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October 1st, 2012:

Interview with David Crossley

David Crossley

This week I’m going to take an in depth look at the one contentious referendum on the ballot, the Metro referendum. The purpose and the language of the referendum is whether or not to reauthorize the General Mobility Program, in which Metro turns over 25% of its sales tax revenue to Harris County, the city of Houston, and the smaller member cities, for mobility projects, through the year 2025. There is some question about whether the public will understand what the proposition means, which is partly why I’m doing all this. We begin today with David Crossley, who is one of the leading critics of the referendum. Crossley, the President of the non-profit Houston Tomorrow, believes that voting to defeat the referendum, which will result in the cessation of the GMP and thus provide Metro with the full penny of sales tax receipts, is the only way for Metro to finish building the light rail lines that were promised in the 2003 referendum. Here’s our conversation:

David Crossley MP3

You can still find a list of all interviews I did for this primary cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page and my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page, which I now need to update to include fall candidate information. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Health care access continues to shrink in Texas

Who needs family planning services? I mean, every kid is born to people who want and can care for them, am I right?

About 15 percent of Houston-area clinics that received state funding for family planning services closed their doors because of budget cuts last fiscal year, and another 30 percent have reduced service hours, according to a study published this week.

Following a political firestorm in the 2011 legislative session, state family planning funds were cut from $111.5 million to $37.9 million for the biennium, cutting services to as many as 180,000 women in Texas a year, according to state health department officials. The number of clinics funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services has dropped from 300 to 136 since the Legislature slashed funding, state officials said.

“Ostensibly, the purpose of the law was to defund Planned Parenthood in an attempt to limit access to abortion, even though federal and state funding cannot be used for abortion care anyway. Instead, these policies are limiting women’s access to a range of preventive reproductive health services and screenings,” a team of academics from the University of Texas at Austin’s Population Research Center wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine article.

That report can be found here, via this Trib story that notes a total of 53 such clinics closed their doors statewide.

In addition, the report states, many clinics are now charging for services that were previously free, raising prices for other services and restricting access to more effective methods of contraception that are more expensive.

To meet the requirements of the new priority funding system, the Department of State Health Services told the researchers that the state stopped funding 35 of 76 family planning clinics in the 2012-13 biennium. The budgets of family planning clinics that still received funding were reduced by up to 75 percent. As a result, about half of the clinics that closed — 25 — were family planning clinics, according to the report.

Well-woman exams and contraception “remain out of reach for some of the poorest women,” sociologists conclude in the report. “The organizational leaders we spoke to reported that women who can pay the newly instated fees are choosing less-effective methods, purchasing fewer pill packs, and opting out of testing for sexually transmitted infections to save money.”

State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said at The Texas Tribune festival on Saturday that many programs took financial hits last session because of the state’s budget shortfall. Funding that was cut from family planning “went to pretty noble places,” such as programs for children with autism. He also said the tiered funding system lawmakers implemented has brought new women’s health providers to his rural district.

But state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, disagreed with Hughes. She said family planning providers in her district have told her that many clients can no longer afford to see them because they have to charge for services that were free before.

“We have the highest uninsured rate in the country,” Howard said at the festival. “If we want people who do not have the means to provide their own health care to be able to be healthy productive citizens, then, absolutely, we need to be looking at supporting family planning.”

And the Republicans, led by Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, are doing everything they can to ensure that Texas maintains that national lead in uninsured population. Again, there is nothing in the Republicans’ decade-long control of the state to indicate that they consider this to be a problem. And you have to love Speaker wannabe Hughes‘ excuse for cutting family planning: It was either that, or we stick it to the autistic kids. Because there were absolutely no other possible options available to them.

Former Trib writer Thanh Tan, now living in Seattle, puts all this into a national context.

