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Election 2012

Already projecting ahead to November turnout

Some in the political chattering class think the end results in Harris County this yearwon’t be all that different than what we’ve seen before.

Harris County may be awash in Democratic hopefuls for the upcoming primary elections, but don’t expect that enthusiasm to translate into another blue wave this fall.

Yes, local demographics are slowly pushing the region further left, and President Donald Trump – who dragged down the Republican ticket here two years ago – gives progressives a ready campaign talking point. Democrats also point to their nearly full primary slate as evidence of newfound strength.

It is unlikely those factors will be enough, however, to counteract Republicans’ longtime advantage in Harris County midterms, political scientists and consultants said. Not only do local conservatives turn out more consistently in non-presidential years, but Republicans also have the benefit of popular state- and countywide incumbents on the ballot, advantages made only more powerful by straight-ticket voting in November.

“There is a very slow, but steady demographic shift that will favor Democrats. I don’t know if it’s enough this year for a gubernatorial cycle,” Democratic strategist Grant Martin said.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones agreed.

“Greg Abbott represents a red seawall here in Texas that I think will in many ways blunt the anti-Trump wave, and in doing so help hundreds of down-ballot Republican candidates across the state achieve victory,” he said.

[…]

Fewer than 54,000 Harris County voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary four years ago, compared to nearly 140,000 in the Republican primary. Come November, Republicans dominated down the ballot.

Though primary turnout certainly is not predictive of November performance, it can be, as University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus put it, “a good pulse check.”

Rottinghaus said he anticipates Democrats will perform better locally than they did in 2014, but still come up short in most local races, in large part because of their turnout problem.

“You’re definitely going to find a narrowed margin for most of these offices,” Rottinghaus said. Still, he added, “it would be hard to unseat the natural advantage Republicans have in the midterm.”

I feel like there are a lot of numbers thrown around in the story but without much context to them. Take the primary turnout totals, for instance. It’s true that Republicans drew a lot more people to the polls in March than the Democrats, but their margin in November was considerably less than it was in 2010, when the primary tallies were 101K for Dems and 159K for the GOP. Will anyone revise their predictions for November if the March turnout figures don’t fit with this “pulse check” hypothesis? Put a pin in this for now and we’ll check back later if it’s relevant.

But let’s come back to the November numbers for 2010 and 2014 for a minute. Let’s look at them as a percentage of Presidential turnout from the previous election


   2008 Pres  2010 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    571,883      431,690    75.5%
D    590,982      329,129    55.7%

   2012 Pres  2014 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    586,073      340,808    58.2%
D    587,044      317,241    54.0%

I’m using the Lt. Governor race here because of the significant number of crossover votes Bill White – who you may recall won Harris County – received in the Governor’s race. He did so much better than all the other Dems on the ticket that using his results would skew things. Now 2010 was clearly off the charts. If the share of the Presidential year vote is a measure of intensity, the Republicans had that in spades. I’m pretty sure no one is expecting that to happen again, however, so let’s look at the more conventional year of 2014. The intensity gap was about four points in the Republicans’ favor, but that was enough for them to achieve separation and sweep the downballot races.

What does that have to do with this year? The key difference is that there were a lot more voters in 2016 (1,338,898) than there were in either 2008 (1,188,731) or 2012 (1,204,167), and that the Democratic advantage was also a lot bigger. I’m going to switch my metric here to the 2016 judicial average, since there were even more crossovers for Hillary Clinton than there were for Bill White. In 2016, the average Republican judicial candidate got 606,114 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate got 661,284. That’s a pretty big difference, and it has implications for the intensity measure. To wit:

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 55.7%, which is what it was in 2010, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 368,335.

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 54.0%, which is what it was in 2014, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 357,093.

Well guess what? If Republican intensity is at 58.2%, which is what it was in 2014, then the Rs should expect a base vote of about 352,758. Which, you might notice, is less than what the Democrats would expect. In order to match the Democratic base, Rs would need 60.8% to equal the former total, and 58.9% for the latter.

In other words, if intensity levels are exactly what they were in 2014, Democrats should expect to win most countywide races. Republicans will need to be more intense than they were in 2014 just to keep up. And if Democratic intensity is up, say at 60%? That’s a base of 396,770, and it would require a Republican intensity level of 65.5% to equal it.

Where did this apparent Democratic advantage come from? Very simply, from more registered voters. In 2016, there were 2,182,980 people registered in Harris County, compared to 1,942,566 in 2012 and 1,892,731 in 2008. I’ve noted this before, but it’s important to remember that while turnout was up in an absolute sense in 2016 over 2012 and 2008, it was actually down as a percentage of registered voters. It was just that there were so many more RVs, and that more than made up for it. And by the way, voter registration is higher today than it was in 2016.

Now none of this comes with any guarantees. Democratic intensity could be down from 2010 and 2014. Republicans could be more fired up than we think they will be, in particular more than they were in 2014. My point is that at least one of those conditions will need to hold true for Republicans to win Harris County this year. If you think that will happen, then you need to explain which of those numbers are the reason for it.

Oh, and that “red seawall” that Greg Abbott represents? Republicans may have swept the races in 2014, but they didn’t actually dominate. 2010, where they were winning the county by 12-16 points in most races, that was domination. Abbott got 51.41% in 2014 and won by a bit less than four and a half points. Which was enough, obviously, but isn’t exactly a big cushion. Like I said, the Republicans will have to improve on 2014 to stay ahead. Can they do that? Sure, it could happen, and I’d be an idiot to say otherwise. Will it happen? You tell me, and account for these numbers when you do.

SaberCats Stadium

Houston’s new pro rugby team will soon have a home.

The city’s burgeoning rugby community is poised to have a new home after City Council inked a $3.2 million deal Wednesday that paves the way for the Houston SaberCats to build a 3,500-seat stadium.

The SaberCats, one of seven new Major League Rugby franchises, plans to finish the new facility and two practice fields at Houston Amateur Sports Park, along Texas 288 in south Houston, in time for the beginning of its 2019 season.

The city, meanwhile, will retain ownership of the site, lease the property to the SaberCats for 43 years and use $3.2 million from its 2012 bond package to reimburse the team for the cost of installing a 760-space parking lot and adding public utilities.

“This is a major step forward,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said of the deal. “We say we’re an international city, and this helps to create those venues that can appeal to the interests of a very diverse population.”

SaberCats President Brian Colona echoed Turner’s enthusiasm.

“Obviously, we’re thrilled to have the city council back this thing with great support from Mayor Turner and his staff,” Colona said. “This is the quintessential example of good public-private partnership in order to advance the needs of the community, and we’re happy to be a part of that.”

[…]

As part of the deal OK’d Wednesday, the SaberCats have committed to providing at least 200 hours of free children’s rugby training annually, hosting high school rugby matches and running free rugby camps for children ages 6 through 14, among other types of community engagement.

See here for some background on the SaberCats, who as you can see were formerly known as the Strikers, and here for an earlier article on this deal, which again notes that funds from the 2012 bond referendum that were earmarked for this facility are what’s being used. The main reaction from the SaberCats’ Facebook page is “why only 3,500 seats?”, since a recent exhibition game had 5,000 in attendance. There will be some 4,000 standing room spots as well, so they ought to be covered for now. I’ve never actually seen a rugby game before, I may have to check this out when they have their grand opening. Any fans of the sport out there?

HISD working on a bond issue

It’s going to be quite the year for HISD.

Voters living in Houston ISD could be asked to approve a new school bond totaling at least $1.2 billion as early as November, according to a recently unveiled district financial plan.

The bond would finance major construction projects, technology upgrades, fine arts purchases and other capital costs. If the bond request totals $1.2 billion, it would likely come with a tax increase of 3 cents to 7 cents per $100 of taxable value, depending on Hurricane Harvey’s impact on property values, district administrators said.

For a homeowner with a property valued at about $275,000, roughly the average in HISD in recent years, the increase would amount to $80 to $190 per year.

District leaders unveiled the plans over the weekend during a wide-ranging preview of major changes to the district’s budget, magnet schools program and approach to long-failing schools. HISD’s last bond election came in 2012, when two-thirds of voters approved a $1.89 billion request.

District leaders did not present specific projects or amounts, but they’re expected in the coming months to finalize a proposal for school board members. Board trustees must approve sending a bond election to voters.

Administrators said the bond would help finance new campuses in pockets of the city’s west and south sides, where student enrollment has grown, along with upgrades to outdated elementary and middle schools. The 2012 bond largely focused on renovating and building new high schools, with 26 campuses getting about $1.3 billion worth of construction.

The district’s financial staff estimates that a $500 million bond request could be passed without raising taxes, but the amount “would not do much for a school district of this size,” HISD Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby said.

“It would be something that would possibly pass, depending on what you do, but it would not be as impactful as we need a bond to be, based on our strategic vision moving forward,” Busby said.

Add this to the other items already on the plate and once again you can see what a busy year the Board has for itself. The initial reaction I saw to this on Facebook was not positive, which may have been the result of this coming on the heels of the announcement about changes to the magnet school program – lots of people I know are already plenty anxious about that. It’s also a weird year for politics, people feel like there’s too many things for them to keep track of, and I’m sure some people are wondering why there’s another bond issue six years after the last one. HISD bond issues generally pass easily – the one in 2012 got 69% of the vote – but I suspect the Board and Superintendent Carranza are going to have to put together a solid plan and sell it to the voters, with a strong promise of engagement and accountability. I would not take anything for granted.

Cruz poll claims big lead over O’Rourke

Make of this what you will.

Not Ted Cruz

Texas U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrats’ top hope of toppling Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, starts the year at a significant polling disadvantage, according to a new survey released Tuesday by the Cruz campaign.

O’Rourke, a three-term congressman from El Paso, trails Cruz among likely Texas voters by an 18-point margin, or 52-percent to 34-percent, according to the poll conducted by WPA Intelligence, a firm headed by Cruz advisor Chris Wilson. Some 13 percent were undecided.

The poll also shows a significant name-recognition deficit for O’Rourke, who was elected to Congress in 2012, the same year Cruz was elected to the Senate. Only 32 percent of poll respondents contacted in December had heard of him, compared to 99 percent for Cruz, who ran for president in 2016.

Cruz clocked in with a favorability rating of 50 percent, while 42 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of the senator. For O’Rourke, 14 percent of those who had heard of him have a favorable view, while 7 percent said they have an unfavorable view.

The poll is from a month ago, not that I think that makes any difference. Wilson Perkins is as noted a GOP-aligned firm, and they did a fairly accurate Presidential poll in 2012, so they’re not a fly-by-night outfit. That said, there are a couple of things to keep in mind here. One is that Ted Cruz has a much better favorability rating in this sample than he did in the October UT/Trib poll and much better re-elect numbers than in the April Texas Lyceum poll. That doesn’t mean this poll is wrong and those polls are right – the Lyceum poll was of adults, not registered voters, so it’s not even a true comparison – just that this poll is different than others we have seen. At this point, there are likely to be some big variations in polling results across samples just because assumptions about the makeup of the electorate are likely to diverge as well. Which again doesn’t mean this poll is wrong or that it’s based on optimistic assumptions for Ted Cruz – I don’t know what assumptions the pollster made about the electorate, I don’t have that data. It just means this is one poll result, and there will surely be others.

A third PPP Congressional poll in Texas

Here’s a Public Policy Polling Twitter thread of interest. I’ve highlighted the specific relevant tweets.

