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April 29th, 2013:

Not just Austin, dammit

What Flavia Isabel says:

The single purpose of this post is to eradicate the phrase “Oh yeah, Austin is a blue dot in a sea of red” from the vocabulary of anybody who cares about turning Texas blue.

I am so incredibly sick and tired of hearing this refrain. It’s part of the Austin mythology. And it needs to die and get buried six feet under because it is not helpful. Every time someone says “Austin is a blue dot in a sea of red”, a voter in a swing district registers as a Republican.

Battleground Texas just set up shop and they have the incredible, sisyphean task of convincing people that Texas can go blue. We all have that incredible task. In fact, I had that task last week, when trying to convince my partner, a native Texan, that we can go blue. I made him listen to me rant while cooking, which involved a lot of banging of pots and pans. This is a dangerous activity. I almost picked up a hot pan with my hands. No ranting while cooking. Also, this blog post is to spare him more ranting. Tangent over.

Anyways, perpetuating the myth that Austin is a blue dot in a sea of red is not helpful because it isn’t true.

More than one blue spot

More than one blue spot

Flavia goes on to cite a bunch of evidence in support of her thesis, and you should go read what she has to say. I’m right there with her on this, and spewed a rant of my own in the comments of this dKos post where that tired old trope was trotted out in the first paragraph. To me, belief in that shibboleth is de facto evidence that you don’t understand Texas politics – if you believe this, you probably also believe that the office of Ag Commissioner is more powerful than the Governor, since someone told you that once.

I don’t want to reiterate Flavia’s arguments, but as a numbers guy I can’t help but pile on a little. The city of Houston voted over 60% for President Obama in 2008 and in 2012. In terms of margin of victory, no county was more Democratic than Dallas County, which Obama carried by 110,000 votes; he carried Travis County by 93,000. More votes were cast for Obama in Harris County – which he carried twice – in 2012 than there were total votes cast in Travis County (587K Obama votes in Harris, 387K total votes in Travis). And Travis County represents about 7% of the Texas total Democratic vote, so 93% of Obama voters lived elsewhere. Throw in the counties from the greater Austin metro area – Hays, Bastrop, and Williamson, at least – and you get to about 10% of the statewide total, leaving 90% of the Obama vote from everywhere else. Convinced yet?

More broadly, there were more votes cast for President Obama in Texas in 2012 than there were votes cast for him in every other state except California, New York, and Florida. Let me repeat that: More Texans voted for President Obama last year than residents of every other state except California, New York, and Florida. There were more Texas votes for Obama than there were Illinois votes for Obama. Go look it up for yourself.

Now obviously, a lot of this is due to our sheer size – Texas is the second most populous state in the country. And of course, there were a lot more votes cast for Mitt Romney in Texas than there were for President Obama; we wouldn’t be having this conversation otherwise. My point is simply that there are a lot of us Democrats in Texas, and we’re everywhere in the state. To imply otherwise is ignorant and insulting. Please don’t do that.

I do agree that if you look at a map of Texas’ electoral results, you will see a lot of red. Texas has a lot of counties – 254 of them – and a lot of them are truly Republican turf. Of course, a lot of those counties are lightly populated – by my count, there were 25 counties that cast fewer than 1000 votes in 2012 – and a lot of those sparsely populated areas tend to be heavily Republican. Still, the way to make the map look less red is to turn more counties blue. Democratic activist Robert Ryland, the Chair of the Bastrop County Democratic Party, has an idea for how to facilitate that, one that’s so clear and obvious in retrospect that the rest of us should all be slapping our foreheads and saying “Why didn’t I think of that?” Here’s the pitch from his email:

Please stop whatever you’re doing and make whatever contribution you can to The Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC) on ActBlue!

Some of you already know that against my better judgment (but with the encouragement of many others), I have started a PAC.

The Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee will focus on addressing one of our biggest weaknesses: recruiting & supporting county-level Democratic candidates outside of our current urban strongholds.

This organization is designed to bring Democratic county officials together under an umbrella of mutual interest, expand their numbers wherever possible, and support their efforts to serve their constituents effectively once they’re in office.

Working at the county level, TCDCC will be helping to rebuild the Democratic brand where our candidates can, in theory at least, shake hands with every voter who will cast a ballot in their election. We can build new coalitions through one-on-one contact with voters on a level that State Lege and Congressional candidates cannot, at what is frankly a bargain price tag. I don’t have to explain to y’all the positive ripple effects that can have for every Democrat in Texas down the road, and our work will feed into the efforts of groups like HDCC, DCCC, Annie’s List and others.

The long-term goal is about rebuilding our bench of candidates for higher office and rehabilitating the Democratic brand where we need it most. With Battleground TX and TDP ramping up efforts to register and engage more voters and rebuild organizational infrastructure, having quality candidates up and down the ballot will be critical to consolidating that work into actual electoral gains. It’s also about better local government, and electing folks who can cope sensibly with the burdens and baloney that our Republican-led legislature is passing on to them.

“So, what drove you to this, Rob?”
Glad you asked.

After working with candidates and running campaigns for the last three cycles in Bastrop County, I’ve come to understand how difficult it is for Democrats to run for local office out here and across much of Texas. With little support available from the state party and few resources of any kind to help them deliver a strong message and drive turnout on the margins, these brave souls often feel like they’re on an island, with a hostile political landscape to navigate. After talking with a number of Democratic commissioners and county judges, I’ve found a lot of them have felt this way for awhile. No organization has previously existed to help them, and – from what I can tell – this is the one piece of the grassroots puzzle we we’ve been missing – until now.

