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November, 2012:

Friday random ten: For the ladies, part 7

Getting close to the end of this series:

1. Mrs. Martha Knowles – Silly Wizard
2. Mrs. McGrath – Bruce Springsteen
3. Mrs. Robinson – Simon and Garfunkel
4. Mrs. Robinson – Pomplamoose
5. Peg – Steely Dan
6. Polly – Amanda Palmer
7. Rosalita – Bruce Springsteen
8. Rosealia – Better Than Ezra
9. Rosemary – The Grateful Dead
10. Rosie – The Mollys

Mrs. Robinson may be the best-known married woman in song, or at least in a song title. I’d have to give that some study to be sure. I have one more of these lists to go, then we’ll move on to something else.

Pity the poor judges

It’s hard out here on a judge.

For longer than anyone remembers, you had to be a Democrat to be a district judge in Texas – or just about any other political office. When the Democratic Party split apart in the South over civil rights, Republicans gained the upper hand, so much so that by 1998 you had to have an “R” next to your name to have a shot at statewide office.

Recent election results show little change overall for the Lone Star State, still known as the reddest of the red. But in its largest metropolitan area, a new look is emerging. If the latest general election is fair measure, Harris County today is a brilliant, deep purple, almost evenly split between the two major parties.

And nowhere does that cause more discomfort than the county courthouse, where judges suddenly find themselves with none of the job security that has often accompanied the job. Partisan dominance meant that if you reached the bench – often via political appointment – you had a reasonable chance of staying there for awhile. Now local judges are buffeted by political winds beyond their control, and they face the distinct possibility of losing their job just as they have figured out how to do it.

Former Judge Mark Davidson, who often ranked at or near the top in local judicial polls, lost his bench in the Barack Obama tidal wave of 2008. He does not like what he sees now, with a polarized electorate voting along party lines, and he has no intention of running again soon.

“To run and know it doesn’t matter anything about my or my opponent’s qualifications – that the outcome may be determined by who is on the top of the ticket and people will vote on criteria other than my service as a trial judge – is not something I choose to do,” Davidson said.


What that means for the future is unclear, in part because it’s unfamiliar territory. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister, who spent more than a decade as a district judge in Harris County, predicts it will be harder to recruit good potential judges because of the uncertainty factor. If races are going to be narrowly decided and influenced heavily by the names at the top of the ticket, why would a successful, talented lawyer give up a comfortable practice for less pay and more risk?

“In a close county like Harris County is now, being an incumbent doesn’t help you,” Brister said. “The odds are 50-50. You leave your practice and will be making less money, and you have to be constantly worried whether you will keep the job. If you lose after one term, all your clients are gone to somewhere else and you have to build your practice all over again. That makes it real difficult to convince someone to run.”

Of course, one way to solve this would be to go back to the good old days of one-party dominance in Harris County. I sure don’t remember all this hand-wringing about how hard it was to be a judge, never knowing what the voters might do to you, back when the November elections were pre-determined. If nothing changes about how we make judges and the Democrats sweep the judiciary in 2016, thus providing a third term to all those judges that were re-elected this year, will that make Mark Davidson and Scott Brister happy? Mark Bennett makes hash of Davidson’s complaint.

The story then predictably goes into straight-ticket voting and Sen. Dan Patrick’s bill to eliminate it for judicial races, which has the hearts of people like Patti Hart and the Chron’s editorial board going pitter-pat. One of the many ironies of all this is that of the 32 district and civil court judicial races in which the Chron made an endorsement this year, 25 of their preferred candidates won. That’s a 78% success rate, which ain’t too shabby for a bunch of lazy, ignorant voters, as they so nicely characterized the straight-ticket people.

Another irony for you: As Mark noted in his post, the straight ticket vote for each party this year basically canceled each other out. Indeed, the Democratic advantage from straight ticket voting in 2012 was a paltry 2,836 votes – 406,991 to 404,165 in favor of the Democrats. Would you like to know how many Democratic judges won re-election by 2,836 votes or less? Exactly one: Kyle Carter of the 125th District Court, who remained a judge by 1,694 votes. Every other winning Democratic judge had a margin that exceeded the straight-ticket margin: Michael Gomez, the next closest winner, won by 4,071 votes, Jaclanel McFarland won by 5,083, and Ruben Guerrero, Mark Bennett’s least favorite judge, won by 9,015. Every other victorious Democrat won by a five-figure margin, so if you accept the premise that only the non-straight-ticket voters really know what they’re doing, then you should be glad, because they decided all but one of the judicial races. Dan Patrick’s bill is basically about Kyle Carter.

But wait, there’s more. In those halcyon days of Republican hegemony for which Mark Davidson and Scott Brister pine, surely they were aided by straight-ticket voting dominance as well, right? Well, thanks to the magic of the Internet, we can check. Election results on the County Clerk webpage go back through 1996. Here’s how those elections went.

In 1996, straight ticket voting was as follows:

STR – 200,731
STD – 211,533

So Democrats had a 10,802 vote advantage, which did them exactly no good: The only judicial race won by a Democrat was that of Katie Kennedy, whose margin of victory was over 66,000 votes. Republicans won all the other races.

Here’s 1998:

STR – 157,516
STD – 143,783

Now the Rs have the advantage, of just under 14,000 votes. Their smallest margin of victory in a judicial race was about 23,000 votes, meaning that again, straight-ticket voting made no difference to the outcomes.

How about 2000?

STR – 260,705
STD – 264,747

Yes, believe it or not, Democrats had the straight-ticket advantage, even with George Bush at the top of the ticket. And again, it mattered not at all. There were exactly 2 contested judicial races – 337th and County Court At Law #1, both of which the Dems lost. Boy, were these the days or what?

On to 2002:

STR – 185,606
STD – 171,594

The Rs regain the advantage, and again it’s meaningless, as the closest judicial race was decided by 41,000 votes. Will straight-ticket voting ever matter?

The answer is yes, it does, in 2004:

STR – 370,455
STD – 325,097

You would think that with a 45,000 vote advantage in straight-ticket voting, that would be critical to overall Republican success. But it only mattered in one judicial race, the 334th, where Sharon McCally defeated Kathy Stone by 41,813 votes. Republicans won every other judicial race by at least 60,000 votes.

Here’s 2006:

STR – 137,663
STD – 145,865

Another Democratic advantage that amounts to diddly squat, as the Rs once again sweep the judicial races. I suppose you could put an asterisk next to Jim Sharp, who carried Harris County by 1,291 votes in his race for the First Court of Appeals, but since he lost that race it hardly seems worth the effort.

Finally, we come to the two years that everyone agrees is where straight ticket voting was the deal-sealer for the Ds and the Rs, respectively. It’s true that in 2008, the Democratic advantage in straight-ticket voting – 391,488 to 343,919 – is larger than the margin of victory for all victorious Democratic judicial candidate. But look, Democrats didn’t nearly sweep the judiciary in 2008 because of straight-ticket voting, they won all those races because more Democrats voted in Harris County than ever before, and it was that combination of juiced turnout and long-awaited demographic change that did it for them. I suppose you could argue that had the straight-ticket option been outlawed that enough Democratic voters might have quit voting before making it all the way to the end of the ballot to have let some number of Republican judges survive, but if you do make that argument can you really also claim it was because of their merit as judges that saved them? Besides, in the absence of straight-ticket voting its entirely plausible that enough Republican voters would have failed to complete the ballot to cancel things out, and we’d have had approximately the same results as we actually did. We’ll never know, and it’s presumptuous to think we do. Remember, as I’ve noted many times, there was a lot more Republican undervoting in 2004 downballot than there was Democratic undervoting. We just don’t know what might have happened.

You may be thinking at this point “But isn’t the issue that so many more votes are being cast as straight-ticket these days”? It’s true that the trend is upward, but it’s less than you might think. And despite the wailing over 2008, it wasn’t a high-water mark for straight tickets. In 2004, 64.22% of all ballots cast were straight-ticket, 698,895 of 1,088,793. In 2008, the share of straight-ticket ballots dropped to 62.20%, as 739,424 of 1,188,731 were so cast. Did you know that there were more straight-ticket votes cast as a percentage of turnout in 2004 than in 2008, the year in which straight-ticket voting suddenly became this massive problem that had to be solved? I didn’t until I did the research for this post. I’ll bet you $10,000 of Mitt Romney’s money that no one at the Chron knew it, either. As for 2012, the share was 67.91%, 817,692 out of 1,204,167. My guess is that just as there appears to be a limit to how many people will vote early, there’s likely also a limit to how many people will push the straight-ticket button, and we’re probably pretty close to it.

Oh, and in 2010, the year that straight-ticket voting supposedly gave the Republicans back the bench? They did have a huge advantage in straight ticket votes – 290,355 to 240,479 – but as it happens, their closest victory in a judicial race was just over 57,000 votes, with most races being decided by 80,000 or more. Republicans won in 2010 because they turned out at historic, unprecedented levels, plain and simple. The belief that straight-ticket voting is the key to victory is a myth, a shibboleth, and if it’s not clear by now that this is all about the 2008 results, then it’s not the straight-ticket voters who are lazy and ignorant.

I have more to say on this subject, but this post is long enough. Again, I agree that our system of making judges is problematic, but straight-ticket voting is not the problem, and eliminating it is not a solution. It’s a feel-good measure cloaking a partisan intention, and it should be seen as such.

Time for the biennial attempt to de-fang the Travis County DA

Same story, next chapter.

The Texas Ethics Commission, long criticized for its lax enforcement of public officials, is considering a plan to take over all ethics enforcement from the Travis County district attorney’s office, which has a long history of prosecuting errant state officeholders.

The eight-member Ethics Commission, meeting Thursday in Austin, is scheduled to consider a recommendation “transplanting certain existing investigative and prosecutorial authority and budget from the Travis County Public Integrity Unit to the Texas Ethics Commission.”

“Only the authority and budget relating to the conduct of public officials elected and appointed should be so reassigned,” the recommendation states. “Many of the existing personnel staffing these functions would come across as seamlessly as possible.”

David Reisman, executive director of the Ethics Commission, couldn’t immediately be reached. Tim Sorrells, the agency’s general counsel, confirmed late Wednesday that it was scheduled to discuss the recommendation.

The move came after a Texas Sunset Advisory Commission report last summer criticized the commission for its lax enforcement history, even though it stopped short of recommending that it become a beefed-up enforcement agency for state ethics laws.

News of the Ethics Commission’s move immediately drew criticism from government watchdog groups, who insisted the change would take Texas’ ethics enforcement from bad to worse.

“After all these years of inaction, they want to go and take away the only effective ethics enforcement Texas has and put it in an agency that has done almost nothing,” said Tom Smith, Texas director of Public Citizen.

Noting that watchdog groups were hoping for ramped-up enforcement by the Ethics Commission, not a takeover of the county’s Public Integrity Unit that has prosecuted the only criminal violations, he added: “This is a dream turned into a nightmare.”

