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February 25th, 2013:

Precinct analysis: Comparing 2012 and 2008, Senate and SBOE edition

To follow up on my previous examination of how the 2012 election returns looked in State House districts compared to the 2008 returns, I now have the data to look at other types of districts as well. You can find it as well on the Texas Legislative Council’s webpage – here are the reports for the State Senate and the SBOE. Those are the Excel report directories, but if you want something else – CSV or PDF – just click the Parent Directory link and find the report you want. Let’s first look at the Senate:

Dist McCain Pct Obama08 Pct Romney Pct Obama12 Pct RIdx DIdx ============================================================================== 01 214,365 69.50% 91,835 29.77% 220,140 72.14% 81,936 26.85% 1.04 0.90 02 159,810 60.79% 100,445 38.21% 161,348 63.22% 90,500 35.46% 1.04 0.93 03 213,045 71.13% 83,554 27.90% 225,526 75.47% 69,915 23.40% 1.06 0.84 04 195,512 67.01% 93,968 32.21% 216,087 70.03% 88,832 28.79% 1.05 0.89 05 170,905 59.67% 111,063 38.78% 181,385 63.06% 99,176 34.48% 1.06 0.89 06 48,222 35.81% 85,445 63.45% 43,931 32.46% 89,849 66.39% 0.91 1.05 07 184,620 66.24% 92,106 33.04% 196,383 66.76% 94,057 31.97% 1.01 0.97 08 180,746 59.48% 119,559 39.34% 186,753 61.67% 110,824 36.60% 1.04 0.93 09 145,020 57.76% 103,614 41.27% 142,499 59.28% 94,117 39.15% 1.03 0.95 10 158,677 52.13% 143,351 47.10% 155,936 53.31% 132,707 45.37% 1.02 0.96 11 173,843 62.64% 101,218 36.47% 184,101 65.06% 94,893 33.53% 1.04 0.92 12 186,268 63.00% 106,834 36.14% 197,333 66.23% 95,905 32.19% 1.05 0.89 13 35,820 16.44% 181,104 83.13% 32,917 15.44% 178,404 83.70% 0.94 1.01 14 114,865 34.49% 212,317 63.76% 116,001 36.14% 193,112 60.16% 1.05 0.94 15 85,552 39.37% 130,042 59.85% 89,030 39.68% 132,125 58.89% 1.01 0.98 16 161,779 54.99% 129,105 43.89% 159,759 56.96% 116,603 41.58% 1.04 0.95 17 174,371 57.76% 124,939 41.38% 178,241 59.36% 117,562 39.15% 1.03 0.95 18 181,472 64.51% 97,598 34.69% 198,175 67.34% 92,809 31.54% 1.04 0.91 19 92,299 43.57% 117,658 55.54% 94,159 44.11% 116,477 54.56% 1.01 0.98 20 81,772 43.32% 105,412 55.84% 78,474 41.65% 107,629 57.12% 0.96 1.02 21 81,054 40.85% 115,445 58.18% 79,167 39.83% 116,117 58.42% 0.98 1.00 22 184,967 65.29% 96,063 33.91% 186,950 67.97% 84,413 30.69% 1.04 0.91 23 46,236 19.46% 189,896 79.91% 42,408 18.09% 190,103 81.10% 0.93 1.01 24 190,823 66.60% 92,555 32.30% 195,593 70.71% 76,766 27.75% 1.06 0.86 25 218,093 61.41% 132,809 37.39% 233,884 64.15% 123,739 33.94% 1.04 0.91 26 84,889 38.24% 134,470 60.58% 74,472 36.30% 127,237 62.01% 0.95 1.02 27 47,197 32.24% 97,746 66.77% 45,768 30.58% 102,319 68.37% 0.95 1.02 28 189,851 71.07% 75,007 28.08% 182,982 73.59% 62,163 25.00% 1.04 0.89 29 63,736 33.50% 124,663 65.52% 59,137 33.33% 115,612 65.16% 0.99 0.99 30 216,383 71.14% 84,565 27.80% 223,487 75.74% 66,674 22.60% 1.06 0.81 31 196,846 77.75% 54,132 21.38% 186,762 79.51% 45,034 19.17% 1.02 0.90

