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February 18th, 2014:

A closer look at the turnout issue in 2014

I wrote yesterday about turnout for this year’s election. The main problem that Democrats face this year is that turnout has basically been flat for them since 2002 in the off year elections. I began to write a post to illustrate this last year, back when Battleground Texas was being viewed as a long-term experiment in increasing Democratic turnout, before we had Wendy Davis and a race we want and hope to win this year, but between the endless legislative summer and the short turnaround into the 2013 elections, not to mention the change in story line for this year, I never finished it. Now that we’re focusing on 2014, this is the time to polish that off.

I had previously suggested that BGT set some benchmarks for the 2014 election, back when we didn’t have anyone running statewide. We have the candidates and an updated mission now, but we still need to be clear about where we start out. What I did was take a look at the county by county results in the contested Railroad Commissioner races of 2006 and 2010. I did this for two reasons: One, generally speaking a low-level race like that is almost entirely a recapitulation of party ID, and two, 2006 Democratic candidate Dale Henry and 2010 Democratic candidate Jeff Weems got nearly identical vote totals – 1,752,947 for Henry, and 1,757,183 for Weems. I’m not taking into account their percentages or the vote total of any other candidate, because we’re focusing exclusively on Democratic turnout. The first questions to consider, therefore, are where did Weems do better than Henry, and where did he do worse? Here are the counties in which Weems did the best relative to 2006:

County Henry Weems Diff ==================================== Harris 253,845 335,689 81,844 Dallas 192,780 210,021 17,241 Hidalgo 27,213 44,372 17,159 Fort Bend 41,013 55,472 14,459 Bexar 116,909 128,360 11,451 Webb 12,012 19,451 7,439 Travis 121,035 125,283 4,248 Maverick 2,427 4,719 2,292 Collin 40,184 41,712 1,528 Hays 13,146 14,497 1,351 Williamson 29,684 30,910 1,226

I’ve said before that Harris County Democrats did not have a turnout problem in 2010. This is the clearest example I can give of that. All of these are counties where you’d like to see the Democrats improve, and where there is room for such improvement. It’s especially heartening to see gains in counties like Hidalgo, Webb, and Fort Bend. Maverick County deserves special mention because it’s easily the smallest county on this list, but still produced a decent-sized gain for the Dems. That’s mostly because overall turnout in Maverick in 2006 was a pathetic 14.8%. Turnout in 2010 was still only 24.1%. That’s in a county that went 72% Democratic in 2010, meaning there’s plenty of room to add a couple thousand more votes to the D column. I’d consider an improvement in Maverick County to be a necessary yardstick for measuring BGT’s progress in 2014.

Given that Weems got about as many votes as Henry, the fact that there were counties in which he gained means there were counties in which he lost as well. In fact, there were far more counties in which Weems lost ground than ones in which he gained. Here were the biggest losers:

County Henry Weems Diff ==================================== Nueces 30,018 24,021 -5,997 Tarrant 127,293 121,721 -5,572 Johnson 10,140 6,123 -4,017 Wichita 9,577 5,803 -3,774 Grayson 9,935 6,190 -3,745 McLennan 20,680 17,211 -3,469 Galveston 28,718 25,279 -3,439 Angelina 8,611 5,367 -3,244 Orange 8,060 4,903 -3,157 Parker 7,838 4,988 -2,850 Lubbock 14,537 12,169 -2,368

The good news is that Tarrant excepted, these are not strategic counties for Democrats. Of course, a vote lost in Wichita or Angelina is still a vote that has to be made up somewhere if you don’t want to lose ground overall. BGT clearly understands this, and I have no doubt that they will put resources into places like these in order to maximize Democratic turnout, even if it means just moving the needle a few points in a dark red county. The challenge is to give a reason for Democrats in places where there are no local Democratic candidates running for anything a reason to show up. I don’t envy them the task.

It should be noted that some of the counties listed above lost voters during the period. By the same token, there were numerous counties that gained quite a few voters between 2006 and 2010. Here’s a look at the 20 counties that had the largest increase in registered voters and how the Dems did in them.