And what are the consequences of cutting off family planning funds to women in a state like Texas? The Legislature’s own non-partisan budget team predicts at least 20,000 additional Medicaid births, for one thing. We’ll have to wait and see whether that actually happens. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health has reported higher-than-normal rates of diagnoses and death from cervical cancer along the Texas-Mexico border. It’s worth noting that cervical cancer is treatable if detected early. The greater challenge is convincing women to get screened in the first place.

So why do I care about this issue so much, even though I’m no longer living in Austin?

Overall, the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities points to Census data that shows the U.S. added 2 million kids in the last 10 years– half of that growth came from Texas. One in 11 kids in the U.S. is a Texan. They’re growing up in an education system that lawmakers underfunded this biennium by $5.4 billion. The textbooks they’re learning from are highly controversial. Public schools only teach abstinence, even as the teen pregnancy rate ranks 4th in the nation.

For now, Texas is responsible for all those kids. But someday, they will grow up. Like me, they may even head to the Pacific Northwest. Therefore, I believe we all have an interest in ensuring that Texas women are healthy and become parents when they are ready. I admire those who choose to follow through with an unplanned pregnancy and become parents. But in too many cases, the consequences can be disastrous. I’ll never forget the experience of walking through an emergency shelter in San Antonio that was filled to capacity with abused and neglected children. The executive director told me it was a daily struggle to convince some kids they didn’t have to stuff their pockets with food.

Many opponents of family planning in Texas say they made the tough decision to reduce funding because of budget woes. Others deny birth control works. Most Republicans in the Legislature accuse Planned Parenthood of using the funds to prop up their abortion services. It’s all balderdash — claims based on political ideology over reason and science.

Federal studies have shown that for every dollar the state invests in family planning, more than $3 is saved. Helping women plan and space their pregnancies often means that they and their children will not be born into subsidized health care or have to rely on the state for basic nutrition needs. It’s a way to break the cycle of poverty, promote self-sufficiency and save taxpayers’ money in the long run.

Yeah, too bad we’re not doing any of that. We must love poor people in Texas, we do so much to ensure we have a steady supply of them.

How about those judicial races?

The Chron takes a look downballot.

Democratic judges who surprised Harris County in a 2008 rout because of strong turnout for Barack Obama are bracing for a tough fight in November after seeing the GOP, which had a clean sweep in 2010, continue to bolster its position statewide.

In the county’s 23 contested state district court races, 18 Democrats will have to overcome strong Republican momentum to keep their benches.

“It doesn’t look great,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “The state is trending conservative, so it will be difficult for Democrats to retain a lot of those seats.”

Although the judges are countywide races, they are too far down the ballot for most voters to study and make choices outside of party affiliation.

“A lot of these races are consumed and swept up in the general partisan trends,” said Rottinghaus. “Harris County certainly has flecks of blue, but there are elements that will drive the state to be more red this year.”

He said anger with Obama, as evidenced by the tea party, and the popularity of critics of the president, like Senate candidate Ted Cruz, will influence the election.

“The people at the top of the ticket are driving not only the turnout, but also much of the debate we’re having nationally, statewide and locally.”

Other experts said they do not expect a sweep, while well-known candidates on both sides will rise above the fray.

“I do not see a partisan sweep either way,” said political analyst Robert Miller. “Strong Democrats such as (Sheriff) Adrian Garcia will win, as will strong Republicans such as (district attorney candidate) Mike Anderson.”

It’s hard to argue with Miller’s prediction, but that doesn’t answer the question about the judicial races, which are primarily a function of base turnout. I’m not sure what Prof. Rottinghaus is basing his opinion on. Here’s a look at Presidential turnout levels in Harris County since 1992:

Year Republican Democrat =========================== 1992 406,778 360,771 1996 421,462 386,726 2000 528,965 418,143 2004 584,723 475,865 2008 571,883 590,982

