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Election 2003

2017 EV daily report: Just remember, the reports we get are all of Harris County

Here are today’s numbers, and here are the daily totals from previous years:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

And here’s a select comparison:


Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
=======================================
2017   11,953   7,513   19,466   19,581
2015   36,322  19,789   56,111   42,520
2011   10,818   3,823   14,641   13,697
2007    8,080   3,126   11,206   12,775

So 2011 appears to be the closest comparison so far. That might imply a much higher level of turnout than what I’ve been suggesting, but I’m not prepared to believe that yet. The main reason for this is that less than 40% of the vote was cast early in 2011, and I seriously doubt that’s what we’re going to get this time. Odd year elections skew more towards Election Day and less towards early voting than even year elections – in 2015, just over half of the vote was cast early – but I think this year we will see a higher percentage of the vote cast early. The message from the County Clerk is to take advantage of the early voting period because a number of polling sites are unavailable thanks to Harvey, and I think people will heed that. We’ll take our guesses about that later in the EV period, but for now just keep that in mind. 2017 may be a bit ahead of 2011 in early voting, but I suspect that’s because more people will be voting early than usual.

It should also be noted that these reports encompass all of Harris County, so some of those numbers above are not for Houston or HISD. I’ve gone through this exercise before, but let’s review the percentage of county turnout that was in Houston in these elections:


Year   Harris  Houston   Share
==============================
2015  421,460  268,872   63.8%
2013  260,437  174,620   67.0%
2011  164,971  121,468   73.6%
2009  257,312  178,777   69.5%
2007  193,945  123,413   63.6%
2005  332,154  189,046   56.9%
2003  374,459  298,110   79.6%

“Share” is just simply the percentage of the county vote that came from Houston. There’s a big span here, but that comes with an asterisk, because the conditions were not the same each year. For example, in 2015 and 2007, Harris County had bond elections in addition to the state constitutional amendments. In 2005, the notorious state anti-gay marriage referendum was on the ballot, which coupled with a non-competitive Mayoral election meant a much larger county share. Finally, in 2003 there was the Metro referendum, which covered all of the county. There were also no state constitutional amendments on the ballot, as those had been voted on in September, to enhance the odds of the tort “reform” amendment passing.

Bottom line, with boring constitutional amendments on the ballot, I’d suggest that county/city ratio will be like the other years, which is to say between 67 and 73 percent. Let’s say 70%, just to split the difference. That’s another thing we’ll have to take into account when we do our projections later on.

Help Metro figure out its Regional Transit Plan

Here’s your chance to get involved and shape the direction of transit in the greater Houston area going forward.

What is your vision for transit service in the Greater Houston region?

METRO needs your help in creating a bold vision for the region’s transit network. METRO’s Board of Directors, led by Chair Carrin Patman, is developing a new plan for transit services in the Houston region. We intend to focus on providing more transportation choices to more people, and it is critical that we get your input.

The Regional Transit Plan will build on the foundation laid by METRO Solutions, the long-range transit plan approved by voters in 2003. METRO Solutions laid out a vision for the future transit system that included light rail, an expanded local bus system, new commuter bus facilities and much more. Since that time, METRO has been working to deliver that plan.

Our transit system must help people get to where they need to go today, as well as in the future. Through this process, we will look for ways to better serve the needs of our current customers, as well as develop strategies to attract new customers to the transit system. The regional transit plan will be designed to serve area residents through 2040.

The METRO Board of Directors established the following goals and guiding principles in developing the Regional Transit Plan.

Goals

  • Improve Mobility
  • Enhance Connectivity
  • Support Vibrant Communities
  • Ensure a Return on Investment

Guiding Principles

  • Safety
  • Stewardship
  • Accessibility
  • Equity

With these thoughts in mind, we invite you to join us in developing a plan for a transit system that best serves our area’s residents, businesses and visitors.

We’re Listening

  • What kind of transit system would best serve your needs?
  • How do feel about the goals of the 2040 Regional Transit Plan?
  • If you do not use transit today, what would entice you to use it tomorrow?
  • What are three important things METRO should keep in mind as it develops the Plan?

See here, here, and here for the background, and click the link at the top for the Regional Transit Plan presentation and the link to give your feedback. Metro will be holding a series of community meetings through July and August, beginning on June 27, to solicit feedback. I and several other bloggers had the opportunity to get a preview of this earlier in the week – see Glissette Santana’s writeup in the Urban Edge blog for some of the details – and I can tell you that Metro has been thinking about and planning for a lot of possibilities. The starting point is the 2003 referendum and the unfinished business it leaves behind, and it includes rail, BRT, bus system improvements, coordination with other regional transit agencies, partnerships with rideshare services, pilot programs for automated vehicles, and more. Community input is needed both to highlight underserved areas of need and to build the political capital that will enable passage of the next referendum in 2018. Check it out, attend some meetings, and let Metro know what is important to you and for them.

Metro begins regional transportation planning

Metro wants your input.

We want to hear your ideas for a regional transit plan for the future. METRO, led by its Board of Directors and chair Carrin Patman, is developing a new plan for transit services. It will build on the foundation laid by METRO Solutions, approved by voters in 2003.

Our goals are to improve mobility, enhance connectivity, support vibrant communities and ensure a return on investment. We will be guided by these principles: safety, stewardship, accessibility and equity.

So talk to us.

What type of transit would you use? How do you feel about the goals above? If you don’t use transit today, what would convince you to use it? Can you list three important things METRO should keep top of mind as it shapes this regional plan?

Click here to learn more details. You’ll find tabs at the top of the page. One is “Share Your Vision” where you can submit your ideas online. You’ll also be able to see a presentation on our regional transit plan.

At the specified link you can give feedback, review the 2003 referendum, and read a presentation about the Regional Transit Plan. The latter is from February, and it was the first indication of the planning process, though Metro Chair Carrin Patman was talking about it well before then. The ultimate goal is for this to culminate in another referendum to specify and plan for particular projects, which may include more rail lines like the ones we voted on in 2003 but were not able to complete. Metro could aim to have something on the ballot this year, though given the likely presence of pension and revenue cap issues (and maybe another Astrodome vote), it’s not clear if they should aim for this year or next. Whatever the case, they want to hear from you, so go tell them what you want.

Metro preps regional transit plan

This could be on our November ballot as well.

A pending long-term regional transit plan, and likely voter referendum as early as November, will determine where Metro goes. More importantly, they will show what level of support people in the Houston region have for more buses, longer train routes and commuter service to increasingly urbanizing suburban communities.

What’s clear, transit officials acknowledged on Feb. 15 during their first in-depth discussion of the transit plan’s focus, is many solutions to traffic congestion will sit on transit agency shelves for years to come.

“We know we will never have enough resources to build everything,” Metro board member Christof Spieler said. “How do we choose which projects are most worthwhile?”

Board members during the discussion said a host of factors will influence transit project priorities, though the critical litmus test will be whether a project can reliably and quickly serve a large number of riders and solve a congestion challenge. Officials predict as the region grows freeways will clog even more with cars and trucks for more hours of the day. Expansion of many freeways is limited, so using the lanes more effectively or drawing people off the freeway will be critical.

“We’re all going to be more transit-dependent because we can’t spend two hours getting to work,” Metro board member Cindy Siegel said.

Transit agency staff has started compiling a list of unfinished projects, including those left over from the contentious 2003 referendum and financial commitments from an extension of Metro’s 1 percent sales tax voters approved in 2012.

Along with public input and ongoing discussions, Metro could have a draft of a regional transit plan – incorporating not only service in Metro’s area, but beyond its own boundaries – by April under an accelerated timetable.

[…]

There are options for starting major transit projects within the next five years, but they require transit officials to either come up with alternative sources of money or ask voters to approve more spending, which could mean more borrowing and new taxes or fees to pay off the debt.

Officials are exploring both options. Last year, officials approved soliciting interest from private firms for development of a train line from the Texas Medical Center to Missouri City. The line, estimated to cost at least $400 million, has political support from many Houston area federal, state and local officials. Questions related to the proposal pushed the deadline for companies to express interest in partnerships with Metro from Feb. 7 to March 20.

Metro leaders, after new board members were installed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner last year, also have said a voter referendum for more spending is likely. Transit board chairwoman Carrin Patman said the regional transit plan could lead to a vote as early as November, though the plan itself will inform what could end up in front of voters.

“It’s possible,” she said of an election in nine months. “We’ll have to see what kind of response we get to the plan and what is the best course.”

A referendum, officials said, could be approval for a single project that transit supporters consider high-priority or politically palatable. A entire suite of projects also could be put in front of voters.

See here for some background. The plan doesn’t exist yet, so it’s more than a little premature to speculate. The howling chaos in Washington doesn’t help, either. I’d prefer a bigger package to vote on than a smaller one, but a bigger one carries a lot more risk, as the opposition will be more intense. Still, we did pass the 2003 referendum against a pretty fierce and well-funded No effort, and I’d guess the Metro service area is more amenable to transit in general and rail in particular now than it was then. But even people who do support those things may vote against a referendum if they don’t think it gives them something they want. And even if Metro wants to put something up for a vote, there’s an argument to be made to wait till 2018 and do as much public engagement as possible beforehand. There’s a lot of ways this can go, so we’ll just have to see what they present when they have something to show us.

The State of Metro

Metro Chair Carrin Patman gave a “State of Metro” speech at the Greater Houston Partnership this week, and among other things she said that another referendum is in the works to finish some tasks from the 2003 vote and to address the issues we see today.

HoustonMetro

One of the projects that remains unfunded is the proposed 90A rail line that would bring commuters in from the west. And Patman says Houston still doesn’t have rail service to Bush Intercontinental and Hobby airports.

“I think there’s a lot of popular support for that,” says Patman. “Another one is some kind of connection between downtown and the Galleria.”

In her speech, Patman called for a regional plan that would link Metro’s services with other transit providers. But how much will it cost to do all this?

“Once we have the projects we want to go back with, we’ll then be able to go back with cost estimates on those and then determine from there the amount of bonding authority we need,” adds Patman.

You can see video of the speech here, and I have a copy of Chair Patman’s slideshow here; unfortunately, there is no written copy of her speech. I don’t think there’s anything in this that we didn’t already know – all of the possible rail projects are left over one way or another from 2003, though not all of them were on the referendum. The main piece of news is that the bond referendum that would be needed for any further rail construction might be next year. That would make for an interesting companion to the revenue cap-lifting proposition; at first blush, they ought to go well together, with the type of person who would vote for one probably also likely to vote for the other. It would also intensify the opposition, but I doubt there was any way around that. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. Write On Metro has more.

Coming back to the US90A rail extension

Lots of talk, and a case for action sooner rather than later.

HoustonMetro

A Metro rail extension from southern Houston to Missouri City is gaining momentum, fueled by rare near-unanimous support from local, state and federal officials who represent the area.

The hope is one day whisking commuters from Fort Bend County into the Texas Medical Center and other nearby job hotspots. But as the rail project picks up speed, a few officials worry the transit agency might get ahead of itself, to the detriment of other possible bus and rail improvements as money and resources perhaps shift to the rail line.

