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Election 2010

State and county election result relationships, part 4: What happened in 2022

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Now that the final totals are in, let’s go back and do the same exercise in comparing overall results for statewide candidates to the results they got in Harris County, and then from there comparing them to the local countywide numbers. I’m going to limit the comparisons to the last four elections, since as we saw things changed in 2016 and I don’t see any reason to go back farther than that. Here are the statewide numbers:


2016                   2018                   2020                   2022
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.24   53.95  10.71   48.33   57.98   9.65   46.48   55.96   9.48   43.81   54.00  10.19
38.38   47.35   8.97   42.51   52.11   9.60   43.87   52.90   9.03   43.44   53.41   9.97
38.53   47.96   9.43   46.49   56.07   9.58   43.56   52.90   9.34   43.62   53.40   9.78
41.18   50.78   9.60   47.01   56.90   9.89   44.49   53.16   8.67   40.91   50.56   9.65
39.36   48.28   8.92   43.39   52.74   9.35   44.08   53.49   9.41   42.10   51.08   8.98
40.05   49.86   9.81   43.19   53.71  10.52   44.76   53.76   9.00   43.63   53.15   9.52
40.20   49.53   9.33   46.41   56.68  10.27   44.35   52.97   8.62   40.51   49.92   9.41
40.89   50.72   9.83   43.91   53.25   9.34   45.18   54.45   9.27   41.81   50.40   8.59
                       46.83   56.68   9.85   44.70   54.72  10.02   42.87   51.44   8.57
                       46.29   56.48  10.19   45.47   54.00   8.53   43.55   52.13   8.58
                       46.29   55.18   8.89                          43.02   50.99   7.97
                       45.48   55.62  10.14                          42.74   50.46   7.72
                       45.85   54.90   9.05				
										
										
Min   8.92             Min   8.89             Min   8.53             Min   7.72
Max  10.71             Max  10.52             Max  10.02             Max  10.19
Avg   9.58             Avg   9.72             Avg   9.14             Avg   9.08

One could argue that the dip in the average difference between Harris County and the statewide results is a continuation from 2020, but I’m not so sure. I’m fascinated by the discrepancy between the executive office numbers and the judicial race numbers, which are the last five ones from 2022. The executive office average is 9.64, while the judicial average is 8.29. We have not seen anything like this in previous years – indeed, judicial races had some of the highest differences in all three previous cycles. My best guess for this is the same thing I’ve suggested before, that the multi-million dollar campaign waged against Democratic judges in Harris County had some modest but measurable success.

The point of this exercise was twofold. One was to show that Democrats don’t have to do all that well statewide to still carry Harris County. That’s been especially true in elections since 2016, but it was true before than. Barack Obama got 41.23% statewide, losing by 16 points, and yet Democrats won more than half of the races in Harris County. Wendy Davis got 38.90% in 2014 and lost by over 20 points; if she had lost by about 14 and a half points – which it to say, if she had done less than a point better than Obama – she’d have gotten to 50% in Harris County and Dems would have won at least some county races. Given this past history and the fact that Beto got to 54% in Harris County, the surprise is not that Dems won it’s that they didn’t sweep. I would have bet money on them taking everything with Beto at that level.

Which gets to the second item. In past elections, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County have generally outperformed the statewide candidates. Most, and in some cases all, of the judicial candidates did better than the statewide candidates’ average in Harris County. That was the key to Dems winning as many judicial races as they did in 2008 (statewide candidate average 50.62%) and 2012 (statewide candidate average 48.59%). This just wasn’t the case in 2022. Let’s start with the numbers:


Havg	51.75
Jmin	49.29
Jmax	52.30
Drop	4.71

As a reminder, “Havg” is the average percentage of the vote in Harris County for statewide candidates. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by Harris County Democratic judicial candidates. “Drop” is the difference between the top score among statewide candidates (54.00% for Beto) and the low score among the judicial candidates.

The Harris average for the statewides was the third best it has ever been, behind 2020 and 2018. As noted in the past, weak statewide candidates have in the past lost a lot of votes to third party candidates, which has dragged down the “Havg” value in those years. While most years there have been judicial candidates that have scored worse than the Havg for the year (2006 and 2016 being exceptions), in previous years the bulk of the judicial candidates did better than the Havg number.

Not this year. By my count, only eight of the 61 district and county court Democrats scored better than 51.75% of the vote. Obviously, you don’t need that much to win, but the effect was that five candidates finished below fifty percent. The range between the top scoring judicial candidate and the bottom scoring one was right in line with historic norms, but because that range began at a lower point, there was a bigger gap overall between how the statewides did compared to the local judicials. That “Drop” of 4.71 points is the second biggest ever, and the only reason that the 2010 Drop was bigger was because Bill White was a huge outlier. If there’s one thing from this election that truly surprised me, it was the gap between the top of the Democratic ticket and the judicial races. That is something we had not seen before.

Again, I believe that the massive amounts of spending by the usual cadre of Republican oligarchs had an effect. It’s something we will have to take into account next time around. Not all of this spending was aimed at the judicial candidates, of course, There was an effect on the county executive office races as well, though thankfully it was smaller:


Havg	51.75	
CJ	50.79
DC	51.17
CC	51.59
CT	51.60

I haven’t calculated a judicial average score for Harris County yet, but my gut says that the three non-County Judge candidates came in above it, while Judge Hidalgo was probably a bit below it. Good enough to win, which is what matters most. County Judge is the only really visible one of these offices and it was very much Judge Hidalgo who was the subject of the ad blitzes. I’m not in a position to say why she persevered, but I will be very interested to see how she performs in the precinct data. In the UH Hobby Center poll of Harris County from October, their second poll of the county, they were pretty accurate about Beto’s performance – they pegged him at 50-42 over Abbott, an eight point lead, which I projected to Beto getting about 54%, dead on to where he was – but they had Hidalgo trailing Mealer among Latino voters by a 47-44 margin. I thought at the time that was inaccurate and I still do, but we’ll get a reality check when the precinct data is available. Let’s put a pin in this one.

I’ve made good on my promise to throw a lot of numbers at you. I hope this made sense, I hope it illustrated why I thought the pundits were likely to be wrong about Harris County, and I hope it will help inform this discourse going forward. Past performance may not predict future results, but it does help to at least know what that past performance was. The numbers are always there.

In which Harris County Republicans look for moral victories

Believe me, as a Texas Democrat and a longtime fan of the Rice Owls, I know what it looks like to search for moral victories in the face of defeat. It looks like this.

Feel the power…

Harris County Republicans on Tuesday posted their strongest showing in years, appearing to capture their first countywide race since 2014 and nearly unseating County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

In the end, though, Hidalgo eked out a narrow victory over Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, leaving the party all but empty-handed despite massively outspending Democrats and launching an all-out push to reclaim control of Harris County Commissioners Court.

Under new precinct boundaries crafted by Democrats last year to expand their court majority, Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle also came up short against Democrat Lesley Briones, whom he trailed by more than 3 percentage points with all voting centers reporting. Democratic Commissioner Adrian Garcia also held off Republican Jack Morman by more than 5 points in Precinct 2.

Mealer conceded early Wednesday morning, cementing a 4-1 majority for Democrats on Commissioners Court.

Even Republicans acknowledged this year could be their last realistic chance, and certainly their best shot in recent years, at winning a county that has seen pronounced demographic shifts over the last couple of decades. Harris County’s population is growing younger and more racially and ethnically diverse, while adding more college-educated residents — groups that all tend to favor Democrats, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

However, Harris County Republicans saw a confluence of factors — the felony indictment of three Hidalgo aidesa rise in homicidesDemocrats bracing for a Republican wave year nationally — that appeared to put the county judge race and other countywide seats in play. Also fueling their optimism was the removal last cycle of straight-ticket voting, meaning voters no longer can cast their ballots for every candidate from one party by pressing a single button.

“The best chance to unseat a Democrat in Harris County is when they’re new to office, when they’re somewhat vulnerable, and when national trends cut against the Democrats,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s the perfect storm.”

Typically a low-profile affair, this year’s county judge race unfolded into one of Texas’ marquee election battles. Republican and business community donors, sensing Hidalgo was vulnerable, poured millions of dollars into Mealer’s campaign and political action committees backing Republican candidates, leaving Hidalgo and other local Democrats financially overwhelmed in a race few expected to be truly competitive a year ago.

The conditions in Harris County’s high-profile races appeared to boost Republicans in down-ballot judicial contests, five of which swung in favor of the GOP. Through unofficial results, Democrats appeared to lose control of two criminal district courts and three county misdemeanor courts, marking the party’s first countywide defeats in eight years.

Republicans also held a number of Democratic judicial candidates under 51 percent, far narrower results than their recent courthouse sweeps.

“We are light years from where we were four years ago. Light years,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said to a crowd at the Harris County Republican Party’s election night watch party.

Atop the ballot, Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried Harris County over Republican Gov. Greg Abbott by about 9 percentage points — far less than his 17-point margin over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.

That year, O’Rourke helped usher in a wave of Democratic wins in down-ballot county races. Under less favorable conditions atop the ticket this year, Democrats running for administrative countywide offices still narrowly retained the seats they had first captured four years ago.

I wrote three posts talking about the connection between statewide performance and Harris County performance for Democrats. This might be a good time to point out that when Republicans were running the table in Harris County in the off-year elections, they were also absolutely stomping Democrats statewide. This was a worse year for Dems statewide than 2020 and 2018 were, but it was (ahem) light years from where they were in 2014 and 2010. Light years.

I mean, I had plenty of moments of doubt and worry going into this race. Some of those late polls, the ones that had Beto down by 12 or 13 points, were in line with the expectation that Harris County would be at best a mixed bag for Dems, with the real possibility of not only losing Judge Hidalgo’s race but also the majority on Commissioners Court. Hell, having both Lesley Briones and Adrian Garcia also lose wasn’t out of the question if things were really going south. I would have preferred to not lose any of those judicial races, but I can live with it. At least now there will be benches to run for that don’t require primarying someone. Oh, and by the way, all five of the losing Democratic judges had a higher percentage of the vote than Mealer did. Just so you know.

I will say, and I’ll say it again when I write another post about the state-county connection to update it for 2022, I do think the campaign to blame Democrats for crime, and all the money spent on it, probably moved the needle enough to get at least a couple of those Republican judicial candidates over the hump. They still needed the good statewide showing to be in a position to take advantage, but every little bit helps. But crime has been declining, and the crime rate has basically nothing to do with who’s on the bench anyway, so good luck replicating that in 2026.

I must note, by the way, that some people (on Twitter and on the CityCast Houston podcast) have mentioned that the five losing Democratic judicial candidates were all Black and all had names that might suggest they are Black. On the podcast, Evan Mintz noted this and mentioned the 2008 election, in which several Democratic judicial candidates with uncommon names had lost. I will just say that if you scroll through the Election Day results you will see quite a few Democratic candidates who are Black and whose names might also suggest they are Black that won. I’ve said before, there is always some variation in the range of performance for the Democratic judicial candidates. I’ve never found a pattern that consistently explains it, and that includes this year. As such, I am very reluctant to offer reasons for why this happens. I do think as I have just stated that the millions of dollars spent on blaming crime on the judges had some effect, but if it did then the effect was an overall one, with the range of scores being a bit lower than it might have been. That was enough to push a handful of Dems below fifty percent.

By the way, the two Republican judicial candidates who lost by the largest margins were named “Geric Tipsword” and “Andrew Bayley”. Make of that what you will.

I guess the question I’d ask is how confident are you right now that things will be better for your team in 2024, and in 2026? I feel pretty confident right now that Dems will sweep Harris County in 2024. The track record in Presidential years is a bit longer and more decisive. For 2026, it’s much harder to say. The possibility of a bad year in what could be Year 6 of President Biden or Year 2 of President Some Other Democrat is one that can’t be dismissed. You couldn’t get me to wishcast a 2026 gubernatorial frontrunner right now for love or money. Current trends suggest Dems would be in a better position in four years even with those possibilities, but trends don’t always continue as they have in the past, and even when they do they can slow down or bounce around a bit. With all that said, I still like our chances. Ask me again in three years when it’s filing season for that election.

Some opening thoughts on the 2022 election

Done in the traditional bullet-point style. There may or may not be a part 2 to this, depending on the usual factors.

