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Election 2009

Day 3 EV 2015 totals

No fanfare today


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2015   27,596  18,196  45,752   41,994
2013   15,595  12,033  27,628   29,538

The running 2015 totals are here, the full 2013 totals are here, and for completeness the full 2009 totals are here. I don’t have any fancy commentary today, so just enjoy the numbers for what they are.

Day 2 EV 2015 totals: Why I’m using 2013 as my basis for comparison and not 2009

But first, here’s yesterday’s Chron story about Day One turnout:

EarlyVoting

Turnout as of the first day of early voting in Harris County more than tripled from 2009, when Houston last elected a new mayor, though it is too soon to project whether overall participation will be up.

More than 23,000 county residents cast a ballot, 8,889 of whom voted in person Monday and another 14,240 by mail. By contrast, the county clerk recorded 4,089 in-person votes and 2,073 mail votes on the first day of early voting in 2009.

Political observers cautioned that a single day’s turnout is not necessarily predictive of how many votes will be cast.

“Usually these numbers aren’t a harbinger of anything except the competitiveness of the race,” University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said, adding that the share of ballots cast early has increased in recent years. “My guess is turnout will be up, but this may not be the best indicator of it.”

You may have noticed that I used 2013 as my basis of comparison for Day One; one commenter specifically asked why I didn’t use 2009, the last year with an open-seat Mayoral race as my basis. The short answer is that from a turnout perspective, the two years are nearly identical:

2009 ballots cast = 181,659
2013 ballots cast = 177,560

2009 Harris County voters = 257,312
2013 Harris County voters = 260,437

In addition, the trend in recent years is for more people to vote early, and there are more people voting by mail as well.


Year        Day One    Total   Day 1 %
======================================
2009 mail     2,073   11,445     18.1%
2009 EV       4,089   71,368      5.7%
2009 total    6,162   82,798      7.4%

2013 mail     8,560   24,022     35.6%
2013 EV       5,028   87,931      5.7%
2013 total   13,588  111,953     12.1%

Note that these are all Harris County totals, not city of Houston totals. We won’t know those for sure till we start seeing results on Election Day, though we can figure it out as we go if we have access to the daily roster. A spreadsheet of the daily totals for 2009 is here if you want to follow that along. As you can see, early voting in 2013 was up almost 40% over 2009, with higher mail totals and more Day One participation, but in the end total turnout in the city in both the city and the county were about the same. Another way of looking at this is to consider the share of early voting for each year:


Year            Mail   In person   All EV    Total   EV %
=========================================================
2009 Houston  10,152      52,276   62,428  178,777  34.9%
2009 Harris   11,445      71,353   82,798  257,312  32.2%

2013 Houston  20,297      60,140   80,437  174,620  46.1%
2013 Harris   24,022      87,931  111,953  260,437  43.0%

Note that these are the Harris County-only totals for Houston, which is why they are a bit less than the overall numbers cited above – they don’t include Fort Bend or Montgomery Counties. Basically, the share of all early voters – mail and in person – jumped by eleven percentage points between 2009 and 2013. I for one expect the share of early voters this year to be much closer to 2013 than 2009, so given the similarity in overall turnout, I prefer to use 2013 as my basis for comparison to this year.

And with all that said, here are your Day Two totals:


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2015   18,283  16,065  34,348   41,563
2013   10,338  10,424  20,762   29,215

The running 2015 totals are here, and the full 2013 totals are here. The usual pattern for early voting is for it to be a bit flat, sometimes at a lower level than the first day and sometimes at a slightly higher level, until the last day or two. The last days in 2009 and 2013 were both much higher than any of the days preceding them. We’ll keep an eye on the pattern as we go along as well.

Chron overview of HCC Trustee races

As always, HCC Trustee races don’t get as much attention as they deserve.

Adriana Tamez

Adriana Tamez

Since the 2013 election put four new trustees – Zeph Capo, Robert Glaser, Dave Wilson and Adriana Tamez – on the board, one trustee, Carroll Robinson, has stepped down to campaign for city controller and two others – Chris Oliver and Sandie Mullins Moger – have launched bids for City Council seats.

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, a real estate professional who attended HCC, took over Robinson’s seat in May and faces no challengers. John P. Hansen, a longtime Alief school board member, is uncontested in his bid for Moger’s seat on the board. If Oliver loses his council bid, he’ll remain on the HCC board; if he wins, the board will appoint a replacement.

Tamez and Eva Loredo, who has been on the board since 2009, each face challengers for their seats. This means that if Oliver wins his council race, longtime trustee Neeta Sane may be the only board member to have served longer than two years.

Eva Loredo

Eva Loredo

[…]

Tamez faces Florida “Flo” Cooper, a retired telecommunications consultant who ran unsuccessfully for a City Council seat in 2007. Cooper did not respond to multiple calls for an interview.

[…]

Loredo faces Art Aguilar, a Harris County sheriff’s deputy who ran unsuccessfully for constable in 2008. Aguilar, who did not respond to requests for an interview, is part of a slate of candidates that includes his sister, Diana Dávila, who is running for the Houston school board, and his brother-in-law Abel Dávila, a former HCC trustee now running for the City Council.

Cooper also ran for District D in 1997 against then incumbent CM Jew Don Boney, and in a special election for At Large #4 (eventually won by Chris Bell) in January of 1997. Aguilar is of course who Abel Davila tried to gift this Trustee seat to in 2009 via some last-minute filing shenanigans; Loredo won as a write-in candidate after Aguilar was forced to withdraw by the backlash. Neither is a serious candidate, which is why I highlighted their mentions in this article. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz and John Hansen are serious candidates, but both are unopposed – Moger won the position she is now departing as an unopposed candidate back in 2009 – and I just don’t like it when that happens for open seats. Be that as it may, my interview with Tamez is here and with Loredo is here. Both were endorsed by the Chron (and by most endorsing organizations), and both are worth your vote if you live in either district. Let’s please not elect any more accidental Trustees.

Race and runoffs and Turner

Everyone agrees that Sylvester Turner will be one of the candidates to make it to the runoff for Mayor this year. But what happens then?

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Yet, to succeed term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, Turner, an African-American, will need to broaden his coalition beyond black voters – a challenge in a city where voting patterns often fall along racial lines.

“Since we don’t have party ID on the ballot, race is usually the No. 1 factor in predicting voter division patterns,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “Campaigns exaggerate this natural inclination, because they hunt where the ducks are.”

Turner’s campaign says it is not conceding any vote.

“I’m not running a race-based campaign,” Turner said, pointing to his support from groups including the city’s three employee unions, the Houston GLBT political caucus, the Latino Labor Leadership Council and others.

[…]

From 1997 through 2009, black candidates running citywide in biracial elections earned an average of 89 percent of the vote in predominantly black precincts, 37 percent in predominantly white precincts and 32 percent in predominantly Hispanic precincts, according to a 2011 Texas Southern University study.

Those results suggest it is unlikely Turner or former City Attorney Ben Hall, who also is black, will receive significant general election support outside of the African-American community, said TSU political scientist Michael Adams, one of the study’s authors.

“Even with the extensive endorsed support Turner has received, the historical analysis of citywide races indicates that even for a candidate as well known as Turner, his prospects are dim outside the African-American community for this round,” Adams wrote in an email.

Turner thus faces the challenge of luring white and Hispanic progressives while solidifying his base. To safely advance to the runoff, he needs the support of more than 70 percent of black voters, Murray said.

Recent polls indicate Turner’s chances of pulling that off are good. Three surveys released in the last week show Turner either alone at the front of the pack or tied for the lead with former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

[…]

“African-American candidates must be able to create broad multi-ethnic coalitions; in particular they must be able to structure the race in partisan terms to be successful,” Adams said, pointing to the 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2009 races, in which African-American mayoral candidates qualified for the runoff.

In 1997 and 2001, when the races were effectively partisan, with a black Democrat running against a white Republican, the black candidate won. Otherwise, the white Democrat prevailed.

I’m not sure about including the 2001 race in this set, since the Republican in question was Orlando Sanchez, and there was quite a bit of chatter about how he could become the first Latino Mayor of Houston. It’s true that he drew the lion’s share of the Anglo vote in that race, but it still feels weird grouping him in there.

I can’t find that 2011 study, so I can’t comment on it. I just want to point out that right now, Sylvester Turner and Ben Hall have at least some amount of support in the general election from outside the African-American community. The polling data that we have tells us this:

Poll Turner Hall Black Turner% Hall% ================================================ HAR 19 6 20 95% 30% HRBC 24 8 22 109% 36% KHOU 19 4 21 90% 19%

“Black” is the African-American share of the polling sample. “Turner%” and “Hall%” are each candidate’s share of the black vote. In all three cases, that total is greater than the black share of the electorate – from 109% of it to 145% of it – ergo, at least some of their support comes from outside that share. That doesn’t contradict the thesis that they won’t get a significant share of the non-black vote, but depending on how much of the black vote is going to Hall, it does suggest that a significant share of Turner’s support is coming from non-black voters. None of these polls break the data down that far, so we can only guess.

As for how things may shake out in a runoff, it really depends on who the other candidate is. Bill King and Steve Costello are the Republicans in this race, but King is running a Republican campaign and drawing mostly Republican support, while Costello (who supports HERO) is running a more non-partisan campaign and has picked up some support from traditionally Democratic groups. Chris Bell is the Anglo Dem, but with his lesser financial position and Turner’s dominance of the endorsement process, he would seem to be an underdog. And of course, Adrian Garcia is a wild card, being neither Anglo nor Republican. I don’t know how a Turner/Garcia runoff would play out, but I’d bet it would differ greatly from the Lee Brown/Orlando Sanchez matchup of 2001.

Mimi Swartz’s Mayoral campaign rant

Here it is.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

What if they held a mayoral race and nobody came? That’s the question plaguing many people currently involved in Houston politics—even if no one else in town is asking it. This phenomenon isn’t entirely new: in 2009,* a measly 19 percent of Houston voters turned out for the general election to make a winner out of Annise Parker. That number could wind up looking downright spectacular, however, after the results of the 2015 mayoral race are tabulated on November 3. At this point—about a month out—no one can even use the traditional, if lame, “just-wait–til-Labor-Day” excuse; that holiday has come and gone, and if you ask the average person on the street who he is supporting, the answer is likely to be one big shrug followed by a puzzled squint, accompanied by “Who’s running again?”

One could say that the issues—at least the ones being discussed—aren’t all that compelling. Few people understand, or even want to understand, the pension crisis that is bleeding the city dry while keeping the bank accounts of retired firefighters and policemen safe and secure. Houstonians do know that traffic back-ups and potholes as dangerous as starving raptors now make it impossible to get from point A to point B (or C or D), but residents—especially the long-timers—also comfort themselves knowing that congestion equals growth equals prosperity. A future of potentially uneducated masses in a high-tech world? Isn’t that the school district’s cross to bear? Increased segregation between the haves and the have-nots in this oh-so-hospitable town? Come on! Once oil prices go back up, anyone will be able to buy a mansion in River Oaks.

I’ve covered this before, but what did the 2009 Mayoral election not have that the three preceding high-turnout Mayoral elections (2003, 2001, and 1997*) did? A high profile referendum that helped drive that turnout. In 2003, it was the Metro referendum; in 2001, it was on a charter amendment to ban domestic partner benefits for city employees; and in 1997 it was a charter amendment to ban affirmative action. Past performance does not guarantee future results, but I’d bet the over on 2009 turnout this year. If that doesn’t happen, then we’ll need to have a heart-to-heart talk about how disengaged our local voters are.

As or the rest, like most rants it’s more descriptive than prescriptive, so there’s no argument for me to evaluate. I don’t disagree with the description, but that doesn’t get us very far. Swartz correctly notes that our city voters are old, but gives no suggestion as to what if anything could be done to change that. I figure sooner or later a candidate will invest in that kind of work, and if it pays off then others will follow. Until then, what you see is what you get.

By the way, here’s another story about that 1997 affirmative action referendum, from just before the election. See if any of this sounds familiar to you.

There has never been any dispute about what Proposition A would do if it is approved by voters here on Tuesday: It would abolish affirmative action in Houston’s contracting and hiring.

Nonetheless, there has been a tumultuous fight over just how Proposition A should be worded, one that may well head for the courts even after all the votes are in. And at the core of this battle is a question that is reverberating in other cities and states where anti-affirmative-action measures are gathering steam: should opponents of affirmative action be able to define these measures by using the language of the civil rights movement?

That is exactly what happened in California last year with the passage of Proposition 209, the measure that dismantled state-sponsored affirmative action. Similarly, the conservative group promoting the measure in Houston drew up a proposition with words taken almost directly from the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It said voters should decide whether the city “shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment” to anyone “on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.”

But by the time Mayor Bob Lanier, a staunch proponent of affirmative action, and the City Council were through, the wording on the proposition was totally revised.

So now, when voters in the nation’s fourth-largest city go to the polls on Tuesday, they will be asked whether the city charter should be amended “to end the use of affirmative action for women and minorities” in employment and contracting, “including ending the current program and any similar programs in the future.”

The measure’s proponents say the rewording by the Mayor and the Council is outrageous and heavy-handed, while those who favor the change say it is a more honest and straightforward way of describing what the proposition would do. Behind this fight over words are some striking polling statistics, which help to explain just why the fight has been so pitched and which offer a look at the voters’ complicated feelings about affirmative action.

Phrased as a nondiscrimination measure, Proposition A would likely pass with as much as 70 percent of the vote, according to joint polls conducted in recent weeks by the University of Houston and Rice University. But phrased as a measure to wipe out affirmative action, the results are starkly different: In separate polls conducted last month and earlier this week, 47.5 percent of voters described themselves as favoring that concept.

“Basically, what we found here is that the wording is incredibly important on this issue,” said Bob Stein, a political scientist and dean of the School of Social Sciences at Rice University. Like many pollsters here, he describes Tuesday’s vote as too close to call.

“The wording here defines the issue,” Professor Stein added, “and in defining the issue, you manipulate the symbols.”

In the poll this week of 831 registered voters, 47.5 percent said they would vote for Proposition A and 39.8 percent said they would vote against, with the rest undecided or of no stated opinion. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.6 percent.

Boy, the more things change, am I right? I wonder how many of the pro-Prop A people in 1997 are now anti-Prop 1 people this year. For the record, Prop A was defeated by a 55-45 margin, so consider that another example of how hard it is to get an accurate poll response in a city of Houston election. I’m trying to keep that in mind with polls about HERO, whatever they say.

(*) To be fair, the 1991 election, in which Bob Lanier defeated Sylvester Turner and ousted then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire, had turnout in excess of 300,000 as well, and there’s no report of a referendum on the results page. Maybe that year was different, or maybe there was something else going on that I don’t know about.

Endorsement watch: Our first twofer

My first clear misses, too.

Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

For our next controller, voters should look for a candidate who can refocus the distracted office on the straight and narrow of Houston’s financial picture. In our current straits, we don’t have the luxury of electing a politician who wants to play public accountant. Controller has a specific job description and voters should limit their choices to the candidates who can boast an appropriate resume. This narrows the field of six candidates to two: Chris Brown and Bill Frazer.

We endorsed Frazer, 64, two years ago as a solid technician with impeccable qualifications. A retired accountant with 40-years experience as a certified public accountant, Frazer has worked as an auditor and as CFO for a series of oil industry companies. During his career he sat on the board of directors of the Texas Society of CPAs and served as president of the Houston CPA Society.

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

“The controller’s office should be one of credentials and one that has the ability to give the mayor and City Council clear and concise, understandable financial advice so they can make well-informed decisions and good decisions,” Frazer told the editorial board.

There’s little doubt that Frazer could do the job – he’s already done it for decades in the private sector.

Chris Brown, 40, currently serves as chief deputy controller under Green. He also served as chief of staff when Green was on council. While we’re wary of continuing Green’s tenure through his subordinates, Brown boasts a background in finance and experience in the controller’s office that would make him a fine fit for the job. Before he joined the ranks at City Hall, Brown worked as a trader for an investment bank and co-founded an equity trading firm, where he served as head of operations.

[…]

However, voters should avoid Carroll Robinson, a former city councilman and former Houston Community College trustee. When he served on the HCC board, Robinson was accused of redirecting a contract to an unqualified friend. In his current campaign, Robinson advocates for casino gambling – a policy far outside the purview of the controller’s office. And when he met with the editorial board, Robinson hinted at Ted Cruz-style obstructionism if elected by refusing to sign city checks.

I thought the Chron would go with Dwight Jefferson, so I whiffed on this one. In my defense, I did give Frazer and Brown some chances of being endorsed, and I predicted the diss on Carroll Robinson, so I do get partial credit. Judge me as you see fit. I will have interviews with all four candidates mentioned in this paragraph this week, so you can decide for yourself. As for the dual endorsement, this isn’t the first time the Chron has done this – remember the Parker/Locke twofer from 2009? – and to be fair, the Chron cites the certainty of a runoff (as they did in 2009) and the need to have the best choices in that race. Seeing this makes me wonder if they won’t do the same thing in this Mayor’s race as well. We’ll know soon enough. What do you think – is this feckless or a reasonable approach?

Interview with Eva Loredo

Eva Loredo

Eva Loredo

Of all the downballot races in odd numbered years, HCC Trustee elections have the greatest disparity between their importance and the amount of attention paid to them. The farce of Dave Wilson getting elected in 2013 is the lesson we all need to learn about that. There are two contested HCC races this year, both of which involve incumbents. Eva Loredo is my HCC Trustee, in District 8. A retired teacher and principal, Loredo won the strangest local election in my memory as an unopposed write-in candidate. See here, here, and here for the details of how that came to be. She’s running for re-election – officially on the ballot this time – against the person who would have been gifted the seat back in 2009. Here’s our conversation:

(Note: This interview took place before the most recent contretemps involving Dave Wilson.)

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

A broader overview of the Mayor’s race

The TL;dr version of this is basically “meh, not much happening”.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With a bevy of candidates and midyear fundraising that collectively topped $7 million, Houston’s 2015 mayoral race has been poised to be a blockbuster.

Yet, just five weeks before the start of early voting, the race has remained relatively stagnant.

For the most part, the candidates still are spending little, agreeing often and floating only modestly different visions for the city’s future.

“This election has unfolded so far to be an election of single-interest forum after single-interest forum,” said local political observer Darrin Hall, who previously worked for mayors Annise Parker and Bill White. “There’s not a big picture – four major points that any candidate is exposing – like in years past.”

Put another way, the race to succeed term-limited Parker, essentially, is a popularity contest that at least five candidates still have a shot at winning, Democratic political consultant Keir Murray said.

It goes on, and while it won’t tell you much you didn’t already know if you’ve been following the race, it’s a good overview and I broadly agree with it. I am a little surprised that with all the money in the race there hasn’t been more TV advertising. If there’s one thing we should have learned from the last couple of municipal elections in this town, it’s that nobody should overestimate their name ID. Outside of Adrian Garcia, none of the candidates should be too comfortable in the percentage of voters who have heard of them. I get the argument that they;re keeping their powder dry until a runoff, but the harsh fact is that only two people are going to need it for the runoff, and if as everyone seems to think one of them will be Sylvester Turner, then I’m not sure what the purpose of waiting is.

Beyond that, the big x factor is what effect HERO will have on turnout. I feel confident saying turnout will be up from 2009, but I have no idea by how much, nor do I have any idea how many HERO-motivated voters will bother to cast ballots in the actual races. The number of HERO-only voters could be quite large. Consider that in 2005, the year of the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment, turnout in Houston was an amazing 332,154 voters, or well over 30%, but only 181,841 people cast votes in the Mayor’s race. To be fair, that year’s Mayoral election was a king-size snoozer, as Bill White cruised to re-election with over 90% of the vote, but still. Over 40% of all people who turned out to vote that year couldn’t be bothered to cast a vote for Mayor. I seriously doubt that will be the case this year, but I do believe that while more people than usual will undervote, that will still leave a lot of people casting ballots. Just compare 2005 to 2007 to see what things might have been like in the absence of a high-profile ballot item. The bottom line is that some number of people will show up specifically to vote on HERO, and some number of them will then decide that as long as they’re there, they may as well vote in those other races, too. What effect that will have on the outcomes is anyone’s guess, and the sort of thing that drives campaign managers to guzzle Pepto-Bismol.

Just how old are our city voters?

vote-button

In my previous installment, we talked about how many people vote across city elections. In this post, we’re going to look at another aspect of our city races that is often remarked on but seldom specified: The ages of the people who vote.

As before, all the data comes from the voter files I got from the Harris County Clerk’s office, and it is all about city of Houston voters within Harris County, who comprise nearly all but not quite all of the electorate. I could have just done a straight average age for each election, but that leaves out a lot of other interesting information. Here’s how I prefer to present it:

2013 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 9,786 5.6% 31-40 15,209 8.7% 41-50 23,508 13.5% 51-60 40,235 23.1% 61+ 85,393 49.0% 2011 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 5,939 5.0% 31-40 9,488 8.1% 41-50 17,126 14.5% 51-60 28,601 24.3% 61+ 56,664 48.1% 2009 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 10,021 5.7% 31-40 16,798 9.6% 41-50 29,664 16.9% 51-60 43,814 25.0% 61+ 74,730 42.7% 2007 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 5,791 5.0% 31-40 10,599 9.2% 41-50 21,090 18.4% 51-60 28,633 24.9% 61+ 48,728 42.4%

If you’re wondering why I stopped at 2007, it’s because the years presented included a “birthdate” field that was just a year, which made it easy to sort by that and add up the totals in each group. The 2005 and 2003 files had a full date in that field, and since I didn’t think to check the data type when I imported the CSV files into Access to do my crunching, it came in as text and thus sorted left to right, which was completely useless.

I may go back and re-import the data to fix this, but for now this is what I have, and I doubt those other two years would tell me anything that these four don’t, which is that we do indeed have an old electorate in odd-numbered years. This should come as a surprise to exactly no one, but here you can see just how heavily it leans towards the older crowd. When two-thirds or more of your voters are over the age of 50, you’re probably going to have elections that are light on issues that younger voters care about. Consider this an application of the old saw that ninety percent of success is just showing up. It’s also an illustration of the challenges that HERO defenders will face.

You may ask, how do these elections compare to even-numbered years? I can’t answer that question yet for Presidential years (2008 and 2012), as I have not gotten those files imported into a database yet. I do have information from the two non-Presidential even-numbered years in my stash. Here’s what that looks like:

Of 685,704 total 2014 voters

53,067 (7.74%) were 18-29
83,268 (12.14%) were 30-39
112,722 (16.44%) were 40-49
160,508 (23.41%) were 50-59
276,139 (40.28%) were 60+

Of 799,287 total 2010 voters

72,841 (9.11%) were 18-29
110,386 (13.81%) were 30-39
155,643 (19.48%) were 40-49
200,114 (25.04%) were 50-59
260,302 (32.57%) were 60+

Yeah, I know, the boundaries are different. I did these calculations several months ago, then lost the files after a hard drive crash; thankfully, I’d at least started drafting some posts based on what I’d done, so at least I had that. I’m not in position to re-do this work yet, so you’ll have to cope with the inexactitude. It remains the case that these years are also dominated by older voters, though slightly less so. It’s highly likely that trend continues for the Presidential years, but we’ll have to wait and see to what extent that is true.

What about those new voters we talked about, some of which must surely come from people who reach voting age in the interim, or maybe who move back after graduating college? I have that data for the 2013 first-time voters:

2013 new voters ====================== 18-30 7,218 13.2% 31-40 8,153 14.9% 41-50 8,849 16.2% 51-60 12,067 22.1% 61+ 18,319 33.5%

How about 2014? Of 25,747 newly registered Harris County voters in 2014 who voted in the 2014 election:

9,521 (36.98%) were 18-29
5,001 (19.42%) were 30-39
3,617 (14.05%) were 40-49
3,610 (14.02%) were 50-59
3,998 (15.53%) were 60+

A bit younger in 2013, quite a bit younger in 2014. You may recall there was a registration drive that year, spearheaded by Battleground Texas. Whatever else you may say about BGTX, they helped get some younger folks to the polls. A similar effort this year would likely be as successful, and would definitely be advisable.

Who are the city voters?

vote-button

Everybody knows that city of Houston elections are fairly low-turnout affairs. The general perception – and it’s one that I’ve echoed as well – is that the elections are dominated by the same voters, year after year.

What I haven’t seen are the numbers to back up those assertions. With all that’s on the line in this year’s election, I thought this might be a good time to try and figure some of this stuff out. So I got the election files from the Harris County Clerk for all of the odd-numbered years going back to 2003, and played around with them to see what I could learn.

Now, we know that the bulk of Houston voters are in Harris County, but not all of them. There are a couple of thousand voters in Fort Bend County, and a couple of dozen voters in Montgomery County. I didn’t try to get the data for these voters in these elections. They represent maybe two percent of the total each year, and I just didn’t feel like the effort to include that data was worthwhile. So when you see me tossing around total turnout numbers in this post, bear in mind I’m talking about Harris County turnout for the city of Houston.

The first question I wanted to answer was “Who are the truly hardcore voters in Houston, the ones who come out every election without fail?” My sense going into this was that there might be fewer of these people than one might think. The answer is that 36,036 City of Houston voters have participated in every November election since 2003. That’s 20.7% of the 174,132 Harris County voters who cast a ballot in Houston in 2013.

I don’t know what kind of number I was expecting, but I wasn’t terribly surprised by this. Houston is a dynamic city. People move in and move out, sometimes to or from the suburbs in Harris County and elsewhere, sometimes to and from other cities or states, or countries. We have a significant population of children, and some of them turn 18 every year. We also have an electorate that skews old – more on that in the next post from this series – and every year some of them age out, which is the poli-sci way of saying “die”. A lot of this can and will happen over a ten-year span. The total number of voters in a given year may reliably be in a narrow band, but the names do indeed change over time.

What about the short term? The gold standard for voters to contact for candidate outreach is those who have voted in at least two of the last three elections. How many potential voters does that rule out, given what we now know about the amount of turnover in the electorate? Consider the 2013 election, which had a near identical voter total as the open 2009 election. 54,708 of 174,132 voters in 2013 had not voted in either of the 2011 or 2009 elections. That’s 31.4% of the total. The two-out-of-threes are a clear majority, but that’s still an awful lot of votes to leave on the table if you don’t try to find them.

This isn’t new. In 2009, 63,164 voters had not participated in 2003 – this is 36.1% of the 175,031 total voters. 58,973 2009 voters – 33.7% – had not voted in either 2005 or 2007. I feel pretty confident saying that when we look back on the 2015 election, we will find that something like 35% of the electorate was “new”. Given the past pattern of turnout being higher in years with high-profile referenda on the ballot, that’s likely to be an understatement.

Who are these “new” voters? As I’ve said before, some of them are new to Houston, and some of them are newly registered. Some of them have been here all along, and just hadn’t had a reason to come out to the ballot box before. How many of each there are, I couldn’t say. I can say that a candidate or campaign that isn’t trying to find and engage these voters is missing a significant opportunity. Especially in a year like this, that’s not a good idea.

Defending HERO

It’s a big job, but we can get it done.

RedEquality

“We’re going to do everything we can to win HERO at the ballot box,” [Houston GLBT Political Caucus] president Maverick Welsh said.

It would be Houstonians’ third time voting on protections or benefits for gays, which they rejected in 1985 and again in 2001.

Then, too, the caucus threw its political weight behind the efforts – first to a resounding 4-1 defeat and then to a slimmer margin of three percentage points, or some 7,500 votes.

In recent years, the group formed in 1975 to support gay-friendly candidates has continued to regain the traction it lost in the 1985 election, when no one seeking city office sought its endorsement. This year, more than two thirds of the mayoral contenders are striving for the caucus’ backing, now seen as a stamp of approval for progressive voters.

Only 2013 runner-up Ben Hall and former Kemah mayor Bill King declined to participate in the pre-endorsement screening process, though King responded to the group’s questionnaire.

“Everybody wants to dance with us right now,” Welsh said. “The fight that we’ve been fighting for 40 years is now very mainstream, I think, for most voters.”

According to the Kinder Institute’s recent Houston Area Survey, support for gay rights in Harris County, which includes Houston’s more conservative suburbs, has increased consistently since the early ’90s.

Between 2000 and 2014, support for homosexuals being legally permitted to adopt children grew to 51 percent from 28 percent among Harris County survey participants, while support for giving the same legal status to homosexual and heterosexual marriages increased to 51 percent in 2015 from 37 percent in 2001.

[…]

Welsh, caucus president, said he expects the group to be involved in any campaign for HERO, adding that caucus mailings undoubtedly will include pro-HERO information.

However, political observers said the ordinance may present a turnout problem for the caucus, which has established its sphere of influence primarily in low-turnout elections.

“They have shown the ability to motivate a fairly decent share of the vote when you get less than 200,000 people voting,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “But if the turnout goes up, then you expect the caucus-influenced vote probably declines as a fraction of the total electorate.”

The city’s last open-seat mayor’s race in 2009 drew just 19 percent of about 935,000 registered voters. On the other hand, more than 28 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls in 2001, when the ballot contained a proposed charter amendment barring the city from providing unmarried partners of the same or opposite sex with employment benefits.

Given that the caucus’ progressive base already consistently shows up at the polls, political observers questioned whether the group would be able leverage its organizational strength and volunteer capacity to appeal to new portions of the electorate.

“It’s a risky vote for them,” Murray said.

