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March 11th, 2014:

Comparing Davis and White

In 2010, Bill White received 517,487 votes in the Democratic primary, for 76.0% of the vote. Wendy Davis just received 432,065 votes, for 79.1% of the total but 85,422 fewer votes than White. As is always the case, the change was not distributed uniformly. Davis picked up more votes than White in some counties, and lost votes against his total in others. Here are the top 20 counties for net vote increase by Davis:

County Davis Davis% White White% D-W =================================================== TARRANT 38,560 94.02% 19,857 85.53% 18,703 DALLAS 59,649 92.43% 43,430 80.37% 16,219 TRAVIS 43,414 95.75% 34,426 90.17% 8,988 COLLIN 9,030 95.65% 5,023 82.75% 4,007 BEXAR 35,578 85.39% 32,126 76.25% 3,452 DENTON 6,757 95.45% 3,968 85.54% 2,789 VAL VERDE 2,899 51.87% 1,638 59.28% 1,261 LUBBOCK 3,191 81.30% 2,283 53.62% 908 ELLIS 1,897 91.55% 1,389 86.01% 508 WILLIAMSON 6,849 95.44% 6,383 89.98% 466 GREGG 1,744 89.30% 1,344 78.60% 400 ROBERTSON 1,195 74.73% 806 78.25% 389 MAVERICK 2,067 54.67% 1,714 31.33% 353 ROCKWALL 912 94.21% 590 82.06% 322 DIMMIT 1,060 48.47% 810 49.69% 250 COMAL 1,516 92.10% 1,369 87.98% 147 JEFF DAVIS 268 65.37% 137 74.86% 131 ECTOR 907 68.71% 780 59.05% 127 WILBARGER 351 69.09% 237 83.16% 114 PARKER 1,273 93.33% 1,163 88.85% 110

While Davis had a higher percentage of the vote than White in 15 of these 20 counties, the main driver of her gains was higher turnout in the given counties. In particular, there was higher turnout in her home county of Tarrant, which you’d hope would be the case, with contested primaries in SD10 and CD33 also helping. As discussed before, busy county elections in Bexar, Dallas, and Travis helped push those totals up. For those who have been freaking out about the South Texas results, I would like to point out the significant increases in Collin and Denton counties, neither of which had even a single contested local race on the Democratic Party ballot. Not only was Democratic turnout up in these counties from 2010 (6,770 to 9,441 votes in Collin, 4,639 to 7,079 in Denton), it was down in the Republican primary (56,934 to 44,621 in Collin, 42,261 to 37,657 in Denton). Of course there were still a lot more R votes in these counties than D votes, but the goal isn’t to win them in November it’s to cut into the margin. Maybe this is worthy of a fraction of the attention paid to Wendy Davis’ percentages in South Texas.

That’s as good a segue to the counties in which she lost votes compared to White as any. There were only a handful of gainers for her beyond those 20 above. Most of the ones in which she lost votes were small amounts, largely due to the overall turnout decline. Here are the bottom 20 for Davis, the counties in which she lost the most votes from White’s 2010 totals:

County Davis Davis% White White% W-D =================================================== LAMAR 522 87.44% 1,743 87.24% 1,221 MATAGORDA 975 74.37% 2,234 83.83% 1,259 ZAPATA 535 34.92% 1,803 56.40% 1,268 LIBERTY 501 88.99% 2,030 88.84% 1,529 HARDIN 423 87.58% 1,953 78.03% 1,530 NUECES 5,411 70.38% 6,954 65.66% 1,543 CASS 514 79.57% 2,170 82.32% 1,656 MONTGOMERY 2,345 93.80% 4,056 90.43% 1,711 HAYS 2,954 94.35% 4,733 85.03% 1,779 TRINITY 327 85.83% 2,176 83.31% 1,849 ANGELINA 789 86.99% 2,768 88.15% 1,979 BRAZORIA 2,601 91.62% 4,683 90.44% 2,082 ORANGE 1,141 85.40% 3,562 81.81% 2,421 BOWIE 260 86.67% 3,349 79.44% 3,089 JEFFERSON 9,322 87.75% 12,600 75.92% 3,278 GALVESTON 3,969 91.71% 7,398 89.55% 3,429 HIDALGO 16,994 47.34% 21,353 60.04% 4,359 WEBB 10,446 44.18% 15,732 56.82% 5,286 FORT BEND 7,745 92.97% 13,272 90.59% 5,527 HARRIS 47,372 92.17% 89,378 90.02% 42,006

