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January 3rd, 2013:

Precinct analysis: Third parties revisited

Politico has a question.

Is Austin’s Travis County the nation’s Libertarian Party stronghold?

The co-founders of a Libertarian political action committee based there make that case, arguing that the Texas locale is the “most Libertarian large county in America.”

Wes Benedict and Arthur DiBianca of Libertarian Booster PAC note that 31 Libertarian candidates were on the Travis County ballot this year, more than any other county in America. Among the other stats they cite:

  • Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson won 2.7% there, his highest percentage nationwide for large counties outside his home state of New Mexico.
  • Four Libertarians got over 40% of the vote for the portion of their district within Travis County
  • The current chairman of the national party, Geoffrey Neale, lives in Travis County, and 2004 Libertarian presidential nominee Michael Badnarik had previously run for office as a Libertarian in Travis County, and his presidential campaign headquarters were located in Travis County.

Their argument makes some sense – certainly there’s a strong libertarian bent in tech-heavy communities like Travis County.

We reviewed this before, and indeed Travis was the best county in the state for Johnson. It was also the second-Greenest county in the state, so I think it’s more a matter of iconoclasm than Libertarianism. For the record, those four Libertarians with over 40% of the vote were the candidate in CD17, plus three statewide judicial candidates. All were the sole opponents to Republicans, and I say that’s more about anti-Republicanism than pro-Libertarianism. Besides, as we’ve also seen, Libertarian Railroad Commissioner candidate Jaime Perez did better than that in several Latino-heavy counties, winning a majority of the vote in Maverick and Webb even though he also had a Green opponent. The simple fact is that in areas that are dominated by one party, Ls and Gs serve as the default option in races where that party isn’t represented. This doesn’t detract from the claim that Travis County has a large number of people willing to push the L button – relatively speaking, anyway – just that one needs to be aware of the qualifications.

Reading that story made me decide to go back to the Harris County precinct data to see where the Lib and Green friendly areas were. I broke this down into three sets of races, since obviously not every race featured an L and/or a G. The first set is the top of the ticket, the Presidential race and the Senate race. Here’s how the L and G candidates did in those races in each State Rep district:

Dist Johnson Stein J Pct S Pct Myers Collins M Pct C Pct ================================================================ 126 531 160 0.92% 0.28% 903 424 1.58% 0.74% 127 587 208 0.88% 0.31% 977 491 1.48% 0.74% 128 450 129 0.80% 0.23% 791 325 1.43% 0.59% 129 781 284 1.21% 0.44% 1,216 582 1.90% 0.91% 130 693 199 0.99% 0.29% 1,143 480 1.65% 0.69% 131 196 93 0.45% 0.21% 384 297 0.89% 0.69% 132 549 151 1.03% 0.28% 908 405 1.72% 0.77% 133 815 241 1.12% 0.33% 1,187 561 1.65% 0.78% 134 1,114 436 1.34% 0.53% 1,697 898 2.08% 1.10% 135 548 162 1.01% 0.30% 881 447 1.63% 0.83% 137 289 113 1.17% 0.46% 486 322 2.01% 1.33% 138 540 161 1.17% 0.35% 795 403 1.73% 0.88% 139 260 132 0.51% 0.26% 513 392 1.01% 0.77% 140 152 66 0.64% 0.28% 223 215 0.96% 0.92% 141 142 56 0.37% 0.15% 282 169 0.74% 0.45% 142 166 93 0.40% 0.22% 352 271 0.85% 0.66% 143 189 104 0.62% 0.34% 336 304 1.11% 1.01% 144 238 90 0.98% 0.37% 371 241 1.55% 1.01% 145 273 161 0.92% 0.54% 481 342 1.65% 1.17% 146 376 190 0.74% 0.38% 624 438 1.25% 0.88% 147 583 304 1.06% 0.56% 944 685 1.75% 1.27% 148 640 282 1.62% 0.71% 947 553 2.43% 1.42% 149 347 131 0.80% 0.30% 594 358 1.40% 0.84% 150 598 157 0.92% 0.24% 976 478 1.51% 0.74%

