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SD06 early voting update

Slow so far, which is what you’d expect.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

More than 5,000 voters had cast ballots as of Friday in the special election to replace Sylvia Garcia in Senate District 6.

The Harris County Clerk’s Office reported 1,580 in-person votes and 3,788 returned mail ballots, bringing the total through the first five days of early voting to 5,368 ballots cast.

Four candidates — Democratic state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez, Democratic consultant Mia Mundy and Harris County Republican Party precinct chairwoman Martha Fierro — are seeking the seat.

[…]

University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said Alvarado is most likely to win, since she has out-raised her opponents and secured key endorsements.

“She has more geographic overlap with her district, and she was on TV with ads,” he said. “In a race like this it’s going to be a sprint to the finish line, and that’s going to go to the best-prepared candidate.”

Hernandez and Alvarado’s House districts occupy portions of Senate District 6. If either wins, Harris County must hold another special election to fill the House seat she will vacate.

Here’s the daily EV report through Friday. Early voting continues through this Friday, with Election Day on Tuesday the 11th. Turnout for the January 2013 special election, which took place following the death of Mario Gallegos, was 16,511 voters, with about 8,600 of those votes being cast early. For the March runoff between outgoing Sen. Garcia and Rep. Alvarado, turnout was 18,252, with about 9,500 votes being cast early. I suspect that if this one goes to a runoff, we’ll see something similar. Anyway, get out and vote while you can.

Look out for lionfish

Hey, it’s another destructive invasive species, aided and abetted by climate change.

Scientists battling coral reef deaths caused by warming ocean waters 100 miles off the coast of Galveston might now have another climate change problem to fight in coming decades: a proliferation of zebra-striped lionfish.

Lionfish — brought to the U.S. from their Indo-Pacific home to stock aquariums and later dumped by owners unable to care for the constantly hungry vertebrate — have no known North American predators to stop their spread. As a result, they’ve been decimating reef populations from New York to Florida since the 1980s, arriving at the Gulf of Mexico’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in 2011.

And a recent study published in the Wilderness & Environmental Medicine journal suggests that venomous creatures like lionfish will become more prevalent as the oceans warm.

”They are the cockroaches of the sea,” said Michelle Johnston, a sanctuary research biologist. “They reproduce every four days and every four days they can release up to 50,000 eggs. Plus, nothing really eats them, they have venomous spines and the native fish are terrified of them.”

[…]

Between 2011 and 2017, researchers have recorded nearly 3,500 lionfish in the [federal Stetson Bank] sanctuary, NOAA stated, though experts believe that number is low.

And just as the lionfish did in household aquariums, they started eating everything in sight. A single lionfish can eat up to 5,000 fish per year, Johnston said.

In the Indo-Pacific, lionfish predators include sharks, grouper, frogfish, large eels and scorpionfish, according to Lionfish Hunters, a group that promotes the removal of lionfish from the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf.

But fish native to the Flower Garden Banks don’t know lionfish are predators, Johnston said, which makes the venomous fish’s food gathering that much easier.

“The lionfish are virtually unchecked” in Flower Gardens, Johnston said. “The ones we’ve collected are extremely large, they’re obese, and some of them have fatty liver disease. They’re eating themselves into oblivion.”

Here’s the NOAA page on lionfish. The Chron article is long and detailed, and one we’ve heard before for other species. Scientists are looking for solutions to control the population so as to minimize the damage these invaders cause. (Turning them into human food is another idea.) In the meantime, if you or someone you know owns an aquarium, don’t add a lionfish to your collection, and if you do then for crying out loud don’t just dump it somewhere if you decide you’re done with it. Let’s at least not add to the problem.

RIP, George H.W. Bush

The 41st President passed away on Friday evening.

George Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush, whose lone term as the 41st president of the United States ushered in the final days of the Cold War and perpetuated a family political dynasty that influenced American politics at both the national and state levels for decades, died Friday evening in Houston. He was 94.

Bush was the last president to have served in the military during World War II. His experience in international diplomacy served him well as he dealt with the unraveling of the Soviet Union as an oppressive superpower, and later the rise of China as a commercial behemoth and potential partner.

His wife of 73 years, Barbara Pierce Bush, died April 17, 2018, at the age of 92.

Steeped in the importance of public service, Bush always felt the lure of political life. It snared him in 1962 when he was chosen to head Houston’s fledgling Republican Party. He spent the next three decades in the political limelight, a career largely free of scandal or great controversy, with one exception — his role as vice president in the Iran-Contra scandal.

The second of five children, Bush was born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts, to Prescott and Dorothy Bush.

There’s a ton more out there on former President Bush, you could spend all weekend reading about him and his distinguished life. There is much one can say about George H.W. Bush. I will say that he was a war hero, a family man, and someone who always heard and answered the call to service. I don’t know when we may see another Republican President like him. My sincere condolences to the Bush family and the many friends of George H.W. Bush. Rest in peace, sir.

Why not both?

RG Ratcliffe argues that Beto doesn’t need to choose between running for President and running for Senate.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Why doesn’t Beto run for both the presidency AND the U.S. Senate?

Beto could do it under a provision known as the LBJ Law. (Sec. 141.033 of the Texas Election Code for the Legal Eagles amongst you.) The law was passed to give then-U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson the opportunity to run for re-election at the same time he ran for the presidency in 1960. Had the Texas Legislature not enacted the law, LBJ would have had to choose to run for one office or the other since in Texas a person is only allowed to run for one office at a time. But the LBJ Law makes an exception if the second office being sought is president or vice president. LBJ lost the top race to John F. Kennedy, but won re-election to the Senate, a job he gave up for the vice presidency. Democratic U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen used the provision to seek re-election while running as Michael Dukakis’s running mate in 1988. The fact Dukakis only received 43 percent of the Texas vote in his unsuccessful presidential run did not stop Bentsen from raking in 59 percent of the state vote for his Senate re-election. Republican U.S. Senator Phil Gramm used the provision in 1996, and it allowed him to win re-election even though his presidential ambitions flamed out in Iowa in February.

A dual run like the one Gramm made would give Beto the chance to seek the top prize as he remains viable as a candidate for Senate from Texas. If Beto won the Democratic presidential nomination, he’d become a two-pronged threat to President Trump or whomever the Republicans nominate. If he lost in Iowa or New Hampshire to any of the array of Democrats running for president, Beto could come home to concentrate on challenging Cornyn.

See here for the background. Honestly, just asking the question is enough to answer it, and the answer is “because that doesn’t make any sense”. I think we can all agree that the Texas of 1988, which allowed Lloyd Bentsen to coast to re-election while co-starring for Mike Dukakis, doesn’t exist any more, and Phil Gramm was barely a memory as a (truly lousy) Presidential candidate by the time November of 1996 rolled around. (I’d completely forgotten that he’d been in that race.) There’s no way Beto could spend enough time in Texas as a Presidential candidate to satisfy the voters here, and anything remotely like his 2018 campaign would mean he’s neglecting pick-you-favorite-swing-state. If he could mail in a Senate campaign and still win that would be one thing, but that ain’t happening. Nice idea, but this is very much an either-or situation.

HPOU files first Prop B lawsuit

And away we go.

Courthouse officials were scrambling to find a judge Friday afternoon to hear a lawsuit by the Houston Police Officers Union against the city of Houston and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, that seeks an immediate halt to implementation of a voter-approved ballot initiative that would give Houston firefighters “pay parity” to police officers of similar status.

The lawsuit, filed midday Friday in the 234th state district civil court, seeks to block “Proposition B,” arguing it amounts to an unconstitutional amendment to Houston’s charter, and was void from the start. After hearing initial argument by the police union lawyer to put on the brakes, State District Judge Wesley Ward indicated to lawyers he planned to recuse himself and needed to find another judge in the building who could take over.

Ward, a Republican who was voted out last month on the same ballot with Proposition B, reportedly told attorneys in chambers he had a conflict of interest because he planned to join a law firm where one of the attorneys on the case works.

[…]

The 25-page suit argues that the pay-parity charter amendment is unconstitutional because it “is preempted by and directly conflicts” with state law requiring that firefighters be paid to comparable private sector employment, as well as posing an “irreconcilable conflict” with state law because it ties firefighter compensation to those of other public sector employees, and further conflicts with state law because the two professions do not require “the same or similar skills, ability, and training.”

The measure “undermines and interferes with HPOU’s right to collectively bargain, because both HPOU and the City are forced to consider the economic effect of a third-party’s interjecting interests,” according to the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s attorneys also argued that the requirements of Prop B put the HPOU in the position of representing firefighters who had not chosen the union to represent them and who do not have the same responsibilities as police.

The suit also argues that Prop B runs contrary to local government code mandates that say police and fire departments are “separate collective bargaining units unless they voluntarily join together” for collective bargaining with a public employer.

Well, I don’t know what the city’s lawyers will tell them, but clearly HPOU’s attorneys are not hesitating. The ordinance that Council passed to accommodate Prop B is set to take effect on January 1, so I presume the cops are seeking to get a judge to put it on hold pending the litigation. That’s usually the way these things work. We’ll see now if the city joins this lawsuit or files their own; I presume the latter, though most likely in the end the two will be combined. December is already shaping up to be quite the month.

UPDATE: That was quick:

A state district judge Friday evening granted a temporary restraining order blocking the implementation of a voter-approved charter amendment requiring the city of Houston to grant its firefighters “pay parity” with police officers of similar rank and experience.

State District Judge Kristen Brauchle Hawkins granted the TRO Friday night at the request of the Houston Police Officers Union, which filed a lawsuit earlier in the day against the city and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. The judge set a hearing for Dec. 14.

The fire union opposed the TRO request, but lawyers for the city did not.

Buckle up, y’all.

Uptown update

The work is ending, the work continues.

The end is near for construction that has clogged Post Oak and delayed drivers, but the buses at the center of the project will not start rolling for at least another year as officials grapple with roadblocks threatening to push the final route three years past its original completion date.

