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Craig Eiland

Chron overview of HD23

We go to Galveston for one of the few interesting Legislative races in the area.

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

A former Democratic state legislator is trying to recapture the Texas House District 23 seat from the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction.

In one of the few competitive legislative contests, Democrat Lloyd Criss, who represented Galveston County in the Texas House from 1979 to 1991, is challenging first-term Republican Rep. Wayne Faircloth.

Faircloth, 63, won the seat in 2014 by defeating Criss’ daughter, former Galveston County District Judge Susan Criss.

Although the district was redrawn to favor the GOP by combining the predominantly Democratic areas of Galveston County with overwhelmingly Republican Chambers County, Republicans have struggled in the district. Faircloth fell short in his first attempt to win the district in 2012, losing to then-Rep. Craig Eiland, a Democrat.

Lloyd Criss

Lloyd Criss

The seat came open in 2014 after Eiland decided to retire from a post he had held for two decades.

The district includes Democratic-leaning Galveston, the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas City, La Marque and the unincorporated community of San Leon before stretching across Galveston Bay to take in more conservative Chambers County.

[…]

[Sean Skipworth, who teaches government at the College of the Mainland,] said that Faircloth won during a mid-term election with low turnout, which usually favors Republicans. Incumbents are most vulnerable during their first reelection campaign, he said, and having presidential candidate Donald Trump at the top of the ticket could hurt Republicans farther down the ballot like Faircloth. The 75-year-old Criss also has high name recognition in Galveston County, which has 80 percent of the district’s population.

“If I was Faircloth, I would be a little nervous,” Skipworth said.

True, but Eiland was the only Democrat to receive a majority of the vote in HD23 in 2012. The district, like Galveston County itself, had been trending the wrong way for some time, and I suspect Eiland’s decision to retire rather than run in 2014 was predicated as much by an inking about which way the wind was blowing as anything else. That said, Susan Criss did about as well as one could expect in that environment, and it’s hardly outrageous to think that a guy like Faircloth, who represents a relatively balanced district, could get swept out in the Year of the Trump. It’s just that if that does happen, he’d immediately be the favorite to win it back in 2018, at least until we get a feel for where there will be a more permanent effect from this election. Bottom line, if the statewide polls are accurate, this seat could well be in play. Holding it after this year, that’s the challenge.

Interview with Susan Criss

Susan Criss

Susan Criss

My second legislative candidate interview is with one of my favorite people in politics, Susan Criss, who is running to succeed Rep. Craig Eiland in HD23. Criss is a longtime District Court judge in Galveston County, who survived the 2010 election by being good enough to not have drawn an opponent. She’s spent a lifetime in politics – her father, Lloyd Criss, represented HD23 years ago, and is now the Chair of the Galveston County Democratic Party – and while serving as a judge she won accolades for her work to divert mentally ill defendants from prison. She’s also a longtime presence on social media who created the first court web site in Galveston County, and was the executive producer on an award-winning documentary called “The Color of Justice”. Here’s the interview:

I’ll start the interviews with statewide candidates next week. In the meantime, consider this: In last year’s Legislature, a grand total of 32 of the 150 members were women, or a bit more than 20 percent. I haven’t tried to figure out what the range of likely possibility will be for next year, but I think it’s safe to say that it can only be a good thing for the Legislature and the state of Texas if we take every opportunity to elect smart, capable, and highly qualified women like Susan Criss.

Of course some people will split their votes

It’s just a matter of how many of them do so, and if the races in question are close enough for it to matter.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Democrats are hoping the Republicans will eventually make some of the mistakes Democrats themselves made back when they were on top and the GOP was trying to break down the doors of power. They ran candidates — particularly at the national level — who were too liberal for conservative Texas Democrats to stomach. They developed a split between conservatives and liberals that made it possible for Republicans to peel away the conservatives and form the beginnings of what is now a solid Republican majority.

The notion behind the current Van de Putte proposition is that — to Democrats — Patrick is so extreme that even some Republicans will rebel and vote for the Democrat. In a debate with Patrick this year, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro said the Houston Republican would be the Democrats’ “meal ticket” in November.

The differences between the two top candidates (there are also a Libertarian, a Green and an independent in the race) are stark: gender, ethnicity, party, ideology, roots. She is likely to attack his positions on immigration, health care, abortion, equal pay and education. He is likely to attack her positions on some of those same things, characterizing her as a liberal who wants to expand government and poisoning his darts with the unpopularity of the Democratic president.

To be the only Democratic statewide winner in November, Van de Putte would need to make sure Patrick doesn’t perform as well as Greg Abbott. And that requires one to imagine the voter who will vote for Abbott and then turn and vote for Van de Putte — who will vote against Wendy Davis for governor and against Patrick for lieutenant governor. Republicans are betting there won’t be many of those. Democrats are hoping that women and minorities will have an allergic reaction to his rhetoric and positions, creating an opportunity for their candidate.

It happened before, but this was a different state when voters elected George W. Bush, a Republican, and Bob Bullock, a Democrat, to the top two positions on the ballot. It nearly happened again four years later, when Bush won re-election against Garry Mauro by 37 percentage points and Republican Rick Perry beat Democrat John Sharp by less than 2 points in the race for lieutenant governor.

It’s true you have to go back to 1994 to find an example of a party split at the top of state government, but you don’t have to go back nearly that far to find a significant split in how people voted for those two offices. Just in 2010, more than 300,000 people voted for Bill White and David Dewhurst. That always gets overlooked because the races were not close in 2010, making White’s effort little more than a footnote, but the point is simply that people – many people – can and will split their vote in the right set of circumstances.

We also saw plenty of examples of this in 2012, though not at the statewide level. Congressman Pete Gallego, State Rep. Craig Eiland, and *ahem* State Sen. Wendy Davis all won races in districts that voted majority Republican otherwise. In Harris County, some 40,000 people voted for Mitt Romney and Adrian Garcia, while in the other direction another fifteen or twenty thousand voted for Barack Obama and Mike Anderson. In all of these cases, those ticket splitters very much did matter – the first three could not have won without them, while the latter two could have gone either way, as Harris County was basically 50-50 that year. This is why the efforts of Battleground Texas mean so much. Democrats have to get their base vote up, or else it won’t matter how much crossover appeal Leticia Van de Putte – or Wendy Davis, or Sam Houston, or Mike Collier – may have. It’s not either-or, it’s both or nothing.

The small number of competitive legislative races in November

The Trib discusses the lack of legislative action in November.

Rep. Hubert Vo

Rep. Hubert Vo

In the House, nine Republican and two Democratic races are still undecided. An early list of competitive November races — this is in a House with 150 seats — comes in under a dozen. Put another way, there are about as many competitive races in the party runoffs as in the November general election.

In the Senate, there are only two runoffs — both in the Republican primaries. And in November, only the SD-10 seat — now held by Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth — looks from this distance like a genuinely competitive two-party contest.

The 36-member congressional ballot is just as imbalanced, with three runoffs (all Republican) next month and only one obviously competitive November race, in the 23rd Congressional District, where freshman Democrat Pete Gallego of Alpine is the incumbent. Democrats are starting to talk hopefully about the chances for Wesley Craig Reed, the challenger to U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi. That district, CD-27, was drawn to favor Republicans, however, and part of Reed’s challenge will be to overcome that advantage in a midterm election year with an unpopular Democratic president in office.

That’s the problem for challengers with these maps: Barring the unexpected — scandal, death, resignations that come too late for candidates to be replaced — most races will be over by the end of next month, if they aren’t over already.

Those are most of the caveats, along with the usual one: It’s early, and things will change. All that said, here is an early list of House races to watch in November, mostly because they are in the handful of swing districts that remain on the map.

  • HD-105: Republican state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown of Irving lost her primary to former Rep. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie in March. He’ll face Libertarian W. Carl Spiller and the winner of a Democratic runoff in a district where both major parties think a win is possible.
  • HD-107: Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, is being challenged by Democrat Carol Donovan.
  • HD-113: Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, is being challenged by Democrat Milton Whitley.
  • HD-43: Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, will face Democrat Kim Gonzalez.
  • HD-23: Democratic Rep. Craig Eiland of Galveston isn’t seeking another term, leaving this open seat to either Republican Wayne Faircloth or Democrat Susan Criss.
  • HD-117: Democratic Rep. Philip Cortez of San Antonio will face Republican Rick Galindo.
  • HD-144: Rep. Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston, is being challenged by Republican Gilbert Peña.
  • HD-41: Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission, will face Elijah Israel Casas in this marginally Democratic district.
  • HD-149: Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, is being challenged by Republican Al Hoang in a district that Vo has managed to defend — narrowly — several times.

Keeping score? That list includes four seats currently held by Republicans that the Democrats would like to take away, and five Democratic seats that the Republicans hope to grab. At the extremes, that would mean the Texas House would convene with 91 to 100 Republicans and 50 to 59 Democrats in January 2015 — about where it is today.

I’ll stipulate that once the runoffs are settled, so too are the vast majority of legislative races. There’s always the possibility of a surprise, as the story notes, but barring anything unforeseen, all the action this year will be statewide and in the counties. That’s just not what the pattern has been over the past decade, but it’s a testament to the power of the 2011 redistricting. I suspect it’s one part access to more accurate data and more powerful computers, and one part more rapid demographic change in various districts last decade, but right now these maps have the feel of permanence, barring court-mandated changes, until 2021.