We’ve been down this road before, in one form or another, in every legislative session I’ve observed, which goes back to 2003, and undoubtedly well before that. In the past, the main threat had been to move this function into the Attorney General’s office. If the TEC did a reasonable job of enforcement this wouldn’t be a completely ridiculous suggestion, but we know how that goes. It’s not all the TEC’s fault – they know they’re ultimately under the Legislature’s thumb, so it’s good survival strategy on their part to not be too obnoxious. At this point, the best argument for letting the Travis County DA continue in this role is that they are not connected to state government, which gives them an independence no other option would have. I didn’t expect anything to come of this, and it turns out that the TEC has since had second thoughts.

The Texas Ethics Commission backed away Thursday from a controversial proposal to take certain investigative authority away from the Travis County district attorney’s office, but the agency approved two recommendations aimed at enhancing criminal inquiries of state elected officials.

The draft proposal to ask the Legislature to take investigative power away from those local prosecutors — and give it to an agency that has often been described as weak and ineffective — sparked outrage from government watchdogs and strong opposition from the Travis County DA’s office.

It also drew unusually strong condemnation from one of the eight Ethics Commission members, Tom Harrison. A letter from Harrison, who did not attend Thursday’s meeting, was read aloud by fellow Commissioner Tom Ramsay. In it, Harrison argued that making the commission the lead prosecutor of state elected officials would frustrate its “primary purpose” and set up a statutory conflict of interest.

“Members of the commission are appointed by elected state leaders and would be enforcing criminal actions against those same elected officials,” Harrison wrote, according to Ramsay. “If it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it.”

In face of stiff opposition, Jim Clancy, one of the commissioners who had made the proposal, quickly backed off and said the intent was never to gut the Travis DA’s budget and power. But he said the commission needs more money and authority to to pursue serious corruption allegations.

So that’s probably it for this particular variation, but as always it bears watching, because sooner or later something like it will pop up again. EoW and Burka have more.

Let the endorsement race begin!

We may not have a date for the SD06 special election, but that doesn’t mean the race hasn’t begun. In particular, the race to begin collecting endorsements has begun, and both major declared candidates have announced wins. Sylvia Garcia has the AFL-CIO on her side.

[Wednesday] Harris County AFL-CIO COPE Members met with Senate District 6 candidates and by a landslide voted to endorse Sylvia Garcia as the leader they know will fight for fair jobs, healthcare and education in Austin.

“Sylvia Garcia has been a strong supporter of working families’ issues from her days with the City of Houston to Commissioners Court. She has the experience and knowledge to represent the people of District 6 and will address critical needs like education and healthcare. Sylvia will be an outstanding Senator for the State of Texas,” said Richard Shaw, Harris County AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer.

Meanwhile, Carol Alvarado has the firefighters.

State Representative Carol Alvarado has received the backing of Houston Firefighters in her campaign for Texas State Senate District 6. She is running to succeed the late Senator Mario Gallegos, a former Houston Firefighter who passed away in October.

Alvarado has been endorsed by the Houston Professional Firefighters Association Local 341, which represents over 3,800 men and women who serve in the nation’s third largest fire department.

“I am honored to receive the support of Houston Firefighters,” Alvarado said. “These men and women put themselves on the line every day to protect the people of this community, and it means a great deal that they are supporting with me, particularly since Senator Gallegos was one of their own.”

“Mario Gallegos was our brother,” said Local 341 President Jeff Caynon. “While we still grieve his passing, we are proud to stand with Carol Alvarado to succeed him in the Senate. She is a strong advocate for firefighters and public safety and we believe she is the best candidate to continue Mario’s work.”

We have discussed the value of endorsements many times, and while that value varies with the race and the endorsement in question, they ought to be quite valuable in a special election like this one, since endorsements like these should translate into some number of votes from the members of the endorsing groups. Especially in a race where there’s hardly any difference between the candidates in terms of issues or record of public service, endorsements like these give people like me whose impression going in is that either candidate would be fine by them a reason to pick one over the other. Finally, if there are any other potential candidates out there still weighing their options, as Rick Noriega is said to be doing, the longer they take to decide the more of these they’ll miss out on, thus making it that much harder to win when and if they do jump in. It’s in both Sylvia Garcia’s and Carol Alvarado’s interest to keep the field small, or at least the field of candidates with a realistic path to victory.

Constable Trevino’s day in court

It went about as you’d expect.

Constable Victor Trevino

Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino and his attorney said Tuesday they expect the longtime law enforcement officer to be cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with allegations he abused his official role and used charity donations for personal use.

“On behalf of my family and myself, I just want to thank the community for their overwhelming support and their prayers,” Trevino said after a brief court appearance Tuesday morning. “We’ve cooperated, and we’re going to continue to cooperate and see this through all the way.”


“We’re very eager for our day in court,” said attorney Chip Lewis. “It’s a sad day in the community when Constable Trevino’s good name has been sullied because of these charges, and we are very eager for the opportunity to vindicate him and return his good name.”

Trevino and Lewis did not answer questions as they left court, but reiterated that Trevino will not step down despite being indicted.

Well, Jerry Eversole expressed confidence that he would be cleared of all charges, too, so take all that for what it’s worth. I know nothing about this case beyond what has been reported, and I firmly believe in the presumption of innocence, I’m just saying that such pronouncements really don’t have much predictive value. It should also be noted that Eversole did not resign until after his original trial, which ended in a hung jury, a few weeks before he finally took a plea. I still think Constable Trevino should formally hand off the day to day operations of Precinct 6 to someone else in his office until this is resolved one way or another, but staying in office until then is not unusual. The story does not say, but the caption under the photo that goes with the story says that the case has been reset for January, so barring any surprises we’ll have to wait till then for the next update.

Precinct analysis: The range of possibility

Here’s a look at selected districts in Harris County that shows the range of votes and vote percentages achieved by Democratic candidates. I’ve thrown in the Obama and Sam Houston results from 2008 for each to provide a comparison between how the district was predicted to perform and how it actually did perform. Without further ado:

HD132 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 22,336 43.52 Ryan 20,945 40.63 Bennett 20,454 40.35 Obama 21,116 40.29 Oliver 19,873 38.52 08Obama 18,886 39.60 08Houston 18,653 40.60

HD132, which runs out to the western edge of Harris County, incorporating parts of Katy, is a fascinating district. For one thing, as Greg showed, there are these fairly large blue patches out that way, surrounded otherwise by a sea of red. Much of that blue is in HD132, which is why this district wound up overperforming its 2008 numbers by about a point. As Greg said in reply to my comment on that post, you could build a pretty reasonable Democratic district out that way if you were in control of the mapmaking process. In fact, the non-MALDEF intervenors in the San Antonio lawsuit did propose a map that drew HD132 as a lean-Dem district. It wasn’t addressed by the DC court in its ruling denying preclearance on the maps, so we won’t see any such district this decade, but just as the old 132 came on the radar in 2008, the new HD132 should be viewed as an attainable goal, perhaps in 2016. Take the continued population dynamics of Harris County, add in a good candidate and a concerted voter registration/GOTV effort, and I think you could have something.

HD134 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 36,781 48.07 Ryan 35,431 45.96 Johnson 36,366 45.35 Obama 34,561 42.49 Bennett 29,843 39.47 Oliver 25,886 33.79 08Obama 39,153 46.50 08Houston 33,667 42.60

I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a district with a wider vote spread than HD134. A couple things stand out to me. One is that four years ago in the old 134, President Obama ran five points ahead of Democratic judicial candidates. I haven’t done the math on the judicials this time around – even in Excel/Calc, it gets mighty tedious after awhile – but I’d bet money that’s not the case this year. I’d call this evidence of Obama losing ground with Anglo voters in Texas, as he did nationwide. Note also that Adrian Garcia did not carry HD134 this time around, unlike in 2008 when he was the only Democrat besides then-Rep. Ellen Cohen to win it. (Michael Skelly, running in CD07, carried the portion of HD134 that was in CD07, which was most but not quite all of it.) Garcia’s overall performance was a couple of points lower this year, but this shows how tough HD134 really was, something which I think wasn’t fully appreciated by most observers. Ann Johnson ran hard and did a good job, but the hill was too steep. I’m sure HD134 will remain a tempting target, but the name of the game here is persuasion, not turnout, and that’s a harder task.

HD135 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 23,507 44.91 Ryan 21,620 41.26 Obama 21,679 40.37 Bennett 20,786 40.26 Morgan 20,997 39.63 Oliver 20,119 38.42 08Obama 20,430 38.70 08Houston 19,912 39.50

Another not-on-the-radar district that wound up being better for Dems than you would have expected. As with HD132, this would be a good place to focus registration and turnout energies going forward.

HD137 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 15,682 67.58 Ryan 15,498 65.88 Wu 15,789 65.72 Obama 15,899 65.25 Bennett 14,875 64.63 Oliver 14,700 62.62 08Obama 16,755 62.30 08Houston 16,008 62.40

I haven’t looked this deeply at all of the Democratic districts, but the early indicators are that Democratic candidates generally outperformed the 2008 numbers in the districts that were considered to be competitive. Even by the 2008 numbers, HD137 wasn’t particularly competitive, but with a first-time candidate in an open seat against someone who’d won elections in the same general vicinity before and who could write his own check, who knew what could happen. Rep.-elect Gene Wu had a strong showing in a district where all Dems did well. I mean, if Lloyd Oliver outperformed Obama 08, you know Democrats kicked butt in this district.

HD144 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 13,555 57.96 Ryan 12,668 53.96 Bennett 12,382 53.63 Perez 12,425 53.35 Obama 12,281 51.47 Oliver 11,966 51.07 08Obama 11,983 48.00 08Houston 13,129 54.50

The disparity between Obama and Sam Houston in 08 makes it a little hard to pin this district down as overperforming or underperforming. It’s fair to say that Rep.-elect Mary Ann Perez won by a more comfortable margin than most people, myself included, might have expected, and it appears that Obama closed the gap a bit this year. This will surely be a race to watch in 2014, whether or not the district gets tweaked by the courts or the Lege. (The DC court rejected the intervenors’ claims about retrogression in HD144, in case you were curious.) Oh, and I hadn’t thought about this before now, but Perez’s win means that there will need to be a special election for her HCC Trustee position in 2013. I have no idea off the top of my head what the procedures are for that.

HD145 Votes Pct ======================== Alvarado 20,829 68.86 Garcia 19,180 67.67 Ryan 17,860 63.04 Obama 17,890 61.13 Bennett 17,252 61.90 Oliver 16,778 59.22 08Obama 16,749 57.10 08Houston 17,315 61.70

Rep. Alvarado was unopposed, so the percentage shown for her is her share of all ballots cast in HD145. I was a little concerned about the possibility of Republicans maybe stealing this seat in a special election if Rep. Alvarado wins in SD06 – one possible incentive for Rick Perry to shake a leg on calling that special election is that he could then call the special election for HD145 in May if that seat gets vacated, as surely that would guarantee the lowest turnout – but I’m less concerned about it looking at these numbers. Yes, I know, the electoral conditions would be totally different, but still. By my count there were 7,013 straight-ticket Republican votes in this district and 12,293 straight-ticket D votes. I think even in a low-turnout context, that would be a tall order for a Republican candidate.

