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Abbott v Davis

It’s getting real out there.

Rep. Sarah Davis

In what promises to deepen divisions in the Texas Republican Party, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed a GOP challenger to incumbent state Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston.

Abbott gave his public thumbs-up to Susanna Dokupil, a more-conservative Republican like Abbott, who is running against the more moderate Davis, who also touts herself as “a conservative voice in Austin.”

The announcement was the first endorsement of a legislative challenger by Abbott, who had announced last summer that he would support legislative candidates who supported his positions on issues. In the past, it has been relatively rare for governors to get involved in legislative races so early — if at all.

[…]

Davis, an attorney, has challenged Abbott’s positions on a number of issues in the past year, including the bathroom bill. She has represented a district that includes West University Place for four terms in the Texas House.

“We need leaders in Austin who will join me to build a better future for Texas,” Abbott said in his endorsement statement. “I trust Susanna, and I know voters in House District 134 can trust her too to fight for their needs in Austin, Texas. Susanna is a principled conservative who will be a true champion for the people of House District 134, and I am proud to support her in the upcoming election.”

Dokupil, who is CEO of Paladin Strategies, a strategic communications firm based in Houston, worked for Abbott as assistant solicitor general while he was Texas attorney general, before becoming governor. There, she handled religious liberty issues, he said.

Abbott said he has known Dokupil for more than a decade.

Davis is a part of the House leadership team. She chairs the House General Investigating and Ethics, serves as chair for health and human services issues on the House Appropriations Committee and is a member of the influential Calendars Committee that sets the House schedule.

In a statement, Davis appeared to dismiss the Abbott endorsement of her challenger, who said she represents the views of her district.

“I have always voted my uniquely independent district, and when it comes to campaign season I have always stood on my own, which is why I outperformed Republicans up and down the ballot in the last mid-term election,” Davis said.

This ought to be fun. Davis has survived primary challenges before, though she hasn’t had to fight off the governor as well in those past battles. She is quite right that she generally outperforms the rest of her party in HD134. Not for nothing, but Hillary Clinton stomped Donald Trump in HD134, carrying the district by an even larger margin than Mitt Romney had against President Obama in 2012. If there’s one way to make HD134 a pickup opportunity for Dems in 2018, it’s by ousting Davis in favor of an Abbott/Patrick Trump-loving clone. Perhaps Greg Abbott is unaware that he himself only carried HD134 by two points in 2014, less than half the margin by which he carried Harris County. Bill White won HD134 by three points in 2010. HD134 is a Republican district, but the people there will vote for a Democrat if they sufficiently dislike the Republican in question. This could be the best thing Greg Abbott has ever done for us. The Trib and the Observer, which has more about Davis’ opponent, have more.

UT/TT poll: We need more context

Time for another UT/Texas Trib poll, in which the pollsters do a mighty fine job of failing to find anything interesting about their data.

Donald Trump remains highly popular with Texas Republicans nearly a year after his election as the 45th president, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

“Trump’s overall job approval numbers continue to look good with Republicans,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “His base is still very secure.”

His popularity with Texas Democrats, on the other hand, is remarkably low. While 79 percent of Republicans said they approve of the job the president is doing, 92 percent of Democrats disapprove. Among independent voters, 55 percent handed Trump good marks, while 35 gave him bad ones.

The president got better marks from men (52 percent favorable) than from women (39 percent); and from white voters (55 percent) than from black (14 percent) or Hispanic voters (34 percent).

Overall, Trump remains popular with Republicans in a state that hasn’t shown a preference for a Democratic presidential candidate in four decades. “There’s no slippage here in intensity,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling research at the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “There is some in the national numbers, but it’s not happening in Texas.”

The first thought I have when presented with data is “Compared to what?” In this case, how do these Trump approval numbers compare to other Trump approval numbers? And guess what? We have such numbers, from the previous UT/Trib poll. To summarize:


Approval                       Disapproval

Month  Overall  GOP  Ind  Dem  Overall  GOP  Ind  Dem
=====================================================
Feb         46   81   39    8       44   10   36   83
Oct         45   79   55    4       49   15   35   92

So Trump’s numbers are a teeny bit softer now than they were in February. Approval is down a point, disapproval is up five. More interesting is that while Dems are now nearly unanimous in their disapproval, Republicans are a bit less favorable to him as well. I’m curious at what level Henson and Blank will describe Trump’s Republican support as something other than “very secure”. The big shift here is with independents, whom I suspect are mostly conservatives who are disgruntled for one reason or another with the Republican Party. They stand out here are being much more amenable to Trump. Seems to me that would be something to explore in more depth, if anyone over there ever gets a bit curious.

The other way to approach this is to compare Trump’s numbers to Obama’s. It took me longer to find what I was looking for, partly because the stories about these numbers don’t always break them down in the same way, but the crosstabs to the October 2013 poll gave me what I was looking for:

Obama, October 2013:

Dems – 77 approve, 11 disapprove
Reps – 4 approve, 92 disapprove
Inds – 19 approve, 66 disapprove

Trump, October 2017

Dems – 4 approve, 92 disapprove
Reps – 79 approve, 15 disapprove
Inds – 55 approve, 35 disapprove

Again, the big difference is in independents. Trump has slightly higher approval but also higher disapproval from his own party, while both are equally reviled by the other party. I look at this, and I wonder about that assertion about intensity. From a strict R/D perspective, Trump is an almost exact mirror image of fifth-year Obama, at the same point in the election cycle. Do we think this means anything going into the ensuing midterm election? I think one can make a decent argument that Dems have the intensity advantage right now. I don’t think anyone knows whether than may have an effect on the turnout patterns we have seen in recent years. But the conditions look quite different, and if one is going to claim that the outcome will be the same as before, I’d like to understand the reason why. If one is going to ignore the question, or fail to notice that there is a question in the first place, I’d like to understand that reason, too.

By the way, on a side note, how can Trump have four percent approval among Democrats, but 14% approval among blacks and 34% approval among Hispanics? Are there that many black and Hispanic Republicans and/or Independents in this sample? There are no crosstabs, so I can’t answer that question on my own.

The big race so far on the 2018 ballot is the Senate race, and we have some polling data for that as well.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is much better known among Texas voters than his best-known political rival, Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The incumbent faces some headwinds: 38 percent of voters said they have favorable opinions of Cruz, while 45 percent have unfavorable opinions of him. In O’Rourke’s case, 16 percent have favorable views and 13 percent have unfavorable views.

“Ted Cruz’s greatest asset — his strong support among the Republican base — remains pretty intact,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

But it’s in the no-views-at-all numbers that Cruz has an advantage: only 17 percent said they have either neutral or no opinion of the incumbent, while 69 percent registered neither positive nor negative opinions of the challenger. More than half had no opinion of O’Rourke at all — an opportunity and a danger for a new statewide candidate who is racing to describe himself to voters before Cruz does it for him.

“Beto O’Rourke does not appear to have done much to improve his standing or, perhaps more importantly, to soften up Ted Cruz,” said Daron Shaw, a professor at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “This is the problem Democrats face in Texas — you have to grab the attention of voters and drive the issue agenda, but doing so requires a demonstration of strength that is almost impossible. Absent some substantial change in the issue environment, O’Rourke is on the same path as Paul Sadler and Rick Noriega,” two Democrats and former legislators who fell well short of defeating Republicans in statewide races.

Here’s a fun fact for you: In the entire 2007-08 election cycle, Rick Noriega raised about $4.1 million for his bid for Senate. Paul Sadler raised less than $700K in 2012. With a full year to go, Beto O’Rourke has already raised over $3.8 million, with $2.1 million in Q2 and $1.7 million in Q3. One of these things is not like the others. Maybe that will matter and maybe it won’t, I don’t know. O’Rourke does clearly have a ways to go to raise his profile, despite all the national press he’s received. It sure would be nice for the fancy professionals to acknowledge this sort of thing when throwing out analogies, that’s all I’m saying.

Now then, let’s look at Ted Cruz. Here were his numbers in March of 2013, shortly after he took office:

Cruz, in his first two months as a U.S. senator, is more familiar in his home state than Dewhurst, Abbott or John Cornyn, the senior senator from the state. He is viewed favorably by 39 percent and unfavorably by 28 percent, and only 17 percent have no opinion of him.

“Exactly what you would expect for someone who has been high profile and taken strong positions,” Shaw said. “Liberal Democrats have seen him and don’t like him. Conservative Republicans have seen him and like him. This is a decent indication of the spread of partisanship in Texas.

“He’s playing pretty well with the voters he cares about — the conservatives in Texas,” Shaw said.

And here we are in November of 2013:

Cruz’s unfavorable rankings increased by 6 percentage points since June, and his favorable rankings fell by 2; 38 percent of Texas registered voters had a favorable opinion of him, while 37 percent gave him unfavorable marks.

There may be more recent numbers, but that’s as far as I went looking. Short story, Cruz’s favorables are steady at 38 or 39%, while his unfavorables have gone from 28 to 37 to 45. I’ve no doubt this is due to the consolidation of Democratic disapproval, though I lack the crosstabs to confirm that. I’m sure he does have strong numbers among Republicans, but how strong are they compared to past results? I don’t expect more than a handful of Republicans to cross over to Beto next November, but staying home or skipping the race are also options, and if they’re less enthusiastic about their choice, that may be the choice for more of them. The one factor that can put the likes of Cruz in jeopardy is a depressed level of Republican turnout. Is there anything in the numbers to suggest that is a possibility? I think there is, though it’s early to say anything that isn’t pure speculation. If we want to say anything more substantive in later months, we need to know what the trends are. That’s what this data is good for now.

Charity Navigator on your best bets for Harvey relief

In case you’re still making up your mind about how to donate to Harvey relief.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday evening, August 25th, as the first Category 4 hurricane to hit the United States since Hurricane Charley in 2004. Ahead of its landfall, many communities were ordered to evacuate, as fears arose that the hurricane could leave some coastal areas uninhabitable. The storm, which intensified over the Gulf of Mexico before hitting Texas and its surrounding states, brought with it heavy rainfall, damaging winds, and a powerful storm surge. It has significantly impacted communities along the Texas coastline, including Houston, as well as other areas along the Gulf with wind and flood damage. Charity Navigator has compiled a list of highly-rated organizations responding in the aftermath of this storm and providing assistance to the people and communities affected by it. Donors can designate their donations to the cause on the organization’s website. However, at this point in time it is not certain that all these organizations will spend 100% of donations received on Hurricane Harvey relief.

If you’re looking for a local charity to support in the wake of Hurricane Harvey please consider Houston SPCAHouston Humane SocietyHouston Food BankFood Bank of Corpus Christi, or San Antonio Humane Society. These highly-rated organizations are located in the most-affected areas and are providing support to individuals and animals.

If you represent a charity interested in being considered for inclusion, please email hottopics@charitynavigator.org to request a disaster response survey.

Designated donations made from this page will be applied to charity programs per each charity’s designation policies.

This Chron story pointed to the Charity Navigator resource. There are a number of good options on that page, so go check it out. While you’re there, you might as well go ahead and check out the similar page for Hurricane Irma relief, because we’re unfortunately going to need it. For more local charity choices, this story has a photo essay of possibilities. And finally, there’s this:

All the living former U.S. presidents are joining together in an online campaign to raise money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey and the floods it caused along the Texas coast.

Called the OneAmericaAppeal, the campaign follows in the footsteps of a series of successful disaster relief efforts undertaken on behalf of the victims of the tsunami in southeast Asia, the earthquake in Haiti, and hurricanes Katrina and Ike.

Those efforts involved Bill Clinton and both George W. and George H.W. Bush. The new campaign, which is solely an online appeal, also includes Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

[…]

The idea for the joint appeal arose from discussions between George H.W. Bush and his son, both of whom live in Texas, but was immediately embraced by Clinton, Carter and Obama, said Jim McGrath, spokesman for the elder Bush.

“All five living presidents have come together, and they have done so because of what was taking place during and after Harvey,” McGrath said. “With the unprecedented intensity of the storm, the heroic response of the first responders and volunteers, and all the people from all over rallying to help them, it was not a hard sell.”

Go to www.oneamericaappeal.org to donate. All funds are earmarked for Texas, so you can reach beyond Houston if you wish. They will also consider expanding to Florida if needed, as we likely will.

The rural/suburban tradeoff

Martin Longman returns to a point he has been making about the way the vote shifted in the 2016 election.

Let’s try to be clear about what we mean. Hillary Clinton won a lot of votes in the suburbs from people who had voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney. She lost even more votes from folks in small towns and rural areas who had voted for Barack Obama.

So, if I understand what Jeet Heer and David Atkins are saying, it’s basically that the Democrats can’t make much more progress in the suburbs than they’ve already made and that the easier task is to win back Democrats that they’ve recently lost. Either that, or they’re just wrong about how likely Romney Republicans are/were to defect.

I don’t have a strong opinion on which would be the easier task. But I do know that so far this trade has not favored the Democrats. The left’s votes are already too concentrated and I can make this point clear fairly easily.

When suburban Chester County was voting 50-50 in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012, it was possible for the Democrats to also win down ballot seats. And the Democrats have succeeded in electing representatives from Chester County to the state legislature. Gaining 25,000 votes at the top of the ticket helps, but the area is still competitive. But in many other counties in Pennsylvania, the Democrats went from winning 50 percent or 40 percent to winning only 30 percent or 20 percent. The result is that many more legislative seats became so lopsidedly red that downticket Democrats no longer have a fighting chance.

In this sense, not all votes are equal. It’s more valuable for the Democrats to add a voter in a rural area than one in a competitive suburb, and rural votes are definitely of more use than added votes in seats where Democrats are already winning by comfortable margins.

Longman confines his analysis to Pennsylvania, which is obviously a critical state in Presidential elections as well as one that has been greatly affected by strongly partisan gerrymanders. Be that as it may, I wanted to look at how this perspective applies to Texas. It’s been my perception that Texas’ rural legislative districts, which had already been strongly Republican at the federal level but which still elected Democrats to the State House, had become more and more hostile to Democrats since the 2010 election, when nearly all of those Democratic legislators from rural districts were wiped out. If that’s the case, then the increased redness of these districts, while problematic as a whole for statewide purposes, doesn’t change anything in terms of legislative opportunities. On the other hand, if the suburbs are becoming less red, that would open up new possibilities, both now and in the future as this is where much of the population growth is.

That’s my hypothesis, anyway. To check it, I took the electoral breakdown of the State House districts for the 2012 and 2016 elections from the Legislative Council, and put the results from the Presidential election into a new sheet. I also added the results from the Keasler/Burns (2016) and Keller/Hampton (2012) Court of Criminal Appeals races in there, to act as a more neutral comparison. I then sorted the spreadsheet by the Romney percentage for each district, in descending order, and grouped them by ranges. I calculated the change in R and D vote from 2012 to 2016 for each district in both the Presidential and CCA races, then summed them up for each of the ranges I defined. That’s a lot of words, so let’s see what this looks like, and I’ll explain it again from there:


Romney 70%+ (42 districts)

Trump     + 143,209    CCA R   + 267,069
Clinton   +  36,695    CCA D   -   8,330


Romney 60-70% (31 districts)

Trump     +  15,054    CCA R   + 135,280
Clinton   + 164,820    CCA D   + 116,534


Romney 50-60% (23 districts)

Trump     -  32,999    CCA R   +  69,230
Clinton   + 148,633    CCA D   + 101,215


Romney 40-50% (9 districts)

Trump     +   3,081    CCA R   +  16,418
Clinton   +  45,233    CCA D   +  39,721


Romney 30-40% (20 districts)

Trump     -   9,360    CCA R   +  17,429
Clinton   +  84,385    CCA D   +  69,785


Romney < 30% (25 districts)

Trump     -   3,485    CCA R   +  23,031
Clinton   +  90,251    CCA D   +  76,447

Let’s start at the top. There were 42 district in which Mitt Romney collected at least 70% of the vote in 2012. In those 42 districts, Donald Trump got 143,209 more votes than Romney did, while Hillary Clinton gained 36,695 more votes than Barack Obama. In the CCA races, Republicans gained 267,069 votes while Democrats lost 8,330 votes. Which tells us two things: The pro-Republican shift in these already very strong R districts was pronounced, but even here there were some people that refused to vote for Trump.