– Obviously the overall result was disappointing. It was harder to see a Beto victory this year from the polling data than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t lessen the sting. There were polls that had the race at about five or six points and there were polls that had it at about 11 to 13. One of those groups was going to be more right than the other, and unfortunately it was the latter.

– I’m not prepared to say that turnout was disappointing. I mean sure, Beto didn’t get the margins he had gotten four years ago in the big urban counties, and that was partly due to lower turnout. But look, turnout was over 8 million, which up until the 2020 election would have been considered Presidential level. Indeed, more votes were cast in this year’s Governor’s race than in the 2012 Presidential race. We didn’t build on 2018, certainly not as we wanted to, and turnout as a percentage of registered voters is down from 2018, but this was still by far the second highest vote total in an off year election, not too far from being the first highest. There’s still plenty to build on. And for what it’s worth, election losers of all stripes often complain about turnout.

– That said, I think any objective look at the data will suggest that more Dems than we’d have liked stayed home. I don’t know why, but I sure hope someone with access to better data than I have spends some time trying to figure it out. How is it that in a year where Dems nationally outperformed expectations the same didn’t happen here? I wish I knew.

– Turnout in Harris County was 1,100,979, according to the very latest report, for 43.21% of registered voters. A total of 349,025 votes were cast on Election Day, or 31.7% of the total. That made the pattern for 2022 more like 2018 than 2014, and the final tally came in at the lower end of the spectrum as well.

– For what it’s worth, predictions of a redder Election Day than Early Voting turned out to be false, at least when compared to in person early voting; Dems did indeed dominate the mail ballots, with statewide and countywide candidates generally topping 60%. Those five judicial candidates who lost only got about 55-56% of the mail vote, and did worse with early in person voting than their winning peers. On Election Day, most Dems did about as well or a little better than early in person voting. The Dems who fell a bit short of that on Election Day were generally the statewides, and it was because the third party candidates did their best on Election Day; this had the effect of lowering the Republican E-Day percentages as well. Go figure.

– In answer to this question, no I don’t think we’ll see Beto O’Rourke run for anything statewide again. If he wants to run for, like Mayor of El Paso, I doubt anyone would stake their own campaign on calling him a loser. But his statewide days are almost surely over, which means we better start looking around for someone to run against Ted Cruz in 2024. We know he’s beatable.

– Before I let this go, and before the narratives get all hardened in place, one could argue that Beto O’Rourke was the most successful Democratic candidate for Governor since Ann Richards. Consider:


Year  Candidate       Votes    Deficit    Pct   Diff
====================================================
2002    Sanchez   1,819,798    812,793  39.96  17.85
2006       Bell   1,310,337    406,455  29.79   9.24
2010      White   2,106,395    631,086  42.30  12.67
2014      Davis   1,835,596    960,951  38.90  20.37
2018     Valdez   3,546,615  1,109,581  42.51  13.30
2022   O'Rourke   3,535,621    889,155  43.80  11.01

He got more votes than anyone except (just barely) Lupe Valdez, but he came closer to winning than she did. He got a better percentage of the vote than anyone else, and trailed by less than everyone except for Chris Bell in that bizarre four-way race. Like Joe Biden in 2020, the topline result fell short of expectations, but compared to his peers he generally outperformed them and you can see some progress. It will take someone else to move to the next steps.

– I’ll take a closer look at the State House data when it’s more fully available, but overall I’d say Republicans did pretty well compared to the 2020 baseline. That said, there are some seats that they will have a hard time holding onto. Getting to 75 will probably take continued demographic change and the continuation of the 2016-2020 suburban trends, and a lot of work keeping up with population growth. All that will take money and wise investment. That’s above my pay grade.

– In Harris County, I was swinging back and forth between confidence and panic before Tuesday. In the end, I’m pretty happy. Getting to that 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court is huge, and that’s before savoring the end of Jack Cagle’s time in power and the enormous piles of money that were set on fire to oust Judge Hidalgo. I may have made a few rude hand gestures at some houses with Mealer signs in my neighborhood as I walked the dog on Wednesday. One of the pollsters that was close to the target statewide was the UH Hobby Center poll, but they botched their read on the Harris County Judge race, finding Mealer in the lead and underestimating Hidalgo by six points. Hope y’all figure that one out.

– In the end there were 59,186 mail ballots counted, after 57,871 mail ballots were returned at the end of early voting. These took awhile to be fully counted – as of the 5 AM tally, only 55,393 mail ballots had been tabulated in the Governor’s race, with fewer in the others. In the past, we have seen the mail ballot total go up by quite a bit more in the days between the end of early voting and the Tuesday results – for example, in 2018 there were 89,098 ballots returned as of the end of the EV period and 97,509 mail ballots tabulated. I have to assume this is about the rejection rate, which if so I’ll see it in the post-canvass election report. If not, I’ll try to ask about it.

– By the way, since there were more mail ballots counted at the end, they had the effect of giving a small boost to Democratic performance. There was a slight chance that could have tipped one or more of the closest judicial races where a Republican had been leading, but that did not happen. It almost did in the 180th Criminal District Court, where incumbent Dasean Jones trails by 465 votes – 0.04 percentage points – out of over a million votes cast. If there are any recounts, I’d expect that to be one. Unless there are a ton of provisional ballots and they go very strongly Democratic it won’t change anything, so just consider this your annual reminder that every vote does indeed matter.

I do have some further thoughts about Harris County, but I’ll save them for another post. What are your initial impressions of the election?

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. I think they’re done now. Turnout is just over 1.1 million as of this update.

Final November 2022 EV totals: Catching up

First, some slightly outdated numbers from the Chron.

Fewer Harris County voters cast ballots during this year’s early voting period than in the 2020 and 2018 elections, according to unofficial voter counts released after polls closed on Friday night.

From Oct. 24 to Nov. 4, about 736,000 people had voted at Harris County’s 99 early voting locations. They accounted for about 28 percent of Harris County’s 2.6 million registered voters.

Local voters are taking to the polls to elect dozens of local offices, including Harris County judge, as well as to vote on $1.2 billion in bond proposals and on statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and others.

But so far, the number of voters has lagged behind the turnout in recent November elections.

In 2020, which was a presidential election year, more than 1.4 million people, about 57 percent of registered voters in Harris County, voted early. In 2018, early voting turnout was 855,711 people or 36.6 percent of registered voters.

There was an uptick in recent days of voter turnout. On Friday, more than 95,000 people voted in person, the highest daily total during the two-week early voting period. The second-highest voting day was Thursday, when more than 75,000 people voted. Long lines and waits of more than 2 hours were reported at some locations on Friday. After polls closed at 7 p.m., there were still 200 people in line to vote at some locations, including NRG Stadium, according to the Harris County Election Administrator’s Office.

I’ll get to the numbers in a minutes, but this story has a publication time of 9:14 PM and refers to a tweet posted at 7 PM by the Elections office. The final in person vote count for Friday was actually 105K, so waiting till later to publish (the voters file with the final count hit my mailbox at 11:24 PM) might have been advisable. Be that as it may, this is what we got when all was said and done. Final EV totals from 2018 are here and from 2014 are here. The final totals for 2022 are here.


Year     Mail    Early    Total
===============================
2014   67,967  307,280  375,247
2018   89,098  766,613  855,711
2022   57,871  692,478  750,349

In the end, early turnout for 2022 was 87.7% of what it was in 2018, while in person turnout was 91.6% of the 2018 number. That’s down, but as noted on Friday, the gap has narrowed. All three final days of early voting had higher in person totals this year than in 2022. Comparisons to 2020 are not particularly interesting – this is a non-Presidential year, and in case you forgot there were three weeks of early voting in 2020, thanks to the pandemic. We may be hard pressed to match 2020 EV totals in 2024.

The question is, what might final turnout look like? The trend in Presidential years is that fewer votes are cast on Election Day. In 2012, 35% of votes were cast on Election Day, in 2016 it was 26% of the vote, and in 2020 – again, in a year with three weeks of early voting, and also a record number of votes by mail – just 12% of the vote was on Tuesday. That trend is much less pronounced in off years. In 2010, 44% of all votes were cast on Election Day, in 2014 it was 45%, and in 2018 it was 29%.

What that means is that if Election Day in 2022 is like it was in 2018, we’ll get about 307K votes cast (*) for a final total of about 1.057 million. If it’s more like 2014, we’ll see 614K votes cast, for 1.364 million total. Going by the estimate of about 2.53 million total voters in Harris County, that would be 41.8% turnout of registered voters on the low end, and 53.9% on the high end. That compares to 41.7% in 2010, 33.7% in 2014, and 52.9% in 2018.

My high end scenario, in other words, would mean that 2022 exceeds 2018 both in absolute numbers as well as in turnout percentage. That feels a bit exuberant to me, but not out of the question. I think the 29% turnout on Election Day is probably too low – I’ll get into that more in a minute – so let’s split the difference and say 37% of the vote happens on Tuesday. If that’s the case, then 1.191 million votes will be cast, or 47.1% turnout. That’s down from 2018 but not by much. It feels plausible to me, with the proviso that we’re all just flat-out guessing here.

One argument for why we might get a larger portion of the vote cast on Tuesday than we had in 2018 is that more voters came out in the final days of early voting this year. The last three days of early voting in 2018 accounted for about 27% of the final in person early vote total. This year, about 35% of the in person vote came out on the last three days. That at least suggests the possibility that more people are taking their time to get to the polls. Does that necessarily carry over to voting on E-Day instead of voting early? Maybe, I don’t know. We’re dealing with the tiniest possible sample sizes here, so you can read anything you want into this stuff. That’s why I try to talk in terms of ranges of possibility. Different years are, well, different. It’s plausible to me that the Election Day share of the vote this year could be higher than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t mean it will be, nor does it mean that if it is it will be as much as it was in previous years. Pick your adventure here. Have you voted yet?

(*) – Just a reminder that some number of mail ballots come in between Friday and Tuesday, which means that the mail totals you see on the official Election Night returns don’t match what I’ve got here from the daily EV tallies. In 2018, there wound up being just over 100K mail ballots, which means there were another 11K that came in after the “final” totals posted above. My guess is we’ll get between 65-67K total mail ballots this year. All this means that my calculations for the Election Day vote share are slightly off, but it’s not worth worrying about. The basic contour is still whether we get an Election Day more like 2018 or more like 2014/2010.

State and county election result relationships, part 3: Other county races

Part One
Part Two

Last time we looked at judicial races, which for all of the complaints about not knowing the candidates and just going by partisan labels have produced a consistent range of outcomes over the years. Some people are picking and choosing among judicial candidates – it’s not a huge number, and there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it, but it’s happening. With candidates for county offices, especially higher profile ones like County Judge, District Attorney, and Sheriff, there’s even more of a range of outcomes, as these candidates are better known and the reasons for crossing over are clearer. Let’s get to the data.


2006          2008          2010          2012	
CJ      N/A   DA    49.79   CJ    39.40   DA    47.66
DC    46.09   CJ    46.85   DC    46.15   CA    51.48
CC    44.69   CA    51.39   CC    44.58   Sh    52.95
CT    48.34   DC    51.06   TA    45.27   TA    48.73
HCDE  48.63   TA    46.18   CT    43.01   HCDE  51.34
              Sh    56.28							
              HCDE  52.51								
              HCDE  52.58								

2014          2016          2018          2020	
DA    46.78   DA    54.22   CJ    49.78   DA    53.89
CJ      N/A   CA    53.72   DC    55.09   CA    54.66
DC    44.82   Sh    52.84   CC    54.60   Sh    57.46
CC    45.71   TA    50.31   CT    54.21   TA    53.07
CT    44.95	            HCDE  56.71   CC    53.76
HCDE  46.85                               HCDE  55.64
HCDE  46.79                               HCDE  54.65

Abbreviations:

CJ = County Judge
DC = District Clerk
CC = County Clerk
CT = County Treasurer
DA = District Attorney
CA = County Attorney
TA = Tax Assessor
Sh = Sheriff
HCDE = At Large HCDE Trustee

Note that in some years, like 2008 for County Judge, 2010 for Tax Assessor, and 2014 for District Attorney, there were special elections due to the death or resignation of a previously-elected official. There are three At Large HCDE Trustees, they all serve 6-year terms, and in a given election there may be zero, one, or two of them on the ballot. All of the numbers are the percentages achieved by the Democratic candidate for that office. In 2006 and 2014, there was no Democrat running for County Judge.

