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December 3rd, 2012:

Can you believe it’s been ten years?

Where were YOU when it all began?

Ten years (and one week) ago, four defeated Democratic candidates for the State House filed a lawsuit against the Texas Association of Business, claiming that TAB funneled illegal corporate contributions into state legislative races in the 2002 election. As you can see from what I wrote at the time – yes, I was blogging that long ago – I didn’t think it was likely that anything would come of this. Boy, was I wrong about that. This litigation started a chain of events that eventually led to a Travis County DA investigation of Tom DeLay and his arrest and conviction, and also to his appearance on Dancing with the Stars. Amazingly, the story is not over, and may not be over any time soon. DeLay is of course appealing his conviction, and he still has the Court of Criminal Appeals to plead to if he doesn’t win this round. His cronies Jim Ellis and John Colyandro took pleas in recent months after a similar line of appeal failed to get their indictments quashed. Their plea deals include a get-out-of-probation-free clause in the event that the infamous Citizens United ruling winds up mooting the Texas law that led to all their prosecutions. I thought about all this back when Ellis copped his plea, and put a note on my calendar to commemorate the anniversary, which I didn’t get to in time because I kind of suck at that sort of thing, but what does another week mean in this saga? I might want to create a reminder for the 20th anniversary of the original lawsuit, because it’s possible there could still be unfinished business by then. Anyway, take a moment and marvel at the wonder of it all. Where were you when it all began?

UPDATE: Just to be clear, DeLay made his memorable appearance on Dancing With The Stars prior to his trial and conviction. I have changed the wording in that sentence to clarify.

Getting out the vote in Bexar County

Stace pointed me to this Express News story about the Bexar County Democratic Party’s ground game for the November election.

Many factors influence the outcome of an election, and precise analysis is not always available.

But putting $600,000 into a get-out-the-vote effort can’t hurt.

Bexar County Democrats’ big victories in this month’s election surprised many political junkies. On election night, local observers were caught off guard when Democratic candidates fared well in the early vote, which previously has been dominated by Republicans. Democrats usually lose the early vote and gain ground on Election Day.

[…]

Trial lawyer and über Democrat Mikal Watts financed the effort this year, making it the most lavishly funded GOTV campaign ever mounted through [the Vote Texas PAC]. Watts had contributed $500,000 by the time the final pre-election campaign report was filed, and [Democratic operative Tom] Daniels said Watts gave another $100,000 in the final days of the campaign.

The operation circumvented the Bexar County Democratic Party headquarters and chairman, an approach pioneered by Daniels and Lukin Gilliland Jr. in the 1990s.

Adelante Strategy Group partners Christian Archer and Cuauhtémoc “Temo” Figueroa organized the effort on the ground. Notably, Figueroa was the National Latino Vote Director for the 2008 Obama Presidential Campaign. And he ran a 2010 grass-roots effort in Nevada for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which became the model for the Bexar County program.

Voter contact began late last summer. The targets were 125,000 “soft Democrats” who voted in the 2008 Democratic primary but aren’t consistent Democratic voters.

Figueroa directed a team of 50 workers that went door-to-door for months. Phone banks also were used to push voters to cast early ballots.

Archer said more than 60,000 of the targeted voters cast ballots early.

“The idea is that now we’ve got a plan of attack, a way to win across the entire county,” Archer said.

I’m always interested in hearing stories like these, and I’m always interested in doing objective comparisons where I can. So here’s what the 2012 vote in Bexar County looked like versus the 2008 vote.