“I don’t know that I see it as being the next project,” said Metro board member Lisa Castaneda, who urged officials to slow down on some aspects of studying the rail link and soliciting possibilities for private investment in it.

The issue earlier this week touched off a sometimes-contentious exchange between Metropolitan Transit Authority board members, though most were supportive of moving forward with some of the rail plan. Still, even those eager to advance the line stress Metro has not made any final decisions, and still has no firm way for how to pay for the line despite vocal support from U.S. Reps. Al Green, D-Houston, and John Culberson, R-Houston.

[…]

At a Metro committee meeting last week, board members had what one called a “spirited” discussion about potential private investment in local commuter rail projects. The discussion was prompted by a request for information prepared by Metro staff, which could be circulated to gauge interest in development deals.

Metro board chairwoman Carrin Patman said while staff was authorized to release the request without board approval, she sought their input before sending it out. The action, however, was delayed when board members, primarily Castaneda, chafed at moving ahead.

While not opposed to the rail line – as it requires much more study – Castaneda balked at some of the eagerness other board members showed to press ahead and seek proposals from private developers interested in joining with Metro for a Missouri City rail line.

“I am not optimistic we are going to get a back a product that doesn’t require a lot of commitment from Metro,” she said.

Patman countered during the discussion that transit officials won’t know their options unless they explore them, especially when local elected leaders are eager to press ahead. Mayors, including those outside the Metro service area such as Stafford Mayor Leonard Scarcella, have offered full-throated support for the line for more than a decade.

“The lost capital of not doing something… is going to send I believe the wrong signal, and I believe a very costly one,” Patman said.

Green, who has committed to use his role in Congress to muster support and potentially federal money for the line, said “it is my hope that the real prospects for this continue to move forward judiciously as well as expeditiously.”

See here for some background. The main issue here is how to pay for this line, as for once there’s basically no political opposition. Metro has no more funds available from the 2003 referendum, and the short-term budget outlook is not optimal. Metro could float another bond referendum, but I can’t see them doing so until they have a full rail package put together to vote on all at once. There would likely be some federal money available for this, but that would not cover the whole thing. Metro will have to come up with something, which includes the money needed to do environmental impact statements. There’s also the question of how this would work inside Fort Bend County given that Fort Bend is not part of Metro. (Look for my interview with County Commissioner Richard Morrison next week, as this question will come up with him.) A public-private venture is certainly one option, one that we may also consider when and if a rail line connecting the proposed high speed rail terminal to downtown happens. I’d like to see this line get built – it makes a lot of sense, and we did vote for it back in 2003 – but I want it done in a way that works for Metro as well as for the potential riders. Let’s keep this moving, but don’t rush it. Get it right and go from there.

Steve Brown: Why we need the US90A rail line

(Note: From time to time I solicit guest posts on various topics, from people who have a particular interest or expertise in a particular topic. Today’s post is by Steve Brown, on the newly revived US90A commuter rail line.)

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

In May 2015, Metro began operating two light rail lines serving the East End and Southeast communities. Those routes, along with an extension of the Main St. line, were part of the 2003 Metro Solutions referendum. Included in that referendum was also a nine mile commuter line connecting Southwest Houston to Missouri City along Main/90A. Despite its bi-partisan support, that route has yet to break ground…or even clear its final environmental stage.

When the METRO Solutions referendum squeaked out a victory with 51.7% of the vote, it was the votes from Fort Bend that pushed it into the winner’s column. The METRO Solutions referendum received 66% of the Fort Bend County vote. That shouldn’t be a surprise. According to the most recent Kinder Houston Area Survey (2016), Fort Bend residents beat out Harris and Montgomery County in favoring more spending for rail and buses. That study also found that a majority of Fort Bend residents believe that the development of a much improved mass transit system is “very important.”

Fort Bend County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, and is projected to increase by 60 percent by 2035. According to METRO, 24,000 daily work trips are made along the 90A corridor between Fort Bend and the Texas Medical Center. That number is expected to jump to 32,000 by 2035. The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) also estimates that trips along US 90A to all major employment centers, such as downtown Houston, Uptown/Galleria, and Greenway Plaza in Houston will increase approximately 37 percent in that same time period. That’s why I was overjoyed to hear that METRO’s Board recently voted to submit this project to FTA for project development. The project development phase is a preliminary stage, so it doesn’t guarantee full funding.

What’s needed now is a robust strategy for the next legislative session to advocate for state funding for the 90A line, and the creation of a special district to spearhead this effort.

Under the state’s Transportation Code, the legislature can create special “Commuter Rail Districts” (CRD). These Districts have the statutory power to develop, construct, own, and operate commuter rail facilities and connect political subdivisions in the district. The Fort Bend CRD, for instance, could accept grants and loans from the federal and state government. It could also issue revenue bonds and impose taxes. This district would function as the project leader and fiscal agent in partnering with METRO, local municipalities, private investors, Fort Bend Express and other key stakeholders.

A lot has changed along Main/90A since 2003. The 90A line should definitely stop in Missouri City but it shouldn’t end there. Constellation Field in Sugar Land has become a major local attraction, and the Imperial Market development will break ground later this year. Combined, they will be a hub for Sugar Land’s retail, entertainment, residential and office growth. As such, having the 90A commuter line terminate at Imperial Market (or even the Sugar Land airport) makes a lot of sense…assuming they’re willing to coordinate with the CRD.

Additionally, Missouri City’s residential growth and development has steadily drifted towards SH6 in recent years. In addition to the 90A route, we should also examine the feasibility of having a Hillcroft spur with stops around the Fountain of Praise/Fountain Life Center, Chasewood/Briargate and traveling adjacent to the Fort Bend Tollway before terminating on SH6. Not only would that route help to spark needed economic development in key East Fort Bend communities, it would also serve commuters from Fresno, Sienna Plantation and Riverstone. This “Hillcroft Spur” could function as a Bus Rapid Transit alternative to rail, at least initially, and potentially replace the 2 METRO Park and Rides in Fort Bend.

Finally, the state legislature needs invest in urban and suburban transit. We’re not going to be able to adequately address traffic congestion in this state with more toll roads. According to the American Public Transit Association, commuter rail annually yields $5.2 billion in economic and societal benefits. Those benefits are often greater than the initial investment and include cost savings from avoided congestion, mitigation of traffic accidents and tax revenue generated. These projects are also dynamic job creators and economic development incubators.

It’s time that we get the right people at the table to brainstorm innovative mobility solutions in Fort Bend, and finally make the METRO 90A/Southwest Houston commuter line a reality.

Steve Brown is a former Chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and a past Director of Government Affairs for Metro.

Day 3 EV 2015 runoff totals

Here we go:


Date    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
11/15  27,596  18,196  45,792   41,994
12/15  35,756  22,116  57,872   39,649

EarlyVoting

The runoff numbers are here, and the final EV totals for November are here. Believe it or not, we’re almost halfway through early voting – basically, today is Hump Day for EV. After today, there are only two and a half days left, since the hours on Sunday are only one to six. Early voting has been pretty heavy, but as we’ve said before there just isn’t as much time for it to accumulate. The same is true for absentee ballots – note that only three more mail ballots have been sent out since Wednesday. The ceiling for mail ballots is going to be lower than it was in November.

It’s too early to talk turnout, but not too early to speculate about how much of the vote might be early as opposed to on Election Day. Are the early voting shares the same for runoffs as they are for November elections? Let’s take a look at some other elections:


Year    Early   E-Day   Total   Early%
======================================
2013   22,608  13,569  36,187   62.47%
2011   24,398  31,688  56,086   43.50%
2009   67,660  87,215 154,975   43.66%

Year    Early    E-Day    Total  Early%
=======================================
2003   93,868  204,242  298,110   31.5%
2009   81,516   98,261  179,777   45.3%
2011   58,345   63,123  121,468   48.0%
2013  109,370   65,250  174,620   62.6%
2015  134,105  134,767  268,872   49.9%

The first table above has the numbers for runoffs, while the last table has November numbers. I hesitate to draw any broad conclusions, since turnout in runoffs can vary greatly depending on what races there are, but the shares for the last three elections are pretty darned similar for November and December. Is that a pattern or just an oddity? Hard to say, but if it is a pattern, then we can guess that about half of the votes will show up by Tuesday. I don’t know that I’d bet my own money on that proposition, but we’ll keep it in mind. Have you voted yet?

Precinct analysis: Age ranges

Let us one more time ask the question: Just how old were the voters in our 2015 election?


Range       All    Pct
======================
18-30    21,998   8.2%
31-40    32,359  12.1%
41-50    39,074  14.6%
51-60    58,610  21.9%
61+     115,755  43.2%

vote-button

The short answer is “not as old as we’ve seen in previous elections“. That’s a high-water mark for the 30-and-under crowd, by a considerable amount, as well as a high score for the 31-to-40 consort. The 61+ group is smaller than it was in the last few elections, though of course that is relative. It’s smaller as a proportion to this electorate, but this electorate was quite large, so the over-60 share is much bigger in absolute terms than before – there were nearly as many over-60s this year as there were total voters in 2011 – even if it’s a smaller piece of the pie.

I can’t easily tell you what the average age of a Houston voter in 2015 was. I’ve heard several people cite a figure of 69 years old, which I believe comes from the KUHF/KHOU poll in October. Based on the ranges I’ve shown above, I’d guess that 69 is a little high to be the average age, but it’s probably not too far off from that. The point I’m trying to make here is that this election wasn’t driven by a frenzied turnout of senior citizens. Turnout was up across the board, and while this electorate was hardly young – less than 35% were under 50 – there was more age diversity than we have seen in the past.

Where you will legitimately find a younger electorate is in the new voters than showed up this year. Here’s that table, with the accompanying one for the set of folks who voted in all elections since 2009 following it:


Range       New    Pct
======================
18-30    17,106  16.8%
31-40    19,522  19.2%
41-50    17,889  17.6%
51-60    20,528  20.2%
61+      26,557  26.1%


Range       Old    Pct
======================
18-30       351   0.6%
31-40     2,009   3.4%
41-50     5,279   8.9%
51-60    12,233  20.5%
61+      39,766  66.7%

A majority of the new voters this year were 50 and under, with 36% being 40 and under. That’s not too shabby. As for the old reliables, here “old” is an appropriate word. If you told me the average age of this group was 69, I’d believe it. I will say, if the revised term limits ordinance stands, it’s going to be more challenging to talk about new and experienced voters in our every-four-years elections, simply because there will be so much turnover in the voting population. Under the new system – again, if it stands – the last three elections would be 2011, 2007, and 2003. Three elections from now would be 2027. Of course, with incumbents limited to two terms, maybe there will be that much more emphasis on the last election, and less on others except for open seats. Who knows? One way or another, we are headed into uncharted waters.

I hope you enjoyed this trip through the data. I may take a look at recent runoff rosters to see if there’s anything there worth writing about. Happy Thanksgiving!

