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April 2nd, 2014:

Precinct analysis: Republican primary election

I’ve done the Democrats, so now let’s take a look at the Republicans. In this case, I did have a few specific questions in mind, so my approach here will be a little different. First, we all know that Steve Stockman’s performance art piece campaign against Sen. John Cornyn didn’t amount to anything, but did he at least make some noise in his own Congressional district?

Candidate CD36 Else CD36% Else% ============================================ Cornyn 8,231 65,363 48.69% 55.57% Stockman 5,359 27,093 31.70% 23.03% Others 3,314 25,161 19.60% 21.39% Total 16,904 117,617

So sort of, yeah. Cornyn was held under 50% in the bit of CD36 that’s in Harris County, and it’s clear that Stockman picked up that he lost, but it didn’t make a difference overall. As it happens, the other counties in CD36 are all entirely within CD36, so we can look at the whole district as well now that we have the Harris data:

County Cornyn Cornyn% Stockman Stockman% ================================================ Chambers 1,609 41.02% 1,322 33.70% Hardin 2,937 40.52% 2,986 41.20% Harris 8,231 48.69% 5,359 31.70% Jasper 1,274 54.28% 780 33.23% Liberty 2,496 38.02% 2,007 30.57% Newton 226 46.40% 194 39.83% Orange 3,546 44.51% 2,925 36.72% Polk 2,626 46.46% 1,820 32.20% Tyler 1,121 46.01% 961 39.44%

So again, Stockman held Cornyn under 50% in CD36, but he still trailed in every county except Hardin. His performance in Harris was particularly weak. It’s possible that someone could have beaten Big John, or at least forced him into a runoff, but Steve Stockman was not that someone.

Along similar lines, I wondered how Dan Patrick did on his home turf of SD07 versus the rest of the county:

Candidate SD07 Else SD07% Else% ============================================ Patrick 30,398 48,373 64.84% 53.78% Not Patrick 16,481 41,578 35.16% 46.22% Total 46,879 89,951

Unlike Stockman, Patrick really killed it on his home turf, but he still won a majority elsewhere as well. That cannot be a comforting thought to David Dewhurst.

Given the inflammatory rhetoric about immigration and the pushback by Latino Republicans against Dan Patrick, I also checked to see if Patrick did any worse in the five State Rep districts held by Latinos (HDs 140, 143, 144, 145, and 148) than he did elsewhere:

Candidate Latino Else Latino% Else% ============================================ Patrick 5,515 73,256 56.58% 57.64% Not Patrick 4,233 53,826 43.42% 42.36% Total 9,748 127,082

Short answer: No. Of course, we don’t know how many of the Republican primary voters in these districts were Latino – the Anglo voting age population in these districts range from 12K (HD140) to 37K (HD148), so there are plenty of non-Latinos to go around. Regardless, at least in Harris County, Patrick’s rhetoric wasn’t a problem for these voters.

Finally, how did the Latino Republican candidates do in the Latino districts?

Candidate Latino Else Latino% Else% ============================================ Abbott 8,929 119,258 92.28% 94.52% Martinez 381 2,713 3.94% 2.15% Others 366 4,207 3.78% 3.33% Total 9,676 126,178 Candidate Latino Else Latino% Else% ============================================ Medina 1,558 15,993 16.91% 13.56% Torres 420 3,144 4.56% 2.67% Hegar 4,442 62,214 48.22% 52.74% Hilderbran 2,792 36,620 30.31% 31.04% Total 9,212 117,971

A little bit of a benefit, mostly for Debra Medina, but overall less than a drop in the bucket. Even if the differences had been dramatic, the paucity of voters in these districts would have minimized the effect. But the difference was trivial, so it didn’t matter anyway.

Perry says Texas will not comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act

Amazing the number of laws Rick Perry refuses to obey, isn’t it?

More than a decade after the Prison Rape Elimination Act unanimously passed Congress, federal standards for implementation of the law have been finalized. Now, Gov. Rick Perry and some prison reform advocates are at odds over what those standards mean for Texas lockups and the taxpayers who pay for them.

