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Patrick Rose

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 2

More districts to look at for Democratic opportunities outside of the traditional urban areas.

HD45

District: 45

Incumbent: Jason Isaacs (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Blanco, Hays

Best 2008 Dem performance: Barack Obama, 46.78%

Patrick Rose won this district in 2002, the only Democratic takeover of an existing Republican seat that year. Like many other Democratic legislators, he was swamped by the 2010 tide. The new HD45 drops Caldwell County, which was moderately Democratic at the downballot level in 2008; adding it in makes Susan Strawn, at 47.1%, the top Democratic performer. Rose always won with crossover appeal; as that was in short supply last year, he lost. If Hays County gets blue enough, crossover appeal won’t matter much, but until then a candidate will likely need at least a few Republican defectors to win. I don’t know what kind of Democratic organization exists in Hays right now, but there needs to be some for 2012.

HDs 52 and 149

District: 52
District: 149

Incumbent: Larry Gonzales (HD52, first elected in 2010); none (HD149)

Counties: Williamson (part) for each

Best 2008 Dem performance:Barack Obama for each, 46.18% in HD52, 45.92% in HD149.

Unlike a lot of other districts, Obama outperformed the rest of the ticket here, by three to six points in each case. I don’t know how that changes the dynamic, but I thought it was worth noting. Both districts are in the southern end of WilCo, the fastest growing and closest to Austin parts of the district. I don’t know how conducive they’ll be to electing Democratic reps in 2012, though obviously they both need to be strongly challenged, but it’s not hard to imagine them getting more competitive as the decade goes on. I don’t expect there to be too many boring elections in either of them.

HD54

District: 54

Incumbent: Jimmie Don Aycock (first elected in 2006)

Counties: Bell (part), Lampasas

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 49.01% (plurality)

This one was totally not on my radar. It was so unexpected to me that I figured Aycock, who won easily in 2006 and hasn’t faced a Democrat since, must have gotten screwed somehow by the committee. The 2008 numbers for his old district, in which Houston also got a plurality with a hair under 49%, says otherwise. HD54 swaps out Burnet County (now in HD20, one of the three Williamson County districts) for more of Bell but remains about the same electorally. Typically, downballot Democrats did better than the top of the ticket, with only Jim Jordan and JR Molina not holding their opponents under 50% (McCain got 51.20%, Cornyn 53.85%). I figure the 2008 result in HD54 was a surprise, but the 2012 possibilities should not be. One possible wild card: Aycock was a ParentPAC-backed candidate in 2006, and as far as I know he maintained that endorsement in 2008 and 2010. Back then, the main issue was vouchers, which have been dormant in recent years. Will Aycock’s vote for HB1 and its $8 billion cut to public education cost him ParentPAC support? If so, might that result in a primary challenge, or a general election opponent? That will be worth paying attention to, as it could affect other races as well.

Collin and Denton Counties

District: 64
District: 65
District: 66
District: 67

Incumbent, HD64: Myra Crownover (first elected in 2000)
Incumbent, HD65: Burt Solomons (first elected in 1994)
Incumbent, HD66: Van Taylor (first elected in 2010)
Incumbent, HD67: Jerry Madden (first elected in 1992)

Counties: Collin (66 and 67) and Denton (64 and 65)

Best 2008 Dem performance, HD64: Sam Houston, 41.98%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD65: Barack Obama, 43.04%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD66: Barack Obama, 40.21%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD67: Barack Obama, 39.59%

I don’t actually expect any of these districts to be competitive in 2012. However, if the Democrats hope to have any chance to take the House before the next round of redistricting, they’ll need to be by the end of the decade. Collin and Denton have been two of the fastest growing counties in the state – each got a new district in this map – and they have been slowly but surely trending Democratic. They started at a pretty low point, of course, so they can trend for a long time before it becomes relevant, but as more and more non-Anglos move into the traditional suburbs, I expect the trend to continue. The question is how fast, and how much blood and treasure the Democrats will put into hastening it.