Precinct analysis: Old reliables, newcomers, and everyone else

I have three more views of the 2015 electorate, now that I have a copy of the voter roster. With that, and with the past rosters that I have, I can try to paint a more detailed picture of who voted in this election, and perhaps make some comparisons to past elections. Today we’re going to look at voting history. How many voters this year were new, how many had voted in one or more recent elections, and how do those numbers compare to previous years?


Year    All 3   1and2   1and3   2and3   Just1   Just2   Just3    None
=====================================================================
2015   59,639  13,150  26,170   8,714  33,993   6,566  17,964 101,603
2013   46,582  22,044   4,721  13,148  12,239  20,690   6,046  48,662
2011   44,744   9,706  15,360   4,302  15,559   2,830   5,394  19,927
2009   55,117   5,818  22,122  25,227  10,907   7,684  20,218  38,755

vote-button

Let me translate what those column headers mean. “All 3” is the number of people in that election who had voted in each of the three prior city elections. For the year 2015, that means the number of people who had voted in 2013, 2011, and 2009. For 2013, that means the number of people who had voted in 2011, 2009, and 2007. I trust you get the idea for 2011 and 2009; I have rosters going back to 2003, so that’s as far back as I can do this exercise. These are your old reliable voters – year in and year out, they show up and vote.

The next six columns specify one or more of these prior elections. A 1 refers to the election immediately before, a 2 refers to the election before that – i.e., two elections before – and a 3 is for three elections before. Again, for 2015, those elections are 2013 (“1”), 2011 (“2”), and 2009 (“3”). Thus, the column “1and2” means all the people who voted in 2013 and 2011, but not 2009. “1and3” means means all the people who voted in 2013 and 2009, but not 2011. “2and3” means all the people who voted in 2011 and 2009, but not 2013. Along similar lines, “Just1” means all the people who voted in 2013 but not 2011 or 2009, and so forth. Substitute other years as appropriate, and you’ve got it. Lastly, “None” means the people who had voted in none of the past three elections. These are your new voters.

I presume I don’t have to tell you that 2015 was indeed an outlier in this regard. We knew going in that years with high profile referenda have higher turnout than other years, and that’s what happened here. In addition, you have to remember that “high turnout” is a relative thing. Turnout for the Harris County portion of the city of Houston was 268,872, which is more than any odd-year election since 2003, but pales in comparison to the turnouts of recent even years in which city props have been on the ballot. In 2010, for example, 389,428 voters came out in the Harris County part of Houston – 40.9% turnout – with 343,481 casting a vote on the red light camera referendum. In 2012, for the four bond items and two charter amendments up for a vote, there were 565,741 voters, with as many as 435,836 ballots cast. Point being, there are a lot of even-year city voters. Some number of them decided to vote this year as well. I’m not in a position to quantify it further than that, but at a guess based on the other years, I’d say 30 to 50 thousand of those 101,603 were true newbies, while the rest had some prior voting history in Harris County. As we’ve discussed before, new people move in all the time, and some other people become newly eligible due to turning 18 or becoming citizens. If and when I get more details on that, I’ll be sure to share them.

Here’s another way of looking at the data: The proportion of each class of voter for these elections.


Year   All 3   2 of 3   1 of 3   0 of 3
=======================================
2015   22.3%    17.9%    21.9%    37.9%
2013   26.8%    22.9%    22.4%    27.9%
2011   38.0%    24.9%    20.2%    16.9%
2009   29.7%    28.6%    20.9%    20.9%

“2 of 3” and “1 of 3″ refers to voters who had voted in two of the previous three elections, and one of the previous three elections, respectively. Again, the share of new voters this year was clearly higher than in other years. It’s no surprise that the share of new voters was so low in 2011. It was a low turnout year – just over 117,000 voters in total – so you’d expect that a large majority of them would be the regulars. By the same token, the old reliable share this year was lower than usual, for the same reason. I’m fascinated by how stable the 1 of 3” share was across the four races. As we saw in the table at the top, the one prior election in question can be any of the three predecessors. It’s not just folks who’d been new the year before. That number is directly affected by the turnout levels of the election in question and the one before it.

So that’s our first look at this data. I don’t have any broad conclusions to draw here, I just find this stuff amazing. Who would have guessed that over 2,800 people who voted in the low-turnout 2011 election had also voted in the low-turnout 2007 election, but not the higher-turnout 2009 or 2005 elections? Well, now you know. I’ll have more tomorrow.

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.

Precinct analysis: Mayor’s race

I now have draft canvasses. You know what that means. All data is for Harris County only. First up, the Mayor’s race:


Dist  Hall  Turner  Garcia    King Costello    Bell
===================================================
A    1,906   4,587   3,509   6,265    1,522   1,129
B    2,494  15,947   2,159     459      259     277
C    2,575  10,951   6,804  12,121    4,894   7,451
D    4,060  17,033   2,637   1,571      702   1,022
E    3,409   4,258   4,831  15,228    2,122   1,745
F    1,189   3,297   2,561   2,428      820     574
G    3,017   5,036   4,076  20,042    4,040   2,787
H    1,194   4,721   7,145   1,585      810   1,119
I    1,237   3,717   6,114   1,327      650     796
J      902   2,151   1,900   1,810      594     598
K    2,777   9,912   2,922   3,022    1,097   1,806
						
A    9.80%  23.58%  18.04%  32.20%    7.82%   5.80%
B   11.38%  72.75%   9.85%   2.09%    1.18%   1.26%
C    5.64%  24.00%  14.91%  26.56%   10.73%  16.33%
D   14.66%  61.50%   9.52%   5.67%    2.53%   3.69%
E   10.56%  13.19%  14.96%  47.17%    6.57%   5.41%
F    9.79%  27.14%  21.08%  19.99%    6.75%   4.73%
G    7.60%  12.68%  10.27%  50.48%   10.18%   7.02%
H    7.06%  27.93%  42.27%   9.38%    4.79%   6.62%
I    8.65%  25.98%  42.73%   9.28%    4.54%   5.56%
J   10.67%  25.45%  22.48%  21.41%    7.03%   7.07%
K   12.57%  44.87%  13.23%  13.68%    4.97%   8.18%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The seven other candidates combined for 2.57% of the vote, so for the sake of space and my sanity, I’m omitting them from these tables, but I will say a few words about them here. Hoc Thai Nguyen, who had the seventh-highest vote total, scored 6.60% of the vote in District F, and 3.02% in J, the two most Asian-heavy parts of town. As it happens, F (1.93%) and J (1.15%) were Marty McVey’s two best districts, too. Nguyen also broke out of the square root club (*) in A (1.01%) and I (1.08%). No other candidate reached 1% in any district. Demetria Smith, who ran for District D in 2013, came closest with 0.93% of the vote in D. At the bottom of the ladder were Joe Ferreira (240 votes) and Dale Steffes (302), but it was Steffes who had the worst performance in any district. Nearly half of his votes (143 of them) came in District G, and he collected all of 2 votes in J and 3 votes in B. Ferreira got 7 votes in B, but made it to double digits everywhere else. Neither he nor Rafael Munoz made it to triple digits in any district, however. I guarantee, this is the kind of analysis you won’t see anywhere else.

The conventional wisdom on Sylvester Turner is that he needed to broaden his appeal beyond African-American voters, who were expected to strongly support his candidacy. He certainly received their strong support, as the results in B and D attest. Turner also finished first in districts F, J, and K, and finished second in A, C, G, H, and I. That looks pretty reasonably broad to me. If you’re alarmed by him finishing behind King in C, I would simply note that there do exist Republicans in District C, and C was where both Chris Bell and Steve Costello had their strongest showings. I feel confident saying that much of that vote will transfer to Turner. Ben Hall didn’t dent Turner’s support in B and D; given that plenty of anti-HERO voters also supported Turner, it seems likely to me that he will pick up a fair bit of Hall’s support. And perhaps with some help from Adrian Garcia’s endorsement, Turner ought to do well in H and I. None of this is guaranteed, of course. People do actually have to come out and vote, and if there’s any sense of inevitability that might make some people think they needn’t bother to show up. For what it’s worth, I get the sense from too much Facebook reading that plenty of disappointed HERO supporters are not depressed but angry, and that they know their best chance of a second shot at an equal rights ordinance is with Mayor Turner, not Mayor King. I think they’ll show up. Runoff early voting starts December 2, so we’ll know soon enough.

A word about Garcia before I move on: If every single voter in H and I had voted for him, his Harris County total would have been 62,623. If you then subtract the votes Bill King got in H and I from his total, he’d be left with 62,954. Garcia gained a net 267 votes on King in Fort Bend and lost a net 26 votes in Montgomery, so when you add it all up, he’d still have been out of the money. Now I know that H and I aren’t solely made up of Latinos – hell, I live in H, and I’m almost as white as King – and there are plenty of Latino voters in other districts. There could also have been higher turnout in these districts; both were under the overall average. My point in using this bit of shorthand is to say that it was really Garcia who needed to broaden his support, and to that end his biggest problem was other Democrats, not any anti-HERO surge. I think Garcia was handicapped by his late entry into the race, much as Sylvester Turner was by his late entry into the 2003 Mayor’s race. By the time Turner jumped in, after the legislative session, Bill White had locked up a significant amount of support from Democratic voters, including a non-trivial number of black Democrats. By the time Garcia got in, he had to ask a lot of people to reconsider the decision they’d already made about whom to support for Mayor in order to ask them to support him. That’s a much harder thing to do. He had his reasons for getting in so late, and it’s always easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I’m just saying the reasons why Garcia isn’t in the runoff go beyond simply counting the number of Latinos that voted.

And while we’re still talking about broadening appeal, there’s Bill King. Look at those numbers above. King did very well in E and G, fairly well in A, C, F, and J, and not so well anywhere else, including below-the-Hoc-Thai-Nguyen-in-F-line finishes in B and D. Where does King turn to sufficiently improve his performance in the runoff to have a shot at it? I feel like the basic model for this is Jack Christie’s runoff win against Jolanda Jones in 2011, which is to say broaden his appeal outside of his Republican base, maximize those votes, and limit Turner to his own base in B and D. Easier said than done, but it has been done. It’s been suggested to me that a factor that may have driven turnout at least as much as the HERO vote was Republican voters in the city having a real choice for Mayor for the first time since 2003. There may be something to that, but if so I’d note as before that King received just 30,000 more votes than Roy Morales did in 2009, which receiving 33,000 fewer votes than Orlando Sanchez did in 2003. Make of that what you will. King ought to have room to boost Republican turnout in the runoff – Republicans have a few candidates they might like to support elsewhere on the runoff ballot as well – but I don’t think that gets him over the line on its own. I think he can’t win unless he can take some votes away from Turner. How he might do that, I assume we’ll find out.

I’ve got more of these to do over the course of the week. Remember again, these are draft canvasses, so no overseas or provisional ballots, and these numbers are all Harris County only. If you like seeing pretty pictures instead of numbers, these two Chron stories ought to have what you want. Let me know if you have any questions about this. I’ll have the next post up tomorrow.