County Growth Grow % Diff 06 AV% 10 AV% Ratio ============================================================ Collin 42,851 11.22% 1,528 10.52% 9.82% 0.93 Fort Bend 41,272 15.41% 14,459 15.32% 17.95% 1.17 Travis 38,234 6.75% 4,248 21.38% 20.73% 0.97 Denton 31,242 9.37% 904 10.13% 9.51% 0.94 Williamson 29,242 14.02% 1,226 14.24% 13.00% 0.91 Montgomery 22,928 10.10% -915 8.49% 7.35% 0.87 Harris 19,198 1.00% 81,844 13.23% 17.32% 1.31 Hidalgo 16,531 5.90% 17,159 9.72% 14.96% 1.54 Hays 12,609 14.73% 1,351 15.36% 14.76% 0.96 Tarrant 12,414 1.34% -5,572 13.77% 12.99% 0.94 Brazoria 7,252 4.43% -351 12.57% 11.83% 0.94 Bexar 7,172 0.80% 11,451 13.01% 14.17% 1.09 Guadalupe 6,768 9.95% -191 10.90% 9.66% 0.89 Cameron 6,552 3.91% -323 12.47% 11.82% 0.95 Parker 6,189 9.13% -2,850 11.56% 6.74% 0.58 Webb 6,097 6.01% 7,439 11.84% 18.09% 1.53 Comal 5,879 8.66% -706 10.22% 8.45% 0.83 Rockwall 5,706 14.22% -262 9.32% 7.59% 0.81

“Growth” is the increase in voter registrations; “Grow %” is the percentage increase. “Diff” is the difference between Weems’ vote total and Henry’s, so a positive number means Weems had more votes and a negative number means Henry had more. “06 AV%” and “10 AV%” is the ratio of Democratic votes to all registered voters, which is basically a straight up measure of turnout. “Ratio” is the ratio of the 06 AV% to the 10 AV%, so numbers greater than one are good. It’s good that the Dems gained votes in places like Collin, Denton, Hays, and Williamson, but they didn’t keep up with the increase in registered voters. This is what I was trying to get at with my earlier post about BGT’s efforts in Collin County. There’s a voter registration component to that, but the much bigger piece of that puzzle is reaching out to the Democrats and would-be Democrats that are already there and convincing them that their vote this fall really matters even if they lack local candidates to back, or if the local candidates they have face much longer odds than the statewide slate. It matters for this election and it matters for the future elections. We can’t just turn out voters in the strongholds, we have to turn them out everywhere. Democrats can’t and won’t be competitive statewide until that happens.

Chron overview of Harris County GOP Chair race

This race has provided quite a bit of entertainment for us armchair types.

Jared Woodfill

The race to head the Harris County Republican Party is about as far down the ballot as you can get.

As such, it typically generates neither news nor drama. This time around, however, the contest to decide who will run the largest county Republican Party in the nation has garnered high-profile endorsements, big-money donations and attention in Austin.

The outcome, some say, will indicate where the GOP is headed locally and statewide in both ideology and management style.

The intra-party showdown pits 12-year chairman Jared Woodfill, a 45-year-old lawyer born and raised in Clear Lake, against Paul Simpson, 58, who is challenging the incumbent for the third time.

Simpson, an engineer-turned-lawyer who moved to Houston 40 years ago to attend Rice University, has won endorsements from such heavyweights as Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, and has out-raised Woodfill nearly six-fold thanks to generous donations from Emmett and others such as Dick Weekley, co-founder of Texans for Lawsuit Reform.


Simpson and his supporters paint the race as a battle over management style, accusing Woodfill of weak fundraising and outreach at a time when the county is growing and diversifying – and, by many measures, becoming more Democratic. They also have suggested that Woodfill has focused too much on divisive social issues, such as same-sex marriage.

At a Houston Chronicle editorial board meeting last month, Emmett complained that the local party is “driving young people away,” that hundreds of Republican precinct chair positions are vacant and at least 80 percent of the party’s money comes from its own candidates.

“The party is supposed to be supporting candidates,” he said. “Right now, the party is living off a few candidates that can raise money. I look at it and I say, ‘Look, we need a county party that understands it’s about winning elections, it’s not about giving speeches.'”


Woodfill and his supporters, in turn, have lambasted Simpson for shying away from the social issues they say will help recruit new supporters and accuse him of lobbing negative attacks without providing viable alternatives.

“There are people that believe that all social issues should be expunged from the party and that will help the marketability of the Republican Party long-term. And then, of course, there are the people that are the social conservatives that, obviously, disagree with that. And I think this is really an echo of that fight,” said longtime party leader Paul Bettencourt, who has endorsed Woodfill.

I’m just going to say this: Most Democrats I know are rooting for Woodfill to win. Those of you that vote in the Republican primary, make of that what you will.