Harris County accounts for almost one half of her decline all by itself, not surprising given that turnout overall in Harris was down by about half. Note that Davis did better in vote percentage in Harris, as was the case in the big counties where she gained. White had to campaign for his primary win, and he did what he needed to in terms of driving turnout in his own backyard. Fort Bend, Galveston, Montgomery, Liberty, Brazoria, even Angelina Counties would be part of that same effect. Jefferson and Orange are less Democratic and less populated than they were in 2010. Hays County had no contested local primaries; I can’t tell what else may have gone on in 2010 because their crappy county elections page has no past election results on it at this time, but according to the Secretary of State page, then-Rep. Patrick Rose had a primary challenger in 2010, so that probably helped drive some turnout. As for Webb and Hidlago, you already know the story there. Note as I said before that White didn’t exactly kill it in those counties, and overall turnout was the same in 2014 in Hidalgo as it was in 2010; it was down from 27K to 23K in Webb.

Anyway. You can make of these numbers what you will. I just like to have them all in front of me whenever possible.

What should we do about hurricane preparedness?

Or, to put the question another way: Ike Dike, Ike Floodgate, something else, or nothing?

In 2009, months after Hurricane Ike devastated the upper Texas coast, Texas A&M-Galveston professor William Merrell unveiled a multibillion-dollar plan – to much skepticism – dubbed the “Ike Dike.”

The proposal calls for extending Galveston’s seawall 15 miles to the island’s West End, building a similar barrier along Bolivar Peninsula and installing massive Dutch-like floodgates at the entrance to Galveston Bay.

Snubbed by some for its price tag – an estimated $4 billion to $6 billion – and potentially detrimental environmental impact, the still-evolving concept since has gained many adherents who believe it would protect coastal communities and refineries near the Houston Ship Channel.

Five-and-a-half years after Ike, though, the true feasibility of Merrell’s proposal remains unknown. The same goes for a competing plan devised by Rice University that would guard the Bayou City’s industrial base – the largest petrochemical complex in the country – by placing a 600- to 800-foot wall across the 52-mile Ship Channel near the Fred Hartman Bridge or Morgan’s Point. The architects of the so-called “Centennial Gate” say the $1.5 billion project is more environmentally friendly than the Ike Dike and cheap enough to be funded without having to ask for federal help, meaning it could be built quicker.

Which way to go? Figuring that out is the aim of a new $4 million study by a six-county coalition that will assess both proposals, gather data and determine what – if any – storm surge remedies should be pursued to protect the Houston area from future hurricanes.

[…]

In the years since Ike, a cadre of local leaders, elected officials and academics have come to the conclusion that some kind of protective measures need to be taken, for safety, economic or environmental reasons.

That, however, is where any consensus ends, said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, chairman of the district.

“Doing nothing has been the option used for the last several thousand years,” he said. “We don’t think it’s the best option.”

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, re-appointed to the district’s board of directors last month, remains a skeptic.

Industry has not pushed for any kind of protective structure, the county’s top elected official said at a recent Houston Chronicle editorial board meeting. He expressed doubts the state could secure federal funding for such a project under the current administration, noting President Barack Obama never made a post-Ike visit to Texas.

“For many reasons, I am skeptical of both the ‘Ike Dike’ and ‘Centennial Gate,’ ” Emmett wrote in a white paper this year, in part because “no other area has chosen to build such protective structures.”

I’ve blogged about this stuff multiple times – see here, here, and here for the Ike Dike; here and here for the Ike Floodgate. I have no idea what the right answer is. As insurance policies go, these are pretty expensive. Not nearly as expensive as a devastating storm, of course, but it’s hard to gauge the odds of a storm hitting in just the right place to do that kind of damage. I’ll be interested to see what this study says, but I doubt we’ll be any closer to deciding on a course of action, much less acting on it.

Transit ridership up nationally

Some encouraging news here.

More Americans used buses, trains and subways in 2013 than in any year since 1956 as service improved, local economies grew and travelers increasingly sought alternatives to the automobile for trips within metropolitan areas, the American Public Transportation Association said in a report released on Monday.

The trade group said in its annual report that 10.65 billion passenger trips were taken on transit systems during the year, surpassing the post-1950s peak of 10.59 million in 2008, when gas prices rose to $4 to $5 a gallon.

The ridership in 2013, when gas prices were lower than in 2008, undermines the conventional wisdom that transit use rises when those prices exceed a certain threshold, and suggests that other forces are bolstering enthusiasm for public transportation, said Michael Melaniphy, the president of the association.

