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Election 2001

An unsatisfying attempt at projecting turnout

So as we all know, this in an unprecedented election, as there are no city races on the ballot. This has everyone wondering about turnout, because the usual drivers of turnout are a Mayor’s race and/or a big referendum, and we have neither of those. What can we guess from past turnout?

There are two components of interest here, overall turnout in the city and in the districts that have contested races. Those races of interest are in HISD, so my first thought was to look at some past elections to see what we could learn from the ratio of voters in each district to total voters in Houston. If that’s reasonably consistent, then we can make a projection for the districts on the ballot based on what we think the top level is.

HISD Trustee terms are four years, so our points of comparison are the years in which the same districts are up. Here are the citywide numbers from the Harris County Clerk:


Year      Turnout
=================
2001      284,748
2005      189,046
2009      178,777
2013      174,620

Yes, there are city voters outside Harris County, but none of them intersect with HISD, so we can safely ignore them. Now here are the totals for the five HISD districts that are normally on the ballot in these cycles:


Dist   2001 Share    2005 Share    2009 Share    2013 Share
===========================================================
I    12,515  4.40  10,159  5.37   9,823  5.49  10,521  6.03
V    21,761  7.64                14,550  8.14
VI
VII                                            12,394  7.10
IX   17,524  6.15  12,372  6.54  12,299  6.88  11,245  6.44

And right here you can see why I called this an “unsatisfying” attempt at this projection. The County Clerk only shows the results for contested school board races, and Districts V, VI, and VII haven’t had a lot of those in recent years. We do have good data in I and IX, and those numbers are interesting. District IX is very consistent. If you know what overall city turnout was, you can make a pretty good guess as to turnout in IX. District I, on the other hand, shows a steady upward trend. I’d say that’s the result of changes in the district, which encompasses a good chunk of the Heights and surrounding areas that have been gentrifying. As such, I’d consider the 2013 numbers to be a floor for this year.

That leaves us with the question of what citywide turnout might be. We do have a model for guessing turnout in elections with no Mayor’s race. Since 2005, there have been six At Large City Council runoffs with no corresponding Mayor’s runoff, and in 2007 there was a special May election with June runoff for At Large #3. Here are the vote totals in those races:


2005 At Large #2 runoff = 35,922
2007 At Large #3 May    = 33,853
2007 At Large #3 June   = 24,746
2007 At Large #5 runoff = 23,548
2011 At Large #2 runoff = 51,239
2011 At Large #5 runoff = 55,511
2013 At Large #2 runoff = 32,930
2013 At Large #3 runoff = 33,824

Those numbers are pretty consistent with my earlier finding that there are about 36,000 people who voted in every city election from 2003 to 2013. There won’t be a Mayor’s race this year, but the school board candidates are out there campaigning, and I expect they’ll draw a few people to the polls who aren’t in that group. Similarly, there will be a campaign for the bond issues on the ballot, and that should nudge things up a bit as well. I think a reasonable, perhaps slightly optimistic but not outrageous, estimate is about 50,000 votes total. If that’s the case, then my projections for the school board races are as follows:


District I   = 3,000 (6% of the total)
District V   = 4,000 (8%)
District VII = 3,500 (7%)
District IX  = 3,250 (6.5%)

You can adjust up or down based on your opinion of the 50K overall estimate. If these numbers represent the over/under line, I’d be inclined to put a few bucks on the over in each, just because there will be actual campaign activity in them and there won’t be elsewhere. I don’t think that will be a big difference-maker, but it ought to mean a little something. All of this is about as scientific as a SurveyMonkey poll, but it’s a starting point. I’ll be sure to follow up after the election, because we may want to do this again in four years’ time, when the next Mayor-free election could be.

Shades of 1997

The Chron looks to the past to analyze Sylvester Turner’s runoff victory.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

As the Chronicle reported, voting in the Houston mayor’s runoff fell overwhelmingly along racial lines, with Sylvester Turner edging out a slight victory in part by securing 93 percent of the vote in the city’s majority-black precincts.

King, meanwhile, took 71 percent of the vote in the city’s majority-white precincts. Turner beat King by about 4 percentage points in majority-Hispanic precincts, earning 52 percent of the vote.

That degree of racial polarization also was seen in the 1997 mayor’s race, when Brown won 99 percent of the vote in majority-black precincts and 38 percent in majority-white precincts, according to a 2011 Texas Southern University study.

However, Brown earned just 17 percent of the vote in majority-Hispanic precincts.

TSU political scientist Michael Adams attributed Turner’s comparatively strong support among Latinos in part to his campaign’s Hispanic outreach.

“Campaigns matter,” Adams said, pointing to Turner’s endorsements from Hispanic elected officials and former opponent Adrian Garcia.

Adams also noted that Latinos increasingly have leaned Democratic in the intervening years, and that Mosbacher focused extensively on the Hispanic community during the 1997 race.

See here for the background. Lee Brown’s runoff win over Orlando Sanchez in 2001 was actually closer than his win over Rob Mosbacher in 1997. I’d have liked to see an analysis of that race, especially of the Latino precincts. You’d think Brown would have done worse there in 2001 against Sanchez than in 1997 against Mosbacher. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say that Turner would have been in some trouble this year had he not done as well as he did in these precincts.

Precinct analysis: Mayoral runoff

Believe it or not, the County Clerk’s office put out draft canvass reports last night. As a result, I can do the thing that I do. Here’s a look at the Mayor’s runoff race:


Dist    King   Turner
=====================
A      9,491    5,472
B      1,356   17,406
C     19,866   16,004
D      3,368   20,245
E     20,108    5,600
F      4,664    4,005
G     28,193    6,892
H      4,070    7,317
I      3,605    5,894
J      3,412    3,012
K      5,791   12,718
		
A     63.43%   36.57%
B      7.23%   92.77%
C     55.38%   44.62%
D     14.26%   85.74%
E     78.22%   21.78%
F     53.80%   46.20%
G     80.36%   19.64%
H     35.74%   64.26%
I     37.95%   62.05%
J     53.11%   46.89%
K     31.29%   68.71%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The Chron used this data to create some maps – a City Council district map, a precinct map, and a turnout map.

Remember as always that this is Harris County data only. Turner did win Harris County, by a small amount. The bulk of his margin is in Fort Bend, which is mostly in District K. You have to give King some credit. He won F and J after having trailed in them in November, and he carried C by a fairly healthy amount. I thought if he won in C he’d be in a strong position to win overall, and he came close to that. In November I suggested that King needed to duplicate Jack Christie’s 2011 runoff performance against Jolanda Jones to win. A performance like Christie had in District C would have done it for King, but he had some other avenues as well. Two questions to ponder in analyzing this result: How many previous supporters of Garcia and Bell and Costello did King move to his column, and how many new voters did he bring out? I will try to get a handle on that when I get a copy of the voter roster. A question I’m not sure how to answer is why did King do better on Election Day than he did in early voting, despite the expectations of some pundits? Turner clearly did a good job getting his voters out early. Maybe that’s all there was to it.

As for Turner, he did what he had to do. His margins in districts B and D were awesome, but it wasn’t just about the percentage, it was about the absolute total. It’s clear Turner needed the high turnout he got in those districts, but I think it’s an oversimplification to credit his win to “high turnout”, as I’d argue that King benefited from it as well. I’d love to see someone dig up precinct information from the 2001 Mayoral runoff between Lee Brown and Orlando Sanchez and do a side by side comparison with this year. I’m guessing there would be a lot of overlap.

I’ll be looking at the other races over the coming days. This result is understandable by looking at the numbers, as both candidates did what they needed to do, with Turner ending up on top. Some of the others are more of a puzzle, especially given the context of the Mayoral race. But we’ll get to that when we get to that. What are your impressions?

KHOU/KUHF poll: Tuner 38, King 38

We have a tie, according to the latest poll.

Sylvester Turner and Bill King are now locked in a dead heat in the race for Houston mayor, according to the newly released KHOU-News 88.7 Poll of likely voters.

The survey shows both candidates supported by 38 percent of surveyed voters, with roughly one-quarter of voters still uncommitted. About 13 percent told pollsters they didn’t know how they would vote, while another 11 percent refused to answer the question.

“I’ve polled since 1979,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist who supervised the survey. “I don’t recall ever seeing a race this close in the runoff. Usually at this point in the campaign, one of the two candidates has, if not a significant lead, an approaching significant lead. I’ve never seen a race this close.”

Turner, a Democratic state representative who’s making his third run for an office he’s coveted for a quarter century, easily led the pack of candidates in November’s general election. But King, a businessman and former mayor of Kemah who’s courted fiscally conservative Republicans, has quickly closed the gap and turned Houston’s mayoral race into an intensely competitive campaign.

“We see no evidence of either candidate leading, so I think both are going to work extremely hard, come rain or shine, to turn out that base,” Stein said. “Upwards of half the vote, maybe more, will be cast on Saturday.”

The poll data can be found here. I will note four things. One, the KHOU/KUHF poll for the November race was not terribly accurate beyond declaring Turner as the frontunner. To be fair, most of the polls we knew about were not terribly accurate, either. Two, as was the case with that poll, this one has a very high number of “don’t know” responses, which just seems weird for a runoff election. I mean, how many people who are truly going to vote in this race don’t know which candidate they support? Note the contrast in “don’t knows” between this poll and the dueling campaign-aligned polls from a week or so ago. My guess is that some number of these people who say they don’t know really do know but didn’t want to say for whatever the reason. Three, the 2001 runoff between Mayor Lee Brown and Orlando Sanchez was also viewed as a dead heat. Richard Murray, who is admittedly not Bob Stein, called it “an absolute cliffhanger” that would go down to the last vote. Finally, the KHOU/KUHF sample is 30% King voters from November, and 31% Turner voters from November; in reality, Turner led King 31-25 in November. That may be a reflection of actual turnout so far, or it may just be a reminder that who shows up is the big factor at this point. As with all polls, make of this as you will.

Our partisan Mayoral runoff

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

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Race and runoffs and Turner

Everyone agrees that Sylvester Turner will be one of the candidates to make it to the runoff for Mayor this year. But what happens then?

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Yet, to succeed term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, Turner, an African-American, will need to broaden his coalition beyond black voters – a challenge in a city where voting patterns often fall along racial lines.

“Since we don’t have party ID on the ballot, race is usually the No. 1 factor in predicting voter division patterns,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “Campaigns exaggerate this natural inclination, because they hunt where the ducks are.”

Turner’s campaign says it is not conceding any vote.

“I’m not running a race-based campaign,” Turner said, pointing to his support from groups including the city’s three employee unions, the Houston GLBT political caucus, the Latino Labor Leadership Council and others.

