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August 31st, 2018:

Signs, signs, everywhere there’s Beto signs

And they’re breaking the minds of Ted Cruz supporters.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The conversation unfolding before a campaign event for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz here last week echoed similar ones popping up among Republican groups around Texas. With a mixture of frustration and bewilderment, attendees were discussing the proliferation of black-and-white yard signs in their neighborhoods brandishing a single four-letter-word: BETO.

The signs have become a signature calling card of Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s bid to unseat Cruz. While Democrats posting yard signs for candidates is nothing new, even when it happens in some of Texas’ most conservative conclaves, what’s been different this summer is the extent to which O’Rourke’s signs have seemingly dominated the landscape in some neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Cruz signs are far tougher to spot, and many Cruz supporters have become increasingly agitated at their inability to obtain signs to counter what they see on their daily drives.

[…]

The difference in tactics goes back to a 2006 political science experiment. At the time, former Gov. Rick Perry was running for his second full term and allowed for researchers to try different tactics in some communities to test which were most effective at motivating voters. Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the Texas Tribune/University of Texas Poll, worked on experiments involving yard signs in Perry’s race and saw little evidence that they moved Perry’s numbers.

Four years later, Perry’s team essentially abandoned the entire practice of distributing yard signs during his third re-election campaign. He soundly defeated now-former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican primary and Democrat Bill White in the general election.

Since then, more academic research backed up Shaw’s findings, and yard signs have largely fallen out of vogue within the Texas GOP consultant class, at least among statewide candidates.

But that 2006 campaign marked Perry’s fifth statewide race — when he already had near-universal name identification in Texas, much like Cruz does now. As such, Shaw cautions not every campaign should follow Perry’s lead.

“It varies race by race and year by year,” he said. “So I wouldn’t claim that that study should be used as evidence that you ought not to be doing it this time around.”

For a candidate like O’Rourke, who began the race as a relative unknown, there is anecdotal evidence that the signs have helped him build his name identification.

Jo Johns is a retired physical education teacher who recently attended an organizing rally for O’Rourke in Weatherford.

She told the Tribune she first learned about O’Rourke by seeing his signs while driving to yoga class.

“I didn’t know who he was, and I wanted to know about him,” she added. “I saw Beto, Beto, Beto. I thought he must be a Republican because they’re everywhere.”

Shaw pointed back to the 2014 governor’s race, when Democrat Wendy Davis’ signs outnumbered her opponent, now-Gov. Greg Abbott, in some communities. Davis still lost by 20 points. But this time around, the political scientist suggests O’Rourke’s yard signs are possibly signaling momentum to voters, priming some who may have otherwise assumed Cruz was unbeatable that O’Rourke has a shot.

“In this race, it probably is more of a positive because it reinforces information you’re getting in public polls, stories you’re getting in the media and fundraising,” said Shaw.

My neighborhood is chock full of Beto signs. Literally, there’s multiple signs on every block. I do a lot of walking through the neighborhood with my dog, and not only are there tons of them, more keep popping up. Meanwhile, I have seen four Ted Cruz signs. Hilariously, three of them are accompanied by green signs with clovers on them that say “Make Beto Irish again”, to which the obvious riposte is “Sure, as soon as we make Ted Canadian again”.

Anyway, I think the Trib captures the dynamic of the sign skirmish well. Signs in and of themselves aren’t, well, signs of anything, but this year at least feels different. This year, the vast proliferation of Beto signs are both an indicator of enthusiasm and a means for expressing it. I do think it has helped to expand his name ID, and to signal to Democrats in red areas where they have felt isolated that they are not in fact alone. I don’t think it’s possible to isolate an effect related to this, and if we could it would probably be no more than a marginal one, but I do think this year that signs matter. I look forward to whatever research someone publishes about this after the election.

Going for Section 3

I wouldn’t get my hopes up, but Lord knows this is desperately needed.

The voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers who have long challenged the validity of Texas’ political maps were dealt a bruising loss earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court signed off on most of the state’s current political boundaries and pushed aside claims that state lawmakers had intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they drew the maps.

But a crucial question remained in the case: Would the state’s opponents ask the courts to force Texas back under federal oversight of its electoral map drawing, given previous maps that federal judges ruled discriminatory?

Their answer came Wednesday in a series of brief court filings in which some of the plaintiffs in the case indicated they wanted to press forward on those high stakes efforts.

[…]

In approving the state’s current maps, the high court in June wiped out a ruling by a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio that found the maps, which were adopted in 2013, were tainted with discrimination that was meant to thwart the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office.

But seemingly left untouched were previous findings of intentional discrimination at the hands of the state lawmakers who in 2011 first embarked on redrawing the state’s maps following the 2010 census.

