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November 15th, 2012:

Precinct analysis: Obama v Obama

So as mentioned before I now have a draft canvass for Harris County. There’s a lot of data to go through, and I’ll probably publish most of what I find after the holiday. One thing I’d like to share for now is a comparison of how President Obama did in the various redrawn districts versus how he was predicted to do based on 2008 results in the precincts that make up these districts. In the table below, reading from left to right, “Romney” and “Obama” give the two-party percentage of each candidate’s vote from 2012, while “McCain” and “Obama” do the same for 2008. Third party votes and undervotes are ignored, this is just a straight up comparison of the ratio of GOP votes to Obama votes.

Dist Romney Obama McCain Obama ======================================== CD02 63.93% 36.07% 62.32% 37.68% CD07 60.87% 39.13% 59.22% 40.78% CD18 23.06% 76.94% 23.02% 76.98% CD29 33.40% 66.60% 37.32% 62.68% SBOE6 60.67% 39.33% 58.88% 41.12% SD06 32.86% 67.14% 36.08% 63.92% SD07 67.64% 32.36% 65.32% 34.68% SD15 40.26% 59.74% 39.68% 60.32% HD126 62.85% 37.15% 62.32% 37.68% HD127 70.07% 29.93% 68.32% 31.68% HD128 73.15% 26.85% 70.42% 29.58% HD129 65.59% 34.41% 62.88% 37.12% HD130 76.92% 23.08% 74.50% 26.50% HD131 15.80% 84.20% 18.00% 82.00% HD132 59.71% 40.29% 60.12% 39.88% HD133 68.58% 31.42% 65.37% 34.63% HD134 57.51% 42.49% 53.02% 46.98% HD135 59.63% 40.37% 61.01% 38.99% HD137 34.75% 65.25% 37.14% 62.86% HD138 60.13% 39.87% 59.82% 40.18% HD139 23.79% 76.21% 24.10% 75.90% HD140 29.26% 70.74% 33.36% 66.64% HD141 12.13% 87.87% 14.40% 85.60% HD142 22.12% 77.88% 21.41% 78.59% HD143 32.18% 67.82% 35.45% 64.55% HD144 48.53% 51.47% 51.56% 48.44% HD145 38.87% 61.13% 42.36% 57.64% HD146 20.26% 79.74% 21.43% 78.57% HD147 20.62% 79.38% 19.07% 80.93% HD148 42.08% 57.92% 41.88% 58.12% HD149 42.28% 57.72% 44.12% 55.88% HD150 69.39% 30.61% 68.09% 31.91%

In case you’re wondering, the 2008 data comes from the FTP directory of the Texas Legislative Council – click on the plan in question (note: C = Congress; E = Education, as in State Board Of; H = House; S = Senate), then Reports, then your preferred format, then finally on the link that has “RED206_2008G_Statewide” in it. The districts I analyzed are ones that are entirely contained within Harris County. There’s no point in comparing, say, the results in SD17 or HD36 to the TLC reports, since these districts run into other counties and thus would render such a comparison moot.

The first thing that should strike you is that the map-drawers knew what they were doing. There’s not a lot of variation between what was predicted based on 2008 results and what actually happened in 2012. Romney generally did a little better than McCain in Republican districts. The exceptions are HDs 132 and 135 where he underperformed by a little, and HD134 where he had his biggest gain over McCain. Obama generally did a little better in the Democratic districts, with his biggest gains in the Latino districts. I have not gotten far enough in the analysis to determine how Obama did compared to other countywide Democrats in these districts – as we know, he lagged behind other Dems in Latino districts in 2008, but what we see here is consistent with what we saw in heavily Latino counties around the state. I’ll come back to this issue later after I’ve filled in more of the blanks.

While I haven’t yet completed filling in the relevant numbers for other candidates on the countywide ballot, I can compare Obama to the relevant Democratic candidate for each of these districts. Here’s how that looks, omitting candidates such as Rep. Gene Green who were not challenged by a Republican:

