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Bastrop County

Early voting for special election runoffs has begun


It began yesterday, but I forgot to queue up a post in time to mention it. Here’s some relevant information for those of you who need to get out and vote in one or more of these runoffs.

For SD26 and HD123, here are the Bexar County early voting locations. The Bexar County Elections page is here as well.

For HD17, here are the early voting locations for Bastrop County, Caldwell County, and Lee County. The Bastrop County Elections page is here, and they already have Election Day voting locations up as well. Both the Caldwell and Lee pages have early voting and election day locations. As for Karnes County and Gonzales County, you’ll need to call the elections administrators for information, as you had to do for the January election.

For HD13, here are the early voting locations for Burleson County, Colorado County, Fayette County, Grimes County, Lavaca County, and Washington County. All of those pages also have Election Day locations, except for Fayette and Washington. I could not find information for Austin County, so call the elections administrator there for the scoop.

Googling around on the candidates’ names, I found basically zero new information since the original election, except for a couple of stories relating to the SD26 runoff. The only endorsements I found, as was the case in January, was from the Express News, which reiterated their choices from the first round.

In the Senate race, we recommend Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer to replace mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte.

The district will be in good hands regardless of who wins the showdown between Martinez Fischer and Rep. José Menéndez. Both Democrats who have been in the House since 2001.

But Martinez Fischer’s strong leadership ability unequivocally makes him the right choice for the Senate.


We strongly encourage voters to cast their ballots for former City Councilman Diego Bernal, who faces Republican Nunzio Previtera.

Bernal represented San Antonio’s City Council District 1 from 2011 until resigning late last year to seek the House seat. During his tenure at City Hall, Bernal showed courage by successfully sponsoring a highly controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that provided new protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

The 38-year-old Bernal also played a lead role in creating an advisory panel to study the future of Alamo Plaza. The city has failed to nurture the downtown asset, and Bernal’s efforts have revived hope for real improvements. This is an issue of statewide importance.

They also had a recent story about how Bexar Dems are dismayed by the negativity in the all-Dem SD26 runoff. Those of us who remember the SD06 special election from two years ago feel their pain. I figure turnout will be less than or equal to the first round, so if you live in any of these districts, your vote counts for a lot. There are no Dems in either HD17 or HD13, but John Cyrier and Carolyn Bilski are backed by the Texas Parent PAC, and Cyrier’s opponent in particular is aligned with the likes of Empower Texans, so even without a home team there’s still a rooting interest. I’ll keep an eye on the voting as we go. The Rivard Report has more.

Special Election Day for SD26, HD123, and HD17

At long last, we have some endorsements. The Express News recommends TMF for SD26.

Martinez Fischer has demonstrated distinctive leadership that makes him the clear-cut choice for the Senate.

Early in his career, Martinez Fischer stirred the pot ineffectively. The 44-year-old lawyer admits he is “rough around the edges,” but he learned his legislative lessons well and emerged as a powerful force in recent years.

More than any other Democratic legislator from San Antonio, Martinez Fischer has demonstrated a knack for being in the center of the action when it matters most.

Martinez Fischer has generated the most headlines for the confrontational aspects of his role as the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and his sometimes overexuberant partisan comments.

But his use of the levers of power to be positioned to help make crucial decisions — even in the Republican-dominated House — is the more important aspect of his performance.


We are confident that Martinez Fischer will be as effective as a Democrat is able to be in the GOP-dominated Senate. He has the standing to be a go-to guy for progressives as well as San Antonio’s pragmatic civic leaders.

They also recommend Diego Bernal in HD123.

During his tenure at City Hall, Bernal showed courage by successfully sponsoring a highly controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that provided new protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

Bernal, 38, also took the lead in creating an advisory panel to study the future of Alamo Plaza. The plaza has received lip service over the years, but the city has failed to nurture the downtown asset. Bernal’s efforts have revived hope for real improvements.

The former councilman has demonstrated a commitment to public service, and voters have good reason to expect that he will get up to speed on state issues quickly.

Both excellent choices, in my opinion.


