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December 4th, 2009:

Runoff EV report, Day 5

Today’s inclement weather may not have closed the polls down, but they did reduce the number of voters by a considerable amount. Only 3287 hardy souls made it out to an EV location, some of which saw fewer than 20 people all day. After five days of early voting, a total of 35,317 in-person and mail ballots have been cast. The 8,911 mail ballots are almost as many as there were in the first round all together, which suggests to me that one or both campaigns ramped up their efforts in that regard. We’ll see what happens with turnout tomorrow, given that weather conditions will be similar to today’s. Too much more like this and it could have a dampening effect on the final total.

UPDATE: Prof. Murray reiterates his belief that the runoff may have higher turnout than Round One did. I believe that what we are seeing is mostly more voters voting early, not necessarily an indicator of higher turnout. In Round One, 35% of all ballots were cast before Election Day. I believe that total will be more like 50% in the runoff. If I’m right, then Murray is wrong, and vice versa. We shall see.

Friday random ten: Tell me what that white stuff falling from the sky is called again?

Yes, this is happening right now in Houston.

Yes, this is happening right now in Houston.

That would be “snow”. Which we don’t get much of here in Houston. But we’re getting it today, and it’s even starting to accumulate. So here are ten songs about snow and/or winter.

1. Snow Day – Trout Fishing in America
2. Snowflake Reel – Hot Club of Cowtown
3. Rain and Snow – Solas
4. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Ella Fitzgerald
5. Snow in Austin – Ellis Paul
6. Frosty the Snowman – Bing Crosby
7. Sometimes It Snows In April – Michele Solberg
8. Sleigh Ride – Squirrel Nut Zippers
9. Winter On Pecan Street – Trish & Darin
10. Sometimes In Winter – Blood, Sweat & Tears

I can also report that I have no fewer than six versions of “Winter Wonderland” in my iTunes. I think there’s a federal law that requires its inclusion on all Christmas albums. What’s the weather like on your iPod today?

You can still vote today

From the County Clerk’s office:

Early voting locations for the Joint Runoff Election will remain open as scheduled

Houston, TX- Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, the chief elections officer of the County, announced this afternoon that all early voting locations for the on-going Joint Runoff Election will remain open today until 5:00 p.m.; and, all early voting locations will remain open as scheduled until the end of the Early Voting Period for this election cycle.

“Voters may vote early today as scheduled. And voters who may not be able to go to a polling location today because of the inclement weather should be aware that they still have this weekend and Monday and Tuesday of next week to get their votes in early”, asserted Clerk Kaufman.

Early Voting Hours of Operation

November 30th – December 4th, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
December 5th, 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
December 6th, 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
December 7th – December 8th, 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

For more election information voters may visit www.harrisvotes.com. Voters may also call 713.755.6965, Harris County’s automated election information line.

So if you’re still out and about, and want to vote, you can do so. Just please, drive safely.

White makes it official

Well, between a dead car battery, a preschool that closed early, and a wife that had an unbreakable noon appointment, I am at home instead of at the Bill White for Governor launch. At least I have Elise Hu’s liveblog to keep me informed. Here’s the release that Team White sent out at noon on the dot:

Today, after listening to thousands of Texans from all backgrounds, Bill White filed to run for Governor, pledging to fight for Texas’ future.

“I am proud of the people of Texas, and as Governor I will move us forward as America’s great state of opportunity,” White said. “I’ll be a Governor who challenges Texans to lead, not leave, the United States.”

White highlighted ways of creating new jobs with businesses small and large across the state. He emphasized that Texas could not be its best with skyrocketing insurance and electric rates and college tuition that increases faster than the incomes of Texans.

The son of San Antonio school teachers, White vowed to focus on improving educational achievement in K-12 grade levels, improving high school graduation rates, and reducing the costs of college.

White, a successful businessman, was first elected as Houston Mayor in 2003 and was twice re-elected with margins averaging 88%. He has been hailed as a strong leader and a problem-solver, with the Houston Chronicle noting that he has “deftly steered Houston through fiscal and tropical storms.”

During White’s administration, Houston led the nation’s cities in job growth, adding more jobs than 16 states combined. At the same time, he cut property tax rates five years in a row. After Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike, Bill White mobilized an effective disaster response including first responders, businesses and churches.

“I don’t have the polish of career politicians. But as a businessman and Mayor I know how to be accountable for results, not just rhetoric. I have a track record of bringing people together to get things done,” White said. “That’s what Texas needs now.”

Last December, White launched a U.S. Senate campaign that in 11 months attracted more than 1500 volunteers, more than 5500 contributors, and more than $6.5 million. He has visited 70 Texas counties to date.

This is the race I wanted him in from the beginning, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that it has happened. It was a long, strange trip to get here, to say the least, but getting there is what matters. It will be a tough campaign, but I’m as confident as I can be about it.