The first thing to note is that in all but two years, the Dem disaster year of 2014 and the Dem sweep year of 2020, the range of outcomes was at least four points. In four of the eight years, the range was at least five points. Beverly Kaufmann was a trusted long-serving name brand in 2006, the last year she ran for re-election. Adrian Garcia destroyed scandal-plagued incumbent Sheriff Tommy Thomas in 2008, while Ed Emmett rode his performance during Hurricane Ike to a chart-topping Republican vote total. (There was a Libertarian candidate in the Tax Assessor race that year, so the percentages for Paul Bettencourt and Diane Trautman were lower than they would have been otherwise.) Emmett continued to overperform in subsequent years, though it wasn’t quite enough for him in the 2018 blue landslide. The late Mike Anderson got to run against the idiot Lloyd Oliver in the 2012 DA race; four years later Kim Ogg won in a second try against Devon Anderson after her office imploded. Candidates and circumstances do matter in these races in a way that they don’t quite do in judicial races.

I find it fascinating that the At Large HCDE Trustees are consistent top performers for Dems, year in and year out. Note that this remained the case in 2020, following the abolition of straight ticket voting. The Republicans have run some lousy candidates in those races – their precinct HCDE trustee candidates have generally been stronger – but I doubt that accounts for too much. Honestly, I’d probably chalk that up to the Democratic brand, especially given that it says “Education” right there in the position’s name.

Minus the outliers, and I will have one more post in this series to take a closer look at them, the ranges for the county executive office candidates are basically in line with those of the judicial candidates, and as such are usually ahead of the statewides. As with the judicial candidates, there were mixed results in the close years of 2008 and 2012, and sweeps one way or the other otherwise. While the potential is there for an exceptional result – which in the context of statewide candidates still carrying Harris County means “a Democrat unexpectedly losing” – the conditions to avoid that are clear. If Beto is getting to 54% or better, I’ll be surprised if it’s not another Dem sweep.

State and county election result relationships, part 2: Judicial races

In Part One of this series, we looked at the relationship between statewide results and Harris County results for statewide candidates. In the last three elections, statewide Democratic candidates have done on average more than nine points better in Harris County than they did overall. In the next two posts, we’re going to look at the county candidates, to see how those results compare to the statewides and what if anything we can infer about this year.

Two things should be noted up front, one of which I touched on in the previous post. First, nearly all of the statewide races have at least one third party candidate in them, and in those races the third party candidate(s) can take three to five percent of the total vote. That has the effect of lowering the percentages of both D and R candidates in those races. County candidates, on the other hand, rarely face a third or fourth contestant. In county judicial races, third party candidates are unheard of. Because of this, county Democratic candidates tend to do better than statewide Democratic candidates.

It is also the case, as noted before, that there have been a lot of, shall we say, less than compelling statewide Democratic candidates. They lack money and name recognition and that in turn helps contribute to the vote totals that the third party contenders get, where that effect tends to be greater in the lower-profile races. Harris County candidates aren’t always the highest profile, but I believe the local organizing efforts have helped them outperform the less well-known statewide candidates. All of this comes wrapped in the usual “in general, with some exceptions, some years are different than others” qualifiers. I’m just setting the table.

With all that, I will present the numbers for judicial races. I’m starting this time in 2006 – like I said, the 2002 election is just not relevant to anything anymore, and the 2004 election was marked with a large number of uncontested races.


2006          2008          2010          2012
Havg  42.90   Havg  50.62   Havg  43.46   Havg  48.59
Jmin  46.90   Jmin  48.58   Jmin  42.57   Jmin  48.19
Jmax  50.12   Jmax  52.48   Jmax  45.70   Jmax  51.38
Drop   1.09   Drop   2.93   Drop   7.66   Drop   1.20

2014          2016          2018          2020
Havg  44.76   Havg  49.80   Havg  55.25   Havg  53.83
Jmin  43.64   Jmin  50.93   Jmin  53.83   Jmin  52.56
Jmax  47.16   Jmax  54.11   Jmax  57.16   Jmax  55.51
Drop   3.44   Drop   3.02   Drop   4.15   Drop   3.40

“Havg” is the average percentage by Democratic statewide candidates for that year – you can go back and look at the first post for the list, I didn’t want to overwhelm this post with numbers. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by non-statewide Democratic judicial candidates that year. In other words, for the county, district, and appellate (1st and 14th Circuit) courts. “Drop” is the difference between the highest scoring statewide candidate and the lowest scoring local judicial candidate.

I have used average vote totals among judicial candidates in years past as a simple measure of partisanship in the county. I’m using percentages here because I want a quick visual representation of winning and losing. I am using the range here rather than an average because I want to figure out at what level of statewide performance am I comfortable saying that all local countywide Dems are likely to win, and at what level do I think some, most, or all may lose. I think this conveys the information I wanted to get across in a fairly straightforward manner.

The first thing to notice is that consistently there is a three to four point range between the top-performing Democratic judicial candidate and the low performer. I’ve studied this for years and have no idea why. I can’t see any obvious correlation to candidates’ gender, race, position on the ballot, endorsements, anything. It’s just random, as far as I can tell. The point is, there is a range. Conditions need to be such that the top candidates are at 54% or higher for the bottom ones to win. Maybe 53% is enough – you will note that the range was tighter in 2020 than in previous years, and it’s a hair less than three percentage points. But really, for me to feel comfortable, I’d want the toppers at 54%.

You may also notice, as I mentioned above, that the local judicial candidates tend to outperform the statewide candidates. 2016 is a stark example of this, as more than half of the statewides finished below fifty percent, though all of them ended up carrying the county. Yet all of the judicial candidates won easily, with the low judicial performer outdoing all of the statewides except Hillary Clinton. In 2018, a much stronger year for Dems, the bottom scorer among judicial candidates still did better than the Dem candidates for Governor, Comptroller, Land Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner. Nearly all judicial Democrats won in 2008, while more than half of them won in the weaker year of 2012. My expectation is that even in a mediocre year like 2012, at least some Dems would make it across the finish line. It would take a bad year to sink them all. I just don’t see that happening.

You might look at the 2010 numbers, and maybe even the 2018 numbers, and worry that if the top of the ticket is defined by a real outlier, the gap between that candidate and the bottom rung of the judicial ladder could be too far apart. I absolutely do not expect a “Bill White in 2010” scenario, where someone gets at least six points more than any other statewide Dem. Beto in 2018 was barely one point ahead of Justin Nelson, and less than two points ahead of four other candidates. Two judicial candidates came even closer to Beto’s performance than Nelson did. It’s my opinion that if there’s a significant gap between the top and bottom of the statewide ticket, it’s because the one(s) at the bottom tanked, not because the top dog was so dominant. Bill White was a unicorn. The closest analog to him is Adrian Garcia in 2008, and he was running against a thoroughly scandal-plagued incumbent.

How much of an effect is there with the lack of straight ticket voting? It’s a little hard to say since we just have the one election to analyze, but my view in 2020 was that a lot of people did a fine job of voting all the way down the ballot. I expect that to be largely true this year as well. When the numbers are in, I’ll look at them and see if there’s a reason to change my mind.

To me, the main concern is that the statewide Dems will not do as well as the current polling suggests they might. We need the base level to be sufficiently high, that’s pretty much the ballgame. There is also a range in the county executive office elections, and there have been a couple of outliers over the years – I’ll be examining those phenomena in future posts – and every year is different. My bottom line remains that if the baseline at the state candidate level is 53-54% for Harris County, it will be another sweep year. I think the statewides will perform more like the locals this year, as they are overall better and better-funded than most other years. If we get a decent poll of Harris County, I’ll review and if needed revise my thinking. Until then, this is where I am.

State and county election result relationships, part 1: How Harris compares

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between how statewide Democratic candidates do in Harris County versus how they do overall, and what that might tell us about the state of play in Harris County. Since I started blogging in 2002, Harris has gone from all red to a bluish purple or still red depending on what year it was to all blue. I get the sense a lot of folks don’t know how to contextualize this. The trends are clear, but we’ve only had three actual all-blue elections, and only one of them was in a non-Presidential year. We’ve had precious little polling in Harris County, none of which I’d consider useful or reliable. So if all we have is statewide polling, what if anything can that tell us?

In this post, I’m going to go through the numbers at the statewide and Harris County level and see what that can tell us. Let’s begin with the first three elections since I began blogging.


2002                   2004                   2006
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.33   45.99   2.66   38.22   44.56   6.34   36.04   41.26   5.22
39.96   43.22   3.26   40.94   44.56   3.62   29.79   34.46   4.67
46.03   46.92   0.89   40.77   45.56   4.79   37.45   41.69   4.24
41.08   43.06   1.98   42.14   46.73   4.59   37.23   40.69   3.46
32.92   36.32   3.40                          37.01   41.85   4.84
41.48   43.02   1.54                          40.96   44.13   3.17
37.82   41.59   3.77                          41.79   45.14   3.35
41.49   42.38   0.89                          41.73   44.81   3.08
40.51   43.39   2.88                          44.89   47.99   3.10
41.54   44.42   2.88                          43.35   47.02   3.67
41.89   44.05   2.16								
43.24   45.48   2.24								
45.90   50.14   4.24								
39.15   42.61   3.46								
42.61   45.14   2.53								
40.01   43.32   3.31								
										
Min   0.89             Min   3.62             Min   3.08
Max   4.24             Max   6.34             Max   5.22
Avg   2.63             Avg   4.84             Avg   3.88

The first number for each year represents the statewide percentage for each Democratic candidate. The numbers are in the order that the candidates appear on the ballot, so for a Presidential year you get President, then Senate if there was a Senate race (there was not in 2004), then Railroad Commissioner because there’s always an RRC race, then the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals races. I only reported the races that included a Democratic candidate, so this will vary from year to year. For non-Presidential years it will be Senate if there is such a race (there were in 2002 and 2006), then Governor and the state executive offices, and SCOTx and the CCA. Again, only the races with Dems so there will be variation.

The second column is the Harris County percentage for that candidate, and the third column is the difference between the two. So, for 2002, that first row is Ron Kirk’s statewide and Harris County percentages, and the fact that he did 2.66 points better in Harris. In 2004, that first row is for John Kerry, and in 2006 it’s for Barbara Radnofsky, with the second row being Chris Bell in that weird four-way gubernatorial race.

With me so far? The section at the bottom is a simple summary. It shows the minimum, maximum, and average differences between the statewide and Harris County percentages. In all cases, the Dem candidate did better in Harris than overall, though in 2002 that wasn’t very much. For Lt. Gov. candidate John Sharp and RRC candidate Sherry Boyles, it was less than a point. (If you’re wondering who it was that carried Harris County in 2002, it was CCA candidate Margaret Mirabal.) It begins to grow in 2004 but takes a step back in 2006, and in either case still isn’t very much.

I almost didn’t go all the way back to 2002 because that election was so wildly different from this one it’s like visiting another planet to look at its results. In the end I think it was useful to include all of these elections to show what conditions used to be like. If nothing else, these three years provide a nice bit of contrast to the next four election years.


2008                   2010                   2012                   2014
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.68   50.45   6.77   42.30   50.23   7.93   41.38   49.39   8.01   34.36   42.10   7.74
42.84   50.71   7.87   34.83   42.13   7.30   40.62   48.03   7.41   38.90   47.08   8.18
44.35   50.02   5.67   33.66   41.00   7.34   39.60   46.89   7.29   38.71   46.85   8.14
43.79   49.14   5.35   35.29   42.32   7.03   41.91   49.21   7.30   38.02   45.82   7.80
45.88   51.34   5.46   35.80   42.86   7.06   41.24   49.41   8.17   37.69   45.80   8.11
44.63   51.51   6.88   36.24   43.59   7.35                          35.32   43.75   8.43
45.53   51.29   5.76   37.26   43.67   6.41                          36.84   43.71   6.87
43.75   50.50   6.75   37.00   44.10   7.10                          37.25   44.16   6.91
                       35.62   41.73   6.11                          36.49   43.64   7.15
                       36.62   42.99   6.37                          37.60   45.54   7.94
                                                                     36.54   43.92   7.38
														
														
Min   5.35             Min   6.11             Min   7.29             Min   6.87
Max   7.87             Max   7.93             Max   8.17             Max   8.43
Avg   6.31             Avg   7.00             Avg   7.64             Avg   7.70

Same setup as before, but you can already see how things are different. For one thing, obviously, we now have Democrats winning Harris County. That was true at the county candidate level as well – we’ll look more closely at that in the future. I believe we have this step up in part because Democrats finally began to get their act together organizationally in 2008. It was a big election nationally of course, with a ton of Democratic activist energy, but that had been the case elsewhere in 2006 as well. It just didn’t translate here, and I would chalk that up to the amount of organization at the county level.

