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June 1st, 2021:

Precinct analysis: State House districts 2020, part 1

Introduction
Congressional districts
State Rep districts
Commissioners Court/JP precincts
Comparing 2012 and 2016
Statewide judicial
Other jurisdictions
Appellate courts, Part 1
Appellate courts, Part 2
Judicial averages
Other cities
District Attorney
County Attorney
Sheriff
Tax Assessor
County Clerk
HCDE
Fort Bend, part 1
Fort Bend, part 2
Fort Bend, part 3
Brazoria County
Harris County State Senate comparisons
State Senate districts 2020
State Senate district comparisons

Joe Biden carried 74 State House districts in 2020. That’s seven more than were won by Democratic candidates, but two fewer than Beto in 2018. Eight districts won by Biden were held by Republican incumbents, and there were two that were flipped one way or the other:


Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
026    45,192   42,349    50.9%    47.7%
066    47,844   39,729    53.7%    44.6%
067    52,872   43,876    53.6%    44.5%
096    44,828   43,538    50.0%    48.6%
108    57,513   43,250    56.2%    42.3%
112    37,369   31,167    53.6%    44.7%
121    49,034   46,430    50.6%    47.9%
132    51,737   50,223    50.0%    48.5%
134    67,814   42,523    60.6%    38.0%
138    34,079   31,171    51.5%    47.1%

For comparison, here’s the analysis from 2018. The one Republican-held district that Beto won but Biden didn’t is HD64, which I’ll get to next. Biden won HD96, which Beto did not win. I have no idea how Morgan Meyer held on in HD108 with that strong a wind blowing against him, but you have to tip your cap. You also have to wonder how much longer he can do this – yes, I know, redistricting is coming, but Dallas is getting close to being Travis County at this point, and you just have to wonder how many seats winnable by Republicans there are if current trends continue. Note that Sarah Davis faced nearly the same conditions in 2020 as she had in 2018, except for having a stronger opponent. Meyer had the same opponent (Joanna Cattanach) as in 2018, and she raised good money, but he managed to win anyway.

I still don’t feel like we have a good understanding of why there were so many Biden/Republican voters. There’s been a lot done to try to explain why Republicans did better with Latino voters in 2020, while everyone is more or less taking it for granted that the stampede of former Republicans who are now voting Democratic is just part of the landscape. I look at these numbers and I am reminded of the same kind of splits we saw in 2016, when there were tons of people who voted for Hillary Clinton but then mostly voted Republican otherwise. I was skeptical of the optimism we had (at least initially) for CDs 07 and 32 and other districts because of those gaps, and then 2018 came along and erased those concerns. So what do we make of this? A last gasp of anti-Trump energy from people who still think of themselves (and vote like) Republicans, or a leading indicator of more to come in 2022? I wish I knew, and I wish there were people actively trying to find out. Note that doesn’t necessarily bring us closer to winning statewide, as Beto had a smaller margin than Biden did, but it does meant that the battle for the Legislature and Congress will continue to be heated, even with new maps.

Next up are the near misses, and the farther-out-but-still-within-sight districts that I had been keeping an eye on following 2018. Most of these are familiar:


Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
014    30,188   33,690    45.9%    51.3%
028    60,101   63,906    47.8%    50.8%
029    45,951   51,494    46.5%    52.1%
054    35,995   36,093    48.9%    49.0%
064    42,908   46,093    47.2%    50.7%
092    39,262   39,386    49.0%    49.2%
093    40,679   43,897    47.3%    51.0%
094    37,375   38,724    48.3%    50.1%
097    41,007   42,494    48.2%    50.0%
122    57,972   68,621    45.2%    53.5%
126    36,031   38,651    47.6%    51.1%
133    43,263   47,038    47.3%    51.4%

032    31,699   38,011    44.7%    53.6%
070    53,870   75,198    40.9%    57.1%
084    24,928   34,575    41.1%    57.1%
085    34,743   43,818    43.6%    55.0%
089    45,410   55,914    44.0%    54.1%
106    59,024   70,752    44.8%    53.7%
129    38,941   47,389    44.4%    54.0%
150    42,933   55,261    43.1%    55.5%

Generally speaking, Beto did better in these districts than Biden did, which is consistent with Beto scoring higher overall, but not everywhere. Biden outpaced him in some more urban areas, like HDs 133, 122, and the aforementioned HD96. Usually where Beto did better it wasn’t by much, less than a point or so, but with bigger differences in less urban areas like HDs 14, 32, and 84. It may be that there was less-than-expected Republican turnout in 2018, so it’s hard to extrapolate to 2022, but it’s important to remember that the trend from 2016 is strongly Democratic in all of these places. And it’s happening in places you haven’t been paying attention to as well. HD70 may not look competitive, and I didn’t include it in the 2018 analysis (Beto got 40.4% there compared to 58.8% for Cruz), but in 2016 it was carried by Trump by a 61.6 to 32.2 margin. This district in northern Collin County used to be a landslide for Republicans, and now it’s on the long-range sensors for Democrats, in the same way that HDs 126 and 133 and 150 are.

