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July 10th, 2013:

NPR’s odd claim about Latino voting in Texas

NPR takes its turn with the obligatory “can Texas turn blue” story, and in doing some provides a number I had not heard before.

A new group called Battleground Texas is planning to spend tens of millions of dollars trying to turn Texas blue by 2020. It is made up of Obama campaign veterans, like former field director Jeremy Bird, with lots of experience targeting and turning out minority voters for Democrats. Bird wants to do the same thing for Texas.

“If you look at the 2012 electorate,” he says, “only 38 percent of all eligible Hispanics turned out to vote. Compare that to Florida, where that number is 62 percent. If 62 percent of Hispanic voters who are eligible to vote turn out and vote in Texas, it’s a battleground state.”

The math makes the Democrats’ strategy sound simple. President Obama lost Texas last year by 1.2 million votes. And, says Hinojosa, there are currently 3 million to 4 million eligible Hispanics in Texas who didn’t vote in 2012.

“That’s where our problem is,” Hinojosa says. “The moment that they get engaged and start voting, it’s all over but the crying for the Republican Party in Texas.”

Not so fast, says Steve Munisteri, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party. Munisteri says the Democrats’ plans for Texas are based on a string of bad assumptions.

“The first false premise is that Hispanics will vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. We know that’s not true,” he says. “Republican elected officials are rational enough, a long time ago, to recognize how important Hispanics are to our state, and [they] actively sought the vote from Hispanic communities, with great success.”

Republicans have been averaging about 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas — just enough to stay competitive. Even Mitt Romney did better in Texas — getting 36 percent of the Hispanic vote there, compared with his dismal 27 percent among Hispanics nationwide.

Wait, Republicans have been averaging only 35% of the Hispanic vote in Texas? Has anyone informed Karl Rove and PolitiFact about this?

I actually think that number is a reasonable guess, more so than Rove’s “averaging 40% of the Hispanic vote” claim. But where in the world did they come up with 36% for Mitt Romney? No source is cited for this number, despite the fact that there was a pre-election poll of Latino voters in Texas in 2012, which put Romney’s support at 29%. It’s just thrown out there, as if of course everyone knows this.

If you don’t want to believe that poll, and you don’t have sufficient trust in the more general polls and their small sub-sample sizes, then you can do what I have done before and take a look at actual election results to see if the numbers you observe fit with your hypothesis. Here’s another look at the most heavily Latino State Rep districts in Texas:

Dist SSRV Romney Obama R Pct O Pct ============================================= 31 76.2 16,605 27,543 37.3 61.9 35 76.7 10,081 20,470 32.7 66.3 36 85.4 7,230 22,133 24.4 74.6 37 80.0 8,786 20,458 29.7 69.2 38 79.9 10,696 21,465 32.9 66.1 39 73.9 8,144 24,015 25.1 73.9 40 75.2 6,121 19,468 23.7 75.2 42 88.4 8,084 26,063 23.4 75.5 75 82.8 6,888 18,719 26.6 72.2 76 76.8 7,313 25,729 21.8 76.8 79 71.3 12,231 23,200 34.1 64.6 80 80.4 11,408 25,440 30.7 68.4 Tot 113,587 274,703 29.3 70.7

As before, all data can be found on each House members’ page. This time I included raw vote numbers so I could get a grand total at the end. Looks like that Latino Decisions poll, which pegged Romney at 29% among Texas Latino voters, might have been on to something, eh? Note that for the individual districts, the percentages are of the total vote, including third party candidates, whereas for the grand total it’s a straight R-versus-D comparison. Had I included third party numbers, the overall percentages for Romney and Obama would have been a bit lower.

As I’ve also said before, not all of the votes in these districts were cast by Latinos. Most of the ones that weren’t would have been cast by Anglos, and unless you believe that Anglo voters were especially pro-Obama in these districts, the implication of that is that the Latino numbers for Obama were almost surely even better, and thus even worse for Romney. This is a pretty huge sample, probably about 20 or 25% of all Latino votes in Texas once you factor out the Anglos from the numbers above. To get from here to a 36% performance among Latinos, the remaining ones would have had to vote for Romney at about a 40% clip, which would then give rise to the question why they were different from Latino voters in these districts. The Occam’s Razor answer says that 36% is just too high a number to be real. You tell me which is more likely.

