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Election 2010

How many votes did we think we’d need?

We’ve already established that this election saw an historically high level of turnout in the county, and an historically high level of vote support for Republican candidates. It’s clear that Republican candidates rode a wave of voters who don’t normally participate in the off year elections to across the board victory. But would Democratic levels of support that candidates got this year have been sufficient to win in a more normal year?

I did a little number crunching to try to figure that out. Here’s the first pass at it:

TO% Voters Win Total # Wins =============================== 35 671,137 308,660 64 36 690,312 317,543 64 37 709,488 326,364 50 38 728,663 335,185 28 39 747,838 344,005 6 40 767,014 352,826 0

“TO%” is turnout percent; according to the results page there were 1,917,534 registered voters for this election, up about 42,000 from 2002. “Voters”, therefore, is just 1,917,534 multiplied by the turnout number. “Win total” is the number of votes needed in a countywide election to get a majority. You will note that they are less than 50% of the number os voters. This is because not everybody actually casts a vote in these races. If you look at the countywide races from 2002 through 2008, the undervote rate for them was about 8%. It varied a bit from year to year and race to race, but overall it was pretty consistently within about a point of that. As such, “Win total” represents 46% of the number of voters, which is to say half of the 92% of voters who actually picked a candidate in these races. “# Wins” is how many Democratic candidates out of the 65 countywide races cleared that bar.

I started at 35% because turnout in 2002 was 35.1% As you can see, for turnout levels of 37% and less the Democrats did quite well. At 38%, there’s a sizeable dropoff in the number of winners, but it’s still nearly half the slate. Note that that level of turnout would have been an increase of 10.9% in absolute terms over what we experienced in 2002. By contrast, the 2008 turnout level was 8.5% higher than it was in 2004. All things being equal, that level of surge was still manageable for Democrats. At the 39% level, Republicans would have dominated but there would still have been six survivors: Loren Jackson, Diane Trautman, Katy Kennedy, Kathy Stone, David Longoria, and Bruce Kessler. At 40%, it was all under water.

I said “all things being equal” for a reason, because there was one additional difference this year: The undervote rate was lower. In 2010, about 94.5% of all voters cast a ballot in the county races. That changes the calculus as follows:

TO% Voters Win Total # Wins =============================== 35 671,137 317,112 64 36 690,312 326,172 50 37 709,488 335,234 28 38 728,663 344,293 6 39 747,838 353,353 0 40 767,014 362,414 0

Basically, it moves everything down a level, so that the slate won big at 36%, won some at 37%, held on to a few at 38%, and was wiped out above that. While we could have seen the higher turnout coming, I don’t know how anyone could have seen this. You might attribute it to the higher rate of straight ticket voting, and I think that is the best explanation, but note that in Presidential years, when the straight ticket rate is about what it was this year (62% in 2004, 64% in 2008, 66% in 2010; it was 48% in 2006 and 55% in 2002), the undervote rate was not significantly different than in the other off years.

So the question then becomes, how much turnout did the party and the candidates plan for? I had thought we’d get about 700,000 voters, at which level the slate would have done reasonably well. Beverly Kaufman predicted 750,000 voters after Early Voting was over. That would have necessitated the 8% undervote rate to avoid a complete wipeout, and still would have been a lousy showing even with it. In reality, with turnout just shy of 800,000, the district court races had about 756,000 votes in them, and the county court races had about 753,000, meaning you needed at least 377,000 to 378,000 votes to win. We sure didn’t get that. I can understand not expecting 800,000 people to show up, but it would help to know what number we did expect. I’m sure plenty of people reading this have an answer to that, so I trust we’ll get some feedback on it. For now, at least you know how the actual performance of Democratic candidates would have fared under this range of scenarios.

Ortiz asks for a recount

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, one of three Texas Congressional Democrats to be defeated on Tuesday, has asked for a recount.

U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, trailing Republican challenger Blake Farenthold by 792 votes in the race for Texas’ 27th District, officially announced in a written statement late Friday afternoon that he would seek a manual recount, citing what he called “numerous voting irregularities.”

The call for a recount came after provisional ballot totals and outstanding military-vote estimates showed that even if all of those votes went for Ortiz, the congressman was still unlikely to pull ahead.

“It is my utmost desire to ensure that the votes of the people of South Texas be cast and counted and that no vote be left out. Therefore, we’ve begun putting together the documents necessary to request a recount,” Ortiz wrote in a statement.

792 votes is a small margin – Ortiz lost by 0.75 percentage points – and as such it’s perfectly normal to ask for a recount. I just would not expect anything to come of it. I’ve seen a bunch of these requests over the past eight years, some for margins much smaller than this – see Holm/Daily in 2003, Vo/Heflin in 2004, and Harper-Brown/Romano in 2008 for three examples – and only one time has it made a difference for the person that was originally trailing. That was the Ciro Rodriguez/Henry Cueller primary race of 2004, and it came with a set of bizarre and unique circumstances. I wish Rep. Ortiz the best, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

Two side notes of interest: One, the Libertarian candidate in this race got over 5% of the vote. If you believe, as some do, that Libertarians take votes from Republicans, then Ortiz’s margin might have been larger had this been a two-person race. If you believe, as I do, that Libertarians take votes from incumbents as much as they do from Republicans, then one can make a case that Ortiz might have won a two-person race. Two, Ortiz’s son Solomon, Jr, a State Rep in Nueces County, also lost. Tough week for the Ortiz family, that’s for sure.

So where do we go from here?

All right, the shock is starting to wear off, so it’s time to take stock of what happened and think about what to do next.

As shell-shocked Democrats begin crawling out of their cave, the question they have to confront, in Texas and elsewhere, is whether Tuesday night’s debacle represents the pit or the pendulum. Was the party’s massive repudiation merely another pendulum-swing election that eventually will swing the other way if the party only perseveres? Or does it represent the pit, an existential crisis so deep and profound that it threatens the party’s very existence in Texas?

A season of soul-searching is beginning, says political scientist James Henson of the University of Texas at Austin.

Democratic consultant Leland Beatty leans toward the pendulum theory, although he maintains that the party’s soul-searching needs to be deep and thorough.

“Texas has gone longer than any other state without electing at least one candidate from each party,” he says. “We need to afflict ourselves. People who’ve gone through a lot of Yom Kippur nights know what I’m talking about.”

The first and foremost thing we need to do is not panic, and not overreact. I’m not saying we don’t need to change how we operate or that there won’t be hard choices to make, not at all. I’m just saying we should keep some perspective. Let me put it to you this way: If all of the legislative districts were to remain the same for 2012, how many of the 22 that Democrats lost would you say are unlikely to be competitive under any circumstance? I can think of five for which I’d be pessimistic, the seats formerly held by Reps. David Farabee, Stephen Frost, Mark Homer, Jim McReynolds, and Joe Heflin, plus maybe Jim Dunnam’s and Patrick Rose’s. Of the latter six, the right candidate could make a big difference. What if these guys saddled up and tried to win back their seats in 2012? Surely they’d be seen as having a shot. All the others would already be on the hot lists for the next election – I’d expect to gain at least six seats just on regression to the mean – plus the takeover targets the Democrats had for this past election. There would be very little defense to be played, since pretty much every vulnerable seat was already lost. For all of the bad that came out of this election – and there sure was a big steaming pile of it – there’s no reason to believe we can’t bounce back significantly in the next election. If nothing else, try to keep that in mind.

Now of course we won’t have the same boundaries in 2012, and Republicans will take full advantage of their opportunity to maintain the ground they’ve taken. (Heflin’s seat almost surely won’t exist in 2012.) Still, there’s only so many ways you can slice and dice things, and only so many Republican voters to go around. Plus, all the newbies they’ve elected will have an actual record they’ll have to defend, coming out of a session that will be all about taking medicine and none about getting goodies.

Which brings me to the first piece of advice I’m going to give to the 51 Democrats that will be serving in Austin next year. You are pretty much free to vote your conscience on just about everything. The Republicans don’t need your help to do the things they say they want to do, so don’t give it to them. Their perfectly rational interpretation of this election is that the people wanted more Republican government. I say let them have it, then make sure they know that’s what they got. There’s no need to vote for anything related to the budget that isn’t worthy of your wholehearted support, and ideally the wholehearted support of every other Democrat in the caucus. Let them inflict all the pain. Hell, they’re looking forward to doing it. Your job is to repeat, loudly and often and to everyone, that it’s because of Republican policies and decisions from previous legislative sessions that we’re going through all of this pain that the Republicans are now inflicting on all of us, and that it would be and would have been different if Democrats were running the show.

It’s a lot like what the Congressional Republicans did for the past two years, except that Democrats in the Lege have actually been putting forth and getting passed legislation to move Texas forward while in the minority. We have a vision for what we want to do differently. The Republicans made Barack Obama the centerpiece of their campaign this year, and it worked like a champ for them. But Obama won’t be in the Capitol next year. They will try to use him as a distraction from their failures again in 2012. We cannot let that happen, and it starts in the Lege. The entire tax system that the Republicans have created is wholly inadequate for Texas’ population, economy, and needs. Since the Republicans refuse to acknowledge that, we will continue to have the same problems every two years. They broke it, they won’t admit it’s broken, and they are incapable of fixing it. The only way out is to change directions.

We’re not getting any legislative victories next session. We’re not really even capable of playing defense, except against constitutional amendments. The best we can do is stick together and make them own their mess. I’ll have some more thoughts for going forward over the next few days.

What now for Renew Houston?

In addition to the disposal of the red light cameras and the associated costs of their removal, Mayor Parker and City Council now need to work out the details for Prop 1, which created the dedicated fund for streets and drainage and will impose a fee on property owners to pay for it. How much, and who doesn’t have to pay, is still up in the air.

City Council members, who are listening to a chorus of local school officials, church leaders and nonprofit groups, appear to have no appetite to impose the fee on those institutions, many of which are traditionally exempt from taxes.