As you can see, Sen. Wendy Davis not only won a district that was carried by Mitt Romney, she won a district that was more Republican in 2012 than it was in 2008. As far as I know, her district is no longer being contested in the redistricting lawsuit, so barring anything strange what we see is what we’ll get going forward. It’s not clear to me that she would have more to fear in 2014 than she did last year or would in 2016, but I presume someone is calculating her odds of re-election versus the odds of being elected statewide, and advising her accordingly. I’m glad that’s not my job. Three other Democratic Senators saw a drop in Democratic performance in their districts – Sens. Kirk Watson, John Whitmire, and Carlos Uresti. Watson’s SD14 was affected by the overall decline in Travis County turnout, which I suspect is a blip and not a trend; Whitmire saw modest increases in both D and R turnout; and Uresti had a small bump in R turnout and a tiny decline in D turnout. I don’t think any of it matters, but Uresti has the smallest margin of error after Davis. Pre-redistricting, SD09 was almost as purple a district as SD10 was in 2008, but that ain’t the case now. Democrats really don’t have any obvious targets to expand their delegation, though SDs 16, 17, and maybe 09 will trend their way somewhat over the decade. But don’t expect much turnover in the Senate that isn’t caused by primaries or voluntary departures.

Here’s the SBOE:

Dist McCain Pct Obama08 Pct Romney Pct Obama12 Pct RIdx DIdx ============================================================================== 01 168,833 42.84% 221,865 56.30% 161,807 42.58% 213,132 56.08% 0.99 1.00 02 191,754 47.11% 211,625 52.00% 187,147 46.69% 209,020 52.15% 0.99 1.00 03 157,233 38.29% 249,268 60.70% 149,659 37.20% 247,020 61.40% 0.97 1.01 04 89,884 22.61% 305,638 76.89% 84,036 21.07% 311,236 78.04% 0.93 1.01 05 358,691 52.16% 319,808 46.50% 375,942 54.67% 294,887 42.89% 1.05 0.92 06 320,914 58.39% 224,088 40.77% 332,415 59.70% 215,839 38.76% 1.02 0.95 07 358,380 61.22% 221,939 37.91% 390,808 63.64% 215,952 35.16% 1.04 0.93 08 370,712 67.66% 172,373 31.46% 398,664 70.32% 160,372 28.29% 1.04 0.90 09 436,392 69.69% 184,583 29.48% 449,301 73.29% 156,833 25.58% 1.05 0.87 10 313,379 53.54% 263,033 44.94% 331,022 56.97% 235,591 40.55% 1.06 0.90 11 391,597 61.92% 234,922 37.14% 396,329 64.27% 210,974 34.21% 1.04 0.92 12 365,314 57.49% 262,939 41.38% 373,920 59.71% 242,306 38.69% 1.04 0.94 13 123,380 27.66% 319,557 71.63% 110,615 25.75% 314,630 73.26% 0.93 1.02 14 401,810 66.98% 192,696 32.12% 413,181 70.62% 163,020 27.86% 1.05 0.87 15 430,765 74.27% 144,184 24.86% 413,942 76.91% 116,797 21.70% 1.04 0.87

No surprises here. Democratic districts were slightly more Democratic, Republican districts were more Republican. Sure is a good thing Martha Dominguez didn’t withdraw, because District 1 was way too easy a pickup to throw away. Keep an eye on freshman Democrat Ruben Cortez in District 2, who will be on the ballot in 2014, as that could go Republican in a bad year. The Dems’ best shot at pickups are in districts 5 and 10. Both will next be on the ballot in 2016.

I have one more post in this series to come, a look at the Congressional districts. Hope you find this useful.

Report recommends against privatizing the Harris County jail

Very good news.

Privatizing the Harris County jail would be risky and may not result in savings, according to an internal county memo recommending that Commissioners Court keep the state’s largest lockup in Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s hands.

The confidential Feb. 11 memo, obtained by the Houston Chronicle, comes after more than a year of study by staff from the county budget office, purchasing office and County Attorney’s Office. Commissioner Steve Radack had suggested the county consider privatizing the jail in 2010, and the court voted to accept proposals in April 2011, when the county had begun laying off scores of staff in a lean budget year.

Four private prison firms submitted bids in fall 2011, but only the proposal from Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison operator, was deemed viable.

“CCA provided a very compelling proposal,” the memo states. “However, there is uncertainty about what the county’s actual realized savings would be, and there is also a level of risk and uncertainty that goes along with outsourcing such a vital function to a third party. The evaluation committee concluded that the potential benefit is not sufficient reason to make a change at this time.”

