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Election 2012

More strip club cash in the county races

Given the prevalence of strip clubs in Houston, I’m actually a bit surprised we don’t see more of this in our elections.

My, what big wads of cash you have

Four people associated with the strip club Treasures have contributed a combined $48,700 to the Republican challengers for Harris County attorney and a civil district judgeship – men who could, if elected, oversee an ongoing lawsuit against Treasures.

County Attorney challenger Robert Talton reported in a campaign filing on Monday that he got $15,900 from Casey Wallace, $6,000 from Ronald Monshaugen and $5,000 from Al Van Huff, all attorneys representing Treasures, as well as $7,000 from Ronnie Bird, the club’s longtime head of corporate security. The same foursome gave a combined $14,800 to judicial candidate Bud Wiesedeppe, who is seeking the bench in the 164th Civil District Court, where the Treasures case is being heard.

City of Houston and county attorneys sued Treasurers last May, labeling the club “an epicenter of illegal activity” and seeking to shut it down for a year. The club says it is being retaliated against for challenging the city’s sexually-oriented business ordinance. Trial is set for Dec. 10.

Lauren Serper, an attorney for other adult cabarets in the county, also contributed $3,000 to Talton and $2,000 to Wiesedeppe, records show. Serper gave input as the county strengthened its rules on sexually oriented businesses, rules that passed unanimously at Commissioners Court last month.

The five donors’ cash comprised 42 percent of Talton’s total contributions during the Sept. 28-Oct. 27 filing period, and half of Wiesedeppe’s.

As previously noted, Treasures is all in for GOP Sheriff candidate Louis Guthrie. Here’s Talton’s report, and here’s Wiesedeppe’s report. Did you know that Robert Talton and Bud Wiesedeppe both work for Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill’s law firm? That doesn’t have anything to do with this story, I just find it all amusing.

Commissioner Jack Cagle, who led the charge for the county’s new sexually oriented business regulations, said Talton assured him in a Thursday night phone call that he is committed to enforcement.

“There may be a statement that’s being made by some individuals that if you get involved in trying to clean up your streets that someone out there may choose to start making contributions to your opponents,” Cagle said. “Once that occurs, though, there’s no assurance that the opponent is going to agree with their position.”

Houston political analyst Robert Miller said lawyers, and others, have a right to make political contributions.

“That is our system, and our system of regulation is simply to disclose those contributions,” Miller said. “It’s clear that they want to elect (Talton), and voters would have to draw their own inferences as to why that is. Just because they want to elect him does not mean he would necessarily be favorable to them.”

This is all true. It’s also true that there’s a reason you don’t see these contributions earlier in the cycle. This is why the 8 day finance report is almost always the most interesting one to check out.

Endorsement watch: For the bonds

The Chron reiterates its support for the bond issues on the ballot.

While all eyes are on the presidential race, we would like to remind voters that some of the most important issues for Houstonians aren’t on the first page of the ballot or covered by selecting straight-ticket voting (which we don’t advise in any case). Way down the ballot, Houston voters will find a list of bond propositions, and we encourage everyone to vote yes on all of them.

These bonds will raise money for necessary and appropriate civic programs that will help the city provide essential functions, help the Houston Independent School District build or refurbish schools and help the Houston Community College System train students and workers for our growing economy. The city of Houston bonds are even structured in a way that will fit payments into current budget projections, with no need to raise taxes. Like a business taking out a loan for a capital project, a vote for these bonds is a vote to invest in Houston. And that’s certainly a worthy investment.

That KHOU poll suggests that all these issues will pass, some by greater margins than others, but I’m reserving judgment on that. An earlier poll also suggested the bonds would pass. The Chron has previously endorsed the city bonds and the HCC bond; their list of all endorsements includes the HISD bond, but either I missed the editorial they wrote for that or they skipped writing one. How did you vote on these issues?

Back to Basics polls SD06

We don’t know when a special election in SD06 to succeed the late Sen. Mario Gallegos would be, but Back to Basics says we should start preparing for one.

Sen. Mario Gallegos

According to a new poll commissioned and released by the Back to Basics PAC, the late Senator Mario Gallegos is well-positioned to receive a majority of the vote in the Senate District 6 general election, and longtime Harris County leader Sylvia Garcia is the strongest candidate to replace Gallegos in the yet-to-be-scheduled special election for the district.

“This survey shows a few key things,” said Jeff Rotkoff, a consultant to the Back to Basics PAC. “First, Harris County voters have a high awareness of Senator Gallegos’ tragic and untimely passing, and they are ready to honor his legacy by voting for him on November 6.”

“And second, Harris County Democrats have a strong candidate to hold this seat in Commissioner Sylvia Garcia. Whenever Governor Perry chooses to set the special election to fill Senator Gallegos’ vacancy, the ballot might as well read ‘Sylvia Garcia’ and ‘everybody else,’” Rotkoff concluded.

Back to Basics’ survey of 403 likely voters was fielded between October 23 and 25 by the respected polling firm Opinion Analysts. The results include a +/- 4.9% margin of error. Key findings are below.

You can see the full memo at the link above. I think their characterization of Garcia’s chances is, shall we say, exuberant. They show her up by 12 points over State Rep. Carol Alvarado in a hypothetical four-way race that includes two male Republicans, but only at 31%, which is still a long way from 50. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot that can happen between now and whenever Rick Perry deigns to call this election. Rep. Alvarado released a statement disputing B2B’s assessment of the race the day after the poll came out. I don’t have anything further to say about this till after Election Day.

KHOU story on the Metro poll question

I noted yesterday that there would be a separate story on the Metro referendum result from that KHOU/KUHF poll of Harris County.That story is here.

A new poll indicates the Metro referendum on Houston area ballots will probably pass, but as early voting began a large number of voters hadn’t made up their minds.

About 43 percent of surveyed voters said they planned to vote for the referendum, while 28 percent planned to vote against it. But more than one in four voters – 27 percent—were still unsure.

“Most voters don’t know what they’re voting on,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who conducted the poll for KHOU 11 News and KUHF Houston Public Radio. “The ballot caption doesn’t tell them that.”

[…]

“I think when people really look at the language, they recognize, ‘Oh, this is great, this is very simple,’” said Gilbert Garcia, the chairman of the Metro board. “Number one, it continues road payments. Number two, it pays down short term debt. And number three, it has money to restore the bus system.”

But the plan has made some strange bedfellows. Longtime allies of Metro have suddenly become its adversaries. Strangest of all, Barry Klein—who has dedicated much of his life to fighting Metro—is speaking out in favor of the transit agency’s referendum.

Rail proponents believe this idea essentially dooms any plans for rail expansion in the foreseeable future.

“We won’t have any more rail if we vote ‘yes,’” said David Crossley, an outspoken opponent of the referendum plan. “And so, if you want rail, you have to vote ‘no.’”

Again, you can see the topline data and the poll questions with responses for more information. You can listen to my interview with Crossley here and with Chairman Garcia and Board Member Christof Spieler here if you haven’t made up your own mind yet. Stein thinks the referendum will probably pass, and that most of those confused undecided voters will probably skip it on the ballot, and I think he’s probably right. Transit advocates have done a pretty good job getting their message out considering their lack of resources, and a win for them is certainly not out of the question. The one thing I know for sure is that the politics of this issue are the strangest I’ve ever seen.

Overview of SBOE6

The Memorial Examiner takes a look at the race in SBOE6 between Republican Donna Bahorich and Democrat Traci Jensen.

Bahorich is former district director for state Sen. Dan Patrick (R-District 7) and says her experience with the state legislative process adds to her qualifications for the post. A former manager at Mountain Bell, she home-schooled her sons until they reached high school and founded the non-profit Home Ed Plus to provide supplemental classes for other home school families.

Bahorich said she is a collaborator who will bring all groups involved with education together to help set policies for the state.

“About half on the board have been teachers. What I bring to the board, in addition to my work with home schooling, is my experience on the whole picture, through legislative process. I have a global view of how we need to be going about our work that’s been missing from the board. My opponent is focused on the classroom, she doesn’t know legislative process,” Bahorich said.

Traci Jensen

Jensen was inspired to run for the SBOE seat following its controversial decisions involving the state social studies curriculum in 2010. A former classroom teacher in Aldine ISD, Jensen has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction. As a visiting professor at University of Houston until last year, she worked with educators across the city, state, the nation, and internationally concerning the improvement of learning and developing curriculum.

Jensen wants to end the culture wars that politicize subject matter. She advocates more creative instruction choices for teachers.

“My concern is making sure we are public education advocates, not political advocates. The state board should be advising legistors and advocating for parents and teachers,” Jensen said. “She (Bahorich) has a completely political background working for Dan Patrick for years, and she’s not worked in classorooms or in the schools.”

Might be nice if someone would ask Bahorich what she thinks about vouchers, since her former boss plans to push for them next year. I mean, if we’re going to divert public funds to private schools, does that mean that the private schools need to follow the curriculum set by the SBOE? I’m sure there are other questions pertaining to this as well.

On a side note, this is the first truly contested election in SBOE6 in at least 20 years. Terri Leo had a Libertarian opponent in 2008, but before that every Republican running in SBOE6 going back to 1992 – Jack Christie in ’92 and ’94. Chase Untermeyer in ’98, and Leo in ’02 and ’04 – were unopposed. That’s as far back as the SOS archives go – if you know the history from before that, leave a comment and let us know. Campos has more.

Obama leads in poll of Harris County

More polling goodness for you.

The poll conducted for KHOU 11 News and KUHF Houston Public Radio indicates Obama leads Romney in Harris County, but not by much. That gives some indication how election night might go for politicians running for offices that are down the ballot.

The poll shows the president leading in Harris County with the support of 46 percent of surveyed voters, compared to Romney’s 42 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson cracked the survey with 2 percent.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democrat Paul Sadler’s 44 percent leads Republican Ted Cruz with 42 percent in Harris County. With a 3.5 percent margin of error, that’s a statistical dead heat in the largest county in Texas.

[…]

Republican crossover voters are helping push Democratic Sheriff Adrian Garcia to 51 percent in this survey, compared to Republican challenger Louis Guthrie’s 32 percent. Another 13 percent were undecided.

On the other hand, many Democrats told pollsters they’re voting for Republican district attorney candidate Mike Anderson, who’s polling at 41 percent. Nonetheless, Democrat Lloyd Oliver is close behind with 35 percent. Another 19 percent are undecided. That number is especially striking because Democratic Party leaders were so embarrassed by Oliver’s candidacy they tried to remove him from the ballot.

“What we’re seeing is a much more significant ticket-splitting among Republicans than Democrats,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who supervised the poll. “I don’t know if that’s because they’re more bipartisan, or they simply are more capable and more likely to make that choice, which is not easy to do on an e-slate ballot.”

Or maybe Sheriff Garcia has done a better job of making the case for himself than Mike Anderson has. Prof. Stein was kind enough to share the topline data and the poll questions with responses, and I’ll note that there were considerably more “don’t know” answers in the DA race than in the Sheriff’s. Perhaps that’s the difference.

You can also find basic poll data here, though for some odd reason there’s no breakdown of the Senate race on that page. There are also results for the five City of Houston bond proposals, the HCC and HISD bond proposals, all of which have majority support and in some cases large majorities. There’s no result for the Metro referendum, but I infer from the teaser at the end of this KUHF story on the poll that that result may be released separately. Released by KHOU and KUHF, anyway – if you go back and look at those docs I linked above, you’ll see the Metro referendum result from this poll. It has plurality support, but that makes it the only one not to have a majority. Make of that what you will.