Couple things here. First of all, if I have learned anything from studying recent electoral history in Houston, it’s that interesting ballot referenda drive turnout in a way that elections without such referenda do not. Go read that post I just linked to about Houston elections in the 90s and you’ll see what I mean. The 2003 election, which everyone points to as the pinnacle for 21st century turnout in Houston, was greatly aided by the Metro referendum. (This is why the Republicans in the Legislature put the tort “reform” constitutional amendment on the ballot in September – they didn’t want Houston turnout affecting the outcome.) Given all this, I do expect turnout to be higher than usual. Our past history, the stakes of the election, and the amount of attention that will be focused on it all point to that.

Is that an advantage for the anti-HERO crowd? Not necessarily. We know there’s a strong correlation between age and opposition to equality – the younger you are, the more likely you are to favor it, with older folks often being the only group opposed. I’ll have more details on this in a future post, but take my word for this: Houston’s electorate in most municipal election years is already pretty darned old. A strong plurality of voters are over the age of 60. These are the reliable regular voters. There will be more of them in a year like this, but there are a lot more people younger than that who have at least some voting history who are available to turn out. This is – or at least it damn well better be – the first priority for the HERO defense effort. Get out every voter you can under the age of 40. Hell, under 50 is likely to be good enough.

But younger people don’t vote in local elections, I hear you cry. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. As you can see at that link, one reason why younger people don’t vote in local elections is because they are often fairly new to the city where they are registered to vote. They don’t know the local landscape, they don’t know who represents them in local government, and they don’t feel the same connection to local issues as they do to national ones. (They also tend to not get contacted by the campaigns, since they aren’t reliable voters. It’s a bit of a vicious circle.) But a referendum like the HERO repeal vote is tailor made for them. They don’t need to know anything about the candidates. The issue in question is one they already have established opinions about. It strikes at why they might have chosen to live in this city in the first place – its diversity, its tolerance, its general friendliness to a young/urban lifestyle. If there was ever an opportunity to get a bunch of Presidential-year-only voters to the polls, this is it. If the HERO defenders aren’t putting a huge effort into IDing and targeting the under-40/under-50 crowd, they’re committing malpractice.

That’s the first thing. The other thing is that I don’t believe this election will be about gay rights, per se. I think even hammerheaded jerks like Dave Wilson and Steven Hotze and the rest have begun to figure out that direct homophobia is a losing tactic these days. Strong majorities approve of the Obergfell decision. Gay culture is all around us, and nobody but them objects. Their mostly-fraudulent petition effort was based on the idea of “no unequal rights”, but nobody outside their small group of signatories buys into that. No, what this election will be about is bathrooms and fevered lie-driven fears of sexual predators. You can already see and hear this in the rhetoric of some campaigns and candidates – see Ben Hall for Exhibit A – and I’ve heard it in a couple of interviews so far. Given the character and morals of the people that will be pushing the repeal campaign, you can expect to be soaking in this kind of hateful and dishonest rhetoric once things begin in earnest.

The good news about that is that I don’t think a lot of people have yet given much thought to this issue. Oh, they’re vaguely aware of it, in the way that most people are vaguely aware of most local issues, but it’s not locked in their consciousness yet. For these folks, a different kind of outreach is needed. They will need to hear, from voices they like and trust, why voting the right way on the HERO referendum is something they should do. For that, HERO defenders – and here I’m looking at Mayor Parker, who needs to be the one to make most if not all of the requests I’m about to suggest – should reach out to high-profile Houstonians in sports, music, business, and religion to deliver a message about Houston being the kind of place where everyone is treated equally and respectfully. Given the support of the major sports leagues and the individual teams for equality and non-discrimination ordinances, I’d move heaven and earth to get JJ Watt, James Harden, Jose Altuve, and Carli Lloyd to do a PSA-style ad in which they say something like “My league supports equality. So does my team, and so do I. The Houston we love is open and accepting to all. That’s why I’m [voting the right way] on [whatever the ballot proposition is called], and I ask you to do so, too.” I can’t think of anything the haters could do to counter a message like that, coming from people like that.

There are plenty of other people that could be plugged in to a spot like that, with the script modified to fit them. Bill Lawson. George and Barbara Bush. Beyonce. The members of ZZ Top. Former newscasters Ron Stone and Dave Ward. UH President Renu Khator and Rice President David Leebron. You get the idea. Sure, some may say No for whatever the reason, but I bet many would say Yes, especially if Mayor Parker asked them personally. The key here is to get those spots out quickly, before the haters get their mail and whatever else going. You don’t have to spend much on TV for this – buy a few slots during the evening news and stuff like that, but the real value will be in having them on YouTube. This is about good will, coming from good people. It’s worth a lot, and we should take full advantage of it, because the other side can’t touch it.

So that’s my plan to defend HERO. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but I don’t think it’s unsound. Gear up a ground game to turn out younger voters, and spread a positive message about what makes Houston the city we love to everyone else. I’ll take my chances with that.

Mayoral finance reports: Out of town cash and max donors

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of money in the Mayoral race this year, even after subtracting what the candidates have given or loaned to themselves. You may be wondering where all that money came from. This post aims to shed a little light on that.

First question: How much of the money raised by Mayoral candidates came from Houston donors, and how much came from outside Houston?

Candidate Non-Hou $ Total $ Pct % ========================================== Garcia 539,949 1,441,792 37.4% Costello 312,660 1,276,281 24.5% Turner 296,588 747,793 39.7% King 103,501 721,250 14.4% Bell 51,288 366,770 14.0% Hall 35,925 69,025 52.0% McVey 21,750 43,927 49.5%

Disclaimer time: All reports can be seen here. My methodology was ridiculously simple. All donations for which the city listed in the report entry was something other than “Houston” was counted for this. Obviously, not all “Houston” addresses are actually within the city – mail sent to all of unincorporated Harris County and such small cities as West U and Southside Place say “Houston, TX” on the envelope – but I wanted to complete this exercise before the election took place, so I followed this guideline for ease of use. As with all totals presented here and elsewhere, this was a manual process, which means I looked over the reports and counted up the totals myself. It is highly likely that I goofed here and there, so consider these numbers to be reasonable estimates and not gospel truth. Finally, also as before, the “Total $” figures represent the cash money raised by each candidate, thus excluding in kind donations, loans, and (in the case of Costello) contributions from the candidate himself.

Having done this exercise, I (reluctantly) feel like I should go back and review Mayor Parker’s July forms from 2009, 2011, and 2013, as well as Gene Locke and Peter Brown’s from 2009, to see if what we’re seeing here is completely out of whack with past results or not. I know Mayor Parker had a strong national fundraising network, but I’ve no idea offhand what that meant in total dollars and proportional amounts. Whatever the case, I feel confident saying that Adrian Garcia knocked it out of the park here. He raised more from outside Houston than Chris Bell, Ben Hall, and Marty McVey raised in total combined; his non-Houston total is 75% of Bill King’s overall total. And that still left $900K from in Houston. Holy smokes.

One thing I noticed while perusing Garcia’s report: He received a ton of contributions from people with Asian names, both in Houston and not. He also had a lot of contributions from Latino/a donors, but the sheer number of Asian supporters surprised me. Make of that what you will.

I am curious what motivates someone to donate to a Mayoral candidate they can’t vote for. I get why people contribute to Congressional and Senate candidates from other places – laws made in DC affect them regardless, and partisan control matters a lot – but the justification here is somewhat less clear. To be fair, the vast majority of these non-Houston donations came from places like Katy, the Woodlands, Sugar Land, and so forth. For all the griping I did about non-Houstonians driving the red light camera referendum, it’s clear that folks who work here but live elsewhere have a stake in the outcome of elections like this. And of course some of these out of towners are in the personal networks of the candidates – friends, family, in-laws, colleagues (Sylvester Turner received several contributions from other members of the Legislature, for example), and so forth. I’d still like to understand this phenomenon a little better. Surely one of our Professional Political Pundits can put a grad student on it.

Next item: In Houston, an individual can give a maximum of $5000 to a city candidate in a given cycle, and a PAC maxes out at $10K. Having an army of small-dollar donors is a great thing in many ways, but those big checks sure add up in a hurry. How much of these hauls came from the deep pockets?

Candidate # Maxes Max $ Total $ Pct % ===================================================== Garcia 148 745,000 1,441,792 51.7% Costello 138 720,000 1,276,281 56.4% Turner 76 410,000 747,793 54.8% King 71 365,000 721,250 50.6% Bell 25 125,000 366,770 34.1% Hall 11 55,000 69,025 79.7% McVey 2 10,000 43,927 22.8%

Again with the disclaimers: Same manual process as above. Not all max donors give $5K at once. There were several gifts of $2500 each, and other combinations I observed as well. “# Maxes” is the count of all max donors, both individuals and PACs, which I also counted as one even though they could give twice as much. Multiply “# Maxes” by 5,000 and the difference will tell you how many max PAC donations that candidate got.

With the large amounts of money collected, the large number of donors who gave their all should not be surprising. One reason why I did this was to see who might have a harder time replicating their success between now and the beginning of October, when the 30 day reports come due. You can’t hit up those who are tapped out for a repeat performance, after all. I guess this leaves Chris Bell in better shape than some others, but I’m not sure how much effect that will have.

I should note here that two of Ben Hall’s max donors were named Hotze, an “SM Hotze” and a “JS Hotze”. Hall has gone all in with the haters, despite his weak sauce denials. This could actually present a bit of a problem for King and to a lesser extent Costello, as both of them are in their own way wooing Republican voters. Clearly, some of those Republicans are not going to be open to them. I presume Hotze still has some sway among GOP voters (a subset of them, at least), so if he actively pushes for Hall via mail/robocall/whatever as the One True Candidate Who Will Stand Up To The Gays, then I think that has to put a ceiling on King and Costello. How much that might be I don’t know – if I were forced to guess right now I’d say “maybe two or three points” – but as we’ve been saying all along, this is likely to be a close race where not too many votes could make a big difference in the outcome. Hall is a threat to Turner as well, of course, I just wanted to point this possibility out.

I think that’s about all the patience I have for scouring the Mayoral reports. I may take a closer look at the other candidates’ reports as my copious spare time allows.

Mayoral finance reports: PACs and consultants

Let’s take a deeper dive into Mayoral candidate fundraising by examining one of the main categories of raised funds, and one of the main categories of spent funds. I speak of PAC money for the former, and consultant fees/staff salaries for the other. Here’s how much each candidate raised in PAC funds in their July report:

Candidate PAC $ Total $ PAC % ========================================= Turner 127,650 747,793 17.1% Costello 124,500 1,276,281 9.8% Garcia 87,150 1,441,792 6.0% King 41,000 721,250 5.7% Bell 5,500 366,770 1.5% McVey 3,000 43,927 6.8% Hall 0 69,025 0.0%

As a reminder, you can see all the finance reports that have been submitted on my Election 2015 page. I considered any contributor identified as a PAC or a business of some kind to be a “PAC” for these purposes. If you want to be technical, I’m adding up the contributions that didn’t come from individuals or couples. I also did not include in kind contributions in these totals. For most candidates, I found the value represented in the “Total $” column on the new Subtotals page, which is the modification to the forms that caused all of the trouble this cycle. Ben Hall, of course, didn’t bother with that page, and also included the $850,000 he loaned himself in his “Total Political Contributions” entry. His form was pretty short and it was easy enough to sort it out. Steve Costello’s total above is lower than what you’ll find on his report. This is because he contributed $175K to his campaign – it was reported as a contribution, not a loan – and his PAC donated an additional $10K. For the purposes of this post, I excluded them from his total amount, and didn’t add the PAC contribution to the “PAC $” figure. Sylvester Turner definitely gets the benefit of being a long-term office holder. We’ll see other effects of that in subsequent reports. I expect Adrian Garcia will pull in more PAC money for the 30 day report. As impressive as his haul is, he’s still catching up in some ways.

Now let’s look at the other side of the ledger:

Candidate Salary $ Consult $ Sum $ Raised Pct ========================================================== King 67,289 306,400 373,689 721,250 51.8% Turner 131,192 224,000 355,192 747,793 47.5% Costello 120,932 181,800 302,732 1,276,281 23.7% Bell 102,226 30,350 132,576 366,770 36.1% Garcia 52,427 31,300 83,727 1,441,792 5.8% McVey 60,500 9,000 69,500 43,927 158.2% Hall 0 24,200 24,200 69,025 35.1%

There are two basic categories of paying for people to do stuff – “Salaries/Wages/Contract Labor” and “Consulting”. I added all of the former to “Salary $”, and I also included anything classified as health insurance for staffers and payroll taxes. I did not include fees paid to payroll management services like ADI, because I’m just obstreperous like that. Here you can see the advantage of Adrian Garcia’s late entry into the race – unlike several of his competitors, he hasn’t been paying for staffers and consultants since January. Bill King raised a decent amount of money, but man that’s a big burn rate. If he’s going to hire all those people and run an air campaign, he’s going to have to keep writing checks to himself. Turner’s burn rate is almost as high, but he started out with (and still has) a lot of cash, and his strategy seems to be more targeted, and thus less likely to run into five- and six-figure media buys. Costello spent almost as much as those two did on people, but his much bigger haul gives him a lot of cushion. Bell is going to need to figure out how to run a lean and cost-effective campaign, because he’s not living in the same ZIP code as those four. While multiple candidates are doing at least some self-financing, Marty McVey shows what the edge case for that looks like. He literally wouldn’t have a campaign without his own money, and he still has plenty of it to spend. It will be interesting to see what he does with it. As for Ben Hall, all I will say is that he paid $12,500 to the Hall Law Firm for legal expenses. Hey, if you want something done right, you do it yourself, amirite?

In the next entry in this series, I’ll take another look at where all this money is coming from. You’re not at all wrong to think we’re swimming in it in a way that we weren’t in 2009 or 2003.

Mayoral ad spending

The Chron takes a look at one of the more visible aspects of all the money that Mayoral candidates have raised or loaned themselves so far.

BagOfMoney

Despite taking in a total of more than $7 million, Houston’s mayoral candidates spent relatively little on advertising in the first half of the year, paving the way for an onslaught of messaging in the closing months of the campaign.

In general, less-known candidates – such as City Councilman Steve Costello and former mayor of Kemah Bill King – poured more money into advertising, including pricey TV spots, to introduce themselves to the public.

Meanwhile, those with strong name identification with voters – such as former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and state Rep. Sylvester Turner – spent less on advertising or targeted their efforts at the voters most likely to support them.

Though it will be months before it is clear whether either strategy worked, the numbers from the mayoral hopefuls’ first round of campaign disclosures provide an early indication of how the race is shaping up.

King allocated more than $191,000 to advertising, nearly as much as the rest of the field combined, while Costello spent about $66,000, more than a third of which went toward online campaigns and $37,000 for video and associated production costs.

I haven’t seen a single TV ad yet. For what it’s worth, I think that unless you’re going to carpet-bomb the airwaves a la Bill White in 2003 or (to a lesser extent) Peter Brown in 2009, early TV ad spending won’t have much effect. The main problem with TV ads is that they’re written on water – if your target audience isn’t watching at the right time, it’s on and gone. On the other hand, I can’t visit a webpage anywhere these days without seeing a Bill King ad, as it was for me with Annise Parker in 2013. I am, to put it mildly, unlikely to base my vote on Internet advertising, but at least he’s out there in a tangible way.