Months of additional work lies ahead on the dedicated bus lanes in the middle of the street as crews complete the stations that will connect passengers to the rapid transit line. Though once on target to ferry passengers this holiday season, workers still are installing electrical and fiber optics systems so the buses can operate, as they pour the last segments of concrete along the widened roads from Loop 610 south to Richmond.

As a result the buses, which officials at one point had hoped would ferry visitors for the 2017 Super Bowl, will not carry passengers until 2020.

Even when Metropolitan Transit Authority begins operating the buses along dedicated lanes in the center of the street, riders and operators face months, perhaps years of detours at both ends of the project as two Texas Department of Transportation projects take shape.

“It will operate. It just may not be the guideways we want eventually,” Metro board member Sanjay Ramabhadran said.

[…]

As Post Oak proceeds, TxDOT is building an elevated busway along Loop 610 so the large vehicles will move from their Post Oak lanes to an overpass that takes them directly to the transit center. Construction, estimated to cost $57.2 million, started earlier this year. Completion is set for late summer 2020, meaning a few months of the large buses slogging north to the transit center.

On the southern side of the bus project, another challenge looms. A massive rebuild of the Loop 610 interchange with Interstate 69, already a year into construction, will worsen as the project moves toward its 2023 completion.

Of particular concern is the timing of work south of Richmond, where Post Oak morphs into the southbound Loop 610 frontage road and goes under I-69 before re-emerging at Westpark Drive. Referred to by transportation officials as the “portal” along with the underpass that carries northbound frontage traffic beneath the interchange, it is the critical link for Post Oak buses headed to the new Bellaire transit center.

We were promised that the service would begin in 2019, but between politics and Harvey and whatever else, that’s the way it goes. Solving the problem of extending this to its intended endpoints at Northwest Transit Center and the to-be-built transit center in Bellaire, that’s the big challenge. Among other things, right now this is the main connection to the rest of the city from the Texas Central terminal. This thing is a big deal, and we’re going to need it to be done right.

The case against Beto (and Julian) for President

From Chris Hooks:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Democrats, taking advantage of the president’s unpopularity, stand a chance of winning control of more state legislatures in 2020 and building the foundations of their party, just as Republicans did in 2010. It’s a great opportunity, and yet Democrats seem singularly focused on the upcoming presidential primary. Democrats, God bless them, are slow learners.

The prospective field includes at least two Texans: one who drafted himself, and one who is being drafted by his followers. The first is Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and Obama’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He’s written a book, which seems to be a necessary precursor these days, and he’s building a PAC. Then there’s Beto O’Rourke, whom the media has been urging to run for president since at least this summer. (He said at a town hall on Monday that he and his wife “made a decision not to rule anything out.”)

Castro was, and in some quarters still is, seen as one of Texas’ great Democratic up-and-comers. O’Rourke started his campaign with little chance of success, but fought like hell. Castro, on the other hand, has stayed on the sidelines, which makes his ambitions for the presidency all the more odd. For years, Castro told allies he thought he could win a close statewide race, perhaps for governor or lieutenant governor or attorney general. But he didn’t like his chances if he started with a 10- to 20-point deficit. Given Democratic performance in Texas, it didn’t seem like his time had come yet. Beto, by contrast, jumped into what looked from the start like a 20-point race. Through Herculean effort, he closed it to less than a three-point gap. When it became clear that Beto was doing something real, many Democrats privately grumbled that Castro hadn’t run for governor or another statewide office.

Texas Democrats should fervently hope that neither Castro nor O’Rourke runs for president, for the simple reason that Texas needs them a lot more than the nation does. It’s important that a Democrat beat Trump in 2020, but only one person can win the nomination. Most failed presidential campaigns are high-risk bids for personal glory and a waste of time and money. Meanwhile, state government and Congress bend and shapes people’s lives in unseen ways. Texas is in dire need of strong Democratic candidates who can run good campaigns and reverse the damage that decades of Republican control has done to the state. In 2020, Senator John Cornyn will be up for re-election, and the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other statewide offices will be chosen by voters in 2022.

Before I go on, let the record show that Nonsequiteuse was singing from this hymnal two weeks before Hooks:

Beto, we need you in Texas.

Your work here is not done. Our work here is not done. We knocked it out of the park in the state’s largest county. And we came painfully close in many other races. But we didn’t get the prize of putting Democrats in statewide offices. We’re still a state shamefully represented by a Lt. Gov. obsessed to a troubling degree with how and where people urinate, and a thrice-indicted Attorney General.

Please don’t abandon Texas. Don’t leave us to try to recreate what you’ve built. We know all too well what years of chronic under-investment and infighting does to Democrats’ chances on the ballot. It’s time to find out what happens when we do the opposite and keep doing it, over and over again.

You’ve shown you are willing to do the painstaking work that kind of movement requires.

Analyzing the numbers shows where the Democrats need to focus going forward, and your campaign shows what sort of outreach and activism turns citizens into voters. And you’ve got some great newly-elected Democrats from Congress on down who will be there to keep the work going, too.

So Iowa may be calling, and New Hampshire is going to love you, trust me. Speaking engagements on college campuses and with Democratic organizations around the county will be yours for the taking, and undoubtedly, podcasts and political talk shows are already clamoring to book you.

But, as one of my heroes would say, I sure hope you’ll dance with them what brung you. Keep talking with us, listening to us, and working alongside us in this Lone Star State.

As you know, I want Beto to run for Senate in 2020. There are other good options for this, including Julian Castro – I’d only considered Joaquin Castro, as he had expressed some interest in running for Senate in 2018 – but suffice it to say Beto is my first round draft choice. I agree that Texas needs him more than the cattle call of Democratic Presidential wannabes need him, and just because he’d have to survive a bruising primary against some really talented politicians, his odds of being elected to the Senate seem higher to me. Any way I look at it, this is the path I would point him towards.

As for Julian, he’s been talking about the Presidency for a couple of years, he has been a Cabinet secretary, he was on the short list for VP in 2016, etc. And not to put too fine a point on it, but in 2020 the choice for a statewide person who is not a judge is the Senate and the Railroad Commission. Neither Beto O’Rourke nor Julian Castro is going to run for Railroad Commissioner, so as far as 2020 goes, it’s US Senate or bust, at least in Texas.

So yeah, if we had to do it all over again, Julian should have run for Governor this year. He’d have surely done better than Lupe Valdez, though it’s hard to believe that the Dems left many votes on the table, given that Beto exceeded Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. If we want to look all the way to 2022, there are two issues to consider. One is that Julian Castro will have been out of government for six years by then – everyone has a shelf life, like it or not – and if God willing 2022 is the first midterm of a Democratic administration, the climate could be a lot less hospitable than it was this year.

We’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. The key for 2020 is to build on what was done in 2018. I believe Beto is best positioned to do that, but Julian could also do it if Beto declines. (As could several other folks.) Julian is probably better placed to run for President if he wants to, and who knows, if he’s on the ticket that in and of itself could be a big boost for Texas Dems. But yeah, bottom line is I hope Beto resists the siren call to run for President. The most good he can do is here.

Cattanach concedes in HD108

Thus endeth the recount.

Joanna Cattanach

Democrat Joanna Cattanach conceded Thursday afternoon to Republican state Rep. Morgan Meyer of Dallas, closing out the last recount requested by a candidate after this year’s midterm election.

“After several days of continued counting and a formal recount, we have ended our campaign still just 220 votes short of our opponent,” Cattanach said in a statement. “I have called Mr. Meyer and congratulated him because our district deserves leaders who respect the will of the electorate and the democratic process.”

Cattanach’s statement comes almost one month after the 2018 midterms. She had trailed Meyer by roughly 200 votes and requested a recount nearly a week after the election. The outcome of the House District 108 race runs counter to the pattern this year in other Dallas-area districts, where nearly all state House seats once held by Republicans flipped in Democrats’ favor.

“I am so very proud of the work we did to move a long considered unwinnable district where no Democrat even ran in 2016, and no challenger has come close to victory, to a district that will now be considered among the most competitive in 2020,” Cattanach said.

See here for the background. HD108 was, at least on paper, the reddest of the Dallas County districts, so it’s still a little amazing to me that Cattanach came so close to winning it. It and HD112, the only other Dallas district now held by a Republican, will surely be high on the target list for 2020. Thanks to Joanna Cattanach for running a strong race, and congratulations to Rep. Meyer on his re-election. The DMN has more.

TEA offers to lend HISD a hand

Could be a decent deal.

A top Texas Education Agency official offered Tuesday to intensively work with Houston ISD’s much-maligned school board to dramatically overhaul its approach to governance, shifting focus toward student outcomes and away from distracting personal agendas.

The pitch from TEA Deputy Commissioner of Governance AJ Crabill marks a unique olive branch to the state’s largest school district, which has struggled in recent months to reach consensus on vital issues.

“We can scrap all of what you’re doing now and redesign from scratch a governance system that honors your values and focuses on student values,” TEA Deputy Commissioner of Governance AJ Crabill told trustees during a school board meeting.

Trustees in attendance offered mostly positive responses to Crabill’s offer, which would be free of charge, agreeing that HISD’s school board needs dramatic changes to restore confidence in its governance. Board members agreed in October to seek an executive coach in the aftermath of the covert attempt to replace Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan, but employing a TEA official as their coach was not widely expected.

[…]

Trustees could vote as early as mid-December on Crabill’s proposal, though HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said she would not put the move up for vote if any trustee opposes the move.

HISD’s school board is responsible for setting district policy, hiring the superintendent and approving the district’s budget. The nine trustees are elected by voters in single-member districts.

Crabill’s offer came with some strings and relatively few concrete details. He said trustees must unanimously approve of his presence and “immediately resolve” any “gamesmanship” around his involvement. A few trustees, led by Jolanda Jones, have been fiercely critical of TEA leadership. Jones was not present for most of Crabill’s presentation and did not voice an opinion on it Tuesday.

Crabill said his primary goal would be moving toward trustees spending at least half of their time during board meetings focused on student outcomes. In recent months, trustees have spent significant amounts of time discussing relatively minor financial and policy matters, while occasionally engaging in deeply personal arguments.