I know from past study of 2004 races that George W. Bush received a number of Democratic crossover votes, so his total is a bit inflated. Still, the average Republican judicial candidate in a contested race received about 536,000 votes in 2004, and about 540,000 votes in 2008, while Democratic judicial candidates got 470,000 and 562,000, respectively. Was overall Republican turnout depressed in 2008? Maybe. Is it likely to be better this time around? Again, maybe. The Tea Party was clearly a factor for them in 2010, but that was largely due to bringing out Presidential year voters in a non-Presidential election. Those people are already factored into the equation for this year. How many Republicans who didn’t vote in 2008 are likely to come out this year, that’s the question. I suppose, as Prof. Rottinghaus suggests, that Ted Cruz could be amping up their excitement levels – Lord knows, Mitt Romney ain’t doing it – but if so he’s doing it while executing a Dewhurst-style avoidance campaign. (And I don’t know about you, but the only campaign ads I’ve seen lately are Obama ads, which run in fairly high frequency on cable. I swear, I never saw an Obama ad at this time in 2008, nor a Kerry ad ever.) The bigger question is where are new Republican voters coming from? Turnout levels in the Republican parts of Harris County were already very high in 2008, while turnout levels in the Democratic strongholds didn’t change much from 2004. As we know from the polls, the GOP’s base of support comes from Anglo voters, yet Harris County’s Anglo population is on the decline, at least relative to other populations. So again, where are new Republicans coming from?

On the flip side, it is certainly plausible that Democrats hit a peak in 2008 and that a fair number of new and irregular voters who showed up that year won’t bother this time around. Democratic enthusiasm and engagement seems pretty good from where I sit, certainly better than it was earlier this year, but 2008 was a historic year, and 2012 is a defensive one. This I think is the biggest factor, and it’s one I have a hard time quantifying. Demography and the current national atmosphere favor the Dems, but the Democratic base is more prone to enthusiasm deficits, and the effects of voter registration restrictions and voter intimidation efforts are unknown. Overall, I think the Democrats are in the better position, but I really don’t know how to feel about this election locally.

Endorsement watch: The easy calls

The Chron makes an easy call.

One of the clearest choices Harris County voters have in the 2012 election season comes in the race to succeed Pat Lykos as district attorney. Mike Anderson, a 30-year veteran of the DA’s office and a former criminal district court judge, is far and away the better qualified of the two contending candidates.

The Democratic hopeful, Lloyd Wayne Oliver, has admitted that he files for office mostly to get his name before the public in order to drum up law business. That attitude is beyond shameful.


In the Republican primary race we favored Lykos’ views on the use of the Divert program as a tool for rehabilitating first-time DWI offenders, and her decision to quit going after drug offenders for trace amounts (one-hundredth of a gram or less) of crack cocaine.

Anderson argues that there’s no statutory provision to allow for the Divert program, but he believes the same rehab of first-time drunk drivers could be accomplished if the Legislature would allow pre-trial diversion for DWI cases. We will encourage our new district attorney to push that agenda in Austin next session.

As for minor drug cases, our preference would still be to concentrate on bigger fish. But we would argue strenuously that if prosecutors continue to pursue trace cases, that the amounts for which users are prosecuted be sufficient to allow independent testing by both prosecution and defense lawyers. Additionally, we would encourage Anderson to be certain that those convicted be given treatment for their chemical addiction and not merely warehoused in jail.

That noted, we believe Mike Anderson has the integrity, professional experience and leadership qualities to make a fine district attorney. We encourage Harris County voters to cast their ballots for Mike Anderson.

Hard to argue with the choice. I don’t know that it’s even possible to make a positive case for Lloyd Oliver’s candidacy. Given that this race and the Sheriff’s race were cited by Patti Hart as two reasons to avoid straight ticket voting, I presume the Chron’s endorsement of Sheriff Adrian Garcia will be as easy and clear a decision for them.

On a side note, you can catch a rerun of the “Red, White, and Blue” episode on Houston PBS that featured Anderson and Oliver getting grilled by hosts David Jones and Garry Polland. I’ve embedded the video below, but I want to note that as a member of the show’s newly-formed advisory committee, I was one of a group of people asked to submit questions for the candidates, and they used the questions I provided. Check it out.