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June 20th, 2013:

The trend matters as much as the average

I would characterize this Politifact analysis as basically accurate but not particularly meaningful.

Republican consultant Karl Rove thinks Georgia Republicans need to be more like their Texas counterparts.

In a May 18 speech at Georgia’s GOP state convention, Rove said Republicans have “got to get outside of our comfort zone and go places Republicans are not comfortable going,” according to a transcript provided to us by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And we’ve got to get candidates who represent the diversity of our country,” Rove said.

“Look, in Texas we get 40 percent of the Latino vote on average,” Rove said. “And that’s because every Republican is comfortable campaigning everywhere in Texas and because we go out of our way to recruit qualified Latino candidates and run them for office.”

Nationally in 2012, Barack Obama defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney while enjoying substantial Latino support. Some 71 percent of Hispanic voters favored Obama, compared with 27 percent for Romney, according to voter exit polls undertaken for a consortium of news organizations.

We wondered about Rove’s 40-percent-in-Texas claim.

[…]

Mike Baselice, an Austin pollster who has counseled Rove, Perry and numerous Republican candidates, said in an October 2012 memo based on his firm’s Oct. 10-14 survey of 851 likely Texas voters that at that time, Obama had the support of 49 percent of the state’s Hispanic voters, with Romney at 40 percent. According to Baselice’s memo, Republican U.S. Senate nominee Ted Cruz was supported by 36 percent of Hispanic voters, while Democrat Paul Sadler had 40 percent.

The Politico story also mentioned a Texas poll taken on the eve of the November 2012 elections indicating Cruz had 35 percent of the state’s Hispanic vote, outpacing Romney, shown at 29 percent. The poll by Latino Decisions, a Seattle-based firm that specializes in Latino political opinion research, was based on 400 telephone interviews with Texas Latinos who had voted or were certain to vote. Its margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points suggests that Cruz, but not Romney, was on the verge of drawing 40 percent of the Texas Latino vote.

James Henson, director of the Politics Project in the Department of Government at the University of Texas, struck a cautionary note as we explored Rove’s claim. Any look at how Latino voters divide relies on extrapolation, Henson said, “since there is no direct measure for Latino voting.”

[…]

Upshot: The best a Republican fared with Texas Hispanics in the elections was Kay Bailey Hutchison when she drew half the Hispanic vote in 2000, by one analysis. The same year, Bush got 49 percent in his first run for president, according to that year’s exit polls taken for news organizations, or 33 percent, according to a poll by the William C. Velásquez Institute. Bush also drew 49 percent in 2004, according to the national exit poll.

The worst any Republican fared among Texas Hispanics was Romney’s election eve 29 percent, according to the Latino Decisions poll.

Considering every result except the one for Perry in 2006 (when he faced multiple challengers) delivers an average of 39 percent of the Hispanic vote for Republicans at or near the top of the tickets. We also averaged the poll showings for each election year, reaching an across-the-years average of 40 percent. Trying another tack, we counted only the polled results for nonpresidential candidates, also landing at 40 percent.

There are two basic issues here. One is that whatever polling can tell us, it’s not the only data we have available to us. We also have election returns, and while that doesn’t tell us how many Latinos there were voting and how specifically they did, we can get a pretty decent estimate. As it happens, I did look at Presidential voting in the heavily Latino State Rep districts recently, and the totals for Mitt Romney ranged from 21.8% to 34.1% – actually, Romney went all the way up to 37.3%, as I just realized I missed HD31 when I compiled that list – which needless to say suggests he fell well short of 40%, as we’ve basically known all along. In fact, it’s likely the case that he did even worse in these districts than the numbers given suggest, since some of the voters there were Anglo, and I think it’s safe to say he got more support those voters. As for Baselice, as far as I know he never released the data of his poll, which claimed that “Romney did 12 to 15 points better among Latinos in Texas than in California”, not specifically that Latinos voted 40% for Romney. I’m always extra skeptical of polls whose data I can’t see, especially when they come from the same guy who claimed just before the GOP Senate primary runoff last year that David Dewhurst was going to beat Ted Cruz.

I should note that there were other polls in Texas besides the two mentioned by PolitiFact. The Wilson Perkins poll had Romney at 32% among Latinos; the Lyceum poll had him at 32.5% among Latinos; and the last YouGov poll had Romney at 40% among Latinos. So that’s three out of four polls that publicly released their data showing Romney no higher than 33%, while one poll that did release its data and one poll that didn’t had him at 40.

