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October 25th, 2011:

Early voting totals, Day One

Here’s the Day One early voting totals for Harris County, which you can compare to the 2009 totals here. My buddy Erik Vidor also put together a spreadsheet with 2005 and 2007 totals that you can see here. There’s a lot of numbers tro keep track of, so let’s go through them.

– The total number of votes tallied for a given day is the sum of “Total – In Person” and “Mail Ballots Returned”. This is how I do it in my 2009 spreadsheet, but for reasons unclear to me, it’s given as “Total – In Person” plus “Ballots Mailed” in the County Clerk file. So the proper comparison here is 4,636 votes for 2011 (2,557 In Person plus 2,079 Ballots Returned) to 6,162 for 2009, 2,638 for 2007, and 3,385 for 2005.

– Putting it another way, the Day One EV total for 2011 is 75.2% of the 2009 total. Project that out, and there would be 134,503 Houston votes cast in Harris County; compare to 178,777 in 2009. The actual totals are higher due to precincts in Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties. That’s considerably higher than my prediction, and even higher than Bob Stein’s prediction, which I thought was optimistic. It’s foolish to make projections based on one day, but based on this one day at least, there’s no clear evidence that this will be a historically low-turnout election. It will still be a low turnout affair at this pace, but it will be comparable to 2007, not a step down from it.

– One reason why it’s foolish to make projections based on one day is that the normal pattern for early voting is a slow first week and a very busy last couple of days. Things got a lot busier at the end in 2005 – the number of ballots cast on the last day of Early Voting exceeded the total of the first five days combined – but not nearly as busy in 2007 or 2009. That partly reflects the overall shift in voting behavior to early voting – in 2005, 26.4% of ballots cast in the city races were early, compared to 34.9% of ballots in 2009. The Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment ha a bif effect on turnout in 2005, but my point is simply that we should expect a greater percentage of the total vote to be cast early this year than it was then. My guess is the early vote will represent 35 to 40 percent of the final total.

– Another thing to keep in mind is that the vote totals you see in those documents are from all of Harris County, not just Houston. In 2009, 69.5% of the votes cast in Harris County were City of Houston votes. In 2007, 63.6% of the votes were in Houston, and in 2005 only 56.9% of the vote share was Houston. There are no high profile Constitutional amendments on the ballot, so the Houston vote share will certainly be higher than it was in 2005, but the question is whether it’s more like 2007 or 2009, as that will affect the total vote outcome.

– On a side note, the total number of absentee ballots that had been mailed out by Day One of early voting in 2009 was 17,413, while that same number for 2011 is 12,041. However, there were more mail ballots returned by yesterday (2,079) than there were at this time on 2009 (2,073). There were 9,148 mail ballots returned by the end of early voting in 2009 out of 20,987 total mailed, or 43.6%. This year’s return total may be a bit higher than that.

That’s all for today. I’ll be keeping track of this going forward. So who’s voted yet?

Third quarter Congressional fundraising

The Trib has the highlights from some of the contested Congressional primaries that are shaping up.

Texas congressional incumbents raised more than $4.7 million during the third quarter of the year, but some of them face challengers who also displayed a knack for raising political cash. New fundraising reports show what’s in the war chests of Texans vying for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, giving definition to some of the state’s most closely watched races.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, wowed by bringing in more than $500,000 for his challenge to U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. Doggett raised $377,000 by comparison – but he reported millions more in cash on hand, $3.3 million to Castro’s $389,000.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, raised almost $290,000 in the third quarter, far outpacing his first serious challenger, Beto O’Rourke. The former El Paso City Council member raised almost $26,000 and ended the quarter with about $12,000 on hand to Reyes’s $276,000.

State Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, reported another of the top challenger fundraising numbers – about $137,500 – in his contest with U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio, who raised slightly less. The incumbent reported about $460,000 in cash on hand to Gallego’s nearly $136,000.

