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Denton County

Omnibus election report

It’s after midnight, I’ve mostly posted stuff on my long-dormant Twitter account (@kuff), and I will have many, many thoughts in the coming days. For now, a brief recap.

– As you know, neither Beto nor any other Dem won statewide, thus continuing the shutout that began in 1996. However, as of this writing and 6,998 of 7,939 precincts counted, O’Rourke had 3,824,780 votes, good for 47.86% of the total. In 2016, Hillary Clinton collected 3,877,868 votes. It seems very likely that by the time all is said and done, Beto O’Rourke will be the biggest vote-getter in history for a Texas Democrat. He will have built on Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. That’s pretty goddamn amazing, and if you’re not truly impressed by it you’re not seeing the whole picture. We’re in a different state now.

– Beto may not have won, but boy howdy did he have coattails. Colin Allred won in CD32, and Lizzie Fletcher won in CD07. Will Hurd is hanging on to a shrinking lead in CD23, up by less than 1,200 votes with about 14% of the precincts yet to report. He was leading by 6,000 votes in early voting, and it may still be possible for Gina Ortiz Jones to catch him. Todd Litton (45.30% in CD02), Lorie Burch (44.21% in CD03), Jana Lynne Sanchez (45.25% in CD06), Mike Siegel (46.71% in CD10), Joseph Kopser (47.26% in CD21), Sri Kulkarni (46.38% in CD22), Jan McDowell (46.91% in CD24), Julie Oliver (44.43% in CD25), and MJ Hegar (47.54% in CD31) all came within ten points.

– Those coattails extended further down the ballot. Dems picked up two State Senate seats, as Beverly Powell defeated Konni Burton in SD10 (Wendy Davis’ old seat) and Nathan Johnson trounced Don Huffines in SD16. Rita Lucido was at 46.69% in SD17, but she wasn’t the next-closest competitor – Mark Phariss came within three points of defeating Angela Paxton in SD08, a race that wasn’t really on the radar. Oh, and in an even less-visible race Gwenn Burud scored 45.45% in SD09, while Meg Walsh got to 41.60% against Sen. Charles Schwertner in SD05 (he was just over 55% in that race). We could make things very, very interesting in 2022.

– And down in the State House, Dems have picked up 11 seats:

HD45, Erin Zwiener
HD47, Vikki Goodwin
HD52, James Talarico
HD65, Michelle Beckley
HD102, Ana-Marie Ramos
HD105, Terry Meza
HD113, Rhetta Bowers
HD114, John Turner
HD115, Julie Johnson
HD135, Jon Rosenthal
HD136, John Bucy

Note that of those seven wins, a total of four came from Denton, Hays, and Williamson Counties. The Dems have officially gained a foothold in the suburbs. They also lost some heartbreakingly close races in the House – I’ll save that for tomorrow – and now hold 12 of 14 seats in Dallas County after starting the decade with only six seats. This is the risk of doing too precise a gerrymander – the Republicans there had no room for error in a strong Democratic year.

– Here in Harris County, it was another sweep, as Dems won all the judicial races and in the end all the countywide races. Ed Emmett lost by a point after leading most of the evening, while the other Republicans lost by wide margins. Also late in the evening, Adrian Garcia squeaked ahead of Commissioner Jack Morman in Precinct 2, leading by a 112,356 to 111,226 score. Seems fitting that Morman would lose a close race in a wave year, as that was how he won in the first place. That means Dems now have a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court. Did I say we now live in a different state? We now live in a very different county.

– With 999 of 1,013 precincts in, Harris County turnout was 1,194,379, with about 346K votes happening on Election Day. That puts turnout above what we had in 2008 (in terms of total votes, not percentage of registered voters) but a hair behind 2012. It also means that about 71% of the vote was cast early, a bit less than in 2016.

– Oh, and the Dems swept Fort Bend, too, winning District Attorney, County Judge, District Clerk, all contests judicial races, and County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Maybe someone can explain to me now why they didn’t run candidates for County Clerk and County Treasurer, but whatever.

– Possibly the biggest bloodbath of the night was in the Courts of Appeals, where the Dems won every single contested race in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 13th, and 14th Courts. I count 16 incumbent Republican judges losing, with several more open Republican-held seats flipping. That is utterly amazing, and will have an impact far greater than we can imagine right now.

– Last but not least, both Houston propositions passed. Expect there to be a lawsuit over Prop B.

Projecting Tuesday turnout

Here’s the statewide view.

By the time the polls closed Thursday, 33.7 percent of registered voters in Bexar County had voted, well past the 17.3 percent turnout at the same point in 2014, the last midterm, and close to the presidential-year turnout recorded at the same point in 2012 and 2016.

And Bexar County’s election officials are not alone in having a lot to high-five each other about. Turnout during early voting in the state’s 30 largest counties easily surpassed the entire turnout – during the early voting period and on Election Day – of the 2014 midterm and continues to race toward the turnout seen in presidential election years.

In Harris County, the state’s largest county, 32.3 percent of registered voters had voted by the end of Thursday, compared to 15.5 percent at the same point in 2014. In Dallas County, the number was 35.1 percent, compared to 15.2 percent at the same point in 2014. Early voting turnout in Travis County had already surpassed total early voter turnout in both the 2014 midterm and the 2012 presidential election by the end of Thursday.

“We’ve got a lot of unhappy and activist voters out there who have been wanting to vote for a long time,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County clerk. She attributed the bump in the number of voters to President Donald Trump.

She said voter turnout dipped slightly earlier in the week, as is often the case, but that the numbers quickly rebounded toward the end of the week, which she said will help alleviate some traffic on Election Day.

[…]

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said that the “blockbuster” turnout seen during early voting this year sets a new bar for future elections.

“It’s clear that much of the future of Texas will be fought in suburban Texas,” Rottinghaus said.

He said counties like Collin, Denton, Montgomery and Williamson saw a greater number of Democrats turning up to vote than in previous elections. That doesn’t mean that Democrats are going to win those counties, he said, but it does mean that they have become much more competitive.

“On one hand, suburban Texas is now younger and more ethnically diverse, replacing the first generation which is middle age and white” Rottinghaus said. “And Donald Trump and some of the inflammatory rhetoric have really caused a lack of interest among Republican women and college-educated voters in the suburbs.”

Rottinghaus said statewide Hispanic turnout is up slightly from 2014, which he said is “good but not great for Democrats.” While it looked like Democrats were doing better than Republicans in border counties early on in early voting, he said that it now looks like Republican voters are turning up in larger numbers.

“It’s not the groundswell that Democrats had hoped for,” Rottinghaus said.

The same story applies to young voters, Rottinghaus said. Although more young voters turned out in 2018 than in 2014, he said the 2016 presidential year still has both of the midterm years beat.

“This seems to show that younger voters, although inspired by an electric O’Rourke campaign, still need that push of a president at the top of the ticket to turn out,” Rottinghaus said.

I think what we’re going to get is going to be somewhere between 2008/2012 turnout, and 2016 turnout, which is the current high-water mark. The main question here is how many people who are going to vote have already voted. In previous off-year elections, a bit more than half of the vote – around 55% – is cast early. In Presidential years, the share of the early vote is higher, with that number spiking up in 2016. I’ll show the details later, but for now I’ll say this feels more like a Presidential year, but not exactly like one. As such, I think we’ll still see a decent number of voters on Tuesday, but for sure the bulk of the vote has already been cast.

Here are the Friday/final totals, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  52,112  392,536  462,527
2014  67,967  307,280  375,247
2018  89,098  766,613  855,711

2008  52,502  678,312  754,499
2012  66,310  700,216  766,526
2016  94,699  882,580  977,279

About where I thought we’d end up, though the potential was there for a bit more. I think the bad weather on Wednesday prevented some people from voting, with some of them shifting to Thursday or Friday and some of them still needing to vote. Here are a range of outcomes for final turnout based on what we’ve seen so far:

855,711 at 65% = 1,316,478
855,711 at 67% = 1,277,180
855,711 at 70% = 1,222,444
855,711 at 73% = 1,172,206
855,711 at 75% = 1,140,980

2008 EV = 63.5%
2012 EV = 63.7%
2016 EV = 73.0%

In other words, in 2008 and 2012 a bit more than 63% of the vote was cast early, while in 2016 that amount was 73 percent. My best guess, based entirely on gut feel, is that we’ll fall in the middle of that this year, which will put us in the 1.2 million range, or about the total for 2008 and 2012. It could still go higher or lower from there, and in the end the range of possibility is about 200K votes. The weather should be good on Tuesday, so at least there won’t be any nature-induced barriers.

One last thing to think about. In 2016, the top Republican votegetter was Tracy Christopher, who was running for the 14th Court of Appeals, with 621,960 votes, followed by Debra Ibarra Mayfield, running for the 165th District Court, with 621,060. The smallest number of votes any Democrat received who was on the ballot for everyone in the county was 610,648 by Grady Yarbrough, running for Railroad Commissioner. Most Republican judicial candidates, including all of the statewide judicials other than Eva Guzman and all of the courts of appeals candidates other than Christopher and Sherry Radack, failed to top Yarbrough’s total. If turnout really is 1.2 million or above, you tell me where the Republicans are going to get the votes to win Harris County.

The meta-campaign for Senate

Let’s talk about what we talk about when we talk about the Senate campaign.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange match up of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

[…]

More than one operative from both parties brushed off the O’Rourke excitement with a pervasive phrase — “This is still Texas” — a nod to the state’s recent history as the most populous conservative powerhouse in the union.

The enthusiasm for O’Rourke — his bonanza event attendance and record-breaking fundraising, in particular — is something the state has not seen in modern memory. But there remain open questions over whether the three-term congressman can take a punch when the widely expected fall advertising blitz against him begins, whether he can activate the Hispanic vote and whether he can effectively build his name identification in a such a sprawling and populated state.

“We’ve never been in a situation where November matters at a statewide level,” said Jason Stanford, a former Democratic consultant, about the uncertainty of the fall.

So what would a moral victory be, if O’Rourke is unable to close the deal outright? Operatives from both parties suggest a 5- to 6-point spread — or smaller — could send a shockwave through Texas politics.

Such a margin could compel national Democrats to start making serious investments in the state and force local Republicans to re-examine how their own party practices politics going forward.

But that kind of O’Rourke performance could also bear more immediate consequences, potentially scrambling the outcomes of races for other offices this fall.

Only a handful of statewide surveys on the race are floating around the Texas political ether. But one increasing point of alarm for Republicans is what campaign strategists are seeing when they test down-ballot races.

Often campaigns for the U.S. House or the Texas Legislature will include statewide matchups in polling they conduct within a district. Sources from both parties say some of those polls show Cruz underperforming in some state legislative and congressional races — particularly in urban areas.

In effect, O’Rourke could come up short but turn out enough voters in the right communities to push Democrats over the line in races for the Legislature and U.S. House.

I know I discussed this before back in 2014 when we were all high on Battleground Texas, but let’s do this again. What are the consolation prize goals for Texas Democrats in 2018?

– To discuss the consolation prizes, we have to first agree on what the main goals are. Clearly, electing Beto O’Rourke is one of the brass rings, but what about the other statewide campaigns? My guess is that based primarily on visibility and the implications for control of the Senate, the O’Rourke-Cruz race is in a class by itself, so everything after that falls in the “consolation prize” bucket. Thus, I’d posit that winning one or more downballot statewide race would be in the first level of lower-tier goals, with Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, and any Supreme Court/CCA bench being the ones that are most in focus.

– Very close behind would be the Congressional races, for which three (CDs 07, 23, and 32) are rated as tossups, a couple more (CDs 21 and 31) are on the radar, and more than we can count are on the fringes. You have to feel like CD23 is winnable in any decent year, so for this to count as a prize we’d need at least one more seat in addition to flip. Very good would be all three tossups, and great would be another seat in addition.

