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Jack Morman

Medicaid expansion pressure is having an effect

Despite the mountains of evidence in its favor, I still can’t say that I see a path to Medicaid expansion in Texas. But stories like this do give me some hope.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Adamantly opposed to expanding Medicaid coverage under President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had seemingly squelched efforts this legislative session to insure an additional 1.1 million low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act.

But a determined campaign, targeting legislators with public pressure and private persuasion, has kept the issue alive by framing Medicaid expansion as an economic bonanza and tax-relief opportunity that would bring $79 billion in much-needed federal money over 10 years.

The arguments, pitched to Republican ears, have carved out a small space in which lawmakers can work toward an agreement that once appeared impossible.

Several key GOP legislators, though skeptical about expanding Medicaid, haven’t ruled out the possibility of a compromise, provided they can get several important concessions. Democrats are ready to deal.

“I’m tempering my rhetoric,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. “I don’t want to say anything that backs them in a corner. I want to get this done.”

[…]

Last week, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to push the Legislature toward expanding Medicaid, echoing a similar call by Dallas County. Influential lobbying groups also have joined in, including the Texas Medical Association, which recently endorsed expansion if accompanied by reforms that include cutting red tape and increasing provider payments.

[State Rep. John] Zerwas, a medical doctor, said he is feeling the pressure to reverse his opposition.

“Absolutely. If you talk to hospitals, if you talk to counties, there is a substantial amount of money that is promised in the law that would benefit Texans. We do have a substantial uninsured problem,” Zerwas said.

But, he added, the expansion as proposed would be a Band-Aid solution, stressing an unsustainable Medicaid system that has grown so large it threatens spending on education, roads and other vital programs.

Still, Zerwas said there could be room to negotiate if Texas wins important concessions from the federal government to create a flexible system. The amount of needed flexibility “remains to be defined,” he said, but could include running the expansion program as a health maintenance organization and requiring co-pays.

Houston’s Rep. Garnet Coleman, one of the Capitol’s leading Democrats on health care issues, is fine with requiring co-pays and similar concessions.

Coleman, however, draws the line at attempts to use expansion as an opportunity to change Medicaid’s promise to children and disabled and elderly Texans. Talk of adding flexibility, he said, has often meant cutting people and services from the Medicaid system.

“Those of us who support the Medicaid expansion, we can walk away from the table, too, if we don’t think what is proposed is good for our constituents. This is a two-way street,” he said.

I presume Rep. Coleman is talking about block-granting Medicaid, which everyone knows would be used to cut benefits. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the possibility of a deal on Medicaid expansion, but this is the first time we’ve seen some details, however sketchy. Obviously, the biggest hurdle is Rick Perry, and he’s painted himself into enough of a corner that I have a hard time imagining him signing anything that doesn’t include block grants as a cornerstone. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but no one has gotten rich underestimating Perry’s fanaticism lately. Still, bringing pressure from the county level is the smart move, though it would really help if Harris County would get into the game. If we can’t get that I’d settle for a resolution from Houston City Council. This needs to be a big issue for the 2014 elections, and it needs to be felt at the county level by folks like County Judge Ed Emmett and County Commissioner Jack Morman as well. If you’re not part of the solution then we need to get someone else who is.

January finance reports for Harris County offices

For the most part, it’s way too early to start thinking about the 2014 Harris County elections – we have a legislative session and a city election cycle to get through first – but since January 15 is a reporting deadline for county officeholders, I figure I may as well have a peek at who has what. I’m only looking at offices that are up for election in 2014, so here we go.

County Judge Ed Emmett – $151,586 on hand.

Thanks to his graceful under pressure performance during Hurricane Ike and a generally low-key, get-things-done style, County Judge Ed Emmett has been the top-performing Republican candidate in two diametrically opposite elections, the Democratic wave of 2008 and the Republican tsunami of 2014. Assuming there are no similar forces at work next year, Democrats ought to be in pretty good shape countywide – as I’ve noted before, Democratic turnout was pretty decent in 2010 despite the butt-kicking – but if there’s one person I’d expect to prevail on the R side even if there’s a strong wind behind the Dems’ backs, it’s Judge Emmett. Assuming of course that he hasn’t decided by then that he’s had it up to here with all this stuff and makes a beeline for the private sector, in which case I’d expect a jumble of Dems lining up to run for this spot. I’m sure someone will run regardless, but barring anything unforeseen I’d make Judge Emmett the favorite going in.

County Clerk Stan Stanart – $16,869 on hand

Outside of the big three – County Judge, District Attorney, and Sheriff – countywide offices don’t draw much fundraising attention, so don’t read much into these numbers. That said, 2012 wasn’t exactly a stellar year for Stan Stanart. I don’t know how much people will remember that by next year, but as with Don Sumners it ought to provide his opponent (or opponents if he gets primaried) with a fair amount of ammunition. Talk of an elections administrator has predictably died down again, but if it pops back up that will just remind everyone of why we began speaking of it in the first place. Stanart has overseen the relocation of voting machines to a new home, and the county campaign finance reform page sucks somewhat less than it used to, but beyond that I can’t think of any major achievements he’s racked up. (If I’m wrong about that, please correct me in the comments.) Assuming we don’t have an elections administrator by this time next year, I expect Dems to make this race a priority.

District Clerk Chris Daniel – $15,184 on hand

Unlike Stanart, Daniel has had a fairly quiet term as District Clerk. There was a fair amount of griping after Daniel defeated the well-regarded Loren Jackson in the 2010 sweep – Jackson was easily the top Democratic vote-getter that year – but for what it’s worth I haven’t heard any lately. Daniel has overseen the implementation of a new efiling system for pleadings in criminal cases, FREEfax, so he will have that to point to next year. If Daniel loses in 2014, his successor will be the fifth District Clerk since 2007, when then-District Clerk Charles Bacarisse resigned to challenge Ed Emmett in a primary for County Judge. Theresa Chang, now a County Court judge, was appointed to replace Bacarisse; she was defeated by Jackson in 2008, and Jackson was defeated by Daniel in 2010.

County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez – $1,141 on hand.

2014 will be another quadrennial opportunity to wonder just what the heck any Treasurer does in Harris County, and in particular just what it is that Orlando Sanchez, who was first elected in 2006, does. All I can tell you is that he has a delightfully minimalist webpage, and that this finance report does not include an expenditure on “Glamour” magazine.

County Commissioner Jack Cagle – $99,990 on hand.

Cagle was appointed in October of 2011 to replace the felonious Jerry Eversole in Precinct 4. He easily won a three-way primary and the ensuing November election to complete Eversole’s unexpired term; this will be his first election for a full four-year term. I expect he’ll build his campaign treasury up considerably over the next year or so, but it almost doesn’t matter. Barring any Eversole-like behavior on his part, Cagle ought to be able to keep this job for the foreseeable future. Demographic change will eventually make Precinct 4 more competitive in general elections, but there’s at least one more redistricting cycle in between now and that point. He’s in for the long haul.

