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March 23rd, 2016:

Runoff watch: JPs and Constables

OK, sit back and settle in, this may take awhile.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1 – Democratic

Judge Dale Gorczynski

The race to succeed retiring JP Dale Gorczynski turned out to be a bit of a barnburner. The two leading candidates, Eric William “Brother of District Judge Kyle” Carter and Tanya Makany-Rivera, finished 144 votes apart, out of over 36,000 cast. Four of the five other candidates were African-American, and there some speculation before the election that they might split the vote enough to make it hard for any of them to make it into the top two. As they combined for 40% of the total vote, with #s 3 and 4 grabbing enough votes together to beat the frontrunners, this wasn’t a crazy thought. Of interest is that Carter led Makany-Rivera by about 1,500 votes after early voting, but she wiped out nearly all of that deficit on Election Day. Whether that was the result of a better ground game on her part or an electorate that was more favorable to her turning out late rather than early is a question I can’t answer.

A good ground game is likely to be key to this and all the other runoffs we’re discussing today. The total number of voters is sure to be relatively tiny – point of reference, the 2008 runoff for JP Precint 8, Place 1 had 1,082 votes after 15,196 votes out of 23,911 ballots cast in March – so the candidate who does a better job dragging friends and neighbors back to the polls has an advantage. Both candidates received group endorsements in March – Carter got nods from the AFL-CIO and GLBT Political Caucus, while Makany-Rivera collected recommendations from the Tejano Dems and Stonewall Dems. This one looks like a tossup to me.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 1 – Democratic

Incumbent JP Hilary Green had the pleasure of facing seven challengers in March, finishing ahead of them all but with only 29.53% of the vote; Cheryl Elliot Thornton, who was a candidate for County Court at Law #2 in 2010, came in second, ten points behind. It’s been a rough term for Judge Green, between a nasty divorce and allegations of biased rulings, both of which I suspect contributed to the crowded field against her, and possibly the less-than-stellar result. Usually, an incumbent wh can’t break 30% is in deep trouble, but she does start out with a ten-point lead, and there’s no guarantee that the supporters of the other candidates will bother to come out in May. I think she’s still a slight favorite, but I wouldn’t bet any of my own money on either outcome.

Constable, Precinct 2 – Democratic

Incumbent Constable Chris Diaz led a field of four candidates with 45%; runnerup close races, but I see no reason why he’d need to sweat this one. The only curiosity to me is that several groups that endorsed in Constable races apparently declined to do so in this one, even with an incumbent on the ballot; specifically, the GLBT Political Caucus, H-BAD, and Stonewall all skipped this one, while the AFL-CIO and the Tejanos plus Area 5 supported Diaz. Anyone know what if anything is up with that? Regardless, I see this as Diaz’s race to lose.

Constable, Precinct 3 – Democratic

Another huge field (nine candidates), another office vacated by a longtime incumbent (Constable Ken Jones), and another really close finish. The top three candidates:

Sherman Eagleton – 3,687 votes, 19.87%
Michel Pappillion – 2,862 votes, 15.43%
Jasen Rabalais – 2,825 votes, 15.23%

Yep, a 37-vote difference between going on and going home. I’ve discussed this one before, as third-place finisher Rabalais has filed a lawsuit challenging the result; he has alleged that a nefarious campaign worker committed absentee ballot fraud on behalf of Pappillion. I don’t really expect anything to change in this race, but one never knows. Assuming nothing changes, Eagleton, who is a sergeant in Precinct 3, was endorsed by the Chron, while Pappillion, a retired police officer with HPD and in his native Louisiana, got the HGLBT nod; other groups either skipped this one or went with candidates who finished out of the running. I call this one a tossup because I don’t know any better.

And that’s all there is – there are no runoffs at this level on the Republican side, as only one such race (JP in Precinct 1, Place 1) drew more than two candidates. I’ve got two more of these entries to go, to look at the Democratic Sheriff race and a couple of stray GOP races. I hope this has been useful.

When are we going to get a general election poll of Texas?

As goes Utah

According to a new Deseret News/KSL poll, if Donald Trump becomes the GOP nominee, the voters of Utah would opt for a Democratic candidate for the first time in over 50 years. Poll respondents said they would support either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders over Trump, though Clinton was only two points ahead of Trump in the poll, falling within the margin of error (as opposed to the 11 points Sanders has over Trump). As many as 16 percent of respondents said they would skip the election altogether if Trump was the nominee. The survey also indicated that either John Kasich or Ted Cruz would defeat the Democratic candidate if they were nominated.

It’s only one poll, but that didn’t prevent it from shocking Chris Karpowitz, the co-director of Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. Said Karpowitz to the News, “I know it is early and these things can change. But the fact that a Donald Trump matchup with either Clinton or Sanders is a competitive race is a canary in a coal mine for Republicans.”

Let me lay down a million qualifiers here: Just one poll. Way, way early. Lots of undecideds – indeed, Clinton’s lead is 38-36, and you can guess what most of the others would do if all else where equal. The poll was conducted around the same time that Trump was trashing Mormons in general and Mitt Romney in particular, which strikes me as a damn fine way to alienate a lot of Utahans. So yeah, stock up on the salt for this one.