Crabill did not outline a concrete vision for his work for trustees, but told them: “If you’re not comfortable with extreme discomfort, I’m not your guy.”

I mean, it’s worth hearing him out, if the other end of the bridge is an intact HISD with the four schools in question meeting standards. I can understand why some trustees might be leery of this, but it can’t hurt to hear the pitch. It would also be a good idea to let parents and teachers hear what Crabill has to say, since they’re going to be directly affected by whatever he might have in mind as well. See what he has in mind, and go from there. We’re no worse off if we decide to say “thanks, but no thanks”.

Precinct analysis: Straight ticket voting by State Rep district

As advertised:


Dist    Str R   Str D  Str L  Turnout   Str R%	Str D% Str L%   Total
=====================================================================
HD126  24,093  19,491    269   56,336   42.77%  34.60%  0.48%  77.84%
HD127  34,178  19,157    312   69,198   49.39%  27.68%  0.45%  77.53%
HD128  29,034  12,583    221   52,737   55.05%  23.86%  0.42%  79.33%
HD129  29,064  19,883    342   65,816   44.16%  30.21%  0.52%  74.89%
HD130  42,728  17,471    355   77,175   55.37%  22.64%  0.46%  78.46%
HD131   4,777  29,161    139   42,617   11.21%  68.43%  0.33%  79.96%
HD132  27,287  26,561    343   67,466   40.45%  39.37%  0.51%  80.32%
HD133  31,498  19,758    335   72,795   43.27%  27.14%  0.46%  70.87%
HD134  27,315  30,634    395   91,273   29.93%  33.56%  0.43%  63.92%
HD135  22,035  22,541    301   56,778   38.81%  39.70%  0.53%  79.04%
HD137   5,701  13,487    148   24,730   23.05%  54.54%  0.60%  78.19%
HD138  18,837  18,746    288   49,297   38.21%  38.03%  0.58%  76.82%
HD139   8,132  28,811    205   47,936   16.96%  60.10%  0.43%  77.49%
HD140   4,254  15,577    116   24,114   17.64%  64.60%  0.48%  82.72%
HD141   3,234  23,341    130   31,872   10.15%  73.23%  0.41%  83.79%
HD142   6,857  25,315    158   40,734   16.83%  62.15%  0.39%  79.37%
HD143   5,895  17,220    156   29,283   20.13%  58.81%  0.53%  79.47%
HD144   7,365  11,849    154   23,861   30.87%  49.66%  0.65%  81.17%
HD145   7,433  17,922    220   33,558   22.15%  53.41%  0.66%  76.21%
HD146   5,983  27,257    183   44,246   13.52%  61.60%  0.41%  75.54%
HD147   7,384  34,054    282   56,014   13.18%  60.80%  0.50%  74.48%
HD148  11,270  21,910    351   48,976   23.01%  44.74%  0.72%  68.46%
HD149  11,660  20,469    211   39,778   29.31%  51.46%  0.53%  81.30%
HD150  34,046  21,560    352   71,783   47.43%  30.03%  0.49%  77.95%

HDs 133, 134, and 148 are the outliers, otherwise each district is in a band between 74 and 84%. For what it’s worth, HDs 134 and 148 were the two best State Rep districts for Gary Johnson in 2016; HD133 was fourth best, also trailing HD129, but nearly a point behind the top two. HDs 1334 was also the best district for Evan McMullin and tied for best for all write ins, while 134, 133, and 148 were numbers 1, 2, and 4 respectively for most undervotes for President in 2016. That all makes sense in context.

One other point to note here is one that reinforces the point I made before about the decline of the Republican Party in Harris County. The Democratic districts are very strongly Democratic. The Republican presence in them is tiny. The Republican districts, on the other hand, sure seem to have a decent number of Democrats in them; in the cases of HDs 132 and 135, more than the number of Republicans. This is very much a function of where the population growth is in Harris County, and as that population has increased, so has the Democratic share of that district, and the county as a whole. The Republicans’ problem in Harris County was and is too many Democrats. Straight ticket voting didn’t help them, but then nothing was going to help them. They have themselves, and their continued embrace of Trump and Trumpism, to blame.

The legal option for Prop B

Here we go.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner will ask Houston city council Wednesday to hire a law firm to advise the city on possible litigation related to the firefighter pay parity measure, setting in motion a potential court challenge to the item approved by voters earlier this month.

While the firefighters union has urged the city to return to the negotiating table, Turner has questioned whether the city could preempt the ballot measure approved by voters, suggesting a judge should settle the question first.

Firefighters and labor attorneys contend the mayor does not need to seek a judge’s opinion, saying Texas’ collective bargaining laws preempt the city charter.

The city still has not sought a legal opinion on the matter.

[…]

The mayor, who instructed each city department in September to submit plans for reducing their respective budgets by 3.4 to 5.2 percent, has remained tight-lipped about how he plans to make the cuts he has warned are needed to square the city’s budget.

The Chronicle submitted a public information request seeking copies of the departments’ budget-cutting memos, but the city has sought an opinion from the Texas Attorney General on whether the documents can be exempted from disclosure.

Several city departments — including the Administration of Regulatory Affairs, the Solid Waste Department, and Public Works and Engineering — declined to say how Prop B-related cuts would impact their services and referred all questions to the mayor’s office. Alan Bernstein, a mayoral spokesman, referred the Chronicle to the months-old memo asking departments to submit “reduction scenarios.”

We knew this was coming. I’ve been expecting there to be litigation over this from the beginning, regardless of who won. Now we get to see what form this takes.

Houston city council on Wednesday approved Mayor Sylvester Turner’s request to hire an outside law firm to provide the city with legal advice related to the firefighter pay parity measure approved by voters earlier this month, but not before cutting the contract’s potential cost in half.

Following a testy discussion that lasted nearly 80 minutes, council gave the green light on a 9-7 vote for a contract worth up to $500,000 with Norton Rose Fulbright, a global firm with ties to the political action committee that backed the campaign to oppose Proposition B.

The ballot item, approved by voters on Nov. 6, grants Houston firefighters equal pay to police officers of corresponding status.

The firm is likely to help Turner’s administration address what has become a core question in the post-election debate over Prop B: whether state law in the form of a collective bargaining contract preempts the city charter. Council on Wednesday also adopted the pay parity item as a charter amendment, a procedural formality.

[…]

Turner told reporters after the meeting that he would have legally challenged Proposition B before the election, but found legal precedent that said such a move had to wait until voters approved the measure.

“There’s only one issue right here: whether or not it was preempted by state law,” Turner said. “If a judge should come back and say to the City of Houston it wasn’t preempted by state law, then we’ll have to move very quickly to implement it.”

Basically, as I see it there are three possible outcomes:

1. The lawyers tell the city that Prop B does not conflict with the state law on collective bargaining, thus paving the way for Mayor Turner and the firefighters to sit down and hash out an agreement on how to implement Prop B in a way that doesn’t kneecap the city financially. This is the firefighters’ preferred resolution.

2. The lawyers tell the city that Prop B does conflict with the state law on collective bargaining, and that the city would likely win a lawsuit because of that, or because of some other reason. You know what happens next in this case.

3. The lawyers tell the city that Prop B does conflict with the state law on collective bargaining, and that the city would likely lose a lawsuit. This way leads to budget cuts, layoffs, quite possibly litigation from one or more of several other groups – the firefighters, the police who are threatening their own legal action anyway, some other aggrieved citizens – and an unknown amount of chaos going into the 2019 election. At least it won’t be boring.

More floodplain buyouts

Gonna keep seeing more of these.

Fifteen months after Hurricane Harvey flooded more than 200,000 area homes and apartments, Harris County has begun purchasing homes in the floodplain using funds voters overwhelmingly approved in this summer’s $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond.

Using matching funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Harris County in the past month has purchased 12 homes. For this program, which combines local and federal dollars, the Harris County Flood Control District has used $53 million in bond funds to secure $159 million from FEMA. Another 512 homes are in the buyout process, and up to 400 more could be purchased using this funding source.

James Wade, director of the flood control district’s buyout program, said his staff aims to leverage local funding to secure federal dollars, which lessens the burden for Harris County taxpayers. Homes the county is targeting for buyouts are so susceptible to flooding that engineers have concluded the cost to protect them cannot be justified.

“There’s no practical flood control project that can save them,” Wade said.

Over the course of the decade-long bond program, the flood control district plans to use around $180 million in local funding, plus $550 million from federal partners, to purchase as many as 3,600 buildings in the floodplain. That total would more than double the number of homes the flood control district’s buyout program has purchased in its 33-year history.

Harris County plans to focus many of the buyouts on the San Jacinto River watershed, though the dozen homes purchased to date include properties on Vince Bayou, White Oak Bayou, Cypress Creek and Vogel Creek.

Not much to add to this. Buyouts are a necessary tool in the kit, but they’re also necessarily going to be limited in scope. I’m curious what our incoming County Judge thinks about the progress of this program, but it will remain a mystery to me, as she was not quoted in the story.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 26

The Texas Progressive Alliance spent the weekend raking forest floors, but still had the time to put together this roundup for you.

Off the Kuff analyzed Beto O’Rourke’s performance in Harris County.

SocraticGadfly takes note that Thanksgiving Day was Nov. 22 this year, and reminisces about a previous Thanksgiving-anniversary visit to Dealey Plaza and all things Kennedy and Camelot.

====================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Lisa Gray pens a pre-obituary for Houston icon Ray Hill.

Jeff Balke identifies five social media trends we didn’t see coming.

Juanita catches up on the border troop surge.

Bryce Hannibal wants us to be more mindful of food waste.

Mean Green Cougar Red offers his post-election thoughts.

Still more about straight ticket voting

And I’m still complaining about how the subject is being approached and discussed.

Fewer than half of Texans voted straight ticket in 1998, according to research by Austin Community College political scientist Stefan Haag, but that has jumped to close to two-thirds in four straight elections since 2012.

