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Election 2022

The Harris County GOP has not hit bottom yet

I have four thing to say about this.

Never forget

Drubbed. Shellacked. Whooped. Walloped. Routed.

However you want to describe November’s midterm election, it was disastrous for Harris County Republicans. They were swept from the remaining countywide posts they held — the other shoe to drop after Democrats booted the Republican sheriff and district attorney two years ago — and lost all 55 judicial seats on the ballot. For the first time in decades, Democrats will hold a majority of Commissioners Court.

The path forward for the local GOP is unclear. The party’s statewide slate went undefeated yet rebuked by Harris County voters, raising questions about whether its pitch to rural voters alienated urban ones. In the state’s most populous county, and his home base, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz got just 41 percent of the vote.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson, however, is optimistic. He said several local Republicans would have won, chief among them County Judge Ed Emmett, if straight-ticket voting had been eliminated before the election. Republicans in the Texas Legislature decided to retire the straight-ticket option after 2018, which traditionally benefited their party, but proved disastrous for the GOP in urban counties this cycle.

“Pendulums will swing back,” Simpson said. “I’m confident in the near future, we’ll be back.”

Scholars and Emmett, the county executive for 11 years before his upset loss, offered a less rosy assessment — that of a party catering to a largely white, graying base that is failing to adapt to changing demographics and awaiting the return of a “normal” electorate that has ceased to exist. November 2018 should be a wake-up call, they say, but they wonder if the local Republican Party is listening.

“If you look at ’18 as a turning point for Harris County, there’s nothing data-wise that would give you any indication this was an aberration and not a structural change,” said Jay Aiyer, who teaches political science at Texas Southern University. “If anything, you could see it actually swinging harder to the Democrats in ’22.”

Mark Jones, who studies Texas politics at Rice University, offered a more tepid view. He said the broad unpopularity of President Donald Trump drove some voters to the polls this fall who may not have participated otherwise.

“If you take Trump out of the equation and put in a more liberal Democrat … it’s not clear to me that Democrats have the same level of advantage,” Jones said. “The county is trending from red, to pink, to purple. But I would not say Harris County is blue.”

[…]

Republicans have not won a countywide post in a presidential election year since 2012. University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the local GOP would be wise to lower its expectations for 2020, which likely will feature an unpopular president at the top of the ticket.

“The Republicans need to show they’ve still got a pulse after the disaster that befell them in ’18,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s about the best they can hope for in a presidential year.”

Simpson, who has led county Republicans since 2014, said the party will focus on recruiting fresh candidates who can appeal to a wide swath of voters, rather than the sliver of partisans who vote in primaries. He lauded the success of Dan Crenshaw in the 2nd Congressional District, a young, charismatic combat veteran who beat better-funded candidates in the primary.

Crenshaw’s win, Simpson said, showed candidates “can be conservative and still be cool.”

The Texas 2nd, however, is a district drawn for Republicans that has a far greater proportion of white residents than Harris County as a whole.

1. I’ve said all there is for me to say about straight ticket voting. The embedded image is a reminder that Republicans used to be big fans of straight ticket voting. Turns out that straight ticket voting works really well for the party that has more voters to begin with. There’s an awful lot of Republicans in this state who never contemplated the possibility that they would not be the majority party.

2. As noted in the title of this post, Republicans in Harris County have not hit rock bottom quite yet. One thing I discovered in doing the precinct data analyses is that Beto O’Rourke carried all eight Constable/Justice of the Peace precincts. I didn’t write about that in part because I didn’t quite believe it, but there it is. The three Republican Constables and three of the six Republican JPs are on the ballot in 2020. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that after the 2020 election, the only Republicans holding county office will be the three JPs in Place 2 (the of-year cycle), County Commissioner Jack Cagle, and the three not-at-large HCDE Trustees. Those last three JPs could then be wiped out in 2022, along with the HCDE Trustee for Precinct 2, with the Trustee for Precinct 3 (who won this year by less than a percentage point) on track for elimination in 2024. Yes, lots of things can change, and I’m assuming that Commissioner Steve Radack will either be defeated in 2020 or will step down and the Republicans will fail to hold his seat. My point is, the Republicans not only have very little left, what they have is precarious and fragile, and there are no obvious opportunities to make gains in county government.

(You may now be saying “But Adrian Garcia will have to run for re-election in 2022, and he won a close race this year under favorable circumstances, so he could lose then.” Yes, but do you know what happens between now and the 2022 elections? The County Commissioner precincts undergo redistricting. Jack Morman benefited from that process after his win in 2010; what I wrote here was premature but in the end turned out to be accurate. I guarantee you, Precinct 2 will be friendlier to Commissioner Garcia’s re-election prospects, and if a Dem wins in Precinct 3 in 2020, it will be friendlier to that Commissioner’s prospects in 2024 as well.)

