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March 1st, 2017:

Precinct analysis: Dallas county elections

One more look at Dallas County, this time with the county-level judicial races. I like to use these partly because they’re a pretty good proxy for partisan preference, and partly because they provide a straight up two-party comparison, which is more useful for assessing possible legislative races. There were seven contested district and county court races in Dallas in 2016. Rather than go with the averages, I thought this time I’d show the low, middle, and high cases for both parties. Here they are, beginning with the top end for the Republicans.


Dist     Rankin    Ewing
========================
CD32    142,570  108,735
		
HD100    10,395   31,810
HD102    30,060   26,476
HD103    11,050   26,444
HD104     8,064   24,006
HD105    22,991   23,584
HD107    27,272   26,642
HD108    45,627   30,928
HD109    11,824   52,412
HD110     4,453   30,457
HD111    13,106   43,945
HD112    29,511   24,313
HD113    28,463   25,957
HD114    37,179   28,877
HD115    30,771   27,446
		
HD100    24.63%   75.37%
HD102    53.17%   46.83%
HD103    29.47%   70.53%
HD104    25.14%   74.86%
HD105    49.36%   50.64%
HD107    50.58%   49.42%
HD108    59.60%   40.40%
HD109    18.41%   81.59%
HD110    12.76%   87.24%
HD111    22.97%   77.03%
HD112    54.83%   45.17%
HD113    52.30%   47.70%
HD114    56.28%   43.72%
HD115    52.86%   47.14%


Dist        Lee    Garza
========================
CD32    136,511  114,646
		
HD100     9,818   32,426
HD102    28,758   27,772
HD103    10,256   27,316
HD104     7,180   25,078
HD105    22,441   24,238
HD107    26,312   27,665
HD108    43,290   33,182
HD109    11,526   52,739
HD110     4,211   30,739
HD111    12,738   44,367
HD112    28,664   25,192
HD113    27,864   26,603
HD114    35,097   30,885
HD115    29,832   28,411
		
HD100    23.24%   76.76%
HD102    50.87%   49.13%
HD103    27.30%   72.70%
HD104    22.26%   77.74%
HD105    48.08%   51.92%
HD107    48.75%   51.25%
HD108    56.61%   43.39%
HD109    17.94%   82.06%
HD110    12.05%   87.95%
HD111    22.31%   77.69%
HD112    53.22%   46.78%
HD113    51.16%   48.84%
HD114    53.19%   46.81%
HD115    51.22%   48.78%


Dist   Spackman  Kennedy
========================
CD32    131,796  118,915
		
HD100     9,347   32,845
HD102    27,670   28,774
HD103     9,899   27,564
HD104     7,192   24,892
HD105    21,784   24,772
HD107    25,377   28,466
HD108    41,780   34,604
HD109    10,973   53,215
HD110     4,025   30,894
HD111    12,239   44,758
HD112    27,734   26,008
HD113    27,065   27,265
HD114    33,824   32,002
HD115    28,767   29,380
		
HD100    22.15%   77.85%
HD102    49.02%   50.98%
HD103    26.42%   73.58%
HD104    22.42%   77.58%
HD105    46.79%   53.21%
HD107    47.13%   52.87%
HD108    54.70%   45.30%
HD109    17.10%   82.90%
HD110    11.53%   88.47%
HD111    21.47%   78.53%
HD112    51.61%   48.39%
HD113    49.82%   50.18%
HD114    51.38%   48.62%
HD115    49.47%   50.53%

So the best case for the Republicans is a clear win in six districts, with two tossups. Democrats can reasonably hope to have an advantage in eight districts, and in a really good year could mount a decent challenge in 11. These are Presidential year conditions, of course, though as we’ve discussed several times, there’s every reason to believe that 2018 will not be like 2010 or 2014. It still could be bad – Dems will definitely have to protect HD107 – but if the off-year cycle has been broken, there are a lot of opportunities in Dallas to make gains.

(Note: The Texas Legislative Council only does state races, so I don’t have this data for Senate districts.)