County Commissioner Jack Morman – $410,078 on hand.

This is, or at least it should be, the main event in Harris County in 2014. Morman’s win in 2010 was fueled mostly by the Republican wave of that year, but as currently drawn, Precinct 2 is highly competitive, with a slight lean towards the GOP. We are still awaiting a ruling in the federal lawsuit over the County’s redistricting plan. A full range of outcomes – a bit more Republican, a bit less Republican, exactly as it is under the interim map that was used last year – is possible for Precinct 2. The first question is who might run against Morman. To some extent, that may be determined by the result in the SD06 special election. Council Member James Rodriguez, whose is term-limited, is known to be interested in HD145 in the event Rep. Carol Alvarado wins a promotion to the Senate, but he has also expressed an interest in Precinct 2. I am certain he will not be the only person looking at this, and I for one will be a bit surprised if there isn’t a spirited Democratic primary for the right to oppose Morman. Demography, the lawsuit, Democratic GOTV efforts, the number of first-time off-year Republican voters from 2010 who decide to make it a habit, and of course the candidates themselves will be among the factors in determining the winner here. Buckle your seatbelts.

HCDE Trustee Jim Henley – No report, since he has not had a campaign fund since 2008 and thus is not required to file these reports
HCDE Trustee Debby Kerner – $774 on hand.

Going into the 2008 election, Republicans held all seven seats on the Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees. Henley and Kerner’s 2008 wins in At Large seats, coupled with Diane Trautman’s At Large win and Erica Lee’s Precinct 1 win in 2012, transformed the Board into a 4-3 Democratic majority. If nothing else, that should tamp down on any talk about abolishing the agency, as that was something defeated member Michael Wolfe had pushed. HCDE Trustee is a fairly obscure office, with few resources available for candidates, so as with judicial and other low-profile races they are largely determined by partisan preferences. Henley and Kerner’s overperformance in 2008 – both got 52% of the vote – serves as a reminder that downballot dropoff isn’t always uniform. Still, they’ll rise or fall along with the Democratic Party.

Besides Henley and Kerner, there is exactly one more Democratic incumbent slated for the 2014 ballot: First Court of Appeals Judge Jim Sharp, who carried Harris County by a sufficient margin to win a seat on that bench in 2014. Since then, he has drawn attention to himself in a number of nonpositive ways, and as such it would not shock me if he were to face a primary challenge. Beyond that, it’s all Republican judges, and the slate is bigger in non-Presidential years than it is in Presidential years. If Democrats manage to sweep or nearly sweep these races, I can only imagine how loud the call will be in certain quarters to change the way judges are selected; if Republicans mostly or entirely hold on, I figure the subject will be dormant until after the 2016 election. As has been the case since 2008, I’ll be keeping an eye on the Appeals Court races. If Democrats can ever get a foothold on the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, they’ll be in much better shape to find candidates for the statewide bench in the future.

Precinct analysis: Metro

The first rule of precinct analysis, at least as I do it, is that you really can’t learn much by doing it on lopsided elections. The Metro referendum, which passed with 78% of the vote, is Exhibit A of this phenomenon. Here’s how the vote went in the State Rep districts for the Metro issue:

Dist Yes No =================== 126 34,957 8,158 127 31,750 9,040 128 20 16 129 19,439 5,282 130 41,183 9,568 131 25,236 6,641 132 35,052 7,901 133 50,285 12,438 134 56,041 17,463 135 32,347 6,943 137 15,754 3,743 138 30,159 7,607 139 29,604 9,391 140 13,908 3,685 141 19,494 5,368 142 10,900 3,128 143 6,965 2,159 144 1,684 531 145 14,668 4,689 146 31,446 8,524 147 32,900 11,061 148 25,130 9,061 149 27,060 5,999 150 39,138 9,333

HD128 is Baytown, and HD144 is mostly Pasadena, so that’s why those vote totals are as low as they are. If you prefer pictures to numbers, go look at Greg’s map, or at Max Beauregard‘s reports for a visual representation. No matter how you look at it, though, there’s not much to see. No hidden pockets of opposition, just across the board support.

As for what the election means, you can argue that the issue was complex and that people wouldn’t have voted for the referendum if they had really understood it. I agree there’s something to that, but I don’t believe it will get you anywhere to pursue that line of thinking. Instead, I offer two thoughts. One is that for all the grassroots energy that fed the anti-referendum movement, there was basically no opposition to the referendum among candidates or elected officials. I did get one press release a few days before the election about Rep. Sylvester Turner speaking at a pro-transit rally, but I never got anything after the event saying what had happened, and though I looked I never saw any press coverage of the event. Beyond that, as far as I could tell, there weren’t any other elected officials or candidates speaking out on this. Given that both supporters and opponents of the referendum were casting it as the end of light rail construction in Houston, this ought to be a wake-up call to transit advocates. Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia has said that he hopes to build broader support for Metro and its rail plans by boosting system ridership via the expanded bus service this referendum will bring, and other Board members are talking along similar lines. One good way to hold them to these promises down the line is to generate pressure from public officials, and the first step in that process is to engage them to get them on your side, and where needed support candidates for office who already support your position. It’s time to get back to basics and make rail transit and the reasons why it’s needed a regular part of the conversation. It can’t just be the same people talking about this – we need our elected officials out there talking up rail, and the more the better. This needs to be a top priority for transit advocates.

Two, David Crossley of Houston Tomorrow has on more than one occasion expressed the concern that the comparable rates of growth in Houston and Harris County will cause the Metro board to shift from one with a Houston-appointed majority to one with a non-Houston-appointed majority by 2018 or so. I would just simply note that there’s no reason why the Commissioners Court of today needs to be the same as the Commissioners Court of 2018, when it might get the chance to reshape the Metro board. Commissioner Jack Morman will have a tough fight for re-election in 2014. That same growth in the outlying areas of Harris County ought to make Commissioner Steve Radack at least somewhat more vulnerable in 2016. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Commissioners Court that believed in something other than just building more roads as a solution to transportation problems? It could happen if enough people work to make it happen. Just something to think about.

Precinct data: County Commissioner precincts

I wish they called County Commissioner precincts by some other name, because it’s confusing to refer to them as such when one is discussing canvass data, which is data from the thousand-plus voting precincts in Harris County. But that’s the name we’re stuck with, so make sure the clutch on your context-shifter is in good shape. Before I get to the data, I’ve been looking for a formal story on the end of the county redistricting trial, but this Houston Politics post from Friday appears to be all I’m going to get.

Commissioners Court interim map

The court’s first Hispanic member, Democrat Sylvia Garcia, represented Precinct 2 for two terms before losing to Republican Jack Morman in 2010. She took the stand Thursday and testified about discrimination against Latinos. The plaintiffs have to prove that point (and several others) in order to get Precinct 2 declared a protected minority-opportunity district under the Voting Rights Act, which likely would produce a more favorable Precinct 2 for a Hispanic candidate than the map the county adopted.

