Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Election 2010

The Green Party owes Ken Paxton a thank-you note

He did them a solid, that’s for sure.

Turns out it is easy being Green

In the legal fight to exclude minor party candidates from the November ballot, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton took a flexible view of time and deadlines.

After the Texas GOP filed suit Aug. 21 to remove 44 Libertarians from the ballot for failure to pay a required candidate filing fee, Paxton told the Texas Supreme Court that there was plenty of time to pursue the challenge.

This week, however, Paxton told the same court that a Democratic bid to oust three Green Party candidates — filed four days before the unsuccessful GOP challenge — was begun much too late and needed to be overturned.

“The (Democrats’) dilatory conduct and unjustified delay in seeking relief imposed an undue burden on the Green Party officials,” Paxton told the court in a brief filed Monday.

[…]

[F]acing an Aug. 21 deadline to declare candidates ineligible, Democrats sued Aug. 17 to strike three Greens running for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and Railroad Commission.

The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals gave the Greens less than 48 hours to respond, then issued an Aug. 19 order declaring the three Green Party candidates ineligible for failure to pay the filing fee. The 2-1 ruling had two Democrats in the majority and one Republican dissenting.

The ruling drew the notice of Republican Party leaders, who quickly demanded that Libertarian leaders drop a long list of candidates for the same reason.

When those demands were rejected, Republican organizations and candidates asked the 3rd Court of Appeals to follow the precedent set in the Democratic challenge and order the Libertarians removed from the ballot.

But the GOP filed its challenge on Aug. 21, the deadline to declare candidates ineligible, and the appeals court tossed it out, ruling that there wasn’t time to hear from all parties and gather the necessary information before the deadline expired.

The GOP turned to the Texas Supreme Court, arguing that instead of challenging candidate eligibility under an expired deadline, it was challenging the Libertarians’ candidate applications as improper — giving them until Sept. 18 to seek court intervention.

Paxton, in a letter brief to the Supreme Court, agreed with the GOP interpretation of state election law.

“Under Texas law, there is still time for this Court to compel compliance,” Paxton told the court on Sept. 4.

The all-Republican Supreme Court disagreed, ruling Sept. 5 that the GOP and Paxton were looking at the wrong section of the Election Code on deadlines. The court concluded that the Libertarians could not be removed from the ballot because the GOP challenge was filed too late.

[…]

Then on Friday, the Green Party asked the Supreme Court to reinstate its three candidates, arguing that like the GOP, the Democrats relied on the wrong part of the Election Code, rendering their challenge void as well.

The court asked Paxton’s office for its opinion.

In Monday’s response, filed 10 days after arguing that the GOP had not acted too late in challenging Libertarian opponents, Paxton urged the court to reinstate the Green candidates because the Democrats waited too long to act and because the 3rd Court of Appeals engaged in a rushed process that didn’t give the Greens, other political parties and other candidates time to weigh in.

“The 3rd Court abused its discretion,” Paxton wrote.

The Supreme Court’s one-paragraph order to reinstate the Green candidates did not explain the court’s rationale.

See here for the background. We expect SCOTX to publish its opinion on this ruling today, so we may get some idea if it’s all a bunch of sophistry or if they can make a principled argument that the Greens were deprived of their right to respond to the Dems’ legal action in a timely manner, which was a part of the ruling against the GOP in the Libertarian purge attempt. That Ken Paxton was willing to be morally and conveniently flexible on the subject should come as no surprise, given everything we know about him and his character. The Republican Party of Texas has a longstanding willingness to help the Greens whenever they think it might benefit them. This time that support came from an elected official instead of a deep-pocketed donor. Whatever works.

There was a debate in the comments of the last post about ranked choice voting (RCV) being a solution to this kind of legal gamesmanship. The theory is that since the people who voted Green or Libertarian (or independent, or whatever else may have been on the ballot) would still be able to express their electoral support for whichever major party candidate they like as their backup selection, which in turn would reduce the incentive for the major parties to bump them off the ballot. The logic has merit, though the lack of RCV around the country means there’s no data to test that hypothesis.

In this case, the argument that had been made by both the Ds and the Rs is that the other parties’ candidates had violated the law by not paying the newly-mandated filing fees – you may note, the Dems did not challenge the three Greens who did pay their filing fees, just the three candidates who had not – and there is a long history of candidates being challenged because they failed to meet eligibility requirements. If the filing fee law continues to survive the lawsuits against it, and there are Greens and Libertarians who refuse to comply with it in 2022, I would fully expect them to be taken to court again, surely in a more expeditious fashion, and I would expect that even in an RCV-enabled world. This is a basic tool in the political toolbox, one that I would not expect to go away if the method of determining the winner of an election changes. That too is a testable question, and perhaps one day we’ll have an answer for it. For now, that’s how I see it.

SCOTX puts Greens back on the ballot

That sound you hear is my head spinning.

The Texas Supreme Court has ordered three Green Party candidates to be restored to the November ballot after Democrats successfully sued to remove them.

Last month, a state appeals court sided with the Democrats, who were seeking to kick the candidates off the ballot because they had not paid filing fees. The three candidates are David Collins for U.S. Senate, Katija “Kat” Gruene for Railroad Commission and Tom Wakely for the 21st Congressional District.

The Texas Green Party appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, which ruled Tuesday that the secretary of state “shall immediately take all necessary actions to ensure these candidates appear on the” November ballot. The Supreme Court did not give its rationale, but said a full opinion was forthcoming.

It is the latest development in a spate of legal battles over third parties on the November ballot. At issue is a new requirement that third parties pay filing fees like Democrats and Republicans do. The law, passed last year by the Legislature, is the subject of multiple legal challenges, and many third-party candidates had not paid filing fees amid the pending litigation.

A state appeals court upheld the 2019 law last week.

While the Democrats were initially successful in booting the three Green Party candidates off the ballot, Republicans more recently failed in their bid to remove 44 Libertarians from the ticket for a similar reason. In rejecting the GOP effort earlier this month, the Supreme Court said the party waited too long to raise the issue.

[…]

It is crunch time for finalizing ballots across the state, with a Saturday deadline for counties to mail overseas and military ballots. The state’s most populous county, Harris County, wrote to the Supreme Court on Monday saying that “it is too late to make changes,” even if the court acted that day.

In an email sent to county election officials shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Texas secretary of state indicated that counties that had already sent out mail ballots would need to send a corrected version “as soon as possible.”

“The Supreme Court’s ruling and ballot change will not be an acceptable excuse for missing the [Sept. 19] deadline,” wrote Keith Ingram, the state’s director of elections. “That deadline must still be met.”

State law requires corrected ballots to include both a written notice explaining the change and instructions to destroy “defective” ballots that have not yet been returned to a county. A defective ballot returned to the county will be counted if a corrected ballot is not returned in time.

See here and here for the background on the Dems’ effort to boot those three Green candidates, and see here and here for more on the Republicans’ failed effort to boot the Libertarians. A fourth Green candidate had withdrawn from the ballot before all this started because he had voted in the Democratic primary this year.

My first reaction on seeing this news was that it was awfully late in the game for further changes to the ballot. Looking at the case filings, the writ was filed by the Greens on September 11, the Dems had till the 14th to respond, and the ruling came down on the 15th. I’ll have an opinion on the ruling when it is available, but until then all I can do is shrug. It is what it is. You can read this Twitter thread, which began with the original rulings in the two cases, for some more context. The Chron has more.

Why endorse Sarah Davis?

It’s a good question.

Rep. Sarah Davis

Planned Parenthood’s Texas political arm on Thursday endorsed state Rep. Sarah Davis, rebuffing abortion rights activists who had lobbied the group to deny political support for the Houston Republican.

The efforts to deny Davis the endorsement had revolved around a petition circulated by Sherry Merfish, a deeply connected Democratic donor and former Planned Parenthood board member. The petition concedes that Davis “may have met the minimum standards of what it means to be ‘pro-choice,’” but argues that “the rest of her record stands completely at odds with the cause of reproductive justice and the purported mission of Planned Parenthood.”

It had gathered some 450 signatures by Wednesday afternoon, including numerous Planned Parenthood donors and two board members of the group’s Houston affiliate. One of the board members, Peggie Kohnert, had circulated her own petition.

The lobbying effort has revealed a fracture between key members of Houston’s abortion rights community and the leaders of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, a political action committee that defines itself as nonpartisan but has struggled to find Republicans like Davis to endorse. As the debate plays out, Texas Democrats — desperate to capture a House majority before next year’s critical redistricting battle — are making an all-out push to unseat Davis, whom they view as one of the most vulnerable Republican legislators in the state.

Davis’ stances on abortion have angered members of her party but helped garner support from moderate voters. In the last two cycles, she won re-election while her party’s standard-bearers, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, each failed to crack 40 percent in her district.

Houston lawyer Ann Johnson, Davis’ Democratic opponent, argues the incumbent has worked against women’s reproductive issues by opposing the Affordable Care Act and declining to vote for the law’s optional expansion of Medicaid. Davis disagrees, saying she has voted against “every anti-choice bill” during her time in office.

Some of Johnson’s supporters say groups such as Planned Parenthood Texas Votes have allowed Davis to carefully curate her moderate reputation while she aligns with her party on immigration and gun policies. Merfish said the group also would paint a misleading picture of Johnson by backing Davis.

“By endorsing Sarah, in people’s minds who may not be as familiar with Ann, it would cast doubt on whether Ann is aligned with them on these issues,” Merfish said. “Because, then why wouldn’t they endorse both of them, or why wouldn’t they stay out of it?”

Planned Parenthood Texas Votes announced the Davis endorsement Thursday as part of a slate of 18 new endorsements. Davis is the only Republican among the 27 candidates the group is backing this cycle.

In a news release, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes said it is “working to elect officials not to just defend access to sexual and reproductive health care, but to repair and expand the public health infrastructure damaged by Governor Abbott and other extremist politicians.”

There was a preview story about this on Wednesday, which covered much of the same ground. As the story notes, Davis also received the endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign, despite Ann Johnson being an out lesbian. The story goes into a lot of detail about Davis’ career and various votes and issues that are at the heart of the dispute, so I encourage you to read the rest.

On the one hand, I get why PPTV and the HRC want to endorse Republicans like Davis, who are an increasingly rare breed. It’s in their best interests, at least as they see it, to be non-partisan, which means they need to find Republicans they can support. From a national perspective, Democrats may be the majority in Congress now, but partisan control is likely to swap back and forth over time, and you need to have some connections to the Republican majority when it exists, no matter how otherwise hostile it is, because you can’t afford to be completely shut out. Long term, I’m sure groups like these very much want for their issues to not be seen as strictly partisan, but to have broad consensus across party lines, and the only way to do that is to have Republican faces you can point to and say “see, they support us, too”. They have done this for a long time, and it’s just how they operate.

On the other hand, the simple fact of the matter is that having Sarah Davis in the State House makes it that much more likely that the Republicans will maintain their majority in that chamber, and a House with a Republican majority and a Republican Speaker is absolutely, positively, one hundred percent going to pass at least one major anti-abortion bill in 2021, just as it has every session since 2003, when the Republicans first took the majority and thus gained trifecta control of Texas state politics. A State House with a Republican majority and Speaker will absolutely not pass a bill to expand Medicaid. I agree, such a bill would almost certainly be DOA in the Senate, but at least it would get there, and the voters in 2022 would have a tangible example of what they’ve been missing out on. And of course, a State House with a Republican majority and Speaker will absolutely make further cuts to women’s health (which is already happening without any legislative input) and add further restrictions to Planned Parenthood, again as they have been doing for years now. All of this would happen regardless of the virtuous votes that Sarah Davis would cast. I mean, it may be true that she has helped stop some things and reverse some cuts and spoken against some other things, but all this has happened regardless. She’s only one member, and they have always had the votes to do all that without her.

This debate has played out for several years at the national level, with the national Planned Parenthood PAC being criticized in the past for supporting the likes of Arlen Specter and Susan Collins and a handful of Congressional Republicans for their reasonably pro-choice voting records while overlooking the “which party is the majority” aspect. Indeed, for the first time ever, Planned Parenthood has endorsed Collins’ challenger, with her vote for Brett Kavanaugh being the proverbial last straw. Activists, including blogs like Daily Kos, have made the same argument about control of the chamber versus individual members with acceptable voting records. However you feel about what PPTV and HRC did here, it’s not at all a surprise to see this debate arrive here on this level.

Ann Johnson

Though individual endorsements rarely have the power to swing elections, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes holds more sway in House District 134 than the average political group, said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. The district, which covers Bellaire, West University Place, Southside Place, Rice University and the Texas Medical Center, is home to some of the most affluent, educated and politically engaged voters in the state and contains what Merfish described as a “trove of Planned Parenthood voters.”

The group’s endorsement is particularly significant for Davis, Cross said, because of President Trump’s struggles among suburban women.

“Just like the tea party helped bring her in back in 2010, the anti-Trump movement could help move her out, especially among women,” Cross said.

I agree that Davis is better positioned with these endorsements than without them. A bigger concern for Davis is just simply how Democratic HD134 was in 2018, when Beto took 60% of the vote, and Davis was fortunate to not have had a serious challenger. I see a parallel to Ellen Cohen, who won re-election in 2008 by a 14-point margin over a non-entity opponent, even as Republicans were carrying the district in nearly every other race. 2008 was a strong Democratic year overall in Harris County, but HD134 was actually a bit more Republican than it had been in 2006, when something like seven or eight downballot Dems also carried the district. Cohen still vastly outperformed other Dems in the Republican tidal wave of 2010, but that wave was too big for her to overcome. I get the same feeling about Davis this year. Maybe I’m wrong – no two elections are ever alike, and HD134 has been a Republican district far longer than it’s been a Democratic district – but there’s a reason why neutral observers view Davis as being endangered.

One last thing: When I say that groups like PPTV and HRC want to be supportive of Republicans like Sarah Davis, it’s because there’s literally no other Republicans like Sarah Davis, at least at the legislative level in Texas. The thing is, Republicans like her have been extremely endangered for some time now. Go ahead, name all of the Republican legislators you can think of from this century that you could classify as “pro-choice” with a straight face and without provoking a “no I’m not!” response from them. I got Joe Straus, Jeff Wentworth (primaried out by the wingnut Donna Campbell), and that’s about it. I’m old enough to remember when Gary Polland and Steven Hotze ousted Betsy Lake, the nice River Oaks Planned Parenthood-supporting lady who had been the Harris County GOP Chair in the 90s, thus completing a takeover of the party that has lurched ever further rightward since. If they can’t support Sarah Davis, I have no idea who else in the Republican Party they could support.

Further thoughts on the Dems defenestrating the Green candidates

But first, the Chron story about yesterday’s legal action.

An appellate court on Wednesday blocked three Green Party candidates from the November ballot because they failed to pay candidate filing fees.

The candidates are David Collins, who was running for Senate; Tom Wakely, who was running for the 21st Congressional District, and Katija “Kat” Gruene, who was running for the Railroad Commission. The legal challenge was filed by their Democratic opponents: MJ Hegar, Wendy Davis and Chrysta Castañeda, respectively.

Two members of a three-judge panel of the court sided with the Democrats late Wednesday.

