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Jefferson County

CCA tells Paxton again that he’s not the supreme prosecutor

Good, but this isn’t over. It just means that the fight will have shifted.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s last-ditch attempt to regain the power of his office to unilaterally prosecute election cases was rejected by the state’s highest criminal court Wednesday.

The Court of Criminal Appeals instead upheld its previous ruling that says that the attorney general must get permission from local county prosecutors to pursue cases on issues like voter fraud. Paxton had been fighting to overturn that ruling as the issue of prosecuting election fraud has become fraught in recent years. Paxton sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and has aggressively pursued individual cases of fraud, outraging some voting rights advocates who see the punishments as too harsh for people who made honest mistakes.

Last December, eight of the nine members on the all-GOP court struck down a law that previously allowed Paxton’s office to take on those cases without local consent. The court said the law violated the separation-of-powers clause in the Texas Constitution.

In the aftermath, Paxton, joined by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, led a political push to get the court to reconsider its decision, warning that it would allow cases of fraud to go unpunished. His office filed a motion asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to rehear the case, vacate its previous opinion and affirm an appellate court’s judgment, which was in his favor.

The court’s decision Wednesday came with no explanation, though one judge wrote a concurring opinion.

“I still agree with our original decision handed down in December, when we recognized that the specific powers given to the Attorney General by the Texas Constitution do not include the ability to initiate criminal proceedings—even in cases involving alleged violations of the Election Code,” Judge Scott Walker wrote.

Two judges dissented in the case.

See here and here for the background. It’s good that the CCA was able to withstand the political pressure to change their ruling to something that sated Paxton’s blood lust, but that pressure isn’t going to just dissipate on its own. The usual suspects are now agitating for the Legislature to step in and change the law. As far as I can tell, the CCA made its ruling not on statutory grounds but on Constitutional grounds (*), and as such it would take a Constitutional amendment to change this. Which is good news because the Lege won’t have a two-thirds Republican majority in both chambers, which would be needed for this to happen. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try it anyway, and if it comes back through the courts again on those grounds, who knows what could happen. You know what the solution to this is, I don’t have to tell you. The Chron has more.

(*) Noted in some of the coverage of this is that the same ruling means that Paxton couldn’t unilaterally decide to pursue prosecutions of any abortion “crimes” he likes, either. The Lege is sure to work on bills that would allow DAs from other counties to prosecute such charges in the event that the DA of the county in question chooses not to, so that may not make much difference. That same logic might also apply to whatever “vote fraud” charges these guys want to include, too.

Is there any chance the GLO won’t screw Houston this time around?

I mean, maybe. Things can happen. I just wouldn’t count on it.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday commended the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for ordering Texas to fix a Hurricane Harvey recovery plan that the federal agency concluded “disproportionately harmed Black and Hispanic residents.”

HUD told the state’s General Land Office in the letter, dated Monday, it had 10 calendar days to become compliant by coming to a resolution. The federal department had found GLO discriminated against minority residents when it denied flood mitigation aid last May to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.

To date, Houston has not received any funds, Turner said, “despite the city and the county incurring 50 percent of the damages from Harvey.”

“This is a step in the right direction. I appreciate HUD for ordering the GLO to bring its Hurricane Harvey Recovery Plan into compliance within ten days, or HUD will refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice,” Turner said in a statement. “This is about equity and fairness. It is time for the GLO to allocate a fair (or proportional) share of the federal funds to allow our communities to have adequate climate change mitigation and resilience resources. I urge the GLO to do the right thing for our most vulnerable communities.”

See here for the background. I use the embedded GIF in these posts as a reminder to everyone, including Chron editorial writers, that what the GLO has been doing isn’t “bungling”, it isn’t “a mistake”, it isn’t a matter of the GLO “getting its act together”. It’s all been a deliberate choice by the GLO, which knows what it’s doing and why it’s doing it. The solution to that isn’t trying to get them to see the error of their ways, it’s to take the job away from them because they don’t have any interest in doing it correctly.

Along those lines, this is the right attitude to adopt.

“We intended for the people who were suffering to get the money. But if you decide that you’re going to take it from the poor and the people of color and send it to areas where you don’t have a lot of people of color, then I think there’s reason for HUD to continue with this and I think HUD will,” said [US Rep. Al] Green. “That money was not sent to Texas so that it could be distributed to people who were not impacted by the hurricane.”

[…]

Green says he has talked to the General Land Office. And he’s held hearings where GLO representatives testified.

The Democrat says problems arise after the federal government sends money to the states, because once distributed, the states ultimately decide how it’s spent. And he says Texas has had problems in the past with diverting federal funds away from the intended purpose.

“And this is not just peculiar to this circumstance. It’s happened with money that was for education, not spent as we assumed it would be,” he said.

Green says lawmakers and HUD are waiting to see specific guidelines for the next round of funding distribution. He says it is possible for HUD to step in and take action against the state.

Meantime, the Houston Democrat says he’s looking into ways to “overhaul” the system. And he says lawmakers will consider adding a “clawback provision” to any future legislation.

“If a state declines to adhere to the intentionality of Congress, we can claw that back, claw the funds back and hold onto those funds. We should not allow states to receive funds and then disregard what Congress intended,” Green said.

That’s at least providing the proper incentives. We’ll see what happens next.

The editorial notes that bypassing the GLO and allocating the federal funds directly to the affected localities is an option and that the city is prepared for it, but that the city’s past track record with distributing Harvey funds isn’t good, either. That was the GLO’s rationale for stepping in as the middleman, though the city claims it was existing GLO bureaucracy that caused their problems in the first place. Be that as it may, I’d rather take my chances with the city than the GLO because at least I know the city will try to do right by Harvey victims. I can’t say that for the GLO, not as it is currently governed. Give me a different Land Commissioner and then we can talk, though really it would be nice to have made more progress by then. The bottom line is, George P. Bush cannot be trusted with this. Once that is accepted as the reality, we can figure out what the best way forward is.

GLO prepares to screw Houston again on Harvey recovery funds

Gird yourselves.

Of the more than 300,000 homes in Texas damaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, none were in Coryell County.

Located 220 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, this small agricultural county was not the place Congress had in mind when it sent Texas more than $4 billion in disaster preparedness money six months following the storm, said U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston.

“We wanted to help people who were hurt by Harvey and had the potential to be hurt again, as opposed to people who were inland and not likely to have suffered great damage,” Green said.

Nevertheless, Coryell is slated to receive $3.4 million under the plan by the Texas General Land Office and its commissioner, George P. Bush.

After the land office awarded $1 billion of the aid last year, giving the city of Houston nothing, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Bush’s office of discriminating against Black and Latino Texans. The land office had an opportunity to correct these inequities as it developed a new spending plan.

But an analysis by The Texas Tribune found that the land office is on track to follow a similar pattern as it prepares to allocate the next $1.2 billion of the federal aid. The agency’s revised plan will once again send a disproportionately high share of money to inland counties with lower risk of natural disasters.

Residents in the counties that will benefit most are also significantly whiter and more conservative than those receiving the least aid, an outcome some Democrats view with suspicion as Bush competes for the Republican nomination for attorney general this month.

[…]

John Henneberger, co-director of the low-income housing advocate Texas Housers, whose complaint set off the federal investigation, said the land office is failing to meet the most basic requirement for the money: to spend disaster aid in the areas at highest risk for disasters.

“Why does some community 200 miles from the coast get a new water system when you’ve got neighborhoods that have flooded four or five times in the last decade in a coastal community?” Henneberger said. “It’s a very cynical — and we think illegal — use of the funds.”

Numerous studies have shown poor people and people of color are most likely to be impacted by disasters, said Kevin Smiley, a professor of sociology at Louisiana State University. Planning for future calamities should address that disparity rather than make it worse, he added.

“It’s weird to think about disasters as one of the fundamental mechanisms widening social disparity in the United States, but they are,” said Smiley, whose research focuses on Harvey recovery efforts. “And it’s through nitty-gritty governmental processes that are disbursing mitigation funds that are partly doing it.”

See here for the previous update. The key thing to understand here is that this is not a mistake, it’s not an accident, it’s not the result of a good faith difference of opinion, and it’s not something that can be corrected by reasoned persuasion. It’s a deliberate choice, one that has now been made multiple times. Unfortunately, this time around they had a little help.

The land office’s new proposal for determining which counties would get funding, submitted in August, eliminated its old scoring metrics and instead opted to give $1.2 billion to nine regional councils of government, which would decide how to spend it within the HUD and state counties. These groups are political subdivisions of the state that help plan regional projects like infrastructure.

The land office argued the revisions would allow aid distribution to be tailored more closely to regions’ different mitigation needs. But although the strategy is different, a Tribune analysis of the plan found a fundamentally similar result: far lower spending per capita in the counties with the highest disaster risk.

The funding has not yet been allocated, but the state’s methodology all but guarantees the less disaster-prone counties selected by Bush would still end up with two to four times more funding per resident than the more coastal counties chosen by HUD.

This is because a sizable chunk of the councils of government’s $1.2 billion will flow inland. Even if the land office spent all of it in HUD counties — the plan only requires the councils to spend half their allotment there — it would still not close the per-person spending gap created by the initial funding competition.

Including the awards from the first funding competition, two councils composed of state-picked inland counties that rank no higher than 66th on the disaster index will end up with $752 per resident under the new plan.

The council which includes Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties — HUD-selected counties on or near the coast that rank in the top 8 for disaster risk — will receive $441 per resident.

When federal investigators reviewed the original plan, these kinds of outcomes were a problem. HUD’s fair housing office on March 4 concluded that the initial scoring competition discriminated against Texans on the basis of race and national origin, since the coastal areas it steered aid away from have high concentrations of nonwhite residents.

Of the nine states that received disaster mitigation funding from the same federal appropriation, only Texas has received such a sanction. HUD gave the state two options: Enter into a voluntary agreement to correct the disparity or face a civil rights lawsuit from the Department of Justice.

And then, two weeks later, HUD approved the Bush team’s new spending plan.

In a letter to the land office on March 18, HUD Office of Block Grant Assistance Director Jessie Handforth Kome said the agency was required to approve the new plan because it was “substantially complete.” She warned, however, that HUD would closely monitor how Texas spends the rest of the aid and could address new violations by requiring the state to give money back.

The advocacy groups who pushed HUD to investigate possible discriminiation were shocked. They felt the best strategy would have been to withhold approval of the plan until Texas had demonstrated future aid distribution would be fair to Black and Latino residents in communities most at risk for disasters.

“HUD is making this harder on themselves,” said Maddie Sloan, an attorney who works on disaster recovery issues for public interest nonprofit Texas Appleseed. “It would make much more sense to ensure the money gets where it’s needed in the first place instead of doing a retroactive look at where it went and whether that violates the law.”

The mixed messaging from HUD, however, creates the impression that Texas can simply ignore the agency’s discrimination claims and spend the aid as it sees fit.

The land office has since shown few signs it is open to compromise. In a blistering 12-page letter in April responding to the discrimination findings, attorneys for the agency called HUD’s objections “politically motivated” and “factually and legally baseless” and noted that HUD had approved the state’s plan for distributing the money.

How thoroughly HUD may vet the new land office plan is unclear. If investigators apply the same rigor they did to the original, said Texas Housers Research Director Ben Martin, they will likely conclude it also violates federal civil rights laws.

“The jurisdictions that were hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey remain the jurisdictions at the highest risk of future disaster,” Martin said. “They’re being severely underfunded by GLO.”

I don’t understand what HUD is doing either. At this point, it may be best to bring on the civil rights lawsuit. And vote in a Land Commissioner that won’t do this sort of thing again.

Precinct analysis: Beto’s range in the 2022 primaries

When you get 91.34% of the vote in an election, as Beto did in the Democratic primary for Governor, there’s usually not a whole lot of interesting data beneath the surface. But you never know until you look, so I went and got the numbers for the Dem gubernatorial primary by county and sorted them by Beto’s percentage. Here are some highlights from that:


County      Diaz%  Cooper%   Beto%   Voters
===========================================
Maverick   16.40%   10.48%  60.71%    6,653
Frio        8.14%    6.87%  71.72%    2,518
Dimmit     10.41%    7.97%  71.98%    1,845
Duval       8.18%    6.73%  75.62%    1,858
Webb        8.55%    5.29%  77.02%   17,675
Jim Wells   8.23%    6.57%  78.71%    3,866
Cameron     6.99%    4.71%  81.46%   19,705
Hidalgo     6.44%    3.87%  81.68%   37,309
Jefferson   2.35%   12.72%  83.33%   12,637
El Paso     2.93%    2.14%  91.61%   37,017
Fort Bend   2.64%    3.69%  92.02%   39,613
Harris      2.10%    3.22%  92.83%  157,880
Nueces      2.63%    2.52%  93.17%   13,426
Dallas      1.98%    3.14%  93.53%  126,203
Tarrant     2.18%    3.03%  93.77%   73,413
Bexar       2.30%    1.38%  94.13%   94,334
Montgomery  2.25%    1.87%  94.13%   10,585
Travis      2.98%    0.85%  95.00%  108,831
Denton      1.85%    2.01%  95.09%   27,340
Collin      1.77%    1.36%  95.48%   36,368

I limited myself to counties where at least a thousand votes had been cast, though obviously I didn’t include all of them. Maverick was easily Joy Diaz’s best county, while Jefferson (where he’s from) was Michael Cooper’s best. I didn’t include the other two candidates in this table because they weren’t interesting, but Inno Barrientez had his best showing in Frio County, with 8.02% of the vote.

You might look at some of these places and think that this is a sign of weakness on Beto’s part, since the low-scoring places are mostly heavily Latino. I would invite you to consider how he did in these counties in 2018 before you arrive at such a conclusion.


County    Beto 18  Beto 22
==========================
Maverick   22.13%   61.71%
Frio       23.84%   71.72%
Dimmit     29.07%   71.98%
Duval      41.58%   75.62%
Webb       41.65%   77.02%
Jim Wells  40.24%   78.71%
Cameron    46.77%   81.46%
Hidalgo    50.50%   81.68%

Sema Hernandez got over 60% in Maverick, almost 60% in Frio, and over 50% in Dimmit. She won a plurality in Duval, Webb, and Jim Wells, and had over 40% in Cameron and Hidalgo. I largely pooh-poohed the “Beto underperformed in the Latino counties!” hot takes in March of 2018 and I stand by that, but however you felt about those numbers then, it’s very different now.

He really crushed it in the big counties, with Collin the winner as Most Beto-est County Of Them All. You could do this same sort of comparison with 2018 as well if you wanted – Beto got 65.5% in Collin in 2018, 57.7% in Dallas, and 59.1% in Harris – but all we’re really saying is he got a lot more votes from basically the same size electorate. However you slice it, that much remains.

Let’s pay some attention to the Gulf Coast Protection District

They may raise some tax revenue to help pay for the Ike Dike, so best to know what’s happening with it. Especially since they didn’t exactly go out of their way to make it easy to do that.

Danielle Goshen spent months trying to figure out when and where the new group that will work on funding the so-called Ike Dike was meeting. The environmental advocate was eager to know how the Gulf Coast Protection District would cover the local cost if Congress approves the sweeping coastal barrier project.

Goshen is a policy specialist and counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. She’s concerned about pursuing a $29 billion dollar plan, with the prospect that the project could cost even more. The proposal calls for building a massive series of gates across the mouth of Galveston Bay to stop hurricane storm surges from pushing up the industry-lined ship channel.

The legislature created the protection district to find local funding for 35 percent of the portion of the project built here — perhaps by levying taxes. Supporters say the concept is necessary as climate change will likely strengthen the winds and rains of future storms. Advocates such as Goshen caution it will take at least 12 years to design and build. Non-federal funding needed for the barrier system is about $10 billion.