“I think discrimination still exists. It just may be more subtle, it’s more creative, more clever, but it’s there,” Garcia said, adding that deficits Latinos face in education, housing and health care, and that local and state governments dissuade Latinos from participating in the political process.

[…]

The plaintiffs’ attorney Chad Dunn pressed [Morman’s chief of staff Dave] Walden on why, during the redistricting process, he had requested information about the politics, prevalence of straight-ticket voting, ethnic makeup and voter turnout in various voting precincts being considered for inclusion in Precinct 2. The data showed the precinct would have a higher share of white voters, and a higher share of Republican votes.

Dunn asked Walden if removing Latinos from a close district makes it harder for Latinos to elect a “candidate of their choice” (language from the Voting Rights Act).

“I really believe this: It depends on factors in addition to their ethnicity before I could give you a hard and fast judgment,” Walden said. “But going by ethnicity alone, you could probably say that.”

Dunn asked whether Walden knew that by making those changes Morman’s electoral advantage would increase. “True,” Walden said. Dunn asked whether Walden had an interest in making the district more Republican. “Absolutely,” he said.

The defendants have stressed that these gripes are about politics (a permissible factor in redistricting), not discrimination. They say the plaintiffs must “negate partisanship” to prove their claims.

The trial, or at least the testimony, wrapped on Friday. No clue when a ruling may come. Be that as it may, let’s take a look at the data. With three of the four Commissioners on the ballot, it was easy to sort out the data from all four precincts. I’ve divided the presentation below into two groups, one for the five statewide candidates, and one for the five non-judicial countywide candidates.

CCP Obama Sadler Henry Petty Hampton Tot votes ====================================================== 1 76.74% 75.90% 75.79% 77.57% 77.24% 293,101 2 48.63% 47.59% 48.40% 50.62% 49.78% 210,222 3 40.62% 39.93% 37.97% 40.66% 40.92% 317,331 4 36.99% 36.21% 35.15% 37.58% 37.20% 349,526 CCP Garcia Ryan Trautman Bennett Oliver ============================================== 1 79.05% 77.66% 77.62% 76.68% 74.35% 2 54.21% 50.75% 50.83% 49.21% 47.43% 3 44.83% 42.21% 41.70% 39.71% 37.37% 4 40.99% 38.22% 38.21% 36.59% 34.70%

The “Total votes” figure is simply the Romney plus Obama total for each precinct. I put that in for some perspective. Adrian Garcia had the largest margin of victory in Morman’s Precinct 2, defeating Louis Guthrie there by over 17,000 votes. Keith Hampton missed carrying Precinct 2 by 868 votes. It’s fair to say that in a Presidential year, the map used for this election makes Precinct 2 highly competitive. How things may play out in a non-Presidential year under a possibly different map is anyone’s guess at this time. For what it’s worth, I did the computations for all 34 District, County, and Circuit Court of Appeals races as well, and found that Democrats won 13 and lost 21. Of possible interest is the list of the top five vote-getters in Precinct 2 among the judicial candidates:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================================= David Mendoza 104,404 51.28% Julia Maldonado 104,389 51.08% Ruben Guerrero 103,474 50.80% Alexandra Smoots-Hogan 103,378 51.01% Michael Gomez 103,240 50.64%

I’m going to step out on a limb here and suggest that maybe it would be wise for the Democrats to run a Latino/Latina candidate here in two years. Just a thought, you know? Oh, hell, I’ll quit being coy: There’s no doubt in my mind that Sylvia Garcia would be the strongest candidate against Morman, if she chose to run. That would require her to lose in the special election in SD06, then want to get right back in the saddle again (likely with a depleted campaign treasury) and have a crack at a rematch with Morman. I have absolutely no idea how probable that scenario is.

Anyway, the other point of interest is Precinct 3, which as I recall was made slightly more Republican after swapping some turf with Precinct 1 in order to boost the latter’s overall population. That plus the decline in Democratic turnout from 2008 meant that Adrian Garcia lost about two and a half points from that year. On the plus side, this is the beginning of the decade, not the end of it, so if demographic change continues as it has been, I’d think there’s a decent chance of Precinct 3 being competitive in 2016. As always, this assumes a Democrat who can raise a few bucks steps up to run. It’s never too early to start recruiting.

Harris County redistricting lawsuit kicks off

Remember the lawsuit that was filed over the redistricting map for Harris County Commissioners Court? It’s been on hold since the beginning of the year, after an interim map was drawn to get us through this election and since the main point of contention in the new map was not an issue yet. Now that the 2012 election is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to get this lawsuit going. The hearing began yesterday, and as always it comes down to the numbers.

Commissioners Court interim map

The county’s map added a bloc of reliably conservative voters in the northeast to Precinct 2, and reduced the precinct’s concentration of Hispanic citizens of voting age from 34.9 percent to 33.8 percent, [plaintiffs’ attorney Chad] Dunn said. An interim map for use in this fall’s elections, drawn as part of the lawsuit by U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore last year, put that number at 40.4 percent.

County officials say the need to protect Precinct 1, a black-opportunity district under the Voting Rights Act, made it difficult to add Latinos to Precinct 2 because they share a long border. Dunn said he will show both precincts can be drawn as minority-opportunity districts.

Dunn said taxpayers, essentially, are footing the bill for [Commissioner Jack] Morman’s campaign, saying only “illegal redistricting” would allow Morman to retain the seat he earned in an “outlier” election.

“We’re happy with a map very similar to what the judge drew, but it appears Harris County is unwilling to come to a map along those lines,” Dunn said. “A majority of Harris County Commissioners Court has determined they’re willing to spend large amounts of taxpayer funds in order to drown out the voices of Latino voters.”

[…]

The U.S. Department of Justice “pre-cleared” Harris County’s redistricting map last year, saying it did not violate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Dunn and Ray said that is because the Justice Department agreed Precinct 2 did not have protected status and could be altered. Dunn said he will argue, under Section 2 of the act, that the precinct should be declared a protected district.

Ray said going to trial could result in a rougher road to re-election for Morman than under the interim map the plaintiffs say they would accept.

“The map drawn by the judge, should the plaintiffs prevail, could be a lot more favorable for a Hispanic being elected in Precinct 2 than it is at present,” Ray said. “The real risky gamble of going forward is for Precinct 2.”

More on the preclearance of the map is here, and of course Greg has the numbers from the original map, the do-over map that Harris County is defending, and the interim map from whence the image embedded in the post comes. Now that I have a draft canvass for Harris County I’ll be looking at the relevant numbers for the Commissioners Court precincts. The nice thing about the special election in Precinct 4 is that I can easily suss out the numbers for all four CC precincts, since three of the Commissioners were on the ballot. Look for a post on that in the coming days, possibly after Thanksgiving.

Endorsement watch: Boring

The Chron expends more words on the history and function of Commissioners Court than it does endorsing the three incumbents running to stay on the Court.