In their majority opinion, Justice Thomas Baker wrote that Wakely, Gruene and Collins are ineligible to appear on the ballot and compelled the Green Party to “take all steps within their authority” to ensure they don’t appear on the ballot. Due to the time sensitivity, Baker said the court would not entertain motions for a rehearing.

Chief Justice Jeff Rose dissented, saying providing no other explanation than that relief was “not appropriate based on the record before us.”

[…]

Davis’ campaign declined to comment. Hegar’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Randy Howry, Hegar’s lawyer in the Travis County case, referred questions about the impetus for the suit to attorney Alexi Velez, who was not available for comment.

Castañeda said the suit was a matter of fairness and that the timing was “based on the fact that the Green Party tactics only recently came to light.”

“I and my fellow candidates worked very hard to get on the ballot, and the statute is clear for all of us,” she said, adding that if the candidates didn’t want to or couldn’t pay the fee, they “could have acquired the signatures to petition to be on the ballot but chose not to do so.”

[…]

Wakely said it was clear to him that the last-minute pile-on of lawsuits was a coordinated strategy to eliminate competition. He added that it was curious that Libertarian candidates, including the one in his 21st District race, Arthur DiBianca, who also did not pay fees, were facing similar scrutiny.

Gruene added that the last-minute nature of the case also seems to be part of the Democrats’ strategy, as it leaves the Green candidates without many options for relief.

Charles Waterbury, a lawyer for the Green Party candidates, agreed that the timing seemed like a tactic and said Democrats should have raised the issue sooner.

“The Democrats waited so long for what I would argue is kind of an artificial emergency,” Waterbury said. “If this is such a huge deal, if keeping the juggernaut that is the Green Party off the ballot is so important, this is something they should have filed way before. … They know the difficulty faced by a party like the Greens is basically insurmountable.”

Gruene said she views the suit against her in the same way as Wakely.

“It’s a way to siderail a campaign to shift into dealing with legal matters instead of campaigning,” Gruene said. “The Democratic Party has always seen the Green Party as their opposition, and they, from 2001 until today, have used lawsuits as a way to bankrupt candidates, bankrupt parties and prevent voters from having the choice of voting for Green Party candidates.”

See here and here for the background. Let me begin by saying that yes indeed, the Democratic Party and the Green Party are opponents, by definition. Only one candidate in a race can get elected, so by definition every candidate in a given race is an opponent to the others. I have no patience at all for the whining of these candidates about how mean the Democrats are being to them because I am old enough to remember the 2010 election, in which deep-pocketed Republican backers paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Green candidates get on that year’s ballot, an act of charity that the Green Party was only too happy to accept. Those Republicans did that with the intent of making it just a bit harder for Bill White to beat Rick Perry in the Governor’s race. It turned out they needn’t have bothered, but that wasn’t the point. So please spare me the hand-wringing, and pay the filing fee or collect the petition signatures as long as that is required by law, or face the consequences of your actions.

Along those same lines, I respectfully disagree with RG Ratcliffe:

I have never voted for the Green Party and never will, but it is really chickenshit of Texas Democrats to complain about voter suppression and then try to suppress the choices of voters who want to cast ballots for candidates of a party with ballot access over a filing fee the party candidates did not have to pay until this year. And this is about more than a few candidates, this is about denying the Greens ballot access in the future.

I don’t agree that challenging candidates who did not follow the law as written – and please note, a couple of the Green candidates did pay the filing fee, so it’s not that they all shared this principle or all lacked the ability to pay – is in the same universe as passing discriminatory voter ID laws, refusing to expand vote by mail in a pandemic, aggressively pursuing felony prosecutions against people who made honest mistakes (two words: Crystal Mason), but I’ll allow that filing these motions to oust the Greens is not exactly high-minded. To respond to that, let me bring in Evan Mintz:

Here’s an important lesson: Hypocrisy in politics isn’t a bug. It’s a feature. There is no grand umpire or arbiter who punishes elected officials for inconsistency (besides the voters, and they usually don’t mind). Politics isn’t about truth; it’s about power. If past positions get in the way, change them.

I’d say that’s a lesson they don’t teach you in school, but actually they do. Rice University graduate student Matt Lamb told me it’s the first thing he teaches students in his Introduction to American Politics class: “Politics is about power.”

It’s the power to implement an agenda, impose one’s own morality on others, or distribute resources. It’s the reason people try to get elected in the first place.

Texas Democrats must’ve missed that class, because for the past 30 years or so they’ve acted as if noble intentions alone are enough to merit statewide office. Uphold the process. Act professionally. Do the right thing. Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said essentially that in a May conference call with journalists in response to the governor’s plan on ending COVID lockdowns. “The Democratic Party is not looking at the response through a political lens,” he said. “We’re looking at what is good for the public. If that costs us votes, so be it.”

There’s a slight flaw in Hinojosa’s plan: You can’t pursue the public good if you don’t get the public vote.

I’d say it’s clearly the case that the Democrats took legal action to remove these Green Party candidates from the ballot for the same reason why the Republicans paid money in 2010 to help put them on the ballot: They want to increase the chances that their candidates can win these elections. Obviously, there are limitations to this. One need only look at the utter degradation of the Republican Party and the principles it once held on subjects like free trade and personal morality under Donald Trump, where the only principle they now have is winning at all costs for the sake of holding onto power, to understand this. I’d like the Democratic candidates I support to hold principles that I support as well. But you also have to try your best to win elections, because as I’ve said way too many times over the past decade-plus, nothing will change in this state until the Dems start winning more elections. If that means I have to live with the knowledge that we booted some Green Party candidates off the ballot for the purpose of maybe upping our odds some small amount, I’ll do that. If you want to judge me for that, you are free to do so. I can live with that, too.

Abandon ship!

LOL.

During Troy Nehls’ recent bid for the Republican nomination in one of Texas’ battleground congressional districts, the Fort Bend County sheriff prominently displayed his support for President Trump across his campaign website.

“In Congress, I will stand with President Trump to defeat the socialist Democrats, build the wall, drain the swamp, and deliver on pro-economy and pro-America policies,” Nehls said under the top section of his issues page, titled “Standing with President Trump.”

Within two days of Nehls’ lopsided runoff victory, that section had been removed, along with a paragraph from Nehls’ bio page that stated he “supports President Trump” and wants to “deliver President Trump’s agenda.” Fresh language now focuses on his record as sheriff during Hurricane Harvey and managing the agency’s budget.

Nehls’ abrupt shift in tone captures the challenge facing Republican candidates in suburban battleground districts up and down the ballot, including Nehls’ district and two neighboring ones, where polling suggests Trump’s coronavirus response has alienated voters and, for now, created strong headwinds for his party’s congressional hopefuls.

In those contested districts, which even Republicans acknowledge Trump may lose, GOP candidates are navigating the choppy political waters by emphasizing their personal backgrounds and portraying their Democratic foes as too extreme. Most have dropped the enthusiastic pro-Trump rhetoric they employed during the primaries.

It is not uncommon for candidates to tailor their messages to the far ends of their party bases during the primaries before tacking back toward the center for the general election.

Still, it remains a unique challenge for Republicans in competitive races to distance themselves from the president and his lagging poll numbers without angering their supporters, said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

“I think how you do that is still not quite clear, but I also think the ground is really shifting,” Henson said. “(Trump’s) overall favorable-unfavorable numbers are going down, he’s losing ground among independents, and we see glimmers — but just glimmers — of doubt among some Republicans in some suburban areas.”

Hilarious. The story also notes the Republican challenger in CD07, who was endorsed by Trump in the primary but would prefer that you not talk about that, and the CD10 race where Democratic challenger Mike Siegel is working to tie Trump to longtime incumbent Mike McCaul. We’ve seen this movie before, though in years past it had always been Democrats attempting this tightrope act, either by emphasizing their close personal friendship with Dubya Bush or their many points of disagreement with Barack Obama. It worked better in the former case than the latter, as anyone who remembers 2010 can attest.

The main advantage the Republicans running now have is that the districts they’re in are (for the most part, CD07 being an exception) still Republican, at least as of 2018. Those Democrats of yore had been running in districts that were often 60% or more red, and they depended heavily on folks who were willing to split the ticket for them – until they didn’t, of course, which is what happened en masse in 2010. The challenge today is holding onto the folks who had been fairly reliable Republican voters before 2016. Donald Trump (and to a lesser extent his acolytes like Dan Patrick) are the reason these voters are turning away, which is why the strategy of pretending that Trump doesn’t exist is so compelling. The problem with that is that Donald Trump is the Republican Party these days, and the Republican Party is Donald Trump. That presents a bit of a conundrum for the likes of Troy Nehls, himself a longtime Republican officeholder. He may yet win – maybe the district won’t have shifted enough, or maybe enough people will vote for him because they liked him as Sheriff regardless of other factors, or whatever. But I’m pretty sure this isn’t the campaign he thought he’d be running when he first entered the race.

2020 Primary Runoff Early Voting, Second Tuesday: A history of Democratic primary runoffs

Yesterday I said that the turnout so far in the 2020 Democratic primary runoff was already historic. Today I’m going to show my work on that. Herewith is the 21st century history of Democratic primary runoff turnout for Harris County:


Year    Turnout  Top race
=========================
2002     64,643    Senate
2006     12,542    Senate
2008      9,670       RRC
2010     15,225  Judicial
2012     29,912    Senate
2014     18,828    Senate
2016     30,334       RRC
2018     57,590  Governor
2020     72,838    Senate

The only primary runoff on the ballot in 2004 was for Constable in Precinct 7. We’ve come a long way, and please don’t forget that. We had just nudged past that 2002 mark as of yesterday, and now we are putting distance between it and this year. I didn’t include mail ballots in this accounting for two reasons. One, they didn’t quantify mail ballots in 2002, and two, this year is way off the charts compared to years prior. 2018 and 2016 are the only reasonable comps, and they both fall well short, with 19,472 mail ballots in 2018 and 11,433 in 2016. We had each of those beat on Day One.

With that, here’s the chart for this year as of today:


Election     Mail    Early   Total   Mail %
===========================================
D primary  18,503   54,325  72,828    25.4%
R primary  19,690   47,271  66,961    29.4%

D runoff   38,026   34,812  72,838    52.2%
R runoff   22,351   10,215  32,566    68.6%

The Tuesday runoff EV file is here, and the final EV turnout report from March is here. Second week Tuesday was the first big turnout day for the primary, and where Dems started separating from Republicans overall. This Tuesday was by a small amount the biggest day so far for Dems, though Monday had a slightly higher in person count. This is undoubtedly where the March turnout begins to exceed the July turnout, but this runoff is now officially leaving all previous primary runoffs in the dust.

Interview with Rep. Chris Turner

Rep. Chris Turner

I’ve done two interviews about redistricting so far, with both of them focused on the litigation aspect of it, which in turn had a focus on Congress. Today I want to pay more attention to the Legislature, which is not only where redistricting originates but also itself a big part of the fight. State Rep. Chris Turner is the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, representing HD101 in Tarrant County. That was a new district created in 2011 due to population growth in Tarrant County, and while it represented a third Democratic district in Tarrant, it was also a place to pack Democrats so the eight-member Republican caucus from Tarrant could have easier elections. Turner was elected to a different Tarrant County seat in 2008, lost it in the 2010 wave, and has served in HD101 since 2013. Tarrant is a major battleground for control of the State House in 2020, in part due to demography and in part due to the Trump effect on college-educated white voters. We talked about the effects of the 2011/2013 maps, and what we have to look forward to in the Lege in 2021. Here’s the conversation:

Previous interviews in this series: Redistricting legal expert Michael Li, and Congressman Marc Veasey. I have more of these in mind and will bring them to you as I can.

Hotze versus contact tracing

We should have expected this.

Conservative firebrand Steven Hotze has launched another lawsuit challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s coronavirus response, joined by current and former lawmakers and several hundred business owners who argue the state’s contact tracing program infringes on their privacy and ability to make a living.

The civil action filed Monday in federal court takes on the disparate operating capacities the governor mandated in his “COVID-19 lottery,” claiming Abbott’s actions have limited restaurants and bars with 25 or 50 percent limits, while bicycle shops, liquor stores, pool cleaners and supermarkets are running at full tilt.

[…]

The lawsuit by Hotze includes nearly 1,500 names. Most are small business owners, but topping the list are state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, former Republican state representatives Gary Elkins, of Houston, Molly White, of Bell County, Rick Green, of Hays County, and former party chair Cathie Adams, of Collin County.

The suit argues that Texas’ $295 million contract tracing program — aimed at tracking down all people exposed to an infected person — violates the first amendment, privacy, due process and equal protection provisions. Such tracking amounts to an illegal, warrantless search, the suit says. While tracing back contacts is supposed to be voluntary, it is enforced through local health departments based on a presumption of guilt for all people in proximity to a sick person, according to the lawsuit. It requires people to turn over names, call in with their temperature readings and assumes a person has COVID-19 unless they can prove otherwise, Woodfill said.

Woodfill said he believes this is the first federal challenge to contact tracing. He hopes it will set the tone for “how we as a government and as a people will deal with diseases that we don’t have a vaccine for yet.”

Yes, of course that’s Jared Woodfill, joined at the hip as ever with Hotze on these things. We had the original lawsuit against Harris County, over the stay-at-home order. That was then followed by the lawsuit against Abbott and Paxton over the statewide stay-at-home order, for which there is now an emergency petition before the State Supreme Court. Another lawsuit against Harris County was filed over Judge Hidalgo’s face mask order, a subject that may soon be relevant again. That one too has a motion before the Supreme Court for an emergency ruling. I am not aware of any rulings in any of these lawsuits, but sooner or later something will happen. Abbott’s contact tracing plan is full of problems, and as I’ve said before there are legitimate questions to be raised about Abbott’s various orders during this pandemic. For sure, the Lege should try to clarify matters in 2021. I would just greatly prefer to have these legitimate questions get asked by legitimate people, not con men and grifters. That’s not the world we live in, unfortunately.

All this got me to thinking: Why doesn’t Hotze announce that he’s running for Governor in 2022? He clearly has some strong opinions about the way the state is supposed to be run, and in doing so he has some stark disagreements with Greg Abbott. Just as clearly, he has some support among the wingnut fringe for those differing opinions. It seems unlikely he could win – among other things, Abbott has a gazillion dollars in his campaign treasury – but he could force a dialogue on his issues, and very likely could bring some real pressure on Abbott. He’s also the kind of preening egotist who’d think he’s got The People behind him. I’m just idly speculating, and maybe trying to stir up some trouble. I can’t help but think that this is the biggest public example of Republican-on-Republican rhetorical violence since Carole Keeton Strayhorn was Rick Perry’s main nemesis. (I’m not counting Kay Bailey Hutchison’s primary against Perry in 2010, since she barely showed up for it.) I don’t really think this is where Hotze is going, but if he does do something like this, would you be surprised? At this point, I would not be.

Does getting to 40% make you likely to win the runoff?

Anna Eastman

I was talking with some fellow political nerds last week, and one of the topics was the forthcoming runoffs. As is usually the case, this year we have some runoffs between candidates who finished fairly close together in round one, and some in which one candidate has a clear lead based on the initial election. The consensus we had was that candidates in the latter category, especially those who topped 40% on Super Tuesday, are basically locks to win in May. The only counter-example we could think of off the tops of our heads was Borris Miles beating Al Edwards, who had been at 48%, in the 2006 runoff for HD146.