 

The Culberson and Sessions results we knew about. The CD31 poll between Carter and MJ Hegar is news to me. Let me expand a bit on the numbers from 2016 that PPP cites:


2012

Carter      61.3%
Wyman       35.0%

Romney      59.4%
Obama       38.1%

Keller      57.8%
Hampton     36.8%


2014

Carter      64.0%
Minor       32.0%

Abbott      61.5%
Davis       36.0%

Richardson  61.3%
Granberg    33.6%


2016

Carter      58.4%
Clark       36.5%

Trump       52.6%
Clinton     40.1%

Keasler     56.8%
Burns       37.3%

So forty percent is basically the high water mark for a Dem in CD31 this decade. (Barack Obama got 42.5% there in 2008.) That’s good, and it does tend to show a higher level of Dem engagement, especially compared to 2014, but we’re still a ways off. The 46% for Carter is more interesting, as it is a big dropoff from every non-Trump Republican. The question is whether this represents a bunch of undecided respondents who will come home next November, or it’s a genuine indicator of low enthusiasm. Also, the HD31 poll involves a specific opponent to Carter, one who will have to win a primary first, rather than a “generic Democrat” as in the CD07 and CD32 surveys. It’s possible the 40% level for MJ Hegar is lower than a “generic Dem” level might have been. As with any other poll, file it away for later when we have more data.

KP George files for Fort Bend County Judge

From the inbox:

KP George

Current Fort Bend Independent School District Board Trustee, Board Certified Financial Planner, father of three beautiful children, husband of a FBISD educator, and an Asian American citizen, KP George of Fort Bend County, is announcing his campaign for Fort Bend County Judge.

With immense changes in the county, the county must meet the demands of the 21st century and the communities that live here. Fort Bend County residents deserve better emergency preparedness, real fiscal responsibility, and constant community support. While KP George neighbors and strangers alike during the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, it became clear that Fort Bend County was ill prepared to assist Fort Bend residents. After discussions with stakeholders, it is stark as daylight that there are flaws to the county’s response and changes need to be made to better assist the diverse group of Fort Bend residents.

For all Fort Bend County residents, KP George will fight for stronger emergency systems, total fiscal responsibility, increased government transparency, and constant community engagement and input. The KP George campaign will focus on giving a voice to the incredible diversity we have in Fort Bend County and fixing the shortcomings of the current county government.

Just recently, KP George was re-elected as a FBISD Trustee this past May 2017 with 64% of the vote. KP George wants to thank his family, his friends, and God for helping him come from a small, poor village to eventually achieve the American Dream right here in Fort Bend County.

Here’s his Facebook page and his campaign webpage, which as of Tuesday still reflected his 2017 campaign. I’d mentioned the lack of countywide candidates in Fort Bend on Monday, so I’m glad to provide an update. George ran for Congress in CD22 in 2012 – here’s the interview I did with him. Fort Bend Democrats broke through at the Presidential level last year, and much like in Harris County they could have a good year in 2018. Gotta have the candidates first, so kudos to George for stepping up. I’ve got a larger update in a subsequent post, but wanted to highlight this one on its own.

Five out of six ain’t bad

Five Democratic candidates for six statewide judicial positions, all from Harris County.

Four state district and county-level judges from Harris County and a Houston civil-litigation lawyer filed for seats on the Texas Supreme Court and the state Court of Criminal Appeals at state Democratic headquarters.

“The only time they open the courts is when it suits their cronies,” said state District Judge Steven Kirkland of Houston, referring to the nine Republicans on the Texas Supreme Court.

[…]

Harris County Civil Court Judge Ravi K. Sandill, who seeks Republican Justice John Devine’s Place 4 seat on the state Supreme Court, said voters would reject the leadership styles of Trump and Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We’ve got a bully in the White House. We’ve got a governor who’s a bully,” he said. “Texans stand up to bullies.”

[…]

Kathy Cheng, a native of Taiwan, said she’s been “the voice for people who don’t have a voice” in nearly 20 years of private law practice. She filed for the Place 6 seat of Republican Justice Jeff Brown.

Signing paperwork to run for Court of Criminal Appeals were Maria T. Jackson, presiding judge of the 339th state District Court in Harris County, and Ramona Franklin, who’s judge there in the 338th.

Jackson filed for the presiding judge seat now held by Republican Sharon Keller of Dallas. Franklin is seeking the Place 7 seat of Republican Barbara Hervey of San Antonio.
“No matter where you live or what you look like or who you love, in my courtroom, you’re going to receive justice,” she said.

Kirkland and Sandill you knew about. Jackson was elected in 2008 and has been re-elected twice. Franklin was elected in 2016. Cheng ran for the 1st Court of Appeals in 2012. The Chron story says that a sixth candidate is not expected to come forward, which is too bad. It’s great that Harris County is representing like this, but surely there’s someone somewhere else in the state who can throw a hat in the ring. Be that as it may, best of luck to these five.

Opinions differ about Congressional prospects

I’m gonna boil this one down a bit.

Todd Litton

Moments before the polls closed in Virginia’s Democratic sweep, Houston-area Republican Ted Poe, across the Potomac River on Capitol Hill, announced his retirement in 2018 after 14 years in Congress.

Poe cast his move Tuesday night as a personal decision: “You know when it’s time to go,” he told the Chronicle. “And it’s time to go, and go back to Texas on a full-time basis.”

But a wave of retirement announcements from Texas Republicans in both Congress and the Legislature already had sparked a lot of speculation that the pendulum of power might swing against the GOP, even possibly to some degree in a deep red state like Texas.

Poe and other Republicans dismissed that notion, arguing that their prospects in 2018 are strong, particularly in the Senate, where 10 Democratic incumbents face the voters in states won by President Donald Trump.

Democrats, however, celebrated Ralph Northam’s victory over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s hard-fought governor’s race as the start of an anti-Trump wave that could only grow as the president’s approval ratings continue to sink.

However coincidental, Poe’s announcement – following those of Texas U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, Jeb Hensarling and Sam Johnson – seemed to add to the buzz.

[…]

Democratic hopeful Todd Litton, a nonprofit executive in Poe’s district, has raised more than $256,000 for the race, outpacing Poe’s fundraising in the three-month period between April and June.

Poe, however, called the suggestion that he is running away from a tough reelection “nonsense.” He noted that he won reelection last year with 61 percent of the vote, a substantially better showing than Trump, who won 52 percent of the district’s vote for president.

“I don’t appeal to people on the party label,” said Poe, a former teacher, prosecutor and judge. “I appeal based on who I am.”

[…]

David Crockett, a political scientist at San Antonio’s Trinity University, said the question lingering after Virginia’s election results: Is this the beginning of something different?

“Texas is still pretty red, but the result of all these retirements could be opportunity for a Democrat in the right circumstances,” he said. “It’s always easier for an opposition party to pick off an open seat … but I still think we’re a decade away from any significant change.”

Texas Democrats, for the most part, have their sights set on Hurd, Sessions and Culberson, whose districts went to Clinton in 2016. Recent internal polling also has bolstered their hopes of flipping the suburban San Antonio district where Smith is retiring.

Around Houston, it would take a pretty big wave for Poe’s 2nd Congressional District to fall into the Democratic column, but in the current political climate, some analysts say, who knows?

“I wouldn’t go to Las Vegas and bet on it,” said Craig Goodman, a political scientist at the University of Houston in Victoria. “But every election cycle, there’s always one or two districts where you’re like, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ Maybe the 2nd would be that district.”

CDs 02 and 21 were more Democratic in 2016 than they were in 2012, and the retirements of Ted Poe and Lamar Smith will make them at least a little harder to defend in 2018 than they would have been. They’re not in the same class as CDs 07, 23, and 32, but a sufficient wave could make them competitive. Another factor to keep in mind is who wins the Republican primaries to try to hold them? Some candidates will be tougher than others, and in this day and age it’s hardly out of the question that the winner in one of these primaries could be some frothing Trump-or-die type that no one has heard of who might have trouble raising money and turn voters off.

There’s another point to consider, which is that some of the candidates who run for these now-open Congressional seats may themselves be holding seats that would be more vulnerable without an incumbent to defend them. For instance, State Rep. Jason Issac has announced his candidacy in CD21. Isaac’s HD45 went for Trump by less than five points and with under 50% of the vote; it was typically more Republican at the downballot level, but still shifted a bit towards the Dems from 2012 to 2016. Erin Zwiener is the Democratic challenger in HD45. As for CD02, it is my understanding that State Rep. Kevin Roberts, the incumbent in HD126, is looking at CD02. HD126 was about as Republican in 2016 as CD02 was, so if Roberts changes races that will open up another Republican-favored-but-not-solid seat. We’ll know more when the filings come in, but that’s what I’d keep my eye on. Candidates matter, and the Dems have been rounding them up for months now. Republicans are just getting started in these districts. They have less margin for error.

Abbott v Davis

It’s getting real out there.

Rep. Sarah Davis

In what promises to deepen divisions in the Texas Republican Party, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed a GOP challenger to incumbent state Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston.

Abbott gave his public thumbs-up to Susanna Dokupil, a more-conservative Republican like Abbott, who is running against the more moderate Davis, who also touts herself as “a conservative voice in Austin.”

The announcement was the first endorsement of a legislative challenger by Abbott, who had announced last summer that he would support legislative candidates who supported his positions on issues. In the past, it has been relatively rare for governors to get involved in legislative races so early — if at all.

[…]

Davis, an attorney, has challenged Abbott’s positions on a number of issues in the past year, including the bathroom bill. She has represented a district that includes West University Place for four terms in the Texas House.

“We need leaders in Austin who will join me to build a better future for Texas,” Abbott said in his endorsement statement. “I trust Susanna, and I know voters in House District 134 can trust her too to fight for their needs in Austin, Texas. Susanna is a principled conservative who will be a true champion for the people of House District 134, and I am proud to support her in the upcoming election.”

Dokupil, who is CEO of Paladin Strategies, a strategic communications firm based in Houston, worked for Abbott as assistant solicitor general while he was Texas attorney general, before becoming governor. There, she handled religious liberty issues, he said.

Abbott said he has known Dokupil for more than a decade.

Davis is a part of the House leadership team. She chairs the House General Investigating and Ethics, serves as chair for health and human services issues on the House Appropriations Committee and is a member of the influential Calendars Committee that sets the House schedule.

In a statement, Davis appeared to dismiss the Abbott endorsement of her challenger, who said she represents the views of her district.

“I have always voted my uniquely independent district, and when it comes to campaign season I have always stood on my own, which is why I outperformed Republicans up and down the ballot in the last mid-term election,” Davis said.

This ought to be fun. Davis has survived primary challenges before, though she hasn’t had to fight off the governor as well in those past battles. She is quite right that she generally outperforms the rest of her party in HD134. Not for nothing, but Hillary Clinton stomped Donald Trump in HD134, carrying the district by an even larger margin than Mitt Romney had against President Obama in 2012. If there’s one way to make HD134 a pickup opportunity for Dems in 2018, it’s by ousting Davis in favor of an Abbott/Patrick Trump-loving clone. Perhaps Greg Abbott is unaware that he himself only carried HD134 by two points in 2014, less than half the margin by which he carried Harris County. Bill White won HD134 by three points in 2010. HD134 is a Republican district, but the people there will vote for a Democrat if they sufficiently dislike the Republican in question. This could be the best thing Greg Abbott has ever done for us. The Trib and the Observer, which has more about Davis’ opponent, have more.

Lamar Smith to retire

Good riddance.

Rep. Lamar Smith

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio said Tuesday he is retiring from Congress.

“For several reasons, this seems like a good time to pass on the privilege of representing the 21st District to someone else,” he wrote in an email obtained by the Tribune. “… With over a year remaining in my term, there is still much to do. There is legislation to enact, dozens of hearings to hold and hundreds of votes to cast.”