Environmental advocates have expressed wide-ranging concerns about the proposal, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finalized last fall. They’ve pressed for more information about how the foundations of the gates will restrict water flow between Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, potentially impacting water quality and marine life. The barrier also won’t stop the worst of storms and it will still leave the region especially vulnerable during the years it takes to build.

Harris County is the most populous of the five counties the district represents, and residents could be responsible for some 85 percent of the local tax share for the proposal, making for about a 20 percent tax increase, Harris County Administrator David Berry said in December. Galveston, Chambers, Jefferson and Orange counties are also in the district’s jurisdiction.

The costly burden makes it all the more pressing for stakeholders and residents to be tuned into the decision making, Goshen said.

“The real concern is that they’re not doing enough to make these meetings accessible to the public and to really get the word out that they’re having these meetings in the first place,” Goshen said, adding, “We really think that it’s imperative that this district has public engagement at the top of mind.”

Goshen kept searching online for months for information about the meetings, she said, and found nothing. It wasn’t until near the end of 2021 that someone forwarded her an agenda.

It turned out Gov. Greg Abbott had appointed six board members in June. Each county’s commissioners court picked one additional board member. The group had been getting together since August. The meetings were open to all, and met legal requirements, whether or not they’d been thoroughly advertised, according to those in charge.

[…]

The newly formed district now has a website and email distribution list but as the pandemic stretches on, the group still offers no way for the public to watch meetings online. It also has pages on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter. Goshen, as well as a Houston Chronicle environment reporter and an environmental advocate, Bayou City Waterkeeper’s legal director Kristen Schlemmer, were its only three Twitter followers before the Chronicle covered the group Wednesday.

See here and here for the background. I confess I had totally forgotten about this – it’s not like we’ve been in a low-news environment lately, but still – but I am now a Twitter follower of the GCPD, whose count was up to 119 including me as of Monday evening. I hope that whatever business the conduct going forward, it’s better publicized and better covered. This is a big deal, and we deserve to know what they’re up to.

Can the CCA withstand political pressure?

Sure hope so.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judges’ phone lines and email inboxes have been flooded for more than a week by callers angry about a ruling last month that stripped Attorney General Ken Paxton of the authority to prosecute election fraud cases without cooperation of the local district attorney or county attorney.

At least some of the calls were spurred by an automated phone message from Houston activist Dr. Steven Hotze that were sent to tens of thousands of Republicans statewide by his political action committee, Conservative Republicans of Texas. The pre-recorded message, a copy of which was obtained by Hearst Newspapers, included the phone number to the all-Republican court and urged them to call the judges.

“Leave a message that you want the court to restore Paxton’s right to prosecute voter fraud in Texas,” Hotze said. “If this decision isn’t reversed, then the Democrats will steal the elections in November and turn Texas blue.”

The group is also funding radio and TV ads on the subject, said Jared Woodfill, a spokesman and attorney for Hotze.

“It’s Dr. Hotze’s position that the electorate should be able to reach out to the officials they elect,” Woodfill said.

The court’s general counsel Sian Schilhab on Monday said the unusual flood of communications included one email was referred to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which investigates threats against state employees.

Paxton has requested a rehearing of the case, and Hotze and more than two dozen Texas Republican Congressmen, state senators and representatives are supporting him in friend-of-the-court briefs.

[…]

Paxton has publicly blasted the court’s Republican judges for the decision. He and other Republicans have also suggested Democratic district attorneys will not be vigilant against election fraud.

“Now, thanks to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, Soros-funded district attorneys will have sole power to decide whether election fraud has occurred in Texas,” Paxton wrote on Twitter at the time of the decision, referring to the Democratic mega-donor. “This ruling could be devastating for future elections in Texas.”

Other Republicans statewide have made similar comments in pushing for reconsideration.

“The Attorney General’s Office must be able to defend election integrity in our great state,” wrote Sen. Paul Bettencourt, one of 14 state senators who signed onto a friend-of-the-court briefin a statement last week. “We cannot allow our elections to be manipulated.”

See here and here for the background. The Statesman story about this has the most precious sentence I think I’ve ever read, which is that Paxton’s urging people to call the justices’ office and demand that they change their ruling puts him “in an ethical gray area, if not in outright violation of the state’s rules of conduct for lawyers.” Oh heavens to Betsy, not an “ethical gray area”! Not our dear, super-upright Ken Paxton!

I guess I appreciate the fact that no one here is trying to hide their motives, that this is all very clearly about politics and giving Ken Paxton the unfettered power to attack political opponents (primarily Democrats, though you never-Trump Republicans better not sleep too easily either) in whatever fashion he sees fit. They do this by attacking the political motives of district attorneys, because accusing enemies of doing the things you want to do is how it’s done. There’s no way to remove the politics from the process of investigating and prosecuting politicians for alleged crimes, but one can at least be as professional and dispassionate about it as possible. If we had an Attorney General who could be trusted to act in such a fashion, then the likes of Sen. Bettencourt might be able to shepherd a constitutional amendment through the Lege to clarify that point of law that the CCA cited. He’d need to get some Democrats on board to clear the 2/3 majority requirement in each chamber for this, which will never and could never happen as long as the AG is Ken Paxton, or anyone who wants to emulate Ken Paxton. There is a way forward if we really want the AG to have this power, but you sure can’t get there from here.

As for the big question I asked in the title of this post, there’s this.

Randall Kelso, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said courts like the Court of Criminal Appeals tend to be reluctant to reverse to their decisions unless at least one of three conditions are met: There is a change in the facts at the core of the case, the ruling proves to be “unworkable in practice” or judges are persuaded that the decision was “substantially wrong.” Kelso said he did not see how the first two conditions apply to the current situation, and as for proving that the ruling was “substantially wrong,” he added, there is usually a “pretty high burden.”

“Just because the various Texas lawmakers are petitioning, I wouldn’t predict they’d just cave to them and say, ‘We’ve gotta change our minds,'” Kelso said. “It’d be unusual to do it unless” any of those conditions are met.

I sure hope so. If nothing else, I hope their ego kicks in to the point of them muttering “Those idiots don’t get to tell me how to do my job” for however long it takes. It may be our best hope.

Paxton still wants to be supreme prosecutor

Please hold firm, CCA.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has asked the state’s highest criminal court to reconsider a recent decision that stripped his agency of the power to prosecute election law violations.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in an 8-1 ruling issued Dec. 15, struck down the state law that gave the attorney general’s office the authority to pursue criminal violations of the Election Code.

That 1985 law, the all-Republican court determined, violated the Texas Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine by granting Paxton’s executive branch office the prosecution authority that is reserved for district and county attorneys, who are members of the judicial branch.

Paxton, in a motion for rehearing filed electronically Sunday, asked the appeals court to reconsider, arguing that the ruling improperly stepped on the Legislature’s ability to delegate power to his agency.

[…]

In its December ruling, the Court of Criminal Appeals said the Texas Constitution gives district and county attorneys the power to prosecute criminal law violations, with the ability to seek help from Paxton’s agency if needed.

On the other hand, the court ruled, the constitution limits the attorney general’s powers to inquiring into charter rights of private corporations, suing in state court to prevent private corporations from exercising unlawful powers, seeking judicial forfeiture of charters, and providing legal advice to the governor and other executive officers.

“Notably absent from these enumerations is a specific grant of authority to the Attorney General concerning the prosecution of criminal proceedings,” said the ruling, written by Judge Jesse McClure III.

“In the Texas Constitution, the Attorney General can prosecute with the permission of the local prosecutor but cannot initiate prosecution unilaterally,” McClure wrote.

Paxton said the ruling upends about 70 years of practice and jeopardizes the prosecution of election law violations by leaving it to local prosecutors — including some who, he said, can’t be trusted with the job.

“Last year’s election cycle shows us that officials in our most problematic counties will simply let election fraud run rampant. I will continue to oppose this decision that diminishes our democracy and misconstrues the Texas Constitution,” he said.

See here for the background. We all know what it is that Paxton wants to do, and I’m sure the CCA is aware as well. Their ruling was clear and it wasn’t close, and given Paxton’s plainly stated motivations, the only possible explanation for a reversal at this point – again, a reversal of their own 8-1 ruling, handed down less than a month ago – would be pure partisan politics. Is the CCA able to withstand that kind of pressure? I sure hope so.

CCA tells Ken Paxton he’s not the supreme prosecutor

Cry me a river, Kenny.

Best mugshot ever

Texas’ highest court for criminal cases on Wednesday struck down a law that allows the attorney general to unilaterally prosecute election cases.

The state’s Court of Criminal Appeals issued an 8-1 opinion saying a provision of the law violates the separation of powers clause in the Texas Constitution, representing an intrusion by the executive branch into the judicial branch. The attorney general can only get involved in a case when asked to by a district or county attorney, the court said.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who has been aggressive in trying to root out voter fraud, bashed the opinion from the all-GOP court. He said in a tweet that the ruling “could be devastating for future elections in Texas.”

At stake was a part of the election code that says the attorney general, the state’s top law enforcement officer, “may prosecute a criminal offense prescribed by the election laws of this state.”

The provision was thrown into jeopardy by a long-winding case involving Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens. After the county district attorney declined to prosecute Stephens over campaign-finance allegations stemming from the 2016 election, Paxton’s office stepped in and obtained an indictment from a grand jury in neighboring Chambers County.

In its opinion, the Court of Criminal Appeals overturned a lower-court ruling that said the election code provision “clearly and unambiguously gives the Attorney General power to prosecute criminal laws prescribed by election laws generally whether those laws are inside or outside the Code.”

Rather, the Court of Criminal Appeals said, “the Attorney General can prosecute with the permission of the local prosecutor but cannot initiate prosecution unilaterally.”

I don’t have any posts about this, but from reading the opinion, Sheriff Stephens, who was elected in 2016, was charged with making false claims on her finance report, specifically claiming that some $5,000 contributions were actually under $50. I don’t know what her explanation was, or why the JeffCo DA declined to prosecute. The rest of the opinion is pretty dense and technical, but the summary of what is at stake is quite simple. Here’s the opening paragraph from the opinion:

Zena Collins Stephens appeals both the court of appeals’ denial of a pretrial writ of habeas corpus and its reversal of the district court’s decision to quash Count I of the indictment. She presents the following question: May the Texas Legislature delegate to the Attorney General, a member of the executive department, the prosecution of election-law violations in district and inferior courts? No. Because Texas Election Code section 273.021 delegates to the Attorney General a power more properly assigned to the judicial department, we conclude that the statute is unconstitutional. Therefore, we reverse the decision of the court of appeals and remand the case to the trial court to dismiss the indictment.

And here’s the section of the law in question, which is now null and void. Interestingly, that law passed originally in 1985, and was last modified in 1997. Either no AG had ever tried this before, or there are some people that have been prosecuted and maybe convicted under this statute that deserve some relief.

Anyway. I for one will sleep better tonight knowing that Ken Paxton does not have unfettered discretion to bring vote “fraud” charges against anyone he feels like. (I’m also old enough to remember when the main function of the AG’s office was civil enforcement and collecting child support. My aunt worked in that office in the 80s and 90s, and that was what her department did.) I’ll give the last word to these gentlemen:

I’ll take my wins where I can get them.

Filing update: More candidates than you can count

This headline and first paragraph are short by a couple of candidates.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

A dozen potential challengers to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo were among the scores who filed ahead of Monday’s deadline to run for county offices next year.

[…]

Hidalgo, who is seeking a second term, faces three candidates in the Democratic primary: former Precinct 1 Constable’s Office Chief of Staff Erica Davis, real estate broker AR Hassan and photographer Georgia Provost.

Nine Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination, including attorney Vidal Martinez, former Army Capt. Alexandra del Moral Mealer, Humble Independent School District board president Martina Lemond Dixon and Randy Kubosh, brother of Houston Councilman Michael Kubosh. The others are Oscar Gonzales, George Zoes, Robert Dorris, Warren Howell and HQ Bolanos.

There are five Democrats running against Judge Hidalgo, not three. Joining Erica Davis on the last-day-to-file train were Kevin Howard and Maria Garcia; I know nothing about either of them. The photos in that Facebook post, plus the 2022 candidate filings album, are the main source that I have for figuring out where the SOS qualified candidates webpage falls short. Chron reporter Zach Despart must have gotten his info from there before the late-filers were included.

There are still some oddities and seeming exclusions on the SOS page as well. I know I saw a Democratic candidate for CD22 on there on Monday, but as of Tuesday there’s no listing. There’s still no one listed for HD22, the seat being vacated by longtime Rep. Joe Deshotel, but local news in Beaumont lists three candidates, one of whom (Joseph Trahan) is the Jefferson County Democratic Party Chair. Jonathan Cocks had been listed for well over a week as a candidate for SBOE8 but is now showing as a candidate for SD08, which makes sense because his address is in the Metroplex city of Allen, and because the Svitek spreadsheet had him going there after pulling out of the Land Commissioner race. Svitek lists two of the three HD22 candidates as the news story, and has the CD22 candidate (Jamie Jordan) as well.

Some other bits of interest:

HD80 was carried by Trump by four points in 2020, so yeah, that’s a big miss for the GOP.

Bryant represented the old CD05 through the 1994 election. He ran in the 1996 primary for US Senate and lost in the runoff to Victor Morales. His old seat was then won by Pete Sessions, who was drawn into CD32 by Tom DeLay in the 2003 re-redistricting, knocking off longtime Rep. Martin Frost the next year. This concludes your history lesson for the day.

Spent a million bucks of his own money to do so, ultimately winning 3,831 votes, or 20.67%, against Rep. Garcia and several others. I suspect Rep. Fletcher won’t have too much trouble with him, but she’ll want to spend some money to make sure.

I will of course keep an eye on that. I’m sure there will be at least one more post in this general vein.

Two other items of note: While Fort Bend County Judge KP George did not draw a primary challenger, there are two candidates vying to take him on in November, including failed 2020 Sheriff candidate and Congressional brother Trever Nehls. Both incumbent County Commissioners, Grady Prestage and Ken DeMerchant, drew multiple primary opponents. Here in Harris County, while HCDE Trustee Eric Dick is one of two Republicans running in the primary for County Treasurer, his wife Danielle is running for his seat (Position 2) in Precinct 4. She will be opposed by Andrea Duhon, the incumbent in Precinct 3 who now lives in Precinct 4 following the adoption of the new map. A bit more than a year from now, we will have between zero and two members of the Dick household in public office. I can’t think of a better place to end this post.

UPDATE: Tahir Javed has withdrawn from the CD07 primary, leaving Rep. Fletcher without opposition in March. I’ll have a post on that tomorrow.

GLO defends P Bush in Congressional hearing

Dude couldn’t be bothered to show up himself, so he had someone else there to defend him.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush did not play a role in the process that left Houston and Harris County without any federal aid for flood mitigation projects, according to a top disaster official with the General Land Office who defended the agency’s scoring criteria during testimony to a congressional committee Thursday.

Bush, who is challenging incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton in the upcoming Republican Party primary, has received bipartisan backlash over the GLO’s allocation of $1 billion in flood project funds tied to Hurricane Harvey, none of which went to the 14 projects sought by the city or county. Bush since has announced that he will ask the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to direct $750 million to the county.

“For the record, the Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush was by design recused from the scoring committee and the scoring process,” Heather Lagrone, the GLO’s deputy director of community development and revitalization, told members of a House Financial Services subcommittee. “The commissioner was informed of the competition result only after the projects had been through eligibility review and scored in accordance with the federally approved action plan.”

U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, accused the GLO of using a “rigged formula” to distribute the relief money, defining the process as “the hijacking of a federal mitigation appropriations process.”

“I think that the time has come for a course correction,” Green said.

See here for the background. Didn’t you hear the lady, Rep. Green? LEAVE GEORGE P. BUSH ALOOOOOOOOONE!

It was a chicken move for P Bush to not show up and explain himself, but that’s hardly surprising. And let’s face it, had he been there himself, we’d have gotten the same lies about the ridiculous GLO formula and the “red tape” that was actually in place under Trump, and we never would have gotten a rational explanation for why their formula made any sense.