I’ve got another post in the works to illustrate that in greater detail, but for now let’s look a little closer at the list Ross Ramsey compiled. I agree with the four competitive Republican seats, and while I agree that these are the five most competitive Democratic seats that are being contested – for some reason, the GOP did not field a candidate in HD78 – I don’t think they’re all in the same class. HD23, which along with SD10 and CD23 are the only seats won by one party while being carried by the other party’s Presidential candidate, is clearly a possible R pickup. I’d rate it as Tossup, possibly Tossup/Lean R. It’s tough for the Dems that Rep. Craig Eiland chose to retire, but District Court Judge Susan Criss is as strong a candidate to succeed him as one could want. As for the others, I’d rate HD41 as the least likely of all nine to flip. Rep. Guerra won with over 61% of the vote in 2012. While some statewide Republicans won a majority in 2010 in HD41, one doesn’t usually identify an incumbent that collected over 61% of the vote in his last election as potentially vulnerable. I’d rate this seat as Likely D. Rep. Cortez in HD117 might be the most endangered Dem incumbent – he won with a bit more than 52% in 2012 – but his opponent had almost no cash on hand going into the primary, not that he was a moneybags himself. Let’s call this one Lean D – for comparison, I’d rate all four Republican seats as Lean R. Rep. Perez won with over 54% in 2012 – her district performed better for Ds in 2012 than the 2008 numbers would have suggested – and her opponent this year was the lesser-regarded loser of the 2012 R primary. I’ve not heard a peep about that race. I guess a bad enough year for Dems overall could imperil her, but I’m calling this one Likely D.

Finally, there’s HD149. On paper, Rep. Vo versus former CM Hoang is an intriguing matchup. The history in HD149 is Rep. Vo outperforming the Democratic baseline – in both 2006 and 2010, he was the only Dem other than Bill White in 2010 to win the district, and 2006 was redder than 2010 – aided in part by a strong Vietnamese vote. Having Hoang on the ballot at least potentially complicates that, especially since his Council victory in 2009 was fueled in part by a strong performance in Asian boxes. However, as I’ve shown before, lots more people have had the opportunity to vote for Rep. Vo than for Hoang, the district is more Democratic now than before – Rep. Vo’s only close re-election was in 2010 with 52%; he had over 56% in 2012 – and I’d fear Hoang more if he hadn’t just lost a re-election bid to an out-of-nowhere Vietnamese candidate whose victory was abetted in large part by Hoang’s stormy relationship with the Vietnamese community. This is one to watch, but barring any future indicators of trouble for Rep. Vo, I’m calling this one Likely D. What are your thoughts?

Susan Criss to file in HD23

Some excellent news from the inbox, via Carl Whitmarsh:

Susan Criss

For fifteen years I was honored to wear a black robe for the people of Galveston County. Four times I raised my hand and swore, so help me God, to faithfully execute the duties of the office of the 212th District Court of Galveston County, Texas and to the best of my ability protect, preserve and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of Texas.

While I dearly love this job it is time for me to serve my community in a different capacity. In order to do that I am required by law to resign from this position before December 9, 2013. I sent a letter to Governor Perry resigning from this bench effective at 5 pm December 6, 2013. I ask that he appoint someone to fill this term.

On Sunday December 8, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. I will file for the office of State Representative of District 23 at the Texas Democratic Party office in Austin.

For a decade and a half I administered justice to the best of my ability. I tried to be fair to everyone who appeared before my bench. When I was a young prosecutor Judge Raymond Magee told me that the man who drives to the courthouse in a pickup truck deserves the same justice as the man who drove there in a Cadillac. I never forgot his words and aspired to live up to them every day.

I was addressed as “Your Honor”. That was an appropriate term but not because I was special. It truly was my greatest honor to be able to serve the people of Galveston County in our justice system. I loved this job, the people I worked with, the lawyers who appeared before me and the people I served.

One sign on the door of my courtroom reads “This court belongs to the people.” The other has a quote by Sam Houston, “Do right and risk the consequences.” Both signs reflect my beliefs about justice and about government service.

The pink granite building in Austin also belongs to the people, the ones who drive Cadillacs, the ones who drive pickup trucks and the ones who cannot drive at all.

The people of District 23 deserve strong effective representation in the Texas House. I am excited about working hard to ensure that District 23’s voices are heard in Austin

She also posted that on her Facebook wall, along with that badass picture embedded above. I had wondered if anyone had filed in HD23, and I’m delighted to see a positive answer to that. Retaining this seat that’s being vacated by Rep. Craig Eiland will not be easy, but Judge Criss is as strong a candidate as one could want to make the effort. The Chron has picked up the story, and PDiddie was on it before that.

In other filing news, we have a couple more contested primaries in Harris County. An Azuwuike Okorafor, who may be this attorney, has filed to challenge Rep. Alma Allen in HD131. Allen easily turned back a campaign by Council Member Wanda Adams in 2012, so barring anything unexpected I don’t think this time will be any different. Also, a Lily Leal, who may be this person, filed to run for HCDE Trustee At Large Position 7, which is the seat formerly held by Jim Henley for which 2012 SBOE candidate Traci Jensen filed earlier in the period.

Democrats now also have a candidate for County Judge. Unfortunately, that candidate is Ahmad Hassan, the former Republican (he ran against Sheila Jackson Lee in 2006) who ran for County Judge in 2008 and 2010, losing in each primary to David Mincberg and Gordon Quan, respectively. He’s a perfectly nice person but has no real qualifications for this job or understanding of what it is – give a listen to the interview I did with him in 2010 to see what I mean. I don’t think there’s much appetite among Dems to run against incumbent County Judge Ed Emmett, and I can’t blame them – Emmett is generally well-liked, very well-funded, and was easily the top Republican votegetter both times he was on the ballot. I think 2014 is more likely to be a good year in Harris County than not, and while I expect Ed Emmett to run ahead of the GOP pack, it’s certainly possible he could lose. If he lost to a Mincberg or a Quan that would be one thing. Losing to Hassan would not be a good thing, and would invite comparisons to Jim Foster. This is one primary race that I would very much prefer to be a contested race.

Elsewhere, Trail Blazers confirms that LaRouchie wacko Kesha Rogers has indeed filed to run for the Senate. I will reiterate what I said yesterday that it’s everyone’s job to make sure she doesn’t make it to a runoff, let alone wins the nomination. Ignorance cannot be an excuse, y’all. BOR reports that the Democrats “will indeed be fielding several statewide judicial candidates, who are in the process of gathering the signatures required to run”. I have heard that El Paso District Court Judge Bill Moody was running again, and I had heard there were at least some other Supreme Court candidates out there, but that’s all I know. No clue whether we’ll have any CCA candidates. Finally, Tom Pauken has ended his quest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination on the very reasonable grounds that he had no chance of winning. I can’t claim to have been a fan, but it was better to have more critics of Greg Abbott out there, so to that extent I’m sorry to see him go. Texpatriate has more.

LaCroix files in SD15

Damian LaCroix

As of the Monday candidate filing update from the HCDP, Damian LaCroix has made official his primary challenge to Sen. John Whitmire in SD15. He announced his challenge in August, and what I said at that time still holds true for me as a voter in SD15 – I’m not interested in making a change unless it’s a clear upgrade, and so far I don’t see any evidence of that. I intend to interview both candidates for the primary, so we’ll all get a chance to learn more at that time.

Other than the District Attorney race and a rerun in CD07, this is the only other local Democratic primary action of which I am aware. There are of course several statewide primaries – Wendy Davis has an opponent, Kinky Friedman will square off against some guy named Jim Hogan for Ag Commissioner, and there are now four candidates for US Senate with the entries of David Alameel and a dentist from Odessa named HyeTae “Harry” Kim – but not that much in the legislative primary department. There are two open seats, HD50, where Celia Israel appears to have a clear path in March to try to succeed Mark Strama – she’s in a runoff for the special election right now – and HD23, where I have no idea who has filed to try to succeed Rep. Craig Eiland. Seriously, does anyone know anything about this one? There are several potential candidates, I just haven’t heard if any of them has actually filed or even announced. State Rep. Marisa Marquez of El Paso, who caught some (deserved) flak for backing Republican Dee Margo in his failed re-election bid against Rep. Joe Moody, has an opponent. She’s the only House incumbent I’m aware of who’s been challenged.

There are also two new Democratic House challengers on the scene – Laura Nicol in HD133, and Amy Perez in HD150. These are obviously two tough districts, but it’s good to see new faces and it’s especially good to see more Democratic women running for office.

There are still plenty of offices for which no one has filed as a Democrat. Texpatriate bemoans the lack of candidates in Tarrant County, despite its higher profile this year. In Harris County, there are three races to watch. One is County Judge, where Ed Emmett so far appears to be getting a free ride. I’m a believer in running everywhere, but it’s hard to get too worked up about that. Emmett does a good job, he has a ton of goodwill still from his performance during Hurricane Ike, and he’d be tough to beat. Given that this may be his last term, I’m fine with concentrating on other races, like DA and County Clerk. County Commissioner Precinct 2 is harder to swallow. Glorice McPherson has said she’s running against first term Commissioner Jack Morman, but she hasn’t filed yet and she’s unlikely to raise the kind of money needed to mount a serious challenge. Precinct 2 was very competitive in 2012, but that was under the old map, and we don’t know how it will perform in an off year, even one with as much promise as this one. Still, giving Morman a free ride, or just an easy ride, would be a big disappointment. Finally, as BOR notes, Rep. Harold Dutton still hasn’t filed in HD142. He’s the last holdout among Democratic legislative incumbents, and a last-minute retirement announcement is not out of the question. The deadline is December 9, and that’s sure to be a busy day. What are you hearing out there?

No notary needed

Seems reasonable.

Many Houston business owners are celebrating a new ordinance that drops the need for a notary when applying for hundreds of permits and allows the city to offer more applications online.

The Houston City Council lauded the change as business friendly and tech savvy.

“So many of the permits require you to notarize your statements, which makes it difficult to do things online,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “We think you ought to be able to get virtually any permit from the city of Houston online.”

A state law passed in 2011 cleared the way.

