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February 12th, 2013:

Precinct analysis: Comparing 2012 and 2008

Though the data isn’t yet posted on individual members’ webpages, I have gotten a copy of the 2012 election results by State Rep district, for which there was much rejoicing. The first question of interest is how much the 2008 results resembled the 2012 results in each district. I went by vote percentages as reported – that is, including third-party candidates – and compared Mitt Romney’s 2012 percentage in each district to John McCain’s 2008 percentage, and Obama 2012 to Obama 2008. I did this by taking the ratio of the 2012 percentage to the 2008 percentage. Statewide, Romney was three percent better than McCain – i.e., the ratio of Romney’s percentage (57.16) to McCain’s (55.45) is 1.03 – and 2012 Obama (41.38) was five percent worse than 2008 Obama (43.68), for a ratio of 0.95. If the difference were uniformly distributed around the state, you would expect Romney to have a 1.03 ratio in every district, and 2012 Obama to have a 0.95 ratio. Obviously, that didn’t happen, so I was interested in the places where each candidate did the best compared to 2008. Here’s a look at them:

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama R ratio D ratio ==================================================== 108 53.86 44.88 58.97 39.30 1.09 0.88 047 53.85 44.75 58.03 39.31 1.08 0.88 055 60.67 38.13 65.29 32.99 1.08 0.87 134 52.46 46.48 56.37 41.72 1.07 0.90 017 56.54 41.93 60.56 37.15 1.07 0.89 045 51.66 46.72 55.17 41.82 1.07 0.90 136 51.81 45.92 55.06 41.22 1.06 0.90 023 51.35 47.77 54.56 44.24 1.06 0.93 064 56.98 41.84 60.28 37.32 1.06 0.89 114 52.36 46.57 55.21 43.47 1.05 0.93 048 37.53 60.77 39.55 56.84 1.05 0.94 052 51.93 46.18 54.69 42.40 1.05 0.92 012 59.77 39.38 62.59 36.18 1.05 0.92 093 57.57 41.60 60.19 38.25 1.05 0.92

There were a number of other districts in which Romney ran at least five percent better than McCain – remember, that’s 5%, not five percentage points – but I’m really only interested in the reasonably competitive ones. Rep. Craig Eiland is the only member of the House to win a district that was not carried by his party’s Presidential candidate; I’m pretty sure Sen. Wendy Davis can say the same thing for her chamber, but I don’t have those numbers just yet. The only other Democratic district represented above is Rep. Donna Howard’s HD48, though it wasn’t enough of a difference to be worrisome to her. That chart has a lot of good news for the Republicans, since it contains a number of their least-safe seats. Many of these seats will still be hotly contested in 2014 – where else are Democrats going to go to add to their delegation? – but the GOP starts out with a bigger cushion than they might have expected.

And here are the districts of interest that were more Democratic in 2012:

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama R ratio D ratio ==================================================== 145 41.99 57.13 38.27 60.25 0.91 1.05 144 51.04 47.95 47.86 50.76 0.94 1.06 034 46.63 52.58 44.23 54.62 0.95 1.04 149 43.84 55.52 41.79 57.08 0.95 1.03 119 40.30 58.59 38.51 60.15 0.96 1.03 125 40.69 58.14 39.51 58.99 0.97 1.03 135 60.56 38.71 58.82 39.85 0.97 1.03 132 59.68 39.59 58.90 39.75 0.99 1.00 118 43.86 55.10 43.33 55.22 0.99 1.00 105 52.69 46.14 52.11 46.46 0.99 1.01 113 53.00 46.05 52.51 46.30 0.99 1.01 107 52.25 46.71 51.81 46.87 0.99 1.00

Again, I excluded the non-competitive seats. As above, mostly good news for Dems and their least-safe members, Eiland excluded. In two HDs where Democratic challengers ousted Republican incumbents (HDs 34 and 117), plus the open HD144, Dems had an easier time of it than you would have thought. There’s also some hope for pickups in 2014 or beyond, mostly with the three Dallas County seats.