While coastal communities bore the brunt of Harvey, the GLO disproportionately sent the $1 billion in aid to inland counties that suffered less damage and, by the state’s own measure, are at a lower risk of natural disasters, a Houston Chronicle investigation found last month.

Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock noted during the committee hearing that the GLO declined to award a penny in mitigation funds to Aransas and Nueces counties, where Harvey made landfall, nor to Jefferson County, which saw the heaviest rainfall during the storm, nor to Houston and Harris County, which saw the most damage from the storm.

“The Texas General Land Office’s process for allocating granted zero dollars to all of these localities, and it was only after bipartisan political pressure that the GLO retroactively requested $750 million for Harris County,” Haddock said.

The GLO process got the result it intended. Everything else is details, and a reminder of why you cannot put bad faith actors in positions of power.

Precinct analysis: State House district changes by demography

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

I return once again to doing cycle-over-cycle comparisons in vote turnout, in this case for State House districts. There are a lot of them, and I’m not going to do them all but I am going to do enough of them that I will split this into two parts. Part One, this post, will group districts by demographic groups. Part Two, to come later, will be to group them by counties of interest.

First up, just to ease ourselves in, are the four big urban districts that are Anglo, wealthy, highly college-educated, and swung hard towards the Democrats since 2012:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
134  -10,943  15,312   6,540  17,771  -4,403  33,083  37,486
047   -2,005  14,218  13,145  27,678  11,140  41,896  30,756
108   -5,942  12,553   8,628  17,929   2,686  30,482  27,796
121   -4,020   6,534   6,059  15,078   2,039  21,612  19,573

As discussed before, the columns represent the difference in vote total for the given period and party, so “1216” means 2012 to 2016, “1620” means 2016 to 2020, and “1220” means 2012 to 2020. Each column has a D or an R in it, so “1216R” means the difference between 2016 Donald Trump and 2012 Mitt Romney for the Presidential table, and so forth. In each case, I subtract the earlier year’s total from the later year’s total, so the “-9,951” for SD114 in the “1216R” column means that Donald Trump got 9,951 fewer votes in 2016 in SD14 than Mitt Romney got, and the “56,887” for SD14 in the “1216D” column means that Hillary Clinton got 56,887 more votes than Barack Obama got. “Dem net” at the end just subtracts the “1220R” total from the “1220D” total, which is the total number of votes that Biden netted over Obama. Got it? Good.

Despite the large swings, only the top two are now Dem-held. HD108 managed to remain in the hands of Rep. Morgan Meyer despite being carried by statewide Dems all the way down the ballot, while HD121 still remains somewhat Republican-leaning. I don’t know what magic Republicans have in mind for redistricting, but their hold on these voters is slipping away rapidly. I can’t emphasize enough that Mitt Romney got 60% of the vote in HD134 in 2012, and look at where it is now.

I’ve written plenty about these districts, and I could have included more of them in this table. Most of those you will see later. There’s not much to add except to say that this particular demographic shift has been a huge driver in the overall blue-ing of Texas, and especially of its most populated areas. I don’t know what the future holds, but I don’t see that changing in the near term.

When I mentioned that this post was a look at the districts by demographic groups, I assume your first thought was that I’d take a closer look at Latino districts. Well, here you go:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
051      425  10,783   4,422  19,073   4,847  29,856  25,009
102   -4,430   5,333   2,511  10,832  -1,919  16,165  18,084
148   -1,481   8,555   5,598  10,113   4,117  18,668  14,551
107   -3,023   4,566     718   7,532  -2,305  12,098  14,403
103      -96   7,314   3,535  10,357   3,439  17,671  14,232
116     -583   6,014   3,546  10,281   2,963  16,295  13,332
117    4,532   8,828  14,927  22,921  19,459  31,749  12,290
105   -2,249   4,377   2,900   8,547     651  12,924  12,273
078   -1,129   6,723   6,731   9,618   5,602  16,341  10,739
124      330   5,077   5,877  11,756   6,207  16,833  10,626
125   -1,081   4,378   4,753   9,350   3,672  13,728  10,056
079     -453   7,038   4,976   6,495   4,523  13,533   9,010
075    1,734  11,011   9,747   8,599  11,481  19,610   8,129
104     -777   3,881   2,743   6,042   1,966   9,923   7,957
077   -1,530   5,080   3,539   3,936   2,009   9,016   7,007
119    1,062   3,428   6,041  10,507   7,103  13,935   6,832
145   -1,306   5,575   5,291   5,038   3,985  10,613   6,628
090     -180   2,391   3,170   5,496   2,990   7,887   4,897
118    1,391   3,719   6,633   7,790   8,024  11,509   3,485
076     -260   5,039   3,826   1,635   3,566   6,674   3,108
140     -733   4,433   4,140   1,810   3,407   6,243   2,836
144   -1,051   3,577   4,044   1,480   2,993   5,057   2,064
041    1,664   6,820   8,617   5,201  10,281  12,021   1,740
143   -1,038   3,244   4,483   1,446   3,445   4,690   1,245
022   -1,261  -2,280   1,510   2,254     249     -26    -275
034      620     799   6,012   3,759   6,632   4,558  -2,074
038    1,533   4,706   9,344   2,945  10,877   7,651  -3,226
040    2,384   3,753   8,981   3,433  11,365   7,186  -4,179
037      969   3,764   7,324      36   8,293   3,800  -4,493
036    1,482   5,527   9,847    -480  11,329   5,047  -6,282
039    2,071   3,256   8,411     836  10,482   4,092  -6,390
035    2,007   2,358   8,961   2,163  10,968   4,521  -6,447
042      882   2,195   7,908    -323   8,790   1,872  -6,918
043    2,532     162   8,001   1,059  10,533   1,221  -9,312
080    1,959   1,789   9,567     127  11,526   1,916  -9,610
074    1,127   2,708   9,454  -2,185  10,581     523 -10,058
031    3,017  -1,816  13,479    -412  16,496  -2,228 -18,724

A couple of notes here. Defining “Latino district” is subjective, and I make no claim that my way is optimal. What you see above is almost all of the districts that are represented by a Latino member, plus HD80, which despite being majority Latino is still represented by Democrat Tracy King. I skipped HDs 49 (Gina Hinojosa) and 50 (Celia Israel) because the’re much more Anglo than Latino. HDs 102, 105, and 107 were held by non-Latino Republicans before being flipped by Democrats in 2016 and 2018. HD43 is held by the one Latino Republican in the House, JM Lozano, who won originally as a Democrat in 2008 and then changed parties after the 2010 election. HDs 79 and 90 were held by Anglo Democrats in 2012; Lon Burnam was primaried out by Rep. Ramon Romero in 2014, and Joe Pickett resigned following the 2018 election due to health challenges.

There’s a lot of data here, and I’ll try to keep this manageable. All the districts that showed a net gain for Dems over both elections are in Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris, Travis (HD51), and Tarrant (HD90), plus HD41 in Hidalgo County. In Bexar, Dallas, and Tarrant, there were net gains in each cycle. In El Paso, there were big gains in 2016 and more modest gains in 2020, with the exception of HD75, which had a slight gain for Republicans in 2020. HD75 is the easternmost and thus most rural of the El Paso districts. It also still voted 66.5% to 31.9% for Biden in 2020, just for some perspective.

In Harris, all five districts gained in 2016, but only HD148 also gained in 2020. HD145 came close to breaking even, while HDs 140, 143, and 144 all moved towards Republicans; we saw this when we looked at the Harris County Senate districts and talked about SD06. This is the first of several places where I will shrug my shoulders and say “we’ll see what happens in 2022”. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect. We’ve discussed this topic numerous times, and as there are forces moving urban and college-educated voters towards Democrats, the same forces are moving rural and non-college voters towards Republicans. The biggest of those forces is Donald Trump, whose presence on the ballot helped Republicans in 2016 and 2020 but whose absence hurt them in 2018. We just don’t know yet what 2022 will bring.

Of the districts that had net Republican gains, HD22 is in Jefferson County (basically, it’s Beaumont; Dade Phelan’s HD21 has the rest of JeffCo plus Orange County) and HD34 is in Nueces County. Jefferson County has been slowly losing population over time, and I think that was a big driver of what happened with HD22. It’s also much more Black than Latino, and thus maybe is a better fit with the next data set, but it has long been represented by Rep. Joe Deshtotel, and this is the decision I made. Nueces County also has the Republican-held HD32 in it, and it showed a net Democratic gain of 1,576 votes over the two cycles, with most of that in 2016 but still a small Dem net in 2020. Its Latino voting age population is about 46%, nearly identical to its Anglo VAP. HD34 was one of the tighter districts even before 2020, and I figure it’s on the target list for Republicans in redistricting.

Most of the other districts are in Cameron, Hidalgo, and Webb counties, and while 2020 was a better year for Republicans in all of them, I don’t think that will necessarily be the case in 2022, a belief driven in part by the incumbency theory and in part by my own wishfulness. That said, as noted before the shifts were more muted downballot, with Trump outperforming other Republicans in those districts. I had my doubts about the durability of Democratic gains in 2016 because of the disparity between the Hillary numbers and the rest of the numbers, and I think it’s fair to have those same doubts here. We do know how it went in 2018, but as before Trump is not on the ballot in 2022. Which force is stronger? Have the underlying conditions changed? I don’t know and neither does anyone else at this time.

HDs 31, 74, and 80 are all cobbled out of smaller counties, and I have much less hope for them, but who knows what the combined effects of the freeze and the Abbott Wall will have. The main thing I took away from analyzing this data is that there was already a Republican shift in 31 and 74 in 2016 with a near miss in 80, though they all rebounded in a Democratic direction in 2018. How much of this was caused by new voters, and how much by swapping allegiances, those are big questions to ponder.

Let’s move on. These are the predominantly Black districts:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
046     -331   7,462   4,363  20,080   4,032  27,542  23,510
027     -461   4,708   6,324  13,724   5,863  18,432  12,569
147   -1,282   3,575   4,571   9,831   3,289  13,406  10,117
109     -914    -500   1,853  11,161     939  10,661   9,722
111   -1,449  -1,155   1,627   8,981     178   7,826   7,648
120     -184     863   4,503  10,856   4,319  11,719   7,400
100     -840    -537   2,107   7,799   1,267   7,262   5,995
142      294   2,093   4,685   8,804   4,979  10,897   5,918
131     -642   2,681   4,289   6,642   3,647   9,323   5,676
146   -1,653    -923   2,438   6,798     785   5,875   5,090
139   -1,290   1,216   4,826   6,786   3,536   8,002   4,466
095     -613  -2,745   2,727   7,752   2,114   5,007   2,893
141      218    -721   2,594   4,405   2,812   3,684     872
110     -101  -3,010   1,820   3,362   1,719     352  -1,367

HD27 is in Fort Bend, HD46 is in Travis (it’s also much more Latino than Black but has long been represented by a Black legislator, with Dawnna Dukes preceding Sheryl Cole; it is the inverse of HD22 in that way), HD95 is in Tarrant, and HD120 is in Bexar. HD101 in Tarrant County has a higher Black percentage of its population than either HDs 46 or 120, but it’s held by the Anglo Dem Chris Turner, so I skipped it. All the rest are in Harris and Dallas. The range of outcomes here is fascinating. I think what we see in the 2016 results, at least in some of these districts, is a bit of a letdown in enthusiasm from Obama to Clinton, with perhaps a bit of the campaign to dampen turnout among Black Democrats finding some success. Some districts in Harris County like HD141 have had pretty modest growth in population and voter registration as well. I don’t know what the story may have been in HD110, but if one of my Dallas readers would like to offer a few words, I’d be interested in hearing them.

There was some evidence around the country of Trump making modest gains with Black voters, mostly Black men, in 2020. I do see a case for that here, because even as Dems had net gains in 2020 – significant gains, in some of these districts – their share of the total new turnout is smaller than you’d otherwise expect. For example, HD131 voted 80.6% to 18.5% for Biden, but only 60.8% of the extra voters in 2020 voted for Biden. HD131 had voted 84.1% to 13.3% for Hillary in 2016, meaning that Trump cut almost ten points off of his deficit from 2016. This is your reminder that a shift in vote share towards one party is not the same as a shift in total votes towards one party. We’ve had this conversation about Democrats making percentage point gains in some heavily Republican areas while still falling farther behind, and this is that same conversation from the other side.

Finally, here are the four districts represented by Asian American legislators:


Dist  12-16R  12-16D  16-20R  16-20D  12-20R  12-20D Dem net
============================================================
026   -4,573   9,082   7,327  13,556   2,754  22,638  19,884
112   -2,140   4,427   5,086  10,634   2,946  15,061  12,115
137     -848   2,147   2,435   4,099   1,587   6,246   4,659
149   -2,592   3,504   8,134   4,645   5,542   8,149   2,607

This grouping is even more tenuous than the Latino districts, mostly because there’s no such thing as a plurality Asian district. Indeed, only HDs 26 and 149, which are the two most Asian districts in the state, are in the top five; HDs 66, 28, and 67 are the next three in line. They will all be covered in the next post in this series. HD137 is mostly Latino and HD112 is mostly Anglo. Like I said, these are the decisions I made. HD26 is in Fort Bend and was won in 2020 by Republican Jacey Jetton, after years of being held by Rick Miller. It was carried by Biden in 2020 and as you can see it has moved pretty heavily Democratic, but it was still Republican enough to be held by them in an open seat race. HD112 is in Dallas and is held by Angie Chen Button, and like HD108 it was otherwise Democratic in 2020. Good luck with redistricting, that’s all I can say. The other two are in Harris County, with HD137 being held by Gene Wu since 2012. It was 63-34 for Obama in 2012 and 67-31 for Biden in 2020. The most curious case for me is HD149, which as you can see followed a pattern similar to the Latino districts in Harris County; I noted this before when I did the Harris County numbers way back when. I’m not quite sure what to make of those totals, but they don’t keep me awake at night. As with the rest, we’ll see what 2022 has in store for us.

Next time, a closer look at some counties of interest. Let me know what you think.

It wasn’t just Houston and Harris County that got screwed by P Bush and the GLO

Every time I read something new about this, I get madder.

Disasters have not fallen evenly on Iola and Port Arthur. Hurricane Harvey flooded almost the entire coastal city on the Louisiana border, which was damaged by Ike and Rita before that. Iola, a tiny Grimes County community 100 miles inland, largely is insulated from tropical storms.

Both cities applied for federal Harvey disaster aid distributed by the state. Iola pitched a wastewater system that would serve 379 people. Port Arthur proposed the replacement of century-old storm water pipes to help 42,000.

The state funded Iola’s project. Port Arthur got nothing.

“With our susceptibility to being affected by hurricanes, if those places got money, you know it wasn’t fairly done,” said Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie.

A Houston Chronicle investigation found the $1 billion in aid distributed by the Texas General Land Office in May disproportionately flowed to inland counties with less damage from Harvey than coastal communities which bore the brunt of the storm.

The GLO also steered aid toward counties with a lower risk of natural disasters — by the state’s own measure — and sometimes to projects that help far fewer residents per dollar spent than unfunded projects in more vulnerable counties.

The lowest-risk counties that received awards, like Grimes, were only eligible because of the GLO’s decision to add them. And in some cases, the state funded projects in these places even though they scored worse than applicants in the highest-risk counties, according to criteria the land office set.

Aransas and Nueces counties, where Harvey made landfall, did not receive a dime. Neither did Jefferson County, which recorded the highest rain totals. Same for Houston and Harris County’s governments, even though the county suffered the most deaths and flooded homes from the storm.

“To get goose-egged is really disappointing,” said Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales. “The coast is going to get battered first. … How do you come out of $1 billion and Nueces isn’t even on your radar?”