Precinct 1: Veteran incumbent El Franco Lee is our choice over an energetic Republican challenger, Chuck Maricle, whom we encourage to continue his interest in seeking public office.

Precinct 3: Steve Radack, the 24-year incumbent, has our backing for another term as commissioner of this westside precinct.

Precinct 4: Since being unanimously appointed by Commissioners Court in 2011 to replace Jerry Eversole, veteran County Court at Law Judge R. Jack Cagle has shown himself to be a quick study in assessing both the needs and potential of his geographically diverse district, which covers much of the north side of the county and extends inside the 610 Loop.

Nothing to see here. Lee and Cagle, who’s on the ballot to finish out Jerry Eversole’s unexpired term, are in solid precincts. The only question about Lee is when he plans to retire – there’s a line of wannabe successors awaiting that announcement longer than any you’ll see at an Apple store on delivery day of a new iPhone. The election that mattered in Precinct 4 was the Democratic primary, where Sean Hammerle’s win over the homophobe Dave Wilson meant one fewer embarrassing candidate on the November ballot. As for Radack, we saw in 2008 that his precinct is slowly trending Democratic, but not enough yet to entice a potentially strong challenger to him. Maybe in 2016, I don’t know. Like El Franco Lee, Radack’s going to retire one of these days, and like El Franco Lee, when that happens there’s going to be a lot of people who will want to succeed him. So, as there’s not much to these elections, we’ll look forward to the forthcoming ruling in the redistricting lawsuit, and to see who steps up to challenge freshman Commissioner Jack Morman, elected in the hundred-year flood that was 2010, in 2014.

Metro meeting about the General Mobility Program

Put it on your calendar.

You’re invited to attend a special board meeting to tell METRO what you think about the agency’s General Mobility Program (GMP) and the upcoming referendum.

The board meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 18, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in METRO’s board room at 1900 Main St.

If you wish to speak before the board, you may sign up the day of the meeting at tables in the lobby. There’s a three-minute limit on comments.

If you have an opinion on this, make sure you attend so you can have your say. Harris County Commissioners Court has an opinion about it.

At the court’s May 22 meeting, Commissioner Steve Radack held a series of annual payments to economic development groups, saying he wanted to know whether they supported the continued flow of mobility money from Metro.

The county heard back from five of the groups — (1) Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, (2) Baytown-West Chambers County Economic Development Foundation, (3) Economic Alliance Houston Port Region, (4) Katy Economic Development Council and (5) Lone Star College -– and all said they wanted to keep the road money coming (along with, presumably, their combined $316,000 in county support).

The Greater Houston Partnership didn’t respond, so Commissioner Jack Morman asked today if GHP had specified its position on the mobility money or planned to do so. County officials didn’t know, so Radack again held the item –- and GHP’s $140,000 payment -– for another two weeks.

“GHP has no position on that right now,” said Micah Hirschfield, the group’s vice president of communications, when I asked him Wednesday afternoon. “Until our board of directors passes a resolution, if they do pass a resolution, we will have no position on it.”

No one has ever accused Steve Radack of being too subtle. I just wonder, if the GHP comes back with the wrong answer, will Radack continue to hold up their funds until they see the light? Nice little annual payment you’ve got there, sure would be a shame if something were to happen to it. Houston Tomorrow has more.

DOJ preclears Commissioners Court map

This came in late Friday.

The U.S. Department of Justice has approved Harris County’s redistricting map for commissioner precincts, which has been the subject of a lawsuit from Latino activists since August.

The approval, known as “pre-clearance” under the Voting Rights Act, means the Department of Justice has determined the court’s plan complies with Section 5 of the act, said Gene Locke, a lawyer who advised the county on its map.

The activists’ lawsuit, which alleges the county’s plan illegally dilutes Hispanic voting power in the southeast commissioner precinct, Precinct 2, is ongoing under a section of the act intended to protect the voting power of minorities.

“Harris County’s plan came under criticism, but the commissioners were always careful to take all legal and policy considerations into account to craft a plan that meets federal law and allows Harris County to deliver a high level of service to its citizens,” Locke said. “Obviously I am pleased that the Department of Justice recognized the legality of Harris County’s plan and pre-cleared it.”

[…]

Chad Dunn, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the pre-clearance means that he will need to go before the court again to prove his case.

“We’re ready to do that,” Dunn said. “We think that the evidence already presented to the court demonstrates that the plan the county adopted should not be used moving forward, and we’re confident that that will continue to be the case.”

The lawsuit is about Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The interim map drawn by Judge Vanessa Gilmore for the 2012 election will stay in place; since the lawsuit is mostly about the way Precinct 2 was drawn, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman isn’t up for re-election until 2014, it’s a minimal change from the map the Commissioners drew. The crux of the dispute is that Precinct 2 as drawn by the Commissioners contains a larger Latino population than it did in the 2000 Census, but a smaller Latino population than it does right now. The plaintiffs argue that this constitutes retrogression – see Greg for the numbers. That’s for Judge Gilmore, and one presumes ultimately SCOTUS to decide.

Harris County interim map is out

Apparently, judges do work on weekends, because federal Judge Vanessa Gilmore issued this order on Saturday creating an interim map for Harris County, to be used for the 2012 election while the Section 2 lawsuit is being litigated. Greg has a color view and the relevant electoral and demographic data. Basically, Precinct 2 shed some Anglo turf in northeast Harris County and regained a number of Latino precincts from Precinct 1. The resultant map is a relatively minimal change from the current map, with the needed population adjustments to even out the precincts’ sizes; you can compare it to the county’s proposal here. While Precinct 2 and Commissioner Jack Morman are not up till 2014 and the ongoing lawsuit could alter thing further, I’m sure Sylvia Garcia will be taking a long look at this map. As things stand, it’s pretty close to 50-50 and ought to produce a competitive election down the line, again assuming no further changes. 2014 could be a very interesting year around here.

Harris interim map up to the judge

In addition to the San Antonio interim map action, we are fixing to get a 2012 map for Harris County courtesy of the federal judiciary.

A federal judge will draw interim boundaries for Harris County commissioner precincts after the county and the Latino activists who sued them over their redistricting plan could not agree on a map.

The map that U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore approves will be used for the 2012 elections. The precinct in which the plaintiffs allege Hispanic voting power has been illegally diminished – Precinct 2 – will not be contested until 2014, however.

[…]

A trial focused on producing an interim map, not on the plaintiffs’ other claims, [began] Tuesday, First Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke said. Gilmore has indicated she would like to have a map by the end of the week, O’Rourke and Dunn said.

“The judge really does understand that we want to hold an election here in 2012 and there are certain deadlines that work backwards,” O’Rourke said. “That’s what the pressure is.”

Mediation failed, so this was the next step. I certainly can’t say that I’m surprised. All of the testimony was given yesterday, and we could get a new map as soon as today.