I have long believed that if we had had better organizing in 2006, Dems could have won a couple of judicial races at least. We had one candidate crack 49%; it wouldn’t have taken much. Indeed, Jim Sharp got 50.12% in Harris County in 2006 in his race for an appellate court seat, but as that covered multiple counties he fell short that year. (He went on to win in 2008.) Instead, we got the narrative of Dallas County Dems breaking through and sweeping in 2006, setting up the notion that 2008 would be Harris’ year. Maybe that had a positive effect on the engagement level, I don’t know. I do know that it didn’t have to be so all-or-nothing.

Note that while 2008 was a high point for Dems in this grouping, the boost to candidates in Harris County continued to grow. Even with the disasters of 2010 and 2014 and the slight step-back in 2012, Dems kept performing better in Harris County compared to the state as a whole. Again, I credit better organizing locally and the fact that Harris County was becoming more Democratic relative to the state. The point here is that this gap hasn’t shrunk in bad years for Dems. The trend has been in one direction.

That trend continued through the next two elections before a minor reversal in 2020:


2016                   2018                   2020
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.24   53.95  10.71   48.33   57.98   9.65   46.48   55.96   9.48
38.38   47.35   8.97   42.51   52.11   9.60   43.87   52.90   9.03
38.53   47.96   9.43   46.49   56.07   9.58   43.56   52.90   9.34
41.18   50.78   9.60   47.01   56.90   9.89   44.49   53.16   8.67
39.36   48.28   8.92   43.39   52.74   9.35   44.08   53.49   9.41
40.05   49.86   9.81   43.19   53.71  10.52   44.76   53.76   9.00
40.20   49.53   9.33   46.41   56.68  10.27   44.35   52.97   8.62
40.89   50.72   9.83   43.91   53.25   9.34   45.18   54.45   9.27
                       46.83   56.68   9.85   44.70   54.72  10.02
                       46.29   56.48  10.19   45.47   54.00   8.53
                       46.29   55.18   8.89				
                       45.48   55.62  10.14				
                       45.85   54.90   9.05				
										
										
Min   8.92             Min   8.89             Min   8.53
Max  10.71             Max  10.52             Max  10.02
Avg   9.58	       Avg   9.72             Avg   9.14

Despite several candidates failing to reach fifty percent in 2016, every statewide Dem carried Harris County; there were third party candidates getting about five percent in the judicial races and almost ten points in the RRC race between Wayne Christian and Grady Yarbrough, which accounts for the difference. We’ll get into this later, but it was pretty common for local Dems to outperform statewide Dems in many of these years. I chalk that up to a combination of weak statewide Dems and that strong local organizing along with some pretty good county candidates.

The main takeaway from this is that even statewide candidates with pretty poor overall showings were able to win Harris County by fairly comfortable margins. Look at Lupe Valdez in 2018, the second candidate listed, for a prime example. Valdez got 42.51% statewide in 2018, the lowest showing among Dems, but finished with 52.11% in Harris County. This is the context I think about when I look at statewide polling. If Beto O’Rourke finishes with 44 or 45% statewide, he’s probably going to get 53 or 54 percent in Harris County. A 44-45% finish for Beto statewide implies that he lost by 9-11 points, whereas nearly all of the polls we have seen have had him down between six and eight points.

The flip side is also of interest. There was a poll of Harris County released a few days back by a wingnut former legislator that claimed Lina Hidalgo was losing by four points while Beto was carrying Harris County by only two points. For Beto to be winning Harris by two points – in other words, for him to be getting at most 51% in Harris County – means he’s losing statewide by at least 15 points – 57-42 is the number I’ve had in mind. To say the least, there is no polling evidence to support that.

Now, could the polls be wrong? Could Beto crater? Could this advantage Dems have had in Harris County decline further? Sure, any or all of those things could happen. We saw it decline a bit in 2020. I give some of the credit to that for better Republican organizing, though the loss of straight ticket voting and just the general conditions for 2020 could also be factors. It’s impossible to say if that’s a one-off or the start of a new trend based on the one data point. It would have to be a big step back for it to make me adjust my expectations. At this time, at least, I don’t feel the need to do that. Those things could happen, but that doesn’t mean they’re likely to do so.

So this is where I am, mentally and emotionally right now. I had the chance to talk about this thesis with some folks over the weekend, and none of them looked at me like I was crazy. (They may have just been polite.) I’ve got some more data to present in the next couple of days, and we can see how we all feel at the end of that. But this is where I am. What do you think?

Would you believe there’s still Renew Houston litigation out there?

This hit my mailbox on Friday.

Today, the Supreme Court of Texas ruled in the City’s favor in Perez v. Turner, a challenge to Houston’s drainage fee, which provides the City with $125 million per year to pay for drainage infrastructure projects.

The Court found that plaintiff’s challenges failed because of Houston’s authority as a home – rule city to enact a drainage program.

“The City remains committed to protecting its citizens and their homes from flooding. The City’s continued ability to charge a drainage fee will allow it to do so in a fiscally responsible way and undertake essential drainage projects now and in the future,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.

What the heck? Off to the Supreme Court website I scurry, and I find this.

Plaintiff Elizabeth Perez filed this case in 2015 challenging the City of Houston’s assessment, collection, and expenditure of a “drainage fee.” Perez alleged that the ordinance authorizing the drainage fee was invalid because the ordinance was premised on a faulty amendment to the city charter. She sought a variety of relief for herself and a class of similarly situated taxpayers, including a declaration of the drainage fee ordinance’s invalidity, an injunction against the City’s collection of drainage fees, and reimbursement of drainage fees already paid.

The nature of this case changed dramatically in November 2018, while the case was on appeal. The City passed a new charter amendment curing many of the defects Perez alleged in the drainage fee ordinance. Although the parties’ briefing is less than clear about the effect on this case of the 2018 charter amendment, Perez conceded at oral argument that the passage of the new charter amendment significantly truncated her original claims. As we construe what remains of this case after the November 2018 amendment, Perez has two ongoing claims—one for reimbursement of the drainage fees she paid prior to 2018, and one for a narrow prospective injunction against the future expenditure of fees collected prior to 2018. As explained below, we affirm the lower courts’ dismissal of these claims, but we remand the case to the district court to allow Perez to replead in light of intervening events.

What follows was a longish and very technical opinion that my non-layer brain could not quite wade through. I remember the re-vote on Renew Houston in 2018, which became a likelihood after SCOTx ruled in 2015 that the original 2010 ballot language “obscured the nature and cost of the drainage fee”. The case was sent back to the district court, which then voided the referendum. The re-vote was subsequently held to address those issues. One of the original plaintiffs filed another lawsuit after that 2015 ruling to get back the money she had paid in drainage fees and to compel the city to refund anything they had previously spent from ReBuild; this ruling was an outgrowth of that later litigation, which I either didn’t notice at the time or didn’t follow. I think the bottom line at this point is that it’s very unlikely that any new challenges to Renew/ReBuild Houston will succeed, but the plaintiff is welcome to try her luck again in the district court, and maybe in another five years or so we’ll get a final ruling on that.

Some thoughts on Primary Day

Will we learn more about the mail ballot debacle?

Mail ballot usage during early voting has dropped precipitously since 2018, with tens of thousands of voters — especially Republicans — ditching the forms after two years of the GOP’s baseless claims that absentee voting facilitates fraud.

By the end of early voting on Friday, roughly 77,000 mail ballots had been processed in Texas’ 15 most populous counties, representing .7 percent of registered voters there. Four years ago, the total was 126,000 — about 1.3 percent of voters in those counties. (The Secretary of State does not provide statewide early voting totals for the 2018 election.)

The dropoff is most dramatic among Republicans, whose party has repeatedly alleged, without evidence, that state-approved expansions of mail ballots during the pandemic led to widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

During the last midterm primary election in 2018, more than 67,000 Republicans in the state’s most populous counties filled out a mail ballot by the close of early voting. This year, the total hasn’t cracked 27,000.

The number dropped slightly for Democrats, too. More than 50,000 Democratic voters in those counties have cast an absentee ballot this year, compared to 59,000 in 2018.

[…]

By the time the application deadline passed on Feb. 18, Dallas County had rejected about 15.7 percent of all forms, the majority of them for a missing or incorrect ID. In Travis County, the rejection rate was 9 percent.

Now, county officials are dealing with the same problem for the actual ballots, which must be submitted by Tuesday. As of Friday, 30 percent of mail ballots were rejected over the new ID law in Harris County. In Dallas, it was 27 percent.

We’ve discussed this before. We need to know more about what happened with mail ballots. Remember, there were two parts to this, one for the application for the mail ballot, and one for the ballot itself. How many applications, from each party, were initially rejected for not using the right form or not being filled out correctly, with the right voter ID information? How many of those were subsequently fixed, and how many were never resolved? Of the mail ballots that were then sent out and returned, how many from each party were initially rejected for (again) not having the right voter ID information included? How many of those were then fixed and successfully submitted? Of the people who didn’t get their mail ballots fixed and returned, how many then voted in person? How many people who voted by mail in the 2020 and/or 2018 primaries and who are still on the voter rolls did not vote at all this year? More data, please!

What do you think the Expectations Line is for the gubernatorial primaries?

What will likely be the biggest heavyweight battle for governor of Texas in nearly 30 years is just days away from getting underway in Texas.

While Gov. Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke have been sizing each other up and jabbing at one another in nearly every corner of the state, both have unfinished business on Tuesday. But first they need to finish off a collection of underfunded primary challengers.

What little public polling there has been suggests neither Abbott nor O’Rourke has much to worry about on Tuesday, but that hasn’t stopped an urgency from slipping into the stump speeches as they plead with supporters to go vote.

“We’ve got to get everyone turned out,” O’Rourke told a crowd of supporters in McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley last weekend despite a recent University of Texas poll showing him winning the primary with 90 percent of the vote. “We’ve got to make sure we reach out to everybody.”

The same poll had Abbott avoiding a runoff by holding on to 60 percent of the vote in his primary. Yet in El Paso earlier this week at a get-out-the-vote rally, Abbott warned his supporters that “freedom itself is on the ballot.”

The article is mostly about the forthcoming general election battle between the two, but I’m curious what number the pundits will have in mind for their percentage of the vote in the primaries. Remember, when Beto got 61.8% in the three-way 2018 primary, it was seen as underperforming, even to the point of speculation from some corners that the overall Beto experience was overhyped. I think we know how that turned out. I also think we all expect Beto to do a lot better than 61.8% this time around, even though he has a bigger field and one opponent who managed to draw some attention, even though she’s basically been invisible since then. Beto is much better known this time and he’s been at least as active as he was in 2018, so maybe 75% for him? There are always some people who do their own thing. The only number that really matters is 50%+1, and after that it’s all in the interpretation. I’m not going to worry about it.

As for Abbott, I fully expect him to win without a runoff. (I still think Ken Paxton will, too, but I won’t be surprised to be wrong about that.) Abbott got 90% against two no-names in 2018 (I will give you $1 right now if you can tell me who they were without looking it up), but he ain’t getting that much this time around. Being forced into a runoff will be seen (correctly) as a disaster for Abbott, but if he clears the fifty percent line, I think he’ll be seen as the winner regardless of by how much. Remember, Rick Perry in 2010 got only 51% of the vote in his primary, but because he led KBH by 20 points (because no one took Debra Medina seriously) it was seen as a resounding victory for him. I think Abbott wins in round one, Huffines and West split the super-crazy vote so that he has a sizeable margin against each of them, and nobody talks much about the primary afterwards. Anyone disagree with that?