Legislatively, Dems have more targets (HDs 138, 134, and 126, with longer shots in 129 and 133 and even 150) than they have seats to defend. Lizzie Fletcher will have to defend CD07, but Dan Crenshaw will have to defend CD02, and he didn’t win his seat by much more than Fletcher won hers by (7 points for Crenshaw, 5 points for Fletcher). CD10 and CD22, which cover more than Harris County, are already on the national radar for 2020 as well. We’re not watching the battleground any more, we’re in the thick of it.

3. The Republicans’ problems in Harris County run deeper than Donald Trump. Every statewide elected official, most especially Dan Patrick (here shilling for the ludicrous “wall”) and Ken Paxton, who is spending all of his energy outside his own criminal defense on destroying health care, is a surrogate for Trump. People were just as fired up to vote against Patrick, Paxton, and Sid Miller as they were to vote against Ted Cruz, and the numbers bear that out. They’ll get another chance to do that in 2022, so even in a (please, God, please) post-Trump landscape, there will still be reminders of Trump and reasons to keep doing the work that we started in 2018.

4. All that said, we know two things for sure: One is that there are more Democrats than Republicans in Harris County, which is a combination of demographic trends, Donald Trump laying waste to American values, and sustained voter registration efforts. Two, Republicans have been unable to compete in a high-turnout election in Harris County since 2008. (2010 was a relatively high turnout year, for an off year, but it was still only 41.7%, quite a bit less than this year’s 52.8%.) It is a reasonable question to ask if Dems can be dominant in a low-turnout scenario. 2014 was a terrible year for turnout, and Republicans swept the county, but with the topline Rs mostly winning by four to six points. There’s definitely a scenario under which Rs could do well in 2022 and in which the demographic and political patterns we have seen do not fundamentally change. It’s hard to see how they compete going forward without a serious effort to rebrand, and every day that Donald Trump and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and Sid Miller are in office, that rebranding becomes harder to do. Lots of things can change. The Republican Party needs to be one of them.

Who might be next to retire from Congress?

We may see some more exits in the coming years, some voluntary and some not.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

Retirement talk is generally speculative until an incumbent makes an official announcement.

But many Republican operatives bet that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the most senior Republican from Texas in Congress, could make the upcoming term his last. That’s because Thornberry, currently chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is term-limited out of being the top Republican on that committee, in 2021. Thornberry’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Beyond a severe loss of power in Washington, there are potentially bigger problems ahead for Texas Republicans. Every Republican incumbent from Texas who successfully ran for re-election saw his or her margins shrink over Democrats from contested 2016 races. Some of these numbers should not be troubling. For instance, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, won his race this year by 46 points, rather than 50 points in the prior cycle.

But five GOP incumbents – [Mike] McCaul and U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Kenny Marchant of Coppell, Pete Olson of Sugar Land and Roger Williams of Austin – saw their 2016 margins shrink this year to single digits. These members will likely have to work harder for re-election in 2020 than ever before, and those battles will take place in suburban stretches of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston that have become increasingly hostile to the GOP.

[…]

The 2018 results could well prove to have been a fluke, brought on by the coattails of outgoing U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke who ran the best Democratic statewide campaign in a generation in his unsuccessful bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But anxiety is high among members and their aides that Texas can no longer sustain so many GOP incumbents – particularly after political maps gets redrawn during redistricting in 2021. Members with an eye on retirement might well wait to see the outcome of the redraw before deciding whether to call it quits.

The East Texas seat of U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, is another possible vacancy to watch, though not related to his future re-election prospects. With an increasingly higher profile as a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and a past career as a federal prosecutor, Ratcliffe has emerged as a contender to be Trump’s next U.S. attorney general to replace the current acting AG, Matthew Whitaker.

As the story notes, the delegation has been pretty stable. In 2012, after the last round of redistricting and with four new seats added, there were only eight new members. Three were in new seats, of which one (Roger Williams, CD25) was in the district Lloyd Doggett abandoned to run in the new CD35. Of the other four, two defeated incumbents: Pete Gallego knocked off Quico Canseco in CD23, Beto O’Rourke knocked off Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for CD16. Only Randy Weber in CD14 and Joaquin Castro in CD20 succeeded members that had retired. Between then and this year, Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (CD15) and Randy Neugebauer (CD19) retired, and the now-convicted Steve Stockman (CD36) left to pursue a doomed primary against Sen. John Cornyn in 2014. This year was a bonanza for new faces, and there’s a decent chance we’ll have a few more over the next two cycles.

The case against Beto (and Julian) for President

From Chris Hooks:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Democrats, taking advantage of the president’s unpopularity, stand a chance of winning control of more state legislatures in 2020 and building the foundations of their party, just as Republicans did in 2010. It’s a great opportunity, and yet Democrats seem singularly focused on the upcoming presidential primary. Democrats, God bless them, are slow learners.

The prospective field includes at least two Texans: one who drafted himself, and one who is being drafted by his followers. The first is Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and Obama’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He’s written a book, which seems to be a necessary precursor these days, and he’s building a PAC. Then there’s Beto O’Rourke, whom the media has been urging to run for president since at least this summer. (He said at a town hall on Monday that he and his wife “made a decision not to rule anything out.”)