The rest of the story is about the so-far lower-cost advertising efforts by other candidates. You can scan the finance reports yourself if you are a crazy person like me have the time, but there’s not that much to see there on this front as yet. One thing I’ll say is that these efforts are either to boost name recognition or to remind certain groups that a particular person is running. The target is the 180,000 to 200,000 people that everyone knows will show up to vote in November.

There are many people who vote in Houston in even-numbered years but generally not in these odd-numbered municipal election years. For example, there were 398,337 votes cast in the city of Houston in 2010, including 350,000 in the red light cameras referendum and 340,000 in Renew Houston. There were 590,566 votes in Houston in 2012, with vote totals ranging from 417,000 to 446,000 for various charter amendments and bond referendums. I don’t think traditional city election advertising, whether on TV, radio, the Internet, or in newspapers, is geared to or noticed by these larger groups. These folks, I suspect, need to be informed that there is an election, that they have a stake in it, and that there’s a candidate that might appeal to them. I suspect as well that more direct contact – door knocking, phone calls made by actual people, that sort of thing – is the key to getting their votes.

Every candidate wants to get as many votes as they can from that core 180 to 200 thousand group, since they each represent a vote that would then not be going to their opponents, but at least some of these candidates need to tap into that harder to get larger group as well. Adrian Garcia, who is likely to do very well among a group (Latino voters) who are far more likely to show up in Presidential years than non-Presidential years, is one such candidate. Fortunately for him, he’s already run in two Presidential-year elections, so there’s a lot of people out there who have already voted for him at least once. Sylvester Turner, who is used to running in even-numbered years, is another. When the 30-day and 8-day reports come out, look in them for evidence of field-related expenses. That will tell you what you need to know about this aspect of voter outreach.

Turner and Garcia lead early Mayoral poll

We have our first polling numbers for the 2015 Mayoral election.

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner and Adrian Garcia have emerged as the clear front-runners in the first independent poll before the election that will determine Houston’s next mayor.

The KHOU – Houston Public Media Poll indicates a clear divide between two tiers of candidates, with Turner and Garcia well ahead of all other contenders to take charge at Houston City Hall after the term-limited Mayor Annise Parker leaves office at the end of this year.

Turner, the longtime state representative making his third run for mayor, leads the pack with 16-percent of surveyed likely voters. Garcia, the former Harris County sheriff, comes in second at 12-percent.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

The rest of the candidates in the poll drop into single digits. Chris Bell, the former congressman making his second run for mayor, won the support of 8-percent of surveyed voters.

Both Ben Hall, the former city attorney making his second mayoral run, and former Kemah mayor Bill King, stand at 3-percent. City Councilman Stephen Costello stands at 2-percent.

“There’s two tiers of candidates,” said Bob Stein, the KHOU political analyst and Rice University political scientist who designed the poll. “If you had to pick a runoff match-up, it would have to be Turner and Garcia. And I don’t think that comes as any surprise.”

And here’s the KUHF version of the story, with audio.

News 88.7 Managing News Editor Jose Luis Jimenez sat down with pollster and Rice University Political Science Professor Bob Stein for a closer look at the results of our exclusive News 88.7/KHOU 11 News Houston Mayoral Election Poll.

Click on the audio link above to listen to the conversation.

To view the full poll results – including what Houston voters think are the major issues in the race – visit the 2015 Houston Mayoral Race special page.

OK then, let’s click the link.

Mayor Annise Parker cannot run again for Mayor because of term limits. There are seven major candidates for mayor. For whom would you be likely to vote for if the election were held today?


Choices            All   RVs   LVs
==================================
Stephen Costello    4%    4%    2%
Bill King           2%    2%    3%
Sylvester Turner   14%   13%   16%
Adrian Garcia      15%   15%   12%
Chris Bell          5%    4%    8%
Marty McVey         1%    1%    0%
Ben Hall            3%    3%    3%
Don't know         53%   54%   50%
Refused             3%    4%    6%

And finally, the methodology:

Methodology: Polling was conducted from May 20 to June 21, 2015 using two simultaneous samples of 500 eligible voters each. The first sample included registered voters (i.e. “Likely Voters”) who voted in two of the last three municipal elections in 2009, 2011 and 2013. The second sample included all other registered voters (i.e. “Registered Voters) who voted in at least one of the last three municipal elections. Results are reported for both samples separately and combined. The combined sample is weighted to reflect the actual representation of likely voters in the 2015 municipal election. The margin of error for each sample is +/- 4.5% and margin of error for the combined weighted sample is +/- 3.2%.

What do I think?

1. I think this mostly recapitulates name ID, which is about what you’d expect at this point.

2. I’ve complained about “likely voter” screens for this kind of poll in the past, but I have no major complaints here. Screening for those who have voted in two out of the last three city elections is the way I’d do it. The Likely Voter sample is whiter, richer, and older (average age = 69) than the sample as a whole and much more so than the city as a whole, which is – for better and worse – the kind of electorate we tend to get in our odd-numbered-year elections. The candidates and campaigns have the capability of altering the size and shape of the electorate, though barring anything strange it’s unlikely to change much. Bottom line is there’s nothing here that screams “unrepresentative sample” to me.

3. Don’t be mesmerized by the high “Don’t know” level. A late September 2013 poll, six weeks out from an election that featured a two-time incumbent, had a 48% “Don’t know” response. Here, each candidate has some base level of support, and the rest are people that I think very likely really don’t know yet. I’d have given the same answer myself if I had been polled, and I’m not exactly a low-information voter. Sometimes “Don’t know” means “I haven’t paid enough attention to it yet to have any idea”, sometimes it means “I do know who I’m voting for but I like to think I’m keeping my options open”, and sometimes it means “There’s more than one candidate that I like and I don’t know yet which one I’ll pick”.

4. Similarly, don’t let the low numbers for the nominal Republican candidates (King and Costello) fool you. Roy Morales polled at five and six percent in those 2009 polls, but wound up with 20% and actually did better than Peter Brown on Election Day itself, thanks in part to Republican voters figuring out and being told that he was “their guy” in the latter stages of the campaign. King and Costello will get their share of the vote, though it remains to be seen if it will be enough for a runoff for either of them. Their main danger is having some of those votes poached, by either a late entry from the wingnut population (think Eric Dick) or from Ben Hall, who has gone full-on anti-HERO. I don’t think there’s a lot of these votes to be siphoned off, but in a tight multi-candidate race like this it doesn’t take much to put the runoff out of reach.

5. When people ask me who I think will make the runoff, my answer is a firm shrug of the shoulders. I can make a case for at least five candidates to have a shot at it – Hall and McVey are the ones that I think are highly unlikely to make it into the top two. It’s entirely possible to me that only a few thousand votes will separate second place from fourth or fifth, and any number of things including dumb luck can affect who winds up a contender and who finishes as a palooka.

So that’s how it looks for now. There will be more polls, and things will surely look different as we go forward. PDiddie has more.

The Trib on the big Mayor’s races

Those being the Houston and San Antonio Mayors races, with a look at how candidates of color are faring.

If former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte wins the runoff for San Antonio mayor next weekend, she’ll become the Alamo City’s first Hispanic female mayor, though not the first Hispanic, nor the first female.

If opponent Ivy Taylor wins, she’ll become the first black person elected to the position, though she’s already the first black mayor by appointment, taking over when Julián Castro left for a federal job.

And when Houston voters pick their next mayor in the fall, they could make former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia the first Hispanic mayor of the state’s most populous city. A win by state Rep. Sylvester Turner would give the city only its second black mayor.

As Texas’ major cities continue their decades-long evolution to minority-majority populations — where there are fewer whites than blacks and Hispanics combined — tracking minority and female ascension to mayoral firsts has almost reached the complexity of a political trivia game.

But the diversity of candidates is not a mere function of census numbers, political organizers and local leaders say. It’s the result of years of work in the trenches as people of color have labored to accumulate political capital.

“It’s not a magic bullet,” said Laura Barbarena, a San Antonio-based political consultant.

[…]

In modern times, San Antonio has been led by only three Hispanic mayors, despite the massive Hispanic share — 63.2 percent — of the population.

But the configuration of its local and legislative districts — particularly on the East Side — has also helped propel blacks into leadership positions. Taylor hails from the East Side and represented it on the City Council from 2009 until her peers appointed her interim mayor in July 2014.

Whichever way it goes, the June 13 runoff will give San Antonio its first woman of color elected to the top post at City Hall.

Still in its early stages, the Houston race has no clear front-runners in a crowded field, with at least seven candidates looking to win the Nov. 3 election. But with high name identification and wide appeal, Garcia and Turner are likely among the top contenders. The five other candidates are all also men, four white and one black.

In a city more diverse than San Antonio — Hispanics make up 43.8 percent of the population, blacks 23.7 percent, almost double the state’s share — both candidates have been more overt with messages about bringing people together.

As far as Houston goes, I would note that we had an African-American candidate and a Hispanic candidate in each of the last two open-seat Mayor’s races. Gene Locke in 2009 and Orlando Sanchez in 2003 (as he had against then-Mayor Lee Brown in 2001) made it into the runoff but lost there. This year, I would not bet any amount of money on any runoff candidate combination, and I would not bet any amount of money on any runoff outcome. There are too many candidates with a credible shot at making it into overtime, and too many possible variables in play once that happens. Unless something happens to clearly separate one or two candidates from the rest of the pack, I will continue to believe that the difference between finishing in the money and finishing fourth or fifth could be as little as a couple thousand votes, much like the At Large 3 race in 2013. Anyone who says otherwise is probably on one of the candidates’ payrolls.

Today is the last day of early voting in the San Antonio runoff, with Runoff Day being this Saturday, the 13th. Early voting turnout is up from the May election, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that final turnout will be up. From what I have gleaned on Facebook, there are a decent number of new voters (i.e., those who did not vote in May) in the mix, so an uptick is definitely a possibility. Who that favors is a question I’m not in a position to answer. If you’re from San Antonio, what’s been your impression of how the vote is going so far?

Reviewing the Mayoral websites

The Chron reviews the candidates’ online presence so far.

Five months before voters head to the polls, the candidates’ digital platforms are up and running, but most are heavy on biography, light on ideas.

“They’re checking the box. They have a website, they have a Facebook, they have a Twitter,” said Luke Marchant, a Houston-based Republican consultant. “They’re all doing what they need to do, but no one’s really pushing the envelope.”

That is not surprising at this stage of the game, when the hot summer months loom large and politics remain an afterthought for all but the most active voters, political experts said.

[…]

Some of the contenders have made small forays into the online policy conversation, with state Rep. Sylvester Turner’s proposals including a job training program aimed at fixing the city’s streets and lifting the existing cap on public arts funding. Among former congressman Chris Bell’s suggestions are reorganizing the city’s public works department, expanding bus rapid transit and housing pre-kindergarten programs in city libraries and community centers.

“A lot of the effort right now is focused on fundraising, but the people who are donating to campaigns are no different than any other type of voter. They want to know where you stand,” Bell said, “and the best place for them to find that information in a quick manner is online.”

Others, namely City Council member Stephen Costello and former mayor of Kemah Bill King introduce themselves on their websites and broadly outline campaign priorities: Costello wants to add to the Houston Police Department’s ranks, while King suggests auditing the department and doing away with the city’s crime lab.

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and businessman Marty McVey leave it mostly at biography. “Before I’m able to govern effectively, I need to know what’s important to the people,” McVey said, noting that his policy is developing as he talks to potential voters.

Meanwhile, 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall’s website was down as of Friday afternoon, having previously sported ‘donate’ and ‘endorse’ buttons, as well as a countdown clock until election day, but no candidate information whatsoever. Hall said he was refining his policy positions before updating his website.

Hall may be between domains. His 2013 website and the site listed on his current Facebook page are different. Not that it matters much – Hall was feather-light on policy in 2013, and I doubt he’ll be any better this time around.

For all the grousing I’ve done about the substance of the campaign so far, I have to admit that as the story suggests, it’s not unusual at this point in time. I went back through my Election 2009 archives, and the first post I wrote about a candidate saying something serious policy-wise was this post about Annise Parker’s crimefighting plan on August 6. Following that, there was this post about Peter Brown’s traffic plan posted on August 10, and this post about Gene Locke’s crimefighting plan on August 26. I guess that means I’ve got another two months of waiting for something interesting and illuminating. That won’t stop me from pointing out, again and again, that there are things happening right now that will greatly affect the decisions and policies of the next Houston Mayor, and right now we have damn little idea of how any of them will react. Someday soon, I hope.

From the “Who not to vote for” files, part 1

AbelDavilaMDMailer

The embedded image is a scan of a mailer we got about two weeks ago. Abel Davila is a former HCC Trustee; his wife Diana, whom I had originally heard was interested in running for District H, is a former HISD Trustee. That makes him a credible candidate, but it doesn’t make him a good one. Davila was dogged by ethical issues while he was on the HCC board, and then he attempted to hand off the office to his brother-in-law, Art Aguilar, via some last-minute filing-deadline-day shenanigans; Aguilar subsequently withdrew his filing in the wake of the blowback, thus letting Eva Loredo win as a write-in candidate with no other names on the ballot. See here, here, and here for the details.

As for Davila’s tenure at HCC, here are a Chron stories to fill you in. From the second story:

In a statement read by chairman Richard Schechter, the board also publicly condemned the actions of two former trustees, Abel Davila and Diane Olmos Guzman, and criticized what the investigator found to be a minor mistake regarding the appearance of a conflict of interest involving current trustee Chris Oliver.

Schechter said the investigation portrayed Flores and Davila as the most egregious offenders, with the two appearing “to have been engaged in a relentless pattern and practice of conduct designed to enrich at a minimum their family and friends.”

Davila, through an attorney, previously has denied wrongdoing.

The investigative report accused Flores of enlisting Davila, the then-chairman of the HCC board, to use his influence over a vendor to hire a construction company co-run by Flores’ son. The company connected to Flores received nearly $163,000 from the vendor between December 2008 and October 2009, according to the investigative report.

So yeah. I don’t want that on Council, and I especially don’t want that from my Council member. There are three other good candidates in District H – Roland Chavez, Jason Cisneroz, and more recently former HISD Trustee Karla Cisneros. I don’t know which candidate I’m voting for yet, but I do know who I’m not voting for.

Oh, and the brother-in-law, Art Aguilar? He’s running for HCC 8, presumably for real this time. I’m not wedded to the idea of voting for Eva Loredo – in her 5 1/2 years as Trustee, I don’t believe I’ve received a single communication of any kind from her office, and she only recently created a personal Facebook page – but I’ll need a better alternative than Art Aguilar.

Endorsement watch: Firefighters for Turner

From the inbox:

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

HOUSTON, March 23, 2015 – State Rep. Sylvester Turner has earned the endorsement of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association in this year’s mayoral race, the HPFFA said today.

