits, and because the impact on individuals will vary depending on age, gender, location and other factors.

As an example, the report highlights changes in premiums for catastrophic plans for young people living in metropolitan areas. Catastrophic plans have lower premiums than comprehensive plans but provide protection only from worst-case scenarios. John Davidson, the report’s author, said those plans are the most attractive to young, healthy Texans, and that they operate “the most like insurance” of any health care plan in the insurance marketplace.

“For a 27-year-old, non-smoking male in Austin, low-cost catastrophic plans on the exchange, which are available only to those under 30 or those with low incomes who qualify, will be on average 84 percent more expensive than pre-ACA catastrophic plans,” the report found.

There is, and there has been, a lot of misinformation about the Affordable Care Act, going back well before its passage in 2010. Some of that is due to bad or just credulous reporting, and some of it – a lot of it – is due to misinformation being propagated by opponents of the law. This falls into the latter category, in which cherry-picking of information is spun into a greater whole that is not at all the sum of its parts. Catastrophic plans are cheap because they don’t actually cover anything other than a catastrophe. Even the low-end “bronze” plans in the exchanges will likely cost more up front than catastrophic plans because they do provide coverage of things that even young and healthy people might need. It wouldn’t be hard to make up the cost of the increased premiums if one is a bit unlucky.

Beyond that, it’s important to remember that a cornerstone of the ACA is that people can no longer be denied coverage for “pre-existing conditions”, or for whatever other reason an insurer might not want to deal with you. Millions of people were routinely denied coverage pre-ACA. I know some of these people – they’re friends, family, classmates, neighbors. Maybe no one at the TPPF knows any of these people. More likely, they don’t care about them, since they’ve been working for years to prevent them from getting access to health care. That for sure goes way beyond the Obamacare debate – Texas didn’t become #1 in uninsured population overnight, after all.

“The success of the program is really contingent on young, healthy adults being able to broaden the risk pool and pay premiums to allow them to be more affordable for the older, sicker populations,” said David Gonzales, executive director of the Texas Association of Health Plans.

But Gonzales was hesitant to draw comparisons between pre- and post-ACA coverage. Asked whether rates had gone up, he said, “Unless you’re comparing apples and apples, it’s hard to really know.”

There’s no reason to expect a partisan outfit like the TPPF to take the care to ensure they are doing fair comparisons That’s not their mission. It is true that some people will wind up paying more under the ACA than before, for roughly equivalent coverage. Some of those people had been getting a huge break that the rest of us were paying for. I’m glad they’re paying more now. If the TPPF wants to advocate for them, that’s fine by me. Let’s all just be clear on what exactly it is they would like to see happen. Wonkblog and Better Texas Blog have more.

State moves to dismiss voter ID lawsuit

From Texas Redistricting has week:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The State of Texas filed a motion this afternoon asking Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to dismiss pending voter ID suits on several grounds.

First, the motion argued that elected officials like Congressman Marc Veasey, governmental bodies like Dallas County, and community groups like the Texas League of Young Voters “lack [legal] standing to assert the third-party rights of voters.”

The motion said that under case law on standing, a “plaintiff cannot sue to vindicate the right of third parties unless he clearly alleges and demonstrates that the third-party rights-holders face a ‘hinderance’ to protecting their own rights.” In this case, the motion argued that “[a]ny voter who suffers injury in fact as a result of Senate Bill 14 can sue to challenge it, and there is no shortage of capable and highly motivated attorneys willing to provide representation free of charge.”

The motion also argued that three of the individual plaintiffs had failed to assert an injury sufficient to create standing to sue under Article III of the Constitution.

The motion said that the state’s voter ID allows people to vote as long as the name on their ID is “substantially similar” to the name on voter rolls and that the three plaintiffs had failed to “plead facts showing that the names on their photo identification and voter-registration certificate are not ‘substantially similar’ under the standards established by the Secretary of State.”

The motion also broadly challenged the substantive merits of the suits, telling the court that each of the plaintiffs – including the Justice Department – had failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

See here for more on “substantially similar” and here for the calendar in the case. I’m not a lawyer, but I suspect this is just the state doing what civil defendants usually do, which is try to avoid having to defend themselves at all. We’ll see what the responses from the plaintiffs look like.

Has Debra Medina been trolling us?

Peggy Fikac suggests that maybe she has.

If the idea of an independent run for governor by Debra Medina has made some GOP powers-that-be a little queasy, that’s fine with her.

All the more so, you may safely assume, if the idea prompts some of them to help fund the race she’d rather run for, the GOP nod for comptroller.

Medina caused a stir when she said she had been encouraged by unnamed people to run as an independent for governor. That would be a potential drain on conservative votes in the expected 2014 matchup between Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis.

Medina told me last week that a race for governor “is not on my radar … I can’t do both, and I’m really, really focused on running for comptroller. So, there’s no room in my future that I see for that.”

She added she was more encouraged by her prospects for raising the money she would need to compete in the GOP primary for comptroller than when we spoke just a week earlier.

“I’ve got some pretty solid commitments from some folks that are going to do some work, and we’ll see what happens,” she said. As for those trying to lure her into an independent race for governor, she said, “I haven’t heard any more about that since late September.”

That doesn’t quite jibe with what Rick Casey had reported a week or so earlier, but never mind. The “Medina for Governor as an independent” thing was both too good to be true and hard to understand from a rational perspective, since there was never a chance she’d come within shouting distance of being competitive. The fact that it fired up Democrats more than any other group should be a warning bell for all concerned. At this point, I think we should just assume that Medina is desperately seeking attention because her bid for Comptroller isn’t going anywhere. Mission accomplished and well played, madam. Beats me what she’ll do for her next trick, however.

Injunction granted against HB2


Less than 24 hours before new abortion regulations were set to take effect in Texas, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel on Monday blocked implementation of one provision challenged by abortion providers and partially blocked a second provision, ruling that they could place an undue burden on women and are therefore unconstitutional.

In his opinion, Yeakel wrote that a provision of House Bill 2 that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility “places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus and is thus an undue burden to her.”

He wrote that a second provision requiring women to follow a federally approved regimen for drug-induced abortion — as opposed to a more commonly used evidence-based regimen — would not generally place an undue burden on women seeking abortions. But he said it would be unconstitutional for the state to ban a woman from having such an abortion if it was safer for the woman in a physician’s “appropriate medical judgment.” Yeakel’s ruling allows a physician to use the evidence-based protocol for drug-induced abortions in certain situations that present a risk to the health and safety of the mother.

The state immediately appealed the court’s ruling, meaning the case heads to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which has recently upheld numerous laws that restrict abortion. “We appreciate the trial court’s attention in this matter,” Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, wrote in a statement. “As everyone — including the trial court judge — has acknowledged, this is a matter that will ultimately be resolved by the appellate courts or the U.S. Supreme Court.”

See here, here, and here for the recent history. A copy of Judge Yeakel’s ruling is at the link above, and here’s more on the appeal. This is a very good, if not fully complete, first step, but as noted it is far from the last step. I have no faith at all that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will uphold the injunction, but I suppose I could be too pessimistic about that. We’ll just have to wait and see. Wonkblog, Texas Politics, BOR, Trail Blazers, Texpatriate, and RH Reality Check have more, and selected reactions from politicians are beneath the fold.


Ben Hall comes out against LGBT rights

I can honestly say I’m not surprised by this.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

Mayoral candidate Ben Hall spoke to KUHF this morning and (finally) spoke publicly regarding issues of equality for the LGBT community. Hall not only came out staunchly against introducing and implementing a non-discrimination ordinance in Houston, but also in repealing the Executive Order 150.