Smith, a San Antonio native, received his undergraduate degree from Yale and attended law school at Southern Methodist University. He was elected to Congress in 1987 and represents a district that spans Austin, San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country. He is the current chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Like U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the House Financial Services chairman who announced his retirement on Tuesday, Smith faced a term-limit in that role.

[…]

Speculation immediately began among Texas GOP insiders about who could succeed Smith in his seat. Names included state Reps. Jason Isaac and Lyle Larson, and Austin City Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair.

State Sen. Donna Campbell’s name was also put in play. A spokesman for Campbell said she “will carefully and prayerfully consider what is best for her and the district.”

Austin-based communications consultant Jenifer Sarver, a Republican, confirmed that she’s “taking a serious look” at running for the seat.

The question on many insider’s minds is whether retiring state House Speaker Joe Straus would consider a run, but sources close to him said Thursday he is not interested.

Smith’s 21st Congressional District runs from South Austin along the west side of I-35 into San Antonio and extends westward into the Hill Country. The district was drawn to be a safe Republican seat, but there is a competitive Democratic primary this year with viable fundraising candidates. One of the Democratic challengers, veteran Joe Kopser, raised more funds than Smith in the last quarter.

Democrats have argued for weeks that if more Republicans retire, they have a better shot at those open-seat races.

Is this one of those races? It’s too soon to tell, Democratic sources around the Capitol told the Tribune.

This district would be incredibly difficult to dislodge, but perhaps not as hard as a lift as a conservative East Texas bastion such as Hensarling’s seat. Democrats will prioritize dozens of other seat before they spend on this one, situated in the expensive Austin and San Antonio markets.

The early read from Democrats in Washington: It would have to be an absolutely toxic environment for the GOP next year for this seat to flip.

Let’s be clear: Lamar Smith is terrible. Not just for his longstanding enmity towards the environment, which the story covered, but also for his equally longstanding hostility towards immigration. Of the names mentioned as potential Republican candidates to replace him, only Donna Campbell is clearly worse. That said, it is hard to beat an incumbent, and his departure ought to make the path a tad bit easier for someone like Joseph Kopser. CD21 was red in 2016, but not as red as it has been. Trump carried it 51.9 to 42.1, while Mike Keasler on the CCA won it 56.7 to 38.1. In 2012, it was 59.8 to 37.9 for Mitt Romney and 58.6 to 36.6 for Sharon Keller. Whether that’s enough to draw national attention is another question, but adding Smith’s name to the pile of leavers does help further the “abandon ship” narrative. I only wish he had done so sooner. ThinkProgress, which goes deeper on Smith’s extreme pro-pollution record, has more.

UT/TT poll: We need more context

Time for another UT/Texas Trib poll, in which the pollsters do a mighty fine job of failing to find anything interesting about their data.

Donald Trump remains highly popular with Texas Republicans nearly a year after his election as the 45th president, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

“Trump’s overall job approval numbers continue to look good with Republicans,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “His base is still very secure.”

His popularity with Texas Democrats, on the other hand, is remarkably low. While 79 percent of Republicans said they approve of the job the president is doing, 92 percent of Democrats disapprove. Among independent voters, 55 percent handed Trump good marks, while 35 gave him bad ones.

The president got better marks from men (52 percent favorable) than from women (39 percent); and from white voters (55 percent) than from black (14 percent) or Hispanic voters (34 percent).

Overall, Trump remains popular with Republicans in a state that hasn’t shown a preference for a Democratic presidential candidate in four decades. “There’s no slippage here in intensity,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling research at the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “There is some in the national numbers, but it’s not happening in Texas.”

The first thought I have when presented with data is “Compared to what?” In this case, how do these Trump approval numbers compare to other Trump approval numbers? And guess what? We have such numbers, from the previous UT/Trib poll. To summarize:


Approval                       Disapproval

Month  Overall  GOP  Ind  Dem  Overall  GOP  Ind  Dem
=====================================================
Feb         46   81   39    8       44   10   36   83
Oct         45   79   55    4       49   15   35   92

So Trump’s numbers are a teeny bit softer now than they were in February. Approval is down a point, disapproval is up five. More interesting is that while Dems are now nearly unanimous in their disapproval, Republicans are a bit less favorable to him as well. I’m curious at what level Henson and Blank will describe Trump’s Republican support as something other than “very secure”. The big shift here is with independents, whom I suspect are mostly conservatives who are disgruntled for one reason or another with the Republican Party. They stand out here are being much more amenable to Trump. Seems to me that would be something to explore in more depth, if anyone over there ever gets a bit curious.

The other way to approach this is to compare Trump’s numbers to Obama’s. It took me longer to find what I was looking for, partly because the stories about these numbers don’t always break them down in the same way, but the crosstabs to the October 2013 poll gave me what I was looking for:

Obama, October 2013:

Dems – 77 approve, 11 disapprove
Reps – 4 approve, 92 disapprove
Inds – 19 approve, 66 disapprove

Trump, October 2017

Dems – 4 approve, 92 disapprove
Reps – 79 approve, 15 disapprove
Inds – 55 approve, 35 disapprove

Again, the big difference is in independents. Trump has slightly higher approval but also higher disapproval from his own party, while both are equally reviled by the other party. I look at this, and I wonder about that assertion about intensity. From a strict R/D perspective, Trump is an almost exact mirror image of fifth-year Obama, at the same point in the election cycle. Do we think this means anything going into the ensuing midterm election? I think one can make a decent argument that Dems have the intensity advantage right now. I don’t think anyone knows whether than may have an effect on the turnout patterns we have seen in recent years. But the conditions look quite different, and if one is going to claim that the outcome will be the same as before, I’d like to understand the reason why. If one is going to ignore the question, or fail to notice that there is a question in the first place, I’d like to understand that reason, too.

By the way, on a side note, how can Trump have four percent approval among Democrats, but 14% approval among blacks and 34% approval among Hispanics? Are there that many black and Hispanic Republicans and/or Independents in this sample? There are no crosstabs, so I can’t answer that question on my own.

The big race so far on the 2018 ballot is the Senate race, and we have some polling data for that as well.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is much better known among Texas voters than his best-known political rival, Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The incumbent faces some headwinds: 38 percent of voters said they have favorable opinions of Cruz, while 45 percent have unfavorable opinions of him. In O’Rourke’s case, 16 percent have favorable views and 13 percent have unfavorable views.

“Ted Cruz’s greatest asset — his strong support among the Republican base — remains pretty intact,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

But it’s in the no-views-at-all numbers that Cruz has an advantage: only 17 percent said they have either neutral or no opinion of the incumbent, while 69 percent registered neither positive nor negative opinions of the challenger. More than half had no opinion of O’Rourke at all — an opportunity and a danger for a new statewide candidate who is racing to describe himself to voters before Cruz does it for him.

“Beto O’Rourke does not appear to have done much to improve his standing or, perhaps more importantly, to soften up Ted Cruz,” said Daron Shaw, a professor at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “This is the problem Democrats face in Texas — you have to grab the attention of voters and drive the issue agenda, but doing so requires a demonstration of strength that is almost impossible. Absent some substantial change in the issue environment, O’Rourke is on the same path as Paul Sadler and Rick Noriega,” two Democrats and former legislators who fell well short of defeating Republicans in statewide races.

Here’s a fun fact for you: In the entire 2007-08 election cycle, Rick Noriega raised about $4.1 million for his bid for Senate. Paul Sadler raised less than $700K in 2012. With a full year to go, Beto O’Rourke has already raised over $3.8 million, with $2.1 million in Q2 and $1.7 million in Q3. One of these things is not like the others. Maybe that will matter and maybe it won’t, I don’t know. O’Rourke does clearly have a ways to go to raise his profile, despite all the national press he’s received. It sure would be nice for the fancy professionals to acknowledge this sort of thing when throwing out analogies, that’s all I’m saying.

Now then, let’s look at Ted Cruz. Here were his numbers in March of 2013, shortly after he took office:

Cruz, in his first two months as a U.S. senator, is more familiar in his home state than Dewhurst, Abbott or John Cornyn, the senior senator from the state. He is viewed favorably by 39 percent and unfavorably by 28 percent, and only 17 percent have no opinion of him.

“Exactly what you would expect for someone who has been high profile and taken strong positions,” Shaw said. “Liberal Democrats have seen him and don’t like him. Conservative Republicans have seen him and like him. This is a decent indication of the spread of partisanship in Texas.

“He’s playing pretty well with the voters he cares about — the conservatives in Texas,” Shaw said.

And here we are in November of 2013:

Cruz’s unfavorable rankings increased by 6 percentage points since June, and his favorable rankings fell by 2; 38 percent of Texas registered voters had a favorable opinion of him, while 37 percent gave him unfavorable marks.

There may be more recent numbers, but that’s as far as I went looking. Short story, Cruz’s favorables are steady at 38 or 39%, while his unfavorables have gone from 28 to 37 to 45. I’ve no doubt this is due to the consolidation of Democratic disapproval, though I lack the crosstabs to confirm that. I’m sure he does have strong numbers among Republicans, but how strong are they compared to past results? I don’t expect more than a handful of Republicans to cross over to Beto next November, but staying home or skipping the race are also options, and if they’re less enthusiastic about their choice, that may be the choice for more of them. The one factor that can put the likes of Cruz in jeopardy is a depressed level of Republican turnout. Is there anything in the numbers to suggest that is a possibility? I think there is, though it’s early to say anything that isn’t pure speculation. If we want to say anything more substantive in later months, we need to know what the trends are. That’s what this data is good for now.

Another contemplation of turnout

Let’s see where this one takes us. Last time, I made some guesses about turnout in the HISD races based on overall turnout in the city of Houston. Now I’m going to turn that around and take a shot at pegging city turnout based on HISD.

It was suggested to me that we do have a model for a low-turnout HISD election scenario, and that was the May special election to revisit the recapture question. A total of 28,978 people showed up for that exercise. How can we extrapolate from that to the full city? Most years there isn’t a direct connection, since most years there isn’t an election for all of HISD. But such a connection does exist in two recent years, years in which HISD had a bond issue on the ballot. Let’s take a look at 2007 and 2012, the latter of which works because there were also city bond issues up for a vote. Here are the numbers:

2007: Houston = 123,410 HISD = 85,288 Share = 69.1%

2012: Houston = 576,549 HISD = 388,982 Share = 67.5%

“Share” is just the ratio of HISD turnout to Houston turnout. It’s quite pleasingly compact. If we take the midpoint of the two – 68.3% – and apply it to the May 2017 special, and we get a projected total for the city of 42,428. Which, also pleasingly, is well in line with the numbers I was noodling with last time.

What does that tell us? In some sense, not that much, as we don’t have a district-wide election in November, we have six district races. But it does give another figure for our estimate of hardcore voters, and a tad more faith in my own guess of around 50K total for the city. We can get from there to numbers for the individual races if we want. It’s still all hocus-pocus, but at least it’s based on something.

On a tangential note, we do remember that there’s also another Heights alcohol vote on the ballot, right? I’ve heard basically nothing about this since the petitions were validated. The signs like the one embedded above started showing up within the past week or so, but that’s the only activity I’ve seen or heard about, and this light Press story is the only news I’ve found. The area that will be voting has some overlap with HISD I, so it’s not touching many voters who wouldn’t already have a reason to be engaged, and as such probably wouldn’t be much of a factor even if it were a hotter ticket. Anyway, I just wanted to work something about this item in, and this seemed like as good a place as any.

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.

No re-rematch for Gallego against Hurd

The third time is not a charm, mostly because there won’t be a third time.

Pete Gallego

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, has decided not to try again to reclaim his old seat in Congress.