– In the Lege, picking up even one Senate seat would be nice, but picking up two or three means Dems have enough members to block things via the three-fifths (formerly two-thirds) rule. I don’t know how many House seats I’d consider prize-level-worthy, but knocking off a couple of the worst offenders that are in winnable seats, like Matt Rinaldi in HD115, Gary Elkins in HD135, and Tony Dale in HD136, would be sweet.

– Sweeping Harris County, breaking through in Fort Bend County, picking up any kind of victory in places like Collin, Denton, Williamson, Brazoria, you get the idea. And don’t forget the appellate courts, which will require doing well in non-urban counties.

It’s easy enough to say what counts as lower-level goals, it’s harder to put numbers on it. It’s not my place to say what we “should” win in order to feel good about it. Frankly, given recent off-year elections, it’s a bit presumptuous to say that any number of victories in places we haven’t won this decade might be somehow inadequate. I think everyone will have their own perception of how it went once the election is over, and unless there’s a clear rout one way or the other there will be some level of disagreement over how successful Democrats were.

The rural/suburban tradeoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Romney 70%+ (42 districts)

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


Romney 60-70% (31 districts)

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


Romney 50-60% (23 districts)

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


Romney 40-50% (9 districts)

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


Romney 30-40% (20 districts)

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


Romney < 30% (25 districts)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Denton County returns to paper ballots

I hadn’t realized this.

Denton has been using a hybrid voting system that employs both electronic and paper ballots for about a decade. But county officials recently approved spending just shy of $9 million to buy new voting equipment from Austin-based Hart InterCivic that will return to an entirely paper-based system in time for this year’s November elections. Even disabled voters, who will cast their votes on touch-screen machines, will have their ballots printed out and tallied through a print scanner.

The move comes months after a disastrous election day for Denton County in November, with machines inadvertently set to “test mode” instead of “election mode,” long lines, problems with scanning paper ballots, and, ultimately, incorrect tabulations. [Frank Phillips, Denton County’s elections administrator] — who was working in nearby Tarrant County at the time — said it was the personnel, not the machines, that caused chaos last fall. But voters in town, as well as leaders with the local Democratic and Republican parties, called for a return to paper ballots in the months following election day.

“The question always comes: ‘How do I know that when I cast my ballot it’s recorded electronically?’” Phillips said. “We know it’s recorded correctly because of our testing methods, but that question has persisted ever since we started using electronic voting. With the political climate these days, it’s even more heightened right now.”

And these aren’t just any paper ballots, Phillips emphasized. The new Hart system Denton purchased allows election administrators to print ballots on demand, eliminating the waste and cost of over-printing paper ballots in advance of an election and then having to expend resources storing those unused ballots afterward to comply with state regulations. It also prevents the problem of under-printing paper ballots — an issue that emerged last year when Titus County saw a higher-than-expected turnout for the presidential primary, and officials were forced to create and hand-count ballots on election day.

I gather what this means is that when you show up, you will get a printed-for-you ballot, then (I presume) fill it out with a pen or pencil. It will then be read by an optical scanner to tally the votes. Which is fine, but it’s not the way I’d prefer it. The system they have for disabled voters, where you vote on a touch screen then have your ballot printed out, would be better. Frankly, having the vote recorded electronically then having a paper ballot that serves as your receipt is better still. This is basically what the STAR voter system that Travis County has been working on does.

The main problem with filling out a paper ballot is that some people will fill it out incorrectly. Have you ever looked at the election returns on the Harris County Clerk website and wondered how there could possibly be overvotes in a race? It happens with the paper-based absentee ballots, where one can accidentally or purposefully select more than one candidate in a contest. Electronic voting machines don’t allow for this to happen. While this will almost always spoil a ballot for that race, some of the time with these overvotes, the voter’s intent is clear. In the infamous 2000 Florida election, some counties used a paper ballot with optical scan system, and there were documented instances of a person filling in the bubble for a specific candidate, then also putting that same candidate’s name in the write-in space. This is hardly an insurmountable problem, but it would help to have clear policies in place for when a ballot is truly spoiled and when a voter’s intent can be inferred.

There are other potential issues here – do we have any idea if it will take people longer to vote on paper than on a screen, for instance – but again, I don’t think they’re insurmountable. I don’t care for the fearfulness behind the “how do I know that when I cast my ballot it’s recorded electronically?” premise – the same way you know that when you buy something from Amazon it will arrive on your doorstep and your credit card will get charged – but whatever. If this is what the people of Denton County want, then so be it. The Lewisville Texan has more.

Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

vote-button

There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.

(more…)

More counties issuing same sex marriage licenses

Montgomery County:

RedEquality

Montgomery County Clerk Mark Turnbull said he turned one same-sex couple away on Friday who requested a marriage license, but wound up issuing the license after regular hours on Saturday.

He initially refused because he was waiting for clarification from the state on what form to use, but after the courthouse closed Friday evening, Texas Department of Health Services sent a revised form that removed all gender references and referred to those applying for the license only as “applicant one” and “applicant two,” Turnbull said.

With a new form in hand, he telephoned Pam Kunkle, 55, an insurance manager in Houston and her partner, Connie Moberley, 67, and asked them to return to the Montgomery County courthouse so he could issue the license Saturday.

“We needed some time to make adjustments with the language and make sure it worked on our computer program. We were glad they volunteered to come back and be our first guinea pig to make sure the system worked,” he said, adding none of the clerks in his office had raised any religious objections to issuing licenses to same-sex couples. “We are officers with ministerial duties. We have no discretion. We follow rules listed in our handbook.”

However, he recalled a former employee who objected to issuing liquor licenses on moral grounds and said she later switched to another county job where that did not pose a problem.

That’s Montgomery County, one of the reddest in Texas. The theme of “we do what the law says we are to do” is one you will see again.

Tarrant County:

Tracey Knight didn’t know if the day would ever come when she would be legally married in the state of Texas.

At long last it did come Friday, after a landmark Supreme Court ruling swept away the state’s longtime ban against same-sex marriage.

“We dreamed of this day,” said Knight, a corporal with the Fort Worth Police Department who serves as the LGBT community liaison. “We weren’t sure if it would ever happen. Now we have started planning our wedding.”

Knight and her wife, Shannon, who wed two years ago in California but wanted to exchange vows again in Texas, shared smiles and tears Friday as they were the first same-sex couple in Tarrant County to receive a marriage license.

Several other counties in North Texas were awaiting “guidance” from AG Ken Paxton. Denton County, which had originally refused to issue same sex marriage licenses, has now become compliant with the law of the land.

The Denton County clerk’s office is now issuing same-sex marriage licenses, following Friday operations that turned at least three couples away.

Whitney Hennen and Sara Bollinger was the first same-sex couple in the county this morning to be given a marriage license.

On Sunday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared religious objections a legitimate excuse for county clerks and their staffs as a means of denying licenses to same-sex couples.

Denton County Clerk Juli Luke said she is opposed to gay and lesbian couples getting married for religious reasons, but maintained her personal beliefs cannot prevent her from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

“Moreover, my faith in Christ ensures I have compassion and respect for those who feel differently,” she wrote in a statement.

See, Ken Paxton? It’s not hard to do at all. Collin County has joined in as well, though several other counties in the area are not there yet.

Williamson County has fallen in line, too.

Williamson County is now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as of 8 a.m. Monday. That comes after getting advice from County Attorney Dee Hobbs.

“I would like to acknowledge the gravity of the Supreme Court decision and the passion citizens have on both sides of this issue,” reads a statement by Hobbs, posted outside the Williamson County Clerk’s Office. “I would like to thank those that contacted this office for being respectful int heir questions and also understanding regarding time to review.”

That’s two outlaw counties that have come back to their senses. Smith County makes three, with Gregg thrown in as a bonus.

An East Texas same-sex couple became the first in Smith County to be issued a marriage license on Monday morning.

About 8:30 a.m., a couple showed up seeking a marriage license at the Smith County courthouse. Karen Wilkerson and her fiance Jolie Smith began the process to obtain their marriage license shortly after 8:30 a.m. and were issued the document about 9:20 a.m. The couple was the first to show up at the courthouse office.

The license was issued following a Friday Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Earlier in the day, the Smith County Vital Statistics Department was temporarily closed for a staff meeting. A sign posted in the courthouse said the department was also testing the system to accommodate new forms.

Smith County Clerk Karen Phillips said the state changed the vital statistic form needed to issue the licenses.

Midland County was a Friday adherent, but neighboring Ector was a holdout. Not any more.

Ector County Clerk Linda Haney will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, opting not to take an out offered by Attorney General Ken Paxton for clerks who wish to deny such licenses due to religious beliefs.

“I took an oath to uphold the law and I intend to follow the law,” Haney said, although the marriage licenses could not be issued early Monday morning because the new application was not yet available on the computer system.

Her decision comes after the Friday ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that marriage is a Constitutional right for same-sex couples.
Sunday, Paxton issued an opinion that clerks could deny licenses based on religious beliefs, just as justices of the peace could decline to perform the weddings based on religious beliefs.

Haney, however, said she will follow the Supreme Court’s ruling and what she believes is the correct thing according to the law.

“An act of civil disobedience on my part would not honor my God and I don’t want to put my county at liability either,” Haney said. “I do have strong religious convictions and anybody that knows me knows what those convictions are. But I did take an oath and I will follow the law.”

Amazing how clear and simple that is, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see all these counties, from different parts of the state, ignore Ken Paxton’s advice and do the job they’re supposed to do. And congratulations to Karen Wilkerson and Jolie Smith!

Not all counties needed prodding. Fort Bend County had it right from the beginning.

While the topic has produced a variety of opinions among the American public, the Fort Bend County Clerk’s office has issued a direct statement – current marriage forms won’t be modified, but when new forms arrive for same-sex marriage, they will be honored in accordance with the new law.

Same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, using the current forms, until the updated ones arrive.

Again – easy peasy. So simple even Ken Paxton should be able to understand it. Let’s let Brazoria County explain it to him anyway, just in case.

After an opinion from the District Attorney’s office this afternoon, County Clerk Joyce Hudman said Brazoria County is officially issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Hudman said her offices have been issuing licenses since 1:30 p.m. and will throughout the day.

District Attorney Jeri Yenne gave the county clerk’s office a one-sentence opinion that issuing same-sex marriage licenses is mandatory based on the Supreme Court’s decision today.

“As a follow-up to your inquiry regarding marriage licenses, please be advised that on today’s date, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion indicating the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex,” Yenne’s memo reads.

After getting that memo, Hudman said her offices were instructed to grant the licenses.

One couple already has obtained a marriage license from the Pearland clerk’s office, she said.

A “one-sentence opinion” that explained the facts. Are we going to fast for you, Kenny?

Unfortunately, every state has its slow learners.

“I’m standing up for my religious liberty,” said Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, who said her office would not give out same-sex marriage licenses on religious grounds. “I do believe that marriage is for one man and one woman because it did derive from the Bible.”

After the decision Friday, some county officials said they would wait to hear from state Attorney General Ken Paxton, who issued a written opinion Sunday saying clerks with religious objections to same-sex marriages can refuse to issue those licenses. But if they do so, he wrote, they might face fine or lawsuits.

Paxton said pro bono lawyers would be ready to defend those who refuse, noting “the reach of the Court’s opinion stops at the door of the First Amendment and our laws protecting religious liberty.” Lang said after reading Paxton’s opinion, she chose to face possible legal action.

“I could get fined and I could get sued,” she said, “but you could get sued for anything.”

You can also be held in contempt of court if it comes down to it. And remember, for this you could be sued personally, not just named as a defendant in an action against the county or your office. But hey, every cause needs a martyr, and I’m sure that future Fox News gig will be sweet.