Unfortunately for Hall, he had previously sent in the municipal candidate questionnaire to the Harris County Democratic Party in which he answered he would support a non-discrimination ordinance for all Houstonians, including those in the LGBT community.

“If we can’t trust Ben Hall to decide where he stands on issues of fairness and equality on the campaign trail, how can we trust him to make the hard decisions as the Mayor of Houston?” Brad Pritchett, President of the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats, said. “Hall’s inability to take a principled stand on a basic Democratic issue just underscores why Mayor Annise Parker is the right choice for the City of Houston.”

Hall neglected to sit down with both the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus when the organizations were screening municipal candidates.

The audio, from the Houston Matters show, is here. The reason I can say I’m not surprised by this is because in the interview I did with Hall, I asked him (as I asked everyone) if he would support an effort to repeal the 2001 charter amendment that forbids the city from offering domestic partner benefits to its employees. His response was a flat No; if you listen closely, you can tell that I wasn’t expecting that answer. That may be because as John Coby notes, Hall had previously expressed support for a more comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance. I don’t know what prompted Hall’s reversal, but it’s unfortunate whatever the cause. Discrimination is wrong, and you would think Ben Hall would know better. Texpatriate and Texas Leftist has more.

The problem with voter ID is more than just name matching

Cindy George is correct about what isn’t a problem with voter ID.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The names on your voter registration card and your ID must match. For the most part. They will be considered the same if they’re “substantially similar.”

There have been rumblings that married women might run into problems at the polls and be asked to present their marriage certificates. Well, that’s not true. Proof of marriage is not one of the legitimate forms of ID.

It’s not just women who will face ID mismatch scenarios at the polls. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, who is responsible for polling stations and ballots, had his own situation this week. He was the first person to cast a ballot on Monday at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, a popular early-voting site.

His voter registration card says “Stan” while his driver’s license says “Stanley.” After signing the poll book, he also had to initial a box – an affidavit – to confirm that “Stan” and “Stanley” are indeed one and the same person.

“It’s a very simple, easy thing. The initials are what’s new,” he told the Advocate on Friday. “We’ve turned away zero people because of this issue in early voting. Zero. We’ve only had two people who voted provisionally and that was because the IDs they brought were long expired.”


Texas Secretary of State John Steen issued a news release late Thursday to remind voters that names on credentials do not have “to match exactly” and that poll workers have been trained to acknowledge “substantially similar” names.

“There is no truth to the claims that women have to present marriage certificates at the polls,” said Alicia Pierce, the secretary of state’s director of communications, who explained that the name mismatch also can occur with surname suffixes, such as Arroyo-López. “The only thing the voter will have to do is initial by the signature in the poll book, which is an affidavit that says ‘I am the same person.’ ”

The point about “substantially similar” names is true and is being made by voting rights advocates like Sondra Haltom, who rightly fear that confusion about the law will lead to a reduction in turnout. The message is simple: Don’t fearmonger, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t cast a ballot, because you can. Bring one of the acceptable forms of ID, and be prepared to sign the “substantially similar” affidavit if you must.

The problem, of course, is that many, many Texans do not have one of the “acceptable” forms of ID. That’s partly because not everyone has a drivers license – yes, even here in Texas, not everyone drives – and partly because the Lege made the politically-motivated decision to not include things like student IDs as “acceptable”. Further, the state has made a laughably inadequate effort to provide valid IDs to the folks that don’t have them. All this is at the heart of the ongoing litigation over voter ID, and it comes down to the fact that the state has effectively disenfranchised a significant fraction of its population. That can’t fixed with an affidavit. Heck, for that matter, if it hadn’t been for the likes of Sens. Wendy Davis, who had to sign an affidavit herself, “substantially similar” wouldn’t have been an option. It’s better that we have it, but given the widespread confusion, which is something I have heard from many women myself, it’s a lot of chaos and uncertainty in service of a myth. The best way to get rid of the problem is to get rid of the law. We’ll see what the courts have to say.

EV Day 7 totals: Is this the 2008 of city elections for early voting?


One full week of early voting is in the books, and the fast pace has not let up. Here are the comps:


The seven-day totals for each:

2013 – 14,342 mail, 37,828 in person, 52,170 total
2011 – 4,340 mail, 19,751 in person, 24,091 total
2009 – 3,801 mail, 26,662 in person, 30,463 total
2007 = 3,555 mail, 15,792 in person, 19,347 total

You might reasonably think that this increase in early voting turnout will mean a higher turnout election overall. That’s certainly possible, and no matter what happens this week, I do expect higher overall turnout than either 2011 or 2007; I don’t expect higher than 2009, but possibly around the total for the 2009 runoff. What I want to suggest is that instead of a surge in overall turnout, we might just be seeing a significant shift in behavior, with more people voting early instead of voting on Election Day. Consider what the early vote/E-day vote ratios have looked like in odd-numbered years this past decade:

2003 6.4% mail, 21.5% early, 72.1% E-day
2005 3.9% mail, 22.5% early, 73.6% E-day
2007 6.5% mail, 23.2% early, 70.3% E-day
2009 5.7% mail, 29.2% early, 65.1% E-day
2011 7.5% mail, 30.7% early, 63.8% E-day

As you can see, there’s been a slow and slight increase in early voting, but the large majority of the vote has still occurred on Election Day itself. Now compare that to the same numbers for the even-numbered years:

2002 5.6% mail, 23.1% early, 70.3% E-day
2004 4.4% mail, 37.8% early, 58.8% E-day
2006 3.9% mail, 28.5% early, 67.6% E-day
2008 5.7% mail, 57.1% early, 37.2% E-day
2010 7.0% mail, 49.1% early, 43.9% E-day
2012 6.3% mail, 58.2% early, 35.5% E-day

Note the huge shift in 2008 to majority early voting, which has continued in the two subsequent elections. You may recall that this shift was perceived at the time to be a portent of things to come, which led to some irrationally exuberant predictions about final turnout. Turnout was up from the previous Presidential election, but not nearly as much as many of us thought it would be. The vast majority of the early voters were the old reliables, and the net effect was that by Election Day itself, we’d run short of people who still needed to vote.

Do I know this for sure? No, of course not. I do expect turnout will be up from 2011, but I don’t believe we’re seeing anything unexpected. One other piece of evidence I have for this belief comes from the analyses that Kyle Johnston does on the early vote rosters. Here’s the 2009 version, and the version from the first five days of 2013 EV. The first thing that stands out to me is that in 2009, 92% of the early vote overall was cast by people who had voted in at least 2 of the last 3 municipal election. For the first five EV days of 2013, it’s 90%. In other words, it’s the old reliables voting. They’re just voting earlier.

Now that may change, and if it does we’ll talk about it. Until then, that’s how I see it. Other useful tidbits from Johnston’s analysis is that so far about 70% of the total Harris County vote has come from City of Houston voters; in 2009, the figure was 72% for all early votes. In other words, non-Houston voting is up a smidge, perhaps thanks to the Astrodome, but not much. The racial breakdown of the vote has some people talking about runoff prospects in the Mayor’s race. I’ll just say that unlike city/county and past voting history, racial data is not directly available but must be derived inferentially. Doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate, just inexact. As I’ve said before, I’ll wait and see what we get when the actual numbers get published. What do you see in the numbers we have so far?