Of course, your vote in the Republican primary for Governor is really a vote for your favorite jackboot billionaire. Also mostly true in the Republican legislative primaries. Maybe we should talk a little more about that?

Here’s the Derek Ryan email for the end of early voting:

Good afternoon! Early voting wrapped up on Friday and the final totalsare that just over one million people voted early (or by mail) in the 2022 Republican Primary and 620,000 people voted early (or by mail) in the 2022 Democratic Primary. That means roughly 6% turnout on the Republican side and 3.6% turnout on the Democratic side.

In the 2020 Republican Primary, 54.5% of votes were cast by mail or during early voting. If those percentages hold up this year, that would equate to around 1.85 million votes being cast in the Republican Primary. (In the 2018 Republican Primary, there were 1.5 million votes cast.)

In the 2020 Democratic Primary, 49% of votes were cast by mail or during early voting. If those percentages hold up this year, that would equate to around 1.3 million votes being cast in the Democratic Primary. (In the 2018 Democratic Primary, there were one million votes cast.)

The average age of voters in the Republican Primary is 62.6 years old while the average age of voters in the Democratic Primary is 58.5 years old.

14.1% of votes cast in the Republican Primary are voters who did not vote in any party’s primary between 2014 and 2020. On the Democratic side, that percentage is 13.8%. These are individuals who have been general election-only voters, but it also includes voters who have moved to the state, just become eligible to vote, and individuals who have been registered to vote but haven’t participated in an election over the last eight years.

Only half of voters who voted in all four of their party’s last four primary elections ended up voting early. Over 85% of these individuals typically end up voting in a midterm primary election and there are 248,000 of these on the Republican side and 107,000 on the Democratic side who have not voted early.

I’ve based most of my comparisons on 2018, as it’s a non-Presidential year, but there’s no reason not to take 2020 into account. Ryan will have two more reports after Election Day.

Finally, a bit of final turnout data from Hector DeLeon:

I’ve made my guesses, now we’ll see what the reality is. The 19th has more.

Final 2022 primary early voting totals

It’s been a strange two weeks for early voting, so let’s get to the wrapup. Here are your final early voting totals. The table for comparison:


Election    Mail   Early   Total
================================
2018 D    22,695  70,152  92,847
2018 R    24,500  61,425  85,925

2020 D    22,785 116,748 139,533
2020 R    22,801  82,108 104,909

2022 D    13,713  82,342  96,055
2022 R     9,684  96,439 106,123

As a reminder, 2018 final totals are here, and 2020 final totals are here. Please note that the “2018 final totals” file I have is actually from the penultimate day of early voting. I either never got the last day’s totals, or I forgot to save the file to my Google Drive. The numbers in the table above are from the Election Day report for 2018, which means that the mail ballots include those that came in between the Friday and Tuesday. It would have been a smaller number if I had that day-of EV report.

Clearly, mail ballots were down. I had thought that the good number of mail ballots returned on Tuesday heralded an upswing for them, perhaps because of corrected ones getting in, but that wasn’t to be. Indeed, the combined total for Dems over the remaining three days was just a bit higher than the Tuesday total. The mail ballot total for Dems this year so far is 60% of what it was four years ago, though that will tick up a bit as the last batch rolls in. The number for Republicans dropped even more, though that is undoubtedly due in part to Republicans swallowing the former guy’s propaganda about mail ballots. Both Dems and Republicans saw more in person voters, and I’d say for sure some of that is connected, more on the R side than the D side.

How many people were actually unable to vote as a result of the new and needless voter ID requirements for mail ballots is hard to say. If I have the time, I’ll try to compare the vote rosters for the two years, to see what the mail voters of both parties from 2018 did this year. I’m sure some number of them voted (or will vote on Tuesday) in person. For those that voted by mail in 2018 but fail to vote this year, it will still be hard to say why. Primaries always have low turnout, so a no-show this year may just mean lack of interest or opportunity, for whatever the reason. I hope someone with a better view of the data comes up with a more holistic and analytic report. I fear it will mostly be all anecdotal otherwise. For sure, any suggestion that Republicans may regret their new voting restrictions are extremely premature. I’ve not doubt that some Republican consultants would prefer not to have to do new things, but they’re not representative of the party as a whole. Believe me, if they ever do come to regret this change, they will make that clear.

The Republicans had more voters this year than the Dems did, after the Dems outvoted them in 2018 and 2020. Does this worry me? Not really. Like I said, primaries are low turnout. That means people don’t participate for a lot of reasons. I think the main reason normal people do – by “normal” I mean the non-activist and news junkie portions of the population – is when there’s a headline race that grabs their attention. There wasn’t one in the 2018 primary – Beto didn’t have to run a serious primary campaign because he didn’t have a serious primary opponent, and indeed he faced questions afterward when Dems barely broke 1 million total voters statewide (compared to 1.5 million for the GOP even though they didn’t really have a headline primary race that year either) and he got “only” 62% of the vote. He’s in the same position this year – the entire story of the race so far is about Beto versus Abbott, not Beto versus Joy Diaz. On the other hand, at least as much of the story on the Republican side is Abbott versus West and Huffines, and that’s before you factor in the clusterfuck of an AG primary. Those are the kind of races that draw people to the polls.

Look at it this way: In 2016, nearly 330K people voted in the GOP primary in Harris County, compared to 227K for Dems. The November vote went pretty well for Dems in Harris County that year.

As for final turnout, it’s a little hard to say because samples are small and context changes greatly from Presidential to non-Presidential years. A little more than 40% of the Democratic vote was cast on Election Day in 2018 and 2014, while more than half was cast in 2010 and 2006. More than half was cast on Election Day in 2020, 2016, and 2008, while slightly less than half was cast in 2012. Going just by 2018, we’d probably approach 170K for final turnout. Republicans in 2018 had about 45% of their vote on Election Day, which projects them to 185-190K overall. Take all of that with a huge grain of salt – I just don’t know how to factor in the mail ballot changes, the recent aggressively revanchist policy moves by Greg Abbott et al, and just the overall state of the world. All I can say is we’ll see.

I’ll have a look at the statewide numbers tomorrow. Let me know what you think.

An early look at the primary for Commissioners Court, Precinct 4

I have a few thoughts about this.

With a new Harris County precinct map in place, Democrats may have their best chance in a dozen years of capturing Precinct 4. That’s set up a fierce, three-way contest in the Democratic primary to challenge the incumbent Republican, Commissioner Jack Cagle.

The Democratic primary to face Cagle includes former civil court judge Lesley Briones, former state representative Gina Calanni, former county elections official Ben Chou, and Alief ISD board president Ann Williams.

Briones joined the bench as presiding judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law Number 4 in April 2019, when Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court appointed her to fill out the term of Bill McLeod. Briones won a full term in 2020, but resigned from the bench in order to run for county commissioner.

Gina Calanni previously served as state representative for House District 132, representing portions of Katy. She served a single term, defeating Republican State Rep. Mike Schofield in 2018 but losing a rematch to him in 2020.

Ben Chou has held no elective office. He previously served in the Harris County Election Administrator’s office, overseeing 2020 voting innovations that included expansion of drive-thru voting. Before that, he worked for former governor of Maryland and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley and for then House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Ann Williams was first elected as Alief ISD board trustee in 2007 and has served as the board’s president for the past seven years.

“This will be a primary runoff election,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, who prefaced his remarks by saying Chou was a former student of his. “I don’t think any one of these…candidates is likely to win 51% of the vote or 50% + 1.”

[…]

Even if the new map stands, Stein said, the power of incumbency means it is far too early to count Cagle out. He noted Cagle, who was first elected in 2010, has a long record of addressing flooding and road congestion problems that gives him broad appeal.

“I would think at this point,” Stein said, “if you’re going to beat an incumbent Republican, you’re going to have to have a Democrat who can draw on some Republican voters, or at least some independents.”

Stein doubted Calanni’s ability to do that, noting her record as much more progressive than her two Democratic rivals. “It remains to be seen whether Ben Chou has that, what I’d call, ideological moderate or centrist position,” Stein said. “But clearly, I would say former Judge Briones is in a strong position.”

First, there’s an error correction appended to the story that says it should have referred to this race being a four-way contest, not three. That said, there are actually seven candidates running, the four named in this story plus Jeff Stauber, Clarence Miller, and Sandra Pelmore. Stauber has run for Sheriff in 2016 and for County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2020. Miller and Pelmore are first time candidates as far as I know, with Miller making the pre-COVID and pre-redistricting rounds as a candidate. He has a campaign website, the others do not. I doubt any of them will get much in the way or financial or establishment support, but they are in the race and they will get some votes.

We haven’t really had a Democratic primary for a Commissioners Court seat like this before. There were multi-candidate primaries in 2020 for Precinct 3, which was open after the announced retirement of Steve Radack. The Republicans were favored to hold the seat, so their primary was a reasonably close analog for this one, and all three of their candidates were current or recent elected officials. On the Democratic side there were multiple candidates, but no electeds. I feel like the stakes are higher for Democrats than they were in 2020, since they invested capital in redrawing the Commissioners Court map, and if they fail to expand their majority they don’t really get another shot until 2026. And yes, there is a low but non-zero chance Dems could lose the majority they have now, and maybe see any chance to do more go away as Republicans would surely try to redraw the existing map.

As for Commissioner Cagle, it is true that incumbent Commissioners have punched above their weight in the past. Jack Morman ran ahead of other Republicans in 2018, even against a strong and well-known Democratic opponent in Adrian Garcia, and came close to hanging on. Garcia only took the lead in that race late at night, around the same time that Judge Lina Hidalgo was finally pulling ahead. Going back a little farther, then-Commissioner Sylvia Garcia also came close to hanging on in 2010 – again, she ran well ahead of other Dems on the ticket that year. If the environment is sufficiently favorable to Republicans, or if Cagle can really convince the muddled middle to stick with him, he could survive. That said, I say it’s Cagle who is going to have to draw on these voters, at least as much as the Democratic nominee. The whole point of the redistricting exercise was to make this precinct as favorable as reasonably possible for a more or less generic Democrat. If that’s not enough to unseat Cagle, it’s a pretty massive failure.

I’m not sure why Professor Stein singles out Calanni as less electable than any of the others. I mean, with rare exceptions (Jasmine Crockett comes to mind), freshman Democratic legislators tend to not get noticed all that much. I can’t think of anything in her record that would stand out as a clear liability. That’s not to say that she couldn’t be attacked for something that the Dems supported or opposed in the 2019 legislative session, though that was a fairly modest and serene one all things considered. But really, anything she could be attacked for, I’m pretty sure the others could be as well. I don’t quite understand this thinking.

I do think Briones has an early advantage, at least in the primary, for having received endorsements from Commissioners Garcia and Ellis. I expect that to show up in the campaign finance report as well, and that’s something that can extend to the general election also. But I would not sleep on Ann Williams as a candidate, as she has easily the longest electoral record, having been an Alief ISD Trustee since 2007. Those are very different elections, in terms of turnout and the electorate, but still. She’s the only one who’s been elected to something more than once, and I think that counts for something. Calanni also had more challenging races to win in each of her times on the ballot, and I’d say she overperformed in 2018. None of this is intended in any way as a slight to Lesley Briones, just my observation that there’s more nuance to this than what is expressed in the story.

Anyway. I hope to see a lot more stories like this one, as we are very much in the swing of primary season. It will be early voting before you know it, so let’s get to the campaign and candidate overviews. I’ll be running interviews with at least these four named Democratic candidates the week of January 10.

The Lege will get worse before it gets better

I have three things to say about this.

More than two dozen members of the Texas Legislature are retiring or running for a different seat next year, creating a slew of vacancies that could push both chambers to become redder and more polarized by the time lawmakers reconvene in 2023.

Many of the outgoing members are center-right or establishment politicians with years of experience, opening up seats for younger and more ideologically extreme replacements. In many cases, their districts were redrawn to strengthen the GOP’s hold on the Legislature, eliminating all but a few of the battleground contests that tend to attract more moderate candidates.