The percentages here are calculated from the four-candidate totals. For comparison purposes, Libertarian Gary Johnson had 0.93% overall in Harris County, and Green Jill Stein had 0.35%; in the Senate races, John Jay Myers had 1.54% and David Collins had 0.86%. Everyone who had HD148 as the most third-party-friendly district in Harris County, come forward and collect your winnings. You would have guessed HD134, am I right? That district isn’t as Montrose-y as it used to be, which I suspect is the reason for its runnerup status. At the other end of the scale, note how third-party-resistant the African-American districts were – all but HD147 were well below the countywide levels of L and G support. Republican districts in general were also third-party-averse, with only HDs 134 and 129 overperforming for them. This is what you should expect for Presidential and Senate races – as the highest-profile races, and the ones that tend to have the fewest undervotes, people are going to stick with their home teams unless they’re crossing over for a specific reason. Once we get past these races, however, it’s a different story. There were two other statewide races that had an R, a D, an L, and a G – the Railroad Commissioner race that featured Christi Craddick, Dale Henry, Vivekananda (Vik) Wall, and Chris Kennedy; and the Supreme Court race between Nathan Hecht, Michele Petty, Mark Ash, and Jim Chisholm. Here’s how that played out for the L and G candidates.

Dist Wall Kennedy W Pct K Pct Ash Chisholm A Pct C Pct ================================================================ 126 951 758 1.69% 1.35% 1,240 530 2.22% 0.95% 127 1,060 922 1.63% 1.42% 1,438 620 2.22% 0.96% 128 785 757 1.44% 1.39% 1,117 512 2.05% 0.94% 129 1,387 1,174 2.21% 1.87% 1,677 727 2.69% 1.17% 130 1,183 861 1.74% 1.26% 1,668 607 2.46% 0.89% 131 354 550 0.83% 1.28% 452 298 1.06% 0.70% 132 906 751 1.73% 1.44% 1,207 495 2.32% 0.95% 133 1,307 1,036 1.85% 1.47% 1,674 676 2.40% 0.97% 134 1,937 1,784 2.46% 2.27% 2,373 973 3.04% 1.24% 135 964 724 1.81% 1.36% 1,187 473 2.25% 0.90% 137 494 525 2.07% 2.20% 578 317 2.44% 1.34% 138 884 748 1.96% 1.66% 1,082 490 2.42% 1.09% 139 518 744 1.03% 1.47% 676 527 1.34% 1.05% 140 213 447 0.92% 1.94% 318 307 1.38% 1.34% 141 250 362 0.66% 0.96% 332 253 0.88% 0.67% 142 347 405 0.85% 0.99% 442 297 1.08% 0.73% 143 287 611 0.96% 2.05% 448 419 1.51% 1.42% 144 361 556 1.53% 2.35% 502 345 2.13% 1.46% 145 501 795 1.74% 2.77% 690 515 2.41% 1.80% 146 626 810 1.27% 1.65% 748 433 1.53% 0.88% 147 1,022 1,197 1.92% 2.25% 1,229 719 2.32% 1.36% 148 941 1,319 2.47% 3.47% 1,319 798 3.49% 2.11% 149 607 637 1.44% 1.51% 725 353 1.74% 0.85% 150 1,093 904 1.71% 1.42% 1,475 613 2.32% 0.97%

These results just fascinate me. The total number of L and G votes in each race was nearly the same – 38,476 in the RRC race, 36,993 in the Supreme Court race – but the distribution was completely different. Wall (19,036 for 1.65%) and Kennedy (19,440 for 1.68%) basically tied, while Ash (24,665 for 2.14%) doubled up Chisholm (12.328 for 1.07%). Look in each district, and you can basically see some number of people who voted for Kennedy in one race voting for Ash in the other? You may wonder why this is. It’s possible that Christi Craddick was more acceptable, and Dale Henry less so, to the “swing” third-party voters that otherwise vote R and D, with the reverse being true for Nathan Hecht and Michele Petty. There is something to that – Henry is on the verge of morphing into Gene Kelly, while Nathan Hecht has ethical baggage and nearly foisted Harriet Miers onto an unsuspecting US Supreme Court. The total number of voters involved here is tiny enough to include the possibility that they’re sophisticated enough to make such judgments. Personally, I think it’s more likely that we’re looking at roughly the same voters in each race, and that people picked Chris Kennedy over Vik Wall as their “none of the above” choice because Wall had a funny-sounding name. What do you think?