I don’t know what to expect from the three legislative special elections today except low turnout, the likelihood of at least one runoff, and the eventual need for another such election to fill the seat of either State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer or Rep. Jose Menendez. For those of you in one of these districts, here’s where you are voting today if you have not already done so:

Bexar County polling sites.
Bexar County Precinct Finder.

Bastrop County Precinct Finder. There’s no general listing of polling sites. It appears you have to do the precinct location lookup to find out where you need to go to vote.

Caldwell County polling sites.

Gonzales County election information. There is no information specific to the January special election that I can find. I recommend calling the voter registrar at 830-672-2841 to inquire.

Karnes County election information. There is no information specific to the January special election that I can find. I recommend calling the elections administrator at 830-780-2246 to inquire.

Lee County elections information. They still have info pertaining to the SD18 special election up, but nothing for this one. I recommend calling the elections administrator at 979-542-3684 to inquire.

According to the Bastrop County Elections webpage, 3,114 early votes were cast in the HD17 election. I didn’t see any similar data for Bexar County. There were 35,196 total votes cast in the HD17 election in November, so you can get a feel for just how minuscule overall turnout is going to be. The Austin Chronicle has a good last-minute look at the races and the candidates if you’re still undecided.

Finally, yesterday was the filing deadline for the January 13 special election to fill the HD13 seat vacated by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst. The list of candidates that have filed, according to VoteTexas.govBecky Berger, Republican. Berger was a candidate for Railroad Commissioner least year. She’s also a wingnut.

Carolyn Cerny Bilski, Republican. Bilski is the Austin County Judge. Here’s a brief profile of her.

Leighton Schubert, Republican. This appears to be the press release announcing his candidacy.

Cecil R. Webster, Sr., Democrat. Webster was a candidate for Fayette County Judge last year, and garnered 22% of the vote, which put him ahead of the statewide Democrats in that county.

Here’s a Victoria Advocate story about the HD13 election. I’ll do some more searching for stories later this week.

Interview with Ty McDonald

Ty McDonald

Ty McDonald

The discussion of the special elections going on this week and culminating on January 6 has been dominated by Bexar County, home of two of the three races, including the Senate race, but the HD17 election is important in its own right. It’s centered in a growing part of the state and it has a decent shot at being an R versus D race in the runoff. There are two Ds running in this race, with one of them, Ty McDonald, having the better chance to make it to overtime. McDonald, whom I profiled here, is a teacher and former Bastrop ISD school board member, whose husband Ronnie, a former Bastrop County Judge, was a candidate for CD27 in 2012 (my interview with him is here). She had given thought to running for HD17 in November before making a run for County Judge herself. We covered a lot of ground in the interview:

As of this publication, I am still trying to work out an arrangement to interview Rep. Jose Menendez for his campaign in SD26. I hope to have this for Friday, or at worst for Monday.

HD17 overview

The Chron provides an overview of the special election in HD17. Given that current Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt hadn’t planned to resign till January 14, it seems that the swift date for this election, the same day as the ones in Bexar County, caught the prospective candidates a bit by surprise.

Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt

Kleinschmidt has not made any endorsements in the race, though his chief of staff is actively campaigning for Republican candidate John Cyrier and is expected to stay on if Cyrier wins.

Cyrier, a construction executive who served on the Caldwell County Commissioners Court from 2010-2013, is positioning himself the only serious contender with a voting record and one who will not require on-the-job training at the Capitol. Endorsed by the Texas Farm Bureau and several state representatives from the area, Cyrier has been working to consolidate support from the region’s GOP power brokers and seize the mantle of odds-on establishment favorite.


Bastrop entrepreneur Brent Golemon is running as a different kind of Republican, expressing concern over the direction of the state while pitching himself as the only “principled conservative” in the race. If elected, he said he would work to undo burdensome regulations on businesses and schools that have kept Texas from reaching its full potential.