Now that doesn’t address the urban/suburban/rural divide. You get into some rhetorical issues here, because West Texas includes some decent-sized metro areas (Lubbock, Midland, Abilene, etc), but is still more rural in character than anything else, and some primarily suburban counties like Montgomery and Williamson include sizable tracts of farmland. Keeping that in mind, of the 42 counties in this group, I’d classify nine as urban/suburban, and the other 33 as rural. To be specific:


Dist  County      Romney   Trump   Obama  Clinton     Diff
==========================================================
015   Montgomery  57,601  56,038  16,348   24,253 D +9,468
016   Montgomery  45,347  52,784  10,229   12,666 R +5,000
020   Williamson  49,271  56,644  17,913   20,808 R +4,478
024   Galveston   49,564  51,967  16,936   20,895 D +1,556
033   Collin      51,437  56,093  18,860   27,128 D +3,612
063   Denton      50,485  53,127  18,471   24,600 D +3,487
098   Tarrant     58,406  57,917  18,355   25,246 D +7,390
128   Harris      40,567  40,656  14,907   17,165 D +2,347
130   Harris      53,020  55,187  15,928   22,668 D +4,583

These are urban/suburban districts among those were 70% or more for Mitt Romney. Hillary Clinton gained votes everywhere except in the two, with the two exceptions being the most rural among them; HD16 is the northernmost part of Montgomery County, including Conroe, while HD20 has most of its population in Georgetown and includes Burnet and Milam Counties as well. In the other 33 districts, all of which I’d classify as rural, Clinton did worse than Obama in all but three of them, CDs 82 (Midland County, Tom Craddick’s district, where she had a net gain of 16 – yes, 16 – votes), 81 (Ector County, which is Odessa and Brooks Landgraf’s district, net gain of 590 votes), and 06 (Smith County, home of Tyler and Matt Schaefer, net gain of 871).

I’ve thrown a lot of numbers at you here, so let me sum up: Hillary Clinton absolutely got blitzed in rural Texas, with the gap between her and Donald Trump increasing by well over 100,000 votes compared to the Obama/Romney difference. However, all of this was concentrated in legislative districts that were far and away he least competitive for Democrats to begin with. The net loss of potentially competitive legislative races in these parts of the state is exactly zero.

Everywhere else, Clinton gained on Obama. More to the point, everywhere else except the 60-70% Romney districts, downballot Democrats gained. Even in that group, there were big steps forward, with HDs 66 and 67 (both in Collin County, both held by Freedom Caucus types) going from over 60% for Romney to under 50% for Trump, while HD26 in Fort Bend went from nearly 63% for Romney to barely 50% for Trump. They’re still a challenge at lower levels, but they’re under 60% red and they’re the swing districts of the immediate future.

Now I want to be clear that losing the rural areas like this does have a cost for Democrats. The reason Dems came as close as they did to a majority in 2008 is because they held about a dozen seats in rural areas, all holdovers from the old days when nearly everyone was a Democrat. Those seats went away in 2010, and with the exception of the one that was centered on Waco, none of them are remotely competitive going forward. The end result of this is that the most optimistic scenario I can paint barely puts the Dems above 70 members, not enough for a majority. To have a real shot at getting a majority sometime in the next decade or two, Dems are going to have to figure out how to compete in smaller metro areas – Lubbock, Abilene, Tyler, Odessa, Midland, San Angelo, Amarillo, Wichita Falls, etc etc etc – all of which are a little bit urban and a little bit more rural. Some of these places have growing Latino populations, some of them are experiencing the same kinds of problems that the larger urban areas are facing. Becoming competitive in the suburbs is great, but there’s still a lot more to this very large state of ours.

Anyway. I can’t speak for places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, but in Texas I’d call the rural/suburban tradeoff we saw in 2016 to be a positive step. There are plenty more steps to take, but this was a good one to begin with.

Trump DOJ says all is swell with voter ID now

Of course they do.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas’ new voter identification law fully absolves the state from discriminating against minority voters in 2011, and courts should not take further action in a battle over the state’s old voter ID law, President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice argued in a legal filing Wednesday.

“Texas’s voter ID law both guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of Texas’s elections,” the filing stated.

Federal lawyers were referring to Senate Bill 5, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month. It would soften a 2011 voter ID law — known as the nation’s most stringent — that courts have ruled purposefully burdened Latino and black voters. If allowed to take effect, the law would allow people without photo ID to vote if they present alternate forms of ID and sign affidavits swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining what was otherwise required.

“S.B. 5 addresses the impact that the Court found in [the previous law] by dramatically reducing the number of voters who lack acceptable photographic identification,” the justice department argued, adding that U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos should “decline any further remedies.”

The filing came as Ramos is weighing whether SB 5 fixes legislative discrimination she and other courts have identified, and it highlighted Trump’s dramatic departure from his predecessor on voting rights issues.

Former President Obama’s Justice Department originally teamed up with civil rights groups against Texas throughout the long-winding legal battle over the ID law, known as Senate Bill 14. The civil rights groups argue SB 5 neither absolves lawmakers from intentionally discriminating against minority voters by passing the 2011 law, nor would it properly accommodate those voters going forward.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer representing some of the challengers, said the reversal shows the Justice Department “simply has no more credibility in this litigation.”

See here and here for some background. Both sides will get to respond to the others’ briefs by July 17, and we ought to have a decision by August 10. I continue to be puzzled as to how anything the Legislature does now can undo its discriminatory intent from 2011. Undo the effects sure, though I don’t think they’ve truly done that either, but not the intent. There needs to be some redress for that, and the best way to accomplish that is to throw the law out entirely. If there are no consequences for bad acts, there is no incentive to not commit them. The Lone Star Project, the Current, and Rick Hasen have more.

Paxton goes after DACA

I have no words.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and officials from nine other states on Thursday urged the Trump administration to end an Obama-era program that’s allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants to live and work in the country without fear of being deported.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Paxton urged the White House to rescind the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. DACA applies to undocumented immigrants that came to the country before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger as of June 2012. It awards recipients a renewable, two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings.

As of August 2016, more than 220,000 undocumented immigrants in Texas had applied for a permit or a renewal of one under the program, and nearly 200,000 of those have been approved, according to government statistics. It’s the second-highest total behind California’s estimated 387,000 applications and 359,000 approvals during the same time frame.

“We respectfully request that the Secretary of Homeland Security phase out the DACA program,” Paxton wrote. He was joined by the attorneys general of Arkansas, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia, as well as Idaho Gov. C.L. Otter.

“Specifically, we request that the Secretary of Homeland Security rescind the June 15, 2012 DACA memorandum and order that the Executive Branch will not renew or issue any new DACA or Expanded DACA permits in the future,” Paxton wrote.

[…]

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, blasted the move and warned the signatories they’ll be remembered for being on the wrong side of history.

“Their evident xenophobia is not remotely consistent with the trajectory of our nation’s history and future progress,” MALDEF president and general counsel Thomas Saenz said in a statement. “Their political careers and each of their states will suffer from their mean-spirited stupidity.”

I don’t even know what to say about this. It’s cruel, it’s stupid, and I can’t think of a meaningful definition of “Christian” that would allow for it. The one sure to be effective thing we can do about this is to elect an Attorney General who won’t pull this crap. Nothing will change until we change who we elect. The Press, the Current, and Daily Kos have more.

Maybe we should be a little more concerned about election security?

Just a thought.

Russia’s cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step — complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day “red phone.” In October, two of the people said, the White House contacted the Kremlin on the back channel to offer detailed documents of what it said was Russia’s role in election meddling and to warn that the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.

The new details, buttressed by a classified National Security Agency document recently disclosed by the Intercept, show the scope of alleged hacking that federal investigators are scrutinizing as they look into whether Trump campaign officials may have colluded in the efforts. But they also paint a worrisome picture for future elections: The newest portrayal of potentially deep vulnerabilities in the U.S.’s patchwork of voting technologies comes less than a week after former FBI Director James Comey warned Congress that Moscow isn’t done meddling.

“They’re coming after America,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the election. “They will be back.”

[…]

One of the mysteries about the 2016 presidential election is why Russian intelligence, after gaining access to state and local systems, didn’t try to disrupt the vote. One possibility is that the American warning was effective. Another former senior U.S. official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the classified U.S. probe into pre-election hacking, said a more likely explanation is that several months of hacking failed to give the attackers the access they needed to master America’s disparate voting systems spread across more than 7,000 local jurisdictions.

Such operations need not change votes to be effective. In fact, the Obama administration believed that the Russians were possibly preparing to delete voter registration information or slow vote tallying in order to undermine confidence in the election. That effort went far beyond the carefully timed release of private communications by individuals and parties.

One former senior U.S. official expressed concern that the Russians now have three years to build on their knowledge of U.S. voting systems before the next presidential election, and there is every reason to believe they will use what they have learned in future attacks.

To put this another way, you don’t have to hack voting machines to wreak havoc on our elections. Simply undermining confidence in the process is enough. And unfortunately, Republicans like Mitch McConnell were not at all interested in any of this last year, so don’t hold out hope that they will want to take action about it for next time. There’s a lot of work to be done to fix this mess. Daily Kos and Chalie Pierce have more.

Precinct analysis: Congressional districts

The Texas Legislative Council now has full data from the 2016 elections on its site, so this seemed like as good a time as any to take a look at the data from Congressional districts. I’m much more limited in what I can do when I have to rely on precinct data from counties because most of Texas’ Congressional districts span multiple counties. But now statewide data is available, so here we go. I’m just going to look at districts where the Presidential numbers were interesting.


Dist  Clinton  Trump  Obama  Romney
===================================
02      42.8%  52.0%  35.6%   62.9%
03      39.9%  53.8%  34.1%   64.2%
06      41.6%  53.8%  40.7%   57.9%
07      48.2%  46.8%  38.6%   59.9%
10      42.8%  51.9%  38.8%   59.1%
21      42.1%  51.9%  37.9%   59.8%
22      43.9%  51.7%  36.7%   62.1%
23      49.4%  45.9%  48.0%   50.7%
24      44.3%  50.5%  38.0%   60.4%
31      40.1%  52.6%  38.1%   59.4%
32      48.4%  46.6%  41.5%   57.0%

Some of this we’ve covered before – CDs 07, 23, and 32 are well-known and are on the national radar for next year. CD03 will be open following the retirement of Rep. Sam Johnson. CDs 24, which is mostly in Dallas County, and 22, which is of course Tom DeLay’s old district, deserve a bit more attention and would fall into the next tier below the top three, with CDs 02 and 10 right behind them. And as a matter of personal pleading, I’d really really love to see strong challenges to Lamar Smith in CD21 and Smokey Joe Barton in CD06, two of the worst anti-science and pro-pollution members of Congress.

Now as we know, the Presidential numbers only tell us so much. So as I have done before, here’s a look at the Court of Criminal Appeals races in these districts – just the one in each year that had three candidates, for apples-to-apples purposes – and for this chart I’m going to chow number of votes, to give a feel for how big the gap that needs to be closed is.


Dist    Burns   Keasler  Hampton   Keller  D Gain
=================================================
02    106,167   157,226   84,547  149,242  13,636
03    109,738   187,916   84,352  163,247     717
06    108,272   151,766   98,393  139,344  -2,043
07    107,250   136,246   88,992  134,699  16,711
10    122,499   172,155  100,660  149,355    -961
21    133,428   198,190  110,841  177,330   1,827
22    123,063   171,694   89,624  152,471  14,216
23    105,145   106,067   86,991   92,805   4,892
24    107,986   152,545   87,300  143,217  11,424
31    104,601   159,173   85,689  134,433  -5,828
32    113,659   146,526   99,453  136,691   4,371

A bit more daunting when looked at this way, isn’t it? The “D Gain” column is the net change in the difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates’ vote totals each year. In 2012 in CD02, Sharon Keller beat Keith Hampton by 64,695 votes, but in 2016 Mike Keasler beat Robert Burns by “only” 51,059 votes, for a net Democratic gain of 13,636. This is intended to give a rough guide to what the partisan shift in each district was, and as you can see it was much bigger in some than in others, with there being a net loss in CDs 06, 10, and 31. I have to pause for a moment here to tip my cap to Rep. Will Hurd in CD23, who held his seat in a much less Republican-friendly environment that elected Pete Gallego in 2012. No one in CD23 will ever have an easy election, and 2018 may well be more challenging for Hurd than 2016 was, my point here is simply to say that we should not underestimate this guy. He’s already shown he can win in adverse conditions.

Still, sufficient Democratic turnout could swamp Hurd’s boat, as has happened to other strong candidates of both parties in the past. (A less-Republican redrawn map could also do him in.) The Keasler/Burns numbers suggest that the other two on-the-radar districts (CDs 07 and 32) are also good targets for concentrated turnout efforts. In all cases, though, I believe a key component to any winning strategy will be to make a vote for Congress as much about “sending a message” to an unpopular and incompetent President as anything else. The more Rs you can flip, and the more who decide to stay home, the lower your turnout-boost goals need to be. I don’t know what the conditions will be like in a year and a half, but I do know that energy spent between now and then in these districts to register new voters (and re-register those who have fallen off the rolls) will be energy well utilized.

I will close by noting that there is in fact a candidate for CD21 at this time, Derrick Crowe, who has a pretty good looking background for a first-time candidate. We’ll see how he does in fundraising and other metrics, but for those of you in the district or who are looking for someone to support against the odious Lamar Smith, check him out. It’s never too early to get off to a good start.

An ironic might-have-been on redistricting

From Rick Casey.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The three judges who decided the case include one Democrat and two Republicans. Ironically, the decision may have gone the other way if one of the judges hadn’t been punished for joining in an earlier ruling in the case. Here’s the backstory.

Judge Rodriguez, a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Texas law school, was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Perry. He lost in the Republican primary, however, when he had to stand for election. He returned briefly to private practice before being appointed to a federal district bench here by President George W. Bush.

Back in 2013, Rodriguez was asked to fill out the voluminous paperwork to be considered for promotion to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. President Barack Obama had selected a Democratic judge from Corpus Christi, but the two Republican senators reportedly made it clear they would block her nomination. So the Obama administration lit on Rodriguez — a nonideological choice who had been appointed to important benches by two Texas Republican leaders.

But the appointment languished until 2015 when, a friend of Rodriguez said, he was told his name was withdrawn because of a lack of support from the two senators. The reason: His previous rulings in the redistricting case.