So, later on I spent a few minutes on the Secretary of State election archive pages, looking through past Democratic primary results and tracking those where the leader had more than forty percent to see who went on to win in the runoff. Here’s what I found:

2018

Winners – CD03, CD10, CD23, CD31, Governor, SD17,
Losers – CD27, HD37, HD45, HD64, HD109*, HD133*

2016

Winners – CD15, HD27
Losers – SBOE6

2014

Winners – Senate, SBOE13
Losers – HD105

2012
Winners – CD34, HD95, HD137
Losers – CD23*, SBOE2

2010
Winners – CD10, HD76*

2008
Winners – CD32, RRC

2006
Winners – Senate, Lt Gov, HD42, HD47*
Losers – HD146

In each of the cited races, the leading candidate had at least 40% of the primary vote. Races that have asterisks indicate that the runnerup also had at least 40%. As you can see, up until 2018, having forty percent or more in the primary was indeed a pretty good indicator of success in overtime. The last cycle provided quite a few counterexamples, however, including one incumbent (Rene Oliveira, who had been busted for a DWI earlier) who went down. So maybe 40% isn’t such a magical number, or maybe it’s harder now than it was before 2012. Or maybe this is just a really small sample and we should be careful about drawing broad conclusions from it.

Fortunately, we have quite a few races this year to add to this sample:

CD03 – Lulu Seikaly 44.5%, Sean McCaffity 43.8%
CD10 – Mike Siegel 44.0%, Pritesh Gandhi 33.1%
CD13 – Gus Trujillo 42.2%, Greg Sagan 34.7%
CD17 – Rick Kennedy 47.9%, David Jaramillo 35.0%
CD24 – Kim Olson 40.9%, Candace Valenzuela 30.4%
SBOE6 – Michelle Palmer 46.8%, Kimberly McLeod 34.6%
SD19 – Xochil Pena Rodriguez 43.7%, Roland Gutierrez 37.3%
SD27 – Eddie Lucio 49.8%, Sara Stapleton-Barrera 35.6%
HD119 – Liz Campos 46.1%, Jennifer Ramos 43.7%
HD138 – Akilah Bacy 46.7, Jenifer Pool 29.3%
HD142 – Harold Dutton 45.2%, Jerry Davis 25.3%
HD148 – Anna Eastman 41.6%, Penny Shaw 22.1%
138th District Court – Gabby Garcia 48.0%, Helen Delgadillo 31.0%
164th District Court – Cheryl Elliott Thornton 41.3%, Alexandra Smoots-Thomas 33.1%

I’ll be sure to do an update in May, when we can see if the leading candidates mostly held serve or not. Place your bets.

Let’s talk turnout

Just a few random bits and pieces about turnout from the primaries. On the one hand, I think it’s great that Dems got the turnout that we did, in Harris County and around the state. On the other hand, I spent a lot of time pooh-poohing the notion that Republicans’ 1.5 million to 1 million advantage in the 2018 primaries didn’t mean anything for that November, and I’m not going to change that tune now that Dems outdrew them this March. Primary turnout and November turnout are two different things, so let’s appreciate the turnout we got this March on its own merits.

There were 2,076,046 votes cast for Democratic presidential candidates, and 2,008,385 votes cast for Republicans. The crappy election night results pages do not break these out by vote type, so I can’t tell you how many early or mail votes were cast for each candidate, which also means I can’t tell you what Election Day overall turnout looked like compared to early voting for each party. I can give you that picture for Harris County:


Year    Mail    Early    E-Day  E-Day%
======================================
2008   9,448  169,900  231,560   56.4%
2010   7,193   33,770   60,300   59.5%
2012   8,775   30,136   35,575   47.8%
2014   8,961   22,727   22,100   41.1%
2016  14,828   72,777  139,675   61.5%
2018  22,695   70,152   75,135   44.7%
2020  26,710  114,501  180,692   56.1%

Final Harris County turnout for Dems 321,903, and for Republicans 192,985. Well short of 2008, and thus of my own projections, but still pretty darned strong.

Of some interest is turnout in other counties, though again that is not to be mistaken for a deeper meaning about November. Be that as it may, Democrats saw a lot more action in the suburbs.

Democratic primary turnout was up 59% across metropolitan Dallas-Fort Worth.

OK, so the region probably isn’t flipping blue anytime soon, not with Republicans in power and an incumbent president and U.S. senator up for re-election this fall.

But something unusual is happening.

In notoriously conservative Collin and Denton counties, Democrats doubled turnout and outvoted Republicans — in Collin, by 15,429 votes.

“I think the Democrats have been working real hard the last several years,” said Denton County Republican Chairman Jayne Howell, a rural Denton County realtor.
this huge Democratic turnout will wake some people up.”

Democrats saw hard-fought campaigns at the top of the ticket while Republicans only had to choose local nominees, so maybe the numbers aren’t surprising.

But overall, Democrats outvoted Republicans by 22% across the four core metropolitan counties, three of them traditionally solid red.

Republican turnout was down 43% from 2016, when the Ted Cruz-Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders races ignited both parties.

Here are the Presidential numbers in select counties:


County        2016D    2016R    2020D    2020R
==============================================
Bexar       114,524  132,583  170,762   80,785
Brazoria     12,942   39,247   21,661   35,667
Collin       40,034  116,676   84,350   68,909
Dallas      159,086  175,122  231,688   83,304
Denton       32,506   96,060   67,092   66,621
El Paso      54,742   28,805   68,132   18,343
Fort Bend    39,206   68,587   69,540   57,212
Harris      222,686  327,046  321,903  192,985
Hidalgo      58,366   18,666   59,486   12,378
Montgomery   12,677   90,740   25,487   64,138
Tarrant     104,440  213,993  152,676  122,802
Travis      144,144   84,844  223,233   42,043
Williamson   31,141   67,392   60,677   43,868

Couple of points to note here. One is that Republicans really do get a lot of their strength in the smaller counties, since overall they had almost as many votes as Democrats in the primaries. Two, it’s very likely they didn’t have all that many races of interest, not just at the top but also fewer hot primaries for Congress, the Lege, and maybe county offices. Lots of things can drive turnout, and in their absence you mostly get the hardcore voters. And three, Travis County really punches above its weight. Respect, y’all.

I was to take a closer look at how the various candidates did around the state in future posts, but after a few minutes of poking through the Presidential numbers, I recognized it was pointless. The top counties by vote total for any candidate you looked at, from Biden to Tulsi, was basically just a recitation of the biggest counties. The best percentages for the non-Biden and Bernie candidates were generally in the very smallest counties – Bloomberg, for example, got 50% of the vote in King County. That represented exactly one vote out of two cast; Bernie got the other one. It just wasn’t worth a full post. I think there may be some more interesting info in the Senate race, but the SOS’ crappy election night returns site doesn’t have a county-by-county canvass yet. I’ll get back to that later, and of course after I get the canvass from our County Clerk, I’ll do my usual thing here as well.

Trautman apologizes for the long lines

A very good start.

Diane Trautman

Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman is taking “full responsibility” for the long lines and wait times that bogged down election night voting and forced some voters to wait more than six hours to cast their ballots.

In a statement released Friday, Trautman, the Democrat who oversees elections in Harris County, apologized to voters affected by the excessively long lines experienced at voting sites serving mostly black and Hispanic communities and said her office would reevaluate how to distribute voting machines across the county.

“It is clear that the history of marginalized communities being left behind in the voting process has led to polling deserts in areas of Harris County,” Trautman wrote. “I believe that we have made some strides, but we still have work left to do.”

[…]

On Friday, Trautman said her office had done “the best with what we had” but committed to rethinking voting machine allocations. In a previous interview with The Texas Tribune, Trautman indicated the county would likely try to purchase additional equipment for the November election.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the full statement. The Texas Civil Rights Project, a vocal critic of the lines on Tuesday, reacted positively to the Trib story, which is a good sign. Again, I think the main thing here is to solicit feedback from as many people and organizations involved in the process as possible, and really listen to their input and make a plan to implement as much of it as reasonably possible. I also think the HCDP and the many clubs and activist groups should think long and hard about what they can do to assist in this as well. We all have a stake in the outcome, after all.

One thing to keep in mind for November is that historically, in the even-numbered years, the share of turnout in early voting is much higher than it is in other elections, and much higher than the share of Election Day voting:


Year     Mail    Early    E-Day   Early%
========================================
2008   67,612  678,449  442,670    62.8%
2010   55,560  392,140  351,288    56.0%
2012   76,090  700,982  427,100    64.5%
2014   71,994  307,288  308,736    55.1%
2016  101,594  883,977  353,327    73.6%
2018   98,709  767,162  354,000    71.0%

That said, that’s still a lot more people voting on Election Day than we had this Tuesday. Fortunately, there will be many more E-Day polling locations, and no restrictions on the machines. As such, to a great extent and barring any unforeseen catastrophes, the problem will largely take care of itself. That of course is not the point. Having the November election run smoothly and without this kind of problem is a necessary condition to restore faith in the Clerk’s office, but it’s not sufficient. Demonstrating in word and deed that the Clerk understands the problem and has a well-thought out plan that the community believes in to fix it, that’s what we need. Diane Trautman took steps towards that on Friday. New let’s keep it going. The Chron has more.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Six: On to Week Two

We’re back from the weekend, where the only votes tallied are in-person. We have five more days of early voting to go. Here’s the Day Six report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Four:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,609   11,880   17,489
2016   8,850   23,384   32,234
2018   9,620   24,335   33,955
2020  15,101   36,712   51,813

2012  12,111   25,097   37,208
2016  12,205   32,641   44,846
2018  12,642   21,856   34,498
2020  16,528   32,630   49,158

Democrats had 11,538 voters on Saturday and Sunday combined, Republicans had 7,852. Week Two is where it should start getting busier. Dems have fallen behind their earlier pace, as they now have increased their 2016 vote by about 61%; Republicans are ahead of 2016 by about eight percent. I think things will pick back up this week, but if we want to guess final turnout, the great unknown is how much of the vote will be cast early, and how much will show up on Tuesday, March 3. There’s no obvious pattern in recent primaries:


Year     Mail    Early    E-Day   E-Day%
========================================
2008    9,445  169,900  231,560    56.4%
2010    7,193   33,770   60,300    59.5%
2012    8,775   30,136   35,575    47.8%
2014    8,961   22,727   22,100    41.1%
2016   14,828   72,777  139,675    61.5%
2018   22,695   70,152   75,135    44.7%

E-Day% is the share of the vote cast on Primary Day. In the two high-turnout Presidential-year primaries, more than half the vote was cast on Primary Day. My gut says we’ll see similar behavior this year, but whether it’s 55% of the vote on Primary Day or over 60%, I don’t know. We’ll take a shot at guessing final turnout another day. Have you voted yet?

Chron overview of HD134

Is this the year Sarah Davis loses? That’s the question.

Rep. Sarah Davis

The March primaries are weeks away, but the first question at a recent forum for the three Democrats running to unseat state Rep. Sarah Davis centered on November: “How do you plan to win this race if you are the nominee?”

The answer has evaded Democrats since the 2010 tea party wave, when Davis flipped the highly affluent and educated House District 134. Widely viewed as the most moderate Republican in the Texas House, she comfortably has retained the seat in four subsequent elections, despite strong headwinds atop the ballot the last two cycles.

Those electoral results are on the minds of voters, and the candidates themselves, in the sleepy Democratic primary between educator Lanny Bose and attorneys Ann Johnson and Ruby Powers. With little evidence of public rancor between them, they instead are directing their attacks toward Davis’ record, each trying to convince voters of their ability to beat her in November.

“My attitude is, we’ve got three folks who are applying to be team captain. I’m going to be a part of this race in the general whether or not my name is on the ballot,” Bose said. “This primary is about talking about our shared vision for what this seat and what Houston should look like.”

[…]

Republicans are skeptical Democrats will be able to wield the Abbott endorsement against Davis, or that she will lose under even the most unfavorable conditions.

“I don’t think the voters really — other than the inside baseball participants — care about political endorsements,” said Chris Beavers, a Republican strategist who is not involved in the race. “They care about service, and there is nobody who serves their district more passionately and fully than Sarah Davis does.”

Last cycle, Davis accurately predicted that some statewide Republicans could lose her district — which encompasses the Texas Medical Center, Southside Place, Bellaire, Rice University and West University Place, where she lives — amid a “blue wave” of Democratic voters. The results varied wildly: Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke won 60 percent of the House District 134 vote, while Republican Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick narrowly beat her Democratic opponent there.

Davis captured 53 percent, winning by about 5,600 votes out of nearly 89,000.

That, Davis said, shows the district’s voters “cross the ballot to vote for people, not for parties.”

“My opponents who refer to the district as ‘flippable’ just don’t get it,” Davis said. “It isn’t about the party label, it’s about representing the priorities of this unique district regardless of party.”

Here’s the sum total of Republicans who carried HD134 in 2018:
Ed Emmett (56.31%) beat Lina Hidalgo (41.46%).
Glenn Hegar (48.60%) beat Joi Chavalier (48.52%).
Christi Craddick (49.00%) beat Roman McAllen (48.60%).
Seven Republican judicial candidates out of 74 total judicial races.

That’s it. Every other Republican, running for every other office, lost in HD134. Some by a hair, others by a landslide, they all lost. You can hang your hat on Christi Craddick and Glenn Hegar if you want, those are some strong headwinds.

It’s also the key reason why HD134 looks so much more winnable than in the past. Far fewer Democrats won HD134 in 2016, including judicial candidates. The district wasn’t just blue at the tippy top in 2018, it was blue pretty much all the way through.

There are plenty of antecedents for this race. Former Congressman Chet Edwards won three races in a very Republican, DeLay-redrawn district, until 2010 when a bunch of people who used to vote for him decided they were better represented by a Republican. Former State Rep. Ellen Cohen won two terms in this same HD134, which was about as Republican downballot then as it is Democratic now, until 2010 when a bunch of voters who had once supported her decided they were better represented by someone like Sarah Davis. I’m not saying that’s how this election, under very similar circumstances, will go. I’m just saying we’ve seen elections like it before. The voters there may still decide that she represents them well, regardless of her party. Or they may decide that even if she is the best that the Republican Party has to offer these days, the fact that it’s the Republican Party that’s making the offering is enough for them to change their minds.

That’s the point that the three Dems running for the nomination, all of whom are running actual, active, engaged campaigns unlike Davis’ opponent in 2018, would like to make with the voters. You may say that boiling this down to red versus blue is a disservice to the voters, and that making up their own independent non-partisan minds is more valuable. I say the difference between re-electing Sarah Davis and ousting her in favor of one of those three fine Dems is at least possibly the difference between a State House that spends 2021 passing a bunch of anti-trans bills and anti-abortion bills and anti-immigrant bills (Sarah Davis co-sponsored SB4, the “show me your papers” bill, and voted for the sonogram bill in 2011, in case you’ve forgotten) and new maps that heavily favor Republicans, and a State House that doesn’t do those things. The voters can decide for themselves which of those outcomes they prefer.