Getting back to my point about actual election returns, sure there are plenty of Latino voters in places other than those specific districts, but these are the districts where SSVR is over 70%, which gives some assurance that the actual vote totals and the Latino vote totals will be similar. It’s an estimate, like polls are estimates, and in this case it gives some idea of what the upper bound of Romney support from Latinos in Texas likely was. Again, that would put it significantly below 40%.

OK, but Rove was talking about Latino support on the average. That’s all well and good, and for all I know his statement may be perfectly accurate, but how much does the data from the 2000 election really tell you? Texas is a very different place now than it was back then. It would be equally accurate to say that over the 2000-2012 time frame, Texas Democrats averaged two members of Congress from predominantly Republican rural districts. Of course, nearly all of those members of Congress were elected in 2000 and 2002, and the last one was elected in 2008, but the math still works. The point here is that while averages are useful, so are trend lines. Latino support for Republicans is lower now than it was in 2000, or 2004, and it’s likely to stay at those lower levels, at least for the time being. Surely, the high profile opposition to immigration reform among the entire Texas Republican Congressional caucus isn’t going to help their cause here. If the next couple of elections go like the last few have been, it will be about as accurate to talk about Republicans winning 40% of the Latino vote as it is now to talk about Democrats winning 40% of the East Texas vote.

The New Dome Experience

Behold:

If the future of the Astrodome has been keeping you up at night, you’ll rest easy knowing that a major step was taken in favor of preservation at a board meeting on Wednesday afternoon: The Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation (HCSCC) board unanimously agreed on a recommendation to repurpose the Houston landmark.

Willie Loston, executive director of HCSCC, said that none of the 19 privately-funded proposals submitted by the June 10 deadline met the criteria required, but the public use option presented at the board meeting does — think of it as “The New Dome Experience.”

Loston, along with SMG-Reliant Park general manager Mark Miller, presented the plan for a 350,000-square-foot column-free exhibition space, which would require removing the seats and raising the floor to street level.

Other improvements would include adding glass at the stadium’s four compass points for enhanced natural light and aesthetics, with a signature entry at the south end; installing solar panels on the domed roof and incorporating other building systems to improve energy-efficiency; and removing the berms, entrance ramps and ticket booths from the building’s exterior to create a more continuous and useable outdoor plaza, with food vendors and restroom opportunities as well as green space.

“What we want the ‘Dome to become for major events in Reliant Park is the front door,” explained Miller.

The reimagined space could serve, he said, as the headquarters for Reliant Park’s 24-hour security post, and would help facilitate emergency operations within the county in the case of disaster. The interior could be easily reconfigured to accommodate swim meets, graduations and other community events, football games, conventions and more.

The project is estimated to take about 30 months to build out at a cost of approximately $194 million, including everything from architectural and engineering fees to food service, according to Miller, although board chairman Edgardo Colón said that the HCSCC hopes to reduce that amount even further with alternative sources of financing.

See here for all my recent blogging on the subject, and here for the complete presentation on the New Dome. Commissioners Court will take up the matter on June 25, and if Judge Emmett’s reaction is any indication, it will get the Court’s support as well. As this option would require public money, it will also require a vote from We The People, meaning that if it fails then a date with the wrecker is surely next. If you’re wondering what happened with the private proposals, here’s your answer:

In order to be considered, privately submitted proposals had to include private funding, must be compatible with lease agreements with the Houston Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, as well as the master plan of the Reliant Park complex. None of the ideas submitted by private groups or individuals met those criteria, Loston said.

Loston previously had said that some of the submissions were little more than ideas, while a few appeared to be professionally developed proposals.

That really shouldn’t be a surprise. If getting funding had been doable, someone would have made a formal proposal to do it by now, as almost happened back in 2007. I’ll be very interested to see how the usual anti-spending-on-anything suspects react to this, since it will be more public debt.

Speaking of which, it turns out that the existing debt on the Astrodome is only $6 million, which is probably less that you might have thought.

According to information provided by the County Attorney’s Office, three “categories” of debt can be linked to the half-century-old domed structure: One $3.1 million package from 2004, being paid with hotel occupancy taxes, will mature this year. Two others – totaling more than $28 million – are various voter-approved bonds issued between 1997 and 2009 that refunded debt originally issued for improvement work on the Astrodome.