“We’re not the lesser of two evils – we’re actually a positive place to be,” Golemon said. “‘At least we’re not as bad off as California.’ That’s not a good way of saying: ‘Come to Texas. Be a Texan.’ ”


Two Democrats are also running, though just one of them – pastor Ty McDonald – is seen as having a shot at spoiling either Republican’s chances of winning more than half the vote and avoiding a runoff Jan. 6. The other Democrat, Cedar Creek real estate agent Shelley Cartier, has kept a lower profile than McDonald, who last year weighed a challenge to Kleinschmidt.

McDonald also has somewhat of an advantage in name recognition as a one time congressional candidate and wife of former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald. Plus, she fashions herself as more conservative than liberal on social issues, creating the opportunity for crossover appeal in a district where voters’ priorities are hardly partisan lightning rods.

“People tend to have a hard time boxing me in,” McDonald said. The seat, she added, is “up for grabs, and I’m ready to part the red sea.”

Rounding out the five-person lineup is independent Linda Curtis, a longtime Bastrop activist who helps run a political action committee that boosts independent politicians. She also has been mindful of the race’s quirks as a self-styled populist looking to rebuke the leadership in Austin.

“Rick Perry is sneaking an election during the Christmas holiday,” Curtis said in a news release announcing her candidacy. “Lets not make this The Grinch That Stole An Election.”

I will have an interview with Ty McDonald later this week. The presence of Linda Curtis, whom the Austin Chronicle notes has been plying a gadfly/professional outsider schtick for many years, adds an interesting dimension to the race. In a November election, I could see her peeling off a fair number of votes, which I’d guess would more from the R column than the D though not by a huge amount. I don’t know how well that will play in a January election, where the large majority of the participants will be hardcore partisans. One can make an impact as an indy in a race like this, but it likely takes a certain level of resources, since you have to make sure people know that there is an election in the first place, and/or a certain level of name recognition – perhaps “notoriety” is a more accurate term – to cut through the noise. We’ll see how it plays out here. If you live in HD17, what (if anything) are you hearing about this election? Leave a comment and let us know.

Ty McDonald for HD17

Ty McDonald

As you know, the special election to replace Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt in HD17 has been set for January 6, with early voting to begin on December 29. This is the same schedule as the elections in HD123 and SD26. As you also know, I have been an advocate for running a Democrat in HD17, on the grounds that in a low-turnout election unpredictable things can happen, and with a bit of a GOTV push the Dems could steal a seat, even if it would only be a one-term rental.

Given all that, you will be as pleased as I am to see that there is a Dem running in HD17, and that Dem is Ty McDonald, wife of former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald and a former school board trustee in Bastrop. As had her husband, who eventually made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for CD27 in 2012, Ty McDonald considered running for HD17 last year before deciding instead to try to succeed her husband as Bastrop County Judge. She lost that race in a year that wasn’t friendly to Democrats in Bastrop or elsewhere, and has now decided to toss her hat into this ring. With the filing deadline on Monday the 22nd, there are at least two announced Republican candidates (see the comments here), so at the very least she ought to have a decent shot at making it to a runoff.

I don’t know what Battleground Texas is doing now that it’s completed its post-election explanation tour of the state, but my reason for championing this special election, other than it being a free shot at a pickup, is that it just doesn’t take that many votes to win, or at least advance. Here are the vote totals from the last three State House special elections, plus two runoff elections:

Date Dist Votes Win ========================== 12/10 044 11,036 5,518 11/11 014 13,519 6,760 12/11 014 6,736 3,368 11/13 050 14,936 7,468 01/14 050 10,520 5,260

Note that the specials in HDs 14 and 50 took place in November of 2011 and 2013, so they got a bit of an artificial boost in turnout, though probably not that much. I skipped the special elections in HDs 16 (from this November) and 84 (in 2010) precisely because they coincided with high-turnout general elections and thus would extreme outliers on this list. My guess is that turnout for this race is more likely to resemble the HD14 runoff, from December 2011, than anything else. That suggests an electorate of between (say) 6,000 and 10,000 voters, meaning that to win outright you’d need between 3,000 and 5,000 votes.

