Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Election 2006

State and county election result relationships: Tarrant County

In years past, Tarrant County was a pretty close bellwether for election results in the state of Texas. From 2004 through 2016, the closeness of their Presidential numbers with the statewide numbers was eerie. But since 2018 the talk has been about how Tarrant is on the verge of turning blue, which puts it at least a little to the left of the state as a whole. As I did before with Harris County, I thought I’d take a closer look at how statewide candidates have done in Tarrant County compared to the state overall, to see what it might tell me. We start as we did with Harris in the distant past of 2002:


2002                 2004                   2006
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================   ===================
43.33   41.27 -2.06   38.22   37.01 -1.21   36.04   34.80 -1.24
39.96   38.53 -1.43   40.94   37.36 -3.58   29.79   31.07  1.28
46.03   42.63 -3.40   40.77   38.06 -2.71   37.45   37.06 -0.39
41.08   37.76 -3.32   42.14   39.15 -2.99   37.23   36.99 -0.24
32.92   30.86 -2.06                         37.01   36.41 -0.60
41.48   37.94 -3.54                         40.96   40.67 -0.29
37.82   34.85 -2.97                         41.79   40.86 -0.93
41.49   39.02 -2.47                         41.73   40.52 -1.21
40.51   37.55 -2.96                         44.89   42.79 -2.10
41.54   38.73 -2.81                         43.35   41.56 -1.79
41.89   38.49 -3.40								
43.24   39.74 -3.50								
45.90   42.26 -3.64								
39.15   35.90 -3.25								
42.61   39.20 -3.41								
40.01   36.92 -3.09								
										
Min   -3.64           Min   -3.58           Min   -2.10
Max   -1.43           Max   -1.21           Max    1.28
Avg   -2.96           Avg   -2.62           Avg   -0.75

You can read the earlier posts for the explanation of the numbers. The bottom line is that in early to mid Aughts, Tarrant was more Republican overall than the rest of the state. As was the case with Harris, there was a step in the Democratic direction in 2006, with the chaotic multi-candidate Governor’s race providing the first Democrat to do better in Tarrant than in the state, but it was still about a point more Republican than overall.


2008                  2010                  2012
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================   ===================
43.68   43.73  0.05   42.30   40.98 -1.32   41.38   41.43  0.05
42.84   42.52 -0.32   34.83   34.97  0.14   40.62   40.41 -0.21
44.35   43.39 -0.96   33.66   33.90  0.24   39.60   39.20 -0.40
43.79   43.47 -0.32   35.29   35.24 -0.05   41.91   41.40 -0.51
45.88   44.16 -1.72   35.80   35.83  0.03   41.24   40.31 -0.93
44.63   43.51 -1.12   36.24   35.64 -0.60				
45.53   43.81 -1.72   37.26   35.39 -1.87				
43.75   42.49 -1.26   37.00   35.97 -1.03				
                      35.62   35.17 -0.45				
                      36.62   36.05 -0.57				
										
Min   -1.72           Min   -1.87            Min   -0.93
Max    0.05           Max    0.24            Max    0.05
Avg   -0.92           Avg   -0.55            Avg   -0.40

Still slightly on the Republican side as we move into elections that feel more familiar to us – as I’ve said before, looking at those elections from 2002 through 2006 is like visiting a foreign country – and you can see how dead on the Tarrant Presidential numbers were. Tarrant was a bit more Republican in the judicial races than in the executive office and Senate races, but otherwise not much else to say.


2014                  2016
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================
34.36   36.13  1.77   43.24   43.14 -0.10
38.90   41.08  2.18   38.38   38.62  0.24
38.71   39.53  0.82   38.53   38.43 -0.10
38.02   38.91  0.89   41.18   40.49 -0.69
37.69   38.67  0.98   39.36   39.58  0.22
35.32   36.49  1.17   40.05   39.75 -0.30
36.84   38.14  1.30   40.20   40.91  0.71
37.25   38.43  1.18   40.89   40.59 -0.30
36.49   38.02  1.53				
37.60   38.41  0.81				
36.54   38.00  1.46				
						
Min    0.81           Min   -0.69
Max    2.18           Max    0.71
Avg    1.28           Avg   -0.04

I wouldn’t have guessed that 2014 would be the year that Tarrant County officially became (slightly) more Democratic than the state as a whole, but here we are. Maybe because 2014 was such a miserable year, maybe because Wendy Davis was the Dem nominee for Governor, maybe it was just time. It wasn’t quite the start of a trend, as things snapped back a bit in 2016, but a threshold had been crossed.


2018                  2020                  2022
State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff   State Tarrant  Diff
===================   ===================   ===================
48.33   49.93  1.60   46.48	49.31  2.83   43.81   47.24  3.43
42.51   43.75  1.24   43.87	46.18  2.31   43.44   47.36  3.92
46.49   47.25  0.76   43.56	45.25  1.69   43.62   46.80  3.18
47.01   48.11  1.10   44.49	46.71  2.22   40.91   44.33  3.42
43.39   44.70  1.31   44.08	46.14  2.06   42.10   44.90  2.80
43.19   43.99  0.80   44.76	47.23  2.47   43.63   46.72  3.09
46.41   47.37  0.96   44.35	46.50  2.15   40.51   43.83  3.32
43.91   44.85  0.94   45.18	47.38  2.20   41.81   45.14  3.33
46.83   47.86  1.03   44.70	47.03  2.33   42.87   46.36  3.49
46.29   47.44  1.15   45.47	47.91  2.44   43.55   46.75  3.20
46.29   47.68  1.39                           43.02   46.48  3.46
45.48   46.24  0.76                           42.74   46.22  3.48
45.85   47.14  1.29								
										
Min    0.76           Min    1.69            Min    2.80
Max    1.60           Max    2.83            Max    3.92
Avg    1.10           Avg    2.27            Avg    3.34

And thus, despite the small hiccup of 2016, the ball moved ever forward. It would be easy to look at the Tarrant County results in 2022, especially at the top, compare them to 2018 and 2020, and declare that Tarrant had backslid, but as you can see that would be a misreading of the data. I’m going to step a little out on a limb here and say that Tarrant will be Democratic at a Presidential level again in 2024, and there’s a good chance that will be true elsewhere on the statewide ballot as well. Going by the average gap in 2022, two other Dems would have carried Tarrant County in 2018. If the trend we see here continues, getting to about 45% statewide would probably be enough to win Tarrant in 2024. Please feel free to point at this and laugh at me if this turns out to be wildly off base. Until then, I’ll do this same exercise for a couple more counties, just for the fun of it.

What to expect when you’re expecting a (larger) Democratic majority

I have three things to say about this.

Despite narrowly winning reelection against bruising campaigns by well-funded challengers, the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court has made clear it intends to continue its progressive remake of Harris County.

Though neither County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia or Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis invoked the word “mandate,” their public promises of four more years of what they have been doing leaves little doubt about their intentions.

Adding a fourth Democrat in Precinct 4, where former county court at law judge Lesley Briones ousted incumbent Commissioner Jack Cagle will only strengthen that resolve.

It also will prevent the lone Republican remaining on court, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey from pulling off a quorum break as he did this year with Cagle to prevent the Democratic majority from passing its preferred property tax rate.

“Democrats will likely lean into a more progressive agenda now that they have uniform control of the court,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “They as much as campaigned on this promise.”

The question, Rottinghaus said, is how far Democrats should go in a progressive direction.

“Voters didn’t provide an overwhelming mandate for a major left shift and probably signaled some modest opposition to or, at least, different emphasis on priorities from the prior four years,” Rottinghaus said.

I’m old enough to remember the 2006 election, you know, the one where Rick Perry was elected with 39% of the vote. There was some Discourse at the time about how Perry should be humbled by his weak showing and should mend his ways and just somehow not be so Rick Perry-like. He did none of those things, was easily re-elected again in 2010, was briefly a Presidential candidate in 2012, and eventually became a Cabinet member. Mandates are what you make of them.

With the new stronger majority on the court, Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel said she is concerned Democrats will be punitive toward those who have challenged them, pointing to Hidalgo’s victory speech delivered the day after the election.

In those remarks, Hidalgo spoke about her critics who have accused Democrats on the court of defunding police, including what she called “unscrupulous politicians of both parties.” She called out Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat, without naming her directly.

“That was sort of what was implied with her statement addressed to those people who didn’t support her. So, does that mean she’s not going to be supportive of the constables and the DA’s office?” Siegel said. “Because it’s one thing saying that you’re for funding and you want to make crime go down, but now it’s time to deliver. That’s what she told people.”

Oh, Cindy. Have you seen what Republicans are promising to do in Congress now that they have a slim majority? That’s what being punitive looks like. There are some significant policy differences between Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Court on the one hand and Kim Ogg and the Constables on the other. Judge Hidalgo has – I’m gonna say it – a mandate to use her office to implement the policies she and the Court campaigned on and think are best. If Ogg and the Constables, who are all up for election in 2024, disagree about that, they can make a campaign issue out of it and hope to get their own mandate at that time. If Hidalgo and the Court really do overstep, that can be ammunition in their fight.

Still, Rottinghaus said, the opposition Democrats faced during the election cycle reflected the difficulty they had messaging on crime issues.

“Governing a massive and ideologically diverse county like Harris means compromising,” he said. “So, despite a solid majority, the close election shows Democrats on the Court need to encourage Republicans to come back to the table.”

This is just your periodic reminder that Harris County Commissioners Court operated with a Republican majority for at least 40 years – I’m only able to verify the Court’s makeup via election results back to about 1974 – before Dems took it in 2019. We operated under Republican laws, rules, norms, and assumptions for a long, long time. Only so much of that can be changed to reflect the current political reality in four years’ time, especially when a Republican minority was still able to wield a budget veto. The fact is that this now-larger Democratic majority – which even with the benefit of redistricting was still hard won – will continue to modify, update, and undo some of the things that we had long done under Republican rule. Everyone needs to wrap their heads around that.

State and county election result relationships, part 4: What happened in 2022

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Now that the final totals are in, let’s go back and do the same exercise in comparing overall results for statewide candidates to the results they got in Harris County, and then from there comparing them to the local countywide numbers. I’m going to limit the comparisons to the last four elections, since as we saw things changed in 2016 and I don’t see any reason to go back farther than that. Here are the statewide numbers:


2016                   2018                   2020                   2022
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.24   53.95  10.71   48.33   57.98   9.65   46.48   55.96   9.48   43.81   54.00  10.19
38.38   47.35   8.97   42.51   52.11   9.60   43.87   52.90   9.03   43.44   53.41   9.97
38.53   47.96   9.43   46.49   56.07   9.58   43.56   52.90   9.34   43.62   53.40   9.78
41.18   50.78   9.60   47.01   56.90   9.89   44.49   53.16   8.67   40.91   50.56   9.65
39.36   48.28   8.92   43.39   52.74   9.35   44.08   53.49   9.41   42.10   51.08   8.98
40.05   49.86   9.81   43.19   53.71  10.52   44.76   53.76   9.00   43.63   53.15   9.52
40.20   49.53   9.33   46.41   56.68  10.27   44.35   52.97   8.62   40.51   49.92   9.41
40.89   50.72   9.83   43.91   53.25   9.34   45.18   54.45   9.27   41.81   50.40   8.59
                       46.83   56.68   9.85   44.70   54.72  10.02   42.87   51.44   8.57
                       46.29   56.48  10.19   45.47   54.00   8.53   43.55   52.13   8.58
                       46.29   55.18   8.89                          43.02   50.99   7.97
                       45.48   55.62  10.14                          42.74   50.46   7.72
                       45.85   54.90   9.05				
										
										
Min   8.92             Min   8.89             Min   8.53             Min   7.72
Max  10.71             Max  10.52             Max  10.02             Max  10.19
Avg   9.58             Avg   9.72             Avg   9.14             Avg   9.08

One could argue that the dip in the average difference between Harris County and the statewide results is a continuation from 2020, but I’m not so sure. I’m fascinated by the discrepancy between the executive office numbers and the judicial race numbers, which are the last five ones from 2022. The executive office average is 9.64, while the judicial average is 8.29. We have not seen anything like this in previous years – indeed, judicial races had some of the highest differences in all three previous cycles. My best guess for this is the same thing I’ve suggested before, that the multi-million dollar campaign waged against Democratic judges in Harris County had some modest but measurable success.

The point of this exercise was twofold. One was to show that Democrats don’t have to do all that well statewide to still carry Harris County. That’s been especially true in elections since 2016, but it was true before than. Barack Obama got 41.23% statewide, losing by 16 points, and yet Democrats won more than half of the races in Harris County. Wendy Davis got 38.90% in 2014 and lost by over 20 points; if she had lost by about 14 and a half points – which it to say, if she had done less than a point better than Obama – she’d have gotten to 50% in Harris County and Dems would have won at least some county races. Given this past history and the fact that Beto got to 54% in Harris County, the surprise is not that Dems won it’s that they didn’t sweep. I would have bet money on them taking everything with Beto at that level.

Which gets to the second item. In past elections, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County have generally outperformed the statewide candidates. Most, and in some cases all, of the judicial candidates did better than the statewide candidates’ average in Harris County. That was the key to Dems winning as many judicial races as they did in 2008 (statewide candidate average 50.62%) and 2012 (statewide candidate average 48.59%). This just wasn’t the case in 2022. Let’s start with the numbers:


Havg	51.75
Jmin	49.29
Jmax	52.30
Drop	4.71

As a reminder, “Havg” is the average percentage of the vote in Harris County for statewide candidates. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by Harris County Democratic judicial candidates. “Drop” is the difference between the top score among statewide candidates (54.00% for Beto) and the low score among the judicial candidates.

The Harris average for the statewides was the third best it has ever been, behind 2020 and 2018. As noted in the past, weak statewide candidates have in the past lost a lot of votes to third party candidates, which has dragged down the “Havg” value in those years. While most years there have been judicial candidates that have scored worse than the Havg for the year (2006 and 2016 being exceptions), in previous years the bulk of the judicial candidates did better than the Havg number.

Not this year. By my count, only eight of the 61 district and county court Democrats scored better than 51.75% of the vote. Obviously, you don’t need that much to win, but the effect was that five candidates finished below fifty percent. The range between the top scoring judicial candidate and the bottom scoring one was right in line with historic norms, but because that range began at a lower point, there was a bigger gap overall between how the statewides did compared to the local judicials. That “Drop” of 4.71 points is the second biggest ever, and the only reason that the 2010 Drop was bigger was because Bill White was a huge outlier. If there’s one thing from this election that truly surprised me, it was the gap between the top of the Democratic ticket and the judicial races. That is something we had not seen before.

Again, I believe that the massive amounts of spending by the usual cadre of Republican oligarchs had an effect. It’s something we will have to take into account next time around. Not all of this spending was aimed at the judicial candidates, of course, There was an effect on the county executive office races as well, though thankfully it was smaller:


Havg	51.75	
CJ	50.79
DC	51.17
CC	51.59
CT	51.60

I haven’t calculated a judicial average score for Harris County yet, but my gut says that the three non-County Judge candidates came in above it, while Judge Hidalgo was probably a bit below it. Good enough to win, which is what matters most. County Judge is the only really visible one of these offices and it was very much Judge Hidalgo who was the subject of the ad blitzes. I’m not in a position to say why she persevered, but I will be very interested to see how she performs in the precinct data. In the UH Hobby Center poll of Harris County from October, their second poll of the county, they were pretty accurate about Beto’s performance – they pegged him at 50-42 over Abbott, an eight point lead, which I projected to Beto getting about 54%, dead on to where he was – but they had Hidalgo trailing Mealer among Latino voters by a 47-44 margin. I thought at the time that was inaccurate and I still do, but we’ll get a reality check when the precinct data is available. Let’s put a pin in this one.

I’ve made good on my promise to throw a lot of numbers at you. I hope this made sense, I hope it illustrated why I thought the pundits were likely to be wrong about Harris County, and I hope it will help inform this discourse going forward. Past performance may not predict future results, but it does help to at least know what that past performance was. The numbers are always there.