HPFFA President Alvin W. White, Jr. said 84 percent of voting fire fighters approved the recommendation of the HPFFA board of directors to endorse Turner after a review of the public safety records of the mayoral candidates.

“Sylvester has been a consistent friend of fire fighters and an advocate for public safety in Austin for 25 years,” White said. “He is clearly the best choice for us in this mayoral race. We also appreciate that he has built a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, business leaders, unions and community groups.”

White added, “Rep. Turner understands that Houston fire fighters are delivering excellent service to citizens, are good stewards of city resources, and are giving back to the community. He also has been a sensible voice – here and in Austin – in the debate about city employee pensions.”

Rep. Turner said, “I am proud to have earned the support of Houston’s firefighters. Together, we will work to keep our neighborhoods safe, teach our youth the values of courage and shared sacrifice and show the world that Houston is a place that working families are proud to call home.”

Rep. Turner has served 25 years in the Texas House of Representatives. He is a member of the Legislative Budget Board; Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Committee; Chair of the Subcommittee on Articles 1, 4 and 5 (General Government, Judiciary, Public Safety and Criminal Justice); and the House State Affairs Committee.

Born in the Acres Homes community of northwest Houston, Rep. Turner graduated from Klein High School, where he was valedictorian and student body president. He then attended the University of Houston and Harvard Law School. More information is available at www.sylvesterturner.com.

The press release is here, for when I get around to creating a 2015 Election page. I’m not going to note every endorsement that comes my way, but this one was of interest for two reasons. One is that it happened at all, especially this early on. I figure a lot of endorsing organizations are going to take their time – at the very least, until they’re sure if Adrian Garcia is in the race or not – and many may keep their powder dry till the runoff, since Lord only knows who might make it that far. The other is that it wasn’t clear early on who if anyone would be the firefighters’ preferred candidate, given the intense focus by several campaigns on the pension issue. Once the pension deal was announced that sort of settled that matter, but for awhile there it was not obvious.

This is a nice get for Turner, since every inch is going to count in a race where the difference between making the runoff and being a runnerup is likely to be small. That said, the firefighters’ record in recent Mayoral elections is not that great. They endorsed Gene Locke in 2009, Fernando Herrera in 2011, and Ben Hall in 2013; going back a bit more, they backed Orlando Sanchez in 2003. We’ll see if they have better luck this time.

Sylvester Turner announces his entry into the Mayor’s race

What we’ve all known about for months is now official.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner announced his candidacy for Houston mayor today, formally adding the name of an influential lawmaker with deep ties to the African-American community to the growing field of contenders.

For 25 years, Turner has risen through the ranks of the state House and twice before has looked to parlay that experience into the city’s top job. Turner, who for the past year has openly talked about his plan to run a third time, made his decision public Friday in a video to supporters.

“People in my generation inherited a great city, with folks who have big dreams, and they made big things happen,” Turner, a Harvard-educated lawyer who grew up in low-income Acres Homes, will say in the video. “I see a city still doing that.”

Turner likely will be the early front-runner, as much as there can be a leader at all in a field featuring a dozen potential candidates, nearly all of whom have elected experience.

But few have reached out to the city’s movers and shakers over the past 12 months like Turner. He first made his ambitions public last February and has won over many power players in the Democratic establishment, from Sen. John Whitmire to the lobbyists and donors who can steer endorsements, dollars and ultimately votes.

He also has steadily raised mayoral money through his legislative account for at least six months. That fundraising – occurring while other mayoral candidates were subject to a fundraising blackout period – allowed Turner to enter 2015 with $1 million in the bank.

That’s the subject of some legal wrangling, but until and unless a judge says otherwise, it’s so. And Turner will need it to be so, because unless he decides to resign from the Legislature, he’s barred from further fundraising until sine die at the end of May, assuming no special sessions get tacked on. We’ll see if Greg Abbott is less promiscuous with those than Rick Perry was. Be that as it may, Turner will have a campaign kickoff event on March 28. A statement from his campaign is beneath the fold.

One more thing:

Given the caliber and crowd of the field, most mayoral candidates likely will appeal to small slices of the electorate in order to earn the 40,000 votes that most campaigns expect they will need to earn a place in a December runoff.

For Turner, that path is heavily dependent on strong support from the African-American community he has represented for two decades and which typically casts about 30 percent of the vote in municipal elections.

Yet that path could be complicated by the entrance of Ben Hall, an African-American pastor who lost to Mayor Annise Parker in 2013, who also is running for the job again.

Not really sure where that 40,000 number comes from. It has to be a function of how many “viable” candidates there are – does Ben Hall count? is Adrian Garcia in? – as well as overall turnout – are we in 2003 territory, where over 300,000 people voted in the first round, or 2009 territory, where that number was 180,000? If you assume five “viable” candidates (Turner, Bell, Pennington, Costello, King) and 200,000 total votes, then 40,000 is a reasonable goal. It’s also a goal that may well change as time goes on. Let’s just say that whatever the goal is, I’d want to exceed it by as much as possible.

(more…)

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The slate running to replace Mayor Annise Parker features a globetrotting sailor, a triathlete grandfather, a millionaire minister and no women.

Despite the most-crowded pack of mayoral contenders in decades, no female candidates are expected to announce bids this spring, a reality that all but guarantees women will have fewer positions of power at City Hall next year than they had during the last six.

“You are sending a message,” said Kathryn McNeil, a longtime fundraiser who helped elect Parker. “My niece is now 16. For the last six years, she’s seen a strong woman running the city. There’s no question in her mind that a woman could be mayor.”

Though more than 10 candidates likely will appear on November’s ballot, few women even seriously considered the race, which some call a reminder of how much more work Houston’s women must do to achieve political equality.

Some say it creates a less compassionate and less personal, even if equally qualified, field of candidates. It also affects the strength of the democratic process, limiting the diversity of the candidates that voters can choose from when they imagine whom they would like as their next mayor.

“Regardless of who actually wins the race, not having a viable woman candidate can be a disservice for everyone,” said Dee Dee Grays, the incoming president of Women Professionals in Government in Houston.

For the record, in the eleven city elections post-Kathy Whitmire (i.e., since 1993), there has been at least one female Mayoral candidate not named Annise Parker in eight of them:

2013 – Charyl Drab, Keryl Douglas, Victoria Lane
2011 – Amanda Ulman
2009 – Amanda Ulman
2007 – Amanda Ulman
2005 – Gladys House
2003 – Veronique Gregory
2001 – None
1999 – None
1997 – Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz
1995 – Elizabeth Spates
1993 – None

Now, most of these were fringe candidacies – only term-limited Council members Helen Huey and Gracie Saenz in 1997 could have been considered viable, and they were both crushed in the wake of the Lee Brown/Rob Mosbacher/George Greanias campaigns. But for what it’s worth, history does suggest there will be at least one female name on the ballot this year.

Research shows that women nationally need to be recruited to run for office much more than men. That especially is true for executive positions, such as governor or mayor.

Amber Mostyn, the former chair of Annie’s List, a statewide organization that recruits and backs Democratic female candidates, said there is a need for local versions of the organization that would encourage qualified women to make bids for mayor.

“You’ll see men throwing their hat in the ring when they’ve never done the job before and say, ‘I’ll figure it out,’ ” said Mostyn, a Houston lawyer and prominent donor. “Women are very reluctant to do that.”

I’m well aware of the research regarding the recruitment of female candidates. It’s definitely an issue, though I wonder if it will turn out to be a generational one. Perhaps today’s girls and younger women won’t need the same kind of encouragement that their elders currently require. Be that as it may, if there was ever a bad year for that dynamic in the Mayor’s race, it’s this year. I mean, nearly the entire field, not to mention Adrian Garcia, has been known to be planning to run for a long time now. With that many candidates already at the starting line, and presumably working to collect commitments and financial support and campaign advisers, it would undoubtedly be that much harder to make a case for someone else to gear up now and thrown her hat in the ring. As I’ve said many times already, there’s only so much room for viable candidates in this race.

Cindy Clifford, a public relations executive and City Hall lobbyist, said the key to electing a female mayor is to first focus on recruiting women for lower-level elected office and to serve on boards and commissions. That requires a commitment by the city’s leaders to tapping individual women and showing them that they have support.

“If we’re not doing it, no one’s going to come and look for us,” Clifford said. “I always think the cream rises once they’re in the process.”

Council members Brenda Stardig and Ellen Cohen could be joined next year by several top-tier female candidates in council elections this fall, but some worry that the political “pipeline” of female candidates is thin, with few who conceivably could have run for mayor this year. One, Laura Murillo, the head of Houston’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, did publicly explore a mayoral bid last summer before deciding against it.

I would point out that one of the top tier candidates for Mayor this year is someone whose entire political career has been in the Legislature, and that the three main candidates currently running for Mayor in San Antonio include two former legislators and one former County Commissioner. One doesn’t have to be a city officeholder to be a viable Mayoral candidate, is what I’m saying. Hell, none of the three Mayors before Annise Parker had been elected to anything before running for the top job, let alone running for Council. The size of the “pipeline” is as much a matter of framing as anything else. Note also that several women who were once elected to city offices now hold office elsewhere – I’m thinking specifically of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Carol Alvarado, and HISD Trustee Wanda Adams. Pipelines can flow in both directions.

As for the four open Council slots, the seat most likely to be won by a female candidate as things stand right now is At Large #4, where two of the three announced candidates so far are women. Jenifer Pool is running in At Large #1, but if I were forced to make a prediction about it now, I’d say that a Lane Lewis/Chris Oliver runoff is the single most likely outcome. Two of the three candidates that I know of in District H are male – Roland Chavez and Jason Cisneroz – and the third candidate, former HISD Trustee Diana Davila, is ethically challenged. One’s commitment to diversity does not include supporting someone one doesn’t trust. I have no idea at this time who may be running in District G, which is the other term-limited seat. Beyond those races, any additional women will have to get there by knocking off an incumbent.

One last thing: There may not be room for another viable candidate for Mayor, but that isn’t the case for City Controller. There are three known candidates at this time, with two more thinking about it, all men. A Controller campaign would take less time and money, and would therefore likely be fairly ripe for recruitment, especially given that a female candidate in that race would have immediate prominence. As Mayor Parker, and for that matter former Mayor Whitmire, can attest, that office can be a pretty good stepping stone. Just a thought.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that HCC Trustee Sandie Mullins is planning to run in District G. That not only adds another female candidate for Council, it also indicates that an HCC seat will be open this fall.

2015 Mayoral manifesto: Public safety

Preliminaries
Transportation

When I first started thinking about this series a couple of months ago, this section was all going to be about the budget. We’ve covered this ground before – public safety is about 65% of the total city budget, yet it’s always “off limits” for consideration when there are shortfalls. It’s always the rest of the budget that gets the axe when cuts have to be made. Politically, I doubt anyone thinks they can lose votes by being “for” public safety and against any cuts to it. I’m not advocating cuts, I’m advocating the same level of scrutiny and due diligence for the public safety budget as for the rest of the budget.

Just at an abstract level, it’s impossible to believe that a hundreds-of-millions of dollars budget involving thousands of people, hundreds of departments, and multiple layers of management could not be refined and made more efficient. Here in Houston we have the specific example of thousands of uninvestigated criminal cases, for which as far as I can tell there still hasn’t been a reckoning by HPD. Chief McClelland’s response has been to ask for more money to hire more officers. My response to that is that we need to know a lot more about how the money HPD gets now is being spent. Maybe we do need more cops, and maybe we do need to spend more money on HPD. But that can’t be the default answer. We need to know more about how things are being done now. Only then can we know what we should be doing differently.

Public safety includes the fire department as well, and HFD has its own issues. Twice in the last five years HFD has exceeded its budget due to greater than expected overtime expenditures, caused at least in part by the way vacation time is scheduled. As crime has gone down nationally, so have the number of fires. The vast majority of calls to HFD are EMT calls, not fire calls. As with HPD, it is fair to ask, are we making the best use of our resources, and getting the best value for our tax dollars? I want a Mayor who will not be afraid to ask those questions.

One place where there appears to be general consensus is with body cameras. Everybody wants them, and thanks to a grant from the District Attorney, we have a plan to outfit HPD, Sheriff’s deputies, and constables with them. This is great, but it’s a first step. What will be the rules for their usage? How accessible will the video data be, and who will have access to it? What will HPD’s discipline policy be towards officers who fail to use them properly? Do we have a plan to get cameras for Metro cops? Let’s hear some details.

The discipline policies and practices for HPD in general need a long, hard look. It’s very rare for officers to be punished for excessive force complaints, even in the face of overwhelming (and sometimes video) evidence. Between 2007 and 2012, according to HPD records, officers killed citizens in 109 shootings. Every killing was ruled justified. The process needs an overhaul, and more public involvement. I want to hear Mayoral candidates address these issues, and not just give me the same paeans and platitudes we’ve gotten in past campaigns.

Note that I haven’t said anything about pensions. I don’t see the need to, since we’re not going to be able to avoid hearing about them from the candidates. The issue is central to the candidacies of at least two of the hopefuls so far. What any of them might promise to do that Mayor Parker hasn’t already tried, especially given the lack of interest by the Legislature in getting involved, is an open question. I’m sure they’ll tell us something.

Everyone agrees that something needs to be done about the city’s criminal justice complex. Everyone also agrees that it will be hella expensive to do something about it. One possible way to reduce the cost might be to rent instead of repairing or rebuilding, but not everyone is happy with that option. Given that this is almost certainly an item that will wind up on the next Mayor’s to do list, it would be nice to know what they think the current Mayor should do about it.

Mayor Parker recently said that “we need a complete rethinking of the nation’s drug laws”. What do the Mayoral candidates think about that? Will they push for HPD to use its authority to write citations for low level drug offenses instead of making arrests?

It seems likely that some form of “sanctuary cities” legislation will be signed into law this session. That will require local police forces to inquire about the immigration status of someone detained or arrested by a police officer or risk losing state funds. Who among the Mayoral candidates will be willing to speak out against this? Will anyone promise to at least investigate the possibility of filing a federal lawsuit to overturn such a law if one is enacted?

Finally, there was a lot of talk in the 2009 Mayor’s race about getting the various law enforcement agencies that operate in and around Houston to work together better. There’s been some progress on this, most notably in the area of radio communications, but overall it’s been a low profile issue. Where do the current crop of candidates see room for improvement on this? To tie this back to an earlier point, one large police force in Houston that isn’t in line to get body cameras yet is the Metro police force. Do the candidates have an opinion about that?

One more of these entries to go. Let me know what you think.

January campaign finance reports – HCC Trustees

There are nine trustees on the HCC board. With them serving six-year terms, in a normal year three trustees are up for re-election; 2013 was an abnormal year, with two extra races to fill out unexpired terms. We are back to normal this time, so we have three races. As with HISD, at this time all incumbents that are up are currently expected to run for re-election, and no opponents have emerged at this early date. Here are the incumbents in question.

