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HD50

Early voting is up in the special election runoffs

Make of that what you will.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

If three days of early voting are any indication, the tense runoff fight for the state Senate 26 seat between Trey Martinez-Fischer and José Menéndez is attracting more voters than cast ballots in the first round election on Jan. 6, the result of record spending in the campaign that has pitted two Bexar County Democratic members of the House against one another in the fight to succeed departing Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for mayor.

The Jan. 6 state Senate ballot included two Republicans, Alma Perez Jackson and Joan Pedrotti, and a third Democrat, Al Suarez. Voter turnout was a miserable 5%. The five candidates in the first round drew only 19,158 voters, including 8,215 early voters. Martinez-Fischer finished well ahead of Menéndez and the others with 8,231 votes, or 43.28%. Menéndez finished a distant second with 4,824 votes, or 25.37%.

Special elections seldom draw many voters, and in most cases, a runoff would draw even fewer voters with one party knocked off the ballot. This time it’s different. A total of 6,977 people voted in the first three days of early voting this week, which continues today and Friday. At the current pace, that would add up to more than 11,000 early votes, or a 35% increase in the early turnout. If the same increased turnout occurs on Election Day the race will draw more than 25,000 voters, still a low percentage of registered voters, but enough of an increase to suggest a tight race.

You know I can’t turn down an opportunity like that to do some number-crunching. I looked at all the special legislative elections that included runoffs since 2010. Here are their respective vote totals:

Election Total Runoff Pct ===================================== SD22 5/10 29,851 24,557 82.3 HD14 11/11 13,519 6,736 49.8 SD06 1/13 16,369 18,141 110.8 HD50 11/13 14,936 10,520 70.4 SD04 5/14 30,348 22,605 74.5

“Pct” is the ratio of runoff turnout to total Round One turnout. Note that two of these special elections coincided with regular November elections, so it’s not terribly surprising that those runoffs lagged the most. Note also that the special election in SD06 in 2013 to succeed the late Mario Gallegos had higher turnout in the runoff than it did in the first round. That’s also the only race among these that was between two prominent Democrats, and as is the case this year it featured a nasty, negative overtime period. Not enough data to draw a firm conclusion, but the parallels are easy enough to see.

Having said all that, I kind of buried the lede a bit.

The increased turnout appears to be driven by negative campaigning and the role of outside money that aims to rally Republicans to cross party lines and vote for Menéndez. What’s different about this race is the role the powerful Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), an ultra-conservative lobby, is playing, contributing more than $550,000 to finance broadcast ads and direct mail pieces attacking Martinez Fischer and supporting Menéndez. The Express-News reported Tuesday that more than $2.3 million has been spent on the race, including the TLR money that actually exceeds the $513,000 that Menéndez has spent to date.

[…]

Martinez-Fischer is a plaintiff’s lawyer and a vocal, at times coarsely spoken Mexican-American. He looks and sounds like a boxer. Menéndez, also a lawyer, is softer spoken and less combative. People who watch Austin politics more closely than I say newly elected Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick would prefer to keep Martinez-Fischer out of the Senate, which is now a bastion of ultra-conservative Republicans, who now outnumber Democrats 20-11. Regardless of the runoff outcome, the winner will be the least senior of the minority party, but Martinez-Fischer would be a thorn in Patrick’s side, while Menéndez has said he would cross party lines to try to be effective.

I’ve said all along that TMF was my preferred candidate in this race. I had and continue to have nothing against Menendez, and I seriously doubt he’d be any more supportive of the evil trolls that make up TLR if he wins than he was in the House. But maybe he’ll be a little more supportive of them than TMF would be, and a couple hundred thousand bucks isn’t even pocket change to these guys, so all in they go. (They were a presence in the SD06 race as well, much as head lice is a presence in most elementary schools.) The point I’m making here is that even though this runoff is to them a choice between two candidates with whom they have little in common, they didn’t sit it out. They picked their lesser evil and did what they do to support him, in the hope that if it pays off, they’ll have an ever-so-slightly better Senate from their perspective. Say what you want about these guys – and believe me, I think they’re a greedy, rapacious, destructive force, too – it’s hard to argue that their approach had been anything but a big success. There may be a lesson in there for us somewhere, I dunno.

Anyway. It’s hard to know what effect this may have on the HD123 runoff, as HD123 is almost entirely within SD26. Like SD26, most Dems won HD123 by about ten points in 2010, the main exceptions being Bill White, who won it by more than 20 points, and Barbara Radnofsky, who lost it by a half point to Greg Abbott. I expect Diego Bernal to win easily enough, but one should never take anything for granted. Get out there and vote if you didn’t already do so. As for HDs 13 and 17, other than this report on campaign finances in HD17, there’s precious little news out there. I’ll have final results when they come in.