(*) This is an old Rice joke. The “square root club” referred to anyone for whom the square root of their GPA was higher than their actual GPA. This is a geeky way of saying “less than 1.0”, which for these purposes means “less than 1.00 percent”.

Lawsuit against Uptown line dismissed

We haven’t heard the last of this, of that you can be certain.

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a dedicated bus lane project in Houston’s Uptown area, but the ruling is not a final resolution of the dispute.

State District Judge Brent Gamble on Thursday dismissed the lawsuit filed by Cosmopolitan Condominium Owners Association against the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The dismissal did not specify why the lawsuit should not go forward, although Gamble indicated previously that unresolved questions made the lawsuit premature.

Both sides, however, said they viewed the dismissal as a step in their favor.

“It is my hope that now people will come together to make this the best project it can be,” said Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia.

Jim Scarborough, a Cosmopolitan resident and leader of the opposition to the bus lanes, said critics would have preferred that the judge halt the project. However, he said, the dismissal paves the way for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office to determine if another challenge is valid.

Because Metro’s 2003 referendum authorized the transit agency to build light rail rather than buses along Post Oak, opponents have challenged the use of Metro funds for the project. Paxton’s office was asked by State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, to determine if the project violates what voters approved.

“We are pushing forward to the AG’s opinion,” Scarborough said. “There is no doubt in terms of our opinion what he is going to say.”

The dismissal by Judge Gamble received the case after another judge recused herself because of contact with a Metro lobbyist, is unlikely to end the opposition. Because Metro’s 2003 referendum called for light rail rather than buses along Post Oak, opponents have challenged the use of Metro funds for the project. That question has been posed to Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has not issued an opinion yet on the matter.

See here and here for the background. Judge Gamble received the case after another judge recused herself because of contact with a Metro lobbyist, which just adds a touch of absurdity to the whole thing. The irony of using the ballot language from 2003 to force the construction of light rail is not lost on me. Does Rep. Culberson know about this? I can’t figure out if this tactic makes the people behind this more clever than I might have thought, or just less subtle. I mean, we have all noticed that Metro isn’t actually paying for this construction, right? I don’t know why the 2003 referendum would even apply here, but then I’m not a super-genius like Andy Taylor, so what do I know? We’ll get that AG ruling in a few months, and one way or the other I expect we’ll wind up back in court. According to the story, the Uptown Management District hopes to have a contractor named by February; utility work along Post Oak began earlier this year and technical design of the bus lanes is expected within 60 days. Time is getting short to stop this.

Day 12 EV 2015 totals: Final turnout projections

The last day was another big one:


Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
=======================================
2015  164,104  29,859  193,963   43,280
2013   87,944  21,426  109,370   30,572

The running 2015 totals are here, the full 2013 totals are here, and for completeness the full 2009 totals are here. Before I go on, let me note that the numbers noted in the Chron story I blogged about on Friday were completely bogus. I have no idea where Mike Morris came up with them. Here’s a more accurate rendition, which please note reflects Harris County only:


Year     Early    E-Day    Total   Early%
=========================================
2003    83,225  214,885  298,110    27.9%
2005    49,889  139,157  189,046    26.4%
2007    36,707   86,703  123,410    29.7%
2009    62,428  116,349  178,777    34.9%
2011    46,446   75,022  121,468    38.2%
2013    80,437   94,183  174,620    46.1%

2010   215,884  173,194  329,428    55.4%
2012   364,272  212,277  576,549    63.2%

I threw in 2005 and 2007 so we could see the trend. Morris’ overall totals were correct, but the way he apportioned mail, early in person, and Election Day subtotals was off the rails for some reason. I also included the two even years, both of which featured city of Houston ballot propositions, as a further point of comparison and to emphasize that there really is a lot of room for behavior shifting. My guess is that about 60% of all ballots have been cast as of now. Assuming about 140,000 of the early votes from Harris and elsewhere are Houston voters, that suggests a final city turnout of about 233,000. That’s in line with what the paid professionals are saying.

EarlyVoting

Political scientists projected between 220,000 and 250,000 city voters will head to the polls by election night’s close, up from more than 178,000 in 2009, the last time there was an open-seat mayor’s race.

Friday marked the close of two weeks of early voting in Harris County.

Early turnout was particularly strong in African American and conservative areas, political scientists said, a boon to Houston mayoral candidates Sylvester Turner and Bill King.

“I think Sylvester could get close to 30 percent of the vote,” Rice University political scientist Bob Stein said, noting that turnout by district so far “clearly advantages somebody like Bill King” for the second spot in a likely December runoff.

If those voting patterns continue through Election Day, the city’s equal rights ordinance, dubbed HERO, also is expected to face a tough road to passage.

“This may spell doom or defeat for the HERO ordinance,” TSU political scientist Michael Adams said, noting that turnout has been comparatively low among traditionally progressive inner-loop Anglo voters.

Citing a TSU analysis, Adams said about 53 percent of early city voters through Thursday were white, 28.5 percent were African American, 11.5 percent were Hispanic and 4 percent were Asian.

He also estimated that approximately 56 percent were Democrats, while 44 percent were Republicans.

As of September, more than two million Harris County residents were eligible to vote on Nov. 3, with more than 978,000 of them residing in Houston, according to the Harris County Clerk’s office.

The share of votes cast early or by mail in recent mayoral races has increased steadily, from 28 percent in 2003, to 46 percent in 2013.

These figures do not include the handful of city precincts outside of Harris County.

Though some have speculated that this year’s spike in early voting could portend low turnout on Election Day, Stein said he expects about half of those who cast a ballot will head to the polls on Tuesday.

I think it’s going to be a bit less than half, but we’ll see. I’ll spare you another discussion of the prospects for HERO, I’ll just note that the world is watching, so it would be nice for us to not look bad. I’ll also note again the overwhelming support for HERO from the business community, which 1) suggests that perhaps Republican voter support for HERO is being underestimated, and 2) suggests again that business leaders who have been supporting politicians like Dan Patrick and others who oppose so many of their interests really ought to rethink that. As for the effect on the Mayor’s race, put me donw for being slightly skeptical that robust Republican turnout necessarily benefits Bill King. Republicans are far from unanimous in their preference, and I’m not convinced that King has that much name recognition, especially with the less-frequent city voters. I’m not saying he won’t do well, just that it’s hardly a guarantee. Along these same lines, the effect of higher than usual turnout on the other citywide races, for Controller and At Large Council seats, is very much an open question. What do voters do when they don’t know the candidates, as will often be the case in these races, since it costs a lot of money to really get your name out there? I suspect that more than the usual number will skip these races – undervotes in the 30% range or higher, perhaps – and some will pick a name that sounds familiar to them. What effect that will have is anyone’s guess, but if there’s a goofy result or two, don’t be shocked.

Day 11 EV 2015 totals: So what do we think turnout will be, anyway?

One more day of early voting to go:


Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
=======================================
2015  128,611  27,952  156,563   43,280
2013   68,803  20,491   89,294   30,572

The running 2015 totals are here, the full 2013 totals are here, and for completeness the full 2009 totals are here. As noted yesterday, we have exceeded the 2013 early voting totals for Harris County as of Tuesday, and are up about 75% overall. How big is this thing going to get? Mike Morris takes a stab at it:

With two days of early voting left, Houston voters already have outpaced total votes cast in the November 2011 election. Are we on pace for a huge spike in turnout this fall?

Not necessarily.

As the chart shows, the city has seen a steady increase in the share of votes being cast early, as more Houstonians figure out that it’s easier to go to any of the open locations and often avoid a line than it is to vote at your assigned polling place on Election Day with all of your neighbors.

From 2003 forward, the share of votes cast early has steadily risen from less than one-third to nearly two-thirds during the last cycle in 2013.

[…]

It’s not really my job to guess, but political scientists have been estimating that this year’s turnout could fall between 180,000 and 240,000. With the early votes likely to come in today and tomorrow, that would track with a continuing share of people voting early.

I will note, however, that at this point if we only see 180,000 total votes (as we did in 2009) that will mean almost no one shows up on Tuesday, so expect a higher number than that.

Most observers have assumed a higher turnout is bad news for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, as city progressives already vote in high numbers. Thus, the next level of analysis is to see which early voting locations have seen spikes in turnout.

Actually, the next level is to get the daily rosters and figure it out at a more granular level, since as Morris notes you can’t go by EV locations except as a fairly rough estimate. Fortunately, Greg has done this work, and you should go look at his post. I’m going to take his main chart and add a little something to it:

============================================== Neighborhood 15EVTO% 13EVTO% 13TO% 13EV% ============================================== African-American Neighborhoods ---------------------------------------------- Southside AfrAm 9.7% 9.3% 18.9% 49.2% Northwest AfrAm 12.4% 9.6% 18.1% 53.0% Fifth Ward 8.9% 7.4% 16.2% 45.7% Hiram Clarke 10.2% 9.0% 17.8% 50.6% Hispanic/Latino Neighborhoods ---------------------------------------------- Lindale 8.7% 7.2% 16.4% 43.9% East End 6.2% 6.3% 15.2% 41.4% Anglo GOP Neighborhoods ---------------------------------------------- Kingwood 18.7% 11.8% 22.5% 52.4% Clear Lake 12.3% 11.6% 24.3% 47.7% West 14.3% 11.8% 27.1% 43.5% Anglo Dem/Swing Neighborhoods ---------------------------------------------- Sharpstown 9.9% 9.3% 19.9% 46.7% Meyerland 10.6% 12.5% 34.6% 36.1% Heights - C 9.0% 8.8% 25.3% 34.8% Montrose 12.3% 11.5% 27.6% 41.7%

My addition is that last column, which shows how much of the total vote in these locations (see Greg’s post for the exact precincts in question) comes early. For whatever the reason, the Heights and Meyerland seem to like voting on Election Day, or at least they did in 2013; in a subsequent post, Greg suggests Meyerland’s 2013 performance may have been an outlier. Regardless, this is especially noteworthy when you consider how much of the overall vote in 2013 came early. Here’s a look at that trend, based on the chart in Morris’ story:


Year    Early    E-Day    Total  Early%
=======================================
2003   93,868  204,242  298,110   31.5%
2009   81,516   98,261  179,777   45.3%
2011   58,345   63,123  121,468   48.0%
2013  109,370   65,250  174,620   62.6%

One of those things is not like the others. Certainly, as Morris says, some people will vote on Election Day. Let’s guess that the early vote total, which includes absentee ballots, is between 65 and 70% of the final amount. I’ll run some number for that after all of early voting is done, but whatever reasonable figure you choose, turnout will be up by some amount. What does this mean for HERO? The third level of analysis would be to look at voting history, and to focus on the people who don’t have any history of voting in city elections. Those folks can be broken into two groups. The first group is those with no voting history at all. They will predominantly be new arrivals to Harris County, with a few people who are newly of age and a few others who for whatever the reason had not been registered before. In the absence of any polling data specifically on that type of new voter, I’m not going to guess what their HERO preference may be. The second group is those that have voted in even year elections, but not odd year elections. These are the people who have come out specifically for this election, and it’s fair to say that HERO is the most likely reason for that. One may then reasonably guess based on where they live and what other elections they have voted in which way they probably lean. How many of these people are there? I have no idea, but I’m certain that the various campaigns do. You want to get a sense of how the wind is blowing, that’s where you should put up your weather vane.