[…]

From 1997 through 2009, black candidates running citywide in biracial elections earned an average of 89 percent of the vote in predominantly black precincts, 37 percent in predominantly white precincts and 32 percent in predominantly Hispanic precincts, according to a 2011 Texas Southern University study.

Those results suggest it is unlikely Turner or former City Attorney Ben Hall, who also is black, will receive significant general election support outside of the African-American community, said TSU political scientist Michael Adams, one of the study’s authors.

“Even with the extensive endorsed support Turner has received, the historical analysis of citywide races indicates that even for a candidate as well known as Turner, his prospects are dim outside the African-American community for this round,” Adams wrote in an email.

Turner thus faces the challenge of luring white and Hispanic progressives while solidifying his base. To safely advance to the runoff, he needs the support of more than 70 percent of black voters, Murray said.

Recent polls indicate Turner’s chances of pulling that off are good. Three surveys released in the last week show Turner either alone at the front of the pack or tied for the lead with former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

[…]

“African-American candidates must be able to create broad multi-ethnic coalitions; in particular they must be able to structure the race in partisan terms to be successful,” Adams said, pointing to the 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2009 races, in which African-American mayoral candidates qualified for the runoff.

In 1997 and 2001, when the races were effectively partisan, with a black Democrat running against a white Republican, the black candidate won. Otherwise, the white Democrat prevailed.

I’m not sure about including the 2001 race in this set, since the Republican in question was Orlando Sanchez, and there was quite a bit of chatter about how he could become the first Latino Mayor of Houston. It’s true that he drew the lion’s share of the Anglo vote in that race, but it still feels weird grouping him in there.

I can’t find that 2011 study, so I can’t comment on it. I just want to point out that right now, Sylvester Turner and Ben Hall have at least some amount of support in the general election from outside the African-American community. The polling data that we have tells us this:

Poll Turner Hall Black Turner% Hall% ================================================ HAR 19 6 20 95% 30% HRBC 24 8 22 109% 36% KHOU 19 4 21 90% 19%

“Black” is the African-American share of the polling sample. “Turner%” and “Hall%” are each candidate’s share of the black vote. In all three cases, that total is greater than the black share of the electorate – from 109% of it to 145% of it – ergo, at least some of their support comes from outside that share. That doesn’t contradict the thesis that they won’t get a significant share of the non-black vote, but depending on how much of the black vote is going to Hall, it does suggest that a significant share of Turner’s support is coming from non-black voters. None of these polls break the data down that far, so we can only guess.

As for how things may shake out in a runoff, it really depends on who the other candidate is. Bill King and Steve Costello are the Republicans in this race, but King is running a Republican campaign and drawing mostly Republican support, while Costello (who supports HERO) is running a more non-partisan campaign and has picked up some support from traditionally Democratic groups. Chris Bell is the Anglo Dem, but with his lesser financial position and Turner’s dominance of the endorsement process, he would seem to be an underdog. And of course, Adrian Garcia is a wild card, being neither Anglo nor Republican. I don’t know how a Turner/Garcia runoff would play out, but I’d bet it would differ greatly from the Lee Brown/Orlando Sanchez matchup of 2001.

Mimi Swartz’s Mayoral campaign rant

Here it is.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

What if they held a mayoral race and nobody came? That’s the question plaguing many people currently involved in Houston politics—even if no one else in town is asking it. This phenomenon isn’t entirely new: in 2009,* a measly 19 percent of Houston voters turned out for the general election to make a winner out of Annise Parker. That number could wind up looking downright spectacular, however, after the results of the 2015 mayoral race are tabulated on November 3. At this point—about a month out—no one can even use the traditional, if lame, “just-wait–til-Labor-Day” excuse; that holiday has come and gone, and if you ask the average person on the street who he is supporting, the answer is likely to be one big shrug followed by a puzzled squint, accompanied by “Who’s running again?”

One could say that the issues—at least the ones being discussed—aren’t all that compelling. Few people understand, or even want to understand, the pension crisis that is bleeding the city dry while keeping the bank accounts of retired firefighters and policemen safe and secure. Houstonians do know that traffic back-ups and potholes as dangerous as starving raptors now make it impossible to get from point A to point B (or C or D), but residents—especially the long-timers—also comfort themselves knowing that congestion equals growth equals prosperity. A future of potentially uneducated masses in a high-tech world? Isn’t that the school district’s cross to bear? Increased segregation between the haves and the have-nots in this oh-so-hospitable town? Come on! Once oil prices go back up, anyone will be able to buy a mansion in River Oaks.

I’ve covered this before, but what did the 2009 Mayoral election not have that the three preceding high-turnout Mayoral elections (2003, 2001, and 1997*) did? A high profile referendum that helped drive that turnout. In 2003, it was the Metro referendum; in 2001, it was on a charter amendment to ban domestic partner benefits for city employees; and in 1997 it was a charter amendment to ban affirmative action. Past performance does not guarantee future results, but I’d bet the over on 2009 turnout this year. If that doesn’t happen, then we’ll need to have a heart-to-heart talk about how disengaged our local voters are.

As or the rest, like most rants it’s more descriptive than prescriptive, so there’s no argument for me to evaluate. I don’t disagree with the description, but that doesn’t get us very far. Swartz correctly notes that our city voters are old, but gives no suggestion as to what if anything could be done to change that. I figure sooner or later a candidate will invest in that kind of work, and if it pays off then others will follow. Until then, what you see is what you get.

By the way, here’s another story about that 1997 affirmative action referendum, from just before the election. See if any of this sounds familiar to you.

There has never been any dispute about what Proposition A would do if it is approved by voters here on Tuesday: It would abolish affirmative action in Houston’s contracting and hiring.

Nonetheless, there has been a tumultuous fight over just how Proposition A should be worded, one that may well head for the courts even after all the votes are in. And at the core of this battle is a question that is reverberating in other cities and states where anti-affirmative-action measures are gathering steam: should opponents of affirmative action be able to define these measures by using the language of the civil rights movement?

That is exactly what happened in California last year with the passage of Proposition 209, the measure that dismantled state-sponsored affirmative action. Similarly, the conservative group promoting the measure in Houston drew up a proposition with words taken almost directly from the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It said voters should decide whether the city “shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment” to anyone “on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.”

But by the time Mayor Bob Lanier, a staunch proponent of affirmative action, and the City Council were through, the wording on the proposition was totally revised.

So now, when voters in the nation’s fourth-largest city go to the polls on Tuesday, they will be asked whether the city charter should be amended “to end the use of affirmative action for women and minorities” in employment and contracting, “including ending the current program and any similar programs in the future.”

The measure’s proponents say the rewording by the Mayor and the Council is outrageous and heavy-handed, while those who favor the change say it is a more honest and straightforward way of describing what the proposition would do. Behind this fight over words are some striking polling statistics, which help to explain just why the fight has been so pitched and which offer a look at the voters’ complicated feelings about affirmative action.

Phrased as a nondiscrimination measure, Proposition A would likely pass with as much as 70 percent of the vote, according to joint polls conducted in recent weeks by the University of Houston and Rice University. But phrased as a measure to wipe out affirmative action, the results are starkly different: In separate polls conducted last month and earlier this week, 47.5 percent of voters described themselves as favoring that concept.

“Basically, what we found here is that the wording is incredibly important on this issue,” said Bob Stein, a political scientist and dean of the School of Social Sciences at Rice University. Like many pollsters here, he describes Tuesday’s vote as too close to call.

“The wording here defines the issue,” Professor Stein added, “and in defining the issue, you manipulate the symbols.”

In the poll this week of 831 registered voters, 47.5 percent said they would vote for Proposition A and 39.8 percent said they would vote against, with the rest undecided or of no stated opinion. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.6 percent.

Boy, the more things change, am I right? I wonder how many of the pro-Prop A people in 1997 are now anti-Prop 1 people this year. For the record, Prop A was defeated by a 55-45 margin, so consider that another example of how hard it is to get an accurate poll response in a city of Houston election. I’m trying to keep that in mind with polls about HERO, whatever they say.

(*) To be fair, the 1991 election, in which Bob Lanier defeated Sylvester Turner and ousted then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire, had turnout in excess of 300,000 as well, and there’s no report of a referendum on the results page. Maybe that year was different, or maybe there was something else going on that I don’t know about.

Defending HERO

It’s a big job, but we can get it done.

RedEquality

“We’re going to do everything we can to win HERO at the ballot box,” [Houston GLBT Political Caucus] president Maverick Welsh said.

It would be Houstonians’ third time voting on protections or benefits for gays, which they rejected in 1985 and again in 2001.

Then, too, the caucus threw its political weight behind the efforts – first to a resounding 4-1 defeat and then to a slimmer margin of three percentage points, or some 7,500 votes.

In recent years, the group formed in 1975 to support gay-friendly candidates has continued to regain the traction it lost in the 1985 election, when no one seeking city office sought its endorsement. This year, more than two thirds of the mayoral contenders are striving for the caucus’ backing, now seen as a stamp of approval for progressive voters.

Only 2013 runner-up Ben Hall and former Kemah mayor Bill King declined to participate in the pre-endorsement screening process, though King responded to the group’s questionnaire.

“Everybody wants to dance with us right now,” Welsh said. “The fight that we’ve been fighting for 40 years is now very mainstream, I think, for most voters.”

According to the Kinder Institute’s recent Houston Area Survey, support for gay rights in Harris County, which includes Houston’s more conservative suburbs, has increased consistently since the early ’90s.

Between 2000 and 2014, support for homosexuals being legally permitted to adopt children grew to 51 percent from 28 percent among Harris County survey participants, while support for giving the same legal status to homosexual and heterosexual marriages increased to 51 percent in 2015 from 37 percent in 2001.

[…]

Welsh, caucus president, said he expects the group to be involved in any campaign for HERO, adding that caucus mailings undoubtedly will include pro-HERO information.

However, political observers said the ordinance may present a turnout problem for the caucus, which has established its sphere of influence primarily in low-turnout elections.

“They have shown the ability to motivate a fairly decent share of the vote when you get less than 200,000 people voting,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “But if the turnout goes up, then you expect the caucus-influenced vote probably declines as a fraction of the total electorate.”

The city’s last open-seat mayor’s race in 2009 drew just 19 percent of about 935,000 registered voters. On the other hand, more than 28 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls in 2001, when the ballot contained a proposed charter amendment barring the city from providing unmarried partners of the same or opposite sex with employment benefits.