Both Democrats and Republicans benefitted from straight-party voting this year, said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. “Straight-ticket voting tends to benefit the majority party in whichever jurisdiction you’re operating. And so therefore it benefitted the Republican Party statewide, but it worked to the detriment of Republicans in the major urban counties, with Harris County and Dallas County being the two leading examples, but also the 1st, 14th and 5th court of appeals districts, where it also worked to their detriment,” Jones said, referring to Democratic sweeps of appellate judge races in some areas.

Texas doesn’t track statewide numbers on straight-party voting, so compiling data requires a county-by-county search. Texas Monthly looked at the state’s 40 most-populous counties, which accounted for 83 percent of the votes Texans cast in the 2018 midterm. That approach is similar to that used by Haag, who has been tracking straight-ticket voting in Texas since 1988 by looking at counties that account for 80 percent of the statewide vote. Here’s what we found:

[…]

The end of straight-ticket voting likely will help the Republicans check the Democrats’ recent momentum in the 2020 election, at least in lower-profile races, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said. “Only the most committed voters are likely to continue to vote all the way down the ballot. Republicans have more committed voters than Democrats at this point. So I think that advantage will shift back towards the Republicans in those down-ballot races.”

[…]

Jones and Rottinghaus said the end of the straight-party option could have profound impact on elections. Many voters will “roll off” the ballot after voting at the top of the ticket, leaving down-ballot races blank. Other voters may be pushed away from polls because of hours-long lines.

“I would say that we are very likely to see down ballot drop off. Most voters saw greatly from voter fatigue by the time they are at page three of the ballot and because of very long ballots we’ve got in the state it’s very likely that people just grow frustrated and simply stop voting,” leaving numerous races blank, Rottinghaus said.

There are some interesting statistics in the story, which you should go read, about big counties and smaller counties and Republican versus Democratic places. Dems appear from the numbers given to have been more likely to vote a straight ticket this year, which I would attribute to their overall enthusiasm level and the desire to send a message to Donald Trump and his enablers. Republicans still voted a heavy straight ticket as well, and in the end given that there were more Republicans voting overall, there were probably more Republican straight ticket voters. You have to check that on a county by county basis to know for sure, and I for one don’t have the time for that.

But of course it’s the unsupported assertions by the usual political science talkers that are driving me crazy. What evidence do you have for “voter fatigue”? What evidence do you have that Republicans are “more committed”? At least I’m willing to cite some actual numbers. What do you have, Brandon Rottinghaus and Mark Jones? Show your work, like you’d make a student do. I will say, if you look at Harris County results, the undervote rate in the judicial elections creeps upward as you go farther down the ballot. In those ranges I cited in that link above, the low end was always from the one of the first races, and the high end was always close to the bottom. But races like County Clerk and others that come after the judicial races have lower undervote rates, so it’s not just about “fatigue”, it’s about how much a voter knows about the race. The County Judge race this year had an undervote rate of 1.81%, on par with the statewides way up near the top of the ticket. Someone needs to show me some actual data that illustrates either of these effects – and states precisely what they are, in a scientific manner – before I will believe them.

But hey, you know what else we have? We have some non-partisan bond and ballot referenda, all of which appear at the very bitter end of the Harris County ballot, and not just from this year. Why don’t we take a look at some of these and see what the undervote rates have been?


2018 City of Houston

Prop A - 16.80%
Prop B - 13.37%

Prop A was the Renew Houston cleanup measure, while Prop B was the firefighter pay parity proposal. The undervote numbers roughly correspond to the “effective” undervote rates I calculated for the 2018 judicial races. Note that for stuff like this, it’s the straight ticket voters who may be dropping off, since they would still have to scroll down to vote on these things. But overall, most people made their way down to the bottom and cast a vote, with the higher profile issue not surprisingly getting more action.


2012 Metro

Mobility referendum - 21.66%


2012 City of Houston

Prop 1 - 26.84%
Prop 2 - 29.03%

Prop A - 23.91%
Prop B - 22.96%
Prop C - 24.84%
Prop D - 24.47%
Prop E - 24.56%


2012 HCC

Prop 1 - 22.88%


2012 HISD

Prop 1 - 18.98%

The Metro referendum was the one that gave the agency a greater share of sales tax revenue. The first two city propositions were charter amendment cleanups that I couldn’t tell you anything about, while the next five were all bonds, as were the HCC and HISD issues. Typically, the HISD one got the most attention, and thus had the lowest undervote rate. Remember that in 2012, the “effective” undervote rate was higher than it was this year.


2010 City of Houston

Prop 1 - 14.38%
Prop 2 - 18.93%
Prop 3 - 11.80%

Prop 1 was Renew Houston, Prop 3 was the red light camera referendum, and Prop 2 was something that I remember zero about. These undervote rates are pretty low, especially for the super-high-profile red light referendum.

Remember, these elections don’t involve people or parties, and they are at the end of the ballot. To whatever extent voters get “tired” and drop off, these are the place where you would see it. Straight ticket votes would not affect them, and voters have no partisan cues to go by. Some of these issues are confusing, and more than a few were very low profile. If anything, I’d expect these to represent the high end of voter dropoff in a “no straight ticket” context. Obviously, we won’t really know till we start seeing the election results in 2020 and beyond. But at least we can see that the overall dropoff rate isn’t that crazy – at the high end, it’s about what we see in an At Large City Council race, and at the low end it’s like a district Council race. Again, my expectation is that in a partisan context, with the trends we’ve observed, the actual undervote rates we’ll see will be less than this. But we’ll see. And at least I’m willing to put up my data.

Someone other than me notices CD24

The closest race no one was paying attention to.

Rep. Kenny Marchant

Last week’s midterm elections showed that the Texas electorate is changing dramatically, and even Republicans who survived found themselves with surprisingly close calls after coasting to reelection for years.

One U.S. representative who saw the ground shift was Kenny Marchant. The Coppell Republican won his eighth term by 3.2 percentage points — about 8,400 votes out of 262,000 cast.

That’s a far cry from his landslide victories in the last three elections: a 61-36 margin in 2012, and 65-32 two years later. Against the same opponent in 2016, Democrat Jan McDowell, Marchant coasted to a 56-39 win.

For this year’s rematch, McDowell raised just $100,000 against the incumbent’s $1.1 million.

The contest was never on the radar as a potential toss-up, overlooked by independent congressional handicappers and both parties’ House campaign strategists.

“Kenny Marchant is one in a cast of thousands who saw margins shrink and should be alert to danger going forward,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

[…]

Marchant was elected to the Texas House in 1986 and rose to chairman of the Republican caucus before moving to Congress.

If he wants to keep that seat, Riddlesperger said, he’ll need to respond to changing demographics in the district and do more to connect with suburban voters. “He can read the numbers,” the professor said. “He is going to move a little more to the moderate side of things if he wants to be successful moving forward.”

Jillson said Republicans should look to the Sessions loss for lessons in staying in closer contact with constituents.

“It’s not so much they need to change their issues,” he said, but “whether that is being involved in Rotary Club or community Republican meetings, they need to assess their presence and what they are doing.”

See here for some background. As I recall, Tom DeLay basically drew this seat for Marchant back in 2003, and going all the way back to the first election in 2004, it’s never been remotely competitive. Demography and Donald Trump caught up with the district this year, and I have to think that one of the many candidates that raised a ton of money and generated an equivalent amount of excitement elsewhere might have had a real shot at winning CD24 this year. We’ll have another shot in 2020, though this time we won’t be sneaking up on anyone. Marchant is who he is at this point – I doubt any feints towards “moderation”, whatever that might even mean in this context, or attendance at local events will change the voters’ perception of him. Either the conditions and the opponent are sufficient to usher him back to the private sector, or they’re not. We have limited control over the former, but we can sure take care of the latter.

More Metro regional transit plan meetings planned

There’s more to talk about now.

After gathering input over the past year on how to expand public transportation in the region, METRO says it will soon hold another series of meetings to see what people think of their draft Regional Transit Plan.

METRO Chairman Carrin Patman said they’re also expecting feedback from a new group of Harris County decision-makers.

“We have a new county government, there are some changes on the congressional level, and we need to take all those things into account,” said Patman. “Because some of the opinions of some of the stakeholders may have changed too.”

As the population grows, METRO says it needs to find better ways to move people to the region’s many employment centers. In the past, most people commuted into downtown Houston. But now, commuters are headed to places like the Med Center, the Energy Corridor, and The Woodlands.

Patman said they also want to tackle mobility challenges within the City of Houston, like providing better connections between downtown and the Galleria.

“The question is what form that will take,” said Patman. “What we’ve been looking at is the concept of bus rapid transit along part of Richmond, dropping down to Westpark, and connecting with the Post Oak BRT. But when we go back out for the public engagement process we’ll get a lot of input into that.”

See here and here for some background, and here for the project webpage. Changes to Commissioners Court as well as changes in Congress may allow for a more expansive definition of what is possible with this. The end result of the meetings and the engagement will be a referendum we vote on in 2019. Go and have your say so what we vote on later is what you were hoping for.

On straight tickets and other votes

I have and will continue to have more to say about straight ticket votes. Part of me is reluctant to talk about this stuff, because I feel like we’ve reached a point where straight ticket votes are seen as less than other votes, and I don’t want to contribute in any way to that. But given all the talk we’ve already had, and the unending stream of baloney about the ridiculously outsized effect they supposedly had in this election, I feel like I need to shed what light I can on what the data actually says. So onward we go.

Today I want to look at a few districts of interest, and separate out the straight ticket votes from the other votes. Again, I hesitated to do this at first because I object so strenuously to the trope that straight ticket votes tipped an election in a particular way, to the detriment of the losing candidate. If a plethora of straight ticket votes helped propel a candidate to victory, it’s because there was a surplus of voters who supported that candidate, and not because of anything nefarious. We call that “winning the election”, and it stems from the condition of having more people vote for you than for the other person. Anyone who claims otherwise is marinating in sour grapes.

So. With that said, here’s a look at how the vote broke down in certain districts.