Yet if that view prevails, it would set up a situation in which property owners will likely be forced to pay more than they were assured by proponents of the campaign. Voters passed Proposition 1, a 20-year, $8 billion spending plan to shore up Houston’s infrastructure and reduce flooding problems, with 51 percent of the vote. Supporters said frequently on the campaign trail that the average drainage fee for a Houston homeowner would be about $5 a month. That figure was based on the assumption that no one would be exempt from paying.

“The citizens will say, “They lied to us,’ ” said City Councilman C.O. Bradford, who opposed Proposition 1 because the city failed to adopt an ordinance before the vote detailing how the proposal would be implemented.

As Parker spends the coming months preparing that “implementation” ordinance, council members and some community leaders indicated a willingness to keep an open mind, although many seemed unlikely to support applying the fee to those key groups.

I have sympathy for HISD and the churches, but I don’t recall anyone arguing that they deserved to be exempted from the water rate hike that Council passed earlier this year. I understand their position, but I see this as being analogous to that. They’ll get the same benefit that the rest of us will from the street and drainage improvements that this fee will fund, so I believe it is appropriate for them to contribute to that fund.

Now that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to work with them on this. One possibility I’ve heard is for the fees that HISD pays to be applied directly to projects around HISD schools. Another possibility that occurs to me, which I think would be a win all around, is to create a fund that would offer rebates to properties with large impermeable parking lots, such as churches, for taking steps to make those large parking lots less impermeable. See the Low Impact Development document that the RUDH people put out for some suggestions. This mirrors the approach that Council took for apartment owners to help them mitigate the cost of the water rate hike for themselves and their tenants, in that it encouraged them to minimize their impact and will reimburse them for doing so. I would strongly support such a step by Council.

What now for the red light cameras?

Barring anything unusual, red light cameras will be history in Houston, but their effect will be felt for some time.

City Controller Ronald Green said the loss of the devices would amount to a $10 million shortfall in revenues, a sharp decrease that would greatly complicate efforts to close a shortfall that was already nearing $80 million.

“We’re going to have to cut expenses,” he said. “We need to really start talking about the fact that furloughs and layoffs may really be a potential option. … It’s now time for drastic cuts.”

I don’t care to re-litigate the talking point about the cameras being a “revenue grab” – no one’s mind will be changed at this point – but however you felt about them they were a revenue source, and the loss of that revenue has to be made up somehow. I’m not looking forward to seeing how that happens.

Jim McGrath, a spokesman for Keep Houston Safe, said he did not anticipate that the political action committee — backed by the Arizona-based company that runs the city’s red-light camera program – would try to fight the election results in court.

“We’re disappointed,” he said. “We put together an unprecedented coalition of police and firefighters and hospital groups who told the truth. … At the end of the day, the voters got the last word.”

There was litigation filed before the election to prevent the referendum from being on the ballot, as well as questions about the legality of the petition effort. I could not tell from the story where any of that stood, so I sent an email to McGrath to ask. He said that his understanding was that the case had been vacated, and that as of Tuesday night no one had any intention of challenging the result. A statement released by the camera vendor doesn’t give any indication of further action, either. Personally, I’m not sure that the matter should be dropped. I feel like the legal issues that were raised by KHS and by Council members like Anne Clutterbuck deserve some kind of official answer in the event this sort of thing ever happens again. But I understand why no one wants to pursue it. Like it or not, the election was won fair and square, and you have to respect that.

I have to wonder, though, if throwing in a few negative ads with all those “firefighters and doctors telling the truth” might have had an effect on the outcome. McGrath and company weren’t shy about questioning the Kubosh brothers’ financial motives for opposing the cameras to reporters. Given what Controller Green says, it’s not hard to imagine an attack mailer in which said financial interests of “greedy lawyers” are pitched against those of Houston’s taxpayers. “They want to line their pockets while costing you money!” or some such could have been the tag line. It would have been sleazy and hypocritical, of course, and would have drawn the usual tongue-clucking from various media types – yeah, me too – but I bet it would have moved a few votes.

That’s just Wednesday morning quarterbacking, and it’s easy for me to say. A better question is what happens to the cameras now, and what happens if you get a ticket from one before they come down? My guess is that the status quo will remain until Council takes some action to begin the process of removing them. The city could have them turned off immediately, but I don’t think they are required to do so. As long as there’s some sort of good faith, on a reasonable schedule effort to get rid of them, I suspect that would be considered kosher by a judge. So don’t go running any more lights than you would have before.

UPDATE: And here we get some answers.

Although voters abolished Houston’s red light camera system Tuesday, the 70 cameras have the green light to keep recording traffic violations for months as the city weighs a legal strategy for exiting its contract with the firm operating the cameras, city officials say.

Anti-camera activists slammed the delay Wednesday, insisting on immediately terminating the five-year contract — whatever the cost – with ATS, the Arizona firm that manages Houston’s system. The May 2009 contract has a termination clause that requires the city to provide the company with a 120-day notice of cancellation, a period when the cameras will still be in full operation and civil fines issued, according to the city attorney.

“This issue is over, “ said attorney Paul Kubosh, who with brother Michael helped mount the successful campaign against the cameras. “This is not a legal issue, this is a political issue now. The voters don’t care what the price of tea is in China. They don’t care what the contract says. … They want the cameras gone and just pay the damages.“

Apparently, we’re all Veruca Salt now. This just confirms my belief that perhaps the campaign for the cameras should have talked a bit about the costs involved in being forced to remove them.

Opening thoughts on the carnage

In no particular order…

– Republicans gain 22 seats in the State House, for a 99-51 advantage. That’s with Pete Gallego, Hubert Vo, and Donna Howard, all of whom had been trailing early, coming back to win. Howard’s margin of victory is a microscopic 15 votes, so she’ll have to survive a recount. No Republican seats flipped.

– Among many other things, I strongly suspect that’s a death blow for expanded gambling this session. Which is ironic, since polls pretty consistently showed that people prefer expanded gambling to nearly any other choice for bridging the budget gap. With this partisan margin in the House, you’ll need a majority of GOP legislators to favor a joint resolution for expanded gambling, and I don’t see that happening; if there had been as much as one third of the GOP caucus in favor of it in 2009, it would have passed then. Sam Houston Race Park may have a new, deep-pocketed investor with a record of getting other states to allow slot machines at racetracks, but I don’t think that will do them any good here.

– The good news, I suppose, from a Democratic perspective is that even with another Republican-drawn legislative map for 2012, there will be no shortage of takeover targets and quite a few Republicans who likely can’t win outside of such an extremely favorable environment. The bad news, part of it anyway, is that the ceiling is now much lower due to the wipeout in rural districts. If Democrats net 10 seats in 2012, they’re still short of where they were in 2002.

– Speaking of redistricting, the Republicans are now in the position of having to draw at least one of their members out of a seat next year, as West Texas will lose a district. The West Texas delegation comprises one former Speaker (Craddick), one potential future Speaker (Chisum), and a bunch of freshmen, all of whom are Republicans, so options like “target the Democrat” and “convince one of the old coots to retire” aren’t on the table. They may face a similar dilemma in East Texas, it’s too early to say.

– Dems may have targets a-plenty in two years, but where will the money for those races come from? The Mostyns spent a gazillion dollars and have less than nothing to show for it. Annie’s List saw nearly its entire slate erased. Losing a bunch of incumbents means losing a lot of fundraising capability.

– I don’t mean to be indelicate, but party chairs usually don’t survive results like these. I hope whoever succeeds Boyd Ritchie has a strategy in mind.

– Despite losing four State House members, Dallas County remained blue.

– In Harris County, Democrats did in fact do better on Election Day than in early voting, by about six points. Outside of Bill White, who ultimately did carry the county, and Loren Jackson, that wasn’t enough for a majority of the Election Day votes, let alone a winning total.

– Final turnout in Harris was over 779,000, which will likely stand as the high-water mark for several cycles. I think it’s safe to say Republicans got a significant number of people who don’t normally vote outside of Presidential years to come out this time. Two thirds of all votes cast in Harris were straight ticket votes, with Republicans reversing a two-cycle trend and taking a 50,000 vote advantage there. Democratic turnout overall wasn’t terrible – vote totals in the 310,000 to 340,000 range would have meant big wins in 2006, and would have won most races in 2002. Not this year.

– Among other things, Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s job just got a lot harder now that he’s lost his strongest ally on Commissioners Court. I don’t see a whole lot more progress being made on reducing jail overcrowding at this point.

– Despite trailing in early voting, Prop 1 (Renew Houston) squeaked through, for one of the very few good results of the day. Prop 3, to keep red light cameras, lost in a fairly close vote. If you had told me on Monday that only one of these two would pass, I’d have bet a lot of money on it being the other way around. Prop 2, which would have allowed for a six-month residency requirement for Council in the 2011 election only, lost big. That will make City Council redistricting more challenging.

– Red light cameras also lost in Baytown.

– Judith Cruz and Juliet Stipeche will face each other in a runoff for the open HISD Trustee seat. The lone Republican in that race, Dorothy Olmos, finished fourth. All things considered, you have to wonder if that represents a missed opportunity for the local GOP.

– The city of Dallas got wet. Good for them.

– The city of Austin had its own somewhat controversial ballot proposition to fund infrastructure improvements. It wound up passing easily.

– Harry Reid won re-election. In some ways, that may be the weirdest result of all. By all rights, Republicans should have taken the Senate, but Democrats held on there and in West Virginia and apparently Colorado, while being gifted Delaware after basically writing it off when Mike Castle jumped in.

– Finally, in regard to polling, Rasmussen Reports had a bad cycle, which included producing the single worst result, by a large margin. Polling in Texas understated Rick Perry’s margin by a bit, and overstated, in some cases by a lot, the performance of third-party candidates.

I’m sure I’ll have more later.