Celia Israel wins HD50 special election runoff

Congrats, Rep.-elect Celia Israel.

Rep. Celia Israel

In the special runoff election for District 50 in the Texas House, Democrat Celia Israel took the lead after early voting.

Israel, a Realtor, earned 58.8 percent of the early vote, and Republican Mike VanDeWalle, a chiropractor, took 41.1 percent. The total number of ballots cast during the early voting period, which ran four days last week, was 4,541, or 4.67 percent of all register voters in the northern Travis County district.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, and hour later than normal. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir successfully petitioned a local district judge earlier in the day to grant a request for the additional hour of voting because of inclement weather and the closing of eight of 36 polling places that operated out of schools that were closed due to bad weather.

The special election in District 50 took place to replace former state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who resigned last year to lead Google Fiber in Austin.

The final total is here. Israel wound up with 60.2% 59.4% of the vote. And yes, turnout was pathetic. The weather obviously played a part of that, but there were other factors, too.

Turnout during early voting was extraordinarily low. Just 4.5 percent of eligible voters cast early ballots in the election — about half as many as in the last special election runoff in Travis County, according to the county clerk’s office.

Supporters of both campaigns have acknowledged the awkward timing of both early voting and election day. Early voting began last Tuesday, one day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and ended Friday, when polls opened five hours late because of icy weather.

So there were only four days of early voting instead of the usual five – really, more like three and a half days of early voting. And this runoff occurred during the heat of the primaries, three weeks before early voting for that begins. I think people could be forgiven if they took their eye off the ball a bit on this one. Such downward pressure on turnout can sometimes cause bizarre results, which would have been greatly magnified given the subtext of this election.

[Jeremy] Bird is one of the founders of Battleground Texas, a group dedicated to making this Republican stronghold competitive for Democrats. Celia Israel’s race for an open seat in the state House of Representatives is not expected to be difficult considering the district has historically voted for Democrats.

“It’s nice to have a special election and a little bit of a test,” Bird said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Identifying, engaging and turning out voters will help the Israel campaign now and (gubernatorial candidate) Wendy Davis, (lieutenant governor candidate) Leticia Van de Putte and other Democrats in November. Not only are people more likely to turn out to vote again, but the results will give us a chance to check our voter model and fine tune it for the election.”

[…]

On Saturday, Israel’s volunteers each had a list of homes to visit where Battleground’s research showed a reliably Democratic voter could be found. The volunteers were given a recommended script to follow, including thanking the prospective voter, asking whether the person would be willing to volunteer, and taking down an email address.

The data collected by Battleground staff, combined with publicly available voter records, is critical to the group’s strategy to identify, register and recruit the 2 million Democrats they estimate are not voting in Texas elections.

“Data collected from personal conversations is much more effective for predicting who people will support and at what level they’ll participate,” Bird said.

Israel is running against tea party Republican Mike VanDeWalle, but few voters know about the election, so Battleground’s help in getting out the vote is critical. Battleground Texas volunteers have knocked on over 14,000 doors over two weeks, Bird said.

“Battleground Texas is not just a political slogan, it’s a political muscle, and we’re going to use it in 2014,” Israel said.

The final total in this election was far less than 14,000 votes, but the weather was a big factor in that. That cut both ways, however, and in the end Israel’s vote percentage was quite good. Here’s how she compared to the top scoring Democrat in HD50 going back to 2002:

2012 results
2010 results
2008 results
2006 results
2004 results
2002 results

Year High D High D% ========================== 2014SpR Israel 59.4% 2012 Obama 57.8% 2010 White 55.9% 2008 Obama 60.3% 2006 Moody 58.7% 2004 Molina 51.2% 2002 Sharp 54.3%

Note that Bill White and Bill Moody both outperformed the rest of the Dem ticket in their year by several points, and in all three off years several Republicans carried HD50. If 2008-level performance is the norm in other State Rep districts this fall, I’ll be plenty happy, and so I suspect will Jeremy Bird. For the record, I don’t think this special election runoff is a harbinger of any kind for November. It’s nice, but it’s one little data point. That said, if Israel had struggled to win, or even worse if she had lost, you could have wallpapered Reliant Stadium with the collected writings of every damn pundit, blogger, and assorted loudmouth in the state blathering on about how this portended doom for the Dems and proved Battleground Texas was a sham. I think I’m entitled to point out that Israel and BGTX easily met expectations, at the least. And now Rep.-elect Israel gets to do it again in November, against the same Republican opponent. I’ve made it this far without mentioning that Rep.-elect Israel becomes the second out gay member of the Legislature, joining Rep. Mary Gonzalez of El Paso, so I’ll rectify that here; see Lone Star Q and the Dallas Voice for more on that. Congratulations, Rep.-elect Celia Israel, and best of luck to you in November.

