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January 2nd, 2013:

White Ds and non-white Rs

A few points to make about this.

White Democrats are an increasingly vanishing species in the Texas Legislature, where there will be only 10 when the new legislative session starts in early January.

The face of the Legislature has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past 25 years, and the state’s rapidly changing demographics are expected to guarantee even more profound changes over the next quarter century.

Twenty years ago, the Legislature included 83 white Democrats. Today, the white Democratic lawmaker is a rarity in the 181-member Legislature.

Vanishing rural, white Democrats account for most of the changes. There were 56 rural, white Democrats sitting in the 1987-88 Texas Legislature. Today, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, (Zavala County) is the only rural white Democrat remaining. He did not return phone calls for comment.

The Chron needs to check its math. By my count, there will 11 Anglo Dems sworn in to the Lege in 2013:

Rep. Craig Eiland – HD23
Rep. Donna Howard – HD48
Rep. Elliott Naishtat – HD49
Rep. Mark Strama – HD50
Rep. Joe Pickett – HD79
Rep. Tracy King – HD80
Rep. Lon Burnam – HD90
Rep. Chris Turner – HD101

Sen. Wendy Davis – SD10
Sen. Kirk Watson – SD14
Sen. John Whitmire – SD15

I suspect Rep. Chris Turner, who was elected in 2008 then wiped out in 2010 before coming back in a newly-drawn district this year, is the one they overlooked. Note that in the three biggest counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar), there are no Anglo Dems in the House and only one in the Senate. After the 2008 election, Harris had Reps. Scott Hochberg, Ellen Cohen, and Kristi Thibaut; Dallas had Reps. Robert Miklos, Carol Kent, Kirk England, and Allen Vaught; and Bexar had Rep. David Leibowitz. All except Hochberg were defeated in the 2010 massacre, and Hochberg retired after the 2011 session.

You really can’t overstate the effect of the 2010 election. As I said before, the loss of all those rural Dems means that the road back to parity for Democrats is that much steeper. It also significantly de-honkified the existing party. The rural Dems were for the most part dead men walking whether they realized it or not, but losing them all at once rather than over the course of several cycles radically changed things. The Dems have a number of possible pickup opportunities for 2014, some of which may elect Anglo Dems, but even in a wildly optimistic scenario, you’re looking at a tough slog to get to 60, and that’s a long way from parity, even farther away than they were after the 2002 election. Beyond that, you’re either waiting for demographic change in some of the suburban districts, or hoping for some kind of external game-changer. It’s not a pretty picture, at least in the short term.

The long term is a different story, even if the writing on the wall is in a six-point font:

For years, Republicans made a high priority of targeting white Democrats for defeat, via election when they could win, or redistricting when they couldn’t, contended former Texas Democratic Party executive director Harold Cook.

“The irony is that in their efforts to limit Democrats to minority real estate through redistricting, they also separated themselves from the fastest growing demography. In 20 years they may well see that they wrote their own political obituary,” Cook said.

Twenty years is an awfully long time, and I think we can all agree that way too many things can affect current trajectories to have any confidence in them. That said, while there are 11 Anglo Dems out of 67 total Dems in the Lege (16 percent of the total), there are all of six non-Anglo Republicans out of 114 total, which is five percent. (The six are, by my count, Reps. JM Lozano, Larry Gonzales, Jason Villalba, James White, Stefani Carter, and Angie Chen Button.) That’s down from eight last session – nine if you count Dee Margo – as Reps. Aliseda, Garza, Pena, and Torres departed but only Villalba and the turncoat Lozano arrived. To Cook’s point, Aliseda, Pena, and Torres were all adversely affected by redistricting – Aliseda and Pena (another turncoat) declined to run because they didn’t have a winnable district, and Torres ran for Senate after being paired with Connie Scott, who wound up losing by 15 points. Only Garza had a shot at re-election, and his district was a major point of contention in the redistricting litigation. Barring a 2010-style election in 2014, the Rs don’t have many obvious targets in Latino-heavy districts. You can’t assume the current trajectory will continue, but as long as it does this is the way it’s going.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, I also overlooked an incoming freshman, Rep. Scott Turner in the new HD33, who is a non-white Republican, thus upping that total to seven. My apologies for the oversight.

Soto’s parting gift on textbooks

Outgoing SBOE member Michael Soto will be missed.

Michael Soto

Soto, the Trinity University English professor who was knocked off in this year’s Democratic primary by the little-known Marisa Perez, spent much of his two years on the board grappling with frustration over the state’s cumbersome textbook mandates.

So, in his final months in office, he quietly rewrote the board’s rules governing the adoption of instructional materials.

Those changes, coupled with a 2011 state law that let some oxygen into the room for school district curriculum planners, could mean that textbook publishers will no longer view Texas as the rich, crazy uncle they need but wish they could avoid.

“It’s a whole new ballgame,” Soto says.

[…]

“I wanted to encourage school districts to think creatively about how they used their instructional materials,” Soto says. “And I wanted publishers to have significantly more freedom to be creative and still remain a part of the state adoption process.”

Ultimately, that meant more deleting than writing; scratching nonsensical rules such as the one that mandated textbook publishers to mention a required element of the state curriculum three times.