HD148 Votes Pct ======================== Farrar 25,921 64.56 Garcia 23,776 63.87 Ryan 22,413 59.91 Obama 22,393 57.92 Bennett 21,061 57.80 Oliver 19,848 53.34 08Obama 22,338 57.50 08Houston 21,887 59.20

Rep. Farrar had a Green opponent but no R opponent, so as with Rep. Alvarado her percentage is that of the total number of ballots cast. Again, one’s perception of this district as slightly overperforming or slightly underperforming for Dems depends on whether one thinks the Obama or Houston number from 2008 is the more accurate measure of the district from that year. Given the re-honkification of the Heights, I feel like this district needs to be watched in the same way that HD132 needs to be watched, only in the other direction. I feel certain that if there is to be any change in the makeup of HD148, it will happen a lot more slowly than in HD132, but nonetheless it bears watching. I’ll reassess in 2016 as needed. Oh, and there were 9,672 straight-ticket Republican votes to 13,259 straight-ticket D votes here, in case you were wondering.

HD149 Votes Pct ======================== Vo 25,967 61.12 Garcia 25,056 60.64 Ryan 24,325 58.61 Obama 24,770 57.72 Bennett 23,659 57.64 Oliver 23,337 56.27 08Obama 24,426 55.50 08Houston 23,544 56.30

If you wanted to know why I tend to worry less about Rep. Hubert Vo than I do about some other Dems and districts, this would be why. Anyone who can outdo Adrian Garcia is someone with strong crossover appeal. Note again the general overperformance of Dems here compared to 2008. Consider this some evidence of Asian-American voters trending even more blue this cycle.

SBOE6 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 229,058 43.48 Ryan 216,249 40.88 Jensen 207,697 40.58 Obama 215,053 39.33 Bennett 199,169 38.27 Oliver 188,555 35.69 08Obama 224,088 40.80 08Houston 210,965 40.20

I was hopeful that Dems could build on 2008 in this district, but it wasn’t to be. I think the potential is there going forward, but it will take time and resources. Traci Jensen was a great candidate, who ran hard as the first Democrat in SBOE6 in over 20 years, but there’s only so much you can do in a district twice the size of a Congressional district without a Congressional-size campaign budget.

CD07 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 99,355 43.93 Ryan 93,819 41.30 Obama 92,128 39.13 Bennett 84,451 37.73 Cargas 85,253 37.44 Oliver 79,037 34.83 08Obama 96,866 40.40 08Houston 88,957 39.10

As with SBOE6, a small step back in performance instead of the step forward I had hoped for. Not sure if it was something John Culberson did to enable him to run ahead of the pack instead of lagging behind it as he did in 2006 and 2008, or if James Cargas’ weak performance had something to do with the ridiculously bitter primary runoff he was in. Be that as it may, I don’t expect much if anything to be different in this district in the near future.

The anti-student RFID movement has already begun

When I wrote about the battle over student RFID, I said it was just a matter of time before the Lege intervened. Turns out I was behind the curve on this.

Since first hearing about the use of radio frequency technology to track public school students in 2004, state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, has filed a bill during every subsequent legislative session to prohibit the technology’s usage. Now, with civil liberties proponents supporting one San Antonio student’s right to refuse the technology, her proposal might get wider attention.

Chris Steinbach, Kolkhorst’s chief of staff, said he thinks a court case — in which the San Antonio student is arguing that her school’s ID card pilot program violates her civil rights — might spark the necessary attention to move the bill forward. A hearing on that case was scheduled for Wednesday morning in a state district court, but it was removed to federal court.

“The stars are aligning with people on the left and right with people who are concerned about parental rights and privacy,” Steinbach said.


[Rep. Kolkhorst] has pre-filed two bills on the identification technology. HB 102 would bar school districts from using the radio tags. HB 101, on the other hand, would allow districts to only use the cards if their school boards approve them — and only if students who refuse the ID cards are given an “alternative method of identification” and not penalized for their refusal.

“There’s the easy way and the hard way,” Steinbach said. “She’s just going to gauge the temperature of the Legislature.”

I continue to be baffled by the vehemence some people feel about this. I just don’t see it as that big a deal. Of course, I don’t have non-standard religious beliefs, and as I noted in the previous post, we don’t generally give much credence to the idea of “freedom” for students in other contexts. Having said that, I have no objections to HB101, which seems like a reasonable approach to the issue. Surely if you believe in local control, it’s preferable to the blanket ban that HB102 would mandate. We’ll see what the Lege prefers.

Biggio on the ballot

Former Astros great Craig Biggio will make his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot this year.

Ballots for the 2013 Hall of Fame class will be issued this week to media members; candidates will officially be announced Wednesday. Results will be disclosed Jan. 9 for a controversial list of names that will include first-timers Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza and Sammy Sosa.

Biggio also is a first-timer. And if he receives a once-in-a-lifetime confirmation call — a thought he’s playing down — the lifetime Astro who spent 20 major league seasons with the organization and is employed as a special assistant to general manager Jeff Luhnow said Monday the moment will be humbling and surreal.

“It’s an incredible feeling. It’s hard to put into words,” Biggio, 46, said during a news conference at Minute Maid Park. “I just loved to play the game. I would’ve played it for free if that’s what I had to do. I just enjoyed the game for what it was. It never was anything to do with trying to get yourself in the Hall of Fame.”

Biggio can submit quite the résumé for potential Hall enshrinement. The highlights: 3,060 hits, 1,844 runs and a .281 batting average during 2,850 career games that saw him play catcher, second base and the outfield.

“I’ve been very lucky and fortunate to be around good people, a great organization,” Biggio said. “It was a lot of special memories at a special time.”


With Bonds, Clemens and Sosa dominating conversation about a potential 2013 class that includes several former stars linked to performance-enhancing drugs, some believe Biggio could sneak into the Hall in January as a safe, respected choice.

The flip side to that is that the ballot is “too crowded” with Hall-worthy candidates, which may prevent Biggio from being elected because the voters don’t like to vote for too many candidates in a given year. Biggio’s teammate Jeff Bagwell has supposedly suffered from the BBWAA’s short attention span as well. I find the whole thing ridiculous, but that’s the Hall of Fame for you. I think Biggio’s case for inclusion is clear, and I hope it doesn’t take the writers too long to figure it out.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 26

The Texas Progressive Alliance is rested and ready after the holiday weekend as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff notes that for the second election in a row, the city of Houston voted 61% for President Obama. Keep that in mind the next time someone tries to tell you that Texas is Austin surrounded by a bunch of Republicans.

Success for Democrats in Williamson County has been few and far between in recent years, and has only come through hard work. WCNews at Eye on Williamson points out that little has changed, It won’t just happen…(continued).

Barack Obama’s re-election to the presidency, just as his first election, is defined in large measure by the pathetic quality of his competition. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs observes that while Republicans have only themselves to blame for their circumstances, maybe it’s time for the victors to help them work through their bitterness.

BossKitty at TruthHugger believes it’s time to work on those we elected, to legislate responsible actions and stop polluting America’s water. Water – Supply and Demand, Cause and Effect.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes that establishment Republicans hate their base. I can understand that.

Neil at Texas Liberal said that the table of self-respect is always set. The question is will people show up?

Precinct analysis: City propositions

And we come to the city of Houston bond referenda, of which there were five on the ballot. Here’s the usual breakdown of them:

Dist A Yes A No B Yes B No C Yes C No D Yes D No E Yes E No ========================================================================== 126 720 231 725 239 711 228 671 275 604 342 127 10,728 13,251 10,015 14,121 9,564 14,299 9,464 14,517 6,752 17,158 129 12,592 8,536 12,244 8,976 11,924 9,074 11,978 9,188 9,169 11,926 131 19,375 8,878 20,694 7,808 19,547 8,223 19,495 8,404 19,192 8,770 132 276 132 281 136 269 144 259 156 217 197 133 31,386 19,808 32,668 19,184 29,304 21,291 27,775 23,065 21,907 28,628 134 37,134 18,433 40,946 15,768 36,140 18,775 33,942 21,283 27,591 27,116 137 12,712 5,596 13,374 5,154 12,719 5,404 12,303 5,939 11,205 6,968 138 9,992 6,797 9,915 7,032 9,427 7,274 9,210 7,585 7,370 9,361 139 15,034 8,819 16,117 8,048 14,893 8,702 14,848 8,822 13,931 9,847 140 5,010 2,437 5,234 2,242 4,922 2,396 4,851 2,485 4,545 2,844 141 8,627 4,459 9,419 3,833 8,935 3,912 8,976 3,912 9,478 3,547 142 8,460 3,908 9,168 3,372 8,631 3,533 8,659 3,573 8,979 3,310 143 5,961 2,659 6,237 2,404 5,914 2,540 5,854 2,612 5,506 3,032 144 1,441 744 1,468 716 1,430 732 1,382 780 1,219 941 145 12,561 5,897 13,434 5,163 12,483 5,757 12,235 6,066 10,936 7,380 146 25,928 11,707 27,810 10,225 26,063 10,913 25,585 11,518 24,641 12,598 147 28,731 12,830 31,836 10,453 29,314 11,721 28,501 12,736 27,160 14,174 148 21,916 10,805 23,752 9,472 21,140 11,140 20,626 11,872 17,233 15,126 149 10,212 4,831 10,605 4,590 10,045 4,840 9,766 5,166 8,863 6,077

Greg has a map for Prop B, for those of you who like pictures to go with the numbers. All five bond issues passed, with Harris County percentages ranging from 68.06 for Prop B to 55.55% for Prop E. The city does of course extend into Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties, but I’m not including those precincts in my analysis. For what it’s worth, the Fort Bend precincts voted overwhelmingly for the bond issues, and the Montgomery County precincts also supported all five bonds. Of interest is the fact that the bond issues generally did well in the Republican State Rep districts in Houston. This is of interest because the Harris County GOP passed resolutions opposing all bonds on the ballot. To whatever extent they publicized that opposition, it had little effect. Only Kingwood (HD127) opposed the bonds, which isn’t really a surprise given that Kingwood would oppose a resolution declaring that puppies are adorable if it was a city of Houston resolution. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration – Kingwood did support the two Houston charter amendments – but still. HDs 129 (Clear Lake), 133 (Memorial/Westchase), and 138 (Spring Branch) supported all but Prop E, while HD134 supported all five. Note that HD138 largely overlaps Council District A, home turf of CM Helena Brown. If Helena Brown’s constituents were voting for the bonds, that should tell you how seriously the Harris County GOP’s resolutions were taken.