HD85

District: 85

Incumbent: None

Counties: Fort Bend (part), Wharton, Jackson

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 45.29%

This is the new Fort Bend district, comprising territory that had previously been represented by John Zerwas (Wharton and part of Fort Bend) and Geanie Morrison (Jackson). As with the Denton and Collin districts, it’s probably out of reach in 2012, but it’s also likely to see a lot of growth and demographic change over the course of the decade, and as such ought to get more competitive over time. And again, it needs to be, as I don’t see a path to a Democratic majority that doesn’t include districts like this.

Gambling proponents still optimistic for some reason

The conventional wisdom, to which I subscribe, says that the results on this election are bad news for proponents of expanded gambling. One reason for this is that the Republican wave means more socially conservative members. Gambling proponents are doing their best to put a smiley face on their prospects in the new Lege in spite of this.

Jack Pratt, chairman of the Texas Gaming Association and a proponent of casinos, said he is not discouraged by the recent election results.

“I have witnessed the debate over expanded gaming firsthand in at least 16 states and followed it closely in several others. It’s just a fact that many Republican legislators around the country voted for these measures and were an essential part of the majority in those state legislatures that passed expanded gaming legislation,” Pratt said. “A proposal to allow a limited number of destination resort casinos in Texas makes sense on the merits and is very compelling at a time when Texas needs jobs and new sources of nontax revenue.”

Chris Shields, who also works with the Texas Gaming Association, said an overwhelming number of Texas voters support expanded gambling measures and even more support putting the issue to the voters, based on a poll commissioned by the association. And the newly elected candidates know that, he said.

“We think the new members have a very strong connection to the voters right now,” Shields said.

Mike Lavigne, spokesman for Win for Texas, which is supported by track owners and the horse industry, said his group believes an expanded gambling bill can pass in the upcoming session, which will begin in January.

Most of the Legislature’s new blood ran on platforms of no new taxes and less government, Lavigne said. They ran on fiscally conservative values, not on socially conservative ones. To prove his point, he produced a short stack of direct mail pieces from Republican challengers that include tea party-approved tax messages and not a word about abortion or other favorite topics of the socially conservative.

And because increased gambling raises money without raising taxes, these soon-to-be-sworn-in candidates could get behind a gambling measure, Lavigne said.

Sure, if you believe that any of them want to find new revenue sources, which is at best an open question. But there’s a fundamental issue here that the gambling proponents don’t address.

Jason Isaac, the Republican who defeated Rep. Patrick Rose, D-San Marcos, represents hope for gambling proponents.

Isaac said he hasn’t decided how he’d vote on a gambling bill. He’d have to see it first. But he said he is not necessarily opposed to the idea of expanded gambling.

“My concentration is going to be on fiscal matters,” Isaac said, adding that his initial reaction is to be more open to slots at racetracks where gambling already exists rather than casinos.

Isaac said one of his concerns is that gambling could lead to bigger government — something that he and many other newly elected people staunchly oppose.

The position of Paul Workman, another newly elected Central Texas Republican, proves that gambling proponents will have to work for every vote. He said he’ll oppose a gambling measure.

Workman, who defeated Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin , said he enjoys trips to Las Vegas and does not see gambling as evil. But he thinks expanded gambling of any kind in Texas would be a mistake. He might not be opposed to gambling on moral grounds, but he objects to the crime and other social costs associated with it.

“I think it brings more trouble than it solves,” he said. “I think it would add an undue burden to cities and counties.”

What goes unmentioned here is that Rose and Bolton were both gambling supporters. To be more precise, they were recipients of financial support from the gambling industry. In their place is one guy who might support a gambling resolution, and one guy who won’t. That means that they need at least one of the other new members to be a proponent and to have replaced someone who wasn’t just to break even from 2009, when they didn’t have enough votes to pass anything. What are the odds of that?

Further, I’m sure that if you looked at more of the individual cases, you’d see more of the same. Here in Harris County, for example, Rep. Ellen Cohen was a gambling supporter – in her interview with me, she stated unequivocally that she would vote for a resolution to allow expanded gambling. There’s nothing on Sarah Davis’ wafer-thin issues page that mentions gambling, but an anti-Cohen site attacked her for having “voted for legalizing gambling on Indian reservations”. In other words, at best the pro-gambling forces have broken even, and at worst they’re down another vote. I doubt it will be different in the other races the Democrats lost. And there’s still the passing of Rep. Ed Kuempel, too.