You should read that linked story about Beto O’Rourke, which I saw at the time but didn’t get a chance to write about. I don’t have anything in particular against Rep. Silvestre Reyes, but a young, aggressive progressive like O’Rourke is exactly the kind of person I want to see succeed in politics. O’Rourke has no money to speak of yet, but if you look at his campaign finance report, you see that he only filed his initial paperwork on August 26, so there wasn’t much time to raise money for this period. We’ll see how he does in the next quarter.

I should note that State Rep. Pete Gallego, whose report is here, also didn’t file paperwork until late in the quarter. He did pretty well for himself, which is very encouraging, as Rep. Gallego is another person I’d like to see succeed.

That covers three of the four contested Dem primaries that I know of for this cycle. The fourth is in CD30, where Rep. Eddie Berniece Johnson already has one opponent in State Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway and may soon have another in businessman Taj Clayton. Rep. Johnson raised $82K for the period and has $223K on hand, not great but probably okay for a longtime incumbent who is well known. Rep. Caraway does not have a report visible through the search facility, but she does have a report. It’s here, and it was done by hand. No, I don’t understand why anyone would do it that way if they didn’t have to, either. In any event, she raised $13K and has $7K on hand, all from the month of September; note that in addition to the old-school handwriting, the form was filed for 2010 and not 2011. Hopefully, she’ll get her act together for the next quarterly filing. Thanks to DavidNYC for pointing this out to me.

I should note that the Trib provides a handy app that summarizes all candidates’ totals. I was a bit confused at first by the differences between their numbers and what you see in the FEC reports, but eventually it dawned on me that the totals the FEC gives for receipts are cumulative for the cycle, and not just the amouint raised in the given period. This is not how the state and city reports are done, which is why I was thrown off. In any event, the Trib’s app lets you know how much was raised over the past three months, which would be hard to do otherwide unless you had saved a query result from July.

Two other numbers of interest to note. Freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold was cited by Politico as an underperformer for this period, having raised a mere $102K. He does have $277K on hand, which isn’t nothing but also isn’t exactly insurmountable. You can see his FEC report here. Farenthold was by no means the low scorer – by my count, ten incumbents raised less, and eleven others have less cash. Fellow freshman Quico Canseco, in what is now a swingier district, raised $112K, but has $460K on hand.

And finally, a number to make you shake your head.

Seeking to gin up enthusiasm about an expanding the 2012 Senate map, national Democrats touted the candidacy of retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez when he entered the Texas Senate race in the spring. But Sanchez has maintained a low profile so far and his latest fundraising numbers aren’t impressive.

In the third quarter, Sanchez brought in just $83,000, spending over $112,000 and finishing the quarter with about $119,000 in the bank.

Yeah, that’s what I call a truly crappy report. I hope it’s because he has not been fully engaged in fundraising yet and not because no one is giving anything. At least there’s no place to go from here but up.

Margins tax lawsuit goes to Supreme Court

Oral arguments for the lawsuit that claims the business margins tax is an unconstitutional income tax are being heard by the State Supreme Court this week.

In a lawsuit filed in July, Allcat Claims Service LP , a Boerne insurance adjustment firm, said the margins tax runs afoul of a constitutional provision that requires the Legislature to get voter approval before imposing an income tax.

The case will turn on whether the margins tax — implemented in 2006 as part of the court-ordered school finance fix — is effectively an income tax when applied to certain business partnerships.

Late last week, another challenge to the margins tax was filed by food behemoth Nestle USA, Inc. and two other companies. Their arguments, which are different from Allcat’s claims, [were not] heard by the court [Monday].

If any of the challenges are successful, the implications could be significant for the state because the margins tax is a major source of funding for public education.

That’s why legislators wrote into the 2006 law that any legal challenge to the margins tax would go straight to the Supreme Court.


The total tax paid by partnerships such as Allcat is estimated to be pretty small, though exact figures weren’t immediately available from the Texas comptroller.

But the implications could be huge if the court sides with Allcat, the state says.

