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Election 1996

Why not both?

RG Ratcliffe argues that Beto doesn’t need to choose between running for President and running for Senate.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Why doesn’t Beto run for both the presidency AND the U.S. Senate?

Beto could do it under a provision known as the LBJ Law. (Sec. 141.033 of the Texas Election Code for the Legal Eagles amongst you.) The law was passed to give then-U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson the opportunity to run for re-election at the same time he ran for the presidency in 1960. Had the Texas Legislature not enacted the law, LBJ would have had to choose to run for one office or the other since in Texas a person is only allowed to run for one office at a time. But the LBJ Law makes an exception if the second office being sought is president or vice president. LBJ lost the top race to John F. Kennedy, but won re-election to the Senate, a job he gave up for the vice presidency. Democratic U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen used the provision to seek re-election while running as Michael Dukakis’s running mate in 1988. The fact Dukakis only received 43 percent of the Texas vote in his unsuccessful presidential run did not stop Bentsen from raking in 59 percent of the state vote for his Senate re-election. Republican U.S. Senator Phil Gramm used the provision in 1996, and it allowed him to win re-election even though his presidential ambitions flamed out in Iowa in February.

A dual run like the one Gramm made would give Beto the chance to seek the top prize as he remains viable as a candidate for Senate from Texas. If Beto won the Democratic presidential nomination, he’d become a two-pronged threat to President Trump or whomever the Republicans nominate. If he lost in Iowa or New Hampshire to any of the array of Democrats running for president, Beto could come home to concentrate on challenging Cornyn.

See here for the background. Honestly, just asking the question is enough to answer it, and the answer is “because that doesn’t make any sense”. I think we can all agree that the Texas of 1988, which allowed Lloyd Bentsen to coast to re-election while co-starring for Mike Dukakis, doesn’t exist any more, and Phil Gramm was barely a memory as a (truly lousy) Presidential candidate by the time November of 1996 rolled around. (I’d completely forgotten that he’d been in that race.) There’s no way Beto could spend enough time in Texas as a Presidential candidate to satisfy the voters here, and anything remotely like his 2018 campaign would mean he’s neglecting pick-you-favorite-swing-state. If he could mail in a Senate campaign and still win that would be one thing, but that ain’t happening. Nice idea, but this is very much an either-or situation.

OutSmart talks to Kim Ogg

Another good read about our new DA, one that goes into her personal background in some depth.

Kim Ogg

John Wright: Your father, Jack Ogg, was a longtime Texas state legislator, and your late mother was well-known for her charity work. What it was like coming out to your parents?

Kim Ogg: It was traumatic. My parents were of the generation—they felt like my being gay was their responsibility, and that they were morally accountable. I had grown up in politics, and I understood that being gay was a political liability to my father and family, and so it was excruciating. Our family broke apart for some time, but we’re so close that what that did was give me time to go grow up, which I did. I had been on my father’s “payroll” from birth to college, but the day I got out of college I was on my own, and I’ve been on my own ever since. My family and I didn’t see each other on anything but holidays after that for some time—almost four years.

Our family broke up, [but then] we came around. I quit being. . . I was a little militant. An example would be that I wore camouflage for almost a whole year. I was at war with the world. And then it turned out that to get and keep a good job, you needed to have a broader wardrobe.

[…]

In 1996, you ran for district judge as a Republican, and longtime antigay activist Steve Hotze endorsed your opponent in the primary. Were you gay-baited in that race?

They didn’t gay-bait me; they gay-crucified me. But they didn’t do it in print. They did it through a telephone and whisper campaign, and they injected a third candidate into the race. I did not interview with Hotze, and I never answered any questions for him, so I never lied about my homosexuality. [But] the whole courthouse knew. It was funny, they didn’t do an antigay mailer, but they did a whisper campaign. It was enough to force me into a primary runoff where extremists usually win, and so the more conservative candidate won.

Twenty years later, in 2016, you were gay-baited again by your Republican opponent, former district attorney Devon Anderson, and it became a major news story.

It was my lifelong fear, being called a lesbian in front of my entire hometown—4.5 million people, on television. It’s like showing up with no clothes on or something—that bad dream that you have. When it finally happened, I knew it was exploitable and could benefit me, but I had to magnify that thing that I was so afraid of. And so we just sent it out to everybody—it was so freeing. It was sort of like coming out to my family. At that point, you don’t have anything left to lose. You have everything to gain. I realized at that moment how much that fear—it wasn’t a false fear—but it felt so good to let it go and just send it out to the world: “Devon Anderson called me a lesbian.” Discrimination, no matter how you dress it up, is wrong. For Devon to have regressed to name-calling was indicative of her losing the election.

When you ran as a Republican in 1996, Republicans attacked you for having voted in Democratic primaries. When you ran as a Democrat in 2014 and 2016, you were criticized for having voted in Republican primaries. Talk about your partisan evolution.

I think the criticism has been that I have been disloyal to both parties, and what I would tell you is that I grew up in the Democratic Party. I was pretty frustrated with [Democrats] in the mid-’90s, and Republicans were promising this big tent, and I thought it sounded reasonable. It didn’t turn out to be true. In the second presidential campaign under George W. Bush, they really utilized gay marriage—it was used as a wedge issue nationally in 2004, and I would say that radicalized me to the Democratic perspective. I was never going to be for a party that stood for hate and that used discrimination as a platform, as a literal political platform. So, for 13 years, I’ve been a Democrat and stayed a Democrat, and I don’t intend to ever change.