Castro was, and in some quarters still is, seen as one of Texas’ great Democratic up-and-comers. O’Rourke started his campaign with little chance of success, but fought like hell. Castro, on the other hand, has stayed on the sidelines, which makes his ambitions for the presidency all the more odd. For years, Castro told allies he thought he could win a close statewide race, perhaps for governor or lieutenant governor or attorney general. But he didn’t like his chances if he started with a 10- to 20-point deficit. Given Democratic performance in Texas, it didn’t seem like his time had come yet. Beto, by contrast, jumped into what looked from the start like a 20-point race. Through Herculean effort, he closed it to less than a three-point gap. When it became clear that Beto was doing something real, many Democrats privately grumbled that Castro hadn’t run for governor or another statewide office.

Texas Democrats should fervently hope that neither Castro nor O’Rourke runs for president, for the simple reason that Texas needs them a lot more than the nation does. It’s important that a Democrat beat Trump in 2020, but only one person can win the nomination. Most failed presidential campaigns are high-risk bids for personal glory and a waste of time and money. Meanwhile, state government and Congress bend and shapes people’s lives in unseen ways. Texas is in dire need of strong Democratic candidates who can run good campaigns and reverse the damage that decades of Republican control has done to the state. In 2020, Senator John Cornyn will be up for re-election, and the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other statewide offices will be chosen by voters in 2022.

Before I go on, let the record show that Nonsequiteuse was singing from this hymnal two weeks before Hooks:

Beto, we need you in Texas.

Your work here is not done. Our work here is not done. We knocked it out of the park in the state’s largest county. And we came painfully close in many other races. But we didn’t get the prize of putting Democrats in statewide offices. We’re still a state shamefully represented by a Lt. Gov. obsessed to a troubling degree with how and where people urinate, and a thrice-indicted Attorney General.

Please don’t abandon Texas. Don’t leave us to try to recreate what you’ve built. We know all too well what years of chronic under-investment and infighting does to Democrats’ chances on the ballot. It’s time to find out what happens when we do the opposite and keep doing it, over and over again.

You’ve shown you are willing to do the painstaking work that kind of movement requires.

Analyzing the numbers shows where the Democrats need to focus going forward, and your campaign shows what sort of outreach and activism turns citizens into voters. And you’ve got some great newly-elected Democrats from Congress on down who will be there to keep the work going, too.

So Iowa may be calling, and New Hampshire is going to love you, trust me. Speaking engagements on college campuses and with Democratic organizations around the county will be yours for the taking, and undoubtedly, podcasts and political talk shows are already clamoring to book you.

But, as one of my heroes would say, I sure hope you’ll dance with them what brung you. Keep talking with us, listening to us, and working alongside us in this Lone Star State.

As you know, I want Beto to run for Senate in 2020. There are other good options for this, including Julian Castro – I’d only considered Joaquin Castro, as he had expressed some interest in running for Senate in 2018 – but suffice it to say Beto is my first round draft choice. I agree that Texas needs him more than the cattle call of Democratic Presidential wannabes need him, and just because he’d have to survive a bruising primary against some really talented politicians, his odds of being elected to the Senate seem higher to me. Any way I look at it, this is the path I would point him towards.

As for Julian, he’s been talking about the Presidency for a couple of years, he has been a Cabinet secretary, he was on the short list for VP in 2016, etc. And not to put too fine a point on it, but in 2020 the choice for a statewide person who is not a judge is the Senate and the Railroad Commission. Neither Beto O’Rourke nor Julian Castro is going to run for Railroad Commissioner, so as far as 2020 goes, it’s US Senate or bust, at least in Texas.

So yeah, if we had to do it all over again, Julian should have run for Governor this year. He’d have surely done better than Lupe Valdez, though it’s hard to believe that the Dems left many votes on the table, given that Beto exceeded Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. If we want to look all the way to 2022, there are two issues to consider. One is that Julian Castro will have been out of government for six years by then – everyone has a shelf life, like it or not – and if God willing 2022 is the first midterm of a Democratic administration, the climate could be a lot less hospitable than it was this year.

We’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. The key for 2020 is to build on what was done in 2018. I believe Beto is best positioned to do that, but Julian could also do it if Beto declines. (As could several other folks.) Julian is probably better placed to run for President if he wants to, and who knows, if he’s on the ticket that in and of itself could be a big boost for Texas Dems. But yeah, bottom line is I hope Beto resists the siren call to run for President. The most good he can do is here.

So you want to run for something in 2020

You’re an ambitious Democrat in Harris County. You saw what happened these last two elections, and you think it’s your time to step up and run for office. What are your options that don’t involved primarying a Democratic incumbent?

1. US SenateWe’ve talked about this one. For the record, I would prefer for Beto to try it again. He could win, and would likely be our best bet to win if he does. But if he doesn’t, and if other top recruits choose other options, this is here.