I’ve had worse days, but not by much

So as I write this, it looks like the optimistic projections for the Republicans weren’t optimistic enough. Big wins for them in the state, in Harris County, and in the Legislature, where a circa-2003 partisan mix looks like a good result for the Democrats. I don’t care to stay up till the bitter end tonight – more than two hours after the poll closed, we still don’t have any Election Day numbers in Harris County – but it’s clear already that a lot of voters who had split tickets in the past did not do so this time around. It’s just a question of how great the carnage is.

It’s too early to say what the worst result from my perspective will be, but if it stands the loss of County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia will be up there. I’m sure County Judge Ed Emmett will enjoy working with his new colleague on those mental health care problems he’s been writing about.

Somewhat weirdly, the national picture isn’t looking that bad for the Dems. The House is a lost cause, and the toll could well be worse than it was in 1994, but the Senate is looking surprisingly good, at least at this point. That could change by morning, but several races that were close or even considered out of reach are breaking their way.

I’ll have plenty more to say later, when all of the pieces are in place. For now, all I want to say is Good Night.

Electronic voting will be the norm today

From the County Clerk’s office:

ELECTRONIC VOTING TO BE THE PRINCIPAL METHOD OF VOTING ON ELECTION DAY IN HARRIS COUNTY

Houston, TX– As usual, on General Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010, the eSlate electronic voting system will be the principal method of voting in Harris County. According to the County Clerk’s office, the deployment of electronic voting equipment will be virtually the same for this election compared to the last gubernatorial election.

”There will be enough electronic voting equipment at the polls to handle the expected Election Day turnout”, said Beverly Kaufman, the chief election official of the county. “Paper ballots will be available at every poll. But I strongly urge voters to cast their ballots using the eSlate electronic voting machines as it is the system which is most familiar to them.” The eSlate has been in use in Harris County since 2002.

The Election Day infrastructure and procedures will also be the same as the previous similar election: There will be 736 polling locations, five more than four years ago; The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; And, a voter may bring someone of their choosing to the polling place to provide assistance, provided it is not their labor union representative, employer, an agent of their employer, or an officer or agent of a labor union to which the voter belongs. The person providing assistance must sign the Affidavit of Voter Assistance and print his/her name on the poll list, to attest to the fact that they will not unduly influence the voter.

However, voters and the media will notice slight differences on Tuesday: Aside from the voters and the election clerks, there may be state and federal inspectors and poll watchers at some polls. [A Poll Watchers is a person appointed to observe the conduct of an election on behalf of a candidate, a political party, or the proponents or opponents of a measure (specific-purpose political action committees). The role of a poll watcher is to ensure the conduct of fair and honest elections]; and, the election night Central Counting Station will be at Reliant Arena.

Aside from the federal, state and county races on the ballot, some voters may see other items at the end their ballot such as a proposition or non-partisan election. To vote, a person may present one of the following documents: a voter registration card, a driver’s license, a picture identification of any kind, a birth certificate, a U.S. Citizenship or Naturalization certificate, a U.S passport, a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter. Voters who registered by mail and did not provide their driver’s license number or identification number will also need to provide another form of identification other than the voter registration certificate.

On Election Day, Texas law requires voters to vote at the precinct where they are registered to vote. Voters may find their election day polling location by visiting www.harrisvotes.com or calling 713 755 6965.

They also inform us that the results we are all waiting for may be a bit slower than usual to arrive:

Harris County Election Night returns may be slower in coming this year due to extra administrative procedures presiding election judges have to perform related to the possible use of paper ballots and because there will be only one central drop off location.

“The pace of the election returns will be dictated by how fast election judges complete their paper work and close down their polling location, and the sites’ proximity to the central drop-off station”, said Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, the chief elections officer of the county.

The County Clerk Office expects to release the initial election results report approximately at 7:00 p.m. on election night. The report will include the ballots cast during the early voting period and almost all mail ballots delivered to the County Clerk by the election night deadline.

As of the close of the early voting period, including absentee ballots, 444,648 persons had been processed to vote. It is estimated that almost 60 percent of all voters who will participate in this election may have voted before General Election Day.

The Harris County Election Night Central Drop-Off and Counting Station will be at Reliant Arena Hall D, Reliant Park. Media may park live trucks in the Drive Lane of Maroon Lot 15, in front of Reliant Arena Hall A. Election work areas in Hall D will be off limits to the media. There will be a designated media room and media work area.

As noted before, the prediction of 60% total early vote corresponds with a final turnout projection of about 750,000. I think that’s high, but we’re in uncharted waters, so who knows what could happen. I still expect the upper limit is more like 700,000, but we’ll know soon enough. In any event, today is the day we’ve been waiting for. Vote if you have not done so, and ensure your right to complain about the outcome afterward. I’ll be back later with updates and analysis.

From the “Grant me the grace to accept the things I cannot change” department

What’s that old saying? “Could be worse. Could be raining.”

As Democrats around the country girded for a midterm GOP tsunami, Bill White and his down-ballot Democratic cohorts spent the weekend tacking up political plywood and looking for signs, any signs, that the storm would not be as severe as the prognosticators were predicting.

One of those signs in Harris County, said Gerry Birnberg, Harris County Democratic Party chairman, was that early vote totals turned out to be “pretty much a dead heat” after an initial surge from enthusiastic Republicans.

Still there were storm clouds looming for local Democratic candidates, Birnberg noted on Sunday. And he meant real storm clouds.

“The wild card in the deck is the weather,” Birnberg said. Forecasters are predicting Election Day thunderstorms for the Houston area, and that might make it difficult for a party that needs a large turnout to make up the Republican advantage in mail-in and early voting ballots.

SciGuy suggests the weather ought to be pretty good during voting hours today. You can verify or falsify that yourself by just looking out your window.

As far as the differences between early voting and Election Day are concerned, a survey of the 2002 and 2006 results shows that Democrats have done about three points better on Election Day than before it. Of course, with a handful of exceptions Republican candidates still won on Election Day in those years. Still, the difference moved the needle a point or two in the Democratic direction, which may be enough if the vote tallies are fairly even to begin with.

That has to be qualified by noting that in those elections, the vast bulk of votes were cast on Election Day, which will surely not be the case this year. However, if the surge in Early Voting is similar in nature to what we saw in 2008, when scads of people who had formerly voted on Election Day changed their behavior, then we could see a much bigger difference in performance. In 2008, when many more Democrats voted early, Republicans gained between six and eight points on Election Day. I doubt we’ll see anything that dramatic, but I do believe the Republican well isn’t as deep today.

Finally, I should note that in all three years, including 2008, Libertarian candidates did better, by about a point in 2008 and a half a point in 2002 and 2006, on Election Day. I’m sure there’s a slacker joke in there somewhere, but I’m not feeling it right now. Green candidates did a smidge better on Election Day in 2002, in case you were wondering. Make of that what you will.

What the polls said

Here’s a roundup of the most recent versions of the most recent polls on the Governor’s race, some of which include one or more other statewide races. We’ll come back to this and see how accurate they were after tomorrow:

Public Policy Polling, October 26-28

Perry 53
White 44

Dewhurst 54
Chavez-Thompson 34

Note: The Dewhurst/Chavez-Thompson result is from September. I’m including it here because there’s been so little non-gubernatorial polling.

Blum-Weprin, October 22-27

Perry 49
White 37
Glass 2
Shafto 3

UT/Texas Trib, October 25

Perry 50
White 40
Glass 8
Shafto 2

Dewhurst 51
Chavez-Thompson 38
Jameson 9
Gonzalez 2

Abbott 55
Radnofsky 35
Roland 11

Patterson 50
Uribe 37
Holdar 12

Staples 50
Gilbert 37
Donaldson 12

Porter 50
Weems 34
Gary 10
Browning 5

Rasmussen, October 23

Perry 51
White 43
Other 2

Texas Lyceum, September 22-30

Perry 48
White 43
Glass 5
Shafto 1

Dewhurst 47
Chavez-Thompson 30
Jameson 7
Gonzalez 4

Abbott 56
Radnofsky 29
Roland 4

Texas Watch, August 25-29

Perry 42
White 41

Going by the most recent results, the consensus would seem to be Perry by about ten points. I find it deeply ironic that Rasmussen has the narrowest spread, but that’s how weird this election season has been. I believe it’s a closer race than that, and I believe that overall the polls have told us a lot less than what they should have told us by now, but we’ll see soon enough. Feel free to place your bets on how things turn out in the comments.

Endorsement watch: Early voting? Never heard of it

Somewhat incredibly, there were still endorsements being made over the weekend. Two newspapers finally got around to picking a side in the Governor’s race. The good news is that at least they picked the right one. First up, the Abilene Reporter News.

Big Country residents (and Texans in general) face an important choice Tuesday — return Gov. Rick Perry to office, virtually guaranteeing him 14 years in the office, or elect former Houston mayor Bill White to the post.

The Abilene Reporter-News advisory board recommends White as the candidate most suited to govern our state. His business experience, progressive views regarding education and conservative take on fiscal issues were the things that most impressed the advisory board during its meeting with him and investigation into his background.

A competent businessman, an entrepreneur, an energy expert and, yes, even a plaintiff’s attorney, White was successful in the private sector before going into the public sector.

[…]

In the face of Perry’s un-American secessionist statements, the flat refusal of federal funds for education rather than diplomatic wrangling, the Trans-Texas Corridor fiasco, an education system that has more than its share of issues, unaddressed immigration problems, a mandate for the vaccination of all Texas girls against human papillomavirus, an $18 billion to $21 billion budget shortfall, Texas Department of Transportation issues, Tea Party pandering and the completely unnecessary fostering of partisanship in a political game for political gain — Bill White’s curriculum vitae paints a picture of a candidate Big Country residents and West Texans should help vote into office.

If you’re wondering what “virtually guarantees” means, it’s because Perry wants to run for President. Because what this country needs now is another idiot right-wing Texas Governor in the White House.

And winning a special award in the “Why do today what you can put off till tomorrow?” department, here’s the El Paso Times offering an opinion about the entire statewide slate.

