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Williamson County

2014 Day Three EV totals

But first, a little angst.

EarlyVoting

I feel a bit uncomfortable after Day Two of Early Voting in Person. Here are a couple of concerning tweets from yesterday:

Scott Braddock ‏@scottbraddock 2h2 hours ago
Those Harris County early vote totals are not good for Democrats. *If* Texas is a battleground, #Houston is ground zero #TxLege

And:

Teddy Schleifer @teddyschleifer • 5h 5 hours ago
Dems excited by big vote-by-mail numbers here in Harris County, but in-person down 25%. Not good for them. #HOUNews | http://blog.chron.com/houstonpolitics/2014/10/in-person-early-vote-turnout-still-down-in-harris-county/ …

Here is from Chron.com:

The number of voters showing up at Harris County’s 41 early-vote locations was down by 25 percent for the second straight day on Tuesday, according to tallies released by the County Clerk.

A total of 20,380 registered voters cast a ballot on Tuesday, more than 7,000 fewer voters than cast one on the first Tuesday of early voting during the last midterm election in 2010. While Monday’s results revealed a massive increase in the number of mail ballots received this fall, the number received on Tuesday slightly trailed those seen on the corresponding Tuesday in 2010. A majority of the vote-by-mail ballots typically arrive on the first day.

A total of 21,612 votes were cast Tuesday, 1,232 of them mail ballots. On Monday, the first day of the two-week early-voting period, 61,735 total votes were cast.

A Commentary review of Early Voting locations likely frequented by African American and Latino voters shows a slight decrease in voter turnout as compared to the 2010 numbers after Day Two. Sure Dems are doing better with the mail ballots but we have to increase the Early Voting in Person numbers – or else. What is happening out there?

Here are your Day Three totals, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. As was the case with Day Two, in person totals are below what they were in 2010, though there were more absentee ballots received. The grand total so far for 2014 is 107,433, while the comparable total for 2010 was 107,782, so we are now officially a smidgen behind 2010. Does that mean we’re doomed?

Well, that depends on who is turning out. We’ve been through this before, but let’s remember, “turnout” doesn’t just mean Democrats. Republican voters count towards “turnout” too, and as you may recall they turned out like gangbusters in 2010. One of the prerequisites for Democrats doing well, or at least doing better, this year was for Republican turnout to come back down to earth. If what we’re got here is a Democratic increase combined with a Republican decrease, that would be pretty good, no?

Now bear in mind, the early vote gap – both in person and mail ballot – from 2010 in Harris County was pretty massive. A review of the 2010 numbers suggests it was about 59-39 in favor of the GOP, with mail ballots going 68-31 and in person early votes being 58-40. There’s a lot of room for Ds to go up and Rs to go down without the leader changing.

There are two indicators to suggest that the gap has narrowed considerably, though not all the way. One is that while Campos’ observation about Latino EV locations is accurate, it’s not the whole story. Here are the three day totals for the heaviest EV locations in GOP districts, then and now:

Location name SRD 2010 2014 ===================================================== Champion Forest Baptist Church 126 4,110 3,206 Kingwood Branch Library 127 4,075 2,823 Freeman Branch Library 129 4,190 3,044 Cypress Top Park, Cypress 130 3,548 3,052 Trini Mendenhall Community Center 138 3,839 3,048

Those are some pretty steep declines. Some of this I would attribute to the large increase in absentee votes, as I believe some of that represents people changing their behavior from voting early in person to voting by mail. Some of it I would (hopefully) attribute to the surge of 2010 Republican voters abating. Greg’s Day Two analysis, which suggests mail ballots are running about 50-50 and overall turnout being about 46% Dem, supports that. No question, we’d like to see Dem in person performance improve, but those mail ballots count, too, and they’re clearly making a difference. The usual pattern is that Dems turn out big on Saturday and generally participate more in Week 2, so we’ll see if that holds. Right now, all signs clearly point to Dems doing considerably better than they did in 2010. Doing better than 2010 is not that high a bar to clear, of course, so there’s still room to go up. Just don’t fixate on the “total turnout” number without at least considering where that turnout is coming from.

At the state level, the picture is interesting. The two day EV results for 2014 on the SOS webpage show an overall increase over 2010, fueled entirely by the massive uptick in mail ballots. Democratic counties like Dallas, Travis, El Paso, Hidalgo, and Cameron are up a bit. So are Republican counties like Montgomery, Collin, Williamson, and Denton, but Galveston is down and Fort Bend is flat. Tarrant is way up, but that’s Wendy Davis’ home turf. Again, it’s a function of who is showing up. I don’t have enough information to make any guesses.

Bottom line, keep calm and keep working to turn out our voters. There’s a Walk2Vote event at UH-Downtown tomorrow, to turn students out there. If you really want to make a difference, consider helping out with Drive for Democracy, which aims to help people who need a ride to the polls get them. I’m told they have identified around 1000 voters who need a ride to the polls and are recruiting volunteers to help with those rides. I can’t think of a better way to get involved. Check ’em out, and sign up to help if you can.

Palau catches a little heat for hiring John Bradley

Hilarious.

The president of Palau has defended appointing a US lawyer who left his previous role as Texas county prosecutor amid controversy over an innocent man who spent almost 25 years behind bars.

President Tommy Remengesau confirmed former Williamson County district attorney John Bradley would take up a position as assistant attorney general in the tiny Pacific nation later this month.

[…]

Remengesau said Bradley acknowledged he was wrong to block the DNA testing and “is painfully aware that his actions kept an innocent man locked up for longer than he should have been”.

But he said Bradley deserved a second chance and was seeking it in the island nation of 22,000 people, which is best known for its spectacular diving sites.

“Mr. Bradley says that the Morton case has changed him as a person and has made him a more balanced, fair, and humble prosecutor,” Remengesau said in a statement.

He said Bradley had more than 25 years of prosecution experience and had never been found to have violated any law or ethical rule over the Morton case.

“The Republic hired Mr. Bradley because our nation needs experienced and skilled prosecutors to help keep our community safe Mr. Bradley fits that bill,” he said.

See here for the background. Like Grits, who found this story, I don’t buy Bradley’s claims that he’s a changed man. As noted in that previous post, he has made claims to that effect before, but so far has not backed them up with action. I hope, for his sake but more importantly for the sake of the people of Palau, that he’s sincere this time. I’d nonetheless advise President Remengesau to keep a close watch on him.

John Bradley’s second act

Lisa Falkenberg brings a fascinating and unexpected update to the story of John Bradley, the former Williamson County DA and Texas Forensic Science Commissioner who served as one of the main villains in the Michael Morton case.

Since losing elected office, Bradley has tried to find work. In 2012, I wrote about him applying to lead the state’s Special Prosecution Unit.

No one would take him. Until now. It seems Bradley has landed another prosecutor’s post. Not in Texas. Not in the United States. In the tiny Republic of Palau, where, according to several sources, Bradley has accepted a position in the attorney general’s office.

The former U.S. territory of about 20,000 people in Micronesia was granted independence in 1994, and now operates in “free association” with the United States.

Barry Scheck, co-founder and co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project, said he learned about Bradley’s new job in a mass email from Bradley’s wife.

[…]

Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association and a former colleague of Bradley’s at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said he hoped the island nation would provide a fresh start for his friend.

“It’s been awhile,” Kepple said, referring to the Morton revelations. “You know, maybe he gets another chance. Maybe he’s got to go all the way to Palau to get it. But I wish him well.”

Scheck, at the Innocence Project, echoed that sentiment.

“He’s certainly going quite a few thousand miles away in order to reinvent himself and we’re all in favor of second acts in American lives,” Scheck told me Tuesday.

Even Michael Morton maintained his graciousness when I asked what he thought about the prosecutor who wronged him returning to prosecuting.

“I don’t wake up every morning gnashing my teeth and shaking my fist at, you know, ‘where’s John Bradley?’ I’ve literally and figuratively moved on,” he said.

“At this stage of the game, I wish him well,” Morton said. “And, you know, adios.”

Morton’s Houston-based attorney John Raley, who worked the case for free, and fought Bradley at every turn as he tried to stymie Morton’s appeals, was a tad less gracious.

“I’m not aware of any evidence that he has learned the lessons of the Morton case,” Raley said of Bradley. “His actions in the future will answer that question.”

Part of me thinks everybody, even John Bradley, has the right to make a living, to learn from mistakes and to get on with life after grievous errors.

The other part thinks Bradley is still a danger to justice everywhere, even 8,000 miles away.

I’ve said repeatedly on this blog that I’m a believer in redemption. It’s the Catholic in me – I may not be a churchgoer any more, but what I learned while I was stays with me and still shapes how I think. The thing is, as we Catholics also know, you can’t be absolved of a sin until you stop committing it. Other than one brief feint in the direction of acknowledging his responsibility in the Morton saga, John Bradley has never shown any indication that he thinks he did anything wrong. If it were up to him, Michael Morton would still be in jail, Ken Anderson would still be on the bench, and the evidence that exonerated Morton and ousted Bradley and Anderson would be in a box somewhere, if it hadn’t been destroyed. So count me in the tad-less-gracious group here. It’s fine by me if John Bradley wants to put his life back together, but he can do that outside the practice of law. Flip burgers, sell cars, groom dogs, dig ditches, paint houses – there’s tons of honest, dignified jobs John Bradley can hold that won’t put him in a position of power over someone’s freedom. If he truly wants redemption, he knows what he has to do to earn it. Grits, who is more gracious than I, has more.