Now then. There were 35,196 total votes cast in 2014 general in HD17. Democratic candidate Carolyn Banks received 12,459 votes of them. Obviously, a lot of those folks are November-only types. If we want to narrow it down to just the hardcore Dems, the kind of people that might be receptive to a “Hey! We have a special election and we need your vote!” campaign, there were 4,492 votes cast in HD17 in the 2014 primary, and 5,259 votes in the 2012 primary. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out who those people are and send them some mail, and maybe follow it up with a phone call or two.

That’s assuming that we want to try to win, of course, and if there’s someone to underwrite this expense. I’d assume sending mail to five thousand or so voters in this district would run in the low to medium five figures, not exactly a back-breaking expense for a campaign, and I feel reasonably confident that if BGTX put out a call for volunteers to do some phone banking they’d get a decent response from people who’d love a chance to put the taste of this November behind them. The odds are that this won’t work – HD17 was drawn to elect a Republican, and they have plenty of their own voters to contact – but again, what is there to lose? Not doing anything here would be a much bigger loss, in my opinion, than trying and coming up short. We have a race, we have a candidate, we have a win number, and we have a reasonable idea of how to achieve it. What else do we need?

Kleinschmidt to resign in HD17

Just in case you thought there weren’t enough special elections on the horizon.

Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt

Newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is reaching out to a former House colleague to fill a key staff position in his new administration.

A source close to the Miller transition team said Friday afternoon that Miller reached out to state Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, to become the agriculture department’s next general counsel.

According to the source, Kleinschmidt agreed to take the job “after careful thought and discussions” with family and his law partners.

Kleinschmidt will resign his House seat effective Jan. 14 and has plans to send a resignation letter to Gov. Rick Perry in the coming days.

Kleinschmidt’s departure from the House would create a vacancy in House District 17, which stretches across five Central Texas counties east of Austin. Kleinschmidt has served in the Texas House since 2009.

A special electionin HD17 presents the same opportunity for Democrats as the special election in SD26 will for Republicans, with about the same odds of success. Kleinschmidt won 64.6% of the vote this November; his Democratic opponent, Carolyn Banks, had 35.4%. In 2010, Bill White got 43.3%, while Linda Chavez-Thompson got 32.8%, though with more total votes than Banks had. In 2012, President Obama took 37.3%, Paul Sadler had 39.8%, and Michelle Petty was the standard-bearer with 40.6%. A surprise win here would almost certainly be a one-term rental, but you never know, and it’s not like there’s anything to lose.

I even have a suggestion for a candidate to recruit: Ronnie McDonald, former three-term Bastrop County Judge and candidate for CD27 in 2012. He considered challenging Kleinschmidt in 2012 before jumping into a crowded field for CD27, so the concept of running for State House has occurred to him. I don’t know what he’s up to and I have no idea if he’d be amenable, but it can’t hurt to try. Whether he’s a viable possibility or not, this would be a good opportunity for Battleground Texas to try to begin their rebuilding process and keep volunteers engaged as they work towards 2016. Find a candidate and support that candidate. There’s nothing to lose.

LBJ Wildflower Center helping to restore pine trees to Texas

Very cool.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin has been selected by the Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) to serve as the local grower of loblolly pines to restore wildfire-damaged Bastrop County.

The 2011 Bastrop County Complex fire destroyed 1,691 homes while burning 33,000 acres that gave the area its picturesque landscape. Already, the Wildflower Center has worked with a university graduate student to provide 35,000 loblolly pines that are being given this winter to county residents. The center will now expand its growing operation as one of three contractors with TFS to produce up to 6 million trees total by 2017 for the Lost Pines region.

“The Wildflower Center is conveniently located for project partners to access the pines we grow before a planting event,” said the center’s Senior Director, Damon Waitt. “We can also serve as a holding area for trees grown by the facilities that aren’t near Bastrop County.”


The tree growers will use seeds the TFS collected from Lost Pines loblollies years ago, with future TFS contracts expected to continue the program through 2017. “The Lost Pines is such a unique area ecologically, and the trees there are more drought-tolerant than loblolly pines in East Texas, so we are thrilled to have this seed source to work with,” said Dr. Waitt, who is also the center’s senior botanist.