2. CD02 – Todd Litton ran a strong race in 2018 against Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, who was almost certainly the strongest nominee the GOP could have put forward for this spot. Crenshaw has star potential, and a much higher profile than your average incoming GOP freshman thanks to that Saturday Night Live contretemps, but he’s also a freshman member in a district that has move dramatically leftward in the past two cycles. In a Presidential year, with another cycle of demographic change and new voter registrations, this seat should be on the national radar from the beginning.

2a. CDs 10 and 22 – See above, with less star power for the incumbent and equal reasons for the districts to be visible to national pundits from the get go. The main disadvantage, for all three districts, is that this time the incumbent will know from the beginning that he’d better fundraise his butt off. On the other hand, with a Democratic majority, they may find themselves having to take a lot of tough votes on bills involving health care, climate change, voting rights, immigration, and more.

3. Railroad Commissioner – There are three RRC seats, with six year terms, so there’s one on the ballot each cycle. Ryan Sitton will be up for re-election if nothing else happens. Kim Olson may be making noises about this race, but so far that’s all we know.

4. Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals – Nathan Hecht (Chief Justice), Jeff Boyd, and whoever gets named to replace the retiring Phil Johnson will be up for the former, and Bert Richardson, Kevin Yeary, and David Newell will be up for the latter. We really should have a full slate for these in 2020. Current judges who are not otherwise on the ballot should give it strong consideration.

5. SBOE, District 6As we have seen, the shift in 2018 makes this look competitive. Dan Patrick acolyte Donna Bahorich is the incumbent.

6. SD11 – As I said before, it’s not competitive the way the Senate seats of interest were competitive in 2018, but it’ll do. It may be closer than I think it is, at least as far as 2018 was concerned. I’ll check when the full data is available. Larry Taylor is your opponent.

7. HDs 138, 126, 133, 129, and 150 – More or less in that order. Adam Milasincic might take another crack at HD138, but it’s up for grabs after that.

8. 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals – There are two available benches on each, including the Chief Justice for the 14th. Justices do step down regularly, and someone will have to be elevated to fill Phil Johnson’s seat, so the possibility exists that another spot will open up.

9. HCDE Trustee, At Large, Positions 5 and 7 – Unless a district court judge steps down and gets replaced by Greg Abbott in the next year and a half or so, the only countywide positions held by Republicans on the 2020 ballot are these two, which were won by Jim Henley and Debra Kerner in 2008, then lost in 2014. Winning them both would restore the 4-3 Democratic majority that we had for two years following Diane Trautman’s election in 2012. It would also rid the HCDE Board of two of its least useful and most loathsome members, Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners. (Ridding the board of Eric Dick will require waiting till 2022, and a substantive shift in the partisan makeup of Precinct 4.) Get your engines ready for these two spots, folks.

10. JP Position 1 and Constable, Precincts 4, 5, and 8 – Dems came close to winning Constable in Precinct 5 in 2016, losing by about one percentage point, but didn’t field challengers in any of the other races. All three precincts were carried by Beto O’Rourke this year, so especially given the limited opportunities elsewhere, one would think these would be enticing options in 2020. And hey, we didn’t field any challengers for JP Position 2 in any of these precincts this year, so there will be another shot in 2022, too.

11. Harris County Attorney – Yeah, I know, I said options that don’t involve primarying an incumbent. Vince Ryan has done an able job as County Attorney, and is now in his third term after being elected in 2008. He has also caught some heat for the role his office played in defending the county’s bail practices. We can certainly argue about whether it would be proper for the person whose job it is to defend the county in legal matters to publicly opine about the wisdom or morality of the county’s position, but it is a fact that some people did not care for any of this. I can imagine him deciding to retire after three terms of honorable service as County Attorney, thus making this an open seat. I can also imagine him drawing one or more primary opponents, and there being a contentious election in March of 2020. Given that, I didn’t think I could avoid mentioning this race.

That’s how I see it from this ridiculously early vantage point. Feel free to speculate wildly about who might run for what in the comments.

Omnibus election report

It’s after midnight, I’ve mostly posted stuff on my long-dormant Twitter account (@kuff), and I will have many, many thoughts in the coming days. For now, a brief recap.

– As you know, neither Beto nor any other Dem won statewide, thus continuing the shutout that began in 1996. However, as of this writing and 6,998 of 7,939 precincts counted, O’Rourke had 3,824,780 votes, good for 47.86% of the total. In 2016, Hillary Clinton collected 3,877,868 votes. It seems very likely that by the time all is said and done, Beto O’Rourke will be the biggest vote-getter in history for a Texas Democrat. He will have built on Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. That’s pretty goddamn amazing, and if you’re not truly impressed by it you’re not seeing the whole picture. We’re in a different state now.