Early voting, one (six day) week in

We have one week completed for early voting, though it was only a six day week thanks to the Presidents Day holiday. Here are the daily totals from the County Clerk. Republicans continue to be the majority of early voters in Harris County, by almost a 3-1 margin. I thought it might be interesting to compare early voting totals so far in the 15 biggest counties from 2010 and 2014. The Secretary of State tracks this information, though they generally don’t update on weekends. As such, the best I can do for now is a comparison of the first four days for each. Here’s 2010, here’s 2014, and here’s how it looks in a table:

County 2010 R 2014 R Diff 2010 D 2014 D Diff =========================================================== Harris 21,067 25,789 4,722 12,358 9,541 -2,817 Dallas 9,326 16,777 7,451 6,140 10,246 4,106 Tarrant 11,491 18,164 6,673 2,689 7,851 5,162 Bexar 10,353 14,575 4,222 8,370 10,476 2,106 Travis 6,140 5,083 -1,057 4,614 7,798 3,384 Collin 7,419 8,593 1,174 726 1,456 730 El Paso 2,938 2,023 - 715 6,844 7,102 258 Denton 4,635 7,768 3,133 508 1,227 719 Fort Bend 4,470 4,967 497 1,179 1,266 87 Hidalgo 984 1,520 536 11,232 13,619 2,387 Montgomery 5,235 9,022 4,787 523 532 9 Williamson 4,810 4,585 - 225 1,056 1,413 357 Nueces 2,344 2,414 70 1,948 1,826 - 118 Galveston 1,838 4,010 2,172 1,607 910 - 697 Cameron 747 839 92 3,300 4,426 1,126 Total 93,797 126,129 32,332 63,094 79,689 16,595

EarlyVoting

Both parties’ turnout are up from 2010, though unsurprisingly the R side is up more. All those contested statewide races, and all the money in them, do have an effect. While there is a contested race for Governor on the D side, it’s not nearly as high profile as it was in 2010. Dems are depending more on local races for their turnout. On that note, whoever had Tarrant as the county with the largest gain in Democratic primary voters so far, please come collect your winnings. Still, it’s good to see turnout up in the places that have hot primaries up and down the county ballot – Dallas, Travis, and Bexar, in particular. The dropoff in Harris County I would largely attribute to the turnout driven in 2010 by the Bill White campaign. We have several contested county races, but nothing of that stature, and only one legislative primary that’s likely to move a significant number of people, that being in SD15. The dropoff in Galveston is probably in part a spillover effect of the lac of Bill White’s campaign, and in part due to Galveston having Democratic countywide incumbents running for re-election in 2010 but not in 2014. The dip in Republican primary turnout so far in Williamson, and the modest growth in Collin, are interesting if the trends continue, but not necessarily suggestive of anything. Surely Dallas County has shown us that there isn’t necessarily a correlation between primary turnout and partisan performance in November. And of course this is only through Day Four. We’ll see how it looks after all the early votes are in.

One other thing that the SOS historic early voting pages can show you is the registered voter totals for each of the top 15 counties. Let me add in the 2006 Day 4 page to show you how these numbers have changed over time.

County 2006 2010 2014 06-14 Diff ======================================================= Dallas 1,168,476 1,129,814 1,170,598 2,122 Travis 544,483 586,882 627,040 82,557 El Paso 367,284 375,128 390,949 23,665 Hidalgo 271,132 290,097 307,426 36,294 Cameron 161,648 171,024 181,802 20,154 Tarrant 882,459 924,682 969,434 86,975 Collin 369,493 413,772 466,533 97,040 Denton 320,307 355,340 388,608 68,301 Montgomery 217,354 243,027 270,019 52,665 Williamson 200,285 230,122 259,878 59,593 Harris 1,880,042 1,889,378 2,006,270 126,228 Bexar 877,484 891,082 915,839 38,355 Fort Bend 257,140 300,777 349,550 92,410 Nueces 193,079 188,165 184,789 -8,290 Galveston 183,805 179,928 185,850 2,045

I separated the top 15 counties into three groups: Strong D, strong R, and in between. Quibble with my choices if you want, it works well enough for me. Note that these are all March numbers; we will see further changes in November. I’m delighted to see such a large jump in Harris County. That number was just barely over 2 million in November 2012, but it was back under 2 million in 2013. It’s also nice to see Dallas County regain all the voters they lost between 2006 and 2010. I don’t have anything to add beyond that. I just wanted to present this data to you as an FYI.

Ken Anderson accepts a plea deal

Some closure in the Michael Morton case.

Former Williamson County State District Judge Ken Anderson, who oversaw the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton as a prosecutor, was sentenced to nine days in jail on Friday and will surrender his law license as part of a deal to resolve criminal charges and a civil lawsuit.

Anderson entered into a comprehensive settlement involving all matters before the court. Those include a charge of criminal contempt tied to an accusation of failing to disclose evidence during Morton’s 1987 trial, and the State Bar of Texas’ disciplinary case against Anderson over prosecutorial misconduct allegations. Charges of tampering with evidence were also dropped as part of the settlement.

Presiding District Judge Kelly G. Moore ordered that Anderson’s jail sentence — a 10-day sentence with a 1-day credit for time served — should begin on or before Dec. 2. Anderson was also ordered to pay a $500 fine along with serving 500 hours of community service in the next five years. His resignation to the State Bar will be acted on by the Supreme Court of Texas and will be treated as disbarment. Anderson did not address the presiding judge during Friday’s session and exited the courtroom promptly after the hearing was adjourned.

“There’s no way that anything we can do today will resolve the tragedy that occurred related to these matters,” Moore said, before addressing Morton, who was present in the courtroon during the hearing. “The world is a better place because of you.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Grits said that “compared to what Morton faced”, the punishment Anderson received was “relatively weak tea”. I agree with the sentiment, but honestly anything short of a life sentence could be called that. For what it’s worth, Michael Morton himself seems satisfied with the outcome.

Morton sat in the front row of the courtroom on Friday with his wife, Cynthia, and his attorneys and celebrated with his legal team following the hearing.

“When it began, I was asked what I wanted. I said ‘The only thing that I want, as a baseline, is for Ken Anderson to be off the bench and no longer practice law,'” Morton said. “Both of those things have happened and more.”

“I don’t know if satisfying is the right word,” he added, but he said the Anderson case “had to be done.”

My hope is that this will serve as a cautionary tale for other prosecutors. Now they know there will be at least the possibility of real consequences for the bad behavior Ken Anderson displayed. The reforms that Sen. Rodney Ellis passed that will require more disclosure from prosecutors will be beneficial, too. These are steps in the right direction, and there will be more to follow. Nothing can give Michael Morton back what was taken from him, but he will help others avoid a similar fate, and that’s something.

Hog killin’ update

Because I know you like to know about this sort of thing.

After a competition to kill feral hogs left more than 1,000 of the destructive animals dead in Hays and Caldwell counties, plans are emerging to further control the population.

Both counties participated in the state’s Hog Out County Grants Program, a competition among counties to kill the most feral hogs and to educate people about the hogs from October through December.

The 28 counties that participated last year, including Hays, Caldwell and Williamson, earned points for the number of hogs killed and the number of participants at educational workshops.

According to the state’s Department of Agriculture, Texas is home to nearly 2.6 million feral hogs, the largest population nationwide, and one that’s growing. The Hog Out County Grants Program is one of two the department funds that is aimed at eliminating feral hogs, which damage property, crops and pastures.

The Texas AgriLife Extension Service estimates that the economic damage cause by hogs statewide is $500 million annually. The funds the department will award as a result of the Hog Out program are to be used by counties to implement a plan to reduce their feral hog populations.

The county with the most points wins $20,000. The second- and third-place counties earn $15,000 and $10,000, respectively.

It’s all just a drop in the bucket, really. As we heard before, killing 750,000 of these beasts a year would not be enough to cause a drop in their population. But what are you gonna do? And in case you were wondering, yes, they’re going to try to do something useful with all that meat. Good luck with that.

What I’ll be looking for tonight

Just a reminder that I’ll be on KPFT tonight starting at 7 PM to talk about the elections. Here’s a preview of the things I’ll be looking for:

1. SD10 – Sen. Wendy Davis vs Mark Shelton: Easily the most important race on the ballot in Texas. Davis has been a progressive champion and a pain in Dan Patrick’s rear end, and will make for a strong statewide candidate when she’s ready. She also ensures that the Dems maintain enough votes in the Senate to invoke the two-thirds rule until whenever Rick Perry calls the special election to succeed the late Sen. Mario Gallegos. I am heartened that Robert Miller thinks Davis is leading, though he subsequently amended that, but I won’t rest easy until I see that lead on the Secretary of State’s election results webpage.