Had Rodriguez been elevated to the appellate court, he might well have been replaced with a more conservative Republican on the three-judge panel hearing the redistricting case. The 2-1 decision could have gone in the other direction, with Rodriguez’s replacement joining the very conservative third member of the panel, Judge Jerry Smith of Houston.

We don’t know for certain that the ruling would have been different had Judge Rodriguez not been on the district court. I don’t know what the overall population of judges in that district is like, and I suppose the plaintiffs could have filed in a different district. For what it’s worth, where I think the plaintiffs got lucky was in having two judges of color hearing the case. We’ll never know how things might have been, but I for one am glad with how they turned out.

On a tangential note, this Texas Lawyer story from awhile ago talks about how the Fifth Circuit changed during the Obama years.

At first glance, the math confronting President Barack Obama’s three appointees on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit appears daunting.

If you include senior members of the bench, Obama’s appointees—Judges James Graves, Stephen Higginson, and Gregg Costa—are outnumbered more than 4-to-1 by judges who were chosen by Republican presidents.

Dig deeper, however, into court events and listen to appellate lawyers who make their livelihoods practicing before the Fifth Circuit and a more nuanced picture emerges. In the last eight years, the Fifth Circuit bench has begun shifting away from predictable conservative patterns, the appellate lawyers said.

Although Obama appointees may only be part of that change, they are using their youth, vigor and intellectual curiosity to influence outcomes, according to appellate lawyers including Jane Webre, a partner in Austin’s Scott Douglass & McConnico who practices civil appellate law and handles most of her firm’s appeals.

“It has moved away from how staunchly conservative it was known to be,” said Webre, who works with associates who have recently clerked for the Fifth Circuit.

Senior Fifth Circuit Judge Thomas Reavley, an appointee of former President Jimmy Carter, ranks among many who heap praise on the Obama picks. Reavley, who served as a state district and Texas Supreme Court justice before he started on the Fifth Circuit bench, observed its judges in the ’60s courageously enforce emerging civil rights protections. Asked by Texas Lawyer recently if he longed for the days of those judges, Reavley said Obama’s three appointees were equally equipped with the smarts and dispositions to handle such challenges: “I don’t think politics would enter into their decisions,” Reavley said.

Kurt Kuhn of Austin’s Kuhn Hobbs agrees. “They are not doctrinal. They are known as fair and not predisposed to any particular side,” Kuhn said.

[…]

On the Fifth Circuit, Higginson, Costa and Graves share the bench with six judges tapped by George W. Bush, six by Reagan and two by George H.W. Bush. Former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Carter together had appointed only five of the judges currently serving on the Fifth Circuit. Two vacancies are currently pending.

Obama’s ability to shape the Fifth Circuit has been hampered by the powerful sway held over the nomination process by Texas’ two Republican senators. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and also appoint the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee, which recommends federal judicial candidates to the White House.

It was three years before Obama made his first appointment to the Fifth Circuit. David Prichard, the committee’s chairman and partner in the San Antonio office of Prichard Hawkins Young, has no expectation that the court’s two vacancies will be filled before Obama leaves office.

“Those positions are just carefully negotiated between the Texas senators and the occupants of the White House,” Prichard said.

And yet, despite Obama’s difficulty seating judges on the Fifth Circuit, the passage of time and societal change has tempered the Fifth Circuit and made it less conservative, said Webre of Scott Douglass.

Given how few appointments he has made, Webre added, “I don’t know if we can say: ‘Thank you, President Obama,’ for those changes.”

But she, Gunn and Townsend detect a change. Before Obama took office, Webre and associates at her firm who clerked recently at the Fifth Circuit counted the active full-time judges on that court: There were 13 Republican and four Democratic appointees. That ratio has since shifted to 10-5.

But then Webre and the associates adjust for individual judges’ tendencies, regardless of who appointed them. “Not all Republicans are created equal,” Webre explained.

She and the former clerks put asterisks beside some of the Republican-appointed judges—she wouldn’t say which judges specifically—to denote that they lean less conservative than their fellow Republican appointees. Webre’s estimate is that eight of 15 judges are moderate or liberal compared with seven who are very conservative.

That has made a difference when lawyers receive an unfavorable panel decision.

“Now,” Webre said, “seeking an en banc hearing is a realistic venture.”

That story was published just before the November election, and I had flagged it at the time to discuss how things might change even more for the better post-Obama. Needless to say, that premise was scotched shortly thereafter. Nonetheless, this seemed like a reasonable time to dredge it up. Maybe we’ll get to discuss it again in a more positive way in four years.

Precinct analysis: The targets for 2018

Ross Ramsey recently surveyed the 2018 electoral landscape.

Election numbers recently released by the Texas Legislative Council point to some soft spots in this red state’s political underbelly — places where Republicans hold office now but where Democrats at the top of the ticket have recently done well.

Specifically, they are the districts where Republicans won federal or state legislative races in 2016 while the same voters electing them were choosing Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump.

Trump won Texas, but not by as much as Republicans normally do.

The non-prediction here is that every single one of these officeholders might win re-election next time they’re on the ballot.

On the other hand, a political fishing guide, in this instance, would tell you that these are districts Democrats should examine if they’re trying to win seats in the congressional delegation or in the Texas Senate or House.

We covered some of this before, when the Senate district data came out. In that spirit, I’ve put together a list of all reasonably competitive State House districts, which follows below. Many of these will be familiar to you, but there are a few new ones in there. First, all districts by Presidential numbers:


Dist  Clinton   Trump  Clint%  Trump%   Obama  Romney  Obama%  Romney%
======================================================================
134    50,043  35,983   54.7%   39.3%  34,731  46,926   41.7%    56.4%
102    30,291  24,768   52.3%   42.7%  24,958  29,198   45.3%    53.0%
114    35,259  29,221   52.1%   43.2%  28,182  35,795   43.5%    55.2%
105    25,087  20,979   52.1%   43.6%  20,710  23,228   46.5%    52.1%
115    30,897  26,158   51.5%   43.6%  23,353  29,861   43.2%    55.3%
108    39,584  34,622   50.3%   44.0%  27,031  40,564   39.3%    59.0%
113    27,532  26,468   49.1%   47.2%  23,893  27,098   46.3%    52.5%
112    26,735  26,081   48.3%   47.1%  22,308  28,221   43.5%    55.0%
138    24,706  24,670   47.6%   47.5%  18,256  27,489   39.3%    59.2%
136    37,324  35,348   46.7%   44.2%  26,423  35,296   41.2%    55.1%


135    28,233  29,486   46.6%   48.6%  21,732  32,078   39.8%    58.8%
047    48,658  48,838   46.5%   46.7%  34,440  50,843   39.3%    58.0%
065    28,774  30,078   46.1%   48.1%  22,334  31,456   40.8%    57.5%
066    33,412  35,728   45.5%   48.7%  24,895  40,639   37.4%    61.0%
026    31,636  35,022   45.5%   50.4%  22,554  39,595   35.9%    62.9%
132    31,489  34,495   45.4%   49.7%  21,214  31,432   39.8%    58.9%
052    32,184  33,185   45.3%   46.7%  23,849  30,763   42.4%    52.7%
045    34,468  38,038   44.2%   48.8%  26,757  35,298   41.8%    55.2%

067    33,461  37,741   43.9%   49.5%  24,866  40,763   37.2%    60.9%
054    23,624  27,379   43.6%   50.5%  21,909  25,343   45.7%    52.9%
043    22,716  27,549   43.6%   52.9%  22,554  25,017   46.9%    52.0%
121    33,956  40,371   42.7%   50.8%  27,422  44,391   37.5%    60.7%
126    26,483  32,607   42.7%   52.6%  21,191  35,828   36.7%    62.1%
097    29,525  36,339   42.1%   51.8%  25,869  39,603   38.9%    59.6%

They’re grouped into districts that Clinton carried, districts where Clinton was within five points, and districts where she was within ten. The Obama/Romney numbers are there to add a little context, and to show where the most movement was. Some of these are in places you may not expect. HD136 is in Williamson County, as is HD52. HD 65 is in Denton, with HDs 66 and 67 in Collin. HD97 is in Tarrant. Note that while there were some big swings towards Clinton, not all of these districts were more favorable to Dems in 2016, with HD43 (held by turnout Republican JM Lozano) being the clearest exception. And a few of these are little more than optical illusions caused by deep-seated Trump loathing among a subset of Republicans. HD121 is Joe Straus’ district. It’s not going to be in play for the Dems in 2018. I would suggest, however, that the weak showing for Trump in Straus’ district is a big part of the reason why Straus is less amenable to Dan Patrick’s arguments about things like the bathroom bill and vouchers than many other Republicans. There are a lot fewer Republicans from the Dan Patrick wing of the party in Joe Straus’ district.

And because I’ve repeatedly said that we can’t just look at Presidential numbers, here are the numbers from the two three-way Court of Criminal Appeals races, which I have used before as a shorthand of true partisan leanings:


Dist    Burns Keasler  Burns%  Keasl% Hampton  Keller  Hampt%  Keller%
======================================================================
105    23,012  21,842   49.0%   46.5%  19,580  21,745   45.8%    50.8%
113    25,411  26,940   46.4%   49.2%  22,651  25,693   45.6%    51.7%
115    26,876  28,999   45.8%   49.4%  21,431  28,402   41.5%    55.0%
134    39,985  44,560   45.4%   50.6%  33,000  42,538   42.3%    54.5%
102    26,096  28,210   45.3%   49.1%  23,232  27,295   44.3%    52.1%
043    21,812  25,213   44.3%   51.2%  21,565  22,434   47.5%    49.4%
112    23,798  27,901   43.9%   51.4%  20,942  26,810   42.4%    54.3%
135    25,998  31,365   43.7%   52.8%  20,745  30,922   39.2%    58.4%
138    22,119  26,669   43.6%   52.6%  17,470  26,224   38.9%    58.4%
114    28,774  35,129   43.3%   52.8%  26,441  33,128   43.1%    53.9%
136    32,436  37,883   42.7%   49.9%  23,925  32,484   39.3%    53.3%
132    29,179  36,667   42.7%   53.6%  20,237  30,515   38.9%    58.6%
065    26,010  32,772   42.4%   53.4%  20,732  30,377   39.1%    57.3%
052    28,698  34,976   42.2%   51.4%  21,947  28,562   40.8%    53.1%
054    22,114  27,979   42.0%   53.1%  20,110  24,571   43.5%    53.2%
045    31,530  39,309   41.7%   52.0%  24,897  32,734   40.6%    53.3%
026    28,138  38,544   41.0%   56.2%  21,232  38,332   34.8%    62.8%
047    41,032  54,388   40.5%   53.7%  32,028  47,181   38.1%    56.1%
126    24,261  34,679   39.8%   56.8%  20,309  34,351   36.3%    61.3%
108    30,706  42,923   39.6%   55.4%  24,685  37,529   38.1%    57.9%
066    27,709  39,675   39.5%   56.6%  22,409  37,693   36.0%    60.6%
067    28,298  40,926   38.9%   56.7%  22,539  37,932   35.8%    60.3%
097    26,454  39,254   38.5%   57.2%  23,967  37,732   37.6%    59.2%
121    28,995  43,743   38.0%   57.3%  25,683  42,350   36.5%    62.0%

Clearly, this is a much less optimistic view of the situation than the first table. I am certain that some anti-Trump Republicans will be willing to consider voting against a Trump surrogate next year, but it’s way too early to say how many of these people there are, and we need to know what the baseline is in any event. Note that even in some of the less-competitive districts, there was a big swing towards the Dems, most notably in HD26 but also in HDs 115, 135, 138, and 66. It may be that some of these districts won’t be competitive till 2020, and it may be that some will need a real dampening of Republican enthusiasm to be on the board. But whatever the case, these are the districts where I would prioritize recruitment efforts and promises of logistical support.

A really dumb “Trump and the train” article

Ugh.

Texas is closer than ever to building the first high-speed train in the United States, thanks to President Donald Trump’s fascination with these transportation projects and a well-timed pitch to his administration.

Now developers nationwide are looking to the privately owned Texas Central Railway as a test case of what can get done with Trump in the White House.

Former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., a member of the company’s board of directors, met recently with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in Washington. He wasn’t seeking any of the taxpayer-funded grants sought by high-speed rail projects in California and the Northeast.

What the $10 billion Texas Central Railway really needs is a green light from the agency Chao oversees.

“It was an opportunity to make a first impression,” said Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Railway.

The meeting clearly stuck. Soon after, Chao mentioned the Texas Central Railway at the National Governors Association winter conference as an example of the kind of “very impressive” project the administration is interested in.

The question now is whether private investment — coupled with regulatory relief — is a model the Trump administration could use to finance and expedite his promised $1 trillion infrastructure push, and not just in Texas.

[…]

California is building a 220-mph high-speed rail system, but that project has been delayed by political opposition. Its trains also have to meet more rigorous federal standards for crash protection because they will share tracks with commuter trains, Amtrak and some freight.

By building a self-contained system where trains will not intersect with street traffic or encounter slower trains, the Texas project can employ off-the-shelf technology in use in Japan for more than 50 years.

“It’s going to be a lot easier than the California project,” said Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates and chairman of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, both advocacy groups that support the Texas project. “They’ll have a little harder way to go in California than in Texas.”

[…]

High-speed rail has been a topic in Texas for 30 years, but Keith thinks its moment has come.

“What’s happening in Texas is private entrepreneurs are saying, look there’s demand, there’s pent-up demand,” he said. “We can meet the demand.”

The biggest obstacles for the railway could be back home in Texas. Some landowners along the route want to derail the project, and they have help from allies in the state Legislature.

“You’re talking about property rights. In Texas, we love our land,” said LeCody with Texas Rail Advocates.

LeCody said Texas was changing and needed a transportation system that addressed road congestion and population growth.

“We’re such a growing state,” he said. “We’ve got to learn how to move people from point A to point B without highways.”

See here for previous Trump-and-the-train coverage. Where to begin with this article?

1. The article makes it sound like interest in high speed rail is something unique to Dear Leader Trump. In fact, President Obama had national high speed rail ambitions, which included plans for Texas that unfortunately didn’t pan out due to our own lack of initiative. To be sure, that was government funding for high speed rail, while Texas Central is all about private funding. I’m just saying that the idea of high speed rail here did not originate with Trump.

2. The opposition to Texas Central is barely acknowledged in this story, much less analyzed. There’s a full court press in the Legislature, which Texas Central itself acknowledges as an existential threat. I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of the likelihood of success for the Texas Central opponents, mostly because they don’t appear to have grown their base beyond the mostly rural counties in East and Central Texas, but they are working hard at this and they have some powerful and influential Senators on their side. Not talking to a Brandon Creighton or Lois Kolkhorst about Texas Central is at the least a disservice to the readers. For crying out loud, the story uses a Texas Central booster to discuss the opposition. Even as a Texas Central supporter myself, I say that’s just lousy journalism.

3. Outside the Legislature, there is a fervent grassroots opposition to Texas Central as well, with a lot of that coming from county and municipal governments in the affected areas as well as from private citizens. There’s already been litigation over access to the land needed for the TCR right of way, and there will surely be more for as long as this project is in its planning and construction phase. One might also note that this opposition comes from places in the state that voted heavily for Trump. Maybe this isn’t the sort of thing that might get a voter to change their mind about a President, but again, not at least acknowledging this leaves the reader with a false impression.