“Know that my public service is not done, but that for the present, I have decided to forego another run in the 23rd District,” Gallego said in a statement Friday. “I continue to explore options that will allow me to give back to San Antonio and the rest of this great state which has given me and my family so much.”

[…]

Gallego had set up an exploratory committee for the seat in July. At the time, he said he was “energized about 2018,” citing a new level of Democratic enthusiasm in the district following the election of President Donald Trump.

In recent weeks, Gallego tried to raise money for his would-be congressional campaign, according to those plugged in with the Democratic establishment donor community — but found resistance after losing twice.

See here for the previous update. On the one hand, Gallego won in 2012 against an incumbent Republican in a district carried by Mitt Romney and every statewide Republican. He led the ticket in a tough loss in 2014, but then failed to win the seat back in a year where Hillary Clinton won the district. He was a fine legislator and he’s a good person, but with the emergence of some other interesting candidates, I can see why the donor community might have wanted to go another direction. Gallego is young enough to run again for something if he wants to – hell, he’d make a pretty good candidate for Governor if he wanted to give that a try and if the Castros figure out what they’re doing. Seriously, someone ought to talk to him about that. Anyway, this probably means the field in CD23 is set, but someone could still jump in.

Will we have maps in time for March primaries?

Maybe. It’s up to the courts.

State officials insisted Friday they expect to stop the court challenges on appeal, and reverse Texas’ losing streak on the voting-rights lawsuits, legal experts predicted Texas could end up back under federal supervisions of its elections rules if the appeals fail.

In short, the court fight is shaping up as a political game of chicken, with significant consequences no matter how it turns out.

“In both of the cases where there are new decisions, the courts have ruled that Texas has purposefully maintained ‘intentional discrimination’ in the way it drew its maps,” said Michael Li, an expert on Texas redistricting who is senior counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

“That’s an important finding that could result in Texas being placed back under pre-clearance coverage. Based on that, there may be a good chance that could happen.”

[…]

On Friday, Paxton asked the Supreme Court to overturn the lower-court decision on Texas’ congressional maps. “We are confident that the Supreme Court will allow Texas to continue to use the maps used in the last three election cycles,” he said.

Even so, until that appeal is decided, “we don’t expect or anticipate any delay in the Texas election schedule,” said Marc Rylander, Paxton’s communications director.

Li and other legal experts are not so sure.

First, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Thursday’s ruling by the three-judge panel will almost certainly not be decided until after the filing period in November and December for House seats is over.

And if appellate court rulings in other cases go against the state, the schedule could be upended by court orders to redraw political boundaries for candidates running in those elections. And any boundary changes to benefit blacks and Hispanics could mean gains for Democrats, who those groups traditionally vote for.

“There’s a good chance that, given the way these cases stand with the courts, that the primary election schedule could be affected,” Li said.

The state had previously announced its intention to appeal the Congressional map; you can see a copy of their brief here. I presume an appeal of the State House ruling will ensue. As far as next year’s primaries go, basically one of two things will happen. Either SCOTUS will step in and say that the current maps will remain in place until the appeals process has played out, or it won’t. In that case, new maps need to be drawn. The court will have hearings right after Labor Day to determine a schedule for hearings and whatnot in the event there is no halt from SCOTUS and Greg Abbott declines to call a special session and have the Lege draw compliant maps. Whether it’s the court (most likely) or the Lege, it needs to be done by roughly the end of October so election officials can provide maps and files to county party chairs and interested candidates in time for the normal November-December filing period. There are people who are going to make run/don’t run decisions based on what those maps look like. There’s a decent chance we wind up with later primaries next year – perhaps May, as we had in 2012 – but it’s not certain yet. We should be in a better position to know by the end of the first week of September.

Bond issue set for November

Should be pretty straightforward, though I suppose you never know.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

November’s ballot will feature $495 million in public improvement bonds after City Council agreed Wednesday to send the package to Houston voters.

The general bonds, which would not require a tax hike, would fund improvements to libraries and parks, as well as items like new police and fire trucks. They will appear alongside $1 billion in pension obligation bonds.

“Many of our police officers are driving in vehicles that are 10 to 11 years old, if not longer. Same thing for firefighters,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “Solid waste – driving in trucks that are stopping while they’re out collecting trash. So the public safety issue is important.”

In all, the bond package before voters asks for authorization to issue $159 million in public safety bonds, $104 million for parks, $109 million for general government improvements and $123 million for libraries.

[…]

The general bond measure before voters simply would authorize Houston to issue additional bonds. It would not obligate the city to further spending without City Council approval.

If voters agree, the pension obligation bonds set to appear alongside the improvement bonds would complete the mayor’s pension reform deal by infusing Houston’s underfunded police and municipal pensions with $1 billion.

See here for some background. The last bond elections we had in Houston were in 2012. All five passed, four with over 60% of the vote and the fifth with 55%, with turnout in the neighborhood of 400K. Suffice it to say, turnout will be lower this time around. My guess for the baseline is in the 50-75K range, with the possibility of a bit more if the firefighters’ pay parity proposal is on the ballot and there’s a lot of money spent on it one way or the other. I don’t think this lower level of turnout affects the odds of passage in either direction. I do think the type of person who is likely to show up for this kind of issue is also the kind of person who probably supports bond issues; whether that gets us into 2012 range or not I couldn’t say. I also expect to take any polling for this with an enormous amount of salt. What do you think?

RK Sandill for State Supreme Court

Very good news, from the inbox:

Judge RK Sandill

The Supreme Court of Texas is elected to serve all of the nearly 28 million residents of our great state. Yet, after more than two decades of one-party rule, today’s Court is increasingly out of touch with the needs of everyday Texans.

On issues from public school finance to equal protection under the law, our state Supreme Court is ignoring its duties and instead catering to an extreme, special interest agenda.

It is time for a change.

I want you to know I’m running for the Supreme Court of Texas, Place 4, to restore an independent voice to our state’s highest judicial body and to focus on the rule of law, rather than a fringe ideological agenda.

I am a Texan — the proud son of immigrants — who grew up in a military family that knows the meaning of service. I have been a district court judge in our state’s largest county for nearly nine years. I am a husband, dad and cancer survivor. And I am running to serve all Texans.

I know this race won’t be easy. Texas is a big state and changing the status quo will be a challenge. I’m ready for the fight. Will you join me?

It is time our state’s highest court got back to working on behalf of everyday Texans.

I know Judge Sandill personally, and will attest he’s a super guy. He was elected in the 2008 Harris County Democratic wave, and won re-election in 2012 and 2016; he’s not on the ballot next year, so he does not have to decide between running again for the same position and trying to move up. His opponent is the execrable John Devine, who was the one Supreme Court justice to dissent when that court originally declined to take up the appeal of the Houston spousal benefits lawsuit. Devine isn’t qualified to be a district court judge, but there he is on the top bench in the state. Almost anyone would be an improvement, but Judge Sandill would be a vastly better jurist. Here’s his website and Facebook page. Get to know him if you don’t already, and give him some support.

The rural/suburban tradeoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Romney 70%+ (42 districts)

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


Romney 60-70% (31 districts)

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


Romney 50-60% (23 districts)

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


Romney 40-50% (9 districts)

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


Romney 30-40% (20 districts)

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


Romney < 30% (25 districts)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

How the redistricting case could play out

Michael Li games out how the Texas redistricting litigation may go from the anticipated court ruling to final resolution.

So, in short, Texans could end up with a new set of maps (drawn by the Texas Legislature or drawn by the court or drawn by the legislature and then tweaked/modified by the court). Or the whole process could be put on hold [until] the Supreme Court rules on whether there are underlying violations that require redrawing of the maps.

In any event, maps may not be final until early 2018. That would mean, at a minimum, that candidate filing deadlines for state house and congressional races will be moved (and potentially much angst for those thinking about running for those offices). Depending on how long it takes for the Supreme Court to rule, it is possible that the entire March 2018 Texas primary might have to be moved or, in the alternative, that the primary might be held in two parts – one part for congressional and state house races and one part for everything else).

I jumped ahead to the conclusion in Li’s piece. Go read the whole thing to see how he arrived there. Along the way, he cited this Upshot post about possible outcomes in the Congressional map.

Texas’ defense seems simple. How could it have discriminated in adopting a court-drawn map? The problem: Two of the districts found to be in violation in the April ruling were unchanged on the court-drawn map.

Short of victory, the best case for Texas Republicans might be a ruling confined to those two districts. It would probably cost them one seat in the Austin area, most likely the one belonging to Roger Williams.

But the challenge is far wider.

A third district was found to be in violation in April; it was altered on the temporary map, but only slightly. That district belongs to Will Hurd, already one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country. He won both of his elections by the margin of the high-turnout Republican suburbs of San Antonio, which were said to dilute the power of the district’s low-turnout Hispanic majority. Without those high-turnout Republican suburbs, Mr. Hurd’s re-election chances would look bleak, especially in what is already shaping up as a tough year for Republicans.

The April decision also left open the possibility that Texas might be required to draw an additional minority opportunity district — where the goal is to give racial or ethnic minorities the sway to elect the candidate of their choice — in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. If that happened, a Republican seat would need to be sacrificed here as well, most likely Joe Barton or Kenny Marchant, or perhaps the district held by Sam Johnson, who is not going to seek re-election.

What would “Armageddon” look like? Well, the likeliest version is the possibility that such changes to a few districts ripple across the map, endangering additional Republican incumbents.

The “Armageddon” scenario was reported on by the Trib in late May, which I blogged about here. The worst case scenario for the Republicans is a loss of six, maybe even seven, seats. That’s unlikely, but the low end is two seats, and that may not be much more probable. We won’t know what the scope may be for a few more weeks, when the court’s ruling comes down, and we may not know for certain until January or February. If you thought the 2012 primaries were fun, just you wait for 2018.

Let’s do talk about Democratic legislative candidates

I have so many things to say about this.

The hottest new trend in Democratic politics these days is running for Congress — everybody’s doing it. So far, more than 200 Democrats have filed to challenge Republican incumbents and raised at least $5,000. That’s more than the number of Democratic congressional candidates who had announced at this point in the cycle in the last four elections, combined. Trump’s election freaked people out, and this is how they’re responding. Obviously, it’s an encouraging sign for Democrats. You want people running everywhere, even in beet-red districts where they may not stand a chance.

There are a boatload of people running for Congress in Texas, too. Which, again, is good! Strangely, though, the Democratic slate for statewide offices — from the governor down to the land commissioner — is so far mostly empty, or lacking credible candidates. And there’s no sign (yet) of people lining up to run for the Legislature, where Democrats have traditionally been most in need of worthy candidates.

[…]

In huge swathes of the state, there simply is no Democratic Party to speak of. The local infrastructure doesn’t exist. Particularly in rural areas, local elections may feature no Democrats at all, and decades may have passed since the last competitive race outside of the Republican primary.

Without local representation, the “face” of the Democratic Party becomes, at worst, the caricature presented on talk radio, or, at best, Barack Obama or Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi — Chicago, New York and San Francisco — which produces the sense that Democrats could never be champions of their communities.

But it also means marginalized communities go unrepresented. As this great 2016 Austin American-Statesman series relates, the Panhandle, which has some of the most ideologically conservative elected officials in the country, has huge populations of Hispanic and nonwhite voters who have very little say in their local communities, let alone in Austin. Deaf Smith County, west of Amarillo, is more than 70 percent Hispanic, but every elected member of county government is Anglo. That’s a pattern repeated throughout much of the state.

