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Bill White

Already projecting ahead to November turnout

Some in the political chattering class think the end results in Harris County this yearwon’t be all that different than what we’ve seen before.

Harris County may be awash in Democratic hopefuls for the upcoming primary elections, but don’t expect that enthusiasm to translate into another blue wave this fall.

Yes, local demographics are slowly pushing the region further left, and President Donald Trump – who dragged down the Republican ticket here two years ago – gives progressives a ready campaign talking point. Democrats also point to their nearly full primary slate as evidence of newfound strength.

It is unlikely those factors will be enough, however, to counteract Republicans’ longtime advantage in Harris County midterms, political scientists and consultants said. Not only do local conservatives turn out more consistently in non-presidential years, but Republicans also have the benefit of popular state- and countywide incumbents on the ballot, advantages made only more powerful by straight-ticket voting in November.

“There is a very slow, but steady demographic shift that will favor Democrats. I don’t know if it’s enough this year for a gubernatorial cycle,” Democratic strategist Grant Martin said.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones agreed.

“Greg Abbott represents a red seawall here in Texas that I think will in many ways blunt the anti-Trump wave, and in doing so help hundreds of down-ballot Republican candidates across the state achieve victory,” he said.


Fewer than 54,000 Harris County voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary four years ago, compared to nearly 140,000 in the Republican primary. Come November, Republicans dominated down the ballot.

Though primary turnout certainly is not predictive of November performance, it can be, as University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus put it, “a good pulse check.”

Rottinghaus said he anticipates Democrats will perform better locally than they did in 2014, but still come up short in most local races, in large part because of their turnout problem.

“You’re definitely going to find a narrowed margin for most of these offices,” Rottinghaus said. Still, he added, “it would be hard to unseat the natural advantage Republicans have in the midterm.”

I feel like there are a lot of numbers thrown around in the story but without much context to them. Take the primary turnout totals, for instance. It’s true that Republicans drew a lot more people to the polls in March than the Democrats, but their margin in November was considerably less than it was in 2010, when the primary tallies were 101K for Dems and 159K for the GOP. Will anyone revise their predictions for November if the March turnout figures don’t fit with this “pulse check” hypothesis? Put a pin in this for now and we’ll check back later if it’s relevant.

But let’s come back to the November numbers for 2010 and 2014 for a minute. Let’s look at them as a percentage of Presidential turnout from the previous election

   2008 Pres  2010 Lt Gov    Share
R    571,883      431,690    75.5%
D    590,982      329,129    55.7%

   2012 Pres  2014 Lt Gov    Share
R    586,073      340,808    58.2%
D    587,044      317,241    54.0%

I’m using the Lt. Governor race here because of the significant number of crossover votes Bill White – who you may recall won Harris County – received in the Governor’s race. He did so much better than all the other Dems on the ticket that using his results would skew things. Now 2010 was clearly off the charts. If the share of the Presidential year vote is a measure of intensity, the Republicans had that in spades. I’m pretty sure no one is expecting that to happen again, however, so let’s look at the more conventional year of 2014. The intensity gap was about four points in the Republicans’ favor, but that was enough for them to achieve separation and sweep the downballot races.

What does that have to do with this year? The key difference is that there were a lot more voters in 2016 (1,338,898) than there were in either 2008 (1,188,731) or 2012 (1,204,167), and that the Democratic advantage was also a lot bigger. I’m going to switch my metric here to the 2016 judicial average, since there were even more crossovers for Hillary Clinton than there were for Bill White. In 2016, the average Republican judicial candidate got 606,114 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate got 661,284. That’s a pretty big difference, and it has implications for the intensity measure. To wit:

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 55.7%, which is what it was in 2010, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 368,335.

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 54.0%, which is what it was in 2014, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 357,093.

Well guess what? If Republican intensity is at 58.2%, which is what it was in 2014, then the Rs should expect a base vote of about 352,758. Which, you might notice, is less than what the Democrats would expect. In order to match the Democratic base, Rs would need 60.8% to equal the former total, and 58.9% for the latter.

In other words, if intensity levels are exactly what they were in 2014, Democrats should expect to win most countywide races. Republicans will need to be more intense than they were in 2014 just to keep up. And if Democratic intensity is up, say at 60%? That’s a base of 396,770, and it would require a Republican intensity level of 65.5% to equal it.

Where did this apparent Democratic advantage come from? Very simply, from more registered voters. In 2016, there were 2,182,980 people registered in Harris County, compared to 1,942,566 in 2012 and 1,892,731 in 2008. I’ve noted this before, but it’s important to remember that while turnout was up in an absolute sense in 2016 over 2012 and 2008, it was actually down as a percentage of registered voters. It was just that there were so many more RVs, and that more than made up for it. And by the way, voter registration is higher today than it was in 2016.

Now none of this comes with any guarantees. Democratic intensity could be down from 2010 and 2014. Republicans could be more fired up than we think they will be, in particular more than they were in 2014. My point is that at least one of those conditions will need to hold true for Republicans to win Harris County this year. If you think that will happen, then you need to explain which of those numbers are the reason for it.

Oh, and that “red seawall” that Greg Abbott represents? Republicans may have swept the races in 2014, but they didn’t actually dominate. 2010, where they were winning the county by 12-16 points in most races, that was domination. Abbott got 51.41% in 2014 and won by a bit less than four and a half points. Which was enough, obviously, but isn’t exactly a big cushion. Like I said, the Republicans will have to improve on 2014 to stay ahead. Can they do that? Sure, it could happen, and I’d be an idiot to say otherwise. Will it happen? You tell me, and account for these numbers when you do.

Pension bond sales proceed

But it was close, which both boggles my mind and annoys the ever-loving crap out of me.

The City of Houston can move forward with its plan to sell $1 billion in bonds on Friday as part of Mayor Sylvester Turner’s landmark pension reform passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year, a judge ruled.

State District Judge Mark Morefield on Thursday denied a request by former city housing department director James Noteware for a temporary restraining order to delay the issuance of the bonds.

The request for the restraining order was part of a lawsuit filed last Friday by Noteware, who alleges the city misled voters into approving the bonds so it could sidestep a voter-approved limit on how much property tax revenue Houston can collect. Noteware claims the ballot language was “materially misleading” and did not include wording to indicate the taxes levied to pay off the bonds would be exempted from the 13-year-old revenue cap.

City officials say the language cited by Noteware is boilerplate included to assure bondholders that the city would meet its obligations.


Morefield said there were “substantial” concerns regarding the legality of the ballot measure, but that he ultimately agreed with the city’s argument that delaying the issuance would significantly damage Houston’s standing among creditors and bondholders.

“I think we’re just too far down the road at this point in time to stop this train,” Morefield said. “The mayor and City Council are heavily invested in this. And this thing is going to go forward.

“They may have to pay a heavy consequence for it going forward,” he added.

See here for the background. The sale has been completed, so at least that’s one rabbit hole we won’t go down. Let me see if I can sum up all the reasons I am gobsmacked by this.

1. As a reminder, the city was only obligated to put the bond sale to a vote because that was a provision in the Senate bill that required it. Mayor Bill White sold pension obligation bonds for five years without anyone demanding a vote. The reason we voted is because Paul Bettencourt insisted on it. What does he have to say about this?

2. Proposition A passed with 77% of the vote. There was essentially no opposition to it – conservative groups like the C Club endorsed it, while the Harris County Republican Party declined to take a position. Nobody raised any objections to the ballot language, which was approved by Council in August, and nobody made this case about the stupid revenue cap before the election.

3. Specifically, James Noteware appears to have taken no action regarding Prop A before the election. Go ahead and do a Google News search on him – there’s nothing relevant to this before he filed his lawsuit. He couldn’t be bothered to put out a press release, or throw up a webpage, to outline his objections before the vote. Yet here he comes afterwards to overturn a valid election that no one had any problems with because he didn’t like the pension deal?

4. I mean, there are issues with the whole referendum system, but look: Mayor Turner won an election in 2015 on a promise to get the Legislature to pass a bill to reform the city’s pension system. Our elected legislators passed such a bill. Our elected Council members ratified that agreement, then voted to put the required bond measure on the ballot, which the voters then overwhelmingly approved. What the actual hell are we doing here? Why does none of this matter?

deep breath Anyway. I hope we get a future story that includes some quotes from legal experts who can analyze the merits of the lawsuit and its likelihood of success going forward. I can rant all I want but it’s in the hands of the judges now. Lord help us all. The Mayor’s press release has more.

At some point we will be able to stop talking about who may run for Governor as a Democrat

That day is December 11. I am looking forward to it.

Andrew White

With less than a month before the filing deadline, the most prominent declared candidate for Texas governor is probably Andrew White, the son of former governor Mark White. White, a self-described “very conservative Democrat,” has never run for elected office and holds views on abortion likely to alienate some Democratic primary voters. (He says he wants to “increase access to healthcare and make abortion rare.”) In a November 2 Facebook post, Davis — a major figure in the state’s reproductive justice scene — called White “anti-choice” and summarized her reaction to his candidacy: “Uhh — no. Just no.”

For lieutenant governor, mild-mannered accountant Mike Collier — who lost a run for comptroller last cycle by 21 percentage points — is challenging Dan Patrick, one of the state’s most effective and well-funded conservative firebrands. Attorney General Ken Paxton, who will be fighting his securities fraud indictment during campaign season, drew a largely unheard-of Democratic opponent last week in attorney Justin Nelson, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Candidate filing officially opened Saturday and ends December 11, but candidates who haven’t declared are missing opportunities for fundraising, building name recognition and organizing a campaign.

“Texas Democrats have quite clearly thrown in the towel for 2018,” said Mark P. Jones, a Rice University political scientist. “People truly committed to running would already be running; [the party] may be able to cajole, coerce or convince some higher-profile candidates to run, but with every passing day that’s less likely.”

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced last week that she’s considering a gubernatorial run, but her staff refused further comment and Valdez has yet to file. Whoever faces off with Governor Greg Abbott will be staring down a $41 million war chest.

Democratic party officials insist more candidates are forthcoming: “We’ve taken our punches for withholding the names of who we’re talking to,” said Manny Garcia, deputy director with the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s been personally frustrating to me because I know who we’re talking to and I know they’re exciting people.”

Castro agreed with Garcia: “I do believe that before the filing deadline you’re going to see people stepping up to run,” he told the Observer.

The lone bright spot on the statewide slate, said Jones, is Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman taking on Ted Cruz. Highlighting the value of announcing early, O’Rourke has raised an impressive $4 million since March off mostly individual donations.

“Like in Battlestar Galactica, O’Rourke is Battlestar Galactica and then there’s this ragtag fleet of garbage ships and transports accompanying him,” Jones said of the current Democratic lineup, noting that even O’Rourke was a second-string option to Congressman Joaquín Castro.

Look, either Manny Garcia is right and we’ll be pleasantly surprised come December 12, or he’s being irrationally exuberant and we’ll all enjoy some gallows humor at his expense. Yeah, it would be nice to have a brand-name candidate out there raising money and his or her profile right now, but how much does two or three months really matter? Bill White was still running for a Senate seat that turned out not to be available at this time in 2009; he didn’t officially shift to Governor until the first week of December. If there is a candidate out there that will broadly satisfy people we’ll know soon enough; if not, we’ll need to get to work for the candidates we do have. Such is life.

In other filing news, you can see the 2018 Harris County GOP lineup to date here. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the HCDP has no such publicly available list at this time. You can see some pictures of candidates who have filed on the HCDP Facebook page, but most of those pictures have no captions and I have no idea who some of those people are. The SOS primary filings page is useless, and the TDP webpage has nothing, too. As for the Harris County GOP, a few notes:

– State Rep. Kevin Roberts is indeed in for CD02. He’s alone in that so far, and there isn’t a candidate for HD126 yet.

– Marc Cowart is their candidate for HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large, the seat being vacated by Diane Trautman.

– So far, Sarah Davis is the only incumbent lucky enough to have drawn a primary challenger, but I expect that will change.

That’s about it for anything interesting. There really aren’t any good targets for them beyond that At Large HCDE seat, as the second edge of the redistricting sword is really safe seats for the other party, since you have to pack them in somewhere. Feel free to leave any good speculation or innuendo in the comments.

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.

2017 EV daily report: Day 8, and one more look at a way to guess turnout

Here are the numbers through Monday. Now that we are in the second week of early voting, when the hours each day are 7 to 7, these reports arrive in my inbox later in the evening. Here are the daily totals from previous years:






And here’s a select comparison:

Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
2017   24,442   8,201   32,643   21,320
2015   73,905  23,650   97,555   43,279
2011   23,621   4,958   28,579   14,609
2007   19,250   4,353   23,603   13,589

The first Monday of Week 2 was busier than all preceding days, by a lot in 2015 and by a little in 2011 and 2007. Each day after that was busier still. This year, the second Monday was less busy than Thursday and Friday last week. I suspect an Astros hangover from Sunday night may have had something to do with that – Lord knows, traffic on I-45 in the morning and in the downtown tunnels at lunchtime were both eerily mild – in which case we ought to see more of an uptick going forward.

As for the other way of guessing turnout, which would be my third model for thinking about it, we have the May 2004 special city charter election, called by Mayor White to make adjustments to the pension funds, in the immediate aftermath of reports that recent changes had greatly increased the city’s financial obligations. A total of 86,748 people showed up for that election. I seriously doubt we’ll approach that, but my initial guesses on turnout for this year before I started looking at any data were 50,000 to 75,000, so it’s not ridiculously out of the question. Let’s file this one away for next May, when we may have to vote on the firefighter’s pay parity proposal.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – City of Houston

Let’s continue our survey of campaign finance reports with reports from the city of Houston.

Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
Turner     520,430  138,068         0  1,643,519

Stardig     59,470   36,402         0    102,289
Davis        5,500   13,231         0    147,050
Cohen        5,000    8,382         0     63,120
Boykins     93,839   40,547         0     57,358
Martin      20,092    8,221         0    106,427
Le          12,250    1,788    31,823      1,951
Travis      51,751   25,051    76,000     51,109
Cisneros    24,043    5,203         0     25,336
Gallegos    30,600    7,048         0     50,366
Laster      31,650    8,104         0    170,714
Green       17,150   39,770         0     84,627

Knox        21,185   13,373         0     23,149
Robinson    63,850   14,932         0     92,520
Kubosh      26,725   17,388   276,000     30,557
Edwards     73,843   31,295         0    144,198
Christie    33,090   20,323         0     31,458

Brown       59,220   19,494         0     79,101

HHRC        55,000   47,500         0     23,250
HTPR         3,625    1,652         0      3,624

As we now know, there will be no city elections of the non-referendum kind on the ballot this November. That would be one reason why there are no reports from anyone who has not already been a candidate. Only a couple of the reports belong to people who are not current or term-limited officeholders. These are folks like Bill Frazer, and none of them have any cash on hand worth mentioning. Actually, there is one person who may be of interest here, and that’s Helena Brown, who could run again in District A to succeed Brenda Stardig. Brown has $18,911.19 on hand, which would not be a bad start if she were so inclined.

I don’t want to dwell too much on this, but had the State Supreme Court dropped an election on us out of the blue, there was basically nobody outside of the current incumbents who have any resources for it. Usually, at this time of an odd numbered year, there are a lot of non-incumbent candidates, mostly circling around the offices that will be vacant. Whether people didn’t think the Supreme Court would take action, or if we were all just in denial about it, there were no candidates out there raising money. In a world where the Supremes had intervened, incumbents and people who can provide at least startup capital for themselves would have had a sizable advantage.

Now for those incumbents. We all knew Mayor Turner could raise money, right? All Houston Mayors can, it kind of comes with the office. Don’t underestimate the resources he could bring to a campaign over the firefighters’ pay parity proposal.

Despite the advantages for incumbents I talked about, four of the seven biggest cash on hand balances belong to those who can’t run – term-limited CMs Starding, Davis, Laster, and Green. Starding in particular makes me wonder what she was up to, raising all that cash this year. Usually, that makes one think maybe she’s looking at her next opportunity to run for something. I have no idea what that might be, but feel free to speculate wildly in the comments. Mike Laster has been mentioned as a county candidate once his time on Council ends. Maybe County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2020? I can speculate wildly too, you know.