CD02:

Straight R = 109,529
Straight D =  87,667

Crenshaw      29,659
Litton        32,325

CD07:

Straight R =  90,933
Straight D =  86,640

Culberson     24,709
Fletcher      41,319

If you want to believe in the fiction that straight ticket votes determined the elections, and not the totality of the voters in the given political entity, then please enjoy the result in CD02, where Dan Crenshaw rode the straight ticket vote to victory. Those of us who refuse to engage in such nonsense will merely note that CD02 remained a Republican district despite two cycles of clear movement in a Democratic direction. And then there’s CD07, which stands in opposition to the claim that straight ticket votes are destiny, for if they were then John Culberson would not be shuffling off to the Former Congressman’s Home.


HD126:

Straight R =  24,093
Straight D =  19,491

Harless        6,306
Hurtado        5,544

HD132:

Straight R =  27,287
Straight D =  26,561

Schofield      5,441
Calanni        6,280

HD134:

Straight R =  27,315
Straight D =  30,634

Davis         19,962
Sawyer        11,003

HD135:

Straight R =  22,035
Straight D =  22,541

Elkins         4,666
Rosenthal      5,932

HD138:

Straight R =  18,837
Straight D =  18,746

Bohac          5,385
Milasincic     5,429

HD126 and HD135 were consistent, with straight ticket and non-straight ticket votes pointing in the same direction. Gina Calanni was able to overcome Mike Schofield’s straight ticket lead, while Adam Milasincic was not quite able to do the same. As for HD134, this is one part a testament to Sarah Davis’ crossover appeal, and one part a warning to her that this district may not be what it once was. Republicans are going to have some tough decisions to make in the 2021 redistricting if they want to hold onto this district.


CC2:

Straight R =  86,756
Straight D =  92,927

Morman        25,981
Garcia        21,887

CC3:

Straight R = 132,207
Straight D = 122,325

Flynn         32,964
Duhon         40,989

CC4:

Straight R = 144,217
Straight D = 122,999

Cagle         42,545
Shaw          34,448

Finally, a Democrat gets a boost from straight ticket voting. I had figured Adrian Garcia would run ahead of the pack in Commissioners Court Precinct 2, but that wasn’t the case. I attribute Jack Morman’s resiliency to his two terms as incumbent and his millions in campaign cash, but in the end they weren’t enough. As was the case with CD02 for Dan Crenshaw, CC2 was too Democratic for Morman. That’s a shift from 2016, where Republicans generally led the way in the precinct, and shows another aspect of the Republican decline in the county. You see that also in CC3, where many Dems did win a majority and Andrea Duhon came close, and in CC4, which is at this point the last stronghold for Republicans. Democrats are pulling their weight out west, and that had repercussions this year that will continue to be felt in 2020 and beyond.

There’s still more to the straight ticket voting data that I want to explore. I keep thinking I’m done, then I keep realizing I’m not. Hope this has been useful to you.

HD108 recount begins

I believe this is the last un-conceded race.

Joanna Cattanach

The recount for an extremely tight Dallas County race between incumbent Republican Morgan Meyer and Democratic challenger Joanna Cattanach will begin Tuesday.

“We appreciate all of the notes of support and emails, the volunteers who’ve stepped up to serve as poll watchers, and thank you to those who’ve donated to help our effort to ensure every vote counts and every vote matters in House District 108,” Cattanach, who requested the recount, said in an email to supporters Monday afternoon.

[…]

On Tuesday at 9 a.m., county officials will begin a by-hand recount which could take several days. Election Day ballots will be counted first and mail ballots will be counted after that. These two ballots will be counted first because they are a mix of electronic and by-hand ballots.

Early voting in-person ballots, which were done electronically, will be counted last. Those electronic records will be counted by hand and are expected to total more than 67,000 pages to print, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

But if the victory gap doesn’t shrink after the Election Day and mail ballots are counted, Cattanach could choose to end the recount then, since the electronic ballots are not expected to change. Cattanach, who has already put down a deposit of $7,000, would have to pay more money if she decided to go forward with the full recount.

If the election results changed, however, Cattanach would be refunded her deposit and the county would pay for the recount.

See here, here, and here for the background. Cattanach trails by 440 votes out of over 78K cast. You know I never expect recounts to change anything, but it’s a candidate’s right in a close election, and this is a close election. There were some others that were even closer, and I’m a bit surprised this is the only recount on the table, but here we are. I’ll keep my eye on it.

Endorsement watch: For Alvarado in the special

The Chron does its thing one more time.

Rep. Carol Alvarado

Of the four names on the ballot [in the SD06 special election], two stand out as qualified and impressive candidates: state Rep. Carol Alvarado and state Rep. Ana Hernandez.

We endorse Alvarado.

It isn’t a question of policy — the two Democrats seem to agree on practically everything. Both are pro-choice. Both oppose school vouchers. Neither wants to expand the sales tax or implement an income tax to help pay for public schools. The difference is one of strategy.

Alvarado, 51, is a former member of Houston City Council and was first elected to District 145 in 2008. Since then she has briskly climbed the leadership ranks and last session was appointed chair of the Urban Affairs Committee. Consider it a sign of the trust that Speaker Joe Straus put in her ability to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans to pass important bills. Notably, in 2015 she authored the grand jury reform bill that was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott. Those talents will be key to a successful tenure in the Texas Senate, which is dominated by Republicans.

Hernandez, 40, was first elected to the Legislature in 2005 but hasn’t gained the sort of leadership positions that Alvarado boasts. In meeting with the editorial board, she explained it’s because she refuses to compromise her ideals in pursuit of political ambition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Garcia embodied that model when she was the only senator to oppose the most recent budget. The vote undermined her ability to work with Republicans, but granted her the authority to point out the budget’s various flaws — cuts to education, reliance on higher property taxes — come election season. If Democrats want to grow their political footprint, they’ll need to start heightening the contrast with Republicans and give voters a real choice.

But for the sake of constituents’ immediate needs, we believe that Alvarado can do a better job of shaping and passing legislation.

Alvarado sent out email over the weekend touting endorsements from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and the Planned Parenthood Texas Votes as well. She of course has run for this seat before, in the 2012 special election following the death of Mario Gallegos, finishing second behind Sylvia Garcia. You don’t want to put too much weight on these things, as it’s easy to over-interpret them in low-turnout special elections like this, but it’s a decent start for Alvarado. We have a full 12-day early voting period for this election, so if you are in SD06 you have from today through next Friday, December 7, to cast your ballot.

So you want to run for something in 2020

You’re an ambitious Democrat in Harris County. You saw what happened these last two elections, and you think it’s your time to step up and run for office. What are your options that don’t involved primarying a Democratic incumbent?

1. US SenateWe’ve talked about this one. For the record, I would prefer for Beto to try it again. He could win, and would likely be our best bet to win if he does. But if he doesn’t, and if other top recruits choose other options, this is here.

2. CD02 – Todd Litton ran a strong race in 2018 against Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, who was almost certainly the strongest nominee the GOP could have put forward for this spot. Crenshaw has star potential, and a much higher profile than your average incoming GOP freshman thanks to that Saturday Night Live contretemps, but he’s also a freshman member in a district that has move dramatically leftward in the past two cycles. In a Presidential year, with another cycle of demographic change and new voter registrations, this seat should be on the national radar from the beginning.

2a. CDs 10 and 22 – See above, with less star power for the incumbent and equal reasons for the districts to be visible to national pundits from the get go. The main disadvantage, for all three districts, is that this time the incumbent will know from the beginning that he’d better fundraise his butt off. On the other hand, with a Democratic majority, they may find themselves having to take a lot of tough votes on bills involving health care, climate change, voting rights, immigration, and more.

3. Railroad Commissioner – There are three RRC seats, with six year terms, so there’s one on the ballot each cycle. Ryan Sitton will be up for re-election if nothing else happens. Kim Olson may be making noises about this race, but so far that’s all we know.

4. Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals – Nathan Hecht (Chief Justice), Jeff Boyd, and whoever gets named to replace the retiring Phil Johnson will be up for the former, and Bert Richardson, Kevin Yeary, and David Newell will be up for the latter. We really should have a full slate for these in 2020. Current judges who are not otherwise on the ballot should give it strong consideration.

5. SBOE, District 6As we have seen, the shift in 2018 makes this look competitive. Dan Patrick acolyte Donna Bahorich is the incumbent.

6. SD11 – As I said before, it’s not competitive the way the Senate seats of interest were competitive in 2018, but it’ll do. It may be closer than I think it is, at least as far as 2018 was concerned. I’ll check when the full data is available. Larry Taylor is your opponent.

7. HDs 138, 126, 133, 129, and 150 – More or less in that order. Adam Milasincic might take another crack at HD138, but it’s up for grabs after that.

8. 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals – There are two available benches on each, including the Chief Justice for the 14th. Justices do step down regularly, and someone will have to be elevated to fill Phil Johnson’s seat, so the possibility exists that another spot will open up.

9. HCDE Trustee, At Large, Positions 5 and 7 – Unless a district court judge steps down and gets replaced by Greg Abbott in the next year and a half or so, the only countywide positions held by Republicans on the 2020 ballot are these two, which were won by Jim Henley and Debra Kerner in 2008, then lost in 2014. Winning them both would restore the 4-3 Democratic majority that we had for two years following Diane Trautman’s election in 2012. It would also rid the HCDE Board of two of its least useful and most loathsome members, Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners. (Ridding the board of Eric Dick will require waiting till 2022, and a substantive shift in the partisan makeup of Precinct 4.) Get your engines ready for these two spots, folks.

10. JP Position 1 and Constable, Precincts 4, 5, and 8 – Dems came close to winning Constable in Precinct 5 in 2016, losing by about one percentage point, but didn’t field challengers in any of the other races. All three precincts were carried by Beto O’Rourke this year, so especially given the limited opportunities elsewhere, one would think these would be enticing options in 2020. And hey, we didn’t field any challengers for JP Position 2 in any of these precincts this year, so there will be another shot in 2022, too.