There’s more, so go read it. It’s fascinating to me because I didn’t know a lot of this stuff. Partly this is because I wasn’t paying close attention to local politics in the 90s, and partly because Ogg herself didn’t talk about any of it during either of her campaigns. Hearing her talk now about how she was affected by the gay-baiting in the 2016 campaign, mild as it was in comparison to some other examples we’ve seen, is an eye-opener. Check it out.

A closer look at the Stockman saga

Chron reporter Lise Olson takes a deep dive into the charges against former Congressman and fulltime hot mess Steve Stockman.

Best newspaper graphic ever

Steve Stockman was soon to board a plane for the United Arab Emirates this month when his unorthodox life took a sudden detour. The outspoken two-time former congressman from Houston was met at the airport by federal agents holding an arrest warrant.

In his own colorful campaign literature, Stockman, 60, has portrayed himself as a gun-loving, abortion-hating activist and philanthropist who has used frequent travels abroad to deliver Christian charity and medical supplies to developing nations.

But a 28-count federal indictment handed down Wednesday describes Stockman as the head of a complex criminal conspiracy. It alleges that he and two aides collected $1.2 million from three U.S.-based foundations and individuals, laundered and misspent most of that money, spied on an unnamed opponent, accepted illegal campaign contributions, funneled money through bogus bank accounts and businesses, and failed to pay taxes on his ill-gotten gains.

Some of that money went for trips to try to “secure millions of dollars from African countries and companies operating” in Africa, the indictment says.

[…]

Jason Posey, 46, has been described as Stockman’s primary accomplice in the scheme to divert donations through companies linked by federal investigators to suburban Houston post office boxes and an array of bank accounts. He has not been arrested. Thomas Dodd, the other former staffer, pleaded guilty earlier this month to two charges related to the same conspiracy and agreed to testify as part of his plea deal.

The purpose of their conspiracy was “to unlawfully enrich themselves and to fund their political activities by fraudulently soliciting and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars,” the indictment says.

Prosecutors say Stockman used hundreds of thousands of pilfered funds to pay campaign and credit card debts, to cover personal expenses – and to politically attack Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Stockman’s long-shot Republican primary against Cornyn was the subject of one the scams outlined in the indictment.

In February 2014, Posey solicited and received a $450,000 charitable contribution from an Illinois-based donor that was supposed to finance 800,000 mailings to Texas voters of a campaign publication resembling a “newspaper.” The mass mailings for the Senate primary were part of what Posey later swore in an affidavit was an entirely “independent election expenditure” that was handled entirely by Posey and not by Stockman, one of the candidates.

Those mailings, made to look like real newspapers, championed Stockman’s candidacy and opposed Cornyn.

Posey received the donation through a company he controlled called the Center for the American Future, but he coordinated the mass mailings directly with Stockman in violation of federal campaign finance laws, the indictment says. Stockman and Posey also sought a partial refund of the mailing costs – $214,718.51 – without the donor’s knowledge and split the money, the indictment says.

Prosecutors allege Posey used the money to pay Stockman’s Senate campaign debts and his own personal expenses, including “airfare on a flight departing the United States.”

See here for the most recent update, and here for a large sample of my Stockman archives. A lot of people have been motivated to get involved in politics this year after the Trump debacle of 2016. It was Steve Stockman who provided my motivation to get more involved in politics, after his upset (and upsetting) Congressional victory in 1994. I’ve noted before that former Congressman Nick Lampson was the first candidate I ever donated to, and the first candidate whose fundraiser I attended, back in 1996. That was at least as much about Stockman as it was about Lampson.

The thing about Stockman is that, all politics aside, he has long acted in a shady manner. Do a search of the Houston Press’ archives for Stockman stories and peruse what they were writing about him during that 1995-96 Congressional term of office (Google on “steve stockman site:houstonpress.com”, for example) to see what I mean. In doing that myself, I came across this little nugget, which shows that the past is never truly past:

The squirrelly adventures of Congressman Steve Stockman’s frat-house band of consultants who call themselves Political Won Stop seem to know no limits. The Hill, a Congress-covering weekly in the nation’s capital, first revealed that Stockman’s re-election campaign had paid more than $126,000 to the consultancy, which is owned by 26-year-old Chris Cupit and 25-year-old Jason Posey and is listed on the congressman’s campaign disclosures as having the same Whitman Way address as Stockman’s combination home and election headquarters just outside Friendswood.

Emphasis mine. The fact that Stockman has had a long association with Jason Posey is not suggestive of anything. The fact that Stockman has been involved in at least two questionable-if-not-actually-illegal ventures with Posey is. Whatever we know now, I feel confident there’s more to be uncovered.

Registration versus turnout

Ross Ramsey throws a bit of cold water on the surge in voter registrations.

vote-button

Turnout isn’t nearly as volatile as registration. Over the past 10 presidential elections in Texas, the percentage of Texas adults registered to vote has gone as low as 65.3 percent in 1992 to as high as 85.4 percent in 2000.

The registered voter numbers have a problem, though. At any given time, some number of the people who have registered in Texas have moved or died. Election officials purge the rolls from time to time to correct for that, but using registered voters as a base for turnout calculations is messy.

The voting-age population, on the other hand, is based on population estimates. It starts with a census and changes with births and deaths — or, to be more accurate, deaths and the numbers of people turning 18 each year.

Using that number instead of registrations, Texans appear to be much more consistent in their voting turnout: 41 percent of Texas adults voted in 1996, the low year, and 47.6 percent showed up in 1984 and 1992, the two years with the best turnout over the past 10 presidential elections.

Those numbers don’t sync very well. If you’re measuring turnout by counting the number of actual voters among people on the registered voter rolls, you’ll get a relatively high number — and one that’s as volatile as the state’s database of registered voters.