In a March 28 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Perry wrote that while he believed the law was well-intended, he would not certify that the 297 state prisons and local jails that are subject to PREA comply with its regulations come May 15, the certification deadline set by Department of Justice.

The new standards, he wrote, are “impossible,” out of touch with the daily realities of state prisons and would require heavy financial burdens.

“Absent standards that acknowledge the operational realities in our prisons and jails, I will not sign your form and I will encourage my fellow governors to follow suit,” Perry wrote.

But a spokesman for the correctional officers union said that not complying with the federal rules puts Texas at risk financially and legally.

Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the prison system has already made significant progress in meeting PREA standards.

“We are compliant with most of PREA’s standards, except for the cross-gender supervision standard,” Clark said.

[…]

“The Texas prison system already realized some time ago that they need to work to create safer environments for inmates,” said Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Still, noncompliance with PREA could have financial consequences. It would not only result in a 5 percent reduction of federal funding, but it could make the state vulnerable to lawsuits, said Lance Lowry, president of the Texas correctional employees union.

“The governor’s office has a gross misunderstanding of what the PREA act is all about,” Lowry said. “And the state’s failure to comply with regulation will open up a tremendous amount of liability.”

In recent years, Texas has revamped parole, reduced recidivism, added specialized drug courts and reduced overall prison costs. Still, Deitch said, challenges remain — most importantly, sufficient staffing.

“I think the governor makes a lot of very good points in his letter. He highlights some of the issues that will be hardest for correctional agencies in the state,” Deitch said. “But I think it’s also really important for us to realize that [the state agencies] are already very close to being in compliance now.”

There’s also the fact that just because something isn’t easy to do, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have to do it. We don’t take that attitude with schoolchildren, and we shouldn’t take it with Governors, either. If the Harris County jail can meet this standard – ahead of schedule, by the way – then so can TDCJ.

Grits had this story before the Trib and the Chron did, with followups here and here. Go read what Grits has to say and see what you think. It would also be nice to know what the two leading candidates for Governor think about this as well. Lone Star Q has more.

Fearing the fire reform

This ought to be interesting.

Rumblings of coming reforms in Houston Fire Department’s operations have union leaders and the department’s command staff wary, despite Mayor Annise Parker’s insistence that these concerns are unwarranted.

HFD’s staffing shortage has driven up overtime costs, creating a budget crisis that has, on some days, seen ambulances and fire trucks pulled from service. These budget discussions have dominated City Hall in recent weeks, leading the mayor and some council members to question whether the department’s $450 million budget could be spent more efficiently.

Parker, for instance, said she questions whether the city should invest in more ambulances and fewer new fire trucks, given that 85 percent of HFD’s calls are medical emergencies and that fire trucks are more expensive to purchase, staff and maintain. She also wonders whether the city is “oversaturated” in the way it places its 103 fire stations and deploys its 216-vehicle fleet.

The mayor is adamant, however, that she will not pursue reforms without a planned third-party study of HFD’s operations that is months away.

“Let me say this for about the 15th time publicly: I am not interested in splitting fire and EMS, nor am I interested in privatizing our EMS service in the city of Houston,” Parker said. “Are we clear? People make stuff up all the time. It’s just amazing.”

Most of the concern centers on the upcoming utilization study for the fire department, and a recent reorganization that has “HFD” and “EMS” reporting to different people. The firefighters’ union is worried that despite the Mayor’s insistence that it won’t happen, fire and EMS will be split into two distinct groups, with EMS workers being separate from the firefighters’ pension plan. The study is still several months away from beginning, and who knows what it will eventually conclude, but I think it’s safe to say there will be resistance to any recommendations of big changes. The early returns are quite revealing:

[HFD Chief Terry] Garrison and [HPFFA President Bryan] Sky-Eagle each said they would not fight the third-party study Parker wants as long as their input is welcomed. But some council members questioned whether the reforms such a study might recommend could be implemented.