For what it’s worth, there was a Zogby poll of the Presidential race in Harris County in 2008, which showed a 7-point lead for Obama over McCain. Oddly, as I look back at it, the story never mentioned the actual numbers, just the margin; the links for the poll data and crosstabs are now broken, so I can’t check them. (The story did say that Rick Noriega had a 47-40 lead over John Cornyn for Senate in Harris County.) A separate poll of county and judicial races showed similar results, though it did correctly call Ed Emmett the leader in the County Judge race. Democrats did win most of those races, and both Obama and Noriega carried Harris County, though by smaller margins than the poll predicted. As I noted at the time, Zogby (the pollster) showed Dems with an eight-point advantage in party ID, which largely explained the poll numbers. This poll shows roughly the same partisan ID numbers, which could mean some Democratic slippage from 2008, or could just be random. As Greg says, what we very likely have here is a swing county where GOTV will make the difference. We’ll know soon enough.

Strip club cash in the Sheriff’s race

The waning days of a campaign always have the greatest potential for hijinx.

A $25,000 political contribution from the owner of a strip club being sued by Harris County lawyers found its way, via the Harris County Deputies Organization, into the campaign coffers of the man challenging Sheriff Adrian Garcia in November, according to campaign finance reports.

Ali Davari, who with his brother Hassan Davari owns a handful of prominent local strip clubs, including Treasures, Gold Cup and Trophy Club, gave $25,000 to the deputies union political action committee on Oct. 15. It was the only contribution the organization received during the time period covered by the report, which was filed Thursday. The union donated the same amount, in its only listed expenditure, to Republican Louis Guthrie’s campaign a week later, earmarking it for political advertising.

Guthrie reports receiving a $25,000 check from the union on Oct. 9; Guthrie’s campaign manager Sara Kinney said the campaign listed that date because that was the date on the check. HCDO Vice President Eric Batton could not explain the discrepancy in the dates.

“The deputies organization, whatever they do is what they do,” Guthrie said. “The fact that they gave me money, I think it’s great they’re behind me and that they’ve endorsed me in this campaign. I can’t control the deputies organization, the money they take in from whomever.”

Guthrie and Batton accused the Houston Chronicle of writing about the contribution to help Garcia, whom the Chronicle editorial board has endorsed for re-election.

[…]

Houston political analyst Robert Miller said such pass-though donations are common, such as when donors do not want to publicly oppose an incumbent and donate to a political group instead.

“It’s unusual to see it so clumsily done,” Miller said. “By doing it in this manner and with this timing, they have waved a red flag all over the contribution. It would be evident to most that it’s a contribution from the sexually-oriented business to a sheriff’s candidate.”

For reasons unclear I can’t find the HCDO 8 day report on the County Clerk campaign finance report page. The Garcia campaign sent out an email about this that has a few more details. The reaction to the story by everyone involved tells you pretty much everything you need to know about it.

UPDATE: A copy of the 8 day report is here.

Endorsement watch: Perez in HD144

The Chron finally makes an endorsement in the other open legislative seat, HD144.

Mary Ann Perez

For this open seat, we recommend the Democrat, Mary Ann Perez, whose professional skills and experience in another contentious political arena would serve her and the district well in Austin. Perez is opposed by a Republican and a Libertarian.

[…]

A Milby High School graduate, Perez knows this territory well. She has an admirable history of community participation at the grass-roots level, beginning with service as president of her neighborhood civic association and on the board of directors of her two sons’ Little League.

She has since moved on to bigger things, serving as chair of the Board of Trustees of the Houston Community College, where she has proven herself as a knowledgeable and capable leader. If elected to the Texas House, she would be constitutionally obliged to resign from her HCC position, but she would bring her knowledge and experience with her to Austin.

Her community college board experience recommends Perez’s candidacy in two important ways:

1) It has given her real-world experience dealing with important public policy issues while learning the art of compromise.

2) It has brought her familiarity with education issues at a high level.

If they select Mary Ann Perez as their representative, District 144 voters will thus be sending to Austin a woman already well schooled in the two most important subjects facing the Legislature in 2012: education and working across the aisle to create reasonable compromise.

I’m not sure what took them so long to get to this race, since by the numbers it’s the most competitive district in the county and an open seat to boot, but there it is. If Perez wins and all other races hold true to their partisan leanings, Democrats will hold 13 of the 24 seats in Harris County. Perez has the backing of Annie’s List and the HDCC in this high-priority district. How good a day Texas Democrats have on Tuesday will depend in part on the outcome in this race.

Elsa Caballero: Public Employee and Janitors Mobilize in Support of City of Houston Bonds

Note: The following is a guest post.

For the past month, Houston’s janitors have joined forces with our city’s public employees in favor of the City of Houston bond package and METRO referendum on the ballot this election cycle. Volunteers, made up of HOPE and SEIU Local 1 members, are having voter-to-voter conversations about the real immediate benefits of improving our libraries, parks, public housing, public transportation and roads. Working in conjunction with the Vote for Houston’s Future Committee we will have reached 4,000 households in person or by phone by November 6th.

Our members have placed their full support behind this investment in our city because we believe in growing our economy from the bottom up. All Houstonians benefit from quality infrastructure, but it’s low and middle-income families who often depend on these services. This is our opportunity to pull our resources together to balance opportunity for families who live on the margins. With nearly half of all single mothers in Houston living in poverty, it would be immoral and dangerous for us to ignore a growing wealth gap that could undermine our city’s economic vitality in the near future.

This past summer, Houston’s janitors living on as little as $9,000 a year went on strike for a better future for their families. After five weeks, with the support of political leaders, regular Houstonians, and union members from around the country, janitors saved their union and won a 12% raise. The story of one of these janitors, Hernan Trujillo, is a testament to the benefit of quality public infrastructure. As the breadwinner for himself and his two elderly parents, Hernan worked as a dishwasher during the day and a janitor at night, leaving precious little time for himself. Unable to afford a car, Hernan spent most of his time going to work on the bus where he would make time to study the English books he borrowed from his local library. Now with his English close to perfect, he hopes to return to school.

There are thousands of others like Hernan. When families have avenues to rise out of poverty, we all benefit. A vote in support of the city bonds is vote for a brighter Houston for all.

This post was written by Elsa Caballero, State Director for SEIU Local 1 Texas

Are Texas Latinos like Latinos elsewhere or not?

Latino Decisions bemoans a disconnect between its poll numbers for Latino voters and what it’s seeing in the crosstabs of other recent national polls.

In 1998 Harry Pachon and Rudy de la Garza wrote a report for the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute titled “Why Pollsters Missed the Latino Vote – Again!” in which they argued that polls across California failed to accurately account for Latino voters in their samples, and that pre-election polls statewide were fraught with errors as a result.  Pachon and de la Garza argued that “mainstream” pollsters failed to account for Latinos for three primary reasons: 1) their sample sizes of Latinos were far too small; 2) their Latinos samples were not representative of the Latino population within the state; and 3) they were not interviewing Latinos in Spanish at the correct proportions.  THIS WAS 14 YEARS AGO (yes I am screaming).

In 2010 Gary Segura and I wrote that not much had changed and polls continued to mis-represent the Latino vote.  It is now well-known that polls in Nevada had small, unrepresentative and biased samples of Latinos, leading them to entirely miss Harry Reid’s 5-point lead over Sharron Angle.  Two weeks ago, Nate Silver wrote at 538 that some polls seem to be continuing the same mistakes and under-counting and mis-counting Latino voters, which he had originally picked up, and wrote about the day after the 2010 midterms.  Around the same time some new polls started appearing in states like Nevada and Florida with bizarre data for Latino voters – Obama only had an 8 point lead among Nevada Latinos, and Romney was actually ahead among Latinos in Florida.  Really?

No.

And now the worst offenders might be the newest batch of national polls are attempting to estimate the national Obama-Romney horse race numbers. Monday October 22, Monmouth University released a poll in which Romney leads Obama 48% to 45%. Among Latinos, they report Obama leads by just 6 points – 48% to 42%.  These numbers are such extreme outliers that even Romney campaign surrogates would have a hard time believing them.  While Monmouth is the most recent, there have been many national polls with equally faulty numbers among Latinos.

Keep that 48 to 42 number in your head and let’s compare across a variety of recent polls of Latino voters.  As a matter of self-interest, we’ll start with four recent impreMedia-Latino Decisions tracking polls in October.  The last four polls released by IM/LD have found the Latino vote nationally at 71-20; 67-23; 72-20; 73-21.  Don’t like those? NBC/Telemundo have released two polls in October of Latinos, putting the race at 70-25, and 70-20 just before that. And then there was the Pew Hispanic Center poll 10 days ago which had Obama 69-21 over Romney, and just before that CNN did a poll of Latinos putting the national vote at 70-25.  Okay – that’s eight national polls of Latino voters in the month of October and the average across all eight is 70.3% for Obama to 21.9% for Romney.

They’re currently predicting a three to one margin among Latino voters for Obama, which would significantly exceed his 2008 performance. While it should be noted that not everyone buys their numbers, it has also been the case that traditional pollsters blew it in Nevada in 2010 by underestimating the Latino vote. As always, we’ll get an objective answer to this question soon enough.

What I want to know, of course, is how will this affect Texas? Specifically, if it’s the case that the LD folks are right, are the pollsters here making the same mistake? Here’s a summary of the most recent Texas polls, with numbers given for the subsample of Latino respondents:

Pollster Obama Romney ====================================== Latino Decisions Avg 70 22 YouGov 61 35 Lyceum 62 32 Wilson Perkins 66 32

These numbers are off from the LD polling average, but not that far off. It’s plausible that they are accurate, but given the very small sample sizes it’s also plausible that they are understating Obama’s support here in Texas. The data is just very noisy and hard to get a handle on. The 2008 numbers in Texas quite clearly show that Obama underperformed the Democratic average in heavily Latino areas. Some of that might have been lingering love for Hillary Clinton, but regardless the Republican Party, both nationally and in Texas, has done a lot to alienate Latino voters, and the numbers reflect that. None of the national outfits that track Latino voters have anything specific to say about Texas Latinos. The ImpreMedia/Latino Decision tracking poll consists of “300 completed interviews with Latino voters across all 50 states”. The most recent NBC Telemundo poll had no data breakdown that I could find. The most recent Pew Hispanic Center poll is “based on a nationally representative bilingual telephone survey of 1,765 Latino adults, including 903 registered voters”. Intriguingly, they say that while Obama leads 65% to 23% in nine battleground states, he has a larger 70% to 21% lead elsewhere, which in that case includes Texas.

Admittedly, Texas Republicans, at least at the administrative level, are aware of the issues and have worked to court Latino voters, with some success. I am certainly not dismissing the idea that they will get more votes here from Latino voters than the GOP will in other states. Still, as far as I can tell nobody is specifically polling Texas Latinos, and there will be no exit polling done in Texas this year, which will leave a hole in the data set. I have some thoughts as to how I might approach this question after the election, but that will have to wait. For now, the answer to the question that inspired this post is “I just don’t know”. Stace has more.

UT/TT: Romney 55, Obama 39

Here are some new poll numbers for Texas from UT and the Tribune.

