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HD33

Can Dems make progress in Collin County?

It sure would be nice if they could.

It’s no secret that Plano’s Prestonwood Baptist Church has long wielded tremendous political influence, often quietly blurring the local lines between church and state.

But in the 2016 cycle, with the Republican Party veering further to the right, the 40,000-member evangelical megachurch is taking its electoral involvement more seriously than ever.

After hosting six GOP presidential hopefuls in October, Prestonwood’s newly formed “Culture Impact Team” staged a forum Monday for local and state candidates in Collin and Denton counties.

“We’re told that if you’re a person of faith, that you cannot get involved in politics, and we totally reject that,” Ron Kelley, director of the Prestonwood Foundation, told a crowd of hundreds who skipped watching the Iowa caucus returns in favor of the church event.

Although federal tax regulations bar the church from making endorsements, Kelley added, Prestonwood’s leaders encourage their flock to support candidates who “share our values.”

“We don’t apologize for that one bit,” he said.

As if to eliminate any possible doubt about the nature of “our values,” Monday’s forum was co-sponsored by Texas Values, a statewide group that specializes in opposing LGBT and reproductive rights.

However, the forum also included some unlikely participants — Democrats. For the first time in recent memory, Democrats have filed to run for each of Collin County’s five seats in the Texas House, all of which are currently held by Republicans, including two Prestonwood members.

Rick Joosten, a precinct chair who led the Collin County party’s candidate recruitment team in 2015, said he’s seen “an unprecedented emergence of Democratic energy in this exciting presidential year.”

Indeed, recent corporate relocations from places like California and an influx of new residents from Dallas have loosened, ever so slightly, the GOP’s hold on Collin County — as evidenced in Plano’s passage of an LGBT-inclusive Equal Rights Ordinance in December 2014, despite vocal opposition from Prestonwood leaders.

Still, given that Wendy Davis captured less than 33 percent of the vote in Collin County, Democratic candidates face a steep climb. But that didn’t stop them from braving a tough audience at the Prestonwood forum. The crowd erupted when local Republican candidates were introduced, but Democrats garnered only a smattering of applause from family and friends.

Let’s acknowledge that recruiting candidates is challenging under any circumstance. Recruiting candidates in races where they will be seriously out-financed and their odds of winning can be most generously described as “remote” is nigh impossible. As such, whatever happens this November, we should salute Rick Joosten and his team for a stellar job. The rapid growth in Collin County (2004 registered voters = 369,412; 2012 registered voters = 458,872) is an opportunity to reach out to voters who maybe aren’t cut from the same old cloth as well as a challenge to make sure they know they do have a choice and it does matter that they show up. Having a full slate of local candidates goes a long way towards that.

And Lord knows, the Collin County delegation has some varmints and miscreants in it. Barring something earth-shaking, this isn’t the cycle where any of them might get bounced, but we can put down some markers for what progress looks like. Here are the results for the last three Presidential elections in each of those five State Rep districts:


Dist   Kerry  Obama08  Obama12
==============================
33     22.9%    30.4%    26.4%
66     31.8%    40.2%    37.4%
67     31.0%    39.6%    37.2%
70     24.0%    32.6%    29.2%
89     26.4%    34.7%    31.7%

The same pattern holds countywide, where the Presidential number was 28.12% in 2004, 36.77% in 2008, and 33.49% in 2012. The two best-performing State Rep districts are about eight points out from their 2012 figures from being competitive, so the target needs to be at least 40% in the county for anyone to start paying attention. Candidate quality and specific issues come into play at some point, and additional ground can be made up with the right combination of the two or lost with the wrong combo. HDs 66 and 67 are unsurprisingly the most diverse of the five, but what’s interesting is that it’s the high percentage of “other” voters, which I read as being Asian, that is driving those numbers. That number is higher than the combined black plus Hispanic total in HD66, and it’s higher than each individually in HD67. Democrats have placed a lot of hope on the increasing number of Hispanic voters for its fortunes around the state, but the rapidly increasing Asian population can make a difference as well. I hope someone in Collin County is thinking about how that may apply to them. I’ll be sure to check back in November and see how it turned out.

Rep. Scott Turner not running for re-election

Another one heads for the exit.

Rep. Scott Turner

State Rep. Scott Turner, the Frisco Republican who unsuccessfully ran for speaker this year, has decided not to seek re-election.

Turner announced his decision in an email to constituents Thursday, hinting that he is not done with politics.

“One chapter is closing for now, and I am beginning new chapters that I believe hold great promise and potential,” Turner wrote. “Though my service as a state representative comes to an end, you can count on me to use my voice to remain involved and champion our shared conservative values.”

Turner also told constituents he is looking forward to spending more time with his nephew Solomon, who has lived for years with Turner and his wife. In a January interview, Turner said that he and his wife were Solomon’s “full-time parents.”