Sure is a good thing they saved those seeds, isn’t it?

Interview with Ronnie McDonald

Ronnie McDonald

One of the more interesting candidates in a race that isn’t currently considered top tier is Ronnie McDonald, who is running in the redrawn CD27 against first term Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold. McDonald has been a trailblazer for much of his life, having been elected the first African-American yell leader at Texas A&M, and then in 1998 being elected at age 27 Bastrop County Judge, making him both one of the youngest people ever elected County Judge and one of only two African-American county judges. His announcement in March that he would step down as County Judge to run for either the State House or the US House caught people’s attention. I thought he chose the more challenging race in CD27, and that’s one of the many things we talked about in the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Good news and bad news

Good news.

Ronnie McDonald

Big news today: Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald is stepping down from his position. At a press conference today, he announced today that he will either run for the 17th Legislative District, anchored in Bastrop and currently held by Republican Tim Kleinschmidt, or for the 27th Congressional District, currently held by Republican Blake “Ducky Pajamas” Farenthold.

Running for CD-27 would be somewhat surprising decision given that the maps drawn by the San Antonio panel make the district R+19. Obama would have gotten 40% in the district in 2008 to McCain’s 59%. The previous incarnation that accidentally elected Farenthold in 2010 was D+7. However, the district changed so dramatically in redistricting, one can argue that there isn’t any huge benefit of incumbency here. But, make no mistake, it’s still an uphill climb for any Democrat.


House District 17, on the other hand, would be a much easier pick-up opportunity for Democrats. The district, pictured at left, encompasses Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, and Karnes County. McDonald has the clear advantage in Bastrop, and Caldwell is a majority-minority county that has gone Democratic in downballot races in Presidential election cycles. Furthermore, since part of Caldwell is in the new CD-35, you can bet that whatever Democrat wins the primary will be beating the bushes hard to turn out votes in November. (Plus, you get to represent Lockhart, which, I mean, come on!) There’s also some good data to back this up — the 2008 Democratic candidate for Court of Criminal Appeals Susan Strawn narrowly won in the district 48-47, and Democrats Mark Thompson (Railroad Commish) and Sam Houston (SCOTX) lost by less than 2 points in what is the new 17th House District. If McDonald makes a go for it, wins big in Bastrop and turns out Caldwell, he can win this thing.

I’d think HD17 would be the better choice. Among other things, I will not be surprised if the DC court finds significant further problems with the legislative map, which may well lead to something more like the original interim map for the 2014 elections. (Assuming the Voting Rights Act hasn’t been gutted by SCOTUS, in which case all bets are off.) HD17 is more attainable, and less likely to be significantly changed between now and then. But either way, it’s a good bit of recruitment news for the Democrats. Postcards has more.

Which helps somewhat to balance out the bad news.

Rep. J. M. Lozano (D – Alice) has decided to switch to the Republican Party and will file for reelection as a Republican in HD 43 this week. George P. Bush was instrumental in his recruitment, and Governor Perry, Speaker Straus, and other GOP officials have contacted him and welcomed him to the party. A press conference is in the works for this week.

Lozano’s HD43 was redrawn by the court as a tossup/lean Dem district:

McCain Obama Cornyn Noriega Wainwright Houston ===================================================== 51.45 47.94 46.90 50.69 42.24 54.68

Lozano has since confirmed Miller’s scoop. Not clear to me that he’s any better off as an R than as a D, but one would think that as an incumbent he’s better placed than anyone else. Lozano was unopposed in the 2010 general election after knocking off the scandal-plagued Tara Rios Ybarra in the primary; Ybarra had in turn defeated Juan Escobar in 2008, with some help from the Craddick machine. All I can say is that if this report is true, I hope someone is on the phone talking to Escobar about taking another run at his old office.

What we lost in the wildfires

It’s going to take a long time to recover from the fires.

The fire burned through the heart of the Lost Pines area, a unique ecological island encompassing some 64,000 acres of loblolly pine, the westernmost stands of the great pine forest originally carpeting the southeastern United States.