El Paso needs the big ear that is a governor’s.

Thus we feel a change in leadership is warranted, and we believe Democrat Bill White should be the next governor of Texas.

“El Paso will not be forgotten,” said the man credited with getting Houston out of massive financial straights by going over budget items line by line — and doing it over again month by month until the problem of money has been solved.

The El Paso Times also endorses Barbara Ann Radnofsky for Attorney General, and incumbents Susan Combs for comptroller, Jeff Weems for Railroad Commissioner and Jerry Patterson for Land Commissioner.

We especially like Radnofsky’s stance that legalized casino gambling should become law in Texas as a means of generating much-needed revenue, and that she would use her office to make sure a fair share of federal border security money sent to Austin would be sent here.

It must be noted that they’re not so big on early voting in El Paso, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by the EPT’s casual attitude towards endorsing. And again, at least they got it right. Eventually.

Final early vote wrapup

As was the case in 2008, we saw record levels of early voting this year in Harris County.

As polls closed Friday before Tuesday’s general election, as many as 450,000 people are expected to have cast their ballots early or by mail, an amount officials say is likely to make up about 65 percent of the total, a record for Harris County in a gubernatorial contest. That would more than double the total number of early votes in 2002 and 2006.

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman predicted that as many as 300,000 will cast their ballots Tuesday, putting overall turnout at 750,000, or about 39 percent of registered voters.

Kaufman attributed the huge early voter turnout to a “true spirit of cooperation” among voters aware of the August fire that destroyed 10,000 pieces of voting equipment. Immediately after the blaze and before she knew whether the county would be able to obtain enough electronic voting machines by Tuesday, Kaufman began imploring residents to vote early to avoid the sort of lines that could discourage turnout on Election Day.

Here’s the final daily tally for early voting. As of close of business Friday, a total of 444,648 in person and mail ballots had been cast. Mail ballots that arrive through Tuesday will still count, so that number will creep up a bit in the end.

As for turnout projections, we don’t have much history to guide us, as the County Clerk webpage only breaks out early votes for 2002 and 2006. In 2002, by my calculations 188,225 of the 652,682 votes were cast early, including mail ballots, for a total of 28.8%. In 2006, 191,533 of the 601,186 votes were cast early, for 31.9% of the total. (You can see the 2006 daily early vote tracker here.) If 65% of the votes have been cast already as the story suggests, we’ll have final turnout in the 690,000 range. For a final turnout of 750,000, that means only 60% of the votes have been cast already. My inclination is the pick the lower number, and even that may be a tad high. Let’s say the over/under is at 700,000, and as is my habit, I’ll take the under.

As for the breakdown by State Rep. districts where early votes were cast, it looks like this:

2010 last day Strong R = 41.9% Medium R = 9.1% Medium D = 16.7% Strong D = 29.4% 2010 overall Strong R = 46.0% Medium R = 9.3% Medium D = 17.4% Strong D = 25.0% Total R = 55.3% Total D = 42.4% 2006 Overall Strong R = 43.7% Medium R = 11.2% Medium D = 19.2% Strong D = 23.2% Total R = 54.9% Total D = 42.4%

In the end, it looks a lot like 2006 after a very good second week for Democrats. As before, Thursday was more Democratic than Wednesday, and Friday was more Democratic than Thursday. Moreover, the last five days of early voting saw more ballots cast – 211,552 in person for that period compared to 180,984 for the first seven days. What I’ve heard about the primary voting history suggests Dems pulled ahead of Rs by the end, but there’s a lot of people with unknown partisan history – about a quarter of the total – who have voted as well. Some fraction of that is people who were not eligible to vote in Harris County before 2009, for reasons such as being too young or not living here yet, but I’m a bit concerned about that because more people voted in the Democratic primary here in 2008 than have ever voted for a candidate of either party in a non-Presidential year before now. There’s more room for November Republicans in that total than there is for November Democrats, since so many of the latter now have a primary history. Here’s Dr. Murray’s take of how things look, which he posted before Friday’s numbers came in.

Finally, at the state level, early voting in the top 15 counties is up about 60% over 2006. Harris and Hidalgo more than doubled, Fort Bend and Montgomery nearly doubled, while El Paso and Nueces were basically flat. Don’t think this means much for final turnout, but you never know. There were 4,553,987 votes cast in the 2002 Governor’s race, and 4,399,116 such votes in 2006. I am confident this year will exceed 2006, and just on population growth should pass 2002. Let’s say 4.7 million, as a wild guess. Feel free to make your own.

Last round of polls

The newspapers have another poll, and I have a question about it.

The survey of 673 likely voters found Perry leading Democratic nominee and former Houston Mayor Bill White 49 percent to 37 percent. They are followed by Green Party candidate Deb Shafto at 3 percent and Libertarian Kathie Glass at 2 percent, with 10 percent undecided or unsure. The survey, conducted Oct. 22-27, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

White essentially is mired at the same level of support he had when the race began last March, but Perry has moved up in the past month.

In September, Perry led White 46 percent to 39 percent. At that point, White had been advertising on television for several months, but Perry had just begun. Since then, Perry has spent millions of dollars on TV ads promoting himself and attacking White.

“The big story really here is just that Perry finally seems to have sealed the deal,” said pollster Micheline Blum, of Blum & Weprin Associates in New York. “I don’t think he feels terribly worried anymore.”

The survey was conducted for the Houston Chronicle, along with the San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The Express News version of this story says the poll was of “1,073 registered voters, including 673 likely to vote”. The question I have, given that this poll was conducted between Days 5 and 9 of early voting, is why wouldn’t you ask people if they have already voted? Seems to me those are a decent chunk of your truly likely voters by now. At the very least, you can see how things differ between those who have voted and those who have not (yet) voted. I have no idea why the pollster didn’t take this approach. You can add that to the problems I had with their previous poll.

Oh, and Shafto at three points? I don’t think so. I’ll put the over/under for that at one, and at the risk of repeating myself, I’ll take the under.

I should note that Public Policy Polling did take ask their respondents if they had voted, and their numbers aren’t encouraging.

Rick Perry’s in a solid position for reelection as Governor of Texas, leading Bill White 53-44 on PPP’s final poll of the race.

For White it may be a classic case of the right candidate running in the wrong cycle. He has strong favorability numbers at a 46/39 spread while Perry can only break even on his approval rating at 45% giving him good marks and 45% bad ones. White leads with independent voters 50-44. That makes him one of very few Democratic candidates anywhere in the country leading with that group this year and it’s all the more impressive given that Barack Obama’s approval rating with that same ground of independents is a 33/55 spread.

Ultimately though to win as a Democrat in Texas you’re going to have to win a fair amount of crossover support from Republican voters and in the end White just wasn’t able to do it. Just 11% of GOP voters are planning to support him, a number equivalent to the 11% of Democrats who plan to vote for Perry. In this highly polarized political climate Republicans just aren’t particularly inclined to vote for any Democrat, even an unusually appealing one like White.

You can see their data here. Forty-four percent of their sample reported having already voted, and Perry’s lead with them was 56-44. That is a pretty small sample (44% of their 568 respondents is 250), making its margin of error 6.2%, but that’s a mighty thin reed on which to hang hopes. PPP did report, as it had before, that there was no enthusiasm gap in Texas, which it defines by comparing the partisan makeup of the 2010 electorate to that of 2008. They just didn’t see White getting enough crossover support to win. My gut says that the level of White’s Republican support is understated by PPP, but the only recent poll with a sufficient level of detail to compare it to is that UT/Trib poll, which I don’t trust at all. We’ll have to see what the precinct data ultimately tells us.

“The cul-de-sac battleground”

The Observer has an interesting look at three State House races in suburban areas that were once Republican strongholds but have now become battlegrounds. Two of them are Democratic-held – HDs 52 and 133 – and one (HD105) is still Republican, with all of them having photo finishes in 2008 and all of them being key to the makeup of the 2011 Legislature. To give some idea of how these three districts have changed over time, here’s the average percentage of the two-party vote received by Republicans in each:

Year HD52 HD105 HD133 ========================= 2002 63.9 63.1 63.3 2004 60.2 57.9 56.4 2006 54.5 56.9 57.6 2008 51.9 47.8 48.2

There were eight contested judicial races in 2002, two each in 2004 and 2006, and five in 2008. That year, every Democratic judicial candidate won at least a plurality in HDs 105 and 133; in HD52, thanks to Libertarian candidates getting upwards of five percent, only two of the five Republicans got majorities, with the others carrying the district with pluralities.

You look at these numbers and you realize two things: One, what a huge missed opportunity HD105 was last time around. And two, even without the Obama surge of 2008, there was a lot of Republican erosion in those districts. In 2006, the Democratic judicial candidates ran ahead of their statewide numbers in HD52, as the WilCo Democratic Party was starting to get its act together. Both HDs 105 and 133 showed the effect of non-Presidential year turnout – remember, even as Dallas Democrats were sweeping the county that year, it was almost entirely about a huge decline in Republican votes. It’s all about changing demographics. I have no idea what things might look like this year, but I know you can’t overlook that effect. Combine four more years of such change with better organization and the Democrats in these districts have a fighting chance.

Sign of the times: Prop 3

Spotted this the other day on Old Spanish Trail just east of SH288:

A sign from the anti-Prop 3 campaign

Far as I can tell, the nearest red light camera to this sign is at Wayside and I-45. It’s all I’ve seen of the campaign against Prop 3 till now. You can contrast that with the pro-Prop 3 ad that’s now running on cable. You’re likely to see this ad if you haven’t already, as the Prop 3 supporters are well-funded. The opponents, not so much. Which means you’ll probably see more of these signs, too. And that’s why the experts think Prop 3 will likely pass.

Here comes the late money

The 8 days out finance reports are in, and it’s about what you’d expect.

Millions of dollars poured into Texas legislative campaigns during the past month as interest groups tried to maximize their influence and partisans readied for the upcoming fight over the redrawing of House and Senate districts.