I have a couple of PAC reports in there. HHRC is the Houston Heights Restaurant Coalition, gearing up for the next Heights alcohol referendum. HTPR is the Houston Taxpayers for Pension Reform, with Bill King as its Treasurer. Maybe that was for a vote on forcing a switch to defined-contribution system that is not in the works? They didn’t have much activity, and most of their expenditures went to an outfit called PinkCilantro for advertising. Other PACs of note with reports are Campaign for Houston, which I believe was an anti-HERO group from 2015 and have a $50,000 outstanding loan, and Citizens to Keep Houston Strong, which belongs to Bill White and which has $56,734.11 on hand.

Finally, two reports from former officeholders. Anne Clutterbuck, who was last a candidate in 2009, filed a final report, to dispose of the remaining funds in her account. She donated the balance – $5,094.55 – to the Hermann Park Conservancy. Last but not least is former Mayor Annise Parker, whose account still has $126,013.31 on hand. She may or may not run for County Judge next year – she has talked about it but so far has taken no action – and if she does that’s her starter’s kit. I’ll have more reports in the coming days.

Do we really have to have a pension bond vote?

So as we know, the Houston pension reform bill that passed contains a provision that requires a vote on the pension obligation bonds that Mayor Turner intends to float as a down payment. Pension obligation bonds have been floated in the past, by Mayor White, without a vote, but for whatever the reason some members of the Senate insisted on it, so here we are. Now it turns out that with interest rates likely to increase later in the year, waiting till after a vote in November to float the bonds will cost the city millions in extra payments. You would think the responsible thing to do would be to float them now while it’s less expensive, and so Mayor Turner has suggested that as a possibility.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner did not rule out Wednesday issuing the $1 billion in bonds that are central to his pension reform deal without a public referendum, a move that would sidestep a hotly debated requirement the Legislature added to ensure passage of the city-negotiated plan.

Turner said he and his staff are proceeding as though there will be a referendum, but the mayor said he may seek to issue the bonds without a vote if he can gain consensus among City Council members, state lawmakers and others that moving more quickly would benefit the city.

Specifically, he referenced the benefit of preempting an anticipated jump in interest rates. Waiting six to nine months to issue the bonds, the city finance department estimates, could cost taxpayers $135 million to $273 million more over the life of the debt.

“I find it highly unlikely that anything is going to take place other than the vote in November, and that’s how we’re proceeding,” Turner said. “If we can all agree on a certain course and it may be able to expedite things, then we’ll do that.

“I’m talking about agreement with everybody. We’ve come this far with everybody, both on the local levels as well as on the state level and my approach is to always move in collaboration with everyone. But if not, then we’ll proceed with the vote.”


Though much of the rhetoric surrounding the bill during legislative debates referenced that voters would have a chance to weigh in, the mayor’s team simply points to the text of the legislation as proof that they can proceed without a vote.

Current state law requires only that City Council enter into agreements with the pension funds that are to receive the bond proceeds – in this case, the police and municipal workers’ pension funds – in order to issue the bonds. The reform legislation adds the referendum requirement, but also states that the referendum provision applies only to those agreements signed on or after the effective date of the bill, which is July 1.

Turner plans to bring those agreements to council June 21, city officials said. Though adopting them would in no way obligate the city to issue the bonds without a vote, doing so would preserve that option.

Now you’d think the prospect of saving a couple hundred million bucks would appeal to pretty much everyone, but at the mere mention of this, several self-styled fiscal conservatives immediately contracted the vapors – seriously, CM Mike Knox walked out of the committee hearing upon being presented with this – so that would seem to scuttle the “if everyone is on the same page” possibility. And indeed, Mayor Turner has now walked back the idea and reassured everyone that we will indeed have a referendum, whatever the eventual cost may be. I get that not having a vote when everyone thought there was going to be a vote seems bait-and-switch-y, but 1) having a vote was not a requirement until people like Paul Bettencourt made it a requirement, and 2) interest rates are gonna go up, so it’s going to be more expensive to wait. But a deal’s a deal, so here we are. Hope everyone’s happy.

Bathroom bills and business interests

Texas Monthly’s Dave Mann reviews the Republican schism over the bathroom bill and comes to the same conclusion as I have.

At the moment, the Legislature—and the Republican party, for that matter—has settled into an uneasy stalemate between Patrick’s right-leaning Senate and Straus’s more moderate coalition in the House. But, as they say, stalemates are made to be broken, and right now, Patrick’s faction seems likely to prevail eventually. It has the support of the most-devoted Republican primary voters, many of whom view moderation or compromise as surrender.

So business leaders and their Republican allies are in a precarious position. They still have a power base in the House, because Straus and his leadership team have fended off several challenges from the right, but he won’t be speaker forever. This session is his fifth leading the House, tying the record for longest-serving speaker with Pete Laney and Gib Lewis. Whenever he departs, Straus could well be replaced by a more conservative figure. So the talk among business Republicans in Austin’s bars and restaurants these days is about how they can reverse their losses and reclaim their party.

Well, good luck with that. The Republican grass roots aren’t going to moderate themselves, and it seems likely that business-friendly Republicans will continue to lose primaries, especially in statewide races. As long as that dynamic remains, the Republican party won’t be tilting back toward the middle anytime soon.

But there is another political party. Remember that one? It’s been stripped down and left to rust for the past two decades. But the Texas Democratic party is still there, waiting for someone to gas it up and take it for a spin.

That’s just what big-business interests should do. The TAB and any number of influential corporations could easily take over the party by recruiting and funding candidates to run as Democrats. It would be a homecoming of sorts; after all, years ago, before the state flipped to the GOP, business-friendly Republicans were conservative Democrats.

The problem with this idea is that Democrats can’t win in Texas at the moment. Sure, big business could take over the Democratic party, but what good would it do? Except the goal here isn’t to suddenly flip the state back to the Democrats. No, the goal would simply be to make Democrats somewhat more competitive, especially in statewide races. They don’t necessarily have to win, just get close enough to scare Republicans and perhaps nudge the GOP back toward moderation.

Republican primaries might turn out differently if there was the threat of a tight race in the general election—and that threat could be more credible in 2018 than it has been in years, with many pundits expecting the national mood to favor Democrats by then. Would Abbott strike a more moderate tone if he knew a well-funded pro-business Democrat was waiting for him in the 2018 general? Part of the business lobby’s problem with Patrick is that it has no way to threaten him. He’s untouchable in a Republican primary, and his general election campaigns have been cakewalks. But if, say, a conservative Democrat, backed by big-business money, opposed him in 2018, that might lead Patrick to moderate just a bit. Similarly, if the GOP once again nominated social conservatives with questionable credentials—like Attorney General Ken Paxton, currently under indictment, or Sid Miller, the agriculture commissioner famous for traveling out of state for his “Jesus shot”—for statewide offices, they’d at least have a challenging race in the fall. And just maybe the specter of a formidable Democratic opponent would lead to a more robust debate within the Republican party, rather than simply a mass rush to the right.

While I agree with Mann in the aggregate, there are several places where I disagree. For one thing, I don’t know what he means by a “conservative” Democrat, but I do know that Democratic primary voters aren’t going to be interested in that. Discussions like this often get bogged down in semantics and everyone’s personal definitions of words like “liberal” and “conservative”, but I think we can all agree that a Democratic candidate who is “conservative” (or just relatively “conservative” for a Democrat) in the social issues sense is going to be extremely controversial. It’s not like Democrats haven’t tried the approach of soft-pedaling such items in recent elections – see, for example, Wendy Davis’ muteness on abortion and her flipflop on open carry in 2014 – it’s just that there’s little to no evidence that it has helped them any. Maybe nothing could have helped them in those elections, but in the Trump era where everyone is fired up with the spirit of resistance, it’s really hard to see how this approach would do anything but piss people off.

I also dispute the assertion that the threat of a close race will make Republicans more likely to choose the less-extreme, more “electable” candidate in their primaries. For Exhibit A, see Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. Surely Bill White was a credible threat to them that year, but Rick Perry’s successful strategy was the exact opposite of striking a more “moderate” tone. The only thing that might convince Republican primary voters to try something different will be sustained electoral failure. To say the least, we are not there yet.

What I would recommend for Democrats like Mike Collier and Beto O’Rourke and whoever might emerge to challenge Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton is to approach the business community by reminding them that we already broadly agree on a number of core matters – quality public and higher education, better infrastructure, sanity on immigration, non-discrimination – and where we may disagree on things like taxes and regulations, the Lege will still be Republican. What you get with, say, a Democratic Lt. Governor is a hedge against self-inflicted stupidity of the SB6 and “sanctuary cities” variety. You will get someone who will listen to reason and who will be persuaded by evidence. From the business community’s perspective, this is a better deal than what they have now, and a better deal than any they’re likely to get in the near future. For there to be a chance for that to happen, it will take Democratic candidates that a fired-up base can and will support, plus the willingness of the business community to recognize the hand they’ve been dealt. The ball is in their court.

Smoke-free Houston, ten years later

From the inbox:

It’s been 50 years since the release of the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health and the harmful consequences from the use of tobacco. 2016 marks the 10th year of the adoption of Ordinance No. 2006-1054 prohibiting indoor smoking in Houston public areas and places of employment. Individuals could no longer smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces or within 25 feet of a building entrance and exit.

So, where are we now, ten years later?

The Houston Health Department has compiled a brief of the ordinance impact on Houston heath and economy, describing successes and future challenges ahead.

Here is what I blogged about the ordinance at the time. There was a social media campaign going on to promote this anniversary. It began on November 7, the day before the election when everyone was sure to tune into such a campaign, and it culminated on November 17, which is the date of the annual Great American Smokeout. Timing issues aside, the document linked at the top of this post is worth perusing. Fewer people are smoking in Houston, though we are not yet at the goal envisioned by this law, and there are measurable health benefits as a result. I certainly prefer this world to the one we used to live in.

Anyway. The Go Healthy Houston Facebook page is where you will see some of the social media stuff. There are concerns about e-cigarettes, which are becoming popular with the kids, and which are currently exempt from existing anti-smoking laws because e-cigs didn’t exist at the time those laws were passed. I’ve noted this before, and I’ll say again that I won’t be surprised if this eventually makes its way before Council for a tune-up on the no-smoking ordinance. There was legislation proposed in 2015 to ban the sale of e-cigs to minors, but none of the bills in question made it through. This too may come up again in 2017, not that it will be a priority. In the meantime, go visit a park or restaurant and enjoy the smoke-free air around you. It’s so much better this way.

Mayor Turner announces pension fund deal

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Negotiators for the City, the Houston Police Officers’ Pension System, the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund and the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System have developed Preliminary Points of Understanding on a structural approach to long term, sustainable, defined benefit pension reform. Detailed formal plans continue to be developed and will need to be presented to the governing bodies of the three pension systems, City Council and the state legislature for approval.

“This reform accomplishes the objectives I set at the beginning of this process,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “The plan I am outlining today immediately reduces and later eliminates the unfunded pension liability, controls costs going forward, allows us to retain employees and allows us to present to the state legislature a much more united front. It is a budget neutral, 30-year fixed payoff plan that includes significant cost avoidance from what the City would need to pay in the absence of reform. No other plan does this and takes the issue off the table permanently. We will have fully funded, secure, sustainable and affordable defined benefit pension plans that our employees can rely on and our taxpayers will find fiscally responsible.”

With implementation of the changes, the City’s unfunded pension liability immediately drops by $2.5 billion and continues dropping for the next 30 years, at which time it will be paid off. This approach replaces the present practice of restructuring the liability every year with a 30-year closed amortization model that is a pension best practice and a requirement of the City’s financial policies. Just like a fixed rate consumer mortgage, the liability will be paid off at the end of 30 years.

To substantially reduce risk related to market performance and in keeping with the national trend for pension systems, the assumed rate of return on pension investments will be reduced to 7%.

To further stabilize the pension funds, the City will be required to make the full annual contribution to all three pension systems. Payroll contribution rates will be fixed over the 30-year period, providing more predictable budgeting. The proposal cuts the City’s annual obligation to a manageable level and, most important, is budget-neutral while significantly reducing what the City would need to pay to cover the full annual contribution without reforms.

The plan also employs $1 billion in pension obligation bonds for funds that have not received the full annual required contribution from the City in recent years. This will increase the City’s debt, but earnings from pension investments are anticipated to more than offset the borrowing costs.

To ensure the City does not find itself in the same place again, there is a cost-management component. If future market changes cause costs to exceed specified limits, the City and the pension systems will return to the negotiating table to work out adjustments to bring costs back in line. Mayor Turner characterizes this as a cost management corridor that contains a thermostat that must be kept at a set temperature. The thermostat concept is the only point on which all of the parties lack unity. The police and municipal pension systems have gotten comfortable with it, but the firefighter pension system has not, so far. Talks are continuing.

“These points of preliminary understanding are historic in nature because of how impactful they are,” said Mayor Turner. “I have discussed them with numerous stakeholders and key members of the state legislature. The response has been very positive. To my knowledge, no other city in the nation has crafted a plan that addresses the problem in quite the same way. We have a way to solve our pension issues for good, and our approach can serve as a model for other cities.”

There will be changes in employee benefits. They are different for each pension system but, basically, will affect one or more of the following: cost of living adjustments, future benefit accrual rates and the DROP program. More details will be forthcoming once the finer points of negotiation are finalized and the governing bodies of the pension systems consider these agreements.

“These changes are being made in a manner that minimizes the impact on the thousands of police, fire and municipal workers eligible to retire today,” said Turner. “We must retain these employees to continue to serve the residents of this city. I appreciate the pension system representatives who have recognized the status quo must change and have been willing to move away from previously held fixed and non-negotiable positions. The pension systems have also shared more data than ever before and are committed to continue working on the right way to share the data we need to manage our costs going forward. There is still much work to be done, and I know there will be disagreements along the way, but we have come so far since we first began talking seven months ago.”

Mayor Turner has never wavered from his promise to accomplish pension reform while still maintaining defined benefit plans. However, he did have his financial analysts study implementation of defined contribution plans. They found that option would increase immediate costs and provide no financial relief for at least 30 years.

This contribution from City employees is step one of the shared sacrifice model Mayor Turner is asking everyone to help with. He does not expect City employees to shoulder the entire burden. Once pensions are fixed, he intends to ask voters to repeal the revenue cap that handicaps the City’s ability to keep up with the needs of a growing population. No other governmental body in the state has such a restraint.

“I took this job knowing that our City faced difficult public policy challenges,” said Turner. “I promised pothole repairs in record time, and we delivered. We followed that achievement by closing Houston’s biggest budget gap since the Great Recession. We delivered a budget built on sustainable, recurring improvements, and it was adopted by City Council unanimously and in record time. Now, we bring you a solution to Houston’s pension challenge that meets the needs of our City, its employees and its taxpayers. To all concerned, I say you can trust this solution to deliver on our promise of pensions that protect our employees’ retirement security while remaining affordable and sustainable for the City and its taxpayers”

The proposed pension reforms announced today have been discussed with numerous stakeholders and key members of the state legislature with very positive results.

The annoucement of the press conference for this came out just after midnight last night. ABC’s Miya Shay posted news of it on Facebook a couple of hours before then. The actual press release shown above hit may mailbox at 3:45 PM. As the Chron story notes, representatives of the police and municipal employees’ pension funds were there, but no one from the firefighters’ pension fund was in attendance. This press release, which I received maybe ten minutes after the one above, explains why:

The Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (“the Fund”) is continuing to work with the City of Houston, but as yet, no agreement has yet been reached on adjustments to the Fund’s current plan “We have discussed economic changes that would fit within the guidelines set forth by the Mayor. We have also presented issues that are important to us. However, no resolution has been made,” says David Keller, the Fund’s Chairman.

“This has been a challenging process for numerous and various reasons along the way. The HFRRF became the strongest of the three Houston pension funds and one of the most successful in the State by careful deliberation and due diligence. We have been applying the same approach here. Every adjustment proposed was considered based on the impact it would have on the various populations of the membership.”

The Fund began discussions with the City of Houston with the purpose of helping to shape reforms rather than having them imposed by the Legislature. It is the Fund’s goal to resolve issues with no threat to the earned benefits to Houston firefighters. The Fund believes these benefits are part of the total compensation of its members.

The statutes that govern the Fund are thorough and reasonable, employing a sound formula that determines contributions and solid funding. The Fund is one of the best funded public pension plans in the State of Texas. The City of Houston pays only about 20% of the cost of benefits going to retired firefighters with the remaining 80% or so coming from the Fund’s investments over the long term of the Fund’s existence and the firefighters’ own contributions to the Fund.

