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January 9th, 2013:

Interview with Carol Alvarado

Rep. Carol Alvarado

The special election in SD06 to succeed the late Sen. Mario Gallegos is Saturday, January 26, and early voting for this election begins Wednesday, January 9. There are two serious candidates in this race, former County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and State Rep. Carol Alvarado. I published an interview with Commissioner Garcia on Monday, and today I bring you one with Rep. Alvarado. Like Garcia, Carol Alvarado’s resume of public service is long and accomplished – three terms on City Council, Mayor Pro Tem, beginning her third term as representative for HD145. She too has been a strong advocate and ally for many progressive causes, and also boasts the support of numerous Democratic elected officials as well as police and firefighter unions. Here’s the interview:

Carol Alvarado interview

Feel free to add your speculation here about who will finish first and whether or not there will need to be a runoff.

Chron overview of SD06

The day before early voting begins in the SD06 special election (which is today), the Chron previews the race. It has a lot of stuff we already know, and it mostly focuses on the two frontrunners, Sylvia Garcia and Rep. Carol Alvarado, so I’m not going to recapitulate that. There are a couple of interesting tidbits that I want to mention.

With eight candidates in the race in an overwhelmingly Democratic district that includes Houston’s East End, the race is likely to come down to a battle between two prominent Democrats, state Rep. Carol Alvarado, whose House district overlaps much of the Senate district, and former Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia.

Also running are R.W. Bray, the Republican candidate who lost to Gallegos last fall; Democrats Susan Delgado, Joaquin Martinez and Rodolfo “Rudy” Reyes; Republican Dorothy Olmos; and Green Party candidate Maria Selva.

If a runoff is needed – and with so many candidates, one is likely – it will be held between Feb. 23 and March 9, with Gov. Rick Perry scheduling the exact date.

[…]

Among the state’s 31 senate districts, this predominantly Hispanic district ranks last in the number of registered voters (284,000) and in 2012 voter turnout (138,000). [Rice poli sci prof Mark] Jones estimates that fewer than 1 in 10 registered voters and 1 in 25 district residents will cast a ballot.

While there have been a number of legislative special elections in recent years, there hasn’t been one like this, in a strongly Democratic district with two clear leaders and at least one Republican who will likely do better than the default background candidate rate. The closest match is the 2005 special election in HD143 in which Rep. Ana Hernandez was elected to succeed the late Rep. Joe Moreno. It’s not an exact match because there were no declared Republicans in the race, though one of the minor candidates was the same Dorothy Olmos who is running in this race (and has run in many others since 2005) as a Republican. Hernandez and runnerup Laura Salinas combined for 68.4% in that race, with four other candidates splitting the remaining 31.6%. PDiddie does some crunching to suggest a vote total that would win this race in the first round. I look at it this way: Assume Bray gets 15%, and the other five combine to take 10%. For either Garcia or Alvarado to win it on January 26, one would have to beat the other by at least 25 points, i.e., by at least a 50-25 margin, since 25% of the vote is already accounted for. Do you think that’s even remotely possible? I sure don’t. And if the non-Sylvia and Carol candidates combine for more of the vote, a first-round winner would need an even wider margin. Ain’t gonna happen.

As for the vote total that Jones predicts, here’s a look at the four most recent Senate special elections:

Dist Date Num Votes Top 2 ================================ 22 May 2010 4 29,851 81.47 17 Dec 2008 2 43,673 84.52 31 Jan 2004 7 69,415 66.27 01 Jan 2004 6 69,206 75.50

“Num” is the number of candidates, and “Top 2” is the combined percentage of the top two candidates. There was a runoff in each case, and I’m cheating a little with the SD17 special election – the vote total (“Votes”) is from the runoff, since the special election itself (which had 6 candidates) was on the date of the 2008 general election, and thus had the kind of turnout (223,295) one would expect for a regular Senate election. I don’t know how much you can extrapolate from all this, but you write your blog post with the data you have, not the data you wish you had. For what it’s worth, from chatting with the campaigns I’d say they’re expecting a slightly higher vote total than Jones is projecting. We’ll see.

One more thing:

If a runoff is needed – and with so many candidates, one is likely – it will be held between Feb. 23 and March 9, with Gov. Rick Perry scheduling the exact date.

[…]

Meanwhile, the district’s approximately 813,000 residents will be without representation in the state Senate until the latter half of March, when the newly elected senator will be sworn in.

I would think that if the runoff is no later than March 9 that the newly-elected Senator would be sworn in sooner than “the latter half of March”. I know there’s a canvass period for election results that can take a week or more before the result is certified, but does that hold everything up until it’s done? It’s not usually a consideration because we have elections in November and swearings-in in January, but obviously here it does matter. The statutes on elections to fill a legislative vacancy were not clear to me on this, and the last time we had a vacancy during a session (2005, when Rep. Moreno died in an auto accident), the ensuing special election was not called until November. Anyone have a good answer for this?

Day One of the Lege

What do we know so far?

Same old Rick Perry.

Gov. Rick Perry called for tax relief and a lean approach to budgeting as he addressed the Senate, even as the state faces a lawsuit from school districts over funding and concerns over the effects of budget cuts approved two years ago.