If you measure it by comparing the number of adults in the state with the number of actual voters, you’ll get a more predictable result. More than four — and fewer than five — of every 10 adults has voted in each of the past 10 presidential runs.

You can run the voter rolls up with an active registration push, but it doesn’t necessarily mean turnout will improve.

These are fair points, and to be sure most of the interest around the higher voter registration totals is centered on the belief that This Year Is Different. Which it unquestionably is, but that doesn’t mean it’s different in a way that will necessarily lead to a greater-than-usual number of people casting votes. So let’s take Ramsey’s figures and use that as a basis for estimating statewide turnout this year.

According to the SOS Turnout and Registration page, there are 19,307,355 adults of voting age population in Texas. Let’s apply four different turnout levels to that and see what we get.

40.97% turnout = 7,910,223
43.73% turnout = 8,443,106
45.55% turnout = 8,794,500
47.64% turnout = 9,198,024

The 40.97% and 47.64% values are the high and low totals cited by Ramsey. The other two, the ones in the middle, are the actual turnout of voting-age population numbers from 2008 (45.55%) and 2012 (43.73%). To put that in some perspective, due to the overall population growth in Texas, a turnout level equivalent to what we had in 2012, which I think we can all agree was generally considered “meh”, would still represent an increase of 450,000 voters over 2012 and 365,000 voters over 2008. Consider that 2008’s actual total of 8,077,795 represents 41.84% turnout of 2016 VAP, and 2012’s actual total of 7,993,851 is merely 41.40% turnout of 2016 VAP. Unless 2016 is a historically low year for turnout, more people are going to vote this November than they did in 2012 and 2008, quite possibly a lot more people.

So, to Ramsey’s point, we are almost certainly going to have more people vote this year than have ever voted in Texas, but sheer population growth will account for much of that. We need to crack nine million before we can really talk about a new high-water mark, and we have to push ten million to get to a point where we can say that more than half of adult Texans cast a ballot. It remains to be seen just how different this year will be.

Oh, and by the way, voter registration numbers continue to climb.

Texas is closing in on 15 million registered voters who will be eligible to cast ballots in the November election after a surge in registrations that probably will outpace the run-ups to the last three presidential elections, according to an analysis of state registration data by the former research director for the Texas Republican Party.

“The biggest takeaway is there is significant interest in this presidential election,” said Derek Ryan, the former Texas GOP data guru who is now an Austin-based Republican consultant who specializes in voter lists. According to Ryan’s analysis of the Texas secretary of state’s registered voter database released Monday, Texas actually passed the 15 million threshold last week. He puts the number at 15,002,412. But the secretary of state’s office said its most recent count had the state at 14.9 million registered voters.

The Texas voting age population is 19.3 million.

With another week to register before the Oct. 11 deadline, Ryan said he expected new registrants between the primary and general election to exceed the numbers logged in the past three presidential cycles. As of last week, Ryan said, 764,000 voters had registered since the March 1 primary, compared with 834,000 post-primary registrations in 2004, 823,000 in 2008 and 581,000 in 2012, when the primary was held in May.

Ryan said that of the new registrants, there were nearly 20,000 more women than men, that people with Hispanic surnames made up nearly a quarter and that the average age of the new registrants was 36.4 years old, with 43.1 percent under 30 and 34.1 percent ages 30 to 49.

On the face of it, that should all be good news for Democrats and their presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, who polls better in Texas with women, younger voters and Hispanics. But Ryan said that considering the provocative nature of Donald Trump’s campaign with regard to women and Hispanics, he was surprised their numbers did not spike higher.

Women outnumber men in the electorate generally, and the 2.3 percent differential between female and male new registrants is pretty much par for the course.

The 23.3 percent of new registrants with a Hispanic surname is identical to the 23.3 percent of all registered voters with a Hispanic surname, Ryan said, and the real test is turnout in a state that regularly places at or near the bottom for voter participation nationally and where Hispanic turnout is historically especially low.

Ryan also cautioned that the use of Hispanic surnames to identify Hispanics is inexact.

The deadline to register is October 11. We’ll see where we are then.

It’s the vote spread that matters

I had an email conversation with Judge Mark Davidson regarding my post about straight-ticket voting and its effect on judicial races. He said I misunderstood the point he was trying to make in that Chron story. From his email, quoted with permission:

Your analysis fails to look at what I call the “Straight Ticket Judicial Vote” as opposed to the straight ticket vote. The STJV is the total vote cast by the trailing Judicial votegetter of each party. The assumption is that anyone voting for that person got the votes they did for one reason only – their party affiliation. That was the 97.2% the article referred to.

When I got elected in 1988, and for the election cycles on both sides of that year, the % of STJV was about 85%. In other words, 15% of the voters cast a two party judicial ballot. If that were still the case, there would be fewer mullets elected judge (of both parties). The point I made to the Chron reporter that called was that at least the people who were going through the ballot and casting votes for every candidate of both parties were thinking a little on who to vote for, unlike the lever pullers.

Judge Davidson is correct, that’s not what I looked at, and I didn’t grasp what he was getting at when I wrote that post. Which wouldn’t have really changed what I wrote, because I was specifically intending to address Sen. Dan Patrick’s bill and the uncritical accolades he has received for filing it. My point was that straight-ticket voting, whatever you may think of it, has hardly had the effect on judicial races that is being ascribed to it. The numbers here and elsewhere clearly prove that. That was my point.