11. Harris County Attorney – Yeah, I know, I said options that don’t involve primarying an incumbent. Vince Ryan has done an able job as County Attorney, and is now in his third term after being elected in 2008. He has also caught some heat for the role his office played in defending the county’s bail practices. We can certainly argue about whether it would be proper for the person whose job it is to defend the county in legal matters to publicly opine about the wisdom or morality of the county’s position, but it is a fact that some people did not care for any of this. I can imagine him deciding to retire after three terms of honorable service as County Attorney, thus making this an open seat. I can also imagine him drawing one or more primary opponents, and there being a contentious election in March of 2020. Given that, I didn’t think I could avoid mentioning this race.

That’s how I see it from this ridiculously early vantage point. Feel free to speculate wildly about who might run for what in the comments.

Early voting begins today for the SD06 special election

From the inbox:

Early Voting for the Texas State Senate District 6 Special Election to Fill a Vacancy begins Monday, November 26 and ends Friday, December 7.  During the twelve day Early Voting period, nine locations will be available to the 330,000 registered voters within the Senate District who want to cast a ballot before Election Day, Tuesday, December 11.

The Early Voting locations and schedule are as follows:

Early Voting Locations for

December 11, 2018 State Senate District 6 Special Election

Location Address City Zip
County Attorney Conference Center 1019 Congress Avenue Houston 77002
Harris County Scarsdale Annex 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Galena Park Library 1500 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
John Phelps Courthouse 101 South Richey Street Pasadena 77506
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
Hours of Operation
Day(s) Date Time
Monday to Friday Nov. 26 – 30 8 am – 4:30 pm
Saturday Dec-1 7 am – 7 pm
Sunday Dec-2 1 pm – 6 pm
Monday to Friday Dec. 3 – 7 7 am – 7 pm

“The Harris County Early Voting locations are only available to individuals who are registered to vote in Senate District 6,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the Chief Election Officer of the county.

For more information about the December 11 State Senate District 6 Special Election to Fill a Vacancy, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.  Voters may also visit the website to determine if they are eligible to vote in an upcoming election or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls.

There are four candidates in this race, though really only two that have a chance of winning. Assuming one of those two wins, we’ll then have a special election in her State Rep district. If you’re wondering why this message came from Stan Stanart, remember that his term of office runs through December 31. Any runoff in this race, and any subsequent special election, will be conducted by incoming County Clerk Diane Trautman. Now get out there and vote if you live in SD06.

RIP, Ray Hill

We have lost an icon.

Ray Hill

Ray Hill was in the cross hairs, and if the Louisiana hitmen actually showed up in Houston to rub him out, he wanted the media to be wise to what had happened. Hill breathlessly related the menace, obviously delighted that he could be the target of such a delicious conspiracy. Every UPS deliveryman, every knock on the door might be a summons to eternity. He’d hunker down in his apartment until we talked again — if we talked again.

Hill exuded drama like some people sweat. Whether he was telling tales of his career as an East Texas teenage evangelist or his escapades as a jewel thief, Hill kept an eye peeled for the best presentation. And as one of the city’s most visible advocates for gay, lesbian and inmate causes, he rarely failed to sharpen his talent to entertain into a formidable weapon.

Hill, who late in life eschewed leadership roles in activist circles to hone a career as a monologuist — a dramatic undertaking that gained him appreciative audiences in New York, Pennsylvania and New England — died of heart failure in hospice care Saturday. He was 78.

A legend in his own right — and in his own mind — Hill’s business card described his profession as “citizen provocateur,” a proudly worn label he received from a Supreme Court justice after a long-ago legal battle with the cops.

“I was born to rub the cat hair the wrong direction,” he once said.

Excerpts don’t do the man justice, so go read the whole thing, then go read Lisa Gray’s pre-obituary of Hill that came out on Tuesday. I met Ray a couple of times but didn’t really know him, which makes me kind of an outlier since basically everyone knew Ray Hill. The late Carl Whitmarsh called Ray “Mother” in his emails, a tribute to Ray’s role as an originator of LGBT activism in Houston. You can’t tell the story of Houston without at least a chapter on Ray Hill. He may be gone, but his legacy will live on. Rest in peace, Ray Hill.

Weekend link dump for November 25

“If there was one main negative takeaway from the raging fires of food tourist culture and the lists fanning the flames, it was that the people crowding the restaurant were one time customers. They were there to check off a thing on a list, and put it on Instagram. They weren’t invested in the restaurant’s success, but instead in having a public facing opinion of a well known place. In other words, they had nothing to lose except money and the restaurant had nothing to gain except money, and that made the entire situation feel both precarious and a little gross.”

“Here is George Washington (with bow and arrow) pictured alongside the Goddess of America.”

“The big city paradox: They’re getting richer but losing electoral clout”.

A long read on Larry Nassar and how he got away with his crimes for so many years.

Remembering the Jonestown massacre, 40 years later.

We have brined turkeys in the past and I’ve liked them that way, but we have not done that in recent years.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Finnish forest fires but were afraid to ask.

For crying out loud, get your children their flu shots.

Yeah, the movies based on the Percy Jackson books were terrible, and that was a shame.

“Democratic candidates for the House will receive almost as many votes this year as the 63 million that President Trump received in 2016″.

“It’s better to show toxic masculinity or annoying YouTubers, because that sounds like what hell really is.”

What happens when an asteroid crashes into the polar ice?

“The traditional news media are thoroughly infected by the Trump virus. It is not only spreading the disease of the president’s lies, but also suffering from a demise in public trust—at least among one half of the electorate.”

RIP, Marcelite Jordan Harris, Houston native and the first African-American woman to serve as a major general in the U.S. military.

On straight tickets and undervotes

As we know, straight ticket voting in Texas is now officially a thing of the past. It will not be an option in 2020, the next time there will be partisan elections. Thanks to the success of Democratic candidates in 2018, particularly in Harris County, there have been a bunch of questionable takes about how the existence of straight ticket voting was the propellant for these victories. I’ve scoffed at the implicit assumption in these stories that Democrats would undervote in disproportionate numbers in the downballot races once the straight ticket option was gone, and that got me to thinking. What do we know about the undervote rate now?

In every race, some number of people don’t vote. That number is reported by the County Clerk in the election returns. Higher profile races, district races, races at the top of the ticket, these tend to have higher participation. Judicial races, which are lower profile and at the end of the ballot, those unsurprisingly tend to be the ones with the most undervotes. If these are the races most likely to be affected by the loss of the straight ticket option, then what might that effect be?

That’s the question I wanted to try to answer. So, I looked at the undervote rates in past elections, to see if there were any trends. First, though, I needed to establish what the real undervote rate is. By definition, the people who vote straight ticket are voting in each contested election, so only the people who don’t vote a straight ticket can undervote. Thus, I started out by subtracting the combined straight ticket totals for the year, and calculated the undervote rates based on the remaining tallies. Here’s what this looks like:


Year  Regular  Lo under  Hi under  Lo pct  Hi pct
=================================================
2002  296,924    46,505    58,319  15.66%  19.64% 
2006  314,606    48,626    57,970  15.46%  18.43%
2010  264,545    38,014    45,326  14.37%  17.13%
2014  219,892    27,360    33,280  12.44%  15.13%
2018  287,429    33,572    39,564  11.38%  13.76%

2004  389,898    81,724    85,333  20.96%  21.89%
2008  449,307    81,416    89,306  18.12%  19.88%
2012  386,475    66,435    73,387  17.19%  18.99%
2016  451,827    63,226    69,344  13.99%  15.35%

“Regular” is what I called the number of votes cast by those who did not vote a straight ticket. As you can see, even as turnout has varied greatly from year to year, the number of “regular” voters has remained relatively static. The next two numbers represent the range of undervote totals for the judicial races, and the numbers after them are the rates for the undervotes, adjusted to account for the straight ticket voters.

What we see from this is that even as straight ticket voting has increased, the number of people not voting in judicial elections has decreased, relatively speaking. I would attribute that to the overall increase in partisanship in recent years. That suggests to me that when straight ticket voting goes away, voters are still going to be likely to vote in all, or at least nearly all, of the races on the ballot. There will be more undervotes than there are now – as I previously observed, the undervote rate as calculated by the County Clerk over all voters was in the three to four percent range this year. It will end up between that and the lower end numbers I show above. Do bear in mind that for City of Houston elections for At Large Council spots and for City Controller, the undervote race is often above twenty percent. We’re not going to see anything like that in even-numbered years. The vast majority of voters are going to completely fill out their ballots. We’ll see what the numbers look like in 2020, but I see no reason why the trends we see here won’t continue.

The history of SOB laws in Houston

From strip clubs to robot brothels, we’ve come a long way.

Somewhat sheepishly, the city official tried to explain why he had spent more than $2,000 in public funds entertaining out-of-town clients at a topless bar.

“They wanted to go there,” said Jordy Tollett, who regularly wined and dined prospective conventioneers when he worked for the Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I couldn’t say, ‘You can’t go there.’”

That was in 1989. Since then, countless topless bars and adult bookstores have opened and closed, the city has rewritten its “sexually oriented business” law, Harris County and other jurisdictions have struggled to enforce their own rules, and litigation challenging these rules has filled court dockets.

Yet Tollett’s simple observation — “They wanted to go there” — conveyed a truism that still confronts Houston-area leaders seeking to repel or regulate such enterprises: Sex sells. This is true of the upscale “gentleman’s clubs” where business executives unwind after work, and it’s true of the seedy “massage parlors” — thinly disguised fronts for prostitution and human trafficking — that generate about $107 million in illicit revenues a year in Houston, according to a recent study.

The sex business, like others, has responded to continuing demand with innovation.

In 1983, when the City Council passed Houston’s first ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses, no one could have imagined that people might someday pay $120 for an hour of intimacy with objects made of synthetic skin and highly articulated skeletons. But 35 years later, the council reacted quickly to reports that a Toronto-based company, KinkySdollS, planned to open a shop in Houston that allowed prospective buyers of lifelike “sex dolls” to take them for a spin on the premises for a fee.