Even idling a few trucks has affected the public’s perception of their safety, Councilman Ed Gonzalez said.

“Can you imagine if we said we’re going to start shutting down stations?” he said. “That’s a huge monster to undertake.”

Councilman Dave Martin was blunter.

“The council member is going to go crazy, the citizens are going to go crazy and World War III is going to break out,” he said. “I’d bet my last nickel it’s not going to be able to happen.”

I’ll be blunt as well. I’ve conducted over 100 interviews with Council candidates since 2007. Pretty much every one of them says something to the effect of how the city needs to be more efficient, to do more with less, to find new ways to deliver services in a cost-effective manner – you get the idea. Everyone wants the city to live within its budget and not raise taxes while doing all the things the city needs to do. Well, public safety is the majority of the budget, and if we can’t even talk about how they’re spending that money – if we can’t “look for efficiencies” and all those other cliches in that part of the budget – then we’re just chanting mantras about the budget and how we manage it. I’m not saying we have to accept any of the recommendations that the study will eventually make – for any number of valid reasons, we may find those recommendations to be unsuitable – but I am saying we need to keep an open mind. Change is always hard, but if it makes sense we ought to at least consider it.

Cleaning up Pratt’s mess

It’s up to the other judges now.

Judge Denise Pratt

The administrative judge for Harris County’s nine family courts said Monday it could take months to sort out the mess left behind in the 311th family court following the abrupt resignation of its presiding judge, Denise Pratt.

The freshman jurist’s immediate departure, announced late Friday, came as a surprise to Judge David Farr, who was left scrambling Monday to find a judge to preside over a court where he said there are “boxes, piles, stacks” of hundreds of courts orders that have not been signed or entered into the court computer system.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Farr, who met with the 311th staff Monday morning. “It gets worse with every report from my staff.”

According to monthly caseload statistics kept by Farr’s office, Pratt’s court had the most cases pending at the end of February – 2,713 – of any of the nine family courts. Farr had to reschedule one case that had been set to go to trial on Monday.

[…]

Farr said judges usually provide prior notice before leaving, to allow for “a clean handoff between themselves and their successor.”

“There was no notice whatsoever,” he said, noting that he did not find out about Pratt’s plans until Friday, the day of her announcement, when someone alerted him to a post on her Facebook page.

Farr, who met with staff of the 311th Court Monday morning, said he assumes Perry will not appoint a replacement, who would serve through year’s end, until June 1. Pratt, who had been slated to appear on the ballot in a May 27 runoff, had been campaigning for a second term that begins Jan. 1.

See here for the background. You may recall that Pratt made news for having dismissed hundreds of cases at the end of last year, mostly without notice. According to an earlier version of the story, all dismissals now must go through Judge Farr first. What I’m hoping is that now that she is no longer a colleague, one or more of the remaining judges and/or members of their staff will now feel free to talk to the press about this. It would be very useful for someone who doesn’t have a stake in the outcome of any cases that had been before Denise Pratt to offer a frank assessment of her career as a judge. You can read between the lines here for a sense of Judge Farr’s frustration, but I’d like to hear it straight up. A little transparency would do a lot of good.

One more thing:

Pratt also suspended her re-election campaign, but still will appear on the ballot after securing the highest percentage of the vote in a five-way contest on March 4 for a term that begins Jan. 1. The Harris County Republican Party Chairman said Friday that the challenger, Houston family lawyer Alicia Franklin, will be the party’s nominee.

I’m not sure if it’s the outgoing Chair or the incoming Chair that’s being quoted here, but it doesn’t matter. I’m pretty sure he can’t guarantee that. Pratt is still on the ballot – the deadline to withdraw was March 12 – so she could still win the runoff. I don’t think Paul Simpson gets to wave a magic wand and install Alicia Franklin if that happens. Granted, I think it’s unlikely after all the bad publicity that Pratt will win the runoff, but as long as she is on the ballot it’s a possibility.