4. Finally, the opposition to TCR includes two powerful Republican Congressmen from Texas, one of whom chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. If you don’t think it’s possible that Rep. Kevin Brady could slip a rider into the budget that guts Texas Central, much like Rep. John Culberson did to Metro and the Universities line, you’ve got an insufficiently active imagination.

Other than that, it was a fine article.

And as if to prove my point, we have this.

The Texas Senate’s chief budget writers Wednesday added a provision to its proposed state budget aimed at limiting state assistance in a private firm’s efforts to build a Dallas-Houston bullet train.

The budget rider approved by the Senate Finance Committee would prohibit the Texas Department of Transportation from spending funds to help plan, build or operate a high-speed train.

The company developing a 205-mph bullet train between Dallas and Houston called the language a “job killer.” Texas Central Partners has vowed it won’t take any state funds to develop the 240-mile line between Texas’ two largest metropolitan areas. But, the company said, it still needs to work with state transportation officials.

“Texas Central engineers and employees need to be able to coordinate with TxDOT on the planning, engineering and construction of the high-speed train to accommodate the state’s growth,” said in a statement released by the company Wednesday.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, denied that the budget rider he wrote was meant to kill the project.

“If we are being told that this is never going to take any bailouts, they need to put their money where their mouth is,” he said.

A similar amendment nearly killed the project two years ago, but was eventually omitted from the state’s final budget.

See here and here for the background. Note that it was Sen. Schwertner who tried this trick in 2015 as well. We’ll see what happens with it. I trust you see my point about why this article sucked.

Justice Department wants out of voter ID case

As expected.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The U.S. Department of Justice confirmed Monday it plans to ditch its longstanding position that Texas lawmakers purposefully discriminated against minority voters by passing the nation’s strictest voter identification law in 2011.

The move comes one day before a federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments on that high-stakes voting rights question, and it highlights yet another instance in which President Donald Trump has dramatically departed from the path of his predecessor.

Former President Obama’s Justice Department originally teamed up with civil rights groups against Texas throughout the long-winding legal battle over the ID law, known as Senate Bill 14. But on Monday, lawyers for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told parties that they were dropping a claim that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Latino and African-American voters.

The Justice Department’s immediate plans do not include changing its position that the ID law has a “discriminatory effect” on certain voters. A federal appeals court has already resolved that issue, ruling against Texas.

But U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos is scheduled to weigh a more specific question Tuesday: Whether lawmakers knowingly discriminated.

A soon-to-be-filed Justice Department motion “seeks to dismiss the discriminatory purpose claim, but not the discriminatory effect claim,” Mark Abueg, a department spokesman, confirmed to the Texas Tribune.

A ruling against Texas could ultimately put it back on the list of states needing federal approval (called “preclearance”) before changing election laws. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling sprung Texas and other states with a history of discrimination from that list.

Danielle Lang, deputy director of voting rights for the Campaign Legal Center, one of several groups challenging the Texas law, vowed to press on in the case — even without the federal government’s help.

“None of the facts have changed, just the administration,” she said in an interview. “We will be arguing the same claim, and we think it’s really disappointing that the Department of Justice is backing away from its enforcement of voting rights.”

See here for some background. Today’s hearing was rescheduled from January; the DOJ and the State of Texas tried to get today’s hearing postponed as well, to give the Lege a chance to pass the voter ID 2.0 bill, but were denied. Even if Sen. Huffman’s update to the voter ID law, which would incorporate the so-called “softening” agreements from the 2016 Fifth Circuit ruling, were to be passed, it wouldn’t affect this litigation anyway, since the question being litigated is whether the Lege acted with discriminatory intent in 2011 when SB14 was passed. It will be interesting to see if today’s hearing has any effect on the Huffman bill.

So this is where we are. The private plaintiffs will have more work to do now, but as they note the facts haven’t changed, just who’s sitting at the table with them. Rick Hasen believes (and I agree with him) that “eventually DOJ will be on the other side of this issue, supporting the right of states to make it harder to register and vote (purportedly on anti-fraud or public confidence grounds)”. Among other things, that means that Texas will get a much warmer reception from the feds if they pass bills this session or next that restrict voting rights, but that day hasn’t happened yet. Today we will hopefully move one step closer to a ruling that Texas didn’t just accidentally discriminate with SB14. The Lone Star Project, Political Animal, the Current, and the Chron have more.

Bathroom bills are floundering

Good.

Bills to curtail transgender people’s access to public restrooms are pending in about a dozen states, but even in conservative bastions such as Texas and Arkansas they may be doomed by high-powered opposition.

The bills have taken on a new significance this week following the decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to revoke an Obama-era federal directive instructing public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender. Many conservative leaders hailed the assertions by top Trump appointees that the issue was best handled at the state and local level.

Yet at the state level, bills that would limit transgender bathroom access are floundering even though nearly all have surfaced in Republican-controlled legislatures that share common ground politically with Trump. In none of the states with pending bills does passage seem assured; there’s been vigorous opposition from business groups and a notable lack of support from several GOP governors.

The chief reason, according to transgender-rights leaders, is the backlash that hit North Carolina after its legislature approved a bill in March 2016 requiring transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. Several major sports organizations shifted events away from North Carolina, and businesses such as PayPal decided not to expand in the state. In November, Republican Pat McCrory, who signed and defended the bill, became the only incumbent governor to lose in the general election.

[…]

National LGBT-rights groups are closely monitoring the fluctuations, recalling how North Carolina politicians took activists by surprise last year when they passed the divisive bathroom bill in a fast-paced special session.

“That experience makes us very wary about when and how legislation will move,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign. “On the other hand, the American public has been incredibly vocal against these bills… so we’re hopeful that legislators have learned a lesson from North Carolina.”

Even if all the new bathroom bills fail, Warbelow said activists will continue to push for explicit and effective federal protections for transgender students — protections have been undercut by this week’s revocation of the Obama-era guidance.

In addition to Arkansas, I counted fourteen other states where legislators have tried or are trying to pass a North Carolina-like bill, though none of the ones that are trying are getting any traction. The fact that states like South Dakota and Kentucky have explicitly rejected such bills should give you some idea of how far out on a limb Texas would be if we follow Dan Patrick and pass SB6. All these other states saw what happened in North Carolina, and they have stepped back from the abyss. Are we really dumber than they all are? Call Dan Patrick’s office, as so many others have, and ask him that.

Trump approval

The Trib does its poll thing.

In his second month in office, President Donald Trump is getting overwhelmingly good grades on his job performance from the state’s Republicans, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Trump is popular enough to cast positive light on Russian President Vladimir Putin, a world figure who turns out to be markedly more unpopular with Texas Democrats than with Texas Republicans.

Overall, 46 percent of Texans approve of the job Trump been doing and 44 percent disapprove. But Republicans are crazy about him: 81 percent approve of Trump’s work so far, and only 10 percent disapprove. Moreover, 60 percent of Republicans said they “strongly” approve; another 21 percent approve “somewhat” of the president.

“He looks good,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “Republicans as a group were tentative in their embrace of Donald Trump during the election campaign. They are hugging him now. His favorability rating among Texas Republicans increased 21 points between October and February.”

Likewise, 81 percent of Texas Republicans have a favorable opinion of Trump, while 12 percent have an unfavorable impression of the president.

As you might expect, Texas Democrats fiercely disagree in what amounts to an almost equal but opposite reaction to the Republicans: 83 percent of Texas Democrats disapprove of the job Trump has done as president, 76 percent of them “strongly.” And 85 percent of Democrats said they have an unfavorable opinion of the new chief executive.

“If you’re a Republican, even if you don’t like the guy, well, there’s the Supreme Court and the repudiation of a bunch of smug ideologues [on the left]; this isn’t the worst thing in the world,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor at UT-Austin. “The reaction of the left — the resistance — probably reinforces that.”

Independents were split almost evenly on both questions in the poll, with 39 percent approving and 36 disapproving of the job Trump is doing; 42 percent saying they have a favorable impression of the president, while 45 percent have an unfavorable one.

Overall, 45 percent of Texans have a favorable impression of Trump and 46 percent have an unfavorable one.

For comparison purposes, here’s a poll from four years ago that included approval numbers for President Obama. While the data isn’t broken down by party affiliation, one can reasonably infer that Republicans were as negative about Obama as Democrats are about Trump, while Democrats were not as intensely positive. Obama was beginning his fifth year as President, so the comparison isn’t exact, but it’s a snapshot in time to consider as we go forward. On the presumably safe assumption that Trump will not do any better among Dems in the future, he needs to maintain his big edge among Republicans or improve among indies (*), lest he risk sliding under water. If we believe, as I do, that this will have an effect on the 2018 elections, this very much bears watching.

(*) – Trump’s national numbers among independents aren’t very good, either. I’m going to guess there’s a correlation here, so keep an eye on that as well.

As goes Tarrant

The Trib ponders the one big urban county that is not like the others.

Among the state’s five biggest counties, Tarrant is the only one that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. The 2016 presidential election heightened Tarrant’s status as an outlier. Even as the rest of the state’s big-city territories moved deeper into the Democratic column, Tarrant steadfastly emerged as America’s most conservative large urban county.

President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office this week, won the county by an 8.6-point margin. It was the narrowest win for a GOP presidential nominee in decades in Tarrant. But among the country’s 20 largest counties, Tarrant was only one of two that swung Trump’s way in November — and it had the wider margin.

Across Tarrant County, Democratic pockets are fewer and less powerful than their Republican counterparts. All four of the state senate districts that fall in Tarrant County are represented by Republicans. The GOP also holds eight of the county’s 11 state House seats. Four of the five county commissioner court seats are held by Republicans.

Residents, elected officials and experts here point to a nuanced union of demographic, cultural and political forces to explain why.

“There’s just all kinds of interesting numbers out there that make Tarrant County a lot different,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the only Democrat holding one of the county’s five congressional seats.

Tarrant’s minority population, which tends to lean Democratic, hasn’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties. At the same time, many Tarrant voters have a storied history of preferring practical governance to partisanship, according to officials and political observers. They say that helps support the moderate faction of the GOP, especially in Fort Worth, the nation’s 16th-largest city.

Then there’s the county’s development pattern. A lot of Tarrant remains rural. And, unlike Harris, Dallas and Travis counties, many of Tarrant’s affluent suburbs and conservative bedroom communities lie within its borders, not outside them. That’s helped give rise to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, a passionate and organized group that simultaneously supports far-right local candidates and serves as a powerful base for statewide Republicans.

[…]

Part of what has helped Tarrant become the state’s lone Republican urban county is that its minority populations, which largely and traditionally tend to lean Democratic, haven’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties.

White residents’ share of the Tarrant population is falling, but it hasn’t declined as quickly as it has in Harris, Dallas, Travis and Bexar, said state demographer Lloyd Potter. The county’s Hispanic population is growing quickly, but it still lags behind the other big counties in terms of raw numbers, Potter added.

But that’s likely to change.

While Tarrant remains more white than Texas as a whole, it’s experienced a more significant drop in its share of white residents in the past 10 years compared to the state. In 2015, the county’s white population dropped to 48.5 percent — down from 56.4 percent in 2005.

Whites’ falling numbers in the county aren’t limited to its urban core in Fort Worth. In fact, the white population experienced a bigger drop in its share of the population in the suburbs from 2005 to 2015.

Here’s a fun fact, which I believe I have mentioned before: Tarrant County is a really good predictor of the overall Presidential race result in Texas. Witness the past four elections:

2004

Statewide – Bush 61.09%, Kerry 38.22%
Tarrant – Bush 62.39%, Kerry 37.01%

2008

Statewide – McCain 55.45%, Obama 43.68%
Tarrant – McCain 55.43%, Obama 43.43%

2012

Statewide – Romney 57.17%, Obama 41.38%
Tarrant – Romney 57.12%, Obama 41.43%

2016

Statewide – Trump 52.23%, Clinton 43.24%
Tarrant – Trump 51.74%, Clinton 43.14%

Almost spooky, isn’t it? One perfectly rational answer to the question “when will Texas turn blue?” is “when Tarrant County also turns blue”.

Anyway. The article is correct that Tarrant differs from the other big urban counties in that it’s actually a lot less urban than they are. Much of Tarrant is suburban, even rural, and that’s just not the case in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis. Tarrant’s demographics are changing, as the story notes, but I have no idea if there’s anything to suggest its demographics are changing any faster than the state’s are. The statewide judicial races and the one contested district court race were all in the 13-16 point range, which is consistent with the statewide results. I wish I could say I saw something to suggest change was coming faster, but at least in the numbers, I can’t. Maybe someone who is more familiar with the county can chime in.

Having said all this, one big opportunity in 2018 is in Tarrant, and that’s SD10, the Senate seat formerly held by Wendy Davis. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, freshman Sen. Konni Burton only won by nine points, with 52.83% of the vote. If 2018 is a less hostile year, this is a winnable race, and as I’ve said before, any competitive Senate race is a big deal. Whatever we can do to hasten change in Tarrant County, 2018 would be a good time to do it.

Trump Justice Department to drop appeals in transgender bathroom directive case

From ThinkProgress:

The Trump administration has elected not to contest a Texas federal judge’s injunction barring the federal government from implementing Obama administration guidelines that protect transgender kids in schools.

Oral arguments for the Obama Justice Department’s appeal of the judge’s decision were scheduled for Tuesday. The DOJ cancelled them in a legal brief submitted Friday.

“Defendants-appellants hereby withdraw their pending November 23, 2016 motion for partial stay pending appeal,” the brief says. “The parties jointly move to remove from the Court’s calendar the February 14, 2017 oral argument currently scheduled for that motion. The parties are currently considering how best to proceed.”

That brief was filed the day after Jeff Sessions was sworn in as Attorney General.

As ThinkProgress reported last August, the Obama administration’s guidance “stated that Title IX’s nondiscrimination protections on the basis of ‘sex’ protect transgender students in accordance with their gender identity, such that they must be allowed to use the bathrooms and play on sports teams that match their gender.” But the brief filed Friday signals that the Trump administration no longer wants to implement that guidance.

See here, here, and here for the background. I suppose some other group could try to enter the proceedings at this point in place of the feds, but there’s nothing to stop Dear Leader from rescinding this executive order, which would moot the whole thing. We’re clearly not going to move forward in the next few years, so we’re going to have to fight to not move back.