Not everything is rainbows and puppies. There were two districts that Beto won and Biden lost. You can probably guess what kind of districts they were. Here they are, along with the other close and longer-term-something-to-think-about districts.


Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
031    25,315   33,101    42.9%    56.1%
074    23,478   27,319    45.6%    53.1%

034    29,226   26,606    51.7%    47.0%
035    24,991   21,049    53.8%    45.3%
080    26,251   22,543    53.3%    45.8%

038    29,116   21,573    56.8%    42.1%
041    31,956   25,187    55.5%    43.7%
117    53,983   39,495    56.8%    41.6%
118    34,228   25,848    56.2%    42.4%
144    17,365   14,599    53.6%    45.0%

If you’ve been wondering why Reps like Ryan Guillen and Eddie Morales were voting for permitless carry and the bills to restrict cities’ ability to reduce police funding, that right there is the likely answer. Guillen has been around forever and likely was pretty safe even with that Trump surge, but Morales was defending an open seat. I don’t want to think about how much more obnoxious the media narrative of the 2020 election in Texas would have been had the Republicans flipped this one.

The three “near miss” districts, HDs 34, 35, and 80, look worrisome and will no doubt give the Republicans some ideas about what the 2022 map should look like, but keep two things in mind: One, as you will see in the next post, this was more of a Trump thing than anything else. Republicans did not do nearly as well farther down on the ballot. And two, nine of the Democratic “near miss” districts were closer than the 4.7 point margin in HD34. If the current map were to stay in place, we’d have more targets than they would.

The five longer-range districts don’t concern me much, especially the two Bexar County districts, where Biden had a higher percentage than Clinton in each and a bigger margin in HD117 (Clinton carried HD118 by a 55.1-40.0 margin). They were both closer than they were in 2018, but the overall trend in Bexar County is bluer.

Finally, here are the seats that the Democrats picked up in either 2016 (HD107) or 1028:


Dist    Biden    Trump   Biden%   Trump%
========================================
045    61,435   53,123    52.6%    45.5%
047    76,336   61,983    54.1%    43.9%
052    55,056   44,664    53.9%    43.7%
065    44,884   36,126    54.5%    43.9%
102    41,123   27,279    59.1%    39.2%
105    33,634   23,879    57.6%    40.9%
107    36,691   24,880    58.6%    39.8%
113    38,175   30,600    54.8%    43.9%
114    47,215   32,340    58.5%    40.1%
115    42,618   29,510    58.1%    40.3%
135    39,657   36,114    51.6%    47.0%
136    59,654   43,190    56.6%    40.9%

As we know, the narrative from the 2020 election is that Democrats went big trying to take over the State House and win a bunch of Congressional seats, but failed to do any of that and so the year was a big success for the Republicans. I don’t dispute the basic premise, but I feel like it’s only part of the story. Democrats did regain that State Senate seat they lost in the 2019 special election debacle, they won a State Board of Education seat for the first time in my memory, they won more appellate court benches, and they completed the flip of Fort Bend County. None of that gained much notice. More to the point, the Republicans had big plans to win back what they had lost in 2018, the year that they claimed was a huge fluke driven by Betomania and anti-Trump fervor. Yet they failed to retake CDs 07 and 32, and they only took back one of the 12 State House seats they had lost, which was balanced out by their loss of HD134, but somehow that’s never mentioned. They spent a ton of money on these races, Dave Carney was predicting they would gains seats overall, and they had expressed confidence in their ability to hold SD19. They not only failed broadly on all this, but Biden did better overall in the seats Beto carried in 2018, as the new Dem incumbents mostly cruised. Sometimes I wonder what the story would have been if Dems had won only six or seven seats in 2018, then picked up the others last year. Would we still think of 2020 as a failure that way? I have no idea.

So this is how things looked from a Presidential perspective. As we know, Biden ran ahead of the other Democrats on the statewide ballot, so you may be wondering how this looked from that viewpoint. The next entry in this series will be the State House districts for the Senate and Railroad Commissioner races. Tune in next time for the exciting followup to this very special episode.

