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Election 2006

Are Texas Republicans really worried about Trump for November?

I mean, I guess they are. They’ve seen what has happened around the country, in other elections and other red places. I don’t know how worried they are, or how worried they should be.

This is a Red State where Trump remains popular among most Republicans and even some Democrats, a state that he won in 2016 by a slimmer margin that Republican Mitt Romney had four years before. And while political consultants for both parties agree he will be a drag on Texas Republicans in November, the growing question is just how much.

Fact: For the first time in a decade, Texas Republicans are having to worry about the vote drag their president could have on elections, much as Democrats suffered through eight years of Barack Obama, whom Texas Republicans loved to hate.

“Trump won’t be as much of an effect as he is in some northern states, but he will have impact here,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor who has been monitoring the “Trump effect” in Texas races for months. “In some of the down ballot races in Texas, the strategy you’re seeing is a modest embrace of Trump. … Republicans with strong brands like Abbott are not going to tarnish themselves by agreeing with him.”

Even so, Abbott confidantes privately acknowledge he likely will be re-elected by a slimmer margin than four years ago, when he beat Democratic rising star Wendy Davis by 20 points. They blame Trump.

“It’s not a question about whether there will be a Trump drag in Texas, the only question right now is how big it will be — and how many Republican incumbents will be in trouble,” said Harold Cook, a political consultant who is a former executive director of the state Democratic party.

“If you’re a member of Congress or state Senate or House incumbent who has a credible Democratic opponent, and you’re in districts that went for Trump less than 7 or 8 … points, you better be out working your ass off to get re-elected.”

I don’t disagree with any of this, but it’s hard to contextualize. The last two midterm elections in which there was a Republican President were 2002, when Dubya Bush was very popular, and 2006, when his approval rating had crashed and Rick Perry was fending off multiple challengers. The former was a great year for the GOP here and the latter was a lousy year for them (downballot, at least), but neither is a great comparison for this year. In the limited polling we have, Trump’s approval ratings are good with Republicans, terrible with Democrats, and not great with independents. How that compares with 2002 and 2006, I couldn’t say.

I think everyone expects Democratic turnout to be up this fall from previous midterms. The problem is that Democratic turnout has been so consistently crappy in previous midterms that there’s a lot of room for turnout to improve without making that much difference. We’d need to boost our baseline offyear performance by about fifty percent, to get to around 2.7 million, to really see significant gains. The good news is that basically everything would be competitive at that point, from the statewide races to a half dozen or more Congressional seats to enough legislative seats to make 2019 look like 2009. The bad news is that we’ve never come withing hailing distance of such a total, and Republicans have every reason to feel confident that it’s all just talk since we’ve never done anything like it.

So I just don’t know. I’m optimistic in general, and I really think good things will happen in Harris County and other areas that have been trending blue. I wish I knew how to quantify it, and I wish I knew how confident to feel beyond that.

The history of CD07

Good read, though not really anything we didn’t already know.

West University could have been the set for “Leave it to Beaver” when Serpell Edwards and his wife Betsy bought their home there 45 years ago. The neighbors were mostly white, the moms stayed at home and took care of the kids, and the politics were reliably Republican.

West U. was part of Houston’s Seventh Congressional District, which had flipped from Democrat to Republican back in 1966, when a handsome young oilman named George H.W. Bush won the seat.

“The Seventh” soon came to be considered the safest GOP district in Texas, if not all of America, dominated for almost 50 years by Bill Archer, who succeeded Bush in 1970, and the current incumbent Republican, John Culberson, who’s occupied the seat since Archer retired in 2000.

But now, as Texas is transformed by hundreds of thousands of new arrivals from other states and other countries, The Seventh has become one of the shakiest — among two dozen Republican districts nationally that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 election.

Democratic turnout surged in Tuesday’s primary election, spurred in part by President Donald Trump’s intense unpopularity among liberals and his seemingly limitless capacity to energize minorities, who now make up a majority of residents in The Seventh, reflecting the transformation of Texas as a whole.

“We have noticed a flood of vote Democratic signs,” said Edwards, 75. “This never happened before.”

If deep red Texas turns purple and then blue over the next several election cycles, as some political experts and demographers believe it could, The Seventh and other districts like it in and around Texas’ already blue major cities most likely would be ground zero.

“Politics always follows cultural shifts, and this district is coming of age right now,” said Mustafa Tameez, a political consultant born in Pakistan who lives in The Seventh, worked as a homeland security consultant for former President George W. Bush and later managed the campaign of the first Vietnamese-American elected to the Texas House, a Democrat.

“This is not the district of Bill Archer any more, certainly not the district that George H.W. Bush won for the Republicans,” he said. “And it’s not the district that John Culberson first ran in.”

Instead of mostly white Republicans, with pockets of African-Americans and Latinos, the district is now a rainbow of different cultures — 38 percent white, 31 percent Latino, 12 percent African-American and 10 percent Asian, a demographic face that looks like much of the rest of Texas, which in 2014 was 44.4 percent white, 38.2 percent Latino, 11.6 percent black and 4.1 percent Asian.

Like I said, it’s a good read, so go check it out. The main thing I have to add is that CD07 went from being solid red to semi-competitive last decade, under the previous map, as well. Look at the precinct analyses I did in 2006 and 2008 for a sense of that. The 2011 redistricting reset the clock on CD07’s competitiveness, basically by shifting Democratic-friendly precincts to other districts, including CD02, while putting more of the far western portion of Harris County into CD07. As was the case last decade, the interior parts of CD07 became a darker shade of blue, while the red parts of the district got a little less red. I figured then, and still figure now, that the future for CD07 is to shift farther west, outside the borders of Harris County, much as CD32 was redrawn to include turf outside Dallas County, to counter the increasingly Democratic trend of Harris County. But we still have two elections to get through before we have to worry about that.

Does primary turnout in a district predict the November result?

Karl Rove would like you to think so.

At the House level, Democrats hope to win three districts won by Hillary Clinton and now held by Republican incumbents, as well as some of the six seats opened up by GOP retirements. Here again, the primary results are not heartening for Democrats.

In two Clinton-GOP congressional districts—the Seventh, in Houston, represented by Rep. John Culberson, and the 32nd, in Dallas, held by Rep. Pete Sessions—more Republicans voted than Democrats: 38,032 Republicans to 33,176 Democrats in the Seventh and 41,359 Republicans to 40,084 Democrats in the 32nd. Mrs. Clinton carried both districts by less than 2 percentage points in 2016.

Moreover, no Democrat won a majority in either district’s primary, forcing runoffs in May. In the Seventh, journalist Laura Moser —endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-connected “Our Revolution”—is pitted against Clinton loyalist and attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted Ms. Moser with an opposition-research dump arguing she was too liberal to win in the fall. The attack backfired: Ms. Moser was trailing Ms. Fletcher in early voting before the DCCC assault but won more votes among those who turned out on election day.

Democrats outvoted Republicans in a GOP-held seat that Mrs. Clinton carried by 3.4 percentage points—the massive 23rd Congressional District, which sweeps across West Texas. This year, after Democratic candidates spent a combined $1.1 million, 44,320 voted in their primary to 30,951 Republicans. Still, that is 5,000 more Republicans than voted in the 2014 primary, which launched Will Hurd into Congress. A former undercover CIA officer, Rep. Hurd is one of the GOP’s most effective campaigners. His “DQ Townhalls” at Dairy Queens across his largely Hispanic district helped him hold the district by 1.3 points in 2016 even as Mr. Trump lost by more than 3 points.

Democratic aspirations to take some of the six open Republican congressional districts also appear slim: Republicans turned out more voters in all six, with the GOP’s margins ranging from roughly 16,000 to 22,000 votes.

If we’re talking about CD23, I can tell you that the Democratic candidates have received more votes than the Republican candidates in each primary since 2012, which includes one year that Pete Gallego won and two years that Will Hurd won. As such, I’m not sure how predictive that is.

More to the point, I am always suspicious when a data point is presented in a vacuum as being indicative of something. We’ve had primary elections before. How often is it the case that the party who collects the most primry votes in a given race goes on to win that race in November? Putting it another way, if one party draws fewer votes in the primary, does that mean they can’t win in November? Let’s step into the wayback machine and visit some primaries to the past to see.


2004

CD17 - GOP            CD17 - Dem

McIntyre     10,681   Edwards      17,754
Snyder       11,568
Wohlgemuth   15,627

Total        37,876   Total        17,754

November result - Edwards 125,309  Wohlgemuth 116,049

HD134 - GOP           HD134 - Dem

Wong          4,927   Barclay         771
                      Daugherty     4,193

Total         4,927   Total         4,964

November result - Wong 36,021  Daugherty 29,806

HD137 - GOP           HD137 - Dem

Witt          1,291   Amadi           376
Zieben          970   Hochberg      1,012

Total         2,261   Total         1,388

November result - Hochberg 10,565  Witt 8,095

HD149 - GOP           HD149 - Dem

Heflin        2,526   Vo            1,800

November result - Vo 20,695  Heflin 20,662


2006

HD47 - GOP            HD47 - Dem

Welch         2,349   Bolton        1,569
Four others   3,743   Three others  2,071

Total         6,092   Total         3,640

November result - Bolton 26,975  Welch 24,447

HD50 - GOP            HD50 - Dem

Fleece        1,441   Strama        2,466
Wheeler         294
Zimmerman     1,344

Total         3,079   Total         2,466

November result - Strama 25,098  Fleece 13,681

HD107 - GOP           HD107 - Dem

Keffer        3,054   Smith           724
                      Vaught        1,169

Total         3,054   Total         1,893

November result - Vaught 16,254  Keffer 15,145

HD134 - GOP           HD134 - Dem

Wong          3,725   Cohen         2,196

November result - Cohen 25,219  Wong 20,005


2010

HD48 - GOP            HD48 - Dem

Neil          9,136   Howard        6,239

November result - Howard 25,023  Neil 25,011


2012

SD10 - GOP            SD10 - GOP

Cooper        6,709   Davis        17,230
Shelton      28,249

Total        34,958   Total        17,230

November result - Davis 147,103  Shelton 140,656

HD144 - GOP           HD144 - Dem

Pena          1,030   Perez         1,149
Pineda        1,437   Risner          462
                      Ybarra          591

Total         2,467   Total         2,022

November result - Perez 12,446  Pineda 10,885


2014

SD15 - GOP            SD15 - Dem

Hale         13,563   LaCroix       3,239
                      Whitmire      9,766

Total        13,563   Total        13,005

November result - Whitmire 74,192  Hale 48,249


2016

HD107 GOP             HD107 - Dem

Sheets       10,371   Neave         6,317

November result - Neave 27,922  Sheets 27,086

Some points to note here. One, I’m cherry-picking just as Rove had done. There were plenty of examples of one party outvoting the other in a given primary race, then winning that race in November. That’s why I don’t have an example to cite from 2008, for instance. It’s also why I concentrated on the legislative races, since outside of CD23 there haven’t been many competitive Congressional races. Two, as you can see most of the examples are from last decade. That’s largely a function of how brutally efficient the 2011 gerrymander was. Three, these are actual votes cast, not turnout, as that data doesn’t exist on the SOS page and I was not going to trawl through multiple county election sites for this. It could be in some of the closer examples that adding in the undervotes would have flipped which party led the way.

All that out of the way, as you can see there are plenty of examples of parties trailing the primary votes but winning when it mattered. In some cases, the March tallies weren’t close, like with SD10 in 2012. In some other cases, it was the November races that weren’t close, like HD50 in 2006 and SD15 in 2014. The point I would make here is simply that this doesn’t look like a reliable metric to me. If you want to make the case that these Congressional races will be tough for Democrats to win regardless of the atmosphere and the demographic trends and the relative level of enthusiasm in the two parties, I’d agree. The weight of the evidence says that despite the positive indicators for 2018, we’re still underdogs in these districts. Our odds are better than they’ve been, but that doesn’t mean they’re great. I don’t think you need to use questionable statistics to make that case.

One more thing to consider: There was an effort, mostly driven by educators, to show up in the Republican primary and vote against Dan Patrick. It didn’t work in the sense that he won easily, but some 367K people did vote against him. I’m sure some number of those people are reliable Republicans, but some of them were likely new to the primary process. This probably had an effect on overall Republican turnout. A small effect, to be sure, but if it’s a little more than half of the anti-Patrick vote then we’re talking about 200K people. Take them out of the pool and the Republicans are back down at 2014 turnout levels.

I have no idea how much this effect might be. It’s certainly small, and I doubt you could measure it without some polling. But we know it’s there, and so it’s worth keeping in mind.

2018 primary early voting, Day 7: Projecting final turnout

KUHF starts with the speculation.

Harris County Democrats are voting in record numbers ahead of next week’s primary. Total returns for the first six days of early voting put Democrats nearly even with Republicans.

As of Sunday night, Democrats’ combined in-person votes and mail ballots received totaled 34,555, an increase of nearly 200 percent over the 2014 congressional midterm election.

“They have an unprecedented number, the biggest they’ve ever had,” Jay Aiyer of Texas Southern University said on Houston Public Media’s Party Politics Podcast, “and it’s still counting. It’s important because about 60 to 65 percent of the total vote will come from these early votes.”

By comparison, Republican votes over the first six days totaled 35,036, up just 11 percent from the last midterm.

With all due respect, I think Jay is overestimating the share of the vote that will be cast early, and thus underestimating the amount that will be cast on Election Day. Here’s a look at past performance in Democratic primaries:


Year    Early    E-Day   Early%
===============================
2006   11,500   23,947    32.4%
2008  179,348  231,560    43.6%
2010   40,963   60,300    40.5%
2012   38,911   37,575    50.9%
2014   31,688   22,100    58.9%
2016   87,605  139,675    38.5%

There’s not much of a pattern here, but in no year has as much as 60% of the Democratic primary vote been cast early. My guess, when I put these numbers together, was that we’d be around fifty percent early (this includes mail ballots in all cases). I won’t be surprised if that’s an underestimate, but I don’t think it will be by that much. One reason for this is that it hasn’t been just the old reliables voting so far.

