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Richmond Rail Effect followup

There seems to be some confusion about what I was trying to show with my posts on the Richmond Rail Effect from this past election. I think way more is being made about what I said and what the data says than I intended. Let me try to clear this up.

My thesis was very simple: Would John Culberson’s vehement anti-Richmond rail stance help him in the precincts that immediately surround the affected stretch of Richmond Ave? Rich Connelly summed up what I was looking for in his Houston Press article on Jim Henley:

Usually [the inner-loop neighborhoods along Richmond] could be relied on for some Democratic support, but they are mightily pissed at Metro for trying to build a light-rail line through their neighborhoods. Culberson has made clear he agrees with them, and if reelected he’d be a formidable ally for the residents.

In other words, much of the area right around Richmond, especially in Montrose, is Democratic. Under normal circumstances, Culberson would expect to do poorly in them. The one thing that might change this dynamic is a hyperlocal issue that directly affects the people living there – the proposed construction of a light rail line on Richmond Avenue.

So imagine you’re a typical Montrose liberal who happens to oppose rail on Richmond. Normally, you’d support Jim Henley against John Culberson because Henley is more in tune with your general belief system. But not this year. This year, you don’t care about Iraq or immigration or gay marriage or the culture of corruption or any of those other things. This year, you will break out of your normal habit of pushing the Democratic button, at least in this election (and maybe one other), because you care more about that damned light rail line than you do about those other things, and you know that Culberson has promised to do everything in his not-inconsiderable power to keep it out of your front yard. It’s as simple as that.

And that’s what I was looking for in the data – any evidence that the normal partisan preference for those areas might have changed this year, in this election. If so – if Culberson had gained support in places like the liberal Montrose precincts – I would have concluded that his vocal anti-Richmond rail stance had won over people who would not otherwise be inclined to vote for him. I’d come to that conclusion because what else could explain it? Nothing that I can think of.

The rest you already know. There is no evidence in the precinct data to support the idea that being anti-Richmond rail moved votes into Culberson’s column. He lost support in every precinct surrounding Richmond except for Afton Oaks. He lost votes overall in the surrounding area. He underperformed relative to other Republicans in those precincts, meaning that it wasn’t the case that it was just the bad year for the GOP that did him in. He even lost support in the precincts along Westpark, just as he lost support along Richmond. In short, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that being anti-rail on Richmond was a winning issue for Culberson. Which is what I’ve been saying all along.

As for Martha Wong, I’d agree that the Richmond rail issue was not as big a deal in her campaign as it was in Culberson’s. But her position was no secret:

Houston Chronicle, February 17:

Some 350 people arrived in cars, buses and light rail trains Thursday to hear 28 of them advise the Metro board on whether its planned University line should go on Richmond Avenue.


State Rep. Martha Wong, one of five elected officials who spoke, also favored Westpark. Wong said many small businesses on Richmond would suffer while Westpark has relatively few to be affected.

“We voted on it to go down Westpark, and we feel you ought to follow the vote,” said Wong, R-Houston.

Houston Chronicle, March 16:

Opponents of a Metro light rail line being considered for Richmond Avenue found no allies in their fight to reroute the line to Westpark Drive at West University Place’s City Council meeting Monday.

State Rep. Martha Wong, R-District 134, and a small contingent of business owners and stakeholders trying to stop Metro from placing its University Line project along Richmond Avenue appeared before the council to gauge the city’s interest in joining them in their effort to route the line on Westpark.

Houston Chronicle, August 17:

[West University] Council voted unanimously to support the Metro Solutions Transit Plan to construct the University Corridor light rail line along Richmond Avenue, a topic that has been emotionally debated, particularly by southeast residents.


[Council member Mike] Woods criticized state Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, saying he feels Wong’s apparent support of a Westpark rail alignment does not represent the interests of West University.

“In the spring, she came before council stating her support for a Westpark line and asking for ours,” he said. “I don’t feel that rail on the Westpark side is in the best interest of Greater Houston. Rail is a regional issue, and the discomfort to immediate areas during construction is unfortunate but inevitable to the success of an effective rail system.”

Houston Chronicle, September 22:

On another issue during the debate, Cohen deflected a question about whether Metro’s University light rail line should run on Richmond, saying that the Legislature has nothing to do with Metro.

Wong reproached Cohen, saying the Legislature authorized the creation of local transit authorities in 1973.

And finally, Blue Bayou related a conversation between Wong and one of her constituents, who favored rail on Richmond.

Basically, anyone who paid any attention to the issues in this affluent, educated, well-informed district knew who stood where. And again, if there was any propensity for voters to override their normal preferences based on opposition to rail on Richmond, it simply does not show up in the precinct data. Wong did worse than Culberson in these areas. And again, as before, I can’t say that being against rail on Richmond cost Wong votes, but I can and do say that it did not gain her any.

I hope this clears things up. Any questions, let me know.

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  1. Evan says:

    Charles —

    I know you’ve been claiming not to be overstating the case, but I think the wording of your previous posts leaves your reader with the idea that rail on richmond helped Henley. See, eg, Jim Henley’s comment: “I live in the Castle Court neighborhood off Richmond and I knew that Culberson’s position would cost him votes here” to your original post.

    Your own comment to Kevin: “But my point is that Culberson himself made rail on Richmond an issue in this race, and he claimed to have popular support for it. The returns from this election show there’s not a scrap of evidence to bolster that position; quite the reverse, in fact.”

    This sentence just isn’t true. Whether the issue switched votes or not is an entirely separate issue from whether light rail on Richmond is popular. Concluding anything about one based on the other is a mistake.

  2. Evan,

    Henley drew his own conclusions. We can agree or disagree with what he said, but it’s still not what I said.

    As for my response to Kevin, as we all know Culberson was specifically claiming popular support from people who lived on or near Richmond as part of his basis for opposing the line there. I refer you to the Houston Chronicle, August 3:

    Culberson said he met with Wolff and Metro CEO Frank Wilson in Washington on July 13, and he was asked to endorse a Richmond alignment. But, he said, overwhelming opposition from constituents who contacted his office convinced him he could not support the line.

    He said 90 percent of the people who corresponded with his office on the issue voiced opposition to a Richmond alignment, including 97 percent of people who live, work or own property on Richmond.

    Flanked by opponents of the Richmond line – including Afton Oaks resident Chris Seeger and members of the Mobility Coalition for Quality of Life – Culberson said the opposition to the line his office has received, along with the language of the 2003 Metro Solutions referendum, were factors that led to his decision.

    Culberson has since backed off that “97%” claim. It’s his statement that Richmond rail was not popular among the people who live there that I’m challenging, and I say the data is clear. I don’t know what else to say.

  3. Ryan Goodland says:

    So essentially, your argument is that there is substantial opposition to rail on Richmond. It’s just that the people who oppose rail on Richmond voted for politicians who support rail on Richmond and against politicians who oppose it, and by higher margins than in previous elections.

    Think about the above paragraph for a second.