Some opening thoughts on the 2022 election

Done in the traditional bullet-point style. There may or may not be a part 2 to this, depending on the usual factors.

– Obviously the overall result was disappointing. It was harder to see a Beto victory this year from the polling data than it was in 2018, but that doesn’t lessen the sting. There were polls that had the race at about five or six points and there were polls that had it at about 11 to 13. One of those groups was going to be more right than the other, and unfortunately it was the latter.

– I’m not prepared to say that turnout was disappointing. I mean sure, Beto didn’t get the margins he had gotten four years ago in the big urban counties, and that was partly due to lower turnout. But look, turnout was over 8 million, which up until the 2020 election would have been considered Presidential level. Indeed, more votes were cast in this year’s Governor’s race than in the 2012 Presidential race. We didn’t build on 2018, certainly not as we wanted to, and turnout as a percentage of registered voters is down from 2018, but this was still by far the second highest vote total in an off year election, not too far from being the first highest. There’s still plenty to build on. And for what it’s worth, election losers of all stripes often complain about turnout.

– That said, I think any objective look at the data will suggest that more Dems than we’d have liked stayed home. I don’t know why, but I sure hope someone with access to better data than I have spends some time trying to figure it out. How is it that in a year where Dems nationally outperformed expectations the same didn’t happen here? I wish I knew.

– Turnout in Harris County was 1,100,979, according to the very latest report, for 43.21% of registered voters. A total of 349,025 votes were cast on Election Day, or 31.7% of the total. That made the pattern for 2022 more like 2018 than 2014, and the final tally came in at the lower end of the spectrum as well.

– For what it’s worth, predictions of a redder Election Day than Early Voting turned out to be false, at least when compared to in person early voting; Dems did indeed dominate the mail ballots, with statewide and countywide candidates generally topping 60%. Those five judicial candidates who lost only got about 55-56% of the mail vote, and did worse with early in person voting than their winning peers. On Election Day, most Dems did about as well or a little better than early in person voting. The Dems who fell a bit short of that on Election Day were generally the statewides, and it was because the third party candidates did their best on Election Day; this had the effect of lowering the Republican E-Day percentages as well. Go figure.

– In answer to this question, no I don’t think we’ll see Beto O’Rourke run for anything statewide again. If he wants to run for, like Mayor of El Paso, I doubt anyone would stake their own campaign on calling him a loser. But his statewide days are almost surely over, which means we better start looking around for someone to run against Ted Cruz in 2024. We know he’s beatable.

– Before I let this go, and before the narratives get all hardened in place, one could argue that Beto O’Rourke was the most successful Democratic candidate for Governor since Ann Richards. Consider:


Year  Candidate       Votes    Deficit    Pct   Diff
====================================================
2002    Sanchez   1,819,798    812,793  39.96  17.85
2006       Bell   1,310,337    406,455  29.79   9.24
2010      White   2,106,395    631,086  42.30  12.67
2014      Davis   1,835,596    960,951  38.90  20.37
2018     Valdez   3,546,615  1,109,581  42.51  13.30
2022   O'Rourke   3,535,621    889,155  43.80  11.01

He got more votes than anyone except (just barely) Lupe Valdez, but he came closer to winning than she did. He got a better percentage of the vote than anyone else, and trailed by less than everyone except for Chris Bell in that bizarre four-way race. Like Joe Biden in 2020, the topline result fell short of expectations, but compared to his peers he generally outperformed them and you can see some progress. It will take someone else to move to the next steps.

– I’ll take a closer look at the State House data when it’s more fully available, but overall I’d say Republicans did pretty well compared to the 2020 baseline. That said, there are some seats that they will have a hard time holding onto. Getting to 75 will probably take continued demographic change and the continuation of the 2016-2020 suburban trends, and a lot of work keeping up with population growth. All that will take money and wise investment. That’s above my pay grade.

– In Harris County, I was swinging back and forth between confidence and panic before Tuesday. In the end, I’m pretty happy. Getting to that 4-1 margin on Commissioners Court is huge, and that’s before savoring the end of Jack Cagle’s time in power and the enormous piles of money that were set on fire to oust Judge Hidalgo. I may have made a few rude hand gestures at some houses with Mealer signs in my neighborhood as I walked the dog on Wednesday. One of the pollsters that was close to the target statewide was the UH Hobby Center poll, but they botched their read on the Harris County Judge race, finding Mealer in the lead and underestimating Hidalgo by six points. Hope y’all figure that one out.

– In the end there were 59,186 mail ballots counted, after 57,871 mail ballots were returned at the end of early voting. These took awhile to be fully counted – as of the 5 AM tally, only 55,393 mail ballots had been tabulated in the Governor’s race, with fewer in the others. In the past, we have seen the mail ballot total go up by quite a bit more in the days between the end of early voting and the Tuesday results – for example, in 2018 there were 89,098 ballots returned as of the end of the EV period and 97,509 mail ballots tabulated. I have to assume this is about the rejection rate, which if so I’ll see it in the post-canvass election report. If not, I’ll try to ask about it.

– By the way, since there were more mail ballots counted at the end, they had the effect of giving a small boost to Democratic performance. There was a slight chance that could have tipped one or more of the closest judicial races where a Republican had been leading, but that did not happen. It almost did in the 180th Criminal District Court, where incumbent Dasean Jones trails by 465 votes – 0.04 percentage points – out of over a million votes cast. If there are any recounts, I’d expect that to be one. Unless there are a ton of provisional ballots and they go very strongly Democratic it won’t change anything, so just consider this your annual reminder that every vote does indeed matter.

I do have some further thoughts about Harris County, but I’ll save them for another post. What are your initial impressions of the election?

UPDATE: There were still votes being counted when I wrote this. I think they’re done now. Turnout is just over 1.1 million as of this update.

State and county election result relationships, part 3: Other county races

Part One
Part Two

Last time we looked at judicial races, which for all of the complaints about not knowing the candidates and just going by partisan labels have produced a consistent range of outcomes over the years. Some people are picking and choosing among judicial candidates – it’s not a huge number, and there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to it, but it’s happening. With candidates for county offices, especially higher profile ones like County Judge, District Attorney, and Sheriff, there’s even more of a range of outcomes, as these candidates are better known and the reasons for crossing over are clearer. Let’s get to the data.


2006          2008          2010          2012	
CJ      N/A   DA    49.79   CJ    39.40   DA    47.66
DC    46.09   CJ    46.85   DC    46.15   CA    51.48
CC    44.69   CA    51.39   CC    44.58   Sh    52.95
CT    48.34   DC    51.06   TA    45.27   TA    48.73
HCDE  48.63   TA    46.18   CT    43.01   HCDE  51.34
              Sh    56.28							
              HCDE  52.51								
              HCDE  52.58								

2014          2016          2018          2020	
DA    46.78   DA    54.22   CJ    49.78   DA    53.89
CJ      N/A   CA    53.72   DC    55.09   CA    54.66
DC    44.82   Sh    52.84   CC    54.60   Sh    57.46
CC    45.71   TA    50.31   CT    54.21   TA    53.07
CT    44.95	            HCDE  56.71   CC    53.76
HCDE  46.85                               HCDE  55.64
HCDE  46.79                               HCDE  54.65

Abbreviations:

CJ = County Judge
DC = District Clerk
CC = County Clerk
CT = County Treasurer
DA = District Attorney
CA = County Attorney
TA = Tax Assessor
Sh = Sheriff
HCDE = At Large HCDE Trustee

Note that in some years, like 2008 for County Judge, 2010 for Tax Assessor, and 2014 for District Attorney, there were special elections due to the death or resignation of a previously-elected official. There are three At Large HCDE Trustees, they all serve 6-year terms, and in a given election there may be zero, one, or two of them on the ballot. All of the numbers are the percentages achieved by the Democratic candidate for that office. In 2006 and 2014, there was no Democrat running for County Judge.

The first thing to note is that in all but two years, the Dem disaster year of 2014 and the Dem sweep year of 2020, the range of outcomes was at least four points. In four of the eight years, the range was at least five points. Beverly Kaufmann was a trusted long-serving name brand in 2006, the last year she ran for re-election. Adrian Garcia destroyed scandal-plagued incumbent Sheriff Tommy Thomas in 2008, while Ed Emmett rode his performance during Hurricane Ike to a chart-topping Republican vote total. (There was a Libertarian candidate in the Tax Assessor race that year, so the percentages for Paul Bettencourt and Diane Trautman were lower than they would have been otherwise.) Emmett continued to overperform in subsequent years, though it wasn’t quite enough for him in the 2018 blue landslide. The late Mike Anderson got to run against the idiot Lloyd Oliver in the 2012 DA race; four years later Kim Ogg won in a second try against Devon Anderson after her office imploded. Candidates and circumstances do matter in these races in a way that they don’t quite do in judicial races.

I find it fascinating that the At Large HCDE Trustees are consistent top performers for Dems, year in and year out. Note that this remained the case in 2020, following the abolition of straight ticket voting. The Republicans have run some lousy candidates in those races – their precinct HCDE trustee candidates have generally been stronger – but I doubt that accounts for too much. Honestly, I’d probably chalk that up to the Democratic brand, especially given that it says “Education” right there in the position’s name.

Minus the outliers, and I will have one more post in this series to take a closer look at them, the ranges for the county executive office candidates are basically in line with those of the judicial candidates, and as such are usually ahead of the statewides. As with the judicial candidates, there were mixed results in the close years of 2008 and 2012, and sweeps one way or the other otherwise. While the potential is there for an exceptional result – which in the context of statewide candidates still carrying Harris County means “a Democrat unexpectedly losing” – the conditions to avoid that are clear. If Beto is getting to 54% or better, I’ll be surprised if it’s not another Dem sweep.

State and county election result relationships, part 2: Judicial races

In Part One of this series, we looked at the relationship between statewide results and Harris County results for statewide candidates. In the last three elections, statewide Democratic candidates have done on average more than nine points better in Harris County than they did overall. In the next two posts, we’re going to look at the county candidates, to see how those results compare to the statewides and what if anything we can infer about this year.

Two things should be noted up front, one of which I touched on in the previous post. First, nearly all of the statewide races have at least one third party candidate in them, and in those races the third party candidate(s) can take three to five percent of the total vote. That has the effect of lowering the percentages of both D and R candidates in those races. County candidates, on the other hand, rarely face a third or fourth contestant. In county judicial races, third party candidates are unheard of. Because of this, county Democratic candidates tend to do better than statewide Democratic candidates.

It is also the case, as noted before, that there have been a lot of, shall we say, less than compelling statewide Democratic candidates. They lack money and name recognition and that in turn helps contribute to the vote totals that the third party contenders get, where that effect tends to be greater in the lower-profile races. Harris County candidates aren’t always the highest profile, but I believe the local organizing efforts have helped them outperform the less well-known statewide candidates. All of this comes wrapped in the usual “in general, with some exceptions, some years are different than others” qualifiers. I’m just setting the table.

With all that, I will present the numbers for judicial races. I’m starting this time in 2006 – like I said, the 2002 election is just not relevant to anything anymore, and the 2004 election was marked with a large number of uncontested races.


2006          2008          2010          2012
Havg  42.90   Havg  50.62   Havg  43.46   Havg  48.59
Jmin  46.90   Jmin  48.58   Jmin  42.57   Jmin  48.19
Jmax  50.12   Jmax  52.48   Jmax  45.70   Jmax  51.38
Drop   1.09   Drop   2.93   Drop   7.66   Drop   1.20

2014          2016          2018          2020
Havg  44.76   Havg  49.80   Havg  55.25   Havg  53.83
Jmin  43.64   Jmin  50.93   Jmin  53.83   Jmin  52.56
Jmax  47.16   Jmax  54.11   Jmax  57.16   Jmax  55.51
Drop   3.44   Drop   3.02   Drop   4.15   Drop   3.40

“Havg” is the average percentage by Democratic statewide candidates for that year – you can go back and look at the first post for the list, I didn’t want to overwhelm this post with numbers. “Jmin” and “Jmax” are the lowest and highest percentages achieved by non-statewide Democratic judicial candidates that year. In other words, for the county, district, and appellate (1st and 14th Circuit) courts. “Drop” is the difference between the highest scoring statewide candidate and the lowest scoring local judicial candidate.

I have used average vote totals among judicial candidates in years past as a simple measure of partisanship in the county. I’m using percentages here because I want a quick visual representation of winning and losing. I am using the range here rather than an average because I want to figure out at what level of statewide performance am I comfortable saying that all local countywide Dems are likely to win, and at what level do I think some, most, or all may lose. I think this conveys the information I wanted to get across in a fairly straightforward manner.

The first thing to notice is that consistently there is a three to four point range between the top-performing Democratic judicial candidate and the low performer. I’ve studied this for years and have no idea why. I can’t see any obvious correlation to candidates’ gender, race, position on the ballot, endorsements, anything. It’s just random, as far as I can tell. The point is, there is a range. Conditions need to be such that the top candidates are at 54% or higher for the bottom ones to win. Maybe 53% is enough – you will note that the range was tighter in 2020 than in previous years, and it’s a hair less than three percentage points. But really, for me to feel comfortable, I’d want the toppers at 54%.

You may also notice, as I mentioned above, that the local judicial candidates tend to outperform the statewide candidates. 2016 is a stark example of this, as more than half of the statewides finished below fifty percent, though all of them ended up carrying the county. Yet all of the judicial candidates won easily, with the low judicial performer outdoing all of the statewides except Hillary Clinton. In 2018, a much stronger year for Dems, the bottom scorer among judicial candidates still did better than the Dem candidates for Governor, Comptroller, Land Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner. Nearly all judicial Democrats won in 2008, while more than half of them won in the weaker year of 2012. My expectation is that even in a mediocre year like 2012, at least some Dems would make it across the finish line. It would take a bad year to sink them all. I just don’t see that happening.

You might look at the 2010 numbers, and maybe even the 2018 numbers, and worry that if the top of the ticket is defined by a real outlier, the gap between that candidate and the bottom rung of the judicial ladder could be too far apart. I absolutely do not expect a “Bill White in 2010” scenario, where someone gets at least six points more than any other statewide Dem. Beto in 2018 was barely one point ahead of Justin Nelson, and less than two points ahead of four other candidates. Two judicial candidates came even closer to Beto’s performance than Nelson did. It’s my opinion that if there’s a significant gap between the top and bottom of the statewide ticket, it’s because the one(s) at the bottom tanked, not because the top dog was so dominant. Bill White was a unicorn. The closest analog to him is Adrian Garcia in 2008, and he was running against a thoroughly scandal-plagued incumbent.

How much of an effect is there with the lack of straight ticket voting? It’s a little hard to say since we just have the one election to analyze, but my view in 2020 was that a lot of people did a fine job of voting all the way down the ballot. I expect that to be largely true this year as well. When the numbers are in, I’ll look at them and see if there’s a reason to change my mind.

To me, the main concern is that the statewide Dems will not do as well as the current polling suggests they might. We need the base level to be sufficiently high, that’s pretty much the ballgame. There is also a range in the county executive office elections, and there have been a couple of outliers over the years – I’ll be examining those phenomena in future posts – and every year is different. My bottom line remains that if the baseline at the state candidate level is 53-54% for Harris County, it will be another sweep year. I think the statewides will perform more like the locals this year, as they are overall better and better-funded than most other years. If we get a decent poll of Harris County, I’ll review and if needed revise my thinking. Until then, this is where I am.

State and county election result relationships, part 1: How Harris compares

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between how statewide Democratic candidates do in Harris County versus how they do overall, and what that might tell us about the state of play in Harris County. Since I started blogging in 2002, Harris has gone from all red to a bluish purple or still red depending on what year it was to all blue. I get the sense a lot of folks don’t know how to contextualize this. The trends are clear, but we’ve only had three actual all-blue elections, and only one of them was in a non-Presidential year. We’ve had precious little polling in Harris County, none of which I’d consider useful or reliable. So if all we have is statewide polling, what if anything can that tell us?

