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March 9th, 2016:

Precinct analysis: 2016 Republican Presidential primary

How did things look on the Republican side, with its record-breaking (though not 2008 level) turnout?

Dist     Cruz   Trump   Rubio    Cruz%  Trump%  Rubio%
126     9,206   5,012   3,604   46.45%  25.29%  18.18%
127    13,475   6,585   4,579   49.53%  24.20%  16.83%
128    10,789   5,618   2,166   54.41%  28.33%  10.92%
129    10,906   5,812   4,288   46.71%  24.89%  18.37%
130    16,313   7,227   4,674   53.40%  23.66%  15.30%
131     1,409     813     573   44.62%  25.74%  18.14%
132     8,936   4,403   2,931   50.17%  24.72%  16.46%
133    11,465   7,630   8,696   35.58%  23.68%  26.99%
134     8,702   6,534   9,195   29.84%  22.40%  31.53%
135     8,276   4,020   2,814   50.38%  24.47%  17.13%
137     1,679   1,394     945   37.01%  30.73%  20.83%
138     7,380   3,794   2,862   47.84%  24.59%  18.55%
139     2,981   1,464   1,096   48.28%  23.71%  17.75%
140     1,372     727     415   51.19%  27.13%  15.49%
141     1,061     610     263   50.40%  28.98%  12.49%
142     2,287   1,107     827   49.86%  24.13%  18.03%
143     1,974     966     608   51.76%  25.33%  15.94%
144     2,471   1,334     615   51.84%  27.98%  12.90%
145     2,601   1,333   1,023   47.98%  24.59%  18.87%
146     2,293   1,287   1,338   40.74%  22.87%  23.77%
147     2,039   1,406   1,659   34.39%  23.71%  27.98%
148     3,693   2,219   2,434   39.38%  23.66%  25.96%
149     3,422   2,053   1,524   43.97%  26.38%  19.58%
150    13,090   6,513   4,115   50.51%  25.13%  15.88%

As was the case with yesterday’s analysis, the percentages don’t sum to 100 because of the other candidates, whose numbers are now shown. There’s a lot more of them here, and their collective numbers are larger, but the top three took at least 80% of the vote in all districts, in many cases more than 90%. I briefly thought about including John Kasich’s numbers, but I quickly regained my senses.

The first thing that strikes me is how consistent Donald Trump’s numbers were. With the exception of HD137, he’s in a tight band between 22% and 29%, and even in 137 he’s only just above 30%. He did not win any districts, coming closest in HD134 where Ted Cruz had his weakest showing, but Marco Rubio did. Three cheers for the Establishment, I guess. Cruz won a majority in eight districts. That includes three of the five predominantly Latino districts, though how many Latinos actually voted in the GOP primary is not something I can answer from this data.

I don’t know that I have any deep insights here. 2012 and 2008 were such different years, with 2008 also having different district boundaries, that it’s hard to make meaningful comparisons. The main thing I think we should all take away is that when races are hot enough, more voting may take place on Election Day than one might normally expect. Hopefully, that will inform the decisions about what precinct locations and how many voting machines to have in the future.

The Supreme Court hears that case about how stupid our tax system is

There’s a lot of money riding on the outcome.


With billions of dollars at stake, the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a tax showdown whose outcome could shake up the next legislative session while straining the historically friendly relationship between state lawmakers and the iconic oil and gas sector.

Throughout a spirited debate over arcane accounting rules and oil-tinged science, the justices offered few clues as to how they might rule.

“They’re all great poker faces,” said James LeBas, an economist with the Texas Oil & Gas Association and a former chief revenue estimator for Texas, following arguments.

The case ultimately focuses on a single question: Are metal pipes, tubing and other equipment used in oil and gas extraction exempt from sales taxes?


David Keltner, an attorney representing Southwest Royalties, argued that certain extraction equipment clearly fits the exemption’s definition.

The company’s equipment “processes” West Texas crude by separating it into marketable oil and gas, he argued, at times pointing to a chart that displayed the various stages of petroleum extraction. Once the crude is brought up from the ground, it is no longer part of a mineral owner’s estate, he said.

“It is tangible personal property. People own it,” Keltner said. “If you were to hold otherwise, there would be serious consequences.”

Among the consequences he named: Texas regulators would struggle to hold drillers accountable for the oil they extract.

Arguing for the state, Texas assistant solicitor general Michael Murphy disagreed, arguing that minerals are not “tangible personal property,” and that Southwest’s equipment was not necessarily responsible for transforming the crude.

“Southwest’s mineral extraction is really like gathering raw materials,” he said, dubbing the mechanics “pre-production or pre-processing.”

“Until that oil and gas bubbles out of the ground, it’s part of the [real estate].”

Justice Phil Johnson, questioned that interpretation.

“It’s not personal property in the tubing, when it’s coming up, it’s still realty?” he asked. “Even though it’s outside the ground, outside the natural environment?”

