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Connie Scott

A question of how many

Yes, Democrats will pick up seats in the Lege this election. The question is how many seats.

Texas political experts expect Democrats will gain at least seven House seats.

“If the Democrats don’t get to 55 seats or more, the party has committed malpractice,” said GOP campaign consultant Eric Bearse.

Most of the competitive legislative races feature state House races. The lone state Senate seat in play involves a Fort Worth area district with Democratic incumbent Sen. Wendy Davis battling Republican state Rep. Mark Shelton. The GOP holds 19 of the Senate’s 31 seats.

Changing demographics should help Democrats narrow the gap in coming years, but GOP-directed redistricting last year created only about a dozen swing House districts this fall.

“It was not possible with the most skillful and artful redistricting effort to protect 102 seats, which includes two party switchers in South Texas and two in East Texas,” Bearse said. “It’s not 2010. The floodwaters only rise so high every once in awhile.”

[…]

Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, a member of Texas Republican Representatives Campaign Committee, estimates his party will lose between seven and nine seats.

“Some people are more optimistic than that,” he said. “It depends on who turns out, the 2008 (pro-Democrat) group or the 2010 (pro-Republican) group.”

The four toughest seats for GOP incumbents to keep, according to Larson are: Rep. Connie Scott of Corpus Christi, Rep. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, Rep. Dee Margo of El Paso and Rep. John Garza of San Antonio. All won their seats in 2010. Scott, Lozano and Margo each face a former Democratic House member. Scott and Margo face the same opponents they defeated in 2010. Lozano flipped from Democrat to Republican last year.

[…]

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the House Mexican American Legislative Caucus, believes Democrats will gain between seven and 14 House seats next month.

He also expects more Hispanics to win House seats in the 2014 election, which will again have new boundaries.

“Artful” and “skillful” are two words that can describe the redistricting effort. “Illegal” and “discriminatory” also work. I did my own analysis on this last month. Note that I miscounted the Democratic caucus – I thought it was 47 after Rep. Lozano’s switch, not 48, so add one to my totals where appropriate. Given that the Dems have already effectively picked up three seats, I think seven is a fair minimum, and I concur with Rep. Larson’s assessment of the most vulnerable incumbents. Fourteen is a bit of a stretch, but ten is a reasonably optimistic goal. As Rep. Martinez-Fischer notes, there will be other opportunities in 2014 when the next map is in place.

There’s not much to add to this. The numbers are what they are, though as I’ve noted elsewhere, continued population growth and demographic change may result in some surprises. Two additional things to note. First, as much as the numbers can tell us, there is still the matter of issues:

Carolyn Boyle, founder and chairman of the pro-public education Texas Parent PAC, said the public education funding issue has generated considerable enthusiasm among the organization’s financial donors.

“Candidates who are canvassing (neighborhoods) are telling us it’s the top issue as they go door-to-door talking to people,” Boyle said.

Democrats would certainly like this election to be as much about education as possible. The success Democrats had in 2006 and 2008 in picking up Republican-held seats was due in large part to then-Speaker Craddick’s hostility to public education. Opposition to vouchers drove a lot of that, too, though apparently no one told Dan Patrick about that. Be that as it may, the Trib had a story a couple of weeks back about GOP freshmen touting their pro-education credentials on the campaign trail. It may not be till the 2014 election for the full effect of this to be felt, but I’m happy to be fighting on that turf in the meantime.

Second:

Democrats also hope to win back the seat of Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston. The freshman lawmaker defeated Democrat incumbent Ellen Cohen two years ago by 701 votes out of more than 51,000 ballots. Davis now faces a challenge from attorney Ann Johnson in one of the districts fairly high on the Democrats’ target list.

Bearse, who is working for Davis, is counting on her to prevail.

“She is a perfect fit for her district. She has an independent streak as wide as Texas,” Bearse said. “Those Republicans who vote their district and show some independence should win if they raise money and get their message out.”

The numbers make Rep. Davis a favorite to be re-elected, so much so that it’s rather surprising and a bit telling to see her “moderate” bona fides being touted. I’ll agree that Davis is a “moderate” in tone, by which I mean she’s too smart to say anything as obnoxiously ignorant as Debbie Riddle or Leo Berman are wont to do. But I would challenge Eric Bearse to name two bills of substance other than the sonogram bill on which Davis voted against her party. I can’t think of any. She voted for the House budget bill, which would have cut $10 billion from public education, she voted to cut family planning funding and to de-fund Planned Parenthood, and she voted for the “sanctuary cities” bill. In short, she was a loyal Republican. You’d think someone running in a 55%+ GOP district wouldn’t feel the need to talk that much about their “independence”.

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

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

HD12

District: 12

Incumbent: None

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

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 46.67%

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

HD17

District: 17

Incumbent: Tim Kleinschmidt (first elected in 2008)

Counties: Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes

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

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

HDs 32 and 34

District: 32
District: 34

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

Counties: Nueces

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

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

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

HD35

District: 35

Incumbent: Jose Aliseda (first elected in 2010)

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

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 50.77%

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

HD41

District: HD41

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

Counties: Hidalgo (part)

Best Dem performance in 2008: Sam Houston, 60.15%

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

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

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

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

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

You know that old story about the frog and the scorpion?

From Speak South Texas, possibly the most ludicrous bemoaning of the Pitts budget of them all:

South Texas Republicans are voicing their opposition and concern to the proposed cuts. Valley Republican Aaron Peña was among the first, telling KURV Radio’s Daily Report with Colonel Ray “I don’t agree with it. I said that from the moment I read the budget. We are still dissecting it and it’s getting worse and worse.” In the words of the famous John McClane: Welcome to the Party pal.

You knew what they were when you hopped into bed with them, Aaron. If you didn’t, it’s no one’s fault but your own.

Almost as ridiculous:

Del Mar College President Mark Escamilla said the funding cuts seem to contradict the increases in student growth many community colleges are seeing across the state. The state can’t pay colleges what they are due.

“It’s a sad day in Texas when we have to start thinking about these kinds of cuts,” he said.

[…]

Rep. Raul Torres, whose district includes Del Mar College, said he has met with Escamilla.

“But I stress the budget is preliminary,” Torres said. “These Austin bureaucrats don’t take into consideration Del Mar’s growth, and I think together we will minimize the impact.”

Let me introduce you to Talmadge Heflin and Michael Quinn Sullivan, Raul. You know, the guys who have been saying that we don’t really have a budget shortfall at all, we just need to learn to live within the lessened means that we now have. I’m sure they’ll be open to hearing about Del Mar’s growth.

Rep. Connie Scott, R-Robstown, is hopeful state revenues from sales taxes will improve by the time the House votes on the budget later this year.

“I have met with our school boards and several school board members,” Scott said Wednesday. “We know cuts will come but we hope by May that the budget scenario improves. Regardless, as I have promised, a quality education system is one of my top priorities and it also is a constitutional duty for us to provide public education.”

First, any improvement in sales tax revenues will be used to pay off the $4.3 billion shortfall in the 2010-11 biennium’s budget. Second, how exactly did you intend to pay for that “quality education system” you promised? None of your Republican colleagues seem to share that interest.

All I can say is that if cognitive dissonance is something that can be detected externally, the levels of it in Texas must be off the charts by now.