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February 26th, 2013:

On Latinos not winning Latino Congressional districts

I have a problem with this analysis by Nathan Gonzales, at least as it pertains to the three Texas districts included.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett

Even though a record number of Latinos are serving in the 113th Congress, Hispanic candidates are significantly underperforming in heavily Hispanic districts, particularly compared to other minority groups.

Nationwide, just 41 percent of congressional districts (24 of 58) with a Hispanic voting age population (VAP) of at least 30 percent are represented by a Hispanic member of Congress. In comparison, 72 percent of districts (32 of 44) with a black VAP of at least 30 percent are represented by a black member.

Why can’t Latinos get elected to Latino congressional districts?

[…]

In Texas’ 33rd, party leaders supported African-American state Rep. Marc Veasey over former state Rep. Domingo Garcia in a Dallas-area district that is 61 Hispanic and just 17 percent black. It helped that black voters outnumbered Latino voters in the primary, runoff, and general elections, according to analysis by the Lone Star Project. In Texas’ 34th, party leaders supported longtime Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D), even though his newly-drawn district is 59 percent Hispanic.

Another challenge is turnout. As the race in Texas 33 showed, the Hispanic percentage of a district’s population can overstate the strength of the Latino electorate, because Latinos don’t vote in the same numbers as other minority groups. In some cases, savvy Latino candidates don’t even run because they know the opportunity isn’t as good as it looks on paper.

[…]

But even when Hispanics dominate a district, sometimes it isn’t enough to secure a Latino victory. Nine districts with over 50 percent Latino VAP are represented by non-Latinos. Just two districts with a black VAP of at least 50 percent are represented by non-black Members.

For example, Texas’ 16th District is now represented by Beto O’Rourke after he defeated longtime Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary last year, even though the seat is 78 Hispanic.

Until Latino voters get more organized and start voting with more frequency, simply citing the population figures of a district can lead to misleading analysis.

Yes it can, and that leads to a second problem I have with this article, but first things first. The problem that I said I have with this is that nowhere does Gonzales take the individual candidates into account when discussing the outcomes in Texas. I’ve discussed two of these races before, so I’m going to quote myself. Here’s what I said about Rep. Doggett’s victory, which by the way was in CD35, not CD34.

The main reason for [Sylvia] Romo’s defeat is that she was up against a very strong opponent. It wasn’t just that Rep. Doggett had name ID and a ton of money, it was also that he had a long record of doing things that Democratic voters tend to like. Though he had to move to run in CD35, he was generally perceived – or at least generally portrayed – as the incumbent, and the first rule of beating an incumbent is that there has to be a good reason to fire that incumbent. Doggett’s voting record has no obvious black marks on it – none that Romo articulated, anyway – and there were no issues of personal behavior to exploit. Having interviewed Romo, I agree that she’s a perfectly well qualified candidate and I think she’d have made a perfectly fine member of Congress, but I don’t think she ever adequately answered the question why voters should choose to replace a perfectly fine sitting Congressperson with seniority, a good record, and a history of making Republicans mad enough to try twice to kill him off via redistricting.

Doggett faced the same challenge in 2004 when Republicans drew him into a district that contained large swaths of South Texas. As was the case last year, he faced off against an established Latina elected official from the new district turf, and he won easily. You’re not going to beat Lloyd Doggett without a good reason to beat Lloyd Doggett.

And here is what I said about O’Rourke versus Reyes in CD16:

I’m pretty sure none of the people involved in redistricting, including the litigants, foresaw [the possibility of Reyes losing to O’Rourke] though at least one blogger did. But Rep. Reyes didn’t lose because the new map made CD16 more hostile to Latinos and more amenable to Anglos. Rep. Reyes had some baggage, O’Rourke ran a strong campaign, and he had some help from a third party. These things happen. Perhaps from here O’Rourke does a good job and becomes an entrenched incumbent, or he sees his star rise and takes a crack at statewide office in a few years, or he himself gets challenged by an ambitious pol in 2014, presumably a Latino, and loses. Point being, Latino voters made the choice here, and they will continue to be able to do so.