Those changes, paired with new political maps that leave little opening for Democrats to gain ground in November, have laid the groundwork for an even more conservative Legislature, even as Republicans toast the 2021 legislative session as the most conservative in the state’s history.

“The tides are shifting again,” said state Rep. Dan Huberty, a moderate Republican from north Houston who is not seeking re-election. “You have different political leaders, and the constituency has a view of what they want. You’re going to see a shift. I would assume it’s going to be more conservative.”

The Capitol is also poised to lose some of its longest tenured legislators to retirement, draining “a generation of policy expertise” on areas such as health care, education, agriculture and the border, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. The average tenure of the departing members is 13 years.

We’ve covered this before. What distinguishes members like Dan Huberty and Chris Paddie and Lyle Larson and even otherwise crappy ones like James White is that they had policy chops, in at least one area, and took that part of legislating seriously. They were perfectly happy to vote for all of the destructive wingnut crap, and we should never forget that as we say nice things about their legislative experience, but the truth is that whoever survives the freak show primary to replace them will almost certainly be worse than they were. Until such time as Dems win a majority, or Republicans become collectively less sociopathic (whichever comes first), the Lege will become a worse place than it now is.

In 2011, Huberty was one of 37 mostly Republican freshmen in the Texas House — a mix of conservatives and moderates who rode the tea party wave into office, including three members who had served in the House previously, lost their seats and then gained them back that year.

By 2023, few of the moderate new members elected from that class will remain, with most of the remaining holdouts — including Huberty, John Frullo of Lubbock, Lyle Larson of San Antonio and Jim Murphy of Houston — declining to seek re-election next year.

We’ve discussed this before as well. What do all these members have in common? They will have served twelve years in the House, which makes them fully vested in the Lege’s pension plan. There may well be other reasons for their departures, and of course the first post-redistricting election is always an exodus, but I guarantee you that’s a factor.

In the Senate, [Sen. Eddie] Lucio’s seat could be the sole competitive race next year. The other open districts are solidly Republican, and those who are likely to replace the outgoing members are ideologically further right than their predecessors — or are, at least, closely allied with [Lt. Gov. Dan] Patrick, the leader of the upper chamber.

[Sen. Kel] Seliger was known for frequent fallouts with Patrick, defying him at times and blocking passage of priority bills. But state Rep. Phil King, the Weatherford Republican vying to replace him, has already earned Patrick’s stamp of approval.

[Sen. Larry] Taylor, one of the most moderate members of the Senate, is also poised to be replaced by a more conservative successor. Those running to replace him include [Rep. Mayes] Middleton and Robin Armstrong, a physician backed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, a tea party favorite. (Armstrong gained attention last year when he controversially administered hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients at the Texas City nursing home where he works.)

We really need a better descriptor in these stories than “moderate”, which has lost all meaning in the post-Tea Party, post-Trump era. Kel Seliger is conservative in the way someone from the Reagan/Bush years would recognize the term. He’s also a legitimate work-across-the-aisle guy, and was maybe the last Senate Republican to not care about whatever Dan Patrick wants. You could fit a term like “iconoclast” or “maverick” to him if you had to, but he’s just a guy who was generally faithful to his political beliefs, and voted in what he believed was the best interest of his district. Which these days is pretty goddamned quaint. As for Taylor, look, he’s as down-the-line a Republican as there is. It’s true, he doesn’t spew conspiracy theories every five minutes, he’s not performatively nasty on Twitter, and as far as I know he eats his food with a knife and fork, and chews with his mouth closed. That makes him fit for human society, but it has nothing to do with how he votes or whether there’s an inch of distance between him and Dan Patrick. If that’s what we mean these days when we refer to a Republican legislator as “moderate”, can we please at least be honest about it?

Beto and South Texas

Brace yourself for a lot of stories like this in the coming months.

Beto O’Rourke

In the first days of his campaign for governor, Beto O’Rourke made a beeline to this southernmost corner of the state, saying it was no mistake he was choosing to start his run in a part of Texas where Democrats have their work cut out for them after the 2020 election.

His supporters know it, too.

“We are being attacked at all ends,” Amanda Elise Salas said as she introduced him here Wednesday night. “This is a Democratic area, and there is no way we are gonna let Republicans come in here and take over.”

“They’re knocking at our door,” Mario Saenz, a Democratic precinct chair from Brownsville, said afterward. “We cannot let them in.”

A lot of Democratic hopes are riding on O’Rourke this election cycle, but few may be more consequential to the party’s future in Texas than his ability to stave off a strong GOP offensive in South Texas. Emboldened by President Joe Biden’s underwhelming performance throughout the predominantly Hispanic region last year, Republicans have been pushing hard to make new inroads there, and O’Rourke faces an incumbent in Gov. Greg Abbott who has been working for years to win Hispanic voters.

But it is not just about halting the GOP’s post-2020 march in South Texas. O’Rourke, who is facing an uphill battle in the governor’s race, has ground to make up after his own less-than-stellar performance with voters there in 2018 when he ran for U.S. Senate — and turning out more Latino voters has long been key to Democratic hopes statewide.

O’Rourke has been candid about the problem. Days after the 2020 election, which cemented Republican dominance across Texas, he told supporters that the fact that the border region “has been ignored for years by the national party, and even many statewide Democratic candidates, hurt us badly.” Last week, he began his campaign for governor with a swing through the region, calling the early itinerary “very intentional” and vowing to return frequently.

“If the great sin committed by Republicans historically has been to disenfranchise voters, including those in the Rio Grande Valley, then that committed by Democrats has been to take those same voters for granted in the past,” O’Rourke told reporters in San Antonio, before heading south to Laredo and the Valley.

O’Rourke got a wake-up call in South Texas during the 2018 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, losing many counties in the region to a little-known and little-funded opponent, Sema Hernandez. While it was not the first time a candidate with a Hispanic surname beat expectations in a statewide Democratic primary, O’Rourke acknowledged afterward that he needed to do more outreach.

Months later, in the general election, O’Rourke failed to make significant gains in South Texas compared to his party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, which would have been key to defeating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. In the largest South Texas county outside San Antonio — Hidalgo — O’Rourke barely improved on Clinton’s vote share there, getting 68.8% after she got 68.5%.

Then came 2020, when Biden carried South Texas — and the Rio Grande Valley in particular — by a much narrower margin than Clinton did. He outright lost Zapata County, a longtime Democratic stronghold just north of the Valley.

[…]

Beyond any issue, though, South Texas Democrats say O’Rourke needs to show up, especially after a presidential election that left them wanting. Biden never visited Texas, let alone anywhere in South Texas, during the general election, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, visited McAllen only in the final days of the race.

To that end, South Texas Democrats are not particularly concerned about O’Rourke, who is known for his relentless campaigning. He toured all 254 counties during his 2018 race, which included a bus tour specifically focused on the border.

“We’re the poorest region of Texas, maybe one of the poorest regions in the nation, and you know, it was a huge letdown that Kamala and Biden didn’t make a prolonged appearance here in the Valley, but Beto, you know, he’s been recurringly focusing his presence here, especially in his past campaigns,” said Sebastian Bonilla, a 25-year-old from the Valley who came to see O’Rourke speak in McAllen.

Abbott has put an emphasis on South Texas since his first gubernatorial campaign in 2014, and he has been increasingly traveling there in recent months, both in his official capacity and for political appearances.

You get the idea. This kind of story is going to be the “Trump voters in diners” lodestar of 2022.

Because I tend to zero in on any actual numbers that show up in this kind of “collect a bunch of quotes and anecdotes” piece, I wondered about that Hidalgo County comparison. Just for grins, I went back and checked to see what was the best Democratic performance in Hidalgo in recent years:

2004 – JR Molina, 64.08%. For comparison, John Kerry got 54.86% against George W. Bush.

2006 – Bill Moody, 62.54%.

2008 – Linda Yanez, 73.63%.

2010 – Hector Uribe, 67.14%. That sure correlated with good Democratic performance elsewhere, eh?

2012 – Michelle Petty, 70.69%. Barack Obama got 70.40%, an improvement over the 69.02% he got in 2008.

2014 – Leticia van de Putte, 67.57%.

2016 – Dori Garza, 70.98%. Hillary Clinton got 68.50%, as noted in the story.

2018 – Steve Kirkland, 69.34%, with Beto’s 68.81% right behind. Kirkland was in a two-candidate race, while Beto and Ted Cruz also had a Libertarian in their race. Cruz’s 30.64% was actually a tiny bit behind Jimmy Blacklock’s 30.66%, though several other Republicans failed to get to 30% in their three-way races.

Latino Dems, and candidates for statewide judicial positions, were generally the high scorers. Looking at the numbers, I agree with the basic premise that Beto could have done better in South Texas than he did in 2018, and he will need to do better than Joe Biden did in 2020. The new SOS elections result website is trash and doesn’t give you a county-by-county view like it did before, so I went and found the Hidalgo County Elections page, which informed me that Biden got 58.04% in 2020, with Elizabeth Frizell being the high scorer at 61.51%; yes, another judicial candidate.

One could also point out, of course, that Biden came closer to winning Texas than Clinton did, despite doing worse in South Texas. Beto himself came as close as he did mostly by making huge gains in urban and suburban counties – to pick one example, he got 46.53% in Collin County, losing it by 22K votes, after Clinton got 38.91% and lost if by 61K votes. Beto did net 12K fewer votes in Hidalgo than Clinton did (Biden netted 32K fewer than Clinton), and he lost another 10K in Cameron County – that does add up in such a close race, though it wouldn’t have been enough to fully close the gap he still had. Ideally, he’d do better in South Texas and in the big urban and suburban counties. At least we all feel confident he’ll do the work.

UT/Trib poll: Abbott has the best of a bunch of weak approval numbers

Same story, new chapter,

Texas voters are split over whether they approve of Gov. Greg Abbott’s job performance, though he remains popular with Republicans and more popular among Texans than President Joe Biden, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The June 2021 poll shows that 44% of Texans approve of Abbott’s job as governor, while 44% disapprove. That leaves him with an overall approval rating from Texas voters that’s better than those of Biden, U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and House Speaker Dade Phelan. Abbott enjoys the approval of 77% of his own party’s voters, with 43% of Republicans saying they “strongly approve” of his performance.

Democratic disapproval for Abbott remains potent. Eighty-two percent of Democrats disapprove of Abbott, with 75% of those Democrats saying they “strongly disapprove” of his performance.

“What we’re seeing now is that Democrats are registering as much disapproval with him as they are with really any kind of national Republican figure,” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project.

Abbott earned higher marks among Texas voters regarding his COVID-19 response at the start of the pandemic, Blank pointed out. In April 2020, 56% of Texans approved of Abbott’s response to the pandemic, but that slipped to 44% in the latest June poll.

“One of the things that benefited Greg Abbott was Donald Trump,” Blank said. “So Donald Trump’s inability to appear to be seriously dealing with the pandemic made Abbott’s attempts early on — even if they were criticized — much much more serious-looking, both to Republicans and Democrats, and I think that’s why his numbers were so high.”

As the pandemic drew on, Democratic disapproval of Abbott increased steadily. In the last poll, 81% of Democrats disapproved of Abbott’s COVID-19 response, with 67% saying they strongly disagree. Meanwhile, 74% of Republicans approve and 45% strongly approve.

[…]

Biden’s ratings have remained steady among both Democrats and Republicans since the February UT/TT Poll. His overall job approval with Texan voters is at 43% who approve and 47% who disapprove. When filtered by partisanship, 88% of Democrats approve of the job he’s doing, including 53% who strongly approve. As for Republicans, 84% disapprove of the job he’s doing with 77% strongly disapproving.

Texans see Biden’s COVID-19 response as a strength, while border security remains a weak point.

Overall, 49% of Texas voters approved of the president’s COVID-19 response, while 36% disapprove. Of those, 91% of Democrats approve, while 64% of Republicans disapprove.

See here for the February UT/Trib poll, which had Biden at 45 approve, 44 disapprove. There was also a May end-of-session poll that had him at 44/46. While it is true (and we have discussed before) that Abbott’s approval numbers had been bolstered in the past to some extent by him not being completely despised by Democrats, that moment has passed. It’s hard to compare his numbers to almost anyone else in the state because the “don’t know” response for them is so much higher – Ken Paxton has 32/36 approval, for instance, and for Dan Patrick it’s 36/37. My tentative conclusion is that there will likely be less of a gap between Abbott’s numbers next November and those of Patrick and Paxton (if he’s on the ballot), but that’s not set in stone. Who the Dems get to pick matters, too.