UPDATE: When I wrote this post last night, the Travis County results page had been updated at 9:13 PM, and the cumulative totals page showed 39 of 39 precincts completed, with Israel at 60.2% of the vote. It also showed that all of 700 votes had been cast on Tuesday, but who was I to argue with that? In any event, a 10:23 PM update shows 5807 votes cast on Tuesday, with Celia Israel now receiving 59.42% of the overall total. That’s down a bit from what she had as of the 9:13 update, but still a higher percentage than any other Democrat other than President Obama in 2008 (former Rep. Mark Strama was unopposed in 2012, the only year in which he ran under the new boundaries), so my point about how she and BGTX did in this race remains.

LaCroix files in SD15

Damian LaCroix

As of the Monday candidate filing update from the HCDP, Damian LaCroix has made official his primary challenge to Sen. John Whitmire in SD15. He announced his challenge in August, and what I said at that time still holds true for me as a voter in SD15 – I’m not interested in making a change unless it’s a clear upgrade, and so far I don’t see any evidence of that. I intend to interview both candidates for the primary, so we’ll all get a chance to learn more at that time.

Other than the District Attorney race and a rerun in CD07, this is the only other local Democratic primary action of which I am aware. There are of course several statewide primaries – Wendy Davis has an opponent, Kinky Friedman will square off against some guy named Jim Hogan for Ag Commissioner, and there are now four candidates for US Senate with the entries of David Alameel and a dentist from Odessa named HyeTae “Harry” Kim – but not that much in the legislative primary department. There are two open seats, HD50, where Celia Israel appears to have a clear path in March to try to succeed Mark Strama – she’s in a runoff for the special election right now – and HD23, where I have no idea who has filed to try to succeed Rep. Craig Eiland. Seriously, does anyone know anything about this one? There are several potential candidates, I just haven’t heard if any of them has actually filed or even announced. State Rep. Marisa Marquez of El Paso, who caught some (deserved) flak for backing Republican Dee Margo in his failed re-election bid against Rep. Joe Moody, has an opponent. She’s the only House incumbent I’m aware of who’s been challenged.

There are also two new Democratic House challengers on the scene – Laura Nicol in HD133, and Amy Perez in HD150. These are obviously two tough districts, but it’s good to see new faces and it’s especially good to see more Democratic women running for office.

There are still plenty of offices for which no one has filed as a Democrat. Texpatriate bemoans the lack of candidates in Tarrant County, despite its higher profile this year. In Harris County, there are three races to watch. One is County Judge, where Ed Emmett so far appears to be getting a free ride. I’m a believer in running everywhere, but it’s hard to get too worked up about that. Emmett does a good job, he has a ton of goodwill still from his performance during Hurricane Ike, and he’d be tough to beat. Given that this may be his last term, I’m fine with concentrating on other races, like DA and County Clerk. County Commissioner Precinct 2 is harder to swallow. Glorice McPherson has said she’s running against first term Commissioner Jack Morman, but she hasn’t filed yet and she’s unlikely to raise the kind of money needed to mount a serious challenge. Precinct 2 was very competitive in 2012, but that was under the old map, and we don’t know how it will perform in an off year, even one with as much promise as this one. Still, giving Morman a free ride, or just an easy ride, would be a big disappointment. Finally, as BOR notes, Rep. Harold Dutton still hasn’t filed in HD142. He’s the last holdout among Democratic legislative incumbents, and a last-minute retirement announcement is not out of the question. The deadline is December 9, and that’s sure to be a busy day. What are you hearing out there?

Election results: Texas

Short and sweet: All nine constitutional amendments passed, all by substantial margins. Here’s The Observer on Prop 6.

The Texas Water Development Board will now oversee a $2 billion water bank, seeded with capital from the Rainy Day Fund, to help pay for water supply projects and water conservation across the state. The large margin of victory is testimony to the growing public awareness of the state’s serious water problems. (And so much for those silly predictions that “the rain” would dampen enthusiasm at the polls.)

Boosters, including many of the industrial interests that have the most to lose from water scarcity, did a good job positioning Prop 6 as the solution. The message was basically, “Want to do something about our water problems? Here’s the solution. Got a better idea?”