Republican Mitt Romney has a commanding lead over Democrat Barack Obama in the presidential race in Texas, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. The survey of likely voters found that 55 percent support Romney while 39 percent support the incumbent. The remaining 6 percent said they support someone else.

The survey results illustrate the continuing dominance of the GOP in Texas — Republican John McCain got 55.5 percent of the Texas vote in 2008, to Obama’s 43.7 percent — and illuminate a significant gap in Texans’ feelings about national and state officeholders and government.

“At the top of the ticket, in the big marquee races, there are no surprises,” said Jim Henson, who teaches government at the University of Texas at Austin, heads the Texas Politics Project there and co-directs the poll. “We see the basic structure of the state, in terms of partisanship, pretty stable.”

Numbers in the U.S. Senate race were similar to those in the top contest, with Republican Ted Cruz holding 54 percent of the support to Democrat Paul Sadler’s 39 percent, according to the poll. John Jay Myers, the Libertarian candidate, had 3 percent, and Green Party candidate David Collins had 2 percent.

[…]

Republican Christi Craddick held the lead in the contested race for Texas Railroad Commission, with 50 percent of the support to Democrat Dale Henry’s 36 percent.

“What you have in these results is a pretty decent idea of what a Democrat with warm blood and a pulse can get in Texas,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of political science at UT-Austin.

Actually, I suspect that what these results give is about five to eight points below what a Democrat with warm blood and a pulse can get in a non-2010 year, but as they say, the only poll that matters is taking place right now. The poll’s summary is here and the description of its methodology is here. I don’t think the connection to YouGov had clicked with me until I looked at that. This result is similar to but not the same as the recent YouGov result we saw. For comparison, here’s the May UT/TT poll that had it at Romney 46 – Obama 38 among registered voters but 55-35 when their ridiculously restrictive “likely voter” screen was applied, and their February poll back when the nominee was not yet decided. Of somewhat peculiar interest is that the February poll asked respondents how they voted in 2008, and the result was McCain 46 – Obama 39. The May poll had no such question, but this one did, and the result there was McCain 43 – Obama 40. That would translate to a 52-48 McCain win if you filter out the “other” and “didn’t vote” respondents – and by the way, if you simply used these people as your “likely voter” screen for this poll, it would be a sample size of about 665, considerably larger than the 540 actually used. That suggests two possibilities to me: One, Obama has lost a number of supporters from 2008. The Wilson Perkins poll suggests that possibility as well. And two, the “likely voter” screen they used screened out a disproportionate number of Obama supporters. The overall sample is 65% white, which is perfectly reasonable, but we don’t know what the screened sample looks like. If it’s anything like that crappy Lyceum poll, with it’s 5% African-American share, you can see how things might get wacky. For what it’s worth, Greg says that Harris County’s early vote pattern is suggestive of 2008 so far. You can make up your own mind. As I said, we’ll have a fact check on this soon enough.

Endorsement watch: The Statesman gets in the game

In addition to their Sunday endorsement of Paul Sadler, the Statesman made up for lost time last week by finally getting around to making endorsements in various races. Among their first was a nice recommendation of John Courage.

John Courage

Texas Senate, District 25

District 25, which stretches from South Austin to northern San Antonio and Bexar County, is a Republican district, and Donna Campbell, a tea party favorite who crushed incumbent state Sen. Jeff Wentworth in the runoff, is heavily favored to win Nov. 6. Nonetheless, voters in District 25 should put aside their partisan inclinations and consider the alternative: Democrat John Courage.

Courage, an Air Force veteran and San Antonio schoolteacher, might be a longshot, but he knows the district better than Campbell, a recent transplant. His experience in education would make him a strong advocate for public schools, but education is not the only issue where he has the advantage over Campbell. From reforming the margins tax to transportation, from water to the electrical grid, Courage is the more informed, better-qualified candidate.

The Senate really will be a less functional place next year if Campbell wins as she is heavily favored to do. In the same editorial as this endorsement of Courage is one for the new HD136 as well:

Matt Stillwell

Texas House, District 136

District 136 is a new state House district that includes Cedar Park, Leander, Brushy Creek and a substantial part of Northwest Austin. Anchored in Williamson County, District 136 appears to be safe for the Republican in this race, Tony Dale, an Army veteran and member of the Cedar Park City Council. He’s a strong candidate who has a deep affection for his community and no doubt would serve his district’s residents well. But in a close call, we’re supporting Democrat Matt Stillwell.

An insurance agent who lives in Northwest Austin, Stillwell’s deep concern about the future of public education motivated his run for the Legislature. He says he’ll fight for public schools if elected and will do what he can to roll back punitive, high-stakes testing. He also understands how seriously underfunded the state’s roads are and how cuts to roads and highways, along with cuts in other areas, have not reduced spending or tax burdens but merely shifted costs and debt to towns and cities. He focuses on fiscally sound, gimmick-free remedies that would benefit District 136 in the long term.

As I said before, I think this race has the potential to be closer than people think. The shift in voter behavior from 2004 to 2008 was huge, and the district is likely to have evolved further since then. How much I don’t know, and of course it could have changed back. Stillwell is low on cash, but he’s been competitive in fundraising and hasn’t been greatly outspent, at least so far. I just think there may be more to this one than what the numbers might suggest.

After that, the Statesman opined on the statewide judicial races.

You may recall that Sharon Keller, chief justice of the Court of Criminal Appeals – the state’s highest criminal appellate court – was reprimanded after 300 lawyers filed complaints alleging dereliction of duty. The complaints stem from an incident involving attempts by lawyers representing a death row inmate to file motions after business hours. Keller told the lawyers that the clerk’s office closed at 5 p.m. and the inmate was executed later that night.

The incident garnered national attention and ended with Keller being reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. She appealed the reprimand and it was ultimately lifted. It was a victory but not a vindication because the specially selected court of review said a reprimand was not included in the options available to the Commission on Judicial Conduct in disciplining a judge.

Some might call that a technicality, but that’s ultimately what the law is — a collection of technicalities.

Then there was the case of Nathan Hecht, who is considered the intellectual leader of the Texas Supreme Court’s most conservative wing. Hecht was reprimanded for lobbying to confirm the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. That reprimand was also lifted, but the drama didn’t end there. Hecht raised eyebrows when he not only solicited contributions to pay the legal fees incurred in battling the complaint but asked a couple of friendly legislators to file bills that would have allowed him to use state funds to pay those bills. When state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and former state Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, learned that Hecht was soliciting contributions, they pulled their bills down

That was not the end of it. Hecht was fined $29,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission in 2008, declaring the discount extended to him on those legal fees was an improper campaign contribution. The matter has yet to be resolved.

Keller also tried unsuccessfully to have the state pick up the tab for legal fees and said she paid them out of savings and took out a loan.

[…]

Michele Petty

Democrat Keith Hampton opposes Keller in the general election. Michele Petty, a San Antonio lawyer, challenges Hecht. As Democrats, both face an uphill battle.

Hampton brings an impressive legal resume to the race as well as experience as a statewide candidate. He is known and respected for his criminal defense work and has notched a long bibliography of scholarly legal works.

Hampton is amply qualified both academically and ethically to serve on the court, but more importantly to carry a message that Texans demand a judiciary free of taint or bias.

The same standards should apply in the Supreme Court as well. There is no denying Hecht’s ability, talent and background.

Petty, on the other hand, is an unknown but is eager and is motivated. Her demeanor and approach is a marked and clear contrast to the more polished, patrician Hecht.

But Petty’s academic training is impressive. She was Baylor Law’s top graduate in 1984 and a member of the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame.

She understands well that she is running uphill. Win or lose, the state owes Petty its thanks for the effort. An airing of unpleasant history may save us a repetition of it.

It’s not quite an endorsement of Hampton and Petty, in the sense that the Statesman never actually uses words like “we endorse” or “we recommend a vote”, but they do say that “we all lose” if Hampton and Petty lose, so it’s pretty clear what they intend. Hampton, of course, has been sweeping up endorsements left and right, but as far as I an tell this is a first for Petty, about whom you can learn more here. Keller is a much easier target than Hecht, whose sins are more garden-variety, but some new blood would do both courts a lot of good.

Early voting, one week in

We have completed one full week of early voting, and through Sunday a total of 362,827 people had voted in person, with an additional 53,131 ballot being cast by mail, for a grand total of 415,958. The updated spreadsheet is here for your perusal. For comparison, there were 314,252 in person ballots cast through Sunday, 2008, so this year represents a 15.5% increase in non-absentee early votes. Another way to look at it is that there were 1,892,65registered voters in 2008, and this year there are 2,003,436 registered voters, which is 5.8% more. If the increase in early voting turnout were driven entirely by the increase in voter registration, we would have had 332,479 early votes by now. The actual total of 362,827 is therefore an increase of 9.1% over what might have been expected.

Again, all this suggest what we are seeing is the new normal. The totals are high-water marks, but they’re not a quantum leap like what we saw in 2008. It’s not out of the question to me that we could see the pace of early voting slack off a bit next week, with 2012 numbers losing some of their lead over 2008 numbers. I’m confident that 2012 will have more early voting, even accounting for registration growth, but the percentage margin may be less at the end of this week than it is right now. Just a feeling, I have no objective evidence for this. We’ll see.

One more thing to talk about is not just how many people are voting early, but which people are voting early. In 2004, 45.5% of all straight-ticket Republican votes and 43.8% of George W. Bush’s votes were cast early, while 40.7% of both straight-ticket Democratic votes and John Kerry’s votes were cast early. In 2008, those numbers were 61.6% of straight-ticket Republican votes and 59.4% of John McCain’s votes, and 66.6% of straight-ticket Democratic votes and 66.4% of Barack Obama’s votes were early. I suspect in the end that the share of each party’s early votes will be about the same, and at least as high as the Democratic share was in 2008. And, as foolish as it is to make predictions this far out, I suspect we’ll see the same sort of behavior in 2016.

Lampson-mentum

I always thought that with Nick Lampson in the race, CD14 would be competitive. Looks like national perception is catching up to that belief.

Nick Lampson

Texas Republicans are ringing the alarm over a House race that had seemed a safe bet to remain Republican.

The reason for worry is the third-quarter fundraising and spending totals that recently came to light in the race for Texas’ 14th district. Former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) both outraised and has far more in cash on hand than the favorite to win the seat, state Rep. Randy Weber (R).

“I’d say there is a panic button that somebody, somewhere is hitting,” a Texas GOP consultant said.

Lampson outraised Weber by about $50,000 in the third quarter, but the greater concern is that the Democrat had about $422,000 in cash on hand, while Weber only had $55,000.

Late last week there was a rally with Bill Clinton to get out to vote for Lampson, and a Chron overview of the race that calls it a tossup as well. Overall, Lampson and Weber have raised about the same total amount for the cycle, though Weber had to raise a fair amount of that for the primary. A recent poll released by the Lampson campaign showed him trailing by three, but with a majority among voters who were already familiar with him, and his campaign had not yet begun its main advertising push. That’s where the cash-on-hand disparity, and the concern by Republicans about it, come into play. Given the demographics of this district, it’s not clear to me that Lampson does any better in a high-turnout Presidential year than he would in a lower-turnout off year, but I do agree with Greg that if Lampson can run up the score in the Beaumont area, he can win. Here’s hoping.

Endorsement watch: The scoreboard for Sadler

More endorsements for Paul Sadler from the past week. Here’s the El Paso Times:

Paul Sadler

We need a U.S. senator who will work on border issues with our members of Congress in Dists. 16 and 23. We are endorsing Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Pete Gallego in those districts, respectively.