Incinerated, too, was the largest single tract of remaining habitat of the Houston toad, an endangered amphibian whose survival is tied to the habitat beneath the pine canopy.

Much of that Houston toad habitat sat on 6,000-acre Bastrop State Park, one of the oldest, most popular and profitable Texas parks. All but about 100 acres of the tract was consumed by the fire.

The park, which opened in 1937, has been “a real diamond in our system,” said Mike Cox, spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It attracts up to a quarter-million visitors a year, placing it in the top 10 most visited sites in the 95-unit state park system, and has been one of only a handful of state parks that generated more visitor revenue than it cost to run.


How, when and even if the three recover to anything like their pre-fire status remains uncertain.

“The amount of destruction, to humans and the land … I’m stunned and shocked at the scale of it,” said Michael Forstner, a Texas State University biology professor and expert on the Houston toad who has spent time in the burned areas over the past week.

“It’s an incredible loss to Texas on many levels. On a personal level, it’s like losing an old friend,” Claire Williams, distinguished scholar at the Forest History Society at Duke University and a former professor of forestry at Texas A&M University, said about the Lost Pines’ forest.


Whatever way the forest regenerates – from intense plantings by humans or natural regeneration – it will be many years before the area resembles the Lost Pines that generations of Texans enjoyed and on which generations of Houston toads depended.

“It takes 10 to 15 years for a (pine) seedling to begin bearing,” Williams said. It takes 30 years or more for a pine, which can live as long as 300 to 400 years, to reach the size of what most consider a modestly “mature” tree.

“It’ll be decades before we know all the impacts of this fire on the Lost Pines,” Forstner said. “Nature is resilient. But, right now, it’s a very real tragedy for everybody and everything it touched.”

It’s all very sad. You wish there was something you could do to help, but there isn’t. Whatever healing there is will happen on its own, and on its own schedule.

Our gay state

Is getting gayer, according to the Census.

It’s no secret that Austin and Central Texas have much appeal for same-sex couples, but new census data from 2010 underscore the depth and breadth of the attraction. Among the highlights from an American-Statesman analysis of the data:

• Travis County has the state’s highest rate — 1.25 percent, more than twice the statewide average — of households describing themselves as led by same-sex couples. There were about 5,000 same-sex households in Travis County in 2010, a 69 percent increase since 2000.

Travis County’s percentage of same-sex couple households ranks 13th among U.S. counties with at least 200,000 households, according to City of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson. Travis ranked 10th nationally in percentage of lesbian couple households.

• The percentage of same-sex couple households in Austin also grew since 2000 and was even higher than the county’s — 1.28 percent of the city’s 324,892 households were led by same-sex couples in 2010. Those 4,182 same-sex couples were split almost evenly between male couples and female couples.

• Growth among same-sex couple households extended to the four other counties which make up the Austin metropolitan area — Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays and Williamson — expanding on a trend noted across the country after the 2000 census, which found more same-sex couples living in suburban communities outside traditional urban enclaves.

Like Travis, other metro area counties exceeded the statewide average for same-sex couple households and had gains from 2000 ranging from 52 percent in Caldwell to 146 percent in Hays and 170 percent in Williamson, where the overall population increased 69 percent since 2000. Hays’ total population grew 61 percent since 2000.

Bastrop County ranked third, and Hays County fourth, among Texas counties with at least 4,300 households.

You should see the accompanying graphic of growth by county for more information. The greater Houston area saw considerable growth as well, with Montgomery and Fort Bend Counties registering in the 101-300% range, while Galveston, Brazoria, Liberty, and Waller Counties were in the 51-100% group. Harris and Chambers grew at “only” 1 to 50%, which is obviously too big a range to judge whether those scare quotes are needed. Please note that a high growth rate may be simply a function of a very low starting point. Going from one to three represents 200% growth, after all. Also, as the story notes, the growth may really be a reflection of how many such households are willing to identify themselves as such. Anyway, just another dimension to the diversity of Texas to think about.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 1

Here’s the first post in my series of analyses of the new districts. I’m using 2008 electoral data, since the next election is a Presidential year, and I feel confident that the districts were drawn with an eye strongly towards protecting Republican gains in such a year. Without further ado, here we go.