An analysis of the first four days of early voting in the March 6 primaries indicates that the fabled rebellion against the Republican social conservative leadership may not be materializing. On the Democratic side, it shows a surge of new voters—a fifth of the primary turnout is from people with little to no history of voting in a Democratic primary.

The new analysis of the early voting turnout comes from Derek Ryan, a Republican consultant. Ryan builds off of a Texas Secretary of State database of who voted in which elections. The database does not tell anyone how you voted, but it does reveal the names of who votes in party primaries and general elections. He then receives a daily report from the election administrators in eighteen of the top Texas counties to compare current voters to past voters with an eye toward spotting trends.

What Ryan found on the Republican side is a usual primary for a non-presidential election year. So far, more than 86 percent of the Republican primary votes have been cast by people who voted in past Republican primaries. Only about seven percent of the vote has come from people who do not vote in party primaries. Crossover voting from Democrats is almost nonexistent, with only a single percent of the GOP vote coming from 2016 Democratic primary voters.

Business and education groups have been urging members to vote in the Republican primary because of opposition to issues like bathroom bills or private school vouchers. These initial numbers indicate a weak rebellion. At the same time, social conservatives regularly make up less than 42 percent of the Republican primary vote. If enough of the Republican regulars combine with the new voters, some upsets are possible, although right now they look unlikely.

Over on the Democratic side, almost eighteen percent of the voters are people with no history of voting in a primary of either party; another three percent are people with no history of voting at all in primary or general elections; and 1.5 percent were Republican primary voters in 2016. Without polling the individual voters, Ryan told me there is no way to tell whether the surge is from motivated general election Democrats or from “purple” voters prompted to vote Democrat because of anger over the national Republican party politics.

I agree we can’t tell yet if the level of primary voting means anything for November. At this time, pending a change in the makeup of the Democratic primary electorate, I think we can say there’s still a decent reserve of regular voters who haven’t shown up yet but who almost certainly will. That to me suggests that the turnout on March 6 will be higher than one might think. I reserve the right to change my mind about this later in the week.

So what happened yesterday? Well, as of 11 PM, the daily vote report had not arrived in my mailbox. That happens when the hours change to 7 AM to 7 PM, so I’m afraid we’ll just have to wait. I may post an update later, but most likely I’ll just save this for tomorrow. Sorry.

UPDATE: Here at last are Monday’s numbers – apparently there were some technical difficulties. I’ll have full details tomorrow, but Dems outvoted Republicans in person and in returned mail ballots, and have overtaken the Rs for the lead in total votes. Boo yah!

2018 primary early voting, Day 6: The fifteenth county

Sunday is the shortest and least busy day of early voting, and it is the transition to Week 2, when all the days are 12 hours long and numbers start to go way up. Here’s what this Sunday looked like.

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 6 EV 2018 totals


Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
=======================================
2010    Dem    4,129    11,533   15,662
2010    Rep    8,498    17,900   26,398

2014    Dem    3,592     8,399   11,991
2014    Rep   12,288    19,649   31,937

2018    Dem    9,620    24,935   34,555
2018    Rep   12,642    22,394   35,036

Another day where more Democrats voted; Dems have almost caught up to Republicans in overall turnout. Dems have already exceeded their early vote total from 2014 (which was 31,688) and should pass 2012 (38,911) and 2010 (40,963) no later than Tuesday morning. Tomorrow I’ll look at the historical pattern in early voting turnout in Democratic primaries so we can begin to get a feel for what final turnout might be.

I’ve looked at the daily early vote returns from the Secretary of State, which tracks the numbers from the 15 biggest counties – the totals through Saturday are here. The thing about this is that the composition of the top 15 changes over time – for 2010 and 2014, Nueces County was on the list, but this year Brazoria County made the cut. As such, we can’t do the same-day comparisons for Brazoria, but we can get a bit of context by looking at the final EV totals, which you can see here: 2010 Dem, 2010 Rep, 2014 Dem, and 2014 Rep. In short:

2010 Dem = 5,828 total votes, 3.15% turnout – 2,189 votes were cast early
2010 Rep = 23,514 total votes, 14.01% turnout – 12,019 votes were cast early

2014 Dem = 2,933 total votes, 1.64% turnout – 1,542 votes were cast early
2014 Rep = 18,842 total votes, 10.56% turnout – 11,275 votes were cast early

2018 Dem = 2,133 votes so far, 1.06% turnout
2018 Rep = 7,123 votes so far, 3.54% turnout

Remember that the 2018 numbers are through Saturday, which is to say Day 5 of 11. This is more than the entire early turnout from 2014 and almost as much as 2010. I’d expect the early vote in Brazoria County to surpass final turnout from the 2014 primary on Tuesday, and will probably bypass final turnout from 2010 on Friday. So there you have it.

A look at CD16 and CD03

As one might expect, the primary race for Beto O’Rourke’s soon-to-be-former Congressional seat is compettiive and < and getting a little salty.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

[Now-former El Paso COunty Judge Veronica] Escobar is running, in part, on her experience as a former leader of a county government that fought corruption and is touting how her progressive ideals helped shape policy. Escobar voted to sue the state after the Legislature passed Senate Bill 4, the state’s anti-“sanctuary city” law, and she’s been an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community.

But the issue of her husband, Michael Pleters, and his job as a federal immigration judge, is one her opponents are latching onto tightly. [El Paso ISD TrusteeDori] Fenenbock, who describes herself as the moderate in the race and who’s been dinged on the campaign trail for garnering financial support from Republicans, is quick to highlight what she says is the hypocrisy of Escobar’s campaign.

“[Pleters] is currently employed by the Trump administration and he’s currently following orders by the Trump administration, which is to deport,” Fenenbock said during a recent interview at her office. “He could find another job; he can become an immigration attorney, [but] he has built a career around deporting immigrants.”

But Escobar said last week at her campaign office that her husband was first approached for the job by the Obama administration.

“My husband is not a political appointee … it is a merit-based position,” she said. “He got offered the position last year while Obama happened to be president. But because of the time that the background check took, and it overlapped with the election and everything kind of came to a halt … he didn’t take the bench until this past summer.”

She added that Pleters is a lifetime Democrat and an “impartial arbiter of the law.”

“I’ve never been in a campaign where my family has been attacked until now,” she said. “And I think that it says more about those doing the attacking than it does about me. But I also wonder, when did an honorable profession such as being a jurist become a bad thing?”

The pack of candidates hopes that Fenenbock’s embrace of the term “moderate” proves to be her Achilles’ heel. The Escobar campaign points to a July story in the El Paso Times that shows Fenenbock received almost half of her initial financial support from El Pasoans who voted in the 2016 GOP primary. She also voted in the GOP primary in 2008 and 2010.

Fenenbock said she is a proud Democrat but notes that both parties have become too extreme and that, as a moderate, she can get things accomplished.

“Progressives have moved further to left, and the alt-right has moved further to right,” she said. She notes that though El Paso is a Democratic stronghold, it’s also somewhat “socially conservative.”

There are other candidates in the race, including former State Rep. Norma Chavez, and they get some time in the story as well. After reading it, my impression is that I’d vote for Escobar if I were in CD16. After reading so many articles that declared one or the other of Escobar and Sylvia Garcia as having a chance to be “the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas”, I’m rooting for both of them to get there so we can debate over which one was technically “the first” or if we get to designate them as co-firsts. Leave your hot take on that in the comments.

Also interesting in its own way is the races in CD03.

All eyes are on the GOP primary race where Van Taylor, who decided against running a second time for his safe state senate seat, will face off against the lesser-known Alex Donkervoet and David Niederkorn.

Taylor, 45, is widely seen as Johnson’s successor and has racked up the endorsements and cash in the red district that stretches from Plano to Blue Ridge, encompassing much of Collin County.

Gov. Greg Abbott, former Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz are among Taylor’s big-name supporters. He’s also backed by conservative groups like the Plano-based First Liberty Institute, Texas Right to Life and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. And Taylor has the most cash of any candidate in the race — $1.7 million.

But Donkervoet, an insurance company actuary from Dallas, said Taylor’s endorsements and money are exactly why he chose to run against him.

“That’s just wrong,” Donkervoet said of the amount of local and state endorsements that poured in for Taylor in the days after the legislator announced that he’d run for Congress. “The Republican Party is pretty much hand-selecting somebody to represent (the district).”

Donkervoet, 34, didn’t vote for Trump in the election, and he sets himself apart from conservatives on a number of issues. He’s a “big believer in net neutrality,” social issues like gay marriage and expanding background checks for semi-automatic rifles.

“I’m a very big underdog,” Donkervoet admits, but he wants to push the district away from the partisan divides that plague Congress. “Just because that’s the way it is doesn’t mean that’s right.”

Taylor, who ran for Congress against Chet Edwards in 2006, has been the heir apparent to Johnson for some time now. He does have a bipartisan credit or two to tout from the Lege – he and Rep. Senfronia Thompson sponsored the long-overdue bill to outlaw child marriages in Texas, and good on him for that – while Donkervoet is an obvious heretic and third candidate David Niederkorn is a full-on Trump chump who’s attacking Taylor for being the ambitious ladder-climber that he is. I’ll put my money on Taylor to win, but it’s possible he may have to go to overtime to get there.

One the Democratic side:

Adam Bell, Lorie Burch, Medrick Yhap and Sam Johnson — not to be confused with the retiring GOP congressman — are hopeful they can turn the district blue for the first time in decades.

Voters may be familiar with Bell, a title company owner who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2016. He received 34.6 percent of the vote against incumbent Rep. Sam Johnson, but Bell predicts this time will be different.

“When we got into the race, we knew that we didn’t have the bandwidth, didn’t have the power to pull something off in that cycle,” Bell, 40, said about his 2016 run. “The eye was always on the 2018 cycle because of the need to build.”

Burch, 41, is well-known lawyer, gay rights activist and Democrat from the area. She’s raised more than $60,000, and said she wants to make a difference for the “unseen and unheard.”

“What we need right now is a unifying voice,” she said.

The “divisiveness” of the last election cycle inspired Burch to run for the seat. She had made up her mind even before Rep. Sam Johnson announced he would not be running again.

I like Lorie Burch out of this group, but all four have their merits and would be fine if they win. CD03 is in a lower tier of takeover prospects, with odds of flipping in the 25-30% range by the Crosstab metric. It would take more than a regular-sized wave to go blue, but the fact that it’s in the conversation at all is encouraging. The longer-term prospects in Collin County for Dems are brightening, so if it doesn’t fall this year it ought to be on the list for 2020.

The life and times of Kinky Friedman

I have feelings about this.

Kinky Friedman

With Friedman, it’s showtime most of the time. On this occasion, he’s in town with Mary Lou Sullivan, his biographer, who attempted to condense his strange life into 300 pages. Hers was an unenviable task.

“A lot of people try to be themselves,” Friedman says. “That’s the hardest thing to be.”

So he’s been many selves, which Sullivan documented in the book, such as the garrulous raconteur who asks outright, “What all do you want to know?” A pause. “Can I smoke this mother (expletive) in here? I guess I could just do it and plead ignorance.”

Sullivan’s book, which was released last month, is called “Everything’s Bigger in Texas: The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman.”

“I Guess I Could Just Do It and Plead Ignorance” also would have worked as a title.

A successful writer himself, Friedman acknowledges he needed a biographer. “The first half of my life I don’t remember.”

So he relied on Sullivan to do the homework. She researched his childhood in Houston as a Jewish outcast in West University Place. His Peace Corps run in Borneo. A wild run as a misunderstood songwriter in the ’70s. Getting lost in a snowstorm of cocaine in the ’80s. A reinvention as novelist and humorist in the ’90s and a gubernatorial candidate in the 2000s.

[…]

Sullivan found a few cracks that let a different side of Richard Samet Friedman show. Particularly with regard to his parents: Tom, an Air Force pilot who flew dozens of missions over Germany, who studied psychology upon his return from the war; and Minnie, who taught Shakespeare and loved the stage.

They’re almost like the Greek chorus of Sullivan’s book, appearing and reappearing with words of encouragement and advice. For all of Friedman’s bluster, when he talks about his parents – in the book or conversation – the quips cease.

“I guess if your father runs off when you’re 2 like Obama’s did, you build a myth about him,” he says. “But my parents were my two best friends. If you grow up like that, it really devastates you when you lose them. They were my heroes.”

Then, finally, an oft-repeated quip.

“I always say a happy childhood is the worst possible preparation for life.”

The implication of the last statement is that Friedman is a failure whose recognition will likely come after he’s gone, though he’s been successful enough to fund habits ranging from cocaine to cigars to gambling.

By some measures, the failure argument could be made: Friedman’s albums were misunderstood in their day and didn’t really sell, even though they impressed some formidable songwriters. The cover of Sullivan’s book bears a quote from Dylan: “I don’t understand music. I understand Lightnin’ Hopkins. I understand Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker, Woody Guthrie, Kinky Friedman.”

Despite the high praise, Friedman stepped away from writing songs and reinvented himself as an author in the ’90s. His mystery novels found an audience, but he never achieved the success of a Carl Hiassen; Friedman’s former editor attributes it to laziness in the book. And Friedman’s runs for public office never resulted in holding public office.

“My shrink told me if you fail at something long enough, you become a legend,” he says. “That’s one way of doing it. Politics, I think I can safely say I failed. That’s really how I see myself commercially, professionally. But I think I’m in good company. John Lennon, Winston Churchill: They didn’t feel like life’s winners. But it really is about the rainbow. That’s the key. There was a guy who was the Justin Bieber of the art world in Van Gogh’s day. We don’t know his name today, but he sold a lot of his (expletive) art, and Van Gogh didn’t. So I’ll take a little success late in life.”

