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Janette Sexton

I’m not sure why this has come up right now, but both Perry and Stace are using the case of Janette Sexton in HD144 to make a point in a larger argument about who did and didn’t do what to help Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in 2006. I don’t have any quibble with their basic point, that there wasn’t nearly enough support being given by the various power brokers within the party to candidates who were not in races deemed top tier, but I have a serious disagreement with the way they’re using the data to make their point. Perry, who ranks all Democratic State House challengers from Harris and Montgomery Counties by their vote percentage, says:

It’s worth noting that Cohen raised $500,000 for her campaign, with the assistance of many of the previously named legislators, an army of volunteers and the wherewithal to take a ten-month leave of absence from her position as the director of the Houston Area Women’s Center. Thibaut, an adroit fundraiser, collected $150,000 and also a core of vigorous volunteer support. Matula, who ran in neighboring HD-129, benefited from the teachers PAC and strong efforts from the Bay Area New Democrats, Area 5 Democrats and Battleground Democrats — all clubs that could have chipped in volunteer assistance to Padilla-Sexton as well — enabling her to have extensive blockwalking and phonebanking. BAND, to their credit, provided robocalls to Janette’s campaign. John Cobarruvias, the president of the club, admitted that BAND’s efforts were stretched too thin over the Bell, Lampson and Matula campaigns to provide much in the way of anything extra. So with virtually no help and no resources – no money, no volunteers, consequently no direct mail, blockwalking or phonebanking, not even any campaign literature – Padilla-Sexton performed fourth of eleven political novices. Trautman, McDavid, and Khan all had greater resources and performed less well in their districts.

To which Stace says:

Considering we had other “favorites” that raised so much more and performed just as well as Padilla-Sexton I wonder if they did as well because of effective campaigning, or just for being the alternative on the ballot.

I’m sorry, but comparing candidates in this fashion is not illuminating. It’s like ranking baseball players by batting average without taking into account league and park effects. Putting it another way, the overall National League batting average in 1930 was .303, and in 1968 it was .243. Calling a .300 hitter in 1930 better than a .280 hitter in 1968 would be completely misguided – hell, a .300 hitter in 1930 was, compared to his peers, mediocre, while in 1968 a .280 hitter was an All Star. Context matters.

I say if you really want to know how a State House candidate did, you need to compare her to her peers on the ballot. Here’s how the nine Harris County State House challengers did relative to the other countywide Democrats in their districts:

Candidate Dist Pct County% Diff Rank ============================================== Trautman 127 40.78 32.25 +8.53 1 Cohen 134 55.75 48.42 +7.33 1 Matula 129 42.31 37.55 +4.76 1 Thibaut 133 42.80 42.05 +0.75 8 Brann 136 29.89 29.96 -0.07 9 Khan 126 33.47 33.83 -0.36 12 Sexton 144 41.87 43.04 -1.17 17 Nelson-Turnier 150 29.71 31.67 -1.86 18 McDavid 138 39.86 42.77 -2.91 18

“County% is the average percentage of the 18 countywide Dems. As I’ve discussed before, the Harris County candidates did about three points better overall than the statewides did, and there was less variation among them, so I consider this to be the most accurate measure of how blue or red a given district is. “Diff” is the difference, positive or negative, between the State Rep’s performance and the average countywide candidate’s performance. (All percentages are for the two-candidate GOP/Dem race; all third parties are dropped from consideration.) “Rank” means where out of 19 total candidates (themselves included) in the district the candidate’s performance rates.

These numbers speak for themselves. Trautman, Cohen, and Matula significantly overperformed relative to their districts, as I showed before. Sexton ran a little more than a point worse than average, and did better than only two others on the ballot – John Shike and Goodwille Pierre. Thibaut, who did have significant resources but barely beat average, can fairly be said to have underperformed, but to say Sexton did better than Trautman is just wrong.