“I would ask my colleagues, ‘Why are we specifying how many times something has to be mentioned?’ They said, ‘Three times is better than one, because students will encounter it more and be more likely to remember it,’” Soto says. “So I said, ‘By that logic, why not require it 50 times?’”

Before Soto’s rule changes, if a school wanted to buy a teacher’s manual from a publisher, it was obligated to also shell out money for textbooks. Soto eliminated that requirement, enabling publishers to tailor their products more precisely to the needs of individual districts.

Soto also threw out the board’s onerous old mandate that all electronic instructional materials be platform-neutral, automatically ruling out innovative material in Android, iPad, Kindle, Windows or Mac formats.

The result of this work, made possible by the passage of SB6 in 2011, is that textbook publishers can now bypass the state approval process and sell their wares directly to school districts, which ought to reduce the need for them to kowtow to whatever creationist/alternate history whims the SBOE might be indulging. That’s a big deal. I still don’t know what motivated Marisa Perez to run for this office – as far as I know, she’s still never clearly articulated a reason for her decision – but I sure hope she can come close to living up to the standard Soto set while on the board, because they need all the help they can get. Thanks for your service, Michael Soto.

Boise bails on Big East

By my count, the Big East has now lost more members than it ever had.

Boise State will remain a member of the Mountain West Conference and will not join the Big East in 2013.

The Broncos’ decision, confirmed in news releases by the the school and Mountain West on Monday, is the latest crippling blow to the Big East Conference, which has had 14 schools announce they were leaving the league in the past two years.

“As I’ve stated many times, I have had the utmost trust that the university would make the right decision in what is best for Bronco football and all our sports at Boise State,” football coach Chris Petersen said in the statement. “This innovative proposal to get football the maximum exposure on national television will be a tremendous boost to our program as we continue to grow the Bronco brand.

The Broncos will remain a Mountain West member in all sports instead of joining the Big East next year as a football-only member and the Big West in all other sports.

“The football programs in the Mountain West Conference continue to get stronger and we look forward to the challenge and competing in a strong league for many years to come,” Peterson said.

Without Boise State plus the announcement that the league’s seven Catholic basketball schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova — are leaving the league, the Big East’s future membership remains in flux.

A source with direct knowledge said there is a tentative in-person meeting of the seven presidents of the departing Catholic Big East schools set for Friday. Discussing exit fees and when to form the new conference are high on the agenda, as well as designating a point person.

[…]

The Big East also could lose another member, as San Diego State may return to the Mountain West.

With Boise State remaining in the Mountain West, the Aztecs’ Big East contract allows them to withdraw from the Big East without paying an exit fee if there is no other Big East member located west of the Rocky Mountains.

A Mountain West conference source with knowledge of the situation said San Diego State wants back in the Mountain West, but the league is holding up the process as it decides whether there is a better fit than the Aztecs and if there is a school that can deliver more value.

The source said if SDSU returns to the Mountain West, the Aztecs would have to come back on the conference’s terms.

USA Today thinks that SDSU is likely to wind up back in the MWC, though both stories explore the possibility of the MWC either finding an alternative to SDSU or expanding further; both mention Big-East-for-now members UH and SMU as possible targets for such expansion. I think that unless the MWC is in line for a renewed TV deal – and by the way, Boise State will make out like a bandit on the TV terms they negotiated to return to the MWC – expansion would just mean cutting their existing pie into smaller pieces, and as such I have my doubts. For sure, UH and SMU and all the other Big Easties had better be thinking about their own futures now. They can try one more time to patch the Big East ship, they can come crawling back to C-USA (which would have to eject some newly-recruited replacements to take them back), or they can form their own conference out of Big East refugees and whoever else they can poach. I’m guessing this is probably not the position they thought they’d be in as 2013 dawned. Mean Green Cougar Red has more.

Your other one-minute real estate update

Basically, real estate good in Houston.

Inventory of homes for sale has fallen to a level not seen in more than a decade. Builders are trying to keep up with a growing demand from buyers relocating here for jobs. Realtors are going to new lengths to find properties for their buyer clients.

A letter from one realty firm that recently landed in a colleague’s mailbox at home read: “If you currently own a home and are considering selling, now is the time to act!” It wasn’t the first letter like that he had gotten. “Inventory of all kinds of housing inventory is in short supply,” said David Jarvis, the Houston division president of Metrostudy, a consulting and research firm for the home building industry.

Online real estate firm Trulia recently named Houston as the top healthiest housing market going into 2013.

The ranking singled out large metros with strong job growth, low vacancy rates and low foreclosure inventory.

[…]

Apartment development was one of the biggest real estate stories in 2012 with developers announcing a raft of new projects, many inside the 610 Loop.

Many of these complexes have already broken ground, and others will get started in the coming year.

High-rise cranes are multiplying, too.

At 40 stories, the city’s tallest apartment building should be well under way next year at the corner of Weslayan and West Alabama.

More office towers are on the rise, and some predict a big increase in development in 2013.

Consider that a bookend to the retail update. These stories are generally not specific about “city of Houston” versus “greater Houston area”, but we know that a lot of this particular construction is happening inside the Loop. Among other things, that suggests that the city’s budget outlook will continue to get better as well. It will be interesting to see what Mayor Parker’s budget for the next cycle looks like. What a difference a couple of years makes.