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.

Endorsement watch: Going for Turner

The Chronicle endorses Sylvester Turner for Mayor.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Because there is no perfect candidate on the ballot, voters should look for someone who has the talents best suited to fixing the problems that currently threaten Houston’s long-term success: Sylvester Turner.

For the past six years, Houston has been well led by Annise Parker’s competent hand. But being right on the issues only gets you part way there. Politics isn’t just about policy – it is about people. Turner, more than any other candidate, grasps this reality.

How can you defend a long-term Rebuild Houston plan if Houstonians still are hitting potholes? What’s the point of a pension solution if you can’t get it passed in Austin? How can people feel safe when police don’t respond to routine property crimes?

As Turner told the editorial board, “people want to see improvements now.”

The technically correct answer of a well-informed policy wonk is little solace if you’re dealing with a busted tire or burgled car. Houstonians need to know that their city is working for them today.

[…]

On pensions, Turner goes beyond the other candidates by calling for comprehensive reform of the city’s finances. Every time Parker hit firefighters on pensions, they seemed to push back just as hard. At this point, it is difficult to see how Steve Costello or Bill King would be more successful. Instead, Turner wants to bring everyone to the table so that folks don’t feel like they’re being turned into a target.

He attempted that strategy during the last legislative session by backing a deal that would lower the city’s payments in the short-term but raise the long-term liability. When he met with the editorial board, Turner said the failed bill was supposed to serve as a stop-gap to help bridge the city’s continuing budget crisis while getting both sides talking. We opposed the plan then and we’re still skeptical now. However, as someone with support from the city’s three key public unions, Turner is well prepared to bring consensus to a pension solution that closes annual funding gaps and pays down the city’s liabilities.

We can only guess what political machinations led the city’s three key public unions to endorse Turner before meeting with any other candidate. And time has obscured the scandals that bogged down Turner during his last two mayoral campaigns. Despite all the baggage that comes with a long-time legislator, Turner still stands as the candidate best suited for City Hall.

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia entered the race with high hopes. He had served on City Council, had the executive experience of the sheriff’s department and routinely demonstrated a sharp policy focus with his mental health advocacy. However, Garcia stumbled on the campaign trail, routinely answering deep questions with shallow responses. Reports of deaths, violence and ignored whistleblowers at the county jail also undermine his record as chief law enforcement officer.

Councilman Steve Costello similarly provides a balance of political service, executive experience and policy chops. His engineer’s mentality can be a welcome presence around the horseshoe, but his technocratic style, so much like Mayor Parker, will mean more of the same if he’s elected mayor. Houston needs a new operating style at City Hall and Costello can’t promise that.

Of all the other candidates, Bill King provides the sharpest critique and greatest insight into the way our city is run. He’s traveled across the city, and written dozens of Chronicle columns, arguing about how Houston’s problems stem from a failure of management. His advocacy for better organization within City Hall, and focus on measurable results, is reminiscent of former mayor Bill White’s first campaign. However, as mayor he would be the antithesis of Turner when it comes to uniting people around a cause. It isn’t enough to be right – you also have to get the votes. Nevertheless, any future mayor would be wise to give King a seat at the table.

I predicted a Costello endorsement, predicated in part on him and the Chron being in sync on pension issues, so this is all a bit surprising to me. I’m not exactly sure what caused the Chron to change their tune on the issue, but if Turner was able to persuade them that his way really is the better way, then there clearly is something to the logic that he’s better positioned to get something passed in Austin, and as such the endorsement follows. The bit about Costello’s style being too much like Mayor Parker’s is reminiscent of the discussion that often accompanies a change of coach or manager in professional sports. It’s not just about drawing up the plays or juggling the rotation, it’s about tone and approach and so on. Say what you want about Gary Kubiak and Bill O’Brien, they are very different personalities, and going from one to the other is as much a part of the process as any other consideration. We do that in politics, too, when other factors like competence and qualifications are basically equal.

Anyway. I know the Chron endorsed Bill White back in 2003, and I’d bet a dollar or two that they went with Bob Lanier in 1991, so at least on this score the third time was the charm for Turner. My interview with Turner is published today, and interviews with the rest of the field will run through next Monday, so you can hear what they have to say for themselves if you haven’t attended any of the nine million or so candidate forums. However one feels about the slate of candidates and the state of the race, there’s more than enough information out there to help one make an informed choice.

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.

Chron Mayoral profile: Adrian Garcia

Here’s the third in a series of profiles on the top candidates running for mayor in Houston, in this case on Adrian Garcia.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

The youngest of six children born to poor Mexican immigrants could soon occupy the mayor’s office of the nation’s fourth largest city – an unlikely success story that started in a tattered neighborhood on the near north side with a hand-me-down childhood in which English was a second language.

In truth, of course, the 54-year-old Garcia has already defied expectations. He did that when he retired from the police department and was elected to Houston City Council in 2003. On the surface, such a move seemed a Herculean jump for someone without money, political capital, or high-voltage connections. But the personable ex-cop who had worked the streets for decades knew everybody who was anybody, and many who weren’t, in his lifelong turf of District H.

Four years later came another huge leap. As 2008 dawned, the administration of Sheriff Tommy Thomas was on the verge of imploding, with allegations of ethical lapses, an embarrassing lawsuit that cost the county millions, and a controversy regarding racist and sexist emails. Garcia remembered reading an article about inmates dying in custody and thought he could do better.

He had never thought of a countywide office and was far from sure he could win. He knew he would be outspent and that he might struggle for support outside of Houston proper.

Once more fortune smiled. For the first time ever, the unions representing deputies pulled their support of the incumbent and backed him. With Barack Obama sweeping into office and carrying Democrats everywhere with him, Garcia was a shoo-in. He trounced Thomas to become Harris County’s first Latino sheriff, then easily won re-election in 2012.

Now he is hoping to be the “first Latino to …” once again. And true to form, it appears his timing – some might call it luck – could not be better. There is no incumbent in the non-partisan race, and Garcia’s six mayoral rivals do not include a major political or business figure. His fundraising totals have been impressive.

This is one of those rare times where I might have liked to have seen a ton of quotes from the various pundits, politicos, and self-styled experts in this town as a major part of the story. Garcia, more than any other candidate, has big positives and big negatives. He has indeed raised a crap-ton of money from a broad and diverse group of donors. Having been elected twice countywide in Presidential years and serving as Sheriff for seven years, he has more name recognition than any other candidate, and for sure has had more people vote for him in an election than anyone else on the ballot. He does have the “first Latino to…” historic potential, which gives him a clear edge among one bloc of voters and which may help entice low-propensity voters to come out. Against that, there are real questions about his qualifications and his record as Sheriff. A lot of Democrats are pissed at him for resigning and handing the job to a Republican, who has already undone several of Garcia’s accomplishments and generally been a big step backwards from our perspective. Immigration activists have been fiercely critical of Garcia for his support of 287g and Secure Communities, which could blunt any enthusiasm for him in the Latino community. I don’t know how to evaluate all these things – I can take my guesses, but who knows? I often don’t see a lot of value in news stories that are mostly the talk of professional talkers, but this is one of those times where I’d have liked to have read as many opinions as could be stuffed into one article, just to see what I could glean from it. It’s nice to know more of his personal story – having met Garcia back in 2003 when he first ran for District H, I knew some of it but not all of it – but the story of his Mayoral candidacy remains mysterious to me.

Who are the city voters?

vote-button

Everybody knows that city of Houston elections are fairly low-turnout affairs. The general perception – and it’s one that I’ve echoed as well – is that the elections are dominated by the same voters, year after year.

What I haven’t seen are the numbers to back up those assertions. With all that’s on the line in this year’s election, I thought this might be a good time to try and figure some of this stuff out. So I got the election files from the Harris County Clerk for all of the odd-numbered years going back to 2003, and played around with them to see what I could learn.

Now, we know that the bulk of Houston voters are in Harris County, but not all of them. There are a couple of thousand voters in Fort Bend County, and a couple of dozen voters in Montgomery County. I didn’t try to get the data for these voters in these elections. They represent maybe two percent of the total each year, and I just didn’t feel like the effort to include that data was worthwhile. So when you see me tossing around total turnout numbers in this post, bear in mind I’m talking about Harris County turnout for the city of Houston.

The first question I wanted to answer was “Who are the truly hardcore voters in Houston, the ones who come out every election without fail?” My sense going into this was that there might be fewer of these people than one might think. The answer is that 36,036 City of Houston voters have participated in every November election since 2003. That’s 20.7% of the 174,132 Harris County voters who cast a ballot in Houston in 2013.

I don’t know what kind of number I was expecting, but I wasn’t terribly surprised by this. Houston is a dynamic city. People move in and move out, sometimes to or from the suburbs in Harris County and elsewhere, sometimes to and from other cities or states, or countries. We have a significant population of children, and some of them turn 18 every year. We also have an electorate that skews old – more on that in the next post from this series – and every year some of them age out, which is the poli-sci way of saying “die”. A lot of this can and will happen over a ten-year span. The total number of voters in a given year may reliably be in a narrow band, but the names do indeed change over time.

What about the short term? The gold standard for voters to contact for candidate outreach is those who have voted in at least two of the last three elections. How many potential voters does that rule out, given what we now know about the amount of turnover in the electorate? Consider the 2013 election, which had a near identical voter total as the open 2009 election. 54,708 of 174,132 voters in 2013 had not voted in either of the 2011 or 2009 elections. That’s 31.4% of the total. The two-out-of-threes are a clear majority, but that’s still an awful lot of votes to leave on the table if you don’t try to find them.

This isn’t new. In 2009, 63,164 voters had not participated in 2003 – this is 36.1% of the 175,031 total voters. 58,973 2009 voters – 33.7% – had not voted in either 2005 or 2007. I feel pretty confident saying that when we look back on the 2015 election, we will find that something like 35% of the electorate was “new”. Given the past pattern of turnout being higher in years with high-profile referenda on the ballot, that’s likely to be an understatement.

Who are these “new” voters? As I’ve said before, some of them are new to Houston, and some of them are newly registered. Some of them have been here all along, and just hadn’t had a reason to come out to the ballot box before. How many of each there are, I couldn’t say. I can say that a candidate or campaign that isn’t trying to find and engage these voters is missing a significant opportunity. Especially in a year like this, that’s not a good idea.

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.