The bottom line, then, is that a number of legislators who were known to be supportive of a gambling resolution will not be there next year. In their place are a bunch of people who are almost certainly less supportive as a group than their predecessors. If there’s an example of an anti-gambling person being replaced by a gambling supporter, I’m not aware of it. The craps table offers much better odds than this.

Jeff Weems

We’ve been hearing plenty about the top of the ticket for Democrats in 2010, but there are still several slots to fill. One of them is the Railroad Commissioner seat held by Victor Carrillo. Via email to Carl Whitmarsh, here’s a name for you:

Jeff Weems is running for the Democratic nomination for Texas Railroad Commissioner in 2010, hopefully earning a chance to square off with Republican incumbent Victor Carrillo.

Jeff is currently the precinct Chair for Precinct 274. He is an oil and gas litigation attorney, representing exploration companies, service companies and landowners. Before becoming an attorney, he worked in the industry for years, first as a laborer on drilling rigs, next as a mud man, then as a landman. He has been an attorney for 19 years. He works with Harrison, Bettis, Staff, McFarland & Weems, a mid-sized Houston litigation firm.

Jeff is running because he knows the energy industry inside and out. He knows that the Railroad Commission can do so much more than it does now. The incumbent Republican commissioners are far too ready to take contributions from companies with matters pending before the commission, even when they are not up for election. Even more importantly, the current commissioners have demonstrated a bias toward the gas utilities when rate cases are heard, which ends up costing the citizens of Texas dearly. In addition, Jeff will balance the desires of the operators seeking to drill and complete wells with the need to protect Texas’ environment (such as in the Barnett Shale).

Won’t surprise me if Dale Henry, who was a candidate in 2006 and again in 2008, runs again. Mark Thompson, who defeated Henry and Art Hall in the 2008 primary for RR Commish, is currently running for Governor. There may be someone else out there as well – who knows, maybe Hall wants to take another crack at it – but at least we have one.

The potential contenders for all statewide offices at this time, as I know of them:

Governor – Tom Schieffer is in, Kinky Friedman and Mark Thompson say they’re in. Kirk Watson and/or Ronnie Earle may decide to join them. Former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger has been mentioned as well, but while everyone I’ve spoken to loves the guy, nobody as yet thinks this is likely.

Lieutenant Governor – Not a whole lot of chatter about this one just yet, but I’ve recently heard that State Sen. Royce West, who has previously expressed some interest in Attorney General, may run for this slot instead. Watson remains a possibility here as well.

Attorney General – Barbara Radnofsky is in. West and Earle are possible. State Rep. Patrick Rose has been in the conversation, but any buzz he’s had has diminished of late. 2006 nominee David Van Os is always a possibility, but the word I’ve heard lately is that he’s not considering it.

Comptroller – Haven’t heard a peep. Susan Combs may become the Kay Bailey Hutchison of the next decade, at least if no one serious ever challenges her.

Ag Commish – 2006 nominee Hank Gilbert is running. He may have company, but as yet I’ve not heard any other names.

Land Commish – I have recently heard the name of a potentially exciting candidate for this slot, but that person has not made a decision and the name was given to me in confidence, so that’s all I can say for now.

So there you have it. Regarding the Comptroller slot, Combs probably is the one person no one serious wants to run against. There’s a danger in that if there is a vacuum, it could get filled by a clown like Fred Head, whose buffoonish presence would be a drag on a ticket that had, say, Watson, West, and Earle/Radnofsky as the headliners. You can’t stop anyone from running – see “Kelly, Gene” for all the evidence of that you’ll need – but you can try to persuade someone with a bit more heft to challenge him in the primary if it comes down to it. A self-funder would be preferred, given the amount of funds that will need to be devoted to other races. Whether one can be found or not is the question.

CHIP and Medicaid advance

Good news for CHIP and Medicaid.

The House Committee on Human Services approved a measure that would expand eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, a move the bill’s author, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said would add 80,000 children to the program.

The bill would allow certain families earning more than the current income limit — about $44,000 for a family of four — to pay to join the program.

The Senate Finance Committee passed a measure by Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, that would also allow families above the income limit to pay to join CHIP, though it differs from Coleman’s bill.

The House panel also passed a measure by state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, that would allow families to stay in children’s Medicaid for a full year rather than having to reapply every six months.