I was once a fan of Kinky Friedman’s. Bought several CDs, read his mystery books, saw him at the Laff Stop in the early 90’s – it was a great show. His candidacy for Governor in 2006 ended all that. I’d forgotten till I read this story and started thinking about what I was going to write, but I’ve never ripped any of my Kinky Friedman CDs to iTunes. I was too mad at him to enjoy the music any more. I’ve mellowed a bit since then, but it’s safe to say I’ll never be that kind of fan again.

The thing that struck me in this story is the bit in that penultimate paragraph about Friedman’s books not being as successful as they perhaps could have been. I feel like the same could be said about Friedman’s political career. One thing I noticed early on in his 2006 campaign is that in each feature story written about his candidacy he was cracking the same jokes. Politicians repeat themselves all the time, of course, but someone whose claim to fame is being an entertainer ought to do better than that, especially if he never really bothers to become proficient in policy. Indeed, if humor is a substitute for policy, the last thing it can do is get stale. Later on, Friedman did make an effort to become better at policy; in his 2014 run for Ag Commissioner, he reasonably and somewhat presciently latched onto the issue of legalizing hemp in Texas, as a potential boon for farmers. Not a bad idea, but he never developed it beyond basic talking points, and there was nothing more to his platform than that. On his third attempt to win statewide office, surely he could have done better than that.

So anyway, I’m sure the forthcoming biography will be an engaging read. Whatever else you can say about Kinky Friedman, he’s never been boring, and I’ve no doubt he has some great stories to tell. But there could have been more. We’ll never know how much more.

A look at past primaries

I think we can all agree that the 2018 Democratic primary season is already unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory. And since I like putting expressions like that into numbers, I thought I’d try to do it here. First, let’s compare the number of contested Democratic primaries across non-Presidential years:


Year   State  Congress  Lege
============================
1994      10        11    33
1998       3         6    19
2002       6         8    26
2006       4         5    20
2010       4         5    11
2014       4         6    13
2018       3        20    37

“Lege” includes both the Senate and the House. We only have three contested statewide primaries, but we do have an eight-candidate race for Governor, so that’s something different. The number of contested primaries for Congress and the Lege are higher than we’ve ever seen, and there’s still a day left to file. Remember also that there were a lot more Democrats in the Lege in 1994 than now. We have a lot of multi-candidate races this year for the right to face a Republican opponent or fill a Republican open seat.

The number of contested races is one thing, but the most visible measure of interest in an election is how many people vote in it. Here are the turnout levels for Democratic primaries going back to 1994:


Year      Total    Pct RV
=========================
1994  1,036,907    11.47%
1998    664,532     5.95%
2002  1,003,388     8.21%
2006    508,602     3.99%
2010    680,548     5.23%
2014    560,033     4.12%

“Pct RV” is the percentage of Democratic primary voters to all registered voters. There were more RVs in 2002 than there were in 1994, so even though the total number of voters was about the same, the share of RVs is lower. We don’t know what the turnout total will be for 2018 yet, but this should give us a goal, which I’d peg at one million votes at a minimum. There were just over 15 million registered voters as of this November – that number will like increase for March – so a goal of ten percent participation would set the target at 1.5 million. This is something I’ll be keeping an eye on. A new high water mark here would further the narrative of Democratic excitement. The same old thing will not.

Republicans really are worried about 2018

Some of them, anyway.

In a private memo to Abbott’s aides, senior political adviser Dave Carney cautions that despite the fact that Texas is solid red in recent statewide voting patterns, suburban voters could pose significant problems for Republicans in next year’s mid-term elections.

“It would be easy for us to say Texas is not Virginia. It would be easy for us to say the Democrats in Texas aren’t that well organized,” wrote Carney, a New Hampshire-based political consultant who has served as an adviser to Rick Perry and Abbott and was the White House political director for George H.W. Bush.

“That would be a huge mistake.”

[…]

In the memo, Carney asserts that Republican losses in the recent Virginia elections “were not caused by Republicans running a bad campaign.” Instead, he insists that the GOP got more votes for governor of Virginia than they ever had — but still lost.”

“Republican voters showed up but were overwhelmed by Democrat enthusiasm,” the memo states. “This wasn’t a case of a great Democrat turning out the vote.”

In fact, he says, Ralph Northam, the Democrat who won the governorship, “is no Barack Obama. In fact, most observers consider Northam a bad candidate,” so bad that progressive organizations stopped mobilizing voter turnout on his behalf before the election because of his opposition to sanctuary cities.

“The Northern Virginia suburbs saw turnout increase substantially while the rest of the state turned out at historic levels,” Carney wrote.

Texas Republicans, he reasons, could face a similar turnout by Democrats — especially among suburban voters in areas where Democrats have recently registered enthusiasm, such as Houston and Dallas.

“We will have to deal with these very same problems (and they could be much worse in another year) during our reelection,” Carney warned. “No matter who the Democrat candidate is, Democrats will turn out to vote in higher numbers than ever before to voice their displeasure with President Trump. Without Hillary Clinton to push them away suburban voters will lean Democratic in reaction to the national political environment.”

“Like Virginia, Texas is growing and in doing so it is becoming more suburban, more independent and more easily influenced by the national political environment,” the memo states, noting that that Republicans lost their 66-to-34 advantage in the Virginia House of Delegates.

With three races still too close to call, Democrats now hold a 49-to-48 advantage.

“The enthusiasm gap that we face is real,” Carney cautions. “It is going to take a concerted effort by the campaign to overcome it, not just for ourselves, but for the down ballot races that will be depending on us to pull them over the line.”

Personally, I think their main problem has the initials DJT and a Twitter addiction, but there’s not much you can do about that in a memo. How much will the national environment affect them, and what if anything can they do to ameliorate it? Just as Dems can’t do anything about Republican engagement, the Rs can’t do anything about Democratic enthisiasm, but if they can turn out at normal levels, they can largely avoid ill effects. Their turnout was depressed in 2006 and 2008, and their results reflected that. They have more to lose this time around. Outside of those two years, Republicans have done a very good job getting their people to the polls. They’ve never faced a challenge like now before. Let’s hope they’re not up to it.

Framing the 2018 question

This Chron story asks the question “what might it take for a Democrat to win statewide in Texas in 2018, then never actually engages it.

At the five-top table in the corner at Russell’s Bakery, a northwest Austin restaurant and coffee bar, the conversation among the five women, all self-described as “recovering Republicans,” veered from the signature cinnamon rolls and traffic to President Donald Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“I have two questions I’d like to know the answer to: Is there any way for a Democrat to win a state office next year, and what would it take for some Republicans to lose in this state?” Chrys Langer, a 47-year-old tech consultant and mother of three, asked a reporter sitting at a nearby table. “Politics has taken a turn for the worse, in my opinion, in Austin with the bathroom bill and all kinds of other conservative-male nonsense and in the White House with – well, with Trump being Trump.”

[…]

In interviews with voters of both parties, from Houston to suburban San Antonio to Dallas to Austin, the question comes up time and time again, as does an underlying frustration with governments in both Washington and Austin.

Despite that, more than a dozen political scientists and consultants interviewed by the Chronicle said they see almost no chance that Republicans will lose hold of their 23-year grip on statewide elective offices during next year’s elections, despite the fact that Democrats made notable inroads in Dallas and Houston a year ago when Trump won Texas by just nine percentage points – down from previous double-digit support of Republican presidential candidates.

“There isn’t any way Democrats can win statewide office in Texas, short of some astounding collapse of the Republicans in Washington or Austin,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “Winning is a habit, and so is losing. The Democrats right now have no well-known candidate, no bench, their funding has evaporated, and they have no experience in their volunteer base. The Republicans have all of that.

“And at the end of the day, the Republicans who say they’re not satisfied with things will vote for a Republican because, with the polarization of the political process in recent years, Democrats are now seen as enemies of the state, and they won’t jump across and vote for them.”

Jillson’s sentiments echoed those of all the others, even with the so-called “Trump Factor” that Democrats are touting as a key to some unexpected victories in the November 2018 elections.

“Trump’s approval rating would have to drop into the teens where it might hurt Abbott and Patrick and the other Republicans on the ballot in Texas, and even then I doubt the effect would be significant,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “Even though the Democrats will try to tie Abbott and Patrick as close to Trump as they can, every time they get a chance, they can distance themselves from Trump because Texas voters in a midterm election pay more attention to state issues than Washington.”

Let me begin by saying that Rottinghaus’ statement about midterm elections is not at all in line with the results of at least the last four midterms, at least as far as Republican turnout goes. If you don’t think Texas is reflective of the national climate, I’m not sure what to tell you.

That’s the first thing to think about when considering possibilities for 2018: What will Republican turnout look like? On the one end, we have 2006, where statewide Republican vote totals ranged from 2,135,612 to 2,661,789. On the other end, there’s 2010 where the low was 2,737,481 and the high was 3,151,064 (I’m skipping races where there was no Democratic challenger, such as Comptroller in 2010). In between is 2014, with a range from 2,691,417 to 2,827,584. Which of those years will 2018 most closely resemble? Obviously, a 2006-style year makes for a more competitive environment for Democrats, but it’s not something Dems have control over. What are the factors that might lead one to expect a 2006 versus a 2014 or a 2010? Polls, fundraising, tone of rhetoric and advertising, Presidential popularity, some combination, something else? Put those PhDs to use and give me your thoughts on that.

Then there’s Democratic turnout, which as I’ve noted ad nauseum has remained stubbornly flat since 2002. The high end, with a few exceptions, has been around 1.8 million. If Dems could boost their base turnout by about 600K votes – that is, roughly the boost Republicans got from 2006 to 2010 – they’d be at 2.4 million, which would have been enough to capture the three Commissioner races and two contested judicial seats in 2006. Two point four million represents about two-thirds of the 2016 overall turnout for Dems, which again is about what Republicans achieved in 2010 over 2008. What factors might make a political science professor think such an achievement was possible? We know that the key in Harris County in 2016 was a big increase in voter registration, which in turn led to a much larger pool of Democratic-aligned voters. Dems may not have the infrastructure Republicans have enjoyed, but there are now multiple grassroots organizations – Pantsuit Nation, Indivisible, Our Revolution, the scaled-down version of Battleground Texas – that are out there engaging and registering and doing the things Dems should have been doing all along. Multiple Democratic Congressional candidates continue to excel at fundraising. Again, what do the people that the newsies reach out to for comment think of all that? What if anything might make them think there’s something happening here?

Picking the Republicans to hold serve again is very likely to be accurate, but it’s not very interesting. It doesn’t address the obvious fact that the climate is very different now, so it doesn’t give us any way to think about how that might change what could happen in 13 months – or five months, if you want to ask the same question about the primaries. It will be much harder to answer these questions than it was for me to ask them, and those answers may well change over the next year and a month, but surely we should be asking them anyway. I’d like to think I’m not the only one thinking along these lines.

Congressional candidates everywhere

Texas Democrats are as optimistic as they’ve ever been about candidate recruitment.

Rep. Roger Williams

“I’ve been recruiting candidates in Texas for years, and I’ve never seen an environment quite like this,” said Cliff Walker, candidate recruitment director for the state Democratic Party.

Walker predicted that for the first time in his political career, every open congressional seat will be filled by a “strong Democratic nominee,” and many will have a Democratic primary.

One such race is the primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin. His 25th Congressional District includes much of East Austin and parts of Central Austin, including the University of Texas. It stretches from western Hays County to the suburbs south of Fort Worth.

So far three Democratic candidates have emerged for the March primary, though there’s still time for others to join the race before the Nov. 11. deadline. All three cited Trump as their main motivator in deciding to throw their hat in the ring.

Kathi Thomas, 64, a Dripping Springs small-business owner, also challenged Williams in 2016. Initially, it was hearing Williams speak at a town hall-type meeting in 2014 that motivated her to run. After she lost to him last year with about 38 percent of the vote, she said, she hadn’t planned to run again.

[…]

Julie Oliver, 45, a St. David’s HealthCare executive and Central Health board member, never planned to enter the world of politics until Trump’s election, when she said she felt a call of duty.

“We need voices in Congress who will stand up to (Trump) and say that’s not OK. The way you speak is not OK. Where you’re leading us is not OK,” Oliver said, before naming Republicans in Texas and across the country who “won’t stand up to the bully” as she says she will.

[…]

It was seeing Trump announce the immigration ban that stirred to action Chetan Panda, a first-generation American whose parents came to the U.S. from India. Panda grew up and lives in Austin.

“You could see on CNN, these people who are not being allowed to be again in this country,” Panda said. “Honestly, I saw myself and my family’s faces on those people’s faces. … It was really opportunity being denied.”

Panda, 26, was working as a retirement fund manager at a mutual fund, but after that moment and careful consideration, he decided to leave the job to turn his focus on the congressional race.

Thomas was the only candidate of the three in CD25 to have filed a finance report for Q2. I didn’t include her in my roundup because she’d only collected about $8K. The deadline for Q3 reports was Sunday the 15th, and reports are starting to come in, so I’ll be very interested in what we get in this district. In the meantime, you can see Kathi Thomas’ webpage here, Julie Oliver’s here, and Chetan Panda’s here. You’ve got a range of options available to you if you live in CD25.

How good a target is CD25? It’s not completely hopeless, but it’s not exactly top tier. Here are relevant Presidential and Gubernatorial results from recent years, with Court of Criminal Appeals races thrown in for extra effect:

2016 – Clinton 39.9%, Trump 54.7% — Burns 37.0%, Keasler 58.1%
2012 – Obama 37.8%, Romney 59.9% — Hampton 37.6%, Keller 57.6%

2014 – Davis 39.5%, Abbott 58.3% — Granberg 36.4%, Richardson 58.9%
2006 – Molina 44.4%, Keller 55.6%

I didn’t include results from the weird 2006 Governor’s race. The more-encouraging 2006 CCA numbers are due to reduced Republican turnout, which was exacerbated in the downballot contests. Hope in all of these Congressional races begins with a combination of lessened Republican turnout plus energized Democratic participation, with some districts needing a higher concentration of each than others. If CD25 winds up being in play, we are on the high end of that scale.