But Judge Davidson raises a good point as well, one I hadn’t considered. And since it involves numbers, I’m constitutionally incapable of not digging into them. He calculates the STJV number by adding the percentage of the low-scoring judicial candidates from each party, so here’s a look at the STJVs for the elections that are listed on the County Clerk’s webpage:

2012 – 97.5
2010 – 96.1
2008 – 95.9
2006 – 96.8
2004 – 97.9
2002 – 95.0
2000 – 95.2
1998 – 94.3
1996 – 88.3

Judge Davidson includes the 1st and 14th Appeals Court candidates in his calculation, so I did the same here. This does have an effect on the numbers, as Eric Andell carried Harris County in 2000, thus dropping the low Republican score to under 50. Limit the reckoning to Harris County-only races, and you’d get 97.6 for 2000 (there were all of two contested non-Appeals Court races that year, as previously noted). Margaret Mirabal also carried Harris County in 1996, but Katie Kennedy won a District Court race with a higher score, so Mirabal’s performance had no effect.

Looking at these numbers, it strikes me that there’s nothing about Judge Davidson’s metric to invalidate the point I’ve been making. Since low-profile, low-information races like most judicial races are generally considered barometers of partisan preference, the STJV can be seen as a measure of how many people are voting for a party rather than a candidate in a judicial race. You can see why a lower number would generally be preferable. The thing is, though, that there’s not that much difference between the STJV scores in the years where Republicans were sweeping the judicial races and the two recent years in which both parties claimed victories. Indeed, it’s the year 2004 that had the highest STJV score, just as 2004 had a higher rate of straight-ticket voting than 2008, even though it was the latter year that started all this hand-wringing and pearl-clutching about the arbitrariness of straight-ticket voting, as if it had never been an issue in years before. That more than anything is what chaps me about the pious “reforms” being proffered by the likes of Sen. Patrick and the enabling he’s getting from the media. Where was all this concern between 1998 and 2006?

To be clear, despite my sniping in that earlier post, Judge Davidson does get this. Here’s more of what he said, after I responded to his initial email. I suggested that one might conclude from what he has been saying that an appointment system would be better than our partisan election system for judges:

I am against an appointment system. Always have been. Always will be.

What I told the Chron is that our system works just great in counties with a population under about 60,000. In, say, San Angelo, if there is a bad judge, everyone in the county knows about it. A bad judge in San Angelo will lose regardless of party affiliation.

The answer is more voter information about the judges. We had that back in the late eighties and early nineties, when the DJVs were in the mid teens. If the % of people voting a SPJV were to go from 97% to 85% again, the chances of a bozo of either party getting elected diminishes greatly. The last few cycles, the judicial candidates of both parties spent all of their money, not into educating the public about themselves, but on party material. This is, in part, the problem. I concede that where you have 40 judicial races on a ballot it is difficult for any one to stand out. To a limited but critical extent, that is what was going on in the late eighties. The voters’ guides then were printed by both newspapers. There are none today.

You are right that I cannot expect a million voters to be made aware of the qualifications of all judicial candidates. But the number should be more than 29,000! If the number of voters casting a two party judicial ballot could go back to, say, 100,000, there would not be a problem.

I agree that it’s harder to get away with being a bozo in a smaller electorate, though the extreme partisan split of Tom Green County, where San Angelo is the county seat, might be too high a wall a Democrat to scale, even against a Republican bozo. Be that as it may, I take his point, and absolutely agree with the idea of more publicly available information about judges and judicial candidates as the best way forward. Again, one of the strange things about this debate is that it’s happening at a time when we actually have members of both parties winning judicial races in Harris County. Before 2008, the last time that happened was Kennedy’s win in 1996. I’ll stipulate that split partisan results do not necessarily equate to optimally meritorious results, but I continue to be amazed by the fact that only now that Democrats are winning most of these races is it a political problem to be dealt with by such famous non-partisans as Dan Patrick.

Of course, getting good, objective information out to the voters is easier said than done. Back in 1988, there were only so many ways to spread news. Put a story in the Chron and the Post and you were good. Nowadays, well, you know what the scene is like. Even if you could be confident in your distribution channels, ensuring that the data is objective, and more importantly is seen as objective by the audience, will be a big challenge. I’m open to suggestion if anyone has any thoughts on this.

Anyway. Whatever you think the problems are with our system of making judges, the points I’m trying to make are 1) they didn’t just magically appear beginning in 2008, when the Democrats first started winning judicial races again; by every measure I can come up with, it had been like this for at least a decade, and 2) fixing these shortfalls will require more than simple, bumper-sticker solutions. Every approach has its pros and cons, and we can’t fix anything unless we really understand what it is we’re trying to fix and why our proposed alternative gains more than it loses. I promise, I’ll quit complaining about this if we ever get to that. My thanks to Judge Davidson for the feedback and the opportunity to explore this from another angle.

Pity the poor judges

It’s hard out here on a judge.

For longer than anyone remembers, you had to be a Democrat to be a district judge in Texas – or just about any other political office. When the Democratic Party split apart in the South over civil rights, Republicans gained the upper hand, so much so that by 1998 you had to have an “R” next to your name to have a shot at statewide office.

Recent election results show little change overall for the Lone Star State, still known as the reddest of the red. But in its largest metropolitan area, a new look is emerging. If the latest general election is fair measure, Harris County today is a brilliant, deep purple, almost evenly split between the two major parties.

And nowhere does that cause more discomfort than the county courthouse, where judges suddenly find themselves with none of the job security that has often accompanied the job. Partisan dominance meant that if you reached the bench – often via political appointment – you had a reasonable chance of staying there for awhile. Now local judges are buffeted by political winds beyond their control, and they face the distinct possibility of losing their job just as they have figured out how to do it.

Former Judge Mark Davidson, who often ranked at or near the top in local judicial polls, lost his bench in the Barack Obama tidal wave of 2008. He does not like what he sees now, with a polarized electorate voting along party lines, and he has no intention of running again soon.

