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November 20th, 2012:

Precinct data: County Commissioner precincts

I wish they called County Commissioner precincts by some other name, because it’s confusing to refer to them as such when one is discussing canvass data, which is data from the thousand-plus voting precincts in Harris County. But that’s the name we’re stuck with, so make sure the clutch on your context-shifter is in good shape. Before I get to the data, I’ve been looking for a formal story on the end of the county redistricting trial, but this Houston Politics post from Friday appears to be all I’m going to get.

Commissioners Court interim map

The court’s first Hispanic member, Democrat Sylvia Garcia, represented Precinct 2 for two terms before losing to Republican Jack Morman in 2010. She took the stand Thursday and testified about discrimination against Latinos. The plaintiffs have to prove that point (and several others) in order to get Precinct 2 declared a protected minority-opportunity district under the Voting Rights Act, which likely would produce a more favorable Precinct 2 for a Hispanic candidate than the map the county adopted.

“I think discrimination still exists. It just may be more subtle, it’s more creative, more clever, but it’s there,” Garcia said, adding that deficits Latinos face in education, housing and health care, and that local and state governments dissuade Latinos from participating in the political process.

[…]

The plaintiffs’ attorney Chad Dunn pressed [Morman’s chief of staff Dave] Walden on why, during the redistricting process, he had requested information about the politics, prevalence of straight-ticket voting, ethnic makeup and voter turnout in various voting precincts being considered for inclusion in Precinct 2. The data showed the precinct would have a higher share of white voters, and a higher share of Republican votes.

Dunn asked Walden if removing Latinos from a close district makes it harder for Latinos to elect a “candidate of their choice” (language from the Voting Rights Act).

“I really believe this: It depends on factors in addition to their ethnicity before I could give you a hard and fast judgment,” Walden said. “But going by ethnicity alone, you could probably say that.”

Dunn asked whether Walden knew that by making those changes Morman’s electoral advantage would increase. “True,” Walden said. Dunn asked whether Walden had an interest in making the district more Republican. “Absolutely,” he said.

The defendants have stressed that these gripes are about politics (a permissible factor in redistricting), not discrimination. They say the plaintiffs must “negate partisanship” to prove their claims.

The trial, or at least the testimony, wrapped on Friday. No clue when a ruling may come. Be that as it may, let’s take a look at the data. With three of the four Commissioners on the ballot, it was easy to sort out the data from all four precincts. I’ve divided the presentation below into two groups, one for the five statewide candidates, and one for the five non-judicial countywide candidates.

CCP Obama Sadler Henry Petty Hampton Tot votes ====================================================== 1 76.74% 75.90% 75.79% 77.57% 77.24% 293,101 2 48.63% 47.59% 48.40% 50.62% 49.78% 210,222 3 40.62% 39.93% 37.97% 40.66% 40.92% 317,331 4 36.99% 36.21% 35.15% 37.58% 37.20% 349,526 CCP Garcia Ryan Trautman Bennett Oliver ============================================== 1 79.05% 77.66% 77.62% 76.68% 74.35% 2 54.21% 50.75% 50.83% 49.21% 47.43% 3 44.83% 42.21% 41.70% 39.71% 37.37% 4 40.99% 38.22% 38.21% 36.59% 34.70%

The “Total votes” figure is simply the Romney plus Obama total for each precinct. I put that in for some perspective. Adrian Garcia had the largest margin of victory in Morman’s Precinct 2, defeating Louis Guthrie there by over 17,000 votes. Keith Hampton missed carrying Precinct 2 by 868 votes. It’s fair to say that in a Presidential year, the map used for this election makes Precinct 2 highly competitive. How things may play out in a non-Presidential year under a possibly different map is anyone’s guess at this time. For what it’s worth, I did the computations for all 34 District, County, and Circuit Court of Appeals races as well, and found that Democrats won 13 and lost 21. Of possible interest is the list of the top five vote-getters in Precinct 2 among the judicial candidates:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================================= David Mendoza 104,404 51.28% Julia Maldonado 104,389 51.08% Ruben Guerrero 103,474 50.80% Alexandra Smoots-Hogan 103,378 51.01% Michael Gomez 103,240 50.64%

I’m going to step out on a limb here and suggest that maybe it would be wise for the Democrats to run a Latino/Latina candidate here in two years. Just a thought, you know? Oh, hell, I’ll quit being coy: There’s no doubt in my mind that Sylvia Garcia would be the strongest candidate against Morman, if she chose to run. That would require her to lose in the special election in SD06, then want to get right back in the saddle again (likely with a depleted campaign treasury) and have a crack at a rematch with Morman. I have absolutely no idea how probable that scenario is.

Anyway, the other point of interest is Precinct 3, which as I recall was made slightly more Republican after swapping some turf with Precinct 1 in order to boost the latter’s overall population. That plus the decline in Democratic turnout from 2008 meant that Adrian Garcia lost about two and a half points from that year. On the plus side, this is the beginning of the decade, not the end of it, so if demographic change continues as it has been, I’d think there’s a decent chance of Precinct 3 being competitive in 2016. As always, this assumes a Democrat who can raise a few bucks steps up to run. It’s never too early to start recruiting.