It’s a great question, one for which Land Commissioner George P. Bush has no good answer. I’ll say this again, this does not happen by accident. Even if it were possible to accidentally create a system that prioritized low-risk, low-population areas over high-risk, high-population areas, there was plenty of time to catch and fix the error, especially since the GLO was explicitly warned about it. They knew which places got which awards well before the information was released, and either didn’t think anyone would have a problem with it or didn’t care who said what.

I don’t blame these low-risk places for applying for the federal funds. They were playing by the rules. The GLO and their deliberately jacked-up scoring system are the problem. As the story notes, the belated offer by P Bush to award $750 million to Harris County (by as yet unknown means), which came about in the face of intense bipartisan criticism, doesn’t do anything for the likes of Nueces or Aransas or Jefferson, or any of their cities. (It leaves Houston out in the cold as well.) At this point, the only sensible and equitable solution is to throw this entire pile of trash away and start over, this time with a scoring system that makes sense and ideally is overseen by someone other than P Bush. I don’t know how to make that happen, I don’t know if it’s possible to make that happen, but it’s the best way forward I can see. Maybe having Congress re-appropriate money directly to the screwed-over localities could work, if it’s possible to get that through Congress and the Senate. All I know is this is totally FUBARed, and there’s no good way forward. We have to go back, and we have to start over. And yes, we should be extremely pissed off about this.

COVID vaccination road trips

It’s a thing that happens.

With more vaccine supply flowing into Texas, the statewide mask mandate rollback and businesses reopening at 100 percent capacity, some Houstonians unable to get a COVID-19 vaccine close to home are making the drive two hours east to get their doses. More than 2.3 million people live in Houston, but the city and Texas Medical Center are only able to administer 232,000 doses a week.

And demand is only growing: Starting Monday, those 50 and older are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Texas.

While Hardin, Orange and Jefferson counties are still prioritizing residents 65 and older, they’re now accepting vaccine appointments for anyone, even out-of-towners, according to county officials. While interest has dropped off from locals, they sought to keep their tens of thousands of doses from going to waste.

Dr. Jana Winberg, the Hardin County Health Authority, said people come from surrounding areas, like Houston, to get their shot in Hardin County. But that doesn’t take away vaccines from county residents.

“We are still finding ways for people who want to get the shot to get in those slots,” she said.

[…]

As of March 1, Hardin County opened registration to the public regardless of eligibility criteria, telling the Beaumont Enterprise that they had an “extremely low” turnout for vaccine appointments, said Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel.

The Hardin County Health Department manages Orange County’s vaccines, but both are part of the Southeast Texas Regional Emergency Operations Center (SETROC) vaccine distribution hub, Winberg said.

Divvying up the area’s vaccines between Jefferson, Hardin, Jasper, Newton and Orange counties depends on which location can give the shots in a timely fashion, she said.

Hardin County has fewer than 60,000 people, and neighboring Jasper County is smaller at 35,500, Winberg said. One week in February, the county received 300 doses and fewer than 100 people made appointments.

Rather than have the Moderna vaccines sit in refrigerators, Winberg said they would prefer to bring doses to those who want them.

I know a couple of people who have done this, and I have no problem with it. If anything, it shows that there should be more vaccines distributed to the larger counties. Hopefully the supply will continue to ramp up so that fewer people will feel the need to do this. (Especially now that everyone will be eligible for a shot starting on Monday.) Until then, everyone getting a vaccine who seeks one out is a good thing, however it’s done.

Counties of interest, part five: East Texas

Part 1 – Counties around Harris
Part 2 – Counties around Dallas/Tarrant
Part 3 – Counties around Travis
Part 4 – Counties around Bexar

The next three entries in this series will look at regions, and counties of interest within them. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve labeled these regions East Texas, Central Texas, and West Texas, though in a strict sense some of the counties I’m including in them would be called something else – Jefferson County, for example, is usually considered Southeast Texas. Try not to take that too seriously, and just assume I’ve split the state into three vertical sections.

Within those sections I’ve identified counties that have enough voters in them to be worthwhile. Again, this is all arbitrary, but I’ve generally aimed for places with cities or other features of interest. We begin with East Texas:


County       Romney    Obama    Trump  Clinton    Trump    Biden    Shift
=========================================================================
Angelina     20,303    7,834   21,668    7,538   25,070    9,136   -3,465
Bowie        24,869   10,196   24,924    8,838   27,053   10,692   -1,688
Gregg        28,742   12,398   28,764   11,677   32,352   14,657   -1,351
Hardin       17,746    3,359   19,606    2,780   23,806    3,449   -5,970
Harrison     17,512    8,456   18,749    7,151   21,318    7,812   -4,450
Henderson    21,231    6,106   23,650    5,669   28,816    7,048   -6,643
Hunt         21,011    6,671   23,910    6,396   29,135    8,879   -5,916
Jefferson    43,242   44,668   42,862   42,443   47,535   46,022   -2,959
Nacogdoches  13,925    6,465   14,771    6,846   17,359    8,989     -910
Orange       23,366    6,800   25,513    5,735   29,170    6,354   -6,250
Smith        57,331   21,456   58,930   22,300   68,546   29,343   -3,328
Van Zandt    15,794    3,084   18,473    2,799   22,126    3,419   -5,997
Walker       12,140    6,252   12,884    6,091   15,368    7,875   -1,605

As you might imagine this is not friendly territory for Democrats, and it’s getting less so as we go along. These counties are pretty small for the most part, but they contribute a lot of votes to the Republicans’ bottom line. Just since 2012, that gap has grown by more than 50K in the GOP direction. This is the point I’ve been trying to make lately, because while it may seem easy to write off this part of the state, these counties collectively pack a real punch. Look again at that Michael Li chart I embedded in this post about where the vote comes from in Texas. We can either do something to reduce the growing gap we face in the smaller counties, or we can accept the fact that the hill we’re pushing this boulder up gets steeper every cycle.

Let me remind you, there are cities and metro areas in these counties. You know that Jefferson County is home to Beaumont, and Smith County is Tyler. Other cities include:

Angelina County – Lufkin
Bowie County – Texarkana
Gregg County – Longview
Harrison County – Marshall
Nacogdoches County – Nacogdoches, home of Stephen F. Austin State University
Walker County – Huntsville, home of Sam Houston State University

I see three avenues to improve performance in this part of the state. One is as I’ve noted several times an effort to organize and build infrastructure in the smaller cities in Texas. We know what we can do in the big urban areas, and the formerly-small towns that are now part of big urban areas – think of places like Katy and Sugar Land – are increasingly strong for Dems. I believe the potential exists in the smaller cities that are not proximate to the big urban areas, and that more effort needs to be made, and more resources provided, to help them reach that potential. It has to be organic to these cities – surely, a helicopter drop of volunteers and/or paid staffers from Houston and Austin would not be received very well. I know the TDP has done some work along these lines, I’m just saying we need to continue it.

Second, there are as noted above universities in some of these towns. Anything we can do to grow the Democratic student groups and help them register and turn out voters is well worth it.

Finally, we can take a page from Stacy Abrams’ playbook and recognize that there’s a substantial Black population in some of these counties, and get to registering and organizing and empowering them in local and state politics. To wit:

Jefferson – 33.7% Black
Harrison – 24.0% Black
Walker – 23.9% Black
Bowie – 23.4% Black
Gregg – 19.9% Black
Smith – 17.9% Black
Nacogdoches – 16.7% Black
Angelina – 14.2% Black

All that is from those Wikipedia pages I linked above. I will freely admit here that I don’t know what is already in place in these counties – maybe we’re already doing all we can. I kind of doubt it, though.

Again, my bottom line is that we make an effort to narrow the gap in these places, or at least keep that gap from growing ever wider, or we make the task we’re already working on in the big counties that much harder. I’m not saying any of this will be easy, but I am saying we can’t shrug it off because it might be hard. This is the choice we face.

So how did my simple projection work out?

Remember this? I divided the counties up by how much their voter rolls had grown or shrunk since 2012, then used the 2016 turnout levels and 2018 results to project final numbers for the Presidential election in 2020. Now that we have those numbers, how did my little toy do? Let’s take a look.

A couple of things to acknowledge first. The most up to date voter registration numbers show that the group of counties that looked to have lost voters since 2012 have actually gained them, at least in the aggregate. Second, the actual turnout we got so far exceeded past numbers that we literally couldn’t have nailed this, at least not at a quantitative level. So with that in mind, let’s move forward.

We start with the counties that had seen growth of at least 10K voters on their rolls since 2012. There were 33 of these. Here are the numbers I had in my initial review, updated to include what happened this year.


Romney  3,270,387   Obama    2,792,800
Romney      53.9%   Obama        46.1%
Romney +  477,587

Trump   3,288,107   Clinton  3,394,436
Trump       49.2%   Clinton      50.8%
Trump  -  106,329

Cruz    3,022,932   Beto     3,585,385
Cruz        45.7%   Beto         54.3%
Cruz   -  562,453

Trump   4,119,402   Biden    4,579,144
Trump       47.4%   Biden        52.6%
Trump  -  459,742

Year  Total voters   Total votes   Turnout
==========================================
2012    10,442,191     6,157,687     59.0%
2016    11,760,590     7,029,306     59.8%
2018    12,403,704     6,662,143     53.7%
2020    13,296,048     8,765,774     65.9%

When I did the original post, there were 12,930,451 registered voters in these 33 counties. As you can see, and will see for the other groups, that increased between August and November, by quite a bit. As you can see, Trump did considerably worse than he had in 2016 with these counties, but better than Ted Cruz did in 2018. That says it all about why this race wasn’t as close as the Beto-Cruz race in 2018. My projection had assumed 2016-level turnout, but we obviously got more than that. Here’s what I had projected originally, and what we would have gotten if the 2020 results had been like the 2018 results from a partisan perspective:


Trump   3,533,711   Biden    4,198,699
Trump  -  664,988

Trump   3,975,236   Biden    4,723,310
Trump  -  748,074

Fair to say we missed the mark. We’ll see how much of a difference that would have made later. Now let’s look at the biggest group of counties, the 148 counties that gained some number of voters, from one to 9,999. Again, here are my projections, with the updated voter registration number:


Romney  1,117,383   Obama      415,647
Romney      72.9%   Obama        27.1%
Romney +  701,736

Trump   1,209,121   Clinton    393,004
Trump       75.5%   Clinton      24.5%
Trump  +  816,117

Cruz    1,075,232   Beto       381,010
Cruz        73.8%                26.2%
Cruz   +  694,222

Trump   1,496,148   Biden      501,234
Trump       74.0%   Biden        26.0%
Trump  +  994,914

Year  Total voters   Total votes   Turnout
==========================================
2012     2,686,872     1,551,613     57.7%
2016     2,829,110     1,653,858     58.5%
2018     2,884,466     1,466,446     50.8%
2020     3,112,474     2,022,490     65.0%

As discussed, there’s a whole lot of strong red counties in here – of the 148 counties in this group, Beto carried ten of them. They had 2,929,965 voters as of August. What had been my projection, and how’d it go here?


Trump   1,264,954   Biden      449,076
Trump  +  815,878

Trump   1,496,148   Biden      501,234
Trump  +  994,914

The margin is wider due to the higher turnout, but Biden actually did a little better by percentage than Clinton did, and was right in line with Beto. This is obviously an area of great need for improvement going forward, but the projection was more or less right on target, at least from a partisan performance perspective. But as you can see, even with the more optimistic projection for Biden, he’s already in the hole. Like I said, this is an area of urgent need for improvement going forward.

Now on to the last group, the 73 counties that had lost voters from 2012, at least going by the August numbers. As you can see, that turned out not to be fully true:


Romney     182,073   Obama      99,677
Romney       64.6%   Obama       35.4%
Romney +    82,396

Trump      187,819   Clinton    90,428
Trump        67.5%   Clinton     32.5%
Trump  +    97,391

Cruz       162,389   Beto       79,237
Cruz         67.2%   Beto        32.8%
Cruz   +    83,152

Trump      226,104   Biden     105,490
Trump        68.2%   Biden       31.8%
Trump  +   120,514

Year  Total voters   Total votes   Turnout
==========================================
2012       517,163       284,551     55.0%
2016       511,387       286,062     55.9%
2018       505,087       243,066     48.1%
2020       546,997       335,110     61.2%

As you can see, that decline in registrations has reversed, quite dramatically. I didn’t check each individual county – it seems likely that some of them are still at a net negative – but overall they are no longer in decline. Good for them. As you can also see, Biden performed a little worse than Clinton and Beto, but close enough for these purposes. Let’s compare the projection to the reality:


Trump      187,587   Biden      91,561
Trump +     96,026

Trump      226,104   Biden     105,490
Trump  +   120,514

Put the best-case scenario from the first group with what we got in the last two, and we could have had this:


Trump    5,697,488   Biden   5,330,034
Trump       51.67%   Biden      48.33%

Which is pretty close to what I had projected originally, just with a lot more voters now. The actual final result is 52.18% to 46.39%, so I’d say my method came closer to the real result than most of the polls did. Clearly, I missed my calling.

All this was done as an exercise in frivolity – as I said at the time, I made all kinds of assumptions in making this projection, and the main one about turnout level was way wrong. The point of this, I think, is to show that while Dems have indeed improved greatly in performance in the biggest counties, they haven’t done as well everywhere else, and while the marginal difference from Obama 2012 to Clinton 2016 and Biden 2020 isn’t much, the overall direction is wrong (even as Biden improved somewhat on the middle group over Clinton), and we’re going to have a real problem making further progress if we can’t figure out a way to improve our performance in these smaller counties. There is room to grow in the big and growing counties – these include some fast-growing and very red places like Montgomery and Comal, for instance – but we’re going to reach diminishing marginal growth soon, if we’re not already there. We need to step it up everywhere else. I’ll be returning to this theme as we go forward. Let me know what you think.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to make it easier to vote

The ease of access for disabled voters is still a huge unaddressed issue.

Val Vera finally cast his ballot after sitting for two hours in his van outside a Denton County polling place. He wasn’t waiting on people in line ahead of him, but for an elections clerk to respond to his phone calls.

Vera, 52, is disabled and decided to vote curbside this election, an option every county is required to offer any voter whose health would be harmed by entering the polls, or who is physically incapable of doing so.

“In an ideal world, curbside voting at your polling site, there’s the designated parking spot,” said Molly Broadway, voting rights specialist at Disability Rights Texas. “There’s a sign that lets you know that this is where curbside voting is going to happen, and there’s a call button, essentially, that one can access, which will alert the poll worker inside the building of your presence.”

For millions of disabled Texas voters, casting a ballot has long been challenging enough, even without a pandemic and explosive turnout in a high-octane election cycle. Using curbside voting, mail-in ballots and other aids, they must navigate a system that in some parts of Texas has been slow to accommodate their needs.

With fears of contracting COVID-19 compelling more voters to explore options to avoid setting foot in a polling place, disability rights advocates say the process has become an exercise in persistence for even more disabled voters.

In 2012, 30% of disabled voters nationwide reported difficulties at polling places, according to a Rutgers University study. In Texas, a newer Rutgers study estimates, about 15% of those eligible to vote in the general election are disabled — almost 3 million people.

Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse, professors who helped conduct the study, said lack of accessibility causes disabled people to vote at lower rates than the general population. Without barriers, they estimate, 3 million more disabled Americans would have voted in 2012. Though it’s hard to determine the extent without solid data, the pandemic could limit people’s access even further.

[…]

Disability Rights Texas tries to help voters navigate hurdles they run into at the polls. This year, Broadway said, increased voter turnout, coupled with increasing visibility for disability rights over the past few years, has spawned more calls than usual, and not just for curbside voting.

Chase Bearden, deputy executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, said his organization heard reports of long lines at one polling place that strayed into grassy patches difficult to navigate in a wheelchair. Matt Plummer, a wheelchair user, said when he went to vote in Tarrant County, his wife had to make selections for him because he couldn’t reach the touch screen at the back of the machine.