Looking ahead to 2014, here are your “swing” districts, for some value of the term “swing”.

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama Hecht Petty ===================================================== 017 56.54 41.93 60.56 37.15 53.13 40.61 064 56.98 41.84 60.28 37.32 57.23 36.38 094 59.62 39.45 60.27 38.09 57.45 37.73 093 57.57 41.60 60.19 38.25 57.17 37.98 097 57.62 41.41 59.55 38.91 57.30 38.25 138 59.30 39.82 59.16 39.29 57.48 39.00 108 53.86 44.88 58.97 39.30 58.66 36.49 132 59.68 39.59 58.90 39.75 57.32 39.41 135 60.56 38.71 58.82 39.85 57.09 39.77 096 57.97 41.39 58.58 40.20 55.68 40.73 047 53.85 44.75 58.03 39.31 55.30 37.87 065 56.11 43.04 57.51 40.83 55.62 39.89 032 56.40 42.57 56.91 41.43 52.98 42.12 134 52.46 46.48 56.37 41.72 56.41 39.30 115 54.91 43.86 55.37 43.08 53.74 41.67 114 52.36 46.57 55.21 43.47 54.98 41.33 045 51.66 46.72 55.17 41.82 51.11 41.39 136 51.81 45.92 55.06 41.22 51.07 40.33 112 54.89 44.03 55.01 43.48 53.01 42.79 052 51.93 46.18 54.69 42.40 50.70 42.05 023 51.35 47.77 54.56 44.24 49.41 46.77 102 52.18 46.64 53.01 45.31 52.01 43.53 054 51.20 47.93 52.90 45.73 49.92 45.71 113 53.00 46.05 52.51 46.30 50.34 46.10 105 52.69 46.14 52.11 46.46 49.18 46.28 043 51.45 47.94 52.05 46.92 46.72 49.10 107 52.25 46.71 51.81 46.87 49.73 46.29 144 51.04 47.95 47.86 50.76 44.08 52.33 117 46.49 52.52 46.71 51.84 43.46 52.79 034 46.63 52.58 44.23 54.62 40.11 56.07 078 43.64 55.31 44.05 54.29 40.84 53.47 118 43.86 55.10 43.33 55.22 38.76 57.79 041 42.16 57.05 42.28 56.54 38.86 57.22 149 43.84 55.52 41.79 57.08 40.46 56.95 074 41.15 57.91 41.51 56.93 36.18 57.25 148 41.43 57.49 41.07 56.58 38.79 55.59 048 37.53 60.77 39.55 56.84 37.43 54.95 125 40.69 58.14 39.51 58.99 36.03 60.35 050 38.01 60.27 38.78 57.75 36.33 56.25

Again, note that no one but Eiland won in a hostile district. Turncoat Republican JM Lozano gets partial credit for Michelle Petty’s plurality vote in HD43, but that’s at least partly a function of the unusually high Libertarian vote in that race, which generally suppressed Nathan Hecht’s percentages. Note how much more Hecht diverges from Romney than Petty does from Obama to see what I mean. Without factoring possible turnout differences into account, Dems have maybe six viable flip opportunities – Lozano, four Dallas seats, and HD54 – while the GOP has one clear shot and two other good ones. That’s assuming no further changes to the map, which may or may not be a good bet. Beyond that, we’ll have to see what the march of demographic change looks like and whether there’s anything to all this talk about investing in Texas Democratic infrastructure.

School districts are still a long way from getting relief

School districts may have gotten a favorable ruling in the latest school finance lawsuit, and if it survives appeal it could have far-reaching effects on the current system, but that doesn’t mean that things will get better for them now. If anything, they’re likely to get worse first.

“It’s pretty bleak for next year,” said Tracy Hoke, chief financial officer for the Fort Bend Independent School District, the lead plaintiff in one of six lawsuits filed against the state over funding. “Certainly, there won’t be a lot of new staffing, and employees are very, very tired. Our custodians are cleaning more. Our teachers have larger classes. Our counselors are stretched very thin.”