We have a candidate for Treasurer

Dylan Osborne

The Democratic slate for countywide offices in 2018 is now filled out as Dylan Osborne has announced his candidacy for Harris County Treasurer. Osborne has been a City Council staffer and currently works in the Planning & Development Department for the City of Houston. He joins the following on the ticket for next November:

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge
Diane Trautman, County Clerk
Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk
Josh Wallenstein, HCDE Trustee, Position 3 At Large

All this presumes there are no other entrants into the primaries. Given how crowded some other races are I wouldn’t bet on that, but this is what we have now. As noted in the previous update, we are still awaiting candidates for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, and an HCDE Trustee for Position 4, Precinct 4, as well as some State Reps. Filing season opens in about five weeks.

Did you know that the current Treasurer, Orlando Sanchez, is the longest-tenured countywide official? He was elected in 2006, so this is his third term. County Judge Ed Emmett was appointed in 2007 and won his first election in 2008, along with County Attorney Vince Ryan. County Clerk Stan Stanart and District Clerk Chris Daniel were both elected in 2010. Everyone else, including the At Large HCDE Trustees, was elected no earlier than 2012. There are some judges who have been on the bench longer than Sanchez has been in office, there are Constables and JPs who have been around longer, and of course Commissioner Steve Radack was first elected during the Truman administration (I may be slightly exaggerating), but for countywide executive offices, it’s Orlando and then it’s everybody else. If we want to elevate somebody else to the title of most senior countywide elected official, next year will be our chance to do that.

One side benefit of the continued Republican repeal follies

It depresses the base.

Texas-based Republican political consultant Brendan Steinhauser’s early read of the fallout was that the party has reasons to be worried about next year’s midterm elections.

“I think that you will see that if this fails, Republicans in Congress will get blamed,” he said. “I think you will see a very angry base that will attract some primary challengers to these members of Congress from the right, and I think you’ll see some of these voters stay home in the midterm [general election].”

“I think that is the more dangerous trend for Republicans,” he added. “… In general, the consensus is, ‘You guys have been making this promise for seven years to repeal Obamacare … If you guys can’t achieve it then why did we send you to Washington?'”

This is at the end of a Trib story about the latest Obamacare repeal failure, and the Texas Republicans’ reaction to it. My point here, and I’ve made it before, is that the factors that would contribute to Democrats overperforming next year include high levels of Democratic enthusiasm, with low levels on the Republican side. Both were factors in 2008, and the latter was in play in 2006. There’s a lot of time between now and next November, and things can get better for them and worse for the Dems, but as things stand now, the trends are much more positive for the Dems. Keep an eye on Trump’s approval rating among Republicans, that will be the tell.

One more thing about vouchers

I’m going to enjoy this just a little bit more.

The Texas House of Representatives all but killed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s prized school choice bill Thursday, dealing the powerful Republican a major loss as he struggles to push his agenda through this year’s legislative session.

House members considering the state’s budget plan for the next two years voted overwhelmingly against diverting public education funds to private schools in the next biennium, registering their resistance to a so-called school voucher program and sending a message to Patrick that the bill has no chance this year of passage.

“The House stands strongly in support of our neighborhood schools and our public school teachers and that any scheme, such as a voucher or otherwise that attempts to siphon funds away from our public schools, is not something that would be acceptable in the House,” said Rep. Abel Herrero, a Robstown Democrat. He sponsored an amendment expressly blocking any school voucher program.

Lawmakers, in the midst of a day-long marathon session debating the state’s $218 billion spending plan for the next two years, voted 103-44 in favor of the amendment. The revision declared state money “may not be used to pay for or support a school voucher, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship program or a similar program through which a child may use state money for non-public education.”

The Republican-led House also rejected a follow-up amendment allowing the state to fund a smaller so-called school voucher program limited to children from poor families. The chamber voted that idea down 117-27, signalling that paring down Patrick’s prized Senate Bill 3 will not win it more votes.

“Good-bye SB 3,” Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said from his desk after the vote.

Assigned a low bill number to reflect its importance among Patrick’s priorities, SB 3 would create education savings accounts that parents can tap to pay for private school tuition, home school costs, tutoring or other expenses. The bill would also create a tax credit scholarship program that rewards businesses with a tax break for cutting checks to the state to fund scholarships that could send children to private school. The Senate passed that plan last week on a 18-13 vote.

[…]

With the bill unlikely to pass this year, advocates for vouchers and school choice will use the vote to drive their political activities in the 2018 elections by singling out lawmakers who voted against vouchers, said Randan Steinhauser, co-founder of Texans for Education Opportunity, which advocates for broader school choice.

“This isn’t surprising. The House has always been an obstacle, and there are many Republicans who are not representing their constituents and their school children,” said Steinhauser, who has already gone door-knocking in several Republican lawmakers’ districts to pressure them into voting for vouchers. “This is an opportunity for parents in the state of Texas to see who is standing in the way of educational opportunity.”

See here for the background. I’ll get back to this in a second, but in the meantime, as Depeche Mode advises, enjoy the silence.

A day after Texas House members pointedly approved an amendment to prohibit the use of public money for private schools, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Legislature’s most vocal proponent of so-called “school choice,” has yet to issue a public reaction.

[…]

Repeated calls and emails to Patrick’s office for comment went unanswered Thursday and Friday, although his staff has posted videos of him on Facebook talking about child abuse prevention initiatives and tuition set-asides since the House vote Thursday morning.

Patrick, who has rallied for years to pass a school choice program, assigned the proposal a low bill number to indicate its importance among his legislative priorities. Last week, he and Taylor, the Senate education chairman, pared down the bill to appease senators on the fence about the proposal, agreeing to exempt counties of less than 285,000 unless voters there petition for a voucher program.

Taylor, a Friendswood Republican and sponsor of the bill, did not respond to requests for comment Friday about whether he had been in contact with Patrick about how they would proceed on the measure.

House lawmakers long have said they have little interest in passing SB 3 and Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said he did not want to force his committee to vote on the bill. The measure, which passed the Senate 18-13, is now awaiting action in the House.

A defeat on school vouchers likely would not hurt the lieutenant governor, said Jason Sabo, a longtime political observer and education lobbyist. Instead, he said, the House vote shows how politics are evolving away from party loyalty and toward regional and issue-based factions.

“It’s not about party. It’s about place,” he said. “If the largest employer in half the counties in your giant legislative district are public schools, you hate vouchers, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. You’re anti-voucher. ”

Who knew it was even possible to get Dan Patrick to shut up? And with all due respect to Jason Sabo, whose remarks may be a bit out of context here, this alignment on vouchers is nothing new. As this DMN article from January notes, people have been pushing for vouchers, thankfully without success, for going on thirty years. The Legislature came fairly close to fulfilling the wishes of people like GOP megadonor James Leininger, who was then the main force behind vouchers, during the 2005 session. Among other things, this led to the rise of the Texas Parent PAC and its shocking primary win over then-House Education Committee Chair Kent Gruesendorf. Patrick has taken up the banner in the two sessions since he became Lite Guv, but the fight long predates him.

And this is why Randan Steinhauser is wrong. At this point, there have been many elections, mostly Republican primaries, in which public education has been a big issue. Even with the likes of Leininger and then-Speaker Tom Craddick and now Dan Patrick behind them, voucher proponents have basically gained no ground, and aren’t anywhere close to a majority in the House. Hell, we’re at a point where they had to rebrand themselves, because “vouchers” has become a toxic label, and resort to a third-rate astroturfing campaign for their lobbying. Voucher supporters are the definition of a narrow interest group seeking to carve out an advantage for themselves. I’m not going to say they’ll never succeed, because politics doesn’t work like that, but I see no evidence that they are gaining public acceptance. They got the fate that they, and Dan Patrick, deserved.

O’Rourke sure sounds like a candidate for Senate

Sure feels like it’s a matter of when and not if Rep. Beto O’Rourke announces his candidacy for US Senate.

Re. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is sailing toward a 2018 Senate campaign — an uphill battle that would pit the little-known congressman against one of the state’s most prominent Republicans in the unpredictable era of President Donald Trump.

“I really want to do this,” O’Rourke said in an interview Saturday in which he also promised to run a positive campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — no matter how much animus the incumbent inspires among Texas Democrats.

“Being against Ted Cruz is not a strategy,” O’Rourke said. “It might motivate some folks and might make the election of a Democrat for the first time in 30 years more likely, but it in itself is not a strategy, and so I’m really putting my time and my efforts and my thinking into what makes Texas a better place and what makes the lives of the people who live in this state better, and so I’m just going to stay focused on that.”

O’Rourke has said for weeks that he is likely to take on Cruz but has not set a timeline for an official announcement. He said Saturday he wants to make sure he is mindful of his current constituents and that “I’m thoughtful in how I make this decision and keep El Paso, my family, foremost in mind.”

“I don’t want to run unless we’re going to win, and I’m confident we can,” O’Rourke said. “I just want to make sure the way we do this, we set ourselves up for victory.”

[…]

If O’Rourke runs for Senate, fundraising would likely be one of his biggest challenges. While he was the underdog in his 2012 Senate campaign, Cruz has since built a national fundraising network, partly through his 2016 presidential bid.

O’Rourke has already made clear he plans not to accept PAC money in a potential Senate campaign. Asked Saturday if that would apply to money from national Democratic groups who may want to help him out, O’Rourke held firm that he “won’t take money from political action committees — and that’s across the spectrum.”

“I think folks just need to know that, clean and simple,” O’Rourke said. “When you start picking and choosing then, you know, it becomes a slippery slope and you just start doing what everyone else is doing, what everyone is so sick of and what has made Washington so dysfunctional and corporate.”

See here, here, and here for some background. As noted before, we are probably not going to get any kind of positive announcement until after the March 31 campaign finance deadline for the first quarter. I will say again, I really hope Rep. O’Rourke has a plan to achieve the kind of grassroots fundraising success he talks about, because it ain’t easy to do. Neither is running for Senate with less than a full complement of resources, as Paul Sadler and Rick Noriega and Barbara Radnofsky could tell you. Believe me, I’m rooting for Rep. O’Rourke, and I’ll chip in when the time comes, I’m just trying to be clear-headed about the road ahead.

On the matter of whether or not his colleague Rep. Joaquin Castro will join him in this quest, Rep. O’Rourke says that while Rep. Castro is his friend and he’d be a great Senator himself, he can’t and won’t wait to see what someone else does to make his own decision. Fair enough. I still don’t believe the two of them will square off in a primary, but 2018 is going to be a weird year, so who knows what might happen.

O’Rourke and Dowd say they want to challenge Cruz in 2018

Rep. Beto O’Rourke upgraded his chances of running for the Senate in 2018 to “very likely”.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Thursday he is all but certain to make a run for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s seat in 2018.

“I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of people around the state of Texas over the last six weeks, and I will tell you, I’m very encouraged,” he told The Texas Tribune on Thursday in an interview. “And I am continuing to listen to and talk to folks, and I’m just becoming more and more encouraged.”

“It’s very likely that I will run for Senate in 2018,” the El Paso Democrat added.

In a previous interview with the Tribune, O’Rourke kept the door open to a run in 2018 or 2020. O’Rourke just began his third term in the U.S. House and has promised to term-limit himself in that chamber.

The comments came just hours after former George W. Bush operative Matthew Dowd told the Tribune that he, too, was considering a bid against Cruz as an independent.

O’Rourke reacted to the Dowd news positively.

“Anyone who’s willing to take something like this on deserves our respect, and so I think that would be great,” he said. “I think the more voices, perspectives, experience that can be fielded, the better for Texas.”

See here for the background. I have to assume that O’Rourke’s greater interest in a 2018 run also indicates a lesser likelihood of Rep. Joaquin Castro challenging Cruz, but this story does not mention Castro. I think O’Rourke could be an interesting opponent for Cruz, if he has the resources to make himself heard, and it’s always possible that this midterm could be a lot less friendly to Republicans than the last two have been, but he would be a longshot no matter how you slice it. Given the fundraising he’d have to do to make a Senate run viable, I’m guessing we’d need to have a final decision to run by June at the latest, but we’ll see.

And as noted in that story, Rep. O’Rourke wasn’t the only person talking about a Cruz challenge.

Matthew Dowd, an Austin-based television news commentator and former George W. Bush strategist, is mulling an independent challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I don’t know what I will do,” he told The Texas Tribune. “But I am giving it some thought, and I appreciate the interest of folks.”

Dowd said this has been a draft effort, as prominent members of both parties have approached him to run against Cruz.

[…]

The political strategist’s career tells the story of the past three decades of Texas politics. Dowd started in Democratic politics, including as a staffer to then-U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and then-Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.

But Dowd eventually gravitated to then-Gov. Bush in the late 1990s, working on both of his presidential campaigns and for the Republican National Committee.

In 2007, Dowd publicly criticized Bush over the Iraq war.

More recently, Dowd used his social media and ABC News platforms to question the viability of the two-party system.

Now, he is considering a run of his own — against a man he once worked with on the 2000 Bush campaign.

“I don’t think Ted served the state well at all,” Dowd said. “He hasn’t been interested in being a U.S. senator from Texas. He’s been interested in national office since the day he got in.”

[…]

An independent run would be a heavy lift, but it would probably scramble the race far more than anyone could have anticipated a year ago. Dowd argued that an independent candidate could have a better shot than a challenge from either party.

“I think Ted is vulnerable, but I don’t think Ted’s vulnerable in the Republican primary, and I don’t think Ted is vulnerable to a Democrat in the general,” he said. “I think a Democrat can’t win in the state.”

Fundraising in an expensive state without the party apparatus would likely be a major obstacle as well.