Mayoral finance reports: PACs and consultants

Let’s take a deeper dive into Mayoral candidate fundraising by examining one of the main categories of raised funds, and one of the main categories of spent funds. I speak of PAC money for the former, and consultant fees/staff salaries for the other. Here’s how much each candidate raised in PAC funds in their July report:

Candidate PAC $ Total $ PAC % ========================================= Turner 127,650 747,793 17.1% Costello 124,500 1,276,281 9.8% Garcia 87,150 1,441,792 6.0% King 41,000 721,250 5.7% Bell 5,500 366,770 1.5% McVey 3,000 43,927 6.8% Hall 0 69,025 0.0%

As a reminder, you can see all the finance reports that have been submitted on my Election 2015 page. I considered any contributor identified as a PAC or a business of some kind to be a “PAC” for these purposes. If you want to be technical, I’m adding up the contributions that didn’t come from individuals or couples. I also did not include in kind contributions in these totals. For most candidates, I found the value represented in the “Total $” column on the new Subtotals page, which is the modification to the forms that caused all of the trouble this cycle. Ben Hall, of course, didn’t bother with that page, and also included the $850,000 he loaned himself in his “Total Political Contributions” entry. His form was pretty short and it was easy enough to sort it out. Steve Costello’s total above is lower than what you’ll find on his report. This is because he contributed $175K to his campaign – it was reported as a contribution, not a loan – and his PAC donated an additional $10K. For the purposes of this post, I excluded them from his total amount, and didn’t add the PAC contribution to the “PAC $” figure. Sylvester Turner definitely gets the benefit of being a long-term office holder. We’ll see other effects of that in subsequent reports. I expect Adrian Garcia will pull in more PAC money for the 30 day report. As impressive as his haul is, he’s still catching up in some ways.

Now let’s look at the other side of the ledger:

Candidate Salary $ Consult $ Sum $ Raised Pct ========================================================== King 67,289 306,400 373,689 721,250 51.8% Turner 131,192 224,000 355,192 747,793 47.5% Costello 120,932 181,800 302,732 1,276,281 23.7% Bell 102,226 30,350 132,576 366,770 36.1% Garcia 52,427 31,300 83,727 1,441,792 5.8% McVey 60,500 9,000 69,500 43,927 158.2% Hall 0 24,200 24,200 69,025 35.1%

There are two basic categories of paying for people to do stuff – “Salaries/Wages/Contract Labor” and “Consulting”. I added all of the former to “Salary $”, and I also included anything classified as health insurance for staffers and payroll taxes. I did not include fees paid to payroll management services like ADI, because I’m just obstreperous like that. Here you can see the advantage of Adrian Garcia’s late entry into the race – unlike several of his competitors, he hasn’t been paying for staffers and consultants since January. Bill King raised a decent amount of money, but man that’s a big burn rate. If he’s going to hire all those people and run an air campaign, he’s going to have to keep writing checks to himself. Turner’s burn rate is almost as high, but he started out with (and still has) a lot of cash, and his strategy seems to be more targeted, and thus less likely to run into five- and six-figure media buys. Costello spent almost as much as those two did on people, but his much bigger haul gives him a lot of cushion. Bell is going to need to figure out how to run a lean and cost-effective campaign, because he’s not living in the same ZIP code as those four. While multiple candidates are doing at least some self-financing, Marty McVey shows what the edge case for that looks like. He literally wouldn’t have a campaign without his own money, and he still has plenty of it to spend. It will be interesting to see what he does with it. As for Ben Hall, all I will say is that he paid $12,500 to the Hall Law Firm for legal expenses. Hey, if you want something done right, you do it yourself, amirite?

In the next entry in this series, I’ll take another look at where all this money is coming from. You’re not at all wrong to think we’re swimming in it in a way that we weren’t in 2009 or 2003.

Mayoral ad spending

The Chron takes a look at one of the more visible aspects of all the money that Mayoral candidates have raised or loaned themselves so far.

BagOfMoney

Despite taking in a total of more than $7 million, Houston’s mayoral candidates spent relatively little on advertising in the first half of the year, paving the way for an onslaught of messaging in the closing months of the campaign.

In general, less-known candidates – such as City Councilman Steve Costello and former mayor of Kemah Bill King – poured more money into advertising, including pricey TV spots, to introduce themselves to the public.

Meanwhile, those with strong name identification with voters – such as former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and state Rep. Sylvester Turner – spent less on advertising or targeted their efforts at the voters most likely to support them.

Though it will be months before it is clear whether either strategy worked, the numbers from the mayoral hopefuls’ first round of campaign disclosures provide an early indication of how the race is shaping up.

King allocated more than $191,000 to advertising, nearly as much as the rest of the field combined, while Costello spent about $66,000, more than a third of which went toward online campaigns and $37,000 for video and associated production costs.

I haven’t seen a single TV ad yet. For what it’s worth, I think that unless you’re going to carpet-bomb the airwaves a la Bill White in 2003 or (to a lesser extent) Peter Brown in 2009, early TV ad spending won’t have much effect. The main problem with TV ads is that they’re written on water – if your target audience isn’t watching at the right time, it’s on and gone. On the other hand, I can’t visit a webpage anywhere these days without seeing a Bill King ad, as it was for me with Annise Parker in 2013. I am, to put it mildly, unlikely to base my vote on Internet advertising, but at least he’s out there in a tangible way.

The rest of the story is about the so-far lower-cost advertising efforts by other candidates. You can scan the finance reports yourself if you are a crazy person like me have the time, but there’s not that much to see there on this front as yet. One thing I’ll say is that these efforts are either to boost name recognition or to remind certain groups that a particular person is running. The target is the 180,000 to 200,000 people that everyone knows will show up to vote in November.

There are many people who vote in Houston in even-numbered years but generally not in these odd-numbered municipal election years. For example, there were 398,337 votes cast in the city of Houston in 2010, including 350,000 in the red light cameras referendum and 340,000 in Renew Houston. There were 590,566 votes in Houston in 2012, with vote totals ranging from 417,000 to 446,000 for various charter amendments and bond referendums. I don’t think traditional city election advertising, whether on TV, radio, the Internet, or in newspapers, is geared to or noticed by these larger groups. These folks, I suspect, need to be informed that there is an election, that they have a stake in it, and that there’s a candidate that might appeal to them. I suspect as well that more direct contact – door knocking, phone calls made by actual people, that sort of thing – is the key to getting their votes.

Every candidate wants to get as many votes as they can from that core 180 to 200 thousand group, since they each represent a vote that would then not be going to their opponents, but at least some of these candidates need to tap into that harder to get larger group as well. Adrian Garcia, who is likely to do very well among a group (Latino voters) who are far more likely to show up in Presidential years than non-Presidential years, is one such candidate. Fortunately for him, he’s already run in two Presidential-year elections, so there’s a lot of people out there who have already voted for him at least once. Sylvester Turner, who is used to running in even-numbered years, is another. When the 30-day and 8-day reports come out, look in them for evidence of field-related expenses. That will tell you what you need to know about this aspect of voter outreach.

Lawsuit filed over Uptown line

All things considered, I suppose this was inevitable.

A homeowner’s association is suing Metro over its involvement in plans to run bus lanes along Post Oak Boulevard, saying the project puts the agency at odds with a 2003 referendum that included adding a rail line along the corridor.

The lawsuit was filed Monday just minutes after Mayor Annise Parker and the Uptown management district cheered the start of the $192 million project, lauding it as an example of Houston’s transit future. The plan calls for adding two dedicated bus lanes – one in each direction – along the center of Post Oak. Special lanes also would be added along Loop 610 between a future Bellaire Transit Center and the Northwest Transit Center near Interstate 10.

“It’s about taking our signature retail boulevard and making it something that’s not a traffic-choked freeway,” Parker said.

“The time is now,” Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

A block away, opponents called the project illegal, saying Metro has no authority to participate when voters in 2003 approved light rail for the Post Oak corridor. As part of the lawsuit, Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, has requested an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s office as to the legality of Metro’s involvement. Nichols chairs the senate’s transportation committee.

“We’re asking all these government agencies, ‘don’t be arrogant,’ ” attorney Andy Taylor said. “Hold tight and make sure that what you’re doing is in the public interest.”

See here for some background. Rule #1 of politics around here: If Andy Taylor is on your side, you’re on the wrong side. (*) And much more often than not, the side that’s gonna lose.

Metro submitted a similar inquiry to then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last year at the request of the Texas Department of Transportation. The state agency was wary of offering funds for the elevated lanes along Loop 610 if it meant jumping into a lengthy, bitter debate surrounding light rail in the area. So at TxDOT’s request, Metro sought to clarify whether an agreement with the state agency, which specified the bus project “will not support a rail component,” put Metro in conflict with its 2003 referendum. To be clear, Metro would be operating the buses, not funding the construction of the actual lanes. The project pulls heavily on Uptown tax increment reinvestment zone funds and some U.S. Department of Transportation grant money.

The agency told the Attorney General’s office it no longer needed an opinion when TxDOT said its concerns had been eased and the agreement was not necessary. That was in part because federal lawmakers approved a fiscal 2015 spending plan, including language inserted by Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, that forbid any federal money from going to rail projects along Post Oak north of Richmond, and Richmond west of Shepherd.

[…]

In the lawsuit, Taylor said that voters have consented only to light rail along the corridor and that any work specific to bus rapid transit should wait until the Texas Attorney General’s office issues a response to Nichols’ request. Taylor is representing the Cosmopolitan Condominium Association, which sits along Post Oak, and Jim Scarborough, a vocal opponent of the project and property owner in the area.

Scarborough has led opponents, largely business owners, who say the bus plan will disrupt the flow of traffic on Post Oak and discourage drivers from wanting to traverse the bustling corridor. At town hall meetings and news conferences, they’ve also said that the plan is a real estate deal disguised as a transit project that benefits some Uptown board members whose companies are in the right of way. Some of those companies will receive payments for their land from the TIRZ in order to widen Post Oak.

Taylor dismissed any notion that the lawsuit amounted to a last-ditch effort to thwart the project rather than a substantive suit.

“Metro should immediately announce its abandonment of the project, admit that it violates Metro’s contract with the voters, and, should it desire to pursue light rail, then, in accordance with its recent agreement with Congressman John Culberson, go back to the electorate with a new referendum on whether light rail should be approved on Post Oak Boulevard,” Taylor said in the lawsuit.

A “last-ditch effort to thwart the project rather than a substantive suit” is pretty much how I’d describe it. There’s nobody involved with that lawsuit that actually wants a light rail line to be built, they just want to force Metro into a no-win position. I am hopeful that a judge will give this litigation the lack of respect it deserves.

(*) Case in point. Those were dark, dark days.

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?

How the East End got its rail line

A great overview of how we got here with the Harrisburg and Southeast lines, the genesis of which go back a lot farther than the 2003 Metro Solutions referendum.

The working- and middle-class Mexican-American residents of the East End lacked political power in Houston prior to the 1960s and 1970s and their communities received little in the way of public resources.

Among those limited resources was a lack transit options once the streetcars on Harrisburg Boulevard and Navigation Boulevard, the community’s two main corridors, were removed prior to World War II. The private bus companies that sought to fill the void ran few and infrequent routes to the East End. Connecting to the rest of Houston from the East End – especially for those without a car – was a challenge.

At the same time, the community’s proximity to the Port of Houston and the Ship Channel meant that truck and freight train traffic dominated local streets and crisscrossed the area. Roads crumbled under the weight of semi-trucks, fumes from idling vehicles filled the air, freight trains blocked intersections for hours at a time, and both systems made life for pedestrians stressful.