That’s about all the counties I have the energy to look up today. Other resources: The DMN has an interactive map that’s at least somewhat inaccurate since they have no report on Fort Bend’s status. The Current has contacted a bunch of Hill Country counties and reports that all except possibly Kerr are now in compliance. Glen Maxey has been keeping tabs on Facebook – see here for his running count, and be sure to see the comments for updates. If you don’t see your favorite county listed somewhere, you may just have to call the Clerk’s office there yourself. Overall, though, the picture is pretty good and it appears to be improving. All the national headlines have been about Paxton and his get-out-of-following-the-law opinion for County Clerks, but at this point very few clerks, almost none in larger counties, have heeded him. Unlike Greg Abbott, they understand how the law works and they respect it. Paxton’s words – and Dan Patrick’s, and Greg Abbott’s, and Ted Cruz’s – will make Texas look bad to the rest of the country, but at least we still have enough sensible local officials to maybe mitigate that a bit.

In closing, here’s a non-legal opinion regarding a better way for county clerks with religious objections to handle this:

Religious freedom is so central to our nation that no public official should be required to do anything that violates the religious principles that direct his or her life.

And there is clear and proper recourse here for any public official who, as a result of this landmark change in the law, finds himself or herself uncomfortable with or unable to perform the revised duties of office.

They should quit.

Amen. Thankfully, very few of them have decided that they cannot do their jobs. Let’s hope the remainders follow their lead and not Paxton’s. Trail Blazers and BOR have more.

Where same sex marriage is still functionally illegal in Texas

Smith County:

RedEquality

After a historic Supreme Court ruling, making same sex marriage legal in all fifty states, couples across the country flocked to courthouses to be legally married.

Despite the ruling, an East Texas County Court will not be issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Smith County Clerk Karen Phillips said they first need new paperwork that is not gender specific. The current application is a state form that cannot be altered in any way, said Phillips.

The current state application has fields for male and female, an issue Karen Wilkerson and her fiancé Jolie Smith say is merely administrative.

In the Smith County vital statistics office, the couple completed the marriage application and attempted to turn it in to the clerk.

“[Male] is not something I can white out because that’s a legal form,” said Phillips to the couple. “This is a state form and I can’t do anything without a state form.”

“Is the purpose of Smith County to obstruct the law of the land for administrative purpose?” Wilkerson asked.

She then offered that other counties in Dallas and Austin were issuing licenses in Texas.

PHILLIPS: “Well, they may be doing that but I don’t want to have to call up a bunch of people saying we have to redo this.”

WILKERSON: “I’m willing to redo it.”

PHILLIPS: “Well, I’m not.”

WILKERSON: “I want you to act in your capacity as county clerk and follow the law of the United States government””

Phillips went on to explain that an incorrect form could jeopardize the legality of the marriage. In addition, marriage licenses are entered into a software system that also does not recognize non-gender specific information.

The headline to the story says that a lawsuit was filed over this, but there’s no mention of it in the body of the story. The justification that County Clerk Phillips gives is, to put it politely, bullshit, as County Clerks in Harris, Dallas, Travis, Bexar, McLennan, and elsewhere have demonstrated. I’m Facebook friends with Karen Wilkerson, and from what I can tell we will know more about this situation today. I will be keeping an eye on it.

Then there’s Denton County.

The Denton County Clerk Juli Luke refused two same-sex couples an application for a license Friday, saying first that she needed to receive legal guidance from the district attorney’s office.

Later, she announced that the office would not be issuing licenses because they needed to update their computer software.

Another same-sex couple in The Colony said they started calling other county satellite offices looking for one that would issue a license. They, too, were refused.

Denton County Judge Mary Horn said that, at this point, if a same-sex couple came to her requesting to be wed, she would refuse them.

She said that the difference between the actions of elected officials in Dallas County and Denton County on Friday reflected “a difference in core philosophies.”

Every county level elected office in Denton County is held by a Republican.

[…]

District Attorney Paul Johnson said the decision whether to issue licenses belonged to the clerk’s office.

A sign on the clerk’s door said that the office would not be issuing same-sex licenses today because of “changes that must be made for our vendor.”

No explanation was provided.

Again, pure bullshit. Why the County Clerk would need to consult with the District Attorney in a strictly civil matter is a question I can’t answer, but the real question is why she needs to consult with anyone at all on this crystal clear matter of following the law of the land. As yet I have not seen word of a possible lawsuit, but I am confident one will be in the offing if Denton County doesn’t get its act together quickly. If you have any reports from your county about similar behavior, please drop me a note (kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com) or leave a comment. Thanks.

And if these clerks or any others are waiting to be advised by AG Ken Paxton, they should know he’s giving them very bad advice.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican social conservative, offered at least moral support Sunday for county clerks and their employees who feel their religious beliefs dictate that they decline to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

In a nonbinding legal opinion, Paxton said religious freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment “may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses.”

The clerks who balk at licensing gay marriage “may well face litigation and/or a fine,” Paxton warned.

“Importantly, the strength of any particular religious accommodation claim depends on the particular facts of each case,” he concluded.

“But,” he added in a press release, “numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights.”

Paxton’s opinion also said justices of the peace and judges similarly may rebuff requests that they officiate at same-sex weddings, especially if their colleagues in their areas are receptive to doing so.

[…]

Neel Lane, a San Antonio lawyer for the same-sex couples who challenged Texas’ gay marriage ban in federal court, said Friday that state and local officials who refuse to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling set themselves up for costly lawsuits. Lane said private citizens could file federal civil rights lawsuits, which are called “Section 1983″ claims, against recalcitrant state and local officials. Other lawyers supportive of gay rights have said gay and lesbian couples who are refused marriage licenses could ask U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio to hold the particular county clerk in contempt of court. Garcia has issued an injunction against enforcement of Texas laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

In his advisory opinion to Patrick, Paxton noted that county clerks could delegate their duty to issue marriage licenses to subordinates. He implied that might solve the conundrum for a clerk who feels issuing a same-sex marriage license would violate a sincerely held religious belief. But what if the employees feel similarly?

Paxton noted that under Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) that both the Texas Legislature and Congress passed in the 1990s, “deputy clerks and other employees may have a claim that forcing the employee to issue same-sex marriage licenses over their religious objections is not the government’s least restrictive means of ensuring a marriage license is issued, particularly when available alternatives would not impose an undue burden on the individuals seeking a license.” Paxton wrote that if everyone in a clerk’s office has a religious objection, and if the office is still issuing licenses to opposite-sex couples, “it is conceivable that an applicant for a same-sex marriage license may claim a violation of the constitution.” Completely refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone also would be problematic, he wrote. The two RFRAs, the state and federal constitutions, state employment laws, state laws on clerks’ duties all may come into play, depending on the facts of a scenario, he said.

Essentially, Paxton invited clerks and their employees to defy the Supreme Court, but didn’t promise they’ll win.

There’s a map of what counties are doing at the post, so go check it out. Paxton issued his opinion in response to a request from Dan Patrick. This is probably the fastest opinion ever issued by an AG, and surely the least researched. The Trib quotes the ACLU of Texas reminding everyone that Paxton is basically full of it, but that is unlikely to be persuasive to anyone determined to fall on his or her sword. Again, I am not aware of any planned litigation at this time, but you can be sure it will happen if it needs to. Stay tuned, because this is far from over. The Current, which has a copy of Paxton’s opinion, has more.

UPDATE: Missed this earlier, but Williamson County is on the naughty list, too.

A Denton fracking overview

The Trib has a long piece on the Denton fracking fight, also published in Politico to help non-Texans understand what this was about. It’s a good read that goes over all the main points if you need a refresher on the details. There are two bits of interest I’d like to highlight:

Cathy McMullen taps the brakes of her Toyota Prius after driving through a neighborhood of mostly one-story homes in Denton, about an hour northwest of Dallas. “There,” she says, nodding toward a limestone wall shielding from view a pad of gas wells. McMullen, a 56-year-old ­­­­home health nurse, cruised past a stretch of yellowed grass and weeds. “They could have put that pad site on that far corner right there,” she says, pointing ahead. “The land’s all vacant.”

Instead, the wells sit on the corner of Bonnie Brae and Scripture Street. Across the way: Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Across another street: the basketball court, picnic tables and purple playground of McKenna Park. That was where Range Resources, a company based in Fort Worth, wanted to start drilling and fracking in 2009.

McMullen, who at that time had just moved into a house about 1,500 feet away from the proposed site, joined others in raising concerns about bringing the gas industry and hydraulic fracturing — widely known as fracking — so close to where kids play. Fracking, which involves blasting apart underground rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water to free up oil and gas, “is a brutal, brutal process for people living around it,” McMullen says.

Their efforts in city hall failed.

If McMullen felt invisible five years ago, she doesn’t anymore. Today, state lawmakers, the oil and gas industry and national environmental groups have become acutely aware of Denton, home to two universities, 277 gas wells and now, thanks to a rag-tag group of local activists, Texas’ first ban on fracking.

Thrust into the saga is George P. Bush, who in January will take the helm of the Texas General Land Office, an otherwise obscure office that manages mineral rights on millions of acres of state-owned property. In his first political office, Jeb’s eldest son and George W.’s nephew will inherit one of two major lawsuits filed against Denton, home to a sliver of that mineral portfolio.

We don’t need a patchwork approach to drilling regulations across the state,” Bush, a former energy investment consultant, told The Texas Tribune in July as the anti-fracking campaign gained steam. It appears to be his only public statement on the issue.

Bush’s role in the dispute — however peripheral — only brightens the spotlight on Denton, and it forces him and others to choose between two interests Texans hold dear: petroleum and local control.

I’m sorry, but the idea that “local control” is a dearly-held ideal, especially by Republicans, is a complete myth. Just look at the myriad bills Republican legislators have introduced in recent sessions and/or will introduce this session to limit or eliminate the ability of cities to pass and enforce anti-discrimination ordinances and to regulate a wide variety of things, from fracking to single use plastic bags to payday lending. Throw in other top legislative priorities to require cities to enforce federal immigration laws and to limit their revenue growth via tighter appraisal caps on top of that. As I said before, Republicans are at least as interested nowadays in nullifying municipal laws as they are of nullifying federal laws. Whatever fealty there is to the idea of “local control” has long gone out the window any time some local entity has tried to do something state Republicans – or more specifically, their corporate masters – don’t like. It’s time we recognized that.

McMullen’s group — Frack Free Denton — persuaded nearly 59 percent of Denton voters to approve a fracking ban on Nov. 4, after knocking on doors, staging puppet shows and performing song-and-dance numbers. The movement had help from Earthworks, a national environmental group, but its opponents — backed by the oil and gas lobby — raised more than $700,000 to spend on mailers and television ads and a high-profile public relations and polling firm. That was more than 10 times what Frack Free Denton collected.

[…]

Trying to make sense of the Nov. 4 landslide vote, some industry officials suggest that the voting power of Denton’s roughly 51,000 university students effectively drowned out the town’s permanent residents. The gowns, the argument goes, drove the town. “If we’re looking at Denton and trying to glean some sort of national significance out of this,” says Steve Everley, the national spokesman for Energy In-Depth, which promotes the petroleum industry, “then the significance is that activists are having success in college towns and in populations with few if any wells.”

But Denton’s voting records cast doubt on that argument. It’s not clear that college students turned out in high enough numbers to single-handedly tilt the vote. Voters closer to campuses overwhelmingly supported the ban, as well as Democrat Wendy Davis in the race for governor. But plenty of conservatives also rejected fracking. Both Republican Greg Abbott, who ultimately defeated Davis, and the ban prevailed in 11 of Denton’s biggest 33 precincts. Roughly 25,000 votes were cast in the fracking question and those opposed to fracking outpaced supporters by some 4,400 votes. Denton would have still passed the measure by 412 votes even if voters younger than 30 were disregarded. Voting data also shows that the average age of a voter was 52.