2. Legislative races – While Dems start out with only 48 seats in the Lege, they will automatically pick up three today – HDs 35, 40, and 101 – because there are no Republicans running in them. Beyond that, the over/under line for Dems is 55 seats total. Three in particular to watch: HD23, in which Rep. Craig Eiland is one of the only, if not the only, threatened Democratic incumbents; HD134, in which Ann Johnson’s challenge to freshman Rep. Sarah Davis will be a good test of how well a message attacking the Rs for cutting $5.4 billion from public education will work; and HD136, the open seat in Williamson County, which will be a test of whether 2008 was a fluke or a trend for Democrats in places like that.

3. Adrian Garcia and Mike Anderson – Everyone expects both candidates to win, as both have become poster children for not voting a straight ticket this year. As such, they will both likely represent the high-water mark for each party this year, as Garcia and Ed Emmett were in 2008. I’ll be paying particular attention to how they did in various legislative and other districts once the precinct data is out, because that may provide an early roadmap for future electoral targets.

4. Fort Bend County – Fort Bend came very close to going Democratic in 2008. President Obama received 48.49% of the vote there, and no Republican won the county by as much as 10,000 votes out of 200,000 cast. Is this the year Democrats break through? Also worth keeping an eye on is freshman County Commissioner Richard Morrison in his race against double voter Bruce Fleming.

5. CCA – Hampton vs Keller – I think we’re all familiar with this one by now. Whether Hampton has a chance to win depends largely, though not entirely, on how well Obama does in Texas. The presence of a Libertarian candidate in this race means that Hampton can win with less than 50% of the vote. Most of the statewide judicial races in 2008 had Libertarians in them, and they got about 3% of the vote on average. I suspect the ceiling for that may be higher in this case, as some Republicans may prefer to not vote for Keller but not vote for a Dem, either. I will not be surprised if 48% is enough to win. If Obama can improve on 2008, even a little, it makes it that much easier for Hampton to get over the hump. If not, we may be stuck with Keller for another six years or until she finally has the grace to resign.

6. 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals – Jim Sharp broke through for Democrats in 2008, and there’s a nearly full slate of them running for seats on these courts, whose jurisdictions cover multiple counties, this year. As was the case in 2008, a sufficiently strong showing in Harris County may be enough to make it across the finish line, though if Fort Bend is blue as well, that would be a big help. This is where future Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals candidates can emerge.

7. Bonds, Metro, and SA Pre-K – I expect the Houston bonds to pass. Keep an eye on the charter amendments, since if they pass as well there can be no further charter amendments on the ballot till May of 2015. I think the Metro referendum will pass, but I would not bet my own money on it. The San Antonio Pre-K initiative is expected to be close. Given the recent love affair in the national media and from the national party for Mayor Julian Castro, a loss here will undoubtedly be portrayed as a setback for him.

I think that’s plenty to think about. What races are you watching?

Beating Bradley

The Statesman writes about the aftermath of the GOP primary for District Attorney in Williamseon County where voters resoundingly threw out John Bradley.

Jana Duty

Michael Morton wasn’t on the ballot, didn’t campaign and didn’t back a candidate, but the recently exonerated former inmate cast a long shadow on the Williamson County district attorney race, becoming the key issue in the defeat of a once-popular John Bradley.

Jana Duty, a 10-point victor in Tuesday’s Republican primary, made Morton a centerpiece of her campaign, focusing on Bradley’s decision to fight Morton’s 2005 request for DNA testing. It would take six years for a court to order tests that cleared Morton of the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine, and led authorities to another suspect, Mark Alan Norwood.

Voters responded by turning out Bradley, Williamson County’s lead prosecutor for the past 10½ years and one of the state’s most prominent district attorneys.

Political observers said Duty was aided by lingering resentment over Morton’s treatment, a superior campaign organization and votes from crossover Democrats drawn to the GOP primary by an opportunity to torpedo Bradley.

And unlike prior years when Bradley made news by securing long prison sentences — accounts that played well with Williamson County’s conservative-leaning voters — this election cycle was punctuated by headlines involving controversy in and out of the courtroom.

Beyond the Morton affair, Bradley also was criticized for his leadership of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which was investigating the science used to convict and execute Cameron Todd Willingham for the arson murder of his three young daughters.

[…]

One of Bradley’s leading backers, Dan Gattis Jr., said the Morton connection meant “everything” to the district attorney race.

“Jana Duty’s whole campaign was tying him to the Morton case,” Gattis said, adding that the Morton case “humbled and matured” Bradley and would have made him a better DA. Instead, his handling of the Morton matter left him vulnerable to challenge.

I’m pretty sure Michael Morton’s attorney John Raley would disagree with the assertion that Bradley was in any way changed for the better as a result of this experience. As people like Sen. Rodney Ellis and Scott Henson said back when Bradley was proclaiming that he had learned his lesson, actions speak louder than words, and Bradley’s actions were loud and clear. The voters made the right choice, and Bradley got what he deserved. Not that he has any need to fear for his future, of course. I’m sure his patron Rick Perry will find something for him to do, and if not there’s always the professional airing-of-grievances circuit. Don’t you worry about ol’ John, he’ll be just fine.

“Open letter to Williamson County”

John Raley is the attorney who worked for years to exonerate Michael Morton on the charge of murdering his wife in 1987. The key to the case was a bloody bandana, which DNA testing showed belonged to the real killer. Williamson County DA John Bradley fought against allowing the DNA test to proceed at every step. Bradley has had to explain his role in this process since Morton was declared “actually innocent”, and lately he’s been saying some things that Raley says are untrue. Raley wrote the following to set the record straight:

Open Letter To Williamson County:

I have resisted becoming involved in the upcoming election for District Attorney of Williamson County, because I believe that the decision should be made by local citizens. However, I have become increasingly concerned about statements made by Mr. Bradley regarding the Michael Morton case, and now feel the need to set the record straight. In doing so, I am not speaking on behalf of my dear friend and pro bono client for the last eight years, Michael Morton, nor am I speaking on behalf of my co-counsel with the Innocence Project who fought with me so long for DNA testing. I am speaking personally, and am not endorsing any candidate.

The world now knows that Michael is, and always has been, innocent. His dear wife was murdered in their home while he was at work, just as he has always maintained. When Michael was formally exonerated last fall, Mr. Bradley called to apologize to me and asked that I convey his apology to Michael. I hoped at the time of the call that Mr. Bradley had learned from this experience and had changed. However, I am concerned from reading recent statements by Mr. Bradley during the campaign that he is retracting his previous admission of responsibility for decisions that kept Michael in prison an extra six years and eight months.

On February 11, 2005, we filed our motion for DNA testing of, among other things, a bloody bandana found behind the Morton home after Christine’s murder. Such testing would cost the State of Texas nothing, because the Innocence Project offered to (and later did) pay for it completely. In 2005, and in virtually every brief and argument since, in state trial and appellate courts and in federal court, we contended that the bandana was found behind the house along the likely escape route of the murderer. We also pointed out that the bandana (1) may contain the blood of Christine Morton, (2) may also contain the DNA by blood, sweat, or skin cells of the murderer, and (3) the DNA of the murderer may lead to a hit on the national databank of known offenders. [Note: we did not know at the time that the DA’s trial file from 1987 contained a description of a stranger seen the days before the murder, driving an old van, and walking around behind the Morton house – exactly where the bandana was found.

Michael’s 1987 trial defense counsel have signed affidavits that they never were made aware of this key document and other critical investigative documents that would have been used in Michael’s defense.] Contrary to Mr. Bradley’s statements during the campaign, there are no valid chain of custody issues or contamination issues regarding the bandana. The bandana was seen by law enforcement on the very spot it was found by Christine’s brother and immediately handed to law enforcement for safekeeping. Following protocol, it would have been placed in a separate bag. There is no evidence otherwise. The blood, one day after the murder, would have dried. But the DNA was there, waiting like a time capsule to be tested.

I am not a criminal lawyer, but I come from a law enforcement family. I sought the advice of my father, a retired prosecutor, and he recommended that I call Mr. Bradley on a personal level to see whether he would agree to the testing, or at least not oppose it. I made several such efforts, even driving from Houston to Georgetown for a meeting with Mr. Bradley and my co-counsel from the Innocence Project, but all such efforts were rebuffed.

Instead of agreeing to a simple test, that can only reveal the truth, that would be free to the State, Mr. Bradley spent countless hours and taxpayer dollars opposing the testing every way he possibly could. It cannot reasonably be denied that if the murder happened in 2005, the bandana would have been DNA tested as part of law enforcement’s efforts to identify the murderer. The technology was not available in 1987, but it is now. There is no good reason not to allow DNA testing to reveal the truth – whatever it is. When I asked Mr. Bradley why he was fighting so strongly against DNA testing, he said “it would muddy the waters.” I responded, “Mr. Bradley, truth clarifies.” I tried to explain to Mr. Bradley the many flaws in the State’s presentation at trial against Michael, but Mr. Bradley was not interested in hearing about it. I tried to hand him the two lie detector tests Michael passed shortly after his wife’s murder, and he refused to look at them.