In this post, I’m going to go through the numbers at the statewide and Harris County level and see what that can tell us. Let’s begin with the first three elections since I began blogging.


2002                   2004                   2006
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.33   45.99   2.66   38.22   44.56   6.34   36.04   41.26   5.22
39.96   43.22   3.26   40.94   44.56   3.62   29.79   34.46   4.67
46.03   46.92   0.89   40.77   45.56   4.79   37.45   41.69   4.24
41.08   43.06   1.98   42.14   46.73   4.59   37.23   40.69   3.46
32.92   36.32   3.40                          37.01   41.85   4.84
41.48   43.02   1.54                          40.96   44.13   3.17
37.82   41.59   3.77                          41.79   45.14   3.35
41.49   42.38   0.89                          41.73   44.81   3.08
40.51   43.39   2.88                          44.89   47.99   3.10
41.54   44.42   2.88                          43.35   47.02   3.67
41.89   44.05   2.16								
43.24   45.48   2.24								
45.90   50.14   4.24								
39.15   42.61   3.46								
42.61   45.14   2.53								
40.01   43.32   3.31								
										
Min   0.89             Min   3.62             Min   3.08
Max   4.24             Max   6.34             Max   5.22
Avg   2.63             Avg   4.84             Avg   3.88

The first number for each year represents the statewide percentage for each Democratic candidate. The numbers are in the order that the candidates appear on the ballot, so for a Presidential year you get President, then Senate if there was a Senate race (there was not in 2004), then Railroad Commissioner because there’s always an RRC race, then the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals races. I only reported the races that included a Democratic candidate, so this will vary from year to year. For non-Presidential years it will be Senate if there is such a race (there were in 2002 and 2006), then Governor and the state executive offices, and SCOTx and the CCA. Again, only the races with Dems so there will be variation.

The second column is the Harris County percentage for that candidate, and the third column is the difference between the two. So, for 2002, that first row is Ron Kirk’s statewide and Harris County percentages, and the fact that he did 2.66 points better in Harris. In 2004, that first row is for John Kerry, and in 2006 it’s for Barbara Radnofsky, with the second row being Chris Bell in that weird four-way gubernatorial race.

With me so far? The section at the bottom is a simple summary. It shows the minimum, maximum, and average differences between the statewide and Harris County percentages. In all cases, the Dem candidate did better in Harris than overall, though in 2002 that wasn’t very much. For Lt. Gov. candidate John Sharp and RRC candidate Sherry Boyles, it was less than a point. (If you’re wondering who it was that carried Harris County in 2002, it was CCA candidate Margaret Mirabal.) It begins to grow in 2004 but takes a step back in 2006, and in either case still isn’t very much.

I almost didn’t go all the way back to 2002 because that election was so wildly different from this one it’s like visiting another planet to look at its results. In the end I think it was useful to include all of these elections to show what conditions used to be like. If nothing else, these three years provide a nice bit of contrast to the next four election years.


2008                   2010                   2012                   2014
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.68   50.45   6.77   42.30   50.23   7.93   41.38   49.39   8.01   34.36   42.10   7.74
42.84   50.71   7.87   34.83   42.13   7.30   40.62   48.03   7.41   38.90   47.08   8.18
44.35   50.02   5.67   33.66   41.00   7.34   39.60   46.89   7.29   38.71   46.85   8.14
43.79   49.14   5.35   35.29   42.32   7.03   41.91   49.21   7.30   38.02   45.82   7.80
45.88   51.34   5.46   35.80   42.86   7.06   41.24   49.41   8.17   37.69   45.80   8.11
44.63   51.51   6.88   36.24   43.59   7.35                          35.32   43.75   8.43
45.53   51.29   5.76   37.26   43.67   6.41                          36.84   43.71   6.87
43.75   50.50   6.75   37.00   44.10   7.10                          37.25   44.16   6.91
                       35.62   41.73   6.11                          36.49   43.64   7.15
                       36.62   42.99   6.37                          37.60   45.54   7.94
                                                                     36.54   43.92   7.38
														
														
Min   5.35             Min   6.11             Min   7.29             Min   6.87
Max   7.87             Max   7.93             Max   8.17             Max   8.43
Avg   6.31             Avg   7.00             Avg   7.64             Avg   7.70

Same setup as before, but you can already see how things are different. For one thing, obviously, we now have Democrats winning Harris County. That was true at the county candidate level as well – we’ll look more closely at that in the future. I believe we have this step up in part because Democrats finally began to get their act together organizationally in 2008. It was a big election nationally of course, with a ton of Democratic activist energy, but that had been the case elsewhere in 2006 as well. It just didn’t translate here, and I would chalk that up to the amount of organization at the county level.

I have long believed that if we had had better organizing in 2006, Dems could have won a couple of judicial races at least. We had one candidate crack 49%; it wouldn’t have taken much. Indeed, Jim Sharp got 50.12% in Harris County in 2006 in his race for an appellate court seat, but as that covered multiple counties he fell short that year. (He went on to win in 2008.) Instead, we got the narrative of Dallas County Dems breaking through and sweeping in 2006, setting up the notion that 2008 would be Harris’ year. Maybe that had a positive effect on the engagement level, I don’t know. I do know that it didn’t have to be so all-or-nothing.

Note that while 2008 was a high point for Dems in this grouping, the boost to candidates in Harris County continued to grow. Even with the disasters of 2010 and 2014 and the slight step-back in 2012, Dems kept performing better in Harris County compared to the state as a whole. Again, I credit better organizing locally and the fact that Harris County was becoming more Democratic relative to the state. The point here is that this gap hasn’t shrunk in bad years for Dems. The trend has been in one direction.

That trend continued through the next two elections before a minor reversal in 2020:


2016                   2018                   2020
State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff   State  Harris   Diff
43.24   53.95  10.71   48.33   57.98   9.65   46.48   55.96   9.48
38.38   47.35   8.97   42.51   52.11   9.60   43.87   52.90   9.03
38.53   47.96   9.43   46.49   56.07   9.58   43.56   52.90   9.34
41.18   50.78   9.60   47.01   56.90   9.89   44.49   53.16   8.67
39.36   48.28   8.92   43.39   52.74   9.35   44.08   53.49   9.41
40.05   49.86   9.81   43.19   53.71  10.52   44.76   53.76   9.00
40.20   49.53   9.33   46.41   56.68  10.27   44.35   52.97   8.62
40.89   50.72   9.83   43.91   53.25   9.34   45.18   54.45   9.27
                       46.83   56.68   9.85   44.70   54.72  10.02
                       46.29   56.48  10.19   45.47   54.00   8.53
                       46.29   55.18   8.89				
                       45.48   55.62  10.14				
                       45.85   54.90   9.05				
										
										
Min   8.92             Min   8.89             Min   8.53
Max  10.71             Max  10.52             Max  10.02
Avg   9.58	       Avg   9.72             Avg   9.14

Despite several candidates failing to reach fifty percent in 2016, every statewide Dem carried Harris County; there were third party candidates getting about five percent in the judicial races and almost ten points in the RRC race between Wayne Christian and Grady Yarbrough, which accounts for the difference. We’ll get into this later, but it was pretty common for local Dems to outperform statewide Dems in many of these years. I chalk that up to a combination of weak statewide Dems and that strong local organizing along with some pretty good county candidates.

The main takeaway from this is that even statewide candidates with pretty poor overall showings were able to win Harris County by fairly comfortable margins. Look at Lupe Valdez in 2018, the second candidate listed, for a prime example. Valdez got 42.51% statewide in 2018, the lowest showing among Dems, but finished with 52.11% in Harris County. This is the context I think about when I look at statewide polling. If Beto O’Rourke finishes with 44 or 45% statewide, he’s probably going to get 53 or 54 percent in Harris County. A 44-45% finish for Beto statewide implies that he lost by 9-11 points, whereas nearly all of the polls we have seen have had him down between six and eight points.

The flip side is also of interest. There was a poll of Harris County released a few days back by a wingnut former legislator that claimed Lina Hidalgo was losing by four points while Beto was carrying Harris County by only two points. For Beto to be winning Harris by two points – in other words, for him to be getting at most 51% in Harris County – means he’s losing statewide by at least 15 points – 57-42 is the number I’ve had in mind. To say the least, there is no polling evidence to support that.

Now, could the polls be wrong? Could Beto crater? Could this advantage Dems have had in Harris County decline further? Sure, any or all of those things could happen. We saw it decline a bit in 2020. I give some of the credit to that for better Republican organizing, though the loss of straight ticket voting and just the general conditions for 2020 could also be factors. It’s impossible to say if that’s a one-off or the start of a new trend based on the one data point. It would have to be a big step back for it to make me adjust my expectations. At this time, at least, I don’t feel the need to do that. Those things could happen, but that doesn’t mean they’re likely to do so.

So this is where I am, mentally and emotionally right now. I had the chance to talk about this thesis with some folks over the weekend, and none of them looked at me like I was crazy. (They may have just been polite.) I’ve got some more data to present in the next couple of days, and we can see how we all feel at the end of that. But this is where I am. What do you think?

2022 primary runoff Day Five EV report: Yes, I have some info about mail ballots

Early voting has concluded for the primary runoffs. Here’s the final EV report, and here are the final totals:


Party    Mail   Early    Total
==============================
Dem    16,767  25,294   42,061
GOP    13,187  50,498   63,685

You can compare to Day Three. As is always the case, the last day was the busiest for in person voting. Republicans have already exceeded their runoff turnout from 2018, but they only had four races then, and only one of them was countywide, for a District Court position. The runoff in CD02 generated more than half of their total votes. Dems had a runoff for Governor, for all of the countywide executive positions, and for CD07. We will end up with more votes in this runoff than in 2018, though given the different nature of each, for each party, I don’t know how much it matters. I’ll put it to you this way: Dems had 35K turnout in the 2006 primary runoff, which was almost the same amount as the 2006 primary. Republicans drew all of 10K for their runoff, which consisted of one appellate court position and the open seat in HD133. You have to look past the topline numbers, because the races themselves matter.

Anyway. At a wild guess, I’d say Dems end up with 60-70K, Republicans with 85-100K. I’m told (because I asked) that mail ballot rejections were running at around 12% and trending slightly down after the initial batch. Still way too high, but at least it’s down from where we were in March. I’ll be on the lookout for totals from around the state. Have you voted yet?

CD34 special election set for June 14

Wasting no time.

Rep. Filemon Vela

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday called a June 14 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, in a South Texas seat that Republicans are working to flip.

The filing deadline for the special election is April 13, and early voting starts May 31, according to Abbott’s proclamation.

Vela resigned Thursday to take a job with Akin Gump, a prominent lobbying and law firm. He had already announced he was not seeking reelection.

The special election will be held under the previous, more competitive boundaries of the district, under which President Joe Biden carried it by only 4 percentage points. His underperformance throughout South Texas emboldened Republicans who are now trying to make fresh inroads throughout the region.

The winner of the special election will only get to finish Vela’s term, which goes through January 2023. Still, Republicans are eager to score an early win on their way to November, and the current GOP nominee for the full term in the 34th District, Mayra Flores, has already said she would run in any special election.

[…]

Abbott had the option of scheduling the special election for the Nov. 8 uniform election date or calling an “emergency special election” to slate it sooner. He went the latter route, citing his disaster declarations on COVID-19 and the Mexican border to argue that it is “imperative to fill this vacancy to ensure that Congressional District 34 is fully represented as soon as possible.” He also cited the coming hurricane season.

See here and here for the background. The “emergency” justification seems awfully weak to me – compare and contrast with Rick Perry calling a November 2005 special election for HD143, which he did in late May following the death of Rep. Joe Moreno, even though he was about to call what turned out to be two special sessions of the Legislature, running in total from June 21 to August 19. I’m not sure it would be possible to challenge this in court – who would even have standing to sue? – and recent precedent shows that SCOTx is not all that interested in limiting the Governor’s powers even if someone tried. And, even if I don’t like the politics involved here, I can’t say I like the idea of forcing delays in elections, also for political reasons. Just because we’re not holding a great hand doesn’t mean we should sue to stop the game.

Anyway. We’ll see if Dems can scrounge up a respectable candidate for the position of placeholder, and if that person can get any financial support if they do materialize. Just remember, the real villain in this, the person who put us in this unenviable position, is Filemon Vela, who I remind you is a DNC official. We’re here because he couldn’t wait a couple more months before cashing in as a lobbyist. Thank you ever so much for your service, Filemon.

Rep. Filemon Vela to step down

Another special election, though this one is already a little chaotic.

Rep. Filemon Vela

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela confirmed Thursday he will resign from Congress in the coming weeks, a decision that comes after he announced last year he would retire from the House.

The South Texas Democrat will leave before the end of his term to work for Akin Gump, a prominent law and lobbying firm.

The Washington-based publication Punchbowl first reported the news Thursday morning, and the Brownsville Democrat confirmed it to The Texas Tribune.

That development will set off a unique special election to replace him. His 34th District is based in Brownsville.

Rep. Vela had previously announced he was not running for re-election. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, the incumbent in CD15, switched to CD34 after redistricting made his district redder, and won the primary for that. My initial thought was that this was going to be a November special election, since it’s too late for May, and with Rep. Gonzalez not running there’s a good chance we’d get ourselves a two-month Congressperson, who would have a mighty tough act to follow in that department.

But that was too simplistic, and didn’t take a couple of things into account. This followup Trib story goes into more detail. I don’t have the energy to do a deep dive, so let me sum up. First, in regard to when the election might be:

The main factor here is that Rep. Vela hasn’t resigned yet. No special election can be set until he actually leaves Congress. The longer he waits, the less likely we’ll get an election before November. I don’t know how long he’d have to wait to make anything but a November election practicable, but if held on until like July 4, there would probably be little reason to bother with anything before November.

Why does this matter? Well, that’s the other thing. The special election in CD34 will be in the current CD34, which was only a 51-47 Biden district in 2020. The new CD34 is 57-42 for Biden, though as we’ve often seen downballot Dems did better. While Mayra Flores, the Republican running in November in the new CD34, has announced she will run in a special election in the old CD34, Dems don’t have an obvious candidate. Remember, Vicente Gonzalez is still representing CD15, and would have to resign there to run in a CD34 special. That’s a big advantage for the Republicans, since who would even be open to being recruited to run as a placeholder in a tough race? But not running anyone, or just letting the usual flotsam that signs up for random races be the standard-bearers, isn’t a great option either.

You would think that Filemon Vela, who is among other things a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, would be sensitive to those concerns. And maybe he is, I don’t know. What I do know is that if he leaves his position in Congress for the obviously plush and lucrative position as a hired gun for Akin Gump he’s putting his fellow Democrats in a tough spot. All he needs to do to avoid this is not resign until, like, August or so. (July might be good enough, but why take a chance?) We’re talking four more months in Congress. That’s not much to ask. If you’re a constituent of Rep. Vela, I’d recommend you call his office and urge him to stay put for the time being. This is an easily avoidable mess, but it’s all on him whether it needs to be cleaned up or not.

More on the 11th Street project

The Chron editorial board mostly approves of the city’s plans for 11th Street in the Heights.

Ever since Mayor Sylvester Turner unveiled his Vision Zero Action Plan — an ambitious program to end traffic fatalities by 2030 — the city has focused on priortizing pedestrians and bike lanes in the urban planning process.

The 11th Street redesign reflects these shifting values. We applaud Mayor Turner for pledging to move forward with this project, which will make the corridor safer and more accessible. Judging from all the new development along the nearby MKT trail, the project may boost local businesses. The hope is that in the long run, the city’s incremental approach to street redesign, while frustratingly slow to some advocates, will pay off as more of these projects move through the pipeline. The consequences of not proceeding with this redesign, and thus conceding to the car-centric philosophy that has dominated Houston’s urban planning for decades, will be devastating for the city’s long-term ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

[…]

Local residents have voiced concerns that the changes to 11th Street could send traffic circling onto nearby streets. We share this concern, though slower speed limits and stop signs on those residential streets should mitigate traffic hazards somewhat. [David Fields, chief transportation planner for Houston,] is also bullish on a pilot program the city launched in Eastwood called Slow Streets, which has shown to have some effect on discouraging motorists from driving on local streets. At key intersections in this neighborhood, the city installed simple, movable barriers encouraging through-traffic to take alternate routes. Vehicles traveling to homes and businesses may continue to access these streets, along with all emergency vehicles, and no parking spaces were removed. Fields is pushing to expand the program citywide.