A key factor in recommending against privatization, the memo stated, was the decrease in the sheriff’s budget in recent years, from $424.2 million in fiscal 2010 to what is projected to be less than this year’s $392.6 million budget. The savings are, in part, tied to a steep drop in the jail population, which has fallen by roughly a third since 2008.

“We have improved operations while saving money, we’ve passed jail inspections, we haven’t laid off any employees and we’ve reduced in-custody deaths,” Garcia said. “I think we’ve demonstrated that as a sheriff’s office we’re running this place like a business as much as we’re running it like a county jail.”

I suspect this will be the end of this story. When I inquired about the status of the report back in November, all of the responses I got made it sound like not much if anything would ultimately come out of this. The statements made by County Judge Ed Emmett and County Commissioner Steve Radack in this story sound a lot like what they told me back then. The case for some kind of action would be stronger if the jail was still overcrowded, with inmates being outsourced all over the place, and inspectors at both the federal and state level giving it failing grades – in other words, if we were where we were back when Tommy Thomas was still running things – but it’s extremely hard to argue now that the jail is being mismanaged. Add in the fact that CCA has – how do I put this delicately? – a rather non-stellar reputation for how they do business, and the case for not taking action is crystal clear. I’m glad to see that the county’s budget people see it the same way.

One more thing:

The privatization discussions helped the sheriff better allocate manpower in the jail to reduce overtime costs, said County Budget Officer Bill Jackson, and also allowed the sheriff’s budget to be separated into three parts in the budget the court will consider Tuesday – $166 million for law enforcement, $178 million for the jail and $47 million for jail medical – which will help to better identify and control costs in each category.

Breaking the budget out like this makes sense. You know what else would make sense? Quantifying how much Medicaid expansion would save the county on health care costs, especially mental health care costs. For all that Harris County is trying to think big about health care, they’re almost bizarrely reluctant to be curious about this. I know I’m being tediously monotonous about this. Maybe I’m wrong about the potential for savings here. I doubt it, given what so many other counties are reporting, but I could be. Why not study the question and settle it once and for all? It’s becoming very hard for me to avoid the conclusion that the four Republicans on Commissioners Court don’t want to know the answer because it might be politically awkward for them.

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I have come across this Chron editorial that indicates Judge Emmett is in favor of Medicaid expansion. Obviously, I’m very glad to hear this. I don’t know why there hasn’t been more coverage of this in the Chronicle.

City proposes bike parking alternatives


Public House on White Oak

Bicycle advocates are cheering a city proposal that would give businesses an incentive to offer bike parking and would require some properties to provide it for the first time, saying the ideas mark a cultural shift in Houston.

“This is a first for Houston and a sign of how our city is evolving,” Mayor Annise Parker said. “It recognizes the popularity of cycling and gives a nod to the fact that there are other modes of transportation besides automobiles.”

The bike-related ideas are included in a proposed rewrite of the city’s off-street parking ordinance, largely untouched since it was passed in 1989. The proposal is expected to go before City Council soon. Debate over the rewrite mainly has focused on its impact on bars and restaurants, many of which would be required to provide more parking.

The city initially had exempted only freestanding restaurants and bars smaller than 2,000 square feet from the higher parking requirements; independent restaurateurs wanted all establishments smaller than 4,500 square feet to be exempt. The sides appear to have reached an agreement that would exempt all restaurants smaller than 3,000 square feet and all bars smaller than 2,500 square feet.


Under the proposed revisions, new retail, commercial and office buildings 5,000 square feet or larger would need to provide one bike parking space, with another bike space required for every additional 25,000 square feet, up to a maximum of six spaces.

The ordinance also would allow any property, other than single-family homes, to reduce required car parking by up to 10 percent by trading one car space for four bike spaces. A 10,000-square-foot retail business, for instance, could drop its required 40 car spaces to 36 by increasing its bike parking from the required one space to 17.

As you know, I wholeheartedly approve of this. I wouldn’t mind seeing more flexibility on trading car spaces for bike spaces, but the fact that it’s happening at all is a big deal. Even better, the group that has been agitating the most forcefully for this sort of accommodation supports the proposal.

