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October 15th, 2012:

Interview with Vince Ryan

We return to non-referendum races as we enter the last week before early voting. For the first of my last two interviews I have for you a conversation with Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, who was elected along with Sheriff Adrian Garcia and a slew of other Democrats in 2008. Ryan, who was recently endorsed by the Chronicle, has had a productive if somewhat contentious term in office. Among his accomplishments, Ryan has aggressively pursued environmental violators and public nuisance sexually-oriented businesses. He is opposed by former loose cannon and gay fearing former legislator Robert Talton. Pretty clear choice there, if you ask me, but listen to the interview and decide for yourself.

Vince Ryan 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.

Another reason why math is your friend

The Statesman asks the question whether the newly-drawn HD48 in Travis County might be easier for a Republican challenger to win, then never gets around to providing the simplest answer to that question.

Rep. Donna Howard

Starting in April and carrying on through the dog days of summer, Republican Robert Thomas has worn out the soles of his shoes block-walking in his campaign to represent House District 48 in West and South Austin. Thomas is counting on more than hard work and sweat, though. There’s a wild card in this election that could level the playing field.

Even though incumbent Democrat Donna Howard has a bigger campaign, better name recognition and more legislative experience, redistricting has thrown her a curveball. She has represented District 48 for six years, but most of the residents she now represents have never voted for her.

“Sixty percent of the constituency in this district is brand new. We aren’t taking anything for granted,” Howard said at a campaign house party in late September at the two-story Mount Bonnell home of a longtime supporter. About 50 supporters, including 427th Criminal District Court Judge Jim Coronado and Travis County Precinct 5 Constable Bruce Elfant, dropped by and enjoyed refreshments and hors d’oeuvres.

[…]

Thomas had about $33,000 in political contributions compared with Howard’s $71,000 through June, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports. The latest reports are due Tuesday, but both campaigns say their fundraising and spending have ballooned since summer.

Neither the size of Howard’s campaign nor her incumbent status seem to worry Thomas. He points to the district’s history and the latest district maps as reasons to be optimistic.

For the past 20 years, District 48 has been predominantly Democratic. The district has swung into Republican hands once since 1992 when Todd Baxter won by about 7 percentage points 10 years ago. Howard won a special election when Baxter left prematurely before the 2006 general election.

Howard barely won re-election in 2010. In that race, she edged out her Republican challenger by 12 votes out of 51,553 votes cast — or by two-hundredths of a percentage point.

“This district has historically … been a contestable swing district,” Thomas said. “I think it plays in my favor. … This is effectively an open seat. A large number of the new constituents are independent.”

What the story never bothers to mention is simply this: The numbers in HD48 are more favorable now to a Democrat than they were before.

District McCain Obama Wainwright Houston =============================================== Old HD48 45.5% 53.0% 45.7% 48.9% New HD48 37.5% 60.8% 37.5% 56.7%

The 2008 numbers for the new HD48, under the interim map, are here (Excel spreadsheet), and the 2008 numbers for the pre-redistricting HD48 are here. The dropoff in each case comes from a higher level of undervoting on the Democratic side, and a larger share of the vote going to the Libertarian candidate in the Supreme Court race. There is absolutely nothing surprising or mysterious about this. The Republicans quite reasonably wanted to shore up HD47, the district of freshman Rep. Paul Workman – remember, HD47 was won by Democrat Valinda Bolton in 2006 and 2008. All those extra Democratic voters had to go somewhere, and Howard and Rep. Mark Strama were the beneficiaries. So while it is accurate to say that many of the voters in HD48 are new to Rep. Howard, it is also the case that they are mostly Democrats. Which map would you rather have? I grant that Rep. Howard’s newness to the majority of her constituents is a factor, but this is a pretty significant one, too. It needed to be mentioned. Of course, there wouldn’t have been much of a story if it had been, so there you go. More from Rep. Howard herself on her Facebook page.

Conroe is growing up

Good for them.

Conroe native Jay Ross Martin says he never imagined his rural hometown in the piney woods developing bustling retail centers, a thriving housing market and a population that’s more than doubled in the past 20 years.

The change has catapulted Conroe, the county seat of Montgomery County, into a “new world,” says Martin, a former city councilman.

Increasingly, that new world is more like the city than the country.