In case you need a reminder, my interviews with the HD134 candidates are here:

Ann Johnson
Ruby Powers
Lanny Bose

DMN profile of Chris Bell

The Dallas Morning News did a series of profiles of Democratic Senate candidates during the Christmas break. They’re worth reading, especially since polls show many of us don’t know these candidates all that well. I’m going to post about each of these, so let’s start with the first one they ran, featuring Chris Bell.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell has never gotten over being drawn out of a congressional seat, a move by Republicans in 2003 that altered the course of his political career and robbed him of a job he loved.

“People forget that things were going great for me in the United States Congress and I was damn good at the job,” Bell told The Dallas Morning News during an interview in his Houston campaign office. “It could not have been going any better.”

It got worse. A GOP-led redistricting plan ushered Bell out of Congress after just one term.

But Bell is running again, this time in the Democratic Senate primary for the nomination against Republican incumbent John Cornyn.

Bell said he’s uniquely qualified to send Cornyn back to Texas and lead the push for progressive legislation in the Senate, including providing affordable health care, curbing gun violence, reversing climate change and creating an economy that benefits all Americans.

“If you look at my background and the fact that not only I have that experience in government and politics but been a practicing trial attorney, they realize that I can hold my own and go toe to toe.”

[…]

After a career as a popular radio news reporter in Amarillo and Houston, Bell left journalism to practice law. He’s always had a love for politics.

He’s been a part of numerous political campaigns, beginning with failed bids for an Amarillo-based congressional seat in 1984, a Houston council race in 1995 and a Houston mayor’s race in 2001.

Bell broke through in 1997, winning a Houston council seat that propelled his career. He was later elected to Congress, where he became one of two freshman on the whip team and helped develop the port security caucus.

But former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s aggressive redistricting plan targeted Bell and other white male Democrats from Texas.

Bell was placed in a district dominated by black voters with Democrat Al Green, who is black. Critics said that after Bell lost his original, 65%-Anglo district, he should have stepped aside in favor of Green.

“It was interesting from the standpoint of getting to see Washington from two different viewpoints, one as an up-and-coming, rising star member of Congress to outgoing member of Congress in a year’s time,” Bell said.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder what might have happened if the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003 had not happened, and Bell had not been drawn out of what was then CD25. He won by almost 12 points in 2002, and I’d say he could have easily held the seat through 2008. The 2010 massacre would probably have taken him out – in this alternate universe, maybe Roy Morales is the first Latinx member of Congress elected from the Houston area – but even if he managed to survive that, I’m sure the 2011 redistricting would have been the end. Much of what was once CD25 is now split among CD07, CD18, and CD09, the district that Bell was drawn into. I cannot imagine anything like the old CD25 making it into this decade.

In this fantasy world I’m spinning, Bell gets some extra Congressional tenure, including two terms in the majority. He doesn’t get his folk hero status for filing the ethics complaint against Tom DeLay that led to his indictment and subsequent resignation from Congress – for all we know, DeLay could still be the incumbent in CD22 in this scenario – nor would he had run for Governor in 2006 or State Senate in 2008. Where he might be now is too big a leap for me to make.

Anyway. We’re in this universe and this timeline, and we have the Chris Bell that we have. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, most recently in 2015 when he ran for Mayor. He’s a perfectly good candidate, the only one who has run in a statewide general election, and he’s positioned himself on the left end of the spectrum among the main candidates running. Read the piece and see what you think.

Another “resign to run” question

Reply hazy, ask again.

Josh Flynn

A state law that deems certain officeholders ineligible for the Legislature is raising questions about whether Texas House candidate Josh Flynn is allowed to run for the seat while keeping his current position as a Harris County Department of Education trustee.

Flynn, one of three Republicans to file for the House District 138 primary in March, joined the HCDE board in January after winning the Position 4, Precinct 3 election in 2018. The board elected Flynn president at his first meeting.

The law in question is a section of the Texas Constitution that deems “any person holding a lucrative office under the United States” ineligible for the Legislature. The law does not define “lucrative office,” but a 1992 Texas Supreme Court opinion issued by then-justice John Cornyn determined that “an office is lucrative if the office holder receives any compensation, no matter how small.”

Flynn and his fellow HCDE trustees receive $6 per meeting, as required by state law.

The Constitution and the Supreme Court opinion do not appear to specify when “lucrative” officeholders must resign in order to be eligible. However, a 1995 attorney general letter opinion determined that the law “does not disqualify the holder of a lucrative office from running for the legislature … if the officeholder resigns from the lucrative office before filing for the legislature.”

Asked about his resignation plans, Flynn wrote in an email, “If I were to win the election in November of 2020, then I will resign my position with the HCDE.”

[…]

Kay Smith, a former HCDE trustee, resigned her position on the board in November 2015 to mount an unsuccessful run for House District 130 the following year. Eric Dick, a current board member, is running for Houston City Council and was able to retain his seat, department officials confirmed to the Chronicle earlier this year. The constitutional “lucrative office” provision applies to the Legislature and does not reference municipal offices.

In a statement, Paul Simpson, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, said, “We have not yet certified any candidate for the ballot, and will evaluate any challenges as required by law.”

Am I the only one who remembers Roy Morales, who not only did not resign to run for City Council in 2007, or for Mayor in 2009, or for Congress against Gene Green in 2010? I don’t remember there being a question raised about whether or not Morales needed to resign for any of those races, but I admit it’s long enough ago that I just might have forgotten. I suppose if “the Legislature” is the only office that one could seek where this provision matters then it wasn’t an issue. Sure seems like this would be a good thing to clean up in the next Lege, along with that question about the rights of felons who have completed their sentences. In the meantime, we’ll see what the county GOP says about this.

Filing period preview: Congress

So even though we still have the 2019 runoffs to settle, the 2020 election is officially upon us. I say this because the filing period for 2020 candidates began on Saturday the 9th, closing on December 9. I expect there will be a tracker of filed candidates on the TDP webpage, but until such time as we have something like that, my guidebook for this is the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet of declared and rumored candidates. I’m going to do a series of posts on who has announced their candidacies for what this week, and I’ll be using that as the springboard.

I begin with Congressional candidates. We’ve sort of been tracking this all along via the quarterly finance reports, since you can’t be a candidate (or at least, you can’t be taken seriously as a candidate) unless you’re filing finance reports. My roundup of Q3 filing reports is here, and I’ll supplement that in this post.

The first thing I noticed after I clicked over to the spreadsheet to begin my research was that there’s a new Democratic candidate in CD02. And sure enough, there was a Chron story to go with it.

Travis Olsen

Former Homeland Security Department employee Travis Olsen this week joined the race for Texas’ 2nd Congressional District, becoming the second Democrat to vie for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston.

Olsen, who filed his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday and launched his campaign Thursday, said he would seek to “provide an alternative” for residents “looking to move past partisanship and polarized politics,” contending that Crenshaw has not sought common ground with Democrats during his first term.

“We need leaders in Congress who are going to put country above party,” Olsen said in an interview. “And what we have seen is that Rep. Crenshaw will just follow the party line, follow the president, in his choices.”

[…]

To take on Crenshaw, Olsen first would have to win a Democratic primary next year that already includes Elisa Cardnell, a Navy veteran who filed her candidacy in February.

In response to Olsen’s campaign launch, Cardnell said in a statement that the race “has been, since day one, about how we put country over party and defeat Dan Crenshaw in 2020.”

“We’ve been making the case now for six months; if we want to hold Dan Crenshaw accountable for voting against lower prescription drug costs and against reauthorizing the national flood insurance program, it’s going to take a female veteran who can make him come to the table and talk about the issues, not just his past service,” Cardnell said.

Here’s Olsen’s website. He’ll need to start raising money ASAP, Crenshaw has bags and bags of it, and Cardnell has taken in $177K so far. From my perspective, this means another set of interviews to do for the primary. You’ll note as we go on there’s more where that came from.

Among Democratic incumbents, only Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07 has no primary opponent. I won’t be surprised if some character wades in, but she won’t have much to worry about. Not in March, anyway; she will have a well-funded Republican opponent in November. Reps. Al Green in CD09 and Sylvia Garcia in CD29 each have one primary opponent. Melissa Wilson-Williams has reported $31K raised, though it all appears to be her own contributions. Someone named Nile Irsan says he’s running in CD29, but he has no web presence or finance reports as yet.

The primary for a Democratic seat with the most action is in CD18, where four announced candidates face Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee: Marc Flores (Q3 finance report), Bimal Patel (Q3 finance report), Stevens Orozco (Q3 finance report), and Jerry Ford (Q3 finance report). Flores and Patel have been in the race for awhile and have raised a few bucks; Orozco has only taken in $3K, while Ford has loaned himself $50K. Jackson had a token challenger in 2018 and took 85% of the vote. She had more serious challengers in 2010, including then-Council Member, now State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, but still won with 67%. It’s hard for me to believe she’ll face much adversity this time around.

The main event races are CDs 10 and 22, and there’s no change in status for them. It won’t surprise me if some stragglers file for them, but the contenders are as they have been all along – Mike Siegel, Shannon Hutcheson, and Pritesh Gandhi in CD10; Sri Kulkarni, Nyanza Moore, and Derrick Reed in CD22. The newest candidates are in CD08, the Kevin Brady district mostly in Montgomery County. Jacob Osborne established a campaign committee in May and has a campaign finance account, but no money raised or web presence as far as I can tell. Laura Jones is a more recent entrant and the Chair for the San Jacinto County Democrats, but has not filed any finance reports yet. Democrat Steven David got 25% in CD08 in 2018 so this is not exactly a prime pickup opportunity, but it’s always nice to see qualified candidates take a shot.

Elsewhere in the state, most of what we know I’ve covered in the finance report posts. I’m still hoping for a more serious contender in the admittedly fringey CD17, and we have things to sort out in CDs 03, 06, 25, and 31. We may yet see some new entrants here and there but for the most part the big picture is fairly clear. I’ll take a look at legislative offices next.

Another ReBuild Houston lawsuit

Gotta say, this puzzles me.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A pair of Houston residents filed a lawsuit against Mayor Sylvester Turner and city council Monday, accusing them of failing to follow the will of voters who approved a charter amendment last year for funding drainage and street repairs.

The lawsuit accuses city leaders of shortchanging the dedicated drainage fund by failing to transfer the full amount required by last year’s ballot proposition.

The proposition, which essentially was a “do-over” vote on the city’s 2010 street and drainage repair program known as Rebuild Houston, requires the city to dedicate 11.8 cents of its property tax rate to the street and drainage fund. The city, under former mayor Annise Parker and Turner, has transferred less than the full amount generated by the 11.8 cents for the last five years.

The plaintiffs allege a roughly $44 million discrepancy in what the city currently has budgeted compared to the amount generated by 11.8 cents of property tax rate. Over 10 years, the funding shortfall could exceed $500 million, the plaintiffs say.

Turner’s office issued a statement disagreeing with the premise of the lawsuit, saying that transferring the full amount generated by 11.8 cents of tax rate would require moving some $50 million more annually and would “cripple” city services.

“That would mean cuts to essential services like police, fire, solid waste, and other services,” the statement said. “Mayor Turner doesn’t support that.”

The plaintiffs, Allen Watson and Bob Jones, are engineers who were part of the campaign that put the program, then known as ReNew Houston, on the 2010 ballot. It later was renamed Rebuild Houston.

They said they were suing because the city had failed to meet the expectations outlined in Proposition A, which 74 percent of voters approved last year. They are seeking a court order to force the city to direct more money and “to fund the things they said they were going to fund,” Jones said.

“Houstonians spoke loud and clear just one year ago when they voted to create a fund to fix our streets and drainage,” Jones said in a later statement. “…We are undertaking this suit to ensure that the law is upheld, that the promised funding is protected so that our street and drainage infrastructure receives the investment necessary to repair, replace and upgrade our street and drainage systems throughout the city over the next 20-30 years.”

Here’s what I wrote in 2018 about the ReBuild re-vote. You can click the links to the Chron stories, but there’s nothing in either of them that mentioned a percentage of property taxes. The story mentions this was a part of the original mix of funding for ReBuild Houston, and here I have to confess I don’t remember that. There was so much noise and drama about the drainage fee that anything and everything else got overpowered. If this is what’s supposed to happen, then the consequences will be unpleasant. On the plus side, maybe it’ll take another decade to get settled via the courts.

How many contested judicial primaries should we expect?

We already know that we’re going to get primary challenges to at least one Democratic countywide officeholder, as County Attorney Vince Ryan has two challengers lining up against him, and DA Kim Ogg has at least one person who has announced interest in challenging her. Most of the county offices available are judicial, though, and now that the local judiciary (other than a few JPs) is entirely Democratic, the path to gaining a bench for yourself is limited if one doesn’t want to take on a Democratic incumbent. I had a conversation about this with some folks recently, and we were debating how many such challenges we may see this year. I thought the number would be relatively small, and I based that on the belief that there weren’t that many primary challenges to Republican judges in recent years. That was my intuition, but I didn’t know the actual numbers at the time. I’ve now had a chance to look through recent primary history, and this is what I found:


Republican judicial primary challenges

2002 - 5
2004 - 0
2006 - 4
2008 - 1
2010 - 1
2014 - 3
2018 - 1

That’s less than I had thought. A couple of notes here. I only looked at the years in which all the incumbents were Republican (so no 2012 or 2016), and I limited myself to district and county courts (so no statewide, appeals courts, or JPs). There were some contested races in years where a jurist had been appointed to complete the term of someone who had stepped down or gotten a promotion – in 2008, there were two such races, in in 2012 there were four, for example – but I put those in a separate category. Basically, from what I found, there were actually very few challenges to sitting judges who had served full term. Make of that what you will.

Now, a couple of caveats here. One possible reason for the lack of challenges to four-year incumbents may be because there often were benches vacated in the middle of someone’s tenure, which allowed for a challenge of someone who had been appointed. These judges presumably felt comfortable stepping down mid-term because they knew their replacement would also be a Republican, with district court judges being appointed by the Governor and county court judges being appointed by Commissioners Court. With the exception of Al Bennett, who was named to a federal bench, no Democratic district court judge has stepped down since the first set were elected in 2008. Some have declined to run for re-election, but no others have given Rick Perry or Greg Abbott the opportunity to pick their interim replacement. County court judges won’t have that concern now, but for the foreseeable future I don’t expect any district court judges to abandon their post before it expires if they can at all help it. That points towards more primary challenges than what we had seen in the past.

In addition, while there was no upward trend in primary challenges over time, I think we’re in a different era now, and I think people will be less squeamish about taking that plunge. Honestly, if there ever was a year to try it, it would be this year, because the extreme turnout expected due to the Presidential race ought to make most of these races pure tossups, and by “tossup” I mean the most important factor will be your ballot position, which is determined by random draw. We’re all going to need to be on guard for low-grade opportunists who hope to luck into a bench. I hope I’m overstating this concern.

Anyway. Unlike for executive offices, I don’t expect judicial challengers to announce themselves this early, but it will be filing season before you know it. What do you think will happen?

Holder talks gerrymandering

The former AG was in town as part of his national activism on the topic.

