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November 27th, 2012:

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.