A one-page bill, authored by Galveston Democrat Rep. Craig Eiland and passed without much attention, allows governments and courts, for the first time outside of prisons, to use unsworn declarations instead of notarized affidavits.

The same punishments for perjury are connected to the declarations, which favor simple language over legal terminology.

“It just means you don’t need to have a notary put a stamp next to it,” said Bruce Haupt, the city’s deputy assistant finance director. “It makes the paperwork side of this a lot easier.”

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, said he is unaware of any other cities updating their ordinances since the 2011 law. Like many business leaders, it was the first he heard of Eiland’s bill. “It sounds like Houston’s on top of it,” Sandlin said.

Like I said, seems reasonable to me. There’s no opposition quoted in the story, so if there’s an argument for requiring notarization of all these forms, I’m not aware of it. Generally speaking, reducing paperwork and letting stuff like this happen online is the direction we want to go. Anyone know of a reason why not? Please leave a comment and let us know.

Special election set in HD50

Mark Strama announced his resignation from the Lege in February to go and run Google Fiber in Austin. Last week, Rick Perry set November 5 as the special election date to replace him.

Mark Strama

The race to serve out the remainder of former state Rep. Mark Strama’s current term got an official election date Thursday as Gov. Rick Perry set a Nov. 5 special election.

Known for his work on education and clean-technology issues, Strama, D-Austin, announced in February that he was leaving his House seat. Strama, who had considered a run for Austin mayor, announced in June that he had accepted a position leading Austin’s Google Fiber operations. Google announced in April that Austin would be among the first places to try out the high-speed internet service.

With Strama’s departure looming on the horizon for several months, the field of candidates vying to take his House District 50 seat already begun to fill up. Early hopefuls to announce included businesswoman Jade Chang Sheppard, associate municipal court judge Ramey Ko, prosecutor Rico Reyes and Celia Israel, a former aide to Gov. Ann Richards.

“They are all really good candidates, and the district will be served by any of them,” Strama told Texas Weekly in May.

I agree with Strama’s assessment of the candidates to be his successor. The special election matters for two reasons: One, there will likely be another special session next year to sort out the school finance situation, once the retrial and the appeal to the Supreme Court have been resolved. Two, whoever wins, assuming he or she wins again in 2014, will have a leg up on other freshmen in 2015 in seniority. As BOR noted, the seat is Democratic, but a Republican could have a chance in a low-turnout election and runoff. One would hope that after all that has gone on over the past few weeks that generating some excitement on the D side for this would not be too challenging.

Strama and Rep. Craig Eiland are the first two legislators to announce that they will not be back in 2015. With the special session all over but for transportation funding in the House, you can expect there to be more such announcements in the coming weeks. As I noted a few months back, the Lege has seen quite a bit of turnover in the past decade, much of which has been self-imposed. I see no reason why this year will be any different.

Eiland will not seek re-election

This is a tough break for the Democrats.

Rep. Craig Eiland

Rep. Craig Eiland

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, will not seek re-election, he announced in a tearful personal privilege speech on the House floor Wednesday night.

Eiland, who has served in the Legislature for two decades, said it has been hard being away from his wife and children, but that he would deeply miss being a member of the Texas House.

Eiland said he even liked serving in a session with an exceedingly large number of freshmen legislators, though he joked that “some of them are crazy.”

The Galveston legislator and attorney was first elected to the Legislature in 1993. He won a sometimes tough campaign for re-election last year in which his work on windstorm insurance became an issue along with his residence in Austin. Eiland has a $3 million home in Austin. An early ad from his Republican opponent attacked Eiland as someone who got wealthy “as a trial lawyer suing Texas businesses” and for living in a city well outside the district.

Rep. Eiland is a veteran member with a lot of expertise and experience, and he won in a district that has been trending away from the Democrats for a long time. I identified him as potentially vulnerable way back in 2011, and indeed HD23 was Republican overall – Eiland was the only member of the House to win in a district that was carried by the Presidential candidate of the opposing party. While it’s not clear to me that his district would have been any less hospitable in a non-Presidential year, it is certain that he’d have had another tough race ahead of him. With the seat being open, it automatically moves it from being Lean Dem, on the strength of Eiland’s experience, abilities, and campaign bank account, to at best a tossup for the Dems, if there’s a decent candidate waiting in the wings. The good news is that according to QR, there are several good potential candidates – former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski, District Judge Susan Criss, and former Galveston County Commissioner Pat Doyle. I’ve already heard a rumor that Criss plans to run. Like I said, this will be a tough race, but having a good candidate at least gives us a fighting chance.

Rep. Eiland joins Rep. Mark Strama in calling it quits; there’s already a hot primary for the open HD50. One thing Eiland’s retirement has in common with Strama’s is that it will surely mean fewer Anglo Dems in the Lege in 2015. Regardless, I wish both outgoing Reps all the best with whatever comes next for them. Thank you for your service, gentlemen.

Precinct analysis: Comparing 2012 and 2008

Though the data isn’t yet posted on individual members’ webpages, I have gotten a copy of the 2012 election results by State Rep district, for which there was much rejoicing. The first question of interest is how much the 2008 results resembled the 2012 results in each district. I went by vote percentages as reported – that is, including third-party candidates – and compared Mitt Romney’s 2012 percentage in each district to John McCain’s 2008 percentage, and Obama 2012 to Obama 2008. I did this by taking the ratio of the 2012 percentage to the 2008 percentage. Statewide, Romney was three percent better than McCain – i.e., the ratio of Romney’s percentage (57.16) to McCain’s (55.45) is 1.03 – and 2012 Obama (41.38) was five percent worse than 2008 Obama (43.68), for a ratio of 0.95. If the difference were uniformly distributed around the state, you would expect Romney to have a 1.03 ratio in every district, and 2012 Obama to have a 0.95 ratio. Obviously, that didn’t happen, so I was interested in the places where each candidate did the best compared to 2008. Here’s a look at them:

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama R ratio D ratio ==================================================== 108 53.86 44.88 58.97 39.30 1.09 0.88 047 53.85 44.75 58.03 39.31 1.08 0.88 055 60.67 38.13 65.29 32.99 1.08 0.87 134 52.46 46.48 56.37 41.72 1.07 0.90 017 56.54 41.93 60.56 37.15 1.07 0.89 045 51.66 46.72 55.17 41.82 1.07 0.90 136 51.81 45.92 55.06 41.22 1.06 0.90 023 51.35 47.77 54.56 44.24 1.06 0.93 064 56.98 41.84 60.28 37.32 1.06 0.89 114 52.36 46.57 55.21 43.47 1.05 0.93 048 37.53 60.77 39.55 56.84 1.05 0.94 052 51.93 46.18 54.69 42.40 1.05 0.92 012 59.77 39.38 62.59 36.18 1.05 0.92 093 57.57 41.60 60.19 38.25 1.05 0.92

There were a number of other districts in which Romney ran at least five percent better than McCain – remember, that’s 5%, not five percentage points – but I’m really only interested in the reasonably competitive ones. Rep. Craig Eiland is the only member of the House to win a district that was not carried by his party’s Presidential candidate; I’m pretty sure Sen. Wendy Davis can say the same thing for her chamber, but I don’t have those numbers just yet. The only other Democratic district represented above is Rep. Donna Howard’s HD48, though it wasn’t enough of a difference to be worrisome to her. That chart has a lot of good news for the Republicans, since it contains a number of their least-safe seats. Many of these seats will still be hotly contested in 2014 – where else are Democrats going to go to add to their delegation? – but the GOP starts out with a bigger cushion than they might have expected.

And here are the districts of interest that were more Democratic in 2012:

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama R ratio D ratio ==================================================== 145 41.99 57.13 38.27 60.25 0.91 1.05 144 51.04 47.95 47.86 50.76 0.94 1.06 034 46.63 52.58 44.23 54.62 0.95 1.04 149 43.84 55.52 41.79 57.08 0.95 1.03 119 40.30 58.59 38.51 60.15 0.96 1.03 125 40.69 58.14 39.51 58.99 0.97 1.03 135 60.56 38.71 58.82 39.85 0.97 1.03 132 59.68 39.59 58.90 39.75 0.99 1.00 118 43.86 55.10 43.33 55.22 0.99 1.00 105 52.69 46.14 52.11 46.46 0.99 1.01 113 53.00 46.05 52.51 46.30 0.99 1.01 107 52.25 46.71 51.81 46.87 0.99 1.00

Again, I excluded the non-competitive seats. As above, mostly good news for Dems and their least-safe members, Eiland excluded. In two HDs where Democratic challengers ousted Republican incumbents (HDs 34 and 117), plus the open HD144, Dems had an easier time of it than you would have thought. There’s also some hope for pickups in 2014 or beyond, mostly with the three Dallas County seats.

Looking ahead to 2014, here are your “swing” districts, for some value of the term “swing”.