Disabled voters in Texas are also allowed to use mail-in ballots, which helps some voters, but those aren’t entirely accessible either.

Kenneth Semien Sr. said he considered voting by mail but decided to go in person. To submit a mail-in ballot, Semien would have to rely on someone else to mark it for him because he is blind. Not only would that strip away his independence, he said, but he also would have no assurance the person was actually marking his choices instead of their own. Semien is involved in an ongoing federal lawsuit against the Texas secretary of state that is seeking more accessible mail-in ballots, and he thought an alternative way to vote would be available by the time November rolled around.

Instead, Semien cast his ballot in person at the same polling location he’s used in Jefferson County for the past 15 years. Once he arrived, a security guard he knew helped guide him through the line, telling him where to walk so he could stop on the taped X’s on the floor.

As he stepped up to vote, he said, the poll worker took a long time finding where to plug his headphones in so his screen reader could read the ballot to him. Such technical issues sometimes leave people unable to vote, and this one almost made Semien miss his bus back home.

Each time before he goes to vote, Semien calls ahead to make sure the polling location will have someone on staff trained to use the accessible voting machine. Typically, he said, he’s told what he wants to hear, but problems crop up when he arrives.

“It is just terrible that you have to keep repeating these things, but every time we go to the polls we deal with some of the same issues, you know, if the equipment is not available for some reason, they hadn’t gotten set up yet, even though I called before,” Semien said.

I searched my archives but didn’t find a post about Kenneth Semien’s lawsuit – there’s been so many voting rights lawsuits this year I just can’t keep up with them all – but I found this story and a copy of the complaint via Google.

A big part of this is voting locations. Harris County settled a lawsuit last year about the accessibility of its voting locations. Our county, led by County Clerk Chris Hollins, did a tremendous amount to make it easier for everyone to vote – usually over the objections and legal obstacles thrown up by Republicans – but it would be good to review what worked and what still needs improvement. This is going to take a law – really, there should be both state and federal legislation to address this – and money, but most of all it will take commitment, both to listening to the community and their advocates, and following through on what they need. We can absolutely improve this experience for millions of Americans, including millions of Texans, but we have to do the work.

A very simple projection of the November vote

In my earlier post about the current state of voter registrations, I noted that you could see the county-by-county totals in the contest details for the Senate runoff. What that also means is that if you have current (till now, anyway) voter registration totals, you can do a comparison across the counties of where voter registration totals have gone up the most, and how the vote has shifted in recent elections. In doing so, you can come up with a simple way to project what the 2020 vote might look like.

So, naturally, I did that. Let me walk you through the steps.

First, I used the 2020 runoff results data to get current registration totals per county. I put that into a spreadsheet with county-by-county results from the 2012 and 2016 Presidential elections and the 2018 Senate election to calculate total voter registration changes from each year to 2020. I then sorted by net change since 2012, and grouped the 254 counties into three buckets: Counties that had a net increase of at least 10,000 voters since 2012, counties that had a net increase of less than 10,000 voters since 2012, and counties that have lost voters since 2012. From there, I looked at the top race for each year.

First, here are the 2012 big gain counties. There were 33 of these counties, with a net gain of +2,488,260 registered voters as of July 2020.


Romney  3,270,387   Obama    2,792,800
Romney      53.9%   Obama        46.1%
Romney +  477,587

Trump   3,288,107   Clinton  3,394,436
Trump       49.2%   Clinton      50.8%
Trump  -  106,329

Cruz    3,022,932   Beto     3,585,385
Cruz        45.7%   Beto         54.3%
Cruz   -  562,453

Year  Total voters   Total votes   Turnout
==========================================
2012    10,442,191     6,157,687     59.0%
2016    11,760,590     7,029,306     59.8%
2018    12,403,704     6,662,143     53.7%
2020    12,930,451     

The shift in voting behavior here is obvious. Hillary Clinton did much better in the larger, growing counties in 2016 than Barack Obama had done in 2012, and Beto O’Rourke turbo-charged that pattern. I have made this point before, but it really bears repeating: In these growing counties, Ted Cruz did literally a million votes worse than Mitt Romney did. And please note, these aren’t just the big urban counties – there are only seven such counties, after all – nor are they all Democratic. This list contains such heavily Republican places as Montgomery, Comal, Parker, Smith, Lubbock, Ector, Midland, Randall, Ellis, Rockwall, and Kaufman. The thing to keep in mind is that while Beto still lost by a lot in those counties, he lost by less in them than Hillary Clinton did, and a lot less than Obama did. Beto uniformly received more votes in those counties than Clinton did, and Cruz received fewer than Trump and Romney.

Here’s where we do the projection part. Let’s assume that in 2020 these counties have 59.8% turnout at 2018 partisan percentages, which is to say Biden wins the two-party vote 54.3% to 45.7% for Trump. At 59.8% turnout there would be 7,732,410 voters, which gives us this result:


Trump   3,533,711   Biden    4,198,699
Trump  -  664,988

In other words, Biden gains 100K votes over what Beto did in 2018. If you’re now thinking “but Beto lost by 200K”, hold that thought.

Now let’s look at the 2012 small gain counties, the ones that gained anywhere from eight voters to 9,635 voters from 2012. There are a lot of these, 148 counties in all, but because their gains were modest the total change is +243,093 RVs in 2020. Here’s how those election results looked:


Romney  1,117,383   Obama      415,647
Romney      72.9%   Obama        27.1%
Romney +  701,736

Trump   1,209,121   Clinton    393,004
Trump       75.5%   Clinton      24.5%
Trump  +  816,117

Cruz    1,075,232   Beto       381,010
Cruz        73.8%                26.2%
Cruz   +  694,222

Year  Total voters   Total votes   Turnout
==========================================
2012     2,686,872     1,551,613     57.7%
2016     2,829,110     1,653,858     58.5%
2018     2,884,466     1,466,446     50.8%
2020     2,929,965     

Obviously, very red. Beto carried a grand total of ten of these 148 counties: Starr, Willacy, Reeves, Jim Wells, Zapata, Val Verde, Kleberg, La Salle, Dimmit, and Jim Hogg. This is a lot of rural turf, and as we can see Trump did better here than Romney did, both in terms of percentage and net margin. Ted Cruz was a tiny bit behind Romney on margin, but did slightly better in percentage. The overall decline in turnout held Cruz back.

Once again, we project. Assume 58.5% turnout at 2018 partisan percentages. That gives us 1,714,030 voters for the following result:


Trump   1,264,954   Biden      449,076
Trump  +  815,878

Trump winds up with the same margin as he did in 2016, as the 2018 partisan mix helps Biden not fall farther behind. Trump is now in the lead by about 150K votes.

Finally, the counties that have had a net loss of registered voters since 2012. There were 73 such counties, and a net -17,793 RVs in 2020.


Romney     182,073   Obama      99,677
Romney       64.6%   Obama       35.4%
Romney +    82,396

Trump      187,819   Clinton    90,428
Trump        67.5%   Clinton     32.5%
Trump +     97,391

Cruz       162,389   Beto       79,237
Cruz         67.2%   Beto        32.8%
Cruz +      83,152

Year  Total voters   Total votes   Turnout
==========================================
2012       517,163       284,551     55.0%
2016       511,387       286,062     55.9%
2018       505,087       243,066     48.1%
2020       499,370    

Again, mostly rural and again pretty red. The counties that Beto won were Culberson, Presidio, Jefferson (easily the biggest county in this group; Beto was just over 50% here, as Clinton had been, while Obama was just under 50%), Zavala, Duval, Brooks, and Frio.

Assume 55.9% turnout at 2018 partisan percentages, and for 277,148 voters we get:


Trump      187,587   Biden      91,561
Trump +     96,026

Again, basically what Trump did in 2016. Add it all up, and the result is:


Trump    5,012,802   Biden    4,770,351
Trump       51.24%   Biden       48.76%

That’s actually quite close to the Economist projection for Texas. If you’re now thinking “wait, you walked me through all these numbers to tell me that Trump’s gonna win Texas, why did we bother?”, let me remind you of the assumptions we made in making this projection:

1. Turnout levels would be equal to the 2016 election, while the partisan splits would be the same as 2018. There’s no reason why turnout can’t be higher in 2020 than it was in 2016, and there’s also no reason why the Democratic growth in those top 33 counties can’t continue apace.

2. Implicit in all this is that turnout in each individual county within their given bucket is the same. That’s obviously not how it works in real life, and it’s why GOTV efforts are so critical. If you recall my post about Harris County’s plans to make voting easier this November, County Clerk Chris Hollins suggests we could see up to 1.7 million votes cast here. That’s 360K more voters than there were in 2016, and 500K more than in 2018. It’s over 70% turnout in Harris County at current registration numbers. Had Beto had that level of turnout, at the same partisan percentages, he’d have netted an additional 85K votes in Harris. Obviously, other counties can and will try to boost turnout as well, and Republicans are going to vote in higher numbers, too. My point is, the potential is there for a lot more votes, in particular a lot more Democratic votes, to be cast.

Remember, this is all intended as a very simple projection of the vote. Lots of things that I haven’t taken into account can affect what happens. All this should give you some confidence in the polling results for Texas, and it should remind you of where the work needs to be done, and what the path to victory is.

Coronavirus and hurricane shelters

Two things we have to be thinking about today.

Houston officials and public health experts are expressing concern that Tropical Storm Laura could amplify the spread of COVID-19 by displacing residents to public shelters or residences outside the area, increasing opportunities for transmission.

With that scenario in mind, Mayor Sylvester Turner on Sunday encouraged Houstonians to get tested for COVID-19 before the storm makes landfall. Forecasters have predicted it will come ashore late Wednesday or early Thursday, though the path remained uncertain by Monday evening.

Officials from Harris County and the American Red Cross began preparing for potential shelter needs months ago, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Monday. At Red Cross shelters, officials will provide face coverings, conduct health screenings and follow federal social distancing guidance, the organization announced in a news release. It also will operate more shelters with a reduced capacity in each.

“This is not a situation where we would have the same kind of shelters we’re used to, where it’s completely open space and no division between folks,” Hidalgo said.

Turner, who urged people to get tested on Monday or Tuesday, tweeted, “You need to know your status for yourself, family members and friends.”

[…]

Dr. Peter Hotez, an immunologist at the Baylor College of Medicine, said that while disaster officials may come up with creative solutions to help contain the spread of COVID, public shelters would be “a nightmare even under the best circumstances.”

The effect may be especially pronounced, Hotez said, because those most likely to seek shelter in a public setting come from low-income communities where people are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID due to the prevalence of underlying health conditions.

It also would be difficult for contact tracers to follow the spread of the virus during an evacuation, he said.

“If you think about it, without a vaccine, what do we have? We have masks, we have contact tracing and social distancing — which are not great, but it’s all we have,” Hotez said. “With a hurricane, we’ve knocked out two of our three pieces of artillery equipment.”

These are obviously not the best of circumstances. Tropical Storm Laura is now officially Hurricane Laura, and it’s already a pretty strong one. Jefferson County, Chambers County, Orange County, and Galveston County are under mandatory evacuation orders, with parts of Harris County issuing a recommendation that areas in the storm surge zone evacuate as well.

Harris County officials urged residents of some coastal areas to evacuate Tuesday as Hurricane Laura could strike the Houston region Wednesday evening.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a voluntary evacuation order Tuesday afternoon for zones A and B and urged residents to leave immediately. She warned of a storm surge of three to five feet and high winds that could knock out power.

“All of us need to be prepared for the very real potential of a direct hit from this storm,” Hidalgo said. “Of course, we hope for the best, but we don’t want to find ourselves unprepared for the worst case scenario.”

These zones include part or all of Deer Park, La Porte, League City, Friendswood, Seabrook, El Lago, Morgan’s Point and southeastern portions of the city of Houston.

[…]

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner warned residents of congested traffic on freeways heading away from the coast and urged non-evacuating residents to avoid traveling if possible. Residents in the evacuation zone should not delay, he stressed, because Laura could change course unexpectedly.

“At this point in time, if it veers further to the west and becomes more of a direct hit on Houston-Harris County, we don’t really have a lot of time,” Turner said.

The mayor urged residents to be prepared for extended power outages, and noted that some households were without electricity for two weeks after Hurricane Ike in 2008. He said people should be off the streets by 8 p.m. Wednesday, but stopped short of calling for a curfew.

Immediate safety concerns take precedence over more theoretical longer-term safety concerns. In the meantime, we prepare for the worst and hope for the best. As of last night, it looks like the worst will probably (though not 100%) miss Houston, but that means Beaumont and Port Arthur are directly in its crosshairs. We’re going to need to mobilize a strong response, because it’s going to be bad.

As a programming matter, it is certainly possible that power and/or Internet outages will have an effect on my publication schedule. That’s a pretty minor consideration, but I wanted to note it just in case. Stay safe, everyone.

Montgomery County issues a stay-at-home order

It’s getting real, y’all.

After initially announcing he would not issue a stay-at-home order regarding the new coronavirus, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough is following other area counties and a stay-at-home order will go into effect at midnight Friday.

The 19-page restrictive order will be in place through April 12.

Additionally, Keough is putting all residents under a curfew beginning each night at 11:59 p.m. through 6 a.m.

“Given the most recent information concerning the virus and the potential for loss of life for our county and our region, I am amending my original order to become the Montgomery County Stay at Home, Stop the Spread order,” Keough said in a statement. “Having surrounded myself with a team of experts, in health district, homeland security and emergency management, law enforcement, our district attorney, and many others, whose council I value, I have made decisions that have been patient and measured.”

Keough said all non-essential business must close at 11:15 p.m. Friday and remain closed through April 12. The order allows for businesses to remain open if employees can work from home.

Keough called his order “crystal clear” with information on what are essential businesses and services and confirming all grocery stores will remain open.

“Read this order,” he said. “We are not urging you; we are telling you; you must comply with CDC social distancing guidelines. Stay home if you don’t need to be out. This is not a time for vacation or social gatherings. Take this virus seriously.”

Keough initially issued a disaster declaration March 12 following the first COVID-19 case in Montgomery County. In the last week, the number of cases in the county increased to 41. The coronavirus, according to the Montgomery County Public Health Department, has spread to all parts of the county.

As recently as Tuesday, the day that Harris County shut down, Montgomery County Judge Keough was holding firm against a stay-at-home order, though he had taken some steps. Keough is a former State Rep who ousted the incumbent county judge in 2018 in the Republican primary with tea party backing. I wonder if anyone has asked Dan Patrick and Paul Bettencourt what they think about this obvious betrayal of their bedrock principles.

I kid, only slightly, but the reality is that Keough is a latecomer on this train:


And indeed, Jefferson and Smith and several other counties have joined in. To update:

In case you’re wondering, Ector County is Odessa, Taylor is Abilene, Potter is Amarillo, Tom Green is San Angelo. Guadalupe (Seguin) and Comal (New Braunfels) are neighbors of Bexar County. We’ll see how long they hold out. This also means that Lubbock County has one of these orders as well; that wasn’t clear from the earlier story I blogged about. In some sense, it will soon be irrelevant if Greg Abbott orders a statewide shutdown or not. You still mad, Dan?