Texas is “ground zero” in a national effort launching Saturday to ensure that every American’s vote counts in upcoming elections, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in Houston this week.

Holder, who led the Justice Department from 2009 to 2015 under President Barack Obama, is leading a project called “All on the Line,” ahead of the 2020 Census, focusing on a fight against gerrymandering expected with the redistricting process the following year.

[…]

The meeting in Houston was a small gathering that allowed for a dynamic conversation between Holder and leaders of organizations that helped to turn out voters in the midterm elections last year. Representatives of the Texas Organizing Project, the Texas Civil Rights Project, MOVE Texas, Texas Freedom Network, Houston in Action, and Battleground Texas were among those present.

Jolt, a youth organization that organized the Houston gathering, will launch “a major campaign with two different approaches,” said Amanda Rocha, the organization’s leader in Houston. One will be an online initiative focused on the importance of being counted in the Census, while the other will be “a door to door canvasing helping people understand what’s a stake and addressing their concerns,” she said.

Holder said it can be difficult to engage people on issues like redistricting and gerrmandering, which might sound “kind of wonky, kind of ethereal.”

“Well, if you care about a woman’s right to choose, if you care about voter suppression, if you care about criminal justice reform, if you care about climate, if you care about health care, the expansion of Medicaid, all of these things are determined at the state level and by these gerrymandered state legislators,” Holder said.

Gerrymandering is a tactic used by state legislators to draw the lines of electoral districts in a way that provides their party an unfair advantage.

Holder said a redistricting process should reflect the composition of the people in the areas drawn fairly, informed by the census results. But parties sometimes draw strangely shaped lines to guarantee dominance in their district, based, for example, on its racial composition as a predictor of voting patterns.

“We are trying to break up this whole gerrymandering. We want to make sure that, come 2021, we have a fair process,’ said Holder.

The purpose of the campaign is “not gerrymandering for Democrats, I want to make that very clear,” he said. “If we make this a fair fight between conservative Republicans, Democrats, progressives, Democrats and progressives will do just fine.”

What this comes down to is a goal for Democrats, in Texas and elsewhere, for 2020. We saw what happened following the 2010 elections when Republicans took control of state legislatures across the country, and drew districts for themselves that ensured their continued control even in closely divided states. The 2020 election is just as important, for the same reason. If you don’t have any control over the redistricting process, then redistricting is done to you, and there’s no reason to believe the federal courts as they now stand will do anything about it. The one thing Democrats in Texas can do is win control of the House. That’s a tall order, as it will take winning 20 seats, but there are lots of targets and Presidential year turnout should help.

I’ve talked several times about how Republicans are going to have some tough decisions to make about redistricting in 2021, given the results of the 2018 election and the likelihood of a similar election in 2020. Protecting their incumbents will be a challenge, especially given the assumption that will need to be made about the basic partisan composition of the state. All this presumes it will be Republicans making those decisions. Give Democrats a majority in the House and the calculus changes completely. That may be the only realistic path to a non-partisan redistricting commission going forward. The point of this activism by Eric Holder, and the main thing people should take away from these meetings, is that this is a primary goal for 2020, because it will set the stage for the decade to follow. If you need a reason to get ready to work as hard in 2020 as you did in 2018, this is it.

Precinct analysis: 2018 State House

Beto O’Rourke won 76 State House districts. Out of 150. Which is a majority.

Let me say that again so it can fully sink in.

BETO O’ROURKE WON 76 STATE HOUSE DISTRICTS.

Remember that after the 2016 election, Democrats held 55 State House Districts. They picked up 12 seats last year, thanks in large part to the surge that Beto brought out. But there were nine other districts that Beto carried where the Dem candidate fell short. Let’s start our review of the State Rep districts by looking at those nine.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD26   47.6%   50.5%   43.4%   47.8%   48.9%   48.5%   44.9%
HD64   44.5%   49.8%   43.9%   46.8%   47.4%   46.5%   44.0%
HD66   49.7%   52.5%   44.1%   49.2%   50.4%   48.8%   45.7%
HD67   48.8%   52.3%   44.5%   49.2%   50.4%   48.8%   45.7%
HD108  49.9%   57.2%   46.0%   52.7%   54.2%   51.9%   46.5%
HD112  49.0%   54.4%   47.5%   51.4%   52.5%   51.7%   48.7%
HD121  44.7%   49.7%   42.0%   46.9%   48.4%   47.7%   42.4%
HD134  46.8%   60.3%   50.4%   57.9%   59.1%   57.5%   48.6%
HD138  49.9%   52.7%   46.6%   50.6%   51.5%   51.1%   47.5%

Some heartbreakingly close losses, some races where the Republican winner probably never felt imperiled, and some in between. I don’t expect HD121 (Joe Straus’ former district) to be in play next year, but the shift in HD134 is so dramatic it’s hard to see it as anything but a Democratic district that just needs a good Dem to show up and take it. 2012 candidate Ann Johnson has declared her entry into the race (I am aware of one other person who was looking at it, though I do not know what the status of that person’s intent is now), so we have that taken care of. I won’t be surprised to see other candidates start to pop up for the other districts.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD45   51.6%   55.1%   47.9%   51.8%   52.6%   52.2%   49.3%
HD47   52.4%   54.9%   46.7%   51.7%   52.9%   51.6%   48.4%
HD52   51.7%   55.7%   48.0%   52.0%   53.3%   52.2%   49.3%
HD65   51.2%   54.1%   46.6%   50.8%   51.8%   50.6%   47.6%
HD102  52.9%   58.5%   50.1%   55.5%   56.7%   55.1%   51.3%
HD105  54.7%   58.7%   52.5%   55.5%   56.8%   56.1%   53.7%
HD113  53.5%   55.5%   49.4%   53.1%   53.9%   53.4%   51.4%
HD114  55.6%   57.1%   47.2%   54.1%   55.5%   53.4%   48.4%
HD115  56.8%   58.2%   49.9%   54.8%   56.1%   55.5%   51.2%
HD132  49.3%   51.4%   46.3%   49.5%   50.2%   50.0%   47.6%
HD135  50.8%   52.9%   47.3%   50.8%   51.6%   51.5%   48.8%
HD136  53.4%   58.1%   49.9%   54.2%   55.5%   54.2%   51.3%

These are the 12 seats that Dems flipped. I’m sure Republicans will focus on taking them back, but some will be easier than others. Honestly, barring anything unexpected, I’d make these all lean Dem at worst in 2020. Demography and the Trump factor were big factors in putting these seats in play, and that will be the case next year as well.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD14   43.6%   48.4%   40.9%   45.3%   45.0%   44.5%   41.1%
HD23   41.4%   44.0%   39.6%   42.7%   43.5%   43.3%   41.1%
HD28   45.8%   48.1%   41.8%   45.7%   46.5%   46.4%   43.2%
HD29      NA   47.0%   41.2%   44.9%   45.7%   45.9%   42.9%
HD32      NA   47.0%   38.9%   44.9%   45.2%   45.9%   42.2%
HD43   38.9%   44.1%   37.4%   43.4%   43.3%   43.9%   42.3%
HD54   46.2%   49.0%   43.8%   46.5%   47.0%   46.8%   45.0%
HD84   39.8%   43.1%   37.4%   41.5%   41.2%   39.8%   37.7%
HD85   43.5%   44.7%   39.8%   43.2%   44.1%   44.1%   41.6%
HD89   40.5%   43.5%   37.1%   41.1%   41.7%   40.5%   38.0%
HD92   47.4%   48.3%   41.9%   45.6%   46.5%   45.8%   43.1%
HD93   46.1%   48.2%   42.1%   45.6%   46.3%   45.5%   42.9%
HD94   43.9%   47.9%   41.1%   44.9%   46.0%   45.1%   42.2%
HD96   47.2%   49.5%   43.9%   47.6%   48.1%   47.6%   45.3%
HD97   44.9%   48.6%   41.3%   45.7%   46.5%   45.4%   42.4%
HD106  41.7%   44.2%   37.1%   41.3%   42.0%   41.0%   38.1%
HD122  38.1%   43.4%   36.1%   40.5%   41.9%   41.2%   36.7%
HD126  45.2%   47.8%   42.5%   46.1%   46.7%   46.3%   43.5%
HD129  41.8%   45.2%   39.1%   43.4%   44.3%   44.2%   40.0%
HD133  41.9%   45.0%   36.6%   43.4%   44.2%   42.8%   36.3%

Here are the generally competitive districts, where Dems can look to make further inroads into the Republican majority. Well, mostly – HD23 in Galveston, formerly held by Craig Eiland, and HD43 in South Texas, held by Rep. JM Lozano, are going in the wrong direction. I wouldn’t say that Dems should give up on them, but they should not be a top priority. There are much better opportunities available.

To say the least, HD14 in Brazos County is a big surprise. Hillary Clinton got 38.1% of the vote there in 2016, but Beto came within 1100 votes of carrying it. It needs to be on the board. Rep. Todd Hunter in HD32 hasn’t had an opponent since he flipped the seat in 2010. That needs to change. HD54 is Jimmy Don Aycock’s former district, won by Rep. Brad Buckley last year. It’s been at least a light shade of purple all decade, but it’s non-traditional turf for Dems, who never felt much need to go after Aycock anyway. It’s split between Bell and Lampasas counties, and will need a big win in Bell to overcome the strong R lean of Lampasas. HD84 in Lubbock isn’t really a swing district, but Beto improved enough on Hillary’s performance there (34.8% in 2016) to put it on the horizon. The Dem who won the primary in HD29 wound up dropping out; we obviously can’t have that happen again. All of the HDs in the 90s are in Tarrant County, and they include some of the biggest anti-vaxxers in the House – Stickland (HD92), Krause (HD93), and Zedler (HD96). You want to strike a blow against measles in Texas, work for a strong Democratic performance in Tarrant County next year.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD31  100.0%   54.5%   47.3%   53.6%   54.5%   54.3%   53.7%
HD34   61.1%   54.6%   46.5%   53.5%   53.6%   54.8%   52.2%
HD74  100.0%   55.9%   50.4%   53.9%   54.1%   55.0%   53.3%
HD117  57.4%   58.3%   50.7%   54.3%   56.3%   55.9%   53.4%

These are Dem-held districts, and they represent the best opportunities Republicans have outside of the districts they lost last year to win seats back. HD117 went red in 2014 before being won back in 2016, so at least in low-turnout situations these districts could be in danger. Maybe the 2018 numbers just mean that Greg Abbott with a kazillion dollars can do decently well in traditionally Democratic areas against a weak opponent, but this was the best Dem year in a long time, and if this is how they look in a year like that, you can imagine the possibilities. If nothing else, look for the Republicans to use the 2021 redistricting to try to squeeze Dem incumbents like these four.

Cornyn still thinks he may face Beto

He could be right, but I would not expect it.

Big John Cornyn

Beto O’Rourke has ruled out another run for the Senate, and as he edges closer to a bid for president, Texas Democrats are still searching for someone to challenge Sen. John Cornyn.

But Cornyn isn’t convinced O’Rourke has given up his Senate aspirations.

On Tuesday, he sent donors an email blast warning of “Beto’s Texas,” hinting that the El Paso Democrat could yet come after him, and asking for help filling a new “Stop Beto Fund.”

“I don’t think it’s out of the realm of the possibility that that could happen,” Cornyn said Wednesday when asked about his fundraising message. “The filing deadline is December the 9th, I believe. So my expectation is that perhaps Beto, perhaps Julian Castro or others who have indicated that they’re running for president — if they’re not getting a lot of traction then obviously it’s very easy to pivot into the Senate race.”

Cornyn is correct that no matter what Beto (or Julian, for that matter) says now, there’s a lot of time between now and December 9, and a lot of people running for President. Some number of them may very well not make it to the starting line, and if so they could easily jump into another race like this. Bill White was running for Senate, in anticipation of Kay Bailey Hutchison stepping down to run for Governor, for quite some time in 2009 before he finally figured out that KBH was staying put. Only then did he shift gears to run for Governor. It could happen. I don’t think it will because I don’t think anyone who has the capability of raising money and building a team is going to drop out before the first votes are cast, and that won’t happen till after the filing deadline. But I could be wrong. Cornyn is not wrong to tout the possibility – I figure Beto is at least as big a boogeyman among Republican campaign donors as Nancy Pelosi. May as well ride that horse till it drops.

Other interesting bits:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, had urged O’Rourke to run against Cornyn.

After O’Rourke decided against it, Schumer met with Hegar, who lost to Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, by about 8,000 votes out of 281,000.

Nearly 3 million people have viewed a 3-minute campaign video that Hegar, a decorated Air Force helicopter pilot, used in her effort to unseat Carter.

But Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the party’s House campaign arm — is urging Hegar to run against Carter, The Hill reported Wednesday.

Bustos also said that Gina Ortiz Jones, an Iraq War veteran, will take a second shot at Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio.

“I would say over the next, you know, one, two, three cycles, that that state’s going to look very different,” Bustos said.

Seems clear that what the national Dems want is Beto for Senate, and basically all of the 2018 Congressional candidates – CD24 not included – back for another go at it. Second choice is Joaquin for Senate and the rest as above. We need to know what Beto is doing before we can know what Joaquin is doing, and the rest follows from that. That’s another reason why I think it’s either/or for Beto – once he’s all in for President (or for not running at all), he will no longer have a clear pathway to the nomination for Senate. Someone else will be in that lane, and the surest way to evaporate one’s good will among the party faithful is to be a Beto-come-lately into a race where a perfectly fine candidate that some number of people will already be fiercely loyal to already exists. As someone once said, it’s now or never.

The Harris County GOP has not hit bottom yet

I have four thing to say about this.

Never forget

Drubbed. Shellacked. Whooped. Walloped. Routed.

However you want to describe November’s midterm election, it was disastrous for Harris County Republicans. They were swept from the remaining countywide posts they held — the other shoe to drop after Democrats booted the Republican sheriff and district attorney two years ago — and lost all 55 judicial seats on the ballot. For the first time in decades, Democrats will hold a majority of Commissioners Court.

The path forward for the local GOP is unclear. The party’s statewide slate went undefeated yet rebuked by Harris County voters, raising questions about whether its pitch to rural voters alienated urban ones. In the state’s most populous county, and his home base, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz got just 41 percent of the vote.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson, however, is optimistic. He said several local Republicans would have won, chief among them County Judge Ed Emmett, if straight-ticket voting had been eliminated before the election. Republicans in the Texas Legislature decided to retire the straight-ticket option after 2018, which traditionally benefited their party, but proved disastrous for the GOP in urban counties this cycle.

“Pendulums will swing back,” Simpson said. “I’m confident in the near future, we’ll be back.”

Scholars and Emmett, the county executive for 11 years before his upset loss, offered a less rosy assessment — that of a party catering to a largely white, graying base that is failing to adapt to changing demographics and awaiting the return of a “normal” electorate that has ceased to exist. November 2018 should be a wake-up call, they say, but they wonder if the local Republican Party is listening.

“If you look at ’18 as a turning point for Harris County, there’s nothing data-wise that would give you any indication this was an aberration and not a structural change,” said Jay Aiyer, who teaches political science at Texas Southern University. “If anything, you could see it actually swinging harder to the Democrats in ’22.”