More broadly, there was a whole lot of ink spilled during the election season about ballot fatigue and conservative anti-government surges and fragile economies and what have you, and in the end none of it mattered. All the bonds, including the HISD and HCC bonds that will lead to tax increases, passed easily. All of them did well in Republican areas despite the official opposition of the Harris County GOP. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to rethink that narrative about people being tired of government spending and demanding cutbacks. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a load of hooey.

The Lege will take another crack at payday lending

I’m glad to see this, because the Lege definitely left business unfinished last time.

About 83 percent of customers in Beaumont and 75 percent in the Houston and San Antonio metro areas are locked in a loan renewal cycle, latest lender reports show.

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, both members of a Texas Senate committee examining the problem, said data and testimonials from payday customers statewide support legislation to prevent so many Texans from being financially exploited.

“In a perfect world you wouldn’t need (payday lenders),” Whitmire said. “But I do know that people can’t make it sometimes because they have no line of credit and no credit – and they can go to these institutions, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be held up.”


The new data confirms Texans typically pay more for short-term credit than consumers in other states. A $500 loan initially costs customers about $110 in Texas compared to only $55 in Florida and $65 in Oklahoma, where the industry is better regulated, said Ann Baddour, a policy analyst for Texas Appleseed, part of a coalition of secular nonprofits and religious groups that advocate stronger rules and lower-cost credit options.

“We find it extremely troubling that Texans are paying more for these products than others in other parts of the country – there has to be a limit to the number of fees set up for the same loan,” Baddour said.


Last month, members of the Senate Business and Commerce committee led by Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, reviewed data and heard testimony.

“Landmark legislation in the 82nd Legislature enabled us for the first time to get some hard numbers about the payday and auto title loan industry,” Carona said. “We have enough information now to come back and address the abuses in the industry.”

We know what the problem is, it’s just a matter of the Legislature exerting the will to do something about it. This isn’t about ideology – the issue unites such disparate legislators as Rep. Tom Craddick and Sen. Wendy Davis. Unfortunately, the legislation that was passed last time was a water-down compromise that really didn’t do much of anything. As it happens, the person responsible for those watered-down bills, Rep. Vicki Truitt, the chair of the House Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee, lost her primary race this May, so someone else will be carrying this ball in the House. I hope that’s a good sign, but the even bigger problem over there remains.

Rep. Gary Elkins, R-Houston, himself a longtime payday loan business owner, was among those who blocked the proposals. He said the cities’ regulations are unnecessary and unconstitutional and existing federal consumer and credit laws provide enough oversight.

“The Legislature clearly considered the issue … and the Legislature decided not to pass those restrictions,” he said. “Anybody can pay off their loan anytime they want so the consumers obviously have that choice. … You can stay in debt on MasterCard or Visa forever.

“Do we need a law to say every month you have to pay down your MasterCard or Visa because some city council thinks that’s what you ought to do?”

You kind of have to admire Rep. Elkins’ sheer brazenness here. He makes his living off the misery of other people, he will do whatever it takes to defend the money he makes through the immiseration of those people, and he doesn’t give a damn what you think about it. He’s a State Representative, he has lobby money and his personal relationship with other representatives in his corner, and you don’t. So there.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Forrest Wilder’s story about new frontiers in the payday lending industry. I’d ask how these guys could get any sleazier, but I fear the answer I’d get.

We should expect boring Congressional races for the foreseeable future

That’s my takeaway after reading this.


For Pete Sessions, election night ended with yet another resounding send-off to Washington.

He won a ninth term, with 58 percent of the vote. But an analysis by The Dallas Morning News raises questions about how long the swath of Dallas and Collin counties that makes up Sessions’ 32nd Congressional District will remain safely Republican.

And more broadly, the 32nd is a microcosm of the challenges Republicans face maintaining control in congressional and legislative districts as the Hispanic population, which favors Democrats, continues to grow.

The district’s Hispanic-origin population will grow from 25.6 percent to 29.7 percent by 2016 and will only continue in years to come, according to population projections from Esri, a leading provider of demographic software and data. The percentage of registered voters in the district with Spanish surnames grew from 7.3 percent of eligible voters in 2002 to 8.8 percent in 2010.

Experts said that while changes are coming, Sessions should be safe for the next few elections.

“The big takeaway, looking at the last couple of elections in Texas, is that things are changing demographically — and that certainly has political implications,” SMU political scientist Matthew Wilson said. “But the partisan levels of those implications aren’t rising as quickly as the Democrats had hoped for.

“Change is slow, and looking at 2014 or 2016 as a tipping point might be getting ahead of the game a little bit.”

There were two competitive Congressional races this year, CD23 in which Rep.-elect Pete Gallego ousted freshman Rep. Quico Canseco, and CD14, in which Nick Lampson fell short in a race to succeed Ron Paul. The latter was basically only competitive because of Lampson, who represented a chunk of the new CD14 in his first years of service in Congress. Barring anything unusual, Rep.-elect Randy Weber will likely have a smooth ride in 2014. Only CD23 is likely to be seriously contested again.

I base this on a review of the 2008 results for the current districts and the actual results from this election. To put it mildly, there were no surprises.

Dist Obama Houston Dem Candidate Pct ========================================= 05 37.3 42.0 Mrosko 33.2 06 42.2 43.7 Sanders 39.2 07 40.4 39.1 Cargas 36.4 10 42.6 43.2 Cadien 36.2 14 42.1 47.5 Lampson 44.6 17 40.9 44.1 None 0.0 21 42.2 40.2 Duval 35.4 24 40.5 39.9 Rusk 36.0 25 42.7 43.5 Henderson 37.4 27 40.1 45.8 Harrison 39.2 31 42.5 42.4 Wyman 35.0 32 43.8 43.8 McGovern 39.4 Dist McCain W'wright GOP Candidate Pct ========================================= 15 41.8 37.3 Brueggemann 36.8 20 40.6 37.7 Rosa 33.4 23 49.3 45.0 Canseco 45.5 28 41.0 35.3 Hayward 29.7

These are all of the districts in which you could squint and see something potentially competitive based on either the Presidential number or the Sam Houston/Dale Wainwright number. Needless to say, that isn’t how it played out. Some of this is likely due to Obama’s reduced national margin from 2008, which is to say his decline among Anglo voters, some of it is likely due to the absence of resources at the state level, and some of it is likely due to the candidates themselves having little to no resources. Be that as it may, there’s nothing here to suggest there were any missed opportunities or any emerging hotspots. It’s CD23 all the way down.

There are two caveats to this. One is that we will not have the same Congressional districts in 2014. These were interim districts, to be used until the San Antonio court acts on the DC court’s denial of preclearance to fix the issues that the DC court identified. What the next map may look like and how this all may be affected by the upcoming SCOTUS review of Section 5 remains to be seen.

The other is that just because there won’t be competitive elections in November doesn’t mean there won’t be any in March. We saw one incumbent Congressman get bounced, thanks in part to some big external donors, but even if that group doesn’t play in 2014, the following members of Congress are, shall we say, less likely than some of their colleagues to make it to the next round of redistricting:

Sam Johnson, 82 years old.
Ralph Hall, 89 years old.
Kay Granger, 69 years old.
Rubén Hinojosa, 72 years old.
Eddie Bernice Johnson, 77 years old.
John Carter, 71 years old.

If nothing else, we’re likely to see a few spirited primaries in the coming years. Whether we get more than that or not remains to be seen.

RIP, Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller, whom Red Barber said was “one of the two or three most important men in baseball history, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson”, has died at the age of 95.

Marvin Miller

It is impossible to overstate Miller’s impact on Major League Baseball. While some — including Hall of Fame voters — have long given Miller short shrift (or piled on utter disdain), baseball today cannot be understood without understanding Marvin Miller’s contributions. He was a truly transformative figure who, after Jackie Robinson, did more to correct the excesses and injustices delivered onto players by baseball’s ruling class than anyone.

When Miller took over as the head of the MLBPA in 1966 there was no free agency. Players were told by ownership what they would make the following year and if they didn’t like it, tough. They couldn’t switch teams. They couldn’t do what any other worker can do and shop their services elsewhere. They were stuck thanks to baseball’s reserve clause and the ridiculous Supreme Court decision which exempted baseball and its owners from the antitrust laws.

Miller took all of that on and he won. He started small, negotiating the union’s first collective bargaining agreement with the team owners in 1968, which raised the game’s minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000. In 1970 he got the owners to agree to arbitration for the first time. In 1970 Curt Flood, with Miller’s support and guidance, challenged baseball’s antitrust exemption — and the dreaded reserve clause, which kept players tied to one team against their wishes — in the courts. Flood ultimately lost that case in the landmark 1972 Supreme Court decision. The decision did not, however, blunt Miller’s resolve, and he took his fight to other forums.

In 1974 he exploited a loophole — and an oversight by Oakland Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley — to get Catfish Hunter free agency and baseball’s first $1 million contract. Up next: the whole enchilada. In 1974, he got Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to play out the season without contracts, placing them in cross-hairs of the reserve clause and giving them standing to fight the provision in arbitration. In 1975 they won, with the Seitz Decision ushering in the age of free agency. Baseball players’ indentured servitude was over.

In all Miller led the union through three work stoppages: two short ones — 1972 and in spring training 1980 — and then the long, season-altering strike in 1981. In all three stoppages, the union prevailed. Overall during his tenure the average players’ salary rose from $19,000 to $241,000 a year and their working conditions improved dramatically. It is no understatement to say that Miller turned the MLBPA into the most effective and successful labor union in the United States. Not just in sports: in the entire United States.

The New York Times has a thorough obit that you should read as well. Truly, Miller was one of the giants of the game, who changed it for the better in a profound way. His exclusion from the Hall of Fame is a monument to pettiness and spite, but he took it in stride. Rest in peace, Marvin Miller.

UPDATE: Keith Olbermann remembers Marvin Miller.

Precinct analysis: HISD and HCC

I was reasonably confident that the HISD bond referendum would be successful, mostly because there wasn’t any real opposition from officials or constituencies that would normally be expected to support it. It had a much smoother path than the 2007 referendum, which still managed to pass, so it wasn’t hard to see this one making it. I was still a little surprised at how easily it passed, but not that much. Here’s the breakdown by State Rep district:

Dist Yes No =================== 131 21,902 7,238 133 19,766 13,904 134 46,367 24,987 137 9,044 4,189 139 9,001 4,505 140 4,765 1,928 141 950 290 142 8,580 2,434 143 6,030 2,053 144 1,358 590 145 10,489 4,065 146 28,756 10,212 147 28,879 10,192 148 19,889 10,252 149 1,044 764

There are many school districts within Harris County, so there are a lot of State Rep districts that do not overlap HISD’s turf. Still, as you can see support was broad and across the board. One thing to note is that there were more Yes votes cast in just the six African-American State Rep districts (98,068) than there were No votes cast all together (97,604). You can see why the specter of people like Dave Wilson and his cohort opposing the referendum wasn’t a credible threat. There aren’t enough people like him within HISD’s boundaries to make a difference.

