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April 2nd, 2013:

From the “Turning out more Democratic voters will mean more Democratic votes” department

I think that’s a fair way of characterizing this Texas on the Potomac post.

Last November, the Houston Chronicle completed a database analysis of the changing population patterns of the state and the changing voting proclivities of key demographic blocs. Our conclusion: Texas would become competitive by 2020 and a true toss-up state by 2024 if current turnout and partisan voting patterns continued.

But what if Latinos — historically a group that votes with far less frequency than the rest of the population — started voting at the same rate as everyone else, as Battleground Texas is seeking to accomplish? How much would that narrow the Republicans’ advantage in Texas?

To find answers, Texas on the Potomac analyzed 2012’s election results and it found that if Democrats could raise Latino turnout to the same level as non-Hispanic whites, Texas would instantly become a battleground state.

Well, yes. I mean, this is one of the stated goals of Battleground Texas, to increase the participation of Democratic-leaning citizens. Latinos vote predominantly Democratic – we can argue over how predominantly, but no one disputes that they do – so more Latinos voting means more net Democratic votes overall.

Obviously, a lot of assumptions go into an analysis like this. At the end, the article says “unfortunately, no exit polling occurred in Texas in 2012”, so they used national exit poll data as their baseline. As it happens, there was one exit poll done in Texas, specifically for the purpose of divining how Latinos voted. Those numbers are pretty close to the national exit poll numbers, suggesting that Texas Latinos are similar in voting behavior to Latinos elsewhere, so it’s a reasonably good estimate. A better question is whether Latinos in one part of the state – say, the Valley or El Paso – vote the same as Latinos in other parts of the state – say, Houston or Dallas. We can take guesses based on election returns from different legislative districts, but that’s about the best we can do.

The much bigger question is how true any of these results might be going forward. The post flatly states that it “does not intend to predict the future”, for the obvious reason that electorates change over time. It may well be that as immigration reform gets done and divisive social issues like marriage equality fade to the background, Latinos will be more open to hearing from Republican candidates. It may also be that Texas Republicans will fiercely resist the pull of social change despite the changing attitudes of the Texas people and thus become even less attractive to a dynamic and youthful pool of new voters. (Have I mentioned lately that Latinos increasingly support marriage equality? Maybe someone should bring that up the next time there’s a chin-stroking story about GOP Latino outreach efforts.) It shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the last obstacles in the Senate to getting meaningful immigration reform done is our own Ted Cruz. (Do you even need to ask how he feels about marriage equality?) All that is even before you take into account the fact that Latinos are among the biggest supporters of the Affordable Care Act and public education, and tend to believe more strongly than other demographic subgroups in the power of government intervention for doing good. Latinos make up a significant portion of Texas’ vast uninsured population; Rick Perry et al don’t want to expand Medicaid. You do the math.

Anyway. The future, or at least the short-term future, is what really interests me. What level of turnout is likely to be needed in 2014 to have an effect on the partisan makeup of the Legislature? That’s a hard question to answer because unlike Presidential years the turnout level of the other side can vary greatly, as even a cursory glance at the 2006 and 2010 results will show. The best we can do as Democrats is work on improving our numbers and let the rest take care of itself. One tidbit to note from this analysis is that as I have noted before, Rep. Blake Farenthold in CD27 is more vulnerable than his topline numbers might suggest. If there’s a reach goal to set for 2014, that should be it. If we can move the needle in a district race, there’s a pretty good chance we can do it statewide as well.

Yes, Rick Perry still hates Medicaid

We’re not surprised by this, right?

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The Texas rhetoric around a key facet of federal health reform — whether the state will expand subsidized insurance to its poorest adults — reached the high water mark on Monday, with back-to-back press conferences at the Capitol featuring political leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Republicans including U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and members of a conservative think tank gathered first, reaffirming their opposition to expanding Medicaid, a key tenet of “Obamacare” that is widely supported by Democrats. The expansion — and in particular, the flexibility the federal government has shown some Republican-led states in implementing it — has in recent months drawn the support of some fiscal conservatives reluctant to pass up billions of federal dollars and the opportunity to curb Texas’ ranks of the uninsured.

“For those states buying into this, they will come to rue the day,” Cruz said.

“When the federal government retreats,” Cornyn added, “the state’s going to be on the hook.”

[…]

Republican lawmakers want the Obama administration to give Texas a block grant for Medicaid, which the state would use to subsidize private health savings accounts for low-income recipients. Medicaid recipients would either enroll in a Medicaid managed care plan or be given subsidies on a sliding scale based on their income. The state would also likely include “personal responsibility” measures, such as higher co-pays for patients who went to the emergency room for minor ailments.