Given that the caucus’ progressive base already consistently shows up at the polls, political observers questioned whether the group would be able leverage its organizational strength and volunteer capacity to appeal to new portions of the electorate.

“It’s a risky vote for them,” Murray said.

Couple things here. First of all, if I have learned anything from studying recent electoral history in Houston, it’s that interesting ballot referenda drive turnout in a way that elections without such referenda do not. Go read that post I just linked to about Houston elections in the 90s and you’ll see what I mean. The 2003 election, which everyone points to as the pinnacle for 21st century turnout in Houston, was greatly aided by the Metro referendum. (This is why the Republicans in the Legislature put the tort “reform” constitutional amendment on the ballot in September – they didn’t want Houston turnout affecting the outcome.) Given all this, I do expect turnout to be higher than usual. Our past history, the stakes of the election, and the amount of attention that will be focused on it all point to that.

Is that an advantage for the anti-HERO crowd? Not necessarily. We know there’s a strong correlation between age and opposition to equality – the younger you are, the more likely you are to favor it, with older folks often being the only group opposed. I’ll have more details on this in a future post, but take my word for this: Houston’s electorate in most municipal election years is already pretty darned old. A strong plurality of voters are over the age of 60. These are the reliable regular voters. There will be more of them in a year like this, but there are a lot more people younger than that who have at least some voting history who are available to turn out. This is – or at least it damn well better be – the first priority for the HERO defense effort. Get out every voter you can under the age of 40. Hell, under 50 is likely to be good enough.

But younger people don’t vote in local elections, I hear you cry. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. As you can see at that link, one reason why younger people don’t vote in local elections is because they are often fairly new to the city where they are registered to vote. They don’t know the local landscape, they don’t know who represents them in local government, and they don’t feel the same connection to local issues as they do to national ones. (They also tend to not get contacted by the campaigns, since they aren’t reliable voters. It’s a bit of a vicious circle.) But a referendum like the HERO repeal vote is tailor made for them. They don’t need to know anything about the candidates. The issue in question is one they already have established opinions about. It strikes at why they might have chosen to live in this city in the first place – its diversity, its tolerance, its general friendliness to a young/urban lifestyle. If there was ever an opportunity to get a bunch of Presidential-year-only voters to the polls, this is it. If the HERO defenders aren’t putting a huge effort into IDing and targeting the under-40/under-50 crowd, they’re committing malpractice.

That’s the first thing. The other thing is that I don’t believe this election will be about gay rights, per se. I think even hammerheaded jerks like Dave Wilson and Steven Hotze and the rest have begun to figure out that direct homophobia is a losing tactic these days. Strong majorities approve of the Obergfell decision. Gay culture is all around us, and nobody but them objects. Their mostly-fraudulent petition effort was based on the idea of “no unequal rights”, but nobody outside their small group of signatories buys into that. No, what this election will be about is bathrooms and fevered lie-driven fears of sexual predators. You can already see and hear this in the rhetoric of some campaigns and candidates – see Ben Hall for Exhibit A – and I’ve heard it in a couple of interviews so far. Given the character and morals of the people that will be pushing the repeal campaign, you can expect to be soaking in this kind of hateful and dishonest rhetoric once things begin in earnest.

The good news about that is that I don’t think a lot of people have yet given much thought to this issue. Oh, they’re vaguely aware of it, in the way that most people are vaguely aware of most local issues, but it’s not locked in their consciousness yet. For these folks, a different kind of outreach is needed. They will need to hear, from voices they like and trust, why voting the right way on the HERO referendum is something they should do. For that, HERO defenders – and here I’m looking at Mayor Parker, who needs to be the one to make most if not all of the requests I’m about to suggest – should reach out to high-profile Houstonians in sports, music, business, and religion to deliver a message about Houston being the kind of place where everyone is treated equally and respectfully. Given the support of the major sports leagues and the individual teams for equality and non-discrimination ordinances, I’d move heaven and earth to get JJ Watt, James Harden, Jose Altuve, and Carli Lloyd to do a PSA-style ad in which they say something like “My league supports equality. So does my team, and so do I. The Houston we love is open and accepting to all. That’s why I’m [voting the right way] on [whatever the ballot proposition is called], and I ask you to do so, too.” I can’t think of anything the haters could do to counter a message like that, coming from people like that.

There are plenty of other people that could be plugged in to a spot like that, with the script modified to fit them. Bill Lawson. George and Barbara Bush. Beyonce. The members of ZZ Top. Former newscasters Ron Stone and Dave Ward. UH President Renu Khator and Rice President David Leebron. You get the idea. Sure, some may say No for whatever the reason, but I bet many would say Yes, especially if Mayor Parker asked them personally. The key here is to get those spots out quickly, before the haters get their mail and whatever else going. You don’t have to spend much on TV for this – buy a few slots during the evening news and stuff like that, but the real value will be in having them on YouTube. This is about good will, coming from good people. It’s worth a lot, and we should take full advantage of it, because the other side can’t touch it.

So that’s my plan to defend HERO. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but I don’t think it’s unsound. Gear up a ground game to turn out younger voters, and spread a positive message about what makes Houston the city we love to everyone else. I’ll take my chances with that.

The Trib on the big Mayor’s races

Those being the Houston and San Antonio Mayors races, with a look at how candidates of color are faring.

If former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte wins the runoff for San Antonio mayor next weekend, she’ll become the Alamo City’s first Hispanic female mayor, though not the first Hispanic, nor the first female.

If opponent Ivy Taylor wins, she’ll become the first black person elected to the position, though she’s already the first black mayor by appointment, taking over when Julián Castro left for a federal job.

And when Houston voters pick their next mayor in the fall, they could make former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia the first Hispanic mayor of the state’s most populous city. A win by state Rep. Sylvester Turner would give the city only its second black mayor.

As Texas’ major cities continue their decades-long evolution to minority-majority populations — where there are fewer whites than blacks and Hispanics combined — tracking minority and female ascension to mayoral firsts has almost reached the complexity of a political trivia game.

But the diversity of candidates is not a mere function of census numbers, political organizers and local leaders say. It’s the result of years of work in the trenches as people of color have labored to accumulate political capital.

“It’s not a magic bullet,” said Laura Barbarena, a San Antonio-based political consultant.

[…]

In modern times, San Antonio has been led by only three Hispanic mayors, despite the massive Hispanic share — 63.2 percent — of the population.

But the configuration of its local and legislative districts — particularly on the East Side — has also helped propel blacks into leadership positions. Taylor hails from the East Side and represented it on the City Council from 2009 until her peers appointed her interim mayor in July 2014.

Whichever way it goes, the June 13 runoff will give San Antonio its first woman of color elected to the top post at City Hall.

Still in its early stages, the Houston race has no clear front-runners in a crowded field, with at least seven candidates looking to win the Nov. 3 election. But with high name identification and wide appeal, Garcia and Turner are likely among the top contenders. The five other candidates are all also men, four white and one black.

In a city more diverse than San Antonio — Hispanics make up 43.8 percent of the population, blacks 23.7 percent, almost double the state’s share — both candidates have been more overt with messages about bringing people together.

As far as Houston goes, I would note that we had an African-American candidate and a Hispanic candidate in each of the last two open-seat Mayor’s races. Gene Locke in 2009 and Orlando Sanchez in 2003 (as he had against then-Mayor Lee Brown in 2001) made it into the runoff but lost there. This year, I would not bet any amount of money on any runoff candidate combination, and I would not bet any amount of money on any runoff outcome. There are too many candidates with a credible shot at making it into overtime, and too many possible variables in play once that happens. Unless something happens to clearly separate one or two candidates from the rest of the pack, I will continue to believe that the difference between finishing in the money and finishing fourth or fifth could be as little as a couple thousand votes, much like the At Large 3 race in 2013. Anyone who says otherwise is probably on one of the candidates’ payrolls.

Today is the last day of early voting in the San Antonio runoff, with Runoff Day being this Saturday, the 13th. Early voting turnout is up from the May election, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that final turnout will be up. From what I have gleaned on Facebook, there are a decent number of new voters (i.e., those who did not vote in May) in the mix, so an uptick is definitely a possibility. Who that favors is a question I’m not in a position to answer. If you’re from San Antonio, what’s been your impression of how the vote is going so far?

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garcia appears to be in for Mayor

Not official yet, but stories like this don’t get run without justification.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia is sending every possible message that he intends to run for mayor this year, aggressively increasing his political operations and signaling to some of his closest advisers and fiercest backers that a campaign may be imminent.

Garcia, under the Texas constitution, would have to resign as a county official immediately upon declaring his candidacy. That presents Garcia, who watchers expect to rocket to the field’s top tier if he joins the burgeoning mayoral fray, with a fateful decision: Does he step down as the county’s premier Democratic officeholder to make a bid that will make him Houston’s first Latino mayor or politically unemployed?

“At the end of the day, it’s like standing at the craps table, placing the bet – and you could walk away with nothing,” said Garcia confidant Greg Compean.

It is a bet Garcia allies said this week he has grappled with and seems willing to make.

“I’d be really surprised if he didn’t,” Compean said.

Garcia, who said last week he still is listening to others and has not yet officially committed to the race, has met with many of the city’s political leaders in advance of an announcement and privately is telling some close allies that he will run. And other evidence is mounting.

[…]

Backers of Garcia have high hopes he could raise the money to compete and that he could win voters beyond Houston’s Latinos, who comprise more than 40 percent of the city but at the most only 15 percent of the electorate. The county’s highest vote-getter in 2012, Garcia is expected to make appeals to some Republican voters in the nonpartisan election.

Garcia also would open himself up to personal attacks over a yearlong political brawl. Some in political circles for months quietly have questioned whether Garcia, who has no college education, can handle the rigors of the city’s top job. And if Garcia resigns as sheriff, some Democratic judges and Latino leaders worry whether the party and the Hispanic community would be hurt without him leading the local ticket.

My thoughts, in no particular order.

1. Garcia would have the advantage of being likely to be the clear frontrunner among at least one segment of the electorate – Latino voters – in the same way that Sylvester Turner would be among African-Americans and Oliver Pennington would be among conservatives. Sure, that is generally a smaller slice of the electorate, but it’s still an advantage, one that most other candidates don’t have. It also makes the pool of voters outside of Turner and Pennington’s bases, which those other candidates will be relying on, that much smaller. Remember that in Mayoral elections, turnout is not immutable. We had some 300,000 voters in 2001 and 2003, 190,000 in 2005 (spurred mostly by the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment), between 175,000 and 180,000 in 2009 and 2013, and in the 130,000 range in 2007 and 2011. Remember also that the goal in November is to make it to the runoff. In a multi-candidate field where a couple thousand votes could be the difference between going on to December and going home, being able to coax out some irregular voters is a big deal.