At the county level there were no four-way races, but there was a Green candidate running for Sheriff (Remington Alessi) and a Libertarian candidate running for Tax Assessor (Jesse Hopson). Here’s how they did in their respective races.

Dist Alessi A Pct Hopson H Pct =================================== 126 866 1.54% 1,291 2.30% 127 1,180 1.82% 1,632 2.51% 128 851 1.55% 1,156 2.12% 129 1,428 2.27% 1,866 2.98% 130 1,027 1.50% 1,695 2.50% 131 603 1.41% 534 1.25% 132 903 1.73% 1,294 2.49% 133 1,317 1.88% 1,804 2.58% 134 1,952 2.49% 2,458 3.15% 135 894 1.68% 1,279 2.42% 137 622 2.61% 695 2.93% 138 868 1.92% 1,225 2.73% 139 801 1.58% 844 1.68% 140 300 1.28% 357 1.55% 141 373 0.99% 366 0.97% 142 478 1.16% 497 1.21% 143 450 1.49% 488 1.64% 144 435 1.83% 524 2.22% 145 697 2.40% 777 2.71% 146 927 1.89% 895 1.83% 147 1,383 2.60% 1,369 2.58% 148 1,226 3.19% 1,437 3.79% 149 671 1.60% 834 1.99% 150 1,070 1.68% 1,547 2.44%

These are two different races, so Alessi and Hopson’s numbers aren’t directly comparable, but it’s still interesting to see them side by side. I take this as a data point in favor of the hypothesis that Libertarian candidates tend to draw support from Republicans; based on these numbers, they do so in somewhat greater quantity than Greens do from Dems. I wouldn’t draw too broad a conclusion from this sample – there was a lot of money in the Sheriff’s race, and that tends to minimize third party support. Then again, Alessi did actually campaign – if Hopson did, it was invisible to me – and there was some criticism of Sheriff Garcia from the left, so one might expect him to do better than a generic “none of the above” candidate. Make of it what you will.

I think that about runs me out of ideas for precinct analyses. One never knows where inspiration may strike, though, so don’t quote me on that. And there’s always next year, which is to say this year now. Until then, or until I come up with another angle at which to examine the data, we’ll call it a wrap on 2012.

Finally a focus on water

The good news is that the 2013 Lege does seem to be serious about water issues.

House Speaker Joe Straus recently said Texas’ water needs will be a high priority, while Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, proposed tapping the Rainy Day Fund for $1 billion to finance new infrastructure identified in the state’s long-range water plan.

Previous attempts to fund the water plan failed because of spending concerns, but Straus and Dewhurst have said the state cannot afford to go thirsty as its population grows. The plan warns of grave shortages by 2060 without more supplies.

The new push to fund the plan is encouraging, said Heather Harward, executive director of H2O4Texas, a coalition of businesses, cities and water suppliers. “We could have certainty once and for all,” Harward said.

The group has called for lawmakers to pour as much as $2 billion from the roughly $8 billion Rainy Day Fund to help pay for water-related infrastructure. The money would be part of a revolving loan program in which the state would help cities and other public entities start projects. Once the loan is repaid, other projects could get financing.

The Texas Water Development Board, the state’s water-planning agency, has advocated a similar approach. It has suggested that the state could finance $44 billion in projects over the next half-century with a $2.6 billion capitalization.

[…]

Some policy experts and environmentalists are skeptical of the state’s projected needs, saying the estimate overstates demand by assuming each Texan will use the same amount per day in the future. Studies show people across the country are using less water now than they were 30 years ago.