Perry said federal leaders need to “decide if they trust” Texas to run Medicaid as the state sees fit, and called the Obama administration “harder to deal with than previous administrations.” But when asked whether he, Cruz or Cornyn had reached out to begin negotiations with the Obama administration on ways to reform Medicaid with federal dollars, Perry said that was the job of the Legislature and the state’s health and human services commissioner.

Did I mention that Perry would make bogus claims about the feds not negotiating in good faith? Why yes, I did. It’s really very simple – Perry, Dewhurst, Abbott, Cornyn, Cruz, the poo-flinging nihilists at the TPPF, they don’t want to help anyone who doesn’t have access to health care. They could not care less about these people. It’s not about the money, it’s not about compassion (since none of them have any), it’s about ideology. They could not be any clearer about this.

Note, by the way, the cloistered nature of Perry’s gathering of the elites, which includes lobbyists but no one who is or would be affected by the decision to expand Medicaid. Now contrast that to some of the people who are affected by that decision.

The county judges of Texas’ most populous counties, as well as the Chambers of Commerce of most of Texas’ largest cities, have endorsed Medicaid expansion as a means of paying for health care in a state with the highest number of uninsured individuals in the country. Without it, they say local taxpayers foot the bill as poor people seek care in expensive emergency room settings.

Some of those people came to the Capitol as well, though they weren’t invited to Perry’s little conclave.

Democrats in Congress and the Legislature, uninsured parents, the head of the state’s main hospital trade group and top local officials in Dallas and San Antonio urged state GOP leaders Monday to negotiate with the Obama administration to expand Texas’ Medicaid program for the poor.

“The public hires us not to do the ideological thing but the smart thing,” said San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said it’s unacceptable to leave a large bloc of the population relying on safety net hospitals’ emergency rooms for care when their maladies could receive earlier attention and treatment.

“Do we want to insure the 1.5 million uninsured Texans that need this primary care and are eligible under the expansion population?” he said. “It’s time to put politics aside and stand up to the extremist factions of political parties and work together on the local, state and federal level to find a plan that fits the unique needs of struggling Texans and expands our Texas economy.”

[…]

Ofelia Zapata, an Austin housewife and mother, said her husband is an uninsured laborer who works long hours but can’t afford private coverage. And yet he makes too much to qualify for Medicaid, said Zapata, who is a leader of the Industrial Areas Foundation group Austin Interfaith.

She cast the policy question in moral and religious terms.

“As a Roman Catholic, we believe in dignity of a human person and demands that we stand in solidarity with the poor,” she said. “We must therefore expand Medicaid for Texas families.”

I’m terribly sorry, Mrs. Zapata, but Rick Perry and his cronies don’t care about you. They don’t care what people like Ed Emmett and the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce think. They don’t care about the lives that would be saved by expanding Medicaid, because being “pro-life” has nothing to do with living people. They don’t care what a bunch of protesters think. (There are pictures here and here if you care what they think.)

Oh, and just so we’re clear, this full-on opposition to the Affordable Care Act in general and Medicaid expansion in particular is strong evidence that the GOP’s ballyhooed efforts to “re-brand” themselves and reach out to Latino voters is just so much hot air. Latinos strongly support the Affordable Care Act. In general, Latinos and other voters of color support a much more robust role for government, which kind of complicates the whole “small government/starve the beast” message the GOP has to offer. In addition, the bulk of uninsured Texans are Latino. These are the people that would greatly benefit from Medicaid expansion. But of course, Rick Perry and his cronies don’t care about them. I’m still not terribly hopeful that Perry’s obstinacy will have an electoral effect next year. But that day, and that effect, is coming.

UPDATE: More from PDiddie, and the Texas Organizing Project, which was responsible for some of those protesters from yesterday, has more in store for today:

A recent study shows sixty-eight percent of working class Texans don’t know they’d be covered under the health care expansion if it comes to the Lone Star State, but community activists from Texas Organizing Project want to change that. They’re meeting in Austin to lay out their “Find the 1.5” campaign which sets an ambitious goal to identify the 1.5 million Texans that would benefit from Health care Expansion. They’ll be joined by State Senators Rodney Ellis, Wendy Davis and Sylvia Garcia for a press conference laying out the details of the campaign where they’ll canvass clinics, grocery store parking lots and neighborhoods in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley to inform and organize those poised for coverage under the expansion.

“I didn’t know I would qualify for coverage until someone showed me the details,” said Gloria Payne who chairs the health care campaign in Houston. “We’re not going to sit back and let them make decisions for us, we want in on the conversation,” concluded Payne. The campaign will begin it’s neighborhood rollout Wednesday in Houston and the Rio Grande Valley, Thursday in San Antonio and Friday in Dallas.

Who: State Senators Rodney Ellis, Wendy Davis and Sylvia Garcia; Texas Organizing Project and allied organizations.

What: Press conference for statewide neighborhood rollout campaign to “Find the 1.5” million working, uninsured Texans that would benefit from health care expansion.