“I actually believe money is less important now today than it’s ever been,” he said. “It’s going to take money and a lot of grassroots money, and it’s going to take people frustrated at Washington and frustrated about Ted.”

This is extremely hypothetical, so let’s not go too deep here. The first challenge is getting on the ballot as an independent, which requires collecting a sizable number of petition signatures from non-primary voters in a fairly short period of time. It can be done, as Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman demonstrated in 2006, but it takes a lot of resources. That can be money or volunteer energy, but at least one is needed. And say what you want about how important money is in today’s campaign world, the challenge remains getting your name and message out to people. If voters have no idea who you are on the ballot, they’re probably not going to vote for you. I guarantee you, if a poll were taken right now, maybe two percent of Texas voters will have any familiarity with the name “Matthew Dowd”. That’s what the money would be for, to get the voters to know who he is.

If – and it’s a big if, but we love to speculate about this sort of thing – Dowd can get the petition signatures to get on the ballot, then the actual election becomes pretty interesting. Dowd may have started life as a Democrat, but he’s much more closely identified with the Republicans, and he’s now a fairly prominent Trump critic. We could assume that his base is primarily the Republicans who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, which if you add up the Clinton crossovers and the increase in Gary Johnson’s vote total over 2012 works out to maybe a half million people. That’s not nothing, but it’s a long way from a win, and the voters who remain are the more committed partisans. On the assumption that Dowd would draw more heavily from Republicans, that would help boost Beto O’Rourke’s chances, but Ted Cruz starts out with a pretty big cushion. He can afford to lose a lot of votes before he faces any real peril. Even in the down year of 2006, Republicans were winning statewide races by 500K to a million votes. Having someone like Dowd in the race improves O’Rourke’s chances of winning, but a lot would have to happen for those chances to improve to something significant.

We’re getting way ahead of ourselves. If O’Rourke says he’s running, I believe him. If Dowd says he’s thinking about running, well, I believe he’s thinking about it. Wake me up when he does something more concrete than that.

A theory about third parties

Before I get to that theory, have you ever wondered about the people who vote straight ticket Libertarian or Green in Harris County? I got to wondering about them, because that’s the sort of thing that I think about at times like this. Here are the total numbers of such people, grouped by Presidential and non-Presidential years, going back to 2000:


Year  Total votes  SP Lib  SP Green   Lib%  Green%
==================================================
2000      995,631   1,935     4,503  0.19%   0.45%
2004    1,088,793   3,343            0.31%
2008    1,188,731   4,017            0.34%
2012    1,204,167   4,777     1,759  0.40%   0.15%
2016    1,336,985   8,781     4,577  0.66%   0.34%

2002      656,682   1,159     1,399  0.18%   0.21%
2006      601,186   3,052            0.51%
2010      798,995   2,506     1,110  0.31%   0.14%
2014      688,018   2,922     1,180  0.42%   0.17%

“SP Lib” is the total number of straight party Libertarian votes, and “SP Green” is the same for the Greens. “Lib%” and “Green%” are the share of these straight party votes to all votes cast in the county. If you look at the election result pages on the HarrisVotes.com website, you will see that my percentages are lower than the ones shown there. That’s because they calculate the percentage of these votes as a share of all straight-party votes cast, not a share of all votes. I did it this way to see what if any trend there was for Libertarian and Green voting overall. For comparison purposes, 30.01% of all votes in Harris county this year were straight ticket Republican, with 35.35% of all votes being straight-ticket Democratic.

As you can see, in the Presidential years the Libertarians had been slowly ticking upwards, with a bit of a jump this year, though the trend is more erratic in the off years. The spike in 2006 is odd, because the Libertarian candidate for Governor received only 0.61% of the vote that year. If you wanted to vote outside the two-party box for Governor in 2006, you had plenty of choices. The Greens weren’t officially on the ballot in 2004, 2006, or 2008, so there’s less of a trend to spot. I’d say they do better in or right after a year where they have a Presidential candidate who gets some attention. Whether any of this will hold next year is not something I’m going to speculate about at this time. My mantra for the next twelve to eighteen months is “conditions in 2018 will be different than they were in 2014 and 2010”, and leave it at that.

That brings me to my theory, which applies to low profile races – not President, not Senate, not Governor, sometimes not other races. I’m limiting myself to statewide contests here, since that’s where you get most of the third party candidates that an individual voter sees. In my case, there was a Green candidate for CD18, a Libertarian for SBOE, and nothing else below the state level. I believe that in these races, which this year would be the Railroad Commission and the two state courts, voters for third party candidates can be broadly sorted into one of three groups. The first group is the party faithful, which as we have just seen is a relatively small cohort. There are probably a few more people who vote L or G as a first choice but don’t vote straight ticket, but that’s still a small group even in the context of just third party voters. Most of the people voting third party in these races aren’t voting third party as a matter of course.

So who are they? Group Two I believe is people who normally vote for Rs or Ds but who refuse to vote for their candidate in this particular instance. That may be because the candidate of their party is too/not sufficiently liberal/conservative for them, because that candidate supports or opposes a specific thing that is of great importance to them, because the candidate has ethical baggage, or because they just don’t like that candidate for some reason. In these cases, they don’t want to vote for the candidate of the other party, so a third party it is. Gary Johnson obviously got a lot of these votes in the Presidential race, but the downballot exemplar for this one was the Railroad Commissioner race, where Libertarian Mark Miller got a bunch of newspaper endorsements for being the most qualified candidate running.

The thing is, I don’t think there are that many races like that. I think in a lot of these races, people just don’t know anything about any of the candidates. So if you’re someone who (say) generally votes Democratic but aren’t that committed to it and you’re looking at a race for the Court of Criminal Appeals, you may say to yourself “well, I know I don’t want to vote for the Republican, but I don’t know who any of these other people are, so I’ll just pick one and move on”. These people are my Group Three.

What that says to me first of all is that both Republicans and Democrats are leaving some votes on the table in these downballot races by not doing a better job of getting their candidates’ names out there. That’s not much of a concern for the Republicans, who continue to win by double-digit margins, but it could eventually matter. I see this as an extension of a problem that Democrats are increasingly having in their primaries, where candidates like RRC nominee Grady Yarbrough have won races by a combination of pseudo-name recognition and random chance because no one knows who the hell these people are. I have many wishes for Texas Democrats going forward, and high on my list is for the party and the donor class to take these downballot primaries seriously.

One possible exception to this may be for Latino candidates. Look at the top votegetters for each party: Supreme Court candidates Eva Guzman and Dori Contreras Garza. My hypothesis is that Latino voters in a Group Three situation will choose a Latino candidate, even possibly one from their non-preferred party, instead of just randomly picking someone. Again, this is in races where none of the candidates are known to the voters, and thus there could be a different outcome if people had more knowledge. If we ever get to that point, maybe we’ll see that difference.

Finally, I believe my theory is consistent with the Libertarian candidate almost always doing better than the Green candidate does in these situations, for the simple reason that the Libertarian candidate appears on the ballot above the Green candidate. If it’s true that some people just pick a name after having moved past the first two candidates, then it makes sense that the first candidate listed after those two would get a larger share.

Anyway, that’s my theory. I could be wrong, and I doubt anyone other than me had given this much thought. I’ll get back to the precinct analyses tomorrow. Let me know what you think about this.

Beto O’Rourke talking about the Senate

Another Democratic Congressman is thinking about trying for an upgrade.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, told The Texas Tribune he is considering running for the U.S. Senate.

“I am,” the sophomore congressman said when Tribune CEO Evan Smith asked if O’Rourke is thinking about running for Senate in 2018 or 2020.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is up for re-election in 2018, while John Cornyn, the U.S. Senate majority whip, will be up for re-election and a fourth term in 2020.

“Am I looking at one of those two races? Yes,” O’Rourke said Friday, but he declined to specify whether he would challenge Cornyn or Cruz.

[…]

O’Rourke is a fierce advocate for term limits. So much so, that he has repeatedly promised to leave office after four terms. That would put the end of his U.S. House career in 2021.

It is still an open question whether Democrats can mount a statewide campaign in Texas, where they haven’t won a statewide race since 1994. But O’Rourke is no stranger to uphill challenges: He ousted long-term U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a fellow Democrat, in 2012.

In Washington, O’Rourke is viewed as young, liberal and an independent player within his party’s caucus in the U.S. House.

The El Paso Democrat also has a knack for drawing national attention. Last summer, his Facebook page went viral as he live-streamed an impromptu U.S. House chamber “sit-in” for gun control from his iPhone. For hours, he broadcasted the events from the House floor, switching out batteries, to the point that when the protest ended, he joked about hand injuries.

The single most consequential factor in any Senate candidacy is an ability to fundraise. In his time running congressional campaigns, O’Rourke proved able but not overly dominant at the task.

Typically, he has brought in in the mid-six figures for his re-election. He topped out in his challenge to Reyes with about $700,000 raised.

I drafted this before Tuesday, so who knows if this is still operative, but let’s proceed as if it is. As we know, Rep. Joaquin Castro has also talked about running for Senate in 2018 against Cruz. I still have plenty of doubts about that given that he inhabits a safe seat and is on track for House Caucus leadership, but he continues to lay some groundwork for that. It’s nice to know people are at least thinking about it.

As for O’Rourke, I’ve had no complaints with his service in Congress. I think term limits are a crock, but if he himself wants out after a max of four terms, and if that desire has him thinking about higher office, I can’t argue with that. His fundraising in 2012 got a big boost from a group called the Campaign for Primary Accountability that took aim at several Congressional incumbents of both parties that they thought needed to be ousted; O’Rourke’s defeat of then-Rep. Silvestre Reyes was their biggest victory. I’ve not heard anything from this group since 2012, but O’Rourke (who has some family money as well) can stand on his own two feet, and would no doubt draw at least some national attention if he went after Cruz. That gun control sit-in will help him with the Democratic grassroots as well.

As for which Senate race O’Rourke should aim for if indeed he aims to move up, I can make a case for either one. Cruz has more detractors and could be vulnerable to losing some establishment Republican types for his constant grandstanding and lack of interest in any state issues, but we know off-year electorates have been rough on Dems. Of course, that may not be the case now – there’s at least a chance that 2018 could be more like 2006 than 2010 or 2014. Cornyn should have no trouble holding onto core Republican support and he hasn’t antagonized minority groups like Cruz has. At this point, who knows if 2018 or 2020 will be a better year for a Dem to run. If I were a classic back-room power broker, I’d tell Castro to run in 2018 and O’Rourke in 2020. I don’t have that kind of power, so I’ll just have to wait and see what they decide like everyone else.

(Rep. Mike McCaul, who has been busy lately buttressing his GOP primary credentials for his own possible run against Cruz in 2018. This could wind up being a very interesting race.)

Endorsement watch: A Libertarian moment

The Chron thinks outside the box in endorsing for the Railroad Commission.

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Our editorial board interviews scores of candidates for political office every election year, but seldom do we find ourselves wholeheartedly endorsing a nominee from the Libertarian Party. Then again, seldom have we met a Libertarian candidate like Mark Miller.

Ask this man anything at all about the Railroad Commission of Texas and he’ll give you a straight, smart answer informed not only by decades of working in the industry and teaching petrochemical engineering at the University of Texas, but also by a mastery of the issues facing the energy business and the state body that regulates it. He’s an affable retired oil and gas man with a doctorate from Stanford University who’s so interested in this agency he literally wrote a book on the railroad commission.

With impressive clarity and authority, Miller offers well-informed opinions on a litany of arcane issues involving the energy industry: why the Texas Legislature needs to resolve the conflict between the owners of surface rights and mineral rights, why the state should dramatically reduce the number of permits for flaring natural gas, why Texas needs to figure out how to plug oil wells left unplugged by companies that go bankrupt. This guy clearly knows what he’s talking about.

By comparison, none of the other candidates for this office have actually worked in the industry they propose to help oversee. Wayne Christian, the Republican nominee, earned a troublesome reputation as a combative bomb-thrower in the state Legislature; he helped craft a shamefully self-serving amendment exempting his own Bolivar Peninsula home from the Texas Open Beaches Act, and Texas Monthly twice rated him one of the state’s worst lawmakers. Grady Yarbrough, the Democratic nominee, is a retired school teacher whose background seems better suited to an education post. Martina Salinas, the Green Party nominee, is an earnest construction inspector from the Fort Worth area who, again, never worked in the energy business.

I don’t have any particular quarrel with the recommendation. Experience is a somewhat overrated qualification for the RRC, given that its Commissioners (those with industry experience and those without it) tend to be rubber stamps for the industry they purportedly regulate anyway. Certainly, Wayne Christian will do whatever his overlords tell him to do, so in that sense it doesn’t matter whether or not he understands anything about what he’s doing. Maybe Grady Yarbrough will take advice from other sources, who knows. At least he’ll have to be more visible if he somehow gets elected.

Endorsement aside – it would not shock me if Miller collects more than one such recommendation, given the other choices – the more interesting question is whether Miller can break the five percent barrier in this race. Libertarians and Greens have relied in recent years on statewide races in which there was no Democrat running to place a candidate who can top that mark and thus guarantee ballot access for all statewide races for their team. This year, those tricky Democrats actually ran candidates for all statewide offices, meaning the Ls and the Gs are going to have to do this the hard way if they want to be on the statewide ballot in 2020. (The hard way involves collecting a sufficient number of petition signatures, possibly with a little help from friends of convenience.) The question I want to answer is: Have any Libertarian or Green Party statewide candidates cracked the five percent mark in a statewide race that featured both an R and a D in recent years?

We go to the Secretary of State election returns for that. Here are the high statewide scorers for the Ls and the Gs in such races in Presidential years:


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2012      L Stott       Lib        CCA  3.26%
2012    C Kennedy       Grn        RRC  1.99%

2008      D Floyd       Lib        RRC  3.52%

2004     A Garcia       Lib        RRC  3.60%

2000     M Ruwart       Lib     Senate  1.16%
2000      R Nader       Grn  President  2.15%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2004 or 2008.) Doesn’t look too promising. How about in the non-Presidential years?