But it still makes one wonder, just what the Trump effect may be in various red states. Utah is one of the few places that can out-Republican Texas, after all. I’ll cop to being an eternal optimist, but according to RG Ratcliffe on Facebook, former Texas GOP Chair Steve Munisteri said on CNN that if Trump is the nominee, Texas could be carried by the Democrats. I’ll need to see a few poll results before I let myself get too irrationally exuberant, but let’s play with a few numbers and see what we can game out.

In 2008, some 3.5 million Texans voted for Barack Obama; in 2012, it was 3.3 million. In 2008, 4.4 million voted GOP, and in 2012 it was over 4.5 million. It’s my opinion that the GOP Presidential vote is close to maxed out, so let’s say 4.6 million as a starting point, with 3.5 million as a starting point for the Dems. Perhaps between the newly minted citizens and other efforts, perhaps boosted by Julian Castro on the ticket, Dems van boost themselves to 3.8 or 3.9 million. Let’s be conservative and say 3.8 million.

The big question then becomes, how many Republicans refuse to vote for Trump, and what do they do instead? Sit it out, vote Libertarian or a third party candidate (who will not be Rick Perry) if one can get certified for the ballot by May 9 (good luck with that), or *gag* vote for Hillary? Either of the first two reduces the R total, while the latter also increases the D number. If 400,000 Republicans – about nine percent of their total – skip the race or go third party, and another 200,000 go for Hillary, that gets us to a tie in my scenario. Millennial voters would apparently be likely to flip from R to D if the R is Trump.

How unlikely is my red-to-blue scenario? Probably pretty unlikely. But not impossible! When we finally get some November polling, we’ll see where on the impossible-to-unlikely scale it is. I should note that however you slice it, some number of Republicans would have to sit it out entirely and not just skip the top of the ticket for this to have a coattail effect downballot. The main ingredient to the Democratic legislative success of 2006 was unusually low turnout among Republicans. We’re now moving from “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” to “are they two-stepping or polkaing” territory, so I’d better quit while I’m ahead. Bottom line is, I’d like to see some November polling, sooner rather than later. It may provide some good entertainment, if nothing else. Martin Longman, ThinkProgress, and Marc Campos, who is way more skeptical than I am of a Trump effect in Texas, have more.

The New Mexico abortion option

This should come as a surprise to no one.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Though abortions among residents are down the number of out-of-state women traveling to New Mexico for abortions has grown significantly over the past three years.

According to state Department of Health data, about 20 percent of the roughly 4,500 abortions performed in New Mexico in 2014 involved women from out of state, the Albuquerque Journal reports. Reports suggest that number can be attributed to New Mexico’s few restrictions on abortion.

New Mexico hasn’t passed an abortion law in 16 years and is one of seven states that permits abortions at any stage in a pregnancy.

Comparatively, neighboring Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma each adopted 10 or more abortion restrictions from 2011 to 2015.

Texas women had nearly 9,000 fewer abortions in the first full year since those restrictions were put into place.

Just as a reminder, Texas Republicans passed HB2 on the (false) grounds that all those requirements and restrictions would make abortion safer for women. The state then argued in court that all of the clinics that would or did close as a result did not present an undue burden for women who sought abortions because the ones in the west could just go to New Mexico, which didn’t have all of those allegedly safety-enhancing (and clinic-closing) rules. The numbers bear that out. Funny how these things work, isn’t it? The Press has more.

More speed bumps coming

Like ’em or not.

Houston officials are speeding up the process of slowing down residential street traffic.

A laborious process to improve traffic and safety by installing traffic calming devices such as speed humps is radically streamlined in a new method by the city’s public works department, unveiled Monday at a City Council committee meeting. Council members applauded the change.

“I am doing the happy dance here,” said District K Councilman Larry Green, whose southwest Houston area has some of the neighborhoods that have waited the longest for relief from speeding cars.

In the future, with demand for speed humps high in many areas, public works will no longer require traffic and speed analyses, Public Works Deputy Director Jeff Weatherford said.

“We believe all local neighborhood streets should automatically qualify for speed control if they want it,” Weatherford said, citing overwhelming evidence that pedestrians and bicyclists are safer with lower residential street speeds.

The change would only apply to residential streets, where speed humps are practical, and not thoroughfares that carry far higher volumes of traffic.

[…]

In the past, neighbors upset at a cumbersome city process left dissatisfied, especially when the analysis found they didn’t have a speeding issue. Residents would then frequently ask public works to assess the traffic volume, which would start the process over again.

When requests from residents come to public works in the future, staff will analyze the neighborhood and then deliver their recommendations to the district council member for the area.

Pending approval from the council member, public works will then coordinate construction of the speed humps. Plans are devised for entire neighborhoods, often a 10- to 20-square block area between two major streets. Public works will normally consider streets best suited for traffic calming, then locate humps, medians and other features where appropriate to control speed.

District D Councilman Dwight Boykins noted the city successfully dealt with fast-moving vehicles crashing in a curve in a residential area by placing the humps not at the curve, but leading to it.

Under the old way, however, that process often took nine months to complete. The new method that reduces studies decreases it to six to eight weeks, but it also puts a lot more responsibility in the hands of council members, [CM Ellen] Cohen said.

I confess, I hate these things. I hate driving over them, and will go out of my way to avoid them. But I understand why we have them, and I’ve seen more than enough jackwads doing in excess of 40 on residential streets to accept them without complaint. Well, OK, with a bit of whining, but without any expectation of sympathy. If we want safer streets and fewer traffic fatalities – and we do, or at least we should – then this is a part of that. I’ll just have to suck it up.