Dist Candidate Votes Pct ================================= CD02 Daugherty 80,262 33.49% CD02 Obama 88,451 36.07% CD07 Cargas 85,253 37.44% CD07 Obama 92,128 39.13% CD18 Lee 145,893 77.11% CD18 Obama 149,775 76.94% SBOE6 Jensen 207,697 40.58% SBOE6 Obama 215,053 39.33% SD06 Gallegos 93,136 70.94% SD06 Obama 89,584 67.14% SD07 Texas 90,606 31.59% SD07 Obama 93,774 32.36% SD15 Whitmire 135,595 62.34% SD15 Obama 131,838 59.74% HD127 Pogue 19,389 29.77% HD127 Obama 19,660 29.93% HD134 Johnson 36,366 45.66% HD134 Obama 34,561 42.49% HD137 Wu 15,789 65.72% HD137 Obama 15,899 65.25% HD144 Perez 12,425 53.47% HD144 Obama 12,281 51.47% HD149 Vo 25,967 61.12% HD149 Obama 24,770 57.72% HD150 Neal 19,308 30.30% HD150 Obama 19,668 30.61%

It shouldn’t be a surprise to see longtime officials such as Sens. John Whitmire and the late Mario Gallegos overperform. Voters tend to be happier with their own representatives than with whatever legislative body those representatives belong to. I figure good constituent service accounts for a lot of that. In fairness, I note that Republicans Dan Patrick, Ted Poe, and John Culberson also appear to have beaten the spread, something Culberson decidedly did not do in 2006 and 2008.

I noted Traci Jensen’s challenge before the election, and unfortunately she was not able to eat into that 100,000 vote deficit that she faced. I think a 2008 level of turnout on the Democratic side would have added a couple thousand more votes to her total and pushed her into the “overperformer” group. Her two-party percentage was a bit higher than Obama’s despite her lower raw vote number due to larger influence of third party candidates in her race and probably more undervoting on the Republican side. The SBOE, like the Senate, has everyone run in the first post-redistricting election, then they draw lots to see who goes again in two years and who gets to wait for four. I hope the latter is the case for SBOE6, and I hope that 20+ years of unopposed Republicans someone continues Jensen’s work in the next election.

Ann Johnson in HD134 also faced an uphill climb, which turned out to be steeper than we thought. She did do what she needed to do – she collected some 2000 crossover votes in outperforming Obama by three points – it just wasn’t enough. Unlike many legislative districts, HD134 does not get noticeably bluer in presidential years – if anything, based on what we saw from 2006 and 2008, it gets a little redder – so it’s likely the case that 2014 at least won’t be any harder than this year was. It’s all about working to change people’s minds, which may be easier after another legislative session. We’ll see about that. Johnson ran a strong race, the wall was just too high for her. Mary Ann Perez also did very well running in a district that turned out to be a little more friendly than we originally expected. The boost Obama got from Latino voters likely helped, but she went above and beyond that. If the district isn’t redrawn by the San Antonio court, Perez will surely face a strong challenge in 2014, but she’s already proven she can swim against the tide. As for Gene Wu in HD137, there’s nothing I can say that Greg hasn’t already said, so go read him.

I do have data about the County Commissioner precincts, but this post is long enough. I’ll get to that and to other matters in subsequent entries. Let me know what you think about this.

Speeding tickets and vehicle registration

I confess, I’m puzzled by this.

Municipal Court Presiding Judge Barbara Hartle has a proposal on Wednesday’s City Council agenda to sign an agreement with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles that would have the state refuse to issue vehicle registrations to people who have outstanding traffic fines.

As proposed by Hartle, by investing about $20,000 a year into compiling lists of scofflaws and coordinating with the state, the city could reap a windfall of $432,000 a year in higher collections.

Two years ago, a similar proposal involving red-light camera runners was rebuffed by the county. City officials had proposed registration holds on red-light runners caught on camera. It required the buy-in of the county tax assessor-collector, who issues license plates and stickers. Leo Vasquez, then the tax collector, agreed to the deal and made the pitch to Commissioners Court. Because the county gets a cut of the fee when it issues a registration and would, essentially, be forfeiting revenue for cracking down on city scofflaws, Commissioners Court rejected the deal.

This time, the tax collector who would be in charge of placing the holds sits on the council, and he does not like Hartle’s plan. District E Councilman Mike Sullivan was elected tax assessor-collector this month and will leave the council in January when he is sworn in at the county.

“In my mind, it’s nothing more than an attempt to have the county collect fees and fines that the city should collect on their own,” Sullivan said. “It looks like the mayor wants to push this over to the county as another layer of enforcement to collect money for the city.”

Sullivan said he opposes the arrangement as he intends to fulfill campaign promises to shorten the lines at the tax office windows. In addition, he said he is worried that holds could mistakenly be placed on people who do not owe fines.