2014 Democratic lineup updates

In honor of Peggy Fikac, an update on who is running for what as a Democrat in 2014. Starting at the top, folks who attended the HCDP Johnson-Rayburn-Richards event on Saturday had the opportunity to meet Maxey Scherr, a 33-year-old attorney from El Paso who will be filing to run for Senate against John Cornyn. Art Pronin has a couple of pictures of her on his Facebook page – see here and here, assuming his security settings allow for that, and see here for a brief bio and video. I had a chance to meet Maxey on Friday thanks to Barbara Radnofsky, who was hosting her and introducing her around. She would be a first-time candidate, which is daunting to say the least at a statewide level, but she has some connections that will serve her well to get going. She is friends with both Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Rep. Silvestre Reyes, and is good friends with and a former schoolmate of the daughter of John Cook, the former Mayor of El Paso who is now the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner. Scherr’s father James Scherr is a fixture in politics there and will apparently take a year off from his position as senior partner at their law firm to fundraise for her. I think she has the potential to raise a few bucks, which will be worth keeping an eye on. Rick Noriega took in about $4.5 million over the course of his candidacy in 2008; I think Scherr can top that. I also think she can take advantage of advances in technology and changes in the electorate and how to reach them to stretch those dollars farther. I expect her to run a progressive campaign geared at least in part towards voters of her own cohort, which is something we’re not used to seeing in this state and which ought to provide a good contrast to an old-boy establishment figure like Cornyn. Look for more information and a formal announcement from Maxey Scherr shortly.

A bit farther down on the ticket, BOR confirmed something that I first reported two weeks earlier, that former Fort Bend Democratic Party Chair Steve Brown is exploring a run for Railroad Commissioner. From BOR:

Steve Brown

In our exclusive interview, Mr. Brown spoke with me about his political history, including having served in the Clinton White House and how he was elected as chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party in 2010. He resigned the Chairmanship earlier this year when he began considering a run for elected office. He stated that he wanted to run for Texas Railroad Commissioner because the Commission needs an advocate for regular Texans while making sure people who are doing the right things in regards to oil and gas production are not being punished.

Mr. Brown stated his preference to see the Commission change its name to reflect that it is a regulatory commission over the energy sector, and not railroads. He also stated his desire to see stronger ethics rules implemented over the Commissioners. When asked about Republicans who cited federal oversight was a job killer, Mr. Brown responded that people who used that excuse were not being creative when it came to finding solutions. He pointed out again that one of the roles of a Commissioner is to punish bad actors who violate laws, not to give everyone a free pass.

Stephen Brown has been a great advocate for the Texas Democratic Party as Fort Bend County’s Chairman and served the Party with distinction and honor.

There’s an interview at the link, so go give it a listen. With Scherr and Brown jumping in, the one remaining hole among the non-judicial offices is Lt. Governor, where we are still waiting on a decision from Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. While she waits, as noted by PDiddie, Maria Alvarado, the 2006 Democratic candidate for Lt. Gov., has announced her candidacy. Good for her and all, but with all due respect, I’m still waiting for Sen. Van de Putte.

That still leaves judicial candidates. Via both Maxey Scherr and Attorney General candidate Sam Houston, whom I saw briefly on Saturday evening, El Paso District Court Judge Bill Moody, the top Democratic votegetter in 2006, will be running for Supreme Court again. Sam Houston told me that the TDP was working with other candidates for Supreme Court and that he expected the Dems to field a full slate there, though he didn’t know what was going on with the Court of Criminal Appeals. This is the first news I’ve heard about the statewide judicial races, and it’s reasonably encouraging. If you have heard anything about these races, please leave a comment and let us know.

Finally, in Harris County, we now have a Democratic candidate for the At Large HCDE Trustee position that Jim Henley vacated in June. Traci Jensen, who ran for the State Board of Education in 2012 and who had expressed interest in being appointed to fill Henley’s seat, announced on Facebook that she would run for the position. Rumor has it that former Trustee Michael Wolfe, who was ousted by Diane Trautman last year, is seeking to reclaim a spot on the Board, so having a strong and well-qualified candidate like Jensen will be important.

Last but not least, Glorice McPherson is out collecting signatures to run for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, which would be against Jack Morman. McPherson ran against Steve Radack in 2012 in CC3, which puzzled me a bit at first, but her voter registration card indicates she lives in CC2, so I presume she moved in the last year or so. A lot of people have been talking about running in CC2 so I don’t expect this will be the last word, but for now there is at least one candidate in the race.

That’s all I’ve got. If you have any further rumor, innuendo, or actual fact about 2014, leave a comment and pass it on. Remember, the filing period begins November 9, so there’s hardly time to catch one’s breath after this election before the next one gets going.

The cities versus the payday lenders

The Observer writes about representatives from Texas cities getting together to talk about how to fight the scourge of payday lenders.

The conference panel on Thursday was an opportunity for city officials from around the state to share advice and encouragement. The panel included Austin City Councilman Bill Spelman and legal advisors from Austin, Denton and El Paso, three cities that have enacted tough payday lending rules and faced legal action from the industry.

Jerry Drake, a deputy city attorney from the city of Denton, reminded cities not to enact the ordinance without being able to clearly demonstrate a governmental need to restrict short-term lending.

“I just want to add a word for cities that are considering this: Be sure not to take the harm as a given. These payday lenders fully believe they’re doing the Lord’s work,” he said. “They say they’re filling a need. They have studies they’ll give you from economists with all kinds of very high-powered economic formulas in them, that you can’t even begin to parse, saying that the industry is such a good thing for the community and people of modest means.” Do your homework, he said, and come prepared.

But another message came from the panel, and advocates in the crowd — the more cities that enact payday ordinances, the better protected they’ll all be.

“From the payday lender’s point of view, suing Dallas is a no-brainer. It’s going to be easier for them to carry the cost of that lawsuit than the city of Dallas,” said Austin City Councilman Spelman. “But if 10 or 20 or 30 cities that are all passing the same ordinance, and they want to sue all of us, that’s a whole bunch of money. They’re going to throw in the towel and wait for one or two of those lawsuits to bear fruit.”


Spelman expressed optimism that the panel would encourage smaller cities to enact the ordinance. He told one story about the Austin ordinance he helped pioneer. A woman who had taken on short-term loans came to the city with concerns about her contract, and the lender responded by reassigning her contract to a storefront in Buda, outside of Austin’s city limits. After the panel, Spelman said, officials from Buda contacted him to talk about enacting an ordinance.

“Of course, if they do that, [the company] will move it to Pflugerville or Cedar Park instead,” Spelman said. “But, I think there are a lot of other cities that will adopt similar ordinances. At some point, I think, we’ll have sufficient coverage over the entire state that the Legislature is going to have to adopt the same level of statute.”

Houston wasn’t among the cities at that panel discussion, as our city wanted to wait to see what the Lege would do before taking action on its own proposed regulations. Mayor Parker has been talking about bringing it up now that the Lege has failed again to do anything about the problem, and if she is re-elected I fully expect it to be on Council’s agenda. I think the cities are doing what they can, and in the absence of any leadership from the state it’s certainly better than nothing. But despite CM Spelman’s optimism, it really won’t be adequate coverage. I mean, something like 1.7 million people live in unincorporated Harris County alone, and nothing can be done where they live without the Legislature’s say so. I do hope that if enough cities do something that the Lege will eventually be forced to act, but as we saw last session that ain’t necessarily a good thing. I do believe that a good payday lending bill is possible – there is bipartisan and grassroots support for it – but it’s never easy to overcome a single-purpose and well-funded interest. Keeping pressure on all fronts is the best we can do for now.

Bite marks

Grits reminds us that not all forensic science is scientific.