Those millions, predominantly from business owners and trial lawyers, have allowed candidates in the Austin area and across the state to clog the television airwaves with their closing pitches before Tuesday’s election.

“Money flows late because late money follows the races that are being run effectively,” said Republican consultant Ted Delisi. “Because we have two weeks of early voting and we have a lot of polling, you can understand which campaigns are gaining traction and which ones aren’t, so you’re not betting blindly.”

Big-dollar donors and interest groups also give late so that the donors themselves don’t become lightning rods in the campaigns. Candidates did not have to publicly disclose contributions they received after Sept. 23 until Monday, when early voting was more than halfway over.

“The general consensus among operatives is, it’s too late to do anything with it,” Delisi said. “The election is 30 to 35 percent over right now.”

Yeah, this is the time to do the stuff you’re least proud of, because the potential for blowback decreases greatly with each passing day. There’s stuff about particular races in that story, and the DMN and EoW have more. As I didn’t see anything specific to Harris County, I figured I’d spot check a few races here to see who’s getting what. Here are the amounts raised since the 30 day reports:

Kristi Thibaut, $119,649
Jim Murphy, $172,222

Ellen Cohen, $100,279
Sarah Davis, $69,116

Dwayne Bohac, $113,955
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena, $36,815

Ken Legler, $178,299
Rick Molina, $85,969

Legler also collected $184,885 as of the 30 days out report after only taking in $82,135 for the first six months of the year. I’ve heard a rumble or two that he’s in a tighter race than originally thought. Make of this what you will.

Hubert Vo, $109,135
Jack O’Connor, $183,938

O’Connor is a great example of how the late money train works. Almost $170,000 of that total comes from five sources:

– Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, $40,000 cash
– Conservative Republicans of Texas, approximately $35,000 in kind
– Republican Party of Texas, $23,000 cash plus another $2,066 in kind
– Robert Rowling of Irving, TN (that’s Tennessee, not Texas), $25,000 cash
– Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, $40,000 cash plus $2,300 in kind

All for a guy who had raised about $65,000 on his own all year. He’s not the only one, of course – Legler got $125,000 from Speaker Straus. Murphy got a lot of assorted PAC money plus $25,000 from the Republican Party of Texas Texas Victory State Account plus a $9200 mailer from the RPT, $20,000 from Bob Perry, $10,500 from three members of the Trammel Crow family in Dallas, and $10,000 from TLR. Bohac also got help from the Speaker, $25,000 worth. I didn’t notice any other donations larger than $5K for him, nor did I see anything of the magnitude noted here for Davis. Again, draw your own conclusions about who sees what opportunities and threats.

Finally, on a tangential note, one unfamiliar name I saw in four of the five Republican reports (all but O’Connor) was a Curtis Mewbourne, of Mewbourne Oil, who handed out 16 donations of $5K each to various legislative candidates (plus a $75K gift to David Dewhurst) since September 24, all but two (incumbents Joe Heflin and Mark Homer) to Republicans. I note his name for future reference, since you know that sooner or later there’ll be some pro quo for all that quid.

The fate of the city propositions

This Chron story could easily have been headlined “A bunch of people take wild guesses about what will happen to the city ballot propositions”.

Political analysts say the fate of the three propositions may be tied together for some Houstonians who could paint any or all of them with a broad brush of anti-government sentiment.

“You could see people just voting no, no, no,” said Mark Jones, chair of the Rice University Political Science Department. “Some could see Proposition 1 as a tax increase, Proposition 2 as a means to help out incumbent politicians and Proposition 3 a way to keep these devices that give more money to the government. ”

Officials with the various campaigns representing the propositions acknowledged that the political headwinds may lead some voters to cast their ballots in lockstep on the three questions. But they expressed confidence that their campaign work has been enough to break through any tendency voters may have to say no to everything.

“Like it or not, voters go to the polls and if they’re happy with the direction the city is going in, they vote for all of them,” said Chris Begala, a spokesman for Keep Houston Safe, a political action committee advocating for Proposition 3. “But if they reach the bottom of the ballot and they’re upset, they vote no. I always defer to the individual voter. They always make good choices, and they will make up their mind individually on all three propositions.”

The consensus among the wild guessers analysts is that Prop 1 has a tough row to hoe because it has attracted opposition from a number of different groups; Prop 2 may have a hard time because nobody knows anything about it; and Prop 3 is in the strongest position because it’s being pushed by emergency responders and hospitals, and because its opposition isn’t well-funded. My wild guesses are that I tend to agree with the view of Props 1 and 3, but I think Prop 2’s chances are better than that on the grounds that people vote for scads of constitutional amendments they know nothing about every other year. When was the last time one of those was voted down? But like I said, it’s just a guess. We’ll know soon enough.

Ryan issues opinions about poll watching

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has issued a couple of opinions relating to poll watching that may help clear things up a bit. The first opinion has to do with where poll watchers may and may not go:

Poll watchers are entitled to observe all election activity from the time the electionworkers arrive at the polling place to set up in the morning until the equipment is packed up andlocked up at night. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 33.056 (Vernon 2010). However, poll watchers are not allowed to follow voters into the “voting station” to observe the voters unless the voter requests assistance from an election judge or election clerk. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 33.057 (Vernon 2010).

Questions have arisen as to what area of the polling place constitutes the “voting station.” Generally, this area includes all of the area surrounding the location of the eSlate machines or the privacy booths where paper ballots may be marked.

Disputes may be minimized by marking lines on the floor indicating areas where the”voting station” is located. The Texas Secretary of State’s office has indicated that as long as the lines are placed in a reasonable location, that this procedure is acceptable and has been used successfully in the past.

The second opinion has to do with recording devices:

Poll watchers must provide an affidavit that they are not in possession of any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound while serving as a watcher. TEX. ELEC. CODE §33.006(b)(6). This section applies to cell phones if they have the ability to take pictures or record videos. A watcher may not be accepted for service if the watcher has in his possession such a device. The presiding judge may inquire whether a watcher is in possession of such a prohibited device before accepting the watcher for service. TEX. ELEC.CODE §33 .051 (c). This prohibition applies only to poll watchers.

No person may use a wireless communication device within 100 feet of a voting station. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.014(a). This section applies to any cell phone or other device that sends or receives an electronic communication signal, such as a laptop computer equipped with WiFi. No person may use any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound within 100 feet of a voting station. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.0 l4(b). This section applies to cell phones if they have the ability to take still pictures or videos. A presiding judge may require a person violating these provisions to turn off the prohibited device or to leave the polling place. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.014(c). These provisions do not apply to an election officer in conducting the officer’s official duties or to the of election equipment necessary for the conduct of the election. TEX. ELEC. CODE §6l.0 14(d).

Both seem straightforward enough. We’ll see if they make a difference. Unfortunately, it’ll take a lot more than that to deal with stuff like this.

[R]esidents in local African-American neighborhoods are being told some misleading information about their vote.

The mysterious fliers were handed out in parts of Sunnyside and Third Ward Tuesday night, and it is adding confusion to an already tense early voting period.

The fliers start out by saying “Republicans are trying to trick us” and goes on to urge voters not to vote a straight Democratic ticket. It also says a single vote for Bill White is a vote for the entire Democratic ticket.

In the Sunnyside early voting location, several voters say they were handed such fliers.

“They just said, ‘Here take this,’ and I told them I didn’t need it,” said Gary Carter.

The flier says the Black Democratic Trust of Texas is responsible, but it’s a group that doesn’t seem to exist.

You can see video at that link. Too bad no one with a recording device was there to capture some images of the folks handing out these flyers. Relatedly, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has now joined the call for election monitors to be sent to Harris County by the Justice Department. Her press release and a copy of the letter she sent to AG Eric Holder are here. Amusingly, the King Street Patriots have made a similar request. To protect them from the voters they’re harassing, I guess. I don’t have their press release, so I don’t know what that’s about. Hair Balls has more.

Beware the stock photo

Here’s the best press release I received today, from the campaign of Rick Molina in HD144.

The front cover of a direct mail piece for endangered incumbent Ken Legler shows a photo of a doctor, standing with blue collar and white collar workers claiming that Ken Legler is fighting for jobs in Pasadena.

Only one problem — the presumably local workers from respective professions that have made repeated appearances on the pro-Legler mail don’t just look the part, they play the parts as well. The ‘group of professionals’ are not from Pasadena, or Texas, or the United States at all. Legler’s cronies at the front group Citizen Leadership PAC, who paid for the mail, outsourced the photo of “local workers.” It was bought from a stock photo site that offers the photo as a “portrait of people from different professions standing together on white.” The photo is by former Vaisnava monk Daniel Laflor, a photographer in Denmark. (http://www.laflor.dk/)

(The stock photo can be found at http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-photo-11593417-group-of-people-from-their-respective-professions.php)

The mailer comes in the aftermath of the disclosure that Ken Legler has not only outsourced jobs from his manufacturing company, but has also placed a series of website postings looking for yet another Chinese manufacturing partner.

“It’s bad enough Ken Legler is directly responsible for outsourcing jobs to China,” noted Rick Molina, Legler’s challenger for House District 144. “But to have actors posing as our families reinforces that it is Legler who is nothing but a front for the same corporate interests who outsource jobs and disregard worker safety.”

“But knowing his record as most Pasadenans now do, I can see why local families aren’t willing to stand by his side,” Molina added.

A picture of the mail piece is here, courtesy of Trail Blazers.

Early voting: The Democratic voters start to show up

After one full week of early voting, the proportion of votes coming from Republican State Rep districts was tilted about two percentage points more towards the GOP than it was in 2006. I’ve argued that this is nothing to be particularly excited about one way or another, as I believe it represents a shift in behavior (more people voting early) than a change in the electorate. That’s largely predicated on Democratic voters coming out in equivalent numbers, of course. How do things look now, after three more days of Early Voting?