Adriana Tamez, District III

Dr. Tamez won one of those two special elections from 2013, to fill out the term of Mary Ann Perez, who stepped down after winning in HD144 in 2012. The candidate she defeated in the runoff was one of two supported by Dave Wilson, so that was extra sweet. (Speaking of Wilson, he nominated himself for Board President at the start of this year, but had to withdraw after no one seconded him. Then, to add insult to injury, Zeph Capo, who defeated Wilson’s buddy Yolanda Navarro Flores in 2013, was elected Board President. Sucks to be you, Dave.) Tamez was elected Board Secretary for this year.

Sandie Mullins, District VI

Sandie Mullins, formerly Meyers, is serving her first term on the Board. She was elected in 2009 without facing an opponent to fill the seat formerly held by now-State Rep. Jim Murphy. (Mills Worsham was named to replace Murphy in 2007 after his initial election in HD133, then Worsham ran for Council in 2009 instead of a full term on HCC.) Like Murphy and her ex-husband, HISD Trustee Greg Meyers, Mullins is a Republican, one of two on the board along with you-know-who. She is herself an alumna of HCC, and serves or has served on a number of other boards.

Eva Loredo, District VIII

Under normal circumstances, Eva Loredo would not be on the HCC Board. She didn’t file for the race in 2009, against incumbent Abel Davila. No one did, and on filing deadline day Davila was expected to run unopposed for re-election. Except that he decided at the last minute not to run, and instead his brother-in-law Art Aguilar filed. That led to a medium-sized crap storm, which led to Aguilar’s withdrawal. Loredo had by then submitted paperwork to be a write-in candidate, with some assistance from the late Sen. Mario Gallegos, and with no other candidate on the ballot, she won. She would be on the ballot this time.

As for finance reports, you may recall that as recently as 2011 it was damn near impossible to lay one’s hands on HCC Trustee finance reports. I claim a small measure of the credit for changing that situation. Be that as it may, the fact that these reports are now available online at this link doesn’t mean that they’re available in a timely fashion. Despite the fact that the city, the county, the school board, and the state all had theirs up within a day or so of the January 15 deadline, HCC still had nothing more recent than last July’s as of yesterday. So those are the totals I will include, pending them getting off their butts and updating this information.

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Tamez 7,150 15,392 7,000 610 Mullins 0 1,878 0 18,400 Loredo 0 492 0 2,004 Oliver 8,225 6,060 0 2,165

So there you have it. I’ve included the totals for Chris Oliver as well, since he is now running for Council. I’ll update all this in July, and ought to have my Election 2015 page up by then as well.

Garcia appears to be in for Mayor

Not official yet, but stories like this don’t get run without justification.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia is sending every possible message that he intends to run for mayor this year, aggressively increasing his political operations and signaling to some of his closest advisers and fiercest backers that a campaign may be imminent.

Garcia, under the Texas constitution, would have to resign as a county official immediately upon declaring his candidacy. That presents Garcia, who watchers expect to rocket to the field’s top tier if he joins the burgeoning mayoral fray, with a fateful decision: Does he step down as the county’s premier Democratic officeholder to make a bid that will make him Houston’s first Latino mayor or politically unemployed?

“At the end of the day, it’s like standing at the craps table, placing the bet – and you could walk away with nothing,” said Garcia confidant Greg Compean.

It is a bet Garcia allies said this week he has grappled with and seems willing to make.

“I’d be really surprised if he didn’t,” Compean said.

Garcia, who said last week he still is listening to others and has not yet officially committed to the race, has met with many of the city’s political leaders in advance of an announcement and privately is telling some close allies that he will run. And other evidence is mounting.

[…]

Backers of Garcia have high hopes he could raise the money to compete and that he could win voters beyond Houston’s Latinos, who comprise more than 40 percent of the city but at the most only 15 percent of the electorate. The county’s highest vote-getter in 2012, Garcia is expected to make appeals to some Republican voters in the nonpartisan election.

Garcia also would open himself up to personal attacks over a yearlong political brawl. Some in political circles for months quietly have questioned whether Garcia, who has no college education, can handle the rigors of the city’s top job. And if Garcia resigns as sheriff, some Democratic judges and Latino leaders worry whether the party and the Hispanic community would be hurt without him leading the local ticket.

My thoughts, in no particular order.

1. Garcia would have the advantage of being likely to be the clear frontrunner among at least one segment of the electorate – Latino voters – in the same way that Sylvester Turner would be among African-Americans and Oliver Pennington would be among conservatives. Sure, that is generally a smaller slice of the electorate, but it’s still an advantage, one that most other candidates don’t have. It also makes the pool of voters outside of Turner and Pennington’s bases, which those other candidates will be relying on, that much smaller. Remember that in Mayoral elections, turnout is not immutable. We had some 300,000 voters in 2001 and 2003, 190,000 in 2005 (spurred mostly by the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment), between 175,000 and 180,000 in 2009 and 2013, and in the 130,000 range in 2007 and 2011. Remember also that the goal in November is to make it to the runoff. In a multi-candidate field where a couple thousand votes could be the difference between going on to December and going home, being able to coax out some irregular voters is a big deal.

2. I’m not worried about the implications for 2016. The Presidential race will be the driving force for 95%+ of all voters. Hell, if anything having a spirited campaign between an appointed Sheriff that wants to hold the job and a Democratic challenger that wants to win it back is more likely in my opinion to generate excitement than Garcia trouncing another hapless Republican challenger. Note that this isn’t me arguing that Garcia should run for Mayor, or that I’m shrugging off him stepping down as Sheriff if it happens. I’m just thinking through the implications, and that’s how I see it.

3. What Garcia and his backers should be worried about is how pissed off Democratic loyalists could be at the prospect of handing over the Sheriff’s office to a Republican. I mean, everyone is still very raw and angry about what happened this past November. Losing a high profile office, especially one that wasn’t on the line and in the service of someone’s ambition, is going to be a bitter pill for some to swallow. How many is “some”? I don’t know. How hard will it be for Garcia to win them back? Again, I don’t know. I do know that there are two viable Democratic alternatives to Garcia, so those that do decide to carry a grudge have someplace decent to take it. This is their problem to solve, and if they haven’t given it a lot of thought then his path to City Hall is going to be rockier than they might think.

4. The one thing I do know for sure if Garcia gets in is that the current field of hopefuls – declared, soon-to-be-declared, still-thinking-about-it, and so on – will not be what we get on the ballot. Some number of current candidates – at least one – will drop out or decide not to gear up at all. There are a finite amount of resources to help a campaign, and there’s only so much to go around. Fundraising is a component of that, of course, with the proviso that the ability of some candidates to at least partially self-fund may minimize that effect, but it’s not the only one. There are only so many able and willing volunteers, and only so much support from endorsing organizations, many of which may choose to keep their powder dry until a runoff. Some number of candidates – at least one – will not be able to mount the campaign they want to mount. Those candidates will not make it to the starting line. Bank on it.

5. I am now, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, officially undecided in the Mayoral race. There are several candidates I could support. I will need to know more about what they want to do before I make any decisions.

January campaign finance reports – Mayoral wannabes

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

I wrote yesterday about the start of the 2015 campaign season in Houston, and how it’s started a bit early thanks to the ruling in the lawsuit filed by Trebor Gordon that invalidated the blackout period. This week also marked the January 15 finance report filing deadline, so now is as good a time as any to see who has what. The Gordon ruling really had no effect on the January filings – it came way too late for that – so as I’ve said before, the real story of its effect will be told in the July reports, when we can see who raised what during January. Because the blackout was in effect last year, several Mayoral candidates have no reports to file as yet – Chris Bell, Marty McVey, and Joe Ferreira fall into that category. Bill King did file a report, but only had some expenditures to list. Folks like Stephen Costello, Oliver Pennington, and Jack Christie have existing city finance accounts and thus had reports to file for their activity; Ben Hall still has his account from the 2013 race; and of course current holders of other offices like Rep. Sylvester Turner, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and Treasurer Orlando Sanchez filed reports with their respective authorities. (In Sanchez’s case, since he would not be on the ballot until 2018 if he stays put, he was not required to file a January report he does not have a January report on the County Clerk website that I can find; I have his eight-day report from last year linked.) So without further ado:

Sylvester Turner
Stephen Costello
Oliver Pennington
Ben Hall
Jack Christie
Bill King
Adrian Garcia
Orlando Sanchez

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Turner 657,227 121,719 0 1,014,424 Costello 0 35,324 15,000 273,001 Pennington 0 126,039 0 116,632 Hall 0 26,300 2,000,000 59,300 Christie 0 11,404 0 4,080 King 0 7,300 0 0 Garcia 175,681 350,030 0 57,213 Sanchez 18,041 14,115 200,000 1,258 Locke 0 0 0 4,065 Parker 0 57,109 0 350,695

I included reports for 2009 candidate Gene Locke and Mayor Parker for the heck of it as well as for purposes of comparison. It will be interesting to see if Mayor Parker, who has her eye on a future statewide run, does any fundraising this year.

Turner’s report, with its sizable cash on hand total, and Garcia’s report, with its much less sizable COH number, are the ones that have attracted the most attention. You can see why Chris Bell really wants to enforce a $10,000 limit on the amount Turner could transfer to a city account. A million dollar head start is a big obstacle for him or anyone else to overcome. Turner, for his part, ramped up his fundraising last year in the expectation of being able to transfer it all because now that the Lege is in session, he’s on the sidelines until at least May unless he decides to resign, which I would not expect. As for Garcia, who has held some recent fundraisers for his county account, he could likely bring in some money quickly once he announced, if he does. But as Campos notes, the clock is ticking. The longer he waits, the harder it will get and the more likely that some of the deeper pockets will commit themselves to someone else. You have to figure that if he intends to get into the race, it will happen in the next month or so.

Beyond that, not too much to see. Jack Christie and Bill King can both do a certain amount of self-funding, though probably not to the extent that Ben Hall has done. I can only marvel at his outstanding loans figure, which I’ll bet goes up even more. Costello and Pennington have both shown to be strong fundraisers in past elections. I have no idea about McVey and Ferreira or whoever else might be thinking about it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s only so much space for viable candidacies in the Mayoral race. With a cap on how much and individual and a PAC can give in a cycle, there are only so many deep pockets to tap. Mayor Parker has done very well with a big network of small-dollar donors, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight, and one usually has to have an extensive personal network to begin with. Like I said, the July reports will tell us a much more detailed story. I’ll check out the other finance reports in future posts. Stace has more.

UPDATE: A couple of people have asked me about the statement that Orlando Sanchez didn’t need to file a January report. I could swear that I saw something to that effect in the Chronicle, but now I can’t find where I saw it. So, since I can see that Stan Stanart, who also would not be on the ballot till 2018, has a January report filed, I’ve changed my wording above. My apologies for the confusion and for not being more skeptical of that.

Don’t forget about Pasadena

There’s still a lawsuit in the works regarding their 2013 redistricting referendum that switched their Council from an eight-member all-district makeup to six districts and two At large seats, all at the behest of Mayor Johnny Isbell.

Pasadena City Council

Pasadena is preparing to change the makeup of its city council in a way that city fathers hope fosters new development, but that some Hispanics allege dilutes their influence. The case could become a test of the Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down most of the federal Voting Rights Act, giving cities in many Southern states new latitude to change election laws affecting minorities without first getting federal approval.

“Clearly it was racism,” said Pasadena Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, one of two Hispanics on Pasadena’s eight-member council, about the town’s planned council changes. The campaign for a new voting system “was meant to scare Anglos, and it was effective,” he said.

In Pasadena, which is roughly 60 percent Hispanic, voters approved a referendum that replaces two city council seats representing districts with at-large seats, which Hispanic leaders say will negate their growing population numbers. The new format was proposed by the mayor, who is white, in July 2013, one month after the high court decision.

The mayor and supporters insist the new format will bring more participation by all Pasadena residents because they’ll have more to vote for. They note that other cities, including Houston, have at-large council members.

[…]

Some Hispanics fear that wealthier white candidates will have the upper hand in at-large races that demand costlier citywide campaigns.

Suing the city on behalf of five Hispanic residents is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also took Texas to court over the state’s new voter ID law.

Since the Supreme Court ruling last year, most attention has focused on statewide-voting changes made in some of the 15 states covered by the Voting Rights Act, which was passed during the Civil Rights era. The Pasadena case is one of the first involving a city.

The plaintiffs face the burden of proving intentional discrimination. Civil rights attorneys say they worry that the money and effort of mounting a challenge will discourage action in many cities.

See here, here, here, here, and here. I don’t see any information about when the lawsuit that was filed will be heard, but I’m sure it’s on a docket somewhere. The bit I quoted above is what interests me here, as it contains a testable proposition. The city of Pasadena, which is to say Mayor Isbell and his enablers, claim that by switching to a hybrid at large/single member district system, turnout will increase in Pasadena. I’d love to review what turnout has been in Pasadena over the past few cycles, but for the life of me I can’t find past election results from Pasadena anywhere – they are not in the Harris County Clerk election results, much to my surprise. If anyone can point me to them, I’d be grateful. In any event, there’s another avenue for investigation, and that’s turnout in the Houston district Council races versus turnout in the At Large races, since the Houston model is cited as what Pasadena aspires to. What I’m going to look at is the undervote rate in district versus At Large races, on the theory that if no one casts a vote in a particular race, it’s hard to claim that that race affected overall turnout in a positive way. Here’s the data for Houston, for the last six elections:

2013 Undervote 2011 Undervote 2009 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 2.76% Mayor 4.18% Mayor 2.05% Dist A 10.36% Dist A 8.85% Dist A 18.24% Dist B 11.12% Dist B 9.78% Dist B 14.94% Dist D 12.53% Dist C 5.61% Dist C 13.30% Dist F 21.40% Dist D 8.91% Dist D 15.05% Dist G 22.47% Dist F 12.96% Dist E 14.98% Dist I 10.44% Dist G 14.32% Dist F 8.64% Dist I 11.73% Dist G 22.51% AL 1 27.49% Dist J 10.74% AL 2 29.76% Dist K 11.44% AL 1 28.48% AL 3 26.37% AL 2 30.65% AL 4 24.87% AL 1 22.50% AL 4 28.36% AL 5 28.03% AL 2 17.97% AL 5 25.89% AL 3 20.81% Controller 22.32% AL 4 20.05% Controller 15.39% AL 5 12.03% 2007 Undervote 2005 Undervote 2003 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 6.73% Mayor 5.51% Mayor 1.38% Dist B 10.55% Dist A 19.01% Dist A 13.49% Dist C 11.40% Dist B 8.65% Dist B 11.97% Dist D 10.66% Dist C 12.82% Dist C 12.86% Dist E 10.29% Dist F 10.13% Dist E 12.90% Dist I 9.80% Dist H 12.10% Dist F 13.97% Dist I 9.33% Dist G 14.20% AL 1 31.53% Dist H 10.29% AL 2 24.94% AL 1 20.88% Dist I 13.13% AL 3 18.61% AL 2 26.37% AL 5 19.86% AL 3 24.62% AL 1 20.46% AL 5 22.92% AL 2 22.84% AL 3 18.05% AL 4 19.24% AL 5 17.29% Controller 14.04%

So over six cycles, covering the full tenures of two different Mayors and including high-turnout and low-turnout elections, the undervote rate in every single contested At Large race was higher, often significantly higher, than the undervote in every single district race, with the sole exception of At Large 5 and Districts F and G in 2011. That was the year Jolanda Jones was defeated in a runoff by Jack Christie, and it was the highest profile race that year, certainly the highest profile At Large race in any of these six years.