In the big picture, the 11th Street project does more than just fill a gap in the larger bike network; it will mean more people walking and biking around town, frequenting businesses whose clientele would otherwise be limited to the number of available parking spaces. The goal of street design should be to create a community, not just a throughput ferrying motorists from one destination to the next.

See here for some background, and another CityCast Houston podcast for further discussion. I don’t have a good feel for how strong or organized the opposition to this plan is. The comments left on the project information webpage are slightly more pro than con, not that that’s conclusive. I get a bit of a Richmond Rail vibe in that the most vocal opposition appears to be coming from some businesses on 11th and some homeowners near 11th who are worried about traffic diverting to their streets, but the rest of the area is in favor. I could be wrong about that, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about.

The big difference here is that unlike the Richmond battleground of yore, there’s no politician representing the area that I know of that has come out against the city’s plan. I don’t know what CM Karla Cisneros, State Reps. Penny Shaw and Christina Morales, or Sen. John Whitmire think about this, but I do know they’re not making like John Culberson back in the day. That makes a difference, both in that there’s no one in power that Mayor Turner or his representative on the project would need to respond to, and also because it suggests that there isn’t enough of a constituency in opposition for an elected official to have to heed. This could change – for sure, people in my neighborhood know how to make themselves heard – but until and unless I see such a thing, I’m going to consider this a strong favorite to move forward. Which it seems likely to do beginning in the summer.

Final 2022 primary early voting totals

It’s been a strange two weeks for early voting, so let’s get to the wrapup. Here are your final early voting totals. The table for comparison:


Election    Mail   Early   Total
================================
2018 D    22,695  70,152  92,847
2018 R    24,500  61,425  85,925

2020 D    22,785 116,748 139,533
2020 R    22,801  82,108 104,909

2022 D    13,713  82,342  96,055
2022 R     9,684  96,439 106,123

As a reminder, 2018 final totals are here, and 2020 final totals are here. Please note that the “2018 final totals” file I have is actually from the penultimate day of early voting. I either never got the last day’s totals, or I forgot to save the file to my Google Drive. The numbers in the table above are from the Election Day report for 2018, which means that the mail ballots include those that came in between the Friday and Tuesday. It would have been a smaller number if I had that day-of EV report.

Clearly, mail ballots were down. I had thought that the good number of mail ballots returned on Tuesday heralded an upswing for them, perhaps because of corrected ones getting in, but that wasn’t to be. Indeed, the combined total for Dems over the remaining three days was just a bit higher than the Tuesday total. The mail ballot total for Dems this year so far is 60% of what it was four years ago, though that will tick up a bit as the last batch rolls in. The number for Republicans dropped even more, though that is undoubtedly due in part to Republicans swallowing the former guy’s propaganda about mail ballots. Both Dems and Republicans saw more in person voters, and I’d say for sure some of that is connected, more on the R side than the D side.

How many people were actually unable to vote as a result of the new and needless voter ID requirements for mail ballots is hard to say. If I have the time, I’ll try to compare the vote rosters for the two years, to see what the mail voters of both parties from 2018 did this year. I’m sure some number of them voted (or will vote on Tuesday) in person. For those that voted by mail in 2018 but fail to vote this year, it will still be hard to say why. Primaries always have low turnout, so a no-show this year may just mean lack of interest or opportunity, for whatever the reason. I hope someone with a better view of the data comes up with a more holistic and analytic report. I fear it will mostly be all anecdotal otherwise. For sure, any suggestion that Republicans may regret their new voting restrictions are extremely premature. I’ve not doubt that some Republican consultants would prefer not to have to do new things, but they’re not representative of the party as a whole. Believe me, if they ever do come to regret this change, they will make that clear.

The Republicans had more voters this year than the Dems did, after the Dems outvoted them in 2018 and 2020. Does this worry me? Not really. Like I said, primaries are low turnout. That means people don’t participate for a lot of reasons. I think the main reason normal people do – by “normal” I mean the non-activist and news junkie portions of the population – is when there’s a headline race that grabs their attention. There wasn’t one in the 2018 primary – Beto didn’t have to run a serious primary campaign because he didn’t have a serious primary opponent, and indeed he faced questions afterward when Dems barely broke 1 million total voters statewide (compared to 1.5 million for the GOP even though they didn’t really have a headline primary race that year either) and he got “only” 62% of the vote. He’s in the same position this year – the entire story of the race so far is about Beto versus Abbott, not Beto versus Joy Diaz. On the other hand, at least as much of the story on the Republican side is Abbott versus West and Huffines, and that’s before you factor in the clusterfuck of an AG primary. Those are the kind of races that draw people to the polls.

Look at it this way: In 2016, nearly 330K people voted in the GOP primary in Harris County, compared to 227K for Dems. The November vote went pretty well for Dems in Harris County that year.

As for final turnout, it’s a little hard to say because samples are small and context changes greatly from Presidential to non-Presidential years. A little more than 40% of the Democratic vote was cast on Election Day in 2018 and 2014, while more than half was cast in 2010 and 2006. More than half was cast on Election Day in 2020, 2016, and 2008, while slightly less than half was cast in 2012. Going just by 2018, we’d probably approach 170K for final turnout. Republicans in 2018 had about 45% of their vote on Election Day, which projects them to 185-190K overall. Take all of that with a huge grain of salt – I just don’t know how to factor in the mail ballot changes, the recent aggressively revanchist policy moves by Greg Abbott et al, and just the overall state of the world. All I can say is we’ll see.

I’ll have a look at the statewide numbers tomorrow. Let me know what you think.

Beto and South Texas

Brace yourself for a lot of stories like this in the coming months.

Beto O’Rourke

In the first days of his campaign for governor, Beto O’Rourke made a beeline to this southernmost corner of the state, saying it was no mistake he was choosing to start his run in a part of Texas where Democrats have their work cut out for them after the 2020 election.

His supporters know it, too.

“We are being attacked at all ends,” Amanda Elise Salas said as she introduced him here Wednesday night. “This is a Democratic area, and there is no way we are gonna let Republicans come in here and take over.”

“They’re knocking at our door,” Mario Saenz, a Democratic precinct chair from Brownsville, said afterward. “We cannot let them in.”

A lot of Democratic hopes are riding on O’Rourke this election cycle, but few may be more consequential to the party’s future in Texas than his ability to stave off a strong GOP offensive in South Texas. Emboldened by President Joe Biden’s underwhelming performance throughout the predominantly Hispanic region last year, Republicans have been pushing hard to make new inroads there, and O’Rourke faces an incumbent in Gov. Greg Abbott who has been working for years to win Hispanic voters.

But it is not just about halting the GOP’s post-2020 march in South Texas. O’Rourke, who is facing an uphill battle in the governor’s race, has ground to make up after his own less-than-stellar performance with voters there in 2018 when he ran for U.S. Senate — and turning out more Latino voters has long been key to Democratic hopes statewide.

O’Rourke has been candid about the problem. Days after the 2020 election, which cemented Republican dominance across Texas, he told supporters that the fact that the border region “has been ignored for years by the national party, and even many statewide Democratic candidates, hurt us badly.” Last week, he began his campaign for governor with a swing through the region, calling the early itinerary “very intentional” and vowing to return frequently.

“If the great sin committed by Republicans historically has been to disenfranchise voters, including those in the Rio Grande Valley, then that committed by Democrats has been to take those same voters for granted in the past,” O’Rourke told reporters in San Antonio, before heading south to Laredo and the Valley.

O’Rourke got a wake-up call in South Texas during the 2018 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, losing many counties in the region to a little-known and little-funded opponent, Sema Hernandez. While it was not the first time a candidate with a Hispanic surname beat expectations in a statewide Democratic primary, O’Rourke acknowledged afterward that he needed to do more outreach.

Months later, in the general election, O’Rourke failed to make significant gains in South Texas compared to his party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, which would have been key to defeating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. In the largest South Texas county outside San Antonio — Hidalgo — O’Rourke barely improved on Clinton’s vote share there, getting 68.8% after she got 68.5%.

Then came 2020, when Biden carried South Texas — and the Rio Grande Valley in particular — by a much narrower margin than Clinton did. He outright lost Zapata County, a longtime Democratic stronghold just north of the Valley.

[…]

Beyond any issue, though, South Texas Democrats say O’Rourke needs to show up, especially after a presidential election that left them wanting. Biden never visited Texas, let alone anywhere in South Texas, during the general election, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, visited McAllen only in the final days of the race.

To that end, South Texas Democrats are not particularly concerned about O’Rourke, who is known for his relentless campaigning. He toured all 254 counties during his 2018 race, which included a bus tour specifically focused on the border.

“We’re the poorest region of Texas, maybe one of the poorest regions in the nation, and you know, it was a huge letdown that Kamala and Biden didn’t make a prolonged appearance here in the Valley, but Beto, you know, he’s been recurringly focusing his presence here, especially in his past campaigns,” said Sebastian Bonilla, a 25-year-old from the Valley who came to see O’Rourke speak in McAllen.

Abbott has put an emphasis on South Texas since his first gubernatorial campaign in 2014, and he has been increasingly traveling there in recent months, both in his official capacity and for political appearances.

You get the idea. This kind of story is going to be the “Trump voters in diners” lodestar of 2022.

Because I tend to zero in on any actual numbers that show up in this kind of “collect a bunch of quotes and anecdotes” piece, I wondered about that Hidalgo County comparison. Just for grins, I went back and checked to see what was the best Democratic performance in Hidalgo in recent years:

2004 – JR Molina, 64.08%. For comparison, John Kerry got 54.86% against George W. Bush.

2006 – Bill Moody, 62.54%.

2008 – Linda Yanez, 73.63%.

2010 – Hector Uribe, 67.14%. That sure correlated with good Democratic performance elsewhere, eh?

2012 – Michelle Petty, 70.69%. Barack Obama got 70.40%, an improvement over the 69.02% he got in 2008.

2014 – Leticia van de Putte, 67.57%.

2016 – Dori Garza, 70.98%. Hillary Clinton got 68.50%, as noted in the story.

2018 – Steve Kirkland, 69.34%, with Beto’s 68.81% right behind. Kirkland was in a two-candidate race, while Beto and Ted Cruz also had a Libertarian in their race. Cruz’s 30.64% was actually a tiny bit behind Jimmy Blacklock’s 30.66%, though several other Republicans failed to get to 30% in their three-way races.

Latino Dems, and candidates for statewide judicial positions, were generally the high scorers. Looking at the numbers, I agree with the basic premise that Beto could have done better in South Texas than he did in 2018, and he will need to do better than Joe Biden did in 2020. The new SOS elections result website is trash and doesn’t give you a county-by-county view like it did before, so I went and found the Hidalgo County Elections page, which informed me that Biden got 58.04% in 2020, with Elizabeth Frizell being the high scorer at 61.51%; yes, another judicial candidate.

One could also point out, of course, that Biden came closer to winning Texas than Clinton did, despite doing worse in South Texas. Beto himself came as close as he did mostly by making huge gains in urban and suburban counties – to pick one example, he got 46.53% in Collin County, losing it by 22K votes, after Clinton got 38.91% and lost if by 61K votes. Beto did net 12K fewer votes in Hidalgo than Clinton did (Biden netted 32K fewer than Clinton), and he lost another 10K in Cameron County – that does add up in such a close race, though it wouldn’t have been enough to fully close the gap he still had. Ideally, he’d do better in South Texas and in the big urban and suburban counties. At least we all feel confident he’ll do the work.

McConaughey not running for Governor

Thank God that’s over.

Actor Matthew McConaughey on Sunday removed himself from consideration as a potential candidate for governor after months of toying with a campaign.

In a video posted to his Twitter account, McConaughey, who lives in Austin, said he was honored to be considered for “political leadership.”

“It’s a humbling and inspiring path to ponder,” McConaughey said. “It is also a path that I’m choosing not to take at this moment.”

McConaughey’s video came just over two weeks before the candidate filing deadline for the Texas primary.

Since earlier this year, McConaughey said he was mulling a run for governor, though he did not specify whether he would run in the Democratic primary, in the Republican primary or as an independent. He has previously described himself as “aggressively centrist.”

Look, there’s a world in which I’d have taken McConaughey seriously as a candidate. We took Kinky Friedman seriously as a gubernatorial candidate way back in 2006, even as he invited us to not take him seriously, because he regularly spoke about his intent to run for over two years before he actually ran. (Seriously, the first “Kinky for Governor” story I saw was in September of 2003.) Like Kinky, McConaughey never developed anything like a coherent policy position, but unlike Kinky he also never seemed to have any motivation to run.

Normally when a famous person or brand-name politician is asked seemingly out of the blue if they might consider running for a particular office, I assume it was a setup, designed to call attention to the prospect as part of an overall marketing strategy. In this case, I’m not actually sure. I mean, I think the subject came up for publicity reasons, just not “run up a flag to see if this candidacy could be viable” reasons. We can (and I do!) blame all of the ridiculous polling on the subject, which allowed McConaughey as a partyless entity that somehow ended up on a ballot against Greg Abbott, for extending this drama way past its expiration date.

But now we can cut all this nonsense out and get on with the real race. Again, it’s not that McConaughey couldn’t have been a serious candidate, but to be taken seriously he needed to address the question of how he was going to run – was he going to file for a party primary, or go the much more challenging independent route – and not just whether. He never did, so this was always annoying background noise to me. And now it’s over and we can get back to whatever we’d been doing before. The Current and the Chron have more.

Matthew McConaughey redux

Again? sigh All right…

Two weeks ago, in these very same digital pages, I claimed that Matthew McConaughey had shown more leadership during Texas’s devastating winter storms than Senator Ted Cruz, simply by clearing the low bar of not scuttling off to Mexico. Now, I don’t know for a fact that Matthew McConaughey reads this column, or that he’s even aware of its disturbingly obsessive chronicling of weekly McCona-nutiae. However, it now seems like he may have caught wind of the sentiments expressed, and—rather than sending me hate mail, like a normal person—he may be taking it to heart. McConaughey now says that running for Texas governor is a “true consideration,” and no longer just an idle fantasy to fill magazine interviews.

The Austin actor took his latest tentative step into genuine statesmanship during an appearance on Crime Stoppers of Houston’s The Balanced Voice podcast, where host Rania Mankarious brought up the political aspirations he’s been casually floating since last fall. “I’m looking into now again, what is my leadership role?” McConaughey replied. “Because I do think I have some things to teach and share, and what is my role? What’s my category in my next chapter of life that I’m going into?”

See here for the background. Look, there are three options here, if McConaughey is actually thinking about this and not just letting his mind wander a bit on a podcast: File as a Republican, file as a Democrat, and file as an independent. I think we can all agree that I have as good a chance of beating Greg Abbott in a Republican primary as McConaughey does. As for filing as an independent, I have two words for that: Kinky Friedman. Here are two more, as a bonus: Grandma Strayhorn. The one thing that such a move would do is split the anti-Abbott vote, for which the only possible outcome is an Abbott re-election. Abbott would surely do better than Rick Perry’s 39% in 2006, making any plausible pathway to beating him that much less likely. Maybe if literally nobody filed as a Democrat there might be a chance, but that’s not going to happen – even if no remotely credible candidate chooses to take on Abbott, some Gene Kelly type will, and that will be that.