“If Plaintiffs are right and any tax imposed on a partnership is an indirect tax on the net income of the partners, the State of Texas cannot lawfully impose any tax on any business entity, including a corporation,” [Attorney General Greg] Abbott argues in court documents.

If the court finds the tax unconstitutional, the remedy could range from a targeted exemption for the partnerships, which is what Allcat is requesting, to tossing out the tax for all businesses.

“It’s sort of wide open what the court might do,” said John Kennedy of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which supports the state’s position that the tax is constitutional.

See here and here for some background. The argument before the Court now is whether or not it has jurisdiction in the case, since it has not been heard by any lower court as yet. It’s entirely possible they could rule that despite the Lege’s intent that the case go straight to them, it needs to go through the system like any other lawsuit would. Add this to the school finance lawsuits, and you’ve got some litigation out there that could profoundly affect Texas’ budget and tax system. Isn’t that a happy thought?

One more thing:

The state estimated the margins tax would raise almost $12 billion in the 2008-09 budget. It actually brought in $8.7 billion in its first two years.

Earlier this year, legislative leaders highlighted the need to reform the tax, but there was little appetite for tackling another complicated issue while grappling with a massive budget shortfall.

Lawmakers have promised to discuss how to fix the margins tax leading up the 2013 legislative session.

No, there was little appetite for doing anything that might raise revenues and thus mitigate the worst of the cuts. The fact that the underperformance of the margins tax was a huge driver of that massive shortfall was blithely ignored by nearly every Republican in Austin. I guarantee you, the more Republicans that are in the Lege in 2013, the more they will continue to pretend that Texas doesn’t really have a revenue problem at all. The Trib has more.

Time to evaluate Grier

It’s performance review time for HISD Superintendent Terry Grier.

The elected nine-member school board uses an evaluation form that consists of data measurements in categories such as the increase in student college readiness; recruiting and retaining the best teachers and principals; and improving the public support and confidence in HISD schools.

Trustees have moved toward an “objective evaluation instrument, instead of a subjective instrument,” said trustee Greg Meyers, who represents HISD District VI. “As data-driven as we are, we wanted an instrument that would aligned with our philosophy.”

The current evaluation allows board members to hold the superintendent accountable for the data results of the district, Meyers said.

But Grier’s performance review is just beginning, said Trustee Juliet Stipeche, who represents HISD District VIII.

“[Friday] was the first day we, as a board, had the opportunity to review the data the administration provided us,” Stipeche said. “Everybody fills out an evaluation form and those are ultimately aggregated.”

Board members will complete the evaluation by Nov. 3, Stipeche said.

I can’t wait to see what they have to say. I’m sure it will have as much bearing on whether or not his contract gets renewed as the election

Big XII targeting Big East schools

There are still more dominoes to fall.

Two high-level Big 12 school administrators said on Sunday the conference expects Missouri to leave and will act quickly to replace the Tigers, focusing primarily on West Virginia with Louisville as a strong second candidate.

“I think that’s accurate,” one school official told the American-Statesman. “I’d say West Virginia is the leader in the clubhouse. I think we’ll come out better than before. I’d rather be with someone who wants to be with our conference than anybody who doesn’t.”

Asked why the Big 12 would be upgraded, the official said, “West Virginia has better football than Missouri, better basketball than Missouri, a better budget than Missouri and more passion among its fans than Missouri. They’re better, anyway you turn ‘em. The travel’s not good (to Morgantown, W. Va) but that’s it.”

He added there is support for Louisville, but said a lagging football program hurts its appeal.


A second Big 12 school official told the Statesman he prefers Louisville because of its closer proximity and said travel to West Virginia would make for too big a burden on the athletes.

“The only place where there’s an advantage for West Virginia is better football,” the second official said. “Their academics is not as strong. If there’s any thought about what’s best for the student-athlete, we’ll go with Louisville.”

So don’t start printing those “We’re Moving!” cards just yet, UH. It’s still not certain that there will be a Big East for you to move to.