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama Hecht Petty ===================================================== 017 56.54 41.93 60.56 37.15 53.13 40.61 064 56.98 41.84 60.28 37.32 57.23 36.38 094 59.62 39.45 60.27 38.09 57.45 37.73 093 57.57 41.60 60.19 38.25 57.17 37.98 097 57.62 41.41 59.55 38.91 57.30 38.25 138 59.30 39.82 59.16 39.29 57.48 39.00 108 53.86 44.88 58.97 39.30 58.66 36.49 132 59.68 39.59 58.90 39.75 57.32 39.41 135 60.56 38.71 58.82 39.85 57.09 39.77 096 57.97 41.39 58.58 40.20 55.68 40.73 047 53.85 44.75 58.03 39.31 55.30 37.87 065 56.11 43.04 57.51 40.83 55.62 39.89 032 56.40 42.57 56.91 41.43 52.98 42.12 134 52.46 46.48 56.37 41.72 56.41 39.30 115 54.91 43.86 55.37 43.08 53.74 41.67 114 52.36 46.57 55.21 43.47 54.98 41.33 045 51.66 46.72 55.17 41.82 51.11 41.39 136 51.81 45.92 55.06 41.22 51.07 40.33 112 54.89 44.03 55.01 43.48 53.01 42.79 052 51.93 46.18 54.69 42.40 50.70 42.05 023 51.35 47.77 54.56 44.24 49.41 46.77 102 52.18 46.64 53.01 45.31 52.01 43.53 054 51.20 47.93 52.90 45.73 49.92 45.71 113 53.00 46.05 52.51 46.30 50.34 46.10 105 52.69 46.14 52.11 46.46 49.18 46.28 043 51.45 47.94 52.05 46.92 46.72 49.10 107 52.25 46.71 51.81 46.87 49.73 46.29 144 51.04 47.95 47.86 50.76 44.08 52.33 117 46.49 52.52 46.71 51.84 43.46 52.79 034 46.63 52.58 44.23 54.62 40.11 56.07 078 43.64 55.31 44.05 54.29 40.84 53.47 118 43.86 55.10 43.33 55.22 38.76 57.79 041 42.16 57.05 42.28 56.54 38.86 57.22 149 43.84 55.52 41.79 57.08 40.46 56.95 074 41.15 57.91 41.51 56.93 36.18 57.25 148 41.43 57.49 41.07 56.58 38.79 55.59 048 37.53 60.77 39.55 56.84 37.43 54.95 125 40.69 58.14 39.51 58.99 36.03 60.35 050 38.01 60.27 38.78 57.75 36.33 56.25

Again, note that no one but Eiland won in a hostile district. Turncoat Republican JM Lozano gets partial credit for Michelle Petty’s plurality vote in HD43, but that’s at least partly a function of the unusually high Libertarian vote in that race, which generally suppressed Nathan Hecht’s percentages. Note how much more Hecht diverges from Romney than Petty does from Obama to see what I mean. Without factoring possible turnout differences into account, Dems have maybe six viable flip opportunities – Lozano, four Dallas seats, and HD54 – while the GOP has one clear shot and two other good ones. That’s assuming no further changes to the map, which may or may not be a good bet. Beyond that, we’ll have to see what the march of demographic change looks like and whether there’s anything to all this talk about investing in Texas Democratic infrastructure.

January finance reports for area legislative offices

Just to complete the tour of semiannual finance reports, here’s a look at the cash on hand totals for area legislators. First up, the Harris County House delegation.

Patricia Harless, HD126 – $308,221

Dan Huberty, HD127 – $69,058

Wayne Smith, HD128 – $218,425

John Davis, HD129 – $99,962

Allen Fletcher, HD130 – $46,559

Alma Allen, HD131 – $33,479

Bill Callegari, HD132 – $315,904

Jim Murphy, HD133 – $103,538

Sarah Davis, HD134 – $59,871

Gary Elkins, HD135 – $337,111

Gene Wu, HD137 – $32,504

Dwayne Bohac, HD138 – $28,286

Sylvester Turner, HD139 – $404,829

Armando Walle, HD140 – $72,571

Senfronia Thompson, HD141 – $345,547

Harold Dutton, HD142 – $85,127

Ana Hernandez Luna, HD143 – $111,652

Mary Ann Perez, HD144 – $118,832

Borris Miles, HD146 – $54,485

Garnet Coleman, HD147 – $173,683

Jessica Farrar, HD148 – $65,005

Hubert Vo, HD149 – $52,341

Debbie Riddle, HD150 – $67,757

I skipped Carol Alvarado in HD145 since we already know about her. Sarah Davis just finished running an expensive race – she got a much tougher challenge for her first re-election than either of her two most recent predecessors, so she didn’t get to build a cushion. I’m sure she’s start rattling the cup as soon as session is over and the moratorium is lifted. Borris Miles and Huber Vo do a fair amount of self-funding. Gary Elkins and Bill Callegari are in the two Republican held seats that were more Democratic in 2012 than their 2008 numbers suggested. Beyond that, nothing really remarkable. Here’s a look at the representatives from neighboring counties:

Cecil Bell, HD03 – $27,712

Steven Toth, HD15 – $25,832

Brandon Creighton, HD16 – $360,842

John Otto, HD18 – $480,066

Craig Eiland, HD23 – $92,623

Greg Bonnen, HD24 – $47,123

Dennis Bonnen, HD25 – $370,909

Rick Miller, HD26 – $30,561

Ron Reynolds, HD27 – $6,654

John Zerwas, HD28 – $470,622

Phil Stephenson, HD85 – $14,209

Ed Thompson, HD29 – $92,008

Bell, Toth, and Creighton represent Montgomery County – Bell in part, Toth and Creighton in full. Bell’s district also covers Waller County. Eiland is parts of Galveston and all of Chambers, while Greg Bonnen has the rest of Galveston. Eiland has two reports, both of which are linked with the sum of the two as his cash total. Dennis Bonnen and Ed Thompson share Brazoria County. Miller, Reynolds, and Zerwas are in Fort Bend, along with a chunk of Stephenson’s district. John Otto represents Liberty County, among others. Bell, Thompson, and Greg Bonnen are all ParentPAC candidates. Until such time as Democrats are in a position to retake, or at least come close to retaking, a majority in the Lege, sanity on public education is going to depend in no small part on people like them. I truly hope they’re up to that, because the ones that were there in 2011 sure weren’t. Of course, the more reasonable they are the more likely they’ll get teabagged by doofus chuckleheads like Steve Toth, who took out the unquestionably conservative but generally fact-based Rob Eissler last year. Not that Eissler distinguished himself last session, but still. You can perhaps see some higher ambitions in Creighton and Zerwas’ numbers – I have a feeling Zerwas will be very interested in Glenn Hegar’s Senate seat if Hegar makes a statewide run as some people think he will. I wouldn’t be surprised if Creighton has his eyes on CD08 someday.

And finally, the Senate:

Tommy Williams, SD04 – $1,164,109

Dan Patrick, SD07 – $1,485,091

Larry Taylor, SD11 – $183,826

Rodney Ellis, SD13 – $2,016,660

John Whitmire, SD15 – $6,167,111

Joan Huffman, SD17 – $707,914

Glenn Hegar, SD18 – $1,617,306

Hegar drew a four year term and can thus scratch his statewide itch without giving up his Senate seat. Dan Patrick was not so lucky, poor thing. As for Whitmire, all I can say is “wow”. As much cash on hand as Rick Perry, and no reason to believe any of it will be used for a significant purpose any time soon. I don’t even know what to say.

White Ds and non-white Rs

A few points to make about this.

White Democrats are an increasingly vanishing species in the Texas Legislature, where there will be only 10 when the new legislative session starts in early January.

The face of the Legislature has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past 25 years, and the state’s rapidly changing demographics are expected to guarantee even more profound changes over the next quarter century.

Twenty years ago, the Legislature included 83 white Democrats. Today, the white Democratic lawmaker is a rarity in the 181-member Legislature.

Vanishing rural, white Democrats account for most of the changes. There were 56 rural, white Democrats sitting in the 1987-88 Texas Legislature. Today, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, (Zavala County) is the only rural white Democrat remaining. He did not return phone calls for comment.

The Chron needs to check its math. By my count, there will 11 Anglo Dems sworn in to the Lege in 2013:

Rep. Craig Eiland – HD23
Rep. Donna Howard – HD48
Rep. Elliott Naishtat – HD49
Rep. Mark Strama – HD50
Rep. Joe Pickett – HD79
Rep. Tracy King – HD80
Rep. Lon Burnam – HD90
Rep. Chris Turner – HD101

Sen. Wendy Davis – SD10
Sen. Kirk Watson – SD14
Sen. John Whitmire – SD15

I suspect Rep. Chris Turner, who was elected in 2008 then wiped out in 2010 before coming back in a newly-drawn district this year, is the one they overlooked. Note that in the three biggest counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar), there are no Anglo Dems in the House and only one in the Senate. After the 2008 election, Harris had Reps. Scott Hochberg, Ellen Cohen, and Kristi Thibaut; Dallas had Reps. Robert Miklos, Carol Kent, Kirk England, and Allen Vaught; and Bexar had Rep. David Leibowitz. All except Hochberg were defeated in the 2010 massacre, and Hochberg retired after the 2011 session.

You really can’t overstate the effect of the 2010 election. As I said before, the loss of all those rural Dems means that the road back to parity for Democrats is that much steeper. It also significantly de-honkified the existing party. The rural Dems were for the most part dead men walking whether they realized it or not, but losing them all at once rather than over the course of several cycles radically changed things. The Dems have a number of possible pickup opportunities for 2014, some of which may elect Anglo Dems, but even in a wildly optimistic scenario, you’re looking at a tough slog to get to 60, and that’s a long way from parity, even farther away than they were after the 2002 election. Beyond that, you’re either waiting for demographic change in some of the suburban districts, or hoping for some kind of external game-changer. It’s not a pretty picture, at least in the short term.

The long term is a different story, even if the writing on the wall is in a six-point font:

For years, Republicans made a high priority of targeting white Democrats for defeat, via election when they could win, or redistricting when they couldn’t, contended former Texas Democratic Party executive director Harold Cook.

“The irony is that in their efforts to limit Democrats to minority real estate through redistricting, they also separated themselves from the fastest growing demography. In 20 years they may well see that they wrote their own political obituary,” Cook said.