Look, I could be wrong about all this. Maybe Latinos really did vote 36% for Romney in Texas. Maybe they voted 40%, as Mike Baselice would have you believe. But if you want me to believe, you have to address the following:

1. The fact that three out of four polls in September and October of 2012 that publicly released their data showed Latinos at 32-33% for Romney.
2. The Latino Decisions poll that pegged support at 29% in Texas.
3. Romney’s actual performance in these heavily Latino districts.

Work all that into your hypothesis, I still may not believe you, but at least I’ll listen. And maybe I won’t write yet another blog post that tries to prove you wrong. Show me the math, in other words. Is that so much to ask?

Anyway. NPR did a whole series of stories on Texas last week, and my complaints about this one notwithstanding, they’re all good stuff. Check ’em out.

Back to the House

After the Senate adjourned on Tuesday morning without a committee vote on its omnibus anti-abortion bill following the long hearing in which there was a lot more hearing than listening, the House took up its bill, with more of the same in store.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, the chairwoman of the House women’s health caucus, opened the debate by questioning [bill author Rep. Jodie] Laubenberg on a variety of measures in the bill.

In her questions, Farrar suggested that the bill would reduce access to abortion by requiring facilities across the state to upgrade to more expensive ambulatory surgical centers and increasing the cost of abortion as a result. She also asked how requiring drug-induced abortions to be performed in a facility with a post-operative waiting room, pre-operative waiting room and sterilization facilities makes those abortions safer.

“The question should be what is best for the health of the woman,” Laubenberg said in response to whether the facility requirements would increase the cost of abortions. She added that facility upgrades were necessary for abortion procedures, because “the expected outcome is the taking of a life — this is a very unique procedure.”

Other Democrats argued that because only six of the state’s 42 existing abortion facilities meet the existing ambulatory surgical center standards, the bill would create an undue burden on access to abortion, particularly for poor and rural women.

“I’m just concerned your bill is putting obstacles for women who make a choice, a very personal choice to get a procedure done,” said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. She said that when the regulations in HB 2 are coupled with the existing abortion sonogram law, a woman seeking a medical abortion would have to see a physician three times on three separate days. That would put an unnecessary burden on women who live far from the six ambulatory surgical centers that perform abortions, all of which are located in urban areas, she said.

Laubenberg said she does not believe the legislation would force abortion clinics to close. “Raising their standards will not force them to close,” she said.

If Rep. Laubenberg’s answers sound familiar, it’s because they’re the same answers she’s been giving all along. At this point, she’s probably just got a disc of MP3s of her greatest hits that she picks from when needed. It’s not like she has anything original to say, and at least this way she can avoid making any stupid remarks about rape. Like Sen. Hegar in the Senate, she’s not interested in accepting any amendments, including Republican amendments.

State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), a moderate Republican, filed an amendment that would uphold the 20-week ban. However, it would make exceptions for cases like fetal anomalies, many of which are only diagnosed at 20 weeks gestation, and for rape and incest victims whose pregnancies might expose them to risk of suicide. Davis explained that, as a lawyer familiar with the case law pertaining to abortion, she thought that her amendments would give the bill a better chance of surviving a legal challenge by removing some of the ‘undue burdens’.

But perhaps feeling confident about the constitutionality of her bill, Rep. Laubenberg moved to table the amendment. Just before the vote, Rep. Davis argued that her amendments supported good policy making. Anyone who voted to table it was clearly only interested in politics, not good policy, she said.

The House voted to table the amendment by 89-56. Guess we know what Rep. Davis’ colleagues are most interested in then.

We’ve known that all along, but it never hurts to accumulate evidence. I will note that with Rep. Mark Strama’s resignation, the Dems are down to 54 in the House, so at least one of Rep. Davis’ Republican colleagues voted with her on that. We’ll have to check the House journal later to see who it was.

By the way, while Texas Republicans are pushing bills like HB2 to prove how “pro-life” they are, here are some things they’re not doing.

With new abortion laws in place, Texans can expect a significant increase in the number of babies born every year. That’s the whole point—to turn more pregnancies into live births.

We can expect the mothers of a multitude of these “extra” babies to be teens, unwed and/or poor. Those are the demographics of a significant proportion of women who choose abortions.