I’ve mentioned before that Democratic turnout in Denton was helped by the referendum, and that’s good, but it could and should have been better. I wonder how many people in Denton voted for the fracking ban and also voted for Ryan Sitton for Railroad Commissioner and George P. Bush for Land Commissioner, perhaps without realizing that by doing so they were partially undermining their own vote. Some of that was probably force of habit – partisan affiliation is strong – some of it was probably just not making the connection. I’m sure there were missed opportunities for Dems to work with the anti-fracking folks to help make that connection. Of course, that can be a dicey proposition when you need Republican support to win and thus need for your effort to appear as non-partisan as possible so as not to turn any of those folks off, and besides I’m sure it would have been difficult to get that message through when the city is already drowning in pro- and anti-fracking ads. I don’t have a good answer here, I’m just saying this is the sort of thing we need to be thinking about.

A look at how Democratic legislative challengers did against the spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denton fracking ban passes

Let the freakout – or perhaps I should say “frack-out” – begin.

Nearly 59 percent of voters in Denton, which sits on the edge of gas-rich Barnett Shale, approved a measure banning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the method of oil and gas extraction that has led to a domestic energy boom.

Proponents called the measure a last-ditch effort to address noise and toxic fumes that spew from wells just beyond their backyards, after loopholes and previous zoning decisions rendered changes to the city’s drilling ordinance unenforceable.

“It means we don’t have to worry about what our kids are breathing at city playgrounds,” Cathy McMullen, a nurse and president of Frack Free Denton, a grassroots group that pushed the ban, said in a statement. “It means we don’t have to worry about our property value taking a nose dive because frackers set up shop 200 feet away.”

The ban’s passage will almost certainly trigger litigation, with energy companies and royalty owners arguing that state drilling regulations trump Denton’s and that the city was confiscating mineral rights, which have long been dominant in Texas law.

Several state lawmakers have promised to fight the ban in Austin.

[…]

The Denton measure does not technically prohibit drilling outright; it would apply only to fracking, which involves blasting apart rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water hauled in by trucks. But opponents of the ban say it would make gas beneath the city too difficult to profitably tap – amounting to a drilling ban.

Energy companies pumped big money into effort to defeat the ban. The Denton Record-Chronicle called it the most expensive campaign in the town’s history by far.

See here, here, and here for the background. And quicker than you can say “Tort reform!”, here comes the litigation.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Denton County district court, the Texas Oil and Gas Association called the ban unconstitutional. Because of current shale economics, the group says, the measure amounts to a ban on all drilling – denying mineral owners their property rights. TXOGA asked the court to declare the ordinance invalid and unenforceable, and said state law should supersede Denton’s.

“While home-rule cities like Denton may certainly regulate some aspects of exploration and drilling, TXOGA does not believe that they may enact ordinances that outlaw conduct, like hydraulic fracturing, that has been approved and regulated by state agencies,” Tom Phillips, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, said in a statement. Phillips is now a lawyer with the firm Baker Botts, which is representing the petroleum group in the dispute.

[…]

Texas law says the state intends its mineral resources to be “fully and effectively exploited,” but courts have said the power is not absolute. The Railroad Commission has jurisdiction over all oil and gas wells in the state, with authority to adopt “all necessary rules for governing and regulating persons and their operations.” Local governments have the right to impose reasonable health and safety restrictions, and the Legislature has granted most Texas cities, including Denton, the power to “regulate exploration and development of mineral interests.”

A key question is where fracking falls on that spectrum.

Legal experts say Texas courts tend to favor oil and gas interests. But they suggest Denton could make a compelling argument that a fracking ban would not wipe out all options to drill.

Any lawyers out there want to take a crack at that? I’m guessing they had this suit all written up and ready to go well ahead of time, just in case. The Lege will have their back regardless of the outcome in court, but I’m sure they’d like to have an injunction in hand. It was fun while it lasted.

One shorter term effect of this is that it may have helped Democratic turnout in Denton County. A comparison to 2010 for the top three offices:

Abbott 93,506 Davis 47,134 Perry 83,726 White 43,073 Patrick 92,290 Van de Putte 45,017 Dewhurst 92,074 C-Thompson 33,962 Paxton 93,466 Houston 43,778 Abbott 93,268 Radnofsky 33,953

Note how the R vote totals are basically flat, while the Dems are up about 10,000. Still a big win for the Rs, but this is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I say their turnout was down. Anyway, it was a small bit of sunshine on an otherwise dark and stormy night.

Denton fracking ban update

One more look at what is surely the most contentious issue on the ballot anywhere in the state.

With Denton preparing to vote Tuesday on banning hydraulic fracturing within city limits, tension has mounted as rival groups work to undermine each other.

The election has turned into a flash point for a national debate on the oil and gas drilling boom. Towns in New York and Colorado have voted in similar bans. But this would be the first such prohibition in Texas, the home of the country’s energy industry, probably setting off a long legal fight if it passes.

Business owners speak in hushed tones about the ban for fear of alienating customers. Accusations are flying of misleading voters on everything from how hydraulic fracturing works to how to vote for the ban. Representatives from both sides say they have received threats of violence.

For residents, the melee of yard signs, highway billboards and, more recently, television advertisements, has become impossible to avoid.

“I don’t have a television. But when I try to watch something on YouTube, I have to sit through the fracking ads,” said Nick Webber, the owner of a T-shirt shop in downtown Denton. “I’m a little confused where it’s all coming from.”

Tension over fracking has been mounting in Denton for years.

The town, with a rapidly growing population of 123,000, sits atop the natural-gas-rich Barnett Shale. Over the past decade drilling has boomed and dimmed, as hydraulic fracturing has brought forth natural gas long thought undrillable. Denton is now estimated to contain 270 wells, some of which lie close to homes, a hospital and a city park.

Last year, controversy erupted when a Dallas oil and gas company began fracking some older wells in the middle of a new housing development. Residents began reporting respiratory problems blamed on the associated fumes. And the noise of heavy equipment blanketed the neighborhood.

Seven months earlier the city had enacted rules restricting drilling activity within 1,200 feet of homes. But the driller argued successfully in court it did not apply to existing wells.

Soon a core group of fracking opponents, including a staffer with the environmental group Earthworks and an associate philosophy professor at the University of North Texas, were organizing a petition. They collected 2,000 signatures, forcing the City Council to either ban fracking inside the city limits or put it to voters. In July, the council voted 5-2 for a referendum.

See here and here for the background. This is by far the most expensive election in Denton’s history, with ban opponents outspending advocates ten to one. It’s a cinch that this winds up in court if it passes, and you can be sure someone will introduce a bill in the Lege to stamp out this sort of vote in the future regardless of the outcome. That doesn’t seem to have discouraged ban proponents, however.

One more thing:

Long a small college town surrounded by farms, Denton is changing fast. As the University of North Texas has grown, a plethora of new shops and restaurants have sprung up to cater to a new class of young families, professionals and “creatives,” as they call themselves. Graduates who once headed to Austin or Dallas are now staying put.

The new residents have proved a fertile platform for the anti-fracking movement, residents from both sides say.

“The town’s definitely getting more liberal. The old codgers never would have allowed it,” said Dewayne Grissom, a 47-year-old Denton resident opposing the fracking ban.

Early voting is way up in Denton compared to 2010. That’s partly a function of population growth, but this race is fueling it as well. Denton is a Republican stronghold and one would normally assume this turnout boost benefits them, but in this case I think the picture is fuzzier. We’ll know more tonight.

2014 Day Three EV totals

But first, a little angst.

EarlyVoting

I feel a bit uncomfortable after Day Two of Early Voting in Person. Here are a couple of concerning tweets from yesterday:

Scott Braddock ‏@scottbraddock 2h2 hours ago
Those Harris County early vote totals are not good for Democrats. *If* Texas is a battleground, #Houston is ground zero #TxLege

And:

Teddy Schleifer @teddyschleifer • 5h 5 hours ago
Dems excited by big vote-by-mail numbers here in Harris County, but in-person down 25%. Not good for them. #HOUNews | http://blog.chron.com/houstonpolitics/2014/10/in-person-early-vote-turnout-still-down-in-harris-county/ …

Here is from Chron.com:

The number of voters showing up at Harris County’s 41 early-vote locations was down by 25 percent for the second straight day on Tuesday, according to tallies released by the County Clerk.

A total of 20,380 registered voters cast a ballot on Tuesday, more than 7,000 fewer voters than cast one on the first Tuesday of early voting during the last midterm election in 2010. While Monday’s results revealed a massive increase in the number of mail ballots received this fall, the number received on Tuesday slightly trailed those seen on the corresponding Tuesday in 2010. A majority of the vote-by-mail ballots typically arrive on the first day.

A total of 21,612 votes were cast Tuesday, 1,232 of them mail ballots. On Monday, the first day of the two-week early-voting period, 61,735 total votes were cast.

A Commentary review of Early Voting locations likely frequented by African American and Latino voters shows a slight decrease in voter turnout as compared to the 2010 numbers after Day Two. Sure Dems are doing better with the mail ballots but we have to increase the Early Voting in Person numbers – or else. What is happening out there?

Here are your Day Three totals, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. As was the case with Day Two, in person totals are below what they were in 2010, though there were more absentee ballots received. The grand total so far for 2014 is 107,433, while the comparable total for 2010 was 107,782, so we are now officially a smidgen behind 2010. Does that mean we’re doomed?

Well, that depends on who is turning out. We’ve been through this before, but let’s remember, “turnout” doesn’t just mean Democrats. Republican voters count towards “turnout” too, and as you may recall they turned out like gangbusters in 2010. One of the prerequisites for Democrats doing well, or at least doing better, this year was for Republican turnout to come back down to earth. If what we’re got here is a Democratic increase combined with a Republican decrease, that would be pretty good, no?

Now bear in mind, the early vote gap – both in person and mail ballot – from 2010 in Harris County was pretty massive. A review of the 2010 numbers suggests it was about 59-39 in favor of the GOP, with mail ballots going 68-31 and in person early votes being 58-40. There’s a lot of room for Ds to go up and Rs to go down without the leader changing.

There are two indicators to suggest that the gap has narrowed considerably, though not all the way. One is that while Campos’ observation about Latino EV locations is accurate, it’s not the whole story. Here are the three day totals for the heaviest EV locations in GOP districts, then and now:

Location name SRD 2010 2014 ===================================================== Champion Forest Baptist Church 126 4,110 3,206 Kingwood Branch Library 127 4,075 2,823 Freeman Branch Library 129 4,190 3,044 Cypress Top Park, Cypress 130 3,548 3,052 Trini Mendenhall Community Center 138 3,839 3,048

Those are some pretty steep declines. Some of this I would attribute to the large increase in absentee votes, as I believe some of that represents people changing their behavior from voting early in person to voting by mail. Some of it I would (hopefully) attribute to the surge of 2010 Republican voters abating. Greg’s Day Two analysis, which suggests mail ballots are running about 50-50 and overall turnout being about 46% Dem, supports that. No question, we’d like to see Dem in person performance improve, but those mail ballots count, too, and they’re clearly making a difference. The usual pattern is that Dems turn out big on Saturday and generally participate more in Week 2, so we’ll see if that holds. Right now, all signs clearly point to Dems doing considerably better than they did in 2010. Doing better than 2010 is not that high a bar to clear, of course, so there’s still room to go up. Just don’t fixate on the “total turnout” number without at least considering where that turnout is coming from.

At the state level, the picture is interesting. The two day EV results for 2014 on the SOS webpage show an overall increase over 2010, fueled entirely by the massive uptick in mail ballots. Democratic counties like Dallas, Travis, El Paso, Hidalgo, and Cameron are up a bit. So are Republican counties like Montgomery, Collin, Williamson, and Denton, but Galveston is down and Fort Bend is flat. Tarrant is way up, but that’s Wendy Davis’ home turf. Again, it’s a function of who is showing up. I don’t have enough information to make any guesses.