I understood the county not wanting to help with enforcing the collection of red light camera fines. This I have a harder time with. There’s no policy dispute about the legitimacy of the fines being imposed as there was with red light cameras. I appreciate Sullivan’s concerns about possibly ensnaring someone who doesn’t owe a fine, but surely this is a less intrusive approach than involving a collection agency or filing a lawsuit, which would be the options left to the city. This would also be by far the least expensive way to collect outstanding fines, which makes it the most efficient use of taxpayer money. I don’t get the reluctance to get involved. I note that the last time this issue came up, the ultimate decision rested with Commissioners Court, who overruled then-Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez on red light camera fine enforcement. Tax Assessor-Elect Sullivan’s disapproval may therefore not be the final word on this.

UPDATE: Today’s story, from after Council approved the plan on a 14-1 vote, adds some more detail and shows a possible path forward.

Council’s action essentially means scofflaws will not be able to renew their registrations on the DMV website. Instead, they will have to go to the window at the tax office, where tax assessor Don Sumners said he will continue to issue registrations even if the state prints the word “scofflaw” on their renewal forms.

“I don’t think they (the city) could pay us enough for the services it would cause.We don’t have enough people as it is,” Sumners said.

[…]

Sullivan said he also believes the city should not offload its collections operations onto county government. He left the door open to a deal after he is sworn in as tax assessor in January, though, if City Attorney David Feldman is the city’s broker.

“He’s apolitical,” Sullivan said. “This administration is nothing but political and has not been honest and direct and transparent with me as a council member. However, Mr. Feldman has always been fair with me in all of my dealings.”

So there you have it.

Buses and trains, not buses or trains

I have a lot of emotion about this, but I’m still working through how to express it.

Metropolitan Transit Authority officials say the agency is on firmer financial footing than it has been in years. They plan to add shelters at 100 bus stops in the next year, replace aging buses with larger and smaller vehicles in some cases and rethink how the Houston area is served by bus.

The refocus is a shift for the agency, as rail has dominated the political discussion since a 2003 vote for transit improvements that included five light rail lines, three of which are under construction now.

“What got focused on and what got done was the rail component,” said George Greanias, Metro’s president and CEO. “That has not always worked to the benefit of the system. … We’ve not focused as much as we should on buses.”

Metro board members and local officials, notably Houston Mayor Annise Parker, lauded the chance to correct years of underinvestment in the bus system.

“They began paring back on the bus system, dropping off the lower ridership routes, rerouting the buses, saving money, saving money so they could do rail,” Parker said Wednesday.

[…]

Around the same time Metro placed the referendum in front of voters, officials also created a strategic planning committee. One of the committee’s main tasks will be to determine how Metro’s 1,300-square-mile area can best be served by buses, including how to tie them to the rail lines, said Metro board member Christof Spieler.

“Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if it is steel wheels or rubber wheels, it is all transit and it needs to work for the rider,” Spieler said. “What I would like to see is a better job of putting the whole network together.”

Some of that paring back of the bus system was necessary and correct. The main advantage to buses as transit is their lack of infrastructure, which thus enables routes to be redrawn at will and as needed to cope with shifting populations. Metro did a good job of identifying low-performing bus routes, but it hasn’t done nearly enough to improve the bus system and attract new riders to it. Part of their thinking behind this referendum and the “no incremental sales tax revenue on rail” deal, as expressed by Metro Chair Gilbert Garcia in the interview he and Spieler did with me, is that by working to get Metro’s overall numbers up they can build more public approval of the system as a whole, which will benefit future rail expansion. It feels a bit like a bank shot, but the bus system does have unaddressed needs, and as I said before taking care of those needs will remove a key pillar of the anti-rail contingent’s argument against more rail. I still think a big part of the problem here is that those who are the most vociferously anti-rail are not equivalently pro-bus, or pro-transit in general. The focus in this region has always been on roads uber alles, and getting any change in that focus has been hard fought and very incremental. Still, I continue to believe that there is a lot of potential for moving the region’s transportation and mobility forward if the stakeholders can agree to work together for once. Metro needs to maintain its commitment to fulfilling the 2003 referendum and building the University Line, and we all need to tell our elected officials, loudly and often, that we expect them to work with Metro to make that happen. Nothing about this referendum should change that.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 12

The Texas Progressive Alliance congratulates President Obama on his re-election as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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