Since the moral impetus for reducing, if not eliminating, abortions is advocacy for life, then Texans should demonstrate our support for these babies. When you examine many of our current practices and policies, you understand why outsiders claim Texans are more concerned about fetuses than babies, children and teenagers.

Texas is among the nation’s leaders in child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy. We’re also among the nation’s lowest-spending states on child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy. Some people attribute these maladies to dependence on government, the product of a so-called welfare state. If that were true, then their incidence would be higher in states that spend the most on child welfare, anti-poverty programs and education, not the least-spending small-government states, like Texas.

Ironically, conservative states composed of higher percentages of Bible-believing Christians—from Texas across the South—suffer the blights of child poverty, teen pregnancy, dropout rates and illiteracy much more promiscuously than their more secular counterparts. Those are the states many Texans and Southerners call “pagan” and “dark.”

This disparity is an affront to the name of Jesus. Small wonder unbelieving outsiders doubt the compassion of Christ and the credibility of Christians. We often treat people Jesus called “the least” worse than unbelievers do.

If Texans’ conservative moral values prompt our state to implement one of the nation’s most stringent abortion codes, then we should accept the responsibility for all those babies we will bring into the world. We need to do right by them.

Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Not while Rick Perry is Governor, and not if Greg Abbott becomes Governor. These things are not important to them.

Anyway. In the end, HB2 passed as expected, and if it passes on third reading today it could then be taken up by the Senate as early as Friday, though Monday may be more likely. Either way, needless to say it will be well outside the filibuster zone. The next stop will be the federal courthouse, where a similar law from Wisconsin was at least temporarily blocked. Of course, we have the Fifth Circuit to overcome, but let’s keep hope alive anyway.

For more on the House debate, see BOR, Texpatriate, the Observer, Texas Politics, Raw Story, and PoliTex. Finally, the Village Voice reminds us that a whole lot of the bill supporters currently infesting Austin are outside agitators, while Sen. Wendy Davis and a bunch of actual Texans are touring the state to stand against these needless bills.

UPDATE: The House has approved HB2 on third reading. Back to the Senate we go, no earlier than Friday.

On using B-Cycle

The Chron had a nice lifestyle section story about B-Cycle last week.

B-cycles are appearing all over downtown and Midtown. You may have seen them, parked at racks with self-serve kiosks, where riders are able to enter their payment information, detach the bike and go.

B-cycle is a program of Houston Bike Share, a nonprofit organization funded by federal grants. The program started in May 2012 with 18 bikes planted at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston City Hall and Market Square. Success was immediate. Today 173 bikes are available at 21 stations in downtown, Midtown and Montrose, with more planned.

Will Rub, the director of Houston Bike Share, is passionate about the program.

“Our prices are so much better than most other cities’. Denver carries an $80 annual cost and a weekly rate of $20; New York’s annual rate is $95 while the weekly is $25. You can rent a Houston B-cycle bike for as little as $5 for 24 hours; $15 for seven days and $65 for a year,” Rub said.

But there’s a catch: “You can only use the bike for one hour at a time.”

That means someone who wants to ride a B-cycle to work must pick up a bike in the morning and park it when he arrives at his destination. He must use another bike to ride home in the afternoon.

Because the bikes are linked to computers, Rub can track who takes a bike at any given time and where he drops it off. He said several residents of the Sabine Lofts near the Sabine Street Bridge will pick up bikes about 7:30 a.m., ride for four to six minutes, then leave them at buildings downtown. The stations are open 6 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, though bikes can be returned at any time.

Not a whole lot there that would be news to anyone who has been paying attention to B-Cycle. I suspect this was an introductory story for those who haven’t followed it closely – Page One of the lifestyle section will do that. I don’t have any particular analysis of it, I just wanted to note that having moved to a downtown office a couple of weeks ago, I finally got a chance to break in my own B-Cycle membership. I rode to and from Phoenician Market for lunch. That would have been a ten-minute-plus walk for me, not terribly inviting in the heat, but was much quicker and less arduous on a bike, since the nice thing about riding is that you create a breeze for yourself. My way of thinking of this is that having B-Cycle available – there’s a kiosk two blocks from my office – enables me to expand my range of lunch possibilities. I can get farther in a short time span, with my car being an impractical option (and sometimes an unavailable one, if Tiffany needs it at lunchtime). I’ve got my eye on the Food Truck Park and Stanton’s City Bites for the future. Maybe the north end of Midtown – there’s a bunch of stuff there on West Gray, just south of I-45. All practical and doable with a bike, but not by any other means. I’m getting enthusiastic thinking about it.