Precinct analysis: Dallas County Presidential numbers

News flash: Hillary Clinton won every Dallas County State Rep district. See for yourself:


Dist      Trump  Clinton  Johnson  Stein
========================================
CD32    117,758  127,824    5,751  1,056
				
HD100     8,405   33,647      647    217
HD102    24,768   30,291    1,312    287
HD103     8,710   28,689      683    205
HD104     6,941   25,168      414    200
HD105    20,979   25,087      855    246
HD107    24,162   29,159      991    274
HD108    34,621   39,583    2,106    290
HD109    10,714   53,220      573    247
HD110     4,006   31,137      248    128
HD111    11,700   44,926      599    262
HD112    26,081   26,735    1,119    231
HD113    26,468   27,530      898    261
HD114    29,221   35,259    1,586    246
HD115    26,158   30,895    1,501    319

CD32     46.66%   50.65%    2.28%  0.42%
				
HD100    19.58%   78.40%    1.51%  0.51%
HD102    43.71%   53.46%    2.32%  0.51%
HD103    22.75%   74.93%    1.78%  0.54%
HD104    21.21%   76.91%    1.27%  0.61%
HD105    44.48%   53.19%    1.81%  0.52%
HD107    44.26%   53.42%    1.82%  0.50%
HD108    45.20%   51.67%    2.75%  0.38%
HD109    16.55%   82.19%    0.88%  0.38%
HD110    11.28%   87.66%    0.70%  0.36%
HD111    20.35%   78.15%    1.04%  0.46%
HD112    48.15%   49.36%    2.07%  0.43%
HD113    47.99%   49.91%    1.63%  0.47%
HD114    44.07%   53.17%    2.39%  0.37%
HD115    44.43%   52.48%    2.55%  0.54%

I included the CD32 numbers as well since we were just discussing CD32. As before, remember that CD32 also includes part of Collin County, so this is not all of CD32.

You know by now that the Clinton numbers do not tell the most accurate story about the partisan levels in a given district. I have relied on judicial race numbers to highlight swings, trends, and opportunities, and I will do the same here in subsequent posts. I can tell you from the numbers that you will see in these posts that there were probably 20K to 25K crossover voters for Clinton, and it seems clear that a lot of them came in the most Republican districts in Dallas. A big difference between Dallas and Harris is that while the latter has several untouchably red districts, Dallas really doesn’t. HD108 is the closest thing Dallas has to that, and it was 59-39 for Romney in 2012. By contrast, eight of the 11 districts won by Romney in Harris County were redder than that, three of them by double digits. Dallas is a solid blue county (57-42 for Obama over Romney in 2012) drawn to give the Republicans an 8-6 majority of their legislative caucus. There’s no margin for error here.

And they didn’t have that margin in this election. Dems picked up HD107, and lost HD105 by 64 votes. As you will see, three other districts – HDs 102, 113, and 115 – present strong opportunities to accompany HD105 going forward. The Republicans are going to have some interesting decisions to make when it comes time to redraw the lines in 2021.

Voter ID hearing postponed

I fear this is a portent of things to come.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Within hours of Donald Trump being sworn in as president Friday, a Corpus Christi federal court postponed a scheduled hearing in the Texas Voter ID case until next month at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Lawyers for the Justice department asked for a delay in the hearing scheduled for Tuesday, citing the change in presidential administrations.

“Because of the change in administration, the Department of Justice also experienced a transition in leadership,” the Justice Department petition states. “The United States requires additional time to brief the new leadership of the Department on this case and the issues to be addressed at that hearing before making any representations to the Court.”

In the past, the agency has asked that hearings in the case be expedited because of the issues involved.

The Corpus Christi court agreed to the delay, postponing the hearing until Feb. 28.

A lawyer for one of the plaintiffs expressed disappointment at the delay.

“This delay for us is not in the interest of resolving a case that has been going on for far too long,” said Leah Adeh, senior counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represents one of the plaintiffs. “We all have been expending far too many resources on it, and we really want a hearing to get to a decision that this law needs to be struck down.”

Aden said she did not have any reason to believe the delay was a deliberate move to weaken the case against the law, but said elections are upcoming, and a resolution needs to come quickly.

See here and here for the background. Rick Hasen expects that the Justice Department will now switch sides in litigation like this, and he notes that the incoming deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the DOJ has a long history of defending redistricting plans in court. So that’s awesome. As a reminder, this hearing was about the question of whether the voter ID law had discriminatory intent, which would void the law and could put Texas back under preclearance, not that this would mean much for the next four years. The law had already been found to have a discriminatory effect and was thus in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a ruling that was upheld by the Fifth Circuit and has been appealed to SCOTUS. The fight is far from over and the good guys still have a good shot at it, but it has gotten a lot harder. Politico and the Brennan Center have more.

Precinct analysis: Texas Congressional districts

From Daily Kos:

Texas’s GOP-drawn congressional map was designed to create 24 safely red seats and 11 safely Democratic districts, with only the 23rd District in the western part of the state being truly competitive. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried the state 57-41 and won those 24 red seats by double digits, while Barack Obama easily carried the 11 Democratic districts; the 23rd backed Romney 51-48.

Things were a lot more interesting in 2016, with Donald Trump defeating Hillary Clinton by a smaller 52.5-43.5 margin, the closest presidential election in Texas in decades. Clinton won all the Obama districts, as well as the 23rd and two solidly Romney seats, the 7th and 32nd. However, the GOP still holds all the districts that Romney won in 2012, while Democrats have all the Obama/Clinton districts. The map at the top of this post, which shows each district as equally sized, illustrates all this, with the three Romney/Clinton districts standing out in pink.

We’ll start with a look at Texas’s 23rd District, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and went from 51-48 Romney to 50-46 Clinton. However, the swing wasn’t quite enough for Democrats downballot. Republican Will Hurd narrowly unseated Democrat Pete Gallego in the 2014 GOP wave, and he won their expensive rematch by a similarly tight 48-47 margin.

Surprisingly, two other Texas Republicans have now found themselves sitting in seats Clinton won. Romney easily carried the 7th, located in the Houston area, by a wide 60-39 spread, but the well-educated seat backed Clinton by a narrow 48.5-47.1. Republican Rep. John Culberson still decisively turned back a challenge from a perennial candidate 56-44, and it remains to be seen if Democrats will be able to field a stronger contender next time—or whether the GOP’s weakness at the top of the ticket was a one-time phenomenon due solely to Trump.

The 32nd in the Dallas area also swung wildly from 57-41 Romney to 49-47 Clinton. However, Democrats didn’t even field an opponent against longtime GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, a former head of the NRCC who’s capable of raising as much money as he needs to in order to win. This is another well-educated seat where we’ll need to see if Democrats will be able to take advantage of Trump’s weaknesses, or if The Donald’s 2016 problems don’t hurt the GOP much downballot in future years.

Seven other Republican-held seats also moved to the left by double digits. The closest result came in Rep. Kenny Marchant’s 24th District in the Dallas-Forth Worth suburbs, which Trump won just 51-45 after Romney cruised to a 60-38 win four years earlier. Marchant beat a penniless opponent 56-39, so this district could also wind up on Democratic watch lists.

They mention a few other districts in which Clinton exceeded Obama’s numbers by a significant amount; I’ll get to that in a minute. I’ve discussed CD07 and CD32 before. We know that while Clinton carried CD07, it was largely due to Republican crossovers, as the average judicial race clocked in at a 56.5% to 43.5%b advantage for Trump. I can now make a similar statement about CD32, as I have been working my way through the canvass data in Dallas County. (CD32 reaches into Collin County as well, but I don’t have canvass data for it. The large majority of the district is in Dallas County, however.) Hillary Clinton won the Dallas County portion of CD32 by ten thousand votes, basically 127K to 117K. No other Democrat in Dallas County carried CD32, however. Looking at the judicial races there, Trump generally led by 20K to 25K votes, so the crossover effect was significant. The closest any Dem came to matching Clinton in CD32 was two-term Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who trailed in the Dallas portion of CD32 by a 125K to 116K margin.

I may go back later and look at CD24, about forty percent of which is in Dallas County, and I will definitely look at CD23 when we have full statewide numbers. If you had told me that Clinton would carry CD23, I’d have been sure that Pete Gallego would reclaim the seat, but that didn’t happen. I’ve got to give credit to Rep. Will Hurd for that, though I doubt he will ever have an easy time of it going forward. As for the other districts, I’ll just say this: Back when we were all getting intoxicated by the alluringly tight poll numbers in Texas, I ran the numbers in every district to see what might happen if you adjusted the 2012 returns to reflect a 50-50 Presidential race. The short answer is that while several Congressional districts become a lot more competitive, none of them swing to majority Dem, even under those much more favorable circumstances. This is a testament to how effective that Republican gerrymander is, and a sobering reminder of how much ground there is to recover before we can make any gains. The 2016 Presidential numbers may tantalize, but they are illusory.

One more thing: The full 2016 Congressional numbers, along with the corresponding 2012 numbers, are here. Let me break them down a bit:


Trump up, Clinton down

Dist   Romney   Trump   Obama  Clinton  R Diff  D Diff
======================================================
CD01     71.6    72.2    27.5     25.3    +0.6    -2.2
CD04     74.0    75.4    24.8     21.8    +1.4    -3.0


Trump down, Clinton down

Dist   Romney   Trump   Obama  Clinton  R Diff  D Diff
======================================================
CD05     64.5    62.7    34.4     34.3    -1.8    -0.1
CD11     79.2    77.8    19.6     19.1    -1.4    -0.5
CD13     80.2    79.9    18.5     16.9    -0.3    -2.6
CD14     59.3    58.2    39.5     38.4    -1.1    -1.1
CD15     41.5    40.0    57.4     56.7    -1.5    -0.7
CD19     73.6    72.5    25.0     23.5    -1.1    -1.5
CD27     60.5    60.1    38.2     36.7    -0.4    -1.5
CD28     38.7    38.5    60.3     58.3    -0.2    -2.0
CD30     19.6    18.3    79.6     79.1    -1.3    -0.5
CD34     38.3    37.7    60.8     59.2    -0.6    -1.6
CD36     73.2    72.0    25.7     25.2    -1.2    -0.5

Trump down, Clinton up

Dist   Romney   Trump   Obama  Clinton  R Diff  D Diff
======================================================
CD02     62.9    52.4    35.6     43.1   -10.5    +7.5
CD03     64.3    54.8    34.2     40.6    -9.5    +6.4
CD06     57.9    54.2    40.8     41.9    -3.7    +1.1
CD07     59.9    48.5    38.6     47.1   -11.4    +8.5
CD08     77.0    72.7    21.7     23.9    -4.3    +2.2
CD09     21.1    18.0    78.0     79.3    -2.9    +1.3
CD10     59.1    52.3    38.8     43.2    -6.8    +4.4
CD12     66.8    62.9    31.7     32.7    -3.9    +1.0
CD16     34.5    27.2    64.2     67.9    -7.3    +3.7
CD17     60.4    56.3    37.7     38.8    -4.1    +1.1
CD18     22.8    20.0    76.1     76.5    -2.8    +0.4
CD20     39.7    34.3    58.9     61.0    -5.4    +2.1
CD21     59.8    52.5    37.9     42.5    -7.3    +4.6
CD22     62.1    52.1    36.7     44.2   -10.0    +7.5
CD23     50.7    46.4    48.1     49.7    -4.3    +1.6
CD24     60.4    50.7    38.0     44.5    -9.7    +6.5
CD25     59.9    55.1    37.8     40.2    -4.8    +2.4
CD26     67.6    60.9    30.7     34.4    -6.7    +3.7
CD29     33.0    25.4    65.9     71.1    -7.6    +5.2
CD31     59.6    53.5    38.3     40.8    -6.1    +2.5
CD32     57.0    46.6    41.5     48.5   -10.4    +7.0
CD33     27.1    23.7    72.0     72.9    -3.4    +0.9
CD35     34.6    30.5    63.0     64.1    -4.1    +1.1

You want to know why we’ll never get rid of Louie Gohmert? He represents CD01, one of two districts where Trump improved on Mitt Romney’s numbers. That’s why we’ll never get rid of Louie Gohmert. In the other districts, the main difference between 2016 and 2012 is the performance of third party candidates, especially Libertarian Gary Johnson. I don’t have vote totals, and the dKos spreadsheet doesn’t include the other candidates, so it’s hard to say exactly what happened at this time. For sure, in some of these districts, there was a shift towards the Democrats. I’ve noted before that the “true” level of Democratic support in CD07 was about 43.5%, but that’s still four or five points better than it was in 2012. When the full statewide numbers come out, probably next month, I’ll be able to do more detailed comparisons. For now, this is what we have. Look over the dKos data and see what you think.

Feds officially file appeal in transgender bathroom directive lawsuit

This may be the last stop.

With two weeks left, the Obama administration has asked a federal appeals court to throw out a lower court’s decision that suspended policies designed to protect transgender people’s access to restrooms — a sign the current leadership of the Justice Department will close shop mid-fight on one of its signature LGBT issues.

Federal lawyers said in a brief filed Friday with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that the previous ruling was incorrect and overly broad.

[…]

With their remedies waning in the lower court — and time running out — the Justice Department’s Civil Division made three arguments to the Fifth Circuit.

The Justice Department said the case is not ripe for judicial review because the government did not violate the Administrative Procedure Act, as Texas and the other states claimed. The guidance for schools and workplaces are not final acts by any agency, the appeal says, and therefore did not require a rule-making process under the APA.

Federal lawyers further contend the states lack standing to bring the case because they “can ignore [the guidance] without legal consequence.” They note that enforcement stems from civil rights laws, not the guidance itself. In the past, the states have bristled at that argument, noting in briefs and oral arguments that the government cited the guidance when threatening to sue school districts that banned transgender students from certain facilities.

Finally, the Justice Department argues that the lower court, under Judge O’Connor, erred by ruling too broadly. O’Connor did so by in applying the injunction nationwide, rather than just within the states that brought the lawsuit, the government lawyers say.

See here and here for the background. As Kerry Eleveld notes, Judge O’Connor cited the fact that this directive did not go through the federal rule-making process in his injunction against it, but other directives, including the health directive that O’Connor also injuncted, did go through that process. As always, it sucks to have to depend on the Fifth Circuit for anything, but there’s not much choice. We’ll see what happens.

Rep. Sam Johnson to retire

One of Texas’ longest-serving members of Congress will call it quits next year.

Rep. Sam Johnson

U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson announced Friday morning that he will not seek re-election to represent his Plano-based seat in Congress.

Johnson, a Vietnam War veteran, made the announcement over email Friday.

“After much prayer, I have decided I will not seek re-election to serve the Third District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018,” he wrote. “This will be my final term in the appropriately named ‘People’s House.'”

[…]

His 3rd District is strongly Republican, and the GOP primary will most likely determine who will replace him in Congress. Names floated as possible contenders include state Sen. Van Taylor, a Plano Republican, and Collin County Judge Keith Self.

Johnson has been in Congress since 1991, though offhand I can’t think of much that he has done. He did serve in the Korean War as well as the Vietnam War, and was a prisoner of war in Hanoi for seven years, so to say the least he has a compelling personal story. I wish him all the best in his future retirement.

As it happens, the Daily Kos database of Presidential results by Congressional district now includes Texas CDs. Here’s a look at the numbers in CD03:

2012 – Romney 64.3%, Obama 34.2%
2016 – Trump 54.8%, Clinton 40.6%

The data only includes percentages and not vote totals, so it’s hard to say how much of that difference can be accounted for by crossover votes. The data on the Texas Redistricting webpage likely won’t be updated to include 2016 numbers for a few more weeks, so I won’t be able to do any comparisons till then. I did apply the 2016 percentages to the actual result in CD03 to get an estimate:

2012 – Romney 175,383, Obama 93,290
2016 – Trump 173,424, Clinton 128,486 (estimated)
2016 – Johnson 193,684, Bell 109,420

Like I said, I’ll know more once I see the full 2016 data. The 2012 data is here. The Presidential numbers make it look like maybe there could be something competitive under the right circumstances, while the numbers from Johnson’s own race do not. Of course, Dems would have to find a candidate first, and given that they don’t hold any state or county offices in Collin County, that limits their options. Maybe a City Council member from Plano or something like that might be willing to give it a go? I’m just spitballing here. At least we have plenty of time to locate someone. The DMN has more.