I ran across an interesting article documenting critiques of forensic dentistry. In it, bite mark expert Dr. Gregory Golden:

concedes that there’s little scientific research to back claims from forensic odontologists in court — but he hopes to see that change. “What we’re trying to do,” he says, “is to develop proper, unbiased research techniques that take into consideration real-time mechanisms or setups for researching bite marks.”
The problem, he says, is that it’s difficult to conduct realistic studies on how bite marks injure living human flesh. In the past, studies have been conducted on cadavers and anesthetized pigs, with dental models mounted in vice grips. But such studies don’t accurately reflect bites on living human flesh, and Golden adds that “it’s almost impossible to find voluntary subjects offering themselves to be bitten severely enough to be wounded.”

In the meantime, though, he wants to keep drawing  his expert witness fees until the science either justifies or debunks his premises. While it’s understandable that few subjects would be willing to be seriously bitten in service to science, that’s not a good excuse for courts to admit unreliable evidence.


Unfortunately, as the National Academy of Sciences articulated in a 2009 report, many forensic disciplines aren’t really “science” at all and forensic odontology is one of them. Instead, like tool mark or hair-and-fiber analyses, the method of identification involves subjective comparison, not scientific proof.

Like many people, I suspect, I have gotten most of my information about criminal justice from pop culture – movies, TV shows, mystery and detective books. Needless to say, this provides a distorted view about how things really work. Part of the problem is that writers and fans love all that forensics stuff. Flashy technology, futuristic techniques, genius investigators – we eat it all up. Putting aside all the dramatic license and CSI-style distortion of timelines, excitement levels, and just plain frequency of usefulness, the fact remains that we’re no better at distinguishing the things that have solid scientific basis from those that turn out to be junk. And when we come across stuff like that in one of our favorite shows or books, it’s not like a correction gets issued later, or that we’d hear about it if one did. So people come to believe in these things, people who subsequently serve on juries. I’ve read about the problems with fingerprint analysis for years, and I still have more belief in in than doubt. It’s going to take a long time and a lot of updated information to clear things up.

Weekend link dump for October 27

Two words: Cockroach farming. Yeah, me too.

When great dramas go badly wrong.

“Next time you’re lying in bed, unable to fall asleep thanks to the vague anxiety of half-rotten corpses munching on you in the dark, remember this: if there was ever a zombie uprising, wildlife would kick its ass.”

“Fact is, people are interested in sex, they take more pictures of themselves than ever, and they share hundreds of thousands of photos online every second—at some point, it’ll be hard to come up with a pool of teachers who haven’t got racy photos out there somewhere.”

If you don’t set your DVR to record the 90-minute Lady Gaga & The Muppets’ Holiday Spectacular, I’m not sure I want to know you.

If I were to present you with a link to an article entitled Regardless of bladder size, all mammals pee for approximately 21 seconds (with video goodness), you would feel compelled to click on it. Right?

The US may lose what control it has over the Internet in the coming years.

From the Couldn’t Have Happened To A Nicer Guy department.

Ted Cruz says he’s speaking for The People. Polls show The People overwhelmingly want Obamacare to be implemented not repealed. So who is Ted Cruz really speaking for?

Baby Cthulhu doesn’t wait for dreaming. He’s bright-eyed, curly-tentacled, and ready for your squeeing worship.”

You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

“So, before anyone gets married, they have to double-check that all of their sex parts are working properly? Hands up for anyone who wants that gig!”

“I mean, what’s more likely—a Galaxy Far Far Away full of psychic alien super-bees, or one in which you can cross thirty solar systems and run into three women with speaking parts?”

Have we reached a tipping point on public opinion about pot?

Rooftop solar panels: Not just for the wealthy anymore.

The era of “nightmare bacteria” is apparently on us.

Want to know if a company you do business with leans liberal or conservative in its politics? There’s an app for that.

What the contraception mandate will really mean for women.

“If your biggest complaint in life is that your doorman is silently judging you for shopping at J.Crew, don’t ever talk about that. Seriously.

The five kinds of people that are complaining about the Healthcare.Gov website.

The trains have ears.

Behold, the majesty of the free market.

“But let’s not miss the big picture here: Conservatives are beginning to reverse their usual pattern, and are complaining about other people not having sex instead of other people having it. It’s kind of a breakthrough!”

In case you want to dress as your favorite physicist this Halloween.

“The 79-year-old senator is apparently unaware that millions of people his age are using government-run healthcare systems called Medicare and the Veterans Administration; doctors have so far withheld that information as he is still recovering from heart surgery.”

RIP, Lou Reed, without whom rock and roll is a more boring world.

The next wave of curbside recycling

From last week, some good news for those of who that still don’t have the 96-gallon wheeled recycling bins.

Houston will roll out its biweekly, automated curbside recycling service to 70,000 additional residences throughout the city just in time for Thanksgiving, the Department of Solid Waste Management announced [last] Friday.

The expansion will bring service to a total 210,000 households – more than half of the residences in the department’s service area, spokeswoman Sandra Jackson said. The automated curbside service will be extended to 60,000 more residences in the spring.

“Residents have let us know loud and clear through their participation and support that this is a program they want,” Mayor Annise Parker said in a statement. “This is a significant step in a larger plan to expand recycling citywide.”

The program began in 2009 with 10,000 households.

Letters concerning the program will be mailed to new participating residences. Wheeled 96-gallon containers will be delivered beginning the week of Oct. 28. Collection will begin the week of Nov. 25.

The press release from the city Solid Waste Department, along with a list of included neighborhoods, is here. Council approved this expansion earlier in the month. This expansion and another one for an additional 60,000 houses in the spring were built into the Mayor’s budget, thus bringing us closer to the goal of having all houses receive recycling service without imposing a garbage fee. That approach is certainly open to debate – I’d have been willing to pay a monthly fee, or to support a pay-as-you-throw fee designed to minimize landfill-bound waste – but it’s what we’ve got. Still in the works is the One Bin For All plan, for which RFQs were issued in June. The deadline for those submissions was August 22, and it occurs to me that I haven’t seen or heard anything on it since then. I’ll need to follow up on that. In any event, the march towards more curbside recycling continues. Check and see if your neighborhood is on the list if it wasn’t already receiving the service.

It’s about not wanting people to vote

Why take us back to the 1950s when we can go all the way back to the 1850s?


Should voters be able choose their U.S. senators?

Ask Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst or Sen. Dan Patrick and the answer is a resounding “No.”

The two Republicans – both vying for the lieutenant governor seat – recently voiced support to strip voters of the ability to elect U.S. senators and hand over that power back to state lawmakers. It would require repealing the 17th Amendment, which for the last 100 years has provided for the direct election of senators by voters.

Dewhurst and Patrick this month said a repeal is warranted to temper the federal government’s influence and because senators in Washington are out of touch with their state legislatures.

Even though there is no realistic chance of Congress taking action to repeal the power of the people to elect senators, the topic has become somewhat of a litmus test for tea party supporters the last couple years; a number of Republicans across the country – including Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz – have endorsed the notion.

The repeal rhetoric has seeped into an already heated lieutenant governor’s campaign, where all four candidates are dueling to win over the most conservative part of the state’s Republican base.

“If you look at the lieutenant governor’s race, this fits perfectly into the narrative because it’s been all about the drive to win the most conservative members of the Republican primary electorate,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor. “The 17th Amendment reform has been a rallying point in the tea party movement for the past few years, but it’s pure symbolic politics because there is no possibility whatsoever we’re going to repeal the 17th Amendment.”

The U.S. Constitution originally sought to buttress state power by allowing legislatures to pick senators. The idea gave way to a culture of corruption, with allegations of special interests bribing lawmakers for senate appointments.

Ratified in 1913, the 17th Amendment was tailored to end backroom deals and cronyism.