2010 Week One Strong R = 47.7% Medium R = 9.4% Medium D = 17.9% Strong D = 22.9% Total R = 57.1% Total D = 40.8% 2010 Week Two Strong R = 46.3% Medium R = 9.3% Medium D = 17.0% Strong D = 25.3% Total R = 55.6% Total D = 42.3% 2010 Overall Strong R = 47.2% Medium R = 9.4% Medium D = 17.6% Strong D = 23.8% Total R = 56.6% Total D = 41.4% 2006 Overall Strong R = 43.7% Medium R = 11.2% Medium D = 19.2% Strong D = 23.2% Total R = 54.9% Total D = 42.4%

So far, Week Two is about three points more Democratic than Week One. I should note that in terms of Strong D percentage, Tuesday was more Democratic than Monday, and Wednesday was more Democratic than Tuesday. There’s still a ways to go to get the overall mix closer to 2006 – and note that Week Two is still slightly redder than 2006 was – but if this continues, that will happen. Better news for Democrats, but still not where they want to be.

And then there’s still the matter of guessing how many people will be left to come out on Election Day itself. As of yesterday, 288,568 in person votes had been cast, with 48,498 mail ballots having been returned. That’s 337,066 total votes. To put this in some perspective, total Harris County turnout in 2006 was a smidge over 601,000, and in 2002 it was a bit over 652,000. The early vote total so far is almost 57% of the total vote from 2006, and nearly 52% of the total vote from 2002. I think final turnout this year will easily exceed 2006 levels, and may be higher than 2002, though probably not by much. Election Day itself may be a fairly quiet affair. Let’s see where we stand after Friday, and we can place our guesses for the final number then.

UPDATE: Another 44,324 votes were cast Thursday, bringing the total early in person vote count to 332,892. Of this, 180,984 were cast in the first seven days, and 151,908 have been cast since Monday. Thursday was the most Democratic day yet:

Strong R = 43.8%
Medium R = 9.1%

Medium D = 17.0%
Strong D = 27.5%

That’s 52.9% R, 44.5% D for the day, which is two points more Democratic than 2006. We’ll see what today holds, and I’ll run the final numbers tomorrow or Sunday.

Dry Dallas update

Lots of money being spent to remove alcohol sales restrictions in Dallas.

The group behind next month’s ballot measures to expand the sale of alcohol in “dry” areas of Dallas has raised nearly $1 million – mainly from grocery stores, restaurants, real estate developers, hotels and other businesses that stand to benefit from passage.

Retailers have contributed the most money (about $700,000), followed by restaurants and hotels (about $140,000), commercial real estate companies ($106,000) and community members (nearly $3,000), said Gary Huddleston, co-chairman of the Keep the Dollars in Dallas campaign (formerly Progress Dallas) and a Kroger executive.

The money has been used for the petition drive to add the two initiatives to the Nov. 2 ballot, legal costs, advertising and other campaign expenses, Huddleston said.

In less than two weeks, Dallas residents will decide whether to eliminate dry areas citywide for retail beer and wine sales – largely in the southern sector. They’ll also vote on a second initiative to let restaurants in dry areas sell drinks to customers without requiring them to join a private club.

The Keep the Dollars in Dallas campaign says additional sales tax revenue from expanded alcohol sales could help the cash-needy city. Opponents contend expanded beer and wine sales would increase public intoxication, impaired driving and other violations.

“You’ll have a rash of folks – a flood of new beer and wine operators – on every corner of the city,” said Andy Siegel, a Dallas attorney who represents a coalition of churches and alcohol retailers opposing expanded beer and wine sales at retailers. “Like it or not, these stores with beer and wine permits often become a hotbed of criminal activity.”

New sales could generate $33.4 million in additional tax revenue annually and create 29,000 jobs in Dallas, according to an economic study by Waco economist Ray Perryman for Keep the Dollars in Dallas. A city of Dallas report estimated $11.3 million in annual sales tax benefits.

As I’ve said before, I’m a bit skeptical of the sales tax projections, but it doesn’t really matter to me. I’d vote for this because I see no reason for these silly restrictions to be on the books. The fearmongering by the opponents is far more ridiculous as far as I’m concerned.

TDP to get KSP’s financial records

Good.

Houston tea party spinoff King Street Patriots will grant the Texas Democratic Party access to its financial records, forestalling an injunction hearing that had been set for Monday afternoon in Austin, according to TDP.

According to a TDP news release, review of the records will occur Tuesday at noon, with a hearing scheduled for Thursday in case TDP General Counsel Chad Dunn still has questions about what KSP has or has not disclosed.

TDP’s original information request was sent last Wednesday and demanded that KSP — as a registered Texas nonprofit corporation — turn over required records last Friday or today. On Friday, TDP announced it had scheduled the injunction hearing due to a lack of response from KSP, as the Texas Independent previously reported.

The Lone Star Project has started digging in, and this is what they’ve found so far:

King Street hiding source of $80,000

Though acknowledging the receipt of over $80,000, the King Street extremists refuse to disclose who contributed the money. Incredibly, the group contends that the funds were raised by “passing the hat” at their meetings. To put this outrageous claim into perspective, it would take 1,600 people contributing $50 each to raise $80,000 while a group of 400 people would have to contribute an average of $200 each. According to activist participants, the King Street extremists’ meeting space could barely hold 200 people, yet they claim to have raised as much as $15,000 at a single meeting simply by “passing the hat.”

Given their reluctance to come clean on their contributors, depositions taken under oath will likely be necessary to expose the actual sources and amounts of funds raised and spent by the King Street extremists.

Multiple Ties to Republican Party Activists and Party Officers
As expected, the documents show that the King Street activists operate more like an arm of the Republican Party than any non-profit organization:

  • Office space provided by close supporters of Texas Republican Party Chair
  • Online and communication services provided by key Swift Boat player
  • Cash payments to a right-wing extremist website

There’s more, so check it out. I can’t wait to see what the depositions turn up. And kudos to the Independent, which has owned this story. I still haven’t seen any reporting on it in the Chron. On a related note, former City Council member Carroll Robinson has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for election monitors to be sent to Harris County to “ensure that the voting rights of all the residents of the county are protected”. We’ll see what happens with that.

Endorsement watch: One more

I was wrong when I said the Chron was done with endorsements. I’d forgotten that they hadn’t endorsed in the one contested County Commissioner race. They have now rectified that.

In two terms on the five-member Harris County Commissioners Court, 60-year-old Sylvia Garcia has been an energetic and innovative representative for Precinct 2. The Chronicle strongly urges voters to return her to office.

Garcia is an experienced fiscal manager, having been elected Houston city controller twice before winning her current post in 2002. She was also city municipal courts director and presiding judge for a decade.

[…]

Garcia has worked hard to improve infrastructure and health care services in the precinct. During her tenure, six parks, two park-and-rides and eight school-based health clinics have been created, as well as the new John Phelps Courthouse Annex 4 in Pasadena. It will house offices for the tax assessor-collector, the juvenile probation department and the county’s environmental services division of public health.

The project came in under budget and ahead of schedule. According to the commissioner, “The residents of Precinct 2 deserve the best in customer service, and the Phelps Courthouse Annex addresses that need directly.”

The commissioner has stretched her budget by partnering with local, state and federal agencies to bring in approximately $111 million for projects to be completed over the next two to five years. She cites improvements to Fairmont Parkway in Pasadena and Space Center Boulevard, as well as repairs and renovations to the Washburn Tunnel and historic Lynchburg Ferry.

Garcia supports a new jail booking center to help alleviate overcrowding in the county jail and improved services to get mentally ill inmates the treatment they need. She has pressed for better air quality monitoring of industrial facilities and hired a full-time precinct director to focus on environmental issues and work on security concerns for the region’s petrochemical complex and Ship Channel.

In most Chron endorsements, the endorsee’s opponent is not mentioned. In this case, the Chron spends a paragraph noting that Commissioner Garcia’s opponent is a know-nothing lightweight. Of course, in this season, that’s considered a qualification for some. You can listen to my interview with Commissioner Garcia here.

Still not mentioning the Libertarian numbers

Here’s one Trib story about their most recent poll (summary here, crosstabs here), that barely mentions the most remarkable numbers from it.

The voters who identify with the Tea Party overwhelmingly favor Republicans in statewide races, with more than 80 percent of them in each race favoring the Republican over the Democrat. In the governor’s race, 84 percent of the Tea Partiers favor Perry, 5 percent are for Democrat Bill White, 8 percent go with Libertarian Kathie Glass and 2 percent back Deb Shafto of the Green Party.

And here’s another:

The Perry-White result includes the responses to a follow-up question posed to those who responded “don’t know” about their preference for governor. This was a different approach from the September UT/Tribune poll, conducted at a time when we thought many voters had yet to turn their attention to the election. About 15 percent of the October sample said they were undecided in their initial response. When pressed respondents to express a preference, equal numbers chose Perry and White, adding 5.4 percent to each candidate’s totals. Libertarian Kathie Glass gained an additional 2 percent from these “pushed” undecided respondents, and Deb Shafto, the Green candidate, gained another point. This left the undecided number at less than half a percentage point.

That second one was written by the pollsters themselves, but there’s still no discussion of the fact that the level of Libertarian Party support they are projecting in the Governor’s race and in all of the other races is both unprecedented and not seen in other concurrent polls. As I noted before, they are showing Libertarian support levels that would be double to triple the highest amount we’ve seen in contested races over the last eight elections, going back to 1994, and they have yet to offer a hypothesis as to why that might be. I find that puzzling and neglectful. If the PECOTA projections for the 2011 baseball season claimed that five guys would bat .400 and three pitchers would win 30 games, I’d expect to see some detailed explanations for why those predictions are justified. To do otherwise would make me question the fundamental structure of the system. I’m feeling the same way about this poll right now.

Blast from the past, RRC edition

TPJ tells me something I didn’t know about Republican candidate for Railroad Commissioner David “My party is my qualification” Porter.