Still a few things to be worked out, I guess. Even without that, there are still plenty of details to be filled in about how this will work and what legislation will be needed to enable it. As for the pension obligation bonds, Mayor White floated some of them while in office. It would be nice to know whether the experts think that was a good idea or not. In this case, interest rates are sure to be lower than they were then, and this time there will be an overall plan in place for paying down the long-term liability. If this is everything Mayor Turner claims it is, and if all three funds and the Legislature are on board, it’s a huge win and a big item to cross off his to-do list. As always, the devil is in the details, and we’re waiting on those. But it sure does sound promising.

Houston’s anti-pollution ordinance killed by Supreme Court


Bill White

Bill White

In passing two ordinances designed to regulate air pollution, the city of Houston overstepped its authority and illegally subverted state law, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday. The ruling is a victory for a coalition of industrial facilities whose emissions were subject to inspection and possible prosecution by the city.

The case pit the BCCA Appeal Group, a coalition of companies including ExxonMobil, the Dow Chemical Company, and ConocoPhillips, against the city of Houston, which sought to penalize companies in criminal court when those companies violated state emission guidelines.

Attorneys for the city of Houston argued that the city was simply trying to enforce the standards set out by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a state agency, by putting in place a parallel enforcement mechanism that would impose fines on the companies even if the Commission chose not to act.

“If the TCEQ is letting something go, and not enforcing its own standards, there’s something wrong with that,” attorney Robert Higgason told the justices in September.

In an 8–1 ruling Friday, the justices made it clear that they disagreed – saying that if the Commission chose not to enforce any given law, that did not clear the way for Houston authorities to do so.

“By authorizing criminal prosecution even when the TCEQ determines an administrative or civil remedy—or even no penalty at all—to be the appropriate remedy, the City effectively moots the TCEQ’s discretion and the TCEQ’s authority to select an enforcement mechanism,” Justice Paul Green wrote. “This is impermissible.”

See here and here for the origin story, and here and here for the most recent updates. The Chron story adds more.

City Attorney Donna Edmundson issued a statement saying the court’s decision “will not dampen the city’s efforts” to assist the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality with the enforcement of environmental laws. The statement said the city will employ “other legal mechanisms” allowed under state law to monitor and take action against polluters. A spokeswoman said the city hadn’t decided whether to appeal.

Adrian Shelley, executive director of the advocacy group Air Alliance Houston, said the decision was “not the least bit surprising” but dismaying nonetheless.

“It’s pretty in-keeping with both previous judicial decisions and the direction in which our state government is moving,” he said. He cited the state Legislature’s passage of a bill last session that caps the amount local governments can collect through environmental lawsuits, Gov. Greg Abbott’s filing of a brief in support of the industry advocates in this case, and a prior legal case that made its way to the Texas Supreme Court.

“There will be more polluters who pollute with impunity,” Shelley said. “There will be a little poorer public health in the city as a result.”

Houston battled smoggy skies for decades and has failed to comply with federal ozone standards. The 10-county area includes the largest petrochemical complex in the country, hundreds of chemical plants and a bustling port.

Under the ordinances, the city collects registration fees from companies in order to investigate potential violations of air pollution laws.

City officials have defended the ordinances since their passage in 2007, arguing they helped fill an enforcement gap created by understaffing at TCEQ, the state agency responsible for monitoring and punishing polluters.

The city said legal mechanisms it could use against polluters include requesting that TCEQ investigate suspected polluters, seeking injunctive relief and penalties in civil court against suspected violators and notifying TCEQ of violations deemed to be criminal in nature.

Former Mayor Bill White pushed for the ordinances after growing frustrated with TCEQ. He and City Council members voted to amend a 1992 ordinance and start requiring businesses to pay registration fees based on their size and emissions. The fees range from $130 for a dry cleaning plant with fewer than six employees to $3,200 for plants emitting more than 10 tons annually of airborne contaminants.

The ordinances also authorized city health officers to seek civil, administrative and criminal sanctions for violations that can be prosecuted in municipal court, with fines of up to $2,000 per day for repeat violators.

The ordinance was based on the premise that these facilities are outside Houston’s boundaries, but their emissions directly affect the city and its residents, not to mention Houston’s non-compliance with EPA regulations. The Supreme Court wrote that allowing such ordinances might lead to uneven enforcement around the state. I can see the logic of that, but as is so often the case with the TCEQ, if they bothered to enforce the law in the first place, the city wouldn’t have passed that ordinance. It’s the same impetus that drove Denton to ban fracking, and as was the case there, it’s the same impulse to squash inconvenient expressions of local control that led to this result. How long can you hold your breath, Houston? The Press and the Observer have more.

Our partisan Mayoral runoff

I’m shocked, shocked to find that there are partisan interests in the Mayoral runoff.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Even though Houston elections officially are nonpartisan, the contest between Bill King and Sylvester Turner has evolved into a test of party might as voters prepare to elect the Bayou City’s first new mayor in six years.

King has framed the runoff as the choice between a businessman and a career politician, a common appeal by Republican candidates against Democratic incumbents. Trying to paint King as too extreme for Houston, Turner’s campaign has taken to invoking the tea party and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the latter-day bogeymen of the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, the local Republican and Democratic parties have endorsed their favorites and affiliated groups are gearing up their ground games to phone bank and knock on doors for their preferred candidates.

The result is a race without overt party identification, but with all of the trappings of a partisan battlefield.

“We’ve seen across the country the intensity of the partisan division grow,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “It’s not that the overall population has become more partisan and polarized, but people who vote, particularly in a low-turnout election like a Houston mayor runoff, tend to be partisans.”

Murray said he expects turnout to be about 20 percent in the Dec. 12 runoff to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, down from 27 percent on Nov. 3.


Murray said the race is more partisan than usual for city races, attributing the dynamic in part to the equal rights ordinance thought to have brought many conservative Republicans to the polls.

“It’s not surprising that the Democrats particularly, since they have a significant edge in partisanship within the city, would try to make this a partisan race,” Murray said. “And Republicans hope that they can counter and in a low-turnout election get enough of their partisans to go to the polls to squeak out a win.”

I will note that 20% turnout for the runoff will equate to over 190,000 votes, which would be higher turnout than the 2013 or 2009 November races. The 2003 runoff had 220,725 votes, while the 2001 runoff had 326,254 votes. I feel confident saying we won’t reach that level. Both races were D versus R like this one, with Bill White winning by a huge margin in 2003 and Lee Brown squeaking by in 2001. The latter election had “first Latino Mayor of Houston” possibilities (so did the 2003 one, but by then the shine had largely come off of Orlando Sanchez), and it was heavily polarized by race. This runoff certainly won’t reach 2001 levels, and probably won’t reach 2003 levels, but I doubt it will be low enough for it to be particularly favorable to Republicans. I’ll say again, I think for King to win he’s got to blunt Turner’s appeal outside of his African-American base. That was the intent of the Bell endorsement, except that a large number of Bell voters were repulsed by it. The partisans are going to turn out, as they always have in these races. If Democrats of all stripes back Turner, he ought to win. If King can cut into that enough, he can win. That’s how I see it.

And before anyone bemoans all those dirty partisans besmirching their innocent non-partisan city race, please note that there are also significant policy differences between the two. HERO, the revenue cap, and Rebuild Houston are the headliners for that, but the list doesn’t end there. I for one would rather have a Metro Board Chair nominated by Turner than one nominated by King. It’s not like these guys largely agree on things and it’s just a matter of whose flag they fly. Sylvester Turner’s Houston and Bill King’s Houston will be different places. By all means, base your choice on that. From my perspective at least, the two roads lead to the same destination.

Precinct analysis: Mayor’s race

I now have draft canvasses. You know what that means. All data is for Harris County only. First up, the Mayor’s race:

Dist  Hall  Turner  Garcia    King Costello    Bell
A    1,906   4,587   3,509   6,265    1,522   1,129
B    2,494  15,947   2,159     459      259     277
C    2,575  10,951   6,804  12,121    4,894   7,451
D    4,060  17,033   2,637   1,571      702   1,022
E    3,409   4,258   4,831  15,228    2,122   1,745
F    1,189   3,297   2,561   2,428      820     574
G    3,017   5,036   4,076  20,042    4,040   2,787
H    1,194   4,721   7,145   1,585      810   1,119
I    1,237   3,717   6,114   1,327      650     796
J      902   2,151   1,900   1,810      594     598
K    2,777   9,912   2,922   3,022    1,097   1,806
A    9.80%  23.58%  18.04%  32.20%    7.82%   5.80%
B   11.38%  72.75%   9.85%   2.09%    1.18%   1.26%
C    5.64%  24.00%  14.91%  26.56%   10.73%  16.33%
D   14.66%  61.50%   9.52%   5.67%    2.53%   3.69%
E   10.56%  13.19%  14.96%  47.17%    6.57%   5.41%
F    9.79%  27.14%  21.08%  19.99%    6.75%   4.73%
G    7.60%  12.68%  10.27%  50.48%   10.18%   7.02%
H    7.06%  27.93%  42.27%   9.38%    4.79%   6.62%
I    8.65%  25.98%  42.73%   9.28%    4.54%   5.56%
J   10.67%  25.45%  22.48%  21.41%    7.03%   7.07%
K   12.57%  44.87%  13.23%  13.68%    4.97%   8.18%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The seven other candidates combined for 2.57% of the vote, so for the sake of space and my sanity, I’m omitting them from these tables, but I will say a few words about them here. Hoc Thai Nguyen, who had the seventh-highest vote total, scored 6.60% of the vote in District F, and 3.02% in J, the two most Asian-heavy parts of town. As it happens, F (1.93%) and J (1.15%) were Marty McVey’s two best districts, too. Nguyen also broke out of the square root club (*) in A (1.01%) and I (1.08%). No other candidate reached 1% in any district. Demetria Smith, who ran for District D in 2013, came closest with 0.93% of the vote in D. At the bottom of the ladder were Joe Ferreira (240 votes) and Dale Steffes (302), but it was Steffes who had the worst performance in any district. Nearly half of his votes (143 of them) came in District G, and he collected all of 2 votes in J and 3 votes in B. Ferreira got 7 votes in B, but made it to double digits everywhere else. Neither he nor Rafael Munoz made it to triple digits in any district, however. I guarantee, this is the kind of analysis you won’t see anywhere else.

The conventional wisdom on Sylvester Turner is that he needed to broaden his appeal beyond African-American voters, who were expected to strongly support his candidacy. He certainly received their strong support, as the results in B and D attest. Turner also finished first in districts F, J, and K, and finished second in A, C, G, H, and I. That looks pretty reasonably broad to me. If you’re alarmed by him finishing behind King in C, I would simply note that there do exist Republicans in District C, and C was where both Chris Bell and Steve Costello had their strongest showings. I feel confident saying that much of that vote will transfer to Turner. Ben Hall didn’t dent Turner’s support in B and D; given that plenty of anti-HERO voters also supported Turner, it seems likely to me that he will pick up a fair bit of Hall’s support. And perhaps with some help from Adrian Garcia’s endorsement, Turner ought to do well in H and I. None of this is guaranteed, of course. People do actually have to come out and vote, and if there’s any sense of inevitability that might make some people think they needn’t bother to show up. For what it’s worth, I get the sense from too much Facebook reading that plenty of disappointed HERO supporters are not depressed but angry, and that they know their best chance of a second shot at an equal rights ordinance is with Mayor Turner, not Mayor King. I think they’ll show up. Runoff early voting starts December 2, so we’ll know soon enough.

A word about Garcia before I move on: If every single voter in H and I had voted for him, his Harris County total would have been 62,623. If you then subtract the votes Bill King got in H and I from his total, he’d be left with 62,954. Garcia gained a net 267 votes on King in Fort Bend and lost a net 26 votes in Montgomery, so when you add it all up, he’d still have been out of the money. Now I know that H and I aren’t solely made up of Latinos – hell, I live in H, and I’m almost as white as King – and there are plenty of Latino voters in other districts. There could also have been higher turnout in these districts; both were under the overall average. My point in using this bit of shorthand is to say that it was really Garcia who needed to broaden his support, and to that end his biggest problem was other Democrats, not any anti-HERO surge. I think Garcia was handicapped by his late entry into the race, much as Sylvester Turner was by his late entry into the 2003 Mayor’s race. By the time Turner jumped in, after the legislative session, Bill White had locked up a significant amount of support from Democratic voters, including a non-trivial number of black Democrats. By the time Garcia got in, he had to ask a lot of people to reconsider the decision they’d already made about whom to support for Mayor in order to ask them to support him. That’s a much harder thing to do. He had his reasons for getting in so late, and it’s always easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I’m just saying the reasons why Garcia isn’t in the runoff go beyond simply counting the number of Latinos that voted.

And while we’re still talking about broadening appeal, there’s Bill King. Look at those numbers above. King did very well in E and G, fairly well in A, C, F, and J, and not so well anywhere else, including below-the-Hoc-Thai-Nguyen-in-F-line finishes in B and D. Where does King turn to sufficiently improve his performance in the runoff to have a shot at it? I feel like the basic model for this is Jack Christie’s runoff win against Jolanda Jones in 2011, which is to say broaden his appeal outside of his Republican base, maximize those votes, and limit Turner to his own base in B and D. Easier said than done, but it has been done. It’s been suggested to me that a factor that may have driven turnout at least as much as the HERO vote was Republican voters in the city having a real choice for Mayor for the first time since 2003. There may be something to that, but if so I’d note as before that King received just 30,000 more votes than Roy Morales did in 2009, which receiving 33,000 fewer votes than Orlando Sanchez did in 2003. Make of that what you will. King ought to have room to boost Republican turnout in the runoff – Republicans have a few candidates they might like to support elsewhere on the runoff ballot as well – but I don’t think that gets him over the line on its own. I think he can’t win unless he can take some votes away from Turner. How he might do that, I assume we’ll find out.

I’ve got more of these to do over the course of the week. Remember again, these are draft canvasses, so no overseas or provisional ballots, and these numbers are all Harris County only. If you like seeing pretty pictures instead of numbers, these two Chron stories ought to have what you want. Let me know if you have any questions about this. I’ll have the next post up tomorrow.

(*) This is an old Rice joke. The “square root club” referred to anyone for whom the square root of their GPA was higher than their actual GPA. This is a geeky way of saying “less than 1.0”, which for these purposes means “less than 1.00 percent”.

Endorsement watch: Going for Turner

The Chronicle endorses Sylvester Turner for Mayor.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Because there is no perfect candidate on the ballot, voters should look for someone who has the talents best suited to fixing the problems that currently threaten Houston’s long-term success: Sylvester Turner.

For the past six years, Houston has been well led by Annise Parker’s competent hand. But being right on the issues only gets you part way there. Politics isn’t just about policy – it is about people. Turner, more than any other candidate, grasps this reality.

How can you defend a long-term Rebuild Houston plan if Houstonians still are hitting potholes? What’s the point of a pension solution if you can’t get it passed in Austin? How can people feel safe when police don’t respond to routine property crimes?

As Turner told the editorial board, “people want to see improvements now.”

The technically correct answer of a well-informed policy wonk is little solace if you’re dealing with a busted tire or burgled car. Houstonians need to know that their city is working for them today.


On pensions, Turner goes beyond the other candidates by calling for comprehensive reform of the city’s finances. Every time Parker hit firefighters on pensions, they seemed to push back just as hard. At this point, it is difficult to see how Steve Costello or Bill King would be more successful. Instead, Turner wants to bring everyone to the table so that folks don’t feel like they’re being turned into a target.

He attempted that strategy during the last legislative session by backing a deal that would lower the city’s payments in the short-term but raise the long-term liability. When he met with the editorial board, Turner said the failed bill was supposed to serve as a stop-gap to help bridge the city’s continuing budget crisis while getting both sides talking. We opposed the plan then and we’re still skeptical now. However, as someone with support from the city’s three key public unions, Turner is well prepared to bring consensus to a pension solution that closes annual funding gaps and pays down the city’s liabilities.

We can only guess what political machinations led the city’s three key public unions to endorse Turner before meeting with any other candidate. And time has obscured the scandals that bogged down Turner during his last two mayoral campaigns. Despite all the baggage that comes with a long-time legislator, Turner still stands as the candidate best suited for City Hall.

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia entered the race with high hopes. He had served on City Council, had the executive experience of the sheriff’s department and routinely demonstrated a sharp policy focus with his mental health advocacy. However, Garcia stumbled on the campaign trail, routinely answering deep questions with shallow responses. Reports of deaths, violence and ignored whistleblowers at the county jail also undermine his record as chief law enforcement officer.