Hoke and other district leaders say they plan to craft their budgets for 2013-14 similar to current levels of spending, presuming lawmakers will not pour much new money into schools this legislative session, which ends in late May.

[…]

The House Democratic Caucus said its members plan to file a budget amendment this session to restore the $5.4 billion in cuts, while the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, Rep. Brandon Creighton, of Conroe, said acting so soon would be “irresponsible and unproductive.” The state is expected to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, which could overrule Dietz’s decision.

“To me,” countered Brian Woods, superintendent of Northside ISD in San Antonio, “it’s shortsighted to wait for the Supreme Court, to kick the can down the road another 14 to 16 months when you know there is a problem.”

Woods said he regularly hears complaints that classes are too big and that custodians and technology assistants are too few. His district, like Fort Bend ISD and other fast-growing school systems, should get more money next year because enrollment is rising. Woods, however, said the enrollment growth funding would not cover the cost of opening three new campuses.

[…]

In Houston ISD, the state’s largest district, chief financial officer Ken Huewitt estimates having to fill a $50 million budget shortfall in the upcoming school year. The school board dipped into savings and used one-time federal funds to help balance the budget last year. Jobs may have to be cut, said HISD spokesman Jason Spencer, though it is too soon to know for sure.

“We’re hopeful they’re not going to take any more away from us, but we’re not expecting them to give us anything more,” Huewitt said of lawmakers. “But it’s early.”

I can only imagine what the effect of having to absorb North Forest ISD would have on HISD’s budget. Be that as it may, the Democrats in the House are going to try to force the issue of school finance in this session.

The House Democratic Caucus says it will introduce a measure to restore the $5.4 billion in cuts to this year’s budget by adding it to an emergency spending bill needed to pay for Medicaid. Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, will also try on Monday to convince the House to declare school finance an emergency item and begin work on the matter immediately.

These votes will be just the beginning of a long, drawn out effort to get Republicans to either vote for increased government spending — which will get them in trouble in the 2014 Republican primaries — or get them to vote against public education spending, which will give Democrats an issue in the 2014 general elections.

The Republican leadership recognizes the trap and will do its best to side-step it. The GOP will also use parliamentary procedure to block votes and argue that rewriting school finance laws while there is ongoing litigation is foolish.

Privately, Republicans say they want to delay any action on school finance for as long as possible and are considering stalling tactics. Abbott can do Republican lawmakers a favor and slow-peddle the appeals process to make sure the lawsuit lasts well into 2014. Then Gov. Rick Perry can call a special legislative session after the 2014 primaries and before the 2014 general election.

Such a special session would allow Republican lawmakers to vote for a school finance overhaul that boosts spending after they’ve made it past the notoriously conservative Republican primary voter. They would also solve the school finance problem before Democrats could attack them for not taking care of public schools, one of the most important issues for the general election voter.

As expected, Rep. Martinez-Fischer filed HR 408 yesterday to encourage the Lege to appropriate the money it had cut in 2011 without waiting for the Supreme Court to rule. You can read the press statement from MALC here. In his oddball iconoclastic way, Republican Rep. David Simpson is with the Dems on taking action now. More than half of that $8.8 billion in surplus funds from 2011 that resulted from Comptroller Combs’ gross underestimation of available revenue has now been marked to pay our outstanding Medicaid bills, so a full restoration of public ed money would need to involve the Rainy Day fund and/or current revenues, at least in part. That doesn’t make the debate any less worth having, of course. I don’t expect this to actually happen – the Lege will fund enrollment growth, and there may be some funds restored for things like pre-K – but the more we debate it, the better. We can help schools now, we don’t have to wait. It’s our choice.

One big happy pro-gambling expansion family

If the pro-gambling forces in the state all join hands and agree to work together, will this finally be the year that gambling expansion gets a vote? Maybe.

John Montford, chairman of Let Texans Decide, a coalition of gaming companies, track operators, trade groups and others who want Texas to legalize casinos, has met with groups representing casino and slot machine interests and is optimistic that they could agree on potential legislation that would bring a constitutional amendment on gambling before Texas voters.