On a related note, I had a doctor’s appointment last week. My doctor’s office is 1.3 miles from where I work, according to Google Maps. Way too far to walk, and a big hassle to drive since it means going from one multi-story parking lot to another – and having to pay for the privilege at my destination – but a snap on a bike. To avoid any concerns about securing the bike or keeping it longer than the 60-minutes-free period, I rode from one kiosk to another, which was four blocks away from the office. Given that I’d have had to walk four blocks to get my car anyway, my trip took no more time than driving would have, and it was free. You just can’t beat that.

Does this fit into the Chron’s critique of B-Cycle as “toys for urban bohemians” rather than “legitimate transportation”? Well, beyond the fact that if I’m a bohemian then the term has lost all meaning, how is this not “legitimate” transportation? These destinations are all too far to walk, but are within five minutes of my B-Cycle kiosk. It’s still a car off the street, even if it’s not at rush hour, and even if the thought of driving to one of these places – after walking four blocks to my parking garage, and not having any guarantee of finding parking at some of these destinations – is ludicrous. It makes downtown a better experience for me as an employee there, and though I do have a car available to me because I carpool with my wife, B-Cycle makes taking transit to downtown more attractive, since you needn’t feel as limited for lunch options. That’s my point about the Uptown transit plan, and why I think B-Cycle expansion out there will help address Judge Emmett’s concerns about people not wanting to give up their cars. I bet if it was pitched properly, you might be able to get the Uptown Management District and/or some of the businesses there to kick in for a piece of the cost to put kiosks there. It’s good to have options, and B-Cycle provides them.

A tax break where?

I don’t quite understand this.

The Houston City Council on Wednesday will consider giving up to $1 million in tax rebates to a Costco store that would be built outside city limits.

City officials say the proposed 151,600-square-foot warehouse and liquor store, in the 23600 block of Katy Freeway, will act as a catalyst for further development in the area around Interstate 10 and the Grand Parkway, and generate tax revenues the city otherwise would not collect.

[…]

The 14 acres Costco is under contract to buy is in Cimarron Municipal Utility District, with which the city cut a special-purpose annexation deal in 2003. Under the agreement, the city and utility district split the revenues of a 1-cent sales tax collected within the district’s boundaries. The city provides only animal control services there, and property owners pay no city property taxes.

[…]

Without the incentive, Chief Development Officer Andy Icken said, the company likely would have picked a tract it had under contract a mile west of the utility district, near Katy Mills Mall, where no revenue would have been generated for the city.

Icken said the city expects to collect $8 million in sales tax revenues from the store during the life of its annexation agreement, after rebates. The rebates will come from sales taxes generated by the store, and will be used to reimburse Costco for infrastructure work, mainly a road connecting it to the I-10 feeder road. The Cimarron district will pay for soil work to make the site suitable for construction.

Combined, Costco would be reimbursed about $2.5 million. Costco representatives declined to comment on the project or the rebates.

Councilwoman Melissa Noriega said she has concerns about the proposal, but has not decided how she will vote. “It seems like Costco is an awfully big, well-funded company to need that kind of infrastructure assistance,” she said. “Having said that, I know we want to incentivize the kind of retail they produce for the tax rolls.”

I get wanting to have the place built in an area that benefits the city. The usual arguments about this kind of subsidy relocating retail activity instead of increasing it is a bit less concerning when the location of the retail activity is the point. While it is unquestionably true that something is going to be built at this location, given the upcoming Grand Parkway expansion, I get wanting to make it happen sooner, since the city’s revenue sharing deal with the Cimarron MUD expires in 2033, and I get wanting to ensure that what does get built is of top quality. But yeah, I don’t really see why a large well-funded company like Costco needs the incentive. I’m sure they know which location is best for them, and I don’t know how much difference a relatively minor tax break will make to their bottom line. Council should be very skeptical of this.