The HCC referendum naturally got much less attention, but it passed just as easily.

Dist Yes No =================== 131 24,797 8,582 133 18,409 14,514 134 41,702 27,900 137 13,029 5,695 139 7,984 5,016 140 4,631 1,972 141 7,724 2,695 142 9,550 2,813 143 5,715 2,119 144 1,280 611 145 9,837 4,393 146 27,998 10,756 147 27,070 10,895 148 17,825 11,498 149 17,911 7,302

HCC’s turf is HISD plus Alief and North Forest ISDs, which is why there are more votes in this election in HDs 137, 141, and 149 than the HISD referendum. Again, it passed easily everywhere, though with some slightly smaller margins than the HISD referendum. It also passed easily in Alief despite some early grumbling on the part of Alief ISD’s Board of Trustees. Anyway, not much to see here, just another easy day at the office for the people whose job it was to get these bonds passed.

Jail privatization update

Grits, from about two weeks ago:

In a conference call last week with investors (see the transcript), Corrections Corporation of America said it expects to find out by next spring whether they will receive a contract to operate the Harris County Jail. Said President and CEO David Hininger:

The final update I wanted to give on the new business opportunities is here in Harris County. And just as a reminder, this is the opportunity to take over the entire jail system within Harris County. This is metropolitan Houston. This would be an opportunity to take over a system that has about 9,000 prisoners on any given day. We submitted our best and final for this procurement back in August of this year, and again we think probably later this year, probably early next year is when the county will make a decision on this requirement.

An institutional investor asked Hininger, “Could you describe – give us a little bit more color on Harris County? I kind of had thought that perhaps something might have – a decision might have been made in the fall, and wondering what, if anything, may have changed there?” He replied:

Yeah, good question, I would kind of relate it back to my earlier comment. We just have gotten a sense from our either existing partners or new partners that either opportunities, pending procurements, maybe decisions where they need to move forward on a requirement, a lot of those are just being deferred, either past the election or past the 1st of the year. There was obviously a lot of – everybody in the country was most focused on the national election, but there was a lot of elections going on at the state and local level.

And so, our sense is that we just had a period of time where a lot of decision-makers were sitting on their hands. So I would [say] Harris is probably in that category. And we think we’ve put forth a very compelling and comprehensive and competitive proposal to them, but our sense is probably now that we’re on the other side of the election, either later [this] year or early next year, we’ll see an action being taken by them.

Were Harris County Commissioners waiting for the elections to pass before moving forward on privatization? We’ll soon see. For those interested in (much) more detail, here’s the RFP to which CCA and its competitors are responding. Notably, most of the information the public has been getting on this back-room process has not come from county government but from corporate investor conference calls. That’s never a good sign.

See here and here for the background. I think we can all agree that any discussion about this needs to be held in the open, for all to hear and for all with a stake in the outcome – which is to say, all Harris County taxpayers – to be able to have their say about it. Towards that end, I made a few inquiries about this. County Judge Ed Emmett said this was the first he’d heard about this particular item in many months (the last update I have is from December of 2011, so that certainly tracks for me). He said that right now the RFP that Corrections Corporation of America and any other bidders submitted is being reviewed by the purchasing department, which will when ready present its findings for the Court to consider. At that time, they may or may not take any action, but Judge Emmett assured me that if there was to be anything further on it, that would all be done during open Court meetings as official agenda items.

I also spoke to Commissioner Radack, who characterized this as a very complex process and that the main thing he hoped to get out of it was some lessons about possible ways to be more efficient and save money. I suggested his description sounded somewhat like an audit to me, and he thought that was a reasonable analogy. He stressed that any review of corrections is multifaceted and can take a lot of time – he reminded me that the original proposal of a joint city/county jail facility was made when Bob Lanier was still Mayor – and that his primary goal was the learning opportunity. I did not get the impression he was seeking anything transformational. In fact, I’m reminded as I review the history of all this that the origin was in late 2010 when Radack and Jerry Eversole were complaining about the cost of outsourcing inmates to Louisiana. That was when Radack made his request for a study of ways to reduce costs at the jail, which turned into a formal RFP when then-Budget Director Dick Raycraft came back and said it was the only way to answer the question. And so here we are today, in an environment where inmates are no longer being outsourced and jail costs overall are already lower, awaiting that answer.

Finally, Sheriff Adrian Garcia sent me the following statement via email:

“The county purchasing and budget offices are still working on the request from Commissioners Court in the spring of 2011 to determine if allowing a private company to run the Harris County Jail would be cost-effective for the county and the taxpayers. The study continues.

“In the meantime, I will continue to build on the success that we have had over the last four years in which my staff and I have saved the taxpayers more than $60 million in the operation of the jail and other functions of the Sheriff’s Office, turning a gaping budget deficit into a surplus without degrading public safety or laying off employees. This accomplishment included using a combination of civilian staff and detention officers rather than deputies in some jail functions. Under my administration, the jail has been in full compliance with state standards and inmate deaths have declined. This is a true example of the taxpayers getting the best deal with the sheriff as the direct administrator of the jail.

“I am also mindful of Judge Emmett’s comment that no private detention company has run a jail system as big as ours, and of then-Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Adan Munoz’s comment that privatization of the jail is not advisable. Their comments also mirror those of sheriffs in other parts of the country who have seen how privatization experiments at county jails have actually cost communities more than when they were run by the sheriff.”

So there you have it. Obviously, this bears watching, and I will be very interested to see what report the purchasing and budget departments eventually make to the Court. In the meantime, I hope this helps shed a little light on what’s going on.

When will we have that special election in SD06?

Sylvia Garcia would like to know.

Senate District 6 candidate Sylvia Garcia, today called on Governor Rick Perry to set an election date to fill the senate district seat as soon as possible.

“This is a simple taxation without representation issue,” Garcia said. “The working families of our district, most of whom are Latino and African American, deserve to have their voices heard in Austin without delay.”

“I have one thing to say to Governor Perry,” Garcia continued, “call this election now. The families of Senate District 6 deserve a strong voice in Austin for the legislative session that starts in January of 2013.”

According to published reports by the Houston Chronicle and Texas Tribune, Perry can set the special election for District 6 anytime between Dec 15, 2012 and February 5, 2012.

“The next legislative session begins in less than 2 months,” said City Council Member Ed Gonzalez. The legislature will be making decisions that impact our city and the citizens of Senate District 6. That is why it is so important that this election happens as soon as possible — the families of our district don’t have time to waste.”

Robert Miller helpfully laid out the timeline shortly after the regular election.

Gov. Perry must conduct the state canvas for the November 6 election no earlier than November 21 and no later than December 6. Sec. 67.012. After the canvas, Gov. Perry must call a special election within 20 days to fill the vacancy in SD 6. Texas Constitution Article III, Section 13.

Because the vacancy occurs within 60 days of the convening of the 83rd Legislature, the special election is an expedited election. Sec. 203.013. An expedited election must be held on a Tuesday or Saturday between 21 and 45 days after the date the election is ordered.


The following is my calculation of the earliest and the latest date for this decisive runoff.

Earliest scenario: If the canvas occurs November 21 and the Governor issues a writ of election the same day, the special election could be held Saturday, December 15. The local canvas could occur December 26, and the runoff election could be set for January 8.

Latest scenario: If the canvas occurs December 6, the Governor could issue the writ of election on December 26. The election could be called for February 5. If the local canvas then occurs February 15, the Governor could wait until March 6 to order a March 30 runoff election.

Summary: The SD 6 special election could occur as soon as December 15 or as late as February 5. The runoff could occur as soon as January 8 or as late as March 30.

The state canvass has not yet occurred as far as I can tell, which isn’t too surprising given that the 22nd was Thanksgiving. I have not seen any announcement about when it will occur, and with Secretary of State Hope Andrade stepping down as of Friday, my money is on a late canvass. I seriously doubt we will have this election before February 5, as Robert documents above.

Demographic change in the Panhandle

What’s happening in other parts of Texas is happening in West Texas, too.

Whites no longer are the majority group in 17 counties in the Texas Panhandle/South Plains region, including Potter County, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. And based on current population growth rates, in at least four other counties, including Lubbock, non-Anglos could be in the majority by no later than the end of this decade.

The Census estimate showing nonwhite — mostly Hispanics — now in the majority in some of the most populated counties in the region did not surprise Amarillo City Commissioner Lilia Escajeda.

“I’ve seen it over the years and it’s growing here and all over the state,” said Escajeda, who lives in Randall County, the only one of the three most populated counties in the region still predominantly white.

“And what it means is that there are more opportunities,” she said. “We have a lot of new entrepreneurs who are opening new businesses in this part of the country.”


[T]he latest figures show that in eight counties — Castro, Deaf Smith, Garza, Hansford, Moore, Ochiltree, Parmer and Yoakum — immigration has fueled Hispanic population growth. In those counties, the percentage of foreign-born residents is higher than the state’s average of 16.1 percent, from 17.3 percent in Hansford to 31 percent in Garza.

In Deaf Smith County, 51 percent of the residents do not speak English at home; in Castro, Garza, Moore and Parmer counties, the percentage is just under 50 percent, considerably higher than the state average of 34.2 percent.

The high percentage of Hispanics also is more noticeable in rural counties that have lost population since the late 1950s — especially in Cochran, Hansford, Lynn and Terry.


Demographic growth also means challenges for the region and state, and none more important than education, Escajeda, Salinas and Shaw agreed.

“If we don’t succeed in educating our children, we will fail as a state,” said Escajeda.

That much is certainly true everywhere. We’re obviously a longer way away from this population shift having a significant effect on the politics of these counties, and given the time frame it’s impossible to say what that effect will ultimately look like, but it’s coming. Just to get a picture of the current electoral situation, here’s a look at the last three Presidential results in the counties named in this story:

County 04 Kerry 08 Obama 12 Obama ========================================== Castro 26.0% 31.4% 29.7% Cochran 22.4% 26.1% 27.9% Deaf Smith 21.4% 26.3% 28.8% Garza 18.0% 21.4% 17.7% Hansford 11.2% 11.4% 8.1% Lubbock 24.1% 31.3% 28.8% Lynn 24.6% 29.6% 25.0% Moore 17.9% 20.6% 19.3% Ochiltree 7.9% 7.8% 8.4% Parmer 14.0% 19.3% 20.7% Potter 25.8% 29.8% 26.9% Randall 16.2% 18.3% 15.2% Terry 20.0% 32.2% 28.6% Yoakum 14.4% 18.3% 19.2%

Still a ways away from being purple, let alone blue, but a teeny bit less red. Note that even in a year where Obama’s vote total declined overall and he lost over two percentage points statewide, he still improved his showing over 2008 in five of these counties, and improved over John Kerry in all but three of them. It’s a journey of a thousand miles, but whether we realize it or not the first step or two have been taken.