Again, none of this obviates the point Perry and Stace made about the commitment or lack thereof made by the powers that be to the candidates on the ballot. I’m disputing the notion that Sexton’s performance is comparable to those of the candidates who did get insitutional backing of some kind. Maybe she would have done better if she’d had that kind of backing; maybe the same is true for Scott Brann, Mark McDavid, Dot Nelson-Turnier, and Chad Khan as well. They didn’t get it, so we’ll never know. I have a lot of respect for these folks and the effort they put forth. But as we criticize the establishment for abandoning these candidates, bear in mind the possibility that the real abdication was in not recruiting candidates they were willing to support and thus leaving the race to unfunded novices.

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5 Comments

  1. PDiddie says:

    Almost all of those points I wouldn’t take disagreeable issue with (particularly your math, Chuck). But most of us aren’t math majors, and I simply ranked the candidates in the order of the percentage of the vote they received on Election Day. Too simplistic, you say? Perhaps. It’s math everyone can understand.

    Also since nearly everyone I named in my post seemed to find something that slighted them, I’m not surprised you focused on the numbers (and their interpretation).

    I stand by my conclusions about the people making the decisions (which you don’t appear to disagree with anyway).

    Lastly, this:

    bear in mind the possibility that the real abdication was in not recruiting candidates they were willing to support and thus leaving the race to unfunded novices

    … is a fine piece of critical thinking. Carry your premise of abandonment all the way out to the numerous vacant judicial races on our county ballot; it’s enough to make me spit. The Libertarians appeared to have more candidates than the Democrats. Now what is up with that?

    My larger point remaining that if they won the Democratic primary, they probably deserve a returned phone call at the very least, n’est-ce pas?

  2. john cobarruvias says:

    Let’s let this subject die.

    Or discuss it offline.

  3. Carry your premise of abandonment all the way out to the numerous vacant judicial races on our county ballot; it’s enough to make me spit. The Libertarians appeared to have more candidates than the Democrats. Now what is up with that?

    Agreed wholeheartedly. What’s worse, I’m already hearing some discouraging things about recruiting judicial candidates for 2008. This is something to keep an eye on.

    My larger point remaining that if they won the Democratic primary, they probably deserve a returned phone call at the very least, n’est-ce pas?

    Generally speaking, yes, but what if anything more than that depends on the candidate. I certainly wouldn’t crime anybody who blew off Michael Kubosh, or that homophobic Congressional candidate in CD01, for example. I personally would have sat out the Senate race if Gene Kelly had beaten BAR in the runoff. What possible motivation could there have been to help a cardboard cutout like him? For me, at least, it does take more than being on the ballot.

    If we say (and we certainly do) that the establishment owes the candidates something, then I think it’s fair to also say that the candidates owe the establishment (and the rest of us, too) something as well: namely, things like being a credible and creditable spokesperson for the party and the people and ideals it represents. When a JR Molina can’t be bothered to respond to a major newspaper board’s interview request, I have to wonder just what he’s owed by anybody. We can (and I’m sure we will) argue about where to draw the line, but I definitely say there is a line, and that not all candidates fall on the right side of it. Which in the case of folks like Kubosh and Molina again points to a failure of recruitment, which brings us back to a point we agree on.

  4. Support Science to Reverse Global Warming, if still possible says:

    For the establishment Democratic Party to not recruit for judgeships does say something. For Democratic or Democratic leaning candidates for the judiciary to not self-select to run does say something. What are they saying? What do they know?

  5. Marie says:

    Kuff – The Party is responsible for recruitment of candidates. Harris County hasn’t elected a Democrat countywide in a long time because it hasn’t exactly been a friendly climate for Democrats. If an attorney has a pending case before a judge seeking re-election, and that attorney is a potential candidate, how do you think the courts will treat that attorney and his/her client? To get people to run for office, they must feel as though they have a chance to win. Given how Democrats had a strong showing in Harris County, we will get more candidates who believe they can win and we will give people a reason to go to the polls. I appreciate your statistics and your input on this issue. There are some people who refuse to take things like numbers, viability, history and financing into consideration before running for office. Reading this posts and comments sheds light on the process, and that is a good thing. This discussion also reveals the political naivete of people who have their hearts in the right place but are severely misguided in their quests for accountability.