“After the mediation Thursday it just seems like the other side is almost not negotiating in good faith, like anything they propose they know would be unacceptable” to the county, [Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack] Morman said Monday. “So, at some point – and I guess we’re at that point today – you just say, ‘What’s the point, let’s just let the judge do her job.’ ”

Project much, Jack? The reason why anything the plaintiffs proposed would be unacceptable to you and your cohorts is because all you care about is ensuring your own re-election. All other considerations are at best secondary. But I think we all agree that at this point we should just let the judge do the job. Stace has more.

Harris County interim map in the works

Speaking of interim maps, Harris County and the plaintiffs suing over the proposed new County Commissioners have begun mediation to come up with a temporary solution of their own.

The goal of the mediation is to draft an interim map on which the 2012 elections can be run. Unless the parties can agree on a map to stand until the next redistricting in 10 years, however, the lawsuit will continue, plaintiffs’ attorney Chad Dunn said.

An interim map is needed because the difference in population between the biggest and smallest precinct in the current map is unlawfully large. State and federal court decisions require the population numbers to be roughly equal.

“This would just be a way to see if we can avoid expensive litigation on an issue that doesn’t need to be decided now,” First Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke said. “If the county and the plaintiffs can agree on an interim plan it would be in the interest of everyone.”

The plaintiffs’ claims do not need to be resolved quickly, O’Rourke said, because Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman is not up for election until 2014. The other three commissioners will be on the ballot next year.

[…]

The DOJ may or may not request changes. Dunn said the lawsuit could move forward under either scenario. If an interim map is agreed to, he added, the DOJ may wait to rule until elections are held, allowing federal lawyers to collect more data.

See here, here, and here for some background. Precinct 2 of course is the most competitive one, though it was made less so by the proposed new map. The idea of waiting till after the 2012 election, assuming an interim map can be agreed on, is to see what the vote looks like so that a more detailed analysis of Precinct 2’s potential as a Latino opportunity district can be made. But we have to get to the interim map first, and as with the legislative and Congressional maps, the clock is ticking for this election.

How about we use these precincts for now?

And here’s an update on the county redistricting lawsuit.

A federal court has asked Harris County and the plaintiffs suing it over its redistricting plan for county commissioner precincts to prepare briefs on whether it would be legal to conduct the 2012 elections using current precinct lines.

Commissioners Court adopted a redistricting plan Aug. 9, seeking to make the population in the four precincts roughly equal; the north and west of the county grew much faster than the south and east in the last decade, throwing the balance off.

Latino activists sued, saying the new boundaries for the southeast precinct, Precinct 2, amount to an “illegal gerrymander” that dilutes Hispanic voting power. Republican Jack Morman ousted two-term Democratic incumbent Sylvia Garcia in last fall’s election.

Neither the plaintiffs nor the county object to conducting the 2012 elections using the existing precinct lines; Morman is not up for election until 2014. It’s unclear, however, whether it is legal to move forward with the existing lines.

See here for some background; recall that the Justice Department has not yet precleared the proposed map. While Precinct 2 is clearly the crux of the dispute, having the 2012 election under the current lines could be interesting in Precinct 3 if a decent Democratic candidate shows up. I’m pretty sure the proposed map makes Precinct 3 more Republican – this is the Commissioners’ map, after all, and they’re not going to do anything to make their lives or re-elections more difficult. Briefs are due November 3, so something needs to be done before filing season opens. Maybe the federal court in San Antonio has some extra time on its hands to do another interim map. Anyway, we’ll see what happens.

UPDATE: Received the following in email from Sylvia Garcia:

The plaintiffs strenuously objected to proceeding with the 2012 Elections using the existing “old maps” or the “new maps”, subject of the litigation, without preclearance. That’s why the Court asked for briefs and set a hearing for this week.

The plaintiffs also argued for an interim map. The County objected. For now, the Court did not decide that issue and expressed concern over doing anything pending the outcome of the state redistricting lawsuit. Only issue they will take up at this week’s hearing is “old map” issue.

My thanks for the clarification. It’s the first I’ve heard of a possible interim map. That will be something to see.

The alternative Commissioners Court map

Opponents of the proposed County Commissioners map have presented their version in the last public hearing on county redistricting.

Democrat Sylvia Garcia was Precinct 2 commissioner from 2002 until this year, having lost to Republican Jack Morman in last November’s elections. Garcia, State Sen. Mario Gallegos (D-Houston) and others helped draft the alternative map and organize opposition to the county consultants’ proposal.

That proposal, by attorney Gene Locke, of Andrews & Kurth, and Dick Murray, a University of Houston political scientist, adds a swath of reliably conservative northeast Harris County to Precinct 2. It also reduces the population of Hispanics in the precinct by about 3 percent from current levels.

Locke and Murray said the need to protect Precinct 1, a black opportunity district that shares a lengthy border with Precinct 2, forced Precinct 2 to add population to the north. Locke has said the Department of Justice will consider numerous factors in deciding whether the map complies with the Voting Rights Act, not just the 2010 Census data used to estimate current demographics in the precinct.

Greg has already shown that that’s not the case. The county’s map is about incumbent protection. Which I understand, but let’s not kid ourselves.

You can see the county’s proposed map here, and the Gallegos/Jara alternative map here. Incumbent protection is the big stumbling block.

Some political observers have questioned the political viability of this alternative, given that it draws Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole, a Heights resident, out of his district.

Eversole “lives in the inner city and represents a suburban district,” Jara said. “It’s pretty hard to protect him without bringing in a peninsula of some sort and to just basically grab his house.”

The alternative map also turfs Morman out of his precinct; he would wind up in Precinct 4. Precincts 2 and 4 are on the same election schedule, however, so in theory Morman could run for reelection in 2014 regardless.

The Gallegos/Jara map is quite a bit different from the current map, and from the county’s proposed map, which makes a fairly minimal set of changes. If it looks vaguely familiar, I’ll refer you back to Greg’s initial takes on a new map, which do a lot of similar things. You’ll note that if Jerry Eversole were to do everyone a favor and ride off into the sunset – or the federal pokey – most of these problems solve themselves. Morman can become Commissioner For Life in precinct 4, Latinos can regain the representation they deserve, and we all live happily ever after. This is not an intractable problem, and the county can save itself a lot of time and money in litigation costs if it grabs the obvious answer that’s right in front of its nose. Eversole can even stay on the Court till his term ends in 2014, assuming the next jury cooperates. What’s not to like?

Is there or isn’t there a Latino opportunity precinct in the new Commissioners Court map?

Many Latinos say No.

“This map is an insult to the Latino community,” State Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, said at a public hearing Wednesday night. “The proposed map is full of the Christmas turkey.”

Gallegos called on Commissioner El Franco Lee, in whose Precinct 1 the hearing was held, to help him alter the proposed lines to protect Latino power in Precinct 2. Democrat Sylvia Garcia — who has helped Gallegos organize opposition to the map – held the Precinct 2 commissioner seat until she was ousted by Republican Jack Morman in last November’s election.