Reversing that trend is gonna require a lot of local work, in places where Democrats are not necessarily strong and where they won’t reap benefits right away. In Lubbock, where Democrats have a tiny footprint, two Democrats have already declared their intention to run against each other to challenge U.S. Representative Jodey Arrington. Trump beat Clinton by almost 50 percentage points in Arrington’s district.

You could make a plausible case that a vigorous, two-year congressional campaign is a good way to boost local organizing. But the candidates most able to reach out to individual voters are those with the smallest constituencies. Inside Arrington’s district is Lubbock’s state House District 84, represented by Republican John Frullo. Frullo’s district was teetering on the brink of being a majority-minority district at the time of the 2010 census, but a Democrat has only run once in the last three election cycles. In 2014, Frullo crushed a retired teacher named Ed Tishler, whose sole campaign expenditure was his filing fee. So far, nobody’s stepped up to run this year.

The point isn’t that Democrats are likely to turn the Panhandle blue. But the broader retreat from local politics allows Republicans to depress the nonwhite vote and run up high margins in red areas that cancel out Democratic votes in blue ones during statewide elections. Recently, $60 million was flushed down the toilet as part of Jon Ossoff’s losing congressional bid in Georgia. What would happen if some rich person donated a few grand to the Deaf Smith Democratic Party and paid for a few advisory trips from some veteran organizers?

Maybe nothing! My role is to second-guess, and I’m often wrong. But nothing is also what Ossoff’s loss left behind, which is the problem with blockbuster electoral bids in general. A lot of money will be raised by losing congressional candidates this cycle, and a lot of money will be spent in the top-dollar media markets of Dallas and Houston to buy ads to beat Pete Sessions and John Culberson. That gets a lot of people paid, which is partially why it happens. But I don’t know how much it actually accomplishes. Investing in people, in the places they live, seems like a better bet.

Where to begin?

1. The ability of progressive folks to find the negative in any situation never ceases to amaze me. People, including lots of women and people of color, have been inspired to run for Congress! Districts that have never had a contested primary have multiple candidates vying for the nomination! Money is being raised to support these candidates, many of whom are young and first-timers! But we’re gonna lose and all that money will be wasted anyway, so why bother? Argh! That sound you hear is me banging my head on my desk.

2. I realize that it was just being used as an anecdotal illustration, but for the record Deaf Smith County is in HD86, where it represents a bit less than 12% of the total population and where Donald Trump received 79.5% of the vote. The ratio of voting age population (VAP) to overall population in HD86 is 62% for Latinos, compared to 78% for Anglos. I don’t have the figures, but I’d guess the Latino VAP in Deaf Smith is lower than 70%, and if we go all the way to Citizen VAP, I’m sure it’s lower still. I completely agree about the need to build the party in places like the Panhandle, and that starts with city and county offices in places like Deaf Smith, but if the goal is to have a full slate of legislative candidates for 2018, at least for the districts that may be within striking distance, there are a lot of more promising targets than Deaf Smith County and HD86.

3. My biggest frustration by far with this article is that there appears to have been no effort made to actually find out how many announced or rumored or being-recruited candidates there are for the Lege next year. Did you know, for example, that there are already multiple Democratic candidates for the two closest Senate districts, SDs 10 and 16, and that there is at least one promising candidate looking at the next closest district, SD17? Neither SD16 nor SD17 was contested in 2014, by the way. But mentioning that kind of muddies the point of the story, so let’s just pretend it’s not worth it.

4. On the House side, nearly all of the Republican-held seats that were carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016 are in Harris and Dallas Counties. Dallas had a full slate of Democratic House candidates in 2016, and I see no reason why they won’t do that again this year. Maybe pick up the phone and call the county party chairs and ask them how it’s going? For that matter, the other districts of great interest are in a few other counties – Collin, Denton, Tarrant, Fort Bend, Williamson – maybe make a few more phone calls? Again, I strongly agree with the larger point about broadening the reach of the Democratic Party, but again, if you want to know about candidates for 2018, maybe go looking where they’re likely to be running. Maybe also call a couple of organizations that recruit and support Democratic legislative candidates – the Texas AFL-CIO, Annie’s List, the HDCC, you get the idea.

(By the way, Deaf Smith County has a Democratic Party Chair, too. You can thank Glen Maxey, who has done a ton of work ensuring that every county in the state can have a Democratic primary, for that. That’s a claim the Republicans couldn’t make in 2016, you know.)

5. Going back to point #3, every campaign finance report website that I’ve looked at for July finance reports either presents every report that has been filed or has a way to search for all filed reports. The FEC website, which used to suck, now has a very handy feature for querying, say, every Democratic Congressional candidate from Texas in the 2017-18 cycle. Every site makes it easy to find candidates whose existence you didn’t know except one – the Texas Ethics Commission website, which doesn’t have a way to query by district and doesn’t allow a search with the name field left blank. Speaking as an amateur blogger, I would have really really really appreciated the efforts of a professional reporter at a professional news-gathering organization to do some legwork and find a comprehensive list of candidates. Maybe if such a reporter had done that legwork, he might have found evidence to corroborate or disprove his hypothesis about a dearth of candidates for this point in the campaign.

6. Which is another point that bugs me. If you’re going to say there aren’t that many candidates, I will say, compared to when? How many candidates were there, based on finance reports, at this time in 2016 or 2014? I have no idea. Neither does the author of that story, or at least if he does he isn’t telling.

7. All of that said, there are fewer Democratic candidates for legislative seats so far in Harris County than I would have expected at this time. Of the four districts I most want to see good candidates run – HDs 138, 135, 132, and 126 – only HD138 has a candidate that I know of so far. It’s barely August so I’m not sweating it, but it would be nice to see a few more people out there. So it may well be that this story is 100% correct, and there just aren’t as many legislative candidates out there as we might have thought there’d be, especially given the energy given to Congressional campaigns. My whole point is that you can’t actually tell that from this story.

Redistricting trial wraps up

Now we wait.

The state of Texas faced a healthy dose of judicial skepticism on Saturday as its lawyers laid out final arguments in a trial over whether lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minority voters in enacting current Texas House and Congressional district maps.

A three-judge panel peppered lawyers from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office with questions that suggested they were having trouble swallowing the state’s defense of its maps, premised on the argument that lawmakers were merely following court orders in creating them.

The state Legislature adopted the maps in 2013 in an effort to half further legal challenges that began in 2011.

In the final hours of six days of hearings, U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez said he saw “nothing in the record,” to suggest the 2013 Legislature, before approving the boundaries, considered fixing voting rights violations flagged by another federal court identified ahead of time.

He and another district judge, Orlando Garcia, also criticized the state’s unwillingness to offer documents and testimony that might shine a light on lawmakers’ intentions. State lawyers kept such evidence out of court throughout the trial by claiming “legislative privilege,” which allows lawmakers to keep secret their communications on policy along with their “thoughts and mental impressions.”

The plaintiffs “get no documents, because you invoke legislative privilege. They get no testimony because of legislative privilege,” said Rodriguez, a George W. Bush-appointee. “How else are they going to get it?”

[…]

It’s not clear when the judges might rule, but they said they wanted to avoid affecting the 2018 elections which could be pushed back if new maps are not approved in time.

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. Michael Li notes that however quickly (or not) the judges may rule, there will still be appeals. Lord only knows when we may have a final map – the possibility that primaries will be delayed, as was the case in 2012, cannot be overlooked. Li also rebuts the argument that it’s just not possible to draw additional minority districts.

Consider, for example, the configuration of Dallas-Fort Worth area congressional districts in Plan C286, the demonstration map drawn by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere and offered at trial by the Rodriguez plaintiffs.

Under Plan C286, TX-24 would become a coalition district with a citizen voting age population that is 36.1% Latino, 18.7% African American, and 5.8% Asian (mostly of Indian and Pakistani descent).

The district largely overlaps the Dallas County commissioner district currently represented by Elba Garcia and like that district would in all likelihood elect the Latino preferred candidate in the Democratic primary, although a candidate supported by a cross-ethnic coalition could also win. But, regardless, in the general election, the minority preferred candidate would win overwhelmingly virtually every time.

Compared to the 1991 version of TX-30, Plan C286′s TX-24 is much more compact and confined wholly to western Dallas County.

More importantly, unlike minority districts that in the past drew criticism for splitting cities and towns, TX-24 in Plan C286 keeps the cities of Irving, Grand Prairie, and Farmers Branch intact, joining them seamlessly to heavily Latino parts of the adjacent City of Dallas. (TX-33 a coalition district in neighboring Tarrant County, likewise, closely tracks municipal boundaries).

Li has a couple of maps from the demonstration plans to illustrate his point. Indeed, he says, you have to divide up cities to avoid the creation of minority districts nowadays. There were multiple maps creating such districts on offer, it’s just a question of whether or not the judges will accept one of them. Hopefully, we’ll know soon enough.

Who will run statewide for the Dems?

For several statewide offices, it is unclear at this time who might run.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Lillie Schechter, the new chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party, has watched in recent months as at least seven candidates have come through the doors of the party headquarters to introduce themselves, eager for their shot at U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

That’s seven candidates that she can recall, but she may be forgiven for forgetting: Texas’ 7th Congressional District is one of several that have already drawn a swarm of Democratic candidates for 2018. The bonanza is unfolding not just in districts like the 7th — one of three in Texas that national Democrats are targeting — but also in even redder districts, delighting a state party that is not used to so much so interest so early.

“When we have competitive primaries, we get to engage with more Democrats,” Schechter said. “I do not see that as a negative thing.”

Yet it’s just one part of the picture for Democrats at the outset of the 2018 election cycle. While the congressional races are overflowing with candidates, the party remains without a number of statewide contenders — a reality that is coming into focus ahead of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s anticipated announcement Friday that he’s running for re-election. Barring any last-minute surprises, Abbott will make his second-term bid official without the presence of a serious Democratic rival.

[…]

So far, Democrats have three statewide candidates they see as serious: U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso for U.S. Senate, Houston-area accountant Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, for agriculture commissioner. They are without similarly credible contenders for governor, comptroller, land commissioner, railroad commissioner and attorney general — a seat considered particularly worth targeting because the GOP incumbent, Ken Paxton, is under indictment.

By far the biggest profile belongs to O’Rourke, who announced his challenge to Cruz in March. As the top of the ticket — assuming he wins his party’s primary next year — he stands a chance of being Texas Democrats’ standard-bearer in 2018, regardless of whom they ultimately put up for the other statewide jobs.

In an interview Monday, O’Rourke said he was not worried about the lack of company so far on his party’s statewide ticket.

“I can’t worry about what I can’t control, and so we’re just going to focus on our campaign,” he said.

But he also expressed optimism for the party’s prospects up and down the ballot in 2018 “as more people become aware of how significantly the dynamics have changed in Texas.”

The story notes that former State Rep. Allen Vaught is also looking at Lt. Governor, and it’s not impossible to imagine him running there with Collier shifting over to Comptroller again. I am aware of at least one person looking at the AG race, and if there’s one slot I feel confident will have a name in it, it’s that one. As for Governor, who knows. We wanted Julian Castro, but we’re not going to get Julian Castro. I had been thinking about Trey Martinez-Fischer, but he’s not interested. As with AG, I feel reasonably confident someone will run. I just don’t know how exciting that person will be.

As the story notes, there are many, many people running for Congress. At least five races, in CDs 02, 07, 21, 31, and 32, have multiple candidates, and some of those candidates have already raised a very decent amount of money. There are still plenty of races in need of candidates – CDs 22 and 24 come to mind, as well as SD16 and various State House seats – but I’m not worried about any of them yet. One way of thinking about this is to note that in the last three cycles, the number of Democratic challengers for Republican-held districts in the State House has been 38 in 2016, 37 in 2014, and 39 in 2012, with the latter being inflated by redistricting and the 2010 wipeout. Fewer than half of all Republican State House incumbents have had November opponents in each of these cycles. To be sure, one reason for that is that a large number of these districts are basically hopeless from our perspective, but there is more to it than that. If there’s ever a year to get a larger number of challengers for red districts, this is it. We won’t know the totals for certain until after the filing deadline, but this is something to keep an eye on. The DMN has more.