We like that Sadler, since leaving the Texas Legislature in 2002, has worked to promote clean and affordable energy. In our case, that would be solar energy. We have more than 300 days of bright sunlight each year and should be one of the nation’s hot spots for developing new methods to create the renewable energy that can be harnessed from the sun.

Sadler is a strong advocate for U.S. military veterans, of which there are some 70,000 in this immediate area.

We believe Sadler will work with our elected congressmen to bring a full-fledged VA hospital to El Paso. Sadler advocates increased VA funding.

We also like Sadler’s views on health care. He staunchly opposes efforts to allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions and to drop policy holders who get sick. He says politicians should stay out of women’s health care.

A strong El Paso vote for Paul Sadler will be a loud vote heard throughout Texas.

We are an important part of this large state, and we believe Paul Sadler is the best choice to carry our message in the U.S. Senate.

And the San Angelo Standard-Times:

If there was a “golden era” of Texas politics, it was the 1990s, when the two major political parties shared power and smart, competent leaders worked cooperatively to solve problems.

One of the key players of that time was Paul Sadler. A Democrat from Henderson, in East Texas, he joined former San Angelo state Rep. Rob Junell and other lawmakers who set aside party and ideological chest-beating and tackled big issues in serious fashion. They were equally committed under Democratic Gov. Ann Richards and Republican Gov. George W. Bush.

That record leads the Standard-Times editorial board to recommend Sadler as the next U.S. senator from Texas.

We are impressed with Republican Ted Cruz’s rise to prominence and count his primary win over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst as one of the most remarkable upsets in Texas political history. However, the tone of his campaign has been combative and divisive, and precisely the opposite is needed now in the U.S. Senate.

I’m not quite that misty-eyed about the 90s in Texas politics, but whatever works for you. The EPT endorsement was noted by Texas Monthly, which observed that Sadler was defeating Cruz in newspaper endorsements around the state; they quoted this post of mine in making that observation. The San Angelo endorsement came after they posted, as did another ringing recommendation of Sadler by the better-late-than-never Austin American-Statesman.

Since his primary runoff victory over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Republicans have considered Ted Cruz a rising star in national politics. With the growing adoration have come guest spots on news talk shows and a prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention.

This is all well and good for Cruz, but Texas needs a capable legislator. And in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Democrat Paul Sadler is the candidate with the impressive legislative record. He’s our choice for U.S. Senate.

[…]

We endorsed Cruz over Dewhurst in the Republican primary because we found his passion for policy and his willingness to engage on the issues refreshing. Cruz is sharp; he keeps you on your toes. We respect his role in the debate over the size and power of the federal government. But we disagree with him on many issues.

And Cruz, the state’s former solicitor general who served in the George W. Bush administration, has no experience as a legislator. Unlike Sadler, Cruz knows little about the nuts and bolts of writing and negotiating legislation. Sadler, however, understands that reaching compromise on bills involves difficult give-and-take work. If Washington is to move past the obstruction of the past several years, compromise cannot take place when it is defined as Cruz defines it: only when the other side sees things your way.

Cruz is ambitious. There is nothing wrong with ambition, but Texas doesn’t need a senator who will stick to extremes to win invitations to the Sunday morning talk shows. We need a senator whose best work takes place on Capitol Hill paying attention to the hard details that go into representing the needs of a growing state and strengthening our nation’s future. We need a legislator with experience and skill, one who will seek out responsible, pragmatic solutions to the state’s and nation’s problems.

We therefore recommend Paul Sadler for U.S. Senate.

Not too shabby. All this stands in sharp contrast to the Chron’s limp and misguided endorsement of Cruz, which they base on the hope he will be transformed by the Magic Bipartisanship Fairy into something he isn’t. I’ll say again, all things considered, this is a strong statement of just how outside the mainstream Cruz really is.

Endorsement watch: Wu and Vo

Clearly I was wrong about the Chron ignoring legislative endorsements, as they now have two more to follow Ann Johnson‘s. First up is an endorsement of Gene Wu to be Rep. Scott Hochberg’s successor in HD137.

Gene Wu

We believe that Democrat Gene Wu has the educational background and passion for policy that make him the best candidate to succeed Hochberg.

A former Harris County assistant district attorney, Wu’s experience isn’t limited to the legal arena. With a master’s in public policy from the University of Texas, Wu worked at the Texas Workforce Commission to improve standards for community colleges and technical schools and served as chief clerk for the House Higher Education Committee. These are particularly pertinent areas of experience, given the importance of building an educated workforce and the education budget battles in Austin.

Wu talks about education policy with the specificity of an experienced politician, arguing for proper student-to-teacher ratios, reforming high-stakes testing and improving vocational training. He also offers high praise for schools like KIPP and YES Prep that create a cultural respect for learning, which can often help students more than anything else.

Wu also has a deep connection to his district, regularly volunteering with the Skills for Living program and tutoring at-risk youth at Sharpstown High School. He exhibits an exhaustive understanding of his home turf and hopes to attract the businesses that will serve and support the middle-class families that are the growing base of the area. This is the sort of forward thinking that voters should want for a district that covers areas like Gulfton and Sharpstown.

The Chron has made three endorsements in HD137, having gone with Joe Madden in the primary and Jamaal Smith in the runoff. This was a testament to the depth and quality of the candidates running in the Democratic primary, as they said at the time. I’d encourage you to go back and listen to the interview I did with Wu for the primary, because the qualities the Chron talks about in this endorsement really came through in that conversation. I’ve no doubt at all that Wu will be an excellent representative.

The Chron also endorsed four-term Rep. Hubert Vo for re-election.

Rep. Hubert Vo

Texas House District 149 is one of the most diverse in the state, covering west Harris County from I-10 south to Alief, including Mission Bend. The Democratic incumbent Hubert Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant, reflects the diversity of his district and is the right choice in this election.

In his past races, Vo stood as an attractive alternative to candidates who embodied some of Texas’ worst policy instincts, such as underfunding government services and leaving available federal dollars on the table. Since his first election to the Texas House in 2004, Vo has fulfilled his promises of working to fully fund CHIP, support education and serve local needs at the Legislature. A reliable defender of these important issues, Vo rightfully points out that budget fights will happen every year due to a structural budget shortfall – the kind that we can’t cut our way out of. Voters should appreciate this sort of honest talk from a politician.

One of Vo’s greatest achievements for his district was the creation of the International Management District, located along Bellaire and Bissonnet between Beltway 8 and Highway 6. This district has allowed for reinvestment in local infrastructure and a dedicated focus on attracting businesses. And the district’s success in improving public safety by contracting with the constable’s office and private security has not only bolstered business but created safer neighborhoods.

I’ve been a fan of Rep. Vo’s since his first run for office in 2004. Good guy, good representative, good fit for his district.

Cuts are not increases, no matter how you spin it

This is the Chron overview of HD134, which is once again the highest profile legislative race in the county, in part because it’s a referendum on the 2010 election and the cuts to public education funding that resulted from that election.

Ann Johnson

In an area that takes great pride in its schools, [Rep. Sarah Davis] went along with her fellow Republicans and voted for major cuts in education funding.

As a result, District 134 is one of the few House seats believed to be in play. Although Davis has the incumbent’s edge in a Republican-leaning district, the race has become one of the most competitive – and expensive – in the state. Both candidates are spending freely, blanketing the district regularly with mailers.

“We knew there were funding cuts coming down the line for Texas schools,” said Sue Deigaard, a stay-at-home mom, “so, as a community, on a grass-roots level, we organized, we engaged other parents to give Sarah Davis the support as a legislator to say, ‘Hey, as you’re casting your vote on the budget, you have hundreds of parents, 400 petitions, hundreds of letters, phone calls, emails in a district you won by 750 votes.’ ”

Their message, Deigaard said, was “to, basically, give her the support, so that she could vote in a different direction from her party. And, as her record shows, she didn’t do that. So now we have this very motivated base of parents, bipartisan – Republicans and Democrats – who are supporting Ann Johnson.”

Davis, a fiscal conservative who is moderate on social issues, insists that Deigaard and other parents should not have been surprised.

“When I was campaigning, we all, particularly me, were campaigning on a message that we had a $27 billion budget deficit, and we’re going to have to balance the budget,” she said one evening recently. “I am opposed to increasing taxes or finding revenue, and I won, as did a hundred other Republicans, probably campaigning on the exact same message.”

So Davis, who as I have said before is a reliable, down-the-line Republican representative, claims that she campaigned and won on a promise to cut spending in 2010. Which is fine, as far as it goes, except for one small thing: She is now running away from those cuts that she made as fast as she can. Patti Hart calls Davis out for a blatantly dishonest campaign mailer that tries to claim she didn’t do what she actually did.

I called [Scott] McCown to get his reaction after seeing Republican Houston Rep. Sarah Davis’ latest campaign mailer, which claims that her Democratic challenger, attorney Ann Johnson, is spreading fiction in her assertion that Texas Republicans cut $5.4 billion from public education last year. On the cover, Davis invokes the dictionary, sharing this definition of fiction: “A belief or statement that is false, but that is often held to be true because it is expedient to do so.”

To back up her allegation that school budget cuts are a figment of Johnson’s imagination, Davis then asserts that Texas lawmakers actually added $1 billion to our schools. Johnson’s math, she tells us, includes “President Obama’s one-time stimulus money, that simply wasn’t available the following year.”

The mailer goes on to assert, with great umbrage: “So Johnson is blaming Republicans in Austin for what a Democratic President did in Washington. This happens all the time: liberals in Washington throw a bunch of money at programs, and then in later years leave the state to find the money to keep them going.”

In a campaign season full of tall tales, this may be the whopper that tops them all. State lawmakers in 2009 used $3.6 billion in federal stimulus money instead of state dollars to fund public education – essentially supplanting federal support for state support. In 2011, the Legislature added back only $1.6 billion in state money to replace the federal dollars.

To claim that the Legislature “increased” funding to public ed is, as I wrote when Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made this claim, to have giant amnesia about the stimulus.

Now, Davis is using the state’s 2009 contribution to education as a baseline for comparison to state funding in 2011, and blaming Obama that the dollars fall short. It’s as if Davis is saying, two meals a day is more than what those kids were getting before Uncle Sam stepped in!

This outrageous claim – that Republicans didn’t cut public education funding – has been rated “Pants on Fire” by the newspaper fact-checking service, Politifact, on several occasions this year.

And Politifact’s researchers didn’t rely on the opinions of Democrats, noting that during the legislative session, Senate Education Chairman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said: “Nobody wants cuts. But we have to have them.” And House Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, predicted the cuts would amount to 4 percent to 5 percent, which he characterized as “not that big a cut.”

The writers’ conclusion: “So, lawmakers ultimately cut public school aid, with key leaders even acknowledging so as those decisions were sealed. To tell constituents otherwise is not only inaccurate, it’s misleading and ridiculous. Pants on Fire!”

Even Hart is understating how egregious this is, because Davis and her fellow Republicans all voted for the House budget that cut $10 billion from public education. It was the Senate’s refusal to accept that budget, and to restore half of the cuts made by the House, that left us with the $5.4 billion in cuts that we got. Try to square that with a claim that Davis “increased” funding to public education.

