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November, 2016:

Pot bills get their own post

They got their own story in the Trib, so why not their own post.

Zonker

Texas lawmakers across the state say they want leniency in how the state prosecutes marijuana crimes. In an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith Monday, State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said he thinks the Legislature could decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana next year, especially after several states did so on Election Day.

“We’re spending our tax dollars on incarcerating [people that don’t deserve to be incarcerated] because they got caught with a small amount of marijuana,” said Isaac, whose district encompasses Texas State University. “These are people that we probably subsidize their public education, we probably subsidize where they went to a state school, and now they’re branded as a criminal when they go to do a background check.”

Isaac added that last session he was approached by state Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody, D-El Paso, who asked Isaac to sign on to a decriminalization bill but didn’t because he “didn’t feel like it was the time.” During the interview Monday, however, Isaac said “it is the time now” and publicly pledged to sign on and work to get a bill passed that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

Among the Texas proposals that have been filed thus far:

  • House Bill 58 by state Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would create a specialty court for certain first-time marijuana possession offenders based on the principle that first-time defendants are often self-correcting. The measure is intended to conserve law enforcement and corrections resources, White said in a news release.
  • State Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody, D-El Paso, filed House Bill 81, which aims to replace criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $250. The bill also allows Texans to avoid arrest and possible jail time for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Moody authored a similar bill during the previous legislative session; it did not pass.
  • State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, filed House Bill 82, which aims to classify a conviction for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor instead of Class B. However, if a person is convicted three times, it would revert back to a Class B misdemeanor. Dutton co-authored a similar bill last session with Moody.
  • State Sen. José Rodríguez filed Senate Joint Resolution 17, which would allow voters to decide whether marijuana should be legalized in Texas, following the pattern of a number of states.
  • Senate Joint Resolution 18, also authored by Rodríguez, would allow voters to decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical use if recommended by a health care provider. “It is long past time we allow the people to decide,” Rodríguez said in a statement.
  • Rodríguez also filed Senate Bill 170, which would change possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil one.

Some of this is a continuation of efforts from 2015, some of it is in recognition of the multiple pro-decriminalization referenda that passed in other states, and some of it is from the desire to save a few pennies on law enforcement and criminal justice. I don’t care about the motive, I applaud the direction. As was the case in 2015, the main (though not only) obstacle is likely to be Greg Abbott, who was not interested in anything more than the meager cannobinoid oil bill that passed during that session. Typically, Abbott has had nothing to say about whether he remains firmly anti-pot or not. We’ll have to see what the lobbyists can do with him. For those of you who want to see changes, these are the bills to follow for now.

Smoke-free Houston, ten years later

From the inbox:

It’s been 50 years since the release of the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health and the harmful consequences from the use of tobacco. 2016 marks the 10th year of the adoption of Ordinance No. 2006-1054 prohibiting indoor smoking in Houston public areas and places of employment. Individuals could no longer smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces or within 25 feet of a building entrance and exit.

So, where are we now, ten years later?

The Houston Health Department has compiled a brief of the ordinance impact on Houston heath and economy, describing successes and future challenges ahead.

Here is what I blogged about the ordinance at the time. There was a social media campaign going on to promote this anniversary. It began on November 7, the day before the election when everyone was sure to tune into such a campaign, and it culminated on November 17, which is the date of the annual Great American Smokeout. Timing issues aside, the document linked at the top of this post is worth perusing. Fewer people are smoking in Houston, though we are not yet at the goal envisioned by this law, and there are measurable health benefits as a result. I certainly prefer this world to the one we used to live in.

Anyway. The Go Healthy Houston Facebook page is where you will see some of the social media stuff. There are concerns about e-cigarettes, which are becoming popular with the kids, and which are currently exempt from existing anti-smoking laws because e-cigs didn’t exist at the time those laws were passed. I’ve noted this before, and I’ll say again that I won’t be surprised if this eventually makes its way before Council for a tune-up on the no-smoking ordinance. There was legislation proposed in 2015 to ban the sale of e-cigs to minors, but none of the bills in question made it through. This too may come up again in 2017, not that it will be a priority. In the meantime, go visit a park or restaurant and enjoy the smoke-free air around you. It’s so much better this way.

Saturday video break: Mr Blue Sky

Here’s Lily Allen covering a classic rocker:

I kind of love this version. She has the perfect voice for a song that always makes me happy to hear. Now here’s the Electric light Orchestra original:

It’s good, and you have to love the trippy 70’s animation, but honestly I say Allen does it better. It’s faithful to the original but it just feels peppier. What do you think?

Emmett says he will run for re-election in 2018

Well, this was unexpected.

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Thursday that he plans to seek re-election when his current term is up in 2018, ending speculation that he might step aside after more than a decade at the helm of the nation’s third most-populous county.

Emmett, a Republican known for his pragmatic, steady approach, said he made the decision Wednesday night after conferring with family and friends.

“I’m in kind of a unique position to bring people together at a time when it’s needed more than any other,” the 67-year-old Emmett said. “Harris County is a big, diverse place with lots of problems. Those problems don’t have simple answers.”

[…]

Emmett’s current term expires Dec. 31, 2018.

He said part of the reason he announced his intention to run Thursday was because the March 2018 primary is less than 18 months away and campaigns would likely get underway soon.

“I’ve got some money in the bank,” Emmett said. “But if I’m going to run, I need to make it clear so that those people who support me can get behind me.”

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Friday that she had been considering a bid for the judgeship, but would not do so given that Emmett is seeking re-election.

“If he’s not there,” Parker said, “I’m going to be first in line.”

As is the way of all things these days, Emmett made his intentions known via Twitter. Judge Emmett himself told me he was planning to retire after his current term was up. He said that to me after an interview I did with him, saying something to the effect of “there are things you can do in your 70s that you can’t easily do in your 80s”. That was a comment made in passing, not a carved-in-stone promise, and clearly his thinking has changed. Or maybe he just likes the job too much to want to quit. Whatever the case, barring anything unusual there will not be a vacancy in this office in two years.

That obviously complicates things for Democrats who are thinking about the next election, as can be seen by Annise Parker’s comment. Judge Emmett is well-regarded and probably the most popular politician in the county. He was the top vote-getter in 2010, he ran unopposed in 2014, and was re-elected easily in 2008 despite the strong Democratic wave that year. I suspect that despite all this someone will run against him in 2018 anyway, as there are legitimate policy matters that deserve debate, and only so many opportunities available for a person of ambition. We’ll see how it goes.

From the “Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” department

People are signing up for health insurance plans while they still can.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

For years the backers of the Affordable Care Act have fretted over how best to stimulate insurance enrollment on the exchanges so the law could work as designed. They might have finally found a way from the unlikeliest of sources: the election of Donald Trump as president.

During the campaign, Trump and Republicans in Congress vowed to immediately “repeal and replace” the health care law known as Obamacare, calling it a failure. Yet now that dismantlement is possible and maybe even likely, people across Houston and the nation are rushing to lock in coverage for next year.

A record 100,000 Americans signed up the day after the election and one company offering plans in Houston said business continues to be “brisk.” The enrollments continued Monday at places like the Ahmed and Roshan Virani Children’s Clinic in west Houston.

“He wants to get rid of it, so that’s why I’m here,” Dishae Wimbush, a self-employed mother of three young sons, said just after 9 a.m.

[…]

Enrollment for 2017 began Nov. 1, a week before the election. It will end Jan. 31, 11 days after Trump is inaugurated. At times he has promised to completely repeal the ACA on his first day in office, although most experts say that is unlikely and probably not even possible.

Advocates and even some critics of the Affordable Care Act are urging people to go ahead and sign up for a plan for next year despite the fiery campaign rhetoric.

“It is virtually certain that people who sign up now will remain insured through the end of 2017,” said Dr. J. Mario Molina, president and CEO of California-based Molina Healthcare, a Fortune 500 company that has had a strong presence on the exchanges. His is one of three insurance carriers offering plans on the exchange in Houston and said signups have been “brisk” since Nov. 9.

On Monday he said he was sympathetic to the nervousness among those wanting policies. About 11 million people currently get their coverage through the exchange.

“They have good reason to be worried,” Molina said, noting the irony that it took the election of someone who wants to kill the law to get people to sign up for it.

After reporting that 100,000 people signed up for a plan under the ACA the day after the election, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell tweeted, “Best day yet.”

At the same time, a Facebook group called “Saving Affordable Health Insurance” bubbled up out of another group populated with self-employed writers and editors. The national invitation-only group was created by one woman on Thursday night. By Monday it had more than 1,800 members.

Part of the anxiety is being fueled by the fact no one knows what the replacement piece of repeal and replace will look like, with some wanting a quick and complete gutting while others preferring a slower, piecemeal approach.

“I’m not sure they know,” Molina said about Trump and Congress.

In recent days Trump has softened his stance on the ACA and said he favors keeping certain parts, such as allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ policies until age 26 and prohibiting insurers from denying anyone for a pre-existing condition.

The latter could prove the thorniest since he and others have also vowed to discard the individual mandate, which forces nearly all to buy health coverage. The requirement for universal coverage was baked into the law to expand the risk pool and make it possible to cover people no matter their health. It may be difficult to achieve one without the other.

Sure is gonna suck when millions of people lose their insurance, isn’t it? On the bright side, maybe Texas won’t lead the nation in the percentage of uninsured people once Obamacare has been repealed. Hey, you have to find your silver linings where you can. Political Animal has more.

Former HISD Trustee Marshall found liable in civil bribery lawsuit

Ouch.

A bribery lawsuit that kept a cloud of suspicion over the Houston school district for six years ended Wednesday with a jury finding that former board president Larry Marshall participated in a kickback scheme that caused millions of dollars in damages to a local construction contractor.

The civil jury decided in favor of the Gil Ramirez Group, an upstart firm that alleged it lost lucrative school district contracts because it did not offer bribes to Marshall through his political campaign treasurer and longtime friend, Joyce Moss-Clay.

The verdict, which may be appealed, deals a hit to Marshall’s legacy as one of the longest-serving and best-known Houston school trustees, who started as a teacher in 1955 and later worked to integrate the nation’s seventh-largest district.

“The culture of corruption at HISD took a serious blow today,” Kelly Greenwood Prather, an attorney for Gil Ramirez Jr., said after the verdict, which triggered tears of joy from her client.

The jury found that Marshall, Moss-Clay and two HISD construction contractors violated the civil racketeering law and awarded the Gil Ramirez Group about $451,500, an amount that is tripled to $1.4 million under law.

The jury also found the group interfered in contracts and awarded $3.4 million in punitive damages, plus $676,667 in actual damages.

The Houston Independent School District, dismissed as a defendant in the lawsuit in 2015, distanced itself from Marshall Wednesday, issuing a statement that the district is not responsible for paying damages on the former trustee’s behalf.

HISD’s response could complicate the payout to the Gil Ramirez Group if Marshall lacks the funds.

Attorney Chad Dunn, also representing Ramirez, said he believed the district is liable for the damages.

“The school district spent millions of dollars defending Larry Marshall and now it wants to avoid its own responsibility,” Dunn said. “If this is a sign of the district’s response to the jury’s message, it’s pathetic.”

This lawsuit had been dismissed by the trial judge in 2013, then reinstated on appeal two years later. It’s a bit unclear what happens next, whether Marshall will appeal or HISD will be ordered to cover some of the judgment against him; there’s also a federal criminal investigation that’s still out there. What I do know is that Marshall, who had a sterling career as an educator, threw all that away as a school board trustee, and the stain he left on HISD as a whole through this ordeal – and he was far from the only one with dirty hands – will take a long time to remove. The Press has more.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 21

I took last week off from my two regularly scheduled music-themed posts because I just didn’t have it in me. They’re back this week, not because I feel better per se, but because there’s comfort to be found in both the music and in the habit of experiencing it. So here we go again.

1. Self Control – Laura Branigan
2. Dance Like Nobody’s Watching – Laura Marano
3. Cluck Old Hen – Laura Veirs
4. Four Words – Lauren Anatolia
5. Astrodome – Leah White and the Magic Mirrors
6. Break It To Me Gently – Brenda Lee
7. Steal My Sunshine – Len (Sharon Costanzo)
8. Love Letters – Ketty Lester
9. Hello Stranger – Barbara Lewis
10. I Know Things Now – Lilla Crawford

Ketty Lester went on to play Hester-Sue Terhune on the TV show Little House on the Prairie, which I watched on occasion but was never really into as a kid. I have no idea who that character was, but I always enjoy stumbling across trivia tidbits like that while checking to verify that a given artist is in fact female as I suspect from the name. I read some of one of the Little House books to Olivia when she was younger, but neither of us was into it any more than I was into the TV show in the 70s. Austin and Ally, the latter of whom was portrayed by Laura Marano, and the movie version of Into the Woods, in which Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood character sang that song, were more her speed.