So now what?

Well, Greg Abbott gets to have a little temper tantrum, which may or may not end up in an immediate special session.

The Texas Legislature closed out its regular 140-day session Monday with sniping among the state’s top political leaders and lawmakers already well aware they will be back this calendar year for an overtime round.

“We will be back — when, I don’t know, but we will be back,” House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, told members from the speaker’s dais. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to doing it with every single one of you.”

Talk of a special session — and questions about how soon one may happen or what additional issues Gov. Greg Abbott could task legislators with — has largely defined the last weekend of the Legislature’s 140-day stretch after lawmakers left unfinished a number of GOP priorities and tensions between the two chambers escalated.

That drama reached new highs Sunday night when House Democrats staged a walk out and broke quorum, making it impossible to give final approval Senate Bill 7, a massive GOP priority voting bill that would tighten the state’s election laws, before the midnight deadline.

Abbott quickly made clear that the bill, along with another other priority legislation that would have made it harder for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash, “STILL must pass” — and said that the two issues “will be added to the special session agenda.”

The governor, who is the only official who holds the power to convene a special session, has not yet specified whether he plans to order one ahead of an overtime round already planned for the fall to handle the redrawing of the state’s political maps. An Abbott spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment earlier Monday.

Before lawmakers adjourned though, Abbott made clear he intends to reprimand the Legislature over its unfinished business by vetoing the section of the state budget that funds the legislative branch.

“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities,” he tweeted. “Stay tuned.”

Shortly after lawmakers adjourned for the final time, Abbott released a lengthier statement in which he applauded the Legislature for pushing through a series of conservative victories, while doubling down on his demands that lawmakers pass voting and bail legislation. But the governor also left open the possibility that other topics could be added to the agenda for the special session.

Lots of takes on Twitter about that, but the one that caught my attention was a reminder that legislators’s pay and per diem are defined in the Constitution, so it seems clear Greg Abbott can’t just take their pay away. (Not that most legislators depend on the pittance they do get paid.) What he could do, in effect, is kill the funding for a bunch of legislative agencies, which seems to me like a bad way to run government and also mostly an attack on non-partisan staffers. My guess is that someone with better sense will quietly talk him into writing a cranky statement with his signature of the budget and leave it at that, but you never know with a galaxy brain like that.

House Democrats earlier this week successfully killed proposals that would’ve banned local governments from using taxpayer dollars to pay lobbyists, prohibited social media companies from blocking users because of their viewpoints and barred transgender students from playing on sports teams based on their gender identity. Abbott had previously said he would sign those bills.

“I expect legislators to have worked out their differences prior to arriving back at the Capitol so that they can hit the ground running to pass legislation related to these emergency items and other priority legislation,” he said.

A whole lot of lousy bills were left for dead by the quorum breaking, which is fine by me. Any or all of these bills could get revived in one or more special sessions, but there’s no guarantee they’d fare any better in overtime. One might reasonably ask why these bills were left to the last minute like that if they were of such utmost importance to Abbott et al. The Chron, the Press, and the Texas Signal have more.

Another upward revision of the freeze death count

Buzzfeed News takes a deep dive.

The true number of people killed by the disastrous winter storm and power outages that devastated Texas in February is likely four or five times what the state has acknowledged so far. A BuzzFeed News data analysis reveals the hidden scale of a catastrophe that trapped millions of people in freezing darkness, cut off access to running water, and overwhelmed emergency services for days.

The state’s tally currently stands at 151 deaths. But by looking at how many more people died during and immediately after the storm than would have been expected — an established method that has been used to count the full toll of other disasters — we estimate that 700 people were killed by the storm during the week with the worst power outages. This astonishing toll exposes the full consequence of officials’ neglect in preventing the power grid’s collapse despite repeated warnings of its vulnerability to cold weather, as well as the state’s failure to reckon with the magnitude of the crisis that followed.

Many of the uncounted victims of the storm and power outages were already medically vulnerable — with chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and kidney problems. But without the intense cold and stress they experienced during the crisis, many of these people could still be alive today.

[…]

The BuzzFeed News analysis of deaths during the storm is based on mortality data from the CDC. It relies on a method called “excess deaths” analysis, recently used to estimate the full toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our analysis, reviewed by three independent experts, suggests that between 426 and 978 more people than expected died in Texas in the week ending February 20 alone. Our best estimate is that 702 people were killed by the storm that week. Even the lowest end of the range is almost three times the number officials have acknowledged. Neighboring states that were hit hard by the winter storm but did not experience the widespread power outages seen in Texas did not show a spike in deaths.