MJ Hegar in CD31

Very cool.

MJ Hegar

In a Texas congressional district that includes one of the country’s largest military bases, a military hero is betting she can stage a political upset.

Air Force veteran MJ Hegar is launching a Democratic challenge against U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in Texas’ solidly red 31st Congressional District.

“I see a threat to our Constitution, our democracy,” Hegar said in a recent interview, “and I feel compelled to do something more about it.”

Hegar served three tours in Afghanistan as a search-and-rescue pilot, and in 2009, she saved the lives of her passengers after her medevac helicopter was shot down by the Taliban. She subsequently received the Purple Heart as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device.

She went on to become a fierce advocate for women in the military, helping lead a 2012 lawsuit against the Defense Department over its now-repealed policy excluding women from ground combat positions.

Hegar’s memoir, “Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front,” was published earlier this year and is being made into a film. Angelina Jolie is reportedly in talks to star in it.

Carter’s district has been reliably Republican, but Hegar, now an executive coach and consultant living in Austin, believes she can flip it, confident in her ability to garner crossover support with her experience at the national and international levels. She said her decision to run was partly motivated by the election of President Donald Trump, who has caused concern among even his own party’s national security professionals.

“I think being a Republican is not what it used to be,” Hegar said. “Even though [the district] is historically Republican, I think some people are voting Republican because they have a misperception of what the Democratic Party is.”

[…]

National Democrats are currently targeting three Republican incumbents in Texas that party leaders view as vulnerable: U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston, Will Hurd of Helotes and Pete Sessions of Dallas. Carter is not on that list, but Hegar is urging them to pay attention.

“Please look closer,” she said her message is to groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Three observations:

1. On paper at least, it’s hard to imagine a more appealing candidate. Military hero, young mother, former Republican, possibly being played by Angelina Jolie in a movie. I mean, if she didn’t actually exist I’d have sworn she was the figment of a Democratic strategist’s overactive imagination. What that translates into in an actual campaign remains to be seen, but I feel confident saying this will not be the only feature story written about her candidacy.

2. Not to be a buzzkill, but the reason the DCCC hadn’t given CD31 much thought is simply that it’s not terribly competitive. It only went 52-40 for Trump after going 59-38 for Romney, but it was 57-37 downballot, which was no change from 2012. Incumbent Rep. John Carter was re-elected 58-36 in 2016 and 61-35 in 2012. If anyone has the creds to win crossover votes it’s Hegar, but she has a lot of ground to cover, and who knows how many gettable Republicans there are in that district, or anywhere.

3. As the story notes, there are three other candidate seeking the Democratic nomination in CD31: fellow veteran Kent Lester; Dr. Christine Eady Mann, a family physician in Cedar Park; and Mike Clark, who was Carter’s opponent last year. Both the fact that there is a crowded field vying to run in this not-a-swing-district and the fact that there is a candidate with star potential like Hegar are further indicators of Democratic enthusiasm for 2018. I’ll put it to you this way: CD31 has existed since the 2002 election. This would be the first time in its history that it would have a contested Democratic primary, let alone a more-than-two-candidate race.

Hegar’s website is here, Kent Lester’s is here, Christine Eady Mann’s is here, and Mike Clark’s is here. We won’t see a finance report for Hegar till the end of the third quarter, but I’ll be very interested to see how she does. If she wants to get the DCCC’s attention, that’s one way to do it.

Bonds on the ballot

Mayor Turner has one more item to deal with this November.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner is poised ask voters to approve bonds this fall to fund improvements to city parks, community centers, fire stations and health clinics, adding hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to a crowded November ballot.

The proposed five-year capital improvement plan, unveiled at a City Council committee hearing Tuesday, calls for $6.7 billion in airport and utility projects, to be funded by user fees, as well as $538 million in improvements such as expanded police and fire stations, renovated libraries, miles of bike trails and repairs to city buildings to paid for with taxes or philanthropic gifts.

The plan relies on a November 2017 bond vote as one of its key funding sources, with about $190 million worth of projects in the five-year plan contingent on approval of new debt.

Houston’s last bond vote was in 2012, and the city’s capital spending is expected to quickly exhaust the debt voters authorized then.

“It’s not a question of going to voters with debt. We will be going to the voters with an investment proposal, a package of community improvements that are important to delivering the kind of services Houstonians expect and deserve,” Turner said. “Those improvements, whether they are police or fire stations, libraries or community centers or parks, make our city a better place for all of us to live.”

City Finance Director Kelly Dowe said Tuesday the size of the bond package has not been determined, but Houston typically seeks enough leeway to last a bit beyond any one five-year capital plan.

[…]

The mayor has pledged to ask Houstonians to repeal a voter-imposed cap that limits what the city can collect in property taxes. That rule is a lightning rod for conservatives, who spearheaded its passage 13 years ago.

Turner’s landmark pension reform bill, which takes effect Saturday, also requires voters to approve the $1 billion in bonds Turner plans to inject into the under-funded police and municipal pensions. Should voters reject it, those groups’ substantial benefit cuts could be rescinded, hiking the city’s costs overnight.

Adding a general bond issue to the ballot alongside the pension bonds and what amounts to a tax hike is risky, said Jay Aiyer, a Texas Southern University political scientist professor.

“The more measures you put on the ballot, the more confusing it becomes for voters and I think the more attention is taken away from selling the one item that absolutely must pass, and that’s the pension obligation bonds,” Aiyer said. “It would make a whole lot more sense to make the pension obligation bonds a standalone and push some of these other items off.”

First of all, “what amounts to a tax hike”? Leave the spin out, please. Four of the five bond issues in 2012, which totaled $410 million, passed with at least 62% of the vote; the fifth drew 55%. That was a very high turnout context – there were over 400K votes cast for each item – while this year will not be. Even if the Supreme Court intervenes and puts city elections on the ballot, far fewer people will vote this year. Still, bond issues usually pass. Especially if there aren’t city elections, all of these issues will come down to how successful the Mayor and his team are at getting the voters they need to come out and support him.

I would push back on the notion, as expressed by the Chron’s Rebecca Elliott, that having these bond issues makes the November ballot “ugly”. We are basically talking three items – revenue cap change, pension obligation bonds, and these bonds, though they will likely be split into multiple smaller items – in an election where there may be no city candidates on anyone’s ballot. Remember, there will be no Metro vote or Astrodome vote – what we have now is all we’re likely to get. Frankly, unless the Supreme Court sticks its nose in and orders city elections this fall, the number of votes people will be asked to cast will likely be smaller than what it usually is in an odd-numbered year. In addition, only the revenue cap vote is one that will be in any way complex – we have bond issues all the time, people understand them, and the pension obligation bonds are just a special case of that. Ugly to me will be having a bunch of campaigns put together on short notice and sprinting towards the finish line with far less time to do the sort of retail-politics outreach that most city candidates get to do. YMMV, but if what we have now is what we end up with, I’ll consider it a relaxing stroll. Campos has more.

Precinct analysis: SBOE districts

There are 15 members on the State Board of Education, five Democrats and ten Republicans. Of those ten Republican-held seats, four of them were in districts that were interesting in 2016:


Dist   Incumbent  Clinton   Trump   Obama  Romney
=================================================
SBOE5     Mercer    47.0%   46.8%   42.9%   54.7%
SBOE6   Bahorich    46.3%   48.6%   38.8%   59.7%
SBOE10   Maynard    42.5%   51.6%   40.5%   57.0%
SBOE12    Miller    44.4%   50.1%   38.7%   59.7%
SBOE7   Bradley*    37.1%   59.2%   35.2%   63.6%

Dist   Incumbent    Burns Keasler Hampton  Keller
=================================================
SBOE5     Mercer    43.5%   51.3%   41.7%   53.7%
SBOE6   Bahorich    41.5%   54.8%   38.5%   58.7%
SBOE10   Maynard    39.8%   54.7%   40.1%   54.9%
SBOE12    Miller    39.1%   56.6%   37.7%   58.8%
SBOE7   Bradley*    35.9%   60.9%   36.6%   60.8%

I included David Bradley’s numbers here because his will be an open seat in 2018, but as you can see he really doesn’t belong. Add Ken Mercer’s SBOE5 to the list of districts that were carried by Hillary Clinton. I hadn’t realized it till I looked at the data. I had previously identified Mercer’s district as a viable target last year, and indeed it was a close race – he won by four points and failed to clear fifty percent. SBOE terms are four years so the next shot at Mercer isn’t until 2020, but he needs to be on the priority list then.

Districts 6 and 10 were also on the ballot last year and thus not up again till 2020. District 6, which is entirely within Harris County, shifted about seven points in a blue direction, and while I’d expect it to continue to shift as the county does, it’s still got a ways to go to get to parity. With SBOE districts being twice as big as Senate districts and generally being completely under the radar, getting crossovers is a challenge. District 10 didn’t really shift much, but it’s close enough to imagine something good happening in a strong year. District 12 is the only one on the ballot next year, and it’s the reddest of the four based on the downballot data. But if there’s a Trump effect next year, who knows what could happen. It certainly deserves a decent candidate. Keep it in mind as we go forward.

David Bradley not running for re-election to SBOE

Good-bye.

David Bradley

Beaumont Republican David Bradley, one of the State Board of Education’s most conservative members, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection Monday.

First elected in 1996, Bradley said he has gotten tired of rehashing old debates on the board and said it is time for someone new to take up the position.

“It’s the same debates. It’s the same arguments, and they come out with the same outcomes,” Bradley told the Houston Chronicle.

The businessman was an early supporter of charter schools and took pride in “pushing back against far-left political pressure to water down textbooks and academics,” he said in a statement. His tenure is laced with criticism from left-leaning groups for his staunch conservatism.

Bradley is about 96% terrible, and I’ll be glad to see him go. Open seats are always opportunities, but one should keep one’s expectations in line, because Bradley’s district was carried by Trump by a 59-37 margin. Which is closer than the 64-35 margin for Mitt Romney in 2012, but still not exactly swing territory. This might be a good opportunity for the Texas Parent PAC to find a non-terrible Republican for the primary, as a win there for someone who actually supports public schools and doesn’t want them teaching creationism or racist history would be nice. Bradley leaving is good, but only if the person who replaces him isn’t worse.

Precinct analysis: Congressional districts

The Texas Legislative Council now has full data from the 2016 elections on its site, so this seemed like as good a time as any to take a look at the data from Congressional districts. I’m much more limited in what I can do when I have to rely on precinct data from counties because most of Texas’ Congressional districts span multiple counties. But now statewide data is available, so here we go. I’m just going to look at districts where the Presidential numbers were interesting.


Dist  Clinton  Trump  Obama  Romney
===================================
02      42.8%  52.0%  35.6%   62.9%
03      39.9%  53.8%  34.1%   64.2%
06      41.6%  53.8%  40.7%   57.9%
07      48.2%  46.8%  38.6%   59.9%
10      42.8%  51.9%  38.8%   59.1%
21      42.1%  51.9%  37.9%   59.8%
22      43.9%  51.7%  36.7%   62.1%
23      49.4%  45.9%  48.0%   50.7%
24      44.3%  50.5%  38.0%   60.4%
31      40.1%  52.6%  38.1%   59.4%
32      48.4%  46.6%  41.5%   57.0%

Some of this we’ve covered before – CDs 07, 23, and 32 are well-known and are on the national radar for next year. CD03 will be open following the retirement of Rep. Sam Johnson. CDs 24, which is mostly in Dallas County, and 22, which is of course Tom DeLay’s old district, deserve a bit more attention and would fall into the next tier below the top three, with CDs 02 and 10 right behind them. And as a matter of personal pleading, I’d really really love to see strong challenges to Lamar Smith in CD21 and Smokey Joe Barton in CD06, two of the worst anti-science and pro-pollution members of Congress.