There’s so much irony here it’s almost hard to know where to begin. Besides being anti-(small d) democratic, putting this power in the hands of a state legislature would make it a complete exercise in insiderism. The Tea Party claims to be grassroots-driven; this would be the antithesis of that. And let’s be clear, as the story notes, if this had existed in Texas in 2012, our junior Senator would be one David Dewhurst. I get why he supports this, but why Cruz does is a bit less clear. At least, it’s unclear until you realize that it’s all of a piece with the efforts to restrict voting, via voter ID and more stringent voter registration laws and smaller windows for early voting and whatever else they haven’t thought up yet. They don’t want people to vote – most of them, anyway – so they work to prevent them from voting. The fact that the 17th Amendment isn’t going anywhere shouldn’t obscure the fact that Dan Patrick and David Dewhurst support this scaling-back of democracy. The one consolation is that people seem to be able to see through it. I just hope they remember that next November.

Bayou Greenways project moving along

Work is underway, land is being acquired, and money is being raised.

Now, the Houston Parks Board and its public partners hope to revive some of the city’s natural treasures through Bayou Greenways 2020, a 150-mile trail system that, once complete, will wind along the bayous long seen as an interruption to Houston’s urban sprawl.

The initiative is at the heart of a bond package approved by voters last November that will provide $100 million in matching funds to double the number of trails to link existing park space and neighborhoods along the city’s many bayous.

While other bayou improvement projects in recent years have focused on public art, cafes and festival space, the Greenways initiative is about trails, native grasses and flood-resilient trees.

“This is very simple,” said [Roksan] Okan-Vick, president of the nonprofit Houston Parks Board that is leading the public-private project. “We will commit to keep it as natural as possible and meander a sensitively designed, single line of trail that connects to the neighborhoods whenever possible.”


As opportunities arise to buy grasslands or wooded lots, Okan-Vick said, up to 1,200 acres of new, small nature parks could jut from the trails.

She pointed to a city map with yellow ovals dotted over stretches of six bayous, marking the Greenways projects slated for next year. They include trails along White Oak Bayou between Antoine and Hollister, as well as connecting Brays Bayou trails between Mason Park and the University of Houston.

Another 21 red ovals highlighted areas where land must be acquired or trails built before the 2020 deadline.

The nonprofit has already acquired land along the bayous to complete 20 miles of the 80-mile trail expansion, breaking ground earlier this year on three smaller projects along Brays and White Oak bayous.

That last paragraph refers to the MKT to White Oak trail connection, which will connect two existing bike trails. The Parks Board is about 60% of the way towards raising its goal of $115 million by 2020, which will be matched by funds from the city that were approved in last year’s election. Fifty million of the funds raised by the Parks Board come from the Kinder Foundation, but they with a condition that Council agreed to last week.

The Kinder Foundation is poised to donate $50 million to the Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative to connect Houston parks and double the length of the city’s public trails, but there’s a catch. The City Council first must turn over maintenance of the park lands to a nonprofit because of concerns that the city will not adequately maintain the newly developed properties.

The council is expected to approve the agreement partnering the city with the nonprofit Houston Parks Board, which would manage the maintenance of bayou trails with public funds.

The move is, in part, intended to dispel concerns from private donors who worry whether the city will have enough revenue and political support for the proper upkeep of the signature trail system once it is completed.


Supporters of the greenways project say the agreement before the council will provide assurance to taxpayers and donors that future city leaders cannot undercut their vision by simply moving or slashing city maintenance funds.

“Parks departments have tended to bear the brunt of tough times,” said Andy Icken, Houston’s chief development officer. “This creates a dedicated fund that is more resilient.”

The legal agreement is structured differently from the Buffalo Bayou or Discovery Green projects, but the practical effects are similar.

Under the proposed arrangement, the city agrees to pay the park board up to $10 million a year for maintenance. Although the nonprofit likely will hire private companies and Harris County Flood Control to do some work, the city parks department would be the preferred contractor for the bulk of it, essentially bringing much of the funding back to city coffers.

Additionally, the agreement includes an annual 20 percent contingency fund the board can use for capital improvement projects, such as installing new lights or replacing aging trails, or for disaster recovery after flooding or hurricanes. The board would be required to present an annual report to the City Council on its plans and return any contingency money not spent within the year, Icken said.

If everything goes to plan, the city eventually will make money off the deal. An in-house analysis found that by 2020, when the trails are projected to be complete, the city would be collecting $20 million to $30 million more in property tax revenue than it is today because the improved bayous are expected to raise nearby property values faster.

Council did approve the agreement, so here we are. I’m excited about what this will mean for the city. Houston’s national reputation has improved considerably in recent years, but we’re still considered a flat and visually unappealing place, usually compared unfavorably to cities with hills and more varied terrain like Austin and San Antonio. I figure a project like this can go a long way towards dispelling the idea that there’s not much to look at in Houston beyond the skylines. Swamplot and Houston Politics have more.

Saturday video break: Boldly going forward

This past week, a life-size cutout of Captain Kirk appeared in my office. That’s as good a reason as any for this:

I love the classics, don’t you?

From the “Judges Behaving Badly” files

We’ll start with now-former Judge Elizabeth Coker:

An East Texas state district judge who had been accused of sending text messages to coach a prosecutor during a trial, being biased against some attorneys and improperly meeting with jurors has resigned as part of an agreement with a state judicial commission.

Elizabeth E. Coker did not admit to guilt or fault as part of her agreement with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission announced Monday that Coker had taken an immediate leave of absence and her resignation will take effect Dec. 6. The agreement also prevents her from ever being a judge again in Texas.

Coker had been a judge since 1998. She oversaw proceedings in Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties. Her father and grandfather had also been judges who presided over the same counties.


The commission said that during an August 2012 child abuse trial Coker presided over, the judge sent text messages to Polk County prosecutor Kaycee Jones, suggesting questions that Jones should relay to the prosecutor handling the case.

Coker was also accused of suggesting that a witness review a videotaped interview he gave to law enforcement to refresh his memory and rehabilitate his testimony and of discussing legal issues pertinent to the case “in an unsuccessful effort to assist the State (to) obtain a guilty verdict in the case.”

The defendant ended up being acquitted of a felony charge of injury to a child.

The commission also alleged Coker might have engaged in other improper communications and meetings with Jones and other prosecutors in Polk and San Jacinto counties and certain defense attorneys regarding pending cases in her courtroom.

“Judge Coker allegedly exhibited a bias in favor or certain attorneys and a prejudice against others in both her judicial rulings and her court appointment; and Judge Coker allegedly met with jurors in an inappropriate manner, outside the presence of counsel, while the jurors were deliberating in one or more criminal trials,” the commission said.

In addition, the commission alleged Coker “may not have been candid and truthful” in testimony before the panel about whether she tried to influence the testimony of a witness who spoke to the commission.

That’s quite the sorry litany of bad judicial behavior. About the only thing I can think of that she could have done to make it worse would have been to bet on the outcome of the cases before her. Personally, I think she got off too lightly – I think disbarment would have been a fitting punishment. But at least she’ll never don the robes again.

The prosecutor Coker texted is now herself a judge, and is facing her own inquiry for her role in that incident.

While the state judicial commission’s investigation into alleged improprieties by State District Judge Elizabeth Coker ended Monday with her resignation, the focus may now shift to any possible complicity by fellow judge and former prosecutor, Kaycee Jones.

Coker’s voluntary agreement to resign alludes to complaints that she “engaged in improper ex parte text communications with Jones,” who served as a Polk County assistant district attorney for 10 years until this year becoming the 411th state district judge.

On Tuesday, Jones could not be reached for comment. But in a previously written letter to the Texas Bar Association’s disciplinary counsel, Jones said that during her tenure as prosecutor she improperly utilized clandestine text messages sent from the bench by Coker.