Which leaves filing as a Democrat as the only viable option. I grant that the odds of winning against Abbott as a Democrat aren’t that much greater than either of the other two scenarios, but they are greater than zero. That means doing the work to win over a Democratic primary electorate, which I assure you wants very much to beat Greg Abbott and which right now is hoping that Beto O’Rourke or Julian Castro files to run against him. McConaughey could win a Dem primary, especially if he announced first and started raising money and actively campaigning and, you know, stated some policy opinions and action items for his hoped-for term as Governor. If he did the work, in other words. No guarantees, of course – if Beto or Julian or some other Democrat of reasonable stature and accomplishment threw a hat into the ring, I’d make that person the favorite just for their having been committed to the party and its ideals and membership for more than five minutes. But at least he’d have a chance. If he did the work. No sign of that yet, so my position remains the same: Until I see some evidence of actual candidate-like behavior, this is not a thing. Nothing to see here, move along.

The overlooked Congressional race

There are ten Congressional races involving Republican-held seats that are seen as competitive. Nine of them have gotten a fair amount of attention. The tenth is CD06, and the Texas Signal steps in to fill the gap.

Stephen Daniel

The race in the Texas sixth congressional district between challenger attorney Stephen Daniel and incumbent Rep. Ron Wright has been chugging along, under the radar from other clashes in the state. However, many pundits have looked at the district, which includes parts of Arlington, as well as Waxahachie and Corsicana, and have proclaimed it’s a sleeper for flipping, something Daniel himself sees in the final weeks of the campaign.

In 2018, Jana Lynne Sanchez ran for the seat. It was the first time in years a serious Democratic challenger had entered into the race. In the documentary film Surge, which recently premiered in Texas at the Dallas International Film Festival and is airing on Showtime, filmmakers chronicle the battle Sanchez endured to raise money and to get people interested in a race many deemed out of reach.

Sanchez came within seven points of Wright. Two years later, several polls are showing an even tighter race between Daniel and Wright, a combative Texas conservative and the former Chief of Staff to Rep. Joe Barton, who retired from the seat after explicit photos appeared on social media. Wright was recently hospitalized after complications from lung cancer treatment.

Wright has said that women who have abortions have committed murder and should be jailed. As a former columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he said that “white males are the only species without some form of federal protection.” Like most Republicans in Congress, he supports dismantling the Affordable Care Act. Texas currently leads the nation in the number of uninsured, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 650,000 Texans have lost their health insurance.

Access to healthcare prompted Daniel to enter into the race against Wright. In an interview with the Texas Signal, he spoke about his background growing up in a small town and being the first person in his family to go to college. “There’s a lot of people who flat out can’t afford healthcare,” said Daniel.

[…]

Like every campaign, Daniel and his team had to adjust to the pandemic era. He misses the in-person experience of block walking, where he could personally connect with voters. He particularly enjoyed campaigning alongside statehouse candidates. There are five competitive races in the sixth congressional district. Now, that campaigning has moved to Zoom and other virtual settings.

Daniel is optimistic. “The path to turning Texas blue goes through Texas sixth [district],” he said. Nearly seventy percent of the voting bloc in the district is in Arlington and Tarrant county. He sees firsthand how voters in the district are changing. The DCCC recently added the race to their Texas target list.

There was one poll of this race, done by the DCCC back in June, that had Wright up by four points, 45-41. The DCCC Executive Director mentioned CD06 as a race to watch a couple of weeks ago, for whatever that means. Daniel has been a modest but decent fundraiser who would need some help to get a boost. (I have not heard anything about his Q3 report as yet.) I should note that Beto lost CD06 by a 51.2 to 48.0 margin, which made it closer than the more-touted CDs 03 (51.3 to 47.9) and 25 (52.1 to 47.0), with that pattern holding true for other races as well. I don’t know exactly why CD06 has gotten less attention than the other races – Daniel was unopposed in the primary, so there hasn’t been much to report on – but that’s the way it is sometimes. However you want to look at it, this is a race to keep an eye on.

On a side note, seven of the ten Democratic candidates in those competitive races are women. Daniel, along with Mike Siegel in CD10, is vying to join Rep. Lloyd Doggett as the white Democratic Congressmen from Texas. I believe the last time there were as many as three white male Democratic members of Congress from Texas was 2009-10, when then-Reps. Chet Edwards and Gene Green were still serving. Nick Lampson had been there in the prior session, in that election where Tom DeLay withdrew and the Republicans ran Shelley Sekula Gibbs as a write-in, but he lost to Pete Olson in 2008. Edwards was wiped out in 2010, and Green retired prior to the 2018 election.

When Republicans fight

Such a sight to see.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s most exasperating allies sure chose an awkward time to act up.

In the face of a momentous election, with an array of issues that includes the pandemic, the recession, climate change, racial justice, law enforcement and the next appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, the chairman of the Texas GOP and a gang of lawmakers and activists have instead picked a fight with Abbott, who isn’t even on the ballot, over his response to the pandemic.

On the surface, they’re asking the courts to tell the governor that adding six more days of early voting to the calendar was outside of his powers. Abbott made the move under emergency powers he has claimed during the pandemic — the same powers he has used at various times to shut down schools, limit crowd sizes and limit how many customers businesses can serve at a time, or in some cases, to close businesses altogether.

The timing is connected to the Nov. 3 general election; even with the arguments over emergency powers, opponents of the governor’s action would be expected to grab for a remedy before early voting starts on Oct. 13. One might say the same about other lawsuits challenging the governor’s orders — that they’re tied not to politics, but to current events. Bar owners want to open their bars, for instance, and are not in the financial condition or the mood to stay closed until after the elections just to make the current set of incumbents look good.

What’s unusual is to see so many prominent Republican names on the top of a lawsuit against the Republican governor of Texas this close to an election.

In a gentler time, that might be called unseemly or distracting. Speaking ill of another Republican was considered out of bounds for a while there. Those days are over. What’s happening in Texas illustrates how the pandemic, the economy and other issues have shaken political norms.

As the story notes, this is also playing out in the SD30 special election, where Shelley Luther – supported by a million dollars from one of the Empower Texans moneybags – is busy calling Abbott a “tyrant”. There’s talk of various potential primary challengers to Abbott in 2022 – see the comments to this post for a couple of names – but I don’t see any serious threat to him as yet. If Dan Patrick decides he wants a promotion, then we’ve got something. Until then, it’s all talk.

But let me float an alternate scenario by you. What if the nihilist billionaires behind Empower Texans decide that Abbott and the Republican Party have totally sold out on them, and instead of finding someone to take Abbott out in a primary, they bankroll a petition drive to put some pet wingnut on the November ballot, as an independent or the nominee of some new party they just invented? It’s crazy and almost certain to hand the Governor’s mansion over to the Democratic nominee, but no one ever said these guys were strategic geniuses. It’s been said that there are three real political parties in Texas – the Democrats, the establishment Republicans, and the far right whackadoo Republicans. This would arguably be an outgrowth of that, and in what we all hope is a post-Trump world, there may be similar splits happening elsewhere.

How likely is this? As I said, it makes no sense in the abstract. It’s nearly impossible to see a path to victory for either Abbott or the appointed anti-Abbott. It’s instructive to compare to 2006, where Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman were taking votes away from both Rick Perry and Chris Bell. Nobody who considers themselves remotely a Democrat is going to be wooed by whoever Empower Texans could vomit onto the ballot. Maybe they would consider a victory by Julian Castro or whichever Dem to be preferable to another Abbott term, in their own version of “the two parties are the same, we must burn down the duopoly to get everything we want”. Just because it makes no sense doesn’t mean it can’t happen. For now, if I had to bet, my money would be on some token but not completely obscure challenger to Abbott in the primary – think Steve Stockman against John Cornyn in 2014, something like that. But a lot can happen in a year, and if the Dems do well this November, that could add to the pressure against Abbott. Who knows? Just another bubbling plot line to keep an eye on.

The HCDE makeover

One more world to conquer in Harris County.

David Brown

The future looked bleak for Texas’ last remaining county education department in early 2019.

After years of state-level efforts to abolish the Harris County Department of Education, a new majority of trustees signaled they would take a more critical look at the agency’s inner workings and whether it still served the core function of supporting local school districts.

Less than a year later, the entire makeup of the board has changed. Now a 5-2 majority of HCDE supporters oversee the department and its $128 million annual budget, a majority that could grow after the November election.

The two board seats on this year’s ballot — two of the three at-large positions — are held by Republicans Don Sumners and Michael Wolfe, the remaining trustees who have been critical of the department in the past. Sumners is seeking re-election, and although Wolfe is not running for his old seat, his father, Bob Wolfe, is.

Sumners’ Democratic opponent is David Brown, an educator who works for Change Happens, a Third Ward-based nonprofit that provides mentoring, drug prevention and other services to low-income youth. Democrat Erica Davis, chief of staff for Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, is running against Wolfe. If Brown and Davis capture the two at-large positions, board president Eric Dick — who has opposed efforts to shut down the department — would be the lone remaining Republican trustee.

[…]

Erica Davis

In recent decades, the department has been the subject of frequent criticism of some state and local conservatives who call it an unnecessary bureaucracy that would better serve districts if it were dissolved and its assets were given to local schools.

Republicans who shared that belief gained control of the board after the 2018 midterm elections and were quick to exercise their new role. Former trustee Josh Flynn was named board president during his first meeting in January 2019. Minutes later, the board voted to scrap a contract with a lobbying firm that represented HCDE interests in Austin.

They voted the following month to change the composition of an ancillary board that issues bonds and oversees construction contracts. They asked the board attorney to investigate the department’s Education Foundation, then put an item on two meeting agendas to replace the same attorney with a representative from Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain’s law firm, an ally of the Republican trustees. The board ultimately kept its original lawyer after the item to remove her was tabled.

Tempers flared between the new majority and those who supported the agency. Trustee Eric Dick, the sole Republican on the board who supported HCDE, frequently exchanged terse words with the new majority, especially former President Flynn and Trustee Michael Wolfe. The tension came to a head after Dick reported that Wolfe had made sexual advances on a woman who had applied to become the board’s secretary, and allegedly attempted to blacklist her among Houston Republican groups after she turned down his advances.

After reviewing a third-party report on the allegations commissioned by the board, trustees voted to censure Wolfe in April 2019, and Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan launched an investigation into the allegations. Wolfe has denied the allegations, and the county attorney has yet to release any findings.

Ultimately, the board’s Republican majority was short-lived. Former Trustee George Moore resigned after moving out of Harris County in May 2019, and the board later appointed Democrat Amy Hinojosa to replace him. Flynn resigned in December that same year after his eligibility to run for the Texas House was questioned due to his position on the board. The board appointed Democrat Andrea Duhon to take Flynn’s place, firmly shifting the board majority.

“I have to tell you, it seems like it’s working like a well-oiled machine,” Duhon said. “It’s been fabulous not having to worry about someone coming in and trying to tear it all apart.”

Sumners, Bettencourt and other Republicans have blamed Flynn for the shift in power. Though Republicans outnumbered Democrats for most of 2019, Dick sided with the Democrats amid an ongoing feud with the Republican trustees, resulting in a 3-3 deadlock that left the board unable to appoint Moore’s replacement. Moore was barred from voting.

In December, however, Flynn skipped a meeting where trustees were set to appoint his and Moore’s replacements. That allowed Dick and the two Democrats to appoint Hinojosa and Duhon.

See here for some background. I had wondered how it was that a board with a Republican majority managed to appoint two Democrats as replacement for departing Republicans, thus turning a 5-2 GOP majority into a 4-3 Dem majority. Pretty hilarious, if you ask me. It’s only the second time in my memory that the Dems have had a majority on the HCDE Board. A brief history:

2006: All seven members are Republicans, after Dems failed to field a candidate in the Precinct 1 position (the incumbent, who had not drawn a primary challenger, withdrew at the last minute).

2008: 5-2 Republicans after Jim Henley and Debra Kerner win the two At Large positions that were on the ballot, as part of the initial Democratic breakthrough in Harris County. Kerner’s opponent in that election, by the way, was none other than Stan Stanart.

2012: Erica Lee wins the Precinct 1 position, and Diane Trautman wins the third At Large spot, thus giving the Dems a 4-3 advantage.

2014: Republicans take back the two At Large positions they lost in 2008 and go back up by a 5-2 margin on the Board. Michael Wolfe, who had lost in 2012, and Don Sumners are elected.

2016: No change in composition, but Sherrie Matula loses the Precinct 2 race by a whisker. Eric Dick is elected in Precinct 4.

2018: Still no change in composition. Danny Norris succeeds Erica Lee in Precinct 1, Richard Cantu succeeds Diane Trautman in the At Large position, and Josh Flynn defeats Andrea Duhon by less than 2,000 votes for the Precinct 3 spot. While Republicans maintain a 5-2 majority on the Board, they now have a majority of Board members who want to undermine what the Board is doing.

Late 2019, after the filing period for 2020 closes: George Moore (who had defeated Matula by less than 500 votes in 2016) resigns for personal reasons, and Josh Flynn resigns (after a bit of a kerfuffle with the county GOP) to pursue the nomination in HD138 (he would lose the primary). As described above, Amy Hinojosa and Andrea Duhon are appointed, giving the Dems a 4-3 majority again. With the Dems favored to win the two At Large seats back, they would have a 6-1 majority for next year. Hinojosa will be up for election in 2022, and Duhon in 2024.

So there you have it. There have been some attempts in the Lege to curtail the HCDE , and it won’t surprise me if there are bills to that effect filed in this session. Having a Dem House majority would block that. In the meantime, I don’t know what has gotten into Eric Dick, but I approve. Remember to vote in these races, they will be way down at the bottom of the ballot. Any chance you get to vote against Don Sumners, you owe it to yourself to take it.

Why endorse Sarah Davis?

It’s a good question.

Rep. Sarah Davis

Planned Parenthood’s Texas political arm on Thursday endorsed state Rep. Sarah Davis, rebuffing abortion rights activists who had lobbied the group to deny political support for the Houston Republican.

The efforts to deny Davis the endorsement had revolved around a petition circulated by Sherry Merfish, a deeply connected Democratic donor and former Planned Parenthood board member. The petition concedes that Davis “may have met the minimum standards of what it means to be ‘pro-choice,’” but argues that “the rest of her record stands completely at odds with the cause of reproductive justice and the purported mission of Planned Parenthood.”

It had gathered some 450 signatures by Wednesday afternoon, including numerous Planned Parenthood donors and two board members of the group’s Houston affiliate. One of the board members, Peggie Kohnert, had circulated her own petition.

The lobbying effort has revealed a fracture between key members of Houston’s abortion rights community and the leaders of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, a political action committee that defines itself as nonpartisan but has struggled to find Republicans like Davis to endorse. As the debate plays out, Texas Democrats — desperate to capture a House majority before next year’s critical redistricting battle — are making an all-out push to unseat Davis, whom they view as one of the most vulnerable Republican legislators in the state.

Davis’ stances on abortion have angered members of her party but helped garner support from moderate voters. In the last two cycles, she won re-election while her party’s standard-bearers, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, each failed to crack 40 percent in her district.

Houston lawyer Ann Johnson, Davis’ Democratic opponent, argues the incumbent has worked against women’s reproductive issues by opposing the Affordable Care Act and declining to vote for the law’s optional expansion of Medicaid. Davis disagrees, saying she has voted against “every anti-choice bill” during her time in office.

Some of Johnson’s supporters say groups such as Planned Parenthood Texas Votes have allowed Davis to carefully curate her moderate reputation while she aligns with her party on immigration and gun policies. Merfish said the group also would paint a misleading picture of Johnson by backing Davis.

“By endorsing Sarah, in people’s minds who may not be as familiar with Ann, it would cast doubt on whether Ann is aligned with them on these issues,” Merfish said. “Because, then why wouldn’t they endorse both of them, or why wouldn’t they stay out of it?”

Planned Parenthood Texas Votes announced the Davis endorsement Thursday as part of a slate of 18 new endorsements. Davis is the only Republican among the 27 candidates the group is backing this cycle.

In a news release, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes said it is “working to elect officials not to just defend access to sexual and reproductive health care, but to repair and expand the public health infrastructure damaged by Governor Abbott and other extremist politicians.”