Twenty years is an awfully long time, and I think we can all agree that way too many things can affect current trajectories to have any confidence in them. That said, while there are 11 Anglo Dems out of 67 total Dems in the Lege (16 percent of the total), there are all of six non-Anglo Republicans out of 114 total, which is five percent. (The six are, by my count, Reps. JM Lozano, Larry Gonzales, Jason Villalba, James White, Stefani Carter, and Angie Chen Button.) That’s down from eight last session – nine if you count Dee Margo – as Reps. Aliseda, Garza, Pena, and Torres departed but only Villalba and the turncoat Lozano arrived. To Cook’s point, Aliseda, Pena, and Torres were all adversely affected by redistricting – Aliseda and Pena (another turncoat) declined to run because they didn’t have a winnable district, and Torres ran for Senate after being paired with Connie Scott, who wound up losing by 15 points. Only Garza had a shot at re-election, and his district was a major point of contention in the redistricting litigation. Barring a 2010-style election in 2014, the Rs don’t have many obvious targets in Latino-heavy districts. You can’t assume the current trajectory will continue, but as long as it does this is the way it’s going.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, I also overlooked an incoming freshman, Rep. Scott Turner in the new HD33, who is a non-white Republican, thus upping that total to seven. My apologies for the oversight.

What I’ll be looking for tonight

Just a reminder that I’ll be on KPFT tonight starting at 7 PM to talk about the elections. Here’s a preview of the things I’ll be looking for:

1. SD10 – Sen. Wendy Davis vs Mark Shelton: Easily the most important race on the ballot in Texas. Davis has been a progressive champion and a pain in Dan Patrick’s rear end, and will make for a strong statewide candidate when she’s ready. She also ensures that the Dems maintain enough votes in the Senate to invoke the two-thirds rule until whenever Rick Perry calls the special election to succeed the late Sen. Mario Gallegos. I am heartened that Robert Miller thinks Davis is leading, though he subsequently amended that, but I won’t rest easy until I see that lead on the Secretary of State’s election results webpage.

2. Legislative races – While Dems start out with only 48 seats in the Lege, they will automatically pick up three today – HDs 35, 40, and 101 – because there are no Republicans running in them. Beyond that, the over/under line for Dems is 55 seats total. Three in particular to watch: HD23, in which Rep. Craig Eiland is one of the only, if not the only, threatened Democratic incumbents; HD134, in which Ann Johnson’s challenge to freshman Rep. Sarah Davis will be a good test of how well a message attacking the Rs for cutting $5.4 billion from public education will work; and HD136, the open seat in Williamson County, which will be a test of whether 2008 was a fluke or a trend for Democrats in places like that.

3. Adrian Garcia and Mike Anderson – Everyone expects both candidates to win, as both have become poster children for not voting a straight ticket this year. As such, they will both likely represent the high-water mark for each party this year, as Garcia and Ed Emmett were in 2008. I’ll be paying particular attention to how they did in various legislative and other districts once the precinct data is out, because that may provide an early roadmap for future electoral targets.

4. Fort Bend County – Fort Bend came very close to going Democratic in 2008. President Obama received 48.49% of the vote there, and no Republican won the county by as much as 10,000 votes out of 200,000 cast. Is this the year Democrats break through? Also worth keeping an eye on is freshman County Commissioner Richard Morrison in his race against double voter Bruce Fleming.

5. CCA – Hampton vs Keller – I think we’re all familiar with this one by now. Whether Hampton has a chance to win depends largely, though not entirely, on how well Obama does in Texas. The presence of a Libertarian candidate in this race means that Hampton can win with less than 50% of the vote. Most of the statewide judicial races in 2008 had Libertarians in them, and they got about 3% of the vote on average. I suspect the ceiling for that may be higher in this case, as some Republicans may prefer to not vote for Keller but not vote for a Dem, either. I will not be surprised if 48% is enough to win. If Obama can improve on 2008, even a little, it makes it that much easier for Hampton to get over the hump. If not, we may be stuck with Keller for another six years or until she finally has the grace to resign.

6. 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals – Jim Sharp broke through for Democrats in 2008, and there’s a nearly full slate of them running for seats on these courts, whose jurisdictions cover multiple counties, this year. As was the case in 2008, a sufficiently strong showing in Harris County may be enough to make it across the finish line, though if Fort Bend is blue as well, that would be a big help. This is where future Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals candidates can emerge.

7. Bonds, Metro, and SA Pre-K – I expect the Houston bonds to pass. Keep an eye on the charter amendments, since if they pass as well there can be no further charter amendments on the ballot till May of 2015. I think the Metro referendum will pass, but I would not bet my own money on it. The San Antonio Pre-K initiative is expected to be close. Given the recent love affair in the national media and from the national party for Mayor Julian Castro, a loss here will undoubtedly be portrayed as a setback for him.

I think that’s plenty to think about. What races are you watching?

All the interviews for 2012

As we begin early voting for the November election, here are all the interviews I conducted for candidates who are on the ballot as well as for the referenda. These include interviews that were done for the primary as well as the ones done after the primary. I hope you found them useful.

Senate: Paul SadlerWebMP3

CD02: Jim DoughertyWebMP3

CD07: James CargasWebMP3

CD10 – Tawana CadienWebMP3

CD14: Nick LampsonWebMP3

CD20: Joaquin CastroWebMP3

CD21: Candace DuvalWebMP3

CD23: Pete GallegoWebMP3

CD27: Rose Meza HarrisonWebMP3

CD29: Rep. Gene GreenWebMP3

CD33: Marc VeaseyWebMP3

CD36: Max MartinWebMP3

SBOE6: Traci JensenWebMP3

SD10: Sen. Wendy DavisWebMP3

SD25: John CourageWebMP3

HD23: Rep. Craig EilandWebMP3

HD26: Vy NguyenWebMP3

HD127: Cody PogueWebMP3

HD131: Rep. Alma AllenWebMP3

HD134: Ann JohnsonWebMP3

HD137: Gene WuWebMP3

HD144: Mary Ann PerezWebMP3

HD146: Rep. Borris MilesWebMP3

HD147: Rep. Garnet ColemanWebMP3

HD150: Brad NealWebMP3

Harris County Sheriff: Sheriff Adrian GarciaWebMP3

Harris County District Attorney: Mike AndersonWebMP3

Harris County Attorney: Vince RyanWebMP3

Harris County Tax Assessor: Ann Harris BennettWebMP3

HCDE Position 3, At Large: Diane TrautmanWebMP3

HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1: Erica LeeWebMP3

Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Sean HammerleWebMP3

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan RosenWebMP3

HISD Bond Referendum: Interview with Terry GrierMP3

City of Houston Bond and Charter Referenda: Interview with Mayor Annise ParkerMP3

HCC Bond Referendum: Interview with Richard SchechterMP3

Metro Referendum: Interviews with David Crossley, Gilbert Garcia and Christof Spieler, Sue Lovell, and County Commissioner Steve Radack

Interview with State Rep. Craig Eiland

Rep. Craig Eiland

We now move into the State Rep. races, and as with the Congressional portion of my interview series I’m very pleased to kick things off with a distinguished veteran lawmaker. State Rep. Craig Eiland has represented House District 23 since first being elected in 1994. (I goofed and said District 21 in the intro to the interview.) Eiland is an attorney and resident of Galveston, and currently serves as the Chairman of the House Pensions and Investments Committee. He also serves on the Insurance Committee, for which he has been Vice Chair twice, and is a veteran of the Appropriations Committee. Eiland has been named to the Texas Monthly Ten Best Legislators list three times, and has a slew of other awards to go with that. He’s also the only Democratic incumbent in a truly competitive district, though he is well funded and favored to win. We covered a lot of ground in the interview:

Craig Eiland MP3

You can still find a list of all interviews I did for this primary cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page and my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page, which I now need to update to include fall candidate information. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

July finance reports for area State House candidates

Here’s a brief look at the July campaign finance reports for candidates in area State House races of interest.

HD23 Raised Spent Cash Loan Wayne Faircloth 8,320 31,139 36,655 30,000 Bill Wallace 0 0 507 20,500 Craig Eiland 0 0 30,160 0 Craig Eiland 57,770 80,685 74,922 0

Faircloth and Wallace are in a runoff to take on Rep. Craig Eiland, whose red-leaning district is a rare pickup opportunity for the GOP. Bear in mind that candidates who had a competitive primary had to make an 8 day report for it, so their reporting period began May 21. Candidates like Eiland that had no primary opponents last reported in January, so they had much more time to raise funds for this report. If you’re wondering why Eiland is listed twice, it’s because he has both a regular candidate/officeholder report and a specific purpose committee report.

HD26 Jacquie Chaumette 16,461 35,730 39,079 0 Rick Miller 19,312 10,281 12,262 1,000 Vy Nguyen 6,150 1,008 7,650 0

HD26 was not drawn to be a competitive district, but it could become one after the DC court issues its long-awaited redistricting opinion. Vy Nguyen has been in this race from the beginning, however many maps ago that was, and I believe will do better than the district’s numbers predict. She’s smart and energetic and has a good future.

HD85 Phil Stephenson 3,925 21,965 3,127 20,000 Dora Olivo 4,312 2,349 3,991 2,150

The new Fort Bend district that spreads southwest into Wharton and Jackson Counties doesn’t seem to have drawn much financial interest so far. Olivo is a former State Rep who was defeated in the 2010 primary by Rep. Ron Reynolds and should have some fundraising capability, but a brief look through some previous report suggests this was not a strong suit of hers.

HD134 Sarah Davis 75,593 75,836 99,603 0 Ann Johnson 161,389 15,985 138,837 0

Once again a marquee race for Harris County. I have to say, Davis’ totals are distinctly unimpressive, and her burn rate is potentially troublesome for her. Lot of money spent on consultants and printing. Mostly, I’m stunned by her relatively meager haul, less than half of what challenger Ann Johnson took in. Maybe I’m just used to the prodigious totals that her predecessors, Ellen Cohen and Martha Wong, used to rack up. Both of them eventually lost, so consider this Exhibit A for “Money Isn’t Everything”, but it’s still strange to see a targeted incumbent get doubled up by a challenger. I can’t wait to see what the 30 Day reports will look like in this one.