Justice Eva Guzman wondered how Texans could determine the precise moment the crude changes phases. “But how would we know when?” she asked.

Keltner, the driller’s attorney, said that instrumentation on the surface would reveal that information. Murphy disagreed.

Murphy also pointed to a separate tax exemption on the books for purchases of some of the same equipment in question — if it’s used for offshore drilling outside of Texas. Texas lawmakers, he said, would not likely intend to consruct overlapping exemptions.

He also argued that the court must revert to a narrow interpretation of the tax code — siding with the state — if a rule is deemed ambiguous.

But Keltner argued that the wording clearly supported the driller’s side, and that denying the exemption was unfair. He listed several other purchases that Hegar’s office has allowed companies to write-off under the policy — including equipment that speeds the ripening of bananas.

“Our concern here is, that we have a new stance applied to the oil and gas industry differently,” he said. “A banana is going to ripen anyway. That is inevitable.”

See here and here for the background. As I said, it’s all angels-dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin stuff, just with billions of dollars on the line. There’s a part of me that’s rooting for the court to rule for the plaintiffs on the grounds that this would force the Legislature to take action and try to make our tax system better. It quickly gets overwhelmed by the much larger part of me that recognizes the huge potential for mischief and malfeasance by the Lege if this door ever gets opened. So for better or worse I do want to see the state win.

Year 2 for “One Sticker”

Surely this year will go more smoothly.

Texas dropped its familiar green safety inspection sticker a year ago, creating confusion for millions of vehicle and trailer owners in the state. Though inspections didn’t change – but might soon, as some lawmakers want to scrap them – the stickers went away as the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles shifted to a database system to verify compliance with state rules.

Though this year’s crop of registrations is not expected to result in the confusion and computer problems that plagued the process last year, some people may forget the new rules.

“I think we could have some confusion and the reason I say that is we have taken a decades-old process and kind of changed it,” said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan, whose office handles vehicle registration.


Last year, owners of the roughly 17 million registered personal vehicles and trailers in Texas were able to renew, provided their inspection was current and valid. In other words, someone who renewed in March, and whose registration expired in April, did not have to undergo an inspection.

Now inspections and registration are closely tied. Lawmakers changed the rules in 2013, effective last year, requiring drivers to pass inspection within 90 days of renewing the vehicle registration.

Inspection results are uploaded into a state database, though officials suggest keeping the paper copy of the inspection report that stations and mechanics are required to provide after a vehicle passes inspection.

Sullivan said it is possible vehicle owners could start showing up without inspections because many didn’t need to conduct one last year. It’s also possible some drivers erred in the past 12 months. Someone whose car was inspected when its sticker expired in November will run afoul of the 90-day requirement if they try to renew their registration in April.

See here and here for some background. Ideally, this year people will understand the need to do their inspections around the time of their registration renewals, and there won’t be any technical glitches. Perhaps some periodic reminders about what is needed would be helpful. What has your experience with the new system been so far?

Those damn dams

In case you didn’t have enough to worry about.

Here’s the deal with what could be a terrible threat to Houston: most of the time, it isn’t. In fact, it’s a 26,000 acre recreational greenspace on Houston’s west side. It lies on both sides of the Katy Freeway at Highway 6.

On one side is the Addicks Reservoir. On the other is the Barker Reservoir. Both have dams, but most of the time there is very little water to be held back by either. So the acreage is used for parks and has miles of paved bike trails.


Even a moderate rainstorm last month created a pool of water but only right up behind the Barker Reservoir dam. That’s where we met Richard Long who for 35 years has worked at the dam for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

He took us to the top of the dam gates, unlocked the control panel, and flipped a switch.

“This is the gate operating right here,” Long said as an electric motor hoisted the gate upwards inch by inch, allowing the pool of water to slowly drain into Buffalo Bayou.

“We want to get rid of the water as fast as we can so the reservoirs are available for the next rain event,” Long said.

But therein lies the cause for concern: what if that “next rain event” is something really, really big? It’s been on the mind of Jim Blackburn, a Houston environmental attorney.


Richard Long, the dams’ manager, offers this scenario: “Because of our flat terrain here, we don’t have a valley that the flood would go down. It’ll spread out over a very large area. It won’t be like the horror movies you see where a wall of water is coming down a canyon. It would be very rapidly rising water and cause an extremely large amount of damage and possibly a loss of life.”

The Army Corps estimates that a dam failure could cause flooding from Buffalo Bayou and Downtown all the way over to Brays Bayou and the Medical Center. For years, the Army Corp has been monitoring “seepage” of water underneath the dam gates. Those leaks led to the Corps designating the Addicks and Barker dams “extremely high risk” and among the six most critically in need of repair in the nation.

Isn’t that nice to know? I knew you’d think so. I don’t have anything useful to say here, so I’m just going to embed a Led Zeppelin video:

Let’s hope it never comes to that, shall we? Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go buy some sandbags.