Maybe none of this will matter. It’s still a Republican-leaning district. Johnson may well not be able to convince enough people what happened and what they need to do about it now. Maybe that day of reckoning isn’t here yet, though if it hasn’t come by the 2014 elections I don’t know when it ever will. Be that as it may, I’m happy to have any campaign be waged on these terms. The more that candidates an officeholders run away from the idea of cutting education funding, the better.

Endorsement watch: Martin and Sullivan

The Chron can’t quite believe that Steve Stockman is on the verge of being foisted on us again as a member of Congress, so they do what they can by endorsing his opponent, Max Martin.

Max Martin

Max Martin is a credible, if long-shot, candidate. Martin, a retired pilot who now owns an education software business in Clear Lake, is our endorsement choice over the stealth candidate Stockman to represent this economically diverse district. Martin is an old-school Texas Democrat, whose moderate, pro-business views should have appeal to many Republicans in the district, which includes refineries, Gulf fisheries, ranches and timbering operations. Constituents include blue-collar workers, small business owners and a growing number of retirees from out of state.

Martin, who came to live in southeast Houston with his family in 1955, has an admirable history as a self-starter. He also possesses an encyclopedic geographic knowledge of the area from his many years as a short-haul pilot for private businesses and Metro Airlines. In every sense he presents himself as someone truly representative of this district. By contrast, Stockman strikes us as a political opportunist whose out-of-the-mainstream views would not serve District 36 residents well.

We recommend a vote for Max Martin to represent Texas House District 36.

Martin had previously collected the endorsement of the Beaumont Enterprise as well. Sadly, CD36 was drawn to be heavily Republican, and even with the financial resources to mount the kind of campaign needed to alert people to what a whackjob Stockman is, it would be an uphill climb. And with the likes of Louie Gohmert in Congress these days, Stockman doesn’t even stand out as particularly crazy anymore.

Elsewhere, the Chron writes the last of the endorsement editorials for candidates listed on their master list by recommending Mike Sullivan for Harris County Tax Assessor.

Mike Sullivan

Over the past 15 years or so, the office of Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector has been deliberately but needlessly politicized. It shouldn’t have been – and we’re confident it won’t be again if county voters elect Mike Sullivan in the Nov. 6 election.

Sullivan, the current Houston City Council member and former trustee of the Humble Independent School District board, has built a reputation as a straight shooter with facts and public finances. That is precisely what is required of a tax assessor-collector.

The assessor-collector’s office is where residents and taxpayers go, often online, to register their vehicles, pay their property taxes and register to vote.

It is, by definition, a service department, not a roost for partisans, whether Republican or Democrat, to spread their views on political issues.

The reason is clear: The constitutionally ordained duty of voter registration does not mix well – or at all – with politicking.

Perhaps it is churlish of me to point this out, but “over the past 15 years or so”, the office of Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector has been exclusively held by Republicans. Paul Bettencourt won a special election in 1998 to replace Carl Smith after he passed away earlier that year, and after him came Leo Vasquez and now Don Sumners. Maybe, just maybe, that might have had something to do with the problem that the Chron so astutely identifies, and if so maybe electing another Republican isn’t the optimal solution to it. I’m just saying. Sullivan, to his credit, says the right things about focusing on the clerical aspects of the job. If he is elected, I sure hope he lives up to that. But I still think that a real change is needed here, and to that effect I’ll be voting for Ann Harris Bennett. By the way, in case you missed it, here’s the Chron overview story of this race – there’s a Libertarian candidate as well – which appeared in the print edition a week ago but which I couldn’t find online until a few days after that.

More early voting

Early voting continues to go gangbusters in Harris County – here’s my updated spreadsheet for your perusal. The numbers are certainly impressive, but to keep things in perspective, it’s an increase of about 20% over 2008, whereas 2008 was more than double the turnout of 2004 through Day Four.

Year Day 4 total =================== 2004 95,849 2008 208,010 2012 252,752

Note also that Day 4 today was slightly down from Days 2 and 3. What all that says to me is that this is consistent with a hypothesis of behavior shifting, and not some massive turnout increase. Remember, for all the hype about the explosive growth in early voting in 2008, final turnout was 1,188,793 in 2008, and 1,088,731 in 2004, not that much of an increase. Stan Stanart predicted a final turnout for this year of 1.22 million based on the first day of early voting, and that would barely be a change in turnout percent from 2008. Until and unless we see evidence that there’s something different about who is showing up to vote – a big jump in new voters, for example – I’d remain calm about What It All Means. To put it another way, here’s a quote Ed Kilgore pulled from this story about how early voting is going around the country, from the perspective of an Obama campaign official:

Said one senior official: “[T]he most important thing about early vote is one thing and one thing only: are you getting your sporadic voters to vote? Because if it’s just chasing people who are going to vote anyway than it’s just… a zero sum game.”

This is where the campaign pros make their money. See what Greg has to say about translating the daily roster of who voted into guesses about who’s winning and by how much. I’ll do another check on turnout Monday, after we’ve had seven full days of early voting, and we’ll see where we stand then.

Overview of the Keller-Hampton race

This story covers a lot of familiar ground, but it’s worth going over again.

Three judges on Texas’ highest criminal court are seeking re-election in November, including Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, who’s been a lightning rod for controversy since her last test of voters in 2006.

Elected to Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals in 1994, she is the only incumbent on the court with major-party opposition, facing a Democrat and Libertarian.

In 2007, Keller, 59, of Austin, gained national attention for refusing to keep the court open past 5 p.m. to accept a last-minute appeal of a death row inmate who was executed hours later. Charges were filed by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, but it ruled that she did not violate any laws or warrant punishment “beyond the public humiliation she has surely suffered,” according to court records.

In 2010, Keller received the largest fine ever levied by the Texas Ethics Commission — $100,000 — for breaking finance disclosure law by failing to report $2.4 million in personal assets. Keller did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

[…]

Keller’s opponents are Democrat Keith Hampton and Libertarian Lance Stott.

Hampton, a defense attorney in Austin, ran unsuccessfully for the court’s Place 6 in 2010. He said he hopes Keller’s missteps will boost him to become the first Democrat elected to statewide office since 1994.

“We have a judge on the court who has been found to be unethical by every agency in government that can make that determination,” Hampton said. “Her actions have given (the Texas judicial system) a black eye.”

Hampton, 51, Austin, drafted the original proposal of Senate Bill 112 in 2009, which established veterans courts in Texas, and he advocated for a law passed in 2007 that established state prisoners’ right to petition a court to have DNA evidence tested. He counseled against former state Solicitor General and U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz and then won in 2007 in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Panetti vs. Quarterman, which spared from execution a schizophrenic murderer from Fredericksburg.

Hampton said GOP straight-ticket voters should “spend an extra few seconds” to vote for him instead of Keller.

“It’s not a matter of Republican or Democrat, or left and right,” Hampton said. “It’s a matter of right and wrong.”

Like I said, this is familiar ground if you’ve read any of the endorsement editorials for Hampton. But these things can’t be said enough, because we only get one chance every six years to do something about it. Sharon Keller has demonstrated over and over again that she is not fit to be on the bench. It’s time to send her back to private practice.

Endorsement watch: The Parent PAC November slate

For your approval.

Texas Parent PAC is delighted to endorse the following candidates in the general election.  They are men and women of integrity, open and responsive to parents, actively involved in their communities, and committed to investing in public education to achieve economic prosperity in Texas.

Please vote for these endorsed candidates and encourage your friends and family to vote as well!  Early Voting is October 22 – November 2 and Election Day is Tuesday, November 6.

Read about the endorsement process here.  To find out your district number for State Senator and State Representative, look on your voter registration card or enter your address on the “Who Represents Me?” section at the Capitol web site.

Texas Parent PAC is a bipartisan political action committee.  In the 2012 Texas primary and general elections, the PAC has endorsed 28 Republicans and 25 Democrats.

Texas Senate
S.D. 10: Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth  www.wendydavisforsenate.com
S.D. 25: John Courage, D-San Antonio www.couragefortexassenate.org
S.D. 29: Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso www.senatorjoserodriguez.com

Texas House of Representatives
H.D. 23: Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston  www.craigeiland.net
H.D. 24: Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood  www.drgregbonnen.com
H.D. 29: Ed Thompson, R-Pearland  www.electedthompson.com
H.D. 34: Abel Herrero, D-Robstown  www.abelherrero.com
H.D. 41: Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen  www.voteguerra.com
H.D. 43: Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, D-Alice  www.voteyvonne.com
H.D. 45: John Adams, D-Dripping Springs  www.votedonna.com
H.D. 54: Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen   www.jdaycock.com
H.D. 59: J. D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville  www.jdfortexas.com
H.D. 74: Poncho  Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass  www.ponchonevarez.com
H.D. 78: Joe Moody, D-El Paso  www.moodyforelpaso.com
H.D. 85: Dora Olivo, D-Richmond  www.doraolivo.com
H.D. 94: Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington  www.dianepatrick.org
H.D. 95: Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth  www.votenicolecollier.com
H.D. 101: Chris Turner, D-Arlington  www.votechristurner.com
H.D. 102: Rich Hancock, D-Richardson   www.hancockfortexas.com
H.D. 105: Dr. Rosemary Robbins, D-Irving   www.voterosemaryrobbins.com
H.D. 107: Robert Miklos, D-Dallas  www.robertmiklos.com
H.D. 115: Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell  www.bennettratliff.com
H.D. 117: Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio   www.philipcortez.com
H.D. 118: Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio  www.joefarias.com
H.D. 125: Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio  www.justin125.com
H.D. 134: Ann Johnson, D-Houston  www.voteannjohnson.com, TV spot
H.D. 136: Matt Stillwell, D-Cedar Park  www.mattstillwell.com
H.D. 137: Gene Wu, D-Houston  www.genefortexas.com
H.D. 144: Mary Ann Perez, D-Pasadena   www.votemaryannperez.com
H.D. 149: Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston   www.hubertvo.com

Here was their slate from the primaries, and an accounting of who won among those candidates. You may notice that there are four candidates that were endorsed in the GOP primary that are not on this list – Cecil Bell (HD02), Chris Peddie (HD09), Trent Ashby (HD57), and Jason Villalba (HD114). The first three have no Democratic opponents and are therefore for all intents and purposes already elected. As for Villalba, I asked Carolyn Boyle about that race, and received this response:

From the beginning, Jason was a “primary only endorsement” because Texas Parent PAC had endorsed Carol Kent in the past and she is great. Jason agreed that once the primary was over he would delete any reference to the Parent PAC endorsement for the primary, and the PAC did as well. It was important to defeat Bill Keffer in the primary, and Jason is a supporter of public education. We are staying out of the general election with Jason vs. Carol…let the voters decide, as both will advocate for public education.

So there you have it. As I did with the primary, I’ll check the scoreboard for Parent PAC after the election is over.

Endorsement watch: Lampson and Gallego

I mentioned on Monday that the Chron had endorsed Nick Lampson for CD14. Yesterday, they wrote the endorsement editorial for him.

Nick Lampson

Lampson, a native of Beaumont, first came to Congress in 1996 and served four terms from the Golden Triangle area before being defeated in 2004. He served another term from 2008-2010 in the district long represented by disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Now aiming to represent a district that includes miles of hurricane-prone Texas Gulf Coast and is the center for the nation’s refining and petrochemical industries, Lampson says he would “at least study” the Ike Dike to protect both the Texas Medical Center and the complex that makes so much of the nation’s plastics and gasoline.

We can only do so, he contends, by being less centered in one party and reaching across the aisle.