I did notice that a few rural East Texas counties posted large margins against Prop 6. Of course, that’s where the water is and the people aren’t. It’s not unreasonable for East Texans to worry that a multi-billion-dollar water bank will fund projects to move water from east to west. Indeed, they need only look at Dallas’ official plans. In Red River County, where the long-contested Marvin Nichols Reservoir is proposed, the vote on Prop 6 was 57 percent opposed to 43 percent in favor.

Gov. Rick Perry hailed Prop 6’s passage. “Today, the people of Texas made history, ensuring we’ll have the water we need to grow and thrive for the next five decades, without raising state taxes.”

Most large environmental groups supported Prop 6, in large part because of a target that at least 20 percent of the funding from the state water bank will go toward conservation and water reuse projects. Ken Kramer, the former director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, was instrumental in lining up the conservation earmark and was one of the most persuasive voices in favor of Prop 6. He celebrated the victory tonight but sounded a note of caution too.

“Now the real work begins,” Kramer said in a statement. “Texans need to become actively involved in regional water planning and in local government water supply decisions to make sure that the potential for Prop 6 to advance water conservation and enhance water planning is achieved.”

That more or less sums it up for me. See here for more about the other amendments, if you’ve already forgotten what they are.

The only other result of interest is the special election in HD50 to fill out the remainder of former Rep. Mark Strama’s term.

Republican Mike VanDeWalle and Democrat Celia Israel advanced to a runoff Tuesday in the race to replace state Rep. Mark Strama in the Texas House.

Incomplete returns showed VanDeWalle with nearly 39 percent to Democrat Celia Israel’s 32 percent. Democrats Jade Chang Sheppard and Rico Reyes were far behind in the Democrat-leaning district that covers parts of North Austin and eastern Travis County.

Celia Israel is backed by the Victory Fund and would join Rep. Mary Gonzalez as the second LGBT member of the Legislature if she wins. Of course, even if she survives the runoff she would still have to win a Democratic primary in March and then the 2014 general election. Regardless, I’ll be rooting for her in December.

Special election set in HD50

Mark Strama announced his resignation from the Lege in February to go and run Google Fiber in Austin. Last week, Rick Perry set November 5 as the special election date to replace him.

Mark Strama

The race to serve out the remainder of former state Rep. Mark Strama’s current term got an official election date Thursday as Gov. Rick Perry set a Nov. 5 special election.

Known for his work on education and clean-technology issues, Strama, D-Austin, announced in February that he was leaving his House seat. Strama, who had considered a run for Austin mayor, announced in June that he had accepted a position leading Austin’s Google Fiber operations. Google announced in April that Austin would be among the first places to try out the high-speed internet service.

With Strama’s departure looming on the horizon for several months, the field of candidates vying to take his House District 50 seat already begun to fill up. Early hopefuls to announce included businesswoman Jade Chang Sheppard, associate municipal court judge Ramey Ko, prosecutor Rico Reyes and Celia Israel, a former aide to Gov. Ann Richards.

“They are all really good candidates, and the district will be served by any of them,” Strama told Texas Weekly in May.

I agree with Strama’s assessment of the candidates to be his successor. The special election matters for two reasons: One, there will likely be another special session next year to sort out the school finance situation, once the retrial and the appeal to the Supreme Court have been resolved. Two, whoever wins, assuming he or she wins again in 2014, will have a leg up on other freshmen in 2015 in seniority. As BOR noted, the seat is Democratic, but a Republican could have a chance in a low-turnout election and runoff. One would hope that after all that has gone on over the past few weeks that generating some excitement on the D side for this would not be too challenging.

Strama and Rep. Craig Eiland are the first two legislators to announce that they will not be back in 2015. With the special session all over but for transportation funding in the House, you can expect there to be more such announcements in the coming weeks. As I noted a few months back, the Lege has seen quite a bit of turnover in the past decade, much of which has been self-imposed. I see no reason why this year will be any different.

Eiland will not seek re-election

This is a tough break for the Democrats.

Rep. Craig Eiland

Rep. Craig Eiland

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, will not seek re-election, he announced in a tearful personal privilege speech on the House floor Wednesday night.

Eiland, who has served in the Legislature for two decades, said it has been hard being away from his wife and children, but that he would deeply miss being a member of the Texas House.

Eiland said he even liked serving in a session with an exceedingly large number of freshmen legislators, though he joked that “some of them are crazy.”

The Galveston legislator and attorney was first elected to the Legislature in 1993. He won a sometimes tough campaign for re-election last year in which his work on windstorm insurance became an issue along with his residence in Austin. Eiland has a $3 million home in Austin. An early ad from his Republican opponent attacked Eiland as someone who got wealthy “as a trial lawyer suing Texas businesses” and for living in a city well outside the district.