– Beto may not have won, but boy howdy did he have coattails. Colin Allred won in CD32, and Lizzie Fletcher won in CD07. Will Hurd is hanging on to a shrinking lead in CD23, up by less than 1,200 votes with about 14% of the precincts yet to report. He was leading by 6,000 votes in early voting, and it may still be possible for Gina Ortiz Jones to catch him. Todd Litton (45.30% in CD02), Lorie Burch (44.21% in CD03), Jana Lynne Sanchez (45.25% in CD06), Mike Siegel (46.71% in CD10), Joseph Kopser (47.26% in CD21), Sri Kulkarni (46.38% in CD22), Jan McDowell (46.91% in CD24), Julie Oliver (44.43% in CD25), and MJ Hegar (47.54% in CD31) all came within ten points.

– Those coattails extended further down the ballot. Dems picked up two State Senate seats, as Beverly Powell defeated Konni Burton in SD10 (Wendy Davis’ old seat) and Nathan Johnson trounced Don Huffines in SD16. Rita Lucido was at 46.69% in SD17, but she wasn’t the next-closest competitor – Mark Phariss came within three points of defeating Angela Paxton in SD08, a race that wasn’t really on the radar. Oh, and in an even less-visible race Gwenn Burud scored 45.45% in SD09, while Meg Walsh got to 41.60% against Sen. Charles Schwertner in SD05 (he was just over 55% in that race). We could make things very, very interesting in 2022.

– And down in the State House, Dems have picked up 11 seats:

HD45, Erin Zwiener
HD47, Vikki Goodwin
HD52, James Talarico
HD65, Michelle Beckley
HD102, Ana-Marie Ramos
HD105, Terry Meza
HD113, Rhetta Bowers
HD114, John Turner
HD115, Julie Johnson
HD135, Jon Rosenthal
HD136, John Bucy

Note that of those seven wins, a total of four came from Denton, Hays, and Williamson Counties. The Dems have officially gained a foothold in the suburbs. They also lost some heartbreakingly close races in the House – I’ll save that for tomorrow – and now hold 12 of 14 seats in Dallas County after starting the decade with only six seats. This is the risk of doing too precise a gerrymander – the Republicans there had no room for error in a strong Democratic year.

– Here in Harris County, it was another sweep, as Dems won all the judicial races and in the end all the countywide races. Ed Emmett lost by a point after leading most of the evening, while the other Republicans lost by wide margins. Also late in the evening, Adrian Garcia squeaked ahead of Commissioner Jack Morman in Precinct 2, leading by a 112,356 to 111,226 score. Seems fitting that Morman would lose a close race in a wave year, as that was how he won in the first place. That means Dems now have a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court. Did I say we now live in a different state? We now live in a very different county.

– With 999 of 1,013 precincts in, Harris County turnout was 1,194,379, with about 346K votes happening on Election Day. That puts turnout above what we had in 2008 (in terms of total votes, not percentage of registered voters) but a hair behind 2012. It also means that about 71% of the vote was cast early, a bit less than in 2016.

– Oh, and the Dems swept Fort Bend, too, winning District Attorney, County Judge, District Clerk, all contests judicial races, and County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Maybe someone can explain to me now why they didn’t run candidates for County Clerk and County Treasurer, but whatever.

– Possibly the biggest bloodbath of the night was in the Courts of Appeals, where the Dems won every single contested race in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 13th, and 14th Courts. I count 16 incumbent Republican judges losing, with several more open Republican-held seats flipping. That is utterly amazing, and will have an impact far greater than we can imagine right now.

– Last but not least, both Houston propositions passed. Expect there to be a lawsuit over Prop B.

We have a candidate in CD02

Todd Litton

Meet Todd Litton, the first declared Democratic candidate of which I am aware for CD02, which is entirely within Harris County and which is held by Rep. Ted Poe, who has been there since 2004. I don’t know much about Litton – you can see his biographical information, he’s clearly spent a lot of time with various committees, boards, and organizations. What I do know is that CD02, like several other urban/suburban Congressional districts held by Republicans, moved in a Democratic direction in 2016. It was still a nine-point win for Trump, though after having been a 27-point win for Mitt Romney in 2012. As with a lot of these districts, it’s going to be a matter of boosting Dem turnout, and hoping for a lackluster showing on their side.

Litton’s campaign Facebook page is here. I don’t see any campaign events yet, but I’m sure there will be something soon. I am aware of at least one other person who is supposed to be interested in CD02, but as yet Litton is the only one to take action. Now we need someone to come forward in CD22, where Pete Olson is making his claim to be the worst member of the delegation, and you know how fierce the competition is for that.

On a related note, June appears to be a busy month for judicial campaigns to get off the ground as well, at least here in Harris County. I’ve seen four such announcements so far, three from friends and the other from a “people you may know” person I clicked on. All four are women, and three of them have not been on a ballot before. I don’t know if 2018 is the non-Presidential year that Democrats break through in Harris County, but if you’re a Democratic attorney who wants to wear a robe, it is almost certainly your best chance. After the sweep of 2016, your only options in 2020 will be to primary someone, to hope for a retirement, to move to another county, or to run for an appellate or statewide bench. Maybe 2018 will be the year and maybe it won’t, but the path to a bench is the clearest it will be until 2022.