2008 2012 ===================================== Obama votes 275,023 264,856 Obama Pct 52.22% 51.46% Senate votes 264,969 256,629 Senate Pct 51.61% 50.46% RRC votes 259,698 244,016 RRC Pct 52.01% 48.74% Straight D 155,389 175,652 Supreme 1 246,637 261,297 Supreme 2 259,888 Supreme 3 271,228 CCA 1 267,182 250,486 CCA 2 261,312

The “Senate” numbers refer to Rick Noriega for 2008 and Paul Sadler for 2012; the “RRC” numbers refer to Mark Thompson in 2008 and Dale Henry in 2012; and the “Supreme” and “CCA” numbers refer to the contested Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals races for each year. So I suppose when I read this that I expected vote totals and percentages to improve over 2008, but as you can see that didn’t happen. However, perhaps that’s too tough a standard to apply here. The Democratic vote totals in the Presidential and Senate races declined between 6 and 7 percent from 2008 statewide, but only declined between 3 and 4 percent in Bexar County. (Mitt Romney got about 4000 fewer votes than John McCain, too, for what it’s worth.) In addition, Democratic candidates won 10 of 11 District Court races versus 8 of 11 in 2008 (two Republicans ran unopposed in 2008), five out of six Democratic candidates for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals carried Bexar County, and Dems held onto the office of Tax Assessor, which was open due to Sylvia Romo’s decision to run for Congress. They did lose the Sheriff’s race, but the incumbent Sheriff had some baggage and had to win a primary runoff, so I think they get a pass on that one.

In any event, the question to ask is what would have happened in the absence of this particular effort, and that’s a question I can’t answer. Of interest is the bit about how they bypassed the BCDP, which just goes to how dysfunctional things have been in Bexar recently. So I’d like to hear from folks in San Antonio about this. What’s your take on this story?

Have I mentioned the that drought is back?

I hate to say it, but it is.

A dry winter that’s on track to making the record books has sent portions of Texas, including Houston and Fort Worth, back into severe drought, raising concerns about wildfires and the health of wheat crops and tree farms.

September and November could be the driest of those months since 1950 and among the top five driest on record, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said. And not much more rain is expected this winter or spring since the El Niño pattern meteorologists had counted on for some moisture fizzled out.

[…]

“Normally … the ground is taking up a lot of moisture and the temperatures are cool enough for the ground to stay moist for most of the winter,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “But … it simply hasn’t rained much in the past couple of months, so things are as dry.”

As a result, reservoirs are not refilling, and some are dropping, which is unusual for winter in Texas, Nielsen-Gammon added.

How dry was November? This dry.

In the year of Austin’s last rain-less November — 1897 —the Civil War was a recent enough memory that the University of Texas was forced to defend itself over claims that “northern professors” were “teaching heresies.”

Following an investigation, the regents announced “there has not been taught in the University anything objectionable to southern people” and, other things being equal, they confirmed that they opted for teachers who were “Texas men first and southern men next.”

One hundred and fifteen years later, in the latest sign of a seemingly unshakable drought, not one drop of rain was recorded at Camp Mabry during the November just ended.

Only three times — in 1871, 1894, and 1897 — has zero rain been recorded during November at the Austin site since record-keeping began in 1856.

Nearly three inches fall in a typical November; this year, nothing. But thanks to storms the first half of the year, 2012’s precipitation is still outpacing the average rainfall.

The drought, which just months ago was seemingly broken by all those rains, is slowly reasserting itself in Central Texas.

The good news is that Central Texas, at least, is still a lot better off than it was two years ago. The bad news is that the next three months are forecast to have below average rainfall. One wonders if a second session with drought stories abounding will be sufficient to spur the Legislature into action. I’m not holding my breath. SciGuy has more.

Help Metro figure out the bike and transit thing

Your public service opportunity of the day:

METRO and the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) are seeking input from bicyclists on the use of public transit. Want to join? You must meet the following criteria:

  • Already integrate biking and public transit
  • Bike but not currently using public transportation
  • Use public transit but not with a bike

Focus group dates are Wednesday, Dec. 5 from noon to 1:30 p.m. and Thursday, Dec. 6, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The METRO Bike and Ride Access and Implementation Plan will define links between the bicycle and transit networks in the METRO service area so more people can easily use both bikes and buses or trains to get around.

You must RSVP by calling Patricia Lawhorn at 832-681-2523, or email bikeandride@h-gac.com. Once you RSVP, you’ll be given the downtown location of the meetings.

I presume they mean you must meet one of those criteria listed, since I think it’s logically impossible to meet all three. Be that as it may, if this is up your alley get in touch and help them out.