We share that view. The tradition of working out things together is the beating heart of a functioning democracy. We urge voters in Congressional District 14 to cast their ballots for the candidate who practices that virtue admirably and effectively: Nick Lampson.

There’s also the fact that Lampson has a record of outstanding constituent service as a member of Congress. He has always worked hard for the people he has represented.

Over the weekend Lampson also picked up the endorsements of the other two newspapers in the district. Here’s the Galveston Daily News:

Former Congressman Nick Lampson, a Democrat, has obviously been following issues in Galveston County closely. That attention to what’s happening here, as opposed to what’s happening elsewhere, would be welcome. The seat is being vacated by Ron Paul, who appeared to be more focused on national ideological debates than on local interests.

And the Beaumont Enterprise:

U.S. Rep., District 14: Nick Lampson, D.
Lampson has a solid track record as a moderate who works hard for Southeast Texas.

U.S. Rep., District 36: Max Martin, D.
He’s a former airline pilot with an impressive record as an entrepreneur. He’s also not Steve Stockman.

I threw in that Max Martin endorsement because how could I not? Not being Steve Stockman isn’t a sufficient reason to support someone, but it’s a pretty good head start. I should note that both papers also endorsed Romney and Cruz, each demonstrating a touching faith in the magic of business experience and the deficit-reduction fairy, so make of that what you will.

Meanwhile, out west in CD23, the two major papers there made their endorsements for Pete Gallego. Here’s the Express News.

We recommend that voters cast ballots for Democrat Pete Gallego in District 23. The veteran state representative from Alpine is challenging freshman U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco.

Canseco is too extreme for the poor district. For example, his harsh position on immigration and opposition to a pathway to citizenship is out of touch in a congressional district that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso.

As a member of the Texas House, Gallego demonstrated an ability to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He will be a strong addition to the Texas congressional delegation.

And here’s the El Paso Times.

Pete Gallego

Alpine’s Pete Gallego has long been a good friend of El Paso in his role as a state representative. We now need this fellow West Texan as an ally in Washington, D.C.

Gallego is running for the congressional seat that represents about 100,000 El Paso County residents in a district that spans from a part of our Lower Valley to San Antonio.

This is a chance for El Paso to have two U.S. representatives with El Paso ties, and with El Paso’s needs on their agenda. The rest of our city, more than half a million people, are represented by the District 16 representative.

We especially like Gallego’s forte of working as a moderate. As he said, “Congress needs coalitions” to get positive actions going again.

Gallego said he will work to maintain Medicare and Social Security, citing District 23’s aging population. He said the Veterans Administration is underfunded and he will work to rectify that.

“The system needs moderate people who are practical,” Gallego said.

We urge District 23 voters to send Pete Gallego to Congress on Nov. 6.

These are the two opportunities for Democrats to win seats currently held by Republicans. Newspaper endorsements may not mean much, but I’d rather have them than not. It’s a little boost of confidence if nothing else.

UPDATE: Former President Bill Clinton will be in Texas today to attend rallies for both candidates, one for Gallego in San Antonio, and one for Lampson in Beaumont:

On Thursday, former President Bill Clinton will join Congressman Nick Lampson in support of his campaign for the 14th congressional district of Texas. This will be a Get-Out-The-Vote rally to encourage people to vote early in support of Nick Lampson for Congress. The event will take place at Vincent-Beck Stadium at Lamar University on Jim Gilligan Way, Beaumont, Texas.

The event is free and open to the public.

WHO: President Bill Clinton and Nick Lampson

WHAT: Get-Out-The-Vote rally for Nick Lampson. President Clinton will talk about the 2012 election and why Nick Lampson is the best choice for the 14th district

WHEN: 6:00 PM on Thursday, October 25th

WHERE: Vincent-Beck Stadium – Lamar University, Jim Gilligan Way, Beaumont, TX 77705

Hope you can make it.

30 Day campaign finance reports, selected legislative races

Here’s a sampling of 30 day finance reports from state legislative campaigns. I used the Back to Blue list as a starting point and added a few races of interest to me from there.

Dist Candidate Raised Spent Loan Cash ========================================================== SD10 Davis 843,878 346,466 0 1,537,783 SD10 Shelton 606,586 153,204 0 566,825 SD25 Courage 27,603 14,791 0 14,546 SD25 Campbell 566,920 592,332 90,000 7,407 HD12 Stem 29,228 23,325 0 24,566 HD12 Kacal 58,460 33,438 0 30,196 HD23 Eiland 134,051 80,923 0 101,419 HD23 Faircloth 92,890 46,816 30,000 43,089 HD26 Nguyen 12,051 22,808 0 10,840 HD26 Miller 45,765 27,995 1,000 9,496 HD34 Herrero 69,722 49,667 0 25,655 HD34 Scott 125,430 68,349 0 255,629 HD43 Toureilles 46,170 23,973 0 11,585 HD43 Lozano 260,590 185,421 0 89,770 HD45 Adams 48,020 25,800 36,000 32,241 HD45 Isaac 128,502 44,595 140,250 69,918 HD78 Moody 73,754 48,371 0 21,858 HD78 Margo 306,071 82,170 0 202,898 HD85 Olivo 9,738 3,490 2,150 10,143 HD85 Stephenson 34,696 16,146 0 21,677 HD102 Hancock 27,245 4,924 0 7,380 HD102 Carter 112,821 109,543 0 66,776 HD105 Robbins 24,687 36,999 1,505 30,583 HD105 H-Brown 123,449 68,244 52,615 87,997 HD107 Miklos 74,020 56,401 0 24,707 HD107 Sheets 280,354 96,777 0 146,778 HD114 Kent 121,236 89,824 0 132,748 HD114 Villalba 172,885 147,326 0 42,612 HD117 Cortez 48,015 44,610 1,844 18,620 HD117 Garza 52,559 72,669 0 62,371 HD118 Farias 51,015 34,925 0 25,482 HD118 Casias 23,730 21,714 0 852 HD134 Johnson 217,346 103,699 0 263,301 HD134 Davis 332,120 99,582 0 232,383 HD136 Stillwell 61,060 20,842 2,000 8,632 HD136 Dale 112,273 22,798 35,000 82,853 HD137 Wu 58,221 55,152 50,000 32,263 HD137 Khan 55,351 40,877 10,000 23,894 HD144 Perez 104,939 30,082 0 107,729 HD144 Pineda 77,357 49,460 0 33,428 HD149 Vo 38,665 27,632 45,119 48,768 HD149 Williams 134,990 56,342 1,500 74,222

Here’s a sampling of July reports for comparison. A few thoughts:

– I don’t think I’ve ever seen a greater disparity in amount raised and cash on hand as we see here with Donna Campbell. Campbell, of course, had a runoff to win on July 31, which covers the first month of this filing period, and a cursory perusal of her detailed report shows the vast majority of the action was in July, as you’d expect. I’d still have thought she’d collect more cash after the runoff, since she’s a heavy favorite to win in November. Assuming she does win, we’ll need to check out her January report from 2013.

– Overall, the Republicans have done a very good job of raising money to protect their vulnerable incumbents. The main exception to this is John Garza in HD117, though he still leads his opponent, Phillip Cortez. The difference between Rs and Ds on amount spent is a lot smaller, which may indicate that their strategy is to do a late blitz, or it may mean they’re just sitting on a lot of cash.

– Turncoat Rep. JM Lozano initially filed a report with almost no cash raised and no expenses listed. Apparently, he “forgot” over $250K in contributions. That total includes $100K from Associated Republicans of Texas, almost $68K from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, $25K from Texas Republican Representatives Campaign Fund, $6K from the Texas House Leadership Fund, $15K from Bob Perry, and just for good measure, $2K from Koch Industries. Hey, I’d want to forget about all that, too. Here’s his current corrected report; there may be another to come.

– After a somewhat anemic July report, Rep. Sarah Davis kicked into overdrive for this period. Ann Johnson, who has an ad I’ve seen a few times on the Headline News Network, did a pretty good job keeping pace, and still has a cash on hand advantage. I presume Davis has some ads running as well, since she got a $100K in kind contributions from Texans for Lawsuit Reform for TV advertising, but I have not seen any such ads myself. She also collected $100K total from Associated Republicans of Texas ($65K) and Texas Republican Representatives Campaign Fund ($35K), plus $20K from Bob Perry.

– Mary Ann Perez had the next most impressive haul after Ann Johnson, showing some very strong numbers for that open swing seat. I presume her strategy is the do a late push as well, given the cash she has on hand. And given the money they’ve sloshed around to so many other candidates, I’m surprised David Pineda hasn’t been the beneficiary of a few wads of dough from the usual suspects. We’ll see what his 8 day report looks like.

– If your eyes bugged out at Dianne Williams’ totals in HD149, I assure you that mine did as well. A closer look at her detailed report shows that nearly $115K of her total came from one person, a Mrs. Kathaleen Wall. Another $5K or so was in kind from various Republican PACs. Take all that out and her haul is much less impressive. The money is hers to spend, of course, it’s just not indicative of some broad-based support.

That’s all I’ve got. Anything interesting you’ve seen in the reports?

Everybody loves early voting now

From the County Clerk’s office:

The Chief Election Officer of the County, Stan Stanart, announced [Monday night] that Harris County voters set a new record for voting during the first day of Early Voting in person. 47,093 persons voted on Monday, shattering the November 2008 first day total of 39,201.

“We had a record breaking first day of Early Voting,” said County Clerk Stanart. “It is obvious that our message encouraging voters to vote early and avoid the issues of determining their Election Day voting location has been heard.” Due to redistricting, the County Clerk’s office estimates about 20 percent of the Election Day polling locations for Harris County voters have changed. Voters are encouraged to vote at any of the 37 early voting locations. Locations and times can be found at www.HarrisVotes.com.

Champion Forest Baptist Church led all early voting locations with 2,657 voters, the Metropolitan Multi-Services Center had 2,556 and Cypress Top Park had 2,291. The locations which experienced the least amount of traffic include Galena Park Library with 382 voters, Ripley House with 460 and Holy Name Catholic Church with 506. “I urge voters to check www.HarrisVotes.com for their personal sample ballot, Early Voting locations, ID requirements and Election Day locations before voting,” added Stanart.

“Early voting by mail is also at an all-time high and requests for ballots have broken records for Harris County,” asserted Stanart. The Clerk’s Office has received 82,946 requests for mail ballots exceeding the 2008 record of 80,861 requests, seven days before the October 30th deadline to request a mail ballot. As of Friday, 40,566 of the mail ballots sent to voters have been voted and returned to the Clerk’s Office.

To find more early voting information, voters can visit the Harris County Clerk’s Election website at www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

Here’s my updated early vote-tracking spreadsheet, which includes the daily EV totals from 2004 and 2008 as well. Tuesday was even stronger than Monday, with 51,578 in person votes cast. That’s over 98,000 in person early votes already, which is over 142,000 when you include mail ballots. Wow. It’s a little tricky doing a straight comparison with 2004 and 2008, since EV locations change over the years, but you can get a good feel for where the vote is coming from. I strongly suspect that Republicans will do better in early voting this year than they did in 2008, mostly because they’ve been pushing it as relentlessly as Dems have been. The key question as always is what percentage of this is new voters, and what percentage is regular voters who have changed their habits. Dems grabbed that big lead in 2008 on the strength of early voting, then saw most of it slip away (in the case of a few candidates, all of it) because they pretty much ran out of voters by Election Day. Who’s got the new voters this year? Voter registration reached a new high this year.