This to me is very strong evidence that At Large races don’t do anything to drive turnout. This should make intuitive sense – At Large races are as expensive to run as Mayoral races, but no one has anywhere near the funds to do that, while District races can be reasonably run with shoe leather and some mail. Candidates in At Large races are not as well known as candidates in district races, who have a far greater incentive to attend smaller neighborhood and civic club meetings. I’d bet we’ll see a similar pattern in Pasadena, with the district races having greater participation than the At Large races. I just hope I’ll be able to find their election results so I can check that.

This will be the first election in Pasadena under this new arrangement, assuming it isn’t thrown out before the election, which I would not expect to happen. I wish I could say that Mayor Isbell was on the ballot and that this was a chance to throw him out, but alas, he has a four year term and was re-elected in 2013. This is a chance to unseat a couple of his minions, however, and if there’s a good local opportunity for anyone upset with the 2014 elections to focus on, it’s here. The Texas Organizing Project did a lot of good work in trying to defeat the 2013 redistricting referendum, and with a little more help they might have succeeded. Whatever happens with the lawsuit, it would be nice to turn the tables in this election. You want to make a difference, get involved with TOP and help support some good candidates in Pasadena this year.

Lane Lewis announces for At Large #1

Interesting.

Lane Lewis

Lane Lewis

Harris County Democratic Party chair Lane Lewis will run for an at-large city council position, he told Democratic activists Wednesday evening.

Lewis, who has led the county’s party operation since 2011, is running to succeed Stephen Costello in At-Large Position 1, one of two open-seat at-large races next year. Lewis will remain party chair during his campaign.

Several other candidates already have appointed campaign treasurers in advance of runs for at-large positions, though only Philippe Nassif, a local Democratic activist, has specified that he will run for Position 1.

As does Texpatriate, I like Chairman Lewis. Also like Texpatriate, I’m not sure why there’s so much more focus on At Large #1 right now than on any other position. Jenifer Pool may not have officially specified what position she’s running for, but she has been telling people it’s AL1, and her business cards identify her as a candidate for that office. At Large 4, currently held by CM Bradford, will also be open, though no one has yet indicated they will run for it. At Large 5 may be open as well if CM Christie runs for Mayor, and even if he doesn’t I believe he has a glass jaw. I will be more than a little surprised if no one files to run against CM Kubosh in At Large 3. It’s early days and we should expect a lot of activity to begin in a few weeks, but as things stand right now I don’t look forward to the choice I’ll have to make in At Large #1. Stace has more.

Bill King to run for Mayor

Because there aren’t enough candidates for Mayor already.

Bill King

Bill King is inching toward a run for mayor of Houston as the field in next year’s open-seat election continues to grow.

King, an attorney and the former mayor of Kemah, designated a campaign treasurer earlier this month, the initial step needed to start a campaign structure. While the full field is not expected to materialize until around Feb. 1, when candidates can begin raising money for their bids, more and more candidates are beginning to make clear their intentions.

King, who publicly flirted with a run in 2009, is now telling friends he plans to run next year. A former Houston Chronicle op-ed columnist who just unveiled a book, “Unapologetically Moderate,” King likely will run as a centrist, business-minded candidate.

Four other candidates have publicly committed to running for the post: Rep. Sylvester Turner, 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall and Councilmen Steven Costello and Oliver Pennington.

About a dozen more, though, have explored a possible run.

Actually, King was flirting with a 2009 run as far back as 2006. Whatever else you might say, it’s not a snap decision. King’s longstanding hostility to light rail pretty much guarantees that I won’t vote for him, but I’m sure he’ll persevere. I’ll just make one general observation, which I may have made before here or may have just made in conversation, which is that there’s only so much room for candidates in this or any Mayoral race in Houston. There’s only so much campaign funding, so many endorsing organizations worth pursuing, so much volunteer energy, and ultimately only so many voters. As such, I believe that there’s room for only so many viable candidates. Candidates that are fishing from the same pool of voters and donors and all as other candidates will have a harder time staying above water. Some number of the people who say they’re running or thinking about running will ultimately not run, is what I’m saying. They can’t all run. It’s just a matter of who survives the qualifying runs, which is to say who can get enough of those donors and groups and volunteers on board to make themselves viable. I figure by February we’ll have a much clearer idea of what the field will really look like.

KHOU: Abbott 47, Davis 32

A new poll to open Early Voting.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

As early voters head to the polls for a landmark election in Texas, a new survey conducted for KHOU-TV and Houston Public Media shows Republican Greg Abbott with a commanding lead over Democrat Wendy Davis in the race for governor.

Abbott’s supported by 47 percent of likely voters surveyed for the poll, compared to Davis’ 32 percent. Another 15 percent were undecided.

Green Party candidates Brandon Parmer carried 1.4 percent and Libertarian Kathie Glass .7 percent. About 2 percent of surveyed voters wouldn’t say who they’re supporting.

This latest poll dovetails with other surveys conducted earlier this year showing Abbott with a double-digit lead over Davis, indicating few voters have changed their minds during the course of the campaign.

“There always could be a crisis, a major gaffe, something like that,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who supervised the poll. “But it’s very hard to imagine that you can reverse a double-digit lead.”

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican Dan Patrick also has a double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte. Patrick’s supported by 36 percent of surveyed voters compared to Van de Putte’s 24 percent.

Libertarian Robert Butler had 1.8 percent in the lieutenant governor poll and Green Party candidate Chandrakantha Courtney .9 percent. Another 3.3 percent said they were voting for someone else, while about 2 percent declined to answer the question.

Democrats hoped Van de Putte’s presence on the ballot would energize Hispanic voters, but the survey indicates that hasn’t happened. About 36 percent of Hispanic voters told pollsters they didn’t know how they were voting for governor, and about 34 percent said they were unsure how they’d vote for lieutenant governor.

“If Leticia Van de Putte has a name that’s recognizable, it’s not moving what we consider to be core Democratic voters,” Stein said. “Self-identified Hispanics and self-identified Democrats are still undecided.”

Clearly, there are a lot of “undecided” voters in this poll. It’s a little hard to know what to make of that this late in the game. Some poll data is here but I can’t find crosstab information, so there’s only so much analysis one can do. I will say that most of the polls KHOU has done in the past have been for Houston Mayoral races, and their results have been mixed, to say the least. They also polled the 2013 Astrodome and inmate processing facility referenda, and the 2012 Presidential race in Harris County, with the latter being fairly accurate and the former two not so much. My main complaint with their non-Presidential year methodology has been having too broad a sample. That may be part of the issue here, though obviously I’d like for as broad a sample as possible to be an accurate reflection of the electorate, but without seeing full data I can only speculate.

One more point: Despite the 15-point lead they show for Abbott statewide, they show Davis leading Harris County by a 40-35 margin. (They have Patrick and Van de Putte tied in Harris County, 30 to 30, and show a meaningless one point lead for Devon Anderson over Kim Ogg, 23-22.) I don’t know how you can reconcile a five-point lead in Harris County for Davis with a 15-point lead statewide for Abbott. But hey, the only poll that matters, as they say, has begun. Greg has the latest look at the mail ballots, and by Friday or so we should have a decent inkling of what’s happening based on the early vote rosters. Get out there and vote.

Davis’ internal poll

I had been wondering if Wendy Davis was going to release one of these.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis is trailing Republican opponent Greg Abbott by single digits for the first time this year in her campaign’s internal polling, according to a copy of it obtained by the Chronicle.

The Davis campaign’s latest survey, which was conducted last week, shows her taking 38 percent of the vote to Abbott’s 46 percent. A Rasmussen poll released last month also found Davis down by 8 percentage points.

Davis has narrowed Abbott’s lead by nearly two-thirds since January, when her campaign’s internal survey showed him up by 23 points. He led her by 11 in May and 12 in August, according to her campaign’s private polling.

The September survey is the first one Davis’ campaign did since launching a series of TV ads attacking Abbott. The first commercial, which started airing Aug. 8, has drawn the most attention, accusing Abbott of “siding with a corporation over a victim of rape” as a state Supreme Court justice.

A document summarizing the Davis campaign’s internal numbers this year shows the January survey is the only one in which Abbott garnered more than half the vote. The document’s headline reads, ”Davis Chipping Away At Abbott Vote As He Falls Below Critical 50% Mark.”

The Davis campaign’s internal poll suggests a much closer race than a private survey done by Abbott’s people during the last week of August. The Abbott campaign’s internal numbers, which were shared with donors earlier this month, had him beating Davis by 18 points. Most public polls this year have found Abbott leading Davis by double digits.

As with that other poll, which we heard about first from the Ken Paxton campaign, there’s no data or poll questions to examine (not even a polling memo in this case), so I can’t offer any kind of objective analysis. The lack of further information about this poll actually makes it sound a bit more credible to me than the one Abbott touted simply because it makes no claims about subsamples that are hard to reconcile with the overall data. It also fits with my own perceptions about the race, and who doesn’t love a little confirmation bias? Beyond that, take it with the amount of salt with which all internal polls should be taken.

You may wonder why Davis would bother to release an internal poll showing her to be down by eight. Countering that Wilson Perkins poll was surely part of the calculus here. More broadly, this is to try to establish a “she’s gaining momentum” narrative, hopefully to replace the “she’s trailing by double digits” narrative that has pervaded the coverage of the campaign. The Rasmussen poll from last month helped with that, but it’s only one result. With the release of the Abbott internal poll and now the release of another YouGov poll that’s more of the same from their static sample, a different perspective was a good idea. (YouGov also shows Sen. John Cornyn leading David Alameel by 20 points; for a good discussion of how to interpret their overall numbers, see Steve Singiser.)

You may also wonder why her campaign would release a poll showing her at 38 percent. Clearly, the key here was Abbott being under 50, at 46 percent, which was a change from their earlier results and a suggestion that the campaign is having an effect. For what it’s worth, in the large majority of polls that include crosstabs that I’ve seen in recent years, the lion’s share of “undecided” voters come from populations that are generally Dem-friendly, specifically African Americans and Latinos. I presume the same thing is going on in this poll, but of course I don’t have the data, so who really knows.

What would truly be of interest here would be to know how the population Davis is sampling differs from the others we have seen, which I strongly suspect bear a close resemblance to the 2010 electorate. Determining what the electorate will look like is a guessing game that all pollsters must engage in, and when there is a clear failure to accurately predict an election result (think Gallup in 2012), the culprit is often a wrong view of who will be voting. This is one area in which an internal poll can be more accurate than a third party poll, since any viable campaign ought to have a fairly clear view of their voter universe. My favorite example of this was the 2009 Mayor’s race here, where two polls of registered voters gave a lead to Peter Brown (who had been doing a lot of TV advertising) but an internal poll of Annise Parker’s that had a tighter (and in my opinion, more appropriate for that kind of race) voter screen had her leading instead. We know how that turned out. Of course, this can easily turn into an exercise in wishful thinking for a candidate that needs some good news. That’s why election forecasters that use poll averages tend to discount internal polls in some way, since they often represent something like a best case scenario. What makes this particular poll interesting, and why it would no doubt be enlightening to know how its demography compares to other polls, is precisely that there is an unprecedented effort by the Davis campaign and Battleground Texas to boost turnout among less frequent voters. Everyone agrees that will have some effect on the election, but no one knows how much. Knowing what kind of population the Davis team sampled would give us some insight into how they think it’s going. Without that, we’re left with waiting to see the final numbers, as we were before.

The small number of competitive legislative races in November

The Trib discusses the lack of legislative action in November.

Rep. Hubert Vo

Rep. Hubert Vo

In the House, nine Republican and two Democratic races are still undecided. An early list of competitive November races — this is in a House with 150 seats — comes in under a dozen. Put another way, there are about as many competitive races in the party runoffs as in the November general election.

In the Senate, there are only two runoffs — both in the Republican primaries. And in November, only the SD-10 seat — now held by Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth — looks from this distance like a genuinely competitive two-party contest.

The 36-member congressional ballot is just as imbalanced, with three runoffs (all Republican) next month and only one obviously competitive November race, in the 23rd Congressional District, where freshman Democrat Pete Gallego of Alpine is the incumbent. Democrats are starting to talk hopefully about the chances for Wesley Craig Reed, the challenger to U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi. That district, CD-27, was drawn to favor Republicans, however, and part of Reed’s challenge will be to overcome that advantage in a midterm election year with an unpopular Democratic president in office.

That’s the problem for challengers with these maps: Barring the unexpected — scandal, death, resignations that come too late for candidates to be replaced — most races will be over by the end of next month, if they aren’t over already.

Those are most of the caveats, along with the usual one: It’s early, and things will change. All that said, here is an early list of House races to watch in November, mostly because they are in the handful of swing districts that remain on the map.

  • HD-105: Republican state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown of Irving lost her primary to former Rep. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie in March. He’ll face Libertarian W. Carl Spiller and the winner of a Democratic runoff in a district where both major parties think a win is possible.
  • HD-107: Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, is being challenged by Democrat Carol Donovan.
  • HD-113: Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, is being challenged by Democrat Milton Whitley.
  • HD-43: Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, will face Democrat Kim Gonzalez.
  • HD-23: Democratic Rep. Craig Eiland of Galveston isn’t seeking another term, leaving this open seat to either Republican Wayne Faircloth or Democrat Susan Criss.
  • HD-117: Democratic Rep. Philip Cortez of San Antonio will face Republican Rick Galindo.
  • HD-144: Rep. Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston, is being challenged by Republican Gilbert Peña.
  • HD-41: Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission, will face Elijah Israel Casas in this marginally Democratic district.
  • HD-149: Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, is being challenged by Republican Al Hoang in a district that Vo has managed to defend — narrowly — several times.

Keeping score? That list includes four seats currently held by Republicans that the Democrats would like to take away, and five Democratic seats that the Republicans hope to grab. At the extremes, that would mean the Texas House would convene with 91 to 100 Republicans and 50 to 59 Democrats in January 2015 — about where it is today.

I’ll stipulate that once the runoffs are settled, so too are the vast majority of legislative races. There’s always the possibility of a surprise, as the story notes, but barring anything unforeseen, all the action this year will be statewide and in the counties. That’s just not what the pattern has been over the past decade, but it’s a testament to the power of the 2011 redistricting. I suspect it’s one part access to more accurate data and more powerful computers, and one part more rapid demographic change in various districts last decade, but right now these maps have the feel of permanence, barring court-mandated changes, until 2021.