The proposed map, needing to add voters to Lee’s and Morman’s precincts to make the four districts roughly equal in population, gives Morman a bloc of reliably conservative voters in the northeast part of the county.

“The Latino community represents 40 percent of the population of Harris County, the Latino community represents 80 percent of the growth (in the last decade), yet the proposed map eliminates the only Latino precinct that we have,” said Rey Guerra of the Greater Houston Civic Coalition.

[…]

The goals of adding Hispanics to Precinct 2 and bolstering the black population in Precinct 1 can be accomplished at the same time, said political consultant and blogger Greg Wythe, of Outreach Strategists. Wythe said his own research and alternative maps being drafted by Latino leaders meet both aims.

“The argument that Precinct 1 can only be (changed) up to a certain point is very easily proven not to be true,” Wythe said.

Good to see Greg, who has been attending these hearings, get recognized as an expert. The key point that he has been raising is that while the new map may have more Latinos in Precinct 2 than the 2001 map did, it will have fewer than it did in 2010, and that this qualifies as retrogression. Other experts agree with that interpretation:

“In general, the racial data that is most relevant is the most recent Census data,” said Nathaniel Persily, an expert on the Voting Rights Act and a professor at Columbia Law School. “You look at the effect of the redistricting plan on minority voting power and say, ‘How much voting power do they have right now, and how does the proposed plan diminish it?’ ”

This question will ultimately be settled by people who know an infinite amount about the law than I do. What I know is numbers, but I don’t think you have to be a math whiz to realize that adding a bunch of folks from Kingwood into Precinct 2 will make it harder for anyone to give a competitive challenge to Jack Morman. What this map does is take a precinct that was already Republican-leaning and add more Republicans to it. Sylvia Garcia won this precinct in 2002 not because it was drawn to elect a Democrat. She won it despite the fact that it wasn’t. Don’t believe me, believe the numbers:

2002 Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 62,934 52.8 Kirk 59,478 49.5 Sanchez 59,808 48.8 Sharp 61,562 51.3 Watson 57,404 48.2 Bernsen 55,100 48.9 2006 Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia (*) 68,375 100.0 Radnofsky 42,251 42.2 Bell 36,487 49.6 Alvarado 45,077 45.0 Gilbert 47,745 48.4 Hathcox 46,136 46.9 Moody 50,515 51.7 2010 Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 63,841 49.1 White 65,462 50.3 Chavez-T 54,879 43.1 Radnofsky 52,335 40.7 Gilbert 55,055 43.8 Weems 55,331 44.4 Sharp 56,418 44.6

Garcia was unopposed in 2006, so her numbers were inflated a bit by that. Chris Bell, of course, was in that weird multi-candidate race for Governor. All percentages above are straight D-versus-R, which is why Bell’s is higher than you’d otherwise expect. Only John Sharp in 2002, Bill Moody in 2006, and Bill White in 2010 carried it for the Democrats. (Margaret Mirabal, Democratic candidate for State Supreme Court in 2002, also carried Precinct 2 and actually received 42 more votes than Garcia. I don’t currently have data for non-state candidates, but it’s likely a couple of them also carried it, with Jim Sharp in 2006 being the most likely to have done so.) Point being, Precinct 2 was not Democratic leaning.

The difference between 2002 and 2010 largely boils down to this: There were about 10,000 more votes cast in Precinct 2 in 2010 than in 2002. Democratic candidates got about 3,000 votes less, Republicans got about 13,000 votes more. In fact, Johnny Isbell got 56,278 votes in 2002 (there was also a Libertarian candidate that year), while Morman got 66,148 last year. They both underperformed – the average Republican statewide candidate got around 60,000 votes in Precinct 2 in 2002, while the average Republican statewide candidate got about 70,000 votes in 2010. Sylvia Garcia drew votes away from each of them. That’s how she won, in reasonable comfort, in 2002, and nearly hung on despite a Cat 5 hurricane blowing against her, in 2010.

The question, then, is who are these voters that chose Sylvia Garcia but for the most part not other Democrats? We can’t know that with absolute certainty, but here’s a hypothesis for you: Latino Republicans. Latinos vote Republican in the 30 to 40% range, and there are plenty of Latino voters in Precinct 2; that’s what this fight is all about, after all. Given a choice between a well known Latina like Sylvia Garcia and a good ol’ boy like former Pasadena Mayor Isbell or no-name teabagger like Morman, I think it’s highly plausible that many of them might have gone with the former. If that’s the case, then the question of whether Latinos living in Precinct 2 would have the ability to elect the candidate of their choice, at least in a non-tsunami year, has an obvious answer of No, they do not. From there, what to do with the map should follow logically. We’ll see if Commissioners Court is persuaded by this or not. Rey Guerra has more.

(PS – Mirabal in 2002 ran against Republican Steven Wayne Smith, who had defeated the Perry-appointed Xavier Rodriguez in the Republican primary. Think she might have gotten some of the same crossover votes as Garcia in that election?)

A closer look at the proposed County Commissioner precincts

Rick Casey does some analysis of the proposed Harris County redistricting map and notes some concerns about the way Precinct 2 was drawn.

The total population of the proposed new precinct is 57 percent Hispanic and 31 percent Anglo. But the voting age population is just 52.5 percent Hispanic to 35.7 percent Anglo.

And when you look further, at the numbers of citizens of voting age, the ratio changes dramatically. Estimates are that only 38 percent are Hispanic, and 50 percent are Anglo.

According to Columbia Law School Professor Nathaniel Persily, an expert on the Voting Rights Act, Justice Department lawyers who will review the new lines will look at total population and voting age population.

“However, the DOJ specifically asked for a special tabulation from the Census Bureau for citizen voting age population, as derived from the American Community Survey averages from 2005 to 2009,” he said.

There may be a bigger problem with something called retrogression. Some county officials point out that the proposed precinct has a higher percentage of Hispanics than it did in 2000.

That’s true, but both Persily and Steve Bickerstaff, who teaches voting law at the University of Texas law school and has a thriving practice in the field, agree that the law doesn’t measure retrogression from 10 years ago, but from the precinct as it now stands.

By that measure, the proposed lines raise the percentage of Anglos by about 3 percent and lower Hispanic numbers by about the same.

What’s more, the precinct would be substantially more Republican than it is today.

Democrat Bill White carried the current precinct in last year’s governor’s race by 49.4 to 48.7 percent. But Gov. Rick Perry carried the proposed precinct by 52.6 to 45.6 percent.