“We’re working hard to build coalitions in favor of a referendum,” said Montford, a former state senator from Lubbock and the author of the legislation that created the Texas Lottery. “The members of the Legislature don’t have to be pro- or anti-gaming to support a referendum. We want people to have a fair say so.”

Efforts at such collaboration are not new in the industry, though they haven’t proved successful in bringing a proposed amendment to voters on creating casinos, allowing slot machines or other such gambling measures.

But those interests haven’t always been on the same page. Some previous efforts have come undone when race track and casino proponents battled to get a competitive advantage built into proposals pending in the Legislature.

In recent sessions, conflict between bills that would have allowed slot machines at horse racing tracks and those that would allow resort casinos have been part of the reason no such legislation made progress. Competing lobbyists and dollars sent mixed messages to legislators who may not have been keen to promote gambling in the first place out of fear of alienating anti-gaming voters.

See here for the story so far. Hard to know what to make of this, since Montford appears to be the sole person speaking on behalf of Let Texans Decide. The story notes that Sen. Rodney Ellis’ SJR6, which would allow a vote on various forms of gambling, is what’s being talked about now. It also notes that the horse racing interests are pursuing their own bill, though they may be willing to support SJR6. So yeah, not clear whether this session represents a change of tactics or just more of the same and hoping for a different outcome.

The off-street parking debate

I believe the new offstreet parking requirements that have been proposed and are being debated are at least as big a deal as the Chapter 42 revisions. We really need to get this right.

Public House on White Oak

Under the new rules, some eateries – dessert shops, carryout restaurants – would need less parking, but requirements on most restaurants would go from eight spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area to 10, with most bars going from 10 spaces to 14.

The revisions also would allow neighborhoods to create special parking areas tailored to their needs, reduce parking requirements for historic buildings, allow the substitution of bike parking for car spaces, loosen rules on how close lots must be to a building’s front door and make it easier for businesses to share parking.

As Houston seeks greater density in other initiatives, Councilman Ed Gonzalez said, the city must ensure the best use of its land.

“We’re still going with the basis that we’re going to be a car-dependent community going forward,” Gonzalez said. “What about the pedestrian? How can we better align transit to meet the needs of certain neighborhoods? We should be creating conditions to create more small businesses and more jobs, not more parking lots.”

That is an argument Bobby Heugel, the force behind several nationally acclaimed Houston restaurants and bars, has been making since 2011. He helped form OKRA, an Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs, to advocate for the next wave of independent restaurateurs, who he says would be barred from the market by the proposed parking changes.

[…]

The city proposes exempting freestanding restaurants and bars smaller than 2,000 square feet from the higher parking requirements; OKRA wants the threshold set at 4,500 square feet, regardless of whether a business is freestanding. City officials say they are willing to reconsider both points.

“The only opponents we have are city officials who incorrectly interpret residential concerns,” Heugel said.

As I said before, I have some sympathy for neighborhood residents who are tired of dealing with packed streets full of overflow parkers from nearby eateries and drinkeries, but any solution that requires more paved-over spaces or that discourages future innovation and growth in Houston’s dynamic food scene is a non-starter. The problem is that there’s been a lot of growth in many established inner core neighborhoods, with a lot more residents crowded onto the original plats and new businesses moving in to formerly abandoned spaces, but without a corresponding amount of growth in transit infrastructure. The influx of people and businesses is great and desperately needed, but the huge increase in vehicular traffic and demand for parking in places that were never built to handle it isn’t. As with other places that are dealing with more traffic than they can bear, providing viable non-car alternatives has to be a key component of the solution. Allowing food and drink establishments to trade bike parking for car parking is good, but the ultimate answer is bigger than anything the bars and restaurants themselves can do. Still, we need to remember that a lot of these new places, and a lot of the planned new places, are intended to be part of the neighborhood, and for the neighborhood. Their customer bases for the most part don’t need to drive and park to get there. The off-street parking regulations need to allow them to fulfill that vision. If we’re treating a neighborhood coffee house the same way as a franchise restaurant that fronts a highway, we’re doing it wrong.