Along with the announced departure of Rep. Sylvester Turner, this may make the Lege a Turner-free zone may leave the Lege with just one Turner (Rep. Chris Turner) in 2017. It will also likely make the Lege, and the GOP caucus, whiter, as Scott Turner was one of two African-American Republicans. Turner was mostly known for challenging Joe Straus for the Speakership this session; he didn’t come close, and if he had any major legislative achievements in his two sessions, I’m unaware of them. HD33 is in Collin County and it’s heavily Republican – 72.1% for Mitt Romney in 2012 – so it’s all about the Republican primary and hoping for a bit of sanity to win out. Best of luck to Rep. Scott Turner and his family in the next chapter of their lives. Trail Blazers has more.

UPDATE: Corrected my miscount of the Turners. Thanks to General Grant in the comments for the catch.

DOJ says redistricting plans purposely discriminated

Game on.

The Justice Department said late Friday that based on their preliminary investigation, a congressional redistricting map signed into law by Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry appears to have been “adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to Congress.”

DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is specifically contesting the changes made to Texas Districts 23 and 27, which they say would not provide Hispanic citizens with the ability to elect candidates of their choice.

They say they need more information on the congressional plan to determine what the purpose of the redistricting plan was for sure. But the federal agency came out stronger against the state House of Representatives plan, which they flat out said “violates Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in that it was adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of diminishing the ability of citizens of the United States, on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, to elect their preferred candidates of choice to the Texas House of Representatives.”

The State House districts that DOJ singled out were 33, 35, 41, 117, and 149. The other intervenors in the case – State Sen. Wendy Davis and State Rep. Marc Veasey; MALC; Greg Gonzales (I don’t know who that is); the Texas Legislative Black Caucus; the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force; and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches – agreed with DOJ about all of these districts and added quite a few more of their own, with some detailed objections in Dallas, Tarrant, and Harris Counties, among others. A copy of the DOJ doc is here, and I recommend you read it – it’s not very long, and isn’t particularly legalistic. If nothing else, see why the state of Texas will likely never hire Dr. John Alford as an expert witness again, at least not while the Republicans are still in charge. Oral arguments are scheduled for November 2 on the state’s motion for summary judgment.

In related news, the Justice Department also had some questions about the voter ID law.

In a Friday letter officials wrote that they need to know more about how the state would alert voters to the changes to the law.

Federal officials also want a detailed description of when and where the state will make free identification certificates available, as well as specifics on how they will educated the public about when such certificates will be available.

Texas officials said that 605,576 residents do not have a Texas drivers license or photo ID card. DOJ wants to know how many of those residents without IDs have Spanish surnames.

You can read the response letter for the specifics. In this case, if the state answers the questions to DOJ’s satisfaction, preclearance will be granted. Postcards adds on:

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, the House sponsor of the Voter ID measure, said she was not surprised with the Justice Department’s action.

“I think the questions they are asking are reasonable,” Harless said.

Harless added that the Texas Secretary of State’s office should be able to respond relatively quickly.

Once the Justice Department gets the response, it’ll have 60 days to review it — plenty of time before the March primary.

[…]

If the Justice Department denies pre-clearance, the state probably would sue the department and ask the court to overturn the denial, leading to a lengthy court case.

And if the department approves the measure, appeals from opponents likely would be filed.

In other words, expect litigation no matter what happens next. The Trib has more.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 1

Here’s the first post in my series of analyses of the new districts. I’m using 2008 electoral data, since the next election is a Presidential year, and I feel confident that the districts were drawn with an eye strongly towards protecting Republican gains in such a year. Without further ado, here we go.

HD12

District: 12

Incumbent: None

Counties: McLennan (part), Limestone, Falls, Robertson, Brazos (part)

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 46.67%

This district contains parts of Jim Dunnam’s old district, with the eastern part of the old HD57 being chopped off and reconstituted to accommodate Marva Beck. Lack of an incumbent is a big part of the draw here. A big downside is the eight point spread from the top of the ticket – neither Obama nor Noriega cracked 40% – to the Sam Houston number, which suggests that any Democratic candidate may have to swim against the tide. Lack of an incumbent also means you can’t accuse the other guy of voting to gut public education. Not a top priority, and may never be on the radar, but deserves a decent candidate for the first go-round at least.

HD17

District: 17

Incumbent: Tim Kleinschmidt (first elected in 2008)

Counties: Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 48.27% (plurality)

Big change in this district, which used to contain Burleson, Colorado, Fayette, and parts of Brazos. Basically, it shifted south. Bastrop is the population center, and it was a purple county in 2008, with Strawn and Sam Houston scoring pluralities there. The more it becomes an Austin suburb a la Hays and Williamson, the better the prospects for a win. This district was on the radar for Dems in 2008 as an open D seat and in 2010, and I expect it will continue to be.