During this time, Mr. Bradley publically belittled our efforts, saying the bandana was “irrelevant”, that we were “grasping at straws”, and that we were searching for a “mystery killer.” He wrote letters to the parole board opposing a parole for Michael (who had by that time spent 23 years in prison) because Michael had not “accepted responsibility for the murder of his wife by mercilessly beating her to death.” He told the media: “The public might want to remain skeptical of a defendant who to this day doesn’t accept responsibility.” Around this time, Michael was informed that he would be likely paroled if he would “show remorse for his crime.”

Michael Morton is one of the finest men I know. He is a man of honor and integrity. He refused to lie to get out of prison. He said “All I have left is my actual innocence. And if I have to stay in prison the rest of my life, I am not giving that up.”

When we finally obtained testing of the bandana, after many years of strenuous opposition by Mr. Bradley, the highly sophisticated technology revealed (1) Christine Morton’s blood, (2) the DNA of a man who is not Michael, which when run through the databanks of known offenders (3) led to a direct hit on Mark Allen Norwood, who has a long criminal record in several states for, among other things, breaking and entering residences and assault with intent to murder. Thus, the DNA testing Mr. Bradley fought against so long not only proved Michael is, according to the State of Texas, “actually innocent” — it also led directly to the arrest and indictment of Mark Allen Norwood, who is now awaiting trial for the murder of Christine Morton.

Even after the hit on Norwood, Mr. Bradley’s office continued to fight against Michael’s exoneration, and Mr. Bradley publically discounted the bandana’s importance. Our office and the Innocence Project informed the Travis County District Attorney that a cold case in Austin of the murder of Debra Jan Baker, who was killed in her bed exactly the same way as Christine, might be linked to Norwood because he lived nearby at the time. They investigated and found important evidence, which they shared with Judge Sid Harle who was, at that time, presiding over the Morton case. Mr. Bradley could no longer oppose Michael’s exoneration, and a few days later backed down and agreed to Michael’s release.

I am hopeful people remember that when an innocent man is convicted of murder and wrongfully incarcerated, that means that the real murderer is allowed to go free and commit other crimes. Resistance to an honest search for the truth through DNA testing only prolongs the time that the the real murderer (or rapist, or other form of serious criminal) may be at large. People like to talk about being “tough on crime.” I propose, rather, being “smart on crime” – making sure that the guilty party is the one who is caught and eventually convicted. That’s what keeps our streets safe, and is what prosecutors should strive for. Although Mr. Bradley did not try the case that wrongfully sent Michael to prison and let the murderer go free, he is largely responsible, in my opinion, for adding the last six years and eight months to Michael’s tragic story. For nearly 2,400 additional days, the cell doors clanged shut on an innocent man. At one time Mr. Bradley accepted responsibility for his role. I hope he has not changed his mind about that.

Truth and justice are more important than winning an election.

John W. Raley

All I can say is “wow”. Via Grits and Wilco Watchdog.

“Crazy” ants come to Austin

They’re on the move.

Hello, Austin!

There’s a new ant in town, and wherever it goes, fire ants start disappearing. It also doesn’t sting or bite. But don’t get excited yet. The Rasberry crazy ant which showed up in Travis County and Round Rock this fall swarms into homes by the hundreds of thousands in search of food.

In the Houston area, where the ants are much more prevalent, they have already made some homeowners miserable, said Roger Gold, professor of entomology at Texas A&M University.

“People that have them said they wish they had the fire ants back,” he said. “We have pictures of families sweeping them up with brooms where there are piles of ants. … They can get into AC systems and short them out.”

When the ants get electrocuted they produce a pheromone that causes other ants to rush in, Gold said, leading to so many ants in the electrical system that it shorts out. An infestation of the ants temporarily shut down a Pasadena chemical plant, causing a $1 million loss, he said.

“They have huge populations made up of hundreds of thousands to multiple millions,” Gold said.

Ed LeBrun, a research associate at the University of Texas’ Brackenridge Field Laboratory, said the crazy ants haven’t caused Central Texas the problems that have been seen in the Houston area, where they were discovered in Pasadena in 2002 by exterminator Tom Rasberry.

Not yet, anyway. See here, here, here, and here for more. The map on the sidebar of the story shows that the ants have been sighted in Travis, Williamson, and Bexar counties, but not in counties in between them and the Houston area. Seems to me that means they just haven’t been spotted, not that they’re not there. At this point, it’s just a matter of time before the take over the state. Brace yourselves.

The battle for Williamson County DA

Outside of the Congressional races, the hottest primaries this year are District Attorney races. We’ve got them in Harris County, in Travis County, and of course in Williamson County.

An 11-year Republican incumbent who hasn’t faced an opponent since 2002, District Attorney John Bradley now finds himself in a pitched battle against the current Williamson County attorney just to keep his party’s nomination.

“It’s the most intense race I’ve seen in Wilco — period — and I was born and raised here,” said 48-year-old Bill Gravell, a political consultant and a pastor in the area. “It makes the Texas football game against Texas A&M look like a peewee game.”

Jana Duty scrapped her plans to seek re-election as county attorney, a position she’s held since 2005, to challenge Bradley.

The battle to keep his seat is a unique challenge for Bradley, who has been district attorney since he was appointed in 2001. He won the 2002 Republican primary with 68 percent of the vote.

The candidates are challenging each other’s record in office in campaign rhetoric. Duty said she’s running against Bradley because he has “propelled Williamson County into the national spotlight in a very negative light.”

You know what I think of John Bradley. I doubt I’d care much for Jana Duty, but she would have the virtue of not being John Bradley. There is a Democrat running – Ken Crain – and as always one wonders who would be the better opponent for an underdog candidate. Williamson County is trending the right way, and while it’s unlikely to be there yet the right candidate at the right time can break through. Eye on Williamson and Wilco Watchdog are good resources if you want to follow this race more closely, and of course Grits is on it as well.

If it were good for Travis it would be good elsewhere as well

This article asks if Travis County is better off being split into five different Congressional districts. Seems to me that’s a question that answers itself, but I’ll play along.

The voters and geography of Travis County are split among five congressional districts in the redistricting plan enacted by the Texas Legislature and now adopted in the federal court’s interim plan. Travis County residents do not constitute a majority of the voters in any of these districts.

Some politicians and political consultants spin this result as possibly either depriving Travis County of any effective voice in Congress or enhancing that voice by allowing the county’s voters to have a say on the election of more members of Congress.

Whether the interests of a political group or jurisdiction are better served by being an overwhelming majority in a few districts, or a less important part of many more districts, is one of the oldest disputes in redistricting. There is no answer that is correct for all circumstances.

[…]

This splitting of Travis County among five congressional districts in 2011 was clearly intended to dilute, not enhance, the effect of the county’s voters (especially Democrats) and to target Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin for defeat. These objectives are not surprising for a Republican-controlled Legislature, because Travis County is the only major Texas county in which a majority of non-Hispanic white people continue to vote consistently for Democratic candidates, and Doggett is seen by many Republican lawmakers as a partisan troublemaker.

By contrast, the Legislature kept intact heavily Republican counties, such as Collin, Denton and Fort Bend. Each is less populated than Travis County, but each in the new plan has a congressional district wholly in the county or has an overwhelming majority of voters in a congressional district.

However, redistricting voters is always a net-sum game. By attempting to dilute Travis County voters by dividing them among many districts, the Texas Legislature also may have ultimately increased the number of districts in which candidates from Travis County (including Democrats) can be successful if propelled by unexpected political winds.

The voters of Travis County cannot necessarily elect the person of their choice in any new congressional district, but there is not another population center outside Travis County that clearly dominates most of the districts.

For example, Travis County residents’ share of Congressional District 21 increased to more than 27 percent in the new redistricting plan, while Bexar County residents’ share fell from 53 percent to 36 percent. Travis County residents’ share of District 10 (35 percent) is now slightly less than before, but the other population center, Harris County, has seen a much greater reduction, from 46 percent to 35.

In other words, the new plan favors U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin by keeping many Harris County Republicans in District 10 while also reducing the possibility that he will face a strong opponent from Harris County. But this change also makes District 10 more winnable by a Travis County Democrat.

Seems pretty clear to me that if being sliced and diced like a Sunday ham were beneficial, the Lege would have done it to the Republican strongholds as well – Denton, Collin, Williamson, and Montgomery. But no – Montgomery is entirely within CD08 and Williamson in CD31, while nearly all of Denton is in CD26. Collin has three districts in it, but that includes all of CD03. In each case, you can be sure that the representative from those districts is from that county. If Travis County is lucky, CDs 10 and 35 will be from there, but those two districts combine for only 45% of the county’s population; if Rep. Lloyd Doggett loses, only 24% of Travis County will be represented by someone from there. Which would you prefer? Note that if Rep. Mike McCaul steps down, it could just as easily be the case that not a single member of Congress from these five districts is from Travis. Like I said, the question pretty much answers itself.