Precinct analysis: Metro

The first rule of precinct analysis, at least as I do it, is that you really can’t learn much by doing it on lopsided elections. The Metro referendum, which passed with 78% of the vote, is Exhibit A of this phenomenon. Here’s how the vote went in the State Rep districts for the Metro issue:

Dist Yes No =================== 126 34,957 8,158 127 31,750 9,040 128 20 16 129 19,439 5,282 130 41,183 9,568 131 25,236 6,641 132 35,052 7,901 133 50,285 12,438 134 56,041 17,463 135 32,347 6,943 137 15,754 3,743 138 30,159 7,607 139 29,604 9,391 140 13,908 3,685 141 19,494 5,368 142 10,900 3,128 143 6,965 2,159 144 1,684 531 145 14,668 4,689 146 31,446 8,524 147 32,900 11,061 148 25,130 9,061 149 27,060 5,999 150 39,138 9,333

HD128 is Baytown, and HD144 is mostly Pasadena, so that’s why those vote totals are as low as they are. If you prefer pictures to numbers, go look at Greg’s map, or at Max Beauregard‘s reports for a visual representation. No matter how you look at it, though, there’s not much to see. No hidden pockets of opposition, just across the board support.

As for what the election means, you can argue that the issue was complex and that people wouldn’t have voted for the referendum if they had really understood it. I agree there’s something to that, but I don’t believe it will get you anywhere to pursue that line of thinking. Instead, I offer two thoughts. One is that for all the grassroots energy that fed the anti-referendum movement, there was basically no opposition to the referendum among candidates or elected officials. I did get one press release a few days before the election about Rep. Sylvester Turner speaking at a pro-transit rally, but I never got anything after the event saying what had happened, and though I looked I never saw any press coverage of the event. Beyond that, as far as I could tell, there weren’t any other elected officials or candidates speaking out on this. Given that both supporters and opponents of the referendum were casting it as the end of light rail construction in Houston, this ought to be a wake-up call to transit advocates. Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia has said that he hopes to build broader support for Metro and its rail plans by boosting system ridership via the expanded bus service this referendum will bring, and other Board members are talking along similar lines. One good way to hold them to these promises down the line is to generate pressure from public officials, and the first step in that process is to engage them to get them on your side, and where needed support candidates for office who already support your position. It’s time to get back to basics and make rail transit and the reasons why it’s needed a regular part of the conversation. It can’t just be the same people talking about this – we need our elected officials out there talking up rail, and the more the better. This needs to be a top priority for transit advocates.

Two, David Crossley of Houston Tomorrow has on more than one occasion expressed the concern that the comparable rates of growth in Houston and Harris County will cause the Metro board to shift from one with a Houston-appointed majority to one with a non-Houston-appointed majority by 2018 or so. I would just simply note that there’s no reason why the Commissioners Court of today needs to be the same as the Commissioners Court of 2018, when it might get the chance to reshape the Metro board. Commissioner Jack Morman will have a tough fight for re-election in 2014. That same growth in the outlying areas of Harris County ought to make Commissioner Steve Radack at least somewhat more vulnerable in 2016. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Commissioners Court that believed in something other than just building more roads as a solution to transportation problems? It could happen if enough people work to make it happen. Just something to think about.

A family planning end run?

This is interesting.

Texas lawmakers have spent the past two years attacking family planning services in the state, cutting funds for programs that provide women with birth control and wellness exams. Now family planning advocates are fighting back.

A coalition of providers plans to bypass Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature and apply directly to the federal government for family planning funds. If the coalition wins the federal grant—called Title X (Title 10)—a slice of Texas’ family planning money would no longer go to the state health department—and would no longer be subject to the whims of the Legislature. Instead, the coalition, organized by Fran Hagerty of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, would distribute the money to family planning providers statewide, including perhaps Planned Parenthood, and restore services to tens of thousands of Texans.

Since 1982, the Department of State Health Services has received Title X grants in Texas, though any group can apply to the federal government for the money. The department then distributes the money, alongside cash from other federal and state grants, to providers delivering family planning and preventive care. The Title X grant is worth $14.5 million per year, part of the $111.5 million pot of money the state had to spend on family planning.


At $14.5 million per year, the Title X grant comprises only a small slice of Texas’ annual family planning budget. But it’s worth much more than its dollar value. That’s because Title X money comes with a confidentiality clause not always attached to other funding streams. This means that providers need only $1 from Title X to cast privacy protection over all their clients, especially teens who would otherwise need parental consent to access birth control.

Similarly, Title X recipients get a discount on pharmaceuticals. With this discount, clinics can buy drugs at half the wholesale cost. Again, just $1 of Title X casts this discounted rate over every drug purchased by the clinic. That often helps clinics prescribe the more effective, yet more expensive, types of birth control.

The protections afforded by Title X demonstrate how complex and delicate clinic funding arrangements are. Having it means that some providers, whose clinics teeter on the edge of financial viability, could continue operations. “When providers lost Title X funding, they lost much more than just the money,” Hagerty said. They also lost their patient confidentiality, discounted drugs and the more discretionary spending that Title X allows. Restoring those protections to providers is what Hagerty said gave her the impetus to take the project on.

There’s more, so go read it and when you’re done go back and read the earlier story about the devastating effect of the family planning cuts on Texas health providers. This isn’t a panacea, nor is it a guaranteed funding source going forward – among other things, as with any other government program it is subject to the whims of the prevailing political sentiments; I for one have a hard time believing this would have survived four years of Romney/Ryan budgeting intact – but if it can help the clinics that need it, it’s a good effort. We’ll see how it goes.

Student RFID

I have three things to say about this.

A Texas high school student is being suspended for refusing to wear a student ID card implanted with a radio-frequency identification chip.

Northside Independent School District in San Antonio began issuing the RFID-chip-laden student-body cards when the semester began in the fall. The ID badge has a bar code associated with a student’s Social Security number, and the RFID chip monitors pupils’ movements on campus, from when they arrive until when they leave.

Radio-frequency identification devices are a daily part of the electronic age — found in passports, and library and payment cards. Eventually they’re expected to replace bar-code labels on consumer goods. Now schools across the nation are slowly adopting them as well.

The suspended student, sophomore Andrea Hernandez, was notified by the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio that she won’t be able to continue attending John Jay High School unless she wears the badge around her neck, which she has been refusing to do. The district said the girl, who objects on privacy and religious grounds, beginning Monday would have to attend another high school in the district that does not yet employ the RFID tags.

The Rutherford Institute said it would go to court and try to nullify the district’s decision. The institute said that the district’s stated purpose for the program — to enhance their coffers — is “fundamentally disturbing.”

“There is something fundamentally disturbing about this school district’s insistence on steamrolling students into complying with programs that have nothing whatsoever to do with academic priorities and everything to do with fattening school coffers,” said John Whitehead, the institute’s president.

Like most state-financed schools, the district’s budget is tied to average daily attendance. If a student is not in his seat during morning roll call, the district doesn’t receive daily funding for that pupil because the school has no way of knowing for sure if the student is there.

But with the RFID tracking, students not at their desk but tracked on campus are counted as being in school that day, and the district receives its daily allotment for that student.

1. School districts have a strong incentive to ensure that their weighted average daily attendance (WADA) figures are as high as possible because that’s how their funding is determined. This is the system that the Legislature has set up. I’m not an expert in these matters so I can’t say whether this is the best way to dole out funds to schools and school districts or not, but it’s what we’ve got whether you like it or not, and especially in the current climate of budget cuts and funding levels being frozen since 2006, I hardly see how you can blame NISD for trying to ensure it’s getting all the resources it’s owed. I strongly object to the Rutherford Institute’s classification of this as NISD “enhancing its coffers”, as if there’s a CEO behind the scenes seeking to maximize his profits. The money NISD would lose out on for undercounting their attendance hurts their students; getting all the resources they are owed helps them. One can make the case that they’re simply fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility to local taxpayers, since funds they forfeit by not getting an accurate count of their WADA may need to be recouped by an increase in property taxes. If you don’t like the system, blame the Legislature for it, as only they can change it. NISD is just playing by the rules as they are written.

2. Attacking NISD’s policy on privacy grounds seems like a losing strategy to me, since it’s fairly well established that students have fewer rights than adults and that school administrators have a lot of leeway in dealing with students. If you find the idea of a school tracking the whereabouts of its students outrageous, all I can say is are you sure your boss isn’t keeping tabs on where you are right now? We’re sufficiently far down this rabbit hole that the only way we’ll be able to find our way back out is if someone has been tracking our movements. Like it or not, I don’t see how what NISD is doing is out of bounds. There’s a much bigger conversation that we need to have about all this, but the outcome of this case one way or the other isn’t going to have any effect on that.

3. Objecting to NISD’s policy on religious grounds, however, may be the golden ticket. I don’t know how that may play out in the courts, but I’ll bet that this issue rises to the point where some enterprising GOP member of the Legislature takes it up. I can already see the bill, and the press conference announcing the bill, from here. It’s just a matter of time.

So that’s where we stand now. A judge temporarily blocked Hernandez’s suspension on Wednesday pending further hearings this week, so stay tuned. For more on this story, see here or just google “Andrea Hernandez RFID”. For a typically thoughtful analysis from a religious perspective, read The Slacktivist.

Voter ID case will likely wait for SCOTUS, too

Texas Redistricting:

In a move not too surprising, the three-judge panel in the Texas voter ID case also has asked the parties to brief the question of whether the court should delay taking up questions about the constitutionality of section 5 of the Voting Rights Act given Supreme Court’s grant of cert. in Shelby County v. Holder.

The court gave the parties until November 29 to file position papers.  In the Texas case, Texas had been arguing that section 5 was unconstitutional at least as applied to the Texas statute if not in all cases and situations (the broader question being taken up by the Supreme Court and Texas’ alternative position).

The court’s show cause order can be found here.

In the mean time, DOJ and intervenors in the Texas voter ID case submitted their final briefs on the constitutionality question.  Links to the briefs can be found below:



See also the redistricting case. For this one, I think the argument to wait is much clearer.

Weekend link dump for November 25

“But what I learned from this experience is that if you’re a Christian — left or right, it doesn’t matter — and if your religious convictions lead you into political activism, do not bring Jesus into it unless you’re prepared to let him shape not only the causes you support, but the way you go about it — and above all, the way you treat your political adversaries.”

Mitt’s Monthly Newsletter. Because blogging wouldn’t be fancy enough for him.

More early voting is a good thing. A Constitutional amendment affirming the right to vote that cannot be arbitrarily abridged by scurrilous elected or appointed officials would be even better.

A “grand trail” of 60 Gromit statues are to grace the streets of Bristol for 10 weeks next summer.

Retail workers need predictable schedules.

“Hostess Brands is a microcosm of what’s wrong with America”.