[…]

Perry said the state’s economic rebound is due to a fiscally conservative approach, telling lawmakers that interests across the state see the positive revenue picture as “ringing the dinner bell”

“They all want more for their causes they all figure we have manna falling from heaven and they all have your phone numbers and addresses,” Perry said.

Instead, he said it is time to put the state’s fiscal house in order by implementing his call to reduce diversions of dedicated funds, set a tighter constitutional spending limit, oppose any tax increases and stand against using rainy day fund money for ongoing expenses. He said lawmakers must stop writing IOUs and delaying payments.

“With a better budgetary picture now is the time for us to set the books straight… it’s also time for us to take a look at tax relief,” Perry said.

You didn’t really expect him to say that now was the time to restore services that had been needlessly slashed last session, did you? The man still thinks he’s running for President, but even if he weren’t, he showed us who and what he is a long time ago.

Joe Straus is still Speaker.

After the last of his challengers dropped out Tuesday, San Antonio Republican Joe Straus was elected to a third term as speaker of the Texas House.

That last challenger, Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, never found enough support to threaten the incumbent. An earlier challenger, Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, dropped out weeks ago as Simpson entered the race.

Saying he wasn’t certain of victory and didn’t want to put other members at risk by forcing a vote, Simpson withdrew from the race. “Absent certainty at winning this contest, at the request of my colleagues, I withdraw from this contest,” he said in a speech to the full House.

When it came time for the House to vote Tuesday — the first day of the 83rd Legislature — Straus was re-elected by acclamation.

The process to select the next “Bachelor” had more drama.

The two thirds rule still lives, or at least it most likely will still live.

Speaking after the Senate adjourned Tuesday, [Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst said that the contentious issue of the two-thirds rule had already been settled and that he expected a vote on the rules on Wednesday.

“In my conversations with the Senate Republicans and the Senate Democrats yesterday, I believe that’s where the senators are, to maintain the two-thirds rule for this regular session,” Dewhurst said.

He did not fully rule out sidestepping the rule for a particular bill, as Senate Republicans have in the past on high-profile measures such as voter ID and redistricting.

“The record is replete with different lieutenant governors in different sessions doing different things, and I’m not going to restrict anything lieutenant governors can do in the future,” Dewhurst said. “But it’s my understanding that the two-thirds rule will be in place for this session.”

Voter ID and redistricting were last session, so there probably isn’t anything that’s sufficiently controversial and sufficiently partisan to warrant an attempt to kill it by the Rs. They know that it’s sometimes convenient to let the Ds kill something that they’d rather not have to vote on. Still, it’s a bit amazing after all the drama of recent sessions that this still lives. Tradition is a powerful thing.

That’s probably the only news of interest for the week from the Dome. As Ed Sills said yesterday, only 139 more days to go. Burka, PDiddie, Stace, the Observer, and TM Daily Post have more.

UPDATE: More from Burka and EoW.

Fix what’s broken first

What Texas Watch says.

Texas Watch

Imagine this scenario. Texans are facing a physician shortage. Under-served rural and poor communities struggle to attract doctors to serve their needs. Politicians scramble to find a solution to the crisis. That is where we were 10 years ago. Things aren’t so different today.

Back then, the lobbyists and political spinmeisters promised that if we gave up our ability to hold a dangerous doctor accountable, then we’d see the physician supply problem – and a host of other problems in our health care system – evaporate. So, voters narrowly passed an amendment to our state’s constitution that gave politicians the ability to eviscerate legal accountability when you are needlessly harmed by medical negligence.

Flash forward to today. Under-served communities continue to struggle to attract good doctors. Our state ranks near the bottom in per capita physicians. Not to mention the fact that our health care costs are higher and quality of care is worse. And, yes, politicians are scrambling to find a solution.

Evidently the policies enacted 10 years ago haven’t worked. Otherwise, why would this still be a problem needing additional legislative action?

This time, they are considering legislation by Sen. Jane Nelson, chair of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, to improve physician supply by increasing the number of residency slots available, rewarding medical schools that find ways to keep doctors in Texas, and forgiving medical school loans for doctors who agree to see poor patients. These are laudable goals and lawmakers should support the bill.

The real question, however, is this: Since we know that tearing up our constitution under the guise of better health care is a failed policy, why don’t we restore the patient protections first? Not only has this failed idea not solved the doctor supply problem, it hasn’t lowered health costs for families or the state. Nor has it improved the quality of care. We are, in fact, dead last in the nation in terms of quality of care.

Politicians – including Gov. Perry – should stop defending this policy that has torn a hole in our constitution. Instead, they should restore accountability so that when one of the very few doctors who commit most of the medical negligence harms a patient, they are held responsible for it. They and their insurance companies – not taxpayers or the injured patient – should bear the cost and face public scrutiny for their decisions.

Let’s move forward to address the physician supply problem honestly and without cynicism. Sen. Nelson is on the right track. Incentivizing good doctors and hospitals to serve Texans is a great idea worthy of support. But the first step is admitting when we have made a mistake and fixing it.

I don’t really have anything to add to that. Tort “reform” has always been a crock and a scam, and the only beneficiaries of it have been the insurance companies and bad doctors. And because it’s in the constitution, we’ll probably never get rid of it.