There was a preview story about this on Wednesday, which covered much of the same ground. As the story notes, Davis also received the endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign, despite Ann Johnson being an out lesbian. The story goes into a lot of detail about Davis’ career and various votes and issues that are at the heart of the dispute, so I encourage you to read the rest.

On the one hand, I get why PPTV and the HRC want to endorse Republicans like Davis, who are an increasingly rare breed. It’s in their best interests, at least as they see it, to be non-partisan, which means they need to find Republicans they can support. From a national perspective, Democrats may be the majority in Congress now, but partisan control is likely to swap back and forth over time, and you need to have some connections to the Republican majority when it exists, no matter how otherwise hostile it is, because you can’t afford to be completely shut out. Long term, I’m sure groups like these very much want for their issues to not be seen as strictly partisan, but to have broad consensus across party lines, and the only way to do that is to have Republican faces you can point to and say “see, they support us, too”. They have done this for a long time, and it’s just how they operate.

On the other hand, the simple fact of the matter is that having Sarah Davis in the State House makes it that much more likely that the Republicans will maintain their majority in that chamber, and a House with a Republican majority and a Republican Speaker is absolutely, positively, one hundred percent going to pass at least one major anti-abortion bill in 2021, just as it has every session since 2003, when the Republicans first took the majority and thus gained trifecta control of Texas state politics. A State House with a Republican majority and Speaker will absolutely not pass a bill to expand Medicaid. I agree, such a bill would almost certainly be DOA in the Senate, but at least it would get there, and the voters in 2022 would have a tangible example of what they’ve been missing out on. And of course, a State House with a Republican majority and Speaker will absolutely make further cuts to women’s health (which is already happening without any legislative input) and add further restrictions to Planned Parenthood, again as they have been doing for years now. All of this would happen regardless of the virtuous votes that Sarah Davis would cast. I mean, it may be true that she has helped stop some things and reverse some cuts and spoken against some other things, but all this has happened regardless. She’s only one member, and they have always had the votes to do all that without her.

This debate has played out for several years at the national level, with the national Planned Parenthood PAC being criticized in the past for supporting the likes of Arlen Specter and Susan Collins and a handful of Congressional Republicans for their reasonably pro-choice voting records while overlooking the “which party is the majority” aspect. Indeed, for the first time ever, Planned Parenthood has endorsed Collins’ challenger, with her vote for Brett Kavanaugh being the proverbial last straw. Activists, including blogs like Daily Kos, have made the same argument about control of the chamber versus individual members with acceptable voting records. However you feel about what PPTV and HRC did here, it’s not at all a surprise to see this debate arrive here on this level.

Ann Johnson

Though individual endorsements rarely have the power to swing elections, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes holds more sway in House District 134 than the average political group, said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. The district, which covers Bellaire, West University Place, Southside Place, Rice University and the Texas Medical Center, is home to some of the most affluent, educated and politically engaged voters in the state and contains what Merfish described as a “trove of Planned Parenthood voters.”

The group’s endorsement is particularly significant for Davis, Cross said, because of President Trump’s struggles among suburban women.

“Just like the tea party helped bring her in back in 2010, the anti-Trump movement could help move her out, especially among women,” Cross said.

I agree that Davis is better positioned with these endorsements than without them. A bigger concern for Davis is just simply how Democratic HD134 was in 2018, when Beto took 60% of the vote, and Davis was fortunate to not have had a serious challenger. I see a parallel to Ellen Cohen, who won re-election in 2008 by a 14-point margin over a non-entity opponent, even as Republicans were carrying the district in nearly every other race. 2008 was a strong Democratic year overall in Harris County, but HD134 was actually a bit more Republican than it had been in 2006, when something like seven or eight downballot Dems also carried the district. Cohen still vastly outperformed other Dems in the Republican tidal wave of 2010, but that wave was too big for her to overcome. I get the same feeling about Davis this year. Maybe I’m wrong – no two elections are ever alike, and HD134 has been a Republican district far longer than it’s been a Democratic district – but there’s a reason why neutral observers view Davis as being endangered.

One last thing: When I say that groups like PPTV and HRC want to be supportive of Republicans like Sarah Davis, it’s because there’s literally no other Republicans like Sarah Davis, at least at the legislative level in Texas. The thing is, Republicans like her have been extremely endangered for some time now. Go ahead, name all of the Republican legislators you can think of from this century that you could classify as “pro-choice” with a straight face and without provoking a “no I’m not!” response from them. I got Joe Straus, Jeff Wentworth (primaried out by the wingnut Donna Campbell), and that’s about it. I’m old enough to remember when Gary Polland and Steven Hotze ousted Betsy Lake, the nice River Oaks Planned Parenthood-supporting lady who had been the Harris County GOP Chair in the 90s, thus completing a takeover of the party that has lurched ever further rightward since. If they can’t support Sarah Davis, I have no idea who else in the Republican Party they could support.

The progressives and the runoffs

May as well check in on this.

Sara Stapleton Barrera

Judging from March, the ideological left wing of the Democratic Party in Texas should be inconsolable.

After months of high hopes, the faction ran into a centrist buzz saw in the March 3 primary. Joe Biden practically locked up the Democratic presidential nomination, and progressive candidates experienced electoral drubbings.

Among the fallen: presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros, U.S. Senate hopeful Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, and Audia Jones, a candidate for Harris County District attorney endorsed by Sanders.

But rather than licking their political wounds, leading progressive candidates still in the fight say they’re invigorated — and eager to use the coronavirus pandemic, fights over voting by mail and calls for police reform to score some late victories in the July runoffs.

“Every time we have a progressive run, we get a little bit closer,” said Sara Stapleton-Barrera, who is in a runoff against state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville. “I feel like we’re slowly winning the war, but we have to get through some of these battles first.”

Perhaps the most energy is coming from Austin, where two runoffs have the attention of progressives. José Garza is competing in the nationally watched Democratic primary runoff for Travis County district attorney. Mike Siegel is vying for his party’s nomination in the 10th Congressional District’s Democratic primary runoff.

Garza’s race is where the focus on police reform is arguably the clearest. Even before the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police prompted protests nationwide, Garza was challenging incumbent Margaret Moore from the left, arguing she was too harsh in her prosecution of nonviolent offenders. He earned the most votes in March and has promised to bring all police shootings and more police misconduct cases before a grand jury. He has also pledged not to accept campaign contributions from police unions.

Moore, meanwhile, has accused him of being inexperienced with the local criminal justice system and running a campaign focused on national issues instead of local ones.

In the 10th Congressional District, Siegel is running on a platform that includes supporting “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal. Siegel will face Dr. Pritesh Gandhi, who has cited his medical experience while pitching Medicare Extra, a proposal that does not go as far as Medicare for All and leaves some private insurance in place.

“I think this is the exact moment in history when progressives are in a place to lead, and it’s because the times have caught up the policies we’re fighting for,” Siegel said. “This is the time to run as a progressive. I feel really good not just about my chances, but the movement overall.”

[…]

Another runoff that has drawn the attention of some national progressives is the one for the 24th Congressional District, where Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela are competing to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell. The seat is a national Democratic target.

Valenzuela has endorsements like the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Warren, but the runoff has not as sharply split along ideological lines as much as it has on issues of experience and racial identity. Valenzuela, a former Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member, and her allies are hammering Olson over her time as human resources director for the Dallas Independent School District. Valenzuela and her supporters are also touting that she would be the first Afro-Latina to serve in Congress. Olson is white.

But the divide might be clearest in South Texas, where the winner of the state Senate runoff between Lucio and Barrera will be the overwhelming favorite to win the seat in November.

I’ve said repeatedly that beating Eddie Lucio in SD27 will do more for progressives than beating Henry Cuellar in CD28 ever could have done, because of the relative sizes of the two legislative bodies and the outsized influence Lucio has in the 12-member (for now) Dem Senate caucus. Lucio is terrible, and I’m delighted that that particular race has finally gotten the attention it needs. I think one reason why maybe it didn’t get as much attention earlier is because Sara Stapleton Barrera isn’t necessarily “the” progressive candidate in that race. If Ruben Cortez had finished second, people would be rallying behind him now. This race is much more about Eddie Lucio, and I’d say it’s only now that we’re down to one candidate against him that the race has been viewed through that lens.

As for CD10, I mostly shrug my shoulders. I think Medicare For All is a fine goal to work towards, but Medicare For Those Who Want To Buy Into It is much more easily achieved in the short term, with far less disruption to the existing system and far less resistance from people whose employer-based (possibly collectively-bargained) plan is just fine for them. If we’re lucky enough to have a Democratic Senate in 2021, I think what can get passed by that Senate is what we’re going to get. Will having more pro-Medicare For All members of Congress affect that outcome? Maybe. It’s hard to say. I like Mike Siegel and would vote to give him a second chance to topple Mike McCaul if I lived in CD10, but I think either Siegel or Pritesh Gandhi will be a fine addition to Congress and a major upgrade over the incumbent. Same in CD24, with Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela, each a good candidate with different strengths and appeals but no major differences on policy.

The race that definitely has the potential to have a big effect is the Travis County DA race, where the ideological lines are clear and the ability for the upstart to make a difference if they win is great, though not unbound. Please feel free to set a good example for the rest of us, Travis County.

As for whether this is another step in a long march towards more liberal candidates and officeholders, I’d say yes, and that we’ve already been on that march for a long time. Ideological sorting is a thing that has been happening for a few decades now. You can see the effect just in recent years – the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008 included a lot of candidates whose politics included “fiscal responsibility”, support from the NRA, opposition to same-sex marriage, immigration restrictionism, and a host of other views that were very much not shared with the class of 2018. The Democratic Party is a big tent, which means there will always be room for vicious family fights over various issues. Having some number of Never Trumpers inside that tent will just make it all more exciting. It’s fine, and I’d rather be dynamic than stagnant. And every primary and primary runoff, the main emotion many of us will feel will be “thank prime that’s over, now let’s please get on to the general election”. Same as it ever was.

2020 Primary Runoff Early Voting, Second Tuesday: A history of Democratic primary runoffs

Yesterday I said that the turnout so far in the 2020 Democratic primary runoff was already historic. Today I’m going to show my work on that. Herewith is the 21st century history of Democratic primary runoff turnout for Harris County:


Year    Turnout  Top race
=========================
2002     64,643    Senate
2006     12,542    Senate
2008      9,670       RRC
2010     15,225  Judicial
2012     29,912    Senate
2014     18,828    Senate
2016     30,334       RRC
2018     57,590  Governor
2020     72,838    Senate

The only primary runoff on the ballot in 2004 was for Constable in Precinct 7. We’ve come a long way, and please don’t forget that. We had just nudged past that 2002 mark as of yesterday, and now we are putting distance between it and this year. I didn’t include mail ballots in this accounting for two reasons. One, they didn’t quantify mail ballots in 2002, and two, this year is way off the charts compared to years prior. 2018 and 2016 are the only reasonable comps, and they both fall well short, with 19,472 mail ballots in 2018 and 11,433 in 2016. We had each of those beat on Day One.

With that, here’s the chart for this year as of today:


Election     Mail    Early   Total   Mail %
===========================================
D primary  18,503   54,325  72,828    25.4%
R primary  19,690   47,271  66,961    29.4%

D runoff   38,026   34,812  72,838    52.2%
R runoff   22,351   10,215  32,566    68.6%

The Tuesday runoff EV file is here, and the final EV turnout report from March is here. Second week Tuesday was the first big turnout day for the primary, and where Dems started separating from Republicans overall. This Tuesday was by a small amount the biggest day so far for Dems, though Monday had a slightly higher in person count. This is undoubtedly where the March turnout begins to exceed the July turnout, but this runoff is now officially leaving all previous primary runoffs in the dust.

Hotze versus contact tracing

We should have expected this.

Conservative firebrand Steven Hotze has launched another lawsuit challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s coronavirus response, joined by current and former lawmakers and several hundred business owners who argue the state’s contact tracing program infringes on their privacy and ability to make a living.

The civil action filed Monday in federal court takes on the disparate operating capacities the governor mandated in his “COVID-19 lottery,” claiming Abbott’s actions have limited restaurants and bars with 25 or 50 percent limits, while bicycle shops, liquor stores, pool cleaners and supermarkets are running at full tilt.

[…]

The lawsuit by Hotze includes nearly 1,500 names. Most are small business owners, but topping the list are state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, former Republican state representatives Gary Elkins, of Houston, Molly White, of Bell County, Rick Green, of Hays County, and former party chair Cathie Adams, of Collin County.

The suit argues that Texas’ $295 million contract tracing program — aimed at tracking down all people exposed to an infected person — violates the first amendment, privacy, due process and equal protection provisions. Such tracking amounts to an illegal, warrantless search, the suit says. While tracing back contacts is supposed to be voluntary, it is enforced through local health departments based on a presumption of guilt for all people in proximity to a sick person, according to the lawsuit. It requires people to turn over names, call in with their temperature readings and assumes a person has COVID-19 unless they can prove otherwise, Woodfill said.

Woodfill said he believes this is the first federal challenge to contact tracing. He hopes it will set the tone for “how we as a government and as a people will deal with diseases that we don’t have a vaccine for yet.”

Yes, of course that’s Jared Woodfill, joined at the hip as ever with Hotze on these things. We had the original lawsuit against Harris County, over the stay-at-home order. That was then followed by the lawsuit against Abbott and Paxton over the statewide stay-at-home order, for which there is now an emergency petition before the State Supreme Court. Another lawsuit against Harris County was filed over Judge Hidalgo’s face mask order, a subject that may soon be relevant again. That one too has a motion before the Supreme Court for an emergency ruling. I am not aware of any rulings in any of these lawsuits, but sooner or later something will happen. Abbott’s contact tracing plan is full of problems, and as I’ve said before there are legitimate questions to be raised about Abbott’s various orders during this pandemic. For sure, the Lege should try to clarify matters in 2021. I would just greatly prefer to have these legitimate questions get asked by legitimate people, not con men and grifters. That’s not the world we live in, unfortunately.

All this got me to thinking: Why doesn’t Hotze announce that he’s running for Governor in 2022? He clearly has some strong opinions about the way the state is supposed to be run, and in doing so he has some stark disagreements with Greg Abbott. Just as clearly, he has some support among the wingnut fringe for those differing opinions. It seems unlikely he could win – among other things, Abbott has a gazillion dollars in his campaign treasury – but he could force a dialogue on his issues, and very likely could bring some real pressure on Abbott. He’s also the kind of preening egotist who’d think he’s got The People behind him. I’m just idly speculating, and maybe trying to stir up some trouble. I can’t help but think that this is the biggest public example of Republican-on-Republican rhetorical violence since Carole Keeton Strayhorn was Rick Perry’s main nemesis. (I’m not counting Kay Bailey Hutchison’s primary against Perry in 2010, since she barely showed up for it.) I don’t really think this is where Hotze is going, but if he does do something like this, would you be surprised? At this point, I would not be.

Does getting to 40% make you likely to win the runoff?

Anna Eastman

I was talking with some fellow political nerds last week, and one of the topics was the forthcoming runoffs. As is usually the case, this year we have some runoffs between candidates who finished fairly close together in round one, and some in which one candidate has a clear lead based on the initial election. The consensus we had was that candidates in the latter category, especially those who topped 40% on Super Tuesday, are basically locks to win in May. The only counter-example we could think of off the tops of our heads was Borris Miles beating Al Edwards, who had been at 48%, in the 2006 runoff for HD146.

So, later on I spent a few minutes on the Secretary of State election archive pages, looking through past Democratic primary results and tracking those where the leader had more than forty percent to see who went on to win in the runoff. Here’s what I found:

2018

Winners – CD03, CD10, CD23, CD31, Governor, SD17,
Losers – CD27, HD37, HD45, HD64, HD109*, HD133*

2016

Winners – CD15, HD27
Losers – SBOE6

2014

Winners – Senate, SBOE13
Losers – HD105

2012
Winners – CD34, HD95, HD137
Losers – CD23*, SBOE2

2010
Winners – CD10, HD76*

2008
Winners – CD32, RRC

2006
Winners – Senate, Lt Gov, HD42, HD47*
Losers – HD146

In each of the cited races, the leading candidate had at least 40% of the primary vote. Races that have asterisks indicate that the runnerup also had at least 40%. As you can see, up until 2018, having forty percent or more in the primary was indeed a pretty good indicator of success in overtime. The last cycle provided quite a few counterexamples, however, including one incumbent (Rene Oliveira, who had been busted for a DWI earlier) who went down. So maybe 40% isn’t such a magical number, or maybe it’s harder now than it was before 2012. Or maybe this is just a really small sample and we should be careful about drawing broad conclusions from it.