Bottom line, keep calm and keep working to turn out our voters. There’s a Walk2Vote event at UH-Downtown tomorrow, to turn students out there. If you really want to make a difference, consider helping out with Drive for Democracy, which aims to help people who need a ride to the polls get them. I’m told they have identified around 1000 voters who need a ride to the polls and are recruiting volunteers to help with those rides. I can’t think of a better way to get involved. Check ’em out, and sign up to help if you can.

More on the voter registration numbers

Wayne Slater has a contrarian perspective on the voter registration numbers.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Getting new voters begins with registering new people. When the secretary of state last week announced a record-high 14 million Texans are registered to vote, Battleground Texas trumpeted that number as evidence their efforts are working. Not so much, it turns out, according to the actual numbers.

For example, voter-registration in the top five Democratic-rich South Texas counties where Davis expects to do well is up 5.8 percent from the last time there was a governor’s race – slightly better than the average statewide. But voter registration in five top GOP-rich suburban counties is up a whopping 13.8 percent.

The Davis camp hopes for a good showing in Dallas County and Harris County, especially among Democratic-leaning black and Hispanic voters. Dallas County voter registration is up about 5 percent from four years ago. Harris County is up over 6 percent. And voter registration in Travis County where Battleground Texas has a strong presence is up 8.4 percent.

But the real voter-registration increases this election are in suburban GOP strongholds like Fort Bend County (17.5 percent), Collin County (14.3 percent), Rockwall County (12.9 percent), Denton County (11.6 percent) and Williamson County (14.2 percent).

Does that mean Battleground Texas has failed to deliver on its much-ballyhooed promise to register new voters? Not necessarily. In the big South Texas counties they say they’ve targeted, the increase in registered voters is a lot better this year than four years earlier. For example, in Hidalgo County, voter registration is up 7.5 percent from 2010. Four years earlier, when Democrat Bill White was on the ballot, voter registration grew 5.9 percent in from 2006 to 2010. The same thing for Cameron County, where voter registration this time has grown twice as much as it did between 2006 and 2010, the last governor’s race.

Three things here:

1. Comparing percentage increases can be misleading, because things that are smaller to begin with can have sizable percentage increases without actually increasing all that much. Rockwall County, for example has 51,787 registered voters in it. That’s an increase of 5,944 over their 2010 number of 45,843. That doesn’t crack the top 20 total increases as I noted in my previous post, and the total number of registered voters in Rockwall County is less than the increase in registered voters in Dallas County, which grew by 58,086.

2. We can argue over the numbers all we want, or at least until we start seeing some data about who actually voted, but who was registered matters at least as much as how many of them were. As I’ve said before, some of the increase in voter registration is the natural result of population growth. We know that Battleground Texas has focused a lot of resources on voter registration. One presumes they’re smart enough to target people that will be likely to go Democratic if they vote. There may have been some concerted Republican effort to register like-minded voters – I don’t know, and the story Slater links to doesn’t address the question – but again, one would think that if there were something comparable on the GOP side it might have warranted some attention from the press. Be that as it may, we don’t have to guess, or at least we don’t have to guess blindly on insufficient data. The various county clerks and elections administrators could provide, if asked by a professional reporter, more detailed information about where those new voters came from – what precincts, for example, whose more fine-grained electoral information might provide a richer illustration – and about their racial and ethnic composition. We don’t have enough information here to base a judgment on this, but that doesn’t mean that information doesn’t exist. It’s there if a professional political reporter wants to find out about it.

3. All that said, the burden of proof remains with BGTX. They are trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, and some level of skepticism is warranted until we see evidence of success in the results. A lot of those heavily GOP counties Slater cites have been slowly trending Democratic in Presidential years, but outside of Fort Bend the increase in Democratic votes from 2006 to 2010 failed to keep up with the growth in registered voters. That’s the challenge, and that’s what it will take to move the needle in the GOP strongholds. The good news is that we should have some idea of how this is going as soon as we have data about who is voting early. Whether the good news continues from there, that’s the question.

Text to 911 option coming locally

Ever wonder why you can’t text 911? Well, in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, you will soon be able to.

By the end of the year, millions of Houston-area residents are expected to have a silent alternative: the Text-to-911 option for emergencies.

Despite the popularity of messaging, the service hasn’t been available in most of the nation and much of Texas for the most life-threatening situations: pleas for fire, police or medical assistance.

In May, the nation’s four major wireless carriers met a voluntary deadline to have their end of the Text-to-911 technology ready to deliver customers’ messages topublic safety agencies that request the service, the Federal Communications Commission reported.

As a result, dozens of call centers nationwide and several in Texas can now receive texts from cellphones on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon networks.

The Greater Harris County 911 Emergency Network, which provides technical support for call centers in Harris and Fort Bend counties that serve more than 5 million residents, will be ready in the coming months to do the same with at least one carrier.

That’s important because most people in the Houston area call for emergency help by cellphone. In the first seven months of this year, 84 percent of emergency calls in Harris and Fort Bend counties originated from wireless lines, Greater Harris County 911 figures show.

[…]

FCC rules specify that by year’s end, all wireless carriers – not just the major companies – should be able to provide text messages to call centers that have requested the service.

Those centers, however, are not required to exercise that option, said Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association – which is known as NENA.

Some states, such as Indiana and Vermont, are deploying the service statewide, he said. Others, such as California, leave the decision to individual public safety call centers or networks.

According to an FCC list dated Aug. 25, 18 states had at least one 911 center that could receive texts, though some were limited to one or two major carriers. The police departments in the Lone Star State which can receive texts are mostly in the Dallas Metroplex. There are none so far in the Houston area.

With the major carriers ready, the last hurdle is preparation at local 911 centers, said NENA government affairs director Trey Forgety.

As we know, text to 911 is currently available in some North Texas counties, which are so far the only places where it has been deployed. Nationally, however, only about two percent of emergency call centers around the country are prepared to handle text messages, and compliance is voluntary at this time. I’d guess that while cell calls are the bulk of 911 contacts, there’s still not much demand for texting emergency services.

All of Collin County supports the service. But it isn’t offered anywhere in Denton County. A handful of police departments in Dallas County can receive emergency texts: Balch Springs, Cockrell Hill, Sachse, Seagoville and Wilmer.

But texts still account for only a fraction of 911 requests in North Texas.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments oversees 44 call centers in a 16-county region that includes Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant counties.

Of those centers, 25 have text-to-911 capability, and the rest will have it by the end of September, said Christy Williams, chief 911 program officer for the agency.

Since the service launched in January 2013, dispatchers at these centers have received only 12 text messages, compared with more than a million 911 calls, she said.

You can see why the rollout is proceeding slowly. To some extent, this is a chicken-and-egg question, and I’ve no doubt that over time usage will grow. There are also still some technical advantages to calling 911, though perhaps over time that will change as well. For now, the potential remains theoretical. For more on the text-to-911 program, see the FCC webpage.

White return flight

Some interesting demographic trends going on.

Between 2000 and 2010, [Harris] county, like much of the U.S., saw a sharp decline of its white population, losing about 12 percent of Anglos or about 83,000 people.

The drop mirrors demographic shifts across the nation as white birthrates have slowed. But in the past three years, Harris County added about 25,000 white residents, about 11 percent of its approximately 227,800 new residents, according to U.S. Census data released Thursday.

While the greatest drivers of the county’s growth are still Hispanics, it’s the reversal of the decadelong white decline that grabs demographers.

“It’s a surprising pattern given what we saw in the last decade, and indicative of the overall pervasiveness of population growth in Texas and especially in Houston,” said Steve Murdock, a onetime state demographer and former Census Bureau director who now leads the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University.

“The amount of growth, percentage-wise, is almost the same as the decline … that’s a fairly substantial change,” Murdock said.

Though Anglos remain the nation’s largest racial group, it’s the only demographic group which is shrinking rather than growing. Last year, it was the sole group to count more deaths than births.

Texas, on the other hand, saw the largest numeric increase of white residents in the U.S. between 2012 and 2013, gaining about 51,000 Anglos

Within Harris County, where Anglos make up about 32 percent of the population or about 1.3 million, some 9,000 white residents were added last year.

“There’s a significant amount of Anglos moving into the region from outside of Houston,” said Patrick Jankowski, vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development organization.

“They’re coming here because of the jobs. … If you look at all the growth in the Energy Corridor and the Medical Center, and the new Exxon campus in The Woodlands, we’re attracting workers who are more skilled, and many of them are white.”

But he suggested there might be a more subtle shift as well. Because Houston is attracting more single or young workers seeking to cash in on the energy and medical booms, an increasing number, like Carey and Bowen, are choosing to live in Houston rather than more suburban, neighboring counties.

“There’s no white flight anymore,” Jankowski said. “People are more and more accepting of different races and different ethnicities. They don’t care about their next-door neighbor as long as the lawn is mowed.”

As we know, some parts of town were getting whiter long before this. There are lots of questions one could ask about this, but for me I always come to the political implications. While it’s true that the increase in Harris County’s Anglo population is a reversal of earlier trends, the overall trend of Harris County getting less white hasn’t changed, it’s just decelerated a bit. I doubt there will be much change at a macro level, but there could be some effects here and there, especially in lower-turnout environments. It would be nice to know more about where these folks are coming from and what their existing proclivities are, but without that information we’ll just have to hypothesize.

One related tidbit from a different story.

Demand for high-density living grew across the state, according to the report. San Antonio saw the biggest increase in sales at 18 percent, followed by Austin at 14 percent. In Dallas, sales were up 4 percent.

“There is little available land for housing development in Texas’ major metro areas, particularly in its urban centers where housing demand is strongest,” [Jim Gaines, an economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University] said in the report. “Developers are now looking upward for opportunities to build and invest in multifamily developments both in these centers and even in some suburban areas. Condo sales will likely be a strong driver in the Texas housing market for the rest of the year.”

Developer Randall Davis said rising single-family housing prices are driving expansion in the condominium market. Builders can put multiple units on one site, he said, and “deliver a product that’s almost equivalent but at a lesser price.”

More of Houston’s big builders, too, are interested in developing in the central city, said Gary Latz of Bohlke Consulting Group, a consulting firm for the housing industry.

Over the last 12 months, residential permits within Beltway 8 were up 22.8 percent over the same period last year. That’s compared with the overall Houston area, which was up 9.3 percent.

“People love the idea of living in closer and being close to all the amenities Houston has to offer,” Latz said.

Again, that’s a trend that’s been happening for some time now. Maybe if it keeps up we can get some more infrastructure spending inside the Beltway, too? Because that would be nice.

The story from Dallas is similar but not quite the same.

“Let’s look at Dallas County,” said Steve Murdock, director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University. “There was growth in the Asian population, no doubt about it. But we also see a turnaround in growth in the non-Hispanic white population.”

While Dallas County showed a loss of 1,436 non-Hispanic whites from the 2010 census through July 1, 2013, that’s minuscule compared with losses in the previous decade, Murdock said.

“If you had the same pattern going on as you had in the last decade, you would have lost a good number more,” he said. “At this rate, you might lose 5,000 over this decade, compared with the loss of 198,000 over the last decade. We’re seeing the same thing in Harris County, where it changed from a negative to a positive.”

While non-Hispanic whites continue to move to suburbs, it could be that some younger folks and empty-nesters are finding urban centers more attractive for lifestyle reasons. And, demographers say, those leaving are being replaced by others looking for jobs, either from other parts of Texas or out of state.

“When you look at the state level,” said Lloyd Potter, the Texas state demographer, “we’re seeing positive immigration of non-Hispanic whites.”

The splashy numbers, though, came from growth rates in the Asian population — up 20 percent in Denton County, 18.5 percent in Rockwall, 18.1 percent in Collin, 14.9 percent in Dallas and 10.8 percent in Tarrant — over the last three years. In many ways that’s a continuation of the trends from 2000 to 2010, when Asians and Hispanics were the two fastest-growing groups in the state.