Now as we know, the Presidential numbers only tell us so much. So as I have done before, here’s a look at the Court of Criminal Appeals races in these districts – just the one in each year that had three candidates, for apples-to-apples purposes – and for this chart I’m going to chow number of votes, to give a feel for how big the gap that needs to be closed is.


Dist    Burns   Keasler  Hampton   Keller  D Gain
=================================================
02    106,167   157,226   84,547  149,242  13,636
03    109,738   187,916   84,352  163,247     717
06    108,272   151,766   98,393  139,344  -2,043
07    107,250   136,246   88,992  134,699  16,711
10    122,499   172,155  100,660  149,355    -961
21    133,428   198,190  110,841  177,330   1,827
22    123,063   171,694   89,624  152,471  14,216
23    105,145   106,067   86,991   92,805   4,892
24    107,986   152,545   87,300  143,217  11,424
31    104,601   159,173   85,689  134,433  -5,828
32    113,659   146,526   99,453  136,691   4,371

A bit more daunting when looked at this way, isn’t it? The “D Gain” column is the net change in the difference between the Republican and Democratic candidates’ vote totals each year. In 2012 in CD02, Sharon Keller beat Keith Hampton by 64,695 votes, but in 2016 Mike Keasler beat Robert Burns by “only” 51,059 votes, for a net Democratic gain of 13,636. This is intended to give a rough guide to what the partisan shift in each district was, and as you can see it was much bigger in some than in others, with there being a net loss in CDs 06, 10, and 31. I have to pause for a moment here to tip my cap to Rep. Will Hurd in CD23, who held his seat in a much less Republican-friendly environment that elected Pete Gallego in 2012. No one in CD23 will ever have an easy election, and 2018 may well be more challenging for Hurd than 2016 was, my point here is simply to say that we should not underestimate this guy. He’s already shown he can win in adverse conditions.

Still, sufficient Democratic turnout could swamp Hurd’s boat, as has happened to other strong candidates of both parties in the past. (A less-Republican redrawn map could also do him in.) The Keasler/Burns numbers suggest that the other two on-the-radar districts (CDs 07 and 32) are also good targets for concentrated turnout efforts. In all cases, though, I believe a key component to any winning strategy will be to make a vote for Congress as much about “sending a message” to an unpopular and incompetent President as anything else. The more Rs you can flip, and the more who decide to stay home, the lower your turnout-boost goals need to be. I don’t know what the conditions will be like in a year and a half, but I do know that energy spent between now and then in these districts to register new voters (and re-register those who have fallen off the rolls) will be energy well utilized.

I will close by noting that there is in fact a candidate for CD21 at this time, Derrick Crowe, who has a pretty good looking background for a first-time candidate. We’ll see how he does in fundraising and other metrics, but for those of you in the district or who are looking for someone to support against the odious Lamar Smith, check him out. It’s never too early to get off to a good start.

Nonprofit VOTE report on voter turnout

For your perusal.

NATIONAL TURNOUT

Voter turnout exceeded 2012 at a level consistent with the last three presidential elections.

  • 60.2% of the nation’s 231 million eligible voters cast ballots, according to ballots counted and certified by state election boards, compared to 58.6% turnout in 2012.
  • Four in ten eligible voters didn’t vote. Among the most common reasons voters cite for not voting are a lack of competition and meaningful choices on the ballot or problems with their voter registration or getting to the polls

STATE TURNOUT RANKINGS

The two factors that consistently correlate with higher voter participation are the ability to fix a registration issue when you vote and living in a battleground state.

Same Day Voter Registration

  • The six highest-ranking states offered same day voter registration (SDR), which allows voters to register or fix a registration problem when they vote (In order – Minnesota, Maine, New Hampshire, Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa).
  • Voter turnout in states with SDR was seven points higher than states without the option, consistent with every election since the policy was first introduced in the 1970s.
  • The significant turnout advantage of SDR states has persisted even as four new states (Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland) implemented the policy since the 2012 election.

Automatic Voter Registration (AVR)

  • Oregon, the first state to implement AVR, saw the highest turnout increase of any state over 2012 – 4.1 percentage points. AVR pro-actively registers citizens at DMV transactions.

Battleground states

  • Five of the six highest-turnout states, and 12 of the top 20, were battleground states.
  • The campaigns dedicated 99% of their ad spending and 95% of campaign visits to the 14 battleground states – well over half going to just four states – FL, NC, OH and PA.
  • The voices of 65% of the electorate – 147 million voters – were left on the sidelines from determining the presidency – living in the 36 non-battlegrounds states whose electoral votes were pre-ordained. That, in fact, is largely what happened.
  • Latino (75%) and Asian American voters (81%) lived disproportionately outside swing states and, as a result, experienced 10-16% less voter contact than their swing state counterparts and a reduced voice in the election of the president.

Lowest ranking states

  • Hawaii, West Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, and Arkansas were at the bottom five for the third consecutive presidential election. None were battleground states. All five cut off the ability to register or update a registration three to four weeks before Election Day.
  • National turnout was reduced by a full 1.5 percentage points due to low turnout in three of the four most populous states – California, New York and Texas.

That’s from the executive summary. The full report is here, and the index page with other links is here. I have been saying, and I continue to believe, that the large increase in voter registrations in Harris County was key to the blue surge this past November. It’s absolutely a top priority for 2018, and it needs to be one for Democrats all over the state. The fact that we don’t make it easy to register voters in Texas is just the cross we’re going to have to bear until we are in a position to change the laws. You want to make a difference in 2018? Become a deputy voter registrar, and get busy with it. Link via Rick Hasen, and the Dallas Observer has more.

Legislative maps found to have discriminatory intent

Wow.

Texas lawmakers intentionally diluted the political clout of minority voters in drawing the state’s House districts, a panel of federal judges ruled Thursday.

In a long-awaited ruling, the San Antonio-based judges found that lawmakers in 2011 either violated the U.S. Constitution or the Voting Rights Act by intentionally diluting the strength of minority voters statewide and specifically in a litany of House districts across Texas. Those districts encompass areas including El Paso, Bexar, Nueces, Harris, Dallas and Bell counties.

“The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters,” U.S. District Judges Orlando Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez wrote in a majority opinion, adding that map-drawers’ discussions “demonstrated a hostility” toward creating minority-controlled districts despite their massive population growth.

In some instances, the judges ruled, map-drawers’ use of race to configure some districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act instead “turned the VRA on its head.”

“Instead of using race to provide equal electoral opportunity, they intentionally used it to undermine Latino voting opportunity,” they added.

[…]

Thursday’s ruling hit in the final stretch of the 2017 legislative session, scheduled to wrap up at the end of May. But because the court did not immediately order that a new map be drawn, it is unclear whether lawmakers will be forced to take action before they leave Austin.

You can see the majority decision here and the findings of fact here. I haven’t read through them yet, and the early coverage is a bit sparse, but this is what I do know. This ruling is on H283, the map passed by the Legislature in 2011. It was never implemented because it was not precleared – H309 was the map used for the 2012 election. It was drawn by the court, but it was based on H283 as SCOTUS ruled that the interim map should defer to the legislative intent and not be based on the previously existing (per-cleared) map. In 2013, the Lege passed H358, which cleaned up a couple of issues that had been in contention, and that map was used for the 2014 and 2016 elections. This Texas Redistricting post zooms in on the places where the map was found to have had problems, and what is different between the 2011 and 2013 versions.

As with the Congressional case, there was a separate suit filed regarding H358, the 2013 map. That has not yet been adjudicated, and as we know the state is seeking to appeal the ruling on the 2011 Congressional map to the Fifth Circuit. There is a status call scheduled for April 27, which is to say next Thursday, at which a whole bunch of issues will be discussed, including the plaintiffs’ proposed calendar to get a new Congressional map in place for the 2018 primaries. It is not clear at this time what if any action will be taken for the legislative map, but I see no reason why something couldn’t be in place by, say September, which would be in plenty of time for candidate filings. Needless to say, that’s getting way ahead of things, but the goal needs to be to have a resolution for the next election. Anything else would be a mockery at this point. We’ll see how it goes. Statements from MALC and Rep. Garnet Coleman are beneath the fold, and Texas Redistricting, Rick Hasen, and the Lone Star Project have more.

UPDATE: Today’s Chron story has more.

(more…)

Would a contested primary for Senate be bad for Dems in 2018?

I have three things to say about this.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A primary showdown between two well-liked and well-funded Democrats would add an extra layer of time and money for [Rep. Beto] O’Rourke and potentially [Rep. Joaquin] Castro – and could make it easier for Cruz to brand the winner as an out-of-touch liberal if O’Rourke and Castro need to spend time winning over the state’s liberal base.

“A competitive primary will split the party, leave hard feelings and limit the ability to raise the money needed to compete in the general” election, said University of Houston professor Brandon Rottinghaus, author of a recent book on Texas politics. “Two competitive Democrats in the primary who have run in the past has fractured the party and created new fault lines that Dem voters weren’t able to cross.”

Rottinghaus brought up the 2002 election, in which former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk won a four-way Democratic primary to challenge Sen. John Cornyn for an open seat at the time. While Republicans were united behind Cornyn’s ultimately successful bid, Democrats were divided by geographical and ideological interests that made it harder to win the general election.

In recent years, big-name Democrats have largely stayed out of one another’s way in statewide races. State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth faced nominal opposition in her 2014 gubernatorial bid against Greg Abbott, which she lost. Democrats did not contest primaries in races for lieutenant governor or attorney general.

1. I dispute the notion that a contested primary is necessarily a “good” or “bad” thing for a party’s chances in November. I certainly disagree with the assertion about the 2002 Senate primary. For one thing, it was mostly overshadowed by the Tony Sanchez/Dan Morales gubernatorial primary. For another, Ron Kirk was one of the better-performing Democrats, getting a higher percentage of the vote than any Dem after John Sharp and Margaret Mirabal. I’m gonna need to see some numbers before I buy that argument. Plenty of candidates have won general elections after winning nasty, brutal primary fights – see Ann Richards in 1990 and Ted Cruz in 2012, to pick two off the top of my head. I’ll bet a dollar right now that if Ted Cruz is re-elected next year, a primary between Beto O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro will be very low on the list of reasons why he won.

2. We don’t know yet if Castro will run or not – he says he’ll tell us later this month. As was the case last week in Dallas, Castro has made multiple appearances at events with Beto O’Rourke, which for now at least has kept everything nice and civil. I’ve said that I don’t think Castro will give up his safe Congressional seat and increasingly high profile within the party for what everyone would agree is a longshot run against Cruz. (Though perhaps somewhat less of a longshot if the political conditions from that Kansas special election persist through next November.) If he does, however, and especially if he does in the context of having to win a March election first, then I’d suggest it’s because he thinks his odds of winning are better than the current empirical evidence would imply. Maybe he’d be wrong about that, but I believe if Castro jumps in, it’s because he really believes he can win, above and beyond the usual amount that candidates believe.