One more race to look at, the Sheriff’s race:


Dist    Launius   Valdez
========================
CD32    125,590  116,091
		
HD100     8,596   32,042
HD102    26,259   27,959
HD103     8,960   27,368
HD104     6,471   24,651
HD105    20,582   24,156
HD107    24,177   27,828
HD108    39,618   33,712
HD109    10,515   51,923
HD110     3,700   30,414
HD111    11,691   43,836
HD112    26,468   25,014
HD113    25,962   26,459
HD114    32,131   31,998
HD115    27,305   28,607
		
HD100    21.15%   78.85%
HD102    48.43%   51.57%
HD103    24.66%   75.34%
HD104    20.79%   79.21%
HD105    46.01%   53.99%
HD107    46.49%   53.51%
HD108    54.03%   45.97%
HD109    16.84%   83.16%
HD110    10.85%   89.15%
HD111    21.05%   78.95%
HD112    51.41%   48.59%
HD113    49.53%   50.47%
HD114    50.10%   49.90%
HD115    48.84%   51.16%

There were actually four candidates in this race, but I’m just showing the top two. As mentioned in an earlier post, Lupe Valdez came closest to carrying the Dallas portion of CD32. She also came within a whisker of carrying HD114, which no one else did. She’s basically equivalent to the high end judicial race above, maybe even a teeny bit better.

State Supreme Court hears same sex marriage appeal today

Gird your loins.

Almost two years after same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, Texas Republicans are still fighting the ruling — and they’re getting another day in court.

The Texas Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Wednesday in a Houston case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. Though such policies have been in place since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, Texas conservatives are betting the Houston case opens up a path to relitigate the high court’s decision.

“This particular opinion will go to the U.S. Supreme Court and is a potential vehicle for overturning Obergefell given the changing composition of the court,” said Jared Woodfill, one of the lawyers leading the lawsuit filed against Houston on behalf of two taxpayers, and a prominent conservative activist in the city. “Ultimately, I would like to see Obergefell overturned.”

At the center of the Houston case is whether Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country, requires the city and other governmental agencies to extend taxpayer-subsidized benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees.

In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that bans on marriages between couples of the same sex are unconstitutional and that states must recognize same-sex marriage as legal. Following that ruling, public employers in the state quickly extended benefits for same-sex spouses of public employees.

But opponents argue that interpretation was far too broad.

Obergefell may require states to license and recognize same-sex marriages, but that does not require states to give taxpayer subsidies to same-sex couples — any more than Roe v. Wade requires states to subsidize abortions or abortion providers,” lawyers challenging the Houston policy wrote in a filing with the Texas Supreme Court.

They argue that the right to marry does not “entail any particular package of tax benefits, employee fringe benefits or testimonial privileges.” (In a separate case against the state’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage, the Texas Attorney General’s office actually argued that marriage is a right that comes with benefits the state is entitled to control.)

[…]

For observers, the court’s reversal was an unusual move. And it’s difficult to ignore the politics involved, considering that the legal issues in the Houston case seem to be “tap dancing around what is already a fairly established right,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor and Texas Constitution expert at the University of Houston.

“There has been an emerging litmus test for state judges that wasn’t necessarily so apparent 20 years ago,” Rottinghaus said. “Republicans have party control of the court but not necessarily ideological control, and I think these kinds of cases are those that can be used in the future to be a bulwark for conservative activists looking to change even a Republican court to a more conservative direction.”

See here and here for the background, and here for an amicus brief filed on behalf of Equality Texas and a married couple who would be negatively affected by a ruling for the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court is gonna do what the Supreme Court is gonna do, and I’m not in a position to analyze the legal minutiae. What I will emphasize is that not only does this lawsuit go against any common sense idea of fairness – if you’re married, you’re married, and you have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else who is married; I do know that the underpinning of the Obergefell ruling was a rejection of this argument that same-sex couples are somehow “less than” opposite sex couples – but it’s well against the mainstream of public opinion. Even before Obergefell was handed down, a plurality of Texans supported same sex marriage. I can’t find any more recent results, mostly because it’s not even worth polling on these days. Corporate America has been providing benefits to same-sex couples for years now. This is a settled matter for everyone except pea-brained individuals like Jared Woodfill. I can only hope the Supreme Court is better than this.

Huberty says vouchers are dead this session

Always nice to hear.

The top education policy official in the Texas House said Tuesday that he would not allow the approval of school vouchers this legislative session, a blunt pronouncement that could be fatal to the prospects for legislation that is a priority for many top Republicans in the state.

The official, House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said during a Texas Tribune event here that he and his colleagues in the House already had debated the issue at length and determined that vouchers would reduce school accountability by putting public dollars in private schools that are not subject to the same rules and also would distract from more pressing challenges, such as fixing the school finance system.

Asked whether that meant a high-profile voucher proposal from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was “dead, dead, dead,” Huberty said yes. Asked whether there was anything that could change his mind, Huberty said no.

“Why don’t we talk about the real issues?” Huberty said.

Excellent question. You can see the video of this conversation here. Rep. Huberty has been backed by the Texas ParentPAC, which came into existence back in 2005 for the purpose of supporting legislators who support public schools, which among other things means opposing vouchers. Why should we oppose vouchers? Well for one thing, they just don’t work.