During the 1960s and 1970s, as one aspect of a broader push for political, social, and economic rights, Mexican-American residents in the East End routinely spoke before the Houston City Council to complain about the adverse toll this heavy traffic took on their neighborhoods. Their predominately white neighbors in Lawndale and Eastwood, two communities within the East End, often joined to express the same grievances.

Instead of listening to community concerns, however, the City of Houston and the Texas Highway Department aimed to broaden the area’s use as an industrial traffic corridor with plans to build the Harrisburg Freeway, an extension of State Highway 225, through the heart of the East End.

This road was not the form of improved transportation that residents had in mind.

The Mexican-American community’s consistent resistance – through independent planning efforts, community protests, and the use of administrative technicalities to stall the project – combined with a state-level budget crunch to halt the road plan by the mid-1970s.

The highway fight in the East End was a major marker of the growing political power of Mexican-American Houstonians. It also demonstrated to local officials that East Enders cared a great deal about the integrity of their community, how they traveled within their neighborhoods, and how they connected to the city at-large.

Community journalist Maggie Landron, writing in the Spanish-language paper Papel Chicano in 1970, argued that many East End residents resisted the highway because they were “fed up choking on our own exhaust fumes; fed up looking at cement ribbons crisscrossing our cities; fed up with homes and people being destroyed to build more and more freeways; and fed up with others determining what is good for us.”

Landron’s words and the highway protest of East Enders reverberated in subsequent mass transit debates, where the city’s Mexican-American population, concentrated heavily in the East End, represented linchpin voting blocs.

I had no idea there had once been a serious proposal to extend SH 225 into downtown. What a disaster that would have been. The story continues through the creation of Metro, the 2003 referendum, and the fight over the overpass on Harrisburg. Check it out.

Metro and Culberson announce the terms of their agreement

Gotta say, this all sounds pretty good.

HoustonMetro

First, Congressman Culberson supports METRO’s proposed legislation pending in the State Legislature that expands the size of the METRO Board, increases the eligible length of Board member service and allows the existing board to elect a chairman in October with an odd initial term. These changes will help ensure better regional cooperation in designing and building successful transportation projects while smoothing the transition from the current board size to the larger board size that current law will require in the near future.

Second, Congressman Culberson will begin work right away to change federal law so that METRO can use all of the federal dollars not yet drawn down from the $900 million in previously approved federal transit grants for corridor specific transit projects, particularly the new North and Southeast rail lines as well as the 90A commuter rail line. These proposed changes will be consistent with the goals of the FTA in order to allow METRO to match these funds with credits from the original Main Street Line or other Transportation Development Credits so that local funds will be freed up for new projects to improve mobility in the Houston area.

Third, Congressman Culberson will begin work right away to change federal law so that METRO can count $587 Million in local funds spent on the East End Rail Line as the local matching credit for a commuter rail line along 90A, and secondarily for any non-rail capital project, or any other project included in the 2003 Referendum. Rail on Richmond Avenue west of Shepherd Drive or Post Oak Boulevard would only be eligible to utilize these credits once approved in a subsequent referendum.

Fourth, Congressman Culberson will begin work right away to help secure up to $100 million in federal funds for three consecutive years for bus purchases, park and ride expansion and HOV lane improvements. These funds will also facilitate METRO’s expanded use of the 2012 referendum increment to pay down debt. All of these efforts will enhance and improve the bus system that is already one of the best in the nation.

Fifth, METRO wants to eliminate confusion for property and business owners on Richmond Avenue west of Shepherd Drive and on Post Oak Boulevard. Therefore, the METRO Board will adopt a resolution pledging not to use any federal or state funds to build rail on Richmond Avenue west of Shepherd Drive or on Post Oak Boulevard north of Richmond unless METRO service area voters approve it as part of a future METRO service area referendum. Likewise, no local funds can be spent on such a rail project without a referendum except expenditures of local funds necessary for the proper studies and engineering to present to the voters in the required referendum. Any such referendum will be part of a multi-modal transportation plan including reasonable cost estimates and a description of the project’s pathway and end points, realizing that pathways could undergo minor adjustments as a result of unforeseen environmental problems.

Sixth, Congressman Culberson will begin work right away to memorialize this agreement in both federal and state law. Thus, METRO does not oppose Congressman Culberson’s language amending Section 164 of the FY16 THUD appropriations bill to memorialize this agreement. And, Metro does not oppose his efforts to memorialize this agreement in state law.

Seventh, if METRO service area voters approve the referendum, Congressman Culberson pledges to support the will of the voters and he will work to secure the maximum level of federal funding available for the transit projects described in the referendum.

All of that is from a “letter to our fellow Houston area citizens” signed by Rep. Culberson and Metro board Chair Gilbert Garcia, which you can see here, following an announcement on Friday that the two had reached an accord. It’s about everything I could have wanted – getting the US90A extension moving, providing a path forward for the Universities line, and more. I don’t know how Metro accomplished this, but wow. Major kudos all around. I’m sure there will be more to come, and I am eager to hear it. The later version of the Chron story adds a few details, and Texas Leftist has more.

Metro reaches detente with Culberson

Holy cow!

Metro and U.S. Rep. John Culberson have called a truce in their war over a planned light rail line on Richmond Avenue, suggesting an end to an impasse that has stymied local transit development.

Culberson, a Republican from Houston, has stood in the way of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s federal funding efforts for years. While the new agreement does not necessarily mean the Richmond line will be developed, it could help Metro move forward with other transit projects.

“We have got to make progress or we are in gridlock,” Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

The announcement follows months of discussions and comes days before Metro is set to open two new rail lines serving east and southeast Houston. The Green and Purple lines open May 23, the next step in development of a light rail system that has divided Metro and many critics, notably Culberson, since voters approved it in 2003.

From his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, Culberson has stopped Metro from receiving any Federal Transit Administration funds related to rail on Richmond or a similar rail plan along Post Oak, later converted to a fixed-route bus system.

Culberson represents voters west of Shepherd along Richmond, many of whom vigorously oppose the rail line.

Just as a reminder, while the anti-rail faction is highly vocal, there’s little evidence to suggest they’re any kind of majority. Precinct analysis from the 2006 election, when funding for the Universities line and the debate about whether or not it belonged on Richmond Avenue were hot items, suggests that Culberson and then-State Rep. Martha Wong did not gain any votes by being anti-rail, and may have lost some votes for it. That was a long time ago and 2006 was an oddball election, so I wouldn’t stake too much on any of that, but it always annoys me to see these loudmouths presented as the prevailing opinion.

Recently, Culberson announced he would seek to continue cutting off the Richmond money in the next federal funding bill, but he softened his stance by saying Metro could seek money for the lines if they receive local voter support in a new election.

He said current leaders have made the agency more financially transparent, helping him to find common ground with them.

“I am especially pleased that our agreed-upon amendment today will make Metro the first transit agency in America to require voter approval of a very detailed and very specific transportation plan before they can move forward with construction,” Culberson said in a statement.

The change in tone drew praise from Rep. Ted Poe, another Houston-area Republican, who sparred with Culberson over his blocking the federal funding for rail along Richmond.

“While we would prefer to have no limiting language, this compromise allows the voters of Houston to have a voice in this matter, which has been Congressman Poe’s concern the whole time,” said spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes.

We’ll have to wait and see exactly what this means, but if we can settle this matter once and for all and get the ball rolling on the US90A rail extension into Fort Bend County, that would be a big step forward. The fact is that sooner or later, we’re going to need the Universities line and we’re going to want to build it. It doesn’t make sense to have the Uptown line as an island unto itself. The system as a whole will be far more valuable if it is all connected. If we do wind up with the high speed rail line terminal being out at the Northwest Transit Center, that makes connections to the Uptown Line (including perhaps an Inner Katy line, which by the way was also part of the 2003 referendum) all the more necessary. All I ask is that if we have to re-vote on the Universities line that we get full cooperation from our entire Congressional delegation if it passes as well as the possibility of building on what we already have. It doesn’t have to happen right away, it just has to happen. Houston Tomorrow and Texas Leftist have more.

Turner prepares his exit from the Lege

Looks like we’ll have at least one more legislative special election this year.

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner

In 2003, state Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston made the most definitive decision of his political career.

Turner had arrived in the Texas House 14 years earlier, when he and his fellow Democrats outnumbered Republicans 91 to 59, Gib Lewis was speaker and Democrats still ran the show. But by 2003, the tide hadn’t just turned against Democrats — it was running away without them.

Republicans took the chamber’s majority for the first time in more than a century, Democrat Pete Laney, the previous session’s speaker, was about to become just another member, and Tom Craddick was poised to take the top post.

Reading the political winds, Turner led a group of Democrats who became known as the “Craddick D’s” who cast their support behind the Midland conservative in hopes of salvaging some level of access and influence.

It was a pivotal moment for Turner, and some in his party were not at all happy with him.

But as Turner prepares to leave the House after more than a quarter century, that decision captures the politician’s essence — a savvy personability that allowed him to emerge as a Democratic pillar in the Republican-controlled House.

The 60-year-old Harvard Law School graduate will give up his seat in a few weeks to run for mayor of his hometown, a post he’s unsuccessfully sought before. His departure will leave a gaping hole that House Democrats will be hard-pressed to fill.

[…]

Turner, whose influence is seldom hobbled by showmanship, deflects the significance of his departure.

“The Texas House, the Texas Senate and the Legislature was in existence way before I came, and it’ll be in existence a long time after I’m gone,” he said during a recent interview in his Capitol office.

Turner attributed his success to becoming fluent in House rules, learning the ins and outs of the legislative process and making himself valuable to leadership.

“Because even when you find yourself in the minority — numerically speaking — the process sometimes becomes the equalizer,” he said.

Rep. Turner has certainly made a mark, and his session in 2013 was especially good, but he’s right: No one is irreplaceable. His departure will change things for the Democratic caucus, and the dynamics of the 2017 session will necessarily be different from this one, but his leaving is an opportunity for others to step up and show what they can do. That’s the way of the world, and it happens every time someone of Rep. Turner’s experience and ability leaves the Lege.

I’m a little surprised to hear that he’s stepping down and not waiting to see how the Mayoral race plays out, which is what happened in 2003. He may just be ready for a change, and for what it’s worth I’d heard that he’d been thinking about calling it a career before now. There ought to be quite the scramble to fill his seat when it comes up, with a second shot at it in the March primary. If Allen Fletcher gets appointed Sheriff that will make two legislative specials, presumably on the November ballot. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure. I thank Rep. Turner for his service in the Lege and look forward to seeing him more regularly on the campaign trail here.

UPDATE: The following has been appended to that Trib story:

*Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the timeline for Rep. Sylvester Turner’s departure from the House has not been set.

They appear to have edited out a quote from statement attributed to Turner in which he insisted he’d be stepping down regardless of the result of the Mayor’s race. So it looks like we’ll be waiting to see what Turner does.