“To run and know it doesn’t matter anything about my or my opponent’s qualifications – that the outcome may be determined by who is on the top of the ticket and people will vote on criteria other than my service as a trial judge – is not something I choose to do,” Davidson said.

[…]

What that means for the future is unclear, in part because it’s unfamiliar territory. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister, who spent more than a decade as a district judge in Harris County, predicts it will be harder to recruit good potential judges because of the uncertainty factor. If races are going to be narrowly decided and influenced heavily by the names at the top of the ticket, why would a successful, talented lawyer give up a comfortable practice for less pay and more risk?

“In a close county like Harris County is now, being an incumbent doesn’t help you,” Brister said. “The odds are 50-50. You leave your practice and will be making less money, and you have to be constantly worried whether you will keep the job. If you lose after one term, all your clients are gone to somewhere else and you have to build your practice all over again. That makes it real difficult to convince someone to run.”

Of course, one way to solve this would be to go back to the good old days of one-party dominance in Harris County. I sure don’t remember all this hand-wringing about how hard it was to be a judge, never knowing what the voters might do to you, back when the November elections were pre-determined. If nothing changes about how we make judges and the Democrats sweep the judiciary in 2016, thus providing a third term to all those judges that were re-elected this year, will that make Mark Davidson and Scott Brister happy? Mark Bennett makes hash of Davidson’s complaint.

The story then predictably goes into straight-ticket voting and Sen. Dan Patrick’s bill to eliminate it for judicial races, which has the hearts of people like Patti Hart and the Chron’s editorial board going pitter-pat. One of the many ironies of all this is that of the 32 district and civil court judicial races in which the Chron made an endorsement this year, 25 of their preferred candidates won. That’s a 78% success rate, which ain’t too shabby for a bunch of lazy, ignorant voters, as they so nicely characterized the straight-ticket people.

Another irony for you: As Mark noted in his post, the straight ticket vote for each party this year basically canceled each other out. Indeed, the Democratic advantage from straight ticket voting in 2012 was a paltry 2,836 votes – 406,991 to 404,165 in favor of the Democrats. Would you like to know how many Democratic judges won re-election by 2,836 votes or less? Exactly one: Kyle Carter of the 125th District Court, who remained a judge by 1,694 votes. Every other winning Democratic judge had a margin that exceeded the straight-ticket margin: Michael Gomez, the next closest winner, won by 4,071 votes, Jaclanel McFarland won by 5,083, and Ruben Guerrero, Mark Bennett’s least favorite judge, won by 9,015. Every other victorious Democrat won by a five-figure margin, so if you accept the premise that only the non-straight-ticket voters really know what they’re doing, then you should be glad, because they decided all but one of the judicial races. Dan Patrick’s bill is basically about Kyle Carter.

But wait, there’s more. In those halcyon days of Republican hegemony for which Mark Davidson and Scott Brister pine, surely they were aided by straight-ticket voting dominance as well, right? Well, thanks to the magic of the Internet, we can check. Election results on the County Clerk webpage go back through 1996. Here’s how those elections went.

In 1996, straight ticket voting was as follows:

STR – 200,731
STD – 211,533

So Democrats had a 10,802 vote advantage, which did them exactly no good: The only judicial race won by a Democrat was that of Katie Kennedy, whose margin of victory was over 66,000 votes. Republicans won all the other races.

Here’s 1998:

STR – 157,516
STD – 143,783

Now the Rs have the advantage, of just under 14,000 votes. Their smallest margin of victory in a judicial race was about 23,000 votes, meaning that again, straight-ticket voting made no difference to the outcomes.

How about 2000?

STR – 260,705
STD – 264,747

Yes, believe it or not, Democrats had the straight-ticket advantage, even with George Bush at the top of the ticket. And again, it mattered not at all. There were exactly 2 contested judicial races – 337th and County Court At Law #1, both of which the Dems lost. Boy, were these the days or what?

On to 2002:

STR – 185,606
STD – 171,594

The Rs regain the advantage, and again it’s meaningless, as the closest judicial race was decided by 41,000 votes. Will straight-ticket voting ever matter?

The answer is yes, it does, in 2004:

STR – 370,455
STD – 325,097

You would think that with a 45,000 vote advantage in straight-ticket voting, that would be critical to overall Republican success. But it only mattered in one judicial race, the 334th, where Sharon McCally defeated Kathy Stone by 41,813 votes. Republicans won every other judicial race by at least 60,000 votes.

Here’s 2006:

STR – 137,663
STD – 145,865

Another Democratic advantage that amounts to diddly squat, as the Rs once again sweep the judicial races. I suppose you could put an asterisk next to Jim Sharp, who carried Harris County by 1,291 votes in his race for the First Court of Appeals, but since he lost that race it hardly seems worth the effort.

Finally, we come to the two years that everyone agrees is where straight ticket voting was the deal-sealer for the Ds and the Rs, respectively. It’s true that in 2008, the Democratic advantage in straight-ticket voting – 391,488 to 343,919 – is larger than the margin of victory for all victorious Democratic judicial candidate. But look, Democrats didn’t nearly sweep the judiciary in 2008 because of straight-ticket voting, they won all those races because more Democrats voted in Harris County than ever before, and it was that combination of juiced turnout and long-awaited demographic change that did it for them. I suppose you could argue that had the straight-ticket option been outlawed that enough Democratic voters might have quit voting before making it all the way to the end of the ballot to have let some number of Republican judges survive, but if you do make that argument can you really also claim it was because of their merit as judges that saved them? Besides, in the absence of straight-ticket voting its entirely plausible that enough Republican voters would have failed to complete the ballot to cancel things out, and we’d have had approximately the same results as we actually did. We’ll never know, and it’s presumptuous to think we do. Remember, as I’ve noted many times, there was a lot more Republican undervoting in 2004 downballot than there was Democratic undervoting. We just don’t know what might have happened.