Hispanic growth rates were still double-digit in Collin, Denton and Rockwall counties at 11.2, 13.7 and 14 percent, respectively, for the three-year period, “but the rate of growth is down in Collin” compared with the previous decade, Murdock said.

[…]

The non-Hispanic black population is growing rapidly as well — up 19.6 percent in Denton, 18.1 percent in Collin, 12.5 percent in Rockwall, 10 percent in Tarrant and 5.8 percent in Dallas.

Much of the growth across the region and the state comes from migration, Potter and Murdock agreed, and that migration is driven largely by jobs.

“Overall, I think we’re seeing that Hispanic growth rates are down, but the non-Hispanic white losses have been significantly reversed,” said Murdock, a former director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

He used Travis County as an example.

“From 2000 to 2010, Travis County added about 59,000 non-Hispanic whites,” Murdock said. “This time, it has added 41,000 non-Hispanic whites in the first three years,” an annual rate that roughly doubles that of the previous decade.

I don’t really have anything to add to that, I just find stories like these to be fascinating. Whatever else you can say about Texas, it’s not static.

Comparing Davis and White

In 2010, Bill White received 517,487 votes in the Democratic primary, for 76.0% of the vote. Wendy Davis just received 432,065 votes, for 79.1% of the total but 85,422 fewer votes than White. As is always the case, the change was not distributed uniformly. Davis picked up more votes than White in some counties, and lost votes against his total in others. Here are the top 20 counties for net vote increase by Davis:

County Davis Davis% White White% D-W =================================================== TARRANT 38,560 94.02% 19,857 85.53% 18,703 DALLAS 59,649 92.43% 43,430 80.37% 16,219 TRAVIS 43,414 95.75% 34,426 90.17% 8,988 COLLIN 9,030 95.65% 5,023 82.75% 4,007 BEXAR 35,578 85.39% 32,126 76.25% 3,452 DENTON 6,757 95.45% 3,968 85.54% 2,789 VAL VERDE 2,899 51.87% 1,638 59.28% 1,261 LUBBOCK 3,191 81.30% 2,283 53.62% 908 ELLIS 1,897 91.55% 1,389 86.01% 508 WILLIAMSON 6,849 95.44% 6,383 89.98% 466 GREGG 1,744 89.30% 1,344 78.60% 400 ROBERTSON 1,195 74.73% 806 78.25% 389 MAVERICK 2,067 54.67% 1,714 31.33% 353 ROCKWALL 912 94.21% 590 82.06% 322 DIMMIT 1,060 48.47% 810 49.69% 250 COMAL 1,516 92.10% 1,369 87.98% 147 JEFF DAVIS 268 65.37% 137 74.86% 131 ECTOR 907 68.71% 780 59.05% 127 WILBARGER 351 69.09% 237 83.16% 114 PARKER 1,273 93.33% 1,163 88.85% 110

While Davis had a higher percentage of the vote than White in 15 of these 20 counties, the main driver of her gains was higher turnout in the given counties. In particular, there was higher turnout in her home county of Tarrant, which you’d hope would be the case, with contested primaries in SD10 and CD33 also helping. As discussed before, busy county elections in Bexar, Dallas, and Travis helped push those totals up. For those who have been freaking out about the South Texas results, I would like to point out the significant increases in Collin and Denton counties, neither of which had even a single contested local race on the Democratic Party ballot. Not only was Democratic turnout up in these counties from 2010 (6,770 to 9,441 votes in Collin, 4,639 to 7,079 in Denton), it was down in the Republican primary (56,934 to 44,621 in Collin, 42,261 to 37,657 in Denton). Of course there were still a lot more R votes in these counties than D votes, but the goal isn’t to win them in November it’s to cut into the margin. Maybe this is worthy of a fraction of the attention paid to Wendy Davis’ percentages in South Texas.

That’s as good a segue to the counties in which she lost votes compared to White as any. There were only a handful of gainers for her beyond those 20 above. Most of the ones in which she lost votes were small amounts, largely due to the overall turnout decline. Here are the bottom 20 for Davis, the counties in which she lost the most votes from White’s 2010 totals:

County Davis Davis% White White% W-D =================================================== LAMAR 522 87.44% 1,743 87.24% 1,221 MATAGORDA 975 74.37% 2,234 83.83% 1,259 ZAPATA 535 34.92% 1,803 56.40% 1,268 LIBERTY 501 88.99% 2,030 88.84% 1,529 HARDIN 423 87.58% 1,953 78.03% 1,530 NUECES 5,411 70.38% 6,954 65.66% 1,543 CASS 514 79.57% 2,170 82.32% 1,656 MONTGOMERY 2,345 93.80% 4,056 90.43% 1,711 HAYS 2,954 94.35% 4,733 85.03% 1,779 TRINITY 327 85.83% 2,176 83.31% 1,849 ANGELINA 789 86.99% 2,768 88.15% 1,979 BRAZORIA 2,601 91.62% 4,683 90.44% 2,082 ORANGE 1,141 85.40% 3,562 81.81% 2,421 BOWIE 260 86.67% 3,349 79.44% 3,089 JEFFERSON 9,322 87.75% 12,600 75.92% 3,278 GALVESTON 3,969 91.71% 7,398 89.55% 3,429 HIDALGO 16,994 47.34% 21,353 60.04% 4,359 WEBB 10,446 44.18% 15,732 56.82% 5,286 FORT BEND 7,745 92.97% 13,272 90.59% 5,527 HARRIS 47,372 92.17% 89,378 90.02% 42,006

Harris County accounts for almost one half of her decline all by itself, not surprising given that turnout overall in Harris was down by about half. Note that Davis did better in vote percentage in Harris, as was the case in the big counties where she gained. White had to campaign for his primary win, and he did what he needed to in terms of driving turnout in his own backyard. Fort Bend, Galveston, Montgomery, Liberty, Brazoria, even Angelina Counties would be part of that same effect. Jefferson and Orange are less Democratic and less populated than they were in 2010. Hays County had no contested local primaries; I can’t tell what else may have gone on in 2010 because their crappy county elections page has no past election results on it at this time, but according to the Secretary of State page, then-Rep. Patrick Rose had a primary challenger in 2010, so that probably helped drive some turnout. As for Webb and Hidlago, you already know the story there. Note as I said before that White didn’t exactly kill it in those counties, and overall turnout was the same in 2014 in Hidalgo as it was in 2010; it was down from 27K to 23K in Webb.

Anyway. You can make of these numbers what you will. I just like to have them all in front of me whenever possible.

If it were good for Travis it would be good elsewhere as well

This article asks if Travis County is better off being split into five different Congressional districts. Seems to me that’s a question that answers itself, but I’ll play along.

The voters and geography of Travis County are split among five congressional districts in the redistricting plan enacted by the Texas Legislature and now adopted in the federal court’s interim plan. Travis County residents do not constitute a majority of the voters in any of these districts.

Some politicians and political consultants spin this result as possibly either depriving Travis County of any effective voice in Congress or enhancing that voice by allowing the county’s voters to have a say on the election of more members of Congress.

Whether the interests of a political group or jurisdiction are better served by being an overwhelming majority in a few districts, or a less important part of many more districts, is one of the oldest disputes in redistricting. There is no answer that is correct for all circumstances.

[…]

This splitting of Travis County among five congressional districts in 2011 was clearly intended to dilute, not enhance, the effect of the county’s voters (especially Democrats) and to target Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin for defeat. These objectives are not surprising for a Republican-controlled Legislature, because Travis County is the only major Texas county in which a majority of non-Hispanic white people continue to vote consistently for Democratic candidates, and Doggett is seen by many Republican lawmakers as a partisan troublemaker.

By contrast, the Legislature kept intact heavily Republican counties, such as Collin, Denton and Fort Bend. Each is less populated than Travis County, but each in the new plan has a congressional district wholly in the county or has an overwhelming majority of voters in a congressional district.

However, redistricting voters is always a net-sum game. By attempting to dilute Travis County voters by dividing them among many districts, the Texas Legislature also may have ultimately increased the number of districts in which candidates from Travis County (including Democrats) can be successful if propelled by unexpected political winds.

The voters of Travis County cannot necessarily elect the person of their choice in any new congressional district, but there is not another population center outside Travis County that clearly dominates most of the districts.

For example, Travis County residents’ share of Congressional District 21 increased to more than 27 percent in the new redistricting plan, while Bexar County residents’ share fell from 53 percent to 36 percent. Travis County residents’ share of District 10 (35 percent) is now slightly less than before, but the other population center, Harris County, has seen a much greater reduction, from 46 percent to 35.

In other words, the new plan favors U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin by keeping many Harris County Republicans in District 10 while also reducing the possibility that he will face a strong opponent from Harris County. But this change also makes District 10 more winnable by a Travis County Democrat.

Seems pretty clear to me that if being sliced and diced like a Sunday ham were beneficial, the Lege would have done it to the Republican strongholds as well – Denton, Collin, Williamson, and Montgomery. But no – Montgomery is entirely within CD08 and Williamson in CD31, while nearly all of Denton is in CD26. Collin has three districts in it, but that includes all of CD03. In each case, you can be sure that the representative from those districts is from that county. If Travis County is lucky, CDs 10 and 35 will be from there, but those two districts combine for only 45% of the county’s population; if Rep. Lloyd Doggett loses, only 24% of Travis County will be represented by someone from there. Which would you prefer? Note that if Rep. Mike McCaul steps down, it could just as easily be the case that not a single member of Congress from these five districts is from Travis. Like I said, the question pretty much answers itself.

The districts in dispute

The redistricting lawsuit in San Antonio wrapped up on Friday, so at this point all we can do is wait for the three-judge panel to issue its opinion, and for the DC Circuit Court to have it say on preclearance. You never know what judges will do, but there may be some tea leaves to be read from the way final arguments went.

The state’s lead attorney, David Schenck, said the redistricting lawsuits are an “effort to fix the results of an election,” comparing it to what happened in Chicago in the 1920s and claiming that the plaintiffs were attempting to turn the Voting Rights Act into a “quota program for redistricting.”

Unlike the plaintiffs, who used their closing statements Thursday to reiterate their objections to the state’s redistricting maps, the state’s attorneys came under aggressive questioning from the panel of three federal judges presiding over the trial.

Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a former judge on the Texas Supreme Court who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, repeatedly questioned Schenck, asking if the state felt compelled to apportion the four new congressional districts to reflect the fact that most of the state’s population increase came from minority populations.

Schenck denied that the state had any such obligation. Ninety percent of Texas’ massive population growth in the past decade came from minority groups, with Hispanics accounting for 60 percent of the state’s overall gain.

Rodriguez also questioned state lawyer David Mattax about how far the state could go to protect incumbents, pointing out that the redistricting plan created a new district for Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, that was significantly different than the district he initially won as a Democrat.

Mattax argued that the state was exercising its prerogative to use “traditional redistricting principles,” including incumbent protection, and that Peña’s seat wasn’t an abuse of the privilege because his new district was in the same county as his old district.

Trial observers have speculated that Rodriguez could be the swing judge on the panel.

Maybe it means something and maybe it doesn’t. I know I’d rather have the judges ask their guys the hard questions and not ours.

The story notes that the state’s own expert witness had said he thought CD23 was wrong, but that wasn’t the only district in dispute. The Statesman gets into that.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Gerald Hebert has his eye on Congressional District 26 in North Texas. He said the proposed boundaries take a mostly Republican district in Denton County and rope in a strip of largely Democratic Latino precincts of Tarrant County.

The district, which looks like a leaky bucket, would silence the high-turnout Latino precincts in Tarrant County by putting them in an overwhelmingly Republican district in Denton County, Hebert said.