But cheer up. We may get Mexican Twinkies after all is said and done.

Don’t believe that the GOP has changed until you actually see them change.

Beware health apps for your smartphone, they may be based on junk science.

“On January 12, [Mike] Trout and Andrew McCutchen will receive the Oscar Charleston Award, a distinction granted by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to the most valuable player in each league.”

“The dirty secret of NFL football, one that the league would like to ignore, is that ticket sales are declining at a startling rate and have been over the last several years. The TV ratings are through the roof, but ticket sales are down.”

Despite the whining of their crybaby CEO, Obamacare is better to Papa John’s than they deserve.

“Obama ran his campaign like a business, outsourcing specialized tasks like media buys to outside firms and keeping a tight rein on costs. Conversely, Romney ran his campaign like a millionaire’s personal fiefdom, figuring that his buddies could do the job as well as anyone else.”

What Miguel de la Torre says.

Eight ways President Obama can unilaterally implement much of his agenda.

“The bottom line is that this economy, at its root, is built on a web of scientific knowledge from physics to chemistry to biology. It’s impossible to just cherry pick out parts we don’t like.”

Another example of why outsourcing customer service is so often a lousy idea.

“Thanksgiving + Hostess bankruptcy = Twinkie-stuffed turkeys. It’s simple math, people.”

Where the term “Black Friday” came from.

It’s drug testing all the way down

Looks like the urinalysis industry in this state is going to get a big stimulus package next year, at least if the Republicans get their way.

As top state leaders push to drug-test some Texans seeking jobless benefits and financial assistance, critics suggest the initiative would single out the powerless and hurt their children.

It’s a battle that has been played out in other states – most prominently in Florida, where a drug-testing program for welfare applicants was stalled by a constitutional challenge saying it amounted to an unreasonable search.

Backers of Texas’ proposal cite its narrow scope, since a leading bill targeting welfare recipients would limit testing to applicants deemed high-risk for drug use. Those who failed the test and lost benefits could reapply in a year or, if they underwent drug treatment, six months.

“The reality is, no one wants to see any Texan using drugs,” said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. But he’s a critic of the proposal, contending the poor and jobless are being singled out “because of politics, and not because of reasonable, rational policy.”

“Whether you are receiving governmental assistance on welfare, whether you are a student receiving a Texas grant, whether you are an executive, a CEO, that’s up here asking for money from the Enterprise Fund – I don’t want to see anybody using drugs inappropriately. Now the question for me is why are we singling out this population?” he asked.

I think we all know the answer to that question. This is a no-brainer for Rick Perry et al – it plays well to the cheap seats, it sounds like something that would save money, and who’s going to stand against them on behalf of drug users? You can’t ask for much more than that.

Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director for the National Employment Law Project, said federal legislation allows testing only for claimants terminated from their most recent employment due to unlawful use of controlled substances, or those for whom suitable work is only available in an occupation that regularly drug tests.

The U.S. Department of Labor is developing regulations to allow states to implement these provisions. It appears the first would be a tough one in Texas, which restricts benefits to those who have lost a job through no fault of their own.

Andy Hogue, spokesman for Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken, who supports such drug testing, said it’s estimated the cost of testing for jobless applications would be about $12.1 million over five years. He said it’s projected the stricter requirements would save the Unemployment Insurance program in Texas $20.7 million in that period.

I seriously doubt we’ll see the kind of savings that Andy Hogue projects. I admit I have no evidence to back up this assertion, I just have no reason to trust such a self-serving projection. If this gets passed by the Lege and doesn’t get blocked by the courts, I’ll be very interested to see how that projection pans out. Bear in mind, of course, that four million bucks a year is chump change in an $80 billion budget – it’s not much more than Rick Perry spends on travel and security. Again, it’s all about priorities being out of whack.

RIP, Larry Hagman

Farewell, JR.

Larry Hagman

J.R. Ewing was a business cheat, faithless husband and bottomless well of corruption. Yet with his sparkling grin, Larry Hagman masterfully created the charmingly loathsome oil baron — and coaxed forth a Texas-size gusher of ratings — on television’s long-running and hugely successful nighttime soap, “Dallas.”

Although he first gained fame as nice guy Major Tony Nelson on the fluffy 1965-70 NBC comedy “I Dream of Jeannie,” Hagman earned his greatest stardom with J.R. The CBS serial drama about the Ewing family and those in their orbit aired from April 1978 to May 1991, and broke viewing records with its “Who shot J.R.?” 1980 cliffhanger that left unclear if Hagman’s character was dead.

The actor, who returned as J.R. in a new edition of “Dallas” this year, had a long history of health problems and died Friday due to complications from his battle with cancer, his family said.

“Larry was back in his beloved hometown of Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved the most. Larry’s family and closest friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday,” the family said in a statement that was provided to The Associated Press by Warner Bros., producer of the show.

The 81-year-old actor was surrounded by friends and family before he passed peacefully, “just as he’d wished for,” the statement said.

I was never into “Dallas” back in the day, though I admit that the “Who shot JR?” story line drew me in, and I watched the episode that revealed the answer like everyone else in America. It was hard to watch Larry Hagman do anything and not get the impression that he was just having more fun doing what he did than most of the rest of us. I’m sure there will be many great stories told about him in the next few days. Harold Cook, who didn’t know Hagman but knows people who did, has more, and you really owe it to yourself to read Mark Evanier’s Larry Hagman story. Rest in peace, Larry Hagman.

Cracker Jack’d

Buy me some peanuts and caffeinated Cracker Jacks

Coming soon to a store near you: Cracker Jack’D, a new twist on the popcorn candy that offers Power Bites with as much caffeine in every serving as a cup of coffee. That could mean kids could get an overdose of caffeine if they consume more than one serving at a time, warns the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit nutrition activist group based in Washington, DC.

The addition of caffeine to a growing number of snack foods comes at a time when warning bells have sounded over the hazards of caffeinated energy drinks. US Food and Drug Administration officials told the New York Times on Wednesday that they’ve received reports of 13 deaths linked to 5-Hour Energy shots over the past four years. And the agency is also investigating heart attacks attributed to Monster energy drink, including the death of a 14-year-old Maryland teen.

An excessive amount of caffeine can cause heart palipitations, increased blood pressure, nausea, dizziness, and insomnia — and kids may be particularly sensitive to the chemical’s effects.

The nutrition activist group fired off a protest letter on Wednesday to manufacturer Frito Lay and to the FDA. “Whether or not they are advertised directly to children, it is certain that young children will consume Cracker Jack’d…and sometimes consume it to excess,” wrote the Center’s director Michael Jacobson.

Besides the energy drink craze, caffeine has also been added recently to foods you’d never suspect like the low-calorie beverage Crystal Light, Sport Beans jelly beans, and MiO Liquid Water Enhancer, a flavoring that’s squirted into water.


Frito-Lay spokesperson Chris Kuechenmeister pointed out in an emailed statement that the new Cracker Jack’D Power Bites line have “two flavors that will contain coffee, a natural source of caffeine.” The company expects each 2-ounce serving to contain about 70 milligrams of caffeine, the FDA limit for a 12-ounce serving of cola.

“Cracker Jack’D is a product line specifically developed for adult consumers and will not be marketed to children,” wrote Kuechenmeister. “The package design and appearance are wholly different from Cracker Jack to ensure there is no confusion among consumers.”

Yes, I’m sure no children will ever consume this product. At the rate we’re going, it’s a matter of what isn’t caffeinated any more, not what is. Via Jezebel.

Saturday video break: Mr. Tambourine Man

Song #42 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Mr. Tambourine Man”, originally by Bob Dylan and covered by The Byrds. Here’s the original:

I’ve lost track of how many songs I’m familiar with that I didn’t know were Dylan covers. I should probably just assume any song whose provenance I don’t know was originally done by Dylan. Here’s the cover:

I’m hard pressed to think of a Dylan song that was popularized by another artist but for which the Dylan original version is better known. Any suggestions?

What next for Ron Kirk?

He’ll be moving on after President Obama’s second inauguration.

Ron Kirk

We’re hearing that U.S. Trade Representative and former two-term Dallas mayor Ron Kirk has let the White House know that he intends to leave Washington and head back to Dallas.

The U.S. Trade Representative, a cabinet-rank position, is the point person for coordinating and implementing U.S. trade policy and for conducting international trade negotiations with individual countries and multilateral institutions.


Kirk has been mentioned as a choice to fill the now-vacant post of Secretary of Commerce — and it was not clear whether he might be willing to stay if offered that job.

The trade rep position is highly coveted in part because it has a focused mission and a small — around 200 or so — and highly professional staff.

If Kirk doesn’t get that Commerce position but he still has a taste for DC, may I suggest a rematch with Cornyn in 2014? The Dems will need someone to fill that slot, and Kirk should be in a good position to be able to raise the funds he’d need to compete. Heck, maybe he can convince Obama’s political team to bring some of that fabled GOTV operation down here, to see how it might work under less than ideal circumstances. I can dream, can’t I? Link via Greg.

More on the economic effect of casinos

I’m just noting this for the record, since I am sure that gambling expansion will come up again in The Lege this spring.

Melissa Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland, released a literature review in 2005 summarizing work on gambling done to date. A study by Maryland’s William Evans and Julie Topoleski that focused on Indian casinos found that they created a significant number of jobs. The ratio of jobs available to adults increased, on average, by 5 percent. This in turn lead to a 2 percent decline in mortality, as residents’ economic conditions improved.

But the casinos also lead to a plethora of social ills, including increased substance abuse, mental illness and suicide, violent crime, auto theft and larceny, and bankruptcy. The latter three all increased by 10 percent in communities that allowed gambling.

Other work backs up the crime finding. The University of Georgia’s Earl Grinols, Baylor’s David Mustard, and the University of Illinois’ Cynthia Dilley found that 8 percent of crime in counties with casinos was attributable to their presence, a crime increase that cost residents, on average, $65 a year.

And the bankruptcy finding has been replicated as well. The St. Louis Fed’s Thomas Garrett and Mark Nichols found that Mississippi riverboat gambling increases bankruptcies not just in Mississippi, but in counties outside the state where many residents gamble in Mississippi. The effect was largest in neighboring states, with the Mississippi casinos responsible with a 0.24 percentage point increase in bankruptcy filings. Interestingly, other casinos — such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and so forth — didn’t have statistically significant effects on other areas’ bankruptcy rates.

Unsurprisingly, legalized gambling also exacerbates problems with gambling addictions. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that having a casino within 50 miles doubles one’s likelihood to become a problem gambler. That suggests that the new DC-adjacent Maryland casino could create major addiction problems here in the District.

The evidence on casino gambling’s distributional impact is much weaker than that concerning state lotteries, but there is extensive evidence that the latter amounts to a regressive tax, given that lottery ticket purchasers are disproportionately poor. But some evidence — admittedly from industry groups — suggests that casino-goers are richer than the average American, so the story could be quite different than with lotteries.