You may be thinking at this point “But isn’t the issue that so many more votes are being cast as straight-ticket these days”? It’s true that the trend is upward, but it’s less than you might think. And despite the wailing over 2008, it wasn’t a high-water mark for straight tickets. In 2004, 64.22% of all ballots cast were straight-ticket, 698,895 of 1,088,793. In 2008, the share of straight-ticket ballots dropped to 62.20%, as 739,424 of 1,188,731 were so cast. Did you know that there were more straight-ticket votes cast as a percentage of turnout in 2004 than in 2008, the year in which straight-ticket voting suddenly became this massive problem that had to be solved? I didn’t until I did the research for this post. I’ll bet you $10,000 of Mitt Romney’s money that no one at the Chron knew it, either. As for 2012, the share was 67.91%, 817,692 out of 1,204,167. My guess is that just as there appears to be a limit to how many people will vote early, there’s likely also a limit to how many people will push the straight-ticket button, and we’re probably pretty close to it.

Oh, and in 2010, the year that straight-ticket voting supposedly gave the Republicans back the bench? They did have a huge advantage in straight ticket votes – 290,355 to 240,479 – but as it happens, their closest victory in a judicial race was just over 57,000 votes, with most races being decided by 80,000 or more. Republicans won in 2010 because they turned out at historic, unprecedented levels, plain and simple. The belief that straight-ticket voting is the key to victory is a myth, a shibboleth, and if it’s not clear by now that this is all about the 2008 results, then it’s not the straight-ticket voters who are lazy and ignorant.

I have more to say on this subject, but this post is long enough. Again, I agree that our system of making judges is problematic, but straight-ticket voting is not the problem, and eliminating it is not a solution. It’s a feel-good measure cloaking a partisan intention, and it should be seen as such.

The Seliger-Solomons Congressional map is out

And it’s a joke. Seriously, I can’t describe it any other way. Look at the following districts – go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/ and look up Plan C125 – and tell me how they can possibly satisfy any rational legal argument for compactness or communities of interest. Let’s start with CD36, which forms a giant Gateway-style arch from Super Neighborhood 22 up into East Texas and down around to Orange County.

CD36

Let’s continue with CD35, which basically snakes along I-35 from the northern reaches of Travis County to the southern end of Bexar County.

CD35

Speaking of I-35, if you drive it through Travis County, you change Congressional districts no fewer than seven times.

Here’s CD21, which spreads tentacles into both Travis and Bexar from the west.

CD21

You really have to zoom in on the Bexar County portions of CD21 to fully appreciate its ridiculousness. The word “fractal” comes to mind in some places. As for Travis County, it gets split into five districts under this plan. When I said that the Republicans would put a piece of Travis into every single district if they could, I wasn’t kidding.

Here’s the GOP’s attempt to save Blake Farenthold by turning his district into one that’s more Hill Country and less Gulf Coast.

CD27

There’s some similar juju with HD34, which I guess is supposed to be the Aaron Pena Special.

CD34

For what it’s worth, CD27 becomes a fairly strong Republican district, according to 2008 election data. Here’s how it stacks up against some current GOP districts:

District Incumbent Obama % Houston % ========================================== 06 Barton 41.67 44.29 10 Mc Caul 43.81 44.14 12 Granger 42.50 43.10 21 Smith 42.51 40.48 23 Canseco 47.19 49.27 25* Doggett 42.40 43.63 27 Farenthold 40.78 46.28 31 Carter 42.61 42.47 32 Sessions 43.79 43.63 33 Open 42.64 43.90 34 Open 59.11 62.85 35* Open 60.70 61.16 36 Open 41.02 47.46

Greg makes the case that CD27 is really a “new” district, much as CD25 is – it may contain Lloyd Doggett’s house, but it’s not his district in any meaningful sense – and that Farenthold is actually in CD34, with Doggett likely to aim for CD35, where he may or may not get knocked off by a San Antonio hopeful. I’ll defer to him on that, I’m just going by the existing district numbers. Some of these Republican districts are more purple than I’d have expected, and much as is the case with State House districts, it may be that in a cycle or two a few of these guys could be imperiled. It’s harder for me to say with such bigger districts, but the possibility certainly exists. Honestly, it’s a bit hard to believe this map represents a genuine consensus among Republicans, as there’s plenty more they could have done to make most incumbents safer while warding off the more obvious VRA-related complaints. But we’ll see.

Anyway, it goes on and on, with no new minority opportunity district for the D/FW area in sight, and some examples of what seems to be clearcut retrogression – CD27 goes from a district with a 59.4 SSVR percentage to one with 37.2%. I suppose you can claim that CD34 makes up for that, but still. One hopes that means this map would be a non-starter with the Justice Department. In fact, Rep. Marc Veasey, whose alternate map I showed yesterday, issued the following statement about this map:

Last week, Rep. Veasey offered the Fair Texas Plan, a congressional map that provides electoral opportunity for the Texans who earned our state four additional congressional districts and meets the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. Today, Chairman Seliger and Chairman Solomons presented Texans with their proposed congressional map.

“This map is the very definition of an unfair and illegal congressional plan, one that was constructed behind closed doors with reckless disregard for the testimony of Texans who asked for a plan that adheres to the Voting Rights Act and preserves communities of interest,” Rep. Veasey explained. “The Seliger-Solomons Plan is a slap in the face of minority voters responsible for 90% of Texas growth in the last decade.”