District: 12

Incumbent: None

Counties: McLennan (part), Limestone, Falls, Robertson, Brazos (part)

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 46.67%

This district contains parts of Jim Dunnam’s old district, with the eastern part of the old HD57 being chopped off and reconstituted to accommodate Marva Beck. Lack of an incumbent is a big part of the draw here. A big downside is the eight point spread from the top of the ticket – neither Obama nor Noriega cracked 40% – to the Sam Houston number, which suggests that any Democratic candidate may have to swim against the tide. Lack of an incumbent also means you can’t accuse the other guy of voting to gut public education. Not a top priority, and may never be on the radar, but deserves a decent candidate for the first go-round at least.


District: 17

Incumbent: Tim Kleinschmidt (first elected in 2008)

Counties: Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 48.27% (plurality)

Big change in this district, which used to contain Burleson, Colorado, Fayette, and parts of Brazos. Basically, it shifted south. Bastrop is the population center, and it was a purple county in 2008, with Strawn and Sam Houston scoring pluralities there. The more it becomes an Austin suburb a la Hays and Williamson, the better the prospects for a win. This district was on the radar for Dems in 2008 as an open D seat and in 2010, and I expect it will continue to be.

HDs 32 and 34

District: 32
District: 34

Incumbent: Todd Hunter (HD32, first elected in 2008); Raul Torres and Connie Scott (HD34, first elected in 2010)

Counties: Nueces

Best Dem performance in 2008: For HD32, Sam Houston, 46.20%. For HD34, Sam Houston, 58.83%

HD32 can charitably be described as a reach if Hunter runs for re-election. Nueces County has been trending away from the Democrats, the three counties that were removed from HD32 (Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio) were a net winner for Juan Garcia, whom Hunter defeated in 2008, and Hunter has done very well both in terms of fundraising and moving up the ladder in his two terms. However, it’s the worst kept secret in the state that Hunter wants to run for Congress, and if that map is at all favorable to him this seat may be open in 2012. So keep that in the back of your mind.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure why Torres and Scott were paired, unless they were considered to be hopeless cases for salvation. This is the more Democratic part of Nueces, with all Dems in 2008 winning a majority, up to 20 points in their favor downballot. This has got to be one of the easiest pickup opportunities for the Dems in 2012.


District: 35

Incumbent: Jose Aliseda (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Atascosa, LaSalle, McMullen, Live Oak, Bee, San Patricio, Duval

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 50.77%

Republicans have been trying to carve out a South Texas district for themselves for awhile, and this one may be their best shot going forward. The good news for them is that McCain and Cornyn scored solid wins in 2008, with McCain getting nearly 55% and Cornyn 51%. The bad news is that Dems carried the rest of the races, with Houston, Strawn, and Linda Yanez all getting majorities. Aliseda got into one of the more entertaining kerfuffles during the House debate over HB150; I don’t know if he got what he wanted or not, but what he got is a very swingy district that may be a battleground through the decade.


District: HD41

Incumbent: Aaron Pena (first elected as a Democrat in 2002, switched parties after the 2010 election)

Counties: Hidalgo (part)

Best Dem performance in 2008: Sam Houston, 60.15%

I can’t think of a single seat the Democrats would like to win more than this one. Technically, Pena is the incumbent in HD40, and Veronica Gonzales is the incumbent in HD41, but as the Legislative Study Group noted:

CSHB150 also radically changes Hidalgo County districts in an effort to squeeze a partisan performing district out of the existing population. The incumbent in HD 40 would only represent 1.5 % of his current district, and the incumbent in HD 41 would only represent 1.1 % of her district. The gerrymandered map in Hidalgo County takes great pains to draw the incumbents in HD 40 and 41 into almost entirely new districts, narrowing down to one city block at times.