If eliminating straight ticket voting is the solution, then what’s the problem?

With the opening day of bill-filing season comes the recurrence of a not-so-old chestnut that like many other bills is a solution in search of a problem.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said he wants to end straight-ticket voting for judges because the political winds often determine the fate of a judicial candidate instead of qualifications.

“Most voters have no idea of who they are voting for, for judges,” Patrick said.

Patricia Kilday Hart calls Sen. Patrick’s bill a “step in the right direction”. Sorry, but I can’t agree with that. I’ll stipulate that most voters don’t know who they’re voting for in judicial races. Unless you’re a lawyer or otherwise have regular business with the legal system, how can you possibly evaluate judges and wannabe judges? The problem I have with Sen. Patrick’s solution is that it does nothing to add to the publicly-available body of knowledge about judicial candidates. If anything, it subtracts from it. Partisan identity is a blunt instrument to be sure, but it does at least tell you something about Judge Johnson or Attorney/Candidate Smith. How is taking away that bit of information going to help the average voter know who they’re voting for?

As I see it there are more pressing problems with the way we elect judges in this state, and Sen. Patrick’s bill does nothing to address them. As I’ve said before, big players like the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and especially Texans for Lawsuit Reform, of which the state Supreme Court is a wholly owned subsidiary, will not be constrained in any way by Sen. Patrick’s proposal, or by non-partisan judicial elections, or by retention elections in an appoint-and-retain system. For that matter, the ability of a crank with a grievance against a sitting judge to finance an opponent for that judge would also be left unmolested. If the concern is about the effect of money on our judicial elections – and Lord knows, there needs to be concern about this – then making judicial elections publicly financed is likely to be the optimal solution, assuming they can withstand the inevitable lawsuit and a suitable funding mechanism can be found. If you think that electing judges at all is the problem, I can sympathize with that, but then you need to propose a system that can handle the appointment of nearly 2000 non-municipal judges statewide that isn’t likely to become a patronage mill. Again, I agree that our system of partisan election of judges is problematic. It’s just that all of the proposed solutions I’ve seen so far do nothing to actually address those problems.

Maryland to join the Big Ten

The dominoes have resumed falling.

Maryland is joining the Big Ten, leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference in a shocker of a move in the world of conference realignment that was driven by the school’s budget woes.

The announcement came Monday at a news conference with school President Wallace D. Loh, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and athletic director Kevin Anderson.

“The membership of the Big Ten enables us to guarantee the financial sustainability of Maryland athletics for a long, long, long time,” Loh said.

Loh added that Maryland athletics has been living “paycheck to paycheck.” The school had eliminated seven sports programs earlier this year.

“The director and I are absolutely committed to begin the process to reinstate some of the teams we had to terminate,” Loh said.

Maryland will become the southernmost member of the Big Ten member starting in 2014.

“Really in the last year it’s become so obvious that major conferences are expanding outside of their regions,” Delany told the AP in an interview before Maryland’s news conference on campus in College Park. “You have multiple major conferences all in multiple regions.

“It seemed to us that there was a paradigm shift occurring around us. And therefore the question is how do you respond to that in a way that stay true to yourself, but is also only responsive not to the world you want but the world that you live in.”

And Rutgers will apparently join them, meaning the Big Ten will technically be the Big Fourteen. Connecticut is now reportedly going to join the ACC to fill Maryland’s slot, meaning that the Big East will at the very least have to redo its divisions before a single game has been played. Did you think we were done with all the conference-hopping? Yeah, me neither. Now we wait to see who’s next. Again.

The helium shortage gets real

It could affect Thanksgiving.

“We’ve secured helium to meet some of our parade needs, and we are working to secure more,” Kim Stoilis, president and chief executive officer of the Houston Festival Foundation, said in an email Wednesday. “We’re excited about this holiday tradition and our parade director assures me that all of our balloons will be flying high on Thanksgiving morning.”

But the full impact of the helium shortage on the parade remains unclear. Parade organizers declined to specify how much more helium is needed or whether the shortage would translate into fewer floats along this year’s parade route.

“Due to the severe shortage of helium and our continuing negotiations to procure the resource we’d rather not discuss specifics,” Stoilis stated in the email.

[…]

The Bureau of Land Management, which maintains much of the nation’s helium supply, held about 43 billion cubic feet (bcf) of helium in 1960, but today holds only 13 bcf because the nation’s supply has been privatized, said Joseph Peterson, assistant field manager of field resources at the bureau’s Amarillo office.

Under the 1996 Helium Privatization Act, the land management agency has been charged with selling off the remaining supply of helium on federal lands as private industry and overseas production plants take over the role of helium extraction, he said.

But today, Peterson said, the worldwide supply of helium has not kept pace with the demand.

“The past few years (the shortage) has been crucial because everyone wants the helium for their parades,” he said. “In the past there have been a couple of suppliers that were able to meet that demand. There is still some helium available but there may not be a lot of balloons in this year’s parades (nationwide).”

I wrote about this last year. It’s all fun and games until the parade floats start being affected.