Mark Jones, who studies Texas politics at Rice University, offered a more tepid view. He said the broad unpopularity of President Donald Trump drove some voters to the polls this fall who may not have participated otherwise.

“If you take Trump out of the equation and put in a more liberal Democrat … it’s not clear to me that Democrats have the same level of advantage,” Jones said. “The county is trending from red, to pink, to purple. But I would not say Harris County is blue.”

[…]

Republicans have not won a countywide post in a presidential election year since 2012. University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the local GOP would be wise to lower its expectations for 2020, which likely will feature an unpopular president at the top of the ticket.

“The Republicans need to show they’ve still got a pulse after the disaster that befell them in ’18,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s about the best they can hope for in a presidential year.”

Simpson, who has led county Republicans since 2014, said the party will focus on recruiting fresh candidates who can appeal to a wide swath of voters, rather than the sliver of partisans who vote in primaries. He lauded the success of Dan Crenshaw in the 2nd Congressional District, a young, charismatic combat veteran who beat better-funded candidates in the primary.

Crenshaw’s win, Simpson said, showed candidates “can be conservative and still be cool.”

The Texas 2nd, however, is a district drawn for Republicans that has a far greater proportion of white residents than Harris County as a whole.

1. I’ve said all there is for me to say about straight ticket voting. The embedded image is a reminder that Republicans used to be big fans of straight ticket voting. Turns out that straight ticket voting works really well for the party that has more voters to begin with. There’s an awful lot of Republicans in this state who never contemplated the possibility that they would not be the majority party.

2. As noted in the title of this post, Republicans in Harris County have not hit rock bottom quite yet. One thing I discovered in doing the precinct data analyses is that Beto O’Rourke carried all eight Constable/Justice of the Peace precincts. I didn’t write about that in part because I didn’t quite believe it, but there it is. The three Republican Constables and three of the six Republican JPs are on the ballot in 2020. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that after the 2020 election, the only Republicans holding county office will be the three JPs in Place 2 (the of-year cycle), County Commissioner Jack Cagle, and the three not-at-large HCDE Trustees. Those last three JPs could then be wiped out in 2022, along with the HCDE Trustee for Precinct 2, with the Trustee for Precinct 3 (who won this year by less than a percentage point) on track for elimination in 2024. Yes, lots of things can change, and I’m assuming that Commissioner Steve Radack will either be defeated in 2020 or will step down and the Republicans will fail to hold his seat. My point is, the Republicans not only have very little left, what they have is precarious and fragile, and there are no obvious opportunities to make gains in county government.

(You may now be saying “But Adrian Garcia will have to run for re-election in 2022, and he won a close race this year under favorable circumstances, so he could lose then.” Yes, but do you know what happens between now and the 2022 elections? The County Commissioner precincts undergo redistricting. Jack Morman benefited from that process after his win in 2010; what I wrote here was premature but in the end turned out to be accurate. I guarantee you, Precinct 2 will be friendlier to Commissioner Garcia’s re-election prospects, and if a Dem wins in Precinct 3 in 2020, it will be friendlier to that Commissioner’s prospects in 2024 as well.)

Legislatively, Dems have more targets (HDs 138, 134, and 126, with longer shots in 129 and 133 and even 150) than they have seats to defend. Lizzie Fletcher will have to defend CD07, but Dan Crenshaw will have to defend CD02, and he didn’t win his seat by much more than Fletcher won hers by (7 points for Crenshaw, 5 points for Fletcher). CD10 and CD22, which cover more than Harris County, are already on the national radar for 2020 as well. We’re not watching the battleground any more, we’re in the thick of it.

3. The Republicans’ problems in Harris County run deeper than Donald Trump. Every statewide elected official, most especially Dan Patrick (here shilling for the ludicrous “wall”) and Ken Paxton, who is spending all of his energy outside his own criminal defense on destroying health care, is a surrogate for Trump. People were just as fired up to vote against Patrick, Paxton, and Sid Miller as they were to vote against Ted Cruz, and the numbers bear that out. They’ll get another chance to do that in 2022, so even in a (please, God, please) post-Trump landscape, there will still be reminders of Trump and reasons to keep doing the work that we started in 2018.

4. All that said, we know two things for sure: One is that there are more Democrats than Republicans in Harris County, which is a combination of demographic trends, Donald Trump laying waste to American values, and sustained voter registration efforts. Two, Republicans have been unable to compete in a high-turnout election in Harris County since 2008. (2010 was a relatively high turnout year, for an off year, but it was still only 41.7%, quite a bit less than this year’s 52.8%.) It is a reasonable question to ask if Dems can be dominant in a low-turnout scenario. 2014 was a terrible year for turnout, and Republicans swept the county, but with the topline Rs mostly winning by four to six points. There’s definitely a scenario under which Rs could do well in 2022 and in which the demographic and political patterns we have seen do not fundamentally change. It’s hard to see how they compete going forward without a serious effort to rebrand, and every day that Donald Trump and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and Sid Miller are in office, that rebranding becomes harder to do. Lots of things can change. The Republican Party needs to be one of them.

Precinct analysis: Undervotes in the city

We’ve previously discussed non-partisan initiatives at the end of the ballot and how often people have undervoted in them in the past. Now let’s take a closer look at the two ballot items from this year.


Dist    A Yes    A No  A Under  A Under%
========================================
HD127  16,846   9,479    4,882    15.64%
HD129  15,278   6,940    4,410    16.56%
HD131  22,871   7,418    6,460    17.58%
HD133  37,434  15,266    9,363    15.09%
HD134  49,237  14,002    9,575    13.15%
HD137  14,463   5,022    5,140    20.87%
HD138  13,013   5,957    3,778    16.61%
HD139  18,245   6,560    4,406    15.08%
HD140   5,583   2,110    2,333    23.27%
HD141  10,341   2,964    3,766    22.06%
HD142  11,785   3,801    3,631    18.89%
HD143   6,577   2,596    2,831    23.58%
HD145  16,414   6,054    5,499    19.66%
HD146  28,706   8,365    7,047    15.97%
HD147  37,676   9,694    8,510    15.23%
HD148  31,230  10,823    6,811    13.94%
HD149  10,172   3,415    4,790    26.07%

Dist    B Yes    B No  B Under  B Under%
========================================
HD127  16,228  11,551    3,427    10.98%
HD129  13,701   9,714    3,215    12.07%
HD131  19,942  11,552    5,255    14.30%
HD133  29,272  25,394    7,403    11.93%
HD134  32,928  32,079    7,810    10.73%
HD137  13,183   7,161    4,282    17.39%
HD138  11,813   7,901    3,035    13.34%
HD139  14,426  11,165    3,621    12.40%
HD140   5,797   2,411    1,818    18.13%
HD141   7,965   5,687    3,420    20.03%
HD142   9,533   6,613    3,070    15.98%
HD143   7,091   2,784    2,130    17.74%
HD145  16,267   7,699    4,000    14.30%
HD146  23,173  15,199    5,753    13.04%
HD147  28,968  19,939    6,971    12.48%
HD148  26,125  17,719    5,020    10.27%
HD149  10,261   4,250    3,866    21.04%

Remember that these are city of Houston elections, so only people in the city voted on them. The missing State Rep districts are the ones that are mostly not in Houston, and for the most part had only a handful of votes in them. Again, Prop A was the Renew Houston cleanup measure, which had little to no campaign activity around it, while Prop B was the firefighter pay parity proposal and was higher profile, though not that high profile given the intense interest in and barrage of ads for other races. Here for the first time you might entertain the idea that there’s some merit to the claim that Democratic voters might be more inclined to drop off before they get to the bottom of the ballot than Republican voters. Only HDs 139, 147, and 148 are on the lower end of the undervote spectrum. It’s suggestive, but far from conclusive. Remember, these are non-partisan ballot initiatives, not races between candidates who are clearly identified with political parties. We’ll examine that data in another post. This is also only one year’s worth of data. I may go back and take a closer look at the 2010 Renew Houston and red light camera referenda, but I don’t know how directly comparable they are – there was more attention paid to those two issues, and the political environment was very different. (I am amused to note that the Chron editorial board was blaming straight ticket voting for the demise of red light cameras, because of course straight ticket voting is history’s greatest monster, or something like that.) I’m going to take a closer look at undervoting in judicial races in another post. For now, if one wanted to make a principled and data-driven case that Republicans are more likely to vote all the way down the ballot than Democrats, you might cite the city referenda from this year. It’s one piece of data, but at least it’s something. As you’ll soon see, however, you’re going to need more than this.

Still more about straight ticket voting

And I’m still complaining about how the subject is being approached and discussed.

Fewer than half of Texans voted straight ticket in 1998, according to research by Austin Community College political scientist Stefan Haag, but that has jumped to close to two-thirds in four straight elections since 2012.

Both Democrats and Republicans benefitted from straight-party voting this year, said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. “Straight-ticket voting tends to benefit the majority party in whichever jurisdiction you’re operating. And so therefore it benefitted the Republican Party statewide, but it worked to the detriment of Republicans in the major urban counties, with Harris County and Dallas County being the two leading examples, but also the 1st, 14th and 5th court of appeals districts, where it also worked to their detriment,” Jones said, referring to Democratic sweeps of appellate judge races in some areas.

Texas doesn’t track statewide numbers on straight-party voting, so compiling data requires a county-by-county search. Texas Monthly looked at the state’s 40 most-populous counties, which accounted for 83 percent of the votes Texans cast in the 2018 midterm. That approach is similar to that used by Haag, who has been tracking straight-ticket voting in Texas since 1988 by looking at counties that account for 80 percent of the statewide vote. Here’s what we found:

[…]

The end of straight-ticket voting likely will help the Republicans check the Democrats’ recent momentum in the 2020 election, at least in lower-profile races, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said. “Only the most committed voters are likely to continue to vote all the way down the ballot. Republicans have more committed voters than Democrats at this point. So I think that advantage will shift back towards the Republicans in those down-ballot races.”

[…]

Jones and Rottinghaus said the end of the straight-party option could have profound impact on elections. Many voters will “roll off” the ballot after voting at the top of the ticket, leaving down-ballot races blank. Other voters may be pushed away from polls because of hours-long lines.

“I would say that we are very likely to see down ballot drop off. Most voters saw greatly from voter fatigue by the time they are at page three of the ballot and because of very long ballots we’ve got in the state it’s very likely that people just grow frustrated and simply stop voting,” leaving numerous races blank, Rottinghaus said.

There are some interesting statistics in the story, which you should go read, about big counties and smaller counties and Republican versus Democratic places. Dems appear from the numbers given to have been more likely to vote a straight ticket this year, which I would attribute to their overall enthusiasm level and the desire to send a message to Donald Trump and his enablers. Republicans still voted a heavy straight ticket as well, and in the end given that there were more Republicans voting overall, there were probably more Republican straight ticket voters. You have to check that on a county by county basis to know for sure, and I for one don’t have the time for that.

But of course it’s the unsupported assertions by the usual political science talkers that are driving me crazy. What evidence do you have for “voter fatigue”? What evidence do you have that Republicans are “more committed”? At least I’m willing to cite some actual numbers. What do you have, Brandon Rottinghaus and Mark Jones? Show your work, like you’d make a student do. I will say, if you look at Harris County results, the undervote rate in the judicial elections creeps upward as you go farther down the ballot. In those ranges I cited in that link above, the low end was always from the one of the first races, and the high end was always close to the bottom. But races like County Clerk and others that come after the judicial races have lower undervote rates, so it’s not just about “fatigue”, it’s about how much a voter knows about the race. The County Judge race this year had an undervote rate of 1.81%, on par with the statewides way up near the top of the ticket. Someone needs to show me some actual data that illustrates either of these effects – and states precisely what they are, in a scientific manner – before I will believe them.

But hey, you know what else we have? We have some non-partisan bond and ballot referenda, all of which appear at the very bitter end of the Harris County ballot, and not just from this year. Why don’t we take a look at some of these and see what the undervote rates have been?


2018 City of Houston

Prop A - 16.80%
Prop B - 13.37%

Prop A was the Renew Houston cleanup measure, while Prop B was the firefighter pay parity proposal. The undervote numbers roughly correspond to the “effective” undervote rates I calculated for the 2018 judicial races. Note that for stuff like this, it’s the straight ticket voters who may be dropping off, since they would still have to scroll down to vote on these things. But overall, most people made their way down to the bottom and cast a vote, with the higher profile issue not surprisingly getting more action.


2012 Metro

Mobility referendum - 21.66%


2012 City of Houston

Prop 1 - 26.84%
Prop 2 - 29.03%

Prop A - 23.91%
Prop B - 22.96%
Prop C - 24.84%
Prop D - 24.47%
Prop E - 24.56%


2012 HCC

Prop 1 - 22.88%


2012 HISD

Prop 1 - 18.98%

The Metro referendum was the one that gave the agency a greater share of sales tax revenue. The first two city propositions were charter amendment cleanups that I couldn’t tell you anything about, while the next five were all bonds, as were the HCC and HISD issues. Typically, the HISD one got the most attention, and thus had the lowest undervote rate. Remember that in 2012, the “effective” undervote rate was higher than it was this year.


2010 City of Houston

Prop 1 - 14.38%
Prop 2 - 18.93%
Prop 3 - 11.80%

Prop 1 was Renew Houston, Prop 3 was the red light camera referendum, and Prop 2 was something that I remember zero about. These undervote rates are pretty low, especially for the super-high-profile red light referendum.

Remember, these elections don’t involve people or parties, and they are at the end of the ballot. To whatever extent voters get “tired” and drop off, these are the place where you would see it. Straight ticket votes would not affect them, and voters have no partisan cues to go by. Some of these issues are confusing, and more than a few were very low profile. If anything, I’d expect these to represent the high end of voter dropoff in a “no straight ticket” context. Obviously, we won’t really know till we start seeing the election results in 2020 and beyond. But at least we can see that the overall dropoff rate isn’t that crazy – at the high end, it’s about what we see in an At Large City Council race, and at the low end it’s like a district Council race. Again, my expectation is that in a partisan context, with the trends we’ve observed, the actual undervote rates we’ll see will be less than this. But we’ll see. And at least I’m willing to put up my data.

On straight tickets and undervotes

As we know, straight ticket voting in Texas is now officially a thing of the past. It will not be an option in 2020, the next time there will be partisan elections. Thanks to the success of Democratic candidates in 2018, particularly in Harris County, there have been a bunch of questionable takes about how the existence of straight ticket voting was the propellant for these victories. I’ve scoffed at the implicit assumption in these stories that Democrats would undervote in disproportionate numbers in the downballot races once the straight ticket option was gone, and that got me to thinking. What do we know about the undervote rate now?

In every race, some number of people don’t vote. That number is reported by the County Clerk in the election returns. Higher profile races, district races, races at the top of the ticket, these tend to have higher participation. Judicial races, which are lower profile and at the end of the ballot, those unsurprisingly tend to be the ones with the most undervotes. If these are the races most likely to be affected by the loss of the straight ticket option, then what might that effect be?