Education secretary Betsy DeVos has been a champion of school vouchers for decades, and has claimed students don’t benefit from better funding of public schools. But a new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that vouchers do not improve student achievement in any meaningful way.

A significant body of research on vouchers over the past 15 years has found that there is not enough evidence to support the claim that vouchers significantly improve student achievement, wrote Martin Carnoy, Vida Jacks Professor of Education and Economics at Stanford University. In some cases, vouchers exacerbate issues that hurt students’ quality of education, such as racial and economic school segregation and a flow of inexperienced young teachers into schools.

Research on voucher experiments in New York City, Dayton, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. showed that there were no significant improvements for students, especially for students Republicans argue will benefit from them the most: students of color.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington, D.C., which is directly funded by Congress, showed no significant reading or math gains for students who used vouchers and scholarships compared to students who did not. Still, the Trump administration may move to expand the program, The Washington Post reported.

In Milwaukee, which has the country’s largest and oldest voucher program, only one in four students attend their public school. But black students, who are the main recipients of the vouchers, had lower eighth grade math scores than students in every city but Detroit. The scores were even worse for reading, where Milwaukee eighth graders scored lower than black eighth graders in all other 12 cities included in the study. Although Milwaukee students made large gains in the 2007–2008 school year, there were not significant gains in reading between 2007 and 2011.

Although proponents of vouchers say that competition forces public schools to improve, Carnoy came to the conclusion that it is more likely that accountability measures are driving improvements in struggling public schools.

You can see that well-timed research here. Closer to home, RG Ratcliffe highlights another issue with the Patrick plan: There just aren’t many private schools in poor neighborhoods, which is both screamingly obvious when you think about it and also kind of a logistical problem.

Dallas County has more than 30,000 children attending about 100 accredited private schools. The majority are clustered in wealthier areas of North and East Dallas, the News’ analysis of education and demographic data shows.

Meanwhile, entire swaths of southern Dallas County lack a single private school. These poorer neighborhoods have lots of low-rated public schools — the very schools that voucher supporters say they want to help kids escape.

And of course, the Patrick plan wouldn’t pay the full tuition for poor kids who wanted to go to St. John’s or Hockaday or wherever, so the end effect would be even more limited. You can see why Rep. Huberty isn’t excited. What’s far less clear is what Patrick and Abbott and so on keep pushing this idea.

“Texas lives on immigrant labor”

Ain’t that the truth.

In Texas, an estimated 400,000 construction workers reside illegally, according to one study. If they were forced to leave the country, contractors say, state construction companies would face a difficult fallout, including higher labor costs, construction delays, and some projects canceled altogether.

“Texas lives on immigrant labor,” said Jeff Nielsen, executive vice president of the Houston Contractors Association. “Our economy is the way it is partly because cost of living is cheap and the reason for that is labor is cheap.”

Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump advocated a “deportation force” to track down and remove millions of immigrants here illegally. This week, he moved closer to that goal with a memo instructing federal authorities to broaden the scope of targeted deportations.

The president’s actions dovetail with a current push in the Texas Legislature to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities, requiring local law enforcement to cooperate with federal authorities on immigration enforcement.

On Friday, the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association and its Austin-based Texas arm sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, warning that immigrants in Austin have been wary of showing up to work after an escalation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity.

“Our fear is that because of the perception that the public has on what the elimination of sanctuary cities means,” the contractors wrote, “it will be difficult to find and retain experienced workers, which is especially damaging to small businesses.”

[…]

Efforts at comprehensive reform have stalled repeatedly, most recently under the Obama administration, and has been wiped from the agenda under Trump, whose stated goal is to remove immigrants living here illegally from the country. Proponents of hard-line immigration policy have argued that unauthorized workers should simply attain legal status, but experts contend that there is no such option for the class that builds Texas.

“The ability for these workers to come in legally for a temporary work program is about as close to zero as you can get,” said Charles Foster, a veteran Houston immigration lawyer who advised on immigration policy for the George H.W. Bush administration. “There is no line to get legal. It’s all a myth.”

The closest thing, he said, was the H-2B visa program for temporary non-agricultural workers, which allows in about 66,000 people across the 50 states each year – hardly enough to account for the hundreds of thousands of laborers in Texas.

It would of course be better if we lived in a country where undocumented workers were not exploited as cheap labor for the rest of us but instead got to live and work here legally at a fair market wage. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for getting to that place any time soon. In the meantime, this is the reality. You want to deport ’em all? Then get ready for construction work, among other things, to grind to a halt. And if you don’t want that to happen, the don’t vote for politicians who stand for it, whether or not we’re supposed to take them seriously when they say it.