Tracking diplomas

From the Texas Tribune:

Among young Texans who started eighth grade in 2001, less than one-fifth went on to earn a higher education credential within six years of their high school graduation. And rates were even lower among African-American and Hispanic students and those who were economically disadvantaged, according to data analyzed by two state education agencies and presented Tuesday in a Texas Tribune news application.

Since 2012, Houston Endowment, a philanthropic foundation and sponsor of the news app, has advocated for the use of “cohort tracking” to evaluate the state’s education pipeline. The analysis begins with all Texas students entering eighth grade in a given year and follows them for 11 years, giving them six years after high school to earn a post-secondary degree.

George Grainger, senior program officer for Houston Endowment’s education initiatives, said he believes it’s a valid performance index for the entire education pipeline, not just higher education. “We felt if we put our name on this, we can talk about it in a way that a state agency is perhaps not able to,” he said.

Cohort tracking is something the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board had been doing for some time — but quietly. Houston Endowment approached the agency about running the numbers again and providing an annual snapshot of the education system, this time for public consumption.

Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes called the idea of using the simple, easy-to-understand metric — rather than standard metrics like college graduation rates — “a minor act of genius.”

“If your final number is 19 out of 100 students receiving some form of post-secondary credential, you know there’s an awful lot of leakage in the pipeline,” Paredes said.

The story is about a better way to track higher education outcomes among graduating classes. The NCAA does something similar to track athletes’ graduation rates. There are some holes in this method – it doesn’t count people who spend a couple of years in the military before going on to graduate from college, and it loses track of people who move out of state before graduating high school – but it’s an improvement over what we had been doing to track this achievement. There are some predictable disparities due to race and to income level, and while there are some encouraging trends the fact remains that a huge percentage of current students will not get a college degree. While we all agree that not everyone needs to go to college and that more needs to be done to support kids who want to be on a more vocational track, the fact remains that on balance, not getting a college degree means greatly reducing earning potential. The embedded chart comes via Kevin Drum, who comments:

The chart from Pew Research tells the story. In 1965, high school grads earned 19 percent less than college grads. Since then, the earnings of college grads have gone up (though slowly over the past two decades), while the earnings of high school grads have plummeted. As a result, high school grads today earn a whopping 39 percent less than college grads. Life for the 47 percent of Americans who have high school diplomas but no more is an increasingly parlous one.

This is our future, Texas. What are we doing about it?

More details on the rape kit backlog results

HPD reports to Council about the progress of testing done on the backlogged rape kits.

No false arrests by Houston police have been uncovered during an ongoing $4.4 million testing of thousands of old rape kits, but new suspects have been developed with DNA, leading to an undisclosed number of arrests, police commanders told City Council members Tuesday.

Houston Police Department Assistant Chief Matt Slinkard told the council’s Public Safety Committee that 280 “hits” from DNA profiles resulted from the 6,170 cases returned so far to HPD from private labs. Last year, two labs began processing nearly 10,000 cases for usable evidence, including 6,600 untested sexual assault kits, the oldest stretching back to 1987, that were stored in the HPD property room.

DNA testing at HPD’s crime lab was suspended in 2002 after an independent audit revealed shoddy forensic work including unqualified personnel, lax protocols and inadequate facilities that included a roof that leaked rainwater onto evidence.

Slinkard and Capt. Jennifer Evans said that so far, the DNA testing has not found any instances of HPD mistakenly arresting someone.

“There are zero indications of false arrests at this time,” said Evans, who heads HPD’s Special Crimes Division.


Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, emphasized the 280 hits does not mean HPD is looking for hundreds of active sexual predators.

“I think there’s been an handful of arrests already, but it’s very rare when you get a hit where it’s somebody who is still on the street,” said Hunt, explaining the criminal is usually in jail on another charge.

See here for the previous entry. As of that story, there were still 2410 kits that were being reviewed by HPD to ensure they met standards for federal DNA testing. I don’t know if that has been completed or not, based on this new story. In any event, we got 280 hits in CODIS, of which I presume some are people that are already incarcerated for something, some are the offenders that had been convicted in these cases on other evidence, and some are people that had not been previously identified or arrested as the offender. We don’t have a whole lot more information than that, most likely because the cops don’t want to tip off someone they’re planning to track down. I am certain that the first arrest made based on this evidence will be sufficiently publicized. Beyond that, I’m glad there’s progress. I look forward to seeing this all brought to a completion.