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May 21st, 2018:

The Trib on CD22 and Fort Bend

A closer look at a lower-profile but highly interesting primary runoff.

Sri Kulkarni

At a glance, volunteers at Sri Kulkarni’s campaign headquarters are no different than those for congressional campaigns across the country — huddling over laptops, tapping voters’ numbers into their cell phones and concentrating on the call scripts in front of them.

But when the person on the other end of the line picks up, some volunteers greet them not in English but in Vietnamese, Hindi, Urdu or Mandarin Chinese.

For Kulkarni, a Democrat vying for a congressional seat in a Republican-leaning district, getting his message out to voters means not just knocking on doors and calling voters but also speaking the language they speak.

“You need to reach out to those communities the way they are and the way they want to be reached,” Kulkarni said. “The blue wave is real. That force is coming from all of us.”

Letitia Plummer

Kulkarni and Letitia Plummer are vying in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff to take on U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. Though President Donald Trump won the district by 8 percentage points in 2016, both Democrats see it as vulnerable, in part due to demographic changes — the same shifts that both candidates are using to their advantage. The district includes most of Fort Bend County, one of America’s most ethnically diverse counties: 20 percent of its residents are Asian, 20 percent are black, 24 percent are Hispanic and 34 percent are white. Clinton won the county decisively in 2016.

In the March primaries, Kulkarni and Plummer came in first and second among five Democrats vying for the seat, drawing 32 and 24 percent of the vote respectively.

Kulkarni, a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, has focused his campaign on groups of voters that he thinks will help bring about a local “blue wave” in November — particularly Asian-Americans and Latinos, who have had low voter turnout in the past.

When they’ve gone block walking in minority neighborhoods, Kulkarni and his team said they’ve noticed a sense of gratitude mixed with shock because campaigns have so rarely engaged those areas.

“A lot of folks have told me that no one has knocked on their door before, no one has called them before,” Kulkarni said. “Some of them just grab me and pull me in like a life preserver because they’ve never had somebody come out that way.”

Kulkarni’s campaign has translated his website into Spanish and Chinese, visited local temples and mosques and arranged appearances with Latino, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Indian media outlets, including Hindi/Urdu, Telugu and Malayali talk shows.

[…]

Nathan Gonzalez, editor and publisher of the Washington, D.C.-based Inside Elections, said he’s skeptical when campaigns appear to be relying heavily on turning out non-voters, but doesn’t rule out the strategy’s potential effectiveness, particularly in a climate in which Trump’s presidency is prompting an increase in civic action.

“I think the burden of proof is on Democrats to show that they can harness the energy from the protests and increasing fundraising and large number of candidates in races into votes,” Gonzalez said.

CD22 also includes parts of Harris and Brazoria counties, but going by the 2016 and 2014 results, about two thirds of the total vote in CD22 will be cast in Fort Bend. If a Democrat hopes to win CD22, he or she is almost certainly going to have to carry the part of the district that’s in Fort Bend. That’s a tall order based on electoral history, but it’s the task at hand.

The story notes Fort Bend’s diversity. That carries over into CD22, which has more Asian-American residents than any other Texas Congressional district (the “Other” classification in these reports generally refers to Asian-Americans). And while Nathan Gonzalez’s point is well taken, if you’re going to go after non-habitual voters, Asian-American voters make a lot of sense from a Democratic perspective.

In 1992, the first year that exit polls specifically tracked Asian Americans—an umbrella term referring to anyone with ancestry from East Asia, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent—55 percent of them supported George H. W. Bush over Bill Clinton. Eight years later, Al Gore became the first Democrat to win a majority of Asian American votes, and by 2012, the group favored Obama over Mitt Romney by almost 75 to 25. And the trend seems to be accelerating. More than a quarter of Asian American Republicans have abandoned the GOP since 2011, by far the largest shift of any demographic group. At the same time, the Asian American share of the population has doubled since 1990 to 6 percent overall.