HD137 MJ Khan 9,700 649 15,689 10,000 Gene Wu 40,157 39,895 40,310 50,000 Jamaal Smith 23,545 12,546 13,705 0

Like I said before, I don’t quite get what MJ Khan is doing. Maybe he’s just keeping his powder dry, I don’t know. I still don’t think state issues are a driving passion for him. We’ll see.

HD144 David Pineda 38,500 21,593 27,802 0 Mary Ann Perez 47,803 20,283 57,254 0

This may be the most competitive races in the state, with both parties getting their strongest candidate for November. One thing I’ve been meaning to comment on but haven’t gotten around to yet is Mary Ann Perez‘s amazing showing on Election Day in May. She collected 67% of the vote on E-Day, more than half of her final total, to vault past the 50% mark in her three-candidate race and avoid a runoff. Whatever she had going for a ground game, it worked. I suspect a good ground operation will be key in November as well.

That’s all I’ve got. Texas on the Potomac has the local Congressional roundup, Kos has a national view, and I’ll take a look at county reports in a separate post.

From the “Get your government out of my Medicare” files

This ought to be fun.

Across the nation, U.S. House Republicans are getting an earful from their constituents about a GOP budget proposal to overhaul Medicare, the federal health care program that insures the elderly.

The Republican plan, written by Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan as part of his sweeping budget overhaul, would turn Medicare into a program that subsidizes private health care coverage for seniors instead of directly paying medical costs as it does now. Some Republicans, unnerved by the public reception, have even begun to retreat from it.

But that message hasn’t made its way to Texas, where state lawmakers are moving full speed ahead on their own efforts to take control of — and then restructure — both Medicare and Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program that primarily serves poor children and the disabled.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst’s “health care compact” bill, HB 5 — which would effectively ask the federal government to give Texas and other states block grants to run Medicaid and Medicare as they see fit — passed easily out of the House, and was heard in a Senate committee on Tuesday. That’s despite Democrats’ warnings that any effort to redesign Medicare will terrify, or potentially harm, seniors and a failed attempt by Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, to remove Medicare from the Texas compact bill.

“The reason I offered the amendment is exactly because of what’s going on nationally — it’s an ‘I told you so,’” Eiland said. “Before we start messing with our seniors, let’s try to prove we can run Medicaid.”

Republicans in the state House say they have no intention of curbing services or compromising care for the nearly 3 million Texas seniors on Medicare. But they say the health care compacts under consideration by other states are all written to include Medicare, and that they must align. And they argue there’s no way to get at the country’s escalating medical inflation and spiraling health care costs without addressing overutilization, fraudulent spending and other inefficiencies in Medicare. Medicaid mostly covers children; Medicare’s seniors are far more costly to insure.

First and foremost, I rather doubt that the Obama administration is going to hand over control like this to Texas. Remember, the Bush administration denied Texas’ request for Medicaid waivers before on the grounds that the program the state had in mind wasn’t sufficient in its coverage. I suspect this is more political than anything else. Having said that, the concern in progressive circles is that all the bluster about Medicare at the national level is a smokescreen for an attack on Medicaid, which serves a much less politically powerful group and is thus much more vulnerable. As such, regardless of how the feds may react to HB5, this is worth keeping an eye on. I mean, nobody doubts that the goal here is to slash benefits, right? The point of a block grant is that it’s a fixed sum of money, so if it actually winds up costing more to provide the coverage, that’s just too bad. The state won’t pay anything beyond that. That’s the goal the Republicans are working towards.

Are there any seats Dems could lose?

I’m sure you’ve heard someone express the view that if there’s a silver lining for the Democrats after the 2010 election, it’s that their decimated caucus offers no real targets for the Republicans to aim for. The Rs weren’t completely powerless in that regard, as their choosing to round down Harris County to 24 seats and pair Hochberg and Vo as a result will attest, but beyond that it’s slim pickings for them. Almost all of the remaining Democratic seats are VRA-protected, and even if they weren’t the Rs have to move the voters they don’t want somewhere. What else is there?

HD23

Well, there’s HD23, for starters. Held by Craig Eiland, one of the very few Anglo Democrats remaining in the House, it’s a dwindling bit of blue – Galveston Island, mostly – surrounded by growing pockets of red. At the Presidential level, it’s redder than several GOP districts, with McCain defeating Obama there 51.35% to 47.77%. Every other Democrat on the ballot did get a majority, so it’s not quite as grim as that, but one can easily imagine a campaign against him that amounts to little more than Obama bashing and hoping it sticks to Eiland. The good news, if you can call it that, is that if he survives 2012, he may have an easier time in 2014. Bill White won HD23, though no other Democrat cracked 47%. In a more normal off year, the numbers ought to be not too bad, basically a tossup much like SBOE2. It’s the population trends, which favor Democrats in many other places, that are working against Eiland here. Unless something changes, I don’t see that seat remaining Democratic for the decade.

No other seat should present any challenges to incumbent Democrats. Besides HD23, in only nine currently held seats did Obama fail to clear 60%:

Dist Incumbent Obama Houston =================================== 043 Lozano 57.63 62.16 074 Gallego 57.91 61.32 116 Mrtnz-Fscher 59.89 59.67 118 Farias 56.36 58.81 119 Gutierrez 58.59 60.38 123 Villarreal 59.58 59.35 124 Menendez 59.79 60.05 125 Castro 58.14 58.86 148 Farrar 58.27 61.75

I rather doubt any of these folks are sweating their next November.

Even going by 2010 numbers, the vast majority of Dems look to be in good shape. Bill White carried every incumbent Democratic district. Generally, the low score for Democrats came in the AG race. Here are all of the other districts in which Greg Abbott won at least a plurality; I’m throwing in the David Dewhurst numbers as well for comparison. As before, there are nine of them:

Dist Incumbent Dewhurst Abbott =================================== 043 Lozano 47.06 53.32 048 Howard 46.52 49.53 050 Strama 46.94 50.39 116 Mrtnz-Fscher 44.30 50.43 118 Farias 45.36 51.54 119 Gutierrez 44.19 50.88 123 Villarreal 43.40 49.10 124 Menendez 44.74 51.00 125 Castro 45.52 51.83

Note that Bill White scored at least 55% in each of these districts. In a more normal year, I would expect each of them to be about that Democratic, if not more so. But if there’s an open seat, or if it’s a bad year overall or just for one of them, you could see a race.

So in short, other than Eiland I don’t really have anyone on my long-term watch list. That may change after I see 2012 results, or if 2014 shapes up more like 2010 than I currently expect. Otherwise, I think it’s safe to say there’s nowhere to go but up.

Another point of order delays Eissler’s school bill

HB400, the bill by Rep. Rob Eissler that among other things raises the 22:1 student:teacher limit in grades K-4, came up for debate last night after the “sanctuary cities” bill got sidetracked by a point of order. Here was the original AP story about this bill going into the debate.

Districts could increase class sizes, cut employee pay and give teachers unpaid furloughs under the bill by Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands. Schools could also wait until the end of the academic year to notify teachers that contracts won’t be renewed. Current law says teachers have to be notified 45 days before the end of the year.

GOP House leaders say the bill will free schools from state mandates while saving teacher jobs. They say districts have been begging for more leeway in dealing with lower funding because of massive budget reductions.

“These changes should have been made a long time ago,” Eissler said, citing current law that only gives school districts the option of laying off teachers.

But key teacher groups statewide say the bill will devastate educators and their ability to stay in the classroom. They say Eissler’s bill is launching an attack on educators that will result in severe pay cuts and make it even easier to fire teachers.

[…]

Teacher advocates argue that the reforms Eissler seeks should be temporary, much like a Senate bill that allows teacher furloughs and salary reductions only while the state faces a budget crisis.

Democrats in the House argued that the bill was just paving the way for legislators to continue underfunding public schools.

“This is a conciliation bill that says we are prepared to downsize and dumb down the educational system of Texas,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “It is nothing to do about quality education, nothing to do about excellence, and everything to do with us not wanting to spend one additional dollar from the rainy day fund.”

Eissler did give some ground on these points as the debate opened.

Eissler, R-The Woodlands, demonstrated he came ready to deal when he offered an amendment from the floor that kept the 22-1 class size ratio for kindergarten through fourth grade but made it significantly easier from districts to get a waiver exemption as long as they maintained a 22-1 district wide average. And teachers’ groups scored a victory when Eissler agreed to make the bills’ measures temporary — something he previously said he would not do.

“As much as I hate weakening our 22-1 law at all, all I’m saying is that if we have to do it, we should sunset it,” said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, the author of the amendment.

Eissler initially said he believed making the measure temporary would be “creating havoc” in school districts. But after a few moments of deliberation, he approved the amendment.

That sunsetting would be for the 2014 school year. These gains did not stop the bill from being put on hold by another point of order from Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, who had previously stalled the “sanctuary cities” bill as well.

[Martinez-Fischer] objected to Eissler’s bill because the committee minutes reflect that Rep. Todd Smith, R- Euless, offered a committee substitute for the bill, but the bill printing says it was offered by Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock, R-Killeen.

“So you either have a committee meeting problem, or you have a printing problem,” Martinez Fischer said.

“But – you don’t have a chairman problem,” he said within earshot of Eissler.

The San Antonio legislator told Eissler he could have avoided the problem had only he “put in his two cents” and influenced House Speaker Joe Straus to make Martinez Fischer a chairman. Eissler and Straus are close allies.

“I’d be fixing all these bad bills,” Martinez Fischer said.

“That’s why I love Trey,” Eissler responded.