An initial review of the proposed plan clearly indicates that it is retrogressive and creates only 10 effective minority opportunity districts out of 36 compared to the 11 effective districts in the current 32 member plan.

“In fact, preserving only 11 effective minority opportunity districts when the state now has four additional seats due to minority population growth would still be retrogressive, and I have no doubt that a plan that has only 10 effective minority opportunity districts runs afoul of the Voting Rights Act,” Rep. Veasey said.

Across the state, this discriminatory plan splits and packs minority communities. Nowhere is that illegal scheme more apparent than Tarrant and Dallas Counties. Veasey pointed out that once again, the Southeast Ft. Worth community he represents is separated from other areas of African American growth in Tarrant County and placed in a district that would be controlled by suburban Anglo voters. This time, the North Side Hispanic community is exiled to a Denton County district and Latino voters in Dallas-Ft. Worth are split into at least seven different districts.

“A plan that splits and packs the 2.1 million African Americans and Latinos in Dallas and Tarrant Counties to provide us only one effective voice in Congress is not just illegal, it’s wrong,” concluded Rep. Veasey.

MALDEF has a similar reaction.

A coalition of Latino groups which submitted partial state maps for congressional districts blasted the Republican plan. “The Solomons-Seliger map does not increase the number of Latino opportunity congressional districts despite the fact that 65% of the State’s growth over the past decade was comprised of Latinos,” said MALDEF’s Nina Perales. “Instead, the map gerrymanders more than nine million Latinos in Texas to make sure that we have no more electoral opportunity than we did in 1991.”

And as of Tuesday evening, the issue is now on the call with a hearing scheduled for Friday. In the meantime, another lawsuit has been filed.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed congressional redistricting because he said it neglects Hispanic population growth in Harris County and elsewhere in Texas.

“Personally, the map is fine with me,” said Green, whose district remains largely the same. “But the reason I’m not totally happy with the plan is because I don’t think it fairly treats Harris County — and particularly the Hispanic community in Harris County. I don’t think it recognizes the huge increase in the Hispanic population.”

Green said that he and three Democratic House members from Texas who represent large Hispanic populations – Reps. Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio, Silvestre Reyes of El Paso and Lloyd Doggett of Austin, have filed suit in federal and state courts in Austin seeking court-ordered creation of two Hispanic congressional districts in Harris County with more than 60 percent Hispanic population.

Just something to consider here: After the 1991 redistricting, subsequent litigation led to the redrawing of several districts, for which special elections had to be held in 1996. After the 2001 redistricting and 2003 re-redistricting, subsequent litigation also led to the redrawing of several districts, for which special elections had to be held in 2006. Point being, whatever map we have in 2012 is unlikely to be the map we still have in 2020.

Anyway, take a look at this map and react as appropriate. I have 2010 electoral data here, and Greg has further analysis here and here. PoliTex, Trail Blazers, and the Trib have more.

Once again, I’ll take the under

There’s a bizarre new UT/Texas Trib poll that’s so odd I can’t even come up with a good introduction for it, so I’m just going to jump straight to the weirdness:

Republican Gov. Rick Perry leads his Democratic challenger, Bill White by 10 points — 50 percent to 40 percent — in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, which was conducted in the days leading up to early voting. Libertarian Kathie Glass has the support of 8 percent of respondents; Deb Shafto of the Green Party gets 2 percent.

[…]

• In the race for lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst is leading Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson 51 percent to 38 percent. Libertarian Scott Jameson has 9 percent, while the Green Party’s Herb Gonzales Jr. has 2 percent.

• Attorney General Greg Abbott leads Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky 55 percent to 35 percent. Libertarian Jon Roland has 11 percent (when the total here and elsewhere doesn’t add up to 100 percent, rounding is the culprit).

• Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs, the only major-party candidate in her race, has the support of 51 percent, while Libertarian Mary Ruwart pulls 11 percent and Ed Lindsay of the Green Party has 9 percent. This is the only contest in the poll in which undecided voters were not pushed to make a choice; as such, 29 percent of respondents identified themselves as undecided.

• Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is leading Democrat Hector Uribe 50 percent to 37 percent in his bid for re-election, with Libertarian James Holdar garnering 12 percent.

• Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples leads Democrat Hank Gilbert by the same margin: 50 percent to 37 percent. Libertarian Rick Donaldson has 12 percent.

• In the race for a slot on the Railroad Commission that is the only open seat on the statewide ballot, Republican David Porter leads Democrat Jeff Weems 50 percent to 34 percent, with Libertarian Roger Gary at 10 percent and Art Browning of the Green Party at 5 percent.

I’m not sure what is more surprising, the numbers received by the Libertarian candidates in these polls, or (as one commenter said) the fact that Ross Ramsey could write this story without once making note of them. How out of the ordinary are the Libertarian numbers? I went through every statewide election result on the Secretary of State webpage going back to 1992. Here are the best performances by year of a Libertarian candidate in contested statewide races:

Year Race Candidate Pct ========================================= 2008 RRC David Lloyd 3.51 2006 Lt Gov Judy Baker 4.35 2004 RRC Anthony Garcia 3.59 2002 Land Comm Barbara Hernandez 4.12 2000 Senate Mary Ruwart 1.15 1998 Land Comm Monte Montez 2.72 1996 Sup Ct Eileen Flume 3.64 1994 RRC Buster Crabb 3.15 1992 RRC Richard Draheim 6.98

A couple of notes: The Senate race in 2000 was the only non-Presidential contest that had an R and a D in it at the state level. 1996 featured the only appearance of the Natural Law Party; they were in three state races, including the Presidential race, and topped out at 0.75%, though they did break 1% in some Congressional contests.