2. I’m not worried about the implications for 2016. The Presidential race will be the driving force for 95%+ of all voters. Hell, if anything having a spirited campaign between an appointed Sheriff that wants to hold the job and a Democratic challenger that wants to win it back is more likely in my opinion to generate excitement than Garcia trouncing another hapless Republican challenger. Note that this isn’t me arguing that Garcia should run for Mayor, or that I’m shrugging off him stepping down as Sheriff if it happens. I’m just thinking through the implications, and that’s how I see it.

3. What Garcia and his backers should be worried about is how pissed off Democratic loyalists could be at the prospect of handing over the Sheriff’s office to a Republican. I mean, everyone is still very raw and angry about what happened this past November. Losing a high profile office, especially one that wasn’t on the line and in the service of someone’s ambition, is going to be a bitter pill for some to swallow. How many is “some”? I don’t know. How hard will it be for Garcia to win them back? Again, I don’t know. I do know that there are two viable Democratic alternatives to Garcia, so those that do decide to carry a grudge have someplace decent to take it. This is their problem to solve, and if they haven’t given it a lot of thought then his path to City Hall is going to be rockier than they might think.

4. The one thing I do know for sure if Garcia gets in is that the current field of hopefuls – declared, soon-to-be-declared, still-thinking-about-it, and so on – will not be what we get on the ballot. Some number of current candidates – at least one – will drop out or decide not to gear up at all. There are a finite amount of resources to help a campaign, and there’s only so much to go around. Fundraising is a component of that, of course, with the proviso that the ability of some candidates to at least partially self-fund may minimize that effect, but it’s not the only one. There are only so many able and willing volunteers, and only so much support from endorsing organizations, many of which may choose to keep their powder dry until a runoff. Some number of candidates – at least one – will not be able to mount the campaign they want to mount. Those candidates will not make it to the starting line. Bank on it.

5. I am now, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, officially undecided in the Mayoral race. There are several candidates I could support. I will need to know more about what they want to do before I make any decisions.

There will be charter referenda next year

Details are pending, but one way or another we’ll get to vote on some charter changes next November.

HoustonSeal

City Council members on Thursday agreed that any city charter reforms, including changes to term limits, should go to voters in November rather than May next year, but they kicked most substantive discussion of those issues to future meetings.

Thursday marked the second charter committee meeting on possible changes, most notably switching from three two-year terms to two four-year terms and repealing a voter-imposed revenue cap. The committee’s actions have no binding power, but the goal is to come up with recommendations for which changes should go to voters.

And though Thursday’s agenda called for discussion about the proposed reforms, the meeting largely turned on the logistics of future charter meetings: how many to schedule, whether they should be held during the day or at night and if they should be conducted outside of council chambers.

Council members agreed to hold six bi-weekly meetings starting next year, to alternate meeting times between day and night and to hold them in council chambers.

[…]

Councilman C.O. Bradford, who has been pushing the charter reform conversation for months, has laid out four basic reform proposals. Councilman Michael Kubosh on Thursday tacked on another voter issue, a possible vote on a failed feeding ordinance petition he helped organize.

Bradford’s reforms, in addition to the term limits, are as follows:

  • Any item advanced by at least six council members could be placed on City Council agenda.
  • City Council could meet in executive session.
  • The city would dedicate any funds above the revenue cap (if repealed) to paying down general fund debt.

See here, here, and here for the background. The first point that needs to be made is that I don’t see a specific proposal to repeal the revenue cap. What I do see is Bradford’s “revenue cap lite” proposal, which I object to for the same reason that I object to the existing revenue cap. If the Mayor and Council choose in a given year to dedicate funds to paying down the debt, that’s fine. I have a problem with requiring them to do so, in the same way that I have a problem with requiring them to pass pointless tax cuts instead. We elect Mayors and Council members to make these decisions. If we don’t like the decisions they make, we should vote them out. That’s how this is supposed to work.

As for the term limits proposal, Campos asks why the fixation on four year terms (he has some good thoughts on the subject as well that you should read). I think the simple answer is that switching from three two year terms to two four year terms is about the most minimal change to the term limits law you can make, and as such will be the easiest change to sell to a public that has accepted term limits as the de facto standard. You know how I feel about this. I can’t see me voting for this change. I recognize that rejecting this will be seen as an affirmation of the three two year term status quo, which I don’t like either. I don’t have a good answer for that. All I can do is continue to stump for something better, which to my mind would be a combination of no term limits and some form of public financing for campaigns. And while I’m at it, I’ll write a letter to Santa Claus asking him to bring me a pony this Christmas. I figure the odds of that happening are about as good.

I have no opinion on the other items at this time. What I do have an opinion on is that if we’re going to go through this exercise, why not also include a proposal to repeal the 2001 amendment that banned domestic partner benefits for city employees? Yes, I know Mayor Parker issued an executive order extending these benefits to all legally married couples, including same sex couples, and yes I know there is litigation over that. Repealing the 2001 amendment would put her order on firmer legal ground, it would enable more employees to take advantage of this benefit, and it would remove a stain from the charter. And yes, I know that we might have to vote on a repeal referendum for the equal rights ordinance. But maybe we won’t – we should know well in advance of the August deadline for ballot items – and even if we do, why not play offense as well? I’d at least like for us to talk about it. More from Campos here.

Time for a real NDO in Houston

Bring it on.

RedEquality

Last week, San Antonio passed an ordinance protecting gay and transgendered residents and veterans from discrimination. Houston Mayor Annise Parker says that vote “upped the ante” and that Houston should follow suit.

“It is absolutely something we should do, and the majority of council members have publicly stated they are in support of a nondiscrimination ordinance,” said Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city. “But this is an issue that requires all of council to be engaged and agree it is time to move it forward. When it happens, we will do that.”

Parker’s spokeswoman Janice Evans said no action is expected before next year, and no specifics have been discussed.

City Attorney David Feldman said the wording would be tricky, given a 2001 voter-approved change to the City Charter prohibiting employees’ unmarried domestic partners – same sex and opposite sex – from receiving employment benefits.

The charter amendment also says the city cannot provide any “privilege” in employment or contracting on the basis of sexual orientation, which Feldman said has been interpreted to mean that gays could not be given preference, such as having their companies included in affirmative action contracting goals.

The charter amendment’s wording might allow a nondiscrimination ordinance to protect gays from discrimination in some areas, Feldman said, but more research is needed to be sure. Any Houston nondiscrimination measure would be odd, he said, because to comply with the charter, it would have to specify that some types of discrimination – specifically in the area of employment benefits – were allowed.

“We would have to either accommodate the prohibitions in the charter or, to effectuate it as San Antonio did, we would have to put an amendment on the ballot,” Feldman said. “The cleanest thing would be to take it the voters.”

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, a thousand times Yes. Let’s have a vote on this already. If you’ve been listening to my interviews, you’ve heard me ask all the candidates whether or not they’d support an effort to repeal that awful 2001 charter amendment, and for the most part the responses are positive. There had been some talk about putting a referendum over this on the ballot in 2012, but it never materialized. Because there were some minor charter amendments that were ratified on the 2012 ballot, the next such vote cannot take place until two years later. Since Election Day in 2012 was November 6 and Election Day 2014 will be November 4, that means the next eligible election for a charter amendment referendum would be May of 2015. I don’t know if it would be better to have it then or to wait till November of 2015, which may also feature an open-seat Mayoral race, but I firmly believe that given the relative closeness of the vote in 2001 and the changes in society and the Houston electorate since then that repealing the 2001 amendment would be a favorite. But by all means, let’s start talking about it now. Let’s make the case for repealing that discriminatory charter amendment, and for protecting the civil rights of all Houstonians. Let the haters like Dave Wilson make their case, too. The “morality” argument has basically crumbled to dust on them, and any claim on their part that they’re really nice people who just want to deny legal equality to others should be taken as the self-serving twaddle it is. So let’s get this started. I’m more than ready for it. Texpatriate, PDiddie, and Texas Leftist have more.

On African-American turnout in city elections

Bill King makes an observation about Ben Hall’s chances in the upcoming Mayoral election.

Ben Hall

When Lee Brown was elected mayor in 1997, many pundits predicted that with Houston’s growing minority community, Houston had seen its last white mayor.

That, of course, proved not to be the case as Bill White and Annise Parker defeated minority candidates in 2003 and 2009.

In each of those elections, there were credible, well-financed African-American candidates: Sylvester Turner in 2003 and Gene Locke in 2009. However, in 2003, Turner did not even make the runoff, and in 2009, Locke narrowly made the runoff and lost to Parker by a 53-47 margin.

The principal reason that Turner and Locke lost their mayoral bids was a dramatic decline in African-American turnout in city elections.

I looked at the election results in five key, predominantly African-American precincts from around the city. In the 2001 election when Brown faced a stiff challenge from Orlando Sanchez for his third term, the turnout in the general election in these five precincts averaged just less than 30 percent.

For the runoff between Brown and Sanchez, the turnout actually went up to almost 37 percent. The five precincts produced more than 5,600 votes, and Brown won more than 95 percent of those votes.

In 2003, when Bill White, Orlando Sanchez and Sylvester Turner squared off in the general election, the turnout in these precincts was about the same as the 2001 general election, but Turner got only about 80 percent of the vote compared to Brown’s 95 percent.

This was the decisive factor in Turner not making the runoff. With him eliminated, turnout in the runoff in these precincts dropped by almost half to just 17 percent.

In 2009, Locke was unable to motivate African-American turnout or rack up the margin,s that Brown achieved in 2001. In the 2009 general election and in the runoff, turnout in these precincts was only 15 percent, with Locke winning about 84 percent of the vote.

From just these five precincts, Turner got 1,650 fewer votes in 2003 than Brown did in the 2001 runoff. In the 2009 runoff, Locke got a staggering 3,300 fewer votes than Brown did in the 2001 runoff. The significance of this drop in vote totals is highlighted when you consider that Locke lost by fewer than 9,000 votes citywide.

Here’s the problem with this analysis: It assumes that the decline in African-American turnout, as epitomized by these five precincts King highlights, is independent of citywide turnout. That’s not the case, however. Consider:

2001 election – 290,556 total votes, 28.30% turnout in Harris County, Five Key Precincts turnout is “just less than 30%.

2001 runoff – 326,254 total votes, 31.23% turnout in Harris County, Five Key Precincts turnout is “almost 37%”.