For this reason, the district numbers were swapped, thus giving Pena and Gonzales most of their previous constituents back. Despite being on the Redistricting Committee and drawing what one presumes was the best map he could for himself, Pena isn’t exactly sitting pretty. The low score among Democrats was Obama’s 54.83%, with everyone but Jim Jordan getting at least 56%. Do his constituents love him enough to overcome the party label or not? Assuming he does run for re-election, that is.

Peña said he is in employment negotiations with a law firm that would require him to move out of the Valley. If he does take the job, he said, he won’t seek office in 2012.

In other words, he’s got a graceful way out if he decides that he can’t win his custom-designed district. We’ll find out soon enough. More non-urban areas coming up next.

The Census and Central Texas

While much of the focus post-Census will be on redistricting, the data it contains is fascinating and illuminating in its own right, absent any political context. This story about explosive growth in former small towns around Austin that now serve as its suburbs is a good read. A couple of points:

The total population in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties grew to 1,716,289, an increase of 37 percent since 2000. But it was the suburbs that provided some of the more eye-popping gains.

While Austin grew by 20.4 percent during the past decade to 790,390, remaining the state’s fourth-largest city , the suburbs grew at even faster rates:

• Hutto grew by 1,076 percent. Only the city of Fate, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, grew faster in the past decade .

• South of Austin, Kyle added 22,702 residents, a 427 percent increase, as it became the retail hub of northern Hays County, and nearby Buda grew by more than 200 percent.

• Pflugerville shed its pastoral history to add 30,000 residents, a 187 percent increase, and Manor exploded by 318 percent.

• Even Uhland, a gem east of Kyle on the Hays-Caldwell county line, nearly tripled its 2000 population – from 386 to 1,014 – and was the state’s 36th fastest-growing city.

The population booms offer some measures of prosperity but present challenges as well. Cities like Buda, once known as much for its antique shops as the cafes on Main Street, already are dealing with the impact of both. During the past decade, Buda incorporated 1,790 acres and added nearly 5,000 residents. New subdivisions and retail developments abound.

I’ve made this point before, but the smaller your starting population, the easier it is to have a huge growth rate. Houston grew by only 7.5 percent since 2000, but that represents nearly 150,000 people, which is more than twice as much as the total increase for Hutto, Kyle, Pflugerville, Uhland, and Buda combined. Rate isn’t everything.

Metro area residents have long offered a wide range of theories for the growth of the suburbs, from the availability and attractiveness of bigger homes for the buck in cities like Pflugerville and Kyle to the forces of gentrification that are pricing some longtime Central Austin residents out of their homes.

Lloyd Potter, the state’s official demographer and the director of the Texas State Data Center, said dramatic growth in the Austin metro area was consistent with statewide patterns .

“If you look at the urban areas from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston and Harris County and all the way from Williamson to Bexar County, you see this little cluster of counties that are growing quite rapidly,” Potter said.

The state demographer attributed slightly more than half the growth to net births and the rest to newcomers.

“Certainly, it implies there’s growing economic opportunity, and with that you see this dispersion of the populace outward from these urban centers,” he said.

But the dramatic rise in suburban counties can also be traced to something more pragmatic – the availability of those wide open spaces on which to build, Potter said.

So while Travis County had healthy growth, “most of Travis is built out,” he said. “With Hays and Williamson, there’s land that is developable.”

That’s true, but here’s the thing: It’s also true about a number of Texas’ big cities, especially Houston. I spend 90% or more of my life inside the Loop, but I still see plenty of open spaces, and spaces with vacant buildings. There’s less than there used to be – twenty years ago, Midtown was a big nothing – but there’s still a lot, especially east of 288/59. And in the coming months, we’ll see the political consequences of seeing all this population shift to the suburbs. Without going off on a long rant about urbanism, it’s vital for cities like Houston to think long and hard about investing in their infrastructure to ensure that they can keep up with population growth and shifts. This also means ensuring that our development regulations make sense, including parking requirements, and that they allow and encourage dense development where they should. It’s not just about growing the tax base, it’s about maintaining our voice in the Legislature and in Congress. If we’re not keeping up, we’re falling behind. For more on this and other Census-related stories, go see Greg.