Greg has a look at all of the new precincts and adds some details. I’m still waiting to see what 2008 numbers for Steve Radack’s precinct look like, but as Precinct 2 is the one where an incumbent was ousted it’s obviously of the most interest. Casey notes that Precinct 2 mostly shares a boundary with Precinct 1, which is also protected by the VRA and which also needed to add population, making the whole process a lot more complicated. I wish we had the option of adding more County Commissioner precincts, as I believe that would address a whole range of issues, but that would require a constitutional amendment, and that ain’t gonna happen. According to this County Attorney redistricting info page, this map was given preliminary approval, so I presume any changes from here will be small unless subsequently dictated by the Justice Department or a court. We’ll see what comes out of those four public hearings that are scheduled over the next two weeks. More from Greg is here.

Meet the Harris County redistricting map

On the agenda yesterday at Commissioners Court – the long-awaited redistricting plan for County Commissioner precincts.

The proposal would bring significant changes to several precinct boundaries, seeking to make the populations in the four commissioners’ precincts roughly equal, as required by law, and based on the 2010 Census. The draft will be the subject of several public hearings in the coming weeks.

The map moves roughly 100,000 residents from two fast-growing precincts in the county’s west, north and northeast — represented by Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole – to two slower-growing precincts in the south and east – represented by Commissioners Jack Morman and El Franco Lee.

[…]

Richard Murray, a University of Houston political science professor and redistricting consultant, said the proposed changes would be the most sweeping the county had seen since the 1980 Census, after which Precinct 1 was redrawn as a black opportunity district. Lee has held the seat ever since.

Attorneys from Andrews Kurth also helped draft the map.

Radack’s Precinct 3 would remain the largest, with 1.04 million residents, down from 1.15 million; Lee’s Precinct 1 also would be home to 1.04 million people, up from about 940,000.

Eversole’s Precinct 4 would shrink to 1.02 million from 1.12 million. Morman’s Precinct 2 would remain the smallest, rising from about 883,000 to 991,395 under the proposed map.

The largest territory swap under the proposal would happen in northeast Harris County, where Morman would pick up the Atascocita area and land around Lake Houston from Eversole.

Greg puts the numbers into some perspective. You can see the map here – I’ve also uploaded a copy here in case that one gets moved. You can see the chart in the lower left as a Google spreadsheet here. Note that the second group of numbers are the Voting Age Population (VAP) numbers, which superficially make Morman’s Precinct 2 look like a Hispanic opportunity district, but keep in kind that the numbers that matter are the Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP) numbers, which will surely make Anglos the plurality, if not the outright majority, in Precinct 2. Given the addition of the Atascocita area, assume Precinct 2 has been made redder as well. I’m sure Greg will have those details soon enough.

In any event, there will be four public hearings, one in each precinct, at which you can register your feedback:

Monday, July 25, 6: 30 p.m. – East Harris County Activity Center (7340 Spencer Highway, Pasadena)
Thursday, July 28, 7 p.m. – Harris County Cavalcade Office (3815 Cavalcade St., Houston)
Friday July 29, 6 p.m. – Mangum-Howell Center (2500 Frick Road, Houston)
Monday, Aug. 1, 4:30 p.m. – Trini Mendenhall Sosa Community Center (1414 Wirt Road, Houston)

I presume some variant on this map will be adopted shortly thereafter. What do you think about this proposal?

East End community meeting to consider Harrisburg grade separation

From the Inbox:

East End community meeting to consider Harrisburg grade separation

Wednesday, June 15

Union Pacific’s East Belt rail subdivision is one of the busiest in the city, carrying more than 30 freight trains a day through Houston’s East End. For years, the crossing at Harrisburg has created delays and headaches for motorists and trains alike. The City of Houston first targeted this crossing for grade separation in 1953. Harris County recommended an underpass at this location in 2004. The Gulf Coast Rail District identified this crossing as a priority in 2009.

METRO is currently constructing the East End light rail line down Harrisburg. They must either go under or over the freight rail line, which poses a timely opportunity to finally grade separate the road and the freight line as well. The remaining questions are whether to construct an underpass or an overpass, how much it will cost, and who will fund the improvements.

For more than three years, East End business and neighborhood leaders have fought for an underpass. An underpass will be less obtrusive, require less right-of-way, and project less noise than an overpass, minimizing impacts to Harrisburg businesses. It will also will provide a neighborhood-friendly crossing that’s accessible to bicycles and pedestrians. They recognize that the success of METRO’s rail transit investment depends on creating pedestrian-friendly development around stations, and that an overpass is likely to stymie that process. The underpass proposal has widespread support from both businesses and residents in the East End, including:

  • Greater Eastwood Super Neighborhood (SN 64 & 88), Eastwood Civic Association, Houston Country Club Civic Association, Magnolia Pineview Civic Club, East Lawndale Civic Association, and Idylwood Civic Club
  • East End Chamber of Commerce, East End Management District, Harrisburg Merchants Association, and Historic Harrisburg

In 2010, the City of Houston commissioned a study to determine the cost differential between two overpass options and an underpass. The study estimates that an underpass will cost $43.4 million, or $13.4 million more than a vehicle overpass. You can review the draft executive summary (4.7 mb pdf) which explains the options but does not include final cost estimates. The City should release the final Harrisburg Grade Separation report this week. City leaders have identified some of the funds needed for the underpass, but a significant gap remains. There’s potential to defer other City capital projects to make up the difference, and also for Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman and Union Pacific to help close the gap.

Community meeting Wednesday!

On Wednesday night, Mayor Parker, Council Members Gonzalez, Rodriguez, and Noriega, and METRO CEO George Greanias will host a community meeting about the grade separation. You’re invited hear an update on the state of funding for the project, and have the opportunity to express whether other projects in the City’s capital improvement program (CIP) for the area should be deferred to help the underpass move forward.

What: Harrisburg grade separation update meeting
When: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Where: Ripley House, 4410 Navigation Blvd, Houston, 77011 (map)

I realize money is tight, but in the grand scheme of things $13 million isn’t that much, especially considering the benefit those extra dollars will yield. Everyone with a stake in this – the city, Harris County, Metro, the Gulf Coast Rail District, and so on – should do whatever it takes to get this right. Those of you who live in the area, please do your part and show up to tell them so. Thanks to the CTC for the heads up.