2003 election – The page says 381,274 total votes, but that can’t be right since there were 298,189 Harris County votes, for 31.22% turnout. Assume it’s more like 301,000 total votes, with 31.22% Harris County turnout, Five Key Precincts turnout is “about the same as the 2001 general election”, or “just less than 30%”. Don’t you love all this precision?

2003 runoff – 220,725 total votes, Harris County turnout is 22.71%, Five Key Precincts turnout is “just 17 percent”.

2009 election – 181,659 total votes, 19.12% Harris County turnout, Five Key Precincts turnout is “only 15 percent”.

2009 runoff – 160,046 total votes, 16.48% Harris County turnout, Five Key Precincts turnout is again “only 15 percent”.

In other words, the Five Key Precincts turnout tracks the overall citywide turnout pretty closely. The question isn’t “why did African-American turnout decline so much from 2003 to 2009”, but why did overall turnout decline so much? I don’t have a good answer for that. I can say that one reason why Sylvester Turner got a lower percentage of the African-American vote is because unlike Lee Brown, he had a Democratic opponent as well as a Republican one. Maybe Ben Hall will do a better job turning out African-American voters than Gene Locke did, but to some extent that’s a function of overall turnout.

There is almost a demographic component to the decline. African-Americans, who tend to vote in higher percentages, are increasingly leaving their inner-city neighborhoods for the suburbs, just as their white counterparts did in past decades.

Pearland and several of the cities in Fort Bend County now have significant African-American populations. To some extent, the out-migration of African-Americans has been backfilled by Latinos, who so far have shown little interest in participating in city elections.

Also, when you drive through some of the historically African-American areas in the city, there is an obvious “hollowing out” of these neighborhoods. There are an estimated 8,000 abandoned homes in the city.

The vast majority of these are in historically African-American neighborhoods.

As we’ve just seen, African-American turnout is correlated to overall turnout. Beyond that, there’s a lot of anecdote and supposition but not much hard evidence. It’s true that population has declined in certain historically black neighborhoods. This is a long term trend. But that doesn’t mean that African-American population in the city of Houston as a whole is declining. According to the Census, black people were 23.7% of Houston’s population in 2010, and they were 25.3% of the population in the 2000 Census. That may sound like a steep decline, but the overall population of Houston went from 1,953,631 in 2000 to 2,099,651 in 2010, so if you do the math the black population actually went up, from 494,269 in 2000 to 497,617 in 2010. Unless you posit that black people outside the Five Key Precincts vote differently than those inside them, I think another explanation is needed.

Now, I do agree with King that Hall will need more than just African-American votes to win, and that he will need to develop another constituency, which as Campos notes they are trying to do. The question is how does he succeed where Gene Locke failed. Maybe there’s something in the numbers to suggest what that is, but if so it’s not apparent to me.

Hall is in

It’s on.

Ben Hall

Former Houston City Attorney Benjamin L. Hall III announced his candidacy for mayor Wednesday, choosing a slogan of “Hall for All!” and emphasizing his ability to unite people.

Hall said he filed a form designating a campaign treasurer late Tuesday, the first formal step in his bid to unseat Annise Parker this fall. The Rev. Bill Lawson, pastor emeritus at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, is listed as treasurer on the form, but a Hall campaign press release said former State District Judge Alvin Zimmerman also will serve as co-treasurer.

“By selecting these two pillars of our community,” Hall said in the release, “I intend to signal an aggressive intention to applaud our diversity and differences as strengths in our city and not weaknesses. United we are stronger! Our diversity is a great asset.”

[…]

In our conversation this morning, Hall stressed job creation, economic growth, international trade, and a more creative, compromise-seeking approach to the city’s pensions issues, and also emphasized that the city’s strength lies in its diversity. He said Parker’s 16-year tenure at City Hall as a council member, controller and now mayor, has produced “leadership fatigue.”

Hall said he plans announcements on international trade (“I figure a person shouldn’t just be promising things, they should try to get ahead of it, and say, ‘Well, this is what we’ve done.’”), pensions, Metro/rail and drainage in the coming months.

“This is really a world-class city, and we’re treating it as kind of nothing more than the fourth-largest city,” he said. “This city is in communication and dynamic relationships with the entire world, but we need a vision coming out of the mayor’s office that actually promotes that as a priority, as opposed to a tertiary or corollary idea.”

On pensions, Hall said Parker didn’t push aggressively for reform as controller and only recently turned her focus to the issue as mayor. He said creativity and good working relationships — which he said he had — with key legislators and local officials can solve the current disputes.

He said the city must think bigger and work on issues of greater import than how and where the hungry can be fed.

“If you ask the question, ‘In 16 years what policy has been advanced by this administration that has aggressively grown this economy?’ I think you’ll have to scratch your head a long time,” Hall said. “I’m not intent on driving a negative campaign. I just simply want to say we’re at a place of leadership fatigue, and I think that we need a fresh new look at a way forward for this city.”

We’ll see what those later announcements have to say, but for now it’s a bit unclear what Hall has in mind to do as Mayor. The thing about promising vision and fresh ideas and whatnot is that you have to actually come up with something fresh and visionary, and that’s harder than it looks. The main thing I’ll be watching for is what he has to say about pensions. Hall shouldn’t have any trouble picking up support from the firefighters, who endorsed Fernando Herrera in 2011 and who have no love at all for Mayor Parker, but given what Todd Clark and Chris Gonzales said in my interview with them, if what he’s getting at here is that he thinks he can do a better job negotiating concessions from the HFRRF than the Mayor can, well let’s just say I have my doubts. But I don’t know if he’s saying that because I don’t know yet what he is saying, so we’ll have to wait.

One more thing:

Hall initially entered the 2009 mayor’s race, but soon withdrew and threw his support behind Gene Locke (also a former City Attorney), who eventually lost to Parker in a runoff. Hall also toyed with the idea of facing Parker in 2011, but did not enter the race.

Hall may have thought about entering those two Mayoral races, but what he didn’t do in either of them was vote. In fact, he hasn’t voted in a city of Houston election since 2001. This is because he resided in Piney Point, and was registered to vote there during that time. If you’re going to complain about a lack of leadership in the city, it seems to me you should have been doing something about it, and voting is the very least you could have done.

Non-discrimination ballot referendum coming

I’ve been waiting for this.

they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights

Activists are preparing a petition to put a referendum on Houston’s November ballot, calling for a ban on discrimination against gays and permission for the city to grant health insurance benefits to the unmarried partners of city employees.

If organizers collect the 20,000 signatures needed to get it on the ballot, the measure again would take the temperature of Houstonians who have voted against both proposals in separate measures in the past 27 years and could make Houston the focus of national attention as the latest political battleground over gay rights.

“Discrimination exists everywhere. It’s really hard to determine how big the problem is,” said Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Caucus, who said he expects to submit petition language to the city secretary as early as the end of the month. A local law is necessary, Freeman said, because gays and lesbians who want to press claims of discrimination currently must undertake costly litigation in state or federal courts.

Houston voters rejected two initiatives in 1985 that would have banned discrimination against gays and lesbians in city employment. In 1998, Mayor Lee Brown issued an order banning discrimination against gay city employees. It survived a three-year legal challenge from Councilman Rob Todd.

[…]

Todd supports Freeman’s referendum.

“I believe that everyone has a right to be loved,” said Todd, a Republican. “And everyone has a right to gainful employment and to be able to support their loved ones, and if those aren’t bipartisan values, then I don’t know what is.”

The former councilman explained that his objection to Brown’s order was parliamentary – that such a change should come from the voters or Council, “not some wave of the wand by the executive branch.” Todd said he believes this referendum has a chance of passing where others have failed because of a new generation of voters, an influx of newcomers and changed attitudes among long-time Houstonians.

I got a similar response from former Council Member Todd when I asked him about it after the city of San Antonio extended domestic partnership benefits to city employees. I too believe that a referendum like this – we don’t have the exact wording yet – should have a better chance of passing than previous ones had. The 2001 charter amendment that denied domestic partner benefits in Houston received 51.52% of the vote, not an overwhelming mandate. It won’t be an easy fight, and a lot will depend on how the issue is framed and who lines up with whom, but it’s a fight worth having and a fight that needs to be won. I’m looking forward to it.

Elections from a bygone era

All through the Early Voting period, I’ve been comparing turnout this year to elections from 2005 through 2009. It’s not like we didn’t have elections in this city before then, of course. Obviously, the city now is different than it was before, and as such I don’t know how much there is to learn from turnout levels in the 1990s. But given the concerns about poor turnout that some folks have expressed, I thought I’d take a look and see what’s there.

Year: 1993

Total votes cast: 214,306. No turnout figure is cited.

Mayoral votes cast: 186,944, or 87.2% of the citywide total. Bob Lanier, running for his first re-election against a squad of no-names, set the standard by which all future Mayors will be measured by garnering 90.10% of the vote.

Controller votes cast: 178,411, or 83.3% of the citywide total. George Greanias topped the field of four with 54.43% .

At Large votes cast: Ranged from 167,057 in the 12-candidate At Large #2 race (78.0% of citywide) to 157,974 in the 14-candidate (!) At Large #3 race (73.7%). Eleanor Tinsley led the former with 47.64%, while Lloyd Kelley at 18.26% and Cynthia Canales Gorczynski at 16.97% made it to the runoff in the latter. For those of you keeping score at home, a mere 26,822 votes were enough to make it into the finals in At Large #3. The top votegetter among all Council candidates, second only to MayorBob himself overall, was none other than Sheila Jackson Lee in At Large #4, with 103,866. How do you like that? She would defeat Craig Washington in the Democratic primary for CD18 in March, 1994, so this was her last Council election.

Familiar name: Orlando Sanchez finished fifth in a field of seven for the open District C seat, with 10.36% of the vote. He’d do better in his next election.

Special circumstances: Kids! You know that Houston is world-famous for being a city with no zoning, right? Well, did you know that we actually once voted on whether or not to impose some form of zoning on ourselves? It’s true! On the ballot in 1993 was a city proposition to allow for zoning ordinances. It failed, but by less than 7000 votes out of 168,009 ballots cast. It’s too long ago for me to remember the details, and I wasn’t paying much attention to it then. But it sure is a shame that there wasn’t an Internet back then to record everyone’s breathless utterance about it, so we could see what crazytimes it was, isn’t it? (Yes, I know there actually was an Internet back then. It was a lot smaller, and most of what was there isn’t easy to find nowadays. You know what I mean.)

Year: 1995

Total votes cast: 142,117, which is given as 13.88% turnout. It’s the only turnout figure on these result pages. This implies there were 1,023,898 registered voters in Houston at the time of this election. Let’s keep that number in mind for when the turnout figures are given for this year.