I remember some stories in the Houston Press from back in the day about Jordy Tollett and spending money wooing visitors at Rick’s Cabaret. Different times, to be sure. I don’t have anything to add here, I just enjoyed this little bit of history and thought you might, too.

RIP, Bob McNair

The Houston Texans owner has passed away.

The death of Texans owner and founder Bob McNair rocked the NFL, the city of Houston and his players and coaches Friday, sparking rich remembrances of his life and legacy.

McNair was 81 years old and had battled skin cancer for years. He had been in poor health for several months.

McNair leaves behind a first-place AFC South franchise that had been entrusted by him to stable leadership provided by his son, chief operating officer Cal McNair, coach Bill O’Brien, general manager Brian Gaine and longtime team president Jamey Rootes.

From his instrumental role in returning the NFL to Houston after the departure of the Oilers to Tennessee to his philanthropic contributions and warm, approachable personality, McNair was recalled fondly upon his death.

McNair is a seminal figure in Houston sports for bringing the NFL back to Houston. It’s not often mentioned these days, but at the time everyone assumed Los Angeles was going to get the expansion franchise that eventually became the Texans. He’ll be long remembered in Houston for that, and for his longtime civic and charitable participation. He also had a long history in Republican and conservative politics, none of which was mentioned in this story. That’s a topic for another time. For now, my condolences to the McNair family.

Yes, we’re already looking ahead to 2020

Close races one year fuel speculation about the next.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Much of the immediate speculation about 2020 in Texas has centered on O’Rourke, who was being discussed as a potential presidential candidate even before he reached the finish line in the Senate race. While running against Cruz, he denied interest in a White House bid. Since then, he has not said what he plans to do next beyond spending more time with his family and then starting to think about what he learned from his Senate campaign. But that has not stopped the 2020 drumbeat surrounding him. A poll released last week pegged him as Democratic voters’ No. 3 pick among possible contenders, and a cryptic blog post Thursday about running — a morning jog, that is — stirred speculation anew.

If O’Rourke runs for president, he would have to contend with another Texan who has been preparing for a likely White House bid for nearly two years: Julían Castro, the former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor. People close to Castro have been saying a O’Rourke run would not change his plans, a point Castro himself made Friday to the Associated Press. Castro, who said last month he is “likely” to make a White House bid, intends to make an announcement about his plans in early 2019.

Instead of running for president in 2020, some Texas Democrats would like O’Rourke to take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who will be at the top of the ballot in two years. But privately, O’Rourke has not expressed interest in challenging Cornyn, according to his inner circle.

[…]

O’Rourke is not the only statewide candidate from Nov. 6 who is already coming up in 2020 conversations. Kim Olson, the fiery Democrat who finished five points behind Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, has been punctuating her post-election social media posts with the hashtag “#kim2020,” and a spokeswoman for Olson said she is “currently exploring all opportunities to determine the best way to continue serving Texas and Texans.”

At the congressional level, the next cycle is also already looming large.

Democrats picked up two seats on Nov. 6, dislodging Republican U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston and Pete Sessions of Dallas. But they also came surprisingly close in several districts that were once considered far out of reach, and the Democratic nominees in those races emerged as local rock stars who are already being encouraged to try again in 2020. That is even before any retirement announcements from GOP incumbents who may not be game for another competitive race in 2020.

Among the rising stars are Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former diplomat who came within five points of taking out U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. In a message to supporters the weekend after the election, Kulkarni acknowledged that the 2020 discussion was already taking shape, saying that many people have asked him to run again for the seat but he is “not ready to commit to that yet.”

Then there is MJ Hegar, the former military pilot who gained a national fanbase taking on U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and finished just 3 points behind him. In a post-election interview, she noted that even her most loyal supporters told her from the start that it would be a “two-cycle race” to win the seat.

“I’ve been approached by a lot of different people to run for a variety of different offices… and I’m still considering the best way to serve my community,” Hegar said. Running for the congressional seat again, she added, is “one of the options I’m considering.”

Farther down the ballot, Democrats are already setting their sights on capturing the state House majority in 2020 — a huge prize ahead of the next redistricting round. They made significant progress on Nov. 6, flipping a dozen seats and growing their ranks from 55 members to 67. That means Democrats are entering the 2020 cycle nine seats removed from the majority — well within reach, according to Democrats inside and outside Texas.

Dems will also have a chance to reclaim SD19, which now ranks as the one and only pickup the Republicans had this cycle. There really aren’t any other close Senate districts on the ballot in 2020 – the closest would be SDs 11 (Larry Taylor) and 12 (Jane Nelson), as they are the only ones where Trump got less than 60%. I’ll be interested to see what their numbers look like from this year, and I will be banging the drum for a good candidate to run in SD11, but it’s fair to say both of these would be a stretch.

The first order of business is figuring out who wants to run for US Senate – if Beto wants to try again, it’ll be his, and if not there ought to be some spirited jockeying for the “consensus” position. Texas Leftist suggested in my comments that Kim Olson might run for the Railroad Commission, which is the one other non-judicial statewide race on the ballot. (With the caveat that if Ken Paxton is forced to resign at some point, the replacement that Greg Abbott names might have to be there as well, depending on the timing. Imagine that for a minute.) I like that people are talking about the Congressional seats that are still available – the early start that a lot of our candidates had in this cycle gave them a leg up on fundraising.

And on it goes from there. The other thing that is encouraging about all this is that we’ve had cycles – even this one, for some races – where the question wasn’t who will run for thus-and-such seat, but will anyone run for it? I will say that we will need to make sure that if any quality candidates who sign up for a statewide race get gadfly/perennial candidate primary opponents, we will all need to step it up in the primaries to make sure they don’t get Grady Yarbroughed or Jim Hoganed. Democrats have finally gotten to the point of being taken seriously. Let’s not screw that up just yet.

HISD still trying to figure out what to do with the four schools that didn’t meet standards

Don’t take too long on this.

After months with little public discussion about whether to temporarily surrender control over four long-struggling schools, Houston ISD officials are expected to start ramping up talks about any such plans as state-mandated deadlines quickly approach.

HISD administrators and trustees said they will meet after the Thanksgiving holiday to consider how they will approach the possibility of giving up control of the four campuses, which would stave off major state sanctions tied to chronically low academic performance at the schools.

The politically fraught option drew backlash from some community members in the spring, when trustees did not vote on Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan’s recommendation to give control of 10 campuses to a local charter school network, but district leaders say they remain open to employing the option before an early February 2019 deadline.

To date, administrators and trustees have not had extensive public conversations about if and how the district would approach surrendering control of the four campuses — even though the two sides have known since mid-August that HISD potentially faces sanctions if those schools remain under district authority.

If HISD does not hand over control of the four schools to an outside organization, and if any one of the four fails to meet state academic standards in August 2019, the Texas Education Agency must close campuses or replace the district’s school board.

“I wish that we could have started these earlier, but I still think it’s better late than never,” said HISD Trustee Anne Sung, who is helping to coordinate the post-Thanksgiving public meeting. “I think we’re starting to make some progress on having a timeline and plan for these conversations.”

[…]

Trustee Elizabeth Santos, who generally has opposed private partnerships, said HISD administrators and board members should have more transparent discussions after remaining relatively quiet over the past few months.

“My biggest concern is that I don’t want a repeat of April 24, and that seems to be what’s happening,” Santos said. “We’re going to be pushed into a corner where we limit our options. This has been staring us in the face since last year.”

See here and here for some background. I agree with Trustee Santos, we need to get this show on the road. There are options, beyond the optimal one of bringing all four schools up to standard, that would satisfy the law and avoid excessive intervention by the state. If the intent, with which I largely agree, is to also avoid partnering with a charter school, then the previously explored possibility of teaming up with a city-run non-profit, or the not-as-far-as-I-know-explored potential for a pair-up with HCC should be on the table. Even more fundamental than that, the parents and teachers and students in the schools that are at risk need to be engaged so HISD isn’t caught flat-footed by the response to their actions. HISD needs to get everyone who has a stake in this involved, listen to what they do and don’t want, and lead the way in finding the best path forward. Sooner rather than later would also be appreciated.

Beer for dogs

We live in strange but wondrous times.

When Megan and Steve Long tell friends and customers about their newest venture, Good Boy Dog Beer, more often than not, they’re met with the same three questions.

One: Is it really for dogs? (Yes.)

Two: Is it alcoholic? (No.)

Three: Can I drink it? (Um, sure?)

The beer doesn’t exactly dance on a human palate, thanks to a complete lack of sodium. But that was never the intention. The Longs, who own Henderson Heights bar in the Sixth Ward and Reserve 101 downtown, wanted to create a new product that mixed two of their favorite things on the planet — beer and dogs.

They’re not pretending to be the first people with the idea. There’s been a scatterplot of breweries offering pints for pups for more than a decade now. But they do seem to be the first in Houston, a city that has become increasingly dog-friendly in recent years, thanks to a growing number of patio bars willing to let four-legged friends tag along for Sunday funday. And that Fido-forward culture has helped the Longs find immediate success.

Within weeks of their launch, all three flavors of their beer — IPA Lot in the Yard, Mailman Malt Licker and Session…squirrel! — are available in 15 bars throughout the city, including Front Porch Pub and FM Kitchen and Bar, for a recommended price of about $5 a can. And they’re getting requests to ship cans across the country.

So yeah, it’s not beer in the sense that you or I know it. But it comes in cans and it’s served at bars, so close enough. Good for the Longs, finding a niche and filling it.

AG rules Confederate plaque can be removed

Let’s get a move on then.

Rep. Eric Johnson

The Texas Legislature or a state board chaired by Gov. Greg Abbott can remove a plaque in the Capitol honoring Confederates, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a published opinion Wednesday, providing clarity to a longstanding question over who has the power to do so — and how it can be done.

The “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque, which asserts that that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery,” had been the cause of controversy for lawmakers for months. Several have called it offensive and historically inaccurate.