Primary precinct analysis: Who did what in the RRC race

The Railroad Commissioner primary was a bit like the Senate primary – multiple candidates (though not nearly as many), not a whole lot of money, but the candidate who did best in fundraising was also the leading votegetter. Here’s a look at the top 25 counties in terms of votes cast for the Railroad Commissioner’s race:


County    ALONZO   CASTAÑEDA    STONE   WATSON      Total
=========================================================
All        503,666   592,770  380,236  277,578  1,754,250
HARRIS      77,618    85,166   59,552   40,428    262,764
DALLAS      56,824    57,822   48,718   36,255    199,619
TRAVIS      30,199    97,284   37,641   20,290    185,414
BEXAR       50,228    62,708   22,880   16,583    152,399
TARRANT     35,318    36,767   28,238   25,021    125,344
COLLIN      15,227    22,793   18,487    9,250     65,757
EL PASO     25,353    21,426    6,750    7,065     60,594
FORT BEND   12,550    14,895   16,826   12,685     56,956
DENTON      10,804    21,541   14,966    6,851     54,162
WILLIAMSON  11,031    19,375   10,852    9,924     51,182
HIDALGO     24,057    15,382    6,617    3,699     49,755
CAMERON     11,849     9,267    3,691    3,558     28,365
WEBB        13,080     7,841    2,455    1,850     25,226
HAYS         5,161     6,451    6,152    4,059     21,823
MONTGOMERY   4,820     5,963    5,248    3,898     19,929
NUECES       7,364     5,914    3,146    2,424     18,848
BRAZORIA     4,643     4,659    4,961    4,502     18,765
GALVESTON    4,020     5,225    4,914    3,127     17,286
BELL         4,818     4,619    4,056    3,577     17,070
JEFFERSON    4,640     3,132    3,704    4,813     16,289
LUBBOCK      3,462     3,858    2,741    2,081     12,142
MCLENNAN     2,308     3,078    3,623    2,290     11,299
SMITH        2,536     2,512    2,466    2,985     10,499
BRAZOS       3,000     3,429    2,571    1,488     10,488
ELLIS        2,524     2,266    2,410    1,737      8,937

Chrysta Castañeda

Chrysta Castaneda, who led the pack with nearly 34% of the total vote, also led the way in 13 of these 25 counties, including the top six and eight of the top ten. That’s a pretty good recipe for success in the runoff as well. She led in Dallas County, which is the home of runnerup Roberto Alonzo, who represented a State House district in Dallas County for 26 years. Alonzo led in the five big predominantly Latino counties – El Paso, Hidalgo, Cameron, Webb, and Nueces – plus Bell and Ellis Counties. Castaneda leads Alonzo by five points going into the runoff, which is hardly insurmountable, and other than Travis County her lead over him in the biggest counties was small. I feel like Castaneda’s big lead in Travis County is a significant advantage for her for the runoff. It’s hard to project anything based on past primary runoffs because the data set is so small, but given that there will be a Senate runoff as well, and given that Travis County was also a strong performer for MJ Hegar, it could deliver a decent margin for Castaneda in May. If that happens, it may be hard for Alonzo to make up the ground elsewhere.

Of the other candidates, Kelly Stone led in Fort Bend, Brazoria, and McLennan Counties, while Mark Watson topped the field in Smith and Jefferson. There’s another similarity to the Senate race – everyone got to be a leader of the pack. I have no idea how their voters might go in the runoff – neither has made any endorsement, as far as I can tell, and in all honesty that likely would be just a marginal factor. Turnout always drops quite a bit in primary runoffs, and with the coronavirus situation happening now, who knows what effect that may have. I see Castaneda as the solid favorite in this race, but Alonzo can pull it off if he can get his own message out.

Primary precinct analysis: Everyone did something in the Senate primary

MJ Hegar

So while we wait for actual precinct data from the primary, I thought I’d take a look at some county-level data from the non-Presidential races, as they have the county-by-county breakdown on the SOS election night pages. The US Senate primary, with its twelve candidates overall and five topping ten percent seemed like a good spot to do a deeper dive. The main problem is just presenting that much data, as my usual style of doing a table of numbers isn’t going to work well – it’ll be much too crowded and will be hard to spot the interesting bits. So what I thought I’d try was to focus on the counties with the most voters, and to see who did the best in them. I put everything in a spreadsheet, and sorted by total number of voters for each county. I settled on the top thirty to report on, which gave me a good geographic spread and included some big counties that don’t have many Democrats and some smaller counties where nearly everyone voted Democratic. From there, I pulled out the five top performers in each county, to see what story that could tell me.

Rather than try to present that in some form of table here, which would have taken a lot of tedious text formatting on my part, I just put the result into its own spreadsheet, which you can see here. For each of these counties, I reported the top five candidates and gave their vote totals and vote percentage. The top five performers change from one county to the next, so the five selected are listed above each county’s numbers. I think it makes sense, but have a look and let me know if it’s confusing. I’m now going to summarize what I found from this exercise.

MJ Hegar finished first 15 times and second seven times. Only in Webb and Maverick counties did she not finish in the top five. She was especially strong in the Central Texas area as expected, but also finished first in places like Harris, Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. To me, her performance versus everyone else’s is the difference between having a campaign that has sufficient funding to actually do advertising and other voter outreach, and not having it.

Sen. Royce West

Royce West finished first five times and second four times. He finished outside the top five ten times, including in such large counties as Bexar and El Paso. He won big in Dallas and won Tarrant, but he trailed Hegar in Collin and Denton and finished fifth in Travis. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what his path to winning the runoff is.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez had five firsts (Bexar, El Paso, Cameron, Nueces, Brazos) and five seconds (Travis, Webb, Guadalupe, Maverick, Bastrop), but finished outside the top five ten times, including in places like Harris and Hidalgo where you’d think she’d have done better. She finished behind Sema Hernandez at least nine times, and behind Annie Garcia at least ten times. (I say “at least” because there were a few instances in which neither was in the top five, and I didn’t go back to see where they fell.) I thought Tzintzún Ramirez had the potential to be a force, and I still hope she runs for something in the future, but someone who can’t consistently top no-money, no-organization candidates like those two is not exactly encouraging. Tzintzún Ramirez was the Bernie candidate, and you have to ask what good that did her. Actually, if you’re a Bernie person, you really should ask why it is that the larger Bernie movement didn’t provide any noticeable fundraising support for her, and clearly didn’t give her much of a boost in the polls. If you want to see candidates like that actually win races, you really ought to think about those questions. She has endorsed Royce West in the runoff, but I’m not sure how much that will matter.

Did I mention that Annie Garcia, a candidate who had raised less than $22K as of February 12, finished fourth in this race, ahead of people who had run and won elections before like Chris Bell and Amanda Edwards? I have to think that being called “Annie ‘Mama’ Garcia” on the ballot probably helped her in places where people didn’t know that much about the slate. It also makes me wonder why she got to be “Mama” but Carole Keeton Strayhorn didn’t get to be “Grandma”. What exactly are the rules for that, anyway? Be that as it may, Garcia won Webb, Lubbock, and Maverick counties, while finishing second in El Paso, Williamson, Cameron, Hays, and Nueces. She finished in the money in 22 of the 30 counties, more than either West or Tzintzún Ramirez. If you had bet me that a month ago, you would have won my money.

Sema Hernandez won Hidalgo County and Chris Bell won Brazoria, so there are all your first place winners. Hernandez, for those few people who insisted her showing in 2018 made her a legitimate candidate this time around despite raising even less money than Garcia and failing to file any finance reports until Q3 this year, shows up in 18 of these 30 counties, but was mostly shut out of the top ten, finishing fifth in Harris, fifth in Bexar, and fourth in El Paso, failing to break ten percent in any of them. She did finish second in Brazoria County, while Bell was runnerup in Harris, Fort Bend, Galveston, and Lubbock. Amanda Edwards (Montgomery, Bell, Comal) and Michael Cooper (Jefferson) also had second place finishes. Edwards had ten third-place finishes, three fourths, and four fifths, while Cooper also finished fourth in Webb and Maverick, and fifth in Smith.

So that’s six candidates with at least one first place finish, and eight with at least one first or second place finish. Believe it or not, the other four candidates – go ahead, name them right now, I double dog dare you – also had at least one top five finish:

Victor Harris – Hidalgo County, third
Adrian Ocegueda – Cameron County, fifth
D.R. Hunter – Nueces County, fifth
Jack Daniel Foster – Maverick County, fifth

Let’s just say we’ll probably never have an election quite like this one again. I’ll have more of this analysis/trivia for you in the coming days. I’m still waiting for a canvass from Harris County.

Voting centers everywhere

In Dallas:

Starting in November, problems like Mr. Voter’s, at least in Dallas County, will be a thing of the past. Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office officially gave the county permission to participate in the countywide voting program the state allows its most populous counties to opt into. That means that whenever you vote, whether it’s early or on Election Day, you can vote at whatever polling place you choose, as long as you’re both registered to vote in Dallas County and physically in Dallas County.

County commissioners voted to ask the state to get in on the program this spring, after county staff said participation would streamline the voting process, potentially increase voter turnout and decrease the number of voters who cast provisional ballots.

“It is time to come into the 21st century and have an election system that actually works,” Commissioner Elba Garcia said in March. “The main point about vote centers is that we have people, over 3,000 people, that wanted to vote during the last election and they were not able to do it. Voting centers bring that to the table. It’s time to make sure that anyone who wants to vote is able to go and vote in the right place without any problems.”

[…]

In order to participate in countywide voting this November, Dallas County had to upgrade its voter check-in system, something you may have noticed if you’re one of the literally hundreds of people who voted in May or June’s municipal elections. Those looking to cast ballots now check in on a cloud-connected tablet that has service from two carriers, in case one is on the fritz.

November’s state constitutional amendment election is essentially a dry run. If everything comes off without a hitch, and Dallas County sends a successful report to the state, the county will be able to offer countywide polling places during all elections moving forward.

In San Antonio:

The Secretary of State approved Bexar County’s adoption of the vote center model Friday for the upcoming November election, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen told county commissioners Tuesday.

The November election will serve as the “soft rollout” for the vote center model, Callanen said. Vote centers allow voters to cast ballots at any location in Bexar County on Election Day. The county previously used the precinct model, under which voters were required to cast ballots at their specific precincts on election day.

“When we do publication [of voting locations], we’ll have Vote Center 1, VC 2, VC 3, and addresses listed,” Callanen said. “No longer are we precinct-driven.”

Callanen said she expected people to get used to the new model after a complete election cycle. The Elections Department plans to start its advertising push after Oct. 1 to allow people enough time to hear about and understand the new voting model.

“I think that will take a little assistance to get the word out,” she said.

This year’s Nov. 5 Election Day will feature 10 constitutional amendments on the ballot, and turnout is expected to be low. However, county election officials view the election as an important dress rehearsal for the November 2020 presidential election.

Both will join Harris County, which had its dry run in May and will get a fuller test this November, with the city of Houston elections and the Metro referendum. It’s a good thing that voting centers are spreading, because traditional polling places have been going away in the state in recent years.

A new report out from the Leadership Conference Education Fund found that Texas is leading the nation in polling place closures, another practice that voting rights advocates fear can lead to disenfranchisement.

The report, titled “Democracy Diverted: Polling Place Closures and the Right to Vote,” looked at 757 of the 861 counties and county-level equivalents across the nation that were previously covered by Section 5, and found that 750 polling places in Texas have been shuttered since Shelby. That constitutes almost half of all polling places in the U.S. closed since 2013. Fourteen Texas counties closed at least 50 percent of their polling places after Shelby, and 590 have been shuttered since the 2014 midterm election.

Maricopa County in Arizona had the most polling place closures, but that was followed by six counties in Texas: Dallas lost 74 places; Travis lost 67; Harris shuttered 52; Brazoria closed 37; and Nueces closed 37.

“The large number of polling location closures is attributable to the size of Texas and the fact that we’re no longer under preclearance,” said Beth Stevens, director of the Voting Rights Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project. Now, “there’s no one [the state needs] to ask for permission to make changes.”

[…]

This comes into focus when looking at the demographics of some of the counties that saw the most closures. Brazoria County, which lost 59 percent of its polling locations since Shelby, is 30 percent Latino and 13 percent African American. The number of polling places in Nueces County, home to Corpus Christi and 63 percent Latinx, dropped by nearly a third. In Jefferson County, where Beaumont is located, about 34 percent of its 250,000 residents are African American and 20 percent are Latino; polling places there dropped from 57 in 2012 to 39 in 2018.

The report attributes some of these closures to jurisdictions adopting the county-wide polling program and opening voting mega-centers. By allowing people to cast a ballot on Election Day at any location, instead of bounding them to their precinct, the program is supposed to make voting easier (more locations to choose from, shorter lines).

The Texas Civil Rights Project is supportive of the program, said Stevens—so long as it’s enacted responsibly. She pointed to counties like Harris and Bexar as good examples: they’ve moved to county-wide polling while maintaining every single polling location that they would otherwise be required to have.

But, the report notes, some counties with large drops in polling locations—like Somervell (minus 80 percent), Loving (minus 75 percent), and Stonewall (minus 75 percent)—didn’t transition to vote centers. The report adds, “voters in counties that still hold precinct-style elections have 250 fewer voting locations than they did in 2012.”

The report is here and I’ve just glanced at some of it, so I can’t give you too much extra context. Some of what’s reported in the Observer is a bit alarmist, however. Loving County had 110 total registered voters in 2016, and its demographics are almost entirely Anglo. I’d bet that its “75% reduction” is going from four sites to one. Stonewall County had 998 RVs total in 2016. Every voter counts, but not every county’s actions are equal in scope. The statistics for Brazoria, Jefferson, and Nueces counties sounds more ominous, but all of them use voting centers as well. Travis County, of course, is one of the pioneers of voting centers; one of the people in charge of implementing the Harris County program came from the Travis County Clerk’s office having done the same thing there. What all this means is we need more information about how well or not these are working and what the effect are on voters of color. Which, as is noted in the report summary, is a hard thing to assess without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This is definitely something to watch, I just can’t say right now what the level of concern needs to be. The Chron, whose story gets more into the details about voting centers, has more.

Early voting in the “next” 15 counties

As you know, there’s been a lot written about primary turnout in the top 15 counties by voter registration in Texas. Much has been said about the large increase in Democratic turnout, accompanied by the much milder increase – and in some counties, decrease – in Republican turnout when compared to 2014 and 2010. This is great, but Texas has 254 counties, and there are a lot of decent-sized metro areas that are not represented in the coverage we’ve seen, Moreover, while the top 15 counties include many blue and purplish counties, the next 15 are much more tilted to the red side. Here, by my reckoning, are those counties:

Bell (Killeen/Temple/Belton)
Lubbock
Jefferson (Beaumont)
McLennan (Waco)
Smith (Tyler)
Webb (Laredo)
Hays (San Marcos)
Brazos (Bryan/College Station)
Ellis (Waxahachie)
Guadalupe (Seguin)
Comal (New Braunfels)
Johnson (Cleburne)
Parker (Weatherford)
Randall (Amarillo)
Midland

Webb is strong Democratic; Hays and Jefferson are quasi-Democratic; the rest are varying shades of red. I wanted to know how voting was going in these counties, so off to Google I went. The best story I found in my searches came from Smith County:

Early voting ticked up among Smith County voters for the March primary, and about half of the increase came from people casting ballots for Democrats.

A total of 12,926 early ballots were cast in Smith County, according to the county’s elections division. By party, there were 10,994 ballots cast for Republicans and 1,932 cast for Democrats.

Overall, the numbers represent a 9.5 percent increase in early voting overall as compared with 2014, the last time there was a primary election for local and statewide offices but no candidate for president.

By party, the 2018 early voting numbers represent a 5.6 percent increase for Republicans, who cast 10,409 early ballots in 2014, and a 38.5 percent increase for Democrats, who cast 1,395 early ballots in 2014.

Early voting lasted approximately two weeks, from Feb. 20 through Friday. Polling places were open in five locations in Tyler, Lindale, Whitehouse and Noonday. The primary election is Tuesday.

Mark Owens, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Tyler, said much of the increase in early voters in 2018 could be attributed to an increasing population in Smith County.

The number of registered voters in Smith County is 131,007 in the 2018 primary, a 5.8 percent increase over the 123,867 registered voters at the time of the 2014 primary, according to Owens.

Owens called the early voting turnout “just on par for a growing area.” However, he credited Democrats for having an impact on the increase in early voters in conservative Smith County.