Mayoral votes cast: 126,081, or 88.7% of the citywide total. MayorBob dropped to a mere 82.66%, ahead of our old friend Dave Wilson in second place with 9.05%

Controller votes cast: 108,798, or 76.6% of the citywide total. Lloyd Kelley succeeded Greanias by winning a three-way race with 53.35% of the vote.

At Large votes cast: Ranged from 87,066 (61.3% of citywide) in At Large #1, where Gracie Saenz ran unopposed, to 114,036 (80.2%) in At Large #2, where Joe Roach easily cruised past two challengers with 73.35% of the vote. And proving that more candidates does not mean more votes, the 11-candidate pileup in At Large #3 drew only 97,961 votes. Among its other contenders were Chris Bell, who finished third with 14.17%, and Griff Griffin, who came in fourth with 10.31%. Like Orlando Sanchez, the eventual winner of this seat, Bell would do better in his next election. Unlike Orlando Sanchez, Griff would not.

Familiar name: Andrew Burks eked into a runoff in a seven-candidate District E race, finishing exactly eleven votes ahead of the third place contestant, and 20 votes ahead of fourth place. This is what they’re talking about when they say every vote matters, kids. He then got skunked in the runoff, losing to Rob Todd by a 63-37 spread.

Special circumstances: None. Total dullsville. Basically, 1995 was the 2007 of the 90s.

Year: 1997

Total votes cast: 348,680, in a wild eight-way open seat Mayoral free-for-all. Here we begin to get Harris County precinct data appended to the City Secretary reports, which includes turnout for the Houston portion of Harris County. For this election, it is given as 28.20%.

Mayoral votes cast: 313,123, or 89.8% of the citywide total. I think it’s safe to say we won’t match that total this year, though it would not shock me if the Mayoral share of total turnout is comparable. In the race, Lee Brown led the way with 132,324 votes, with Rob Mosbacher joining him in the runoff with 90,320. Round One also included former Controller George Greanias, who got squeezed between constituencies and finished third, and former Council members Gracie Saenz and Helen Huey.

Controller votes cast: 259,418, or 74.4% of the citywide total. Sylvia Garcia scored a clean win over Lloyd Kelley, 55.40% to 33.50% (there were three other candidates), becoming the first of so far only two challengers to defeat a sitting incumbent since term limits were adopted in 1994. (Jean Kelley, who inherited District G from her husband John in this election, would become the other such incumbent in 1999, losing to Bert Keller.)

At Large votes cast: Ranged from 226,382 (64.9%) in the nine-person At Large #5 race, eventually won by future HCC Trustee candidate Carroll Robinson, to 250,933 (72.0%) in At Large #2, where the late Joe Roach cruised past a single opponent and collected the high vote score for the cycle, with 190,841.

Familiar name: Annise Parker, who finished second in a seven-candidate race for At Large #1, then won in the runoff.

Special circumstances: The only open seat Mayor’s race of the 90s, as Bob Lanier had ousted incumbent Kathy Whitmire in 1991, and the genesis of the term “the Greanias line” for city election wonks. And if that wasn’t enough, a charter referendum to end affirmative action, which lost 55-45, and a bunch of bond referenda. Yeah, there were a few things pushing people to the polls that year.

Year: 1999

Total votes cast: 268,109. Turnout for the Houston portion of Harris County is given as 21.57%.

Mayoral votes cast: 206,778, or 77.1% of the citywide total. This was the infamous election in which one-term incumbent Mayor Lee Brown received only 67.29% of the vote against two no-chance opponents, Jack Terence (23.16%) and Outlaw Josey Wales, IV (9.55%, and no, I’m not kidding about the name), thus setting up the narrative that he was vulnerable to a challenge for 2001, and giving too many political pundits with too much time on their hands something to point to a decade hence.

Controller votes cast: 150,385, or 56.1% of the citywide total. Sylvia Garcia, having established herself as the first challenger to defeat an incumbent in the term limits era, established the tradiion of uncontested Controller races after that.

At Large votes cast: Two uncontested seats (#s 4 and 5, Chris Bell and Carroll Robinson), received 141,489 and 142,022 votes, respectively, each less than 53% of the citywide total. Three contested races had totals ranging from 174,774 (65.2%) in the 11-candidate At Large #2 race, in which Gordon Quan would go on to defeat Dwight Boykins in the runoff to 179,095 (66.8%) in At Large #3, where Orlando Sanchez won a 54-46 re-election against Andrew Burks, which somehow did not create a narrative that he too was electorally vulnerable.

Familiar name: Have I not given enough already? All right, Toni Lawrence made the first of two unsuccessful attempts to defeat Bruce Tatro in District A. She didn’t run in the open seat race in 1997 (Tatro defeated our old buddy Dave Wilson in the runoff), and eventually won the seat after Tatro got termed out.

Special circumstances: Four more city referenda, of which the one “relating to residency of elected officers” received the highest vote total of 194,543, which as you can see easily exceeded every city race other than the Mayoral. The other three ranged from 174,654 to 185,971 votes. As with the zoning referendum of 1993, I have no memory of what these were about, but they clearly helped drive turnout.

What do we learn from this? Well, other than the fact that certain characters have been recurring in our elections for a long time, it seems to me that a charter amendment is a pretty good way to drive turnout. Note how great the falloff is from the city vote totals to those of individual races, a factor that I have to believe is related to some people showing up only for the referenda. As such, I think that while we are correct to lament low turnout in city races, we should be careful about comparing our current elections to those of the 1990s, when turnout was superficially pretty high. Perhaps if the red light camera referendum had been on the 2009 ballot, or on this one, we’d be having a very different conversation about the turnout levels. Just something to think about. Hope you enjoyed this trip down somewhat-cloudy-memory lane.

Chron overview of the Mayor’s race

For the Sunday that is the last day before the start of early voting, the Chron brings us their overview of the Mayor’s race. And a theme we’ve seen expressed once or twice before.

Political analysts predict Mayor Annise Parker has a virtual lock on a second term, but she still has a lot at stake in next month’s election.

Winning isn’t enough, the experts say. She needs to win big to head off a challenge in 2013 and to give her a stronger hand with the City Council.

[…]

Too slim a majority in November, some observers say, could encourage a stronger challenge two years from now.

Lobbyist and blogger Robert Miller points to former Mayor Lee Brown, who in 1999 won re-election to a second term with just 67 percent of the vote against two largely unknown candidates.

As a result, Brown drew a stronger challenge in 2001 and was forced into a run-off to win re-election.

sigh I think I have a pretty good idea now how Leibniz must have felt. Maybe I need to register as a lobbyist.

Anyway. With the possible exception of what some of the other, minor characters in this race have to say, there’s probably not much in there that you didn’t already know. My interview with Mayor Parker is here, and my interview with Fernando Herrera is here.

San Antonio City Council extends domestic partnership benefits to city employees

Good for them.

On Thursday, words like “abomination,” “sin” and “Satan” were commonplace in City Council chambers as the audience weighed in on a tiny portion of San Antonio’s $2.2 billion budget.

The council listened to three hours of public comment on an estimated $300,000 line item that will extend benefits to domestic partners — both same-sex and opposite-sex — of city employees. The cost represents 0.014 percent of the city’s total annual spending, but it was such a controversial item that the council discussed almost nothing else.

The City Council adopted a budget that keeps the property tax rate steady and invests in Mayor Julián Castro’s long-range plan, SA2020. But council members Elisa Chan, Carlton Soules and David Medina dissented, breaking a years-long trend of unanimous budget approvals, because the budget included domestic-partners benefits.

The council voted 8-3 to approve the budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.

[…]

Despite the heated rhetoric, Councilman Diego Bernal said San Antonio is full of good people, and the 2012 budget reflects that. Aside from the necessities — infrastructure projects, public safety, economic development and other items — the budget “reflects the goodness in charity and respect and fairness of the people who live here,” he said.

It provides food for the hungry, assistance for poor women and children, shelter for the ill and real, meaningful services for the homeless, he said.

“The budget also contains a provision that treats a small faction of our city employees the same as all our other employees. I believe the budget reflects the values and charity and goodwill of the city.”

[…]

Councilman Rey Saldaña, who came out in strong support, said he felt like the provision had been adequately discussed and said his vote for domestic partner benefits was to send a message of respect and of support for equal rights.

Saldaña said he had no intention of trying to sway opinions.

“My job, however, is to do what I truly and deeply believe is in the best interest of the city,” he said. “And I truly and deeply believe we need to give our employees what they need to be successful. That being the case, my vote is to take care of people.”

BOR has more on this. I’m proud of the Alamo City, Mayor Castro, and each of the Council members that voted for this budget. You done good. Equality Texas has more.

I wish I could say that they were joining the city of Houston in promoting justice and fairness in this regard, but alas I cannot. To its credit, our City Council did pass an anti-discrimination ordinance that extended domestic partner benefits to city employees back in 2001, but unfortunately it was overturned by charter amendment referendum later that year. I don’t know about anyone else, but I for one am ready to revisit that fight. Our city needs to catch up to its sister to the west and do what’s right for its employees.

As I was looking for information about Houston’s experience with domestic partner benefits, I came across some familiar names in the articles I found, including then-Council Member Annise Parker, who led the charge for the ordinance that was eventually invalidated by the referendum; hatemeister Dave Wilson, who spearheaded the petition drive for the referendum; and former Council Member Rob Todd, who was one of the leading opponents of the ordinance on Council; it was his 1998 injunction against Mayor Lee Brown’s executive order implementing domestic partner benefits that led to the need for an ordinance in the first place. I’m Facebook friends with Todd, and I was curious what his reaction to the San Antonio news would be, so I contacted him to ask. He told me that as best he could recall, his main objection back then was being able to verify who was really a long-term partner for someone who wasn’t married to that person and who wasn’t. He says he’d have similar concerns now, but “People have more options now. You can get married in other states now, for example. Other cities have done this, and they’ve found ways to make it work – I’m sure we’d be able to figure it out. And I’ve come to the realization that treating all employees equally is the right thing to do. I think the city would be more accepting of it now, too. I believe a referendum to repeal the one from 2001 would pass. I’d vote for it if it were on the ballot. I’d put a sign in my yard, and I’d tell my friends to vote for it, too.” As would I. I hope we both get the chance to do all that soon.

UPDATE: Concerned Citizens has a good rundown of the Council discussion on this.

The 70 Percent Solution

Where have I heard this before?

November’s election really is about 2013, said lawyer, lobbyist and blogger Robert Miller. He speculates that the mayor needs to win big against low-profile opponents in November to discourage stronger candidates from running against her as she seeks a final term in 2013.