Here come the Dems

All the newly-elected county officials have now been sworn in.

The new Harris County officials sworn in New Year’s Day had something in common: They were all Democrats.

The swearing-in ceremony at 2 p.m. Sunday followed the Democratic Party’s sweep of every countywide office in November’s general election, including closely watched contests against incumbent Republicans for DA and sheriff.

The blue wave in a normally purple county where President Barack Obama won by just one-tenth of a percent in 2012 was driven largely by the unpopularity of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who polled just 42 percent in Harris County compared to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 54 percent, according to the county clerk’s official election results. Trump’s unpopularity here helped spur the Democrats’ 11-point advantage in straight-ticket voting.

[…]

County Judge Ed Emmett, Harris County’s top elected official, addressed the officials and their families.

“Don’t let your ego get in your way,” he told them. “The election is over and none of us is really that important. We are part of a governmental machine that’s been going a long, long time. … The ego of the campaign goes away. You’re not the office. You just occupy the office.”

Though Emmett mostly repeated his remarks from the 2015 swearing-in, he added a few comments this time around.

“This has been a heck of a year. … There’s been a lot of talk of divisiveness, ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ ” he said, citing partisan echo chambers and the dangers of fake news. “Everyone should be ‘us,’ ” he said.

Here’s a slightly different version of the story that mentions Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties as well. I appreciate Judge Emmett’s words about unity, but it will be interesting to see how that plays out in practice on Commissioners Court, which is still 3-1 Republican. Steve Radack had no qualms about slapping around Adrian Garcia while he was Sheriff, and he was already mixing it up with his now-colleague Commissioner Rodney Ellis even before Ellis was formally nominated to the office. Neither Ellis nor Kim Ogg will shy away from a fight, and the county is going to have to deal with both the Legislature and likely the Congress working to make things more difficult. It’s going to be an interesting year, let’s just leave it at that.

Transgender health directive halted

One last kick in the rear from the annus horribilis that was 2016.

A Texas judge issued an injunction Saturday against a federal mandate aimed to protect transgender people, finding that the federal health rule violates existing law.

The preliminary injunction, granted by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, is in response to a lawsuit filed by Texas, on behalf of religious hospital network Franciscan Alliance, and four other states in August.

In the suit, Texas and the other plaintiffs argued that a federal regulation prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals in certain health programs would force doctors “to perform and provide insurance coverage for gender transitions and abortions, regardless of their contrary religious beliefs or medical judgment,” according to the order. The plaintiffs also claim they could be required to perform gender transition procedures on children. Texas asked the court to block the federal government from enforcing the regulation.

Transgender rights activists have refuted claims that the health rule prevents doctors from using sound medical judgment, arguing instead that it clarifies that health care providers can’t deny services or insurance to someone because that person is transgender.

In Saturday’s ruling against the federal government, the judge indicated that a preliminary injunction was appropriate because the federal health mandate violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies develop and issue regulations, and likely violates federal religious freedom protections for the plaintiffs that are private entities.

“While this lawsuit involves many issues of great importance—state sovereignty, expanded healthcare coverage, anti-discrimination protections, and medical judgment—ultimately, the question before the Court is whether Defendants exceeded their authority under the ACA in the challenged regulations’ interpretation of sex discrimination and whether the regulation violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as applied to Private Plaintiffs,” the order reads.

See here and here for the background. The Chron adds on.

Ezra Young, director of Impact Litigation at Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, challenged both rulings as misinterpretations of federal law. He called Saturday’s “flatly contrary to law,” “morally repugnant,” and predicted it would be overturned on appeal.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that sex discrimination takes many forms, and our nation’s expansive and unyielding nondiscrimination laws necessarily reach sex discrimination whenever and wherever it strikes,” Young said in a statement Saturday.

[…]

Young said the impact could be damaging to transgender people seeking care, who for years have faced denial of insurance benefits or access to doctors they chose because of their gender identity. Young said while some states have similar rules protecting transgender rights, Obama’s move was “groundbreaking.”

“The benefit of the federal law is it sort codifies things and it gave one unifying rule all across the country,” he said.

I’m sure this will be appealed. At least with the intervention of the ACLU, the defense of the lawsuit can’t be tanked by a corrupted Justice Department. I don’t know enough to speculate about the legalities going forward, but I do know this: Some day, and I hope to live long enough to see it, people will look back at the actions of Ken Paxton and the other obstructers of progress, and wonder what the hell they were doing. Paxton and those like him will be seen as the George Wallace and Bull Connor of the early 21st century. I don’t know when that day will come, I just know that it will.

So what happens to all those Texas lawsuits against the feds?

It depends, but basically it’s up to the new Solicitor General, since he is the one defending the federal government’s actions.

Best mugshot ever

Since Paxton assumed office as AG in January 2015, Texas has sued the federal government more than a dozen times, raising questions about White House policy on such a wide range of topics as internet governance, overtime pay, transgender bathrooms, clean power, clean water and immigration.
Now that the Oval Office is awaiting a new Republican occupant, the question arises: What will happen to Paxton’s brand as a White House challenger and to all those lawsuits?

Paxton has not yet showed exactly how he will respond to the new administration, although he supported President-elect Donald Trump’s candidacy.

Marc Ryland, a spokesman for the Texas AG’s Office, emailed this statement in response to a request for comment for this story: “We have a host of cases pending against the federal government due to the Obama administration’s overreach. Some cases challenge statutes only Congress can change, some challenge agency rules that go through notice-and-comment rulemaking, and some challenge informal agency guidance. We will continue to pursue all of these cases and look forward to working with a new administration to seek to conform its actions to the Constitution.”

Neal Devins is among those who expects the federal government, under the new administration, to take steps to undercut the basis of the Texas AG’s legal challenges.

In instances in the past, when the party occupying the White House has changed, the federal government has changed its policies and asked courts as a result to moot lawsuits against it, according to Devins, a professor at William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia, who tracks state attorneys generals litigation.

“This has happened. The Solicitor General confesses error,” Devins said.

But that new-sheriff-in-town approach doesn’t always go smoothly.

Devins cites the 1981 federal lawsuit against Bob Jones University, whose tax-exempt status was being litigated over its discriminatory policies. (*) Ronald Reagan’s administration tried to moot the issue by changing federal policy, but there was a political backlash and the case continued, with SCOTUS eventually denying BJU its tax exemption. I suppose something like that could happen with one or more of the cases that the Trump Justice Department might seek to drop, but I wouldn’t count on it. Assume these will all be wins in some form for Paxton, and go from there.

(*) This, as the Slacktivist has reminded us, was the true genesis of the religious right as a political movement. Not abortion, but Bob Jones’ desire to maintain tax exempt status while remaining racially segregated. Molly Ivins once said “I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point–race. Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.” This is what she was talking about.

Precinct analysis: Brazoria County

I had some time to spare, so I spent it with the canvass reports from Brazoria County. You know, like you do. Here’s what I was able to learn.


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Weber    Cole
=======================================================
Votes  36,572    15,127  37,036  14,996  37,917  14,678
Pct    68.58%    28.23%  71.18%  28.82%  72.09%  27.91%


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Olson  Gibson
=======================================================
Votes  36,219    28,073  39,026  26,713  40,179  26,178
Pct    54.08%    41.92%  59.37%  40.63%  60.55%  39.45%


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Thomp   Floyd
=======================================================
Votes  40,666    30,564  43,599  29,181  44,713  28,505
Pct    54.83%    41.21%  59.95%  40.05%  61.07%  38.93%

Votes  32,125    12,636  32,462  12,528
Pct    69.23%    27.23%  72.15%  27.85%

Brazoria County is part of two Congressional districts, CDs 14 and 22, and two State Rep districts, HDs 25 and 29. The latter two are entirely within Brazoria, so the numbers you see for them are for the whole districts, while the CDs include parts of other counties as well. The first table splits Brazoria by its two CDs, while the second table is for the two HDs. Incumbent Republican Randy Weber was challenged by Democrat Michael Cole in CD14, while Republican Pete Olsen was unopposed in CD22. The second group of numbers in the first table are the relevant ones for CD22; I didn’t include Olsen because there was no point (*). There were no contested District or County Court races, so the “R Avg” and “D Avg” above are for the four contested district Appeals Court races; these are the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals, which as you know includes Harris County.

The second table is for the State Rep districts. In HD29, incumbent Republican Ed Thompson faced Democrat John Floyd, while Republican Dennis Bonnen was unchallenged in HD25. You can sort of tell from the tables and I can confirm from the raw data that HD29 mostly overlapped CD22, and HD25 mostly overlapped CD14. As I have done before, the percentages for the Presidential races are calculated including the vote totals for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, which is why they don’t add to 100%. The other contested races all had only two candidates.

Still with me? If so, you can see that HD29 was much more interesting than HD25, and was where basically all of the crossover Presidential votes were. Trump lagged the Republican baseline in HD25, but those voters mostly either skipped the race or voted third party. Viewed through the Presidential race, HD29 looks like a potentially competitive district, but if you pull the lens back a bit you can see that it is less so outside that, and that Thompson exceeded the Republican baseline on top of that. It would be nice to point to this district as a clear opportunity, but we’re not quite there. There is another dimension to consider here, however, and that is a comparison with the 2012 results:


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Weber Lampson
=======================================================================
Votes  35,571    13,940  34,618  13,865  33,931  14,444  33,116  14,398
Pct    70.82%    27.75%  69.34%  27.77%  70.14%  29.86%  69.70%  30.30%


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Olsen  Rogers
=======================================================================
Votes  35,291    20,481  34,879  19,879  34,466  20,164  35,997  17,842
Pct    62.49%    36.27%  62.14%  35.42%  63.09%  36.91%  66.86%  33.14%


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Thomp   Blatt
=======================================================================
Votes  40,170    22,480  39,657  21,866  39,203  22,204  40,642  21,388
Pct    63.32%    35.44%  62.86%  34.66%  63.84%  36.16%  65.52%  34.48%

Votes  30,692    11,941  29,840  11,878  29,194  12,404
Pct    70.95%    27.60%  69.45%  27.64%  70.18%  29.82%

In 2012, Randy Weber was running to succeed Ron Paul in the redrawn CD14, which had a nontrivial amount of resemblance to the old CD02 of the 90s, which is how former Congressman Nick Lampson came to be running there. He ran ahead of the pack, but the district was too red for him to overcome. Pete Olsen was challenged by LaRouchie wacko Keisha Rogers, Ed Thompson faced Doug Blatt, and Dennis Bonnen was again unopposed. I threw in the numbers from the Ted Cruz-Paul Sadler Senate race in these tables for the heck of it.

The main thing to note here is that HD29 was a lot more Republican in 2012 than it was in 2016. Ed Thompson went from winning by 31 points in 2012 to winning by 22 in 2016, with the judicial average going from nearly a 28 point advantage for Republicans to just under a 20 point advantage. Total turnout in the district was up by about 11,000 votes, with 7K going to the Dems and 4K going to the Republicans. That still leaves a wide gap – 14K in the judicial races, 16K for Ed Thompson – but it’s progress, and it happened as far as I know without any big organized effort.

And that’s the thing. If Democrats are ever going to really close the gap in Texas, they’re going to have to do it by making places like HD29, and HD26 in Fort Bend and the districts we’ve talked about in Harris County and other districts in the suburbs, more competitive. If you look at the map Greg Wythe kindly provided, you can see that some of the blue in Brazoria is adjacent to blue precincts in Fort Bend and Harris Counties, but not all of it. Some of it is in Pearland, but some of it is out along the border with Fort Bend. I’m not an expert on the geography here so I can’t really say why some of these precincts are blue or why they flipped from red to blue in the four years since 2012, but I can say that they represent an opportunity and a starting point. This is what we need to figure out and build on.

(Since I initially drafted this, Greg provided me two more maps, with a closer view to the blue areas, to get a better feel for what’s in and around them. Here’s the North Brazoria map and the South Brazoria map. Thanks, Greg!)

(*) – As noted in the comments, I missed that Pete Olsen did have an opponent in 2016, Mark Gibson. I have added the numbers for that race. My apologies for the oversight.)

Precinct analysis: Don’t be mesmerized by the Clinton/Trump numbers

From the DMN:

Donald Trump may have carried Texas and clinched the White House in November, but support for the Republican presidential nominee waned in parts of the Dallas area — news that, in a typical election year, could spell trouble for some Republican-held congressional seats.

A Dallas Morning News analysis of nine North Texas congressional districts revealed that, across the board, fewer voters backed Trump than backed Mitt Romney four years ago.

Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions saw his once-firmly red district turn blue as voters cast a majority of ballots for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Sessions cruised to re-election, as Democrats fielded no candidate.

Coppell Rep. Kenny Marchant, like Sessions, handily won his re-election bid, but the gap between those who voted for the Republican and the Democrat in the presidential race fell to just a single-digit margin.

There are signs the same holds true in other urban parts of Texas, such as Houston, where Republican Rep. John Culberson saw his district turn blue for Clinton and Democrats won every countywide seat.

Texas bucked the trend nationwide, with Trump winning the state with a smaller margin — 9 points — than any GOP nominee in decades. On the surface, that seems to be good news for Texas Democrats. But given the peculiarities of Trump’s candidacy, it’s not so clear-cut.

The drop in Dallas-area Republican support doesn’t necessarily indicate voters are moving away from the GOP, several experts say; rather, that many voters moved away from the controversial candidate.

Republican House members outperformed Trump in each of the GOP-controlled North Texas districts reviewed by The News, and the drop in support for the Republican presidential candidate didn’t result in an equal and opposite rise in support for Clinton.

Had Romney earned the same numbers four years ago, “it would indicate a decline in normal Republican vote share,” said Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “Romney is very much a normal Republican. Trump is anything but a normal Republican.”

Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, suggested that Romney’s 2012 high numbers were at least partially due to Obama’s low approval ratings.

The drop in support this year could be from “an artificial high … to an artificial low created by the presence of a presidential candidate who alienated a subset of otherwise reliable GOP voters,” he said.

Or, you know, it could simply be that a lot of Republicans voted for Hillary Clinton in Texas. This is why I’ve been emphasizing the judicial races as a more accurate way of measuring partisan support in a given area, and for making comparisons to 2012. I don’t have that data for the Dallas-area districts at this time, but as we know from Harris County, CD07 still looks pretty red when viewed through that lens. I’d say Culberson has a little bit to worry about between now and the next round of redistricting in 2021, when I fully expect more of CD07 will be shifted to the west and north, but barring anything unusual and bearing in mind that no one has any idea what the short term political effects of the Trump regime will be, I’d bet Culberson will still be there.

There’s an image in the DMN story from this tweet by Miles Coleman, which in turn points to this story he wrote about the larger Houston metro area. Basically, it’s a color map of precincts in Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery County, all based on the Presidential race. That’s a lot of blue in Harris County, and while it’s concentrated in the center of the county, it’s spread out quite a bit, with a significant incursion into Fort Bend. I’d have liked to have seen Galveston and Brazoria included in this map as well, but what we have is still useful. As is the case with Pete Sessions’ CD32, which pokes into Collin County, there are a lot of districts that cross county borders, and that’s something we need to think about more. That’s for another day. For now, even with the proviso that there’s a lot of crossover votes in the blue of that map, take a look and ponder the potential.