Councilman Steve Costello similarly provides a balance of political service, executive experience and policy chops. His engineer’s mentality can be a welcome presence around the horseshoe, but his technocratic style, so much like Mayor Parker, will mean more of the same if he’s elected mayor. Houston needs a new operating style at City Hall and Costello can’t promise that.

Of all the other candidates, Bill King provides the sharpest critique and greatest insight into the way our city is run. He’s traveled across the city, and written dozens of Chronicle columns, arguing about how Houston’s problems stem from a failure of management. His advocacy for better organization within City Hall, and focus on measurable results, is reminiscent of former mayor Bill White’s first campaign. However, as mayor he would be the antithesis of Turner when it comes to uniting people around a cause. It isn’t enough to be right – you also have to get the votes. Nevertheless, any future mayor would be wise to give King a seat at the table.

I predicted a Costello endorsement, predicated in part on him and the Chron being in sync on pension issues, so this is all a bit surprising to me. I’m not exactly sure what caused the Chron to change their tune on the issue, but if Turner was able to persuade them that his way really is the better way, then there clearly is something to the logic that he’s better positioned to get something passed in Austin, and as such the endorsement follows. The bit about Costello’s style being too much like Mayor Parker’s is reminiscent of the discussion that often accompanies a change of coach or manager in professional sports. It’s not just about drawing up the plays or juggling the rotation, it’s about tone and approach and so on. Say what you want about Gary Kubiak and Bill O’Brien, they are very different personalities, and going from one to the other is as much a part of the process as any other consideration. We do that in politics, too, when other factors like competence and qualifications are basically equal.

Anyway. I know the Chron endorsed Bill White back in 2003, and I’d bet a dollar or two that they went with Bob Lanier in 1991, so at least on this score the third time was the charm for Turner. My interview with Turner is published today, and interviews with the rest of the field will run through next Monday, so you can hear what they have to say for themselves if you haven’t attended any of the nine million or so candidate forums. However one feels about the slate of candidates and the state of the race, there’s more than enough information out there to help one make an informed choice.

A broader overview of the Mayor’s race

The TL;dr version of this is basically “meh, not much happening”.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With a bevy of candidates and midyear fundraising that collectively topped $7 million, Houston’s 2015 mayoral race has been poised to be a blockbuster.

Yet, just five weeks before the start of early voting, the race has remained relatively stagnant.

For the most part, the candidates still are spending little, agreeing often and floating only modestly different visions for the city’s future.

“This election has unfolded so far to be an election of single-interest forum after single-interest forum,” said local political observer Darrin Hall, who previously worked for mayors Annise Parker and Bill White. “There’s not a big picture – four major points that any candidate is exposing – like in years past.”

Put another way, the race to succeed term-limited Parker, essentially, is a popularity contest that at least five candidates still have a shot at winning, Democratic political consultant Keir Murray said.

It goes on, and while it won’t tell you much you didn’t already know if you’ve been following the race, it’s a good overview and I broadly agree with it. I am a little surprised that with all the money in the race there hasn’t been more TV advertising. If there’s one thing we should have learned from the last couple of municipal elections in this town, it’s that nobody should overestimate their name ID. Outside of Adrian Garcia, none of the candidates should be too comfortable in the percentage of voters who have heard of them. I get the argument that they;re keeping their powder dry until a runoff, but the harsh fact is that only two people are going to need it for the runoff, and if as everyone seems to think one of them will be Sylvester Turner, then I’m not sure what the purpose of waiting is.

Beyond that, the big x factor is what effect HERO will have on turnout. I feel confident saying turnout will be up from 2009, but I have no idea by how much, nor do I have any idea how many HERO-motivated voters will bother to cast ballots in the actual races. The number of HERO-only voters could be quite large. Consider that in 2005, the year of the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment, turnout in Houston was an amazing 332,154 voters, or well over 30%, but only 181,841 people cast votes in the Mayor’s race. To be fair, that year’s Mayoral election was a king-size snoozer, as Bill White cruised to re-election with over 90% of the vote, but still. Over 40% of all people who turned out to vote that year couldn’t be bothered to cast a vote for Mayor. I seriously doubt that will be the case this year, but I do believe that while more people than usual will undervote, that will still leave a lot of people casting ballots. Just compare 2005 to 2007 to see what things might have been like in the absence of a high-profile ballot item. The bottom line is that some number of people will show up specifically to vote on HERO, and some number of them will then decide that as long as they’re there, they may as well vote in those other races, too. What effect that will have on the outcomes is anyone’s guess, and the sort of thing that drives campaign managers to guzzle Pepto-Bismol.

On cellphones and school zones

I guess I need to talk about this.

Six years ago, state lawmakers hoping to protect students banned drivers from texting and talking on hand-held cellphones in school zones.

The ban, however, has never been enforced in Houston. City and school district officials have opted not to install the warning signs needed to issue tickets, citing a lack of funds.

The city puts the cost at roughly $2.34 million for about 7,800 signs. Based on estimates from the Texas Department of Transportation, however, the price tag should be significantly lower.

Houston lags behind the state’s other major cities and several of its neighbors, including Bellaire, Conroe and West University Place, which installed the signs years ago and enforce the law. With school back in session after summer break, police in some jurisdictions have started issuing tickets for a seventh straight school year.


About two years ago, Mock said, the city clarified that HISD could take on the task. HISD, however, hasn’t budgeted funding, either. Mock estimated that the district would need about 2,000 signs to cover all the school zones.

Price estimates differ. Using the city’s figures of about $300 each, including anti-graffiti coating and mounts, the HISD signs would cost about $600,000.

The Texas Department of Transportation estimates the tab at $100 each, assuming the cellphone notice can be added to an existing school zone sign. The price tag for installing independent signs is $450 to $600.

In Dallas, spokesman Richard Hill said the city’s public works department funded the installation of more than 2,360 signs in 2010. He said the material cost was less than $22,700 – or about $10 each.

“The cost has been the concern,” said Janice Evans, spokeswoman for Mayor Parker, who was unavailable for comment.

Let’s put the cost question aside for a moment. If this law was passed in 2009, then it took effect in September of 2009, in the latter days of the Bill White administration at a time when he was gearing up to run statewide, and at a time when Annise Parker was in the midst of a hot Mayoral race. I follow this stuff pretty closely as you know, and I have no memory of this bill passing. My guess is that no one in either the outgoing White administration or the incoming Parker administration had this on their to-do list, and it fell through the cracks. Had there not been a story in the Chronicle calling attention to it, my guess is no one would have realized it was on the books and that the city was not in compliance. These things happen. The people who are now making a fuss about it could have been making a fuss about it a week or a month or a year or five ago, they just didn’t know it was there to be fussed about. I say all this not to make excuses – surely this should be done now that we all know about it – but to suggest that we try to maintain a little perspective.

HISD’s Mock said the law would not be easy to enforce – officers have to catch drivers typing or holding their phones to their ears – but he still wants the signs up.

“It would be helpful – not so much because that allows you to write citations … really just to create awareness,” Mock said.

That’s pretty much the debate over banning texting while driving in a nutshell. The vast majority of people who text while driving are never going to get caught at it, but the act of making something illegal, and publicizing that it’s illegal will cause some number of people – probably a lot of them – who currently engage in it to stop doing it. You may not write a lot of tickets for texting while driving, but you’ll make it less common, and that will have a beneficial effect.

Houston City Councilman C.O. “Brad” Bradford, a former Houston police chief, said the signs should be funded.

“What is a child’s life worth?” he asked. “We do a lot of things at City Hall that cost a lot more money. We have a $5 billion operating budget, and to say we cannot find money to erect signs in school zones to help protect children, that’s unconscionable.”

All due respect, but you can use this exact line of reasoning to justify any individual expenditure. Budgets always involve choices, and different choices can always be made. I’m always amused to hear self-styled budget hawks talk like this. Their priorities are obvious and self-explanatory. It’s those other priorities that need to be scrutinized and justified.

The Conroe department, which monitors about 20 school zones, issued 14 cellphone citations last year, [Sgt. Robert Engel of the Conroe Police Department] said.

In Spring Branch ISD, the ban applies only to a handful of schools that fall outside the Houston city limits. In those areas, the local villages have installed the signs, according to school district police Chief Charles Brawner.

The Hedwig Village Police Department, for example, has issued 741 citations for school zone cellphone use since 2009, according to Police Chief David Gott. He said he was surprised by the large number – more than 100 a year on average – but his staff spot-checked the data for accuracy.

“It’s important for people to pay attention in school zones,” Gott said. “It can be very dangerous.”

Bellaire, which has schools in HISD, has issued about 100 citations in six years.

Auto collisions involving distracted drivers – whether on a cellphone or fumbling with the radio – result in roughly 424,000 injuries nationwide annually, according to the latest federal data from 2013. More than 3,150 were killed that year.

My guess is that the Hedqig Village PD doesn’t have a whole lot else to do during the day. A ban on texting while driving is right in their wheelhouse.

Getting back to the matter of cost:

“It comes down to the cost of installing the signs – who bears that cost and whether there’s enough of a benefit to make it worthwhile,” Parker said. “Clearly if it saved one child’s life, it would be a worthwhile investment.

“But we don’t believe that putting up a bunch of signs stops anybody from doing anything. Because if they don’t already know it’s dangerous to do … I don’t think there’s any education we can do to stop people from being stupid. It’s an enforcement issue.”

Houston school board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones said Wednesday that she planned to discuss the issue with her fellow trustees.

“I would like to see there be some cooperation between the school district and the city,” she said. “The safety of our students should be a collaboration between the two entities.”

Marney Sims, general counsel for Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, said she was surprised to find out that the district’s three schools under city jurisdiction did not have the cellphone signs. She said she planned to verify that the district had the authority to install them. “If we do,” she said, “then we will pay to add those.”

Look, we’re most likely talking about a couple hundred grand, which despite my earlier snark really isn’t that much in the context of the city’s budget. In addition, the cost can surely be split to some extent with the big ISDs within Houston – HISD, Cy-Fair, Alief, et cetera. In the name of dropping one annoying little thing from the list of things that the Mayoral candidates can grandstand about, can we please get this done? Thanks. Campos has more.

Houston pleads its case to the Supreme Court

We’ll see how they did.

Bill White

Bill White

“The point of all this is to protect the public and the environment, to have clean air, and the TCEQ, for the Texas Clean Air Act, envisions that it be vigorously enforced,” [Houston attorney Robert] Higgason said. “This is what the statute makes reference to — cities being allowed to enact and enforce their own ordinances to achieve the goal of the Texas Clean Air Act.”

BCCA Appeal Group, a coalition of industrial facility owners including ExxonMobil, the Dow Chemical Company and ConocoPhillips, has sued to strike down the ordinances, arguing Houston is exceeding its authority under state law.

“The Legislature has already addressed what cities can do to address this problem…and they’ve turned what should be an administrative and civil regime, that should be consistently applied, into a local criminal statute,” BCAA attorney Evan Young argued. “To convert it from something very different from what the Legislature intended degrades and erodes the meaning of the act.”


Higgason repeatedly argued that it was incumbent upon cities like Houston to enforce the clean air act where the state agency is unable to do so. “If the TCEQ is letting something go, and not enforcing its own standards, there’s something wrong with that,” Higgason said.

Justice Eva Guzman, a former Harris County district and appellate judge, challenged his stance, asking if local actions might compromise the TCEQ’s right to use discretion in enforcement. She said the TCEQ’s sluggish ability to respond to air pollution violators was not necessarily Houston’s concern.

“When cities exercise their own discretion, that discretion could or could not be consistent with what the TCEQ would have done under their regime,” Guzman said. “It seems to me like that defeats your argument.”

Young emphasized that Houston was indeed allowed to enforce the state’s regulations — so long as it used the state’s preferred method of civil enforcement actions in civil courts.

In contrast, the Houston ordinances allow polluters to be charged in criminal courts, with convictions leading to a range of penalties including fines up to $2,000 per violation for repeat offenders.

“If we’re going to have a statewide, uniform comprehensive regulatory regime that actually gives predictability, it is essential that the TCEQ be involved in that decision-making,” Young said. “If a city wants to enforce the regulations in court, it can do that — by bringing a civil suit.”

See here for the background. The Press, which takes a closer look at the plaintiffs in this action, notes that the stakes are higher than they might appear.

What’s intriguing about this case is that the outcome might ultimately do more than just decide whether Houston has the right to regulate its own air quality. The case gives the Texas Supreme Court the chance to wade into a seldom-explored area of law looking at whether cities have the right to enact local regulations without clashing with state law, according to Law360. Should the high court decide in favor of Houston’s ordinance, that, for instance, could potentially give the city of Denton some legal legs to bring back its anti-fracking ordinance. (Hester, however, contends the chances of that happening are still slim.)

But a ruling against Houston would limit the city’s ability to enact environmental regulations and that would mean the TCEQ would be the agency deciding how to penalize companies that pollute in Houston. “It’s really a question of who gets to make the call on what type of enforcement should take place,” [Tracy Hester, an environmental law professor at University of Houston] says. “If the ordinance is upheld and the city feels like an enforcement action doesn’t address their concerns, then they will be able to have their own enforcement actions.”

So there’s that. Doesn’t make me feel any more optimistic about the likely outcome, that’s for sure. Hope for the best, of course, but I’m not expecting it.

Houston’s environmental protection ordinances go to the Supreme Court

Where, sadly, they’ll likely get killed.

Bill White

Bill White

State environmental regulators don’t adequately enforce air pollution laws, the city of Houston believes, and on Wednesday it will ask the state’s highest civil court to let it keep trying to do the job itself.

The state Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case challenging a pair of ordinances the city enacted in 2007 and 2008 requiring industrial polluters within Houston to register with the city, and subjecting the polluting companies to fines if they operate without registering.

BCCA Appeal Group, a coalition of industrial facility owners including ExxonMobil and the Dow Chemical Company, sued the city seven years ago, claiming the ordinances improperly preempt state law. The First District Court of Appeals has already weighed in on Houston’s side, finding in 2013 that the Legislature had not foreclosed such local regulations with anything resembling “unmistakable clarity.”

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, BCCA argues that the city is allowed to enforce air regulations only if it uses the weaker enforcement tools laid out by the state.

But Houston, and a host of environmental groups filing amicus briefs in the city’s support, say it is perfectly within its rights to enforce state laws using alternative regulatory strategies, including levying fines where the state won’t.

“The city’s looking for accountability, and this is a streamlined way of trying to do that,” said Rock Owens, who co-authored an amicus brief submitted by the Harris County Attorney’s Office. “There should be something that happens if you don’t follow the law, and the [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] isn’t in a position where they can provide enforcement. They don’t have the resources, or, frankly, the will.”

Owens said he believes the Houston ordinances simply put some muscle behind the regulations the commission laid out. “It’s just a matter of layering — a matter of making the law effective,” Owens said.


Given how political tides recently have turned against local efforts to police industries, Adrian Shelley, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, said he isn’t optimistic about the city’s chances in front of the state’s highest civil court.

Shelley cited House Bill 40, signed by Abbott in May, which preempts local control over most oil and gas activity, as one reason for his concern.

“I think it needs to be said that there’s a larger trend here — a problematic trend — and that’s bad for public health in Texas,” Shelley said. “We’re likely to lose this case.”

See here and here for some background on this, which was an initiative of then-Mayor Bill White. I’m sure I have more entries on this, but my older archives aren’t quite as organized. I wish I was more optimistic about this, but I think Shelley nails it. As the story notes, Greg Abbott supports the BCCA, because of course he does. Local control only matters to Abbott when the locals are doing things he approves of. We should know in a few months how the Court rules, and I guess you can add this – “what, if anything, should the city do to improve air quality if the Supreme Court invalidates the city’s air quality ordinances of 2007 and 2008?” – to the list of questions that we ought to be asking the Mayoral herd. See this op-ed by Adrian Shelley and Jen Powis for more.

Katrina, ten years after

Hurricane Katrina made landfall ten years ago this weekend. The Chron looks at the role Houston played in the aftermath, and the changes that resulted.

Before and after Katrina’s Aug. 29 landfall as a strong Category 3 storm, more than 1 million people fled Louisiana and coastal Mississippi. As many as 250,000 landed in Houston – more than 27,000 of the most traumatized arriving at the Astrodome and other Houston shelters in a 500-bus caravan from the drowned Big Easy. By October 2005, approximately 100,000 evacuees temporarily had made Houston their home.

Today, perhaps heeding the oft-tendered advice of Katrina-era Mayor Bill White to “look forward, not backward,” as many as 40,000, by some estimates, permanently have settled in the Houston metro area.