Jones acknowledged passing along the texts, designed to bolster the prosecution’s case, to the lead prosecutor during a child abuse trial. “It was wrong and I knew better,” she wrote.

Jones’ name was prominently mentioned three times in Coker’s resignation agreement. The signed document refers to the so-called “texting and judging” incident as well as allegations of other improper communiques and meetings between Jones and Coker involving additional cases that were not specified.

Apparently, her boss at the time in the DA’s office made her promise to never do it again, but that ain’t good enough. Jones’ formal hearing is in March, but honestly, unless she has something better to say for herself, she should just save us all the time and trouble and submit her resignation. I don’t see how she can be trusted as a judge given her appallingly bad judgment.

Those two are known to be bad apples. Here in Harris County, we have an accusation of bad behavior against a Family Court judge.

State District Court Judge Denise Pratt is under investigation, accused of backdating court records to make it appear that she issued rulings and filed court documents sooner than she actually did, according to county officials.

Allegations against the 311th family court judge, raised by a Houston-area family lawyer in a criminal complaint filed with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, already have led to the resignation of Pratt’s court clerk.

Webster-based family lawyer Greg Enos, whose criminal complaint last year against a Galveston County court-at-law judge sparked an investigation by the state attorney general and multiple indictments that led to the judge’s suspension and subsequent resignation, said he delivered his complaint against Pratt to First Assistant District Attorney Belinda Hill on Monday. Enos said he believes the office has already launched an investigation.

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office said he “can’t confirm or deny” whether any investigation is underway, but county and other sources say the office is looking into it and already has contacted attorneys to arrange interviews.

The concerns Enos is raising also have touched off an investigation by the Harris County District Clerk, the official keeper of all court records.

District Clerk Chris Daniel said he looked into two of the six cases Enos included in his complaint, which led to the resignation on Monday of Pratt’s lead clerk, a well-liked, 25-year employee of the District Clerk’s office.

Daniel said he found records were postdated or mis-marked in those two cases, and that he is looking into a seventh one that another family lawyer brought to his attention.

An inaccurate timestamp or missing signature on a court document not only erodes “the integrity of the record,” Daniel said, but can have an impact on appeals and other legal processes.

“If you have the wrong date on a document, then statutorily you can run out of time to appeal a case, and that’s where the most damage is,” he said.


Several lawyers involved in the cases Enos cites in his complaint said they never have experienced such problems with a judge.

Marcia Zimmerman, a 30-year veteran family lawyer based in Clear Lake, said she resorted to filing a motion after waiting for months on a ruling from Pratt. When the ruling finally came in, she was surprised to see the date listed was months before she had filed her motion.

“I don’t think any of us believed the ruling was actually made before the petition for writ of mandamus because, why would she rule and not tell anybody?” Zimmerman said, noting that Pratt also missed two scheduled hearings.

Family lawyer Robert Clark said he had a similar experience, arguing a case in January and then waiting five months for a ruling from Pratt that the official court record now says was issued on Jan. 30, the day before the two-day trial actually ended.

“The thing is, it’s had a seriously adverse affect on the child in this case and my client,” Clark said. “This is just egregious.”

The DA’s office doesn’t comment on these matters so we don’t know for sure what’s going on with Judge Pratt, but the main charges against her are serious and could lead to a felony arrest if there’s sufficient evidence to bear them out. As things stand now, she would be up for re-election in 2014, though as was the case with our old buddy Chuck Rosenthal, whose name was dropped at the end of the story, she might come under pressure from the local GOP to not file. The filing deadline in December 9, and I daresay that regardless of what is being said officially about her case, we’ll have a pretty good idea of whether or not she’s in real trouble by then.

Another way the Affordable Care Act will benefit Texans

Thousands of people in the high-risk pool will get better coverage at lower prices, thanks to Obamacare.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

At year’s end, Texas will shut down its high-risk insurance pool for some of the state’s sickest residents, pushing participants to find private coverage in the federal health insurance marketplace created under the federal Affordable Care Act. And patient advocates say those participants should focus on making the transition sooner rather than later to ensure that they don’t experience a lapse in coverage or lose access to current health care providers and services.

“Pool policyholders who are in the middle of treatment will especially need to be sure the network offered by their replacement health plan includes their treatment team,” Steven Browning, executive director of the Texas Health Insurance Pool, said in an email.

The high-risk pool is financed mainly by patient premiums and assessments paid by health insurance companies and HMOs, along with some funding from federal grant programs. Since 1998, it has provided high-priced coverage to Texans with pre-existing conditions who can’t find coverage elsewhere. The state has deemed the high-risk pool obsolete, as the Affordable Care Act prohibits insurance companies participating in the federal marketplace, which launched on Oct. 1, from denying coverage to Texans with pre-existing conditions. Gov. Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 1367 in June, scheduling the pool’s abolishment.

The pool will close Jan. 1, and the 23,000 people currently participating in the pool must sign up for coverage on the insurance exchange by Dec. 15 or find coverage elsewhere to avoid a lapse in care.


With many of the health plan options in the federal marketplace being cheaper than the high-risk pool and covering additional benefits, Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst for the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, said the situation presents an opportunity for Texans in the pool.

“I think that people are going to have many more options and many better options in the marketplace than they do in the health pool today,” Pogue said. “There is not going to be a person who will be better off financially outside the pool than they would be if the pool stayed open.”

As a condition of the pool, Texans generally pay twice the market rate for coverage, said Pogue. They’ll probably see their health care costs halved in the marketplace, she said, because insurers aren’t allowed to charge people with pre-existing conditions more than other consumers. The marketplace also offers tax credits to help purchase a health plan to everyone who makes 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty line — $11,490 to $45,960 annual income for an individual or $22,550 to $94,200 for a family of four.

Pogue said health plans offered in the federal marketplace could also raise the level of care patients receive, as they must cover “essential health benefits,” some of which, such as maternity care, aren’t covered in the pool.

She doesn’t expect there to be major issues with people meeting the Dec. 15 deadline either, she said, because many high-risk pool policyholders have health conditions that require them to deal with their health insurance on a consistent basis and are more likely to interact with their health care provider.

Remember, if Ted Cruz had his way, all of these people would be worse off today. Note that since the high-risk pool has been shut down, they wouldn’t be able to get any coverage at all if the “defund Obamacare” hostage-taking had succeeded. Given that in the end, every Texas Republican voted against the debt ceiling/CR deal, you can plausibly state that every single Texas Republican in Congress voted to take health insurance away from each of these 23,000 people. Note to Wendy Davis, Battleground Texas, et al: You really need to make sure you reach out to each of these people and let them know that. ThinkProgress and Juanita have more.

Annise Parker is in your Internets

She’s in mine, anyway. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but an awful lot of the websites I surf to now feature a familiar face looking back at me:


Here’s another:


Clearly, she’s seeking to dominate the liberal nerd humor vote. Of course, there are Facebook ads:


Facebook is the one place I’ve seen other ads. Ben Hall has placed a few, mostly touting his Facebook page. I know some other candidates have spent money on Facebook ads, but as yet I’ve not seen them.

You know how at the bottom of articles on some websites there’s a listing of “related” stories that you might want to read, that are mostly sponsored links? She’s there, too.


And not just in the Chronicle:


Even out in LaLa Land:


Too bad they can’t control the stories they get associated with. Some of them might be hard to compete with for clicks.

