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October 9th, 2012:

A question of how many

Yes, Democrats will pick up seats in the Lege this election. The question is how many seats.

Texas political experts expect Democrats will gain at least seven House seats.

“If the Democrats don’t get to 55 seats or more, the party has committed malpractice,” said GOP campaign consultant Eric Bearse.

Most of the competitive legislative races feature state House races. The lone state Senate seat in play involves a Fort Worth area district with Democratic incumbent Sen. Wendy Davis battling Republican state Rep. Mark Shelton. The GOP holds 19 of the Senate’s 31 seats.

Changing demographics should help Democrats narrow the gap in coming years, but GOP-directed redistricting last year created only about a dozen swing House districts this fall.

“It was not possible with the most skillful and artful redistricting effort to protect 102 seats, which includes two party switchers in South Texas and two in East Texas,” Bearse said. “It’s not 2010. The floodwaters only rise so high every once in awhile.”

[…]

Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, a member of Texas Republican Representatives Campaign Committee, estimates his party will lose between seven and nine seats.

“Some people are more optimistic than that,” he said. “It depends on who turns out, the 2008 (pro-Democrat) group or the 2010 (pro-Republican) group.”

The four toughest seats for GOP incumbents to keep, according to Larson are: Rep. Connie Scott of Corpus Christi, Rep. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, Rep. Dee Margo of El Paso and Rep. John Garza of San Antonio. All won their seats in 2010. Scott, Lozano and Margo each face a former Democratic House member. Scott and Margo face the same opponents they defeated in 2010. Lozano flipped from Democrat to Republican last year.

[…]

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the House Mexican American Legislative Caucus, believes Democrats will gain between seven and 14 House seats next month.

He also expects more Hispanics to win House seats in the 2014 election, which will again have new boundaries.

“Artful” and “skillful” are two words that can describe the redistricting effort. “Illegal” and “discriminatory” also work. I did my own analysis on this last month. Note that I miscounted the Democratic caucus – I thought it was 47 after Rep. Lozano’s switch, not 48, so add one to my totals where appropriate. Given that the Dems have already effectively picked up three seats, I think seven is a fair minimum, and I concur with Rep. Larson’s assessment of the most vulnerable incumbents. Fourteen is a bit of a stretch, but ten is a reasonably optimistic goal. As Rep. Martinez-Fischer notes, there will be other opportunities in 2014 when the next map is in place.

There’s not much to add to this. The numbers are what they are, though as I’ve noted elsewhere, continued population growth and demographic change may result in some surprises. Two additional things to note. First, as much as the numbers can tell us, there is still the matter of issues:

Carolyn Boyle, founder and chairman of the pro-public education Texas Parent PAC, said the public education funding issue has generated considerable enthusiasm among the organization’s financial donors.

“Candidates who are canvassing (neighborhoods) are telling us it’s the top issue as they go door-to-door talking to people,” Boyle said.

Democrats would certainly like this election to be as much about education as possible. The success Democrats had in 2006 and 2008 in picking up Republican-held seats was due in large part to then-Speaker Craddick’s hostility to public education. Opposition to vouchers drove a lot of that, too, though apparently no one told Dan Patrick about that. Be that as it may, the Trib had a story a couple of weeks back about GOP freshmen touting their pro-education credentials on the campaign trail. It may not be till the 2014 election for the full effect of this to be felt, but I’m happy to be fighting on that turf in the meantime.

Second:

Democrats also hope to win back the seat of Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston. The freshman lawmaker defeated Democrat incumbent Ellen Cohen two years ago by 701 votes out of more than 51,000 ballots. Davis now faces a challenge from attorney Ann Johnson in one of the districts fairly high on the Democrats’ target list.

Bearse, who is working for Davis, is counting on her to prevail.

“She is a perfect fit for her district. She has an independent streak as wide as Texas,” Bearse said. “Those Republicans who vote their district and show some independence should win if they raise money and get their message out.”

The numbers make Rep. Davis a favorite to be re-elected, so much so that it’s rather surprising and a bit telling to see her “moderate” bona fides being touted. I’ll agree that Davis is a “moderate” in tone, by which I mean she’s too smart to say anything as obnoxiously ignorant as Debbie Riddle or Leo Berman are wont to do. But I would challenge Eric Bearse to name two bills of substance other than the sonogram bill on which Davis voted against her party. I can’t think of any. She voted for the House budget bill, which would have cut $10 billion from public education, she voted to cut family planning funding and to de-fund Planned Parenthood, and she voted for the “sanctuary cities” bill. In short, she was a loyal Republican. You’d think someone running in a 55%+ GOP district wouldn’t feel the need to talk that much about their “independence”.

Hampton going after Keller

I wish him the best of luck.

The ethics behind Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller’s decision to shut the doors on a death penalty appeal are resurfacing as her opponent launches a contentious campaign against her.

Democratic defense lawyer Keith Hampton is striking out at Keller, a Dallas resident who’s held the presiding judge post since 2001.

Experts say Hampton has a long road ahead of him, made rockier by the fact that no Democrat has won a statewide race in nearly 20 years. Though he has more money in his arsenal and is running a broad campaign against Keller’s job performance, her party affiliation and incumbent status are huge advantages.