In raw numbers, 1,122 more Smith County residents voted in 2018 over 2014. Republicans accounted for 585 of those ballots, and Democrats accounted for 537 of them.

“To the Democrats’ credit, the voter mobilization efforts are stronger in the fact that this isn’t a primary with as many leading elections at the top of the ticket, so they would see it, from their perspective, of people wanting to vote for (their candidates),” Owens said.

“A really big part of it is candidates coming out to East Texas to listen and encouraging people to go vote,” Owens said. “I think if you look at the numbers, that means something to people.”

I’d call that encouraging. Dems are still vastly outnumbered, but they showed up and increased their totals over 2014. Indeed, the total number of votes cast in the Democratic primary in 2014 was 2,328, so early voting turnout there came close to matching that by itself.

That’s about as good as it gets in terms of being specific. This Lubbock story is pretty representative:

Heading into the last day of early voting for the 2018 primaries, the Associated Press reported that Texas had already set a non-presidential cycle record for the number of people turning out. Before Friday, more than 583,000 Texans in the 15 largest counties had cast early ballots in person, which was already more than the then-record of nearly 510,000 who did so during early voting for 2014′s midterm election.

In Lubbock County there were 15,430 total ballots cast during the 11 days of early voting. That means about 9 percent of registered voters took advantage of the early voting period.

About 400 more votes in Lubbock county were actually cast this year than during early voting in 2014, the last midterm election. This year’s total is about 8,700 votes less than in 2010. During the last primary in 2016, more than 25,000 votes were cast in early voting.

[…]

The Lubbock County Elections Office hasn’t yet released the separate vote totals for the Republican and Democratic primaries.

Some of these places make you downright wistful for Stan Stanart. Here’s Hays County:

As of Feb. 26, 4,658 early votes have been accounted for at seven different locations spread across the county. This does not account for the nearly 2,000 votes submitted to the county by mail.

In total, around 6,600 have been counted for, shattering the numbers from previous election cycles in 2014 and 2016.

According to Hays County numbers, roughly 4,500 people voted early in the November Presidential 2016 election, while only 1,768 early votes were counted in November 2014 race.

“We’ve had a very high turnout considering the political season we are in,” said Jennifer Anderson, elections administrator for Hays County. “Democratic turnout has been good and that is to be expected considering the national swing we had with the Presidential election.”

[…]

So far, roughly 53 percent of the early voting population voted in the Republican Primary, while 46 percent of the early votes took part in the Democratic Primary.

At least that’s something to go on. In 2014, 8,521 votes were cast in the Republican primary for Governor (this isn’t the same as turnout, since people do undervote in individual races, but I can’t get to the Hays County elections page as I write this, so it will have to do), compared to 3,131 votes in the Dem primary for Governor. If the split this year is something like 53-46, then the Dem share is up by a lot. That’s very good to see.

From Comal County:

Registered voters in Comal and Guadalupe counties have their last chance to cast early ballots today for candidates competing in Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic primary elections.

Voters in both counties flocked to the polls during the 12-day early voting period, which began Feb. 20. Through last Tuesday, 5,654 Comal County residents — about 6 percent of the county’s 95,353 registered voters — had cast early ballots, running ahead of the number and percentage of registered voters who turned out in the 2014 midterm elections.

The rest is behind a paywall. Comal is deep red – think Montgomery County-deep red – so this will be worth watching. In 2014, there were 14,458 Republican primary gubernatorial votes, and 1,647 Democratic votes, so you can see what I mean. Neighboring Guadalupe County has a bit more detail:

Guadalupe County Elections Administrator Lisa Adam said area residents have slowly begun increasing their presence at the polls.

“Our numbers this week have already been higher than in the 2014 gubernatorial primary,” she said. “The first week’s numbers for this year were a little lower than they were in 2014. This week we are actually ahead than the second week of early voting in 2014; not by leaps and bounds, but we are ahead.”

[…]

“In the 2014 primary, we had 81,217 registered voters,” she said. “Right now, as of Feb. 1 we have 95,717. We’ve come a long way. We’re adding 300 to 400 registered voters a month. The growth our county is experiencing is incredible.”

In that election cycle, the county saw 14.2 percent of the voting population turn out for the Republican Primary and 2.1 percent for the Democratic Primary, Adam said.

1,688 Dem gubernatorial primary votes, 11,196 Republican. Again, there’s lots of room to grow here.

Brazos County:

Early voting before the March 6 primaries wrapped up Friday with 5,933 Brazos County voters casting ballots.

Most of those, 4,144, came from Republicans, and 1,789 Democrats voted early. The total for the two-week early voting period was helped by a push of 1,467 voters Friday. There are about 105,000 registered voters in the county.

That’s burying the lede here. In the 2014 gubernatorial primary there were 1,927 total Dem votes, and 10,665 total Rep votes. In other words, Dems are way up. Republicans, not so much.

For McLennan County, I turn to my friend Carmen Saenz:

Final numbers for 2018 early voting in McLennan County primary:
Dems: 3054 – 28% of total
GOP: 7778 – 72% of total

Relative to 2014 early voting in the McLennan County primary:
Dems 1085 – 18% of total
GOP 4940 – 82% of total

Although there is a 181.5% increase in the number of Dems voting and only a 57.5% increase in GOP, with an overall increase of 80% these numbers say a lot about the McLennan County Democratic Party.

In a lot of the counties, we’ve seen Dem numbers up a lot with Republican numbers not up much if at all. Both are up here, which makes McLennan a bit of an outlier.

The city of Amarillo is in both Randall and Potter counties. I didn’t find a good story for Randall County, but I did find this for Potter:

In Potter County, there have been 4,940 votes in-person and mail-in since Feb 27. That number is expected to increase by seven tonight, at the end of early voting.

In the 2016 Presidential Primaries, there were 5,284 early votes cast in Potter County.
Breaking down the numbers even further, 4,128 Republicans cast their vote in Potter County, during early voting.

That has surpassed the numbers from the 2016 election, which topped out at 4,031 votes. The Democrats have cast 821 votes, slightly less than 2016 early voting at 988.

That’s 2016. If you look at 2014, there were 810 total votes cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. So yeah, it’s up.

Last but not least, Midland County:

The elections offices in Midland and Ector County has seen a dip in voter turnout this early voting season.

As of Friday afternoon in Ector County, election officials counted 5,300 voters.

There are over 74,000 registered voters in Ector County.

[…]

As of Friday morning in Midland County, the total number ballots counted was a little over 6,200.

There are over 81,000 registered voters in Midland County.

2014 gubernatorial primaries:

Ector County – 1,320 Dems, 7,778 Republicans
Midland County – 960 Dems, 12,640 Republicans

If there’s a downward trend in these places, it’s probably not because of the Dems.

I’ll return to this later in the week. For now, this is where we stand.

The statewide lineups

Here’s the statewide lineup for Democrats. I’ll add in some notes afterwards.

U. S. Senator Beto O’Rourke
U. S. Senator Edward Kimbrough
U. S. Senator Sema Hernandez
Governor Adrian Ocegueda
Governor Andrew White
Governor Cedric Davis, Sr.
Governor Demetria Smith
Governor Grady Yarbrough
Governor James Jolly Clark
Governor Jeffrey Payne
Governor Joe Mumbach
Governor Lupe Valdez
Governor Tom Wakely
Lieutenant Governor Michael Cooper
Lieutenant Governor Mike Collier
Attorney General Justin Nelson
Comptroller of Public Accounts Joi Chevalier
Comptroller of Public Accounts Tim Mahoney
Commissioner of the General Land Office Miguel Suazo
Commissioner of the General Land Office Tex Morgan
Commissioner of Agriculture Kim Olson
Railroad Commissioner Chris Spellmon
Railroad Commissioner Roman McAllen
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 2 Steven Kirkland
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 4 R.K. Sandill
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 6 Kathy Cheng
Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Maria T. (Terri) Jackson
Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 7 Ramona Franklin

Just a few tidbits about some of the later entrants into the races:

Sema Hernandez was on the SOS filing page for a day or two, then disappeared from it until deadline day. I have no idea what was up with that.

Edward Kimbrough is apparently from Houston. I can’t find anything online about him.

There were two late filers in the Governor’s race, because apparently eight was not enough. James Jolly Clark is from Austin and appears to have been involved in some interesting lawsuits. Demetria Smith is a perennial candidate from Houston.

Joi Chevalier is a culinary entrepreneur. At first glance at least, she appears to have an interesting profile. It would have been nice to have heard of her before now.

Tex Morgan is a programmer in San Antonio who serves as a VIA Metropolitan Transit trustee, and has an even more interesting profile.

Chris Spellmon was a candidate for HCDP Chair who ultimately endorsed Eartha Jean Johnson in that race.

Some of these races are perhaps a bit more interesting than I expected them to be. I’ll do a separate post looking at Congressional and legislative candidates later.

There weren’t any late entrants of interest for statewide races on the Republican side. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing is that Baby Bush got multiple challengers but no one opposed Ken Paxton. Given that there is a nonzero chance he could get convicted of a felony next year, that seems like a curious outcome. Hey, their problem, not mine.

The TDP touted its ginormous candidate tally late Monday. I’ll summarize as follows:

All 36 Congressional seats are contested, with 110 total candidates.
14 of 15 State Senate seats are contested, with 24 total candidates.
133 of 150 State House seats are contested, with 189 total candidates.

Someone with a much more in depth knowledge of Texas’ political history will have to say when the last time was that we had a similar set of Democratic primary races. I’ll try to do a similar let-me-Google-that-for-you overview of these folks in the coming days, as time allows.

Finally, one more news item of interest:

Former U.S. Congressman Nick Lampson just filed to run as a Democrat for Jefferson County judge, KFDM/Fox 4 has learned.

The deadline to file was 6 p.m. Lampson will not face an opponent in the primary, but is challenging Republican incumbent Jeff Branick in next November’s general election.

I’m a longtime fan of Nick Lampson’s, so I’m happy to see him stay involved. The incumbent switched from D to R this year, so it would be nice to send him packing. Stace and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Harvey’s lingering health effects

It’s going to be a long time before we can really say we have put Hurricane Harvey behind us.

Three months after Hurricane Harvey, local health officials now are beginning to see the storm after the storm.

In Harris County and the other hardest-hit regions of Texas, 17 percent of those who had houses damaged or suffered income loss report that someone in their household has a new or worsening health condition. A sweeping new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Houston-based Episcopal Health Foundation shows a similar proportion feels their own mental health has worsened.

“We’re not anywhere near the end yet,” cautioned Dr. Cindy Rispin, a family physician with the Memorial Hermann Medical Group in League City.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,600 Texans in 24 affected counties to gauge their personal recovery. The report released Tuesday found a region still reeling in ways obvious and hidden.

[…]

More than four in 10 residents surveyed for the “Early Assessment of Hurricane Harvey’s Impact on Vulnerable Texans in the Gulf Coast Region” report said their homes had hurricane damage. Three percent reported their homes were destroyed.

Among those whose homes were damaged, nearly half said they had homeowners’ or renters’ insurance, but only 23 percent had flood insurance.

“We’re going to see foreclosures hit. It will probably be people that financially were in a tight spot already,” real estate agent Matthew Guzman said in a recent interview.

Perhaps most ominous is the quiet toll Harvey is still taking, months later, on people’s physical and mental health.

Worse, many storm victims were already uninsured in a state that leads the nation in those without coverage. Even those with coverage complained they cannot afford health care, especially as longtime doctors are no longer nearby when people become displaced. About six in 10 say they have skipped or postponed needed treatment, cut back on medication or struggled to get mental health care.

An executive summary of the poll, with links to all the poll data, is here. Some sobering facts from the summary:

About half of those who have applied for disaster assistance from FEMA or the SBA say their application is still pending or has been denied, and many of those who were denied say they were not told the reason for the denial and were not given information on how to resubmit their application. About a quarter of those whose homes were damaged say they had any flood insurance. Four in ten of those who were affected say they expect none of their financial losses to be covered by insurance or other assistance.

The financial situations of most people affected by Harvey are tenuous. About half of affected residents say they have no savings whatsoever, and another quarter say that if they lost their job or other source of income, their savings would be exhausted in less than 6 months.

Nearly half of affected residents say they are not getting the help they need to recover from the hurricane. Particular areas that stand out where residents say they need more help include applying for disaster assistance and repairing damage to their homes.

Local, county, and state governments receive high marks from residents for their response to Hurricane Harvey so far. Residents are more mixed in their views of how the U.S. Congress has responded, and responses tilt negative when it comes to President Trump’s response. Four in ten affected residents are not confident relief funds will benefit those most in need.

I wish I could say people are being needlessly pessimistic, but I can’t. ThinkProgress and the Trib have more.

Zena Stephens

Congratulations to Texas’ first black female Sheriff.

Zena Stephens

Zena Stephens

While history was being made with the election of Donald Trump as president, Zena Stephens was making a little of her own in Southeast Texas by becoming the state’s first black female sheriff.

And it took three elections to do it.

In the March primary, Stephens knocked out the incumbent sheriff’s chief deputy, who was the favorite of law enforcement and had significantly outraised Stephens. In May, she bested an African-American constable in a runoff. Then on Tuesday she narrowly defeated a 39-year retired Beaumont police lieutenant to become sheriff of Jefferson County.

According to the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas, which tracks the history of the office, Stephens is the first black woman elected sheriff in the state.

After her victory, she acknowledged the significance of her success.

“I think it is important, because I never saw anybody who looked like me in this role, or as a police chief, when I was growing up,” said Stephens. “And so the idea, not just for girls but for any minority, that you can obtain these jobs at this level, I think that’s important. And it’s important for these jobs in law enforcement and any job to reflect the community they serve.”

[…]

Texas’s first female sheriff was Emma Susan Daugherty Banister, who took office in Coleman County in 1918 after her husband died three months before his term as sheriff ended.

Loving County lays claim to the first elected female sheriff in the state, Edna Reed Clayton Dewees.

According to the county’s sheriff’s office, she was elected in 1945 and was known for never carrying a firearm and reporting only two arrests during her term.

Barbara Hayes Foreman was the first black female deputy sheriff in the state when she was appointed in 1977, according to Black Texas Women, a book published by the University of Texas Press in 1996. Foreman served in Travis County.

Stephens had previously been the chief deputy in Jefferson County before leaving to become the first female police chief at Prairie View A&M. She did have a narrow victory in the sense that she won by 51.44% to 48.56%, but that was actually the second-largest margin of victory for a D-versus-R race in the county. If you’re thinking you’ve heard the name “Zena Stephens” before, it’s probably because back in March, a couple of days before the primary, some racist yahoo fired a gun at her campaign headquarters; the story made national news. Thankfully, no one was hurt and said yahoo is now awaiting trial. Congratulations and best of luck to Sheriff-elect Zena Stephens.

We’re outsourcing inmates again

We never learn.

go_to_jail

Harris County, in the latest move to keep its swelling jail population in check, is pursuing an agreement with neighboring Fort Bend County to send inmates to the suburb’s jail.

A Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman called the measure precautionary. If it is approved by commissioners at their meeting Tuesday, it’s not certain that Harris County would immediately begin sending inmates to the Fort Bend County jail. But it’s likely that Harris County in the near future will begin the transfers, especially as its jail population spikes in the summer months.

“Harris County officials asked if we had bed space available and we do,” Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said in a written statement Friday. “They came out and looked at our facility and were impressed with what they saw. We will be able to accommodate the increased number of inmates within our current budget.”

[…]

Earlier this year, Harris County began sending hundreds of inmates to jails in Jefferson and Bowie counties.

What is different about the Fort Bend County proposal is that it targets pretrial inmates, or those in jail ahead of their court proceedings, said Harris County Sheriff’s spokesman Ryan Sullivan.

The Bowie and Jefferson transfers focused on inmates who had been convicted and were awaiting transfer to a state prison.