Anyway. Web advertising is hardly new, though this particular tactic is one I don’t recall seeing before. They’ve clearly done a good job of targeting, since it’s hardly a coincidence all these things appeared for my benefit. I don’t know how expensive this is – clearly, Team Parker dropped a decent amount of cash on it – but it seems likely to me that doing this on a perhaps more modest scale would be viable for many campaigns. Of course, I’m assuming people take notice of these things, never mind click on them. Have you been noticing these ads? What do you think about them?

Friday random ten: Because I said so, that’s why

Back to normal randomness this week, as I find myself themeless.

1. March E.W. Scripps – Trinity University Wind Symphony
2. Lucky Ball And Chain – They Might Be Giants
3. Jump In The River – Sinead O’Connor
4. Vivaldi: Double Mandolin Concerto – Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin
5. Lithium – Nirvana
6. My Old School – Miles Cool
7. Blood Count – Joe Henderson
8. The Magnificent Seven – Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers
9. Why Can’t It Wait Till Morning? – Phil Collins
10. Vx Fx Dx – Michelle Shocked

That’s the kind of random I like. Happy Friday, y’all.

Up to the judge in the abortion lawsuit trial

We expect a quick ruling.

With days remaining until new abortion regulations take effect in Texas, attorneys for abortion providers and the state of Texas presented their final arguments Wednesday on whether those restrictions meet constitutional muster.

“The result is much more obvious to each side than it is to me,” said U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, who is presiding over a case in which the abortion providers’ attorneys are seeking to block two of the provisions state lawmakers approved in July. “I recognize the clock is ticking toward October the 29th. I think both sides raised strong issues, and I will get a final judgment out as quickly as I can get a final judgment out.”

The plaintiffs, who represent the majority of abortion providers in Texas, including four Planned Parenthood affiliates, Whole Woman’s Health and other independent abortion providers, have asked the court for an injunction to block the implementation of two provisions in House Bill 2 that would take effect Oct. 29: a requirement that doctors who perform abortion have active admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility, and that doctors follow the FDA regimen, rather than a commonly used evidenced-based protocol, for drug-induced abortions.

Yeakel will be the first judge — but probably not the last — to rule on whether the provisions are constitutional. Yeakel, who gave no specific indication Wednesday on when he would rule, said Monday that he expects that whichever side is disappointed with his ruling to appeal the decision, probably all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

See here and here for more on trial testimony. I won’t be surprised if Judge Yeakel issues his ruling today, but it may wait till Monday. Whatever the case, and however he rules, it’s going to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which based on past history probably already has its opinion upholding the law written and ready to be handed down. Just keep reminding yourself that the ultimate remedy is at the ballot box.

Mostly good news for Apollo

That’s the story so far.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

A three-year, multimillion-dollar experiment to improve 20 struggling HISD schools yielded big gains in math and limited progress in reading, according to partial results of a study released Wednesday.

Now, Superintendent Terry Grier and the school board face decisions over what, if any, changes to make to the district’s nationally watched Apollo program, particularly to improve students’ literacy skills and perhaps to reduce the price tag.

“You’ve got to keep trying different things on Apollo,” said the researcher, Harvard University economist Roland Fryer. “We are not all the way there yet. Even if we were all the way there, I bet you can do it … cheaper.”


“We’ve had a lot of success with this – it far exceeded my expectations – but we have 282 schools,” Grier said, acknowledging complaints that Apollo was too narrowly focused.

Grier said he’d like to focus on helping younger students before they fall too far behind and on cutting costs to reach more children across the district. The superintendent’s ideas include year-round kindergarten for some, tutoring before fourth grade and less expensive online tutoring.

Fryer, who helped design the Apollo program, plans to release his final study on Nov. 1.

He shared a nine-page executive summary and presented an overview of his findings, which mirrored his earlier research, in Houston Wednesday.

“The bottom line is, math is very encouraging,” Fryer said. “Reading is still puzzling to me. It’s puzzling to a lot of people.”

In math, the stubborn achievement gap between minority and white students is on pace to close this year at the Apollo elementary schools, Fryer found. For older students, the gap in math performance has closed by roughly half.

In reading, Fryer said, the gains were significantly less, with the achievement gap narrowing by 10 percent to 20 percent.

School Zone has a copy of Dr. Fryer’s executive summary. Cost is definitely an issue – as the story notes, the HISD tax rate hike is due in part to the district paying for a continuation of Apollo out of general revenue. Initial funding came from grants and private donors. If this is to be sustainable going forward, HISD will need to get the cost of the program under control. It’s worth it to pay for a program that works, but ideally it would be district-wide, and it’s far from clear if that can be affordable. As for private donations, I wonder if the data Dr. Fryer has now provided is satisfactory to the Houston Endowment, which has been sitting on a $3 million check. I think there’s a lot here to be optimistic about, but as always it will come down to what we can and are willing to pay for. Hair Balls has more.

No, Texans!

If you regularly see Metro buses around town, you might have noticed that during the football season they will sometimes display “GO TEXANS!” on their marquees, rotating with their route information. They display similar messages for other local teams during their seasons as well. Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez wants them to stop doing that.

It’s nothing personal against the Houston Texans, the Astros, Rockets or Dynamo. Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez just wants Metro to stop picking winners and losers with its digital bus marquees.

This spring, after Sanchez raised concerns, the Metro board of directors adopted a policy with pre-approved messages for display on the destination signs on the fronts and sides of its buses, including ones covering five “major” local sporting teams. Some of the messages, such as “Happy Holidays,” are appropriate, Sanchez said, but others, such as “Go Texans,” are not.

“We have great athletic teams, there’s a lot of great things in this city, but it’s troubling when an appointed, non-answerable board of directors of a publicly funded institution like Metro gets to pick and choose what corporations get to have their name placed on our infrastructure,” Sanchez said, noting that he has only seen the “Go Texans” message.

The complaint is similar to one Sanchez had a few years ago when the back halves of some Houston Police Department patrol cars were made to look like Yellow Cab taxis for what was supposed to be a public service announcement to deter drunken driving. The so-called wraps included the local Yellow Cab phone number.

That inspired the former Houston city councilman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate, who said he plans to seek a third term as treasurer next year, to submit an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which sided with him and – in an April 2011 letter – thanked him for his “efforts to prevent government waste, fraud and abuse.”

First let me say “Hey, look! It’s a story involving Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez!” I sometimes forget the guy exists. As a longtime proponent of Metro selling ads on its buses and light rail cars, I can see his point about this. This space has value, and Metro’s giving it away for free.

That said, my overall reaction to reading this story is “Really? What’s the big deal?” Metro was never going to sell ad space on the bus marquees – some people don’t want them to have ads on the exterior of their buses at all – so the value argument falls short. I see this as just basic civic boosterism. It’s hardly unusual for public officials to publicly state support for local sports teams – I’m pretty sure that if Orlando Sanchez had been elected Mayor in 2003, he’d have been out there leading the cheers for the Astros in 2005 as they made their run to the World Series – and I’ve never known that to be controversial, with the exception of the Mayor of a two-sports team town like New York openly favoring one team over the other. And for what it’s worth, Metro has used its buses and trains to promote things other than the Texans, such as the Houston Zoo and the Museum of Natural Science. Perhaps Sanchez would object to those as well, I don’t know. Again, I gotta say, what’s the big deal?

Steve Stockman does something I support

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.


Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, has recently backed a bill to require federal officials to comply with state marijuana laws, which was introduced in April and has since garnered support from Congressmen on both sides of the aisle.

The Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013, introduced by California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, would bar federal drug enforcement agents from penalizing any person abiding by the marijuana laws in their own state.

The law “shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws” — that is, people who are in compliance with their state laws regarding possession, manufacture or use of marijuana will not be subjected to federal penalties.

Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C. have already legalized medical marijuana, and both Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use.