What next for Julian Castro?

I can think of something for him to do.

Julian Castro

Housing Secretary Julián Castro was long touted as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton, but when the call came Friday informing him that the presumptive Democratic nominee had picked someone else, he wasn’t entirely surprised.

“It’s disappointing, of course,” Castro said in a telephone interview Saturday morning, “but it’s also easy to put into perspective. When I was 30 years old, I lost a very close mayor’s race. At the time I was completely disappointed and crushed. But a few years later I came back and I became mayor of San Antonio and it actually worked out for the better.”

[…]

In his Saturday telephone interview with The Washington Post, Castro said he had no doubt that Clinton will receive the overwhelming share of the Hispanic vote, even without a Latino on the ticket.

“I believe that Hillary Clinton has a broad vision for America and that the Latino community is very much a part of that vision,” he said. “I’m confident she will get strong support.”

He added: “In the years to come there will be a Latino or Latina president. I believe that’s going to happen in due time. I hope to be alive to see it, and I’m very confident that my kids will.”

It’s not crazy to suggest that person could possibly be Julian Castro. A direct step Castro could take to increase the probability of that outcome would be to run for Texas Governor in 2018. A win would of course be a huge advancement, but even a creditable loss that set him up for a better try in 2022 – as he himself noted, it took him two attempts to get elected Mayor in San Antonio – would suffice. Sure, there’s a huge downside risk attached to this, as there’s no indication Texas is ready to even come close to electing a Democratic governor. But there’s a big risk in playing it safe and waiting for the right opportunity to come along. People may forget who you are in the meantime, or some brash upstart may emerge and cut ahead of you in line. Ask David Dewhurst, or Hillary Clinton for that matter, about that.

In the meantime, if Castro is even slightly inclined towards running for Governor in 2018, he can lay a lot of groundwork for it by working to turn out Latino voters in Texas and help Democratic candidates, especially Latino candidates, get elected this year. There’s Pete Gallego for CD23, Dori Contreras Garza for State Supreme Court, State Rep candidates in Dallas and Bexar Counties, Ed Gonzalez for Harris County Sheriff, etc etc etc. He’s going to be out on the trail anyway, so why not put a little elbow grease into helping out in his own state? If he really wants to get people fired up about a future candidacy, spend a little time in places that aren’t Democratic now but which need to be at least on the way there for him to have something resembling a reasonable shot – Fort Bend, Williamson, Bastrop, Comal, Collin, Denton, Brazoria, you get this idea.

Now maybe Castro isn’t looking at 2018. Maybe he wants to do something different for awhile, maybe he’d like to step out of the spotlight for a few years and spend more time with his young family, maybe he’s given it plenty of thought and concluded that 2018 is hopeless and would do him too much damage. If any of these or something else like them are true, I will understand. But in the meantime, I’m going to root for the ending I want.

When might marijuana be legalized in Texas?

Zonker

Very interesting debate going on in the Baker Institute Blog about when marijuana might be legalized in Texas. Here are the posts they’ve published, in decreasing order of optimism:

Texas will legalize medical marijuana in 2015 and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol in 2017

Texas will legalize marijuana in 2019

Texas voters will push for marijuana legalization by 2019

When will marijuana be legal in Texas? Maybe not till 2023

Marijuana won’t be legal in Texas anytime soon

I’ve discussed this issue before myself, in response to this Trib poll analysis that suggested support for pot legalization was broad but shallow. My personal crystal ball doesn’t extend beyond 2019. In 2023, we’ll have had three gubernatorial elections and another round of redistricting, not to mention nine years for public opinion to shift. Nine years ago, we were gearing up to pass that awful constitutional amendment against same sex marriage. Needless to say, things are different now, nationally and in the state, even if the change in attitude isn’t reflected in state government yet. Point being, who the hell knows what attitudes and the political atmosphere will be like in 2023? I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess.

I was going to write a detailed response to the last post above, written by Rice poli sci prof Mark Jones, but Grits beat me to it and mostly said what I wanted to say. So let me crib from him:

Where Jones’ analysis goes south is his odd assumption that “legalization” or other drug-policy reform couldn’t happen while Texas is run by Republicans. He thinks 2023 will be the first gubernatorial race Texas Democrats can win but cautions that pot legalization won’t be high on their priority list. But that reading ignores divisions within the GOP that play out along the pro-free market, less-government, “Right on Crime” axis touted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. There are Republicans in the Texas Legislature who are perfectly comfortable suggesting the state reduce criminal justice costs by reducing the number of things we criminalize.