In reading this story, I got curious about how Biden was comparing to President Obama in Texas. I have mentioned that a decent approval rating for Biden next year would help Democrats on the ballot, and while it’s still early and the overall political environment is different, I thought it might be useful to have a bit of context. So I poked around in the UT Politics polling archive, and this is what I came up with:

June 2009 – 43 approve, 46 disapprove

October 2009 – 41 approve, 52 disapprove

February 2010 – 41 approve, 50 disapprove

May 2010 – 35 approve, 58 disapprove

September 2010 – 34 approve, 58 disapprove

May 2012 – 36 approve, 54 disapprove

February 2013 – 39 approve, 53 disapprove

June 2013 – 43 approve, 50 disapprove

October 2013 – 37 approve, 54 disapprove

February 2014 – 34 approve, 55 disapprove

June 2014 – 37 approve, 56 disapprove

October 2014 – 36 approve, 57 disapprove

Obama was pretty much in the same place at this point in 2009, and boy howdy did it go south from there. I’m pretty sure his overall approval numbers were better than Biden’s are now – again, the overall climate is much different – but the infamous Rick Santelli “tea party” rant had already occurred, and we know what happened next. Note that other than an outlier in June of 2013, the numbers were pretty stable and generally lousy through the first two years of each term. I included the May 2012 numbers because I came across them in my own post, but as you can see they still fit the pattern.

Obviously, if Biden is sporting similar approval numbers next year, we’re almost certainly doomed. I don’t think that will happen, but I don’t have anything solid to go on for that, so all we can do is watch and see. At least we have something to compare Biden to now.

Everyone’s waiting on Beto

Pardon me while I brew myself a cup of tea and stare meaningfully out the window.

Beto O’Rourke

Texas’ Republican statewide primaries are heating up as challengers emerged in recent weeks for both Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton. But for all the Republican maneuvering, Democrats are remaining quiet about primary plans.

Texas Democrats are in a holding pattern as they plan for the 2022 cycle for two main reasons. First, the party establishment is waiting on former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to announce whether he will run for governor.

Secondly, and crucially, incumbents and potential candidates across the state are awaiting the release this fall of new district maps to decide whether they’ll retire, run for reelection or consider a statewide bid. The new maps will come from the decennial redistricting process where lawmakers redraw the boundaries of the state’s congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts.

“There’s a lot of planning and strategizing behind the scenes,” said Royce Brooks, the executive director of Annie’s List, the Texas Democratic women-in-politics group. “Whatever Beto decides to do is the domino that affects everybody.”

[…]

Beyond O’Rourke, there is some chatter that former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro or U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro might make a run for governor. Otherwise, the field of potential candidates are a mix of current and former state legislators.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo remains a much pined-for candidate, particularly among female Democratic operatives, but so far she has not expressed interest in running statewide next year.

And there are some Democrats who have announced runs for statewide offices, but few are well-funded. Two candidates that have earned the most notice are Mike Collier, who ran for lieutenant governor two years ago and is making another run, and former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, who is running for attorney general.

[…]

In a traditional election cycle, candidates tend to roll out their campaigns over the spring and summer of the off-year, but this year potential candidates are still watching and waiting for the new district maps.

The entire Texas election calendar could also be moved back, due to the delayed census amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the ripple effect on reapportionment and the Texas Legislature’s ability to draw maps.

Some statewide Democratic candidates could emerge after the maps are finished. If a Democratic incumbent finds themselves in a carved up district where he or she has no chance at reelection, the notion of running statewide — still an incredible challenge for Democrats — actually could be an easier lift than reelection.

See here for the previous update. I would say that one race has “heated up” on the Republican side, and that’s the race for Attorney General, where the opportunity to challenge a guy who’s been indicted by the state, is being investigated by the FBI and sued by several former top staffers who accuse him of being a crook, and also facing a State Bar complaint for filing a frivolous and batshit crazy lawsuit to overturn the Presidential election, would normally be seen as an obvious thing for anyone with ambition to do. The entry of a low-wattage one-term former State Senator into the gubernatorial primary is in my mind no different than Steve Stockman’s 2014 primary challenge to Sen. John Cornyn, but your mileage may vary.

I’m as big a fan of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo as anyone, but I say there’s a zero percent chance she runs statewide in 2022. There’s no evidence to suggest that this is something she wants to do. My personal belief is that she wants to finish the job she started as County Judge, and only then will she consider something different (which may be retiring from politics). I could be wrong, and if Democrats do break through in 2022 and President Biden carries Texas in 2024 then it’s certainly possible Judge Hidalgo could be one of presumably many Dems to throw a hat in for 2026, but the very composition of this sentence should be acting to cool your jets. I will be extremely surprised if she does something other than run for re-election in 2022.

The prospect of someone who loses out in redistricting running for something statewide is one I hadn’t really considered before. It didn’t happen in 2012, mostly because there wasn’t anyone for the Republicans to screw out of a seat that year, given how they beat anyone who was beatable in 2010. Republicans will have more targets this time, though they are also operating on much tighter margins, but I could see a legislator who gets left without a winnable district deciding to run for something statewide. If nothing else, it’s a good way to build name ID and a donor base, and puts you in the conversation for next time. It’s all too vague and theoretical now to toss out any names, but this is something to keep an eye on.

Oh, and before I forget: Please don’t make us wait too long, Beto.

DCCC starts with two targets in Texas

Consider this to be written in chalk on the pavement, pending the new Congressional maps.

Rep. Beth Van Duyne

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Tuesday that it will target two Republican-held districts in Texas — the ones currently held by Reps. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio and Beth Van Duyne of Irving. They were one of 22 districts nationwide that the committee included on its 2022 target list, which it emphasized as preliminary due to redistricting.

Last election cycle, the DCCC sought to make Texas the centerpiece of its strategy to grow its House majority — and came up woefully short. They initially targeted six seats here and later expanded the list to 10 — and picked up none of them.

Van Duyne’s and Gonzales’ races ended up being the closest. Van Duyne won by 1 percentage point to replace retiring Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, while Gonzales notched a 4-point margin to succeed Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, who was also retiring.

The shape of those races remains very much in question more than a year and a half out from Election Day, most notably because Texas lawmakers are expected to redraw congressional district lines in a special session of the state Legislature later this year. Texas is on track to gain multiple congressional seats due to population growth. Republicans control the redistricting process and may be be able to make Gonzales’ and Van Duyne’s seats more secure.

On paper, Van Duyne’s 24th District looks to be the most competitive in 2022. It was the only GOP-held district in Texas that Democratic President Joe Biden won — and he carried it by a healthy margin of 5 points. The DCCC has already run TV ads against Van Duyne this year.

Biden, meanwhile, lost Gonzales’ 23rd District by 2 points. The 23rd District is a perennial swing seat that stretches from San Antonio to near El Paso and includes a large portion of the Texas-Mexico border.

As noted, the Republicans have their target list as well, which will also be affected by whatever the final maps look like as well as any retirements. CD24 is an obvious target, but if the map were to remain exactly as it is now I’d have several CDs higher on my list than CD23 at this point based on 2020 results and demographic direction. I’d make CDs 03, 21, 22, and 31 my top targets, with CDs 02, 06 (modulo the special election), and 10 a rung below. I’d put CD23 in with that second group, but with less conviction because I don’t like the trend lines. Again, this is all playing with Monopoly money until we get new maps.

Just to state my priors up front: I believe there will be electoral opportunities in Texas for Congressional candidates, though they will almost certainly evolve over the course of the decade. I believe that if the economy and President Biden’s approval ratings are solid, the 2022 midterms could be decent to good, and that we are in a different moment than we were in back in 2009-10. I also know fully well that the 2022 election is a long way off and there are many things that can affect the national atmosphere, many of them not great for the incumbent party. I was full of dumb optimism at this time in 2009, that’s for sure. I also had extremely modest expectations for 2018 at this point in that election cycle, too. Nobody knows nothing right now, is what I’m saying.

So now we start to prep for redistricting

It’s gonna make for a long session, or more likely sessions.

Wielding the map-drawing power will not be entirely painless for Republicans, who have seen their grip on dozens of state and federal districts erode since the last round of redistricting. Though Democrats failed to flip any of their targeted congressional seats in 2020 and fared about as poorly in state House contests, their single-digit defeats in once ruby red districts point to Democrats’ growing advantages in urban and suburban counties, even as Republicans retain an overwhelming advantage in rural Texas.

Republicans, then, will have to decide how aggressive they want to be in redrawing political boundaries to their benefit, balancing the need to fortify their numbers in battleground districts with the opportunity to flip back some of the districts they lost in 2018, when Democrats picked up 12 seats.

“I see this redistricting opportunity for Republicans as more of a defensive play than an offensive play,” said Texas Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “This is one of the tough things when you’re engaging in redistricting if you’re the party in power, because you can be sort of allured by the short-term potential to win an extra seat or two. But you can take two steps forward to eventually take three steps back if you’re not thinking about demographic changes over a 10-year period.”

For now, the looming redistricting fight is far from the minds of most state lawmakers. Though the U.S. Census Bureau is supposed to deliver updated population data to states by April 1 next year, the agency suspended field operations for the 2020 Census due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wrapped up the count in October, well after the original July 31 deadline. Bureau officials also sought to push back the deadline for sending data to the states until July 2021, prompting speculation that Texas may not get the census numbers until after the Legislature gavels out in late May.

“If the data is not delivered during the regular session, it creates a whole set of cascading problems that impact the drawing of lines, even down to the county and municipal levels, because everyone is going to be put on an even greater time crunch,” said Eric Opiela, an attorney and former executive director of the Texas Republican Party who has worked on prior redistricting efforts.

During normal times, officials might already be using population data from the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey (ACS) to strategize or even draw up preliminary maps. But the pandemic has forced census workers to adopt unconventional survey tactics and generated unprecedented population shifts due to the rise in remote working, factors that make any pre-2020 population data highly unreliable, Opiela said.

“Those (ACS) projections can be used to allow you to do things like work through scenarios before the official data comes, and it’s actually fairly accurate,” Opiela said. “I don’t know that that’s going to be the case this time. I think it’s going to be very important to wait until the official data is received to draw any conclusions as to where Texans live.”

It’s not just the uncertain timeline. Even if the Census data arrived on time, COVID-19 would likely hamper redistricting efforts by forcing lawmakers to prioritize filling the state’s pandemic-inflicted budget gap and perhaps providing economic and medical relief to COVID-19 victims.

“The challenge with redistricting is it’s such a naturally partisan issue that it’s really hard to sort of box half the day and then be ballet dancers the other half of the day,” Mackowiak said. “It’s hard to be bipartisan on other issues but then super, super partisan during redistricting. So, having a special session just related to redistricting after the major issues are taken care of seems to me to be the smartest pathway.”

See here for the most recent news on the Census situation. I think it’s very likely that we don’t get the data in time for the regular session, in which case redistricting will be done in a special session later in the year. Depending on how late that is, and on how long it takes to hammer out maps, and whether any initial court challenges result in temporary restraining orders, we could see the 2022 primaries get pushed back. The filing period begins in mid-November, after all, so there’s a non-zero chance of it being affected by how this plays out.

It’s worth remembering that if the Dems had managed to win the State House, they still would have had limited influence over redistricting. As the story correctly notes, the Legislative Redistricting Board, a five-member panel that would have had only one Democrat (the House Speaker, in this hypothetical), would draw the State House, State Senate, and SBOE maps if the House and Senate had been unable to agree on them. The Congressional maps would go to a federal court, however, and that’s where the Dems might have had some influence. If Republicans didn’t want to take the chance of putting map-drawing power in a third party like that, they might have been open to some compromises on the other maps. We’ll never know now, but that was the basic idea.