In related news, Hank Gilbert announced that he was dropping out of the Governor’s race, and will run instead for Ag Commish, which is where he started out. He also endorsed Farouk Shami for Governor. Whatever – next summer at the convention, when White is the nominee, no one will remember that. Time to move forward, we’re eleven months out.

Today’s the day for Bill White

If you’re anything like me, you have probably received multiple communications from the Bill White campaign inviting you to come down to the Hilton Americas at noon and hear White say officially what office he’ll be pursuing. The Chron attempts to preempt him.

Mayor Bill White will formally enter the race for governor today, instantly becoming the Democrats’ best hope of winning a statewide office in seven years.

White, a three-term mayor who is balding and known for something of a bland personality, is expected use self-deprecating humor to tell a Hilton Americas crowd of supporters that he knows he is not a “perfect candidate” but is someone who can get things done.

White has said he wants to end “strident partisanship” in Austin. He will tell supporters he wants to improve high school graduation rates and slow the rising costs of insurance and college tuition.

He will build his campaign on a record as Houston mayor, claiming lower crime rates and successful battles with polluters to clean the city’s air even while being opposed by the state’s environmental protection agency.

Boy, where have I heard those themes before? As I am fortunate enough to be off work today, I will be at the Hilton, assuming we don’t all get snowed in, to witness the announcement. I’ll write about it later today. In the meantime, as the Trib notes, Hank Gilbert will be holding “a virtual press conference with Texas media to address his status in the race for Governor of Texas.” That will be going on at noon as well. Like the Trib, I have no idea what he will say, but we’ll know soon enough.

University Line takes a step forward on funding

Finally!

The light rail route known as the “University Line” is close to clearing the first major hurdle for obtaining federal funding.

The Federal Transit Authority notified Metro this week that the project has entered a 10-day congressional notification period. If no member of Congress objects by Dec. 10, then the FTA will give Metro the green light to begin preliminary engineering of the route.

There’s only one member I’d be worried about, but the story didn’t ask for a reaction from Rep. Culberson’s office, so I don’t know what he might be thinking. I don’t know if that’s a cause for optimism or an oversight.

The next step for the University Line will be the Federal Transit Authority’s approval of the route’s environmental impact—a document called the “record of decision.” The North and Southeast lines received that approval in July 2008. Getting a record of decision allows METRO to begin acquiring right-of-way.

The final step is the federal government’s agreement to pay 50 percent in matching funds. Wilson said the North and Southeast lines could clear that hurdle in late January or early February, providing Metro with a $900 million match.

“We are in the wishing and hoping and praying and lighting candles stage,” Wilson said.

If only it were as easy to get funds to build a rail line as it is to get funds to build a highway. Based on the timetable for the North and Southeast lines, I’d guess it’ll be late 2011 at the earliest before work starts on the University line. A press release from Metro about this is beneath the fold.

(more…)

HISD Trustee runoff overview

Here’s the Chron story on the two runoffs for HISD Trustee. It echoes a theme from that Examiner story we saw yesterday.

The outcome of the races could reshape several board debates — particularly over wages for construction workers, efforts to hold weak teachers more accountable and the role of magnet schools. Early voting runs through Tuesday, and Election Day is Dec. 12.

Both Lara and Collins support paying contractors higher wages based on standard federal rates. They argue that bigger paychecks will draw more-qualified workers and prevent shoddy construction.

The Harris County AFL-CIO, which endorsed Lara and Collins, pushed the board to adopt the wages this year. Marshall, who has had crucial support from unions in past campaigns, agreed with the majority of the board in rejecting the idea as too costly.

“This is insulting in a way, that as hard as times are that any organization could even make this an issue,” said Marshall, who estimated that paying the federal rates for the 2007 bond projects would cost an extra $75 million.

Lots riding on the line for several organizations in these races. I noticed that of the four runoff candidates, the Chron did not say where Anna Eastman stood on the issue of prevailing wages. So I sent her a Facebook message to ask, and this is the answer she sent me:

Thanks for asking me about this issue. It never came up in my interview with [Chron reporter Ericka Mellon]. My understanding of the recent argument between the AFL-CIO and the Board of Trustees is tied to some promises that were made by the former superintendent and HISD school bond program administrator Dick Lindsey during the 2007 bond campaign, but not agreed upon by the board.

As a board member I would hope that any negotiations of this sort would involve all parties. I believe when we are spending public dollars there should be accountability on both sides and we should be hiring licensed workers at a fair wage and insure that we are following policy guidelines for inclusion of minority contractors.

Our dollars should be spent to effectively serve and benefit the most children possible, not to fund adult interests. As a board member of a public institution charged with educating children, my decisions will be guided first and foremost by what benefits children and their education.

So there you have it.