HDs 32 and 34

District: 32
District: 34

Incumbent: Todd Hunter (HD32, first elected in 2008); Raul Torres and Connie Scott (HD34, first elected in 2010)

Counties: Nueces

Best Dem performance in 2008: For HD32, Sam Houston, 46.20%. For HD34, Sam Houston, 58.83%

HD32 can charitably be described as a reach if Hunter runs for re-election. Nueces County has been trending away from the Democrats, the three counties that were removed from HD32 (Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio) were a net winner for Juan Garcia, whom Hunter defeated in 2008, and Hunter has done very well both in terms of fundraising and moving up the ladder in his two terms. However, it’s the worst kept secret in the state that Hunter wants to run for Congress, and if that map is at all favorable to him this seat may be open in 2012. So keep that in the back of your mind.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure why Torres and Scott were paired, unless they were considered to be hopeless cases for salvation. This is the more Democratic part of Nueces, with all Dems in 2008 winning a majority, up to 20 points in their favor downballot. This has got to be one of the easiest pickup opportunities for the Dems in 2012.

HD35

District: 35

Incumbent: Jose Aliseda (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Atascosa, LaSalle, McMullen, Live Oak, Bee, San Patricio, Duval

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 50.77%

Republicans have been trying to carve out a South Texas district for themselves for awhile, and this one may be their best shot going forward. The good news for them is that McCain and Cornyn scored solid wins in 2008, with McCain getting nearly 55% and Cornyn 51%. The bad news is that Dems carried the rest of the races, with Houston, Strawn, and Linda Yanez all getting majorities. Aliseda got into one of the more entertaining kerfuffles during the House debate over HB150; I don’t know if he got what he wanted or not, but what he got is a very swingy district that may be a battleground through the decade.

HD41

District: HD41

Incumbent: Aaron Pena (first elected as a Democrat in 2002, switched parties after the 2010 election)

Counties: Hidalgo (part)

Best Dem performance in 2008: Sam Houston, 60.15%

I can’t think of a single seat the Democrats would like to win more than this one. Technically, Pena is the incumbent in HD40, and Veronica Gonzales is the incumbent in HD41, but as the Legislative Study Group noted:

CSHB150 also radically changes Hidalgo County districts in an effort to squeeze a partisan performing district out of the existing population. The incumbent in HD 40 would only represent 1.5 % of his current district, and the incumbent in HD 41 would only represent 1.1 % of her district. The gerrymandered map in Hidalgo County takes great pains to draw the incumbents in HD 40 and 41 into almost entirely new districts, narrowing down to one city block at times.

For this reason, the district numbers were swapped, thus giving Pena and Gonzales most of their previous constituents back. Despite being on the Redistricting Committee and drawing what one presumes was the best map he could for himself, Pena isn’t exactly sitting pretty. The low score among Democrats was Obama’s 54.83%, with everyone but Jim Jordan getting at least 56%. Do his constituents love him enough to overcome the party label or not? Assuming he does run for re-election, that is.

Peña said he is in employment negotiations with a law firm that would require him to move out of the Valley. If he does take the job, he said, he won’t seek office in 2012.

In other words, he’s got a graceful way out if he decides that he can’t win his custom-designed district. We’ll find out soon enough. More non-urban areas coming up next.

Ortiz asks for a recount

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, one of three Texas Congressional Democrats to be defeated on Tuesday, has asked for a recount.

U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, trailing Republican challenger Blake Farenthold by 792 votes in the race for Texas’ 27th District, officially announced in a written statement late Friday afternoon that he would seek a manual recount, citing what he called “numerous voting irregularities.”

The call for a recount came after provisional ballot totals and outstanding military-vote estimates showed that even if all of those votes went for Ortiz, the congressman was still unlikely to pull ahead.

“It is my utmost desire to ensure that the votes of the people of South Texas be cast and counted and that no vote be left out. Therefore, we’ve begun putting together the documents necessary to request a recount,” Ortiz wrote in a statement.

792 votes is a small margin – Ortiz lost by 0.75 percentage points – and as such it’s perfectly normal to ask for a recount. I just would not expect anything to come of it. I’ve seen a bunch of these requests over the past eight years, some for margins much smaller than this – see Holm/Daily in 2003, Vo/Heflin in 2004, and Harper-Brown/Romano in 2008 for three examples – and only one time has it made a difference for the person that was originally trailing. That was the Ciro Rodriguez/Henry Cueller primary race of 2004, and it came with a set of bizarre and unique circumstances. I wish Rep. Ortiz the best, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

Two side notes of interest: One, the Libertarian candidate in this race got over 5% of the vote. If you believe, as some do, that Libertarians take votes from Republicans, then Ortiz’s margin might have been larger had this been a two-person race. If you believe, as I do, that Libertarians take votes from incumbents as much as they do from Republicans, then one can make a case that Ortiz might have won a two-person race. Two, Ortiz’s son Solomon, Jr, a State Rep in Nueces County, also lost. Tough week for the Ortiz family, that’s for sure.