“We no longer think of them as evacuees,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “They are Houstonians in every sense of the word and we are happy to have them.”

In the excruciating days after Katrina’s onslaught, Houston responded with open arms. As many 60,000 residents volunteered to help. From a downtown command center, White, assisted by then-Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and business, civic and faith leaders, oversaw a multi-million dollar campaign to house, feed, train and provide health care for the newcomers.

“Houston,” said White, “showed how to combine competence and compassion, and that was done at a time when public officials at the federal and other levels fumbled the ball.”

For his leadership, White later received the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum’s Profile in Courage Award.

But throughout the city there were largely unremarked instances of kindness.

Within weeks of arriving in Houston, the Rev. Gary Mack, a pastor at New Orleans’ Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, was contacted by Houston First Baptist Church with an offer of assistance. Mack was offered use of a chapel to preach to his displaced congregation and a salary. Food and furniture were collected for church members in need.

“Coming from New Orleans, we had pretty much been living in our own communities,” Mack said. “Seldom have African-American churches and Caucasian churches gotten together in this way. Katrina tore down those walls. It was a totally new perspective of worship and God’s goodness.”

Still, for thousands of the displaced, overcoming Katrina’s hardship was daunting.

The storm flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, killed more than 1,800 people in five states and caused more than $135 billion in damage. Federal and private insurance companies paid more than $57 billion in claims, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency pumped more than $131 billion into stricken states for public works and other recovery efforts.

By July 2006, New Orleans’ 2000 population had dropped by more than half. And while the city’s population has rebounded to 80 percent of its pre-storm total, vast tracts of low-lying inner city neighborhoods remain derelict and virtually unpeopled.

Full coverage from the Chron is here. I don’t have any wisdom to offer here. I’ve been spending the week reading what other folks have been saying about this disaster that was as much political as it was natural. See Jamelle Bouie and this three part series from D.R. Tucker for some of the stronger examples. I also recommend this Urban Edge story debunking the myth that there was a crime wave in Houston following the arrival of Katrina evacuees. I fear we still haven’t learned what this tragedy should have taught us. Texas Leftist, Vice, and TPM have more.

Mayoral ad spending

The Chron takes a look at one of the more visible aspects of all the money that Mayoral candidates have raised or loaned themselves so far.


Despite taking in a total of more than $7 million, Houston’s mayoral candidates spent relatively little on advertising in the first half of the year, paving the way for an onslaught of messaging in the closing months of the campaign.

In general, less-known candidates – such as City Councilman Steve Costello and former mayor of Kemah Bill King – poured more money into advertising, including pricey TV spots, to introduce themselves to the public.

Meanwhile, those with strong name identification with voters – such as former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and state Rep. Sylvester Turner – spent less on advertising or targeted their efforts at the voters most likely to support them.

Though it will be months before it is clear whether either strategy worked, the numbers from the mayoral hopefuls’ first round of campaign disclosures provide an early indication of how the race is shaping up.

King allocated more than $191,000 to advertising, nearly as much as the rest of the field combined, while Costello spent about $66,000, more than a third of which went toward online campaigns and $37,000 for video and associated production costs.

I haven’t seen a single TV ad yet. For what it’s worth, I think that unless you’re going to carpet-bomb the airwaves a la Bill White in 2003 or (to a lesser extent) Peter Brown in 2009, early TV ad spending won’t have much effect. The main problem with TV ads is that they’re written on water – if your target audience isn’t watching at the right time, it’s on and gone. On the other hand, I can’t visit a webpage anywhere these days without seeing a Bill King ad, as it was for me with Annise Parker in 2013. I am, to put it mildly, unlikely to base my vote on Internet advertising, but at least he’s out there in a tangible way.

The rest of the story is about the so-far lower-cost advertising efforts by other candidates. You can scan the finance reports yourself if you are a crazy person like me have the time, but there’s not that much to see there on this front as yet. One thing I’ll say is that these efforts are either to boost name recognition or to remind certain groups that a particular person is running. The target is the 180,000 to 200,000 people that everyone knows will show up to vote in November.

There are many people who vote in Houston in even-numbered years but generally not in these odd-numbered municipal election years. For example, there were 398,337 votes cast in the city of Houston in 2010, including 350,000 in the red light cameras referendum and 340,000 in Renew Houston. There were 590,566 votes in Houston in 2012, with vote totals ranging from 417,000 to 446,000 for various charter amendments and bond referendums. I don’t think traditional city election advertising, whether on TV, radio, the Internet, or in newspapers, is geared to or noticed by these larger groups. These folks, I suspect, need to be informed that there is an election, that they have a stake in it, and that there’s a candidate that might appeal to them. I suspect as well that more direct contact – door knocking, phone calls made by actual people, that sort of thing – is the key to getting their votes.

Every candidate wants to get as many votes as they can from that core 180 to 200 thousand group, since they each represent a vote that would then not be going to their opponents, but at least some of these candidates need to tap into that harder to get larger group as well. Adrian Garcia, who is likely to do very well among a group (Latino voters) who are far more likely to show up in Presidential years than non-Presidential years, is one such candidate. Fortunately for him, he’s already run in two Presidential-year elections, so there’s a lot of people out there who have already voted for him at least once. Sylvester Turner, who is used to running in even-numbered years, is another. When the 30-day and 8-day reports come out, look in them for evidence of field-related expenses. That will tell you what you need to know about this aspect of voter outreach.

Turner & Whitmire

No, not the latest buddy cop movie, just two old legislative friends helping each other out.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Texas’ most senior state senator turned to the crowd during a September fundraiser for state Rep. Sylvester Turner and ribbed his friend and would-be Houston mayor.

“My name is John Whitmire, and I’m Sylvester Turner’s state senator,” he said, a go-to laugh-line that landed in a sea of donors. “Everyone in my district is important, but Sylvester Turner kind of stands out.”

Kind words like those – exchanged again and again over the past 12 months in both directions – have gone a shade past the standard “good friend” lavished by nearly every politician on their predecessors at a dais. The alliance between Turner, a powerful Democratic state representative, and Whitmire, the most senior Democrat in the Senate, say people familiar with their ties, is genuine yet politically potent and already is sculpting the local Democratic landscape.

“The moon, the sun and all the planets have come together in the Sylvester-John orbit,” said Carl Whitmarsh, a longtime Democratic activist close to both men.

Sen. John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire


Facing his first primary challenger since winning the seat in 1992 – and an African-American one at that, in a district that is only 28 percent Anglo – Whitmire called on Turner to introduce him to his Acres Home base. Other black legislators rallied behind Whitmire in the final months before his primary against Damien LaCroix. Turner hugged Whitmire tightest, introducing him to ministers and bringing him to black churches.

“I don’t think it was a race that John was in danger of losing,” said Mark Clark, who directs the police union’s political work. “But it seemed to me that Sylvester was investing as much as he possibly could to communicate with voters out there that Sen. Whitmire was the guy and still is the guy.”

Some point to that backing to explain Whitmire’s prominence in the mayoral race.

“They’ve been allies for a long time. It doesn’t surprise me that they support each other,” said Turner opponent Oliver Pennington, a city councilman who is critical of the pension deal struck by the Democratic pair.

I see this story as kind of a Rohrschach test. How you feel about Rep. Turner and/or Sen. Whitmire going in almost certainly correlates to how you feel about them teaming up like this. The main takeaway for me is that Turner isn’t going to leave the Anglo Dem bloc to the Bell/Costello/McVey/King/Garcia (*) crowd. He had very little traction with those voters in 2003, thanks in part to Bill White’s months-earlier entry into the race and heavy TV advertising. Things are different this time. We’ll see how much effect it has.

(*) Until he actually says he’s in, I’m giving Sheriff Garcia an asterisk.

Precinct analysis: Abbott versus Perry in Latino districts

District level election data for 2014 has been available for a few weeks now. Seems like as good a time as any to return to a favorite topic, namely how Greg Abbott did in heavily Latino areas. An exit poll from November claimed Abbott drew 44% of the Latino vote, which would be a very impressive accomplishment. My complaint whenever I read a story like that is that no one ever bothers to go back and check the actual election results later to see if that kind of number makes sense. No one but me, of course, because I’m a crank about that sort of thing. Now that we have this data, how does it look? Here’s a comparison to Rick Perry in 2010 in the most heavily Latino districts:

Dist SSVR% Perry Abbott ============================= 031 76.46% 42.01% 44.80% 035 76.58% 37.19% 39.11% 036 87.34% 29.55% 31.21% 037 81.21% 36.96% 38.13% 038 80.92% 39.11% 40.39% 039 85.14% 27.03% 32.12% 040 88.14% 25.37% 28.59% 041 71.98% 46.69% 47.84% 042 88.70% 22.58% 29.69% 075 83.70% 29.04% 30.84% 076 84.73% 23.57% 24.32% 079 72.70% 38.89% 39.26% 080 80.84% 34.79% 37.78%

SSVR data is from here. I’d like to think that this would put those 44% assertions to rest, but I know better by now. Abbott clearly did better than Perry, though by only a point or two in most districts. Some of that may simply be due to Perry doing worse overall than Abbott. Still, his actual number among Latino voters is nothing to sneeze at. But as I’ve said before, while the actual results provide a reality check on exit polls and from-the-ether assertions, they’re more suggestive than conclusive. We don’t know what percentage of actual voters in these districts was Latino. To see what I mean, consider a district with 10,000 voters and an SSVR of 80%. Imagine also that Abbott gets 70% of the Anglo vote, which is likely to be at least what Abbott would need to get to almost 60% overall. How does the vote break down if Abbott scored 40% (i.e., 4,000 votes) in that district?

If the actual mix of voters is 80% Latino and 20% Anglo, then Abbott got 1,400 Anglo votes, which means he needs 2,600 Latino votes to get to 40% overall. 2,600 votes out of 8,000 is 32.5%.

If the actual mix of voters is 70% Latino and 30% Anglo, then Abbott got 2,100 Anglo votes, which means he needs 1,900 Latino votes to get to 40% overall. 1,900 votes out of 8,000 is 23.75%.

Basically, the share of the Anglo vote, even though it is relatively small in a district like this, has a large effect on the share of the Latino vote. Changing the assumption that Abbott got 60% of the Anglo vote in this district instead of 70% doesn’t make that much difference. In scenario 1, Abbott needs 2,800 Latino votes instead of 2,600, or 35%. In scenario 2, it’s 2,200 instead of 1,900, or 31.4%. Even in a scenario where you assume the Latino vote exceeds the SSVR%, you get the same kind of result. In a 90/10 situation with a 70% Anglo vote, the corresponding Latino percentage is 36.7%; with a 60% Anglo vote, it’s 37.8%. The only way for the Latino vote percentage to be higher than the overall percentage is if the Anglo vote is less than the overall. I suppose it’s possible Abbott could fail to break 40% of the vote in these districts, but I’ve yet to see anyone offer objective evidence of it. Therefore, the numbers I present above represent the upper bound for Abbott among Latinos in these districts. Anyone who wants to claim otherwise needs to show me the numbers.

(To be completely fair, one scenario under which the Latino vote could be higher than the overall would be if some other segment of the electorate was voting disproportionately against Abbott. A significant portion of African-American voters in these districts could do that. Take the first scenario above and change the voter demography to 80% Latino, 10% African-American, and 10% Anglo. Now assume a 70% Anglo vote for Abbott and 10% A-A vote for him. With those assumptions, 3,200 Latino votes are needed to get to 40% overall, and as it happens that’s a 40% share of the Latino vote. However, in the districts above, the largest African-American population is four percent; it’s less than one percent in most of them. As such, this variation pretty much can’t exist.)

Another way we can look at this is to see if other Republicans did better in these districts as well, or if the effect was limited to Abbott. For that, we turn to a comparison of David Dewhurst in 2010 to Dan Patrick.

Dist SSVR% Dew Patrick ============================= 031 76.46% 45.47% 40.46% 035 76.58% 37.99% 34.86% 036 87.34% 29.04% 26.67% 037 81.21% 35.77% 33.85% 038 80.92% 38.91% 35.40% 039 85.14% 26.44% 27.50% 040 88.14% 25.11% 23.00% 041 71.98% 48.27% 42.16% 042 88.70% 24.68% 23.67% 075 83.70% 30.16% 29.72% 076 84.73% 24.67% 23.37% 079 72.70% 41.50% 37.98% 080 80.84% 35.40% 34.59%

With the exception of HD39, Dewhurst did better than Patrick. Obviously, Dewhurst did better overall than Perry, while Patrick was roughly equivalent to Abbott. That suggests that while Abbott may have improved on Perry’s performance, he wasn’t necessarily a rising tide. To be sure of that, we should compare him directly to his comrades on the ballot. I’ve thrown in Perry as well for some perspective.

Dist Abbott Perry Patrick Paxton Hegar Bush ========================================================== 031 44.08% 42.01% 40.46% 41.36% 40.97% 45.24% 035 39.11% 37.19% 34.86% 35.93% 35.70% 39.45% 036 31.21% 29.55% 26.67% 27.89% 28.06% 32.42% 037 38.13% 36.96% 33.85% 34.16% 34.13% 39.77% 038 40.39% 39.11% 35.40% 36.30% 36.15% 41.98% 039 32.12% 27.03% 27.50% 28.58% 28.68% 33.18% 040 28.59% 25.37% 23.00% 23.92% 24.24% 29.45% 041 47.84% 46.69% 42.16% 44.51% 44.77% 49.92% 042 29.69% 22.58% 23.67% 22.48% 23.40% 33.23% 075 30.84% 29.04% 29.72% 29.33% 29.21% 28.75% 076 24.32% 23.57% 23.37% 23.52% 22.91% 24.76% 079 39.26% 38.89% 37.98% 37.94% 37.41% 37.76% 080 37.78% 34.79% 34.59% 34.14% 33.71% 39.13%

A few observations:

– Clearly, Abbott did better in these districts than anyone except Baby Bush. Playing up their own Latino connections – wife in Abbott’s case, mother in Bush’s – helped them, at least to some extent. We have seen this before, with several other candidates – Ted Cruz, Eva Guzman, Hector Uribe, and as you can see above, Leticia Van de Putte. The effect isn’t much – a couple of points – but it exists. It should be noted that since these candidates’ overall totals don’t differ much from their ballotmates’, there’s an equivalent but opposite effect elsewhere. Just something to keep in mind.

– Note that the effect for Abbott was greater in South Texas and the Valley, and lesser in El Paso (HDs 75, 76, and 79). Bush also did worse in El Paso, no doubt due at least in part to having former El Paso Mayor John Cook as his opponent. Consider this a reminder that the Latino electorate is not monolithic, even within the same nationality. What works well here may not be as effective there. This should be obvious, but I feel like we all sometimes act as if that’s not the case, and yes I include myself in that.

– Along those lines, I wish that the SSVRs were high enough in the urban Latino districts to include them here, but they’re not really comparable. Having written that, I’m now curious enough to do that comparison in another post, just to see what I get.

– At the end of the day, Greg Abbott in 2014 was a lesser known quantity than Rick Perry in 2010. He had a chance to introduce himself as a more or less clean slate. That won’t be the case in 2018, if Abbott is on the ballot for re-election. He’ll have a record to defend, for good or bad. We’ll see how much his wife and madrina can help him then.

Alvarado’s term limits bill

From the inbox:

Rep. Carol Alvarado

Rep. Carol Alvarado

State Representative Carol Alvarado has filed HB 2917 that, if passed by the Legislature and approved by voters, would change the city’s term limit structure to two four-year terms for the mayor, city controller and councilmembers.

“The city’s current structure of three two-year terms restricts an elected official’s ability to truly dive into the issues that are affecting the city and their respective member’s district,” said Rep. Alvarado. “By changing the term limit structure, members would have a better opportunity to engage in long term planning for the city and have more influence in local, state and national policies that can affect the city.”

Efforts to change the city’s term limits have occurred on both the state and local levels. For the past several years, Representative Garnet Coleman has filed a bill that would amend the city’s term limit structure. Additionally, Houston’s City Council Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee, which has been studying this issue, voted to recommend changing the term limits of city officials to two four-year terms instead of the existing three two-year terms beginning in 2019. If approved by city council, this amendment could go before the voters in November of 2015.

“I would like to thank Representative Coleman, as well as the city’s Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee, for their hard work on this issue and look forward to working with them this session to get this issue passed and to the voters,” added Alvarado.