Last October, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, called for the plaque’s removal and submitted a formal request to do so to the Texas State Preservation Board, which is chaired by Abbott and includes four other Republican elected officials and one citizen representative. Johnson, whose office is near the plaque, renewed those calls on Wednesday, noting that his request was never approved.

“They could take it down before the end of business today,” he said in an interview. “There shouldn’t be any confusion that the method I’ve chosen to go about this is the right one.”

Abbott said following a meeting with Johnson last year that he would have the preservation board “look into” how to remove the plaque. Paxton’s opinion made clear that three groups could make that decision: the Legislature, the Texas Historical Commission or the preservation board.

And any legislator can submit a form to request the removal of a “monument or memorial” — as Johnson did — and submit it to the preservation board, Paxton said. The curator of the Capitol, who works for the board, can approve the change — or the board has the discretion to do it itself.

See here and here for the background. Rep. Johnson is correct that he has done all the right things, and he has every reason to expect that the Preservation Board, under Greg Abbott’s direction, will follow through. And when they don’t – because honestly, no one should expect Greg Abbott to show leadership or do the right thing when it doesn’t advantage him – he will surely file a lawsuit. That can all be easily avoided, if Greg Abbott does his job. We’re all waiting.

Non-partisan judicial elections are not the answer

With respect, I disagree.

Most of us are proud we voted, yet most of us abdicated our voting power when it came to electing judges. Our trial and appellate judges oversee our Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendment rights daily, but most Harris County voters simply hit a straight-party ballot and let someone else decide in judicial races.

Yes, the parties provide some good judicial candidates. But in trying to fill out the long ballot of judges, they have offered some real losers over the years, too. The ballot always contains some mediocre lawyers who like the looks of a county pension and some who will make actively bad judges. By not paying attention, Harris County voters have, at times, elected family law judges who refuse to show up in court, irreparably harming couples and children. They’ve elected criminal court judges who treat people of color differently. They’ve elected juvenile court judges who do harm to the most vulnerable of us, and they’ve elected appellate judges who simply are not up to the task.

It is heartbreaking for those who know which judges are good, or even great, only to see them swept out of office by blind party voting. We lost many great jurists this election. Maybe their replacements will be great, too, but at least some of them won’t.

Thanks to recent legislation, straight-party voting won’t be available when our judges are up for election in two years. But if we keep judges on a partisan ballot, people are still likely to use party as a voting crutch when they would likely do less harm by abstaining. Scholars who have studied judicial elections note that party affiliation is the primary factor in most people’s choices, followed by choosing a familiar sounding name. One Dallas judge believes he got a boost at the ballot box because his name sounds like a popular whiskey.

Friends say they voted straight party to send a message to the president or someone else in high office. But for years, straight-ticket voters have been sending powerful and uncaring messages to the unlucky litigants who wind up in front of one of the judges who is ill-equipped for the bench.

Author Mary Flood is a friend and a person of wisdom, but I do not agree with her proposal. I’ve addressed this a bunch of times, and my position hasn’t changed. Making judicial elections non-partisan removes information from voters, while incentivizing groups with a direct stake in the outcome of these elections, from plaintiffs’ lawyers to bail bondspeople to evildoers like Empower Texans to influence the vote, by which I mean “spend a lot more money than they do now to get judges they like elected”. You may say that it would be all right if the less-informed voters choose not to vote in these elections. I will say that encouraging people to not vote doesn’t sound like democracy to me.

If we must get rid of partisan elections, the only option that makes sense to me is an appointment system. If we’re going to go down that road, we’d damn well better engineer it in a way that doesn’t grant an excessive amount of power to any individuals or groups, does promote merit and diversity, and still allows for a way to oust someone who becomes a problem. I get that there are problems with the system we have. I’m sorry that some good judges will leave the bench, even as I voted against them. But until those who have been airing their complaints about this system come forward with a better one, I will continue to oppose any changes.

CCA may have killed the Paxton prosecution

Ugh. Just, ugh.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday potentially imperiled the long-delayed criminal prosecution of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, ruling that payments to special prosecutors were outside legal limits.

If they cannot get paid, the prosecutors have suggested they could withdraw from the case against Paxton, a three-year-long legal saga that has dragged on in fits and starts amid side fights like the dispute over legal fees.

In its opinion Wednesday, the state’s highest criminal court said a lower trial court was wrong last year to approve a six-figure payment to the three special prosecutors handling the Paxton case. The prosecutors’ invoice was rejected by commissioners in Collin County — Paxton’s home county — touching off the legal fight that made its way to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

“Here, the trial court exceeded its authority by issuing an order for payment of frees that is not in accordance with an approved fee schedule containing reasonable fixed rates or minimum and maximum rates,” the opinion said.

The Court of Criminal Appeals invalidated the payment and ordered the lower court to re-issue it in accordance with the fee schedule.

“While we are disappointed with the majority’s ruling and are exploring all legal options available to us, it does not alter the fact that Ken Paxton remains charged with three serious felony offenses,” the prosecutors said in a statement responding to the ruling.

See here, here, and here for the background. I have no idea what happens next. A copy of the opinion is here, and the Observer has some thoughts. Maybe the prosecutors stick it out – maybe now Collin County will agree to pay them something reasonable, now that they can dictate the terms more. Maybe they step down and some other prosecutors step in. Maybe it all goes up in flames. The fact that we’re having this conversation at all is a scandal that needs to be addressed by the Lege. The possibility that Paxton may end up skating because the system as designed was not capable of finding a prosecutor for the charges against him is too gruesome to contemplate, so I’m not going to think about it any more today. Have some turkey or turkey-alternative, watch some football, and quit griping about how it’s Christmas season already. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

The decline and fall of the Republican Party in Harris County

It can be summed up in this table:


Dist   Romney  Trump   Cruz
===========================
HD126   62.1%  53.0%  51.5%
HD127   69.2%  61.2%  59.5%
HD128   72.4%  68.2%  66.8%
HD129   64.5%  55.3%  54.0%
HD130   75.9%  68.1%  66.0%
HD132   58.9%  50.0%  47.9%
HD133   68.1%  54.5%  54.3%
HD135   58.8%  48.9%  46.4%
HD138   59.2%  47.8%  46.5%
HD144   47.9%  38.4%  37.9%
HD150   68.5%  59.2%  57.0%

These were the last three high-turnout elections. You can see what happens to the Republican share of the vote in State Rep districts that had been held by Republicans after the 2010 election. (I am as per my custom ignoring the unicorn that is HD134.) Besides putting more districts into play – the Democrats now hold 14 of the 24 State Rep districts, and came within an eyelash of winning a 15th – it means the Republicans aren’t running up the score in their best districts, which gives them fewer voters overall in the county, and in overlapping places like CD07 and Commissioners Court Precinct 2. For comparison, here are the Democratic districts over the same time period:


Dist   Romney  Trump   Cruz
===========================
HD131   15.7%  13.3%  14.1%
HD137   34.5%  28.9%  28.7%
HD139   23.6%  20.6%  21.7%
HD140   29.0%  21.9%  21.9%
HD141   12.1%  12.6%  12.7%
HD142   22.0%  21.0%  21.1%
HD143   31.9%  26.0%  26.0%
HD145   38.3%  28.7%  28.3%
HD146   20.1%  17.3%  17.9%
HD147   20.3%  16.8%  16.8%
HD148   41.1%  30.5%  30.0%
HD149   40.1%  32.5%  34.8%

There are a few notable drops in Republican support between 2012 and 2016, mostly in HDs 140, 145, and 148, but overall the decline was less severe. Of course, in some of these districts they basically had nowhere further to fall. The strong Democratic districts also tend to have fewer eligible and registered voters overall, and lower turnout besides. By my count, there were 605,214 votes total cast in the ten State Rep districts the Republicans won in 2018, and 612,257 in the 14 Democratic districts. If you put HDs 132 and 135 back in the Republican column, as they were before the election, then the split was 729,298 votes in the twelve districts that started out with Republican incumbents, and 488,119 votes in the twelve Dem-held districts. They needed bigger margins in those Republican districts, they got the exact opposite, and the rout was on.

Does this mean the Republicans are forever doomed in Harris County? No, of course not. As I said, I was feeling pretty good after the 2008 elections too, and we know what happened next. But the dynamic is clearly different now. Harris County isn’t purple. It’s blue, and it’s blue because there are more Democrats than Republicans. Right now at least, modulo any future changes to the nature of the parties and who belongs to them, the Democrats’ biggest threat in Harris County is lousy turnout. We did get swept in the no-turnout year of 2014, but the margins in the judicial races and at the top of the ticket were much closer than the ones we had this year. Until something changes at a macro level, in any normal-or-better turnout scenario, there are going to be more Democratic voters than Republican voters in Harris County. That’s the threat that the Republicans face, and the trends are not in their favor. On top of the demographic shift in Harris County, Donald Trump helped push away some of the more reliable members of the GOP base this year. Maybe that won’t stick, but even if it doesn’t that doesn’t help them that much. The Harris County GOP can whine all they want to about straight ticket voting. That wasn’t even close to their biggest problem.

Metro’s autonomous vehicle pilot to start in January

Here it comes, TSU.

Last spring, METRO announced a plan to run an autonomous bus along TSU’s Tiger Walk, a shared-use path that cuts across the campus. Now, the transit agency said it will start a pilot program in January.

METRO CEO Tom Lambert said they’re curious to see how autonomous vehicles function on a small scale, as they look for new ways to move commuters through the growing region. He added that a college campus is a good testing ground.

“There’s a lot of pedestrian movement, cycling movement, golf cart movement,” Lambert said. “There’s a lot of things we can learn.”

In the second phase of the pilot, Lambert said they hope to run the bus on nearby Cleburne Street to see how it interacts with vehicular traffic.

See here for the background. Running this thing off campus once it has proven itself on campus is a logical thing to do, but I for one would want to make sure it is tested very thoroughly before I unleashed it in a less-controlled environment. That said, I do hope that the long range transit plan takes into account the potential future location of similar shuttles, to better extend the reach of the regular system. I may have to plan a little trip to TSU during the pilot phase to see how this goes.