Fortunately, we have quite a few races this year to add to this sample:

CD03 – Lulu Seikaly 44.5%, Sean McCaffity 43.8%
CD10 – Mike Siegel 44.0%, Pritesh Gandhi 33.1%
CD13 – Gus Trujillo 42.2%, Greg Sagan 34.7%
CD17 – Rick Kennedy 47.9%, David Jaramillo 35.0%
CD24 – Kim Olson 40.9%, Candace Valenzuela 30.4%
SBOE6 – Michelle Palmer 46.8%, Kimberly McLeod 34.6%
SD19 – Xochil Pena Rodriguez 43.7%, Roland Gutierrez 37.3%
SD27 – Eddie Lucio 49.8%, Sara Stapleton-Barrera 35.6%
HD119 – Liz Campos 46.1%, Jennifer Ramos 43.7%
HD138 – Akilah Bacy 46.7, Jenifer Pool 29.3%
HD142 – Harold Dutton 45.2%, Jerry Davis 25.3%
HD148 – Anna Eastman 41.6%, Penny Shaw 22.1%
138th District Court – Gabby Garcia 48.0%, Helen Delgadillo 31.0%
164th District Court – Cheryl Elliott Thornton 41.3%, Alexandra Smoots-Thomas 33.1%

I’ll be sure to do an update in May, when we can see if the leading candidates mostly held serve or not. Place your bets.

Don’t count the other Jerry Garcia out yet

But do count his votes, because they are legally required to be countable.

Not that Jerry Garcia
(Photo by Carl Lender, CC BY 2.0.)

Reversing itself from a day earlier, the Harris County Democratic Party on Thursday said a constable candidate who was accused by another candidate with the same name of getting on the primary ballot to confuse voters and help the incumbent win, cannot withdraw from the race, after all.

Party officials on Wednesday said candidate Jerry Garcia had withdrawn from the race, but his name would remain on the ballot for the March 3 primary. Any votes cast for him, a party spokeswoman said, would not count.

The party revised its position Thursday, saying its legal counsel determined that the Texas Election Code does not allow candidates to withdraw from a general primary election “after the first day after the date of the regular filing deadline,” which was Dec. 9.

Votes for Garcia will count, though he has the option to withdraw from the race should he make the runoff. If he wins the primary outright, securing more than 50 percent of the vote, he could withdraw from the general election before August, the Democrats determined.

See here for the background. I was curious about this myself – as I said in that post, I didn’t see anything in the elections code that suggested to me that votes for him could be disregarded. And if he does somehow win and wants to withdraw again, then Section 145 of the Elections code would (I presume – remember, kids, I Am Not A Lawyer) apply, in which case there would be no Democratic nominee for Constable in Precinct 2. For those of you with long memories, this is basically the Tom DeLay 2006 situation. It could get more complicated than that, and as this is a county office and not a federal office there may be reasons to relitigate the whole matter, but we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Let me reiterate what I said on Friday: It would be best of the Other Jerry Garcia had no effect on the outcome of this race. Those of you in Constable Precinct 2, please know who you’re voting for.

DMN profile of Chris Bell

The Dallas Morning News did a series of profiles of Democratic Senate candidates during the Christmas break. They’re worth reading, especially since polls show many of us don’t know these candidates all that well. I’m going to post about each of these, so let’s start with the first one they ran, featuring Chris Bell.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell has never gotten over being drawn out of a congressional seat, a move by Republicans in 2003 that altered the course of his political career and robbed him of a job he loved.

“People forget that things were going great for me in the United States Congress and I was damn good at the job,” Bell told The Dallas Morning News during an interview in his Houston campaign office. “It could not have been going any better.”

It got worse. A GOP-led redistricting plan ushered Bell out of Congress after just one term.

But Bell is running again, this time in the Democratic Senate primary for the nomination against Republican incumbent John Cornyn.

Bell said he’s uniquely qualified to send Cornyn back to Texas and lead the push for progressive legislation in the Senate, including providing affordable health care, curbing gun violence, reversing climate change and creating an economy that benefits all Americans.

“If you look at my background and the fact that not only I have that experience in government and politics but been a practicing trial attorney, they realize that I can hold my own and go toe to toe.”

[…]

After a career as a popular radio news reporter in Amarillo and Houston, Bell left journalism to practice law. He’s always had a love for politics.

He’s been a part of numerous political campaigns, beginning with failed bids for an Amarillo-based congressional seat in 1984, a Houston council race in 1995 and a Houston mayor’s race in 2001.

Bell broke through in 1997, winning a Houston council seat that propelled his career. He was later elected to Congress, where he became one of two freshman on the whip team and helped develop the port security caucus.

But former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s aggressive redistricting plan targeted Bell and other white male Democrats from Texas.

Bell was placed in a district dominated by black voters with Democrat Al Green, who is black. Critics said that after Bell lost his original, 65%-Anglo district, he should have stepped aside in favor of Green.

“It was interesting from the standpoint of getting to see Washington from two different viewpoints, one as an up-and-coming, rising star member of Congress to outgoing member of Congress in a year’s time,” Bell said.

It’s an interesting thought experiment to wonder what might have happened if the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003 had not happened, and Bell had not been drawn out of what was then CD25. He won by almost 12 points in 2002, and I’d say he could have easily held the seat through 2008. The 2010 massacre would probably have taken him out – in this alternate universe, maybe Roy Morales is the first Latinx member of Congress elected from the Houston area – but even if he managed to survive that, I’m sure the 2011 redistricting would have been the end. Much of what was once CD25 is now split among CD07, CD18, and CD09, the district that Bell was drawn into. I cannot imagine anything like the old CD25 making it into this decade.

In this fantasy world I’m spinning, Bell gets some extra Congressional tenure, including two terms in the majority. He doesn’t get his folk hero status for filing the ethics complaint against Tom DeLay that led to his indictment and subsequent resignation from Congress – for all we know, DeLay could still be the incumbent in CD22 in this scenario – nor would he had run for Governor in 2006 or State Senate in 2008. Where he might be now is too big a leap for me to make.

Anyway. We’re in this universe and this timeline, and we have the Chris Bell that we have. I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, most recently in 2015 when he ran for Mayor. He’s a perfectly good candidate, the only one who has run in a statewide general election, and he’s positioned himself on the left end of the spectrum among the main candidates running. Read the piece and see what you think.

How many contested judicial primaries should we expect?

We already know that we’re going to get primary challenges to at least one Democratic countywide officeholder, as County Attorney Vince Ryan has two challengers lining up against him, and DA Kim Ogg has at least one person who has announced interest in challenging her. Most of the county offices available are judicial, though, and now that the local judiciary (other than a few JPs) is entirely Democratic, the path to gaining a bench for yourself is limited if one doesn’t want to take on a Democratic incumbent. I had a conversation about this with some folks recently, and we were debating how many such challenges we may see this year. I thought the number would be relatively small, and I based that on the belief that there weren’t that many primary challenges to Republican judges in recent years. That was my intuition, but I didn’t know the actual numbers at the time. I’ve now had a chance to look through recent primary history, and this is what I found:


Republican judicial primary challenges

2002 - 5
2004 - 0
2006 - 4
2008 - 1
2010 - 1
2014 - 3
2018 - 1

That’s less than I had thought. A couple of notes here. I only looked at the years in which all the incumbents were Republican (so no 2012 or 2016), and I limited myself to district and county courts (so no statewide, appeals courts, or JPs). There were some contested races in years where a jurist had been appointed to complete the term of someone who had stepped down or gotten a promotion – in 2008, there were two such races, in in 2012 there were four, for example – but I put those in a separate category. Basically, from what I found, there were actually very few challenges to sitting judges who had served full term. Make of that what you will.

Now, a couple of caveats here. One possible reason for the lack of challenges to four-year incumbents may be because there often were benches vacated in the middle of someone’s tenure, which allowed for a challenge of someone who had been appointed. These judges presumably felt comfortable stepping down mid-term because they knew their replacement would also be a Republican, with district court judges being appointed by the Governor and county court judges being appointed by Commissioners Court. With the exception of Al Bennett, who was named to a federal bench, no Democratic district court judge has stepped down since the first set were elected in 2008. Some have declined to run for re-election, but no others have given Rick Perry or Greg Abbott the opportunity to pick their interim replacement. County court judges won’t have that concern now, but for the foreseeable future I don’t expect any district court judges to abandon their post before it expires if they can at all help it. That points towards more primary challenges than what we had seen in the past.

In addition, while there was no upward trend in primary challenges over time, I think we’re in a different era now, and I think people will be less squeamish about taking that plunge. Honestly, if there ever was a year to try it, it would be this year, because the extreme turnout expected due to the Presidential race ought to make most of these races pure tossups, and by “tossup” I mean the most important factor will be your ballot position, which is determined by random draw. We’re all going to need to be on guard for low-grade opportunists who hope to luck into a bench. I hope I’m overstating this concern.

Anyway. Unlike for executive offices, I don’t expect judicial challengers to announce themselves this early, but it will be filing season before you know it. What do you think will happen?

The lamentations of Big John

You guys, he may finally lose a race. I’m serious!

Big John Cornyn

There is no ghostwritten Cornyn memoir. His ego does not seem to live and die on how many times he appears on Sunday morning talk shows. And he’s never launched a presidential bid, exploratory campaign or even a vice presidential lobbying effort.

“I haven’t run for president,” he said. “My wife told me if I decided to run for president, I needed to get a new wife. And I’ve been married 39 years, and I’m not going to go down that path.”

It is that understated quality — what some observers describe as “boring,” “vanilla” and “not Ted Cruz” — that lends so much uncertainty to his 2020 reelection campaign.

But Cornyn’s calmness may also prove to be his greatest asset amid potential Texas political tumult. He is the de facto leader of state Republicans this cycle, with his name set to appear on the 2020 ballot below only the presidential contest.

And from this perch, Cornyn, despite his usually steady manner, is cranking the alarm as loudly as he can to his fellow Texas Republicans.

“We are, I think, no longer the reliably red state we have been,” he said. “We are at risk of turning purple. And if we don’t do our job, then we could turn blue in the coming years. “

Some of the most respected minds in Texas politics agree.

“He’s unbeatable in a regular year, but this is not a regular year,” said Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist who ran Cornyn’s first statewide race in 1990. “A presidential year like this one changes the outlook. Otherwise, he’s unbeatable in the state of Texas.”

Now, thanks to former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s near-ouster of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in last year’s midterm elections, Texas Democrats smell blood. An endless stream of Democrats across the state spent the winter and spring floating their own names to run against Cornyn. At this point, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar is the most prominent Democrat to officially enter the fray.

Cornyn is the first to agree that the ground is moving.

“Everything’s changed [since 2014],” Cornyn said. “I think 2018 woke up everybody on the Republican side to the fact that we not only need to be competitive in the primaries, but we need to talk to broader general election voters, too.”

There’s not really anything new in this story, which is mostly about how steadfast and unexciting the big lug is. News flash, John Cornyn is not Ted Cruz, both in his boring style and his more substantive manner, as has had passed actual legislation of consequence in his time in office. Some of it has even been bipartisan. He goes into 2020 a favorite for re-election (with, obviously, an awful lot of things still to happen that can and will affect that outlook) but not a lock. Honestly, I think he’s more at the mercy of Donald Trump and the voters he will inspire to go to the polls than anyone wants to admit. It occurs to me that if he does lose, there will be a bit of an echo of the 2006 Senate race in Rhode Island, in which longterm and generally well-liked incumbent Lincoln Chaffee, one of the last liberal Northeastern Republicans standing, was ousted by an electorate that liked him personally but wanted to send a message to then-President George W. Bush, whom they did not like. Other than being a multi-term Republican incumbent Senator, Cornyn isn’t anything like Chaffee, but it’s hard for me to imaging him losing in a world with anything but a deeply unpopular Republican President. I mean hell, he might not be seriously challenged in such a world. But here we are, and say what you want about the guy, he recognizes the peril he’s in. It’s just that there’s only so much he can do about it.

Chris Bell looking at a Senate run

We haven’t had one of these stories in a couple of weeks.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell, the former Democratic congressman and gubernatorial nominee from Houston, is mulling a bid for U.S. Senate in 2020 against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Bell told the Tribune on Monday that he is taking a “serious look” at the race in the wake of the recent decision by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, to pass on a bid against Cornyn. Bell said he is in the “very early” stage of deliberations but believes he would need to make a decision by this summer to be able to run a viable campaign.

There are already several Democratic candidates, including former U.S. House contender MJ Hegar, and a couple of other prominent names are still weighing whether to run. Bell expressed confidence that he could break through.

“I certainly think it’s a field I could compete in,” Bell said, touting his long record helping build up the party in Texas. “Many of us believe this is the year the pendulum finally swings.”

[…]

Bell, who now has his own law firm in Houston, said he thought he was done with running for office but like many Democrats, he felt compelled to “stay involved or get involved” after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. Bell said he had hoped Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso Congressman who made an unsuccessful but high-profile bid for U.S. Senate last year, would run for the U.S. Senate again in 2020. After both O’Rourke and Castro opted against challenging Cornyn, Bell began considering what he could bring to the race.

“I think a big part of my message would be a lot of people are looking to Texas now for guidance, and we’re in a perfect position to lead,” Bell said, pointing to issues such as immigration reform and climate change. He also echoed other Democrats in claiming Cornyn has been afraid to stand up for Texas, shrinking behind Trump as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

I like Chris Bell. He was a good member of Congress, whose career there was cut short by the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003. He was a better candidate for Governor in 2006 than he’s ever gotten credit for, and if the trial lawyers had gotten over their obsession with Carole Keeton Strayhorn and figured out they needed to help push Democratic voters to support the Democratic candidate in that year’s multi-candidate pileup for Governor, he might have won. (VaLinda Hathcox, the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner in 2006, got more votes in her race than Rick Perry did. Look it up.) He ran a progressive campaign for Mayor in 2015. (*)

All that said, I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who’d be excited by a Chris Bell candidacy. Going by the criteria I suggested for potential John Cornyn opponents, he doesn’t really meet any of them. He’s held office and run statewide before, and he’ll have some measure of support in Houston. That gives him a shot in a primary, but it would also probably spur Emily’s List to quit waiting to see if Amanda Edwards jumps in and start getting behind MJ Hegar now. It’s fine by me if Chris Bell want to run for Senate. As stated before, I’d prefer a primary with more than one serious candidate in it, if only to ensure that everyone starts engaging voters now. Chris Bell is welcome to run, and may the best candidate win. But that’s about as enthusiastic as I’m gonna get about it.

(*) – He then threw that all away to endorse Bill King in the runoff. Democratic primary voters will remember that. The Chron has more.

On straight tickets and undervotes

As we know, straight ticket voting in Texas is now officially a thing of the past. It will not be an option in 2020, the next time there will be partisan elections. Thanks to the success of Democratic candidates in 2018, particularly in Harris County, there have been a bunch of questionable takes about how the existence of straight ticket voting was the propellant for these victories. I’ve scoffed at the implicit assumption in these stories that Democrats would undervote in disproportionate numbers in the downballot races once the straight ticket option was gone, and that got me to thinking. What do we know about the undervote rate now?

In every race, some number of people don’t vote. That number is reported by the County Clerk in the election returns. Higher profile races, district races, races at the top of the ticket, these tend to have higher participation. Judicial races, which are lower profile and at the end of the ballot, those unsurprisingly tend to be the ones with the most undervotes. If these are the races most likely to be affected by the loss of the straight ticket option, then what might that effect be?