Jones doesn’t appear fully aware how much criminal-justice reform legislation has passed since the GOP first came to power in Texas. Heck, often advocates themselves have been surprised, both by reforms that inexplicably had legs and more modest proposals that seemingly couldn’t buy a break. Any Bayesian prediction of the odds must be moderated by the rodeo truism: There’s never been a horse that can’t be rode, never been a cowboy can’t be throwed. A fractured, ultra-conservative GOP presents opportunities for peeling off factions, much like when Democrats controlled Texas as a one-party state a generation or two ago.

Grits believes framing the debate in terms of “legalization” does a disservice to the much-more moderate proposals likely to actually make it out of committee in 2015. In the near term, the issue isn’t so much “will Texas legalize” but “will Texas reduce penalties for low-level pot possession?” Right now, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas, meaning in theory the defendant faces a threat of up to six months in the county jail. Because the defendant’s liberty is at risk, the county must pay for an attorney if they’re indigent. Changing low-level pot possession to a Class C fine-only offense – or, some have suggested, a non-criminal “civil” citation akin to those given out by red-light cameras – would move low-level non-violent offenders out of the jail, save counties money on lawyers, and possibly even generate a new stream of fine revenue from future ticket writing.

I agree that this issue doesn’t fall cleanly along party lines – there are definitely conservatives for criminal justice reform, and there has been progress on that front in recent legislative sessions. That said, I find it telling that the Texas voters will push for marijuana legalization by 2019 post, written by the assistant executive director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), most prominently cited a bill from the last session by Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton. Be that as it may, I definitely agree that decriminalization, which will likely mean reduction of the crime of pot possession from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor, as laid out in Rep. Dutton’s bill, will be the first step and is what reformers of all stripes should focus on. I will admit I’m less optimistic than Grits is about action on this in 2015. I feel like the current crop of Republicans, especially in the Senate, just don’t care about this. There’s nothing in the toxic Republican Party platform to suggest change of that kind is in the air.

Texas would do well to get that far (reduce penalties to a Class C for less than 2 oz) by 2017 or ’19; next year would be possible but optimistic. Whenever it happens, that would be a huge get. From there, to me it depends on what happens in Colorado and Washington. If it turns out to be no big deal and a new source of tax revenue we’re just missing, legalization by 2023 is perhaps on the outer edge of possible. That’s not because Democrats might be back in power by then but because the Lege will covet the money and public opinion is rapidly changing. On the other hand, if there’s some horrible, unforeseen harm that befalls those states, that might push things back. Any prediction on such matters beyond a five year time horizon IMO is tantamount to fiction writing.

Texas could eventually alter its marijuana policies to the point where they could be dubbed “legalization,” but only after a series of false starts, half-measures and incremental steps that will each take time to pass and implement. It’s not uncommon for far less controversial legislation to take two or three sessions (4-6 years) or more to pass. And marijuana bills will not fly under the radar.

I agree that the most likely fulcrum for change will be a change in public attitudes, which will likely follow if the Colorado and Washington experiments are successful. However, the Republicans that are getting elected these days aren’t interested in generating extra revenue. They might be persuaded to reduce penalties for pot on cost-cutting grounds, but all they want to do with the money they free up is cut taxes. They don’t care about extra revenue because they don’t want to spend it on anything. Again, I don’t want to speculate three or four elections out, but that much will have to change to put legalization, and not just decriminalization, on the menu.

UPDATE: PDiddie has more.

Another Battleground Texas story

There are three points of interest in this Statesman story about Battleground Texas. Point One: They’ve convinced the people who most needed convincing, the money people and the dedicated volunteers.

Battleground Texas quickly won the allegiance of Steve Mostyn and Mary Patrick.

Mostyn is a Houston trial lawyer who, with his wife, Amber, is the foremost contributor to Democratic and liberal causes in Texas. He was among Obama’s top donors nationally. Big, bald and bold, Mostyn has emerged as the Daddy Warbucks of Texas Democratic politics.

Mary Patrick, slight, gray and indefatigably determined, is the epitome of the long-suffering progressive Austin uber-volunteer, on whom Battleground Texas’ success will depend every bit as much as on Mostyn’s money.

It was Patrick signing people in at the Battleground Texas organizing event at the AFL-CIO hall in Austin in early April. It was Patrick, an active volunteer with the Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin, who has opened the doors of its fellowship hall every Saturday morning since mid-April so that Battleground Texas can train its recruits and have them sworn in as volunteer deputy voter registrars, phase two of their battle plan.

“I’ve been real pleasantly surprised,” said Mostyn over a bowl of gumbo at Shoal Creek Saloon on Lamar Boulevard. “When they came and met with me, the question we had for them was, ‘How do you replicate any enthusiasm when you don’t have a candidate?’”

“They said, ‘We may have to build excitement,’” he said. And, so far, they have.

Persuaded, Mostyn traveled to New York, California, Colorado and D.C., “meeting with people from all over the progressive movement who understand that there are four majority-minority states, and Texas is the only one that’s Republican.”