When: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Where: Texas State Capitol, Lieutenant Governor’s Press Room, Room 2E.9

TEA drops the hammer on North Forest again

Pretty much as expected.

North Forest ISD announced Monday that the Texas Education Agency had upheld the decision to close the school district and annex it to Houston ISD this summer.

The ruling, however, does not end the school district’s fight to remain open. North Forest attorney Chris Tritico pledged to once again appeal the closure order, taking his case to the State Office of Administrative Hearings, an Austin court.

“We at North Forest ISD are disappointed by the TEA’s decision to merge North Forest with HISD,” Tritico said in a statement.

He reiterated that the North Forest school board plans to fight for an alternative plan to let a nonprofit management board and some high-performing charter schools run the 7,000-student northeast Houston district.

Tritico refers to the charter school option for NFISD, which has the support of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee but which other elected officials have met with skepticism. The main problem with the charter plan besides the lack of enthusiasm from the electeds was that the plan was insufficiently developed for TEA Commissioner Michael Williams. According to Hair Balls, this was still the case as of Monday. I suppose they’ll have more time to fill in the blanks as NFISD pursues other avenues of appeal.

Whatever does happen, the main focus has to be on improving educational outcomes for NFISD’s 7,000 students. If nothing else, we need to track these students’ progress going forward. As this Chron story from Monday morning before the TEA’s ruling notes, this would be a new thing.

In 2010, the Texas Education Agency abolished the Kendleton Independent School District and its single campus for failing to meet academic benchmarks for four straight years. In northeast Houston, North Forest ISD is headed toward the same fate. On Monday, the TEA is expected to announce whether it is upholding Education Commissioner Michael Williams’ order to close the problem-plagued district and annex it to Houston ISD as of this summer.

The experiences of Kendleton and of Wilmer-Hutchins ISD, a long-troubled district forced into Dallas ISD in 2006, offer some insight into what North Forest may expect if closed: crushed community pride, followed by general acceptance over time.

How students have fared academically isn’t easily known. The TEA hasn’t tracked the former Kendleton and Wilmer-Hutchins students in their new schools.

I don’t know why the progress of these students was not tracked, but it is unconscionable to me that this is the case. We know who these NFISD students are. There’s no reason they can’t be easily identified once they are merged into HISD, and there’s no reason why some reports can’t be generated to monitor their achievements as HISD students. Hell, I don’t see why this can’t be done retroactively for Kendleton and Wilmer-Hutchins students, too. We absolutely need to know if shutting down these problematic ISDs is worthwhile, because if it turns out that it’s not then we need to figure out a better way forward, and soon. If it turns out that it is a good idea, then maybe we need to see if there are some other ISDs that should get the same treatment. Either way, we need to know, and there’s no excuse for not knowing.

Maybe there are fewer people who want to drive 85 than we thought

Oops.

The privately operated section of the Texas 130 tollway south of Mustang Ridge is attracting about half the predicted traffic, according to Moody’s Investor Service, prompting it to investigate downgrading credit ratings for more than $1.1 billion in debt attached to the toll road.

[…]

TxDOT’s contract with the concession company lays out complex procedures to determine how much TxDOT would pay the concession company to take over the road in the event of a default or for any other reason. The Moody’s report doesn’t mention the possibility of default.

Chris Lippincott, a spokesman for the concession company, said it is meeting “contractual obligations to operate and maintain a world-class highway. We remain confident that the recently opened SH 130 … will benefit our investors and the people of Texas.”

The transportation commission — which has operational control of Texas 130’s northern 49 miles but not the Cintra-Zachry section — [approved on Thursday] cutting truck tolls by two-thirds for the next year on the tollway as well as on connecting toll road Texas 45 Southeast. Multi-axle trucks, beginning Monday, would pay the same tolls as passenger vehicles and pickups.

The concession company has agreed to charge all vehicles the car rate as well during that period. That means that a truck, rather than paying as much as $61 to travel the entire 90 miles of Texas 130, would pay just over $17. In both cases, those are the pay-by-mail rates. A truck equipped with an electronic toll tag would pay 25 percent less.

TxDOT, in announcing the toll reduction for big trucks, said it was done to ease congestion on parallel Interstate 35. But the change, which TxDOT estimates will reduce toll revenue on Texas 130 and Texas 45 Southeast by $11 million over the next year, also could introduce some truckers to the high-speed tollway. The speed limit is 80 mph on the TxDOT section and 85 mph on the Cintra-Zachry section.

So maybe this isn’t the pathway to prosperity that the city of Lockhart dreamed it would be, though it is good news for the hogs. Maybe it’s just that the idea of driving 85 MPH isn’t quite as appealing as we thought, at least not at these prices. Who knows? Let’s just hope TxDOT doesn’t get stuck holding the bag. The Trib notes a side issue relating to the speed limit on the service roads for SH 130, and EoW has more.