That’s the question I wanted to try to answer. So, I looked at the undervote rates in past elections, to see if there were any trends. First, though, I needed to establish what the real undervote rate is. By definition, the people who vote straight ticket are voting in each contested election, so only the people who don’t vote a straight ticket can undervote. Thus, I started out by subtracting the combined straight ticket totals for the year, and calculated the undervote rates based on the remaining tallies. Here’s what this looks like:


Year  Regular  Lo under  Hi under  Lo pct  Hi pct
=================================================
2002  296,924    46,505    58,319  15.66%  19.64% 
2006  314,606    48,626    57,970  15.46%  18.43%
2010  264,545    38,014    45,326  14.37%  17.13%
2014  219,892    27,360    33,280  12.44%  15.13%
2018  287,429    33,572    39,564  11.38%  13.76%

2004  389,898    81,724    85,333  20.96%  21.89%
2008  449,307    81,416    89,306  18.12%  19.88%
2012  386,475    66,435    73,387  17.19%  18.99%
2016  451,827    63,226    69,344  13.99%  15.35%

“Regular” is what I called the number of votes cast by those who did not vote a straight ticket. As you can see, even as turnout has varied greatly from year to year, the number of “regular” voters has remained relatively static. The next two numbers represent the range of undervote totals for the judicial races, and the numbers after them are the rates for the undervotes, adjusted to account for the straight ticket voters.

What we see from this is that even as straight ticket voting has increased, the number of people not voting in judicial elections has decreased, relatively speaking. I would attribute that to the overall increase in partisanship in recent years. That suggests to me that when straight ticket voting goes away, voters are still going to be likely to vote in all, or at least nearly all, of the races on the ballot. There will be more undervotes than there are now – as I previously observed, the undervote rate as calculated by the County Clerk over all voters was in the three to four percent range this year. It will end up between that and the lower end numbers I show above. Do bear in mind that for City of Houston elections for At Large Council spots and for City Controller, the undervote race is often above twenty percent. We’re not going to see anything like that in even-numbered years. The vast majority of voters are going to completely fill out their ballots. We’ll see what the numbers look like in 2020, but I see no reason why the trends we see here won’t continue.

Texas and Tarrant

The Trib looks at Beto O’Rourke’s campaign focus on Tarrant County.

Fort Worth and its outlying ranches and suburbs are mostly a backwater in Texas politics. Gerrymandered to the hilt, the national parties have mostly ignored this county.

But since Trump’s election, things have changed here thanks to organic Democratic activism and O’Rourke’s high-risk bet to stake his entire statewide strategy on flipping this county to his party.

“Tarrant County is where the energy is, where the excitement is, where they’re blowing the early voting totals from the last midterm out of the water,” he said on Friday, while campaigning on the southeast side of town. “It’s why we are so encouraged.”

But Julie McCarty, the president of the Northeast Tarrant County Tea Party, is not buying any of it.

“I have no worries about Tarrant County,” she emailed to the Tribune. “We are solidly red this go-round, though there are pockets that may be pink. Of course any area that threatens to change is always a concern so we will watch the results carefully and plan accordingly.”

O’Rourke’s strategic gamble would have sounded nuts only four years ago. One by one over the years, other Texas urban counties fell to the Democrats, but Tarrant County remained the largest Republican county in the state and a pivotal part of GOP domination of the rest of the state.

Between 2000 and 2014, each Republican presidential, U.S. senate and gubernatorial nominee carried the county by an average of 19 points. As recently as 2014, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn won Tarrant County by 24 points.

Then came Donald Trump.

With him at the top of the ticket, the GOP’s 2016 margin in Tarrant shrank to nine points — the same spread with which Trump carried the entire state.

And if O’Rourke is successful at turning Tarrant County blue next month, he will push Texas deeper into a political territory where cities are pitted against suburban and rural areas.

As the story notes and as I have observed before, the Presidential results in Tarrant County have been a pretty close match to the statewide results. You could therefore make the reductionist argument that if you can win Tarrant, you can win the state. It’s probably more accurate to say that as a county that is in parts urban, suburban, exurban, and rural, Tarrant is a decent microcosm of the state and thus a reasonable proxy for it. The Star-Tribune follows this line of thinking.

Polls show Cruz is well positioned to win his re-election bid in this reliably red state. But the money pouring into O’Rourke’s campaign, as well as the mass of yard signs declaring “Beto” planted in yards across the state, give some pause.

“Republicans want to defend (Tarrant County) as much as Democrats want to flip it,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “The Cruz campaign is hungry to get the base out in the state’s largest urban Republican county and the O’Rourke campaign is fighting for swing voters and to activate Democrats who only vote in midterms.

“Tarrant County can flip if and only if Republican turnout is lackluster and Democratic turnout is blockbuster,” he said. “The elements are in place for this to happen in a surprisingly competitive midterm election, but Tarrant flipping blue is more likely in a presidential election year.”

Is it? Here’s the same comparison for the last three non-Presidential years, substituting in the Lt. Governor results for the Presidential results, so as to avoid the weirdness of 2006:


Year  Candidate   Tarrant   Texas
=================================
2006   Dewhurst    58.77%  58.19%
2006   Alvarado    37.06%  37.35%

2010   Dewhurst    61.67%  61.78%
2010   ChavThom    34.97%  34.83%

2014    Patrick    57.07%  58.14%
2014 V de Putte    39.53%  38.71%

Seems like the same formula is true in the off years as well, with a slight tick in favor of a more Democratic Tarrant County in 2014. None of this is predictive of anything, but I can understand the reason for the focus. I’m sure I’ll check back after the election to see if this pattern holds.

Early voting for November 2018 starts today

From the inbox:

“Study the long November 6, 2018 Election ballot to ensure you make the right choices when voting,”  said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to visit www.HarrisVotes.com  and select “Find your Poll and Ballot” to review their personal sample ballot before heading to the nearest early voting location to vote. The Early Voting Period for the 2018 midterm election in Texas begins Oct. 22 and runs until Nov. 2.

“Most voters will see approximately ninety races on their ballot in which they may choose to vote,” informed Stanart, the chief election official of the county. Of the contests on the ballot, approximately fifteen percent are statewide, seventy-nine percent are countywide and six percent are district contests. In all, over seventy percent of the contests appearing on some voters’ midterm election ballot are for judicial positions.

“In Harris County, during the early voting period, forty-six locations will be in operation countywide for the county’s registered voters,” Stanart reminded voters. “Be mindful and exercise patience. Voter traffic at the polls is pretty heavy the first day and the last couple of days of Early Voting.”

 

For more voting information, a complete early voting schedule, or a list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

Stan Stanart is Clerk, Recorder and the Chief Elections Officer of the third largest county in the United States.

###

November 6, 2018 General and Special Elections Early Voting Schedule
Location Address City Zip
County Attorney Conference Center 1019 Congress Avenue Houston 77002
Champion Forest Baptist Church 4840 Strack Road Houston 77069
Prairie View A&M University Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Atascocita Branch Library 19520 Pinehurst Trail Drive Humble 77346
Kingwood Community Center 4102 Rustic Woods Drive Kingwood 77345
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
East Harris County Activity Center 7340 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
Harris County Scarsdale Annex 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Hiram Clarke Multi Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Katy Branch Library 5414 Franz Road Katy 77493
Lone Star College Cypress Center 19710 Clay Road Katy 77449
Harris County MUD 81 805 Hidden Canyon Road Katy 77450
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Harris County Public Health Environmental Services 2223 West Loop South Fwy, 1st floor Houston 77027
Metropolitan Multi Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
City of Jersey Village City Hall 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Richard & Meg Weekley Community Center 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Street Houston 77074
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042
Living Word Church the Nazarene 16607 Clay Road Houston 77084
Trini Mendenhall Community Center 1414 Wirt Road Houston 77055
Acres Homes Multi Service Center 6719 West Montgomery Road Houston 77091
Fallbrook Church 12512 Walters Road Houston 77014
Lone Star College Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Northeast Multi Service Center 9720 Spaulding Street, Building 4 Houston 77016
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Kashmere Multi Service Center 4802 Lockwood Drive Houston 77026
North Channel Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Galena Park Library 1500 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
John Phelps Courthouse 101 South Richey Street Pasadena 77506
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Sunnyside Multi Service Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77051
Young Neighborhood Library 5107 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
SPJST Lodge 88 1435 Beall Street Houston 77008
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Big Stone Lodge 709 Riley Fuzzel Road Spring 77373
Lone Star College Creekside 8747 West New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
Spring First Church 1851 Spring Cypress Road Spring 77388

Daily EV totals from 2014 are here, and daily EV totals from 2010 are here. Those 2010 numbers should serve as a reminder that just because turnout is high, doesn’t mean it’s good news for Democrats. As should be obvious, it’s about who turns out, especially in an election where more people don’t show up than do. Early votes were 55.1% of the total in 2014, 56.0% of the total in 2010, and 32.4% of the total in 2006. My guess is that early voting will exceed 60% of the total this year, but that’s just my guess. I’ll be keeping tabs on the daily numbers as they come in. When are you planning to vote?

What about Neal?

Ross Ramsey reminds us there is a third person in the Texas Senate race.

Neal Dikeman

Libertarians and other third-party candidates have never won state elections in Texas and rarely make a meaningful difference in election results, with one big exception: As spoilers.

If recent indications of a close U.S. Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, prove valid, a third candidate’s voters could spell the difference on Election Day.

“It will be the Libertarian voters who win this race,” says a hopeful Neal Dikeman, the Texas Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate.

[…]

Most polls have Cruz ahead of O’Rourke — but only by single digits. The most recent survey, from Quinnipiac University, had Cruz ahead by 9 percentage points among likely voters. Dikeman wasn’t included in that one, and none of the respondents said they would vote for someone other than the two major-party candidates.

For what it’s worth, covering a nine-point spread would be a big reach for a Libertarian candidate. Most of the time, in races with both Democrats and Republicans, third parties do well to get half that amount. Their mileage varies: Mark Miller and Martina Salinas, a Libertarian and a Green, combined for 8.6 percent in the 2016 race for Texas Railroad Commission; that same year, the presidential candidates from those parties, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, combined for 3.9 percent.

But several late summer polls in the Texas race for U.S. Senate are closer than Quinnipiac’s latest, raising at least the possibility that support for Dikeman could amount to more than the final difference between Ted and Beto.

This was written before that Ipsos poll came out, but that doesn’t change the main point. The two points of interest is that there is a Libertarian candidate, which will affect the win number in this race, and that the polling we have seen so far has not really taken this into effect.

On point one, by “win number” I mean the actual minimum amount needed to finish first in the race. It’s not fifty percent because there are more than two candidates. I did a broad look at this before the 2014 elections, so let’s revisit that here. Each Senate race in recent years has had at least three candidates in it. What percentage of the vote was actually needed to win those races? Here’s a look:


Year    Lib  Green   Else  Total     Win
========================================
2014  2.88%  1.18%  0.02%  4.18%  47.91%
2012  2.06%  0.86%         2.92%  48.54%
2008  2.34%                2.34%  48.83%
2006  2.26%                2.26%  48.87%
2002  0.79%  0.55%  0.03%  1.37%  49.32%

“Win” is the minimum amount that would have won that year. There were write-in candidates in 2014 and 2002. The third party vote hasn’t amounted to much in these races, but it’s not nothing. As you can see, in each year after 2002, 49% was enough to win, and in 2014 48% was enough.

What about this year? Obviously, that depends on how much support Neal Dikeman ultimately attracts. History suggests that will be in the two to three percent range, but it’s at least possible it could be more. Given that nobody likes Ted Cruz, it may be that the number of Republicans who refuse to vote for him but won’t vote for a Democrat is higher than usual. If that’s the case, then Dikeman will be the beneficiary of that. It wouldn’t shock me if he got more like three or four percent.

We might get some feel for that if pollsters specifically included Dikeman in their candidate choices, especially now if everyone is switching to a likely voter model. Not because polling for third party candidates is particularly accurate – they almost always overstate third party support – but because it might give a clearer picture of the gap between Cruz and O’Rourke. I have to imagine that the Quinnipiac poll would have Cruz at something lower than 54 had Dikeman been named as a choice. Yes, the polls have included “don’t know” as a choice, but it’s not the same as an actual person. It’s my hope we’ll see polls like that going forward. After all, that 47% support Beto got in the Ipsos poll may be closer to a win than you might think.

Harris County 2018 voter registration numbers

From the inbox:

Thank you Harris County Voter Registration Division and Harris County Volunteer Deputy Voter Registrars for your passion, dedication, and commitment in registering eligible voters!


Current number registered:   2,291,037
Voters registered in 2017:      67,753
Voters registered in 2018:      41,369

That was from a couple of weeks ago, just before the registration challenge debacle. The registration deadline for this November is October 9, so there’s still time for that number to increase. Here’s how it looks over the past few cycles:


Year   Registered   Change
==========================
2002    1,875,777
2004    1,876,296      521
2006    1,902,822   25,526
2008    1,892,656  -10,166
2010    1,917,534   24,978
2012    1,942,566   25,032
2014    2,044,361  101,795
2016    2,182,980  138,619
2018    2,291,037  108,057

It’s crazy that in the first ten years of this century, the total number of registered voters in the county only increased by a net of 67K. In the next six years after that, up 350K and counting. Having a Tax Assessor that thought registering voters was more important than purging them sure makes a difference, doesn’t it? To be clear, while Ann Harris Bennett gets the credit for this cycle, Mike Sullivan was in the office for the 2014 and 2016 periods, so he gets his props as well.

As you know, I believe the increases in registration are directly related to the improved Democratic performance in 2016, and key to our chances this year. So to everyone who’s out there registering people, I say “thanks”, and “keep up the good work”. The numbers tell the story.

The 2006 question

It always comes back to turnout.

It was the worst day of the worst month of the worst season in years for Republicans hoping to mitigate political damage in this fall’s midterm elections. And Texas political operatives were left stunned as they processed the ramifications.

In one Tuesday afternoon, a Virginia jury found President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty of financial crimes, Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to his own financial and campaign law violations, and a GOP congressman – U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California – found himself indicted on a slew of charges.

But instead of serving as some sort of seminal turning point of the 2018 cycle, operatives from both parties interviewed by The Texas Tribune viewed these events as merely a further deterioration of an already grim situation for Republicans. The damage to the GOP brand is now at a crisis point, and many in politics wonder if the party might salvage its control of the U.S. House.

“It’s a drip, drip, drip,” said Beto Cardenas, a Houston lawyer and political insider with connections to both parties. “At what point does your pond turn into a lake?”

Washington Democrats have long pushed back against comparisons to 2006, when Democrats swept away Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. Back then, the Democrats faced less of a disadvantage due to gerrymandering. And those were the pre-super PAC days, meaning the Republican financial advantage was less daunting.

But now the battle cry of of 2006 – “culture of corruption” – and the comparisons are back. And Democrats are showing signs of confidence.

Texas is, in part, why.

We’ve discussed this before, but the reason why I have harped on 2006 in the past is because Republican turnout was low, or at least lower than the other off years this century. If Republicans turn out this year like it’s 2006, that’s 300K to 500K fewer votes statewide that Dems need to get to have a chance at winning. It’s also fewer votes that candidates in the contested legislative races need to win.

I don’t know if Republican turnout will be lower than usual. I feel confident that it won’t be like 2010, but if 2014 is their baseline, I could see that happening. It may be that they won’t feel a great sense of urgency. It may be that the lack of a Democratic president will tamp them down. It may be that the continued scandal show will turn some of them off. It may be that none of it has any effect, or even that it galvanizes them. Maybe something will happen to put Democrats on the defensive. Who knows?

As things stand right now, I think Republicans are in line to have average to average-minus turnout, maybe something between 2006 and 2014. Could be better, could be worse, for each side. We’ve seen multiple recent examples of events having big effects late in the cycle, so whatever we think is happening now may well not be true in two months. Think of 2006 as a framing device. If we continue to talk about it as a possible model for this year, it’s a good thing.