Those packages, however, have been refunded so many times that the amount that can be tied directly to work done on the stadium is hard to nail down, especially when one considers that the oldest debt is paid off first.

The original $27 million general obligation bond that voters approved in 1961 to pay for construction of the world’s first domed super stadium was paid off 12 years ago.

Of the $245 million the county owes on the Reliant Park complex, nearly $240 million – issued in 2002 for construction of Reliant Center and a cooling plant – has nothing to do with the Astrodome, at least directly. That means the county owes less than $6 million on the decaying structure, on which it spends $2 million a year for insurance, utilities and upkeep.

There were only two other Astrodome-specific bond packages since 1961, both issued in 1988 back when we were trying to keep the Oilers from leaving, and they have been paid off. So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice. I have always sort of assumed that any action taken on the Dome now, whether a private proposal, a public proposal, or demolition, would include the existing debt as a part of it. Maybe this will make that part of it a little easier. PDiddie, who is delighted to see this plan, has more.

Maybe they shouldn’t have listened to Abbott

If you’re a Republican involved in redistricting and you’ve begun to wonder why you ever took AG Greg Abbott’s legal advice on redistricting, I can’t blame you.

Still not Greg Abbott

All spring, Attorney General Greg Abbott had argued to Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus that the Legislature should adopt as its own work product the temporary maps put in place by the appellate court for the 2012 elections. As he wrote to Straus on March 8: “The best way to avoid further intervention from federal judges in the Texas redistricting plans, and ensure an orderly election without further delay or uncertainty, is to enact the interim maps.”

Doing so, he said, “would confirm the Legislature’s intent for a redistricting plan that fully comports with the law, and will insulate the State’s redistricting plans from further legal challenge.”

Abbott’s promise was especially appealing to Dewhurst, since the redistricting lawsuit postponed the 2012 Republican Primary until June, a delay most political observers say cost him the U.S. Senate race against Ted Cruz.

Judge Rodriguez’s remarks, however, cast doubt on the advice in Abbott’s letter. If the interim maps do not correct all legal defects, then what will the special session accomplish?

As Texas Redistricting pointed out a little while ago, Abbott has been pretty consistently wrong throughout the process. As I noted around the same time, Abbott’s first priority all along has been politics, and good political strategy doesn’t always align with sound legal advice. And as Greg noted in Monday’s House hearing liveblog, Abbott’s unwillingness to have his office available to answer questions during these hearings has put the Republicans in numerous uncomfortable and untenable positions that will likely come back to bite them in the courtroom. All in all, a pretty impressive performance.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 17

The Texas Progressive Alliance dismayed but not surprised by the hard right turn of the special session as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

HISD contemplates tax hike

It’s not as much as they once thought they would raise them, since enough money was restored by the Legislature to stave off the need to raise taxes for that purpose.

Superintendent Terry Grier’s budget proposal, released Monday, would increase the tax rate by 2 cents and would expand his Apollo school reform program, a three-year-old effort that some trustees have not embraced.

If the board agrees to hike the tax rate more – by 4 cents – Grier proposed giving raises to teachers and other staff.

“I don’t mind paying more taxes,” Grier said at a board meeting Monday. “We know some of our schools need more help.”

A 4-cent increase would cost the owner of an average $209,000 home roughly $60 extra, assuming no change in value.

Taxpayers in the Houston Independent School District already were expected to face a 1-cent increase next year to help fund the recent bond issue for school construction, but that may not be necessary. HISD’s chief financial officer, Ken Huewitt, said Monday that higher property values may mean the district can delay the first tax increase related to the bond.

On the high end, HISD property owners would see a 5-cent tax increase in 2014 – if the 1-cent bond-related hike remained and if the school board approved another 4 cents for the general operating budget.

Trustees won’t formally adopt a tax rate until October, but they are scheduled to vote Thursday on a budget based on the rate they expect to approve.

The district’s current tax rate of $1.1567 per $100 of assessed value is the lowest among local school systems.

K-12 Zone has more on the budget considerations. They key driver here is the Apollo initiative, which remains a point of contention. The Chron op-ed pages on Wednesday had pro and anti Apollo articles, which I’ll leave you to read. I don’t feel like I know enough to make a judgment on this. HISD Board Chair Anna Eastman has some good discussion of the pro and anti pieces, if you want more reading. I need to give it some more thought. In the meantime, we’ll see what direction the Board takes.