Harris County’s voter roll topped 2 million Monday morning for the first time, county Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Don Sumners announced.

The precise tally of 2,003,436 represents a 80,852-voter increase since early September.

“The county’s still growing. If we look at it as a percentage of the population, it might not even be a big surprise,” Sumners said. “But I thought it was of interest that we had finally gone over the 2-million mark. We had been flirting with it for years.”

The previous record was set in mid-November 2008, also a presidential election year, when roughly 1.97 million people were registered.

An estimated 2.9 million of Harris County’s 4.1 million residents were 18 or older as of the 2010 Census. If that number is similar today, about 68 percent of the county’s voting-age residents are on the rolls.

Stan Stanart predicted turnout of a bit more than 1.2 million in this article, or about 61% of the total. The story says that would be an improvement of about a point over 2008, when turnout was 59.8%, but the election results page from 2008 put turnout at over 62%, so go figure. I’m going to hold off on such predictions for now, because we don’t know what the share of the final tally will be early voters. There were some rather giddy predictions made in 2008 based on the belief that early voting usually account for about half the final total. It wound up being about 63% of the final total in 2008. I will not be at all surprised to see it be a larger share this year. This may wind up being a good year to vote on Election Day if you want to avoid lines.

And while the GOP may do better in early voting, it looks like the Dems may do better in voting by mail.

As of Friday evening, 18,808 county residents had requested a mail ballot by returning applications sent to them by the county Democratic Party, and 3,567 more had returned applications mailed to them from other Democratic sources, for a total of 22,375.

That is compared with 26,591 voters who had returned mail ballot applications sent to them by the state Republican Party.

The numbers are far closer than in previous presidential years. In 2008, Republicans requested four times as many mail ballots as Democrats, and more than five times as many in 2004.

“A lot can happen between ‘I want to vote’ and ‘I’m going to go vote.’ We hurt ourselves, grandkids come over, who knows what,” said county Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis, who campaigned on the issue. “By running an effective vote-by-mail program, you are providing them with direct access, minimizing excuses and complications of them getting themselves to the polls and back.”

As you might expect, Harris County GOP Chair Jared is unimpressed by this. We’ll know who’s right when we see the final score. I noted this trend earlier, and as I said then, this may well be another example of shifting behavior rather than increasing overall turnout. Still, as HCDP Chair Lewis says, it can’t hurt.

On the city bonds

Here’s an overview of the city bond issues.

The city of Houston is asking voters on Nov. 6 for permission to borrow $410 million to shore up its parks, police stations, libraries, other government buildings and substandard housing.

Propositions A, B, C, D and E for the most part are what Mayor Annise Parker calls “housekeeping” the city does every four to six years to add to, expand, renovate or repair city buildings and other public property. None of them requires a tax increase to pay principal and interest that over decades could mount to an estimated $719 million.

However, the propositions draw voters into a debate over city debt that has largely been confined to the City Council table and a task force that last year examined the city’s long-term finances.

The borrowing is the lowest amount the city has asked the voters for in 30 years. In 2006, the ask was $625 million. Without the new bond measure, Parker explained, city government won’t be able to carry out its five-year plan to continue to fix leaky roofs, repair fire station foundations, renovate old libraries, repair swimming pools and demolish abandoned apartment buildings.

“It’s like a pre-qualification for a mortgage. That’s basic. We’re going to the voters and saying, ‘Can we borrow money in these categories?’ ” Parker said.

Opponents of the measures say it’s more like continuing a spending binge with a credit card.

As Mayor Parker said when I interviewed her about the bonds, for the most part these are projects that went through the CIP process and were approved by Council. This is how the city pays for projects like these – it’s how nearly every entity pays for capital improvement projects, since it’s exceedingly impractical to pay for them out of cash. There’s really nothing remarkable here, save perhaps for the extra dollops of debt hysteria.

Two more things to note. One is that Proposition E, which is listed on the ballot as being about “affordable housing efforts”, is really about paying for the demolition of derelict properties so that some better use can be made of the land. The other is that CM Oliver Pennington is quoted in the story as being a supporter of the propositions, he just thinks the city should have asked to borrow less than $410 million for them. This make him more than a supporter of the parks bond. Not that it really matters, I just like to nitpick.

Endorsement watch: For Ann Johnson

I noted on Monday that the Chron listed Ann Johnson as one of its endorsed candidates. Yesterday they wrote the endorsement editorial to go along with that.

Ann Johnson

The tea party turnout of 2010 gave Republican candidate Sarah Davis the narrow victory she needed to win in District 134, a prosperous swing district that covers areas from River Oaks to Meyerland and the Medical Center, as well.

Davis speaks about politics with a fiery passion, but her passion often seems aimed more at Washington than Austin.

She successfully navigated the minefield of wedge-issue votes that defined the previous legislative session – voting no on the sonogram bill, for example. But voters deserve a representative who doesn’t just avoid bad votes, but leads on good ones. We believe Democratic challenger Ann Johnson can be that sort of leader.

[…]

Issues like education and health care aren’t just matters of compassion, they’re necessary to ensure that Texas has the healthy, educated workforce we need to power our economy.

In this race, Ann Johnson is the better bet for Texas’ future.

It’s interesting to see the Chron buy into the “independent” image that Rep. Davis is peddling. As I did before, I would challenge them to come up with two bills of significance besides the sonogram bill on which David voted against her party. On Monday I saw for the first time a broadcast of Davis’ TV commercial, for which Texans for Lawsuit Reform bought her $100K worth of airtime. Not surprisingly, Davis pushes this idea hard, claiming to support public education despite voting to cut $10 billion from it and to oppose restrictions on women’s health care despite voting to de-fund Planned Parenthood and to kill the Women’s Health Program if Planned Parenthood is successful in its lawsuit against the state. It’s very simple: Sarah Davis was a reliable Republican vote in the 2011 legislature. Her record bears this out. You would think that a reliable Republican, running in a district drawn by Republicans to elect a Republican, would be willing to tout her Republican-ness for her re-election rather than try to obfuscate it. In the case of Rep. Sarah Davis, you would be wrong about that.

Anyway. The Chron made the right call with Ann Johnson, whose interview with me is here if you haven’t had the chance to listen to it. You can also watch this TV ad that Texas Parent PAC did on Johnson’s behalf:

And here’s that ad by the Johnson campaign that I’ve seen on Headline News:

In case you’re wondering, Bill White beat Rick Perry by a 51.0-47.7 margin in 2010. Maybe that’s why Davis is pressing her “independent” credentials. I guess I would too if I were her. Neil has more.

Finally, on a tangential note, the San Angelo Standard Times joins the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in endorsing Keith Hampton over Sharon Keller. Has anyone seen a newspaper endorse Keller yet? Again, this probably doesn’t matter much, but it could matter just enough.

Ticket splitters

For better or worse, we live in a polarized world. Often, knowing a candidate’s political party tells you most of what you need to know in a general election. But definitely not always, and this year in particular there are plenty of examples of candidates who aren’t worthy of the support of their partisan brethren (and sistren, as Molly Ivins used to say) as well as a few who for a variety of reasons are able to transcend political barriers. I feel like this year I’ve seen more mixed-company yard signs than I have in years past. Here are a few examples:

My guess is that this homeowner is a Democrat who is also supporting incumbent District Civil Court Judge Tad Halbach, who has a reputation for being one of the better inhabitants of the judiciary.

My initial suspicion was that this was a Republican who prefers Vince Ryan and Adrian Garcia for Harris County. I drove by this location yesterday and there was another sign touting a GOP judicial candidate whose name I have forgotten, so that makes me a little more certain in that assumption.

This one’s a little hard to see – it was late afternoon, I was facing west, and any closer would have put me directly in the sunlight. Anyway, the red sign is for Vince Ryan, and the other one is for GOP judicial candidate Elizabeth Ray.

Greg sent me that one. Probably a Republican crossing over for Gene Wu if I had to guess, but Greg could say for sure.

Another one that could go either way, but as that house in the background is actually a law office, I suspect the sign-placer just likes incumbent judges.

I feel quite confident saying that the person who put out these signs is a Republican, crossing over to vote for Ann Johnson and the HISD bonds. (As well he or she should.) The Halloween decoration nearby is a nice touch.

So there you have it. I don’t have any broad point to make, I just noticed these signs around and thought it would be fun putting something together on them. I have a Flickr set for these pics, so if you find any more examples, send them to me via email or post them on the Off The Kuff Facebook page and I’ll add them in.

Endorsement watch: Three out of four ain’t bad

The Star-Telegram becomes the third of the four major papers to endorse Paul Sadler for Senate.

Paul Sadler

Sadler can be aggressive, even abrasive, as he demonstrated in an early-October debate with Cruz. But Sadler has specific, practical notions about improving how the federal government functions for Texans. He also understands how policies translate into reality.

For instance, where Cruz would abolish the U.S. Education Department and disburse federal funds to states through block grants, Sadler said that fixed-sum grants shortchange growing states like Texas and that doling out federal money without sufficient controls would diminish state and local accountability.

Where Cruz has made repealing the entire Affordable Care Act a prominent part of his message, Sadler said wiping the slate clean would erase good parts of the law and remove lawmakers’ leverage in dealing with insurance companies.

Cruz says more competition in the marketplace will improve the healthcare system. Sadler understands that Texas’ Republican leaders’ stubborn resistance to the law’s Medicaid expansion could end up shifting more costs for indigent care onto local taxpayers and jeopardize rural hospitals.

Where Cruz has criticized President Barack Obama’s directive allowing certain young illegal immigrants to seek temporary work authorization instead of being deported, Sadler supports a reasonable temporary work-permit program and a “reasonable path to citizenship.”

Both men support improved border security, but Sadler’s approach shows a firmer grasp of Texas’ trade relations with Mexico and the human dimension of reforming the immigration system.

Had it not been for that pathetic Chron endorsement of Cruz, Sadler would have gotten the same sweep as Keith Hampton. (At this point, I’m assuming that the Statesman isn’t bothering to endorse this year.) Given how everyone expects Cruz to win easily, it strikes me as a pretty strong statement of just how outside the mainstream Cruz is. The choice we have here is to prevent an error from happening, or to have to wait till 2018 to fix it. That seems like it ought to be a pretty easy call to me.

All the interviews for 2012

As we begin early voting for the November election, here are all the interviews I conducted for candidates who are on the ballot as well as for the referenda. These include interviews that were done for the primary as well as the ones done after the primary. I hope you found them useful.