Sustaining the Harris County Democrats’ success

All things considered, I feel reasonably optimistic about Democratic prospects in Harris County going forward, but I felt that way in 2008 as well, so I certainly understand the inclination to be cautious.

Democrats swept Harris County last Tuesday in nothing short of a rout, claiming every countywide position on the ballot as Hillary Clinton toppled Donald Trump by more than 12 points – a larger margin of victory than George W. Bush enjoyed here in either of his presidential bids.

That edge – and the domino effect it had on local races – exceeded many Democrats’ most optimistic projections. It also fueled speculation that the nation’s largest swing county soon could be reliably blue.

Yet some on the left still worry that, absent Trump, the party’s decentralized coalition could make that transformation a tall order near-term, despite favorable demographic shifts.

“It’s not something that’s going to be sustained with the party infrastructure we have right now,” local Democratic direct mail vendor Ryan Slattery said, recalling the party’s trouncing in 2010, two years after President Barack Obama won the county. “You’ll always have this ebb and flow.”

Former Mayor Annise Parker agreed the party “has underperformed in the past” but was more hopeful.

“In this election cycle, both the Harris County Democratic Party in its official leadership and committed Democrats came together and we all played nicely,” Parker said. “The way we swept Harris County down here and knowing the way midterm elections generally go, it might be a pretty good place to be a Democrat in two years and even four years.”

[…]

Concurrently, the share of county residents who identified as Democrats rose steeply, to 48 percent from 35 percent, according to the Kinder Institute’s Houston Area Survey. The percentage of Republicans fell to 30 percent from 37 percent.

Democrats have harnessed that momentum in presidential election years but floundered in the interim, when Republicans capitalized on national political discontent and lower turnout.

After earning nearly 48,000 more straight-ticket votes than Republicans did in 2008, Democrats lost the straight-ticket vote by nearly 50,000 votes in 2010 and 44,000 votes in 2014. They earned nearly 3,000 more straight-ticket votes in 2012 and 70,000 this year.

I’ll repeat my mantra here: Conditions in 2018 are going to be different than they were in 2010 and 2014. I don’t know what they will be like, and it’s certainly possible they could be worse, but they pretty much have to be different by definition. I’ll also say again that after this election, it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are more Democrats in the county than there are Republicans. Doesn’t mean there will be more Democratic voters in a given election, and things can always change, but as they stand today we have a bigger pool than they do. Put aside the Hillary/Trump numbers, and consider that in this election, the average Republican judicial candidate received about 606,000 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate received about 661,000. There are more Ds than Rs.

One corollary of this is that Dems don’t necessarily need a boost in turnout, at least on a percentage basis, to have a bright outlook for 2018. Remember, the turnout rate this year was lower than it had been in 2012, but the sheer increase in voter registrations led to the higher turnout total. It’s my contention, based on the average judicial race numbers from 2012 to 2016, that the bulk of those new registrants were Dems. Base turnout is an issue in off year elections until the results show that it isn’t, but I believe we are starting out in a more favorable position than we have done before.

So with this in mind, here are the things I would recommend Democrats in Harris County do to get the kind of outcome we want in 2018:

– Don’t be discouraged by what happened nationally. That’s going to be hard, because there’s going to be a lot of bad things happening, and not a whole lot that can be done to stop it. What we need to do here is remember that old adage about acting locally, and channel the frustration and anger we will feel into local organizing and action. Harris County Democrats had a really good 2016. We can have a good 2018 as well. Let’s keep our focus on that.

– It all starts with the candidates. There are three important county offices that will need candidates – County Judge, which has now been complicated by Judge Ed Emmett’s announcement that he plans to run for re-election instead of retiring as had been thought, County Clerk, and Commissioner in Precinct 2. (Yes, District Clerk and County Treasurer are also on the ballot, but with all due respect they don’t have the ability to affect policy that these offices do. Also, HCDE At Large Trustee Diane Trautman will be up for re-election, but unless she decides to step down that candidacy will be accounted for.) I’m not going to get into the candidate speculation business right now – there will be plenty of time for that later – but we need good candidates, and we need to ensure that they fully engage in the primary process. The last thing we need is a Lloyd Oliver-style failure.

– I’ve talked about this several times over the years, but one thing that stands out in the 2016 data that I’ve seen so far is that the rising tide of Democratic voters didn’t just come from the traditional Democratic places, but from all over the county. The end result of that was that a lot of districts that had been previously seen as Republican were less so this year. That in turn means two things: One, there are more opportunities to make serious challenges in State Rep districts, in particular HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126. Lining up good candidates for these districts is a must. Two, we need to recognize that there are lots of Democrats in these and other Republican-held State Rep districts, and that we have to do at least as good a job connecting with them as we do with Dems in the places we know and are used to dealing with if we want to sustain and build on our gains from this year.

– That bit I said before about Dems not necessarily needing a big boost in turnout level to be in a winning position? The key to that was that even with turnout percentage being down a bit, the overall turnout total was higher, and the reason for that was the large increase in voter registration. We absolutely need to keep doing that. This may have been the secret to our success this year. Let’s not let up on it.

I can’t say Harris County Dems will be successful in 2018. Hell, at this point no one can say anything about the future with any degree of certainty. I’ve highlighted the things that I believe are important. There will be a lot to talk about and a lot to do before we get to any of that.

Mayor Turner picks Austin PD Chief for HPD

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

In a sweeping announcement, Mayor Sylvester Turner named four new department directors and a reappointment Thursday. Pending City Council confirmation, Art Acevedo of Austin will assume the position of police chief and El Paso’s Samuel Pena will take over the fire department.

“Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo and Acting Fire Chief Rodney West have performed exemplary in dealing with some challenges and we are indebted to them for their service,” said Mayor Turner. “I had said all along that once we reached solution to our pension problems, I would move quickly to fill key positions. This is the team that will carry us into 2017 and beyond. We are going to build upon the successes of 2016 and be even more transformative, innovative and responsive.”

Acevedo has served as Austin’s police chief since 2007. His 30 years of law enforcement experience began as a field patrol officer in East Los Angeles. In Austin, he oversaw a department with more than 2,400 sworn officers and support personnel and a $370 million annual budget. He joined the department at a time when relations with minorities were strained due to questionable police shootings. He has been credited for a commitment to police legitimacy, accountability and community policing and engagement. His accomplishments include creating a special investigative unit to criminally investigate officer involved shootings and a new disciplinary matrix. Acevedo holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from the University of La Verne, is a graduate of the FBI’s National Executive Institute and speaks fluent Spanish.

Pena joined the El Paso Fire Department in 1995 and then rose through the ranks to the position of fire chief, which he has held since 2013. He has previous experience as a fire fighter, paramedic, media spokesperson, advanced medical coordinator, Combined Search and Rescue Team member, Hazardous Materials & Special Rescue Task Force member and academy training chief. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of Texas at El Paso. He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force where he served for four years as an air control specialist. Like Acevedo, he is fluent in Spanish.

The mayor also announced that he has selected Judge Elaine Marshall to be the new presiding judge of Houston Municipal Courts, Tom McCasland as the permanent director of the Department of Housing and Community Development and the reappointment of Phyllis Frye to another term as a municipal court judge.

The Statesman was the first to report on Acevedo’s hiring. Here’s the reaction from Austin:

During his tenure in Austin, Acevedo has flirted with several other major Texas cities, including Fort Worth, Dallas and San Antonio. Thirteen months ago, he withdrew from San Antonio’s hiring process and received a 5 percent pay raise and a new separation agreement should he be fired in Austin.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler released the following statement about Acevedo: “Houston is getting a world-class police chief. Chief Acevedo has made our community safer and closer and he is trusted and much loved by so many. Austin is losing a moral and joyous leader and I’m losing a friend.

“Losing Art Acevedo is a huge deal and replacing him will be a daunting task, in part because he gave so much of himself to his job and his community. But Austin is a safe city with a strong police force and we’ll have talented applicants to take his place. We’ll shortly have a new city manager and a new police chief, and this gives Austin a unique opportunity to enter a new era in our history.”

Here’s the Chron story, which is from before the afternoon press conference announcing the hires, and thus doesn’t have anything that isn’t in the press release or the Statesman story. All appointments need to be confirmed by Council, and they will be on the agenda for the November 30 meeting.

Fire Chief was the other big hire. Here’s the Chron story for that.

El Paso Fire Chief Samuel Peña has been tapped as Houston’s new fire chief, replacing Interim Fire Chief Rodney West, sources said Thursday.

Peña, 45, has led El Paso’s fire department for three years.

If approved by City Council, he would come to Houston in the midst of a contentious fire pension negotiation and as firefighters continue to voice concern about aging facilities and calls for new equipment.

Houston’s fire union stressed those challenges Thursday while urging Peña to stand up to City Hall officials.

“Job one for Chief Peña will be to better balance his obligations at City Hall against those he will have to the 4,000 firefighters who have earned his support,” the union said in a statement. We urge Chief Peña to challenge City Hall to commit to the ‘shared sacrifice’ imposed upon us by sensibly addressing the declining condition of the (Houston Fire Department) fleet and facilities, a too-often adversarial command staff and stalled contract negotiations.”

That was also pre-press conference. I’m sure we’ll get reactions and quotes shortly. The Austin Chronicle, the Press, Texas Leftist, Trib have more.

UPDATE: Here’s the updated Chron story:

Acevedo and Peña, who head smaller departments, said they look forward to the challenge of leading Houston’s public safety agencies, both the fifth largest in the nation.

“I am proud to be here in the city of Houston, and remember that criminals are the only ones who need to be afraid of the police,” Acevedo said in Spanish. “If you’re a victim … or a witness, come forward. We’re at your service.”

Peña comes from a department that responds to about 76,000 calls a year. In Houston he will see about four times that number and Thursday he said he anticipated a steep learning curve.

“I’m going to be drinking from the proverbial fire hose for a while, learning the processes and really getting to know the command staff, sitting down with the associations and the rank and file to find out what their priorities are, from their perspective, before we make any wholesale changes,” the 47-year-old said.

[..]

Acevedo, 52, inherits the difficult task of policing a rapidly growing city more than twice Austin’s size with a police staffing shortage and a tight city budget.

The city also is seeking to gain legislative approval for a pension reform deal that already prompted three top Houston Police Department chiefs to file retirement paperwork.

Acevedo asked the agency to have his back.

“I can just say this to the men and women of the Houston police department: I love cops. I love policing,” Acevedo said. “Just give me the chance to show you what the mayor saw in me.”

Phil Hilder, a criminal defense attorney and member of the city’s Independent Police Oversight Board, welcomed the selection of Austin’s chief.

“He has a very progressive history at the Austin Police Department and has been very responsive to community concerns and is open-minded to innovations and new ideas in policing,” said Hilder, who has also served as a federal prosecutor. “Policing is moving in a rapid direction, embracing new technologies which will require somebody at the helm who will embrace those innovations, in terms of training and to keep the community informed about where policing is going.”

Acevedo was known as an outgoing, progressive leader in Austin but weathered internal criticism over his handling of police shootings. Most recently, he fired the officer involved in the fatal shooting of unarmed 17-year-old David Joseph. The police union accused Acevedo of an “unjust and politically motivated firing.”

McClelland, Houston’s former police chief, warned of the obstacles the outsider could face.

“With community relations on the forefront, any outside police chief is going to have significant challenges … learning all the internal operations and managers and who are your talented folks in your organizations,” he said.

“He certainly was the right fit in Austin. …That kind of liberal progressive town, I think he was a good fit [there]. Houston is not Austin – we know that. How well he’ll do here, I don’t know.”

U.S. Marshal Gary Blankinship, a former Houston police officer and union president who has known Acevedo for a long time, described him as “very personable,” but also a resolute manager.

Acevedo’s police officers and federal marshals worked together in the recent arrest in Houston of one of three men charged with the attempted assassination of Austin District Judge Julie Kocurek in November 2015, Blankinship said.

“He’s very qualified to be the police chief of Houston – I wish him well and look forward to working with him,” said Blankinship.

Welcome to Houston, gentlemen. I too wish you all the best in your new jobs.

No Astrodome laser light show for the Super Bowl

Alas.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Organizers have nixed a proposal to use high-tech lasers to project dazzling images of Houston’s culture and history onto and through the roof of the Astrodome during Super Bowl LI.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the NFL turned down the proposal — the brainchild of two recent Rice University graduates — over security concerns of having people enter and exit the dome around game time.

“We made all the intros and this, that and the other, but it wasn’t a great surprise,” Emmett said. “The NFL once they locked down that whole campus out there, they just don’t want people coming in and out.”

[…]

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league had looked into the light show idea “but are now considering lighting the outside of the building for the entire week and on Super Bowl Sunday.”

“We have not finalized plans, but this remains under consideration,” McCarthy said.

Emmett said officials were briefly considering holding a reception in the dome during Super Bowl festivities, but that’s not happening now, either. He said the Dome will mostly be used for storage and staging purposes during the sporting event.