Porter has been the treasurer of the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (TRLCC) since 2006. That’s when school-voucher activist James Leininger used Porter’s PAC as a $2 million vehicle to attack the GOP incumbents who had opposed Leininger’s agenda. Most incumbents survived the Leininger-funded primary challenges.

Created by GOP consultant Jeff Norwood, GOP activist Bill Crocker and Porter, the now-dormant TRLCC PAC may provide Texas’ best-documented case of a candidacy operating as an almost wholly owned subsidiary of a single PAC, consultant and donor.

James Leininger – now there’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile. Turns out he’s been laying low this cycle, for whatever the reason, not that Republicans have missed his funding. All I know is that I’ve seen several overviews of this race, and that’s the first time I’d heard about the Leininger connection. As if I needed another reason to vote for Jeff Weems. Go read it and see for yourself.

Once again, I’ll take the under

There’s a bizarre new UT/Texas Trib poll that’s so odd I can’t even come up with a good introduction for it, so I’m just going to jump straight to the weirdness:

Republican Gov. Rick Perry leads his Democratic challenger, Bill White by 10 points — 50 percent to 40 percent — in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, which was conducted in the days leading up to early voting. Libertarian Kathie Glass has the support of 8 percent of respondents; Deb Shafto of the Green Party gets 2 percent.

[…]

• In the race for lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst is leading Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson 51 percent to 38 percent. Libertarian Scott Jameson has 9 percent, while the Green Party’s Herb Gonzales Jr. has 2 percent.

• Attorney General Greg Abbott leads Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky 55 percent to 35 percent. Libertarian Jon Roland has 11 percent (when the total here and elsewhere doesn’t add up to 100 percent, rounding is the culprit).

• Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs, the only major-party candidate in her race, has the support of 51 percent, while Libertarian Mary Ruwart pulls 11 percent and Ed Lindsay of the Green Party has 9 percent. This is the only contest in the poll in which undecided voters were not pushed to make a choice; as such, 29 percent of respondents identified themselves as undecided.

• Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is leading Democrat Hector Uribe 50 percent to 37 percent in his bid for re-election, with Libertarian James Holdar garnering 12 percent.

• Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples leads Democrat Hank Gilbert by the same margin: 50 percent to 37 percent. Libertarian Rick Donaldson has 12 percent.

• In the race for a slot on the Railroad Commission that is the only open seat on the statewide ballot, Republican David Porter leads Democrat Jeff Weems 50 percent to 34 percent, with Libertarian Roger Gary at 10 percent and Art Browning of the Green Party at 5 percent.

I’m not sure what is more surprising, the numbers received by the Libertarian candidates in these polls, or (as one commenter said) the fact that Ross Ramsey could write this story without once making note of them. How out of the ordinary are the Libertarian numbers? I went through every statewide election result on the Secretary of State webpage going back to 1992. Here are the best performances by year of a Libertarian candidate in contested statewide races:

Year Race Candidate Pct ========================================= 2008 RRC David Lloyd 3.51 2006 Lt Gov Judy Baker 4.35 2004 RRC Anthony Garcia 3.59 2002 Land Comm Barbara Hernandez 4.12 2000 Senate Mary Ruwart 1.15 1998 Land Comm Monte Montez 2.72 1996 Sup Ct Eileen Flume 3.64 1994 RRC Buster Crabb 3.15 1992 RRC Richard Draheim 6.98

A couple of notes: The Senate race in 2000 was the only non-Presidential contest that had an R and a D in it at the state level. 1996 featured the only appearance of the Natural Law Party; they were in three state races, including the Presidential race, and topped out at 0.75%, though they did break 1% in some Congressional contests.

And then there’s 1992, which features the number that most likely jumps out at you, Richard Draheim’s 6.98%. That race featured Democratic incumbent Lena Guerrero, who had been appointed to the Railroad Commission by then-Governor Ann Richards. During the election campaign it was revealed that she had lied about getting a degree from UT, which turned into a huge scandal that sent her campaign into a ditch. I’ve no doubt that this was the main contributor to Draheim’s unparalleled performance. Yet even under those circumstances, it’s not in the 8 to 12 percent range that UT/TT is crediting this year’s crop of Ls with.

You can, I trust, see why I’m skeptical. If that’s not enough, note that in the past four Governor’s races, the best any Libertarian candidate has done is 1.46%, considerably less than what UT/TT claims Glass to be polling at. I’d set the over/under in all of these races at 4%, and I’d take the under on all of them. No other poll has shown anything like this, including the two previous results from UT/TT. How they could fail to remark on these highly remarkable numbers is a mystery to me. BOR has more.

One week of early voting

Let’s start with the breakdown of the early voting numbers after one full week:

2010 Overall Strong R = 47.7% Medium R = 9.4% Medium D = 17.9% Strong D = 22.9% Total R = 57.1% Total D = 40.8% 2006 Overall Strong R = 43.7% Medium R = 11.2% Medium D = 19.2% Strong D = 23.2% Total R = 54.9% Total D = 42.4%

Paul Burka, as is his wont, has proclaimed the early vote totals as gloom and doom for the Democrats. I think that’s a fallacious conclusion based on this limited evidence, for three reasons.

1. A surge in early voting does not mean a commensurate surge in final turnout. Didn’t we learn this lesson in 2008? Look what people, including me, were saying about Harris County turnout in 2008 based on the gigantic, unprecedented early vote numbers. County Clerk Beverly Kaufman predicted 73% turnout, on the assumption that as many people would show up on Election Day as had done during early voting. To put it mildly, that didn’t happen. Sure, final turnout was up a bit from 2004, but for the most part the huge early vote numbers represented a shift in behavior, not a surge in new participants. On Election Day itself, turnout was much lighter than expected because we’d basically run out of voters. In the absence of evidence that there’s a large number of non-habitual voters casting ballots this year, the most likely explanation of what we’re seeing is the same thing, a shift in behavior from Election Day voting to early voting. As was the case in 2008, there has been a concerted effort to get people to vote early this year, thanks to the fire that destroyed the county’s voting equipment. Why are we surprised that people are doing what they’ve been repeatedly told to do?

What we are seeing here is more people voting early than they did in 2006. Most likely, more of these people are Republicans, though we can’t really quantify that from these numbers; I’ll have more on that in a bit. That brings me to point 2:

2. There’s nothing unusual about the partisan pattern of early voting this year. Am I the only one who remembers that Republicans traditionally dominated early voting, with Democrats doing better on Election Day? No, Dr. Murray remembers that, too:

Murray said the numbers suggested to him that “Republicans look to be in better shape in Harris County, which, until 2008, has been the pattern. I don’t know what pattern we’re going to see in 2010.”

In 2008, the Democratic Party relentlessly flogged the early vote message, and Democratic voters responded. Prior to that, Republicans won the early vote. They also did pretty well in Harris County in those days, and I’m sure they’re feeling good about that possibility. But again, the question is about how much of the vote has shifted to the EV period, and how much they’ll have in reserve on Election Day. As giddy as Democrats were about the early vote numbers in 2008, that feeling turned to nervousness as it was clear that the Republicans were catching up on Election Day. With a normal level of Democratic turnout, things will largely even out.

The Republican districts aren’t as Republican as the Democratic districts are Democratic. Putting this another way, here’s Dr. Murray again, analyzing some 2008 numbers:

One way to look at this is to take precincts that the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates won decisively in 2004 and compare registration gains this year in these precincts since the March 4th party primaries. I selected the top 20 precincts that the Republican nominee George W. Bush won with a total vote of more than 2,340. I then pulled out the top 20 precincts for Democrat John Kerry where he received more than 1,380 votes four years ago. Since March 4, the voter rolls in the top Republican precincts from 2004 have added 7.52% new total registrants, and the top Democratic precincts have added 7.85%. So by this measure, the registrations over the last six months look like a push for the two parties.

But, there is a very big difference in these two sets of precincts. The top 20 Democratic precincts were, in 2004, and remain, heavily minority boxes with very few Republican voters. For example, in the March 4, 2008 party primaries these precincts cast 25,676 votes in Democratic primary and just 1,097 in the Republican primary. This means the registration gains this year will almost certainly add to the total vote for Harris County Democratic candidates. The top twenty 2004 Republican precincts were, of course, carried by George W. Bush, but there was a sizeable Democratic minority (16,990 of 75,583 voters) in these predominately GOP boxes four years ago. That Democratic minority has grown since November 2004, if the March primary is any indication. For example, in precinct 764, which has had the largest registration gain in the county since November 2004 (+4288 as of yesterday), the vote in the March 4 Democratic primary was 2,185 compared to just 999 Republican primary voters (Precinct 764 in 2004 was split for the 2008 election and now also includes precinct 388). Overall, the top 20 Republican precincts in 2004 had almost as many Democratic voters in the March primary (18,869) as Republican voters (19,551).

And here’s my way of looking at that, which is to compare the percentages that Bill Moody and JR Molina got in the strong and medium partisan districts from 2002 to 2006:

Dist 02 Moody 06 Moody 02 Molina 06 Molina ============================================= 126 27.8 35.2 26.3 32.9 127 27.0 33.4 25.0 30.6 128 36.2 40.7 34.1 37.9 129 30.2 39.2 28.1 36.6 130 20.8 28.8 19.0 26.3 132 26.2 36.1 24.4 33.3 135 32.1 40.2 30.5 37.5 136 22.2 32.5 20.4 29.1 150 25.4 32.9 23.3 30.7 Dist 02 Moody 06 Moody 02 Molina 06 Molina ============================================= 131 78.3 81.2 78.0 79.8 139 81.3 83.1 81.1 81.5 140 68.8 68.9 69.3 68.1 141 77.0 76.9 76.4 75.5 142 82.8 80.9 82.6 79.3 143 71.8 69.4 71.8 68.6 145 68.3 68.9 69.9 68.5 146 71.6 74.8 70.8 72.4 147 81.6 82.6 81.6 80.6 148 63.5 67.7 63.0 65.3 Dist 02 Moody 06 Moody 02 Molina 06 Molina ============================================= 133 36.7 43.8 34.7 41.1 134 38.2 51.7 35.5 47.2 137 51.1 55.8 49.8 53.8 138 37.5 45.1 35.2 41.8 144 39.5 44.9 37.8 42.8 149 42.4 48.7 40.7 46.6

That’s a lot of growth in Democratic strength in four years, at a time when there was less organization in the county, and no funded GOTV effort. It’s demographic change, and it’s something I’ve referenced before: The Republican base in Harris County is stagnant, while the Democratic base is growing. The result was that in 2006, a Democrat in a lower profile race might get 75% of the vote in the Democratic districts, and 35% in the Republican ones. That means that for every 1000 votes, the Dem would have a net of 400 in the D districts and -300 in the R ones. At those rates, you’d need 1333 votes in a Republican district to get the same +400 net for a Republican candidate. And as it happens, 1333 is 57.1% of 2333, which is the combined vote total. And that’s before we take into account four more years of this kind of change.