It’s a long way to Damascus

The Trib has a good story about Williamson County DA John Bradley, whom you may recall as Rick Perry’s chief hatchet man on the Forensic Science Commission, and his apparent conversion to open-mindedness in the wake of the DNA exoneration of Michael Morton, who was convicted of murdering his wife in 1987 by Bradley’s predecessor and mentor, Ken Anderson. It’s a big scandal now because Anderson, now a district court judge, apparently withheld exculpatory evidence to the defense, and Bradley, as is his wont, fought against Morton’s attempts to get DNA testing done and unseal prosecution files for years before finally losing and learning how wrong he was to have fought. I have not followed this saga on the blog – you should read Eye on Williamson and Wilco Watchdog if you want the full story. Anyway, Bradley is now claiming to be a changed man as a result of this experience.

“I have been through a series of events that deeply challenged me,” Bradley, the Williamson County district attorney, said during an extended interview with The Texas Tribune. “I recognized that I could be angry, resentful and react to people, or I could look for the overall purpose and lesson and apply it to not only my own professional life but teach it. And I chose the latter path.”

In the last two years, Bradley and his trademark sharp tongue have been at the center of two of the most controversial murder cases in Texas. In 2009, as chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, he and the New York-based Innocence Project battled aggressively over re-examining the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Corsicana man executed in 2004 for igniting the 1991 arson blaze that killed his three daughters. For six years, Bradley also fought the Innocence Project’s efforts to exonerate Michael Morton, who was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife under Bradley’s then boss in Williamson County 25 years ago.

Bradley discovered that not only was he wrong all those years about Morton’s guilt, of which he had been so certain, but that there are serious questions about whether his predecessor may have committed the worst kind of prosecutorial misconduct: hiding evidence that ultimately allowed the real murderer to remain free to kill again.

[…]

Bradley said he regrets that his opposition to DNA testing over the last six years meant more time behind bars for an innocent man. He also regrets sending letters to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles urging them to keep Morton locked away.

Had he known then what he knows now about the Innocence Project and Scheck, he said he might have handled the Willingham case differently, too.

This experience has taught him to be more open-minded, to try to see cases from both sides, he said. Bradley emphasized that his office is more open than his predecessor’s was. And in the future, when defense lawyers bring him cases to review, Bradley said, he will have a new perspective.

“If I had to come up with a slogan,” Bradley said, “I don’t know that I would use it, but essentially the slogan would be ‘We are more than tough on crime.'”

Some of his critics, though, see Bradley’s contrition as too little, too late. And they note that he is facing re-election next year. They want more than words.

“The jury is still out on whether those words will manifest themselves into real actions to help fix what is clearly a broken justice system,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, chairman of the Innocence Project.

Scott Henson, who writes the well-regarded criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, said Bradley could demonstrate his changed perspective by joining with innocence advocates to promote reforms to the Texas justice system. “He’s got a long record,” Henson said. “And it will take more than a few words of humility to get everyone to believe that he’s had some road to Damascus moment.”

I’m as big a believer in redemption as the next person, but talk is cheap. I agree with Sen. Ellis and Henson that it’s what Bradley does next that will determine if he means this or is just hoping to deflect a weapon that will surely be used against him in the 2012 election. A phone call to Craig Watkins for advice on how to go about ensuring the integrity of past convictions would be a good start. There’s a lot Bradley can do to try to atone and get right with the universe. It’s up to him to do it. Link via Grits, who has more here.

Investigating the DA

There may be something interesting going on in the grand jury room.

A Houston grand jury apparently investigating recent allegations about the Houston Police Department’s troubled mobile alcohol-testing vehicles may now be setting its sights on the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

An appellate court ruled on Thursday that the grand jury can continue to exclude prosecutors from listening to witnesses testify in secret proceedings in the ongoing investigation, despite protests from Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos.

Because grand jurors meet behind closed doors, their intentions are unclear, but court documents filed this week shed light on the investigation. Defense attorneys involved in the case also have their suspicions.

Chip Lewis, an attorney representing a former police crime lab super­visor who testified Thursday, said it is his understanding that she was called to talk about problems with the HPD’s breath alcohol testing vehicles – known as BAT vans – as well as issues with the DA’s office and the police department.

Lewis also said it was possible the grand jury is investigating the district attorney’s office.

“I wouldn’t call it a runaway grand jury,” he said, as much as I would call it a well-focused grand jury.”

I don’t have a particular opinion about this one way or another. It makes sense to me that if there were issues with the evidence, then those issues are most likely not limited to just the police, but beyond that I don’t know enough to comment. I’m noting this story mostly because of how unusual it is for the DA’s office to be investigated in this manner. It seems to me that in general, a lot of DA’s offices operate without a whole lot of oversight, and that this is how you get situations like that of Michael Morton, in which an innocent man was convicted of a crime in part because exculpatory evidence was never given to the defense attorneys. When you look at all the legal maneuvers the current DA in Williamson County and the District Court judge who was the DA at the time are pulling to avoid having to go on the record about what they did and why they did it, you can clearly see the incentives they have for playing to win rather than working for justice. It may well be that the voters will ultimately hold John Bradley and Ken Anderson accountable at the ballot box, but if that’s the only consequence for conspiring to deprive a man of 25 years of his freedom, well, that ain’t much of an incentive to play by the rules, if you ask me. I don’t know what the answer to this is, but I do know that we ought to be asking some questions about it.

UPDATE: See Murray Newman for more on the Harris County story.

Our gay state

Is getting gayer, according to the Census.

It’s no secret that Austin and Central Texas have much appeal for same-sex couples, but new census data from 2010 underscore the depth and breadth of the attraction. Among the highlights from an American-Statesman analysis of the data:

• Travis County has the state’s highest rate — 1.25 percent, more than twice the statewide average — of households describing themselves as led by same-sex couples. There were about 5,000 same-sex households in Travis County in 2010, a 69 percent increase since 2000.

Travis County’s percentage of same-sex couple households ranks 13th among U.S. counties with at least 200,000 households, according to City of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson. Travis ranked 10th nationally in percentage of lesbian couple households.

• The percentage of same-sex couple households in Austin also grew since 2000 and was even higher than the county’s — 1.28 percent of the city’s 324,892 households were led by same-sex couples in 2010. Those 4,182 same-sex couples were split almost evenly between male couples and female couples.

• Growth among same-sex couple households extended to the four other counties which make up the Austin metropolitan area — Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays and Williamson — expanding on a trend noted across the country after the 2000 census, which found more same-sex couples living in suburban communities outside traditional urban enclaves.

Like Travis, other metro area counties exceeded the statewide average for same-sex couple households and had gains from 2000 ranging from 52 percent in Caldwell to 146 percent in Hays and 170 percent in Williamson, where the overall population increased 69 percent since 2000. Hays’ total population grew 61 percent since 2000.

Bastrop County ranked third, and Hays County fourth, among Texas counties with at least 4,300 households.

You should see the accompanying graphic of growth by county for more information. The greater Houston area saw considerable growth as well, with Montgomery and Fort Bend Counties registering in the 101-300% range, while Galveston, Brazoria, Liberty, and Waller Counties were in the 51-100% group. Harris and Chambers grew at “only” 1 to 50%, which is obviously too big a range to judge whether those scare quotes are needed. Please note that a high growth rate may be simply a function of a very low starting point. Going from one to three represents 200% growth, after all. Also, as the story notes, the growth may really be a reflection of how many such households are willing to identify themselves as such. Anyway, just another dimension to the diversity of Texas to think about.

Veasey’s Congressional plan

We didn’t get a Congressional map from the Senate Redistricting Committee, though we may now get one in a special session but that didn’t stop State Rep. Marc Veasey from drawing his own before sine die.

In Veasey’s map, thirteen of the state’s 36 districts would be minority districts, all of which would lean Democrat, along with one in Travis County. The other 22 districts would lean Republican.

Veasey said he was using the “same logic” Republicans used in 2003 redistricting in arguing that 55 percent of the seats should favor Republicans because 55 percent of the state voted Republican at the time.

“A certain percentage of the population is African-American and Latino and a certain number of seats should be as well,” Veasey said.

Part of Veasey’s motivation in presenting his own map was to promote his approach to redistrict his home of southeast Fort Worth. The African-American community is still smarting from 2003 redistricting, when it was drawn into Denton County-based District 26, now held by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville. In Veasey’s map, the community would be part of District 35, an African-American district which would also include southeast Arlington and southwest Dallas.

“I wanted to do this for folks in my district who felt they had been wronged last time,” Veasey said.

Veasey emphasized that his map still provides plenty of political opportunities for “the next young stable of leaders in the Republican Party” citing Anglo state representatives Kelly Hancock of Fort Worth, Ken Paxton of McKinney and Van Taylor of Plano.

“It doesn’t take away any opportunities from the Van Taylors and Kelly Hancocks or anyone like that who are future leaders in the Republican Party…Their communities that they represent still have more opportunities than Black and Latino,” Veasey said.

Of course, the Republicans drew a map that was intended to give them far more than 55% of the seats, but that’s neither here nor there. Veasey’s plan is Plan C121, so let’s look at some pictures.

Dallas and Tarrant Counties

According to Veasey’s press release, which is beneath the fold, CD34 is a “new, effective Latino Opportunity District” and CD35 is a “new, effective African American Opportunity District”. I would have to check to see if CD35 includes Rep. Veasey’s home precinct, but I’d be shocked if it didn’t.