UPDATE: Sorry, that wasn’t a direct quote that I remember, but something that the story said Turner had said.

Turner & Whitmire

No, not the latest buddy cop movie, just two old legislative friends helping each other out.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Texas’ most senior state senator turned to the crowd during a September fundraiser for state Rep. Sylvester Turner and ribbed his friend and would-be Houston mayor.

“My name is John Whitmire, and I’m Sylvester Turner’s state senator,” he said, a go-to laugh-line that landed in a sea of donors. “Everyone in my district is important, but Sylvester Turner kind of stands out.”

Kind words like those – exchanged again and again over the past 12 months in both directions – have gone a shade past the standard “good friend” lavished by nearly every politician on their predecessors at a dais. The alliance between Turner, a powerful Democratic state representative, and Whitmire, the most senior Democrat in the Senate, say people familiar with their ties, is genuine yet politically potent and already is sculpting the local Democratic landscape.

“The moon, the sun and all the planets have come together in the Sylvester-John orbit,” said Carl Whitmarsh, a longtime Democratic activist close to both men.

Sen. John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

[…]

Facing his first primary challenger since winning the seat in 1992 – and an African-American one at that, in a district that is only 28 percent Anglo – Whitmire called on Turner to introduce him to his Acres Home base. Other black legislators rallied behind Whitmire in the final months before his primary against Damien LaCroix. Turner hugged Whitmire tightest, introducing him to ministers and bringing him to black churches.

“I don’t think it was a race that John was in danger of losing,” said Mark Clark, who directs the police union’s political work. “But it seemed to me that Sylvester was investing as much as he possibly could to communicate with voters out there that Sen. Whitmire was the guy and still is the guy.”

Some point to that backing to explain Whitmire’s prominence in the mayoral race.

“They’ve been allies for a long time. It doesn’t surprise me that they support each other,” said Turner opponent Oliver Pennington, a city councilman who is critical of the pension deal struck by the Democratic pair.

I see this story as kind of a Rohrschach test. How you feel about Rep. Turner and/or Sen. Whitmire going in almost certainly correlates to how you feel about them teaming up like this. The main takeaway for me is that Turner isn’t going to leave the Anglo Dem bloc to the Bell/Costello/McVey/King/Garcia (*) crowd. He had very little traction with those voters in 2003, thanks in part to Bill White’s months-earlier entry into the race and heavy TV advertising. Things are different this time. We’ll see how much effect it has.

(*) Until he actually says he’s in, I’m giving Sheriff Garcia an asterisk.

Endorsement watch: Firefighters for Turner

From the inbox:

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

HOUSTON, March 23, 2015 – State Rep. Sylvester Turner has earned the endorsement of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association in this year’s mayoral race, the HPFFA said today.

HPFFA President Alvin W. White, Jr. said 84 percent of voting fire fighters approved the recommendation of the HPFFA board of directors to endorse Turner after a review of the public safety records of the mayoral candidates.

“Sylvester has been a consistent friend of fire fighters and an advocate for public safety in Austin for 25 years,” White said. “He is clearly the best choice for us in this mayoral race. We also appreciate that he has built a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, business leaders, unions and community groups.”

White added, “Rep. Turner understands that Houston fire fighters are delivering excellent service to citizens, are good stewards of city resources, and are giving back to the community. He also has been a sensible voice – here and in Austin – in the debate about city employee pensions.”

Rep. Turner said, “I am proud to have earned the support of Houston’s firefighters. Together, we will work to keep our neighborhoods safe, teach our youth the values of courage and shared sacrifice and show the world that Houston is a place that working families are proud to call home.”

Rep. Turner has served 25 years in the Texas House of Representatives. He is a member of the Legislative Budget Board; Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Committee; Chair of the Subcommittee on Articles 1, 4 and 5 (General Government, Judiciary, Public Safety and Criminal Justice); and the House State Affairs Committee.

Born in the Acres Homes community of northwest Houston, Rep. Turner graduated from Klein High School, where he was valedictorian and student body president. He then attended the University of Houston and Harvard Law School. More information is available at www.sylvesterturner.com.

The press release is here, for when I get around to creating a 2015 Election page. I’m not going to note every endorsement that comes my way, but this one was of interest for two reasons. One is that it happened at all, especially this early on. I figure a lot of endorsing organizations are going to take their time – at the very least, until they’re sure if Adrian Garcia is in the race or not – and many may keep their powder dry till the runoff, since Lord only knows who might make it that far. The other is that it wasn’t clear early on who if anyone would be the firefighters’ preferred candidate, given the intense focus by several campaigns on the pension issue. Once the pension deal was announced that sort of settled that matter, but for awhile there it was not obvious.

This is a nice get for Turner, since every inch is going to count in a race where the difference between making the runoff and being a runnerup is likely to be small. That said, the firefighters’ record in recent Mayoral elections is not that great. They endorsed Gene Locke in 2009, Fernando Herrera in 2011, and Ben Hall in 2013; going back a bit more, they backed Orlando Sanchez in 2003. We’ll see if they have better luck this time.

Sylvester Turner announces his entry into the Mayor’s race

What we’ve all known about for months is now official.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner announced his candidacy for Houston mayor today, formally adding the name of an influential lawmaker with deep ties to the African-American community to the growing field of contenders.

For 25 years, Turner has risen through the ranks of the state House and twice before has looked to parlay that experience into the city’s top job. Turner, who for the past year has openly talked about his plan to run a third time, made his decision public Friday in a video to supporters.

“People in my generation inherited a great city, with folks who have big dreams, and they made big things happen,” Turner, a Harvard-educated lawyer who grew up in low-income Acres Homes, will say in the video. “I see a city still doing that.”

Turner likely will be the early front-runner, as much as there can be a leader at all in a field featuring a dozen potential candidates, nearly all of whom have elected experience.

But few have reached out to the city’s movers and shakers over the past 12 months like Turner. He first made his ambitions public last February and has won over many power players in the Democratic establishment, from Sen. John Whitmire to the lobbyists and donors who can steer endorsements, dollars and ultimately votes.

He also has steadily raised mayoral money through his legislative account for at least six months. That fundraising – occurring while other mayoral candidates were subject to a fundraising blackout period – allowed Turner to enter 2015 with $1 million in the bank.

That’s the subject of some legal wrangling, but until and unless a judge says otherwise, it’s so. And Turner will need it to be so, because unless he decides to resign from the Legislature, he’s barred from further fundraising until sine die at the end of May, assuming no special sessions get tacked on. We’ll see if Greg Abbott is less promiscuous with those than Rick Perry was. Be that as it may, Turner will have a campaign kickoff event on March 28. A statement from his campaign is beneath the fold.

One more thing:

Given the caliber and crowd of the field, most mayoral candidates likely will appeal to small slices of the electorate in order to earn the 40,000 votes that most campaigns expect they will need to earn a place in a December runoff.

For Turner, that path is heavily dependent on strong support from the African-American community he has represented for two decades and which typically casts about 30 percent of the vote in municipal elections.

Yet that path could be complicated by the entrance of Ben Hall, an African-American pastor who lost to Mayor Annise Parker in 2013, who also is running for the job again.

Not really sure where that 40,000 number comes from. It has to be a function of how many “viable” candidates there are – does Ben Hall count? is Adrian Garcia in? – as well as overall turnout – are we in 2003 territory, where over 300,000 people voted in the first round, or 2009 territory, where that number was 180,000? If you assume five “viable” candidates (Turner, Bell, Pennington, Costello, King) and 200,000 total votes, then 40,000 is a reasonable goal. It’s also a goal that may well change as time goes on. Let’s just say that whatever the goal is, I’d want to exceed it by as much as possible.

(more…)

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.

January campaign finance reports – HISD trustees

Four HISD Trustees are up for re-election this year. There are nine Trustees in all, and they serve four-year terms, so in a normal year either four or five are up for re-election. As things stand right now, all four incumbents would be running for re-election, which would be the first time there would be no open seat since at least 2001; Harris County Clerk election records only include HISD results as far back as that. Here’s a brief look at those incumbents, along with their January finance reports and a summary of their campaign balances.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones, District 2

Skillern-Jones is serving her first term as HISD Trustee. She was the only candidate in 2011 to succeed Carol Mims Galloway. After serving as Board Secretary last year, she was elected to be Board President this year. Prior to the redrawing of Trustee district boundaries last year, hers was one of two districts to absorb schools and students from the former North Forest ISD. She officially announced her intent to run for another term a few weeks ago via email and Facebook. As far as I know, she was the first Trustee to make such an announcement, and is the only one whose plans are known so far.

Manuel Rodriguez, District 3

As noted, there are four Trustees that would be on the ballot this year if they all do run. Of the four, I’d gladly vote for three of them if I lived in their district. The fourth is Manuel Rodriguez, who disgraced himself in 2011 by sending an anti-gay mailer as an attack against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. (Fact I did not realize until I scanned through old election results in researching this post: Fonseca also opposed Rodriguez in 2003, when the seat was last open. He finished third in the field of four.) Rodriguez eventually offered a lame apology for his actions, which caused the Houston Chronicle to retract their endorsement of him, after winning an excruciatingly close vote. There was a bit of a hubbub initially, then everyone moved on to other things. I hope everyone remembers this, and that the voters hold Manuel Rodriguez responsible for his despicable behavior if he does choose to run this year.

Paula Harris, District 4

Paula Harris is serving her second term on the HISD board, having won an open seat race in 2007. A prominent supporter of HISD Superintendent Terry Grier, she served as Board President in 2011, during some of the more turbulent times of the Grier era. She was also the focal point of some conflict of interest allegations at that time, which eventually led to a revamp of the Board’s ethics policies. Despite that, she won re-election in 2011 easily over token opposition, and has had a much quieter second term. Harris is an engineer who has published a children’s book encouraging kids to explore engineering, and has been a booster of STEM education on the board.

Juliet Stipeche, District 8

Juliet Stipeche, who served as Board president last year, is finishing her first full term in office. She won a special election in 2010 to fill a seat left vacant by the resignation of then-Trustee Diana Davila. She was one of the driving forces behind that ethics policy revamp, which occurred in 2012, before the last bond referendum. She has also been one of the more active critics of Superintendent Grier, though as noted things have been quieter on that front of late. Her district also contains some former North Forest ISD territory. In my opinion, she’s one of the Board’s best members.

So that’s my brief overview of the incumbents who are up for re-election. As noted, so far there are no open seats. I am also not aware of any declared opponents as yet. Here are the January finance reports for these four:

Skillern-Jones
Rodriguez
Harris
Stipeche

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Skillern-Jones 18,215 12,119 0 9,345 Rodriguez 0 0 0 340 Harris 0 1,500 12,000 0 Stipeche 5,500 7,162 0 15,618

The HISD Board does not have a Council-like blackout period, so incumbents and candidates were able to raise money during 2014. Rhonda Skillern-Jones was the busiest of the four, but I wouldn’t read too much into any of this. We’re very early in the cycle, and the one thing I feel confident saying is that we don’t know what kind of Trustee races we’re going to get yet.