The estimated cost of the state’s plan, especially over the next decade, “strains the imagination,” said Sharlene Leurig, an Austin-based expert on water-project financing at Ceres, a nonprofit group that works with investors to promote sustainability. “In reality Texas needs to spend far less than that to meet its water needs.”

Leurig said cities should push to reduce daily consumption though conservation and efficiency because “it’s the cheapest water available.” In contrast, building expensive infrastructure to meet future demand that does not materialize will put the credit ratings of public water systems at risk and significantly increase tax and water bills for customers.

Like I said, it’s a good thing that the Lege is starting to pay attention to this issue. You would have thought they’d have considered it back in 2011 when we were in the middle of the worst drought of most people’s lifetimes, but the Republicans were all drunk on austerity punch back then, and they’re only just now beginning to figure out where they’ve woken up, and where their clothes and car keys are. The qualm I have is with the use of the Rainy Day Fund to kickstart things. Yes, it makes a certain amount of sense, and yes, there’s more than enough money in the RDF to cover what they’re talking about. The problem is that the 2011 Lege wrote a bunch of hot checks that the 2013 Lege will have to cover – $4.7 billion to Medicaid, $2.1 billion to schools, all deferred obligations from the last biennium – and unless you’re willing to basically drain the RDF dry, there’s not enough in there to cover all of these things. If we use the RDF for this purpose, and then Straus and Dewhurst et al turn around and say the RDF is now off limits because there just isn’t enough there to pay for other things and still maintain a cushion, that’s not good. Since those obligations must be met, it would mean the funds would come out of revenue for this session, which is another way of saying you can kiss that so-called surplus good-bye. Frankly, under that scenario, I’d expect there would need to be more cuts, especially if the Lege follows through on its claims to be more transparent about the budget and to not resort to the sort of skulduggery they’ve always used to make the budget appear to be balanced. We’ve robbed from the needy enough, thanks.

I also share Ms. Leurig’s concern about the need to prioritize conservation above all other efforts, as conservation is by far the cheapest and most effective solution. As the story notes, the San Antonio Water System, which has always emphasized conservation, came through 2011 in pretty good shape, while the wastrel city of Midland ran its water supply down so far it wound up hurting its water enterprise’s credit rating. Let’s not lose sight of simple and cost-effective ways to use less water and to encourage the use of less water, and let’s not build any reservoirs we’re not sure we really need.

Murder by numbers continued

There are two ways to look at this.

Houston averaged slightly more than four murders a week during 2012, unofficial figures indicate, inching up from 2011 when the total dropped to the lowest point since 1966.

In unincorporated Harris County, an early total suggests a three-year decline in murders may continue.

Houston police reported 216 murders for the 12 months ending Monday – up from 198 in 2011. Still, said police homicide Capt. David Gott, that figure is “an incredibly low number.”

The 2012 total is the second-lowest since 1966, when only 201 murders were reported in the city. Houston’s population, now 2.1 million, has more than doubled since 1966.

[…]

The year 2012 began with a rough start as the city’s first-quarter murder total jumped 27 percent above the same period in 2011. Incidents of this extreme violence leveled off in May after police stepped up enforcement activities in high crime areas.

Gott said his department has cleared about 70 percent of its 2012 cases, meaning that a suspect has been charged, died along with the victim – as in a murder-suicide – or has been no-billed by a grand jury because the killing was justified.

In unincorporated Harris County – with about 1.6 million residents, a jurisdiction more populous than Philadelphia – 63 murders were reported by year’s end. Department spokesman Alan Bernstein said that, like the police numbers, the sheriff’s total is unofficial and subject to revision.

The county total for 2009 was 96; 2010, 77; and 2011, 73.

You could say that the number of murders in Houston jumped by nine percent in 2012 over 2011. That would be entirely accurate, but it would also be needlessly alarmist and not really useful. Or you could say, as I have done before, that in the absence of a multi-year trend, small variations from one year to the next are basically noise. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, and that there isn’t anything going on in Houston to make it run counter to the national trend of declining crime. Check back in another four or five years and we’ll know for sure. Hair Balls has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 31

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a safe, happy, and prosperous New Year as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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