As goes Harris, so goes CC2

Just as HD133 was a microcosm of Harris County in 2008, Sylvia Garcia’s County Commissioner precinct was a miniature version of the county as a whole in 2010. Take a look at how Democratic candidates did in County Commissioner Precinct 2 (CC2) versus how they did countywide and see for yourself:

Candidate CC2 Harris ========================= STV Dem 45.01 45.30 White 50.34 51.06 C-Thompson 43.14 43.26 Radnofsky 40.68 41.67 Uribe 43.38 43.25 Gilbert 43.79 43.85 Weems 44.38 44.96 Sharp 44.61 44.50 Moody 44.48 44.95 Bailey 42.01 42.73 Hampton 43.74 43.83 Jackson 45.45 46.15 Bennett 45.44 45.63 Trautman 44.88 45.27 Briscoe 42.36 43.01

All percentages are for the straight up R/D comparison. “STV Dem” is the Democratic share of straight ticket votes. Spooky, isn’t it? It’s also not unexpected. Take a look at the same calculations for 2006:

Candidate CC2 Harris ========================= STV Dem 56.88 51.45 Radnofsky 42.22 42.22 Alvarado 44.98 43.46 Van Os 43.10 41.90 Head 44.86 43.23 Hathcox 46.91 45.69 Gilbert 48.36 46.49 Henry 48.55 46.50 Moody 51.68 49.56 Molina 49.57 47.02 Sharp 52.03 50.12 Kahn 49.80 48.01 Shike 48.26 46.09 Pierre 46.60 44.69 Garcia 49.58 48.34 Burks 50.50 48.63

Obviously, the county as a whole was more Democratic in 2006, and CC2 in particular was slightly more Democratic than the county that year. Garcia, who has no opposition in 2006 and was named on over 62% of all ballots cast to easily lead the pack in vote total, would likely have cruised to re-election with more than 55% of the vote had she been challenged that year. Had Harris County been as little as one point less red, or if CC2 had been slightly more Democratic than the county as was the case in 2006, she would likely have managed to win. That’s how high the tide was this year.

Another shorthand way of looking at this is to compare Garcia to HCDE Trustee candidate Mike Rose, who was running in Precinct 2 as well in a race that was almost certainly decided by partisan affiliation and little else. Here’s how that looks:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 63,766 49.11 Rose 56,283 44.43 Morman 66,070 50.89 Morris 70,387 55.57

“Morris” is Republican HCDE candidate Marvin Morris, who will succeed incumbent Carl Schwartz. Garcia got nearly 7500 more votes than Rose did, which includes about 4300 votes that went to Morris, and 3200 that didn’t vote at all in that race. That’s a big difference, just not quite big enough for her.

I unfortunately don’t have precinct data for 2002, so I can’t tell you how much better than the average Democrat Garcia must have done to win the open seat in another year that was unfriendly to Democrats, nor can I tell you if this same pattern persisted. I suspect that Garcia and other Democrats in this area were helped by the Tony Sanchez campaign, which as we know was generally a boon for Latino turnout, but I can’t put a number on it. Sorry about that.

All this suggests three points to consider for Democrats who would like to win this post back in 2014:

1. A rising tide lifts all boats, some more than others. If you assume that 2010 was a unique confluence of events, then 2014 will almost certainly be a more promising year, both countywide and in CC2. A good overall turnout effort, combined with a real effort to reach Latino voters, will go a long way.

2. Of course, CC2 won’t be the same in 2014 as it is today, since like everything else it will be redistricted in 2011. Guess who gets to draw the lines for County Commissioner precincts? That’s right, Commissioners Court. One presumes that the Republican majority on the Court will do what it can to protect their newbie. There may be only so much they can (or will be willing) to do given that Steve Radack’s precinct needs shoring up as well. They may decide that Radack needs more help for his Presidential year elections than Jack Morman will for his off year elections. And of course, the cardinal rule of redistricting is “Every man and woman for himself and herself”, so if someone is gonna get screwed, it’s gonna be Morman, the low man on the totem pole. This will bear watching.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of incumbency. Commissioner Garcia was able to run as far ahead of the pack as she did because people in that precinct knew her and knew her work. If Jack Morman isn’t a complete idiot, he will do everything he can to put himself in that same position in four years’ time. Morman won’t be running against Barack Obama in 2014, he’ll be running on his own record, and if for whatever the reason he doesn’t, then that’s what his opponent should focus on. Incumbents get their advantage from doing stuff voters like. Given that this will likely work against the Democratic candidate, he or she needs to be prepared to point out all of the things Morman will have done that they don’t like.

Now of course, Democrats don’t have to wait till 2014 to even things back up on the Court. I’m just saying that it’s not too early to be thinking about it, and that things we do in the next two years to pull ourselves out of the hole we’re in now can and will pay dividends further down the line.

So what about that elections administrator?

Buried in this story about Abe Simpson Don Sumners, our new Tax Assessor, is this little nugget:

So, if [County Judge Ed] Emmett insists on putting the election administrator position on a Commissioners Court agenda, Sumners said, “I think we can promise him a big demonstration.” Sumners said his first call will be to the King Street Patriots, the tea party group that rooted through the voter rolls looking for voter registration fraud this summer.

It’s kind of adorable how Sumners thinks this election was about him, isn’t it? Here are three things to consider about this:

1. County Commissioners generally do what they want to do and don’t worry too much about what anyone else thinks. Outside of this year’s once-in-a-blue-moon loss by Sylvia Garcia, they generally don’t need to worry about what anyone else thinks.

2. Three fourths of Commissioners Court is comprised of members that Sumners feuded with back in the 90s, everyone except the newbie, Jack Morman, whose best buddy in the world is Steve Radack. So I guess there’s no point in Sumners going on a charm offensive here if and when the elections administrator item comes up for a vote.

3. Emmett received over 50,000 more votes than Sumners did, and unlike Sumners he’s not up for election again until 2014. I doubt he’s quaking in his boots over whatever teabagger revolution Sumners is vowing to bring.

In sum, I’m still not sold on the idea of an elections administrator for Harris County, but I sure do love a good pissing contest. This one ought to be all kinds of fun. In the meantime, it’s not too early for a good Democratic candidate to start raising money to ensure that this joker’s second go-round in county office is no longer than his first.

I’ve had worse days, but not by much

So as I write this, it looks like the optimistic projections for the Republicans weren’t optimistic enough. Big wins for them in the state, in Harris County, and in the Legislature, where a circa-2003 partisan mix looks like a good result for the Democrats. I don’t care to stay up till the bitter end tonight – more than two hours after the poll closed, we still don’t have any Election Day numbers in Harris County – but it’s clear already that a lot of voters who had split tickets in the past did not do so this time around. It’s just a question of how great the carnage is.

It’s too early to say what the worst result from my perspective will be, but if it stands the loss of County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia will be up there. I’m sure County Judge Ed Emmett will enjoy working with his new colleague on those mental health care problems he’s been writing about.

Somewhat weirdly, the national picture isn’t looking that bad for the Dems. The House is a lost cause, and the toll could well be worse than it was in 1994, but the Senate is looking surprisingly good, at least at this point. That could change by morning, but several races that were close or even considered out of reach are breaking their way.

I’ll have plenty more to say later, when all of the pieces are in place. For now, all I want to say is Good Night.

“Vote for me, I know nothing”

To me, this story about the race in Harris County Precinct 2 between Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and her Republican opponent Jack Morman boils down to this one paragraph:

Morman is short on specifics as to how he would cut spending, better manage construction projects or respond to jail overcrowding. Rather, he is running against Garcia in part by running against President Barack Obama.

Jack Morman knows nothing about how the county operates or what he would do as County Commissioner, but he hates socialism and fascism and loves freedom and long walks on the beach, and isn’t that enough? Spending is bad – well, spending on stuff you don’t like is bad – and not spending is good. What else do you need to know? Stace has more.