South Texas

CD33 is “a new, effective Latino Opportunity District in South Texas.” No room here for Aaron Pena, that’s for sure. The interesting thing is that CD33 continues up into Bexar County, where it takes over a lot of the turf currently in CD23. CD23 in turn gets shifted to the east, while CD28 takes over the western portion of what had been CD23. Here’s a look at the new CD23 and the districts around it:

Central Texas

CD23 would be the “new” Central Texas district in this plan; it would clearly lean Democratic, as would CD27 in South Texas. Veasey’s plan gets to 14 Democratic seats, which by the way is only 39% of 36 total seats and thus still quite reasonable for the Republicans even if you think 2010 was a normal year, by adding those two currently R-held seats to the three new Democratic ones. The district that really interests me in this map is CD31. There’s a piece of Bell County in that district that I can’t quantify, but here are the Sam Houston numbers for the other counties from 2008:

County Wainwright Houston ============================ Blanco 2,951 1,490 Burnet 10,764 4,903 Hays 26,845 26,389 Williamson 81,458 61,782 Total 122,018 94,564

That’s a 56% Republican district, with the population centers of Williamson and Hays trending blue. That would be a district to watch.

Finally, the new Republican district:

Harris County and Southeast Texas

No new Latino district for Harris County, which as Greg notes stands in contrast to MALDEF’s vision. Basically, CD02 takes up more turf and shifts west. CD36 is an amalgam of territory from CDs 02, 08, 14, and 22 and would certainly be Republican. A piece of it is in Harris as well. CD10 becomes solid red as it sheds Travis County and becomes the fourth CD with a piece of Fort Bend. For comparison’s sake, here’s the same area as it is today:

Harris and its environs today

While this is all mostly an academic exercise, as Veasey’s map is hardly likely to get debated, there is a reason for this beyond showing what could be, and that’s showing a court what could be.

Sen. Kel Seliger said his redistricting committee ran out of time, but did produce a map that a federal judge could consider. The committee has not made the map public, and Seliger would not characterize what his map would do in terms of ethnic representation.

“We will take our product … and ask our state officers to present this product to the court as our answer to the legal proceeding,” Seliger said. The court “will get dozens and dozens of them and ours will be a good deal more credible than almost all of them.”

Fort Worth Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat on the House redistricting committee, also produced a map that will go before the court. He says his would create two Hispanic-opportunity districts and one African-American district.

“The dramatic growth of the Latino and African American population is the only reason Texas is receiving additional congressional seats, and any plan that fails to add at least three additional effective minority opportunity districts would violate the Voting Rights Act,” Veasey said.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund also proposed an alternative map that produced two Hispanic opportunity districts, one along the border and the other in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Perhaps that mystery map is the one that he and Rep. Burt Solomons now claim to have agreed on. Why they couldn’t get it out in time remains a mystery, but whatever. As for MALDEF, they will argue for their map in court as well. We’ll just see how it plays out from here.

(more…)

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.

Redistricting committee votes out State House map

Texas Politics:

By a vote of 11 to 5, the House Redistricting Committee approved a plan redrawing the Texas House map that, according to its sponsor, committee chairman Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, creates a total of 30 minority opportunity districts.

The committee rejected several amendments offered by the four Democrats on the committee, who contended that the Solomons plan, House Bill 150, does not properly reflect the growth in the state’s Latino population during the past decade. Latino growth made up 65 percent of the 4.3 million overall population increase in Texas since 2000.

“The plan passed out of committee today splits communities of interest and denies proper representation to people of color – but particularly Hispanics – who drove the population growth in Texas for the past decade,” said state Rep. Robert Alonzo, a Democratic member of the committee from Dallas.

In addition to the four Democrats on the committee, state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, voted against the bill.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, one of the four, objected to the speed with which the Solomons plan was adopted. She said the fast track didn’t allow the committee time to consider the changes made to the bill during today’s committee meeting.

She also opposed reducing Harris County districts from 25 to 24, ostensibly because the county’s population growth was not enough to warrant a 25th seat. Alvarado argued that the county grew by 20.3 percent from 2000 to 2010, a rate that’s close to the 20.7 percent growth from 1990 to 2000 that justified a map with 25 districts.

The adopted plan is Plan H153. Here again is the Harris County view:

Harris County State Rep districts as currently proposed

As before, Harris County gets 24 districts, with Reps. Scott Hochberg and Hubert Vo being paired. I had to zoom way in to realize it, but this map puts me in HD147, Rep. Garnet Coleman’s district. As before, I have the same mixed feelings of delight and heartbreak. I’m also more than a bit peeved to see just how much my neck of the woods gets sliced and diced:

So much for keeping communities of interest together

For comparison, here’s what it looks like today:

This is more like it

The difference between the two is pretty jarring. The fact that the only opportunity to give feedback to the committee was last weekend makes it all the worse. Say what you want about the Houston City Council map, at least you had a chance to be heard.

You can see a PDF of the map here. On the plus side, the weirdly uterus-shaped district in and around Williamson County has been replaced by something that doesn’t appear to have been drawn by a prankster. Beyond that, I don’t have much good to say.

UPDATE: Just got this statement from Rep. Carol Alvarado:

State Representative Carol Alvarado’s Statement on the committee vote and passage on the committee substitute of HB 150 as amended, the redistricting map for the Texas House of Representatives.

“The map that was voted out of the Redistricting Committee is bad for Harris County. I stand by my “no” vote on this proposed plan as it would cause Harris County to lose representation by merging two predominately minority districts.

As a county boasting more than 4.1 million residents and a consistently strong growth rate, Harris County deserves to maintain their twenty-five House districts. Unlike other areas in Texas, the populations of our urban areas did not abandon our county, they simply shifted across our county while staying within our borders. Harris County did not lose population and there is no justification for the loss of a House district.”

Messing with Doggett

I’m sure the Republicans would love to draw Lloyd Doggett out of existence if they can. The question is whether they can do it without causing other problems elsewhere.

Republicans have tried to oust Doggett before by drawing a district with a large Hispanic constituency hundreds of miles from Doggett’s hometown. They failed, and key Republicans in the Legislature might not want to spend much of their time trying to beat him again.

Also complicating matters is the fact that any effort to defeat Doggett by putting more Republicans in his district could weaken the GOP vote in Travis County’s other congressional districts, which are represented by Republican Reps. Lamar Smith and Michael McCaul, whose seats are relatively safe.

“The ultimate decider is the numbers themselves,” said Steve Bickerstaff, a redistricting expert at the University of Texas School of Law who wrote a book about Texas’ last redistricting. “There’s only so much you can do.”

State Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo , said he has seen a congressional map that targets Doggett for defeat.

“I have heard from some people that that’s a goal,” Seliger said. “I have not personally drawn a map that does that.”

Asked whether the congressional map that the Senate will eventually work on will make it difficult for Doggett to win re-election, Seliger said, “That’s not clear yet.”

Doggett’s district is not VRA protected, so the Republicans have a fair amount of latitude, but not necessarily a lot of good options. Doggett has a ton of money and easily won a primary in 2004 against a South Texas Latina, so drawing him into a heavily Hispanic district is no guarantee of success. Making his district red enough to knock him off in November means shifting a lot of Republicans in and Democrats out, which may well have an effect on Lamar Smith or Mike McCaul, both of whom got less than 60% in 2008. Carving Travis County into smaller pieces, all of which are distributed to Republican districts (possibly including the new Central Texas one) could work, but that’s an awful lot of Democrats to spread around, and Travis’ neighbors Hays and Williamson have also been trending blue. With redistricting most things are possible, but some may not be worth the effort. According to Texas on the Potomac, the GOP Congressional delegation submitted its preferred map to the House on Thursday. We’ll know soon enough what they try to do. The Trib has more.

Solomons State House map 2.0

Go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/ and check out Plan H134 for a revised State House map from House Redistricting Chair Burt Solomons. Here’s the Harris County view:

Harris County, take two

Still 24 districts, with either Rep. Scott Hochberg or Rep. Hubert Vo on the outside looking in. In this variation, HD143 goes back to being an East End seat, and HD148 regains some of its old territory in the Heights, but my part of the Heights gets moved into HD145, which would make me a constituent of Rep. Carol Alvarado. As with Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, I would be delighted to be her constituent, but heartbroken not to be Rep. Jessica Farrar’s constituent. HD134 gains a little more outside the Loop territory, but most of the districts on the west side look not too different than they were before. Beyond Harris County, the only thing I looked for was the weird uterus-shaped HD149 that surrounds and passed through Williamson County. It’s still there. You’ve got to be a little desperate to maintain Republican hegemony if you’re drawing districts like that.

Also, State Rep. Garnet Coleman has submitted a plan, Plan H130. The Harris view:

Rep. Coleman's map for Harris County

That one has 25 seats in Harris County, so Reps. Hochberg and Vo can remain. It also puts me back into HD148, which just feels right. And as we turn our eyes to Williamson County, we see no uterine districts. All of which means that this map won’t be given a moment’s thought.

With regards to Rep. Hochberg, I note that someone has been whispering into Burka‘s ear.

I haven’t discussed Hochberg’s plans with him, but I did hear from sources close to Sarah Davis that she expects Hochberg to move into her district and run against her.

