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March 28th, 2011:

What the vote suppressers are up to

I just saw a link on the chron.com homepage about a group of folks who are convinced that there’s heaps! reams! scads! piles! of examples of vote fraud going on out there and how they’re here in our fair city to Do Something about it. If you want to know what they’re up to but fear getting cooties, I recommend this TPM report, from a reporter who wasn’t allowed in the door, apparently because the vote fraudsters thought they might get cooties. Got all that? Good. Go check it out.

Interview with Steve Murdock

Dr. Steve Murdock is a former State Demographer of Texas and director of the US Census, now the founding Director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University. He’s the man to go to if you want to know about demography in Texas, and since that’s both something that interests me and is also very much in the news between the Census and the legislative session, I figured now was an excellent time to have a conversation with him about these things. Here’s what we discussed:

Download the MP3 file

It’s a long conversation, but I hope you’ll find it as interesting and informative as I did. Whatever the Lege chooses to do this session, they and we can’t say we didn’t know any better.

SBOE redistricting

The House Redistricting Committee gets to work.

It would be easier to draw new State Board of Education districts to reflect the state’s booming Hispanic population growth if there were more than 15 seats, a state lawmaker said Friday while calling for a study to expand the board.

House Redistricting Chairman Burt Solomons said Friday the current 15 districts are too large and unwieldy. He said he will ask House Speaker Joe Straus for an interim study to determine a better way to configure the State Board of Education.

Meanwhile, the new map that Solomons, R-Carrollton, has drawn for those 15 seats needs additional work, some said, because it does not accommodate Hispanic growth. Although Hispanics represent about two-thirds of the state’s population growth, critics note the proposed map would dilute one of the three existing Hispanic districts.

“With the current 15 members and the districts being so large, there’s only so much you can do,” Solomons said.

The current districts each will have about 1.7 million people. Some of the districts anchored in west Texas take 12 hours to drive from one end to the other.

“That’s not exactly what I would call reasonable,” Solomons said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but at the end of the day, you can’t have districts that are going to have 2.5 million people (after the 2020 Census). You will have to do something.”

Couple points to make. First, I completely agree that 1.7 million people per district, with some of these districts being larger than most states, is ridiculous. I seem to recall that there was briefly an amendment in some large bill from the last legislative session that would have significantly changed the nature of the SBOE, but it didn’t make it into any final bill; I can’t find a citation for this, but I know it happened. In any event, I’m of the opinion that State Senate districts are starting to get too big, and that we ought to consider expanding that body to reduce the size of each individual district, so bringing the SBOE a little closer to the people appeals to me, if we’re going to have it around at all. And get used to hearing phrases like “reflect the state’s booming Hispanic population growth”, because some variation of it is going to come up at pretty much every single redistricting-related hearing. As well they should. If you want more, Greg has number-crunching, map commentary, and a liveblog of the House hearing on SBOE redistricting, which was short and sweet. Check ’em out.

Constable Bailey to step down

This from last week was a surprise.

Harris County’s longest-serving current constable resigned today at commissioners court, upset by the layoffs he said he was forced to make after the county passed its leanest budget in years earlier this month.

Precinct 8 Constable Bill Bailey, 72, who also is an announcer, board member and lifetime vice president for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, surprised much of the room by announcing he would step down from his post effective May 31.

He explained the painful process of laying off 10 employees, then 11, then being told even those cuts didn’t reach his required budget number. So, he said, he had decided to cut a 12th worker.

“I’ve reached the difficult decision that that employee’s going to be me,” Bailey said, his voice faltering at times. “I will cut my position… I will retire from a job that I dearly loved, for 28 and a half years.”

I don’t know anything about Constable Bailey, but it’s clear from the story that he was well-liked. I wish him well in his retirement.

As the Chron story notes, Bailey was not going to run for re-election in 2012 anyway. Commissioners Court will choose a replacement for him – Bailey will recommend that his chief deputy Phil Sandlin be appointed to fill his unexpired term – and that person will then have the advantage of having been in the office for a few months before being on a ballot. Normally at this time I’d tell you what the partisan numbers for 2008 were in Bailey’s precinct, but I seem to have managed to misplace the original Harris County canvass file that I had, so I can’t. Given that County Commissioner precincts, which include the Constable and JP precincts within them, are due to be redrawn, those numbers wouldn’t have served as more than curiosities anyway. But I knew you’d wonder about that, so there you have it.

“Don’t call me, I won’t call you”

Does anybody use the phone any more?

In the last five years, full-fledged adults have seemingly given up the telephone — land line, mobile, voice mail and all. According to Nielsen Media, even on cellphones, voice spending has been trending downward, with text spending expected to surpass it within three years.

“I literally never use the phone,” Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) “Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she’ll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can’t think of anyone else who’d want to talk to me.” Then again, he doesn’t want to be called, either. “I’ve learned not to press ‘ignore’ on my cellphone because then people know that you’re there.”

“I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, ‘Don’t call anyone after 10 p.m.,’ ” Mr. Adler said. “Now the rule is, ‘Don’t call anyone. Ever.’ ”

Phone calls are rude. Intrusive. Awkward. “Thank you for noticing something that millions of people have failed to notice since the invention of the telephone until just now,” Judith Martin, a k a Miss Manners, said by way of opening our phone conversation. “I’ve been hammering away at this for decades. The telephone has a very rude propensity to interrupt people.”

Though the beast has been somewhat tamed by voice mail and caller ID, the phone caller still insists, Ms. Martin explained, “that we should drop whatever we’re doing and listen to me.”

Even at work, where people once managed to look busy by wearing a headset or constantly parrying calls back and forth via a harried assistant, the offices are silent. The reasons are multifold. Nobody has assistants anymore to handle telecommunications. And in today’s nearly door-free workplaces, unless everyone is on the phone, calls are disruptive and, in a tight warren of cubicles, distressingly public. Does anyone want to hear me detail to the dentist the havoc six-year molars have wreaked on my daughter?

“When I walk around the office, nobody is on the phone,” said Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher at HarperCollins. The nature of the rare business call has also changed. “Phone calls used to be everything: serious, light, heavy, funny,” Mr. Burnham said. “But now they tend to be things that are very focused. And almost everyone e-mails first and asks, ‘Is it O.K. if I call?’ ”

I do about 90% of my business via email at work. I will admit that I encourage people to email me – I tell them I always have my BlackBerry on me, so they’ll reach me when I’m not at my desk – and generally try to get off the phone when possible. That said, for some things I prefer it. I do a lot of customer troubleshooting, and you just can’t diagnose a problem many times without being able to ask a lot of questions and make clarifications. That’s a lot easier and faster to do on the phone. At home, forget it. The phone is almost never for me, which is fine by me. People who call for me usually call me on my cell nowadays. If you’d asked me five years ago if this is how it would turn out, I wouldn’t have expected it. But there you have it. How much do you use your phone for actual talking these days?