The GOP’s increased nativism after 9/11 has long been a turnoff for Asian Americans, even before Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015. Trump has spent the better part of three years fear-mongering about undocumented immigrants—one out of six of whom is Asian. Asian Americans are the biggest beneficiaries of family reunification policies, which Trump and other prominent Republicans have taken to bashing as “chain migration.” (Family reunification is how nearly all Vietnamese and Bangladeshi immigrants have come to America.) Asian Americans might not be the direct target of Trump’s disdain as often as Hispanics, but the modern Republican Party’s increasingly overt hostility to nonwhite immigration can’t help but push them away.

All of which is good news for Democrats. But here’s the problem: Asian Americans have among the lowest voting rates of any racial group in America—49 percent of eligible voters, in 2016, compared to 65 percent among white people and 60 percent among black people. Not coincidentally, they also are less likely to be contacted by parties and campaigns. “Democrats are leaving a lot of votes on the table,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an expert in political demography. “They don’t need 100 percent Asian turnout, but if Asians could come close to what whites vote at, or even blacks, it could have a big difference.”

That may make Sri Kulkarni the stronger general election candidate, but he has to win the runoff first. We’ll know soon enough about that.

The Cornyn Ike Dike bill

Credit where credit is due.

With hurricane season right around the corner, Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Wednesday he is introducing legislation to expedite a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study on a coastal barrier to mitigate storm damage along the Texas coast.

The measure, the Coastal Texas Protection Act, is directed at advancing the construction of a long-awaited “Ike Dike” or Coastal Spine – proposed after Hurricane Ike in 2008 – to better protect the Gulf Coast from storm damage.

“We’ve been working with local stakeholders as well as state officials to try to encourage this process to move along quickly,” Cornyn said. “The Corps of Engineers is an instrumental part of this, and we want them to finish these studies and come up with a plan that the stakeholders and the state can agree upon, and then we will work hard to make sure that coastal protection plan is funded.”

[…]

In 2016, Cornyn advanced legislation signed by then President Barack Obama to streamline the Army Corps engineering studies.

According to a Cornyn aide, the 2016 bill prevented the Corps from duplicating efforts by requiring them to take into account studies that had already been conducted by the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District (GCCPRD).

The new bill would direct the Corps to expedite the completion of the Coastal Texas Study. It also provides a necessary exception for the project under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA). Currently, the CBRA restricts the expenditure of federal funds associated with coastal barriers to avoid encouraging development of such barriers.

Kudos to Cornyn, who is capable of getting stuff done when he wants to. Of course, introducing a bill is not the same as passing it, and the Republican Congress has a crappy track record by any measure. You have to start somewhere, and this is it. Check again in a couple months and see if it’s gone anywhere.

Cities and suburbs up, rurals down

The story of Texas’ population.

Recently released data from the Texas Demographic Center spelled bad news for many rural areas in the state: populations there were still shrinking, or growing slowly.

Population growth in Texas remained concentrated in urban areas in 2016, according to the new numbers. That meant the fight continues for many small towns in Texas that are struggling to maintain or build their communities and economies.

The new estimates, released in late April, approximate population per county as of July 1, 2016. They were calculated using different methodology than U.S. Census Data estimates. Usually, the two are within range of each other, said Lloyd Potter, the state demographer.

State results confirm an ongoing trend in the second-most populous state in the country of movement toward urban centers and the booming suburban areas that surround them.

“Texas is growing more than any other state,” Potter said. “Those points are really where the bulk of the population growth is occurring.”

Here’s the Texas Demographic Center website. There’s a link to the 2016 Preliminary Population Estimates, though when I looked the 2016 data was not yet there. I’ll be interested to see how these numbers compare to the Census projections for Harris County. Nothing is official until the 2020 count is done, as problematic as that may be, but this is a preview of the redistricting to come. It’s never too early to start thinking about what the next set of maps will look like.