As it is, how this goes with Republicans once again in full control will come down to how they answer a few key questions. (For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on the State House. The issue are mostly similar for Congress and the State Senate, but my examples will come from House elections.) Will they be constrained by established rules like the county line rule, which puts only whole House seats in sufficiently large counties (this is why all Harris County State House seats are entirely within Harris County), or do they change that? How constrained do they feel by the Voting Rights Act, and by other established redistricting precedents – in other words, do they bet big on the courts overturning past rulings so that they can more or less do whatever they want, or do they pull it in so as not to risk losing in court?

Most of all, what do they consider a “safe” seat to be? Look at it this way: In 2012, Republicans won 16 of the 95 seats they took with less than 60% of the vote. Of those, only five were decided by fewer than ten points:

HD43 – Won in 2010 by then-Democrat JM Lozano, who subsequently switched parties.
HD105 – Barely won by the GOP in 2008, by less than 20 votes.
HD107 – Won by a Dem in 2008, it became the first Republican-held seat to flip in this decade, won by Victoria Neave in 2016.
HD114 – Nothing special, it was won by eight points in 2012.
HD134 – The perennial swing district.

Note that four of those five are now Democratic. Other “less than 60%” seats from 2012 now held by Dems include HDs 45, 47, 65, 102, 115, and 136. (*) The point is, that looks like an extremely durable majority, with enough 60%+ seats on their own to ensure a mostly Republican House. And indeed it was for the first three elections of the decade. There will be books written about why all of a sudden it became precarious, but you’d be hard pressed to do a better job than the Republicans did in 2011.

But as noted, things look different now. In 2020, Republicans won 26 of the 87 seats they took with less than 60% of the vote. Of those, seventeen were won by less than ten points:

HD26, HD54, HD64, HD66, HD67, HD92, HD93, HD94, HD96, HD97, HD108, HD112, HD121, HD126, HD132, HD138

We can talk all we want about how things might have gone differently in 2020, but the fact remains that it wouldn’t have taken much to change many of those outcomes. How many Republican incumbents will insist on a 55%+ district for themselves? Whatever assumptions you make about the 2020 electorate and what it means for the future, that’s going to be a tall order in some parts of the state.

This more than anything will drive their decision-making, and may well be the single biggest source of friction on their side. Who is willing to accept a 51% Republican district, and who will have to take one for the team? In 2011, Republicans were coming off an election that they had won by more than 20 points statewide. This year they won at the Presidential level by less than six points, and at the Senate level by less than ten. They have a smaller piece of the pie to cut up. They have full control over how they do it, but the pie isn’t as big as it used to be. What are they going to do about that?

(*) In 2012, Cindy Burkett had no Democratic opponent in HD113, and Gary Elkins was re-elected in HD135 with 60.36% of the vote. Both of those districts are now held by Democrats. Always in motion, the future is.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Five: How not to look at the early voting totals

From Twitter on Friday:

You can click over to see the thread, but it’s based on the share of votes that came from precincts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 versus the share of votes that came from precincts won by Trump in 2016. As of Day Three, the same share of votes from Clinton precincts had been cast in this year’s election, which led to the conclusion that Biden was not outperforming Clinton, at least not yet.

There are several problems with this approach. First and foremost is that “precincts” is too rough a measure to use. Precincts are not uniform in size – there are precincts with upwards of four thousand voters in them, and there are precincts with fewer than one thousand, even those with fewer than one hundred. There are precincts that would have gone well over eighty percent for one candidate or the other, and precincts that were close to fifty-fifty. People move, so over the course of four years a given precinct could be quite different in composition or size. And as we have seen, some people have shifted their voting preferences – college-educated white women, in particular – so one’s vote in 2016 isn’t quite as predictive of one’s vote in 2020 as one might think.

There’s also the fact that the main Democratic strategy is just simply adding to their pile of potential voters, and then turning out as many of them as possible. I’ve said multiple times and in several contexts that there are just simply more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. We saw this illustrated very starkly in 2016, when the total number of Democratic voters increased a lot more from 2012 than the number of Republicans did. See here for my explanation of that. The core of the Democratic voter registration strategy is that most of the folks who had not been voting before were people that were likely to support Democrats, and the focus has been on getting them registered check) and then turning them out. That worked quite well in 2016 and in 2018, and it’s the plan for 2020.

Well, what about the data that we have that suggests most of the voters so far are the old reliables? I will remind you, we haven’t even gotten to the starting line for what would have been the early voting period for this year, and there’s already been a ton of votes cast with that full time span to get everyone else out. There are better ways to estimate what the electorate so far looks like, I’ve talked about this before, and it’s based on using a data model on the vote roster that gives every voter a score of how likely they are to vote D or R, and then sum it all up. There’s some assumptions baked in, and the quality of the data varies a bit from cycle to cycle, mostly because underlying conditions change, but on the whole it’s a reasonable picture. One thing we know is that the first Saturday of the early voting period is a banner day for Democrats, at least in Harris County. That was even true in disaster years like 2010. This year we have two Saturdays, so maybe things will be a bit different – for sure, this Saturday will not be the high-water mark for the week, which is a change from other years – but it is a reminder that different people vote at different times.

In fact, in recent elections, it’s been Democrats who have done better on Election Day than in early voting. Here’s a comparison of the straight ticket vote for the last three high-turnout races:


2012 early - 279,619 R, 259,664 D - 51.9% R, 48.1% D
2012 E day - 124,546 R, 147,327 D - 45.8% R, 54.2% D

2016 early - 308,027 R, 333,477 D - 48.0% R, 52.0% D
2016 E day -  93,636 R, 128,553 D - 42.1% R, 57.9% D

2018 early - 298,644 R, 355,861 D - 45.6% R, 54.4% D
2018 E day - 112,010 R, 159,951 D - 41.2% R, 58.8% D

“Early” combines the mail vote with the early in person vote. I skipped the third party straight-ticket vote for this comparison. Obviously, with a lot more of the vote occurring early, that part of the vote has a much greater effect on the outcome. My point is simply that in past years, the early vote was not necessarily indicative of where everything would end up. Dems in general were trailing in 2012 after early voting, and mostly caught up on Election Day. That was also true for candidates like Ann Harris Bennett in 2016, and Lina Hidalgo in 2018.

I should note that this pattern has also held true for the two most recent lower-turnout races, in 2010 and 2014, which were Republican-dominant years. Dems actually cast more straight ticket votes on Election Day in 2010 than Republicans did, though it wasn’t nearly enough to mitigate the losses they suffered. In 2014, Dems lost all three parts of the vote, but by a smaller margin on Election Day.

The one year where this pattern was broken was 2008 – Dems won the early vote, and Republicans won Election Day, though not by enough for the most part to win countywide. Now to be fair, this year resembles 2008 in a lot of ways – Democratic enthusiasm was through the roof that year, and no one was surprised to see the initial results on Election Night. It will not surprise me if Republicans do better on Election Day than they do in early voting. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll make up ground on Election Day – it may just mean they lose the day by less, as was the case for Dems in 2014. Remember, the thesis here is there are more Dems than Republicans. That means that if Republican turnout is pretty good so far – and it does seem to be – then it also means they’re going to run out of voters faster than the Dems. I’d submit that’s what happened in both 2016 and 2018.

All this is for Harris County. I can’t speak for other counties. In a place like Denton County, for example, where Dems made great strides in 2018 but were still outnumbered overall as of that year, it may be that the population growth there plus the level of enthusiasm on the Republican side is enough to not only hold off further Dem advances, but increase the Republican advantage. We won’t know, or at least I won’t know, until we start seeing results. The same strategy of registering more voters, on the same belief that they are on balance more Dem than Republican, holds there. How well it works remains to be seen.

And speaking of Saturday numbers, we now have them. The Day Five daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to give these numbers today, because we’re now at a point where the day-to-day no longer makes sense:


Vote type  Saturday    Total
============================
Mail          8,807   67,255
Drive-thru    7,806   49,970
In person    57,675  468,738
Total        74,288  585,963

Derek Ryan sent out an email that covered the first four days, which you can see here. For the table above, I broke out the drive-through votes from the other in person votes, because why not. I’ve been meaning to ask if they’re tracking dropped off mail ballots separately, I need to follow up on that. Having a Saturday be at two-thirds the level of the Thursday and Friday would be deeply weird in a different year, but this year, who can say? I have no idea what to expect this week or next weekend. Early voting hours today are 12 to 7, instead of the usual 1 to 6, so maybe we’ll get 30-35K. If that’s about right, then with some 620K early and mail votes in the hopper as of Monday, the “normal” start for early voting, we’d need to average 60K votes per day to equal the 1.34 million total turnout from 2016. We’ll see how it goes on Monday and Tuesday, but yeah, I do think that’s within reach. It would mean something like 200K (for the lower end) to 400K (for the high-end Chris Hollins-predicted 1.7 million) voters left for Election Day. Like I said, we’ll see what the next week brings. Have you voted yet?

The overlooked Congressional race

There are ten Congressional races involving Republican-held seats that are seen as competitive. Nine of them have gotten a fair amount of attention. The tenth is CD06, and the Texas Signal steps in to fill the gap.

Stephen Daniel

The race in the Texas sixth congressional district between challenger attorney Stephen Daniel and incumbent Rep. Ron Wright has been chugging along, under the radar from other clashes in the state. However, many pundits have looked at the district, which includes parts of Arlington, as well as Waxahachie and Corsicana, and have proclaimed it’s a sleeper for flipping, something Daniel himself sees in the final weeks of the campaign.

In 2018, Jana Lynne Sanchez ran for the seat. It was the first time in years a serious Democratic challenger had entered into the race. In the documentary film Surge, which recently premiered in Texas at the Dallas International Film Festival and is airing on Showtime, filmmakers chronicle the battle Sanchez endured to raise money and to get people interested in a race many deemed out of reach.

Sanchez came within seven points of Wright. Two years later, several polls are showing an even tighter race between Daniel and Wright, a combative Texas conservative and the former Chief of Staff to Rep. Joe Barton, who retired from the seat after explicit photos appeared on social media. Wright was recently hospitalized after complications from lung cancer treatment.

Wright has said that women who have abortions have committed murder and should be jailed. As a former columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he said that “white males are the only species without some form of federal protection.” Like most Republicans in Congress, he supports dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Texas currently leads the nation in the number of uninsured, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 650,000 Texans have lost their health insurance.

Access to healthcare prompted Daniel to enter into the race against Wright. In an interview with the Texas Signal, he spoke about his background growing up in a small town and being the first person in his family to go to college. “There’s a lot of people who flat out can’t afford healthcare,” said Daniel.

[…]

Like every campaign, Daniel and his team had to adjust to the pandemic era. He misses the in-person experience of block walking, where he could personally connect with voters. He particularly enjoyed campaigning alongside statehouse candidates. There are five competitive races in the sixth congressional district. Now, that campaigning has moved to Zoom and other virtual settings.

Daniel is optimistic. “The path to turning Texas blue goes through Texas sixth [district],” he said. Nearly seventy percent of the voting bloc in the district is in Arlington and Tarrant county. He sees firsthand how voters in the district are changing. The DCCC recently added the race to their Texas target list.

There was one poll of this race, done by the DCCC back in June, that had Wright up by four points, 45-41. The DCCC Executive Director mentioned CD06 as a race to watch a couple of weeks ago, for whatever that means. Daniel has been a modest but decent fundraiser who would need some help to get a boost. (I have not heard anything about his Q3 report as yet.) I should note that Beto lost CD06 by a 51.2 to 48.0 margin, which made it closer than the more-touted CDs 03 (51.3 to 47.9) and 25 (52.1 to 47.0), with that pattern holding true for other races as well. I don’t know exactly why CD06 has gotten less attention than the other races – Daniel was unopposed in the primary, so there hasn’t been much to report on – but that’s the way it is sometimes. However you want to look at it, this is a race to keep an eye on.

On a side note, seven of the ten Democratic candidates in those competitive races are women. Daniel, along with Mike Siegel in CD10, is vying to join Rep. Lloyd Doggett as the white Democratic Congressmen from Texas. I believe the last time there were as many as three white male Democratic members of Congress from Texas was 2009-10, when then-Reps. Chet Edwards and Gene Green were still serving. Nick Lampson had been there in the prior session, in that election where Tom DeLay withdrew and the Republicans ran Shelley Sekula Gibbs as a write-in, but he lost to Pete Olson in 2008. Edwards was wiped out in 2010, and Green retired prior to the 2018 election.

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.