A Super Bowl host committee spokeswoman said “there will be no official events at the Astrodome” during Super Bowl weekend, and said she had no information about how the Astrodome might be used during Super Bowl weekend or why the light show was nixed.

See here for the background. Too bad, this sounded like a fun idea to me, but you know how the NFL is. Maybe some of us can get together before the game, hold up lighters, and sing “Another Brick In The Wall”. It’s the thought that counts.

City reaches deal with Uber

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner today announced a comprehensive strategy to streamline the City’s vehicle-for-hire licensing process to ensure that Uber remains in Houston and that Houstonians and visitors have as many transportation options as possible during the upcoming Super Bowl. As part of the plan, Uber has committed to continuing operations in Houston with the use of fingerprint background checks through the Super Bowl.

“I am thrilled we can finally put this issue to rest and focus on the real task at hand—providing a great Super Bowl experience that shows off our City,” said Mayor Turner. “We’ve crafted a proposal that reduces the length and cost of a driver application but still protects public safety. This is a win for drivers and passengers alike. These changes will help make sure that visitors have a seamless experience during the Super Bowl and Houstonians have diverse transportation options to meet the growing needs of our city.”

As part of the agreement, the City will bring forward process-improvement changes to Chapter 46 of the City Code which regulates vehicles-for-hire such as taxis, limos, and TNCs (transportation network companies such as Uber). The streamlined changes will reduce the costs of licensing from nearly $200 to $70, cut the licensing process in half, and allow drivers to be licensed in under 20 minutes. The City’s policy on background checks will not change. The proposed changes are expected to come before City Council before the New Year.

Mayor Turner also announced the launch of Arro, the City’s official multimodal transportation app, which will help make the City’s fleet of over 9,000 taxi and limo drivers more readily accessible to the general public. Building on Top Taxi, Houston First’s initiative to improve the quality and customer service of Houston’s taxi industry, Arro will help transform the taxi experience in Houston.

“In a city as large and diverse as Houston, taxis and limos will always play a critical role in our transportation strategy,” said Turner. “Arro and Top Taxi will help modernize our taxi industry by making our fleet more efficient and equipping Houstonians with access to multiple forms of transportation at the push of a button.”

While initially offering taxi rides, Arro’s offerings will expand in the coming months to include limos, wheelchair accessible vehicles, and collaborations with other forms of vehicles-for-hire and METRO. Arro is available for download on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

“We are very excited to bring Arro’s consumer and driver friendly app to the people of Houston starting today. Arro’s presence is a significant step toward enhancing robust transportation options throughout Houston,” said Mike Epley, founder of Arro. “Our app has already enjoyed great success in several cities by offering a potential boost to drivers’ incomes and providing faster and easier transportation access for passengers. ”

“Houston First recognizes that reliable and safe transportation is essential to the city’s success as a destination,” says Dawn Ullrich, president and CEO of Houston First Corporation. “That’s why we launched the Top Taxi Program in 2015 to coach our taxicab drivers on delivering a better customer service experience. Now, Mayor Turner is taking it a step further with the implementation of Arro, which we believe will revolutionize the user experience with taxis in Houston. We’re excited to partner with the city on the ongoing Top Taxi program and the rollout of Arro.”

See here for the background on Arro. You may recall that Uber had threatened to leave Houston after the Austin rideshare referendum was voted down, but since those initial rumblings there hasn’t been much from either them or the city. While Council members were not lining up to support Uber in this, there was some concern expressed about the availability of vehicle-for-hire services during the Super Bowl; Arro’s development was in part a hedge against that. This agreement means that those worries can be laid to rest.

The larger fight remains unresolved, however.

The fingerprint check – as opposed to the company’s preferred Social Security number-based check – has been the major disagreement since Houston legitimized the ride providing companies in November 2014.

“Our stance hasn’t changed in any way on fingerprinting,” said Trevor Theunissen, public policy manager for Uber in Texas. “This is a compromise to improve the driver licensing process so we can get through the Super Bowl.”

The deal does not, however, slow efforts by Uber and state lawmakers to develop statewide transportation rules during the upcoming legislative session. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, filed a bill Monday to create statewide transportation rules for companies like Uber, but keeps taxis regulated at the local level.

Here’s Sen. Schwertner’s statement about the city’s deal with Uber. You know, I’m old enough to remember a time when it was considered “conservative” to value local government over state or federal government, on the grounds that local government was closer to the people and thus more responsive to their needs and accountable to their votes. That just sounds so adorable now. I mean, what could we Houstonians know about our wants and needs compared to a Senator from Williamson County? So until the Legislature crushes it underneath their mighty boots, chalk up another accomplishment for Mayor Turner.

UPDATE: The Press has more.

SBOE rejects that lousy Mexican-American studies textbook

Nice.

The State Board of Education voted 14-0 Wednesday to deny the adoption of a Mexican-American studies textbook decried by opponents as racist and inaccurate.

The textbook, titled “Mexican American Heritage,” was the only submission the board received when it made a 2015 call for textbooks for high school social studies classes, including Mexican-American studies.

But critics say the book is riddled with factual, “interpretive” and “omission” errors and doesn’t meet basic standards for use in classrooms.

Wednesday’s vote wasn’t the last step, as the board will take a final vote Friday. The only board member not present for the vote was David Bradley. In emails obtained through a state open records request by Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning advocacy group, the Beaumont Republican had written that a “lack of quorum on [the book] would be nice. Deny the Hispanics a record vote. The book still fails.”

With as much dignity and gravity as I can muster, I say “Neener neener” to you, David Bradley. It’s what you deserve.

The Chron reports on the hearing at which opponents of the textbook far outnumbered its supporters.

State education board members on Tuesday grilled the publisher of a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook about alleged errors, all but promising to reject the proposed book later this week.

Members of the State Board of Education are poised to vote Friday on whether to adopt “Mexican American Heritage,” a textbook that university professors and historical experts argue is riddled with errors, cherry-picks sources and claims immigrants have radical ideas that pose a cultural and political threat to American society.

“This book offers one thing. It offers hatred. It offers hate toward Mexican-Americans,” said Ruben Cortez Jr., a member from Brownsville.

Board members from both parties spent nearly two hours of a public hearing peppering Momentum Instruction CEO and owner Cynthia Dunbar about reported errors in the proposed textbook.

“You have submitted a textbook that will be rejected” from landing on the state’s preferred textbook list, said board member Erika Beltran, D-Fort Worth, who criticized Dunbar for failing to recall the credentials of the book’s authors. “We’re not just talking about a textbook on Mexican-American heritage, we’re talking about the education of 5 million kids.”

[…]

Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who said in September the book was “dead on arrival,” stressed the board needs to focus on the errors that Dunbar has refused to fix.

“I’m not a scientist, but I know enough to know that communism does not cause natural disasters,” said Ratliff, referring to a passage in the textbook that links the two. Dunbar said the passage was “not a verified factual error,” then later agreed to change the sentence.

Emilio Zamora, a University of Texas at Austin professor who reviewed the text, accused the authors and publisher of arrogance by refusing to acknowledge the problems.

“Not once do they agree with any of our findings of error – not once,” said Zamora, shaking his fist behind a podium before the state board. He and a team of professors reported finding 407 errors in the book’s latest version.

See here and here for some background, and here for the report on how crappy this textbook was that SBOE member Ruben Cortez’s ad hoc committee put together. This issue won’t go away for long. The SBOE will put out another call for a hopefully non-crappy textbook, so there should be more submissions in the future. And just to make this all the more fun, to-be-rejected publisher Dunbar is threatening a lawsuit if she gets rejected, because by God you just don’t do that in Donald Trump’s America. Or something like that. The Trib, the Observer, the Current, the Texas Freedom Network, the DMN, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

What do our elected officials think about the plan to kill off Medicare?

Hey, remember when this was a major campaign issue?

With all the other things we’ve discussed so far today, I wanted to return to one critical one. It’s not about mights or maybes or fears of what’s to come. It’s about what’s coming just after President-Elect Trump’s inauguration. Paul Ryan has been pushing to phase out Medicare and replace it with private insurance for several years. But now it’s real with unified Republican government. He just said he will try to rush it through early next year while repealing Obamacare.

[…]

I’ve heard a few people say that it’s not 100% clear here that Ryan is calling for Medicare Phase Out. It is 100% clear. Ryan has a standard, openly enunciated position in favor of Medicare Phase Out. It’s on his website. It’s explained explicitly right there.

Ryan says current beneficiaries will be allowed to keep their Medicare. Says. But after the cord is cut between current and future beneficiaries, everything is fair game. For those entering the system, Ryan proposes phasing out Medicare and replacing it private insurance with subsidies to help seniors afford the private insurance. That is unquestionably what it means because that is what Ryan says. So if you’re nearing retirement and looking forward to going on Medicare, good luck. You’re going to get private insurance but you’ll get some subsidies from the government to pay the bill.

Through all the gobbledygook and bamboozlement, you’ll find this line on Ryan’s page: “For younger workers, when they become eligible, Medicare will provide a premium-support payment and a list of guaranteed coverage options – including a traditional fee-for-service option – from which recipients can choose a plan that best suits their needs.”

This means, if you haven’t gone on Medicare yet, when you do, you won’t get Medicare. You’ll get a “premium-support payment” – i.e., a check that will allow you to buy insurance from private insurers. The “support” in the phrase means it won’t cover the whole amount. And in any case, rather than Medicare you’ll have insurance from an insurance company, which everybody should love because haven’t you heard from your parents and grandparents how bummed they were when they had to give up their private insurance for Medicare?

You’ll hear lots of people calling this “reform” and other catchwords. But Medicare is a single payer, universal health care system. Replacing it with private insurance means getting rid of it. Even calling it “privatization” masks what is really afoot.

Every Democrat should be focused and talking about it volubly both as a matter of policy and politics. There isn’t much time.

Yeah, I don’t remember that being a campaign issue, either. Maybe it was discussed in one of those emails that got deleted. But there it is, whether anyone realized it or not. If you need a bit of brush-up on what that means, see here and here.

Now then. The fact that this went basically undiscussed for the last year is unfortunate, but it’s where we are. There’s no time like the present to bring it out from under a rock and shine a little light on it. TPM is on that.

DC journalists tend to think this kind of story evolves in DC. And there’s plenty to follow in Washington. But the real action happens in the states and congressional districts where members of Congress have to sell getting rid of Medicare to their constituents. And that is going to come out in local media, constituent letters, public appearances and so forth. So let us know what you are seeing where you live. In the local paper, on TV, something you hear directly from a representative or senator. Find out where your representative or senator stands on this issue. We want to know.

I’d like to know, too. I live in CD18, and I feel as close to certain as it is possible to be that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee will not vote to “reform” Medicare. But there are 35 other members of Congress in Texas, most of them Republican. It sure would be nice to know what they think about this, and that includes the Democrats, who may claim to be as in the dark as some Republicans are now claiming to be. So why not give your member of Congress a call and ask them if they support the Ryan plan to privatize Medicare. You might point out to the Republican members that they have voted for it in the past. You might also point out that Trump himself has flipflopped on the issue and now supports it himself. Whatever answer you get, please let me know – [email protected] is the email address. Expect denial, ignorance, and sheer bullshit, but any answer you get is more information than we had before.