Texas AFL-CIO wants to be the defendant in the overtime case

Because they don’t trust the feds post-January 20 to do the job for them.

“We’re not saying that the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice haven’t forcefully defended the regulations [so far], but as for whether that will continue in the future, we’re starting to have serious concerns,” Yona Rozen, an assistant general counsel at the AFL-CIO, said in an interview Monday. Rozen is representing the Texas branch in the litigation in front of U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant III in the Eastern District of Texas.

The AFL-CIO branch’s rare motion, filed Dec. 9, marks the latest chapter in a long fight over the rules, which labor regulators contend will provide time-and-a-half overtime pay to an additional 4 million workers.

The plaintiffs in the case, including 21 states, won a preliminary injunction last month. The challengers in the consolidated litigation—including the states and business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—contend the rules violated states’ rights and the Administrative Procedure Act.

In order to intervene in the case, the Texas AFL-CIO must show it has sufficient interest in the issues and that its position won’t be represented adequately by the current named defendants. The plaintiffs oppose the Texas AFL-CIO’s request to intervene. The Justice Department on Monday said it takes no position on the Texas labor group’s request.

The motion filed by the Texas AFL-CIO, a federation of 650 local Texas unions, anticipates that Trump’s Labor Department will not support the rule. Andrew Puzder, the fast-food company chief executive who is Trump’s pick for Labor secretary, has opposed the Obama administration’s push to boost worker-pay.

“With the recent presidential election, and particularly as more information becomes available regarding the incoming administration’s plans, policy and appointments, the Texas AFL-CIO has grave concerns as to whether its interests in the final rule will be represented by the DOL,” the labor group wrote in its court papers.

See here for the background. The expedited appeal to the Fifth Circuit will take place on January 31, so it’s easy enough to imagine a different cast of lawyers from the Labor Department, whose new chief opposes the overtime rule change, tanking teh case. Of course, Congress or the new honcho could undo the rule as well, but there’s no need to make it easy for them. We’ll see what happens.

Abbott says something about bathrooms

Typically wishy-washy of him.

Gov. Greg Abbott is adopting a wait-and-see approach about anticipated legislation that would prohibit transgender people in Texas from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

“I have not seen any proposed legislation yet,” a characteristically cautious Abbott told reporters Tuesday at the Capitol. He added that there are still a number of things unknown that could determine the need for such a bill.

Among those variables, Abbott said, is the legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s guidelines directing public schools to accommodate transgender students. The incoming administration of GOP President-elect Donald Trump could bring an end to that dispute, which was an impetus for the push for a so-called “bathroom bill” in Texas.

While such legislation has not been released yet in Texas, business leaders have already lined up to voice their opposition, worried it could scare off investment in the same way a similar proposal did in North Carolina. Asked about those concerns, Abbott said his goal heading into this session is “ensuring the safety and security of the people of Texas.”

“We are in the information-gathering stage right now,” Abbott told reporters when pressed on his views about a potential bathroom bill.

Whatever. This is basically of a piece with the Buckingham statement that may or may not have represented a tentative stepping back from the original intent of the Patrick potty bill, but let’s be clear that the impetus for this was not school bathrooms but the HERO fight and the recognition that whipping up a frenzy against the transgender community struck a chord with GOP base voters. It’s only now that the business community has kicked up a fuss, much to Patrick’s disgust, that some Republicans are maybe, possibly, could be dialing it back just a bit. I remain dubious, but there does appear to a change in rhetoric, and it is worth noting. But let’s not lose sight of what this was always all about, and what Dan Patrick and his fellow travelers still want it to be all about. They may settle for something smaller this session if they feel they have to, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be satisfied if it happens.

By the way, the embedded image comes from this Gray Matters post by Cort McMurray, in which he demonstrates his facility for inventing potty-based nicknames for Dan Patrick. You should definitely read it.

Fifth Circuit agrees to expedited appeal of overtime injunction

Good news and bad news.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted an expedited hearing for the Department of Labor in litigation over new overtime regulations.

The Labor Department is seeking a hearing in its effort to overturn a trial court’s ruling halting the Obama administration’s proposed regulatory revisions that would have doubled for most employees the salary proposed threshold for overtime pay. Those rules were halted from taking effect on Dec. 1.

The appellate court ordered that oral arguments will be scheduled after Jan. 31, 2017, 11 days after President-elect Donald Trump is set to be inaugurated.

For lawyers advising employers, that timing prompts questions, with speculation that the Labor Department under Trump may drop the appeal.

“Bottom line for employers is unfortunately much uncertainty,” Doug Diaz, a partner with Archer in Haddonfield, New Jersey, wrote in an email.

“In the event the appeal is successful and the overtime rule is enforced retroactively, employers may be liable for overtime to those employees classified as exempt from overtime under the current rules, but not under the new rule,” Diaz wrote.

“At a minimum, employers should therefore keep accurate records of hours worked and ideally, if possible, limit overtime until there is more clarity, in order to reduce any potential exposure in the event of a successful appeal,” Diaz added.

See here and here for the background. Diaz’s email pretty much sums it up. We’ll just have to see what happens in January. The Texas AFL-CIO, which has filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, has more.

Precinct analysis: Fort Bend Commissioners Court precincts

I have not done Fort Bend precinct analyses in the past because I don’t get easily-worked-with CSV-format canvass reports from them after elections. However, it turns out that their election returns page for this year has a “Reports” button on it from which one can download an Excel-format canvass report. It’s laid out differently than the Harris County reports, in a way that made this all a bit more labor-intensive, but I was able to work with it. I’ve got it in two posts, one for today on the Commissioners Court precincts, and one for tomorrow on the State Rep districts. So with that said, let’s dive on in with a look at the Presidential races from this year and 2012.


President - 2016

Pcnct    Rep     Dem    Lib   Grn   Rep %   Dem %   Lib %   Grn %
=================================================================
CC1   28,737  26,823  1,502   332  50.07%  46.73%   2.62%   0.58%
CC2   11,969  41,887    925   470  21.66%  75.81%   1.67%   0.85%
CC3   44,899  29,891  2,555   472  57.70%  38.41%   3.28%   0.61%
CC4   31,607  35,874  1,916   508  45.21%  51.32%   2.74%   0.73%


President - 2012

Pcnct    Rep     Dem    Lib   Grn   Rep %   Dem %   Lib %   Grn %
=================================================================
CC1   26,771  20,521    362    74  56.09%  43.00%   0.76%   0.16%
CC2   12,354  38,699    274   100  24.02%  75.25%   0.53%   0.19%
CC3   42,394  17,862    528   111  69.62%  29.33%   0.87%   0.18%
CC4   34,607  24,062    555   175  58.26%  40.51%   0.93%   0.29%

Looking at these numbers, your first instinct might be to ask how it is that Commissioner Richard Morrison lost his bid for re-election in Precinct 1. I would remind you that he won in 2012 against a candidate that had been disavowed by the Fort Bend County GOP after it was discovered he had voted in multiple locations in a previous election. I’ll also say again not to be too distracted by the Trump/Clinton numbers, since there were a fair amount of crossover votes. This will become apparent when we look at other county races in the Commissioners Court precincts. The bottom line was that this was the first time Morrison, who was elected in 2008 to succeed a scandal-plagued incumbent, faced a conventional, establishment-type candidate with no obvious baggage, and it was too much to overcome in a precinct that skews Republican. It’s a shame, because Morrison is a great guy who did a fine job as Commissioner, but we were basically playing with house money. Morrison is still a young guy who could certainly run for something else if he wanted to – County Judge is one obvious possibility – so I hope we’ll see him again.

The other point of interest is the Democratic growth in Precincts 3 and 4, especially 4, where Hillary Clinto got a majority of the vote. Again, there are crossover voters here, but as you’ll see in a minute, the growth is real. Precinct 4 will be up in 2018, so this is an obvious target of interest for Fort Bend Democrats. As with all population growth areas, ensuring that new residents are registered will be a key to any strategy, as will making new arrivals who are in line with Democratic values aware of the party’s presence while dispelling the myth that Fort Bend is a Republican stronghold. This growth has implications for the State Rep races as well, which we will get to in the next post.

Now let’s take a look at the contested county-level races, for some perspective on the partisan levels in each precinct.


District Judge,  240th Judicial District

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   31,249  25,475  55.09%  44.91%
CC2   13,490  41,211  24.66%  75.34%
CC3   50,214  26,881  65.13%  34.87%
CC4   36,630  32,260  53.17%  46.83%


District Judge,  400th Judicial District

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   31,481  25,299  55.44%  44.56%
CC2   13,570  41,177  24.79%  75.21%
CC3   50,401  26,694  65.38%  34.62%
CC4   36,803  32,186  53.35%  46.65%


Judge, County Court at Law No. 5

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   30,686  25,982  54.15%  45.85%
CC2   13,309  41,330  24.36%  75.64%
CC3   49,725  27,308  64.55%  35.45%
CC4   36,129  32,707  52.49%  47.51%


Sheriff

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   32,010  25,236  55.92%  44.08%
CC2   13,595  41,255  24.79%  75.21%
CC3   51,268  26,386  66.02%  33.98%
CC4   38,091  31,463  54.76%  45.24%

So as you can see, Precinct 1 is basically 55-45 Republican, which is close to what it was in 2012. Morrison lost by five points, so he did get some crossovers, just not enough to overcome the lean of the precinct. Republicans in Precinct 2 who didn’t want to vote for Trump went third party instead of crossing over for Hillary Clinton. Precinct 3 looks more like the Republican powerhouse it was in 2012, though as you can that while both Rs and Ds gained voters, Ds gained a handful more. That’s enough to reduce the Republican percentage of the vote, but it didn’t do much for the size of the deficit. The big difference in in Precinct 4, where Dems netted about a 6,000 vote gain to narrow the gap to about five points. That’s enough to make it an opportunity, but it’s still a challenge. I don’t know enough to have any specific advice for the Fort Bend folks, but the numbers are clear. Start the recruitment process as soon as possible, and look towards 2018.

Precinct analysis: District courts

Today we will look at the Harris County-specific judicial races, by which I mean the district courts plus two County Court benches. I’m going to begin with something a little different, which is a look at the distribution of how many votes each candidate received. We know that most people know little to nothing about most judicial candidates, yet there’s a surprising range of outcomes even in a year like this where one party swept all the elections. Is there anything we can glean from that? Let’s take a look.


Bench    Democrat    Votes  Bench   Republican    Votes
=======================================================
178th   K Johnson  684,467  165th   Mayfield *  621,070
151st Engelhart *  681,602  CC#16     Garcia *  620,356
152nd  Schaffer *  680,521  337th      Magee *  620,322
129th     Gomez *  677,144  61st   Lunceford *  619,823
127th   Sandill *  673,122  179th     Guiney *  619,027
80th     Weiman *  672,840  176th       Bond *  617,013
125th    Carter *  670,653  177th    Patrick *  615,513
164th   S-Hogan *  670,438  351st      Ellis *  613,151
339th   Jackson *  664,205  333rd    Halbach *  610,904
507th   Maldonado  663,465  338th     Thomas *  610,756
133rd McFarland *  661,240  CC#1    Leuchtag *  607,896
174th     Jones    660,685  334th    Dorfman *  606,184
11th      Hawkins  665,619  174th     McDaniel  605,912
215th    Palmer *  663,604  133rd        Smith  605,601
334th    Kirkland  658,759  11th        Fulton  604,450
CC#1    Barnstone  656,755  507th    Lemkuil *  601,461
333rd       Moore  654,602  339th      McFaden  600,896
338th    Franklin  653,880  215th     Shuchart  600,874
351st      Powell  650,948  125th     Hemphill  598,956
177th   R Johnson  650,703  80th        Archer  597,157
61st     Phillips  650,248  164th         Bail  596,556
176th      Harmon  648,830  127th      Swanson  594,224
CC#16      Jordan  647,122  129th      Mafrige  591,350
165th        Hall  646,314  151st     Hastings  586,609
179th        Roll  645,103  152nd         Self  586,199
337th     Ritchie  643,639  178th      Gommels  580,653

HarrisCounty

Asterisks represent incumbents. Three benches – the 11th (Civil), the 174th and 178th (both Criminal) – are held by incumbents (all Democrats) who chose not to run for another term. The first thing we can tell from this is that incumbents did the best overall. Maybe that’s a name recognition thing, maybe that’s the effect of the legal community crossing party lines to support the judges they know, maybe it’s a random one year phenomenon. Interestingly, all but one Democratic incumbent (Terri Jackson in the 339th) is a Civil Court judge, while the Republicans are on Civil (Mayfield, Lunceford, Halbach, Leuchtag, Dorfman), Criminal (Garcia, Magee, Guiney, Bond, Patrick, Ellis), and Family (Lemkuil) benches. Maybe that means something, and maybe it’s just random.

The top votegetters for each party did about 40K votes better than the bottom. Because there’s an inverse relationship, this means that the margins of victory were very divergent. Herb Ritchie won by 23,317 votes. Kelli Johnson won by 103,786. I have no clear idea why Johnson, running for an open Criminal bench, was the top performer overall, but she was. Speaking as a Democrat, hers was far from the most visible campaign to me. Most of the incumbents were pretty busy with email and social media, with a few doing other things like billboards (Engelhart) and cable TV ads (Sandill). Among the non-incumbents, I’d say Kristin Hawkins and Steven Kirkland were the ones I heard from the most, followed by Hazel Jones and Julia Maldonado.

It’s become a tradition – since 2008, anyway, when Democrats in Harris County first broke through – for their to be calls to Do Something about judicial races after an election. In particular, the call is to Do Something about the effect of straight ticket voting on judicial elections. This year was no exception, though in the past this call has gone unheeded since stakeholders on both sides recognize the pros and cons from their perspective. In Harris County, there were about 71K more Democratic straight ticket votes than there were Republican straight ticket votes, which among other things means that every Democrat from Alex Smoots-Hogan up would have won their race even if we threw out all of the straight party votes. Of course, the people who voted straight ticket did vote, and it’s more than a little presumptuous to think that they would have either skipped the judicial races or done a significant amount of ticket-splitting had they not had that option. They just would have had to spend more time voting, which would have meant longer lines and/or necessitated more voting machines. Somehow, that never seems to be part of the conversation.

Of course, part of this is just another way to complain about the fact that we elect judges via partisan contests. We’ve discussed that plenty of times and I’m not going to get into it here. I’ll just say this: While one may not be able to draw conclusions about how a random person may have voted in the Presidential race this year, it’s highly likely that the Republican judicial candidates this year had previously voted for Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, Sid Miller, and Ted Cruz, while the Democratic candidates would not have done so. If someone wants to base their vote in these races on how the candidates likely voted in those races, I don’t see why that should be a problem. People are going to vote based on the information they have.

Anyway. Let’s take a look at some districts. Here I’m going to go with the average vote totals for each party’s candidates in the districts that I want to highlight.