Rep. Coleman’s bill from 2009, which would have extended Houston’s term limits from six years to twelve, passed the House by a wide margin and won unanimous approval from the Senate committee, but did not come up for a vote by the full Senate. I didn’t note any of his subsequent bills, so my guess is that they didn’t get anywhere. (Sorry, too lazy to look them up.) Be that as it may, that bill was filed at a time when a commission that had been appointed by outgoing Mayor Bill White was holding hearings and soliciting feedback. In the end, they made the same recommendation of two four-year terms that the Council committee made this year, but that committee’s proposal was rejected by Council. A different proposal made in 2012 by then-CM Andrew Burks was also rejected. I presume this bill, which has the same two fours mandate as this Council committee, is there as a backup in case the Council plan goes down. I’m not sure what purpose it serves otherwise. I’ve got to say, given the attack on local control this session, I’d rather the idea be dropped if Council refuses to approve it for the ballot. Let city office holders be accountable for this decision, whichever way they go.

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The slate running to replace Mayor Annise Parker features a globetrotting sailor, a triathlete grandfather, a millionaire minister and no women.

Despite the most-crowded pack of mayoral contenders in decades, no female candidates are expected to announce bids this spring, a reality that all but guarantees women will have fewer positions of power at City Hall next year than they had during the last six.

“You are sending a message,” said Kathryn McNeil, a longtime fundraiser who helped elect Parker. “My niece is now 16. For the last six years, she’s seen a strong woman running the city. There’s no question in her mind that a woman could be mayor.”

Though more than 10 candidates likely will appear on November’s ballot, few women even seriously considered the race, which some call a reminder of how much more work Houston’s women must do to achieve political equality.

Some say it creates a less compassionate and less personal, even if equally qualified, field of candidates. It also affects the strength of the democratic process, limiting the diversity of the candidates that voters can choose from when they imagine whom they would like as their next mayor.

“Regardless of who actually wins the race, not having a viable woman candidate can be a disservice for everyone,” said Dee Dee Grays, the incoming president of Women Professionals in Government in Houston.

For the record, in the eleven city elections post-Kathy Whitmire (i.e., since 1993), there has been at least one female Mayoral candidate not named Annise Parker in eight of them:

2013 – Charyl Drab, Keryl Douglas, Victoria Lane
2011 – Amanda Ulman
2009 – Amanda Ulman
2007 – Amanda Ulman
2005 – Gladys House
2003 – Veronique Gregory
2001 – None
1999 – None
1997 – Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz
1995 – Elizabeth Spates
1993 – None

Now, most of these were fringe candidacies – only term-limited Council members Helen Huey and Gracie Saenz in 1997 could have been considered viable, and they were both crushed in the wake of the Lee Brown/Rob Mosbacher/George Greanias campaigns. But for what it’s worth, history does suggest there will be at least one female name on the ballot this year.

Research shows that women nationally need to be recruited to run for office much more than men. That especially is true for executive positions, such as governor or mayor.

Amber Mostyn, the former chair of Annie’s List, a statewide organization that recruits and backs Democratic female candidates, said there is a need for local versions of the organization that would encourage qualified women to make bids for mayor.

“You’ll see men throwing their hat in the ring when they’ve never done the job before and say, ‘I’ll figure it out,’ ” said Mostyn, a Houston lawyer and prominent donor. “Women are very reluctant to do that.”

I’m well aware of the research regarding the recruitment of female candidates. It’s definitely an issue, though I wonder if it will turn out to be a generational one. Perhaps today’s girls and younger women won’t need the same kind of encouragement that their elders currently require. Be that as it may, if there was ever a bad year for that dynamic in the Mayor’s race, it’s this year. I mean, nearly the entire field, not to mention Adrian Garcia, has been known to be planning to run for a long time now. With that many candidates already at the starting line, and presumably working to collect commitments and financial support and campaign advisers, it would undoubtedly be that much harder to make a case for someone else to gear up now and thrown her hat in the ring. As I’ve said many times already, there’s only so much room for viable candidates in this race.

Cindy Clifford, a public relations executive and City Hall lobbyist, said the key to electing a female mayor is to first focus on recruiting women for lower-level elected office and to serve on boards and commissions. That requires a commitment by the city’s leaders to tapping individual women and showing them that they have support.

“If we’re not doing it, no one’s going to come and look for us,” Clifford said. “I always think the cream rises once they’re in the process.”

Council members Brenda Stardig and Ellen Cohen could be joined next year by several top-tier female candidates in council elections this fall, but some worry that the political “pipeline” of female candidates is thin, with few who conceivably could have run for mayor this year. One, Laura Murillo, the head of Houston’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, did publicly explore a mayoral bid last summer before deciding against it.

I would point out that one of the top tier candidates for Mayor this year is someone whose entire political career has been in the Legislature, and that the three main candidates currently running for Mayor in San Antonio include two former legislators and one former County Commissioner. One doesn’t have to be a city officeholder to be a viable Mayoral candidate, is what I’m saying. Hell, none of the three Mayors before Annise Parker had been elected to anything before running for the top job, let alone running for Council. The size of the “pipeline” is as much a matter of framing as anything else. Note also that several women who were once elected to city offices now hold office elsewhere – I’m thinking specifically of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Carol Alvarado, and HISD Trustee Wanda Adams. Pipelines can flow in both directions.

As for the four open Council slots, the seat most likely to be won by a female candidate as things stand right now is At Large #4, where two of the three announced candidates so far are women. Jenifer Pool is running in At Large #1, but if I were forced to make a prediction about it now, I’d say that a Lane Lewis/Chris Oliver runoff is the single most likely outcome. Two of the three candidates that I know of in District H are male – Roland Chavez and Jason Cisneroz – and the third candidate, former HISD Trustee Diana Davila, is ethically challenged. One’s commitment to diversity does not include supporting someone one doesn’t trust. I have no idea at this time who may be running in District G, which is the other term-limited seat. Beyond those races, any additional women will have to get there by knocking off an incumbent.

One last thing: There may not be room for another viable candidate for Mayor, but that isn’t the case for City Controller. There are three known candidates at this time, with two more thinking about it, all men. A Controller campaign would take less time and money, and would therefore likely be fairly ripe for recruitment, especially given that a female candidate in that race would have immediate prominence. As Mayor Parker, and for that matter former Mayor Whitmire, can attest, that office can be a pretty good stepping stone. Just a thought.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that HCC Trustee Sandie Mullins is planning to run in District G. That not only adds another female candidate for Council, it also indicates that an HCC seat will be open this fall.

On the seasonal return of term limits modification

Here’s a fuller version of that earlier story about Council moving forward with a modified term limits proposal.


You can almost set your watch by it.

Mayor Annise Parker is in her third and final term, which means it is time for the cycle that has repeated roughly every six years since voters imposed term limits on City Hall in 1991: City Council is discussing asking voters to change those term limits.

This loop started with the late Bob Lanier, whom voters first elected as mayor the same year they chose to cap city officials’ tenures in office, for the first time, at six years: three terms of two years each.

Lanier started as a supporter of term limits, but as his departure approached in 1997 – and his backers pushed a bill in the Legislature to let him stay longer – his stance switched. Both local and state efforts to let him stick around came to naught, however.

Lanier was succeeded by Lee Brown, who pledged to pursue term-limit changes during his final stint in office but didn’t make much progress.

Brown’s successor, Bill White, was careful not to push term-limits reform as he eyed a run for governor, but he did form a commission to study the issue. That group’s recommendations were forwarded in 2010 to City Council. The body failed to place them before voters, concerned that the proposal, by allowing some incumbents to serve longer than six years, would appear self-serving.

These late-term mayoral pushes ignore still other times that City Council members or influential business leaders and political insiders discussed but ultimately dropped plans to push for term-limit changes – most commonly, to switch to two four-year terms – in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2004 and 2012.

Whether 2015 will be added to that list of dates when talk of reform fizzled is up to City Council, which is in the process of discussing reforms to the city charter, including term limits.

See here for the earlier story. I don’t really have much to add to this, I’d just forgotten that Mayors Lanier and Brown had taken a shot at changing the ordinance as well. And I’ll never understand the allure – from the public’s perspective, anyway – of four year terms. I’m in wait-and-see mode for now. Campos has more.

January campaign finance reports – PACs


Mayoral reports
Controller reports
Council reports

There are a lot of PACs that play in Houston’s elections. It’s hard to keep up with all of them, and I say this as someone who reads far more campaign finance reports than is healthy. Very few of them file finance reports with the city of Houston – I presume this is because most of them are state organizations that operate in elections elsewhere as well, so they file their reports with the state. This year there were three special purpose PAC (SPAC) reports that caught my eye and that I thought were worth examining, so here they are.

Citizens to Keep Houston Strong
Equal Rights Houston Committee
Houstonians for Family Values

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== CtKHS 0 539 0 65,405 Eq Rts Hou 67,143 39,712 0 27,430 HFV 3,401 47,689 44,238 0

Citizens to Keep Houston Strong lists one William H. “Bill” White as their filer and treasurer. I have no idea what this PAC is for. It’s been around since White was Mayor – Penny Butler was the filer through 2010 – and has basically done nothing since he left office. If you go to the city’s campaign finance webpage and choose “Specific-Purpose Political Committee”, you will see that PACs come and go over the years. Some are for (or against) particular candidates, others are for specific referenda, like Renew Houston and red light cameras. I’m not sure what if any rules exist for disposing of PAC funds – candidates have a certain amount of time to dispose of campaign funds once they are no longer in office or seeking office – so who knows, this one could be around for awhile.

The purpose of the other two is more obvious. “Houstonians for Family Values” is Dave Wilson’s ugly baby – that $44K in loans is all from him. The reason the amount is so specific is because the total amount spent represents the cost of printing and postage for a mail piece. The fact that this PAC has no cash on hand should not lead anyone to conclude that it will be inactive this year. It surely won’t be the only such PAC this year whether or not we have to vote on HERO repeal, but at least we can say that Dave Wilson was there first. As for Equal Rights Houston, most of their money was spent on consultants. I’m going to guess that they’ll have other things to spend their money on this year.

Three thoughts on the state of the Mayor’s race

Inspired by this story, which doesn’t name any potential additions to the ever-large field of Mayoral wannabes for 2015 but which does put some things in context.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Most observers consider Rep. Sylvester Turner, with his support base from the African-American population that could cast a third of next year’s vote, to be the man to beat in November. Yet his fortunes to win in a December runoff – all but guaranteed to be needed in a large field – depend heavily on whom he faces in a one-on-one comparison.

Councilmen Oliver Pennington and Stephen Costello have committed to the race, with Pennington going as far as to send mailers to potential supporters in July, 18 months before the first votes are to be cast. Ben Hall, who lost to Parker in 2013, launched radio advertisements last month, and former Kemah mayor and Chronicle columnist Bill King designated a campaign treasurer. Former Democratic congressman Chris Bell also is an all-but-filed entrant.

Six weeks before the campaign fundraising floodgates open, the field is settling save for a potential entrant who looms over much of the discussion in Houston power circles: Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who has not yet declared his intentions. Legally, Garcia cannot make an affirmative move toward running without being forced to resign his county post, though he has acknowledged the pressure he faces from others.

That pressure, though, is pushing him in both directions. Commissioners Court likely would replace Garcia with a Republican sheriff ahead of the next election cycle.

“You’re going to be giving them an early 2016 gift,” said Democratic Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who had the sheriff at her home this month and expressed concern about a run. “Nobody wants a Latino mayor more than I do, but it’s got to be the right time.”


If Garcia does not enter the race, Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a close friend of Garcia, could look to capture Latinos’ support. Other prominent Hispanic leaders look to pass on the race, including Metro chairman and Parker ally Gilbert Garcia and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce head Laura Murillo. Both expressed some signs of interest earlier, but do not appear to be joining the field.

Garcia’s exit also could create political lanes for other Democratic alternatives to Turner, like Bell. Though Bell has not formally committed to the race, he has filed a lawsuit challenging Turner’s fundraising strategy and plans to make an official announcement in January.

The other four candidates most seriously weighing bids are: Councilman Jack Christie, an at-large councilman uncertain whether he can raise the money needed to compete; County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, who like Garcia would have to resign to run for mayor; Sean Roberts, a local attorney; and businessman and political neophyte Marty McVey.

Councilmen Michael Kubosh and C.O. Bradford considered the race earlier this year, but both now say they are unlikely to launch campaigns. And despite floating the idea that he was open to a run, outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said this month he had no plans to do so.

Conservatives have not yet coalesced around any of the six non-liberal candidates: Pennington, Costello, Hall, King, Christie or Sanchez.

“Right now, there’s no clear conservative choice yet, but people are obviously angling for being it,” said Paul Bettencourt, the new Republican senator from northwest Harris County.

1. It may be useful to think of these candidates as falling into one of three groups: Candidates with an obvious base of support, coalition candidates, and gadflies. Turner and Pennington fall into the first group, and as such you can sort of guess about what they might expect to get in November if that’s the limit of their appeal. It’s a decent position from which to start, especially in a multi-candidate race, but it’s no guarantee, as Turner himself could attest from his 2003 experience. Coalition candidates don’t have an obvious base of support, but can reasonably hope to draw from a broad range of constituencies. Bill White is the poster boy for such candidates, and folks like Bell, Costello, King, and Christie will all be competing for the kind of voters that propelled White to victory in 2003. Coalition candidates have a higher ceiling, but with so many people fishing in the same pond, it will be harder to stand out. White also had the advantage of lots of money to spend and no activity from anyone else at the time he launched his campaign. No one has that this year. Another consideration is that Turner and Pennington could have their bases eroded by Hall and Sanchez. I’d consider Sanchez a much bigger threat to Pennington if he runs than Hall would be to Turner – and Sanchez would have some appeal to Latino voters as well, not that he did so well with them in 2003 – but in a race where the difference between first and fourth or fifth could be a few thousand votes, I’d still be worried about it if I were Turner.

As for gadflies, he’s not mentioned in this story but Eric Dick, who I feel confident will run again since the publicity is good for his law firm’s business, is the canonical example. From what I have heard, Sean Roberts may be following in those footsteps. One could argue that Hall is a gadfly at this point based on the ridiculousness of his ads so far, but anyone with that kind of money to spend is still a threat to do better than the three to five points a typical gadfly might get.

Yes, there’s one candidate I haven’t mentioned here, and no I don’t mean Marty McVey, about whom I know nothing. I’ll get to him in a bit.

2. Conservatives may be better off not falling in line behind a single candidate just yet. Getting someone into the runoff is nice and all, but any Republican candidate will likely be an underdog in that runoff. The dream scenario for conservatives is what happened in the 2013 At Large #3 race, where three well-qualified Democratic candidates split the vote so evenly that none of them were able to catch up to the two Republicans. Michael Kubosh and Roy Morales were splitting a smaller piece of the electorate, but their two shares of that smaller group were greater than each of the three shares of the larger group. I still think Sylvester Turner is the frontrunner right now, but it’s not insane to imagine a Pennington-Sanchez runoff, especially if Ben Hall can be serious enough to put a dent in his numbers.

3. And then there’s Adrian Garcia. Will he or won’t he? You already know how I feel, so I won’t belabor that here. Garcia is both a candidate with a base and a coalition candidate, which is why he was as strong as he was in 2008 and 2012. Running against flawed opponents those years didn’t hurt him, either, so a little tempering of expectations may be in order here. I’m sure Garcia is carefully measuring the support he might have if he ran. I wonder if he’s trying to gauge how many Democrats he’d piss off by resigning and handing his office to a Republican, and how long said Dems would nurse that grudge when they will have at least two viable options in Turner and Bell to go with instead. It would be one thing if this were December of 2008, and Democrats had just had a great election and were feeling good about themselves. After last month’s debacle, I don’t know how forgiving anyone will be about any Dem that yields a freebie like that to the Republicans. I may be overestimating the effect, especially given how much time Garcia would have to make up for it, and I personally think the Presidential race will have a much larger effect on Democratic fortunes in Harris County in 2016 than Garcia would. But I think it’s real and I think Garcia needs to be concerned about it. Whether it’s enough to affect his decision or not, I have no idea.

Abbott and the Latino vote

The Trib drops a number on us.

I guess I need to find a new Abbott avatar

Along with his 20-point margin of victory, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott accomplished something on Election Day that many naysayers doubted the Republican could: He took 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.

For Texas conservatives, Abbott’s performance indicated that Republicans are making headway among this increasingly crucial voting bloc, which tends to lean Democratic. But upon taking office, Abbott will find himself in turbulent political waters.