Precinct analysis: The RRC and the Libertarian moment

Back to precinct analysis, and the race that I featured in my post from yesterday, the Railroad Commissioner race. Here are the numbers:


Dist  Christian  Yarbrough  Miller  Salinas
===========================================
CD02    152,751     97,235  18,346    6,835
CD07    130,384     96,652  20,510    6,537
CD09     24,638     99,920   4,712    4,090
CD10     77,311     32,577   5,878    2,337
CD18     43,820    142,609   9,862    6,382
CD29     33,443     85,330   4,257    7,592
				
SBOE6   319,691    228,147  44,294   15,691
				
HD126    33,674     22,848   3,185    1,459
HD127    46,101     22,131   3,739    1,499
HD128    39,827     15,472   2,187    1,374
HD129    39,382     22,904   4,625    1,965
HD130    56,188     18,871   4,140    1,483
HD131     6,367     36,890   1,305    1,461
HD132    35,680     27,715   3,292    1,823
HD133    45,030     22,170   6,822    1,533
HD134    42,007     33,962  10,841    2,219
HD135    30,447     24,537   3,064    1,606
HD137     8,239     16,035   1,500    1,012
HD138    25,823     20,468   3,066    1,530
HD139    11,398     37,155   1,986    1,531
HD140     5,966     19,100     723    1,554
HD141     4,720     31,697     739      938
HD142     9,770     32,566   1,201    1,244
HD143     8,346     21,557     872    1,895
HD144    10,257     14,596     872    1,313
HD145    10,263     19,993   1,814    2,227
HD146     9,111     35,284   2,502    1,397
HD147    11,201     40,452   3,795    2,287
HD148    16,582     24,304   4,471    2,249
HD149    14,760     25,088   1,879    1,236
HD150    46,285     24,053   3,891    1,615
				
CC1      67,803    220,765  16,172    9,891
CC2     119,023    110,723  11,292   10,243
CC3     181,634    138,514  23,279    8,882
CC4     198,962    139,834  21,768    9,432


Dist Christian%      Yarb% Miller% Salinas%
===========================================
CD02     55.51%     35.34%   6.67%    2.48%
CD07     51.32%     38.04%   8.07%    2.57%
CD09     18.47%     74.93%   3.53%    3.07%
CD10     65.46%     27.58%   4.98%    1.98%
CD18     21.62%     70.36%   4.87%    3.15%
CD29     25.60%     65.33%   3.26%    5.81%
				
SBOE6    52.60%     37.54%   7.29%    2.58%
				
HD126    55.05%     37.35%   5.21%    2.39%
HD127    62.75%     30.12%   5.09%    2.04%
HD128    67.66%     26.29%   3.72%    2.33%
HD129    57.18%     33.25%   6.71%    2.85%
HD130    69.64%     23.39%   5.13%    1.84%
HD131    13.83%     80.16%   2.84%    3.17%
HD132    52.08%     40.45%   4.81%    2.66%
HD133    59.60%     29.34%   9.03%    2.03%
HD134    47.18%     38.15%  12.18%    2.49%
HD135    51.04%     41.13%   5.14%    2.69%
HD137    30.76%     59.86%   5.60%    3.78%
HD138    50.75%     40.22%   6.03%    3.01%
HD139    21.89%     71.36%   3.81%    2.94%
HD140    21.82%     69.85%   2.64%    5.68%
HD141    12.39%     83.21%   1.94%    2.46%
HD142    21.82%     72.72%   2.68%    2.78%
HD143    25.55%     65.98%   2.67%    5.80%
HD144    37.94%     53.98%   3.23%    4.86%
HD145    29.92%     58.29%   5.29%    6.49%
HD146    18.87%     73.06%   5.18%    2.89%
HD147    19.40%     70.06%   6.57%    3.96%
HD148    34.83%     51.05%   9.39%    4.72%
HD149    34.36%     58.39%   4.37%    2.88%
HD150    61.03%     31.71%   5.13%    2.13%
				
CC1      21.55%     70.17%   5.14%    3.14%
CC2      47.37%     44.06%   4.49%    4.08%
CC3      51.56%     39.32%   6.61%    2.52%
CC4      53.77%     37.79%   5.88%    2.55%

One thing I didn’t discuss in my previous post was whether Libertarian votes tend to come from people who otherwise vote Republican and Green votes tend to come from people who otherwise vote Democratic. There’s some support for that in the numbers above, as Libertarian candidate Mark Miller did better than Green candidate Martina Salinas in all of the Republican districts, but that wasn’t true in reverse, as he also beat her total in several Democratic districts. The clearest correlation appears to be that Salinas did best in the heavily Latino districts, which is a bit of corroborating evidence for my overall theory. Beyond that, I don’t see anything to contradict that hypothesis, but I don’t see anything to settle the matter.

What can one say about Miller’s top performances, in HDs 134, 133, and 148? Well, HD148 is where the Heights dry area is, and Gary Johnson ran well in that neighborhood, so it’s not too surprising that Mark Miller might have also. It may well be that these are the parts of town that have a higher concentration of people who read the Chronicle and takes its endorsements seriously. “Why” is a hard question to answer with just numbers, but if I had to guess those would be my top two reasons.

Coming up will be a look at judicial races, and after that the county races. As always, let me know what you think of these.

As long as we’re talking about improving our voting machines

Then this is what we should be talking about.

Dana DeBeauvoir

[Travis] County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir called Rice University computer science professor Dan Wallach, who has been poking holes in voting-machine security for years. He’s testified before Congress on the subject.

Now DeBeauvoir wanted him to design a new one.

“Wow,” he says. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

The last time voting technology went through a major design change was after the disastrous Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election. Confusion over badly designed and incompletely punched paper ballots threw the results into chaos.

In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, committing $4 billion to help localities buy new electronic voting machines.

“All of these machines, we understand now, are wildly insecure,” Wallach says. “Even though the vendors made claims that they were great, those claims have turned out to be false. And we’re now dealing with that problem.”

But replacing them costs money that many localities don’t have, and it’s not clear that Congress will pony up again.

So Wallach’s new system would have to be cheaper than what’s on the market now.

[…]

The system that the team of cybersecurity and usability experts came up with is called STAR-Vote, for secure, transparent, auditable and reliable.

It has two parts: A kiosk containing an off-the-shelf tablet computer and a standard inkjet printer, plus a metal ballot box with a built-in scanner.

Off-the-shelf parts keep the cost down and can be easily sourced and replaced. Wallach says the metal box costs more than all the electronic components inside it. The whole system should cost half or less what current machines do, which cost about $3,000 each.

Voters make their selections on the touchscreen tablet, which is kept off the internet and stripped of all software (and potential vulnerabilities) except the voting application.

State-of-the-art cryptography protects the integrity of the vote. But it’s not the only safeguard. Hard copy remains one of the most secure ways to cast a ballot.

“The crypto can do some really great tricks,” Wallach says. “But if you don’t trust the cryptography, that’s OK. Because we also have printed paper ballots that go into a box.”

Voters can see who the computer says they chose. The vote is only cast when the voter puts it in the ballot box.

And if there is any question about the electronic votes, the paper ballots are the backup.

This is nothing new – I wrote about it in July of 2014, and Wallach’s team made a presentation about STAR-Vote in August of 2013. The point is that this system, which is both more secure than what we have now while also being less expensive, could be in place for the 2018 election if we really wanted it to be. Given the lip service some Republicans like Greg Abbott are giving to election integrity, this is totally doable. You will know by what happens in the 2017 legislative session whether Abbott et al meant any of it or not.

(Disclaimer: As noted before, Dan Wallach is a friend of mine.)

Does it matter why infrastructure was improved?

I say no, but maybe that’s just me.

In the days leading up to the nation’s biggest sporting event, thousands of visitors will use Broadway to travel from the airport to downtown hotels and other spots. Work on gravel paths, trees and lighting is expected to be done by the end of the year, one of a series of projects across the Houston area aimed at polishing the city’s image.

It’s an effort that Hollinquest, 57, can appreciate. But she can’t help but think about the discolored, sagging second-story walkway in her apartment that isn’t being fixed.

Others living along the street talk about speeding cars putting pedestrians at danger, or the shooting that recently happened a block away from the corridor in daylight. They represent the real problems that will likely remain even after millions of dollars in infrastructure and beautification projects are completed, a juxtaposition that hasn’t gone unnoticed by residents.

“It’s a shame they want to improve stuff just because the Super Bowl is coming,” said Hollinquest.

Such spending raises a question of priorities, said Victor Matheson, a professor at Holly Cross in Worcester, Mass., whose research has questioned the economic impact of events like the Super Bowl.

Matheson acknowledges that the Super Bowl brings in necessary investment to neighborhoods that might not otherwise occur. But it tends to be in areas frequented by tourists.

[…]

The east side of downtown is being transformed with the investment of roughly $300 million in hotel taxes by Houston First, the city’s convention agency. A renovated George R. Brown Convention Center is having its façade opened up with walls of glass offering sweeping views of Discovery Green park and a reinvented Avenida de las Americas below, with the street shrinking from eight lanes to two to better accommodate pedestrians and restaurants boasting sidewalk patios.

The convention center and the adjacent Partnership Tower – a 10-story edifice, also built by Houston First – offer a good view of the new 1,000-room Marriott Marquis and an accompanying parking garage, which benefitted some from hotel tax revenue.

The area around NRG Stadium has also seen significant work. A redevelopment authority for the area around the stadium has raised more than $3 million for road maintenance, new sidewalks, trees, other greenery, new signs and LED street lights.

The city’s public works department is also carrying out $7.7 million in repairs on 3.8 miles of roads around the stadium – chiefly Main, Fannin, Cambridge and Westridge – either by laying fresh asphalt or replacing damaged portions of concrete streets.

I get that areas that are more visible to visitors are being prioritized, and that the areas that are getting worked have mostly needed it for a long time and still need more than what they’re getting. You do have to wonder how long some of this stuff would have been left undone had it not been for the Super Bowl. But in real life stuff gets done only because of some external stimulus all the time. Sometimes events do change priorities. And in this particular case, the cause of the changed priorities was also the source of some of the funding to pay for it. Most of what is being done will last well past the game itself. I say the fact that it all got done is what matters.

A theory about third parties

Before I get to that theory, have you ever wondered about the people who vote straight ticket Libertarian or Green in Harris County? I got to wondering about them, because that’s the sort of thing that I think about at times like this. Here are the total numbers of such people, grouped by Presidential and non-Presidential years, going back to 2000:


Year  Total votes  SP Lib  SP Green   Lib%  Green%
==================================================
2000      995,631   1,935     4,503  0.19%   0.45%
2004    1,088,793   3,343            0.31%
2008    1,188,731   4,017            0.34%
2012    1,204,167   4,777     1,759  0.40%   0.15%
2016    1,336,985   8,781     4,577  0.66%   0.34%

2002      656,682   1,159     1,399  0.18%   0.21%
2006      601,186   3,052            0.51%
2010      798,995   2,506     1,110  0.31%   0.14%
2014      688,018   2,922     1,180  0.42%   0.17%

“SP Lib” is the total number of straight party Libertarian votes, and “SP Green” is the same for the Greens. “Lib%” and “Green%” are the share of these straight party votes to all votes cast in the county. If you look at the election result pages on the HarrisVotes.com website, you will see that my percentages are lower than the ones shown there. That’s because they calculate the percentage of these votes as a share of all straight-party votes cast, not a share of all votes. I did it this way to see what if any trend there was for Libertarian and Green voting overall. For comparison purposes, 30.01% of all votes in Harris county this year were straight ticket Republican, with 35.35% of all votes being straight-ticket Democratic.

As you can see, in the Presidential years the Libertarians had been slowly ticking upwards, with a bit of a jump this year, though the trend is more erratic in the off years. The spike in 2006 is odd, because the Libertarian candidate for Governor received only 0.61% of the vote that year. If you wanted to vote outside the two-party box for Governor in 2006, you had plenty of choices. The Greens weren’t officially on the ballot in 2004, 2006, or 2008, so there’s less of a trend to spot. I’d say they do better in or right after a year where they have a Presidential candidate who gets some attention. Whether any of this will hold next year is not something I’m going to speculate about at this time. My mantra for the next twelve to eighteen months is “conditions in 2018 will be different than they were in 2014 and 2010”, and leave it at that.

That brings me to my theory, which applies to low profile races – not President, not Senate, not Governor, sometimes not other races. I’m limiting myself to statewide contests here, since that’s where you get most of the third party candidates that an individual voter sees. In my case, there was a Green candidate for CD18, a Libertarian for SBOE, and nothing else below the state level. I believe that in these races, which this year would be the Railroad Commission and the two state courts, voters for third party candidates can be broadly sorted into one of three groups. The first group is the party faithful, which as we have just seen is a relatively small cohort. There are probably a few more people who vote L or G as a first choice but don’t vote straight ticket, but that’s still a small group even in the context of just third party voters. Most of the people voting third party in these races aren’t voting third party as a matter of course.

So who are they? Group Two I believe is people who normally vote for Rs or Ds but who refuse to vote for their candidate in this particular instance. That may be because the candidate of their party is too/not sufficiently liberal/conservative for them, because that candidate supports or opposes a specific thing that is of great importance to them, because the candidate has ethical baggage, or because they just don’t like that candidate for some reason. In these cases, they don’t want to vote for the candidate of the other party, so a third party it is. Gary Johnson obviously got a lot of these votes in the Presidential race, but the downballot exemplar for this one was the Railroad Commissioner race, where Libertarian Mark Miller got a bunch of newspaper endorsements for being the most qualified candidate running.

The thing is, I don’t think there are that many races like that. I think in a lot of these races, people just don’t know anything about any of the candidates. So if you’re someone who (say) generally votes Democratic but aren’t that committed to it and you’re looking at a race for the Court of Criminal Appeals, you may say to yourself “well, I know I don’t want to vote for the Republican, but I don’t know who any of these other people are, so I’ll just pick one and move on”. These people are my Group Three.

What that says to me first of all is that both Republicans and Democrats are leaving some votes on the table in these downballot races by not doing a better job of getting their candidates’ names out there. That’s not much of a concern for the Republicans, who continue to win by double-digit margins, but it could eventually matter. I see this as an extension of a problem that Democrats are increasingly having in their primaries, where candidates like RRC nominee Grady Yarbrough have won races by a combination of pseudo-name recognition and random chance because no one knows who the hell these people are. I have many wishes for Texas Democrats going forward, and high on my list is for the party and the donor class to take these downballot primaries seriously.

One possible exception to this may be for Latino candidates. Look at the top votegetters for each party: Supreme Court candidates Eva Guzman and Dori Contreras Garza. My hypothesis is that Latino voters in a Group Three situation will choose a Latino candidate, even possibly one from their non-preferred party, instead of just randomly picking someone. Again, this is in races where none of the candidates are known to the voters, and thus there could be a different outcome if people had more knowledge. If we ever get to that point, maybe we’ll see that difference.