The pretrial inmate population is the biggest driver of the county’s high jail population, Sullivan said.

It’s also been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years.

See here for the background. Everything I said then remains true now. What we are doing is the definition of dumb. It is our choice to jail thousands of people each year who are no threat to anyone. It is our choice to do something different. We need people in place – Sheriff, DA, judges – who will make the better choices.

Straight ticket voting and judicial races elsewhere

You may be wondering, after reading my post about straight ticket voting and judicial races if the same thing is true in counties other than Harris. I got to wondering that myself, so I checked out the results from a dozen other counties for 2012.

County ST Advantage Contested Races Closest Win # Affected ================================================================== Dallas Dem 92,456 3 93,810 0 Tarrant GOP 66,682 0 N/A 0 Bexar Dem 24,711 12 11,209 2 Travis Dem 53,480 0 N/A 0 Collin GOP 72,239 0 N/A 0 Denton GOP 59,348 0 N/A 0 El Paso Dem 47,483 1 48,038 0 Fort Bend GOP 11,754 2 19,530 0 Galveston GOP 17,799 0 N/A 0 Hidalgo Dem 51,644 0 N/A 0 Williamson GOP 17,939 0 N/A 0 Jefferson Dem 11,646 1 17,546 0

I only looked at District and County Court races for this study. “ST Advantage” is the difference between the straight-ticket vote of the dominant party, which I’ve listed to its left, and the other party. For example, there were 92,456 more straight-ticket Democratic votes cast in Dallas County than there were straight-ticket Republican votes. “Contested races” is the number of judicial races in which there was a Democrat and a Republican. “Closest win” is the smallest margin of victory for the party with the straight-ticket advantage. Note that in Bexar County there was one victorious Republican judicial candidate. “# Affected” is the number of contested races in which the margin of the closest win is less than the straight-ticket advantage. In other words, that’s the number of races for which the straight-ticket margin was decisive. I didn’t count that one Bexar County race because that particular Republican was able to overcome the straight-ticket advantage, and thus wasn’t affected by it.

So, what we learn from broadening our search is that there’s a total of three races in which straight-ticket voting arguably affected the outcome of a judicial election. I say “arguably” because in order to believe this, you have to believe that sufficiently more of the winning party straight-ticket voters would have failed to vote in these races than the losing party’s straight-ticket voters, which is at best a questionable and unprovable proposition. But if you believe it, then in thirteen of the biggest counties in Texas, there are three fewer Republican judges than there would have been if Dan Patrick had his way. I should note that Paul Sadler carried El Paso and Hidlago by less than the straight-ticket margin, so there could at least theoretically have been some other examples if there had been contested races. This is not the same as thinking such races might have been competitive – these are deep blue counties, as Democratic as Collin is Republican, and as likely to elect a Republican as Collin is a Dem. The one true recruitment failure was in Jefferson County, where despite the straight-ticket advantage President Obama barely won a plurality, but one Democratic judge there drew no opponent.

Maybe you think this is a big deal, worthy of a high-profile bill and much fawning media coverage. I think it’s much ado about nothing, and would do nothing to improve the process of how we make judges. The thing that really stood out to me as I looked through this data is just how few contested judicial races there were. Outside of Bexar and Harris – not coincidentally, two of the more evenly-matched counties in the state – hardly any November judicial action. I didn’t check to see how many judicial races were settled in the primaries – sorry, I’m not that obsessed with this topic – but I do agree that primary party politics are not conducive to good judge-selection. Does that mean making judicial elections non-partisan is a good idea? Personally, I don’t think so. Houston city elections are officially non-partisan, but everyone knows who the Rs and the Ds are, and I daresay that’s how it would be in “non-partisan” judicial races. Besides, look at it this way: If I’m a District Court judge in, say, Collin or Travis County, and I have a November opponent, I don’t have to emphasize my partisan credentials. The “R” or “D” next to my name on the ballot will do that for me, and I’m free to talk about my experience and qualifications or whatever else I want to put on my mailers. But in a non-partisan race, my party affiliation is exactly what I need to emphasize, since my surest path to a win is to ensure that my fellow partisans know who’s who on the ballot. I’d expect that to happen even in balanced counties, because your team are your most reliable voters, and indifference to downballot races is at least as big a concern as the other guy’s team is. I don’t see a way around it.

Well, we could do away with judicial elections and go to an all-appointment system. This is first of all a philosophical question: Either you believe that judges should be elected by The People, or you believe they should be selected by a person or a committee. If you prefer the latter, then it’s primarily a matter of logistics. As I noted before, there are nearly 2000 non-municipal judges statewide, so just coming up with a system that can handle that big a workload is a big deal. I trust we can all agree that letting Rick Perry appoint judges, or even letting him appoint the appointers, is a bad idea. I’m sure there are workable ways of doing this, but I’ll leave the details to someone who buys into the idea. If you want to have a system of appointments with retention elections, I’ll just note again that all of the usual suspects that play in judicial races would still be free, and likely, to play in these elections as well. What, if anything, is the plan to deal with that?

Which brings me back to the point that I’ve been trying to make since the subject of partisan judicial races first came up in 2008 after Democrats first demonstrated the ability to win them in Harris County: The biggest problem as I see it is the influence of money on judicial races. That’s why I get so frustrated by phony solutions like Sen. Patrick’s and the accolades he gets for it from people who need to think it through more completely. I’ve seen this bill described as a “good first step”, but I have to ask, a step towards what? What’s the second step, and what’s the ultimate goal? In the meantime, what are we going to do to limit the influence of bad actors like Texans for Lawsuit Reform, strip clubs, and George Fleming and their money on the judicial selection process? I’m certainly willing to accept that our process of partisan judicial elections is deeply flawed, but if your solution doesn’t address the points I’ve raised I’m just not going to take it seriously.

Ron Paul not running for re-election in CD14

Looks like we won’t need to challenge him after all.

Late Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, sent out the following message to his Twitter followers: “I have decided not to seek re-election to Congress.”

Brazoria County newspaper, The Facts, has more details. The 24-year veteran of the U.S. House of Representatives told them he planned on devoting more time to his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. “I felt it was better that I concentrate on one election,” he said. “It’s about that time when I should change tactics.”

This is a change from 2008 when Paul was in both races; he drew 4.87% of the vote in the Texas primary, which was basically a non-event as John McCain had already wrapped up the nomination, finishing third behind McCain and Mike Huckabee. Either he seriously thinks he’ll still be in contention as of next March, or maybe he’s just had enough of Congress. I don’t much care one way or the other, I’m just happy to see him go.

As I said, this means we don’t need to challenge him, we now just need to find someone to take a crack at an open seat. As BOR notes, that’s a potentially long list, though everyone they name with the exception of Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski would have to give up their own seat to do so, as they will all be on the ballot in their own primary otherwise. (Also, at least one name on that list is looking at CD36.) It’s possible Paul’s decision could have quite the ripple effect. As for the odds of a Democratic win, I will point you to Greg’s numbers and note that despite my moderate pessimism, CD14 is quite reasonably competitive and now deserves even more than before to be vigorously contested. A moderate Dem with crossover appeal, especially in Jefferson and Galveston Counties, would make a race of it. Anyone know what Nick Lampson is up to these days? Because if you’d just woken me up out of a ten-year coma and showed me this map, I’d say this CD14 is a district drawn for him. Texas Politics has more.

UPDATE: One GOP hopeful steps forward.

On challenging Ron Paul in CD14

Jason Stanford has a question.

So why aren’t we targeting Ron Paul again? The Texas legislature drew him the reapportionment equivalent of a target on his back. They took away some of his red meat territory and gave him Galveston and Jefferson counties, something which failed to raise Kuff’s spirits.

[…]

Kuff’s not the only one to think this is a non-starter. Everyone in Austin is waiting for relief from the courts or from Obama’s DoJ, and rumor is that the DCCC doesn’t even consider targeting Ron Paul a remote possibility. And yes, though unpopular Ron Paul does have name ID, and he can raise millions at the click of a mouse. And Obama only got 42% in 2008 in this district.

I think all of the arguments against targeting Ron Paul can be chalked up to entrenched pessimism. As I pointed out before, Democrats routinely win these kinds of seats nationwide.

But to really make a case, we’re going to have to see a path to victory in the numbers. First, the placeholder Democrats. Can your average numbnuts candidate do well? Luckily, we have a healthy sample of those, and Kuff breaks down the numbers.

Toss out the 2010 results. We can’t plan for a 100-year-flood every two years. And if 2010 is the new paradigm, we should all quit and sell gold. Those results are pointless either way. Moving on.

The apples to apples argument is statewide judicial candidate Sam Houston, who got 47.3% in the new CD14 in 2008, the last presidential year. Houston didn’t have much cash, was working against years of salesmanship about tort reform, and suffered, at least in the new CD 14, of the effects of a hurricane in Galveston, and he still came pretty close.

It is certainly not my intention to discourage anyone from taking on Ron Paul. I’d be delighted if someone did. My point in the writings Stanford cites is to provide some context, as I believe the partisan numbers in the new CD14 look better than they really are. My basis for this comes down to the trends in Galveston and Jefferson Counties, both of which are entirely within the new CD14, and which are about 75% of its total population. Take a look at how Bill Moody and JR Molina did in consecutive Presidential year and non-Presidential year elections:

County 04 Molina 08 Molina Change 02 Moody 06 Moody Change ================================================================== Galveston 46,065 41,996 -4,069 27,390 29,811 +1,421 Jefferson 48,351 46,024 -2,327 30,805 24,553 -6,252

Like I said, the trends are in the wrong direction. Moody was on the ballot last year as well, and his numbers (26,162 in Galveston; 24,539 in Jefferson) continue that trend. Galveston is a growing county, where most of the growth is coming from the northern, Republican suburbs like Friendswood and League City. Jefferson is a stagnant county made up of staunchly Democratic African-Americans and formerly Democratic Anglos, the latter of which are the bulk of the population and growing less Democratic every day. I hate to be a wet blanket, but I have higher hopes going forward for CDs like 06, 12, 31, and 32, where you can see the population trends be more favorable.

Again, I don’t want to write off any reasonable district. This one absolutely deserves attention, especially given its very different nature from the previous map. Looking beyond 2012, Paul won’t be around forever – he turns 76 this August – so regardless of what the past numbers look like, someone needs to be thinking about the future in CD14. I just want to be realistic about what we’ll be getting into.

Seliger-Solomons 2.0

Go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us and have a gander at Plan C130 to see the version of the Seliger-Solomons Congressional plan that was passed last night by the Senate redistricting committee. The biggest changes are in and around Harris County, mostly due to CD36, which Rep. Solomons had admitted was ridiculous. Gone is its bizarre shape, which had been described by me and others as “the Gateway Arch”, a “horseshoe”, and a “Gulf shrimp”, which is my favorite. Here’s a before and after look for comparison. First, the original, Plan C125:

What once was

And here’s Plan C130:

What now is

CD36 loses all of its western turf and takes in territory that had originally been drawn into CDs 01, 02, 08, and 14. While it can now be more accurately described as an East Texas district, it still takes a chunk of Harris County, which I daresay will remain the population center for it. I don’t know if this is more of what State Rep. James White had in mind when he complained about the original CD36, but if it’s not I don’t know that he’s going to get what he wants. East Texas didn’t gain population in the past decade, the Houston area – Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Harris – did. One way or another they’re going to get yoked to this area. This is probably about as good as it’s going to get for them.

The folks in SN22 no longer have to be worried about being represented by someone from 200 miles away, but in return they get stuck with Ted Poe, whose CD02 is now entirely within Harris. CD08 takes most of the non-Harris portions of what had been the west and north ends of the CD36 arch – Grimes, Madison, Houston, and Trinity counties – while CD10 takes the piece of Washington county and the rest of Harris that didn’t go to CD02. Angelina County is reclaimed by CD01. CD22 gives up much of its east Harris turf and picks up more of Brazoria. The Brazoria bit came from CD14, which loses Chambers and picks up the rest of Jefferson.

There are some minor changes elsewhere in the map, which Greg discusses. He also disagrees with the contention made in the Trib that the changes to CD14 target Ron Paul. While I’ve long held the crackpot belief that this next round of redistricting would do Paul no favors, I also don’t think this is much of a threat to him. His district has been changed more significantly in the past, and it didn’t stop him. Short of eliminating his district altogether, I daresay he’ll keep on keeping on. According to this interactive Trib map, the redrawn CD14 is less red by a few points, but still pretty red and encompassing counties that are going the wrong way from my perspective. Paul has no real reason to lose any sleep.

Anyway, this is what we’ve got for now. Most of what will happen between now and the eventual adoption of a map is aimed at the lawyers, since there clearly isn’t going to be much public input allowed. See Greg‘s liveblogging of the Senate committee hearing, the Trib, and Texas on the Potomac for more. Finally, while I doubt it will be considered during this session, State Sen. Jose Rodriguez sent out this press release about “legislation which would establish new guidelines for the process of redrawing congressional district lines.” It doesn’t create a non-partisan commission for this purpose as Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s biennial bill would, but it does require that districts “not be drawn based on partisan data nor with int ent to favor or disfavor any individual or organized group”. The bill is SB32 if you want to have a look.

Ike Dike update

As the first Atlantic tropical storms of the year make their appearance, we get an update on the proposed Ike Dike.

One of Hurricane Ike’s legacies may be the hardening of the upper Texas coast against hurricane storm surges.

Within weeks, a post-Ike committee appointed by Gov. Rick Perry will recommend that six Texas counties band together to form a storm surge suppression zone.

In effect, this would empower the counties — Harris, Galveston, Brazoria, Orange, Chambers and Jefferson — to seek state and federal funding and identify the best system of dikes, gates and seawalls to protect coastal communities — including the city of Houston and its Ship Channel industries — from devastating surges.

“We would like the counties to work together to study the potential of protective measures, whether it’s a levee system, a dike, an offshore barrier or something else,” said former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, who chaired the Ike committee.

Ultimately, such a project is likely to cost billions, with funds coming primarily from the federal government.

Oh, that evil, evil federal government and its dirty, dirty money! Always doing things for us that we’re unable to do for ourselves. Why must we suffer under the burden of their yoke?

The recommendation will come amid a growing discussion in the area on whether Ike’s primary lesson should be to harden the Texas coast against storm surges, or to pull back from development in threatened areas such as Bolivar Peninsula.

The committee appears to back the “Ike Dike” approach advocated by oceanographer William Merrell of Texas A&M University at Galveston.

[…]

“We viewed the Ike Dike as an interesting idea, but not necessarily the solution,” Eckels said. “It’s a good starting point.”

He said area county judges are receptive to studying the idea further. But some, including Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, are skeptical.

“It’s an expensive proposition for a potential protection from one hurricane factor — storm surge — while doing nothing to protect us from wind, which was obviously a great problem here in Harris County,” said Emmett’s spokesman, Joe Stinebaker.

Additionally, many environmentalists and scientists believe more coastal development — which a dike could encourage — is not the best public policy.

In June the Houston Endowment gave $1.25 million to Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters center, in part to study coastal development and storm surges.

The money will allow environmental attorney and coastal expert Jim Blackburn and others to explore alternative visions to simply hardening the coast as part of a report due in two years.

Blackburn says dike alternatives include turning much of Bolivar Peninsula into a national seashore and expanding wildlife refuges in Chambers and Jefferson counties.

“Perhaps the coast should just be a place to visit,” Blackburn suggested. “Everyone who goes there wants to move in. I understand that, but maybe unfettered development right on the beach is not the best public policy.”

I have a lot of sympathy for that position. I also have a lot of doubt that the political support to go that route. Is there a viable non-dike solution if you assume that the current level of development will remain as is? I could maybe see that happening. Alternately, I could see putting some restrictions on new development, which maybe you could get through as an accompaniment to an Ike Dike. I’ll be very interested to see what their proposed alternatives are, but I have my doubts as to their prospects.