Nine judges sit on the Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest court in the state for criminal charges, which hears capital punishment cases and has been criticized for reversing convictions for technical matters unrelated to a defendant’s innocence. If Hampton wins, he would be the only non-Republican on the court — and probably the only Democrat elected statewide.

“It’s difficult, but I don’t think impossible, given that Keller has some baggage and isn’t running the kind of campaign he is now,” said Sherri Greenberg, a former House member who is director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the University of Texas at Austin. “On the other hand, she may just be banking on that it’s a Republican gig.”

The Trib wrote about Hampton’s efforts to woo Republican voters last month. A victory for Hampton is one part how high the Democratic baseline is this year, and one part how successful he is at that persuasion effort. There is a Libertarian candidate on the ballot as well, which allows for the possibility of Hampton winning with a plurality vote. If he can get to 48%, he has a decent shot. Over the weekend he got the endorsements of the DMN and the Star-Telegram, which will help a little, and when all is said and done he should have most if not all of the remaining newspaper nods. It would be nice if more people were aware of Sharon Keller’s record and voted accordingly – visit VoteNoSharonKeller.com if you need a refresher – but this is how it is. If she wins again she gets six more years on the Court of Criminal Appeals bench. She doesn’t deserve that, and neither do we.

Texting campaign contributions

I see no reason why this should not be allowed.

A Houston-based PAC is asking the Texas Ethics Commission to approve a proposal that would allow the committee to solicit text message contributions from donors in the state.

The Federal Election Commission has approved a text-to-donate model for federal campaigns, but demand for the service is already spreading down the ballot. The PAC—Harris County Republicans—wants the Ethics Commission to move quickly so donation functionality can be added to a voter mobilization app developed by PAC founder Robert Flanagan.

“When a campaign buys the app from the company, it’s customized for their jurisdiction,” says Jerad Najvar, the PAC’s attorney. “They put it in the app store, and the volunteers for that person’s campaign can then download.”

The app syncs with the state’s voter registration database so that once a volunteer downloads the app, an algorithm runs contacts against the voter file and identifies those who are registered in the jurisdiction. From there, the volunteer can call or email highlighted contacts with one touch. Soon Flanagan hopes users will be forwarding the keyword “donate” to their friends with the touch of a button.

[…]

Najvar thinks the company’s text donation model is readily passable under Texas law, but he’s not sure about the timetable for approval from the state’s Ethics Commission, noting “the TEC is not as efficient as the FEC.”

You can, of course, already make a contribution from your smartphone – just browse to your favorite candidate’s webpage, or go to Act Blue, and give to your heart’s content. The distinction between an app and a webpage on a smartphone is one without much difference – they’re both just fancy ways of accessing a web server and backend database. As this KHOU story notes, there are a few extra wrinkles with texting.

For example, if someone makes a text donation over his employer’s phone and the employer simply pays the company cell phone bill, it could be considered an illegal corporate campaign contribution. Then again, people who aren’t supposed to contribute to campaigns, like foreign nationals, may innocently break the law by texting contributions.

Najvar predicts Texas candidates will simply put a verification screen in their text message donation process, asking contributors to certify that their contributions are legal.

“The issue here, of course, is verification on the candidate side,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst. “He or she has to prove that these are legitimate campaign contributions and has to be able to back it up with some verification.”

And cell phone carriers are skimming a huge portion of donors’ campaign contributions, political operatives say. In some cases, Najvar says, phone companies are keeping anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent of text message donations.

Nonetheless, he’s convinced the questions raised by the new technology will be resolved as more campaign money flows in from text messages.

I would think you could solve the verification issue by having the contribution site send back a link for the donor to click to verify that he or she is the bill-paying owner of the phone, and is an American citizen. I suppose that eliminates anyone who’s still using a non-smartphone, but how many such people with an interest in texting campaign contributions could there possibly be? I figure if this catches on, someone will push legislation to limit the amount that a provider could skim off the top. I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t become reality soon. A press release from Attorney Najvar is here, and Texas Watchdog has more.

Psych hospital privatization rejected

Good.

The Department of State Health Services has rejected a bid by Geo Care to privatize Kerrville State Hospital.

Last year, legislators told State Health Services it had to solicit proposals from mental health providers that wanted to run one of the state-run psychiatric hospitals. Those proposals had to show that the bidder could run the hospital for 10 percent less then its current budget.

Boca Raton-based Geo Care was the only company to submit a proposal. Its bid was to run Kerrville State Hospital.

But the state has rejected Geo Care’s bid, according to an email sent to hospital employees today by Kerrville State Hospital Superintendent Jay Norwood.

“I have just learned that Commissioner (David) Lakey has rejected the proposal submitted to privatize one of our state hospitals. HHSC Executive Commissioner (Kyle) Janek is in agreement with this decision and the proposal will not be moving forward,” Norwood wrote. “Therefore, at this time, there is no plan to privatize Kerrville State Hospital or any other state hospital in Texas.”

See here and here for the background. This was a bad idea from the get-go, and I’m glad it’s been canned. And to think, the decision was made before this happened. Good call, folks.