Dist    R CJ Avg  D CJ Avg  R CJ Pct  D CJ Pct
==============================================
CD02    162,006    108,132    59.97%    40.03%
CD07    140,809    108,532    56.47%    43.53%

SBOE6   341,855    254,815    57.29%    42.71%

HD126    35,612     24,770    58.98%    41.02%
HD132    37,744     29,907    55.79%    44.21%
HD134    46,749     39,776    54.03%    45.97%
HD135    32,189     26,673    54.69%    45.31%
HD137     8,995     17,430    34.04%    65.96%
HD138    27,529     22,527    55.00%    45.00%
HD144    10,981     15,673    41.20%    58.80%
HD148    18,532     27,741    40.05%    59.95%
HD149    15,724     26,816    36.96%    63.04%

CC1      75,017    234,844    24.21%    75.79%
CC2     126,175    120,814    51.09%    48.91%
CC3     193,936    152,622    55.96%    44.04%
CC4     210,878    153,004    57.95%    42.05%

One point of difference between the district/county court races and the state court races is that these are all straight R-versus-D contests. There were no third-party candidates in any of these matchups. As such, I consider this a better proxy for partisan strength in a given district.

There are four Congressional districts that are entirely contained within Harris County. The Democratic districts are far bluer than the Republican districts are red. These districts are fairly solid for the GOP now, but they’re going to need some bolstering in the 2021 reapportioning to stay that way. It’s not crazy to think that one or both of them may include non-Harris County turf in the next redrawing.

As for the State Rep districts, I will first call your attention to the HD134 numbers, which you may note are just a little different than the Presidential numbers. Are we clear on what I meant by crossover votes? This is why we need to be very careful about using Presidential numbers to evaluate future electoral opportunities. I’d love to believe that HD134 is more Democratic than before, but the evidence just isn’t there.

Against that, I hope the HCDP is beating the bushes now looking for people to run in HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126, in that order. All of them need to be thought of as two-cycle efforts, to account for differing conditions, the slow pace of demographic change, and the fact that these are still steep challenges. There are only so many viable non-judicial targets in 2018 for Democrats, and these four districts should be prioritized.

I ask again: Is it time to stop thinking of HD144 as a swing district? Given that it went Republican in 2014, I suppose the answer has to be No, at least until Rep.-elect-again Mary Ann Perez can demonstrate that she can hold it in 2018. But note that HD144 is a lot more Democratic than before. The Democratic judicial average is six points higher than the top statewide candidates from 2012, and eight points above what President Obama got there in 2012. It’s higher than what Adrian Garcia got. Heck, Perez outdid herself by eight points from 2012. I’m sure Donald Trump had something to do with this, but that’s still a big shift. In 2016, HD144 was nearly as Democratic as HD148 was. Let’s keep that in mind going forward.

There’s a universe in which all four Harris County Commissioners are Democrats. There are more than enough excess Democratic votes in Precinct 1 to tip the other three, if we wanted to draw such a map. Said map would certainly violate the Voting Rights Act, and I am in no way advocating that. I’m just engaging in a little thought experiment, and pushing back in a small way at the notion that the division we have now is How It Should Be. The more tangible way to do that would be to win Precinct 2 in 2018. I’m not going to say that will be easy, but I will say that it’s doable. Like those State Rep districts, it needs to be a priority.

I’ll have a look at the other countywide elections next. As always, let me know what you think.

Two more lawsuit updates

The ban on the transgender bathroom rule remains in place pending appeals.

RedEquality

Continued lack of access in public schools to bathrooms matching transgender persons’ gender identity won’t cause them irreparable harm, a Texas federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Reed O’Connor of Wichita Falls, Texas, made that finding Sunday in ruling against two federal executive branch departments.

O’Connor concluded the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education had failed to show they will suffer irreparable injury if he allows to continue his nationwide ban on their policy for allowing transgender people in public schools access to the bathrooms assigned to the gender with which they self-identify.

The federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “sex”—the scope and meaning of which the federal government agencies claim now includes gender identity—were promulgated nearly 40 years ago, O’Connor wrote.

He referred specifically to the time gap between the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and May this year when the federal agencies announced their new transgender bathroom guidelines for public schools. “[T]he Court views this delay as strong evidence that Defendants will suffer no irreparable injury if a stay is denied and enforcement of the [federal agencies’] guidelines delayed until their legality is established,” O’Connor wrote.

See here for the background. I’m sure no one suffered any injury at all during the time between the passage of Title IX and the much more recent recognition of transgender people as actual human beings.

The litigation over the Obama Administration executive order on immigration will be on hold until next year.

The first major litigation effect of the election of Donald Trump took place in a Texas federal district court Friday when the lawyers in the case against the Obama administration’s plan to delay deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants asked the judge to postpone proceedings until Feb. 20.

“Given the change in administration, the parties jointly submit that a brief stay of any further litigation … would serve judicial efficiency and economy so that the parties have a better understanding of how they might choose to move forward,” U.S. Justice Department lawyers wrote in the filing.

[…]

The injunction will remain in place if the judge grants the motion to stay the proceedings. President-elect Trump would have the option of ending the litigation after his inauguration by withdrawing the guidance that authorized the deportation delays.

SCOTUS had declined to intervene in the appeal of the original ruling that halted this order nationwide, so here we are. Both of these cases involve non-legislative action – an executive order in this case, and an updated administrative guideline from the Department of Education in the other – and so in some sense the litigation doesn’t matter, since both of those actions can and almost certainly will be reversed by the next President. I would imagine that once that happens, the Attorneys General who filed these suits will withdraw them. Such will be life for the next four years.

Judge issues injunction against overtime pay change

Because of cours he did.

Millions of low-paid supervisors would have become eligible for overtime pay next week, but a federal judge in Texas blocked that path late Tuesday afternoon, ruling that Congress intended duties, not wages, to determine eligibility for overtime and minimum wage.

U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant, sitting in Sherman, issued an emergency preliminary injunction to stop new overtime rules adopted by the Obama administration from taking effect on Dec. 1 as scheduled. The new rules would have raised the automatic salary threshold for executive, administrative, and professional positions to be eligible for overtime.

Under current rules, white collar workers earning more than $455 a week ($23,660 annually) are not eligible for overtime. The new rules would double that threshold to $921 per week, ($47,892 annually).

The state of Texas and 20 other states requested the injunction after filing suit to prevent enactment of the higher wage thresholds. The states argued they couldn’t afford to pay overtime to employees who were exempt under existing standards. The injunction appears to apply to all employers, including private employers.

[…]

Employment lawyers said that the ruling doesn’t mean that the new rules will get thrown out, but rather stops them from being put into effect while the case is litigated. Stephen Roppolo, a Houston lawyer, said he expects the Labor Department will ask the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to step in and overrule the lower court.

“It’s not a done deal,” Roppolo said.

The Labor Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mazzant noted in his ruling that when Congress enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, it did not include a salary threshold. The Labor Department developed a duties test to define which occupations were exempt from overtime. By 1949, the department had incorporated a minimum salary into the formula.

The last time the rules changed was 2004, when white collar workers had to meet three tests to be exempt from overtime: they had to be paid a salary, earn at least $455 per week and perform executive, administrative or professional duties.

The real focus of Congress was on the duties performed, not salary paid, noted Mazzant.

See here for the background, and here for the opinion. You’d think after an election that was supposedly all about economic anxiety and stagnant wages, a judge blocking an effort to increase the pay for millions of people who currently earn modest salaries, due to the relentless efforts of Attorneys General like Ken Paxton, might be a bit of a political issue going forward. Just a thought. The Trib, Kevin Drum, Nancy LeTourneau, and the Current have more.

Precinct analysis: State courts

We return to our tour of the precinct data with a look at the statewide judicial races. These tend to be interesting mostly as proxies for base partisan support, but there are variations that reflect qualities about the candidates. That’s what I’m going to focus on here.


Dist    Green    Garza   Guzman Robinson  R SJ Avg  D SJ Avg
============================================================
CD02  156,800  107,513  163,092  100,247   158,852   103,416
CD07  135,310  108,540  144,087   99,977   138,618   104,011
CD09   25,906  103,431   27,993  101,594    26,242   102,489
CD10   79,113   34,926   80,104   33,297    79,337    33,927
CD18   45,665  149,521   50,198  144,817    46,814   146,929
CD29   34,618   91,898   40,381   85,592    35,849    88,188
						
SBOE6 329,707  253,583  346,471  235,776   335,602   243,912
						
HD126  34,635   24,431   35,565   23,230    34,861    23,735
HD127  47,208   23,767   48,074   22,592    47,409    23,032
HD128  40,567   16,310   40,856   15,756    40,513    15,989
HD129  40,578   25,159   42,100   23,578    41,139    24,193
HD130  57,460   20,405   58,131   19,372    57,638    19,776
HD131   6,812   38,016    7,565   37,395     6,923    37,668
HD132  36,509   29,355   37,394   28,250    36,716    28,697
HD133  46,810   25,780   49,559   23,138    47,911    24,387
HD134  44,064   41,029   49,468   35,686    46,233    38,348
HD135  31,226   26,170   32,263   25,003    31,496    25,523
HD137   8,568   17,074    9,165   16,546     8,743    16,774
HD138  26,600   22,314   27,842   20,926    26,972    21,525
HD139  11,909   38,459   12,907   37,412    12,132    37,903
HD140   6,219   20,336    7,324   19,129     6,430    19,617
HD141   4,993   32,192    5,391   31,834     4,982    32,006
HD142  10,070   33,520   10,763   32,789    10,208    33,091
HD143   8,718   22,970    9,933   21,652     8,927    22,196
HD144  10,592   15,528   11,318   14,623    10,689    14,987
HD145  10,584   22,300   12,511   20,273    11,063    21,133
HD146   9,618   36,999   10,637   36,067     9,928    36,519
HD147  11,536   43,516   13,478   41,685    12,147    42,533
HD148  17,146   27,893   19,709   25,140    18,013    26,352
HD149  15,245   26,292   15,875   25,657    15,370    25,934
HD150  47,406   25,632   48,229   24,488    47,624    24,911
						
CC1    70,859  232,823   78,886  225,102    73,125   228,635
CC2   122,115  119,904  129,022  112,013   123,728   115,261
CC3   187,552  151,403  196,274  142,372   190,521   146,507
CC4   204,547  151,305  211,872  142,722   206,690   146,412


Dist    Green    Garza   Guzman Robinson    R Avg%    D Avg%
===========================================================
CD02   56.81%   38.95%   59.09%   36.32%    57.28%   37.29%
CD07   53.24%   42.71%   56.70%   39.34%    54.00%   40.52%
CD09   19.42%   77.53%   20.98%   76.15%    19.34%   75.55%
CD10   66.72%   29.46%   67.56%   28.08%    66.96%   28.64%
CD18   22.47%   73.57%   24.70%   71.25%    22.82%   71.64%
CD29   26.39%   70.04%   30.78%   65.24%    26.88%   66.12%
						
SBOE6  54.15%   41.64%   56.90%   38.72%    54.62%   39.70%
						
HD126  56.39%   39.78%   57.90%   37.82%    56.72%   38.62%
HD127  64.08%   32.26%   65.25%   30.67%    64.37%   31.27%
HD128  68.85%   27.68%   69.34%   26.74%    67.98%   26.83%
HD129  58.89%   36.52%   61.10%   34.22%    59.05%   34.73%
HD130  71.00%   25.21%   71.83%   23.94%    71.16%   24.42%
HD131  14.80%   82.57%   16.43%   81.22%    14.88%   80.97%
HD132  53.12%   42.71%   54.41%   41.10%    53.35%   41.70%
HD133  62.02%   34.15%   65.66%   30.65%    63.04%   32.09%
HD134  49.46%   46.05%   55.52%   40.05%    51.07%   42.36%
HD135  52.28%   43.81%   54.01%   41.86%    52.30%   42.39%
HD137  31.93%   63.63%   34.16%   61.66%    31.92%   61.24%
HD138  52.08%   43.69%   54.51%   40.97%    52.34%   41.77%
HD139  22.82%   73.69%   24.73%   71.69%    23.05%   72.01%
HD140  22.65%   74.05%   26.67%   69.66%    23.03%   70.25%
HD141  13.06%   84.21%   14.10%   83.27%    12.95%   83.21%
HD142  22.41%   74.60%   23.95%   72.97%    22.57%   73.18%
HD143  26.59%   70.05%   30.29%   66.03%    26.61%   66.17%
HD144  39.06%   57.26%   41.73%   53.92%    38.95%   54.61%
HD145  30.76%   64.81%   36.36%   58.92%    31.52%   60.21%
HD146  19.91%   76.58%   22.02%   74.65%    20.26%   74.54%
HD147  19.94%   75.21%   23.29%   72.05%    20.71%   72.50%
HD148  35.91%   58.42%   41.28%   52.65%    37.16%   54.37%
HD149  35.46%   61.15%   36.92%   59.67%    35.03%   59.11%
HD150  62.31%   33.69%   63.39%   32.19%    62.52%   32.70%
						
CC1    22.48%   73.86%   25.03%   71.41%    22.93%   71.70%
CC2    48.48%   47.61%   51.23%   44.47%    48.46%   45.14%
CC3    53.16%   42.92%   55.63%   40.36%    53.51%   41.15%
CC4    55.12%   40.78%   57.10%   38.46%    55.47%   39.29%
Justice Dori Garza

Justice Dori Garza

The figures above represent the races with Dori Garza and Eva Guzman, who were the top Democratic and Republican vote-getters among judicial candidates. Guzman was actually the high scorer overall, while Garza has the second-best Democratic total, trailing Hillary Clinton but topping Barack Obama in 2008. The other numbers are aggregates of all the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals candidates, where “R SJ Avg” means “Republican statewide judicial average” and “D SJ Avg” is the same thing for Democrats. The percentages have been calculated to include the third parties, though I didn’t explicitly list them for the sake of saving space.

The differences in each district are small, but they add up. Dori Garza received 162K more votes statewide than Savannah Robinson, while Eva Guzman collected 124K more than Paul Green. As previously expressed for third party candidates, I believe being Latina was an advantage for both Garza and Guzman, as I suspect they got the votes of some people who didn’t have a strong partisan preference and were perhaps drawn to a familiar name in a race where they didn’t know anything about who was running. This advantage is not universal – I suspect if I looked around the state, the effect would be small and possibly even negative in places that have few Latino voters. You can certainly see a difference for Garza in HDs 140, 143, 144, 145, and 148 compared to other districts, where the gap between her and the average D is around four points. It also doesn’t hurt that Garza and Guzman were both strong candidates, who were widely endorsed and (at least in Garza’s case) ran actual campaigns. None of this mattered this year, but if this had been a year where the margin at the Presidential level had been two or three points instead of nine, this could have been the difference between a close win and a close loss. I don’t want to over-generalize here, as in any year there will be a high scorer and a low scorer, but it’s something to keep in mind when we start recruiting candidates for 2018 and 2020.

But also keep in mind the fact that despite getting nearly 300,000 more votes than President Obama in 2012, Garza only received 41.12% of the vote, which is less than what Obama got that year. This is because the Republican vote was up, too. Compare Garza’s race to the Supreme Court, Place 6 election in 2012. Garza outpolled Michelle Petty by 279K votes, but Paul Green outdid Nathan Hecht by 629K. Go back to 2008 and Supreme Court, Place 8, and it’s more of the same: Garza improved on Linda Yanez by 170K, while Green did 738K better than Phil Johnson. The preponderance of new voters in Harris County were Democrats. That was not the case statewide. That’s a problem, and we shouldn’t let Hillary Clinton’s performance against Donald Trump distract us from that.