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October 30th, 2012:

Draft Julian?

Who wants to see Julian Castro run for Governor in 2014? His fellow Bexar County Democrats, at least.

Mayor Julian Castro

Bexar County Democratic Party Chairman Manuel Medina launched a social media movement last week to draft Castro for the 2014 Texas governor’s race.

Medina, who unseated former party Chairwoman Choco Meza in May, describes the push as an attempt to capitalize on Castro’s ascendant national profile and create grass-roots momentum for a Castro candidacy.

“This was our (party) initiative, 100 percent, because we believe he’s the future of the state,” said Medina, a native of Mexico who runs a lucrative polling company in Panama.

Medina said the idea was hatched by local Democratic Party precinct chairs. The party chairman unveiled a “draft Castro” website (, Facebook page, and Twitter account on Oct. 9.

That night, he introduced the draft campaign to the party’s County Executive Committee, and says it was greeted with “thunderous applause” by committee members.

Dante Small, a committee member and president of the Bexar County Young Democrats, said party members are excited at the mere suggestion of a Castro gubernatorial campaign.

“Having him run for governor would galvanize Democrats and Latino voters in this state,” Small said.

Whether you like Henry or Cecile, you have to admit this is intriguing. Burka makes his usual argument that the state will not be Democratic enough by 2014. I’d like to see what this year’s results look like before I draw any conclusions about 2014, but it’s hard to argue anyway. For his own part, Castro has been pretty consistent about wanting to serve as Mayor of San Antonio through 2017, when he would be term-limited out. Again, hard to argue with that.

But there are two things I’d like to note for your consideration. One is that it’s awfully hard to tell what might happen in a future election year, and that prognostications more than a cycle away are completely useless. Sure, Texas is highly likely to be more Democratic in 2018 than it is in 2014, but who knows who might be on the Republican ticket that year, and who knows what kind of evolution may have taken place in the GOP by then. Put it this way: Would you rather run against Rick Perry in 2014, or some unknown person in 2018? Maybe that person would be George P. Bush or some other golden child/rising star that you don’t see coming and could go toe to toe in the charisma/buzz department with anyone? Sure, Rick Perry might not run in 2014, and if he does run he might get taken out in the primary by Greg Abbott. Last I checked, life came with no guarantees. Point is, that’s as true for 2018 as it is for 2014.

Item two is Castro’s stated desire to serve as Mayor of San Antonio through 2017 if the voters there will have him. It’s admirable that he wants to finish the job that he sees before him, but I am reminded of the case of the last Mayor with statewide ambitions: Bill White. I know some people who thought White should have run for Governor in 2006, after his first term and runaway re-election as Mayor of Houston. At the time, I thought that was crazy. White had made a promise to the voters of Houston, and breaking it would surely be used against him. He had a job to do here, and still had four years in which to do it. Surely he could run in 2010, when things would be more favorable to the Dems than 2006, right? We know how that turned out. In retrospect, I have to think that White could have beaten Perry in 2006. Forty percent of the vote would have done it, and surely White could have raised the money to bring out or hold together enough of the Democratic vote to win. I mean, Democratic Land Commissioner candidate Valinda Hathcox got more votes than Perry did. But more than that, most of White’s main accomplishments as Mayor came in his first term. Even more so, the main bad thing that happened during White’s tenure, the murder of HPD officer Rodney Johnson by an undocumented immigrant, happened after his first term. That’s one attack ad that could not have been run against him had he run in 2006. I’m fully aware that hindsight is 20-20. All I’m saying here is that “finishing the job” may not be a positive factor in the end. You can’t be sure that what is to come later will be better than what’s coming next. It’s a leap of faith no matter how you look at it. I have no idea what the right answer for Julian Castro will be. I just wish him well in deciding it for himself.

Patrick teases his school choice proposals

He doesn’t want to call it “vouchers”, but if it walks like a duck…

“If there’s one message that I want to send, it’s that I want to champion public education,” said Patrick, the new chairman of the Senate Public Education Committee.

Whether the education community is ready to embrace Patrick in that role is another matter.

Through his chairmanship and a recent alliance with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, he has the powerful platform he once lacked. His ambitions are pinned on expanding school choice in the state’s public education system. The plan is expected to include vouchers for private schools, a policy previously opposed by every major education association in the state and many within his own party.

Patrick declined to discuss the details of his proposal, which he said he intended to announce before Thanksgiving along with Dewhurst. But he said the legislation would be broader than many might think.

“When people attack me on vouchers, I look at the word voucher as some people see it like I look at a rotary telephone. It’s outdated,” he said. “When we talk about choice today, it’s the choice to choose schools within a district, potentially across district lines. It’s charter schools. It’s virtual schools. It’s online learning. It’s the secular and religious schools in the private sector.”

I suppose anything is possible, but I sure don’t see much in Patrick’s record to support a claim of championing public education. Patrick has relentlessly championed property tax cuts, which has directly led to the funding crisis the state faces today, and public education bore the brunt of that last session. You can’t champion public education without championing a sufficient revenue stream for public education.

But that’s an argument that isn’t going to be resolved any time soon. I want to examine the bits of policy Patrick mentions. Let’s take them one at a time.

– “When we talk about choice today, it’s the choice to choose schools within a district, potentially across district lines.” I don’t know how it is in other districts, but in HISD we already have a fair amount of freedom to pick a school. There may be an application process and some prerequisites to qualify for a specific school, and you may not get your preferred choice, but that’s life. As long as the schools have the resources they need to handle the demand for their services, I have no problems at all with this. As for attending a school in a different district, I’d need to know more. I don’t have any philosophical objections to this, but I am concerned about how the funding would work. If I decide I want to send my kids to, say, Clements High School in Fort Bend County, I’d be sending them to a school whose district doesn’t get the benefit of my property taxes. What mechanism would there be to ensure that districts don’t get swamped by kids outside their borders, and to ensure they can handle the load they do get?

– “It’s charter schools.” I don’t have any problems with the idea of helping out charter schools, but we need to be very clear about what that means, because there are acceptable ways of doing that and there are bad ways of doing that. The previously-floated idea of using the Permanent School Fund as a source for building capital for charter schools is a bad idea, since it runs counter to the stated purpose of the PSF, which is supposed to be invested for maximal return. Shifting funds from public schools to charter schools in a zero-sum fashion is a bad idea. If Patrick wants to find a suitable and stable funding source for charter schools, I’m open to that. Let me hear the details and we can go from there.

– “It’s virtual schools. It’s online learning.” I am deeply skeptical of this. This sounds more like buzzwords than proven craft. While there is value in online learning as a supplement, and a virtual classroom is better than none, I think we’re a long way away from this being the best way to go about doing education. My feeling is that this is the sort of thing that will be pushed as a way to cut costs, without regard to effectiveness. I’m very wary of anything that falls under this classification.

– “It’s the secular and religious schools in the private sector.” And to this I say No. I refer to what Ronald Trowbridge wrote for my opening position. I believe this is an inappropriate use of public funds, and as we have already seen, there are plenty of other ways to promote “school choice” that don’t involve private schools. Let’s talk about those things and see what we can do with them.

UT/TT: Romney 55, Obama 39

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Endorsement watch: The Statesman gets in the game

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

John Courage

Texas Senate, District 25

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

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

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

Matt Stillwell

Texas House, District 136

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Michele Petty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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