3. Whatever Castro does, I do hope Beto O’Rourke faces at least one primary challenger, even if that’s a fringe or perennial candidate. I want him to take it seriously and begin engaging voters as soon as possible. As I said before, I was wrong to be dismissive about the 2014 primaries and what they meant for that November. Whoever else runs, I prefer to see this primary as an opportunity and not a threat.

O’Rourke’s “calculated gamble”

The Trib takes a look back at Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s successful for for Congress in 2012 to see what we might learn about his current campaign for the Senate.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

In announcing Friday his challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, O’Rourke threw himself into a long-shot race that he has vowed to approach much like his El Paso campaigns: without much regard for the established political order, the pricey trappings of modern campaigns or what the political prognosticators think.

The question to many now — especially those watching from his hometown — is whether the devil-may-care politics that made him a star in El Paso are convertible to the massive undertaking that is a statewide campaign in Texas.

“Something that is very doable on a local level over time — can you scale that to an 18-month statewide campaign?” asked El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, a longtime O’Rourke ally. “I think you can with the kind of work ethic Beto has and the kind of passion and enthusiasm Beto has.”

To many familiar with O’Rourke, the 2012 race is not exactly a blueprint for his 2018 effort — but it’s certainly instructive.

[…]

Reyes was not exactly caught flatfooted by O’Rourke’s challenge — he had been rumored to be interested in higher office long before he announced — but it soon became clear O’Rourke was the workhorse in the race. He spent months knocking on doors — over 16,000 by his count — and showed up everywhere, while Reyes was not fond of block walking and sent a staffer to most campaign forums.

People involved in the O’Rourke campaign jokingly referred to it as the “Great Depression campaign” due to its lack of financial resources — and tightfistedness when it had them. The campaign was made up of mostly unpaid volunteers, not the high-priced consultants and pollsters that O’Rourke has also sworn off for his Senate campaign.

O’Rourke’s shoestring operation provided a vivid contrast to Reyes’ well-funded bid, which had all the makings of a modern campaign — including a slick 60-second TV ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Reyes also had on his side President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, who traveled to the far-flung district to stump for the incumbent.

O’Rourke’s most memorable endorsement may have been that of the El Paso Times, which said Reyes had “stood on the sidelines” as decisions had been made affecting the border region.

It was a theme O’Rourke frequently echoed throughout the race as he promised to be a more forceful, engaged advocate for the region in Washington. O’Rourke also was not afraid to raise ethical questions about Reyes, who doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to himself and family members, according to a 2012 study that got ample attention in the race.

It’s a good read, so check it out. Underdog stories are always enticing, but I don’t know how much O’Rourke’s 2012 primary victory tells us about his chances in a statewide race in 2018. I do believe O’Rourke will work hard, and he has already generated a lot of positive attention for his campaign. We’ll see how that translates into fundraising and other metrics as we go. For now, don’t underestimate the guy.

A closer look at the Stockman saga

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

Best newspaper graphic ever

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stockman indicted

And here the troubles begin.

Steve Stockman

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman and a former congressional aide were indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on charges they stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from charitable foundations to fund campaigns and pay personal expenses.

Stockman, 60, and his former director of special projects, Jason Posey, 46, were charged with 28 criminal counts, including mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission, making excessive campaign contributions and money laundering.

Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez in Houston called the indictment “a very significant case” for the office in a brief statement. “The indictment returned by the grand jury today is a significant case alleging serious violations involving use of official positions for personal gain. Violations of the public trust will not be tolerated,” he said.

The case is being jointly prosecuted by the Southern District of Texas and the Washington DC-based Public Integrity Section.

Stockman also faces a charge of filing a false tax return, and Posey is charged with falsifying a sworn statement to obstruct an investigation by federal elections officials.

[…]

Federal investigators say in the indictment that between from May 2010 and October 2014, Stockman brought in about $1.25 million in donations based on false pretenses. He then diverted nearly $285,000 donated to charitable causes to pay for his and Dodd’s personal expenses.

Stockman and Dodd also are accused of receiving $165,000 in charitable donations, which Stockman largely spent to fund his 2012 congressional campaign.

See here, here, and here for the background. Just a thought here, but defending oneself against these kinds of charges is an expensive prospect, and there were questions about how exactly Stockman was supporting himself back when he was in office. I don’t know how he’s going to pay for his lawyers, and I kind of doubt he’s going to be able to raise the money. We’ll see how it goes. The Trib has more.

Precinct analysis: The targets for 2018

Ross Ramsey recently surveyed the 2018 electoral landscape.

Election numbers recently released by the Texas Legislative Council point to some soft spots in this red state’s political underbelly — places where Republicans hold office now but where Democrats at the top of the ticket have recently done well.

Specifically, they are the districts where Republicans won federal or state legislative races in 2016 while the same voters electing them were choosing Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump.

Trump won Texas, but not by as much as Republicans normally do.

The non-prediction here is that every single one of these officeholders might win re-election next time they’re on the ballot.

On the other hand, a political fishing guide, in this instance, would tell you that these are districts Democrats should examine if they’re trying to win seats in the congressional delegation or in the Texas Senate or House.

We covered some of this before, when the Senate district data came out. In that spirit, I’ve put together a list of all reasonably competitive State House districts, which follows below. Many of these will be familiar to you, but there are a few new ones in there. First, all districts by Presidential numbers:


Dist  Clinton   Trump  Clint%  Trump%   Obama  Romney  Obama%  Romney%
======================================================================
134    50,043  35,983   54.7%   39.3%  34,731  46,926   41.7%    56.4%
102    30,291  24,768   52.3%   42.7%  24,958  29,198   45.3%    53.0%
114    35,259  29,221   52.1%   43.2%  28,182  35,795   43.5%    55.2%
105    25,087  20,979   52.1%   43.6%  20,710  23,228   46.5%    52.1%
115    30,897  26,158   51.5%   43.6%  23,353  29,861   43.2%    55.3%
108    39,584  34,622   50.3%   44.0%  27,031  40,564   39.3%    59.0%
113    27,532  26,468   49.1%   47.2%  23,893  27,098   46.3%    52.5%
112    26,735  26,081   48.3%   47.1%  22,308  28,221   43.5%    55.0%
138    24,706  24,670   47.6%   47.5%  18,256  27,489   39.3%    59.2%
136    37,324  35,348   46.7%   44.2%  26,423  35,296   41.2%    55.1%


135    28,233  29,486   46.6%   48.6%  21,732  32,078   39.8%    58.8%
047    48,658  48,838   46.5%   46.7%  34,440  50,843   39.3%    58.0%
065    28,774  30,078   46.1%   48.1%  22,334  31,456   40.8%    57.5%
066    33,412  35,728   45.5%   48.7%  24,895  40,639   37.4%    61.0%
026    31,636  35,022   45.5%   50.4%  22,554  39,595   35.9%    62.9%
132    31,489  34,495   45.4%   49.7%  21,214  31,432   39.8%    58.9%
052    32,184  33,185   45.3%   46.7%  23,849  30,763   42.4%    52.7%
045    34,468  38,038   44.2%   48.8%  26,757  35,298   41.8%    55.2%

067    33,461  37,741   43.9%   49.5%  24,866  40,763   37.2%    60.9%
054    23,624  27,379   43.6%   50.5%  21,909  25,343   45.7%    52.9%
043    22,716  27,549   43.6%   52.9%  22,554  25,017   46.9%    52.0%
121    33,956  40,371   42.7%   50.8%  27,422  44,391   37.5%    60.7%
126    26,483  32,607   42.7%   52.6%  21,191  35,828   36.7%    62.1%
097    29,525  36,339   42.1%   51.8%  25,869  39,603   38.9%    59.6%

They’re grouped into districts that Clinton carried, districts where Clinton was within five points, and districts where she was within ten. The Obama/Romney numbers are there to add a little context, and to show where the most movement was. Some of these are in places you may not expect. HD136 is in Williamson County, as is HD52. HD 65 is in Denton, with HDs 66 and 67 in Collin. HD97 is in Tarrant. Note that while there were some big swings towards Clinton, not all of these districts were more favorable to Dems in 2016, with HD43 (held by turnout Republican JM Lozano) being the clearest exception. And a few of these are little more than optical illusions caused by deep-seated Trump loathing among a subset of Republicans. HD121 is Joe Straus’ district. It’s not going to be in play for the Dems in 2018. I would suggest, however, that the weak showing for Trump in Straus’ district is a big part of the reason why Straus is less amenable to Dan Patrick’s arguments about things like the bathroom bill and vouchers than many other Republicans. There are a lot fewer Republicans from the Dan Patrick wing of the party in Joe Straus’ district.

And because I’ve repeatedly said that we can’t just look at Presidential numbers, here are the numbers from the two three-way Court of Criminal Appeals races, which I have used before as a shorthand of true partisan leanings:


Dist    Burns Keasler  Burns%  Keasl% Hampton  Keller  Hampt%  Keller%
======================================================================
105    23,012  21,842   49.0%   46.5%  19,580  21,745   45.8%    50.8%
113    25,411  26,940   46.4%   49.2%  22,651  25,693   45.6%    51.7%
115    26,876  28,999   45.8%   49.4%  21,431  28,402   41.5%    55.0%
134    39,985  44,560   45.4%   50.6%  33,000  42,538   42.3%    54.5%
102    26,096  28,210   45.3%   49.1%  23,232  27,295   44.3%    52.1%
043    21,812  25,213   44.3%   51.2%  21,565  22,434   47.5%    49.4%
112    23,798  27,901   43.9%   51.4%  20,942  26,810   42.4%    54.3%
135    25,998  31,365   43.7%   52.8%  20,745  30,922   39.2%    58.4%
138    22,119  26,669   43.6%   52.6%  17,470  26,224   38.9%    58.4%
114    28,774  35,129   43.3%   52.8%  26,441  33,128   43.1%    53.9%
136    32,436  37,883   42.7%   49.9%  23,925  32,484   39.3%    53.3%
132    29,179  36,667   42.7%   53.6%  20,237  30,515   38.9%    58.6%
065    26,010  32,772   42.4%   53.4%  20,732  30,377   39.1%    57.3%
052    28,698  34,976   42.2%   51.4%  21,947  28,562   40.8%    53.1%
054    22,114  27,979   42.0%   53.1%  20,110  24,571   43.5%    53.2%
045    31,530  39,309   41.7%   52.0%  24,897  32,734   40.6%    53.3%
026    28,138  38,544   41.0%   56.2%  21,232  38,332   34.8%    62.8%
047    41,032  54,388   40.5%   53.7%  32,028  47,181   38.1%    56.1%
126    24,261  34,679   39.8%   56.8%  20,309  34,351   36.3%    61.3%
108    30,706  42,923   39.6%   55.4%  24,685  37,529   38.1%    57.9%
066    27,709  39,675   39.5%   56.6%  22,409  37,693   36.0%    60.6%
067    28,298  40,926   38.9%   56.7%  22,539  37,932   35.8%    60.3%
097    26,454  39,254   38.5%   57.2%  23,967  37,732   37.6%    59.2%
121    28,995  43,743   38.0%   57.3%  25,683  42,350   36.5%    62.0%

Clearly, this is a much less optimistic view of the situation than the first table. I am certain that some anti-Trump Republicans will be willing to consider voting against a Trump surrogate next year, but it’s way too early to say how many of these people there are, and we need to know what the baseline is in any event. Note that even in some of the less-competitive districts, there was a big swing towards the Dems, most notably in HD26 but also in HDs 115, 135, 138, and 66. It may be that some of these districts won’t be competitive till 2020, and it may be that some will need a real dampening of Republican enthusiasm to be on the board. But whatever the case, these are the districts where I would prioritize recruitment efforts and promises of logistical support.