Finally, I believe my theory is consistent with the Libertarian candidate almost always doing better than the Green candidate does in these situations, for the simple reason that the Libertarian candidate appears on the ballot above the Green candidate. If it’s true that some people just pick a name after having moved past the first two candidates, then it makes sense that the first candidate listed after those two would get a larger share.

Anyway, that’s my theory. I could be wrong, and I doubt anyone other than me had given this much thought. I’ll get back to the precinct analyses tomorrow. Let me know what you think about this.

It’s bill-filing season

And they’re off.

Today is the first day of early filing in the Texas Legislature. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate may begin filing the bills that will be discussed when the legislature convenes in January 10, 2017. So how does that work and what does it mean?

For the most part bills are numbered in the order they are filed. However House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1 are reserved for the Appropriations Bill (the state’s budget) and the first several bills in each chamber are reserved for the Speaker’s priorities and the Lt. Governor’s priorities, respectively. Last session it was the first 40 bills in the House, so the first bill filed on early filing day was HB 41, and the first 20 bills in the Senate, so the first bill filed was SB 21.

There’s no real particular legislative advantage to filing on the first day. Once the session gets going and bills sent to committees they are typically referred in batches of a couple hundred. The House and Senate will send the few hundred bills filed today to committee in the first couple of days of referral and the dozen or so bills filed tomorrow will follow them the same day or the next. Since the chairs of committees have almost complete discretion about when to schedule bills for hearings, a bill filed today could easily be heard in committee after a bill filed tomorrow or three months from now – or not at all.

So why bother to traipse up to Austin to file a bill the first day?

The bills filed today aren’t an indication of what’s most likely to pass next session, but they are an indication of what will be the major topics of conversation. Today’s bills represent the top priorities for lawmakers – and, since every media outlet that covers the lege will run a “what got filed on the first day of early filing” article they are more so the top priorities of the lawmakers who really know how to capture the media’s attention.

That’s from Daniel Williams’ blog, and he has several other posts devoted to first-day filings. Daniel knows legislative procedures like Scott Hochberg knows school finance, so do yourself a favor and read his blog.

The Trib has a good rundown on what has been filed so far. There are actually a fair number that run the gamut from “not bad” to “really good”, though take heed of Daniel’s advice about how little Day One means. There’s also some demagoguery, and more than a few bills making a repeat attempt at passage, including such things as a statewide ban on texting while driving and a bill to authorize online voter registration. New hot topics include a bill to life the cap on special education enrollment, and a bill to authorize and regulate ride-sharing at the state level. There were more than one of those bills; the one that I’d keep an eye on is SB176 by Sen. Schwertner, who has been talking about this since the Austin rideshare referendum. His press release on the bill, which covers the basics of it, has some bombast over that referendum and a bit of BS about how local regulations of rideshare companies were restricting competition, but the bill itself seems reasonable enough. It’s not too hard to see the writing on the wall for this one, and all things considered this approach seems to be workable. Ask me again after it comes out of committee.

Anyway. There’s plenty more out there, and this is of course just day one. In the end, thousands of bills will be filed, and the vast majority of them will die a quiet death. There will be plenty to keep an eye on between now and sine die. The Chron, the Trib, Trail Blazers, Dallas Transportation, the Current, the Austin Chronicle, the Rivard Report, and Out in SA have more.

HISD: Meyers resigns, Lunceford un-resigns

Round and round we go.

Greg Meyers

Greg Meyers

HISD Trustee Greg Meyers, who has served on the school board since 2004, has resigned.

Meyers, who represents District VI for HISD and also served as board president in 2010, announced Thursday that he will vacate his position at the end of the year because he plans to move to a new house outside his current district.

“Every single day, every opportunity I try to commit myself to focus on kids first,” Meyers said. “While I may not be here physically, I will always be here to serve HISD.”

His term serving on the board was set to expire at the end of 2017. HISD Superintendent Manuel Rodriguez Jr. also announced that District V Trustee Michael Lunceford has decided to serve the remainder of his term through 2017, after previously considering resignation.

See here for the announcement that Lunceford was going to resign. As would have been the case with him, I expect the Board will choose an interim Trustee to fill the remainder of Meyers’ term, which expires at the end of next year. He wasn’t in any competitive elections since I began interviewing candidates, so I’ve never spoken to Meyers. Like Lunceford and the also-outgoing Harvin Moore, he represents a Republican district, so look for Republicans to line up to try to succeed him. Given recent trends, perhaps that will be a former City Council member. I’m sure people will begin making their interest known soon enough. In the meantime, I thank Meyers for his service and wish him the best in whatever comes next. The Press has more.

Precinct analysis: Hillary in Harris County

Let’s get started with the precinct data, shall we? Here’s a Chron story from the day after the election about how things looked overall in the county.

Hillary Clinton

The country’s most populous swing county turned a shade bluer Tuesday, when Hillary Clinton trounced Donald Trump in Harris County despite trailing nationally.

Clinton’s commanding victory here is a watershed moment for local Democrats who have struggled mightily to translate recent demographic shifts into gains at the ballot box.

It also is seen, by some, as a harbinger of potential political change across Texas.

Against the state’s crimson backdrop, Harris County has waffled between red in recent mid-term election years and light blue in presidential ones.

President Barack Obama broke the county’s 44-year Republican presidential voting streak when he won by less than 2 percentage points eight years ago. The offices of sheriff, county attorney and district clerk fell into Democratic hands then, too, as did a swath of judicial posts.

This year, Democrat Kim Ogg ousted Republican Devon Anderson in the highest-profile countywide contest, for district attorney, and Democrat Ed Gonzalez bested Ron Hickman for sheriff.

[…]

Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson emphasized that the party’s local candidates outperformed Trump in Harris County.

“With such a big headwind at the top of the ticket, we’re still doing fairly well down-ballot,” Simpson said, noting he believes this year is an aberration. “One election alone doesn’t tell you everything about the future.”

As Republicans prepare to battle back in two years, Simpson said the party will be eyeing where and why Harris County voters turned out, as Democrats focus, in part, on Hispanic voter participation.

“The question is whether or not these results were driven by disaffected conservative Republican voters that for this cycle voted Democrat, or is it something structural?” Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer said. “Are we seeing the beginning of that demographic shift that’s been written about for a very long time as an inevitability?”

Here’s a subsequent article with some maps for those of you who like to see the pictures. As we will see as we go through the data, Hillary Clinton definitely received Republican votes. My estimate of this remains thirty to forty thousand crossover votes overall. There were also some people who clearly voted for Gary Johnson instead of Trump. The combined effect of all this is such that going forward I will not be using the Clinton/Trump numbers as a way of measuring how Democratic or Republican a given district is. I’ll be using numbers from judicial races instead, as I did in yesterday’s post.

So with that said, let’s get to the numbers. I’ve got them grouped by districts – Congressional, State Board of Ed, State House, Commissioners Court, HISD as a whole, HISD District VII, and the part of the Heights that voted on the dry ordinance. Vote totals first, then percentages.


Dist      Trump  Clinton  Johnson  Stein
========================================
CD02    145,264  119,389   10,299  2,353
CD07    120,912  124,408    9,111  2,246
CD09     23,817  108,115    2,328  1,399
CD10     75,361   38,345    3,970    804
CD18     40,914  156,809    5,338  2,038
CD29     33,960   94,815    3,128  1,465
				
SBOE6   300,561  286,273   22,212  5,379
				
HD126    32,551   26,420    1,982    510
HD127    45,097   25,702    2,345    502
HD128    40,621   17,135    1,460    375
HD129    38,545   27,908    2,529    686
HD130    55,140   22,633    2,688    533
HD131     6,202   39,221      661    438
HD132    34,437   31,433    2,350    597
HD133    41,446   31,244    2,740    568
HD134    35,831   49,907    4,044    753
HD135    29,450   28,184    2,006    576
HD137     7,931   18,342      764    355
HD138    24,634   24,646    1,786    467
HD139    10,844   40,064    1,254    472
HD140     6,113   20,964      548    300
HD141     4,839   32,769      525    329
HD142     9,484   34,454      919    360
HD143     8,729   23,823      627    362
HD144    10,541   15,842      761    301
HD145    10,083   23,484    1,104    428
HD146     8,479   38,920    1,064    533
HD147     9,835   46,346    1,756    727
HD148    14,779   30,937    2,195    560
HD149    14,265   28,190    1,006    415
HD150    45,081   27,896    2,587    608
				
CC1      62,935  244,980    7,796  3,146
CC2     119,471  126,335    7,134  2,381
CC3     171,710  169,602   11,638  3,112
CC4     190,841  165,527   13,133  3,116
				
HISD    117,296  312,988   13,766  4,494
HISD 7   27,886   31,379    2,554    517
				
Heights   5,262   10,379    1,107    169


Dist      Trump  Clinton  Johnson  Stein
========================================
CD02     52.38%   43.05%    3.71%  0.85%
CD07     47.11%   48.47%    3.55%  0.88%
CD09     17.56%   79.70%    1.72%  1.03%
CD10     63.61%   32.36%    3.35%  0.68%
CD18     19.95%   76.46%    2.60%  0.99%
CD29     25.46%   71.09%    2.35%  1.10%
				
SBOE6    48.92%   46.59%    3.62%  0.88%
				
HD126    52.96%   42.99%    3.22%  0.83%
HD127    61.23%   34.90%    3.18%  0.68%
HD128    68.17%   28.75%    2.45%  0.63%
HD129    55.33%   40.06%    3.63%  0.98%
HD130    68.08%   27.94%    3.32%  0.66%
HD131    13.33%   84.31%    1.42%  0.94%
HD132    50.04%   45.68%    3.41%  0.87%
HD133    54.54%   41.11%    3.61%  0.75%
HD134    39.58%   55.12%    4.47%  0.83%
HD135    48.91%   46.80%    3.33%  0.96%
HD137    28.95%   66.96%    2.79%  1.30%
HD138    47.80%   47.83%    3.47%  0.91%
HD139    20.60%   76.12%    2.38%  0.90%
HD140    21.89%   75.07%    1.96%  1.07%
HD141    12.58%   85.20%    1.36%  0.86%
HD142    20.97%   76.20%    2.03%  0.80%
HD143    26.02%   71.03%    1.87%  1.08%
HD144    38.41%   57.72%    2.77%  1.10%
HD145    28.73%   66.91%    3.15%  1.22%
HD146    17.31%   79.44%    2.17%  1.09%
HD147    16.76%   79.00%    2.99%  1.24%
HD148    30.49%   63.83%    4.53%  1.16%
HD149    32.51%   64.25%    2.29%  0.95%
HD150    59.18%   36.62%    3.40%  0.80%
				
CC1      19.74%   76.83%    2.44%  0.99%
CC2      46.79%   49.48%    2.79%  0.93%
CC3      48.22%   47.63%    3.27%  0.87%
CC4      51.22%   44.42%    3.52%  0.84%
				
HISD     26.15%   69.78%    3.07%  1.00%
HISD 7   44.73%   50.34%    4.10%  0.83%
				
Heights  31.10%   61.35%    6.54%  1.00%

So as you can see, Clinton carried the following districts: CD07, HDs 134 and 138, Commissioners Court Precinct 2 (Jack Morman’s precinct), and HISD district VII. That doesn’t mean these districts are all suddenly ripe for Democratic takeovers. HD134 was basically ground zero for Republican crossovers – which is basically what I expected going forward. HD134 is almost entirely within CD07, and there’s a fair amount of overlap with HISD VII, so those districts will closely correlate. But as you’ll see with the rest of the numbers, there’s not much else there to get excited about. In fact, the average Democratic judicial candidate in CD07 got almost exactly the same percentage of the vote as James Cargas did against John Culberson. I wish it were not the case, but there’s just nothing to see there.

Now HISD VII is going to be a bit of a special case, because it normally exists only in odd-numbered years, where it will be more subject to variations in turnout and where the non-partisan nature of its elections means that a clear difference in candidate quality can make a difference. There were over 61,000 ballots cast in this district last week, with over 35,000 votes for one of the candidates. What might a runoff electorate look like? We actually haven’t had many HISD runoffs in recent years. Here are the ones I could find:

HISD III, 2015 – 6,189 votes
HISD I, 2009 – 9,730 votes
HISD IX, 2009 – 12,323 votes
HISD III, 2003 – 8,206 votes
HISD IV, 2003 – 16,246 votes

Note that all of those occurred at the same time as a Mayoral runoff, which helped increase overall turnout. The HISD VII runoff will be the only race on the ballot in December. This is a high-turnout district, but I wouldn’t expect much. Maybe eight to ten thousand votes overall.