I think Rep. Reyes’ baggage was a big factor here, but you have to give credit to Rep. O’Rourke for running a strong race and giving the voters a reason to fire the incumbent and install him instead. I won’t be surprised if Rep. O’Rourke is challenged by a Latino in the 2014 primary, just as Rep. Gene Green was challenged in 1994 and 1996 in the heavily Latino CD29 after winning it in 1992. CD16 is still a district drawn for a Latino, after all. If Rep. O’Rourke does a good job he might be able to have a career like Rep. Green, who hasn’t faced a primary challenge since 1996. If not, he’ll be one and done if a better Latino candidate comes around to run against him.

As for CD33, it’s a similar story to CD16. Rep. Marc Veasey was a compelling candidate whose time in the Texas Legislature was marked by strong advocacy for progressive causes. Former State Rep. Domingo Garcia had a decent record in the Lege when he was there, but it had been awhile and he had his share of baggage as well. He had a reputation for divisiveness and was far from universally beloved among Latino politicos – just look at the large number of Latino State Reps that endorsed Veasey. If African-American turnout in the primary runoff was higher than Latino turnout despite the numerical advantage for Latinos, that didn’t happen by magic.

The other problem I had with Gonzales’ article comes from this paragraph:

Five out of six congressional districts that have both Hispanic and black populations of at least 30 percent each are represented by black Members, including Florida’s 24th and Texas’ 9th, 18th, and 30th districts.

The fallacy of that statement, which Gonzales himself alludes to in his concluding statement, which I quoted above, can be summed up by this document. Here are the Citizen Voting Age Populations (CVAPs) for the three Texas districts, estimated from the 2007-2011 American Community Survey:

CD09 – 50.6% African-American, 19.5% white, 19.2% Hispanic
CD18 – 49.2% African-American, 25.0% white, 20.7% Hispanic
CD30 – 53.5% African-American, 25.5% white, 18.1% Hispanic

You tell me what kind of person you’d expect to win in these districts. Total population is far less relevant than CVAP is. Gonzales knows this, and he should have known better. Via NewsTaco.

Yes, Ed Emmett supports Medicaid expansion

As I’m sure you’re aware, I’ve been banging the drum pretty much nonstop for Medicaid expansion. I see it not only as a state issue but a county issue as well, which is why I’ve made a big deal about what Harris County is or isn’t doing about it. I haven’t seen the subject come up in Chronicle reporting on health care issues relating to Harris County, nor have I seen a news story devoted to the matter. I finally got an answer to one of my biggest questions on Sunday in the form of this Chron editorial.

Judge Ed Emmett

Near the top of the to-do list is lessening burden of indigent health care, which costs county taxpayers close to $600 million in unreimbursed expenses annually.

Emmett, a mainstream conservative Republican, makes no bones about the solution. He says he is “full bore” for expansion of Medicaid, the federal program that addresses the health care needs of the poor and indigent. That means pressing the GOP majority in Austin to do what does not come naturally: Recognize the utter necessity of accepting federal dollars to pay for Medicaid expansion in Texas.

Emmett’s dollars-and-cents argument, borrowed from the Legislative Budget Board, is compelling: If Texas contributes $50.4 million in the next two years, he says, the state will receive $4 billion in funding from Washington in the coming biennium – and much of that is money Texans sent to the nation’s capital in the first place.

Getting relief for Harris County Jail as a dumping ground for our mentally ill is another priority. Making fuller use of the Harris County Psychiatric Center is one likely solution.

Well, that’s very good to see. I had not seen any clue about how Judge Emmett felt before that, and I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been paying close attention to the matter. Still, it’s certainly possible that there had been some reporting on it by the Chron that I’ve missed, or some reporting elsewhere. I did a search on “Emmett Medicaid expansion” in the Chron archives, both at the legacy chron.com site and the subscriber-only houstonchronicle.com site. I got three results – the editorial noted above, an unrelated story about Virginia, and this editorial from a couple of days earlier:

The problem of the uninsured in Texas is numerically daunting. More than 6 million of our fellow Texans go without insurance, including nearly 2.7 million whose incomes are between zero and 133 percent of the federal poverty level. About 800,000 are undocumented workers, but 5 million are citizens.

Community Health Choice is calling for what it describes as a “unique Texas solution” that would acknowledge the political reality in this state where federally administered registries are unacceptable.

Instead, it backs a system that would cut down on the complexity of Obamacare while matching up well with the needs of huge numbers of Texans all across the income strata.