Senate: Paul SadlerWebMP3

CD02: Jim DoughertyWebMP3

CD07: James CargasWebMP3

CD10 – Tawana CadienWebMP3

CD14: Nick LampsonWebMP3

CD20: Joaquin CastroWebMP3

CD21: Candace DuvalWebMP3

CD23: Pete GallegoWebMP3

CD27: Rose Meza HarrisonWebMP3

CD29: Rep. Gene GreenWebMP3

CD33: Marc VeaseyWebMP3

CD36: Max MartinWebMP3

SBOE6: Traci JensenWebMP3

SD10: Sen. Wendy DavisWebMP3

SD25: John CourageWebMP3

HD23: Rep. Craig EilandWebMP3

HD26: Vy NguyenWebMP3

HD127: Cody PogueWebMP3

HD131: Rep. Alma AllenWebMP3

HD134: Ann JohnsonWebMP3

HD137: Gene WuWebMP3

HD144: Mary Ann PerezWebMP3

HD146: Rep. Borris MilesWebMP3

HD147: Rep. Garnet ColemanWebMP3

HD150: Brad NealWebMP3

Harris County Sheriff: Sheriff Adrian GarciaWebMP3

Harris County District Attorney: Mike AndersonWebMP3

Harris County Attorney: Vince RyanWebMP3

Harris County Tax Assessor: Ann Harris BennettWebMP3

HCDE Position 3, At Large: Diane TrautmanWebMP3

HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1: Erica LeeWebMP3

Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Sean HammerleWebMP3

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan RosenWebMP3

HISD Bond Referendum: Interview with Terry GrierMP3

City of Houston Bond and Charter Referenda: Interview with Mayor Annise ParkerMP3

HCC Bond Referendum: Interview with Richard SchechterMP3

Metro Referendum: Interviews with David Crossley, Gilbert Garcia and Christof Spieler, Sue Lovell, and County Commissioner Steve Radack

Early voting begins today

Shamelessly stolen from Greg, here’s a convenient Google map of the early voting locations in Harris County:

For the more traditional view plus hours and other information, visit Harris Votes. I intend to bring the girls with me when I vote this year, so I may have to do it over the weekend or next week, since the hours this week aren’t particularly accommodating for that. What’s your preferred early voting location, and when do you plan to do your duty? Leave a comment and let us know.

I will of course be tracking the daily EV totals as I get them from the County Clerk’s office. Here’s a Google spreadsheet I put together in 2008 that compared early voting that year to 2004. I’ll update this spreadsheet to include 2012 numbers as well.

Endorsement watch: For Wendy Davis

Very nice.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Two state legislators are running to represent a demographically changing senatorial District 10: the incumbent, Democrat Sen. Wendy Davis, and Republican state Rep. Mark Shelton.

Davis, who defeated an entrenched incumbent four years ago, did not take long to make her mark on the Senate, enhancing the populist image she honed as a forceful but consensus-building member of the Fort Worth City Council.

During her first term in Austin, she emerged as one of the best-known and most respected Democrats in the Legislature and, as a result, the most targeted by the political opposition.

Davis is a successful attorney with a powerful personal narrative, the story of a woman who overcame obstacles to achieve at the highest level. At 19, she was a single mother who began to work her way through school beginning at what is now Tarrant County College, eventually earning a law degree from Harvard with honors.

Because she understands the value of education, she fought hard in the last legislative session against large funding cuts for public schools and universities, filibustering a bill that ultimately resulted in the state losing more than 28,000 education jobs.

Davis has also been a champion of women’s health issues, consumer protection and a bill to replenish funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, legislation her opponent — a physician — voted against.

I’d quote the whole thing if I could. It’s as strong an endorsement as you could want, in the most important single race in the state. Go read it, and show your support for Sen. Wendy Davis.

You may also have noticed the Chron’s embarrassing endorsement of Mitt Romney on Sunday. I say “embarrassing” because I have to wonder if the Chron’s editorial writers have been reading their own editorials, never mind following the Presidential campaign. They criticize cuts to Planned Parenthood, but endorse the candidate who would “get rid of” Planned Parenthood. They advocate for expanding Medicaid in order to reduce the number of uninsured people in Texas, yet they endorse the candidate whose promised budget would devastate Medicaid and whose promised repeal of Obamacare would leave millions more uninsured and without access to health care. One wonders if they’re too dumb to understand the issues they claim to support, too easily bamboozled by Romney’s ever-shifting positions, or just too hidebound to overcome their historic preferences. Whatever the case, it’s not one of their prouder moments.

One last thing: The Chron’s page that lists all their endorsements includes a few races for which they have not written an endorsement editorial yet. Those races are CD14, in which they endorse Nick Lampson; HD134, in which they recommend Ann Johnson; and Harris County Tax Assessor, in which they go with Mike Sullivan. I presume we will see the editorials for these this week. Whether they will endorse in other legislative and/or Congressional races, I couldn’t say.

Who doesn’t like parks?

The usual suspects – cranks, malcontents, and the Harris County GOP, that’s who.

Proposition B on the Nov. 6 ballot asks you to pay for part of that plan, of course. Not with increased taxes, though, [Mayor Annise] Parker insists. The bond measure asks voters to authorize $166 million in borrowing that the city plans to pay back through existing property tax collections.

Parker has said she would consider the Proposition B projects a legacy achievement in what she hopes will mark her place in city history as “the infrastructure mayor.”

But Dave Wilson, who has formed a PAC to oppose all five city bond measures, and like-minded anti-tax activists see a price tag, not just green space and infrastructure.

They have not targeted Proposition B specifically. Instead, they say the five propositions – combined with tax hikes proposed by Houston Independent School District and Houston Community College on the same ballot to pay for borrowing to fix those campuses – amount to too deep a dive into taxpayers’ pockets by government that cannot be trusted to spend money wisely.

While the measure calls for $166 million in taxpayer spending, it actually would cost $291 million to pay back with interest, according to one city estimate.

In a resolution opposing all city bond measures, the county Republican Party states: “Some of the proposed projects, such as creating ‘an integrated system of … bicycle trails’ seems a frivolous use of tax dollars when the city says it cannot find money to test thousands of stored rape kits.”

The resolution does not acknowledge that bond money cannot be used to pay for crime lab operations and other functions.

Of course, the city has found a way to pay for the rape kit backlog. It’s even one that I’m sure no Republican will ever, ever have to contribute towards. What could be better than that?

Honestly, I don’t get the Republicans’ opposition to this. There’s no tax increase. There’s never been a better time to float bonds, with interest rates at historically low levels. The city will only borrow as much as a private fundraising effort will generate. Everyone agrees that amenities like parks and bike trails are key to attracting businesses and knowledge workers to a city. The C Club, which last I checked was populated almost entirely by Republicans, has endorsed the parks bond. Even Republicans like riding bikes. What am I missing? Yes, I can see that this is part of a larger effort to sink all of the bonds, and whatever else you think of them the HISD and HCC bonds will have tax increases accompanying them. But that lack of distinction between the bonds shows that this is all about reflexive ideology and not about any policy rationale. I can’t say I’m surprised, but it’s all very unserious.

One more thing: The story sidebar lists CM Oliver Pennington as an opponent to the parks measure. While it is true that CM Pennington voted against putting the entire bond package on the ballot, he also called himself “particularly supportive” of the parks bond. It is possible to distinguish, even if the Harris County GOP won’t do it.

Endorsement watch: HCDE and District E

The Chron endorses three Democrats for the Harris County Department of Education.

At-Large Position 3: Democratic challenger Diane Trautman would bring expertise and professionalism to the job. As a professor of education at Stephen F. Austin State University, she taught courses in ethics and leadership – areas that would be useful on the county board, which astoundingly lacks an ethics policy. With previous banking experience, she’s strong in finance. And knows first-hand how the department helps schools. As principal of Tomball Junior High, Trautman saved enough by ordering supplies through the co-op that she was able to fund a science program.

Position 6, Precinct 1: Democratic nominee Erica Lee would be a strong advocate for Head Start and Early Childhood Intervention. As a first-grade teacher at HISD’s Lantrip Elementary, she says, she could easily tell which kids had benefited from those programs.

Position 4, Precinct 3: Silvia Mintz knows first-hand the importance of education to achieving the American dream. In 1998, when she came to the United States from Guatemala, she worked as a janitor. “My first words in English,” she says, “were ‘Windex’ and ‘mop.'” After attending community-college classes, she graduated magna cum laude from the University of St. Thomas; then received her law degree at South Texas College of Law. Now in private practice, she’d be a strong advocate for expansion of Head Start.

Trautman is of course running against the ridiculous Michael Wolfe. Lee, who thankfully won the runoff in that screwed-up primary, will easily complete the single easiest pickup opportunity that 2012 has to offer. As I said before, Silvia Mintz is the kind of person I want to see get elected to something. I’m just glad she showed up for the editorial board screening. If at least one of Trautman and Mintz join Lee in being elected, the HCDE board will become majority Democratic, not too shabby considering that four years ago at this time it was all Republican.

Meanwhile, the Chron makes the establishment choice in the special election for City Council District E.

David Martin

With a resume that boasts companies like Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, [David] Martin has the accounting background that Houston needs in a time of pension problems and budget challenges. But in addition to this financial expertise, Martin also has an energetic optimism about the city that voters should want in their elected officials. He talks about his time on the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority – where he has served as chairman of the finance committee and secretary/treasurer – like a microcosm of Houston: a diverse group of people all pulling in the same direction. As Martin explains, it is that diversity and energy that makes Houston a wonderful place to live and work, not to mention how they create an appealing location for business.

[…]

Martin already has several projects in mind for his extensive district. He’d like to build a fire station on the west side of Kingwood and another for Clear Lake. Martin’s also interested in integrating flight training and engineering at Ellington Field with science programs at local schools, better tourist passes for the Lone Star Flight Museum and Johnson Space Center … the list goes on. This is the sort of on-the-ground knowledge you’d would expect from an incumbent.

With an eye on fiscal responsibility and a heart for Houston, Dave Martin offers the best choice for District E voters.

See here for the Chron overview of that race. With three candidates, there is the possibility of a runoff, and with a special election looming for SD06, things could get a little complicated. The sensible solution would be to schedule both elections at the same time.

[Harris County Clerk Stan] Stanart said his office is coordinating with Perry’s as to when a special election for the senate seat could be held — perhaps in tandem with a city runoff, and perhaps not.

“There’s potential logistics roadblock that could come up if we had a runoff already scheduled,” Stanart said. “You don’t want to confuse voters having two early votings going on at the same time. We’re looking at calendars, what makes the most sense.”

As we know from the special election in District H in 2009, only the early voting centers in the affected district would be open for SD06 and District E. It certainly would be best to have them all open at the same time, and only once if there’s any overlap. We’ll see how that plays out.

Presidential campaign contributions in Texas

I suspect there’s not much in this story that will surprise you.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign raised nearly twice as much money in the greater Houston area than that of President Barack Obama – most of it from wealthier upscale communities – but more people overall contributed to the president’s re-election, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of campaign contributions.

Though Romney’s numbers are hardly surprising in a Republican-dominated state, the money trail reflects both the political diversity of the Houston region and the two candidates’ eclectic support in the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Nearly 6,000 people donated $3.6 million to Obama from April 2011 through August of this year, compared with Romney’s nearly 5,260 contributors who gave $6.6 million. Across the state, a total of $20 million in individual contributions went to Romney’s campaign, about $6 million more than Obama received, the analysis shows.

“Obama draws from a middle- and lower-middle class base of voters who make frequent and smaller contributions,” said Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University. “Romney’s contributions come from a wealthier base who make fewer but larger contributions.”

That’s pretty much the story nationwide, with the Obama campaign raising more money. I probably wouldn’t have bothered to link to this story at all, but I had to note this fascinating bit of sentence construction:

In Houston, individual donors gave Obama on average $607 and Romney on average $1,260. The geographic trend reflects distributions of strict party voting and in Obama’s case, race, experts say.

In other words, contributors to the Obama campaign include people who are not white. Because race is only something we note when we are not talking about white people. Or something like that. If anyone would like to explain to me why this sentence would have been any less appropriate or accurate without the words “in Obama’s case”, I’m all ears.