“We’ve never seen the money commitment that’s coming and the money commitment that I’m going to put in,” said Mostyn. “It’s large, and that’s new and it’s sustaining. All of us are talking – those of us in the donor world – about a long-term plan.”

What kind of money are we talking about?

Mostyn pauses: “Battleground’s budget is millions and millions and millions and millions and millions.” (Battleground Texas doesn’t have to file its first semiannual fundraising report until July 15.)

The Battleground crew likewise impressed Patrick, who has been active in Democratic campaigns and liberal causes in Austin since graduating from the University of Texas in 1968.

“This is a very smart group of people. If they had never done this before, I’d say, ‘I don’t know.’ But they’ve done it before, and they know what to do,” said Patrick.

“It’s very exciting, and I’m very eager. I want this to happen before I get too old; please, sometime before I’m 90,” she said. “For those of us who have been slogging it out for years, we want it now.”

Money matters, of course. Battleground Texas needs smart, dedicated people at the helm, crafting strategy and directing resources and crunching data and so on and so forth. People like that – the Jeremy Birds and Jenn Browns and Christina Gomezes – are in demand, and can work on any campaign they want to work on. They need office space and computers and access to data and the people who can make sense of the data, and they need those things now and will continue to need those things after the next election is over. Having the money to pay for those things, and knowing that the money will continue to be there to pay for those things, is critical to this effort. But as important as that money is, the core value of Battleground Texas is people power, neighbors talking to neighbors. If the worker bees don’t buy into the vision, all that money won’t really do very much. We need both. Getting both sides of this equation on board was BT’s first challenge, and they met it. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Point two: Nobody is really sure what to make of all this.

But, those who study political demography, such as Robert Stein and Mark Jones at Rice University, project that Democrats could start winning statewide in the 2020s – a long time from now, but, considering the enormous stakes nationally, well worth a protracted Democratic effort to lay the groundwork.

Still, Richard Murray, director of the Survey Research Institute at the University of Houston, is dubious that national Democrats will pour money into a sustained long-term effort in a state as vast and expensive as Texas when the money could be used to far greater tangible effect elsewhere.

“To my knowledge, there is no precedent nationally of an attempt to change a state that is pretty solidly in the other party’s political base by investing surplus resources that don’t have any immediate payoff,” Murray said.

Texas Democrats have romantic notions about what Hillary Clinton as the potential Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 could do in Texas, but Murray observes that if Clinton were within striking distance of winning Texas, she would be on her way to an electoral landslide that wouldn’t require Texas.

For now, Brown finds herself having to tamp down the expectations her very presence has excited.

“I’d like to do well in 2014 and convince somebody we are here for them,” she told the Austin organizing meeting at the AFL-CIO hall on Lavaca Street.

But if not, “that’s OK,” she said. And if Democrats don’t carry Texas in 2016, “that’s totally OK too. If 2020 is the year we turn this state blue, that’s OK with me.”

Despite what Steve Mostyn said about BT’s budget, I don’t think it’s going to take a ridiculous amount of money for BT to have an effect. It’s not BT that’s going to be buying TV ads for candidates, which is where the real expenses are – it will be the candidates themselves, and whatever third parties that want to get involved. Frankly, if even half of the money that flows out of Texas to candidates elsewhere in the country stayed here in Texas, that would go a long way towards powering BT. That said, I agree with Dr. Murray that there really isn’t a model for what BT is trying to do. Sure, they’re trying to replicate the Obama campaign in states like Ohio and Florida, but in a state that hasn’t seen a Presidential campaign in the lifetimes of the BT braintrust. But just because something hasn’t been done doesn’t mean it can’t. I don’t see that as a blocker for BT. I do think it will need to show some kind of results beginning next year to help maintain the energy that it has generated so far. I do think BT will need to set some goals – it’s OK if they wait till there are some actual candidates before they do – and I think that an overall turnout goal is a fine place to start. But this is a long-term project, and we have no idea how it will go.

Point three: Republicans say they’ll spend a ton of money if BT is effective. I say “So what?”

“They talk about they’re going to be putting tens of million into Battleground Texas,” said [state GOP Chair Steve] Munisteri. “If there ever were a significant threat because somebody put $20 million in, our business community would probably spend that on Republicans by a factor of several-fold; $75 million was raised just from Texas for Romney. None of that money was spent in the state. Over a six-year period, the RNC raised $41 million in Texas and spent about $400,000. Those dollars can easily flow back the other way if we need them, so if they spend $10 million, we can spend $100 million.”

If so, for a national Democratic donor that would mean for every dollar spent in Texas, Republicans would spend $10, money they wouldn’t be spending elsewhere. That’s not a bad return on investment.

All that money didn’t do much to help Republicans nationally, either. The vast majority of that money, once the consultants and other bottom-feeders like Karl Rove skimmed off their piece, went to TV ads, which were of minimal effectiveness last year. I’ll take engaged volunteers over that, thanks. Be that as it may, doing nothing is not an option. If we’re going to get scared about what the Republicans might do when we try to win, we may as well not try.