This morning, Speaker Straus upheld the point of order, saying the bill needed to be reprinted, so it will be Monday at least before it can come back to the floor. Seems like some Republicans must have been expecting this, because many of them didn’t show up on Saturday, enough to endanger the quorum in the House. Despite some frayed tempers, it appears that the House did indeed still have a quorum, and after a motion to stifle debate, the House rammed through the so-called “loser pays” rule, which was the most recent “emergency” declared by Rick Perry, then finally adjourned for the weekend. Monday is going to be a lot of fun.

Senate fails to bring the budget to the floor

It started Monday when Senate Finance Chair Sen. Steve Ogden said he might pull same Rainy Day funds out of the budget in order to get more Republican (read: Dan Patrick) support for it. After some discussion about alternate ways of incorporating Rainy Day funds and some griping about the Comptroller, CSHB1 was brought up for debate about suspending the rules on Tuesday afternoon. The Trib liveblogged the action, in which Ogden laid out the game plan:

Ogden started by telling lawmakers that if they vote to suspend — to take up the budget bill for debate — he’ll take out the provision that would dip into Rainy Day Funds if state revenue comes up short. He’d reduce Medicaid spending by $1.25 billion (more on that in a second), and would include a contingent appropriation equivalent to a 1.2 percent across-the-board spending increase in everything except public education and debt services.

The across-the-board cuts would take place if the comptroller says the money isn’t available; if it is, those cuts won’t happen.

And the Medicaid cuts are a sleight of hand: Lawmakers will be back in January 2013 and if Medicaid comes up short — by, say, $1.25 billion — they’ll take care of it then. In fact, the budget without any changes pushes $3 billion in Medicaid spending off for the next Legislature to deal with.

That was not acceptable to Democrats, and after three hours the vote to suspend fell short, 19-12, on straight party lines. But as Nate Blakeslee noted, the Republicans have another card to play.

Under the Senate rules, Wednesdays are “House bill days” in which House bills already on the calendar may be brought up for consideration without suspending the regular order of business—that is, without a two-thirds vote of the senators present. You do have to take the House bills in the order they currently appear on the calendar. The next House bill on the Senate’s official Regular Order of Business calendar—that green book you see floating around the Senate that nobody ever looks at because it is usually totally irrelevant–is HB 1, the budget. Tomorrow is a Wednesday.

It’s clear that this is what will happen today.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said the decision before the senators is not about the budget but whether “to change the whole nature of how things operate here.”

Ogden agreed that if he could not get the 21 votes needed today, Senate traditions were at risk.

“That is why I have worked so hard and done everything that I could possibly think of to get to 21 votes,” Ogden said.

But Ogden pointedly noted that “we were not sent down here to preserve the two-thirds rule. We were sent down here to govern.”

“People of the state of Texas don’t give a diddly about the two-thirds rule,” he said.

I do agree with Sen. Ogden about that. People for the most part don’t know or care about procedural minutiae. I for one am not going to defend any supermajority requirements, not after all the crap we saw in the US Senate these past two years. Let the debate happen, and if in the end it passes on another straight party vote, as was the case in the House, then so be it. If this is what the Republicans want, if this is what they think they were elected to do, then let them do it. I’m happy to have that debate. There was some speculation earlier in the week that Democrats, on the House side at least, were hoping for Senate budget talks to break down and force a special session, but politically speaking this does nearly the same thing.

So we’ll see where it goes from here. Robert Miller thinks this is the demise of the Senate’s 2/3 rule, and I think he’s right. Jason Embry had wondered why conservative activists hadn’t been rebelling against it before; now they may not have to. What I know is that ownership of all of the bad effects of the budget is now fully in the Republicans’ hands. Let’s get the next election season started, shall we? A statement from Sen. Kirk Watson is here, a statement from the Texas AFL-CIO is here, and a letter to Sen. Wendy Davis from the Legislative Budget Board about her request “regarding historical funding of student enrollment growth in the Foundation School Program” is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: EoW and the Trib have more.

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House Appropriations Committee passes a budget

It’s not much different than what they started out with.

House budget-writers were able to sprinkle some extra money into education and health care but otherwise did little to change the bare-bones proposal with which they started.

The 2012-13 budget will hit the House floor late next week after the Appropriations Committee approved House Bill 1 Wednesday morning in an 18 to 7 party-line vote.

Weighing in at $164.5 billion — about $23 billion less than the current two-year budget — the bill still follows the no-new-taxes, deep-cutting approach that state leaders have long advocated.

“It is a budget that reflects the money we have,” said Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. “There’s a lot of members of the House, this is as far as we can go.”

Basically, take the original cut-everything, fund-nothing budget, add the $4.3 billion we got back from using a little bit of the Rainy Day Fund to close the last biennium’s shortfall (which as far as I know has yet to be ratified by the House), and leave it at that. Rep. Pitts sounds like he realizes what a turd this budget is.

Rep. Jim Pitts said he’d like to see House-Senate budget negotiators massage the budget his Appropriations Committee approved Wednesday — and even “make it better.”

But Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the House’s chief budget writer, said Texans alarmed at the budget’s deep cuts in spending will need to change some minds in the House, which has an unusually large number of freshman, many elected with tea party support.

“There’s a lot of members of the House, this is as far as we can go,” Pitts said. Asked to elaborate, he said, “They don’t like anything else put in this bill. They feel like they were elected to make cuts.”

I’m glad we’re all clear on that, because I for one will be happy to make the 2012 and 2014 elections all about it. Democrats did the right thing and unanimously voted against this budget, while all Republicans voted for it. Which, again, is fine by me. A press release about this from four of the Dems on Appropriations is here, but I’ve included it beneath the fold because it’s worth quoting in full.

Putting questions of electoral politics aside, there is still the very real matter of whether the House and the Senate can agree on a budget. Texas Politics explores that a little further.

The day before the House Appropriations Committee approved a budget that’s about $23 billion less than the current two-year budget and that includes huge cuts for health care and education, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was expressing confidence that the Senate would be able to come up with additional revenue to make cuts all agree are inevitable slightly less injurious.

Asked whether a Senate subcommittee was looking for $5 billion in non-tax revenues, he said, “I’m not sure that I or the committee are looking for a specific number, but we’re looking for an alternative if we don’t go into the rainy day fund as much as some of the members in both the Senate and the House are considering. And what I would rather see is a larger list rather than a smaller list, so that we can very carefully and thoughtfully go through and pick those, if any, that we think make sense and that will fund our operations. In some cases, some of the non-tax revenues are one-time; some of it is recurring.”

Sale of state property is among the list of possibilities, Dewhurst said.

He was parsing his words carefully, knowing that an internecine budget battle looms and knowing also that he’s likely the one who will have to find a solution that somehow mollifies zealous anti-tax, anti-spend members in both houses while avoiding cuts that go deep into the muscle and bones of many state services.

Good luck with that, a sentiment I mean half sarcastically and half sincerely. We’ll let you know how you did next year. EoW, Trail Blazers and Texas Politics has more, and here’s an LBB analysis of HB1, which you’ll either have to figure out how to rotate or risk getting a kink in your neck trying to read.

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Editorialists urge veto of HB770

HB770, the originally obscure bill to grant homestead exemptions to folks who lost their house in Hurricane Ike that has generated a big stink thanks to the self-serving provision inserted on behalf of State Rep. Wayne Christian, is getting panned by editorialists around the state. Here’s a sampling.

From the Chron:

Rep. Christian should be ashamed of pushing stealth legislation that benefits himself. As Tom Brown, president of Texas Open Beach Advocates, told the Chronicle, “it’s a very special bill to benefit a state legislator and that is flat-out wrong.”

For a half century, Texas has had one of the strongest coastal access laws in the nation. Residents who buy beach-front property are well aware that storms and rising sea levels may someday reshape the landscape, putting their investment in peril.

A law allowing homeowners to rebuild at the water’s edge, even if it is restricted to Bolivar, is laying the groundwork for future destruction of property while undermining the principle of open beaches. Texans should join [Land Commissioner Jerry] Patterson in calling on the governor to veto the bill.

From the Statesman:

he amendment makes a significant statement about public beaches and private property. Significant enough to warrant full legislative review, complete with public hearing.

Patterson, never a mincer of words, told the Houston Chronicle: “My opinion is just to say, ‘Screw you, Wayne Christian,’ because the Legislature didn’t pass this, one guy passed this.”

In his e-mail [to us], Christian railed about Patterson’s “cursive language.”

We’re really not sure what “cursive language” is, but perhaps this falls under that header: Perry should veto the damn bill.

From the Galveston Daily News:

The other reason this legislation deserves a quick veto is that it is bad public policy. The Open Beaches Act says that beaches belong to the public. If your land becomes a beach in Texas, you lose it, just as you would lose part of your cow pasture if a river changed course and ran through it. If a river runs through your pasture, you would not get to set up a tollbooth in the river and you would not get to charge bass boats and kayakers to pass.

The river would not be your private property in Texas — and neither would the beach.

Waterways and beaches are public property in Texas. And people who buy beach-front property are warned repeatedly, loudly and often about that provision in the law.

The Open Beaches Act is a good law. The alternative is to live in a state where most of the beaches are owned by the wealthy.

Remember that the initial purpose of this bill was to help folks in Galveston; it’s the reason given by State Rep. Craig Eiland why he voted for it. For the Galveston Daily News to argue for its veto strikes me as pretty powerful.

From Bud Kennedy:

Retired state Rep. A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, a Galveston Democrat, led the 1959 effort to defend public beaches.

After Ike, he talked about beachfront homeowners.

“We’re talking about damn fools that have built houses on the edge of the sea for as long as man could remember and against every advice anyone has given,” Schwartz said.

And who have power in Austin.

From the Star-Telegram:

Does the Open Beaches Act encroach on property rights in cases like this? Every beachfront-property owner knows the risk. If not for the act, eventually much of the Texas coast would be lined with private beaches.

Perry should veto HB 770. While that would hurt property owners in Galveston and elsewhere who want to retain their homestead tax exemptions while they rebuild, the greater good would come from upholding the integrity of the Open Beaches Act.