But as with the liquor industry, much if not most of the gambling industry’s revenue come from addicts. Grinols estimates that 52 percent of revenue at the typical casino comes from problem gamblers, while an Ontario study put the figure at 35 percent and a Louisiana one at 42 percent. So even if gambling takes more money from the middle-class than the poor, it largely takes that money from middle-class people who aren’t exactly rationally willing to spend it.

Casinos aren’t even a particularly good source of tax revenue. Kearney notes that a number of studies have found that Indian casinos cannibalize business at nearby restaurants and bars, and in so doing actually reduce state tax revenue.

Some of these studies are several years old, so it is certainly possible that things have changed. I’m sure the casinos and racetracks will have their own data to add to the debate as well. Given that there’s already a lot of casino-like gambling going on in Texas, it may be that we’re already suffering most of the ill effects we’d see with casinos without getting any of the benefits. Like I said, I’m just noting this for future reference when the subject comes up again.

Friday random ten: Black Friday

Taking a short respite from the girls’ name songs to note the event of the day.

1. Black Water – Doobie Brothers
2. Reverend Mr. Black – Kingston Trio
3. Long Black Veil – Dave Matthews
4. Black Horse and the Cherry Tree – KT Tunstall
5. Blue On Black – Kenny Wayne Shepherd
6. Back In Black – Rice MOB
7. Black Crows – honeyhoney
8. Pot Kettle Black – Tilly and the Wall
9. Black Widow – Michelle Shocked
10. Black Coffee In Bed – Squeeze

We’re about getting the Christmas decorations started on the day after Thanksgiving – the girls like to be prompt about these things – so this is not a day of shopping for us. Which is fine by me. And whatever your normal habits are, today is a great day to not shop at Wal-Mart. Back to the decorations for me…

The drought is back

Bad news, y’all.

The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, released this morning, shows that more than three-quarters of Texas is now in at least a “moderate” drought, and nearly half the state is in a “severe” or worse drought.

Now to be clear, conditions are still far better than 13 months ago, when the great 2011 drought peaked. At the time 100 percent of Texas was in a moderate drought, 99 percent in a severe drought, and 88 percent in an exceptional drought.

But conditions have gotten quite a bit worse since May, when the drought was at bay for about half of Texas, including the Houston metro area. Now the majority of greater Houston has returned to drought conditions.

Although November isn’t over, it’s possible Texas could end with its driest October and November period since 1950, says Victor Murphy, a climate specialist with the Southern Region Headquarters of the National Weather Service.

Statewide average rainfall for Texas in November 2012 should be about 0.5 inches versus a normal of nearly 2 inches, he said. That would make the October/November time period total about 1.3 to 1.4 inches, or about 30 percent of the state’s normal of 4.60 inches.

More from the print edition.

The current October-November period may end up being drier than the same period in 2010, when 1.85 inches of rain fell. That launched the state in the great drought of 2011.

“This is not a good way to be moving into winter,” Murphy said.

Also of concern is the latest winter outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which finds that without an El Niño pattern developing in the Pacific Ocean as expected, Texas can no longer look for a wetter-than-normal winter.

The greater Houston region, NOAA says, has an equal chance of above- or below-normal rainfall, and a 40 percent chance of having significantly above-normal temperatures this winter.

Last year’s drought primarily affected Texas and Oklahoma, but this year it has spread to much of the midwestern United States.

More than 60 percent of the contiguous 48 states are gripped by some level of drought, erasing two weeks of improvement, the Drought Monitor reported, with widespread agricultural effects.

We got lucky at the beginning of the year, when winter and spring were far rainier than we had any right to expect. We better hope we get at least some of that luck this winter and spring. Now would be a good time for us all to start conserving water again.


Nothing like a little holiday week controversy.

A blistering report released Tuesday by the Texas attorney general’s office outlines a long list of problems and dysfunctions in the past management of the Alamo by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

In a 38-page report to the Legislature, the attorney general’s office accuses the DRT of misappropriation of state funds; failure to care for the shrine; and improper claims of ownership of “historic artifacts.”

The report points out problems have been mostly with the organization’s leadership, and not the more than 7,000 DRT members who devote “countless volunteer hours” to preservation and education.

“It should be noted that the misconduct detailed in this report is largely attributable to the DRT’s leadership — and that conduct should not detract from the individual DRT members who tirelessly and selflessly served the Alamo for over a century,” the report states.


The document, posted on the attorney general’s website late Tuesday, summarizes findings from an 18-month investigation of the DRT’s Alamo operations that began in 2010. During that time, the Legislature passed a law transferring Alamo custodianship from the DRT to the Texas General Land Office.

The Daughters, who had been the shrine’s custodian since 1905, remain at the Alamo, providing daily operations under a state contract set to expire in mid-2013. Because the Legislature removed the DRT as custodian, the AG’s office “agreed to refrain from pursuing legal action against the DRT in court,” the report says.

The OAG report is here, and a statement from the DRT about the report is here. I have no dog in this fight, which has been going on since 2010 when now-former DRT member Sarah Reveley first accused the Daughters of mismanaging the Alamo. Texas Monthly had a story on it at the time that you’ll either need to be a subscriber or an owner of the print issue to read; other coverage found via Google is here, here, here, here, here, and here. I just hope that this report leads to a conclusion where everyone is satisfied with the way the Alamo is being managed and maintained.

Is immigration reform likely to happen now?

With President Obama’s victory powered in part by overwhelming support from Latino voters, and a dawning if grudging recognition from the GOP that they can’t continue to alienate this growing segment of the electorate, some kind of deal on immigration reform seems increasingly likely. I still have my doubts, however.

Prominent voices in both parties say immigration was the issue that pushed Hispanic voters away from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and that coming to the middle on the sticky subject is important to winning their support.

“It’s not the main issue with Latinos, but it is the core issue that allows a candidate to either be friendly or unfriendly to the Latino population as a whole,” said Lionel Sosa, a San Antonio Republican consultant who has worked on a number of high-profile campaigns, including Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid and the campaigns of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Latinos’ top issues tend to be things like education, jobs and opportunity, Sosa said.

“If you have a strident, tough immigration policy that seems unfriendly, then it’s very hard to get Latinos to listen to you about anything else,” he said. “If you’re saying that young Latinos who lived here most of their lives … cannot stay, then you are saying, ‘Latino, I don’t really want you around.’”

Obama’s decision to grant temporary work permits to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants in the country illegally, a program announced this summer called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, helped make up for his broken promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Sosa said.

That position was bolstered this week when Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group released a poll that found 77 percent of Latino voters support deferred action.


The election results apparently have emboldened Democrats. On Wednesday, Obama predicted an immigration overhaul will happen in his second term.

Not all Republicans are convinced. In a statement this week, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, downplayed the importance of immigration to Hispanic voters.

“The issues of primary importance to Hispanic voters are the economy and jobs,” he said. “The Republican Party needs to make inroads with Hispanic voters by emphasizing our shared interests in job creation and economic growth.

“Hispanics should be treated as the patriotic, values-oriented, and family-minded Americans that they are.”

And Lord knows, if there’s anyone who knows how to treat Hispanics respectfully it’s Lamar Smith, am I right? The reason to be skeptical of anything happening on this front is because there’s still a lot of Lamar Smiths in the GOP, and they’re not interesting in making a deal. Sure, I could be wrong about this, but I’ll believe there’s a reasonable compromised to be reached when I see it.

The good news for Republicans come in the form of rising Hispanic stars like Texas’ Sen.-elect Ted Cruz, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, and George P. Bush, a nephew of former President George W. Bush who’s said to be considering a run for land commissioner, Sosa said.

Cruz “is our best hope for turning it around, and it’s really primarily up to him in Texas,” Sosa said. “If he carries the banner for fair immigration policies, he could be the leader.”

Um, Lionel? Cruz advocates building a border wall and opposes the DREAM Act, any pathway to citizenship, and the President’s deferred action policy. I hate to tell you this, Lionel, but on matters of immigration Ted Cruz is the problem, not the solution.

There is now a Republican alternative to the DREAM Act out there, but it falls short of the original in some key areas.

According to the Daily Caller, the version would include several steps including applying first for a W-1 visa status, which would allow undocumented youth to attend college or serve in the military. Afterwards, they would be eligible to apply for a four-year non-immigrant work visa dubbed the W-2 visa.

In the next step, they would apply for a permanent visa known as W-3 visa status. As a final resolution, after an undeclared number of years, citizenship “could follow.”

For some DREAM Act advocates, a version that doesn’t offer a pathway to citizenship is a deal breaker.

“As undocumented youth, we will not take anything less than a direct path to citizenship. This is the country we call home and we will assert this position as we move forward,” according to a statement released by Cesar Vargas of the DREAM Action Coalition.

The alternative version would allow undocumented youth to apply if they entered the United States before the age of 14 and no older than 28. It would also require them to attend college or join the military, show good moral standing and keep a felony-free criminal record. That includes no more than one misdemeanor with jail time of more than 30 days.

Yet, Vargas noted in his statement several glitches. He noted that for Dreamers who are interested in serving the country, “the W-1 status does not currently let someone join the military voluntarily, so unless they also amend 10 U.S.C § 504 to allow such persons to enlist, the ACHIEVE Act won’t help much.”

Without a pathway to citizenship, the problem isn’t solved. A bill that leaves the status of millions of people unresolved is not a solution. But at least now there’s a starting point for negotiation, which is more than we’ve had the past couple of years.

This issue should be front and center until a real reform bill gets passed. It doesn’t matter to me if people like Lamar Smith and Ted Cruz see the light and become part of the solution or keep digging their heels in and get run over by reality, as long as the problem gets solved in a humane, compassionate, and forward-thinking fashion. And here’s a reminder from the Spanish-language media that there’s still more to this issue than what’s currently on the table.

A Nov. 8 editorial in Philadelphia’s Spanish-language newspaper Al Día, for example, looks at the limits of the Obama administration’s achievements, from health care to deferred action.

Al Día’s post-election editorial questions “why undocumented immigrants have been wholly precluded from purchasing — with their own money — coverage from insurers in your plan … Further, we wonder why undocumented young adults who are granted deferred action will not be given the ability to purchase health insurance from ACA pools either.”

Have you ever wondered why the Affordable Care Act will still leave millions of people without access to health insurance? It’s because undocumented immigrants and their children were deliberately left out of it. I really don’t expect that problem to be solved at this time, but until it is we can’t truly say we have accomplished immigration reform.

Where to eat if no one is cooking in your house

I figure most people are eating at home, or the home of a family member or friend, but if you’re not and you’re in Houston, has a list of restaurants that are open today. Some pretty fancy places in that list, actually, so if you were going to cook but had a catastrophic failure of some kind, you can still eat pretty well. Hope you and yours have a happy Thanksgiving no matter what your dining situation is. I’ll be back tomorrow.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 19

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving as it brings you this week’s roundup.