Now again, these are all very rough and approximate calculations, which rely on a number of assumptions. You’re much better off getting hold of the roster of people who’ve actually cast votes and figuring out their partisan history rather than relying on this kind of hocus pocus. My point is not to put a smiley face on what has happened so far – I do agree that Dems are lagging, and based on the conversations I’ve had with people over the weekend, I’m the optimist – it’s simply to knock down the assumption that because more votes have been cast in Republican districts that all hope is lost. Hell, in 2008, more early votes were cast in the Republican districts, and we know how that turned out. The Democrats’ job is no different now than it was before early voting started, and that’s to get their voters to the polls. Whether that happens this week or next Tuesday doesn’t really matter, as long as it happens. If it does, we’ll be okay. If not…I don’t want to go there. Just vote, and make sure everyone you know does so as well.

Endorsement watch: State House

I think this list of State House recommendations wraps up the endorsements for the Chron. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other races left for them to do. Anyway, in twelve contests they went with ten incumbents, which is both good news (Kristi Thibaut, Ellen Cohen, Scott Hochberg, Senfronia Thompson, Jessican Farrar, Hubert Vo) and bad news (Bill Callegari, Dwayne Bohac, Ken Legler); the incumbent party in the one open seat (HD127); and one challenger:

Texas House District 150: Brad Neal, the Democratic challenger, is our choice over Republican incumbent Debbie Riddle. Riddle’s sponsorship of an Arizona-style immigration bill threatens to throw sand in the gears of the upcoming Austin session. We prefer Neal, a Texas A&M graduate, engineer and military veteran who is more in tune with this demographically changing district in north-central Harris County. He pledges to “represent the whole district; not just my neighborhood.” That would be a welcome change for many District 150 constituents.

This marks the third consecutive election in which the Chron has endorsed Riddle’s opponent; to the best of my knowledge, every time she has had a Democratic opponent, that opponent has been Chron-endorsed, including Brad Neal in 2008. Hopefully, one of these days the voters in HD150 will pay heed.

Endorsement watch: What took them so long?

Nearly a full week into early voting, the last of the five major dailies, the Star Telegram, endorses Bill White.

The hard economic reality of 2010 is that Texans deserve a governor who can work effectively on a national level.

Democrat Bill White, 56, is a seasoned public servant on the municipal and federal levels. And that experience shouldn’t be viewed with the disdain that Perry continually heaps on it.

This state should be benefiting from federal programs ranging from education to highways to disaster relief. Perry, 60, loudly lambastes Washington from one side of his mouth while complaining from the other that the state isn’t receiving its fair share of federal dollars.

The Star Telegram was the one major daily to recommend Chris Bell in 2006, so their endorsement here is less of a surprise than some others. I just wonder what took them so long.

Saturday video break: Early voting theme song

Have you voted yet? If not, here’s a little ditty to hum as you enter the polling place.

Pretty catchy for an unapologetic political screed, if you ask me. Thanks to Juanita for the catch.

Endorsement watch: Congress

Nothing to see here. Six contested Congressional races in Harris County – the 7th CD, in which there is a write-in candidate but no Democrat on the ballot, is not included – six recommendations for the incumbents. Had there been a credible Democratic challenger in CD07, it would have been interesting to see what the Chron would have done, given that they endorsed the challenger in 2008 after giving a decidedly un-ringing endorsement to the incumbent in 2006. (They do seem to like telling certain candidates to change who they are.) But we’ll have to wait till 2012 for that.

Judicial Q&A: Janiece Horn

(Note: I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates on the November ballot. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. These Q&As are primarily intended for candidates who were not in contested primaries. You can see those earlier Q&As, as well as all the ones in this series and all my recorded interviews for this cycle, on my 2010 Elections page.)

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

I am Janiece Horn, and I am running for Judge of the 245th Family District Court. Born in central Illinois, the second daughter of hard-working parents who grew up during the Great Depression and had no opportunity to attend college, I was raised to value education. After obtaining a B.A. and law degree from the University of Illinois, I came to Texas as quickly as I could. I took the Texas bar exam in November, 1979, and became licensed to practice law in Texas in 1980. This November, I will have been married for 29 years to Alan Pyle. We have three children: James, a freshman at Auburn University, twins Michael and Rachel, who are freshmen at Clear Lake High School, and a little dog named “Bones.” In addition to my job as a lawyer with the Harris County Domestic Relations Office, I am involved as a parent and volunteer in school, church and community activities in the Clear Lake area, and serve as a member and volunteer in a number of professional organizations.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears divorces, child custody cases, paternity actions, modifications of custody and support, Children’s Protective Service (“CPS”) matters, termination of parental rights cases, adoptions, and motions filed to enforce child support, visitation, property division and other provisions of family court orders.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I believe I can improve upon the handling of certain matters, such as the monitoring and collection of child support. I know I can make a positive difference by being respectful and fair to all litigants, regardless of economic status, legal status or sexual orientation.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

After being licensed in 1980, I was a general practitioner for several years, which afforded me experience in many areas of law. Since 1986, I have practiced family law almost exclusively, and I have been board certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 1991. I have handled jury and non-jury family law trials, family law appeals, and have occasionally been invited to sit as an associate judge in the family courts. I have mediated close to 3,000 family law matters that are just like the cases I would hear as a family law judge.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because every resident of Harris County is likely to be impacted by a family court, either due to personal experience or that of a family member, friend or neighbor. The family courts serve people of all races, economic levels, ages and sexual orientation. It is important that the persons elected to preside in these courts remember that they are there to serve all litigants, and to apply the law fairly to all, regardless of status, and regardless of the judge’s personal beliefs.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the best candidate for this position because I have the right combination of knowledge, experience and temperament to make a good judge in family law matters. I pledge to treat all litigants fairly and respectfully. More importantly, I have the courage, determination and conviction to rule in a child’s best interest, regardless of the sexual orientation, economic status or legal status of the litigants.

Hey, big secret spender

I know you’re as shocked as I am to learn that there are unknown entities spending large quantities of money in this election.

Campaign finance watchdogs say the tactic conceals important information about who is backing a political cause, but both groups insist they have followed the law and anonymity had nothing to do with their rationale for setting up as nonprofits.

“We are plunging deep into scandal,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance reform advocate for Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocacy organization. “Without disclosure, we have no idea where this money is coming from and no way to determine whether it’s legal or illegal. You could have drug cartels investing in an election on the Texas border, wanting to soften the laws, and there would be no way to know it.”

[…]

The national trend has manifested itself locally this year with two groups: King Street Patriots, an advocacy organization that was accused by Democrats this week of being responsible for complaints of voter intimidation at minority precincts; and Renew Houston, the driving force behind a ballot initiative asking voters to pay for a 20-year, $8 billion infrastructure program for the city.

Both organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code as “social welfare” organizations, which by tax law requires that at least 51 percent of their spending be dedicated to non-political purposes such as education. The use of that designation also exempts them, under federal law, from having to disclose donors.

The Texas Democratic Party on Monday said that under Texas law, King Street Patriots, due to the nature of its political advocacy, should be registered as a political committee, which would require that its donors be publicly disclosed. The party said it would include the group in a lawsuit over allegations of illegal election practices.

“You can spend all the money you want in Texas on political speech, you’ve just got to tell people who’s paying for it,” said Chad Dunn, general counsel of the Texas Democratic Party. “But when you have the King Street Patriots out there doing what they’re doing on the side, it’s all in the dark.”

The US Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove are leading the way on this. The Chamber has been arguing that it should be allowed to continue to shield the identity of its donors because some of them might face criticism and bad publicity for doing so. Who knew they were all such delicate flowers? Seems to me that’s a pretty good argument for them to not make such donations, but what do I know?

While the amount of money being sloshed about is unprecedented, it’s not like we’ve never seen this sort of thing before. Remember Texans for True Mobility? How about those anonymous attack mailers against Adrian Garcia in 2003? The only difference between then and now is the level of brazenness, and the size of the checks.

It’s unfortunate to see the Prop 1 campaign lumped in with these other groups on this story, since they did the right thing and disclosed their donors when they weren’t required to, and became an official PAC when they switched from getting on the ballot to advocacy mode. They’ve had some other issues with their campaign, but they got this right.

Overview of the HISD Trustee race

Here’s the Chron overview of the HISD Trustee special election in District 8. There are five candidates actually running, though there is a sixth on the ballot:

Roberto Centeno, 61, lives in Museum District
Judith Cruz, 35, lives in Eastwood
Dorothy Olmos, 51, lives in Idylwood
Peter Schwethelm, 35, lives in Avondale
Juliet Stipeche, 36, lives in Idylwood

The links are to my interviews with them. Cheryl Moodie is also on the ballot but has dropped out of the running because she didn’t meet residency requirements. For those of you in District 8 (see district map here), bear in mind that a straight-ticket vote does not include this race, and that there will almost certainly be a runoff in December.