That’s the question I wanted to try to answer. So, I looked at the undervote rates in past elections, to see if there were any trends. First, though, I needed to establish what the real undervote rate is. By definition, the people who vote straight ticket are voting in each contested election, so only the people who don’t vote a straight ticket can undervote. Thus, I started out by subtracting the combined straight ticket totals for the year, and calculated the undervote rates based on the remaining tallies. Here’s what this looks like:


Year  Regular  Lo under  Hi under  Lo pct  Hi pct
=================================================
2002  296,924    46,505    58,319  15.66%  19.64% 
2006  314,606    48,626    57,970  15.46%  18.43%
2010  264,545    38,014    45,326  14.37%  17.13%
2014  219,892    27,360    33,280  12.44%  15.13%
2018  287,429    33,572    39,564  11.38%  13.76%

2004  389,898    81,724    85,333  20.96%  21.89%
2008  449,307    81,416    89,306  18.12%  19.88%
2012  386,475    66,435    73,387  17.19%  18.99%
2016  451,827    63,226    69,344  13.99%  15.35%

“Regular” is what I called the number of votes cast by those who did not vote a straight ticket. As you can see, even as turnout has varied greatly from year to year, the number of “regular” voters has remained relatively static. The next two numbers represent the range of undervote totals for the judicial races, and the numbers after them are the rates for the undervotes, adjusted to account for the straight ticket voters.

What we see from this is that even as straight ticket voting has increased, the number of people not voting in judicial elections has decreased, relatively speaking. I would attribute that to the overall increase in partisanship in recent years. That suggests to me that when straight ticket voting goes away, voters are still going to be likely to vote in all, or at least nearly all, of the races on the ballot. There will be more undervotes than there are now – as I previously observed, the undervote rate as calculated by the County Clerk over all voters was in the three to four percent range this year. It will end up between that and the lower end numbers I show above. Do bear in mind that for City of Houston elections for At Large Council spots and for City Controller, the undervote race is often above twenty percent. We’re not going to see anything like that in even-numbered years. The vast majority of voters are going to completely fill out their ballots. We’ll see what the numbers look like in 2020, but I see no reason why the trends we see here won’t continue.

Their whining is like music to my ears

From the inbox, possibly the most unintentionally hilarious press release I’ve ever had the privilege to receive, from the Harris County Republican Party:

“I am mad. Mad at the avoidable losses wreaked across Texas by the Beto Wave of straight-ticket votes. That straight-ticket wave turned Fort Bend County Democrat, defeated Republicans on appellate courts across Texas, elected Democrats across the state to Congress and the Legislature, and swept every countywide vote in Harris County. Despite the largest and most ambitious campaign the Harris County Republican Party has ever run, we fell woefully short.

“Sadly, this straight-ticket Beto Wave was once avoidable. Texas is one of only eight states that still have straight-ticket voting. In 2017, other grassroots conservatives and I championed legislation to end straight ticket voting in Texas once and for all. But, to the detriment of Republicans across Texas, straight-ticket voting was left in place for one last election–in 2018. This year, faced with the longest ballot in the country, 75% of the 1.2 million Harris County voters (presidential-year-level turnout) punched the straight-ticket option: 500K Democrat vs. 400K Republican, giving Democrats a 100,000-vote margin, with Beto O’Rourke winning Harris County by 200,000 votes.

“The result was a down-ballot sweep that would not have happened without straight-ticket voting.

“There was no substantive Democrat countywide candidate, yet they all won. Consider: did all of those 500,000 straight-ticket Democrat voters turn out planning to oust County Judge Ed Emmett? Did the straight-ticket Democrat voters who gave Commissioner Jack Cagle’s opponent 46% of the vote know they were voting for a Communist? The questions answer themselves.”

May I suggest, before we go any further, that you now click this link? I’ll wait.

Yeah. That’s from their Facebook page, and it was on the the Harris County GOP website as of Friday. Here’s a screenshot I took at the time:

So, yeah. You know, I’m old enough to remember the year 2010, when two thirds of all voters cast a straight-ticket ballot, giving the Republicans a 50,000-vote advantage before anything else was counted. Funny how that only became a problem to fear when there started to be more Democrats in the county.

Also, too:

In the run-up to Election Day, an influential Tea Party group seemed skeptical that a blue wave would wash over the state.

But after the votes were tallied Tuesday, the NE Tarrant Tea Party found that some of its favored candidates had nearly been swept away.

“Slaughtered … slaughtered … lost … lost … barely held on, but at least they won,” the group’s president, Julie McCarty, wrote to supporters Wednesday, ticking down a list of races. “We are rapidly becoming outnumbered. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I don’t like the pattern.”

Though the GOP maintained its dominance of the Legislature and control of every statewide office, it was by almost all counts a tough night for her wing of the party. With the Democrats’ star senatorial candidate, Beto O’Rourke, at the top of the ticket, challengers running to the left of far-right — and often well-financed — candidates made nail-biters of races that had once been safe Republican wins.

[…]

Political analysts say the results spell trouble for the no-holds-barred conservatism that has animated Republican primaries, especially with the success of Democratic challengers who this year campaigned on bread-and-butter issues like education and health care.

“The margins for the more combative and conservative Republicans were much smaller than that of the more pragmatic and more consensus-based Republicans,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor. “That says something to Republicans that is: When you have a candidate that doesn’t alienate people, your cushion is much larger.”

McCarty, the NE Tarrant Tea Party president, did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Michael Quinn Sullivan, head of the deep-pocketed and hard-right Empower Texans group.

But in an email newsletter Wednesday, Sullivan said it “was a rough night for Texas Republicans.”

“Elections come and go; some candidates lose and some candidates win. Sometimes those losses and wins have nothing to do with the candidates themselves,” the newsletter said. “Legislatively, though, not much changes. The GOP holds commanding leads in Texas’ House and Senate.”

The lower chamber’s most conservative faction, the Freedom Caucus, may in fact gain membership next session, with the entrée of several new ideologically aligned candidates.

McCarty, in an email to supporters, attributed the election outcome to an influx of Democrats and “white guilt” invading the suburbs.

“It’s not that we didn’t work hard. It’s not that folks didn’t vote. Dems are moving in from out of state, lured in by short-sighted politicians. Dems are moving in across the border. Dems run our schools and universities and churn out more Dems,” she wrote.

Clearly, we need to build a wall around the entire state. Maybe we can make California pay for it. As for the thesis that the wingnuts will perform some strategic moderation, let’s just say that the evidence for that is thin so far.

I mean, look, we may well lose some amount of the ground we gained this year in the 2020 election. Lord knows, I was feeling pretty damn giddy around this time in 2008 as well, and we know what happened next. But damn, I’m gonna enjoy this for now. Campos has more.

Initial reactions: Harris County

Let’s start with the obvious.

Judge Ed Emmett

Harris County Democrats rode a surge in voter turnout to a decisive victory on Tuesday, unseating several countywide Republican officials, including longtime County Judge Ed Emmett, and sweeping all 59 judicial races.

Emmett, who courted Democratic ticket-splitters and leaned on his reputation as a steady hand during hurricanes, conceded at 11 p.m. to 27-year-old challenger Lina Hidalgo, who was running in her first race for public office.

After defeating the Republican sheriff and district attorney two years ago, Harris County Democrats now will control all of the countywide elected posts. In addition, former sheriff Adrian Garcia defeated incumbent Republican Jack Morman in the Precinct 2 commissioner’s race, giving Democrats control of Commissioners Court.

[…]

University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus attributed the Democrats’ success to changing demographics in the largest Texas county and a superb get-out-the-vote effort by Democratic groups.

“Democrats have harnessed the blue wave, at least locally,” Rottinghaus said. “Harris County is going to be trending more purple, which is going to spell difficulty for Republicans in countywide races in the future.”

The upset fulfilled the nightmare scenario Republicans feared: Democratic straight-ticket voters who have a positive opinion of Emmett failed to venture far enough down the ballot to vote for him, handing the win to Hidalgo.

Hidalgo will be the first Latina county judge, and youngest since a 23-year-old Roy Hofheinz was elected in 1936. She has lived in Harris County sporadically as an adult and has never attended a meeting of Commissioners Court.

Hidalgo was an energetic campaigner who implored voters not to settle for the status quo. She criticized Emmett for failing to push harder for flood protection measures in the decade before Hurricane Harvey, when parts of the county were flooded by several storms. Emmett had campaigned on his record, contrasting his 11 years as the county’s chief executive with Hidalgo’s lack of formal work experience.

At Emmett’s watch party at the Hotel ZaZa, his supporters stared in disbelief at monitors displaying the results. Emmett spoke briefly and compared this election to the 1974 midterms following the Watergate scandal, when a wave of incumbents were defeated.

“If this happens the way it appears, I won’t take it personally,” Emmett said. “It is a bitter pill to swallow, but Harris County will move on. I will be fine.”

Supporter Xavier Stokes chalked up the county judge race result to straight-ticket voting, rather than a referendum on Emmett himself.

“He’s done such a good job, and yet here we are,” Stokes said. “It just shows you how this type of voting distorts the outcome.”

I’m not surprised to see straight ticket voting get the blame here. Lisa Falkenberg and Judge Emmett himself are both pushing that narrative, though to Falkenberg’s credit she also recognized that some awful Republicans in Harris County had been the beneficiary of straight ticket voting in the past. Judge Emmett is a good person and he has been a very competent County Judge, but his problem wasn’t so much the straight ticket option as it was that so many more Democrats than Republicans voted. Beto O’Rourke carried Harris County by almost 200,000 votes. All of the statewides except Lupe Valdez (+66K), Joi Chevalier (+97K), and Roman McAllen (+100K) carried Harris by more than the Democratic margin in straight ticket votes. Emmett pitched his campaign at Democrats because he had no choice. He knew he was swimming in very deep waters. To assume that the straight ticket voters cost him the election is to assume that without that option, the Democratic straight ticket voters would have significantly either undervoted in the County Judge race or gone on to vote for Emmett as the (likely) only Republican they chose – which, remember, they still could have done anyway – and also that a significant number of Republican straight ticket voters would have remembered to vote all the way down the ballot as well. Maybe straight ticket voters cost Emmett this race and maybe they didn’t, but when you start out with a deficit that large you need everything to go right to have a chance at overcoming it. Not enough went right for Ed Emmett.

Two other points to note here. One is that I don’t remember anywhere near this level of mourning when straight ticket Republicans in 2010 ousted then-State Rep. Ellen Cohen and then-County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, the latter in favor of a little-known young first time candidate. Two, it was within the power of the formerly-Republican-dominated Commissioners Court to take measures to mitigate against the seemingly pernicious effects of straight ticket voting. They could have engaged in efforts to better educate everyone in Harris County about how its voting machines worked instead of leaving that mostly to the political parties. They could have invested in newer voting machines that provided voters with more information about their range of options in the booth. They did not do these things. Which, to be fair, may not have made any difference in the era of Donald Trump and a rising demographic tide that is increasingly hostile to Republicans. It’s just that when men of great power and influence claim to have been undermined by forces entirely beyond their control, I tend to be a bit skeptical.

Anyway. I understand the concerns that some people have about Lina Hidalgo. I think she’ll be fine, I think she’ll figure it out, and I think Harris County will be fine. I also think that the professional news-gathering organizations could send a reporter or two to Dallas and ask about their experience after the 2006 election when an even lesser-known and much less qualified Democrat ousted the respected longtime Republican County Judge in that year’s blue wave. That fellow – Jim Foster was his name – had a turbulent tenure and was ousted in the 2010 Democratic primary by current County Judge Clay Jenkins. I’m sure we could all benefit from a review of that bit of history.

Beyond that, the main immediate effect of the Hidalgo and Garcia wins will be (I hope) the swift conclusion of the ongoing bail practices litigation. With the defeat of all the Republican misdemeanor court judges, there’s no one outside of Steve Radack and Jack Cagle left in county government who supports continuing this thing, and they’re now outvoted. Longer term, the next round of redistricting for Commissioners Court should be more considerate of the Latino voters in the county, as Campos notes. I also have high hopes for some sweeping improvements to voting access and technology now that we have finally #FiredStanStanart. Long story short, a review and update of early voting hours and locations, an investment in new and better voting machines, and official support of online voter registration are all things I look forward to.

One more point of interest, in the race for HCDE Trustee Position 4, Precinct 3. Democrat Andrea Duhon nearly won this one, finishing with 49.58% of the vote. Precinct 3 is where County Commissioner Steve Radack hangs his hat, and it was basically 50-50 in 2018. Radack is up for election in 2020. Someone with the right blend of ambition and fundraising ability needs to be thinking about that starting now.

The trend in mail ballots

Wanted to take a closer look at the not-in-person aspect of early voting:


Year   Mailed  Returned  Return%    Dem %
=========================================
2008   76,187    68,612   90.06%   36.60%
2010   69,991    55,560   79.38%   30.82%
2012   92,290    76,085   82.44%   41.79%
2014   89,073    71,994   80.83%   48.94%
2016  123,999   101,594   81.93%   51.56%
2018  119,742    89,098*  74.41%*

“Mailed” is the number of mail ballots sent out, “Returned” is the number that were returned. This number is higher for the previous years than what I’ve been reporting in the daily EV posts because these numbers represent the final total, not what had arrived by the day in question. (The asterisk besides the 2018 numbers is to indicate that these are still in progress, and thus not directly comparable.) Remember, mail ballots that arrive between Friday and Tuesday also count. Going by past history, we can probably expect the total number of mail ballots to increase by three to five thousand, so the final percentage of ballots returned this year will be in the vicinity of 78%.

“Dem%” is a representative figure to illustrate how many mail voters were Democrats. For 2008 and 2012, that was the Presidential voters. For 2016, I went down to one of the Court of Criminal Appeals races, so as not to have this distorted by the crossover vote in the Presidential race that year. For 2010 and 2014, I used the Lt. Governor race. The HCDP began a program to get eligible Democratic voters to request and return mail ballots, and you can see the result as the Dem share of that vote increased. Sure, some of that was merely people shifting behavior, but some of it was new or less-likely voters participating. My expectation is that Dems will generally win the mail ballots this year. I don’t have any larger point to make, I just wanted to take a look at this for myself and see what there was.

Texas and Tarrant

The Trib looks at Beto O’Rourke’s campaign focus on Tarrant County.

Fort Worth and its outlying ranches and suburbs are mostly a backwater in Texas politics. Gerrymandered to the hilt, the national parties have mostly ignored this county.

But since Trump’s election, things have changed here thanks to organic Democratic activism and O’Rourke’s high-risk bet to stake his entire statewide strategy on flipping this county to his party.

“Tarrant County is where the energy is, where the excitement is, where they’re blowing the early voting totals from the last midterm out of the water,” he said on Friday, while campaigning on the southeast side of town. “It’s why we are so encouraged.”

But Julie McCarty, the president of the Northeast Tarrant County Tea Party, is not buying any of it.

“I have no worries about Tarrant County,” she emailed to the Tribune. “We are solidly red this go-round, though there are pockets that may be pink. Of course any area that threatens to change is always a concern so we will watch the results carefully and plan accordingly.”

O’Rourke’s strategic gamble would have sounded nuts only four years ago. One by one over the years, other Texas urban counties fell to the Democrats, but Tarrant County remained the largest Republican county in the state and a pivotal part of GOP domination of the rest of the state.