The story sidebar had images of the districts in question. Here’s what CD26 looks like:

CD26

You may wonder why there’s what weird, not remotely “compact” extrusion into Tarrant County. The answer can be found in the population analysis for CD26:

County Total White Black Hisp B+H Other ==================================================== Denton 549,832 368,776 45,862 99,341 143,092 37,964 Tarrant 147,815 37,253 9,681 96,331 105,085 5,477

Remember, the state has argued that it could not draw a Latino opportunity Congressional district in the D/FW area because the population was too dispersed to draw a compact district for them. But taking a meandering slice of Tarrant County to stack as many Latinos into CD26 as there are in all of Denton County, with more than three times the population? No problemo.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers also are targeting state House District 41 in Hidalgo County, which is sometimes called the “running man” district because of its shape. The district, which is in a largely Democratic county, was designed to protect Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, who switched parties before the 2011 legislative session.

“It was done for political purposes, pure and simple,” said Rick Gray, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. “There has been no effort by the state whatsoever to comply with traditional redistricting practices.”

And here’s HD41, which I showed in a previous post:

HD41

This is what the GOP had to do to try to save Pena’s worthless ass. I get the “running man” description, but I find it reminiscent of something from an old school video game, perhaps the version of Tetris they play in the ninth circle of hell. Again, don’t draw crap like this and then try to argue non-compactness as a reason to stiff Latino voters.

Like I said, we’ll see what the judges have to say. The longer they take, the more likely they’ll be the ones drawing the replacement maps if there are any. On a related note, since we’re also waiting for the DC Court to render its opinion, here’s what Texas Redistricting says about the issues it will rule on.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 2

More districts to look at for Democratic opportunities outside of the traditional urban areas.

HD45

District: 45

Incumbent: Jason Isaacs (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Blanco, Hays

Best 2008 Dem performance: Barack Obama, 46.78%

Patrick Rose won this district in 2002, the only Democratic takeover of an existing Republican seat that year. Like many other Democratic legislators, he was swamped by the 2010 tide. The new HD45 drops Caldwell County, which was moderately Democratic at the downballot level in 2008; adding it in makes Susan Strawn, at 47.1%, the top Democratic performer. Rose always won with crossover appeal; as that was in short supply last year, he lost. If Hays County gets blue enough, crossover appeal won’t matter much, but until then a candidate will likely need at least a few Republican defectors to win. I don’t know what kind of Democratic organization exists in Hays right now, but there needs to be some for 2012.

HDs 52 and 149

District: 52
District: 149

Incumbent: Larry Gonzales (HD52, first elected in 2010); none (HD149)

Counties: Williamson (part) for each

Best 2008 Dem performance:Barack Obama for each, 46.18% in HD52, 45.92% in HD149.

Unlike a lot of other districts, Obama outperformed the rest of the ticket here, by three to six points in each case. I don’t know how that changes the dynamic, but I thought it was worth noting. Both districts are in the southern end of WilCo, the fastest growing and closest to Austin parts of the district. I don’t know how conducive they’ll be to electing Democratic reps in 2012, though obviously they both need to be strongly challenged, but it’s not hard to imagine them getting more competitive as the decade goes on. I don’t expect there to be too many boring elections in either of them.

HD54

District: 54

Incumbent: Jimmie Don Aycock (first elected in 2006)

Counties: Bell (part), Lampasas

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 49.01% (plurality)

This one was totally not on my radar. It was so unexpected to me that I figured Aycock, who won easily in 2006 and hasn’t faced a Democrat since, must have gotten screwed somehow by the committee. The 2008 numbers for his old district, in which Houston also got a plurality with a hair under 49%, says otherwise. HD54 swaps out Burnet County (now in HD20, one of the three Williamson County districts) for more of Bell but remains about the same electorally. Typically, downballot Democrats did better than the top of the ticket, with only Jim Jordan and JR Molina not holding their opponents under 50% (McCain got 51.20%, Cornyn 53.85%). I figure the 2008 result in HD54 was a surprise, but the 2012 possibilities should not be. One possible wild card: Aycock was a ParentPAC-backed candidate in 2006, and as far as I know he maintained that endorsement in 2008 and 2010. Back then, the main issue was vouchers, which have been dormant in recent years. Will Aycock’s vote for HB1 and its $8 billion cut to public education cost him ParentPAC support? If so, might that result in a primary challenge, or a general election opponent? That will be worth paying attention to, as it could affect other races as well.

Collin and Denton Counties

District: 64
District: 65
District: 66
District: 67

Incumbent, HD64: Myra Crownover (first elected in 2000)
Incumbent, HD65: Burt Solomons (first elected in 1994)
Incumbent, HD66: Van Taylor (first elected in 2010)
Incumbent, HD67: Jerry Madden (first elected in 1992)

Counties: Collin (66 and 67) and Denton (64 and 65)

Best 2008 Dem performance, HD64: Sam Houston, 41.98%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD65: Barack Obama, 43.04%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD66: Barack Obama, 40.21%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD67: Barack Obama, 39.59%

I don’t actually expect any of these districts to be competitive in 2012. However, if the Democrats hope to have any chance to take the House before the next round of redistricting, they’ll need to be by the end of the decade. Collin and Denton have been two of the fastest growing counties in the state – each got a new district in this map – and they have been slowly but surely trending Democratic. They started at a pretty low point, of course, so they can trend for a long time before it becomes relevant, but as more and more non-Anglos move into the traditional suburbs, I expect the trend to continue. The question is how fast, and how much blood and treasure the Democrats will put into hastening it.

HD85

District: 85

Incumbent: None

Counties: Fort Bend (part), Wharton, Jackson

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 45.29%

This is the new Fort Bend district, comprising territory that had previously been represented by John Zerwas (Wharton and part of Fort Bend) and Geanie Morrison (Jackson). As with the Denton and Collin districts, it’s probably out of reach in 2012, but it’s also likely to see a lot of growth and demographic change over the course of the decade, and as such ought to get more competitive over time. And again, it needs to be, as I don’t see a path to a Democratic majority that doesn’t include districts like this.

Census stories: Dallas and its neighbors

The city of Dallas isn’t growing.

Despite a surging state population and double-digit growth rates in Austin, Fort Worth and San Antonio, the city of Dallas grew by a paltry 1 percent in the last decade, according to the new census figures — a rate lower than any of the 20 largest cities in Texas. Dallas County fared little better: Its 6.7 percent growth rate was dwarfed by the four other most-populous Texas counties, which each saw more than 20 percent growth.

City and county officials blame the low growth on Dallas’ topography: The third-largest city in Texas is simply built out. With little empty land ripe for new development, they say, the bulk of the growth must naturally be outside the county line — that is, until their efforts to lure business professionals and retiring suburbanites into a newly remodeled, newly trendy downtown fully pay off.

“We may not have the same population opportunities, but we’re focusing on the economic side of that,” said Tom Leppert, the exiting mayor of Dallas. “We’re bringing a lot of business in, seeing a real resurgence in the downtown area. We’ve positioned ourselves very well for the future.”

But critics suggest Dallas’ larger-than-life image may be shrinking for another reason. They argue that officials’ lack of investment in public schools, streets, parks and pools — the real-world priorities outside of the city’s highbrow Arts District, with its cultural monuments designed by the hottest “starchitects” (Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas, I.M. Pei, Renzo Piano), and soon-to-be sky-high Santiago Calatrava “signature” bridges — is sending white families and middle-class minorities fleeing for the suburbs. The result, they say, is an inner city that is increasingly Hispanic, less educated and poor.

[…]

Mike Moncrief, the mayor of Fort Worth, said one of the big reasons for his city’s explosive growth is that Dallas is largely built out, and development is moving from east to west. While Dallas County can “only continue to build density,” he said, its neighbors, including Tarrant County, have room to grow.

Indeed, neighboring Collin and Denton counties grew by 59 percent and 53 percent, respectively; nearby Rockwall County grew by more than 80 percent, and is home to Fate, the biggest boomtown in Texas’s 2010 census count (it grew 1,100 percent). Statewide, four dozen cities and towns more than doubled their populations, and more than half were in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. “It’s phenomenal,” Murdock said, referencing one such city, McKinney. “You find growth rates there that make you stand in awe.”

And a lot of that suburban growth is African-American and Hispanic.

One of the most intriguing statistics in the 2010 census is the unprecedented movement of black families into homes and jobs in the suburban counties surrounding Dallas.

In Collin and Denton counties, and in the suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth, black growth rates soared by as much as 178 percent over the past decade, with most of the growth going to rapidly expanding communities located near major job centers with quality schools.

[…]

Allen’s black population soared from 1,915 to 7,071, and the percentage of population almost doubled. Frisco’s black population grew even faster, to 8.1 percent of the population from 3.8 percent in 2000.

In Dallas County, Cedar Hill now has a black majority at 51.9 percent of the population, after a net gain of more than 12,500 black residents in 10 years.

The 2010 census numbers for Texas and the nation show declining non-Hispanic white populations in many places and strong growth in Hispanic and, to a more limited extent, Asian and black numbers.

That phenomenon is particularly true in the Dallas area, where white growth was far lower percentagewise than that of other racial and ethnic groups from 2000 to 2010. Dallas County lost almost 200,000 white residents in the decade, a 20 percent decline. But other groups more than made up for the loss.

It’s the suburbs, though, that recorded the most substantial changes. Each of the suburban counties surrounding Dallas grew sharply over the decade, especially in terms of minority populations.

“I think what we’re seeing is African-American suburbanization and growth everywhere in the Hispanic population,” said Dr. Steve Murdock, director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University and former director of the Census Bureau.

“At the same time, we’re seeing the Anglo population declining in 161 Texas counties, including Dallas,” he said. “And the Hispanic population is increasing just about everywhere.”

According to the DMN story, a lot of the reason for all that African-American migration to Dallas’ suburbs is the quality of the schools. One wonders what these residents are doing about the impending budget cuts to public education, which will hit those schools hard. Anyway, I just thought these stories were worth noting, and by noting them I hope to get Greg to draw some more maps. Because you can’t have too many maps.

San Antonio moves past Dallas

They’re #2! Not that it really matters.

[San Antonio’s] 1.3 million residents put it at the No. 2 spot for Texas’ largest cities and had the office of Mayor Julián Castro declaring San Antonio’s “rising prominence as one of America’s fastest-growing big cities.”

San Antonio followed Houston, the state’s largest city with 2 million residents, and came in before Dallas, with 1.1 million.

At best, the ranking may be useful at a pep rally.

At worst, it can mislead.

“People see that, and they think we should have a football team,” said County Judge Nelson Wolff. “It’s nice bragging rights, but as far as a meaningful economic engine, compared to Dallas, we’re insignificant.”

For those looking at population figures more holistically, the Metropolitan Statistical Area figures are most important.

In that lineup, San Antonio comes in distant third after Dallas and Houston.

The latest figures from the Census Bureau’s 2005-2009 American Community Survey, which are estimates, put the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which encompasses 12 counties, at 6.14 million people; and the Houston area, which encompasses 10 counties, at 5.59 million.
San Antonio’s MSA, which takes in an eight-county area, comes in at No. 3 with a total population of 1.97 million.

I’m not sure why they’re using such old data when the 2010 numbers are right there. By my count, the San Antonio MSA adds up as follows:

County Population ========================= Atascosa 44,911 Bandera 20,485 Bexar 1,714,773 Comal 108,472 Guadalupe 131,533 Kendall 33,410 Medina 46,006 Wilson 42,918 Total 2,142,508 Non-Bexar 427,735

To put that in some perspective, the non-Bexar total is less than Montgomery (455,746) and Fort Bend (585,375) by themselves; Collin (782,314) and Denton (662,614) are even bigger. Heck, Parker County (116,927) is larger than everything outside of Bexar except Guadalupe. Until Austin and its environs is considered part of San Antonio’s MSA, it’s not catching up to Houston or D/FW any time soon.

Yes, the “D” in “Big D” stands for “Democratic”

I continue to not understand the belief that some folks have that Dallas is a swing county.