“Now gas is averaging well under $4 a gallon, the economy is coming back and people are riding transit in record numbers,” Mr. Melaniphy said in an interview. “We’re seeing a fundamental shift in how people are moving about their communities.”

From 1995 to 2013, transit ridership rose 37 percent, well ahead of a 20 percent growth in population and a 23 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled, according to the association’s data.

Stronger economic growth is playing an important role in the increased use of public transit, as more people are using the systems to get to an increasing number of jobs, the association reported, and transit agencies are nurturing growth by expanding their systems or improving services.

“We’re seeing that where cities have invested in transit, their unemployment rates have dropped, and employment is going up because people can get there,” Mr. Melaniphy said.

Overall public transit ridership increased by 1.1 percent from 2012, with the biggest gains in rail service and in bus service for smaller cities.

The APTA press release is here, and the full report is here. The picture for Houston is somewhat murky. Overall, ridership is up 2.76% in 2013 over 2012 (see page 27). That’s driven by increases in bus (3.44%) and demand response (5.35%), which I’m guessing is MetroLift, but offset somewhat by declines in light rail (-0.72%) and vanpool (-1.11%). Complicating the picture further is that both bus and rail saw declines in October and November 2013 from 2012, but then had a big increase in December. The latter is likely helped, though not completely explained, by the North Line opening; the increase in bus rides is less clear. And December 2013 was still the slowest month of the quarter, just better than it had been the year before. I don’t really know what causes the fluctuations. And even with some recent encouraging news, Metro still has a way to go to catch up to their ridership numbers from 2006. It’s likely that Metro will see bigger increases in ridership over the next couple of years, as the updated bus service and two new rail lines come online. It would be nice to have a better understanding of what has happened between then and now, and for Metro to get back to the point where it should be and beyond it. Dallas Transportation has more.

Inmates and Medicaid

Other states are doing what Texas has declined to do.

go_to_jail

Being arrested in Chicago for, say, drug possession or assault gets you sent to the Cook County Jail to be fingerprinted, photographed and X-rayed. You’ll also get help applying for health insurance.

At least six states and counties from Maryland to Oregon’s Multnomah are getting inmates coverage under Obamacare and its expansion of Medicaid, the federal and state health-care program for the poor. The fledgling movement would shift to the federal government some of the more than $6.5 billion in annual state costs for treating prisoners. Proponents say it also will make recidivism rarer, because inmates released with coverage are more likely to get treatment for mental illness, substance abuse and other conditions that can lead them to crime.

“When someone gets discharged from the jail and they don’t have insurance and they don’t have a plan, we can pretty much set our watch to when we’re going see them again,” said Ben Breit, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

The still-small programs could reach a vast population: At the end of 2012, almost 7 million people in the U.S. were on parole, probation, in prison or locked up in jail, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. About 13 million people are booked into county jails each year, according to the Washington-based National Association of Counties.

[…]

Medicaid expansion also enables more prisoners to have coverage when they are released. States that don’t expand it can help inmates get subsidized coverage in the insurance exchanges created under the law when they’re released.

Counties in about half the states are responsible for some level of indigent care at hospitals, so getting inmates enrolled can reduce costs, said Paul Beddoe, deputy legislative director for the National Association of Counties.

Cook County has been operating a pilot project to enroll prisoners in Medicaid since April under a federal waiver, while states including Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland and counties such as Multnomah, which includes Portland, have helped hundreds of prisoners apply for coverage under the Affordable Care Act since it took effect Jan. 1. California, Ohio, San Francisco and other jurisdictions are starting programs or considering them.

About 90 percent of inmates are uninsured, and many have never had treatment for their illness, Osher said. They have disproportionate rates of communicable and chronic diseases and behavioral disorders, he said. About 488,000 people in U.S. prisons and jails suffer from a mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Arlington, Virginia.

[…]

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which plans to start enrolling inmates during the next two months, expects that it will save $18 million a year on hospitalization alone, said Stu Hudson, managing director of health care and fiscal operations.

Ex-prisoners who have insurance will be more likely to get treatment that would help them avoid committing crimes that got them locked up in the first place, Hudson said.

“They’re provided good continuum of care from incarceration through their release into the community and onward,” Hudson said by phone.

We’ve discussed this before. Putting aside the considerable cost savings to the state, the potential impact on the many people that regularly intersect with the criminal justice system who have treatable mental illnesses could be huge. We could save a bunch more money just from the reduced rate of recidivism. There’s really no downside to this. Unfortunately, without a change in state leadership, there’s also no chance of it happening. I don’t really care about the day to day vicissitudes of the Governor’s race. This sort of thing is the prize I keep my eyes on.