Stockman became the 19th sponsor of the bill, according to this website that you might not want to click if you’re at work. Let’s be perfectly clear about this: Steve Stockman is a whackjob, a terrible Congressman, and a reprehensible human being. Nothing about this changes any of that, but it does show that even a reprehensible whackjob can occasionally land on the right side of a public policy matter, even if as PDiddie notes it will have zero effect in his home state. And while I approve of the basic idea in this bill, I am fully aware of the bad history behind the “leave it to the states” argument. I’d much rather see a bill that simply scaled back federal enforcement of marijuana laws, as a prelude to a larger scaling back of the out of control “war on drugs”. But I don’t think we can get to that today, even with polling data showing much greater acceptance of decriminalization. I see that as a multi-step process, with the RSML Act of 2013 being the first step. More states need to take action, and the debate needs a wider airing at the federal level, possibly – hopefully – in the 2016 Presidential election. In the meantime, I support this effort, even if I don’t care for some of the people pushing it. Politics is like that, and you have to start somewhere. Grits and Texpatriate have more.

EV Day 3 – Where the early votes are


Three days into early voting and the numbers continue to be strong, with a third consecutive day of in-person totals topping 5,000. Here are all the daily totals:


Some people, like Campos, have been trying to get a handle on what this might mean for African-American turnout in particular, since Ben Hall – and Ronald Green and Andrew Burks – are counting on good A-A turnout to varying degrees for their electoral success. As a starting point for that discussion, let’s take a look at the early vote share at locations in predominantly African-Americans locations:

Year HD131 HD139 HD141 HD142 HD146 HD147 Total ===================================================== 2013 1.9% 3.4% 4.8% 3.7% 9.2% 4.0% 27.0% 2011 0.8% 3.0% 4.8% 2.8% 10.7% 4.6% 26.7% 2009 2.6% 3.1% 5.1% 3.2% 8.1% 4.0% 26.1% 2007 2.4% 3.8% 5.2% 2.9% 9.6% 4.6% 28.5%

The numbers above represent the share of the vote cast at the early vote location or locations in the specified State Rep districts. For the three previous cycles I calculated this based on final EV totals, and for this year I used the totals so far. This year doesn’t look a whole lot different from the last three cycles if you ask me. Obviously, this is a rough measure so don’t put too much stock in it, but it’s clear there’s no big surge relative to the rest of the county. Which brings up a second point, that we may be seeing an increase in non-Houston voters, which would mean that these totals are in fact higher where it matters. To that end, let’s look at the locations that are primarily or entirely outside city limits:

Year HD126 HD128 HD130 HD132 HD135 HD144 HD150 Total ============================================================= 2013 4.0% 2.7% 4.6% 2.4% 2.2% 1.3% 1.0% 18.2% 2011 2.9% 2.2% 4.6% 1.4% 2.2% 2.0% 1.0% 16.3% 2009 4.2% 2.2% 3.2% 1.4% 1.7% 1.3% 0.9% 14.9% 2007 5.0% 5.9% 1.3% 1.5% 5.5% 1.0% 1.0% 21.1%

Up a bit from the previous two cycles but down from 2007. City turnout was roughly the same in 2007 and 2011, but city turnout as a share of total county turnout differed:

2011 – 73.6% of Harris County vote came from city of Houston voters.
2009 – 69.5% of Harris County vote came from city of Houston voters.
2007 – 63.6% of Harris County vote came from city of Houston voters.

I suspect 2009 broke the pattern because of stronger Election Day turnout. In any event, as with African-American turnout I don’t see anything terribly out of whack with past elections. Again, this is a rough measure, and we won’t know for sure what things look like till we see that first set of results on Election Day evening. There may be surprises lurking – there almost always are – but nothing that stands out to me based on the numbers we’ve seen so far.

Burns not running in SD10


Joel Burns

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns announced on Wednesday that he will not run to succeed Wendy Davis in the state Senate.

Burns, who replaced Davis on the City Council in 2007, had emerged as a top Democratic contender for the Senate seat after Davis announced her bid for governor earlier this month. But in an email to supporters on Wednesday, first reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Burns said he will not enter the race.

“After many weeks of thought and consideration, my next steps have became very clear to me,” Burns wrote in the email, which he also posted on his Facebook page. “And I want to share with you — my many friends, neighbors and supporters — my decision: Quite simply, the job I most want is the one I already have.”

Burns was my first choice to run for the seat, so I’m disappointed by this. There are other candidates that had been looking at this, so I’m sure someone will step up and run. It was never going to be an easy hold, and if Joel Burns didn’t think he was the right candidate at this time, then so be it.

One more thing:

The fight to replace Davis will be one of the state’s most closely watched races next year. Without her seat, which Davis has won twice in a swing district that leans Republican, Democrats would be left with only 11 seats in the Senate, bringing Republicans within one seat of the two-thirds majority needed in the chamber to bring legislation to the floor for a vote.

The original version of this story said that the loss of Davis’ seat would give the Rs the numbers they needed to overcome the two thirds rule, assuming it still means something in 2015. What Davis gave the Dems was a cushion, but even if we lose her seat the numbers are still there to block bills as needed, and if allowed. I’ve seen some confusion on this point elsewhere, so let me assert my authority here as someone who has a degree in math: 11/31 > 1/3. Put another way, 20/31 < 2/3. It's not that complicated.

Voter ID litigation moving again

From Texas Redistricting last week:

The Texas voter ID litigation geared back up today, with the court setting a number of new or revised deadlines now that the government shutdown is over.

Responses to motions by True the Vote and the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners to intervene are now due October 30.

The parties joint discovery plan is now due November 4.

And the court will hold the initial case conference – originally set for October 25 – onNovember 15 at 9:00 a.m. in Corpus Christi.

In addition, the State of Texas advised at this morning’s status conference that it would be filing a motion to dismiss the litigation and that the parties had agreed to the following schedule for briefing the motion:

State’s motion to dismiss due October 25.

Responses from the plaintiffs due November 22.

State’s reply due December 6.

The case had been in limbo due to the shutdown, with the Justice Department asking for a stay early on, and the entire federal court system facing the possibility of running out of funds if it had dragged on much longer. Fortunately, in the end the schedule wasn’t greatly affected, and as you can see things will be moving along pretty quickly. I’ve been assuming all along that the experience of this year’s election will factor into the litigation. I’d been focusing on the number of provisional ballots as one possible piece of evidence, but there will likely be some good stories about unexpected hassles at the ballot box, too. We’ll see how that goes.

On a separate but not unrelated note, the plaintiffs in the voter registration litigation have asked for a full review of the three-judge panel’s refusal to issue an injunction against that law while litigation is ongoing. I doubt they’ll get any relief, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Whether they’ll then ask SCOTUS for same if the full Fifth Circuit declines is unclear.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 21

The Texas Progressive Alliance is old enough to remember when everyone who ran for public office did so on a premise of making it work better as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Interview with County Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

In addition to all of the races for local office and the nine constitutional amendments, there are two county referenda on the ballot this fall. One is the Astrodome proposition, with which I trust you are familiar. The other is for the joint inmate processing facility, which will allow the county to more efficiently deal with inmates that expect to be released shortly or that need to be handed off to mental health professionals, and the city to close its dilapidated jails. It will also serve to connect inmates being released from county custody with mental health, housing, and substance abuse services. This is a plan that’s been a long time coming and has broad support as well as the Chronicle’s endorsement. I wanted to ask a few questions about it make sure we all knew what it was about, so I visited with County Judge Ed Emmett and asked him my questions. It’s a fairly short conversation – this is a straightforward issue, not at all complicated – and here it is:

Ed Emmett interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.