Back on topic. HD138 and Commissioners Court Precinct 2 are both places where I do believe opportunities exist for Democrats. Both have demographic factors pointing in their direction, and the dropoff from Clinton’s performance to those of other Democrats is not as stark. I keep waiting for CC Precinct 3 to get more competitive, and it is moving that direction slowly, but the key word there is “slowly”. As with CD07 and HD134, don’t be distracted by Clinton’s strong showing in CC3.

Finally, did the Gary Johnson number in the precincts with the Heights dry referendum stand out to you? I live in the Heights, though not in the part that had this vote. I saw a lot more Gary Johnson signs than I’d ever seen for a Libertarian candidate before. I also saw no Trump signs in front of numerous houses where I normally see signs for Republican candidates. They still had signs – for Devon Anderson, for Republican judicial candidates, occasionally for Republican Constable candidate Joe Danna, but none for Trump. I’d say this was Ground Zero for the “not Trump, but not Hillary either” caucus.

More to come over the next week or so. Let me know what you think.

Pasadena voting rights trial begins

The Chron’s Mike Snyder provides an update.

Pasadena City Council

[This] week in a Houston federal courtroom, [the Voting Rights Act] will again be invoked in a challenge to an allegedly discriminatory council system, this time in a suburban city that’s undergone a dramatic demographic transformation.

The lawyers involved in the case, Patino v. Pasadena, will face off in an atmosphere of growing anxiety among activists struggling to preserve minority voting rights. Hampered by the Supreme Court’s 2013 invalidation of a key provision of the voting rights law, these advocates face uncertainty created by the election of Donald Trump as president.

“With Trump, you’re certainly not going to have a Justice Department we can go to if you see some (voting) irregularities,” said longtime Houston political consultant Marc Campos. “They’re certainly not going to be a friend we can count on in future litigation.”

[…]

Locally, even before Trump’s election, there were discouraging developments for voting rights advocates. In 2014, a federal court upheld the Pasadena school district’s system, in which all seven board members are elected district-wide.

And some witnesses at a hearing of the Texas Senate Education Committee last August suggested changing other public school district and community college system boards to at-large systems, generally seen as unfriendly to minority voting interests.

Last June, soon after the Supreme Court decision on the preclearance issue, Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell defied the advice of his advisory committee and pushed through a change to the council district system. Voters narrowly approved the change from a council of eight members, all elected from districts, to six district members and two elected at-large.

In the trial before U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal, attorneys representing a group of Latino Pasadena residents will try to prove the new system was intentionally discriminatory – a power play by Isbell and his allies to preserve their long-dominant influence.

The city contends it added at-large positions to provide better representation. The new system, city officials say, provides proportionate opportunities for Latinos. Of the city’s roughly 150,000 residents, 63 percent are Latino – up from 29 percent in 1990 – and 42 percent of registered voters are Latino.

See here for the background. Pasadena’s defense is basically the argument that was made in the Evenwel case, which was unanimously rejected by SCOTUS earlier this year. Here, though, that’s not really at issue. The plaintiffs are arguing – and need to prove – that there was intentional discrimination at work, which is a high bar to clear. The city is free to make a dumb justification for their actions, they just have to fend off the claim that they deliberately discriminated. We’ll see how that goes.

Looking towards the future, if this case ever does make it to SCOTUS, assuming no one else leaves the high court it would face a panel that’s about as hostile to voting rights as it was with Scalia on it. Which is not at all reassuring, but at least it wouldn’t be any worse. I will point out that while single-member districts are generally more favorable to minority communities, this is not always the case. I’ve just started working on a draft canvass of the Harris County election returns from Tuesday, but I can tell you that Hillary Clinton carried HISD – which as you know had that district-wide recapture referendum to vote on – by a three-to-one margin. I have not yet looked at other races, and I know for a fact that she got a non-trivial number of Republican votes, but I’d say the default Democratic level in the district was about two to one. There are nine HISD Trustee districts, and they too are two-to-one Democratic. Three districts are represented by Republicans today – Greg Meyers, Mike Lunceford, and Harvin Moore. It is likely, though not guaranteed, that this will continue to be the case after Moore and Lunceford depart. How many Republican trustees do you think there would be if HISD went to an at large system? Sure, this was a much higher turnout environment than usual, but still. The best you could say is that any GOP hopeful for an HISD Trustee position in an at large world would face an uphill battle. Just something to keep in mind.

Climate change will not be kind to Houston

It could be even worse, if that’s any consolation, but it will be bad as things are going now.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5105566

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5105566

Houston’s brutally hot summers, persistent humidity, floods and hurricanes never have been much of a selling point. It’s been something to endure.

In 50 years, scientists predict Houston’s climate will look a lot like what it does today, but amplified – more hot days, more downpours, more hurricanes, and more sea-level rise.

The frequency and ferocity of those events is the subject of scientific debate. But make no mistake: Climate change will alter Houston over the next century.

“I think the last year gave us a pretty good insight into the next decade,” said Gavin Dillingham, a Houston Advanced Research Center scientist working with the city to develop a sustainability plan. “There’s going to be significantly more flooding, summers that last longer, more vector-borne diseases. Zika could be just the beginning.”

The federal government’s most recent national climate assessment paints a rather grim portrait of Texas by 2100: a increase in the number of days over 100 degrees and more drought, particularly for West and North Texas.

Likewise, oceans are expected to continue to warm, adding fuel to potential hurricanes that come into the Gulf of Mexico.

Presumably, Houston will have some kind of hurricane protection system in place in 50 years, but that seems far from certain given the current pace of the “coastal spine” project. To better protect the Houston-Galveston area, the concept involves combining barriers and gates to lessen the effects of storm surge. For example, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Greater New Orleans Barrier was built to protect the city from storm surge.

Either way, climate science now suggests there will be less of the coast to protect in the future due to sea level rise. By 2100, estimates range for sea levels to increase on the Texas coast anywhere from a foot and half to 6 feet. At five feet, roughly 68 percent of Galveston would be underwater.

[…]

So just how hot will Houston get in the future?

The good news is Houston always will enjoy breezes from the Gulf of Mexico. The bad news is Houston is Houston.

“It will be warmer,” said state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon when asked what Houston might be like in 50 years. “One thing you’ll see is warmer minimum temperatures in the winter time. It won’t be as cold as it is now.”

So one day you might only need those sweaters you like to wear in the winter for when it’s overly air-conditioned. Sure is a good thing climate change is all a hoax, isn’t it?

Weekend linkdump for November 13

So apparently the Cubs winning the World Series represents a minor plot problem for one of Scalzi’s book series. It’s like that episode of Star Trek: TNG where Picard talks about Fermat’s Last Theorem still being unsolved, an assertion that became untrue five years after that episode aired.

The amazing story of a former MLB prospect who became a mob hitman.

RIP, Janet Reno, first woman to serve as US Attorney General.

The only thing cooler than a story about a forty-years-overdue library book being returned from Finland to Ohio is having such a story include quotes from a friend of mine.

“Several Latin American major leaguers have appeared in videos shared on social media stating their opposition to an international draft.”

One ginormous meteorite found on a Texas dude ranch.

“What will you do to fix the national epidemic of hateration in this dancerie?”, and other positive things that came out of this slog of a campaign.

Hello dog. Hello dog. Hello dog…”

Jane the Virgin’s Creator Rewrote a Scene to Feature a Clearer Instance of Consent Because of Donald Trump.

“Less than six hours after Donald Trump became the president-elect of the United States, a Russian hacker gang perhaps best known for breaking into computer networks at the Democratic National Committee launched a volley of targeted phishing campaigns against American political think-tanks and non-government organizations (NGOs).”

The Cinemax Theory of racism.

“While nowhere near as fateful for the country, a Trump presidency also is creating intrigue at Saturday Night Live, which will have to come up with a long-term plan for President-elect Trump’s portrayal for the next four years.”

RIP, Leonard Cohen, legendary singer/songwriter. 2016 can end any day now.

RIP, Alma Newsom, trailblazing news reporter who was among the first black women to anchor a Houston television broadcast.

RIP, Robert “Papa Bear” Edwards, founder of the San Antonio AIDS Foundation.

“By the time all the ballots are counted, she seems likely to be ahead by more than 2 million votes and more than 1.5 percentage points, according to my Times colleague Nate Cohn. She will have won by a wider percentage margin than not only Al Gore in 2000 but also Richard Nixon in 1968 and John F. Kennedy in 1960.”

Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

vote-button

There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.

(more…)

Zena Stephens

Congratulations to Texas’ first black female Sheriff.

Zena Stephens

Zena Stephens

While history was being made with the election of Donald Trump as president, Zena Stephens was making a little of her own in Southeast Texas by becoming the state’s first black female sheriff.

And it took three elections to do it.

In the March primary, Stephens knocked out the incumbent sheriff’s chief deputy, who was the favorite of law enforcement and had significantly outraised Stephens. In May, she bested an African-American constable in a runoff. Then on Tuesday she narrowly defeated a 39-year retired Beaumont police lieutenant to become sheriff of Jefferson County.

According to the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, which tracks the history of the office, Stephens is the first black woman elected sheriff in the state.

After her victory, she acknowledged the significance of her success.

“I think it is important, because I never saw anybody who looked like me in this role, or as a police chief, when I was growing up,” said Stephens. “And so the idea, not just for girls but for any minority, that you can obtain these jobs at this level, I think that’s important. And it’s important for these jobs in law enforcement and any job to reflect the community they serve.”

[…]

Texas’s first female sheriff was Emma Susan Daugherty Banister, who took office in Coleman County in 1918 after her husband died three months before his term as sheriff ended.

Loving County lays claim to the first elected female sheriff in the state, Edna Reed Clayton Dewees.

According to the county’s sheriff’s office, she was elected in 1945 and was known for never carrying a firearm and reporting only two arrests during her term.

Barbara Hayes Foreman was the first black female deputy sheriff in the state when she was appointed in 1977, according to Black Texas Women, a book published by the University of Texas Press in 1996. Foreman served in Travis County.

Stephens had previously been the chief deputy in Jefferson County before leaving to become the first female police chief at Prairie View A&M. She did have a narrow victory in the sense that she won by 51.44% to 48.56%, but that was actually the second-largest margin of victory for a D-versus-R race in the county. If you’re thinking you’ve heard the name “Zena Stephens” before, it’s probably because back in March, a couple of days before the primary, some racist yahoo fired a gun at her campaign headquarters; the story made national news. Thankfully, no one was hurt and said yahoo is now awaiting trial. Congratulations and best of luck to Sheriff-elect Zena Stephens.

Beto O’Rourke talking about the Senate

Another Democratic Congressman is thinking about trying for an upgrade.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, told The Texas Tribune he is considering running for the U.S. Senate.

“I am,” the sophomore congressman said when Tribune CEO Evan Smith asked if O’Rourke is thinking about running for Senate in 2018 or 2020.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is up for re-election in 2018, while John Cornyn, the U.S. Senate majority whip, will be up for re-election and a fourth term in 2020.

“Am I looking at one of those two races? Yes,” O’Rourke said Friday, but he declined to specify whether he would challenge Cornyn or Cruz.

[…]

O’Rourke is a fierce advocate for term limits. So much so, that he has repeatedly promised to leave office after four terms. That would put the end of his U.S. House career in 2021.

It is still an open question whether Democrats can mount a statewide campaign in Texas, where they haven’t won a statewide race since 1994. But O’Rourke is no stranger to uphill challenges: He ousted long-term U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a fellow Democrat, in 2012.

In Washington, O’Rourke is viewed as young, liberal and an independent player within his party’s caucus in the U.S. House.

The El Paso Democrat also has a knack for drawing national attention. Last summer, his Facebook page went viral as he live-streamed an impromptu U.S. House chamber “sit-in” for gun control from his iPhone. For hours, he broadcasted the events from the House floor, switching out batteries, to the point that when the protest ended, he joked about hand injuries.

The single most consequential factor in any Senate candidacy is an ability to fundraise. In his time running congressional campaigns, O’Rourke proved able but not overly dominant at the task.

Typically, he has brought in in the mid-six figures for his re-election. He topped out in his challenge to Reyes with about $700,000 raised.

I drafted this before Tuesday, so who knows if this is still operative, but let’s proceed as if it is. As we know, Rep. Joaquin Castro has also talked about running for Senate in 2018 against Cruz. I still have plenty of doubts about that given that he inhabits a safe seat and is on track for House Caucus leadership, but he continues to lay some groundwork for that. It’s nice to know people are at least thinking about it.

As for O’Rourke, I’ve had no complaints with his service in Congress. I think term limits are a crock, but if he himself wants out after a max of four terms, and if that desire has him thinking about higher office, I can’t argue with that. His fundraising in 2012 got a big boost from a group called the Campaign for Primary Accountability that took aim at several Congressional incumbents of both parties that they thought needed to be ousted; O’Rourke’s defeat of then-Rep. Silvestre Reyes was their biggest victory. I’ve not heard anything from this group since 2012, but O’Rourke (who has some family money as well) can stand on his own two feet, and would no doubt draw at least some national attention if he went after Cruz. That gun control sit-in will help him with the Democratic grassroots as well.