Houston and Harris County property taxpayers have an enormous stake in the successful creation of such a program. Each year more than $500 million in county property taxes goes to fund health care expenses. This burden is dumped on local taxpayers by the refusal of the state to create a fair and equitable system.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who is on the very front lines in this battle, supports the expansion of Medicaid, noting that “it doesn’t make any sense for the state not to take federal dollars.” Emmett is a mainstream Republican whose views should be heeded in Austin.

I also did a Google search on the same terms. I got the same Chron pieces, some of my own writing, a number of irrelevant matches, and on page two, this Guidry News story from last week, reporting from an H-GAC meeting:

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett discussed two issues, indigent health care and transportation funding.

“While it’s nice to say that the state’s going to stand up against Obamacare, the truth of the matter is indigents are going to get health care and it’s going to be paid for by somebody,” Emmett said. “So one of the issues – and we have no position on it yet, but something everybody needs to be aware of, particularly those at the county level – if we don’t go with Medicaid expansion then that means the local property tax(payers) are going to foot the bill for indigent health care. It’s that simple.”

I presume Judge Emmett was not using the royal “we” in that sentence but was speaking about Commissioners Court. Given all this, I think I can reasonably exonerate myself for my ignorance. And in case anyone else had been wondering about this, Judge Emmett addressed the matter directly in his State of the County 2013 speech, which he delivered yesterday. Here’s the crucial bit from the speech:

The second looming issue is health care. Harris County is home to the Texas Medical Center, arguably the greatest concentration of health care expertise in the entire world. Yet, almost with in the shadows of this institution exists a huge uninsured and underinsured population. The Harris County Hospital District has a legal and moral obligation to provide indigent health care. The best value for taxpayers and the best outcome for patients comes from establishing medical homes through neighborhood clinics. I believe we must do a better job of coordinating public and private resources to meet the health care needs of the entire county. This is not just about the health of individuals. It is critical to the health of our entire community.

With the advent of the Section 1115 waiver process, the State of Texas is taking a big step toward creating an indigent health care delivery system that crosses county lines and encourages innovative approaches.

In the debate about health care, it must be remembered that in any delivery system, someone has to pay. The Texas Hospital Association, the Texas Medical Association and even the Legislative Budget Board believe Texas should expand Medicaid coverage in order to take advantage of the federal matching funds. I agree with the health care professionals. While the political debate over the Affordable Care Act continues, poor people will continue to get sick and need care. Harris County taxpayers should not have to foot the bill while our federal tax dollars are sent to other states.

Of course, with the Legislature in session, there is one subject about which I am obsessed. Funding for mental health care must be increased at the state level, and a plan must be implemented to divert those with mental health issues from the criminal justice system. The Harris County Jail should not be the largest mental health facility in the state. The Harris County Psychiatric Center should be fully utilized, and Harris County should take the lead in developing a pilot project that will make the entire nation take notice. State Sen. Joan Huffman and members of the county legislative delegation are working on legislation to create just such a pilot project. It is shameful that Texas ranks 51st in spending for mental health. It is also wasteful of taxpayer dollars. By spending wisely on mental health, we can save much more in the criminal justice arena. Even more importantly, we can improve lives and do what is right.

I’m glad to hear it. It’s what I expected from Judge Emmett, who’s always been more about doing things than making political points. Obviously, Rick Perry doesn’t care about any of this, but I have some hope that what he’s saying here can sway a few people. It must be noted that doing the right thing carries some risk for Judge Emmett, as there’s already talk about a primary challenge to him. I rather doubt this stance will be an asset to him in such a campaign, if one materializes, but maybe it won’t be that much of a burden if the trend of Republicans coming to accept Obamacare and Medicaid expansion as the law of the land makes its way here. Maybe. In any event, I’m glad this has been cleared up. Now I hope that Commissioners Court follows the Judge’s lead and passes a resolution calling on the Lege to do its part.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story:

Emmett, using the bully pulpit of his sixth annual State of the County speech to the Greater Houston Partnership, drew widespread applause when he said he agrees with recommendations from the Texas Hospital Association, Texas Medical Association and Legislative Budget Board on expanding the federal health care program for the poor.

[…]

Ron Cookston, executive director of Gateway to Care, a health care education and outreach group, called Emmett’s announcement “oustanding.”