But election results show that despite Republican outreach efforts, Abbott does not have a strong hold on areas of the state where most of the population is Hispanic, particularly the border counties Abbott repeatedly visited during his campaign.

In Cameron County, which Abbott had set out to win, he garnered 42 percent of the vote while Davis took 55 percent. He fared worse in Hidalgo County, with only 35 percent of the vote to Davis’s 63 percent.

The results could prove troublesome for a party looking to hone its outreach efforts as the state’s Hispanic population swells. Although they make up less than a third of eligible voters in the state, Hispanics are expected to make up a plurality of Texas’ population by 2020.

Abbott outpaced his predecessors in winning support among Hispanics, but navigating the crosscurrents of appealing to a far-right base and conservative Hispanics continues to prove difficult for Republicans when it comes to immigration.

The article is about how Abbott is going to try to balance his madrina-friendly image with the ugly xenophobia of his party. I’m not going to prognosticate about that – lots of people have been opining about what the Abbott-Dan Patrick dynamic is going to be like – but I am going to focus on those numbers. I presume that 44% figure comes from the exit polls we were promised. I know they were done and I’m aware of some complaints about their methodology, but I’ve seen basically no reporting or other analysis on them. Be that as it may, I’m going to do three things: Check the actual results to see if they line up with the 44% figure given, compare Abbott to Rick Perry in 2010, and I’ll hold the third one back till I’m ready to show you the numbers.

Comparing Latino voting performances is always a bit dicey, since the best we can do at this level is use county and State Rep district data, which is a reasonable enough rough approximation, but which can be distorted by the presence of non-Latino voters, especially if Latino turnout is lower than expected. But it’s what we’ve got, and we can at least draw some broad conclusions. A full comparison to Rick Perry in 2010 won’t be possible until all the legislative district data is published by the TLC in early 2015, but we’ll use what we do have. Here’s a look at county comparisons:

County Perry Abbott White Davis ========================================== Cameron 40.82% 42.01% 57.30% 55.46% El Paso 36.76% 37.25% 61.29% 60.32% Hidalgo 31.75% 34.79% 66.82% 62.70% Maverick 26.83% 26.27% 71.86% 70.27% Webb 22.92% 28.86% 75.60% 68.03%

So yes, Abbott did improve on Rick Perry, but not by that much. In Cameron County, which as the Trib story notes Abbott was claiming he wanted to win, he beat Perry by a bit more than one point. He did do three points better in Hidalgo and six points better in Webb, but only a half point better in El Paso and a half point worse in Maverick. Again, this is incomplete data – the State Rep district data will tell a better story – but if Rick Perry was scoring in the low thirties in 2010, it’s hard for me to say that Abbott did any better than the mid-to-upper thirties. It’s an improvement, and he gets credit for it, but I don’t see how you get to 44% from there.

I do have State Rep district data for Harris County, so let’s take a look at that:

Dist Perry Abbott White Davis Dewhurst LCT ============================================================ HD140 27.9% 32.2% 70.7% 66.3% 31.6% 65.9% HD143 29.6% 35.0% 68.9% 63.7% 33.4% 63.9% HD144 45.2% 51.7% 52.7% 46.3% 50.8% 46.0% HD145 36.3% 40.8% 62.0% 57.2% 41.6% 54.8% HD148 36.3% 39.1% 61.6% 58.7% 45.0% 50.8%

The caveat here is that the Hispanic Citizen Voting Age Populations (Hispanic CVAPs) are lower in these districts than in many other Latino districts. HD140 is the most Latino, at 60.6%; by comparison, the lowest CVAP in the six El Paso districts is 59.4%, with the other five all being greater than 70% and three of the six topping 80%. Be that as it may, Abbott clearly beat Perry here, by four to six points. That also comes with an asterisk, however, since as we know Bill White outperformed the rest of the Democratic ticket on his home turf by about six points. I included the David Dewhurst/Linda Chavez-Thompson numbers as well here to serve as a further point of comparison. Add it all up, and Abbott got 39.6% of the vote in Latino State Rep districts in Harris County. That’s impressive and a number Democrats will have to reckon with, but it’s still a pretty good distance from 44%.

I’ll revisit this question later, once the TLC has put out its data. In the meantime, there’s one more dimension to consider: How well Greg Abbott did in 2010 versus how well he did in 2014:

County Abb 10 Abb 14 ========================== Cameron 48.21% 42.01% El Paso 42.43% 37.25% Hidalgo 37.72% 34.79% Maverick 26.31% 26.27% Webb 29.12% 28.86% Dist Abb 10 Abb 14 ========================== HD140 35.1% 32.2% HD143 37.2% 35.0% HD144 54.0% 51.7% HD145 46.4% 40.8% HD148 48.6% 39.1%

Now of course this isn’t a real apples-to-apples comparison. Abbott was running for Attorney General in 2010 against a candidate who had no money and a self-described “funny name”. That’s a formula for him to do better. Of course, one could say that voters in these places liked him more when he had a lower profile. The more they heard about him, the less likely they were to vote for him. Make of that what you will.

A look at how Democratic legislative challengers did against the spread

It’s been long enough since the election that I feel like I can go back and look at some numbers. Not a whole lot of good out there, but we’ll try to learn what we can. To start off, here are all of the Democratic non-incumbent candidates for the State House and a comparison of their vote total and percentage to those of Bill White and Linda Chavez-Thompson from 2010:

Dist Candidate Votes White LCT Cand% White% LCT% ============================================================ 014 Metscher 6,353 9,980 7,540 28.5 36.3 27.8 016 Hayles 4,744 8,490 5,995 13.6 22.5 15.9 017 Banks 12,437 17,249 12,852 35.4 43.3 32.8 020 Wyman 10,871 15,512 11,232 22.7 31.4 22.9 021 Bruney 9,736 13,174 10,499 25.6 31.3 25.3 023 Criss 14,716 19,224 15,866 45.4 50.1 41.8 026 Paaso 11,074 16,104 12,290 30.3 37.0 28.4 043 Gonzalez 10,847 14,049 12,635 38.6 45.8 41.7 044 Bohmfalk 9,796 13,369 9,847 24.3 32.1 23.7 052 Osborn 12,433 12,896 10,539 38.5 39.4 32.4 058 Kauffman 6,530 10,672 6,913 19.5 29.0 18.9 061 Britt 7,451 10,103 6,725 17.0 23.4 15.6 063 Moran 9,016 10,797 8,107 22.7 27.4 20.6 064 Lyons 12,578 12,238 9,722 33.8 38.0 30.3 065 Mendoza 10,419 10,926 8,921 35.7 37.3 30.5 083 Tarbox 6,218 9,664 6,250 18.7 25.9 16.8 084 Tishler 6,336 9,444 6,969 27.3 33.7 24.9 085 Drabek 9,628 14,460 10,758 33.4 44.8 33.6 087 Bosquez 3,656 6,945 4,736 15.6 25.4 17.4 089 Karmally 11,105 11,192 8,925 28.4 31.7 25.4 091 Ragan 9,346 10,214 8,039 28.2 32.2 25.4 092 Penney 12,553 12,374 10,020 36.4 35.7 29.0 094 Ballweg 16,461 14,852 12,247 40.5 37.1 30.7 102 Clayton 12,234 15,709 12,110 37.5 44.1 34.3 105 Motley 10,469 11,766 9,793 42.7 43.8 36.7 106 Osterholt 9,586 9,112 7,212 27.5 30.1 23.8 107 Donovan 13,803 14,878 11,936 45.0 46.3 37.5 108 Bailey 16,170 17,401 12,859 39.3 42.0 31.3 113 Whitley 12,044 13,483 11,575 40.6 44.8 38.7 115 Stafford 11,761 12,428 9,955 39.5 39.8 32.0 129 Gay 12,519 17,441 12,896 32.2 37.5 28.0 132 Lopez 10,504 12,016 9,677 33.8 37.9 30.8 133 Nicol 11,728 19,800 12,595 25.4 35.7 22.9 134 Ruff 20,312 31,553 21,380 38.8 51.0 35.1 135 Abbas 10,162 13,971 11,005 34.1 39.6 31.4 136 Bucy 15,800 14,742 12,031 41.1 39.7 32.6 138 Vernon 8,747 12,918 9,878 33.2 40.5 31.2 150 Perez 10,317 13,086 9,829 26.8 31.0 23.4

The most encouraging numbers come from Williamson and Tarrant Counties. I discussed the race in HD94 before the election, where the combination of Wendy Davis’ presence on the ballot plus the outsized wingnuttery of Republican candidate Tony Tinderholt helped boost the performance of Democratic challenger Cole Ballweg. Tina Penney, running in HD92 against freshman Jonathan Stickland, also benefited. We’ll want to see what the full comparisons for this year look like, but Tarrant Dems ought to look to those two districts for a place to try to make further gains in 2016.

Nearby in Denton County, Emy Lyons in HD64 and Lisa Osterholt in HD106 both exceeded Bill White’s vote total, though not his percentage. I don’t know offhand where those districts are relative to the city of Denton, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the fracking ban referendum helped them a bit. These results are a reminder of two things – the importance of local issues in engaging voters in off years, and that it’s not enough in places like Denton County to increase vote totals. You have to keep up with the overall population increase as well. Otherwise, you’re falling farther behind even as you move forward. I’ll give Sameena Karmally in Collin County’s HD89 a nod for a decent showing in that tough district as well, with the same caveat about keeping up with the overall growth.

In Williamson, John Bucy’s strong showing in HD136 against freshman Tony Dale should make it a top target for 2016. Bucy nearly equaled President Obama’s 41.2% in HD136 from 2012, so there’s plenty to build on there. Chris Osborn didn’t do too badly in HD52, either. Note that in each district, the Libertarian candidate scored around five points – 5.03% in HD52, and 4.70% in HD136 – so the win number in each of those districts could wind up being less than 48%.

Finally, in Dallas County, the Battleground-backed candidates all fell short, but generally didn’t do too badly, and they continue to offer the best pickup opportunities for continuously Republican-held seats in HDs 105, 107, and 113. An ambitious goal for the Presidential election year would be to win back HDs 117 and 144, and take over 105, 107, 113, and 136. With no statewide race above the level of Railroad Commissioner but Presidential year turnout – if we work at it – to make things more competitive, I see no reason not to view that as a starting point.

That’s not all we should focus on, of course – I agree with Campos that we should put a lot of effort into local race around the state, which in Harris County means finding and funding a challenger to County Commissioner Steve Radack. Frankly, we should be doing that in 2015 as well, in municipal and school board races. Maybe that will help some people understand that we hold elections in the other three years, too, and their participation in those elections is needed and would be appreciated. This is something we all can and should work on.

The Battleground effect in legislative races

So here’s a crazy idea. Rather than judge Battleground Texas by our own beliefs about how things should have gone, what say we take a look at the actual numbers of a few races and see what they tell us? In particular, let’s look at the numbers in the Blue Star Project races, which were legislative elections in which BGTX engaged directly. There was SD10 and eight State House races; I’m going to throw in CD23 as well even though BGTX did not specifically get involved there. I’m going to compare the performance of the Democratic candidates with those of Bill White, since everyone is obsessing about the White numbers even though about 15% of his vote total came from Republicans, and with Lt. Gov. candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson, since I believe her totals are a more accurate reflection of what the base Democratic turnout was in 2010. Here’s what I’ve got:

Dist Candidate Votes Pct White Pct LCT Pct Needed ================================================================== CD23 Gallego 55,436 47.7 55,762 45.6 47,950 40.2 57,902 SD10 Willis 80,806 44.7 76,920 44.6 66,783 38.8 95,485 023 Criss 14,716 45.4 19,224 50.1 15,866 41.8 17,703 043 Gonzalez 10,847 38.6 14,049 45.8 12,635 41.7 17,274 105 Motley 10,469 42.7 11,766 43.8 9,793 36.7 13,588 107 Donovan 13,803 45.0 14,878 46.3 11,936 37.5 16,880 108 Bailey 16,170 39.3 17,401 42.0 12,859 31.3 24,954 113 Whitley 12,044 40.6 13,483 44.8 11,575 38.7 17,639 117 Cortez 11,519 47.3 10,247 48.0 8,829 42.2 12,832 144 Perez 5,854 49.3 8,411 52.7 7,273 46.0 6,010

It’s a mixed bag. The best performances came from Libby Willis in SD10 and Phillip Cortez (one of two incumbents on BGTX’s list) in HD117. Both exceeded White’s totals and far surpassed Chavez-Thompson’s. This is partly a reflection of what happened in Tarrant and Bexar Counties, respectively. In Tarrant, not only did Wendy Davis beat Bill White’s numbers in her backyard, so too did Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston, with Mike Collier just behind. White and Van de Putte were the only ones to carry Bexar for the Dems, with VdP being the high scorer, but Davis came close to White’s number and downballot Dems improved by about 20,000 votes. Willis and Cortez both beat the spread, but not by enough.

Gallego, who again was not directly assisted by BGTX, and the four Dallas County candidates all fell short of White but exceeded, in some cases by a lot, Chavez-Thompson. As I said above, I think topping LCT’s totals represents an improvement in base turnout from 2010, and again that’s consistent with what we saw in Dallas overall, as White was the standard-bearer while the top four Dems all surpassed Chavez-Thompson. Gallego did about as well in Bexar as Ciro Rodriguez did in 2010, and there’s no one place where he did worse, though he could have used more turnout in Maverick County.

The other three results are just bad. Turncoat Dem Lozano carried Jim Wells and Kleberg counties even as all the statewide Dems won in Jim Wells and most of them carried Kleberg despite generally losing it in 2010. Davis didn’t win Kleberg, and she scored lower in Jim Wells than several other Dems. That may have been a contributing factor, but on the whole it was fairly marginal. Still, that needs to be understood more fully, and someone needs to come up with a strategy to keep Dems from crossing over for Lozano if we want to make that seat competitive again.

Criss had a tough assignment, as HD23 has been trending away as places like Friendswood have made Galveston County and that district more Republican. Unlike the other two Dem-held State Rep seats that were lost, HD23 isn’t going to flip to “lean Dem” in 2016. Turnout by both parties was down in HD23 from 2010, and it’s probably the case that White was a boost there four years ago. Better turnout could have gotten her closer, but Susan Criss was always going to have to persuade some Rs to support her to win. I will be very interested to see what the Legislative Council report on this one looks like when it comes out.

The loss by Mary Ann Perez was the worst of the bunch, partly because it looked like she was up in early voting and partly because Harris was alone among the five largest counties in not improving Dem turnout. You can ding BGTX or whoever you like as much as you want for the latter, but the candidate herself has to take some responsibility, too. Winning this seat back needs to be a priority in 2016, and making sure it stays won needs to be a bigger priority after that.

So like I said, a mixed bag. The 2010 numbers were pretty brutal overall in these districts, and where there were improvements it was encouraging, and offers hope for 2016. Where there wasn’t improvement was disappointing, and needs to be examined thoroughly to understand what happened. I’d give the project a final grade of C – there’s some promise going forward and some lessons to be learned, but while improvements are nice, results are necessary.

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

2014 Day 11 Early Vote totals

But first, a little Republican angst.


The Republican Party of Bexar County has issued a series of desperate pleas to conservative voters, saying “the Democrats are beating us on base turnout,” but two of the Texas party’s biggest names converged on San Antonio to get any complacent GOP voters off their couches.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott rallied supporters on Wednesday at Alamo Café, echoing concerns of local GOP leaders that loyalists who usually vote early aren’t all doing so.

“It’s a risk when people feel you’re going to win. They feel ‘why bother?’ That’s why events like this are so important, to encourage people to vote,” Cornyn said.

“We noticed that our base is sagging a bit,” said Bexar County GOP Chairman Robert Stovall.

“For the first time, I hope Republicans are right,” quipped his Democratic counterpart, Manuel Medina.

Both parties are armed with overnight data from early voting that ends Friday. While Republicans are anxious about their turnout numbers, Democrats are buoyed by theirs.

I have no insight into Bexar County, and it’s often difficult to distinguish between truth and bluff in this kind of story, but I like the sound of this anyway. It is credible to me that Bexar could be overperforming thanks to the presence of Leticia Van de Putte, as Tarrant appears to be doing for Wendy Davis and Harris did in 2010 for Bill White. Be that as it may, I think we can take this at face value.