One Voice for Choice

I don’t usually get involved in the national stuff, but I’m totally on board with this idea and hope you will take action as you can.

Ever since Stupak hijacked the health care bill, we’ve been watching.  So far, nothing looks like it has any chance of success of beating the Stupak amendment back.  And Nancy Pelosi is quietly telling people she can’t pass the health care bill without it.

We can’t just sit back and let that happen without a fight.

Today we’re announcing “One Voice for Choice,” a national phone bank that will launch calls into the districts of the Representatives who voted for Stupak. We’ll be targeting likely Democratic voters who are pro-choice. We’ll be letting them know that Stupak goes WAY past Hyde. And we’ll be asking them to sign their names to a letter to their member of Congress, demanding that they not make Stupak the litmus test for their vote.

We hope that by reaching out to educate likely voters in their districts to the far-reaching implications of the Stupak language, we can help these wayward Democrats understand that having the Hyde language in the bill is sufficient to their needs.

One Voice for Choice is a targeted effort that doesn’t need big numbers to be successful. In 2008 for instance, Tom Perriello won his district by less than a thousand votes. Bobby Bright won by a margin of 1700 votes.

Making a few, carefully targeted people aware of what’s happening can have a big impact.

We actually think we’re doing these members a big favor in the process.   Democratic turnout in Virginia was terribly depressed when Creigh Deeds started running from the right, and a Daily Kos poll indicates that there is a 3:1 “enthusiasm gap” in favor of Republicans for 2010.  These members need reliable Democratic voters to turn out for them next fall.  They need to start paying attention to them now.

We are asking people to host phone banks, or volunteer to take part in one, at One Voice For Choice.  The program is being run by Marta Evry of Venice for Change, who ran phone banks in California for the Obama campaign in 2008.  You can sign up here and Marta will get you everything you need.

This is an important step forward for FDL Action PAC and for our online activism.  Just as we did during the public option whip count effort, we looked at the landscape, we analyzed what needed to be done, and isolated the way we could use the resources we were capable of leveraging in the most closely targeted and specific way to have the biggest impact.  Mike Allen was on Morning Joe this morning talking about it, and I think you can tell from his response — it’s a big move.  A real game changer.

But we can’t do it without your help.  It will be pro-choice supporters working together who will make it happen.    We’re simply giving women — and those who care about the rights of women — efficient tools to use to raise their voices and defend themselves from the Stupak pack who would hold health care hostage and take women’s rights away.

Sign up to volunteer here.  And you can donate to help us keep this program going here.

Working together, we can raise our voices — in One Voice For Choice.

Anything you can do to help is appreciated. The idea of choice taking a step backward when Democrats are in charge is too repulsive to contemplate.

Taking on Tarrant

Democrats have made huge strides in Texas’ large urban counties in recent years. The main holdout has been Tarrant County, which has remained solidly blue. Is 2010 the year things change? Maybe not, but it ought to be an interesting electoral season anyway.

The death of longtime Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry and the retirement of County Clerk Suzanne Henderson are expected to create plenty of down-ballot interest in countywide political races next year, already drawing several potential candidates.

And a Republican challenger to first-term Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley may add to a competitive primary season that kicks off in the coming weeks when filing for office begins.

Political experts speculate that some countywide races could draw a large field of candidates, including some on the Democratic side. Republicans have held a majority in countywide votes since the mid-1980s.

“There is a pent-up demand from people who’ve had the ambition to move into those positions for a long time,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University.

“But as long as someone like a Tim Curry was there, no one was going to run against him on the Republican side because it was just suicidal.”

He said open seats held by Republicans for so many years may also embolden Democratic candidates to run.

“Democrats might see Tarrant County as more competitive this year than in previous years,” Riddlesperger said.

But he said it will be difficult for Democrats in Tarrant County to fill the ballot with challengers because “they’ve been out of power for some time.”

Well, there’s also the fact that Tarrant has been pretty hostile towards Democratic candidates, which tends to discourage stronger potential challengers from taking the plunge. Here’s how statewide Democrats have fared on average in Tarrant County over the past six elections, compared to the state as a whole.

Year Tarrant State Ratio ============================= 1998 61.15% 56.94% 1.07 2000 62.60% 60.26% 1.04 2002 61.08% 57.94% 1.05 2004 61.75% 59.08% 1.05 2006 59.45% 58.51% 1.02 2008 55.49% 54.46% 1.02

To put that into some perspective, the statewide GOP average in Harris County in 2004 was 54.34%. Tarrant has been two to seven percent more Republican than the state as a whole, and that’s a tough hill to climb. Having said that, countywide candidates can and often do do better than statewides, at least in recent years, and that’s been true in Tarrant as well – Terry Moore got 46.84% against DA Curry in 2006, for the best showing by a Democrat in a long time. And open seats are always more competitive. If the Dems there can get a good slate and raise some money, anything is possible.