The first bill is HB2962, the Averitt bill appears to be SB841, and I can’t tell what the Turner bill is. Here’s a statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman’s about what happened:

State Representative Garnet F. Coleman (D-Houston), who helped create the original Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), applauds Chairman Patrick Rose and the members of the House Committee on Health and Human Services for voting out CSHB 2962, which is a positive step in restoring CHIP coverage to its intended levels. Rep. Coleman also applauds the efforts of the members of the House Appropriations Committee for providing the funding to make this possible.

This bill is a collaborative product of the efforts of several members of the legislature, as well as other Texans concerned with the high number of uninsured children in the state,” said Rep. Coleman. “It is estimated that this legislation will help insure 80,000 of Texas’ neediest children.”

CSHB 2962 expands CHIP eligibility to include children from families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level. The bill includes a buy in option, at no cost to the state, for children from families with a net income up to 400 percent above the federal poverty level, who were previously enrolled in CHIP but lose coverage due to an increase in income.

Currently, children from families at 150% above the federal poverty level enrolled in CHIP are required to verify that their allowable assets do not exceed $10,000. CSHB 2962 raises the check for allowable assets to families earning 250% of the federal poverty level, and raised allowable assets to $20,000. Additionally, it exempts the value of one car from being included in determining families’ assets for CHIP.

“A vehicle is a lifeline for families, and should not be considered an asset when determining health coverage,” said Rep. Coleman. “Families need to drive to get to work, to get food, and to take their children to school.”

CSHB 2962 also excludes child support payments and assets in college savings plans from being considered when determining eligibility for programs like CHIP and Medicaid.

“These changes will encourage families to invest in the future of their children’s education, without fear that their investment will cause them to lose their health care,” said Rep. Coleman.

This is an extension of HB109 from the 2007 Lege, which restored the one-year enrollment period but did not relax the assets restrictions. I believe this would still leave us short of the levels we had before the 2003 decimation, but it’s a big step forward and we’d be closer than ever if this passes. Let’s hope it keeps the momentum going forward.

BAR for AG

Barbara Radnofsky has been talking about a run for Attorney General in Texas in 2010 for some time now; I had a conversation about it with her back in 2007. Today she officially announced her intent, making her the third Democrat to do so for a statewide office. She told me on the phone that didn’t intend to do anything fancy at this point, and would be concentrating on fundraising for the next few months. She had previously filed her paperwork to run, so she can raise funds for her campaign.

As Vince notes, others have been in the mix for AG on the Democratic side: David Van Os, who ran for AG in 2006; Larry Veselka, who is currently on the list of candidates for the US Attorney position in Houston; State Sen. Kirk Watson, who has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for Lt. Gov.; and State Rep. Patrick Rose. Of those, I think the most likely to run is Van Os. While I would not mind seeing contested primaries up and down the ballot – we’re going to have a ton of them here in Harris for county judicial races – if Van Os were to ask me I’d suggest he take a crack at the 3rd Court of Appeals, which could use a little more partisan balance. But that’s just my opinion.

As far as her prospects, or that of any Dem statewide, I will say this. What we’ve seen in the last couple of elections has basically been two categories of statewide race: Well-funded R versus underfunded (or unfunded) D, and unfunded R versus unfunded D. We haven’t seen well-funded R versus well-funded D since 2002, and I think we can all agree that the electoral landscape is considerably different today than it was then. In any event, in the races where both candidates are not well-funded, which I think represents the baseline vote for each party, the Dems have done better. If current AG Greg Abbott, who has a huge pile of money, runs for something else as he’s rumored to want to do, Radnofsky would be in a position to start out roughly at financial parity with her opponent, most likely Solicitor General Ted Cruz. Given that she almost surely has higher name recognition to begin with, if she can build on the $1.5 million she raised in 2006 – say, double or triple that – this could be a pretty tight race. I’ll be very interested to see what kind of numbers she posts for the January disclosures.

Revisiting the FLDS saga

Grits sat in on the House Human Services Committee hearing that looked at how the state handled last year’s child-welfare operation at the FLDS ranch, and he’s got a detailed report on what transpired as well as an analysis of the proposed legislation to deal with it, which he refers to as “a Christmas Tree of mischief.” Check it out.