“If she looks weak, blood attracts sharks into the water,” Miller said.

Bill White and Bob Lanier never had a close call in their re-elections. But Lee Brown’s 67 percent of the vote in 1999 against weak candidates, by Miller’s thinking, attracted strong enough opposition two years later that Brown was forced into a runoff to keep his office.

Sounds familiar, but I just can’t quite place it.

You get the point. I still believe the true consensus among the “chattering class of political insiders” won’t be truly set in stone till the election results are in, but it never hurts to get out in front of these things.

Finance reports and the Mayor’s race

Finance report updates: David Robinson has filed his corrected report, which includes the $53,095.57 cash on hand total that was omitted in the original. There were no other changes made. Mayoral candidate Kevin Simms has now filed his report. He lists $4,033.83 in contributions, $2,873.79 in expenses, and $1,160.04 on hand. Interestingly, he also lists those same contribution and expense totals in the “contribs/expenses of less than $50” spaces, even though 15 of his 45 contributions were for $100 or more, and every single one of his expenses was $60 or more. I guess the purpose of those spaces wasn’t clear to him.

At this point, the candidates of whom I am aware that have not filed finance reports yet are:

Scott Boates, At Large #1
Michael Williams, At Large #2
Griff Griffin, At Large #2
Joe Edmonds, At Large #5
Alvin Byrd, District B
Kenneth Perkins, District B
Bryan Smart, District B
Randy Locke, District C
Otis Jordan, District K

I should note that there actually is a filing listed for Byrd on the city’s CFR website. It is signed by someone named Hubert Hines, and is otherwise completely blank. (Go here, click the first Search button with all fields blank – you will then see all filings for 2011. Go to page 6 to see Byrd’s.) I will continue to monitor for late filings.

Meanwhile, the Chron writes about the Mayor’s fundraising and the status of her race.

By this time two years ago, the four major candidates in the race to succeed the termed-out Bill White were months into their campaigns and had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars each. The only announced challenger to Parker this year who filed a finance report by Friday, Deputy Fire Chief Fernando Herrera, has $3,334 in his account.

Anyone considering a run against Parker also has to reckon with a history that indicates she still can raise more money if she needs to. In 2009, without the advantage of incumbency or even perceived front-runner status for most of the campaign, Parker collected more than $3 million from contributors.

“I think everyone knows if she wants to raise more money, she can,” said political strategist Dan McClung.

[…]

About the only way a serious challenger could emerge at this point, [political consultant Marc Campos] said, is with his or her own money.

But [Craig Varoga, a Washington, D.C.-based political consultant who ran the campaigns of former mayors Bob Lanier and Lee Brown] doubted that even a self-funded challenger could gain much on Parker.

“No one can raise $2 million in the next three months. Anyone who is not a self-funder will wait two years and see how the mayor looks at that time. A self-funder would run the risk of reminding voters that he or she has buckets of dough while everyone else in the world is struggling,” Varoga said.

I agree with most of this, but I disagree that anyone who might think about challenging the Mayor will wait two years before taking action. They’ll simply wait to see how Parker does in November. Like all three of her predecessors in the term-limits era, Parker is running against non-entities for her first re-election. Two of those prior Mayors, Lanier and Bill White, cruised easily with around 90% of the vote, and had a similarly smooth ride for their second re-election. Brown, on the other hand, received only 67% of the vote against his two no-name foes, and was immediately seen as vulnerable for 2001; serious opposition, from Council Members Orlando Sanchez and Chris Bell, subsequently ensued.

So I believe that Parker’s 2013 opposition will be based, at least in part, on how she is perceived to have done this year by that standard. If the conventional wisdom says that she beat expectations, she’s less likely to face a real opponent in 2013. If not, you can expect someone, quite possibly more than one someone, to start campaigning against her fairly quickly.

What is the threshold she must achieve in order to meet or exceed expectations? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. That will be determined by the local political hive mind after the election. It’s going to be a function of gut reaction more than anything else, so there’s no point trying to assign a number to it. Assuming that nobody else does join the race – there’s still several weeks till the filing deadline, after all – Parker will be graded by a standard that won’t be determined until after she takes the test. That’s just the way it is.

May elections

As we know, the Lege passed a bill that would have the effect of moving the date for primary runoffs into May. This is causing heartburn for cities like Austin that hold their municipal elections in May of even numbered years.

The proposal would give U.S. troops deployed overseas more time to receive and mail back their ballots in party primary elections. The change is mandated by a federal law passed in 2009 .

But in a sort of domino effect, Texas would wind up holding more elections in May than some counties can handle, said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir , who is legislative liaison for the County and District Clerks Association of Texas.

In the case of Travis County, DeBeauvoir said, her office could not run Austin’s May 2012 election.

“There wouldn’t be much of a choice,” DeBeauvoir said. “We do not have the time and resources to run the city’s election and satisfy the new requirements for the state primaries.”

That would probably force Austin to move the May 2012 election to November. Voters usually have to approve such a change, but the legislation allows the City Council to make that call. City Council members up for re-election in May, in addition to Leffingwell, are Sheryl Cole, Mike Martinez and Bill Spelman.

[…]

Austin and many other Texas cities hold municipal and school board elections in May to ensure they aren’t lost amid the higher-profile state and federal races.

For the past 30 years, only about 35,000 or so people have voted consistently in Austin city elections, even as the city’s population has swelled, said Peck Young, a longtime Austin political observer. Turnout is now abysmal, with somewhere between 7 percent and 13 percent of the registered voters showing up to the polls. Energized neighborhood groups, environmental activists and some Democratic clubs hold outsize influence. Slightly more than 7 percent of Austin’s registered voters cast ballots in this year’s May election.

A November 2012 election, by contrast, would be paired with a presidential contest and state races. If history is any guide, it would draw a much larger pool of voters, including the younger ones who turned out in force for Barack Obama in 2008, Republicans eager to vote against Obama and casual voters who don’t pay close attention to city politics.

In 2008, 65 percent of the city’s registered voters cast ballots.

“Austin is still going to be a very blue city,” political consultant Mark Littlefield said. “What changes is that a few small but politically important groups that are very influential in May may be somewhat less so in November. They’re still important, but not the be-all, end-all. Who that change favors, I’m not sure.”

Young said a November election would be decided by voters who don’t pay attention to city issues.

“Judging by the turnout in local elections, most people in Austin don’t know or care who’s on the City Council,” he said. “If the candidates don’t have high enough name ID — and I think only the mayor might, because of the media attention — this becomes the electoral equivalent of throwing darts. Holding the election in November is the stupidest idea I’ve heard this year, and it shouldn’t happen because we’re too cheap to fund elections.”

For comparison purposes, here are turnout numbers for Houston elections in recent years:

2001 general – 28.3%
2001 runoff – 31.5%
2003 general – 31.2%
2003 runoff – 22.7%
2005 general – 19.6%
2005 runoff – 4.0%
2007 general – 13.5%
2007 runoff – 2.7%
2009 general – 19.1%
2009 runoff – 16.5%

Outside of the 2005 and 2007 runoffs, which had no Mayoral races and only a few Council contests, our turnout is considerably better. The 2005 election had no Mayoral race, but that was the year that the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment was on the ballot. Both the 2007 and 2009 elections were considered to be disappointing for turnout. All a matter of perspective, obviously.

I was going to ask why not move Austin’s elections to odd numbered years, like Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas (among others) have, but Austin City Council members serve three-year terms. I believe Fort Worth has the same issue. Given that, I don’t know what the best answer is. I’m just glad we don’t have to deal with that here.

The Mayor and the firefighters

Despite the tone of this, I wouldn’t make too much of it.

While looking for tens of millions of dollars through a combination of cuts, deferrals, savings and fee hikes, Mayor Annise Parker repeatedly has identified the Houston Fire Department as one of the largest of budget bogeymen.

Whether describing an intransigent pension board, a union rejecting attempts to reduce overtime or the department’s overspending, Parker frequently has criticized the representatives of men and women who generally enjoy a public image as heroes and lifesavers.

Last week, her ongoing public sparring with firefighters culminated in a series of statements that painted the union and pension board as impediments to solving the city’s budget problems. When announcing a deal with the union to defer termination pay to save 238 firefighters’ jobs in fiscal year 2012, she told the media that she had been “stood up” by the union president who had been expected to show and play nice for the cameras.

The next day, she announced a deal with the police pension board to defer $17 million in pension payments. She contrasted their cooperation with the firefighters’ pension board’s rejection — and “not very politely” — of a similar deal. Last Thursday, even as she gloated a bit about the labor deal she had struck with the firefighters just 10 minutes before she was to send out layoff notices, she lashed the department for busting its budget year after year.

She made a point of mentioning that the only person calling for a tax increase this year was firefighter union chief Jeff Caynon.

“The mayor’s administration has been hostile to firefighters from Day One,” Caynon said. “There’s no question that if you asked the average firefighter on the street, they would tell you that they think the mayor hates firefighters.”

Now, the mayor needs those firefighters to ratify the labor agreement. If they reject it, they blow a $12 million hole in her budget just as her $1.8 billion plan goes before City Council for adoption.

It’s true that the Mayor and the firefighters, who of course endorsed Gene Locke in 2009, don’t exactly see eye to eye. It’s just that it’s not particularly remarkable that this is the case. The story notes that Kathy Whitmire had a contentious relationship with the firefighters, but there’s still more than that. The firefighters endorsed Orlando Sanchez over Lee Brown in 2001, and while I don’t recall them butting heads with Bill White, they endorsed Rick Perry for Governor last year, so draw your own conclusions. Seems to me this is pretty much par for the course. As for the deal that the union will have to vote on, the question is simple: Do they think they can do better if they turn this one down? I have no idea. Everything else is a political calculation. Neil has more.

Runoff EV wrapup

The final tally is in, and after 13,534 in person votes were cast today, a total of 66,909 have been counted so far. This compares to 80,516 early votes for the November election.

Except it doesn’t, since that total represents all of Harris County. In reality, 62,641 early in person and mail ballots were cast in the Mayor’s race last month. But the total for the runoff is an overstatement as well, since West U Bellaire has a runoff going, too. Going by the Johnston report, a hair over 95% of the ballots through Thursday were actually City of Houston. Assuming that same ratio holds for today, I calculate 63,600 early votes for the municipal races. Which is to say, not much difference.