I don’t know who his sources are and I don’t know who his sources’ sources are, but I do know that I have not heard anything like this from Democrats as yet. In fact, the reaction many of us had was that it was Rep. Vo who’d gotten the short end of the stick, since the HD137 drawn (in the original map, anyway; I can’t vouch for the revised map just yet) has more of Hochberg’s precincts in it than Vo’s. I personally thought Vo might be better off running against Rep. Jim Murphy in HD133, since as noted before it might be viable for him. Burka’s sources may be right and they may be wrong, I’m just saying that I’m not hearing the same buzz that he is.

Finally, a couple of stories from the Monitor and the Guardian about redistricting in South Texas and the disposition of Hidalgo County. I figure they wind up getting shafted again, which is to say business as usual.

UPDATE: The following was sent out by email from Karen Loper, Rep. Vo’s campaign manager, last night:

Message from Hubert Vo for help with redistricting

The Texas House Committee on Redistricting  has re-drawn the district lines of the State Representatives and  filed the plan as HB150.   District 149 which is Hubert Vo’s district has been eliminated.  Many of the  precincts in his district have been moved to other districts which breaks up the voting strength of all  ethnicities including the Vietnamese.  The only 3 current Vo precincts left after they move the others are combined with District 137.

Letters should be sent as soon as possible to the redistricting committee.  We have attached two sample letters to email or fax – one is for you to use if you live in District 149 and the other should be sent if you live somewhere else.  These letters will be used  for  the committee and also will be sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) where the redistricting map must be approved .

All you have to do is date the letter and type in your name and address at the bottom.   You can make additions to the letter if you wish to do so. The letters should not argue the Democratic and Republican point because that is not part of the DOJ’s concerns.  You can email or fax the letter. The e-mail address and fax number are listed below.  PLEASE SEND A COPY TO HUBERT VO ALSO

SEND YOUR LETTER TO:

[email protected] or Fax (512) 463-1516

AND SEND A COPY TO:

[email protected] or Fax (512) 463-0548

Sample letters were included. You can see them here and here.

Chron story about the House redistricting map

Here’s what the Chron had to say about the initial redistricting map for the State House. I’m just going to focus on a couple of things:

The statewide map creates one new Latino district, maintains the current number of black opportunity districts and pairs 16 incumbents in districts where they would face one of their colleagues in the 2012 elections.

I can understand the assertion that it’s hard to accurately reflect Texas’ rapidly changing population demographics with something like the SBOE map and its paltry 15 districts. But there are ten times as many House districts as there are SBOE districts. Surely we can do better than that.

Karen Loper, Vo’s chief of staff, said her boss saw trouble ahead in the proposed pairing with his Houston colleague who represents a neighboring district.

“We certainly have a great concern about combining two districts that are Voting Rights districts,” she said. “On the face of it, it looks like it would be a violation.”

Loper noted that both districts are an amalgamation of minority populations, including Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans, but their combined strength would be dissipated. “The Asian population goes down because they’re scattered among several districts, and so do Hispanics,” she said.

I’m not a lawyer, but it’s not clear to me that Vo’s district is a VRA-protected district. As I understand it, the current HD149 is majority non-Anglo, but no single group has a majority share of the population, and as such it doesn’t qualify for VRA protection. But in case you missed the part where I said I’m not a lawyer, don’t take my word for this. I’m sure it would come up in any litigation related to the Solomons map, if it is the basis for the final product.

On the matter of my first point, one group with an interest in seeing more Latino opportunity district has put its money where its mouth is by presenting a map of its own.

There are 30 [Latino-majority districts] now. In the proposal from the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, that would increase to 35, with new seats that represent opportunities for Latinos in the Panhandle/South Plains, in West Texas, and in Hidalgo County. Two existing seats, in Tarrant and Harris counties, would be redrawn so that Latinos make up the voting-age majority.

The task force includes the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American GI Forum, the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the William C. Velasquez Institute, the La Fe Research and Education Center, and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

You can go here and select base plan H115, “MALDEF Statewide House Proposal 1”, to see their handiwork. Here’s a view of Harris County under their plan:

MALDEF map of Harris County State Rep districts

The unlabeled green district in the middle is HD148. Note that they put us back at 25 seats, and they maintain Rep. Jessica Farrar as my Representative. Their map has one more incumbent pairing than the Solomons map does, and all of theirs are R-on-R. You can see who drew the short straw for that here. I note that they keep the Scott/Torres pairing; Rep. Mike Villarreal had expressed concerns about that in the Solomons map. The Harris County seat that gets redrawn as Latino majority is HD138, but it’s only a majority at the population level; the district is 5.15% Latino by population but only 45.6% by voting age population, and likely much less than that at the CVAP level. Finally, you will be pleased to note that the infamous WilCo barbell is gone, replaced by an HD20 that still includes Burnet and Milam but is joined by a much larger (and presumably less populated) portion of northern WilCo. An open seat, HD71, is added to the existing HD52. I’m sure we’ll see plenty more maps before all is said and done. Texas Politics has more.

The Census and Central Texas

While much of the focus post-Census will be on redistricting, the data it contains is fascinating and illuminating in its own right, absent any political context. This story about explosive growth in former small towns around Austin that now serve as its suburbs is a good read. A couple of points:

The total population in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties grew to 1,716,289, an increase of 37 percent since 2000. But it was the suburbs that provided some of the more eye-popping gains.

While Austin grew by 20.4 percent during the past decade to 790,390, remaining the state’s fourth-largest city , the suburbs grew at even faster rates:

• Hutto grew by 1,076 percent. Only the city of Fate, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, grew faster in the past decade .

• South of Austin, Kyle added 22,702 residents, a 427 percent increase, as it became the retail hub of northern Hays County, and nearby Buda grew by more than 200 percent.

• Pflugerville shed its pastoral history to add 30,000 residents, a 187 percent increase, and Manor exploded by 318 percent.

• Even Uhland, a gem east of Kyle on the Hays-Caldwell county line, nearly tripled its 2000 population – from 386 to 1,014 – and was the state’s 36th fastest-growing city.

The population booms offer some measures of prosperity but present challenges as well. Cities like Buda, once known as much for its antique shops as the cafes on Main Street, already are dealing with the impact of both. During the past decade, Buda incorporated 1,790 acres and added nearly 5,000 residents. New subdivisions and retail developments abound.

I’ve made this point before, but the smaller your starting population, the easier it is to have a huge growth rate. Houston grew by only 7.5 percent since 2000, but that represents nearly 150,000 people, which is more than twice as much as the total increase for Hutto, Kyle, Pflugerville, Uhland, and Buda combined. Rate isn’t everything.

Metro area residents have long offered a wide range of theories for the growth of the suburbs, from the availability and attractiveness of bigger homes for the buck in cities like Pflugerville and Kyle to the forces of gentrification that are pricing some longtime Central Austin residents out of their homes.

Lloyd Potter, the state’s official demographer and the director of the Texas State Data Center, said dramatic growth in the Austin metro area was consistent with statewide patterns .

“If you look at the urban areas from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston and Harris County and all the way from Williamson to Bexar County, you see this little cluster of counties that are growing quite rapidly,” Potter said.

The state demographer attributed slightly more than half the growth to net births and the rest to newcomers.

“Certainly, it implies there’s growing economic opportunity, and with that you see this dispersion of the populace outward from these urban centers,” he said.

But the dramatic rise in suburban counties can also be traced to something more pragmatic – the availability of those wide open spaces on which to build, Potter said.

So while Travis County had healthy growth, “most of Travis is built out,” he said. “With Hays and Williamson, there’s land that is developable.”

That’s true, but here’s the thing: It’s also true about a number of Texas’ big cities, especially Houston. I spend 90% or more of my life inside the Loop, but I still see plenty of open spaces, and spaces with vacant buildings. There’s less than there used to be – twenty years ago, Midtown was a big nothing – but there’s still a lot, especially east of 288/59. And in the coming months, we’ll see the political consequences of seeing all this population shift to the suburbs. Without going off on a long rant about urbanism, it’s vital for cities like Houston to think long and hard about investing in their infrastructure to ensure that they can keep up with population growth and shifts. This also means ensuring that our development regulations make sense, including parking requirements, and that they allow and encourage dense development where they should. It’s not just about growing the tax base, it’s about maintaining our voice in the Legislature and in Congress. If we’re not keeping up, we’re falling behind. For more on this and other Census-related stories, go see Greg.

Who can get health care in Williamson County

This is a bad idea.

Williamson County commissioners have decided to stop paying health care costs for indigent adults and children who don’t have valid Social Security cards.

County Judge Dan A. Gattis said last week that he wanted to ensure that there was enough money for the residents of Williamson County who qualified for indigent care to remain covered. In the first five months of the current fiscal year, 265 people who didn’t have Social Security cards received county-paid health care out of a total of 1,153 indigent patients , said Bride Roberts , the coordinator for Williamson County’s indigent health care system.

[…]

Roberts said there were several reasons for the increased expense, including a large number of “very sick” people and new hospitals in the area identifying more people who may qualify for the program.