Between 2000 and 2014, each Republican presidential, U.S. senate and gubernatorial nominee carried the county by an average of 19 points. As recently as 2014, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn won Tarrant County by 24 points.

Then came Donald Trump.

With him at the top of the ticket, the GOP’s 2016 margin in Tarrant shrank to nine points — the same spread with which Trump carried the entire state.

And if O’Rourke is successful at turning Tarrant County blue next month, he will push Texas deeper into a political territory where cities are pitted against suburban and rural areas.

As the story notes and as I have observed before, the Presidential results in Tarrant County have been a pretty close match to the statewide results. You could therefore make the reductionist argument that if you can win Tarrant, you can win the state. It’s probably more accurate to say that as a county that is in parts urban, suburban, exurban, and rural, Tarrant is a decent microcosm of the state and thus a reasonable proxy for it. The Star-Tribune follows this line of thinking.

Polls show Cruz is well positioned to win his re-election bid in this reliably red state. But the money pouring into O’Rourke’s campaign, as well as the mass of yard signs declaring “Beto” planted in yards across the state, give some pause.

“Republicans want to defend (Tarrant County) as much as Democrats want to flip it,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “The Cruz campaign is hungry to get the base out in the state’s largest urban Republican county and the O’Rourke campaign is fighting for swing voters and to activate Democrats who only vote in midterms.

“Tarrant County can flip if and only if Republican turnout is lackluster and Democratic turnout is blockbuster,” he said. “The elements are in place for this to happen in a surprisingly competitive midterm election, but Tarrant flipping blue is more likely in a presidential election year.”

Is it? Here’s the same comparison for the last three non-Presidential years, substituting in the Lt. Governor results for the Presidential results, so as to avoid the weirdness of 2006:


Year  Candidate   Tarrant   Texas
=================================
2006   Dewhurst    58.77%  58.19%
2006   Alvarado    37.06%  37.35%

2010   Dewhurst    61.67%  61.78%
2010   ChavThom    34.97%  34.83%

2014    Patrick    57.07%  58.14%
2014 V de Putte    39.53%  38.71%

Seems like the same formula is true in the off years as well, with a slight tick in favor of a more Democratic Tarrant County in 2014. None of this is predictive of anything, but I can understand the reason for the focus. I’m sure I’ll check back after the election to see if this pattern holds.

Projecting Tuesday turnout

Here’s the statewide view.

By the time the polls closed Thursday, 33.7 percent of registered voters in Bexar County had voted, well past the 17.3 percent turnout at the same point in 2014, the last midterm, and close to the presidential-year turnout recorded at the same point in 2012 and 2016.

And Bexar County’s election officials are not alone in having a lot to high-five each other about. Turnout during early voting in the state’s 30 largest counties easily surpassed the entire turnout – during the early voting period and on Election Day – of the 2014 midterm and continues to race toward the turnout seen in presidential election years.

In Harris County, the state’s largest county, 32.3 percent of registered voters had voted by the end of Thursday, compared to 15.5 percent at the same point in 2014. In Dallas County, the number was 35.1 percent, compared to 15.2 percent at the same point in 2014. Early voting turnout in Travis County had already surpassed total early voter turnout in both the 2014 midterm and the 2012 presidential election by the end of Thursday.

“We’ve got a lot of unhappy and activist voters out there who have been wanting to vote for a long time,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County clerk. She attributed the bump in the number of voters to President Donald Trump.

She said voter turnout dipped slightly earlier in the week, as is often the case, but that the numbers quickly rebounded toward the end of the week, which she said will help alleviate some traffic on Election Day.

[…]

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said that the “blockbuster” turnout seen during early voting this year sets a new bar for future elections.

“It’s clear that much of the future of Texas will be fought in suburban Texas,” Rottinghaus said.

He said counties like Collin, Denton, Montgomery and Williamson saw a greater number of Democrats turning up to vote than in previous elections. That doesn’t mean that Democrats are going to win those counties, he said, but it does mean that they have become much more competitive.

“On one hand, suburban Texas is now younger and more ethnically diverse, replacing the first generation which is middle age and white” Rottinghaus said. “And Donald Trump and some of the inflammatory rhetoric have really caused a lack of interest among Republican women and college-educated voters in the suburbs.”

Rottinghaus said statewide Hispanic turnout is up slightly from 2014, which he said is “good but not great for Democrats.” While it looked like Democrats were doing better than Republicans in border counties early on in early voting, he said that it now looks like Republican voters are turning up in larger numbers.

“It’s not the groundswell that Democrats had hoped for,” Rottinghaus said.

The same story applies to young voters, Rottinghaus said. Although more young voters turned out in 2018 than in 2014, he said the 2016 presidential year still has both of the midterm years beat.

“This seems to show that younger voters, although inspired by an electric O’Rourke campaign, still need that push of a president at the top of the ticket to turn out,” Rottinghaus said.

I think what we’re going to get is going to be somewhere between 2008/2012 turnout, and 2016 turnout, which is the current high-water mark. The main question here is how many people who are going to vote have already voted. In previous off-year elections, a bit more than half of the vote – around 55% – is cast early. In Presidential years, the share of the early vote is higher, with that number spiking up in 2016. I’ll show the details later, but for now I’ll say this feels more like a Presidential year, but not exactly like one. As such, I think we’ll still see a decent number of voters on Tuesday, but for sure the bulk of the vote has already been cast.

Here are the Friday/final totals, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  52,112  392,536  462,527
2014  67,967  307,280  375,247
2018  89,098  766,613  855,711

2008  52,502  678,312  754,499
2012  66,310  700,216  766,526
2016  94,699  882,580  977,279

About where I thought we’d end up, though the potential was there for a bit more. I think the bad weather on Wednesday prevented some people from voting, with some of them shifting to Thursday or Friday and some of them still needing to vote. Here are a range of outcomes for final turnout based on what we’ve seen so far:

855,711 at 65% = 1,316,478
855,711 at 67% = 1,277,180
855,711 at 70% = 1,222,444
855,711 at 73% = 1,172,206
855,711 at 75% = 1,140,980

2008 EV = 63.5%
2012 EV = 63.7%
2016 EV = 73.0%

In other words, in 2008 and 2012 a bit more than 63% of the vote was cast early, while in 2016 that amount was 73 percent. My best guess, based entirely on gut feel, is that we’ll fall in the middle of that this year, which will put us in the 1.2 million range, or about the total for 2008 and 2012. It could still go higher or lower from there, and in the end the range of possibility is about 200K votes. The weather should be good on Tuesday, so at least there won’t be any nature-induced barriers.

One last thing to think about. In 2016, the top Republican votegetter was Tracy Christopher, who was running for the 14th Court of Appeals, with 621,960 votes, followed by Debra Ibarra Mayfield, running for the 165th District Court, with 621,060. The smallest number of votes any Democrat received who was on the ballot for everyone in the county was 610,648 by Grady Yarbrough, running for Railroad Commissioner. Most Republican judicial candidates, including all of the statewide judicials other than Eva Guzman and all of the courts of appeals candidates other than Christopher and Sherry Radack, failed to top Yarbrough’s total. If turnout really is 1.2 million or above, you tell me where the Republicans are going to get the votes to win Harris County.

The Courts of Appeals

The other judicial races where Dems have a chance to gain ground.

Republicans dominate Texas politics — but their stranglehold is especially noticeable in the courts.

Republicans hold all 18 seats on the state’s two high courts. Of the state’s 14 appeals courts, Democrats hold majorities on just three. On the other 11 courts, Democrats have no seats at all.

Democrats are hoping to flip that advantage on Election Day. In their eyes, the stars have aligned. They have a high-profile liberal darling running a competitive race for U.S. Senate at the top of the ticket. They have a controversial Republican president expected to generate backlash in his first midterm election. And enough judicial seats are up for election that Democrats could flip the four sprawling appellate court districts that serve Austin, Dallas and Houston. Hillary Clinton won those districts in 2016, but the courts are currently held entirely by Republicans.

If Democrats can sweep those races in 2018, they’ll take control of half the state’s appeals courts. And strategists say that goal is in sight.

[…]

No Democrat has been elected to the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals since 1992. The six-county district includes liberal-leaning Dallas, but also some of Texas’ most reliably red areas. In Dallas, as in Houston and Austin, large, urban centers contribute the lion’s share of the judicial district’s electorate, but right-leaning rural and suburban voters in surrounding counties have handed victories to Republicans for the past several election cycles. Only the 4th Court of Appeals, based in San Antonio, has a partisan split with Democrats in the majority. The Legislature controls these maps; the districts have changed only twice since 1967, most recently in 2005.

[…]

Ken Molberg, a district judge in Dallas, ran for 5th Court of Appeals in 2014 and came up nearly 72,000 votes short. This year, in another attempt, he’s confident things will be different. Molberg, a former Dallas County Democratic Party chair, has accumulated several hundred thousand dollars — an impressive sum for such an unstudied race — and said his region of the state is “ground zero for the party this go around.”

“The potential to switch this court in one election cycle is there, and it would be somewhat earthquake-like if that happened,” Molberg said. “It’s a tough race all the way around, but my analysis is that it can be done.”

Molberg is the best-funded of the eight Democrats battling Republicans for seats on the 13-justice court. But he said the slate will likely succeed or fail as a group.

“I don’t think individual campaigns have any effect at the court of appeals or district court level. …That’s an example of where you’re almost entirely dependent on straight-ticket voting,” said Jay Aiyer, a political science professor at Texas Southern University. “At the courthouse level, it’s easier for one party to dominate.”

[…]

“There is a real conformity, a uniformity of judicial thought on these courts that I think would really benefit from different experience,” said Meagan Hassan, who’s running as a Democrat for the Houston-based 14th Court of Appeals. She pointed to the tiny fraction of dissenting opinions written by Houston-area appellate judges, arguing that ideological balance is needed for the critical decisions these courts make.

In Tyler, for example, an all-Republican court of appeals struck down as unconstitutional the state’s new “revenge porn” law. The 3rd Court of Appeals is currently weighing the city of Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance. And state appellate courts are the last appellate stop for the vast majority of criminal cases in the state — yet many state appellate judges have no background in criminal law.

Democratic wins, Hassan said, “would bring balance to the court that hasn’t existed there in 25 years.”

That’s a theme several of the CoA candidates mentioned in the Q&As I did with them this year. They also point out that a lot of the Court of Appeals rulings stand because they don’t get heard by the Supreme Court or the CCA. I wrote about these races in 2016, when there were several pickup opportunities available, in part due to the wipeout of 2010. Dems did gain one seat each on the 4th and 13th Courts of Appeals in 2016, the latter being one they lost in 2010. They had gained three on the 4th and lost one on the 3rd in 2012, with all of those being up for re-election this time around.

For the 1st and 14th Courts, which are the ones that include Harris County, Dems lost the CoA races by a wide margin in 2014 but came much closer in 2016. Here’s an example from 2014 and an example from 2016. The deficit was close to 150K votes in 2014 but only about 40K votes in 2016. The formula for a Democratic win is pretty straightforward: Carry Harris County by a lot, break even in Fort Bend, and limit the damage in Brazoria and Galveston. That’s all very doable, but it’s likely there won’t be much room for error. It all starts with running up the score in Harris County (or Travis County for the 3rd, and Dallas County for the 5th). If that happens, we can win.

Early voting, Day 12: Final curtain

It was apparently a late night with long lines, and the report didn’t arrive by 10 PM, so you’ll have to settle for this.

When the polls closed in Harris County Friday, more voters had cast ballots than in any previous midterm election, positioning Harris County to surpass 1 million voters for the first time in a midterm election.

With a few voters still waiting in line to close out early voting, 849,406 residents had turned out, eclipsing even the tea party wave of 2010.

Friday — the 12th and final day of early balloting —saw a record 93,529 ballots cast in Harris County by 7:45 p.m. Voters faced long lines and parking woes, even as many wagered the wait on Tuesday would be worse with hundreds of thousands more voters on Election Day.

More than 4.3 million Texans have voted so far in the state’s 30 largest counties, just shy of the 4.7 million Texans who voted in the entire 2014 election.

Researchers said Democrats maintain a slight edge in Harris County that will likely grow on Election Day. The so-called Blue Wave here may not be enough to propel Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke to victory in the U.S. Senate race against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, but could doom Republicans in local races.

The electorate that has turned out the past two weeks is younger, less Anglo and contains far more new or infrequent voters than normal midterms, factors that largely benefit Democrats.

“Republicans are very good at getting their voters to turn out,” said University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus. “If there are a bunch of voters who don’t typically vote in midterms but are now, it’s probably because they’re Democratic-leaning voters.”

I figured we’d get between 90K and 100K for Friday, and it seems I was right, though we don’t have the exact count yet. Until we do, here are the totals for Thursday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  52,112  392,536  462,527
2014  67,967  307,280  375,247
2018  85,665  670,212  755,877

2008  52,502  678,312  754,499
2012  66,310  700,216  766,526
2016  94,699  882,580  977,279

The 2018 figures are for Thursday, the rest are for the whole EV period of those years. I’ll post an updated table tomorrow. Just a reminder, these are total ballots cast, not how many votes any particular candidate received. The number of mail ballots will be higher in the final accounting because of ballots received between now and Tuesday.

UPDATE: Here are the Friday/final totals, from late last night. All in all, 855K people voted, which was about 96K from yesterday. I’ll have an updated table tomorrow.

Early voting, Day 11: Almost done

Before we get to the numbers, here’s my new favorite quote of the cycle:

“If Ted Cruz had Beto’s campaign manager he’d be leading by 20 points,” said Dan Rogers, the Republican chairman in Potter County, where Cruz drew about 600 people at rally on Wednesday night as kids were out trick-or-treating.

And if the referees weren’t biased against him, and the sun wasn’t in his eyes, and the traffic lights were better timed, and the dog hadn’t eaten his homework, and so on and so forth. There’s gotta be at least a master’s thesis in plumbing the psychological depths of that wistful thought.

But that’s not what you came here for. Here are the totals for Thursday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  49,202  332,892  382,094
2014  64,729  255,652  320,181
2018  85,665  670,212  755,877

2008  52,502  591,027  643,529
2012  64,024  614,131  678,155
2016  91,817  777,575  869,392

A return to Monday’s level, but not a step up. We’ll surpass the final total for 2010 tomorrow, and if the usual pattern of the last day being busy holds, I’d expect us to finish up at around 850K. That’ll be a bit higher by the time Tuesday rolls around, as more mail ballots arrive. I’ll put together another set of projections for final turnout once we know what we’ve got. I feel like we’ve got a solid shot at topping the total turnout from 2008 and 2012, which is to say about 1.2 million. I’ll let you know after the Friday numbers come in. Until then, do what you can to make sure everyone you know gets out and votes.

Early voting, Day 10: Happy Halloween

Here are the totals for Wednesday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  48,478  288,568  337,046
2014  63,857  220,505  284,362
2018  82,009  605,869  687,878

2008  49,558  513,888  563,446
2012  61,972  549,816  611,788
2016  89,271  700,697  789,968

There was a dip in participation yesterday, which I would attribute to one part Halloween and one part bad weather. My guess is the numbers will bounce right back today. We are still very much on track to exceed the entire turnout for 2010 by the end of early voting.