“Leaders in Fort Worth and Bexar County and other counties across Texas are beginning to step up and recognize the importance of moving forward with the expansion,” Cookston said. “That’s just huge in terms of the working poor that would have access to adequate health care resources.”

Emmett, like Perry, a Republican, said after his speech that his address was not meant as an appeal to political moderation, but to logic. No one has accused Republican governors Rick Scott of Florida, John Kasich of Ohio or Jan Brewer of Arizona of being liberals, he said, but each has decided to support Medicaid expansion.

“To me, it is conservative to spend $50 million to get $4 billion,” he said. “When things are going well, that’s when we need to spend money to make sure things keep going well in the future. If I got that across, then I accomplished my purpose.”

I’d use other words than “conservative” in that last paragraph – “sensible”, “smart”, “a no-brainer” – but whatever works for you is fine by me. It’s just unfortunate that none of these words have any meaning to Rick Perry.

Some people still want to move backwards on equality

I’ve noted several bills that aim to move Texas forward, however incrementally, towards greater equality. These are all good and fine things, but don’t mistake their existence for evidence that the Legislature is through trying to move us backwards.

On the right side of history

The first Texas school district to offer health insurance benefits to domestic partners is under fire from a state lawmaker, and the penalty could hit the school where it counts — in the pocketbook.

State Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, filed House Bill 1568, on Wednesday. It would cut off health care funding to Texas school districts that allow employees to add a domestic partner to their health care plan, targeting Pflugerville Independent School District, which extended those benefits last year.

The board of trustees of Pflugerville ISD made history in December 2012 with a 5-1 vote, becoming the first school district in Texas to offer health benefits for domestic partners.

“I think the money we give to educate our kids should go to the kids and not trying to expand social benefits that we decided in 2005 was unconstitutional,” Springer said Thursday, referring to the Defense of Marriage Act of 2005, which defined marriage in the Texas Constitution as between one man and one woman. “We’re not taking away all the funding, just the 7.5 percent that goes to the health benefit plan.”

Opponents of Springer’s bill argue that it mischaracterizes the school’s health plan policy. “No tax dollars are being used,” said Chuck Smith, president of Equality Texas, an LGBT lobbying group. Smith said that no money is taken from funding the classroom, but rather the policy “allows access to the benefit plan, but the employee still pays the premium.”

I marvel once again at the disconnect between how certain people feel about the federal government telling the state what it can and cannot do, and the state government telling local governments what they can and cannot do. See also efforts by the Lege to require state law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws, but forbid them from enforcing federal gun control laws. If there’s a coherence to the ideology that drives this, I don’t see it. One hopes that the Supreme Court will render this misguided and petty little bill moot in the near future, but that’s no reason not to oppose it now. The Legislature has much better things to do than this.

Knife rights

With all the talk about guns this year, it should be noted that they are not the only weapons under consideration in the Legislature.

HB936 by Rep. Harold Dutton would decriminalize the possession, manufacture, transfer, repair, or sale of switchblade knives in Texas by amending Sections 46.05 (a)(d)(e) of the Penal Code. At the same time, it would reaffirm that switchblade knives could not be brought into the very same areas defined as “no go” areas for CHL holders with weapons.

HB1299 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland is a pre-emption law; it would forbid cities, towns, and Counties from writing anti-knife laws more restrictive than State of Texas knife laws. Again, this normalizes knife laws, and makes them more like gun laws in Texas. For example, Travis County does not get to ban AR-15s, though I’m sure some of the denizens there would like to.

Molly Ivins used to say “I’m not anti-gun, I’m pro-knife”. I wonder what she’d have to say about all this. As for me, I favor HB936. I’ve never quite understood why switchblades are treated differently than other kinds of knives. It makes sense to me to make the code more uniform, and to decriminalize that which didn’t need to be criminalized in the first place. As for HB1299, I don’t feel particularly strongly about it one way or another. I do find it interesting that a politician who would fiercely resist the federal government telling a state what it can and can’t do, as Rep. Stickland is, would have no trouble using the power of the state to tell cities what they can and cannot do. I don’t quite get the theory behind that, but then I’m not one of those people that thinks the federal government is per se a bad thing. Your mileage may vary. In any event, you might want to keep an eye on these bills. See here for more.