And then there’s 1992, which features the number that most likely jumps out at you, Richard Draheim’s 6.98%. That race featured Democratic incumbent Lena Guerrero, who had been appointed to the Railroad Commission by then-Governor Ann Richards. During the election campaign it was revealed that she had lied about getting a degree from UT, which turned into a huge scandal that sent her campaign into a ditch. I’ve no doubt that this was the main contributor to Draheim’s unparalleled performance. Yet even under those circumstances, it’s not in the 8 to 12 percent range that UT/TT is crediting this year’s crop of Ls with.

You can, I trust, see why I’m skeptical. If that’s not enough, note that in the past four Governor’s races, the best any Libertarian candidate has done is 1.46%, considerably less than what UT/TT claims Glass to be polling at. I’d set the over/under in all of these races at 4%, and I’d take the under on all of them. No other poll has shown anything like this, including the two previous results from UT/TT. How they could fail to remark on these highly remarkable numbers is a mystery to me. BOR has more.

Hector Uribe files for Land Commish

We have one more contested statewide primary on the Democratic side as former State Sen. Hector Uribe has filed for Land Commissioner. (Bill Burton of Athens is already in.) Here’s Uribe’s press release:

Former state Senator Hector Uribe filed to be a Democratic candidate for Texas Land Commissioner today. Uribe returns to state politics after a 14 year hiatus, when he was the Democratic nominee for Texas Railroad Commissioner.

“The current Republican leadership is short-sighted. Texans want our state leaders to help address the real threats to our environment, but many of our current state leaders continue to minimize the importance of having clean water to drink and clean air to breathe,” Uribe said.

“National and international environmental policies on global warming have serious impacts on long-term state education funding. The Republican leadership should be concerned about any negative impact on education funding. Instead, they deny the existence of global warming, deny the science that CO2 emissions contribute to global warming, and instead they fan the fires of secession. That’s not responsible leadership, that’s failed leadership. They claim that pro-environment policies will negatively impact our economy and education funding. That’s not an answer, that’s a cop out,” he added.

“We don’t have to choose between a clean environment, and maximizing the return on state lands to fund our neighborhood schools. We can do both, and as Land Commissioner, I intend to do both,” Uribe said. “Our campaign will focus on how best to serve both objectives.”

Uribe served as a Texas state Senator from Brownsville from 1981 until 1990, and represented the counties of Brooks, Cameron, Hidalgo and Jim Wells. Prior to serving in the Senate Uribe served in the Texas House of representatives for about three years.

As a state Senator he wrote the Texas Enterprise Zone Act, designed to create new businesses and jobs in economically distressed areas. He also wrote the Protective Services for the Elderly Act to guard against elder neglect and abuse as well as legislation establishing the University of Texas at Pan American in Edinburg and Brownsville.

During his final session in the Texas Senate he served as Chair of the Natural Resources Standing Subcommittee on Water that wrote the first colonias legislation and created a bond package to assure clean water and sewer facilities for colonia residents. As a member of the Natural Resources Committee he voted to create a super fund to clean up contamination left by leaking underground gasoline storage tanks. As Vice-Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, he authored legislation to regulate and require indoor air quality in public buildings and to regulate asbestos removers.

The release also contained a bio of Uribe, which you can see in this Google doc. It all sounds pretty good, and I look forward to hearing more about him, but Texas was quite a different place when he last ran for office, in 1996 for Railroad Commissioner against Carole Keeton then-Rylander, who defeated him by a 58-39 margin for her first full term in office; she had ousted Mary Scott Nabers, who was appointed in 1993 as a replacement for Bob Krueger when he was tapped as Sen. Lloyd Bentsen’s successor, in 1994. I hope that after all this time he has a good feel for what the lay of the land is like now, and that he has the ability to raise the funds he’ll need to run a competitive race. PDiddie, BOR, Trail Blazers, and The Trib, which notes that Uribe is also a movie actor, have more. I’ll have a full roundup of filings later once all the info is available.

We hate you! Now do a better job!

Actions do have consequences, even to teabaggers.

You may have heard that GOP Rep. Kevin Brady, staunch tea partier, is protesting that the taxpayer-funded D.C. Metro didn’t adequately prepare for the anti-government 9/12 rally. He’s even suggesting Metro’s failure to transport tea partiers may have hurt turnout.

A Democrat, however, points out to me that Brady voted against Federal funding for the very same Metro he’s blaming for offering the tea partiers substandard service.

Soon after the 9/12 march, Brady released a letter he sent to D.C. Metro griping that it had failed to transport tea partiers to the protest. Brady said they “were frustrated and disappointed that our nation’s capitol” failed to “provide a basic level of transit for them.”
Brady’s office complained about a train shortage. “METRO did not prepare for Tea Party March!” he tweeted. “People couldn’t get on, missed start of march. I will demand answers.”

But earlier this year, Brady voted against the stimulus package. It provided millions upon millions of dollars for all manner of improvements to … the D.C. Metro.

That’s pretty much the modern conservative philosophy: We refuse to pay for the things we demand. I suppose it would be unkind of me to point out that instead of that socialist (or is it fascist? I can’t keep track) public transit system, there was a fine free market solution available. We call them “taxis”. Amazingly enough, the existence of a public option has not driven the private providers out of business. Who knew that was possible? Steve Benen has more.

By the way, remember how in 1996, Brady defeated the wingnut Gene Fontenot (who had previously failed in an expensive effort to win what was then CD25), and that at the time one could have viewed that result as a win for (relative) sanity and pragmatism? I don’t know that I could tell the difference between Brady and Fontentot any more. That to me is as clear an illustration of how degraded the GOP has become as a party as any I can think of.