As for which Senate race O’Rourke should aim for if indeed he aims to move up, I can make a case for either one. Cruz has more detractors and could be vulnerable to losing some establishment Republican types for his constant grandstanding and lack of interest in any state issues, but we know off-year electorates have been rough on Dems. Of course, that may not be the case now – there’s at least a chance that 2018 could be more like 2006 than 2010 or 2014. Cornyn should have no trouble holding onto core Republican support and he hasn’t antagonized minority groups like Cruz has. At this point, who knows if 2018 or 2020 will be a better year for a Dem to run. If I were a classic back-room power broker, I’d tell Castro to run in 2018 and O’Rourke in 2020. I don’t have that kind of power, so I’ll just have to wait and see what they decide like everyone else.

(Rep. Mike McCaul, who has been busy lately buttressing his GOP primary credentials for his own possible run against Cruz in 2018. This could wind up being a very interesting race.)

Checking in with Ed Gonzalez

Also known as Harris County Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez.

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez will have a lot to do when he assumes the position of the county’s top cop in January.

He’ll have to rein in overtime pay, manage the Harris County jail population and win over the thousands of employees who backed his opponent in Tuesday’s election.

First, though, he plans to reactivate his peace officer’s license, which has been inactive since 2012.

“He will have to mail his application and pay a fee of $150 and take 40 hours of training including the basic state and federal law update,” said Gretchen Grigsby, spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. “Texas law will give him two years to do that.”

[…]

The county’s third sheriff in the last two years, Gonzalez will now turn his attention to managing the office and a sometimes-scandal-prone jail of nearly 10,000 inmates. The move could bring yet another seismic shift among the highest echelons of the department’s command staff.

“I haven’t finalized in my mind yet any thoughts on who I might keep or might not keep or bring in or anything like that,” Gonzalez said.

He said he hoped to meet with Hickman soon to assess operations at the department and have a transition framework in place within a week or so.

Observers will also be watching to see how Gonzalez fulfills pledges he made during the campaign to bulk up jail diversion programs and fight crime more effectively.

With county budget talks beginning in March, Gonzalez will have just a few months to get up to speed on the internal workings of a department of more than 4,600 employees and budget of approximately $483 million.

Harris County Budget Officer William Jackson said he would be meeting with Gonzalez and other newly elected officials to guide them through the budget process after they take office in January.

“Commissioner’s Court only approves the budget as a single number at the top,” Jackson said, explaining that if Gonzalez had different priorities, he will have flexibility to shift funds within his budget.

Gonzalez will also have address approximately 300 vacancies within the department, which has contributed to a crunch in staffing in both patrol and detentions, and said he would not rule out re-implementing measures former Sheriff Adrian Garcia – Hickman’s predecessor – had used to try to address jail overcrowding or other issues at the sheriff’s office.

“Everything needs to be considered and be on the table,” Gonzalez said, noting that Hickman’s reforms had caused both jail and patrol overtime to spike. “All that needs to be looked at.”

Like Kim Ogg, Ed Gonzalez had a strong electoral showing, but it’s not clear to me that he got crossover votes. Comparing his result to the judicial races, there were fewer undervotes in his race, so I’d say he probably just retained more of the Democratic base vote than the judicial races did. That was more than enough for a strong victory, and is perhaps a more accurate picture of Democratic turnout in Harris County in 2016, but it’s a slightly different dynamic than it was for Ogg.

Also like Ogg, Gonzalez will have a lot of issues to address beginning on Day One. He won’t face the kind of turnover that Ogg will face, which means he’ll retain the institutional knowledge and experience that already exists, but it also means he’ll have to work with a number of people who didn’t support him, and he’ll have to implement changes for an institution that may not want to change. The biggest challenge he faces is with staffing, and the single best thing that could happen to him is for the DA and the courts to send fewer people to the jail for him to have to find space and oversight for. Ogg will help with that, but it will be on Gonzalez to try to persuade the misdemeanor court judges to work with him. He can also implement some policies to facilitate early release for inmates that earn it, as his predecessor Adrian Garcia had done.

He’s going to have to deal with the challenge of mental illness among the inmate population, and especially among the people who cycle in and out of the jail. The old saw about the jail being the biggest mental health facility in Texas remains true, and unfortunately the results of the national election will not only not offer any help on that score, it’s a virtual certainty to make it worse. Also not going to get any better will be issues with undocumented immigrants and a large community of voters who supported Gonzalez in the election but deplore the current processes for checking immigration status and handing over some offenders to ICE.

There are things Ed Gonzalez can do as Sheriff to enable his success, and there are things that are beyond his control that will affect his success, like whether the misdemeanor court judges continue to treat the jail’s capacity as essentially unlimited. One factor that I’m less sure how to evaluate will be Gonzalez’s relationship with Commissioner’s Court. Steve Radack and the now-departed Jerry Eversole were Adrian Garcia’s biggest antagonists. I expect Rodney Ellis will be a strong ally, but he’ll also expect results. It’s not in his control either, but the best thing that could happen to Gonzalez could be another Democratic sweep in Harris County in 2018, ushering in misdemeanor court judges who are willing to give personal recognizance bonds, and maybe a second ally on Commissioners Court. We’ll see what he can do with what he’s got until then. The Press has more.

HD105 race remains unresolved

I hadn’t realized this was still an open question.

Terry Meza

Terry Meza

The ballots are still out in the race for Texas House district 105 between Republican Rep. Rodney Anderson and Democratic challenger Terry Meza.

The race for the west Dallas County seat remained virtually tied during Election Night. The incumbent Anderson leads by 120 votes with all precincts reporting.

Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole said the county still has 368 provisional ballots and 11 overseas ballots yet to arrive to be counted. The overseas ballots have until Monday to arrive at the elections office.

HD105 was in the second tier of legislative races I was watching on Tuesday. Only HD107, also in Dallas County, was won by a Dem, pending the outcome here. Making up a 120-vote deficit with 379 total votes left to count seems like a steep hill to climb, but if provisional voters are more likely to be Democrats, then it’s at least possible. For what it’s worth, Anderson led after early voting, but Meza led by almost 1000 votes on Election Day, thus making this a nail-biter. I’d say the odds of this one flipping are low, but not quite zero. Whatever does happen, a recount seems likely as well. We’ll see what happens when the race is officially canvassed.

Checking in with Kim Ogg

That’s District Attorney-elect Kim Ogg now.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg, still hoarse from shouting over the jubilant victory party crowd after winning her race for Harris County District Attorney, said Wednesday that her first order of business would be to evaluate and secure all of the evidence used in thousands of pending criminal cases.

Ogg, who will take over the largest district attorney’s office in Texas on Jan. 1, hopes to ward off the problems of unauthorized evidence destruction that emerged after it was discovered that deputies at the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office threw away evidence in hundreds of cases. Scores of cases that may have been affected have yet to be resolved.

“It’s so we know that cases that are pled or tried, after I take office, have the real evidence to back them up,” she said Wednesday.

[…]

“It’s a new day in Harris County,” [Tyler Flood, president of Harris County’s Criminal Lawyers Association,] said “I’m hoping Kim will bring transparency to a very secretive regime.”

Ogg sketched out broad agenda items Wednesday but said little about specific plans or possible command staff. She said she is putting together a transition team and was not ready to announce who would be helping her helm the agency, which employs about 600 people including 300 lawyers.

In addition to evaluating the security and veracity of evidence, Ogg said she would be reviewing the pending capital murder cases, including a handful of death penalty cases currently scheduled to go to trial in 2017.

Under her administration, she said, a team of prosecutors will look at the evidence, both damning and mitigating, before deciding whether to seek the death penalty.

“It’s a grave responsibility to undertake taking somebody’s life,” she said. “And I want more minds, and hearts, looking at these cases than just mine. So we’ll have a team.”

Ogg had the second-biggest day in Harris County on Tuesday, winning with 696,054 votes. That’s about 8,000 behind Hillary Clinton, and it means that like Clinton she received a fair number of crossovers. Getting a big vote total like that is both a mandate and a higher expectation level, so there are going to be a lot of eyes on Kim Ogg and what she does.

Not just locally, either. The Harris County DA’s race had a national spotlight on it going into Tuesday. A lot of that attention had to do with the DA’s prosecution of marijuana cases; Ogg as we know has outlined broad reforms for how cases like those will be handled. If she is successful at implementing those policies, it will be a big change and will likely have the effect of reducing the county’s jail population. I for one am looking forward to seeing her get started on that.

Ogg will have a lot on her plate from day one. There was a lot of turnover at the DA’s office after Pat Lykos won in 2008, and I expect there will be a lot more – some voluntary, some not – now that Ogg has won. For some insight on that, I recommend you read what former ADA (now defense attorney) Murray Newman says, from before and after the election. Transitions like this are opportunities for some people to settle scores and get grievances off their chests. That will likely result in a story or two that will be unfavorable to both Anderson and Ogg. I hope we can all keep people’s possible motivations in mind when we read those stories. Be that as it may, there will be a lot of new faces and new procedures at the DA’s office come January, and there will inevitably be some bumps in the road. How well Ogg manages the transition will go a long way towards setting the tone and laying the groundwork for implementing the real changes she wants to make.

One more thing: We all know that Ogg is a lesbian. Devon Anderson got into some hot water late in the campaign for bringing that up during a podcast interview. It hadn’t come up in either campaign before, and the vast majority of people in Harris County don’t care about anyone’s sexual orientation. But a few people with loud voices care A LOT about this sort of thing, and with Annise Parker back in the private sector (for now, at least), Kim Ogg is now the most high-profile elected official in Texas who is also a member of the LGBT community. That means she is the latest monster under Steve Hotze‘s bed, and she will be a target for people like Hotze and the hateful crap he likes to spew. I don’t know how that will play out, which is to say I don’t know how many people outside of Hotze’s little fever swamp will hear or care about anything he says, but I do feel confident saying that at some point during Ogg’s first term in office, he or someone like him will say or do something sufficiently disgusting that the rest of us will be forced to take notice. Be ready for it, that’s all I’m saying. The Press has more.

We may never know how the state did its court-ordered voter ID outreach

We sure don’t know how the money was spent on it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

On a television ad airing ahead of Election Day, Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos declares: “It’s voting season in Texas.”

The 30-second spot tailored by international public relations giant Burson-Marsteller is supposed to serve as a quick explainer to educate Texans on new voter ID requirements ordered by a federal court.

Yet, Cascos and state officials say they cannot reveal where the secretary of state’s office is spending taxpayer money to broadcast those ads and the names of an estimated 1,800 community groups partnering with Texas to circulate voter ID information at the local level.

Texas is using the lion’s share of a $2.5 million voter education effort on paid media and outreach to community organizations, but has refused over the course of months to provide details of how and where it’s spending public money for the public education campaign.

[…]

Texas’ main argument to withhold the information boils down to this: Burson-Marsteller drew up the plans and provided them to the state under contract as “proprietary” information.

A federal judge in August sealed records related to ad buy markets and community groups targeted to receive “digital tool kits” with updated voter ID information. The secretary of state’s office has since used the court seal as one of its reasons to deny media inquiries for the information.

Along with documents related to the current outreach program, the secretary of state’s office has refused to disclose information related to ad buys and market placement for a voter education campaign in 2014, the first statewide election cycle in which the voter ID law was used. The agency also will not release the name of a state lawmaker it wrote a letter addressing details of the 2014 education effort.

See here for some background. I’m sorry, but public money being spent by a public agency is something the public should know about. If Burston-Marstellar couldn’t handle the job without fear of having its “proprietary” secrets revealed, then we should have hired a different firm. I don’t even see the argument for secrecy here. And then there’s this:

According to a court document, Texas planned to send “digital tool kits” to 1,800 community groups with updated voter ID information as part of a strategy that “capitalizes on the connections community groups and organizations have to share information.”

Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said her organization was never contacted by the secretary of state’s office or Burson-Marsteller, despite being one of the largest active groups doing voter outreach.

“We’ve had many communications with the secretary of state’s office on this,” she said, “and it is a bit surprising they’re engaging with community organizations and not including us.”

On Friday, the secretary of state’s office said it had sent out more than 1,800 digital tool kits to date and that the agency has been in regular contact with the League of Women Voters of Texas, including sharing information about its education efforts and having Cascos speak at events with local chapters.

In the absence of a detailed accounting of how the money was spent, we are forced to take the SOS’s word for it that they have done what they were supposed to do. I see no reason why we should do that.

Initial thoughts: Statewide

vote-button

See part 1 on Harris County here.

The current statewide tally is Trump 52.39%, Clinton 43.34%. She received 3,848,617 votes to his 4,651,955. That’s an improvement of some 540K votes over Obama in 2012, which I certainly would have deemed acceptable going into Tuesday, while he added about 100K to Mitt Romney’s score. As with Harris County, there were clearly some crossovers, as the other statewide Republicans received about 4.75 million votes. I’d guess the crossover number is in the 100K range as well.