Though the plaintiffs lost on their challenge to the state’s current maps, groups that challenged the maps pointed to some of those 2011 violations in indicating to the San Antonio panel that the issue of a return to federal oversight was not yet settled in the case.

See here for the background. I want to be clear that I agree with everything the plaintiffs are saying. I just don’t believe that the courts will lift a finger to do anything about it. The lower court might go along with it, since they previously ruled that the Republicans had discriminated in drawing the maps, but there are no circumstances I can imagine where SCOTUS will uphold that. It’s just not going to happen. The only possible recourse would have to come from Congress. That’s what we need to push for and work for in the next two elections.

In the meantime, there is now one item on the to-do list.

Before 45 days pass in the next legislative session, Texas lawmakers must begin fixing discriminatory issues with the way in which North Texas’ House District 90 was drawn.

In a brief order, a three-judge panel based in San Antonio told lawmakers they needed to address racial gerrymandering violations in the district — the only exception the U.S. Supreme Court made when it signed off on the state’s embattled political maps earlier this year. HD-90, which is occupied by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero, was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

Opponents of the state’s maps had previously indicated to the court that they wanted to revert the district to its 2011 version, a suggestion the state said it opposed and that the panel said it disagreed with.

On Thursday, the panel ordered lawmakers to redraw the district — either in a 2018 special legislative session that would need to be called by the governor or at the start of the 2019 legislative session. If a proposal isn’t introduced within the first month and half of the session, the judges said they would undertake the “unwelcome obligation” of fixing the district.

That’s fairly small potatoes, but it needs to be done and I for one would be interested to see what happens if the court winds up having to do the deed itself. As a reminder, the voter ID litigation is over, so this is the only court action left relating to the original 2011 legislative atrocities. The DMN has more.

The Republicans really, really want to win SD19 by forfeit

Sure is what it looks like.

Pete Gallego

With early voting set to begin in less than two weeks, the Republican Party of Texas is continuing efforts to have Democrat Pete Gallego removed from the ballot, which if successful would leave only the GOP’s Pete Flores in the runoff election to fill a vacant seat in the Texas Senate.

Republicans argue that Gallego lives in Austin and not in Senate District 19, which stretches from San Antonio to the Big Bend region and the New Mexico border, in violation of a state law requiring candidates to live in the legislative district they hope to represent.

Gallego has denied the accusation, and a lawyer for the state Democratic Party believes the GOP’s legal case is weak and intended to heap negative publicity on Gallego, not produce a victory in court.

[…]

Gallego has said he lives in his mother’s home in Alpine, the small West Texas city where he was born and raised.

His campaign — which did not respond to several requests to discuss Gallego’s residency — has characterized the legal challenge as a desperate and unjustified attempt to steal a Senate seat in a reliably Democratic district.

“Pete Gallego has lived in Alpine since 1989 when he returned home to become a local felony prosecutor,” Gallego campaign manager Christian Archer said shortly after the GOP lawsuit was filed earlier this month. “Pete is registered to vote in Alpine, where he has always voted and where he pays his utilities.”

[…]

Texas law defines a candidate’s residence as “one’s home and fixed place of habitation,” which leaves some room for interpretation.

In its legal challenge filed in district court in Travis County, the state Republican Party alleges that Gallego resides in a Southwest Austin house that he purchased in 2000 with his wife, Maria Ramon, a lawyer with the Texas Office of Court Administration.

The party’s lawsuit points to a homestead exemption claimed for the Austin property — a tax break provided only for homes used as a “principal residence” — and a July column in the San Antonio Express-News that discusses photos showing Gallegos’s truck parked outside the Austin house in May and Gallego leaving the house on a Monday morning in July.

“It is now undisputed that Gallego does not actually live day-to-day in Alpine, and most likely has not done so since, at best, sometime in 2000,” the lawsuit said.

Archer told the Express-News in mid-August that the homestead exemption on the Austin house belonged to Gallego’s wife and that, in addition to paying utilities in Alpine, he also registered his car there.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the state Democratic Party, is not involved in the lawsuit but predicted that the GOP effort is doomed because the Texas Supreme Court long ago determined that only an opposing candidate has the legal standing to file suit in residency disputes.

“Knowing some of the lawyers who brought it, who know better, I only assume this was an effort to obtain some free campaign attention” at Gallego’s expense, Dunn said.

The Flores campaign did not join the lawsuit, though two voters from the district are part of the challenge.

See here and here for the background. For better or worse – and you have certainly seen me complain about this in the Dave Wilson case – Texas’ laws regarding residency are vague and basically not enforced. I guarantee you, if a court finds that Pete Gallego is ineligible to run in SD19, there will be a large number of existing legislators, of both parties, who will be vulnerable to the same kind of challenge. I’m sure the Republicans’ lawyers are aware of this. In the meantime, early voting begins on September 10. I fully expect both candidates will be on the ballot.