From the Beaumont Enterprise:

The sanctity of public beaches cannot be compromised in Texas. Homes or businesses cannot intrude onto beaches that belong to all Texans. For those reasons, Gov. Rick Perry has little choice but to veto a bill that contains a provision that would exempt property owners on the Bolivar Peninsula from a state law that bans construction on public beaches.

The Enterprise also had one of the better stories I’ve seen on the issue. Elise Hu has a statement from Rep. Christian that tells his side of it as well.

As of Friday, Governor Perry said he was still studying the bill. I have no idea what he’s going to do, and I daresay we won’t know until the June 21 deadline for him to take action. If you have an opinion, the Governor’s fax number is 512-463-1849; those who are rallying for a veto have been urging their supporters to send faxes asking for the bill to be rejected.

Open beaches

Got the following email from a colleague and thought it was worth mentioning:

Very late Sunday night a “deal” was made in the Texas legislature to make an exemption in the Texas Open Beaches Act – the law that guarantees public access to our beaches.

Rep. Wayne Christian of Center, Texas use to have a beach house on Bolivar. Hurricane Ike destroyed it. I feel badly for him and the thousands of others who lost property. But state law prohibits construction of houses on the public beach. Why? Because its the PUBLIC BEACH, not private beach.

Anyway Rep. Christian wants to build a new house on what is now PUBLIC BEACH, and he snuck a law through that exempts front-row owners in Bolivar to build new houses on our beach. That is bad public policy. Beaches are like public parks, you can live near them but not in them.

Right now, please phone Gov. Perry and respectfully ask him to “veto HB770, building houses directly on the public beach will cost us billions of dollars in the next storm”.

512-463-2000

Rep. Christian was on the conference committee for HB770, which is (I presume) where this amendment was added. The Galveston News had a story about HB770 on Monday.

House Bill 770 started as a bill to allow homeowners whose houses were destroyed by a hurricane to maintain their homestead exemptions — even if a final decision on whether to rebuild hadn’t been made.

But the law also appears to have exempted houses along the Bolivar Peninsula from the requirements of the Texas Open Beaches Act for four years.

Under existing law, buildings must be behind the line of naturally occurring vegetation.

The bill would exempt from state open beaches laws a house “located on a peninsula in a county with a population of more than 250,000 and less than 251,000 that borders the Gulf of Mexico.” Only one area in the state meets that description — the Bolivar Peninsula.

The bill, which was co-authored by Galveston County’s state representatives, Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, and Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, won unanimous approval in the state House and easily earned passage in the Senate. One of Galveston County’s two state senators, Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, was the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose agency is responsible for managing the open beaches laws in Texas, blasted the law.

“I don’t think building houses on the beach, with the waters of the Gulf beneath them, is a good idea or good public policy,” Patterson said. “This bill is so poorly drafted that will happen.”

Here’s the bill text. I agree with Commissioner Patterson on this, and think a veto is not a bad idea. And according to today’s Chron, he plans on sticking to his guns.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has asked Gov. Rick Perry to veto the bill containing the amendment. The bill has not yet crossed the governor’s desk, and he will not make a decision until he sees it, said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.

“I don’t think building houses on the beach, with the waters of the Gulf beneath them, is a good idea or good public policy,” Patterson said.

If the governor signs the bill, Patterson vowed that he would not enforce the amendment. “My option is just to say, ‘Screw you, Wayne Christian,’ because the Legislature didn’t pass this, one guy passed this,” he said.

Patterson said the Legislature would have to impeach him if lawmakers wanted the provision enforced.

That would be going too far – filing a lawsuit strikes me as the better way to stop enforcement of that law – but at least we know where he stands. Christian, for his part, says this wasn’t about him:

Christian said his vote for the amendment benefited other peninsula property owners and therefore was not a breach of ethics. “If I were to pass a law that affected only Wayne Christian, that would be a conflict,” he said.

At least 12 of his neighbors want to rebuild but can’t without the amendment, Christian said.

The amendment will keep property on the tax rolls that otherwise would be taken off if left undeveloped, Christian said. He also insisted the amendment is “not mine,” because it was put forward by Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Mauriceville.

“I did sign with him because I approved the concept,” Christian said. The amendment targeted the Bolivar Peninsula because it bore the brunt of the storm, he said.

He denied that it was improper to add the amendment to a bill so close to the end of the session. “This is not an unethical, deceptive method of doing anything,” Christian said. “This is the way it’s been ever since government was invented.”

Well, that much is certainly true. As has also been the case since government was invented, sometimes these last-minute deals contain unpalatable provisions. And so here we are.

You’ll be hearing more about the Open Beaches Act this November, as the passage of HJR102 means there will be an amendment voted on to make the Open Beaches act part of the Constitution instead of an ordinary law that could be changed by a majority vote in the Lege. The above-linked story, and this Chron story from last week have more info about that.

The push to protect public access comes in the wake of lawsuits challenging what is public and what is private along the 367 miles of mostly wild Texas coastline.

The Open Beaches Act prohibits houses seaward of the vegetation line, which crawls steadily landward as the beaches erode.

While trophy houses, subdivisions and hotels have sprouted along the Gulf of Mexico, rising seas, sinking land and storms have led to the rapid erosion of Texas coastline. By some estimates, as much as 10 feet of beach front washes away each year.

As the sandy shore shifts over decades, a barrier island, such as Galveston, may look the same, but it will be farther landward. Houses that once stood hundreds of feet from the surf will be encroaching on the Gulf.

In some cases, the Texas General Land Office, which is responsible for the coastline, has sued to remove houses from the beach.
Jerry Patterson, the state’s land commissioner, suggested that the proposed amendment wouldn’t change anything along the coast.

“We work every day at the Texas General Land Office to ensure the public’s right to access the beach,” he said.

Property owners contend that the existing state law tramples on their rights and that a constitutional amendment would make matters worse, according to the House’s analysis of the pros and cons of the bill.

J. David Breemer, a Pacific Legal Foundation attorney who is challenging the land office’s enforcement of the Open Beaches Act, said he doesn’t believe a constitutional amendment would insulate the state from lawsuits.

“The issue is how the law is used, not the intent,” Breemer said. “The easement keeps rolling over land that the public hasn’t ever walked and development has already happened.”

Still, beachgoers and environmentalists expressed enthusiasm over the proposed amendment, which cleared the state House on a 140-1 vote and the Senate on a 29-2 vote.

Ken Kramer, director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter, said the environmental group would campaign in favor of the ballot measure.

“It’s a great issue to elevate people’s awareness of coastal protection,” he said.

This KHOU story has more on that lawsuit. I’ll be voting for this proposition, and I look forward to seeing how the Supreme Court deals with it when that lawsuit, which has been sent its way by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, comes before it.

UPDATE: Land Commish Jerry Patterson keeps pushing this, with a press conference tomorrow in Galveston. From his release:

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. Friday on the beach in Galveston to rally Texans to demand Governor Perry kill a proposed law that would exempt the Bolivar Peninsula from the Texas Open Beaches Act.

The press conference will be on the beach in the Pirates Beach subdivision in Galveston, just seaward of the 4200 block of Ghost Crab Lane.

“Call Governor Perry now and let him know you want to keep Texas beaches for the enjoyment of the public,” Patterson said. “An eleventh hour amendment to HB770 would allow an elite few to rebuild their houses on the public beach or even in the surf. That’s not just a bad idea, that’s bad public policy.”

Patterson urged Texans who love the beach to call Governor Perry’s office at (512) 463-2000 and ask him to veto HB770.

The amendment was covertly slipped into the bill without any public debate on the first day of the 2009 hurricane season, which was the last day of the 81st Legislature.

“As Gulf Coast residents were thinking about the next storm, a few lawmakers were actually sneaking an amendment on to a bill that would allow their neighbors to rebuild their houses on the public beach or even in the surf zone of the area hardest hit by Hurricane Ike,” Patterson said. “That’s just unthinkable.”

Far as I know, there’s been no public comment from Governor Perry yet. He probably won’t say anything until he takes action on the bill, but it’s possible he could telegraph his intent.

UTMB hopsital to stay in Galveston

This is a pleasant surprise.

The University of Texas Medical Branch hospital, still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Ike, will remain on Galveston Island under a plan approved today.

The decision by the University of Texas Board of Regents not to move patient beds, teaching and research facilities inland should be positive news to area elected officials and local citizens who wanted to the damaged operation to remain. The plan, however, depends on new funding from the Legislature over time.

“This board, by this vote, is deeply committed to the future of keeping UTMB on Galveston Island, but this decision is not our decision alone,” said board chairman Scott Caven Jr., referring to the need for recovery money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, philanthropic sources and the state.

[…]

The regents had been considering a consultant’s recommendation that some beds be moved off the island to compensate for the as much as $710 million in damage and losses caused by the hurricane, which came ashore in Galveston in September, destroying lower floors at UTMB’s John Sealy Hospital.

The $285,000 consultant’s report recommended that the hospital be rebuilt in League City, saying it had a better chance there of making a profit by competing for paying patients.

So they rejected the KSA report after all. I’ll be darned.

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, applauded the regents’ decision to rebuild the island campus. He said the effort, including the renovation of a damaged hospital and the construction of a new medical tower, could cost as much as $1 billion over time.

“We’ve come a long way, and we’re on the right path, and we’re all moving in the same direction,” he said. “We’ve still got to get to May. We’ve got to make sure that the Legislature funds the plan.”

Well, yeah, comparatively speaking that will be the hard work. But at least now there’s a tangible reason to fight for that funding, and I think this will make it harder to oppose it. Assuming we ever finish up with the single most important issue facing Texas today and get on to the lesser matters, we’ll see how that goes. Hair Balls has more.