Brian Crimmins, chief of staff in the city Planning Department, also noted that the ability of any business (except single-family homes) to trade up to 10 percent of its required parking for additional bike parking spaces would still apply to all restaurants and bars (even those exempt from the higher parking requirements). That would allow these businesses to drop their car parking to essentially match OKRA’s proposal, he said.

In an email to top city staffers confirming the agreed changes, OKRA president Bobby Heugel said his group plans to vocally support the ordinance if it moves forward as negotiated.

“The manner in which our views were received and incorporated into Chapter 26 is exciting and encouraging as OKRA is new to the local political process,” he wrote. “It’s nice to know that participation can make a difference, and that the sharing of perspectives can result in policies in which a variety of stakeholders concerns(‘) are represented.”

You can see some more detail about the proposals as well as the full text of what the city has out forward and what OKRA had countered with.

The Chron editorializes in favor of the new approach, also with a desire to see it go farther.

We’re pleased that the new regulations include cutouts that allow different neighborhoods to create systems that are right for them. Among the added flexibility – such as reducing parking requirements for historic districts, letting bicycle parking replace a certain number of car spots and allowing shared parking lots – are Special Parking Areas. These would allow management entities to set their own parking management plan – with approval from City Hall.

This flexibility makes the proposed changes a vast improvement over the previous regulations, and the folks at City Hall say they’re trying to engage business owners so they can take advantage of the new rules on day one. City Hall could show more good faith by adopting recommendations by OKRA – the Organized Kollaboration of Restaurant Affairs – to allow more types of bars to be exempted from the higher parking minimums.

Residents worried about parking overflow can protect their neighborhoods by applying for permit parking on their streets, as many cocktail fans have learned while chasing down a tow truck.

But there is a price for living in walkable, dynamic neighborhoods, and it includes folks parking in front of your house. That is a price inner-loop Houstonians should be happy to pay.


We could do something to make voting easier if we wanted to

With all the negative news about voting rights in the news these days – voter ID, electoral college gerrymandering, challenges to the Voting Rights Act – it’s good to remember that positive change is still possible.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

On two major occasions—during his election-night speech and second inaugural address—President Obama has highlighted the need for election reform. “By the way, we have to fix that,” he said on November 6 about the long lines at the polls in states like Florida. Shortly thereafter, the cause of election reform seemed to fall by the wayside, with more pressing events, such as the Sandy Hook shooting and the fiscal cliff, dominating the news. But Obama returned to the issue on January 21, saying “our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.”

Now the question is whether the Obama administration and Congress will actually do something to fix the shameful way US elections are run. There are smart proposals in Congress to address the issue. The most comprehensive among them is the Voter Empowerment Act, reintroduced today by Democratic leaders in the House, including civil rights icon John Lewis, and Kirsten Gillibrand in Senate.

The bill would add 50 million eligible Americans to the voter rolls by automatically registering consenting adults to vote at government agencies, adopting Election Day voter registration, and allowing citizens to register to vote and update their addresses online. (As Attorney General Eric Holder noted recently, 80 percent of the 75 million eligible citizens who didn’t vote in 2008 were not registered to vote.) It would also guarantee fifteen days of early voting to ease long lines, restore the voting rights of felons after they’ve served their time and ban deceptive ads aimed at suppressing voter turnout. “It’s got almost everything in there that we think is important,” says Eric Marshall of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The Voter Empowerment Act is supplemented by other worthwhile proposals in Congress. There is Senator Barbara Boxer’s LINE Act, which mandates national standards for a minimum number of voting machines and election workers in each precinct, and Senator Chris Coons’s FAST Act, which gives grants to states that conduct elections efficiently, modeled after Obama’s Race to the Top education initiative. Both Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have designated election reform as a top priority for the new Congress.


The public wants its elected representatives to address these problems. A post-election poll found that 88 percent of 2012 voters support new national voting standards. By nearly two to one, the public is more concerned about “eligible voters being denied the opportunity to vote” rather than “ineligible voters getting to vote.”

“The moment calls for something big,” says Marshall. “There’s a desire for an overhaul. It’s just a question of the will.”

It’s more than just will, since there’s sure to be fanatical opposition to a lot of this. I can only begin to imagine how Texas Republicans might react to any of this if it gets to the legislative process. But still, it would be nice to be on the offensive for awhile. With the Supreme Court set to review, and possibly gut, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act beginning this week, I’m trying to stay positive.