I’ve got another post in the works to illustrate that in greater detail, but for now let’s look a little closer at the list Ross Ramsey compiled. I agree with the four competitive Republican seats, and while I agree that these are the five most competitive Democratic seats that are being contested – for some reason, the GOP did not field a candidate in HD78 – I don’t think they’re all in the same class. HD23, which along with SD10 and CD23 are the only seats won by one party while being carried by the other party’s Presidential candidate, is clearly a possible R pickup. I’d rate it as Tossup, possibly Tossup/Lean R. It’s tough for the Dems that Rep. Craig Eiland chose to retire, but District Court Judge Susan Criss is as strong a candidate to succeed him as one could want. As for the others, I’d rate HD41 as the least likely of all nine to flip. Rep. Guerra won with over 61% of the vote in 2012. While some statewide Republicans won a majority in 2010 in HD41, one doesn’t usually identify an incumbent that collected over 61% of the vote in his last election as potentially vulnerable. I’d rate this seat as Likely D. Rep. Cortez in HD117 might be the most endangered Dem incumbent – he won with a bit more than 52% in 2012 – but his opponent had almost no cash on hand going into the primary, not that he was a moneybags himself. Let’s call this one Lean D – for comparison, I’d rate all four Republican seats as Lean R. Rep. Perez won with over 54% in 2012 – her district performed better for Ds in 2012 than the 2008 numbers would have suggested – and her opponent this year was the lesser-regarded loser of the 2012 R primary. I’ve not heard a peep about that race. I guess a bad enough year for Dems overall could imperil her, but I’m calling this one Likely D.

Finally, there’s HD149. On paper, Rep. Vo versus former CM Hoang is an intriguing matchup. The history in HD149 is Rep. Vo outperforming the Democratic baseline – in both 2006 and 2010, he was the only Dem other than Bill White in 2010 to win the district, and 2006 was redder than 2010 – aided in part by a strong Vietnamese vote. Having Hoang on the ballot at least potentially complicates that, especially since his Council victory in 2009 was fueled in part by a strong performance in Asian boxes. However, as I’ve shown before, lots more people have had the opportunity to vote for Rep. Vo than for Hoang, the district is more Democratic now than before – Rep. Vo’s only close re-election was in 2010 with 52%; he had over 56% in 2012 – and I’d fear Hoang more if he hadn’t just lost a re-election bid to an out-of-nowhere Vietnamese candidate whose victory was abetted in large part by Hoang’s stormy relationship with the Vietnamese community. This is one to watch, but barring any future indicators of trouble for Rep. Vo, I’m calling this one Likely D. What are your thoughts?

Where the early vote was

As you know, I thought that the high turnout we were seeing in Early Voting for this past election was not so much an indicator of high turnout but of a shift in voting behavior similar to what we had seen in even-year elections. That prediction was incorrect – final turnout was higher than I thought it would be, and the reason for that was it was still the case that a majority of the vote was to come on Election Day itself. However, it is the case that behavior is shifting, and a bigger share of the vote was cast early than in prior odd-year elections. Let’s take a closer look at the early vote numbers, beginning with how much of the vote was cast early in each of the City Council districts:

Dist Total Mail Early E Day Mail% Early% EDay% ========================================================== Hou 174,632 20,280 60,135 94,217 11.6% 34.4% 54.0% A 13,532 2,347 4,513 6,672 17.3% 33.4% 49.3% B 13,753 1,868 5,563 6,322 13.6% 40.4% 46.0% C 32,466 3,107 9,791 19,568 9.6% 30.2% 60.3% D 19,663 2,295 7,462 10,652 11.7% 37.9% 54.2% E 18,702 1,788 6,920 9,994 9.6% 37.0% 53.4% F 7,790 564 3,516 3,710 7.2% 45.1% 47.6% G 27,286 3,879 8,215 15,192 14.2% 30.1% 55.7% H 10,249 1,041 3,109 6,099 10.2% 30.3% 59.5% I 9,538 1,133 3,110 5,295 11.9% 32.6% 55.5% J 5,942 679 2,193 3,070 11.4% 36.9% 51.7% K 15,461 1,479 5,563 8,419 9.6% 35.6% 54.5% All 259,962 24,000 87,925 148,037 9.2% 33.8% 56.9% Non 85,330 3,720 27,790 53,820 4.4% 32.6% 63.1%

“All” is all of Harris County. “Non” is Harris County minus Houston. As you can see, districts B, F, and A are the trendsetters in early voting, while Districts C, H, G, and J are behind the times. The city of Houston overall was more likely to vote early than Harris County, and much more likely to vote absentee than the non-Houston parts of the County. This makes sense because it’s usually candidates that drive absentee voting. Note that the four districts with multi-candidate races – A, B, D, and I – were all above average in absentee participation; District G was the other big performer there, and it was a contested race.

I don’t have any grand conclusions to draw from this, I was just curious about what the numbers looked like. I continue to believe that we will see a shift towards early voting in these elections – the level we saw this year was easily the high water mark for odd-year elections. Note that the higher early totals for the city, admittedly driven more by absentee ballots than by in person early voting, suggests that the Astrodome wasn’t a major component of early vote turnout. It was a modest driver of non-Houston turnout, as the city of Houston comprised 67.2% of all Harris County votes. That compares to 73.6% in 2011, 69.5% in 2009, and 63.6% in 2007. For those of you that had been playing the “guess the final level of turnout based on early voting” game, the right scenario among the ones I presented was 45% early plus high Houston turnout, which pegged it at about 170,000. More data to file away for 2015.

Precinct analysis: At Large 2 and 3

Lots of action, and lots of candidates in the At Large races this year. Let’s look at the two races that are going to the runoffs, At Large #2 and 3. First is AL2, in which first term CM Andrew Burks trailed challenger David Robinson after Election Day.

Dist Robinson Rivera Burks Gordon =================================== A 3,644 1,475 3,533 883 B 3,419 840 6,239 332 C 12,038 2,808 5,024 1,127 D 4,294 1,228 9,250 729 E 4,647 3,339 3,761 932 F 2,263 981 1,649 438 G 8,313 1,826 6,072 1,592 H 2,484 2,593 1,836 333 I 2,111 2,655 1,963 396 J 1,813 725 1,269 283 K 4,520 1,285 4,818 575 Dist Robinson Rivera Burks Gordon ===================================== A 38.22% 15.47% 37.05% 9.26% B 31.57% 7.76% 57.61% 3.07% C 57.33% 13.37% 23.93% 5.37% D 27.70% 7.92% 59.67% 4.70% E 36.65% 26.33% 29.66% 7.35% F 42.45% 18.40% 30.93% 8.22% G 46.69% 10.26% 34.11% 8.94% H 34.28% 35.79% 25.34% 4.60% I 29.63% 37.26% 27.55% 5.56% J 44.33% 17.73% 31.03% 6.92% K 40.36% 11.48% 43.03% 5.13%

Though Robinson only led by a few points, he sure looks like he’s in good shape going into December. Robinson led in the Republican districts, dominated District C, and held his own in the African-American districts. In short, as Greg noted, he’s basically replicating Annise Parker’s coalition from 2009. His path to victory in the runoff is clear: more of the same, with maximal effort in C and a push for the Moe Rivera voters in H and I.

Andrew Burks also has a clear path to victory in the runoff: Maximize turnout in B and D, and hold his own in the Republican districts, which was his formula for victory in the 2011 runoff. Burks’ problem is that he’s never been good at maximizing turnout. The undervote in Burks’ At Large races is always higher than the undervote in the other At Large races. For example, this year the undervote in AL2 was 29.75%; in At Large #4, it was only 24.85%, and the next highest undervote after AL2 was in At Large #5, at 28.02%. In the 2011 runoff, the undervote rate was 8.63% in Burks’ race, 1.02% in the Jolanda Jones/Jack Christie race. In the 2009 runoff, the numbers were 19.47% and 12.63%. If Burks had approached Jolanda Jones’ numbers in B and D he would have won; in reality, he lost Harris County by nine points. If Burks can perform like Ronald Green or Brad Bradford in the runoff, he wins. If not, he loses. It’s as simple as that.

On to At Large #3:

Dist Batteau Chavez Calvert Kubosh Pool Morales ================================================= A 529 1,284 1,141 3,591 1,689 1,898 B 1,687 1,331 1,842 3,162 1,562 1,172 C 943 2,748 4,941 5,223 5,594 2,997 D 3,233 1,542 2,279 5,120 2,017 1,492 E 669 1,232 1,571 4,305 2,062 3,614 F 432 586 806 1,337 1,154 1,217 G 795 1,068 3,786 6,254 2,724 4,179 H 422 2,467 790 1,453 1,136 1,705 I 531 2,049 599 1,337 955 2,085 J 333 450 736 1,155 821 892 K 1,361 1,073 2,181 3,214 2,045 1,621 Dist Batteau Chavez Calvert Kubosh Pool Morales ==================================================== A 5.22% 12.67% 11.26% 35.44% 16.67% 18.73% B 15.68% 12.37% 17.13% 29.40% 14.52% 10.90% C 4.20% 12.24% 22.01% 23.27% 24.92% 13.35% D 20.61% 9.83% 14.53% 32.65% 12.86% 9.51% E 4.97% 9.16% 11.68% 32.00% 15.33% 26.86% F 7.81% 10.59% 14.57% 24.17% 20.86% 22.00% G 4.23% 5.68% 20.13% 33.26% 14.48% 22.22% H 5.29% 30.94% 9.91% 18.22% 14.25% 21.38% I 7.03% 27.12% 7.93% 17.69% 12.64% 27.59% J 7.59% 10.26% 16.78% 26.33% 18.71% 20.33% K 11.84% 9.33% 18.97% 27.96% 17.79% 14.10%

I’ve heard some grumbling from fellow Dems about how this race wound up as a runoff between two Republicans. I get the frustration, but I’m not sure what one would recommend doing about it. There were three good Democrats in this race, and they split the vote just evenly enough to keep themselves out of the top two slots. Short of going back in time and convincing one or more of them to not file or drop out, I don’t know what else there is to be done. Shrug it off as a fluke and put this one on the priority list for 2015.

I covered some of this ground yesterday, so let me just say again that I think Michael Kubosh has the advantage going into the runoff, and his path to victory is clear. Roy Morales needs help from the Annise Parker voters, which may or may not be there for him. It’s entirely possible we could see a sizable undervote in this race. It’ll be interesting to see whether more people skip this race or the one in At Large #2. I should add that while I’ve talked about Morales trying to convince the Parker voters to support him, there’s nothing stopping Kubosh from doing the same. He’s been cast as an adversary for the Mayor, but he can make a case that he was only opposing her on issues where he thought she was wrong and that on other things they’re reasonably in agreement. The field is open, and there’s plenty of room for either candidate to move to fill the space without having to move too far.

Anyway. This one can go a variety of directions. All I know for sure is that I have no idea yet how I will vote in that race. Houston Politics has more.

Election results: Houston

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker easily won re-election, collecting over 57% of the vote in Harris County to beat Ben Hall by nearly thirty points, and far exceeding the expectations of most observers going into Election Day. I personally thought she had a decent chance of avoiding a runoff, but I wasn’t willing to commit to more than that, and I figured 55% was her ceiling. Good on her for such a strong win, which not only ought to wipe out any lingering talk about her unimpressive win in 2011 but also reinforces my belief, which I have said here several times, that she would be tougher to beat this time around. I’ll do a deeper look at the race once I have precinct data, but a peek at the Fort Bend County results suggests one reason for Parker’s dominant win: She managed a respectable showing among African-American voters. Ben Hall took 62% of the vote in Fort Bend. By comparison, Ronald Green won 89% there, and Brad Bradford coasted with 92%.

Speaking of Ronald Green, he won a much closer race, with about 51.7% of the vote after Fort Bend is added in. This was in line with my expectations for the race – I figured Green would win, but it would be close. I don’t know what his thoughts are for 2015, but I think it’s safe to say he’s probably not the frontrunner for Mayor.

In the At Large races, Stephen Costello, Brad Bradford, and Jack Christie all won easily, while Andrew Burks trailed David Robinson as the two head for a runoff. Going back to the Fort Bend results, Burks managed only 54.5% of the vote there. He could be in real trouble in December. In At Large #3, Michael Kubosh led the field with 28% in Harris and a 42% plurality in Fort Bend. He will square off against Roy Morales, who snuck his way into the runoff ahead of Jenifer Pool and Rogene Calvert, who had about the same number of votes each. The four Democratic candidates combined for 54% of the vote in this race, but the distribution was sufficiently tight that it allowed the two Republicans to finish in the money, not unlike District C in 2005. It will be fascinating to see how this one plays out in December.

While there were some mild surprises among these results, there were two truly shocking finishes. One was in District F, where little known challenger Richard Nguyen knocked off two-term incumbent Al Hoang by a 52-48 margin. That one counts as an even bigger surprise than Helena Brown’s win in 2011. Speaking of CM Brown, she will be headed to a runoff rematch against Brenda Stardig, leading by a 38-29 margin with Mike Knox coming in third at a shade under 20%. For what it’s worth, Brown led Stardig 47-41 after the November vote two years ago. Jerry Davis won in B, Dwight Boykins collected over 40% in D and will face off against Georgia Provost, and Graci Garces led the field of four in District I, with Robert Gallegos clinging to a 20-vote lead on Ben Mendez for the second slot.

The HISD races went according to script, with Anna Eastman and Wanda Adams winning big, with Harvin Moore claiming a closer victory. Unfortunately, the other shocker was in HCC 2, where hatemonger Dave Wilson was leading incumbent Bruce Austin by 26 votes. I can’t begin to say how catastrophically terrible that result is if it stands. Remember, HCC Trustees serve for six years. Dave Wilson is a terrible person who has no business being on any elected body, and he has zero qualifications for this job. He’s been running for various things lately just to be a pain in the ass, and it looks like this time in a low information, low turnout race, he managed to win. I’m so upset about this I’m almost unable to talk about it. I’m thoroughly disgusted by this election. Every time I’m asked to speak about elections, I talk about how HCC races are important but always overlooked. This is why.

In the other HCC races, Neeta Sane was re-elected in a squeaker. She lost Harris County by 300 votes but won Fort Bend by 900. All other races are headed to runoffs – Robert Glaser narrowly missed a majority vote in HCC 5 and will go up against Phil Kunetka; appointee Herlinda Garcia trailed Adriana Tamez in HCC 3; and Yolanda Navarro Flores, who benefited from Dave Wilson’s hatred, will face Zeph Capo. Please check and see if you live in HCC 1, because if you do you really need to show up in December and vote for Zeph.

One last word on the Houston races for now: Turnout was over 175,000 total votes, which approaches 2009 levels. Despite my oft-stated belief that this would be the year that the majority of the votes would be cast before Election Day, thus making odd-year elections more like the even-year elections, that didn’t happen – there were about 94,000 Election Day votes in Harris County, and about 80,000 early and absentee votes. A bigger slice was early, but not the lion’s share just yet.

I will write about results from other races in the next post.