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2014    M Bennett       Lib        CCA  3.61%
2014    M Salinas       Grn        RRC  2.03%

2010  J Armstrong       Lib     Sup Ct  4.04%
2010   A Browning       Grn        RRC  1.49%

2006      J Baker       Lib     Lt Gov  4.36%

2002  B Hernandez       Lib  Land Comm  4.12%
2002  O Jefferson       Grn        CCA  1.74%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2006.) Not much better. Note that total turnout is a factor – Jack Armstrong (195K) received more votes than Judy Baker (188K) or Barbara Hernandez (180K), but he was running in a much higher turnout environment, so his percentage was lower. By the way, Mark Miller and Martina Salinas were both candidates for the RRC in 2014 as well; Miller received 3.15% of the vote, against R and D candidates who were much better qualified than the ones running this year. Make of that what you will. To get back to my original question, I’d say both Ls and Gs will be relying on their Presidential candidate for their best chance to crack the five percent mark. I’d give Gary Johnson a decent shot at it, but Jill Stein? I figure if Ralph Nader couldn’t get halfway there in 2000, Stein is unlikely to be the one. There’s always the petitions.

HD146 nomination process is today

You know the drill.

Borris Miles

Borris Miles

Twenty-seven southwest Houston precinct chairs are set to tap a replacement for Democratic state Rep. Borris Miles on Saturday, the third time in less than two months many of them have convened to fill a hole on the party’s November ballot for non-judicial seats.

The vacancy is the latest result of former Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee’s death in January, which set off a chain of openings. Precinct chairs in June selected state Sen. Rodney Ellis to replace Lee as the Democratic nominee for Precinct 1 commissioner, and they later chose Miles to fill Ellis’ legislative seat.

At least four candidates are running to represent Miles’ district of more than 175,000, which stretches from Sharpstown to Sunnyside.

Harris County Board of Education Trustee Erica Lee Carter and attorney Shawn Theirry are seen as frontrunners, with former City Council candidate Larry Blackmon and activist Valencia Williams also seeking the Democratic nod for District 146.

[…]

Precinct chair Tiffany Hogue, of Brays Oaks, discussed the challenge of trying to represent the views of her constituents, as well as the opinions of those in surrounding areas who do not have a precinct chair.

“A process that people never expected to use has been used three times in the course of a month and a half,” referring to the Democratic Party meetings to replace Lee, Ellis and Miles.

“We’ve definitely seen some of the pros and cons of filling vacancies on ballots this way.”

See here for the background. As this is now the second sequel to the process to replace El Franco Lee on the ballot, there have been plenty of complaints about how we go about doing it. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for the complaints – everyone is welcome to address them to their legislators, along with their proposed alternative method – but it has been strange, and it has consumed a whole lot of time and energy.

The good news is that this was a particularly singular set of circumstances, whose like we will probably never see again. For that matter, I couldn’t tell you when this process was last used to fill a vacancy for something other than a newly-created office. The Republicans almost went through it back in 2006 when Tom DeLay tried to declare himself “ineligible” to run for re-election. He was later ruled to have withdrawn and could not be replaced, but until a final ruling came in there was candidate activity by various interested parties (then-State Rep. Bob Talton was considered the frontrunner) prior to what would have been the selection. Before that, I have no idea when this was last done. Anyone out there recall a previous instance?

Anyway. As before, you’re only actually running for this if someone nominates you, and for a 27-voter universe the old saw about every vote counting has never been more accurate. Erica Lee Carter, whom the Chron endorsed on Wednesday, would seem to be the favorite, but we won’t know till it’s over. I’ll have a report tomorrow.

When are we going to get a general election poll of Texas?

As goes Utah

According to a new Deseret News/KSL poll, if Donald Trump becomes the GOP nominee, the voters of Utah would opt for a Democratic candidate for the first time in over 50 years. Poll respondents said they would support either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders over Trump, though Clinton was only two points ahead of Trump in the poll, falling within the margin of error (as opposed to the 11 points Sanders has over Trump). As many as 16 percent of respondents said they would skip the election altogether if Trump was the nominee. The survey also indicated that either John Kasich or Ted Cruz would defeat the Democratic candidate if they were nominated.

It’s only one poll, but that didn’t prevent it from shocking Chris Karpowitz, the co-director of Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. Said Karpowitz to the News, “I know it is early and these things can change. But the fact that a Donald Trump matchup with either Clinton or Sanders is a competitive race is a canary in a coal mine for Republicans.”

Let me lay down a million qualifiers here: Just one poll. Way, way early. Lots of undecideds – indeed, Clinton’s lead is 38-36, and you can guess what most of the others would do if all else where equal. The poll was conducted around the same time that Trump was trashing Mormons in general and Mitt Romney in particular, which strikes me as a damn fine way to alienate a lot of Utahans. So yeah, stock up on the salt for this one.

But it still makes one wonder, just what the Trump effect may be in various red states. Utah is one of the few places that can out-Republican Texas, after all. I’ll cop to being an eternal optimist, but according to RG Ratcliffe on Facebook, former Texas GOP Chair Steve Munisteri said on CNN that if Trump is the nominee, Texas could be carried by the Democrats. I’ll need to see a few poll results before I let myself get too irrationally exuberant, but let’s play with a few numbers and see what we can game out.

In 2008, some 3.5 million Texans voted for Barack Obama; in 2012, it was 3.3 million. In 2008, 4.4 million voted GOP, and in 2012 it was over 4.5 million. It’s my opinion that the GOP Presidential vote is close to maxed out, so let’s say 4.6 million as a starting point, with 3.5 million as a starting point for the Dems. Perhaps between the newly minted citizens and other efforts, perhaps boosted by Julian Castro on the ticket, Dems van boost themselves to 3.8 or 3.9 million. Let’s be conservative and say 3.8 million.

The big question then becomes, how many Republicans refuse to vote for Trump, and what do they do instead? Sit it out, vote Libertarian or a third party candidate (who will not be Rick Perry) if one can get certified for the ballot by May 9 (good luck with that), or *gag* vote for Hillary? Either of the first two reduces the R total, while the latter also increases the D number. If 400,000 Republicans – about nine percent of their total – skip the race or go third party, and another 200,000 go for Hillary, that gets us to a tie in my scenario. Millennial voters would apparently be likely to flip from R to D if the R is Trump.

How unlikely is my red-to-blue scenario? Probably pretty unlikely. But not impossible! When we finally get some November polling, we’ll see where on the impossible-to-unlikely scale it is. I should note that however you slice it, some number of Republicans would have to sit it out entirely and not just skip the top of the ticket for this to have a coattail effect downballot. The main ingredient to the Democratic legislative success of 2006 was unusually low turnout among Republicans. We’re now moving from “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” to “are they two-stepping or polkaing” territory, so I’d better quit while I’m ahead. Bottom line is, I’d like to see some November polling, sooner rather than later. It may provide some good entertainment, if nothing else. Martin Longman, ThinkProgress, and Marc Campos, who is way more skeptical than I am of a Trump effect in Texas, have more.

Once again with CD29

It’s all about the turnout.

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

On a Gulfgate-area side street lined with union halls, Hillary Clinton’s Houston field office and U.S. Rep. Gene Green’s congressional re-election outfit sit mere doors apart, a coincidental marker of the anticipated link between their races.

Green is squaring off against former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia in the region’s marquee congressional primary, the outcome of which is expected to be swayed by the strength of the Democratic presidential fight in Texas.

The increasingly competitive contest between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders stands to boost turnout in the 77-percent Latino 29th Congressional District, political observers said, likely shifting the electorate more Hispanic.

“Typically in Democratic primaries, the vote is only about 45 percent Hispanic,” local Democratic strategist Keir Murray said of the 29th District. “However, if you have something, an external factor like a hot presidential race that increases the overall turnout … because of the makeup of the population and the list of registered voters, the percentage of Hispanic voters is going to go up. There’s almost no way it can’t.”

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

Such a boost in Hispanic voting is expected to help Garcia.

“If this were a nonpresidential cycle, the advantage would clearly be with Green because of the historical turnout in the district,” Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer said.

However, he said, “The increased turnout is disproportionately low-propensity Latino voters. … And so that benefits Garcia over Green.”

Democratic participation in the 29th District, which curls around eastern Houston, hit a high-water mark in 2008, when nearly 54,000 voters cast a primary ballot, up from 5,000 two years earlier.

Few expect this year’s turnout to be quite as high.

Green’s campaign is anticipating between 35,000 and 50,000 Democratic primary voters, while Garcia’s expects between 12,000 and 54,000, the turnouts in 2012 and 2008, respectively.

We can’t have all this talk about turnout without looking at some numbers, right? I was curious what the relationship was between turnout in CD29 and turnout overall in Harris County. Here’s what it looks like:


Year    CD29    Harris     Pct
==============================
2002  11,891    95,396  12.46%
2004  10,682    78,692  13.57%
2006   5,037    35,447  14.21%
2008  53,855   410,908  13.11%
2010  11,777   101,263  11.63%
2012  12,194    76,486  15.94%
2014   6,808    53,788  12.66%

With the exception of 2002, the “CD29” number represents total ballots cast in CD29 in that year; in 2002, the County Clerk only reported ballots cast for the candidates, so undervotes weren’t included. “Harris” is the total turnout for the Democratic primary in Harris County that year, and “Pct” is the percentage of the total vote that came from CD29. Given that Gene Green was unopposed in each of those years, it’s reasonable to assume that his share of the total vote will creep up a bit. Let’s say it’s 15% of the overall total. If so, then Green’s team is projecting countywide turnout at between 233,000 and 333,000, while Garcia’s people have the much wider spread of 80,000 to 360,000. You can fiddle around with the numbers a bit, but I’d say the range that Team Green is predicting is likely to be on the mark. The early voting returns we’re about to start seeing will tell us much more. What’s your turnout guess?

Steve Brown to run in HD27

This ought to shake things up a bit.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

The bad week for state Rep. Ron Reynolds is getting worse.

Steve Brown, the former chairman of the Fort Bend County Democrats, wrote on Twitter Wednesday that he will challenge Reynolds in the March primary. A formal announcement will be made after Thanksgiving, Brown wrote.

[…]

Despite his legal problems, Reynolds is seeking a fourth term representing House District 27, which covers parts of Houston, Missouri City, Sugar Land, Pearland, Stafford, Fresno and Arcola.

Brown has worked on campaigns and in legislative offices of several public officials, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Houston; state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; and former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. In 2014, he lost to Republican Ryan Sitton for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry.

Here’s the tweet in question:

See here and here for the background. Brown ran for HD27 back in 2006 against then-Rep. Dora Olivo, getting 39.6% of the vote; Reynolds also lost to Olivo in 2008, then defeated her in 2010. I don’t live in that district, but if I did Steve Brown would get my vote. I’ll have more when he makes his formal announcement.

Neugebauer to step down in CD19

At least one Congressional seat will have a new person sitting in it next year.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer

U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, announced Thursday that he would not seek re-election in 2016.

Neugebauer, who has represented his West Texas district in Congress since 2003, plans to finish his current term.

“To say that this has been an honor would be an understatement,” Neugebauer said in a statement. “Representing the citizens of the Big Country and West Texas has been one of the most rewarding times in my life.”

[…]

Buzz had been mounting in recent months that Neugebauer was planning to retire. Texas’ Congressional District 19 is expected to stay in Republican hands, and the primary will all but determine who will follow Neugebauer in Congress.

Immediate speculation for possible successors centered on state Sen. Charles Perry and state Rep. Dustin Burrows — both Lubbock Republicans — as well as Lubbock attorney Allen Adkins. Other names include Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson; Tom Sell, the managing partner of Combest, Sell and Associates; and former Texas Tech Vice Chancellor Jodey Arrington.

Perry does not plan to run for the seat, according to Jordan Berry, his political consultant.

Asked about his interest in the seat, Burrows issued a statement that did not rule out a run.

“Today is Congressman Neugebauer’s day to enjoy the knowledge that he’ll no longer need to commute to Washington, D.C., and to revel in a career protecting West Texas from an overreaching federal government,” Burrows said. “On behalf of West Texans and the Burrows family, we thank him for his service to our nation.”

[…]

Tea Party groups have struggled to oust federal incumbents in Texas, and organizations like the Madison Project say they see an opportunity in open-seat races like this one now is, setting up a potential clash between the Tea Party and an establishment candidate.

“I think the Washington establishment is always going to get want who they think they can get, and the local establishment is going to want who they want, and it will not always gel with the Washington establishment,” Berry said.

“The conservative base may want something completely different,” he added. “This could go several different ways.”

This primary will also take place on March 1, when U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative favorite, is poised to be on the ballot in the presidential race. Neugebauer’s son Toby has emerged as one of the top donors to Cruz’s presidential effort, giving $10 million to a super PAC supporting the senator. Toby Neugebauer, co-founder of the Houston private-equity firm Quantum Energy Partners, was recently replaced by evangelical leader David Barton as the head of a cluster of pro-Cruz groups.

Yeah, I think we see how this is likely to go. Neugebauer wasn’t exactly the brightest light out there, but it seems fair to say that our Congressional delegation is about to get dimmer. And louder.