Due to those crossovers, as well as the usual dropoff from the top, the downballot Dems didn’t do as well as Clinton, ranging from 3,337,411 votes for Grady Yarbrough (38.36%) to 3,580,358 for Dori Contreras Garza (41.14%); other Dems ranged in between, with all but one clearing 3.4 million. Which is an increase of about 300K over downballot Dems in 2012, but downballor Rs who had Dem opponents improved by about 400K. There’s still work to be done here, and part of it I think just involves ensuring that good candidates who want to run a real campaign 1) survive the primary, and 2) have sufficient resources to at least get their names out there. Both of these will require an investment in money and campaign infrastructure. I’d hoped that the Clinton campaign would be able to help with that post-November, but that ain’t happening now.

One more point about the crossovers is that doing direct comparisons between Obama/Romney in 2012 and Clinton/Trump in 2016 will be tricky and often misleading. Comparing statewide judicial results will be a little better, though the range of results this year makes that tricky as well. I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

Looking at my sidebar, I’d say the last YouGov poll, which had it at Trump 50,3, Clinton 42.4, was probably the most accurate. The polls of the state were all over the map, but not really any worse than they were elsewhere. Mark Jones basically nailed it in the Texas Monthly expert roundup, with Cal Jillson and Mary Beth Rogers right behind. Technically, GOP pollster Bryan Eppstein was about as accurate as those latter two, but he threw in a prediction of 7.5 million turnout, which was off by over 1.3 million, so I’m knocking him down a notch for that.

In terms of the races I was watching, the pickings were slim but not non-existent. The Dems won the four “back to parity” legislative races plus HD107 in Dallas County, thus bringing their numbers back to the 2012 level of 55. (Actually, it will dip down to 54 again after Rep. Dawnna Dukes resigns; it will revert to 55 after a Democrat wins that special election.) HDs 105 (120 votes) and 115 (1,115 votes) were the closest, but no cigar.

Dems also picked up two appellate benches, in the Fourth and Thirteenth districts. None of the candidates whose districts included Harris County won, with Barbara Gardner (48.94%) coming closest. If Dems in Harris County can build on this year, those seats ought to be winnable in 2020.

Sadly, neither Jon Harris in Edwards County nor Cedric Watson in Waller County emerged victorious. Waller County went more strongly for Trump (62-34) than it did for Romney (57-41), which probably didn’t help Watson’s cause.

Also in the close-but-not-quite bucket was the SBOE 5 race, where incumbent Ken Mercer held on by four points despite failing to reach fifty percent. Like Harris County, Bexar County was a Democratic sweep, though the part of this district that touches Bexar is pretty strongly Republican. Still, with a dominant performance in Travis County, this district could be won next time with an improvement in Bexar and some way of limiting the damage in Comal and Guadalupe.

The theme of the national election is very much about an urban/rural divide between the voters, and a brief survey of the Texas urban counties bears that out. I’ll go into more detail in another post, but Dems definitely gained ground in the big urbans; Harris’ sweep is testimony to that, but it wasn’t the only place that this happened. I’ll need to spend a little more time figuring out where the Dems fell back.

Two last points of interest. The strangest result I saw on Tuesday was in HD66, in Collin County. Not because of the result itself – the Republican incumbent won with a decent though not overwhelming margin – but because of the stark difference between the early vote and the Election Day vote:


Name                     Early  Early%   E Day  E Day%   Total  Total%
======================================================================
Matt Shaheen (I)   REP  24,609  49.40%  15,613  77.36%  40,222  57.46%
Gnanse Nelson      DEM  23,112  46.39%   3,950  19.57%  27,062  38.66%
Shawn W. Jones     LIB   2,091   4.19%     620   3.07%   2,711   3.87%

I’ve never seen anything like that. None of the other races in Collin County showed anything remotely similar. Either this was a weird quirk or something is wrong with the data.

And finally, here are two stories in the Trib about the Democratic and Republican reactions to Tuesday’s events. Even scarier than “President Trump” is the realization that there’s basically no backstop on these guys any more. The upcoming legislative session is going to be so much worse now. On that cheery note, I’ll bring this to a close.

Initial thoughts: Harris County

vote-button

I’m still not quite ready to resume regular blogging. I’ve got a few things drafted from before the election, several of which are non-political, that I’ll begin to put in the queue, and a couple of ones that were political that may need to be amended now. For the time being, I’ve got some initial thoughts on the county and statewide races. This is the first of those.

You can see the election night returns for Harris County here; at some point, presumably after the results are officially canvassed, these will go into the Election Archives with a date-based URL. But for now, click that link and scroll through if you want to see what I’m talking about.

So Hillary Clinton led Harris County by 100,000 votes and ten points after early voting, but while nearly every Democratic countywide candidate (all but Ann Harris Bennett) also led as of 7 PM on Tuesday, they all had much smaller margins, and could have wound up losing if the Election Day turnout had favored Republicans. That was not the case – other than Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who led well into the night, and a couple of judicial incumbents who had small leads in absentee balloting, Democrats won each phase, with Election Day being the best of the three, in percentages if not always in absolute votes. It was clear from Clinton’s dominating performance in Harris County – she carried the county by over 12 points and 160,000 votes – that she got some Republican crossovers. Here’s a quick comparison:

Trump = 544,960 votes
Clinton = 706,471 votes

Avg R countywide judicial candidate = 605,112 votes
Avg D countywide judicial candidate = 661,403 votes

There was a fair amount of variance from race to race, the R statewide candidates did a little better, and some Republican voters clearly went for Gary Johnson, who collected 3.04% of the total. Putting it all together, I’d estimate that 30,000 to 40,000 people who generally voted Republican downballot voted for Hillary Clinton.

Now, the judicial candidates improved their performance as well. In 2008, the average Democratic judicial candidate got about 590,000 votes. In 2012, it was in the low 570’s – sorry, I’m too lazy to go back and recalculate it – with the high score being about 581,000. That’s about 90,000 more votes than 2012, with the Republican judicials (who averaged in the 560’s in 2012) improving by about 40,000 votes. If Harris County was like a swing state in 2012, it was more like a light blue state this year.

What does that mean going forward? Well, it’s now the Republicans who have been shut out in the Presidential year cycle, and that’s going to be a problem for them in 2020 unless something changes. For 2018, Democrats still have to solve the turnout issue, but 1) it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are just more Dems in Harris County than ever before, and 2) with Democrats being the out party nationally, one would think the off-year turnout dynamic might be a bit different than it was in 2010 and 2014. That’s getting way ahead of ourselves, but the bottom line is that I see no reason why Dems can’t break through in two years. Which is not the same as saying that they will, but they can and in some sense they should. Ask me again when 2018 rolls around.

All that said, it should be noted that while turnout was at a record level in absolute terms – 1,336,985 total ballots cast – it was down from 2012 in percentage terms, 61.25% this year versus 61.99% in 2012. There’s still work to be done and room for improvement.

Other thoughts, in no particular order:

– I figured Sarah Davis would hold on in HD134, and she did indeed, winning by ten points and 9,000 votes. It was closer after early voting – she basically doubled her lead on Election Day. My guess when I get the canvass report is that Hillary Clinton carried HD134 by a narrow margin.

– Maybe HD144 isn’t such a swing district after all, as Mary Ann Perez romped to an easy win with 60.23% of the vote. Holding that seat in 2018 needs to be a top priority, and addressing the off-year turnout issue as noted above would go a very long way towards achieving that.

– HD135 needs to be on the radar in 2018, too. With basically no money or attention, Jesse Ybanez got 45.14% of the vote, which was better than Adrian Garcia did in HD135 in 2012, and nearly five points better than President Obama did in that district that year. I don’t know yet how things looked in HD132, the other district where Dem performance improved in 2012 over 2008 as there was no Democratic candidate for that seat, but right now I’d classify HD135 as a better pickup opportunity in 2018 than HD134 is.

– Another main target for 2018 needs to be Jack Morman’s seat on Commissioners Court. The HCDE Trustee race in Precinct 2 was my proxy for this. Alas, Sherrie Matula fell just short – I mean, she lost by 587 votes out of 247,773 total – but I think it’s fair to say that a strong candidate and progress on turnout could do it. You know who I want to see run here, so we’ll just leave it at that.

– As noted yesterday, Anne Sung will face John Luman in the runoff for HISD Trustee in District VII. Sung received 46.80% of the vote to Luman’s 29.25%; Victoria Bryant was in third with 17.03%, so Sung was a smidgeon ahead of the two top Republicans. I can’t wait to see the canvass data for this one, but there are two things to keep in mind. One, the universe of voters will be much smaller in December, and two, there were 35,819 votes cast in this race with 25,230 undervotes. That is, over 40% of the people who had this race on their ballot did not vote in it, most likely because they didn’t know anything about it or because they voted straight ticket and didn’t scroll down the ballot from there. That won’t be the case in December. If a precinct analysis shows that Hillary Clinto carried that district, it will be hard to see those undervotes as anything but a missed opportunity; Sung fell short of a majority by about 1200 votes, so it wouldn’t have taken much to push her across the finish line.

That’s it for the county. I’ll look at the state in the next post. Stace has more.

Dems sweep Harris County

Hillary Clinton had a 100K lead in early voting in Harris County, and increased her lead as the night went on. The only countywide Republican who was leading early on was Mike Sullivan, but later in the evening, at the time when 80% of the Election Day vote was in, Ann Harris Bennett caught and passed him. Kim Ogg and Ed Gonzalez won easily, Vince Ryan was re-elected easily, and all Democratic judicial candidates won.

The HISD recapture referendum went down big, the Heights referendum to update the dry ordinance won, and Anne Sung will face John Luman in a runoff for HISD VII. Statewide, Clinton was trailing by about nine points, and with a ton of precincts still out was already at President Obama’s vote level from 2012. Dems appear to have picked up several State House seats, though not the SBOE seat or CD23. Clinton also carried Fort Bend County, though she had no coattails, and Commissioner Richard Morrison unfortunately lost.

I’m too stunned by what happened nationally to have anything else to say at this time. I’ll be back when I recover.

Races I’ll be watching today, non-Legislative edition

vote-button

This is my companion to yesterday’s piece.

1. SBOE district 5

I’ve discussed the SBOE races before. This particular race, between incumbent Ken Mercer and repeat challenger Rebecca Bell-Metereau, is the one that has the closest spread based on past performance, and thus is the most likely to flip. If it does flip, it would not only have a significant effect on the SBOE, which would go from 10-5 Republican to 9-6, with one of the more noxious members getting ousted, it would also cause a bit of a tremor in that this was not really on anyone’s radar going into 2016. Redistricting is supposed to be destiny, based on long-established voting patterns. If those patterns don’t hold any more, that’s a big effing deal.

2. Appeals courts

I’ve also talked about this. The five courts of interest are the First, Fourth, Fifth, 13th, and 14th Courts of Appeals, and there are multiple benches available to win. I honestly have no idea if having more Democrats on these benches will have a similar effect as having more Democrats on the various federal appellate benches, especially given that the Supreme Court and CCA will most likely remain more or less as they are – I would love to hear from the lawyers out there about this – but I do know that having more Dems on these benches means having more experienced and credible candidates available to run for the Supreme Court and CCA, and also having more such candidates available for elevation to federal benches. Building up the political bench is a big deal.

3. Edwards County Sheriff’s race

Jon Harris is an experienced Democratic lawman running for Sheriff against a wacko extremist in a very Republican county, though one with a small number of voters. This one is about sanity more than anything else.

4. Waller County Sheriff’s race

I’ll be honest, I didn’t have this one on my radar until I read this Trib story about the race, in which the recent death of Sandra Bland is a factor. Waller County went 53-46 for McCain over Obama in 2008, though the Sheriff’s race that featured a problematic Republican was a lot closer. It was 58-41 for Romney, which is close to what it was statewide. Democratic challenger Cedric Watson will have to outperfom the countywide base to defeat incumbent Glenn Smith, it’s mostly a matter of by how much he’ll have to outperform.

5. Harris County Department of Education, Precinct 2

There aren’t any at large HCDE Trustee positions up for election this year, so I haven’t paid much attention to them. This race is interesting for two reasons. One, the Democratic candidate is Sherrie Matula, who is exceptionally qualified and who ran a couple of honorable races for HD129 in 2008 and 2010. And two, this is Jack Morman’s Commissioner’s Court precinct. A win by Matula might serve as a catalyst for a strong candidate (*cough* *cough* Adrian Garcia *cough* *cough*) to run against Morman in 2018.

6. HISD District VII special election

You know this one. It’s Democrat Anne Sung versus two credible Republicans and one non-entity who hasn’t bothered to do anything other than have a few signs put up around town. One key to this race is that it’s the only one that will go to a runoff if no one reaches 50% plus one. Needless to say, the conditions for a December runoff would be very different than the conditions are today.

7. HISD recapture and Heights dry referenda

I don’t think any explanation is needed for these.

What non-legislative races are on your watch list for today?