And then there’s this from the Quorum Report, via email from the Davis campaign:

As we’ve said from time to time at Buzz Central, if Texas is a battleground, Harris County is ground zero. Perhaps never before has that seemed so true. Conservative activists, including the local GOP’s new and old leadership, are said to be waging all-out war to try to keep Sen. Wendy Davis’ performance in Harris County from affecting their down ballot candidates. There has been much grumbling in recent weeks from local Republican judicial candidates who feel that not enough has been done to turn out the GOP vote.

Longtime conservative activist and donor Dr. Steve Hotze – a major financial contributor to Sen.Dan Patrick – recently sent out mailers and emails pleading for Christian conservatives to get out the vote.

In offering what he called a “Contract with Texas,” Hotze said “Republicans are in trouble in Harris County. For the first time in over two decades the Democrats have matched the Republicans in Early Ballots by Mail which Republicans historically have led by a 2 to 1 margin.”

Hotze went on to explain that he’s seen polling that shows Attorney General Greg Abbott running behind Sen. Davis by just 1 percent in Harris County. Some reliable sources tell QR they have seen similar polling.

“This adversely affects the down ballot races,” Hotze wrote. “Republican District Attorney Devon Anderson is in a dead heat with Democrat challenger Kim Ogg,” he said.

“The Republican judges are running neck in neck with the liberal Democrat judicial candidates. Obama’s Battleground Texashas registered over 1,000,000 new voters in Texas.”

And with that, here are your Day 11 EV totals, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. In this case, skepticism is warranted. The evidence we have is that Republicans have an eight or nine point lead, which is smaller than what they’re used to for off year elections, but still nothing to sneeze at. Whatever the polls say – the KHOU poll is the only Harris County-specific public data of which I am aware – the actual vote rosters tell us more. The good news, from the Dem perspective, is that we have more base voters left to motivate. The bad news is that there ain’t much time left to do that, and I’m not sure anyone knows why the numbers haven’t been higher. But hey, at least you know that we’re not the only ones that have been sweating.

First steps in Montgomery County

You can’t win a race if you don’t have a candidate.

Michael Hayles

Democrat Michael Hayles says Montgomery County’s poor have to balance some tough choices, and he extends his arms in a rocking motion to make the point.

“Do I get cars fixed or do I buy food for my family?” Hayles said.

Hayles has been working with the poor for years and now hopes to take that experience to Austin. A candidate for the state legislature, Hayles, 58, is the only Democrat running for office in Montgomery County, one of the most conservative regions in the country.

He is also the first candidate to run against a Republican in the county in six years. No Democrat has beaten a Republican in more than two decades.

While Conroe native Will Metcalf said he is confident he can build on the momentum of his May primary victory and maintain the GOP’s winning streak, Hayles hopes to defy experts, history and fundraising barriers by getting more of those in need to vote.

“They’ve been ignored enough by local politicians,” Hayles said.

The 16th state House district, which is just north of The Woodlands and encompasses the cities of Conroe and Montgomery and communities as far east as Cut and Shoot, was represented by Brandon Creighton, who was elected to the state Senate in a special election last August.

Hayles said he plans to meet with community groups in poorer, outlying areas of the district like Dobbin and Deerwood. He tells residents that he’ll look after their interests.

The Democrat said he will focus on enabling those in need to get jobs through education and also use public dollars to invest in the area’s infrastructure. Texas’s budget surplus needs to be invested in education instead of tax breaks, he said.

Running for office at any level and in any geographic entity is difficult, but some races are tougher than others. To put this race into perspective, Bill White scored 22.48% in HD16 in 2010. Farther down the ballot, Hector Uribe, the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner, scored 15.40%. Let’s just say this is a long-term project and go from there. Still, the first step on this thousand-mile journey is finding good people to take on this thankless task, and have them find and talk to the people that have been left out by the dominant political culture. I’m sure the vast majority of the people he talks to, however many of them he does get to, will not have had that experience before. That’s important, and it’s something that candidates and groups like Battleground Texas and the Texas Organizing Project can build on. I’ll be interested to see how Hayles does in comparison to that benchmark.

Like I said, Step One is to engage the people that live there and work to turn them into voters. This Chron story from a couple of weeks ago gave another peek into that in Montgomery County.

As accordion-heavy music played in the background, Lucia Mendez hunched over an electronic voting machine under a canopy, learning about the displays and controls she would see on Election Day.

Mendez, 19, said she had never voted before. But on Sunday, at a festival put on by the Montgomery County Democratic Party geared toward the region’s growing Latino population, Mendez registered to vote for the first time.

“If you want something to change you’ve got to be part of it,” Mendez said at the Conroe park where the event was held.

In one of the most conservative regions in the country, where whites dominate most political offices, community leaders say that Hispanics such as Mendez have felt perpetually disenfranchised even though they now make up one-fifth of the population.

Both major parties are trying to tap into the potential Latino voter base, with Democrats hoping they can tip the scale in a county that has been red for decades and Republicans looking to strengthen their supremacy.

Mendez said she wouldn’t commit to a party. But for Democrats in Montgomery County, just recruiting Hispanic voters like Mendez, who lives in Willis and feels strongly about immigration issues, to register is a victory.

“We want them all to come out and vote,” said Bruce Barnes, the county’s Democratic Party chairman.

Over the last 15 years, the Hispanic population in the county has nearly tripled, from around 37,000 in 2000 to more than 100,000 people in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. People of Hispanic or Latino origin make up more than 20 percent of the county of 500,000, up from 13 percent in 2000, according to the most recent estimates.

Texas will be Massachusetts by the time Montgomery becomes a swing county, but that doesn’t mean efforts like these aren’t important. Turning Montgomery from a 75% GOP county to a 65% county would be a big step forward. Going back to the 2010 Governor’s race, if Bill White had lost by a 65-35 margin there, he would have netted a bit more than 25,000 extra votes. At that less hopeless level, you can seriously talk about winning municipal races, and build a bit of a bench with an eye towards a State Rep seat or a County Commissioner post. This is what the Republicans were doing all over the state forty and fifty years ago. No time like the present for the Democrats to be doing it as well.

Saving SD10 and other benchmarks

The Observer looks at the race to succeed Wendy Davis in SD10.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

It’s a steamy, hot summer morning in the Metroplex, and at the Dixie House, a Southern-style diner in east Ft. Worth where gravy flows like water, Libby Willis can’t find a moment to dig into her eggs and hash. She’s too excited about her campaign. Willis, the Democratic nominee in Senate District 10, is running in one of the state’s most important races for Democrats this cycle. It’s fallen to her—a first-time candidate with solid credentials—to defend Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be-former seat against Konni Burton, a fiery tea-party organizer who’d likely be one of the chamber’s most conservative senators.

Willis acknowledges that her odds are long in this Republican-leaning district. But the path to victory, she says, is simple enough. “We just got to get our people out to vote. That’s all there is to it,” Willis says. “This is not a sleepy year.”

Democrats faced a tough task holding onto the district even before Davis decided to try her hand at the governor’s race. Davis squeaked by in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket and Democratic turnout was comparatively high. (Though Obama lost Tarrant County both times, Davis held on anyway.) But the last round of redistricting forced an early election in SD 10—the district now elects its senator in midterm years, when Democrats tend to falter in Texas. To hold the seat for Democrats, Willis will need luck, skillful positioning, a troubled opponent and an impressive field operation. That last part, Democrats hope, is where Battleground Texas comes in.

Battleground, the group started by former Obama campaign staffers with the aim of making Texas politically competitive, is spending most of its time and resources in the rocky terrain of the governor’s race these days. But down the ballot, the organization is trying to put muscle behind a dozen legislative candidates, running in marginal districts that should be fertile ground for Democrats. Dubbed the Blue Star Project, the effort aims to focus the group’s technical expertise and organizing ability on legislative races, with the help of a “coordinated field program and a full arsenal of data, digital, and communications expertise.”

What that means, in short, is that the group hopes to take the special sauce decanted from the Obama campaign’s field operation and drizzle it on legislative races here, where it might make more of a difference than it will against Greg Abbott, who has a 3-to-1 cash advantage over Davis. The most important of the races is SD 10. In the process, Battleground hopes to stake a claim to a continued future in the state.

Democrats everywhere hope this cycle will be more like a presidential year than, say, 2010, and if it is, Battleground could be part of the reason why. Willis says the organization is part of a longer push. “This is a multi-year effort. This is not one and done,” she says. “This is not, ‘Hey, we’re finished at midnight on November 4th.’ They are committed to continuing the work, which is fantastic. And really important.”

I basically agree with this, though as I’ve said before, SD10 in a Presidential year is no cakewalk, either. I feel pretty confident saying that Wendy Davis considered the odds of her holding onto SD10 versus her odds of being elected Governor when she was making her decision. At this point it seems clear to me that the Dems’ odds of holding SD10 are better with Wendy Davis at the top of the ticket than they would be with Wendy Davis running for re-election and essentially nobody at the top of the ticket. I mean seriously, who would our nominee for Governor be right now if Wendy Davis hadn’t taken the plunge? Ray Madrigal? Kinky Friedman? Gene Kelly? It’s pretty brutal when you think about it, especially when you add in the fact that Leticia Van de Putte would also not be running for Lite Gov if Wendy hadn’t led the way. I’ve heard some people complain that by raising people’s hopes in what is likely to be a losing cause, Davis and her candidacy could cause some major blowback and infighting after the election. I don’t doubt the possibility, but it’s hard for me to see how giving up and rolling over as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick waltz to power was the better alternative.

The big picture also gets discussed.

Battleground Texas debuted in February 2013 to enormous fanfare. Democrats had just come off a spectacularly successful presidential election year: The blue portion of the electoral map had swelled in a way that made some gains seem semi-permanent. Formerly red states like Virginia, Colorado and Nevada had flipped, for reasons that included both shifting ideological coalitions and demographic changes. Other states, like Georgia, seemed to be in reach. Then there was Texas, the beating, blood-red heart of GOP electoral viability.

If the national Republican Party is a vampire, Battleground is intended to be the wooden stake. Founded by Jeremy Bird, the national field director for Obama’s 2012 campaign, and armed with the newest technology, techniques and tactics, the organization says it would do what the Texas Democratic Party couldn’t—or wouldn’t. Even if the group’s fresh-faced organizers don’t make a clean kill, softening Texas would mean national Republicans would have to spend time and money here. They’d win for losing. In a column for The New York Times, political reporter Thomas Edsall wrote a few months after Battleground’s launch that the group had “put the fear of God into the Texas Republican Party.”

If that fear was ever real, you can be sure that it’s dissipated a bit. Battleground has had a challenging first year and a half and its future is uncertain. Wendy Davis’ filibuster gave the Democrats what seemed like a viable shot at the governor’s mansion, so Battleground, which started as a long-term organizing project, wedded the group’s efforts to hers. Battleground handles the work in the field, and Davis’ campaign handles strategy and messaging. The two groups even share a bank account, called, promisingly, the Texas Victory Committee.

If Davis does well, Battleground has a chance to move up the clock on the state’s purple-fication. But if she doesn’t, Battleground stands to suffer along with her. The story of the 2014 election isn’t done yet, but Davis’ odds of victory seem slim. Even if she doesn’t win, Abbott’s margin over Davis matters quite a bit: If she outperforms expectations, Battleground—and the Democratic coalition more generally—will have something to show to donors and supporters come 2015. It’ll serve as a proof of concept.

If she does badly—if she ends up in Bill White territory, as seems possible—the whole thing will be a wash and Dems, having spent a hell of a lot of time and money for little in return, will be left asking themselves very tough questions about how best to organize themselves next cycle. A good deal of the enthusiasm that’s built up in the last year will fall apart. Battleground insists it’s here for the long term—but to make that a reality, the group needs to keep its raison d’être, and its appeal to big-money donors, intact. It’s an expensive operation to run. And some close to the state Democratic Party—which, mind you, doesn’t have a great track record of success itself—would like to see the party take on Battleground’s local organizing functions itself.


That’s one reason the Blue Star Project is important to the group—if Battleground can pick off a number of legislative races this year, it gives them a plausible claim to a future in Texas. None of the twelve races Battleground is assisting in are really “reach” districts, but Texas Democrats have had trouble pinning them down. If a couple of them flip blue in November, Jeremy Bird’s young group will argue it’s brought home enough trophies to justify another hunting trip.

The 2016 election cycle will likely see Clinton at the top of the ticket driving high turnout among the Democratic base, which means it could be a good year for Dems in legislative races here. In 2008, Democrats in Texas rode the coattails of Barack Obama’s popularity to win 74 of the state’s 150 House seats. It’s not realistic to hope for that again—not least because the state had another round of gerrymandering in between then and now—but it could be a more comfortable climate, and Battleground’s experience this cycle in down-ballot races could prove useful.

I’ve discussed the question of what a consolation prize might look like in the event the losing streak by Dems in statewide races continues. With the caveat that “expectations” and whether or not one has beaten them tend to be set by the chattering classes after the election and not before it when we might have argued about them, let me suggest a couple of bars for BGTX and Wendy Davis to clear.

The Bill White Line: This one is explicitly mentioned in the Observer story. White got 42.29% with 2,106,395 total votes, and I think it’s fair to say that these are minimum totals for any reasonable “success” story to be spun. More to the point, recall that White ran a campaign that was largely geared towards peeling votes away from Rick Perry. He was actually quite successful at that, as I have noted before, but in a world where the base Democratic vote remained at between 1.7 and 1.8 million for a third consecutive off-year election, it didn’t matter. For Battleground Texas to claim success in its goal of boosting turnout, we need to see all statewide Democrats collect at least 2 million votes. I thought that was a worthwhile and achievable goal even before Davis’ famous filibuster put her on the map. It’s surely on the low end of what we should aim for now.

The John Sharp Line: John Sharp scored 46.03% of the vote when he ran for Lite Gov in 2002. No Democrat has topped 46% statewide since. Sharp did this with slightly fewer votes than White – 2,082,281 to be exact – thanks in part to lower Republican turnout that year and a higher third-party vote total. I’d estimate the Davis campaign would need to reach the 2.3 million vote mark to get to 46%, which if she does achieve would also mean that the margin was less than ten percent. I don’t think there’s any question that crossing these lines would be the mark of clear and substantial progress, and by all rights should change the narrative from “Dems haven’t won since the 90s” to “Dems came closer than they have in any election since the 90s”.

Hold the line in the Lege: The story is about SD10, and it also mentions HD23. Both of those seats, as well as CD23, have the distinction of being held by Democrats but having been carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. (There are no Republican-held seats in the Lege or in Congress that were carried by President Obama in 2012.) Holding those seats, especially with SD10 and HD23 being open, would be a very nice thing to do regardless of what happens anywhere else.

Gain ground in the Lege: The next level up involves picking up a seat or two (or more) in the Lege, where as the story notes there are a few that could be attained with a focused turnout effort. The story covers most of the basics and I’ve blogged about the Blue Star Project before, so I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say that any pickups, all of which would also be in districts that had been carried by Mitt Romney, would be a feather in the cap and another sign of real progress.

Win Harris County. Bill White carried Harris County in 2010, but that came with an asterisk next to it. No other Dem came close as the Republicans swept the county races again, as they had every year since 1998, a year that I trust sounds familiar. Dems increased turnout significantly in Harris County in 2010, but lost ground overall compared to 2006 due to the GOP tidal wave that year. We can’t do anything about that, but there’s plenty of room to grow the Democratic vote more, and in the absence of another GOP tsunami, winning Harris County and the substantial prizes that would come with it – the first Democratic DA in who knows how long, ousting the likes of Stan Stanart and Orlando Sanchez, maintaining the Democratic majority on the HCDE – would be sweet.

Win Fort Bend, advance elsewhere. Fort Bend County has trended the same was as Harris has, but a few points behind. Winning Harris County in a non-Presidential year would be a shot across the bow, while winning Fort Bend would be a brick with a note tied to it crashing through the window. Beyond that, pick your favorite red county and a reasonable goal. Thirty-five percent in Collin and Denton? Forty percent in Williamson? Forty-five percent in Tarrant? Go to the SOS webpage, use the Railroad Commission race as the benchmark, and go from there.

You get the idea. I don’t think you need a fancy Poli Sci degree to realize that these events are not independent of each other. It’s hard to imagine falling short of the Bill White Line while achieving the other goals, and it’s hard to imagine clearing the John Sharp Line without achieving at least some of them. Still, there will be some variation based on local conditions and candidate quality, and one hopes that the promised exit polls will give us some more dimensions to measure. I definitely agree with author Christopher Hooks that one way or another there will be a long discussion about the level of success of the tactics used in this campaign. I hope this has provided a starting point for discussing what those levels might look like.