This may have the effect of creating another vacancy in the House – it would appear unlikely to create on in the Senate as well, as Sen. Perry would have to give up his seat to try for CD19, and it looks like he’s not interested in that – but the vacancy it’s creating in Congress is a relative rarity in Texas. Here’s a list of the members of Congress as of January, 2005, and the same list as of January, 2015:

Dist 2005 2015 ============================ 01 Gohmert Gohmert 02 Poe Poe 03 Johnson Johnson 04 Hall Ratcliffe 05 Hensarling Hensarling 06 Barton Barton 07 Culberson Culberson 08 Brady Brady 09 Green Green 10 McCall McCall 11 Conaway Conaway 12 Granger Granger 13 Thornberry Thornberry 14 Paul Weber 15 Hinojosa Hinojosa 16 Reyes O'Rourke 17 Edwards Flores 18 Jackson Lee Jackson Lee 19 Neugebauer Neugebauer 20 Gonzalez Castro 21 Smith Smith 22 DeLay Olson 23 Bonilla Hurd 24 Marchant Marchant 25 Doggett Williams 26 Burgess Burgess 27 Ortiz Farenthold 28 Cuellar Cuellar 29 Green Green 30 Johnson Johnson 31 Carter Carter 32 Sessions Sessions

Of the 32 seats that existed in 2005, 23 have the same incumbent now, with one of those incumbents from 2005 (Rep. Lloyd Doggett) moving to a different district thanks to redistricting. Of the eight who are no longer in Congress, only Ron Paul, who stepped down in 2012 to run for President, and Charlie Gonzalez, who retired in 2012, left on their own terms. Tom DeLay resigned in 2006 under the cloud of indictment. Ralph Hall (2014) and Silvestre Reyes (2012) lost in primaries, while Henry Bonilla (2006), Chet Edwards (2010), and Solomon Ortiz (2010) lost in general elections. We’ve seen a lot of turnover in recent years in the State House, but the US House in Texas is a different story. Trail Blazers and Juanita have more.

Family affair in HD118

Two families, actually.

Rep. Joe Farias

The race to replace retiring state Rep. Joe Farias in House District 118 is shaping up to be a contest featuring two well-known San Antonio political families: Farias vs. Uresti.

Farias’ son, Gabe, said he filed paperwork last week with the Texas Ethics Commission to appoint a campaign treasurer in what marks a first official step to laying the groundwork to succeed his father.

Gabe Farias said he’s still weighing his options but is “heavily, heavily leaning towards” a run and expects to formally announce within a month.

“It would have to be something very, very significant at this point for me to say I’m going to pull back,” said Gabe Farias, who serves as the president of the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Facing Farias in the Democratic primary will be someone from the Uresti family. But just which Uresti is still an open question.

Tomas Uresti, a Harlandale Independent School District board trustee and the brother of state Sen. Carlos Uresti, has been eyeing the Farias seat. So has his nephew, local attorney Albert Uresti IV, the son of the county tax assessor-collector.

That creates a Uresti family scenario that has yet to be resolved. A family huddle to hash out who will be the candidate is imminent, Tomas Uresti said.

“We’re going to have that resolved pretty quickly,” he said.

He added: “It is going to be myself or Albert running. A Uresti will definitely be running.”

It should be noted that Sen. Carlos Uresti represented HD118 before Rep. Farias; he won a special election there in May of 1997, and served until 2007, defeating the late Frank Madla in a 2006 primary to move to the upper chamber. I like new blood as much as the next guy, but you know what they say about showing up being a key component to success. There is another person considering a run for this seat – Anthony Alcoser, the director of development at Texas A&M University-San Antonio and a former Harlandale board president – so there may be a broader choice in March. Whoever emerges ought to be able to hold the seat for awhile – President Obama carried it 55-43 over Mitt Romney, and Wendy Davis outscored Greg Abbott 52-46. Whatever the case, may the best candidate win.

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.

Targeting straight ticket voting

From Trail Blazers:

Texas is one of only 10 states still doing straight-ticket voting but a North Texas legislator is hoping to change that.

At a hearing today, Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) told the Elections Committee that doing away with such an option here would lead to a more informed voter and improve turnout in non-partisan ballot measure.

“The purpose of this bill is to increase the number of Republican elected officials thought out the state of Texas,” he halfway joked. “However I do believe the added benefit will be a more educated voter.”

But Glenn Maxey, of the Texas Democratic Party, said such a move could discourage voters.

“People are going to be standing in line for hours and hours because it’s going to take people not 10 minutes to vote but a half hour to do that kind of marking,” he said.

Bill Fairbrother, of the Texas Republican County Chairman Association, said cost is a concern.

“Think of all the additional machines, clerks, polling places … That instead of being able to click one box to take care of those races, you have to go back and choose on average 25 separate races,” he said.

However, both Maxey and Fairbrother noted that within their parties, there was division as those in more rural areas favored the bill.

Rep. Simmons wrote a TribTalk piece in February about this:

Rep. Ron Simmons

Every campaign season, candidates and interest groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to “inform” voters. I use that word — rather than “educate” — on purpose.

Informing is nothing more than providing information to another party. Educating requires action on the part of the recipient, who must want to understand the information and absorb it. There’s no better example of this than at the ballot box. Anyone who has read our Founding Fathers’ writing would agree that their intent was for voters to be educated on the candidates and issues of the day. Unfortunately, current Texas law provides a way for citizens to skip spending the time and energy needed to become educated voters. It’s called straight-ticket voting.

Straight-ticket voting allows someone to simply select one box to vote for an entire slate of candidates from a particular political party. This often leads voters to elect candidates without any knowledge whatsoever of who they are. This subverts the purpose of our electoral process and puts the citizens of Texas at a severe disadvantage.

Virtually all voters educate themselves on candidates at the top of the ticket (president, governor, etc.). But many voters, partially because of straight-ticket voting, make little or no effort to educate themselves on the candidates at the bottom of the ticket running for offices that have the most direct effect on individual citizens — think county clerk, county commissioner, justice of the peace and state representative. These voters simply check the one box, either Democrat or Republican, and move on without giving it a second thought. This is bad for Texas.

I drafted a post at the time but had not gotten around to publishing it. Now seems like as good a time as any to rectify that, so here’s what I wrote in response to that.

Rep. Simmons has filed HB1288 to eliminate straight ticket voting. A different bill, to exempt judges and county officials from straight-ticket ballots in Texas’ largest counties, has been filed by Rep. Jason Villalba. I’ve nattered on about straight ticket voting in the past, and I’ll neither defend it nor condemn it today. I do, of course, have a couple of thoughts about this.

I agree that many voters are not fully educated about downballot candidates. Hell, a lot of voters are misinformed about the top of the ticket candidates, and of the top issues of the day. That problem is outside my scope here, but as a matter of general principle, eliminating straight ticket voting isn’t going to do anything to solve that problem. What it can and likely will do is reduce the number of people voting in those races. Maybe that means the average voter will be slightly more educated in those races, and maybe one can claim that’s a “better” outcome. I think that’s at best an open question.

Which leads to another question: Just how big an effect would this be? Putting it another way, if straight ticket voting were eliminated, how many more people would wind up skipping downballot races? I don’t have the bandwidth to do a thorough study, but here’s a quick and dirty look at the last four non-Presidential elections in Harris County:

Year Straight% CClerk% DClerk% Treas% ========================================= 2002 54.78% 6.74% 2006 47.67% 6.89% 7.99% 6.68% 2010 66.89% 4.50% 4.71% 3.93% 2014 68.04% 3.90% 4.09% 3.46%

“Straight%” is the total percentage of straight ticket votes, which as you can see has been much greater in the last two elections than the first two above. “CClerk%”, “DClerk%”, and “Treas%” are the undervote percentages for the County Clerk, District Clerk, and County Treasurer races. I picked those because they’re pretty far down on the ballot and they’d be targeted by Rep. Villalba’s bill. The County Clerk and District Clerk races were uncontested in 2002, so I don’t have a complete data set, but this suggests that more straight ticket votes means fewer undervotes, which is not too surprising. I wouldn’t draw too much of a conclusion from this, as the partisan environments are stronger now, with both parties making a priority out of urging their voters to fill in an oval in each race. The total effect isn’t that great – three percentage points in a 700,000 voter turnout context is a 21,000 vote difference – but it’s not nothing.

I don’t know what the numbers might look like if straight ticket voting were eliminated. I’m sure the parties would work that much harder to convince their voters to vote in each race. Not being able to depend on straight ticket voters for a potentially significant chunk of their final tally would likely spur these candidates to do more fundraising to raise their name recognition. Outside groups, for which there’s no shortage of money, might also take a greater interest in these races. There are a lot of factors to consider, but it wouldn’t shock me if 50,000 or even 100,000 voters in Harris County might have dropped off without participating in these past races in the absence of straight ticket voting. That’s a wild guess of up to 15% or so of total turnout. I’d expect something similar in other large counties. How much that might change if the parties, candidates, and outside interests responded as I envision is a question I can’t answer.

(If you’re wondering about Presidential years, the rate of straight ticket voting in the last three Presidential elections has been about the same in each – 64% in 2004, 62% in 2008, 68% in 2012. I don’t feel I have enough data to say anything even marginally useful.)

One point that I’ve made before in the context of proposals to separate judicial elections from the partisan voting process is that partisan labels are sometimes the only reliable piece of information voters have about a candidate. Most candidates who call themselves “Democratic” or “Republican” fall within a reasonably well-defined range of policy positions and cultural identifiers. There are plenty of variations, both mainstream (think Sarah Davis and Eddie Lucio and their respective stances on equality, for example) and extreme (think Kesha Rogers), but if you consider yourself a D or an R and you vote for a candidate with the same label but without knowing anything else about that candidate, the odds are pretty good that you’ve just voted for someone that you’d basically like and approve of. More to the point, you’ve probably just voted for someone you’d basically like and approve of more than any of the other options available to you in that race, and yes that includes races with more than two candidates. Is that enough information to justify one’s vote? Is it enough to justify the convenience of being able to vote quickly, instead of having to make the same choice you’d have made anyway several dozen times in a big county like Harris? If all we’re doing is making it take longer to vote, will we also take steps to mitigate that, like having more voting stations available at busy locations so the lines don’t get too long, or making it easier to vote by mail at one’s convenience? I know there are bills filed to do those things, but I don’t expect them to go anywhere.

These are some of the things I think about when I hear someone make the kind of proposals Reps. Simmona and Villalba are making. If Rep. Simmons’ bill were to pass and we found that the number of people voting in, say, County Clerk races was 20% less than in Governor’s races, would we consider that to be a good thing or a bad thing? You tell me. On the one hand, it would be harder to argue that the results of those elections were determined by uneducated voters. On the other hand, a lot of people spend a lot of time every post-election period bemoaning the low number of people who show up to vote. Bemoaning low turnout, and enabling it for what could be a lot of races by eliminating the one-button vote seems to me to be contradictory. Do we want everyone to vote or not? Do we think having some people vote in some races but not in others is the better way to do it? Killing straight ticket voting is an easy answer, though none of these bills may have an easy path to passage. How to get a better-educated electorate is a much harder question. What is it we really want? I’d say we should answer that first. PDiddie has more.

Bell ordered to pay $300K to RGA

Ouch.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Unsuccessful 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell, once awarded $2 million in his lawsuit against the Republican Governors Association, has instead been ordered to pay the organization $300,000 in legal fees after losing on appeal.

The case dates to the closing days of the 2006 campaign, when the national association wrote two $500,000 checks to the campaign of Gov. Rick Perry, Bell’s Republican opponent.

After losing to Perry by 9 percentage points, Bell filed suit, arguing that the association violated state law by making political donations without appointing a Texas campaign treasurer or supplying a complete donor list. In 2010, Travis County District Judge John Dietz agreed, awarding Bell $2 million, or double the amount of the disputed contribution, as allowed by state law.

Last year, however, the 3rd Court of Appeals overturned Dietz’s ruling, saying out-of-state organizations cannot be penalized for disclosure violations and are not required to designate a state treasurer. Bell appealed, but the Texas Supreme Court declined to accept the case, leaving the appeals court ruling intact.

The appeals court also returned the case to Dietz to determine how much money — if any — Bell owed the association for attorney fees.

Last week, Dietz signed a judgment ordering Bell to pay $300,000 — with an additional $30,000 due if Bell appeals to the 3rd Court of Appeals, plus another $10,000 if he turns to the Texas Supreme Court.

See here, here, and here for the background. Bell is considering an appeal and has until next month to ask for a retrial on the legal fees issue. Judge Dietz is retiring at the end of the year, though, so a new trial would be in front of a new judge. Can’t say I envy him having this hang over his expected Mayoral campaign for next year. Hope he has better luck if there is a next time.

Don’t expect the Kathie Glass effect to be much

Seems like every four years we talk about the possible effect of third party candidates on various races. Usually, it’s in the context of legislative races, where some candidates have won with less than 50% in recent years and one could make a case that the presence of a (usually) Libertarian candidate might have had an effect on the outcome. The subject came up for the Governor’s race a little while back, and I’m here to tamp down on any irrational exuberance.

Hop on the bus, Gus. Or don’t. Your call.

Don’t forget 1990.

That was the year a third-party candidate made a potentially game-changing difference in the Texas governor’s race, drawing slightly more than the number of votes separating Democratic winner Ann Richards from Republican Clayton Williams.

And while third-party gubernatorial candidates did not participate in Friday’s debate between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis, they could help decide who will be the next governor of Texas.

“Third-party candidates can mean a big difference in close elections,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Third parties can rarely win. Generally, [they] play a spoiler role.”

[…]

Observers say this year’s Nov. 4 general election could provide a number of close races where a third-party candidate might change the entire dynamics of a race.

“In these contests there exists the possibility that were one or more third-party candidates not on the ballot … the outcome of the election would [be] different,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

[…]

Political analysts say third-party candidates could make a difference in the governor’s race.

Abbott, the state’s attorney general and GOP nominee, squares off against Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth and Democratic nominee. Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Brandon Parmer are in the race as well.

If the race tightens up, Glass and Parmer combined could draw as little as 4 percent of the vote and impact the result.

“That could mean the difference in a very close election,” Saxe said.

After all, in 1990, Richards won by claiming 99,239 more votes than Williams, and Libertarian Jeff Daiell earned 129,128 votes.

“Overall, the principal impact of the Libertarian Party and Green Party candidates this fall will be to provide voters with a different perspective on how to address many of the key challenges facing the state today,” Jones said.