This year the U.S. Census Bureau made it official by designating an area surrounding Conroe and The Woodlands as a “large urbanized transit area.” The designation, based on its population exceeding 200,000, makes the area eligible for federal transportation dollars.

Thirty-six new large urbanized areas were added to the Census Bureau list this year. Conroe-The Woodlands was the only new designation in the Houston region.

The population within the area, which extends north to Willis and south to Spring in unincorporated Montgomery County along the Interstate 45 corridor, increased to 240,000 in 2010, nearly triple the 1990 level.

“It’s an indication of large growth between The Woodlands and Conroe,” said Bruce Tough, president of The Woodlands Township, the governing body of The Woodlands. With the new Exxon Mobil campus planned just south of The Woodlands, he added, “we’re going to see a lot of energy and manufacturing companies coming to Montgomery County contributing to unprecedented growth. People better put on their seat belt.”

[…]

Traffic congestion is the most serious downside of growth, residents said.

More people now commute to work into The Woodlands than out of it, community leaders said. Travel time on major roads, such as Woodlands Parkway and Research Forest, has increased dramatically.

“I avoid going to the mall like the plague,” said Woodlands resident Tom Sadlowski. “It’s so crowded.”

Obligatory Yogi Berra Quote: “No one goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

I think the issue of traffic congestion for these fast-growing areas is bigger than its boosters would like to admit, and merits more attention than these three little paragraphs at the end of an otherwise hagiographic story. Suburban development, with its one-way-in-and-out-of-subdivisions design and complete dependence on freeway access, is a recipe for congestion. There’s no easy way to deal with it, either – adding lanes only does you so much good if everyone is headed for the same on-ramp. I hope now that the Conroe/Woodlands large urbanized transit area is eligible for federal transportation dollars that they will give some thought to regional transportation solutions – buses, and if they’re really smart, commuter rail. That Houston-Galveston rail line that’s been in the works forever would be even more valuable as a Conroe-Galveston rail line. If they’re not thinking about it now, I guarantee they’ll regret it later.

Endorsement watch: The Chron for Hampton

The Chron joins the DMN and the Star-Telegram in endorsing Keith Hampton for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

We highly recommend that voters cast their ballots instead for Democratic challenger Keith Hampton. This endorsement is not merely a rejection of the incumbent judge’s poor track record, but enthusiastic support for Hampton’s impressive history of working to improve the Texas judiciary, whether trying cases in courtrooms or shaping policy in Austin.

With experience ranging from criminal district courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court, Hampton has an extensive criminal defense track record that’s not common enough on the state’s highest criminal court. Endorsed by seven former state bar presidents, Hampton is respected across the political spectrum for his work and expertise. As governor, George W. Bush appointed Hampton to the Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to revise the Code of Criminal Procedure. And when he was on the Texas Supreme Court, John Cornyn appointed Hampton to the Supreme Court Jury Task Force.

Hampton also worked with state legislators to improve our judicial system, notably spearheading the creation of Veterans’ Courts in Texas – specialty courts that handle veterans suffering from service-related injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, who are prone to violence or drug use.

One would be hard pressed to find a better candidate for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

As you might expect, the Chron began their piece with the usual airing of grievances against Sharon Keller, before noting that their recommendation of Hampton was based on more than just her long list of sins. It must be noted that Keller does have some positive accomplishments in her tenure as judge, mostly having to do with the state’s Indigent Defense Task Force. But whatever positive qualities she must have had to bring to that work, they have been consipcuously absent in her judicial record, and it is by that record that we judge her. By any accounting of that record, she fails as a judge, and it is only right to vote her off the bench. As I said before, it should be the case that editorial boards across the state reach that conclusion.

And if they do, will it make any difference? I asked that question back in 2006, when Democratic Supreme Court candidate Bill Moody swept the newspaper endorsements against underqualified Perry appointee Don Willett. My conclusion at the time was that all things being equal it was worth a few percentage points in the final tally. That was six years ago, in an election that had relatively low turnout and low levels of partisan fervor, neither of which are or will be true this year. Still, given that each endorsement is also an opportunity to remind people of Keller’s awful record, I do figure it will make some difference, and in an election where 48% of the vote may well be enough to win, every little bit helps. We’ll see how it turns out.