Rep. Eiland is a veteran member with a lot of expertise and experience, and he won in a district that has been trending away from the Democrats for a long time. I identified him as potentially vulnerable way back in 2011, and indeed HD23 was Republican overall – Eiland was the only member of the House to win in a district that was carried by the Presidential candidate of the opposing party. While it’s not clear to me that his district would have been any less hospitable in a non-Presidential year, it is certain that he’d have had another tough race ahead of him. With the seat being open, it automatically moves it from being Lean Dem, on the strength of Eiland’s experience, abilities, and campaign bank account, to at best a tossup for the Dems, if there’s a decent candidate waiting in the wings. The good news is that according to QR, there are several good potential candidates – former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, District Judge Susan Criss, and former Galveston County Commissioner Pat Doyle. I’ve already heard a rumor that Criss plans to run. Like I said, this will be a tough race, but having a good candidate at least gives us a fighting chance.

Rep. Eiland joins Rep. Mark Strama in calling it quits; there’s already a hot primary for the open HD50. One thing Eiland’s retirement has in common with Strama’s is that it will surely mean fewer Anglo Dems in the Lege in 2015. Regardless, I wish both outgoing Reps all the best with whatever comes next for them. Thank you for your service, gentlemen.

Another reason why math is your friend

The Statesman asks the question whether the newly-drawn HD48 in Travis County might be easier for a Republican challenger to win, then never gets around to providing the simplest answer to that question.

Rep. Donna Howard

Starting in April and carrying on through the dog days of summer, Republican Robert Thomas has worn out the soles of his shoes block-walking in his campaign to represent House District 48 in West and South Austin. Thomas is counting on more than hard work and sweat, though. There’s a wild card in this election that could level the playing field.

Even though incumbent Democrat Donna Howard has a bigger campaign, better name recognition and more legislative experience, redistricting has thrown her a curveball. She has represented District 48 for six years, but most of the residents she now represents have never voted for her.

“Sixty percent of the constituency in this district is brand new. We aren’t taking anything for granted,” Howard said at a campaign house party in late September at the two-story Mount Bonnell home of a longtime supporter. About 50 supporters, including 427th Criminal District Court Judge Jim Coronado and Travis County Precinct 5 Constable Bruce Elfant, dropped by and enjoyed refreshments and hors d’oeuvres.

[…]

Thomas had about $33,000 in political contributions compared with Howard’s $71,000 through June, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports. The latest reports are due Tuesday, but both campaigns say their fundraising and spending have ballooned since summer.

Neither the size of Howard’s campaign nor her incumbent status seem to worry Thomas. He points to the district’s history and the latest district maps as reasons to be optimistic.

For the past 20 years, District 48 has been predominantly Democratic. The district has swung into Republican hands once since 1992 when Todd Baxter won by about 7 percentage points 10 years ago. Howard won a special election when Baxter left prematurely before the 2006 general election.

Howard barely won re-election in 2010. In that race, she edged out her Republican challenger by 12 votes out of 51,553 votes cast — or by two-hundredths of a percentage point.

“This district has historically … been a contestable swing district,” Thomas said. “I think it plays in my favor. … This is effectively an open seat. A large number of the new constituents are independent.”

What the story never bothers to mention is simply this: The numbers in HD48 are more favorable now to a Democrat than they were before.

District McCain Obama Wainwright Houston =============================================== Old HD48 45.5% 53.0% 45.7% 48.9% New HD48 37.5% 60.8% 37.5% 56.7%

The 2008 numbers for the new HD48, under the interim map, are here (Excel spreadsheet), and the 2008 numbers for the pre-redistricting HD48 are here. The dropoff in each case comes from a higher level of undervoting on the Democratic side, and a larger share of the vote going to the Libertarian candidate in the Supreme Court race. There is absolutely nothing surprising or mysterious about this. The Republicans quite reasonably wanted to shore up HD47, the district of freshman Rep. Paul Workman – remember, HD47 was won by Democrat Valinda Bolton in 2006 and 2008. All those extra Democratic voters had to go somewhere, and Howard and Rep. Mark Strama were the beneficiaries. So while it is accurate to say that many of the voters in HD48 are new to Rep. Howard, it is also the case that they are mostly Democrats. Which map would you rather have? I grant that Rep. Howard’s newness to the majority of her constituents is a factor, but this is a pretty significant one, too. It needed to be mentioned. Of course, there wouldn’t have been much of a story if it had been, so there you go. More from Rep. Howard herself on her Facebook page.