Williamson County residents without legal Social Security cards can still get care at four clinics in Georgetown, 10 clinics in Round Rock and one in Granger, all operated by Lone Star Circle of Care, a nonprofit community health organization, said Rebekah Haynes, the group’s communications director.

Roberts said patients without valid Social Security cards accounted for 12 percent of the $3.7 million spent under the program in the first five months of the fiscal year. During fiscal year 2009, 1,505 people were covered, and 331 of those didn’t have valid Social Security cards , she said.

The county estimated that it can save $1 million a year by denying coverage to people without legal Social Security cards, Roberts said.

Medicaid doesn’t cover health care costs for adults and children without legal Social Security cards. Texas law doesn’t address whether counties can exclude people without legal Social Security cards, said Anne Dunkelberg, the associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.

“Virtually all counties do include undocumented residents in their county indigent health care programs,” said Dunkelberg, who called the county’s decision “a bad idea.”

“Making sure you are providing good access to prenatal care is extremely important because all babies are U.S. citizens,” she said.

My first reaction when I read this was “Do they really make people produce their Social Security card when they show up needing a doctor?” I mean, I sure don’t carry my SocSec card around with me. Having it on my person makes me more vulnerable to identity theft, and while I’m occasionally asked for my SSN, outside of a periodic I9 check at work, I can’t remember anyone ever asking me to produce my card. Is this really the procedure, or was this another way of saying “people with valid SSNs”?

My second reaction, as is usually the case when some public official expresses in words or actions indifference to the health and well-being of some subset of the population for which he or she is responsible, is to wonder if they’ve ever read The Masque of the Red Death. At least there’s still someplace in Williamson County for the less equal than others to go, which makes WilCo a notch above Collin County, but it’s still the case that making it harder for people who need health care to get it ensures that more people will be needlessly sick, and some of them will die. Some of these people, as the story notes, will be children. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a County Commissioner, but I sure wouldn’t want that on my conscience.

I realize that WilCo is facing budget issues, and that they don’t have infinite resources. Rising health care costs is a big problem, one that the Affordable Care Act will eventually make some headway on, but which they need to cope with now. I just think they made a poor policy decision, one that offers a false savings in the same way that cutting back on CHIP did in 2003. I hope they figure it out before it hurts too many people. EoW has more.

Where the votes are going

Matt Stiles looks at Census data and notes a political point.

Seven Texas counties — Rockwall, Williamson, Collin, Hays, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Denton — are listed among the nation’s 30 fastest-growing areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released [Tuesday].

They are also Republican-voting counties, according to results in the 2008 general election. Sen. John McCain won these counties by a 20-point margin, well over 240,000 votes.

It’s actually a hair shy of 260,000 votes – Stiles had missed Rockwall County in his initial post, and though he added it in for an update, he did not re-do the math. There’s a bit more to this than that, however. Let’s have a look at how these counties voted in 2004:

County Name Party Votes Total Pct ==================================================== Collin Bush R 174,435 243,370 71.67 Collin Kerry D 68,935 243,370 28.33 Denton Bush R 140,891 200,237 70.36 Denton Kerry D 59,346 200,237 29.64 Fort Bend Bush R 93,625 162,347 57.67 Fort Bend Kerry D 68,722 162,347 42.33 Hays Bush R 27,021 47,131 57.33 Hays Kerry D 20,110 47,131 42.67 Montgomery Bush R 104,654 133,282 78.29 Montgomery Kerry D 28,628 133,282 21.71 Rockwall Bush R 20,120 25,440 79.09 Rockwall Kerry D 5,320 25,440 20.91 Williamson Bush R 83,284 126,401 65.89 Williamson Kerry D 43,117 126,401 34.11 Total Bush R 644,030 938,208 68.64 Total Kerry D 294,178 938,208 31.36 Total McCain R 699,183 1,139,175 61.38 Total Obama D 439,892 1,139,175 38.62

Putting it another way, those counties had about 200,000 more voters in 2008 than in 2004. 145,000 of those new voters – 72.5% – voted Democratic, 55,000 voted Republican. That’s change I can believe in, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Obama did do about five and a half points better overall in Texas than John Kerry did, going from 38.22% to 43.68% of the absolute vote (38.49% to 44.06% in the two-party matchup). It would be strange indeed if he didn’t markedly improve on 2004 in these counties. Notice, however, that he improved by a point and a half more than he did in the state as a whole. That’s a good trend, too.

To which you may say, “Oh sure, compare a historic election for which Democrats were super-excited to one where a highly popular Texas Republican President was on the ballot. That’s fair.” Well, how about we compare the election of 2002 to the election of 2006? Since there are no Presidential candidates, I’m going to look at a couple of Supreme Court races, because 1) they’re usually more about party identification than anything else, and 2) we have a couple of races with similar R/D performances: Margaret Mirabal versus Steven Smith in 2002, and Bill Moody versus Don Willett in 2006. Here are the numbers:

County Name Party Votes Total Pct ===================================================== Collin Smith R 88,762 122,655 72.37 Collin Mirabal D 33,893 122,655 27.63 Denton Smith R 69,899 100,260 69.72 Denton Mirabal D 30,361 100,260 30.28 Fort Bend Smith R 47,008 84,153 55.86 Fort Bend Mirabal D 37,145 84,153 44.14 Hays Smith R 14,238 26,129 54.49 Hays Mirabal D 11,891 26,129 45.51 Montgomery Smith R 53,977 71,428 75.57 Montgomery Mirabal D 17,451 71,428 24.43 Rockwall Smith R 10,148 13,304 76.28 Rockwall Mirabal D 3,156 13,304 23.72 Williamson Smith R 46,480 71,981 64.57 Williamson Mirabal D 25,501 71,981 35.43 County Name Party Votes Total Pct ===================================================== Collin Willet R 82,834 125,348 66.08 Collin Moody D 42,514 125,348 33.92 Denton Willet R 63,475 99,380 63.87 Denton Moody D 35,905 99,380 36.13 Fort Bend Willet R 49,953 92,843 53.80 Fort Bend Moody D 42,890 92,843 46.20 Hays Willet R 13,644 27,775 49.12 Hays Moody D 14,131 27,775 50.88 Montgomery Willet R 54,018 74,650 72.36 Montgomery Moody D 20,632 74,650 27.64 Rockwall Willet R 10,331 14,233 72.58 Rockwall Moody D 3,902 14,233 27.42 Williamson Willet R 43,193 75,659 57.09 Williamson Moody D 31,466 75,659 42.91 2002 Total R 330,512 489,910 67.46 2002 Total D 159,398 489,910 32.54 2006 Total R 317,448 508,888 62.38 2006 Total D 191,440 508,888 37.62

Once again, improvement by the Democrats across the board. Dems picked up 32,000 voters, while the Rs lost 13,000. It’s not an exact apples to apples comparison because there was a Libertarian candidate in 2006, but even if you assign all of his votes (23,730 in these seven counties) to Willett, the Dems still have a 32,000 to 10,000 advantage in voters gained. All without any of that hopey-changey stuff.

If you want to see the effect in pictures, I’ve got you covered there as well:

Democratic vote share - click to enlarge

Democratic vote share - click to enlarge

GOP vote share - click to enlarge

GOP vote share - click to enlarge

The GOP vote share ticked up a bit from 2006 to 2008 in Montgomery, and to a lesser extent in Hays, but overall the trends are pretty clear. It’s especially clear when you simply compare 2002 to 2006, and 2004 to 2008.

Does any of this mean anything for 2010? Well, elections are all about the candidates, and every election is different, and blah blah blah. What I’ll say is simply that these counties start out with a higher floor for Democrats than they had eight years ago – I’ll be surprised if Bill White doesn’t carry Fort Bend and Hays, and he has a decent shot at Williamson, too – and I expect that this year there will be a lot more organizing done in them as well; in some cases, that may be the first time there’s been a real, funded, organizing effort. All things being equal, that should certainly have a positive effect. The whole point of this exercise was to show that while these counties are still challenging territory for Democrats, they’re a lot friendlier overall than they once were, and the prospect of them being the fastest growing areas in the state is not a daunting one for the Ds.

Gattis to run for Ogden’s seat

As EoW says, this is a complete non-surprise.

State Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, has just informed supporters he is running for the Texas Senate District 5 seat being vacated by Bryan GOP powerhouse Steve Ogden.

Via a Twitter message, Gattis said: “dangattisI am a candidate for the Texas Senate! Please get involved. http://dangattis.org/ Thank You!”

His Web site and Facebook page also say he is running.

Yeah, even people who don’t follow politics knew that was coming. Gattis is sure to be the favorite, and he appears to have Ogden’s support, at least tacitly, but I feel confident that the Dems will mount a serious challenge. As noted before, the district is red but not hopeless, and as open Senate seats don’t come along that often, the opportunity cannot be missed. If the DNC really is serious about helping to turn Texas blue, here would be a fine place to pitch in.

Gattis’ now-open HD20 seat, like SD05 red but potentially competitive given the right candidate and the lack of an incumbent, should also be a hot target next year. Along with the battle to defend freshman Rep. Diana Maldonaco, who is one of our awesome TexBlog PAC candidates, Williamson County and its resurgent Democratic Party will see a lot of action next year.