The appeals courts

Looking at an email I received inviting me to a fundraiser for one of the candidates for the 14th Court of Appeals got me to thinking about those races yesterday. The Appeals Courts – the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals include Harris County – are sort of in-between races, as they cover a ten-county area, with Harris being about two-thirds of the voting population. As we know, in 2006 Jim Sharp carried Harris County in his race for the 1st Court of Appeals, Place 9, but not by enough. Here’s how that broke down:

County Sharp Alcala ========================= Harris 277,820 276,529 Others 120,010 130,209

Sharp won 50.1% in Harris County. Had he won 51.1% – actually, 51.0% would have sufficed – he’d have won the election, as his winning margin in Harris County would have swamped his losing margin elsewhere.

Basically, if you win Harris County by enough, you will win a seat on one of these benches pretty much regardless of what happens in the other counties. So how much is enough? To answer that, let’s look at the other two contested Appeals Court races in recent years: Leora Kahn versus Richard Edelman in 2006, and Sharo versus Evelyn Keyes in 2004.

County Kahn Edelman Kahn % Deficit 2008 % ==================================================== Harris 264,679 286,575 48.01 21,896 52.42 Others 107,825 139,942 43.52 32,117 43.52 County Sharp Keyes Sharp % Deficit 2008 % ==================================================== Harris 478,352 538,788 47.03 60,436 52.60 Others 185,901 242,048 43.44 56,147 43.44

The “2008 %” column represents the percentage that the Democratic candidate would need in Harris County to overcome a performance at the same level in the other counties, assuming the proportion of Harris/non-Harris votes is the same. The math is in this Excel spreadsheet if you’re curious. To put it in simple terms, as I see it, 51% in Harris County will require a strong effort elsewhere (Sharp had 48% elsewhere in 2006) to be competitive. A 52% showing in Harris puts you well within range. Win 53% in Harris, and you’ll almost be surely be called Your Honor at this time next year.

I think this is doable, and it’s consistent with the vote total target that I understand other countywide candidates have been told to shoot for. Obviously, you can hedge your bets by trying to improve in places like the reasonably Dem-friendly counties like Galveston and hopefully Dem-trending ones like Fort Bend, but the fat target is Harris, and that’s where I expect the bulk of effort to be.

As it happens, as I was puzzling through this, I got a tip that another Appeals Court seat will be up for grabs in November. Rumor has it that Justice Wanda Fowler, who ran unopposed for a six-year term in 2006, will be stepping down in May. My understanding is that the party chairs for the ten counties that this Appeals Court covers will then get together and name candidates to replace her, with each chair getting one vote. At this point, that’s all I know. Fee free to speculate about who else you might see on your increasingly crowded ballot this year.

UPDATE: I have now been informed that Governor Perry has convinced Justice Fowler to wait till later this year before stepping down, as that would allow the replacement he names to not have to run until 2010. Needless to say, I’m not the least bit surprised by this. And I think it can be taken as a sign that the Governor and his cronies are worried about these elections.

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