BuzzFeed News reached out to relatives of people who died during the power outages, identified from dozens of wrongful death lawsuits as well as death reports obtained from public records requests to medical examiners in eight of the biggest counties in Texas. Interviews revealed stories of anguish and confusion, as families struggled to find out exactly how their relatives died.

This confusion also poses real economic challenges for survivors. For Mary Gonzales, the delay in obtaining a cause of death for her husband meant she was unable to claim an income from his pension for almost three months. And without an official acknowledgment tying their loved ones’ deaths to the storm, families will be unable to claim federal assistance for funeral costs.

The high death toll adds pressure on state legislators, energy regulators, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to harden the state’s infrastructure to avert another deadly disaster.

Abbott’s press secretary, Renae Eze, did not respond to questions about the significantly higher death toll or whether the state would investigate further, but said Abbott was “working collaboratively with the House and Senate to find meaningful and lasting solutions to ensure these tragic events are never repeated.”

“The Governor joins all Texans in mourning every single life lost during the winter storm, and we pray for the families who are suffering from the loss of a loved one,” she said.

But with the state’s legislative session ending on May 31, lawmakers only have a week left to finalize a proposal to address some of the vulnerabilities that made the February storm so horrific.

“As it stands, nothing has happened,” said Michael Webber, a professor of mechanical engineering focused on energy infrastructure at the University of Texas at Austin.

As of the end of March, the official death count was at 111, and a Houston Chronicle analysis in early April estimated it at 194. As this story among others notes, there are only so many medical examiners in the state, and only so many deaths result in an autopsy. As was the case with COVID, some deaths are attributed to chronic conditions like heart disease despite the obvious external cause. Similar statistical methods that estimate “excess deaths” have been used for COVID as well, and you can read how they arrived at these figures in the story. We’ll never know an exact number, but we do know that the official number will always be too low. Daily Kos has more.

Cybersecurity insurance for TxDOT

Not an optional thing these days.

Pending final approval from the legislature, the Texas Department of Transportation plans to spend about $100,000 annually on cybersecurity insurance aimed at repaying the state should it incur expenses related to loss of business or recouping costs related to correcting a cyber attack. To buy the insurance, TxDOT needs some minor language changes to state law. HB 3390 by State Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, would make those adjustments, clearing the way for the transportation agency to buy a policy.

Thompson’s bill passed the Texas Senate on Wednesday and now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature.

State Sen. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, who sponsored an identical bill in the Senate, said the premium on the insurance would cost TxDOT about $100,000 annually.

The insurance comes about a year after the department was the victim of a ransomware attack on its systems that cost about $10 million to correct and prevent future invaders.

“It was pretty bad,” said State Sen. Robert Nichols, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

A number of state agencies, smaller public entities and major businesses in Texas have faced internet assaults, including school districts, the Houston RocketsTexas’ court system and Texas Children’s Hospital.

Neither TxDOT nor its insurance company paid a ransom, officials at the time said, but spent weeks working with consultants and companies, such as AT&T, to identify the issue and install new hardware related to stopping infiltrations. James Bass, TxDOT’s executive director, said analysts believe the breach happened when a contract employee clicked a link disguised as coming from an internal source.

[…]

Bass said the need for the insurance at this time is somewhat confusing, since last year’s attack was covered by insurance. To satisfy bond holders, who lent money for the state to build toll roads, TxDOT purchased cyberattack insurance on its tolling systems about a decade ago. At that time, the insurer allowed TxDOT to add all of its operations free of charge.

Now that the state has been attacked, however, Bass said it likely will need separate insurance, which requires the change in law so TxDOT can use state money — not toll revenue — to pay the premium.

TxDOT is an obvious candidate for needing this kind of insurance, since drivers license data is a lucrative target, but surely they’re not the only state agency that would need it. The Department of State Health Services comes to mind, for example. A better question is what are we doing as a state to better protect these agencies and their data from being ransomed in the first place? Putting my professional hat on for a minute, I can tell you this is a big problem, one that requires a significant and evergreen investment to mitigate against it, and a lot of places are woefully ill-equipped for the fight. And as we saw last year, it’s not just DPS and other state agencies we have to worry about, it’s also the firms they do business with. (It’s also not just hackers, but pure human incompetence that can be at fault as well.) I’m sure there’s plenty the Lege could have done this session to improve things, but they had other priorities.