Ridgewood Park was a battlefield staging area for riled-up Republicans determined to take back their legislative district, their city and their county. In shorts, T-shirts and walking shoes and fortified by breakfast tacos and orange juice, approximately 50 grass-roots volunteers gathered for a couple of hours of going door to door in a legislative district that fell to a Democrat in 2006. It also is a district where Democrat Bill White has a fighting chance of making inroads against Republican Rick Perry in his uphill race for governor.

Dallas-area Congressman Pete Sessions rallied the troops, reminding them that the now-Democratic county once again is in play.

“Dallas County has turned into a battleground again because of the seeming success of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi,” he told them, “but, you know, that change thing didn’t work out all that well, did it? We are out here this morning as Republicans and as tea party members to do the hard work to close the deal.”

The legislative district this bit is set in is HD107, held by Rep. Allen Vaught, who won it in 2006 and then won a rematch against the guy he ousted, Bill Keffer. It’s a legitimate swing district – you’ll note that John McCain carried it by a small margin – and could very well be taken back by the GOP in a good year, especially if they can convince some ticket-splitters to stick with their party. But as I said before, Dallas County in 2008 was far more Democratic than Harris County was Republican in 2004. If Dallas County is genuinely competitive this year, it won’t be just bad for Texas Democrats statewide, it’ll be a disaster of Biblical proportions.

Now I can understand why a guy like Pete Sessions is deluded. But I’d have thought the local GOP chair would have a better grasp of the situation:

In 2006, Democrats transformed traditionally red Dallas County into a sea of blue when they won every county race they entered, including a victory by District Attorney Craig Watkins and an upset by County Judge Jim Foster that was almost as unexpected as the 2004 election of Sheriff Lupe Valdez, an openly gay Hispanic woman. Buoyed by Obama two years later, Democrats reinforced their advantage by racking up an average of 57 percent of the total vote.

“We lost because we lost our base and we lost the independents,” said Jonathan Neerman, the GOP’s Dallas County chairman.

Dallas County is Democratic for the same reason that Harris County went Democratic in 2008 and Fort Bend County is trending that way: Changing demographics. The vast majority of people who vote Republican are Anglos. A little more than a third of Dallas County is Anglo. That ain’t enough for them to win. If by “we lost our base” Neerman means “too many of the Anglo voters we depend on have died or moved to the suburbs”, then I’d agree with him. I suppose I can understand it if he wouldn’t want to say that on the record.

Perry, as SMU political scientist Cal Jillson pointed out, should be able to carry northern Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant counties by a 70-30 margin without too much trouble. If White carries Dallas County as expected and is able to cut into Perry’s suburban margin, maybe inching up to a 34 percent share, “that,” in Jillson’s words, “is a great strategy.”

I have no idea where Cal Jillson is getting these numbers from, but there’s no way in hell Perry gets 70% of the vote in Denton, Collin, and Tarrant Counties. Here’s how he did in those three counties in 2002 and 2006:

Candidate County 2002 2006 ============================== Perry Collin 75.6 67.6 Patterson Collin 75.4 67.9 Perry Denton 72.9 66.9 Patterson Denton 72.5 66.0 Perry Tarrant 60.7 56.3 Patterson Tarrant 60.2 57.7

I threw in Jerry Patterson, who was on the low end of Republican performance each year, as a point of comparison. Perry’s 2006 vote share is just the straight two-party percentage – his vote total divided by his plus Chris Bell’s. Because Tarrant had more total votes each year than Collin and Denton combined, his overall percentage in these three counties is near the midway point. That’s 66.3% for Perry in 2002, 61.0% for him in 2006. Again, I don’t know what “north Dallas” amounts to in this context, but I strongly doubt it was red enough or populous enough to move those numbers northward by much, if at all.

Bottom line, then, is that Tony Sanchez hit that 34% target Jillson is talking about for Bill White. Putting aside the fact that it didn’t help him much, that’s far too low a total for White to aim for, especially given the Democratic improvement in 2006. If I’m the White campaign, I’m shooting for 40% in Collin and Denton, and I want to carry Tarrant County or come real close to it. Maybe that’s too high a bar to clear, but for damn sure 34% isn’t nearly high enough.

Where the votes are going

Matt Stiles looks at Census data and notes a political point.

Seven Texas counties — Rockwall, Williamson, Collin, Hays, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Denton — are listed among the nation’s 30 fastest-growing areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released [Tuesday].

They are also Republican-voting counties, according to results in the 2008 general election. Sen. John McCain won these counties by a 20-point margin, well over 240,000 votes.

It’s actually a hair shy of 260,000 votes – Stiles had missed Rockwall County in his initial post, and though he added it in for an update, he did not re-do the math. There’s a bit more to this than that, however. Let’s have a look at how these counties voted in 2004:

County Name Party Votes Total Pct ==================================================== Collin Bush R 174,435 243,370 71.67 Collin Kerry D 68,935 243,370 28.33 Denton Bush R 140,891 200,237 70.36 Denton Kerry D 59,346 200,237 29.64 Fort Bend Bush R 93,625 162,347 57.67 Fort Bend Kerry D 68,722 162,347 42.33 Hays Bush R 27,021 47,131 57.33 Hays Kerry D 20,110 47,131 42.67 Montgomery Bush R 104,654 133,282 78.29 Montgomery Kerry D 28,628 133,282 21.71 Rockwall Bush R 20,120 25,440 79.09 Rockwall Kerry D 5,320 25,440 20.91 Williamson Bush R 83,284 126,401 65.89 Williamson Kerry D 43,117 126,401 34.11 Total Bush R 644,030 938,208 68.64 Total Kerry D 294,178 938,208 31.36 Total McCain R 699,183 1,139,175 61.38 Total Obama D 439,892 1,139,175 38.62

Putting it another way, those counties had about 200,000 more voters in 2008 than in 2004. 145,000 of those new voters – 72.5% – voted Democratic, 55,000 voted Republican. That’s change I can believe in, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Obama did do about five and a half points better overall in Texas than John Kerry did, going from 38.22% to 43.68% of the absolute vote (38.49% to 44.06% in the two-party matchup). It would be strange indeed if he didn’t markedly improve on 2004 in these counties. Notice, however, that he improved by a point and a half more than he did in the state as a whole. That’s a good trend, too.

To which you may say, “Oh sure, compare a historic election for which Democrats were super-excited to one where a highly popular Texas Republican President was on the ballot. That’s fair.” Well, how about we compare the election of 2002 to the election of 2006? Since there are no Presidential candidates, I’m going to look at a couple of Supreme Court races, because 1) they’re usually more about party identification than anything else, and 2) we have a couple of races with similar R/D performances: Margaret Mirabal versus Steven Smith in 2002, and Bill Moody versus Don Willett in 2006. Here are the numbers:

County Name Party Votes Total Pct ===================================================== Collin Smith R 88,762 122,655 72.37 Collin Mirabal D 33,893 122,655 27.63 Denton Smith R 69,899 100,260 69.72 Denton Mirabal D 30,361 100,260 30.28 Fort Bend Smith R 47,008 84,153 55.86 Fort Bend Mirabal D 37,145 84,153 44.14 Hays Smith R 14,238 26,129 54.49 Hays Mirabal D 11,891 26,129 45.51 Montgomery Smith R 53,977 71,428 75.57 Montgomery Mirabal D 17,451 71,428 24.43 Rockwall Smith R 10,148 13,304 76.28 Rockwall Mirabal D 3,156 13,304 23.72 Williamson Smith R 46,480 71,981 64.57 Williamson Mirabal D 25,501 71,981 35.43 County Name Party Votes Total Pct ===================================================== Collin Willet R 82,834 125,348 66.08 Collin Moody D 42,514 125,348 33.92 Denton Willet R 63,475 99,380 63.87 Denton Moody D 35,905 99,380 36.13 Fort Bend Willet R 49,953 92,843 53.80 Fort Bend Moody D 42,890 92,843 46.20 Hays Willet R 13,644 27,775 49.12 Hays Moody D 14,131 27,775 50.88 Montgomery Willet R 54,018 74,650 72.36 Montgomery Moody D 20,632 74,650 27.64 Rockwall Willet R 10,331 14,233 72.58 Rockwall Moody D 3,902 14,233 27.42 Williamson Willet R 43,193 75,659 57.09 Williamson Moody D 31,466 75,659 42.91 2002 Total R 330,512 489,910 67.46 2002 Total D 159,398 489,910 32.54 2006 Total R 317,448 508,888 62.38 2006 Total D 191,440 508,888 37.62

Once again, improvement by the Democrats across the board. Dems picked up 32,000 voters, while the Rs lost 13,000. It’s not an exact apples to apples comparison because there was a Libertarian candidate in 2006, but even if you assign all of his votes (23,730 in these seven counties) to Willett, the Dems still have a 32,000 to 10,000 advantage in voters gained. All without any of that hopey-changey stuff.

If you want to see the effect in pictures, I’ve got you covered there as well:

Democratic vote share - click to enlarge

Democratic vote share - click to enlarge

GOP vote share - click to enlarge

GOP vote share - click to enlarge

The GOP vote share ticked up a bit from 2006 to 2008 in Montgomery, and to a lesser extent in Hays, but overall the trends are pretty clear. It’s especially clear when you simply compare 2002 to 2006, and 2004 to 2008.

Does any of this mean anything for 2010? Well, elections are all about the candidates, and every election is different, and blah blah blah. What I’ll say is simply that these counties start out with a higher floor for Democrats than they had eight years ago – I’ll be surprised if Bill White doesn’t carry Fort Bend and Hays, and he has a decent shot at Williamson, too – and I expect that this year there will be a lot more organizing done in them as well; in some cases, that may be the first time there’s been a real, funded, organizing effort. All things being equal, that should certainly have a positive effect. The whole point of this exercise was to show that while these counties are still challenging territory for Democrats, they’re a lot friendlier overall than they once were, and the prospect of them being the fastest growing areas in the state is not a daunting one for the Ds.

Burka on the Census and redistricting

Paul Burka takes a look at Census figures and projections for 2010 and considers the implication for the 2011 Legislative Redistricting Board redraw of State House and State Senate lines.

There is going to be carnage in rural Texas, especially from Wichita Falls to Lubbock to Amarillo, an area currently represented by six House Republicans: Hardcastle, Jones, Isett, Chisum, Swinford, and Smithee, and only two Democratic districts (Farabee and Heflin). In East Texas, the Eltife and Nichols Senate seats are in rural areas that have not kept up with the growth rate.

On the other hand, Republicans won’t even have to gerrymander to gain seats in suburban Texas. Huge growth rates in Collin, Denton, and Montgomery counties will result in more Republican seats. The other two big suburban counties, Fort Bend and Williamson, also have high growth rates, but the growth in these counties includes Democrats as well as Republicans. Growth in urban Texas was right around the statewide average, so the Democrats will have to win seats by defeating Republicans.

I suppose that’s true. It’s a good thing that the Democrats have gotten better at that. And in Harris County, at least, a lot of the high-growth areas got a lot less red last year. The result is that what was drawn to be a 15-10 Republican advantage in the delegation became a 14-11 Democratic lead in four cycles’ time, thanks in part to Republican overreach in 2001. Don’t take anything for granted, that’s all I’m saying.

On a side note, one thought that struck me in thinking about this was that perhaps we ought to consider increasing the number of members in the House and the Senate. Assuming Burka’s population projection is accurate, each of the 150 State Rep districts will have about 168,000 people in it after the 2011 redraw. Now take a look at the 1990 Census figures. Just 20 years ago, each district had roughly 113,000 constituents. To keep that same ratio for the 2010 population you’d need 223 members. Maybe this is one reason why the cost of running for State Rep keeps going up – you have to reach more and more voters just to maintain position. And with four Congressional seats being added to bring the total to 36, the 31 Senate districts are going to become a lot more populous than Congressional ones soon. I say it’s worth considering the possibility of increasing the size of each chamber in order to keep a certain level of closeness to each elected official. What do you think?

UPDATE: Greg brings some maps.