So the question at this point is whether you believe the ratio of early votes in the runoff will be less than, the same as, or greater than the ratio from the general election. As we know, 35% of all votes in November were cast before Election Day. For the last three municipal elections, this is how the ratios compare:

2003 Nov = 25% early
2003 Dec = 36% early

2005 Nov = 27% early
2005 Dec = 37% early

2007 Nov = 30% early
2007 Dec = 46% early

If this year holds to pattern, something like 45% of the vote has already been cast, which pegs us at a total city turnout of about 141,000. I think that’s a little low, but it wouldn’t shock me. If we get the same proportion of Election Day voters this month as we did last month, we’ll have about the same number of total voters. I think that’s less likely, but it wouldn’t shock me, either. I do think it’s unlikely we’ll get much more than that, however.

You may ask, What about 2001, the last time there was an African-American candidate in the runoff? Unfortunately, I can’t tell you. The County Clerk’s elections results page has the November election result, which shows that a mere 20% of the vote was cast early, but for reasons unclear the December result is unavailable there. I’ve put in an inquiry, since the Houston City Secretary’s page only has the final number, without the early/election day breakdown; I’ll post something when and if I get the data. I suppose it’s possible that there could be a surge in African-American voters on Saturday as there was eight years ago to keep Lee Brown in office. I don’t see any evidence of it in the early voting numbers, but it could happen.

Anyway, that’s what the numbers suggest to me. What do you think the final tally will be?

UPDATE: Bellaire, not West U, has a runoff going. My apologies for the confusion, and my thanks to Corbett Parker, who is actually running in one of those Bellaire runoffs, for the correction.

Council turnover

One underappreciated aspect of this year’s election is that we may wind up with more than two new At Large City Council members. We started with two open seats, and with incumbents Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones in runoffs, the possibility exists that we could have as many as four freshman members in January. This would be a first for Houston, at least in the term limits era. Since 1997, here are all of the newly-elected Council members for that year:

1997 – Annise Parker (1), Carroll Robinson (5)
1999 – Gordon Quan (2)
2001 – Shelley Sekula Rodriguez/Gibbs (3), Michael Berry (4)
2003 – Mark Ellis (1), Ronald Green (4)
2005 – Peter Brown (1), Sue Lovell (2)
2007 – Melissa Noriega (3), Jolanda Jones (5)

There actually was a third new Council member in 1997, but not in November. John Peavy won a special election in January of 1995 to replace Sheila Jackson Lee in At Large #4 after she was elected to Congress. After he won re-election that November, he announced in 1996 that he was stepping down. Chris Bell then won a special election in January, and won election to a full term that November. His seat came open in 2001 when he ran for Mayor (Orlando Sanchez, who had been the incumbent in At Large #3, was first elected in 1995 and thus was term limited out that year.) Michael Berry, who won #4 in 2001, briefly ran for Mayor in 2003, and when he pulled back from that he filed instead for At Large #5; I forget what the reasoning behind that was. As such, there were technically three open seats in 2003, but only because of Berry’s seat shifting. Besides, Mark Ellis had been a two-term incumbent in District F before winning a final term in Council as the At Large #1 member, so even if one of Berry or Shelley Sekula now-Gibbs, who nipped Peter Brown in a runoff for her first re-election, had been beaten, there still would have been only two truly new At Large members.

This year, we will have new At Large members CO Bradford and the winner of the Stephen Costello/Karen Derr runoff. I think Sue Lovell will win easily enough in #2, but Jolanda Jones has a tough race on her hands, and may well lose. If either one does lose, then we’ll have the unprecedented situation of three or more new At Large members, and in a year with a new Mayor and a new Controller. I’m thinking the first few Council meetings would be a lot of fun under those conditions.

One other thing to consider in the event we do have three or four new At Large members is that there would not be an open seat until 2013, when Melissa Noriega gets term limited. I would think that a Council Member Andrew Burks or a Council Member Jack Christie would be wise to prepare for a strong challenge from somebody in 2011, for two reasons. One is that those with ambitions for Council aren’t going to want to wait that long. The pent-up demand for an open Council seat by then would surely lead to a ginormous field, in which even a good candidate’s chances would be a pure crapshoot. Seems to me you’d get better odds taking on a freshman incumbent in 2011, in what could be a straight up two-person race. And two, the political establishment might well view Burks and/or Christie as flukes whose victories said more about their opponents than themselves. I believe the likelihood of that is greater if the turnout for the runoff is low. The same could happen to Bradford or Costello/Derr, of course, but I’d expect Burks or Christie to be a more inviting target.

Anyway. Just something I’ve been thinking about. What do you think?

UPDATE: Forgot to include Jolanda Jones as a new Member in 2007. Whether she wins or loses, the only seat that would be open in 2011 is Sue Lovell’s seat, assuming Lovell wins. If Lovell wins and Jones loses, we have one open seat in 2011 and one in 2013, then three in 2015. If Lovell loses and Jones wins, we have no open seats in 2011, two in 2013, and three in 2015. If both lose, no open seats in 2011, one in 2013, and four in 2015. I should have been more clear about that. Also, as noted by Jennifer in the comments, we will have two new District Council seats in 2011, which may provide an outlet for some of those who would otherwise run At Large if there’s a paucity of those seats available.

Comparing Controller’s races

In 2009, we have a Controller’s race that features an At Large Council member, a Council member from a high-turnout, mostly white district, and Council member from a low-turnout, mostly non-white district. In 2003, we had a Controller’s race that featured an At Large Council member, a Council member from a high-turnout, mostly white district, and Council member from a low-turnout, mostly non-white district. I thought it might be interesting, if not necessarily instructive, to compare the races and see if we can learn anything. Here’s the data:

Year Candidate Votes Pct ================================= 1997 Tatro 6,449 23.19 1997 Parker 47,841 20.25 97 Runoff Tatro 15,739 56.25 97 Runoff Parker 139,787 57.45 1999 Tatro 12,349 57.64 1999 Parker 112,470 63.23 1999 Vasquez 5,418 36.70 99 Runoff Vasquez 4,055 60.59 2001 Tatro 15,811 56.52 2001 Parker 112,153 50.66 2001 Vasquez 11,248 100.00 2003 Tatro 52,258 20.40 2003 Parker 106,441 41.54 2003 Vasquez 30,319 11.83 2003 Holm 11,172 35.37 2003 Khan 4,096 37.55 2003 Green 53,163 31.20 03 Runoff Holm 18,411 50.04 03 Runoff Khan 6,889 53.31 03 Runoff Green 98,464 52.21 2005 Holm 22,500 100.00 2005 Khan 7,019 69.22 2005 Green 123,254 100.00 2007 Holm 14,733 100.00 2007 Khan 4,662 100.00 2007 Green 82,417 100.00

Couple points of interest. The 2009 Controller’s race has just the three term-limited Council members in it. The 2003 race had three other candidates – Gabe Vasquez, who as you can see was not term-limited that year, actually finished fourth, behind Mark Lee. Both Ronald Green and Annise Parker finished second in their initial races, then went on to win in the runoff. Parker had two opponents in 2001.

As for what it all means, well, the parallels are obvious, but I would not draw too much from them. Parker had a fair amount of money in 2003, more than Green has now, and she had three competitive elections going into her Controller’s race, where Green had only the first one. Tatro had money in 2003, but Holm and Khan have more. They’ve run aggressive campaigns, while Green has, um, not. Green and his tax issues have also presented a large target for his opponents, at which Pam Holm has gleefully aimed, with mailers, press releases, challenges to appear on the radio with her, and so forth. I don’t know who’s behind that robocall that trashes Green over this, but I’ve heard from a lot of people that have received it. And MJ Khan is out there, too, spending over $300K on TV, which is something Gabe Vasquez never did. This is just a very different race. I could try to come up with some mathematical relationship between all the numbers involved, beyond what you can plainly see, but I wouldn’t believe any of it. Consider them for entertainment purposes only.

Gay rights support in Houston

  • Good news.

    [A]ccording to the latest Houston Area Survey, fewer than half of Harris County residents believe homosexuality is morally wrong, 61 percent believe it’s an innate characteristic rather than a lifestyle choice, and 43 percent believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual ones — up from 32 percent just two years ago.

    Every measure of support for gay rights has increased significantly in recent years, said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who has directed the annual survey since 1982.

    He attributed the change partly to changing individual attitudes, but mostly to the emergence of a new generation that grew up amid positive images of gay men and lesbians who no longer felt the need to conceal their sexual orientation.

    Younger respondents to the survey, Klineberg said, were more likely to believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual unions, to support allowing gays and lesbians to be school teachers, and to say they had a close personal friend who was gay or lesbian.

    Anglo voters over 60 were most likely to oppose increased rights for gays, Klineberg said.

    That’s basically in line with polling data all around the country. Slowly but inexorably, the bulk of the people who think homosexuality is wrong are dying off, and they’re being replaced by a generation that knows better. Great for the country, not so good for the Republican Party. I figure the GOP will eventually adapt. If not, their ultimate demise will have been well earned.

    Note, by the way, that Kilneberg’s survey covers all of Harris County. The City of Houston is surely more liberal than the county as a whole.

    Ray Hill, a Houston gay activist, said he vividly remembers the disappointment felt in his community on the night of Jan. 19, 1985, when Houston voters overturned the anti-discrimination ordinance by a margin of greater than 4-1.

    Hill said gays and lesbians drove the change in attitudes by coming out of hiding, allowing heterosexuals to see how they could contribute to families and communities.

    “It’s not about what they think about us, it’s about what we think about us,” Hill said. “There is almost no reason in the world for anyone to be closeted any more.”

    I had the opportunity a few months back at a panel discussion to ask Ray Hill when there would be an effort launched to try to undo City Charter Amendment 2 from 2001, which denies health care and other employment benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city employees and which passed by a narrow 51.5 to 48.5 margin (PDF) at the time. He said the votes were there now to do it, and I have to agree. We’re likely still a decade or so away from attitudes being sufficiently different in Texas as a whole, but we’ll get there. Time is on our side.

  • Candidate interview: Yolanda Navarro Flores

    Next up in the District H special election interview series is Yolanda Navarro Flores. As far as I know, she is the only candidate to have been elected to public office before – she served one term in the Lege in HD148 from 1993-95 (she then ran for the open SD06 seat in the Democratic primary in 1994 and lost in a runoff to Sen. Mario Gallegos); she is also the HCC Trustee from District I and Vice Chair of the Board, a position to which she was first elected in 2001. Flores is a resident of Lindale. My interview with her is here. As always, please let me know what you think.

    On a side note, please be aware that the location for tomorrow night’s candidate forum has been changed to the HCDP headquarters, 1445 North Loop West, Suite 110, which is just east of Ella. Hope you can make it to this event.

    PREVIOUSLY:

    Rick Rodriguez