We have already begun to identify many commissioner and county judge seats across the state as possible Democratic pickups in 2014. The potential playing field is vast, but to ensure success in our first cycle we need to keep our challenges manageable while being disciplined about raising the funds needed to run a robust operation in 2014 and build for the long term. After the wipeouts of 2010 and redistricting, there’s actually plenty of low-hanging fruit to be found, but we need to bring a smart and coordinated effort to this fight or we could miss some great opportunities.

This is a fantastic idea. I’ve made a contribution to the TCDCC, whose website ( will be operational shortly, and I strongly encourage you to do so, too. It’s going to take all of us to dispel those pernicious myths about Texas. This is a great place to help with that effort.

The 2013 Houston Area Survey

The 2013 Houston Area Survey shows that tolerance is prevalent in our region.

The results, according to institute co-director Stephen Klineberg, may reflect the region’s growing ethnic diversity, younger residents’ acceptance of change and the emergence of live-and-let-live “tolerant traditionalists.” Part of a larger survey of attitudes in the 10-county Houston metropolitan region, the 32nd annual poll queried 991 county residents in February and March. The margin of error is plus- or minus three points per 1,000 respondents.

“The theme is one of new realities across the board.” Klineberg said. “There’s a kind of recognition that we’re in a different world, that the 21st century is a different place.”

Some of the poll’s most significant findings centered on immigration. In results influenced by younger participants, 83 percent of respondents favored offering illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, providing they speak English and have no criminal record. That is up 19 points from just four years ago.

On other immigration-related questions, 68 percent supported admitting as many or more immigrants in the coming decade as were admitted in the last; 61 percent said immigration strengthens American culture; 51 percent said relations among Houston’s ethnic groups are good or excellent.

Respondents endorsed mandatory background checks for all firearms by an overwhelming 89 percent. They told pollsters they favored equal marriage rights for same-sex couples by 46 percent, up nine points from 2001.

You can see more on the 2013 survey here and here, and more on the Kinder Institute, including archives of previous surveys, here. The Chron story begins by characterizing Harris County as “consistently conservative”, which may come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the 2008 and 2012 election results, but never mind that. The trend is what matters, and it’s pointing in the right direction. That’s good news for all of us.

HISD to begin laptops for all program

Starting small, and presumably growing from there.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Houston ISD officials announced Thursday that they are prepared to give students at up to 18 high schools their own laptops next school year, becoming among the first big-city districts to launch a one-to-one computing program.

“This is a way of transforming what and how we teach,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier told the school board.

Grier first pitched his laptop idea to the public during his State of the Schools speech in February. His chief technology officer, Lenny Schad, confirmed to the school board Thursday that the district is ready to proceed with the first batch of high schools next school year, doling out the laptops to teachers first semester and giving them to students in January. Schad’s team is finishing up an analysis of the high schools to see exactly how many are technologically ready to get the laptops next year. The number won’t be more than 18, he said, emphasizing that the district doesn’t want to rush the roll-out.

See here for the background. Starting with this pilot program would address one of the concerns raised in February by board President Anna Eastman, who was concerned about rolling out a program like this all at once. It’s not clear yet where the money will come from for this – the story estimates the price tag at $10 million – but I’m confident there will be grant money and/or partnership opportunities out there for it. HISD is not the first school district to propose something like this, so there will be examples to follow if need be. I look forward to seeing the results of this experiment.

Statement from Jim Henley

On Sunday afternoon, I received the following statement from Jim Henley, who submitted his resignation as HCDE Trustee earlier this year:


I submitted my resignation as Trustee of The Harris County Department of Education in January of 2013. The Texas Constitution requires that I remain in office until the HCDE Board of Trustees appoints my successor.

I was elected in November 2008 to a six year term which will end in December of 2014. I have submitted to the board the name of a person who is uniquely qualified to complete my term, as provided by the law regarding the resignation of trustees. The board is not bound by my nomination.

My most significant contribution as a trustee was in leading the effort for an independent performance review of HCDE. It was the first such review in the recent history of the department. The review found HCDE to be effective and efficient in most of its services, while making recommendations for improvement in several areas.

While HCDE has been reluctant to embrace several of these essential recommendations, the department remains a vital resource to the twenty six independent school districts in Harris County. The current effort by opponents of public education (House Bill 945) to eliminate HCDE would decrease services to school districts while increasing their need to raise taxes. I urge the defeat of this ill-advised legislation.

The Texas Constitution prohibits trustees from being employed in public education. I have a passion for teaching and plan to return to the classroom as well as enjoy some time working on my farm. I am grateful for the trust the voters of Harris County bestowed upon me. I hope my conduct in elective office has been an example of honest and ethical public service.

Jim Henley

Trustee Position 7, At Large HCDE

See here and here for the background on HB945, which was heard in the Public Education committee on April 16 but has not yet come up for a vote in that committee. If I’m reading the Dates of Interest page correctly, if that bill isn’t reported out of committee – that is, if it hasn’t been voted out of committee – by next Monday, May 6, it’s too late for it to be voted on by the whole House this session. As we know, such deadlines are not necessarily the last word in these matters, but it is an obstacle. Keep an eye on the clock. In any event, my thanks again to Henley for his service, and I look forward to hearing who he has in mind as a successor.