A key example, he said, is Glass, “who is far and away running the most visible and vibrant campaign of any third-party candidate in Texas.”

I will admit, I saw the Kathie Glass Bus on the side of the road as we were heading back from Austin on 290 a couple of weeks ago. I was tempted to take a picture of it, but I was driving at the time, and I didn’t think Tiffany would have appreciated me hauling out my cellphone at that moment. Maybe some other time. In any event, I will admit that as far as that goes, Glass’ campaign has been more visible than some other Libertarian campaigns of recent years.

Nonetheless, I’m going to play spoiler as well. Here’s a compilation of all third-party candidate performances in Texas gubernatorial races since 1990. See if you can spot the problem.

Year Lib Green Other Total Win % ======================================== 1990 3.32 0 0.30 3.62 48.19 1994 0.64 0 0 0.64 49.68 1998 0.55 0 0.02 0.57 49.72 2002 1.46 0.70 0.05 2.21 48.90 2006 0.60 0 0.01 0.61 49.69 2010 2.19 0.39 0.14 2.72 48.64

Notice how in none of these six elections how the combined Lib and Green (and write-in, which is what the Other above represents) total has reached four percent? In fact, outside of 1990, it’s never reached three percent? This could be the year that it happens – the Kathie Glass Bus is quite impressive, after all – but if you’re going to write this story, you ought to acknowledge the history. Don’t get our hopes up without justification.

It’s my opinion from looking at as many election results as I’ve seen over the years that the higher the profile the race, the lower the ceiling for third party candidates, our wacky 2006 Governor’s race excepted. Honestly, outside of the hardest of the hardcore political junkies and members of the third parties themselves, I doubt more than a handful of people even know who the L and G nominees are. With all due respect to Kathie Glass and her bus, the people that will be voting for her are basically the people that always vote Libertarian and the people that for whatever the reason didn’t like the nominee from the party that they tend to vote for no matter how much they protest their “independence”. Frankly, if the base party vote is reasonably close to even overall – which at this point I don’t think is likely, but I could be wrong – the place where an L and/or G candidate could affect the outcome is down ballot. I went through this exercise before, to show that one doesn’t need to get 50% of the vote to win most statewide races in Texas due to the presence of other candidates, and as you can see the higher totals for third party candidates tend to be in the lower profile races. I’m not saying that Kathie Glass and Brandon Parmer can’t have an effect on the outcome of the Governor’s race. I am saying that if I had to pick one race where there might be an effect, I’d probably pick Railroad Commissioner or Supreme Court justice. I promise to look at this again after the election.

2014 Day 10 Early Vote totals

EarlyVoting

Here they are, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. The debate about what the turnout numbers mean continues apace. You already know what I think about that, so let me introduce a different perspective. We’ve been talking about these numbers mostly in the context of 2010. I’ve been saying that’s at least somewhat misleading since so much of the early voting explosion that year came from Republicans. I thought it might be useful to look back at previous to see how Democrats in Harris County performed in them, since as I’ve been saying it’s as much about who turns out as it is how many of them there are. To that end, here are the actual absentee plus in-person early voting numbers for the Land Commissioner race for 2002, 2006, and 2010, taken from harrisvotes.com:

Year Candidate Mail Early Total Pct RvD ======================================================== 2002 Patterson 22,114 79,879 101,993 56.1 58.0 2002 Bernsen 12,607 61,003 73,710 40.6 42.0 2002 Others 634 5,374 6,008 3.3 2006 Patterson 13,640 88,517 102,157 55.2 56.8 2006 Hathcox 7,945 69,703 77,648 42.0 43.2 2006 Others 477 4,629 5,106 2.8 2010 Patterson 36,216 221,145 257,361 59.2 60.3 2010 Uribe 16,450 152,832 169,288 39.0 39.7 2010 Others 733 7,098 7,831 1.8

“RvD” is the straight R versus D percentage. I have used the Railroad Commissioner race for similar purposes in the past; I had no specific reason for using the Land Commish race here, I figure they both recapitulate partisan participation reasonably well. Greg had the R/D number at 54.5/45.5 through Monday. However you feel about the numbers so far, they are better than what we have done in elections past. Does that mean they are as good as they could be? Is this where I thought we’d be as of today? No and no. But it is better than what we have done in past non-Presidential elections, assuming we don’t do any worse till the end of the week. We’ll see how it goes from here.

2014 first week EV totals

EarlyVoting

Here they are, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. Democrats still have a lot of work to do, at least in Harris County. I sure hope it happens, that’s all I can say.

We’re already seeing postmortems for this election – I guess some people like to be ahead of the game – and so we have this effort from yesterday’s op-ed pages. Author William Thorburn makes some valid points, but I think he’s reaching a bit here:

Battleground Texas, with its commitment to expanding the Democratic base by registering more voters and turning them out, had its first test with the 2014 Democratic primary. This year, 555,000 Texans cast a ballot in the Democratic primary, a total that for the third straight election year has been decreasing rather than increasing. In fact, this year’s total of Democratic primary voters is lower than in any year since 1920 when 450,000 voted. In 1920, however, the state’s total population was only 4,723,000, as contrasted with a current population of 26 million plus.

Having failed to recruit candidates for many county and state legislative offices, with no one willing to conduct a primary in 22 counties, and the lowest primary turnout in more than 90 years, the remaining test for Battleground Texas and the state Democratic Party is the performance of its statewide candidates next week. Should this year’s slate of candidates fail to do much better than those in recent elections, one must wonder whether Democratic big-dollar donors will continue to pour money into Battleground Texas or move their contributions and resources to more favorable territory.

I don’t recall candidate recruitment being part of BGTX’s mission statement. In fact, I’m pretty sure the county parties would have resented it like hell if they had tried. Be that as it may, his point about primary turnout is a bit weak. In 2002, with hot races for Governor and US Senate, Dem primary turnout topped one million; in 2006, with snoozers across the board, it was half that; and in 2010, with Bill White duking it out with Farouk Shami, it about 700K. Yet as we know, base Democratic turnout in each year was about the same. In 2008, during the most exciting Democratic primary in at least a generation, turnout was 2.8 million. In 2012, it was less than one fifth of that. In each case, November turnout was about the same. I don’t dispute his larger points, but there’s no correlation here.

Anyway. It’s the last five days of early voting. No time to lose. Let’s hope the numbers improve.

More on the voter registration numbers

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

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

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

Three things here:

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

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

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

Voter registration numbers top 14 million

Sweet.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

More than 14 millions Texans have registered to vote in the November elections, the secretary of state’s office announced Thursday, calling the number a record high.

The total marks an increase of 2.8 percent since the most recent presidential contest and 5.7 percent since the last time candidates for governor were on the ballot.

More attention than usual is being paid to voter registration this year. Groups such as Battleground Texas have been working to “expand the electorate” to make the state competitive for Democrats.

Oct. 6 was the last day to register to vote. Early voting begins Monday for the elections on Nov. 4.

Far as I can tell, that’s based on this tweet from the Secretary of State’s office. They have not yet updated their Turnout and Voter Registration Figures page, but we do have this page, which gives the total enrollment number as 14,025,441, as well as suspense file numbers and a county-by-county breakdown. I’ll get to the latter in a second, but first here’s a look at the numbers over time:

Date Reg voters % of VAP ============================== Mar 06 12,722,671 76.47 Nov 06 13,074,279 78.58 Mar 08 12,752,417 71.90 Nov 08 13,575,062 76.54 Mar 10 13,023,358 69.31 Nov 10 13,269,233 71.00 Mar 12 13,065,425 71.47 Nov 12 13,646,226 74.65 Mar 14 13,601,324 71.91 Nov 14 14,025,441 74.15

So the number of registered voters is up about a million from this time in 2010. That’s five times the growth from November 2006 to November 2010. Not too shabby. How it translates into turnout and what that turnout looks like is of course still to be determined. But as noted, this was one of the key pillars of the Battleground Texas plan. It’s encouraging to see that this part of it has worked as well as it has so far.

And because I can never leave it at that, here are the 20 counties that saw the greatest increase in registrations since 2010:

County 2014 Voter Reg 2010 Voter Reg Reg Diff ================================================== HARRIS 2,062,792 1,937,850 124,942 TARRANT 999,687 936,735 62,952 COLLIN 485,406 424,672 60,734 DALLAS 1,203,513 1,145,427 58,086 FORT BEND 363,147 309,026 54,121 BEXAR 957,110 905,859 51,251 TRAVIS 655,056 604,374 50,682 DENTON 407,040 364,593 42,447 WILLIAMSON 271,612 237,763 33,849 MONTGOMERY 281,496 249,954 31,542 EL PASO 403,979 379,727 24,252 HIDALGO 318,772 296,510 22,262 BELL 168,877 154,566 14,311 BRAZORIA 183,488 170,784 12,704 CAMERON 186,563 174,188 12,375 GUADALUPE 84,076 74,783 9,293 GALVESTON 191,961 182,802 9,159 COMAL 82,137 73,750 8,387 HAYS 106,581 98,210 8,371 ELLIS 93,126 84,991 8,135

Some of that is the effect of plain old population growth, but it’s still pretty impressive. Note this doesn’t take into account the effect of the suspense files – go here and click on the “I don’t remember seeing my certificate lately. Is that a problem? Don’t I just stay registered?” question for details – but I don’t know how to factor that in, so I’ll just go with this. We’ll have some idea of the turnout effect beginning Monday. In the meantime, make sure you and everyone you know will be voting.

Sameena Karmally

Meet Sameena Karmally, whose race against Jodie Laubenbeg is important not for if she wins or loses but for what she represents.

Sameena Karmally

If Democrats are going to turn Texas purple, they need to do a lot of work at the local level. Long-hidden voters need to be identified, and organizational abilities need to be strengthened. To do that, Democrats need good candidates to run in local elections. Even if they don’t win, they’ll do their bit to put calcium back in the Democratic Party’s old bones. They might run in red districts with little chance of victory, but they’ll pave the way for future contenders.

But standing for election is hell—it’s costly, and it exacts an enormous personal and professional toll. Most people won’t do it if they don’t have a decent chance of success—and there aren’t many places in Texas these days where a Democrat has that chance. So big pockets of the state don’t have any Democrats of significance running locally, which further alienates ordinary people from Democratic politics. It’s a tenacious feedback loop that’s going to be difficult to break.

Some Democrats, though, are doing their part. Take Sameena Karmally, who’s been waging a long-shot effort in heavily Republican House District 89, which covers an area north and east of Plano. In a different context, Karmally would make a star candidate. She’s a lawyer and mother of two who grew up in the Metroplex. She’s smart and thoughtful, and has a compelling personal story: She’s the daughter of Indian Muslim immigrants, and worked her tail off to get to UT School of Law. This is one of those races that seems to embody the clash of the old Texas and new Texas, particularly because she’s running against state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker).

If you know Laubenberg for one thing, it’s that she became the public face of the coalition backing last summer’s abortion restrictions. Laubenberg sponsored House Bill 2, the legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered. During debate on the bill, Laubenberg famously said that a rape exception for abortion restrictions was unnecessary because hospitals “have what’s called rape kits,” so “the woman can get cleaned out.”

That remark earned her international notoriety, but at home, Laubenberg cruises from re-election to re-election. She hasn’t had a primary opponent since 2002, and hasn’t had to run against a Democrat since 2006. She has perfect scores of 100 from Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, wins awards from groups like the Young Conservatives of Texas, and is lauded by the NRA and pro-life groups. She’s the state chair of the influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes bills for conservative state legislators.

When Laubenberg first won her seat, it was a predominantly rural district. But the Metroplex has experienced explosive growth, and the nature of her district has changed. The last bout of redistricting cut off Laubenberg from the most rural areas, and now HD 89 is heavily suburban, with a growing immigrant population. Many of the district’s residents work for tech companies. The district is less Republican than it used to be, but on paper, it’s still looks prohibitive for Democrats. In 2004, every member of the Republican slate won more than 75 percent of the vote—in 2012, Mitt Romney won just under two-thirds.

The Texas Observer met Karmally in Plano to talk about her race.

Go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. The point Karmally makes more than once is that the district is very different than it used to be – where it was once mostly rural, it’s now mostly suburban, with a lot of new residents – and that the biggest hurdle she or any Democrat in the district faces is that no one really knows who the Democratic voters out there are, or how many of them there are. They all have that “I thought I was the only Democrat here” reaction typical to such places when they meet Karmally or get invited to a Dem event. That’s what organizing is all about, and places like this, in Collin County – around here it would be places like Montgomery and Brazoria Counties, plus the fast-growing parts of western and northwestern Harris County; think HDs 126, 130, 132, and 135 – and it’s job one for Battleground Texas.

To put some numbers to this, since that’s what I’m all about, here are the last three off-year Railroad Commissioner results from HD89:

Year R candidate R votes R Pct D Candidate D votes D Pct =============================================================== 2002 Williams 17,281 75.0 Broyles 5,767 25.0 2006 Jones 19,498 69.1 Henry 8,706 30.9 2010 Porter 23,923 69.5 Weems 9,014 26.2

There were third party candidates in the RRC race in 2010 but not in 2002 or 2006, so that’s why the 2010 totals don’t add up to 100%. Note that the increase in Dem voters from 2002 to 2006 was greater than the increase in R voters in that period, but the increase in R voters in the tsunami year of 2010 was more than ten times as much as the increase in D voters that year. Needless to say, that pattern can’t continue. I don’t know what a realistic goal is for this district, but if you assume a modest bump in R voters to 25,000 total, then Dems need a boost of 6,000 voters – more than the total number of votes they got in 2002 – just to get to 40%. I say that not to rain on Sameena Karmally’s parade – she’s a terrific candidate, endorsed by the DMN, doing great work in a place where it’s desperately needed – but to add some perspective for when we see the final numbers. Adding six thousand votes here would be a super accomplishment. Dems will need to duplicate that kind of result all over the state to make a difference. It’s about the big picture as much as it is about any one race.